The good news, which is real, is that I’ve been offered funding for my PhD in architectural history starting in September at the University of Kent. Really looking forward to that! I’ve previously posted about the research topic.
The not so good news is the ‘Cummings Effect’. Not the fact that Twitter filters the name Cummings because it has a rude word in it. It does that to Scunthorpe and other words with the same content.
No, this is the Dom Cummings saga of how best to handle your family affairs during a lockdown. Many think he got it wrong as the UK Prime Minister’s senior adviser. Be that true or not, the effect has already been quoted by one newspaper as a reason to ignore lockdown laws. You couldn’t make it up!
It has been a moral dilemma with some families applying the rules strictly and not even seeing loved ones who have died from the virus. Cummings believed in herd immunity so you might argue he was happy to see the virus spread from London to Durham, but just wanted to make sure his own children were safe. Double standards? Not for those involved in the murky world of politics, I’d suggest.
Looking back in history, there have always been challenging times when the behaviour of individuals has been questioned. Even IK Brunel, now lauded as the 2nd Greatest Briton after Churchill, had some dubious practices. Some blame him for the huge numbers of deaths caused by building his epic Box Tunnel near Bath. You can read more about Isambard and his family in my book ‘Building Passions‘.
Personally, I like Brunel and Churchill as truly outstanding historical figures of global interest. I just wish some of our current leaders had similar attributes about them during these difficult times.
I’ve created a new smaller website for information about Sir John Wolfe Barry, Tower Bridge and other structures.
The main route to it is via the ‘Building Passions‘ website which promotes my book of the same short title, derived from this website. I will eventually move across the domain name (sirjohnwolfebarry.com) for this WordPress website -not sure what will happen to these pages, but, assuming they stay alive, I will always have a link to them from the new website.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am expanding my writing to cover fiction so will develop an imprint to market this to the world. I have completed content and artwork for a historical fiction piece based on the life of my grandfather (‘The Other Red Baron’) and am drafting text for a trilogy of pure fiction novellas connected by a theme of dictatorship versus democracy. Separately, as part of a group of writers who live in or near Canterbury, we are trying to co-draft a murder mystery – not as easy as we might have expected!
I’m always on the look out for opportunities to engage with audiences whether through my writing or other means. I attended a really interesting online workshop on running, well, online workshops! I’d like to engage with groups of about 20 people and then use virtual break outs to hone in on key areas of interest. I will do this for my own topics in the history of the built environment, writing/self-publishing, history more generally, and in STEAM career support for schools.
My delightful teenage daughter told me I was a bridge nerd the other day. In her terms this would be considered an insult to any decent teenager. Fortunately, I’m not in my teens and I consider it a compliment.
What do I like about bridges? Below is a list of possibles:
- They are elegant
- They connect two communities
- They circumvent a natural obstacle
- They are historic landmarks
- They were built by significant people
- They are structures like buildings
My book ‘Building Passions‘ aims to celebrate historical structures. The website has lists of them with links to further information. I’m even building my own working model of Tower Bridge. Yes, nerdish, but who cares.
Many great engineers and architects were nerds. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a super nerd. He was also voted 2nd greatest Briton after Churchill. Interestingly, both of them had a non-British parent – Winston’s mother was American and IK’s father was French. They weren’t afraid to be different.
You can read more about Brunel’s family and the Barry family, with their Victorian connections between architecture and engineering. The book is available in print via the website and if you use the code IKBSCB you can get free UK postage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised a number of issues about how societies run themselves.
I have been exploring democracy as part of writing a trilogy of novellas. The basic premise is that a long-lived, family dictatorship is finally coming to an end, but the people need to be prepared for transition to democracy.
You can’t just throw it at them if they’re not ready for it!
There are plenty of dictator analogies in real life and fiction. States where the supreme leader has moved to a status of leader for life, or pretty much there. The most famous early historical example was Julius Ceasar taking out the Senate, for which retribution came back inevitably on the Ides of March. But his nephew Augustus went on to found a dynasty of emperors. Napoleon is another case in point, from general to leader to emperor – once again he met his downfall. Then of course Hitler more recently and Kim Jong-Un currently.
The transition to democracy is more fraught with troubles, witnessed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and failed attempts in Libya and Syria. As I write my second novella, I show how anti-democratic forces can be manipulated to defend the status quo, if needs must. A bit of bloodshed can help incite civil war, irrespective of whether either side has really thought through the logic …
I’m on the verge of starting the final book in the trilogy – I intend it to be full of hope, since that is the kind of message we all need currently amidst the lockdowns. But it will also look forward to a calmer future when society has hopefully picked up a few pragmatic lessons and, hopefully, reacted positively to a temporary but repeatable crisis.
In the meantime, chill out and read my book covering the history of architecture and engineering during the Victorian era: ‘Building Passions‘.
My first book was non-fiction and specialist (‘Building Passions‘). It was self-published in 2019 and then I moved on to fiction.
My second book is almost finished. The text just needs a final proofing and the cover is designed for the e-book. The printed version may be print-on-demand. It is historical fiction based on the true life story of my grandfather.
My third project is a trilogy of novellas within the same theme about dictatorship versus democracy. All pure fiction but related to politics and philosophy.
My fourth book is a collaboration with three other writers. It’s a murder mystery where we have created our own individual characters and are writing from their different points of view.
I may need to restart the cycle with some non-fiction. This depends how things develop with my historical research. If I get PhD funding then it will relate to that topic within architectural history. If not then I will go wider to consider other areas.
I enjoy writing and experimentation with different genres makes it even more worthwhile – they all have their challenges and surprises.
Once lockdown started in the UK I stopped making print copies of my book ‘Building Passions’ available to purchase. This was because I couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t spread COVID-19 via the book and the postal system.
To compensate I have halved the e-book price in April. Since my goal has always been to sell mainly in e-format then this made sense. However no sales have taken place via Kobo.com .
Therefore I will resume with postal sales from the end of April and review how I distribute the book electronically. I dont want an exclusive contract with Kindle. I’m starting to dislike anything linked with Amazon, who seem keen on maximising profits at the expense of their workers and independent publishing.
I would have promoted the book more through physical talks but obviously the pandemic came along. I’m less safe at remote talks but I will try to develop these skills.
I thought now would be a good time to start reorganising my web content related to Sir John Wolfe Barry, Henry Brunel and their families.
I’ve started building a new website to replace this one which will disappear in June. It will have less content in it and do more pointing to other material on the internet, including my ‘Building Passions’ website. Sadly this will also mean doing less on WordPress, which really helped me get started many years ago with my own blogging and web content.
At the same time I am using this as an opportunity to position my other writing, which is focused on fiction, as well my pending PhD research assuming I get the funding for it.
It would be nice to brand everything under one title, but it may be tricky and there is no point stretching things artificially to fit. My USP is me, Nick von Behr and you can find out more about me on my LinkedIn profile.
Who am I for those who don’t already know me and don’t want to look at LinkedIn?
I’m a portfolio career professional with a bent for research, analysis and writing. I’m very interested in history, particularly related to technology, the built environment and politics. I’m also interested in education, having worked and volunteered within STEM, and more recently STEAM, career engagement and skills.