Wednesday, 25 November 2015

There's no answer to that

A neighbour was holding forth about the need to support local shops and businesses.  I observed that she actually had her main weekly shop delivered to her by Ocada.

"Well," she replied.  "I don't even leave the house.  You can't get more local than that, can you?"

Tuesday, 24 November 2015


Willie Walsh, the CEO of IAG, which owns, amongst others, British Airways, has opined that the best way to fund the third Heathrow runway is to introduce toll roads around  the airport, because otherwise it'd be unaffordable.  'There is no point in having infrastructure if people won't use it because it's too expensive,' he is quoted as saying.  Walsh doesn't specify which roads, but it must be the M4 and the M25, because there aren't any others.  Clearly, this will encourage rush-hour commuters to get value for money by catching aeroplanes instead, won't it?
I imagine, however, that Mr Walsh simultaneously subscribes to the published Airports Commission declaration that this runway will bring some £211 billion of benefits to the British economy by 2050, although it isn't stated with any precision where this bounty will come from.*
Like I said...

* Not, presumably, Sharm el-Sheikh, at least for now.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015


The first time I visited Paris was in the late summer of 1963.  I’d just finished at University, and was at a loose end, so when my friend Brian invited me to join him and his parents on a three week camping  holiday in Europe, I jumped at it.  I had just inherited £200 from an aunt: what better way to invest it?  We took it in turns to drive fairly directly as far as Sorrento, and then meandered back northwards.  I can’t honestly remember the details (I vaguely recall visiting the casino in Monte Carlo), but I do know that we had planned in a two day stopover in Paris.  We camped in the Bois de Boulogne.  The idea was, obviously, to catch the sights, but that didn’t happen.  Brian and I spent the entire two days in the Louvre.

My second time was in about 1992, for a business meeting.  I flew over in the morning, had a very long lunch at which our French hosts insisted on serving roast lamb with mint sauce (very good at diplomatic manoeuvring, the French), possibly conducted a bit of business for an hour or two in the afternoon, and missed my flight home.

The last time I went to Paris, about twelve years ago, it was the full four day tourist circuit.  We walked and Metro’d for hours, ate andouillettes and fruits de mer and I forget what else, oh yes, a marvellous pizza; and, please, don’t believe that canard about the Parisians being unfriendly.  Rude, yes, but unfriendly?  Not in my extensive experience.  I loved it, and them.

Did I say ‘the last time’?  No way.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015


Am I alone in thinking? 
Jezza has got into trouble for saying that he’d never ‘press the button’.  Well, of course, it’s not his to press anyway – he couldn’t do it without the say-so of America – but leave that aside.  My question is: who would?  I think they are obliged to stand up and fly their mad flag. 
(Of course, not having the damn things in the first place, putting ourselves on a level footing with, say, Germany or Sweden or Australia, would help with any moral dilemma that deluded people like  General Sir Nicholas Houghton might believe to exist.  But leave that aside too.)
Corbyn may be saying that he would, if in control, refuse to retaliate.  Quite reasonable, I'd have thought.  Pressing it second isn’t really an issue, because the Destruction part of M.A.D. has already been achieved, so it becomes a bit academic.   “They killed us, but we killed them too, so we’re quits, and everything’s hunky dory, no harm done” isn’t a position I can imagine any political leader, even the maddest, taking.  And it would be particularly academic for most of us, because we’d be dead.
The plain truth is that the only real moral dilemma is: would you press it first?  So if Mr Corbyn is stating that he would never, under any circumstances, be the first button-presser, then I’d be surprised to find any of our leaders, current or aspirant, disagreeing.   So can they please just say so?  It’s time somebody broke this MAD vicious circle.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Cutaway lugs

A chance encounter with a Claud Butler bike has untapped a torrent of memories.

I learned to ride a bike when I was about nine (which was rather late for me).  I have no memory of the bike on which this took place, but I do remember the process.  My father insistently taught me, and I doggedly refused to be taught, until one day when I was on my own I got onto the thing, in the back garden, and taught myself.  After that there was no stopping me.

For my twelfth birthday I was given a proper bike, or at least my parents’ notion of proper.  (They were overprotective of me, I now know.)  There was some subterfuge involving, I think, a cricket bat, which somehow couldn’t be unwrapped until I’d been taken down to the garden shed under some pretext, there to be unveiled this gorgeous Raleigh, in a colour I’d now call magenta but then saw as very displayable red.

It wasn’t, of course, my dreambike.  That would have entailed full drop bars, alloy rims, 10-speed Derailleur gears, many other features I can’t remember:  all mounted on a Claud Butler racing frame with, crucially, cutaway lugs.  These latter were supposedly designed to reduce weight, which was ridiculous – they were an early manifestation of teenage designer bling, and hence heavenly.

I didn’t have any of that.  My bike had semi-drops, chrome-plated  rims which rusted if not oiled weekly, a sprung saddle, three-speed Sturmey-Archer, old lady mudguards and, most dreadfully, a chain guard, in matching colour trim!  But it was still near the top of the local game, and I loved it.

Customisation rapidly followed, of course.  The chain guard was the first to go.  I can’t remember the other tweaks I snuck in behind my parents’ backs.  I do remember the parentally approved water bottles, and can still taste an aluminium-tinged warm sip through a plastic straw.  We discussed the feasibility of taking a hacksaw to those clunky lugs to make them look like cutaways; even, I think, drawing fantasy designs. 

It was never going to be the racing bike I craved.  But I can remember, quite vividly, the short and long expeditions it carried me on.  That was my first taste of real freedom, granted me, intentionally or not, I’ll never know, by my parents. 

I’ve no idea what happened to the bike.  


Thursday, 29 October 2015

Gentleman? Moi?

Country Life magazine has published a list of 39 characteristics which define a modern gentleman.  I’ve always wondered whether or not I'm one of those , so I printed it off and scored myself, using a three-way marking system – Yes’, ‘No', and ‘?’ (don’t know/ sometimes/ not applicable/can’t remember/not saying).
Here are my self-scores:
Yes: 1, 2, 4, 6, 8-10, 14-17, 21, 23-26, 28-30, 32-33, 36-38
No: 3, 18, 20, 22, 31, 34
?: 5, 7, 11, 12, 13, 19, 27, 35, 37
I left out 39, because it’s meaningless.
There are, of course, some qualifications, which you can have hours of harmless fun matching to the answers:
  • Except Paris-Charles de Gaulle.
  • I did once train a dog, not very well.  One’s gardener trains the roses, surely?
  • Tweed suit?  Only worn by cads, surely?
  • Nobody has yet died from eating one of my omelettes, as far as I know.
  • What, pray, is the distinction between an emoji, an emoticon and a sticker?  Insufficient information.
  • Rooks exist only in the plural, crows in the singular.  Or the other way round, I can never remember.
  • What does a gentleman wear on his feet in Puerto Rico then?  Oh, no, sorry…
  • I tend not to wear flowers, it’s not 1967 you know.


Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Constitutional Crisis? Bring it on!

I had a fantasy, many years ago, that I’d switch on the telly at six o’clock, the credits would roll, and Reginald Bosanquet would announce “Good evening, here is the News at Six.  There isn’t any.  Nothing of any importance has happened today.  Good evening.*”  And then we’d get a rerun of an old episode of The Good Life** instead.
I wish the same thing would happen to politics occasionally, or even frequently.  Politicians, quite naturally, see it as their role to change things.  After all, if nothing needed to be changed, they’d be out of a job: and the prime purpose of being a politician, as for any job, is to stay in it.
I’m not suggesting that there aren’t things that need changing – I could offer up quite a little list of legislation that could usefully be created or, even better, destroyed – but every so often, we could do with a rest.  I don’t know about you, but I struggle to keep up with what is or isn’t legal as it is, without a dozen or so new laws coming along every week. 
So I rather hope that the House of Lords will have another crack.  The politicians can then usefully get themselves bogged down in the aforementioned constitutional crisis, shrinking their already wilting bubble in on itself, while the rest of us can just get on with real life for a while.


*Come to think of it, Reggie may well have done that once, given his track record, but if so I missed it

** Preferably the one where Barbara forgets to put her bra on, but …