Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Society

Thursday July 23 2015

Said I to myself - said I, on the 10th of this month:

I need to get out less, and this weather is not helping.

Tomorrow, the weather will be helping very much:

image

This is perfect.  My life today, in the last few days, and for the last few weeks, has been one mad social whirl after another, my contented solitude being having been violated seemingly every other evening and sometimes more often even than that, which is all fun and all that, but I find that an evening out puts a blight on creativity for the entire day, because what if I start something, want to finish it, but then don’t have time to, because I have a social whirl to attend and to get ready for and to find my way to and to find out about finding my way to?  Last night I whirled out to watch theatrical stuff in an unfamiliar and transportationally complicated part of town with a theatrical friend.  Tonight, I face another social whirl, to meet Perry II.  Every time I go out I take photos, but because of all this going out I have no time to show them to you people or not with the sort of insightful commentary that I want to attach to them without which what’s the point? - They’re just pictures.

So tomorrow (a day during which I have nothing else planned), I will stay in all day, and try (although I promise nothing) to do here a mammoth day of catch-up blogging, showing you a tiny fraction of the pictures I have been taking lately, all properly explained, and anything else I’ve been meaning to put here for some time that I decide to put here tomorrow, in not one, not two, but many postings.

We shall see.

Saturday July 18 2015

Incoming, this morning, 11.37 am:

Hi brian

Hi.

How are you?

Oh you know, much the same as ever.

My name is Chrystal. I am 25 years old. I am from Chongqing. I like your page. How often do you visit the site? I really want to communicate with you. I am good at Thai massage and really like to eat fish. What about you? I guess that we will have many topics to talk about.

Do you have some social networks? I will be waiting for your letter.

Best wishes
Chrystal

I was pondering my reply to Chrystal, asking for clarification about this site I am supposed to be visiting, but going on to say that she really is a bit young for me.

But then, incoming, at 12.12pm:

Hi brian

How are you?

My name is Eugenia. I am 25 years old. I am from Chongqing. I like your page. How often do you visit the site? I really want to communicate with you. I am good at Thai massage and really like to eat fish. What about you? I guess that we will have many topics to talk about.

Do you have some social networks? I will be waiting for your letter.

Best wishes
Eugenia

Uncanny.  Truly, truly uncanny.  They even both said “hi brian” is the same giant blue letters.  What are the odds?  Presumably, I should continue with the composition of my reply, and send a copy to each of them.  It’s almost as if one of them isn’t a real person.  Or even – the horror – neither of them is.  Does some terrible middle aged, male, ugly criminal want to know more about me, that he can then use to his advantage and to my disadvantage?  If Eugenia hadn’t copied Chrystal’s email to me, these suspicious thoughts might never have occurred to me.

Seriously though, these sorts of (and all the other sorts of) bullshit emails pollute email, by making you assume that any email from anyone which seems even slightly off key is bollocks, even if it isn’t.  You even think it may be bollocks if the person it’s from is someone that you know.  Because, maybe someone else stole that person’s name, or just guessed it or chose it at random.  I can remember when it actually made sense to trust incoming emails from strangers, unless they were obvious bullshit.  Those days are long gone.  At first, email seemed to create a bright new world of candour and of quick and easy communication.  But emails like the ones above clog up the pipes.  They may be a joke, but they are a joke we could all do without.

Wednesday July 01 2015

Yesterday I wrote here about the twenty-first century social obligation to use a mobile phone when meeting up with someone, because of the problems this solves and despite the problems this creates.  Hence the need for me to take my mobile phone with me when going photowalkabout with G(od)D(aughter) 1.

But, on Saturday evening, the evening before GD1 and I went on our walk, I was very nearly deprived of my mobile phone, by which I mean deprived of the ability to make use of it.

What happened was that, while I was also out and about on Saturday evening, a baritone-singing student friend of mezzo-soprano-singing student G(od)D(aughter) 2, sought the help of GD2.  His mobile had run out of puff and needed a recharge.  GD2 uses an iPhone, but Baritone has an Android mobile, so Baritone could not use GD2’s recharger.  What to do?

Between them they decided that I and my Android recharger might be the answer.  I guess that GD2 then rang me on my immobile home number and discovered that I was out.  Then, knowing my aversion and incompetence as a mobile phoner, and especially as a reliable receiver of incoming mobile messages, she did not not attempt to ring me on my mobile.  Or, she did try my mobile and I did not answer.

For various reasons that I still don’t understand and which in any case do not now matter, Baritone ended up coming to my home, armed with GD2’s key to my home, and having made his entrance, he “borrowed” my mobile phone recharger.

I want to emphasise that the above quote marks are not sneer quotes.  They are confusion quotes.

For, what exactly does it mean to “borrow” a mobile phone charger?  What GD2 meant, when she assured Baritone that it would okay for him to “borrow” my phone charger, was that it would be okay for him to charge up his mobile phone, using my charger at my home.  As indeed it would have been.

However, Baritone misunderstood this assurance to mean that it would be okay for him to “borrow” my charger, as in: take it away and make use it throughout Saturday evening, in other places besides mine.  I don’t believe that Baritone would have done this without that assurance from GD2, as he understood it.  After all, whereas charging up your mobile in situ is socially very okay, taking a charger away without permission is surely a twenty-first century social gaff of the first order.  But, Baritone thought that he had permission to do this otherwise unacceptable thing.  GD2 is adamant that she gave no such permission, but I believe that Baritone genuinely thought that this unusual procedure was, in the light of GD2’s assurance, okay.  He made this clear in a written thankyou note he left on my desk.

And it normally would have been okay.  Had I not been going on an expedition the following day with GD1, then the charger could have made its way back to my home some time on or around Sunday, and all would have been fine.  But, for all the reasons that were explained in the previous posting, I needed that charger by quite early on Sunday morning at the latest.

So, despite GD2s protestations, I acquit Baritone of wrongdoing.

But then again, Baritone is a baritone.  And baritones often behave very badly, quite often at the expense of notably virtuous mezzo-sopranos.  So maybe I’m being too kind.

All was speedily corrected by GD2, who was rather insulted by the profuseness of my thanks when she brought my charger back at 8am on Sunday morning.  Of course I got your charger back.  (See what I mean about virtuous mezzo-sopranos.)

It was just as well that I did get it back.  In addition to using my mobile for all that meeting up at the start of the day, I also used it for its map app, and to tell me how Surrey were doing against Gloucester.  Very well, as it happened.  Nothing like your sports team winning to keep you going when you are knackered.

However, I now understand better why people have cameras with mobile phones built into them.  What with my bag and all, I was having constantly to choose between knowing where I was, and photoing it.

Surrey are on a bit of a roll just now.  This evening they beat Gloucester again, in a T20 slog at the Oval.  Surrey needed a mere six runs from the last four balls.  So, how did they get them?  The last four balls went: wicket, dot, dot, six.  In English that’s: probable Surrey victory, possible Surrey victory, almost impossible Surrey victory, Surrey victory.  I got that off my laptop, but I could have got it from my mobile, if I had been out and about.  Provided it hadn’t run out of puff.

Tuesday June 30 2015

As everyone else in the world found out several years before I did, a mobile phone is now an essential part of the kit you need to meet up with somebody.  So, I made a point of having my mobile with me when G(od)D(aughter) 1 and I met up at Manor House tube last Sunday.

When I arrived there, at our predetermined time, I discovered that Manor House tube has three widely dispersed exits to choose from.  Now you may say: “But how many ticket barriers does it have?  One.” You are right, but what if the mobile phone reception at the ticket barrier, this ticket barrier being below ground, does not work?  I needed to be out in the open.

Mobile phones cause plans to be more muddy and last-minute than they used to be, because that is what these plans can now be.  GD1 and I had hoped that “the exit of Manor House tube” would be unambiguous, but we took a chance on that, because we would both have our mobile phones with us, and we could make it up as we went along if things got more complicated.

I picked one of the three exits and looked around for GD1.  No sign.  I left a phone message and a text message for GD1 saying to her: I am in the Manor Park View Cafe, which is next to the big gate into Finsbury Park, which by then I was.  Fifteen minutes later, I rang again, and eventually got through to GD1.  She said: “I just sent you a text.” Ah.  She was running a bit late, which, now that we all have mobiles, is okay because now such information is easily communicated.

Anyway we duly met up in the Manor Park Cafe, and we consumed consumables while deciding to have our walk anyway, despite the weather being vile, but also deciding that we would wait inside the Manor Park View Cafe until it stopped actually raining.

What might have happened had we not had any mobile telephony at our disposal, I do not know.  The old method, which is that you decide beforehand to meet at place X at time Y, used to work okay.  Whoever got there first waited, and whoever was second said sorry, with whatever degree of sincerity seemed appropriate.  But now, if you don’t bring a mobile with you, and if you don’t make constant use of it, you are misbehaving.

I brought my mobile with me to meet up with GD1, but at a critical moment I failed to consult it.  “Getting old” will definitely be one of the categories below.

Monday June 29 2015

The question mark in my title is because I do not know whether or not this bench is unusual.  Is it truly odd?  Or did it merely seem odd to me, when I photoed it earlier this evening, because I noticed something I had never noticed before in such a bench, but which is actually not that unusual?

Anyway, this is the bench:

image

And what struck me as odd is those extra arms, dividing the bench into three individual spots.  There are other seats like this, but I have never seen a wooden bench of this very trad sort, with those very untrad internal arms added.  To me this was and is very novel.  I found myself thinking: Is there something particularly London (It says “City of London” on the bench) about this, to me, very odd arrangement?  Is this some sort of device to guarantee not being touched by the people who sit next to you, perhaps because there are three such people and they squeeze up against you?  And is that very London?  Something you definitely would not find in other more socially easygoing, less atomistic, places?

Also, somehow, given those extra arms, I expect also extra legs.

I encountered these benches (there were several, including the one I was sitting on when I photoed this other one) outside the Museum of London in the Barbican area of the City of London.  In case you wanted to know.

Wednesday June 17 2015

I don’t often go to pubs, because of the noise.  But Goddaughter 2, raised in France, wanted to try eating a pie in a pub, so we went to the Barley Mow in Horseferry Road to see what they had.  They had pies, which proved very tasty.

Two particular circumstances made the evening pure perfection for me, besides the pure perfection of Goddaughter 2’s company I mean.

First, they had the latest England v NZ cricket ODI on the telly, and I got to watch the conclusion of England’s outstanding and outstandingly successful run chase that has just levelled the ODI series 2-2.  And second, this being the twenty-first century, GD2 had her smartphone with her and was texting with all her friends.  I hope you aren’t bored because of me doing all this texting, she said.  No no, I said, gazing happily at the giant telly screen, you just carry on my dear.  Don’t mind me.  As I said to her when we were leaving, had I been asked to chose the perfect hour and more to spend in a pub this week, then given that this pub had the cricket on the go, and given that my ever-delightful companion was apologising for neglecting me and communing instead with her smartphone, this hour and more would have been it.

There was noise but it didn’t matter.  We didn’t do much in the way of conversation, in other words we didn’t shout much at each other, although we did a bit because it wasn’t actually that noisy.  But we were mostly doing two separate things that did not require peace and quiet to work.  GD2 didn’t need silence to read and write her texts.  I didn’t need any television cricket commentators to tell me that England were batting up a storm.

As we left I asked GD2 if she reckoned the social media have made it better for women in pubs.  She reckoned yes they probably have.  If men in pubs are diverted by men’s stuff, like cricket on the telly, then any women they have dragged along with them are now able to entertain themselves, instead of just sitting there moping and getting bored.  Or, if the men were a bit more gracious than that, they would force themselves to ignore the men’s stuff and do conversation, despite their strong inclinations.  Also not ideal.  So, social media definitely equals progress.  And if the women are distracted by women’s stuff, then the men can play with their smartphones.

One of the very few uses I have found for my own smartphone, aside from telling me where I am and where to go when I am out and about, is acquainting myself with the latest cricket scores when I am out and about.

Wednesday May 20 2015

Here is a cropped detail of a photo I took on Monday, of a rather strange hair style:

image

The internet knows everything, but my image-googling skills are not good enough for me to learn what is going on here.  I have seen this kind of style before, so this is no mere individual eccentricity.  There is a group of guys who all style their hair like this.  But who are they?  What else, if anything, to they believe in, besides believing in having their hair done in this strange way?  Anyone?

Sunday May 17 2015

A while back, I showed you this photo, and mentioned how a sight like that often gets me going, photographically speaking.  That one certainly got me going that day.

Here is one of the more fun snaps I then took, of a hair drying machine that looks like an alien robot about to crush your head with a pair of cymbals, ...:

image

... or perhaps it is about to hug you.  You decide.

And here, taken only moments later, is a picture of a celebrity (the sort of celebrity that nobody has heard of) being papparized by a bunch of big-arse paps in big-arse trousers, outside what I assume is some kind of club, just off of Seven Dials.

image

When you get into that state of photographic ecstasy, that’s the kind of thing that seems to present itself to you.

Who knows?  Maybe the cymbal playing alien robot had just been drying Madam Celeb’s hair.  It does have some rather artful curls in it, that have the look of having been done to her, so to speak.

Nothing wrong with her arse.

Monday April 06 2015

Last night, I ventured out to dinner at Chateau Samizdata, hoping that my seeming recovery from flu would not be thrown into reverse.  I felt okay all last night, and I still do.  Not fully recovered, but okay.  But, my sense of taste was and is a mess, in fact now I think about it, it has been for several days.  I have always thought that I have good taste.  Don’t we all?  But just now, I don’t.  Things taste somewhat nasty and metallic.

A little sickness-googling got me to this website, which tells me what would seem to have been happening.  This is quite common, it would seem.

Dinner was great, really superb.  Thank you Adriana.  Even with my taste-buds misfiring, I could still tell that this was fabulously tasty food.  But I couldn’t really appreciate it properly.  It was rather like listening to great orchestral music, but in the Royal Festival Hall.

At least I was able to photo the food being photoed:

image

Nowadays, this being the twenty first century and all, I think this is the test of whether your cooking at least looks like it will be good.  Do your guests get out their smartphones and take snaps?  If so, success.  If no, fail.

Monday March 23 2015

First, an outstanding White Van photo snapped from what looks like the inside of a cafe, by Simon Gibbs, to whom profuse thanks:

image

I’ve been photoing White Vans for a month and more, but have never got three of them in one go like that.  That arrived chez moi first thing this morning.

And then, to my amazement, this was this at Guido, also today:

image

That’s right.  Labour have launched there very own White Van!  You wouldn’t dare make that up.  I knew I was onto something with all this White Vannery.

The problem for the Labour Party here is that Essex White Van Man, the original beast, doesn’t work as an employee driver for Wellocks, or for Office Revival or for Yate Supplies (these being the enterprises who own and whose glory is proclaimed by Simon’s three White Vans above), and certainly not for the Labour Party.  He has his own White Van, which is entirely white, as you can see when you peruse that original tweet that got all this fuss started:

image

That snap being a recent one of mine.  And, as Guido points out, a proper Essex White Van is not a Merc, as the Labour White Van is.  He doesn’t go on to say that it should be a Ford Transit, as above, but it should.  The White Van in the original tweet is a Transit.

This new Labour White Van is supposed to separate Labour from the la-di-da world of London and to assert its connection to the common (i.e. non-rich-London) man.  But it fails to do this, because, as these recent White Van postings of mine have been explaining, White Vans covered in poncey graphics are now quintessentially London.  I assume that they have also become quintessentially Wigan and quintessentially Rotherham and for that matter quintessential Dagenham.  But I further assume that when true-blue Wiganians and Rotherhamians and Dagenhamians look at them, they see, not their local culture, but cultural imperialism by bloody London.

(Damn.  I did everything to this posting put actually post it “today”, so I’m leaving the date I originally attached to it.  Cheating I know but it talks about Monday as today, so Monday it is.)

Wednesday March 18 2015

Ever since that ruckus when a Labour Shadow Cabinet Ministress got into hot water with a tweet which involved a White Van, I’ve been photoing White Vans.  And, in fact, I think I have been doing this since before that little drama.  This White Van, photoed by me today in the Covent Garden area, is one of my favourites so far:

image

The point is, White Vans have rather gone up in the world.  Lots of them now come with much carefully designed décor and info.  London now abounds with fleets of White Vans thus decorated, white being the preferred colour by far.  It’s like an automotive uniform.

It’s as if White Vans have a sort of macho-stroke-ironic appeal to those who drive them, and to the rest of us.  The drivers, when asked what they do for a living, can say: I drive a White Van.  Oh, ha ha ha!  But no, not one of those White Vans, the sort they have in Essex.  Oh no.

Or alternatively, if the driver is a genuine White Van Man, with no irony involved, of the sort that lady politician was having a go at, he’s happy too, even if he would probably prefer plain white, rather than all that poncey verbiage.  And he’d rather have sacks of cement or tubs of plaster in the back there, rather than nerdy SF stuff.

Well, not sure about that.  But White Vans are definitely, as they say nowadays, a thing.

Saturday March 07 2015

I am probably going to start doing Twitter, quite soon, years after everyone else.  Does anyone have any advice about that?  About whether, and if so about how?

Frank J has advice to offer about why you should do it:

What is the purpose of writing? Did you say to share your thoughts? To influence? To educate? To entertain? To conjure made-up worlds and share them with others?

Well, that’s all nonsense. The purpose of writing is to demonstrate to everyone how clever you are.

Here is a frightful warning about how a tweet can ruin your life.  I now think I probably don’t have that much of a life to ruin, but perhaps Twitter will make me soon look back on my life now with desperate longing for a lost golden age.

My regular readers probably have a pretty good idea of what I might or might not use Twitter to do.  Any thoughts?  Or warnings?  Dos?  Don’ts?  What I did rights?  What I did wrongs?  Etc.

Tuesday February 24 2015

This blog is where, among other worthier things, I boast about what a clever fellow I am, given that not many other people are in the habit of saying this.  A recent incoming email from Michael Jennings, entitled “You told me about this 12 years before the New York Times did”, gives me another opportunity thus to indulge.

The New York Times piece is this, which is a about how rich people have less stuff than poor people, because stuff is now so cheap.

And I said this in this, just over twelve years ago, as Michael says.

I’m guessing it’s the BJT Bosanquet reference that he particularly remembered.

Friday December 05 2014

When I got to that ASI Christmas Party the other night, I was already in a grumpy mood, on account of not being allowed to bring three Opera Babes to the party.  That’s right.  The Adam Smith Institute didn’t have room for three glamorous young women, two of them at the Royal College of Music (Goddaughter 2 and her friend) and one of them (another friend of Goddaughter 2) who was auditioning for the Royal College of Music (having already been accepted last year by the Guildhall).  I had already arranged to bring Goddaughter 2, but the ASI having spurned her two glamorous Opera Babe friends, GD2 not unreasonably preferred to be with them.  I don’t mean that the ASI said: Opera Babes? - No thanks.  I mean that they didn’t even allow me to say that they were Opera Babes, so oversubscribed were they.  Or so she said.  The ASI lady put their names on the subs bench list in case of cancellations, but your guests only get on the pitch if the ASI tells you so beforehand, and I heard nothing.

So instead I went to the ASI Christmas Party with Goddaughter 2’s glamorous elder sister.  When I got there, it was clear that although there were many persons present, there was most definitely room for three more Opera Babes.  But, too many mostly very non-operatic males of the species had already signed up to be there, and they needed room to stand around in all-male groups and shout their opinions at each other.

So there I was at the ASI Christmas Party feeling grumpy, looking around the room and recognising hardly anyone, and feeling bad about having dragged GD2’s sister to this ghastly do and being so grumpy about it, and for about the first half hour of being there, I continued to be grumpy.  Three things, however, cheered me up.

First, I bumped into someone I did know, Anton Howes.  And it turns out that he has a new blog.  How very last decade, I said, but really, I was truly delighted to hear this, and started to feel that the evening was not going to be a total write-off after all.  I had actually learned something of genuine use and interest to me.  Cheer-me-up Thing Number One.

Cheer-me-up Thing Number Two, I got my camera out.  I think I saw some other person taking photos and I thought: time for me to do some soul stealing.  Was this uncouth?  Probably.  Would I look like an old prick?  Presumably.  But I was feeling like an uncouth old prick anyway, so out came the camera anyway.  And immediately I cheered up.  Suddenly, people cheered up when I approached them, and ceased from only talking about what they were talking about and instead started presenting themselves to my camera in a way that would make them look approximately as good as they were capable of looking.  And, if they ignored me, well, that’s fine, because when people ignore you and just carry on enjoying themselves, that, if you are a photographer rather than a human being, is good.

Cheer-me-up Thing Number Three: Eamonn Butler saw me taking photos, and approached.  Oh dear.  “Brian, could you please stop being such an uncouth old prick?  And if you do insist on photoing, could you please make a point of not photoing him, or him, or her.” Paranoid rubbish like that flashed up in my brain in between Eamonn being clearly about to say something and Eamonn actually starting to say it.  And what did he say?  He said: “Could you please send us a few of your best photos?” or words to that effect.  Hah!  I was now an officially designated photographer.  I was someone.  Instead of me fretting about not knowing anyone (and about not being allowed to be The Bloke Who Brought The Opera Babes), everyone else had to feel bad that they didn’t know me.  Hurrah!

And actually, when I bustled my way through the throng some more, snap snap snapping, it turned out that actually I did know quite a few of those present.

Here we have, I think, another impact of digital photography.  Digital photography cheers up people like me when we go to parties.  But, shame I couldn’t photo the Opera Babes.

All of which began life as a mere intro to me showing you lots of the photos I actually took at this do.  But, people who might google their way to - or maybe even be steered with a link towards - such photos won’t be wanting a long ramble attached to them about how I felt before and during the taking of them.  So, I’ll stick them up in a separate posting.  This I promise.

Friday November 14 2014

Every so often I toy with the idea of dumping my Feline Friday habit.  But what am I supposed to do with a headline that reads FBI’s most wanted cybercriminal used his cat’s name as a password?  Just ignore it?  Hardly.

And now that I am already doing a cat posting with a hi-tech vibe about it, how about What robots can learn from cats.  One of the things robots can learn from cats, it would seem, is how to land on their feet without doing themselves damage.  My favourite bit of this report is where some computer genius says:

“It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop at the end.”

How very true.

More hi-tech plus cats news: Buy your cat a robot: Mousr acts like real prey.

But as the tsunami of cattery on the www roars out across the planet threatening to drown everyone in feline freak facts, the backlash is getting underway.  Can a wave cause a backlash?  It can now.  What research says about cats: they’re selfish, unfeeling, environmentally harmful creatures.  They don’t love you, they slaughter endangered bird species, and they spread parasites that do your head in.

Finally, here are a couple of pictures I took last Sunday, in a Portobello Road coffee cafe:

image image

On the left there, Perry de Havilland (Samizdata supremo) shows me a cat picture on his mobile, and on the right, on Michael J’s mobile, no cat connection, but far too good a headline to ignore.

People drone on about how our new toys have replaced real socialising.  But here we observe them spicing up real socialising, by giving us something to chuckle about, while sitting right next to each other.

Also mentioned during our little bit of face-to-face socialising was this epoch-nailing scene.