Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The removal of the pump handle was a historical turning point, and not just because it marked the end of London's most explosive outbreak. History has its epic thresholds where the world is transformed in a matter of minutes—a leader is assassinated, a volcano erupts, a constitution is ratified. But there are other, smaller, turning points that are no less important. A hundred disparate historical trends converge on a single, modest act—some unknown person unscrews the handle of a pump on a side street in a bustling city—and in the years and decades that follow, a thousand changes ripple out from that simple act. It's not that the world is changed instantly; the change itself takes many years to become visible. But the change is no less momentous for its quiet evolution.

Steven Johnson, The Ghost Map (162)

Monday, February 24, 2014

I entered the stands for the visiting supporters and ended up following a skinhead—big and brawny—with a tight-fitting white T-shirt and fleshy biceps. His name, I would learn, was Cliff, which—sheer, unadorned, vaguely suggestive of danger—seemed entirely appropriate. The skinhead phase had long passed and, even here, in this crowd, Cliff stood out as a nostalgic anomaly, but Cliff had such an aggressive manner—the regulation braces and the heavy black boots and pockets full of twopences (their edges sharpened beforehand) to throw at Cambridge supporters—that he seemed the most obvious person to befriend.

Bill Buford, Among the Thugs (133)