Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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- The outdoor map next to the Twelvetrees Crescent Bridge over the River Lea
- Marc Sidwell on experts
- Guess what this is
- Robots build a bridge
- The Robert Stephenson statue at Euston
- Cruelty to a fake animal – kindness to a fake animal
- Shopping Trolley Spiral beside the River Lea
- An Underground sermon
- Rubbish blogging
- Tim Marshall on the illiberal and undemocratic Middle East
- Opera North’s Ring
- An important game and only a game
- Making blue by copying tarantulas
- An old person television set
- Battersea from Clapham Junction
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This and that
A shop in Victoria Street, ten days ago.
I’m going to a Bonfire Night thing next weekend. But, not so many commercial opportunities in Bonfire Night. So, at any rate in London, Halloween is on the up and up and Bonfire Night is fizzling out. I can’t say I mourn its passing. All those random bangs that will happen this week strike me as just annoying. I prefer the Germanic fireworks we now have, to bring in the New Year, if only because they all explode at the exact same time.
Also, Halloween probably now makes more sense because of all the movies there have been on those kind of themes. How many Guy Fawkes movies have their been lately? Most Young People These Days have probably never heard of the Gunpowder Plot.
Music is in the category list because of all those miniature guitars in the shop window. They aren’t Halloweeny. They’re there all the time.
No, I’m not talking about Cold Feet, I’m talking about my own cold feet, those things at the far ends of my legs.
Yesterday morning, I had a most unwelcome experience. I had got up for a piss, and had then hung around out of bed that bit too long, and my feet got cold. So far so regular. I eventually went to bed, and still my feet were cold. And then, despite the rest of me getting very warm, my feet refused to get any warmer, even after a short spell of sleep. I woke up with cold feet.
So, the rest of my body seems to have lost the trick, some of the time anyway, of sharing warmth with my feet. I actually had to get up again, and brew up a hot water bottle. I am starting to understand why old people are often to be observed with their feet in big bowls of hot water.
I have yet to experience feeling nervous about committing to something, and then my feet getting cold immediately after this feeling strikes, but I am sure that this experience will be bestowing itself upon me very soon. Getting old is, among other things, the process of learning that clutches of words that you had thought were merely clutches of words are actually cruelly accurate descriptions of genuine sensations, felt by you, as you get older. Under the weather. No stomach for it. And, in due course, I am sure: cold feet. There are plenty more. But (which is another Getting Old thing) I cannot now remember them.
Photoed by me in Leake Street (where this cat was later to be seen), in July:
And what a very appropriate word it is, for the point I am about to make. Which is that although this new Graffiti Style of painting has now upstaged the old My Kid Could Do That Modernism of an earlier era, the two styles both have in common that they are, among other things, trying to baffle you rather than inform you, unless you are part of an inside clique which gets it.
In his book, The Painted Word, Tom Wolfe wrote about this earlier sort of bafflement, the sort where you had to know what the theory was that was embodied in whatever random daub you were looking at in an Art gallery. The new Graffiti style actually gives you words, literally. But, you only know what they mean if you know what they mean.
But at least there is some real skill on show, in the form of how the words are presented. They at least look pretty. Your kid probably couldn’t do it, unless he’s one of the ones who does.
This is not what you want:
Database Error: Unable to connect to your database. Your database appears to be turned off or the database connection settings in your config file are not correct. Please contact your hosting provider if the problem persists.
But it was what you will have got, if you recently tried to read anything at BMdotcom. Don’t know exactly when this started, but it was happening late last night, when I tried to post something,
The Guru was alerted, and had this to say, early this morning:
All seems to be well now. The error was correct in that the database server had stopped. I’m not sure why that is but it restarted without any problems. I checked all the database tables and they all seemed fine. As far as I can see, the website is working correctly now.
Was it something I said? Perhaps the database server was angry at how late I was with the previous posting. I have managed to stick something here every day (give or take a few small hours in the early morning) for really rather a long time, but that has been interrupted, which is a bit of a shame.
Otherwise, all does indeed now seem to be well. I will do some more today, to make up for this.
Leake Street, October 19th. Probably still there, as of right now, but quite possibly already painted over.
I do not know why the cat is saying: “4”. Some sort of golfing reference?
It’s for lots of other things, for other people, like: a telly. But that is definitely one of the things that the internet is, for me.
Whenever a new kind of information storage or information transmission comes along, people fret that it will replace all the previous ones. And the others, which when they started were things that people fretted about, become good for you. When reading by the masses got started, there was concern that the masses were doing too much of it, getting addicted to it, enjoying it too much. Dear oh dear, can’t have that. But then telly came along, and reading suddenly became good for you. Telly was the thing that people were enjoying too much, wasting their lives on, etc. etc.
And now that the internet is here, you even hear people moaning that Young People These Days don’t spend enough time watching telly, because they are, you’ve guessed it, addicted to their smartphones (on which they watch telly).
My own feeling is that Young People These Days spend far more time than is good for them gadding about in the open air and watching tiny screens and not enough time sitting at home watching proper telly and proper computer screens, big enough to see what’s going on, the way God and Nature intended. But that’s a feeling, based entirely on which exact generation I happen to be a member of, not a real opinion. Young People These Days, as always, have better eyesight than oldies like me, and, unlike me now, they like to get out and have fun. When I was a (moderately) YPTD, I loved small screens, like the one on the Osborne. (Look it up. Another thing the internet is is a machine for telling you things like what an Osborne was.)
The thing is, new methods of information storage or information transmission typically give the old ones a new lease of life, rather than the kiss of death, at any rate at first and often for ever. Printing didn’t stop people talking to each other, it gave them interesting things to talk about. Trains caused a surge in horse transport, to get people to and from the station. The telly adapts books into telly-dramas, and people buy the books to find out what’s going on and who these people all are. Telephones, email and now smartphones make it easier to organise face-to-face meetings. The first big internet business sold books. And lots of telly shows now consist of bits from the internet, for those who like telly.
And now, for me, one of the most useful uses of the internet is enabling me to keep track of what’s on the regular old telly. Recently, for instance, I recorded a whole stash of Columbo episodes onto DVD. But, which episodes were they and what order should they go on the DVD in? The Radio Times only tells you so much? How many Columbo episodes were there? Who else besides Columbo himself was in them? Step forward, the internet, to tell me all about that.
See also this other blog posting that I just did, in which, among other things, I give a plug to a face-to-face meeting that I will be hosting tomorrow evening.
I’ve been photoing the Pavlova Statue outside Victoria Station for a long time. On the left here is how she was looking, on a particularly sunny day ten years ago:
But look at the state of her now, as shown on the right. I got quite a shock, I can tell you, when I came upon her about a fortnight ago, looking like this.
The Victoria Palace Theatre is being refurbished.
Incoming from Michael Jennings: One for you.
It certainly is. Apparently, in Mexico, Uber is using drones to advertise itself, by having them hover, with signs, over traffic jams:
Drones to carry adverts, or signs. But of course. The possibilities are endless, and the probability is: lots of complaining, drone destruction, car crashes blamed on drones carrying adverts or signs, etc.
Imagine it. You are going at a speed considered too fast by the Big Computer in the Sky, so it sends a drone out to fly out in front of you, telling you to slow down or be fined. Or more probably, just telling you that you have already have been fined. Ah, modern life. Science fiction just never sees it coming.
By the way, what is that sign saying?
Or should that be smart batphone?:
He is also holding a weapon, a knifey thingy. somewhat like this.
Photoed by me in Trafalgar Square last Friday.
Keeping things nice and face-recognition-hostile.
Fact about London that is little known by those who don’t live there or don’t go there: black cabs, at least as likely as not, aren’t.
Here are four that I photoed recently:
The Easyjet taxi is orange all over. The other three have adverts only on their sides, but two out of three of them aren’t even black on the bits of the taxis where the adverts aren’t. Only two of these “black cabs” are even partially black, and the RAW taxi is only partially black (ish) because the advert is (ish).
Quite a lot of taxis can be seen which have no adverts, but are just a different plain colour. White, grey, blue, red, whatever. I realise that those who live in London or who visit London from time to time know all this, but the world does contain people who do not fall into this category, and maybe you are one of them. Unlikely, I know, but there are people like this who do read this blog, even if most of them are only spam commenters.
Adverts on vehicles strike me as very photoable, because in a few months the adverts will be replaced, and even the enterprise itself is liable to be gone in a few years.
Speaking of taxis which aren’t advertising anything, but are just not black, how about this one?:
I spotted that one recently, outside Victoria Station. I was in a hurry to meet someone, so I had no time to scrutinise it carefully to see if an advert is actually buried in there, somewhere. But, I rather think that if that is an advert involved, it is an advert for the artist who did it. Maybe the artist was paid, or maybe the artist paid.
It might make sense for the artist to pay. I recently asked a black cabbie how much he got paid for his black cab to be embraced by an advert, and he said it was around seventy quid a month. That might be worth it for an artist, to put himself about, by flashing pictures of the cab that he had unblackened around amongst his mates and potential customers. But, what do I know?
Well, for some, maybe they are. But not for many. Like I said, they’re a business.
Further evidence: University of North Dakota Offers Class on Starting Your Own Drone Business.
Further confirmation. My TV screen takes a while to warm up, so I often leave it on and just switch off the sound. And a moment ago, while listening to the radio, I was also watching daytime TV silently selling quite complicated looking drones at giveaway prices. A lot of money got poured into these things, to sell at around five hundred quid, in the highstreet, to people, to play around with. But these drones were today on sale for less than fifty. As individual things to have, they just haven’t caught on.
See also: 3D printers. Also not toys.
Friday was the day here for cats, but now I have widened it to all kinds of creatures, cats included.
This week, a snake! On a vintage car!
I took these pictures in the square next to Quimper Cathedral, in the summer of 2008:
The snake is most clearly to be seen in pictures 1.2, 2.1, 2.2 and 3.3. I think it must be some sort of air intake, for the engine, or for something. But what do I know?
Berliet seems to be an enterprise that makes lorries these days. But if you scroll down through the images you get when you type “berliet” into google images, you start to see vintage cars, in among the more recent lorries.
If you scroll down at this site, you get to something that looks like the above vehicle. And if it is the same vehicle, or something very similar, then it is a 1907 Berliet C2 Double-Phaeton, or something very similar.
There’s a number plate on the front of my Berliet, which says: 1909 VS 29. I thought that might be a clue, rather than, you know, a number plate, so I tried “Berliet 1909 VS 29” with google images, and guess what I found. A Berliet “Double Phaeton” at a car museum in Malaga.
I even found a photo of the car in question, with a ludicrously long internet address attached to it, which I now offer you, in the hope that it works
Well, the link does seem to work, but if it doesn’t, take my word for it. Although this is not the same car as my one above, it is very similar. So similar that the car in the Andalusian museum also has, just like my car has, attached to its side, with its mouth wide open, sucking in air, … a snake. Weird.
I already showed here some pictures I took in August, in and from Epsom.
Here is another, which shows the whole of central London:
Click to get that original size, 4000 pixels across, but the sky, as above, removed.
Most of the well-known views of London are from the north looking south or from the south looking north. This is from the south west looking north east. Given that quite a lot of the river, the bit between Vauxhall Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, actually flows south-north rather than east-west, you get some rather unfamiliar ordering amongst the Big Things, with the Post Office Tower, for instance, being quite a way to the left of most other Big Things, on account of it being further “north”, but actually a bit away to the north east. I knew you’d be excited.
Here is what the original shot looked like, with the sky kept in. Not a cloud in the sky. Ah, summer. It’s amazing how abruptly the summer seems to have ended. One moment it’s daylight until nine in the evening, now it’s dark at six, and the clocks haven’t even gone forward yet.
Earlier today I stuck up a biggish piece at Samizdata entitled Thoughts on the politics of coastlines, about the age-old conflict between land powers and sea powers.
That’s the nearest thing I could quickly find in my photo-archives to a relevant picture, of a ship near London Gateway, which I paid several visits to, way back in 2013. That’s as close as I’ve been to a British coast any time recently.
Yesterday I again went to the top of the tower of Westminster Cathedral, but the early onset of the dark surprised me, and the light (which I depend on rather a lot) was too dark and too horizontal and shady for very good results. But I still like these two shots, of the new Wembley Arch, testing my zoom lens to its outer limits:
I particularly like the version on the left, with that little bit of sun slashing through a gap in the clouds, off to the left as we look. I include the one on the right because of the contrast. In itself, it would not really have deserved a showing. For once, a crane intrudes, in the left hand picture, and I am not happy.
It occurs to me that when people started taking photos like this, just as blurry but in black and white, maybe it got the painters thinking. They could both imitate the blurriness, but also do it in colour, as the photographers for a long time couldn’t. Et voilà. Impressionism.
What the tower on the left is, I do not know.
When you talk about an airplane being blown up, that usually means it has been exploded, destroyed, incinerated. This airplane, however, has been blown up, yet it looks like this:
Details at 6k. This posting here is basically a celebration, of the fact that I am now able to get to 6k, copy pictures from 6k, etc.
For the last few days, right up until nearly now, my computer was unable or unwilling to access 6k. Everything else: okay, but rather clunky. 6K: not. I checked if this was 6k’s fault by trying to access 6k via my mobile, and that worked. Ergo, it was me. Strange, and rather frustrating, because I like 6k. And now, for some equally bizarre reason, my computer did some sort of internet connection hiccup involving that thing where it says something about a testing process and says you have to check in again, with some password you never knew you had which you can actually ignore by just opening a new window, and once I reopened a new window, everything was suddenly back working properly. And: 6k returned.
Dodgy connection? Well, maybe, but I hadn’t touched any of the connections. Why did this happen? Don’t know. And: don’t care, unless it happens again. Then: it did happen again. Fiddled about with connections. TURNED COMPUTER OFF AND TURNED COMPUTER ON AGAIN. Seems now to work. Weird.
Also weird is what the Russians are about to be getting up to. (The airplane above is Russian.) Some things never change. The Russians are always doing one of two things: pretending to be weaker than they are, or pretending to be stronger than they are. They seem to be in a stronger than they are phase just now.
Life is full of mysteries. More so, as you get older.
The other day (which is an expression that strikes me as very odd – I mean: either yesterday or the day before yesterday), I was sitting on my toilet and, not having brought a current book with, I took a look at one of the Rebus books, The Naming of the Dead. All my already read Rebuses are gathered there. Immediately I was hooked, and since then, I have continued reading.
The thing is, I have already read this book. I have read all the Rebuses, except the latest, which hasn’t yet emerged in paperback. But, I have absolutely no idea what will happen in the rest of The Naming of the Dead, apart from that it involves a serial killer on the loose, which I got from the blurb on the back.
This is one of those bonuses of getting old. It’s not worth all the drawbacks of getting old, but it is a bonus. You can reread books which depend for their effect on you not knowing what will happen next, because if you read the book about, I don’t know, five years ago, you probably don’t know what will happen next.
And when I have finished The Naming of the Dead, there will then be all the other Rebuses. For me, one of the most important ingredients of contentment is to have a book on the go that I really am keen to read.
I’ve already given you Rod Green’s Dangereuse. Here’s another, longer bit from his book about Magna Carta, a bit which he entitled “Boys and Men” (pp. 61-66) I was especially struck by the part near the end, about people who could pronounce Latin words but who didn’t know what they meant. Sounds horribly familiar:
Not so long ago, it was widely assumed that the concept of “childhood” simply didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. The view was that the kind of life led by a modern child - where good health, play and education experienced as part of a loving family environment is seen as the norm - was in stark contrast to the lives of children 800 years ago, who were treated as a burden to be tolerated until they were old enough to be of some use.
Recent research, however, shows that this may not have been entirely the case. Studies of toys from the period have shown that children were encouraged to play. The toys may have been homemade in many cases, but models of mounted knights made out of metal would have been bought or specially commissioned, showing that some parents cared enough about their children’s play time to lavish gifts on them.
Children do not feature prominently in illustrated manuscripts, paintings or tapestries doing anything more than emulating their parents, but in some cases they can be seen playing games like tag or “king of the castle” and riding on hobby-horses. They were, it seems, encouraged to play and enjoy an active childhood, although their lives were set on a predetermined course at an early age.
In the early thirteenth century, a child surviving the first year of life had a reasonable chance of fighting off disease long enough to acquire the strength needed to survive in the harsh and unhygienic medieval world. In fact, 25 per cent of those born to wealthy parents and up to 50 per cent of those born to the poor did not. A whole host of infectious
diseases for which we now have myriad names would then simply have been classed as “fever” or “food poisoning”. Life expectancy was only around 30 years, although anyone from the ruling classes who made it, strong and healthy, to the age of 21, might well have had another 40 years to look forward to. In the fourteenth century, the Black Death was to reduce life expectancy dramatically.
In the days of King John, however, a fit young boy born into a noble family could expect to live in his parents’ grand house or castle until he was about seven years old. He would then be sent off to live in another castle, most likely in the house of a nobleman a rung or two up the feudal ladder from his own parents, perhaps even in one of the king’s
Here he would serve first as a page, running errands and generally waiting on the lords and ladies of the household. However, he would also learn how a large house functioned and how people interacted with one another, as well as learning about customs and proper manners. He might also be taught how to read and understand Latin and, if it were not already his native tongue, the version of French spoken by the Norman nobility.
A young boy would also learn how to ride and, if he showed promise, he might, when he was around 14 years old, become apprenticed to a knight as a squire. They had to train hard to learn the art of combat, which included lifting heavy stones to build muscle, throwing the javelin, fighting with a quarterstaff, archery, wrestling, acrobatics and sword fighting. Swordsmanship was taught using a blunted sword and a buckler, a small shield the size of a pot lid. This trained the would-be knight how to parry sword thrusts and how to use his shield as an offensive weapon without the novice having to start off with a full-sized, cumbersome shield. Similarly, the blunted sword was used against heavily padded protective layers, although the dull blade could still inflict painful wounds.
The squire would learn how to clean and prepare the knight’s armour and weapons, although major repairs had to be undertaken by a blacksmith or armourer. He would also need to help his knight put on his armour, which meant more than simply helping him to dress - the various elements of the heavy steel all had to be strapped into place in the correct sequence to make sure that they overlapped and allowed for movement in the right way.
This, of course, meant that the squire went with his knight to compete in tournaments. He would eventually get the chance to compete in his own right, even before he became a knight, as there were special contests organized solely for squires.
Whether a squire lived in his knight’s house, or whether he lived in a baron’s castle where landless knights also lived as part of the baron’s permanent military force, he would have regular chores to perform, which would include acting as a servant when his masters sat down to eat. Squires were expected, for example, to learn the correct way to carve meat at the table.
The squire’s apprenticeship would last until he was around 21 years of age, at which point he might expect to be knighted himself. However, he might want to avoid that happening - a squire could be made a knight either by his local lord or by the king, but it wasn’t an honour that everyone could afford. The squire’s family, whom he may have visited only a couple of times a year since he was sent away as a seven-year-old, would have to pay for the costly armour, weapons and warhorse that a knight required, as well as funding any forays he might make to tournaments far and wide. Being a knight could be prohibitively expensive, especially if a second, third or fourth son, who might not inherit any part of his father’s estate when he died (the bulk of property often being bequeathed to the first-born).
Around the beginning of the thirteenth century, there was a growing “middle class” of merchants, tradesmen and professionals, particularly in the new cities and busy ports. Trade with continental Europe had expanded enormously since the Norman Conquest, although Anglo-Saxon entrepreneurs are known to have traded extensively with partners as far away as Russia. Clauses 41 and 42 of Magna Carta make special mention of such merchants.
The son of a merchant would live an entirely different life from that of a boy born into the nobility. From a very young age, he would learn about the family business, in order to play a full part as soon as he was old enough. A boy might also become apprenticed to another merchant or tradesman, a privilege for which his family would have to pay, and be sent away from home to live with his new master.
Merchants, especially those dealing in foreign trade, had to be able to speak and read Latin, which was the international language of commerce, the legal profession and the Church. The sons of the middle classes learned Latin either through private tuition or at one of the new schools that were beginning to appear.
Merchants donated money to set up schools in the most important trading towns and boys would be sent to school to learn arithmetic and Latin grammar, the institutions becoming known as grammar schools. The schools were allied to a particular trade, making them private schools, although fee-paying schools would later be established that were open to anyone who could pay, such establishments being termed “public” schools.
There would have been few if any books in schools. These were hugely expensive, hand-written items - the first printed books didn’t begin appearing until the mid-fifteenth century. Boys learned their lessons verbally, repeating their Latin phrases time and time again, and earning themselves a beating if they got anything wrong.
Some might learn mathematics or become proficient in the use of an abacus, but few would continue their formal education beyond a basic level or contemplate attending one of the new universities.
As the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford University had been growing in stature since the latter part of the eleventh century and the colleges of Cambridge University can trace their history back to around the same time.
Peasants, still by far and away the largest portion of the population, could not afford to send their sons to school. A peasant boy was expected to do chores as soon as he was old enough to learn how to feed chickens or help to herd livestock. When he was strong enough, he would help with the back-breaking work in the fields and perhaps spend some time working in the local landowner’s house or castle, if such was required by the terms of his family’s tenure.
The Church played a major role in everyone’s lives and even the most lowly peasants attended church on a regular basis. However, all services were conducted in Latin, so most people couldn’t understand what was being said - sometimes not even the priest. Despite being the most educated man in the village, while the priest might be able to pronounce written Latin, the chances are he did not understand it. For a lucky few, a well-educated priest might teach boys how to read, but even as late as the fourteenth century it has been estimated that 8 out of 10 adults in England were unable even to spell their own names.
This time last week, it was birds on an aerial. Today, more birds on another aerial:
It been very aerial here of late. What with yesterdays aerial videoers, and another aerial on Tuesday.
It’s the bright blobs of light on the TV aerial that gets me putting that here. Taken in Quimper in June 2008.
TV aerials in France appear to be exactly the same as in England.
As with cranes, what I like is the absolute functionality of aerials. They are as they are because that does the job best. Aesthetics has nothing to do with it. Yet, the result looks, to me, aesthetically most pleasing. See also: pylons.
I recently photoed this van:
What intrigued me about it was its minimalist propaganda message. “GREY MOTH”.
My original thought was that, in the age of google, you don’t actually need a mass of information to find out all you want to know about an enterprise. That’s what this posting was going to be about. (I still remember fondly that van outside the Oval, which just said “VOITH”. I quickly learned all about VOITH.)
Trouble is, if the name of the enterprise is “GREY MOTH”, and you google “grey moth”, well, in addition to the GREY MOTH enterprise, somewhere in there, you get lots and lots of grey moths. (If you google “voith”, all you get is VOITH. A voith is not a regular thing, from which the VOITH enterprise merely took its name.)
Luckily, however, there was a website on the van, front and back. This website was back to front at the front, ambulance style, but I was still able to decypher it as: www.grey-moth.com, crucially including that all-important hyphen. Which, as you see, gets us where we need to be. And it turns out to be a very interesting business. I was thinking that it would be some dreary fashion enterprise, but not a bit of it. Turns out, it’s an aerial videoing business, using drones.
I’ve been keeping an eye on drones for a while. And after initially wondering if I might ever buy one, I eventually concluded: no. If you get a drone, then you will either have to take it very seriously and learn all about how to do it, and become a full-time droner, mastering not only all the technical problems of drones but also the many legal minefields that droners must walk across (safety and privacy to name but two). Or: not. And I decided: not.
Drones, in other words, are not toys. But, they are a huge business opportunity, both for businesses that can make serious use of them, like farms or pop concert promoters or movie-makers, and for people willing to master drone use for a living and to hire themselves out. Like Grey-Moth does.
Speaking of minimalist propaganda, those Guys & Dolls Unisex Hair Stylists look like they are ("UYS DOL S") on their last hair curlers, if not already gone.
Click at will, to get bigger, less square pictures.
Displayed in chronological order. Taken between May 2011 and August 2014. When I took that last one, of the bikini-wearing bottle openers, that got me collecting all the others. That last one is definitely the one where the Union Jacks are having the most fun.
A perhaps not very much known about vantage point from which to take photos out over London is from the top of John Lewis, in Oxford Street. Although, it seems that, as of now, this Roof Garden is closed. It will be opening again soon.
I went up there last summer, and looking at the photos I took then, I particularly like this one:
That’s the artistic version.
Here is the more informative version:
That makes it a bit clearer what the background is. But I think that’s also rather artistic.
Big Things: tick. Cranes: tick. Roof clutter: tick tick tick.
Big Things plural, because in addition to The Wheel, we can also observe, hiding behind chimneys and crane on the right is the top of the Strata, the three holed tower at the Elephant and Castle. You can see the Strata in the top picture also, bottom right.
I don’t know what that ecclesiastical looking spike is on the left, and nor do I know what the black jaggedy roof is.
But I like the pictures anyway, whatever the jaggedy roof is. Maybe, any month now, I’ll go looking for it. I find that Google Maps, the aerial (hah!) photo version, can be useful for things like this. Maybe later, although I promise nothing.
I’m becoming rather fond of aerials.
I’ve spent all my blogging time today trying to write a couple of things for Samizdata, so once again it’s quota photo time, this time in the form of a photo of Tom Cruise that I photoed recently, just a few minutes before I took this footbridge photo. To be more exact, it is a photo of a photo, of Tom Cruise:
That photo that you see in my photo is to be seen outside the Duchess Theatre in the West End, where the play being shown Goes Wrong, every night, without, although this may not be quite the way to describe things, fail.
I assume that you can only exhibit a picture of Tom Cruise like that if Tom Cruise gives his permission. If that’s right, Tom Cruise proves himself to be a good sport. Or, perhaps, a greedy bastard. But for now, I’m going with good sport, if only because if he got greedy, they couldn’t afford it.
Recently I acquired, in the remainder shop in Lower Marsh (in the basement beneath which Gramex now operates), a copy of a little book by Rod Green called Magna Carta and All That. This is now going for £0.01 on Amazon, and is well worth £2.81.
It takes the form not of a few longish chapters, but rather of lots of easily digestible chunks of verbiage, many of them biographical, and typically concerning persons I had never heard of.
Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother of Henry II, and more to the point from the Magna Carta point of view, mother of King John, I have most definitely heard of. (She was played by Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter.) This (p. 22) is what Rod Green says about Eleanor’s immediate antecedents, and in particular about Eleanor’s grandmother:
Born in 1122, in the Duchy of Aquitaine, Eleanor was brought up on spellbinding tales of her family’s adventures, especially those of her grandfather, William IX of Aquitaine. William, a big man with a fiery temper, was a warrior and a renowned poet who loved to scandalize his audiences. He was never one to let tradition, custom or even the law stand in his way. He divorced his first wife, Ermengarde, and married again, his second wife, Philippa, giving him seven children before he fell in love with Dangereuse de l’Isle Bouchard, wife of the Viscount of Chatellerault.
Dangereuse, it seems, had not earned her risky name lightly and was so called because of her beguiling, seductive manner. She appears to have been a willing participant when William decided to kidnap her while visiting the viscount. He spirited Dangereuse off to his palace in Poitiers and installed her in the tower which was the living quarters of his immediate family. This kind of abduction wasn’t unheard of among the nobility in medieval Europe - however, that didn’t mean that William’s wife was best pleased when she returned from a visit to her family in Toulouse to find another woman in her home. Eventually, she left William; later, she was instrumental in getting the pope to excommunicate both William and Dangereuse from the Church.
William, however, was a very rich and powerful man and eventually persuaded the pope to allow him back into the Church. Aenor, Dangereuse’s daughter from her previous marriage ultimately married William’s son, also called William, and it was from this union that Eleanor of Aquitaine came into the world.
Like I say, I long ago heard of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but never, until now, of Dangereuse. She is all over the internet. I have no idea if any of these many pictures of Dangereuse are in any way genuine.
Although I promise rien, expect more bits here from this most entertaining book.
Whenever I see an old car, of the sort that was the latest thing when I was a kid, I photo it, or I try to.
See, for instance, those delightful old Citroens in Roupell Street. Which were there, I have since learned, not because someone in Roupell Street is collecting them, but because someone in Roupell Street is repairing them.
And see also, this ...:
… which I saw earlier this week, while on my way to a violin and piano recital at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Belgrave Square. A Rolls Royce, on the way to what turned out to be a Rolls Royce performance.
I used to have a Dinky Toy version of that car.
I am increasingly coming to believe that many of our most powerfully felt aesthetic prejudices are formed in the nursery. And that a lot of Modern Art is the recreation of those happy sensations, in an enlarged form, suitable for the enlarged people that the nursery dwellers turn into.
But Dinky Toy cars don’t have to be enlarged, because they already have been. Enlarged Dinky Toy cars are called: cars.
Come to think of it, I also had a couple of Dinky Toy Citroens, a DS19, and a 2CV. Yes, this explains a lot.
Photoed at the same time I took this.
LATER: It occurs to me to wonder why all the pigeons are pointing in the same direction. It’s like they are all watching TV. It was a windy morning. Maybe they were all pointing away from the wind. Or maybe they were all pointing at ninety degrees to me, so that they could keep an eye on me. Not both eyes, because (guess) that’s not how most bird eyes work. (Owl eyes, yes.)
Yesterday I was reminding myself that we live in an age when pub quiz questions have instant answers. So when, soon after posting that posting, I came across this photo I took a while back, of a boat, …:
… with the words “THAMES RIB EXPERIENCE” written on it, I set to work to find out what the “RIB” bit means. I had vaguely supposed that this was some sort of steakhouse sponsorship deal. The world is now full of ridiculous arrangements of that sort, sponsored by commercial enterprises whose only way to sell more of their stuff is to cause even more people to have heard of it. The mere merits of the product being irrelevant, for their purposes. “Yes it’s bad for you but it tastes really nice” not being a message they want to be too publicly and explicitly associated with, because then they’d have the health fascists all over them.
So “Thames Rib Experience” as an exercise is boosting meat consumption? But which ribs should we be consuming. Just ribs generally? The British Rib Council, a combined consortium of ribbers, combining to boost ribs in general? It didn’t seem very plausible. So, what does RIB really mean?
It turns out that RIB means rigid inflatable boat.
This is a triviality, of course, unless you are in life-threateningly urgent need of a rigid inflatable boat trip on the Thames. But the change in the world towards a state where it is much easier to find things out is not trivial. The story that lots of people mention in this connection, and lots of people are not wrong, is the ease with which a formerly dirt poor farmer now can, in the depths of the African countryside, keep himself informed about the prices he can expect to get for his products, when he takes them to market.
Quicker and better answers to questions is all part of why all this stuff has been happening lately.
I took this photo from the roof of my block of flats this morning, of a brick tower, out beyond Victoria, with a rather startled expression on its face:
What is that?
We now live in a time when questions like that have pretty much immediate answers, and I went looking.
And I was reminded that the internet can be wrong as well as right about things, even about things which ought not to be a matter of opinion. Which I already knew, but it’s interesting to get caught up in the wrongness, from time to time.
A shot tower is a tower designed for the production of shot balls by freefall of molten lead, which is then caught in a water basin. The shot is used for projectiles in firearms.
But more confident and more numerous internet places persuade me that this is actually a pumping station tower. Or rather, it was.
Apparently, over there in Chelsea, there used to be a canal, the Grosvenor Canal. Bits of it are still there, but most bits, it would seem, not.
A remaining waterworks building, known as the Western Pumping Station still remains beside the site of the canal and its chimney is something of a landmark in the area. However, the chimney now acts as a ventilation shaft for sewers rather than its original purpose of being the chimney for boilers.
So, never a shot tower. Once a pumping station tower. Now a ventilation chimney.
This photo was taken in 2008, in France. I took it myself, and though I say it myself, I think it’s great.
There’s a particular sort of car you see in France which is old school in its styling, but so beautifully shiny that you suspect it may be a brand new reproduction rather than the genuine old article:
Those big buses behind don’t spoil it. The flowers in front don’t spoil it. This is my blog, and I decide about such things.
Alas, you can’t tell what sort of car this is, and hence get agoogling about whether it really is a real vintage car or merely a pretend one. My bet would be: real. Which only makes its shininess more shiny.
Yes, another quota photo, but this time I’m doing it in the small hours of the morning for tomorrow, rather than for yesterday.
This scaffolding is recent. I photoed it today:
That’s Waterloo, the new bit, the bit where the Eurostar trains used to arrive and depart, into that big New Thing that looks like a big, elongated greenhouse. And what I think we observe here is the start of getting those Eurostar platforms-that-were back into business. Not before time.
Here is an Evening Standard piece from March, when this refurbishment was announced. From that, a visual of what the new concourse area will look like:
Memo to self. I’ll take a look inside Waterloo, Real Soon Now, to see how this is looking from there. Although I doubt there will be much to see. But, maybe that raised-up shopping mall will make it easier to see what’s happening.
More about the revamp in a later ES piece, from July, here.
Is there another such in London?:
Well, probably yes, quite a few such. But, there is definitely that one. It’s the top of the restored guess version of the Globe Theatre.
As seen, of course, from the top of the Tate Modern Extension. It’s right next to Tate Modern (the thing on the left of the picture), and you need to get right to the back of the viewing gallery, or you don’t see it.
I reckon it’s already starting to look a bit threadbare.
The Evolution of Everything, pp. 181-184:
Evolutionary reform of education is happening. James Tooley, Professor of Education at Newcastle University, has catalogued - ‘discovered’ might be a better word - the fact that the poorest slums of cities, and the remotest villages, in countries such as India, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and even China abound in low-cost private schools. He first began studying this phenomenon for the World Bank in 2000 in Hyderabad in India, and has more recently followed it through Africa. In the cramped and sewage-infested slums of the old city of Hyderabad he stumbled upon an association of five hundred private schools catering to the poor. In one of them, the Peace High School, he found doorless classrooms with unglazed windows and stained walls, where children of rickshaw-pullers and day labourers paid sixty to a hundred rupees a month (about 90p-£1.50), depending on age, for their education. Yet the quality of the education was impressive. In another, St Maaz High School, he found a charismatic head teacher with mathematical flair who in twenty years had built up a school with nearly a thousand students, taught by a group of largely unqualified (but often graduate) teachers, on three rented sites, from which he made a reasonable profit. State schools existed, with state-certificated teachers in them, but many of Hyderabad’s parents were exasperated by the poor quality of the education they provided, and many of the private-school teachers were exasperated by the poor quality of the teacher training. ‘Government teacher training,’ one told Tooley, ‘is like learning to swim without ever going near a swimming pool.’
When Tooley told these stories to his colleagues at the World Bank, he was told that he had uncovered examples of businessmen ripping off the poor, or that most of the private schools were creaming off the wealthier parents in a district, which was bad for those left behind. But this proved demonstrably untrue: the Peace High School in Hyderabad gave concessions, or even free tuition, to the children of extremely poor and illiterate people: one parent was a cleaner in a mosque earning less than £10 a month. Why would such people send their children to private schools rather than to the free state schools, which provided uniforms, books and even some free food? Because, Tooley was told by parents, in the state schools teachers did not show up, or taught badly when they did. He visited some state schools and confirmed the truth of these allegations.
Tooley soon realised that the existence of these low-cost private schools in poor neighbourhoods was not unknown, but that it was largely ignored by the establishment, which continued to argue that only an expansion of state education could help the poor. The inadequate state of public education in low-income countries is well recognised; but the answer that everybody agrees on is more money, rather than a different approach. Amartya Sen, for instance, called for more government spending and dismissed private education as the preserve of the elite, while elsewhere in the same paper admitting that the poor were increasingly sending their children to private schools, ‘especially in areas where public schools are in bad shape’. This bad shape, he thought, was due to the siphoning off of the vocal middle classes by private schools - rather than the fact that teachers were accountable to bureaucrats, and not to parents. Yet the poor were deserting the state sector at least as much as the middle class. The lesson that schooling can be encouraged to emerge from below was ignored in favour of the theory that it must be imposed from above.
India was just the start for Tooley. He visited country after country, always being assured that there were no low-cost private schools there, always finding the opposite. In Ghana he found a teacher who had built up a school with four branches teaching 3,400 children, charging $50 a term, with scholarships for those who could not afford it. In Somaliland he found a city with no water supply, paved roads or street lights, but two private schools for every state one. In Lagos, where government officials and the representatives of Western aid agencies all but denied the existence of low-cost private schools, he found that 75 per cent of all schoolchildren in the poor areas of Lagos state were in private schools, many not registered with the government. In all the areas he visited, both urban and rural, in India and Africa, Tooley found that low-cost private schools enrolled more students than state schools, and that people were spending 5-10 per cent of their earnings on educating their children. When he asked a British government aid agency official why his agency could not consider supporting these schools with loans instead of pouring money into the official educational bureaucracy in Ghana, he was told that money could not go to for-profit institutions.
Suppose you are the parent of a child in a Lagos slum. The teacher at the school she attends is often absent, frequently asleep during lessons, and provides a poor standard when awake. This being a public-sector school, however, withdrawing your child goes unnoticed. Your only other redress is to complain to the teacher’s boss, who is a distant official in a part of the city you do not often visit; or you can wait for the next election and vote for a politician who will appoint officials who will do a better job of sending inspectors to check on the attendance and quality of teachers, and then do something about it. Good luck with that. A World Bank report cited by Tooley states despairingly that pay-for-performance cannot work in public-sector schools, and ‘dysfunctional bureaucracies cascade into a morass of corruption, as upward payments from those at lower levels buy good assignments or ratings from superiors’.
If your teacher is in a private, for-profit school, however, and you withdraw your child, then the owner of the school will quickly feel the effect in his pocket, and the bad teacher will be fired. In a free system the parent, the consumer, is the boss. Tooley found that private-school proprietors constantly monitor their teachers and follow up parents’ complaints. His team visited classrooms in various parts of India and Africa, and found teachers actually teaching in fewer of the government classrooms they visited than in private classrooms – sometimes little more than half as many. Despite having no public funds or aid money, the unrecognised private schools had better facilities such as toilets, electricity and blackboards. Their pupils also get better results, especially in English and mathematics.