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Venturing Out: A Status Report from Hackney

I had cause to go to Westfield in Stratford the other day. It looked like this at about noon:

IMG 3608

The Levis shop was open. I was picking up some jeans that had been in for repair. That’s a good note for when this is all over, incidentally. If your Levis wear into holes or get torn, most of their shops offer a repair service now. They may have done for years; I only learned about it a month or so back. But it means that for significantly less than a new pair of jeans, I have two good-as-new pairs, including the ones which were already my favourites. One antidote to fast fashion.

There was almost no-one around, and no-one was getting very close to anyone. In Lakeland I was able to get a refill (really, replacement) for one of our SodaStream CO2 cylinders. But they didn’t have any new ones. It seems unlikely that those have been panic-bought, but I was thinking of getting an extra one in case it becomes hard to get replacements, so others might have been ahead of me.

In and out within half an hour, and the parking was the least I’ve ever paid at Westfield: £3. I wouldn’t normally drive if I wasn’t buying much, but getting on the Overground would have been the opposite of social distancing.

Or maybe not, if it had been as empty as the mall.

But just yesterday I gave my daughter a lift to a friend’s house — same idea, avoid the bus — and up in Stamford Hill at around 4:30pm it was really busy with pedestrians. A lot of cars on the road, too. Maybe that was normal or less than, for that time on a Tuesday, though.

Dropped into the wee Sainsbury’s on the way back. No fresh fruit or veg at all. Most tinned goods and bread gone — no toilet rolls, obviously — plenty of snacks and crisps, surprisingly. Either panic-buyers prefer healthy options, or Sainsbury’s are quicker at getting unhealthy supplies back.

I have to confess to feeling a small amount of smugness at having stocked up over the last year or so. Brexit was the initial trigger, but I soon realised that having a supply of non-perishable items is actually pretty useful. If you can afford to buy a bit extra from time to time, and you’ve got the space to store it all, of course.

On the other hand, meals are going to get dull really fast without a regular supply of fresh things.

But if that’s the most we have to worry about, we’re doing better than many. I hope you are coping OK, dear reader.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Books 2020, 3)

Harry Potter fan fiction, by Merlin’s beard! I heard of this book — HPMOR, as it’s known — from my son, a couple of years ago. Didn’t think about it for a while, and then recently I saw a tweet from a friend-of-friends, @ciphergoth:

The fact that it was a quote from Harry Potter, and that I didn’t recognise it — indeed, it didn’t seem like something Harry would say — intrigued me, so I clicked through.

And then I shortly found myself downloading the ebook and reading it for the next… actually, month or so.

Because this book is looooooong! It’s a retelling of just the first Harry Potter book, along with much more, and it’s about half as long as all seven of the JKR originals.

In fact, it could have done with an editor. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it has some weaknesses.

First, the strengths, though. Yudkowsky can write a page-turner almost as well as Rowling. What we have here is an alternative universe in which Petunia Evans marries someone else, not Vernon Dursley. They adopt Harry, and bring him up in a loving home. Harry’s adoptive father is a scientist, which is where he learns his rationality. So his first thought when he discovers that magic exists is to try experiments to understand its capabilities and limits. Experimentation soon gets overwhelmed by events, though, as the plot gets going.

There are other differences from the original, of course, and the end result is very different.

Part of what Yudkowsky does is takes the literal translation of Voldemort’s name — “flees from death,” essentially — recognises the rationality of that feeling — who wouldn’t prefer going on living, to dying? — and builds from there.

The major flaws are wordiness and couple of authorial tics that get repetitive and mildly annoying. He has a tendency to refer to people by their role, rather than their name: “The Defence Professor,” rather than “Quirrell,” for example. Which is fine if used sparingly, for variety. But he has people referring to other people like that, when they just wouldn’t.

There’s also overuse of scenes that start like, “The boy stood in the forest…” and only slowly revealing which boy. Again, fine occasionally, but he overdoes it.

And a few Americanisms creep in: like calling the staff of Hogwarts the “faculty.” And anachronisms: nobody apologised for their snarkiness in 1992, since the word hadn’t been coined yet. Well, I could be wrong there: this site says it goes back to 1906 or earlier. No-one in Britain, then.

But I shouldn’t complain. It’s an astonishingly well-constructed work, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Clash On Display

My favourite band have become a museum piece.

Or at least, some of their instruments, clothing, lyrics, and memorabilia are in an exhibition which the Museum of London1 has been running since the fortieth anniversary of London Calling in December. I popped along today.

It’s small, but pretty good. The centrepiece is Paul Simenon’s smashed bass from the famous cover photo. It lies under glass on a red velvet cushion, like a fallen warrior lying in state (see above).

It’s actually kind of gruesome. “That’s no way to treat an expensive musical instrument,” as someone once said.

I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know, I don’t think. Except maybe that Joe had a backup white Telecaster, that I don’t think I’ve ever seen him use, either live, in video, or in photos. His iconic black one is in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, I believe. Or another museum.

Oh, and see the poster in that shot? “Two for a fiver”? When I bought London Calling it was only £3.99. Both times, as I’ve written about before.

Anyway, worth checking out, especially since it’s free. My main complaint: there are a lot of songs that could have been playing, even if they kept it to the relevant album. Instead they had a loop of just three (“London Calling,” “Train in Vain,” and “Clampdown,” the latter two live versions).


  1. Which I had never before visited, in thirty-two years living here. 

Glen Matlock Remembers How to Rock, but Nearly Forgets the Songs That Put Him Where He Is

Glen Matlock doesn’t seem to have much time for the past, except the past as he sees it. Cover versions of the New York Dolls, or one or other size of The Faces, are fine. But the songs that he co-wrote? The songs that are responsible for what fame he has — for 200 people being out on a cold, virus-infested night, to see him?

Those songs — that single song, in fact 1 — is relegated to the encore.

Glen Matlock and his band at the Red Lion Ballroom in Leytonstone
Glen Matlock and his band at the Red Lion Ballroom in Leytonstone

There’s nothing wrong with keeping your best-known songs for the encore, of course. But when the ticket site said “Curfew: 10:30,” and it’s 10:27 and there hasn’t been a single Pistols song, you can start to get a bit twitchy.

On the plus side, he did introduce “Pretty Vacant” by saying, “This is ‘SOS’,” referring to his borrowing of the intro riff from the Abba song.

It was a good night, though. His originals and the covers were all fine. It’s just that, if you heard a no-name pub band playing those songs — well, you wouldn’t bother going out specially for it.

The night was billed as “Glen Matlock + Earl Slick.” I’m embarrassed to admit I had to look up who Slick was. Turns out he only replaced Mick Ronson in Bowie’s band, and worked with John & Yoko! And now he’s playing lead guitar in Glen Matlock’s band. Oh well.


  1. There’s no point in asking what that is. You’ll get no reply. 

It’s filling up a bit. And the DJ’s playing the 101ers, so that’s good.

At the Red Lion in Leytonstone, where Glen Matlock is playing tonight. It’s… not busy.