Thursday, 9 January 2020

Christmas Card Audit 2019

Executive Summary:
·        Disclaimer: the scientific worth of a statistical exercise is dependent on the size of the sample and the selection categories used.  In that respect, this stuff is scientifically worthless.
·        Hardly anyone seems to believe in Santa Claus any more.
·        Glued-on glitter is making an unwelcomed comeback.  Just stop buying the crap, people!
·        I welcome the woodpecker!  (Yay, Caro!)

The full figures (2018’s, where applicable, in brackets):

Snow/Snowmen/Snowflakes:                 6 (6)
Santas/Reindeer:                                   1 (3)
Animals/Birds:                                      11 (10)
of which          
Robins:                                     3 (3)
Free-range reindeer:                  0 (1)
Horses:                                     1 (1)
Camels:                                    1 (1)
Sheep:                                      1 (0)
Owls:                                       1 (0)
Penguins:                                 1 (0)
Dogs:                                       2 (0)
Deer:                                        1 (1)
Turtle doves:                             0 (1)
Seals:                                       1 (0)
Woodpeckers:                           1 (0)
Landscapes:                                          0 (2)
Nativities/Wise Men/Angels:                 8 (5)
Christmas trees/Baubles:                       5 (4)
Abstract:                                              0 (1)
Mail-letterboxes:                                   2 (1)
Booze:                                                  1 (0)
Flowers:                                               1 (0)
Forests/woods:                                      0 (1)
Cute children:                                       1 (1)
Houses:                                                1 (3)
Holly/ivy/mistletoe:                              1 (0)
Skaters:                                                0 (4)
Townscapes:                                         3 (4)
12 days of Xmas:                                  1 (1)
Everything secular:                               0 (1)

Special categories:

Homemade/designed:                            4 (3)
Cards with glued-on glitter:                   7 (5)
Wonderfully weird:                               4 (0)
Posh yet restrained:                               3 (5)
Various animals wearing sunglasses       1 (0)

Tie for Card Of The Year has to be Chris’s cover from the Girls’ Crystal Annual 1967, and Mig’s animals with sunglasses.  Viewings by appointment only.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Bath Spa

Strangely, despite my bracketing of the country in my band days, I’d never been to Bath.  It had always been just an announcement on a train – Reading, Chippenham, Bath Spa, Bristol Temple Meads, etc – on my way home from work.  So when Winkie suggested we might take a day of our visit to go there, I was up for it.

My first impression was of a rather upmarket shopping mall, canopied by high quality fake wisteria.  But then we made it to the Abbey, which is a huge perpendicular gothic structure that’s been rebuilt or refurbished countless times since it started off as some kind of church in about 757AD and became a precursor of its present form in 1616, after the Dissolution had trashed its previous versions.

The floor is, as always in cathedrals (all right, I know this isn’t literally a cathedral, but it’s near enough), full of dead people.  You can’t step a pace without treading on someone’s memorial stone, and so presumably walking over their grave.  Amazingly, the floor is being lifted, stone by stone, so that the sub-floor can be reinstated before it caves in and we all fall into the graves.  Then the memorial stones are being put back, so that they can be walked on and further eroded by future generations of Japanese day trippers.  Winkie’s friend Robin, later that day, wondered whether they were also in-filling it with more dead bodies.

After lunch, we went on an open top bus tour of the city, narrated by a charming man who knew his material but struggled with the commentary technology.  I was sitting next to him, and chose not to use the earphones; partly because my ears are the wrong shape for those nasty little plugins, and partly because there’s a delay, so I’d get his real voice in one ear and then a disconcerting echo in the other.

I sat on the wrong side of the train going back to Warminster.  I love looking out of train windows, at the trees and the fields and the sheep and the junkyards and the mysterious buildings – but I was facing west and the sun blinded most of it out.

My phone tells me I walked 2.7 miles that day.  I’m impressed with myself.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Caravan, August Bank Holiday

The entire population of the rest of the United Kingdom was clearly headed for Pembrokeshire for the pointless August Bank Holiday.  Well, a lot of cars were heading west down the M4.  This wasn’t a problem, until we got to Bristol, Junction 19, and the Smart Motorway.  At that point the signs lit up and the traffic slowed down.  The variable speed limit dropped to 50, then 40, then up to 60, then 40 again, then 50, all within about six miles.  For most of that way, we were doing 10 to 30.  Once we’d got past Junction 21, the Smart Motorway turns dumb, and the traffic gets back to normal.
The exact same thing happened around Newport, between 24 and 29, also a Smart stretch.  Are you detecting a pattern here?  (Clue: it happens on the M25 too.)  And they’re busy turning the M4 from Slough to Reading into yet another one – I don’t know the cost, but judging by the size and timescale it must run into tens of millions – whereupon, in 2022, a perfectly adequate motorway will turn into yet another traffic jam.
That’s quite enough about traffic, isn’t it?  So I’ll leave out the part about the A48 time-saving detour which added another hour or more to the trip, and my anxiety about running out of petrol before we could reach Carmarthen and locate the Tesco filling station.  Z was monitoring the satnav and warned me that there might be a slight delay around the Red Roses turnoff on the A477.  I didn’t think this would add much to the six hours we’d already clocked.

We’d presciently decided to stop at Pont Abraham and grab a bite of lunch (sandwiches, crisps and drinks).  We chose WHSmith’s rather than Costa, for reasons of morality.  I’ve probably written here before about the aptly-named latter company’s approach to their business, which can be summarised as ‘price up, quality down’.  Mind you, WHS can’t be absolved either: we paid over £13 for exactly the same stuff we’d bought at M&S two days previously for £8.40, the only difference being location – one on a motorway, the other not.

Once we got here, everything was fine.  Nothing had changed except the grass, which had grown a bit.  The six hour journey had made it too late to do anything with the rest of the day except have a drink, eat again, and absorb the sight and the smell of the sea.  That’s why I still come here, against all logic.
Sunday was a fun day.  We walked into Saundersfoot through the tunnels, had a pint at the Royal Oak, walked back.  That’s actually quite a lot of walking, especially for Z, who has a recovering but still slightly gammy foot, but also for me – I need to do something about my fitness level.
In the late afternoon, the usual bank holiday Sunday entertainment started up down the pub.  I usually hate being subjected to music I haven’t chosen, but these guys were pretty good.  I flatter myself that the guitarist sounded a bit like I might have done fifteen years ago.  (That’s high praise, in case you weren’t sure.)  And after that there was a classic Welsh boozy singalong, which politely finished well before lights out.
Today (Monday) we went for a walk up the valley then crab salads down the pub.  I‘m going to give the Wisemans Bridge Inn a free plug here – great location, superb service, good food, decently priced.  And they manage to satisfy up to a hundred customers all at once. 
Back to Reading tomorrow.  Back to, or from, the real world.
Oh, and I even managed to get a lot of work done.  That’s what happens when you don’t have internet.
No rabbits.  But the local wasps are very friendly.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Benefits of Brexit

It has been pointed out that there needs to be a Government publication to counter the leaked Yellowhammer report about the dangers.  They’ve had a good 45 minutes to come up with it, but they’re clearly not up to this simple task, so I’ll do it for them.  I don’t have any spads to help, so forgive me if I’ve missed some out.
  1. 1.     We will all become free.
  2. 2.     We will trade on equal terms with the US, Mexico, China, Brazil and India (as long as they trade on equal terms with us).
  3. 3.     However, we won’t have to trade with any frogs, krauts, eytiyes, dagos or spics. Or micks.
  4. 4.     We can have our own faceless bureaucrats.
  5. 5.     Our Parliament will be able to take back control of whatever it is they didn’t already have control of.  (Nobody knows.)
  6. 6.     The Red Chins in their millions
  7. Will overspill their borders
  8. And chaos then will reign in our Rael (©Pete Townshend)
  9. 7.     Unless we fight a war against them.
  10. 8.     Which we will obviously win, because we won’t be vassals.
  11. 9.     We will compete with all the other offshore islands and principalities in the world’s greatest industry (moving money from place to place without spending any of it).
  12. 10.  Except Singapore, of which we will become a colony.
  13. Technology will solve all our problems.

I've left intact blogger's weird interpretation of a Word numbered list. It seemed apt.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Caravan Diaries, latest

There wasn’t a lot of activity this time, due to Z’s broken leg.  (All right, foot. Oh, all right, toe.  But you can’t prance around on the clifftops with a socking great surgical boot on.)

So instead we concentrated on eating, drinking and sitting.  The eating is the only interesting part, so I’ll tell you about the three pub lunches.

The first was at the Dragon in Narberth.  It’s one of at least six pubs that are still alive and well in this small Welsh town.  (There used to be about 165, I’ve been told, though that was by a Welshman.)  it doesn’t look much from the outside – indeed, I’d never been in there until a couple of years ago – but it has a lovely scruffy garden and does perfectly decent food and beer.  We had calamari and chips.

On Friday, we drove across to Angle.  It’s a remarkably popular nondescript village at the end of nowhere on a muddy cove on the south side of the Milford Haven sound.  There was an extraordinary amount of traffic on the increasingly tortuous road from Pembroke – quite a lot of it going the other way to us. (Of course, you don’t see the traffic that’s going the same way as you, unless you’re stuck behind a tractor, which happened a few times.)  “Have they already had their lunch?” Z wondered.  It was twelve o’clock.
Our target was the Old Point Inn.  This is a little 16th century pub that can only be reached at low tide via a very car-unfriendly track.  You have to find the right right turn in Angle, which is clearly not that easy – I’m a good navigator, but I’ve got it wrong every single time I’ve tried it, so far.  It’s worth the journey, though.  Excellent (though expensive) food, and a fabulous setting, with great views of the oil refinery across the sound.  I think I’ve put pictures on here before.

Lunch #3 was, of course, dahn the pub.  That’s the Wisemans Bridge Inn, which is the most popular pub in Pembrokeshire.  It’s an easy walk down to it, a less easy walk back up.  Z struggled a bit in both directions, I think, but she’s pretty resilient, and wasn’t going to let a mere broken leg/foot/toe keep her from a decent pint.

So that’s the lunches.  Shall I do the dinners?  [Ed: No.  Me: O alrite.]

In other news, the mirror door on the bathroom cupboard had managed to fall off and break in half.  I had to smash up the remnants with a big hammer to bin them.  That was fun.

Monday, 29 April 2019


We’d both been there before, and had our own memories, so I thought it would be interesting to go back together, compare and contrast, maybe explore the areas that didn’t overlap.  That’s what happened.

My plan was to revisit beaches.  Z’s strongest memory was of Plemont, mine was probably St Brelade.  So we went to both.  I have to vote for Plemont – it reminds me of Traith Lyffn, a low tide beach in Pembrokeshire with flat hard sand, rocks, and a challenging climb down and up manmade steps.  It’s unspoiled, and not even the worst efforts of Jersey corporate avarice can touch it.  St Brelade, although I have childhood memories of picnics and obscure family reunions, is now a strip of sand fringed with places to eat and drink (both of which we did, very nicely and not always as expensively as I’d anticipated).

I also had to visit St Brelade because my paternal grandparents are buried in the churchyard there.  I’d found their grave when I last visited with my sister in 2008, but I felt an atavistic need to do it again.  We wandered around for an increasingly thirsty time – there must be more than two hundred graves in there, spread over twice as many years and ten times as many square yards – until I finally said enough, started to walk down the path between the graves  towards the lych gate, glanced to my right, and there they were.  Frank and Emmeline, 1939 and 1960.

We managed to take in the four main tourism destinations, which I’d managed to evade during about fifty years’ worth of previous visits – so here they are: Jersey Museum in St Helier (entertainingly spooky); the Botanic Gardens (beautiful, lovingly curated, great flapjacks in the cafĂ©); the Durrell Jersey Zoo (confusingly organised, loads of invisible animals, but we found the orang utans!); and the War Tunnels (sorry, no comment, I can’t take on that much emotive content about the War).  I meant to provide links, but frankly, it’s too complicated.  Just goggle them if you want to know more.

Oh, finally, the Ommaroo Hotel.  I’d booked us in there on a whim: having stayed there several times, I thought its whimsical, lightly tatty charm would appeal to Z.  They’d refurbished, but enough of that charm remains.  You still have to watch out for the trip traps in the corridors, where one level ascends or descends to a slightly different one on the same floor.  And there’s an outdoor swimming pool: if you ever stay there, see if you can find it.  I did, on our last day.

Monday, 4 February 2019

It Was Sixty Years Ago Today

Well, yesterday actually.

I’d wanted to mark the anniversary in some way – not because anniversaries matter particularly in themselves, but more because it was an excuse to recall some Young Emotions (that was Ricky Nelson, btw) and share some superb music.

But it had to wait until today; I would gladly have shared Buddy with everyone, but it doesn’t work that way unless you’re prepared to selfishly hijack a family get-together, which I wasn’t.  

So here are the five tracks I chose for us to share this evening (you’ll have to find your own spotilinks):

  1. True Love Ways
  2. Rave On
  3. Learning The Game
  4. Everyday
  5. and of course That’ll Be The Day (That intro was the first thing I ever learnt to play, after skiffle chords).