The wrong kind of sand

Following an earlier posting here, which linked to a cement enthusiast, here’s something which I did not know about the sort of sand that is used to make concrete:

The problem lies in the type of sand we are using. Desert sand is largely useless to us. The overwhelming bulk of the sand we harvest goes to make concrete, and for that purpose, desert sand grains are the wrong shape. Eroded by wind rather than water, they are too smooth and rounded to lock together to form stable concrete.

The sand we need is the more angular stuff found in the beds, banks, and floodplains of rivers, as well as in lakes and on the seashore. The demand for that material is so intense that around the world, riverbeds and beaches are being stripped bare, and farmlands and forests torn up to get at the precious grains. And in a growing number of countries, criminal gangs have moved in to the trade, spawning an often lethal black market in sand.

What is needed is to pour desert sand into a Gizmo, and for the Gizmo then to grind up the desert sand into even smaller particles, and then to reassemble them, with 3D-printing, into the better sort of sand. Easy.

The paragraphs quoted above were encountered by me in an Instapundit posting. They got them from a BBC piece entitled Why the world is running out of sand.

Until now, for me, sand shortages were the stuff of jokes about what would happen if communism came to the Sahara Desert. (For fifty years, nothing.
Then …) Blog and learn. As I often like to say when I blog.

If this right-sort-of-sand shortage gets worse, it will presumably have architectural consequences.

John Evelyn on how the Thames froze in January 1684

You think the London weather’s cold now? (I do.) Then try reading this (as I just did), from The Mammoth Book of House If Happened (my version looks to be this one), in which John Evelyn describes “The Great Frost of London”, of January 1684 (pp. 164-5):

[Sunday] Jan.1st, 1684. The weather continuing intolerably severe, streetes of booths were set upon the Thames; the air was so very cold and thick, as of many years there had not ben the like. The small pox was very mortal …

9th. I went crosse the Thames on the ice, now become so thick as to beare not onely streetes of boothes, in which they roasted me ate, and had divers shops of wares, quite across as in a towne, but coaches, carts and horses, passed over. So I went from Westminster Stayres to Lambeth, and din’d with the Archbishop …

16th. The Thames was fill’d with people and tents, selling all sorts of wares as in the Citty.

24th. The frost continuing more and more severe, the Thames before London was still planted with boothes in formal streetes, all sortes of trades and shops furnish’d and full of commodities, even to a printing presse, where the people and ladyes tooke a fancy to have their names printed, and the day and yeare set down when printed on the Thames: this humour tooke so universally, that ’twas estimated the printer gain’d £5 a day, for printing a line onely, at sixpence a name, besides what he got by ballads, &c. Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other staires to and fro, as in the streetes, sleds, sliding with skeetes, a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cookes, tipling, and other lewd places, so that it seem’d to be a bacchanalian triumph or carnival on the water, whilst it was a severe judgement on the land, the trees not onely splitting as if lightning-struck, but men and cattle perishing in divers places, and the very seas so lock’d up with ice, that no vessels could stir out or come in. The fowles, fish, and birds, and all our exotiq plants and greenes universally perishing. Many parkes of deer were destroied, and all sorts of fuell so deare that there were great contributions to preserve the poore alive. Nor was this severe weather much less intense in most parts of Europe, even as far as Spaine and the most southern tracts. London, by reason of the excessive coldnesse of the aire hindering the ascent of the smoke, was so filled with the fuliginous steame of the sea-coale, that hardly could one see crosse the streets, and this filling the lungs with its grosse particles, exceedingly obstructed the breast, so as one could hardly breath. Here was no water to be had from the pipes and engines, nor could the brewers and divers other tradesmen worke, and every moment was full of disastrous accidents.

Feb. 4th. I went to Says Court to see how the frost had dealt with my garden, where I found many of the greenes and rare plantes utterly destroied. The oranges and mirtalls very sick, the rosemary and laurells dead to all appearance, but ye cypress likely to indure it.

5th. It began to thaw, but froze againe. My coach crossed from Lambeth to the Horseferry at Millbank, Westminster. The booths were almost all taken downe, but there was first a map or landskip cut in copper representing all the manner of the camp, and the several actions, sports, and pastimes thereon, in memory of so signal a frost . . .

8th. The weather was set in to an absolute thaw and raine, but
ye Thames still frozen.

But before you jump to too many conclusions, based only on this, about how the temperature was lower at that time, note that Evelyn makes it clear how very unusual this weather was. That’s the problem with the average temperature. Few people notice it and write about it. It’s the unaverage stuff that gets most of the attention.

Modelled and graphic after-echoes of the Helter Skelter

In August I wrote here about the Helter Skelter that never was, in a posting that featured how it looked when they started (as they then thought) to build it. Well, in the course of rootling through the archives looking for a very different image, I came across several graphic after-echoes of this building. Even though it never got built, this non-building quickly achieved “iconic” status.

Here was the original idea (with apologies for all those hard-to-avoid patches of shininess), which I photoed at the Building Centre, which is in Store Street just off Tottenham Court Rd, in 2010:

Note how they were then unsure about whether to call this Big Thing the “Bishopsgate Tower” or “The Pinnacle”.

And, at the bottom of the verbiage on the right there, it says:

Status: Due for completion in 2011

But I photoed my photos of the early stages of “The Pinnacle” in November 2012. By then, London had decided that this Big Thing wasn’t going to be “The Pinnacle”, but rather the Helter Skelter, which is what it remains today, despite never actually having been built.

Soon after then, building ceased, and they started wondering what they could manage to do on that site, preferably without destroying those early Pinnacle stumps.

Nevertheless, in the big ongoingly updated model of London that they also have at the Building Centre, I took this photo of the City Big Things bit of the Model, in the summer of 2013. The Helter Skelter was by then known to be doomed, but it had yet to be removed from the Model …:

… , mainly, I guess, because they then had no clear idea what was going to go there instead.

The Helter Skelter is now long gone from this Model, because eventually they did decide what to put there instead. Now an even Bigger Thing is very nearly finished:

The Biggest Thing in that photo, photoed by me from Tower Bridge, and which also includes another photoer, is now called “22 Bishopsgate”, what with it being such a Lump that it doesn’t deserve a proper London name. But I am sure some suitably insulting moniker will be agreed upon by London for this Lump in due course, perhaps involving the word Lump.

Meanwhile, the Helter Skelter lives on, still, in 2019.

Here is a photo I took in Bermondsey this summer, advertising beer:

There’s the Helter Skelter, right in the middle, between the Gherkin and the Wheel.

And here is another even better relic of the Helter Skelter. This shop window graphic is a walk away from where I live, in Vauxhall Bridge Road. I keep expecting this graphic to be altered, but every time I go by this enterprise, there it still is, and there it remains, unless it has been updated during the last day or two:

Again, the Helter Skelter, between the BT Tower and the Shard.

How long will these relics last? I will certainly be keeping an eye on that last one, because I go past it every time I go shopping for food.

Tasting the sunshine out east last August

Yes, last summer I went on several exeditions to such places as the Dome, and beyond. Here is a clutch of photos I photoed in the beyond category. On August 11th, I journeyed to the Dome, then took the Dangleway across the River to the Victoria Docks, and walked along the north side of them, ending my wanderings at the City Airport DLR station:

There are two of these favourite sculptures to be seen, in Photo 7 and Photo 11.

There are 35 photos in all. I think maybe my favourite is 33, which includes an advert that says: “OH REALLY?” I like that, for some reason.

Photo 27 has a sign, on the side of the Tate & Lyle factory, saying “TASTE THE SUNSHINE”. It was a very sunny day. I count three that include shadow selfies (23, 24, 31).

It is so much easier doing this kind of thing than it was at The Old Blog. (My thanks yet again to Michael J, who did this new blog for me.)

Low level roof clutter on the House of Fraser

Presumably, many readers of this blog regard my fascination with roof clutter as a mere eccentricity, perhaps a consequence of me getting old. But, I believe that there is more to it than that. I mean, for starters, there is just, in a place like London, so much of it.

One matter illuminated by observing roof clutter is that one is thereby observing which parts of a city are, so to speak, part of the public performance, of the stage scenery as seen by the audience; and which parts are the mere behind-the-scenes clutter by means of which the appropriate public appearances are created, and by means of which the merely mechanical purposes of the buildings are kept going. And one of the things about this division is that it keeps needing to be changed, to incorporate the new ways people look at their city. They start looking down on it, from tall new buildings, for instance. Which causes all sorts of aesthetic oddities to be experienced. Like observing a vast see of roof clutter of a kind never originally intended to be observed at all.

This roof clutter photo strikes me as especially striking:

Yesterday I attempted to visit the roof garden of John Lewis, as resolved during the previous posting. But it turned out this roof garden is shut for the next three weeks. I only got as far as the floor beneath the roof garden. And it is amazing what a difference that small difference in height makes to what you can see. It’s the difference between dreariness and all manner of distantly visible excitements. Also, when I got to this not-quite-top, the weather was pretty dreary, so I didn’t stay long. But I did photo the photo above.

How come this particular stretch of roof clutter is so near to the ground? Why has’t it been tidied up. Why hasn’t it been arranged, prettified? Why hasn’t it been “designed”?

The reason is that in the normal course of things, nobody would ever look down on it.

This is because department stores are typically not places where you are supposed to be looking outwards, through the windows of the store. You are there to look inwards, at the produce on display, and to buy some of it.

Look at the department store windows in the above photo, the ones above the roof clutter. They aren’t real windows! They may have glass and everything, but they aren’t there to be looked out through. They are there to disguise the brute fact that a department store is a big box, with walls you aren’t supposed to be looking through instead of spending money.

And that part of Oxford Street is all department stores. So, when it comes to the roof clutter in the photo, nobody’s looking. This stuff is invisible. The only people looking at the facade of the House of Fraser are at ground level, and even they aren’t really looking. For them, a pavement is mostly a machine for walking along and a department store is a mostly machine for shopping in. What mostly matters to them about the House of Fraser is all the signs saying “House of Fraser” because that tells them what sort of stuff is inside.

There is also, of course, a decidedly backstage atmosphere to this entire little street.

Here’s what happens to a roof which, for some of the time at least, is often looked down upon, out of office windows for instance. Offices have real windows (and it occurs to me that one reason for the fake windows in the wall of the House of Fraser might be if they want to turn a bit of the store into an office, or maybe even convert the entire thing into an office (but I digress)):

I was only able to photo these photos because of the rather recent (?) habit of turning the tops of department stores, and office blocks for that matter, into observation decks, where food and drink can be sold and where the city, publicly impressive or merely cluttered, can be observed from above.

A beaver shadow in Oxford Street

August 18th 2017 was one of those bright-light-on-light-coloured-buildings-turning-the-sky-darkest-blue sort of a day:

But when I photoed that particular photo, in Oxford Street, the mere bright-lightedness of the buildings or the darkness of the dark blue sky were not what I was focussing on, or at any rate trying to focus on. I know this, because the very next photo I photoed was this:

What I was interested in was that shadow. And it just has to be a beaver, doesn’t it? No other creature has quite that granny-bod shape. (The shadow is clearly not of that bobble on the right, as, with my terrible eyesight, I may have been guessing at the time.)

Sadly, however, I didn’t manage to get a look at or a photo a photo of the original beaver statue that was the cause of this shadow. I think I must have been too close to the building. Or, I tried to but not hard enough, and then forgot the beaver and looked at all the other things to be seen from Oxford Street that this same light was lighting up. Yes, probably that.

But then, earlier this week, while wandering through the archives, and spotting this beaver shadow as an obvious solution to the what-to-blog-on-Friday question which I face every Friday, it occurred to my slowing old brain that I didn’t just have a mysterious photo of a beaver shadow to ponder about and never explain. I also had a word – “beaver” – and that once you have a word, the internet becomes searchable, even if all you really have is an image and a guess about a word. So, “beaver oxford street”, and bingo, all was explained, instantly.

Why Are There Statues of Beavers On Top Of This Oxford Street Shop? asked Londonist, 32 months ago. Question asked, question answered:

If you glance up at the top of 105 to 109 Oxford Street (the building currently home to Tiger and Footlocker), you’ll see a strange quartet of creatures decorating the roof.

Four beavers, the top one holding a scroll(!), have been peering down on Oxford Street shoppers for 130 years.

Ah, I should have glanced. Then, I’d have seen them, or at least one of them. All I did was look, and then give up.

This is because 105 to 109 Oxford Street used to be Henry Heath’s Hat Factory and for many years, the hats made here were felted with beaver fur.

Londonist goes on to note that there is a big sign round the back of this building saying “HAT FACTORY” “HENRY HEATH Oxford Street”, and proves this with a photo. I recall taking a photo of this signage, several times. But where, in my ever more voluminous photo-archives, are such photos to be found? Search me. And I could search my V P-As, but it would take far too long.

One of the rules of blogging that I have had to learn is that if I have something to say, and want to say more but can’t, I should just say what I have to say, and leave the rest for later or never. So, the beaver shadow photos go up here, today, and any photos I have photoed of signs saying HENRY HEATH HAT FACTORY will just have to wait for another day or decade, in the event that one fine day or dark night I stumble upon them while looking for something else.

However, I do have just one more beaver photo to show you.

I occasionally visit John Lewis in Oxford Street, because it sells fine produce. Whenever I do this, I also, unless the weather is particularly bad, visit the very fine John Lewis Roof Garden, and take photos from it of the rest of London. So, I wondered if I had any photos taken from that spot, of any beavers, photoed in the direction of Centre Point, which is the big tower at the eastern end of Oxford Street, after which Oxford Street turns into New Oxford Street. Since I knew which directories to be looking in, this was a photo-archival search that made sense.

And, long story a bit less long, I came upon this photo (which I photoed in 2015):

And I took a closer-up look at this photo, in the spot where a beaver might be seen. And here, in the middle of the above photo, is that beaver, looking like a granny supporting herself with her umbrella (although this is really a “scroll(!)”):

Now clearly, even more than is the case with all the other photos of mine that I show here, this photo is no work of art. Canaletto can rest easy in his grave. But, as with so many of my photos, it’s the principle of the thing. This photo is photoable, well, because look, I actually did photo it, badly.

I could even go back to this same spot and trying to photo the same photo, better.

Memo to self: do that, some time soon.

Exploring The City: Monument thoughts

When I say exploring, I mean three kinds of exploring, rather than just the one. The “just the one” is going there, and taking photos. But the second is finding things out from the Internet about the various things I saw and photoed. And the third is exploring my photo-archives for related photos that I photoed during earlier explorations.

Here’s an internet discovery of what the place I was exploring looked like, in (guess) the late eighteenth century:

That image is one of a collection of images to be found at the top of the Website for the Parish and Pilgrimage Church of St Magnus the Martyr in the City of London.

At the back there, the Monument, and the church of St Magnus the Martyr. Note how you also see three other church spires, and a rather distant church tower. In those days, churches dominated the London skyline.

Here another Monument image, this time one which I photoed in the vicinity of the Monument, yesterday:

At the top of that, beyond, you can just about make out a horizontal slice of the Monument itself.

I’ve obviously been up this London Big Thing, but not very recently. Now, I want to look more closely at how this London Big Thing looked, when it first arrived on the scene:

I’m sure there are plenty of references to God and how he should bless and receive into heaven, or wherever, all the people who perished in the Great Fire of London, at the base of the Monument.

Nevertheless, I wonder if The Monument was actually some sort of turning point for London architecture, in the sense that it is very tall, but not a place of worship. The Monument, from the moment it was built, was what is nowadays called a “visitor attraction”. It works by allowing people to climb up a big staircase inside to a viewing platform at the top, from which anyone who cared to make this effort could then gaze down upon London, and its many churches. No worshipping involved, unless you want it to be.

Until the Monument, I’m guessing that the last place of non-worship to dominate the London skyline so forcefully was the Tower of London.

The Monument must have caused quite a stir when it first appeared. Did some people then think it was an eyesore? (A major function of blogging, for me, is that it records questions. That’s one I don’t want to forget.)

And if the Monument was thought of by some to be an eyesore, did this make it easier for people later to argue for taller – also secular – buildings in its vicinity, the aesthetic and spiritual damage already having been done? Like the Guy’s Hospital Shard story, only this time for the entire City of London.

To bring the story up to date, here’s a photo I photoed a while back of The Monument and its immediate surroundings, from the top of the Walkie Talkie:

The Monument and St Magnus are still a bit taller than their immediate surroundings, which are nevertheless pretty bulky. But as for the Walkie Talkie, and the other Big Things beyond, it’s definitely a case of The Monument being dwarfed by modernity.

Here’s another photo of The Monument, this time from the Top of the Tate Modern Extension:

Again, dwarfed by modernity.

Walkie Talkie on the left there, behind the red crane. And since we have a crane there, here’s a roof clutter photo, also feature the top of the Monument:

Photoed from the other side of the River also. Don’t get me wrong, I love this kind of alignment/juxtaposition, as regulars here will know. But, that’s how little the view of the Monument from any sort of distance now matters to London’s aesthetic overlords.

AAArt

I like photos that look like abstract art but which are really of something real.

To quote myself (underneath the August photo there, of London Bridge station seen from above):

I tend not to admire Modern Art. It takes itself far too seriously for my liking. But I love it when real stuff resembles Modern Art. Explain that to me, somebody?

Still working out the answer to that one.

So anyway, it would appear that these guys, agree with me. They call themselves AAA (they arrange the AAAs more aaartfully than this), which stands for Abstract Aerial Art.

Quote (from this):

Taken from a top-down perspective, every aerial photograph we take is of a real place on our planet. We like to compose our images as artworks rather than traditional photographs. Other than slight colour and contrast enhancements none of our images are manipulated in any way. As we always say, “the point is not to work out what it is, but to show how weird and wonderful the world can look from above”.

Actually, not quite my attitude. I like explanations, locations, etc. But, I still like these images.

Here are a dozen (I picked four, then nine, then twelve) that I especially liked:

Here’s the equipment the AAA guys use. Drones. Calling 6k. (The link at the top of this posting is to an earlier posting I did re another of 6k’s drone-photos.)

The new Google building in King’s Cross is taking shape

And the shape is the big green thing that someone has stuck in the middle of this photo …:

… which I found here. More about this building-to-be here.

On the right, King’s Cross railway station. On the left, St Pancras railway station, which is where the Eurostar trains go to and come from. It’s a pretty well connected sort of place. And proof that physical connection remains important, in the world of virtual connection that Google does so much to route us all about in.

A while back I was in and around all this with a friend, and just before I photoed these photos, I photoed these photos:

There’s something very appealing to me about the big concrete towers that signal a big new project like this one, towers ministered to by cranes, cranes which on sunny days often leave shadows on the towers. In a few months, all will be completely different. No sooner are these towers built than they are smothered in something else, after which some degree of permanence will return.

And whereas those earlier towers and cranes I linked to were for Brand X unaffordable apartments, the above towers are being built for one of the great economic and political facts of our time.