triste vida la del carretero que anda por esos cañaverales, sabiendo que su vida es un destierro, se alegra con sus cantares

Sunday, August 13, 2006

growing lad

more photos of ben available now - for anyone who's vaguely interested.....

Sunday, July 09, 2006

the latest from the BBC blogging revolution . . .

they're getting socratic on our asses . . . OK, maybe it's got something to do with Materazzi and Zidane. But it tickled me.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

mandarin dream

Fulfilling one my long-term ambitions and starting to teach myself mandarin, thanks to the excellent lessons available at learnchinesepod. That I can learn to speak a new language while cycling to work, for nothing, and get updates all the time to match my speed of learning, has been one of my moments of unadulterated technophilia vis-a-vis the www. The last one (and it was the first) was probably in 1996 when I met an Italian guy after using the email address at the end of his bicycle diary of the Atlas Mountains, it turned out that he worked round the corner, we had lunch and he helped us plan a similar trip. (In fact, Andrea, if you're still out there I'm afraid I still have your Cadogan guide, please get in touch and I will gladly return it. Your technophilia was probably less encouraged than mine through our encounter.)

Friday, July 07, 2006

galactic questions

Just listened to Melvyn Bragg's latest-but-one podcast (which sadly being the latest-but-one I can't meaningfully link to now) on galaxies and had to listen to it twice in order to grasp a lot of things. If I stop concentrating for a minute on astronomy I find it very easy to lose track because all the facts and numbers are so, well, astronomical. But I was left with a few burning questions (which pretty much any amateur astronomer could probably clear up for me).

1. If (as per red shift and Hubble's Law) every other galaxy in the universe is getting further away from us, then why is Andromeda going to crash into the Milky Way in a few tens of billions of years? Is the movement away from singularity not a uniform radiation from a point?

2. Apparently the kind of things we can see, the stuff made of the subatomic particles known to us, is only about 4% of the matter in the unverse. Of the rest, about 20-30% is "dark matter" , which is therefore hugle significant but mysterious. But no one asked - what about the other three quarters?

3. Glad to get straight that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old, the Milky Way about 13 billion years old (it still foxes astronomers how the galaxies formed so "quickly") and gladder still to learn that we are less than halfway through the projected life of the universe (an inference from the tens of billions of years that apparently still separate us from collision with Andromeda). But has anyone started figuring out how long they reckon the universe will last before everything sputters out (or folds up again)?

4. Apparently galaxies through "secular evolution" (i.e. even without interacting with other galaxies) very gradually "use up" the matter that originally comprised them. Why? And how? I found this point a little depressing. And what about the dark matter (and the even darker stuff)

Incidentally it made me think of Aubrey de Grey and his anti-aging and anti-death scientific crusade. More than any other argument I felt the action of the cosmos gave the lie to the notion that we could ever possibly overcome the natural tendency of systems to eventually shut down - if the sun's going to do it, and the galaxy, then surely us. What's more alarming is to think that we'll shut down the earth before time. But perhaps in the end we will only shut down the human species.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

how to deliberately avoid thinking things through, or convenience morality

A conversation with Pete this afternoon crystallised an unease I have felt for the last year and a half since I started ripping off large quantities of music for my MP3 collection. Pete has a much clearer moral code in the area than my flaccid, improvised convention. Mine goes something like this: I'll listen to everything and if (a) I really like and album and (b) the artist is still alive and (c) they're not already rich and famous then maybe I'll get round to buying it too, because more obscure living artists need support and don't need the likes of me to rip them off. Unfortunately that only works on the occasions when I actually get round to it. And I treat the vast area of music which falls outside these restrictive categories without compunction, partly legitimised by a dimly-perceived (be me) crypto-communism which seems to float around the area of illegal downloads - you know the sort of thing: the record companies take all the profits anyway and the corporations have hijacked the DIY ethic of file sharing, and isn't it terrible that they're brainwashing kids with copyright lessons in schools etc etc - so why contribute to the perpetuation of a corrupt economic and political system? Well I don't really follow, or know all the facts, but hey, it's good enough to get me out of actually paying for anything - a sort of "from each according to his whims, to each according to his desires" approach. Then there's the thought that I work in music, so it's kind of a fair-enough perk of the job to get my grubby hands on it (whether or not I review it, and I haven't reviewed anything for months).

So what should I do? If I delete the whole lot, I'll lose a lot of good babysitter music. And my wife will kill me. But that makes it a more interesting moral dilemma - I am stuck between a rock and a soft place. Or I could buy all 7000-odd tracks - but that would set me back, er, about 7000-odd pounds. But now that I'm a father I have to start taking my moral responsibilities seriously, or I will either start giving out bad advice or turn into a hypocrite.

nice of them to wait for me

not being sufficiently passionate (but more than mildly interested) about the English team's labours in the World Cup, I decided to cycle home through a quiet city to my three-week old son rather than stick around in front of a big screen at work to watch England v Trinidad and Tobago. Imagine my gratification, then, when not only did I get home to discover that nothing had happened by the 80th minute, but both of the goals were scored while I was watching the last 10. I feel slightly in tune with the cosmos.

more good babysitting music

Susanne Abbuehl and Stravinsky (Agon) were both pretty effective this week. Agon settled him down a couple of evenings ago, and Abbuehl's "Compass" kept him sweet all Wednesday morning on a continuous loop. I was pretty tranquil with it too I must say.

Friday, June 09, 2006

good conversation

I love carrying the little man around in the sling and chatting to him. Now that I have him do I need a blog? Though the kind of things we end up talking about are a little different from the standard fare of the blogsphere (if such a thing exists) so perhaps I can sustain both monologues in parallel. and perhaps each will become more of a dialogue or conversation in time. But it's amazing how knowing your audience changes what you want to say. I think that's partly why I've always loved letter writing, and quite enjoyed reviewing, but struggled with fiction. It's all words, but words are nothing if not communication, so you need to know what you're communicating, and first of all to whom. Maybe that's why most good fiction writers start with autobiographical stuff (and sometimes stay with it - Bellow is one of my all-time favourites and I'm not the least put off by the fact that pretty much all his characters are North American Jews of East European or Russian extraction and a decidedly intellectual bent. A family friend once poured cold water on my brother's literary ambitions asking who would be interested in the life of a middle-class European; I think the question misses the point, as the deeper you explore any life the more interesting it gets (leaving aside the royal family perhaps), and it's not about exotcism or grotesquerie - not all literature is commedia del'arte, magical realism, travelogue or grand guignol, and in fact the very best stuff probably never is (much though I appreciate García Márquez, Poe etc) - but look, I'm digressing like the south circular so I'll close the parenthesis now).

Anyway, Ben is a good audience and today as we walked under burning sun through the back streets of East Dulwich hunting down formula milk we strayed from memories of hot days in other countries through the geometric nature of experience of the passage of time, through the search for completeness in life, intimations of ultimate reality, faith and beauty. Since he's barely two weeks old some of the vocabulary may be a bit of a stretch but I like to think that in years to come he will dream a memory of our conversations and wake up with knowledge or ideas that seem to come from nowhere (and perhaps make very little sense).

babysitter music

Been a long time.... but had my hands full with the arrival of a new human being in our lives. It's striking just how much getting used to the simple business of being alive seems to take - that's leaving aside the mechanics of eating, sleeping and everything in between. Shouldn't be surprising, but of course if everything in the world is new you're going to be a little overwhelmed. I get overwhelmed when the sun comes out.

Anyway, just thought it was worth mentioning that one thing that seems to help smooth the existentially ruffled feathers of the wee ex-embryo is music. Most sound of any kind is better than nothing (especially for getting to sleep to) but we are slowly figuring out exactly what music floats his little boat. So far John Cage (preferably in live performance, however ropy, by his dad) and Youssou N'Dour (Egypt) seem to soothe the savage breast.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

half full?

I promised my brother I would post this message on his behalf:

I am currently researching a book about 'optimists' and recording my encounters for BBC Radio 4. As well as famous optimists I am looking for ordinary people who embody extraordinary optimism and positivity.

If you can think of anyone who has overcome (or still enduring) tremendous hardship - against long odds - I would like to get in touch. My aim is to meet and learn from people who have maintained high spirits in the face of disability, sickness, personal trauma, career or financial difficulties, war... anything which we would normally consider unendurable.

Please forward this email on to anyone else you think might have ideas - the longer the chain, the more interesting the results will be!

Please respond directly to