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: Family

Sunday April 21 2019

Niece Roz tweets:

Had enough of your relatives already? Don’t just think about murdering them - come along to @scarthinbooks tomorrow afternoon and talk about how you could actually-- (Just kidding, Twitter. Just kidding)

Scarthin Books is, alas, in the Peak District, where Roz lives.  This is impossibly far away from London, where I live.  If she ever holds an event like this in London, I will definitely attend.  I will make sure that all present know that she and I are related.  Otherwise I will say little.  I will concentrate on looking quietly attentive and quietly thoughtful.

Photo of Roz’s second Meg Dalton book here.

Friday April 19 2019

ABC News reports, with video:

This very responsible turkey halted traffic on a two-lane road in New Hampshire until the entire flock was able to cross.

Via Roz the Crime Fiction Writer, who says:

He has the exact demeanour of our old school lollipop lady.

Pigeons and foxes aren’t the only ones who have adapted to human civilisation.

Thursday April 04 2019

I read quite a while ago, because I got sent a proof copy.  What do I think of it?  Very good, and with one especially good moment near the end, which (spoiler alert: I’m about to say something about this moment) I thought was a very acute comment on the nature of human moral beliefs and intuitions, and which I thought was very well set up to achieve maximum dramatic impact.

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As I have to keep explaining, Roz Watkins is my niece, that being why I keep plugging her books at this blog when most of what you see here is stuff about London and my photos of London.

Trouble is, writing about detective thrillers is a bit of a mug’s game.  I am used to writing about books of the sort where you are allowed to go into the details of what the book actually says.  If I find the argument presented in a book, of the kind I’m used to writing about, to be persuasive, then I can say so and say why.  But when you are writing about a detective thriller, telling everyone what it says, and especially how it concludes, is a big no.  Those who “review” books like this one seem often to be reduced to cliches, all about how they stayed up all night reading it, did not see the end coming, liked the general atmosphere, the leading characters, the dialogue, and so on and so forth, in pretty much those sorts of words.  In particular, reviewers compete with each other to find out how many generalised adjectives they can deploy as a substitute for “very good” (see above).

So, yes, I think this book is very good, but if you want to know why I think that, you’ll have to read it.  Even then, you might not discover, because maybe you’ll disagree with me.  (At which point you too will be forbidden to explain in any detail why you didn’t like it.)

One thing I can say without any fear of giving away any plot details is that the title on the cover of this second book is a lot easier to read (light coloured lettering, mostly dark background) than the title of the first one (lightish lettering, light background) was.  I thought that the first book, The Devil’s Dice, was very good, but I think this second one is a bit better, partly for the reason vaguely alluded to in the first paragraph of this, and partly because I found the politics of it (there is some politics, loosely defined (as in: not British party politics)) to be intriguing.

Wednesday February 06 2019

The Monday before last really was a very good photoing day.  (I’ve been calling it Sunday but actually it was Monday, Monday January 28th.  I remember at the time being confused about what day it was.)

First, seconds after I had stepped out into the sunlight, there was this:

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That being me, in among the branches of the tree.

Then, following further excitements yet to be revealed, there was this lighting effect.  And then there were these smartphone-photoing ladies.  And then these guys, also photoing, with another shadow selfie added by me onto their backs.

Then I went past the Wheel, and gave that the Wheel and Tree treatment:

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And just before it got dark, I ended up at the top of the Tate Modern Extension.

When it was dark, I climbed into Blackfriars Station, and walked over the river to Blackfriars Tube.  And enjoyed the view, with its weird reflections of the station in the sky above the City Cluster:

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I love how the black sky turns blue in that.

But before I went home, I dropped in on Waterstones, in Piccadilly, to see if the newly released paperback version of The Devil’s Dice was on show.  And it was:

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I am finding it exhausting just thinking about that day, and how it ended.  It was very cold, and the cold takes it out of you, by which I mean me.

Thursday November 08 2018

This is not an advert for a book.  Well, it is, but that’s not my purpose in showing it here.  My angle is my niece, the crime fiction writer Roz Watkins, who is quoted here, enthusing about the book:

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The point being that, with what seems to me like remarkable speed, Roz has turned herself into someone whose opinion about other people’s writing is considered worth quoting.

I found the above graphic at her Twitter feed, along with her thanks for having been described as “the great Roz Watkins” by a grateful publisher.  Everything about Roz’s public and social media presence says to me, and I am sure to everyone else who is following her, that she is very serious about her writing career.  Deadly serious, you might say.

This matters, because readers of crime fiction need to know that, if they invest their time and curiosity and shelf space, to say nothing of their cash, in a leading character, this investment will pay off.  The energetic and upbeat way that Roz presents herself says that there will be plenty more books about her lead detective.  There is already a second Meg Dalton tale coming out next April, and if several more Meg Daltons do not follow, at a speed no faster than (but no slower than) is consistent with the maintenance of quality, I for one will be very surprised.

Thursday August 16 2018

The Devil’s Dice is a debut work of crime fiction, written by my niece (which I mention to make clear that I am biased in her favour) Roz Watkins, and published earlier this year.  I enjoyed it a lot when I read it, but I did complain about the cover design:

Memo to self: If I ever design a book cover, make the title on the front either in dark lettering with a light background, or with light lettering on a dark background.

This earlier posting reinforced that point with a photo of a big display of books in Waterstone’s Piccadilly, from which you can only tell that The Devil’s Dice is The Devil’s Dice when you crop out that one title from that bigger picture and blow it up, thus:

image

This illegibility effect is also all too evident in this photo, taken by Roz’s brother.

All of which means that this (this being the relevant Amazon link) is good news:

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That’s the cover of the paperback version of The Devil’s Dice, which which will be available in January of next year.  Okay, it’s not a huge change, but putting the same orange lettering on a black background instead of a near white background is much more likely to get the attention of the fading-eyesight community, of which I am a member, and which is surely a quite large chunk of the public for crime fiction.  This is also the kind of thing that just might sway a decision about whether to put a book in a bookshop window display.

I bet I wasn’t the only one grumbling about that earlier hardback cover, and it would appear that the grumbling has had exactly the desired effect.

I know little about book publishing, but I’m guessing that paperbacks are where the volume sales are, driven by those early glowing reviews (The Devil’s Dice got lots of glowing reviews) penned by the readers of the hardback version.  And from that volume comes the magic of a serious word-of-mouth wave.  Most readers are probably willing to wait a little in order not to have to devote scarce bookshelf space to great big chunks of cardboard, and for the sake of having something a bit easier to carry around.

And, if you really insist of your books being ultra portable, or if your eyesight is even worse than mine and you need seriously to enlarge the text, The Devil’s Dice is also now available in Kindle format, for just £1.99.  I am biased (see above), but for what it’s worth I agree with all those glowing reviewers, and recommend The Devil’s Dice in all formats, even the hardback with its dodgy cover.

Sunday July 29 2018

Two things got my attention just now on Twitter, both, I think, very funny.  I didn’t actually LOL.  But I did smile.

First up, this quote:

It is always bittersweet when your relatives bid you fond farewell as you leave for Edinburgh, and only you know how much you are about to defame them for comedic gain.

And next up, this cartoon:

image

The latter of these two jollities goes way back, and I suspect that the script and the visuals were done by different people.  But the first one is bang up to date, and I am hence able to direct you to who originated it, which I like to do.

This, on the other hand, baffles me:

image

I recognise financial commentator and funny man Dominic Frisby, on the left there.  But why do Frisby’s shoes have lightbulbs in them?  Who is that other bloke, and why are the two of them waving their fingers like that?  Why are they sitting in the eyes of a giant skull?  Also, what on earth does this have to do with Brexit?  What is it that Remainers have said about such a scene as this, to the effect that it couldn’t happen, or would happen less?  Are the above two gents, like the provider of the quote above, in Edinburgh, for the Festival?  And have the Remainers said that the Edinburgh Festival this year would be a flop?  Yes, that must be it.

LATER: Just noticed where it says spikedmath.com in the cartoon.  So I guess that’s where that started.

EVEN LATER: This:

image

Also:this.

Monday March 12 2018

On March 21st, Roz Watkins, author of The Devil’s Dice, will be signing copies of that book at Waterstone’s Piccadilly, an event which I will attend.  This afternoon, finding myself in that part of London on account of needing a new battery for my ancient Casio watch, I dropped in on Waterstones to see what, if anything, they were doing with the book.

They had just one copy on show, in a New Crime Hardbacks display:

image

Can you spot it?  Memo to self: If I ever design a book cover, make the title on the front either in dark lettering with a light background, or with light lettering on a dark background.  The Devil’s Dice, with its light orange title on a light coloured sky, is second from the right, bottom row (on account of Watkins beginning with W).  Another memo to self: When I become a published author, have a surname starting with a letter near the beginning of the alphabet, rather than almost at the end.

Anyway, here’s a close-up of it, just so you know it was really there:

image

I needed another copy of the book, because I gave the advance copy Roz sent me to someone else.  But I was reluctant to buy the only copy of The Devil’s Dice that they had on show, thus depriving Waterstonians of any further sight of it.  I asked at the desk if they had a paperback.  Oh no, they said, not for at least six months.  I asked if they had any more copies on order.  Yes, said the lady, sounding rather impressed when her computer told her, we have eighty copies coming, ordered this morning.

I have no idea what that means.  Maybe those copies are just for the book signing, and maybe many will be sent back after that.  But maybe this is good, and reflects how well the original launch in Derby went, assuming that this did go well.  Anyway, with eighty more copies on their way to Waterstones, I bought that one copy that they had today.

See also, The Devil’s Dice with dog, in Waterstones Brighton.  Again, right down by the floor with the other Ws.

Thursday March 08 2018

Earlier today, in the Derby branch of Waterstone’s:

image

Standing on the staircase, top left, in a black dress, is Roz Watkins, speaking at the launch of her crime thriller, published today, The Devil’s Dice.

I mention Roz and her book here because she is my niece.  Another sign of getting old, to add to the collection: instead of boasting about elderly relatives who did great things in the past, e.g. WW2, you instead find yourself boasting about younger relatives who are doing great things now and who will probably do more great things in the future.

Roz sent me an advance copy of The Devil’s Dice and I am happy to report that I agree with all those effusively admiring Amazon reviewers.  Very absorbing, very well written.  I am now working on a longer piece about this book for Samizdata, which I hope will go up there tomorrow.  If not then, then soon.

Wednesday January 03 2018

Over at Dezeen, they’ve got a posting about the growth of the City of London Skyscraper Cluster, which describes that process by showing how it is reckoned it will look in 2026.

And they reckon it will look like this:

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From other angles, though, it can look more like it’s three clusters.

To give you more of an idea how the architecture of the City is changing, here is a photo I took in May of this year:

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Here is the bit from another of the dezeen clutch of fake-photos, fake-taken from pretty much the same angle (although from a bit nearer than mine), which lets you see what they are busy building now:

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And here, by way of a bonus, and mostly because I Just Like It, is a photo I took of the same cluster but from the other side, last November:

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That photo was taken from a big patch of grass in the Bethnal Green area called Weavers Fields.

That link points out the Huguenot connection with Weavers Fields.  Blog and learn.  (My mother’s maiden name was Bosanquet.  Her Bosanquet ancestor was one of those Huguenots, who arrived here from France following The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.  (For cricket fans: another Bosanquet, who is a distant cousin of mine.  (But I digress.)))

Tuesday September 26 2017

A day or two ago I got an email from someone or something selling greetings cards, claiming that my birthday, September 26th, is the most popular birthday there is.  Today, which is September 26th, the same email with only small adaptations bombarded me again.

The thing about modern individually targetted advertising - emails, adverts that pop up on your computer screen, that kind of thing – is that you don’t trust them.  For instance, what if some know-a-lot computer happens to know that my birthday is September 26th, as many such computers surely do, and thinks that it will get a rise out of me by typing September 26th into its mass-email about what date the most popular birthday is?

So I asked the www, parts of which I do somewhat trust, and according to this Daily Telegraph piece from December 2015, it’s true.  The Daily Telegraph these days is not what it was, but for what it is worth, here’s what they said:

A new analysis of 20 years of birth records by the Office for National Statistics shows a dramatic spike in the number of children born in late September, nine months after Christmas. …

Overall September 26 emerges as the most common birthday for people born in England and Wales over the last two decades.
It falls 39 weeks and two days after Christmas Day, meaning that a significant proportion of those born on that day will have been conceived on Christmas itself.

I don’t know how popular September 26th was as a birthday way back when I was biologically launched.  I’ve always thought of my parents as pretty straight-laced and careful about things like when to have children.  But, did they just get pissed on Christmas Day 1946 and start me up by mistake?  Maybe so.  (Maybe they got pissed carefully.)

Anyway, whatever, happy birthday me.

Thursday June 29 2017

June 30th (i.e. tomorrow): Barry Macleod-Cullinane is a Conservative local councillor, and as a libertarian of long standing he is perfectly qualified to speak about “Townhall Libertarianism”. 

July 28th: Leandro d’Vintmus is a Brazilian, and a musician.  And also interested in how political and psychological libertarianism interact and reinforce each other.  Very different from the usual sort of Brian’s Last Friday, and all the better for it.

Aug 25th: Nico Metten will speak about “Libertarian Foreign Policy”.  Nico is your classic unswerving libertarian, except that he talks rather quietly.  Insofar as, in this complex matter, there are distinctions to be made, subtleties to be teased out, hairs to be split, we can depend upon him to make them, tease them out, split them.

Sept 29th: Financial journalist Tom Burroughes (aka Samizdata’s Johnathan Pearce), financial journalist, will speak about the (in his (and in my) opinion) very bad idea of a “universal basic income”.

Oct 27th: Rob Fisher, who is a parent, will offer some reflections about that.

Also fixed: January 26th 2018: Tim Evans, Professor in Business and Political Economy at Middlesex University Business School, will speak about the business of higher education, which is one of Britain’s most significant export industries.  We libertarians are used to complaining about higher education for the bad ideas that if all too often spreads.  But what about the economics of the higher education business?

Plenty of food for thought, I think you will agree.

Tuesday May 02 2017

Speculation: every lover of music has a particular style of music-making that he likes so much that he even likes it when it is done rather badly.  He likes, that is to say, not only this particular sort of music, but also the mere sound that it makes.  The Sound That It Makes music is, by definition, a kind of music that only you and a few like-minded freaks like.  All it takes is an efficient market and suppliers of such music will bid down the prices of it, and thanks to amazon, that efficient market now now exists.  There are bargains to be had, and I do like a bargain.

Here are my last dozen amazon.co.uk classical CD purchases:

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Click on any of these if you want to take my word for it that this is nice music, but really, that isn’t my point here.

These CDs almost all fall into two very clear and distinct categories.  1.1, 1.3, 2.1, 2.3, and 4.2 are all of music by famous, front-rank composers, namely: Mozart, Liszt, Rachmaninov, and Beethoven.  Big names.  Top music.  The sort of music that all lovers of classical music tend to admire.

But, 1.2, 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3 and 4.3 are CDs of music by much less well known composers.  Louise Farrenc, Ludwig Thuille, Ferdinand Ries, Franz Limmer (a completely new name to me), Hummel (the least unknown of his lower division bunch), George Onslow, Franz Danzi, and Florent Schmitt.  The first names are included because these guys are not so well known.

4.1 is a box of recordings by Martha Argerich and friends, at the Lugano Festival of 2015.  Three separate CDs, of chamber works, some by big names like Brahms and Beethoven, Schumann and Schubert, and others by somewhat lesser personages, including Ferdinand Ries.  (RIes was a close friend of Beethoven.)

But what all of these CDs have in common is that they feature the piano, and in all but one instance, other instruments, mostly in quite small numers.  The outliers are the solo piano disc of Liszt, and the concerto discs by Mozart, and by Mozart and Rachmaninov.  But even Mozart piano concertos are famous for having what critics call a chamber music “feel” to them, with important parts for woodwind soloists, who often dialogue as equals with the piano soloist.

This, then, is my favourite musical style.  Piano, and a few other instruments.  There is no other musical styles where I buy bargain performances of pieces by composers where the only thing I know about them is when they lived.  Do the critics not rate the composers?  Do they think the performances are lousy?  Don’t care.  This is my kind of music.

When I was a kid, I played the flute, and the most fun I had doing that was when me and my siblings played together.  My two older brothers both played the piano and my sister played the oboe, all very well and better than I played the flute.  Was this what got me started with this sort of music?  Is this why I love it so much.  Maybe.  Don’t know for sure.

What is you favourite sort of music?  Remember my definition.  You love the music.  But even if the music is rather mediocre, you love the sound that it makes.

By the way, yes, that is a swan in the bottom right hand corner of the cover of 1.3.  But this is part of why this CD was so very cheap.  All over the world, tasteful classical music fans said to themselves: yes, this is quite good playing, but I can’t have a CD with a swan like that on the cover.  And nor can I own a CD which, on the back, quotes the pianist saying:

“I was always aware that my first recording had to be a portrait of Lizst.  Only he would enable me to present as a unity the many aspects of my soul.”

Me?  I just think that’s funny.  And Khatia Buniatishvili can really play, so who cares about the embarrassingness of her mere words?

Monday November 28 2016

Today I visited Tottenham, and I intend to return tomorrow, both expeditions having been prompted by these two weather forecasts:

imageimageimage

That I have already decided this evening where I will be going tomorrow, and that I already knew last night what I was going to do today, is typical of how I now do these expeditions.  Trying to work out, in the morning, where I’ll go that day, given that the day is turning out nice, tends not to work so well.  Being old and tired and physically lazy, I have to have an interesting and attractive destination in mind as soon as the day starts, in order to force me out the front door soon enough for the expedition to amount to something.

In this respect, I am turning into my Dad.  When I was a kid I used to tease my Dad about all the planning that would go into family expeditions, and he used to justify this with questions starting with the words “What if?” What if, we get into an accident?  What if, one of us gets sick?  What if, the trains are disrupted?  We need a plan capable of taking care of everything.  I used to think he was being over-cautious, and that we ought to just get started and deal with problems as and when they happened, which they mostly wouldn’t.

Well, as I get older, I become less good at adapting, by which I mean that I can change a plan in mid plan, but that it takes longer and is more stressful.

But more fundamentally, I now suspect that my Dad may have needed his plan just to get him going at all.  Without a plan to drive the expedition forward, with artificially created deadlines and reasonably enticing objectives, maybe he just wouldn’t have been able to muster the energy he needed to lead us forth into the world at all.  Like me, he knew that he would be happier if he did get stuck into an expedition, and would be depressed if all he did was sit at home doing this or that amusing but trivial thing.  So, he would devise plans to make himself do what he wanted to do.  My Dad’s plans were not as he sold them to me, mere precautions.  His plans were energisers.

But maybe that’s just me.

Friday February 26 2016

Regular cats have kittens, but this cat is big, and has cubs:

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Mick Hartley had a picture of an underpass, at Mick Hartley, today.  I went to where that underpass picture came from, to try to understand the underpass picture.  I still don’t understand the underpass picture, but I did find the above mega-feline.  Rather than reduce the whole picture and lose feline detail, I cranked up the cropper, in square mode (of which I am particularly fond).