Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Most recent entries
- The outdoor map next to the Twelvetrees Crescent Bridge over the River Lea
- Marc Sidwell on experts
- Guess what this is
- Robots build a bridge
- The Robert Stephenson statue at Euston
- Cruelty to a fake animal – kindness to a fake animal
- Shopping Trolley Spiral beside the River Lea
- An Underground sermon
- Rubbish blogging
- Tim Marshall on the illiberal and undemocratic Middle East
- Opera North’s Ring
- An important game and only a game
- Making blue by copying tarantulas
- An old person television set
- Battersea from Clapham Junction
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This and that
I like London’s (England’s?) long, thin, very vertical, outdoor maps. Whenever I am out and about photoing, I photo them:
There’s nothing like a photo of a map with “You are here” on it, to tell you exactly where you were. That’s where I was, early on, on the day I later took these pictures.
Seriously, it is often quite difficult to work out exactly where I was when I look through the products of one of my photographic perambulations. This kind of snap turns it from difficult to obvious.
Especially if you can actually see the bit where it says “You are here”, like this:
I’ve recently been on several expeditions to this intriguing part of London, with its convoluted waterways. Maps are nice, but there’s no substitute for actually being there. With a camera.
Last night I sent out the email concerning the Brian’s Last Friday meeting this coming Friday, at the end of which email I found myself blurting out this:
Whenever I concoct these promotional emails I end up feeling very excited about the forthcoming talk. This time, this effect was especially pronounced.
This was what got me “very excited”:
Marc Sidwell will give a talk entitled: Promoting Freedom in a Post-Expert World.
He will be speaking about “the ongoing erosion of power and technocratic authority (most recently visible in the Brexit vote and the rise of Trump) and proposing some ways libertarians can respond to this shift.”
Other talk titles that were considered: “Twilight of the Wonks” and “The Revenge of Common Sense”.
Marc Sidwell is an journalist, editor, publisher, and writer, most recently of a How To Win Like Trump, now riding high in the Kindle best-seller List. More about Marc, his career and his publications, here.
For further information about the kinds of ideas Marc will be presenting, I strongly recommend a visit to: marcsidwell.com/.
It was there that I gleaned this quote, from Brexit campaigner Dominic Cummings:
“All those amazed at why so little attention was paid to ‘the experts’ did not, and still do not, appreciate that these ‘experts’ are seen by most people of all political views as having botched financial regulation, made a load of rubbish predictions, then forced everybody else outside London to pay for the mess while they got richer and dodged responsibility. They are right. This is exactly what happened.”
It wouldn’t surprise me if that quote gets a mention at some stage during Marc’s talk.
I would add that there are some kinds of expertise that continue to be held in very high esteem. Nobody doubts the expertise of the people who make all the machines and devices, mechanical and electrical, that keep our world ticking over efficiently and entertainingly. Not all expertise is now held in low regard, only the kinds of expertise that Cummings itemises.
The room is already starting to fill up.
Email me (see top left of this blog) if you want to know more about these monthly speaker meetings at my home.
I’ve been meaning to post this image here for some time:
Guess what it is. If in doubt, look at the categories list below. Then go here, to confirm what you must surely have worked out.
Many have described the event at which this happened as historic, but not because of this. But I reckon what you see in the above picture is what historians will end up being most impressed by, about this event, because it was a very public manifestation of a very impressive sort of technology, which is going to have a very big future.
This Dezeen story about robots doing construction work includes this very tasty image:
This is when google image searching does work. You type in “robot bridge” or some such word combo, click on images, and find the story immediately.
MX3D’s CTO Tim Geurtjens explains:
“We start with a piece of metal attached to the canal bank. The robots start from one side of the canal, they print their own support structure, so essentially it prints its own bridge. It stands on the floor of the bridge, 3D prints out more and keeps moving,” ...
There are many more pictures, including, which is how I found this linkage, this:
That second photo being, I’m pretty sure, the original unphotoshopped version of the photo in the first photo, above.
Very pretty. It would seem that the big difference between a regular structure and a 3D structure is that, with 3D printing, joining bits of metal to bits of metal is not a problem, because it’s all one bit, which means you can have as many joins as you like. And the other thing is that you can make everything the exact size it needs to be, and make it like a sculpture, rather than what we are used to in a structure, where all the bits tend to have unvarying shapes in section, if you get my meaning. Once they finally get their hands on this kit, the architects will go mad with it.
This story dates from a couple of years ago. But never mind, these things always take a long time to go from something that is about to explode, to actually exploding. And then when they do explode, it all happens in a completely different way to what had been envisaged.
I often travel to Euston by tube, changing there from or to the Victoria Line to or from the Northern Line, but I very rarely emerge into the street at Euston. But yesterday, I did this. I arrived by tube and I exited via the main concourse of the main railway station, on account of these new concourses being, I think, interesting places. And then when I exited from the main station, I noticed, for the first time, the rather handsome statue of Robert Stephenson that is to be seen out there, if you do that.
This statue is very fine, I think:
Perhaps because of its modern surroundings, I suspected this statue of being a recent piece of pseudo-antiquity, perhaps motivated by guilt for all the architectural antiquity at Euston that got demolished. But no, the statue dates from a mere decade after Stephenson’s death, which was in 1859.
I only discovered just now that Robert Stephenson designed the Rocket, the first ever steam locomotive. I thought his dad George did that, but George merely did the railway. Blog and learn.
You don’t have to believe that animals either have or should have rights to realise that people who are gratuitously cruel to animals are likely to be more cruel than usual to their fellow humans. But what of fake cruelty to fake animals leading to real cruelty to real creatures, animal or human? I imagine there is some kind of correlation there too, although my googling skills fell short of finding an appropriate link to piece demonstrating that.
Being cruel to a fake animal that another human loves is clearly very cruel, to the human.
As was, I think, this demonstration of fake cruelty that recently hit the internet. That link is not for those who are squeamish about beheaded teddy bears.
And what of people who are nice to fake animals?
Here is a picture I took in my favourite London shop, Gramex in Lower Marsh, in which there currently resides a teddy bear who was recently rescued from sleeping rough, by Gramex proprietor Roger Hewland:
If you consequently suspect that Roger Hewland is a kind man, your suspicion would be entirely correct. I agree with you that kindness to fake animals and kindness to real people are probably also correlated.
I sometimes drop into Gramex just to use the toilet. Never has the expression “spend a penny” been less appropriate.
Yesterday I told you about a photo I took on January 20th of this year. Earlier that day I had journeyed to Bromley-By-Bow tube station, then walked south along the River Lea, and ended my wanderings at Star Lane Station. It was a great day for photoing, and I especially enjoyed photoing this witty sculpture:
But who did it? This evening I realised that I seemed to recall Mick Hartley having something to say about this, and so it proved.
It’s by Abigail Fallis, and it is called DNA DL90. Well, I say that’s what it’s called. That’s what Abigail Fallis called it, but I bet nobody else calls it that. I bet what most people call it is more like: Shopping Trolley Spiral. I’m guessing further that Abigail Fallis regards her sculpture as some kind of critique of late capitalist consumerism. But such ArtGrumbling need not stop the rest of it thoroughly enjoying the thing, and also continuing to relish our trips to the supermarket, there to sample the delights of early capitalism. Because you see, Abigail, capitalism is just getting started.
Yes. I was right. Says Hartley:
It is, says Fallis, a symbol of modern society’s consumer culture, which has now become entwined in our genetic make-up. They can’t help themselves, can they, these artists?
The usual bitch about Artsists is that they are predictable, and indeed they are. But this was something else again. I literally predicted this, before I read it. How predictable is that? Very, very.
On January 20th I attended one of Christian Michel’s 6/20 meetings. The subject was: The Meaning of Life. To be rather more exact, it was: What kind of question is the question “What is the meaning of life?”
So, when I was making my way home, via Earls Court Underground Station, I guess I was in a Meaning of Life kind of mood. Which might explain why I took this photo:
This particular message is a bit too sentimental for my liking. Those little hearts put me right off. But actually, I don’t really object to these little sermons that the Underground has taken to erecting at the entrance to its stations. This is because something that is merely written, no matter how big the lettering, is easily ignored. I think this is one of the things I like about signs and adverts and posters and notices. You can pay them all the attention you want to pay them, from a great deal, right the way down to absolutely nothing.
This is in sharp contrast to those appalling underground train guards who insist on preaching sermons over the intercom, instead of just telling you about how you have stopped in between stations because of a train still stuck at the next station. Those sermons are impossible to avoid.
See also those buskers who actually climb onto trains and play. Both these buskers and the tube train intercom sermonisers are on my personal Room 101 list.
The above also explains why Modern Art is so successful, but why, on the other hand, Modern Classical Music is so profoundly unsuccessful. It’s not that Modern Art is mostly good while Modern Classical Music is mostly crap. Modern Art is also mostly crap. But, crucially, when a piece of Modern Classical Music traps you (when played live, in between two bits of proper Classical Music), you are stuck with it until it finishes. Modern Art, in total contrast, is, when it’s crap, crap that is easily ignored. Even when it ambushes you in an Art gallery, you can still just walk right past it. Or, you can photo it, and then walk right past it.
What is it about taking out the rubbish that makes the task so very unwelcome? I live alone, so do not get nagged to do this, but reality itself nags me. Take the rubbish out. Why can’t I do this simple thing?
Partly, there is the procrastinator’s constant enemy, which is that fact that a little more time will make very little difference. Spill rubbish on the floor and it must be cleaned up at once, so cleaned up at once it is. But most rubbish has its own intermediate, organised, official place. Why bother with it tonight? Tomorrow morning will do. Tomorrow morning, tomorrow afternoon will do, and so it goes on.
The current rubbish crisis is different, because I have been doing some clearing out, and about four loads of rubbish have assembled themselves. So procrastination is not such a good option. Trouble is, each load of rubbish involves a trip down and then up the stairs again, and I have it in my head that it all has to be done at the same time, because if not this situation will drag on for ever, and that means going down and up the stairs four separate times. Things aren’t made any easier by having to check beforehand if there is still any room in the rubbish bins for the recycled rubbish. Am I supposed to do a separate trip just to find out? Often, yes. I meant to check earlier this afternoon, when I was out doing something real, but forgot.
The worst thing of all is that some of the rubbish isn’t really rubbish. It’s perfectly good stuff that I am just never going to use and which is taking up space, and which I don’t have the time or the social media savvy to find a home for. Ah, finding a home. For rubbish.
Perhaps blogging this through here will in some weird way change the way I’m thinking about this, and I’ll get it all done. Mostly what blogging about this rubbish make me think is: this is rubbish, get it done. There you go.
I am nearing the end of Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography. Apparently the paperback of this book is now on the paperback best-seller list. This is good news, because it is very good, and quite lacking in any major traces of leftist delusion or silliness.
Here, for instance, is what Marshall says about the Middle East (pp. 176-180):
… Until a few years ago Turkey was held up as an example of how a Middle Eastern country, other than Israel, could embrace democracy. That example has taken a few knocks recently with the ongoing Kurdish problem, the difficulties facing some of the tiny Christian communities and the tacit support for Islamist groups in their fight against the Syrian government. President Erdogan’s remarks on Jews, race and gender equality, taken with the creeping Islamisation of Turkey, have set alarm bells ringing. However, compared with the majority of Arab states Turkey is far more developed and recognisable as a democracy. Erdogan may be undoing some of Ataturk’s work, but the grandchildren of the Father of the Turks live more freely than anyone in the Arab Middle East.
Because the Arab states have not experienced a similar opening-up and have suffered from colonialism, they were not ready to turn the Arab uprisings (the wave of protests that started in 2010) into a real Arab Spring. Instead they soured into perpetual rioting and civil war.
The Arab Spring is a misnomer, invented by the media; it clouds our understanding of what is happening. Too many reporters rushed to interview the young liberals who were standing in city squares with placards written in English, and mistook them for the voice of the people and the direction of history. Some journalists had done the same during the ‘Green Revolution’, describing the young students of north Tehran as the ‘Youth of Iran’, thus ignoring the other young Iranians who were joining the reactionary Basij militia and Revolutionary Guard.
In 1989 in Eastern Europe there was one form of totalitarianism: Communism. In the majority of people’s minds there was only one direction in which to go: towards democracy, which was thriving on the other side of the Iron Curtain. East and West shared a historical memory of periods of democracy and civil society. The Arab world of 2011 enjoyed none of those things and faced in many different directions. There were, and are, the directions of democracy, liberal democracy (which differs from the former), nationalism, the cult of the strong leader and the direction in which many people had been facing all along - Islam in its various guises, including Islamism.
In the Middle East power does indeed flow from the barrel of a gun. Some good citizens of Misrata in Libya may want to develop a liberal democratic party, some might even want to campaign for gay rights; but their choice will be limited if the local de facto power shoots liberal democrats and gays. Iraq is a case in point: a democracy in name only, far from liberal, and a place where people are routinely murdered for being homosexual.
The second phase of the Arab uprising is well into its stride. This is the complex internal struggle within societies where religious beliefs, social mores, tribal links and guns are currently far more powerful forces than ‘Western’ ideals of equality, freedom of expression and universal suffrage. The Arab countries are beset by prejudices, indeed hatreds of which the average Westerner knows so little that they tend not to believe them even if they are laid out in print before their eyes. We are aware of our own prejudices, which are legion, but often seem to turn a blind eye to those in the Middle East.
The routine expression of hatred for others is so common in the Arab world that it barely draws comment other than from the region’s often Western-educated liberal minority who have limited access to the platform of mass media. Anti-Semitic cartoons which echo the Nazi Der Sturmer propaganda newspaper are common. Week in, week out, shock-jock imams are given space on prime-time TV shows.
Western apologists for this sort of behaviour are sometimes hamstrung by a fear of being described as one of Edward Said’s ‘Orientalists’. They betray their own liberal values by denying their universality. Others, in their naivety, say that these incitements to murder are not widespread and must be seen in the context of the Arabic language, which can be given to flights of rhetoric. This signals their lack of understanding of the ‘Arab street’, the role of the mainstream Arab media and a refusal to understand that when people who are full of hatred say something, they mean it.
When Hosni Mubarak was ousted as President of Egypt it was indeed people power that toppled him, but what the outside world failed to see was that the military had been waiting for years for an opportunity to be rid of him and his son Gamal, and that the theatre of the street provided the cover they needed. It was only when the Muslim Brotherhood called its supporters out that there was enough cover. There were only three institutions in Egypt: Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, the military and the Brotherhood. The latter two destroyed the former, the Brotherhood then won an election, began turning Egypt into an Islamist state, and paid the price by itself being overthrown by the real power in the land - the military.
The Islamists remain the second power, albeit now underground. When the anti-Mubarak demonstrations were at their height the gatherings in Cairo attracted several hundred thousand people. After Mubarak’s fall, when the radical Muslim Brotherhood preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi returned from exile in Qatar, at least a million people came out to greet him, but few in the Western media called this the ‘voice of the people’. The liberals never had a chance. Nor do they now. This is not because the people of the region are radical; it is because if you are hungry and frightened, and you are offered either bread and security or the concept of democracy, the choice is not difficult.
In impoverished societies with few accountable institutions, power rests with gangs disguised as ‘militia’ and ‘political parties’. While they fight for power, sometimes cheered on by naive Western sympathisers, many innocent people die. It looks as if it will be that way in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and possibly other countries for years to come.
I just started watching the Opera North Ring Cycle on BBC4 TV. Very good.
The basic problem with The Ring is how to stage it, and how to do the costumes. Extreme Trad, where they all dress like nineteenth century fictional fantasy characters almost always looks ridiculous, like a bunch of opera singers clumping about in silly costumers on a daft stage, which is of course what they are. (The only way to do that would be to do it as a fantasy cartoon movie. Which I hope somebody will eventually get around to doing.) But modern costumes on a stage that looks like the inside of a nuclear power station is even sillier, because it plays havoc with Wagner’s very carefully scripted symbolism. You end up with blokes who look like merchant bankers or geography teachers, holding spears and waving them at steam turbines, or some such ancient-modern mish-mash. Either that or they go totally modern, and rewrite the opera. Yes. They literally do not perform Wagner. If you change the Rhine and its maidens into a nightclub and some strippers, that’s something else, and something else pretty damn stupid.
What Opera North have done is film a stage performance. The singers all wear suits and dresses, albeit suits and dresses that were very carefully chosen. And then on top of that is photographically superimposed Wagner scenery, and, when it helps (it often does), simple words on the screen to tell you what is happening. Plus, because it’s the telly, you get subtitles to tell you what they’re singing about. (CDs have the best costumes, i.e. no damn costumes, but you do need to know what they’re singing, if you don’t do German.) It’s hard to describe, but I don’t need to, because you can sample it here, it you care to.
The Rhinemaidens are three opera singers in matching dresses on a stage, with wateriness added on top of them. At no point are you asked to believe that they are actually swimming about, naked, under water for minutes on end, and singing. I have never before not seen that scene look totally ridiculous, one way or another, and I bet it was totally ridiculous, one way or another, on the first night. This time, it was not ridiculous. That’s how very, very good this production was.
I particularly liked how, when Donner was summoning forth the right sort of weather for the Gods to enter Valhalla, at the end of Das Rhinegold, he was dressed like a conductor. He was dressed that way throughout, but it worked especially well for that moment.
Loge was particularly good, both as an actor and as a singer. His look and manner reminded me a bit of Stan Laurel.
When there are great big thick elaborate sandwiches going for a quid each at the end of the day in Strutton Ground I am sometimes tempted to have one too many, i.e. two. I did that yesterday, and although I love these sandwiches, they hate me, and when there’s two of them, they can act on this hatred. Which meant that my internal organs were in no state to confront the ferocious rugger game between Wales and England this afternoon. England eventually won with a well taken but still somewhat lucky (for England to get the chance I mean) late try. But for most of the game Wales had looked better and England were consequently, for most of the game, behind. (The more usual procedure is for England to look better and for Wales then to win with a late try, Wales having been behind for most of the game.) I’ll take the win, but it would be nice if, one of these weekends, England could simply race away to a nice big win. As it was, when I fret about a game on the telly, I often console myself for probable disaster by deliberately doing something else, to put it in perspective, to distance myself, to consume irrelevant aroused energy, blah blah blah. Today I got several quite significant household tasks done.
The other Six Nations rugger game today had involved Italy. Let’s just say that the Georgian rugby team, if they were watching, must now be feeling even more pissed off. They would surely have done better against Ireland than Italy did.
Tomorrow, I expect France to slaughter Scotland. If they do, England will be top and the only unbeaten team. If Scotland win, well, jolly ho Scotland. Rugby remains a very important game.
Football, on the other hand, is only a game.
LATER: France didn’t slaughter Scotland but they did defeat them, and England are indeed now the only team with two wins from two. France and Scotland both looked good, and England beating France is looking better and better.
As regulars here will know, I am interested by the phenomenon of colour. I don’t mean people of colour, and all the arguments around that. I mean the colours of things like paint, walls, modern architecture. Red, blue, green, yellow. Actual colours. (Plus also: black and white.)
So, I was greatly intrigued by a piece that I recently encountered, about how blue tarantula spiders are inspiring techies to make 3D printed blue.
Tarantulas aren’t usually known for having a striking blue color, but the ones that do recently inspired new technology that can produce vibrant, 3D-printed color that will never fade.
Back in 2015, a team of researchers led by the University of Akron marveled at the spiders’ blue hue and concluded that it was created not from pigment but from nanostructures in their hairs. In other words, these tarantulas are blue because of structural color, which is produced through light scattering caused by structures of sub-micrometer size features made by translucent materials.
I love grand histories of everything, which look at the past, present and future of mankind through just the one lens. Weapons. Communications. Spices. Potatoes. That kind of thing. I recently purchased a book called The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World. Well, one of the next books I am going to purchase is likely to be a history of the world seen entirely in terms of mankind’s quest for colour - natural and artificial, or, as above, and I suspect very typically, a combination of the two.
One of the many dispiriting aspects of getting old is that your favourite sorts of technology revert to 1970s standards of reliability, even when brand new. This is because the kind of kit you want to buy is often no longer now being made, so if you can find it, it was made a really long time ago, and that means it is liable to not work properly.
Last week, I wanted to buy a small television set. Everyone else who wants a small television buys a tablet or some such contrivance. But I am me, and I wanted a small television set.
And this was the picture it showed me when I got it home and switched it on:
Yes, a television set that doesn’t work. When did you last experience that? It’s like globalisation never happened, and I am back to buying a television from GEC or Ferguson or some such fiascotic enterprise.
This was the only kind of small television they had. There were several rows of huge televisions, and a single row of even huger ones. But no small ones.
I tried to include in this posting a link to the actual television and where I bought it. But that website wasn’t working.
Yesterday I was at Clapham Junction. Here is what I photoed when I went to the far northern end of platform 12 (I think it was), further from the river than I usually find myself, and looked back towards London in a northerly direction:
I say London. That’s mostly Battersea, in the form of all the new buildings springing up around the new US Embassy, which you can see at the bottom of the Spraycan. The Spraycan is the big tower on the left (although if you google “spraycan”, I’m guessing that all you will get is lots of spraycans). The Embassy is the box with the crinkly diamond pattern on it.
The only serious evidence of life beyond Battersea is the Shard, on the right of the Spraycan.
But, ... cranes! I make it sixteen of them. Lovely.