Saturday, 31 December 2011

366 Resolutions Per Annum

And all of them the same:  "TODAY, DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT".

I won't keep them all, of course; probably not even a quarter.  But waking up with the thought in my mind won't do any harm.

Actually, even if the last word gets left off, that'll still be something.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Review Of The Year 2011

Lesson Learnt: Tread carefully, but step out with conviction when you do.

Lesson Not Learnt: Don’t wear white shirts to dinner parties.

Best Thing Said To Me: Not telling.  Runner-up: “You are lovely.”

Worst Thing Said To Me: “I really enjoyed our friendship.”

Answered Question: “Does the Higgs boson exist?”  (Answer: maybe.)

Unanswered Question: “What did I come up here for?”

Achievement: Playing the guitar for two hours on Boxing Day after a six month lay-off.

Non-achievement: Painting the kitchen ceiling (winner for three years running).

Un-understood Word: Meme.

Culinary Discovery: Wilkin’s Tomato Ketchup.


Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Glassman Cameth, and other stories

I don’t know about you, but when I’m hanging around waiting for a crucial phone call or doorbell, I find it difficult to concentrate on anything else.  Today, I could be excused this character defect, because I wasn’t allowed to get on with many of the things I should have done.  I couldn’t do much in the way of tidying and cleaning until Forensics came, and there was no point in Glassman attending before Forensics.  And I found it impossible to settle down to a book or a movie.  I couldn’t even summon the willpower to throw away the Christmas presents.  (Only kidding: see below.)

Anyway, Forensics came and dusted for prints of finger and foot and whatever else they do.  He didn’t hold out a lot of hope: Idiot was apparently smart enough to wear gloves, and the shoes were, well, just shoes.  This was confirmed within an hour or so by phone.  The case is still open, obviously, and they’re looking for tie-ins with other similar ones.  They’ll catch Idiot eventually, but I’m losing interest in that.  (Although I’d like to meet him face to face and explain to him, at length, exactly what he’s done, until he breaks down in tears.  I could do it, and society would benefit in a small, not big, way.)
The glass people had promised to come ‘as soon as possible’ today and do their best.  That is exactly what happened.  An exhausted but charming young Glassman arrived at seven thirty this evening, all ready to do boarding up or whatever it took to make me safe.  He’d been doing this for ten hours.  We quickly agreed that nothing more could practically be done to make me safe.  I’d been worried about the glass in the small leaded window in the living room, which has been there since 1929 (the glass, I mean, as well as the room).  “Amber Flemish,” he said.  “We can find that.”  As he left, he shook his head and said something about Idiot which made me laugh.  “Looks like he was more interested in the box than the present.”

Which leads me neat(ish)ly on to other news:
  • The Boxing Day fourteen-part harmony sing-song went pretty well.  In fact it went pretty well for about two hours, until I claimed blisters on my fingers.  (And by the way, does anyone know why, according to the authorities, it was Ringo rather than George or Paul who shouted that?  Drummers don’t get blisters on their fingers, do they?)
  • I joked about throwing away presents, but some of them, eventually, will be.  There’s a limit to how many jars of home-made chutney a guy can get through in a year.
  • The major present was a Kindle.  I will research further.  The instruction manual says ‘plug it in’.




Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Bleedin’ Amateurs

As I was leaving here on Christmas day in the morning, I remember mentally checking that I’d secured the perimeter according to Standard Operating Procedures, and then for some reason thinking ‘I’ll probably have been burgled when I get back’.  And when I did get back this afternoon, as I unlocked and opened the gates to the drive, before I could see the house itself, I thought ‘I’ve been burgled’.  I don’t know whether this makes me psychic or paranoid.

Because, as soon as I got out of the car, I saw that I had indeed been burgled.  The clue was that the kitchen window was wide open.  (I should explain that this is a window which has not until now been opened since 1992, by the last burglar, after which I fitted locks, painted it shut and bought the alarm system.)  I walked round to the front door and entered.  The alarm made all the right noises as I disarmed it.  I saw that, in fact, two windows in the kitchen had been smashed.  One pane of the six in the back door, and one of the eight in the now-open window.  I went straight to the living room, naturally, because that’s where most of the obviously tradeable valuables are.  I could immediately see that nothing had been taken (not even this elderly laptop) or disturbed.  (When you live alone, you develop an intimate knowledge of your own disorder.)  I went through to the dining room.  The side window had been smashed, but the secondary double glazing had defeated them.  I checked the rest of the house and found that a little pane in the leaded window on the other side had been smashed too.  Nothing missing anywhere.  That made the score four windows, no swag.
The bright young PC arrived pretty quickly.  “You’re my first today,” he told me.  “Only just came on shift.  But they’ve been pretty busy already, and I’ve got a couple more after you.  Looks like there’s this one idiot on a spree last night.”
I agreed.  Idiot.  The first try, in the dining room, should have given him a clue.  You can’t break secondary glazing.  But that didn’t deter him, and he persevered – hadn’t he noticed that there was an alarm? – until finally he managed to get into the kitchen, opened the door to the hall (which is where the alarm gets triggered, for the benefit of any future burglars who may be reading this) and scarpered empty-handed.
Idiot is the only word.  Bleedin’ amateurs.  A professional would only have broken one window, and got away maybe with a few bits of insured stuff.  I wouldn’t have liked that, but in a sense I’d have preferred it.  I’d have been less uncomfortable with rationality than with mindlessness.  Although a professional, of course, wouldn’t even have tried it.
Oh, apart from that I had a brilliant Christmas.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Have yourselves a merry little Christmas

Well, to paraphrase Groucho, have whatever kind of Christmas you choose.  Personally, I'm going for a few Merry and Bright days.

Advance announcement of the Best Card award, which as usual goes to my darling friend Molly:

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Whatever can he have meant?

R was telling her brother, M, about her wood-burning stove, and the deal she'd done with a tree surgeon friend which provided her with a more or less unlimited supply of logs.  Just then the summons came to go through for supper.  As we climbed to our feet, M caught my eye.  "I wish I could get wood whenever I wanted," he muttered.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Tribute

You have all been endowed, for twenty four hours, with the honorary title of "Glorious Comrade Defenders Of The Heavenly Rainbow Of Blogdom".  Rejoice!

Oh, and  this might cheer you up.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

What?

Two places to my left, P was conducting an animated conversation about immigration with M, two places to my right.  P is M's father, so they compete - in this case, in volume.  Meanwhile, C was explaining, to A seated opposite her, how a random Scotsman, forty years ago, had transformed somebody or other's life with some unasked-for advice.  C is married to P, so has learnt about volume over the years.  Meanwhile, behind me on the iPod docker, Prince was tearing through 'Let's Go Crazy' from Purple Rain.  Music always drives everything else out of my ears at the best of times.  Meanwhile, I was having a quiet conversation with R and D, to my immediate right and left (P and C's daughter and granddaughter), about my trip to Jersey last weekend.  D said something I didn't catch (it turned out to be 'Guernsey'), so I said "What?"  C looked across at me.  "Are you sure you're not going a bit deaf?" she said.

A bit later, someone said "Stuff an old pillow up the chimney."  I definitely heard that.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Cutlery

So, why do we have different knives and forks for fish?  And why do we feel compelled to use them?

And how come I'm finding it impossible to do a typo, even deliberately?

Only asjing.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Communities

This started from my reviewing my Christmas card list.

It’s that time of the year, isn’t it?  I like to think that I belong to quite a few communities.  But if I’m honest, I’m not sure whether I do.  So I need to analyse this.  Bear with me.  (Or don’t, click off now – but see my last paragraph.)
Years ago, I formed a concept that a community might consist of a number of people who might be thinking of each other at any one time.  The closeness of the community could be measured by the probability of that happening, and actual face-to-face meetings were an outcome of that probability.  Originally, and for many centuries, people had to be within walking or riding distance, so you’d be constantly aware of all that, and of the subtle shifts within it.  If you wanted to move in or out, you had to physically duck and weave.  I’m not just talking Jane Austen: even in my teens, in the fifties, you had to keep a bright eye open for who might walk up the high street or through the youth club door, and who they were with in relation to who you were with.  So communities shifted and mutated.
The theory held, with extension, after the telephone became cheap enough for parents to permit its use.  Although the interaction was long-distance, it still depended on the precept that you would be thinking of the person you phoned.  The nature of the community didn’t really change, it just stretched.  The relationships within it remained the same.  And of course you could always pretend not to be there, or ring off.
And then along came the internet, 2.0.  I started blogging, and that was fine.  Although I didn’t actually know any of the people, I could feel that there was a community out there, to which I could belong, within a rather reconstructed set of rules.  It was a bit like being at a conference in Dusseldorf  or somewhere, where you don’t know anyone but can easily relate, because you have at least a bit of common ground – and of course you can always walk away.
This is where we came in.  I’ve joined a few social sites, and I get invites to befriend hundreds of people whom I don’t know, will never know, and who only know of me as a friend of a friend of a friend.  That’s exactly like my Christmas card list.  I’ve got it down from eighty-something to thirty-six, just by eliminating all those with whom I feel absolutely no sense of community.
Am I being churlish?  Probably.  So I promise to do nothing but frivolous posts from now until 2012, starting tomorrow.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Surprise, surprise

It wasn’t anything like a military operation, because intelligence was involved, and it worked. (That is to say, it achieved its objective; and it had one.)  A few marginal things went wrong – the helium balloons didn’t turn up and had to be hastily reorganised; the seating plan for the five-course dinner had to be last-minute adjusted for arcane reasons, with potential mis-delivery of pre-ordered courses; Boy (whose thirtieth this was, in Jersey) threatened, on receipt of programmed red herring texts, to go to the airport and collect people who’d actually arrived the previous day – but in general the General did an amazing job.  I think she tired, during the evening, of being reminded that when she was eighteen she wanted to join the Army.

I know him pretty well, so I was certain, when Boy walked into that bar, that his surprise was genuine.  He’s not the kind of guy who habitually fakes stuff; and he lives, mostly, on the surface: not being devious himself, he doesn’t suspect others of it.  So the massed choir singing ‘Happy Birthday To You’ (in several different keys) may have momentarily thrown him emotionally, but he bounced back.  After handshakes and kisses all round (I got both), he looked at his father and said “Any chance of a drink, then?”
At any party, there have to be a few, er, moments.  Bloke provided them.  Bloke is an enforced non-drinker, due to recent fatherhood, but obviously grabs the opportunity when it jumps up and licks his face.  I’d guess that he’d stoked up the prospect of getting tanked for weeks, and shovelled in more and more fuel the nearer the event drew.  Of course, what happens is that you peak far too soon.  What happens after that depends on what the booze uncovers.  (In my case, I’ve been told, I get mellowly amorous, so I’ve learnt – mostly – to contain that, although being seated between the two most attractive girls in the room didn’t help; I didn’t know which way to turn, but thank you, General…)  In Bloke’s case, evidently, it’s Clarksonian banter.  You know what I mean.  There’s a fine line in there; blokeish ‘banter’ can easily tip over into obnoxious bullying, and the bully, even though he (it’s very rarely, though not never, ‘she’) might still have hazy sight of his behaviour, he has nowhere to go except more of the same.
I won’t go into details, even though he certainly won’t read this.  Eventually he was quietly made to shut up.  It didn’t spoil anything, and most people probably didn’t even notice it.  I intervened a couple of times, and ended up having my shoulder figuratively cried on, at two a.m., when he’d got a glimmering of what he’d done and subsided into faux-remorse.  And I’d only met him for the first time that afternoon.  But I’ve learnt to deal with that kind of business.
You don’t need me to tell you that Sunday was a bad weather day.  Luckily nobody felt much like walking the five mile length of St Ouen’s Bay.  Driving back from Southampton airport, through monsoon rain, I heard Boy’s Nana say “Shame it had to be spoiled by the rain.”  I’ve learnt to deal with Nana too, so I just grunted and carried on driving.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Falling

No, not that!  Not even this from 1958.  This is about the real thing.  I was sidetracked the other day, by an itchy thumb, to write at more length than I’d intended about the only tumble, thus far, that has left a detectable trace (at least on the outside of me – I have no way of knowing about the mental consequences of being dropped on my head all those times before I was three).  But there have been others, so here are just a few.

For years, we went to south Pembrokeshire for our summer holidays.  Our rented house was just up the hill from Wiseman’s Bridge beach, and it was always my secret ambition to be first down there and up to the top of the Big Rock.  This particular year, I was probably eight, I ran too fast down the road and swerved to avoid an approaching car.  Unthinkable today, of course, but cars were few and far between then.  I went over forwards and removed much of the skin from my right knee.  Why is this memorable?  Because I still remember, as if I were hearing it, my instant thought: “I’m not going to cry!”  And I didn’t.
Fast forward to 1967, Milan.  We have somehow fallen in with a patroness who collects artistic butterflies on Friday evenings in her huge apartment.  She has an invisible husband and an all too visible daughter.  I am forced to play a duet with someone who claims to be Django Reinhardt’s son, and might well be.  We leave as the sun is rising, and decide it’d be fun to see if we can jump between a number of raised traffic islands, spaced about two metres apart.  I can, twice: but not three times.  This time, it’s my left cheek.  I tell a lie to my girlfriend about slipping on a dropped ice cream.  She asks me what flavour it was.
You know those ‘director chairs’, the sort of rectangular ones which have ‘Michael Winner’ or something written on the back?  Well, there’s a subspecies in which the backrest is on pivots, so that you can lean comfortably back into it whilst watching the rushes or whatever it is directors do.  Do not, under any circumstances, reach out to one of these to steady yourself when stumbling on an uneven garden path after consuming three blue cocktails.  In fact, do not under any circumstances ever consume a blue cocktail.  Cracked rib that time.
I could go on.  The time my foot missed the skid mat in the shower in a hotel room as I attempted to turn it down from scalding; the time I unwisely accepted, and smoked, an unaccustomed cigarette and then tried to walk up a steep grassy slope in the dark; the time when I lost my dancing balance and narrowly avoided landing on top of a sleeping small child on a sofa …  but I think I have delighted you enough.  We all fall once in a while.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Made of this?

I'm sorry I couldn't find my original 45 of 'Catch a Falling Star'.  I think my brother has it in his garage.  But here are a few that rang bells for me:



Saturday, 3 December 2011

Confidence

On Any Questions, Jeremy *unt, the *ulture Secretary, said that various measures (I really can’t remember what they were, and it doesn’t matter because they’ll have changed by this time tomorrow, but I’m pretty sure you and I won’t like them, and don’t know anybody who will) are necessary in order to regain “the confidence of the Markets”.  I’ll write that again: the confidence of the Markets.

I have a very limited circle of acquaintanceship, which doesn’t include any Markets.  But apparently there are now only 2.7 degrees of separation, rather than the pre-digital six, between me and everybody else on the planet.  So send, please, the following question to 2.7 people, and ask them to pass it on to another 2.7:
“How much confidence do you have in the Markets?”
You can rate it on a scale of 0 to 1.  Answers on a comment please, enclosing a food stamp. 

Friday, 2 December 2011

Scar Itch

I was going to write a comical piece about the several times in my life that I have fallen over, and the consequences; but then I got this itch in the pulp of my right thumb.  Proust did taste and smell, of course, and we all do sight and sound, all the time.  But there aren’t many times, I think, when the sense of touch triggers a madeleine moment.  This is one.

It was the early summer of 1964, a Saturday evening.  We used to go to the Bure Club at Highcliffe as often as we could afford it.  It was one of the only two places to be in the Bournemouth area (the other being the Disque a Gogo in Holdenhurst Road).  The big visiting American blues names played the Bure: Hooker, Muddy, I forget who else.  On this occasion it was the Animals, and it was important to be there early, so as to get a couple of beers sunk and be near the front when they came on.  We were anti-Animals, for all sorts of reasons.  They were slick, commercial, about to sell out and, to be honest, just too bloody good.  Whereas we were thrashing around trying to put together a group, any sort of group.  A drummer, any sort of drummer, was number three on my wish list, after a couple of girls whose names I remember (but had better not mention here).
I was late.  I’m not sure why, probably due to negotiation with my parents about use of the car, a ritual which had to be performed even though the outcome was always the same (ending with and don’t forget to put some petrol in!).  So I parked up and ran.  You had to park outside the grounds and then proceed on foot through the entrance and up a gravel drive.  In the middle of the gateway there was one of those sticking-up metal stops that prevent the gate going the wrong way when it’s closed.  That’s what I tripped over.
And that’s the fall-over – the film.  My legs stop dead whilst the rest of me carries on.  My right arm goes out to break the fall, palm first.  Gravel digs in.  I get up, rather too quickly, and carry on; blood is dribbling from my hand, but I find a handkerchief and mop it up.  It doesn’t seem too bad.  I get inside the club …
Three days later, Dr Hall-Reid (rather viciously I thought) scrubbed away the incipient gangrene or whatever it was, put a dressing on, prescribed some penicillin and told me I was lucky.  Some sympathetic musical colleague said ‘Yes, lucky it wasn’t your left, or you wouldn’t be able to play.’
The scar’s survived, for five decades.  It’s tiny, quarter of an inch long and just detectable by touch if you know it’s there.  It throws up an itch every so often. 

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

I'm sure that's what they said ...

Well, not totally certain of this one, and can't be arsed to search any longer for a replay, but I'm pretty sure I heard Ed Milliband, in the Commons, refer to poor people who "... earn in a week what the Chancellor pays for his annual skiing holiday!"  Erm... maybe he meant year?

I'm absolutely sure of this one: Michael Gove  on working parents who, because of the school strikes, "... have to scrabble around for expensive childcare."  I daren't even start to try deconstructing that!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Lit crit

I sometimes read that people are considering giving up blogging.  I’d be the last to question this kind of personal decision, it’s none of my business.  Indeed, I’ve given up myself, several times, sometimes for whole days, for my own reasons.

But I hope that the main reason people carry on is that they believe they have something to offer, as entertainment, provocation, or often just plain simple human sharing (not to mention other animals).  I certainly get all of these from the blogs I read and the interactions through the comments.  And, most importantly, I get to read loads of brilliant writing, without having to stir from my sofa or donate a penny to Amazon or Waterstone’s.  So thanks, all of you.

Which brings me neatly to my self-serving point.  I really enjoyed the opportunity to review the start of Clare’s novel: it was a brave and intriguing extension of the bloglit concept, and I hope she got something from it too.  So, does anyone fancy helping me with my children’s novel, ‘Clock and Jeremy’?  It’s a fantasy aimed at the 10 – 12 readership.  Although stylistic criticism is obviously welcome, what I’m really after is ‘where the hell do I take this story from here??’

You can email me via my profile if you want to play.


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Words and Music

I had this conversation during a very noisy party last Saturday night.  As discos are, the music was too loud for anyone to hear what the other person was saying, so most of it consisted of lip reading, sign and body language.  I’ve been to too many of these over the years, and there is always a consensus, next day, that conversations – long, intense, heartfelt conversations, lasting for tens of minutes – have taken place, during which intimacies have been exchanged, anxieties exposed, hopes and fears poured out … but luckily, it’s all wiped out because, actually, you only managed to hear about one word in ten.  This isn’t to say that communication didn’t take place: indeed, the heard one in ten might have said more than the unheard nine.  But there’s something to be said for those words that aren’t heard.

So, Zoe was asking me about music, and during a lull I was able to hear and consider her question, which was to do with whether you should respond more to the lyrics or the music of a song.  She felt, I think, that most of the time, at least in the music she liked, lyrics were a distraction, if not an irrelevance, and I have a lot of sympathy with this view.  When I listen to a song, very often it tends to be one or the other; the perfect marriage of the two is rare.  Dylan said ‘If I can sing it, it’s a song; if I can’t, it’s a poem’, but that’s a bit simplistic.  Leonard Cohen wrote an eighty-two verse poem which he distilled down to a song called ‘Hallelujah’, and yet at the moment I’m hearing the tune more than the words.

I was about to counter with ‘Come on over baby, whole lotta shakin’ going on’ as a perfect storm, but then the disco kicked back in and words became irrelevant.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Something with a smile

I don't usually need plastic bags at the supermarket, but occasionally one gets caught short.

ME: Could I have a bag for that please?
ASSISTANT:  I'm sorry, we're out of bags.  [Smiles apologetically, then glances to his left.]  But Customer Services might have some.

I follow his glance.  Customer Services is four feet along the same counter.

It was the smile that did it for me, I think.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

I know, I’ve said it before …

… but that’s no reason not to say it again, and again, and again. 

‘Growth’ is ‘predicted’ to ‘flatline’ at 1% for this and next year.  That’s plus 1%, which is bad news.  I have no idea what this means, and nor, it seems, do any of the politicians, economists or journalists who spray this kind of talk around.  Percentages mean nothing unless it’s clear what the percentage is of – ask any statistician.  Is it per annum, which means the base would be the twelve months preceding the date of the prediction?  Or month by month, for example comparing October this year to October last year?  Or some other formula?  I know there’s an answer, but I have never seen it clearly written down.  The Wikipedia article starts ‘This article has multiple issues’, and goes on from there, which just about nails it; but nowhere, as far as I can see, does it define a consensual mechanism by which it’s measured.  And yet, they carry on spraying, for all the world as if they were saying something meaningful.  They’re not.
I’m not going down the ethical, social or biodynamic byways, that’ll have to be for another day, but let’s just pretend that this ‘growth’ stuff constitutes, in some way, an increase in productive economic activity.  So, if this activity, however measured (but with the proviso that it as to be productive), was, say, 100 units in year one, in year two it would be 101.  In year three, just over 102, and so on.  That’s an increase (however slow against perceived expectations).  So, given that economic activity is increasing exponentially, year on year, how come what I’ll call well-being (for example, employment, earnings for those employed, support for those who aren’t or can’t be, education for entrants, etc.) is, by any objective measure, declining?
That’s enough.  Well, nearly.  On a lighter note, I heard Mervyn King tell us that he can’t predict what’s going to happen to the euro next week, never mind next year; and then go on solemnly to deliver his confident forecasts for growth, inflation, interest rates, solar flares, asteroid activities, alien invasion (okay, I exaggerate slightly).  Ha ha.  Not funny, actually.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Alternating current account

Like many people, I pay for my electricity by monthly direct debit, spreading the cost evenly across the year.  As you know, the idea is that a surplus at the end of the summer covers the extra consumption during the winter. 

So when I got my six-monthly bill the other day I was pleased to see that they owed me about £150.  Good, I thought, that’ll see me through the next few months when it’s colder, darker and more boring.  The system’s working.  Then I read on.  “…which we will refund to your bank account on or soon after 6 November 2011.”  Hang on, though: that means that, come the spring, I’ll owe them money; and I bet they’ll put my monthly payments up in response, which means next autumn they’ll owe me more money, which they’ll refund, which means … you get the picture.  A positive feedback loop.

I remember a variant of this a few years back, when instead of issuing a refund, they proposed to reduce my payments over the winter, which would mean … oh, I can’t go on.  On that occasion I phoned them up and explained.  “Oh yes, the computer does that,” the call centre told me.  “We have to go in and override it.  We get this all the time.”

I don’t think I can be bothered to phone this time, but if I do I want a word with that computer.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Wodehouse or Chandler?

There are no other contenders for the title (which I'm not even going to bother to identify).  To help you along, here are a couple of quotes, picked more or less at random:

There was a desk and a night clerk with one of those moustaches that get stuck under your fingernail.
Degarmo lunged past the desk towards an open elevator beside which a tired old man sat on a stool waiting for a customer.  The clerk snapped at Degarmo's back like a terrier.
'One moment, please.  Whom did you wish to see?'
Degarmo spun on his heel and looked at me wonderingly.  'Did he say "whom"?'
'Yeah, but don't hit him,' I said.  'There is such a word.'
Degarmo licked his lips.  'I knew there was,' he said.  'I often wondered where they kept it.'

And -

Women never know when to stop on these occasions.
I remember Mrs Bingo Little once telling me, shortly after their marriage, that Bingo said poetic things to her about sunsets - his best friends being perfectly aware, of course, that the odd egg never noticed a sunset in his life and that, if he did by a fluke ever happen to do so, the only thing he would say about it would be that it reminded him of a slice of roast beef, cooked just right.
However, you can't call a girl a liar; so, as I say, I said: 'Well, well!'

Difficult call, isn't it?

But I must say, I did enjoy typing that!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Nothing really changes

For some reason, Soaring posted the following in a blog comment.  It concerns the resignation, on the 18th of March 1911, of the Italian prime minister Luigi Luzatti:
Although a man of first-class financial ability, great honesty and wide culture, he had not the strength of character necessary to lead a government: he showed lack of energy in dealing with opposition and tried to avoid all measures likely to make him unpopular.
I promised to come up with an equivalent to reflect today’s equivalent:
Although a man of fourth-class financial integrity, great manoeuvrability and bunga bunga culture, he had not the brown-nosed flexibility necessary to lead a government: he showed excess of early-day corruption in dealing with opposition and tried to encourage all measures likely to make him richer.
Will that do?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Sometime for your diary

I'm sure everybody already knows this, but around coffee time next Friday, here in Britain, it will be
11:11:11:11:11:11.  GMT.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Bearing Debts...

They've been on a bit of a bender,
The Eurozone's champion spender;
But the Oracle speaks:
"We shall bail out those Greeks;
Just one caveat: no referenda!"

Alternative lines 3 - 4:
But we'll bail out those Greeks
(and curate their antiques) -

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Endangered Species

I see that zebra crossings are disappearing due to the march of technology.  Those are the ones marked by Belisha beacons (named in 1934 after half of the Transport Minister Leslie Hore-Belisha, the other half having presumably already been taken).

Well, not around here.  Oxford Road currently contains about nine pelicans or puffins or whatever they’re called (the ones controlled by lights), and there is a proposal (not yet implemented, but it’s only been four months) to replace several of these with zebras, so as to speed up the buses.  I suggested at a local meeting that doing away with the bus stops would achieve this even better, but for some reason that didn’t go down very well.

I do hope the zebra crossing doesn’t become entirely extinct, as this would involve the loss of one of my favourite road signs, in Honey End Lane: ‘HUMPED ZEBRA CROSSING’.

*

In other completely unrelated news, I’ve just heard some minister, on ‘The World At One’, explain that the 0.5% growth figures must be welcomed as ‘better than predicted’.  Doesn't he mean ‘the predictions were wrong’?


Sunday, 30 October 2011

Why do I feel so tired?

Oh, I know, it's because my body clock is an hour ahead of my clock clock.  I wonder if anyone has computed the cost of this meaningless biannual ritual.  I have banged on about this year after year, inducing global stupefaction - but still they don't listen!  And now, I read, our government is going (no consultation, referendum, nothing like that) to convert us to Central European Time, so that ... oh, I'm too tired to go on deconstructing this idiocy.  Why can't they just accept that it gets dark in the winter and lighter in the summer, and we are where we are, in terms of the planet's rotation?  Get over it.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Blogiquette

It’s easy for me to say, because not many people read my blog, and I don’t regularly read that many others.  But I can’t help but become aware that, even within my narrow range, some odd things seem to happen.  People apparently masquerade.  So-called ‘blogmeets’ are arranged and, sometimes, end in tears.  And there are creepy people who visit frequently (sometimes for hours) but never ever identify themselves or comment.  (I'm not counting casual passers-by or one-off search results; I'll even let googlebot off the hook, even though I'd rather it didn't exist.)

So here are some of the rules I play by:

·         I won’t instigate a ‘blogmeet’.  If anyone wants one, they can easily contact me, and I’ll take it at face value and consider my response.  But I’ve concluded (from just my one experience) that it’s a risky endeavour.  It’s very easy for false expectations to set in when the written word is the only medium of contact. 
·         I will never pretend to be someone I’m not.  I really don’t understand why anyone would do that  – leaving aside that they’re obviously sick, they’re going to get found out, aren’t they?  So if I see someone who I suspect might be false, I’ll find them out, believe me.
·         If I find a blog that interests me and I feel inclined to read more of it, I’ll consider ‘officially’ following it, so that the author knows who I am.  (It’s not nice to feel stalked.)  And I’ll post a quick comment, introducing myself, even just a ‘hello, like your blog’.  It does no harm – they can always tell me to blog off.
·         And if I post a comment, either on my own or someone else’s blog, which I later think is inappropriate, or offensive, or plain point-missing, I’ll delete it asap (possibly replacing it with a better one).

But within that framework, I will continue to fire off my rants, raves and trivia, like it says on the tin.  I think nearly everyone conforms to these simple norms of decency.




Google plus

I've just joined Google+.  I have absolutely no idea what this means.  Something like this?

  • The ladybirds have made it into the kitchen.  I repatriated twelve, then got out the Raid spray.  I'm not particularly proud of this.
  • I have bought 'winter tyres' for the BMW, on the hope that I won't have to abandon the car quite so many times this winter.
  • Still haven't put any of the new strings on the guitars.  Must be done.
  • I have about four other things I want to blog about, but one will do for this evening (see later).

Have I got the idea?

Friday, 28 October 2011

We are the 99%

Have I got that right?  Yes, but it's a bit more complicated.  The 99% are the 2.6%, and the 1% are the 49%.  And % of what?  Those figures need to be swapped over.  Give 99% 49% and 1% 2.6%, and I guarantee we'll get more work done.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Abstruse Goose

I assume everybody already follows AG, but just in case:

http://abstrusegoose.com/406

(Hit 'random' for more joy.  And don't miss the hover-overs.)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Risky Parlour Game

Inspired by Z’s recent post as others see us, I’ve dreamt this up.  Probably best played after lunch on Boxing Day, but before the singing and the dancing start.

Here are the rules, as I envisage them:
Everyone gets issued with a piece of paper containing a list of adjectives (see below for a starter kit, drawn partly but not entirely from the original, but the quizmaster can tune it if s/he wants to), from which each player selects the four that they think best describe themselves.  Tick those four words.

The entries are put into a hat (or something) and then drawn at random.  (If you get your own, you throw it back in.)

Each player then has to identify the person they think has described themselves, on the entry they have drawn, write the name of that person on the back of the slip, and their own name (this is crucial), and put it back in the hat.

The game could go in several directions from here.  The simplest is for the quizmaster just to read out the results, using a formula such as “George says that Elegant, Naïve, Challenging and Sweet describes Marcus.”  This could then be open to challenge and debate.  Alternatively, you could read out the judgements, and of whom they were made, and ask the subject to identify who saw them that way.  Or … Heck, make up your own.
LAZY
HAPPY
ELEGANT
UNDERSTANDING
NAÏVE
PASSIONATE
SENSIBLE
ELOQUENT
CHALLENGING
THOUGHTFUL
COURAGEOUS
WITTY
IMPATIENT
OUTSPOKEN
SENTIMENTAL
STUBBORN
CHARMING
PATIENT
LOVELY
SWEET
INSECURE

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Ninety-nine plus one

Here’s an idea.  Over the last few days, I’ve seen various kinds of items priced at £2.99, or suchlike.  When decimalisation came in, in 1971, this was a marketing ploy to try and fool people that they were paying £2, rather than £3.  Obviously we all saw through that pretty quickly, and nobody falls for it any more, if they ever did.  But the practice has persisted; indeed, it wasn’t anything new even back then: I remember price tags such as £1/19/6d, and of course there used to be the pernicious guinea (which worked the other way).

So, instead of giving the customer the 1p change, let’s devise a system that feeds all those pennies into some kind of kitty (preferably local rather than central), which can then be fed back into the much-needed process of bottom-up economic recovery.  The vendor loses nothing, and the purchaser won’t really notice in the larger scheme of things.  Obviously I haven’t done the maths, but I bet there’s a huge amount of money involved.

And for those who want to opt out, we can always introduce a 99p coin.


Monday, 24 October 2011

Ladies? Birds? Bugs?

I couldn’t get any pictures, but here’s a delightful one from a favourite photo-artist:


But yesterday, when the sun was full on the back of the house, there were several dozens of them.  Far more than the forty-two I rehabilitated last week during the Great Grape Picking Adventure.  At one point, I felt like a beekeeper.  I’m ashamed to say that I became less than solicitous in my behaviour towards them, and a few got swatted.  And as for the ones that decided to come indoors – well, there are rules about invasiveness, aren’t there?  They shouldn’t be immigrating hidden up my sleeves or in my hair.  I respect their right to inhabit the outdoors; they should equally respect my right to an insect-free house.  They do leave a nasty orange stain on the carpet as well.
Most of them were lurking around the back door.  I gather that this is fairly usual at this time of the year, as they look for warm places.  But I’ve never seen it on this scale before.  I can only put it down to the grape vodka.  I’ve told them and told them that it won’t be ready till the New Year, but they just don’t listen.  Tuh.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Dancing Help - The Results

Thank you all so much for your contributions.  Here's the consolidated playlist, insofar as the songs can be found on Spotify:

Dancing help

The polls are still open - vote early and often.  But I am only allowed two candidates on the RSVP card (which has to be sent off quite soon), so in the spirit of modern democracy I am ignoring all your votes and doing just what I choose, which at the moment is:

Roadrunner, by Jonathan Richman And The Modern Lovers (sadly not available on Spotify), and

Express Yourself, by Charles Wright And The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band (on the playlist).

The wedding is on 5 February, so please feel free to stick this playlist (as amended) on and bop on down with us at about 10.30 p.m.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Dancing? Help!

I'm going to a wedding in February.  The invite instructs me to name 'two songs you love to dance to'.  I've come up with 'Roadrunner' by Jonathan Richman, and 'There Must Be An Angel' by Eurythmics.  I know that none of my readers are invited to the wedding, but it'd be fun to get your suggestions anyway, and they can be stored up for future reference.  Dave's ideas would be especially welcome.

Grandma

This is my father’s mother.  She was a figure of awe in my family, until she died at the age of ninety in 1960, when I was eighteen.  She was called Emmeline, a good Victorian name that has been carried forward in the family to my niece (whose fortieth I will be celebrating in a few weeks’ time, as it happens, but who is not at all Victorian).

Grandma was Victorian, and suitably formidable.  Her maiden surname is also my middle name, and I firmly believe (without a shred of evidence) that this naming protocol, which continues down the generations on the male side, may have been one of the conditions of my parents being permitted to marry.  The surname is still eminent in Jersey. 
Her husband, my grandfather, although born in the same year, 1870, died in the thirties, so I know nothing of him apart from a couple of old photos.  She was evacuated to England before the invasion of Jersey, and I think she spent much of the rest of her life being shuttled between various relatives.  She was one of numerous siblings, which I guess is how the family fortune got dissipated.  Certainly there was an uncle who absconded to the Argentine and lost a bundle on ill-advised railway investments.
Of course, I was too young to know any of this background firsthand, so I’m doing a certain amount of reconstruction here.  It’s a fact to be pondered that the historical record inevitably gets diluted, even for famous people, never mind the likes of us; and there are probably now only four people alive who have direct memories of Grandma.

She’d come to stay with us for some weeks during each summer, in the fifties.  This was a cause for domestic repositioning in our household.  My mother was stressed out for weeks beforehand.  And Grandma played to her strengths, more or less reordering things in her own image.  She was pretty good at that.  A friend of mine makes great play (in a knowing self-referential way) of the ‘controlling female’ stereotype – she should have asked my grandmother for a few tips.
And yet, I remember her as mostly kind and wry.  If you saw the photos, you’d see that in her face.  Every late afternoon, she would retire for a while to her room; I later learned that this was for her gin.  She once criticised me for using too much toilet paper, making some joke about rationing.  And one year, it must have been about 1953, we kids had been allowed, on a hot summer day, to play in the garden with the hose.  This had to be stopped before Grandma came, but the evidence can’t have been fully concealed, because when she arrived she enquired what had been going on and elicited a confession.  I can hear her now, in her rich Victorian voice.  “Oh, don’t be silly, it’s very hot.  Of course they can play with the hose.  I almost wish I could join them.”

Thanks to my sister for details; more memories please!
And thanks to Z for sowing the seed.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Caravan diaries: end of term report

Not much to report really.  Everything drained and shut down for the winter.  Very cleverly, I managed to use the last drop of water from the tank when shaving this morning, which saved some crawling around underneath the van.

The robin came in to say hello again yesterday afternoon.  Unfortunately, this time he left a calling card - well, more than one actually.  Luckily, for some reason I had some Vanish Carpet and Upholstery Ultimate Stain Remover, which got lavishly applied.  I read the list of ingredients: anyone know the difference between Anionic Surfactants and Non-Ionic Surfactants?  I only ask.

Halfway back up the M4, I thought I'd left some milk in the fridge.  That might not have been nice by next Easter.  As it turned, I hadn't, it was there in the coldbox when I got home.  It was just that I couldn't remember having taken it out of the fridge.  Is there such a thing as a false non-memory?

I have promised myself to get down there more often next season.  The flush toilet will definitely be installed by then, which hopefully will encourage visitors (of the non-avian sort).

Sunday, 16 October 2011

GV progress report

The grapes had to be picked and processed today, for three reasons: one, risk of frost; two, some turning into raisins; and three, avian invasions.  Here they are.


The ripe ones were stripped off the stalks, and 43 ladybirds (I counted them out, you can see the first one) returned to the wild, mostly back onto the vine.  I hope they're grapeful.  Plenty of grapes were left for the birdies.

Further ingredients then had to be added:


... and here is the progress so far:


The label on the sweet jar is, of course, designed to deter any burglars who might otherwise have been tempted.  And the glass of wine is, of course, totally irrelevant.

Next update somewhere around December 17th.


I am not making this up

Last Monday I decided to cook some BlackBerries with my Apples, for breakfast.  I suspect I'm not the only one.  The Law of Unintended Consequences...

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Speed

My neighbour, whom I’ll call John, is pretty slow now, physically.  It took ten minutes to get him from his chair to the car, one step at a time, supported by his stick in one hand and my arm in the other.  He has his techniques for these familiar manoeuvres, though – stick in left hand descending the steps whilst gripping the rail with his right; get bum onto car seat first, stow the stick away and, if necessary, call for assistance in getting legs in and clear of the car door, and so forth – John is ninety-one in his body but, thank goodness, still in his seventies in his mind.
The reception girls at the dentists’, when we got there, rallied round to get him into play.  One of them said to me afterwards that this was what she liked best about the job – “Well, it’s a bit of fresh air, isn’t it?”, but I think it went deeper than that for her.  As we were getting him out of the car, he glanced down.  “Oh my goodness, I’ve come out in my slippers!”  He grinned impishly, seeing a way through the pain.  “Do you think I should go back and change?”
Eventually, when he was installed in the chair, the diagnosis was as expected: an incipient abscess behind the right canine.  I took notes about the details of the treatment and prognosis (antibiotics followed by a further consultation in a week, basically), to be passed on to his daughter (call her Barbara), whose emergency  call at 8 a.m. had got me involved in the first place, and we loaded John back into the car.  The dentist and his nurse transformed into carers and opened the French windows in the surgery to make this easier.  I delivered John back home, administered the first dose of drugs, phoned Barbara to make sure she would be au fait when she got in, made sure he was comfortable, and raced back next door for a stiff sherry.
I called this ‘Speed’, because, for John, it was a fast-moving adventure despite everything, and for me, the morning whizzed by.  It’s all relative, isn't it?


Thursday, 13 October 2011

Burst Water Main - A Metaphorical Tale

At 11.30 a.m. on Tuesday, a mains water pipe at the top of the hill burst.  The water continued to flow –  an awful lot of it out onto the road, down the gutters and pavements, washing leaves and litter (McDonalds cartons, Tesco bags, lager cans, fag packets) down the hill, distracting small children on their way to nursery and scaring their mums, ending up (as water does) in a lake at the bottom, beyond the capacity of the already rather feeble drains, rat-running cars and vans having to steer round it.  This went on for a day and a night.

Once a team from the water company had turned up, closed the road and started up their drills and diggers, the flow, which had turned yellowish-brown by now, went down to a rill, then a trickle, then ceased, leaving a load of silt in the gutters and on the pavements.   By Friday, they had filled in their hole, re-opened the road and departed, leaving the silt behind.  Rat-run traffic got back to normal.  No long-term harm done.  The rain washed the silt away down the drains.

The above is all true.  What follows is made up.

Turns out that the reason the water main burst was that, in order to supply the new housing estate, the water company felt obliged to increase the pressure down the main, so that’s what they did.  But the housing estate was uninhabited, because the houses couldn’t be sold.  So the increased pressure had nowhere to go.  By a bizarre coincidence, everyone in the avenue happened to turn their mains taps off at exactly 11.30 on that Tuesday.  The pipe couldn’t cope.

The authorities knew that water companies are too big to fail.  They quickly installed even more powerful pumps at the top of the mains pipe, to ensure that this near-catastrophic supply failure could never happen again.  They also took measures to ensure that, if anyone should be silly enough to move into the new housing estate, they wouldn’t be able to afford water.  And they outsourced silt disposal to a newly-formed Russo-Chinese consortium.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

OK, here you go ...

June Tabor – Ragged Kingdom

'Love will Tear Us Apart', I feel.  But it's all pretty emotive.

Civility

It’s a nice old-fashioned word, isn’t it?  The Young Foundation, as I’m sure you’ll have seen,  has chosen it to describe the quality people seem most to value in their community.  To quote from the summary on their website:

“[The report argues that] civility is the largely invisible ‘glue' that holds communities together and that experiences of incivility cause hurt, stress and deeper social problems, and has a bigger impact of people's sense of social health than crime statistics. Perhaps most significantly it shows that civility operates on a reciprocal basis and that it is ‘contagious'.”  It goes on, though, to warn that “… people, while quick to see incivility in others, seem far less aware of how their own behaviour can offend.”

At the risk of sounding cynical (moi?), I think there’s a third dimension lurking in there, which is the risk of one’s well-intentioned civil behaviour inadvertently causing, at least, irritation.  Just this morning, I spent half an hour circling an inadequate multi-storey car park in search of a space.  Many other drivers were doing the same.  This car park has clear ‘give way’ markings, which unfortunately give precedence to incoming traffic, an obvious design flaw.  So some new arrivals, recognising that I had a kind of moral precedence, would pause and wave me through.  Very decent of them; but by the time we’d resolved the conflict between their desire to be civil and my wariness at breaking the rules, between us we’d probably added several minutes to the process of deciding it was all a waste of time and heading off back home.

There are many other permutations of how the principle of civility can result in discomfiture.  Just one example: you are walking along a country path.  In the distance you see someone approaching.  Civility requires that you acknowledge each other with a smile and perhaps a word of greeting.  But at what point do you do this?  Too soon and it’ll be missed, and they’ll think you’ve blanked them; leave it too late and they’ll think the same.  It can be very stressful.  I could go on (I said “well done” to a small child who’d succeeded in balancing all the way along the top of a garden wall, and the mother rather obviously thought I was a pervert); the point is, being civil can be more complicated than just being rude.

I leave you with a literary illustration, from ‘The Virginian’ (Owen Wister, 1902):

‘Trampas spoke. "Your bet, you son-of-a --.” The Virginian's pistol came out, and his hand lay on the table, holding it unaimed. And with a voice as gentle as ever, the voice that sounded almost like a caress, but drawling a very little more than usual, so that there was almost a space between each word, he issued his orders to the man Trampas: "When you call me that, smile."’

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Ideative Plagiarism?

I do hope not.  But recently whenever I start to compose a comment, it ends up as an essay or a rant, and I don’t think it’s polite to post essay-sized comments on other people’s blogs, let alone rants.  (Or is it?  No idea.  I don’t really know the rules of blogiquette.)

Anyway, this one is about tasting wine.  (You know who you are!)  Quite a few years ago, I went to a wine-tasting at my friend P’s.  He was, at the time, a stakeholder in a small mail-order wine merchant, and he’d organised this event, ostensibly for promotional purposes.  P lives just round a few corners, so I was able to walk there and (theoretically) back.  This was a Saturday evening.
The guy who ran the show was absolutely brilliant.  As C (Mrs P) supplied suitable snacks and canapés, he took us through fifteen wines, carefully and informatively leading us from the lightest of light Loires to a dense, almost treacly Barolo, and you really did taste the differences as we progressed.  It was a memorable evening, or would have been had the ‘no swallowing’ rule been rigorously imposed.  As it was, I wanted to order a case of something or other, but the order form somehow became indecipherable.  I seem to remember dancing later on.  And the journey home was, well, staggering.
What I really wanted to say was, it’s impossible to quaff in those quantities nowadays.  Obviously age and degeneration are factors here, but it’s also very hard to find a wine under 14% these days.  I forgot my glasses a while back, so couldn’t read the small print and accidentally came back with two bottles of something which proudly claimed to contain sixteen per cent alcohol.  Sixteen per cent!  That’s practically sherry.  I don’t want to swig near-sherry with my dinner.  Do the producers honestly believe that all we want from our wine is ever-increasing amounts of alcohol?
Anyway anyway, talking of glasses, I found two of  these

at the back of the sideboard, and now I’m going to be sleeping all night with that infuriating jingle. 

Oh, and whoever is constantly hitting my blog with Googlebot, please stop doing it, it's really annoying.  Thank you.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Quality of Stuff

This was going to be a comment on somebody else’s blog, but it ran away with itself.  As I’m inclined to do, too.

Robert Pirsig went mad trying to define the idea of ‘quality’, or so he claimed.  But he was a philosopher; I come at it from a more practical perspective.
The question is: why do we, or some of us, retain unmanageable quantities of objects which have no intrinsic or practical value?  It can’t just be inertia (although that plays a part, at least for me).  Certainly, I know that my attic contains at least a dozen items of redundant hi-fi equipment that just got dumped up there when upgrades took place; and I know that I can get rid of most of these (once I’ve recruited a willing helper to get them down from the loft – I’m not doing that on my own) by a wide variety of means.  But then I think about just one of them – a beautiful Technics turntable with a smoked Perspex lid and anodised aluminium bodywork – and its elegance is projected into my mind, even though I haven’t seen it for ten years and I know it doesn’t work.  This obviously has some aesthetic worth (it probably belongs in a design museum somewhere) – but that’s not where the quality resides.  That resides in what it did.
I have about 400 vinyl LPs in various boxes up in the third bedroom (aka the dustbowl).  And that’s not counting the other hundred or so in the sideboard down here.  Most of them are worthless, financially (although if anyone wants to make me an offer for a near-mint first pressing of ‘Led Zeppelin’, the one with the turquoise sleeve lettering, start bidding); many are musically too.  But they all, every single one, have this thing I’m calling ‘quality’.  So this afternoon I went up and plucked out just three, more or less at random.  Here they are, with what gives them quality, for me.
The Crusaders : Street Life.  Dancing to the title track with a girl called Victoria at a boring party in about 1984, when my divorce was blossoming.  I never saw her again.
Blood Sweat and Tears : Child Is Father To The Man.  1968, trying to persuade the horn section to play more like those guys.  A very intense drunken debate with all the enthusiasm on my side.
Little Feat : Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.  An inexplicable visit to a stoner friend of a friend somewhere in Surrey, desperate to take a puff but not allowed.
I could go on, but you’re asleep.  But you get my drift.  Every object contains quality, to the extent that it contains the past.  They are all, more or less, Madeleine cakes.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Does anyone else have this problem?

Most of the Blogspot sites I visit allow me to comment as my Google account, by default.  But others require me to 'select profile'.   I select 'Google account'.  It tells me to sign in (even though I already am), and when I do so I get the following very helpful message: 'Cookie value is null for FormRestoration'.

Any hints/tips?  I'm reluctant to throw this into the seething swamp of Google's so-called 'help'.

Anyway, if you're craving comments from me but not getting any, it's not for lack of trying!

Prolepsis, and other words

He doesn't actually start speaking for another 15 minutes, min, but 'The World At One' and other sources reliably, proleptically inform me that amongst other things, Cameron is going to say words to the effect of 'There is light at the end of the tunnel, and my path leads there', and also that  'We can turn the ship around.'  And that we don't need to pay off the Mastercard after all.

I'm a bit confused now, because not having a visual imagination I can't quite construct the metaphorical imagery being called for here.  So, there's this tunnel we're in, right, with more than one path through it?  And there's this light at the end of it?  And it's wide enough to turn a ship around in?  Oh well, I'm sure it'll all be clear by teatime.  But, my credit card bill, £29.02 (Waterstones and Spotify, since you ask) is due in three days' time.  Am I meant to pay it off, or not, or seek independent financial advice?  Come on, Dave, help me. 

Turning to far more important matters, today is the centenary of the birth of Brian O'Nolan, aka Flann O'Brien, aka Myles na Gcopaleen.  I shall speedread 'The Third Policeman' this evening to mark the occasion.  Here's Gerald Scarfe's cover illustration.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Fun with yoghurt

If you open your fridge door, you will probably be able to see a gap, down at the bottom, between the door shelf (the one where you keep the fruit juice carton, the jar of olives and the half-empty bottle of sauvignon blanc) and the wall of the fridge.  If you get the angle just right, it is possible, whilst getting out your Tuesday night left-over meal, to knock a tub of yoghurt off an upper shelf and make it lodge very accurately into this gap, without you noticing.
You then have to slam the fridge door quite vigorously.  Get it right, and the yoghurt tub will split precisely down its vertical axis and distribute its contents neatly all over the newly purchased fresh vegetables and salad in the cooler tray. 

I haven’t yet tried this with a full tub of yoghurt, this one was three-quarters empty, but I did conduct a comparable yoghurt-related experiment earlier this year:  exciting curry

[Count yourselves lucky, I was going to write about Theresa's black cat in Plymouth or wherever it was, or Gideon, or worse.]

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Same Difference (Caravan Diaries)

It was meant to be very different from my last visit.  But of course, a lot of it was the same.   No obvious disasters, except the grass, which I was expecting: my propensity towards fantasy always leads me to hope that the Flymo fairy has visited in my absence – it did actually happen once.  But no, everything’s the same.  The usual number of rabbits are bouncing around, scuttling off into their hedge-holes whenever they sense an approaching human (they’re right, we’d kill them if we caught them).  A flock of guinea fowl stroll across the field, insouciantly bluffing that they’re not lost.  An unknown butterfly perches on the top of the toolstore.  I open the windows.  My local robin pops into the kitchen, looks up at me, and decides that exit might just be the best strategy.  Robins know exactly where the pushing edge of their luck is.  Within ten minutes, six buzzy flies have entered, immediately claiming that they didn’t really mean to do that.  What is wrong with them?  Don’t they like it out there?  They’re not even politicians, for God’s sake.

I cut the grass.  I walk through the tunnels to the village to get a newspaper.  (It takes more than two days to break addictions.)  I wander down to the low tide line, checking to make sure the geology hasn’t changed too much in fifty years.  (The streams, though, never carve the same course twice across the sand.)  I catch up with a few neighbours.  Kids, grandkids, all doing well.  I manage to intercept Henry, pay the rent and chat about events.  He tells me "Oh well, you're young", which pleases me no end, especially his shocked reaction when I tell him my actual age.


Last time, back in June, it was different.  I’d just come from my first and last face to face meeting with someone, after a long long-distance relationship.  I believed I was deeply in love.  I didn’t want to be here, because there’s no contact with the outside world – no internet, not usually any phone signal – and those were the things I was craving.  I didn’t know what I was doing there.  Late one evening, extraordinarily, the mobile rang.  The call lasted only a few seconds, but I knew who it was.  So I climbed up to the top of the hill and perched on the stile, where there’s usually a signal, called back, and had the conversation.


Yesterday evening,  I stuck on an iPod playlist on shuffle.  It gave me ‘Simple Twist of Fate’, from Blood on the Tracks’.   It all came back, and I realised it wasn’t really different at all.


Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The M4 beckons

I will be in the car by ten-thirty.  I'll drive through the heatwaves of Swindon and Bristol, across the beautiful bridge into and through the swampy horror of Newport and the blandness of the new Cardiff bypass, until it all gradually fades down into the soft, shrugging and smiling oldness of Carmarthen, before it all dwindles into the road down from Red Roses into Wiseman's Bridge (careful down the hill, 4x4s whoosh up there as if it was the M4) - and then I'll find out - and this is the best bit - I'll find out whether the tide is in, or out, or halfway.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Verbiage Factories

On the day that our greatest industrial benefactor, British Aerospace (BAE) announces it's sacked 3,000 skilled workers because the demand side seems to be drying up (possibly due to the falling off in their traditional customer base of fascistic murderous dictatorships), it's obvious that our economy needs to rebuild its manufacturing base around a different paradigm, and I'm pleased to announce that I have found the answer - self-perpetuating words!

I am not talking about the magnificent energies that are dedicated every minute to the generation of literature, constructive journalism, poetry and lyrics, or even blogs: all of these engender real outcomes, whether tangible, intellectual or, sometimes, emotional.  I am talking about factories which produce and engender nothing but words which in turn produce and engender nothing but more words, until they end up with a miasma of self-perpetuating verbiage, like one of those fractal images that dissolve forever into themselves without anything new ever emerging.

you need to look at this to see what I mean

So, Think Tanks looks like our only growth industry.  If this is so, let's encourage more of them, by whatever monetary, fiscal or nudge measures we can manage.  Shall we start one?  Nah, we probably don't need to.  That list is a year old, and just today I noticed three new ones:  'The Council for the National Interest', 'The Human City Institute', and 'The Financial Inclusion Centre'.  They should be able to sort it out between them.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Insubstantial pageant?

Well, I don't know about that.  The last time I wrote about the replica theatre called 'Shakespeare's Globe' (just in case of confusion with anyone else's), it was about getting there, rather than about the rather flaky performance of 'The Danish Play', which frankly is too packed with quotations for its own good.

So this time, it's  going to be about the actual play.  'Doctor Faustus', by his so-called rival Christopher Marlowe.  I was dreading it.  I kind of assumed, (not knowing anything much about Marlowe other than that he was murdered on some river steps in Deptford, possibly by the KGB, this gleaned from a half-remembered Anthony Burgess novel), that it was going to be a bit of a slog.  The legend of Faust - sell your soul and body to the devil for twenty-five years and then take the hit - well, it isn't exactly a Dan Brown plotline, is it? 

As usual, I'd failed to take into account that plays only really work when they are staged and acted.  Why didn't they teach us that at school?  We spent countless hours force-reading this stuff on the page, failing to make any sense of it at all.  I now know that that wasn't my fault - the teachers didn't really understand their material.  If I was writing my ideal EngLit curriculum (ha ha, as if), I'd start with 'Don't let a child read a play until s/he has seen it performed', and take it from there.

Anyway, on the stage, it was a romp.  High comedy, both verbal and slapstick, scary beasts and spirits and politicians and priests (the Pope was definitely modelled on Peter Cook's cameo in 'The Princess Bride'), and even the tragic ending (can you guess what happens?) was just precisely overacted.

Can't wait for the next one.