Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Wednesday April 24 2019

Fifteen years ago today, on April 24th 2004, at the Parliament end of Westminster Bridge, I took a clutch of photos of a guy who was photoing the London Eye from that spot:

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So far so ordinary.  Not so ordinary, however, is that he was using a mobile phone.  This is one of the earliest sightings I have found in the archives of mobile phone photoing, a trend only resisted now by freaks like me who care lots about photoing, but almost nothing about instantly communicating, of photos or of anything much else.

My camera was a Canon A70.

Tuesday April 23 2019

In the part of France where GodDaughter2’s family live and with whom I recently stayed, there are two ways to make a car journey.  You can take what looks like the long route, along two or even three sides of a motorway rectangle, only travelling on little roads when you have to, to get to and from the motorway.  Or, you can attempt to travel more directly, along little roads, by the scenic route.  The scenic route looks quicker on the map, at first glance.  But the motorways are quicker because they always go straight where they’re going.  They don’t wiggle back and forth up and down mountains, or get stuck in little villages.

I was taken on various car journeys during my stay, of both kinds.  The trips involving airports were on motorways, as were others.  But there were also various journeys along those scenic routes.

Here are a few of the many, many photos I took while on such expeditions: 

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The thing is, France is (see above) big.

On one of these expeditions we drove for about four hours, hither and thither, up and down, through kilometre upon kilometre of gorgeous scenery, encountering about three other oncoming vehicles per hour. We crossed over numerous bridges as we switched from going down or up one side of a valley to going up or down the other side of the same valley, often able to see past nearby trees to distant mountains, but often not, passing through and sometimes stopping in towns or villages with orange tiled roofs.

Countryside in England of this desirability, in weather like this, would be swarming with motorists, all making it impossible for each other to have a good time.  In the south of France, where this sort of weather is only average (too cold and windy) and where they have endless supplies of such scenery, we had the entire route pretty much to ourselves.

Also, in England, if you were to drive for half a day at the slowish but steady speed we were able to drive scenically in France, you’d take a visible bite into the map of England.  In France, such a trip doesn’t register, nationally speaking.  You’ve gone from this little place here, to this next little place right next to the first place, here, two millimetres away.  As an exercise in crossing France, forget it.  You have made no progress at all.

It’s not just places like America, Africa and India that are big.  Compared to England, France is big too.

Monday April 22 2019

An excellent Mick Hartley photo, using the single-bright-colour-with-black-and-white-everywhere else trick.

Here.

Sunday April 21 2019

Niece Roz tweets:

Had enough of your relatives already? Don’t just think about murdering them - come along to @scarthinbooks tomorrow afternoon and talk about how you could actually-- (Just kidding, Twitter. Just kidding)

Scarthin Books is, alas, in the Peak District, where Roz lives.  This is impossibly far away from London, where I live.  If she ever holds an event like this in London, I will definitely attend.  I will make sure that all present know that she and I are related.  Otherwise I will say little.  I will concentrate on looking quietly attentive and quietly thoughtful.

Photo of Roz’s second Meg Dalton book here.

Saturday April 20 2019

I like both of these.

This:

Capitalism works better than it sounds. Socialism sounds better than it works.

And this:

Capitalism is the only reason socialism has any money to redistribute.

I like them, as in: I like them as pithily expressed things to think about.  Not sure the first one in particular is actually true.  Socialism, when you actually spell out what socialists want and what they think should be done to dissenters, turns out to be ghastly, long before it actually happens.

And if capitalism sounds worse than it is, maybe you aren’t saying it right.

Yesterday there were four postings here.  Mostly small, but still, four.  The above stuff is Twitter, but this blog is not Twitter.  This blog leaves you time to have a little read and a life.

So, this is your lot for today.

On the other hand, if you have forty minutes to spare on subjects like the above, try listening to this.  It’s the IEA’s Kristian Niemietz talking about socialism.  He too thinks that capitalism is “counter-intuitive”.  His manner is a lot more low-key and considered than you would expect it to be if you only followed him on Twitter.

Friday April 19 2019

I like how digital photography has replaced killing, as a way to collect wildlife.  In particular (as I learned when preparing a talk I gave about digital photography five years ago), I like how butterfly collectors now collect butterfly photos instead of dead butterflies.

However, although I regularly wander about photoing photos, I have myself never photoed a butterfly.

Until last week, in France, on the same day as and about an hour after I photoed that Death in France photo, I photoed this butterfly:

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I know.  Not very impressive.  And is that another butterfly, a dead one, upside down on the floor there?  I rather think it may be.

However, a second later, this happened:

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Is that two butterflies shagging?  Do butterflies even do that?  Butterfly necrophilia perhaps?

I have no idea what brand of butterfly this particular butterfly is, but it is rather fine, I think.

But it does very well without one.

Video here.

I’ve included “War” in the category list below, because the battlefield is surely one of the places where these contraptions will make their creepy presence particularly felt.

ABC News reports, with video:

This very responsible turkey halted traffic on a two-lane road in New Hampshire until the entire flock was able to cross.

Via Roz the Crime Fiction Writer, who says:

He has the exact demeanour of our old school lollipop lady.

Pigeons and foxes aren’t the only ones who have adapted to human civilisation.

A week ago now, I photoed this photo in the graveyard of a little village up in the mountains of southern France called Taulis (already mentioned here).  Today being Good Friday, I thought I’d do a little nod towards Christianity by showing a few crucified Christs, France being very full of these rather gruesome sorts of sculpture.  Everywhere you go in France, or so it seems to me, you see these, and not just in graveyards:

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Even more striking, however, in that photo, are the dead body storage units in the background.  Do we have those in England?  Not that I recall seeing.

They remind me of the dead body storage units that you see in TV police dramas.  Every so often there’s a scene where a grieving relative is asked to identify a cadaver, and a drawer is opened, and closed.  We see grief enacted.

Are police dramas on the telly replacing graveyards and crucified Christs as the main means that we now use to contemplate death?

As I get nearer to death, I think about it more and more.  What will it be like?  Will I know I’m dead?  Will I still be “alive” when I am incinerated?  Will there by bright lights in the distance?  Will it hurt?  Will I be reunited with the enemies of my schooldays?  Will I still be able to write about it here, but in a way that is unpublished?  What, historically speaking, will I miss by a whisker?  Or by decades and centuries?

Maybe France is not so full of crucified Christs.  Maybe it’s just that when I now see them, I notice them.

Thursday April 18 2019

More sport.  This time in the form of a striking (literally) little passage from the preface of a book by Richard Tomlinson about the famed Victorian era cricketer W.G. Grace:

By the time he was twenty-seven, Grace had scored fifty first-class centuries.  He performed this feat at a time when pitches were so poor, and cricket gear so flimsy, that batsmen risked their lives whenever they took guard.  In one match at Lord’s – a ground where he would pick stones out of the rutted pitch – W.G. scored a hundred and then saw another batsman killed by a ball that smashed his head.

Despite the gear having got a lot less flimsy, cricket deaths, even now, occasionally happen.

Wednesday April 17 2019

Last night, United crushed in the Champions League by Barca, in Barca.  And tonight – glory be – City knocked out by Spurs in a mad scramble of a game in Manchester.  So, Spurs win without Kane.  They’ve been doing a lot of that lately.

Did you see that result coming?  I didn’t, and especially not after City scored after about one minute.  And then, after about three more minutes it was 2-2.  Bonkers.

Are there any Mancunians who support both United and City against all comers?  The way I support all the London teams?  If so, such persons had a bad two nights.

Meanwhile, what’s happening at the top of the Premier League means that I am having to set aside my London-wide support for the duration.  Man City or Liverpool are going to win it.  But Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea are now competing for two Champions League spots next season.  So, when Liverpool recently played Chelsea, I found myself, albeit with a heavy heart, supporting Liverpool.  Chelsea lost, which meant Spurs stayed ahead of them.  Hoo.  Ray.

THE FOLLOWING EVENING: Well, I’m back to supporting Chelsea and Arsenal, against Slavia Prague and Napoli respectively, in the Europe League.  Both are strolling it.  Go, London!  Asks the BBC footy feed:

Are we heading for an all-English Champions League final AND an all-English Europa League final?

Despite Brexit.  It would be a lovely thing to see, but there’s a bit to do for that to happen.  Like Spurs and Liverpool beating Ajax and Barca.

Yes, telling you about how I’ve been in France.

So. where was I?  In France?  Well, to give you an idea, here are some of the excellent places I visited:

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Whenever I am in foreign parts, I always photo signs, adverts, and the like.  Every place has its own style for doing such things, so signage photos can be very evocative, when you look back at them.  Also, they tell you where you were, and hence what all the other photos taken at the same time were of.

Click on the above photo-fragments to get some context.  If you are curious about any of these places, well, you now have the words you need to go searching.  Words are already links, in the sense that you don’t need me to turn them into links.

I especially like how, when you leave a French town or village, you get a sign with the name crossed through with a red line (2.3).

I also photo war memorials, keeping a particular eye open for repeated surnames.  In Lagrasse (3.1), Baillat, Fontvieille and Jougla are surnames that each get two mentions.

I also like to photo the stuff in tourist shops, especially the postcards (1.1 and 3.2).  That way, you get what tourists generally consider to be the best views, and are alerted to interesting local things which you otherwise might miss even learning about.  Although, in St Cyprien, I got a bit of aggro from a couple shopkeepers who objected to me photoing their produce instead of buying it.

Tuesday April 16 2019

There you were, waiting for a good time to con your way past the front door of my block of flats by saying you’re the postman, to climb my stairs, to bash in my front door and to plunder my classical CD collection.  All that was stopping you was the fear of me bashing your skull to bits with my cricket bat, which I keep handy for just this sort of eventuality.

So anyway, there you were reading all about how my life for the last week has been complicated.  But, I clean forgot to tell you that the reason for all this complication was that I was off in the south of France.  Silly old me.  I’m getting old, I guess.

Here’s how the south of France was looking:

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Those are the Pyrenees at the back there.  In the foreground, lots of little wine trees.

The weather looks slightly better in that than it really was, what with it having been so very windy.  Especially on the final day of my stay, up on this thing.

Monday April 15 2019

An airplane approaches London City Airport.  There are cranes, leaning away from each other, ...

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... which was all I thought I was photoing.  Until I looked at it at home on a much bigger thing; and saw a Much Bigger Thing:

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Yes, the Big Olympic Thing.

Another photo of somewhere, turned into somewhere by the same Big Thing.

Sunday April 14 2019

From comedian Johnnie Casson:

“You’ve put on weight, Johnnie.”

Johnnie C: “I’ve had a lot on my plate.”

Me too, lately.  Like I said, brief and perfunctory.

I don’t know where this was.  Someone was sitting there with his laptop, with headphones on, and he started laughing.  The rest of us demanded an explanation.

Saturday April 13 2019

After I photoed those metal men beside the river; outside the old Woolwich Arsenal, I then walked up river towards the Dome, photoing photos like this:

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However, just before photoing that photo; I photoed this next photo, of a painter, hard at work:

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And here is the photo I photoed of how he was making this scene look:

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The painting above had yet to say this, but that is the Tate & Lyle factory just south of London City Airport.

I asked this artist’s permission to photo his painting, which he graciously gave, but I did not ask him who he was.  The polite way of asking that would have been to say: Do you have a website?  But, alas, I forgot to ask this:  So, no link to any website, Apologies to him if he does have a website, and apologies to you.

Friday April 12 2019

Jamie Hannah is a friend of GodDaughter2, as a result of him having spent a year at the Royal College of Music, going from being a good countertenor to a rather better countertenor.  But now he’s giving the pop star thing a go.  Judging by his latest video, I reckon the plan just might work.

I’ve heard Jamie Hannah in action twice before, once live and once in the form of a recording.  In terms of performing savvy and persistence and general attitude; he seemed to be going about it the right way, but the actual sounds he was making didn’t sound to me that distinctive:  Any friend of GodDaughter2 is a friend of mine.  But not having anything sufficiently positive to say about Jamie’s work, I kept quiet about it here.

As you can see, that has now changed:  If this new video is anything to go by, Jamie is now making much more use his strength; which is his very distinctive countertenor voice.

And, although I know nothing of the technicalities of such things; the production side - the sheer sound of the musical backing and the general ambience - sounds to me like it has taken a big step in the right direction.  Whatever he is now doing, I hope Jamie Hannah keeps at it.

Judging by a lot of the comments at YouTube, it would appear that a certain Boy George feels similarly.

Thursday April 11 2019

As earlier threatened.

Here is a tree, photoed by me in Onslow Square, just off the Fulham Road, early last week:

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It’s the way they prune it.

Wednesday April 10 2019

For a posting I did here last Saturday, I went looking for an example of Mick Hartley sneering at an idiot artist (it didn’t matter which one) for talking art-speak bollocks.  It actually took me quite a lot of scrolling to find such a posting.  Mostly he features photos that he likes, and anti-semitism and such stuff, that he doesn’t like.

While scrolling for the art-speak bollocks, I came across this wonderful photo, which Hartley found here:

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One of the many things this photo illustrates is, I think, what a truly magnificent building the Walkie-Talkie is turning out to be.  The variety of effects it creates, depending on the light and on where you are, is truly amazing.  I love how, in this particular photo, its windows merge into the general pattern of city windows, with individual buildings being hard to discern as the sources of all the bright little rectangles.

The Walkir-Talkie was hated at first, by many, many people.  But the reality of it is, from far away, from quite far away (as above), and from close-up, is truly wonderful, as is what you can see from it.

See also, as time goes by: The Tulip.

I also like all the little red lights in that photo, which are there, I believe, to scare away helicopters.

Tuesday April 09 2019

I see this building every time I step outside Highbury and Islington tube station:

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I wondered whether such a photo was worth showing here at all; but a friend saw it and liked it, so there it is.

Life for me just now is complicated, There may be quite a few brief and rather perfunctory postings like this in the next few days.

Monday April 08 2019

These are technically terrible photos, but I had a lot of fun photoing them, and I get a lot of pleasure when I stumble upon such photos-from-airplanes in the photo-archives.  What are these exactly?:

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Well, I cranked up Google Maps, and also maps like the one here, and set to work.  That photos have exact timings attached to them is very helpful when you are trying to work out what photos from airplanes are of.

And yes, those are the four big-name Channel Islands, TopLeft: Jersey, TopRight: Guernsey, BottomLeft: Alderney, BottomRight: Sark.

I reckon that Alderney, from that angle, looks a bit like a hippo.

But for me, the most intriguing puzzle was this:

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What is that?  Turns out, it’s the island of Herm.  Herm’s sales pitch: There’s no place like Herm.  Herm, island of triangular stamps.

Never heard of it, until now.  Photo and learn.  Blog and learn.

Sunday April 07 2019

Or to put it another way:

London’s new Tulip skyscraper is great, but why aren’t more people embedding sharks in their roof?

Well, I can think of quite a few answers to that question, but I get the point that Joel Dimmock is making and I like it very much.

Is there starting to be a hum, as the late Chris Tame used to call it, in favour of people being free to build whatever crazy buildings they want to build with their own money on their own property?

One of the more interesting facts about the quotes quoted above is that they appear in The Independent.  Okay, in the “Voices” (clickbate?) section, but still, The Independent.  Is The Independent starting to be in favour of … independence?

Saturday April 06 2019

A little snatch of video.  Won’t take you long at all. I encountered it here, and you can too.

It made me lol and maybe it will make you lol too.  Or maybe just smile a bit.  Or not, even if you do quite like it.  Or not, because you don’t like it.  The decision is yours.

The designated starting point of my walk beside the river last Monday was Assembly (that being a photo of Assembly being assembled), the sculpture assembly outside the Woolwich Arsenal next to the river:

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Those are some of the photos I photoed, and they are pretty much the photos everyone else photos of these metal men, and pretty much the same as the photos I photoed when last I visited these men.  That was in April 2011.  It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago, which I think is because these metal men, once seen, are not soon forgotten.

Assembly is the work of Peter Burke.  My googling skills are such that I often have to have several goes at a subject before I find my way to the stuff that I find the most informative and interesting.  I can just about remember visiting the Peter Burke website, but I don’t recall ever reading this biography of Peter Burke before.  Nor do I recall learning that this Assembly assembly began life somewhere else.  Or maybe he did an Assembly for that rural setting, and then did another Assembly for outside the Woolwich Arsenal.  Yes, probably that.  Burke is big on mass production, like his contemporary and mate (apparently) Gormley.

And, I certainly never watched this video of Peter Burke speaking until now.  As with all artists talking about their work, I see rather little connection between what he says about his work and what the work says to me.  But at least what he says is mostly accurate, in that he mostly describes how he made it.  There is hardly any pretentious art-speak bollocks of the sort that would get him sneered at at Mick Hartley‘s.

A key to why I like Peter Burke is that before he started doing art he was a Rolls Royce engineer, working on aero-engines.  He liked and still likes how stuff like that looks.  Snap.  Unlike me, from then on, he knew how to make it.

But someone could do all the things Peter Burke describes himself doing when he does his art and produce art that says nothing to me at all.  Insofar as he does describe what he thinks his art actually means, he pretty much loses me.  Which might explain why I only like some of his art, such as Assembly.

What I get from Assembly, as well as the obvious military vibes I wrote about in that 2011 posting, is something to do with stoicism, emotional self-control, being a man, being a man under extreme pressure while keeping your manly cool.  Even to the point of looking rather comical while doing all this.

Friday April 05 2019

On June 13th 2008 I was wandering about in Quimper, photoing photos.  Mostly the photos were of such things as Quimper Cathedral with its twin spires, photoers photoing Quimper Cathedral with its twin spires, that kind of thing.

But in among all those, and with no accompanying explanation (like a context photo with less zoom (memo to self: always photo a context photo if it might help)), this:

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KanaBeach seems to be some sort of Brittany based clothing brand ("Kanabeach est une entreprise de vêtements bretonne"), which a few years later seems to have crashed and burned, after which catastrophe it may or may not have made a recovery.  (A recovery attempt which involved a giraffe, for some reason.)

But, I have no idea who Jean-Francois Kanabeach is.  And I am similarly baffled by the Nuclear Rabbits From Outta Space.  Google’s basic reaction to that was, first off, to ask if I meant “Nuclear Rabbits From Outer Space”.

A rabbit was, so it says here, launched into space in 1959.  And the Chinese did some stuff on the Moon in 2013, with something called the Jade Rabbit (aka Yutu).  But Nuclear Rabbits, from Outta Space?  Quesque c’est? Usually the Internet has something to say in answer to questions like this.  But in this matter, rien.

Thursday April 04 2019

I read quite a while ago, because I got sent a proof copy.  What do I think of it?  Very good, and with one especially good moment near the end, which (spoiler alert: I’m about to say something about this moment) I thought was a very acute comment on the nature of human moral beliefs and intuitions, and which I thought was very well set up to achieve maximum dramatic impact.

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As I have to keep explaining, Roz Watkins is my niece, that being why I keep plugging her books at this blog when most of what you see here is stuff about London and my photos of London.

Trouble is, writing about detective thrillers is a bit of a mug’s game.  I am used to writing about books of the sort where you are allowed to go into the details of what the book actually says.  If I find the argument presented in a book, of the kind I’m used to writing about, to be persuasive, then I can say so and say why.  But when you are writing about a detective thriller, telling everyone what it says, and especially how it concludes, is a big no.  Those who “review” books like this one seem often to be reduced to cliches, all about how they stayed up all night reading it, did not see the end coming, liked the general atmosphere, the leading characters, the dialogue, and so on and so forth, in pretty much those sorts of words.  In particular, reviewers compete with each other to find out how many generalised adjectives they can deploy as a substitute for “very good” (see above).

So, yes, I think this book is very good, but if you want to know why I think that, you’ll have to read it.  Even then, you might not discover, because maybe you’ll disagree with me.  (At which point you too will be forbidden to explain in any detail why you didn’t like it.)

One thing I can say without any fear of giving away any plot details is that the title on the cover of this second book is a lot easier to read (light coloured lettering, mostly dark background) than the title of the first one (lightish lettering, light background) was.  I thought that the first book, The Devil’s Dice, was very good, but I think this second one is a bit better, partly for the reason vaguely alluded to in the first paragraph of this, and partly because I found the politics of it (there is some politics, loosely defined (as in: not British party politics)) to be intriguing.

Wednesday April 03 2019

I follow Tottenham Hotspur on Twitter, and for once, the hysterical tweeting whenever Spurs score a goal (often in a game they lose (which they don’t tweet about the rest of)) was justified.  This time the fuss concerned the very first goal scored for Spurs in their new stadium, by Son Heung-min. 

Spurs beat Crystal Palace 2-0.

Here’s what the new stadium looks like, with added fireworks:

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It says there: “Just incredible.”

I’m not a real Spurs fan, because I don’t think it looks “just incredible”.  I just think it looks like a football stadium, and a rather bland and boring one.  But, that’s fine.  It’s a big old machine for people to play and watch football in.  Also American Football and pop music, apparently, which makes sense.

I also like this photo:

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In the distance, the Walthamstow Wetlands, i.e. various reservoirs.  Here is a photo I took of the stadium from next to those reservoirs.

This was not just an important occasion for Spurs; it was also an important game for Spurs.  Had Spurs lost to Crystal Palace this evening, it would have put a severe damper on the rest of their season.  As it is, they will return to their new home for the next game they play there in very good spirits.

Tuesday April 02 2019

On the left here, John C. Reilly, shown enacting one of the Sisters Brothers, Eli, in the graphics advertising the movie of that name.  On the right, Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, and star of long-running BBC comedy quiz Have I Got News For You? My instant reaction, when I first saw that advert for The Sisters Brothers, was that Reilly looked like a homicidal and weather-beaten version of Hislop: 

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I can’t be the only one now noticing this.  Yet googling “John C Reilly Ian Hislop” yielded only information about either John C Reilly or Ian Hislop.  There was no mention of any physical resemblance between these two persons.

So tweets City AM’s Christian May.

Everybody is now bitching about this Thing, just like they did with the Eiffel Tower.  Do “we need” it?  Blah blah.  Well guess what: I want it.  And more to point the people paying for it and wanting to build it want it.

Although, I did agree with the Dezeen commenter who said that maybe a Tulip is not the sort of thing you want in the middle of one of the world’s great financial districts.

LATER: Julia H-B:

Like all of London’s new skyscrapers, I’ll hate it.*

*Until I love it.

Precisely.

Monday April 01 2019

Today, in the spectacular weather that had been promised and which duly occurred, I took a walk along the river, from the Woolwich Arsenal back towards the centre of London in a westerly direction until I got to the Dome, ak these days a the O2.

I saw many things, but I only now have the energy to tell you about one of them.  This:

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Click to get a more panoramic view, with more context.

After much futile searching with Google Maps, I eventually just took a guess that it might be something to do with London City Airport, and so it proved.  (Scroll down there and all is explained.) This is the London City Airport Digital Air Traffic Control Tower.  Thanks to this structure, and thanks in particular to its numerous superzoom surveillance cameras, the people who do the Air Traffic Control for London City Airport can be miles away.  Either they already are or they soon will be:

London City Airport has announced it is to become the first UK airport to build and operate a digital air traffic control tower, with a multi-million pound investment in the technology. The innovative plans are a flagship moment in the airport’s 30th anniversary year, and mark the start of a technological revolution in UK airport air traffic management.

Working closely with NATS, the UK’s leading provider of air traffic control services, London City Airport has approved plans for a new tower, at the top of which will be 14 High Definition cameras and two pan-tilt-zoom cameras. The cameras will provide a full 360 degree view of the airfield in a level of detail greater than the human eye and with new viewing tools that will modernise and improve air traffic management.

The images of the airfield and data will be sent via independent and secure super-fast fibre networks to a brand new operations room at the NATS control centre in Swanwick, Hampshire. From Swanwick, air traffic controllers will perform their operational role, using the live footage displayed on 14 HD screens that form a seamless panoramic moving image, alongside the audio feed from the airfield, and radar readings from the skies above London, to instruct aircraft and oversee movements.

That announcement happened in 2017.  The tower no longer needs to be a computer graphic, because there it now is.  But, I suspect, only rather recently.  I think the reason I couldn’t find this Thing on Google Maps is that Google Maps has not yet caught up.

Scaffolding is not a category for this posting.  It may look like scaffolding, but it’s not.  That’s it.