So it really is cold – good to know

Bishop Hill:

A week away from midsummer and I think I’m going to have to light the stove. Cold, wet and miserable.

And I now have a headache.

Worse, the cricket world cup is proving to be a huge embarrassment, as game after game gets washed out. Today it was India v NZ.

The stupid thing is, it actually doesn’t rain that much in England, not nearly as much as people say. Ever since I started wandering about in London photoing photos, I have paid very careful attention to the weather, and I absolutely know this. The weather isn’t always that great, but actual rain, falling out of the sky, continuously, is quite rare, percentage-wise. It very seldom rains as much as it has been raining for the last few days. Whenever I go out, I carry a small portable umbrella in my bag, in a special compartment. Almost always, that is where it stays. Like I say, it very seldom rains. But, sometimes it does, and when it does, we all notice because it’s so damn unpleasant.

But part of the reason it’s so damn unpleasant is that it rains quite rarely, so we aren’t organised to deal with it, the way they are in countries where they have an actual rainy season.

The title of this posting sounds sarcastic, but no sarcasm was intended. The Bishop’s tweet, quoted above, actually made me feel better. I had been feeling cold, but I didn’t believe how I felt. This is June. It can’t be this cold. I must be imagining it. (To be exact, my feet had to be imagining it.) But now I know that it isn’t just me.

Lethal White

I’ve just finished reading Lethal White, the latest Cormoran Strike book by J.K. Rowling, aka “Robert Galbraith”.

The book is very long, nearly eight hundred pages in the paperback version I read, and far longer than its three predecessors (all three of which I also possess and have read with enthusiasm). I’m guessing this was a trick that JKR discovered when writing her Harry Potter books., which I seem to recall got ever more huge both in their size and in their popularity as that series proceeded. If your readers love your stuff, they just cannot get enough of it. As I neared the end of Lethal White, the desire to find out what the hell explains everything vied with the desire to slow down because I didn’t want to be in a position where there was no more of the story to read.

I won’t tell you what I think of the plot, because that would involve revealing the plot, which is not done with detective fiction. Is the senior villain a satisfactory senior villain? Ditto. Why is the book called “Lethal White”? Not saying.

What I can tell you is that Lethal White, like all the Cormoran Strike books, is based in and around London, and the book features a number of locations with which I am well acquainted, including Denmark Street (with its musical instrument shops) where Strike lives and works. Strike and his side-kick Robin Ellacott have one of their close-of-play evening debriefing and note-comparing sessions in a pub near St James’s Park tube (also mentioned) called “The Two Chairmen” (that a “chairman” was a man who carried chairs for a living is explained), in one of the upstairs rooms of which Libertarian Home used to have their speaker events, which I often attended and where I did a few speeches myself. And one of the people whom Cormoran and Robin visit to question has a house in Upper Cheyne Row, the rather off-the-beaten-track street in Chelsea where Samizdata had its HQ until a short while back. There’s no doubt that knowing a lot of the places where this tale unfolds added greatly to the fun of reading it. (The Rebus books must surely sell particularly well in Edinburgh.)

Local appeal to Londoners like me aside, I think that maybe the key quality the Cormoran Strike books possess, and again maybe this one especially, is that the stories are not too carefully contrived. JKR’s imagination, you feel, really flew, when she was writing this one, especially the bits about Robin’s newly acquired husband, that being all part of why the book is so long. (The book opens with Robin’s wedding and its aftermath.) In Lethal White, things get said and things happen, which, you get the feeling, surprised its author, let alone the rest of us. (I was too old to become a Harry Potter devotee, but I suspect that something very similar can be said about those books.)

If a fictional work seems too contrived, too carefully constructed, too mechanically perfect, so to speak, then suddenly all you can see is the mechanism, the formula, the conscious calculation of the creator or creators about what the “secret” of the success of the franchise consists of. At which point this secret is no longer any sort of secret. Disbelief is suspended. The mere characters degenerate into robots. And we readers stop caring about what happens, because it becomes impossible for us to forget, while we attend to the story, that it is all just made up. It no longer even feels real.

I am well aware that Cormoran and Robin are made-up people, and that a lot of contrivance and construction went into the making of Lethal White. But while I was reading it, it didn’t, to me, feel that way.

I like what Jake Arnott of the Guardian says about Strike:

Strike is a wonderfully complex creature, with just the right balance of contradictions to guide us through this labyrinthine world. An overweight former boxer with one leg amputated below the knee, ex-military police – and you don’t get much more authoritarian than that – he grew up in the counterculture of squats and communes with a groupie mother who died of an overdose. He’s one of those lost souls who joined the army in search of family, an outsider who knows the belly of the beast. And the time taken in describing the day-to-day workings of his craft ensures that he’s plausible enough in his occupation. One element of realism is that Strike, having solved many high-profile murders (not something actual private investigators do much in real life), has now become famous and compromised in his operations. His cover is blown and this predicament seems heartfelt to the author. For we now know Robert Galbraith as the nom de plume of JK Rowling, who intended to write her crime novels incognito until someone blew the gaff. The opening line, after a long prologue, is the most quotable in the book: “Such is the universal desire for fame that those who achieve it accidentally or unwillingly will wait in vain for pity.”

Yes, I’d forgotten that first line. Now, I remember liking it a lot.

A big painting in a small puddle

I have a busy day ahead of me, or at least I want to. So I am doing today’s quota photo now, to get it out of the way.

And of all my recent photos I find that the one I want to put here is this:

What I think I enjoy there is the contrast between the smallness and shallowness of the puddle and the extremity of the visual effects it is creating. One silly little bit of water, surrounded only by grubby road and pavement detail, creates all that light and depth, to say nothing of the Photoshop effect it does on the building, turning a mere photo into an impressionist painting.

It helps that the building tells me that I am very near to my home, about twenty seconds from my front door. Nearly there. That always lightens the mood.

If you are not impressed …? As I have definitely said before, the good thing about quota photos you don’t care for is that they waste very little of your time.

Photoing God Save The Queens

In the basement of a club in Soho, soon after I’d photoed that dirty Landrover.

The problem was that I was getting the verbals, but not the image in the middle of the verbals.

The trick, as a friend demonstrated, was: zero in on the image. Cut the verbals out of it:

And if you want both, show both the photos, of the verbals and of the image. And a couple of images of the lesson. Lesson learned.

If you’d been there in person, you would of course have been able to see it all in one go. (But a camera often can’t do that.)

Some easily satisfied birds

The way that we humans feel about other creatures and the way that other creatures either do or do not feel about us continues to fascinate me. Which means that I seem to be continuing here with my creaturely postings on Fridays. Here is another such Friday posting, featuring some birds whom I encountered in East London not long ago.

This is the spot where I found them, at the west end of the Victoria Docks, right next to and right underneath the northern end of the Emirates Air Line or the Dangleway, or whatever you want to call it:

I then switched my attention to the foreground:

That floating platform being where the birds, and their “nests”, were to be seen.

On the right, was this bird:

And on the left, this couple:

A coot, or a moorhen? Ducks, of some exotic sort? But what do I know? Any offers?

What interests me about the not-so-wild wildlife of London, apart from how cute it often is, is how it continues to evolve. As we humans get more sentimental about our fellow creatures, more inclined to feed and photo them, less inclined to eat them or just shoo them away, they adapt to our changing sentiments, and start betting on our benevolence. In this case, they are merely betting that they’ll be left alone, now that it’s been made clear that this is where they live and will be having their kids.

Gallery means that you decide

One of the many things I love about this new WordPress blog of mine is that I can now do things like this …:

… a lot more quickly. Thank you “Gallery”.

All of the above photos were taken within a few moments of each other, in the vicinity of Battersea Power Station, just over a year ago. Then as now, this place was being transformed.

But there is much more involved in the Gallery improvement than the fact that I can shove up a clutch of photos more quickly than before. Equally important to me is that you now have a lot more control than you used to. You can now spend no more time looking at these photos, unless you want to, than I did when I photoed them. You no longer have to choose between having a quick gander at the above snaps, and having a life.

The difference is that, now, you can click on the first photo, look at it for as much time as you like or as little time as you like, and then click on the arrow on the right, and get straight to the next one. Click click click. I know, I’m rediscovering the wheel here, but if you have been depriving both yourself and your potential readers of wheels for about a decade, wheels are a big deal.

Because you can click through all these photos so speedily, I feel comfortable showing them to you in such abundance. These are not oil paintings, unless you want them to be. I don’t assume that you’ll be wanting to linger over these snaps. Feel entirely free to do that, if you feel inclined to scrutinise any of them at any length of time, but I don’t expect this.

An obvious question arises: If I like the idea of you clicking quickly through the above snaps, why not a video? Well, number one, a video deprives you of control. But also, what I find fascinating about photoing is the extreme difference between how a camera sees things, and how the human eye sees things. Basically, a video camera sees things more the way that we humans do. Our eyes, like video cameras, roam over the scene in front of us. They don’t look at the scene once, the way a camera does when it takes the one photo, and nor does a video camera. A video shows us what’s really going on. It goes behind and beyond those mere appearances.

A photo is something else entirely. It’s a photo! And that makes videos, to me, from this point of view, less interesting.

A strange political graphic

Yesterday I voted, in the EUro-elections. You probably know which way I voted, but that isn’t my point here.

My point here is this extraordinary graphic, which the Labour Party and its supporters were plugging on social media, in the days before the vote:

The above graphic distorts the reality that although Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage and Gerard Batten all favour Brexit, only one of them (Farage) is a member of the Brexit Party. They’re trying to lump them all together. Otherwise, why that distinctly Brexit Party turquoise colour? Why no reference to UKIP purple?

There was another one, featuring Brexit Party candidate Claire Fox, along with some rather distorting words about her belief in freedom of expression.

But the verbal trickery is not the biggest oddity of this and related graphics. It’s the pictures. A confident political party doesn’t fill the world with pictures of the people it opposes and fears. It proclaims the faces of its own leaders and heroes. I mean, I only discovered Batten’s actual christian name (I thought it was “Gerald”) while I was concocting this posting. It’s like they’re really trying to big up the very people they’re fearful of.

And a confident political party especially doesn’t proclaim the faces of the people it fears, while saying that it is against fear and wants fear to lose. This graphic is the politics of fear. I genuinely don’t get how they could have okayed this thing. Were they actually seduced by the triviality of “fear” rhyming with “here”? Was it that dopey?

Not that there is anything wrong with the politics of fear. I voted the way I did yesterday as much out of the fear of what I didn’t and don’t want, as I did because I am especially hopeful about what I did vote for.

Recently purchased books

Photoed just now:

Although, I should say that I didn’t actually purchase Kristian Niemietz’s book about
Socialism. I tried to buy it, at a recent IEA event, but they wouldn’t take my money and just gave me a copy. It’s very good.

Excerpt from We Now Know, here. Could have downloaded a pdf of the whole thing. But, don’t like pdfs. Prefer books.

There are more that I didn’t include. E.g. one by fake-antiques architect Quinlan Terry that is too wide. (Fake architectural antiques are a good thing. The world now needs more of this. Terry does them very well.)

Memo to self: A habit I must cultivate better is the ability to read a book, while seated in front of my computer, concentrating on the former and ignoring the latter. The internet is just too damn interesting. But books are extremely interesting also, and I love to read them. Or at least: I love to have read them.

I love Amazon. I miss remainder shops.