Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Brussels Midwinter

Scenes from the wintry streets of the Belgian capital just after the war, part of a batch of found photographs taken by a British serviceman on duty in Northern Europe.  They make an interesting record of the city in painful transition from war into peace.  Powdery snow gathers between the cobblestones and freezes in the gutters while pedestrians hunch up against the cold. The swastikas have been burned and the streets are free of the emblems of occupation. Commercial life is returning and the trams are running.  There are posters on display in the Place de Brouckère for Un Bal Surréaliste at the Academie du Beaux Arts (Salle de la Madeleine) on February 8th. - a frivolity that could never have happened under occupation. With privately owned vehicles in short supply, traffic is light and there are long queues at the tram stop. Some landmark buildings can be identified including the Monumental Palais de Justice and the Hotel Metropole (which closed in 2020). The photographer has composed with care and discovered unexpected poetry in the near deserted cobbled streets dusted with snow.


Monday, 25 October 2021

Airborne over the Great Orme

Situated to the north west of the North Wales seaside resort of Llandudno is the Great Orme, a chunky limestone headland, operated as a country park and nature conservation area. Copper mining has left behind a vast and only partially explored network of tunnels that have been made into a visitor attraction. A tramway opened in 1902 to link the town below with the summit and now provides an anachronistic visitor experience in open sided vehicles driven by a continuous running cable embedded in the trackway.  In 1969 a Cable Car began to offer an additional connection with the town with 20 cabins in circulation at intervals of one minute. For the voyeuristically inclined this aerial parade of 4 person pods makes for an interesting spectacle.  From the slopes below it’s easy to observe the various behaviours the overhead voyagers display - some are absorbed in recording a movie on their mobiles while others affect an air of lofty indifference as they sail by.  Visually, the point where the cars cross is the most striking as the space between contracts and expands.  These photos were taken in September 2016.


Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Postcard of the Day No. 104, East is West (1922)

Constance Talmadge (1898-1973) was a star of the silent screen who made her mark in 1918 when she appeared in D W Griffith’s “Intolerance” but her days in front of the camera would be relatively brief.  With the advent of sound in 1928 she retired in favour of making money from real estate. A handful of crew plus an umbrella and some auxiliary lighting seems to be enough. The movie is identifiable as “East is West”, made in 1922 with Constance playing the part of Ming Toy. Ming escaped from the notorious Love Boat in Shanghai only to find herself pursued by Charlie Yong (“Fifty-fifty Chinaman”) in San Francisco's Chinatown where she was again threatened with white-slavery. Straight arrow Billy Benson saved her from a fate worse than death for the second time. History doesn’t record much about the audience response but the movie had been judiciously calculated to feed into contemporary fears of all things oriental as represented by the Yellow Peril and it would be a disappointment if all their worst efforts had been in vain. It turned out to be one of Hollywood’s more forgettable movies but the director, Sidney Franklin went on to enjoy a long and prolific career including directing “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” twice (1934 and 1957) employing the same script, word for word, on both films.  According to Imperial Tobacco (see below), Constance was noted in Hollywood for her inexhaustible supply of “pep”.


Monday, 4 October 2021

Hermits - an investment opportunity.

On a recent visit to the splendid ruins of Restormel Castle we learned that the 13th. century Earl of Cornwall had a personal team of hermits who, in return for scraps of food and some primitive accommodation, would pray for his continuing prosperity and the gift of eternal life.  It would be fascinating to learn how the Earl measured the productivity of his hermits but should his fortunes decline, the hermits would be on hand to take the blame.  There’s something darkly impressive about engaging the services of those whose lives are dedicated to abstinence, piety and penury to intercede with a higher power in the interests of wealth accumulation and the more I think about it, the more it feels like an idea whose time has come again.  Surely Jeff Bezos’s gilded existence could only be enhanced by the addition of a handful of hermits on his payroll. It’s just a matter of convincing him that their modest running costs and exemption from the minimum wage would make a cost effective investment. His duty of care to the hermits could be discharged by a daily drone delivery of subsistence rations direct to their home pods.  Devising performance metrics for the power of prayer should be a simple matter for the digital wizards at Mr. Bezos’s disposal.  Those hermits whose performance is most convincing could be rewarded with ice-cold showers and a reduced food allowance to elevate their sense of self-denial - making them the only group of workers who can be incentivised by reductions in their pay and conditions.  All that remains is to find an accountant to make a persuasive case for hermit expenses to be tax deductible.

There’s a clear gap in the market here for an online agency to recruit and supply hermits to high net worth individuals.  For now we must recruit from the human population but before long advances in Artificial Intelligence should enable us to offer fully automated robotic hermits, leaving humans to do what they do best - delivering parcels and driving HGVs. Prospective hermits would require positive references from senior clergy and come fully vetted for unacceptable behaviours and socialist tendencies.  Only those anchorites with the greatest experience in achieving the transfer of wealth from those who possess the least to those whose need is least, in a morally justifiable way will be offered for service.  All world religions (except Brexit) can be catered for if spiritual needs should change. Fees will have to reflect the costs of all due diligence but once installed your hermit will be fully operational at minimal expense and you can look forward to a lifetime of conscience-free wealth accumulation. What follows is a draft business proposition aimed at Mr. Jacob Rees-Mogg, who would seem to be the ideal client.

As a senior Cabinet Minister and family man, you will be more than familiar with the issue of time-pressures. We are writing to offer our services to solve the competing demands of the spiritual and the material in your all too busy life.  So often it is the spiritual side of our lives that is neglected in favour of our duties and responsibilities to our family and our employer.  It may not have occurred to you that the perfect solution to this may be found in your own government’s policy of outsourcing and privatisation.  Why not outsource your own spiritual responsibilities and engage the services of a hermit at virtually no cost to yourself?  Those like yourself with the deepest spiritual commitment may find a hermit multi-pack even more advantageous.  As well as praising God with impressive intensity and efficiency our fully trained hermits will pray for the success of your political ambitions and business interests.  Their frugality can be offset against the environmental costs of your own lifestyle enabling you to become fully sustainable.  Our hermit planning services can supply nutritional guidance and advise on minimal standards of hermit accommodation - we can even visit your property and indicate the best sites for the modern hermitage. Rest assured that our hermits have been comprehensively vetted for displeasing habits and offensive ideologies. Fees will have to reflect the costs of all due diligence but once installed your hermit will be fully operational at minimal expense and you can look forward to a lifetime of conscience-free wealth accumulation.