Nice pattern

Later, he adds that Britain has “got such a dark past and the country is founded on such crazy exploitation and imperialism. You can’t just look at a Union Jack and say ‘Oh it’s a nice pattern.’”

Jarvis Cocker having Lunch with FT.

(Can’t you though? Isn’t that sorta what Jasper Johns was getting at?

Sweet Track

Reader Chris P writes:

I just got back into reading your blog and spent all day on it 
today. Good stuff.

Yes. Sounds like a good day, Chris.

This is something that’s been in my mind the last few weeks and 
seems relevant to your stuff.

I was back in Long Island for the first time in a while and since 
we’re only doing outdoor things we went on a bunch of hikes that 
have elevated plank walkways through marshes. I was reflecting that 
I just love those things and it’s always a good hike when some part 
of it is on a marsh walkway. You look out on a well made elevated 
marsh walkway and everything feels great. You don’t see them as much 
in California but there are a few.

Then I found this:

Some of the oldest structures ever found in the British Isles are 
elevated marsh walkways. Built in 3800 BC. Older than Stonehenge. 
Lots of good stuff in the wiki piece.

“The track was constructed from about 200,000 kilograms (440,000 lb) 
of timber, but Coles estimates that once the materials were 
transported to the site, ten men could have assembled it in one day”

So it seems like the elevated marsh walkway is one of those human 
-constructed landscape elements that people have a deep almost 
“genetic memory” affinity before. At least people with ancestry in 
the British Isles.

(Similar to the “open” woodlands where natural brush has been 
repeatedly burned out by controlled fires to facilitate hunting.)

Anyway… thought you might be intrigued. If nothing else I feel 
better having told someone.

Lol truly the motivation over here at Helytimes: To feel better having told someone. The Sweet Track design, illustrated here, seems beautifully efficient.

Ishiguro meets the Queen Mother


It says in your biographies that you were a grouse beater. Please explain.


My first summer after leaving school I worked for the Queen Mother at Balmoral Castle, where the royal family spend their summer holidays. In those days they used to recruit local students to be grouse beaters. The royal family would invite people to shoot on their estate. The Queen Mother and her guests would get into Land Rovers with shotguns and whiskey and drive over bits of the moor from shooting butt to shooting butt. That’s where they would aim and shoot. Fifteen of us would walk in formation across the moor, spaced about a hundred yards apart in the heather. The grouse live in the heather, and they hear us coming, and they hop. By the time we arrive at the butts, all of the grouse in the vicinity have accumulated and the Queen Mum and her friends are waiting with shotguns. Around the butts there’s no heather, so the grouse have got no choice but to fly up. Then the shooting starts. And then we walk to the next butt. It’s a bit like golf.


Did you meet the Queen Mother?


Yes, quite regularly. Once she came round to our quarters, frighteningly, when there was only me and this other girl there. We didn’t know what on earth to do. We had a little chat, and she drove off again. But it was very informal. You’d often see her on the moors, though she herself didn’t shoot. I think there was a lot of alcohol consumed and it was all very chummy.

from his Paris Review interview. How about this?

I was at a writers’ festival in Australia, sitting on a beach with Michael Ondaatje, Victoria Glendinning, Robert McCrum, and a Dutch writer named Judith Hertzberg. We were playing a semi-serious game of trying to find a title for my soon-to-be-completed novel. Michael Ondaatje suggested Sirloin: A Juicy Tale. It was on that level. I kept explaining that it had to do with this butler. Then Judith Hertzberg mentioned a phrase of Freud’s, Tagesreste, which he used to refer to dreams, which is something like “debris of the day.” When she translated it off the top of her head, it came out as “remains of the day.” It seemed to me right in terms of atmosphere. 

Amazing chart

I love this.  I feel like I’m watching a magician fool me with a trick!  Source.


John Major

stolen and cropped from Major’s wikipedia page, credit Chatham House I guess.

For whatever reason around May 2, 1997 I happened to see John Major on TV after the UK election.  Maybe it was on the nightly news.  At that time John Major was the Prime Minister, but he and his Conservative Party had just been handed a crushing defeat.

Major appeared outside the Conservative Campaign Office at 32 Smith Square the morning after the election.

via Google. The building is now, ironically, Europe House.

I couldn’t find video of his statement, but at I did find text of it.  Here’s the part that struck me as a teen:

Tonight we have suffered a very bad defeat, let us not pretend to ourselves that it was anything other than what it was. Unless we accept it for what it was, and look at it, we will be less able to put it right.

We’ve lost some very good servants of the party, people who have devoted a huge amount of their life to the service of this country and to the service of this party.

We have lost, temporarily I hope, some colleagues, both senior and not so senior, who still have a lot of service to give this country and this party, and will I hope be back where they should be in the House of Commons, serving us all.


And they lost, from what I saw of it, with a dignity which made me proud of this party.

We now have a job to do, all of us.

[phone rings in background]

They told me the technological age was a good thing

Now, John Major may not be an especially healthy figure to admire, especially for a then-17 year old American boy, I’m not saying I wasn’t unusual.  But in this particular moment, there was a dignity and something admirable in Major’s ability and willingness to not round down the magnitude of the defeat.  In his (seeming) preparedness to look what had happened in the face, and state it clearly.

Just a performance, perhaps, but sometimes the performance counts.  Maybe John Major’s a complete turd, I don’t know enough about UK politics to weigh in on his character.  All I know is I remembered the moment, maybe because being blunt about how bad things are is pretty rare from a politician.  It felt refreshing.