Confession: my least favourite part of blogging is writing these introductions.
Writing an introduction is easy if you’re writing about one event (New post: My trip to the moon) or multiple events with one running thread (New post: My top five podcasts to listen on the way to the moon) but sometimes there’s just no way to fake any narrative coherence. And that’s OK. Sometimes, you just have to learn to give up and lean into subheadings.
Celebrating 32 Years on Earth
It was my birthday last weekend! To celebrate, Randi added a slightly menacing block into my calendar (“This day is not in your control”) and then squirreled us away to Seaford on Friday night so that we could have dinner at The Grumpy Chef. We love The Grumpy Chef, last seen in November during our US election day/pre-lockdown dash to the coast, and it seems to be doing well enough to have expanded into The Grumpy Fish over the road.
The next morning we had a choice between repeating our Seven Sisters walk to Eastbourne or trying something new in the other direction. Happily we picked the second option, because even though we didn’t make it all the way to Brighton on foot (cutting it short after about three hours with the help of the impressive frequent coastal bus) it led us to make a serendipitous discovery buried deep in The Lanes which I will keep secret until later in the summer.
I also can’t leave Seaford without mentioning that also managed to have breakfast in 1945. “We’ve just won the war!” enthused the proprietor – who seemed genuinely pleased – as Randi and I tucked into our food and enjoyed the background hum of all your favourite wartime melodies. My favourite moment was when the guy at the counter ignored the anachronistic “NO CARDS, CASH ONLY” sign and pulled out a hidden contactless machine from under the till for us to pay. “Don’t worry, I’m happy to take cards. The owner’s just a bit stuck in the twentieth century” he said, before looking around and laughing as he realised this explanation was probably unnecessary.
The next day we travelled up the country in the other direction to Hereford to do some scouting. More on this later, too!
Global Britain, 1966
Katie and I enjoyed another Doctor Who night last week, going all the way back to 1966 for the highly enjoyable and gleefully ridiculous The War Machines.
The premise: all of the world’s countries (including both the USA and the USSR) have agreed to place their entire computer networks under the central control of a single new super-powerful computer, WOTAN, built – for some reason – on the top floor of London’s shiny new
BT Post Office tower. You know WOTAN’s really, really amazing because it’s able to provide the square root of 17422 (to three decimal places) within seconds.
Anyway, my favourite scene is when Sir Charles Summer, head of the ‘Royal Scientific Club’, elegantly bats away the sole American reporter who voices any concern about this foolproof plan:
SUMMER: Gentleman, ladies, may I have your attention please? Well, you're heard the backroom boys, now it's about time you my turn. C Day, that is Computer Day, will be next Monday, July the 16th, that is in four days time. Now on that date all the computer systems in this country, and subsequently in the whole world will come under the control of this central computer which we call WOTAN. Now, as you've heard, that will have both peaceful and military implications. I need hardly tell you that this is a great step forward for Britain, and indeed I may say, for the whole world. Now, have you got any questions?
STONE: Roy Stone, New York Sketch.
SUMMER: Fire away.
STONE: Sir, doesn't this put a great deal of power into the hands of whoever operates WOTAN?
SUMMER: No one operates WOTAN. WOTAN operates itself. The computer is merely a brain which thinks logically without any political or private ends. It is pure thought. It makes calculations, it supplies only the truth. It has no imaginative powers.
STONE: Is there no way of fixing it so it can give the wrong answers?
SUMMER: There would be no point. Now don't forget that a computer like WOTAN is not a human being.
STONE: Oh, but surely, sir
SUMMER: It has no reason to suppress the truth, it has no emotions. It is our soul.
STONE: It seems to me by the way you're talking, sir, that this machine can think for itself like a human being.
SUMMER: It can. Only much more accurately.
STONE: But sir, I mean, isn't this kinda risky? I mean, suppose it decides it can do without people, what then?
SUMMER: I hardly think it'll come to that. I'm sure that Professor Brett and his team will have the machine well under control.
I have absolutely no doubt that Sir Charles Summer would be doing very well for himself today.
Football Football Football
Excluding the matches which I ‘played’ in during PE – and by ‘played’ I mean ‘observed from as far away from the ball as possible’ – I’ve never actually seen a whole football match in person. Until Tuesday, that is, when I benefited from some generous Booking.com corporate hospitality and saw England vs. Czech Republic at Wembley. Thankfully, I was accompanied by my colleague Lee who could explain what was going on, and despite being assured afterwards that it was a pretty boring game I’m going to play my “I’ve got nothing to compare it to” card and say that it was a lot of fun. Especially as (a) England did score the only goal of the game, and (b) they kindly did so during the half when we were sitting behind the goal in question.
Finally Double Vaccinated (But Not The One You Think)
On 10th July 1990 I got my first dose of the MMR vaccine as part of a global conspiracy to stop children dying of measles, mumps and/or rubella. You’re supposed to get the second dose at age 3, but for some reason I didn’t. This definitely wasn’t my parents’ conscious decision, so let’s just put it down to uncharacteristically bad record keeping. Hey, it was the 90s – there was no NHS app yet.
Then a few weeks ago I happened to flick past Channel 4’s documentary on the latest generation of anti-vaccination con artists, which inspired me to check my own medical records later and realise that I was 28 years overdue for my jab. I made a quick phone call to my bemused local surgery and was vaccinated the same day. 💉💉💉
Dinner on the Tube
My birthday gift from Tash and Cormac was being treated to a delicious six-course Latin American-inspired tasting menu… on an old 1967 Victoria Line tube carriage in Walthamstow! This was every bit as amazing as you would think, so thank you guys!
So, I’ve even run out of subheadings, but let’s keep going! After 5 years I finally invited myself over to Oliver and Abi’s ‘new house’, and enjoyed a very long lunch in their incredible garden. Randi and I went out for drinks with my colleagues Eric and Tomas, being led around Eric’s home turf on a mini-tour of local pubs. This morning we went back to parlez in Brockley for a final celebratory birthday brunch, before introducing my mum to One Tree Hill and Horniman Gardens and trying to persuade her to imagine the amazing views which she would be able to see on a clearer day.
And, last but extremely not least… last night Randi and I livestreamed Catherine and AJ’s wedding from the-tornado-warning-has-now-been-lifted Chicago.
We’re extremely fortunate that during the pandemic we’ve never had to experience getting sick, or losing someone close to Covid, or losing our jobs, or working on a hospital ward, or being forced to suddenly be responsible for homeschooling, or any of the other staggeringly difficult things which other people have faced. So in that context, there’s no doubt that the saddest impact for us has been not getting to celebrate this wedding in person. Nevertheless, it made me really happy to be there virtually (top-notch microphones, by the way) and I am reassured that we will make up for it in the future 🙂