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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Wednesday May 31 2017

Lincoln Paine, The Sea and Civilization (p. 130):

Octavian’s victory in Egypt brought the entire Mediterranean basin under the command of a single imperial rule. To guarantee the safety of the empire and its sea trade, Augustus (as Octavian styled himself) established Rome’s first standing navy, with bases at Misenum just south of Portus ]ulius, and at Ravenna in the northern Adriatic. These fleets comprised a variety of ships from liburnians to triremes, “fours,” and “fives.” As the empire expanded, provincial fleets were established in Egypt, Syria, and North Africa; on the Black Sea; on the Danube and Rhine Rivers, which more or less defined the northern border of the empire; and on the English Channel. Over the next two centuries there was nearly constant fighting on the empire’s northern and eastern borders, but the Mediterranean experienced a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity during which Greco-Roman culture circulated easily around what everyone was entitled to call Mare Nostrum - Our Sea. It was the only time that the Mediterranean has ever been under the aegis of a single power, with profound results for all the cultures that subsequently emerged on its shores.

There follows (p. 132) a description of the sort of commercial culture that resulted.  Here is some of what Paine says about Ostia:

The remains of the city, which rival those of Pompeii, reveal a town of ordinary citizens rather than wealthy estate owners and their retinues. The essentially rectilinear streets were lined with three- and four-story apartment houses, many with street-level stores and offices. ...

But then, concerning religion in Ostia, Paine addes this:

… In addition to houses, offices, workshops, and laundries, the city boasted an astonishing array of religious buildings that reflect the inhabitants’ strong ties to the Roman east. Side-by-side with temples to the gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon and the imperial cults stand Christian baptisteries, a Jewish synagogue, and a host of temples to Near Eastern deities, including a dozen dedicated to the Zoroastrian divinity Mithras, the god of contracts and thus revered by merchants. ...

Mithras was the god of contracts?  Revered by merchants?  I knew about how the Roman Empire took off economically (and degenerated politically) by surrounding the Mediterranean, but I did not know that Mithras was the god of contracts and was revered by merchants.  So, it would appear that proto-libertarianism in the ancient world missed a big chance when Christianity conquered the Roman Empire and prevailed over Zoroastrianism.  Although, a little preliminary googling tells me that some reckon Christianity to have been “borrowed” from Zoroastrianism.  Whatever.  I like the sound of it, and will investigate it more.  By which I mean I will do some investigating of it, instead of the zero investigating of it that I have done so far in my life.

Tuesday May 30 2017

On of those I Just Like It photos:

image

Taken on Westminster Bridge, November 2014.  I went looking among the earliest photos I took with my current camera, and particularly liked this one.  Especially the red boots she’s wearing.  I can tell from the other photos I took of this same scene that the person in the jeans is posing (alongside Big Ben), but the one in blue wearing a poppy (it being November) is just passing by.

That is all.  Busy day, doing life.

Monday May 29 2017

About an hour after taking this photo, about happiness, two more photos that I took made me very happy.

The first photo was this one:

image

I had been hoping for something impressive in the way of a sunset, but this was better.  How come that big black line, somehow painted on the clouds?

Slowly, I worked it out.  There had to be a logical explanation, and my guess was that this was, to cut a long thought process short, the shadow of a vapour trail.  There was a vapour trail above the clouds, and the clouds were very thin, which meant that a shadow on the top of them registered underneath them also.

The trees were obscuring my view, because I was using them to provide shade.  But if I moved a bit, so I could see beyond and above the clouds, in the direction of the sun, would I be able to see such a vapour trail, above and beyond?

Yes:

image

There you go.

I’ve probably seen this effect before, but this is the first time I have really noticed it.  Image googling for “vapour trail shadow” got me to quite a few photos of similar things, but nothing quite like what I saw.

Some critics of digital photography complain that digital photography is a substitute for actually looking at things.  For me, digital photography has caused me to look at things more.

Sunday May 28 2017

The rule at this blog is simple.  Something every day no mattter how rubbish, barring computer disasters or worse, actual disasters.

But here is a hand-done sign, which I photoed in the summer of 2015, that reveals a very different attitude towards rubbish:

image

Somehow, as with political demonstrations, hand-done signs reveal a depth of feeling that a more professionally produced, printed sign just would not communicate.  I sense the presence of a particularly rubbishy pile of rubbish which caused whoever it was to snap.

I like how he decided that the original exclamation mark, squeezed in at the end of RUBBISH didn’t quite do the job, so he added another exclamation mark, just to make sure that the whole passing world knew exactly how he felt, about rubbish.

Saturday May 27 2017

I’m guessing I resemble many other bloggers in hoping that my best bits will somehow linger on, for years and perhaps even for decades, not just in the sense of still being available to be read, but in actually being read.  Not expecting, you understand.  Just hoping.

So, you can imagine how happy this piece of Quolulatiousness made me, after a gap of nearly two years.  How did he encounter it, after all this time?

The posting that the Quotulator quotulated is about two subjects which, regulars here will know, fascinate me, war and sport, and about how the modern version of sport and the modern absence of big wars of the WW1 and WW2 sort are rather closely connected.

If the particular sport of cricket does not interest you, then if you are inclined to follow either of the above links, I recommend the first rather than the second, i.e. to the quotulated excerpt rather than to the whole thing.

Friday May 26 2017

That’s not a big cat.  This is a big cat:

image

Details here:

Sculptor Dengding Rui Yao has carved this incredible wooden lion from a single tree trunk. The artist led a team of 20 assistants on a three-year journey to complete the sculpture, which was made in Myanmar and was transported to its permanent home at the Fortune Plaza Times Square in Wuhan, China.

I chose the photo with the Big(gish) Things of Wuhan in the background.

This lion was linked to in these David Thompson ephemera, this time last week.

Featured in the latest lot, a baby hippo called Fiona.

Thursday May 25 2017

I don’t remember how I recently found my way back this piece in the Telegraph, but I do remember noticing it when it was first published in 2014, because I remember the graphic in it about preserving various public views of St Paul’s.

However, I don’t think I actually read it right through in 2014.  In particular, I don’t remember reading this:

It’s no secret why developers want to build towers as tall as possible. The higher an apartment block is, the more money it makes. A rule of thumb is that each floor adds at least 1.5 per cent onto the value of an apartment.

“The fact is someone will pay more to be on the 29th floor than they will to be on the 27th floor,” says Mark Dorman, head of London residential development at Strutt and Parker. They are marketing the two new towers at Nine Elms (56-storey City Tower and 45-storey River Tower, ready in 2017).

“Surprisingly, too, as has been discovered in New York, you will get as much money for a high-rise apartment facing another high-rise block as you will for an apartment facing the river.

“The same rule applies in London; you’ll get more for an apartment with a view of The Shard or the Gherkin than you will for one with a view of the Thames. People in high-rises like to look at other high-rises.”

The piece then goes on to note that others, notably the Price of Wales, don’t like high rise buildings.

So, the people who like living in high-rise apartments are willing to pay for them.  Some of those not willing to pay for them don’t like them.  Guess who wins.

Plus, there are lots of people, like me, who are not willing to pay for high rise apartments, but who do like them, because they (we) like how London is and how London looks because of all these other people living in London, making all manner of interesting business and pleasure ventures viable, and making the entire place more interesting to live in and look at, and in my case a lot more interesting to take photos of.

Here is how the Telegraph piece ends:

As for those people who worry that it’s all foreigners who are coming over here and taking our high-rises, they shouldn’t get upset, says Challis. …

Challis being “head of residential research at Jones Lang Lasalle”.

… That battle is already lost.

“The fact is, one-third of the population of London was not born here,” he says.

“Take me – I’m Canadian. When it comes to internationalisation, I have to say that this is not a new phenomenon. This city is founded on its contribution to the globe.

“It’s time everyone woke up and realised what has happened. There’s no doubt in my mind that London is now the de facto capital of the world.”

All of which was written before Brexit happened.

And I’m guessing that Brexit won’t make much of a dent in any of this.  Some voted Brexit, I am sure, to put a stop to all this, or at least to slow it down.  I voted Brexit for other reasons, and also because I didn’t think Brexit would make much of a difference to the cosmopolitan nature of London.

In the longer run, I think and hope, Brexit will make London even more the “de facto” capital of the world.  In other words (see also “fundamentally”, “essentially") not really the capital of the world at all, but you know what he’s (and I’m) getting at.

Long before London became the “de facto capital of the world”, it was also the “de facto”, as well as actual, capital of England, in the sense that it has always been a Mecca for non-Londoners.  William Shakespeare for example.  He too was, by the standards of his time, an immigrant into London.  (Who went back home to die, as most immigrants don’t, but that’s a different story.)

Wednesday May 24 2017

I have already done two postings of bits from Lincoln Paine’s The Sea and Civilization, here and here.  I have now reached the point at which the Romans are making their considerable presence felt, at sea as well as on land (pp. 119-122 – the quote within this quote is from Appian’s Roman History):

Within a decade of Pyrrhus’s withdrawal from Italy, Rome and Carthage were at war. The casus belli was a dispute between the people of Carthage and Messina, Sicily, but it quickly became a struggle for control of Sicily and the western Mediterranean, and it launched Rome on a path to mastery over all of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. The first of the three Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage took place chiefly in Sicily, where the land war simmered for twenty-three years. But it was the naval war that proved decisive in ending Carthage’s centuries-long primacy in the western Mediterranean and catapulted Rome into the front rank of military, and naval, powers. As Polybius notes, “those who are impressed by the great sea-battles of an Antigonus, a Ptolemy or a Demetrius would doubtless be amazed ... at the vast scale of the [naval] operations” in the First Punic War.

By the mid-third century BCE, Carthage ruled the most extensive empire west of Asia Minor or Egypt, including vast tracts of North Africa, southern Spain, the Balearics, Sardinia, Corsica, and western Sicily. The city itself was on a peninsula about five kilometers wide in the Gulf of Tunis. On the seaward side, it was protected by a single wall, while from the land it was protected by three fifteen-meter-high walls with towers every sixty meters. The walls had two levels of stables - the lower could house three hundred elephants, the upper four thousand horses - and the barracks could accommodate twenty-four thousand soldiers. By the second century BCE, at least, the double harbor complex was probably the most sophisticated in the world:

The harbours had communication with each other, and a common entrance from the sea seventy feet wide, which could be closed with iron chains. The first port was for merchant vessels .... Within the second port was an island, and great quays were set at intervals round both the harbour and the island. These embankments were full of shipyards which had capacity for 220 vessels. ... Two Ionic columns stood in front of each dock, giving the appearance of a continuous portico to both the harbour and the island ... from which ... the admiral could observe what was going on at sea, while those who were approaching by water could not get any clear view of what took place within. Not even incoming merchants could see the docks at once, for a double wall enclosed them, and there were gates by which merchant ships could pass from the first port to the city without traversing the dockyards.

The Carthaginians posed a constant threat to the Romans, who according to Polybius “were handling the operations in Sicily capably enough. But so long as the Carthaginians held unchallenged control of the sea, the issue of the war still hung in the balance.” After a three-year stalemate, during which they depended on their allies’ ships to reach Sicily, the Romans decided to build” 100 quinqueremes and twenty triremes. They faced great difficulties because their shipwrights were completely inexperienced in the building of a quinquereme, since these vessels had never before been employed in Italy.” The initial difficulty was overcome when they seized a Carthaginian patrol vessel that had run aground: “It was this ship which they proceeded to use as a model, and they built their whole fleet according to its specifications.”

Reverse engineering is notoriously difficult under the best of circumstances, but according to Pliny the Elder, from a standing start with virtually no shipbuilding industry of their own, the Roman fleet “was on the water within 60 days after the timber left the tree.” This is all the more astonishing when compared with the three years that experienced Athenian shipwrights had taken to build two hundred ships under Themistocles. Archaeological finds suggest that the Romans may have benefited from Carthaginian construction techniques. Examination of the so-called Punic Ship, a third-century BCE liburnian found off Marsala, Sicily, showed that the Carthaginian shipbuilders had written on the various hull pieces to mark their placement in relation to one another, not unlike the system employed in the Khufu ship twenty-two hundred years before. (A liburnian was an oared vessel-this one had seventeen sweeps on either side-with two men per oar and employed for carrying dispatches and for scouting.) If the ship the Romans used as their template included such builders’ marks, it would have made the job of creating a fleet of ships from scratch far easier than it might otherwise have been.

Because the Carthaginian ships were better built and more capably manned, consul Gaius Duilius determined to offset the Carthaginians’ superior seamanship by replicating the conditions in which the Romans were unrivaled in battle, and to beat the Carthaginians in boarding actions. Central to the Romans’ tactics was the corvus (literally, raven), a boarding ramp 11 meters long by 1.5 meters wide with rails along the sides. One end of the corvus was hinged at the base of an eight-meter-high mast mounted forward in the ship. When dropped on the deck of an enemy ship, an iron spike at the outer end held the corvus fast and the Roman soldiers swept aboard the enemy ship. When Duilius caught a Carthaginian fleet off the northeastern coast of Sicily near Mylae in 260 BCE, the effectiveness of the corvi told early. As the Roman marines swarmed the enemy ships, “the fighting seemed to have been transformed into a battle on dry land.” Carthaginian attempts to round on the Roman ships from astern were ineffective because the corvus could be dropped across a broad arc from port to starboard, thus ensuring that the Romans never lost their advantage. By the battle’s end, the Carthaginians had lost 50 of their 130 ships.

Dissatisfied with the lack of progress in Sicily, four years later the Romans took the war to North Africa and came close to forcing an onerous peace on the Carthaginians before their army was soundly defeated. A relief expedition captured more than 100 Carthaginian ships, but en route home the Romans lost more than 280 ships and thirty-five thousand soldiers and crew to storms. Polybius blames the disaster on the commanders’ utter disregard for their pilots’ advice about the weather and their destination, “the southern coast of Sicily ... a rocky shore which possesses few safe anchorages.” He goes on to draw some general observations about Roman character, their reliance on brute strength, and their stubbornness, and why these are incompatible with success at sea. On land, the Romans frequently prevailed against other men and their machines because they could apply “one kind of force against another which is essentially similar .... But when they are contending with the sea and the atmosphere and try to overcome these by force, they meet with crushing defeats. So it turned out on this occasion, and the process will no doubt continue until they correct these preconceptions about daring and force.” One theory attributes the heavy losses to the corvus, which in an elevated position would have made the ships top-heavy and prone to capsize. If the Romans realized this, they may have decided that the corvus was more dangerous than it was worth, which would explain why it is not mentioned after the start of the North African campaign.

The war dragged on another fourteen years punctuated by triumphant successes and epic failures, none of them conclusive. The keystone of Carthaginian strategy was the security of Lilybaeum (Marsala, Sicily), which the Romans blockaded off and on for nearly a decade, though they lost more than a thousand ships in storms. The Carthaginians were able to slip the blockade at crucial junctures until 241 BCE when a fleet laden with grain and manned by relatively unseasoned seamen and marines was intercepted in the battle of the Aegates Islands north of the port. The Carthaginians lost 120 ships and the Romans took ten thousand prisoners. With no possibility of support from home, Lilybaeum’s position was untenable and the Carthaginians surrendered.

Despite their longer tradition of seafaring, the Carthaginians never came close to victory in the First Punic War. In some respects this is understandable. Carthaginian sea power depended on its people’s role as merchant-sailors. They had never fought a major naval war, and while they were not ignorant of warfare - they frequently fought their Numidian neighbors, even during the war with Rome - it was not a hallmark of their civic life. The Romans’ martial spirit and relentless military ambition enabled them to adapt readily to ships and naval warfare, and once they learned to respect the sea, they mastered it.

More about the corvus here.

Tuesday May 23 2017

Yesterday was predicted to be a good photoing day, so I photoed.  A lot.  But I was too tired yesterday evening to think much about what to show you from earlier in the day, and am tired now.  But here is one photo I took yesterday, on Westminster Bridge:

image

I don’t know whether this guy was happy, or merely surviving.  At least some of the former, I hope.

There were quite a few of these tricycle people-transporters parked in a row on Westminster Bridge.  I have not seen such vehicles in this place before.

That shadow, bottom left, is me.

If you fancy following up on this advert, the bad news is: it happened five years ago.  Is someone being ironic?

Monday May 22 2017

Time was when I think I did more bridge postings here than I seem to do now.  Maybe it’s just that I have seen, and said things about, most of the world’s bridges that interest me.  But I have the feeling that rather fewer new bridges are being built these days, and that those that are being built tend to be rather smaller.  Footbridges, in other words.  There’s nothing at all wrong with a pretty footbridge, but there is something super-splendid about bridges like the mighty Millau Viaduct.

Or the mighty Forth Bridge.  Which has been photoed a million times.  What more is there to say about this wondrous structure?  What more is there to see of it?

Well, feast your eyes on this photo:

image

This was first posted here, and was there noticed by Mick Hartley, to whom thanks.

It’s a long time since I’ve seen a more perfect example of the modified cliché photo.  Photoes of the whole of the Forth Bridge are everywhere.  But I have never before seen a photo of only the top bits of the Forth Bridge, with cliché Scottish countryside blocking out the bottom bits.  Brilliant.  It even includes a cliché tourist steam train at the bottom.

I wonder, was this photo taken with a drone?  If so, we can expect to see many more such familiar-thing-photoed-in-an-unfamiliar-way photos.

A big reason I have loved all the twiddly screens on all my cameras is that they have enabled me easily to take pictures from both above and below my usual height.  A drone is like the ultimate version of that, because with a drone you can hold your camera hundreds, even thousands, of feet up.

Which I can only do when I’m in an airplane.  (See Millau Viaduct link above.)

Sunday May 21 2017

Last Friday, Kumar Sangakkara had the pleasure of standing next to a newly unveiled portrait of Kumar Sangakkara, at Lord’s:

image

I love the contrast between the grimly formidable Kumar Sangakkara in the oil painting, and the ever-so-slightly goofy expression of Sanga in the mere photo.

Few players get the chance to walk past their own portrait on their way out to bat, and even less have the honour of doing so at Lord’s.

Friday was day one of Middlesex v Surrey.  So how did Sanga do for Surrey in that game?  Okay.  Today he completed his second century of the match, and will bat on tomorrow morning.  Without him, Surrey would be dead and buried in this game by now.  With him, they should get the draw, despite being behind on first innings by nearly a hundred.

This evening, Vithushan Ehantharajah of Cricinfo was waxing very eloquent about the great man’s batting:

Kumar Sangakkara‘s sense of occasion was evident once more in this London derby as he scored his second century of the match, while also passing 20,000 career first-class runs. Sangakkara’s 60th century in the format, from 174 balls, was played out in a thick cable-knit sweater despite the glorious sunshine that accompanied him for much of his jaunt. The ice in his veins must have been working overtime.

This knock saw Sangakkara become the first Surrey batsman to score twin hundreds in a Championship match since Arun Harinath - a Surrey academy product of Sri Lankan descent who Sangakkara picked to play him in the movie of his life (true story). Both centuries in this match were brought up with a three through extra cover. Both allowed Surrey to rest a little easier.

The first-innings deficit was 82 when he came in with Surrey 16 for 2. Toby Roland-Jones, having removed Mark Stoneman for a 10-ball duck, squared up Rory Burns and trapped him in front. Even at stumps, Surrey were not quite home and hosed. They resume on the final day 96 ahead, with six wickets remaining but no full-time batsmen to come.

This is usually the part of the report which tells you about the cover-drives and cuts behind point: the ones you have probably seen a thousand times over. You know: feet still, weight decisively either back or forward, hands through the ball with the gliding devastation of a man carving an ice sculpture with a light sabre. Or the defensive shots, which are just as serene.

Every block is a cover drive without the malice, each leave a statuesque pose making a mockery of anything you might find in a Florentine piazza. By way of housekeeping, there were 14 fours in this innings (so far).

Instead, consider this a public service announcement. Go and see him. Somewhere. Anywhere. Find the time, the money and the moment to watch Sangakkara before he decides the game has nothing left for him. He is 39 years of age and, luckily for us, has decided county cricket is where he wants to be right now. Until he decides otherwise, English cricket has a global great in its back garden. All you need to do is look out the window.

I already looked.

Saturday May 20 2017

Around five years ago, the dominant architectural story of London was all the Big Things that had recently been erected, starting with ther Gherkin, continuing with the Shard and the Walkie Talkie.  There are few more Big Things about to arrive in The City, but the bigger story now is the much more numerous, rather less big things.  less big things like these: 

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As you can see from the cranes, lit up by early evening sun against that cloudy sky (an effect of which I have always been fond), some of these particular Less Big Things are still being completed.  They are on the far (i.e. south) side of the River from me.  Behind them are the railway approaches into and out of Waterloo.

Call it the Benidorming of London.  By this I do not mean that London will become entirely Benidorm, merely that this is the way the architectural wind happens to be blowing just now.  Soon, another wind will blow, and people will be grumbling about that, and maybe even lamenting the end of the Benidorm phase.

Photo taken from the roof of my home, earlier this month.

LATER: To provide some context, here is another photo, photoed moments later, from the same spot, which tells you both more about where these Less Big Things are, and where I was doing the photoing from:

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On the left, the Millbank Tower (with its glorious roof clutter cluster).  The Millbank Tower is a truly Big Thing.  As you can tell, from the fact that it has a name, and that, if you are yourself a Londoner, you have almost certainly heard of it.

Friday May 19 2017

Recently, inspired by those Barcelona Graphics, I had another trawl through all the photos I took in 2005 when I visited Barcelona.

And guess what, here are a few of the photos I took, of photoers:

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Part of why I did this posting is that I just like how a square of squares looks, and I wanted to do another such posting, regardless of what the photos were of.

But now that I’ve done this particular square of squares, I am struck by how interested I was, even then, in taking photos of photoers that hid their faces.  I think this preoccupation was sharpened by me being on the Continent, and fearing that photoing people’s actual faces and putting them on my blog might break some kind of Euro-law.  They make more of a fuss about privacy over there, don’t they?  Such was then, and still is, my impression.  And now, of course, I apply the same attitude over here, because: face recognition software.

Also, note in particular photo 2.3, where you can see further evidence of Barcelona’s eagerness to advertise itself with its Big Things.

The light in Barcelona was great, and lots of my photos there came out really well.  Which is why I had so many photos of photoers, and of everything else I photoed with any enthusiasm.

Most of the cameras to be seen here are now historical relics, replaced by mobile phones.  Phones with cameras arrived (and oh look another square of squares (this time 5x5)) in 2006.  This was 2005.

Thursday May 18 2017

Funny how you learn things.  I get an email from the Adam Smith Institute, and in it (I don’t quite know why but there it was) was a link to this Guardian piece about Britain’s canal network.

This piece contains many interesting nuggets.  This, for instance:

One of the peculiar and completely unforeseeable benefits of a national canal network is that it means the Canal & River Trust owns a national towpath network, creating an uninterrupted channel of land between the major cities of London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds – the perfect place to bury a network of electric and fibre-optic cables, and to install mobile phone masts. Much of the cable could even be delivered by barge. In total, there are 400 miles (650km) of fibre-optic cable buried under the towpaths that the Canal & River Trust looks after – and the money earned from this helps pay for the upkeep of the waterways.

Well, I don’t know about that “totally unforeseeable”.  But nevertheless: nice.

There are more boats on Britain’s canals, apparently, than at the height of the industrial revolution.  Which doesn’t surprise me because I knew about the huge upsurge in the leisure use of British canals, having myself become a tiny part of this upsurge myself, on foot, with my camera.  And this has often caused me to wonder, have any new canals been recently dug, to facilitate the to-ing and fro-ing of us new canalians?

Yes.  This one:

… in 2002, the Millennium Ribble link in Preston became the first new canal to be opened in Britain in more than 100 years. It joins the once-isolated Lancaster canal to the national network, as had been planned 200 years before.

I could have found this out, presumably, if I had just googled “new canal” or some such thing, at any time during the last decade and a half.

I tried googling for a “new canal”, in the “UK” of course, but couldn’t find my way to this or any other new canal in the UK, which surprised me.  And which means that if I had simply asked my question of google, I might not have been able to answer it.  So, thank you Adam Smith Institute for the link.

Better fifteen years late with this story than never. The Millennium Ribble link itself was first planned two centuries ago.  So that was also a case of better late than never.

Wednesday May 17 2017

Today I had a New Zealand day.

In the afternoon I had a whole lot of fun catching up with Tony, whom I last saw in about 1763.  Well, 1984, to be exact.  Still a long time ago.  Apparently Chris Tame and I and the Alternative Bookshop and all that had a big impact on his early thinking.  Tony is a New Zealander, who lives in New Zealand with Mrs Tony and the three grown-up Baby Tonys, and he is now on a flying visit back to Europe with Mrs Tony.  Message to Tony: here is Samizdata.

And then after that I attended a double talk at the Adam Smith Institute, by two other New Zealanders, about what we Brits can learn from them about how to make the best of Brexit.  Here are four of the photos I took.  On the left, two of the graphics, 1.1 being the one on the screen before they got started, and the other being about New Zealand immigration, which is apparently a lot better system than ours is.

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And on the right, the two speakers.  The first one turned out to be a German New Zealander.  Fair enough.  He talked about immigration, and he knows a lot about that.

The second guy talked about agriculture and about fishing.

Tuesday May 16 2017

This looks like an everyday urban scene, towards the end of a rather gloomy and cloudy day, with nothing much of any great interest to see:

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But observe that cluster of chimneys, to the right of and a bit higher than the bus stop sign.

I’m talking about this:

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I’ve lived a walk away from this delightful urban sculpture for about a third of a century, but I never noticed it, until today.

I’ll bet you anything there was a time when most people thought that the plague of chimney potted brick buildings that was marching relentlessly across London was the quintessence of ugliness, the way people think traffic jams are ugly now.  But now that such chimneys are no longer being built, but are instead merely being destroyed from time to time, we can relax and enjoy them.  And in about fifty years time, when the traffic jams start to retreat, people will realise that they look rather cute also.

Monday May 15 2017

Last night Spurs played their final game at the old White Hart Lane stadium.  They beat Man U 2-1, with Man U’s Wayne Rooney, no less, having the honour to score the very last goal there.  That will make a fine trivia question in years to come.

And today, the digging up of the old pitch has already begun:

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Ouch.

I then ran the video for a bit, until there were cranes:

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At the top there, you can see that open wound where the digging up has started.  And you can also see how the new stadium is replacing the old one, on an expanded version of the old site.

Here is a rather more pastoral photo of those same cranes, taken by me from out east, beside the River Lea, looking back across the Tottenham Marshes:

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I am not surprised that they are now in a hectic rush to complete the new stadium as quickly as they can.  Home advantage is a very real thing in sport.  Spurs did superbly at old White Hart Lane this last season, the one now coming to an end.  But not nearly so well at Wembley, where they played their “home” Champions League and Europa League games, and where they will play all their “home” games next season, or in their regular away games, at other club’s stadia (-iums if you prefer that).  Typically, it was an away loss to West Ham which finally saw them lose all hope of winning the Premier League, and let Chelsea gallop away with it.

I don’t fancy Spurs for next season, or for the season after, when (and this is if all goes well with the new stadium) they will still be new to their new home ground.  Spurs will bust all the guts they have control over to get the new ground ready for the season after next, and I believe they’ll manage it, if only because the amount of money at stake will cover all the costs of rushing.

They also face the problem of keeping the likes of Kane and Dele Alli from signing for Real Madrid, Gareth Bale style.  It might have been better for Spurs if Dele Alli had postponed proving what a great player he is for a couple of seasons.

So, the sooner Spurs settle into New White Hart Lane the better.  But it won’t be easy to combine all this commotion by topping their third place in the Premier League in 2015-2016 and their second place this time around.

Hope I’m wrong.

Sunday May 14 2017

So I got to work, rather late in the day, on a posting about lots of photographers whom I photoed in Barcelona twelve years ago, but it was taking too long, so I dashed off another piece about targetted advertising.  But then I realised that this piece could just as well go up at Samizdata, so that’s where I put it.  And since I am now about to go to bed, this, about that, is your lot for today.

See also an earlier SQotD I did, using a photo I took recently in the Burlington Arcade

Saturday May 13 2017

I can’t remember how I came across the blog Sleepless in Barcelona.  But I did, and was intrigued that, like London, it seems that Barcelona likes to advertise itself with an assemblage of its most recognisable buildings:

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I visited Barcelona in 2005 (I got the date from this posting), and I remember thinking then that, like London, Barcelona was an obvious candidate for this sort of graphic promotion.  Like London, it used to have an upper limit to the height of its buildings - caused by religiously motivated legal restrictions, perhaps?  But now, whatever those height limitations were, they had been overcome or set aside, and the occasional bigger building was sprouting up, in the new “recognisable”, “iconic” style.  Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia used to dominate the city in splendid isolation, the way St Paul’s Cathedral used to dominate the City of London, but for a while now, other, secular Big Things have being permitted.

More Barcelona graphic assemblages here, and in lots of other www spots too, if google images ("Barcelona skyline") is anything to go by.

Here is another such piece of graphic promotion, this time more colourful:

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Just as with London, and with quite a lot of other cities, two of the key breakthrough modern Big Things were telecoms towers.  Montjuïc Communications Tower and the Torre de Collserola.  Both are to be seen on the left side of the above graphic.  I remember noticing both of those very dramatic buildings when I was there, but I also vaguely remember failing to photo them at all successfully.  My camera didn’t have anything like the zoom that my current one does.

Maybe I should pay Barcelona another visit.

Telecoms towers have a typically rather unacknowledged place in the history of modern architecture.  Dating as many of them do from the concrete monstrosity era, they proved, with their popularity and their popularity in particular with picture postcard sellers, that the public vastly preferred amusingly shaped buildings to the usual concrete monstrosities of the boringly rectangular sort.  This caused the Big Thing style to erupt quite a bit earlier than it might otherwise have done.

Friday May 12 2017

On that wander-around earlier this week, with GD2, there were, as related yesterday, lots of luxury objects to photo.  And I did try, but mostly I failed.  This was partly because luxury objects tend to be sparkly, and sparkly is hard to photo successfully.  But mostly, I suspect, it was just that I’m not used to photoing luxury objects and am in general not very good at it.

There were sparkly animals to photo, such as a bracelet with a tiger on it, and a silver horse rolling about on its back.  But they didn’t come out that well.

There were a couple of incongruously painted pandas (perpetrated by this guy), which I also photoed.

And there was a Bentley Mulsanne parked out in the street looking very good (especially its front lights), the effect as splendidly dignified as that of the two pandas were incoherent, offputting and pointless.  More about that Bentley, maybe, some other time.

Maybe even some more about the pandas, once I have thought of something to say about them other than that I didn’t like them.  I mean, someone obviously does.  Why?

In the end, the luxury item that I remember from that day with the greatest pleasure was this one:

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The trick with buying luxuries is to buy a category of luxury that you can tolerate being too expensive.  A luxury car would break my bank account completely.  A luxury bracelet would be a non trivial hit, even if I wanted one.  But a luxury ice cream, in a tub that someone has obviously “designed” (to look somewhat like an old Penguin paperback in this instance), that I could happily stretch to.

Tastes differ in such matters, but I found this icecream really tasty.  It was purchased in the cafe at the top of John Lewis’s in Oxford Street.  After we had consumed our various luxury foods and drinks we climbed to the floor above, to the roof garden, where the view of London is not as spectacular as some of the views of this kind, but very satisfying if you are a fan of roof clutter, as I am, especially with the weather being like it was.  Again: luxury.  This time not overpriced at all.

Thursday May 11 2017

GodDaughter 2 and I meet up every so often, so I can be brought up to speed on her progress as a classical singer.  The last two times we’ve met, we’ve visited posh shops.  She likes viewing their contents.  I just like photoing whatever amusing things happen to present themselves to me, including, sometimes, the contents of the posh shops.

Here are some of the photos I took on the most recent wander around that we did (just after I took the photo in the previous posting).  These photos all having been taken in the Burlington Arcade:

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1.1 is the view everyone thinks of, if they think of anything at all, when they think of the Burlington Arcade.  1.2 is the rather elaborate floor, which I rather like.  Then things liven up a bit.  2.1 is someone who managed to look ultra-posh, even when seated in a wheelchair.  2.2 … well, you can see why I would like a posh box for putting posh things into, with decoration on its lid like that.

But then, my eye wandered a little, and I noticed that although we were in the Burlington Arcade, there was still – wonder of wonders - roof clutter to be seen, through the windows above us.  I hoovered up roof clutter views, and here are a few of those:

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The more I wander around London, the more I notice this contrast between the stage, the places where London is trying to look its best and is all primped and permed and made-up, and the behind-the-scenes areas.

Here was a circumstance where, behind a very posh piece of retail scenery, there was still backstage clutter to be seen, just by looking upwards, through the ceiling.

Wednesday May 10 2017

Today I was out and about in the the West End, Mayfair, Oxford Street parts of London, and I took my usual ton of photos.

Like many photographers, of all degrees of grandeur from very amateur to very pro, I am fascinated by reflections, and the weather today, bright sunshine, is particularly good for such reflections.  As architectural facades have moved from masonry and concrete towards great sheets of high-tech glass, these reflections have become a characteristic townscape fact of modern life, as the older buildings bounce their facades off the newer ones, thus:

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What I especially like about reflections of this kind is that they proclaim cities to be architectural dialogues rather than architectural monologues.  These reflections are typically the consequence of at least two distinct minds, of two different times, two different styles.  Often of many different times and styles, of course.  And, for me, the very essence of cities is that that are almost never the creations of just one mind, of one aesthetic dictator, one tyrant.  London definitely isn’t.  It keeps being demanded by architectural commentators that the look of London needs to be more coordinated, more harmonious, more uniform, less “chaotic”, but it never happens.  And the result is these – to some jarring, but to me endlessly diverting – collisions and juxtapositions of styles and of aesthetic attitudes.  My urban vision, so to speak, is of a city that embodies many visions, creatively colliding and conversing.

I am sure you understand why I was so delighted by this photo, when I looked at it on my computer screen, and first saw those words “URBAN VISION”, on the right there.  I still don’t know why they were where they were.  Maybe I’ll go and check that out.  Meanwhile: enjoy.  I did.

Tuesday May 09 2017

Remember all those anti-Brexit signs that I photoed, at that demo?  My original official objective that day was not signs or demos.  It was statues.

In particular, I wanted to photo the statue of Frederick, Duke of York, the man whose army reforms contributed greatly to Britain’s victory in the Napoleonic Wars.  Wellington rated him very highly, which is not surprising.  No Frederick, Duke of York, and there would probably have been no Waterloo.  Or not the kind of Waterloo that we Brits would have been able to celebrate.

This FDoY statue is on the other side of St James’s Park from me.  This was the best photo I managed of it, that day:

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I agree.  Nice sky and pretty trees, but not so good of the Duke himself.  He is at the top of a very tall column and the light was mostly behind him.

I had better luck with the far more down-to-earth statues of three World War 2 military supremos, outside the War Office:

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Left to right: Monty, Slim, Brooke.  My photos look good that way.  The real order is Slim, Brooke, Monty.

More about these statues (together with twenty two other “powerful” London statues) here.  Scroll down to get full length photos of these particular three.

I really like the Slim and Monty statues.  Brooke, not so much.

Monday May 08 2017

For the last few days I haven’t been out much, and today I was confined to my barracks by email malfunction, and then by being required to wait next to my computer, waiting to be told what was what by The Guru, after I had failed to make sense of it.  If you can’t send or receive email, modern life doesn’t work and all else is insignificant.

So, once again, my posting is about remembering sunnier times, this time those sunnier times being this time last year.  In France.

And nothing says France quite like an entire shop, in an impossibly picturesque seaside town, devoted, in its entirety, to tinned fish:

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Here, for the benefit of those who can read French, is a closer-up view of the sign:

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Sardines, the queens of … well according to the internet, “conserverie” means: canning factory.

I bought fish paste:

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The fish paste is long gone, but I have kept the cans as souvenirs.

Things like this are utterly ordinary, if, for you, they are ordinary, which they would be if you lived in France.  But I live in London SW1, where I cannot buy such things, and I find them beautifully exotic.  If I could buy these exact sorts of French tins in Sainsbury’s or Tesco, they wouldn’t be worth a second look or a first mention here.  But, I can’t.

Sunday May 07 2017

In September 2014, GodDaughter 2 and I visited Tate Ancient, as I like to call it, which is a short walk from where I live.  These places try to discourage photography, but they are losing this battle.  Here is my favourite photo from that day, together with a couple of other photos of the same object, to provide context:

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This object just oozes that Art Nouveau vibe of modernism wedded to luxury.  You can easily imagine smaller versions of this thing being on sale in Harrods, as maybe they were, way back in the twenties when this object was contrived.  The columnar neck, with no wrinkles or adam’s apple or any such concessions to reality, is especially effecive, I think.  This is what turns it into a potential luxury commodity.

Once again, it’s the colour contrast that I like in my photo, between the shiny gold of the thing itself, and the blues and greys and browns behind it.

Here two context photos, that show how it looks in its Tate Gallery setting:

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Read a bit more about it here.

The man it portrays is Sir Osbert Sitwell.

Saturday May 06 2017

I like to photo London taxis, of the sort that have big elaborate multicoloured adverts all over them.  Not so black cabs, you might say.

I encountered this unblack cab in the Cromwell Road earlier this evening, just as it was getting dark.  I like how its colours shone out, in contrast to all the greyness and gloom by which it was surrounded, as if photoshopped:

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But there was something else I especially liked about this taxi and its all-over advert.  Here is a detail from the above photo:

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What I like is how that little orange light in the side of the taxi has been incorporated into the design of the advert, by becoming the point at which about eleven cake slices of colour meet.

I’ve not seen anything like this before.  That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been out there.  It just means that if it has, I haven’t noticed.

Friday May 05 2017

Summer, proper summer, where sandals and no socks is obvious rather than a hope for the best, is taking an age to get here.  So here are some snaps from an earlier summer:

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I just picked out nine that I liked, nine because it makes for a good show here.  I didn’t think.  I just looked and waited for when I said to myself: ooh I like that.

Thursday May 04 2017

In the Islington Cemetery:

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I am still working out what to say about Helen, whom I cannot claim to have known well.  I knew a few of the others present, but only a few.  But I did Helen Szamuely enough to know that she will be sorely missed.

Meanwhile, there is that photo, and here is the best link I found, for anyone who wants to to acquaint themselves further with the lady and with something of what she was and what she did.  And, of course, there is this.

I knew that by attending this funeral I would learn a lot about Helen that I did not know before.  I was right.

Wednesday May 03 2017

I have begun reading Lincoln Paine’s very big book of maritime history, and it is heavy going, by which I mean that it is heavy.  My eyesight is deteriorating, and I now have to hold books with quite small print, such as this one is, close to my face, and holding this very big book is rather exhausting.

The first chapter concerned Pacific canoeists, whose navigational achievements were stupendous, and pre-USA Americans.  It was no fault of Paine’s, but I wasn’t that gripped, because I had no questions about such things hat I wanted answered.  But then Paine moved to ancient Egypt, and things started livening up (pages 37-38):

In the spring of 1954, employees of the Egyptian Antiquities Service were removing debris from around the base of the Great Pyramid at Giza. The effort was a routine bit of housekeeping and there was little expectation of uncovering anything of significance in a place that had been worked over by tomb robbers, treasure seekers, and archaeologists for forty-five hundred years. As they cleared the rubble, workers came across the remains of the southern boundary wall. This was hardly extraordinary; boundary walls had been identified on the north and west sides of the pyramid as well. What was unusual was that this one was closer to the pyramid than the others. Because the archaeological record had long since revealed the Egyptians’ fastidious attention to precise measurements and symmetries, archaeologist Kamal el-Mallakh suspected that the wall covered a pit holding a boat connected with the funeral rites of the pharaoh Khufu - or Cheops, as he was known to ancient Greek writers living about midway between his time and ours. Archaeologists had found such pits around various pyramid complexes, including that of Khufu, although all were empty at the time of their modern discovery. Further excavation revealed a row of forty-one limestone blocks with mortared seams. El-Mallakh chiseled a test hole in one of the stones and peered into the impenetrable darkness of a rectangular pit hewn from the bedrock. As he could not see, he closed his eyes.  “And then with my eyes closed, I smelt incense, a very holy, holy, holy smell. I smelt time ... I smelt centuries .... I smelt history. And then I was sure that the boat was there.” Such was the discovery of the royal ship of Khufu.

The forty-four-meter-long disassembled vessel had been superbly preserved in its airtight tomb for approximately four and a half thousand years. According to one investigator, the boat’s timbers “looked as hard and as new as if they had been placed there but a year ago.” The boat was almost certainly built for Khufu, the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty. The Great Pyramid was his tomb, and the cartouche of his son, Khafre, was found on several of the blocks sealing the pit. More than twelve hundred pieces of wood were recovered, ranging in size from pegs a few centimeters long to timbers of more than twenty meters. About 95 percent of the material was cedar, imported by sea from Lebanon; the remainder included domestic acacia, sidder, and sycamore. After the pieces had been documented and conserved, the complex work of reconstruction began. The pieces had been arranged logically in the pit: prow at the west end, stern to the east, starboard timbers on the north side, port timbers on the south, hull pieces at the bottom and sides of the pit, and superstructure elements on top of the pile. Carpenters’ marks in the form of symbols in the ancient hieratic Egyptian script gave additional clues about how the pieces fit together. Even so, it took thirteen years before the reconstruction was complete; and it was not until 1982, almost three decades after its discovery, that the Khufu ship was opened to the public in a specially built museum alongside the pyramid.

By any measure, the Khufu ship was an astonishing discovery. The largest and best-preserved ship from antiquity or any other period for the next four thousand years, it reveals the technological sophistication of the ancient Egyptians on a far more intimate and accessible scale than do the pyramids or the more arcane arts of embalming and mummification. Like these practices, the burial of the Khufu ship was clearly linked to death rituals in some way, and there is no clearer indication of the central place of boats and ships in Egypt of the third millennium BCE than their honored place in the sacraments of the afterlife. Together with the other twenty-one Egyptian vessels thus far discovered by archaeologists, to say nothing of the hundreds of models, tomb paintings, and written descriptions of ships and boats, as well as records of river and sea transport, the Khufu ship forcefully highlights the importance of watercraft to a civilization that flourished along a fertile ribbon drawn through an African desert.

Tuesday May 02 2017

Speculation: every lover of music has a particular style of music-making that he likes so much that he even likes it when it is done rather badly.  He likes, that is to say, not only this particular sort of music, but also the mere sound that it makes.  The Sound That It Makes music is, by definition, a kind of music that only you and a few like-minded freaks like.  All it takes is an efficient market and suppliers of such music will bid down the prices of it, and thanks to amazon, that efficient market now now exists.  There are bargains to be had, and I do like a bargain.

Here are my last dozen amazon.co.uk classical CD purchases:

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Click on any of these if you want to take my word for it that this is nice music, but really, that isn’t my point here.

These CDs almost all fall into two very clear and distinct categories.  1.1, 1.3, 2.1, 2.3, and 4.2 are all of music by famous, front-rank composers, namely: Mozart, Liszt, Rachmaninov, and Beethoven.  Big names.  Top music.  The sort of music that all lovers of classical music tend to admire.

But, 1.2, 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3 and 4.3 are CDs of music by much less well known composers.  Louise Farrenc, Ludwig Thuille, Ferdinand Ries, Franz Limmer (a completely new name to me), Hummel (the least unknown of his lower division bunch), George Onslow, Franz Danzi, and Florent Schmitt.  The first names are included because these guys are not so well known.

4.1 is a box of recordings by Martha Argerich and friends, at the Lugano Festival of 2015.  Three separate CDs, of chamber works, some by big names like Brahms and Beethoven, Schumann and Schubert, and others by somewhat lesser personages, including Ferdinand Ries.  (RIes was a close friend of Beethoven.)

But what all of these CDs have in common is that they feature the piano, and in all but one instance, other instruments, mostly in quite small numers.  The outliers are the solo piano disc of Liszt, and the concerto discs by Mozart, and by Mozart and Rachmaninov.  But even Mozart piano concertos are famous for having what critics call a chamber music “feel” to them, with important parts for woodwind soloists, who often dialogue as equals with the piano soloist.

This, then, is my favourite musical style.  Piano, and a few other instruments.  There is no other musical styles where I buy bargain performances of pieces by composers where the only thing I know about them is when they lived.  Do the critics not rate the composers?  Do they think the performances are lousy?  Don’t care.  This is my kind of music.

When I was a kid, I played the flute, and the most fun I had doing that was when me and my siblings played together.  My two older brothers both played the piano and my sister played the oboe, all very well and better than I played the flute.  Was this what got me started with this sort of music?  Is this why I love it so much.  Maybe.  Don’t know for sure.

What is you favourite sort of music?  Remember my definition.  You love the music.  But even if the music is rather mediocre, you love the sound that it makes.

By the way, yes, that is a swan in the bottom right hand corner of the cover of 1.3.  But this is part of why this CD was so very cheap.  All over the world, tasteful classical music fans said to themselves: yes, this is quite good playing, but I can’t have a CD with a swan like that on the cover.  And nor can I own a CD which, on the back, quotes the pianist saying:

“I was always aware that my first recording had to be a portrait of Lizst.  Only he would enable me to present as a unity the many aspects of my soul.”

Me?  I just think that’s funny.  And Khatia Buniatishvili can really play, so who cares about the embarrassingness of her mere words?

Monday May 01 2017

I have become very fond of the cranes that sprout out of London’s Big Things to clean all the windows.  Architecture itself will never be purely “functional”, because it is anyone’s guess what precise function this or that building is there to perform, this being especially true of the biggest Big Things.  Are they machines for … whatever they do?  Or are they there to impress?  Both, of course.  So, what exact shape should the Big Thing be?  The architect can’t discover this.  He has to decide it.  Form does not rigidly and inexorably follow function.  Form follows function as determined by the dictates of the architect, and is as conventional and cliché ridden, as daring or as counter-intuitive, as the architect chooses to be.

But, out of these monuments to whim, these arbitrary sculptures, these three-dimensional illogicalities, there sprout these cranes, cranes which are impeccably functional.  They are what they are because what they are is what does the job best.  They possess an aesthetic purity that the buildings they are installed in quite lack.

So it is that, when trawling through my photo-archives, seeking quota photos, I look at photos like this one with new eyes, seeing things I hardly noticed when I first photoed them:

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That’s the Walkie Talkie of course, photoed two years ago.  In front of it is the Blackfriars Station/Bridge.

The more and more eccentric are the windows, the more cranes are needed to clean them.