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.”
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 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
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.
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
“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 fiancé 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
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
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?
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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:
Neil Young (maybe)
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.
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:
what do you attribute your long life?
Sir Malcolm Sargent: To the fact that I haven’t died yet.
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.
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
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.