Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Team Spirit

We all learnt that at school, didn’t we?

In my case, and probably in yours (assuming no millenniums read this blog), team meant sport.  Which meant competition.  Our team, because it was a team, had to develop spirit, which was what would enable us to beat the other team.  (The fact that the other team was usually a random Wednesday afternoon selection of one’s classmates, and so didn’t really have time to do that, wasn’t important.  The concept was the lesson.)  Team spirit enables the team to compete and win.
(It didn’t work that way in practice for me, because competing in a sporting team turned out to mean competing mainly against one’s teammates in order to improve one’s chances of being noticed and so advancing one’s social status, something I could do much more easily indoors.  Although one couldn’t totally duck, I generally managed to avoid contact sports, because I didn’t like getting hurt, of which there was a more than fifty-fifty risk because, although I wasn’t physically weak or small, I resisted acquiring the skills needed to avoid getting hurt without running the risk of getting hurt, which I didn’t like.  And cricket was for privileged boys.  So I never properly learnt team spirit.)
I now, I think, see the fallacy in all this.  Out here in the real grown-up world, most teams aren’t, or shouldn’t be trying to beat another team, never mind their own.  They are, or should be, trying to get the job done.  But that bloody competitive sporting team spirit they learnt at school does nothing but get in the way.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Imaginary conversation down the pub


“’Ere, guv, wanna buy this?”

“Um, what is it?”

“Can’t tell you exactly.  But it’s good.”

“Right.  Okay.  Um, how much?”

“Ooh.  Buy it first, let’s sort that out after.”

“Um.  Okay, sounds good.”

“Deal then?”

“Course!  My shout!”

Next day, after church:

“Um, remember that thing what we was talking about last night – you know, about this, um, thing…?”

“Oh yeah, course I do.  Cheque in the post.   Fancy a pint?”

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Influential Albums #5 – Todd

About the fourth time I listened to this, I thought I understood the first track.  It’s called ‘How About A Little Fanfare?’, and it begins with Todd enunciating seven heavily distorted syllables that make no sense at all, except that they’re followed by a loud, cacophonous, well, fanfare.

So at that fourth listen, I clapped on the cans, dropped the needle into the groove, and heard a very quiet pre-play of what was to follow – the fanfare…  the syllables suddenly made sense… “how was that little fanfare, that little fanfare…?”
I’ve never been able to make it happen since.  Presumably you have to hit the run-in groove at exactly the right point to hear it; or else I was hallucinating – this was 1974.
I’ve just listened to sides 1 and 2 of this album (I still can’t make the little fanfare play again, but I swear it exists, somewhere out there in the vinyl exosphere) and would like to explain, in three simple paragraphs, why it’s influential.
1.     Todd Rundgren was a pioneer explorer of the electronic creation of music.  Synths had of course been used extensively in pop from 1968 onwards, but no-one had previously built an entire album around these totally constructed sounds and playing – the latter including his early use of sequencing technology to make a machine perform licks and riffs that not even the most proficient human would be capable of replicating.
2.     He was also a pioneer in the techniques of self-performed, self-produced multi-track recording. Although many other musicians are credited on the internet as having performed on the record, including the Brecker brothers who obviously did the horn parts (Todd egocentrically doesn’t name anyone but himself in the original cover notes), it’s obviously mostly him.  This made me begin to understand that just one person, given the right kit and skill-set, could make music from scratch.
3.     It contains one of my Desert Island Discs.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Confident Insecurity


My workmate (I call him that, though we mostly met down the pub, where this story takes place) George was a thoroughly anglicised Hong Kong Chinese, with all the confident insecurity I imagine comes with that territory.  George was (still is, I trust) a keen golfer.  One lunchtime, George came into the pub full of his weekend experience.  He’d attended some expensively well-known course (serious golfers will throw a lot of money and self-respect at their game), played eighteen, and was changing his shoes in the locker room, when in walks an extremely famous golfer whom I’ll just call Nick.
George can’t believe his luck and avidly engages Nick in conversation.  Nick’s a decent sort and lets George admire him for a while, though he’s clearly getting a bit bored by this insecurely over-confident bloke.  Eventually, inevitably, George brings the chat round to golf, hoping to pick up a game-changing tip.
“I’ve always wondered, Nick,” he says.  “I tee off and manage say 180 yards, but you usually get about 260.  How do you do that?”
Nick scratches his head and ponders for a while.  “Well, George,” he finally says.  “I think it’s this.  I hit it harder than you.”

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Unrepentant

If you don’t want to leave the EU, you’re a remoaner.  If you do, you’re a brextremist.  Either way, you’re a traitor/coward/halfwit/c*nt.  This more or less sums up the quality of the debate I’m seeing now (although ‘debate’ may be too charitable a word).

What all parties seem to take as read is that the referendum was valid in the first place.  I’ve consistently questioned this, and now that healthy desperation and vulgar abuse are finally becoming the prime movers, perhaps it’s time to reiterate my reasons.  There are three.
One: the framework.
It’s ludicrous that a simple first-past-the-post majority of those who chose to vote should be allowed to determine such a radically fundamental change to every aspect of the nature of our nation.
Obviously, this question (which is a constitutional one) dates back to way before this particular referendum, but it should have been raised and debated, both in the media and by Parliament, when the 2015 Referendum Bill was being considered.  Had it been, I would have supported a proposal that, at the very least, a majority of the electorate should be required in order to achieve a meaningful result.
Two: the legality.
It was falsely presented as a legally binding decision of the electorate.  In fact, the enabling legislation does not contain any obligation on the current or any future government to implement the result.  This well-researched and seemingly impartial Wikipedia article contains links to that legislation if you want to follow them.
It’s worth quoting in full the relevant paragraph of the article:
‘In accordance with the Act and the public duty of the Electoral Commission, an impartial guide was posted to every household in the UK and Gibraltar in the week beginning of 16 May 2016. The advisory leaflet was titled: "Why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK". This leaflet clearly stated: "This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide".  [my italics]
So the idea that the referendum was in any way binding rests solely on the wording of a government pamphlet.
Three: the question.
This was the subject of much debate, to fairly general public indifference, and they came up with this compromise:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
Let’s deconstruct it.  Firstly, turn it upside down:
“Should the United Kingdom leave the European Union or remain a member of the European Union?”
Would this simple rewording have influenced an undecided voter one way or the other?  I suspect it would.  So either way it’s a loaded question.
Secondly, it’s actually a spuriously overloaded question.  All that was needed was “Should the United Kingdom leave the European Union?”
And in any case, the word ‘Should’ turns it into an opinion poll, doesn't it?

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Shaving Abuse

I have recently noticed that my can of Men’s Sensitive Aloe Vera Shave Foam warns me that ‘Solvent Abuse Can Kill Instantly’.
I see I’ve been doing it all wrong.  There I was slapping the stuff on my face and scraping it with a razor blade, when all I needed to do was wait for the bristles to dissolve.
I haven’t yet tried pushing it up my nose to see if I die instantly.  Tomorrow morning, perhaps.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Parable


It’s funny how people deal with their own failures, isn’t it?
About twelve years ago I went to Witrose in my shiny new car to buy some stuff, I forget what.  As I was driving into the car park I noticed someone about to back out of a space straight ahead of me, so I flashed my lights and waited.
The driver behind me couldn’t wait the twenty or so seconds this manoeuvre would have taken, so he hooted.  I ignored this, so he decided to overtake me.  He did that rather badly – he drove into the side of my car.
I said a few not very well-chosen words.
“No need to swear,” he said.
We went and found parking spaces (the driver who’d been the innocent cause of the situation having long departed) and inspected the damage – surface scratches to my shiny new car, none visible on his old banger.
He started telling me I should have been signalling.  (I was going straight ahead.)  He told me I was holding everyone up.  (I was holding him up.)
I said: “Excuse me, you’ve just driven into the side of my car, and it’s my fault?” and walked away.

 

Monday, 25 September 2017

Caravan shutdown


If it’s 1797 and you’re going to invade Great Britain from France, obviously north Pembrokeshire is the go-to place, isn’t it?  Good rail links Goodwick to London, regular Sealine ferries to Ireland, nice local beaches…  but you probably didn’t allow for Jemima.
The tapestry (more properly, as Z pointed out, an embroidery) commemorating this bizarre bit of forgotten history (about which you can read more here), immaculately displayed and curated in Fishguard library, allowed us to dispose of a wet, windy Friday.  We proceeded up the coast to Newport (how many Newports are there in the UK, I wonder?) and an acceptable lunch at the Golden Lion, after which we drove back over the misty, drizzly Presilli hills and caravan life took over.
The Presilli hills are locally referred to, in English, as the Presilli mountains.  This is a deliberate mistranslation of ‘mynneth’, which sounds a bit like ‘mountain’ but in Welsh means something rather less.  (I am making this up, but don’t let that stop you believing it.)  Welsh is an intriguing language, which we’ve resolved to learn more of.  (* look up the Welsh for ‘resolve’*)  Sometimes it just looks like bad English spelling (ambiwlans, parc busnes) but then veers off into French (eglwys). 
Back at the caravan, we hunkered down and enjoyed a decent-weathered Saturday, including a walk across the westward Wiseman’s Bridge beach where the geology is, once you notice it, quite fascinating.  I’d spent many early years not noticing that what was now rockpools and striations had once been a massive promontory – huge and high worn down to sea level cracks and sand over many millions of years.  We don’t leave that much of a trace, do we?
The caravan is shut down.  Draining the plumbing was much easier once Joseph had taught me how to do it properly.  Z has made it cleaner than it’s been for years.
I didn’t cut the grass. No rabbits did either.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

KISS


William of Ockham (1287-1347) invented the safety razor, often wrongly attributed to King C. Gillette (1855-1932), who of course invented the waistcoat, but (Ed: shome mishtake shurely?)
Ah, yes.  William of Ockham (1287-1347) formulated the principle that became known as Occam’s Razor.  It’s called a razor because it shaves away extraneous matter.  (Why Ockham became Occam is anyone’s guess; did medieval keyboards lack a K and an H?)
Occam’s Razor can be expressed in many ways.  Here are two:
1.     The law of economy of hypothesis (which I might have just made up) states that, of a number of solutions to a given problem, the correct one is that which requires the least number of assumptions.
2.     Z, on having heard me dissert on this, offered the 21st century version acronymised in this post’s title.
Anyway, it sprang uninvited into my mind after an amusing Facebok conversation about the following conundrum:

1 + 4 = 5
2 + 5 = 12
3 + 6 = 21
5 + 8 = ? 

The answer, of course, is 34, but a lot of people opted for 45.  I challenged this, and it was suggested that, given that the = sign in this context obviously doesn’t mean what it usually means, then the operators are up for grabs and the + sign can therefore be fairly interpreted as a * (multiply) sign, in which case you do get 45.
That’s where William nudged me in the ribs.  Oy, he said, one mistake’s enough, why let another one in? 
I thought I’d scored a point, but now I wonder: if + doesn’t mean +, and = doesn’t mean =, who’s to say what 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and the rest mean?  Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Zebra crossing (April 85)


Not long ago, there was a notice at each end of the zebra crossing between London Bridge Walk and the station forecourt, improvised on blackboards, which said “DANGER – CROSSING OUT OF ORDER”.  A friend enlightened me as to how a zebra crossing could be out of order: one of the belisha beacons had been knocked over by an errant vehicle.  Apparently this means that the crossing is a legal nonentity.  Drivers can mow you down on it with at least some impunity.

Incidentally, did you know that the belisha beacon was named after the transport minister who introduced it in 1934?  His name was Leslie Hore-Belisha.  So it could equally have been called the Hore beacon, but I imagine this was rejected on the grounds of ambiguity.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Rough woodland (April 1985)


“A Rothschild once remarked that no garden, however humble, should lack less than 2 ½ acres of rough woodland.”

This is the funniest thing in a stunningly ill-written review of some book or other about gardens.  Its major virtue is that of being the first sentence.

Taking the opposite of ‘no garden’ to be ‘every garden’, and of ‘lack’ to be ‘have’, the corollary of this statement is that every garden should have less than 2 ½ acres of rough woodland.  The reviewer is right in suggesting, later in the review, that some gardens fail this rigorous test; but mine, I am proud to say, is not one of them.  Its acreage of rough woodland is indeed considerably less than this stipulated maximum.

What would be interesting, and therefore not supplied by either A. Rothschild or the reviewer, would be the required ratio between rough woodland and other things, such as smooth woodland.  Imagine, for example, that this might be one unit of rough woodland to five of the other sorts of land, and that your tiny garden measures 10ʹ x 15ʹ.  You are thus allowed 30 square feet, or 6ʹ x 5ʹ, of rough woodland.  Clearly the trees would have to be bonsais; but what would make it rough?  I can only imagine an undergrowth of rather tatty aubrietia.  

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Blogging? Been there, done that.

I have, of course, been blogging since 1963, so far as records show.  We didn't call it that, and the medium was marks on paper rather than binary digits on computers; but I've dug out and skimmed through a few old notebooks, and a few entries might merit transcription. 


You have been warned.



Monday, 14 August 2017

BLEU



That’s a much better acronym than the worn-out Brexit acrostic, isn’t it?
I have read so much nonsense about ‘Britain Leaving the European Union’ that I thought it was time to put the world’s thoughts in order.  I will confine myself to the classic five-point system.
One.  Nobody knows anything.
Two.  Nothing has happened.
Three.  This is not democracy.
Four.  Loudness is not thought.
Five.  The devil is in the detail. 

To expand:
  1. Nobody knows anything about what is going to happen when, after a protracted process of definition, drafting and deliberation an Act of Parliament representing Britain’s departure from the EU is presented for the Royal Assent.  Not just because whoever turns out to be monarch by then might just say ‘no’, but because nobody has a clue what it will actually say.
  2. Following from that, so far nothing’s actually happened.  The debate, if that’s a word any more, is almost entirely about the story of the last 15-odd months of speculation, reaction and counter-reaction, not to mention global economic and political forces compared to which BLEU is a minor ripple.  All fur coat and no knickers. 
  3. Democracy means ‘rule by the people’.  Referenda are not a sensible means of achieving this where the population exceeds a few hundred.  In the present case, the canard that ‘the people have spoken' needs to be critically analysed and clinically destroyed by facts and logic.  For a start, only 37% of the electorate voted to leave.
  4. I often dip in to internet sites that support BLEU, and I’m dismayed not just by the lack of fact and focus, nor even by the outright blatant lies, but by the overwhelming volume of vitriol and personal abuse.  I counter this whenever it’s directed at me, of course (don’t ever enter into a slanging match with me, anyone, because I will win!).  But I am shocked by the amount of unnecessary sheer nastiness.  I thought this was a nice country.
  5. I’m getting a bit tired now, so I don’t want to go into the details of what this will do to everyone in this country’s personal day-to-day lives.  Two words cover most of it, actually – health, and safety.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Ray's Story


Z had taken the kids to the beach, but I’d opted to stay in the caravan.  After an hour or so, and having exhausted the entertainment potential of the newspaper, I dipped in to the small selection of books, leaflets and so on that reside in my bookrack there.  There’s a first aid manual, several quick’n’easy cookbooks, guides to walks and places to visit, and a few snatches of genuine local Pembrokeshire history.  It was one of those that captured me.

It’s a book of black and white picture postcards of Narberth, from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Old pictures are, of course, always good to look at; but what caught my eye was the foreword, which heaped lavish praise and thanks on Miss Ray Davies, without whom the enterprise would never have happened. 

I knew her quite well, and I just wanted to set down what I can about a rather intriguing character.

Rachel, only ever known as Ray, was born in 1916 and died in 2003.  She never married.  It was rumoured that this was because her heart had been broken, just after the war, by a scoundrel in Belgium, where as a WREN she’d been posted for unknown reasons following service at Bletchley Park on the Enigma code-breaking project. (She was probably one of the Bombe girls, but I haven’t been able to verify that.)  I’ve seen a picture of her, in uniform, from around that time, and can only say that the Belgian heartbreaker must have been crazy.

By the time I met Ray, her focus had both narrowed and broadened.  It had narrowed to a compulsion to sort, identify and catalogue.  The broadening was in the range of material she did this to.  It started, probably, with stamps – she worked for Stanley Gibbons in the thirties – then expanded to archaeological samples, coins, Victorian fans, local history…  After she died we found dozens of exercise books filled with quite indecipherable lists of stuff, which of course we had no choice but to throw away.  Nobody would have cared.  The stamps and fans were sold, not for much.

What started me on this, though, was the local history obsession.  She became, I think, an infuriatingly avid supporter of the Narberth Wilson Museum (which has since closed down and then reopened; it won some ‘best museum’ award a few years ago, and we really should try and visit it next time we’re there.)  She put a few backs up during this late phase of her life, but the important things are that it kept her going, and that her efforts, however misdirected by her oncoming dementia, did get recognised in the foreword to that rather splendid book of old postcards.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Mussels

I promised to tell you more about our caravan holiday, but it's too late to start on Ray's story now, so you'll have to wait till tomorrow again for that.
Meanwhile, here are two words I learnt on a wet evening: Scaup; and Mussitation.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Caravan Life is Alive and Well


Child: “Where’s my *insert child’s object of choice*?”  Adult: “Where you left it.”  Child (pauses): “I don’t know where I left it.  That’s why I’m asking you.”  Adult: *surrenders*

The craze this time was folding paper napkins into neat narrow oblongs.  There were also marbles and complicated card games.  I resisted engagement with any of this, of course, relying on Z to do what grannies do on cool windy wet afternoons trapped in a caravan with two small energetically unfocussed children.

It wasn’t all like that, of course.  We managed a fair bit of time on the beach, which had its usual effect on me.  When I rashly suggested that we might try a different one (I targeted Manorbier, partly, if I’m honest, because I really like the Castle Inn there and carefully timed the trip to arrive spot on for lunch), once the wind had got the better of us and we’d agreed that wasn’t on, Gus and Zerlina made it quite clear that they would much rather be back on what, to my delight, they called ‘our beach’.  (Technically, the correct term is ‘the local beach’, as my brother and sister will confirm, but hey, ‘our’ will do.)

I also welled up, briefly, when they came back up to the van and proudly announced that they’d once again climbed ‘Tim’s Rock’.  (Again, it’s more properly called ‘The Big Rock’, but hey again.)

 


There’s more.  I’ll post again tomorrow.

Still no rabbits.  I blame Joseph’s new lawnmower.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Royal Prerogative


It’s fairly certain there will be another general election within the next few months, and increasingly likely that it will result in another hung Parliament.  Constitutionally, the Queen is required, by convention, to call upon the leaders of the parties, in turn and in order of their representation in the House of Commons, to attempt to form her Government.  This has proved difficult enough recently, and won’t be any easier next time.  In fact it could prove impossible. 

So what happens then?  There are no historic precedents that I’m aware of.  Another election?  Same result.  Another one?  You get the point – we’d end up with an election at which nobody could be bothered to turn up.  And we’d still be without a Government.  Some might say that’s no bad thing; indeed when I lived in Italy in the sixties it seemed to be the norm, and Belgium went without one for at least a couple of years a while ago.  But it wouldn’t do for us, would it, eh?

Fortunately Z and I have come up with a simple solution.  Her Majesty will form her own Government.  She will continue to be Head of State, and of course Parliament will continue to be the Legislature*, but she will appoint her own Executive. 

But where to find the appointees?  We humbly suggest she looks to her own family.  We’ve drawn up a list of proposals for a few key Cabinet posts, and would welcome feedback before we forward the final recommendation to the Palace.

Prime Minister: Charles.**

Chancellor of the Exchequer: Anne.

Home Office: Camilla.

Foreign Office: William.

Defence: Harry.

Education: Kate.

Transport: Andrew.

Culture: Edward.

 

Unfilled posts include Health, Justice, Energy, Environment, Local Government, and Work & Pensions.  There are plenty of spare minor royals out there though.

 

*The Whip system will be abolished and MPs instructed to vote purely as representatives of their constituents’ interests and according to their own consciences, if any.

** We considered abolishing this position, but that would risk taking us too close to the American system, and besides, it’ll keep him out of mischief.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

United Kingdom?


I’ve just been listening to a radio programme about a 15 year old girl from Northern Ireland who needed an abortion but had to travel to England to obtain it, at a cost of several thousand pounds, because it’s still illegal there.  She challenged this through the law, with financial help from family and friends, and last week the Supreme Court of the UNITED Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ruled against her on the basis that residual regional powers outweigh national ones.  I can’t, obviously, challenge their lordships’ interpretation if the law, but I can and do question whether there is really one such thing as ‘the law’ in this so-called country – or indeed whether it can really be called a country any more.

Devolution – the biggest constitutional mistake since 1715 – has had the opposite of the intended effect.  The idea was that different parts of the land had different needs, which they should be allowed, within appropriate constraints, to express and control through their own legislative and judicial bodies.  Fair enough.  Where it went wrong was to do it the wrong way round.  They should have started with the body of law that applied to everyone and then asked the regions to justify their exceptions.  Instead they assumed the exceptions stood and ducked the inevitable outcomes when a Westminster law came to a head-on collision with a Stormont, Cardiff or Edinburgh one.

As it stands, we are neither one country nor are we several.  And it’s not gonna get any simpler…

 

 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Shoddy


There’s a good word, which shouldn’t be needed nowadays but obviously is.  Chambers says ‘origin unknown’, applying to both senses of the word, but I leave aside the wool-weaving one and would like to focus on the meaning we all know, which Chambers, as always, succinctly sums up: ‘badly made or executed.’  (There are several more adjectives in there, which I won’t… oh all right, I will: ‘inferior, pretentious, cheap, nasty, sham, badly made…’ you get the drift…)

I’d intended to rant about the obvious shoddiness we seem to be getting engulfed in, but I see that I don’t need to.  So I will anyway:

I am to be prosecuted for doing 68 mph on a traffic-free dual carriageway where the limit would normally be 70, but has arbitrarily been set to 60.  I’ll be fined £120 and my insurance premium will go up by another £100 or so next year.  The total cost of this, not including human effort and stress, will far exceed any benefit to any person or organisation.  The thinking (if any) that resulted in this outcome can only be described as shoddy.

The people (I assume humans still exist there) behind Facbok, a computer program I sometimes make use of, see it as their role to keep the universe on its toes and themselves at its centre.  They do this by changing their program whenever they suspect another human might have started to grasp it.  Unfortunately, they do this really badly.  Double shoddy.

… and thirdly – oh, I can’t be bothered to do thirdly.  It’s politics. 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Transport of Delight?


TfL does not, as you might guess, stand for ‘transport fucking lunacy’.  That’s putting it too strongly; but only just.  I will tell the story.

To travel from Romford to Charing Cross, you need to get a train to Stratford and then change to the tube.  So we bought train tickets for that first leg, assuming we’d then clock in to the tube for the rest of the journey. 

Not so.  Without walking for half a mile, exiting the station and then re-entering it and walking the half mile back, there seemed to be no means of paying for the second leg of our journey.  We asked a nice staff man who didn’t see the problem, and indeed there turned out not to be, as we were just waved through by the weary attendant at Charing X on the flash of a bit of roughly right-coloured cardboard.  Lucky.

Z rightly insisted on a more informed approach to the return trip, so we clocked in at Charing X, exited and re-entered at Stratford, and caught a slow train back to Romford.  (Finding that one was a whole different, which I’m too tired to relate in detail.)

The moral, if any, of this story (apart from don’t go to London from Romford without serious forethought) is as follows:

If you are going to bring a lot of different things together under one name, make damned sure the bits add up to the whole, rather than the whole consisting of the bits.

Monday, 5 June 2017

The Caravan Has Legs


Caravan diaries 17.2

Now that Z has her new hip and can do level walking at least as well as I can, I decided a couple of outings were in order.  The first was Lydstep Head, which is a fairly gentle circular mile with great views south and east across to Caldey Island, west towards Manorbier and the wilder coast beyond and, in the last stretch, downwards to what’s now called Lydstep Haven. 

Once upon a time one went (or was taken, to be exact) to this uninspiring shingle beach for a sole purpose – to walk, at the lowest tide, round to the spectacular caves that must, now I think of it, be more or less underneath where we were walking.  Now it’s been turned into a very expensive caravan site, the entrance to which has been made to look like private property (which it isn’t of course, there are no private beaches in this country).  I’ve never driven down to it, but from above it looks horrible.  The walk is lovely, though, and the flowering gorse smelt as coconutty as always.

The other big walk was to Bosherstone.  This is an entirely man-made stretch of lakes created by an obviously mad 18th century aristocrat to grow waterlilies in, and now owned and curated by the National Trust.  (I know they have their faults, but imagine the country without them!) 

The car park at Bosherstone village being full, we drove round to Broadhaven beach and did the walk from there.  This was not so good, as it involved a long stretch over the beach; walking on soft sand, especially up a hill of it, is tough on the legs, heart and lungs.  But we made it back to the car, the village and the Govan Arms for lunch.  I was pleased to see that the scenic cameos my friend Graham Hurd-Wood had painted in his youth were still hanging on the wall.

On our last day, we’d intended to leave first thing, but the weather was so great that we delayed and instead went to Colbey Woodland Garden, another local NT property.  The garden is fine – what it says on the label, more or less – but they do need to have a look at their signage: I won’t bore you with details, let’s just say that if you have a ‘red’ walk on the map, a few red signposts along the way might help…

Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Last Midsummer Banquet - The Chairman


Int, artificial light

A  Government office. 

Six officials – five male, one female – sit round a table, debating tactics.  Two of them never speak, just nod, smile and take notes.  The Chairman is clearly in control, and is clearly insane.

Chairman:

(calming hand motions):  Please, please ... please.  We are more than prepared to listen to everything anyone might conceivably have to contribute.  (smiles round the table)  What we are not prepared to do is admit that I’m wrong.  Is that clear?

Official #2:

Um –

Chairman:

What have we achieved?  We outlawed, let’s see, illegitimacy, unemployment, most diseases – in short, anything that costs us money – but our greatest achievement has been uncertainty.  Uncertainty.  Our greatest achievement has been that now, nobody can be sure what is or is not permitted!  We must find ways of sustaining this.

Official #2:

Sustaining uncertainty?  That’s a bit of a difficult concept to sustain, I mean I’m not quite certain about that but, um 

Chairman:

We must sustain uncertainty.  It sustains stability!  If they have an absolute, like these Banquets, if they have this, this Walpurgis night on which anything seems to be permitted, then they focus on the opposite, the other three hundred and whatever days on which nothing seems to be – they focus on the notion of prohibition – and that’s the last thing we want, is it not? (he looks enquiringly round the table)

Official #1:

Your point is well made Chairman.  Just on a niggle of detail, Walpurgis night is actually the thirtieth of April, not Midsummer’s –

Chairman:

So we’re agreed I think.  (Silence)  That is to say, nobody disagrees with ... us?  (More silence) 

Official #1:

Agreed.  Nobody quite disagrees?  But – more like … not quite entirely agree?  Entirely? 

Official #2:

Entirely!  I mean exactly.  I mean precisely!  (glances at Official #4) I mean, Norman, you’re the expert in all this sort of stuff –

Chairman:

Gentlemen, gentlemen – and madam of course – we do need a consensus here.  I’ve stated very precisely what that is, and I expect you to agree with me.  That’s my final word I’m afraid.

Official #1:

Did you say ‘afraid’?

Official #3:

Just run it up once more, for a little lady please?

Official #2:

Oh come now Sykya, no need to patronise –

Official #1:

All the same I think I’m behind Sykya here.  My issue is one of presentation.  We need a short sharp bang bang bang one two three bullet approach here –

Official #3:

Has it come to actual bullets then?

Chairman:

(He bangs the desk - it sounds like a gunshot):  Very well.  Bullet one (bang).  Music as a panacea has failed.  Diluted to a cheap substitute for the real economy.  Bullet two (bang).  We are out of money.  We cannot afford any more of these Banquets.  Bullet three (bang).  Research shows that the Banquets, in their support of the idea of ‘free’ music as a calming influence, have actually had the opposite effect, have actually induced what I might call terrorist activities –

Official #2:

Hardly terrorism though, is it?  A few bricks, scrawls on walls … even playing guitars isn’t quite –

Official #1:

So we need to kill free music.

Official #3:

Which means killing the Banquets.

Chairman:

(bang)  Bullet four. 

Official #2:

Wasn’t it ‘bang bang bang’, that’s three, not –

Chairman:

The solution. (smirks)  Loyalty oaths.

Perplexed glances whizz in both directions round the meeting.

Official #3:

Hang on.  This is new.  You have never mentioned loyalty oaths –

Chairman:

No, of course, I do apologise, this is freshly minted new-laid slashing edge thinking.  Let me explain.  Before being allowed to leave the Banquet Hall, each participant will be required to sign a document renouncing their rights to any future events of this nature, or, or they get – (makes circular shrugging hand gestures)

Official #3:

They get?

Chairman:

Well …  Arrested?  Amputated?  I don’t know, I’m policy, it’s up to you people to put the flesh on it –

Official#1:

Flesh?  Hmm ...

Official #3:

Killed?

Chairman:

(a final gunshot table fist bang):  I want them.  They’re an irritant.  Grit under the foreskin.  I want them.  (stares at Official #4)  Norman.  Implement.  Kill music. 

Norman’s face springs into a rigid, fixed grin, transfixed with terror.

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Last Misummer Banquet (introduction)


Text on blank screen:

 

Once upon a time in the future, in a part of what was once Britain ...

 

Commentator:

(voice over, concurrent with the text, which fades with the sound): Once upon a time in the future, in a small part of what was once Britain …

As the text on the screen fades away, whispering half-audible voices mutter conspiracies:

Conspirator #1:

... the most subversive power in the land ...

Conspirator #2:

... subversive, must be ...

Conspirator #1:

... banned ...

Conspirator #2:

... must be banned, yes, the most subversive power, yes ...

Conspirators:

... must be    Music!

Text on screen flashes and slowly fades

 

MUSIC!

Ext, day

A huge pile of guitars, keyboards, drums, every conceivable sort of musical instrument, stacked up on a patch of waste land.

Close up of a Machine pointing a gun-like appendage at the instruments, which burst into flames.  We see this bonfire from several viewpoints.

Fade to blank screen

commentator:

(voice over): So, music was banned. 

Obviously, you can’t do that.  It’s like banning hearing and breathing.

So after a while, they back off a bit.  OK, some music can be allowed.   Conforming to defined guidelines, mechanically constructed in officially approved music factories, by suitably trained mechanically qualified ‘resources’  – well OK, that can be allowed. 

But don’t try it on your own, don’t try it at home.  Unauthorised music, human music, that stuff’s well and truly banned!   

Well, after another while – a very little while – they saw that people might not like this either, might get a bit, let’s say, fractious.  So, it was decreed that each year, on Midsummer Night, there will happen A Great Banquet!

Text on screen flashes and slowly fades

 

A Great Banquet!!!

 

Fade up shadowy images of huddled conspirators.  Voices over:

Conspirator  #1:

… a Great Banquet, in a Great Banquet Hall –

Conspirator #2:

… everyone invited, things might even be permitted  

Conspirator #1:

… even their own music 

Text on blank screen

 

THEIR OWN MUSIC?

 

Commentator:

 Their own music?  Allow them their own music?  Human music?  For a few hours a year?  Bad idea!

Ext, day.  twilight

The bonfire of the musical instruments.  Shadowy figures dart in and snatch more or less unscathed guitars, drums, saxophones, gongs, dulcimers being salvaged and snuck away to secret hiding places.

Fade to blank screen

Ext, night and day: split screen

Dissolving close-ups of people learning to play their stolen musical instruments; raiding parties stealing stuff from shops, fuel depots, etc; people cultivating, harvesting, cooking, eating their own food ...

Text on blank screen

 

Some years later

 

Commentator:

Very bad idea!

 

*


Text on blank screen

 

June twenty-fourth, this year

Crash on soundtrack.

Commentator:

So, is this going to be the Last Midsummer Banquet?

 

Title on logo screen:

 
The Last Midsummer Banquet

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Caravan diaries (cont'd)


We had to collect some chickens from Herefordshire and bring them back to Norfolk, so the obvious thing to do was go to Reading, go to Pembrokeshire, open up the caravan, stay there for a few days, go to Herefordshire, pick up the chickens, go to Reading, and come back to Norfolk.  And so it came to pass.  About thirteen hours driving in all, but I don’t mind that.

Opening up the caravan is usually straightforward – you put the drain taps and the shower mixer back in, sweep up the dead flies, clean the green gunge off the outside walls and cut the grass.  This time, normality had gone slightly adrift.  The grass hardly needed cutting (Joseph has a new mower, which goes almost all the way up the slope in front of the van, which used to be entirely my responsibility). Far less green gunge than usual (the overhanging sycamores have been fairly ruthlessly pruned, although not enough for my liking – they’re still above ground level, vile weeds).  No dead flies at all (once some years ago I could hardly see the carpet for them, which was when I started spraying with Raid or Flit on departure, which helped but a few would still get through). 

The plumbing, though, proved unusually problematic.  Joseph had told me, ages ago, that the thing to do in the autumn was unscrew the four drain taps and just remove them.  Of course, he now denies this, and tells me I should have been following a whole different procedure, the detail of which is too boring to relate… anyway, I had several leaks, the last at about 3 a.m.  But once he’d fixed the underlying cause – a crossed thread – all was well and dry, and the problem will never happen again.

After that, it was just as it’s meant to be.  We walked through the tunnels to Saundersfoot (I wanted to make ghosty noises in the long one, like when I was eight, but didn’t want to scare Z), had a nice fish lunch at the Mermaid (now rebranded the Beach View, which is more accurate but less romantic, but otherwise unchanged in twenty years), walked around Tenby, watched the pale everchanging colours of the flat calm sea, failed to connect to the internet… everything as it should be.  No rabbits so far.

The chickens are gorgeous.  Z will no doubt tell you all about them.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Top Ten Top Tens


This is an experiment.

I /haven’t had a good list for ages.  So here are my ten best lists, with a starter of one from me in each.  Please submit yours via the comments, and I’ll update.  I’ve set a few of my own ground rules, but feel free to ignore these.

Films (no CGI blockbusters):

Rio Bravo
Local Hero (2)
Monty Python and The Holy Grail
The Quiet Man
4 Weddings and a Funeral (I know, but there it is)
To Have and Have Not
Perhaps something Scandinavian like the one with the knight and death playing chess
Blues Brothers
The big sleep


Albums (no Beatles/Stones/Dylan/Beach Boys/Led Zep):

Janis Ian: Night Rains
Sand andWater - Beth Nielsen Chapman
Solitude Standing - Suzanne Vega
"Whatever people say I am, That's what I'm not" by Arctic Monkeys
The Main Event-Frank Sinatra
Pictures at an Exhibition by ELP

Jimi Hendrix - Electric Ladyland
Gallagher's Irish Tour
Still Crazy After All These Years Paul Simon
Crime of the century - Supertramp


Singles (ditto):

Dion: The Wanderer
Heartbreak Hotel - Elvis Presley
Because They're Young - Duane Eddy
"Paradise City" by Guns 'n' Roses
Somewhere Over the Rainbow-Israel Kamakawiwo ole
Will You by Hazel O'Connor (for the sax break)
Old 97's - Designs On You
Teach Your Children Well

Mystery Train Elvis Presley
Drive in Saturday - Bowie

Novels (not over 500ish pages):

Albert Camus: The Outsider
Snow falling on cedars - David Guterson
Billy Liar - Keith Waterhouse
"Behind The Scenes at The Museum" by Kate Akinson.
To Kill a Mockingbird-Harper Lee
Guards, Guards by Terry Pratchett
Vanity Fair
Merrilie Watkins Series Phil Rickman
A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich

Non-fiction:

J K Galbraith: The Affluent Society
Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari
Steve Jobs - Walter Isaacson
"Pies and Prejudice" by Stuart Maconie
The Shepherd's Life,-James Rebanks
Roger Deakin - Waterlog
Charlie Marx, Das Kapital
Atlases, Maps, and books about maps
The selfish gene -Dawkins

Musicals (no Rodgers and Hammerstein):

West Side Story (2)
We will Rock You - Queen and Ben Elton
"Chicago" (Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb)
Les Miserables

Rocky Horror Picture Show
Oklahoma (obvs)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Foods:

Fresh crab
John Dory with samphire
Sticky toffee pudding
fresh Pacific salmon
Pie, or failing that, big lumps of meat in gravy
I am a greedy git who loves to eat everything
Leek quiche with wholemeal pastry
Bratwürscht
New Season Asparagus
Stew and dumplings

Places:

The Knoll Beach, Studland
Camusdarach, Morar, Highland (Ben's Beach)
Tenby
Paris (2)
York
The Backwaters, Kerala, India
Anything Greek, best on an island
Venice
Everywhere

Journeys:

Through the tunnels, Wisemans Bridge – Saundersfoot
Cycling (e-bike) through the Ardnamurchan caldera between Kilchoan and Sanna Bay, Lochaber
The Way of the Roses c2c bike
Riding the Paris Metro out to Montmartre.
the train from Chester to Wales
Batobus on the Seine
The last bit of a journey to somewhere you love, when you recognise landmarks that mean you're nearly there and become excited

Train rides
JFK to Manhattan
Peterborough to Stansted airport

Machines:

Morris Minor
Electric bike
Raleigh Pioneer 2 (ladies model)
The steam locomotive
Deux chevaux
Vincent Black Shadow
Austin Healey Sprite
Jaguar XJ6 4.2 litre
Landrover
Porsche 911, do not know the version blabla, just pedaltothemedal and blam