Tuesday, 29 September 2020
Friday, 25 September 2020
I found myself alone in London one day, heading to a book launch promising a keynote lecture by Stephen Greenblatt, the Renaissance expert. It was quite disappointing so I won't dwell on it, but it did give me the chance to go up the Shard to do some photography. Not being a London resident, I don't mind it (other than morally): if I lived within sight of it, I'd be looking out Guy Fawkes's old recipe books. But on the basis that the only place your eyes can't be soiled by ugliness is from within said monstrosity, I bought a day-and-night ticket and paid two visits, sandwiched by the nibbles-and-anecdotes act from the august professor (surrounded, I'm sorry to say, by people who clearly thought they were the embodiment of a new Renaissance and whom either Cromwell would happily have flayed alive).
The Shard itself is clearly a monument to and a mausoleum of speculative capitalism: most of the floors were empty and the residential spaces are simply glass-and-titanium piggy banks for various shady types, but the experience was still fun. I enjoyed the Americans in the lift explaining that £35 was a lot of money for a building and a view which were both disappointing compared with the big tower in Jacksonville. Judge for yourself. I enjoyed the people on the viewing platform, discussing mortgages and yoga classes while staring idly out at one of the world's most historic and cosmopolitan cities. I appreciated the wit of an architect who designed a photography deck encased in blurry, highly-reflective glass, and I enjoyed the way the price of a cup of tea rose exponentially the higher you got up this glorious folly.
Is it better than Jacksonville? Well, given that the view encompasses every postcard of London you can buy, plus the opening credits of Eastenders and Yes Minister, I'd have to say yes, despite never having had the pleasure of Jacksonville or indeed Florida (I've been to Fayetteville, AR and Austin, TX: that's quite enough). By day, the scale of the city and its geography are revealed. By night, the city as a set of networks becomes clear. However, I'm always a bit dubious about these superior-perspective panoramas: they encourage a sense of domination, rendering the messy life of ordinary humanity invisible. It's no coincidence that mountaineering, hobby flying, aerial photography and aerial bombing were largely pioneered by the same small clique of extremely rightwing men in the early decades of the 20th century.
Thursday, 10 September 2020
These are from a visit to Calke Abbey in Derbyshire. It's very much a place that evokes differing reactions. The National Trust took it over from the last scion of the dynasty that built it, an old man who'd retreated to a room or two in this massive mansion as the impossibility of upkeep overwhelmed him. Rather than restore the place fully, the trust stabilised the building and its contents at the point they took possession. To people wanting to glory in the possessions and hegemony of the ruling classes, it's a deeply unsettling place: to those for whom 'mutatis mutandem' holds no fears it's an object lesson in decay…or perhaps progress: the best the National Trust could do for the family was to note that one of them once declined to attend a public hanging. While they owned vast estates, they made absolutely no contribution to public life, preferring (as the endless rooms of taxidermy attest) to shoot anything that moved across several continents. It's enough to make one turn to Matthew Arnold whose habitual term for the toffs was 'Barbarians'.
Tuesday, 1 September 2020
Yes, more pictures of horses and people at the world-famous (in Kerry) Puck Fair and the lesser-known Beaufort Threshing Fair - from 2015 this time.