Rooftops

As regulars here will know, I am constantly fascinated by what goes on at the top of London’s buildings. I love the Big Tops that are built to impress, like the Shard, the Strata, the Gherkin. I love all the decorative stuff done in earlier centuries. I love chimney pots, which used to come in all shapes and sizes. And I love all the anarchic clutter that electronic communication of various sorts has placed at the top of otherwise utterly bland and forgettable blocks.

So here are some recent snaps, celebrating all that:

Those are shown in chronological order of me taking them.

1.1, 1.2 and 3.2 are are all quite near to me, taken in the vicinity of Warwick Way.

1.3 is the kind of thing you see when a big building site gets into gear, and then of course stop seeing when the work is done.

2.1 was taken in Lower Marsh, I think.

2.2 is Strata, also taken in Lower Marsh ish, peeping over a roof with a decorative knob on it.

2.3 is a bit indistinct, being roof clutter reflected off a big glass fronted building, but the clutter is there if you look.

3.1 is a bit of a cheat, because it is the umbrella that makes the picture, not the decorative roof (Parliament) behind it. But again, the roof is there.

3.2 includes the top of the big tower on the other side of the river from me, i.e. on the south side.
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3.3 is a big lump in Park Lane, as viewed from just inside Hyde Park, near Hyde Park Corner. I went with a friend to Hyde Park yesterday, hoping to view a statue of Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, emerging from the Serpentine. No luck. Gone. Or maybe just not where we looked.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd

Incoming from Craig Willy, of whom I did not know until now:

Hello Brian,

I see you’ve written a great deal on Emmanuel Todd. I have just written a summary of his big history book, L’invention de l’Europe. I thought you might find it interesting.

I also see you have the impression he mainly criticizes the U.S. for being a “hollowed out,” financialized “fake” economy. In fact he is incredibly critical of the eurozone, for that very reason, which he argues is responsible for the hollowing out, dysfunction and financialism of the French and peripheral European economies.

All the best, and feel free to share if you write anything new on Todd. My Twitter.

Craig

In response to my email thanking him for the above email, and asking if he has written anything else about Todd, Willy writes:

I discuss him a fair bit on my Twitter feed as he offends many with his criticism of Germany and euroskepticism. Otherwise I just wrote this short piece on Todd and the euro from a while back.

This I have now read. Very interesting, and I think very right. Interesting parallel between the Euro and the Algerian War.

Things appear to be really motoring on the Todd-stuff-in-English front. At last.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Emmanuel Todd links

This is a short posting, just to make a note of some links that I have acquired, to things about Emmanuel Todd. Microsoft is in the habit of shutting down my computer without warning, and I don’t want to have to go hunting for them again.

Here is a review of a new book about America called America 3.0 (which I already have on order from Amazon), by James Bennett and Michael Lotus. This book includes some of Todd’s ideas about family structure by way of explaining why the America of the near future will be particularly well suited to the free-wheeling individualism of the next few years of economic history.

In this review, T Greer says:

I was delighted to find that much of this analysis rests of the work of the French anthropologist Emmanuel Todd. I came across Mr. Todd’s work a few months ago, and concluded immediately that he is the most under-rated “big idea” thinker in the field of world history.

Spot on.

Greer also makes use of this map, which first appeared in this New York Times article:

Slowly, very slowly, Emmanuel Todd is starting to be noticed in the English speaking world.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Wandering about afterwards

I’m still on about last Tuesday, and about what a fine day it was to be taking photographs, and about what sort of photographs I took.

First there were those brightly coloured buildings, then the Tottenham Court Road grubbings, and now … the rest.

I confirmed that the weather was going to be just as fabulous as the weather forecasters had been saying for the best part of a week that it would be, from the moment I stepped out of my front door. Because, what I then felt was that very particular early spring experience, namely: feeling warmer than I did indoors. It comes from the bricks in my home being a heat store, or in the case of winter a cold store. To be more exact, the sun outside is hot and it warms up the air outside a treat, but it will take way longer for it to warm up those bricks, still busy sucking the heat out of my indoors.

So, I was in a fine mood from the start, and duly ticked off my official objective (plus second semi-official objective close by), so that the other half of the fun might begin. For me, the point is to get out there, preferably to places I have not visited lately, on a fine day, and to make sure I set forth with appropriate resolve and soon enough for it still to be light, I need an official objective. Those coloured buildings served that purpose very well. But then, there followed the unofficial pleasure, so to speak, of just meandering about and noticing things.

If you only click on one photo of those below, click on the first one, top left. That scene was actually quite a long way away, but thanks to the brightness of the sunshine and the power of my zoom lens, it looks like I’m right next to it.

Otherwise, there are my usual preoccupations. There is scaffolding, the other scaffolding being on Blackfriars Bridge, middle middle, where they are still finishing the new station on the bridge, with its oddly fluctuating roof. There are cranes, the same cranes each time, I suspect, on the top of a new erection arising somewhere on the other side of the river, between Waterloo and Tate Modern. And there is a particularly choice reflection effect, this time (I am almost certain) Tower 42 (the NatWest Tower that was) torched by the evening sun and reflected in the glass at the top of Tate Modern. There are bridges, no less then three in the picture bottom left, and five different bridges if you also count the ghostly columns of the Blackfriars Bridge that never was, next to Actual Blackfriars Bridge. And seven if you could the three views of the Millenium Footbridge as three different bridges. There is the Wheel, twice. And photographers of course, thrice.

I sought out the river because, as the light began to fade, by the river there would still be a huge (completely cloudless) sky full of the stuff to sustain me, in contrast to the streets north of the river where the light struggles to reach ground level.

Crossrail grubbings

As soon as I had finished looking at those brightly coloured buildings designed by Renzo Piano, I also took at look at the bottom of Centre Point, where they are doing Crossrail.

“Grubbings” is a word I inherited from my late father, along with his fondness for the thing that grubbings describes. Grubbings are big building projects in their early, especially below ground level, stage, when they are … well: grubbing, rather than building upwards. My father loved grubbings, and so do I.

It’s often hard to photo grubbings, because they often put a high fence around them and there’s no convenient high-up spot nearby to look over. But at this site, you can climb up some steps (top left) to a Centre Point entrance on the first floor, and photo through the mesh that you see in most of the other pictures.

Even with the internet, it can be hard to know how these kind of things are going to end up. Okay, here are these computer fakes of how they had in mind two years ago for it to be, but who knows if that’s still what they’re thinking.

There is also the fact that there are often so many images of how, at various stages in the design, they envisaged things looking, that it’s hard for a more casual onlooker to keep up. Simpler to just wait and see.

It reminds me of how the Brits confused the Argies during that Brits versus Argies war. Instead of not telling the Argies their plan, the Brits did tell the Argies their plan, and all the other plans the Brits might just as likely be following. The British newspapers were full to the brim with every imaginable plan. And the Argies were baffled, trapped in the headlights of too much information, all of it suspect of course. That’s sometimes how I feel when trying (admittedly not very hard) to find out how some big grubbings in a big city like London are going to end up looking.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Piano strikes the right note again

Ever since I was reminded of those highly coloured buildings near Centre Point I have been meaning to check them out.

Yesterday, as I had been intending to do for several days, having known for several days of the excellent weather that would prevail yesterday, I did this.

Almost as striking as the buildings themselves are the reflections of their bright colours in nearby windows, and in fact my first clue that I was in the vicinity of my architectural prey was just such a reflection.

Here are some of the pictures I took, in the order I took them in:

I really liked these buildings. I had feared 70s style vulgarity. They are better than that, much better.

And I came to this conclusion before I learned, this evening, while concocting this posting, that they are the work of Renzo Piano. That’s right, the very same man who also designed the Shard:

You might also have once said the area was grey, but not any longer. If you go there now you will see a series of slabs of colour – orange, red, apple green and lemon yellow – vibrant as a row of casseroles in a Conran shop, rising 12 storeys into the sky. These belong to Central St Giles, a nearly complete office development by celebrated Italian architect Renzo Piano. “I wanted to make a building that smiles,” he says in explanation.

And to my eye he as succeeded. He hasn’t just supplied bright buildings. He has brightened up the whole area. I hope they don’t fade, or that if they do, they will be easily restored to their current brightness.

When photoing these colourful slabs of modernity, I concentrated on their sunny side, the south side. When the weather is warmer, I will surely return and check them out some more.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Me and the Six Nations under the weather

One of the about seventy seven signs of aging is definitely being more sensitive to the weather, and in particular the cold. I remember feeling this way as a small child, when first compelled to travel every morning to school. Now, I feel it again. I actually “caught a chill” earlier this week, and had to take to my bed for a whole day.

However, I will soon be getting out from under the weather, if the next ten day weather forecast is anything to go by, which it is. As of today, it looked like that (see right).

Talking of short range weather forecasts, James Delingpole did a silly piece in the Daily Mail a while back, saying the Met Office is a total waste of space. But it is precisely because the Met Office’s short-range weather forecasts are generally so spot-on that its mad opinions about the weather in the more distant future are taken so seriously. If the short-range forecasts were as bad as so many unthinking idiots say, the Met Office wouldn’t be half such a menace on the C(atastrophic) A(nthropogenic) G(lobal) W(arming) front. This Delingpole article played right into the hands of CAGW-ers. Asked the New Statesman: Was there ANYTHING in James Delingpole’s Daily Mail piece which was true? Yes. The Met Office is bonkers about CAGW. But Delingpole’s attempts to prove that the Met Office never gets anything right were indeed ridiculous, and did the anti-CAGW team no favours at all.

But I digress. To more serious matters. There is another reason I am glad the weather is going to perk up soon, which is that rugby matches are far more entertaining when the weather is nicer.

The Six Nations began with what the commentators were all telling each other was one of the best Six Nations first weekends ever. All three games were full of tries. England won. Okay, only against Scotland, but they won, and actually Scotland are looking a bit better now, with some backs who can actually run fast. Ireland and Wales scored lots of tries against each other. Italy beat France. It doesn’t get much better for an England fan.

But then the weather turned nasty and the games turned attritional. England beat Ireland, but nobody scored any tries. England beat France, with one fortuitous England try which shouldn’t have been allowed. Italy reverted to being … Italy. The one truly entertaining thing about the next two weekends, after the entirely entertaining first weekend, is that now it’s England played 3 won 3 and France played 3 won ZERO! Arf arf. Sorry Antoine.

Talking of England v France, I’ve been reading (and watching the telly) about the 100 Years War. And it seems that towards the end, the French cheated by having guns. That explains a lot.

So anyway, no more 6N rugby until the weekend after next, and I really miss it, just as I did the weekend before last. The Six Nations takes seven weekends to get done, with weekends 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 being occupied with games, and weekends 3 and 5 being skipped. During weekends 3 and 5, I pine, and watch ancient rugby games, the way I never would normally, to fill the rugby gap.

The best ones I recently watched were two epic Wales wins against France, in 1999 (France 33 Wales 34) and 2001 (France 35 Wales 43), on VHS tapes. Sorry Antoine. But the next one I’ll be watching will be 2002 (Wales 33 France 37).

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Panoramic view of London from the top of the BT Tower

Further to what Alastair James said about the panoramic views of central London from Blythe Hill Fields, incoming from Rob Fisher:

Seen this? It’s a gazillion megapixel panorama taken from BT tower. You can zoom in a lot.

I think maybe yes, but it’s good to be reminded of such things.

Plus, I learned something, which is that I must check out these brightly coloured buildings just past Centre Point:

I wonder how such technicolor baubles as these will look in fifteen years time? Drab? Naff? There’s a definite 1970s feel to quite a lot of architecture these days, especially for some reason in the vicinity of the Dome. Look out for (although I promise nothing) further postings here about that rather distressing trend.

There’s lots more stuff happening around Centre Point, in connection with Crossrail, so lots of stuff to photo there. Or at least to try to photo. Sometimes building sites can’t be seen no matter what you try.

Regarding the London panorama, this is but one of many such urban views, there being a website devoted to such things, panoramicly showing you cities all around the world. How long has that been going?

There’s even an app. Above the button for that, it says:

Now with motion-sensitive panorama viewer!

Does this mean that you can hover two hundred feet above yourself? Taking virtual snaps as you look out from your virtual dirigible? If so, cool. And probably cool whatever it is.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Alastair James on Blythe Hill Fields and smartphones

Immediately after my first relaunched Last Friday, the one at which Sam Bowman spoke, I suffered a dose of success depression. This is when you achieve a goal, and then feel not happy but empty, because deprived of the goal. The event had gone well. But I expected a little too much from it by way of immediate good consequences. A wise friend who attended the evening later told me that good results would indeed happen, but more gradually than I had been assuming, and that is now starting to happen.

One of the better consequences of these events is that because I send out emails to anyone I half know or know of who I think might be interested in attending, I have re-established contact with a number of friends and semi-friends who I was in danger of losing touch with.

One such, Alastair James, a libertarian friend from way back, recently sent me an email which included this:

I know you mostly like shots of one thing (often with some clutter in the foreground), but if you are also interested in panoramas I wonder if you’ve ever been to Blythe Hill Fields in Lewisham. I think it has some of the best views in London of Canary Wharf and the City but I rarely see it mentioned.

For years I have been nagging people to tell me about good spots to photo London from, but mostly without success. And now that turns up, pretty much unsolicited, merely through me being in touch with Alastair and discussing his son’s sporting triumphs, they being the reason that he often finds Fridays rather hard to do.

As it happens, I had never heard of Blythe Hill Fields, but it immediately sounded very promising, the clues being in the name. A hill, with nothing in the foreground getting in the way, just fields. Ideal for wandering around on, to find the best shots, and so, yesterday it proved.

I immediately found out where Blythe Hill Fields is (from Google maps), identified the nearest station, Honor Oak Park, and soon discovered (from this train website) that there is a train direct to Honor Oak Park from Victoria, which is very near to me. I also learned (from a weather website) on Monday evening, that the short-range weather forecast for Tuesday was, in a word: superb. Not a cloud in the sky, they said, and so it proved. So, a superb forecast in the other sense also.

Yet again, we see here the working through of one of my favourite Laws, which says that new methods of communication (in this case the internet) do not replace older methods of doing things (in this case going there). Rather do the new methods complement and as likely as not reinforce the older methods. Writing gives people more to talk about. Printing makes writing massively more productive, and gives rise to masses more talk. Television adapts books and sells books and provides yet more conversation fodder. Email makes meetings, at which we can all talk to each other some more, far easier to organise and publicise. And now the internet makes wandering around London (also the world) massively easier.

This posting is already getting rather unwieldy, so I’ll hold the photos I took at and around Blythe Hill Fields yesterday for another posting. Instead let me finish up this posting by quoting and commenting on another bit of the Alastair James email, which further emphasises the point about how the internet makes travelling easier, and in his case more fun:

BTW I recently finally got a Smartphone and I find it much easier to follow blogs since I got it – I’ve always felt guilty sitting in front of a PC reading a blog that I’m doing something unproductive. Anyway I just wanted to say that I’ve been reading yours and how much I enjoy it!

You might be surprised to learn what a difference declarations of that sort can make to the morale of a blogger like me, who doesn’t now get many comments, still less comments like that. Without my Fridays, I never get to hear that, which is a perfect example of a somewhat delayed effect that my friend in paragraph one above talked about.

But note also the smartphone thing. Presumably Alastair now uses his to read blogs in circumstances where more serious work would be difficult, such as while travelling.

I am myself currently engaged in buying a smartphone, helped by my friend Michael Jennings (who is giving the next Friday talk this Friday – do come if you want to). Whereas for Alastair James a key app is reading blogs on the move, for me the killer app is definitely being able to learn exactly where I am at any point in my various wanderings, and how to get to where I want to go to next. It would have come in quite handy yesterday, but because of some serendipity that occurred without it (more about that later), I am actually quite glad that yesterday I did not have Google maps with me. That’s another story, for which stay tuned.

I suspect that Alastair and I are not the only ones now, finally, kitting ourselves out with smartphones. I sense a general society-wide stampede in this direction, as the iPhone works its magic. The iPhone defines what a smartphone is, and all those for whom money is no object get one. That tells the Taiwanese copyists what to copy at half the price, and now they have pretty much got there.

I will also be buying a “bluetooth” (Michael J says that will work) keyboard, much like the black keyboard in this posting (scroll down a bit), to go with my smartphone, the idea being that I will be able to type stuff in as well as read things. (That keyboard is also a straight copy, in black, of an Apple keyboard, incidentally. Again with the Apple influence.) A smartphone screen too small for typing, you say? My very first computer, an Osborne, had a screen that was hardly any bigger, and I loved that. Osborne equals a very stupid version of a smartphone, plus a keyboard, plus half a ton of electro-crap that is no longer needed. Discuss. I feel one of those ain’t-capitalism-grand postings for Samizdata coming on.

The trouble with my current laptop is that, like the Osborne if with less extremity, it is still quite heavy. This means that I don’t always have it with me, in fact I pretty much now never have it with me, because when I do take it with me on my travels I often never actually use it, and in the meantime greatly resent its weight. The idea is that I will always have my smartphone with me (obviously), and always (fingers crossed) with the keyboard. So whenever a blogging opportunity beckons, when I am out and about, I will be able to respond.

The smartphone I am getting also has a rather good camera included. It’ll be interesting to compare that camera with my present one.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

A new crane has already arrived

Yesterday, again, I ventured back across the river to see whatever I could see in the vicinity of that helicopter crash.

I couldn’t get near to where the worst of the drama unfolded on Wednesday, and I couldn’t yesterday, which is not a circumstance I would dream of complaining about. But today, as on Wednesday, I was able to gaze upwards again at that stricken crane, this time from the other side:

If you compare that picture with my earlier picture (immediately below), you will see that nothing up there has yet changed.

Other than the weather. Yesterday, and today, very grim and snowy. Also, I took the above picture just before it got seriously dark. The pictures below having been taken somewhat earlier. I did quite a bit of wandering around before I got that shot of the crane, but was very pleased when I finally got it.

On the ground, it is an entirely different story.

A whole new crane has arrived:

You can just see the edge of the tower there, above the road sign.

And that’s not the half of it:

Altogether, about a dozen different articulated lorries had arrived, presumably earlier yesterday, and parked themselves in the roads at the other end of the new bus terminal from Vauxhall railway station. When I got there, there were still drivers in the cabs of several of these lorries. In total there were about a dozen lorries. These cranes are big. I’m guessing the economic situation means there were plenty of spare cranes to choose from.

And I further guess that these things have something to do with this crane:

I assume that this new crane is about to be erected alongside the old and broken crane, to dismantle the broken crane, and then to finish the job of building the tower. How exactly will that look, I wonder?

Things are moving a lot faster than I guessed, to get the tower-building going again.

The tidying up from the crash seems to be taking place a bit further along the road, crucially not right next to the tower, and that process is happening simultaneously with getting the new crane in. The two jobs don’t clash. On the contrary they go together. Then, when the old crane is gone, and when the crash is cleaned up, the road will open again.

Is the plan to open the road again,after a weekend of feverish activity, on Monday morning? Definitely asap, it would seem.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog