The Adventures Of Phileas Brain-Fogg


I wait impatiently for my brain fog to lift. I am Phileas Brain-Fogg. My mind is a tabula rasa, each day vanishing into grey smoke. The howling wind and rain outside, constantly tearing at the new planting in its determination to point out that last year’s pleasant  summer was a freakish anomaly, never lets up in what must be our worst summer ever. The tail of the Gulf Stream flicked away in spring, reminding us that we live on a rain-blasted rock not terribly far from the North Pole. High point of the month? I bought a thick sweater. And am wearing it right now. I read of folks complaining of the heat in Europe and I struggle to recall what it’s like feel warm.

People I hate this week: Marina McLoughlin

Our friend Wichet opened a florist shop on the nearby Caledonian Road and completed his dream by adding a Thai restaurant to it called Superwan. It’s a beautiful little place with excellent spicy authentic food. Then Marina McLoughlin from the Sunday Times reviewed it in her lovely looping relaxed prose style, and raved about it. Now none of us can get in.

Around the corner, an unpretentious little café with just four tables opened, called ‘Dim Sum Duck’ because that was all they served. So we shifted our palates there. Guess who turned up to review it and rave? Marina Bloody McLoughlin. Now the queue goes down the street, and there’s an hour wait for takeout. I suppose it’s wonderful for small businesses that she does this, but she’s starving me out of the neighbourhood.


A small news item went unnoticed last week. According to American think tank the Commonwealth Fund, the NHS has had its health rating lowered and is no longer the best system in the world. That honour has now gone to Norway and the Netherlands. The USA health care system remains bottom of the league among the world’s wealthiest countries despite spending more on healthcare than anywhere else.

The problem is a simple one. Our Clown Prince Of Lies is still intent on systematically smashing up the NHS by stealth. Brexit removed a vast number of staff, but the biggest problem – explain to me by a surgeon – is that we have fewer doctors than almost any country in the EU.

Press Stop!

I resolve to read no more doom-laden press articles. I subscribe to too many online newspapers, all of which are filled with what I call ‘Conditional stories’. Conditional stories haven’t happened yet. This might happen if that goes ahead, this will stop working if that gets passed. Likely, may, could, possible, probably – words which warn that an article is built from clickbait stardust, not fact. The Daily Mail raised an empire on one sentence; ‘Why we should all be afraid’. The pernicious paper still causes physical harm to everyone it touches. Nobody working there has anything to be proud of.

Too Big A Risk

I settle down to the collected works of Peter Barnes. I saw his play ‘Red Noses’ with Anthony Sher, about a comedy troupe crossing Europe during the Black Death, and loved it – but I’m shocked as to how it reads. How did this become that? It’s almost indecipherable on the page, yet everything works on stage. Could it even be staged in  our puritanical times, with its ‘conga line of cripples’ and its leading lady complaining about the poor quality of raping these days? The play is about compassion and kindness, the end of suffering, the corrupt absurdities of the church.

But all it takes to get Barnes cancelled is a sentence removed from its context. He is irascible, outrageous, educated, utterly truthful. He is now, also, dead, but the man who was raised in a seaside amusement arcade continues to amuse. A quote from the play ‘Red Noses’ will suffice to whet the appetite.

‘Death doesn’t count, and probably doesn’t read or write either. When he comes again we’ll play it to the very end. Whether dying in a privy or marbled halls, green field or white bed, the hand pointing to zero, the smell in your throat, don’t do Death’s job for him. Don’t start dying before you die, already half dead. Don’t go easy, make him work for you, let the calendar tear its own leaves, fight dirty.’


35 comments on “The Adventures Of Phileas Brain-Fogg”

  1. Brooke says:

    Sorry, your doctor is wrong. The NHS and US health care systems share the same issue–corporate greed/desire for profits. Economists, e.g. in UK Simon Wren Lewis (The Lies We Were Told), have documented how Conservatives and conservatives manipulate the story in order to starve care giving/health services delivery. I’ve been watching BoJo’s game to tee up privatization in the UK. Watch out for Sunak.
    Get rid of the fog so you can rejoin the fight.

  2. Stu-I-Am says:

    More Later (as usual…) Ah yes, the ‘Bragging Rights’ restaurant syndrome. Affects new, smaller establishments of excellence and is almost worldwide in nature. Critic reviews > hordes descend on it > restaurant finds it difficult to keep up and maintain quality > uncomplimentary reviews begin to show up > horde moves on to next rave review > restaurant closes. Repeat.

  3. Stu-I-Am says:

    More Later Part I More Later Part I The NHS problem is very much like a dog chasing its tail. And there is ample documentation. With less than 3 doctors per 1,000 population, the UK ranks below the EU average, and compared with 3.5 across the 38 OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development ) countries is second only to Poland in its shortage.

    While there are a number of factors behind this — e.g. declining medical school numbers earlier retirements in part because of overwork — the startling fact is that, as three health think tanks have recently (2019) pointed out, the NHS will never recover from this shortage and suggest the only solution will be to ‘outsource’ a number of common complaints and services to non-medical professionals (e.g. physiotherapists). Furthermore, and perhaps, even more importantly, there is also the highest ever shortage of nurses.

    Draconian funding cuts in NHS core services to make it more attractive presumably ultimately for full privatization, many point to, is also a significant factor. The problem, of course is that this cynical calculus doesn’t include people — who are aging, more obese and sicker.

  4. Brooke says:

    Mr. Fowler, the crowd is following you and Pete; you know good food. That Guardian critic doesn’t know pommes frites from mash.

  5. Peter+T says:

    We may have fewer medics, but we have more administrators to compensate. In spite of all that, the system in the Netherlands must have improved a helluva lot since I left. It seemed to me like the worst kind of public-private compromise, worthy of Tony Blair.

    Wonderful quote from Barnes.

  6. Stu-I-Am says:

    More Later Part II. It may be cold comfort (no cynical pun intended — at least for now; let me think about it…) but the UK is clearly sharing its weather woes with the rest of the world, in one form or another. Speaking of the Gulf Stream —I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that climate scientists are particularly concerned about what they see as warning signs of its collapse. Even its further destabilisation may well keep you in that thick jumper nine months out of the year. Not quite in the ‘Mail’ category of today’s imminent disaster, but certainly something to be watched carefully and most importantly, something to compel a redoubling of the effort to reduce CO2 emissions. We have made our bargain and the Devil is in the wings rubbing his palms together, waiting for his cue.

  7. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    The NHS also has the problem that the Mail etc repeatedly claim that the staff are useless, but simultaneously indispensable. One week they prescribe (insert drug here) far too often, and the next fail to diagnose appropriately and prescribe it.
    It doesn’t encourage people to want to work in the NHS.

  8. Peter+T says:

    Stu-I-Am – the importance of the Gulf Stream in keeping the UK warm is something of a myth. It is slowing and if it were to stop it would cost us a couple of degrees. By that point, we will appreciate such a temperature drop.

    Most geophysical thermal transport is by the atmosphere rather than the ocean. Note the climate of British Columbia in spite of the Pacific having no equivalent of the Gulf Stream.

  9. Andrew+Holme says:

    I’m sure left of centre, state-of-the-nation plays are still being written and performed, though David Hare seemed pessimistic in a recent interview. I studied theatre in 1980-83 when Red Ladder, Gay Sweatshop, 7:83 (England and Scotland branches) were touring brilliant shows. 7:84 Scotland came to my college with an early iteration of ‘Blood Brothers’ which I remember to this day. In an era when it helped to be called Peter (Barnes, Weiss, Handke, Nichols) there were many superb shows. One of my favourites was ‘Ballboys’ by David Edgar ( not a Peter!). Anyone here remember a troupe called Christians from Outer Space? I saw them in Edinburgh in ’82 – a real fever dream of a performance.

  10. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Peter+T The question of how many degrees colder a collapse of the Gulf Stream would mean for the UK and the northern hemisphere is unknown for the very reason you cite — but it would very likely not be just a ‘couple’. The atmospheric transport you mention — winds and the jet stream — have already been shown to be affected by the rising temperatures in the Arctic. This has caused a weak ‘wandering’ jet stream allowing cold weather to spread much further south in some cases, while bringing warmer weather further north in others, contributing to the extremes in weather seen in the UK, Europe and the US. The Gulf Stream’s flow is also disturbed by the melting of Arctic ice.

    So the upshot is, while absent atmospheric changes, a strong destabilisation or ultimate collapse of the Gulf Stream may not be as ‘catastrophic’ to the UK per se weather-wise (economically is another matter) as elsewhere (perhaps worse winters to start), it would, however, be a strong contributing factor should the present changes in atmospheric transport continue as they are. Certainly impacts of variations in the Gulf Stream are seen over much longer periods than variations in the jet stream, but they have very real potential consequences.

  11. Peter+T says:

    The significance of the Gulf Stream remains in the greater part a myth even if held by the BBC and some scientists. The more significant phenomenon is the rising gradient between the Arctic and the Tropics. This is the engine that drives our weather systems. The result is that we are going to see far more extremes. They are likely to cause us in the UK more problems of hot, cold, precipitation and floods than changes in the mean.

  12. Peter+T says:

    Actually, there’s a beautiful book ‘Atmosphere and Ocean Dynamics’ by Adrian Gill. The first chapters are fairly easy going. Adrian was a brilliant applied mathematician and a lovely human being.

  13. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Peter+T What is not mythology is the consensus that the climate of Western Europe and Northern Europe is warmer than other areas of similar latitude because of the North Atlantic Current and by a generally accepted estimate of an average of 5º C higher. Would a drop in temperature by itself because of the collapse of the Current usher in a ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ catastrophe probably not, but it would certainly be a significant contributor to colder weather extremes (more persistent winter storms, for example) and be evidence of further changes brought on my a warming Arctic, including those in atmospheric transport.

  14. Peter+T says:

    Fluently put. And on the impending catastrophe, we can most certainly agree.

  15. Stephen Winer says:

    I had the great pleasure of seeing an advance screening of the film of Peter Barnes’ THE RULING CLASS knowing nothing at all about it except that it starred Peter I’Toole. Staggered out at the end capable of saying little but “Wow!” Still one of my favorite experiences at a movie.

  16. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Peter+T Please enjoy the beverage of your choice on me. Put it on my tab.

  17. Stu-I-Am says:

    Peter Barnes, by all measures, was a truly fecund playwright as evidenced by his enormous creative output and fathering twins at 71, after his first daughter was born two years earlier. ‘The Ruling Class’ (film and play) and ‘Enchanted April’ (the film) are fond memories, but what sticks most in my mind is the second act of his ‘Laughter!’ which parodies the bureaucracy behind the holocaust.

    Certainly his most controversial outing because of the subject matter — nothing being amusing about genocide — but I remain ambivalent about it. I suppose at this remove, where I come down is that it exposed the truth of the chillingly pedestrian way the Nazis went about exterminating 6m+ innocents, by confronting the audience and forcing it to laugh uncomfortably at a range of familiar Nazi comic devices and stereotypes — ultimately impelling it realize what it was laughing at.

  18. Stu-I-Am says:

    Sorry — Barnes fathered triplets at 71. I stand corrected.

  19. Jo W says:

    That last quoted paragraph was a little Dylan Thomas,wasn’t it? But oh so true.
    Btw, I loved Arthur’s observation about bannisters- a friend to the elderly. 😉

  20. Paul+C says:

    The Daily Mail makes me sick too. According to Private Eye, the owner of the Mail has non-dom tax status which saves him a fortune every year and deprives our exchequer of much needed income. This sickening situation has never stopped the Mail from wrapping itself in the Union Jack and playing the patriotism card every day.

  21. Peter+T says:

    We don’t have a problem about being cruel in making fun of innocent people. Anyone who complains is told to suck it up; it’s part of life. So what’s wrong with satirical treatment of evil behaviour. The Nazis were stupid and illogical and in every way ridiculous. Does ridiculing legitimise? In the case of politicians and newspaper owners, we can’t ridicule them enough. Just do it for the correct reasons: their stupidity and dishonesty, their track record of failure, not their physical features.

  22. Brooke says:

    Mr. Fowler, I think your blog readers may be contributing to your brain fogg.

  23. Stu-I-Am says:

    Interestingly, in the prologue to ‘Laughter!,’ Barnes makes an impassioned tirade against laughter as a politically neutralizing device and the “ally of tyrants.” Part of his genius (or chronic creative dyspepsia) I suppose — to make you feel guilty for laughing at what he wrote to be laughed at.

  24. Stephen Groves says:

    Hi Chris,
    Hear times have been not so kind.Stay strong mate, Who else would I stalk.
    All best to you and Pete

  25. Keith says:

    Off topic: Just completed London Bridge and I have a lump in my throat. Top notch writing Chris, what a wonderful novel, and in my opinion the best of the lot! It was a delight to read. The scene where they are dodging sniper fire was outrageously hilarious. The ending was so beautifully written, it was so emotional too, and I’d just like to say again, many thanks for giving us so much to enjoy. Superb.

  26. Helen+Martin says:

    Blackwell’s have lost my copy – must have.

    The Japanese Current circles the Pacific and affects our climate in B.C. I’m going to have my geographer husband read all this and comment since I have no confidence in my scientific knowledge.

    I saw and loved Enchanted April. Actually saw something commented on!

  27. Stu-I-Am says:

    Had a chance to see ‘Enchanted April’ again recently and was enchanted once more — especially by the hilarious Dame Joan Plowright, who turns 92 this year. A pleasure to see some effortless acting by a troupe of wonderful professionals.

  28. William says:

    I do grow tired of blaming everything on Brexit of the Conservatives. In reality the NHS employs around 1.5 million people.
    That is a huge burden for the State to carry.
    Perhaps we need better and more efficient staff. The concept is good but the execution less so.
    The budget is there but perhaps the allocation is wrong.
    Reading the Guardian and the Mail is bad for your health. I would suggest the Times.

  29. admin says:

    Brooke, that’s part of the fun.

  30. admin says:

    BLIMEY! Stalky is back! Have you been in prison off something? Worse still, following a different author?

  31. admin says:

    William –

    I’ve worked for the Times, the Guardian and the Mail (although I was tricked into the last one) and the only one who didn’t alter my copy without telling me was the Guardian.

  32. Helen+Martin says:

    Admin, is that the criteria for a good paper- not altering your copy? I lost the editorship of a newsletter that way once. I assume that as long as they tell you they’re altering/cutting you can be convinced to go along with it.

  33. Helen+Martin says:

    Peter+T Ken Martin here (husband of Helen). My UBC geography profs told me we had the Japanese Current influencing our weather here, and at last report, the current was still putting along from the Gulf of Alaska.

  34. Peter+T says:

    Hello Ken, We often hear about you (all good), so it’s nice to ‘hear your voice’. I should qualify my opinions below by saying I’m no expert in large scale modelling of the environment. About 30 years ago, I tried to do some modelling of inertial currents in the Gulf of Mexico and the main outcome was that it’s very difficult. The problem with climate, current etc. is that you have to approximate the details, lots of empirical coefficients, which means solutions that work for one case don’t work for another. Over the years, climate models have given such an enormous range of results that I fear they’ve dome more to help the deniers than anything. In my work, I’ve used the results of wind, wave and current models extensively. In wine terms that would make me more a critic than a vintner. As such, I have a great respect for the modellers, but appreciate the limits on what they can produce. Because of all the tuning of empirical coefficients, the models work best when they can be calibrated against some relevant data and when all the inputs are well known. Good, relevant data is absolutely crucial to good prediction.

    Most certainly, the major ocean currents are very important to climate. As you mentioned, the northern part of the North Pacific Gyre flows from Japan roughly towards the Canada-US border where it splits to go north along the coast of British Columbia and south along California. I recall that once you sail outside San Francisco Bay, you really feel the temperature suddenly drop due to the cold water.

    The North Pacific Gyre is distinguished from that of the North Atlantic in that thermohaline effects are rather weak. The saltiness-temperature cycle drives the Gulf Stream. Though there are wind shear effects as well. (Wind shear and bottom friction and vertical mixing are a pain in modelling). It’s odd that we call it the Gulf Stream as not much water that reaches the British Isles has actually passed through the Gulf of Mexico. Anyway, it’s very much driven by thermohaline circulation. Evaporation followed by freezing in the north increases salt concentration and density. The denser water sinks to be replaced by warm water from the south. Global warming reduces the freezing and is melting the Arctic ice and in consequence reducing the saltiness and the forcing. It’s clear that this is going on and it’s very likely that the Gulf Stream will switch to a slower mode. That would reduce the temperature of the water reaching the North Atlantic. To predict the consequences, we come back to the current and climate models. Historically, we’ve generally overestimated the effect of the Gulf Stream on UK temperatures. I think this was partly due to underestimating the role of the atmosphere in transport of heat. In the early days, the belief was that without the Gulf Stream we might see temperatures as low as Edmonton or Manitoba! As Stu wrote, the general consensus now is that without the current we’d have a 5 degree temperature drop. I think that’s a conservative estimate; the most probable being lower, though a much greater drop is perfectly possible. I’d make a few points. First the current isn’t going to disappear totally; it will slow. Second, the best data that we have is what goes on in the North Pacific. The west coast of Canada is complicated by the mountains, but closer to the sea should be relevant. As such, my best estimate is that we’d see more a British Columbia coastal climate. Put that on top of global warming and the temperature impact is not a 5 degree drop. However, I fear the rainfall impact would make British farmers very unhappy. Your BC seasonal rainfall might be quite disastrous for them.

    I’d go on, but I’m probably already using up too much of Chris’s blog space.

  35. Stephen Groves says:

    No ,never stopped following ,just had a couple of rough years ,things are more on a even keel now ,I will be retiring come February next year ,better watch yourself then Fowler , be going through your bins before you know it for my collection . Big fan always STALKY

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