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Category archive: Society

Monday October 05 2015

Photoed by me last night, at Southwark tube station:


Next to the ticket barrier at Southwark tube there are a number of these little history lessons, of which this was my favourite.  This is the kind of thing you can usually chase up quickly on the internet, and find a fuller account of.  But, my googling abilities are such that I can find no reference to this fish-discouragement story.  Anyone?

Sunday September 27 2015

How much you learn from something that you just read depends not only on what it says, but on what you knew before you read it.  And for me, this short paragraph cleared up several big blurs in my knowledge of Olden Times:

The new technique of fighting which had won the battle of Hastings for the Normans was also adopted in England; instead of standing or riding and hurling the lance overarm, these new warriors, the knights, charged on horseback with the lance tucked beneath the arm, so that the weight of both horse and rider was behind the blow and the weapon was reusable.  Though it required discipline and training, giving rise to the birth of tournaments and the cult of chivalry, a charge by massed ranks of knights with their lances couched in this way was irresistible.  Anna Comnena, the Byzantine princess who witnessed its devastating effect during the First Crusade, claimed that it could ‘make a hole in the wall of Babylon’.

That’s from the second page (page 8) of the first chapter of Agincourt, by Juliet Barket.

That bit in school history where they explained what a knight was and what knights did and how the knights did it … well, I missed it.  And ever since, everyone talking about such things has assumed that I knew it very clearly, when I didn’t.  It’s so obvious.  How would someone like me not know it?

Oh, I sort of knew it, from having seen a hundred films where film actors did this, in film battles and in film tournaments.  But I had not realised that it was a military innovation like the phalanx or gunpowder or the tank or the airplane or the atom bomb.  I had not properly realised that the essence of Knighthood was collective action rather than mere individual virtue, the point being that it was the former which required the latter.  And I had not realised that it was what won the Battle of Hastings.  Or, even more interestingly, I had not realised that it was what won the First Crusade.  (After which, I’m guessing that the Muslims then copied it.

Medieval society did not give rise to Knights.  The Knights technique of fighting gave rise to Medieval society.

I remember reading Tom Holland’s Millennium, and being presented right at the end with the result of the First Crusade, without there having been any mention (that I recall) of how a European military innovation was what won it.  (That doesn’t mean Holland does not mention this, merely that I don’t remember him mentioning it.)

So, at the heart of the European years between Hastings (1066) and Agincourt (1415 (when I now suppose the Knights to have met their nemesis in the form of the next big military innovation, the Archers (hence the picture on the front of Agincourt))) was a technique of fighting.  Like I say, I sort of knew this, but have never before isolated this fact in my head, as a Big Fact.  Instead, I have spent my whole life being rather confused about this Big Fact, reading a thousand things where the Big Fact was assumed, but never actually explained.

Why did I not correct this confusion decades ago?  Because, not knowing it properly, I had not realised what a huge confusion it was.

Sunday August 30 2015

I just watched a recording I made of a BBC TV show called Proms Extra, which is a chat show that responds to and flags up London’s immediately past and immediately future Promenade Concerts.  They were asking themselves whether they minded clapping in between movements, in connection with a performance of The Planets, in which this had happened..  The assembled commentators agreed that they did not mind at all.

Two thoughts from me about this.

First, the assumption seems to be that people clap in between movements because they don’t know they’re not supposed to.  But I think it is much more knowing than this.  I think the audience has changed its mind about this.

There has been a huge movement in music-making to achieve an “authentic” sound, by which is meant the sort of sound made by the first performers of the pieces.  Well, why not more authentic audiences?  Time was when “classical” audiences would clap in between movements without hesitation.  Sometimes they would yell for encores, of symphonic movements, before the symphony had even finished, just like at the opera.  That in-between-movements clapping is now happening (has been for quite a while actually) at the Proms tells me that the current fashion for clapping in among big multi-movement pieces is a very knowing decision, a very musically educated decision.  We are not “supposed” to do this?  Well guess what, we have decided that we will do this.

It’s not only this, but I am sure that this is part of it.

Personally, I think that not clapping something like the tumultuous third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, for instance, seems very unnatural.

However second, there is no doubt that this new convention, if new convention it will be, has not yet been fully established.  Sometimes it happens, sometimes not, and quite often in a rather tentative, awkward and rather indecisive way.  So, it must surely sometimes make life a little difficult for performers.

What if you have just given what you reckon was a tumultuously great performance of a movement which ends in a manner than just begs to be greeted with a round of applause, and there is silence?  In the older days, of strict inter-movement silence, fine.  I’m not finished.  But now?  Hm.  Did they not like it?  And, after a bit of silence, will they relent, and start clapping, just as I am starting the next movement?

The older regime of silence in between movements was at least a rule, which everyone stuck to and which newcomers quickly learned, from all the dirty looks they got if they broke the rule.  And performers could either pause or press on immediately, confident that no clapping would interrupt whatever effects they were seeking to create.

Thursday July 23 2015

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

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

Tomorrow, the weather will be helping very much:


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

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

We shall see.

Saturday July 18 2015

Incoming, this morning, 11.37 am:

Hi brian


How are you?

Oh you know, much the same as ever.

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

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

Best wishes

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

But then, incoming, at 12.12pm:

Hi brian

How are you?

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

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

Best wishes

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

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

Wednesday July 01 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday June 30 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday June 29 2015

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

Anyway, this is the bench:


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

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

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

Unusual bench?
Heaven aka the Barley Mow
High hair
An alien robot playing the cymbals and paps
Bad taste
More White Vans
White Van
I said it twelve years ago
Photoing at the ASI party
Cats – and technology
The Poppies (3): People taking selfies
On the problems of half-parking with a half-car
Roof party
ASI Boat Trip 7: Other photographers
Sacred architecture and profane roof clutter - a speculation
Organised water
Making sense of digital photography
David Byrne on the constraints of artistic form
Jane Austen’s naval brothers
Sidwell (and me) on selfies
Anton Howes at the Rose and Crown
Finding Rover app tracks lost dogs using facial recognition
Bad and good in bad weather
I’ve just been quotulated
Australian cricket is doomed! - or maybe not
Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd
Google Nexus 4 wedding photography!
Emmanuel Todd links
Wedding photography (6): The Wedding and the Reception
Wedding photography (5): Photography!
Christmas Eve feast
Michael Jennings on why iPad photoing is not ridiculous
Piccadilly Halloween
America 3.0
Emmanuel Todd’s latest book - in English
A photo taken of a taken photo of the photo being taken
Meaning in sport
I can now copy and paste from .pdf files
Questions concerning the death of copyright protection on downloaded MP3s
Brianmicklethwait Dot Com headline of the day
The long and short of conversation - Hitchens on YouTube
Why do pregnant women now do quite a lot of driving of their husbands?
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom blog posting title of the day
The right to photograph
In Alicante
Talking with Toby Baxendale
Scrounging Englishmen and stories too good to check
Antoine Clarke talks about Facebook and Twitter – Guido and … Ian Geldard?
Barney Stinson on how gay marriage will encourage regular marriage
Tienanmen + Twitter = Teheran
MBA - necessary but insufficient
Google and dongle
The prevention threat
Is the contemporary art bubble bursting?
On autobiographical ruthlessness
Media bias as asset stripping
Antoine and Michael on what to do now
When three’s company but four’s a crowd
Not the same thing
“Japan is fantastic …”
Chivalry and the mad feminists
It only takes One Rich Lunatic
Official bias
Why I prefer to live in a failing neighbourhood
Cricket misery
Twenty20 cricket on Sky TV
“I’ll build it with explosive bolts connecting the wings to the fuselage …”
Signs of civilisation
Girls these days flashing their cleavages it’s disgusting don’t know what the world’s coming to …
Theodore Dalrymple on the menace of honest public officials and much else besides
He is white and he is poking fun at himself
The white stuff
The robotic future
Probably not right - but definitely written
Chanelle and Ziggy - romance in the age of total surveillance
The drive to see smiles (and they have to be real)
The publicness of private life
Voluntary World 3: Transport Blog illustrates the Muggins principle
The idea that mental illness does not exist
The rights and wrongs of multiple marriage
Cricket is ruining the youth of India!
Emmanuel Todd (5): A CrozierVision podcast
Emmanuel Todd (4): From ideology to economic progress
Charm defensive
Alan Turing – dead earth and cold wires
Evite makes sure I remember it
It’s only a Billion Monkeys if you count mobile phones (and then it’s far more)
Emmanuel Todd (2): The eight family systems
Emmanuel Todd (1): Anthropology explains ideology
Blogging has arrived
“Publish it in your Blog!”
Oscar Wilde defends society
Geek girl I like your thinkings - are nice - I want have sex with it
Tech talk mp3 with Michael Jennings
Patrick Crozier talks with me about Japan
A handwritten letter from Alex Singleton
I hate market research phone calls
Nice cementing
Phone glitch
Voluntary World 2: You’re on your own
On the spread of voluntariness
Changing the names of cities
Blogging fun and blogging profit
Billion Monkeys take pictures of themselves!
Charles Rosen on Richard Taruskin and on the socially unbound nature of some of the greatest music
Talking about my generation
Old days not perfect shock
It’s murder down there
When blog meant something different