This Blog was fun while it lasted – but now it is approaching its end

First I got diagnosed with lung cancer, and that was bad. And then I started taking the pills, and that was good. The cancer got no worse, and I got better.

But now the side effects, if that’s what they are, are starting to pile up, the worst of these being a loss of appetite, and consequent loss of energy. So – to cut a long and medically very dreary and off-putting story short – the time has come for me to stop fretting at all about this little blog every day, and concentrate on writing stuff for Samizdata, of the sort that really matters to me, even if not necessarily mattering that much to anyone else.

I thought I’d be able to do daily stuff here, and go on making headway with the more serious stuff, but it hasn’t worked out that way, and something has to give. Basically I am now back staring death in the face, and there are still things I want to say of a Samizdata sort. Anything that gets in the way of that has to stop.

It’s not that everything here will necessarily stop, although it may well. I just don’t know. What I do know is that all of the limited energy that I have left has to be spent on saying what to me are big things, now. This Blog has been more about accumulating half-baked small thoughts, with a view to fully baked and bigger thoughts suggesting themselves to me in the fullness of time. But I now have no “fullness of time” that I can rely on. So, postings here will happen whenever they happen and when they’re no bother to do, which will not mean every day.

It was fun while it lasted. For me, and I hope for lots of you.

Frisby sings about Wetherspoons and Bollocks

I just received an email from Dominic Frisby, plugging his latest aria video, which is entitled I Love Wetherspoons! State of the art culture warfare, which I highly recommend. The aria, not Wetherspoons. I’m not saying that I don’t recommend Wetherspoons, merely clarifying the point I am and am not making there.

So far so good. But the best moment, for me, came right at the end, when I was offered the chance to sample another Frisby musical delight, in the form of something called …:

Oh, Bollocks.

This is an English word I resort to regularly, and have also already talked about here quite a lot, one of my favourite examples of this word in action being this one, involving taxis. Very satisfying to see bollocks identified by my favourite Dominic as an important English usage. The word communicates a subtle mixture of regret, defiance and hence, consequently, perhaps even a dash (because you never know your luck) of triumph.

The scene with the Angel of Death, right at the end of this video, spoke to me with particular force, what with that personage having recently sat himself down next to me.

Death matters and so does Surrey doing well

Earlier today I had a really serious phone conversation with my Designated Best Friend about palliative care, being kept alive with scary electric shock machines (which my DBF said actually work very rarely and are far more likely to inflict painful and permanent damage like a busted rib). In short, it was a conversation about my death. And I entirely saw the point of this conversation and was very grateful to my DBF for having it with me. I need to say what sort of death I would like, before it actually starts seriously happening and I become incapable of saying anything coherent about what I want. So, important stuff.

Problem was, I had been keeping half an eye on the county cricket, and in particular on this game between Hampshire and Surrey. Surrey have had a wretched season so far, and Hampshire have been doing really well, so that was going to start badly for Surrey and get worse and worse as the next few days went by. But I was paying attention anyway, because, you know, you never know.

So, Surrey had won the toss and had put Hampshire in to bat. But then, after nearly an hour of further Surrey underachievement, and for the first time this season after three dud games, Surrey suddenly started doing really, really well. Right in the middle of the serious phone conversation, this is what I observed, on Cricinfo, being done by two Surrey bowlers called Clark and Clarke to the hitherto formidable Hampshire middle order:

For non-cricket people, that is very successful bowling by Surrey and very unsuccessful batting by Hampshire, who, in the space of thirteen deliveries, went from 44 for 2 to 44 for 6. Until this exact moment, Surrey had not been taking nearly enough wickets or taking them nearly soon enough. Then, in a blink, all that completely changed.

I want to insist that I never lost the thread of the serious conversation I was having with DBF: No please don’t resuscitate me if I have a heart attack in a hospital, but yes indeed, I’d rather die at home but how much might that end up costing, given that professional care will surely be needed?, and no you’re right it’s important to discuss all this beforehand so thanks for doing this. But also, strictly inside my head you understand, I was screaming to myself: Hey look, Surrey are doing really well!!! Look at that!!! Four wickets for no runs!!! On the first morning!!! Wow!!! Yeah yeah, I’m going to be dying soon and I know I have to get that sorted, but … wow!!! I even managed to do the above screen capture, without at any time failing to be conversationally coherent and serious with DBF about my death.

This is what I love about following sport, especially the way I have done for the last decade and a half, at a distance, via The Internet. Great moments in sport, like this moment when Surrey Actually Started Doing Well in 2021, intersect with how your life was at the time. I still remember that 1981 miracle Ashes test match fondly, and listening to it on the radio in a van with which I was (very happily) delivering number plates, a radio which only worked when the van’s engine was not running, which complicated things in a delightful way that I’ll never forget for as long as I live. Well, now, here’s another of these classic sport-meets-real-life moments. Life doesn’t get much more real than when you’ve been told that “for as long as I live” isn’t actually going to be that long, and sport doesn’t get much better than when your team has been firing blanks for a month and then suddenly does something like what’s in the picture above.

By the end of the day Surrey were totally on top. Surrey’s bowlers, particularly Clark and Clarke (there were even three Hampshire batters who got out caught Clarke bowled Clark), were unstoppable, and Hampshire’s first innings total came to a mere 92. Hampshire’s much feared foreign pace men, Abbot and Abbas, then had to bowl in quite different conditions after lunch and achieved only the one Surrey wicket in the whole of the rest of the day. Surrey are already ahead on first innings and should – should – now win comfortably. Even Hashim Amla, who got 0 and 0 in the previous game, got some runs, along with Burns, and both could make more tomorrow.

All my life people have been telling me stories of old men dying with smiles on their faces, merely because their sports team was doing well when they died. Would I still feel that way about sport when death stared me in the face? So far: yes.

Will Groundhog Day stop happening tomorrow?

I haven’t tortured myself by following the details, but am I correct in supposing that tomorrow, things will start to open up again?

Here are some photos I photoed of the front of the Old Vic Theatre, which is at the far end of Lower Marsh from me, which I photoed in 2016:

At the time I just thought it was a show, based on a Bill Murray movie. I did not then realise that life would soon be imitating art.

Maybe this movie, and people feeling that they were living in it, has been a contributory factor to people contemplating suicide. Maybe some of them supposed that, like Bill Murray, they could drive off a cliff or whatever, and then just wake up the next morning (i.e. the same morning) with nothing having happened.

What I now feel able to say about Prince Philip

Nothing at all remarkable, just so you now know. Don’t read this posting for dazzling insights. It’s just that the last couple of days and the next few days are an example of a common thing, which is that everyone who is in the habit of expressing public opinions about this or that public thing feels obliged to hold back his or her regular opinions and instead to express an appropriately gracious and portentous opinion about whatever just happened.

For instance, BBC Radio Three, the classical music radio channel I listen to quite a lot, especially on Saturdays, was going to spend this Saturday concentrating on the life and works of Igor Stravinsky, no doubt emphasising what a fine composer the BBC thinks he was. But they scrapped this plan, and instead today merely played a succession of suitably profound and solemn classical selections, and also, I believe, a church service with lots of profound and solemn singing.

“Inappropriate” is typically now just a way of saying “wicked” without sounding like your great grandmother. But for once, this word is now, well, appropriate. Communicators suddenly fear saying anything “inappropriate”. Given that Prince Philip just died, will it make sense for us to be banging on about Stravinsky, or whatever it was were thinking of banging on about? Typically, it does not feel … appropriate.

Sporting events continue, because nothing can be allowed to interrupt that. But black armbands are liable to be worn and long silences endured by all present, during which all rebellious thoughts along the lines of “So bloody what?” are kept under heavy wraps of silence.

Above all, anyone who thinks that Prince Philip was, I don’t know, a horrid old racist, tends to keep quiet about that, for the duration of this strange public moment, or at least to be careful about who they say such things to. Or they do if they are wise, and if they do not want a storm of critical attention on social media, as some presumably do. We must not “speak ill of the dead”. Instead we say things like: “My thoughts are with his family”.

Which some of our thoughts probably are. I can’t be the only one now thinking that maybe the Queen will soon give up the ghost, having lost a husband she has been sharing her life with for so long, and by most public accounts very happily.

As it happens, the opinion I now find I want to express about Prince Philip, in carefully selected company, is a complaint although not that severe a complaint. I don’t think he was a racist; more like an equal opportunities tease, if only to get people to relax in his company and to stop trying to be so damn appropriate. But I definitely have one very particular and personal objection to this man, and by extension to his entire family. (It’s not a big enough objection for me to want them all denationalised, so to speak. As to that argument, I go along with the title of this posting at Quotulatiousness. If they got dumped, the likely alternative would be someone like John Berkow.)

But for now, in the event that you care what I think about Prince Philip and want to learn the particular way in which I objected to him, you will just have to wait.

For me to tell you today would be inappropriate.

Happy Easter!

I hope you are having one.

I definitely am, and I will tell you (a big part of) why. This, on YouTube, from Steve Baker MP, no less.

Just over two minutes long, so not a big chunk out of your life it you follow the above link and watch it all.

I’ll surely have more to say about this by way of thanks. But, busy day for me today, and I could hardly postpone at least noticing this here.

Ask, and you shall receive. This exploiting my impending death to achieve a dose of upward social mobility thing is really working out well.

Funerial thoughts

Strange day. I spent a lot of it planning my own funeral, which will, as is traditional, be an event at which I will be present but not paying any attention, if you get my meaning.

The thing is, it’s no good saying: Look, I don’t care, do whatever you like. If you say that, you are liable to cause endless arguments and at the very least uncertainties among your loved ones about “What he would have wanted”. So, you have to say what you want, even if you aren’t actually that bothered.

Plus, although I say I’m not bothered, I can imagine plenty of scenarios which even the thought of would bother me, so a period of introspection was called for. Just saying “Do whatever you want” would be very selfish, in a bad way. Saying exactly what I want is selfish in a good way.

Apparently David Bowie (the old blog seems to be back working again without any
Screen of the Red Death
) had a very private cremation, followed by a more public ceremony at which celebs took it in turns saying how great he was. But not being that great myself, I figure the people present at my funeral ceremony would appreciate knowing that this is the actual funeral. If they suspect that the real funeral, the one I was actually burnt at, was earlier, they might not want to be at the later pretend funeral. So, just the one event for me, and everyone will see me being fed into the incinerator room. It’s what I would have wanted.

And now, my Designated Best Friend is in my front room, chucking superfluous paper into supermarket bags:

Since that photo was photoed, three SIX more entire bags of totally obsolete bumph have accumulated.

In other funerial news, earlier today GodDaughter2, the one who has just finished learning how to sing, accepted the job of being in charge of my pathologically huge classical CD collection, when I am dead and burnt. So, if you love classical CDs, and even if you hardly now know me, leave a comment that this is a list you’d like to be on. Don’t wait for me to die before expressing such interest. Think of my beloved CDs not as inanimate objects but as a colossal pack of puppies each of which I am seeking a good home for. If I can die knowing that my CDs will be well cared for and listened to, rather than just thrown into about three skips, well, … that’s what I would have wanted and meanwhile do now want. GD2 herself leads too mobile a life just now to be wanting such responsibilities, and in any case CDs are, for her, absurdly twentieth century and completely superfluous to requirements. But if you, like me, feel differently, then like I say, get in touch, now.

A good day. Good not merely because it was pleasurable, but because I got some difficult and important things decided and done. And because other such things were done for me, by various loved ones. The least these people should be getting from me is a description of what I would have wanted, even if it is a bit of an effort to work out what that might be.

I spent today postponing but mostly organising my death

I have spent my day doing two important things.

First, and this only took a moment, I swallowed an Osimertinib pill. I take one of these pills every day. How hard is that? Harder than you might suppose, at my advanced age with its accompanying loss of short term memory. Several times during the last month or two, I have taken one of these pills, or not, and then moments later not known whether I had taken it, or not.

Hence this contraption, which my Senior Designated Friend gave me quite a while ago. This was when the pill problem was that there were lots of them, but none of them were that important:

I don’t need that, I said. Turns out I do. Now that the problem is just the one pill, but a vitally important one upon which my continuing ability to function now seems entirely to depend, I need to be sure that I have taken one, and only one, of these miraculous little things.

And the other thing I did today, which took pretty much the whole day and which also consumed most of yesterday, was to do that other thing that people who have received a death sentence from the medical profession do, besides take pills. I refer to the process known as “putting my affairs in order”.

The most impressive result of this process so far has been a load of rubbish:

I have been trying to sort my many accumulated bits of paper into more logical piles than they had been arranged in. Happily, the biggest such pile is that one in the above photo, which is the one I’ll be chucking into the recycling bins out in front of my front door, tomorrow.

So, a day spent (1) postponing my death, and (2) trying to make my death more organised.

By the way, I do recommend following the Osimertinib link above, and then feasting your eyes on the list of “Other drugs in the class protein kinase inhibitors”, on the right. It is quite a list, I think you will agree. If any of these are anywhere near as clever as the Osimertinib that I’m taking, then it’s an even more impressive list than it looks.

Patrick Crozier and I talk about death – and lots of other things

The latest Patrick Crozier Brian Micklethwait “podcast” is up, although I prefer “recorded conversation”.

Our subject was … well, basically some thoughts that were provoked by my recent lung cancer diagnosis, and by Patrick’s recent experiences as a carer (see first comment from Patrick) of a dying mother.

But, we did a lot of tangenting, me especially. I think this was because the treatment I’ve been having has been so successful, for the time being anyway, that I was, when we recorded this, and still am, feeling rather cheerful, considering. Thank you Osimertinib, not least for giving me back my voice. We couldn’t have done it without the magic pills I’m taking.

Patrick’s notes, with lots of links to stuff we mentioned, give you some clues about all that tangenting.

I was interested in what Patrick said about grieving. It doesn’t come in stages, said he. It comes all at once.

I honestly don’t know why you should devote an hour and a half of your life to listening to this conversation, what with there being so much else to be attending to in the world these days. If this sounds like it will appeal to you, great, go ahead. But Patrick and I keep doing these recorded conversations because we seem to enjoy them. I certainly do, and I like that I can listen again and be sure what was said. Patrick and I are good friends. We enjoy having long and thoughtful conversations, and these tend to be more thoughtful if we know that others might be listening in. For me, this is the big and immediate benefit of sharing them with potential listeners, quite aside from the matter of how many people actually do listen.

For some reason, the one we did about the Falklands War seems to have attracted the most listeners, by our modest standards. Not sure why. Maybe it was Americans, with their own opinions about what happened, but wanting to experience it from a domestic Brit point of view. Or maybe just younger people, eager to learn about an interesting drama that, understandably, gets rather less attention than bigger wars, like Vietnam and WWs 1 and 2. Or maybe older people wanting to compare our recollections with theirs.

Steve Stewart-Williams on the evolution of the Breton fishing boat

I finished reading The Ape That Understood The Universe about a week ago now, but there is one further bit from this book that I want to scan into this blog, because I think it is my absolute favourite.

At the beginning of the second half of the book devoted to Man, “The Cutural Animal”, SS-W offers six examples of cultural evolution in action. These are: Breton Boats, Conditioned Behavior, Language, Teddy Bears, Businesses, and Science. I have already copied the bits on Teddy Bears, and on Language. Here is the bit about Breton Boats (p. 224):

The first example concerns the fishing boats used by Breton fisherman in the Île de Groix. Where did these boats come from? At first glance, it looks like a no-brainer: If anything’s a product of intelligent design, it’s a boat. On closer inspection, though, it turns out it really is a no-brainer … or at least a partial-brainer, in the sense that human brains played a more modest role in crafting the boats than we normally assume. This possibility was first mooted by the French philosopher Emile-Auguste Chartier (aka Alain), who in 1908, took a Darwinian hatchet to the common sense view. “Every boat,” he observed,

is copied from another boat … Let’s reason as follows in the manner of Darwin. It is clear that a very badly made boat will end up at the bottom after one or two voyages, and thus never be copied … One could then say, with complete rigor, that it is the sea herself who fashions the boats, choosing those which function and destroying the others.

If a boat returns, the boat makers may copy it. If it doesn’t, they definitely won’t. The boats that are most likely to be copied are therefore those that survive the longest. As Daniel Dennett points out, no one needs to know why these particular boats survive. To make a good boat, you don’t need to understand what makes a boat good; you only need to be able to copy another boat. How do you know you’re copying a good boat? Well, you don’t need to know, because the sea automatically culls the not-good ones from the boat population. Meanwhile, any especially good boats get copied at a faster rate. Over time, this process of culling and copying fashions more and more seaworthy boats.

Now maybe each and every step in the gradual evolution of the boat was a product of intelligent design: of a thousand forgotten boat makers figuring out a thousand different ways to make their boats more sea-worthy. But maybe not. Maybe many steps along the path were simply fortuitous accidents, which were automatically preserved and propagated. To the extent that this is so, the design evident in Breton boats comes from blind, mindless selection, rather than the machinations of intelligent minds.

Language and Teddy Bears are a bit off the beaten tracks I like to beat. But with this discussion of the design of a quite big physical object, in this case a boat, SS-W’s core agenda, and one of my obsessions over the years and decades ever since I was a failed architecture student, overlap in a very big way. As I said at the end of the language posting linked to above, I have long been thinking along the same lines as SS-W, about “mindless” design. And as I said at the end of another recent posting here, about Facadism, Keeping Up Appearances and so on, it is my earnest hope that I will, by and by, be able to pull such thoughts together in a bigger piece for Samizdata.

The Modern Movement in Architecture was, when it started out, shot through with the idea that you should not “mindlessly” copy an established design, even if it worked well, unless you knew why it worked well. Wrong.

Equally and oppositely, the first lot of Architectural Modernists said that you should turn your back on “mindless tradition” and design anew, from “first principles”. Very dangerous, as a design technique. Something like this is sometimes necessary, provided you choose good “first principles”, but it is never without extreme hazard. Architectural Modernism only worked well, and in a country like Britain has only started to work well, when Modernism itself became a tradition, embodying the experience of what worked and what works, and what did not work and what does not work.