Beard Trimmer in the distance

Incoming from GodDaughter2:

Somewhere just downstream of Tate Modern. That kind of area.

It’s the old Big-Thing-in-the-distance-through-a-gap-in-the-buildings effect, which often happens, as here, when the gap is simply caused by a road happening to go straight towards the Big Thing in question. She knew I’d like this, because when we’ve been for walks in the past, I’ve said “Look at that! Wow!” when seeing something like this. I love the vagueness of the Big Thing bit of the image, in contrast to the definiteness of the foreground anonymity.

The official name for this particular Big Thing is Strata, but GD2 described it today on the phone, when I was thanking her for this photo, as a beard trimmer. So from now on, for me, this is going to be the Beard Trimmer.

No definite information about the camera she used, but almost certainly her mobile. Probably an iPhone.

Note also how the tree does not, because of the time of the year, wreck the view.

Patrick and I finally did our Industrial Revolution podcast

In this posting here just over a week ago, I showed you all a pile of books, and said that if all went well I’d be recording a conversation with Patrick Crozier in which I’d speak about these books (plus the writings of Anton Howes). I had in mind how each writer provided a piece in the puzzle of how the Industrial Revolution came about, and that I was going to fit all these pieces together. Mass literacy, ideology, revolution, both political and industrial.

Well, last week, Patrick and I finally did manage to record this discussion, which was mostly a monologue by me with occasional queries from Patrick, and now you can listen to it, and read Patrick’s commentary and notes with more links, by going here.

The recording was a definite success in one way, which is that my voice functioned really well, better than I thought, about one month ago, that it ever would again.

The heart of my claim is that the Industrial Revolution had a lot more in common with the “other” revolutions, in places like France, Russia and China than is now usually supposed, in the following sense: The Industrial Revolution was also an ideological event. It happened because starry-eyed ideologists had a glorious plan for the betterment of mankind. Very long story very short: The plan worked, magnificently. But this is not a story which intelligent and educated people nowadays can compute. Revolution equals blood, chaos and a world that is the opposite of what the starry-eyed ideologists said it would be. What most educated people now seem to believe is that the Industrial Revolution happened by mistake, when selfish go-getters pursuing only the narrowest idea of their own selfish interests happened to have a huge but unintended collective consequence. I say that industrial improvement, even if not exactly the “revolution” that happened, was deliberate.

Between them, the writers I assembled and talked about explained all this, although it takes me to fit the various pieces of the story together, to tell it in full. Said he modestly.

And so on and forth, for over an hour. When this unbalanced “conversation” ended, I was disappointed, because of what I hadn’t managed to say. Basically I outlined a theory, but the way I told it, it was severely lacking in illustrative detail, as Patrick’s questions forced me to acknowledge. But listening again this afternoon, I was comforted by the fact that although that criticism stands, I did at least say some interesting things. I didn’t illustrate them, still less go any way towards proving them. But at least I said them, as best I could. Which is to say, I tried to.

LATER: I can’t make the comments system at Croziervision work, so I will have to put my embarrassing apology for saying that John Lilburne was executed here instead. I’m embarrassed. Sorry.

My problem was that I read all the books in the pile quite a while ago, remembered the broad outlines that I concluded from them and forgot most of the illustrative details and backup evidence. In this respect the delay doing this was unhelpful. I hope to be writing out, for Samizdata, the thesis I merely presented in this podcast and will then at least try to allude to rather more evidence than I did in this. But I promise nothing.

A ball point pen for eight pence!

Here are two more photos photoed with my Samsung Galaxy Something mobile phone:

I came upon these pens while seeking something else, as you do. I then took these photos because what I was seeing reminded me of a conversation I recently had with Michael Jennings about why the cameras in things like my Samsung Galaxy Something mobile phone are so good. He said that when you are ordering up the cameras for a production run of mobile phones like mine, or for an iPhone or some such thing (Michael J has the latest iPhone (with which he now takes photos like these)) you’re talking about ordering a billion of the things, literally. When you are working on that sort of scale, then the economies of scale really start to kick in. A camera which would have cost five times what the mere phone costs now, if you sold it only to photographers, now costs only a dozen or two quid for my phone, or a couple of hundred for the latest iPhone. He’s not wrong.

Research and development for dedicated cameras has pretty much stopped about five years ago. All the effort now goes into making mobile phone cameras into miracle machines, and that’s really starting to be visible in the results.

I remember thinking, when digital cameras first arrived, that in the long run, cameras would have no reason to look like old school cameras, of the sort that had film in them. But at first they all did, because that was what people felt comfortable with. But now, that long run is starting to arrive. Cameras now consist only of a screen, and what is more a screen that can do a hundred other things besides photo photos.

And the above photos illustrate this same economies-of-scale which can fund mega-research-into-making-them-even-cheaper principle in action down at the bottom of the market, where they thrash out ball point pens by the billion. One pound for a dozen of them! Like I say in the title of this, that’s hardly more than eight pence a pen. And that’s after all the transport costs and retail mark-ups and goodness knows what else have also been paid. Amazing.

Shame they can’t make food and heating and rent that cheap. The one thing that never seems to get any cheaper nowadays is energy, aka the essentials of life. Are we due another human transformation, to go beside this one, when energy gets miraculously cheaper? Nuclear? Fusion? Bring it on.

That previous kink, I recently read in one of Anton Howes‘s pieces, was maybe made to seem more abrupt than it really was by the fact that there came a moment when they finally worked out how to extract and distribute energy on a serious scale, but energy remained quite expensive, hence the sudden kink upwards in the numbers. Actually, life had been getting better for some time, and didn’t suddenly get a hundred times better, merely about three or four times times every few decades.

Meanwhile, things like absurdly good cameras and absurdly cheap ball point pens don’t show up in graphs of how much mere money everyone is chucking around. Which causes people in a country like mine to underestimate the improvements of recent decades. These have not taken the form of us all having tons more money. No. What has been changing is the stuff we can now buy with the same money. Like my latest (mobile phone) camera, and like ball point pens. Provided you have some cash left over after you have fed and housed yourself and kept yourself warm (not everyone does), then life has got lots more fun, given how many and how much better are the toys and times you can now buy for the same money.

Life has not improved much for those who have fun only when the fun they get is too expensive for most others to be able to indulge in. But that’s a thought for a different posting.

The books I’ll be talking about this afternoon with Patrick Crozier

This afternoon, all being well, Patrick Crozier and I will finally get around to doing our podcast on the Industrial Revolution: Good Thing and here’s why it happened.

I will be making the running and Patrick will be heckling me, seeking clarification, etc.

Here are the books I intend to refer to:

I also intend referring to the recent writings of Anton Howes.

The reason we are able to do this is that my voice has got a lot better lately, thanks to the magic pills. I still cough a bit (so apologies in advance if that happens), but nowhere near the ghastliness of about three weeks ago.

The Brian Micklethwait Archive goes public

Just over a month ago I learned that I will die rather sooner than I had been supposing, and I asked, by way of being cheered up, for people to say nice things, preferably in public, about my various writings and doings over the years.

The most impressive consequence of this rather vulgar entreaty has so far been the Brian Micklethwait Archive.

It is in the nature of this Archive in my honour that if I had constructed it myself it would be an absurdity, which wouldn’t outlast me any more than this blog will. In contrast, the fact that Rob Fisher, a far younger man than me, has embarked upon this project is a source of profound gratitude and satisfaction to me. If I die soon, this will be a big reason for me nevertheless to die in a state of moderate contentment. Posthumous reputations, such as I now crave on a scale way beyond what I merely deserve, do not establish themselves. They have to be established. I want to be remembered as a writer, yet I do not have so much as one book to my name. This Archive that Rob is gathering up, by cherry picking from my many bits of writing over the years, will make a big difference to whatever continuing impact and influence I may have after I have died.

Rob is in charge of this Archive, not me. It needs to be something he is happy to go on polishing and adding to in the months and years to come, so it must be as he wishes it, rather than as I might have wished it. And I waited until he made it public before drawing attention to it, here, myself. Now I feel that I can without upsetting whatever announcements Rob had in mind to be doing.

Great Men don’t need to advertise themselves. Their achievements speak for themselves. Lesser men like me need to beat their own drums. And it makes all the difference when someone else joins in.

Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes

Michael Jennings said this, five years ago. I believe he now has a new job.

Buggering on

According to GodDaughter2’s Dad in one of his recent emails, Churchill once said something about how we just have to keep buggering on. Either that or GD2D made this up. Anyway, that’s what I am now doing, as best I can.

Today started going to hell last night when the Royal Marsden rang to say that the telephone-appointment they had been saying for about a fortnight would be at 3.30pm might actually be at more like 11am! Which meant that cricket lag (which it turns out I am suffering from) came into play. Instead of sleeping during the small and then not-so-small hours of this morning, I instead had a succession of coughing fits, all made worse by the thought that, come the telephone-appointment, I would be struggling to stay awake. The only way to stop the coughing during the night was to get fully up, sandals, sweater, the lot, and sit for an hour or two in front of my computer like it was the day. Being vertical being the only way to stop the coughing. Maybe it’s just because I now have words for what is wrong with me, but my lungs, while I was coughing, seemed truly about to give up on me, if not now, then some time rather soon.

But at least, having got me up at the crack of 10.30am, the appointment was indeed at just after 11am, so there was that. So, back to bed for the afternoon, including a bit of sleep, and then an early evening during which various further details were sorted, to do with who would live my life for me in the event that I became incapable of living it myself. Once again my Senior Designated Friend was driving all that along. Without her, I’d not yet be dead but I’d probably be wishing I was.

Now, I am trying to avoid eating or drinking anything that might keep me awake for yet another night. Quite easy because today I consumed a massive fish pie at lunchtime. But will I sleep tonight? Weird how I can sleep through great chunks of one of the great fourth innings run chases of all time, but could not, last night, just sleep. So maybe it’ll be the same this coming night, with, again, no cricket to relax me.

Tomorrow, at a genuinely early time in the morning, I am off again to the Marsden, for a Covid jab and for research tests associated with that (they want to know how lung cancer sufferers react to the Covid jab), and I’ll also hope to be picking up an inhaler, to stop me coughing being the idea of that. We shall see. At least I’m finally getting the jab.

Just taken another daily magic anti-cancer pill. Will it ever have any effect on the cough? Like: end it. That would really be something.

The ups and downs of Oscar

If you type “Oscar” into the bit under where it says “SEARCH” on the left, you will find your way to lots of good photos of Oscar, the cat of GodDaughter2’s family who live in the South of France. Where they are now stuck.

This latest incoming photo of Oscar (thank you GD2D) is not that good, of Oscar:

But this is a good photo of a common habit of cats, which is that of climbing to what you would think would be inaccessibly lofty spots, and only then wondering how they’re going to get back down again. Well, actually, they do have an escape strategy for all such predicaments. Yowl continuously until a human rescues them, and then forget about it. But you know what I mean, I’m sure.

How did Oscar get down? Simple, he was rescued. What I want to know is How did Oscar get up there in the first place?

I’m also not asking why he got up there. He’s a cat. That’s why.

Death and detail

Yesterday, my Senior Designated Friend and I communed with my lawyer, via Zoom (which my SDF organised on her laptop). All seemed to go well. I had been ignoring Zoom, until the lawyer said he needed it.

I had hoped by now to be blogging profundities, but am still at the stage of trying to arrange my affairs in such a way that, were I to die soon and without further warning, or perhaps become terminally incapable, those affairs would be, as they say, “in order”. It would be clear what everything consists of and who gets what, and what to do about switching me off, should the question arise. Thank goodness for the SDF, who is doing almost all of this arranging, and without whom I would now be in a state of gibbering uselessness. It’s an exhausting business, even though my contributions are only occasional. Maybe death soon, and taking care of details in the meantime, death being why that has to be done. I remember that same combination when my mother died. Death, detail.

Meanwhile, you must forgive the decline in blogging quality here lately, and the possible feebleness of a lot of the next lot of postings also.

The magic drug seems to be working. I think I can feel a definite improvement. But now I just want to rest up and let it work its magic.

It’s hard to know what will be temporary

When I photoed this photo, I’m pretty sure that it was the Big Things in the background that I was thinking about. 22 Bishopsgate, is it? No sign of that. Or of the Scalpel. The Cheesegrater still under construction.

But as for all those people lounging about in the Park, sunning themselves, or meandering about next to the lake, well, that’s not going to change, is it?

Burgess Park, May 2013. Burgess Park is one those London Parks that not everyone has heard of. Or maybe what I mean is I never noticed it until about 2013, when I seem to recall realising that it might be a good way to walk from my place to that of Michael Jennings. I recommend it.