An architectural contrast

I am fond of writing from time to time, about how people with important jobs to do who spend too much time fretting about mere architecture are liable to take their eyes off the ball. What are we trying to do? This question can get lost when you decide to build, and then move into, a brand spanking new headquarters building.

So I enjoyed reading about yet another such contrast in the book by John Lewis Gaddis On Grand Strategy (pp. 125-6).

The contrast Gaddis mentions is between how much architectural complication Philip II of Spain made for himself and how, in contrast, his enemy Elizabeth I of England meanwhile preferred to keep things architecturally simple.

On the one hand:

Philip personally designed the Escorial, the grandest monastery any monarch would ever inhabit. He then filled it with relics and sequestered himself among them, unable to see beyond the responsibilities that engulfed him, and, as a consequence, the paperwork that swamped him

Elizabeth, on the other hand …:

… didn’t even design her own palace; she simply took over, or borrowed the ones she fancied.

Personally, I wouldn’t find it at all simple to be even borrowing a palace, let alone building one. But you get the point. A little less focus on architecture and a little more attention to Grand Strategy on Philip’s part, and the entire history of the world, no less, might from then on have been very different.

Remembrance photos

Today, to mark Remembrance Sunday, I photoed poppies outside Westminster Abbey, and got the sort of photos I usually do get at this particular time of year:

But then, I made my way along Whitehall, where wreaths had earlier been laid at the Cenotaph, and then turned right towards Embankment tube. Thus it was that I walked past the Royal Tank Regiment Memorial …:

and I photoed one of the messages that had been placed on it:

To me that brings it home more vividly.

I wonder how long that life together lasted.

Photo-uploading problems

For some mysterious reason, I am having problems uploading photos. Have I reached some sort of limit? One of the photos I tried to upload was a photo of a famous painting. Did WordPress recognise the famous painting, and get angry with me for some sort of copyright violation? Did I change a “setting” to something silly, that won’t work? I don’t know, but this posting is just me posting pure text, to see if that is misbehaving also.

Well that worked well enough when I pressed “Save Draft”. Let’s see if “Publish” now works. Yes it did, or it did from where I sit.

LATER: All is now well. A temporary back-up file was getting in the way and this has now been deleted, making way for such things as this:

This is what WordPress looks like, when it gets angry with you, which it enjoys doing. No. It’s “Cerberus”, by William Blake. I photoed this yesterday, at the Tate Britain William Blake Exhibition. You see a better version if you go to the Tate Britain website.

Mariah says to eat crisps for Christmas

A feature, by which I mean a bug, of Growing old is that all the heartfelt love songs of earlier times are now recycled by their original performers to sell sofas, deodorants, food, etc..

All I Want For Christmas by Mariah Carey is one of my most favourite pop songs, long before sophisticates came around to realising how good it was. (Same with Abba. I loved them from the moment they won Eurovision, before even the Gays noticed them. With the greatest pop songs of a certain vintage, the rule was: Me, Gays, Girls, The Public.)

But now, it turns out that all Mariah Carey really wants for Christmas is …:

… a packet of potato crisps.

Personally I like potato crisps, hence my possession of this crisp packet. But, I despise almost all crisp advertising. What crisp advertising ought to say is: Yes, our crisps are probably bad for you if you scoff too many of them, but they taste terrific, even the plane old salt-flavoured ones. But oh no. Instead, they bribe celebs whose successes in life have been based on not scoffing crisps or similar products, to tell the rest of us to do this, by pretending that they do too, and thereby to imply that crisps are good for you. The more you scoff them, the thinner you’ll be and the better you’ll be at football, and you’ll be athletic enough to win an Olympic medal.

The thing is, though, that Mariah Carey has had serious difficulty staying slim, and she might actually be telling the truth, in now claiming to prefer crisps to the sort of boyfriend she could have when she was young and effortlessly slim and when the world was at her feet.

Displacement

So much for logic. More World Cup torture, for England anyway. By the end, it wasn’t even close.

Looking back on it, it seems to me that what England did in this tournament was what France have done more than once in the past. England amazed everyone by beating the All Blacks and thus cleared the way for someone else to win it. Too bad it wasn’t England. I trust South Africans are suitably grateful.

I funked it again, in the sense that I watched it, but couldn’t bear to listen to what the commentators were saying. But on the plus side: my bowels were emptied more thoroughly and rather earlier than usual; I managed to set the date on a newly acquired camera; some washing up got done; various other displacement activities were accomplished, including reading early bits of this rather good book about Shakespeare; I listed more carefully than usual to parts of Record Review, which is still going now (a suitably agonised Shostakovitch string quartet). I mention such personal trivia because this is my blog, but more to the point because I have nothing to add to the rugby expertise that rugby experts will now be lavishing on this event. In a year’s time the only person reading this posting will be me, maybe.

From the look of it, England made too many mistakes, and South Africa just played better.

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.

Poppies and tablets

Five years ago, to mark the centenary of the outbreak outbreak of World War 1, poppies surrounded the Tower of London

Like many others I photoed the poppies, and I photoed a few of those photoing the poppies.

Above are four poppy photos I photoed of photoers using tablets to do their photoing. The second is, I guess, the strangest one. But all it is is a man showing his wife (?) the photo that he has just photoed.

My impression is that tablets were used to photo at that time a lot more than they are now.

Or then again, it could just be that the number of photoers of these poppies was so huge that there were bound to be a few tablets on show. And by their nature (them being big) I noticed and photoed all the tablets that were being used in my vicinity. Maybe photoing with tablets was as rare then as it is now.

But, for whatever it may be worth or signify, I don’t think so.

There is nice history, of things like tablets and digital photoing. And there is not so nice history, of things like World War 1. We should pay respectful attention to both sorts of history, I think.

World Cup torture

Well, I didn’t watch England slowly torturing the All Blacks to death yesterday, because I could not bear the thought of watching what I was sure would happen, viz: the All Blacks slowly torturing England to death. I merely recorded it all, in the unlikely event that England won and I would then want to see it all. While England were, in fact, winning, I had a Sunaturday morning lie-in.

The thing is, England are pretty good this time around, and watching all the hope being squeezed out of them, and experiencing all the hope being squeezed out of me, was more than I could have endured. I just wanted one nice, humane bullet to the head, with no messing about.

The thing also (see above) is, England never beat the All Blacks at the World Cup. Never. It just doesn’t happen. They always lose to them. Not necessarily by much, but by enough, every time. The French, yes, they beat the All Blacks at the World Cup, every other decade. But England? Never. As Shakespeare would have put it had he been a rugby fan: Never never never never never. So, why was this game going to be any different?

Now, my problem is that I, along with millions of other real rugby fans (such as I clearly am not) by no means all of whom are even English, now think that England are favourites to beat South Africa. South Africa only just beat Wales this morning, and Wales only really really care about beating England. England beat South Africa at the World Cup quite often, just as South Africa beat England at the World Cup quite often. More to the point, England have now beaten the All Blacks at this World Cup, and the All Blacks beat South Africa at this World Cup in the group stage. So, logic says that England will accordingly beat South Africa. So I probably will watch the final. At which point all those South African backs will go crazy and beat England by twenty points. Deep down, however, I only say that to stop it happening. What I really think is that England will win, and very possibly by quite a lot.

It really would be something if England could dump the three senior Southern Hemisphere teams out of this thing, bang bang bang, one after another. Trouble is, this has not happened yet, and with sport, you never know. Sport is not, to put it mildly, always logical.

I mean, I imagine all those All Black fans got the shock of their lives, as it gradually dawned on them that England were, yesterday, better than them, and were going to beat them, at the World Cup. For the first time. Ever. Ever ever ever ever ever. They should have stayed in bed or gone to bed early, or whatever they would have needed to do in their time zone, to spare themselves the grief.

Stephen Fry once quoted Vincent Price saying: exquisite agony. That about sums up what I’m trying to say in this.

Bad Bach

Here are two enticing paragraphs from a book which is coming out next month, entitled Music: A Subversive History by Ted Gioia:

I’ve talked to people who feel they know Bach very well, but they aren’t aware of the time he was imprisoned for a month. They never learned about Bach pulling a knife on a fellow musician during a street fight. They never heard about his drinking exploits — on one two-week trip he billed the church eighteen groschen for beer, enough to purchase eight gallons of it at retail prices — or that his contract with the Duke of Saxony included a provision for tax-free beer from the castle brewery; or that he was accused of consorting with an unknown, unmarried woman in the organ loft; or had a reputation for ignoring assigned duties without explanation or apology. They don’t know about Bach’s sex life: at best a matter of speculation, but what should we conclude from his twenty known children, more than any significant composer in history (a procreative career that has led some to joke with a knowing wink that “Bach’s organ had no stops”), or his second marriage to twenty-year-old singer Anna Magdalena Wilcke, when he was in his late thirties? They don’t know about the constant disciplinary problems Bach caused, or his insolence to students, or the many other ways he found to flout authority. This is the Bach branded as “incorrigible” by the councilors in Leipzig, who grimly documented offense after offense committed by their stubborn and irascible employee.

I sort of knew a lot of this, but didn’t quite put the slant on it that Gioia does. I had Bach as a Great Composer being tormented by dreary apparatchiks who didn’t get what a Great Composer he was. But Gioia has Bach as the kind of Great Composer who would have driven anybody crazy, and only people who did semi-grasp what an actual great composer he was would have put up with it for as long as those Leipzigers did.

Gioia continues:

But you hardly need to study these incidents in Bach’s life to gauge his subversive tendencies. Just listen to his music, which in its ostentatious display of technique and inventiveness must have disturbed many in the austere Lutheran community, and even fellow musicians. Not much music criticism of his performances has survived, but the few surviving reactions of his contemporaries leave no doubt about Bach’s disdain for the rules others played by. We hear a complaint about him improvising for too long during church services. We read an angry denunciation from fellow composer Johann Adolphe Scheibe about Bach’s “bombastic” and “confused” music-making. Bach even was forced to provide a memorandum to the city council in 1730 explaining why it was necessary to embrace “the present musical taste, master the new kinds of music.” Here he insists that “the former style of music no longer seems to please our ears,” and demands the freedom to follow the most progressive trends of his day. But perhaps the most revealing commentary comes from Scheibe’s diatribe, where he complains that Bach’s music was “darkened by an excess of art” and marred by an “unending mass of metaphors and figures.” In other words, the very signs of Bach’s greatness for later generations were the same elements that made him suspect during his own times.

This makes a lot of sense to me. There has always seemed to me something of the Gothic about Bach, a distinct whiff of Count Dracula, especially when he sits down at the organ. But I don’t now listen to much Bach organ music because the usual way it’s now played always sounds so bloody prim and proper.

The best way to tune into this side of Bach is to listen to him “arranged” for piano, by some self-important nineteenth century piano virtuoso, and played by a similarly egotistical and ostentatious (to use the word Gioia applies to Bach) pianist now, preferably a Russian, of the sort who comes third in piano competitions rather than first because, although he can clearly play the socks off everyone else, he makes the jury too uncomfortable with his crazy histrionics and his indifference to the usual way that classical piano pieces are supposed to be played. That sort of grandiose and attention-grabbing playing, it seems to me, often captures Bach in a way that better mannered performances miss. To put it another way, I have long suspected that “authentic” Bach is often the very opposite of what Bach was really like, and what Bach would have really liked.

Read more at where I copied-and-pasted the above two paragraphs from, here.

See also this Guardian piece, reporting Bach research by John Eliot Gardiner, that Gioia draws upon.

Short quote:

Archival sources, including school inspector reports, reveal that Bach’s education was troubled by gang warfare and bullying, sadism and sodomy – as well as his own extensive truancy.

This was published six years ago. Again, I sort of remember this, but I didn’t really take it in.

I love the internet.