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

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Category archive: Friends

Friday June 29 2018

Yes. Last night I went to the RFH, to see and hear Esa-Pekka Salonen conduct Schoenberg’s mighty Gurrelieder, something Salonen has done at the RFH, with the same orchestra, before.  GodDaughter 2 was somewhere off in the distance, singing in the chorus, and had got me a seat near the front.  So although I still heard lots of seats creaking and programmes flapping and coughers coughing, I also heard Schoenberg.  And only Schoenberg, when Gurrelieder got loud, as it often does.

What a piece!  If all you know about Schoenberg is twelve tone discordancy, all passion spent, but on the other hand if you like how the likes of Wagner and Mahler and Debussy sound when they get really worked up, then if you’ve not done so already, you really should check out Gurrelieder.  Likewise Verklarte Nacht, if you like Brahms chamber music.  Schoenberg greatly admired Brahms, I believe.  When GD2 told me about this Gurrelieder concert, I mentioned Verklarte Nacht to her and she tried it, and loved it.

So, what does Gurrelieder sound like?  Try: Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde meets Zombie Warrior Apocalypse meets Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream turned nightmare, meets some mad Russian novel with mad drunkard clowns and with Ring Cycle theology inserted, meets (and ends with) Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony.  Hence GD2 and her friends, singing in the chorus at the end.

I don’t go to many live concerts, but I am extremely glad that I went to this one, long and interval-less though it was.  And there is now something particularly odd about my concert-going history.  The dullest performance of a great piece of music I have ever witnessed (Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at a Prom) and the most exciting performance of a great piece (this), were both of them conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.

I think this says something both about Beethoven and about Gurrelieder.  If you just play the notes, exactly right, when playing a Beethoven symphony, but are not excited by the idea of playing this piece yet again and wanting people to like it yet again, the result is totally boring.  Playing the notes exactly right (which in my opinion is a much under-rated musical virtue) is Esa-Pekka Salonen’s particular speciality, so his Beethoven 9, a piece the performance of which, yet again, seemed not to interest him, was the definition of tedium.  But if you play the notes, exactly right, of Gurrelieder, and if you are interested in performing it, once again, and want everyone present to be astounded, then it is astounding.  It has a lot of notes, and they are really difficult to master and play, all exactly right, all together, all as loud or as quiet as they should be.  Salonen made all this happen, or so it sounded to me, and was also very excited about performing this amazing piece, once again.  Accordingly, the result was amazing.  As I thought it probably would be, because the less well known piece that Salonen also conducted at that Prom was almost as exciting as the Beethoven 9 that followed was crushingly dull.  And you are not going to supervise a performance of Gurrelieder unless you totally believe, as Esa-Pekka Salonen clearly did, that this is a piece that should be performed, once again.  Too much bother.  Far too much bother.

A great concert and a great occasion.  I was lucky to be there.  GD2 was even luckier to be actually performing in it.  I trust she realises this. Early emails following the concert suggest that she does.

Monday June 25 2018

No posting here yesterday, because from mid afternoon onwards this site could not be reached, either by readers or by the writer, i.e. me.  Sorry about that, but all seems to be sorted now, as it had to be for me to be able to post this.

I also had email problems, and just when I really did not need them. The Sunday evening before the last Friday of the month is when I do a mass(-ish) email about my forthcoming Last Friday of the Month meeting.  (This time: Prof Tim Evans on Corbyn.) But, it would seem that the emails all got through, even if replies to them were only getting back to me at around midday today.

When you have problems like this, then as soon as they’re sorted the worrisomeness graph nosedives from VERY BAD!!!! to profound happiness:

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Which is always a better feeling than, logically, it deserves to be, considering that all that happened was that something bad happened and then stopped.  But when badness stops, that feels very good, even if, logically, it is only things getting back to normal.

Tuesday June 19 2018

On Saturday June 9th, I journeyed to Blackheath’s All Saints’ Church to hear GodDaughter 2 and three of her Royal College of Music comrades in song take it in turns each to sing a few of the songs they had already done or were about to do in their graduation recitals.  It was a fine event for all present, but for me it was particularly special, because, simply, I thought that GD2 sang so very well.  There was a security, strength and beauty to her voice that I’d never heard before, and she sold her songs, every nuance of which she clearly understood perfectly, with just the right amount of facial and bodily gesture, enough to really help, but never to distract from her now amazing voice.

GD2’s graduation recital was still to come, and in the next few days I asked myself if she really had been as good as I thought she had, and whether, if she had been, she’d reproduce this recently achieved level of excellence when there was so much more at stake.

It was this graduation recital that got me, last Thursday afternoon, photoing the statue of Prince Albert outside the Albert Hall (sadly it is easier to scroll down than follow that link).  In that posting, I mentioned, in passing, that I thought GD2’s recital had been very good.  Perhaps you thought that this was mere routine politeness on my part.  No.  It really was very good, indeed.

The recital happened in a rather large hall, way too large for the number of friends and family present.  In the middle, at the back, right in GD2’s eyeline, four RCM judges sat at desks in a silent row, giving her marks out of a hundred and writing comments that would decide her future.  At first, GD2 seemed understandably rather nervous.  But once she got into it, it was like Blackheath all over again, and if anything even better.  This was a far bigger venue to fill than that church, but she did this in a way that suggested she’d do the same in a place three or four times bigger.

Most of GD2’s recent performances that I’ve seen and heard have been in opera scenes, where she was mostly just singing along with others.  Which was fine, but it was hard to judge what personal progress she had been making.

It’s no good asking any of GD2’s fellow students what they think of her singing.  They’re great kids, but all part of what is so great about them is that they never share any doubts they may have about each other’s performing progress or prowess with a mere civilian such as I.  Which means that if they now think that GD2 is as good as I do, they have no way of telling me so that is fully convincing.  My only way of knowing if GD2 is as good as she has suddenly started sounding and looking to me is simply to listen very carefully, e.g. while shutting my eyes, and then to go with what I think I heard.  And what I think I heard, and saw, especially last Thursday, was the sort of singing that would have sounded absolutely fine if I and a five hundred and fifty others had paid to listen to it in a packed Wigmore Hall.

I have always liked and admired GD2.  And ever since she got into the RCM I have admired her even more.  Clearly there were classical singing experts who thought highly of her prospects, and that was hugely impressive.  But it was only at that Blackheath church, and then again last Thursday, that I was able to hear it and see it, fully, for myself.

Here are a couple of photos I took of GD2 last Thursday, in the RCM foyer, after her recital:

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As you can see, I wasn’t the only one photoing her.

There’s still a long way to go before GD2’s name is in lights and on the covers of CDs, and any number of knowns or unknowns could still stop all that.  What she is doing is like running in a marathon.  It’s still quite early in the race and the leading bunch in this marathon is still pretty big.  But, the point is: GD2 is still in that leading bunch.  She’s still a contender.

It helps that her voice, mezzo-soprano, is quite rare.  Regular sopranos, along with bass-baritones, are fairly common.  Mezzos and tenors, not so much, not good ones.

Thursday June 14 2018

Yes, here is the Royal Albert Hall, photoed by me this afternoon:

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That photo was taken early this afternoon.  I was there to hear GodDaughter2’s graduation recital in the Royal College of Music, which is just down the steps and across Prince Consort Road, south of the Albert Hall.  After I had heard GD2 do her singing, superbly, and after I and all her many other friends and family present had celebrated afterwards with her, I started to make my way home. 

Before leaving the vicinity of the College and the Albert Hall, I took more photos of the statue of Prince Albert that stands at the top of the steps, the other side of the Hall from the Albert Memorial.  In the photo above, you can hardly see the Prince Albert statue.  But later in the afternoon, the direction of the sunlight having altered, Albert was looking a lot better:

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The Royal Albert Hall is looking particular fine just now, because scaffolding.

Wednesday May 30 2018

Says my friend (also my Facebook “friend") Antoine Clarke:

“Elites" in the USA, the UK and the EU claim that the masses who favour President Trump, Brexit, or oppose EU control of Italy’s government are “illiterates” , “uneducated” etc. So who’s been in charge of education?

Good point.

But, it’s on Facebook, and I don’t understand Facebook.  I don’t believe I am betraying anything especially private here, but maybe I am.  I am taking that chance.

With blogging, it’s very simple.  What you see is public.  You can copy anything on a blog, and paste it into your blog, for all the world to read in the unlikely event that it wants to.  All that etiquette demands is that you mention the source of what you copied.  But when I read something on Facebook, what can I use?  I don’t know.

A friend (also FB “friend") of mine is just now at the cinema, with his wife, according to a posting by him on Facebook.  There was a picture of the two of them, with a movie star in another poster behind them.  And there, you see, I may already be spilling beans.  What if they told their last-minute – please please can you help us out, this once?!?! - babysitter that they had an “urgent appointment”, medical or some such thing?  But really, they were just going to the cinema?  If the babysitter also reads this blog, and reads this, it could take them weeks to unscramble the mess.  That’s all pretty unlikely, of course.  But something like that could happen, or so I fear.

Twitter, like blogging, is fairly straightforward.  Anybody can read someone Twittering away, on Twitter, and everything there is accordingly public.  If I can see it on Twitter, I can quote it here.  Right?  I could be wrong, but that’s what I now assume.  But with Facebook, I don’t know where I am.

I have a friend (also FB “friend") who sometimes tells me things in the strictest confidence, in a way which suggests to me that, really, what he wants is for me to say this to everyone I subsequently meet, but keeping his name out of it.  Or something.  I never really know.

I will be a blogger until I die, because with blogging, all this is straightforward and out in the open.  Which means I have to get myself a new blog which goes at a proper speed, unlike this one.  People do still read this blog.  But the time it takes to load up introduces another version of not-very-publicness.  That needs to be done away with, asap.  Another friend (also “friend") is, or so I hope, helping out with that.

Friday May 25 2018

Those photos of Oscar would appear to have made quite a difference to Oscar’s life, because he went missing last Monday, and three of these photos helped to find him and get him home again:

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GodDaughter2 will be telling me more about all this soon.  Like: Were there any other recent photos of Oscar that would have worked the same trick?  I don’t want to jump to conclusions, as people say when they do want to jump to conclusions, but maybe without my photos, Oscar would have ended up having a totally different life.

The heart of the operation was the much grumbled-about social media.  The above poster was concocted in London by a friend of GD2’s, and then socially media-ed all over the local area in France.  Facebook, take a bow.  In addition to being an actual friend of mine, GD2 is a Facebook “friend”, but I hadn’t been paying attention to her Oscar postings, until she phoned and then emailed me about all this excitement:

About 300 people shared various posts I posted on Facebook to find Oscar. He left Monday, I started looking for him last night and we got him today!

GD2 made all this happen while in London, that email having arrived was yesterday, last night being Wednesday evening.  It seems that Oscar, having got lost, was then cared for by another family.  But when, thanks to the above social media activity, they got in touch and Oscar got back to his original carers, GD2’s family, he apparently spent many hours sleeping, which is not the routine I recall when I was there.  This tells to me that he was very stressed while away, and was relieved to be home.  With home needing no sneer quotes, the way it might with some cats.

6k has also been impressed by these Oscar photos, this one in particular …:

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…, and he has been making that the basis of various would-be internet memes, of which this one is the latest:

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Reuniting lost loved-ones is a classic excuse for the Total Surveillance World we now live in.

And actually (see above (sometimes)) quite a good excuse.  If I, or someone, had not been surveilling Oscar, he might still be lost.

I also remember how, in the past, GD2’s parents would grumble about how much time she would spend social-media-ing, instead of doing “real” things, like sleep or homework.  But finding Oscar was very real.

Thursday May 24 2018

In Quimper, the city in Brittany which I recently visited on account of having friends who live there, I photoed this:

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My camera’s ability to notice details that I didn’t notice at the time …

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… immediately enabled me to learn who did it, and what else he has done.

I love the internet.

Sunday May 20 2018

Next Friday, my good friend Adriana Lukas will be giving a talk at my home entitled Personal Recollections of Life Under Communism.  While concocting some biographical information for my email list members, I took a closer look than I have before at her Twitter feed.

Way back in 2015, Adriana retweeted this remarkable image:

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It looks like some ancient oil painting, rather than the latest-thing highest-of-high-tech imagery, which of course is what it is.

GE Healthcare’s 3D-printing software works seamlessly with GE Advantage Workstation systems already working inside hospitals around the world. After a scan, the anatomy is rendered as a 3D image using GE’s Volume Viewer software, a 3D-imaging platform that combines data from sources like CT but also MRI and X-ray. The software then converts the image file generated by the Volume Viewer and within seconds translates it into a file format that can be interpreted by a 3D printer.

“In the past, it would take several days to get the images back” from an outside 3D software processor, Cury says. “The advantage of the new software is it’s in the same workstation where the technologists already do work on 3D images. The steps are a lot quicker and easier.”

More than 100 hospitals around the world have already ordered GE’s 3D organ printing software, which can be used for any type of organ as well as models of bones and muscles. GE says that as more hospitals use the software, it will be easier and quicker for doctors like Cury to share files with each other and have 3D models to use for planning and education prior to procedures.

The most impressive 3D printing stories often feature hopelessly old-school businesses, like GE.  This is because 3D printing is the ultimate non-disruptive technology.  It attaches itself to existing businesses and makes them better.  If you know only about 3D printing, and are not willing to cooperate with a regular business, forget about it.

All those stupid 3D printers that they tried to sell in Currys PC World a few years back were just ridiculous junk for making further even more ridiculous junk.

Friday May 18 2018

My friends in Brittany have a new cat: Oscar.  (He replaces this cat.)

I, of course, took many photos.  I like these ones:

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And I like this one best of all:

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Oscar has reached the stage in life where he is still a kitten in his behaviour, but not any longer in his appearance.  Sort of a cat teenager.

Oscar has a very short attention span, and is currently programmed to check out everything he sees, like some obsessively exploratory robot.  He sees a lot and he keeps on seeing something else.

So, for instance, you click your fingers at him to initiate some sociability, and he sees that, and runs towards you, but then, while still on his way towards you, he sees something else behind you, and carries right on towards that, after only the most perfunctory acknowledgement of your fingers, in which he has already lost interest several tenths of a second earlier.  Or he has simply forgotten why he is is motion, and he just carries on.  Very strange.

But as he calms down, he will presumably start to treat people more in the way they like to be treated.  When I took an afternoon nap, he also fancied a nap and had his on top of me.  But, had there been a more satisfactory household appliance, like a warm fire, he might well have preferred that to curl up next to that.  It didn’t seem personal, just a matter of comfort.

But I still liked him.  Cats are just so likeable, whether they are actually being likeable, in their own minds, or not.  All they have to be is non-objectionable and not too scared to check you out.

Friday May 11 2018

When you go by train to Quimper from London, you start by going by Eurostar to the Gare du Nord in Paris.  And when you step outside the main entrance of the Gare du Nord, you find yourself next to a big red bear with wings.

Although I noticed this big red bear with wings when I first got to Paris, I only photoed it on the way back, a week later, when I and GodDaughter 2’s Mum were in less of a hurry between trains and when the weather was much better.

Also, on the way back, we didn’t suddenly see the big red bear with wings.  We could see it as we approached the Gare du Nord, and I had my camera ready to go, as it had been all afternoon:

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I quite like this big red bear with wings, but I am less sure about whether I admire it.  It seems like a mixture of too many unrelated things.  The lots-of-holes style of sculpting, which I associate with 3D printing, is one thing.  Making a bear look like a bear is something else.  And then, there are those wings.  On a bear.  Wings with holes in them.  The idea of the wings is that they turn the bear into an angel bear.  Something to do with global warming and the melting icecaps, I read somewhere and then lost track of.  The artist, Richard Texier, is not big on logic.  He prefers to stimulate the imagination.  To evoke magic.

The big red bear is called, see above, “Angel Bear”, and it has an inescapable air of kitsch abou it, to my eye.  Like something you’d buy, smaller but still quite big, in a posh gift shop, for far too much money.  I prefer a bull that Texier has also done, in the same 3D printed style.  No wings.  Much better, to my eye.  Cleaner, as a concept.

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But still a bit gift shoppy, I think.  Which is another way of saying that I bet these big old animals are by far his most popular works.  I suspect that Texier may be a bit irritated by this.  He likes being popular and he likes these big animals.  But he also likes his more abstract less gift shoppy stuff, and wishes the populace liked them more too.  Things like this:

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I found both of those images at the Richard Texier website, at this page.

Despite my reservations about the big red bear with wings and my preference for other Texier works, I can, when I look at his big red bear with wings, feel Paris trying.  Trying to become that little bit less of the big old antique such as, compared to London, it now is.  I mean, you can’t miss the big red bear with wings.  Personally, I don’t find it to be wholly successful.  But it is holey.

Monday May 07 2018

The pattern with all my best photo-expeditions is that there is an Official Designated Destination, and then there is all the other stuff I get to discover.  The principle purpose of the ODD is to get me out of my snug little home and into the big wide world that is Outdoors, to see both the ODD and whatever else I bump into in the vicinity of the ODD.

And the ODD for my recent trip to Brittany via Paris was the top of Quimper Cathedral, from which I hoped to photo the numerous bridges across the river that flows through the middle of Quimper, past the Cathedral.  Civilians are only allowed to climb to the top of Quimper Cathedral on very particular and rare days, and you have to book in advance.  April 29th was such a day, which is why I journeyed to Quimper on April 28th.  (I could not leave home earlier than that because on April 27th I had one of my Last Friday of the Month meetings.)

My Hostess (GodDaughter 2’s Mother) journeyed with me from London to Quimper, via Paris, and my Host (GodDaughter 2’s Father) and I duly presented ourselves at the big front door of the Cathedral, at the appointed hour of 4pm.

As we approached, we had already seen from below where we were presumably headed:

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And so it proved.

So, how would all those bridges look?

Until this moment, the best picture of the bridges of Quimper that I had been able to take was this, which I found in a Quimper shop, way back in 2006:

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But alas, in April 2018, the trees of Quimper were all covered in leaves, and when I pointed my camera at the bridges, leaves was pretty much all I got:

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This was about the best I got of any of those bridges:

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I see four bridges there.  There are a lot more than four bridges in the middle of Quimper.  Trees I like.  But, I hate leaves on trees.

Was I upset about this, having come all that way?  Not really.  I’ve always wanted to see this view, and now I have seen it, along with lots of other things to be viewed from the same spot.  This spot turned out, bridge-wise, not to be nearly as good as I had hoped, but at least I now know this.  I’m not going to die wondering.

Besides which, the Official Designated Destination is not justified only by how good the thing itself is.  At least as important is what else it causes me to encounter, and I encountered plenty.  If the ODD is a disappointment, the trip as a whole can still be great, as this one was.

Now that I am home, I did a little further image googling, and in among a mass of photos of the bridges of Quimper from ground level, with the nearest bridge almost entirely blocking the view of all the others, I found this one aerial shot:

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I can tell you from the scaffolding that this photo, even though this is the first time I’ve ever seen it, was probably taken in 2006, because all my Quimper Cathedral photos when I went there in 2006 also had one of the Cathedral towers smothered in scaffolding.  That was in September.  My guess is that the above aerial photo was taken earlier that summer.

Tourisme Bretagne needs to get in touch with 6k.  If he’s not free to photo those bridges from above, maybe he could recommend someone.  Or maybe they could find a place towards the top of a building closer to the bridges whose owner would be willing to allow bridgists to come and photo all the bridges.  Those bridges are a huge tourist asset, and they need to get them seen, and photoed, by visitors in all their glory.

Saturday May 05 2018

I’m back home now, but yes, earlier today I had lunch in Paris.

I don’t normally do food photoing, but I reckon this one came out pretty well:

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This photo was an afterthought, but that helped because I photoed the food while it was being eaten rather than before we started, which worked out better, I think.  And it tasted even better than it looked.  It’s liver of some kind, and it didn’t come cheap, but boy was it tasty, and it kept us fueled for the rest of the day.

But now?  I’m now knackered and am off to what will by my tardy standards be an early bed.  More about all this tomorrow, unless there’s some unignorable drama.somewhere, like someone dropping an H-bomb or some similar foolishness.

Wednesday April 25 2018

I like doing podcasts, and have recently resumed doing this.  The difference between these and earlier efforts is that I am not making the mistake of trying to be the interviewer, a role which I have learned, the hard way, that I am utterly unsuited to.

I do not, however, like doing podcasts because I assume that I will reach a huge audience with my brilliant insights and opinions.  Rather is it that I deepen my friendships with the people I share the microphone with.  The first is a mere outside chance.  The second is pretty much guaranteed to happen.

Although neither I nor any of the other people whom I podcast with assumes that we will reach a huge audience, we know that we probably will reach some sort of audience, probably very tiny, of friends and acquaintances and general passers-by, and that means that we had better say things we have thought about and which we mean and which are worth saying.  We need to be at our conversational best, just in case.

Compare that with two or three of us just chatting in a pub or an eatery or in one of our homes, but with no microphone on.  The level of conversational intensity, so to speak, is, in those circumstances, far lower.

Almost all of my renewed podcasting activity has been with Patrick Crozier.  I recall with particular pleasure the first of these recent efforts that we did about World War 1.  Who else has listened in?  I have no idea.  But I listened.  He listened.  I can listen again, and I have, more than once, because so many interesting things, I think, got talked about.

More recently, I took part in a group podcast on the subject of freedom of speech, alongside Jordan Lee, Bruno Nardi and Tamiris Loureiro.  On that occasion I can be sure that others were listening, because there was a room semi-full of people, listening, right there, in the Two Chairmen, where Libertarian Home meetings now all seem to happen.

The microphone that Bruno placed in our midst was distinguished by its size and its striking appearance.  I photoed it:

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That photo, for me, illustrates the bigness of the difference that a microphone makes to a conversation.  Jordan, Bruno and Tamiris are all slightly better friends of mine now than they would have been if we’d not done this.

Why then, do I not switch on a microphone during my Last Friday of the Month meetings?  Maybe I will start doing this.  But for now, I believe that a roomful of people, assembled to hear a particular person speak on a particular subject, achieves that same heightened level of attention and conversational concentration that a microphone achieves for a smaller group of people who are talking amongst themselves.

It is also helpful for speakers to be absolutely sure that their talks won’t go straight to the www, and that means that they can confidently take an early shot at a new subject, with all the errors, hesitations and confusions that might occur.  Ideas need to be nurtured and shaped and polished, and that is far easier to do if such early efforts are not being bugged.

This Friday, I have another of my Last Friday meetings.  Dominic Frisby will be doing an early dry-run version of his Financial Game Show, which will be having a run of performances for real at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.  I’m pretty sure that me threatening to switch on a microphone during this out-of-town preliminary try-out version, so to speak, would have been a deal-breaker.

There’ll be another early version for this show at the King’s Head, Crouch End, on May 22nd.  I attended the very first outing of it at the same venue last Monday, and I can report that I and the rest of the small crowd had a lot of fun.  As Frisby reports at the bottom of this piece in MoneyWeek:

We had fun. My MoneyWeek colleague, Ben Judge, turned out to be the winner, prompting many in the audience to make accusations of an inside job.

Yes.  This was a pity, because actually what came across rather well was how imperfect the knowledge of financial experts often is, and how other people, with direct experience of whatever it is, often know more than them.

Tuesday April 17 2018

This morning I get a phone call:

Me: Hello.

Voice at the Other End: Hello.

Me: Who is this?

Voice at the Other End: Me.

That is such a perfectly idiotic answer.  And such a perfect joke, provided only that it isn’t happening to me or to you.  It should be in an American sitcom, and I am sure it has been.

The subsequent conversation included this:

Me: I am going to blog this.

My thanks to Me.

Friday April 06 2018

Just got back from a great talk by Rob Waller at Christian Michel’s, about Artificial Intelligence, dream or nightmare, etc.  Rob himself was quite optimistic, but to illustrate the pessimistic side of the debate, he talked about … well, see above: a robot dog apocalypse.  He mentioned also its creator, Charlie Brooker, which made googling easy.

Here we go:

We’ve all seen movies and TV shows about killer robots. But until Netflix’s new season of its future-shock anthology drama Black Mirror, never before have we seen a terrifying vision of machines run amuck that so closely resembles the design of actual real-life robots — namely, those Boston Dynamics “dogs” that have impressed the world with their remarkable balance, speed, and dexterity … yet also unavoidably make you wonder: What if one was chasing me?

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But then Rob talked about how AI was achieving huge increases in agricultural productivity and miracles of environmental protection, by doing such things as providing water automatically for migrating birds, and also for crops.  Like I said, he was optimistic.