Posts Tagged ‘Tehran Conference’

The golden telescope

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Hong Kong tramway. Video by .

Michael Dembinski over at W-wa Jeziorki regularly experiences feelings of deja vu. He puts on a WWII GI’s soldier’s helmet and it feels very familiar. He sees a great open field in the middle of the great Polish plain and is suddenly transported to the American West. I suffer from something altogether much weirder.

In 1980, I was standing in Basle near the railway station looking out on to the town. It was not a particularly stunning view: some characteristically European roofs and advertising hoardings in the background, shops with windows full of goods in the middle distance, busy modern trams in the foreground. Then the feeling hit me, this could have been Poland if the boundary between the Soviet region of influence and the West’s had been drawn a couple of thousand miles to the East.

Today, the greyness characteristic of Poland in the 1970s and 80s has gone and a similar view can be seen: in Poznan, Wroclaw, Warsaw or Gdansk. So was I looking into a Philip Pullman Dark Materials Trilogy parallel universe where the betrayals at Tehran and Yalta had never happened, or was I being granted a view of the future?

I certainly do seem to get the occasional ‘flash forwards’. I remember reading the August 1981 Byte magazine. The whole issue was devoted to the research that had been done at Xerox Parc in Palo Alto into object-oriented programming, graphical user interfaces (GUI) and ‘what you see is what you get’ computing. Although the systems had been developed on big computers I remember being hit by an overwhelming feeling that in the future all ‘personal computers’ (the term had just been invented by IBM) would work like this. The first successful personal computer with a GUI, the Apple Mac, was actually launched in January 1984.

So why do I react so strongly to this short film about the Hong Kong tramway, the largest operator of double deck trams in the world? Is it because British cities could have been like this, if pro motor car interests had not succeeded in wiping out virtually all of the UK’s tramways in the 1950s and 60s? Or is it a glimpse into what Britain’s tramways might yet be like in the future?