A viewing platform that now isn’t

Speaking as I was of tall columns with viewing platforms at the top of them (shame about the Tulip by the way (but I live in hope that this will be uncancelled (or that something similar will arise in that spot))), what about that big column just to the north of St James’s Park with the Duke of York on the top of it?

I recall greatly enjoying a photo-session I did in 2016 with this erection, lining it up with the BT Tower, through some splendidly leafless January trees:

All these photos were photoed from Horse Guards Road, which is at the eastern end of St James’s Park.

To get to the top of the BT Tower these days, you have to win a lottery. But what about getting close-up to the Duke of York? There seems to be a viewing gallery up there, so presumably there must be some way to reach it. Yet, I pass this Big Thing often, when walking through St James’s Park to the West End, and I never see a queue outside it. What’s the story?


Inside the hollow column a spiral staircase of 168 steps, lit by narrow apertures in the wall, leads to the viewing platform around the base of the statue. Given the small, fragile platform and previous high demand for climbing, this staircase has been closed to the public for many decades.

Is there any way this platform could strengthened without it becoming a disruptively different shape? The problem is that, unlike with the Monument, the column above this viewing platform is the same width as below it, probably because it supports a big old Duke of York rather than just the little bobble that the Monument has at its summit. Almost any structural engineering can be done these days, but if the viewing platform remains as small as it is now, it presumably wouldn’t be worth doing.

I hope that Tulip makes a come-back.

The Duke of York is one of my favourite British military personalities, if only because most others only know him, if they know him, as an object of derision. The Grand Old Duke of York … etc. But the point is, after his failed career as a military commander, he had a much more impressive career as an military organiser back in London, improving the supply of, well, supplies, and also of officers who were better trained than hitherto. In other words, he arrived at his level of incompetence, and then demoted himself down to a position where he good really do some good, as the Duke of Wellington always acknowledged. Impressive, I think. Being the King’s brother, he could do this. But how many King’s brothers actually would do such a thing?

I know, I’m a libertarian and war is the health of the state, etc. But, the history of war is what it is, and this Duke deserves his monument. As is well explained in the very good chapter about him in this book.

The new Google building in King’s Cross is taking shape

And the shape is the big green thing that someone has stuck in the middle of this photo …:

… which I found here. More about this building-to-be here.

On the right, King’s Cross railway station. On the left, St Pancras railway station, which is where the Eurostar trains go to and come from. It’s a pretty well connected sort of place. And proof that physical connection remains important, in the world of virtual connection that Google does so much to route us all about in.

A while back I was in and around all this with a friend, and just before I photoed these photos, I photoed these photos:

There’s something very appealing to me about the big concrete towers that signal a big new project like this one, towers ministered to by cranes, cranes which on sunny days often leave shadows on the towers. In a few months, all will be completely different. No sooner are these towers built than they are smothered in something else, after which some degree of permanence will return.

And whereas those earlier towers and cranes I linked to were for Brand X unaffordable apartments, the above towers are being built for one of the great economic and political facts of our time.

Three terrible photos of something interesting

Which is better? Three great photos of something rather boring? Or three terrible photos of something rather not boring? There are arguments for both, but here are three photos that fall firmly into the latter category. Well, they do if you agree with me that what is shown in them is interesting:

I photoed the above three photos while on a recent expedition to my local laundrette. I was in a hurry to get my camera operating, having been concentrating on my laundretting and surprised by what I saw through the front window of the laundrette, hence the terribleness of the photos:

It’s a lady, rollerblading along the road. And in the first photo I photoed of her, I didn’t even manage to include her rollerblades. But, in its inept way, that photo makes the point. If you only knew of this lady that she looked and dressed like that, would you expect her to be rollerblading? I guess the headphones are a clue. But otherwise? I wouldn’t.

In the first photo, as I say, no rollerblades to be seen. And in the second and third photos, she’s way off to the right of the picture. In the third, she’s even behind a street pole., which is, I think, some sort of sign. But, the point is made. A lady who looks like that is … rollerblading. And I can further report that she was doing it with practised assurance. For her, this is a routine. It’s how she gets around. To and from work, would be my guess.

There’s a lot of media frenzy about robot cars. Meanwhile, quietly, with no fuss, and with none of the eye-watering investment by big businesses betting their futures on their particular robot car, people are quietly attaching wheels to themselves, thereby making use of all that space in cities that is being cleared for bikers to bike around in cities, and in general to assume the rights and privileges of bikers, on regular roads, like this rollerblading lady. And it makes sense. Why buy a huge metal box with wheels on it, if you can have the wheels on your feet, in the form of a little skateboard with wheels, or a skateboard with wheels and a sticking up steering system, or just wheels, like this lady? What started as a childhood sport is mutating into a regular means of transport.

Well, I think this is really interesting. The only reason I don’t have many more photos here of people doing this kind of thing is that most of what I photo is stationary, or at the worst very slow moving and quite easy to see coming, so not a surprise. These mobile pedestrians are often gone before I see them, not least because I seldom hear them coming.

LATER: Sometimes I see the rollerblader coming and the photo comes out rather well.

Stephen Davies on Ruling Classes and Industrious Classes

Stephen Davies is my sort of libertarian historian in many ways, and in particular in not denying the historic importance of the predator class in times gone by. It is one thing to regret the enormous power held by predators, and the comparative powerlessness of producers – the power of the taxers and the impotence of the taxed – but it is quite another to assert that the powerful predators were not in fact the people who made the historically significant decisions and that the impotent producers were actually very powerful. Libertarianism is the claim that the predators should lose their power, not that they have already lost it, or worse, never, historically, had it.

At the heart of Davies’s book The Wealth Explosion is the claim that the wealth explosion only happened because of a rather anomalous glitch in the typical behaviour of the predator class, which took the form of a non-united Europe. Normal predator behaviour throughout the rest of Eurasia meant that the wealth explosion was only able to happen in Europe.

Here (pp. 11-12) is some of what Davies says about this distinction:

There was a basic social division found in all societies after the advent of agriculture. This was between those who produced wealth by production or exchange on the one hand and those who acquired it through the use of force or fraud on the other. The first category included peasant farmers (the great majority) as well as artisans, merchants, and traders of all kinds. The second category were those who controlled not the means of production but what we may call the means of predation – organised force or systematic mystification in other words. These were the ruling classes of society such as aristocrats and clergy. The second group often did come to control and own great wealth and much productive resources, such as land for example, but this was a consequence of their privileged position rather than the cause of it. That position derived in the first instance from their greater access to the means of violence. They were not however simply parasitical because, partly for their own advantage, they came to provide what economists call ‘public goods’ such as defence against other human predators (bandits, criminals, or members of other tribes and political communities), or a means of settling disputes peacefully (so a legal system).

These ruling groups were the primary subjects of historical accounts until very recently. There is a good reason for this, quite apart from the practical point that most of the surviving sources are concerned with them, which is that they were the primary active force in human history. It was rulers and elites who had the power to actually make things happen. They were the ones with agency in other words. In addition, as Peter Laslett famously argued, they were the only social class in society with true class-consciousness, a self-conscious awareness of their own group interest. (Laslett, 2015) This and their nature meant that their relation to innovation and activities that actually changed the world in a positive way was ambivalent. On the one hand, to the extent that innovation led to actual growth in productivity, that meant more resources for them to extract from the productive part of society. On the other hand if it went on for a long enough time it would tend to weaken their position and increase the capacity of other social groups for effective action. Another aspect of the ruling classes historical role was the way that successful groups tended to expand the area of the planet that they controlled and so create an empire. Empires produced internal peace and so although they were created using (often) savage violence, once established they brought social peace to a large part of the planet’s surface. However this also meant an even stronger incentive for the successful group to keep things the same.

And mostly, except in Europe, this is what happened.

Find your way to more bits from this book by going here.

One Kemble Street from the ME Hotel

As regulars here know, I am very fond of Richard Seifert‘s One Kemble Street (that link will now get you to this posting again but keep scrolling down). I am fond of One Kemble Street because of its repetitively yet I think elegantly sculpted outside walls but chaotic roof clutter topping. One of Seifert’s best. (His worst was concrete monstrosity at its most monstrous.)

Here’s another good photo of One Kemble Street that I found in the archives, photoed in September of 2016, from the top of the ME Hotel.

Three distinct bits of roof clutter there, on top of One Kemble Street, at a lower level between One Kemble Street and the ME Hotel, and in the foreground on top of the ME Hotel itself.

As you can also see from this photo of One Kemble Street and the ME Hotel taken from the upstairs balcony of the Royal Festival Hall, there’s a very good view of One Kemble Street from the ME Hotel, round the back.

Had Seifert designed the British Library, it would have looked very different.

Rock and roll is here to stay

But a lot of rock and rollers are about to leave the stage for ever.

Ed Driscoll:

Behold the killing fields that lie before us: Bob Dylan (78 years old); Paul McCartney (77); Paul Simon (77) and Art Garfunkel (77); Carole King (77); Brian Wilson (77); Mick Jagger (76) and Keith Richards (75); Joni Mitchell (75); Jimmy Page (75) and Robert Plant (71); Ray Davies (75); Roger Daltrey (75) and Pete Townshend (74); Roger Waters (75) and David Gilmour (73); Rod Stewart (74); Eric Clapton (74); Debbie Harry (74); Neil Young (73); Van Morrison (73); Bryan Ferry (73); Elton John (72); Don Henley (72); James Taylor (71); Jackson Browne (70); Billy Joel (70); and Bruce Springsteen (69, but turning 70 next month).

For me, the mere physical death of all these oldies will mean little. David Bowie died a bit ago, but I only noticed because there was a sign on the BT Tower saying this. I like photoing the BT Tower, so I photoed this sign. Then I photoed him on some stamps. But the Bowie that matters to me is the Bowie that was recorded. And that will live on more than long enough to suit me. On the rare occasions when I have attended live events at which a big name rocker and roller performed, I have been very disappointed. If I die and wake up at a pop festival, I will know that there is a God, and that He has consigned me to Hell.

Even the sight of Paul McCartney, all died hair and skin moistener, who ought to be on but is not on this list, can’t put me off his wonderful vocal contributions to the Beatles tracks he sang on.

But, one thing I was glad to learn from this list was that “The Molly-Ringwald-serenading lead singer of the Psychedelic Furs” (he sang “Pretty in Pink”) was someone called Richard Butler. He now looks like this lady.

Bike with no chain

This bit of video, courtesy The Independent, impresses me greatly. It’s a new design for a bike, but a bike which doesn’t use a chain:

The bike instead uses a shaft-drive system to transmit power from the pedals to the wheel. … Manufacturers claim it makes power transfer more efficient.

I’m guessing that, if that’s true, this is made possible by new materials, and in particular by plastic that is both very light and very strong.

I particularly like how they include a multi-speed gear, just by having a cog-wheel that shifts along the shaft.

It will be interesting to see if this really is an improvement which catches on, or is merely an internet-friendly idea that turns out, for various simple or complicated reasons, not to be any use.

Says the first (cynical) commenter: it’s not new, and …:

Everything works in a lab.

We’ll see.

Palfinger Epsilon


That’s a detail in the middle of a device I spotted on a lorry in Victoria Street this afternoon. It’s a grab crane.

Here’s the lorry:

As you can perhaps see, the job of Palfinger Epsilon is to grab bags of bagged aggregate.

I have taken to always having a fictional book on the go, and currently that book is Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky. Palfinger Epsilon sounds like one of the characters in this story.

Strange combination of products

New shop opening up in Strutton Ground:

One of the constant problems of managing shops is working out what combinations of goods to sell in the same shop. Does it make sense to sell mobile phones and vaping in the same shop? Not to me.

I tried to discover if this is a chain of stores, or just a one off. If it’s the former, that would suggest that the combination has been proved to work. My googling told me of no such chain of shops. But me not finding an answer from googling proves very little.

It will be interesting to see how long the place lasts.