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Wednesday December 31 2008

There’s no question about it that the best Christmas present by a long way that my family gave to each other over Christmas was a calendar my sister did featuring lots of ancient family photos, further copies available on request (and much requested):


That photo may not mean a huge amount to anyone else reading this blog, but it means a lot to me because those are my parents, at around the time they got married, in 1935 I think it was.  It’s the youngest I can recall seeing them together in a photo.  You can see where I got if from, can’t you?  That’s Dad, wandering around Dingestow Court, presumably taking photos of the place.  Who photoed them I have no idea, but the picture was supplied by cousin Anthony, who now lives at Dingestow.  Perhaps our grandfather, who also features in many of this set of snaps.

And here is a picture of Uncle John, Anthony’s father, with his three sisters, including, on the left as we look at them, my Mum.  If she was about ten or twelve when that was taken, then that puts the photo somewhere in the mid 1920s.  Uncle John is dressed like that because he was at Eton at the time and that’s where the picture was taken and that’s how they dressed.  And did for a long time after that.  Maybe they still do.


As mentioned in passing in this, Uncle John was killed towards the beginning of World War 2, but not before he had had two sons.

Just posted a cricket piece for Samizdata, focussing on that great win by South Africa against Australia, the final result of which (South Africa by 9 wickets) coincided (yesterday) with Michael J’s birthday.  Happy Birthday yesterday Michael J.  (It was.  I’ve checked.  He says he’s not that put out.)

My hope is to do more of my blogging at Samizdata during the year 2009, which could well mean that the only thing here on quite a few days could be links to things by me there, as per this.  But (Perry de Havilland), I promise nothing.


Dear Mr Micklethwait,

While researching images of the Cut in London, I happened upon your striking shot (attached). My client - representing Southwark College - is very keen to use it in an advert in the Times Educational Supplement on Jan 9th.

I write therefore to ask whether you grant permission to do so, details of the usage fee you’d like to charge, and how we can settle up with you if you approve the request. Our deadline for supplying artwork is Tuesday 6 at 10 am, so if it’s possible to reply by then I’d be most grateful.

Kind regards, and best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

David Gooda

He’s talking about the second of these two shots.

Excellent, but what should I charge?  Usually people either ask to use it free for something non-commercial, which I always accept, or they suggest a fee for something commercial, which I always accept.  I’ve said to him: make me an offer.  What would make sense?

Tuesday December 30 2008

All unknowingly, at the end of last month and at the beginning of this month, I photoed a small moment of London history, namely the time when the Evening Standard headline signs stopped being hand done and then printed, and started being boringly printed and then just printed some more.


I remember thinking a few years ago that this was bound to happen.  But then, when I started photoing these things, I kind of slipped back into thinking that the hand-done-ness of them would never stop, ever.  But now it has.

Some googling reveals that I’m not the only one doing this.  Here is his version of this same switch.

Monday December 29 2008

imageSo I put nothing here today, during the day, and then went out to supper in the evening.  Very nice it was too, but it left me no time to perform my blogging duties here.  So, when I finally did get home I just took a lucky dip in my Billion Monkeys collection and quickly found this snap, which will have to do.  I took it just before Christmas, not this year, but last year.

I know this because Billion Monkey snaps now have the date, even the time, automatically attached to them, assuming your camera is not set to Jan 1st 2000, or some such stupidity.  This is a very fine feature.  It means that copious photography works as a kind of diary for lazy people.  Not so long ago, hard discs were not big enough for such behaviour.  But then, suddenly, they were.  Rather like with writing in about 1984.

Sunday December 28 2008

Obviously Sport is going to be one of the categories at the bottom of this post, but I’m afraid that another will be The Micklethwait Clock, a virtual entity that I seem to spend my life trying to getting into sync with daylight, only for some idiotic all-nighter brought on by something or other to blow it to hell for another fortnight.  Well, at least I’m getting today’s posting here done good and early, which will give me the chance to finish that long ramble I’m trying to do for Samizdata, about the fact that my mother ... isn’t going to live for ever.

Just now, the particular cricinfo concerns an absorbing series between Australia and South Africa.  It’s 1 am my time, but only approaching lunch their time.  How close will South Africa get to the Australia first inning of 394?  They have now reached 268-8, which doesn’t sound good but which is an improvement on 198-7, which is how they started the day, at 11.30pm my time.


The good news, Micklethwait Clockwise, is that the entire point of me being here is to see to Mum each day, which I have to be ready for her to begin at 8.30am, with water, milk, toast, satsumas, whatever.  If and when she has a bath, I have to be around in case any of that requires assistance.  All of which will keep the Micklethwait Clock in order, no matter how interesting the cricket may get.

South Africa now 304-8 at lunch.  Definitely South Africa’s morning.  And definitely my bedtime.

Saturday December 27 2008

Is it my imagination, or are these ...


... getting lighter?  I’m talking about the big white plug there, which in this case happens to be the one that plugs Jesus the Micro Laptop into the mains.  If so, kudos to the geeks for contriving this.  As Michael J has long been explaining to me, the issue with mobile gizmos is not really connectivity any more.  It’s power.  In a coffee bar what you want is not WiFi, because you bring your own, for you to use everywhere, not just in WiFi spots.  What you want is power.  But if the plug that gives you the power weighs getting on for as much as the gizmo itself, that rather spoils things, doesn’t it?

And, can these plugs now be even lighter, if you pay more?  Or will they be lighter soon, for the same money as we pay now?

Friday December 26 2008

Readers of my recent classical music postings here (I like to think that that doesn’t only mean Alan Little) will know that I am intrigued by the phenomenon of orchestras and orchestral conducting that you can see on DVD (or the telly) rather than just hear.  So when, this evening, I found myself listening to a performance I had already watched on the television, and when I found myself making a lot more sense of it than I did when watching it also, I thought: interesting.  Now why would that be?

Partly it was the piece, Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra.  This is typical tunelessly theoretical Schoenberg, as opposed to early, nice, musical type Schoenberg, i.e. Verklarte Nacht.  (Please scatter continental dots at will.) These Variations are devilishly complicated to play accurately, and watching anyone conduct them is not a pretty sight, which does little to make any sense of the music from the listener’s point of view.  There is much beating of time with no sound attached, and then sounds, with little in the way of conventional conducting added, in a way that explains what it is supposed to mean.  (I remember watching Boulez conduct a Mahler symphony a long time ago, and that was a similarly unlovely sight.) This is music that resembles law, in that you don’t want to see it being made; you just want the result.

But there was something else.  Seeing the orchestra, with all its inevitable antique associations and reminders of thousands of beauties past and to come, really rubbed your nose in how beautiful this music isn’t, what artistic opportunities are being deliberately spurned, what glorious melodic and harmonic resources are being willfully applied to a quite different sort of task to its usual task.  All those ranks of violins, doing such drearily cerebral things compared to what we know they can do.  All of this is unignorable when you watch Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra.

But when I listened to the piece on the radio, I was able to forget all this other stuff, these reminders of other felicities, and to listen to the thing for what it was.  I was, in short, able to concentrate on it.

I still didn’t like it, mind, any more than I like disco music or jazz or hip hop.  But at least I didn’t hate it so much.  And I began to hear how others might, in all sincerity, not hate it at all.

At the end of this:

… that was probably the final icing on the coffin which broke the camel’s back.

At first count I had that as four boring metaphors combined, but sadly one of them gets two mentions (final nail in the coffin), so the revised final count after a stewards’ enquiry is three.  Could that “final” be changed to something else to bring it back up to four?  Can anyone do more than four in one mixture?

As to the original posting, I rather liked Keith Ledger in that modernised Taming of the Shrew thing he did with Juliet Styles.

Thursday December 25 2008

imageUKIP Toby drove me and Other Brother Pete back to Englefield Green from his excellent Xmas jollifications via a favourite part of Englefield Green, a place called the White City, which is where UKIP Toby now does a lot of his UKIP campaigning.  His purpose was to show me the most spectacular Xmas decorations in the locality, which of course I snapped up with my Billion Monkey camera with great pleasure, what with other Xmas photo ops having been relatively meagre, Too much murk and not enough and sunny enough sunny intervals, sadly.  But this made up for all that, and as not promised earlier today, here it is.  Click on the little bit of the show to the right to get the full picture.

UKIP Toby said could I jpeg-email him the picture.  I will now just ring him to thank him for his hospitality, and to tell him that he can now download it.  For possible use in some UKIP publication apparently.

Although what you are doing reading this today I really don’t know.  Find some relatives and eat things together.  That’s what I’m about to do.  But whatever you do, I hope it goes well.  Weather here: murky but with sunny intervals.  My mother’s status is similar.

I’ll be taking my camera to brother Toby’s for the day, so may have pictorial ways to say the above later.  But, I promise nothing.

Wednesday December 24 2008

To add to those stamps:


Another for the thin pictures collection. Click to get it thicker, This was the first typewriter I ever used,

Tuesday December 23 2008

And now I’m going to watch one of my all time favourite great bad movies, The Night of the Generals.  Peter O’Toole gives his greatest worst movie performance ever, so far over the top it’s a really really over the top, in fact over the top of the bit on top of the top, and then some.  But, given the script, this was the only place left for O’Toole to go.  Plus, he was playing a Nazi tank commander serial sex killer, which is a somewhat over the top sort of a character to start with.  They catch him in the end.

Interesting world, in which it’s okay to drive a Panzer regiment into someone else’s country, but you mustn’t kill prostitutes.  I agree that you mustn’t kill prostitutes, in fact I agree with the Omar Sharif character, who chases after O’Toole throughout the film.  In its absurdly over the top way, I actually find this film more morally challenging than many other films which are more obviously aimed at the morally challenging market, if you get my meaning.

The good news is that I recently bought one of those tiny DVD players, for when I’m here, and this is ideal for when I’m not up to anything more.  I have just finished watching a thing called Four Minutes, about how Roger Bannister broke that particular mile barrier.  What’s the mile record now?  Or don’t they have that any more?  It was sort of like Chariots of Fire, only with a tighter budget.  I had only heard of one of the actors, Christopher Plummer, who played a grizzled old coach in a wheelchair.  The rest were all good unknowns, or unknowns to me.  Which helped because you didn’t think, oh that’s really so-and-so, rather than the person he was supposed to be.  The guy playing Bannister looked just like a young Stephen Hawking, but did not, I think, actually play Hawking in a telly biog they recently did of him.  I liked it very much.  I didn’t know until now how closely Norris McWhorter was involved in this particular drama.  Basically, he was the guy with the stopwatch.

I don’t know if this was a proper movie or just made for television, so I’ve categorised it as both.

Good thing I asked if this little toy would play DVDs recorded off of the telly.  Oh yes, they said, it does, And it does.  Plus, lucky there’s an undo button in this blogging software, because I just blotted out all of the above by mistake,

Illness is always somewhat undignified.  But it is a whole lot more undignified if the person who is ill is supposed to be looking after someone else.  And that’s me.  I’ll spare you the medical details.  Suffice it to say that they are the kind of details where sparing is required.  Luckily eldest brother UKIP Toby was able to fill in this evening.  Here’s hoping he won’t be needed tomorrow morning.

Monday December 22 2008

imageI’m sleeping in my late Dad’s old room, and while having a rootle around, I found, on the table in the bow window, some stamps commemorating the Queen Mum’s eightieth birthday.  12p.  That dates them.

I thought at first that what I had chanced upon was a Christmas card session, abruptly ended by something or other, perhaps my father’s death in 1992 (I think it was), and preserved for ever more.  Or maybe my mum had got them out and was sorting them, but had lost interest.  So anyway, I snapped them, and there they are.  Four to your right but sixteen in all, if you click.  No doubt I am breaking some law or other about not being allowed to photo stamps.  Tough.

This is a rather ambitious posting to be doing on Jesus my Micro Laptop, from the layout point of view.  It turns out that I need a few more words just here, to make things just so.

imageSo anyway, after that, I did some more rootling, in the stamp pile, and look what I found.  4d!!!  Presumably this one dates right back to the beginning of Concorde, and heaven knows when that was.

Which rather suggests that this is philately (sp?), rather than Christmas cards.  There’s no way that, in the age of 12p stamps, you put a 4d stamp on anything.  In among them were even older stamps, for things like two and a half p.

I have never really regarded my Dad’s bedroom as any of my business.  But now that I’m sleeping in it, strictly because of the mattress you understand ...

Sunday December 21 2008

I am back at my Mum’s, for Christmas, and that takes me over the river to Vauxhall railway station.  From which I snapped this enticing view, just before it got too dark, and just before my train drew in.  In the background, the big blocks of flats with winged roofs next to the river that I see from a distance every time I’m in Vauxhall Bridge Road, and in the foreground all manner of interesting oddity.  Elephants and castles, windows with bricks in them instead of glass (presumably to avoid tax), and that BIG ISSUE sign, presumably their office, trying to impress passing railway travellers (few of whom stop at Vauxhall).  And what are those blue things?


I’m only seeing this on Jesus my Micro Laptop, so I can only hope that it looks okay on bigger screens.  Click to get it bigger, unless you’re me using only Jesus, and it is already as big as it can be.

Saturday December 20 2008

Following on from this talk with Tom Burroughes (mp3 here) and this talk with Antoine Clarke and Michael Jennings (mp3 here), comes this conversation, recorded last Thursday evening, between me and Michael J.

What Michael thinks is now being done wrong and what Michael thinks should now be done instead didn’t take that long for him to say, or for me to agree about.  Basically, dump the bad old economy and build a good new one, by cutting taxes and slashing public spending and public impediments to wealth creation.  The particular point I added is that such a policy would create hope about the future, and hope is an economic fact now.

So we went on to talk about the politics of current crisis.  The usual libertarian regret is that bad - statist, anti-market - policies are very popular with the few who benefit from them, while being a matter of relative indifference to the multitudes who must pay for them, while good policies are very unpopular with those same people, who are denied any “help”, but again, are not supported by the multitudes who will benefit from the right policies.  And indeed we speculated that Mr Cameron might be intending to do the right things, while saying nothing about that beforehand.  But we found ourselves thinking that maybe this is a crisis where the multitudes are now very fearful that they will be severe losers from current policies.  Which makes the politics of the current mess a lot more interesting.  Maybe here is a case where honesty would not just be right, but also more effective politics.

Friday December 19 2008

imageIt has now reached that particular time of the year when I realise that, once again, I have failed to send out out any Christmas cards.  So, please accept this posting as your personal Christmas card, and if you are a friend of mine who does not read this blog, please be satisfied with my very best Christmas wishes being passed on to you by someone who does.  In the event that someone under the erroneous impression that you have some idea who I am passes on my very best Christmas wishes to you, then please ... oh no, that won’t work, will it? - because how will my apology for this confusing circumstance ever reach you?  Besides which, how the hell are you reading this in the first place?  Anyway, happy Christmas everyone.

That appropriate intersection of Christmas with my preoccupations that you see to your right was snapped in Oxford Street on Thursday night.  I seem to recall be rather drunk, which means that any inhibitions I feel about stalking fellow Billion Monkeys evaporate.

A cat that likes to watch water swirl around, and knows how to make that happen.  Via here.

Thursday December 18 2008

I have a busy afternoon ahead, and then a busy evening recording a conversation with Michael J about The Crisis, what they’re doing, what they should be doing, etc.  I will be pressing Michael to avoid the Conservative blunder just now, of merely saying: this should not have happened.  We know that.  The question is: what should happen now?  I hope Michael is well prepared with answers to that question.  “Not this” will not suffice.

A couple of nights ago, I was at Perry’s, and we talked about various what-ifs, me having mentioned this Kershaw book (already mentioned here).  See my Samizdata postings from way back about two What if? books, here and here.

He volunteered another big one, which was that in 1941, he said, “the war was Germany’s to lose”.  If Hitler had made up his mind to go either towards Moscow, or for the oil in the Caucasus, as many people told him at the time, then Germany wins.  Perry’s preferred alternative - had he been a member of the German General Staff and someone who wanted Germany to win, you understand - would have been the Caucasus.  His argument was simple.  Even when they went for both at once, they came damn close to getting both.  So, if they done one or the other and then the other, there’d have been no stopping them.  And then, Germany would have had the one thing it absolutely did not have from then on: oil.  Everything then gets massively harder for the Allies.

I finished that Kershaw book, in which he does some what-if thinking of his own, but in which he also takes a swipe at the what-ifs offered by others.  Reading the Samizdata comments on the first of those two posting linked to above, I see that some people consider what-iffing to be a “parlour game”.  I think this is humbug.  For all the reasons I explain in those two postings, I think that what-iffing is essential to illuminate the true nature of the past and what it was like to live in it.  Many professional historians, it would seem, know all about what actually happened, but regard what-iffing as rather adolescent, something you have grown out of when you make it to being a grown-up historian.  And if finding out what did happen, in a brute material sense, is all that you think historians are for, then indeed, what-iffing is somewhat beside the point.  However, if you are trying to work out why people did this rather than that and if you are trying to explain what it felt like to be in their situation – in other words if you are trying to tell an historical story, as Kershaw actually does rather well, then what-iffing is essential.  Luckily, Kershaw does what-if, despite having earlier been rather snooty about it.

Economic life is all about what-iffing.  People’s more or less intelligent guesses about the immediate and not so immediate future are all part of why they do what they do now, as I am sure will become that little bit clearer if you listen to the talk Michael and I will be having this evening.

What-if ... Michael gets everything right this evening?  (Not particularly far-fetched.) And what-if ... the world eventually does exactly what he says?  (But how soon?) Or, what-if ... it never does this, and persists instead with its current follies, for ever?

Wednesday December 17 2008

The BrianMicklethwaitDotCom quote of Dec 5 2008. 

… as artists the idea is to remain ignorant of how dumb you look because self-consciousness is death to inspiration.


Tuesday December 16 2008

Last Friday, a friend and I attended a Wigmore Hall recital given by the world-class violinist Leonidas Kavakos, accompanied by a non-world-class pianist whose name is obviously googlable but, for reasons which will become clear if you keep reading this, I prefer not to dwell on.

There were three pieces on the menu, sonatas by Schubert, Janacek and Bartok.  Having not that long ago heard Kavakos give a fabulous performance of the Shostakovich violin sonata, also at the Wigmore, I was looking forward very much to this latest recital.  My journey to it was the sort of London travel horror story, involving stopping off at my home to dump unwieldy luggage, that people with more frequent fixed dates in their lives than I now face presumably suffer a lot more often than I do, but that didn’t make my journey any nicer for me, and when I got to the Wigmore, in time but not by much, I was in a bad mood.  But art can often take all the sting out of such ghastliness, the haven it provides being all the more heavenly because of the hell that was endured to arrive at it, so beneath my generalised state of resentment at the universe, I remained optimistic that this particular part of the universe might make my travel miseries worthwhile, and even bestow a retrospective glow on the memory of them.  Having been through hell to reach heaven, perhaps I was being all the better prepared to experience heaven.  So: make my day Leonidas.

The Schubert began, but, for me, heaven refused to arrive.  Kavakos’s playing was a wonder.  But the sound of the piano made it seem that we were all listening to a bad recording, with quite different microphones being used for the two different instruments.  Kavakos’s violin was clarity itself.  But the piano sounded like it was coming from the bottom of an empty swimming pool, and as if someone had left a tool box on top of the sustaining pedal, like Patrick McGoohan did on the fast-forward pedal of the train in Silver Streak, thereby causing the train to smash into Chicago station.

Maybe the hall itself was the problem.  The Wigmore stage has a curved back wall, and short side walls, making its shape like an arch window, pushed over by the audience into a flat position.  Kavakos was at the front of the stage, but the piano was at the hub of the semi-circle.  Maybe that was what made the two instruments sound so different.  Or maybe our seats were the problem.  For that earlier Shostakovich recital, my friend and I were up in the gallery, but for this we were down in the stalls.  I realise that saying anything negative about the sacred acoustics of the Wigmore Hall is, well, sacrilege, but I tell it as I heard it, and I heard this with severe difficulty.  When either instrument was playing alone, it sounded okay, and in the case of Kavakos’s violin a lot more than okay.  But mostly, of course, they were both playing, and the result sounded to me not like harmony but like collision.

It didn’t help that someone somewhere – it sounded like it was the man in the seat right right behind me - was wheezing like a damn walrus.

Chamber music can make far more sense when you watch it, instead of just listen to a recording, so I had hoped that the Schubert sonata would come alive for me.  On CD, all I think when listening to Schubert for violin and piano is: I wish this was one of the trios instead.  Sadly, my reaction to this live performance was the same.  Maybe the Janacek and Bartok, again pieces of the sort I find unlovely on CD, would come alive.  But: no.

The problem was not merely the piano sound, but the piano playing.  The pianist looked and behaved like a waiter, rather than a fellow diner.  There was a fatal air of deference about every note, every chord he played.  There was no sense of dialog, of eager, point-making, interpretative zeal.  The chords lacked internal coherence.  When it should have sounded as if sparks were flying, all we got was a report of what the notes merely were.  Passages that should have dazzled or twinkled or stabbed like a rapier were merely played, as if by a capable sight-reader.  Pieces like these should, to switch metaphors yet again, be like a tennis match between champions, with sudden changes of direction and power flying back and forth between two equals.  This was was a tennis star and a ball boy.  It didn’t help that I couldn’t see the pianists hands.  Given that I couldn’t hear the notes properly, it would perhaps have helped had I been able to see them.

At the end, when they bowed, the pianist stood at the back, rather than alongside Kavakos, and he bowed very slowly and deeply, bowing very slowly and deeply being the most memorable thing he did.

Once I had worked all this out, I began to wonder who else I would want playing the piano, instead of the dreary person who was?  Basically, anyone classy, of the sort you’d want to hear playing solo pieces.  CDs are seldom made with also-ran pianists merely playing along, so I’m spoiled.  Think: Barenboim playing Brahms with Perlman, Zukerman or de Peyer, or Ashkenazy playing Beethoven with Perlman, or Barenboim or Brendel or Andras Schiff doing Schubert songs with someone like Peter Schreier.

Is it cruel to write like this about a man who is musically many miles above what I could ever be?  Well, yes.  But if you will put yourself on the same stage as someone like Kavakos, you are going to be seriously outshone if you do not yourself shine brightly. 

Whereas this pianist made me think of other pianists, Kavakos made me forget all the other violinists completely.  But, I have two complaints to aim at him.  First, why does he not get himself a good pianist, as good as he is at the violin?  Maybe not some world-class big name, but at least some younger player who might one day soon be such a star.  Or, does Kavakos actually like to be making all the running?  If so, he is dooming himself to the same mediocrity that he chose or allowed himself last Friday to be accompanied by.

And second: that walrus wheezing.  During the Janacek, I worked out who was doing this.  It was Kavakos!  My friend told me that when younger, Kavakos was horribly fat and a horrible wheezer.  But recently, he slimmed down and stopped wheezing.  But even more recently, he has put some weight back on and is wheezing again.  Reviewers both of concerts and of CDs are often absurdly indulgent about classical musicians who provide unwelcome accompaniment in the form of sniffing or groaning, which are regarded not as professional incompetence but as evidence of depth of feeling.  Think: Glenn Gould, Colin Davis, Rudolf Serkin, and the Lindsay String Quartet.  I despise this, both the noises and the indulging of them.  It’s like a painter excitedly splashing mud on his water colours, or an overwrought poet sprinkling more random letters in among his poetry.  Pissing in the soup, basically.  So, Kavakos, as well as losing that pianist, lose some weight and the wheezing.

The rest of the audience absolutely did not share my lack of enthusiasm about this event, for they clapped wildly after each piece, and at the end demanded two encores.  These were display pieces, and I recognised the tune of the second one without knowing what it was.  I enjoyed both very much, because for these all that was required from the pianist was deferential accompaniment.

imageIn other words, one that I have decided is a quotation without anyone else deciding about it for me.  It’s Michael Blakemore’s describing (from this - already mentioned here). wroting about the noted theatrical director of yesteryear, Tyrone Guthrie, pictured right:

He gave of himself in a multitude of ways, never bothering with image building or the creation of his own epitaph.  Throw yourself into your work and all that would follow.

The more I read of Blakemore’s book the more enthusiastic I get about it, despite his politics being decidedly different from mine.

Monday December 15 2008

From the ever dependable, quotewise, P. G. Wodehouse:

Our views on each other, Spode’s and mine, were definite.  His was that what England needed if it was to become a land fit for heroes to live in was fewer and better Woosters, while I had always felt that there was nothing wrong with England that a ton of bricks falling from a height on Spode’s head wouldn’t cure.

Roderick Spode was an English fascist invented by Wodehouse, the leader of the Black Shorts.  During the war, Wodehouse was accused of collaborating with the Nazis, as I recall because he did a broadcast in occupied France.  But nobody now thinks he was any kind of fascist.

I got that quote not from a real Wodehouse book, but from a book of Wodehouse Nuggets.  I’m at the insults chapter, and I also like this one, from Sam the Sudden, about someone or other:

He stroked his moustache fondly.  It and money were the only things he loved.

Even better is the “chapter” (i.e. particular collection of quotes under that general heading) after the insults one, called: Images, which contains things like this:

He sighed like a patronising escape of steam.

From Company for Harry.  Don’t know that book at all.

In a similar physics-based vein:

He oozed softly in like some soundless liquid.

From Bill the Conqueror.  If not Jeeves himself, then presumably some other butler or gentleman’s gentleman.

This posting breaks one of the many Micklethwait’s Laws, in this case the one that says you aren’t allowed to recycle quotes that someone has already identified as quotes and put in a quote book.  I stand by this Law.  It is a good law.  This is a terrible posting, and I am ashamed of it.  But the rule here is: something every day, even if thoroughly shameful.

Sunday December 14 2008

Following on from the big pocket watches, here are two more strange snaps that I took, the day after I snapped the big pocket watches.

First, alongside a nice Christmassy-looking tree and a TV aerial, what I think must be a mobile phone mast, or if not, then, well, something else:


I like how sometimes you take a colour photo, but it turns out almost entirely black and white.

And next, twenty minutes later when I had returned to my Mum’s home, this:


All the items that you see are available for use now, and were in situ.  I put nothing strange there myself.  Spot the strangeness.

OK, here’s a hint.

Saturday December 13 2008

In an article in the latest Prospect, Ben Lewis and Jonathan Ford say that contemporary art insanity is about to crash in ruins, because it is a speculative bubble:

The mania for collecting contemporary art has become ever more intense in the past 12 months - in the first half of this year, new auction records were set for almost 1,000 artists. But the suspicion is that dealers and collectors with interests in particular artists may have been “bidding up” prices at auction and acquiring works. If so, they may be holding large inventories of overvalued work, financed by increasingly expensive debt. At the Damien Hirst auction at Sotheby’s, his London dealer, Jay Jopling, bid on an astonishing 44 per cent of the lots in the evening sale, and both he and Hirst’s US dealer, Larry Gagosian, bid on two lots after long pauses in the bidding. One cannot know if Jopling was maintaining Hirst’s prices at his own expense or bidding for clients.

The nearest I got to buying into this lunacy was buying and reading this book.  It will be very interesting to see what happens to all the people in it.  Certainly Hirst, Jopling and Gagosian are among the big names.  My guess is many will be spectacularly ruined, but many others will be seen to have walked away, quietly smiling all the way to their boring, solvent banks.

Lewis and Ford again:

As the credit crunch struck, it became evident that American and Europeans would be buying less art. But that, we were told, did not matter because a wave of new buyers from Russia and the middle east would take their place, their wealth buoyed by high commodity prices. Sotheby’s press releases said that every year 20 per cent of their clients were new and, for the Hirst auction, 22 per cent of the buyers were new clients. New records were set by these art virgins - Roman Abramovich paid $86m for a Francis Bacon in July 2008 and the Qatari royal family, previously known for collecting Islamic art, bought the Rockefeller Rothko for $73m.

Yes, according to that book I’ve been reading, insane Russian oligarchs have for several years been funding the most excessive excesses of the contemporary art market.  My favourite bit in it is where it says something like: heaven is two Russian zillionaire nutters having an I’m-going-to-win-this pissing-contest money-no-object fight-for-status-to-the-death-in-the-boy’s-playground bidding war.  That’s an auctioneer talking.

For some while now, I seem to have been hearing grumbles to the effect that Tate Modern hasn’t bought any proper contemporary art.  But soon the word will be: lucky old Tate Modern.  I like Tate Modern, and the fact that it contains very little of significance inside it doesn’t bother me a bit, in fact I think I prefer that.  Soon, they’ll be putting out press releases boasting about how little they paid for their crap.

Thursday December 11 2008

There are more interesting things than fiddling about with my little laptop computer happening in my life just now, but the most interesting of them are not really suitable for public - if you can call this that - consumption.  Basically, my mother is 94 years old, and my siblings and I are now taking it turns to live in - or drop by twice daily at - her house.  In my opinion, to write interestingly about interesting circumstances like these requires a certain ruthlessness about revealing - betraying? - what are usually considered to be private matters.  You don’t go out of your way to reveal anything private or hurtful if revealed, except when you do, on purpose.  But if you do it by mistake well, you do it.  All’s fair in love, war and autobiography.  That has to be the attitude of any autobiographical writer with any aspirations above and beyond blandly innocuous cheerfulness.  Quite soon now, I may decide to cross this line.  If I do, I may find that such fears are groundless and that my intimates turn out to be delighted to get regular mentions in a sort of low-grade autobiography.  But that’s a decision I will postpone.

These thoughts have recently been provoked not only by my family circumstances just now, but also by me reading this work of high-grade autobiography.  The author of this book, theatrical director Michael Blakemore, follows the convention of naming the people he likes and giving made-up names to those he doesn’t like, such as three lady drama teachers he took against when at RADA, whom he calls Miss Ecks, Miss Wye and Miss Zedd.  But both kinds of revelation are, surely, somewhat risky.  Those you dislike may be humiliatingly easy to recognise, by the dislikees and by all the dislikees’ most close associates.  Those you like, and thought you were describing only very positively, may still take offence at something or other. 

My mother has spent a life-time doing good works of various kinds, while carefully avoiding any semblance of personal fame.  No matter how positively I might describe her, even in an obscure little blog like this one, she would probably disapprove.  She would probably disapprove of me saying even that.  So, nobody tell her about this, please.

And wouldn’t you know it? - this just had to be the one recent posting here which, for a while, I was composing with the publish button left in the on position.  So, less deftly expressed versions of the above thoughts are already Out There.  Which almost certainly won’t matter one bit.  But it just goes to show, doesn’t it?



The thing to get about laptops is that they have two basic uses, rather than just the one.  First, there is using them when out and about, on holiday, in coffee bars, at conferences, and so on.  You get it out of your bag, do the business, and then shut it down and put it back in your bag.  For this, you would never dream, e.g., of attaching it to a full-sized keyboard.  That would defeat the entire purpose of the exercise, which is mobility and smallness and convenience, for which one will readily trade in a little keyboard perfection.

But there is also another and I think distinct laptop use, which is when you set them up in another semi-permanent place and construct an alternative office around them.  This is what I am now engaged in doing, hence the full-sized keyboard mentioned in an earlier posting this week.  But, with the arrangement described in that, there was a problem: my eyesight.  I can read almost anything if it’s very close to my eyes, and almost nothing if it is any further away than close.  On the table in front of me is okay, just about.  But on the table and the other side of an even quite shallow keyboard is starting to be too far away.  What I really need is to have Jesus above the keyboard, and now I have.  This actually brings Jesus closer to my eyes than ever before, and is by far the best arrangement yet.

My first computer ever was an Osbourne.  That had a tiny screen, which I loved.  Provided, that is, I leaned forward over the keyboard, and stuck my face about three inches away from it.  The arrangement I now have is even better, so much so that I find myself wanting to rethink how God My Regular Computer is organised.  I find myself pondering some kind of angle-poise system that will shove God’s screen right in my face, just as this new Jesus arrangement is doing now.  In the above picture, you should really imagine me with my face further forward.  Sorry.  I took that picture myself with the hand not visible in it, and what you see is the best I could manage.

The previous answer to my eyesight problem was to type into Jesus using very large lettering, 18 points, for instance.  But that doesn’t work if you are inputting stuff straight into blog software, as I prefer to do when using Jesus to blog.

So, in short: hurrah.

But as one door opens, another swings back and smashes me in the nose.  Jesus is now refusing to distinguish between the two SD cards I have been sticking into him, insisting that the one with all the pictures on it is the other, with only a few dead or dying bits of writing.  Getting that picture off of the card was quite a job, I can tell you.  But, the fact that I manage to be willing to try to solve all the further problems that Jesus creates.

I imagine Christians feel this way too.

Wednesday December 10 2008



That’s what I saw in a shop window this afternoon in Englefield Green, the place of my suburban childhood.

Today I visited my favourite local beauty spot, the Air Forces Memorial, which overlooks Runnymede (of Magna Carta fame).  The weather was marvelous and I snapped and snapped.  But then I went back to what passes for the centre of Englefield Green to suss out the current state of its shops, and the result was my favourite snap of the day, the very last that I took.

The thing is, you know approximately what Windsor Castle looks like.  It looks like a castle.  You know what Terminal 5 with the new Wembley Arch right behind it looks like, probably because I’ve already showed it to you.  And even if not, or if I did show it but you didn’t see that, guess what, it looks like Terminal 5 with the Wembley Arch behind it.  And you know what London looks like from twenty miles away.  It looks like London from twenty miles away.  You can tell it’s London because one of the blurry lumps sticking up out of the haze is Gherkin shaped.  And it is indeed remarkable that these three things can all be seen from the same vantage point, as can Thorpe Water Park. 

But, have you ever seen pocket watches as big as those?  And yes, I do so agree with you, they are indeed a great improvement on the chronometric derangements perpetrated by the late and (I think) abominable Salvador Dali.

By the way, that’s not a giant typewriter keyboard bottom right.  That’s just the pavement looking weird.

Tuesday December 09 2008

This posting is being typed into Jesus the Micro Laptop, although actually with a full-sized keyboard attached.  I am staying with my mother, and the keyboard will remain in her care permanently, even as Jesus travels around with me.  There’s no doubt that plugging gadgets into gadgets has got easier over the last few years.  I can remember when attaching a new keyboard required hideously huge and expensive plugs and hideously prolonged re-booting.  Now, you just plug, and go.  I recall buying this keyboard in Curry’s, with exactly this purpose in mind.  Can I try the keyboard out with Jesus?  No.  Well, then I won’t buy it.  If it works with Jesus, I will buy it.  Promise.  If not, or if you won’t let me be sure about this, then not.  Oh, alright then.  The young man who had told me the rule was over-ruled by somebody older, who knew how quickly my test could be conducted.  Sure enough, it took about twenty seconds.  This was a few months back, but already there was a hint of desperation in the retail trade.

This new keyboard makes a huge difference.  Jesus is just that bit too small to type unthinkingly, that is to say thinking not at all about the typing and only about what is being typed.

I am extremely happy with Jesus, and every so often I discover some new feature or technique that enhances my happiness.  Most recently, My Guru has informed me of how to move windows about on Jesus’s tiny screen, where in the normal course of things the window is too big to read the stuff at the bottom.  Just press “Alt” and then get mousing.  It works.  If I’d known that when I was faffing about trying to play with pictures, that would have made life a lot easier.  Let’s see if that picture thing still works, and if I still remember how to do it.  De-dum-de-dum-de-dum:


Well now, I seem to have discovered something else.  If I load the picture straight from the camera into the paint programme on Jesus, and then save it as something else, the result takes up much less space than before.  I guess I had it set to be less super-dooper in some way or another.  And that meant I could upload the picture exactly as was, and then resize it, using the blogging software.  I’m guessing this has already worked.  Yes.  Doesn’t seem to be any problem.

Blog and learn.  I now know too different ways to resize pictures using only the camera and Jesus, with God not involved.

Monday December 08 2008

imageYes, I’m pretty sure that’s the Colonial Governor’s Mansion at the bottom there.  Looming over it is the Lippo Building, which is a Billion Monkeys favourite, and you can see why.  The Colonial Governor in question was the Colonial Governor of Hong Kong.  Who lives there now, I don’t know.  I’m guessing: different empire, different title, but decidedly similar job.

Here is the original Flickr snap I got the picture on the right from.  And here is a google image search that says Colonial Governor’s Mansion, although clicking on the first image you get from that got me to a dead end.

It would be tempting to say that the relative size of these buildings illustrates the relative importance of big business and small government, in that happy little place.  But actually, I suspect that the ultimate status symbol here is all that greenery.  And I’m guessing that part of it is – or was - the Colonial Governor’s garden.

Assuming I have the right building, then according to Wikipedia:

Government House has a front lawn and a back garden. Eminent among the plants in the garden are the numerous azaleas that come to full bloom in spring.

In London, Buckingham Palace looks out over a public park, and also has a big back garden.  But no huge towers right next to it quite yet, although there are some small towers nearish.

Sunday December 07 2008

Ever since I played that DVD of Herbert von Karajan conducting Tchaikovsky symphonies last week, I have been unable to get the picture of that man’s conducting out of my head.  It was just so very unlike anyone else’s conducting, and thus bizarrely memorable.  Later, for instance, I recorded Valery Gergiev conducting Mahler 6 with LSO, one of his many orchestras scattered around the world.  Gergiev looks like a pretty scary person, one of those Russians who looks like a tramp but who totally outranks you, and I imagine his current position in the world of music owes something to that scariness, as well as to his musical abilities.  He knows how to get people in general to do what he wants, not just orchestral musicians.  But Gergiev was far more like every other conductor you see conducting.  Karajan was something entirely different.

Watching how that Gergiev performance was filmed, and watching that Karajan DVD some more, I was struck by how often Karajan’s director went out of his way to present the orchestra not as a collection of individuals, but as like a single instrument, in other words to direct just as Karajan himself conducts.  When the brass section had a big chord, you wouldn’t see a group of brass musicians, so much as a collection of brass instruments, the personalities of the mere people playing the instruments being utterly submerged into the collective whole.

As for Karajan’s demeanour, well, I can see how people found it - shall we say? - off-putting.  Karajan conducted his orchestra, as I said in that earlier posting, as if it were a single instrument, and there was something else too.  His whole demeanour was that of a man who was absolutely entitled to be making these people do exactly what he was making them do.  There was no ingratiation, no softening of the blow of autocracy, no ego massage for all these failed soloists, no eye contact, no suggestion that they were together sharing the music.  No, they were making it, by subordinating themselves utterly to the collective outcome, which was determined not by them in any way at all, other than in the sense that they played their instruments well and that the collective instrument was accordingly well tuned and functioning properly.  But Karajan was playing them.  Add to this air of individually dominated collectivism the fact that when a particular loud chord came along, Karajan would turn his non-baton-holding hand into a fist, and the parallel with Nazism is hard to resist.  I’m sure Hitler, when listening to a Karajan performance, would imitate such gestures himself.

I actually think Karajan brings something to this music that the music definitely responds to.  This is what orchestral music is like.  Orchestral music is not merely chamber music but a bit bigger.  It is different in kind from chamber music.  But, if I were, say, a Jew who had lost family during the Holocaust, or a Russian who had lost family during the horrific German attacks of 1941 and 42, I might find Karajan’s conducting, and the general atmosphere it might evoke, rather hard to stomach.  On the other hand, a German who still nursed secret Nazi tendencies and a who had a seriously nasty Nazi past might enjoy it an order of magnitude more than I do, just because of how it all feels.

I am not calling Karajan a Nazi, any more than I would call a crowd of English football supporters Nazis, merely because the behaviour of such people often has a rather Nazi-Party-rally flavour to it.  Nazism was certain evil things that were done, and believed in being done, not a mere theatrical atmosphere.  Nazism appealed to the human tendency towards tribalism and the human love of collective expressiveness, but it was what it did with that appeal that made it so evil.  Karajan was first and last a musician.  He had no truck, for instance, with the fatuous notion that, say, Mahler or Mendelssohn were in any way second-rate on account of being Jews.

But there’s no escaping that Karajan atmosphere.  I have always believed that the reason so many people have gone grubbing into Karajan’s inevitably somewhat Nazi past was not so much because of what they believed his past to have been, but because of what they felt about his present.  The proof of which is that several other conductors - such as, I believe, Karl Bohm - who were at least as politically sympathetic to Nazism as Karajan was, were left relatively unscathed by such speculations.  The point about Bohm was that although at least as Nazi as Karajan, he didn’t look like a Nazi or conduct like a Nazi.  He looked and behaved like an old-school bank manager.

It didn’t help that Karajan had very unconductorish hobbies like skiing and piloting airplanes, which made him seem like some sort of Bond villain.

Today I watched Karajan conduct Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, the Pathetique.  It was that scary third movement, the allegro molto vivace, that particularly had me thinking these Nazi related thoughts.  (After that, I had no attention left to give to the final slow movement.) I now also possess a DVD of Karajan conducting Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra.  I wonder what that will look and feel like.  Karajan DVDs - and this is a lot to do with the considerations outlined above – are now very unfashionable, which means I can get them really cheap in the second hand shops.

On the same trip, I also got this DVD, even more cheaply.

Saturday December 06 2008

Again with the beautiful weather.  Hardly a cloud in the London sky.  And again with the Billion Monkey hunting.  And again, pictures not of Billion Monkeys:


That first sign (1.1) has been around for ages, but the OFFICE SPACE one (2.1) is new.  A sign of the times, you might say.  Tower 42 (1.2) is a favourite of mine, especially when the afternoon sun sets fire to it like that.  Millbank Tower (1.3) has a hairdo of world class roof clutter, as you can see.  The old Waterloo Eurostar Terminal (2.2) has got easier to photo, now it’s not the regular Eurostar Terminal anymore.  All the stuff between it and the main concourse is gone.  And Parliament (2.3) has long sported world class roof clutter, of the old school kind, done by the original architect.

Friday December 05 2008

Is it art?  Don’t know, don’t care.  It’s rather ugly so I guess it is.


It’s one of these, which was one of these.

As are these amazing sunset birds flocking industrial clutter photos.

P. J. O’Rourke has just been quotulated, the implication being that this is good stuff:

Global imagination, like global climate, seems to have cycles - natural, man-made, or whatever. Sometimes what people imagine for the future is bogged down in the literal - call it “blogged” for short. The last thousand years of the Roman Empire, for example, were no great shakes. The Romans had all the engineering necessary to start an industrial revolution. But they preferred to have toga parties and let slaves do all the work.

The Chinese had gunpowder but failed to arm their troops with guns. They possessed the compass but didn’t go much of anywhere. They invented paper, printing, and a written form of their language, but hardly anyone in China was taught to read.

And here we are in 2008. Name an avant-garde painter. Nope, dead. Nope, dead. Yep, Julian Schnabel is what I came up with too. But it’s been a quarter of a century since he was pasting busted plates on canvas. He’s making movies now. And movies are famously not any good anymore. Name a great living composer. Say “Andrew Lloyd Webber” and I’ll force you to sit through Cats and Starlight Express back-to-back. Theater is revivals and revivals of revivals and stuff like musicals made out of old Kellogg’s Rice Krispies commercials, with Nathan Lane as “Snap.” More modern poetry is written than read. Modern architecture leaks and the builders left their plumb bobs at home. The most prominent contemporary art form is one that is completely unimaginative (or is supposed to be): the memoir.

To top it all off, we have just experienced perhaps the greatest technological advance in the history of humans. And what are we using the Internet for? To sell one another 8-track tapes on eBay and tell complete strangers on Facebook the location of all our tattoos. And, apparently, to tell ourselves what to do with the groceries we just bought.

This is a genre of journalism I especially dislike, namely the grumpy confusion of the average use with the most significant use.  Granted, here at this blog I use the internet to say little of any consequence to any besides me, but even as I (mostly) blog about the equivalent of my tattoo locations, other bloggers are saying more significant things.

They are, to name just one thing that they have been doing today, scrutinising the latest orations of our Prime Minister, here in Little Britain.  Brown yesterday tried to suggest that by spraying public money over the British mortgage problems of the “middle classes”, he will be able to make the financial crisis that he has created go away.  He is taking action!  Unlike his appalled and immobilised opponents, who are now in opposition and are hence denied the solace of being able to rush about doing something.  It’s all lies of course.  Brown’s policies are nothing but frantic running about announcing that he has just covered another huge and hugely disagreeable symptom with a wholly inadequate splurge of government money, for the sake of the only thing this government and governing party seems any longer to care about, namely newspaper headlines.  The only good thing about this particular policy is that Brown is probably not wasting government money on anything like the scale that he claims to be, if only because it is no longer there to waste.  He spent it all.  And bloggers are pointing all this out.  They are combing through the latest effusion of lies for details of why these particular lies are lies.  Lies like this used to last weeks, months, even years, until the lethargic old newspapers finally got around to noticing that they were lies.  Now, such lies last only a few hours, and the next day, the newspapers are full of what lies they were.  The internet did that.  Does all that constitute the incipient collapse of our civilisation?  Not to me.

Besides which, what O’Rourke considers average may not be average to others.  I consider this article of his very average indeed, just a lazy old legacy media hack hacking to a deadline.  But the Quotulator considered it worthy of recycling, and perhaps even profound.  What other people do with their freedom is usually boring and tasteless, but freedom is still a good thing, and the things that free people choose matter to them, or they wouldn’t choose them.  If you thought this O’Rourke piece meaningful and profound, I’m happy for you.  You are proud of your tattoos?  Fine by me.

As for the inventions we are doing nothing with, well, the internet is a classic example of how we are doing things with our inventions, big things.  What happened was that O’Rourke wrote his grumpy article about how “we” aren’t doing anything with our technology, just like those silly old Romans and Chinese, but then he thought, oh, the internet.  Yeah, “we” have rather done that, haven’t we?  I’d better trot out some boring nonsense about tattoos to explain why that doesn’t signify, despite all appearances to the contrary.  But what the internet is being used for - in among many other equally significant things too numerous to list and many other less significant things which together add up to something else very significant - is to do your job, mate.  O’Rourke looks at the internet and deliberately bogs himself down in the literal.

As for art, most art at any given time is tedious.  Most of the music of Mozart’s time was dross.  And as for most of the modern architecture of the fifties and sixties, which O’Rourke praises earlier in his piece, well, where do you start?

I often like O’Rourke a lot, and surely will again soon.  I loved his early books of reportage.  He is at his best when he gets out and about and reports, often very enthusiastically, what people are doing of the sort that the rest of us don’t know about.  He is at his worst when, as here, he stays at home (in this case in his car) and bitches about the commonplace.  Remember the appalling CEO of the Sofa?  No?  Lucky you.

Thursday December 04 2008

I continue to brood over what is the underlying ideological story working itself out in the world just now.

The Official Story now is that “unregulated capitalism” has tanked, and that regulation and government money must solve the problem.  Idiot bankers caused the problem, and only the government can solve it.  But I think that it is starting to be popularly understood that it was government borrowing on a huge scale that is what caused this mess, so how can government borrowing on an even huger scale get us out of it?  Or to put it another way, the government and the idiot bankers were all on the same side.  And if the Official Story is wrong – mega-wrong, disastrously wrong – about that, then is the Official Story perhaps wrong about the regulation bit also?

“Socialism”, in the sense of spraying government money around, is looking more and more like a rich guy’s racket.  Taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in rich countries.  But if idiot bankers caused this, why give them more money? Why not just let them starve, or get jobs as roadsweepers or in call centres?

My understanding of depressions, which is what we are talking about here, is that they discredit whatever is the Official Story, and credit whatever is the Most Confident Alternative that is being put about, even though it takes a while for the Most Confident Alternative to get a respectful hearing.

The Official Story in 1930 was: hurrah for capitalism.  Just do more of that.  (This was what FDR originally promised.) But as the bad times stayed bad, the Most Confident Alternative gained more and more ground.  Set up governmental organisations!  Build dams!  Manipulate farm prices!  Put socialists in charge!  Plan!  When the depression did finally end, all that nonsense got the credit, and was enthroned as the Official Story from then on.  Capitalism was rescued by being set aside for the duration of the crisis.  World Wars set the same story in institutional concrete.

So it is that the Official Story now is: we have ourselves another crisis, caused by the capitalists, and the government must get us out of it by spending more, and regulating more, just like FDR did.  The Most Confident Alternative says: spend less, and regulate less.  Make the idiot bankers and the idiot politicians who were in bed with the idiot bankers do road sweeping and call centre-ing.  It will be horrible, but it will be horrible anyway, and it will be more fair.  The idiots will suffer more than the rest, and quite right too.  Get the horribleness out of the way.  If the bad times now stay bad, and the more spending and regulating there is the more true that will be, then the Most Confident Alternative is liable to gain strength, and may even become the new Official Story.

Most of the pessimistic responses to all that involve reference to the numerous Interests, that Won’t Allow That.  Rich bastards being bailed out.  Poor bastards on benefits.  Government bastards doing government bastard jobs they insist on keeping.  But Interests always stand in opposition to the Ideological Truth.  Evil Capitalists have spent my entire life-time fending off New Deal economics, of the sort that almost all of Academia and all of Polite Society was demanding of them.  Now we are entering the age of the Statist Interests versus the Capitalist Rescuers.  The Statist Interests will do quite well, because Interests always do.  They will pocket their ill-gotten gains, but will know even as they do this that they are ill-gotten, a reward for idiocy.  The Capitalist Rescuers will make the ideological running.  They will be the ones with the sense of their own rightness, not the Interests.

Well, that seems to me just as plausible as the claim that, ideologically speaking, we are all doomed, doomed.

Wednesday December 03 2008

Last Monday, I did something I’d not done for many weeks.  I went Billion Monkey hunting.  Any day now (although I promise nothing) I may exhibit the best of the results of that hunt.  Here, meanwhile, are some of the best of the rest, that is to say, of the best pictures I took during that hunt which did not feature any Billion Monkeys.

Top left is a rather strange one.  It’s the glass outer covering of the lifts of the Channel 4 headquarters building.  The weirdness of it is that there is no seemly and definite frame between the reflections in that glass and the background, because the glass is nothing but glass.  I may have another crack at that one, to get it looking prettier.

Top right explains itself clearly enough.  I was trying to find reflections of the wheel in the windows and polished stonework on the right side of Victoria Street as you look down towards Parliament Square, and beyond that, to the Wheel.  But then the Starbucks sign hove into view and that made a far better snap.


Bottom left is of course the Mandela statue in Parliamet Square, with Jan Christian Smuts in the background.  Irony alert.  Smuts always looks like he’s skating, to me.

Bottom right is what I suspect may turn into a new genre for me, in the form of a familiar tourist trap, but with a great big bunch of Ground Clutter in front of it.  I love Roof Clutter, but hate Ground Clutter, and boy is there a lot of both?  Yes there is.  So, in addition to continuing to celebrate how Roof Clutter makes for fine sights in its own right, I will in also (although I promise nothing) be un-celebrating, in the weeks and months to come, the way that Ground Clutter spoils lots of otherwise fine sights.  Behind those traffic lights is the stature of Boudicca, between Parliament and the river.

Click to get them all bigger.

Tuesday December 02 2008

A widespread cliché just now is that “we” have “all” been living beyond our means.  People who say this should stop we-ing, and speak more precisely, e.g. for themselves.

Some weeks ago I had a recorded conversation about the financial crisis with a couple of mates, one of them being Michael Jennings.  Michael spoke eloquently about the social pressure that was put upon him by friends and relatives, until recently that is, to buy a property, to “get on the housing ladder”, etc.  Now that this particular ladder has turned into a snake, he is entitled to be rather smug.

Now, I feel that I am being criticised by all these we-ing commentators for something that I also did not do.  I have not been living beyond my means.  True, these means were mostly bestowed upon me by my more hard-working father, deceased.  Every time I do manage to earn some money, a larger dividend seems to arrive at much the same time, sometimes even by the same post, associated with some of the shares my father bestowed upon me, and it is as if my father is mocking me from his grave.  A quarter of my dead body, he seems to be telling me, earns more than you ever can.  Not that he would ever talk in this graceless way, but you get the picture.

So, yes, the means that I have not been living beyond were and are mostly not of my making.  But the lease for my one bedroom flat is all paid.  I have cash as well as shares.  Yet every morning I read things like this, from Kathy Banaszak:

The lesson seems obvious: Living beyond our means never works. In the subprime meltdown, one thing is clear: No one is without blame.

Or this from Peggy Drexler:

This had to happen because we were living beyond our means. This will recalibrate a value system that has somehow equated worth with wealth - where we spoke with pride about the size of screens and numbers of toilets.

Or this, from someone called Danny Gabay:

We have lived way beyond our means.

I agree with many of the points these people are trying to make with their excessive generalisations, but: not me.  I haven’t been living beyond my means.  I do spend more than I might on second hand CDs, and above all, I don’t work nearly as hard as I might, and I have other vices.  But, I pay the price of them not by piling up debts but by going without far bigger indulgences.  Wife.  Children.  Car.  Expensive holidays.  Expensive clothes.  Expensive nights out.  All cars, wives and children are expensive.  I do go on cheap holidays and cheap nights out, sometimes, and I do buy clothes every so often, but my favourite clothes shops are Primark and Oxfam.  My flat, with its one toilet, is exactly as it was when I moved in, apart from the cheap lino I put down on the kitchen floor, and the many shelves I have put up.  My living room carpet is a disgrace, as are my window frames.  My television is old and pregnant out the back, and I speak about that with pride.  I almost never go to the theatre, and have been to the opera once during the last decade.  Waste of money it was too.  It’s not that I especially recommend this way of life to others, and I certainly do not think that governments should discourage lending and borrowing, any more than I think they should encourage it.  Credit makes the wheels of commerce turn.  I understand that.  And maybe if I had got more and spent more I would have developed my powers rather than lay them waste in the way that another we-er, William Wordsworth, warned against:

Getting and spending we lay waste our powers.

But the main way that getting and spending can lay waste powers is that some people who also get more by borrowing on the strength of what they may or may not be able to get in the future, and what they are liable then to get is into trouble, as my mother (who raised me to live within the means her husband gave me) warned.  But not everyone has behaved in the manner my mother warned against.  I took her advice.  We are not all guilty.

Monday December 01 2008

imageTatyana often comments here, most recently here, so it’s about time I responded.  I choose not to comment on her stuff, but to link to something of hers from here.  But I do not choose anything recent from here, but a recent photo she took, in Chicago.  (All the most recent photos there were taken in Chicago.) Chicago is one of my must-visit-before-death places.

No messing about.  The reason I choose it is that I like it, and would have taken the same photo myself, had I found myselfthere.  This is not my horizons being expanded by exposure to another mind.  No, this is a mind which overlaps with mine, in the matter of things like distant blue modern skyscrapers with ancient and grayer and smaller buildings in front of them (in this case ancient and grayer and smaller skyscrapers), unusual footbridges, and odd lighting effects caused by the sun as it heads towards the other side of the earth which turn grayness yellow.  I am also fond of big clocks out in the open, like the one you can from the Royal Festival Hall on the other side of the river.  So, I link to this overlapping mind in pretty much the same spirit as I would stick up my photo of this scene, had I only taken it.  Although, just to try to be different, I have rotated it a bit, and cropped it, to make it taller and thinner.

I also would have taken this, exactly that way. And this.  And this.  Although I have no idea what that last one is.  Had I been there, I would have seen what it is.  And then taken that exact same photo.