Friday, April 30, 2021

The BIsh

David Bishop who went to school with me has had a stroke - see

A random story, once when we were kids around Neil Minto's house he left by jumping out of the bedroom window. No particular edge, contrivance or flamboyance to it. In his world it was just the most convenient route.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021


The Spectacularlyboring 

When Covid struck and the quest for a vaccine began, the team at Oxford had a head start in that we were already working with the harmless common cold virus on which the AstraZeneca vaccine is based. ChAdOx — a contraction of ‘chimpanzee’, from which the virus was isolated, ‘adenovirus’ and ‘Oxford’ — is also being used to target diseases such as malaria, rabies, zika and Mers. The virus can get into our cells, but it cannot cause infection or replicate, which means it doesn’t spread through our body or from person to person. Instead, we use it to deliver what we want the body to see and respond to — which in the case of Covid-19 is the spike protein of the coronavirus.

I recommend the article above to you. Reading something genuinely informative while aimed at a layman demonstrates how utterly denuded most media coverage is.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Bak Kwa

The biltong (Icons passim) went well a fortnight or so ago, so we are trying a Chinese pork equivalent.

I bought belly slices yesterday, snipped them up further and marinated them overnight in rice vinegar, dark soy sauce, fish sauce, roasted sesame oil, ground pepper and five-spice powder.

I have drained it this morning as the marinade was pretty wet and put the pork back uncovered in the fridge to dry a little more. I will take it round Ollie's after work today to be put in the dehydrator with the idea being that they will bring the end product around to the Standard on Wednesday for a test taste.

Monday, April 26, 2021

No family is complete without an embarrassing uncle

I have got one niece doing drama at Central and another going for her final round LAMDA audition today.

Also both PG's Oscar nominated colleagues (Sir Anthony Hopkins and Sir Christopher Hampton) won last night - Icons passim.

No family is complete without an embarrassing uncle, and in our emerging theatrical dynasty that embarrassing uncle is me.

Sunday, April 25, 2021


SISTERS WITH TRANSISTORS from Monoduo Films on Vimeo.

Helen has recommended the movie above to me as well as advising me to augment my China studies with Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China  by Jung Chang. My reputation as an unreconstructed chauvinist is in tatters.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Sources close to the Prime Minister

I have read Dominic Cumming's "explosive intervention" after No. 10 had clearly (if anonymously) briefed the press suggesting he was the source of the leaked Dyson/Johnson texts.

You can read it too at

I believe him, for what it is worth.

The BBC's coverage of the story is hilarious because it is the BBC who broke the original story and to whom - one presumes - the texts were leaked. Plainly someone somewhere there knows the source.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Wake up boilers! Christmas has come early.

A Sense of Purpose? 2021 Annual Reischauer Lecture with Rana Mitter, Part 3 dropped yesterday.

Prodnose: Well that's a relief then.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Chinese Characters

 In the end I got The Story of China: A Portrait of a Civilisation and Its People by Michael Wood with this month's Audible credit. I think it was perhaps inspired by reading in the Harry Truman biography about the Marshall Mission. I had no idea that the Communist Party of China and the Nationalists (Kuomintang) both fought the Japanese rather than each other during WW2 which suggests there is much more about China that is hidden from me.

On the road yesterday I came across the tail end of an episode of Chinese Characters on Radio 4. It is a series of essays, presented by Rana Mitter (Oxford Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China) exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

Maybe Mitter's China’s Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism would have been a better Audible choice for me?

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Yuval Noah Harari: the world after Covid

Yuval Noah Harari and his books are forever turning up in my brother John's conversation. This is me beginning to try and catch up.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Ta-ra to Tooting

I was rather taken with this when it came up the Zoom chat Frankie, Kevin, Mat, Helen and I watched last week.

I wish I had seen the Ballad of Johnny Longstaff on tour now.

Monday, April 19, 2021


I finished listening to Truman by David McCullough on Audible last night having previously worked through The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s by William I. Hitchcock on it.

I have got another Audible credit due tomorrow, so if we stay on American Presidents, I need to spend it on either JFK going forward or FDR going backwards in time.

I have noticed an unread hardback of The Three Roosevelts: Patrician Leaders Who Transformed America by James MacGregor Burns  and Susan Dunn on my bookshelves so I ought to go to that (also with Franklin, Eleanor and Teddy all covered in one book I get two presidents at once.)

It looks like An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek will be the next audio book.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Where does the time go?

A fine conversation over Skype between Mum, me, Vince, and John yesterday. A lot of it was about rugby, possibly inspired by her cousin John Hickey appearing at 25 in a list of the 50 hardest Welsh rugby players who ever lived.

From that we ranged to priests who carried on playing rugby under pseudonyms after the arch-bishop forbade it. Hilarious stuff, at least to me. We've been doing it for at least a year now.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

They think it's clippers number 1 all over. It is now.

 I had my haircut today. We live in such culturally impoverished time I think it is worth recording God help us.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Marks my words

Marks & Spencer declares caterpillar cake war on Aldi


Marks & Spencer is taking legal action against Aldi in a bid to to protect its Colin the Caterpillar cake. The retailer argues that the German chain's Cuthbert the Caterpillar product infringes its trademark and has lodged an intellectual property claim with the High Court this week. M&S said the similarity of Aldi's product leads consumers to believe they are of the same standard and "ride on the coat-tails" of its reputation. Take a look at the two cakes side by side, which Marks wants Aldi to stop selling.

To be honest it is a slow day in my brain and limbs, but I had this prepared for just such an emergency.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

How we live now

Ben came round last night and we went to the Standard. My friends were there. His friends were there. Our friends were there. 

Before COVID it would have been Wednesday. Last night it was a blissed-out endorphin high.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Morning off

How to Plant a Bare Root Climbing Rose from David Austin Roses on Vimeo.

I took PG for his second COVID jab yesterday and then planted a rose in his garden.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Too little too late

... but a gracious gesture anyway. (Icons passim)

Monday, April 12, 2021

The moving finger writes

As life starts to reopen, I think it will be too busy to go to the gym or get my hair cut today, and I am going to the pub on Wednesday so we will be off to a quiet start.

I did see Andy M yesterday though (for the first time since 2017 to my astonishment). I go to PG's every Sunday morning to take him along to his weekly grocery shop. Now that people can meet outside, Hammersmith is mutually convenient, so Andy came along after that and we walked along the Thames Path just chewing the fat like the old friends that we are. I was reminded that I know, and have met, his daughter and son, his brother and his sister, and his mother and his father so I was interested to hear how they were getting on. He got married again during lock down and no-one could go. In normal times I imagine I would have got an invite. I was an usher at his first wedding and I am happy for him; widowed since March 2005.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Biltong/Beef Jerky

I popped round to the Hubble late yesterday afternoon to watch the Grand National. Congratulations to Rachael Blackmore on becoming the first female jockey to triumph in the world's most famous steeplechase, with a stirring victory on Minella Times. (Purists may claim that Elizabeth Taylor won it as 12-year-old Velvet Brown on a gelding called The Pie in the 1944 film National Velvet even though in the story she was disqualified on a technicality.)

The main reason I went over though was to taste the biltong that had been dried overnight there. Ollie had put it into her dehydrator at sixty degrees for seven hours.

I bought a rump steak and sliced (or more accurately snipped) it into strips. The marinade was Nature Kitchen Steak Spice (sea salt, black pepper, onion powder, garlic flakes, red bell peppers, green peppercorn, tomato, and chilli powder) plus a little more salt and sugar loosened with cider vinegar.

I left it to marinate in a closed container overnight in the fridge, then open in the fridge for the morning to get most of the moisture out before patting it dry with kitchen paper and removing the garlic flakes.

Very good it was too, though next time - as a small adjustment - we may dehydrate for an hour less.

That said I may try some Mojama before returning to beef.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Forth Bridge

Though we are no longer involved it was interesting to see how all the royal online presence was managed yesterday on the death of the Duke of Edinbugh in pretty much the way we devised all those years ago. (Icons passim).

Friday, April 09, 2021


Probability is the most important concept in modern science, especially as nobody has the slightest notion what it means.

Bertrand Russell, 1929 Lecture

I have reached Keynes death in  The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes, though there are several chapters left. Perhaps they deal with his legacy? I must admit I have found him a very engaging character.

Recently also having finished  Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers by Cheryl Misak I have started to become interested in probability, a field in which Keynes and Ramsey both did important work.

An odd beast probability when you think about it. Can it be squared with cause and effect? Radioactive decay for example. How can it proceed at a given rate without being coordinated?  

I can't see how you can square it with determinism or a clockwork universe.

What if nature is fundamentally probabilistic, which is surely what quantum mechanics implies? What would that mean?

Thursday, April 08, 2021

No names, no packdrill

 .......  I shall be waiting for you at the bottom of the next page disguised as a footnote.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Tuesday, April 06, 2021


Ben came around last night to see Bethany's movie. Good stuff. He also introduced me to Chunkz and Yung Filly. It is unlikely that YouTube's algorithms would ever have suggested to them to me, so life is enriched. He also mentioned in passing that the online tutor with whom he gets on well did philosophy as a first degree. I am unsurprised.

Monday, April 05, 2021

The servant has become the master

I haven't previously really paid any attention to Yuval Noah Harari, but John told me an idea of his on the phone yesterday about the insidious route by which technology usurps our self-determination by moving from helper, to agent to master. The terminology may not be his as I am remembering it and can't find a reference online.

John illustrated with routing services (like Google Maps, for example, the one that I use).

They start off as helpers, telling you where, say, Meadowbank Close is when you are visiting someone whose house you haven't been to before.

Next as agents, they guide you along the route adjusting for, perhaps, traffic conditions.

Finally as masters, they compel you to take a route optimized for their own agendas. It isn't science fiction.


Google Maps will start directing drivers to routes it calculates to be the most eco-friendly based on a list of factors.

The search engine said it will highlight journeys that generate the lowest carbon footprint using mainly traffic data and road inclines.


Sunday, April 04, 2021

Me, I Disconnect From You

A Good Friday service in south London was broken up by police over apparent breaches of Covid-19 regulations.
Footage uploaded on YouTube showed Metropolitan police officers addressing worshippers at the Christ the King Polish Catholic church in Balham, south London, late on Friday afternoon.
The video shows an officer telling the congregation that they could be fined £200 or arrested for the potential rule-breaking. He said: “This gathering is unfortunately unlawful under the coronavirus regulations we have currently. I suggest, ladies and gentlemen, that though it is Good Friday, and I appreciate you would like to worship, that this gathering is unlawful, so please may you leave the building now. Thank you.”
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would see such a thing in my lifetime. Five tube stops away on the Northern Line. That brings it home for all that it makes no moral or ethical difference.

This on top of the Sarah Everard fiasco. I withdraw my consent from policing by consent

Perhaps I should remind the police of  the principles which were set out in the ‘General Instructions’ that were issued to every new police officer from 1829, nearly 200 years ago:
  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.
This, as explained by the notable police historian Charles Reith in his ‘New Study of Police History ‘in 1956, was a philosophy of policing ‘unique in history and throughout the world because it derived not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public’.

I use the past tense deliberately because this philosophy is now dead.

Happy Easter.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Lessons from history

The proclamation that sanctioned the birth of the unified Kingdom of Italy came into force on 17 March 1861. Victor Emmanuel, first King of Italy, presiding.

The Meiji Restoration brought practical imperial rule to Japan in 1868 creating, arguably for the first time, a central government which exercised direct power through the entire realm. Emperor Meiji presiding.

The Unification of Germany into the German Empire, a Prussia-dominated nation state with federal features, officially occurred on 18 January 1871. Kaiser Wilhelm I presiding.

There is a strong case then for asserting that the Axis powers, the military coalition that fought in World War II against the Allies, comprised three modern countries founded within a decade of each other.

Let's date their alliance to the Tripartite Pact, an agreement between Germany, Italy and Japan signed in Berlin on 27 September 1940.

It is longer from the birth of the Kingdom of Italy to the Tripartite Pact, than it is from the Tripartite Pact to today.


Friday, April 02, 2021

Sometimes it's just E

Literary Review

The first note known to have sounded on earth was an E natural. It was produced some 165 million years ago by a katydid (a kind of cricket) rubbing its wings together, a fact deduced by scientists from the remains of one of these insects, preserved in amber.

Then someone came along and invented jazz. 

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Their Rule of Six: My Rule of Sucks

My social bubble evolved into the rule of six last night; same dwelling, more people and in the garden. It struck while I was there, socializing comfortably outside, that my perfectly serviceable garden has been all but uninhabited for the last year for all that I employed gardener Alex to come round and have a crack at it last weekend. That's a part of my life that could do with an upgrade.

In a similarly ludicrous, but psychologically revealing, development I found myself coveting my hosts' robot vacuum cleaner. My cleaners haven't been here for a year now and I have not hoovered once in that period. I need more elbow grease not a tech upgrade.

I also spied a food dehydrator in the kitchen. This makes me think I need one as well. They have promised to make biltong for me if I salt, spice and slice the meat and bring it round. I think this was agreed just to shut me up.

I am pathetic. Yes pathetic is the word we are searching for here.