The South Bank (red) Lion

There has been lots of photo-reminiscing here lately, so here are some photos I took much more recently. Well, in May of this year anyway:

Yes, it’s the lion at the South Bank end of Westminster Bridge.

This South Bank Lion has quite a history, the strangest thing being that it used to be red. I was going to show you the “photo” of the lion when it was red that I found
here
, until I realised it was faked with Photoshop. But that link is worth following.

The lion hasn’t always perched on the bridge. His first home was on top of the Lion Brewery, a booze factory once based on a site now occupied by the Royal Festival Hall.

I bet the brewery would have made a better concert hall than the accursed RFH.

This photo, on the other hand, of the lion with men and scaffolding is genuine:

The photograph above was kindly shared by Nick Redman of London Photos, whose grandfather (second on the left) was one of the scaffolders who helped move the lion from the soon-to-be-demolished brewery.

I found that here. Also well worth clicking on.

I assume this must be why so many pubs are called “The Red Lion”.

Apparently Emile Zola was very fond of this lion. Blog and learn.

Der Bomber

The things you find in your photo-archives, if you are someone like me and you forget two thirds of what you’ve photoed as soon as you’ve photoed it.

This bloke, for instance, whom I photoed somewhere or other in London, I think somewhere near Embankment tube station, way back in 2006:

You see lots of shirts in London with stuff like this on the back, and without reading the small print, I assumed, as I surely assumed at the time I took the photo, that this was a reference to some sort of rock and roll combo, travelling and doing gigs in various places. In this case, it was probably techno-pop, because that’s the sort of music something called “Der Bomber” would do. Bit of a tactless name, though, if they’re trying to make friends while performing in foreign parts.

It was only when I googled “der bomber” that I discovered that this shirt was celebrating the German footballer Gerd Müller. And he wasn’t trying to make friends with foreigners. Her was trying to beat them at football, and more often than not succeeding. And nor was he really having a “Welt Tour”. He was playing in the World Cup, in 1970 in Mexico, and then in 1974 in … Germany.

Photo and learn. Blog and learn.

The passions that used to attach themselves to bombing now have to find another outlet, and that outlet is now, mostly, sport. I believe that in recent months we have experienced what a gap is left in our world when sport is lacking. The sooner our politicians feel able to allow people back into sports stadiums, there to cheer on their preferred “bombers”, the better.

An England v West Indies memory – at least I got how the stumps looked afterwards

Tomorrow, assuming I have it right, a test match begins between England and the West Indies, in Southampton. There’ll be no spectators, but they’ve all played either English county cricket or whatever is the equivalent in the West Indies, so the players will know how to handle that, no worries.

My favourite moment in an England West Indies test match happened in July 2004 at Lord’s, when Ashley Giles, England’s skilled but nevertheless rather journeyman-type spin bowler, bowled Brian Lara, the West Indian batting superstar.

I photoed it. Well, I did a photo about a quarter of a minute after it had happened:

There you can just about make out Lara, trudging off into the distance, while Giles is mobbed by his team-mates.

Giles knocked back Lara’s middle stump. How do I know that? Because it’s in my photo, which I only just realised, because only just now did I examined it properly:

Crop, sharpen, and there it is. My Canon A70 was pretty terrible by today’s standards, but it was good enough to show that. YouTube confirms it (never seen that before). Giles’s hundred wicket in test cricket, apparently. Blog and learn.

England bowled the West Indies out that day and won the match. Scorecard here.

Afterwards I watched the highlights on telly. I remember thinking how much more informative these were than actually being there. But despite that, less entertaining.

Trump as Republican Party Reptile

I just did some Thoughts on Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech for Samizdata. Here is the complete speech of Trump’s that I was on about, and to which I linked, twice, because I think the fact that we all now can link directly to it is so very good.

Something else I didn’t complicate my Samizdata piece with did occur to me, while I was reading that same speech, and in particular when I read things like this in it:

We are the country of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Frederick Douglass. We are the land of Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody. (Applause.) We are the nation that gave rise to the Wright Brothers, the Tuskegee Airmen – (applause) – Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Jesse Owens, George Patton – General George Patton – the great Louie Armstrong, Alan Shepard, Elvis Presley, and Mohammad Ali. (Applause.) And only America could have produced them all. (Applause.) No other place.

We are the culture that put up the Hoover Dam, laid down the highways, and sculpted the skyline of Manhattan. We are the people who dreamed a spectacular dream – it was called: Las Vegas, in the Nevada desert; who built up Miami from the Florida marsh; and who carved our heroes into the face of Mount Rushmore. (Applause.)

Americans harnessed electricity, split the atom, and gave the world the telephone and the Internet. We settled the Wild West, won two World Wars, landed American astronauts on the Moon – and one day very soon, we will plant our flag on Mars.

We gave the world the poetry of Walt Whitman, the stories of Mark Twain, the songs of Irving Berlin, the voice of Ella Fitzgerald, the style of Frank Sinatra – (applause) – the comedy of Bob Hope, the power of the Saturn V rocket, the toughness of the Ford F-150 – (applause) – and the awesome might of the American aircraft carriers.

I’ve read this before, I thought, or something a hell of a lot like it. Yes, a piece in P. J. O.Rourke’s Republican Party Reptile, which was published in 1987, about an epic car journey O’Rourke made across America, in a Ferrari. I read this book in the late eighties. The Ferrari piece in this book would appear to be a slimmed down version of this piece, which was published in Car and Driver, in 1980.

I wrote a Libertarian Alliance pamphlet in praise of O’Rourke’s essay (also in praise of classical CDs), which included big quotes from the 1987 version of O’Rourke’s piece, including things like this:

… To be in control of our destinies – and there is no more profound feeling of control of one’s destiny that I have ever experienced than to drive a Ferrari down a public road at 130 miles an hour. Only God can make a tree, but only man can drive by one that fast. And if the lowly Italians, the lamest, silliest, least stable of our NATO allies, can build a machine like this, just think what it is that we can do. We can smash the atom. We can cure polio. We can fly to the moon if we like. There is nothing we can’t do. Maybe we don’t happen to build Ferraris, but that’s not because there’s anything wrong with America. We just haven’t turned the full light of our intelligence and ability in that direction. We were, you know, busy elsewhere. We may not have Ferraris but just think what our Polaris-submarines are like. And if it feels like this in a Ferrari at 130, my God, what can it possibly feel like at Mach 2.5 in an F-15? Ferrari 308s and F-15s – these are the conveyances of free men. What do the Bolshevik automatons know of destiny and its control? What have we to fear from the barbarous Red hordes?

And like this:

… And rolling through the desert thus, I worked myself into a great patriotic frenzy, which culminated on the parapets of the Hoover Dam (even if that was kind of a socialistic project and built by the Roosevelt in the wheelchair and not by the good one who killed bears). With the Ferrari parked up atop that orgasmic arc of cement, doors flung open and Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” blasting into the night above the rush of a man-crafted Niagara and the crackle and the hum of mighty dynamos, I was uplifted, transported, ecstatic. A black man in a big, solid Eldorado pulled up next to us and got out to shake our hands. “You passed me this morning down in New Mexico,” he said. “And that sure is a beautiful car. …”.

Note that Mount Rushmore includes, along with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln: the Roosevelt who killed bears, Teddy Roosevelt, but not the Roosevelt in the wheelchair who presided over the Great Depression. No wonder Democrats are now saying they hate it.

I don’t know what P.J. O’Rourke is up to these days, so whether he had any direct input into Trump’s speech I have no idea. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But I’ll bet you anything that whatever combination of Trump and Trumpsters wrote Trump’s speech at the very least knew all about that O’Rourke piece. I’ll go further. I’ll bet Trump read that O’Rourke piece at some point in the 1980s, and remembered it, and said to his guys: “That’s what I want! Write me something like that!” And they did. Right up to the stuff about cars, and warships, and the Hoover Dam, and about how “there is nothing we can’t do”.

Even if you hate everything about P.J. O’Rourke and everything about Trump and if you especially hate Trump’s speech the other day, you surely may still be agreeing about the O’Rourke echoes I think I heard.

If I’m right, then this is a story which confirms something else I am fond of telling anyone who will listen, which is that all the people alive now will, in thirty or forty years time, either be thirty or forty years older, or dead. You can tell a lot about the world now, by asking what people in their teens and twenties were getting excited about, thirty or forty years ago. There will be more of that.

Of course, I loved Trump’s speech, just as I loved that P.J. O’Rourke Ferrari piece. God is a figment of the human imagination, but setting that quibble aside, may He Bless America.

First photos with the FX150

I can still remember the Great Leap Forward that the Panasonic Lumix FZ150 “bridge” camera was. For me if not for all of photoer-kind. For me, the best “bridge camera” I could have was my perfect camera. Tons of zoom, but no faffing about with different lenses to at once capture whatever sscene presented itself to me, near or far.

I went rootling through the photo-archives looking for some early photos I photoed with this wondrous new contrivance, looking at the first photo-expeditions I embarked upon, along the River, to the Victoria Docks, or just to Westminster Abbey and Bridge, to photo my fellow photoers, to pick out some photos that brought back the shock of pleasurable surprise I had when I first got my hands on it.

But then I realised I was looking in the wrong place. What I needed to see were not merely some “early” photos, photoed days or even weeks after I got this super-camera. What I wanted to see were the absolute first photos I took with this camera, on January 26th 2012.

And the very first one of all was this:

That scene, of my kitchen window and surroundings as seen from my swivel chair around which most of my life revolves, if you get my meaning. (It’s the chair that does the actual revolving.) I am happy to report that the big grey Thing, bottom left, which was for making ice, has been replaced by a slightly bigger black box, which also makes ice, and also looks after food of many other sorts, including in particular ice cream. Otherwise, nothing has changed.

On each side of the window are CD shelves, and the next few photos I photoed were all close-ups of CDs, edge on:

That was when it hit me, and I believe I can still remember this glorious moment. This was the camera I had been waiting for, all my life. The key point was not just that these were successful photos of distant details. I can tell from the numbering of these photos in the archive that there were no failures. None. All of my first dozen or so photos with this new camera came out fine, even the one of my pop music department, which was where it still is, way off to the left and way up near the ceiling.

Only the following day did I photo anything beyond my front door.

The first outdoor photo I photoed with my new FZ150 was this, dated January 27th, i.e. the following day, just before it got dark:

That’s looking across Vincent Square at the building activity in and around Victoria Street, which has been pretty much continuous, one place or another, for the last decade. Mmmmmm, cranes.

Since then, I have upgraded to the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 and then to the FZ330. But they are both really just the FZ150 with frills added. If my current camera, the FZ330 were to be snatched away from me, and I was given another FZ150 and told that this would be my last camera, I’d not be that bothered. Were I told that I would have to go back to the crappy camera I had before the FZ150, that would be a disaster. Soon after acquiring this FZ150, I wrote about it at some length for Samizdata. This confirms what, up until re-reading that, I had merely remembered. The FZ150 really was a huge step forward.

Hurrah for capitalism. It really is ridiculous that the world’s schools are now cranking out a whole new generation of nitwits, an appallingly significant proportion of whom seem genuinely to want to put a stop to this glorious process.

A building can be both an attack on the soul and beautiful

Western Traditionalist says:

Brutalism is an attack on the soul.

And whoever Western Traditionalist is, he or she illustrates this opinion with the following photo, of a building and a sculpture:

This building is the Torre Velasca in Milan, and it would appear that Western Traditionalist found the above photo of it at Wikipedia, where you can learn more about what I think is a very handsome building.

As “brutalism” goes, I don’t believe that the Torre Velasca is especially brutal. I recall liking this building very much, when I was trying to become an architect myself, half a century ago.

But I want to assert an idea that is perhaps rather individual. I agree that “brutalism” was indeed an “attack on the soul”, in the sense that its purpose was, aesthetically speaking, to batter people into accepting it as desirable architecture, rather than in any way charm or please them. And, I now like a lot of the surviving relics of brutalism. Definitely including the not-very-brutalist tower in the photo above.

How come? Well, let me ask you something. Do you think that the castles built by the Norman monarchs of England are beautiful? Many do, now. Thousands visit them, and are charmed by them. But it is undeniable that these buildings, when first built, were “attacks on the soul”, the souls of the native English, whom the Normans were busy subjugating with great brutality. Great brutalism, you might say. Those Norman castles were exercises in military intimidation, not attempts to be the tourist traps that they now are.

Brutalism owes much of its inspiration to military constructions built by the Nazis during World War 2, in places like the northern coastline of France, prior to the Normandy landings. And for as long as brutalism was on the march, so to speak, and threatening the houses and neighbourhoods of the world with demolition, people hated brutalism, and with bloody good reason. People hate any architectural style that seems to be coming straight at them, while seeming not to give a damn what they think of it. Remember that “brutalism” wss the name given to the style by those who invented and preached it. This was not merely an insult label pinned on “brutalism” by enemies and then adopted ironically. The brutalists gloried in being brutal. They were attacking souls.

But so what? Now that brutalism has been stopped in its tracks, is now in retreat, and has become a deeply conservative – indeed downright antiquarian – exercise in conservation and preservation rather than the radical act of aesthetic bullying that it began as, there is no reason for us to be intimidated by it any longer. Brutalism is now picturesque, just like those Norman castles are. And I for one like its surviving structures for exactly the same sorts of reasons that I and millions of others also like Norman castles. Brutalist shapes are interesting rather than always drearily rectangular, their rugged bulk possessing the charm of a mountain range. And I know that me liking these edifices in this kind of way would annoy the annoying people who first unleashed this style, that being, for me, another feature rather than a bug. I hate the idea that anti-brutalists, in the grip of the sort of analysis I have supplied in my previous paragraphs, and egged on by people like Western Traditionalist, might one day destroy all these buildings.

SpaceX building fewer rockets

Most of the news today seems to be particular bad. But not this:

SpaceX has gotten good enough at reuse that it’s building fewer rockets.

Space travel is finally getting back to being as fun to follow as it was when they did moon landings. The big difference this time round is that then, money was no object. Now, money very much is an object. Huge improvement.

Crowd scenes by the River a year ago

On June 30th 2019, I was out walking, beyond and then on Tower Bridge, then back along the south side of the River, and then across to Embankment Tube and home. Here are some photos from that day, of crowd scenes:

At the time, I often thought I was photoing something quite other than mere people, in a crowd. At the time, the mere fact of lots of people all bunched up together didn’t mean much. It does now.

Civilised disagreement works better face-to-face (therefore cities have a future)

The present dose of Plague History we’re having has caused much pessimism concerning the future of big, densely packed cities. Being an enthusiast for big city architecture, especially the seriously big and eye-catching sort, I am now more than ever on the lookout for people saying things about why cities confer, and will continue to confer, an advantage upon all those who live and work in them.

So, I particularly noticed this Bo Winegard tweet, when I encountered just now:

It depresses me how quickly a person on twitter can go from disagreeing with you to cursing and insulting you. Strikes me that there’s probably an evolutionary mismatch because almost all of our interactions were face-to-face. People are much nicer when they have to look at you.

I think that captures a key advantage of face-to-face communication, which is that it makes it more likely that those face-to-face communicating are that bit more likely to do it like ladies and gentlemen rather that like loutesses and louts.

I think people on twitter shout, so to speak, partly because they can. But also, maybe, because they feel they have to, to get their point across. If you do one of those oh-so-gently meaningful and very politely phrased criticisms, on Twitter, or for that matter during a conference-at-a-distance, you are liable to fear that your point will get lost. Your iron fist will be completely smothered by the velvet gloves you chose to wear. Face-to-face, you can literally see and hear and feel your point getting across. Or not, in which case you can politely rephrase it.

Being able to disagree in a civilised manner, in a way that doesn’t leave lasting scars or permanent feuds, is fundamental to the successful functioning of any organisation.

My dad was a barrister, in American: a trial lawyer. British barristers are always careful to call each other “my learned friend”, and the more fiercely they are quarrelling, the more they are careful to scatter these words upon all the insults they trade. That always used to amuse me, when my dad talked about it. But an important point was embodied in such drollery, not least because dad often spelled it out explicitly. When arguing, be polite. The more fiercely you argue, the more important politeness becomes. Twitter seems to make that harder. Face-to-face communication makes it easier.

So, cities will survive. Face-to-face communication is now one of their core purposes.

John Duffin painting on Blackfriars Bridge ten years ago

Ten years plus a few days ago, I was checking out the work that was beginning to be done making the new BlackFriars Bridge railway station. And today, I checked out the resulting photos, Here are six of them:

Photo 2: Sampson House and Ludgate House, again. Photo 4: The Shard, just getting started. Soon after those photos, I photoed that black bus.

It was a somewhat gloomy day, and my camera wasn’t as good as what I have now, so I was glad to come across a couple of photos of a painting. And because I took such a good note of the painting, in the form of a photo of the painting and of its title and creator – memo to self: always do this – I was able quickly to track down a better digital version of the painting:

Reminds me of this photo of mine, but it’s far less of a muddle.

John Duffin, it would appear, sees London in the same way I do and, I’m guessing, the way lots of others do. He pays attention to landmark buildings, and all those bridges of course, and kind of recedes everything else more into the background. Cameras don’t discriminate. You have to point them at particular things if you want them to emphasise those things. Otherwise, to emphasise this or that, you have to do bullshit graphics manipulation. Or if you can’t or won’t do that (that would be me), write an essay.

I thought: does John Duffin have a website? Of course he does.

Here are a couple more Duffins:

On the left, many more London bridges, from the Albert (I think) Bridge in the foreground, all the way to Tower Bridge. And on the right, oh look, that’s Lord’s cricket ground. Nice player shadows.

I love how, with a camera, and provided you photoed notes as well as photos, you can pick up where you left off a decade ago.