Twitter is good at telling you about news, and today, the news has been: snow. I know. Who saw that coming??? Apart from the short-term weather forecasters, I mean.

Here are some snow pictures:

That would be a photo of the Shard. Would be because it is mostly a photo of snow, and the Shard is only just make-out-able behind the snow.

Here are two more conventional snow photos, where you can see buildings but very boring ones, the ones outside my kitchen window:

On the left, the snow descends. On the right, my neighbours make a bendy triangle of footmarks. I didn’t find those photos on Twitter, for I took them myself.

Without doubt my favourite snow-photo today was this:

Says @MisanthropeGirl: Satisfying. I agree.

But if we are talking about snow and cold, nothing since then has touched 1963. According to that story, in 1963 the sea froze.

Ah, 1963. Marlborough lost its entire hockey season that term, early in 1963. The frustrated school hockey captain was a famed future hockey international. I still regret that I never got to see him play.

It gets worse. That Christmas, the “house”, Littlefield, where I was a boarder at Marlborough College Marlborough Wilts, got burnt down, just before the “spring” term began. We lived in huts, like prisoners of war. The dormitory was another hut. I had a hot water bottle. When other Littlefieldsmen first saw this hot water bottle they sneered, but they were soon wanting to hire it from me, but I wasn’t having that. I needed it in my bed. And I distinctly remember, one morning, that this hot water bottle, in my bed, in the morning, had … frozen. I swear. There were icicles in it.

So, February 2018, I spit on your cold. Your cold could not even freeze my spit.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Barn owl in winter

A commenter on the piece I did yesterday at Samizdata, about Twitter and about Facebook, says of Twitter (the one I now greatly prefer), that it is …:

… like entering a beehive. Opinionated fools screaming at each other. …

I know what this commenter means. Personally, I like a bit of opinionated screaming, in among the other stuff I follow. But I already think I know enough about how Twitter works to believe that if Twitter is a beehive and if you don’t like that, then you should be following different people. And that’s pretty easy to make happen.

My Twitter is partly beehive, but partly it is other kinder, gentler things. So, for instance, one of the people I follow pointed me to this, I think, excellent photo, of an owl:

I don’t know if you think that’s as good as I think it is, but you would surely agree that this photo is not an opinionated fool screaming at another opinionated fool. I have added the lady who took this photo, The Afternoon Birder, to my following list.

I have lost track of who it was of my followees that I should be thanking for linking to that. Twitter is difficult like that. I rather think that it has a habit of muddling up the order in which postings (tweets) appear, in such a way that scrolling back to find a particular one gets difficult.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Me on Twitter and Facebook

By which I mean me on these two things, yes (although I’ve not posted anything on either so far), but also me writing at Samizdata about me being on them.

At the moment, I greatly prefer Twitter. If you’ve been following recent links from here, you’ll probably already have guessed that.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The horror of a concrete thing having its eye put out

You Had One Job (a current Twitter favourite of mine) calls this “Brilliant”:


At a site called Idiot Toys they also do lots of gadgets with faces. Or, they did, because (I just looked) things seem to have slowed down there lately. But I can’t recall anything nearly as dramatic as the above image.

LATER: this.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Copycat (and copydog)

Those little chinese cats, the ones that slowly wave their paws in the air, are often to be seen in gift shops. But I never thought I’d see one of these pretend cats being copied by a real cat.

Dogs will copy, including copying their humans, like in this bit of video at the same Twitter feed, but I never knew that any cats were also this way inclined. I didn’t know that there were actual copycats.

I guess my surprise comes from me not having known any cats who were growing up in the company of other cats, and hence still at the stage of learning how to be a cat, by copying those other cats.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Classic tweet

Melissa Chen:

I like my music like I like my liberalism: Classical

I’ve had more nearly fifty years to think of that. Why didn’t I? Probably because, although the music I mostly like is classical, I also like other musics, so this doesn’t really apply to me. But, very nicely put.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Michael Fabiano does a Master Class at the Royal College

Yesterday afternoon GodDaughter2 arranged for me to be in the audience (which was mostly singing students like her) of a master class presided over by American operatic tenor Michael Fabiano, a totally new name to me. He should not have been. My bad, as he would say. Very impressive. Very impressive.

This event was the most recent one of these. But they scrub all mention from there of the past, however immediate, so no mention there of Fabiano, which there had been until yesterday.

Here are a few recollections I banged into my computer last night before going to bed. Not tidied up much. I just didn’t want to forget it.

Sing, every note, all the time – switch off singing and then when you need to switch on again, you won’t be able to do it.

Singing is not just done with two little things in your throat. Sing with your whole body, from head to toe. Including your balls. (The student singers he was teaching were all guys, two baritones, two tenors.) I hope you don’t mind me saying such things. (Nobody did.)

You must sing to the people way up in the roof. They must hear every note you sing. Not just the people in the first five rows.

Don’t be afraid to take a breath – I’m a great fan of breathing when you need to breath – no seriously

First note is critical. Final note is critical. You can screw up in between. But first note bad can mean they’ll hear nothing further. Final note good, and that’s what they’ll remember.

Stay firmly planted on the floor. Stand how you stand in the tube, when you have nothing to hold on to. Don’t rise off the floor on your toes when it gets difficult.

Stay relaxed by going to your “happy place” in your mind.

In auditions, don’t be bound by rules that box you in. Break those rules, do whatever you have to do to do what you do. Applies to all artists.

Piano accompanists: play louder, like an orchestra. Louder. Twice as loud as that. (He spent a lot of time conducting the pianists.)

Go for it. (Said that a lot.) Be free. Fly like a bird. Never relax your wings (keep singing) or you fall to the ground.

In my opinion … this is my opinion …

Make progress as a young singer by finding one or two people whose judgement you trust. Follow their advice and work hour after hour, day after day, with them. A hundred people advising is confusion. One or two is what a young person needs.

How to make the transition from student to real singer? With difficulty. I began by doing 22 auditions all over Europe. First 21, I followed the rules, stood in the spot marked X: nothing, failure. 22nd audition: disaster. Fell over at the start, literally. But laughed at myself. Good middle notes, they knew I had a cold, but also a good personality. Got work. They trusted me to do better.

Mentor? Renee Fleming was one. Sang next to her on stage. Her voice ridiculously small, on stage. But, my agent way up at the back heard everything, and wept. I then sat way up there myself and listened to Fleming sing equally quietly, heard everything and was equally moved

Sing oh well and sing ee well, and you’ll sing ah well. (Think that was it.) …

And probably lots more that I missed. But, I now find, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube. However, the length-to-content ratio of watching something like this on YouTube is such that you, if you have got this far in this posting, are much more likely to make do with reading what I just put. So let’s hope I didn’t get anything too wrong. Plus: more mentions of this event, with video bits, at the RCM Twitter feed. Fabiano also tweets, of course. More reaction to yesterday there.

There were four student singers on show, first two being baritones, and in the second half, two tenors. The most extraordinary moments of this event came in the second half, when the two tenors took it in turns to sing things that Fabiano has presumably sung for real, as it were. And occasionally, to illustrate a point he was making, Fabiano would sing a snatch of the thing himself.

At which point, as the young people say these day: OMG. His sound was about four times bigger than what the students were doing. (The first of these moments got Fabiano a loud round of applause.) Fabiano’s talk, about filling the entire 2,500 people place, was a hell of a lot more than talk. He does this, every time he sings in such a place. The message was loud and the message was clear. That’s what you guys must aim for. That’s what it sounds like.

The good news is that the first tenor in particular (Thomas Erlank), was taking audible steps towards being an opera star, after only a few minutes of badgering from Fabiano. I think you’re great, said Fabiano, which is why I’m being so hard on you. Fabiano didn’t say those exact words to any of the others, so that will definitely have counted for something, in Erlank’s mind. You could see him getting bigger, as Fabiano both talked him up and hacked away at his mistakes.

Of the others, the one who particularly impressed me was the second baritone (Kieran Rayner), who looked and behaved like a trainee accountant, but who sang like a trainee god. By the time Fabiano had been at him for a bit, he started to get a bit more like an actual god. The sheer sound of Rayner’s voice was beautiful from the start, I thought. As did Fabiano.

Fabiano made a big deal of vibrato, which he seemed almost to equate with singing. But vibrato is, for me, a huge barrier. Rayner did do enough of it to satisfy Fabiano, but not nearly enough to put me off. I mention this because I believe that I am not the only one who feels this way. Too much wobble, and it just sounds like wobble and nothing else. Singers who overdo the wobble never break past that oh-god-it’s-bloody-opera barrier. But not enough vibrato, and they don’t get to fill those 2,500 seat opera houses. And even if they do, no OMG, Fabiano style.

Final point, by way of summary. When each singer did his performance, Fabiano made a point of going to the back of the hall, to hear how it sounded there. Fabiano made no bones about it that what concerned him was not how you or he felt about it while doing it, or how Renee Fleming sounded to him when he was standing on the stage right next to her. What matters is the effect it has on the audience, all of the audience, including and especially the audience in the cheaper seats. Are they getting what they came for and they paid for?

Deepest thanks to GD2 for enabling me to witness all this.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Quota creative misquote

I only just noticed it, but I do like this blog posting title from October 2016, from Archbishop Cranmer:

Brexit, pursued by a Blair

Blair wants another referendum, with an opposite result. The Archbishop doesn’t. But then, the Archbishop wants Brexit and Blair doesn’t.

The Archibishop quotes Blair:

The issue is not whether we ignore the will of the people; but whether, as information becomes available, and facts take the place of claims, the ‘will’ of the people shifts.

But what if, after Blair then gets the result he wants, and the matter is then, for him, settled once and for ever, yet more facts become available, replacing Blair’s claims, and that ‘will’ shifts again? Back again to Brexit being the good move? What if the EU then goes to hell and takes the UK with it, and the voters then want out, again? Then what? Then: the matter is settled, time to move on and stop grumbling. So, why is it not time for Blair to move on and stop grumbling, now? It comes down to the Divine Right of Blair. Is that a thing? I say: not.

Via Dan Hannan.

For those who don’t know their Shakespeare: the original stage direction. It’s famous. You should know this. Now you do.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Tower Bridge before it got covered in stone

If you’ve not been there before, I recommend visiting Handpicked London. I’ve just been browsing through it, and found my way from it to Photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed are found in a skip, from December 2011, which I do not remember noticing at the time. (The first two of those are Facebook links, and maybe they don’t last. You have to register, is what the second one just said.)

These photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed have been unveiled after a stash of hundred-year-old photos were found in a skip. The 50 sepia pictures, the most recent of which date back to 1892, reveal in incredible detail the ingenuity behind one of the capital’s most popular tourist destinations.

One of the photos:

Hybrid modernism. Modern in its manner of creation. Ancient in appearance. An architectural style with a lot of mileage in it.

LATER: More stuff from me about towers here.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The text of my talk for Christian Michel last night on the impact of digital photography

As I said in the previous post, my talk about digital photography at Christian Michel’s last night went well, in the sense of me feeling it went well, and it seeming to be well received. I occasionally put my sheets of paper down and extemporised upon some point I was making, but mostly, this was it. No links, no photos, no extras. (They may come later, I hope, but I promise nothing.) Just the bare text that I read out, complete with all the errors of grammar and spelling, of fact and interpretation, that may or may not be present:

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

I have given several talks in this 6/20 series, but until now this has been because I have had both questions and answers to offer to the assembled throng. I have had theses to present, clutches of facts to pass on.

This time I don’t know the answers. I merely want to know the answers. What is the impact of digital photography? What is it doing to us? Since fixing this subject matter with Christian I have made, I think, some progress in arriving at answers, but only some. Tonight I expect to make further progress.

Luckily, for my purposes, we have all been alive throughout the period of digital photography’s mass use, and have observed it in action, even if we may not always have wanted to. Has anyone here not taken a digital photo? Just as I thought. (It actually says that here. And this.)


I will start my remarks by quoting a remark made by an American whom I overheard about fifty years ago, on the Acropolis in Athens, the place where what is left of the Parthenon stands. I was there trying to do some sketching, a skill I never got any good at but spent a few years attempting. He was doing pictures with his seriously pre-digital camera. As soon as he had finished photoing, he wanted to leave, presumably to get to his next photoing place. But his family were enjoying the Acropolis in the morning sunshine. Said he to his family: “Come on, come on! We’ll look at it when we get home!”

This outburst captures a great deal about what people object to about digital photography, but it also reminds us that photography, by Everyman as opposed to by professionals, is nothing new. Digital photography is partly just the intensification of a process that has been in place in our culture for well over a century. But it is more than that.

Continue reading The text of my talk for Christian Michel last night on the impact of digital photography