Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Europe’s tallest building, London’s Shard, was completed recently – 1016 feet, 309.6 metres high. It’s by Renzo Piano and is a welcome change from the unimaginative slab-sided blocks so often put up by greedy developers – but then it is financed by Qatar, which can afford imagination. Some people loath it, but I find it dramatic and exciting.


A friend sent me a link to a marvellous site where a photographer has constructed a 360 degree picture of London from the top (more or less) of the Shard.  http://www.willpearson.co.uk/virtual-tour/shard-360-dusk/

You can rotate it slowly or faster (beware of motion sickness …), look up or down, and zoom a considerable degree to close-up on buildings or see distant sights.  The Houses of Parliament are rather obscured by the photograph’s watermarks, and because they are behind the London Eye giant ferris wheel, but the photographer having made this amazing panorama available, he’s entitled to protect it.

Further down the website there are other very interesting panorama views of parts of London, one showing City Airport and just how tight the runway is – there is a special steep descent and ascent for which pilots have to be especially trained.  That sounds a bit stomach-tightening, but I’ve flown in and out of there and didn’t really notice.

For those who don’t know London, I’ll just explain one thing.  The battleship moored on the Thames close to the Shard is HMS Belfast, a retired Royal Navy light cruiser which is now a floating museum (and a great visit).

There are some stunning pictures of the building itself from The Telegraph’s site (from which the photo at the top comes) which is here



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On Arts and Letters Daily, to which I am addicted, I found today a wonderful story explaining in some detail how the precious collections of ancient manuscripts and books in Timbuktu had been saved from the destructive rage of the Islamist occupiers.

As you may remember, the first reports as the French were advancing on the city were grim. As the Islamists prepared to flee, they had torched or otherwise destroyed some of the libraries.  As they had earlier destroyed many of the holiest Sufi shrines, because their austere Salafist belief was that they were idolatrous, it was easy to believe.

Shortly after the French took over, the reports said that it was not too grim. Many of the manuscripts had been saved.

Now the Harpers article relayed by ALDaily today explains what actually happened – that hundreds of thousands of items were packed in small metal trunks and buried, secreted in secret rooms in the mud-walled houses, or sent by boat upstream on the Niger to the safer areas of the south of Mali.  Every trunk was coded to index its contents.

One man, whose family has one of the major collections in private hands,  organised this immense work – and retains one of the keys to each of the double-locked trunks.  He was interviewed in the capital, Bamako, where he and his family had taken refuge after fleeing Timbuktu ahead of the Islamists. He did not disclose to the interviewer, who had previously met him in Timbuktu, where his keys were …

The Islamists did trash and torch some libraries, but they were in fact empty.

It is an inspiring story which I commend to you.  You will find the link to it on the left-hand side of the ALDaily page, under Nota Bene, which is always a fun read. And also on the left-hand side is the most amazing collection of links to magazines and newspapers throughout the (English speaking) world.

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My Commonplace Book

Some excerpts from my commonplace book (kept on my computer and not, as it should be, in elegant handwriting on a Regency desk):


The first law of science: for every observable effect, there is a physical cause.


“The psychology of bad decision making is rooted in confidence based on incrementally bad behaviour without adverse outcomes.”


FRIAR BARNARDINE. Thou hast committed —-
BARABAS. Fornication: but that was in another country;
And besides, the wench is dead.

Christopher Marlowe‘s play The Jew of Malta,


There are no vital and significant forms of art; there is only art, and precious little of that. The growth of populations has in no way increased the amount; it has merely increased the adeptness with which substitutes can be produced and packaged.

Raymond Chandler


I’m accustomed to my deafness
To my dentures I’m resigned
I can cope with my bifocals
But, Oh dear, I miss my mind.

Doctor Sparrow, Warden of All Souls

One cataract I’ve had corrected
The other in two weeks too
To specs I’ll be unconnected
But I still must stay close to the loo

Barry Anderson


David Broder, the former Washington Post commentator, defined what a newspaper was.  He called it:

“… a partial, hasty, incomplete, inevitably somewhat flawed and inaccurate rendering of some of the things we heard about in the past 24 hours … distorted despite our best efforts to eliminate gross bias by the very process of compression that makes it possible for you … to read it in about an hour.”


“He first deceas’d; she for a little tri’d
To live without him: lik’d it not, and di’d.”


More at some later time …


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A lot of time during my absence was spent watching on-line the live proceedings of the UK’s Leveson Enquiry into phone hacking and other misdeeds of the tabloid newspapers, notably those in the Murdoch stable, bribing police and other officials, and general abusive invasion of the privacy of individuals, from the famous to the unknown.

It was often riveting viewing, with Rupert and James Murdoch, the editors of all the national newspapers and many provincial titles, photographers, agencies specializing in papparazi shots, and so forth facing – on oath – penetrating, sometimes savage, questioning by the lead counsel, Robert Jay, or the stunning assistant counsel Carine Patry-Hoskins.

Jay was almost permanently aggressive, excepts with victims of the press. Miss Patry-Hoskins charmed them with a radiant smile – then gently put questions every bit as penetrating as Jay’s, and, still smiling, never let anyone wriggle off the hook.

I was particularly interested in Max Mosley’s testimony. You may or may not recall that Max, the former head of auto racing worldwide as President of the FIA (International Automobile Federation) was exposed, in secret pictures and video, as holding sado-masochistic sessions with a group of prostitutes, by the defunct News of the World  (commonly known as the News of the Screws).  I was interested because I’ve known Max well for some 40 years though my motor racing activities.

Presiding over all this, and charged with writing a “what can be done?” report for the government, was the erudite Lord Justice Leveson, generally courteous and urbane. But he cracked the whip when he thought it necessary, and was especially hard on newspapers who reported things from the enquiry he had not approved for publication.

His report is a large tome, but the nub of it was that there should be a new, independent and fast-acting Press Complaints Commission. Legislation would be passed to “protect the freedom of the press, reassure the public and validate the new body”.

The proposal for a law even in those terms brought instant howls of “a slippery slope to censorship” from the press and most journalists.  (This one disagrees, seeing no such lurking threat).

And what has this got to do with gay marriage, the law for which is being voted on tomorrow (as I write) in the House of Commons?

When the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller, was asked why the government would not support Leveson’s recommendation of legislative support for the Press Commission, she said it was because some time in the future, a government might sneak an amendment into the bill which would restrict the freedom of the press. (Which of course no one would notice !)

When she was asked recently if the provision in the gay marriage bill stating that churches would not be obliged to conduct gay marriages against their principles was be absolute and unchanging, she said that of course they would never be so obliged.  That was in the law now to be passed….

PS: A similar measure has been put forward by the French government, which is calling it “marriage for all” to try to avoid the gay marriage label. A sarcastic French blogger recently suggested that meant legal marriage for polygamists and polyandrists, within families (i.e. incestuous marriages) for animals, for the under-aged …


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I’ve just finished “Just My Type” by Simon Garfield, a delightful, quirky and often very funny book about the history and development of type faces from Gutenberg to ebooks. Even if you don’t know or care about the difference between Caslon and Palatino, it’s a good read.  In fact, I had to ration my reading or I would have finished it at a sitting.

It explains why, to experts and many other people, Comic Sans is the worst typeface ever designed for general use. And there are weird fonts (the two words are now used interchangeably, though they originally had different meanings). Try Jesus Loves You All, every letter bristling with thorns, or I Don’t Know.  The latter was created by a type designer just so he could say, when asked to identify what it was …

There are fascinating stories of the type designers, often off-beat, like Luc(as) de Groot, who designed Jesus Loves You All but far more significantly, indeed of world importance, Calibri, Microsoft’s font of choice for Word. Garfield starts by saying he was in a garden in Berlin as de Groot started telling him why he had decided to spell his first name with brackets – then maddeningly doesn’t tell the reader.

And the quick brown fox ?  Here is a YouTube video of it actually happening .

Garfield gives examples in other languages:

Zweedse ex-vips geven behoorlijk quantumfysica.

and : Portez ce vieux whisky au juge blond qui fume

As usual, Wiki has these pangrams in umpteen languages. so to honour LH and inspire him to extend his collection:

(each letter exactly once) Эх, чужак, общий съём цен шляп (юфть) – вдрызг!

  • Hey, stranger, the general takings from prices of hats (made from a thick leather) have completely crashed!

I was taught an English version that went : The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back, though writing ‘jumps’ makes it a few letters shorter…

PS: More on Norway shortly.

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… we’ve done an amount of travelling.  The sensational trip was a Hurtigruten voyage from Bergen up the Norwegian fjord coast to the North Cape, and on to Kirkenes, 10 kilometres from the Russian frontier.

The Hurtigruten line has 11 boats that sail daily up and down the coast. Originally a mail and ferry service, it has developed also – and that is important -into a cruise line.  Important because the primary function is still to serve the communitites on that coast, some accessable only by sea.

So the ships run 24 hours a day and stop quite frequently, sometimes only for 15 minutes in little villages, three or four hours in major towns to allow sightseeing.  People use them as ferries from town to town, with or without their cars that drive on board though a giant door in the side of the hull which lets down to serve as the ramp to the quay.

An example was a Somali woman who came on board somewhere short of the North Cape and apparently got off before we reached Kirkenes.  An interesting comment on our times, we thought.

The North Cape is famous as the most notherly point in continental western Europe, even though it isn’t. That is actually on an island (now with a short tunnel to the mainland) and the real northernmost point is a cape a couple of kilometres along the coast.  Somehow history and the tourism industry got it wrong.

The island does boast the northernmost beach.


The locals call it Ipanema…

We went in the first week of April, which had advantages.  Everywhere was snow-covered and thus the contrast with what we were used to (particularly for the Australian friends we went with) was the stronger. And we started with the magic day-long train ride from Oslo over the mountains to Bergen, which I last did in 1960 or ’61, but the memory remained.

And the boat – the Nordkapp, North Cape – had only 290 of the potential 600 passengers, and we found that already somewhat crowded.

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I was gently chided recently by Language Hat for not having posted for some 18 months. Commenting on an email I had sent him, he said : You ought to have a blog.”

A remarkable invention with immense humanitarian potential has led me into doing that, because I think the whole world – or at least my handful of Gentle Readers – should know about it. perhaps they can spread the word.

It is a very cheap, wind-powered, re-usable device to clear landmines by exploding them. Afghanistan alone is estimated to have 10 million concealed landmines.

mine kafon 1

A steel ball core with a GPS chip maps the safe path it creates.

It rolls on 150 bamboo stamen with cheap plastic springs and plates on them. When all are destroyed, the core remains and it is rebuilt simply with more bamboo and cheap plastic. It is designed for local people to be able to use and re-build.

mine kafon 2

Mine Kafon is “something which explodes” in the Dari language, according to Le Monde, where I saw it first. (Typically, because it has been selected for exhibition at New York’s Museum Of Modern Art, it was on a culture page…)

It is really worth a couple of minutes watching the inventor’s video and particularly the film below it, and reading his blog-notes at http://minekafon.blogspot.co.uk/

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