Saturday, 21 May 2022


I'm not sure why I'm here. (This is no time for philosophy.) Yes, I am. It's so I can say I told you so. I have this urge because, unusually, the Italian Publishing Industry has not asked me for my futurological input this year.

1. Streaming services releasing things weekly instead of in binge-lumps: partly - simple - you can release fewer things, ergo cheaper.

But also lots of highly-educated people need jobs which aren't there in traditional industries. The US healthcare industry is terrifically inefficient at producing at healthcare, but one reason it persists is that its weird insurance, servicing and billing wastage creates tons of white collar jobs that would be a disaster for the US economy to lose. (See also universities.) It's a version of the subsidies paid to the uneconomic bits of farming and fishing. It's less romantic and it creates different distortions, but it's distortions everywhere and it's not like people don't need jobs. I do not have a solution.

I have not drifted off the point: releasing shows weekly has created a decent-sized and growing derivative industry in commentary recaps, podcasts and so on. It's like watch-the-bouncing-ball politics or sports podcasting. Or, differently, fantasy sports.

Also, this derivative industry is attracted to discussing certain types of show and story and not others. So a sitcom, whose traditional raison d'être is to reset the table, is not so interesting as a who-will-die story. This definitely fed into online discussion of the amazing, amazing Succession which is sort of built on the sitcom premise of resetting the table on a season-long basis.

So, various incentives head towards weekly rather than spurgely.

2. All the different subscriptions! The answer will be when services are bundled together under a single bill and you get them through your main provider, be that Sky, Virgin or whoever, and it will be like cable again but with more choice in terms of bits but more cost because more white-collar middlemen will need to be paid.

3. I enjoy the continued slippage of the vowel sound associated with the letter 'I' across different English language accents ('eye' slipping to 'ah').

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Podcasting Will Eat Itself

1. Despite what I said in my recent post below, people are still using the word obviously to describe things that aren't obvious. I have pointed it out to some of them who, theoretically, are 'worried' about what forces are abetting the rise of extremism. They persist. (I doubt they noticed.)

2. I'm worried that non-fiction, isn't-this-an-interesting-and-revealing-story style podcasting has a real problem. Non fiction books used to operate on a sort of cycle, churning back through the same topics every ten years ago once the world had forgotten the story of, say, the tulip mania or the Dutchman who sold Goring a forged Vermeer.

But podcasts are rapacious for content. They get through all these stories quickly. If you like this sort of podcast, you reach the point fast where almost everything that doesn't depend on in-depth reporting is being recycled.

The tendency then is to focus on the now. But if you are doing the now, you are contributing to the problem of watching the bouncing ball. Watching the bouncing ball when it is your job to say something about it is interesting makes you angry when nothing happens and you start blaming the ball. Take, for eg, some complicated negotiation that would always have taken a few months. Now a weekly group of podcasters starts getting irritable that there's still no new news about this thing and they're still speculating more or less in the dark about it. They have to say something, though, and so they start saying things like there is a kind of problem with a system that isn't getting anything done and how can we still be looking at this thing again. But some things are just complicated and take time.

And some things are a problem. But it's not hard to tell which is which from inside this environment which treats the two imposters just the same.

Again, these are the kind of podcasters who will blame Facebook for knowingly harming public discourse, and who understand that online sources of news and the 24 hour news cycle are problems. But they still can't stop themselves making the situation worse because it is literally their job.

I'd be interested in some kind of experiment where we try to look at what today's tv or newspaper news would have looked like without the internet or 24 hour cycle. It's impossible, really, but it might be on some level an interesting thought experiment. Would the same stories be the top stories? I don't know. I might do it if I weren't already behind on three plays about other subjects.

(If you don't know what these plays are and you are using this site to keep up with my news, let me tell you that you are making a big mistake.)

Monday, 18 January 2021


Hey! I like to do this every few years or however long it is. The important things I have to say are:

1. Above are the arms of Tam Dalyell, former socialist MP. I think we can all agree they are a mess. Normally I would say that the sheer fussiness is the problem but oddly I think this one might work if it weren't for the hideous crossed weapons.

Normally, arms get muckier over time as you add achievements and folderols to pacify the families of wives you have taken because they were rich and whose daddies are furious their names will die out. But here the crossed weapons have been there from the start, because the quarter repeated top left and bottom right show the original arms of Tam o' The Binns, the founding father of the house, who was a bloody baron in the seventeenth century. He was a royalist (his reputation was probably blackened by the few of his enemies he left unslaughtered).

He also had exciting times as a successful Scots general in the armies of Moscow. Quite a lot of Scots did this and not just in Dorothy Dunnett. He also beat the devil at cards, and the devil threw the card table at him, but it missed him - the devil can't throw very straight but he has a huge arm, like an early Byron Leftwich (NFL joke) - and ended up in the pond.

This doesn't explain the naked man. If I didn't have to write a bee play I would do more research.

2. Language watch: people are using the words obviously and of course all the time and I think it's a problem. Even if something is obvious to you, if many people disagree, then it it's most likely not obvious and there is no 'of course' about it. The only alternative is that all these other people are evil or mendacious. So if you use the words, then you build a framework wherein people disagreeing with you are evil and bad. Usually, they just have different points of view or priorities.

I do it, obviously. Also, this is not saying some things shouldn't be 'of course'. Of course racism is wrong, etc. But because there are such clear wrongs going on right now, I think the language is leaking to a lot of places where things really, really aren't obvious and saying they are is digging you into a mindset that's not helping you and it's not helping me.

3. Language watch 2: broken and destroyed, used of people's emotions: 'I am broken by this news', 'This destroyed her', etc. I think this is recent (last few years). It is now solidly in contemporary novels. I assume this means it will stick and people will be surprised it didn't exist before but I think it didn't really. Certainly not in any routine way.

4. Language watch 3: I have mentioned that novelists use 'skittering' too much before. This hasn't stopped them. You'll almost never get through a book without it and very frequently you will get it more than once. This is much more often than the word appears in the world. There is something about it that really appeals to writers while writing.

(I know this because I noticed in my second book in time to reduce the skittering and I hope I took it down to one but maybe I thought I should be permitted two which I really shouldn't have been. I am so weak.)

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Buccaneer Surgeon or The Deadly Lady of Madagascar?

It's me again!

Don't think this is going to be a regular thing. If you want news, you should go to my literal website, but I'm feeling a bit retro, and for no obvious reason I've been reading an ancient bookmark about Dr Frank Slaughter (also CV Terry) whose novels sold 60 million copies and drew on his doctoring (Air Surgeon), his pleasure in historical research (Sangaree) and his faith (The Galileans; The Song of Ruth; The Scarlet Cord: A novel of the woman of Jericho; David, Warrior and King; The Crown and the Cross: The Life of Christ and many more). It made me feel like a lazy slug, but lots of things do because I am.

Oh! I've looked all the way to the end of the Wikipedia page and now I think I know why I bookmarked him some years ago. Some special ones among you may be able to work it out too. It could be a coincidence but I don't think so.

I saw Long Shot on Sunday night. I was surprised it hadn't done better. Two weeks before, I watched Joe vs The Volcano for the first time since it came out. I loved it then and didn't think it would have held up and it does in spades. In other cultural news, read long sagas about trees or villages on battered coastlines. You never go far wrong.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Technically Equal Education

Theresa May is saying that technical education needs to be valued the same as traditional academic education. Good luck with that, given that it isn't and kids aren't stupid enough to think it is.

A list of people who have previously said this thing at inordinate length and which I happen to have read as a way of becoming as prominent as I am in the field of intellectual history (practically invisible but I am a doctor) includes various 19th century school and higher education commission reports in the UK, similar administrators, school officers and technocrats in early 20th century South Africa and every generation of politicians I have encountered since I was an adult.

This idea that anyone might viably think politicians might regard technical education as 'equal' founders pretty spectacularly the moment you think how they would react to little Publius being told that it would be more suitable for him to study electrics than latin.

I'm not pretending I have a solution, but I find it a particularly mealy-mouthed formulation.

In brighter news, may I recommend this cat with a pet cat:

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

redundancy in parrots

In my current office is this book, which is not written by Juniper Parr (a character name I intend to use) but by Juniper and Parr.

What can you learn from a book of parrots? Quite a lot of things, but the big first message I took, with due respect to the environmentalists, is that there seems to be a lot of redundancy in parrots. Look at the Amazon ones. Really, these are all different species? And the parrots are as sure about this as we are? I mean, a lot of these guys seem more from the same species as each other than I seem to be from the same species as Lady Gaga, Ryan Gosling and Rafa Nadal. It's only in plate eight where they even seem to be trying.

(Maybe I should look at it for more than five minutes next time. I bet some of the species are disputed. Wikipedia seems to think the yellow headed ones are three different species. Just what constitutes a species is sketchy in general, which is a constantly riveting biological fact.)

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Sea Monsters! U-boats! Donald Trump!

The number one story on BBC news is that a wrecked u-boat has been found off Stranraer, and it might have been sunk by a sea monster. The sub's commander, Captain Kerch, talked of a beast with 'large eyes, set in a horny sort of skull… with teeth that could be seen glistening in the moonlight.'

The BBC quotes a historian who says that obviously it wasn't that, but who is game enough to say it would be nice if Nessie were helping. Then, because it's the BBC, it gives equal weight to Gary Campbell, who curates Nessie's 'Official Sightings Register' (whatever that means). He says,
It is entirely feasible that some large sea creature disabled the submarine. 
The World War One report from the captain of the British ship HMS Hilary a year earlier makes it clear that sea farers at that time were well aware of large sea 'monsters' that could be harmful to their ships. 
The area of sea where the attack took place has a history of sea monster sightings - they have ranged from the north coast of Wales to Liverpool bay. What the German captain said could well be true.
I guess we will never know, except for that five minutes of research found me the much more plausible and better sourced story that the sub surfaced, was fired on and immediately dived, but forgot to close the hatch (maybe because of some extra cabling ordered by Captain Kerch). The U-boat had to surface and was easily destroyed, whereupon it had to scuttle.

Because everything on earth now relates to Trump, I read this as first a story of first false press equivalency and second the story of a man who screwed up royally bloviating that an invented monster did it (and of his being believed by conspiracy theorists).

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

i'm still standing

I find myself with half an hour and about a dozen open links that have been open for a month. I wonder what they are?

Oh, this guy. I mean band. I've periodically enjoyed the lunatic Quantum Jump Lone Ranger song, which doesn't seem like it's hugging the racing line, PC-wise (Mitchell and Webb, Edinburgh, 2000 or 2001). I enjoyed reading about Rupert Hine, who went on to become a sort of super producer. He looks massively like he should have been bowling fast for England in teams which lost to the West Indies in two days.

Maximum Fun: I suppose I bookmarked this to remind me of my own brilliant observation that 95% of the podcast phenomenon is Americans realising-without-realising how much better the world is if you've got Radio 4 in it.

Maybe I've done James Hilton before. He wrote Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr Chips. You might think the second is famouser, but only if you don't know anything about the former. Leaving aside the fact that it was one of the first small-format paperbacks and sold about a billion copies, the main thing was that it introduced the term Shangri-La - in the book it's a mythical, impossible to find Tibetan monastery of eternal life. FDR was a huge fan and he called the new Presidential retreat Shangri-La. Later it got renamed Camp David.

Also, when America long-range bombed Japan in quick revenge for Pearl Harbour, and he was asked, 'How could the bombers reach that far? Where did they take off?' he replied, 'Shangri-La'. The US Navy soon named an aircraft carrier Shangri-La in tribute.

'Robert, who is your favourite living artist?'
'Do you mean visual artist?'
'Well, I am not the world's greatest art expert. But if I had to give a name, it would be Nina Katchadourian.'

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

fat kitten

Hoaxes are usually fun; forgery and con-artists can be fun but can be awful; fraud is bad. I have been doing a lot of reading in these fields and these are my preliminary conclusions. Also, one book described a table in Goering's office whose massive legs were carved into the shape of penises.

But hoaxes: I'm pretty sure it was on Slate's Politics Gabfest that someone described the Great Moon Hoax of 1835. The New York Sun published a string of articles featuring new discoveries made by UK astronomer Sir John Herschel (pretty convincing authority). The reason no one had made them before was that no one else had such a fantastic telescope, which was of 'vast dimensions' and used 'an entirely new principle'.

Among the things Herschel found were brown bison-like quadrupeds, blue goats, advanced beavers who walked on two legs and had discovered fire, man-bats who appeared to be having rational conversations and a temple built of sapphire. In case you doubted this, some Wesleyan ministers were prepared to vouch for it.

It created a huge buzz. It was debunked reasonably fast, but by no means immediately. Contemporary accounts agree that most people fell for it at first. Edgar Allan Poe wrote, 'Not one person in ten discredited it'.

Anyway, this is just a sketch. The whole article is great.

In other news, stop reading this right now if you haven't seen Endeavour 3.3, which is called PREY. I will do a spoiler after a gap for a kitten.

Endeavour is hilarious. The stories are completely insane, which I am not criticising, because the characters are really fun, and this is the best series so far, I think, because the insane stories do at least sort of follow, which they didn't always previously. Anyway, PREY was the most insane so far.  Among the many questions that arise: Why did Morse never mention to Lewis in latter years his adventures with a tiger in a maze? Also, as an old Africa hand, I have to agree that a shot into the belly from behind is the perfect way to stop a big cat instantly. They never move again.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

poor matthew

I heard a genuinely heart-rending story the other night about someone who dutifully checks this blog every day hoping for something to have changed, like a sort of digital Greyfriars Bobby. It's not like I haven't been learning interesting things about winter horseshoes (Napoleon didn't take winter horseshoes to Moscow - BIG mistake) and idiot terrorists hunting for a mythical super-substance called red mercury.

Or the battle for Castle Itter. The Daily Beast writes a big feature about it asking, essentially, how the hell come this isn't a movie already? The Daily Beast is right to ask.

In a nutshell: during WWII, Castle Itter houses French VIPs, where P stands for Prisoners. Also in the Castle (fairytale, 13th century) are some of the prisoners' wives, who have chosen to be interned with their husbands. Just after Hitler commits suicide, it's liberated by the Americans. But a crack SS regiment arrives to take it back and execute the prisoners. At which point, the Americans are joined by an anti-Nazi Wehrmacht unit which had joined the resistance.

Featuring also: Jean Barotra, the Bounding Basque, who won Wimbledon twice, as well as the French  and Australian Opens. He was a prisoner - he escaped three times, once during the final battle to go for help.

Friday, 28 August 2015

shall i tell you what this blog is really useful for?

If I don't blog, I literally never clear my tabs. But what is the point of clearing / memorialising them. It's sort of in case I need them again, sometimes. It's sort of because I'm in the habit of wanting to tell people about things.

Anyway, I liked this story of a not Nazi gold bar found in a lake, but nothing like as much as the story of the lost Nazi gold train. It's easy to think nothing on land can stay hidden, but forests are amazing. And canyons, but especially forests. One of the most useful things I have ever read - in terms of helping me understand lots of little other things I read from time to time that have to do with lost stuff - was a book which pointed out that explorers hunting a lost Amazonian civilisation walked within five feet of a major city on numerous occasions before finding it. If you don't touch it, and the forest is really thick, it's like it just isn't there...

The other incredibly useful thing - tangent - that every human should be forced to do is play Murder in the Dark in a large enough space for people to be able to flit between rooms, bits of outdoor, and so on. I've done it a few times and all the people I've done it with have radically, and I mean absolutely radically, changed their view of the reliability of eye-witness testimony. You can be clever, more or less sober, concentrating and be certain of a thing that happened five minutes ago, and totally wrong.

Crowdfunding board games (what about the Cones of Dunshire*), which reminded me of the best board game on the planet article, which reminded me I haven't played the best board game on the planet.

* Oh, actually the people behind Settlers of Catan had a go at Kickstarting Cones of Dunshire! But failed.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

so, blogs

I don't read many. I don't write mine much. I used to. I used to really like writing it and I flicked back through it the other day looking for something and I got stuck following links around Duff Cooper and some old earls, and I wondered why I didn't do this any more.

The answer is time, obviously. Is it a problem all the bloggers have, now they are older, childier, successfuller, etc? Probably. And the young bloggers are on twitter. And so are the old bloggers, obviously. I didn't even write down where I heard the thing which said that we don't blog about a thing any more, we just link to it, and those are different things. I liked blogs because I got a sense of personality from them that I guess you do get from tweets, and I like twitter, but... Whatever. I don't know. I haven't killed this blog, as you can see, and I don't intend to, but it's getting to be a historical artefact.

Doom doom doom. This time Seattle is going to fall into a crack.

Monday, 29 June 2015

flying tigers and other animals

Okay, A Damsel in Distress has finished its Chichester run. I bet you'll be able to see it again some sunny day, but it's a big show and all the cheeses involved are big ones, so it might not be easy to corral them. It wasn't last time, but it was worth it. It was literally lovely to be in the room with it every night I was there. I'm absolutely biased, of course. But there are reviews.

In other news, I've been interested in volunteer air forces every since I researched Charles Sweeny, who married Maggie, the eventual Duchess of Argyll (who did rude things to a headless man). He was the American who set up the US volunteer squadrons in England - the Eagle Squadrons - and helped fund them, in WWII. He's been deleted from Wikipedia. I wonder why.

I didn't know about the Flying Tigers, who were Americans who flew for China. That picture above has their nosepiece, which is very famous, and which I did know from putting it on planes in my Airfix youth (I was bad at them). I also didn't know that they copied it from some Nazi bombers.

I also recently googled, I'm not telling you why, The Best House in London. It turns out to be a movie starring a wide range of characters, from Warren Mitchell as an Italian Count to John Cleese as 'Jones'. It also features Sherlock Holmes and IMDB's description runs: In Victorian London, the British Government attempts a solution to the problem of prostitution by establishing the world's most fabulous brothel. I dare say it seemed like a good idea at some point, but I do not plan to watch it.

An article about Japan's ageing population. It's a cliche to say things are beautiful and sad, but still.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

whisky galore

It's been a while since I parroted Wikipedia.

Compton Mackenzie wrote it, and Monarch of the Glen. He was English, technically, but allegiance is an odd fish and it seems perverse to go with the technicality when Mackenzie was an ardent Jacobite, Governor-General of the Stuart Society and helped found the Scottish National Party.

Among is seven million other books were histories of the Battle of Marathon and Salamis, a biography of FDR and Extraordinary Women, a roman a clef about three lesbians based on what sounds like a very frisky time he had on Capri in the 20s. He married three times and supported, enjoyably given everything else, West Bromwich Albion. I want to know more about him and, given the fact that he wrote ten volumes of autobiography, there is more to know.

In other news: this is funny about the awful experience of having written what might have been a good script for Grace of Monaco.

Friday, 12 June 2015

a damsel in distress

NB I will periodically update this page.

Me not writing anything here has been good news for you, maybe, but bad news for the heroic cast of A Damsel in Distress, who had to deal with all kinds of preview week changes (Query: is not lesson from this that should have written a more competent show in the first place? Answer: probably best not thought about).

The first night was marvellous. The cast was brilliant. The reviews are in. Modesty, I find, is flexible enough to permit me posting all the reviews I can find.

an instant classic ... In an age of metamusicals from The Producers to the current Broadway hit Something Rotten, which offer their own ironic commentaries on the genre itself, A Damsel in Distress is both blissfully affectionate yet never affected as a young Broadway composer (Richard Fleeshman) and a British socialite (Summer Strallen) are set on an tangled but inevitable course towards each other in a dizzying, but always sincere, series of romantic collisions - The Stage

perfect summer fare ... a sunlit fantasy realm of ancient castles where batty peers, feisty showgirls and affectionate pigs get into comic muddles ... an evening of sheer, effervescent summer fun - Daily Telegraph

Here’s a joyful thing: a confection of butterscotch and sunshine, a tale of turrets and twosomes and tap-breaks, friendship and chivalry and secret passages and great legs, with glorious, soaring Gershwin songs to punt it all along - Libby Purves (She also tweeted, A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS wins fifth mouse cos I woke up grinning 8hrs later. Sunshine, kicks and Wodehouse whoopee.)

This magnificently ridiculous romantic comedy sweeps all objections aside, and, while constantly reminding you of the absurdities of the Broadway musical, revels in them to joyous effect. It’s another canny musical triumph for Chichester’s creative team - Financial Times

diamond-bright, five-star froth - Daily Mail (Baz Bamigboye)

A Damsel In Distress is a great “new” musical. It completely encapsulates the feeling of a different time, a different style of musical. It is not Les Miserables or Wicked, but that is its strength. It is what it is – and what it is is beautiful, full of froth and bubble, syrup and cream. Utterly delicious -

As a huge fan of Wodehouse I was as happy as the Empress in her sty at Blandings to see what Sams & Hudson had done. What we have is a cute, schmaltzy, feelgood, funny musical - Stage Review

Crazy, hilarious and tremendous fun—great show! - British Theatre Guide

by golly it works ... a spiffing good show - What's on Stage

There are perhaps only two words for this show: one is delightful and the other is ditzy - Daily Mail (Patrick Marmion)

what joyous nonsense - The Argus

a delight - The Public Reviews

Fresh, funny and scattering musical numbers from brothers George and Ira Gershwin like so many petals, it reduced the audience to tears of mirth and rapturous applause - The Southern Daily Echo

the entire show sparkles - In the Cheap Seats

an evening of pure escape - Eastbourne Herald

Wow. What a show. The perfect end to a long day at work. The perfect end to any day, in fact ... There’s so much to love about A Damsel in Distress, from the wonderful way it exploits all the new staging possibilities at the ‘new’ CFT to the glorious battiness of the show itself; from the fabulous costumes to the delightful choreography; from the terrific score to the complete fun of it all; from the way a castle suddenly appears before your eyes to the wonderful range of characters who inhabit it, all beautifully played by a cast at the top of its game - Chichester Observer

a new(ish) musical confection that feels like it's been around for years ... a delightful night in the theatre - Jonathan Baz

Brilliantly executed blissful nonsense - Frost Magazine

gorgeous and joyous! - Musical Theatre Review