The Print Site Tour is an unusual work perk, and it is highly coveted. This week I was lucky enough to get a last-minute place. After an introductory session in the office, which explained the process of producing and adjusting the colour separations, and transferring the files to the presses worldwide, we headed off to deepest Stratford. St Clements Press (the sign on the building had no apostrophe; it seems to be a movable feast, as the LSE history has one) sounds to me like a codeword, as if one shouldn’t know exactly what is printed there, but in fact it is the name of a separate company acquired by the FT years ago which has printed the FT and other papers for a long time. However, the Guardian’s print operation, next door, was not so discreet about its mission.
After another induction, we toured the factory, seeing among others, the places where the paper rolls are loaded, the printing plates are produced (by what is essentially a giant laser printer producing lithographs on aluminium plates), and the paper folded and collated. It was a fascinating if noisy hour or so. Print media is in decline and it seems inevitable that one day it will disappear altogether, though there’s no suggestion that will happen in the near future.
The paper rolls are about 2km long. This machine joins them together so there’s no stoppage when the roll runs out.
One of the plates was in the wrong way around. This doesn’t matter much so long as it’s discovered early, because the first few hunderd copies are binned anyway. It takes time for the machinery to warm up and for the print quality to become acceptable.
The presses running.
The magical folding machine. All pages have to arrive in alignment, so they can be combined here. Lots of adjustable rollers control the length of run for each roll.
Hot off the press.
Journalism in motion.
Book Review: The Spy of Venice, by Benet Brandreth
I always struggle to define what kind of fiction I like, so I try to be open-minded when I come across things that look potentially interesting in the work book sale. In an unusual fragment of preconditioning, I recall that my parents didn’t have good things to say about their school recollections of Shakespeare or Dickens; I think my mother may also have had to read Chaucer. In turn, I had a mixed bag when it came to English teachers, and although I found I could tolerate Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities (also discovering that it is considered fairly uncharacteristic of him) I was distinctly uninterested in Henry V or Macbeth, which were what school and the GCSE syllabus of the time conspired to offer me.
Nonetheless, I found the prospect of a Venetian setting appealing, and felt this book would be worth trying. I’m glad I did, because although I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it unreservedly, I did find it enjoyable for the most part and quite entertaining. In one sense it’s a counterfactual story, making use of missing years in Shakespeare’s chronology; but on the other, it’s speculative fiction on how those years might have been filled. Twenty-year old William Shakespeare (“A shrewd-faced lad who might have made something of himself in the glove trade were it not that his mind wandered”, as his biography in the list of characters has it) finds himself on the wrong end of the local steward’s ire and decides to set forth for London, following a company of players who have just recently supplied entertainment at Stratford on Avon. By the kind of coincidence that only occurs in books he becomes entangled in a plot ultimately controlled (as all such things of the period must be) by Sir Francis Walsingham, concerning an exchange, commercial and intelligencial, with the Republic of Venice. The story is constructed in a structure similar to a play, in five acts, with bite-sized chapters in each; and also the various plot twists and turns seem to fit the theatrical scheme too. I found a few hints to works and quotations of the Bard, and the character of Oldcastle made me think of Falstaff straight away; I’m sure someone more familiar with Shakespeare would recognise far more references. I did find the pace of the book a little uneven – in particular the journey to Venice, and the drawn-out scheming that goes on within that city progressed slowly but with bursts of action – but overall this worked well, and it was frequently clever and witty.
It wasn’t ideal to have consecutive weekends with trips out to concerts, but that’s how it turned out. We had complimentary tickets to The New Choir‘s concert in Oxford, as R had supplied photography for the concert posters and programme. As we took the bus from the station, I noted that although the road layout in central Oxford is under constant change, the traffic is at a constant standstill. We enjoyed a hearty meal at Moya on St Clements, before finding our way across to Iffley Road for the concert at St John the Evangelist.
Last week, we heard Renaissance music in a Baroque church; this week, Baroque music in a Victorian Gothic church. Perhaps the choir had a more rounded sound, but the acoustics were not altogether favourable, and the solo parts weren’t always very clear or standing out above the small instrumental ensemble. The first half of the concert was Handel’s Funeral anthem for Queen Caroline. One doesn’t typically associate Handel with more sombre occasions, so it was a bit of a departure, and an effective one, though his tendency to repeat phrases over and over was still apparent. In the second half, we had more funeral music, this time for the Duke of Marlborough, with Bononcini’s When Saul was King, sharing some of the same text as the earlier Handel; and finally, Handel’s more uplifting Chandos anthem I will magnify thee.
Book Review: I, Maybot, by John Crace
I noticed on Goodreads this was only scheduled for release the day I finished reading it. I assume it slipped through any embargo at the work book sale, or perhaps the publisher metadata was wrong (it would hardly be the first time). I’m not sure this is a book for laying down, so I decided it was best read as soon as it appeared.
I think it’s in the film Office Space where they say the job you should have is what you would do anyway if you didn’t have to go to work. There’s something appealing about being a political sketch writer, but whilst, like many people, I can make the odd wise crack, it would be difficult to sustain the quality for any length of time.
So, I leave it to the professionals, like John Crace. This is a thin but devastating volume compiled from his pieces for The Guardian since the EU referendum, with occasional inserts of newly written text to provide continuity and also to note significant events in the chronology that are beyond humorous writing (Crace gives credit for May’s handling of the Westminster and Manchester attacks, says little about the London Bridge/Borough Market attack, and is scathing about her handling of the Grenfell Tower fire.) Whist May is centre-stage, the writing frequently draws in the other players – Dave (remember him?), George, Boris, Michael and Andrea – and not just the Conservatives: Corbyn, McDonnell and Abbott are ridiculed, and even Tim Farron’s self-inflicted wounds on Channel 4 get a mention. The series of spectacular own goals and u-turns over the past year have, of course, provided ample material, so it’s hardly a surprise that there is easily enough to fill the book. The publishers’ only regret is probably that they cut off the story in July, so it doesn’t cover the car-crash that was the party conference.
Book Review: The Glass Universe, by Dava Sobel
It’s always good to discover a book in the work book sale that’s already on my “to-read” list. This is the story of the women who analysed astronomical photographs at Harvard from the late nineteenth century through to the Second World War and who were, in common with people in other disciplines doing calcultions, often referred to as “computers”.
Dava Sobel begins with the death of Dr Henry Draper in 1882, which led Mrs Draper to fund work related to his research and practice in the early years of astrophotography and spectroscopy. Ultimately, the result of this was the Henry Draper star catalogue, by which many stars (prefixed “HD”) are known today. In this emerging discipline various discoveries were made, such as spectroscopic binaries, Cepheid variable stars, the element helium, the elemental distribution in stars, and red-shift. As the computing power behind the analysis of photographs, many of these discoveries were by women, though poorly paid and clearly regarded as second-class citizens in the academic community. I’d previously been aware of the work of Henrietta Leavitt (whose period-luminosity law for variable stars was of fundamental importance in Hubble’s discovery of the expansion of the universe and settling the question of “the nebulae”), but there are many other names in this book that deserve to be better known too, such as Williamina Fleming, Antonia Maury, Annie Jump Cannon and Cecilia Payne.
The book combines the story of these women with the story of the Harvard Observatory, and its outposts in South America and later South Africa, and with general astronomical topics and progress of the time, such as eclipse observations, stellar classifications, national and international relations in astronomy, and the perennially parlous state of funding for research. Whilst these are all interesting topics and provide a necessary background for the work of the computers, the end result can be a bit dry and does somewhat lack the focus that a book on a single individual would have.
I headed in to London yesterday afternoon to meet up with R, who had been to the Scythian exhibition at the British Museum. Prior to the concert we had a meal at Erebuni – a Russian/Armenian/Georgian restaurant near Barbican. I enjoyed the Chanakhi, which I found sufficiently similar to my own efforts from the Georgian cookery book we have at home to recognise it. The service was a bit slow but we had plenty of time and it wasn’t a problem.
We headed across the City to St-Botolph-without-Aldgate for The Fourth Choir‘s concert titled Chiesa d’Oro. The first half of the concert was music from or influenced by Venice of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Some numbers were a capella, others accompanied by a theorbo. Among works by Schütz, Giovanni Gabrieli, Barbara Strozzi, and Monteverdi, I particularly enjoyed Giovanni Legrenzi’s O vos insipientes mortales and an altogether darker piece by Flemish composer Giaches de Wert, Valle che de’lamenti miei se piena. The second half was of contemporary music inspired by “the stars”; I enjoyed it more than expected, particularly James Macmillan’s O Radiant Dawn and Bob Chilcott’s Sun, Moon, Sea and Stars – the latter a light piece proving far better than his insipid arrangements of folk songs that have sometimes featured at the Last Night of the Proms. Unconventionally, the concert ended on a beautiful but dark note: Kim André Arnesen’s Even When He is Silent was a moving setting of an anonymous poem scratched onto a wall of a concentration camp by a victim of the Holocaust.
Book Review: Stupid White Men, by Michael Moore
This has been on my to-read pile for several years. Funny (not funny) how George W Bush seems a towering intellect of the Republican Party these days. Seeing An Inconvenient Sequel recently prompted me to compare the campaigning of Al Gore and Michael Moore, so it seemed a good time to read this book.
The book was pretty much as I expected – funny in parts, painful in others. Moore can be very funny at times, but his anger, while justified, often falls the wrong side of effective. It has to be remembered this was written in 2001 (and before September 11 – though clearly with one or two editorial insertions afterwards in this edition at least). Moore just can’t accept that Bush became President. There are at least two arguments you can make on this. One would be that imperfections in the electoral college system make it unfair, and therefore needs reform or replacement – but this is not one that Moore chooses to make, because for all its faults it gives legitimacy to the Bush presidency. Instead, he takes the altogether more controversial line that electoral and judicial abuses in Florida illegally disenfranchised significant numbers of Democratic voters – thus the Bush presidency is not legitimate. Moore may be right. If he is right, how and why did the Republicans get away with it? The problem with his argument, as I see it, is that it’s an accusation of such an enormous crime it just seems incredible; so, therefore, it’s far easier to believe it can’t possibly have happened. And, of course, the verdict of the Supreme Court and the lack of proper investigation just pour oil onto the fires of conspiracy theory.
Perhaps the rest of the book functions as an extended essay on how the 2000 Presidential election result was allowed to stand, as it’s Moore’s cataloge of flaws in various aspects of American life – race, environment, guns, education. He’s also pretty scathing of the Democrats, with reasoned argument, but pragmatically equivocal on the subject of voting Green. The nuanced position may be understood by readers of the book, but realistically it’s a tome for the echo chamber.