Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Did you know that 100% of your calls last month were successfully completed?

That’s an extract from a text I received today from my beloved mobile phone provider, who are also, they inform me, consistently voted the best mobile phone provider in the universe, exactly by whom or how is less than lucidly clear.

Anyway, the above quote intrigued me purely from a semantic point of view.  To take the easy bit first, what do they mean by successfully?  Assuming they’re not actually listening in, it’s more than possible – nay, it’s probable – that my attempt to contact the right department at the local council to ask them why they hadn’t swept the leaves from their trees from the pavement outside my house, even though it’s December and the rotting leaves are a pedestrian skid hazard, was entirely unsuccessful.  But they clearly assume that the mere fact that the call had a beginning and an end – the latter not caused by them – equates to success.  They obviously don’t include the ones that didn’t even start because there was no signal.

More substantially, 100% of what?  100 is a very big number, so I could be tempted to imagine that I’d made a lot of calls, all of which were ‘successful’.  Actually, there were probably five.  100% of five is still five.

And finally, why are they so needy?  This message had zero value to me – it was entirely and only about them and how wonderful they find themselves.  Why do they need to tell me so?  I’ve met blokes at parties who do that, and I tend to nod, smile and after five minutes look over their shoulder and catch someone else’s eye.  Is that what whodavone (for it is they) want me to do?

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

“They can talk too, but they won’t.” *


Hello, remember me?  My blogging mojo has been on strike for a while now, but I’ve resolved to resuscitate this dying art – in fact, I’ve so resolved many times over recent months, but I’ve always been stalled by the lack of anything to actually write about.  Unlike more prolifically creative bloggers, I find it hard to just start writing without a topic, or a story, or both.  But this evening both landed in my lap.  I said to Z: “You should blog about that.”  She said: “No, you should.”  So here goes.

If you’ve visited the Zeddary, you may recall that between the dining room and the hall there’s a window.  It was actually part of the original Tudor fabric of the house, formerly an external window up in the roof space somewhere, which had been bricked up for many years.  It had been reinstalled where it is now, years ago, as part of a major extension/refurbishment.  It serves no particular function, apart from being beautiful and entertaining the cat.

Eloise Cat loves ducking through this internal window, flaunting her prowess at avoiding any delicate objects that might be stood on the sill.  Usually this isn’t a problem, but a while ago we put up a pair of heavy curtains on the hall side, to prevent her doing this when we were away and triggering the burglar alarm.  They’d been left closed last time, though they didn’t need to be.

This evening, as we were eating our dinner, Eloise Cat decided to investigate the corner cupboard where the best glasses and crockery are kept.  The door was open a crack, but she obviously couldn’t get in there.  But she was amusing herself, and us, by trying.

I remarked that we should open those curtains.  “She used to love going through there, and now she can’t.”

Eloise Cat turned away from the corner cupboard and looked at me.  “You reckon?” she said.

*A quote from Clive James, originally about dingos.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

The Caravan is having an early snooze

It usually gets put into hibernation in October: the site is officially closed from the end of October until Easter, although Joseph has been known to mutter, in a diplomatically deniable choice of words, that were someone to turn up during the officially closed season, ‘I probably wouldn’t notice’.  About ten years ago, his mother celebrated her ninetieth, in the January, and the site was apparently packed out.  (I wouldn’t know for sure – we weren’t invited.  Sniff sniff.)

This year, for reasons too complicated to go into here, the shutdown had to happen last week.  But for other reasons, equally complicated and even more boring to relate (think plumbing), it couldn’t completely get done, so I’m relying on Joseph to complete the job – and then, of course, reinstate everything in the spring.  I’ll probably phone him sometime before the first frost, just to pre-empt my anxiety – an unworthy thought, but which comes first: his promise or my anxiety?  I know my answer; and of course I’ll do it very diplomatically.
So that’s Pembrokeshire taken care of for yet another year.  Long term followers of this blog might recall that I’ve been going there since about 1949, so can claim to be an older inhabitant than many people who were born there.  But it wasn’t until relatively recently that I really got to know the county.  When our parents took us to Saundersfoot and Wisemans Bridge for those family holidays, it was all about the beaches of south Pembrokeshire – Barafundle, Broadhaven, Marloes and the others.  The west and north coasts were largely foreign lands.
So it was a surprise when I finally began to discover those parts, about twenty-five years ago.  They’re very different.  A bit more rugged, wilder, perhaps a bit more dangerous.  I remember randomly driving down a ridiculously narrow winding tree-lined road to emerge at a dizzy view of the Irish Sea; and equally randomly down another to fetch up in Porthgain.
If you ever go to Pembrokeshire and don’t visit Porthgain, you have missed something unique.  Is it possible to be unique in many different ways?  If so, this place achieves it.  I’d taken Z there a couple of times before, but we managed this time to climb up the steps at the end of the quay and wander across the cliff path, past the intriguing brick built industrial ruins and the disused slate and granite quarries, almost as far as the great low tide beach at Traith Lyffn, (about which I’ve blogged here before).  We didn’t go down the steps.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Toothsome

Although ever fewer.

We’d run out of bread (how?), so Z suggested muesli instead of toast.  I haven’t eaten muesli for about twenty years, so I was clearly happy to try a drastic swerve away from habit.  It was delicious.
About a third of the way through, I thought ‘that isn’t a nut’.
It was a tooth – or to be more exact, a metal cap that had, many years ago, been glued onto what had remained of a tooth after the dentist had filed it down to a thin but firmly rooted spike.
Unfortunately, whereas usually if a cap comes off the peg is still in place and so the cap can just be simply glued back on again, in this case the peg had snapped off too.  I knew instantly that nothing could be done, so of course I phoned the dentist to book an urgent appointment to confirm that.  They offered me 11.15.  Z kindly drove me to Norwich, on the grounds that a) if something unlikely could in fact be done, it might involve anaesthesia or sedation or anything that might render me incapable of driving and so entailing inordinate complexity and expense, and b) parking’s really difficult around there.
Andre, our brilliant expensive dentist, confirmed my self-diagnosis – nothing can be done – but filed off a little rough bit anyway.  No charge!  But it was a wake-up call, or a heads-up, or a JFDI.  I’ve been procrastinating for nearly two years now, mainly with the excuse that, hey, I won’t be able to chew on that side, will I? – but now I can’t anyway.  So starting next month, I’ll be getting two whole decks of new teeth, or more efficient and durable equivalents.  I’m not sure whether I want to distress you with the details of this ‘procedure’ (as medical people tend to euphemise major invasive surgery), but I don’t see why I should be the only one to suffer, so here goes.
Firstly, the remnants of the old teeth are pulled out, and holes are drilled into the jawbones.  Threaded implants are then inserted into these holes, and the whole thing is left for three months to settle down.  If that all goes well (I haven’t conducted a risk assessment, yet), pegs are screwed into the implants, synthetic teeth are glued onto these pegs, and after another settle-down period chomping can recommence.  What could possibly go wrong?
Well, given the cost of a decent small family car, I hope the answer is ‘nothing’.  But I’m going to check out any relevant insurance cover.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Supercaravan

Z showed me an advert, disguised as a news story, about an American, um, thing that claims, for financial or fiscal reasons, to be a caravan but is in fact an incredibly badly designed almost uninhabitable shack.  Sleeps six.  She’ll provide a link to the details if you persuade her to.

My caravan is four feet wider than the American thing.  It also comes with the benefit of Joseph.
I was awoken at 1.33 am precisely by a roaring noise.  Usually that signifies stormy weather, but I knew that wasn’t the case.  So I forced the pace and got out of bed.  The noise seemed to be coming from the bathroom, but when I went in there it seemed not to be.  ‘Ah ha,’ I thought.

Of course, it was outside plumbing, yet again.  I turned off the mains supply tap and went back to bed, thinking dark thoughts that can’t and won’t be retailed here.  ‘Enough’ was the softest.

Next morning, I managed to bump into Joseph.  Once he’d finished his complicated conversation with Brian, he came over in his Lan Rover and fixed the problem in minutes, once he’d found the necessary parts.  I can’t explain the process in detail, because that would require me to imagine lying flat on my back in a brambly ditch underneath a caravan, doing fiddly things with plumbing.  All I can say is: he’s a hero, and worth every penny of the £(fillinyourownnumber) rent I pay him.
In other news, we went to Carew (pronounced, I still firmly believe having been so taught by my mother in 1952, Carey) Castle, which is about as good as ruined castles can get.  And then to the Creselly Arms, a very basic pub on the beautiful Cresswell estuary that used to sell just local beer but has recently moved upmarket by offering cheese and pickle rolls too.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

The New Highway Code

Test your knowledge with these six easy questions:

1.     A stationary vehicle has both its indicators flashing.  What does this signify?

2.     When should you signal to indicate a turn?

3.     When should you NOT signal to indicate a turn?

4.     What is the rural speed limit for motorbikes?

5.     On a dual carriageway, when should you pull in from the overtaking lane?

6.     On a smart motorway, what does the sign ‘QUEUE – CAUTION’ mean?

Answers:

1.     The vehicle is illegally parked.

2.     When you have begun to make the turn.

3.     When there is a vehicle waiting to emerge from the road you intend to turn into.

4.     Whatever the speedometer goes up to.

5.     Generally, when there has been no vehicle to overtake for half a mile; however, you should pull in when a) there is a car’s length gap between two lorries which you can enter in order to immediately pull out again, or b) you are undertaking.

6.     A queue has been caused by the sign being switched on.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Fish Supper

Z was going to be out for the earlier part of the evening, so it fell to me to cook.  Paul the Fish calls on Monday mornings; we usually have a debate about what’s best today, what do we fancy and so forth.  This often becomes the ‘you choose’ ‘no, you choose’ dialogue, where Paul ends up as the adjudicator; but in this case it was obviously entirely down to me, so I just went random and said ‘hake’.

We had a batch of leftover cherry tomatoes, so I invented a recipe that Z told me I should write down, as I could be the next Nigel Slater (who specialises in making a lot* out of whatever’s available).  So here it is.
All the chopping is best done in an electric grinder/chopper.
Finely chop a fat clove of garlic and put it in a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Let it just turn light brown over a medium heat.
Meanwhile, smash up about 20 cherry tomatoes (no need to skin them; if using bigger ones, you might choose to) and add them to the pan.  Add a small glass of dry vermouth (or whatever white wine you have to hand; vermouth is best though).  Season with salt and plenty of pepper.
Cook for about 20 minutes until fairly concentrated but still liquid.  Halfway through, finely chop a small bunch of basil leaves and add them to the sauce.
Cut the hake fillets (any firm fish will do; monkfish or turbot would be great) into large chunks and add them to the pan.  Stir gently to coat the fish, cover and simmer until the fish is just cooked through.  It was about 5 minutes for the hake.
If the sauce seems a bit wet (the fish will have added some liquid), remove the fish and boil hard for a minute or two.
We served it with the season’s first marsh samphire (not local yet, from France, but tres bon).

 *Including money

Friday, 8 June 2018

Learning Norfolk

I am, slowly but surely.

We had to go to something called Reedham Ferry for lunch.  For reasons too devious to mention here, Z drove.  The satnav said it’d take 45 minutes, which seemed s bit much until we worked out that that included the ferry crossing time (see below). Anyway, after a couple of U turns we got there.  That is, we got to the south (I think – the only compass points that seem to matter in Norfolk are east and, if you insist, west) side of the Yare.  But the pub is on the north side.

So what you do is cross the river on the eponymous ferry.  We’d done a bit of research and established that the thing to do is park on the south side and cross as pedestrians, which would cost us much less than taking the car over and then bringing it back again, which would anyway have been pretty pointless.  (My brother and sister were both already on the right – I mean north – side of the Yare.)

So we parked up and got onto the ferry.  It’s a very small chain ferry, crossing about 250 yards of river.  A chain ferry drags itself across its stretch of water by winching a pair of fixed chains through cogwheels on the ferry and so dragging its cargo across and safely discharging it on the other side.  There are ramps that enable roro.  R opined that the chains were a bit shorter than they used to be and so higher in the water, which would make it a bit riskier to drive a boat over until the ferry had fully completed its voyage.  But the boat drivers seemed to manage. 
Z and I stepped aboard.  The price list said ‘PEDESTRIANS 50p’ and ‘MINIMUM CHARGE £1.50’, which was a bit confusing until the young man manning the ferry asked us if we were going to the pub, in which case it was free – at which point I remembered that I was in Norfolk.

Afterwards, I remembered the previous time I’d been on a chain ferry.  Sandbanks to Shell Bay.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

The caravan evolves

We’d taken a circuitous route rather than the usual boring bomb down the M4, because Z had arranged to visit someone in mid-Wales for business reasons, which seemed, from my perspective at least, to offer the possibility of revisiting the scenic route my father liked to take on family holiday journeys back in the fifties.  It didn’t quite turn out that way, mainly because the satnav refused to take us up the A417, over Birdlip Hill, and through the Forest of Dean; nor did I get to see that Black Mountain view down from a dizzy height to a reservoir with a toy train running alongside it.  But the company and the lunch were compensation enough.

Very few of the people I think of as my ‘old caravan mates’ attend frequently nowadays; indeed, some have given up their vans completely, and others I know have health issues.  I can’t expect to relive heady occasions like my 60th birthday, when I happened to mention it to a neighbour in the gents (no in-van plumbing in those days) and an hour later was joined on the newly-laid patio by a tipsy horde of about sixteen glass- and bottle-clutching Welsh party-makers.  Nor can I expect again to stagger glass- and bottle-clutching up the hill towards Dave and Marilyn’s and fall over halfway under the influence of an unaccustomed cigarette.  Just as well really.
Of course, the next generation has mostly inherited, as well as the property, at least some of the behaviours (though I don’t think they’re as good at them as we were).  I can’t expect or want to be drawn into that.  Watching the little ones will do now.
And the rabbits, which are back in force and still burrowing under the front of my caravan.  Joseph assured me they can’t excavate a big enough sinkhole, but I noticed that a bag of cement had been left behind the van, and was tempted to tip it down there just in case.  Probably just as well I didn’t.  I’m not sure that the insurance covers failed attempts to fill in undermining rabbit warrens.

 

Saturday, 21 April 2018

St Edmundsbury Cathedral

On a whim over breakfast, I suggested that we go for an outing.  The choices were the coast or Bury St Edmunds, and I was pleased that Z opted for the latter.  I used to collect cathedrals.  Failing memory and neglect mean that I can’t name them all, but I can recall a few favourites – Winchester, Salisbury, especially Chichester – and now I can add this one.

It’s quite austere as cathedrals go.  Its main nave dates from 1503, so probably the cathedral as we see it was born too late to be too much of a victim of the Reformation depravation.  The relatively low-key flashy bits are mostly later add-ons; though my sole source of historical information, a little brochure handed to me by a charming greeter, of whom later, is confusing to say the least.  The showpiece stained glass Susanna window, for example, is dated around 1480, so must have been recycled from somewhere.  And it’s called St Edmundsbury, which makes one wonder which came first, the saint or the town?  I’ll have to look it up.*
The man who welcomed us proved to have Yagnub origins, to have been slightly acquainted with the Sage, and to have a few bits of Lowestoft china which he might want to sell at some time.  Z was quite moved by this reminder of the power of coincidence, I think.
Next time we go there, we will take a picture of a commemorative wall plaque that manages to write the history, from tragic to happy, of several generations of a local eighteenth century family; find out more about the project (comparable in scale to the Fishguard Last Invasion tapestry) that resulted in hundreds of uniquely embroidered kneelers on the pews, one for each and every parish in the diocese and well beyond, as far as we could make out; and walk in the cloisters.

Afterwards, we wandered out and around the town, admiring how graciously ancient buildings have mostly managed to absorb modern commercial functions, and unsuccessfully looking for non-chain-outlet food, before we took off and found a well-concealed but deservedly popular lunch venue at a vineyard just off the A143.

*Or await a clarifying comment from one of my many readers…

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Caravan Diaries – Rules?

There are rules.  I’d always known this, of course, just never knew what they were.  Joseph has remedied this by publishing a long list of them, mostly aimed at preventing and penalising sub-letting.  He assures me that they don’t really apply to the likes of me.

If I didn’t know as much as I do about how Pembrokeshire works, I’d find that slightly patronising.  As it is, I decide to find it amusing.  He’s a nice man whose spirit and skills are in practicality – mechanical problem-solving, farming – not in commercial rental management, and some people have undoubtedly been taking advantage.  But he really should have had someone check it out before publishing.  Some of these so-called ‘rules’ are absurd, not to say self-contradictory, and a lawyer would have a field day if it ever came to it – not that it will, Pembrokeshire law is mostly about how to avoid itself.

Some things called O-rings in the shower mixer unit have been damaged, probably by my insufficient unscrewing of the tiny grub screws when removing it for over-wintering, resulting in a slight, steady drip.  Joseph might have some spare ones, or can get some, and will fit them.  A list of the rescues he’s performed for me over the years would bore you to snores and probably overflow the internet.  I have to allow him a few stupid rules, don’t I?
 
The sea never changes, and is never the same.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Rules Are Made To Be Broken

We were discussing Picasso the other evening, and how he needed to learn the fundamental skills of his craft, and the understood rules of his medium, before he could afford to ignore both of those imposters and become a true artist.

I’m now listening to Cecil Taylor doing something comparable to improvised jazz.  The first track on ‘The World of Cecil Taylor’ (Candid 9006, 1960) is called ‘Air’, and could easily be discounted as just a bunch of, let’s say, well-enhanced would-be’s plonking around on their piano, drums and bass to demonstrate their undoubted mastery of the skills without ending up making anything approaching real music – until you get halfway through, and the age-old jazz trick of ‘fours with the drummer’ kicks in.  At which point you realise that Cecil on piano and Dennis Charles on drums are actually playing the same phrases, competitively bouncing them off each other and winding each other’s last shot up to the next level, and that they know the rules too.  At which point you – or at any rate I – burst out laughing.
But it’s track two that really proves my point (if I have one).  It’s a corny ballad from South Pacific called ‘This Nearly Was Mine’.  Taylor mischievously tears it apart and stitches it back together like a child playing with a dressing-up box – but the song never gets lost; and I imagined that he was feeling, and expressing, a variant of what Rodgers was after when he tried to catch Emile’s emotions when he thought he’d lost Nellie.
But I’ve stretched this far enough, so I’m off to antidote with a chunk of The Clash. Who also knew how to break the rules they knew.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Climate and Weather

Everyone except Donald Trump knows the difference between these, right?  So how to explain it to him?  I thought about it until I felt I understood it myself a bit, then came up with this analogy.  Don’t drill any deeper into it than I have, because it will crumble.

Imagine a broad highway.  It has edges and fairly predictable curves, but not much else in the way of controls.  That’s the climate.
Now imagine you’re driving along this highway.  The lack of controls means you can take any number of paths within the existing edges and curves.  You’re the weather.
Now someone comes along and, unpredictably, moves the edges and reroutes the curves.  That’s climate change.
Most of the time you (the weather) will carry on as you always have. But the more the climate highway gets wider or narrower, bendier or straighter, the more likely you are to crash.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Hills Are Alive

Sadly, nobody made a 1970s horror film with that title.  They had Eyes.  (But if so, they must’ve been alive, surely?  You can’t have eyes if you’re dead – you can only have deadeyes.)

So, moving rapidly on: everyone agrees that The Sound of Music is the best awful song ever written, in the best awful musical ever written, at least by R&H.  A school of thought suggests that they should have packed it in after Carousel, and I have some sympathy with that, only bidding South Pacific as a preferred quit point.  But they knew what they were doing.  Well, they’d both been in the trade, individually and then together, for half a century or more.  (The first trace I can find of Rodgers as a composer is a song called ‘Any Old Place with You’, with Lorenz Hart, in 1919; and of Hammerstein writing, with Otto Harbach and Herbert Stothart, a musical called ‘Jimmie’ in 1920, from which no songs, perhaps thankfully, seem to have survived.)
Anyway, what I’d meant to write about (prompted by some thoughts about rhythm, melody and harmony) – the actual sound of the stuff – will have to wait for another day.  Besides, there aren’t any hills around here.
(to be continued...)

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Christmas Card Audit 2017


Executive Summary:

·        No startling variations from last year evince themselves, apart from the decline in the snowy category.  This may be due to the misappropriation during 2017 of the word ‘snowflake’.

·        Several animals and birds (such as foxes, cats and owls) are resting, but will doubtless be back.  Others (dogs and nuthatches)are debuting: we wish them well.

·        The slight reduction in the volume of glued-on glitter is to be welcomed.  I read that the stuff is the next ecological-disaster-in-waiting.

·        A cute little girl has replaced a choirboy.  I’m saying nothing.

 

The full figures (2016’s, where applicable, in brackets):

 

Snow/Snowmen/Snowflakes:                 4 (10)

Santas/Reindeer:                                   3 (3)

Animals/Birds:                                      12 (12)

of which          

Robins:                                     2 (3)

Free-range reindeer:                  3 (3)

Horses:                                     1 (1)

Foxes:                                      0 (1)

Sheep:                                      2 (1)

Cats:                                        0 (1)

Squirrels:                                  0 (1)

Wrens:                                     1 (1)

Owls:                                       0 (1)

Penguins:                                 1 (1)

Partridges (in pear tree):            0 (1)

Bullfinches:                              0 (1)

Dogs:                                       1

Nuthatches:                              1

Landscapes:                                          3 (4)

Nativities/Wise Men/Angels:                 6 (7)

Christmas trees/Baubles:                       4 (9)

Abstract:                                              4 (2)

Mail-letterboxes:                                   1 (3)

Choirboys:                                            0 (1)

Booze:                                                  1 (1)

Flowers:                                               1

Forests/woods:                                      3

Cute children:                                       1

Houses:                                                1

 

Special categories:

 

Homemade/designed:                            3 (4)

Cards with glued-on glitter:                   8 (10)

Wonderfully weird:                               3 (1)

Posh yet restrained:                               1

 

Again, I can’t nominate a Card of the Year– they are all equal in their various ways.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Astany Portorm (3, 4, 2, 1, 5)

When I got back here on Tuesday, everything was fine.  I worry occasionally and slightly – has the house burned down? (unlikely, I’d have been told); has the boiler broken down (that’s happened); has a power cut switched off the alarm and then failed to switch it back on again (nightmare scenario) ….

No, all was fine.  So I went up the supermarket to stock up for the few days I’d be here.  Also fine.  But.
When I got back, I opened the front door (as one does) then closed it.  Except that the latch pushy-in-and-out thingy didn’t push out.  I have, of course, two locks on this door, so as it wasn’t an immediately urgent problem – not up there with the alarm – I investigated briefly, determined that the lock was knackered beyond repair, and got on with what was left of the day.
Wednesday was spent finding a replacement lock that near enough matched the dead one.  I ended up at Reading’s wonderful long-lived ironmongers, Drews, where a cheerfully caring young man helped me find what I needed, leaving me with what proved to be a presciently potent parting platitude – ‘hope it goes all right!’
Don’t worry, I shall now cut to the title.  After, at about 3 o’clock when the light was starting to fail, discovering that the pre-existing hole in the door was too big (the spindly thingy that connects the outside to the inside has to be precisely aligned, which the right-sized hole will achieve automatically whereas a too-big one permits the thingy to wobble around, making it really hard to join it all up, and… where was I?), I gave up and moved on.
Of course, this morning, after a good night’s sleep (apart from the wind – not internal, there was a serious storm going on outside) I dealt with that now minor impediment in minutes flat (well, about twenty of them) and completed the installation.
This is where I found that I needed to shim out the thingy that’s attached to the door frame, which catches the lock’s pushy-in-and-out thingy and causes the lock to, erm, lock, by about a quarter of an inch.  I needed a little bit of wood just that thick.  But where to find such a thing?  The idea of having to haul down to yet another diy joint was not on.  It had to be locally sourced.  Another twenty minutes head scratching and wandering around ensued, then the solution caught my eye.
About thirty years ago, it seems that some kind body gave us a presentation bottle of Dow’s Vintage Port.  The box it came in now contains old forks, parties for the use of.  It was in the garage/workshop/study.  Ah, maybe…!  Yes, its lid is exactly the right thickness and width (3”) for the shim I needed.  All I had to do was saw off the right length and drill three holes in it.  The forks aren’t quite as well protected as they were, but they’ll survive.
As the post title says – ‘Any Port In A Storm’.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Watts and Barraclough

Several posts ago, as a starter for my ambitious project to hit 1,000 posts on my 10th blogging anniversary, I put up a list of surnames, with the idea that just asking people to guess the context would be good for a shot or two.  My brother inadvertently blew my cover with a comment identifying them as teachers at our grammar school, so I might as well cut straight to the Act II exposition, which is to say something about these long-dead formers of my self.

I’ll start with a couple about whom I remember least, and will therefore have to make up most.

Mr Watts had an artificial leg, having lost the real one in the war.  I think it was his left one, because I can picture him riding his bike to school.  This had been modified so that he only had to pedal on one side; I’d only see him in the morning, when he would be riding along Mallard Way towards the staff entrance and so would be on the same side of the road as me.  But it could have been his right one.
His inevitable nickname was ‘Pegleg’.  I guess he must have been aware of this, but he was a kindly soul who clearly had a thick enough skin to elect to be a boys’ secondary school teacher in the knowledge of all that would entail, and I don’t think there was ever any unpleasantness serious or discernible enough to need escalating.
I have no idea what he taught.
Mr Barraclough taught, I suspect, geography.  If so he must have taken me over from Mr Styles (q.v.) when I was in about the fourth form and done serious damage to my interest in the subject.  To be fair, my interest in any subject other than skiffle was at serious risk by then, so I can’t completely lay my abysmal O level performance at his door.  Oh all right, I can.
I remember him being extremely tall, which is confirmed by a photograph I’ve recently stumbled across online.  Online sources also suggest he was an avid user of the cane, but I never experienced that.  Mind you, I don’t remember ever having been caned during my school days (or since).  I was too timid to be a threat to any of my teachers.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Research suggests

Whenever I read those words I reach for my logic gun.

The latest research suggestion is that a person who smokes one cigarette is twice as likely to go on to smoke a few more than another person who smokes one cigarette.  (I simplify the maths for blog-effectiveness, of course.  But not the logic.)

I’d have thought that most people (usually kids) who decide to try a cigarette (or anything else dangerous, for that matter) do so either because they are peer-pressured to, or because they want to, and will probably go on to try a few more, at least ‘for a period’ (undefined).  The detailed commentary on this ‘research’ does make this qualifying point among several others – for example, that it was a self-selecting sample drawn from widely variant populations and can therefore be considered as, at best, ‘only an estimate’ – but that doesn’t stop the journalists (I’m drawing on the reports in the Guardian and the Times) from headlining this as if it’s in any way factual or significant.

I have no axe to grind here, as I stopped smoking several months ago and don’t intend to start again.  I’m just against spurious science.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

AGAhst

Yes, I know.

I’ve just about got the hang of the stove top – you slide things around sideways rather than turning a knob – but I clearly haven’t quite cracked the ovens yet.  I know that the top one is very hot and the lower one quite cool, and that within either of these the shelf position is crucial in determining the actual cooking temperature, but fine tuning is obviously still beyond me.

I know this to be so because after my best efforts it proved hard if not impossible to distinguish the carrots from the turnips from the onions.  In gas cooker terms I roasted them at gas 6 for about 25 minutes then turned it down to 3 for another half an hour or so.  Clearly I need to practise more, because they all ended up black.
The oxtail stew was still superb though.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Technology makes it simpler for us

My fabulous new camera has 17 buttons on its outside.  That's including the one you press to take a picture.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

At a glance | Theresa May's 12-point Brexit plan


Just a little reminder from a year ago:

  1. Provide certainty about the process of leaving the EU
  2. Control of our own laws
  3. Strengthen the Union between the four nations of the United Kingdom
  4. Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland
  5. Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe
  6. Rights for EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in the EU
  7. Protect workers' rights
  8. Free trade with European markets through a free trade agreement
  9. New trade agreements with other countries
  10. The best place for science and innovation
  11. Co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism
  12. A smooth, orderly Brexit

Friday, 5 January 2018

Islanders (chapter 1): five things I've discovered

1.  After the Isle of Man opened Europe's first non-smoking prison in 2009, crime rates on the island dropped by 14%.

2.  Some Manxmen persisted in observing the pre-Gregorian calendar long after 1752.  If any of them are still alive, Happy Christmas today!

3.  The OECD no longer classes the IOM as a tax haven.  So that's all right.

4.  It's the world capital of cryptocurrencies, and it's even possible to spend them there.

5.  'The triskelion always lands on its feet.'

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Timbo gets Shorn

No, that’s not as in ‘…of the Dead’.  My hair (certain male friends should look away now) gets out of control when it exceeds 2” (two inches) at any location and makes me look like a scarecrow.  So about a fortnight ago I started to try to get it cut.

It turns out that the weeks immediately before and after Christmas are not the best of times to access the only barber within a ten mile radius, so I spent the festivities performing my Wurzel Gummidge impersonation to a politely blind-eyed audience.  But today the master plan was kicked off.  I would rise early, grab a quick bite and cuppa, and get into town in time to be waiting outside the door when he opened at nine, ahead of the few remaining locals who hadn’t previously managed to make the cut.  (When I tried it on Tuesday, at about half ten, there were six in the waiting area, about two hours’ worth.)  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as it turned out, nothing.  Z provided the transport (cleverly suggesting that she did the market shopping in parallel) and dropped me off at exactly ten seconds to nine.  I was first through the door, and was welcomingly ushered into the chair.  Exactly ten seconds after that, another man came through the door, looked a bit surprised, then disconcerted, then resigned, and sat down in the waiting area.  After another ten seconds (I am not exaggerating here), two more came in and did the same thing.  Hah! I thought.

It’s a really good haircut.  It took what seemed like ages but was only about twenty minutes.  I resisted the temptation to count, let alone make brief, smug eye contact with, the poor saps of runners-up as I left.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Five things because I need to blog


1.     I’ve read two of my Christmas books.  The first one was an intriguing, though flawed, thriller called ‘Magpie Murders’ by Anthony Horowitz.  Tim Lott recently said in the Guardian that ‘literary fiction’, by which he meant posh novels as opposed to common ones, had lost the plot, and I sympathise with his point – I’ve tried to read some posh novels in recent years that disappeared up their own introspection – but I’m not sure where the genre boundaries are any more.  I reckon Horowitz would, if forced to classify, call his work ‘literary’; but a shortage of plot is not one of its failings.

2.     The next book was about growing, processing, storing and burning wood in Norway.  It’s informative, gripping and often hilarious – a classic example of writing quality transcending subject matter, in a way the opposite of point 1, I suppose.

3.     However, I now know more than I really need to about Norwegian chainsaws.

4.     However, if you are felling a tree for fuel, it’s a good idea to do it in the spring, when the leaves have set, and don’t take them off until the autumn.  They will continue to grow (not knowing that there aren’t any roots any more) and so extract moisture from the trunk, drying the latter that much faster for burning.

5.     The third book is ‘Islander’ by Patrick Barkham.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  We’re starting in the Isle of Man.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Dead Men Talking

Ticking down.  I can probably get a day out of most of these, more or less - meanwhile, guess the context (no insider trading please):

Parry; Bennett; Dixon; Dodds; Green; Watts; Pettoello; Read; Wiseman; Styles; Barraclough; Cushion; Harcourt Smith

Monday, 1 January 2018

What?

Is it legitimate to write at length about the fact that you can't think of anything to write at length about and are only pretending to be writing at length because you've contracted to write at at least blogworthy as opposed to Fakebuk length for some numerological  reason that you wrote at length about a couple of days ago and could if it were absolutely essential remember and expound again at length here?
Thought so.