City peddlers etc.

A few hours after I took this photo (and not before all the latest terrorist dramas that were happening on the other side of the river (which I later crossed)), I took this photo, outside the Bank of England:

This combines four things that interest me.

First, most obviously, it is a photo of an unusual means of transport. Rather confusingly, this contraption had “” written on it. But when you type that into the www, you get redirected to Where you also discover photos of contraptions with “” on them. Very confusing.

Second, the persons on the pedibus/PedalBus are making a spectacle of themselves. People who make a spectacle of themselves are not entitled to anonymity, or not at this blog. Photoers going about their photoing business do, mostly, get anonymity here. But people yelling drunkenly, albeit goodnaturedly, and striking dramatic attitudes when I photo them, not.

Third, I like these downward counting numbers on the pedestrian light bits of traffic lights, which London apparently got from New Zealand. (Blog and learn.) Very useful. I like to photo them, preferably in combination with other interesting things. Score. Score again, because there is not just one 7 in this photo, there are two 7s. This particular time of the day, just when it is starting to become dark, is the best time to photo these numbers.

And fourth, I am becoming increasingly interested by London’s many statues, as often as not commemorating the heroes of earlier conflicts. I think one of the things I like about them is the sense of a very particular place that they radiate, just as the more showoffy Big Things do, but even more precisely. They thus facilitate meeting up with people. “In front of the Bank of England” might prove too vague. “Next to Wellington” pins it down far more exactly.

The Wellington statue makes a splendid contrast with the pedi/PedalBussers. Wellington is Wellington, seated on his horse (Copenhagen presumably), very dignified and patrician. And the peddlers are the kind of people he commanded in his battles.

I don’t get why this statue is in front of the Bank of England. Why isn’t there a Wellington statue at Waterloo?

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Our Sea (and the trade we did in it)

Lincoln Paine, The Sea and Civilization (p. 130):

Octavian’s victory in Egypt brought the entire Mediterranean basin under the command of a single imperial rule. To guarantee the safety of the empire and its sea trade, Augustus (as Octavian styled himself) established Rome’s first standing navy, with bases at Misenum just south of Portus ]ulius, and at Ravenna in the northern Adriatic. These fleets comprised a variety of ships from liburnians to triremes, “fours,” and “fives.” As the empire expanded, provincial fleets were established in Egypt, Syria, and North Africa; on the Black Sea; on the Danube and Rhine Rivers, which more or less defined the northern border of the empire; and on the English Channel. Over the next two centuries there was nearly constant fighting on the empire’s northern and eastern borders, but the Mediterranean experienced a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity during which Greco-Roman culture circulated easily around what everyone was entitled to call Mare Nostrum – Our Sea. It was the only time that the Mediterranean has ever been under the aegis of a single power, with profound results for all the cultures that subsequently emerged on its shores.

There follows (p. 132) a description of the sort of commercial culture that resulted. Here is some of what Paine says about Ostia:

The remains of the city, which rival those of Pompeii, reveal a town of ordinary citizens rather than wealthy estate owners and their retinues. The essentially rectilinear streets were lined with three- and four-story apartment houses, many with street-level stores and offices. …

But then, concerning religion in Ostia, Paine addes this:

… In addition to houses, offices, workshops, and laundries, the city boasted an astonishing array of religious buildings that reflect the inhabitants’ strong ties to the Roman east. Side-by-side with temples to the gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon and the imperial cults stand Christian baptisteries, a Jewish synagogue, and a host of temples to Near Eastern deities, including a dozen dedicated to the Zoroastrian divinity Mithras, the god of contracts and thus revered by merchants. …

Mithras was the god of contracts? Revered by merchants? I knew about how the Roman Empire took off economically (and degenerated politically) by surrounding the Mediterranean, but I did not know that Mithras was the god of contracts and was revered by merchants. So, it would appear that proto-libertarianism in the ancient world missed a big chance when Christianity conquered the Roman Empire and prevailed over Zoroastrianism. Although, a little preliminary googling tells me that some reckon Christianity to have been “borrowed” from Zoroastrianism. Whatever. I like the sound of it, and will investigate it more. By which I mean I will do some investigating of it, instead of the zero investigating of it that I have done so far in my life.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Three Walkie Talkie photos

First, when they were still building it, as viewed from the south side of the river:

And now, from a little spot in the City called Bunhill Fields, which is a graveyard, through some leafless trees:

The first photo was photoed five years ago last Thursday, and the second was photoed ten days ago.

The more I see of this Big Thing, the more I like it. And I am hearing others say that they like it too.

While I’m about it, one of its admirers singled out what happens at the top of the Walkie Talkie. This looks like this:

I took that in January of last year.

A list of well-known currently performing classical pianists

Classical music making is mostly museum curation. Nothing wrong with that, because it is the best museum ever. But that is what it mostly is. Perhaps for this reason, it has long been speculated that classical music would soon stop being re-performed or re-recorded. But there seems to be little sign of this happening.

Here, to illustrate the non-demise of classical music making, is a list of currently performing pianists. It was rather hastily compiled. Perhaps some of those listed have retired. Some may even have died. And there are surely many omissions, including, quite possibly, some major omissions, including, for instance people who I am assuming to be retired or dead who are nothing of the kind.

Also, there must be a huge number of Asian pianists who are very, very good, but who I have simply not noticed the existence of. I live in London, and this list surely reflects that, both with its inclusions and its exclusions.

The number at the end of each clutch is simply me counting how many there are starting with each letter, thereby making it easier for me to count the total. It came to: 175.

Depending on how you determine inclusion or exclusion, the list could be far longer. I went for things like: Have I personally heard of them? Have they done recent recording? Are they hailed as good by classical music critics? Do I personally like their playing?

I seriously doubt whether there have ever before been as many pianists roaming the earth, performing this amazing music, mostly by dead people.

So, here we go:

Pierre-Laurent Aimard – Dimitri Alexeev – Piotr Anderszewski – Leif Ove Andsnes – Nicholas Angelich – Martha Argerich – Vladimir Ashkenazy – Yulianna Avdeeva – (8)

Sergei Babayan – Andrea Bacchetti – Daniel Barenboim – Martin James Bartlett – Jean-Efflam-Bavouzet – Alessio Bax – Mark Bebbington – Markus Becker – Boris Berezovsky – Boris Berman – Michel Beroff – Kristian Bezuidenhout – Jonathan Biss – Christian Blackshaw – Rafal Blechacz – Frank Braley – Ronald Brautigam – Yefim Bronfman – Rudolf Buchbinder – Khatia Buniatishvili – (20)

Bertrand Chamayou – Frederic Chiu – Seong-Jin Cho – Arnaldo Cohen – Imogen Cooper – (5)

Alexandra Dariescu – Lise de la Salle – Jorg Demus – Jeremy Denk – Peter Donohoe – Barry Douglas – Danny Driver – Francois-Rene Duchable (8)

Severin von Eckardstein – Michael Endres – Karl Engel – (3)

Til Fellner – Vladimir Feltsman – Janina Fialkowska – Ingrid Fliter – David Fray – Nelson Freire – Benjamin Frith – (7)

Ivana Gavric – Alexander Gavrylyuk – Boris Giltberg – Havard Gimse – Bernd Glemser – Nelson Goerner – Anna Gourari – David Greilsammer – Helene Grimaud – Benjamin Grosvenor – Horacio Guitierrez – Francois-Frederic Guy – (12)

Marc-Andre Hamelin – Wolf Harden – Rustem Hayrouodinoff – Martin Helmchen – Angela Hewitt – Peter Hill – Ian Hobson – Stephen Hough – Leslie Howard – Ching-Yun Hu – Bruce Hungerford – (11)

Valentina Igoshina – Ivan Ilic – (2)

Peter Jablonski – Paul Jacobs – Ingrid Jakoby – Martin Jones – (3)

Cyprien Katsaris – Freddy Kempf – Kevin Kenner – Olga Kern – Evgeny Kissin – Mari Kodama – Pavel Kolesnikov – (7)

Piers Lane – Lang Lang – Dejan Lazic – Eric Le Sage – John Lenehan – Elizabeth Leonskaja – Igor Levit – Daniel Levy – Paul Lewis – Yundi Li – Jenny Lin – Jan Lisiecki – Valentina Lisitsa – Louis Lortie = Alexei Lubimov – Nikolai Lugansky – (16)

Joanna MacGregor – Alexander Madzar – Oleg Marshev – Denis Matsuev – Leon McCawley – Alexander Melnikov – Gabriela Montero – Joseph Moog – Vanessa Benelli Mosell – Olli Mustonen – (10)

Jon Nakamatsu – Eldar Nebolsin – Francesco Nikolosi – David Owen Norris – (4)

Noriko Ogawa – Garrick Ohlsson – Gerhard Oppitz – Christina Ortiz – Steven Osborne – Alice Sara Ott – (6)

Enrico Pace – Murray Perahia – Javier Perianes – Alfredo Perl – Maria Perrotta – Daniel-Ben Pienaar – Maria Joao Pires – Artur Pizarro – Jonathan Plowright – Awadagin Pratt – Menahem Pressler – Vassily Primakov – (12)

Beatrice Rana – James Rhodes – Pascal Roge – Alexander Romanovsky – Martin Roscoe – Michael Rudy – (6)

Fazil Say – Konstantin Scherbakov – Andras Schiff – Dimitris Sgouros – Howard Shelley – Grigory Sokolov – Andreas Staier – Kathryn Stott – Martin Stadtfeld – Yevgeny Sudbin – (10)

Alexandre Tharaud – Jean-Yves Thibaudet – Cedric Tiberghien – Sergio Tiempo – Geoffrey Tozer – Daniil Trifonov – Simon Trpceski – Noboyuki Tsujii – (9)

Mitsuko Uchida – Florian Uhlig – (2)

Nick Van Bloss – Denes Varjon – Stephan Vladar – Lars Vogt – Arcadi Volodos – (6)

Wiayin Wang – Yuja Wang – Ashley Wass – Llyr Williams – Ingolf Wunder – Klara Wurtz – (6)

Christian Zacharias – Krystian Zimmerman – (2)

That’s a lot of pianists. All the major items of the piano repertoire have each received numerous recordings, and they each get performed somewhere on earth about every other day, and in the case of the popular piano concertos, several times a day. It just refuses to stop. The classical audience keeps aging, and then dying, only to be replaced by more aging people, who also then die, and so it goes on.

Real comments here are very rare, so all real comments on this would be very welcome. But especially welcome would be comments informing me of major omissions to that list.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Bard and Shard


It’s been a long day. It’s been a long day partly because I spent a lot of it out and about, taking photos, of which the above is just one. But it was still a long day.

I hear a lot of complaints from my fellow Londoners, to the effect that the Shard is all very nice and tall and pointy and everything, but that it doesn’t look finished. That weird top. It ought to be a smooth, single point. Instead, well, look at it. It looks like someone shot the original top off of it with a giant catapult.

But although this strange and “unfinished” top may make the Shard look less conventionally pretty, it does make that top very recognisable. You only need to see the very top of that weird top peaking out above something else nearer, and you know at once what you are looking at. And I more and more find myself believing, about architecture in London, recognisable trumps pretty. (I more and more feel this way about the entirety of the Walkie-Talkie.)

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

A new Grand Chose for Paris

More Dezeen catching up. And this time the news is that Paris is about to get its first truly Grand Chose since the Montparnasse Tower.

Paris is, in certain Parisian minds anyway, suffering from London Big Thing Envy, and they want to change the place.

“The change in regulations is a historic moment,” the architects told Dezeen. “Paris is cautiously allowing tall buildings back into the city.”

Like Ken Livingstone, who did so much to make London’s recent Big Things happen, some of the Parisians angling most powerfully for Grand Choses are socialists.

But Big Things fit right in in London. In London the antiquarian tendency is weak when confronted by the We Want More Office Space tendency. But in Paris, it is the other way around. Paris already has a look that lots of people like, and scattering Grand Choses all over it will radically change that look. London has always grown in big ugly bursts of money-making, which everyone then gets used to and decides they like, so Big Things are just the latest version of a regular London process. Paris was kind of perfect in the late nineteenth century, and since then it has been half city, half museum. It was then neither bombed nor redeveloped by socialist maniacs, as London was. It will be interesting to see if this transformation of Paris can be made to stick or whether it will be stopped in its tracks once again.

The opposition is gathering. This particular Grand Chose has already been dubbed a poor man’s Shard, and in truth it really does look like a cross between the Shard and this infamous North Korean structure.

See also this earlier posting about Paris here, here.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Photoing old Dinky Toys in Englefield Green

Today there was a big old Micklethwait family get-together at the ancestral home in Englefield Green, Surrey. Me, two brothers, a nephew and a niece plus partners, another niece, plus two little kids. I took photos of course, and I wasn’t the only one doing that.

I prefer not to show you pictures of my relatives, but I’m sure that nobody will mind me showing you these snaps:

Those are Dinky Toys, in really quite good condition, dating from the 1950s. I can even remember a couple of the names. The red van (which was my brother’s, not mine) was “Mersey Tunnel”, because it is a Mersey Tunnel police van. And the white car with green on it is a Singer Gazelle. Ah, Singer. Those were the days when Britain contained about a dozen distinct car-makers, with distinct names like Singer.

All these toys had already been extracted from all the other goods and chattels in the house and given to N and NP’s two little kids, before I arrived. Theoretically, three of these four antiquities were mine, or they were mine sixty years ago, but the kids seemed to like them and I was glad for these toys to be passed on. Such things are only worth proper money if the boxes have been kept, and of course they hadn’t been. And although these Dinky Toys, especially the two cars, are in really quite good condition, really quite good condition is not nearly as good as mint condition, moneywise. So, yes kids, you’re very welcome.

But one favour I did ask. Before you take them off to your home, let me photo them, just to remember them. Okay? Okay. So I perched them on my knees and took the shots.

One of the many good things about digital photography is that with it you can store fun memories in two virtual dimensions, rather than in three actual dimensions.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

A new not very big Thing in Paris

Following on from yesterday’s ruminations, in among lots of stuff that doesn’t fascinate me, including one posting about shit, is a report about Paris’ tallest building in over 40 years.

Presumably “Paris” doesn’t include La Défense, which is out on the edge of Paris. Those Big Things are very big indeed. What they’re talking about here is building Big Things in the centre of Paris.

And the thing is, this Thing not very tall at all:

In London, this sort of thing would hardly be noticed.

But the fact that this new Thing is not that big is deliberate.

“This project is not a high-rise, but embodies a shift in attitude, and this gradual increase marks a willingness to reconsider the potential of height and will change the city landscape little by little,” said the architects.

They know that if they are to get any new truly Big Things anywhere near the centre of Paris, the first step is to make some things that are not Big, but just a tiny bit bigger. First you get the opposition to concede the principle, with something that doesn’t arouse huge opposition. Then you gradually increase the heights, until finally you get your Big Things, and the opposition unites too late. And by then it’s too small, because lots of people actually like the new Big Things. This is how politics is done. And this is politics.

The last, and so far only new and truly Big Thing anywhere near the middle of Paris (other than the Eiffel Tower) is the Montparnasse Tower, which was completed in 1973. Compared to almost everything else in central Paris, before or since, the Montparnasse Tower is very tall indeed. It aroused a lot of opposition by embodying such an abrupt, even contemptuous, change of Paris skyscraper policy, and judging by what happened for the next forty years, that opposition was very successful. This time around, those who want Big Parisian Things are going about it more carefully, as the above quote shows.

Speaking of politics, who is that geezer in the picture, in the picture? A politician, I’ll bet.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

To Tower Bridge: Shadow selfie – Peace memorial – Big Things old and new

Yesterday, encouraged by the weather forecast (which predicted a window of weather excellence in the midst of the otherwise dark and dreary weather that had been prevailing until yesterday and that has resumed today), I went out photo-walking. The mission was to check out that viewing platform at the top of Tower Bridge. How does that look from below? I will tell you all about that later, maybe. (I promise nothing.)

Within seconds of stepping outside my front door, I knew that this was going to be a very good day for photoing, because of the light. Photography is light. I like lots of it, but I don’t like it to be too bright, and I don’t like it all going in the same direction. Yesterday was such a day.

If you are a Real Photographer, and if the sort of light that is readily available is not what you would like it to be, then you contrive what you do like, or you fake it – with clever filters, Photoshop, blah blah – processes that you know all about. I am not a Real Photographer.

On the right there is one of the very first shots I took, a shadow selfie, which included a lady walking past me in the opposite direction. It’s not really proper to stick photos of strangers up on your blog – photos of strangers complete with their faces, photos of the strangers complete with their faces who are doing nothing to draw attention to themselves – no matter how obscure your blog may be. But, photoing their shadows and sticking that up is definitely okay.

And here are two more pictures I took early on in my perambulations, just after I had emerged from Tower Hill tube station. I start with them simply because they are vertical rather than my usual horizontal, and hence it makes sense to display them next to each other:

Here is a report from when that statue was unveiled, in 2006. It is not the war memorial that it resembles, more like a peace memorial, for people killed while doing building work. Good. This is the least that such unlucky persons deserve.

As for the Shard, it was looking particularly beautiful yesterday, like a ghost of its regular self. It was all to do with that light.

The Thing in front of the Shard is the highest of the four towers of The Tower of London. The Tower of London is an odd way to describe it, what with their being so many towers plural involved. I’m guessing they built one big Thing, called it the Tower of London, and by the time they added all those little towers, the name had stuck.

However, after reading this, which says things like this, …:

It is not clear exactly when work started on the Conqueror’s White Tower or precisely when it was finished but the first phase of building work was certainly underway in the 1070s.

Nothing quite like it had ever been seen in England before. The building was immense, at 36m x 32.5m (118 x 106ft) across, and on the south side where the ground is lowest, 27.5m (90ft) tall. The Tower dominated the skyline for miles around.

… I would like to revise my guess. It would seem that the four little towers on the top were there from the start, and that to start with it wasn’t the Tower of London at all. So, what I want to guess instead is that now that the Tower of London is surrounded by London as we now know it, what we tend mostly to see of it is the four towers at the top. But, for many centuries, the Tower of London was indeed seen by all those within sight of it as the one Big Thing (which merely happened to have a few spikes on the top), London’s first Big Thing, and for many decades, its only Big Thing.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

How Bill Bryson on white and black paint helps to explain the Modern Movement in Architecture

I have already quoted a couple of interesting bits from Bill Bryson’s excellent book, At Home. I have now finished reading this, but just before I did, I encountered some interesting stuff about paint (pp. 453-5):

When paints became popular, people wanted them to be as vivid as they could possibly be made. The restrained colours that we associate with the Georgian period in Britain, or Colonial period in America, are a consequence of fading, not decorative restraint. In 1979, when Mount Vernon began a programme of repainting the interiors in faithful colours, ‘people came and just yelled at us’, Dennis Pogue, the curator, told me with a grin when I visited. ‘They told us we were making Mount Vernon garish. They were right – we were. But that’s just because that’s the way it was. It was hard for a lot of people to accept that what we were doing was faithful restoration.

‘Even now paint charts for Colonial-style paints virtually always show the colours from the period as muted. In fact, colours were actually nearly always quite deep and sometimes even startling. The richer a colour you could get, the more you tended to be admired. For one thing, rich colours generally denoted expense, since you needed a lot of pigment to make them. Also, you need to remember that often these colours were seen by candlelight, so they needed to be more forceful to have any kind of impact in muted light.’

The effect is now repeated at Monticello, where several of the rooms are of the most vivid yellows and greens. Suddenly George Washington and Thomas Jefferson come across as having the decorative instincts of hippies. In fact, however, compared with what followed they were exceedingly restrained.

When the first ready-mixed paints came on to the market in the second half of the nineteenth century, people slapped them on with something like wild abandon. It became fashionable not just to have powerfully bright colours in the home, but to have as many as seven or eight colours in a single room.

If we looked closely, however, we would be surprised to note that two very basic colours didn’t exist at all in Mr Marsham’s day: a good white and a good black. The brightest white available was a rather dull off-white, and although whites improved through the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until the 1940s, with the addition of titanium dioxide to paints, that really strong, lasting whites became available. The absence of a good white paint would have been doubly noticeable in early New England, for the Puritans not only had no white paint but didn’t believe in painting anyway. (They thought it was showy.) So all those gleaming white churches we associate with New England towns are in fact a comparatively recent phenomenon.

Also missing from the painter’s palette was a strong black. Permanent black paint, distilled from tar and pitch, wasn’t popularly available until the late nineteenth century. So all the glossy black front doors, railings, gates, lampposts, gutters, downpipes and other fittings that are such an elemental feature of London’s streets today are actually quite recent. If we were to be thrust back in time to Dickens’s London, one of the most startling differences to greet us would be the absence of black painted surfaces. In the time of Dickens, almost all ironwork was green, light blue or dull grey.

Famously, the rise of the Modern Movement in Architecture was triggered by, among many other things, a revulsion against the excesses of Victorian-era decoration, especially architectural decoration. Decoration became mechanised, and thus both much more common and much less meaningful. What did all this mechanised decoration prove, what did it mean, when you could thrash it out with no more difficulty than you could erect a plain wall?

What the above Bryson quote strongly suggests, at any rate to me, is that something rather similar happened with colour.

Why is the overwhelming atmosphere of Modernist architecture and architectural propaganda so very monochrome, still. Part of the answer is that it was only recently learned how to do monochrome. Monochrome looked modern, from about 1900-ish onwards, because it was modern. Monochrome was the latest thing. Colour, meanwhile, had become much cheaper and had been used with garish nouveau riche excess, and there was a reaction to that also, just as there was to excessive decoration.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog