Thursday, 3 August 2017

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'

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Electric cars

There is an astonishing piece in today’s FT which more or less says the unsayable: that electric cars are not now and never will be viable.
As most people are aware, the EU countries have all agreed to ban petrol and diesel cars; from 2030 in France’s case and from 2040 in the Uk’s case. Before those dates they are expected to phase out and phase in and to introduce less polluting versions of Hybrid vehicles. That is a very short summary of the current situation.
Nissan are introducing a new version of the Leaf with a much enhanced range between refuelling stops, later this year. The present Leaf has been a failure. No-one knows how many millions they have lost but they had expected sales in excess of a million by now and they haven’t even hit half of that. Which means that the expected economies of scale haven’t manifested themselves.
Tesla in the US have orders for their latest model in excess of 400000 from their Californian factory but have absolutely no idea how they are going to fulfil those reservations. At present, they are geared up for an annual volume of c.100000 vehicles. So, if you have just signed up, you might get a car in time before the law to kicks in in 2040. Also, Panasonic who manufacture the batteries for them are losing money on each battery. Maybe not the end of the world across a hundred thousand batteries but across four-hundred thousand? Tesla themselves are anticipating a loss in third quarter 2017 of US$500 million. Don’t know if they can shrug that off but it is in addition to massive losses since they started down this road. Also, they have 16000 of the previous old model still unsold. How are they going to shift these? And even supposing they find a way to make them, they are not motor car manufacturers. Whereas not only do BMW, Mercedes and Audi between them manufacture 6-million cars per annum, they have built the infrastructure [Sales/Service] to support these volumes. Neither Tesla or Nissan or Toyota have an infrastructure for electric cars. When the Germans switch, at the right time and of their choosing, not some Euro bureaucratic Diktat, they will be ready.
According to the FT Tesla have lost Billions and will have to return to the US Stock Market for yet more equity funding before the end of this year.

Then there are the running costs. Electricity is not cheap. It may get cheaper as Solar and enhanced Solar come down the line but 2040 is much too early to talk about large volumes of electric cars plugging in to your household supply. The FT supplies some figures for the UK.
Bear with me.
It takes at present, all night to recharge a car [9.5 hours technically]. If say ten percent of all cars were electric and that ten percent or even ten percent of the ten percent wanted to recharge at a Motorway Service Station, it couldn’t be done. The FT says each Motorway Service Station would need a 400KW power plant of its own just to service the 10% but either way, nothing adds up.
The grid couldn’t stand cars recharging at home and never will, regardless of the cost of Gas/Wind power generation. We can’t cope now never mind with 6-Million electric cars, plus trucks and tractors, on the road. Even if everyone puts their shoulder to the wheel: governments and manufacturers: more generation; more charging points, even at Supermarkets and Service Stations; does anyone think that Exxon, Shell and the rest of them will simply shut the shop? No, they will reduce the price of diesel and undercut recharging.
And as several people in the Comments section have noted, diesel cars are much, much cleaner now. So what exactly is the point?

 

 

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

SCHEHERAZADE

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On Friday night the Prom was Scheherazade, live from the Albert Hall. I have listened to it three times since then. It’s one of those pieces that are very dependent on the quality of the conductor and the quality of the orchestra. I have a 33rpm vinyl LP of it upstairs in the loft but haven’t tried to download it because it isn’t all that great; but this live concert conducted by a visiting American, James Gaffigan with the BBC Symphony Orchestra was terrific, I thought.

When we were teenagers and we acquired our first Dansette record player [pretty much the last family in the street] we were each permitted to choose one record each. I selected the Jailhouse Rock EP -  - You Don’t Like Crazy Music, You Don’t Like Rockin’ Bands, etc. My younger brother chose The Chirpin’ Crickets - -  Maybe Baby and so on, which we still own to this day although they remain in my loft, unplayed. My Dad had something by Ella but I don’t know what happened to it and my mother took Scheherazade. So, it became a large part of my early musical education. The recording was a masterpiece I have since realised; every player a virtuoso. I can’t remember who the conductor was or which orchestra but something in my memory banks suggests they were Russian.

It’s not Brahms, it isn’t Beethoven. It isn’t intellectual in that way but I love it and it so reminds me of my mother and her love of all Classical music, including Brahms and Beethoven  -  -  quietly playing in the background as she went about her life.

 

 

Sunday, 30 July 2017

RECENT READS

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My Name is Lucy Barton [By Elizabeth Strout}. Liked this a lot; wish I had written it. I keep telling myself how much I dislike American female writers but the reality is that some of my favourite novels are in fact by American female writers. Olive Kitteridge [By Elizabeth Strout}. American Wife [By Curtis Sittenfeld}. Alice Munro’s excellent The Beggar Maid, reviewed her back in 2014.

This has quite mixed reviews on Amazon, only 3.5 stars with one persuasive reviewer suggesting her heart wasn’t in it, but I can’t agree.

It is written in the first-person with a limited cast by the protagonist, Lucy from a hospital bed in New York, where she is suffering from an undiagnosed and possibly psychosomatic illness.  Her estranged Mum turns up out of the blue and stays for a week during which by the medium of hindsight and memory, we learn about her past and the reasons for the estrangement. It is so well written: I cannot applaud her writing enough. There is a section early on where she is obliged to do an info-dump, so, so difficult in the first person [I have found, anyway] and she executes it remakably well.

Not a lot else to say; she, Lucy comes from a deprived, dirt-poor childhood to a relatively wealthy existence in NY. So what. It’s just so beautifully written.

Strout is completely on top of her game.

 

Mend the Living [By Maylis de Kerangal]. This is a French novel, beautifully translated by either Jessica Moore [English edition] or Sam Taylor [American Edition] - - take your pick. It is about a heart transplant and follows the events from the early and tragic death of a healthy young man in an accident, through the grief of his parents to the hospital and the procedures attending the agreements required to donate his organs. It’s good. The sections on grief are tremendously well done and the journey taken by the recipient and her anxious wait for life is equally moving. I wish she had said a little more about her close relatives and their own anxious wait during the actual operation but she doesn’t. The transplant is the final section of the novel and as a writer, I can see why she would want to end it there.

It is full of detail, medical detail, practical detail and emotional detail, which I liked: it all serves to get a sense of momentum, that everything matters and how important each small step is. And she does ask the question; should we be doing this? And when do you die?

It is seriously ambitious and she gets her narrative about as right as anyone could ask for: the major players are sufficiently rounded out for us to care and the lesser characters sharply defined. If I were to criticise anything it would be the rather silly one-sentence paragraphs and chapters which are, I don’t know, irritating and unnecessary, plus she is far too fond of alliteration, for example:

[S] - - and lodges all this self-disgust like a supplication in his stomach

[N] - -  the process of acquiring scientific knowledge, he re-enacts . .  .

There is another particularly striking one full of AW’s

In fact there is an excellent but critical review on Amazon which says that the tricksy writing style gets in the way and I certainly agree that it is an obstacle, not an advantage.

Of course, as someone who recently had a transplant, kidney in my case, it is all the more personal I suppose. It isn’t that I have never thought about the [anonymous] donor or what tragedy lay behind the fact that she was able to provide me with a few more years of life, it is simply that there is nothing to say. I know only that she was a 65-year old woman. I don’t know if she died in a road accident or after a long illness. I don’t know if she was local. I don’t want or need to know any of these things. I do know she was carrying a virus which I subsequently caught at Easter and which almost killed me. I’m not even curious, to be honest.

I took a look at the NHS Website after reading this to see what the success rate of heart transplants is and it is 75% after three years. The Newcastle Freeman Hospital, where I had my transplant done, is world-renowned and survival rates are much better. Quality of life? That’s the question. Can you return to work for example after a heart transplant? There was a youngish guy on our ward . . .  mid-thirties, I would guess . . .  who seemed to me to be almost a permanent resident. His contact with his family was via Skype and you could sense that while he was desperate, literally, to maintain a relationship with his kids they were more interested in going round to Julies for a sleepover, which right now they were running late for and  . . . and . . . it was time to go, Dad . . .

It’s a big subject but if it is one that interests you, I would strongly recommend reading this.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

SAQQARA

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Saqarra is considered to be the first stone-built building constructed anywhere on earth. Apart from arches and ceremonial entrances, buildings prior to 3000BC were built from mud bricks . . . which is why they have largely disappeared from history.

We visited Saqqara a few years ago, took our daughter then aged ten, with us. We were on an organised tour [with Bales] and stayed in pretty decent hotels, mainly in Cairo. I was the one who dragged us all off in the desert heat to Saqqara. I knew that it was commonly regarded as the first stone building and that Imhotep had built it. We had limited time as you so often do on a group tour but as we were leaving we picked up some small stones that were lying about which looked as though they had come from the stepped pyramid itself, at one time. You aren’t supposed to that, even tiny stones lying on the desert floor but we did and took them back to the hotel room put them in a plastic bag and stored them in our luggage to take home.

That night we each of us had terrible nightmares. My daughter was extremely distressed, couldn’t sleep, didn’t want to try in case the terrifying dreams returned but really we were all in a state. Maybe it was something we ate, or drank.

Maybe it was the presence in the room of the pebbles from Saqqara.

At half-three in the morning, I got out of bed found the stones, went down to the hotel lobby out the front door and tossed the stones out into the gutter across the street. Went back upstairs and we all went to sleep more or less immediately. No more bad dreams.

That is a one-hundred percent true story.

Saqqara is generally accepted to have been constructed c. 2620BC so not the least significant thing about it is that it has survived for so long. Imhotep is said to have built it for King [not Pharaoh in those days] Zoser. Imhotep is one of the most significant people who has ever lived. High Priest of the Kingdom, he knew everything, controlled everything. Erik Von Daniken thinks he was probably an alien visitor and that he kick-started what we might call Civilisation. He taught levitation; they simply didn’t have the technology to move the massive stones but more than that they didn’t have the population, or the means to feed them or even the timescale to construct such a building: it should have taken 80-years minimum. They did it in twenty-five, start to finish. In his fabulous book, A guide to Sacred Places of Ancient Egypt J A West states:

Architecturally and artistically, the Saqqara complex is a prodigious achievement . . . as elegant and clean in line as anything the Greeks would do two thousand years later, and displaying a perfection of craft that seems inconceivable without centuries of practice. Yet architecturally there do not appear to have been any precedents. As an analogy, we might say that starting off with Saqqara is like starting motor car production off with the Porsche 911.

There is nothing remotely like it in Egypt or anywhere else.

Imhotep’s own tomb has never been found; Von Daniken suggests he went home to the stars. For sure, the chambers and shafts are constructed to align with Sirius, Orion and a number of other planetary systems. That has never been challenged but Von Daniken argues that it was sited at the centre of the earth’s land-mass [see image]. If you search the internet, there are something of the order of ten million references to Saqqara; I haven’t enough life left to research this but Imhotep is or was, I haven’t read the recent literature, also thought to be Lucifer. In her amazing book, The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing makes a convincing case for her theory that he was some kind of anti-Christ, spreading evil everywhere which is still the prevalent and dominant means by which humanity conducts itself, even today.

 

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

NERYS JOHNSON

Freesias I - Nerys Johnson


We bought another Artwork at the weekend: this is it.

It is in fact a print, number 95 of 95 . . . the very last one.

Don’t suppose anyone has ever heard of Nerys. I met her once when she was Curator of the DLI in Durham. From memory she was in a wheelchair at that time, she was quite ill for sure. Someone gave us two of her original paintings; I didn’t really appreciate them at the time to be honest but they must have been easily worth £1000.00ea then; £3000.00 plus now.

Briget Riley was her contemporary and is on record as describing her as a master of colour.

Nerys herself said of her work: ‘For a long time, flowers have been a major source of inspiration for my work. They are alive, and I try to convey that sense of living. They grow, change, decay and metamorphose. In a drawing, the sense of movement, structure and rhythms is expressed through the marks and lines; in a painting, this is achieved through the balance and contrasts of colour. Whether the flowers are grouped in a riotous bunch or [shown] singly, my aim is to reveal the particular feeling of that image - a potent lily, a burst of spring or the battered remains of winter’.

 

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

DAN CRUICKSHANK

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Anyone ever heard of Dan Cruickshank? He is a Historian. A bit more than that, an architectural historian: very interested in and a leading figure in the Building Conservation movement. He still appears regularly on TV and last Saturday he came to South Shields to give a lecture, which he illustrated with images from his new book, A History of Architecture in 100 Buildings.

Interesting and erudite; his thing was whether it is important, or not to reinstate buildings which had been destroyed. He started off with Bamiyan, where I have been and then Saqqara, where I have been, them Palmyra, where I have never been. His image of Bamiyan was post-destruction of the Buddhas whereas when I went, the demolition had not yet taken place. He said that the local Hazara people didn’t seem to be bothered by the destruction; he said the tourist dollars had never filtered down to them. Then he talked about Palmyra and became rather emotional about that. He had several before and after pictures and to be quite honest, I could get quite emotional myself about the demolition of Palmyra. He said and I had not heard this before that it was done very professionally; it wasn’t just a few cowboys with some gelignite. So somebody or several somebodies who knew what they were doing were involved. Then he showed an image of Warsaw in 1947, almost entirely obliterated by the Germans when they retreated from the City in 1945: 85% of the buildings annihilated in a horrendous act of cultural vandalism. Then he let us see what has happened since. Completely rebuilt and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. He had images of other Historic buildings that had been faithfully rebuilt, several Russian Royal palaces which was kind of surprising to me. I’ve never visited Russia and would not have expected the government there to sanction the millions of Roubles it must have cost to reconstruct these emblems of privilege that their Revolution was all about.

Cruickshank then said that he thought the Bamiyan Buddhas would never be reconstructed. The Afghan government didn’t have the money and the Hazaras didn’t care anyway. He thought the reason that Warsaw was rebuilt was because of the determination of the inhabitants and the support of the whole nation; the City and its buildings were a testament to Polish Culture, which up until then had lasted for millennia. The loss of the buildings represented the loss of their culture; the loss of their country . . . as the German High Command must have known when they ordered the destruction of the City [at huge cost of course, the time and resources spent on destroying Warsaw could have been more usefully deployed elsewhere].

So, this was his message. If the people want it, it will happen, even if it takes decades or even generations. Do the Syrians and Iraqis want Palmyra rebuilt? If yes, then it will happen. If not then it will end up inert like Bamiyan, a forgotten byway on the great Silk Route. Maybe the Chinese will take it on particularly now that they are recreating their own version of the Silk Route.  

I think the message of Saqqara was that even ruins have a value.