New motherhood is like a trip to a foreign country: Flatlands

Here’s a recent visual experiment that I made in the stolen moments of Beano’s naps. The setting is the 3-room rental flat we used to stay in, a very mundane 3-room “New Generation” (slab block) default template HDB flat built back in the 70s and 80s. And I think I’ve finally found a way to explain this thing that I’ve tried to explain many times before (but struggle to explain, similar to how its hard to explain my experience of taste-shape and mirror-touch synthesthesia).

For me, at any one time I always feel other superimpositions or juxtapositions of other places that feel a bit like memory palaces where I can store facts, thoughts, and memories of another time. Its hard to explain, but it is like when you have a work phone call, you might start doodling nonsense on a piece of paper. But in my case, when I start to daydream or let the mind wander (also: this happens when I am extremely focused on an urgent task and everything else zones out), I always end up recalling a visual memory of a place I’ve visited in the past. I am imagining tracing out its contours, I am imagining what the details must be like, what the lighting must be like. Honestly, I can’t really explain why certain views for me just keep popping up as the ‘memory palace’, as some of the locations are pretty inconsequential and emotionally insignificant to me. Yet! My mind returns to them for further rumination. To what end? I do not know.

I began writing the following some time back when Beano was a much smaller baby. But now that we are all locked down at home for the corona, and I haven’t left the house and its vicinity in days, fleeting memories of parks I’ve walked in come to mind. I found myself scrubbing through these albums trying to find the name of a particular memory that may as well be a dream. There was something oddly compelling about these images I had taken of my walks and frustratingly I COULD NOT FIND THAT ONE IMAGE OF THAT ONE WALK IN MY MIND. And turns out some of these images are pretty weird. Why are there no people in them?

It was always in the back of my mind to do something with this huge lot of photographs, so…. now they have ended up in this visual experiment. I actually think it looks better than I expected it; so I think I might even make more of them soon…


New motherhood is like a trip to a foreign country. Firstly, the middle of the night feedings are conducted in near-darkness, with the endless droning of the white noise machine in the background, and some random show on Netflix playing to sustain your consciousness beyond all normal hours lest you fall asleep on the sofa and baby accidentally rolls off; not unlike when one takes a plane and night-time is arbitrarily enforced upon you, the sound of the engines whirring is ubiquitous, and all you’ve got to watch are some random blockbusters or episodes of Big Bang Theory on the inflight.

When Beano was very very small, I found myself trying to claw back a sense of mobility through a series of ever increasingly longer walks with Beano strapped to me. In some ways, this strategy reminds of me of the Capital Ring walk I did in 2017. Living in Greater London makes one feel crushed by one’s own insignificance in a big city that is too vast to know by foot, so I thought I’d try to complete a ring around the city.

Once upon a time I was going to do a detailed expository blog post for each leg but AINT NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT so here are quite simply the photo albums for each leg of the walk…

Debbie’s 2017 Capital Ring Walk!

The source material for “Flatlands”

“I decided to walk the supposedly 78 mile Capital Ring over 6 consecutive days. I say “supposedly”, for Debbie does not go “as the crow flies” but rather haphazardly in a squiggly line all over the map, and according to other mapping devices it seems I may have walked more than 150 miles in total. Rather than starting with the traditional route as listed in TFL’s maps and David Sharp’s guide book to the Capital Ring, I decided to start and end my journey at Stoke Newington’s Rochester Castle.”

14 March 2017: CAPITAL RING Stoke Newington to Woolwich

Day 1: Stoke Newington to Hackney Wick
Day 1: Hackney Wick to Beckton District Park
Day 1: Beckton District Park to Woolwich Foot Tunnel

15 March: CAPITAL RING

Day 2: Woolwich Foot Tunnel to Falconwood
Day 2: Falconwood to Grove Park

16 March 2017: CAPITAL RING

Day 3: Grove Park to Crystal Palace
Day 3: Crystal Palace to Streatham Common

17 March 2017: CAPITAL RING

Day 4: Streatham Common to Wimbledon Park
Day 4: Wimbledon Park to Richmond

18 March 2017: Capital Ring

Day 5: Richmond to Osterley Lock
Day 5: Osterley Lock to Greenford
Day 5: Greenford to South Kenton

19 March 2017: CAPITAL RING

Day 6: South Kenton to Hendon Park
Day 6: Hendon Park to Highgate
Day 6: Highgate to Stoke Newington

Looking for the gravestone of Raffles: A walk through Dollis Valley Greenway, Dollis Brook Viaduct, and St Mary’s Hendon

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One dreary winter morning I decided to walk from Totteridge & Whetstone to Hendon, following the Dollis Brook southwards. The Dollis Valley Greenwalk is actualy a linkway between the Capital Ring and the London Loop, and goes all the way from Hampstead Heath up to Barnet. The area surrounding it is a leafy and very residential suburban neighbourhood with lots of hills and obviously as its name suggests the Greenwalk is at the bottom of the valley itself. As for the totter of the ridge, Totteridge is supposed to be the ridge or high point in that valley formation, possibly having been named after someone called Tata.

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A recurrent theme that I always see on my walks in London are balls. So many balls. Balls in water. Balls under trees. Balls balls balls. I myself do not know how to play with balls. First you throw them, then you have to go and get them back. It is so much work. Sometimes you can’t get the balls back. Its very difficult to play ball with yourself. The last time I brought a ball to the beach, I spent more time worrying that my ball was going to be permanently swept out to sea, so I had to forbid the throwing of balls. Maybe I am playing with balls completely wrongly. But look here! It looks like many people and their balls have been wilfully parted!

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There were reports just that morning (23 Feb) of gale force winds as a result of Storm Doris with people being apparently killed by trees being blown over. As it was to be expected, the Greenway was largely devoid of casual walkers beyond the odd dog walker, and I must say I did not like the loud CRACK sounds I kept hearing from overhead. I was compelled to sprint through parts of the Greenway due to a fear of being flattened by falling trees.

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See what I mean about balls? They are just everywhere.

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More sacrificial balls.

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Fursby Allotment is along this route.

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This greenway is even well-paved at points.

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And full of mushrooms, real and fake.

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The real highlight of this walk is the very magnificent Dollis Brook Viaduct.

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The Dollis Brook Viaduct is used by the Northern Line to carry trains going to and from Mill Hill East and Finchley Central. So the burning question in your mind (or at least mine) is: what is the difference between a bridge and a viaduct? Well I suppose that it is said that a viaduct is a special type of bridge which has many many little spans or arches underneath it, and which can go on for long distances over land (not just water). And all of these spans are also equal in size, forming a formidable sight through the valley. For me I think of the viaducts as a particularly ‘London’ sort of thing – it is so common to see urban rail lines constructed on top of these viaducts and often in more built-up areas the space underneath the railway arches are also turned into car repair shops, nightclubs, eateries, or put to other kinds of commercial or industrial uses.

Not long after this point, I decided to deviate off the Greenway, largely because the greenway has no rest stops or toilet facilities along the way (ARGH!!!), and if there were any, they were not visible to walkers following the path. However, I was saved – walkers may want to note that there are restrooms to the left side of the Hendon Cemetery and Crematorium.

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After this point I decided to take the bus a short distance into West Hendon: I had heard about Sir Stamford Raffles being buried in Hendon but had never seen the stone for myself before, so…

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I have to say it always surprises me how you can just walk into churches. I did worry that someone might walk in and think I was up to no good, scouring their floor in search of a gravestone…

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Prior to arriving I had searched on Findagrave.com which suggested he had a stone in the ground, as in this picture by David Conway in 2001. I’ve got to admit that this threw me off, because it has changed since then, and if you were to just search randomly as I did through the church grounds, it will take ages and ages…

Source: Findagrave.com

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Cue about 20 min of searching on the floor below all the chairs to find Raffles’ stone.

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I was about to give up when I started looking at pillars and there it was!

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Raffles died suddenly of apoplexy in Mill Hill at Highwood House – but because he had been against slavery, the vicar Theodor Williams (whose family had made its fortunes through the Jamaican slave trade) refused to allow him burial within the local parish church at the time, which was St Mary’s Hendon, resulting in his burial location not being known for quite some time. Various sources mention that his remains were found in a vault in 1914, and that a brass plaque (1887) and floor tablet had been incorporated into the building itself (1920s), but it appears that today only a brass plaque from 1887 remains.

The Walk:

 

Tally Sticks, Parliamentary Scrolls, and Vellum: A Visit to the Parliamentary Archives

I was very fortunate to have had the chance to visit the Parliamentary Archives, which holds the official records of the UK Parliament including acts, acts, journals, appeals, peerage claims, architectural plans, sessional papers, hansard (debates), various personal papers, etc.

The earliest document they hold is from 1497 for the House of Lords, and as for House of Commons the earliest they have is from 1547, but it would have been much earlier if not for the ‘tally sticks’ fire of 1834 and the small, unassuming “Jewel tower” standing across the road…

Apparently in 1834 the Exchequer/National Treasury had to dispose of a bunch of tally sticks, which were a physical form of accounting system that was becoming obsolete at the time. A primitive form of accounting which could be used even if you were totally illiterate, they were basically sticks marked with notches that were split lengthwise. These sticks were used to keep track of taxes that had been paid and an example of them can be seen here at the National Archives. Unfortunately the obsoleted sticks had their revenge just as they were being disposed of by being burnt in the basement of the House of Lords, resulting in a fire that consumed many records, except the ones in the Jewel Tower and ones that were furiously pushed to safety out of the window by a clerk…

We entered the grounds via Black Rod’s Garden Entrance, and having never come explicitly to see Big Ben and the other the “touristic” sights of London before, I was shocked at the extreme numbers of people walking all around in all directions. People of every size, colour, and age, milling about on the greens and all over the roads, in every direction! “Is there a protest? Is something special going on today?” “Are these people coming to a festival? Is this place like this because Theresa May was just appointed as PM? Or is it because of Brexit??” No. Just another day at Westminster, inundated with an endless stream of flashing cameras and transient sightseers who have come to see the spectacle of parliament…

The persistence of the monarchy in the UK is a curious anachronism. From the perspective of a visitor coming from a foreign republic, the notion of it doesn’t really bother me, but up close it is truly a very strange vestigial limb, wrapped up in a bizarre spectacle and ritual that I half-expect to be parody or a satire of itself.

We went up on an old lift and found ourselves in a maze of tiny passageways. The funny thing about very old and important buildings is that sometimes they seem to have been built for people who were much smaller, perhaps harking back to a time when the world’s population was also smaller. You couldn’t really expect to bring a big group through these tiny corridors, there just wouldn’t be any space!

For those uninitiated with televised broadcasts of the State opening of the UK Parliament at the start of each new parliamentary session, Black Rod (whose Garden Entrance we used) has a very visible role in the ceremony of the opening of Parliament and the Queen’s speech, where Black Rod (as representative of the Queen) summons the Commons to come to the Queen’s speech. As he approaches the door of the House of Commons the door is slammed in his face, symbolising the independence that the Commons have from the queen. He then uses his black rod to knock on the door 3 times and then is admitted in to summon the Commons to attend the Queen’s speech. (The short explanation of why this ritual exists is that in 1642 Charles I attempted to arrest 5 MPs which constituted a breach of the constitution, so the monarch’s representative has to ask to be let into the Chamber of the house of commons, symbolising the right of the commons to question the right of the monarch’s representative to enter the Chamber…)

We were shown the spot from which some strategic camera angles of the Queen are had… as the opening of this former ventilation chimney lies directly above the Sovereign’s Entrance.

“Hmm… did you say this entrance is only for the Queen? But the inside of this chamber is covered in pencils and small bits of stationery carelessly dropped in by other butterfingered visitors and researchers passing through! What will happen during the next opening?…”

Here is the famous room where all of the UK’s parliamentary acts are stored – a controlled climate room to keep over 60 thousand vellum scrolls in the best condition possible.

These are actually the first scrolls I’ve ever seen in my life in person (I’m definitely no medievalist!). All written in iron gall ink apparently. I’ve never had occasion to request for a document in scroll form from any archive or library in the past. In fact I’ve never had to think about real scrolls in this way before, or to have to use the word Codex to distinguish it from the Scroll. [Codex being individual sheets of vellum which are then bound along one side.

I think of the Page/Codex as the “older” format from which tyrannous Infinite Scroll has emerged out of. But historically, the scroll came first. To see the scrolls as retired format for the archive is vindication that the infinite scroll is indeed a regression in terms of design – an abomination of both readability and function. I hate the infinite scroll with no end in sight, which overwhelms with too much information and takes control away from the reader who may have wished to index, bookmark or access the text with more precision. Often it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint the location of the data that one wishes to find back later, especially if you have pressed the back button on an Ajax loaded infinite scroll. As for a page/codex format, even though one can only read one page at any one time, it is also easier to make a decision on whether any material of interest will be present in a document by reading one highly specific page, as opposed to skimming through a potentially infinite chunk.

Strangely when I look at these very old scrolls, I think of them almost as a painted landscape, of them painting an infinite, continuous history. (Also: I suppose that if the scrolls consisted of only visual material and formed a continuous narrative, perhaps I’d be less prejudiced against the infinite scroll itself…)

Another significant change has recently happened, or rather, NOT HAPPENED. Although legislation has been printed and paginated for quite some time, this year there was a big decision on the material to be used. Vellum which is made out of calfskin (actually sheep and goat too) has been the traditional material used to inscribe or print upon because of its longevity – it survives thousands of years and has enabled the persistence of documents in the parliamentary archives for a thousand years! (except for humidity and fire! it can’t do fire!) But earlier this year, the House of Lords debated that legislation should be printed on archival paper in order to save tens of thousands of pounds a year. The use of vellum was argued as being “vanity printing” and “frivolous flummery” in an age where efficient digital alternatives seem exist)… But of course this begs the question, how much trust can we put in digital alternatives? Can there really be any digital media storage solution which isn’t inherently unreliable or under the physical threat of becoming obsolete as a format further down the line, when we are talking about 500, 1000, 5000 year time scales?

Paper lasts around 200-500 years (probably more in the range of 200), but vellum purportedly can last 5000 years. The Domesday Book was written on vellum in 1086. The Magna Carta was put on vellum in 1215. Unbelievably we can still see those very documents today. Vellum from 600 can be found in excellent condition today. There is no telling how paper will survive beyond 200 years. So, although the material change would result in some savings for parliament, it might mean jeopardise the accessibility of historical documents in the long term future – assuming that we also believe that time will go on and switching to paper might even result in costly preservation issues in 200 years time!

At the time, Paul Wright, William Cowley’s general manager and Britain’s remaining maker of vellum was quoted in The Telegraph as saying: “What they have decided is that future generations will be denied the privilege of touching history and no man has the right to make that decision.”

Fortunately, after protests from MPs and many other supporters, it was decided that they would continue using vellum. The ability of people in over 500 years time to touch legislation made today may seem rather inconsequential in the short term, and obviously a vellum maker also has vested interests in the matter, but it touches on something quite important: indeed one may argue that we can let go of things, and sometimes we may even be forced to let go of things, but I think the desire to touch and hold these historic things in our own hands will continue to persist. A primal desire to prove its existence by squeezing it in our own hands, to have that personal tactile connection with something that we believe is real and authentic…

Here is the original FOI act printed on Vellum.

Thank you to archivist Mari Takayanagi for showing our group around the archives.


 

Update: On more recent attempts to gather galls to make Iron Gall Ink!

So all the acts were written in Iron Gall ink on Vellum. We know where the Vellum came from, but where does the iron gall ink come from? Where did it come from in the past? Was this ink imported, and where from?

At first, I began by doing the obvious – trying to find oak marble galls myself. Whenever I read online that galls are “widespread” around the world, I weep because for some reason, I must be living in an area of London that is somehow devoid of the specific wasps which are responsible for causing those characteristic oak marble galls.

After hours in my nearest park, Finsbury Park, I determined that there are probably only just 3 large English oak trees of note. You’d have thought there’d be more Kings of the Forest in there, but noooo, it is mainly populated with London Plane trees and a smattering of other trees including cedar, horse chestnut, holly, willow, lombardy poplar, beech, and a fair number of hornbeam trees. (NOTE: not an exhaustive list!)

English Oak

Baby Acorn (English Oak aka pedunculate oak has acorns with stalks, sessile oaks which are also known sometimes as irish oaks have stalkless acorns. These have got stalks)

Spangle Galls

Knopper Galls

Every acorn, a knopper gall!
Out of these three English Oak trees in Finsbury Park, two have a lot of galls on them, but only spangle galls and knopper galls. Funny enough, as I was searching for galls under the oak trees, I found myself being bizarrely hit on the head by a constant rain of knopper galls (the very things I came for!) as it turns out that there was a small squirrel very very high up in the tree trying to eat the baby acorns but it was discarding all the excrescences and throwing the gnarly bits down on to the ground!

Half eaten acorn, only excrescence is left!

The miscreant who is pelting me with galls
Anyway with my handful of knopper galls, I went home to read up more about galls, and on closer reading I realised that the Andricus kollari wasp itself responsible for galls was not introduced to the UK until the 1800s!!! In any case it is reported that galls on English Oak trees are ascertained to contain little tannic acid, and are of little value. I haven’t verified this properly but it seems Aleppo galls from Syria and Asia Minor are said to have been shipped over in boatloads to Europe for the production of iron gall ink???

THE SEARCH CONTINUES…

VATMESS: The Mini One-Stop Stupidity Shop

It seems appropriate to begin the first post breaking my long hiatus with a post about virtual entities being in Singapore whilst not being in Singapore. Hello! I’m still here! But where is here? I’m not in Singapore, but soon I will be. At times my location almost seems arbitrary; I am neither here nor there, but I’m online, which may as well be everywhere.

After a grueling 2015 and returning to London, I shrank away from the relentless public exhortations of social media, grew unreasonably incensed at the constant burden of interactivity, and even began a series of (incomplete) writing on my hatred for infinite scroll and other modern scourges of online interactivity. The benefit of withdrawing myself from the clatter of social media was that I found time to teach myself how to use tools like Unity, three.js, Blender and Meshmixer… so there’ll be more on those in upcoming posts…


But now! I recently read this page by Ghost Foundation moving to Singapore. The article sounds like it must be related to Singapore, but it is really not about Singapore. Singapore may as well not exist, except on paper as some almost-mythical stable benevolent friendly-tax offshore island. Ghost makes no real impact on Singapore by having been incorporated in Singapore, for it is merely a virtual marriage-of-convenience. I found it funny to see it was even reported as news by Channel News Asia (what passes muster for “news” in these parts… zzzz), and a little funny to read comments from Singaporeans getting excited and “welcoming” them to Singapore, when they have clearly stated on their post that they won’t be in Singapore (and therefore their virtual presence does not contribute directly to the tech startup scene in Singapore). They say they’re not doing it for tax avoidance but it basically sounds like tax obfuscation to me!

VAT rules however do seem completely obscure and confusing to consumers and small businesses owners/startups. I briefly entertained the thought of incorporating myself as a business in the UK the same way DBBD is registered as a company in Singapore (as a designer and builder of various curious interactive things). But after reading up on the VAT MOSS situation, it makes absolutely no sense to do so. I’m not even sure how many small business owners know about this.

VAT MOSS (Mini One-Stop Shop) was rolled out on 1 Jan 2015. This means now if a small/micro-business wants to sell an electronically supplied service (eg: electronic download, software update) to a consumer (non-business customer) within the EU, it needs to charge VAT at the rate applicable in the consumer’s location and remit this on quarterly returns via MOSS.

Yes, MOSS is the real name, so cue the GATHERING NO MOSS jokes and #VATMESS. They’ve named it MINI ONE STOP SHOP. With such a ridiculous name, it makes me feel as if the person who named it probably thinks the internet is a series of tubes and that you just press a button to turn on the tubes.

The implication is that small companies which may not have reached the taxable threshold are going to go from not paying VAT to filing for VAT MOSS 4 TIMES A YEAR all of a sudden, and are expected to collect a host of personal information from all its customers in order to determine which ones are from one of the 28 countries in the EU, and then they need to magically manage to apply the correct VAT rate to the purchase (there are apparently 81 different VAT rates??). And if that is not confusing enough, the proof of customer location (personally identifiable information) and must be securely (??) stored for 10 years by the company which is also required to register as a data controller (£35/year). (Additionally, not registered as a data controller when required to is a criminal offence… a provisionary glance I took at the ICO site suggests that the fine could be up to 5000 euros)

(For more facts see: EU VAT ACTION)

The key term here seems to be ‘electronically supplied’ as opposed to having “human intervention”. The European Commission’s explanatory notes (Annex on Page 86) writes:

‘Electronically supplied services’ as referred to in Directive 2006/112/EC shall include services which are delivered over the Internet or an electronic network and the nature of which renders their supply essentially automated and involving minimal human intervention, and impossible to ensure in the absence of information technology.

 

From HMRC: VAT MOSS – So apparently if you “manually” attach a PDF, it is not covered under VAT MOSS. But if you “manually email” an upload link, it’s covered under VAT MOSS?? Looks like these people have never attached a document and found it too big so you have to upload it elsewhere and send someone a link.

The directive which the definition is taken from is from 2006. How seriously outdated is that? In the last 8 years, a lot has changed about the internet, and the range of electronic products and services offered. To put things into context, I first started learning programming 7 years ago and in those 7 years in my role as an interactive designer/developer all the technologies have changed, the modes of distributing information have completely changed, internet selling/services have totally changed.

VAT MOSS rules currently lack a nuanced understanding of how quickly the internet changes and grows, and this is causing senseless confusion because there is no logical line on what constitutes sufficient human intervention in a lot of new scenarios that are emerging.

To me this sounds a lot like this:

Who wrote the rules for VAT MOSS? What are their credentials, or interests, and do they know anything about how the internet works today??? Human intervention is a stupid criteria in small digital businesses where people ought to be working smart and automating processes even at the smallest level. Were the views of online businesses represented in the discussion, or at least to provide the commission with an adequate understanding of the likely future of electronic businesses? And how on earth do you draw the line on what constitutes sufficient human intervention? There is really no difference if I do it or I script up something which automatically sends that email on my behalf. Is my human intervention as author of the automated script not counted?? I still wrote the script, letter by letter, intervening with the letters on my keyboard.

Another question that came to mind was – HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE PAYING THROUGH VAT MOSS? Surely all the companies worth taxing are already taxed normally for being over the threshold. I’d like to find out, what amount of VAT MOSS is actually being paid from the small/micro businesses who are now newly affected from the 1 Jan 2015 ruling for the first time?

The Internet has many stories of people paying ridiculously exorbitant amounts in accounting software and services only to find out they have to pay insultingly low VAT on their digital business.

 

Just filed my first #VATMOSS return with @HMRCgovuk – cost me GBP700+ in software and accounting to calculate that I owed 18.74

— Cory Doctorow (@doctorow) April 14, 2015

So if the VAT being collected is so insultingly miniscule for many individuals and incurring so much unnecessary administrative problems and additional business expenditure, the question is – was it really worth implementing? If the goal was to target big companies like Amazon, why is the fallout affecting small businesses and forcing them out of business (and correspondingly, pushing customers towards the big companies). If this is all a matter of proving success of a scheme by numbers, then how much VAT in total is actually being paid between UK and EU countries on digital business under VATMOSS since 2015?

This is where UK’s FOIA sounds like some black voodoo magic to a Singaporean like me – almost unbelievably it is a land where you can ask for information and public authorities are legally required to give a proper reply! (How sad that I have to be so excited about this…) A quick gander on whatdotheyknow.com brings up user john_117’s fascinating FOI correspondences with HMRC. It reveals that since it is collected quarterly, in john_117 first correspondence in March they didn’t have the data yet, but then in July they make a turnaround by mentioning that “Under section 22(1) of the FOIA, we are not required to provide information in response to a request if we intend to publish the information in the future” and that they won’t be providing a country-by-country breakdown so as not to “prejudice relations between the UK and other Member States” by “disclosing tax revenues of other Member States”.

It is now 2016 and searching the gov.uk site does not turn up any publication of statistics. A little disappointing. Perhaps I just don’t know where to search.

More disturbingly, I tried to find what panel or commission was responsible for making decisions on VAT MOSS, but so far haven’t figured it out. The question I wonder is: in the process of making these decisions, did they include anyone or any groups representing the interests of small digital businesses which will be affected by VAT MOSS?

The only way out of VAT MOSS seems to be to block all EU buyers or (virtually) move out of EU. Or use VAT MOSS and raise all your prices by 20% or more to include VAT (or allow it to cut significantly into your own profits), collect at least two of the following information from each your customers and securely store it for 10 years:

 

 

GOOD LUCK WITH HARVESTING ALL THIS DATA FROM EVERY SINGLE CUSTOMERS AND KEEPING IT SECURE
EVEN THOUGH ACTUALLY ALL YOU WANT TO DO IS SELL ONE TINY KNITTING PATTERN ONLINE

Don’t even get me started about the potential complications when you have to deal with people with foreign billing addresses who spend equal parts of time in more than one country. I realised recently that I wasn’t charged VAT for an digital service which I use in both Singapore and London – a scenario that seems to be in a grey area. I paid for the digital service with a credit card registered to a Singaporean bank with a Singapore billing address and the printed matter was to be mailed to my Singapore billing address – but I physically reside in London and my order would have come from a IP address in UK – and I use only a +44 UK phone number. The unnamed supplier in this case obviously had to made a blanket presumption on my location based on billing address and bank address, rather than IP address or SIM address. But this really shouldn’t be made into a confusing guessing game for business owners.

In 2016 they released some half-baked simplification, citing that business owners are allowed to exercise their best judgement. How on earth can one exercise their best judgement on what appears to be a poorly thought out scheme?

From HMRC: “There is no registration threshold on cross border supplies of services and businesses of all sizes fall within the scope of the changes. However, this only applies where supplies are made in the course or furtherance of a business. If activity is carried out as a hobby (ie only on a minimal and occasional basis), HMRC does not normally see this as a business activity for VAT purposes. HMRC’s analysis of the VAT MOSS returns submitted by UK businesses so far indicate that some of those registered for VAT MOSS may not be in business for VAT purposes.

HMRC will contact those already registered for VAT MOSS whose returns suggest they may not be in business.”

OH NO, IS MY BUSINESS A LIE? IS MY ENTIRE PRACTICE ACTUALLY ONE BIG NON-TAXABLE HOBBY?? And by extension, are they saying that online sales doesn’t need to be declared as income tax? Or not? Or what? What a confusing message to send to small self-employed business owners.

 

Creating a “level playing field” through #VATMOSS means programming 6,724 possible tax combinations for a $10 sale. https://t.co/V5Lty66H49

— Heather Burns (@WebDevLaw) February 17, 2016

Unfortunately, what seems direly shortsighted is that VAT MOSS doesn’t take into account the complexity of international online transactions today. A more updated and intelligently written VAT system is needed to nurture the growth of small and micro digital businesses so that business can be more decentralised and diverse – rather than unfairly taxing even the smallest digital businesses with wildly unrealistic administrative and financial burdens.


But back to the Ghost in Singapore. It is funny that the poorly devised VAT MOSS (which is effectively an injunction against transactions that are virtually mediated) has driven companies to make their operations even more virtual by virtually incorporating in another country.

I wondered where Ghost’s virtual address was, as its not uncommon to see a host of virtual companies sharing the same address in town – you even see the ‘prestigious’ addresses even being advertised at times. It got me thinking how many companies in Singapore use a virtual address – could we find an actual number for how many virtual/ghost companies there are within Singapore, or in Singapore’s CBD?

So I wanted to find a directory of public companies, which led me to ACRA. I also cross checked with data.gov.sg – but it only has a table on taxable companies and which sectors they were in. Global OpenData Index (a great resource) also confirms that ACRA doesn’t make this information available. ACRA mainly allows you to “buy information” rather than to obtain it from them for free. Perhaps I can only access a directory of public companies (and their addresses) if I pay for the data? But looking at it so far, they only allow you to buy individual business profiles for $5.50 (£2.70) a pop, and if I remember it right from when I had to get a copy of my business profile, they just generate a flat page of information trapped inside ancient HTML tables – rather than providing you with data in a format that is actually usable.

My circumlocutory search for data ends here for the night, but I’ll continue another time…

The Tableaux Vivants of Manchester Museum

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On a recent day trip to Manchester, I visited the Manchester Museum, the museum of the University of Manchester. It happened to be directly opposite the building I was in – right opposite Kilburn Building (blocky, red-bricked Computer Science building) and University Place (building which looks like a big tin can). I was unexpectedly ejected from a campus eatery at 2.30pm, and by this point I required a little break from the non-stop RUINS THEORISING going on, and how fortuitious to have a museum right there…

The ground floor has a temporary gallery space which currently has an exhibition called “From the War of Nature”, which uses tableaux vivants to tell various stories of different animal communities fighting for survival in nature. This temporary show has no scientific labels and the stories were painted in broad and rather general strokes, which seemed odd to me even if the taxidermy was beautiful. I actually almost stopped at this point, but fortunately I decided I might as well continue on to the second floor…

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Things looked a lot more exciting upstairs, which began with some local archaeology of Manchester, including a collection of roman artefacts…

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It was followed by what appears to be a rather comprehensive Ancient Egyptian collection, one of the most comprehensive in the UK – with apparently around 16000 objects in their Egyptology collection, including objects from prehistoric Egypt (c. 10,000 BC) to the Byzantine era (up to around AD 600).

I suppose one thing that endeared me to this museum was the presence of these screens everywhere, which featured actual interviews with people working with the artefacts, and some screens featuring young visitors’ reflections on the artefacts, drawing a connection between the artefacts and our daily life. This made the temporary exhibition downstairs make more sense – since I understood that the museum was designed to be as accessible as possible and more of an educational experience, a kind of space which wouldn’t really portray Natural History and Science as something technical and complex, but instead as something to inspire the imagination.

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Next up was the most curious hall ever – more tableaux vivants which seemed almost like art installations, based on very broad issues and themes such as EXPERIENCE…. PEACE…. etc.

On the sides, they were flanked with thoughtful quotations by people working at University of Manchester who were deeply involved in researching those areas. For example, in a section about British Wildlife, they had an interview from a guy who worked in a wildlife protection group, and they had him telling a beatific story about how he went camping once and woke up alone in the middle of the English countryside and watched a bird flapping off into the sunrise in a sort of reverie, feeling the interconnectedness of life and the simple beauty of nature. I have to admit that this kind of naive earnestness in the video presentations veered rather dangerously on the romantic and trite – but in the end I still feel the intentions and sentiments behind it all were generally good.

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An installation of cranes???

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Floating stuffed dodos and eggs???

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Rock

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Collections

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Blaschka Glass Models!

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Horned Murex

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Shells

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Snails

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Moths

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Insects

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It says here that Manchester Museum has over 22000 type specimens. Also, to put things into perspective, Manchester Museum apparently has around 4 million specimens. Natural History Museum in London has over 28 million specimens. Still, these are collections that have involved the life’s work of so many different individuals over the years.

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PLANT GALLS!!!

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OAK MARBLE GALLS!!!

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Silk-button Spangle Galls!!!
Need I explain how excited I am to see a plant gall section?

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Fire Salamander in the vivarium, just arrived! (living animal section)

There are too many photos so I will end here for now. With such a vast collection including a section dedicated to “Museumology” and “collections”, where I saw a section on Egyptian fakes and its no surprise that later when I checked it up, I found out that Mark Dion’s “Bureau for the Centre for the Study of Surrealism and Its Legacy” was actually put together from Manchester Museum’s vast collections – which, as with any huge collection, is bound to be full of eccentricities and overlooked corners full of strange items, unusable models, fakes, and other items.

Blue Station Door/Structure ID Number Signs on the London Underground

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Outside Green Park station on Piccadilly, there is a curious blue sign near the busstop where I wait for the bus to school. I realized it must be a tube specific sign since I had also seen it inside the tube station. But what do the numbers mean? I decided to collect a few to see if there was a pattern.

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A couple of signs from Baker Street Station, Green Park Station, South Kensington Station, and Seven Sisters Station.

I’m afraid some of the shots were blurry as tube stations were probably not made for people to stand around and take photos in the corridors and it seemed to me as if people wanted to intentionally bump into me to show how annoyed they were at me for standing in the middle of the corridor taking pictures of weird numbers – preventing them from running a few milliseconds faster. Oh london commuters, you so funny.

I noticed that some were on doors, but some were on walls. All doors had these signs, but sometimes there would be a different sign right next to the door. Sometimes the numbers were sequential, and then at other stations, they were not in sequence! It was not hard to see that the first number referred to the level number, but what was the other number? How was it determined?

Eventually, I’ve traced it to the TFL’s official London Underground signs manual. It says this is the “Standard door and level number sign”; aka “Station area ID codes”. Searching for more information on this online seems to suggest, from discussions on various forums, that the first number stands for level below ground (Ground level is 1). The second number apparently refers to a room/structure number which is for the reference of the London Fire Brigade, which can refer to these numbers on a special station plan.

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But… how is the second number derived? Why are the numbers so different?

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I tried to look for a detailed station plan but could not find one (I tried to find it for one example, Baker Street); I guess the unavailability of publicly available maps might be for security reasons. However, in the process I did find another great map – Detailed map of London Tube, Underground, Overground, DLR, Tramlink & National Rail:

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Further searching led me to this 3D visualisation of the station maps for certain stations by Andrew Godwin. Its a cool project but was apparently created from memory so it does not have the data that I am seeking:

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Nevertheless it is fantastic to have the complete overview of the position of the stations and all of their platforms. I like the idea of having the grand overview of how these transportation lines work together, bringing us one step closer to finding out the meaning behind each and every sign on the underground…

See Also:
Collection of 3D maps of London Underground/DLR stations
Detailed map of London Tube, Underground, Overground, DLR, Tramlink & National Rail
London Underground signs manual

Comparing English Slate and Murai Slate from Singapore

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These are pieces of slate recovered from Pulau Saigon. Slate is a metamorphic rock that is composed of clay minerals that have been put under great pressure, causing fine grains of clay flakes to regrow in planes perpendicular to the compression (due to the mica in the rock). As a result it will be hard enough to “clink” when hit with a hammer, and also have a distinctive layered appearance or “foliation”.

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These slates are known to be slate of UK origin, brought over on a ship from the UK to Singapore to be used as a building material for (colonial) houses here. The slate may also have been used as ballast. I was unable to find a chart or guide to identifying slates, as they are technically named after the region they came from. To the untrained eye, I guess they look like the traditional grey tones of slate from Wales.

I looked for more general information about slate produced in the UK for construction, and found various information and pdf guides on the English Heritage (Officially known as the “Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England”):

“Stone slates were mined at Purbeck in Dorset, at Collyweston and Duston in Northamptonshire, at Stonesfield and elsewhere in the Cotswolds, in Yorkshire and occasionally in Derbyshire… At Collyweston and Stonesfield, the splitting was carried out by frost action. The raw block was either stored underground or taken to the surface where it was wetted and covered in earth until the frosts came. The frost then swelled the natural moisture within the stone and split it into slates. Frostsplit slates may be thinner and therefore lighter than those split by hand.”

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Source: English Heritage: STONE SLATE ROOFING: TECHNICAL ADVICE NOTE
Sidenote: When I look at this, I think all this sort of stone collecting and stone arranging must be how the romans invented crazy paving. You know, CRAZY PAVING? All broken up into all sorts of interesting shapes? (Unfortunately this joke won’t be quite as funny to the majority of Singaporeans who don’t get to do any of their own paving ever, owing to the fact that most people don’t have landed properties to pave…)

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EG: CRAZY MARBLING IN ROME!
In comparison, this is what Murai slate/schist from Singapore looks like.

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I noticed these specimens at the Raffles Biodiversity Museum were casually labelled “Murai slate”. But a geology enthuisiast in Singapore would have more commonly read about the “Murai Schist” (part of Jurong Formation) in reports about Singapore’s geology. But this does look like slate because the characteristic of schist is that its mineral grains should be visible to the naked eye. And I don’t see any conspicuous large grains of mica flakes here, so I am inclined to think this would be defined as slate.

In any case, the two types of rocks – slate and schist – can be observed to have other similar properties – apparently the Schist is metamorphosed more than the Slate, so they are very similar, except that the Schist is even harder, and the equivalent of cleavage or what we would call “slaty cleavage” is known as “schistosity”.

Also, from the report “Geology of Singapore” (Published by DSTA):

“It is not proposed that the Murai Schist be recognised as a formal geological unit, but rather as a zone of well-developed cleavage in rocks otherwise recognised as sediments of the Queenstown, Jong ,and Tengah Facies. The Schist zone forms a belt up to 0.5 km wide in Ama keng, trending northeast from Tanjong Skopek to include the area originally described by Alexander (1950). A small schist zone was found on the north arm of the Pasir Laba Ridge (GR 295494) and another zone, not recorded on the map, was found in the Jong Facies in Jurong (GR332452).”

So I guess the brown rock above might actually be Slate from the Murai Schist. Who comes up with all these terms anyway?


Videos of the Pulau Saigon Slate:

Slate (Top view)

Slate (Side view)


See also:
The Collectors of Pulau Saigon: Murex Trapa shells, and Pyrites (Fool’s Gold)
The Chert of Pulau Saigon, a former island in the Singapore River
Bone, Metal, Wood, and Other Artefacts found on Pulau Saigon

The Chert of Pulau Saigon, a former island in the Singapore River

I must confess that I had not thought much about the chert of Southeast Asia until now. Is there a lot of chert in Southeast Asia? I don’t really know firsthand. Most of the accessible beaches of Singapore are artificial and made of recent sand depositions from other places, and there are no points at which I can simply casually wade in and around the gravel of the Singapore River – much unlike the Thames in London, which has many wide banks upon which one can wander about without disturbance. I have, on past occasions, observed the proliferation of chert in the River Thames, and also, the endless amounts of chert/flint on Lyme Bay. So, what sort of rock is to be found in the rivers of Southeast Asia then?

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Chert/Flint with cute echinoid in Natural History Museum, London

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Chert/Flint on River Thames (London, 2012)

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Chert/Flint on Lyme Bay (Jurassic Coast, 2012)
To be honest, to this day I still feel that my definition of “chert” is a bit fuzzy, despite having several encounters with chert and having read up on chert before. I do know at very least that Chert is formed by the recrystallization of siliceous skeletons of marine animals into microcrystalline sedimentary rock. From what I have read so far on it, I’m going to just take it to be a more inclusive term for most of the microcrystalline quartz or silica. And as from what I saw and read at the Natural History Museum in London, flint refers to the chert commonly found in chalk or limestone…

From Wikipedia: “There is much confusion concerning the exact meanings and differences among the terms “chert”, “chalcedony” and “flint” (as well as their numerous varieties). In petrology the term “chert” is used to refer generally to all rocks composed primarily of microcrystalline, cryptocrystalline and microfibrous quartz. The term does not include quartzite. Chalcedony is a microfibrous (microcrystaline with a fibrous structure) variety of quartz.

Strictly speaking, the term “flint” is reserved for varieties of chert which occur in chalk and marly limestone formations. Among non-geologists (in particular among archaeologists), the distinction between “flint” and “chert” is often one of quality – chert being lower quality than flint. This usage of the terminology is prevalent in America and is likely caused by early immigrants who imported the terms from England where most true flint (that found in chalk formations) was indeed of better quality than “common chert” (from limestone formations).

Among petrologists, chalcedony is sometimes considered separately from chert due to its fibrous structure. Since many cherts contain both microcrystaline and microfibrous quartz, it is sometimes difficult to classify a rock as completely chalcedony, thus its general inclusion as a variety of chert.”

I am fed up with local people having the name “Chert”, thus foiling my attempts to investigate whether Chert rock naturally occurs in this region. Anyway, the reason why I am wondering whether there is a lot of chert in the Singapore River is because of this chert specimen in the Singapore River. Knowing that some of the slate comes from the UK, I realised I had never seen THE CHERT OF SINGAPORE in person before, although I have many Chert specimens from the UK, so I wondered if this chert rock had actually come from elsewhere….

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Chert rescued from Pulau Saigon, a former island in the Singapore River
How do we tell this is “chert”? Largely because of its “waxy luster” and conchoidal fractures, which produce a sharp edge. Brittle materials such as chert have this quality, allowing it to be shaped into knives and tools.

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Conchoidal fractures

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Waxy Luster
Today I was very fortunate to be able to spend a few hours at the Archaeology Lab at NUS, where I attempted to do a preliminary photoshoot of certain artefacts from Pulau Saigon, and began running some shots through Autodesk’s 123d Catch in order to produce 3d models of some of the objects. Thank you to John Miksic and Goh Geok Yian for letting me occupy their pantry for the entire day and sharing with me about their work. It will take me some time to process all the information captured today, but you can expect more posts on the topic in coming weeks… (They always need more committed and responsible volunteers at their lab to help them sift through, sort through, and wash material, so if you’re interested in archaeology in Singapore and are available to volunteer your time on Fridays between 10-5pm, leave me a note and I will pass your contact on to them.)

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Pulau Saigon (PSG) Stone and Rocks

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Crates

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Earthenware

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14th C Stoneware

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European Porcelain


Oh and another strange thing that happened is that I encountered the word “Diatomaceous” twice within one hour today. Whilst reading the comments to an instructable about building a solar food dryer to find out if others were worried about insects getting into their solar food dryer, I discovered a comment suggesting that “Diatomaceous earth” be scattered because its tiny, light yet highly abrasive nature makes it suitable as a mechanical insecticide, making it unpleasant for tiny ants to walk upon – basically getting inbetween their tiny exoskeleton joints and absorbing lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects’ exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate from the inside out rather quickly, leading to the death of the insects. A few minutes later I read that chert occurs in diatomaceous deposits and that kind of chert is known as diatomaceous chert. The word diatomaceous refers to diatoms, which consist of tiny microscopic marine phytoplankton, along with their fossils…

Which brings me to…. MICROPALEONTOLOGY, and the study of microfossils! Anything that you can study with the naked eye is probably considered a macrofossil. Micropaleontology is surely a field of study that is after my heart. A micropaleontologist might typically be a specialists in one or more taxonomic groups because it is something that requires so much specialisation to study the fossils of tiny tiny creatures. Speaking of tiny things, this reminds me of micrometeorites. And subsequently… astrogeology. I think this week if you asked me what is my dream job might be, it might be to study to become a micropaleontologist or an astrogeologist. Yeah, I can dream, can’t I?


See also:

The Mineral collection at the Natural History Museum, and Flint Nodules along the River Thames
Bone, Metal, Wood, and Other Artefacts found on Pulau Saigon
Made-up Road Names and Temporary Islands
Ruins in Reverse

Bone, Metal, Wood, and Other Artefacts found on Pulau Saigon

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A photo of a photo of a torn map of Kampong Saigon…
Last year whilst at the library, I copied out a list from Jennifer Barry’s “Pulau Saigon : a post-eighteenth century archaeological assemblage recovered from a former island in the Singapore River”. I completely forgot about this document but just unearthed it today, so I thought I should put it online in case anyone should be interested in the “OTHER ARTEFACTS” list found in this little catelogue of artefacts, including a detailed list of ceramics finds, and flora and fauna. As the ceramics and flora/fauna lists are very very long and detailed, I will leave it up to those who are interested to locate the book at the National Library of Singapore (Lee Kong Chien Reference Library, English 959.57 BAR) and read those portions for themselves.

I wanted to purchase or request for a copy of this book but it seems impossible to track down the publisher, Rheidol Press, and they either have ceased to exist or do not have any sort of online presence at all. No copyright infringement intended here by reproducing part of the text here, but it seems impossible to even find or contact them to even ask for the permission. Short of writing to their postal address in Stamford (which conceivably could have changed by now), there are no other leads or clues or ways to contact them (although I suppose I will try to write to them to see what happens). I have never even been to Lincolnshire nor have I ever thought of going there, and I find the idea of an obscure book about Singapore’s own little-known Pulau Saigon being published there very strange indeed.

I have retained all the author’s original typos in the following copy of the list – this is exactly as it was on the page.

From Jennifer Barry’s “Pulau Saigon : a post-eighteenth century archaeological assemblage recovered from a former island in the Singapore River”

THE SITE

Archaeological finds began to appear at Pulau Saigon in 1988 when bulldozers first moved in to start work on the Central Expressway tunnel. Tan family members who owned the petrol kiosk on the island brought this to the attention of Mr Koh Lian What who in turn alerted authorities at the National Museum and the National University. A prompt rescue operation was organized and a team of expert, including Dr C. G. Kwa, Mr Lee Chor Lin, Dr J. Miksic and Mr Koh, was permitted to collect finds and soil samples. Collections were made between November 1988 and March 1980 but no systematic archaeological excavation could be undertaken due to constraints of time.

THE FINDS

Broadly speaking the site covers the 170 years from the early 19th to the late 20th century, the period between the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 and the initial construction in 1988 of the tunnel at Clemenceau Bridge. The bulk of ceramic finds are generally consistent with this time frame, up to about the mid 1960s, although there are a few sherds which pre-date the 19th century.

Apart from ceramic, which accounts for the greater part of the entire assemblage, finds include artifacts of glass, bone, metal, wood, stone, plastic and rubber as well as faunal and floral remains. These include a large group of marine shells identified by Mrs Emily Glover of the Natural History Museum, London. There are eleven species of gastropods and give of shallow water burrowing bivalves, two of which are often found in mangroves. All are common to the Singapore area and many are widespread in the Indo-Pacific. Glover notes that the small holes in many of the examples were drilled by predatory mullscs and not by humans, confirming Koh’s view that there was no prehistoric habitation of the site. This possibility had been proposed during the early stages of the rescue.

(…) Before 1889 one would expect that, generally, the deeper finds would be the oldest; yet some of the more recent finds are below 2 and 3 meters of mud, such as the coins dated 1926 and 1883 respectively. A late 19th or early 20th century Doulton square-mouthed stoneware bottle was found at 2m depth. This clearly indicates massive disturbances which, no doubt, had been caused by the dredging of the river, and the subsequent use of this archaeologically rich material as landfill.

 

BONE, METAL, WOOD, AND OTHER ARTEFACTS

Asbestos: 2
Beads:
 6 small (3 red, 2 blue, 1 yellow, in film roll container)
 40 approx. (in plastic bag)
Brushes: 
 1 bone or ivory with black bristles
 1 bone or ivory toothbrush with white bristles
 2 bone or ivory toothbrush handles
 1 carved tortoishell? handle
 1 wood bristle base
 1 wood handle
Corks: 3
Electrical fittings:
 3 white ceramic
 1 bulb filament
 1 small glass bulb
 1 small battery
Metal:
 1 belt hook (s or snakes-head shape)
 1 bolt
 1 brass lid
 1 buckle
 1 button
 1 cigarette holder
 8 copper coins (Straits Settlement 1884, 1887, 1894)
 2 coins (1 round, 1 square)
 1 door furniture?
 1 fish hook
 1 lamp base? (corroded)
 4 lead pieces plus ore workings
 7 nails plus fragments
 1 pin
 1 scale hands?
 1 wall hook
 1 spoon (European type)
Plastic:
 1 bakelite threaded neck
 2 pink fragments
 1 political party badge
 1 spoon (Chinese type)
 1 table tennis ball
Rubber:
 2 (degraded)
Stone:
 1 cylindrical pounder
 8 white marble spheres plus one hemisphere
 2 dice (marble, limestone?)
Tiles:
 3 small (modern compound type)
Tools:
 1 iron spike or pick, wood shaft
 1 iron bill-hook, wood shaft
Wood:
 1 carved comb (fragile)
 1 broom or brush handle
 1 oar or paddle
 1 clog or shoe sole

MISCELLANEOUS

Coal: 1
Stone:
3 flints
1 flint knife? (previously labelled as such)
8 flint tools?
1 pyrite (also known as Fool’s Gold)
1 green stone
1 piece of lava or pumice
24 slate plus 3 knives (previously labelled as such)
35 small smooth pebbles
1 worked stone?
1 quartz (rock crystal)

Grand Designs: Houses of Fun

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I just took a series of planes from London to Singapore, during which I ended up watching far too many episodes of a show called Grand Designs, a fascinatingly endearing programme about self-build projects in the UK. Apparently this is a show that has gone on for over ten years now, and the programme itself is a home-builders wet dream, or should i say, one big fat architectural wank fest. I’m surprised I haven’t seen this earlier but OH!!! Its fantastic!

What really fascinates me is the characters who are the homeowners/builders, who are often delightfully grating, anal-retentively stubborn, and pigheadedly ambitious. I am not sure how or in which order the episodes had been curated or selected for my viewing pleasure on the plane, but it seemed to me that many of the episodes were featuring people who had been specifically seized by the desire to build HOUSES OF FUN (notably, to be spelt in CAPITAL LETTERS) — this was just something that they all seemed to say: “HOW CAN ANYONE NOT HAVE FUN IN A HOUSE LIKE THIS HOUSE!”. No matter how expensive or impractical or annoying (to others) it would be for them to do so, no expenses were to be spared! £20,000 dance floor in your basement? Yes! Fantasy volcanic sauna spa just for yourself?? Yes! Gratuitously curvy looking house just because you like curvy houses?? YES! 2-tons of minimalist artisanal latvian glass surrounding the exterior facade of your delicately cantilevered house??? YES! Reality TV style camera swoop onto the house? YES! YES! YES! NOW THIS IS WHAT I CALL TELEVISION!

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Planning permissions battles? Water table considerations and flooded worksites? Theft of all your precious work tools while you’re away for a weekend? Mortgaging yourself up to the eyeballs and doing some refinancing gymnastics? Moving the whole family into a boathouse temporarily because you had to sell your original house to pay for the construction? Resorting to completely un-ecofriendly cement fills to prevent leakages? Investing in eco-friendly but expensive energy panels that will charge your electric car and maybe hopefully pay back for itself after about what, 7 years, or was it 25 years? Totally self-cleaning houses? Excessive use of astroturf? Exploring stone finishes which feel like leather? Behold, the host, Kevin McCloud, enthusing that ARCHITECTURE CAN HAPPEN ANYWHERE!

As you can tell, I have been won over by its winning combination of reckless ambition, ridiculously minimalist cuboidial architectures, and sheer boring construction site mundanity. I mean, if you’ve ever been unreasonably excited by a trip to the B&Q, then you might conceivably feel drawn towards these lofty spires of epic DIY housebuilding! Whenever my housing conditions are correct, I do turn into the sort who might be obsessing over joint fillers and materials, getting all excited by the thought of customizing my own drainage system for my hypothetical one-day-to-be-built-from-scratch-with-my-own-two-bare-hands future house. This show has admittedly reinvigorated my housebuilding aspirations. I love building things! I mean, WHY DON’T I RANDOMLY OWN SOME LAND ALREADY? Why can’t I build myself a funny house to live in?

My favorite was this episode with a woman who wanted to build a minimal modernist box of a boathouse on the River Thames in the middle of a long row of pristinely conserved Tudor houses. AND SO SHE DID.

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“My next project is to demolish the other houses next to mind and BAM! Turn them all into awesomely NEW and FRESH and SHARP houses and turn this part of the river into a frozen snapshot of the new and fantastic modern 21st century forever instead of the 16th century. That’ll show them up, all of them them stuck-in-the-mud Tudor houseowners…”

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Okay the lady did not quite say all that in quite those words, but she did say everything until the BAM (addition mine), and she also did say it, gleefully, whilst sitting in a little wooden pleasureboat as the host Kevin McCloud interviewed her and they floated sanguinely down the Thames…

McCloud then tiptoed over to the neighbors to ask them if their views might ever soften after seeing the no-expenses-spared construction work and extremely thoughtful delicate care that was taken to produce what the homeowners wanted to be the best ever modern contemporary house on the Thames riverfront in Oxford. NO!!! NEVER!!! hissed the lady neighbour, and god almighty what was that sound we heard echoing in the background? Was that the sounds of pearls exploding as they were being tightly clutched all up and down the riverfront, or was that just the sound of 21st-century-style house-demolition-and-construction whether-or-not-you-like-it-or-not? The housebuilding lady was totally trollin’ man. She totally worked them all up and I love it.

You know, if I could build any house in the world, I think I might want to build a ridiculous house as well. I wouldn’t want to build a traditional house in a traditional style in a traditional area. I’d maybe like an upside-down house. One that got bigger at the top instead of being bottom heavy. I’d want to build a house that would look like NO OTHER HOUSE IN THE WORLD…