Granville John Davis

My uncle, my dad’s little brother, died sometime this week. I hadn’t had much contact with him for some time, which I regret. He was christened Granville John and though in the family he was known as Granville, he preferred to be called John.

Because he travelled so widely, he was only around from time to time when we were growing up and my knowledge of his life is patchy (and could quite easily be inaccurate). As far as I knew, he was a professional full-time musician, playing tenor sax, primarily, but also clarinet & flute. I believe he started off playing in military bands while in the Army, then theatre (often for shows the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham) and cruise ships. He was also a keen amateur painter. His paintings were hung proudly on Grandma’s walls. I’m sure there was much more to his life than this, perhaps we’ll uncover stuff in the coming weeks. As he was away so much, I don’t think he really moved out of his parents’ home until they died. As a child, I remember many hours being allowed to pore over his insect and stamp collections when we lived just round the corner.

Though my father’s relationship with him was never hugely close, and musically, John was much more of a modernist, I have very happy memories of seeing them play together.

It’s a bit of a shock so soon after losing my last grandparent. John is the first of that generation in my family to go. It’s a reminder of how little time we have here and how suddenly things can change. I’m resisting thinking about death coming in threes.

Free wifi in London

Between them, Pret a Manger and McDonalds provide pretty good coverage for the urban digital nomad. Both provide free wifi access via The Cloud – pret asks for an e-mail address and your birthday, but underneath the arches, you can surf away by just clicking a button.

OK, so it’s not really free if you are obliged to buy something in order to secure a table, but Black coffee in pret is £1.50-something and in McDonalds £1.29 – in the former you may have to put up with loud middle class people, in the latter, the bawling of chavvy kids is drowned out by the boombox – take some noise-cancelling headphones.

Neither, however, seem to provide power sockets, so I recommend an hour or so in Starbucks now and then to recharge your flagging batteries. And don’t forget to swap water for caffeinated beverages occasionally to minimise the risk of over-stimulation.

Of course the ICA is top-hole for wifi, power, coffee, yummy food and PLU(!) but loses points by not being open (except on Fridays, you lucky people) until midday.

Passport to Pimlico

At some point in the late seventies or early eighties, the BBC ran a comprehensive season of Ealing Comedies. It stands out as an important part of my adolescent television experience – which many would say explains a lot.

A favourite has always been Passport to Pimlico (1949) for the location shots of immediate post-war London as well as the plucky defiance of the residents of Miramont Gardens. What’s disappointing of course is that it’s actually filmed in Lambeth on the other side of the river rather than in Pimlico itself. Nonetheless it formed an important picture in my young mind of “that London”.

If you haven’t seen it, get it and take a look. Spoilers may well follow…

Watching again, this weekend, I noticed many motifs that echo what I’m thinking about a lot with respect to self-organisation and emergent behaviour, but in particular two examples of herd activity – firstly, the way in which the idea spreads through the community that they are Burgundians and therefore need no longer comply with the post-war austerity measures or indeed any English law they dislike and then later how the crowd gathered to witness the defeat and evacuation copy the kids who have come to throw provisions to their parents (the kids who got the idea from seeing the penguins fed at the zoo).

And I laughed out loud a lot too.