Tuesday, 31 July 2012


I came home with less than I'd gone out with.  What did I get while I was out?

Sunday, 29 July 2012


Maybe I shouldn’t have had that party, because everything since then has seemed – flat, that’s the word.  So I suppose I have to blame myself for the really flat, boring, dull, yawn-making, stultifying, tide-watching (Ed: hey, careful, this is getting interesting) weekend chez caravan from which I’ve just returned.

Here it is, more or less transcribed from my ballpen notes, which I can’t be bothered to turn into the usual deathless prose (Ed: what, no internet?  No computer?  No typewriter?  Me: nope):

Ridiculously long evening shadows.

Excessively friendly flying insects.

Grass cutting, of the sort that causes passers-by to concentrate hard on not shaking their heads.

Watching friends playing with unfeasible numbers of grandchildren while wishing they’d invite me down the pub.

Watching four unfeasibly gorgeous girls and their three (Ed: three?) boyfriends photographing everything, occasionally smiling up at me.

Smiling back and wishing they’d invite me down the pub.

At twilight on Saturday, down between the trees, a small boy insistently jumping the tiny ankle-high waves, because that’s what he’s doing; he turns to his laughing mother to confirm this, which she does.  

That’s about it.  Eating.  Drinking.  Sleeping.  Breathing.  Yawning.

My neighbour B: “You should come down for longer.”

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Morality anybody?

A government minister tells us about morality.  (I almost stopped there, but...)  Apparently, using legal tender to pay a debt is wrong, because it might cost HMRC money.  Apart from the dubious logic, and the frankly offensive implication that by paying my plumber cash I am morally tainted (not to mention Mr Gauke’s apparent confusion between legality and morality) here’s a bit of perspective.  A couple of numbers:

A: £6,300,000,000,000.

B: 92,000.

A is an amount of money (by no means all of it) being hidden away in so-called tax havens.  That’s six point three trillion pounds.

B is the number of individuals hiding that money.  That’s ninety two thousand people.

Divide A by B and you get £68,478,260.  Each.

Be aware that they are hiding this money for a single purpose – evading tax.  Before anyone starts bleating about the nice distinction between ‘evasion’ and ‘avoidance’, let me make my position clear - it’s all evasion.  The rules say that tax evasion equates to breaking the law, whereas tax avoidance consists of exploiting unintended loopholes in order to pay as little as possible while not actually breaking the law.  As far as I’m concerned, there’s no difference.

There’s a huge industry devoted to finding and exploiting these loopholes.  Here’s where morality really kicks in.  If the people in that industry were genuinely moral beings (complete humans, as I’m starting to think of them), then when they discovered a loophole, their first thought wouldn’t be ‘how can I exploit this?’ but ‘how can I help to close it?’  Wouldn’t it?

Governments wring their hands about this obscenity while doing nothing.  Why?  Why don’t they just confiscate it all and only give it back once it’s been proved that all tax due – morally or legally – has been paid on it?  What’s stopping them?  Only 192,000 people would object.

I have a lot more thoughts about this, but don’t worry, I’ll come back from Wales next week with a promise to lighten up!  And I’m genuinely looking forward to the Olympic opening show – if it’s anywhere near as good as Danny’s films, it’ll be a treat.

Sunday, 22 July 2012


She’d been standing a dozen yards away, watching as I loaded the shopping.  I had the feeling she wanted to approach me, so I smiled quickly in her direction as I slammed the boot.  I’m never averse to being approached by attractive girls.  She hesitated for a moment, then came over.

“I’m really sorry –  oh, do you speak English?”

I nodded.  Her words came out in a rush.  Here are some of them.

“This is ridiculous, I know, I live just over there in the Oxford Road and I was taking my stuff out to the car and the door slammed and I’m locked out.  I’ve tried phoning my fiancĂ© and my mother but –” she showed me her phone “ – they’re not answering and I haven’t got enough petrol to get to Slough…”  I didn’t say anything.  “Look, you can come and see my petrol gauge, I’m meant to be at work by eleven … I really don’t feel comfortable doing this, but I do need help.”  She looked ready to cry.

What would you have done?

Afterwards, I thought of several things.  She’d gone to find a pen for me to write down my phone number.  I could have kept the pen.  It was quite an expensive one.  Even better, I could have said “Okay, follow me down to the garage and we’ll put some petrol in your car.”  Or I could have said “I don’t believe a word of this, and I’m going to call the police.”

I didn’t do any of these.  I lent her ten quid.  I really don’t know why; it’s the oldest scam in the world and I’ve been taken by it before.   I knew as I gave her the money that I’d never see it again.  Maybe I wanted to reward her for her act, which really was very good.  I’d have liked to have had a conversation with her in which I convinced her that she could and should apply her obvious talents more creatively and lucratively.  Instead I smiled, shook hands and drove off.

She’ll never read this, of course, but I’d like to think that one night she’ll wake up and realise that what she was doing was the worst of sins, which is to deliberately betray someone’s trust.  When that comes to her, as I hope it will, then she’ll be on the way to becoming a proper human being.  In the meantime, I reckon I got the best of the deal.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Did the cheats get it right then?

I heard a pundit on the radio saying that the stability of the LIBOR rate over a long period should have raised suspicions, as it was out of kilter with the rates actually being traded in the market.  There’s a profound contradiction here.  If the markets were ignoring LIBOR, then what’s it for?  And if they weren’t, isn’t stability exactly what we’d all like to see?

Bretton Woods, anyone?

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Meaning of Bardrainney (Inver)

As far as I can remember (I can’t find my copy), ‘The Meaning of Liff’ does not offer a word for ‘the sensation of stale wine trickling down your sleeve at the bottlebank’.  After this morning, I needed such a word, and after a cursory gazetteer scan I lighted on the above, which I think does the job.  Although it may be too long, and maybe insufficiently expletable.  I did consider Zouch (Notts), Wetwang (W. Yorks) and Sturry (Kent).

Two visits down, probably two to go.  I’m spreading my custom around three local facilities – two Tescos and an Asda – because I don’t want to be tagged as some kind of bottle-sniffing freak by the CCTV monitor guys.  I imagine them going “Him again?” and opening a book on the exact timing of my next visit.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Terribly Strange

Huh?  What’s going on?   This place looks different.  That table doesn’t belong there, and that sofa’s crossed the room east to west … how come my maracas and tambourine are on the floor? The bathroom window really shouldn’t be open … and who brought all these empty bottles and half-filled glasses into my house and garden?  I sit down, on something.  After a while, it starts to come back.  Oh yeah, it was my birthday yesterday.

My brother-in-law, who’s an accountant, wrote in their card “have a good 70th year!”  This level of numeracy, if replicated across the field of accountancy, could explain a lot;  but I’ll settle for the bonus.  I am, of course, now in my 71st year.  How does it feel, you ask?  Well, not too bad so far, considering.

Seriously (Ed: wha?), it was a fabulous party, and to anyone who was here and reads this, thank you, thank you.   Actually, the same to anyone who was here and doesn’t read this.  And to anyone who wasn’t here and … you get my drift.  A few unanswered questions:

How come only 22 of the 30 bottles of Pelorus got consumed?

And how come somebody complained, about 1 a.m., that we’d run out of Pelorus?

Why didn’t I anticipate the demand for lager amongst the younger generation?  (Ed: Who knew?)

Where is the magic playlist that will provoke instant and perpetual dancing by all ages, tastes and capabilities?  Apple, get on it!  But thank you Tracey for getting pretty close.

Somebody left 55p, 50 on the patio and 5 on the sideboard.  They are welcome to come and claim it (Ed: please bring proof of ownership), otherwise I shall assume it’s a tip.

Pictures might follow, but I’m not promising until the legal team have pronounced.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Difficult Choices

Waitrose run a scheme whereby you’re given a green tiddlywink at the checkout, which you can donate to one of three local charities on your way out, by dropping it into your chosen box.  Each month, they share out their donation kitty between the three charities, applying some abstruse formula which we don’t need to go into here (mainly because I don’t know what it is).

The checkout staff are, I guess, trained to issue a token with every receipt as a matter of course, and most of them do.  One or two politely ask if you’d like one, which is nice but risky, as they quite often end up having to explain the system to someone who turns out to be impervious to explanations – I’ve been backed up in that queue a few times.

I think this is a brilliant idea, which the Government should take a closer look at (as they should all things John Lewis), and I try to make a considered choice.  It’s usually not difficult to identify the clear winner.  It will be voluntary, health-related and emotionally appealing.  Too often, it’s something the public sector should be doing but can’t, or won’t.  Towards the end of the month, tactical voting might come into play, as the clear winner has indeed clearly won, so I have to decide who comes second.  But that’s not so easy: there are school playgrounds, animal welfare groups, open spaces, various sports, brass bands … 

The kindly queue at the checkout can be outdone by the queue of parents with toddlers at the donation boxes.  My considerable reserves of patience will, I admit, sometimes run low as I wait for mum or dad to explain the difference between helping children with ADS versus buying new stumps for the cricket club versus relocating a colony of rare newts, to a child whose only real interest is getting the tiddlywink into the slot and watching it drop all the way to the pile at the bottom.

This has its compensations too, though.  Yesterday I arrived just in time to hear a three year old, who’d clearly been giving the matter some attention, say: “Bats.  I like bats.”

I smiled at the mum.  “Good choice,” I said.  She blanked me; but her son looked at me, smiled back, and nodded.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Desert Island Songwriters

A leading article in the Guardian recently made the questionable claim that Paul McCartney was the twentieth century’s greatest songwriter.  Hmm.

 Most of the Beatles’ early hits (1963-65) were genuine collaborations, but John was in large part the instigator, as Ian McDonald amply demonstrates in ‘Revolution In The Head’.  It was only from ‘Rubber Soul’ onwards (okay I know about ‘Yesterday’) that their individual identities started to show through, and certainly Paul was the sole author of quite a few masterworks – ‘Drive My Car’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Blackbird’, ‘Hey Jude’.

But his Beatles songs do not a canon make, and after the split, that is for the subsequent forty years, how many memorable McCartney songs can you name?  I can manage four: ‘Band On The Run,’ ‘Mull of Kintyre’, ‘The Frog Chorus’, and ‘Live And Let Die’.  Nuff said.  And now, here come the big boys.

It’s not that easy, because to qualify you need to have produced a substantial corpus of songs which are memorable both lyrically and melodically; and also, playing by the book, you have to be a soloist.  Sadly, that rules out collaborations such as the Gershwins, Leiber and Stoller, Goffin and King, Rodgers and anyone, Kern and anyone.  There’s also a difficulty regarding length of service – it’s quite possible that Eminem will make it to the 21st century list, he’s just not old enough yet.  Anyway, here goes:

Cole Porter

Irving Berlin

Hoagy Carmichael

Bob Dylan

Smokey Robinson

Leonard Cohen

Neil Young (maybe)

Erm …

Obviously, I only know what I know.  So, any other candidates?  Please open my ears to them, before I climb aboard and sail off into the sunset towards that island.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

I Have Absolutely Nothing To Say

But it’s still early, the Marlborough Pinot Noir is getting better by the sip, there’s nothing on the telly, it’s 106 miles to Chicago … (sorry, The Blues Brothers took over my brain there for an instant.)

I found a book called “Wrinklies’ Wit & Wisdom” which someone wittily gave me five years ago.  Ninety nine per cent of it is crap, but here are a few that amused me:

Interviewer:  To what do you attribute your long life?
Sir Malcolm Sargent: To the fact that I haven’t died yet.

Bob Monkhouse:  The doctor said ‘I have good news and bad news.  The good news is: you’re not a hypochondriac.’

And a probably apocryphal Queen Mother quote:
(to her daughter):  A glass of wine with lunch?  Is that wise?  You know you have to reign all afternoon.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Of Newspapers, Towers, Bricks and Clothes

A couple of weeks ago, my neighbour asked me, over the fence, if I’d be kind enough to save my newspapers for a while, instead of recycle-binning them.   “It’s for a school project,” she almost explained.  “They have to build a tower, then lay an egg on top.  Ta lots, must fly.”

Naturally I agreed, and even managed to comply, dedicating a twelve-bottle wine box (empty) to the purpose.  This afternoon C came to collect the proceeds, and gave me a little more detail.  The kids have to build the tallest free-standing tower they can out of newspaper and sellotape, and balance an egg on top for at least ten seconds.  “Though I’m working on that,” she added.  “Ten’s quite a lot of seconds when you think about it.”

Me being me, I spent a certain amount of the rest of the afternoon considering how I’d go about this task.  There were no particular design constraints, so it came down to a trade-off between height and stability: should I go for a Centre Point or Shard model?  Shard, probably, a pyramid is inherently more stable than a monolith.  But the egg-balancing platform is correspondingly smaller … Am I allowed to fashion a kind of newspaper eggcup and tape it to the top?  Assume yes, in fact assume I’m allowed to do anything that isn’t explicitly forbidden.  That used to be a handy guiding principle for life, though I’m not so sure nowadays …  Oh, and how many newspapers have I got?  And, and …  The questions kept flooding in; any scientist will tell you that that’s what happens.

Of course, I lost interest.  Hell, I don’t even go to that school.  But it reminded me of those team-building exercises we used to have to go through on team-building courses.  There was one, funnily enough, involving tower-building from improbable materials – toilet roll tubes may have been involved.  More memorable was the one where a group of six strangers were required to create an organisation which would assemble meaningless objects out of a restricted supply of stickle bricks.  That was fun, the best bit being finding a role for the Divisional Director which would both preserve his self-regard and be within his capabilities.  I think he ended up being at the back end of the production line, but allowed to deliver the finished product to the customer.

The one that sticks in my mind, though not my memory, wasn’t really an exercise, more of a scene-setter.  A mixed group of about eight of us, seated at random round a table, were invited by the teenage mid-Atlantic convenor to turn to our neighbour, introduce ourselves, and exchange an item of clothing.  I wish I could remember how that worked out.