Hurrah for the inflated plastic dragons of Kew Gardens

Today I had in mind to tell you about the dragons that adorn the Great Pagoda in Kew Gardens, which is the Pagoda from the top of which you can see the Big Things of London.

But I spent today paying attention to cricket, and fretting about whether enough people would attend my Brian’s Last Friday Meeting, that happened earlier this evening, so I did not manage to say anything here about the above mentioned dragons. Too complicated.

Now that it is late evening, and the meeting has successfully concluded (thank you Vera Kichanova, terrific), I only have time and energy to tell you about these two particular dragons, which are inflated and made of plastic:

What these inflated plastic dragons tell you is that Kew Gardens, in addition to being a place of Outstanding Scientific Interest, is also what is now called a Visitor Attraction. A place, in other words, to which children are glad to go to rather than rebellious about being made to go. And there is nothing like friendly inflated plastic dragons with goofy smiles on their faces to make children feel welcome.

I, meanwhile, have no particular objection to visiting a Visitor Attraction. Before I had a digital camera, I used to be snobbish about going to places which other people in large numbers also liked. But since acquiring my first digital camera (I am now on about my seventh) and since acquiring the hobby of photoing other digital photoers, I find that my former distaste for Visitor Attractions has melted away. The more people there are at a particular spot (and if they can bring their children without their children objecting, there will be more people) the more chance there is that there will be people photoing, and that makes me happy.

So: hurrah for the inflated plastic dragons of Kew Gardens. Which I also quite like myself.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Lady photoers holding other cameras beside the ones they’re using

Today, in search of something worth displaying here, I chanced upon a directory of photos of photoers who were to be seen holding more than one camera. I gathered these photos together some time in 2010, but then never got around to doing anything with them. Almost all of these photos seem to have been taken in and around Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge, my most usual locale for photoing photoers, then as now.

Here are some of them now:

These photos all date from 2005 and 2006. I was not as fussed about hiding faces in those faraway times, but as you can see, I was making some effort in this direction, at any rate enough of an effort to give me plenty of faceless photoers, so to speak, to choose from.

As to why these ladies are holding another camera, this was usually because they were in a group, and were helping to ensure sure that each photo-op was registered in every camera owned by anyone in the group, and in particular that each camera owner had a decent number of photos of themselves. (In the above photos, in other words, we are often observing selfies being taken.) Often, I would photo ladies (ladies especially seem to hunt photos in a pack) who were taking the same photo two or even several times, with two or several cameras, one after the other, with the inactive cameras hanging down from them in a clump. Sadly, there are no ladies to be seen here with more than two cameras on the go.

Often one of the group would ask me to take a photo of all of them, with one of their cameras, and sometimes with more than one in succession, so that they had at least one photo or some photos with everyone included. It’s all I can do to make any sense of my own cameras, let alone anyone else’s, but I would usually do my best.

It could also be that some of these ladies are taking photos with cameras supplied to them by absent friends or partners. Remember, in these faraway times, communicating photos from this camera to that camera was harder than it is now, and if doable, a lot more cumbersome. How much easier for it to get my desired photo in my camera, even if I myself didn’t take it!

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

More Surrey cricket photos

I did a posting about a Big Thing Alignment that I saw when I went with Darren to that cricket match at the oval, and I did a posting about how the last ball of that game looked, two days later, on video.

Now for some more photos I took on the day Darren and I went to day 2 of that game between Surrey and Lancashire.

The very first photo I took that day was this:

I love how, in the middle of that big photo, we see one of those excellent You Are Here signs that you see all over London, and in many other spots, I don’t doubt, in not-London. I really like these signs, and constantly photo them, if only to remind me for later of exactly where Here was at that particular moment.

Of this OCS stand, SteelConstruction.org has this to say:

This is a most appropriate use of steel, in a geometrically complex arrangement, which adds drama and visual excitement to a famous venue.

I was hoping that this OCS Stand, would be as open for people to sit in as it was in the above photo photo, because I have yet to experience the views from the top of that stand, surely as dramatic in their own ways as the stand itself. But on the evening when Darren and I were there, the OCS Stand was shut. Shame. Memo to self: I will photo these views. If I have to make a special trip to the Oval just to ask about that, fine, I’ll do it, and keep on doing it, until they let me up there, preferably on a nice day.

Here is that OCS Stand, as it was looking at the second interval of the day, which happened not long after we got there:

That photo makes the ground look pretty dark, even though the floodlights were on. And it does not deceive. The ground did indeed look dark, to the human eye.

Here is the Pavilion that faces the OCS Stand, which is where we soon moved to:

Some like ancient, and dislike modern. Others dislike ancient, and like modern. Me? I like both, and particularly like it when they are near each other, or (as in this case) facing each other, and I can relish the contrast.

One of the particular charms of cricket grounds – this being especially true of the two big London grounds, the Oval and Lord’s – is that they feature both (fairly(at least in style)) ancient, and (very) modern architecture. In comparison,.I find big stadiums built all in one go very dull. I went to a football game at Wembley, and if it hadn’t been for the big arch on the top of it, it would have been totally anonymous. It’s not just the architectural uniformity. It’s also that in a place like Wembley there are no gaps, and you can’t see anything except the stadium. You could be anywhere.

Darren and I, what with Darren being a Surrey Member, sat in those
seats at the top, in the middle, and when you look out from there, across at the OCS Stand and to the left and the right of it, you couldn’t be anywhere but London. Here is another view looking to the right, which includes that earlier Big Thing Alignment and several other random Big Things besides:

And here is the view to the left, towards Battersea, where the new US Embassy, just up river from MI6, has detonated a building boom:

But forget the US Embassy. The reason I am showing you the above photo is to tell you how very dark the ground had become. Forget playing cricket. How on earth can you even see anything on that cricket pitch?

But seeing things on that pitch soon became very easy. Quite soon afterwards, observe how very light the ground had become:

The floodlights were blasting away in both of those photos, not just in the second one. Yet, in the first, they were being totally outshone by the paltry remnants of daylight. Only when daylight had seriously dimmed did the floodlights suddenly start to make their presence felt. And even then the sky is still quite light, especially down near the horizon.

I have been to the Oval quite a few times, but don’t recall witnessing the extremity of this contrast ever before. I think it helped that we were looking down on the ground from quite a height, onto the brightness of the ground. But basically, I’ve never been there when it was properly dark before.

The reason the above photo, especially of the people near me to the left, looks like it was taken with flash is because there is another big clutch of floodlights coming crashing into us from off to the right, very nearby.

Finally, here are a couple of photos I took just after arriving at the ground, through the Hobbes Gate, which is behind the Pavilion, on the far side of the Oval from the river, and from me:

One of the more agreeable features of London’s big two cricket grounds – Lord’s especially – is the number of giant photos there are on show, of cricketing heroes present and past. It was the same when I visited White Hart Lane a while back.

Here is a closer-up snap of the Surrey ladies captain, Natalie Sciver:

Sciver lead her team to victory on Bank Holiday Monday in the ladies T20 national tournament. Her Surrey “Stars” beat “Western Storm” in the one semi-final, and then won the final against Loughborough “Lightning”. Lizelle Lee got a century for Surrey in the final, but she got good support from Sciver, and Sciver excelled with both bat and ball in the semi-final, which was a lot closer.

I am fond of emphasising how sport has replaced war in the world’s luckier and richer countries. Long may that trend continue. What these giant pictures emphasise, or so it feels to me, is the local significance of big sports clubs, and the way that, in terms of how these places feel close up, sport is also busy replacing religion. This is especially true now that the other great modern challenger of religion in this kind of way, the cinema, is fading back into a merely domestic past-time. The elaborate imagery. The regular attendance at an architecturally impressive locale. The shared agonies and ecstasies of the assembled congregations. The way that the calendar is carved up into a distinct pattern. To me, it all feels very religious, and I am certainly not the only one to have noticed this. (That link took only seconds to find.)

The Church of Cricket is, I quite realise, but a small sect, these days, at any rate in England, compared to the Universal Church of Football. But the point about sport replacing religion in modern life still stands.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The Blackfriars ghost columns make themselves useful

It was a moment in London’s construction history which has always intrigued me. My photos of it were taken in March 2012:

That’s right. Those strange ghost columns were, for a few short months or years (I don’t recall), being used as so many tiny building sites, supporting the construction of the Blackfriars Bridge railway station.

I regret that some more permanent use could have been found for these ghost columns. Maybe some sort of pedestrian bridge? But I suppose these columns are distrusted for anything but the lightest use, such as we observe in the above photos.

If you read this, you will learn that these ghosts used to come in threes, rather than in the twos we observe now. The inner columns became part of the new bridge.

But if those columns were good enough to do that job, why cannot their brethren be made more use of?

It seems a shame. It seems like a missed opportunity.

I think I may have said something like this here before. So be it. It bears repetition.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Pimlico roof clutter

June 8th of this year was a good day for roof clutter. In Pimlico:

It’s the variety I like, and the mixture of the ancient (the chimney pots (including some quite superior ones)) and the modern (aerials), that I like. The chimney pots are often very decorative on purpose, while the more modern technology is only decorative as a throw-away consequence of how it needs to be to do its various jobs.

In one of them, there is scaffolding.

It helped, at lot, that the weather was so nice. In my opinion, almost anything looks good in really nice weather.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

A view from the Great Pagoda in Kew Gardens

Yesterday, GodDaughter 2 and I spent the afternoon in Kew Gardens. Which is a lot bigger and a lot bigger of a deal than I realised.

The high point of our day, literally as well as metaphorically, was our visit to the Great Pagoda. And not just the Great Pagoda in a general way. We climbed up the stairs to the top of the Great Pagoda.

There were views, of which this one was, of course, my favourite:

Here is variant of that same view. Note how the lighting has changed somewhat. The Walkie Talkie remains as as strikingly lit as ever, and it remains the star of the show, but the Wheel is a bit different (as is the Waterloo Crane Cluster that reaches up above it). It was one of those bright intervals with scattered showers days:

I know what you’re thinking. Not very clear photos. Rather vague and blurry. All true, and you are definitely entitled to your opinion, if that is what it is.

But in my defence, and in defence also of my camera, take a look at the same view, minus the zoom.

The third of the above photos being a lot closer to what I merely saw than the first two are.

The vast expanse of greenery in the foreground is … Kew Gardens. That photo was photoed half way up the Pagoda, as soon as I realised that this view was happening.

Maybe a compromise is in order. Maybe this is the best photo, with some zoom, but not the maximum allowed:

Sadly, though, that lighting effect hadn’t yet occurred. That was one I took earlier

As I keep saying, my camera has far better eyesight than I do, and I am afraid the gap is growing.

Something else that continues to grow is my admiration for the Walkie Talkie. When lit as it is in the first two photos above, and when it is seen from a great distance, it is the most beautiful City of London Big Thing of them all, I think.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Do they know it’s them?

Here are two fun and silly and consequently viral animal videos that I was recently shown on Twitter, but they both raise a non-trivial question about animals and their degree of self-awareness.

First up, a cat looks in a mirror, and is surely not aware that the other cat is him/her. Cats are much stupider than they seem to us, because their basic method of going about things is the way a wise human goes about things, often rather slowly, carefully and thoughtfully, or else in a way that looks very alert and clever. But, often they are thick as several planks.

Meanwhile, a dog watches herself on TV doing one of those canine obstacle courses in a show. Dogs behave like stupid humans, with wildly excessive enthusiasm for stupid things, and consequently we tend to think of them as being very stupid. But the typical dog is a lot cleverer than the typical cat, I believe. Dogs don’t care how stupid they look. Cats typically don’t either, but cats typically behave like they do care about looking stupid, unless you dangle something in front of them on a string, at which point they go crazy, unless they are too old to care.

But back to my self-awareness point.

As commenter “Matt” says, of the dog watching herself on TV:

This is amazing I hope she knows its her.

In other words, Matt is no more certain than I am that she does know it’s her. Maybe she’s watching a totally different dog do what she likes to do, and she’s excited about that, just like any other sports fan.

The cat video ends with a variation on what seems to be a regular internet gag about misbehaving reflections (that vid being in the comments on the cat vid), but that’s a different story. Someone else adds a Marx Brother, or maybe it’s actually two Marx Brothers, doing the same gag, in those far off days before there was an internet.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

A 32 point catch and the sudden disappearance of eight Surrey players

That cricket match at the Oval that my friend Darren took me to, the floodlit one, ended yesterday, and it got very tense, with Surrey eventually winning by just 6 runs.

The game ended with what you might call a 32 point catch, by Surrey substitute fielder Will Jacks. (Whoever won the game would get 16 more points, and whoever lost it, no more points.) Morne Morkel bowled what turned out to be the final ball. Lancashire number 11 Parkinson hit it hard to his left. But Jacks stuck out his right hand and caught it.

But what I really like about that bit of video is the way the Surrey players on view – bowler Morkel, Jacks on the right, the wicketkeeper and three slip fielders – all then celebrate.

Jacks takes the catch and turns and runs away from the pitch, like a child imitating an airplane.

I surmise that cricketers do this when celebrating, (a) because they just have to celebrate, so celebrational are they feeling, but (b) they run away from the pitch in order to avoid any chance of being accused of celebrating in the face of an opponent, which cricket’s authorities disapprove of. So, they run like lunatics away from where the game just happened.

So, Jacks turns and runs towards the boundary.

At which point the screen suddenly contains two more Surrey players, both running towards Jacks, to celebrate with him. In all, about six guys are running towards Jacks.

However, some of those doing this realise, or so I surmise, that if they run after Jacks, they might never catch him. Besides which, there is the matter of mobbing Morne Morkel, who has now taken six wickets and basically won the match for Surrey, so about three of the Surrey players wheel around and exit stage left, to mob Morkel instead, because Morkel has run off to the left, to do his celebrating. Instantly, the picture, which had contained eight Surrey players, suddenly contains none at all, just the two disconsolate Lancashire batters.

Lancashire, way down at the bottom of Division One of the County Championship, really needed those 16 points, so they must have been very disconsolate indeed. No Jacks catch and Lancs would surely have won. But Jacks caught it and Surrey’s winning streak continues.

But, the news tonight for Lancs is better. They are playing Kent in the quarter finals of the T20 slog, from which Surrey have already been eliminated, and they are well on the way to winning. I support Kent in this one, because Kent is nearer to London than Lancashire. And oh look, while I was just dashing off this posting, Kent have contrived to lose three more wickets and are now 114-9, with only two overs to go in their innings. That surely won’t be enough. So Lancs will soon, surely, be feeling much better.

But hello. Lancs now 10-2. Maybe Lancs will lose tonight’s game by 6 runs also.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The Boomerang still being constructed

I like these photos that I took last March. I like the rather sombre light. If my camera is to be believed, it was around 6.30 pm:

On the left, the “South Bank Tower”. Not interesting enough to the general public for it to have a name. On the right, what I prefer to call The Wheel. And in the middle? I tend to call it One Blackfriars, but as Londonist points out, many people are calling this the Boomerang.

I also like it when Big Things aren’t quite ready and are still be worked on, but you can clearly see how they’ll look. My very first digital camera coincided with the finishing off of the Gherkin and I have the photos to prove it, and ever since then, I’ve collected such architectural moments. (My first digital camera also coincided with the last months of Concorde, but I don’t have the photos to prove that, which I still regret.)

And, as I only just remembered to say: the vertical bit on the far right is the edge of all that activity going on around the old Shell Building, and the building in the foreground is just flats, next to the iMax roundabout.

LATER: Concerning the Boomerang, one of Michael Jennings’s Facebook friends (and actual friends, I think), who is called Lee J Tee, says this:

I actually really like that building. In general I think most of the modern buildings in London are worthy. A world class city deserves unique buildings and London has plenty of them, all different from each other and I like that individuality.

Amen.

I absolutely don’t understand how Facebook works, and probably never will, so I have no idea if I even can link to this, let alone whether, if I can, I should. So, just take my words for it.

Someone else says that, actually, what I have been calling the “Boomerang” is “informally known as The Vase”. Well, well. I prefer that to Boomerang.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog