Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Sunday January 24 2016

Earlier this month I came upon a clutch of Boris Bikes.  Boris Bikes used to be sponsored by Barclays Bank, and now, as you can see from the pictures of Boris Bikes that follow, they are sponsored by Santander, but Boris Bikes is what we all call these things.

Here are six of the Boris Bike pictures I took, on January 11th:

image image imageimage image image

Click on each of those to get six, seemingly pretty much identical, big pictures.

But actually, they are not identical pictures. 

I have recently become especially interested not just in the way that London’s Big Things look when I photo them, but in the way that others use these Big Things, or stylised representations of these Big Things, to say “London”.  In an advert for being a tourist in London, for instance.  Or, in this case, as a way to flag up that here are some bikes for hire which will enable you to bike around in London, seeing London.  And how do you make biking around London and seeing London seem more enticing?  You throw in pictures of London’s Big Things.  (You even throw in Big Things if you are advertising for sperm donors.  Had it not been for my recently cultivated alertness to the use of London’s Big Things in adverts, I’d not have bothered to photo that sperm donor advert.)

What I noticed about these bikes, and what got me photoing so many of them in this apparently way too excessive manner, is that each of them has a picture of two London Big Things on them.  I was able to find six different Big Thing duos, hence the above six pictures.

Allow me to save you the bother of looking more closely at the Big Things on these bikes, with some cropped out squares: 

image image imageimage image image

I just used google image searching to see if I could find any other Big Thing duos that I had not photoed on that day out, earlier this month.  I failed.  So far as I can tell, there are just six ways in which these bikes are decorated.

The complete set of Big Thing duos would appear to be: The Shard and Tower Bridge, the Wheel and St Paul’s Cathedral, the Big Olympic Thing and the Tower of London, the Millennium Bridge and Battersea Power Station, the Gherkin and Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the Dome.  Ancient and modern, in pairs.  I find this list interesting both for what is included, and for what is not.  I am guessing that these Big Things were not chosen just by a bunch of guys round a table picking them.  I’m guessing that a serious attempt was made to pick Big Things that really do say London to lots of different people.  In particular, this is data about which particular bits of new engineering and architecture have truly been added to the short list of Big Things that are not merely big, but loved.  Although it’s worth adding that the Millennium Bridge is not actually that big.

Even if actually this short list of six ancient Big Things and six modern Big Things actually was put together by a bunch of guys sitting around a table at an advertising agency, in the space of half an hour, well, that’s still data, of a sort.  These are the Big Things that they think say London, to the people they are trying to persuade to hire Boris bikes.

The surprises?  Well, for me, a slightly surprising inclusion is the Big Olympic Thing, and maybe a slightly surprising exclusion is Tate Modern.  Also not included here: the new Wembley Arch.  But by far the biggest surprise here is, I think, the omission of: the BT Tower.

Can anyone think of any other omissions as big as that one?

Of course, it could be that there are Boris bikes out there with the BT Tower on them, or with the Wembley Arch on them, and I just haven’t clocked them.