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.

The photo with the ingredients of the Photo and the actual Photo

The photo with the ingredients of the Photo:

The actual Photo:

What we have here, photoed five years and a day ago, is one of those window cleaning cranes, and the Moon. In the first photo there, we see all the ingredients, but this is not the Photo itself. It is merely the photo with the ingredients that went into the actual Photo.

Very little is said about window cleaning cranes, and the aesthetics of window cleaning cranes. Yet they often become the biggest feature in a particular scene.

I just wrote the sentence: “There is nothing temporary about them”, concerning these window cranes, but that’s not right. Sometimes they reach up out of their buildings, spread themselves, and dominate the scene. But somethings they fold themselves up into almost nothing. Or, they literally hide themselves inside their buildings, and become nothing.

They are invisible to some, because if you pick the right moment, they are invisible, nearly so or completely so.

They are not invisible to me.

On cricket and sleep

Last night India beat Australia, in Australia, and I listened to it on the radio. That is to say, I listened to a lot of it.

But, I didn’t listen to all of it. I know I didn’t listen to all of it because there were big jumps in the score. Shubman Gill went from being about fifty not out, to having been out quite a while ago for nearly a hundred. Pant did another huge jump and a couple of Indian wickets fell, in a similar memory-hole fashion, later in the “day”.

This is not a posting trying to make you like cricket. But, one very interesting feature of cricket is how statistically detailed the unfolding of the story is, and always has been. Football can go from 1-0 with an early goal, to 1-0 with no further goals, to 1-0 as in the early scoring team wins it. You could be listening to the radio commentary and nod off a bit, and not even really be sure that you had nodded off.

But cricket scoring never stops dead like that. Runs are continuously scored, wickets keep falling. Miss out on an hour of that, and you immediately realise that you missed a huge chunk.

So it is that I absolutely know for sure that I didn’t listen to all of the India v Australia cricket last night. I listened to India making a solid start, in their chase for over three hundred in the day. I definitely caught the end, when India won it. But for big bits in between, I was … asleep.

With sleep, the difference between a bit and none can be all the difference. For cricket lag, the cricket version of jet lag, to set in thoroughly, you need to be wide awake exactly when you shouldn’t be. In my recent experience, a bursting bladder, by requiring you to be physically active, is surer way to doing that then merely dozing in a bed, listening to cricket in foreign parts, parts of it.

Will I get a good night’s sleep tonight? At the regular time? Because of the above, I do not rule out the possibility.

Osimertinib

Yes, Osimertinib. It’s an anti-cancer drug. It derives its power to fight my particular cancer from a test having been done to determine the genetic nature of the cancer that I now have.

Journalists often like to describe those of us suffering from it as “battling” cancer. Well, with me, there is definitely battling going on, thank goodness, but I am only a very minor warrior in the battle. My major involvement is that my body is one of the many battlefields in which this sort of battle is happening. (I seem to recall that Christopher Hitchens said something like this in this.)

My “strategy”, if you can call it that, has been to proceed on the assumption that the judgement of the Royal Marsden’s cancer experts, about what will give me the best chance of a bit more life, is my best bet. I’m not second guessing these people. I have done very little reading to determine if their treatment makes sense. I am simply of the belief that their best guess is better than anything else available. Friends who have dug deeper, including my sister the former NHS GP, have given me no reason to doubt my bet. On the contrary, they agree about how very lucky I am to be living near to the Marsden.

I am taking my Osimertinib in the form of tablets, one each day, because this is what my seniors in the battle judge to be the best treatment. This evening, I just swallowed the sixth of a course of thirty such tablets that I have been proscribed. I have been told that right around now, I might start feeling rather better.

So, am I feeling any better? I think so, but I’m not sure. I have recently been rather ill. Headaches, shivery skin, weakness in the limbs, increased coughing, a runny nose, that sort of stuff. This felt like it was the cancer getting worse. But what if I was just, you know, ill, as a distinct thing? And is all of that illness getting less bad now? Rather hard to say, but I would say, probably, yes. It all feels complicated.

I have retreated into my comfort zone. By doing daily postings for here. By keeping more than half a nocturnal ear on the cricket, both in Australia and in Sri Lanka. By listening to music and reading stuff. And, in addition to more nutritional stuff, I’ve been having occasional servings of salt and caramel ice cream. Basically I am taking the pills, and waiting for them to work.

Wish me luck.

Quiet the mind?

In March of 2020, I journeyed to Battersea, to check out progress in all the new Machines For Living In that they were building in those parts. Frank Gehry, who specialises in the architecturally strange, is building his first London building there, and I had in mind to be checking that out in particular.

But I saw something which I personally reckon to be even stranger than that.

These signs:

As so often, I only really took in how very odd these signs were when I got home. But no matter, I said to myself, I’d go back and really check these signs out, make sure I knew who had put them up, and so on and so forth. Surprise surprise, I have yet go back. All I have by way of context is this photo, that I photoed by way of a farewell-I’ll-be-back, on the same day and just after I’d photoed all the other photos:

It would appear that the workforce of one of the many enterprises toiling away in that part of London had to run a gauntlet of uplifting propaganda whenever they clocked on and clocked off.

I still don’t know what I think about that. I do know that I was intrigued, and that I still am. Certainly management is setting itself up for one hell of a pratfall, if it fails in any way to live up to these standards itself. And I now reckon that one of these signs is itself a very public error of judgement, namely the one that says: “Quiet the mind and the soul will speak”. Do you want people putting up a building with mush like that slurping around in their heads? I definitely do not. “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work”. says another of the signs. It failed to put very much perfection into that “Quiet the mind” sign. “Be PROUD of what you have done today”. Not that day.

Hey, I think I convinced myself what I think of these signs. A badly thought-through mistake. Only one big thing had to go wrong, and it did. Just as soon as the signs went up.

On April 1st, according to this, all work stopped in that particular part of Battersea, the bit where they were building stuff. I wonder if those signs were there when work restarted. If it even has.

“You’re never a loser until you quit.” I reckon they rather boxed themselves in.

Chairs for sale in Thuir

I don’t know why I like this photo, which I photoed a year and two days ago, in Thuir in the south of France. But here it is anyway:

Is it simply that the chairs are so nice? Is it the confident way they present themselves, confident that they are nice chairs, and confident that no vehicle will attack them?

I seem to recall being on the lookout for chairs at that time. Chairs rather like those. But of course buying some of these chairs and then trying to ship them back to England was out of the question. Any chairs I buy have to be on sale in London. Did all that have something to do with liking this photo?

Don’t know.

It occurs to me that I am fond of arguing that modernism has totally triumphed indoors. And it mostly has.

But these chairs didn’t get the memo. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to get these chairs out of my mind since photoing them. They contradicted, by their very existence, one of my pet theories.

Steven Johnson’s history of what we do for fun

Tell ’em what you’re going to say, tell ’em, tell ’em what you said. I believe that’s the formula that many preachers follow when they give their sermons. The bit from a book below is from the “tell ’em what you’re going to say” bit, in other words the Introduction (pp. 8-11), of Steven Johnson’s Wonderland, which I ordered from Amazon back in October, and am now starting to dip into:

Delight is a word that is rarely invoked as a driver of historical change. History is usually imagined as a battle for survival, for power, for freedom, for wealth. At best, the world of play and amusement belongs to the side bars of the main narrative: the spoils of progress, the surplus that civilizations enjoy once the campaigns for freedom and affluence have been won. But imagine you are an observer of social and technological trends in the second half of the eighteenth century, and you are trying to predict the truly seismic developments that would define the next three centuries. The programmable pen of Jaquet-Droz’s Writer – or Merlin’s dancer and her “irresistible eyes” – would be as telling a clue about that future as anything happening in Parliament or on the battlefield, foreshadowing the rise of mechanized labor, the digital revolution, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

This book is an extended argument for that kind of clue: a folly, dismissed by many as a mindless amusement, that turns out to be a kind of artifact from the future. This is a history of play, a history of the pastimes that human beings have concocted to amuse themselves as an escape from the daily grind of subsistence. This is a history of what we do for fun. One measure of human progress is how much recreational time many of us now have, and the immensely varied ways we have of enjoying it. A time-traveler from five centuries ago would be staggered to see just how much real estate in the modern world is devoted to the wonderlands of parks, coffee shops, sports arenas, shopping malls, IMAX theaters: environments specifically designed to entertain and delight us. Experiences that were once almost exclusively relegated to society’s elites have become commonplace to all but the very poorest members of society. An average middle-class family in Brazil or Indonesia takes it for granted that their free time can be spent listening to music, marveling at elaborate special effects in Hollywood movies, shopping for new fashions in vast palaces of consumption, and savoring the flavors of cuisines from all over the world. Yet we rarely pause to consider how these many luxuries came to be a feature of everyday life.

History is mostly told as a long fight for the necessities, not the luxuries: the fight for freedom, equality, safety, self-governance. Yet the history of delight matters, too, because so many of these seemingly trivial discoveries ended up triggering changes in the realm of Serious History. I have called this phenomenon “the hummingbird effect”: the process by which an innovation in one field sets in motion transformations in seemingly unrelated fields. The taste for coffee helped create the modern institutions of journalism; a handful of elegantly decorated fabric shops helped trigger the industrial revolution. When human beings create and share experiences designed to delight or amaze, they often end up transforming society in more dramatic ways than people focused on more utilitarian concerns. We owe a great deal of the modern world to people doggedly trying to solve a high-minded problem: how to construct an internal combustion engine or manufacture vaccines in large quantities. But a surprising amount of modernity has its roots in another kind of activity: people mucking around with magic, toys, games, and other seemingly idle pastimes. Everyone knows the old saying “Necessity is the mother of invention,” but if you do a paternity test on many of the modern world’s most important ideas or institutions, you will find, invariably, that leisure and play were involved in the conception as well.

Although this account contains its fair share of figures like Charles Babbage – well-to-do Europeans tinkering with new ideas in their parlors – it is not just a story about the affluent West. One of the most intriguing plot twists in the story of leisure and delight is how many of the devices or materials originated outside of Europe: those mesmerizing automata from the House of Wisdom, the intriguing fashions of calico and chintz imported from India, the gravity-defying rubber balls invented by Mesoamericans, the clove and nutmeg first tasted by remote Indonesian islanders. In many ways, the story of play is the story of the emergence of a truly cosmopolitan worldview, a world bound together by the shared experiences of kicking a ball around on a field or sipping a cup of coffee. The pursuit of pleasure turns out to be one of the very first experiences to stitch together a global fabric of shared culture, with many of the most prominent threads originating outside Western Europe.

I should say at the outset that this history deliberately excludes some of life’s most intense pleasures-including sex and romantic love. Sex has been a central force in human history; without sex, there is no human history. But the pleasure of sex is bound up in deep-seated biological drives. The desire for emotional and physical connections with other humans is written into our DNA, however complex and variable our expression of that drive may be. For the human species, sex is a staple, not a luxury. This history is an account of less utilitarian pleasures; habits and customs and environments that came into being for no apparent reason other than the fact that they seemed amusing or surprising. (In a sense, it is a history that follows Brian Eno’s definition of culture as “all the things we don’t have to do.”) Looking at history through this lens demands a different emphasis on the past: exploring the history of shopping as a recreational pursuit instead of the history of commerce writ large; following the global path of the spice trade instead of the broader history of agriculture and food production. There are a thousand books written about the history of innovations that came out of our survival instincts. This is a book about a different kind of innovation: the new ideas and technologies and social spaces that emerged once some of us escaped from the compulsory labor of subsistence.

The centrality of play and delight does not mean that these stories are free of tragedy and human suffering. Some of the most appalling epochs of slavery and colonization began with a new taste or fabric developing a market, and unleashed a chain of brutal exploitation to satisfy that market’s demands. The quest for delight transformed the world, but it did not always transform it for the better.

A 1950s YouTube video about cricket

Still gummed-up. Just too many things open, I assume.

One particular gummer-upper is leaving YouTube Videos open and paused.

Like this short bit of film (a bit over a quarter of an hour long) done in 1950 by the British Council about cricket and its magically universal, quasi-religious appeal. GodDaughter2’s Dad sent me the link to this many weeks ago, and I started watching, cringed a bit, but then, still determined to force myself to watch it all, in all its post-WW2, pre-Sixties non-glory, I kept the thing paused and open, until now.

In 1950 everyone English loved cricket, and assembled in suits at Lord’s to watch or, if they were a member of the miserable majority for whom that was impossible, no matter. All civilised or would-be civilised people, everywhere on earth, could listen to the cricket on the radio, thanks to John Arlott and his posh colleagues. Arlott himself spoke a bit un-posh, which meant that everyone could love cricket. Although of course, you were, then, ideally English-posh, you didn’t have to be English-posh. You merely had to aspire to that happy state, and who on earth, in 1950, did not do that? Then? Nobody. Look, even people in turbans could play or attend to cricket, no matter what their colour or their creed, or how amusingly and wrongly they spoke English, i.e. in the opposite way to the way other-narrator (besides Arlott) Ralph Richardson spoke English. You could be an Or-stralian, non-posh, even non-white and non-Christian and talk English like a music hall joke character covered in black make-up, and still be part of cricket. Cricket was ultra-inclusive.

There follow a string of comments to the effect that the world is crap now compared to what it was in the 1950s. (I dissent. For starters, I can now have a blog. Nobody could have a blog in 1950. Also, I enjoy T20 cricket as well as the day-after-day-after-day version of cricket which was all they had back in 1950.)

It all makes a fascinating contrast to the equivalent efforts now being made to make cricket really, properly inclusive, in the form of pieces of writings like this, by ESPN’s Daniel Brettig, about all the micro-aggressions that non-white cricket people still have to put up with these days, but really, really should not have to.

But not such a merry Christmas for her

Most dogs whom we encounter in nice, polite, safe little England are dogs who have bonded with humans, whom the dogs love, unconditionally. But what happens when dogs don’t bond with humans, but only with one another? Then, they are liable to love humans in another way, as in: I love duck, or I love rabbit. To eat. Ooh look guys, fancy some tasty human?

DOCTORS are today fighting to save the life of a woman whose face was completely skinned by a pack of stray dogs.

Where did this horror happen?

Relax. In Russia:

The predators ripped off all Tatyana Loskutnikova’s clothes and gnawed her flesh down to the bone during the sickening attack in Russia.

In Russia they have hungry packs of dogs. Like these, who were only doing what surely made perfect sense to them. Hellishly bad luck on the woman of course, but maybe she might have known better? Yes, you shoot the dogs, as they did. But you can’t really blame them, the way the Sun seems to.

Merry Christmas – no sarcasm intended

On Christmas Day and the days surrounding it, my trickle of readers becomes even less of a trickle than usual, so the chances are that you are reading this posting, if at all, not on Christmas day itself, but rather some time in early January, doing a catch-up of what I have babbled and blogged about over Christmas, just as it is your occasional habit to do a catch-up of recent stuff here at other times of the year.

Nevertheless, if you are one of the self-selected few reading this today, only minutes or hours after I posted it, I wish you in particular a very …:

As I reported yesterday, I did a little walkabout yesterday morning, and I walked past many shops. But I didn’t see any signs saying things like that. How could you say that, in the window of your shop, totally closed for the duration, without sounding sarcastic and getting just broken glass or graffiti for saying such a thing? Or worse, of appearing to accuse passers-by of being the kind of heartless bastards who intend to have a merry Christmas and screw the rest of humanity? You couldn’t. Maybe its different in the less affluent parts of London, but in my vicinity, “Merry Christmas” is surely being spoken quietly but it is not being publicly proclaimed, in lights or in any other way.

Which means that above photo is from my photo-archive, having been photoed (in or next to (guess) the then still rather new Victoria Station shopping appendage) in the run-up to Christmas 2010.

I have other Christmassy things that I may or may not get around to reporting from my walkabout yesterday morning, but I just wanted to get that basic message up and posted, especially, as I say, if you are reading this on the actual day itself. Merry Christmas. You won’t want to go around shouting this in the streets to strangers, as I have myself sometimes done in the small hours of Christmas morning when returning home on foot from a Christmas Eve feast with friends. But, I hope you are having one nevertheless.