Friday being my day for cats and other creatures, and today being everyone else’s day for romance, here’s a couple to celebrate the day:

Number 13 of this collection of twenty five non-human romantics. Although, some of them just look like cats that like each other without being an item.

So, do birds actually mate for life? According to this, ninety percent of bird species are “socially monogamous”, but …:

… socially monogamous birds are not necessarily faithful partners, but they care for each other and for the young of their nest. Rearing young together does not imply sexual fidelity. Studies of eastern bluebirds have found that nests with mixed parentage – that is, they have eggs by more than one father, or more than one mother, or both – are not uncommon.

A lot like us, in other words.

The way this silo collapses …

Here. Says Peter Caddick-Adams, PhD, FRHistS, FRGS (to whom thanks for retweeting):

Ridiculously phallic …

Watch it, and see if you agree. I don’t think phalluses (sp?) collapse like that.

FRGS, I’ve just discovered, stands for Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. This costs, but you also have to be recommended, checked out, and everything. PC-A would have aced it, because he is an expert on battlefields, which can get very geographical.

“Every educated person in the land knew of the Eder and the Möhne dams …”

I have been reading James Holland’s book about the Dam Busters, which contains some illuminating pages concerning the history of the dams that got busted. These pages (pp. 242-247 of my paperback edition) are interesting in their own right, and they also explain why busting the dams was more than just a materially very damaging blow to the German war effort; it was also deeply demoralising for the German people:

There was another very good reason why the dams were a good target, however, one that was touched upon by Barnes Wallis during his second meeting with Gibson on 29 March. ‘The Germans,’ he said of the Möhne, ‘are very proud of this dam.’ In fact, they were proud of all their dams, although of the Möhne and Eder in particular; they were among the best-known structures in the Reich. Dams, of course, were as old as the hills. It was a German, Georg Steinfurth, who discovered the world’s oldest in 1885 – the Kafara Dam south of Cairo. In Spain, the Roman dam at Cornalvo had been standing for the best part of two millennia. However, although these were ancient structures, they had not been built on the kind of scale that the Germans began building them in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Although Germany was a new nation, just seventy years old, there was nonetheless a tradition among the German people over the previous 200 years of transforming their landscape, or conquering nature. Germany by the beginning of the war was a quite different place from how it had been just a couple of hundred years earlier, especially its lowlands. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, it was a wild place, full of low-lying marsh and fenland. Travellers likened it to Amazonia and the New World. Wild animals like boar and wolves roamed, while the Rhine, Germany’s greatest river, snaked its way north through hundreds of separate channels, which were divided by endless little islands, sandbars and gravel banks. Along long stretches of its banks were damp forests, not lush farmland and industry. And because this river was so wild, because its flow of water so unpredictable and its depth so varied, it was for large parts completely impassable.

Yet as Prussia’s strength grew, so did its prosperity, and with it the increased need for mobility. What a difference it would make if this wild part of north-west Germany could be tamed. One German engineer, Iohann Tulla, believed he could, and so began one of the most extraordinary engineering feats the world had ever known. Quite simply, Tulla straightened the Upper Rhine. Not only was it an extraordinary achievement, it was also one of the world’s biggest engineering feats. By carving out new channels and damming up the twists and turns, the flow of water improved. The Rhine took on a completely different appearance, and was now shorter by some fifty miles. Moreover, the water now flowed deep enough and fast enough to allow large-scale navigation. The Rhine, by the early part of the nineteenth century, had become one of Germany’s most important arteries.

Now that the Rhine was properly navigable, the population along it rose rapidly. Further to the east, in the Ruhr area, coal seams were developed and through the nineteenth century the area grew with industrial plants springing up all around it. More and more water was needed: for the rising population to drink, and for the rapidly increasing industrial processes. Canals were built, and so too were railways, providing a network that enabled all this industry to be spread around the country.

Suddenly, there was no longer enough water consistently feeding into these rapidly growing areas. The natural cycle of water flow running into the Möhne, Wupper, Ruhr and Eder followed an irregular pattern – heavier in winter, less so in summer, but one that had become more extreme through deforestation and cultivation in their upper reaches.

Dams were the solution, although, as the Germans were discovering, by upsetting one of nature’s rhythms, they were being forced to alter another. Constructing large dams had begun in Alsace as a means of building up a mass of water from the inconsistent flow of rivers running down from the Vosges Mountains. These dams, comparatively small, were so effective they paved the way for the golden decade of dam building in Germany. In the 1890s, dams were the solution to the booming industrial region of Rhineland- Westphalia.

The first large dam was the Eschbach, which provided drinking water for the growing population of Remsheid. This had been designed by the greatest of German dam builders, Otto Intze, and his stamp would be all over many of those that followed: by his death in 1904, he had built no fewer than twelve.

A regular flow of water may have been needed in the rapidly growing area of Rhineland-Westphalia, but it was even more essential a little further north in the Ruhr Valley. The annual flow of water into the Ruhr was heavy, but deforestation in the Sauerland, the mountainous region east of the Ruhr, had intensified the extremes of seasonal variation. These were also exacerbated enormously by the huge amounts of water being pumped from the lower reaches. Water was needed for drinking, not just by the populations of towns on the Ruhr, but by those on the now polluted Wupper, Emscher and Lipper. Water was also needed by the mining, metallurgical and chemical industries, for cooling, cleaning and processing. The Krupps Works in Essen, alone, were responsible for using vast amounts of water both for their manufacturing processes and for their hordes of thirsty workers.

By the turn of the century, the Ruhr Valley was in crisis. In high summer, water levels were so low, it was possible to walk across the river without getting barely wet at all. Dams were clearly the only solution. Intze built two across a couple of small tributaries, but it was not enough. After long arguments about whose responsibility it was to resolve the crisis – after all, building dams was not cheap – the Ruhr Valley Reservoirs Associaton, or Ruhrtalsperrenverein – was formed in 1899. This collection of interested parties collectively funded the programme of dam building that now hurriedly got under way. Seven were built by 1906 – all by Intze – but then came a move to build substantially larger dams. The first was the Lister, which, by 1912, when it opened, had a capacity of 22 million cubic metres.

Its supremacy lasted just a year, for in 1913 a new, even bigger dam, designed by Intze’s star pupil, Ernst Link, was opened. It held a staggering 130 million cubic metres of water – more than the combined capacity of all of the dams built previously in the Ruhr and Wupper region. This vast edifice was the Möhne Dam.

But the Möhne was also about to be eclipsed. Forty-five miles to the south-east, an even taller, though not wider, dam was being built across the River Eder, one that would have the capacity to hold a mind-boggling 200 million cubic metres of water, ten times the amount of the Lister, which when it had been inaugurated had been the largest of its kind. The Eder Dam, when it was completed in that fateful month of August 1914, was the largest dam in Europe. Its waters stretched for seventeen miles, covering a lush, fertile valley where villages and many farmsteads had once stood. Its construction was considered such a profoundly incredible achievement, the Kaiser and his wife had been due to attend its inauguration. That had been planned for 15 August 1914. War had scuppered that plan, but during its construction, the Kaiser had visited the rapidly growing dam wall, as had his daughter, Princess Victoria.

It was no wonder these structures attracted so much attention. They personified the German conquest of nature and were symbols of German identity. Every educated person in the land knew of the Eder and the Möhne dams, as familiar as the Empire State Building became to Americans. They symbolized the emergence of a great and unified power. The Book of Famous Engineers was a popular book aimed as much at a youth market of aspiring young Germans as anyone, and contained a whole chapter on dam builders. Men like Otto Intze were household names in Germany, held as champions of a bright new dawn and an age of technological wonder. On no fewer than three occasions he gave private lectures to the Kaiser, who was, like most of his subjects, fascinated by technological innovations and developments.

Another popular, post-First World War tome was In the Wonderland of Technology: Masterpieces and New Achievements That Our Youth Should Know. And most of them did: radios, Zeppelins, Mercedes-Benz motor cars and the Eder and Möhne dams were all written about, feats from Germany’s proud era of technology.

The large lakes behind the dams became huge tourist attractions. Tens of thousands of visitors travelled to the Möhne, Eder and other dams every year. Hikers walked around the shores, anglers fished, sailors sailed, or rowed on pleasure dinghies, or took steamer trips. Others just stood at the foot of the vast walls of granite and masonry and marvelled at the wonder of such enormous constructions – constructions that looked so solid, so thick. So impregnable.

It is possible that there may be objections to me reproducing such a long excerpt from this book. If there are any objections, either from the author or the publisher, this posting will immediately be removed.

The artistic retreat from beauty

Like many people, I like photos like this:

Not photoed by me. I wish it had been photoed by me. But, not.

It makes me think of David Hockney, who also likes leafless trees.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (ISIBAISIA): Artistic fashion often goes where it goes not because it is leading us all into some new and exciting artistic domain, but because it is retreating from an area where it can no longer make any sort of living. Example: beauty. Of the sort you see in the above photo.

Googling is good for things describable with a single word. But something like the idea that artists now hate doing beauty is a bit harder to track down. Google tends to fixate on one of the words you use and ignore all the others until it has told you everything it has on, you know, “artists”. Then, keep scrolling, and soon you will be learning of everything there is that you can read about “hate”. The closest I could get to what I wanted was a piece at the Tate Gallery website, entitled JJ CHARLESWORTH FINDS BEAUTY, ALONG WITH A SUNNY VIEW OF THE FUTURE, TO BE SOMETHING OF THE PAST.

I agree with JJ CHARLESWORTH that artists who reject beauty do this partly because they have a gloomy view of the future. But, ISIBAISIA, there’s surely also the fact that all of us now have machines on our persons which can crank out beauty on a daily basis, immortalising everything beautiful that we encounter that we wish to immortalise. Click. And if we can’t even be bothered to do that, plenty can be so bothered, and now pile their efforts into the great global photo-gallery that is the internet, that of course being where I got the photo that adorns this posting. What chance does the average artist have when up against all that? No wonder they prefer ugliness, ugliness so ugly that the Daily Mail will supply free publicity for it, “conceptual” art, painting with shit and piss, and such like. Oh, an artist can add beauty of the sort that a regular photo won’t add, but they can’t add enough extra beauty to justify all the extra bother. And especially not in the age of photo-processing software, which can add beauty. Now, picture-making software can enable you to create beauty.

Hockney, of course, is not an average artist. He is exceptional. He is in the top one per cent. He can paint whatever he likes, and people will still pay him lavishly for it. He can even sell his photos. But for his pains, all the official art people now agree that he is very passé for still doing beauty.

So, the artists have retreated out of beauty. They call it an advance, but they’re not fooling me. And now that I’ve explained this to you, they aren’t fooling you either.

A Happy New Year of sport

The weekend just concluded is one of my favourites of the entire year, every year, because of sport. The Six Nations rugby gets started, which this time involved Italy getting slaughtered by Wales 42-0, and Scotland and England getting beaten by Ireland in Ireland and and by France in France. Then on Sunday evening the Super Bowl got started, and went on into the not-that-small hours. The Flyover Country MAGA Chiefs defeated the Coastal Elite 49ers with a great come-back at the end, so I was very happy about that.

Plus there was lots of regular sporting stuff that just happened to be happening. On Saturday morning there was a Big Bash League cricket game in Australia. In the BBL, I care only about how well the English players do, and in this game the Alex Hales Thunder defeated the Phil Salt Strikers.

I even took a look at the Australian Open tennis, in which Djokovich beat somebody. Everyone hates Djokovich, apparently, but he seemed okay to me.

There was also women’s rugby, snooker, and much else besides of a sporting nature, but women’s rugby, snooker, and much else besides of a sporting nature are none of them of great interest to me. What am I, a sporting obsessive?

Then on Sunday afternoon, Spurs beat Man City at English football, which tends not to happen these days. Spurs took both of their two chances, while ManC missed all of their eighteen chances, including a penalty that the Spurs goalie saved. That definitely softened the blow of England losing at the Rugby version of football to France.

What with all this excitement, it feels to me like now is the real beginning of the new year, a feeling intensified this year by Brexit, which caused January 31st to feel exactly like December 31st.

Happy New Year everyone.

Laughing at the plague


Last night on our live stream we made some jokes about the Corona Virus. Now some people are upset.

We would like to apologise sincerely to anyone who might have been given the impression by our comments that we care in any way about you being offended. We don’t. Have a nice day

I am offended by the lack of a full stop at the end of that. I think it was this:

The Corona Virus is so toxic it’s probably a Straight White Male.

This is a podcast, and now they are talking about tattoos, like they are both Theodore Dalrymple. They sound like two old geeezers. But they are young. Oh, now they just made a crack about someone designing a virus that only wipes out old people. That’s me told. I am offended.

Corona says:

Everyone stop fucking asking us about the virus.

Says commenter Alan:

It’s okay, they’re rebranding:

I find all this very, very offensive. And quite funny.

As I recall Dame Edna Everage once upon a time saying:

I’ve always had the ability to laugh at the misfortunes of others.

Haven’t we all. No question mark there, because it’s not a question.

A cricinfo commentator muses wisely about the nature of language

Snatched from the cricinfo online text commentary on this cricket match yesterday:

Hugh: “@ Dez, Spelled is perfectly acceptable, as well as spelt. Like lit and lighted. In any event the thing about language is, if you’re understood then it’s served it’s purpose. Thing with grammar pedants, they’re typically not the brightest.”

Wisely, aside from that last bit of abuse, which I only sort of agree with. Language keeps on changing. Just enjoy it, every so often having a LOL about it.

Over a lifetime, one’s attitude to language changes.

First, teachers (not always of the brightest sort) tell you what language definitely, definitively, objectively, carved into the fabric of the universe, is. Apostrophes so, “literally” literally means literally (which I still think it should (which it literally now does not for many people)), its is different from it’s because blah blah blah, blah blah blah is not correct stop it once, blah blah blah.

Second, you watch people literally driving a tank through all those and similar carved-into-the-universe rules (literally driving an actual fucking tank (and swearing (which is also objectively wrong))), and putting things like “)))” in their blog postings, and generally being wrong.

Three, you relax and realise that it was ever thus. Language always changes. Metaphors mutate into … words, often spelt wrongly. Lines get towed, and well, boo hoo, so what. Like the man said: “If you’re understood then it’s served it’s purpose.” And although that second “it’s” there, according to the pedants who taught me about it’s/its, should have been its, I actually think that spelling it it’s make at least as much sense.

And, I know I know, you can’t carve something into fabric; that would destroy it. But, you got the message.

Those Frenchies do love their motorbikes

Yes they do. Here are some I photoed on my recent trip to their country:

And here is a particularly interesting motorbike specimen, which I spotted inside a shop in Perpignan:

You see what they did there? They put a classic motorbike next to one of the great design classics of the twentieth century, the Barcelona Chair. What this says to me is: This motorbike is a work of art also. My photos are not works of art, on account of unwanted reflections, but they make the point I’m making well enough.

The best motorbike I encountered, and photoed with its owner’s proud permissions, was this one, photoed right at the end of my stay, while being driven back to Carcassone Airport:

The nearest thing to this bike I could find on the www was this. Not a perfect match, but an exact match on the colour scheme front.

I like to think that the French see something philosophical, Sartrian, existentialist, in their bikes. What with you riding a motorbike, today could be your last day alive! So climb on your bike and find your true self! Or something. I put this or something like it to a friend earlier this evening, and she said maybe they like bikes because unlike us lot here, they have roads where you can really ride motorbike on properly. Sadly, I think that makes more sense.

Remember to photo the ordinary things

This is great advice:

Wallsend in 1963 by Colin Jones. If you are a young photographer who is just starting out remember to photograph the ordinary things in life, eventually time will make them extraordinary.

Got this from my Twitter feed. Twitter is not only bile and stupidity. It depends who you are following. I follow some photoers. That they typically have different political opinions to me is, for me, a feature rather than a bug, because I see into other political minds.

Happy Birthday Dear GodDaughter2!

Happy Birthday is the worse song there is, because you only ever hear it sung by people who would never, never otherwise attempt choral singing. But this song, they do attempt, with a combination of extreme shitness and the excruciating embarrassment that comes with everyone knowing that they are perpetrating extreme shitness upon one another. This ghastly song reaches its nadir of ghastliness with that high note towards the end: Happy Birthday dear … whoever. Ghastly. Totally, totally ghastly. I have never heard Happy Birthday not sung ghastlily.

And then came last night. Last night I attended GodDaughter2’s birthday party, here. GodDaughter2 is studying how to sing, at the Royal College of Music, and so were the majority of those also present at the party. Oh, there were some civilians present, but the heart of it was singers. So there I was just sitting there, spouting rubbish to some poor defenceless singer, who had to listen to me because I am GodDaughter2’s Godfather, when, guess what: Happy Birthday starts up, behind me. I do not turn to look, thank goodness, because I am a very poor judge of singing when I am looking at it being sung. I just listen. And as soon as it gets under way, I realise that, for once, the Happy Birthday bit at the end is going to be sung not just non-shittily, but actually well, really well. So I don’t just enjoy that bit when it finally arrives, I am able to relish beforehand how good it was going to be. It was the opposite, in other words, of how Happy Birthday usually happens, when all present know beforehand how shit it will be, especially the last bit. and then have to listen to how shit that last bit especially duly is.

So Happy Birthday last night was … well, St Matthew Passion, eat your heart out. It was glorious. The high note was nailed to perfection by all who attempted it, and there were also harmonies. And I did not see this coming. I had forgotten all about Happy Birthday. It all happened in a rush. And when something that is usually ghastly is instead glorious, the glory is at least twice as glorious.

The entire party was, so far as I could judge after one champagne and two pints of lager (to get how that would be for you, multiply by three – I have a low alcohol threshold): really good. But even if the only thing about it that was good had been Happy Birthday, it would still have been great to have been there.