Here's a Telegraph article featuring the CEO of The Carbon Trust, for whom I'm currently working on a CRM project: Tom Delay speeds up his mission to put carbon on business agenda.
Recently in Personal Category
To enjoy the last weekend of the "summer-that-never-was" we decided to visit the Thames Festival for the first time. This 10-year-old event appears to be an initiative of London's mayor, and it's billed as "London biggest end-of-summer party" — with lot's to do between Westminster and Tower Bridge.
Getting to the event by river boat seemed the most appropriate approach, so we set off in good time to catch the regular summer service downriver from Kew Pier. The Thames was at low tide when we arrived and so the descent to the pier was quite steep, but it was a spectacular day and we had great views of this relatively quiet stretch of London's famous river.
Due to the tides, the river boat schedule is somewhat imprecise. So it wasn't terribly surprising when the Henley arrived a few minutes late. As far as I could tell it was completely full of passengers on their way to Kew Gardens for the afternoon, and it occurred to me that there really can't be a better way to get to Kew in the summer. It's a 90 minute journey from Westminster with lots of interesting sites to see along the way, no traffic or public transport to spoil the view, and the wonderful Royal Botanic Gardens to explore at the end. I'm sure that must be one of London's great day-trips for tourists.
Of course on this occasion we were making the opposite journey, which is always going to be less popular. There were only a dozen people waiting to make our trip and it's non-stop all the way to Westminster, so it was like having our own private cruise deep into central London.
Two observations stood out during our journey. The first was the contrast between 19th and 20th century riverside architecture. I'm sure both will have their proponents, but the difference in scale was simply staggering. Compare these two photographs to see what I mean (clicking on either image will take you to a larger version). These buildings are less than seven miles apart as the crow flies, but they're light years apart in terms of size and style. From our perspective on the river, one seemed liveable; the other a monster. The irony is that the developers of St George Wharf will no doubt be marketing their apartments as exclusive properties ("pre-qualified registered buyers only"), while in reality it's the 19th century riverside home that is truly rare.
The second observation was the lack of almost all heavy industry on the river. Signs of it's demise were many and varied, but we saw very few operational wharves or riverside factories at all during our journey downstream. The Thames has become a river for pleasure and recreation.
The Thames Festival itself was a disappointment; a victim of its own success. Way too many people all trying to squeeze along the south bank Thames path. We ate lunch standing up, my daughter made a pumpkin hat (?), and we left — this time returning by the good, old District Line.
So I'm in the park with my just-turned-three-year-old daughter when she asks:
Daddy, can I have an ice cream?
I don't think we have time. We've got to go soon.
There is always a way, Daddy.
Stephanie says, there is always a way!
We're on holiday in the Var once again, and it's proving unbelievably lovely. Getting here was a different story, but having reached our destination we're clearly going to benefit from the transition of late spring into early summer. This photograph was taken yesterday just outside the village in which we're staying. It was less than a 10 minute walk. Here, the inspiration is all around you — particularly at this time of year.
We're in rural France for Christmas again this year, and it's a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of Europe's largest city.
The weather seems colder than usual, but there's still warmth in the sun despite it being very low on the horizon. Global warming seems to be bringing out the extremes everywhere these days.
It even seems to have affected Santa, who we spotted making his deliveries earlier than usual and without a single reindeer in sight!
I couldn't let this discovery go by without recording it. So here's a way to fold a shirt in 3 seconds flat: Four Laundry Experts Judge a Neat New Trick. Note the diagrams and video link.
Well, what happened here? I haven't posted anything in over a month. No excuses, really — although the Movabletype publishing system did stop working on my server for a while (no idea why, but it was my hosting company's fault). I was just busy and uninspired.
Anyway, here's what's new.
- Lest that previous photo confuses you, be aware that it's now spring in the UK.
- We're also in the middle of an election campaign. If you're interested in the story so far, the two best articles that I've read on the subject are What is Labour for? by John Lanchester published in the London Review of Books (actually a book review) and Britain's battlelines redrawn by fear by Philip Stephens in the Financial Times.
- The election takes place on May 5, which is also when a friend of mine will make her Wigmore Hall debut. Carol Isaac and I used to work together at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, and she'll be accompanying American soprano, Twyla Robinson, in a recital of songs by Janácek, Brahms, Berg and Dvorák. I may be mistaken, but I don't think either of them has performed at Wigmore Hall before.
- I'm experimenting with a new family history web site. It may not be a permanent fixture, so explore at your own risk. The main advantage is that the database is online, so the pages always display the latest information. In other words, I don't have to update the site manually!
- People who embrace a technology early on in its development are known as "early adopters", but it's increasingly evident that the term can be applied to organisations as well. This is certainly the case with RSS (Rich Site Syndication or Really Simple Syndication), a technology that allows information to be easily syndicated across the web. It was incorporated into weblogs, so that people could stay up to date with a weblog's content without having to visit the weblog's home page, and it has improved accessibility to such an extent that you can digest much, much more information than normal using a RSS "newsreader". After the blogging community adopted RSS, progressive news organisations such as the International Herald Tribune and Christian Science Monitor started to implement it. Last month the Financial Times and the Economist, both industrial Luddites in their own ways, finally jumped on the bandwagon. So it's now clear that RSS has arrived.
- And last, but not least Canada is apparently in an e-Government league of its own.
Music in the Kitchen? Sure, I can play that game; despite not being much of a chef.
In fact, music has recently been rejuvenated in our kitchen with the arrival of a BT Voyager Digital Music Player. Sitting simply in the corner, it allows us to listen to anything our computer can play on CD, MP3, or stream via the Internet. Consequently, I've been listening to NPR and the CBC a lot recently.
- What is the total number of music files on your computer?
- No idea. Does it matter? It's quality that counts.
- The last CD you bought?
- What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?
- Trouble from the album of the same name by Ray LaMontagne.
- Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.
- Jack Reardon and Sacha Distel's The Good Life as performed by Betty Carter on Look What I Got!
- Al Jarreau's interpretation of Lennon and McCartney's She's Leaving Home is a marvel, as I've said before.
- Corcovado as performed by Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Tommy Williams, Milton Banana and Stan Getz. It's the epitome of cool.
- Once in a Lifetime by Aretha Franklin from the album Yeah! Aretha Franklin in Person — a great preformance recorded live at a nightclub in 1965. The crowd obviously doesn't realize that the young Aretha will become the undisputed Queen of Soul. At one point you can clearly hear a young woman let out an indignant "ouch!" as if she's just been pinched, and during the next song a man whistles the theme music to the Twilight Zone. Philistines!
- Softly, William, Softly from the album Concord on a Summer Night by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. A magical song-without-words on an atmospheric live recording.
- Who are you going to pass this stick to and why?
- Anyone who reads this post and cares enough to reciprocate; because they obviously care.
My sister, aka the Blue Jean Chef, has a new web site designed by yours truly.
It's the first time I've used the new-ish open source blogging tool (aka Content Management System) called WordPress, and I have to admit that I was impressed. I found it easy to setup, and there are lots of plugins freely available to customise it to your needs.
It's so good in fact that I'm seriously tempted to switch from MovableType to WordPress myself.
My five-month old daughter has just been given a great pair of Lamaze Foot Finder socks. As well as being very colourful, the two insects on the tips of the toes contain rattles. They're supposed to stimulate development, and they were an immediate success with our little girl.
I wonder if this is a sign of things to come, however? Little Miss Matched is apparently a big hit with 8 to 12 year olds in the US!
The Londonist, a "website about London", believes that:
You don't have to live in London long before you get offered a pair of bargain "high spec" speakers out of the back of a white van. It's like a coming-of-age ritual...once you've been offered some dodgy stereo equipment you can truly call yourself A Londoner.
Well, that's exactly what happened to me once while I was walking along Holland Park Avenue. I'd no idea it was a scam, let alone such a common one! Of course, I'm far too straight-laced to even consider such an offer, but I also had two pairs of stereo speakers that I wasn't using, so no harm was done.
Guess I'm a Londoner now though!
My daughter's UK passport arrived yesterday, which was earlier than we expected. So, I can wholeheartedly recommend the UK Passport Service's online application system.
The entire process took a month and a day from start to finish, including a week to get the application notarized.
That's a dramatic improvement compared with five years ago, when the process was taking 10 weeks and the government paid compensation for delays and cancellations in travel plans (see BBC News | UK | Passport pile grows higher).
Unfortunately for BA, which is already having a bad week (see BA increases fuel cost surcharge and Plane 'to clear luggage backlog'), it simply came down to price. EasyJet can transport the whole family to and from Nice for the price of a single adult on BA (£69 return including taxes). Of course it won't be the same level of service, but on a flight lasting less than two hours, who cares?
Airfares just keep getting lower and lower, while house prices just keep getting higher and higher. At this rate, it'll soon be cheaper to live in France and commute by plane into your London office each day.
You know things have changed when you start coveting other people's strollers as you walk down the street!
As luck would have it, just yesterday NPR broadcast Poems for Daughters, in which reporter Caitlin Shetterly talks to poets about the poems they've written for their daughters. It's already become one of the "top e-mailed stories" on the NPR web site.
The words of others can be incredibly compelling when they help you to express feelings you would otherwise struggle to convey.
It's amazing how some things change and some things remain the same. On the 5th of February 1826 my great great great grandfather, the Rev. William Fidler, wrote the following entry in his diary:
"During my absence a kind and bountiful Providence had blest me with a sweet little daughter; Of course, I think her the prettiest creature I have ever beheld. My dear Wife & her infant are both doing well. Praise the Lord for his goodness to us all."
One hundred seventy-eight years, five months and six days after he wrote those words, I discovered exactly how he felt.
I've decided to experiment with colours for this web page, starting with some naturally occurring schemes. This one consists of brown, pink and light green, and I'm calling it Coleus.
Just in case you don't believe that it occurs naturally, I've included a photograph of its namesake.
I've been thinking about reviewing the design of this site, but a new colour scheme will have to do for the moment. So, it's green and purple to herald tomorrow's arrival of summer and Wimbledon.
British Summer Time came into effect last night, so this morning we conducted the biannual ritual of tracking down all our clocks and advancing them by an hour. These days the average home is so full of electronic gadgets that adjusting for BST is in itself a time-consuming task. A couple of our machines are clever enough to reset themselves (the PCs, the video tape recorder), but most require manual intervention. Here's a list (largely for my own future reference) of all our devices that require resetting:
- three wristwatches
- bedside radio
- three mobile phones
- electronic barometer/thermometer
- Polar heart rate watch
- three personal organisers
- digital camera
- microwave oven
- coffee maker
- hot water/central heating timer
- five "old-fashioned" analogue clocks
If I've forgotten any, I'll add them to this list when they next surface.
The server on which this weblog is stored suffered a fatal disk failure earlier this week, and its replacement wasn't fully operational for two days. I could live with the inconvenience if that's all it was, but when replacing the machine my hosting company installed a different (more recent?) and incompatible version of the server's database software.
Consequently, all my previous posts are no longer in the database, and I must now start from scratch. I have copies of all my previous individual posts, and perhaps I will replace them individually over time, but as of now they could be hard to find.
Sorry, but that's progress for you!
Here in France Christmas Day was a French affair. Like many of the natives, we ate out. Our fabulous Déjeuner de Noël at Langousto was as follows:
(Amaretto, Champagne, Beaume de Venise)
Gâteau de Foies Blonds de Volaille à la Crème de Cèpes
(Pour la Mise en Bouche)
Le Foie Gras de Canard aux Truffes du Haut-Var
Rosace de Coquilles Saint-Jacques au Beurre d'Oursins
Croustillant de Loup à la Décoction de Cardamome Verte
Pigeonneau en Croûte Farcie de Trompettes des Bois
Moelleux au Chocolat Servi Tiède et Glace Vanille
Sorbet Mandarine Caramélisé dans une Emincée de Pommes
Petits Fours et Chocolats
The French theme continued once we returned home, thanks strangely to the English television networks (relayed to the south of France by satellite). First BBC 2 broadcast this year's animated French hit Belleville Rendez-vous and Channel 4 joined in later with the popular movie from 2001 Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (aka Amélie).
We'd seen Belleville Rendez-vous in London last October, but for some reason its commentary on Anglo-French relations seemed more obvious this time. It tells the story of a French Tour de France champion who is kidnapped by the mafia, smuggled into the US and forced to cycle in secret for the benefit of the mob's illegal gambling business. In typical French style, his grand-mère comes to the rescue. The title comes from a song made popular by a trio of swinging sisters, contemporaries of grand-mère with a penchant for grenouille, who live in New York City and help to save the day. So the criminal activity is all based in the US, where the heroines live on an exclusive diet of frogs. Make of that what you will.
Helping the blind and infirm cross the road must be something of a French cliché because such a scene appears in both Belleville Rendez-vous and Amélie. In Belleville Rendez-vous an American boy-scout attempts to help grand-mère cross the road, but she wants none of it and discourages him by repeatedly beating him with her cane. In the eponymous Amélie, our frenetic heroine doesn't just help an old man across the street, she takes him halfway across Paris unnecessarily. Could these scenes be metaphors for the perils of unwanted assistance from well-meaning strangers?
All we can say with certainty is that these days eccentric women seem to get what they want at least they do in French films.
Meanwhile an article in this month's Prospect magazine attempts to deconstruct another cultural difference between the anglo-saxon and French worlds. In French favours author Tim King wonders about the roots of French corruption:
Corruption exists in all countries, rich and poor. Does it have distinctive roots in France? According to the writer Edmonde Charles Roux, "the Mediterranean people have a conception of honesty which is peculiar to them." In the case of France there are two aspects of all this which seem to be fundamentally different from life in Britain.
The first is the attitude to money. The British have a fairly clear view (which has been called Protestant) that money is a tool. There is nothing wrong with it in itself, but there is good money, earned by hard work, and bad money gained through greed or dishonesty. At the root of the French attitude is the Catholic view that money is tainted by sin. Yet money is necessary and since corruption is only an abuse of something already sinful, it doesn't matter too much.
That historical, Catholic view, is overlaid by the Republican rejection of all things Catholic (partly because the Catholic church itself was seen as corrupt). According to Republican logic, the term "morality" smacks of the church, so calling a politician immoral is off limits because it mixes state with church, which is forbidden by law. Republicanism has also led to a conviction that the state will foot the bill - for anything. The result in France is a confused way of thinking about money, marked by suspicion and reticence when talking about it.
The second basic difference concerns the French attitude towards politicians. In France, politics is about strength and l'art de paraître. The French don't condemn their leaders' immoral actions if they are for the common good. At one of his trials former minister Bernard Tapie admitted he had committed perjury. "But I lied in good faith," he added. "Better the dishonest minister than the stupid one," says barrister Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi, who is defending François Mitterrand's son in an arms trafficking case. The French do not share the notion that a politician should, personally, set a good example.
So avoid following French politicians, but attend to determined French women whenever possible. That seems to be the message from two different perspectives on French culture this month.
I used to work for an auction house, and found myself campaigning constantly for the simplification of the business' operations. So I felt somewhat vindicated this weekend when the Financial Times published an article about investing in antiques (The fine art of polishing auction costs) that concluded with the following:
Would-be investors need to look closely at the fine print and bone up. Auctions are no place for novices, say experienced collectors. And it is not like buying stocks and shares. The process of buying and selling antiques, fine art and collectables is considerably less transparent than dealing in stock markets, where trading is incomparably quicker, easier, cheaper and clearer.
The moral of this story is that there are easier and much safer ways in which to make money.
I spent last weekend in a very wet Scotland. Sudsy Dame and I flew to Glasgow from Heathrow on British Midland. Disappointingly, the service on this supposedly full service airline left something to be desired. On the way there I asked for a Coke with ice, and the stewardess returned in record time with very hot tea and a packet of treacle biscuits. Luckily the pilot was more on the ball, and we reached our planned destination intact and on time.
While we were there, we were given our first Christmas present. As you'd expect it was disguised with seasonal wrapping paper that bore the usual tidings of peace and goodwill. We thanked our friends, and thought nothing more about it … until Sudsy Dame tried to carry it onto the plane for our return journey.
The security officer watching the x-ray screen nearly fell over backwards as the picture of our bag appeared on his screen. I had forgotten completely about the gift and had no idea what the problem could be. Eventually of course, we were forced to unwrap it and we discovered that we'd attempted to take three Laguiole cheese knives, including a two-inch cheese cleaver, onto the plane.
The security staff were very good about it. They notified the airline, which accepted it as checked baggage, and we collected the knives, along with our suitcase, from the baggage carousel at Heathrow once we'd arrived back in London.
So now, once the Camembert is ripe, we can cleave our cheese till the cows come home. How can you tell if the Camembert is ripe? According to Monsieur Taittinger:
You put your left index finger on your eye and your right index finger on the cheese … if they sort of feel the same, the cheese is ready.
Now you know.
Just another example of how absolutely crazy my former employer really is: Rags to Rothkos.
Here's the introduction:
According to the influential Art Review magazine, Gil Perez is the 50th most influential figure in the art world. Not bad for a doorman, he tells Stuart Jeffries.
If the doorman is on six figures, what's the receptionist making?
Can you imagine what this news will do to the morale of the rest of the staff, many of whom are well educated and highly skilled, but not nearly so well paid?
I don't travel much by train in the UK, but every time I do it becomes easier to understand why so many people in this country complain about the railway.
The following table compares the cost of a future journey to Coventry by train with my most recent trip to France by air. In both cases I booked the least expensive fare available.
|Mode of Transport||Distance||Price||Cost per km|
|British Airways to Nice||1,030 km||£ 98.00||£ 0.10|
|Virgin Trains to Coventry||139 km||£ 41.00||£ 0.29|
Discount airlines have received a lot of attention in recent months. Clearly it's time we had discount railways too.
I'm not an expert oenophile, but Sudsy Dame and I both agreed that the 1998 Agrippa was delicious and we purchased the last five bottles of it, along with a case of the 2002 Rouvière rosé and some of the red Infernet.
I first read about Chateau Routas in an article written in 1999 by Anthony Dias Blue (see The Wines of Sunny France) in which he wrote:
Near the tiny hamlet of Châteauvert, about an hour east of Aix-en-Provence, proprietor Philippe Bieler and his American winemaker, Bob Lindquist, are making news at Château Routas with a series of wines named after historic French figures. "The vineyards here are old and interesting," said the affable Lindquist, who is also the proprietor of Qupé Winery in Santa Barbara, California, "but they haven't been taken seriously for centuries. For years there has been very little attention paid to the quality of wines here."
Bieler, a passionate cook, bought the château for its "proximity to epicurean raw materials" — like the truffles he often adds to his guests' scrambled eggs — but the business of wine is foremost at this property. The Routas Cyrano (named for the big-nosed poet and swashbuckler Cyrano de Bergerac) is a fleshy, ripe Syrah, while Pyramus (named for a botanist ancestor of Bieler's) is a white blend with deeply extracted flavors and a lush finish. The official Coteaux Varois appellation, which includes most of the Routas wines, was created only in 1993 — a sign that greater things are to come from this area. "I think that Grenache and Syrah have enormous commercial potential with American consumers," said Lindquist.
Chateau Routas does seem to be making a name for itself, albeit mostly in the US. The wine correspondent for the Financial Times, Jancis Robinson, mentioned it recently (see The rehabilitation of rosé), despite the fact that the wine is currently unavailable in the UK. At the domaine we were told that a new UK distributor is imminent, so perhaps we won't have to travel quite so far when the time comes to replenish our cellar (well, wine rack actually).
As usual in August there's little real news, so the BBC is reporting on the weather, which is just barely newsworthy. In French heat deaths 'up to 3,000' it states:
The French health ministry has said the deaths of up to 3,000 people in recent weeks could be attributed to the European heatwave.
That number of deaths is plausible depending on the number of weeks concerned, but the report goes on to say:
Police trade union officials have called on the army to help remove the bodies of the deceased, saying that undertakers have been "overwhelmed" by the number of dead.
This misleading statement makes it sound like the plague is revisiting France. Here in the south I have yet to see a single dead body (not to mention any Police trade union officials), and we have experienced the same hot weather as the rest of Europe. As I write, it's 35° Celsius in the shade!
I must admit that even the locals are complaining about the weather now. It hasn't rained significantly since May, and everyone is feeling the effects of such a long dry spell.
Still, it didn't stop Sudsy Dame and I from hiking in La Vallee de la Siagne on Monday. The Siagne river runs at the bottom of a beautiful gorge overlooked by the village of St.-Cézaire-sur-Siagne. The hike begins in the village, but immediately descends to the river 200 meters below. It involves walking along a precipitous canal wall, and straight through a waterfall just before reaching an old Roman bridge across the Siagne, the Pont des Tuves. You then walk along the river for a few kilometers before re-crossing it at the Pont du Moulin. The best swimming is available at the two bridges, where there are incredibly refreshing (i.e. cold) pools of clean water that are easy to reach from the riverbank. You then return to the village by hiking up the east side of the valley back to St.-Cézaire.
It's important in hot weather to take lots of water to drink. Between us we consumed 4.5 litres while walking, but nothing matched the drinks in the main square in St.-Cézaire at the end. They were pure bliss.
Like most of Europe, the south of France is in the middle of a hot, dry summer. Three weeks ago there were serious forest fires near the town of Vidauban, and we could see the effects as we drove past on the autoroute two days ago. The forest was completely destroyed right up to the edge of the highway. A few metres more and the gas/petrol station that services the motorway would have gone up in flames too. How demented must you be to start a fire like that intentionally? I'm sure the French authorities will incarcerate the arsonist for a very long time (both before and after his trial!).
It's so hot in the Var that all serious activity needs to be completed by noon at the latest. Consequently, we haven't done much since we arrived. We did attend a recital in the village church last night, which was interesting largely because I hadn't set foot in the church before. It's a big cavernous room with a vaulted ceiling, and is in serious need of more windows. It was stifling! The church is well known for two reasons:
- the gloire (literally "glory", but it's a big wooden carving behind the alter illustrating Christ or sometimes a Saint) is so artistically important that it's listed as one of France's national monuments.
- every time the 3rd of May falls on a Friday (i.e. once every 11 years?) huge numbers of pilgrims descend on this small village to walk through the church's porte du pardon in order to have all their sins instantly forgiven.
I'll have to make an effort to attend the next pilgrimage in 2013 if I'm to have any hope of making up for lost time.
There's lots going on in the village at this time of year, so we have made our plans to accomodate the brocante (rummage sale) on Sunday and the bio foire (organic produce fair) next weekend. In the meantime I have cleaned the aquapack, configured the GPS, and calibrated the altimeter in my wrist watch, so I think we're almost ready to go. If only it would cool down a little!
Pheww... I'm trendy again:
Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Succès de sandal.
This week's edition of the Economist contains an article about Canada's potential to rival Saudi Arabia as a producer of oil (see Economist.com | Energy | There's oil in them thar sands!).
As the Economist states "there may be more oil trapped in Alberta than under all of Saudi Arabia". Trapped is an appropriate word because the oil is embedded in thick, viscous sand and cannot be extracted without considerable effort and money. The process involves injecting steam into the ground in order to reduce the viscosity of the sand such that you can pump it out of the ground and separate the oil.
Twenty years ago my first summer job after starting university was in the Reservoir Engineering department of Gulf Oil in Calgary. I was a computing major at the time, and my job was to analyse the results of a computer simulation of in-situ oil sand extraction. It was a good summer job and I learned a lot, although it was totally unlike anything I'd done before or since.
Now it seems that after considerable research and investment, it may finally be economically viable to begin developing Alberta's oil sand industry. It's nice to think that Alberta's natural resources may one day lessen the developed world's dependence on the Middle East, although according to the Economist we shouldn't hold our breath.
Given the dot.com boom and bust, the long-term impact of the Internet on business largely remains to be seen, but there's at least one industry where its effect is a huge improvement: the sale of antiquarian books.
Believe it or not, but the impact of the Internet on the sales of used books was far from certain. Would the improved ability to find specific books increase demand and sales sufficiently to offset any decline in prices that might occur if customers could easily shop around? That's the question Björn Frank and Guntram Hepperle asked at the University of Hohenheim in Germany at the end of 2000. In the abstract to their paper entitled The Internet's Impact on the Market for Antiquarian Books: Some Unexpected Empirical Results (click here for the whole paper in PDF format) they concluded:
Though there is a considerable variance in most books' prices, we do not observe the expected negative correlation between price and share of internet sales (in relation to a seller's total sales). We find other factors which have a systematic impact on prices, but with respect to the Internet, our main result is that e-business currently contributes little or nothing to driving prices downwards.
I have to say that I'm not surprised. Yesterday a biography of one of my distant cousins arrived in the post from Hoffman's Bookshop in Columbus, Ohio. The third edition of Memoirs of Mrs. Rebecca Wakefield: Missionary in East Africa was published in 1888 and written by the subject's brother, Robert Brewin. I only discovered this book two weeks ago in the course of doing some family history research, and yet thanks to the information superhighway I already have my own copy and Hoffman's Bookshop has another satisfied customer.
Although I purchased the book from Hoffman's, the transaction was brokered by abebooks.com, which "connects those who buy books with those who sell them, providing abundant selection at affordable prices". The Memoirs of Mrs. Rebecca Wakefield was only the second book I have purchased in this way, but I'm in the market for a third, and thanks to abebooks.com's "want list" feature there's every chance that I'll find it eventually.
Last week when I was searching for the Memoirs of Mrs. Rebecca Wakefield there was only one copy to be found, so comparing prices was impossible; but in my limited experience prices on the Internet for books in a similar condition are also similar. So the real benefit the Internet brings is the ability to track the books down in the first place. There's no way I would have found copies of my books without the Internet.
Of course, there's another benefit. I have yet to set foot within 250 miles of Columbus. In fact, I've never been to Ohio at all; and now, fortunately, I don't have to -- at least not to spend time in its bookshops.
Update: For more on the Canadian success story abebooks.com see Giants and behemoths in The Globe and Mail.
I hadn't heard of Al Jarreau in 1978. I was introduced to his music a few years later by my second roommate at university, George Applegarth, who came from an old established family in San Francisco (see also here).
George was incredibly urbane for a freshman in small-town provincial English Canada, and I had never met anyone like him. It was clear from the start that he really wanted to enjoy student life, and in the end he had trouble adapting to the cold, serious, unsophisticated climate he found at Queen's. Just before Halloween he called it quits and returned to his large family in warm California. During his short stay, however, I fell in love with his two recordings by Al Jarreau. I played them over and over again in our room, until even George started to complain that I was playing them too much.
The two albums were This Time and All Fly Home, and to be honest I don't know which I would choose as my favourite. Whenever I introduce friends to Jarreau's music, however, I always play All Fly Home because I know that one particular track is guaranteed to impress them: Jarreau's version of the Beetles song She's Leaving Home.
The song tells the story of a girl running away with her boyfriend to escape the oppressive control of her parents. It was inspired by a true story that Lennnon and McCartney spotted in The Daily Mail, and you can tell from the lyrics ("She's leaving home, after living alone, for so many years") that they understood the feelings of disaffected youth very well.
It's hard to describe what Jarreau does to this song, but no one ever recognises it as Lennon and McCartney even if they are familiar with the original. It's arranged for jazz trio and, freed from the constraints of pop, lasts twice as long as the original. At this point in his career, Jarreau was a true jazz musician, and as fans will know, when not singing words, his voice becomes a fourth instrument in the band.
His interpretation of She's Leaving Home is about as far removed from the Beetles' version as I can imagine possible, and yet it remains incredibly true to the spirit of the original song. In fact, more so. I think it is arguably better at expressing the painful regret of past failures than the original Beetles recording.
Even though I haven't heard them all, Jarreau's performance is so good that I'm sure it's the best rendition of this piece (according to The Covers Project there have been eight). It's a masterpiece of understanding, expressed through a song all about misunderstanding, and for that reason alone it would have to be among my desert island discs. Besides, how many cover versions are better than the original?
One of the personal projects that distracted me last month was the transcription of my great, great, great grandfather's diary for the years 1825-1827. The Reverend William Fidler was a Methodist missionary, and started a journal in which to record his experiences during his first mission to the West Indies. It's a fascinating description of a perilous journey and the following two years on the Island of St Vincent in the Caribbean.
I discovered the existance of this diary only last autumn, and it's taken me since then to copy, transcribe and publish it on the web. I'm writing about it here mainly so that Google will discover the text and index it accordingly. However should anyone be interested in reading it, you can find it at http://www.kevinlaurence.net/genealogy/fidlerdiary/index.php.
I find it very weird to think that had he not taken this journey, I wouldn't exist; but of that there can be absolutely no doubt. It's further evidence that we can never foresee all the consequences of our actions.
"You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe: when it knocked down our buildings it did not replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that."
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, 2 December 1987
Earlier this week in the local studies section of my public library I found this photograph taken in 1905 of the street in which I currently live. Note the complete absence of automobiles and the tall chimney at the end of the road, part of an engine house that was destroyed in the 1970s. I live on the right hand side of the street, about half way up towards the chimney.
Some months ago just out of curiosity I searched for the street on Google, and I found a memoir written by Elizabeth Anne Slusser née Burbury (1915-1991), who lived in the house next door to mine from 1915 to 1939. Elizabeth Slusser appears to have had an interesting life. She was born in London to a wealthy and well connected family. In her memoir she describes annual holidays to Brittany and the year she spent learning Italian in a Catholic convent in Florence when she was just seven. She describes her home in London a little, and mentions her subsequently famous neighbours several times (Dame Marie Rambert and her husband, the theatre impresario Ashley Dukes, lived just across the street).
[Elizabeth's parents met in Tasmania, but moved to England soon after marrying. Once settled in London her mother, Daisy Burbury née Guesdon, "founded a literary salon at 32 Campden Hill, Notting Hill Gate, which was frequently visited by Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, Maurice Baring and others. There is a statue of her in the House of Commons as the Virgin Mary, with her daughter Norah as the infant Jesus."]
Elizabeth's memoir comes to an abrupt end in August 1939, but not before she mentions that her family's home was one of the first in London to be destroyed by a German bomb in 1940. I can vouch for this fact because I now live next door to the four new homes that were subsequently built on the bombed site in 1955/56.
These four homes are all contained in what must be the single most ugly building on the street. In typical post-war fashion, the developers allowed function to completely overwhelm form, but then they compromised the functionality by squeezing far too many features into the limited available space. Each of the four houses was provided with a small covered car port, which cannibalised a significant portion of the ground floor and yet can only be used for the smallest of contemporary automobiles. In an effort to save costs, cheap and ugly materials were used to construct the building. Even the window boxes, which can probably withstand an earthquake, are made of cement and permanently affixed to the exterior walls with steel rods. What was the architect thinking?
Imagine my surprise then when during my visit to the library, I also discovered a 1962 article from Homes and Gardens magazine featuring the house next door. Apparently, it was the home of two television celebrities, Peter Dimmock and his wife Polly Elwes. He was a presenter on the BBC's flagship sports programme Sportsview, while his wife presented a current affairs programme called Tonight.
As you can see from the accompanying image (caution, it's a long download at 644Kb), the article was illustrated with several images which give you a good idea of how it was furnished and a sense of what it must have been like to live there in the early 1960s. Ironically, Mrs. Dimmock is quoted as saying:
"A home should be warm and comfortable and reflect the personalities of its owners; above all it should look lived in - no museum effects for me. I don't care for ultra-modern styles, they're too apt to feel unfriendly."
Well that might all be true, but did you look at the place from across the street before you moved in? Warm and comfortable? I don't think so. More like sterile and frightening.
I don't know when Mr. and Mrs. Dimmock moved out, but the house was sold late last year and in February workmen began to knock down all the internal walls and rebuild the insides from scratch. I wonder if the finished home will be "warm and comfortable" or more in keeping with its "ultra-modern" exterior?
I can't wait for the new owner to move in next month, so I can recommend the local library.
Lewis Thomas, The Medusa and the Snail (1979)
Desert Island Discs is the title of long-running radio programme on BBC Radio 4 (see Desert Island Discs). The format is simple: each week a guest is invited to choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island. The discussion of their choice is a device for them to review their life. They also choose a favourite book (excluding the Bible or other religious work and Shakespeare - these already await the "castaway") and a luxury which must be inanimate and have no practical use.
Here is my first choice:
Glenn Gould: Partita No. 2 in C Minor BWV 826 by J. S. Bach
I first discovered the pianist Glenn Gould when I began to explore my father's record collection. I had already been taking piano lessons for several years, but without much genuine interest on my part. My parents wanted me to study the piano, and I simply did as I was told. Eventually however, adolescent boredom, combined with natural curiosity, forced me to investigate my father's small collection of LPs, and at about the age of 16 I heard Glenn Gould play Bach for the first time.
I remember listening through headphones in a state of stunned surprise as Gould played the Italian Concerto, followed by two of Bach's Partitas. I couldn't believe that this wonderfully captivating music, so familiar to me in its Baroque style, had been sitting in my father's stereo cabinet for a decade or more without me knowing. Although my father had studied voice as a young man at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama, by the time I was a teenager he had little spare time and rarely played his records.
From Gould's performances of Bach, I moved onto his interpretations of some of Beethoven's best known piano sonatas. Although I knew that his interpretations of Beethoven were not always well received, his rendition of the Pathetique sonata is still my favourite.
If I had to choose just one piece to represent how much I have enjoyed listening to Gould's playing, it would be Bach's Partita No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 826. Bach wrote his six Partitas for students to use in learning to play the harpsichord. They are all comprised of six or seven dances, and as the liner notes accompanying the recording state "each [is] prededed by an extensive and elaborate introductory movement".
Gould plays the introductory movement to Partita No. 2 with such magnificent grandeur and suspense that by the end of its 48 seconds you know that this is the beginning of a great story. It's as if he was playing the overture to a big Baroque opera arranged and abridged for solo piano, and you cannot help wondering what's in store and how it will turn out.
Given such a well-defined beginning it's no surprise to discover that Gould gives the piece the necessary middle and end that feature in all effective story-telling. There is no way to know the details of the plot of course, but the end is so positively resolved that we know the participants in this sensitive tragedy (it's in C Minor after all) have learnt from their mistakes.
Some of the credit for this stunning recording must also go to Bach of course, but if Bach was the author of the story, I have never heard anyone tell it better than the great Glenn Gould.
Originally, I had plans to spend the Easter weekend in Cumbria seeing Hadrian's Wall for the first time. I was thinking of driving from London to Carlisle, but now I am very glad I decided against it. Yesterday morning there was an accident on one of Britain's motorways involving 100 cars, which resulted in a traffic jam containing 20,000 cars that didn't move for five hours! Later in the day there was another bad accident on a motorway further west that also delayed traffic badly, and again today there appears to have been more problems heading north (see BBC News | Pile-up causes fresh delays) So this most recent crash was the third major accident of the Easter bank holiday, and it's still only the first day.
I heard recently that Britain's Secretary of State for Transport, Steven Byers, doesn't posses a driver's licence. Perhaps he's trying to tell us something?
Karl Marx 1818-1883
Karl Marx's Last Home
These coincidences started me thinking about the phenomenon called "six degrees of separation" which is the theory that we are all only six people away from any other individual in the world (for more on the theory, aka the small world effect, and its increasing popularity see WLO: January/February 2000: Six degrees of separation).
This theory originated in 1967 but in 1997 some bright sparks thought of using the Internet Movie Database to demonstrate the theory on a small scale. I don't know why they picked on poor Kevin Bacon, but you can try it out for yourself by viewing UVA Computer Science: The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia.
So in terms of connections between people, is the world getting bigger or smaller? There are more people in the world than ever before, so that should increase the degree of separation. On the other hand communication is easier than ever before, so that should decrease the degree of separation. Perhaps the two trends are just cancelling one another out and the degree of separation remains largely the same.
I wonder if anything else links Karl Marx and Ulysses S. Grant? Yes indeed. A quick search via Google suggests that:
- both were born under the astrological sign of Taurus;
- both suffered migraine headaches;
- and both knew Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the New York Tribune.
Greeley employed Marx as European correspondent for the Tribune in the 1850s and lost resoundingly to Grant in the US Presidential election of 1872.
Karl Kraus 1874-1936
Never in a million years would I have guessed that I could influence the mighty Microsoft, but I'm pretty sure I have. Here's how...
Thanks to the Internet I have become a world authority on the history of carbon paper. In 1994 I wrote an essay on that subject as part of my MBA. Later that year, when I was teaching myself HTML in order to develop my own web page I uploaded my essay as a simple test of my new web skills. I didn't want to write anything new so I simply used my old essay. I never bothered to remove it, and so it's been on my website in one form or another ever since.
I didn't register my site with any search engines or promote my essay in any way, so I was surprised when a couple of months later I received an e-mail from someone asking for more information about carbon paper (although I didn't promote it, the essay had a link back to my homepage). Since then (1995) I have received many similar requests. The essay has been referred to twice by articles published in the New York Times. It has appeared in an Australian anthology of stories (intended for school children) about the history of technology. I have had requests for more information from several manufacturers of carbon paper and even one German documentary film maker. I have even been interviewed via telephone about carbon paper!
Well of course, you can probably guess what had happened. The search engines had found my essay while crawling the net, and because it's a fairly esoteric subject, my page was listed whenever anyone searched for information about carbon paper using Yahoo or Altavista or Infoseek, etc.
I must admit that I am amazed at the situation today, seven years later. Google cites my page first (at its old location) and second (at its current location) in its list of 670,000 hits when you search for carbon paper (try it now Google Search: Carbon Paper). Given the way Google ranks hits, this means in effect that my page is the most popular page about carbon paper on the Internet!
Interestingly, the third link in Google's results takes you to an essay on Microsoft's site about the importance of computer accessibility for people with disabilities: Curb Cuts and Carbon Paper. It includes the following introduction...
When a chime sounds to signal that an elevator car has arrived, few of us realize that we?re taking advantage of a technology originally developed to give people with disabilities extra time to reach the door before it closes. In fact, many technologies that were first designed to assist people with disabilities were later widely adopted because of their value to everyone. Carbon paper was first developed for blind and partially sighted clerks who could not tell when their quill pens ran out of ink. The typewriter was invented for a countess who was blind. Curb cuts, first created for people using wheelchairs, are now used by everyone from cyclists to parents with strollers.
Well, where did they get that information about carbon paper and the Countess? No sources are given, but I've never come across it anywhere other than my essay and my original source which was Michael Adler's book on the typewriter. So, I'm pretty certain that Microsoft's author took it as written by the world's foremost networked carbon paper historian: me!