German frigate Lübeck entering #Portsmouth harbour

German frigate Lübeck entering Portsmouth harbour 617.JPG

Weekend trip to Portsmouth, lunch today in the Still and West pub in the old town. It has a great photo of the last British battleship, Vanguard, nearly hitting the pub on its way to be broken up in 1962. We were right next to the water, and over the green water we saw the Lübeck sailing happily into the harbour, big flag flying, sailors at attention.

(The good weather has broken. But in a place like this with colours like this, sunshine is not so important in how you feel as you look at the landscape and the sea.)

Mary Rose ship deck Portsmouth 617.JPG

Earlier in the day we visited the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s ship that sank during a battle against a French invasion in 1545 and was raised from the mud in 1982. I don’t know whether the ship itself, these 500 year old timbers, or the bits and pieces gathered up from the crew, bowls and tiny dice and a dog’s skeleton, are more moving.

A man I know who works there told me they are in frequent contact with the Vasa people in Stockholm. The Vasa people say they do things first, then the Mary Rose does them better.

Ian McEwan, quoted in the Guardian yesterday, comments on a scene in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey: What’s striking is that in the very early 19th century before the railways had transformed the country, long before the telegraph, [this scene] evokes a world that is so connected, so in touch with itself. Today, that feels like a description of Europe.

Carlo Rovelli on the direction of time, #heat

heating art nouveau house rue de l'hippodrome 1015.JPG(Man demonstrating heating system, art nouveau house, Brussels, 2015)

The difference between past and future only exists where there is heat. The fundamental phenomenon that distinguishes the future from the past is the fact that heat passes from things that are hotter to things that are colder. (Carlo Rovelli, Seven brief lessons on physics, 2014 tr. 2015)

Carlo Rovelli on general relativity and quantum mechanics

changing space Jurmala 815.JPG
(curved changing space, Jurmala, Latvia, 2015)


A university student attending lectures on general relativity in the morning and others on quantum mechanics in the afternoon might be forgiven for concluding that his professors are fools, or have neglected to communicate with each other for at least a century. In the morning the world is curved space where everything is continuous; in the afternoon it is a flat space where quanta of energy leap. 

The paradox is that both theories work remarkably well. Nature is behaving with us like that elderly rabbi to whom two men went in order to settle a dispute. Having listened to the first, the rabbi says: ‘You are in the right.’ The second insists on being heard, the rabbi listens to him and says: ‘You’re also right.’ Having overheard from the next room the rabbi’s wife then calls out, ‘But they can’t both be in the right!’ The rabbi reflects and nods before concluding: ‘And you’re right too.’

(Seven brief lessons on physics, 2014 tr. 2015)






Janice Turner, #Grenfell Tower, civil society

The bags of shoes, toys, T-shirts, underwear, cans and sweets spill out on to west London pavements. The community centres around Grenfell Tower are rammed with willing helpers. So many, in fact, that folk are turned away. A superabundance of compassion, a surfeit of love. People – never let us forget – are good.

Our triptych of summer tragedies is notable both for visceral horror and open hearts. Manchester taxi drivers ferrying lost girls free. Borough Market waiters sheltering the terrified, an old man offering a plate of wonky, homemade sandwiches to tired police. So eagerly given is this kindness, it seems people are sprung and ready, just waiting for some outlet, an event that calls upon them to connect…

That social media parades the ugliest side of humanity is much discussed. Yet often, as in the Grenfell tragedy, it brings out the very best. In 2000, Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone about the declare in “social capital”, the web of connections between people in workplace clubs and friendship groups. But since then a new civic society has been created online. And its values of empathy, solidarity and social responsibility are …  filtering into real life. (Janice Turner, The Times, 17 June 2017)

#Strasbourg – cross border trams

tram international cross border Strasbourg 617 3.JPG

I love the trams in this city, which I’m visiting for work. When I worked in Manchester they were one of the inspirations for our Metrolink – but the Manchester trams are not as stylish, I have to admit. Now they’ve extended one of the five lines across the Rhine into Germany, at Kehl. I remember stories of how you could go by tram from Vienna to Bratislava in the old days; good to see something like that coming back.

tram international cross border Strasbourg 617 2.JPG