Thursday 8 December 2022

Irrationality - the enemy within

This is not my quote but the title of a book by Stuart Sutherland first published in 1992 when he was Professor of Psychology at Sussex University.  He was also a journalist writing for many prestigious publications - hence the book is both erudite and readable.

I first came across it in the middle 1990s when I was struggling with a particularly irrational situation.  I had always believed that if I explained something properly to someone then they would understand it whether or not they agreed with my point of view.  Especially the facts of the situation (not talking about "my truth" here!)

I had become involved with an organisation.  There were inconsistencies in some behaviour. At one point a member of staff challenged the reporting structure in what was a very small organisation.  I did the business-like thing and found their employment contract in which the member of staff to whom they reported was explicitly laid out. They had signed the contract which had been formally countersigned.  I pointed this out and was told "it wasn't mean to be like that".  I went through it again and received the same reply.  When I asked if they had signed the contract freely, I was told "Yes, but it wasn't meant to be like that".

This was just one of the irrational behaviours I encountered.  I had never dealt with a situation like this before and many months followed with many sleepless nights and much self-doubt.  This book saved my sanity.  The situation was ended with a parting of the ways and a successful restructure.

I see that the book was reissued a decade ago with a foreword by Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science and Bad Pharma and an afterword by James Ball covering developments in our understanding over the  two decades following publication.  The book is still available and on kindle as well. 

I should have reread it during the Covid lock-downs - or perhaps it would have been too depressing to understand more fully the irrationality of so many of the decisions being made.

A quote from Oliver Sacks on the front cover of the early edition "Stuart Sutherland has surveyed the entire range of human irrationality, its experimental investigation, its root causes and its attempted cures in a book which is terrifying, sometimes comic, very readable and totally enthralling.  It makes one wonder how Aristotle could have called man a rational animal."

Friday 7 October 2022

An extraordinary photograph - nine Kings

This extraordinary photograph appeared on Twitter a few days after the death of the Queen.  It shows nine Kings at the funeral of Edward the VII in 1910.

In the back row from left to right:

Haakon VII of Norway, Ferdinand of Bulgaria, Manuel II of Portugal, Wilhelm II of Germany, George the I of Greece and Albert I of Belgium.

In the front row from left to right:

Alfonso XIII of Spain, George V of the UK and Frederick VIII of Denmark.

They were all related and a few years later their countries were at war with each other.  

Thanks to @Piwowarczyk for posting this.  

Monday 12 September 2022

An historic day, in an historic place

When I first heard that Her Majesty the Queen was seriously ill and that members of the Royal Family were on their way to Balmoral, I was standing outside the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon. It is home to the most comprehensive collection relating to Oliver Cromwell and is located in the former Huntingdon Grammar School building where Cromwell was educated as a schoolboy (as was Samuel Pepys).

We were there as part of a visit to Cambridge arranged by the current Master Needlemaker specifically because the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers received its first (Commonwealth) charter from Oliver Cromwell in 1656. After the execution of Charles I at the end of the Civil War, Cromwell was appointed “Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland”: the first commoner to be Head of State. The Restoration of the Stuart monarchy took place in 1660 when King Charles the II returned from exile in Europe. (The preceding years of the civil war and the Protectorate were known as the interregnum – rather as if it didn’t happen.)


The date of 1656 has special meaning for me personally. The Edict of Expulsion was a royal decree issued by King Edward I of England on 18 July 1290 expelling all Jews from the Kingdom of England. While some Jews remained in England they did not practise their religion openly. This persisted until 1656 when they were permitted to return.


When the monarchy was restored the Needlemakers petitioned King Charles II for a new charter, which was granted in 1664. 


What an historic day to be there. We acknowledged the execution of one King Charles and the restoration of another King Charles.  That evening, as we were seated in the dining hall of Magdalene College, Cambridge the Master announced that Her Majesty the Queen had died.  We held a moment’s silence and then the Master gave the Loyal Toast – God Save the King – acknowledging the third King Charles. As this was shortly after the announcement we were possibly the first City Livery Company to do so.  


The Master and his Consort were in attendance at the Royal Exchange, in the City of London, on Saturday morning to hear the second Proclamation of Accession read out sharing the news that the monarch has died and the heir has acceded to the throne. 

King Charles III

Saturday 10 September 2022

Do you remember where you were….?

Many of us still can't quite believe that the Queen has died. While expected it still seemed sudden, especially having seen her two days before, greeting the new Prime Minister.  Hearing of her death on Thursday reminded me of the day of her Coronation. I was only a few years old, we had a day off our primary school in Johannesburg and we could listen to the ceremony on the radio. We then went to the cinema on Saturday to see the newsreel from London.

I had grown up with stories of the two princesses and it all seemed very magical, far away and yet personal. I had a Coronation money box and a replica little carriage and horses – would I still had them!

I have seen the Queen close up on two occasions – at a Buckingham Palace Garden Party and when she came to Southwark Cathedral to see the new Bishops’ copes that the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers had subsidised and the Jubilee (Diamond) window. I also remember rushing to the window when I was at a conference overlooking the Mall to see her drive past with Nelson Mandela.  He said he called her Elizabeth as they were both of royal descent.

Tracking back I remember where I was when I heard that President Kennedy had been shot. I was at the cinema in Johannesburg with my parents and they announced over the loudspeaker after the film had finished. No car radios in those days so we had to wait until we arrived home to learn that he had died.   

When Henrik Verwoerd, the then Prime Minister of South Africa (reputedly the architect of apartheid) was assassinated in the South African Parliament I had just left my office in Regent Street in London and saw the headlines in the Evening Standard.

The remainder of my memories “where were you when…” were from television. When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in the early hours of morning UK time, my husband woke our daughter of a few weeks, propped her on his knee and told her that, although she wouldn’t remember it, she was witnessing man landing on the moon. 

I also remember the greatly revered Royal (and any serious event) commentator Richard Dimbleby saying “Jesus wept” when covering the Queen’s visit to Germany, when he found that the satellite link had broken and he would have to do it all again – not realising he was back on air.  And finally – oh, innocent days, the first use of the f*** word on television – Kenneth Tynan, a critic and writer. I believe that the last two caused thousands of complaints to the BBC.


There is also a strange irony about where I was the day of the death of Her Majesty – that’s for another day.  

Monday 5 September 2022

Travelling again

It’s almost two years since I stopped writing my blog.  There was just so much a person could write about the uncertainty of the pandemic, the lack of social interaction, the constant stress of watching every sneeze and cough. (I am fully vaccinated – I had Covid in October 2021 – I have had worse colds but I was a bit grim for a few days.  I had it again in February 2022 and my symptoms were so mild that had I not had to test for another reason, I wouldn’t have known I had had it. Others were not so fortunate.)

We have started travelling again – Amsterdam and S-’Hertogenbosch in June – for the wonderful International Vocal Competition – Opera – Oratorio. It is a lovely town: we had beautiful weather and such talent.  We attended the finals and also two Master Classes.  Opera-goers are assured of great performances in the years to come if these winners are examples.

I have been to Amsterdam several times – a very walkable city and almost every teenager in Europe seemed to be there. Apparently it has something to do with different attitudes to smoking noxious stuff…..

The Rijksmuseum is always a joy but The Nightwatch is a disaster to try and view. It has been the subject of a mammoth restoration and conservation project – you can see it on the Museum’s website and it is still ongoing.  The picture on the website is deceptive – the photograph below, even though of poor quality gives you an impression of what viewing it is really like. For reasons I can understand, it is behind thick sheets of glass. What I can’t understand is why they didn’t do something about the reflections of the windows at the other end of the gallery, let alone the people viewing it, as well as the thick lines joining the panes of glass.  In the photograph they show as white and you can see the reflection of the windows in the middle. It is on a par with viewing the Mona Lisa these days.

We did spend a few lovely hours at the Mauritshuis in The Hague: a feast of Rembrandt and Vermeer. The famous “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is there – not my favourite Vermeer but catches the imagination. It must do because the gift shop sells about a hundred different items with her image.  I understand the earrings, I usually buy a fridge magnet (we are running out of space) I can even deal with the tote bag, perhaps a Covid mask is of the moment, but a cat dressed as her on a T-shirt, an apron, a set of kitchen towels, socks – yuck. 


New since our last visit was the Dutch Holocaust Memorial of Names, which Polish-American architect, Daniel Libeskind’s studio designed. It commemorates 102,000 Dutch victims of the Holocaust, predominantly Jews but also Roma and Sinti people.  Each name is inscribed on a brick with about a 100 left blank for those who have never been identified.  As with all his work it is deceptively simple and very powerful.  There were people checking lists and looking for names. 

Having read all the reports of chaos at UK airports we had an untroubled journey, our luggage arrived: Schipol however is another matter – piles of suitcases, delayed and cancelled flights, KLM were cancelling flights at the last moment and not taking any further bookings for some weeks – chaos.  We stayed at an airport hotel the night before so we could walk across – just as well, protesting farmers blocked some of the roads. We checked in three hours early (at 5 am) for our flight and the queues started outside the airport. So lucky to be travelling again though.

Sunday 20 September 2020

And so the baton passes…..

A lovely and very meaningful part of the Barmitzvah and Batmitzvah ceremony is passing the Torah (scroll) through the generations. When the Torah is removed from the Ark, many communities invite the grandparents and parents of the child to the pulpit to physically hand the Torah from one generation to another, symbolizing the chain and continuity of the Jewish tradition within families. 

At the batmitzvah of our granddaughter and barmitzvah of our grandson, both sets of grandparents were present to hand the Torah from one to the other to the parents and to the young person. It was very moving.

There are other more mundane things that happen that make you realise that the responsibility for other things is also passing.  I have written before that my mother always made the chopped liver for our Jewish holidays.  She died a few months before Passover and the realisation that I would have to make it was not only a punch in the gut about how much I missed her but also a panic as there was no recipe. I managed, at least I knew what it should taste like and I make it every holiday.

This year I realised that the baton is passing further.  Our daughter made challah for their New Year in Switzerland as I did for ours. Traditionally it is not the usual long plaited loaf but is round.  Hers was so stunningly better than mine – no prizes for guessing which was which.

We went to our son and family to celebrate. He cut the apples and Number Two granddaughter drizzled the honey. We had a delicious roast chicken and trimmings and Number Two granddaughter, with a little help from Mum, made banana bread with chocolate chips  (the New Year is all about starting with sweetness so you can’t have too much of it.)


FaceTime isn’t the same as being together but the baton is passing – we are very blessed with our family.

Saturday 5 September 2020

Old bad habits are quick to resume

When I knitted a lot I always had a few things on the go – I like the knitting part but hate the finishing off and tidying up the loose ends (this is not a parable for my life!) 

I used to wander around The Needlewoman in Regent Street (yes I am that old) or John Lewis haberdashery department but now we have the internet and the temptation is too great – a pattern here – some yarn there…….

I have finished this neck thing – not quite a scarf but will keep one’s neck warm – will go to Number One Daughter if we ever see each other again….


I mentioned in my previous blog about Knit for Peace and these are the squares I have knitted for a full size blanket – just need to sew them together….


There is a “Next Door” neighbourhood group for our area.  Someone posted that she is collecting clothes and toys for some refugees who have nothing but what they stand up in.  There were so many replies that she has had to put people on hold as she can’t store any more for the moment. I had a bag of clothes ready to go to the charity shop and added some toys, which now the grandchildren have outgrown which went. There are several pregnant women so I am back knitting blankets again – one down and one on the way – but I still have to sew that other blanket together. 


I have just ordered some fabulous looking yarn for scarves and shawls – getting carried away again.