I read the news today oh boy





I read the news today oh boy.


Last week I took my family to the Royal Albert Hall to see the latest Cirque de Soleil, Kooza. A great evening’s entertainment in one of my favourite venues. I would go back and see the show again just for the “Wheel of Death”. Stunning.


Over the years I’ve seen many wonderful acts there, each visit was special in its own right. And yet every time I went there, as I entered the place, a part of me went somewhere else in time. Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire. Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. And all the verses in between.

It’s a fabulous song. Perhaps I should say it’s a fabulous two-songs-song, since it represents the merger of two completely independent sections. For people like me, part of the attraction of the song is the story behind it. The stories behind it. Here are two of them:

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The tragedy of Tara Browne’s fatal car crash, as reported in the Daily Mail in December 1966, was apparently the trigger to Lennon’s writing the first half; the report on “The holes in our roads” a few weeks later, also in the Mail, gave rise to the memorable line. Over the years, we’ve learnt bits and bobs about the details behind the song: the triggers and catalysts, the “muses”, the independent parts, the way they were brought together, the engineering behind it, how the alarm clock wandered in and stayed. if you want to know more about the song, the Wikipedia article is a good place to start.

Some of you know I collect books. I’m a very oddball collector, with some very narrow collecting habits. For example, I have hundreds of Don Quixote items, ranging from many many different editions of the book, figures and figurines, buttons, medals, pens and writing materials, illustrations, buttons, plates, bookends, tables and t-shirts. I’m fascinated by how illustrators over the past 400 years chose to interpret the character, and that’s what led me to start the collection: one of my wife’s ancestors illustrated a 19th century Scandinavian edition of the book.

As with songs, part of my fascination with books are the stories behind the books. What made someone write the book; the context of the book; contemporary reactions; changes in reactions through the ages.

That fascination shows up in many different ways: I collect “association” copies of books, usually unusually autographed or annotated, often forming part of unusual collections in their own right. So for example here are two different copies of the same book:

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We live in an age where not everyone knows who the Beatles were. So names like Jawaharlal Nehru, Dwarkanath Chatterjee, Julian Huxley may not mean much to everyone. But they mean a lot to me. And they will mean a lot to some people in time to come, people who care not just about the book but about the stories behind the book. When the book is physical, these stories take dimensions other than just the narrative in them or the impetus before them.

So I have Kerouac’s copy of Gulliver. And Pirsig’s copy of Kerouac. And a book signed by Burroughs sitting alongside a machine made by the company his father founded, a company I once worked for. Books signed by people to people everyone knows. And books signed by people to people nobody knows.

Stories. Stories about stories. Stories about people and stories. Kindle, eat your heart out.

I read the news today oh boy. Talking about reading the news, I’m still getting used to how the news comes to me now. News, like peace, comes like a river to me.

A newspaper of the fish-wrapping kind proved to be a song-catalyst for Lennon. One of that ilk floated this story past me recently:

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I’m hoping that the headline turns out to be wrong in a strange way. The underlying data, taken from 2014 UCAS acceptances as reported in the Times, suggested that men outnumbered women substantially in engineering and computer sciences; and women redressed the balance when it came to social studies, creative arts and education. Web Science is all about bringing those disciplines together into a functional and meaningful whole, thereby rendering the headline irrelevant. Perhaps I will ask Dame Wendy Hall and the rest of the Trustees of the Web Science Trust to opine on this. [I’m one of them, so I’m biased. This world needs Web Science, and in a way that diversity of many forms is protected and cherished, beginning with gender].

In other news, coming to me via a friend on twitter:

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Fascinating. Perhaps there’s something in it for all those who fear AI growing unchecked and untrammelled. “Conquer” the machines by creating an addiction, a dependency, one that only their masters can supply them.

The first time the phrase “Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you” was uttered, it was a momentous occasion. Perhaps in time to come we will be commanding other Mr Watsons in more imperious ways. [I remember coming across a story that the reason why Bell called Watson was because he’d done himself an injury, as if the first words ever spoken on a telephone were accidental. But I can’t remember where I saw it or whether it was true. So I’ll leave it for now and hope that someone reading this will illuminate me].

From twitter to Facebook, which is where I came across this, shared by a friend:

Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.

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