Castelnou

Castelnou is a small and impossibly picturesque hill town in the lower reaches of the Pyrenees, in the far south of France. GodDaughter2’s parents and I went by car, just over five years ago now, in May 2016, to check it out. And yes, the weather was as marvellous in Castelnou as it has recently been unmarvellous in London.

Nowadays, I find that my expeditions have as their officially designated destination a spot where I have arranged to meet up with a friend and exchange chat, rather than just a particular physical place I especially want to check out. But as my death approaches, not as fast as I feared it would last Christmas but still faster than I had previously supposed that it would, I find that mere Things, in London or anywhere else, aren’t enough to make me get out of the house at the time previously determined. Partly this is because if I fail to arrive at the Thing at the planned time, the Thing won’t ring me up and ask me where I got to, whereas people are inclined to do just that. And partly because the Internet tells you lots about Things, whereas actually meeting people bestows knowledge and pleasures more profound and subtle than you could obtain by any other communicational means.

The point of this Castelnou expedition was that it was with GodDaughter2’s parents, not that it was to Castelnou. Castelnou was just an excuse for us all to spend time with each other, plus it gave us things to talk about.

But of course, once in Castelnou, I photoed photos galore, of which these are just a few:

A few more things to say.

First, there are cats and dogs involved (as well as a bird statue), hence this posting appearing here on a Friday. The cats were very friendly and sociable. The dogs were more cautiously proprietorial, but none were aggressive. Which I think reflects well on us tourists. We all behave well towards these creatures, and they behaved towards us accordingly.

Second, what’s wrong with being a tourist? I am sure that “tourists” have been featured on the popular TV show Room 101. But if I was ever on Room 101 I would want to banish from the world “tourists who complain about all the other tourists”. Tourism is a fine thing, enjoyable for those of us who do it or we wouldn’t keep doing it, and profitable for those who cater to our needs. Many good things happen because of us tourists. Besides all the deserving people who get to earn a living from it, there are the conversations that tourists have with the locals whom they encounter, and with each other, which can sometimes have have wonderfully creative consequences. Many an economic success story has started with a conversation involving tourists. Tourists bring the world, as it were, to particular places, and places into contact with other places, and thereby are able to provoke creative thoughts that would otherwise not have occurred to anyone.

Does tourism “spoil” places like Castelnou? Hardly. I’ll bet you Castelnou is a much happier, prettier and more interesting place than it was before it started attracting tourists.

And finally, Castelnou is a fine example of an aesthetic process that fascinates me more and more, which is the way that when an architectural style first erupts, it is hated, but then when it settles back into being only a few surviving ruins, people find that same style, to quote my own words in the first sentence of this posting, impossibly picturesque. Castelnou began as a castle, which then gathered dwellings around it. And you can bet that the people in the vicinity of this castle hated it and feared it, that being the whole idea. But once the castles stopped being built in such numbers and when the castles that survived began turning into ruins, they then also turned into objects of affection, first for locals, and then, even more, for visitors from many miles away.

Tangenting somewhat, I was yesterday predicting that the next wave of architectural fashion is going to be a lot more colourful. And it is. But, lots of people will, for as long as this new fashion lasts and seems to be on the march (the military metaphor is deliberate), hate that fashion, and regret the passing of the drearily monochromatic tedium that they now only grumble about (because that is now still on the march).

Is Castelnou perchance the French, or maybe the Catalan, for Newcastle? Sounds like it to me.

Today Patrick and I had another conversation about World War One

We had already decided that our chat today would be about what kicked off World War One. However, as part of my homework for this, I listened again to this earlier conversation we recorded about World War One, way back in 2017, and I was reminded that we’d already had quite a lot to say about the causes of World War One. This was the very first of these conversations of the most recent clutch, and I was agreeably surprised by how much sense it made, and by how relatively little irrelevant tangenting and general repetition and waffling I inflicted upon Patrick.

All of which meant that we needed to steer the chat towards things we hadn’t said in that previous one. We went into a bit more of the detail this time, about how Russian military reaction to defeat in 1905 by Japan might have made Germany nervous. And we also talked more about how Britain was, in the years before World War One, threatening to tear itself apart over how to answer the Irish Question, which meant that in 1914 Britain consequently seemed very weak, compared to how strong it eventually turned out to be.

I also added some attempted generalisations, about how nothing on its own can cause anything else (I blamed and have long blamed Sherlock Holmes for immortalising the error that consists of contradicting this fact), and for how a multipolar world made that world vulnerable to a cascade of escalating declarations of war, all of them restrained, but not restrained enough, by the fact that this huge war was actually much feared, but not feared enough. Which is all quite orthodox, but I feel I understand all this stuff a bit better than before. However, I did digress rather wildly into giving this book about Brexit a plug, because it illustrates well how the cleverest people can react to events really quite intelligently, and still get, for them, a very bad result.

No apology for returning to this vexed subject. I mean, historically, could there be a more important question?

This latest effort will arrive at Croziervision, whenever it arrives, presumably accompanied by the very helpful notes that Patrick now likes to introduce these conversations with. Nothing we said can’t happily wait a couple of weeks, or whatever the wait turns out to be.

“587 tall buildings in the pipeline in London …”

This fake photo appears at the top of a piece about new building in London, this being how Nine Elms is about to look:

If you regularly travel by helicopter anyway.

Also adorning the same piece is this next view looking upstream at the same point in London, also including the now rather small looking box that seems to have sparked all this building excitement, the recently relocated US Embassy:

The style is incoherent modernism, i.e. the effect you get when you design your tower to be modernistic, and quite tall, and functional in shape rather than weird (which is rather too expensive to always be doing) but in no other way in harmony with the nearby designs. Many hate this non-style, but to me it seems all of a piece with London’s ruling ethos, to the effect that when in London I pursue my business and you pursue your business, and there is no boss of the two of us telling us to do our business is the same way, even though we are right next to each other.

I never trust these fake photos of buildings. This is one of those times when the fact that the internet never forgets can get a bit confusing, because the internet remembers all the various shapes each future building takes as it ducks and weaves its way from initial idea to planning permission to actually getting built. Rather than spending lots of time trying to guess exactly what will be built, I prefer simply to wait and see.

And as it happens I have been recently seeing some of these towers as they rise up, without me making any great effort like going to the river or even crossing the river and seeing it all close-up. My now regular journey back from the Royal Marsden typically sees me getting off the tube at Victoria and doing a bit of shopping, by walking south along Wilton Road to Sainsbury’s.

Looking back towards Victoria, I see Nova, with its weird-style red shape spiking upwards. This is the Carbuncle Cup style that I so relish, …:

… a style that is now being superseded in Nine Elms by a reversion to the more functional verticality of, for example, Docklands (although in Docklands there has been a tad more harmonisation of style between different towers).

Here is what I see when I look south from the same spot:

Which is a bit boring, but as I walk towards Sainsbury’s, things start to liven up, especially when the sky looks the way it did that particular day:

I only photo what is there to be seen. So, that bit of London at any rate continues to build, and continues to contain busy cranes.

And according to this report, that’s about to be the story all over London:

Love them or loathe them, it looks like despite a significant slowdown in building skyscrapers during the spring and summer in 2020, there was not the downturn feared because of the pandemic.

According to New London Architecture’s annual review of skyscrapers over 20 storeys or more, there are 587 tall buildings in the pipeline in London – with 310 granted full planning permission and 127 under consideration. A total of 35 tower blocks were finished last year.

That’s some pipeline. Although I wouldn’t call these new Things skyscrapers, exactly. The sky can sleep unscraped in its bed. More like Things of a Certain Size.

Nevertheless, I love all this. Not because the buildings will be much good to look at. They won’t be, although sometimes in combination they may add up to something quite dramatic. What I like is what they mean: lots and lots of people all living and working right next to each other, and gathering in restaurants and bars to schmooze with each other and to contrive new ventures and adventures, as befits a great city that is still growing as fast as ever it has.

Eat your pretty little heart out, Paris.

Invisible Oscar

Oscar, the cat of GodDaughter2’s parental home down in the South of France, is a favourite object of photographic devotion here, and on the right there, the latest Oscar photo, from GD2D, showing him in one of his favourite resting places.

One of the many malfunctions of the Old Blog was that if I wasn’t careful, photos next to text, like that one, would crash into the posting below, if there wasn’t enough text. Doesn’t happen here. Good.

Oscar on roof patrol

Friday being my day for non-human creatures, Good Friday is a good day for a good non-human creature. So here, again, is Oscar:

Master of all he surveys, in a small town in the South of France, at the top of the home of GodDaughter2’s parents. My thanks to GD2D (her dad) for the above photo, and also for the phrase I used as the title of this posting, in the email he just sent me, with the above photo.

Oscar gets regular mentions on this blog, my favourite Oscar posting here probably being this one, about how he got lost, and then found again, by GD2, with her social media brilliance.

On how the English revolutionary ideology of improvement took its time

During a recent conversation that Patrick Crozier and I recorded (although as always Patrick did all the button-pushing and editing), about how the Industrial Revolution came about, Patrick asked a question that I didn’t answer at the time but which I think I can now answer, at least in broad brush strokes.

My thesis was and is that the Industrial Revolution was and is the English Revolution. It was an ideological event, sparked by mass literacy, just as the French, Russian and Chinese Revolutions were. (See all my Emmanuel Todd postings.) Patrick pointed out that, unlike those three very political revolutions, the English Revolution, if that’s what it was, sure took its time to mutate into the Industrial Revolution. The political bit of the English Revolution happened in the seventeenth century, but the big impact of the industrial bit of the English Revolution didn’t achieve lift-off until late in the eighteenth century.

At the time, I just said yes, hm, I’ll have to think about that. But now I have, and I think the answer is not that difficult to supply.

The three very political revolutions were successful, not in the sense they accomplished much that was good, but in the lesser sense that they did at least achieve political dominance, after which they did their best to improve things but ended up doing mostly their worst. They were all very destructive in their impact. And this all happened very quickly. Destruction and catastrophe doesn’t take very long to happen.

But the English Revolution stalled politically. The political bit of it ended in a draw, with the old monarchical and aristocratic institutions changing quite radically, but not being destroyed. And so, having failed to make the big breakthrough in the manner of the French, Russian and Chinese ideological breakthroughs, the English Revolution turned its attention to peaceful progress. To “improvement”, to use the word the English ideologists themselves used.

And, improvement takes time. As the English eighteenth century unfolded, presided over by a rather contentious and corrupt mixture of aristocrats and well-connected capitalists, the ideologists of improvement started to achieve actual improvements, step by inventive step. They were creative rather than destructive, and creativity takes time. I say “started”, but in truth they merely somewhat accelerated a process of step-by-step invention and innovation that had already got under way.

And that’s my answer, for the time being. Destruction happens quickly, and the quicker it happens the more it “succeeds”. Creativity, aka actual improvement, takes far longer.

This ideology of improvement spread, way beyond England, first to America, and subsequently to the whole then Germany, and now everyone. And the world outside Britain and America realised they couldn’t beat the damn Anglos with only their own atavistic and destructive methods, adorned by mere political rhetoric. To hold their own against the Anglosphere, they realised that they would have to copy it. So, they did. And the English ideology of constant improvement now rules the world. We now all live, with ever greater ease and comfort and contentment, in that world.

The English Revolution is, on the whole, not understood by modern educated people. Insofar as the typical Educated Modern has a theory of how all this happened, it is that the English achieved their industrial revolution pretty much by accident. In other words it wasn’t a “revolution” at all, because there were no revolutionaries in the usual sense. Selfish go-getters achieved a mass economic breakthrough that was neither anticipated nor even wanted in each of their individual, selfish little plans. Adam Smith, basically. But the English Revolution, which was and is the global industrial revolution, was an ideological event as well as a merely economic event. Modern educated people cannot see this, because that would involve realising that here was a gang of starry-eyed ideologists and idealists and altruists, with a radical and ludicrously optimistic plan for transforming the lives of all humans everywhere for the better, making omelettes and breaking eggs with relentless single-mindedness. And their plan ended up being triumphantly, fabulously, world transformingly successful. Educated Moderns just don’t have a mental box in which to place events like this. Ideologists always fail, always cause havoc. Even most ideologists nowadays proclaim that their alleged creative miracles, in the radiant future that they proclaim, must be preceded by a phase of destructiveness, during which they destroy all the human barriers to their vision, and of course the rest of us assume that this is all that they will ever accomplish.

But the English Revolution was not like that. It was a Revolution, but a Revolution which only began by being destructive. That part of it failed, in that the political regime that it tried to overthrow was merely modified somewhat. So instead, the English Revolution turned its collective mind towards creativity, and in that it succeeded, beyond its wildest dreams.

To any commenters who want to say it, let me say it first. I know that I haven’t proved, or even really argued, the above proclamation. I have simply proclaimed it. But although I haven’t proved it, I am nevertheless right about all this.

The Airbus A390 “Clickbait” – etc.

Indeed:

I encountered this glorious airplane on Twitter, but just now Twitter is refusing to load onto my computer, for some idiot reason to do with me refusing to update or generally do as commanded, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. The posting in question is, in any case, unworthy of a link because if was one of those “15 airplanes that should never have been built”, adorned by an annoyingly small version of the above photo. Like a fool I took the bate bait (see first comment), and there were more like a hundred airplanes, many of them rather sensible, but none of them were the above goose airbus. Liars. I really should know by now not to disappear into these multi-click lists of foolishness. But then I googled “goose airbus” and found the bigger version of the photo that you see above.

Speaking of clickbate clickbait, yesterday I emailed David Thompson, with news of this crane inserts London bus into London pub garden posting here, in the hope that he might include it in his Friday ephemera clutch today, and he did (“Crane use of note”). So traffic here has jumped upwards. Check it out if you’ve not seen this. It’s a great photo. (This posting is now going to be another of these.)

David Thompson’s ephemera postings are a good source of weird animal stuff, and today, there’s a link to a story about a sea slug that keeps its head but grows another body.

I wish I could do that.

I also liked, although this is vegetable rather than animal news, this photo of unsupervised potatoes. Says DT’s first commenter (“Lady Cutekitten of Lolcat”): I once saw The Unsupervised Potatoes open for Rod Stewart.

Steve Stewart-Williams on the evolution of the Breton fishing boat

I finished reading The Ape That Understood The Universe about a week ago now, but there is one further bit from this book that I want to scan into this blog, because I think it is my absolute favourite.

At the beginning of the second half of the book devoted to Man, “The Cutural Animal”, SS-W offers six examples of cultural evolution in action. These are: Breton Boats, Conditioned Behavior, Language, Teddy Bears, Businesses, and Science. I have already copied the bits on Teddy Bears, and on Language. Here is the bit about Breton Boats (p. 224):

The first example concerns the fishing boats used by Breton fisherman in the Île de Groix. Where did these boats come from? At first glance, it looks like a no-brainer: If anything’s a product of intelligent design, it’s a boat. On closer inspection, though, it turns out it really is a no-brainer … or at least a partial-brainer, in the sense that human brains played a more modest role in crafting the boats than we normally assume. This possibility was first mooted by the French philosopher Emile-Auguste Chartier (aka Alain), who in 1908, took a Darwinian hatchet to the common sense view. “Every boat,” he observed,

is copied from another boat … Let’s reason as follows in the manner of Darwin. It is clear that a very badly made boat will end up at the bottom after one or two voyages, and thus never be copied … One could then say, with complete rigor, that it is the sea herself who fashions the boats, choosing those which function and destroying the others.

If a boat returns, the boat makers may copy it. If it doesn’t, they definitely won’t. The boats that are most likely to be copied are therefore those that survive the longest. As Daniel Dennett points out, no one needs to know why these particular boats survive. To make a good boat, you don’t need to understand what makes a boat good; you only need to be able to copy another boat. How do you know you’re copying a good boat? Well, you don’t need to know, because the sea automatically culls the not-good ones from the boat population. Meanwhile, any especially good boats get copied at a faster rate. Over time, this process of culling and copying fashions more and more seaworthy boats.

Now maybe each and every step in the gradual evolution of the boat was a product of intelligent design: of a thousand forgotten boat makers figuring out a thousand different ways to make their boats more sea-worthy. But maybe not. Maybe many steps along the path were simply fortuitous accidents, which were automatically preserved and propagated. To the extent that this is so, the design evident in Breton boats comes from blind, mindless selection, rather than the machinations of intelligent minds.

Language and Teddy Bears are a bit off the beaten tracks I like to beat. But with this discussion of the design of a quite big physical object, in this case a boat, SS-W’s core agenda, and one of my obsessions over the years and decades ever since I was a failed architecture student, overlap in a very big way. As I said at the end of the language posting linked to above, I have long been thinking along the same lines as SS-W, about “mindless” design. And as I said at the end of another recent posting here, about Facadism, Keeping Up Appearances and so on, it is my earnest hope that I will, by and by, be able to pull such thoughts together in a bigger piece for Samizdata.

The Modern Movement in Architecture was, when it started out, shot through with the idea that you should not “mindlessly” copy an established design, even if it worked well, unless you knew why it worked well. Wrong.

Equally and oppositely, the first lot of Architectural Modernists said that you should turn your back on “mindless tradition” and design anew, from “first principles”. Very dangerous, as a design technique. Something like this is sometimes necessary, provided you choose good “first principles”, but it is never without extreme hazard. Architectural Modernism only worked well, and in a country like Britain has only started to work well, when Modernism itself became a tradition, embodying the experience of what worked and what works, and what did not work and what does not work.

Waves reflected on the side of a boat in Belle Isle

Having the previous day taken off from London City Airport, I am in Belle Isle, off the coast of Brittany. It is the summer of 2014. The light is especially strong. I notice some reflections:

If I had never seen sunlight bounced off water onto another surface in this way, would I ever have imagined that it could look like that? Like some sort of net? Seriously, it’s like these reflections are constructed out of string, just like nets. The effect is particularly strong in the second of the seven photos above. There are even knots to be seen. Weird.

Reflections, eh? Make you think.

The ups and downs of Oscar

If you type “Oscar” into the bit under where it says “SEARCH” on the left, you will find your way to lots of good photos of Oscar, the cat of GodDaughter2’s family who live in the South of France. Where they are now stuck.

This latest incoming photo of Oscar (thank you GD2D) is not that good, of Oscar:

But this is a good photo of a common habit of cats, which is that of climbing to what you would think would be inaccessibly lofty spots, and only then wondering how they’re going to get back down again. Well, actually, they do have an escape strategy for all such predicaments. Yowl continuously until a human rescues them, and then forget about it. But you know what I mean, I’m sure.

How did Oscar get down? Simple, he was rescued. What I want to know is How did Oscar get up there in the first place?

I’m also not asking why he got up there. He’s a cat. That’s why.