A colour photo taken over a century ago of one of my relatives

This remarkable photo dates from 1903.

I recently encountered it at BabelColour, which I follow, and where I learned who it was:

It shows Rear Admiral William Acland (1847-1924) & was taken by his sister Sarah 117 years ago using the Sanger Shepherd process.

Follow the first link above for a bit more about the Sanger Shepherd process.

This got my attention in quite a big way because I am distantly related to this Admiral Acland. He wasn’t a direct ancestor, or I don’t believe so. But the maiden name of my grandmother on my mother’s side was Acland, and she was the daughter of someone just like this Admiral. I possess a book entitled “Aclands and the Sea” which I acquired when my mother died and I cherry-picked the books in the family home where I grew up, and in any case I recall that my mum’s family were related to various Aclands, including, for instance, this guy. Although I couldn’t find in this Aclands and the Sea book any references to Aclands and their daughters, it’s the sort of book you only have if there’s a family connection. Not quite, so to speak, a real book. So, that Admiral Acland is like a first or second cousin of mine, about five times removed, or some such thing.

I haven’t linked to where I confirmed that my granny’s maiden name definitely was Acland, because, well, because I didn’t. What I will say is that one of the many things the internet does is tell each of us, as and when we ever get interested in such things, lots of stuff about our forebears and relatives, without anyone having to spend weeks grubbing away in libraries. That’s quite a change. I don’t know what it means exactly, but surely something.

On reflection, it may be more significant that we can, should we wish to, research the relatives of people we bump into and get curious about. That never used to be easy but now is. We now live, that is to say, in a world where uncongenial relatives have become that little bit harder for us to forget about being related to.

True – necessary – kind

I get emails from Christian Michel about the virtual meetings he is still organising. Here is a snippet from the latest such email:

A good friend sticks to this rule – any statement you are making should meet at least two of three characteristics: be true, be necessary, be kind.

Christian then says: “I like it.” I think I like it also. Most of us probably follow a rule like that with all our friends, or they’d not be our friends. But I for one haven’t nailed it down as clearly as that, in words.

Progress and the personal touch

The two photos below, taken at Chateau Michael Jennings, remind me yet again how valuable personal face-to-face contact is in an age of radically progressing technology. The irony being that a lot of the technology that is now progressing most radically is all about making such personal face-to-face contact less necessary. But the more such technology progresses, the more valuable it is to be sitting right next to someone who knows how to get the best out of it, and can watch you failing to do that and can correct you. What’s that you say? Zoom? Two problems for me there. One, my regular C20 computer has no camera pointing at me. Plus, I tried to get Zoom going with just the sound, for a meeting, but the damn sound didn’t work. I’ll only get Zoom going when someone clever pops by and helps me do it.

These photos were taken somewhat over a year ago, when Michael was still regularly tweaking this blog, this posting being the one on the screens. They illustrate one of the improvements of this blog over the old blog, which is that (be warned) the old blog didn’t work nearly so well on mobiles or tablets. This one works much better on such modernistical contrivances:

Another friend is due round soon to help me with get the best out of my new Dyson Graven Image, before Winter arrives. I probably could get this working okay by reading the damn instructions. But, personal face-to-face guidance from someone who already knows will work far better.

Stephen Davies on the Growth of Sympathy

The Wealth Explosion by Stephen Davies is not just about the when and where of that kink in the graphs. It is also a description of what that transformation in human affairs consisted of, not just materially, and in how people thought and felt and behaved. In an early chapter, “The Way We Once Lived and The Way We Live Now”, under the heading “The Growth of Sympathy” (pp. 26-28), Davies describes (in the bibliographical note at the end of the chapter he mentions this book by Stephen Pinker) how people started being nicer to each other:

Another significant change that marks out the cultural and mental world of the modern as compared to what went before is one that attracted much attention from an early date. This was the growth of what eighteenth and early nineteenth century authors termed ‘sympathy’ and ‘sensibility: As defined by authors such as Adam Smith and Lord Kames this meant the capacity to put oneself in the position of another person and feel an intimation of what that person felt or experienced. This was associated with a general ‘softening’ or ‘polishing’ of manners and behaviour. In other words, there was a tendency for people to be gentler, less aggressive, more self-conscious and controlled, less impulsive, more sensitive to the suffering or hardship of others. This was seen as being connected to the growth of trade and commerce and what they called ‘luxury’ and we would call affluence or comfort. In other words, as people became more connected to others, often distant, by the connections of trade and by social intercourse, and as their lives became more comfortable and less harsh so their psychology changed and they became gentler, less violent and aggressive and more controlled and ‘refined’ (to use a key term) in their way of behaving. In the language of the time this meant that the ‘passions’ as they were called, that is strong and natural human desires and feelings, came to be tamed and made milder and less fierce and powerful or even subject to the check of reason and calculation.

This may seem to be simply a reflection of eighteenth century rationalism and optimism but in fact there is a lot of evidence for the view that the modern world has indeed seen such a change. Again, people such as Smith, Hume and Kames thought that the change was gradual (although they were struck by the extent and rapidity of change in their own country and lifetime) but very soon after their own lifetimes the change in this aspect of human life also underwent an abrupt acceleration. At this point, many people will simply find the argument implausible. Given the terrible political events of the last hundred years and the widespread evidence of cruelty, violence and aggression that fill the daily news, how can anyone think that over that period human beings in many parts of the world have become less passionate, gentler and more in sympathy with the suffering of others?

One point to make is that the attention given to such matters and the horror they inspire are because there has been such a change. Things that were seen as unexceptionable and normal in the past, even if regrettable, are now regarded as egregious and horrible precisely because they are less common. Clearly something as intangible yet profound as a widespread or even general shift in the way most people feel or in their psychology is hard to measure or demonstrate. However, there are a number of indicators, some of which can actually be quantified. One is the evidence of delinquent behaviour as captured in the records of the criminal justice system. The evidence here is that over the last two to three hundred years there has been a long term secular decline in interpersonal violence. Three hundred years ago the bulk of the cases brought before criminal courts were crimes of violence. They now make up only a small proportion of the courts’ business. In addition the actual incidence of such crimes on a per capita basis has also declined so that they are a much less frequent part of experience.

There are several other prominent indicators. One is the change in the functioning of the criminal justice system, with a pronounced shift away from harsh and brutal or sadistic physical punishment such as public execution, flogging or branding. Another is the transformation that we can trace in popular attitudes towards children and animals. In very recent times historically what we would regard as brutal and cruel treatment was widespread or even normal for both whereas now this arouses revulsion and disgust. Literature and personal writings such as diaries and correspondence are another kind of evidence, which again shows a significant alteration in popular psychology, at both an individual and a collective level. Finally, there is the evidence of manners, where we can clearly trace what one author calls the ‘civilising process’ by which ways of speaking and behaving become steadily more controlled and moderate. Looking at this evidence we can say firstly that there has been a radical change in what historians call the ‘collective mentality’ of modern men and women, that is the common mental assumptions, habits and ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that they share. The second thing we can say is that this change became much more rapid and widespread among all levels of society at some point in the early nineteenth century. Here we can draw the analogy and connection with trade and economic development. In the case of trade and economic development, we can indeed trace a very gradual process of increasing trade and economic integration between different parts of the world and a slow corresponding rise in the level of economic development and standards of living. After the later eighteenth century, this process becomes so much more rapid and extensive that both it and its effects are wholly different order of magnitude – explosive in fact.

Similarly, there is clearly a long-term trend in the direction just described with respect to human mentality and ways of behaving. Thus, there is a very long term trend for inter-personal violence to decline. Our Stone Age ancestors lived in a society that was unbelievably violent by contemporary standards (as do many more recent hunter-gatherers) and we can trace a decline in levels of violence since that time. However, as with trade, the process while of long standing underwent a dramatic breakthrough or acceleration after the later eighteenth century so that, as in the economic sphere, there was a greater change in popular psychology and ways of behaving between 1800 and 1900 than for several centuries at least before then.

Oscar looks down on his neighbours

GodDaughter2’s Dad recently sent another photo of their cat Oscar, displaying his lack of any fear of heights:

And also, in this case, his desire to keep an eye on other cats in the neighbourhood.

Photo taken by GD2D from a nearby balcony. On the left, the original photo that incame. On the right, a crop showing the other three cats down below, just in case you missed them, as I did when I first looked at the photo.

I don’t fully understand Oscar’s relationships with other cats nearby. My first impression: It’s complicated. Whenever I witness Oscar “socialising”, there seems like a lot of exchanging of territorial proclamations going on, in among other stuff, but what do I know? And note that the three cats below are also, in a quieter and smaller way, keeping their distance from each other.

When you observe cats with each other, you get to realise how nice and polite most of them are to us, by comparison.

A lion and a deer in Upper Grosvenor Gardens

At the end of last month, I did a posting in which I grumbled about the boringness of my immediate neighbourhood. To my surprise, the effect on my state of mind of getting these grumbles off my chest and onto this blog caused me immediately to start looking at my immediate neighbourhood with fresh eyes. In the posting linked to in the previous sentence, I displayed photos of things I am mostly pretty familiar with, like those big lumpy buildings on the other side of Victoria Street. But I have also found myself searching out oddities in my locality that I had not properly noticed before.

Oddities like these two statues:

I photoed the above photos just moments after photoing these photos.

This deer, with its big twiddly antlers, and this lion, chasing the deer, are to be seen in the north easterly of two triangles of vegetation in the vicinity of, or which together add up to, Grosvenor Gardens.

So, what on earth are they doing there? Who thought that such statues would make sense? Secret London explains:

In 1993, Jonathan Kenworthy, famed for his animal sculptures, was asked by the Duke and Duchess of Westminster to create this piece for a lake at Eaton Hall in Cheshire. A second casting was placed here in 2000 to mark the opening of the gardens to the people of Westminster.

So there we are. A Duke thought it would be a shame to confine two decent and probably quite expensive bits of animal sculpture to Cheshire, and had further copies of them put in London. There was no logical connection between the bit of London he put them in and the sculptures, but he was a Duke and he owned the place, and he thought it a good notion to put these sculptures there, in Upper Grosvenor Gardens, so that was what happened. I mean, who was going to object?

My neighbourhood – not that bad after all

Well I was in a grumpy mood the other day, calling my part of London boring. Today, after a bit of an absence from it, indoors, I visited my neighbourhood again, and found myself, eventually, to be in a much sunnier mood than I was when I did that earlier posting.

This was partly because the weather was much sunnier, and partly because my expedition began with a deeply annoying visit to a rather unfamiliar branch (which I hate) of my bank, which involved, first, pressing lots of stupid buttons on a damn machine which ended up failing to do what was asked of it, which meant that what I wanted ended up having to be done by hand, so to speak, by a bank employee behind a grill, but not before I had had to wait in a queue right behind a crazy person who was walking backwards and forwards along the line of the queue with no concern for social distancing. Sadly, he was just the sort of person you’d be concerned about, social distancing-wise, whether there was a plague happening or not. Retreating away from him at first didn’t work because he simply advanced further until standing inches away from me, before turning round and walking back to the person ahead of him in the queue and annoying her in a similar way. Eventually I just stood way off the line of his backwards-and-forwards pacing, hoping that he would stick to his straight line, which mercifully he did. I know this sounds cruel, but I didn’t say any of this to him at the time, and now I am just blowing off steam about it all. Anyway, he finally did his business (emptying a bank account of its last few pounds from what I heard (I bet they were glad to see the back of him too)) and he then left and I was then able to do all of my business. This took its time. The bank had “closed” at 2pm, just after I got there, but I didn’t get out until about half past.

The point of all that being that there is nothing like enduring an ordeal like this one, but then have it come to an end with all your purposes achieved, to put you in a good mood. And the photos I then photoed out in Victoria Street reflected my good mood, as well as involving reflections of the towers of Victoria Street in other towers of Victoria Street. Of the photos below, only the first one, of scaffolding angrily illuminated by the sun, which I could hardly ignore, were photoed before my ordeal by personal banking, and I actually think it shows:

The new towers of Victoria Street, on the north eastern side, from the Albert pub up to Victoria Station at the top end of the street, are an aesthetic shambles. I wouldn’t object if this shambles was the result of a complete indifference to “architecture” and pure concentration on having machines for working in. That would almost certainly have been highly picturesque, and aesthetically very well coordinated. But, these towers have all been architected as all hell, but each one with absolutely no thought to its neighbours, other than to get more architectural awards than the buildings by those other bastards. Each is shaped in the “iconic” style, but each iconic shape is utterly difference. The result is a total mess. (I am even now thinking of a posting about why it makes sense for modern architecture to be ugly (basically ugly architecture doesn’t suffer the nightmare of a preservation order being slapped upon it), but that’s for later.)

However, when I photoed this lumbering heard of miss-matched lumps today, such was the weather and such was my mood that even these things came out looking beautiful. Or, I think they did. The first one, the pointy one (62 Buckingham Gate) differs from the others in showing, I think, some real architectural distinction. But this can’t save the shambles that is Victoria Street now. The one thing that could savee Victoria Street now would be a huge fuck-off skyscraper, on top, say, of Victoria Station. (This would rescue Victoria Street in much the same way that the Shard rescues Guy’s Hospital.)

But that also is for that other posting about why ugly buildings are more advantageous than beautiful ones.

In the meantime, note the lorry with foundation reinforcements on it. The only reason you drive a lorry through the middle of London with foundation reinforcements on it is because you want to unload those reinforcements in London, so that some new foundations in London, perhaps for a big fuck-off skyscraper, can be contrived. So, what that lorry tells me is that London is still building biggish things. When I saw it, my mood became even sunnier.

I ended my wanderings with yet another view of Pavlova (she is also to be seen dancing up above the reinforcements lorry) in front of a crane, and a view of the flowers outside the front door of a pub in Wilton Road. And then I went home, tired but happy.

As you can tell, I then started thinking about those Victoria Street buildings and got angry again, but that was only later. Besides which, I also quite enjoyed that.

Antisocial Benches

Remember Jeppe Hein’s red seat sculptures outside the Royal Festival Hall. Well, when I went back there, in early May of this year, when Lockdown was getting started, to see how the red seats looked in bright sunshine (strictly for the essential exercise you understand), I discovered that what Stein called his Modified Social Benches had been modified, to look like miniature crime scenes. They had been smothered in red and white tape, thus:

However, towards the end of the time I spent photoing all these benches that had been modified to make them anti-social, I photoed this lady and her bike, resting in one of the benches:

She either didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to be sitting there, or she knew but she didn’t care.

You can see how they wouldn’t want the tape to be, to echo the name of some popular entertainers of yesteryear, simply red. (a) Too much like smothering these things in red tape, and (b) what with the benches already being red, the red tape might be rather hard to see.