Saturday, 20 December 2014

Oer yw'r gŵr sy'n methu caru

Holly and Ivy had been flatmates for a while now, but they still weren’t quite sure, either of them, about how the relationship might be evolving.  Ivy found Holly somewhat, well, sharp, whilst Holly thought Ivy was, frankly, rather creepy.  Things came to a head as Advent kicked in.  They’d been pretending to watch the quarter-finals of a programme called ‘I’m Strictly an Apprentice, Kick Me Out of Here,’ or something, when Holly hit the mute button.
“So.  We might as well sort it out.”
Ivy wrapped herself round a cushion and almost smiled.  “I’m not sure I know precisely what you mean, Holly.” 
Holly exploded.  “You know exactly what I mean!  You’ve invited a bunch of your relatives – Celyn, Hedera, Cuileann, I forget the rest –  not to mention that Norwegian bloke – ”
“Nordman?  And Hedera’s your relative, by the way.”
“Whatever.  We need to spruce this place up a bit.  Deck the halls.”
Ivy looked up from her iPad.  “I take your point.  Nordman likes his baubles.  And I hear that flashy Lametta might drop in¸ probably drape herself all over the place.  But – I’ve been doing a bit of research, and it’s quite obvious.  Look – ” She passed the tablet to Holly.  “Deck the halls with boughs of you. You wear the crown.  I hardly get a mention.  So I feel hardly worthy to usurp your unquestioned superiority in the hall-decking scheme of things.  Tra-la-la-la-laa!”
Holly briefly prickled, but then wilted.  “Well, if you put it that way…  But – does that mean I have to do all the work?”
Ivy smiled.  She’d thought of that.  “Oh no.  I suggest we go down the inn.”
“The inn?”
“Yes, the inn.  There’ll be a heavenly host of merry gentlemen there, all too willing to help.  And my old uni chums Comfort and Joy’ll be there too, prob.”
Holly grabbed her bag and out they went into the night, where a single bright star was shining unnoticed above them.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

A Christmas Carol

Good King Wenceslas looked out of his castle window.  It was a dark and stormy night, but he could see that the snow lay deep – it had near enough covered the barberry shrubs – and seemed fairly even.  He took a small sip of his B and S, then a larger one, and rang the bell.  Vlad, his man, shimmered in.


“Bally cold out there, what?” observed Wenceslas.

“Indeed, Sire.  Will there be anything else?  Sire?”

Vlad had this trick of leaving a little pause between two otherwise innocent words and so conveying a universe of meaning, in this case that his master’s voice was perhaps being unnecessarily exercised.  Wenceslas ignored him.

“Lots of snow, Vlad.  Deep, even.  Even, even.”  He took another sip, more of a slurp really, and went on.  “What I was wondering, though, Vlad, was: is it crisp?”

“Crisp, Sire?”

“Crisp, Vlad.  You know, the sort you can’t make snowballs out of.  I was just wondering.”

Vlad had accidently acquired the reputation of knowing, or being able to find out, everything.  In his heart of hearts, he regretted this, but it was too late to back off now.

“I shall endeavour to ascertain the crispness of the snow, Sire.”  He approached the window.  “Ah.  I believe, Sire, that I discern a human figure, who might be of assistance.”

“A human figure?  What in the name of St Agatha would a human be doing out in this?”

“It appears to be a poor man, gathering winter fuel, Sire,” said Vlad. 

Wenceslas pondered and inspected his empty goblet.  “Winter fuel, eh?  Nicking my twigs, you mean?  Fetch him in here, Vlad, if you would.  I’m sure we can persuade him to solve this crispness problem for us.”  

“As you wish, Sire.” 

If it’s possible to shimmer and slouch at the same time, Vlad accomplished it as he exited the chamber.


Vlad ushered in the Poor Man, with much faux-obsequiousness. 

“Ah, the peasant who’s been nicking my twigs,” said Wenceslas.  “Please, make yourself at home.  Feel free to stand over there.  Now, we have an important issue to resolve.”

The Poor Man bowed.  “Aaaar, Zurr,” he said in his rich Bohemian burr.

“The thing is, it’s about that bally snow out there.  Beastly stuff, what?”

“What?” said the Poor Man.

Vlad hovered a bit closer to the theatre of action.

“If one might suggest, Sire – ” 

“Ah, yes, of course.  Vlad, give this man a B and S.  Or perhaps – ”  Wenceslas frowned.  “Perhaps something more … familiar?  Mead, is it, you fellows like?  Vlad, there might be a bottle in the cupboard over there from a couple of Christmasses ago …”

Vlad sidled over to the cocktail cabinet, pulled out several bottles and took a surreptitious swig from each.

“And a morsel of nosh for this poor man,” cried Wenceslas.  “I was having a sliver of fois gras on some toast, but he probably prefers … what is it these people eat?  Gruel, that’s it!  Vlad, get cook to rustle up a bucket of gruel – oh, that’s rather clever, what?  Rhymes with fuel …”

“And cruel.  Oi’d a bin happy with the brandy,” muttered the Poor Man.


“Now,” said Wenceslas, once the comestibles had been shipped in.  “We have an important issue to resolve.  (Do feel free to park your bowl on the mantelpiece, by the way.)  As you know, they call me ‘Good’ King Wenceslas, can’t think why, ha ha – ”

“They talks about nothing else down th tavern,” said the Poor Man.  “Nobuddy knows.”

“ – so I am prepared to overlook the matter of the twigs, and indeed permit you to gather several more, if you can just answer this vexing question.   As well as being deep and even, is that snow crisp?”

There was one of those pauses that someone with only a rudimentary knowledge of human biology might have called pregnant.

“Zearch me,” said the Poor Man at last.  “Uz’d ave to go an ave a snowball fight to found that out.”

“What a dashed Good idea!” shouted King Wenceslas.  “Vlad – ”

But Vlad was crouched behind the door, gibbering. 

So Wenceslas and the Poor Man linked arms and faded off into the snowy night, singing “God bless us every one…” as they went.



Friday, 12 December 2014

The Four-Letter Key to Politics

If you can’t decide who to vote for, ask your candidates where they stand on each of the following: SSFA; TTIP; ISDS; NSIP; and JFDI.  Their answers will fall somewhere on a scale between ‘for it’ to ‘against it’, with ‘whassat?’ off to one side (in a special compound reserved for dangerous endangered species such as UKIP).  Clear?

Oh, all right.  Here are some thumbnails:

SSFA stands for Single Sales Factor Apportionment.  It proposes that multinational businesses should be taxed in, and at the rates of, the country where the profit-earning activity is conducted, rather than where the profits are declared.

TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is a complex set of protocols being cooked up between the EU and the US to try and level the corporate-state playing field.  So far, so innocuous, but an integral part of it is:

ISDS, Investor-State Dispute Settlement.  Under this doozy of a proposal (which WILL happen, because the negotiations aren’t subject to any democratic scrutiny, anywhere), corporations will be able to claim compensation from governments for any losses they incur in consequence of their own failure to deliver whatever it was they’d contracted to deliver.

An NSIP, a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, is any Infrastructure Project deemed to be Nationally Significant, on which, therefore, any amount of money can be spent without the need to demonstrate any tangible benefits.  Think HS2, Third Runway, Stonehenge Tunnel.  Said deeming is currently done by George Osborne; the name might change, but the outcomes won’t.

And finally, JFDI.  This new initiative aims to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the volume of investigatory activities designed to delay or prevent the implementation of something that’s bleeding obvious.

I may have made one of these up: see if you can guess which?  Not that easy, is it?


Saturday, 6 December 2014

Nineteen strumming days to go

You have to overcome that sneaky weasel that whispers ‘don’t bother, you can’t do it.’  So, I dusted off the acoustic and tried a few chords.  Quite surprising actually.  I’d fully expected the problem area to be on the right, because that’s where the embolism was; the arm itself gets tired and aches, and the fingertips feel permanently sore, and my grip isn’t as strong as it used to be.  So I’d guessed that gripping a plectrum and vigorously strumming, with my right hand and arm, would be the problem area.

Not a bit of it.  Well, yes, the gripping bit is a bit unreliable, but I’ve found a nifty thumb-pick which mostly solves that.  (Rog, you were more than half right.  Another symptom is that the extremities are susceptible to the cold.)  And the strumming muscles need toning up. 

No, the problem area is my left hand.  To be precise, the fingertips.  They need to get hardened up.  When I first played the guitar, at age fifteen, we used to use surgical spirit to toughen them up, but I’m not going to go that far.  I did ten minutes Wednesday evening, twelve Thursday, fifteen Friday, fifteen tonight.  Should be all right on the night. 

The family singsong is in fact going to be a bit more than that.  They’ve apparently invited about twenty people for Boxing Day lunch – you have to admire these people’s energy levels and dedication, even while recognising that they’re quite mad – and I guess singing will commence about six p.m.  All that suits me; it’s much easier to control a crowd of twenty than one of eight.  Appropriate quantities of anaesthetic will have been applied.  (I gather it’s a fairly acceptable Argentine Malbec this year.)  The format will be as usual: Green Green Grass, Tie a Yellow Ribbon, my party piece (usually Got You Under My Skin), then I’ll invite requests and we’ll do part of American Pie as a finale.  Should be over in seventy minutes max. 

(I’ve just realised that the post title is wrong – I’m off to Dorset for three days tomorrow, and won’t be taking the guitar.) 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Three randoms

It’s time for a random ramble.  So, in no particular order:

1. The amber engine warning light in the car came on, for no obvious reason, back in August.  I ignored it for a couple of weeks, then it went out.  Then it came on again, so I took the car in and they made me pay a lot of money to replace something called an ‘intercooler air duct’.  The light went out.  Then ten days ago it came on again.  So I took it in again.  They kept it for two days and decided that the alert hadn’t reset itself properly last time.  (As my brother presciently put it: the fault seems to be that the fault light is on.)  They reset it, and the light went out.  Yesterday evening, it came on again.  I’ve decided it’s lying.

2. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the freezer contained more ice than food, so I made a note and forgot about it.  Fast forward to a couple of nights ago, when I was reminded about the traditional Boxing Day family singsong, for which I’ve always willingly provided accompaniment, of a sort – the quality becomes less and less relevant as the evening progresses.  I’ve hardly touched a guitar since my embolism last January, and to be honest I don’t know whether I can any more.  So I thought I’d better give it a try, and made a note.   The outcome: this serendipitous Post-It sticker:

3. Finally, I’ve just reread ‘The Trial’, which seemed very different from my forty-year-old memory of it.  Much funnier, for a start.  There’s a hilarious quote on the back cover from a Telegraph reviewer who seems to think it’s about bureaucracy.  But this, towards the end, jumped out at me:
‘No,’ said the priest, ‘one does not have to believe everything is true, one only has to believe it is necessary.’ 
 You have to think about that, don't you?

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Compare and Contrast

From today’s paper:

We can confirm that we are compliant with the tax regimes of all of the jurisdictions in which we operate.” – The managing principal of the London office of a US investment company which has, quite legally, transferred ownership of an east London housing estate to a Jersey-based shell company in order to minimise corporation and capital gains tax, whilst planning to triple rents and evict low-income tenants.  (The gentleman in question has just bought a £3.9m country estate for his own use, apparently using a similar offshore mechanism.)

Actions permitted by unjust laws can be evil…” – Philosopher Nigel Warburton, on the seizure or compulsory purchase, quite legally at the time, of Jewish-owned works of art by the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Five Randoms for Sunday

1. When I left the house at 11.30 this morning, I could hardly see through the windscreen for rain, wipers at full throttle.  Now I can see the Pleiades from my garden.  Isn’t weather wonderful?

2. The benefits of a third Heathrow runway are officially estimated at between 112 and 220 billion pounds, over a sixty year period.

3. I think I’m going to vote Green.  Look up their manifesto, then look up the Kippers’. 

4. Can we please rewind Christmas to about 1949?  A tangerine and a couple of walnuts will do me.  I want my Meccano set back though.

5. You can get used to anything, however frightful it might have seemed.