Crane and shadow outside Victoria Station

I love a good crane, especially in these almost craneless times. And I also love a good shadow. So, you can imagine how much I appreciated what I saw, outside Victoria Station, this afternoon:

Today there was rain around mid day, followed by the brightest of bright sunshine. This is the best sort of sunshine there is, because the rain washes the air before the sun shines through it.

Also present in this photo is Pavlova, the ballerina on top of the Victoria Palace Theatre. This is a very good photo, of the crane and its shadow, but not of Pavlova. For Pavlova, Try one of these.

Shop window creatures

In the same shop that I found this bloke in a tiger jacket, I also encountered these smaller creatures:

I could go all ironic and have a big old sneer at these little trinkets, but the truth is I entirely get it. Cute animals are … cute. I don’t buy things like this, if only because I have nowhere I could put them, and because I hate dusting. But I love to photo such things.

I am also fond of saying, on account of it being true, that we hate architectural styles that we feel threatened by, but later often fall in love with those same styles once they are in retreat.

Something very similar applies to animals. For most of human history, animals have been threats as well as sources of food, if only because they demanded scarce time and effort to be caught or killed, and scarce resources for them to be looked after. You no more loved most animals than you loved mountains (mountains being a similar story). But now? Well, put it this way. At present animals are still hunted a bit, and still imprisoned and then eaten a lot, but it won’t be that long before a majority of the animals on earth are our pets.

A walkabout five years ago

I am awaiting warmer weather, in the hope that I will then feel up to taking a photo-walkabout, somewhere in London town.

Meanwhile here are some photos from a walkabout I did, walking (about) from the Angel Tube to the Barbican, as late sunshine was replaced by early moonshine, back in April of 2016:

The final photo there is of how a stretch of Oxford Circus Tube was looking on that day.

The lady seen smiling through a window of reflections (photo 10) is the then only very recently (March 31st 2016) deceased Zaha Hadid (as you can maybe guess from photo 11). This was the lady whose buildings only had straight lines in them at all because people will insist that the floors they walk about on and work on are mostly flat rather than curving up and down. Clients eh? Philistines the lot of them. ZHA has (or had in 2016) a building in Goswell Road, and I walked right past it that day, and also had a nose around in it. I remember being surprised, because I had no idea this place even existed.

See also the photo of another portrait picture, this time of actor Charles Dance, which I photoed on this very same walkabout.

Christ statue under construction in Brazil

What with my scaffolding fetish, I’m pretty sure I’m going to prefer photos like this one …:

… to the finished statue.

Photos of this monster Christ are now all over Twitter. BBC report here.

Bartok (again) – Mozart – Chopin – Purcell

My journeys to the Marsden are now regularly taking me to South Kensington tube, where this elegant gentleman is to be seen, looking particularly fine during a sunny spell, of which there have recently been many:

But who is he?

This is who:

Yes, it’s Bela Bartok, with that sign looking very good in the sunshine, I think. This statue is, up there with the young Mozart statue which is a walk away in Belgravia, my other favourite London composer statue that I have so far learned of.

I googled for “london composer statues” and discovered this 3D version of Chopin, which looks horrible in that photo. I walk past the Purcell statue in Victoria Street every time I walk to St James’s Park tube, which I think is even worse. Both these statues strike me as the “artist” putting himself in between us and the subjects, and saying look at me, when I want to be looking at Chopin, and at Purcell.

But that’s just me, and in any case, this is London. You don’t expect everything in London to look good. London wouldn’t be London if it contained no aesthetic atrocities. Besides which, maybe you like these Chopin and Purcell statues as much as I now dislike them.

Otters in Singapore City

The whole world is becoming a giant zoo, curated by humans. Now, for instance, there are otters living in Singapore City:

Singapore’s otter families all have names. Here, the Bishan family crosses a street in the city center.

Start reading this National Geographic article, and you soon encounter a link to another NG piece about how Hundreds of wild parrots are thriving in this Brazilian city.

But back to those otters. As Singaporeans become more affluent and more inclined to welcome the otters into their midst, and less inclined to do things like kill them and eat them, instead treating them as sort of mobile urban sculptures, …:

In 2016, an otter family suddenly ran across the Singapore Marathon route, and Otter Working Group volunteers rushed to warn the runners of the otters’ presence, as well as also position themselves along the route to prevent the animals and runners from colliding.

… the otters themselves are, understandably, becoming less frightened of humans than they used to be. Evolution in action. The adventurous otter families, willing to explore human cities in search of new ecological niches, get selected for, and the more timid ones have a harder time of it.

LATER: It’s happening here also. Otters are making themselves at home in UK cities.

Scientists solve the mystery of why wombats have cube-shaped poo

Here:

How wombats produce their cube-shape poo has long been a biological puzzle but now an international study has provided the answer to this unusual natural phenomenon.

The cube shape is formed within the intestines – not at the point of exit, as previously thought …

Good to know.

The Moose Cup Powered By Daraz

The Moose Cup Powered By Daraz being the trophy that the Sri Lankan and English cricket teams are now battling, out there in Sri Lanka, to win.

Moose. Daraz.

The Moose Cup Powered by Daraz is a regular cricket trophy, except that its giant cricket ball has antlers. On the right, Joe Root, England captain. On the left, not sure, but I presume that’s Karunaratne, not the Sri Lankan captain for this game because he damaged himself and couldn’t play in it.

There have been two days of cricket so far, and England have the upper hand.

On the first day, Endland’s Dom Bess didn’t bowl well

A quota photo – and why I (and 6k) like quota photos

Rough day today, what with the steroids having stopped. They definitely had a mental as well as physical effect. So quota photo time, this photo has been picked pretty much at random from the archives:

What made me pick it is that that’s not just the Shard, in a general way. It’s the Shard while they were still building it, the photo dating from March 2012.

The quota photo was one of the notions that South African based blogger 6k was kind enough to write about recently in connection with my blogging. And I do indeed think quota photos have value (as does quota blogging more generally). Just shoving up a photo like the one above is hardly going to spoil anyone’s day. After all, a photo can be skipped past in seconds if it does not appeal. On the other hand, it might just pack a bit more punch than that. So what’s to lose? I’m in a rush now, but maybe I’ll manage a comment, with a link or two maybe, to the effect that some of my favourite 6k photos over the years were often first posted as mere quota photos, which he posted just so as to post something. Yet I especially liked some of these particular photos in particular.

Maybe part of it is that a quota photo can be one of those photos that you just like, for no very obvious reasons that makes you want to attach an essay to it. Normally, you might hold it back until you decide what it means. This way, you just shove it up, and then others can like it too.

As for my quote photo above, I have, I think posted various versions of the above, where the Shard is aligned with one of the pinnacles of the Tower of London, but not this particular one.

I like that it includes a crane.

Steven Johnson’s history of what we do for fun

Tell ’em what you’re going to say, tell ’em, tell ’em what you said. I believe that’s the formula that many preachers follow when they give their sermons. The bit from a book below is from the “tell ’em what you’re going to say” bit, in other words the Introduction (pp. 8-11), of Steven Johnson’s Wonderland, which I ordered from Amazon back in October, and am now starting to dip into:

Delight is a word that is rarely invoked as a driver of historical change. History is usually imagined as a battle for survival, for power, for freedom, for wealth. At best, the world of play and amusement belongs to the side bars of the main narrative: the spoils of progress, the surplus that civilizations enjoy once the campaigns for freedom and affluence have been won. But imagine you are an observer of social and technological trends in the second half of the eighteenth century, and you are trying to predict the truly seismic developments that would define the next three centuries. The programmable pen of Jaquet-Droz’s Writer – or Merlin’s dancer and her “irresistible eyes” – would be as telling a clue about that future as anything happening in Parliament or on the battlefield, foreshadowing the rise of mechanized labor, the digital revolution, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

This book is an extended argument for that kind of clue: a folly, dismissed by many as a mindless amusement, that turns out to be a kind of artifact from the future. This is a history of play, a history of the pastimes that human beings have concocted to amuse themselves as an escape from the daily grind of subsistence. This is a history of what we do for fun. One measure of human progress is how much recreational time many of us now have, and the immensely varied ways we have of enjoying it. A time-traveler from five centuries ago would be staggered to see just how much real estate in the modern world is devoted to the wonderlands of parks, coffee shops, sports arenas, shopping malls, IMAX theaters: environments specifically designed to entertain and delight us. Experiences that were once almost exclusively relegated to society’s elites have become commonplace to all but the very poorest members of society. An average middle-class family in Brazil or Indonesia takes it for granted that their free time can be spent listening to music, marveling at elaborate special effects in Hollywood movies, shopping for new fashions in vast palaces of consumption, and savoring the flavors of cuisines from all over the world. Yet we rarely pause to consider how these many luxuries came to be a feature of everyday life.

History is mostly told as a long fight for the necessities, not the luxuries: the fight for freedom, equality, safety, self-governance. Yet the history of delight matters, too, because so many of these seemingly trivial discoveries ended up triggering changes in the realm of Serious History. I have called this phenomenon “the hummingbird effect”: the process by which an innovation in one field sets in motion transformations in seemingly unrelated fields. The taste for coffee helped create the modern institutions of journalism; a handful of elegantly decorated fabric shops helped trigger the industrial revolution. When human beings create and share experiences designed to delight or amaze, they often end up transforming society in more dramatic ways than people focused on more utilitarian concerns. We owe a great deal of the modern world to people doggedly trying to solve a high-minded problem: how to construct an internal combustion engine or manufacture vaccines in large quantities. But a surprising amount of modernity has its roots in another kind of activity: people mucking around with magic, toys, games, and other seemingly idle pastimes. Everyone knows the old saying “Necessity is the mother of invention,” but if you do a paternity test on many of the modern world’s most important ideas or institutions, you will find, invariably, that leisure and play were involved in the conception as well.

Although this account contains its fair share of figures like Charles Babbage – well-to-do Europeans tinkering with new ideas in their parlors – it is not just a story about the affluent West. One of the most intriguing plot twists in the story of leisure and delight is how many of the devices or materials originated outside of Europe: those mesmerizing automata from the House of Wisdom, the intriguing fashions of calico and chintz imported from India, the gravity-defying rubber balls invented by Mesoamericans, the clove and nutmeg first tasted by remote Indonesian islanders. In many ways, the story of play is the story of the emergence of a truly cosmopolitan worldview, a world bound together by the shared experiences of kicking a ball around on a field or sipping a cup of coffee. The pursuit of pleasure turns out to be one of the very first experiences to stitch together a global fabric of shared culture, with many of the most prominent threads originating outside Western Europe.

I should say at the outset that this history deliberately excludes some of life’s most intense pleasures-including sex and romantic love. Sex has been a central force in human history; without sex, there is no human history. But the pleasure of sex is bound up in deep-seated biological drives. The desire for emotional and physical connections with other humans is written into our DNA, however complex and variable our expression of that drive may be. For the human species, sex is a staple, not a luxury. This history is an account of less utilitarian pleasures; habits and customs and environments that came into being for no apparent reason other than the fact that they seemed amusing or surprising. (In a sense, it is a history that follows Brian Eno’s definition of culture as “all the things we don’t have to do.”) Looking at history through this lens demands a different emphasis on the past: exploring the history of shopping as a recreational pursuit instead of the history of commerce writ large; following the global path of the spice trade instead of the broader history of agriculture and food production. There are a thousand books written about the history of innovations that came out of our survival instincts. This is a book about a different kind of innovation: the new ideas and technologies and social spaces that emerged once some of us escaped from the compulsory labor of subsistence.

The centrality of play and delight does not mean that these stories are free of tragedy and human suffering. Some of the most appalling epochs of slavery and colonization began with a new taste or fabric developing a market, and unleashed a chain of brutal exploitation to satisfy that market’s demands. The quest for delight transformed the world, but it did not always transform it for the better.