Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Monday May 04 2015

Part of getting old (new category here – I still have a lot of categorising to do so bear with me on that) is that you just forget to do things, even things that you like.  Thus, I have recently been forgetting to read Anton Howes.  Today I remembered, and started reading, in particular, this posting, which is most recent as of now.

Fun quote:

Uber isn’t a taxi company; it is a market. It provides a trust-based platform made up of assurances and ratings in order to let anyone ask “Can I have a ride? / Want a ride?” without sounding creepy.

Nicely put.

I will now read the whole thing.

Sunday May 03 2015

In the early, at first brightly sunlit evening I went walking by the river, over Vauxhall Bridge and then turning right on the other side, towards Battersea.

I noted progress on the new flats.  The sky was a beautiful colour.  The flats are not a beautiful colour:

image

The river was adorned by bright reflections off the buildings on the far side.

image

The evening sun also lit up the bright green wall that keeps the river in its correct place:

image

There is a new US Embassy taking shape, …:

image

… although it will not be a very interesting shape:

image

Battersea Power Station is missing one of its chimneys:

image

This is probably something to do with the fact that it is having dwellings built in it:

image

And, when I looked inland, towards the south, over the railway, I saw some world class roof clutter:

image

So I was in a good mood.  Until, on my way back home, I saw this:

image

Yes, there is an election coming, and we will all vote in such a way as to try to deny office to the political party we most hate, which in my case is the Labour Party.  Which means I will probably vote for the bastards advertising themselves with the signs above.

As you can see, by then it had become rather gloomy.  As had I.

Saturday May 02 2015

As mentioned earlier this week, and as is in any case very obvious, I depend heavily on good light for my photography.

And I particularly like light where there is plenty of it, but also dark clouds in other parts of the sky.

As in this one, taken last Thursday in Tottenham Court Road:

image

I particularly like that scaffolding shadow effect that you sometimes get, but usually after dark with artificial light from inside the building site.

Photography days with me often happen when I am basically out and about for some other purpose, but am struck by a particularly striking sight, which demands to be photoed.  And then (because I always have my camera with me) I am off.  The above photo was one such.  I distinctly remember taking it.  And then I spent the next two hours snapping, which had not been the original plan at all.

Friday May 01 2015

Indeed:

image imageimage image

All those pictures bigger, and lots more, here.  (Thank you David Thompson.)

I have, of course, included a couple of feline photos, what with today being Friday.  But, knowing what we do of animals, most of us would probably reckon that only the monkey really has any clue about what is going on, and he only in the sense of perhaps suspecting that this is a thing that makes a picture on itself of what it sees.  None of them really get it, and most of them have no idea at all.  It’s just a peculiar thing.

But, of course, they all look as if they are taking photos, if you want to believe this.

What makes them all look like real photographers is their total and totally unselfconscious concentration on what they are looking at and doing, with no thought of the fact that they are themselves being looked at.  This they all do share with real human photographers.

Thursday April 30 2015

Another day another Dezeen posting, about some modernistical architecture, surrounded by The Wires:

image

But this time around, guess what.  Do I believe my eyes.  I must.  For what they are telling me is that, in among this posting’s accommpanying verbiage, is to be found … this:

The gridded monochrome glass facade that wraps around the upper levels was conceived as a contrast to the “chaotic” urban area and criss-crossing electrical wires that surround the site, and features one raised corner covered in dark-tinted glass.

Yes, those “criss-crossing electrical wires” are acknowledged to exist.  Amazing.

The Wires are mentioned, because the architects themselves mention them:

“The area where the building is set is highly chaotic in terms of architectural typologies, textures and colours, so it was therefore chosen to generate a building that would constitute itself as the order within the neighbourhood’s chaos,” explained the architects.

This is architect speak for:

We are going to build the exact same modernistical erection that we would have built had The Wires not been there.  Screw The Wires!  Yes, The Wires are there.  But we will build as if The Wires were not there.  The Wires have no power over us!  The Wires, we spit on you with our modernism!

That’s the spirit.  Unless it isn’t, and they actually only noticed The Wires after they had built the thing.

The point is, whether they see The Wires or they ignore The Wires, The Wires make no difference!

Wednesday April 29 2015

Yesterday morning from first thing to about midday, I had a nosebleed, caused by my lurgy, a lurgy which is lasting for ever.  During this lurgy, I have had several nosebleeds (having never had a nosebleed in my life before), yesterday’s being by far the worst, and it cannot be coincidence.

Since then, I have been recovering my wits, such as they are, and am accordingly now in quota photo mode.  And here are today’s quota photos, all of them of the Big Olympic Thing, designed by the man who also did the Chicago Bean, Anish Kapoor:

imageimage

The photo on the left was taken in March 2012, from the Victoria Docks area, looking north, and the one of the right was taken looking south from Walthamstow.  The one on the right (with all its excellent roof clutter in the foreground) being an example of a common thing at this blog, namely a good photograph, taken badly.  (The one on the left, though I say it myself, is a really quite good photograph, taken really quite well.)

Trouble is, whenever I do one of these postings about some Thing, which I have a nice photo of to show you, I then go trawling through the archives looking for more photos of the same Thing.  Here are two more pictures of this Big Olympic Thing, this time with foliage in the foreground:

imageimage

The one on the left of those two, behind the trees was taken from Stave Hill, looking east (guess).  And the one on the right was taken from the big road just this side of the Victoria Docks.  These two photos were (left) taken in August of last year, and (right) in 2012 (about week after the sunset photo above).

The most recent of these four photos, the only one taken with my latest and undoubtedly my best camera, is by far the worst, technically.  This is because, for that photo to work, the light had to be very good, but it was not.  A less good camera with perfect light trumps a better camera with poor light, for me, usually, given the sort of outdoorsy, long-distancy photos that I generally like to take.  I’m hoping my lurgy goes away soon enough for me to take advantage of this summer, and all its light.

As you can surely tell, I consider the Big Olympic Thing to be a fine contribution to London.  It is not beautiful, exactly, but it is extremely recognisable.  Every time I happen to see it in the distance, I immediately know what it is, and it lifts my spirits.

Monday April 27 2015

One of my favourite buildings that I’ve never seen is the recently completed (quite recently completed - 2008) Oslo Opera House, which looks like this:

image

Sooner or later, some big public building was bound to be built like this, with a roof that doubles up as a big public open space, where you can walk to the highest spot on the building’s roof, without once having to go indoors.

Oslo Opera has become a new landmark for the city and proved an instant success with both locals and tourists.

And of course, that roof doesn’t have to be the bland and featureless desert that this one is, in this picture.  Sooner or later, it will acquire roof clutter!  Perhaps it already has.

As entire cities compete with one another for tourists, buildings like this, with walkabout roofs, will surely become ever more common, as ever more tourists search, as I search, for places up in the sky from which to take tourist snaps.  It is no accident that I found the above picture and quote at a site called Visit Norway.  (Although sadly, this Visit Norway site fucks with the links and causes them not to work, and these fucked links also fuck with subsequent links which are none of Visit Norway’s damn business. This caused me major problems, until I just stripped out all Visit Norway linkage, at which point sanity was restored.  So if you care, you’ll have to find the damn place for yourself.  I think Visit Norway was trying to help. It failed.  Norway, sort this out.)

Even as I praise this building, I make no judgement about what goes on inside it.  The point of these “iconic” buildings - horizontal Big Things - you might say, is that they are fun to visit, regardless of their mere indoor contents.  See also: Tate Modern.  After all, one of the advantages of a roof like this is that the roof can be enjoyed even as the inside of the building can be entirely ignored.

What got me writing about this Oslo building was a recent posting at Dezeen, featuring another proposed building by the same architects, Snohetta (which has a forward slash through the “o") which uses the same trick, of people being able to walk up to the top in a big zig zag.  This time it is a museum in Budapest:

image

And oh look, I went to the Sn o-with-forward-slash hetta website, and here is another Snohetta proposal, using the same trick, for another opera house, this time in Busan, South Korea:

image

With the design of the Busan Opera, the opera is no longer a passive playground for the elite but becomes interactive, democratic space, responding to the public’s ambitions and interests.

This is architect speak for:

People can walk about on the roof and take photos without having to sit through some stupid damn opera.

And oh look, again.  Snohetta have also proposed that a new media centre in Vienna should look like this:

image

Look again, and you encounter the Barack Obama Presidential Center:

image

These last two are not so zig zag, but the principle is the same.

London awaits you, Snohettans.

I find writing about music very difficult, because … why bother?  I like what I like and you like what you like.  Either this is a music blog, in which case we can all agree about how right I am to like the music which I like (which you like also), or it is not.  And, it is not.

Nevertheless, here is a blog posting which is sort of about music, except that really it is about how the mind works, which this blog is often about.

On Saturday morning, I was woken by my alarm clock to make sure that I started the recorder on my radio to record CD Review, which I duly did, very dozily.  I then, dozily, heard the announcer telling me that I was about to listen to Beethoven’s First Symphony, first movement, and I duly listened.

Beethoven’s First Symphony has a very particular start which is, if you know the piece, instantly recognisable.  However, I have not known it, in the sense of hearing it and knowing with certainty that this was Beethoven’s First Symphony, until last Saturday morning.  I could recognise the tune and hum and conduct along with it, but I was unable to tell you which piece it was with complete confidence, the way I could and can with all Beethoven symphonies from Third to Ninth.  I might well have guessed it right, but it would still have been a guess.  But this time, I am pretty sure that hearing that very recognisable opening of Beethoven’s First together with being told immediately before it began that this was what it was may actually have stuck in my head, as a twinned pair of facts.

This was because I was half awake, but not fully awake, I think.  I was, I surmise, in a highly “suggestible” state.  I think that’s the word the psychologists use.

The reason that all of this matters to me is that, as I get older, I find that getting to “know” a piece of music, as in: going from knowing it as a piece of music to knowing it as a piece of music and also being able to identify it, going from knowing it to knowing what it is, is becoming a rather rare experience.  There is lots of music that I know in the sense of being able to hum along with it and of knowing approximately what is about to happen next, but as the decades roll by, I still can’t identify these pieces.  The pieces I got to know well when I was young are like a fixed catalogue of pieces I know and can identify, rather than something that is expanding steadily.  The catalogue is only expanding very slowly.

You may say: But merely knowing or not knowing the mere label of something is rather a superficial matter.  Well yes, that may be.  But I don’t think knowing the label of a piece of music prevents me from getting to know it more in all the deeper and more meaningful senses.  Rather the reverse.  Knowing what the music “is” frees my mind to concentrate on all of the more interesting things about what the music “is”, as opposed to the superficiality of what its mere label is.

Sunday April 26 2015

Three exclamation marks in the title there, because this is the third time I’ve had cause to mention this strange habit, of writing about newly designed houses (in this case a newly adapted house) where there are lots of Wires in all the outside pictures, but The Wires never get a mention.

Here:

image

But at least, what with this house being yellow instead of white, we see an architect thinking in colour.  Soon, soon I tell you, the floodgates of architectural colour will open.

Saturday April 25 2015

Brians plural?  Yes, it looks like both the driver and his mate are Brians.

Incoming from Goddaughter 2:

image

Reproduced here with the permission of Goddaughter 2’s glamorous friend.

I like the extra three front headlights.

I don’t like all the creepy stuffed animals in the window.

Friday April 24 2015

I’d been meaning to check out that big Shiny Thing outside in the courtyard of the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, ever since Mick Hartley gave it a mention at his blog, with a photo, way back on April 8th.  Earlier this week I finally got around to doing this, and I took lots of the usual photographs that you would expect me to have taken, of which these are two:

imageimage

Click on the left, and that shows what this Shiny Thing is like, in its present context.  I loved the Shiny Thing itself, as my picture on the right illustrates.  In there I see things like Darth Vader.  And, rather smaller, I think I also see a naked woman there.  Also, there is something vaguely feline about this shape, with its pointing ear-like attachments.  Endless photographic fun, especially with the evening light warming up the colours of the surrounding courtyard buildings.

But, I found the rest of this agglomeration rather less interesting.  If the idea was to create some interesting reflections, then blander shapes next to the Shiny Thing would have worked better.  As it is, the wooden pointy thing, in itself nice enough, is by comparison rather mundane and the black frame that the wooden pointy thing and the Shiny Thing are held up by is ungainly, obtrusive and, to me, when I actually saw it, downright ugly.  I mean, did the creator of the equally shiny Chicago Bean feel the need to stick a lot of other crap right next to it to be reflected in it, given that there was already a city there?  No he did not.

But I guess if you are Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, you feel the need to do something arbitrary.  Mere Platonic symmetry doesn’t do it.  A merely beautiful Shiny Thing won’t serve your purpose.  It would dilute your brand.  Anyone could have done that.  There had to be something there which would get people saying: Why did he do that?  Come to that, who the hell is he?  So that they can be told that it was done by Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, and so that Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, can supply an answer about what he thought he was doing when he, Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, did what he did, like this:

The contrasting materials employed in the sculpture, the natural wood against the highly finished metal, the differing treatments of space in the line-drawn star and the round curves of the solid star, create a tension and sense of the works being both repelled and attracted to each other at a fixed distance by an invisible force field.

Maybe if I go back and take some more snaps of this Shiny Thing, I will decide that I find the other crap next to it not so crappy after all.  The other crap certainly looks better in the shots at the other end of the link above than it did to me, on the spot. And, if it was necessary for Frank Stella Hon RA to ponder the contrasts between a wooden thing and a shiny thing and black metal stuff to get Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, to have made a very entertaining Shiny Thing, then fine. Whatever it took.

Thursday April 23 2015

I am reading In Defence of History by Richard J. Evans.  The attackers are the post-modernists.  In Chapter 3 ("Historians and their facts"), Evans writes about how evidence considered insignificant in one era can become highly significant in a later era:

The traces left by the past, as Dominick LaCapra has observed, do not provide an even coverage of it.  Archives are the product of the chance survival of some documents and the corresponding chance loss or deliberate destruction of others.  They are also the products of the professional activities of archivists, which therefore shape the record of the past and with it the interpretations of historians.  Archivists have often weeded out records they consider unimportant, while retaining those they consider of lasting value.  This might mean for example destroying vast and therefore bulky personnel files on low-ranking state employees such as ordinary soldiers and seamen, manual workers and so on, while keeping room on the crowded shelves for personnel files on high state officials.  Yet such a policy would reflect a view that many historians would now find outmoded, a view which considered ‘history’ only as the history of the elites.  Documents which seem worthless to one age, and hence ripe for the shredder, can seem extremely valuable to another.

Let me give an example from my personal experience.  During research in the Hamburg state archives in the I98os, I became aware that the police had been sending plain-clothes agents into the city’s pubs and bars during the two decades or so before the First World War to gather and later write down secret reports of what was being said in them bysocialist workers.  The reports I saw were part of larger files on the various organizations to which these workers belonged.  Thinking it might be interesting to look at a wider sample, I went through a typewritten list of the police files with the archivist, and among the headings we came across was one which read: ‘Worthless Reports’. Going down into the muniment room, we found under the relevant call-number a mass of over 20,000 reports which had been judged of insufficient interest by the police authorities of the day to be taken up into the thematic files where I had first encountered this material. It was only by a lucky chance that they had not already been destroyed. They turned out to contain graphic and illuminating accounts of what rank-and-file socialist workers thought about almost every conceivable issue of the day, from the Dreyfus affair in France to the state of the traffic on Hamburg’s busy streets. Nobody had ever looked at them before. Historians of the labour movement had only been interested in organization and ideology.  But by the time I came to inspect them, interest had shifted to the history of everyday life, and workers’ views on the family, crime and the law, food, drink and leisure pursuits, had become significant objects of historical research.  It seemed worth transcribing and publishing a selection, therefore, which I did after a couple of years’ work on them.  The resulting collection showed how rank-and-file Social Democrats and labour activists often had views that cut right across the Marxist ideology in which previous historians thought the party had indoctrinated them, because previous historians had lacked the sources to go down beyond the level of official pronouncements in the way the Hamburg police reports made it possible to do. Thus from ‘worthless reports’ there emerged a useful corrective to earlier historical interpretations. This wonderful material, which had survived by chance, had to wait for discovery and exploitation until the historiographical climate had changed. 

Wednesday April 22 2015

Another of those pictures from the archives that gets better with age.  Can you see why?

image

Well, let me tell you.  In the foreground (perhaps that should be “forewater") is the Thames Barrier, looking as it always did, and looking as it does now.  But right in the middle, in the distance there, between the two nearer buildings, is the Shard.  But not the Shard as we know it.  The Shard when it was big enough to be hugely impressive, but when it was still under construction.

Taken in January 2011.

Tuesday April 21 2015

Yesterday, while walking along the sharp right kink at the top end of Horseferry Road, which I do a lot, I looked up into the bright blue sky and beheld things of colourful beauty.  What do you suppose it is?:

image

Does this make it any clearer?:

image

Clear for those to whom it is now clear, but still not very clear for most, is my guess.

Try this:

image

Yes, it’s a Big 4.  And if you still don’t know what it is, apart from it being a Big 4, it is the Big 4 outside the fantastically over-the-top front door of Channel 4 TV HQ.

This Big 4 has changed a lot over the years.  (You can see a few of those changes in among all this google-search-imagery.) Different artists and designers have taken it in turns to adorn its metal skeleton in a succession of different colours and costumes.  The above is merely the latest iteration of this process.  And definitely one of the better ones, I think.

I like how the colours all vanish once you get straight in front of the 4, and all you get is a relatively bland white 4.  The effect is calculated to resemble the fleeting glimpse of the 4 that you get in the various intros you see just before Channel 4 shows on the telly.  Note also how the sun at that particular later afternoon time of day picked out the white bits of the Big 4, while leaving the stuff behind it in relative darkness.  I still don’t really understand how this happened, but I definitely like it.

The bad news, however, is that to get that particular Big 4 picture from the exact right place, you need to be standing in the middle of the road that turns south off Horseferry Road, past the left hand side of C4HQ, as we look at it, and at exactly the spot where the pavement would have been, right next to Horseferry Road itself.

So, finally, what we now see is the exact moment when a car came up right behind me and honked loudly, anxious to get past me and out of Horseferry Road instead of being stuck right in it, and honked at in its turn by angry cars behind it. 

image

I immediately jumped out of the car’s way, and it politely waved thankyou as soon as it had made its slightly relieved way past me.

A lot of cars deliver and collect a lot of people to and from that exact spot, and they must get this a lot.

Monday April 20 2015

It is more important to me that I get to bed at a sensible hour than it is that I do some sensible blogging before getting to bed.  So, another sign:

image

But this time, instead of them doing something a bit strange, it’s me doing something very silly.

Photographed by me in Walthamstow, yesterday.

Good night, and I’ll try to do better tomorrow.