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Category archive: Society

Tuesday October 31 2017

I have been collecting all of Martha Argerich’s, formerly EMI and now Warner, CD boxes of performances at her annual Lugano Festivals.  These sets have contained an agreeable mixture of familiar and unfamiliar works, and are also amazing value.

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The latest and, we are told, last of these boxes (the Lugano Festival itself is coming to its end) contains a major surprise in the form, first up, of a solo piano performance by Argerich herself.  The surprise being because Argerich, a long time ago now, said that she would not be performing any more piano solo music.  She prefers to play along with other musicians.  Concertos are fine.  This is not an I-don’t-like-being-centre-stage thing.  When playing a concerto, she is playing along with a conductor and an orchestra.  She just doesn’t like playing on her own, without anyone else on the platform.

Until now.  From the sleevenotes:

Among the many inviting prospects was a performance by Argerich herself of Ravel’s solo-piano Gaspard de la nuit. She had also performed it the previous month in Beppu, Japan, and this marked a return for the first time in 33 years to a piece that had been associated so closely with her during her early career. She ingeniously bypassed her ban on solo performance by inviting her daughter Annie Dutoit to read the poetry by Aloysius Bertrand that inspired Ravel’s hallucinogenic and technically daunting piano suite.

Ingeniously?  That’s one way of putting it.  Tortuously might be another, not to say: bizarrely.  Anyway, I am listening to the suitably Halloweeny Gaspard now, and it sounds very good.

There are enough wondrous pianists around, still emitting wondrous solo piano CDs, for one more or less not to be a colossal issue.  But, it would be nice if Argerich recorded some more solo piano works.  All that will be needed will be for daughter Annie to provide a suitable reading of something or other to go along with each solo performance, so that Mother Martha could pretend she isn’t playing solo.  Or, here’s a plan, she could just say: from now on, I think I will do some more solo stuff.  Only a few internet idiots would complain.

My guess is that what Argerich is really put off by is not the solo performing, but all the hours of solo practising that she would feel the need to do.  After all, when she performed Gaspard, to an audience, she was absolutely not alone.  There was an audience.  I’ve just heard their enthusiastic clapping.  (Now I am listening to Busoni’s Violin Concerto, I’m pretty sure for the first time.  This is the kind of thing I especially like about these Lugano boxes.) No, it’s the endless solitary confinement of practise that she got fed up with when she had to do it, all the time, and dreads returning to.  Now, she presumably still has to do lots of private practise, but at least she can have fun rehearsing with others, as well as performing.  And chamber music is cheap enough on the salary front to enable hours of rehearsing, and also something that rewards such practise, come the performance.  It’s an ideal fit for Argerich.

So sadly, my guess is that this Gaspard was an exception that proves the rule rather than any sort of more lasting breaking of the rule, an abberation rather than a harbinger of more solo things to come.

On the other hand, now I come to think of it, on CD2 of this box there is a performance, which I have yet to hear, of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, for piano, orchestra and singers.  I love this piece.  But more to my point here, much more, it starts with quite a big chunk of piano solo stuff, before the orchestra and singers join in.

So, maybe Argerich really is feeling the need to do more solo playing.

Saturday October 07 2017

From Michael J:

Is there anything better than sitting in a bar in one of the prime selfie taking spots in the universe?

Well, maybe I can think of a few things, but I get the picture.  To be exact, I got this picture:

image

But where might this be?  I scrutinised the “properties” of this photo, in particular some numbers with the words “latitude” and “longitude” next to them.  So far as I could work it out, this was somewhere on the island of … Momix?  No, not Momix.  The island of: Rhodes.  But, that could easily be out by several thousand miles, given Michael J’s travelling habits and my analytical abilities.

Meanwhile, the most exotic place I’ve been to lately was the place where this photo was taken, by my friend Adriana:

image

How cool is that?  And I’m not talking about the fact that this is ice cream.  This was my pudding when I feasted with Adriana and her Plus One here.  The ceilings were so far away you could hardly see them.  There were oil paintings beyond counting, often with no labels to identify the personages in them, presumably because People Like Us all know who they are without having to be told.  Or, they are all so posh they don’t care.

I left my stuff, including my camera, at the front desk, photography not being permitted.  Fair enough.  Don’t want any oiks casing the joint.  But her photoing an ice cream wafer, Adriana said, wouldn’t make waves.  Besides which, these days, how can you tell if someone is taking a photo, if all they are doing is waving a smartphone.

Wednesday September 20 2017

This is how Chapter One, “Chez Meissonier”, of Ross King’s book The Judgement of Paris begins:

One gloomy January day in 1863, Jean-Louis-Emest Meissonier, the world’s wealthiest and most celebrated painter, dressed himself in the costume of Napoleon Bonaparte and, despite the snowfall, climbed onto the roof top balcony of his mansion in Poissy.

A town with a population of a little more than 3,000, Poissy lay eleven miles north-west of Paris, on the south bank of an oxbow in the River Seine and on the railway line running from the Gare Saint-Lazare to the Normandy coast. It boasted a twelfth-century church, an equally ancient bridge, and a weekly cattle market that supplied the butcher shops of Paris and, every Tuesday, left the medieval streets steaming with manure. There was little else in Poissy except for the ancient priory of Saint-Louis, a walled convent that had once been home to an order of Dominican nuns. The nuns had been evicted during the French Revolution and the convent’s buildings either demolished or sold to private buyers. But inside the enclosure remained an enormous, spired church almost a hundred yards in length and, close by, a grandiose house with clusters of balconies, dormer windows and pink-bricked chimneys: a building sometimes known as the Grande Maison.

imageErnest Meissonier had occupied the Grande Maison for most of the previous two decades. In his forty-eighth year he was short, arrogant and densely bearded: “ugly, little and mean,” one observer put it, “rather a scrap of a man.” A friend described him as looking like a professor of gymnastics, and indeed the burly Meissonier was an eager and accomplished athlete, often rising before dawn to rampage through the countryside on horseback, swim in the Seine, or launch himself at an opponent, fencing sword in hand. Only after an hour or two of these exertions would he retire, sometimes still shod in his riding boots, to a studio in the Grande Maison where he spent ten or twelve hours each day crafting on his easel the wonders of precision and meticulousness that had made both his reputation and his fortune.

To overstate either Meissonier’s reputation or his fortune would have been difficult in the year 1863. “At no period,” a contemporary claimed, “can we point to a French painter to whom such high distinctions were awarded, whose works were so eagerly sought after, whose material interests were so guaranteed by the high prices offered for every production of his brush. No artist in France could command Meissonier’s extravagant prices or excite so much public attention. Each year at the Paris Salon - the annual art exhibition in the Palais des Champs-Élysées - the space before Meissonier’s paintings grew so thick with spectators that a special policeman was needed to regulate the masses as they pressed forward to inspect his latest success. Collected by wealthy connoisseurs such as James de Rothschild and the Duc d’ Aumale. these paintings proved such lucrative investments that Meissonier’s signature was said to be worth that of the Bank of France. “The prices of his works,” noted one awestruck art critic, “have attained formidable proportions, never before known.”

Meissonier’s success in the auction rooms was accompanied by a chorus of critical praise and-even more unusual for an art world riven by savage rivalries and piffling jealousies - the respect and admiration of his peers. “He is the incontestable master of our epoch,” declared Eugène Delacroix, who predicted to the poet Charles Baudelaire that “amongst all of us, surely it is he who is most certain to survive!” Another of Meissonier’s friends, the writer Alexandre Dumas fils, called him ”the painter of France.” He was simply, as a newspaper breathlessly reported, “the most renowned artist of our time.”

From his vantage point at the top of his mansion this most renowned artist could have seen all that his tremendous success had bought him. A stable housed his eight horses and a coach house his fleet of carriages, which included expensive landaus, berlines, and victorias. He even owned the fastest vehicle on the road, a mail coach. All were decorated, in one of his typically lordly gestures, with a crest that bore his most fitting motto: Omnia labor, or “Everything by work.” A greenhouse, a saddlery, an English garden, a photographic workshop, a duck pond, lodgings for his coachman and groom, and a meadow planted with cherry trees - all were ranged across a patch of land sloping down to the embankments of the Seine, where his two yachts were moored. A dozen miles upstream, in the Rue des Pyramides, a fashionable street within steps of both the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre, he maintained his Paris apartment.

The Grande Maison itself stood between the convent’s Gothic church and the remains of its ancient cloister. Meissonier had purchased the pink-bricked eighteenth-century orangery, which was sometimes known as Le Pavilion Rose, in 1846. In the ensuing years he had spent hundreds of thousands of francs on its expansion and refurbishment in order to create a splendid palace for himself and his family. A turret had been built above an adjoining cottage to house an enormous cistern that provided the Grande Maison with running water, which was pumped through the house and garden by means of a steam engine. The house also boasted a luxurious water closet and, to warm it in winter, a central heating system. A billiard room was available for Meissonier’s rare moments away from his easel.

Yet despite these modern conveniences, the Grande Maison was really intended to be an exquisite antiquarian daydream. “My house and my temperament belong to another age,” Meissonier once said. He did not feel at home or at ease in the nineteenth century. He spoke unashamedly of the “good old days,” by which he meant the eighteenth century and even earlier. He detested the sight of railway stations, cast-iron bridges, modern architecture and recent fashions such as frock coats and top hats. He did not like how people sat cross-legged and read newspapers and cheap pamphlets instead of leather-bound books. And so from the outside his house - all gables, pitched roofs and leaded windows - was a vision of eighteenth-century elegance and tranquillity, while on the inside the rooms were decorated in the style of Louis XV, with expensive tapestries, armoires, embroidered fauteuils, and carved wooden balustrades.

The Grande Maison included not one but, most unusually, two large studios in which Meissonier could paint his masterpieces. The atelier d’hiver, or “winter workshop,” featuring bay windows and a large fireplace, was on the top floor of the house, while at ground level, overlooking the garden, he had built a glass-roofed annexe known as the atelier d’été, or “summer workshop.” Both abounded with the tools of his trade: canvases, brushes and easels, but also musical instruments, suits of armour, bridles and harnesses, plumed helmets, and an assortment of halberds, rapiers and muskets - enough weaponry, it was said, to equip a company of mercenaries. For Meissonier’s paintings were, like his house, recherché figments of an antiquarian imagination. He specialised in scenes from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century life, portraying an ever-growing cast of silk-coated and lace-ruffed gentlemen - what he called his bonshommes, or “goodfellows” - playing chess, smoking pipes, reading books, sitting before easels or double basses, or posing in the uniforms of musketeers or halberdiers. These musicians and bookworms striking their quiet and reflective poses in serene, softly lit interiors, all executed in microscopic detail, bore uncanny similarities to the work of Jan Vermeer, an artist whose rediscovery in the 1860s owed much to the ravenous taste for Meissonier - and one whose tremendous current popularity approaches the enthusiastic esteem in which Meissonier himself was held in mid-nineteenth-century France.

Typical of Meissonier’s work was one of his most recent creations, Halt at an Inn, owned by the Due de Morny, a wealthy art collector and the illegitimate half- brother of the French Emperor, Napoleon Ill. Completed in 1862, it featured three eighteenth-century cavaliers in tricorn hats being served drinks on horseback outside a half-timbered rural tavern: a charming vignette of the days of old, without a railway train or top hat in sight. Meissonier’s most famous painting, though, was The Brawl, a somewhat less decorous scene depicting a fight in a tavern between two men dressed - as usual - in opulent eighteenth-century attire. Awarded the Grand Medal of Honour at the Salon of 1855, it was owned by Queen Victoria, whose husband and consort, Prince Albert, had prized Meissonier above all other artists. At the height of the Crimean War, Napoleon III had purchased the work from Meissonier for 25,000 francs - eight times the annual salary of an average factory worker - and presented it as a gift to his ally across the Channel.

“If I had not been a painter,” Meissonier once declared, “I should have liked to be a historian. I don’t think any other subject could be so interesting as history.” He was not alone in his veneration of the past. The mid-nineteenth century was an age of rapid technological development that had witnessed the invention of photography, the electric motor and the steam-powered locomotive. Yet it was also an age fascinated by, and obsessed with, the past. The novelist Gustave Flaubert regarded this keen sense of history as a completely new phenomenon - as yet another of the century’s many bold inventions. “The historical sense dates from only yesterday,” he wrote to a friend in 1860, “and it is perhaps one of the nineteenth century’s finest achievements.” Visions of the past were everywhere in France. Fashions at the court of Napoleon III aped those of previous centuries, with men wearing bicorn hats, knee breeches and silk stockings. The country’s best-known architect, Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, had spent his career busily returning old churches and cathedrals to their medieval splendour. By 1863 he was creating a fairy-tale castle for the emperor at Pierrefonds, a knights-in-armour reverie of portcullises, round towers and cobbled courtyards.

This sense of nostalgia predisposed the French public towards Meissonier’s paintings, which were celebrated by the country’s greatest art critic, Théophile Gautier, as “a complete resurrection of the life of bygone days.” Meissonier’s wistful visions appealed to exactly the same population that had made The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas père, first published in 1844, the most commercially successful book in nineteenth-century France. Indeed, with their cavaliers decked out in ostrich plumes, doublets and wide-topped boots, many of Meissonier’s paintings could easily have served as illustrations from the works of Dumas, a friend of the painter who, before his bankruptcy, had lived in equally splendid style in his “Château de Monte Cristo,” a domed and turreted folly at Marly-le-Roi, a few miles upstream from Meissonier. Both men excelled at depicting scenes of chivalry and masculine adventure against a backdrop of pre-Revolutionary and pre-industrial France - the period before King Louis XVI was marched to the steps of the guillotine and the old social relations were destroyed, in the decades that followed, by new economic forces of finance and industry. “The age of chivalry is gone,” wrote Edmund Burke, a fierce critic of the French Revolution who lamented the loss, after 1789, of “manly sentiment and heroic enterprise.” But the age of chivalry had not entirely vanished in France: by the middle of the nineteenth century it lingered eloquently in Dumas’s novels, in Viollet-le-Duc’s spires and towers, and in Meissonier’s jewel-like “musketeer” paintings.

Still, the subject matter of Meissonier’s works accounted only partly for their extraordinary success. What astounded the critics and the public alike was his mastery of fine detail and almost inconceivably punctilious craftsmanship. “It is impossible to comprehend that our clumsy hands could achieve such a degree of delicacy,” enthused Gautier. Meissonier’s paintings, most of which were small in size, rewarded the closest and most prolonged observation. After purchasing one of his works, the English art critic John Ruskin would examine it at length under a magnifying glass, marvelling at Meissonier’s manual dexterity and eye for fascinating minutiae. A critic once joked that Meissonier was capable of putting the Prophets of the Sistine Chapel on the setting of a ring. No one in the history of art, it was said, ever possessed such a superlative and unerring touch with his brush. “The finest Flemish painters, the most meticulous Dutch,” claimed Gautier, “are slovenly and heavy next to Meissonier.” ...

Saturday September 09 2017

So there I was, wondering around the other side of the City of London from where I live, as I like to do, and I saw this taxi with a tree behind it.  But the weird thing was, no matter which direction I photoed the taxi and the tree from, the tree was always directly behind the taxi:

imageimageimage
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What gave?  Answer: the tree wasn’t and isn’t behind the taxi.  It was and is right on top of the taxi, made to look as if it is growing right up through it.  This taxi with tree was and is: Art.

Yes, this is one of those many places where hurt-your-foot-if-you-drop-it work has recently been replaced by “creative” work.  (The sneer quotes are not because creative work isn’t, but because other work so often is also.)

Here is a map of this place, together with a description of what has been happening there recently:

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When exploring a new place, I always photo maps and signs which explain everything.

This map looks, I think, rather like one of those illustrations in a birds-and-bees instruction manual for adolescents.

More about Orchard Place here.

Sunday August 20 2017

For a cricket obsessive like me, the best thing about that game in which eleven boys (the Marlborough College cricket team) played Rugby (it works better when you say it) at Lord’s was the stellar hitting at the end of the Marlborough innings by Max Read.  His best score ever, apparently.  Nothing like doing that at Lord’s, eh?  From now on, kid, life is all downhill, unless you do something else really well.  Or, I suppose, do even better at cricket.

But for the less cricket-crazy observer, the big story of that game, the one picked up by the regular newspapers, was this:

Maia becomes first girl in a boys’ team to play at Lord’s

A teenage cricketer from London has made history by becoming the first woman to play at Lord’s in a school’s first XI.

The Rugby team took on Marlborough College’s first XI at Lord’s on Saturday, making Maia the first schoolgirl to play in an “all male” school match at the home of cricket.

What the newspapers did not emphasise was the Ms Bouchier, batting at number six, got out for just one run, with her dismissal marking the low point in the day of Rugby’s fortunes.  That disappointment meant that Rugby had sunk to a calamitous 30 for 5, chasing Marlborough’s 270.  (Rugby then had a big stand and got amazingly close.)

So, I did not have much chance to take any photos of Ms Bouchier batting.  This one, making it clear that this is mixed cricket rather than an all-ladies game, was probably my best one:

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Does Ms Bouchier’s appearance at Lord’s signal the gradual emergence of cricket from men only to mixed?  Sadly, not.  The now 18-year-old Ms Bouchier is already an England Under-19 International, in other words one of the few dozen best lady players of her generation.  That she made it into the first team of a mere boys’ school is an achievement, but not that remarkable an achievement, for femaledom as a whole.  That she played with her male team-mates at Lord’s will be a nice memory (once she forgets her low score), but she’ll be doing that again, especially when you discover that she plays for Middlesex.  Something like this was bound to happen, just as soon as formerly all-boys schools started including girls.  (Marlborough, by the way, have had girls attending for nearly fifty years now.) Top flight men’s cricket does contain men of very varied shapes and types, and in particular some very short men.  But they are all pretty strong physically, even the spin bowlers.  For the foreseeable future, the top ladies and the top gents will each play their gender-segregated games.

It perhaps says something that Ms Bouchier is an England hopeful because of her bowling, but that she did not bowl for Rugby at all in their game against Marlborough.

Meanwhile, around England today, the lady cricketers were out in force.  My team, the Surrey Stars, captained by Ms Natmeg herself (already mentioned here in this posting), just managed to defeat the Southern Vipers.

The individual performance of the day came from New Zealandress Rachel Priest, whose not out century propelled her team, (the?) Western Storm, to victory against the Yorkshire Diamonds by ten wickets, which is the most wickets you can win by.

No men’s cricket in England today, England having crushed the West Indians in England’s first ever day-night pink ball test match inside three days.  Let’s hope the Windies can do better next time.  (It’s always a terrible sign when the opposition fans want you to do better.  I wanted the Windies to bat better at Edgbaston.  (I also wanted Rugby to recover from 30-5.  (Be careful what you wish for.)))

Win some lose some.  Women’s cricket on the up-and-up.  West Indian test cricket on the down-and-down.

I can remember listening to cricket on the radio, at a time when no New Zealand men could bat half as well as Rachel Priest bats now.

Sunday August 13 2017

Luxury ‘thin house’ being built in three-metre gap between London buildings

And here is the picture under that headline:

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What this story illustrates is that cities are not going to go away, merely because electronic communication is becoming ever easier.  People still crave physical proximity to wherever the action is that they most like.  Given the choice between living in a spacious home in the wrong place to a poky little box cupboard like the above, in the right place, then a lot of people choose the latter.

Besides which, why do I want “a spacious home”?  Then I’d have to look after the bloody thing.  I have a specious home.  It’s called London, and lots of other people look after it for me.

This Old School blogging is turning out a lot like regular blogging.

Wednesday August 09 2017

This evening I attended the 70th birthday party of a school friend, aka GodDaughter 1’s dad. Yes, I am (see below) getting old.  As is he.

The journey from Vauxhall to Surbiton was a horrible, wet mess.  This about sums it up, but also portrays the journey’s one redeeming feature, apart from the fact that I did manage to get there on time:

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At Vauxhall, from which I can usually go direct to Surbiton, they told me instead to go to Waterloo.  Above, we look through the window of my sopping wet train into the newly active what-used-to-be Euroterminal, now back in business.  But the very fact that this terminal is now back in business is all part of the confusion I suffered from, for they are now engaged in lengthening all the other Waterloo platforms, to enable the commuter trains to get longer, so that more people may commute while walking ever longer distances.  But eventually I got a train from Waterloo to Surbiton, and it almost certainly rains harder in India, during the monsoon, than it did while I walked from Surbiton Station to the party.

When at the party I was forbidden from taking photos, and instead had to socialise with all the other people who were there.  Which, to be fair, I did enjoy.  The party had all the good aspects of a funeral, in the form of learning lots of fun things about the centre of all our attention, without said centre being dead.  So, it all turned out rather well.

But I am now very tired and still rather tipsy, and am going to bed.

Sunday July 30 2017

I really like this description of where cool came from.  I don’t think I agree, but I like the way the guy puts it:

And what Frank Sinatra projected was: cool. And here is where the damage was done. Frank invented cool, and everyone followed Frank, and everything has been going to hell ever since.

In America, B.F., there was no cool. There was smart (as in the smart set), and urbane, and sophisticated, and fast and hip; but these things were not the same as cool. The pre-Frank hip guy, the model of aesthetic and moral superiority to which men aspired, is the American male of the 1930s and 1940s. He is Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep or Casablanca or Archie Goodwin in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels. He possesses an outward cynicism, but this is understood to be merely clothing; at his core, he is a square. He fights a lot, generally on the side of the underdog. He is willing to die for his beliefs, and his beliefs are, although he takes pains to hide it, old-fashioned. He believes in truth, justice, the American way, and love. He is on the side of the law, except when the law is crooked. He is not taken in by jingoism but he is himself a patriot; when there is a war, he goes to it. He is, after his fashion, a gentleman and, in a quite modern manner, a sexual egalitarian. He is forthright, contemptuous of dishonesty in all its forms, from posing to lying. He confronts his enemies openly and fairly, even if he might lose. He is honorable and virtuous, although he is properly suspicious of men who talk about honor and virtue. He may be world-weary, but he is not ironic.

The new cool man that Sinatra defined was a very different creature. Cool said the old values were for suckers. Cool was looking out for number one always. Cool didn’t get mad; it got even. Cool didn’t go to war: Saps went to war, and anyway, cool had no beliefs it was willing to die for. Cool never, ever, got in a fight it might lose; cool had friends who could take care of that sort of thing. Cool was a cad and boastful about it; in cool’s philosophy, the lady was always a tramp, and to be treated accordingly. Cool was not on the side of the law; cool made its own laws. Cool was not knowing but still essentially idealistic; cool was nihilistic. Cool was not virtuous; it reveled in vice. Before cool, being good was still hip; after cool, only being bad was.

I found that at Instapundit.  It is from this.

I remember writing a pamphlet, way back when, entitled Why I Support The Contras, that included the observation that …:

… there seems to me to be something especially nasty about free, comfortable people choosing to decide questions of overwhelming historical and moral significance as if they were arguing about hemlines.

That’s in my penultimate paragraph, underneath my final subheading, “MORALITY AND STYLE”.  My point being that morality trumps style.

To put that in the language of cool and uncool, what I was getting at was that being an uncool anti-communist was good.  But being a cool pro-communist, or (almost as bad in my opinion) a cool anti-anti-communist, was evil.  And good and evil matter a hell of a lot more than cool and uncool.

I think that “cool” can be a virtue, related to the idea of “grace under fire”.  Cool, can, that is to say, overlap with virtue.  You can be cool while being – cool about being - good, or at least non-evil.

Cool and evil can go to hell, that being where it belongs.  But when Instapundit’s Ed Driscoll says, of that Michael Kelly quote, “spot on”, I disagree.  I don’t regard cool as being, in and of itself, evil.  It often is.  But it often isn’t.

But, what do I know?  The thing is, this is an argument about the meaning of a word, and the meaning of a word is often controversial.  To know what a word means, you have to know about how it is used.  Knowing how you think it should be used is not the same thing.  All I can say is that in my conversational circles, cool is not necessarily wicked.

I am quite prepared to believe that in Sinatra world, cool did indeed become very wicked indeed.

Wednesday June 28 2017

This is one of my favourite statues in London, and this is one of my favourite photos that I’ve taken of it, one of quite a few over the years:

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Photo taken just before I took these.

What would Beau Brummell have made of the smartphone?  And of these smartphoners?

More about the statue, where it is exactly, who did it, and so on, here.

Also: Longmire and Edward Green.

Tuesday June 20 2017

Why do people get so angry about other people who photo their food before eating it?

Here is a pizza that I photoed, before eating it, when we all went out to dinner following GD2’s end of third year singing recital:

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And very tasty it was too.  Thank you Da Mario‘s, if that’s how you say it.

Does the very thought of me taking the above photo, in a restaurant, annoy you?  Why?  Seriously, why?  By this I don’t mean: stop feeling annoyed you fool.  By why I mean why.  What is this feeling?

I’m not sure I can prove it, but I am rather sure that a similarly small but definite spasm of annoyance is felt when the same people who disapprove of food photoing observe other photoers using selfie sticks.

Yes, I think I have it.  What food photoing and selfie sticks have in common, beyond the obvious fact that both involve photoing, is that both practices are very visible.  If they bother you, they are hard to ignore, like a slight but irregular noise when you are trying to get to sleep, or people shouting near you in an already noisy (but predictably so and thus ignorably so) tube train.

The fact of these practices being so visible is what amplifies the annoyance.

Getting back to that food photoing thing in particular, why be annoyed?

Could it be that photography has now become something very different in recent years, but that some people need to do some catching up?  The marginal cost of the next photo you take is now: zero.  The marginal cost of the next phone communication you send: also zero.  So, taking and sending a photo of what you are about to eat is of no more consequence than just telling someone you are about to consume a rather good pizza, over the phone, with mere words.  A pizza photo says, quickly, what is in it, what sort of pizza it is, how big, and so forth, just as you might if you were talking about it.  A photo thrown into the conversation is just illustrated chit-chat.

But photography, traditionally, has tended to be a much more slow, solemn and artistic and expensive thing.  And the more artistic and cultured you are, or think that you are, the more you will know this.  Do these damn people think that every damn food photo they commit and emit is some sort of eighteenth century Dutch still life painting?

Well, it kind of is, or kind of can be.  But basically, no.  If you think they think this, you’ll think them very silly.  But, they don’t think this.  What they are doing is not Big Art, even if at its best casual photoing can resemble Big Art.  What they are doing with their food photos is small talk.

Could that be something to do with it?

Also in play are the more ignoble feelings aroused by others (a) enjoying themselves, (b) not caring who knows it, and (c) not caring, in particular, about you and any moans you might have about what they are doing and how they are drawing attention to themselves.  You just know that if you said to them: Excuse me, would you mind not doing that? - they’d say something along the lines of: yes we would mind not doing that, get stuffed.  Eat you own damn food and stop complaining about us photoing ours, you idiot.  And they’d be right.  And you’d know it.

Thursday May 25 2017

I don’t remember how I recently found my way back this piece in the Telegraph, but I do remember noticing it when it was first published in 2014, because I remember the graphic in it about preserving various public views of St Paul’s.

However, I don’t think I actually read it right through in 2014.  In particular, I don’t remember reading this:

It’s no secret why developers want to build towers as tall as possible. The higher an apartment block is, the more money it makes. A rule of thumb is that each floor adds at least 1.5 per cent onto the value of an apartment.

“The fact is someone will pay more to be on the 29th floor than they will to be on the 27th floor,” says Mark Dorman, head of London residential development at Strutt and Parker. They are marketing the two new towers at Nine Elms (56-storey City Tower and 45-storey River Tower, ready in 2017).

“Surprisingly, too, as has been discovered in New York, you will get as much money for a high-rise apartment facing another high-rise block as you will for an apartment facing the river.

“The same rule applies in London; you’ll get more for an apartment with a view of The Shard or the Gherkin than you will for one with a view of the Thames. People in high-rises like to look at other high-rises.”

The piece then goes on to note that others, notably the Price of Wales, don’t like high rise buildings.

So, the people who like living in high-rise apartments are willing to pay for them.  Some of those not willing to pay for them don’t like them.  Guess who wins.

Plus, there are lots of people, like me, who are not willing to pay for high rise apartments, but who do like them, because they (we) like how London is and how London looks because of all these other people living in London, making all manner of interesting business and pleasure ventures viable, and making the entire place more interesting to live in and look at, and in my case a lot more interesting to take photos of.

Here is how the Telegraph piece ends:

As for those people who worry that it’s all foreigners who are coming over here and taking our high-rises, they shouldn’t get upset, says Challis. …

Challis being “head of residential research at Jones Lang Lasalle”.

… That battle is already lost.

“The fact is, one-third of the population of London was not born here,” he says.

“Take me – I’m Canadian. When it comes to internationalisation, I have to say that this is not a new phenomenon. This city is founded on its contribution to the globe.

“It’s time everyone woke up and realised what has happened. There’s no doubt in my mind that London is now the de facto capital of the world.”

All of which was written before Brexit happened.

And I’m guessing that Brexit won’t make much of a dent in any of this.  Some voted Brexit, I am sure, to put a stop to all this, or at least to slow it down.  I voted Brexit for other reasons, and also because I didn’t think Brexit would make much of a difference to the cosmopolitan nature of London.

In the longer run, I think and hope, Brexit will make London even more the “de facto” capital of the world.  In other words (see also “fundamentally”, “essentially") not really the capital of the world at all, but you know what he’s (and I’m) getting at.

Long before London became the “de facto capital of the world”, it was also the “de facto”, as well as actual, capital of England, in the sense that it has always been a Mecca for non-Londoners.  William Shakespeare for example.  He too was, by the standards of his time, an immigrant into London.  (Who went back home to die, as most immigrants don’t, but that’s a different story.)

Thursday April 13 2017

Indeed, a decade ago to the day, on the grass outside Westminster Abbey.  The word “selfie” didn’t then exist, but that didn’t stop anyone from doing it.  It was because so many were doing it that the word was needed:

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I like how the soles of their feet are the bit of the photo that’s most in focus.

My first use of the word “selfie” was, according to my blogging software, in this posting.  It’s all about me.

Saturday March 04 2017

Here are some more quotes from Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography.  (See this earlier posting, with another quote (about the Arctic), at the top of which I list all the earlier quotes from this book that I have displayed here.)

These ones are about what happens when European Imperialists ignored geography (p. 146):

When the Ottoman Empire began to collapse, the British and French had a different idea. In 1916 the British diplomat Colonel Sir Mark Sykes took a chinagraph pencil and drew a crude line across a map of the Middle East. It ran from Haifa on the Mediterranean in what is now Israel to Kirkuk (now in Iraq) in the north-east. It became the basis of his secret agreement with his French counterpart Francois Georges-Picot to divide the region into two spheres of influence should the Triple Entente defeat the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. North of the line was to be under French control, south of it under British hegemony.

The term ‘Sykes-Picot’ has become shorthand for the various decisions made in the first third of the twentieth century which betrayed promises given to tribal leaders and which partially explain the unrest and extremism of today. This explanation can be overstated, though: there was violence and extremism before the Europeans arrived. Nevertheless, as we saw in Africa, arbitrarily creating ‘nation states’ out of people unused to living together in one region is not a recipe for justice, equality and stability.

Prior to Sykes-Picot (in its wider sense), there was no state of Syria, no Lebanon, nor were there Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel or Palestine.  Modern maps show the borders and the names of nation states, but they are young and they are fragile.

So, what happens if you ignore geography like this?  Answer: geography comes back to bite you.  More to the point, it bites all the people upon whom you have inflicted your indifference to geography (p. 148):

The legacy of European colonialism left the Arabs grouped into nation states and ruled by leaders who tended to favour whichever branch ofIslam (and tribe) they themselves came from. These dictators then used the machinery of state to ensure their writ ruled over the entire area within the artificial lines drawn by the Europeans, regardless of whether this was historically appropriate and fair to the different tribes and religions that had been thrown together.

Iraq ...

To name but one.

… is a prime example of the ensuing conflicts and chaos. The more religious among the Shia never accepted that a Sunni-led government should have control over their holy cities such as Najaf and Karbala, where their martyrs Ali and Hussein are said to be buried. These communal feelings go back centuries; a few decades of being called ‘Iraqis’ was never going to dilute such emotions.

Time I finished my review of this book.

Saturday January 28 2017

I am always banging on about my collection of photos, but my collection of books is also, in some cases, becoming a bit interesting.  Here, for instance, is a bit from a book that was published in 1980, by Peter Laurie, called The Micro Revolution. (pp.202-204)

Industrial predictions

At the time of writing (early 1979) the microprocessor was much discussed and many people were asking what it would do to industry and employment. My own ideas, for what they are worth, are presented here and there through this book; at this point it might be worth summarizing a study by the American management consultancy firm of Arthur D. Little Inc, which was carried out between 1976 and 1978, cost $2 million to perform and whose detailed results are available for $35,000 a copy.

The survey looked at the USA, Britain, France and Germany. It predicted that by 1987 - that is, in seven years time - the annual market for products incorporating microprocessors will be worth $30 thousand million. If computers are added. ‘It appears that by the end of the next decade every citizen of a developed country will spend an average of £100 a year on microprocessors.’

In more detail, the prediction was that American cars would be forced by strict legislation on pollution standards to install micros to control ignition and carburettion. In Europe, where people are less fussy, this development would lag. But in all countries, micros would be widely used for information and entertainment in the car.

It is predicted that the home market will be the largest, with something like 400 million intelligent units a year worth $50 each being sold in 1987.  Micros will be used in many different products - we have already talked about the entertainment-communications-computer unit which will look like a TV set with a computer added. There will also be all sorts of intelligent toys, kitchen gadgets, security systems, gardening devices.

In the office there will be a large sale for text processing, facsimile and copying machines, electronic telephones, dictating systems and communication processors. If the Post Offices provide data highways to match, this will result in the ‘virtual city’ described in chapter 9.

Industrial systems will be slower to incorporate micros (a) because they differ one from another and it is not easy to mass produce equipment for this market; and (b) because what is used has to be extremely reliable - and only time can prove that.

Arthur D. Little predicts that micros will generate 400,000 extra jobs in Europe in firms making, installing and servicing equipment incorporating them. It is inescapable that if microprocessors are widely used they will increase material wealth. However, they will also put a lot of people out of work, and there is no guarantee that these people will be easily, or indeed ever, retrained for new jobs. In fact the whole thing looks like producing considerable industrial dislocation; because along with the people who will not be needed there will go a tremendous shortage of people who are needed.  As early as 1979, my eighteen-year-old son, with only school computing and three months of work on microdevelopment behind him, was offered £300 a week to work in Holland. GEC said recently that they alone could employ every British electronics graduate. There is no doubt that over the next ten years anyone who can pass himself off as understanding the micro will be in great demand, and will be able to make large amounts of money in exploiting his talents.

For this decade at least there are going to be wonderful opportunities for intelligent and independent people. The classical example is young Wozniak who, in 1976, at the age of 21, with his friend Steve, set to work in his parents’ California garage to build a microcomputer. ‘I sold my calculator and Steve sold his van and we used the money to hire a printed circuit artist to layout the boards.’ In 1979 Wozniak, now 23, and the employer of 200 people was planning to ship $75 million worth of his APPLE computers.

Sunday January 15 2017

In the cold and muggy January of 2017, I and my aching limbs are spending a lot of time indoors.  And many of the photos I am looking at were taken long ago.

Here is one that I took in, if my (very first digital) camera is to be believed, March of 2000.  It also claims that it was taken at “01.31”, but I believe Big Ben:

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The obviously out of date thing about that picture is the big Le Corbusian slabs of the old Department of the Environment, about to the demolished and replaced by less obtrusive new offices and dwellings.

But for me what was startling about this photo and its companion photos that I took that day is how few of them there were.  In those far off times of limited SD card storage, the photos were far smaller, about a tenth of the size of the photos I take now.  And, on that journey in the Wheel, no less, a trip that would now see me hoovering up views of London near and far, guess how many photos there are, in the relevant directory.  Thirty nine.  Thirty nine!!!

London has indeed changed, quite a bit.  But digital photography has been transformed.

Also of interest is that among those few photos are photos of strangers, who were obviously happy to pose.  As were their children.  Not long after then, photos of other people’s children pretty much vanish from my archives.