Ivor Cummins speaks to Niall Boylan

Yesterday. As an (I hope) intelligent layman, I am finding this radio interview to be at a very helpful level, so to speak, of scientific complexity. There’s plenty of science, but it is well explained.

Ivor Cummins’s work experience, so his Twitter feed tells us, has been as a “team leader” and as a “complex problem solving specialist”, which I take it means that he has experience of leading people with very varied types of expertise. So, he has lots of practice in talking clearly, in plain English, to enable such teams to work together effectively. With regard to each particular type of expertise being deployed, all the other experts in other areas are also “intelligent laymen”, so the man in charge has to be good an explaining complicated stuff clearly, to people not expert in it. So, I believe Cummins’s background has prepared him for the historically huge role he is now performing. The world now needs people to pull all the expertise of others together and to explain it convincingly, and from where I’m sitting, Cummins, more than anyone else, seems to be the man who is doing this.

Boris Johnson thinks he’s now Churchill in 1940, or at least he did a couple of months ago. Cummins isn’t Churchill either, but he’s a hell of a lot closer to being Churchill than Johnson is. Johnson thought that the “Nazi hoards” equivalent now was Covid itself, and he probably still does. But the real Nazi hoard equivalent is the crazy, panic-stricken and politically driven over-reactions to Covid. That’s what’s now doing the serious damage. And Boris Johnson is more like Lord Haw-Haw.

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.

England v Pakistan: No spectators and all the time in the world

The first test match between England and Pakistan could be a terrible disappointment, for England fan me. But, as I write this now, it could get special. England are chasing 277, I think it is, in the fourth innings. Pakistan got a first innings lead of over a hundred, but then got bowled out for only 169, so England appear to have a chance. It’s the morning of the fourth day now, so England have two days to get those runs. Nobody is at the ground watching, other than the players not out on the pitch and the ground staff and the TV and radio commentators. But it turns out that mere spectators at the ground aren’t necessary for test cricket to be thoroughly absorbing. Test cricket can be played in front of a live studio audience. But if it isn’t, nothing important seems to change.

Basically, if England start losing wickets now, as they well might according to what I’m hearing about plays and misses, then Pakistan will surely win later today, by quite a lot. If England can somehow hang about until tomorrow, they have a chance.

Oh dear. England one down already.

LATER:

England are nevertheless now hurtling towards their target.

LATER: Three quick wickets. England now four down and sinking fast. Shame. Looks like being all over today. The next LATER in this looks being that.

LATER: Well if you follow the first link at the top of this you will now know what a win this was for England, and with the final day not needed. Following those dots above, England lost a flurry of wickets and were at one point 117-5. But Buttler and Woakes turned it around, first by counter-attacking (that being why the final day was not needed) and then by, well, just batting. Buttler got out before the end, but Woakes stayed to the end.

The weird thing is: It would be logical if both Buttler and Woakes now got dropped. Buttler kept wicket very badly, and his batting has not usually been nearly this good. Woakes might be dropped if Stokes is fit to bowl. Given that Stokes actually did some bowling, he surely will be able to bowl. More likely though is that Buttler will stay, and they’ll hope he keeps better in the future. And Anderson will get dropped. Wibble wibble wibble. What the hell do I know? What a game.

Thoughts provoked by a Paul Graham piece about privilege

Paul Graham:

There has been a lot of talk about privilege lately. Although the concept is overused, there is something to it, and in particular to the idea that privilege makes you blind — that you can’t see things that are visible to someone whose life is very different from yours.

But one of the most pervasive examples of this kind of blindness is one that I haven’t seen mentioned explicitly. I’m going to call it orthodox privilege: The more conventional-minded someone is, the more it seems to them that it’s safe for everyone to express their opinions.

It’s safe for them to express their opinions, because the source of their opinions is whatever it’s currently acceptable to believe. So it seems to them that it must be safe for everyone. They literally can’t imagine a true statement that would get them in trouble.

And yet at every point in history, there were true things that would get you in terrible trouble to say. Is ours the first where this isn’t so? What an amazing coincidence that would be.

Surely it should at least be the default assumption that our time is not unique, and that there are true things you can’t say now, just as there have always been. …

This is a particular version of the general tendency to believe that now, finally, this or that age-old problem has been solved. In all previous times, speech was unfree. Now, people can say exactly what they like!

One of my favourite of such intractable problems is the one about how to look after the very poor and very unlucky. When the Attlee welfare state got into its stride, the error of supposing “welfare” to have been sorted was rampant in Britain, although it has abated now, following many bitter welfare state experiences. Looking after the poor has always been and will always remain very hard. How to separate the deserving poor from the undeserving poor? How to provide help without introducing moral hazard? These questions are very hard, have always been hard, and will always be hard.

I am listening to two smug young white people on the radio smugly assuming that their generation has a unique ability to sort out racial problems and unfairnesses, unlike all previous generations, who were either too wicked or too lazy. That they might be introducing new race-related indignities and insults and assumptions does not seem to register. You surely know the sort of dilemmas I am thinking of. Solve racism by assuming everyone is equally qualified! Solve racism by talking about it endlessly and encouraging the downtrodden to blame everything wrong with their lives on racism! Solve racism by never talking about racism and just self-fulfillingly prophesying that, now, it’s not a thing anymore! Solve racism by encouraging the downtrodden to find ways through racism and around racism! All these notions have truths in them, and dangers attached to them.

An equal and opposite error to this sort of temporal arrogance is the belief that the wrongs of our own time are unique to our own time. I regularly hear it assumed that there is something uniquely mediocre and corrupt about our current gang of politicians, uniquely trashy and mendacious about our media, uniquely ugly and ridiculous about our art, uniquely huge about the gap between our very rich and our very poor, uniquely bad about the behaviour of kids these days. Wrong again.

Many things have got much better. Many problems are solvable and have been solved, or will be. Some time around 1780, all the graphs of human comfort and wellbeing stopped being damn near horizontal and switched to being damn near vertical, in a good way. Ever more people since that magic moment have been able to do things for themselves and each other that nobody could do for anyone before it. We in Britain call this event the Industrial Revolution and those of us Brits who know about it are very proud of the part our ancestors played in this dramatic and continuing improvement in human affairs. The greatest form of historical myopia in the world now, certainly my part of it, may well be the unawareness of the fact of this amazing transformation. (Caused by the unique awfulness of our education system. Our teachers are the worst there have ever ever been!)

Patrick Crozier and I will be talking about this Industrial Revolution in our next recorded conversation.

Strange sport

In between the first two photos I showed in the previous posting, of and from the coutyard, and the second two, of the hair and the mugs, I also photoed this:

That’s Vincent Square. In the far distance, the Wheel. In the not so far distance, the Vincent Square cricket pavilion. In the foreground? Cricket? There often would be at this time of year, played by the inmates of nearby Westminster School. But the Plague has kiboshed all that. Cricket is only just getting going again.

But we have had two test matches, the second of which concluded today, between England and the West Indies. It’s now one all and one to go, the one to go getting going this coming Friday. More heroics for England from Stokes.

Nobody is at the grounds watching these games, but for the many thousands following virtually, on radio or on television, these are still test matches. I found it oddly soothing, when I watched the highlights on television, or listened to the radio commentary, in which regular reference was made to the strangeness of it all. Usually, the empty seats that often afflict cricket test matches not against Australia are a source of regret, embarrassment even. But for these games, there was the perfect excuse.

This hasn’t been much of a posting, but I wanted something here to remember this strange summer of sport by. One of the oddest things about Lockdown was, first, the total absence of any sport, and then, the oddity of the professional sport that did resume. With all the apparatus of modern communication, but no actual spectators. The perfect reflection of what has been happening to the world as a whole. We weren’t allowed to go anywhere or be anywhere, but we had no trouble keeping in touch.

A year ago today … cake!

This, believe it or not, was a cake:

A year ago today, England beat New Zealand in the Cricket World Cup Final at Lord’s, by absolutely no runs whatsoever.

I gave this event my full attention at the time, but I only heard about this cake today, because I had this anniversary cricket commentary going while I was in the bath, and they talked about it at half time. Apparently Mrs Prince Charles 2, Camilla Duchess of Wherever, told someone called Julie Brownlee to make it, and she did.

On how I may now not resume buying classical music magazines

Every month for as long as I can remember, I’ve been buying paper copies of Gramophone and the BBC Music Magazine, “Music” being how the BBC refers to classical music.

All over my home, these magazines have accumulated in shelves and in heaps:

I haven’t had these magazines on order, because I don’t trust my neighbours not to let in burglars through the front door we all share, and because I like the exercise of actually walking to a shop and buying these magazines.

Which means that during the recent Plague, I’ve not been getting either of these magazines. The shops where I would have bought them have all been closed.

One of the many changes I am now contemplating in my life is: Not resuming buying these magazines. Are many people now contemplating a similar decision with regard to these or other such printed publications? Surely, they are. Are many people contemplating buying printed publications they do not now buy? I doubt this very much.

If “normal” ever returns, it will, for most of us, in big ways and in small ways, be a different normal, not least among those who publish the magazines like the ones in my photo. It’s not just the obvious ways in which we will remain nervous of the Plague returning, though that will definitely happen also. It’s that by being jolted into doing this for the first time, and not doing that any more, we are all now shedding old habits and being pushed towards acquiring different habits. I try to resist generalisations involving words like “we all now …”, but I really do think that the above generalisations are largely right. (You need only look at the recent numbers for postings here per month at this blog, on the left, to see this kind of thing happening to me and maybe therefore also for you.)

So, habits are being dropped, and acquired. And, are you, like me, and provoked by the above experiences, going beneath and beyond such changes of habit, and asking yourself: What other habits should I now decide to shed, and decide to acquire?

After all, and especially for the likes of me, life has just got shorter.

Lockdown chat with Patrick

On June 2nd, Patrick Crozier and I had another of our recorded conversations, this time about Lockdown.

In the course of this, I refer to a photo that I did take, and a photo that I didn’t take. The photo that I did take was this:

That being me, and another bloke, recording the fact of empty shelves in Sainsburys. The photo that I didn’t take, but talk about with Patrick, is the one I should also have taken of how the shelves laden with less healthy food – crisps, chocky bickies etc. – were crammed with yet-to-be-sold stuff, a lot of it offered at discount prices.

Patrick, in his posting about this chat, mentions something he thought of afterwards but didn’t say during, which is that what may have been going on with the crisps and bickies was not that people were shunning unhealthy food, but rather that they were shunning party food, on account of there suddenly being no parties being had. Good point. In my photo above, you can see in the distance, the drinks section. Plenty of drink still to be had also.

I remember, when I used to do chat radio, I used to regret not having said things I should have said, either because I had them in mind but forgot, or because I only thought of them afterwards. But, in due course, I realised that what mattered was what I did say. If that was reasonably intelligent and reasonably well put, then I did okay. People wouldn’t say: Ooh, but he forgot to mention blah blah. They would merely decide whether they liked, or not, what I did say.

Well, this time around, I think there was a huge elephant in the virtual room that we didn’t discuss, which I am sure some listeners would expect us to have at least mentioned. Sport. As in: There hasn’t been any! Patrick and I are both sports obsessives. He is a Watford fan. But he has had no Premier League relegation battle to warm his heart during the last few months. I love cricket, not just England but also Surrey. Likewise for me: nothing, despite some truly wonderful weather at a time when it’s often very grim. But, not a single sporting thing, other than ancient sportsmen reminiscing about sports contests of yesteryear on the telly. Yet we never mentioned any of that. Since a lot of the point of our chat wasn’t to yell at politicians and scientists, hut rather just to remember the oddities of our own lives now, this was a major omission. We talked, as we always do whether that’s the actual topic or not, about war, this time in connection with the question of which economic policy attitudes will prevail during whatever attempts at an economic recovery start being made in the months to come. Yet sport, the thing that has replaced war in so many people’s lives, got no mention by us.

A recorded conversation by phone

Today, Patrick Crozier and I at last got around to doing the recorded conversation we failed to do earlier. About the Allied WW2 bombing offensive.

We did it down the phone rather than face-to-face, and doing it down the phone, what with the phone now being such an antiquated piece of kit, was what had caused the delay. (I am still trying to find the microphone that I swear I do own. Had I found it a fortnight ago, that would have saved Patrick a lot of bother.)

How satisfactory our conversation will turn out to be for others to listen to remains to be heard. I was a bit disorganised, not so much in what I said as in the order in which I said it. I tended to jump back and forth, or so it felt to me. But that wasn’t my phone’s fault, and communication between me and Patrick felt more exact and responsive than I had been fearing. Like most, I make constant use of my phone to keep in touch with friends and collaborators of various sorts, but mere communication is not the same as sharing a performance with whoever’s down the line. I did do performances like this on the radio back in the last century, but then I had no way to compare like with like, because each performance was different, and done with different people. This time I was able to make a more exact comparison, between this conversation with Patrick and previous conversations, of the same sort, also with Patrick. And, as I say, it felt more similar and less of a struggle than I had feared.

Accordingly, I very slightly revise my opinion about the efficacy of working at a distance. It is a little bit easier than I had earlier been thinking. Not that this will diminish the amount of work done in a city like London, and in particular in the centre of London. There is no fixed quantity of work, with more work moving to outside London automatically meaning less work being done in London. On the contrary, the easier it becomes to work outside London, the more busy London will be, keeping track of it all, placing bets on it, and generally doing its London stuff.

The fundamental importance of face-to-face communication remains. In the case of me and Patrick, we know each other well. We’ve met often and talked a lot face-to-face, over the years, in London. Because we know each other well, communication at a distance also works well, and actually, somewhat better than I had expected.

LESS THAN ONE DAY LATER: It’s up.

Churchill War Rooms gallery

One of the nice things about people coming to stay is that you often find yourself visiting touristy but interesting things that you’d never quite get around to seeing on your own. Later, maybe, but not today. It’ll always be there won’t it?

Touristy things like: the Churchill War Rooms. In February of last year, nearly two years ago now, GodDaughter2’s Dad was in town, and that’s one of the places we went.

And I took the odd photo or two. Well, more like 350, of which here are 84:

A big spread of photos like that would have been an impossibly tedious operation to stick up at Brian Micklethwait’s Previous Blog, and an equally tedious business for you to be scrutinising. But now, here they all are, and you can do the usual, clicking through as quickly or as slowly as you like. Enjoy. Especially if you rarely or never visit London, and have no plans to see this place for real.

There’s a million things I could say about it. One of the more striking of the photos above is photo 33, which shows how thick the concrete was protecting everything, from all but the most direct of direct hits, that passage that you see having been drilled through afterwards, when they were turning these working spaces into a place people could visit and circulate around.

Other talking points? Well, lots of signs and souvenirs, often signs made into souvenirs, for sale in the inevitable gift shop. And also: signs that are not Original but Modern. Signs with lots of words. Which is appropriate, given how important Churchill knew words (see photo 80) to be.

Most of the human figures that you see are not real; they’re sculpted. And “Other creatures” is in the category list because, inevitably, there are bulldogs.

I did all the hard work for this posting before I got ill, and I’m still not fully recovered. So, please continue to wish me well.