Archive for Britain

a journal of the plague year² [not there yet]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2021 by xi'an

Returned to Warwick once more, with “traffic-as-usual” at Charles de Gaulle airport, including a single border officer for the entire terminal, a short-timed fright that I actually needed a PCR test on top of my vaccine certificate to embark, due to wrong signage, a one-hour delay at departure due to foggy conditions in B’ham, and another ½ hour delay at arrival due to a shortage of staff and hence no exit stairs available! And got a tense return to B’ham as the taxi line in Warwick had vanished!

Read the first novel of P. Djèlí-Clark A Master of Djinn after reading a series of short stories and novellas of his, taking place in the same fantastic Cairo of the early 1900’s. This was enjoyable, mostly, again thanks to well-constructed characters (apart from the arch-villain) and the appeal of the magical Cairo imagined by the author. I did not feel the appearances of Raymond Poincaré or von Birsmark were really needed, though. Also kindled A history of what comes next, by Sylvain Neuvel, which I got as a free (Tor) book. Which is an interesting take on the space race, with a pair of (super-)women behind the entire thing. And a lot of connections to the actual history. I somehow got tired in the middle, even though I finished the book during my commuting to and from Warwick.

Watched within a week My Name, a dark Korean TV drama,  as I found it very good and rather original (albeit with some similarities with the excellent Jeju-based Night in Paradise). The storyline is one of a young woman, Ji Woo, seeking revenge on her father’s killer, by joining the criminal gang her father was part of and infiltrating the police (not really  a spoiler!). At the beginning, this sounded like gang glorification, hence rather unappealing, but soon things proved to be quite different from how they appeared first. The scenario is of course most unrealistic, especially the (brutal and gory) fights where the heroine takes down endless rows of gang members and where the participants almost always recover from knife injuries that should have been fatal or at least permanently damaging. And the ineffectiveness of the police in stopping the drug dealers. However, when watched as a theatrical performance, the main characters in My Name, most especially Ji Woo, are well-constructed and ambiguous enough to make this descent into darkness worth watching. (Given the conclusion of the series, I cannot imagine a second season being made.) Also had a short go at Night Teeth, which proved a complete waste of time!

Misera Carta Privationis

Posted in Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2021 by xi'an

Read in The Guardian of 18 November that the UK Government was pushing for a new bill on nationality and borders that would

  • open the possibility for said Government of stripping British citizens of their nationality without noticing them (and hence depriving them from appealing the decision)
  • barring anyone arriving in the UK by an illegal route from claiming refugee status
  • criminalising anyone trying save an illegal immigrant life
  • giving UK Border Force staff immunity from prosecution if their operations result in death

which are failing basic human right principles in the country that established the Magna Carta as a basis for a lawful government… (From a cynic perspective, the 1253 charter was only giving right to a very small fraction of the English population, while serfdom lasted until 1574.) And another illustration of how Brexit is more easily used to cut rights than to establish new ones.

a journal of the plague year² [600+]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2021 by xi'an

Returned to Warwick for the first time in 600 days!, most pleasantly reconnecting with my colleagues there and realising some were almost as freshly back to the department as myself. But also noticed a strong difference with France in terms of wearing mask and practicing social distanciation among the students (at the University) and the general population (in the local Tesco or the train to the airport). Which may explain for the persistently high number of contaminations, when compared with neighbouring countries. Despite its high vaccination rate.

Read the second volume of Baru Cormorant, after enjoying so much the first instalment (under the Corsican relentless sun). However, it was such a disappointment, as it seemed written by a completely different author, including the style, with the story being more broken, more difficult to follow, and the characters becoming shallow and uninteresting. This is particularly true of Baru, who sent from a sharp focus on her goal in Traitor, to a purposeless floatsam in Monster. With a highly artificial rescue of her ethics in [warning, spoiler ahead!] killing her lover Tain Hu (and hundreds of others) in the first volume. I currently doubt I will buy the third one… A stormy night kept me awake and as a result help me finish the last hundred pages!

Watched Mute, dubbed a “Netflix disaster” in The Guardian! (and following the appalling Warcraft!). Which postulate of a mute character could have been rewarding, had not the characters be of cardboard consistency. And the plot so transparent most of the scenes had to be shot at night. And the cheap plagiarism of Blade Runner is simply ludicrous. I also watched Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja, a satire about the meat industry producing hippo-like pigs that I found very heavy-handed, especially in its characters.Started cooking bread on a regular basis once again, as weather is turning colder and baking also warms up our drafty kitchen! Now turning to a heavier type of loaf, mixed wheat and rye, and reducing the amount of water to make it last longer. And also made a first attempt at Okonomyaki, this tortilla-like dish made of shredded cabbage and flour that I enjoyed very much in Osaka. The result was pleasant enough but very, very far from the original, maybe due to my using (soba) buckwheat rather than plain flour. Or using regular stock rather than daishi stock.

Our Lady of the Van

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , on March 14, 2021 by xi'an

As I came across this Lady in the van film on a lazy evening, I gave it a go since it featured Maggie Smith, London, and apparently an eccentric homeless old-lady. Afterwards, since I was somewhat reserved about the story and the plot, if not by Smith’s and Jennings’ acting, and surprised at the highly positive reviews it received. I looked at the background, only to discover that this was a slightly modified version of a real story where the English writer Alan Bennett let Margaret Fairchild live in a van on his property, in Northern London, in the 70’s and 80’s, until she died in 1989. If ignoring the heavy pathos permeating the film throughout to concentrate on the (light) social criticism of the bo-bo Gloucester Crescent residents and on the very British satire behind essentially every character, first and foremost the writer himself, there are some enjoyable aspects.  But I remain perturbed by the somewhat exploitative way Bennett turned this story into a 1989 essay, then a 1990 book, then a 1999 play (already involving Maggie Smith), and a 2009 BBC radio play, before adapting the play for the film. And somewhat shocked that over 15 years Margaret Fairchild was let to live in such conditions. In a rusted van, in the middle of London…

Haldane’s short autobiography

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2020 by xi'an

“I was born at Oxford, England, in 1892.  My father was Prof. J.S. Haldane, the physiologist.  I was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford.  I learned much of my science by apprenticeship, assisting my father from the age of eight onwards, and my university degree is in for classics, not science.  I was in a British infantry battalion from 1914 to 1919, and was twice wounded.  I began scientific research in 1910, and became a Fellow of New College, Oxford, in 1919.  I was at Cambridge from 1922-1932 as Reader in Biochemistry, and have been a professor in London University since 1933.  I was visiting professor in the University of Berkeley, Cal., in 1932.  In the same year I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

My scientific work has been varied.  In the field of human physiology I am best known for my work on the effects of taking large amounts of ammonium chloride and other salts.  This has had some application in treating lead and radium poisoning.  In the field of genetics I was the first to discover linkage in mammals, to map a human chromosome, and (with Penrose) to measure the mutation rate of a human gene.  I have also made some minor discoveries in mathematics.

Whilst I may have been a credit to my universities, I have been a trial in other ways.  I was dismissed from Cambridge University in 1926 in connexion with a divorce case, but regained my post on appeal to a higher tribunal, which found that the university authorities had decided to dismiss me without hearing my case.  At present I have refused to evacuate University College, London, and, with two assistants am its sole academic occupant.  I am carrying on research there under difficulties.

Besides strictly scientific books I have written a number of popular works including a book of children’s stories.  I consider that a scientist, if he can do so, should help to render science intelligible to ordinary people, and have done my best to popularize it.

Till 1933 I tried to keep out of politics, but the support given by the British Government to Hitler and Mussolini forced me to enter the political field.  In 1936-1938 I spent three months in Republican Spain, first as an adviser on gas protection, and then as an observer of air raid precautions.  I was in the front line during fighting, and in several air raids behind the line.  Since then I have tried, with complete lack of success, to induce the British Government to adopt air raid protection measures which had proved their efficacy in Spain.

Mr. Chamberlain’s policy, and the recent developments in physics and biology, combined to convince me of the truth of the Marxist philosophy.  Though I am a member of no political party, I have of late years supported the communist party on a number of issues.  At present I am engaged on research in genetics, & research intended to save the lives of members of the British armed forces, and writing and public speaking designed to prevent the spreading of the present war, and if possible to bring about peace.  I am a fairly competent public speaker.

It will be seen that my life has been a full one.  I have been married for 14 years, measure 73 inches, weigh 245 pounds, and enjoy swimming and mountain walking.  I am bald and blue-eyed, a moderate drinker and a heavy smoker. I can read 11 languages and make public speeches in three, but am unmusical.”

J.B.S. Haldane, circa 1940

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