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Category archive: Friends

Saturday March 10 2018

I visit the Royal College of Music quite a lot these days, thanks to GodDaughter2 studying there.  There were those Bach Cantatas.  Last Thursday there was a recital of songs by Women Composers, in which GD2 performed.  And this evening, there was the RCMIOS (RCM International Opera School) production of Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.  All excellent.

It doesn’t feel right taking lots of photos while in the place, but here was a snap that I both liked and didn’t feel bad about taking:


They’re hardly going to call that snooping, are they?

The RCM is a truly bizarre agglomeration of buildings.  The corridors joining this bit of it to that bit of it are labyrinthine.  I never know where I am, if only because I am usually following GD2 around the place, rather than finding my own way around.

Here is another snap I reckoned it okay to take, of some building work in progress:


The fact that both of these snaps feature things which are only temporary is what makes me think them not to be breaches of etiquette.  I don’t know if that’s truly right, but it feels right to me.

However, the point of these two photos is, as I later (like: one hour ago) realised, that they are both photos of the same things.  The first photo is the corridor from the inside, and the second photo, in addition to all that grubbing about in the earth at the bottom, also features the same corridor from the outside.  The outside of a corridor is not normally something you get to see, is it?

The reason I found myself inside that corridor is that it is the temporary way of getting from the main part of the Royal College to the college bar and canteen.  I took the above photo on my way from that bar and canteen to the main entrance of the College.  I was on my own at the time.

Wednesday March 07 2018

I gave a talk to Libertarian Home early in 2015, entitled What is the Libertarian Movement for?, and it is now up at the Libertarian Home website.  A more accurate title for what I ended up saying would be more like: What the libertarian movement is and how to be part of it.  It is more about how to do libertarianism than about why to do it, although that is implied.

What I said hasn’t dated in the time since then, and this was one of the better speaking performances I’ve done, I think.  Certainly better than the most recent talk I gave, at Christian Michel’s on the subject of causation, about which, it turned out, I had very little more to say than this.  Memo to self: now that the cold snap has ended, get a haircut.  I have reached the age when I need to keep my hair short, the way it was in this video.  The tramp look makes me look too much like a tramp.

My thanks to Jordan Lee for supplying a written summary of what I said.

Tuesday February 06 2018

After a hard afternoon yesterday, exploring Churchill and his wartime government’s subterranean lair, I was, in the evening, in no mood to do much else.  But Christian Michel had one of his 6/20 evenings (yes I know, on the 5th (there was a reason but I have forgotten it)), and I forced myself to attend, knowing that I would not regret this.  And I didn’t.

The highlight of my evening was undoubtedly getting to talk with an artist and art teacher by the name of Elina Cerla.  We spoke about how we were both fascinated by the difference between how two eyed people see things, and how one eyed cameras, or camera-like gadgets used by artists, see things.  Summary: very differently.  Also about how she is more concerned to help people solve the artistic problems they consider important, rather than to shape them all into her preferred sort of artist.

She gave me her card before we went our separate ways, so I’m guessing she will have no problem with me linking you to that website.

You could become one of Elina Cerla’s pupils by doing what this says:


Having already wandered about in the website, I was particularly struck by that naked figure when I came across it elsewhere on the website, so I was intrigued later to find that she chose it to illustrate her teaching advert.  I think you will agree that this image inspires confidence that the time of pupils will not be wasted.  This is someone with definite skills to impart.

I am presently listening to this YouTube interview.  Refreshing absence of art-speak bullshit and political infantilism, of the sort commonly emitted by those who practice (or who are attempting) shock-art.

Tuesday January 30 2018

My friends Perry and Adriana now live a short walk away from South Kensington tube.  I can now get to them in about half an hour, compared to over an hour when they lived way along and just off Kings Road, and a solid bus ride away from any tube station.

And just as good, every time I now visit them to collect the Amazon purchases that they receive for me, as I did today, I get to see one of my favourite statues in London, the one of Bela Bartok.  When I walk past that, I know I’m going the right way.

Trouble is, when I go past Bartok, the sunlight usually arrives on his back, and I get a photo like this:


Nice windows.  Shame about the face.

So, inspired by the example of 6k (see below), I cranked up my photoshopclone and redid the photo so that I could see what the face consisted of:


Nice face.  Shame about the windows.

You could probably combine the two, and make it: nice face, nice windows.  You.  Not me.  That kind of thing just does not interest me enough to want to know how to do it. I wanted to see the face and I did.  Mission accomplished.

Saturday January 13 2018

Yesterday afternoon GodDaughter2 arranged for me to be in the audience (which was mostly singing students like her) of a master class presided over by American operatic tenor Michael Fabiano, a totally new name to me.  He should have been.  My bad, as he would say.  Very impressive.  Very impressive.

This event was the most recent one of these.  But they scrub all mention from there of the past, however immediate, so no mention there of Fabiano, which there had been until yesterday.

Here are a few recollections I banged into my computer last night before going to bed.  Not tidied up much.  I just didn’t want to forget it.

Sing, every note, all the time – switch off singing and then when you need to switch on again, you won’t be able to do it.

Singing is not just done with two little things in your throat.  Sing with your whole body, from head to toe.  Including your balls.  (The student singers he was teaching were all guys, two baritones, two tenors.) I hope you don’t mind me saying such things.  (Nobody did.)

You must sing to the people way up in the roof.  They must hear every note you sing.  Not just the people in the first five rows.

Don’t be afraid to take a breath - I’m a great fan of breathing when you need to breath – no seriously

First note is critical.  Final note is critical.  You can screw up in between.  But first note bad can mean they’ll hear nothing further.  Final note good, and that’s what they’ll remember.

Stay firmly planted on the floor.  Stand how you stand in the tube, when you have nothing to hold on to.  Don’t rise off the floor on your toes when it gets difficult.

Stay relaxed by going to your “happy place” in your mind.

In auditions, don’t be bound by rules that box you in.  Break those rules, do whatever you have to do to do what you do.  Applies to all artists.

Piano accompanists: play louder, like an orchestra.  Louder.  Twice as loud as that.  (He spent a lot of time conducting the pianists.)

Go for it.  (Said that a lot.) Be free.  Fly like a bird.  Never relax your wings (keep singing) or you fall to the ground.

In my opinion … this is my opinion ...

Make progress as a young singer by finding one or two people whose judgement you trust.  Follow their advice and work hour after hour, day after day, with them.  A hundred people advising is confusion.  One or two is what a young person needs.

How to make the transition from student to real singer?  With difficulty.  I began by doing 22 auditions all over Europe.  First 21, I followed the rules, stood in the spot marked X: nothing, failure.  22nd audition: disaster.  Fell over at the start, literally.  But laughed at myself.  Good middle notes, they knew I had a cold, but also a good personality.  Got work.  They trusted me to do better.

Mentor?  Renee Fleming was one.  Sang next to her on stage.  Her voice ridiculously small, on stage.  But, my agent way up at the back heard everything, and wept.  I then sat way up there myself and listened to Fleming sing equally quietly, heard everything and was equally moved

Sing oh well and sing ee well, and you’ll sing ah well.  (Think that was it.) …

And probably lots more that I missed.  But, I now find, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube.  However, the length-to-content ratio of watching something like this on YouTube is such that you, if you have got this far in this posting, are much more likely to make do with reading what I just put.  So let’s hope I didn’t get anything too wrong.  Plus: more mentions of this event, with video bits, at the RCM Twitter feed.  Fabiano also tweets, of course.  More reaction to yesterday there.

There were four student singers on show, first two being baritones, and in the second half, two tenors.  The most extraordinary moments of this event came in the second half, when the two tenors took it in turns to sing things that Fabiano has presumably sung for real, as it were.  And occasionally, to illustrate a point he was making, Fabiano would sing a snatch of the thing himself.

At which point, as the young people say these day: OMG.  His sound was about four times bigger than what the students were doing.  (The first of these moments got Fabiano a loud round of applause.) Fabiano’s talk, about filling the entire 2,500 people place, was a hell of a lot more than talk.  He does this, every time he sings in such a place.  The message was loud and the message was clear.  That’s what you guys must aim for.  That’s what it sounds like.

The good news is that the first tenor in particular (Thomas Erlank), was taking audible steps towards being an opera star, after only a few minutes of badgering from Fabiano.  I think you’re great, said Fabiano, which is why I’m being so hard on you.  Fabiano didn’t say those exact words to any of the others, so that will definitely have counted for something, in Erlank’s mind.  You could see him getting bigger, as Fabiano both talked him up and hacked away at his mistakes.

Of the others, the one who particularly impressed me was the second baritone (Kieran Rayner), who looked and behaved like a trainee accountant, but who sang like a trainee god.  By the time Fabiano had been at him for a bit, he started to get a bit more like an actual god.  The sheer sound of Rayner’s voice was beautiful from the start, I thought.  As did Fabiano.

Fabiano made a big deal of vibrato, which he seemed almost to equate with singing.  But vibrato is, for me, a huge barrier.  Rayner did do enough of it to satisfy Fabiano, but not nearly enough to put me off.  I mention this because I believe that I am not the only one who feels this way.  Too much wobble, and it just sounds like wobble and nothing else.  Singers who overdo the wobble never break past that oh-god-it’s-bloody-opera barrier.  But not enough vibrato, and they don’t get to fill those 2,500 seat opera houses.  And even if they do, no OMG, Fabiano style.

Final point, by way of summary.  When each singer did his performance, Fabiano made a point of going to the back of the hall, to hear how it sounded there.  Fabiano made no bones about it that what concerned him was not how you or he felt about it while doing it, or how Renee Fleming sounded to him when he was standing on the stage right next to her.  What matters is the effect it has on the audience, all of the audience, including and especially the audience in the cheaper seats.  Are they getting what they came for and they paid for?

Deepest thanks to GD2 for enabling me to witness all this.

Monday January 08 2018

I’m not saying Happy New Year to you, again, although now that I’ve mentioned it, I actually do, again.  No, what I have in mind is that today feels like my New Year has, at last, begun.

I always tell people that I like a quiet Christmas and a quiet New Year, but it seldom turns out that way, and it did not this time around.  This was not because I got lots of appalling demands to attend appalling things.  If they had been appalling demands and appalling things, then I would have happily played them all off against each other and ignored the whole damn lot of them.  No, the problem was: enticing requests to attend enticing things, frequented by enticing people whom I might not soon be meeting again, things that I knew I would enjoy and which I did mostly enjoy, hugely, but which just came one after another.  (Plus, I arranged an event myself at my home, on the last Friday of December.)

And then, in the midst of it all there was that dose of Ashes Lag, to play havoc with the already imperfect sleep pattern.  The point of such fill-in-the-blank lags is that it only takes one such night of lag to create a ripple lasting about a week.  Throw into that mix a few invites to things that happened not in the evening but earlier in the day, and it all became pretty strenuous.

But now, all these events have come and gone.  I had a huge sleep last night and way into this morning, and finally feel able to think about the year ahead rather than just the next thing I need to get to.

So like I say: Happy New Year.

Friday December 29 2017

This evening I had a party at my home.  All the people I invite to my Last Friday of the Month meetings were invited, and almost exactly the same number of people showed up as tend to show up for the meetings.  How do they do this?

I am now completely knackered, but it wasn’t the party alone that knackered me; it was … alas, I find that I am too knackered to explain.  Maybe, although I promise nothing, later.

So instead, a quota photo, of Southwark Cathedral not being dwarfed by modernity:


Taken out of the train window, on my way to Hither Green.

Spot the Gherkin.

Thursday December 28 2017

For years now, I’ve wanted nail down a particularly choice Terry Pratchett quote, concerning the limits of the idea of equality, which is that for there to be equality, someone has or some people have to insist upon it, and if that insistence is to count for anything, then there goes your equality.  My problem was that I didn’t have the name of the character that the quote was about.

But today, I described the quote as best I could to my friend Adriana, and she told me at once that the name of the lady in question was Granny Weatherwax.  And once I had the name, the rest was easy.

The quote I was looking for is the second from the bottom of these Quotes About Granny Weatherwax:

“Mistress Weatherwax is the head witch, then, is she?’

‘Oh no!’ said Miss Level, looking shocked. ‘Witches are all equal. We don’t have things like head witches. That’s quite against the spirit of witchcraft.’

‘Oh, I see,’ said Tiffany.

‘Besides,’ Miss Level added, ‘Mistress Weatherwax would never allow that sort of thing.”

That is to be found in A Hat Full of Sky.

Wednesday December 27 2017

Last night, egged on by some Southern Comfort and Coke, I sneaked a posting onto Samizdata, at a very quiet time of the year, and after a long break from doing anything there.  I wonder how often, in human history, far more portentous events than that have been set in motion by the power of alcohol to turn “maybe later” into “what the hell I’ll do it now”.

The posting started with a photo of five hands holding five plastic glasses of something alcoholic.  Here is another photo of the same scene, at the top of Primrose Hill, this time with one of the participants also doing a photo:


And then I showed a photo of Perry de Havilland, taken on Christmas Eve at his home.  Here is another such photo, rather less exuberant:


And I ended with a quote garnered from Deidre McCloskey’s The Bourgeois Virtues.  Page 61 of my paperback edition features five such quotes.  I put one of these, from Benjamin Constant (and added that link to that piece about him) in the Samizdata posting.  Here is another, from Voltaire, dated 1733:

I don’t know which is the more useful to the state, a well-powdered lord who knows precisely when the king gets up in the morning ... or a great merchant who enriches his country, sends orders from his office to Surat or to Cairo, and contributes to the well-being of the world.

Neither do I know “which is more useful to the state”.  But I know which one isn’t contributing to the well-being of the world and which one is.  I think Voltaire rather gives his game away there.

Sunday December 24 2017

Some time at or around 1780, the world’s economy went from being Malthusian to being Modern.  Modern as in literally billions of us getting to lead increasingly comfortable lives.  The graph of human creature comforts goes from horizontal to something very close to vertical.

Deidre N. McCloskey has written a succession of books about this wondrous transformation.  I started reading Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain The Modern World, but was disappointed by the lack of original source evidence she presented to justify her opinion that the transformation was, at heart, an ideological one.  I agree with this opinion, and hoped she would back it up.  Instead she went through all the rival explanations, explaining at exhaustive length why they were wrong, but didn’t seem to say nearly as much as I had hoped about her and my preferred winner.  I put the book aside.

Prodded by my friend Alastair James, I have now started reading the first book, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce.  This is the first one, the one that explains what the transformation was, and in particular its strongly ethical content, and it thus explains more than you usually get told these days about why this transformation was such a very, very good thing.  Instead of reading this book searching for what it doesn’t say, I am now reading it for what it does say, and am enjoying it a lot.

Here is how McCloskey concludes her opening summary, her “Apology” (pp. 50-53):

“It is vital,” Ridley declares, “that we reduce the power and scope of the state.” Yes. The freedom half of the Enlightenment Project can support in practical terms the reason half. “It is not to happiness alone,” wrote Constant in 1819, “it is to self-development that our destiny calls us; and political liberty is the most powerful, the most effective means of self-development that heaven has given US.” Secret police and fixed elections and patriarchal oppression of women and unwise attempts to fulfill the two-centuries-old project of reason by regulation and state planning rather than by Adam Smith’s “simple and obvious system of natural liberty” - to name some of the more important assaults on bourgeois human capital - do more damage to our goods and to our goodness than do conventional economic failings.

But is that true? How do I know? The experiments of the twentieth century told me so. It would have been hard to know the wisdom of Milton Friedman or Matt Ridley or Deirdre McCloskey in August 1914, before the experiments were well begun. But anyone who after the twentieth century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, adventurism in foreign policy, faith in entangling religion and politics, or most of the other thoroughgoing nineteenth-century proposals for governmental action are still neat, harmless ideas for improving our lives is not paying attention.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ordinary Europeans were hurt, not helped, by their colonial empires. Economic growth in Russia was slowed, not accelerated, by Soviet central planning. American Progressive regulation and its European anticipations protected monopolies of transportation like railways and protected monopolies of retailing like High Street shops and protected monopolies of professional services like medicine, not the consumers. “Protective” legislation in the United States and “family-wage” legislation in Europe subordinated women. State-armed psychiatrists in America jailed homosexuals, and in Russia jailed democrats. Some of the New Deal prevented rather than aided America’s recovery from the Great Depression.

Unions raised wages for plumbers and autoworkers but reduced wages for the nonunionized. Minimum wages protected union jobs but made the poor unemployable. Building codes sometimes kept buildings from falling or burning down but always gave steady work to well-connected carpenters and electricians. Zoning and planning permission has protected rich landlords rather than helping the poor. Rent control makes the poor and the mentally ill unhousable, because no one will build inexpensive housing when it is forced by law to be expensive. The sane and the already-rich get the rent-controlled apartments and the fancy townhouses in once-poor neighborhoods.

Regulation of electricity hurt householders by raising electricity costs, as did the ban on nuclear power. The Securities Exchange Commission did not help small investors. Federal deposit insurance made banks careless with depositors’ money. The conservation movement in the Western United States enriched ranchers who used federal lands for grazing and enriched lumber companies who used federal lands for clear-cutting. American and other attempts at prohibiting trade in recreational drugs resulted in higher drug consumption and the destruction of inner cities. Governments have outlawed needle exchanges and condom advertising, and denied the existence of AIDS.

Germany’s economic Lebensraum was obtained in the end by the private arts of peace, not by the public arts of war. The lasting East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere was built by Japanese men in business suits, not in dive bombers. Europe recovered after its two twentieth-century hot wars mainly through its own efforts of labor and investment, not mainly through government-to-government charity such as Herbert Hoover’s Commission or George Marshall’s Plan. Government-to-government foreign aid to the third world has enriched tyrants, not helped the poor.

The importation of socialism into the third world, even in the relatively nonviolent form of Congress Party Fabian-Gandhism, unintentionally stifled growth, enriched large industrialists, and kept the people poor. The capitalist-sponsored Green Revolution of dwarf hybrids was opposed by green politicians the world around, but has made places like India self-sufficient in grains. State power in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa has been used to tax the majority of farmers in aid of the president’s cousins and a minority of urban bureaucrats. State power in many parts of Latin America has prevented land reform and sponsored disappearances. State ownership of oil in Nigeria and Mexico and Iraq was used to support the party in power, benefiting the people not at all. Arab men have been kept poor, not bettered, by using state power to deny education and driver’s licenses to Arab women. The seizure of governments by the clergy has corrupted religions and ruined economies. The seizure of governments by the military has corrupted armies and ruined economies.

Industrial policy, from Japan to France, has propped up failing industries such as agriculture and small-scale retailing, instead of choosing winners. Regulation of dismissal has led to high unemployment in Germany and Denmark. In the 1960s, public-housing high-rises in the West inspired by Le Corbusier condemned the poor in Rome and Paris and Chicago to holding pens. In the 1970s, the full-scale socialism of the East ruined the environment. In the 2000s, the “millennial collectivists,” red, green, or communitarian, oppose a globalization that helps the poor but threatens trade union officials, crony capitalists, and the careers of people in Western nongovernmental organizations.

All these experiments of the twentieth century were arranged by governments against bourgeois markets. All of them were disasters. In short, the neoaristocratic, cryptopeasant, proclerisy, antibourgeois theories of the nineteenth century, applied during the twentieth century for taxing, fixing, resisting, modifying, prohibiting, collectivizing, regulating, unionizing, ameliorating, expropriating modern capitalism, failed of their purposes, killed many millions, and nearly killed us all.

By contrast: during the twenty-first century, if we can draw back from the unfreedom of anticapitalism and adopt instead the simple and obvious system of natural liberty, every person on the planet, in Vietnam and Colombia, India and Kenya, can come to have, complements of the bourgeois virtues, the scope of life afforded now to a suburban minority in the West. It’s the Bourgeois Deal: leave me alone to buy low and sell high, and in the long run I’ll make you rich.

If we will let people own things – their houses and businesses, for example; their labor power - and if we let them try to make profit out of the ownership, and if we keep out of people’s lives the tentacles of a government acting as an executive committee of the country club or worse, we will prosper materially and spiritually.

We can have Aristotles, Wang Weis, Newtons, Austens, and Tagores by the dozens. We can have world science and world music and world literature and even world cuisine in richness unparalleled, a spiritual life untrammeled by need, a clean planet, long and happy lives. By the standards typical since Adam’s curse we can have by the year 2100 another Eden. Well ... all right: such utopian talk, I have said, has dangers. At least we can have material abundance, and the scope to flourish in higher things. And we can be virtuous about it.

Or we can try once again in our ethical confusion to kill it.

Friday December 22 2017

Not long ago, Perry de Havilland told me what sounds like an old, old joke, about the difference between dogs and cats.

We feed and pamper and love and look after dogs, and from this, dogs conclude that we are gods.  We feed and pamper and love and look after cats, and from this, cats conclude that they are gods.

As I say, it sounded old, but I liked it.  And I remembered that joke when, this evening, searching for quota cats or quota other creatures, I encountered these photos, of books, in the British Museum. Including a book about a cat …:


… and of that same cat, celebrated on a clutch of mugs:


I took these Gayer-Anderson Cat photos in Feb 2010, but I doubt it’s moved since then.

Read about the Gayer-Anderson Cat, which actually was a god, here.  Gayer-Anderson wasn’t two people.  He was just the one, a certain Major Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson.

Get your own Gayer-Anderson Cat, for £450.  (£405 to members.) Or, you could 3D print your Gayer-Anderson Cat.

When I took these photos, I was in point-shoot-forget mode, and have given them no further thought until now.

I love the internet.

Thursday December 21 2017

GodDaughter2 and I recently went to the top of Primrose Hill.  This was the day I had to switch to using my mobile phone to take photos, because I thought my regular camera had collapsed.  (It was fine.)

With my mobile phone, I took two photos, which looked a lot like this …:


… and like this:


Those being photos of the exact same scenes – London, and the Feng Shang Princess respectively - that I took, but which GD2 took with her mobile phone.  Her photos are technically better, probably because her mobile is an iPhone and a lot more recent than my manky old Google Nexus 4, which I have had for ages.  But to me the more interesting thing is how different her London Big Things panorama looked to the one I took.  In mine, the Big Things are all lit up, but her Big Things are all dark.

It was that kind of day.  Photography is light and it is even better when the light fluctuates, and the same things looks quite different from moment to moment.

Which made it all the more frustrating that I thought my camera had stopped functioning.  I took a tiny few photos with my mobile instead of lots with my regular camera.  On the other hand, GD2 said she really enjoyed the walking and the talking we did that day.  I believe that this is probably not coincidence.

GD2 also took very few photos.  Mostly we walked, and talked.

This is why I prefer to photo alone.  It’s not that I hate people, and I certainly don’t hate GD2.  It’s just that me photoing all the time feels like me being bad company.  And that afternoon rather confirms this.  I didn’t photo much.  And it seems I was good company.

Wednesday December 20 2017

Personally I thought that the recorded chat that Patrick Crozier and I did about World War 1 was better, because Patrick is an expert on that event and its times, its causes and its consequences.

Here, for whatever it may be worth, is the rather more rambling and disjointed conversation that we had more recently on the subject of television: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, and Part VII.  But, as of now, it’s a lot simpler to crank up the entire site and scroll up and down.

I’m afraid I did well over half of the talking, so cannot be objective about whether all or any of this is worth your attention.  I hope Patrick is right about the worthwhileness of this conversational effort, and that if you do listen, you enjoy.

Thursday December 14 2017

My camera has conked out.  The autofocussing is refusing to autofocus.  Which is nasty.  And even nastier given that I only found out about this when I was trying, with it, to take photos, this afternoon, like this one:


That’s from the top of Primrose Hill, as photoed by my mobile phone, which is a Google Nexus 4.  That one wasn’t too bad, but most of the phone-photos I phone-photoed with this annoying gadget, truly good only for telling me where I am and how soon I will reach my tube destination and what the cricket scores are, were rubbish.

Here is one of the few other good ones, taken from one of the bridges over the Regent’s Canal:


That red boat is the Feng Shang Princess.

GodDaughter 2 was with me.  Since I couldn’t take lots of photos, there was nothing for it, I had to make do with talking to her.  And also listening to her.  Which worked out quite well.

Thursday December 07 2017



Opened in 2013.  Still very much open 2017:


Photos by me this afternoon, in St Albans.  Thanks to Darren and family for the hospitality.

LATER: Another blast from the past:


I remember liking that one a lot.