Dogs are barking but the train keeps moving

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Dogs are barking etc is one of those phrases that rattles around my head. It appears to have Arab origins (except as ‘..the caravan moves on’) but has been famously quoted by people as various as Andre Gide or Valtteri Bottas’s mate. I don’t know why it occurs to me now except I’m typing this in a camper van next to the North Sea. Surrounded my dogs and caravans. Ah.

5 things:

  1. Care at Scale. Best thing I’ve read in a long time. Personal, global, human, clever. About the climate, bodies, infrastructure and justice. By Deb Chachra.

  2. I’ve just started Alice Bell’s magnificent Our Biggest Experiment. It’s full of extraordinary connections and asides, like the bit below. We didn’t get taught about the 50 million dead and the resultant mini ice age when we studied European expansion. Nor the impact on the violin business.

    As M Maslin and Simon Lewis stress in their book on the Anthropocene (the geological era characterised by the impact of humans) The Human Planet, there is a noticeable dip in atmospheric carbon around the start of the seventeenth century. Maslin and Lewis trace this back to the colonisation of the Americas a century or so before, or more precisely the deaths of 50 million indigenous people. The dead don’t farm and so the unmanaged land shifted back into forests, which in turn inhaled enough carbon dioxide for it to be in bubbles of air from the time preserved deep in the polar ice caps. This regrowth was short lived. European settlers in North America soon got to farming for themselves, not to mention coal mining, inventing kerosene and laying railway tracks, highways, and oil and gas pipelines. Still, this temporary drop in carbon dioxide levels might well have played a role in the so-called 'little ice age', a series of cold snaps between, roughly, 1350 and 1850. This little ice age most likely had a mix of causes – dust from volcanoes intercepting sunlight, for example - but the regrowth caused by colonialism of the Americas might well have been one of them; human forces combining with those from other parts of nature to shift climates, just as they do today.

    The little ice age wasn't cold enough to be a true ice age, but it was cold. The carnivalesque end of this involved frost fairs, puppet shows, ox roasts and children playing football on the thickly frozen ice. There are stories of frozen birds falling from the sky, Henry VIII sleighing between palaces, New Yorkers walking from Manhattan to Staten Island and even an elephant being led across the Thames. It's one reason Stradivarius violins are so prized; trees during this period took longer to mature in the cold, making denser wood and thus a very particular quality of sound. The darker side of this mini ice age was people shivering to death

  3. I have also just started Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks (roughly a human lifespan) which reminded me of the fact that people speak about 16,000 words a day. Which means I have roughly 174,720,000 words left to say. Many of them, now I’ve learnt it, will be forwallowed.

  4. We’re still in the campervan. We’re listening to Yasmin Williams. In case you haven’t come across her music - have a listen. Absolutely gorgeous.

  5. Finally, a quick thought from Caroline Webb’s How to Have a Good Day: “Merely by saying “Tell me more about that,” you’ll be in the top percentile of listeners that anyone will meet today.”

And that’s it.


(There are 985 of you. 985 was when King Æthelred granted lands at Hēatūn to Lady Wulfrun by royal charter, thus founding what will become Wolverhampton)

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5 things:

  1. Listen to this fantastic, tiny! radio feature about “Parson’s Pleasure, a male-only nude bathing place on the outskirts of Oxford.” Sexuality, solidarity, prejudice, privilege and poshness all mingled together. Gorgeous. (The episode about the the New Cross Fire is also incredible.)

  2. Nothing changes: “The first known printed advertisement in English, The Pyes of Salisburi —which was not, sadly, a puff for Salisbury pies but for a book of religious services—was printed in 1477 by William Caxton himself; he claimed ‘The Pyes’ was ‘good chepe’.” (Winston Fletcher)

  3. I love the Olympics. It’s incredibly easy to feel connected to - and responsible for - an athlete from ‘your country’, even though that’s such a weird and tenuous construct. Whenever I feel a tear forming during a medal ceremony I think of this bit of Jan Morris. She’s right, of course, but also, we want to belong. I love re-enactment societies.

    “Today you can qualify to play for the rugby team of a nation if just one of your grandfathers happened to be born there, even if you have never been to the place, even if you speak no word of its language – a qualification almost as absurd as Nazi definitions of Jewishness. One day the very idea of nationality will seem as impossibly primitive as dynastic warfare or the divine right of kings; first the unification of continents, then the global rule of the almighty corporations, like institutions from space, then perhaps space itself and finally plain common-sense will reduce it to a hobby for antiquarians or re-enactment societies."

  4. Just before the pandemic we went on holiday to Florida. It was wonderful. But it was disconcerting. Miami seemed in denial. About everything, frankly.

    I remembered, from when we lived in the States, that all over the Midwest you’d see these signs about Tornado Shelters. And what to do if one happened. They’d built their lives in places of obvious danger, but they were facing up to it. They had a plan. It seemed, to outsiders like us, that Miami was equally close to disaster, to being drowned. But there was no public acknowledgement. No signs about ‘what to do’. This amazingly written article gets at some of that denial.

    Choice phrases:

    “If a young Robert Redford ever fantasized about giving up a few degrees of handsomeness just to be tall, it was this man that he pictured.”

    “I liked all of them. They were a charming bunch. They had been born this way. That’s how they’d gotten jobs on the front lines of capitalist hypocrisy, while those of us who sucked at lying were hiding in the trenches, smoking cigarettes, writing letters home about how miserable we were.”

    “Full disclosure: I live in a town in rural Northern California that could burn down to the ground literally any day, and I’m thinking about buying a house here.”

    Flying home from that holiday, I felt like I should never get on a plane again. Hopefully I won’t.

  5. Similarly, in a way, a little bit of Madness Is Better Than Defeat by Ned Beauman:

    ”As is the case for many men of his age, it took a big scare to make him realise that he might have only a few years left on this earth and it was time to stop neglecting the parts of his life that really mattered to him. So he resolved to start going into the office on Sundays and Christmas Day, too.”

Stay safe. Don’t go in on Sundays.

(There are 711 of you. 711 was George Washington’s number as part of the Culper Ring, a network of spies active during the Revolutionary War.)

Far from the Google Cloud

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I’m writing this on the first day of holiday. I’m obviously not really that far from the Google Cloud I just thought it was a good line. If anything we’re closer to it. We’re not far from Porthcurno and Apollo North. It is also a reality of internet life that although it is a good line someone has undoubtedly used it before. Fortunately I’m strong enough (or not strong enough) to not google it to find out.

Anyway. 5 things:

  1. This episode of 99% Invisible and this of the LRB podcast both point out that ships, just floating in the sea doing nothing, decay and sink really quickly. They need to be constantly and consistently maintained. (They’re not about that, but they touch on it) In the LRB piece there’s also this great section about what happened when the Suez Canal was closed by the Six-Day War:

    “The canal stayed shut for eight years... (The crews were allowed to rotate. They formed the Great Bitter Lake Association to manage their pooled resources and lively social lives. They issued stamps and had their own version of the Olympics.)”

    They issued stamps!

    (The combination of 99% Invisible and the LRB obviously makes me some sort of terrible media-diet cliche. Is someone doing cartoons of media ‘types’ in the way you used to get such things in magazines? Probably.)

  2. I’ve been watching a lot of Adam Neely videos recently. I wish I could play the bass like he can. His video on Music Theory and White Supremacy isn’t typical but it is great. Youtubers keep inventing new ways to do video.

  3. And here’s how TikTok video and Dr Amy Kavanagh bring to life the problems of guide dogs and people living with visual impairment. Clever. Quick.

  4. The heat in Portland and Canada just makes me want to tell everyone to read The Ministry for the Future again.

  5. This talk by Ellen Broad brings some of those things together. A new way to do talks, to do video, to think about the Climate Crisis and data and AI.

Until next month. Stay temperate.


(There are 694 of you. “A synthetic ruby crystal became the gain medium in the world's first optical laser, conceived, designed and constructed by Theodore H. "Ted" Maiman, on 16 May 1961 at Hughes Research Laboratories.[32][40] The concept of electromagnetic radiation amplification through the mechanism of stimulated emission had already been successfully demonstrated in the laboratory by way of the maser, using other materials such as ammonia and, later, ruby, but the ruby laser was the first device to work at optical (694.3 nm) wavelengths. Maiman's prototype laser is still in working order.”)

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I was tempted to send this late, just so I could invoke this:


5 things:

  1. So many of the aesthetics of right now seem to involve looking down. How did makers of too long, too slow documentaries manage before drones, for instance? But, then, still, remarkable things show up when you look down.

  2. I’m very bad at colours. Never on steady ground beyond the basics: red, blue, dark blue, etc. But Katy Kelleher on colours is wonderful.

  3. I was reading this article about ‘Six artists reshaping our way of seeing’ and one of them, Victoria Cantons, described her painting practise as ‘a way to clear the drainpipes’. Brilliant.

  4. The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band have been involved in a long and difficult legal case. (Details, if you want them). At one point, the judge pointed out that the documents presented against them were both ‘prolix and incomplete’. I had to look up prolix (it means tediously lengthy) but the combination of ‘prolix’ and ‘incomplete’ is devastating. And, now, pops into my head multiple times a day as I read stuff.

And that’s it. We’re done. Prolix, possibly, but complete.

See you next month.

(There are 680 of you. Redbad, King of the Frisians, was born around 680. He was the last King of the Frisians.)

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A paper in Nature (‘People systematically overlook subtractive changes’) reports on experiments which show how people find it more obvious to solve problems by adding things than by removing them. Video version (could have been shorter.)

So, in short, 5 good things:

  1. Sally Coulthard on sheep in folklore. (Why ‘black sheep’? for instance) (via Anne Galloway)

  2. Anne Ward’s beautiful book about the seaside.

  3. This is #verysamsung

  4. Catherynne M. Valente writes more than you thought you needed about why Ted Lasso is great.

  5. The New Yorker on vibes:

    "Many vibes don’t have specific names, but some do. Saudade, the Portuguese word for a bittersweet longing, could count as a vibe. So, too, could the Japanese iki, an attitude of casually disinterested elegance, or the German fernweh, the longing to be somewhere far away, evoked by distant vistas or unknown forests. (Hygge, the Danish quality of contented coziness, is a vibe that has been wholly commercialized in the United States.)"

    I see you all doing iki.


    (There are 676 of you. 676 is the country code for Tonga. The sea level around Tonga is rising about half a cm a year. Well above the global average.)

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