Saturday, 25 October 2014

Caravans considered carefully

My relatives have a static caravan at Hayling Island.  It’s about twenty years old, and even they admit that it’s falling to pieces and will eventually be condemned on H&S grounds.  This year they’ve been down there just twice: in the Spring to open it up, and this weekend to shut it down.  It was the same last year. 

“Why do you keep it?” I often ask.  “It’s not exactly value for money, is it?”   (The site rent isn’t negligible.)   The answers aren’t what you’d call rationally focussed, ranging from “The walk round the Creek’s still lovely”, through “It’s interesting to see how the place changes”, to “We’ve been going to Hayling (Reading-by-the-Sea, it used to be called) since we were babies.”

This is why the title of this post is an oxymoron.

You may recall that I too have a static caravan, in south Pembrokeshire.  (New readers, if you’re brave, click on the label at the bottom.)  I’ve been there just twice this year.  I have excuses, but shamefully this is the first time since 2002 that I haven’t gone down to mothball it for the winter.  I had to sub-contract that to Joseph (who’ll do it probably better than I would have).  But I miss it.  There’s something about ingrained rituals that leave a hole in your psyche when they’re broken.    

And “consider carefully” doesn’t meld with “miss”.  Rationality and emotional intelligence are hard to reconcile.  I can’t put in words why this is so, what it is I miss  – the joy of arrival and opening it all up; the ever-shifting constant sea; fallen leaves on the patio; long shadows of neighbouring caravans at sunset; the rabbits, robins and partridges.  I’ll have to try and pull together some photos.  In the meantime, I’ve paid next year’s rent.

Thursday, 23 October 2014


I’m indebted to my brother for bringing this to my attention, and also suggesting the punchline.

It seems that not enough cases of dementia are being diagnosed: only about fifty percent, apparently.  Now you might wonder how exactly they go about counting the undiagnosed cases – but that’s not the point right now.  The point is that the NHS has a solution.  For the next six months, GPs will be paid £55 for each new case they identify. 

That’ll get the stats up to where we want them.

Now I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that there are any unscrupulous doctors out there, but it does set a bit of a precedent, doesn’t it?  My brother nailed it when he visualised a cartoon (which would have been worthy of the late, irreplaceable David Austin*):

Patient to doctor:  “I have absolutely no memory of offering you £60 not to diagnose me with Alzheimer’s!”


* Austin did the pocket cartoon in the Guardian for many years, right up to his early death in 2005.  The paper wisely opted not to try to replace him.  He took no prisoners. Perhaps my favourite of the few I can remember was in about November 2002, during the lead-up to the Iraq War.  Several generals are in conference, looking worried.  One of them says:  “But – what if he really has got WMDs?”



Sunday, 12 October 2014

Tax Discs

Old-style bloggers, including me, seem to be dropping off the cliff by the day, presumably into the swamp of fyzzogbook or wherever, so I thought I’d come up with a really buzzy strapline to entice you back.

Cars sometimes get dumped in the Close by my house, and have to be checked out.  We usually let them lie for a week or so then have a closer look.  The best clue is: do they have a valid tax disc?  Or was.

I reckon it’s the first move in a cunning plot to monetarise the DVLC website.

By the way, for any collectors out there, I have a near-mint April 2015, carefully torn perforations, rare BMW example, guaranteed unique.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Eyes Right!

No, this isn’t going to be about my marching experiences in the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) at Bournemouth School in the 1950s, where I learnt to walk in a straight line whilst not looking where I was going – although I could tell you a bit about that, and might save it up for a future blog.  (One good thing about blogburbling is that you can’t see your readers rolling their eyes.)  I was actually quite good at it, such that I eventually got appointed to point position, the marching pacemaker (front left) who effectively controls the whole pointless procedure …

No, this is about my eye test this morning.  I hadn’t had one for far too long, at least according to the optician: five years in fact.  I rationalise this by the thought that one’s eyesight alters so gradually that you have to give it enough time for any significant changes to be detectable – which is cobblers, I know: it was entirely down to my negligence and procrastination.  Anyway, it got done and, to my relieved surprise, no serious issues.

Unlike some other medical procedures, I quite enjoy eye tests.  I particularly like the peripheral vision check, where you put your face into a box, stare at a red light, and click a button whenever you see a green flash, which might be anywhere.  It’s like winning at a rather primitive arcade computer game.  Apparently, the quicker you respond, the more frequently the green flashes come, which adds an extra element of competition.

I also enjoy competing with the lower lines of the random letter charts – I bet on that fuzzy smudge being a V rather than a Y, an M not an H, and beat the odds: that’s strangely satisfying.  As is making the judgment call as to whether this lens combination is more or less blurry than that one.  In a funny way, for a little while I feel very much involved with, even in control of, an essential element of my life which is usually taken for granted.

The photographs of my retina were interesting too (especially as they didn’t show up any problems).  I’ve had a few ultrasound scans of various zones recently, and sometimes been allowed to watch the screen, and I find it fascinating to see, in real time, what’s actually going on in there.  (I’m sure not everyone would agree.)

The most surprising result was that, whereas my right eye has deteriorated somewhat, my left one has actually improved.  I’d suspected this to be the case, so the surprising bit was the reason.  It seems I have a small incipient cataract in my left eye, and apparently, in the early stages, this can actually cause your vision to get better!  Who’d have guessed that?  It will eventually get worse, of course, but not for a good few years yet.  I won’t wait another five though. 

In the meantime, I need to choose some new frames.  I know, I could just reuse the old ones; but at this stage of my life, I don’t get many opportunities to make a fashion statement.


Friday, 3 October 2014

Size Matters?

I got an iPhone a few weeks ago, but I’ve only just really got round to exploring its capabilities (beyond phone calls and texts, of course, and checking to make sure I still haven’t had any emails).  I must say, it’s very clever, and I’m sure sooner or later I’ll find some excuses to use some of the features, like the compass.  In the meantime, I’ve been musing about mobile phones and how they’ve evolved over the years.
In the beginning, they were the size, shape and weight of a house brick (and about as good at communication).  I remember when a rather self-important manager where I worked got one of those, and would parade up and down the corridor pretending to converse on it.  He had a perfectly good fixed-line phone in his office, of course, but that wasn’t the point.  We stared and sniggered, possibly with a frisson of envy. 
Over a few years, mobiles rapidly got smaller and smaller.  My first one, bought purely for emergency use, was about the size, shape and weight of the VHS recorder’s remote control.  My suit jacket sagged to the left.  The next one, which also contained a camera (why? I wondered), was half as big. I don’t think I ever took a picture with it. (Why would I?  I had a perfectly good brick-sized SLR for that.)  But you could usually make phone calls, provided you were in exactly the right location at the right time.  (This is still true.)
Over time, they shrank and shrank to the point where you had to use a pin to press the buttons.  (Yes, children, believe it or not, phones had buttons in those days.)  The joke was that this was the only area in which men bragged about having the smallest one.  My last phone was small enough to wriggle through a little hole in the breast pocket of my jacket onto (I reckon) the floor of a London taxi.  Hence the iPhone.
Just after I got the iPhone 5C, the new version 6 came out.  I knew this was going to happen, of course, and got a pretty good price deal as a result.  But I have noticed that they’re getting bigger again.  I saw someone on the street this morning talking into something that looked about A5 size.  Admittedly they’re only growing in two dimensions, they’ll never be as thick as a brick again.
More like a carpet tile, from what I hear.  Bendability wasn’t a planned design feature, but I bet the guys at Cupertino are working on it right now.  The iPhone 10 or 11 will be made of graphene, so you can fold it up, stick it in your pocket or bag and accidentally throw it away along with a used tissue.  You heard it here first.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Risk Averse?

When I was a child, I was told that you should never switch a light on or off with wet hands, because electricity and water don’t mix – or rather, they mix too well.  I thought this was stupid – how could the electricity possibly get out of that sealed insulated switch and connect up with the tiny amount of water on my finger?  I got no sympathy.  “Just don’t do it.”  There’s no arguing with these grown-ups.  So I didn’t, and drying my hands before operating the light became a lifelong habit.

I remembered that this morning when, after cleaning my teeth, I switched the light on to shave: with a wet finger, of course.  One day back in the early spring, I’d nicked my face shaving.  Now this is not a good idea when you’re on Warfarin.  My blood clots half as quickly as most people’s.  I’d been wet-shaving for fifty years, and cut myself maybe a dozen times, but that wasn’t the point.  So I went out and bought an electric razor.  I don’t particularly like it, and it doesn’t do the job as well, but you can’t be too careful, can you?

But a change is under way.  I emerged from the hospital a fortnight ago clutching a raft of advice and prohibitions, some of which were about driving.  Depending on which leaflet you read and who you listened to, the recommendations varied bewilderingly.  I had to wait for six weeks before I could get behind the wheel; four weeks; two weeks; and “not until I felt ready.”  A couple of days ago I felt ready, so I thought what the heck and nipped up to Waitrose.  I seem to have survived.

So I may have been overly risk-averse for much of my life.  On the other hand, I did walk away in 1965 from a promising career in a glass shop to join a rock ‘n’ roll band.  But that was an emotional decision, not a rational one.

Monday, 22 September 2014

A New England?

Most gratifying to see Cameron, Gove, Shapps, Hague and co taking such a statesmanlike approach to these constitutional issues.  “How can we use this to screw Labour at the next election and secure our own jobs, whilst not upsetting the money-cart?”  Thomas Jefferson would be proud of them!

‘English votes on English laws’.  Well, leave aside for a moment the fact that, according to Will Hutton in yesterday’s Observer, citing the McKay commission, a) there has been a total of just two-and-a-half years since 1919 when House of Commons arithmetic would have made any difference to any vote, and b) the question would hardly ever arise in practice anyway – there is remarkably little actual solely ‘English’ legislation.

Leave that aside.  The obviously false assumption is that ‘England’ in any way equates or is comparable to Scotland (or Wales, or Northern Ireland).  Quite apart from differences of landmass and population, none of these political constructs is in any way homogeneous.  (The referendum voting breakdown clearly proves this for Scotland; and I know neighbouring villages in Wales that’d be separate countries if they could.)  Least of all ‘England’.

No, England needs breaking down before any of this stuff makes any sense.  I haven’t worked out the details yet – can I safely leave that to Mr Hague? – but to kick off the negotiations I suggest revisiting the ancient Kingdoms of the Anglian Heptarchy.  In case you’d forgotten, these were, in about 700 AD: Mercia; Northumbria; East Anglia; Wessex; Essex; Sussex; and Kent.   There’ll be some mergers, demergers and acquisitions along the way, no doubt; but it’s a start point.

P.S. Sorry, I’ve temporarily reinstated the dreaded WV, in the hope of seeing off a particularly persistent idiotic Chinese spamhead.   I’ll take it off again after a few more posts.