I have lung cancer

This afternoon I sent out an email message to about fifty or more of my nearest and dearest, saying that I now have lung cancer. Since among my nearest and dearest are those who read this little blog of mine with any regularity, here is the full text of what that said, for all you good people also:

A message from Brian Micklethwait to as many of his friends, relatives and loved ones whom he can now think of to include in this email list.

Please pass this on to anyone else who you think would appreciate hearing about it, with whatever added apologies make sense for me having neglected to include them on the list to start with.

*****************

Dear friends, relatives, loved ones and well-liked ones:

About a week before Christmas, I learned that I am suffering from lung cancer. I had known for a while that something bad was happening. Apparently I have had it for some time, and it has been spreading. From what doctors are now telling me it seems that I may die quite soon. They don’t put it quite like that, but that is how it now sounds.

But, it may not be quite that bad. Being doctors, they are also giving me reasons for optimism, in among the gloom.

First, I do not have the usual sort of lung cancer, the sort brought on by prolonged and heavy smoking, having never been a smoker of any kind. I am told that this sort of “anomalous” lung cancer tends to respond better to cancer treatment than regular smoker-cancer usually does. I suspect that my very dusty home may be part of what set my cancer off, but the doctors prefer to doubt that, at any rather when they speak to me. Genetics? Other unknown environmental triggers? They prefer not to speculate and just to get on with treating me.

Second, cancer treatment has come a long way in recent years. A doctor recently told me that, had I been in my current condition a decade ago, his advice would have been: “Call your lawyer, your priest, and your undertaker, in whichever order you prefer.” Now, my chances are much better.

Third, because I decided to throw the kind of money I can spare at the private medical sector for the diagnosis part of my problem, my condition is now well understood, and I am now, already, getting cancer treatment, from London’s Royal Marsden Hospital in the Fulham Road, which is about as good as cancer treatment can be nowadays.

And, I’m getting this treatment on the NHS. The NHS is overwhelmed by people who have or say that they have medical problems of all kinds and degrees of severity. Had I relied on the NHS to learn the bad news I needed to know, I would probably still not know it. But, once the NHS knows that you have a serious and potentially fatal condition, it then moves fast, and not just technically well but with great human sympathy, if my early experience of treatment is anything to go by, and if what my doctors and my medically expert friends and relatives (such as my sister who was an NHS GP until she retired) are telling me is so. Especially if you are lucky enough, as I am, to live a mere walk away from the Marsden.

So, wish me luck. I may yet live for quite a while. My condition may stabilise. I may even recover. I now doubt that, but you never know.

Some of you will be content to tell me you are very sorry about all this, and that is fine. Such messages mean a lot, and if that is all you want to say to me that’s still a great deal. Just knowing that there are people out there who sympathise means a lot more than you might suppose. (A word of warning. Those who phone me may be subjected to some coughing at my end, a continuous cough having been one of the early signs of trouble.)

If, however, you would like to know more about how to help me in my weeks or months of misfortune, then keep reading, and I’ll tell you. (I have already embarked upon the years version of this scenario, being already over seventy years old.)

The problem is that, especially in these very socially separated times, physical help can be rather hard to contrive. Besides which, very close friends and relatives are already supplying crucial support in ways that are already helping me and cheering me up enormously. Thanks to them, and to the treatment I’ve already been getting, I have had a surprisingly cheerful Christmas.

But, there is something else I ask you to do, should you be so inclined. Don’t just email me about what you can do to help, email the person who is acting as my Senior Coordinating Friend, so to speak. This is Elena Procopiu (she at the top of the email list above). She is the elder sister of my beloved Second GodDaughter, and I am very close to her entire family. Email her, as well as me. Communicate with her about what you might be able to offer, should you be inclined.

I’m sure that all kinds of assistance, such as experience of similar circumstances as well as merely physical help, may materialise in this way.

But, let me now tell you what would really boost my morale.

Tell each other which of my writings you have most liked, and do so just as publicly as you feel inclined. Blogs postings, blog comments, social media, the lot. My circumstances are now no secret. If I do die soon, I would greatly prefer to do this in the knowledge that various things that I have said and written over the years have left behind them a trail of enlightenment and entertainment, and might be fondly remembered, for a while at least.

This is quite a lot to ask, because I fear that my more impressive pronouncements are scattered in amongst a vast pile of trivia and obfuscation. But, if you want now to cheer me up, try to dig out some of the more worthwhile things that you think I have said and done – often just sentences or paragraphs rather than longer and rarer stretches of eloquence – and hold them up for a bit of admiration and reflection.

Maybe there are photos I’ve taken over the years that you happened particularly to like. Recycle or link to them too.

Here might be a good place to start.

Or you could try here here.

Or here, which still seems to be working after a fashion.

Or you might care to sample some of these recent efforts, if you have the time.

If you recall having attended one or some of my last-Friday-of-the-month meetings at my home, perhaps because you were kind enough yourself to be the speaker at one or some of them and found that particularly helpful and stimulating, then please take the time to tell any other people who might be interested about that.

This is a lot to ask, but if you don’t ask for what you want in life, or in my case potential death, you are far less likely to get it, and this is what I want. If only a few people feel inclined to say and do things along these lines, it would cheer me up lot as I make my exit, if that is what is about to happen.

A late thought. My deadly sin has always been sloth. Had I merely died, one fine day, just like that with no warning, it is almost certain that I would have died failing to say or do many of the things I would have most wanted to say or do before going. As it is, having now been told about my possibly imminent death before it actually comes may turn into something of a blessing for me. Live every day as if it is your last, we are often told. That is pretty much what I am now doing, as best I can manage in my now weakened state. I still have a few public pronouncements that I’d like to offer to the world before I go, and there is every chance that I may now manage to say at least some of those things, the way I probably would not have done had I just died with no advance warning, and even if I had lived for quite a bit longer.

Which I may yet be lucky enough to do. If so, win-win.

Even if it goes win-lose, I don’t feel that I deserve the sort of send-off I am asking for. All my life, I have been showered with advantages, not least in the form of more unearned wealth than most inhabitants of this planet could ever dream of having bestowed upon them. I have not done nearly well enough as a communicator, given all the chances I have had, for me to be able to expect the sort of send-off that I would like and for it to happen of its own accord.

But, I nevertheless ask for it. This is what I would like.

It is putting it mildly to say that not everyone on this email list shares my political inclinations and attitudes, or for that matter aesthetic tastes and opinions. So if all you really want to say to me is: “Bad luck mate. Nice, on the whole, to have known you”, well, I’ll gladly take that.

I’ve tried quite hard to avoid grammatical errors and mis-spellings in this, but some will inevitably remain. It’s now time to stop this and just send it out. More to come, I hope, maybe from me, maybe from others, with news of medical progress, or perhaps just with news of how it all turns out. But if not, then: not. It was certainly good knowing all of you.

All the very best to you and yours,

Brian Micklethwait

If you are personally known to me and want to get in touch with my very dear friend Elena Procopiu, mentioned in the middle of the above text, I suggest you leave a comment below to that effect, and I’ll be sure that the connection is made.

Baby chimps reunited

It’s been a while since I have consulted the Twitter feed of Steve Stewart-Williams. Of his recent tweets, this is my favourite.

Plus see also Dog retrieves tennis ball from pool without getting wet, and the human animal in 2020.

London’s starchitecture explained – but the problem isn’t confined to central London

Paul Cheshire:

The Planning for the Future white paper tackles one costly feature of the British planning system: its peculiar reliance on case by case, essentially political, decision making for all significant development (see here). Tall office towers are significant developments, so whether or not to permit them is subject to this political process. In Chicago it is straightforward. There are rules. Developers can build as high as they want so long as the location and design are within the rules. Because in London every proposed new office block requires a political decision, getting permission is transformed into a game: an expensive game. Would-be developers can use all their wiles to persuade local and national politicians that their project is desirable.

My recently published research with Gerard Dericks shows that one of the most effective ways to dazzle the planning committee is to employ an architect with an international reputation. …

Above which introductory paragraphs there appears a photo of the Shard, and there follows a description of how and why that got built in the way that it did. It was “starchitecture” basically. Have someone like Renzo Piano on your team, and the politicians feel intimidated.

As regulars here know, I have a deep affection for central London’s recently acquired and extremely eccentric skyline. But I arrived at this opinion despite my understanding of the plutocratic and arbitrary politics that made this skyline happen as it did rather than because of it, or because I just didn’t know or care about this politics.

Cheshire’s description of how and why London’s recent burst of starchitecture happened is informative, and persuasive. But by writing of “its peculiar reliance on case by case, essentially political, decision making for all significant development”, Cheshire implies that this kind of arbitrariness is confined to the central London office space market, to the “significant” sort of architecture. If only. To be fair to Cheshire, if you follow the first link in his quote above, you will learn, if you did not already know it, that he well knows that getting planning permission for anything, no matter how utterly lacking in any sort of significance, anywhere in Britain, can be a nightmare. The basic rule is: There are no rules! The Planning Committee meets, and gives you planning permission or: Not.

In a perfect world, property owners would build whatever they wanted on their own land, subject only to whatever legally binding contracts they had entered into which might restrict that state of affairs.

In practice, politics is politics, and buildings are political. Politicians will politicise all over them, the only variable being: How will they do this? Will the politicians preside over a rule-bound system? Will they tell you beforehand what they will, and will not, allow? Or will the politicians rule by iron whim, where you have absolutely no fucking idea (unless you have photos of them frolicking with under-age girls and/or boys on file) what, on the night of their damn meeting, they will decide, and where any attempt by you to find out beforehand what they’ll accept and what they’ll not accept is deemed the political equivalent of insider trading?

There clearly are some rule-bound building regimes in Britain. You have only to move a little downstream from London’s Big Thing district and you arrive at the Docklands Towers. And you have only to look at these Towers to see that there is no Starchitect Rule in place there. Suddenly, you are in a mini-Chicago, and it is getting ever more like actual Chicago with each passing year. I don’t know what the rules there are exactly, but it would definitely appear that if you want to build a generic vertical box there, go ahead, so long as you follow those rules.

I seldom use words like “fucking” here. (The last time I did this was as a joke, about how another guy was using this word rather a lot.) That I do so in this matter reflects the personal agonies that I and my siblings had to suffer when trying, after our widowed mother had died a few years ago now, to get the best price we could for the ancient-in-a-bad-way house-and-garden in the outer suburbs of London that we all grew up in. Should we try to get planning permission for a clutch of new and smaller dwellings? We tried, we really tried, but, after years of trying: No dice. So I write with feeling about how the Iron Whim of the Politicians rule does not merely apply in central London. In the end, after years of frustration, after quite a bit of squabbling amongst ourselves, and more squabbling with our fucking “neighbours” (who just wanted no more houses next to their fucking houses), we were able to unload the house-plus-garden on some poor fool who did not have our by then hard-earned knowledge of the gambling casino that is Britain’s “planning” system, at a price not far off what we’d have got if we ourselves had got planning permission for some new buildings. So, despite our years of ordeal by planning permission, we were lucky. We got a goodish price, eventually, despite not being a big local property developer. Despite, that is to say, not having the local politicians under our collective thumb.

Boris Johnson makes noises to the effect that he and his government will soon get all this sorted. If by some miracle he could somehow contrive this, this would be a huge win for him, and for the entire country. He’ll have his work cut out, because a large proportion of the offending politicians, and equally crucially of those fucking “neighbours”, are active members of his own party.

Frogs in rain

Indeed. A couple more creatures to round off my Friday. The casedemic rages on, but there is still an Internet out there, with cute frogs on it:

Found these two grown-up tadpoles here, which was the same place I found those pink trees.

The Babylon Bee joins Twitter and Facebook in seeking to suppress claims that Hunter Biden is not entirely honest

Yes, my favourite insect has for many weeks been a bee, the Babylon Bee. But now, the Bee is telling me this:

Since you did not click on that article, you were not horrified by all the alleged revelations about H. Biden. So your life is much better for not reading the completely false story. We are glad you did not read it and share it with others. Because you are a good, upstanding citizen and would not share false smears about someone. Good job!

Until now, I had been supposing Hunter Biden, the son of candidate Joe Biden in an election they’re having over there, to be a corrupt scumbag of the scummiest and baggiest sort. But now that the Babylon Bee has come out alongside Twitter and Facebook in defence of Hunter Biden, I realise that I may have to revise my opinion of this handsome and vigorously entrepreneurial young man. Have I been thoughtlessly misjudging him? Who am I to doubt the Bee?

But, I don’t know, somehow, being told not to click on that article, even by such a respected insect as the Babylon Bee, well, that just doesn’t sit right with me. Who are the Babylonian Bee people to be telling me what I can and can’t read? So, here I am doing this posting in exactly the way they wouldn’t want me to, and including the link to the article, which I personally think that maybe you should read, because, well, as of now, I’m keeping an open mind on this Hunter Biden issue.

The Babylon Bee is run and written by hardcore, fundamentalist Christian extremists, the sort of Christians who actually believe in a lot of that Christian stuff. I, on the other hand, am a moderate middle-of-the-road atheist, who knows that all Gods are made-up hobgoblins, apart from the ones in Wagner operas. I always thought this might in due course lead to a political parting of the ways between the Beeites and me. Maybe this is that parting.

LATER: I take the Babylon Bee seriously, and I am delighted to report that I appear to be in good company.

Car seat laws as contraception

I love the animal tweets that Steve Stewart-Williams does, but a lot of his non-animal tweets are excellent also.

For instance:

OK, I wasn’t expecting that: Car-seat laws function as contraception. They raise the cost of having a third child, because most cars can’t fit three car seats in the back. In 2017, the laws saved 57 lives in the US but led to 8,000 fewer births.

That’s been open on my computer for the best part of a month, but it refused to allow itself to be deleted. Too interesting.

Some recent animal tweets from SS-W

Whenever Friday comes around, I like to do postings that involve the other animals with whom we share our planet. I mean, this is the internet. And currently my favourite source of animal stuff is the Twitter page of Steve Stewart-Williams. He wrote a book about one of the apes, The Ape That Understood The Universe, in other words: us. And his animal tweets often illustrate stuff he has already said in that.

But then again, sometimes he is just saying, along with the rest of the internet: Wow. take a look at this. There follow links to just a few of the many creaturely tweets SS-W has done lately, ones that particularly caught my attention.

Take a look, for instance, at this hammerhead shark skeleton. Wow. Or the amazing camouflage of the great grey owl. Wow again.

All the cute animal stuff on the internet is so cute because it shows animals plucking on our heart strings by behaving the way human children behave, often because they’ve evolved to do exactly that. Our animal pals can be unselfconsciously enthusiastic, eager to please, eager to try things. And as often as not they do all this with big round eyes.

Like this dog that plays volleyball with humans, or this baby rhino learning new dance moves. From a goat.

But don’t get too carried away with the cute. Take a look at how this stork throws one of its babies out of the nest. Take that, internet. And, don’t get all superior to Mummy Stork there. Humans are only as nice as they can be, and are regularly as nasty as they feel they have to be. For many centuries, resource-stretched human parents would give up on their less promising young ones, and I bet there are out-of-the-way spots on our planet now where they still do this kind of thing. Plus, you know, wars and massacres and whatnot. So yes, Mother Nature can be a bitch.

But then again, sometimes she’s a generous bitch. Venom from honeybees has been found to rapidly kill aggressive and hard-to-treat breast cancer cells. I wonder how they found out to investigate that. Guess I’d better now read the article.

A colour photo taken over a century ago of one of my relatives

This remarkable photo dates from 1903.

I recently encountered it at BabelColour, which I follow, and where I learned who it was:

It shows Rear Admiral William Acland (1847-1924) & was taken by his sister Sarah 117 years ago using the Sanger Shepherd process.

Follow the first link above for a bit more about the Sanger Shepherd process.

This got my attention in quite a big way because I am distantly related to this Admiral Acland. He wasn’t a direct ancestor, or I don’t believe so. But the maiden name of the mother of my grandmother on my mother’s side was Acland, and she was the daughter of someone just like this Admiral. I possess a book entitled “Aclands and the Sea” which I acquired when my mother died and I cherry-picked the books in the family home where I grew up, and in any case I recall that my mum’s family were related to various Aclands, including, for instance, this guy. Although I couldn’t find in this Aclands and the Sea book any references to Aclands and their daughters, it’s the sort of book you only have if there’s a family connection. Not quite, so to speak, a real book. So, that Admiral Acland is like a first or second cousin of mine, about five times removed, or some such thing.

I haven’t linked to where I confirmed that my granny’s mum’s maiden name definitely was Acland, because, well, because I didn’t. What I will say is that one of the many things the internet does is tell each of us, as and when we ever get interested in such things, lots of stuff about our forebears and relatives, without anyone having to spend weeks grubbing away in libraries. That’s quite a change. I don’t know what it means exactly, but surely something.

On reflection, it may be more significant that we can, should we wish to, research the relatives of people we bump into and get curious about. That never used to be easy but now is. We now live, that is to say, in a world where uncongenial relatives have become that little bit harder for us to forget about being related to.

A rearrangement

Around three days ago, GodDaughter2 and I fixed to meet up, face to face, for the first time since Lockdown began, and before she disappears to the South of France for a month. We agreed on: Royal College of Music, 2pm. I would have preferred somewhere different, like somewhere nearer to where she’s been living over the summer (Acton), because I like having reasons to journey to and photo new places, and because the College is a bit of a walk from South Kensington tube and a walk I’ve now done many times. Also, a couple of hours later would be better, because I’m a lazy old bastard. Plus, I don’t mind long train journeys because I can sit and read a book, undistracted by the Internet, which I don’t do nearly enough of. But what the hell, RCM 2pm it is.

But, this morning, an email from GD2 arrives. She’s running a bit behind, and could we possibly (grovel grovel xxx) make it Acton Central Overground Station, 4pm?

Yes. I can do that. No problem. It’ll be fine.

Whatever I say in such circumstances will sound like a polite lie and a big old sacrifice, even though it’s nothing of the kind. Sometimes, when your Jewish Mother says to you: “Don’t you worry about me, I’ll be fine”, what she really means is: “Don’t you worry about me, I’ll be fine.”

No sport and strange sport

It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that one of the weirdest features of what you might describe as “classic Lockdown”, Lockdown when Lockdown was at its most Lockeddown, was the complete absence of professional sport for a sports fan like me to be keeping half an eye on. Nothing. Whole months would go by with nothing of a sporting nature distracting me, either in the morning (cricket), in the afternoon (soccer), in the evening (soccer again), or in the night (cricket in faraway places). A lot of the reason why this blog accelerated around then was this total lack of sport to distract me.

Now, almost equally weirdly, we are having a spell of professional sport with no studio audiences present, but with all the electronics going strong and telling the likes of me about it all.

This morning I tuned in to the final day of test match cricket this summer, the radio version, and of course it was, as predicted, rain stopped play. So instead, they were replaying that amazing last wicket stand between Stokes and Leach that won the test match against Australia at Headingley. This was apparently exactly one year ago today. At first, they introduced this, and then everything stopped. It took me a while to work out why. It was because I can’t stand listening to cricket commentaries where they have spliced in an “atmosphere” backing. I just want to hear what they’s saying with no blatantly fictional crowd noises bolted onto the back of it. And that was why the commentary from a year ago wasn’t working. The default setting for TMS includes the fake atmosphere, and only when I switched to that did the commentary from a year ago kick in.

And I listened to that whole last wicket stand. Having already watched it a while back, on YouTube. I really like radio commentaries. And I find that I get surprisingly little more from actually seeing it on television. Oh, I do get some more, but not as much more as you might suppose. And when it came to this unique passage of play, exactly one year ago, listening to the radio version, which was what I did first time around, proved at least as gripping as watching it on TV.

I think this could be the consequence of my childhood, when radio was an option, and only later in my childhood did the telly cut in. From about six to around ten, all I had was radio, and I loved it.

Something similar happened to me with classical music on the radio. That started even younger, with my mother controlling the radio nobs, not me in my baby chair. But presumably she kept it on because I seemed to like it, and also because it is universally understood, by the sort of person my mother was, that classical music is Good For You, like green vegetables and like the ancient latin and ancient greek I was made to do at school, despite the lack of moral uplift supplied by classical music to the likes of Hannibal Lecter and Adolf Hitler.