Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Category archive: Family
Today I visited Tottenham, and I intend to return tomorrow, both expeditions having been prompted by these two weather forecasts:
That I have already decided this evening where I will be going tomorrow, and that I already knew last night what I was going to do today, is typical of how I now do these expeditions. Trying to work out, in the morning, where I’ll go that day, given that the day is turning out nice, tends not to work so well. Being old and tired and physically lazy, I have to have an interesting and attractive destination in mind as soon as the day starts, in order to force me out the front door soon enough for the expedition to amount to something.
In this respect, I am turning into my Dad. When I was a kid I used to tease my Dad about all the planning that would go into family expeditions, and he used to justify this with questions starting with the words “What if?” What if, we get into an accident? What if, one of us gets sick? What if, the trains are disrupted? We need a plan capable of taking care of everything. I used to think he was being over-cautious, and that we ought to just get started and deal with problems as and when they happened, which they mostly wouldn’t.
Well, as I get older, I become less good at adapting, by which I mean that I can change a plan in mid plan, but that it takes longer and is more stressful.
But more fundamentally, I now suspect that my Dad may have needed his plan just to get him going at all. Without a plan to drive the expedition forward, with artificially created deadlines and reasonably enticing objectives, maybe he just wouldn’t have been able to muster the energy he needed to lead us forth into the world at all. Like me, he knew that he would be happier if he did get stuck into an expedition, and would be depressed if all he did was sit at home doing this or that amusing but trivial thing. So, he would devise plans to make himself do what he wanted to do. My Dad’s plans were not as he sold them to me, mere precautions. His plans were energisers.
But maybe that’s just me.
Regular cats have kittens, but this cat is big, and has cubs:
Mick Hartley had a picture of an underpass, at Mick Hartley, today. I went to where that underpass picture came from, to try to understand the underpass picture. I still don’t understand the underpass picture, but I did find the above mega-feline. Rather than reduce the whole picture and lose feline detail, I cranked up the cropper, in square mode (of which I am particularly fond).
What this ...
...this being “facadism” …
… tells you is that architectural modernism has utterly conquered indoors, but that out of doors, modernism is only popular because its totalitarian impulses have been held at bay, by what you might call ancientism.
But I realise now that this is not quite right.
The key point is not that modernism has triumphed indoors, but that indoors, we are not at its mercy. We can decide about whether to keep it. We control indoors, with furniture, wallpaper, carpets, etc. If we want ancientism indoors, in the living room, say, or in the bedroom, we can unleash it at will, and there is not a damn thing that any interfering architect can do about it. Therefore, we do not mind if indoors is totally modern, when we move in. We can change it, just as much (or as little) as we want to.
Outdoors, however, we cannot just change things at will to suit our personal preferences. Therefore, if a large number of us want some ancientism to go alongside all the newly arriving modernism, we have to bully the architects and planners into allowing it, or even into doing some more. We did, and we did.
Modernism has definitely triumphed in the kitchen. In the kitchen, a place which did not exist in its current and highly mechanised form in ancientist times, it makes such total sense to have smooth white rectangles everywhere. Kitchen cupboards are for storing stuff, not for showing stuff off. You want the cupboard and fridge doors to be a vertical note pads for stick-on notes, not sculptures. You do not want your work work surfaces and wall areas and cupboard doors in the kitchen to be elaborately decorated like the outsides of ancientist buildings, or shaped like curved like car bonnets. You want them flat, to do things on and put things on.
Above all, you want everything easily cleanable. What if someone bangs into a saucepan and spreads slurpy food everywhere. In the kitchen, you want clean, clear, white surfaces, like outdoor Modern Movement modernism. You want horizontality and verticality, whiteness and cleanness, because you want convenience and cleanliness. The kitchen is a machine for cooking in.
Here is a picture I took when I recently visited my brother’s new home. It is a new home in more ways than one. It is new for him, and it has just been built. This is what the kitchen looks like:
Okay, once again, zero points for artistic impression. But look at what is being photoed. The Bauhaus is stationary in its happy, plain white, rigidly rectangular modernistical grave. This was what buildings were all going to look like. They don’t, thank goodness. But this is what most new kitchens now look like.
I wish I had also photoed the outside of the building where Pete lives. This is rather kitchy and cutesy, not at all purely “modern”, although you can clearly tell that it’s recent.
As with the work done in kitchens, so for the work done in other places. Modernism prevails wherever work is done, of the sort done by “workers”, work that involves doing stuff, to stuff. (When the work involves creating appearances, setting a particular tone, all bets are off.) The world of work is the world in which modernism evolved. When we want beauty and pleasure (and particular sorts of appearances or tones), modernism is just part of the mix. It is kept in its place.
About a week before Christmas I paid my brother Peter a visit, to see him, but also to check out his new home.
But before talking to him at length, and before taking much of a look at the place he now lives in, I got a pleasant surprise, in the form of these:
These being geometrical objects made of cocktails sticks. This stick object habit was one that I first acquired as an architecture student at Cambridge. Then, when I switched to doing “social studies” at Essex, I had the time to indulge in stick object construction on a grand scale. It is amazing how many such things you can fit into a small student room, if you are careful about things like swinging your arms or getting out of bed. The volume over the bed was filled with these things, as I recall.
Peter must have gone to a lot of trouble to contrive for these few surviving objects to be transported, from the family home that he has been guarding for the last year or two to his new abode. I am flattered that he thought this worth doing.
The above photo, believe it or not, is one of the better photos of any of these things I have ever taken, in the sense of showing the world what they look like.
When a person looks at these things, he jiggles his head around a tiny bit and thereby gets the 3D picture. But cameras don’t work if they jiggle. They don’t “build up a picture” inside their heads. They don’t have heads, and all they do to a picture is “take” it, in 2D. Again and again, I have photoed my ever-dwindling collection of these (to me) fascinating 3D objects, and every time, all I got was indecypherable 2D shapes and patterns. Sometimes the shapes and patterns were quite pretty, but that is all they were. Their origin was absolutely not clarified, only obscured, more or less completely.
Also, as a result of trying to light them better, I would get lots of shadows. The above photo is exceptional in not featuring lots of shadows. I didn’t plan this. It was a fluke. A Real Photographer would know how to photo these things. But I am not one of these personages.
Somewhere, I possess a collection of black and white slides I took of these things at the time I made them. I should take a look at those again, if there is anything left to look at.
Here are two more snaps of another of these objects:
As you may note, behind this thing, on the right, is a person. That would be my brother, and that picture was an early attempt to get a portrait of him, with blurry bits of stick object in the foreground.
That is included here with Pete’s permission. So now, people will accost him in the street, with cries of: “Hey, you’re BrianMicklethwaitDotCom’s brother, Pete!”
I find some people very hard to photo. But whenever I photo Pete, I seem to get something good. A lot of my pictures of these stick objects often look like that picture, but without a person in them. I don’t know what the white blob on the right is.
I was intending to include something in this about Pete’s home. Nothing personal, you understand, just general stuff about what new homes seem to be like these days. (Basically, very good.) But I’ll leave that for another time.
Today there was a big old Micklethwait family get-together at the ancestral home in Englefield Green, Surrey. Me, two brothers, a nephew and a niece plus partners, another niece, plus two little kids. I took photos of course, and I wasn’t the only one doing that.
I prefer not to show you pictures of my relatives, but I’m sure that nobody will mind me showing you these snaps:
Those are Dinky Toys, in really quite good condition, dating from the 1950s. I can even remember a couple of the names. The red van (which was my brother’s, not mine) was “Mersey Tunnel”, because it is a Mersey Tunnel police van. And the white car with green on it is a Singer Gazelle. Ah, Singer. Those were the days when Britain contained about a dozen distinct car-makers, with distinct names like Singer.
All these toys had already been extracted from all the other goods and chattels in the house and given to N and NP’s two little kids, before I arrived. Theoretically, three of these four antiquities were mine, or they were mine sixty years ago, but the kids seemed to like them and I was glad for these toys to be passed on. Such things are only worth proper money if the boxes have been kept, and of course they hadn’t been. And although these Dinky Toys, especially the two cars, are in really quite good condition, really quite good condition is not nearly as good as mint condition, moneywise. So, yes kids, you’re very welcome.
But one favour I did ask. Before you take them off to your home, let me photo them, just to remember them. Okay? Okay. So I perched them on my knees and took the shots.
One of the many good things about digital photography is that with it you can store fun memories in two virtual dimensions, rather than in three actual dimensions.
Those Tower of London Poppies are causing quite a stir, with politicians of all parties, and people too, saying they ought to stay there longer, beyond Remembrance Sunday (today), beyond 11am on Tuesday, and maybe as long as Nov 11th 2018, so as many people as want to can get to see them.
I’ve checked them out twice myself, and took many photos of the sort that are presumably now tsunaming all over cyberspace. I already mentioned these Poppy trips in passing, in this and in this and in this, but this is the first Poppy Posting here that is specificallly about The Poppies, hence the number in the title.
Here are a few of my “what it looks like” snaps (click to get them larger):
What these snaps of mine don’t show (although 2.1 and 2.3 hint at it) is the panoramic hugeness of it all. For that I turn to Goddaughter 2, who accompanied me on my first Poppies visit.
She had her mobile phone with her, which has an app for taking extremely wide photos. By combining these two snaps …:
… she arrived at this:
That is about two thirds of it. You can see all of it only in pictures like this one
I can entirely see why thousands upon thousands of people have wanted to come and gaze at these Poppies, because the effect is very striking, and the vast scale seems entirely appropriate. There is one poppy for each British soldier who died, the Britishness of the poppies being the excuse for the Guardian to have a go at it all, in such postings as this one and this one. But if I was French or German or Turkish and I saw this huge spread of poppies in London, I don’t think I’d feel that my dead ancestors were being dissed in any way. And actually, I think I did hear quite a few foreign languages being spoken when I visited. I mean, why wouldn’t a nation mourn its own dead? I didn’t feel any resentment, when I recently visited a French graveyard with lots of war dead in it, that the ancestors of me and my fellow countrymen were being omitted from the story, any more than I do when I chance upon a war memorial in England with only local local names on it. Why would I?
The odd thing is, my two personal sets of ancestors had no WW1 deaths in them, or not one that anyone in my particular little family ever talked about. This was not because of any general reluctance to talk about such things. In WW2, we lost my mum’s older and only brother, Uncle John, and that was talked about every now and then, as were the two uncles who fought in WW2 and survived. But stories about my ancestors in WW1? Nothing. I’m guessing this is a bit unusual.
My best (worst?) experience of this was probably the occasion when my 3 year old son was crying because he didn’t know why he was crying.
My attitude to parents is that they outrank me, and they do this almost no matter how badly they are doing their parenting. They are at least doing it. If I see a mad welfare mother screaming at her mad kids in a supermarket (her kids are mad because she has driven them mad), I still say to myself: respect. She is there, in the female trenches, fighting the good fight. I have chosen not to stand by and pay the bills for such a person. Thanks to her and her husband (in her case that’s probably the government), homo sapiens (in her case homo a bit madens) will be around in a hundred years from now. If that task had been left to me, it would not have been accomplished.
I’m not saying 6k is a bad parent, you understand. Merely that even if he was a bad parent, he would still be a better parent than me. And I also agree that some children are driven so crazy by their parents that they must be rescued, or at least they should have been. (Few civilised principles are absolute.) I mean things like if they murder them, or imprison them and torture them for years on end. Yes, I’m probably doing better than that. But such exceptional extremities aside, like I say: respect.
Regulars here, or for that matter there, will know that I have for many years now been at enthusiastic fan of the French historian and social scientist Emmanuel Todd. In recent years, this enthusiasm has at last started to become a bit more widespread.
Two of the world’s most important Todd-enthusiasts are now James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus. Quite a while ago now, they sent me an email flagging up a piece they had contributed to Hungarian Review, which contains some interesting biography about Todd, and about how his own particular family history contributed towards making him into the historian of the world that he later became.
Todd developed this grand theory, about how literacy triggers particular sorts of political upheavals in particular places, depending on Family Structure, and then when the political dust has settled fuels economic development, But what got Todd thinking about all this?
According to Bennett and Lotus, the starting point was: How Come The French Communists Are Doing So Badly And Never Seem To Do Any Better No Matter What They Try?
He was the product of an extended family of French Communist Party activists and journalists, and grew up hearing his father and relatives arguing around the kitchen table. Anglo-Americans had tended to regard the French Communist Party of that era as formidable, successful, and continually on the verge of seizing power. From the inside, Todd grew up hearing his family lament the eternal failure and futility of the Party. (He left the orthodox Communist movement quite early, and in fact was one of the first scholars to predict, in 1976, the coming collapse of the Soviet system.) For some reason, the Party was well established in certain regions, and completely without support in most others. The Socialists were dominant in others, and it was noticed that the same social classes would tend to support either Socialists or Communists, depending on the region, but never split between the two, and when they failed to support the one, would not switch to the other, preferring alternative parties. In other parts of France, neither party had a foothold, and the same social classes that supported either Socialists or Communists in their stronghold regions supported entirely different, and not particularly Marxist, parties. The reason for this split was constantly debated in Todd’s family circle, but no possible explanation seemed to hold water. It was a great mystery.
Once Todd began studies at Cambridge, and encountered what we are calling the Continuity School, he began developing a social analysis that perfectly predicted the voting patterns that had been such a mystery in his family’s kitchen debates. France is far from homogenous, and in fact is a patchwork of quite different cultures and family systems. When Todd saw the distribution of the various family systems of France, as established by inheritance rules and customs, he saw at once that both the Communist and Socialist electoral strongholds corresponded to the areas dominated by two distinct family systems. Where other systems prevailed, neither the Communists nor the Socialists could gain any real foothold.
You can see how Todd was perfectly primed to generalise the principle from France, and then England, to the entire world.
In the course of my Todd readings and meanderings, I probably was told (perhaps by Todd himself in his book about French politics (which I have long possessed (and which I see you can now get second hand for £2.81 (in English)))) that Todd had been raised by baffled and frustrated Communists. But I had not really taken it in.
Algernon Sidney sends for Micklethwait because Micklethwait is wise, learned, diligent, and faithful
I love it that the parents are called Susan and Freddie
The Armstrong Gun
The Gherkin from Englefield Green
On cricket and death
Making the effort
A busy blogging day?
Why my libertarianism has the look and feel of socialism
Alfie the cat answers the Elmlea challenge
Picture purrfection and a rather good Clive James piece
Talking with Toby Baxendale
Philippa Micklethwait - the Eulogy
It brightened up just enough
Thames river boats
It could be a rather small funeral
Some family education blogging
The shadow of Shipman – and forgetting things
Philippa Micklethwait (1914-2009)
My parents and my uncle and two aunts
Samizdata piece about caring for Mum
Englefield Green Xmas decor
When the carer needs to be cared for
More Englefield Green strangeness
On autobiographical ruthlessness
I have not been living beyond my means
The uses of Jesus
Quota photo of focussed flower with blurry background
Fred joins in with the pilates demonstration
Why it helps to be exposed to the lower classes and to dogs when you are young
Paying a visit to Mum
The return of Friday cat-blogging
Billion Monkey lady relative photos Christmas Day sunset!
Billion Monkey madness and a proper picture
Christmas day sunset
Here it is Merry Christmas
Just making conversation
Evening sun over Egham
Christmas and New Year’s Eve
My computer is improved - plus some London towers
Young People models for Old People
My mum’s tame blackbird