Hello again

After writing the previous posting here, about how BMNB dot come is now being wound down, from a daily to an occasional blog, I was determined that my next piece of bloggage would be for Samizdata, and it was. It’s a piece about this book by Stephen Davies. It took me a week to get my posting about this from two thirds first drafted to finished, but that just proves how limited my energy is just now, and how right I was to stop doing something here every day. Even that had become about all I could manage, and that was not what I now want to be managing.

But, as this posting demonstrates, there will be occasional bits here, still, even if only because I have been urged to link from here to all future Samizdata pieces that I manage to do.

It matters a lot to me that in this latest Samizdata piece, I make no mention at all of my medical disappointments. Writing pieces like this is, for me, now, the difference between still being alive, and just existing from one day to the next, in a state of slow but detectably steady, undignified and demoralising physical disintegration.

That and communicating with my nearest and dearest. To all those n+ds and other friends who have taken the trouble to visit me for chats, my deepest thanks. But, if I wasn’t still attempting to say stuff a bit more publicly than that, even those chats would mean a lot less. I blog therefore I am. It wasn’t always so, but it feels like that now.

To all those who commented on the previous posting, thanks for all the kind words. It felt a bit like I was hearing some of the eulogies at my own funeral.

This Blog was fun while it lasted – but now it is approaching its end

First I got diagnosed with lung cancer, and that was bad. And then I started taking the pills, and that was good. The cancer got no worse, and I got better.

But now the side effects, if that’s what they are, are starting to pile up, the worst of these being a loss of appetite, and consequent loss of energy. So – to cut a long and medically very dreary and off-putting story short – the time has come for me to stop fretting at all about this little blog every day, and concentrate on writing stuff for Samizdata, of the sort that really matters to me, even if not necessarily mattering that much to anyone else.

I thought I’d be able to do daily stuff here, and go on making headway with the more serious stuff, but it hasn’t worked out that way, and something has to give. Basically I am now back staring death in the face, and there are still things I want to say of a Samizdata sort. Anything that gets in the way of that has to stop.

It’s not that everything here will necessarily stop, although it may well. I just don’t know. What I do know is that all of the limited energy that I have left has to be spent on saying what to me are big things, now. This Blog has been more about accumulating half-baked small thoughts, with a view to fully baked and bigger thoughts suggesting themselves to me in the fullness of time. But I now have no “fullness of time” that I can rely on. So, postings here will happen whenever they happen and when they’re no bother to do, which will not mean every day.

It was fun while it lasted. For me, and I hope for lots of you.

Brexit didn’t stop London’s cranes

While I’m on the subject of postings past, here is one from the old blog from exactly five years ago, featuring a crane cluster photo, which I have also just transferred to here. Brexit was then being hailed by its enemies as the latest bringer of economic doom. So, I asked, would Brexit mean the departure of all the cranes from the London skyline?

Hasn’t happened so far. I’m not getting out nearly as much these days as I’d like. But, here is a photo that a friend recently photoed in Stratford, with all its Olympic stuff, of the present state of the Olympic village:

It’s been a while since I’ve even set eyes on all the cranes in the Battersea/Vauxhall area, but they can’t all have disappeared by now, even if their number may now be starting to diminish.

And if the story I linked to recently about how there are 587 new towers in the pipeline is anything to go by, the cranes will be around for quite a while.

2008 and all that didn’t stop the march of the cranes, and Brexit hasn’t either. People all over my bit of the internet are celebrating that Brexit, economically, seems to be working out okay, five years after the vote. This has been my celebration.

A choice that we all face these days

Yes, a favourite photo of mine, at the opposite end of the spectrum mentioned in this posting from the photo in that posting, is this one:

I originally posted this photo, photoed in WH Smith Liverpool Street Station, at the old blog in January 2008. For me it remains as delicious and fresh as it was on the day I first photoed it.

I also copied the old posting across to this blog. I think the photo deserves the double immortality that BMNB may yet confer upon it.

Some surprises at the Royal Marsden today

Now that the weather is good and Lockdown seems to be easing, I am doing a lot more getting out, but am in a physical state where properly thoughtful blogging is hard to do on a day when I will be doing or have been doing much else. And today was very busy, by my standards. A complicated and prolonged visit to the bank. Then a haircut. Then a trip to the Marsden and the usual waiting around for blood tests, doctor consultation, and prescriptions. After all that I am no state to say very much here.

So I will content myself, and you, with this photo:

On the face of it, this is a photo of a Royal Marsden Hospital bannister. But that was the law of perfectly focused intervening objects asserting itself. What I was trying to photo was what is going on in the background. That’s right. Not just the Royal Marsden piano. A pianist playing the Royal Marsden piano. Chopin? Mozart? Sadly not. Generic improvised jazz, which is not my favourite. Even so, actual piano playing going on. Could it be that this is a regular occurrence, interrupted by Lockdown, but now resuming? Maybe.

I was going to end this there, but there were two other oddities at the Marsden today that I might as well mention, now that I have actually got started with this posting.

There was also this:

That being a photo taken by my Senior Designated Friend, who was with me at the Marsden today, now that they are getting more relaxed about such things.

What that is of is of an old grey-haired geezer who has presumably been up to no good, handcuffed to a police lady, in the Marsden Outpatients Department, presumably getting treatment. Despite the handcuffs, he seemed like a very well-behaved sort of a guy, but I guess cancer will do that to you.

I have never seen such a thing before in a hospital. That almost certainly being because the Marsden is the only hospital I have much experience of.

And finally, another Royal Marsden first, in the form of a less that totally obliging Marsden member of staff. This was the lady who was doing my blood tests. This hurt a bit more than usual. But worse, I got the distinct impression that she neglected to do the tests for the people doing research into the impact of Covid jabs on cancer patients, which I have been contributing to. I brought in some paperwork, but also mentioned this research, and that the usual routine was quite a large number of blood samples. That would usually mean the person I said such a thing to checking this out in some way, to see if more blood was indeed needed. But this lady just took the one sample and mumbled something about “I just do what I’m told” and the paperwork I brought in only said do one sample. That I said do several, and that I might be worrying about this, didn’t seem to bother her.

Later, we happened to ask the same lady how to get to the pharmacy, and for the very first time, I got directions from a Marsden worker that were hurried and unhelpful, and giving off a bit of a “don’t bother me now I’m busy” vibe. We had to ask someone else as well.

As I say, such has been the hitherto amazing level of Marsden staff helpfulness that these items of less than totally obliging patient service came as a surprise. I wonder if Lockdown easing has meant people coming in to work at the Marsden who are not totally indoctrinated into the Marsden Way, so to speak. Again, as with the visiting pianist, it could well be.

It’s not that the Marsden service is absolutely perfect. But what stands out for me about this place his how kind and patient the Marsden people (almost) all of them are with any difficulties that arise. So today, for instance, I had a rather longer wait for medical attention than has been usual, and I queried this at the desk. A medic then came out to tell me that they were waiting for some test results, hence the delay. This was not a brusque phone message to the desk. This was a full explanation and a courteous apology for the really quite short wait I was having to put up with. I’m guessing the delay getting those test results may have been something to do with the bank holiday weekend, which only ended today. Whatever, the point was they knew I was starting to fret and the medic went out of her way to put my mind at rest.

The test results, by the way, continue to be very good. My cancer continues to be in retreat in the face of the Osimertinib pills I have been taking. Although the side effects of these pills are starting to pile up, the pills are working spectacularly well. The doctors do not promise that these this will continue. Apparently the cancer could mutate, or something. But, so far so good. Wish me luck.

Compared to that, a somewhat brusque blood tester is hardly worth mentioning, and I only do mention this because, such is the overall standard of Marsden care for and kindness to patients, that it stuck out like a slightly dim bulb in an otherwise totally dazzling chandelier. In many a bog standard NHS place, such a person would fit right in.

Now I’m even more knackered. And tomorrow looks like it will be just as strenuous. I blame the perfect weather.

3D-printed fake rhino horns

Suddenly I am finding all kinds of interesting animals-related stuff.

This, for instance:

My rule about Friday being my day for animals-related stuff has morphed, in my head, into the rule that I am not allowed to post animals-related stuff on any other day except Friday. Crackers. This is my blog and I can do what I like with it. But, it would seem that I can’t.

Artificial brain-controlled limbs as brain therapy to reactivate real limbs

About a week ago now, I did a posting here about a monkey that had learned to play pong using only its brain, with no merely physical contrivance whatever. Well, the other day (which other day is of no consequence) I had a most pleasing conversation with someone called Paolo, who had been reading my blog, pleasing because it’s great to get feedback from such persons. And he referred in particular to this monkey plays pong posting.

He mentioned that, of course, one of the obvious applications of such wizardry is to help crippled people by equipping them with artificial limbs, which they control with pure brain power.

But Paolo then added a tweak to this story, by telling me that the mere process of enabling people to control a piece of machinery with their brains was actually getting them back in control of their own limbs, again. The reason being that if the brain gets no results from sending out body control messages, it in due course simply gives up and forgets how to do it. But if those same messages produce visible results with a piece of machinery, like a some kind of artificial arm which can, I don’t know, get food out of a cupboard or some such thing, then the brain’s enthusiasm for sending out these messages is rewarded and reinforced, in a positive feedback loop. And that can have the effect of the brain eventually getting control of its own body back again, because eventually the messages it sends out get through to the original limb, which has by now begun to recover. Usually, by the time such recovery has begun, the brain has lost interest. But by giving the relevant bit of the brain another reason to be doing it, in a way that’s very visible to the brain, the brain continues with the messages, and the messages eventually get through to their original destination.

So, installing a piece of useful brain-controlled machinery can have the effect not only of replacing immobilised limbs, but of actually bringing those same limbs back to life again.

Remarkable. Again, I’m very possibly telling you things you already know. But even if you did know this, I think you may agree that this is a remarkable development, worth celebrating.

Comments are rare at this blog. Paolo himself said he had thought about commenting along the lines stated above, but had not got around to it. But, if anyone can comment with a link to some detail concerning the above – Paolo himself maybe? – then that would be most welcome.

Public ancientism and private modernism in Highgate

One of the themes I believe I have encountered in the course of my architecture-spotting is the one I’ve been calling The Triumph of Modernism Indoors. These photos, taken from a piece about a house conversion that’s just been done in Highgate, illustrate that this may not be quite the right distinction.

Here’s a piece of classic ancientist victory, in the form of a deceptively normal looking house in Highgate. It’s had a total makeover, but you wouldn’t know this just looking at it from the street outside:

Indoors, however, modernism reigns supreme:

However, modernism has also made its presence felt out of doors, round the back, in the garden, which passers-by do not see:

The continuing dominance (not total victory by any means) of ancientism has been in “public” rather that “outdoors”, and the triumph of modernism has been in “private” rather than merely indoors. The point being that the outdoor triumphs of modernism are tending particularly to happen also in the private bits of outdoors.

What’s going on here is that the “private citizen” wants modernism in those bits of his place that he totally controls, because modernism makes more sense, and is cheaper and quicker to do. But, “public citizens” don’t care for the way modernism looks, especially if it replaces ancientism in the public realm. So the public bits of a building, if they are now ancientism, cannot be smashed to bits and replaced by modernism, if preserved ancientism is an option, as it was for this ancientist Highgate home. But if the private citizen himself positively likes the public appearance of modernism, he can do modernism outdoors also, provided he only does it in the private bits of outdoors, the bits that he experiences but which passers-by do not.

Everything will hinge on whether an ancientist house with a modernist extension out the back in the garden will sell for the same silly money as a house with no modernist stuff outdoors in the garden.

I’m guessing it will so sell, provide only that the extension does the job without silly things like a leaking roof.

I am zeroing in on another over-arching fact about “private householders”. They’d like a house that looks publicly nice, but when economic push comes to economic shove, what matters is whether their newly acquired house works properly, without having to be expensively mended. For all their aesthetic tastes. their aesthetic tastes don’t actually matter, or rather, don’t matter enough to have real world consequences. What does matter is that their machine for living in should tick over correctly, the way a properly functioning machine should.

This increasingly “private” blogging that I’ve been doing for about the last fifteen years is really starting to achieve things for me.

Invisible Oscar

Oscar, the cat of GodDaughter2’s parental home down in the South of France, is a favourite object of photographic devotion here, and on the right there, the latest Oscar photo, from GD2D, showing him in one of his favourite resting places.

One of the many malfunctions of the Old Blog was that if I wasn’t careful, photos next to text, like that one, would crash into the posting below, if there wasn’t enough text. Doesn’t happen here. Good.

A gallery of Michael Jennings photos

For the last few weeks, a strange glitch has been afflicting this blog, involving spacing. If I stick up just the one photo, stretching all the way across the width of the blog’s column of text, all is well. But if I stick up a gallery of photos, which is something I very much like doing, there has been a problem. Too much space was suddenly, ever since a recent software update or some such thing, created below the gallery. Any attempt I made to remove this space only resulted in further spatial havoc below, in the form of too much space between subsequent paragraphs of text.

But now, either because the guardians of this software have sorted this out, or because the technical curator of this blog, Michael Jennings, has sorted this out, things are back to how they were. Good. Very good. I attach great importance to how this blog looks. If it looks wrong, I hate that. It demoralises me and makes me want to ignore the damn thing rather than keep on updating it the way I actually do. This was especially so given that galleries look so very good when they are working properly.

Well, as I say, things have now reverted to their previous state of visual just-so-ness. And I will now celebrate, with yet another gallery:

The above gallery, however, is not a gallery of my photos, but rather a gallery of photos photoed by Michael Jennings, all, I believe, with his mobile phone. Not having got out much lately, I have found the photos Michael has photoed while taking exercise, and then stuck up on Facebook, reminding me of how my beloved London has been looking, to be a great source of comfort during the last few months. And I actually like photoing in his part of London more than I do in my own part. This may just be familiarity breeding something like contempt, but is still a definite thing with me.

I started out having in mind to pick just four photos, which makes a convenient gallery. Then I thought, make it nine. I ended up with twenty four. It would have been twenty five (also a convenient number), except that one of the ones I chose was a different shape, which might have complicated things, so I scrubbed that one from the gallery.

But you can still look at that one. Because none of this means that you need be confined only to my particular favourites. Go here and keep on right clicking to see all of them.

I have displayed my picks here in chronological order, the first of the above photos having been photoed in October of last year. The final photo (which is what you get to if you follow the second link in the previous paragraph), of the church, which I learned of today, and which is the only one done outside London, is something of a celebration, of the fact that Michael is now able to travel outside London without breaking any rules, or such is my understanding. (Plus, I like those unnatural trees (see also photo number 9)).

Patrick Crozier, the man I do recorded conversations with (see the previous post), is a particular fan of Viscount Alanbrooke, Churchill’s long suffering chief military adviser during WW2. So he’ll like that this church is where Alanbrooke is buried.