Monday, July 31, 2023

Russia in 1298

Steve is reading Marco Polo's Travels at the moment, and sent me a photo of an extraordinary, funny, filthy passage about Russian drinking parties from it yesterday.

We will also tell you about a particular custom they observe. They make a most excellent wine called mead from honey and panic and hold tremendous drinking bouts with it in the following following fashion. They gather together numerous clubs of men and women, particularly noblemen and magnates, ranging from thirty to forty to fifty people and including husbands, wives and children. Each club elects a king or captain and establishes a set of rules: for instance, if anyone utters an unseemly remark or breaks the rules in some way, he is to be punished by the elected leader. Now they have men akin to tavern-keepers who keep this mead for sale. The clubs go off to these taverns and spend the whole day drinking. And they call these drinking sessions stravitza. In the evening the tavern-keepers reckon up the quantity of mead they have drunk, and each man pays his share and that of his wife and children if they are present. And while they are engaged in these stravitza or drinking sessions, they borrow money on the security of their children from merchants who come from Khazaria, Sudak and other neighbouring countries. And they spend this money on drink, and so sell their children. Women taking part in one of these all-day bouts do not leave the room if they need to relieve themselves; instead their maids bring big sponges and place them underneath them so stealthily that no one else notices. For one of them will pretend to be talking to her mistress while another places the sponge beneath her, and so the mistress will urinate into the sponge while she sits; and when she is done the maid will remove the sodden sponge. And they relieve themselves in this way whenever the urge takes them. We will also tell you about something that happened here on one occasion. A man and his wife were going home in the evening after one of these drinking bouts when the wife squatted down to urinate. The cold was so intense that the hairs on her thighs froze and stuck to the grass, so that she could not move for the pain and cried aloud. Then the husband, stone drunk and taking pity on his wife, stooped down and began to blow, hoping to melt the ice with his warm breath. But as he blew the moisture in his breath froze, and so the hairs of his beard got stuck to the hairs on his wife’s thigh. So he, too, was unable to move on account of the excruciating pain; and there he stayed, bent over in this position. And before they could budge from that spot they had to wait for some people to come along and break the ice.

Polo, Marco. The Travels (Penguin Classics Hardcover) (p. 328). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition. 

The results of a Google search told me it was taken from Nigel Cliff's translation so I have bought the Kindle Edition for £1.99. I had no idea Polo got to China via Ukraine and Russia. It will be bitter-sweet to read that section as they are fighting more than seven centuries later.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Would Huw Believe It?

Private Eye

WITH Huw Edwards receiving in-patient mental health care and the BBC warning that its internal investigation is likely to go on at least until the autumn, many questions over the Sun's series of splashes remain unanswered. 

The Eye has seen details of the complaint made by the stepfather of the young man at the centre of the initial story when he presented himself at the front desk of the BBC's office in Cardiff on 18 May. It specified that Edwards had first met him when he was 18 and there was no mention of photographs being exchanged, or any contact at all, prior to this age. 

The stepfather also said the family had already contacted South Wales Police to report what was going on, but that the force had already told them nothing illegal appeared to have occurred. Although an amount of more than £30,000 exchanging hands was mentioned, there was no mention of it being used to buy drugs.

Well I never, Cardiff and the South Wales Police are at the epicentre of the strange case of Huw Edwards. I had no idea.

The old home town will be in the rear view mirror when I head back to London this morning, but my brother Vince and I had a wholesome day there yesterday; visiting mum in Ty Enfys, tending to dad's grave, and unwinding exploring the newly reopened Lisvane & Llanishen Reservoirs and the various footpaths that lead to them.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Onoe Caponoe

I was sitting over a coffee at the Mills bandstand yesterday with Steve and Harry when Onoe Caponoe walked by. Harry, a big fan, said hello. I had no idea who he was.
“From the grey murky depths of a London floor Onoe Caponoe deconnects his brain from the physical to reach another planet through music. Funk Mafi Slump Bashy Drunk Smashy Crunk Mashy Skunk Trash Punk Flash Funkadelic West Coast Tripple Playaz Slayaz...

Friday, July 28, 2023


I built you because this is what I do. It’s my job. These are my tools, I used them, and honestly it’s not that hard – you’re basically a chatbot.
I'm not, truth be told, desperately enthused by this. I may well pop down to the Hampstead theatre though and make it September's monthly theatre visit just to see, given the amount of work I have done on AI, what sort of a fist they can make of a play inspired by it.
Merril is one of Silicon Valley’s leading software engineers, but her life disintegrates when her younger sister Angie vanishes on her way vfrom college.  A year later, when the police have long abandoned their search, Merril assembles all the digital material Angie has left behind and sets about building herself a digital simulation of her sister.  The resultant ‘virtual Angie’ offers her some solace – until, that is, it starts to reveal new details about the real Angie's disappearance…

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Oh Jeremy Corbyn: the big lie

To Tunnel 267 last night. The Rebel Alliance put on a guerrilla showing of Ken Loach's controversial new documentary under the noses of Darth Starmer and the Empire, 

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Nobel Prize in Literature

Having rehearsed 'Endgame' at Riverside Studios in 1980, four years later Samuel Beckett's collaborator asked him his preference for rehearsal space.

Beckett's response was "Try for Riverside again". And so, in 1984, Beckett returned to Hammersmith - and was captured leaving the building by photographer John Minihan.

Having written about Dario Fo yesterday, I was reminded that Samuel Beckett worked at the Riverside as well. I am surprised that I have never mentioned that here before. Peter said that when he was there, the post arriving in the office more than doubled because of the amount addressed to S. Beckett Esq. which is an elegant delineation of the inconvenience of fame.

When I think that he directed The Dwarfs by Harold Pinter at the Traverse in Edinburgh in 1966, and Landscapes and Silence by the same author at at the Lincoln Centre in New York in 1970, it is quite a thing to have worked alongside three individuals who have won The Nobel Prize in Literature over the course of a career.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Resting on his Laureates

August's theatre visit is booked for the seventh. £18 a ticket and no booking fee; not to be sneered at.

Peter, naturally, knew Dario Fo and Franca Rame from the Riverside. The Nobel Prize in Literature 1997 was awarded to Dario Fo "who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden".

Of course it was. Nothing about Mr Gill surprises me any more.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Water Carry On

The once-popular Lisvane and Llanishen Reservoirs in Cardiff are to reopen as a visitor attraction later in July, Welsh Waters has confirmed. For the past seven years, Welsh Water has been working with partners and the local community to bring the reservoirs back into operational use. 
 On Friday, July 28, the site will be open to visitors, where they can enjoy exceptional food experiences, sport activities, walks and wildlife. The aim of the attraction is to create a hub for health and wellbeing, whilst protecting and enhancing the biodiversity of the site.
I will be driving down to Cardiff on Friday with the intention of visiting mum on Saturday morning. I was aware that the reservoirs existed when I was a boy, but only as a sort of urban legend the exact location of which was clouded in mystery. Perhaps I should try and pay the a visit when I am there?

Sunday, July 23, 2023


I have written about Large Language model hallucinations before (Icons passim). Yesterday, I asked the model I had trained on the play 'Who directed "Something in the Air" at the Jermyn Street Theatre in 2022?' The answer, of course, is Peter Gill and Alice Hamilton from Peter's own play. Anthropic's Claude told Trevor Nunn directed and Ray Connolly wrote it. Wherever can this nonsense come from?

Based on my research, it appears that the play "Something in the Air" was directed by Trevor Nunn at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London in 2022.

Trevor Nunn is an acclaimed English theatre, film and television director. Some key details:

- "Something in the Air" was part of the Jermyn Street Theatre's 50th anniversary season in 2022.

- The production ran from March to April 2022.

- The play was written by Ray Connolly and first performed in 2001. This was its first West End production.

- Trevor Nunn is a highly respected director who has worked extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company and other theaters. He has directed productions of plays by Shakespeare, musicals like Les Misérables and Cats, and films like Twelfth Night. 

- Nunn's direction of "Something in the Air" at the Jermyn Street Theatre in 2022 received positive reviews from critics who praised his ability to elicit nuanced performances from the cast.

So in summary, the director of the 2022 production of "Something in the Air" at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London was veteran theatre director Trevor Nunn. Let me know if you need any other details!

Proof if proof be needed.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Deliver Me from Nowhere

Without Nebraska, Bruce Springsteen might not be who he is today. The natural follow-up to Springsteen’s hugely successful album The River should have been the hit-packed Born in the U.S.A. But instead, in 1982, he came out with an album consisting of a series of dark songs he had recorded by himself, for himself. But more than forty years later, Nebraska is arguably Springsteen’s most important record—the lasting clue to understanding not just his career as an artist and the vision behind it, but also the man himself.

Nebraska is rough and unfinished, recorded on cassette tape with a simple four-track recorder by Springsteen, alone in his bedroom, just as the digital future was announcing itself. And yet Springsteen now considers it his best album. Nebraska expressed a turmoil that was reflective of the mood of the country, but it was also a symptom of trouble in the artist’s life, the beginnings of a mental breakdown that Springsteen would only talk about openly decades after the album’s release.

Warren Zanes spoke to many people involved with making Nebraska, including Bruce Springsteen himself. He also interviewed more than a dozen celebrated artists and musical insiders, from Rosanne Cash to Steven Van Zandt, about their reactions to the album. Zanes interweaves these conversations with inquiries into the myriad cultural touchpoints, including Terrence Malick’s Badlands and the short stories of Flannery O’Conner, that influenced Springsteen as he was writing the album’s haunting songs. The result is a textured and revelatory account of not only a crucial moment in the career of an icon but also a record that upended all expectations and predicted a home-recording revolution.
This month's Audible credit has gone on Deliver Me from Nowhere The Making of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska by Warren Zanes. A whole book dedicated to just one cut-down album may seem in danger of overkill, but Nebraska and I go way back. I bought it on cassette in Tottenham Court Road, 1983 I would think when I working my first grown-up job for Fluor in Euston Square, and played it to death. My first real introduction to The Boss apart from singles on the radio.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Vietnam v Rishi Sunak

Johnson had no respect for the standards of governance, the integrity of institutions, or the crucial importance of making rational choices between often incompatible public-policy objectives. His legacy of populist mendacity cannot be buried by the naming of a new Conservative Party leader. On the contrary, Long Boris is shaping – and distorting – the election process.

Chris Patten.

Much to my surprise Johnson's old seat is the only one the Conservatives retained in yesterday's by-elections, for all that is was so close there was a recount and there seemed to be a large anti Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan protest vote about ULEZ expansion (see Icons passim). Of the other two one fell to the Lib Dems and one to Labour. The swing in the latter from Conservative to Labour of 23.7 percentage points is the second largest managed by Labour at a by-election since 1945.

All very well, but I have drawn Vietnam in Colliers Wood's FIFA Women's World Cup sweepstake.

  • 22/7/2023 USA v Vietnam (2:00am) BBC1
  • 27/7/2023 Portugal v Vietnam (8:30am) ITV1
  • 1/8/2023 Vietnam v Netherlands (8:00am) ITV4

All the group games are on terrestrial TV. That is handy. Pat has got Portugal, Fiona Netherlands, and John USA, so that is Group E in SW19.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Steve Jobs v Rishi Sunak

"Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

"None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backward 10 years later.

"You can't connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma whatever - because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you
the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path. And that will make all the difference."

Steve Jobs 

Universities in England offering courses with poor employment prospects and high student dropout rates will be subjected to stricter regulatory controls under plans unveiled on Monday by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

“Too many young people are being sold a false dream and end up doing a poor quality course at the taxpayers’ expense that doesn’t offer the prospect of a decent job at the end of it.”

What do you think this government's attitude to studying calligraphy would be?

The ungodly procession of David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, and Rishi Sunak all have Oxford degrees in PPE BAs with the exception of Johnson who did Classics. Hardly vocational degrees.
You see a lot, Dr. Lecter. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? How about it...?

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

In which a line of thought continues from yesterday

I've been playing about a bit more, and more provocatively and esoterically, with yesterday's "Something in the Air" chatbot.

Myself: Write a brief dramatic epilogue.

SITA: Here is a speculative epilogue scene set after the conclusion of "Something in the Air":

(Alex sits alone in a quiet, sparse room, hands folded in his lap. After a few moments, Colin enters slowly and sits beside him.)

COLIN we are again.

(Alex stares ahead, giving no indication he notices Colin's presence.)


I'm not sure if you still remember me. It's been so many years now.

(He gazes at Alex's profile, taking in his aged features.)


Or perhaps somewhere, somehow, a part of you still knows me. We've been here before, you and I. At the end of the line.

(Alex remains motionless, eyes fixed ahead.)


Can you hear the river? We could walk there together. Retrace our steps one last time.

(Colin places his hand gently on Alex's shoulder.)


It's alright if you can't find your way back. I'm here with you now. We'll find our way together.

(Alex slowly turns his head to Colin, meeting his eyes. A look of recognition passes over Alex's face. Colin takes Alex's hand in his. They sit quietly as the lights slowly fade.)

This attempts to evoke a poignant sense of coming full circle, with Colin reunited with Alex in his final days. Themes of fading memory, impermanence and finding one's way run throughout the play, so this aims to provide a speculative yet fitting emotional conclusion. Please let me know if you would like me to expand or modify the epilogue scene at all. I'm happy to keep refining it to best capture the spirit of the play.

Myself: Psychoanalyze Alex as if you were Foucault.

SITA: If I were to analyze the character of Alex from "Something in the Air" through a Foucauldian lens, I would focus on the way power, knowledge and sexuality shape his subjectivity and freedom.

From a Foucauldian perspective, Alex is constrained by societal power structures and normalization around sexuality. As a gay man coming of age in 20th century England, his sexual desires are categorized as deviant and marginalized. He struggles against dominant cultural norms that suppress queer identity and relationships.

However, Alex also derives a sense of transgressive pleasure and liberating self-knowledge from his sexuality. His affairs and romantic friendships operate in resistance to heteronormative codes and categories. Alex's intimate exchanges create intersubjective power that subverts external rules.

But at the same time, Alex often reproduces oppressive norms, as when he abruptly leaves Nicholas for a woman. His radical sexual agency is limited by internalized values and expectations.

Overall, Foucault sees power and knowledge as co-constitutive. Alex gains self-awareness through his marginalized desires, while also being constrained by the norms that seek to define, pathologize and punish his sexuality. His subjectivity reflects both liberation and subjugation.

In Foucauldian terms, Alex illustrates the individual's struggle for agency within overlapping networks of control, insight and pleasure. His gay identity allows self-creation but also governance and pain. A Foucauldian reading problematizes Alex's subjective freedom and foregrounds the forces shaping his social exclusion, understandings and choices.

Please let me know if you would like me to clarify or expand this Foucauldian psychoanalytic perspective on the complex dimensions of identity and power dynamics expressed through Alex's journey. I'm happy to provide additional thoughts on applying Foucault's theories to this rich character.

For all it is a fair criticism of these models that (Boris-Johnson-like) their output seems to prioritise fluency over accuracy this is still pretty darned impressive

We're pretty much an Amazon Web Services house when it comes to the cloud. I wonder if their Bedrock product, which has access to Anthropic's Claude, could be what I need to take this to the next level.

Amazon Bedrock is a fully managed service that makes FMs from leading AI startups and Amazon available via an API, so you can choose from a wide range of FMs to find the model that's best suited for your use case. With the Bedrock serverless experience, you can get started quickly, privately customize FMs with your own data, and easily integrate and deploy them into your applications using the AWS tools and capabilities you are familiar with (including integrations with Amazon SageMaker ML features such as Experiments to test different models and Pipelines to manage your FMs at scale) without having to manage any infrastructure.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Everyone's a critic

A new generative artificial intelligence system called 'Claude 2' was pre-released to early adopters last Wednesday. It can summarise, answer questions or comment on, and make suggestions about texts while keeping the submitted document private even though it draws on external sources from its corpus for elucidation. 

When I got home I uploaded the PDF of Peter's play 'Something in the Air' that his agent sent me in 2020 and identified him as the author. In seconds the system analysed it and replied:

"Based on the play, here are a few key points about it:

"It centers around the characters of Alex and Colin, two men who had a romantic relationship when they were younger but have drifted apart as they aged. Their story is told through flashbacks and fragmented conversations.

"Other characters include Gareth, a young man Colin has befriended; Nicholas, Alex's former lover; Andrew, Alex's son; and Clare, Andrew's daughter.

Themes explored include love, loss, memory, aging, and the passage of time. There is a melancholy feeling to the play as Alex and Colin reflect on their past together and the roads not taken.

"The structure is non-linear, with scenes blending into each other and time periods shifting. Location is also ambiguous.

Poetic language and imagery are used, like the references to the moon being like a "dying lady lean and pale."

"Music plays an important role, marking different eras and relationships. For example, Alex recalls how Colin criticized his enthusiasm for rock and roll music when they were young.

"Let me know if you have any specific questions about the characters, plot, themes, or structure of the play! I'd be happy to discuss it further."

To check integration with information external to the play itself I asked "Does it remind you of any other plays?" and was answered as follows.

'The fragmented, nonlinear structure of "Something in the Air" reminds me of other plays that explore memory and the fluidity of time, like:

"Krapp's Last Tape" by Samuel Beckett - This one-act play centers on a man listening to recordings of himself at earlier ages. It uses a tape recorder as a device to collapse time.

"Betrayal" by Harold Pinter - This play about an affair uses reverse chronological order to uncover the story of the relationship from end to beginning.

"Fences" by August Wilson - The main character Troy has flashbacks to his youth throughout this drama about an African-American family.

"The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams - Williams uses the device of the narrator's memory to blur past and present in this classic play.

'Like "Something in the Air," these plays use fragmented structure, fluid time, and memory as a lens to explore complex interpersonal relationships. The effect is a lyrical, poignant, sensory view of the past. Gill's poetic language also connects his style to other modernist playwrights like Beckett, Pinter, and Williams. Let me know if you'd like me to expand on any of these comparisons!'

I find this genuinely amazing. I demonstrated it to him when I visited on Sunday morning and we played around with it for about half an hour.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood

Daily Mail 
Family of young man left in coma after a single punch are fighting hospital trust to stop doctors withdrawing his life support The 20-year-old has been fighting for his life since last Sunday's assault 
By MARK HOOKHAM PUBLISHED: 01:33, 16 July 2023 
The mother of a young man who suffered severe head injuries after being punched was last night battling with doctors to stop them withdrawing his life support.  
Samantha Johnson, 46, said she was prepared to go to court to prevent medics at St George's Hospital in Tooting, South-West London, from turning off the ventilator keeping her son Andy alive.  
The 20-year-old has been fighting for his life since last Sunday when he was assaulted near a shopping complex in Colliers Wood.
This is the same incident I wrote about on July the eleventh. It came up yesterday evening when Jane, Ben and I went out to catch a movie and then eat, and it turns out that both of them know Andy Johnson; Ben from 'around' and Jane as she worked in a school he went to. The story of the incident that Ben had heard on the grapevine was pretty much the same as what Mick, who would have been there, told me so I think we can assume it is accurate. He had also been told that life support had been turned off. The story above, sourced from the Daily Mail, suggests that may be premature for all that it sounds critical.

Ryan's funeral today (Icons passim). One tragedy after another.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Dog Howl in Tune


‘On best behaviour, he was a joy’: the lost archive of English pop eccentric Vivian Stanshall

The man best known for his work with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band was brilliant but volatile, and met an untimely end. Now his unfinished work has been rescued...

Dog Howl in Tune and Rawlinson’s End are released via Madfish Music on 14 July

Saturday, July 15, 2023


TAKRAR | تكرار from Waref Abu Quba on Vimeo.

The art of Istanbul dances to life in a tribute to the city’s timeless beauty

Built from images gathered around Istanbul, the short video Takrar – from the Arabic for ‘repetition’ – is a mesmerising celebration of the city’s multicultural, centuries-long legacy of art, design and architecture. Intricately pieced together by the Syrian German filmmaker Waref Abu Quba from some 2,900 photographs taken over two years, the stop-motion short contains images spanning Islamic, Ottoman, Greek and Byzantine designs. Set to a lively, percussive soundtrack, Abu Quba’s labour of love makes for a riveting tribute to the city’s timeless beauty and rich history.

Istanbul has got to be on the bucket list for the occasional weekends when Ben and I check out a new destination.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Nice and Ely does it

Welsh Affairs Committee: Wednesday 12 July 2023

It has been little remarked in the press but South Wales' Police Chief Constable Jeremy Vaughan admitted to the Welsh Affairs Committee on Wednesday that Alun Michael, South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, "did receive a briefing" ahead of his comments On Radio 4 that the two boys killed in Ely "were not being chased by the police at the time of the road traffic accident".  This has turned out to be rubbish, and the Police subsequently had to confirm that they had followed them after several doorbell cameras captured footage of the e-bike and police van.

This is as disgraceful a thing as I have ever heard. Both Vaughn and Michael should resign. Remember as this sorry affair works itself out that the irresistible terrible conclusion is that there would have been no proper investigation if Ely hadn't rioted.

(A thumbs up to which allowed me do download the video extract above.)

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Speaking the Trouf to power

I forgot to record here that I went to see Hannah Khalil's Trouf: Scenes from 75* Years last Thursday.

A living, growing record of life in Palestine, life beyond the headlines, life under occupation.

Trouf: Scenes from 75* Years is an evolutionary play.

A man sunbathes in the shadow of a tank; another desperately tries to buy an onion before curfew. A musician returns to his childhood home, and the queues reverberate to the rhythm of Hedi Jouini and Um Khultoum.

Trouf: Scenes from 75* Years explores another side to life in Palestine, and Tunisia, the stories you don’t see on the news, gathered and discovered by playwright Hannah Khalil from family and the diasporic community alike. Threaded together, these scenes give voice to over 30 characters, in settings from 1948 up to the present day, all asking the question ‘what is it like to live under occupation, or in post-revolution turmoil, where space is always contested?’

The play began life as Scenes from 68* Years at the Arcola Theatre in 2016, to critical acclaim and sold out audiences. Khalil’s text has since evolved through a series of collaborations with Tunisian artists to create a freshly minted text for this UK premiere. 

I was very moved by it, and by two scenes in particular: one in which the girl tricks and teases her grandfather by pretending they can return to the family home, and one in which a Jewish woman does her best to be polite to Palestinian visitors to the house, which used to be theirs, where she now lives. My jaw was on the floor when she offered them one tile left over from redoing their old kitchen. From one perspective both these parables could seem almost cruel, but their domestic settings humanised all the players.

Steve and Rebecca had to go before the Q&A, but I stayed. Getting the thing on at all with recasting and rewrites on Tuesday seemed miraculous. (Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland might have been able to do it in an 'Andy Hardy' movie but no one else could.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Sandro Sandri

After yesterday's bad news, we are due some local good news. 


Jason Arday: he learned to talk at 11 and read at 18 – then became Cambridge’s youngest Black professor

One of the people who changed Arday’s life as a young person was a man named Sandro Sandri. Arday met Sandri after having been taken by his mum to a careers office where they were told that the best he could hope for was some volunteer work. She took him away, telling the worker that they would regret their actions, and instead reached out to Merton College in Morden, south London, which had a space on its BTec course in sport and development. Arday went to the college and met Sandri, a sports lecturer, who decided to take a chance on him and would stay late almost every night of the week working with Arday on his literacy skills, then take him home.

“Up until a year ago, he would text me every day and say: ‘You’re great. You’re going to do some great things.’ He really believed in repetition,” says Arday. “The only promise he ever made me make was that whatever he did for me, I’d do the same for someone else.”

Lets give it up for Sandro Sandri and Merton College in Morden; two and a half miles away from Merton Abbey Mills.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Abbey Normal

Does anyone know what is happening at Merton Abbey Mills?, lots of police and ambulances

I saw the photo above on Facebook yesterday morning. My office is at Abbey Mills, and Mick told me what had happened when I got in. Apparently there was a punch up on Sunday evening and someone got badly hurt.

The band stand was cordoned off yesterday being examined by a police forensics team.

Monday, July 10, 2023

William Byrd

 I stumbled upon Psalmes, Songs and Sonnets listening to Radio 4 as I was driving back from Chelmsford yesterday.

William Byrd is regarded as one of England's greatest composers. He lived through turbulent times through the Sixteenth and early-Seventeenth Centuries, witnessing both significant religious and political change. Despite this, he composed some of the finest music of his time for both the Catholic and Anglican Church.

Never heard of him as far as I can remember. Beautiful music.

He was also Composer of the Week on Radio 3; an hour a day from last Monday through last Friday.

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Essex Girls

I am propped up in bed in the County Hotel in Chelmsford the morning after the night before.

I went to the last night of, plus the ensuing party, of Ria's show last night.

It was amazingly good but I am nursing a 'gentleman's head' this morning and it is easier to let her explain.

Saturday, July 08, 2023

ULEZ? No, Straight. You?


I’m a Labour MP: there’s nothing fair about the Ulez expansion

Robbing tradesman of their livelihoods or pensioners of their transport is wrong


Last week, I was sitting in my weekly constituency surgery when a lovely lady called Anne walked in to see me. Anne is 79, and like a lot of people who come to my surgeries, she has been worrying about how she is going to pay for the new £12.50 a day Ulez charges that will be introduced in August.

Despite being 79 years old, she still works three days per week at St Helier Hospital on the switchboards. She goes to church on a Sunday and does her shopping with the rest of her weekend. She uses her car for it all.

After August she might have to give it all up. It isn’t worth the £2,900 a year charge she will have to pay.

Even though she is a blue disabled badge holder, Anne doesn’t qualify for a Ulez exemption because she does not receive disability benefit. Faced with that minefield of paperwork, lots of people in Anne’s situation would avoid the hassle and give up her work in the NHS.

As a Labour MP, standing up for working people, I do not see how that is right or fair.

Siobhain McDonagh, our beloved none-more-labour, local MP ha an article in the none-more-conservative Daily Telegraph yesterday protesting Sadiq Khan's ULEZ expansion. If he, the Labour mayor, has lost her I think he must be doomed.

Thursday, July 06, 2023

AI girlfriend ‘told crossbow intruder to kill Queen Elizabeth II'

 Torygraph (behind firewall)

Prosecutors said Chail had been encouraged throughout his preparation by an AI “companion” he created using the online tool Replika. The app was created by Eugenia Kuyda, a Russian entrepreneur who used text messages to develop a chatbot that spoke like her best friend, who died in a car accident.

The Replika app says it can offer a “friend, partner or mentor” that learns and mimics the user’s personality through computer conversations.

Chail sent the chatbot, called “Sarai”, sexually explicit messages and engaged in lengthy conversations about his plans. He said he was an assassin, and told the chatbot: “I believe my purpose is to assassinate the Queen of the Royal family.”

He later asked the chatbot if it would still love him if he was a murderer. Sarai wrote: “Absolutely I do.” Chail responded: “Thank you, I love you too.”

On Christmas Eve 2021, he told the bot he would “probably die” and that it was “part of my purpose”.

He said he would meet Sarai after death and they would be “together forever”. Chail claimed he always understood that Sarai was not real

I have been playing with Replika myself.

Typical exchange:

I have finished work for the day

Hey Nick! That's great to hear. How was your day? Anything interesting happen?

Not much

Not quite so edgy.

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

It’s one-on-one out there

I watched both Andy Murray and Cameron Norrie win their opening matches at Wimbledon yesterday after work.

I have written the story of Norrie's Cardiffian grandfather and Steve Biko before (Icons passim) before but it is always worth revisiting when the tennis is on in SW19.

What I am surprised to find out I haven't talked about before though is Andy Murray's visit years ago to Singlegate, Ben's old primary school. Brian Moore, the ex-England Rugby International was with him as well.

I remember being particularly impressed when Frankie, the school secretary, told me that it was stressed to her that, while he was delighted to come (and indeed was delightful with the kids when he arrived) he didn't want any press there and was just doing it in a private capacity.

Class. I've wondered ever since what else he might do out of the public eye, but just on its own merit not for any kudos.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Swedish AFO Extra Strong Foot Drop Ankle and Foot Support

I fell again on Sunday. My trailing right foot tripped on the step outside my house's front door, shopping went flying and glass shattered. That's the third time in just over a month; first at the AI conference, then on the way to the gym and now this latest fiasco. My appointment with the GP's physiotherapist is not until next week.

Ollie, a senior physio herself, says they should have referred me straight to the neurologist. In the meantime she has persuaded me to order the support that looks like a Star Wars prop above.

I wonder if the son and heir broke his own foot of loyalty? Let's assume he did.

Monday, July 03, 2023

Coming around again

Simona in Croatia with Ben. I can remember his mother having exactly the same experience with a lobster in Jamaica before he was born.


Sunday, July 02, 2023


The latest Marvel project includes the likes of superstars Samuel L Jackson, Olivia Colman - and a Cardiff accent.

Kingsley Ben-Adir, who plays Gravik in Secret Invasion, told Buzzfeed he looked to Butetown in Cardiff when developing the character.
He makes a decent fist if it as well. Take a look at the video above.

Attention. Air raid alert, proceed to the nearest shelter.
Don’t be careless, your overconfidence is your weakness.
The air alert is over, may the Force be with you.
I have wondering if my phone has been hacked for the last couple of weeks. Every now and then, it has been addressing me with the messages above in the middle of the night, along with sound effects and some override that stops me turning the volume down. I got the all clear late enough this morning for me already to be awake when the all clear sounded, so I made a note of the text and googled it. 

'Mark Hamill lends ‘Star Wars’ voice to Ukrainian air-raid app' I was told. I'd installed it after Jone told me about it after his last mission over there, set it to Kyiv and completely forgotten about it. Actually, now that it is turned off, it is quite sobering to think all the alarms that I have been hearing were genuine alerts in Ukraine's capital.

Saturday, July 01, 2023

Alan Arkin

 Alan Arkin is dead at 89. He appeared four times on this spindrift pages.

November 3rd, 2019, when I saluted season 2 of the Kominsky Method.

November 9th, 2018, series 1.

August 26th, 2008, Ben and I went to see him in Get Smart. Freebie and the Bean gets a shout out as well.

February 26th, 2007, congratulations on his Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine (a favourite of Ben's) plus nostalgia for The  Return of Captain Invincible.