Butterflies in the windows of Harrods – 2011

Yes, in February 2011, I was photoing butterflies, in shopwindows:

And yes, Harrods.

There’s another art that must surely have become a bit more elaborate since the arrival of digital photography. If your window display s temporary, why bother to go to too much bother? But if you can easily go snap and make it rather more permanent, then you’ll surely bother that little bit more.

One of the better talks I have ever given concerned the impact of digital photography, and in that I recall mentioning someone who used digital photography to “collect”, to so speak, butterflies. Real ones. By photoing them rather than by stabbing them with pins. If I’d thought of shop-window displays when preparing that talk, I might have mentioned them also, along with graffiti and ice sculpture.

Rabbits in a tray on a hamper

I am about to embark upon various medical complications involving things like blood tests, so am rather preoccupied today. I’ll probably manage more later, but meanwhile, since it’s Friday, here are some rabbits I photoed somewhere in the vicinity of Victoria Station, in 2013:

Also plates, a hamper, a sofa, some flowers. But it was the rabbits that got my attention.

More to come, I hope. I don’t actually promise, but I nearly do.

LATER: Another rabbit, made of metal, on a church, in Scotland.

How to work with Indians

Michael Jennings:

The ability to talk endlessly about cricket is a tremendously useful skill when the prospect of working with Indians comes up.

There are more Indian cricket fans in India than there are people in Europe.

A Fake Ancient bridge with buildings on it in Scotland

I encountered this amazing place …:

… on account of it being advertised at, of all bizarre places, This Is Why I’m Broke. Not the whole thing to buy, you understand, just a stay there for the night.

It’s a late nineteenth century concoction. Fake Ancientism, in other words, at its considerable and Scottish Baronial best.

The above bridge was attached to Blackcraig Castle, both that “castle” and this bridge being the work of Patrick Allan-Fraser.

Also featured at TIWIB, and changing the subject somewhat, this gadget looks like it might come in rather handy.

It looks and tastes like conventionally-produced chicken

A new restaurant is opening up in Tel Aviv:

At a new restaurant in Tel Aviv called The Chicken, the chicken on the menu is grown from cells in a bioreactor in an adjacent pilot plant visible through a glass window. Diners don’t pay for their meals; instead, SuperMeat, the startup making the “cultured chicken” meat, is asking for feedback on its products, as it prepares for large-scale production of food that it thinks can transform the industry.

The main item on the menu, the Chicken Burger – a crispy cultured chicken fillet served on a brioche bun with toppings – looks and tastes like conventionally-produced chicken. “The burger has a juicy chicken flavor, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside,” says Ido Savir, CEO of the startup. “Feedback from multiple tasting panels was consistent that it was indistinguishable from conventionally manufactured chicken, and simply a great-tasting chicken burger.”

So not really a restaurant as such, more an exercise in handing out free samples. But still very interesting. Although “feedback”, in this context, sounds like someone’s been sick.

Human guilt about the way we treat animals has been building for quite some time. Which means that as soon as we can stop maltreating animals so that we can then eat them cheaply, we will. In the same sort of way that we largely did away with slavery as soon as some of us felt that we could.

I learned of this story from the endlessly informative Steve Stewart-Williams, my favourite tweeter by a considerable margin. He has supplied me with many a story for my Fridays here, when I like to reflect upon and giggle at and about animals and their complex relationships with each other and with humans, from mutually supportive to horribly cruel. And there could not be a more important animals/humans story than this one, because it will surely utterly transform how animals are treated by humans. (Next up, animals won’t be allowed to eat each other either. They too will only eat “cultured” meat. Think about it.)

Sadly for many animals, the choice they have is between being reared by humans, maybe cruelly or maybe not, and then being eaten by humans, or not being reared at all. Life as food, or not life at all.

On a cheerier note, watch the heads of veggies explode when they realise that the fastest food is now also the most veggie food.

And yes, if you’re thinking I must have prepared this earlier, as they say, you are quite right. I wrote this, apart from this, last Monday.

Big Things across the River

There were statues to be seen nearby, but there were bigger things, Big Things, further away, on the other side of the River:

Photo 1 uses the clutter associated with getting on and off of a boat to frame the Wheel. All the rest are entirely of more distant stuff.

I like the colours, warm cream when the sun hits stone or concrete, dark glass, the perfect blue of the sky. My camera makes the dark glass, of such buildings as One Blackfriars (aka the Boomerang), all the darker by not wanting bright sunlight directly reflected to look too bright.

And once again with the shadow of the Wheel (for once London “Eye” works very nicely) on the Shell Building, but this time with the shadow seeming to be the wrong way round, as seen most clearly in photo 6 and also in photo 7. It is of course the shadow of the opposite side of the Wheel.

And in the further distance, in gaps, the Shard (photo 9), and a rather handsome view of 22 Bishopsgate (photo 5) looking like a more coherent shape than I am used to seeing, a bit like a ship, front on. Move along a bit, and we then see the Cheesegrater as well (photo 8).

These strange alignments all take a bit of getting used to when you first see them. This is because, like so many rivers in the middle of great cities, this river twists and turns, that being a big reason why the city got built here in the first place. By twiddling this way and that, the river brings valuable riverside spots closer to each other, and stirs up a lot more commerce than a straight river would. (See also: Paris.) But these kinks play hell with your sense of direction, or with mine anyway. I was on the north bank of the river, but, although I was looking straight across the river, I was nevertheless looking due east, rather than south. And back across another kink in the river again when seeing 22 Bishopsgate and the Cheesegrater, which are both part of the City Big Thing Cluster, which is on the north side of the river.

It is all part of London’s charm, and the charm of its Big Things. When out-and-abouting in London you can never be quite sure which Big Thing you’ll see next, through some gap in the foreground, or from what direction you’ll see it.

There are cranes to be seen, but very few.

How The Broadway is looking in the sunshine

A while back, I showed photos of The Broadway being built, which, because of the weather, looked like black-and-white photos. Here is that same Broadway last Wednesday, nearer to being completed, in sunshine, and therefore in colour:

Photo 1 is the first view of these new towers that I get when I walk along Regency Street and look towards Victoria Street. In that photo, and in photo 4, we clearly see those coffins, which I first mentioned here way back in July, near the bottom of one of these towers. Now, there are also coffins at the top of that same tower. Odd choice.

Photo 5 shows the games that light plays with the big sign facing Victoria Street. “A dynamic new residential quarter redefining …” what? I probably have other photos in my archive telling me what, but frankly, I don’t care and would be amazed if any of you did either. In photo 5, which is a detail of the same scene, you can see through this sign that 55 Broadway will, in you stand in the right spots in Victoria Street, be visible from there. Good. That’s now what happened when New Scotland Yard was in this same spot. The fake photo here shows this gap in The Broadway very clearly.

Photo 7 shows that the other two towers on either side of the coffin tower will sport a slightly different, although closely related, decorative plumage. Too thin to be coffins.

Photo 9: cranes. And in photo 9, I am looking back up Victoria Street from the other side of Parliament Square, at the same cranes, which look pleasingly tumultuous, I think. I really hope that the era of such tumultuous crane clusters is not about to end. Or, to put it another way: I wonder if these apartments will sell at anything resembling a profit?

London’s starchitecture explained – but the problem isn’t confined to central London

Paul Cheshire:

The Planning for the Future white paper tackles one costly feature of the British planning system: its peculiar reliance on case by case, essentially political, decision making for all significant development (see here). Tall office towers are significant developments, so whether or not to permit them is subject to this political process. In Chicago it is straightforward. There are rules. Developers can build as high as they want so long as the location and design are within the rules. Because in London every proposed new office block requires a political decision, getting permission is transformed into a game: an expensive game. Would-be developers can use all their wiles to persuade local and national politicians that their project is desirable.

My recently published research with Gerard Dericks shows that one of the most effective ways to dazzle the planning committee is to employ an architect with an international reputation. …

Above which introductory paragraphs there appears a photo of the Shard, and there follows a description of how and why that got built in the way that it did. It was “starchitecture” basically. Have someone like Renzo Piano on your team, and the politicians feel intimidated.

As regulars here know, I have a deep affection for central London’s recently acquired and extremely eccentric skyline. But I arrived at this opinion despite my understanding of the plutocratic and arbitrary politics that made this skyline happen as it did rather than because of it, or because I just didn’t know or care about this politics.

Cheshire’s description of how and why London’s recent burst of starchitecture happened is informative, and persuasive. But by writing of “its peculiar reliance on case by case, essentially political, decision making for all significant development”, Cheshire implies that this kind of arbitrariness is confined to the central London office space market, to the “significant” sort of architecture. If only. To be fair to Cheshire, if you follow the first link in his quote above, you will learn, if you did not already know it, that he well knows that getting planning permission for anything, no matter how utterly lacking in any sort of significance, anywhere in Britain, can be a nightmare. The basic rule is: There are no rules! The Planning Committee meets, and gives you planning permission or: Not.

In a perfect world, property owners would build whatever they wanted on their own land, subject only to whatever legally binding contracts they had entered into which might restrict that state of affairs.

In practice, politics is politics, and buildings are political. Politicians will politicise all over them, the only variable being: How will they do this? Will the politicians preside over a rule-bound system? Will they tell you beforehand what they will, and will not, allow? Or will the politicians rule by iron whim, where you have absolutely no fucking idea (unless you have photos of them frolicking with under-age girls and/or boys on file) what, on the night of their damn meeting, they will decide, and where any attempt by you to find out beforehand what they’ll accept and what they’ll not accept is deemed the political equivalent of insider trading?

There clearly are some rule-bound building regimes in Britain. You have only to move a little downstream from London’s Big Thing district and you arrive at the Docklands Towers. And you have only to look at these Towers to see that there is no Starchitect Rule in place there. Suddenly, you are in a mini-Chicago, and it is getting ever more like actual Chicago with each passing year. I don’t know what the rules there are exactly, but it would definitely appear that if you want to build a generic vertical box there, go ahead, so long as you follow those rules.

I seldom use words like “fucking” here. (The last time I did this was as a joke, about how another guy was using this word rather a lot.) That I do so in this matter reflects the personal agonies that I and my siblings had to suffer when trying, after our widowed mother had died a few years ago now, to get the best price we could for the ancient-in-a-bad-way house-and-garden in the outer suburbs of London that we all grew up in. Should we try to get planning permission for a clutch of new and smaller dwellings? We tried, we really tried, but, after years of trying: No dice. So I write with feeling about how the Iron Whim of the Politicians rule does not merely apply in central London. In the end, after years of frustration, after quite a bit of squabbling amongst ourselves, and more squabbling with our fucking “neighbours” (who just wanted no more houses next to their fucking houses), we were able to unload the house-plus-garden on some poor fool who did not have our by then hard-earned knowledge of the gambling casino that is Britain’s “planning” system, at a price not far off what we’d have got if we ourselves had got planning permission for some new buildings. So, despite our years of ordeal by planning permission, we were lucky. We got a goodish price, eventually, despite not being a big local property developer. Despite, that is to say, not having the local politicians under our collective thumb.

Boris Johnson makes noises to the effect that he and his government will soon get all this sorted. If by some miracle he could somehow contrive this, this would be a huge win for him, and for the entire country. He’ll have his work cut out, because a large proportion of the offending politicians, and equally crucially of those fucking “neighbours”, are active members of his own party.

Monster pumpkins

I love it when Halloween comes around and the supermarkets are suddenly full of weird stuff:

Sainsbury’s this afternoon.

Promising looking e-scooter from TAUR

This looks rather promising. It’s a new design for an e-scooter which, by the look of it, is still portable, but which answers some of the doubts that are now being expressed about e-scooter safety.

Carson Brown, the designer and public face of TAUR argues that a basic cause of e-scooter danger is the ungainly body posture demanded by the current and less bulky versions of the e-scooter:

One thing that sets TAUR apart is the foot platforms, which provide a dedicated place for the rider to stand. Instead of placing your feet behind one another with your hips twisted awkwardly, you stand fully facing forward with your feet side by side. The platforms are 2.5 times wider than the deck of a typical scooter and help the rider with stability. The benefit of facing head-on with your body aligned is that you are able to twist 180 degrees in either direction — giving the rider maximum ride awareness.

There are other tweaks added to achieve much greater safety, like much bigger and tougher wheels, and lights to signal your presence. In general, the TAUR, Carson says, is an e-scooter designed to travel on roads, rather than merely on super-flat surfaces like shopping centre pedestrian areas.

Having been watching the e-scooter story unfold, I note that a big problem now is that to achieve maximum portability, safety seems to have been sacrificed. That’s a deal breaker for many and probably most people. I’d sum up the TAUR by saying that the “traditional” e-scooter, the one we now see trundling about in London from time to time, is the smallest and cheapest and most portable e-scooter you can have that still goes reasonably well. The TAUR, on the other hand, is the safest e-scooter you can still carry by hand when you’re not travelling on it. It’s not as light as it can be, so you can lift it easily. It’s as heavy and bulky as it can be, while still remaining liftable.

This reminds me somewhat of the definition of, I think it was, the General Motors Cadillac. A car like the Ford Model-T was the cheapest car you could have, and that of course was mass produced, to make it as cheap as possible. And of course GM had their version of that also, at the bottom end of their range. But, the top-of-the-range Cadillac was the most luxurious car GM could still sell in sufficient numbers for it to be mass-produceable. This notion of satisfying a basic requirement while maximising another very desirable variable is a powerful way to think about the design of manufactured things, I think. The trick being to choose exactly the right variables, to be satisfied, and to be maximised.