Sunday, 28 December 2014

There is a Sanity Clause!



And to prove it, here he is coming down the chimney.  (Or the stairs.)


We all had to sit on his lap and answer, honestly, whether we’d been a good or bad little boy or girl.  I told the truth, of course, and Santa pulled my reward out of his sack:




After that, there was the dreaded singsong.  It went pretty well actually, and my relationship with this thing 


is creeping back towards love.



Another nice present I got was a tea mug the size of a small bucket:



I christened it this afternoon with half a pint of Rosie Lee, which served nicely to wash down a Crunchie bar and a finger of fudge.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Two Christmas Haikus

The Christmas tree stand
Was lying around for years.
Waiting to be used.


Now, just when needed,
It seems to have gone to ground...
Is it in the loft?


Tis the season to be silly ... Happy festivities to everyone!
Timbo

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Oer yw'r gŵr sy'n methu caru


Holly and Ivy had been flatmates for a while now, but they still weren’t quite sure, either of them, about how the relationship might be evolving.  Ivy found Holly somewhat, well, sharp, whilst Holly thought Ivy was, frankly, rather creepy.  Things came to a head as Advent kicked in.  They’d been pretending to watch the quarter-finals of a programme called ‘I’m Strictly an Apprentice, Kick Me Out of Here,’ or something, when Holly hit the mute button.
“So.  We might as well sort it out.”
Ivy wrapped herself round a cushion and almost smiled.  “I’m not sure I know precisely what you mean, Holly.” 
Holly exploded.  “You know exactly what I mean!  You’ve invited a bunch of your relatives – Celyn, Hedera, Cuileann, I forget the rest –  not to mention that Norwegian bloke – ”
“Nordman?  And Hedera’s your relative, by the way.”
“Whatever.  We need to spruce this place up a bit.  Deck the halls.”
Ivy looked up from her iPad.  “I take your point.  Nordman likes his baubles.  And I hear that flashy Lametta might drop in¸ probably drape herself all over the place.  But – I’ve been doing a bit of research, and it’s quite obvious.  Look – ” She passed the tablet to Holly.  “Deck the halls with boughs of you. You wear the crown.  I hardly get a mention.  So I feel hardly worthy to usurp your unquestioned superiority in the hall-decking scheme of things.  Tra-la-la-la-laa!”
Holly briefly prickled, but then wilted.  “Well, if you put it that way…  But – does that mean I have to do all the work?”
Ivy smiled.  She’d thought of that.  “Oh no.  I suggest we go down the inn.”
“The inn?”
“Yes, the inn.  There’ll be a heavenly host of merry gentlemen there, all too willing to help.  And my old uni chums Comfort and Joy’ll be there too, prob.”
Holly grabbed her bag and out they went into the night, where a single bright star was shining unnoticed above them.



Sunday, 14 December 2014

A Christmas Carol


Good King Wenceslas looked out of his castle window.  It was a dark and stormy night, but he could see that the snow lay deep – it had near enough covered the barberry shrubs – and seemed fairly even.  He took a small sip of his B and S, then a larger one, and rang the bell.  Vlad, his man, shimmered in.

“Sire?”

“Bally cold out there, what?” observed Wenceslas.

“Indeed, Sire.  Will there be anything else?  Sire?”

Vlad had this trick of leaving a little pause between two otherwise innocent words and so conveying a universe of meaning, in this case that his master’s voice was perhaps being unnecessarily exercised.  Wenceslas ignored him.

“Lots of snow, Vlad.  Deep, even.  Even, even.”  He took another sip, more of a slurp really, and went on.  “What I was wondering, though, Vlad, was: is it crisp?”

“Crisp, Sire?”

“Crisp, Vlad.  You know, the sort you can’t make snowballs out of.  I was just wondering.”

Vlad had accidently acquired the reputation of knowing, or being able to find out, everything.  In his heart of hearts, he regretted this, but it was too late to back off now.

“I shall endeavour to ascertain the crispness of the snow, Sire.”  He approached the window.  “Ah.  I believe, Sire, that I discern a human figure, who might be of assistance.”

“A human figure?  What in the name of St Agatha would a human be doing out in this?”

“It appears to be a poor man, gathering winter fuel, Sire,” said Vlad. 

Wenceslas pondered and inspected his empty goblet.  “Winter fuel, eh?  Nicking my twigs, you mean?  Fetch him in here, Vlad, if you would.  I’m sure we can persuade him to solve this crispness problem for us.”  

“As you wish, Sire.” 

If it’s possible to shimmer and slouch at the same time, Vlad accomplished it as he exited the chamber.

 

Vlad ushered in the Poor Man, with much faux-obsequiousness. 

“Ah, the peasant who’s been nicking my twigs,” said Wenceslas.  “Please, make yourself at home.  Feel free to stand over there.  Now, we have an important issue to resolve.”

The Poor Man bowed.  “Aaaar, Zurr,” he said in his rich Bohemian burr.

“The thing is, it’s about that bally snow out there.  Beastly stuff, what?”

“What?” said the Poor Man.

Vlad hovered a bit closer to the theatre of action.

“If one might suggest, Sire – ” 

“Ah, yes, of course.  Vlad, give this man a B and S.  Or perhaps – ”  Wenceslas frowned.  “Perhaps something more … familiar?  Mead, is it, you fellows like?  Vlad, there might be a bottle in the cupboard over there from a couple of Christmasses ago …”

Vlad sidled over to the cocktail cabinet, pulled out several bottles and took a surreptitious swig from each.

“And a morsel of nosh for this poor man,” cried Wenceslas.  “I was having a sliver of fois gras on some toast, but he probably prefers … what is it these people eat?  Gruel, that’s it!  Vlad, get cook to rustle up a bucket of gruel – oh, that’s rather clever, what?  Rhymes with fuel …”

“And cruel.  Oi’d a bin happy with the brandy,” muttered the Poor Man.

 

“Now,” said Wenceslas, once the comestibles had been shipped in.  “We have an important issue to resolve.  (Do feel free to park your bowl on the mantelpiece, by the way.)  As you know, they call me ‘Good’ King Wenceslas, can’t think why, ha ha – ”

“They talks about nothing else down th tavern,” said the Poor Man.  “Nobuddy knows.”

“ – so I am prepared to overlook the matter of the twigs, and indeed permit you to gather several more, if you can just answer this vexing question.   As well as being deep and even, is that snow crisp?”

There was one of those pauses that someone with only a rudimentary knowledge of human biology might have called pregnant.

“Zearch me,” said the Poor Man at last.  “Uz’d ave to go an ave a snowball fight to found that out.”

“What a dashed Good idea!” shouted King Wenceslas.  “Vlad – ”

But Vlad was crouched behind the door, gibbering. 

So Wenceslas and the Poor Man linked arms and faded off into the snowy night, singing “God bless us every one…” as they went.

 

 

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Four-Letter Key to Politics


If you can’t decide who to vote for, ask your candidates where they stand on each of the following: SSFA; TTIP; ISDS; NSIP; and JFDI.  Their answers will fall somewhere on a scale between ‘for it’ to ‘against it’, with ‘whassat?’ off to one side (in a special compound reserved for dangerous endangered species such as UKIP).  Clear?

Oh, all right.  Here are some thumbnails:

SSFA stands for Single Sales Factor Apportionment.  It proposes that multinational businesses should be taxed in, and at the rates of, the country where the profit-earning activity is conducted, rather than where the profits are declared.

TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is a complex set of protocols being cooked up between the EU and the US to try and level the corporate-state playing field.  So far, so innocuous, but an integral part of it is:

ISDS, Investor-State Dispute Settlement.  Under this doozy of a proposal (which WILL happen, because the negotiations aren’t subject to any democratic scrutiny, anywhere), corporations will be able to claim compensation from governments for any losses they incur in consequence of their own failure to deliver whatever it was they’d contracted to deliver.

An NSIP, a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, is any Infrastructure Project deemed to be Nationally Significant, on which, therefore, any amount of money can be spent without the need to demonstrate any tangible benefits.  Think HS2, Third Runway, Stonehenge Tunnel.  Said deeming is currently done by George Osborne; the name might change, but the outcomes won’t.

And finally, JFDI.  This new initiative aims to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the volume of investigatory activities designed to delay or prevent the implementation of something that’s bleeding obvious.

I may have made one of these up: see if you can guess which?  Not that easy, is it?

 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Nineteen strumming days to go


You have to overcome that sneaky weasel that whispers ‘don’t bother, you can’t do it.’  So, I dusted off the acoustic and tried a few chords.  Quite surprising actually.  I’d fully expected the problem area to be on the right, because that’s where the embolism was; the arm itself gets tired and aches, and the fingertips feel permanently sore, and my grip isn’t as strong as it used to be.  So I’d guessed that gripping a plectrum and vigorously strumming, with my right hand and arm, would be the problem area.

Not a bit of it.  Well, yes, the gripping bit is a bit unreliable, but I’ve found a nifty thumb-pick which mostly solves that.  (Rog, you were more than half right.  Another symptom is that the extremities are susceptible to the cold.)  And the strumming muscles need toning up. 

No, the problem area is my left hand.  To be precise, the fingertips.  They need to get hardened up.  When I first played the guitar, at age fifteen, we used to use surgical spirit to toughen them up, but I’m not going to go that far.  I did ten minutes Wednesday evening, twelve Thursday, fifteen Friday, fifteen tonight.  Should be all right on the night. 

The family singsong is in fact going to be a bit more than that.  They’ve apparently invited about twenty people for Boxing Day lunch – you have to admire these people’s energy levels and dedication, even while recognising that they’re quite mad – and I guess singing will commence about six p.m.  All that suits me; it’s much easier to control a crowd of twenty than one of eight.  Appropriate quantities of anaesthetic will have been applied.  (I gather it’s a fairly acceptable Argentine Malbec this year.)  The format will be as usual: Green Green Grass, Tie a Yellow Ribbon, my party piece (usually Got You Under My Skin), then I’ll invite requests and we’ll do part of American Pie as a finale.  Should be over in seventy minutes max. 

(I’ve just realised that the post title is wrong – I’m off to Dorset for three days tomorrow, and won’t be taking the guitar.) 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Three randoms


It’s time for a random ramble.  So, in no particular order:

1. The amber engine warning light in the car came on, for no obvious reason, back in August.  I ignored it for a couple of weeks, then it went out.  Then it came on again, so I took the car in and they made me pay a lot of money to replace something called an ‘intercooler air duct’.  The light went out.  Then ten days ago it came on again.  So I took it in again.  They kept it for two days and decided that the alert hadn’t reset itself properly last time.  (As my brother presciently put it: the fault seems to be that the fault light is on.)  They reset it, and the light went out.  Yesterday evening, it came on again.  I’ve decided it’s lying.

2. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the freezer contained more ice than food, so I made a note and forgot about it.  Fast forward to a couple of nights ago, when I was reminded about the traditional Boxing Day family singsong, for which I’ve always willingly provided accompaniment, of a sort – the quality becomes less and less relevant as the evening progresses.  I’ve hardly touched a guitar since my embolism last January, and to be honest I don’t know whether I can any more.  So I thought I’d better give it a try, and made a note.   The outcome: this serendipitous Post-It sticker:


3. Finally, I’ve just reread ‘The Trial’, which seemed very different from my forty-year-old memory of it.  Much funnier, for a start.  There’s a hilarious quote on the back cover from a Telegraph reviewer who seems to think it’s about bureaucracy.  But this, towards the end, jumped out at me:
‘No,’ said the priest, ‘one does not have to believe everything is true, one only has to believe it is necessary.’ 
 You have to think about that, don't you?


Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Compare and Contrast


From today’s paper:

We can confirm that we are compliant with the tax regimes of all of the jurisdictions in which we operate.” – The managing principal of the London office of a US investment company which has, quite legally, transferred ownership of an east London housing estate to a Jersey-based shell company in order to minimise corporation and capital gains tax, whilst planning to triple rents and evict low-income tenants.  (The gentleman in question has just bought a £3.9m country estate for his own use, apparently using a similar offshore mechanism.)

Actions permitted by unjust laws can be evil…” – Philosopher Nigel Warburton, on the seizure or compulsory purchase, quite legally at the time, of Jewish-owned works of art by the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Five Randoms for Sunday



1. When I left the house at 11.30 this morning, I could hardly see through the windscreen for rain, wipers at full throttle.  Now I can see the Pleiades from my garden.  Isn’t weather wonderful?



2. The benefits of a third Heathrow runway are officially estimated at between 112 and 220 billion pounds, over a sixty year period.



3. I think I’m going to vote Green.  Look up their manifesto, then look up the Kippers’. 



4. Can we please rewind Christmas to about 1949?  A tangerine and a couple of walnuts will do me.  I want my Meccano set back though.



5. You can get used to anything, however frightful it might have seemed.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Is it over yet?


It must be, no bangs yet this evening. 

When I were a lad, bonfire night was the 5th of November, and lasted precisely one night.  (All right, it might have been shifted to the nearest weekend, but still, one night.)  And it was as much about bonfires as about fireworks.  Certainly the construction of the pile of the summer garden cast-offs was a drawn-out process, carefully engineered by my father to ensure maximised combustion when the time came.  (He was like that.) 

And when the time did come, nourished by a few splashes of petrol or paraffin, and there was that crackling skyward rush of flame and sparks and the fire grew from inside so that the edges of the pile became a black lattice against the fierce yellow interior, like streaks across the sun, and then the bonfire gently matured into a vermilion face-scorching glow into which you could thrust potatoes until they turned black on the outside and molten under the skins, and slap lashings of salted butter on them and deliberately burn your tongue eating them – well, who needed Standards or Brocks?

Of course, we did have fireworks too.  Wobbly rockets in milk bottles (which sometimes went haywire and spun off sideways); crackerjacks (which I hated because I was convinced they were chasing me); Catherine wheels (are they still called that?  I hope not, given the gruesome derivation); Air Bombs (unbelievably, the deputy scoutmaster once organised a firework battle, with these as handheld weapons) …  

I didn’t really like it.  The next days were much better.  My father would split open spent Roman candles, tip out the powder onto the drive and ignite it with a miniature display of sparks and colours that was better than the real thing.  My friend Mike and I once used leftover bangers to try and blow up a rotting tree stump in his garden – I think we may even have partially succeeded.   And I even used to enjoy collecting the rocket sticks.

I wrote here - gosh, five years ago! – about my best ever firework display.  I can’t recommend this approach though.

 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Autumn isn't all brown ...

Just a few colours from around my garden today:








Tuesday, 4 November 2014

In Sickness and in Heat


A chance remark by Z, and a comment from Mike, has set off a chain of very early memories loosely around the area of ill health and bedroom fires.  The former is not a topic I’m terribly keen to pursue, because I’ve been getting enough of that at home recently (though everything seems to have settled down at the moment), but as Paul Simon put it, ‘preserve your memories.’  So:

Our first house, Watcombe Road, was heated entirely by burning coal, mostly in open fires, though there was a stove in the breakfast room (I think), which is where we did a lot of our living.  Central heating was a thing of the future; when we moved to the posh house in Stourwood Road when I was twelve, we were very impressed by the huge columnar cast iron radiators, even though I don’t remember them ever being much more than lukewarm.

Anyway, back at Watcombe, I tended to be a sickly child, and in those days the frontline defence against illness was to be kept in bed.  So Mike’s observation equating heated bedrooms with sickness rings a loud bell.  I think I ran through whooping cough, croup and chickenpox in fairly quick succession.  At that age, between about three and six, you don’t have a lot of expectations, so I don’t remember being particularly distressed by the symptoms, nasty though they must have been – it was almost a kind of normal.

What I do remember is the warmth.  Winter beds consisted of sheets, at least two blankets, and an eiderdown, all that being essential defence against the encroaching frost which painted intricate ferns on the windowpanes.  Sick beds probably had another layer or two, and the bedroom fire was lit!  I was allowed – encouraged – to draw, to look at pictures (I remember being given copies of ‘Illustrated’ and ‘Picture Post’ magazines, which was pretty advanced on my parents’ part, the equivalent of letting me loose on Mail Online today; of course, they may have been parentally edited), and to read: in fact I suspect my precocious reading ability owed a lot to being so ill so often.

I loved it, and developed an unhealthy penchant, for a while,  for crying sick when I fancied a day off school.  (I once tried dipping the thermometer into my tea, but that got rumbled.) 

But it also gave rise to perhaps my earliest nightmare, certainly of the lucid, waking kind.  (You know the ones: you’re awake, everything looks and feels normal, but something’s out of kilter, things are happening that shouldn’t be – and then you wake up properly.)   It was triggered by something I’m sure was called the Steam Kettle.  This was filled with water kept at a simmer, presumably by some sort of  paraffin burner, with a long neck which gently emitted steam, to keep the air humidified through the night.  I’d probably been looking at giraffes, or dinosaurs.  You can guess the rest.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Doo-wah doo-wah doo-wah …. I’m in Heaven!


I know I’m behind the curve, because millions of my readers, especially in the USA, have already bought it, but just in case you haven’t (and assuming you can recognise proper music when you hear it)  ‘Cheek to Cheek’ by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.

About five decades separate them in clocktime, but no more than a beat in music.  They meet in opposite directions: her maturity, his youthfulness; his maturity, her youthfulness.


It’s had me dancing, in my body and my soul.  Am I showing my age?  I do hope so.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Caravans considered carefully



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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Hypocritic?

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



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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Tax Discs




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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Eyes Right!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Friday, 3 October 2014

Size Matters?


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

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Risk Averse?


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

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

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

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

Monday, 22 September 2014

A New England?


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Hallelujah!


I’ve been out! 
Bee came over and took me to lunch at the Greyhound at Tidmarsh, which has the distinction of having nearly burned down ten years ago but still managing to be a Grade II listed building.   And a gorgeous pub.   And nearly empty Sunday lunchtime – people round here need to get out more.

And happy birthday Lennie.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Bored


I once characterised boredom as a state of mind resulting from wanting to do something but having nothing you want to do.  For the time being, I have to rework that second part slightly: ‘having nothing you’re allowed to do’ is nearer the mark.

For a start, I’m grounded.  I mean that in the old-fashioned sense of ‘confined to barracks’, rather than the modern one of ‘focussed and filled with mindfulness’.  The physical activities I can undertake are pretty constrained.  Heavy lifting or strenuous behaviour of any sort is a no-no.  I don’t know where exactly the boundaries lie – someone on the NHS website claimed that he wasn’t allowed to empty the dishwasher; I’m not going that far – but it’s best to be careful.  So cutting the grass, clearing the attic, reinstalling the curtain rail in the spare room that got knocked down by the decorator three years ago – all these kinds of pleasures are off limits.  Imagine my frustration.

Some ‘gentle walking’ is permissible, so I’ve wandered down to Lidl’s to buy some peanuts (is that ‘heavy lifting’?).  But I’m not supposed to drive for at least another week or so; Lord knows why, it’s much less strenuous than walking.  Something to with emergency stops and insurance validity, apparently. 

Ironing.  I s’pose I could do some ironing.

The dishwasher needs emptying.  O frabjous joy!

Done that.

I’ve done yesterday’s crosswords.

No, it’s all down to the life of the mind.  Except that it’s an effort to force my mind beyond matters medical at the moment.  There are some let’s call them ‘events’ which need to occur thrice daily, and tend to disrupt the flow of thought.  I can’t concentrate on anything more demanding than the newspaper, and the less demanding bits at that.  The referendum has passed me  by, and my mental feebleness is such that twenty four hours on I still don’t understand how Scottish independence has suddenly turned into English independence …  But that’s just me, I’m sure.

Oh well.  At least I now have the internet; my landline broadband was down when I got back from the hospital, which was strangely disorientating.  Good job I bought that iPhone!

Oh well.  Time for a cup of tea soon.  And another crossword.  Things can only get better.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Five Thoughts about this Referendum Thingie


It’s everywhere: the Guardian alone has had 1,707 pages of coverage this week, more than five times the actual thickness of the paper (or so it seems).   So don’t imagine you can come here to escape it! 

I’m not entitled to vote, obviously, which gives me the right to say whatever I damn well please about it.  So, just five random thoughts:

  1. Why aren’t I entitled to vote?  In my admittedly limited experience, divorces usually allow both parties to have a say.
  2. The actual question – ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ – seems to mean ‘Just say Yes or No to something or other, we’ll work out what afterwards.’
  3. Here’s an idea for Gideon.  Flog off NatWest; implement the Williams and Glyn English branch hive-off; then sell what’s left of RBS to Scotland to use as its new central bank.  They already have the money-printing presses.
  4. What will the residue be called?  ‘Rest of the U.K.’ doesn’t really catch you, does it?  I suggest ‘FormerlyUnited Kingdom’ or ‘DeUnited Kingdom’.  Do the acronyms and say it quickly …
  5. What about the weather forecast, eh?  What about the weather forecast?  The BBC doesn’t do the Republic of Ireland; will they continue to do Scotland?  And will the SBC do England?   This is important!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Fixing a Hole*


I know, I haven’t been blogging much lately, for too many reasons to enumerate here – some due to necessity, some due to mostly enjoyable distractions, lots due to, let’s face it, sheer inertia.

So it’s a relief* to have a genuinely valid excuse for not blogging over the next week or two – I’m going into hospital!

I’m so excited!  This will be only the fourth time in my life (not counting the odd A&E visit).  The first was to have my tonsils out when I was about six, about which I remember little except that I was forced to eat banana sandwiches, which put me off the things (bananas, not sandwiches) for years, and that parents were discouraged from visiting.  The second time was in my forties, to have wisdom teeth extracted; that was under private healthcare provided by my employers, which meant I had my own room in a very tastefully decorated hospital (without, of course, anything like an A&E department).  And the third, last January, I’ve blogged about here.

[The statisticians amongst you will have noted the increasing frequency of these events.  I’m not bothered in the least by this; the sample is far too small as yet to prove a trend.] 

I won’t go into details about this fourth one, except to say that, apparently, it happens a lot to old men like me, and will involve the micro-surgical equivalent of the reamer fitting on a Black and Decker.  It’ll be a piece of – no, better not say.*

Anyway, I’ve resolved, when I come home, to fix the hole in my blogging bucket.  I’ll probably be sitting around for a while, not allowed to do much more than read, listen to music, and write.  So, I’ll try for the ‘post-a-day’ policy so enjoyably employed by other bloggers whom I follow.  It’ll be an interesting experiment, given the enforced narrowing of my horizons.  Will my imagination be given free rein into hitherto unexplored realms; or will it be along the lines of ‘Got up.  Fell out of bed.’?  Who knows? 

* Enough with the clues: Ed.


Monday, 1 September 2014

Ten Great Intros

I was flipping through ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’, Bob Stanley’s magisterial history of modern popular music (which should be essential reading for anyone with anything approaching a  passionate interest in the subject – it’s 737 pages long, but you can skip), when I came across a remark about the role of the intro in a great pop record.  In the days when radio play was the key to sales, a good hook at the very start could make all the difference.  Record makers realised this and played around with the concept (and its creative potential), and the intro eventually became a miniature art form in its own right.

So I started to wonder what might be amongst my top great intros.  I drew a few boundaries: it had to be instrumental, which sadly rules out, for example, Good Vibrations (‘I…’) and Heartbreak Hotel (‘Well…’); it had to aurally identify the record before the song itself actually started – to stand alone, if you like; and as a self-imposed constraint, it had to be from the fifties and sixties: both because that’s my formative musical era, and because those decades were definitely the golden age of the intro.

[I wanted to make this a kind of quiz – guess the intro from a brief sound clip – but I lack the technology for this, so the Spotify links (where they work) will be followed by the whole record.  I hope you don’t mind.] 

Okay, here goes (don’t expect many surprises):


 More or less randomly selected – it tied with ‘That’ll Be The Day’ – but in the fifties, upfront guitars like this were a blast between the ears.  And Chuck’s has lasted longer: you can still hear it played today, if you listen closely.  And it’s a better song, at least lyrically.

Because it’s is just so beautiful, and contrasts so drastically with the next selection, the same song opened up to such opposite interpretations, surely a hallmark of an imperishable masterpiece of songwriting.
Frank Sinatra – I’ve Got You Under My Skin (or more correctly Nelson Riddle): 
These two intros to the same song couldn’t be more different in setting the emotional tone (sad resignation versus angry menace), not to mention the musical tenor, of what’s to follow, yet they’re equally memorable.
Spoiled for choice here really – God Only Knows was a close contender –  but this is just so evocative!

The Beatles - Strawberry Fields Forever
 Well, I had to include one, didn’t I?  Again, random choice.  First ever use of the Mellotron?  And it does illustrate one intro trick, which is to start with the bridge or middle bit; they played this card over and over again.  Strangely, it doesn’t appear to be available on Spotify; why would that be?  Oh, I know…

The longest intro in pop history?  It might sound tame now, but when I first heard it on Luxembourg, through a wave of phase, I thought I’d tuned in to some other planet, which of course I had.

Because I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard it.  And because, for reasons lost in time, it made me want to sing as well as play rock ‘n’ roll.  And because of the rimshots.

The shortest intro in pop history, just two rapid-fire drum rimshots – it hardly qualifies. But it counted for a lot more in 1956.  Drums had never been so loud.

Bob Dylan - Like a Rollin' Stone  (again, no Spotify link)
Yet another rimshot, followed by a mind-spinning swirl of quintessential 1965.  You heard the words before they even started – didn’t you?

And of course I’ve kept the best till last…  Dave Anthony's Moods - New Directions
Modesty forbids me from saying more ...! 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Five random notes

  1. There was another gorgeous butterfly in the garden earlier, but it scarpered before I could get the camera. “Not ready for my close-up, Mr de Mille”, I heard it mutter as it fluttered away. Mostly black, with bright red flashes on its wingtips.  Any clues?
  2. Back in May, I turned the central heating thermostat down to 180C: it’s just clicked on (5.35 pm)!  Outside, it’s 150, and hasn’t been much more all day.  How am I supposed to get those tomatoes ripened??
  3. The letter ‘i’ on my keyboard is making an ominous clunky noise.  Could this be due to the residual presence of dried red wine? 
  4. Rummaging through a drawer for an old butter knife, as one does, I came across the fork from a cutlery set I was given at my christening, back in 1942.  (The rest – knife, spoon? –  is lost; as is the butter knife.)  It’s solid silver, little lion on the back to prove it, and is engraved with my initials.  I found this quite moving for some reason.   I also discovered that, if you tap it on a hard surface, it plays a very interesting chord. 
  5. Does anybody speak cat?  I can communicate with most dogs, but cats are mysterious.  I was sitting out under my bus shelter when a tabby who frequents the garden crept out of the shrubbery.  In the past, any friendly approach by me would be rebuffed with a startled stare and a dash back into the bushes – but this time it crept up, miaowing threateningly, came close enough to be briefly stroked, rolled over on its back and allowed its tummy to be tickled.  Then it jumped up and ran away like a scaredy-cat.  It might just be hungry, of course, but it’s not going to get fed around here.  Or it needs counselling.  Mysterious.      

*

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Only Word Is Exxes


“I loved as much as you will receive carried out right here. 
The sketch is attractive, your authored material stylish.
nonetheless, you command get got an nervousness over that you wish be delivering the following.
“unwell unquestionably come further formerly again as exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this hike.”

What I loved about this particular spam comment (which originated, as always, from Russia) is that it purports to link to a tanning salon in Braintree.

And its ‘found’ poetry.  The bastard child of Ezra Pound and William Burroughs after a good night in?  I particularly like “case you shield this hike.”

I HATE SPAM.  But just occasionally it throws up a gem.  Another recent one praised the insight, erudition, eloquence, etc. that I’d evinced in a photograph of a butterfly.


The real purpose of this post, of course, is to see what spam comments it attracts.  I’ll share the best, if any.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Lights out




I’m writing this just before ten o’clock, though I won’t post it until after eleven.

I can’t honestly act in personal remembrance of anyone who died, because none of my ancestors or relations did, as far as I know.  This doesn’t stop me from being aware of what happened, and I have read long lists of names on memorials, not just recently; but does it sound harsh to say that names are not the same as personalities?

I’m going to switch on the TV in a moment.  (The TV is, of course, a source of light.)  All but one of my house lights are off, but that’s not unusual at this point in the evening, so I can’t claim to be making any kind of gesture.

Just a last thought – wouldn’t it have been more affirming to ask everyone to switch their lights on, or light their candles, one by one, rather than extinguish them?  Or do we have to wait another four years for that?

***

It’s now 24 hours later.  I’d intended to add a postscript to the above – but as I was watching the ceremony, in the dark, I reached out for my wine glass and knocked it all over the computer.  It’s taken until now for the keyboard to dry out enough that ‘s’ doesn’t come out as ‘\s’, ‘q’ as ‘zq’, etc.  I’d spent the night and half the day worrying about whether I needed to buy a new keyboard, or a new computer, or what… but as you can see it’s now back to zqnormal (only jkidding!/)

I missed the last bit of the ceremony, obvs.  I see that a girl movingly proposed that names (or even the absence of them) can in fact be used to construct personalities – and that it doesn’t actually matter whether those are real or not.

As a final, slightly confused, thought: small mistakes (spilt wine, shot man) can lead to huge stupid consequences (new computer, world war), if we’re not careful. 

 

 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Monday, 7 July 2014

Fall again. Fall better.

It was fellow-blogger Rog who pointed out, ages ago when for some reason I had touched on the subject, that once you pass seventy you don’t ‘fall over’ any more, you ‘have a fall’.  Well, judging from how I felt on waking up last Monday morning, I reckon I must have done both on my way to bed the night before.

I don’t want to go into details, even those I can remember.  Suffice to say that whilst I was failing to tidy the kitchen, the builders had been in and repositioned the staircase.  And I turned the landing light off instead of on, easy mistake.  And it was very late.  And …

It’s a cracked rib.  Been there, done that (you can’t wear a T-shirt under these conditions), so I knew what lay ahead.  The doctor was very sympathetic once I’d spun him my carefully concocted yarn about getting out of the bath, and gave me a truckload of codeine phosphate tablets.  They’re 15mg, and I’m allowed up to four at a time, up to four times a day, so I have plenty of dosage flexibility.
 
One of the instructions on the leaflet is ‘DO NOT drink alcohol with codeine phosphate, as it may affect you more than usual.’  I considered and rejected a couple of smart-ass sophistries – does that just mean don’t wash them down with wine? and can’t I just drink less than usual? – and have been experimenting with de-alcoholized wine, which is wine that’s been made the proper way then had nearly all the alcohol taken out.  I can report that it’s not (quite) as unpalatable as you might think.  The shiraz I’ve tried tastes almost like a cheap, rather sweet shiraz; and the wuzziness caused by the codeine neatly compensates (nearly) for the missing alcohol.  You can get used to anything.


The list of possible side effects is awesome – twenty of them in all.  If I’d had them all, there wouldn’t have been much of me left.  As a quibble, number 19 on the list should really have been number one.  (I’ll let you guess for yourselves what it is.  The clue is there.)  The most interesting one, though, is number 17: ‘Hallucinations’.  Sadly, I don’t think this has happened, though you can’t be sure, can you?  

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Sky over here, this evening


Mare's tails?  Mare's nest?  I dunno.  Vapour trails, probably.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Hyperactive teenage tadpoles (cont’d)

Has anyone been ‘upgraded’ to the all-new BT Mail service recently?

Have you yet torn out all your hair or smashed yourself in the teeth?

BT have been trailing their divorce from Yahoo for over a year now, and the decree nisi finally came through last Friday.  You’d think that’d be long enough to provide, at the least, a stable service which doesn’t crash every few hours (if it manages to load in the first place); also that one would be able to do, at least, everything one could before.  (It’s supposed to be ‘better’, to use their word.) 

But no.  I had a call from a nice man in Mumbai, who unfortunately had clearly never seen this system before.  He took over my screen and clicked around all over the place, checking all the settings I’d already (obvs) checked, before informing me that ‘this function is not supported by the new BT Mail’.
(For the record, the function in question is the ability to skip to the next or previous email.)

I fumed for a bit, and muttered about switching to gmail.  (This may yet happen, those of you who have my email address, watch this space…)  Then I clicked on to Blogger (another Google ‘service’), to find that my dashboard can now only show one post at a time from my so-called Reading List.  I’ve been away, so hadn’t noticed this, but apparently the problem has existed for at least a week; hundreds of people have complained, and been exhorted to be patient.

I think I’ll buy a batch of postcards and first class stamps and send my communications by the Royal Mail.  Oh, hang on –


Send me an email, drop me a line, stating point of view.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Retail Entropy

Jackson’s, a legendary department store in the centre of Reading, finally closed down last Christmas Eve, after 140 years of selling school uniforms and sensible underwear and imitation Dresden knick-knacks, and of being as iconic a landmark in Reading as, say, Selfridge’s in Oxford Street or Lewis’s in Leeds.  Plans have just been unveiled to preserve the façade, whilst installing flats* and, yes, shops, behind it.



I think I shopped there three times.  Once for an unlined cream linen jacket (which I wore for many years) and a panama hat (I must have been going through some kind of Somerset Maugham phase), and twice for presents for elderly aunts.  Jackson’s was the go-to place for presents for elderly aunts.  So I can’t say I’ll miss it as a shop – but I think I will as a symbol.

A symbol of what?  Well, walk into T. P. Hughes, Pettits, or Ocky White’s, to take three examples I am (or was) familiar with, and you’ll be uniquely in Tenby, Wallingford or Haverfordwest: those shops are (or were**) intrinsic to the town where they were born and grew up.  Walk into John Lewis, Debenhams or House of Fraser, and you could be anywhere.  This is not to denigrate the big chains, just to say that something special is being lost.  Crankiness, quirkiness, localism, call it what you will.  I kind of wish I’d shopped in Jackson’s more.

In Bournemouth, where I was born and grew up, there were four big department stores, all very different.   Bobby’s turned into Debenhams, while Plummers also briefly became Debenhams (until Debenhams decided they couldn’t sustain two stores in the same town and closed it down).  The surviving Debenhams has recently been rebadged as ‘Bobby’s, though I doubt if the clock has been turned back to the fifties.  Brights is House of Fraser.  Only Beales survives.  The last time I was in there, ten years ago, it hadn’t changed much.  I bought a wallet, which I’m still using.


I was once told that you could identify a good town by the presence of a pet shop, an old-fashioned ironmongers’ and a second-hand bookshop.  Any candidates?

* Some of which will, apparently, be ‘affordable’, as opposed to the other sort – but that’s another debate.
** Ocky’s closed down in 2013.  I can’t say I regret the shop, only went there once, but I do rather regret the name.  

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Please prove you are a robot




‘Eugene Goostman’, either a dysfunctional Ukrainian teenage boy or a computer-generated simulacrum, has, it’s claimed, passed the Turing test, by fooling a third of a panel of judges into believing that he (it) is the former.

There’s evidence that Alan Turing wasn’t being entirely serious when he proposed this test. But, having read a few of Eugene’s conversations (google them yourselves), I can only assume either that the judges weren’t being entirely serious either, or that they all exclusively inhabit the twitterverse – where that sort of gubbish is entirely normal.

I propose an updated Turing test: ask Eugene to write a blog.  That’ll sort out the brains from the bots.  

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

I find a poem

I've been having a clear-out, and came across a pile of old notebooks.  In one of them, I stumbled across the following, written almost exactly twenty years ago.  I've only changed a few words.

After the War

The sunshine shines
And the garden gets too hot
And Peter and Christopher
Line up all the shots
But their energy goes draining
Down the drain of tomorrow’s good ideas.
Oh dear,
Where’s the spirit of the War?

Peter says he was out there
While Chris stayed at home;
But Chris says what were you there for
When I was looking after Mum?
And the garden gets too hot
And the reason for the game
Gets lost.
Oh dear –
Was there a reason for the War?

The sun is going down
Melting in the West
And Peter sips his sunset drink,
And thinks about his best friend.

And the mother of these grown-up boys
Will be forty in July;
So she spreads the linen tablecloth
Gets everything arranged,
And doesn’t wonder why
Everything has changed.

The shadow of the cherry tree
Is heavy on the lawn
And Christopher and Peter
Pull up all the hoops
By their roots.
They stack them in the shed,
Ready for the next game.

Oh dear.



Friday, 30 May 2014

Nothing Doing Nothing


I see that a conceptual artist called Marina Abramovic is putting on a piece called '512 Hours' at the Serpentine Gallery from 11 June.  The work consists of her wandering around the Gallery for eight hours a day, six days a week, doing precisely nothing except interact with visitors.  To quote her: “There are no objects and no art works on the wall but there will be props … the public will be her [sic] living material which she is going to interact with 8 hours a day.”

As you know, I too am a conceptual artist, and never able to resist a challenge I’ve gone one better.  So I’m delighted to announce my performance piece, entitled ‘Nothing Doing Nothing’, which will commence tomorrow, for an unspecified duration and at randomly selected times.

I have taken Marina’s concept to its ultimate extreme by eliminating not only any artifacts, but also the audience itself.  Nobody but me will be present, and nobody will know precisely what the work consists of – it could be sitting on the sofa, emptying the dishwasher, scratching myself, refiling the LPs, singing ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ to myself at midnight … You will never know what this artwork is, or was.

It may not be all that entertaining, but think what it will do for your imagination.


P.S. Abramovic is apparently, rather wonderfully, being accused of plagiarism.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Where does this stuff come from? And why?

I woke up this morning to find that sometime during the night I'd written, on the pad I keep by the bed for that purpose, the following:



That's "ANTS + Sartre = DALI".

Now, I know exactly what that means, which is Absolutely Nothing.  But I'd love to know what it meant at the time I wrote it.

Any clues?

Monday, 19 May 2014

More or Less?

To Tate Modern, to view the Matisse ‘cut-outs’.

Also, in my case, to view Tate Modern from the inside.  I’d spent many a happy lunch hour(ish) admiring the Bankside Power Station, amongst many other attractions (St Paul’s, the Cannon Street station San Gimignano-esque towers, many passing young girls) from the riverfront platform of the Anchor, back in the late 70s when I worked in a (thankfully) long-gone Seifert office block called New London Bridge House on roughly the site of what is now the Shard (about which, externally, I love everything except its location… but that’s another story).

Anyway, I’d never been inside Bankside Power Station before yesterday.  Not back then, obviously – it was still generating pollution until 1981.  (I’d love to have seen that turbine hall full of humming oil turbines.)   Frankly, I was a bit disappointed.  It’s all a bit too organised, corporate – I like my museums and galleries to be intimate, a bit chaotic, even tactile.  Go to Burrell in Glasgow, Lyme Regis, or (if you’re venturing to foreign parts) the Wilson Museum in  Narberth.  I’m being churlish, I know – the scale of the Tate Modern project is stupendous.  But I found myself people-watching rather than absorbing the art on roped-off display.  And I couldn’t find the Rothkos.  Bah!  (Though a single stumbled-upon Bacon portrait was sufficient compensation.)

And the Matisse?  Well, you have to admire the energy (although he did have a lot of help), and the film of him carving the precise form out of the huge sheet of coloured paper with a pair of scissors, like Michelangelo with his marble and chisels, removing the irrelevant bits to expose the vision within, was enthralling.  But there were too few Davids, too much wallpaper.  Maybe a couple of dozen images out of hundreds (the famous ones, obviously) jumped out and lodged in my emotional memory.  A small exhibition of the few undoubted masterpieces, rather than hundreds of bits of work-in-progress.  Too much is too little.

It was great to wander along the Bankside though, soaking up the sights and the sounds.   (Buskers seem to be actively encouraged, except where they’re banned.)   The views across the river have evolved, mostly upwards (the Gherkin is now dwarfed by the Cheesegrater, St Paul’s dwarfed by both – although it’s interesting how the cathedral re-asserts itself the closer you get, across the wibbly-wobbly millennium bridge).  


A faint memory of an old cartoon: two old geezers leaning on a gate, gazing across open fields.  “I remember when this was all Banks.”