Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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- Up early – blogging early – elephant sculptures
- I Love You Will U Marry Me
- I’m back
- A snip at £7,499.99
- The most newsworthy thing so far done by a drone
- A vintage photo
- To Tottenham (6): The Spurs Shop
- Supporting England in the Big Bash League
- A new stadium for Chelsea
- You wait for years and then two come along at once
- Mosaic diversion
- On the value of speaker meetings - to the speaker
- 6k has a drone
- Quota coloured lights outside the Royal Festival Hall
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
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Boatang & Demetriou
Burning Our Money
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
China Law Blog
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Coffee & Complexity
Communities Dominate Brands
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Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Deleted by tomorrow
Don't Hold Your Breath
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Dr Robert Lefever
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Everything I Say is Right
Fat Man on a Keyboard
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Greg Mankiw's Blog
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Here Comes Everybody
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we make money not art
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Category archive: Society
In the cold and muggy January of 2017, I and my aching limbs are spending a lot of time indoors. And many of the photos I am looking at were taken long ago.
Here is one that I took in, if my (very first digital) camera is to be believed, March of 2000. It also claims that it was taken at “01.31”, but I believe Big Ben:
The obviously out of date thing about that picture is the big Le Corbusian slabs of the old Department of the Environment, about to the demolished and replaced by less obtrusive new offices and dwellings.
But for me what was startling about this photo and its companion photos that I took that day is how few of them there were. In those far off times of limited SD card storage, the photos were far smaller, about a tenth of the size of the photos I take now. And, on that journey in the Wheel, no less, a trip that would now see me hoovering up views of London near and far, guess how many photos there are, in the relevant directory. Thirty nine. Thirty nine!!!
London has indeed changed, quite a bit. But digital photography has been transformed.
Also of interest is that among those few photos are photos of strangers, who were obviously happy to pose. As were their children. Not long after then, photos of other people’s children pretty much vanish from my archives.
Part of learning things is stuffing information into your brain. But another equally important part is arranging and connecting and understanding all the information once it is inside your head. And also: trying to understand why you stuffed all this particular information into your head in the first place. What were you thinking? What were you feeling? Why the attraction to this particular information?
In those two latter respects, I found that the talk I gave last Friday at Christian Michel’s was particularly useful. See here for a pre-report in what I talked about. I didn’t read out everything in that posting last Friday, but I did read out all the questions in the email that I sent Christian before the meeting, in other words I read out the indented bit of that earlier posting.
As I went on to ramble about in that earlier posting, and as I also rambled about last Friday, I have been pondering the Modern Movement in Architecture ever since I was a teenager. But last Friday evening I made some big steps forward in rearranging and organising how I think about it – and just as important how I have felt about it, what the attraction is, why I love it and love observing it and love photographing it, as much as I do.
In the word-processed file where this posting began life, there already follows the beginnings of a stream-of consciousness piece itemising a few of these steps forward. But I don’t want to rush that out before it has been written properly. In the meantime, I just want to assert my simple pleasure at what happened for me last Friday evening, without going into any detail.
Of particular value to me last Friday were some of the remarks from the floor, one in particular. This told me nothing that I did not already know, by which I mean already agree with. But what it did was place this particular observation into a different context. Into a different part of my head, so to speak. I found that particular moment especially helpful.
One obvious implication of my experience that I am willing to write about here immediately is that my happy experience last Friday made me very glad and proud that I also organise meetings at which others speak. Like Christian Michel, I give my speakers a lot of latitude in what they will speak about, this being because I have long known that a major part of the point of getting people to speak about something is that it will cause them to make discoveries rather like the ones I made last Friday. I often invite my speakers to speak about subjects they feel only partly on top of, which they are still getting to grips with, getting their heads round, getting their thinking straight about and their feelings clearer about. I have long known that this is a valuable thing to do, for the speakers. If the audience is a bit confused, so be it.
Well, I say that I have long known it. Now, I really know it, with a great deal more certainty, derived from a great big gob of recent and enormously encouraging experience.
It’s not that I am a hair fetishist. It’s more that I dislike faces, as in: I dislike photoing the faces of my fellow photoers, by which I mean photoing the faces of strangers. And then sticking their faces on the www. Or merely looking as if I might be doing that. Bad form. Not done. Especially with face recognition just getting bigger and bigger as a thing people worry about.
One way to not do this is to wait until they hold their cameras in front of their faces. Another is to simply photo them from behind. I do that a lot.
Which means that I find myself photoing a lot of hair, and a lot of hair styles.
And that is how I found myself noticing the deliberately bald look, so often sported by gentlemen these days.
And that is why I photoed this advert, which I chanced upon recently in a tube train:
I was standing up at the time. Which was lucky, because I was consequently able to take this photo without even the appearance that I might instead have been photoing the face of the man sitting underneath the advert. Many is the amusing tube advert I have refrained from photoing, in order not to arouse such fears, and maybe then cause A Scene.
More information about this impressive looking product here.
Indeed. I have the rest of today set aside for other things, maybe even including a little more tidying up, which I have been neglecting of late, but need to get a lot of done by the end of the year.
So here is a particularly diverting white van:
My rule for paying attention to things is to pay attention to things that intrigue me, without necessarily knowing why these things intrigue me. So it has been with white vans. Partly it is because they are politically symbolic. But partly it is because, actually, white vans span the entire social spectrum, in the atmospheres they radiate. There are as many different ways to make a white van look as there are ways to wear your clothes.
Yes, The Railwa. I had continued my odyssey from Seven Sisters on the regular railway, to White Hart Lane Station. And from the platform, and then when I got outside, this was what I saw. The Railwa:
As you can see from the picture on the right, The Railwa used to be The Railway Tavern.
The y Tavern bit has disappeared because this is one of the many, many British pubs that has recently been shut down.
The other night they had a telly show about this, but it seems that it’s not all doom. Pubs are being shut by Big Booze, and often then turned into blocks of posh flats, which are more lucrative. But, some of the pubs are being saved, and taken over by The Community. Accompanying this is the rise of “craft beer” (I at first misheard this as “crap beer"), which seems to be a mixture of regular beer and fruit juice, and as such, sounds right up my street. When it comes to drink, I am a girl. My alcoholic drink, on those rarish times when I am in a pub, is: lager and lime. So it’s all going my way, apart from if I go to one of these new pubs and find it full of The Community.
To be a bit more serious, what I think I see happening here is that the old Working Class, the sort that used to smoke, and watch football teams while standing up and wearing cloth caps is ceasing to exist and what remains of it is being kicked out of the pubs by the new Working Class, the sort that doesn’t smoke, and designs websites and manages brands and works in call centres and which spent this weekend at the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition at Tate Modern. The fate of the Railwa is what happens when an industry goes through a transformation of this sort. Many of the old institutions collapse and get trashed, like the Railwa, by the look of it. Others get transformed in accordance with the new dispensation, as perhaps the Railwa will be.
For me, on this night, Bonfire Night really was a bonfire night, and here is that bonfire:
There were also fireworks, in abundance. But I learned that photoing fireworks effectively is actually quite hard, if you are not used to using that snap-snap-snap-snap-snap procedure that is also used to capture sportspersons in action, so you can pick the best of five snaps rather than just hope that your one snap is good. My camera could probably do this, if only I knew how to push the right buttons. But, I don’t.
But it was great to be at this event, which took place in the grounds of this church. It reminded me a bit of the Farnborough Air Show, in that although there was a very large crowd of people present, all just standing in a big clump, nobody’s view of the excitements was impeded by any other people, because the drama was all in the sky, which we could all see quite clearly, with nobody interrupting anyone else’s view (as I explained in the final paragraph of this Farnborough Air Show posting). This fact alone made for a very convivial atmosphere. Usually crowds are rather bad tempered because the ones at the front can see whatever it is better, and the others are all fighting each other for what remains of the view. But not at the Farnborough Air Show, and not if there are fireworks, presented in the way that they were outside and above St John’s Loughton, earlier this evening.
Afterwards I and my Loughtonian host were able to buy a hot dog and a hamburger, for two quid each. Usually, “events” are an excuse to charge far too much for such things. Not there, not this evening.
No Guy, though. I would have liked a Guy.
I’ve already given you Rod Green’s Dangereuse. Here’s another, longer bit from his book about Magna Carta, a bit which he entitled “Boys and Men” (pp. 61-66) I was especially struck by the part near the end, about people who could pronounce Latin words but who didn’t know what they meant. Sounds horribly familiar:
Not so long ago, it was widely assumed that the concept of “childhood” simply didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. The view was that the kind of life led by a modern child - where good health, play and education experienced as part of a loving family environment is seen as the norm - was in stark contrast to the lives of children 800 years ago, who were treated as a burden to be tolerated until they were old enough to be of some use.
Recent research, however, shows that this may not have been entirely the case. Studies of toys from the period have shown that children were encouraged to play. The toys may have been homemade in many cases, but models of mounted knights made out of metal would have been bought or specially commissioned, showing that some parents cared enough about their children’s play time to lavish gifts on them.
Children do not feature prominently in illustrated manuscripts, paintings or tapestries doing anything more than emulating their parents, but in some cases they can be seen playing games like tag or “king of the castle” and riding on hobby-horses. They were, it seems, encouraged to play and enjoy an active childhood, although their lives were set on a predetermined course at an early age.
In the early thirteenth century, a child surviving the first year of life had a reasonable chance of fighting off disease long enough to acquire the strength needed to survive in the harsh and unhygienic medieval world. In fact, 25 per cent of those born to wealthy parents and up to 50 per cent of those born to the poor did not. A whole host of infectious
diseases for which we now have myriad names would then simply have been classed as “fever” or “food poisoning”. Life expectancy was only around 30 years, although anyone from the ruling classes who made it, strong and healthy, to the age of 21, might well have had another 40 years to look forward to. In the fourteenth century, the Black Death was to reduce life expectancy dramatically.
In the days of King John, however, a fit young boy born into a noble family could expect to live in his parents’ grand house or castle until he was about seven years old. He would then be sent off to live in another castle, most likely in the house of a nobleman a rung or two up the feudal ladder from his own parents, perhaps even in one of the king’s
Here he would serve first as a page, running errands and generally waiting on the lords and ladies of the household. However, he would also learn how a large house functioned and how people interacted with one another, as well as learning about customs and proper manners. He might also be taught how to read and understand Latin and, if it were not already his native tongue, the version of French spoken by the Norman nobility.
A young boy would also learn how to ride and, if he showed promise, he might, when he was around 14 years old, become apprenticed to a knight as a squire. They had to train hard to learn the art of combat, which included lifting heavy stones to build muscle, throwing the javelin, fighting with a quarterstaff, archery, wrestling, acrobatics and sword fighting. Swordsmanship was taught using a blunted sword and a buckler, a small shield the size of a pot lid. This trained the would-be knight how to parry sword thrusts and how to use his shield as an offensive weapon without the novice having to start off with a full-sized, cumbersome shield. Similarly, the blunted sword was used against heavily padded protective layers, although the dull blade could still inflict painful wounds.
The squire would learn how to clean and prepare the knight’s armour and weapons, although major repairs had to be undertaken by a blacksmith or armourer. He would also need to help his knight put on his armour, which meant more than simply helping him to dress - the various elements of the heavy steel all had to be strapped into place in the correct sequence to make sure that they overlapped and allowed for movement in the right way.
This, of course, meant that the squire went with his knight to compete in tournaments. He would eventually get the chance to compete in his own right, even before he became a knight, as there were special contests organized solely for squires.
Whether a squire lived in his knight’s house, or whether he lived in a baron’s castle where landless knights also lived as part of the baron’s permanent military force, he would have regular chores to perform, which would include acting as a servant when his masters sat down to eat. Squires were expected, for example, to learn the correct way to carve meat at the table.
The squire’s apprenticeship would last until he was around 21 years of age, at which point he might expect to be knighted himself. However, he might want to avoid that happening - a squire could be made a knight either by his local lord or by the king, but it wasn’t an honour that everyone could afford. The squire’s family, whom he may have visited only a couple of times a year since he was sent away as a seven-year-old, would have to pay for the costly armour, weapons and warhorse that a knight required, as well as funding any forays he might make to tournaments far and wide. Being a knight could be prohibitively expensive, especially if a second, third or fourth son, who might not inherit any part of his father’s estate when he died (the bulk of property often being bequeathed to the first-born).
Around the beginning of the thirteenth century, there was a growing “middle class” of merchants, tradesmen and professionals, particularly in the new cities and busy ports. Trade with continental Europe had expanded enormously since the Norman Conquest, although Anglo-Saxon entrepreneurs are known to have traded extensively with partners as far away as Russia. Clauses 41 and 42 of Magna Carta make special mention of such merchants.
The son of a merchant would live an entirely different life from that of a boy born into the nobility. From a very young age, he would learn about the family business, in order to play a full part as soon as he was old enough. A boy might also become apprenticed to another merchant or tradesman, a privilege for which his family would have to pay, and be sent away from home to live with his new master.
Merchants, especially those dealing in foreign trade, had to be able to speak and read Latin, which was the international language of commerce, the legal profession and the Church. The sons of the middle classes learned Latin either through private tuition or at one of the new schools that were beginning to appear.
Merchants donated money to set up schools in the most important trading towns and boys would be sent to school to learn arithmetic and Latin grammar, the institutions becoming known as grammar schools. The schools were allied to a particular trade, making them private schools, although fee-paying schools would later be established that were open to anyone who could pay, such establishments being termed “public” schools.
There would have been few if any books in schools. These were hugely expensive, hand-written items - the first printed books didn’t begin appearing until the mid-fifteenth century. Boys learned their lessons verbally, repeating their Latin phrases time and time again, and earning themselves a beating if they got anything wrong.
Some might learn mathematics or become proficient in the use of an abacus, but few would continue their formal education beyond a basic level or contemplate attending one of the new universities.
As the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford University had been growing in stature since the latter part of the eleventh century and the colleges of Cambridge University can trace their history back to around the same time.
Peasants, still by far and away the largest portion of the population, could not afford to send their sons to school. A peasant boy was expected to do chores as soon as he was old enough to learn how to feed chickens or help to herd livestock. When he was strong enough, he would help with the back-breaking work in the fields and perhaps spend some time working in the local landowner’s house or castle, if such was required by the terms of his family’s tenure.
The Church played a major role in everyone’s lives and even the most lowly peasants attended church on a regular basis. However, all services were conducted in Latin, so most people couldn’t understand what was being said - sometimes not even the priest. Despite being the most educated man in the village, while the priest might be able to pronounce written Latin, the chances are he did not understand it. For a lucky few, a well-educated priest might teach boys how to read, but even as late as the fourteenth century it has been estimated that 8 out of 10 adults in England were unable even to spell their own names.
Recently I came upon another for the collection:
This is a footbridge at the back of the Strand Palace Hotel. I could find nothing about this footbridge on the www, but luckily I had already taken the precaution of asking someone local, just after I had taken my photos. This local was entering an office in the same street with the air of doing this regularly, and who therefore seemed like someone who might know. And he did. What about that bridge? - I asked him.
Yes, he said. That used to be the bridge that conveyed the servants from the Strand Palace Hotel, on the left in the above photo, to the servants quarters, which is what the dwellings on the right in my photo, behind the scaffolding, used to be. These servants quarters had, quite a while back, been turned into mere quarters, for regular people to live in. So, the bridge then got blocked off at the right hand end as we here look at it. But, the bridge continued to be used by the Strand Palace Hotel as an elongated cupboard. These old servants quarters are now being turned into luxury flats, which is why the scaffolding. But the bridge stays.
That the original purpose of the bridge was to convey servants, as opposed to people, is presumably why the bridge has no windows. Wouldn’t want to see servants going to and fro, would we. Fair dos, actually. A hotel of this sort – this one being just across the Strand from the Savoy - is a lot like a theatre, and the point of a theatre is not to see all the backstage staff wandering hither and thither. So, I do get it. And I doubt the servants minded that there were no windows. I bet they minded lots of other things, but not that.
I will now expand on the matter of the exact location of this obscure footbridge. As you can see from the square to the right, it is in Exeter Street, London WC2. I took other photos of this Exeter Street street sign, because I have a rule about photoing information about interesting things that I photo, as well as photoing the interesting thing itself, which is that I do. Sometimes, as on the day I took this photo, I even follow this rule. But I thought I’d try extricating a detail from the above photo, and see how I did. I blew the original up to maximum size, and sliced out a rectangle, tall and thin, with the street name in it. I then expanded (see the first sentence of this paragraph) what I had, sideways, lightened it, contrasted it, sharpened it, blah blah blah, and I think you will agree that the result is unambiguous. My point here is (a): Exeter Street, WC2, and (b): that such photomanipulation is not merely now possible. My point (b) is that it is now very easy. Even I can do all of this photomanipulation, really quickly and confidently.
I can remember when the only people who could work this sort of magic were spooks in movies, and then a bit later, detectives on the television.
Talking of spookiness, I included the surveillance camera in that little detail. In London, these things are now everywhere. Because of my sideways expanding of the photo, this camera looks like it sticks out more than it really does.
Modernism now works
The hottest day of the year (5): Old Citroens in Roupell Street
Face recognition – face disguise – the age of pseudo-omniscience
My latest meeting went fine
Steven Johnson on how coffee replaced alcohol as the daytime drug of choice
Matt Ridley on how culture leads where genes follow
Antoine Clarke on herding drunk cats
If you take a walk naked you need to know your way back
A new Big Thing for Paddington?
An underground history lesson
Juliet Barker on Knights of Old: A lot of history in one paragraph
On clapping in between movements at classical concerts
Tomorrow I will get out less
An extraordinary coincidence
Out and about with GD1 (3): Baritone borrows my charger
Out and about with GD1 (2): How mobile phones both cause and solve meeting up problems
Heaven aka the Barley Mow
An alien robot playing the cymbals and paps
More White Vans
I said it twelve years ago
Photoing at the ASI party
Cats – and technology
The Poppies (3): People taking selfies
On the problems of half-parking with a half-car
ASI Boat Trip 7: Other photographers
Sacred architecture and profane roof clutter - a speculation
Making sense of digital photography
David Byrne on the constraints of artistic form
Jane Austen’s naval brothers
Sidwell (and me) on selfies
Anton Howes at the Rose and Crown
Finding Rover app tracks lost dogs using facial recognition
Bad and good in bad weather
I’ve just been quotulated
Australian cricket is doomed! - or maybe not
Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd
Google Nexus 4 wedding photography!
Emmanuel Todd links
Wedding photography (6): The Wedding and the Reception
Wedding photography (5): Photography!
Christmas Eve feast
Michael Jennings on why iPad photoing is not ridiculous
Emmanuel Todd’s latest book - in English
A photo taken of a taken photo of the photo being taken
Meaning in sport
I can now copy and paste from .pdf files
Questions concerning the death of copyright protection on downloaded MP3s
Brianmicklethwait Dot Com headline of the day
The long and short of conversation - Hitchens on YouTube
Why do pregnant women now do quite a lot of driving of their husbands?
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom blog posting title of the day
The right to photograph
Talking with Toby Baxendale
Scrounging Englishmen and stories too good to check
Antoine Clarke talks about Facebook and Twitter – Guido and … Ian Geldard?
Barney Stinson on how gay marriage will encourage regular marriage
Tienanmen + Twitter = Teheran
MBA - necessary but insufficient
Google and dongle
The prevention threat
Is the contemporary art bubble bursting?
On autobiographical ruthlessness
Media bias as asset stripping
Antoine and Michael on what to do now
When three’s company but four’s a crowd
Not the same thing
“Japan is fantastic …”
Chivalry and the mad feminists
It only takes One Rich Lunatic
Why I prefer to live in a failing neighbourhood
Twenty20 cricket on Sky TV
“I’ll build it with explosive bolts connecting the wings to the fuselage …”
Signs of civilisation
Girls these days flashing their cleavages it’s disgusting don’t know what the world’s coming to …
Theodore Dalrymple on the menace of honest public officials and much else besides
He is white and he is poking fun at himself
The white stuff
The robotic future
Probably not right - but definitely written
Chanelle and Ziggy - romance in the age of total surveillance
The drive to see smiles (and they have to be real)
The publicness of private life
Voluntary World 3: Transport Blog illustrates the Muggins principle
The idea that mental illness does not exist
The rights and wrongs of multiple marriage
Cricket is ruining the youth of India!
Emmanuel Todd (5): A CrozierVision podcast
Emmanuel Todd (4): From ideology to economic progress
Alan Turing – dead earth and cold wires
Evite makes sure I remember it
It’s only a Billion Monkeys if you count mobile phones (and then it’s far more)
Emmanuel Todd (2): The eight family systems
Emmanuel Todd (1): Anthropology explains ideology
Blogging has arrived
“Publish it in your Blog!”
Oscar Wilde defends society
Geek girl I like your thinkings - are nice - I want have sex with it
Tech talk mp3 with Michael Jennings
Patrick Crozier talks with me about Japan
A handwritten letter from Alex Singleton
I hate market research phone calls
Voluntary World 2: You’re on your own
On the spread of voluntariness
Changing the names of cities
Blogging fun and blogging profit
Billion Monkeys take pictures of themselves!
Charles Rosen on Richard Taruskin and on the socially unbound nature of some of the greatest music
Talking about my generation
Old days not perfect shock
It’s murder down there
When blog meant something different