Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Loss of E

Ages ago, I wrote a post bewailing the (temporary, as it turned out) loss of the letter Q from my keyboard, and as a punchline thanked the lord it wasn't E.  Rosie commented 'hop it gts fixd', which still makes me laugh when I think of it, as I did for absolutely no reason just now.

So, how many words can you put down, on your blog or in your book, without using that lost button?  Intriguing, I think.  An author, long ago, did a full book of it.  So far, I can just about attain this short paragraph.  What a stupid task to try, what a daft ambition!  I'm going to stop this right now, it's starting to turn a bit silly, not to say into an addiction ...  I'm off for a gin.  And tonic.  Chrs.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Orange Colored Sky

I was sitting around, minding my business - when I stepped outside, an hour after sunset and the thunderstorm, and the sky was full of bright orange clouds ...  Nat King Cole and Stan Kenton

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


Watch the behaviour of my pigeons, as they decide whether or not to come down and have a much needed drink from my blanket-weeded pond, and then if so, how to go about it.  It's high comedy, up there with the best of Buster Keaton or Jaques Tati.  And the reason?  They're not applying normal human rules of rational behaviour (well, they're not normal humans, to be fair - that applies to Keaton, Tati and the birds), and that makes them look funny.  Comedians obviously know and exploit this (pigeons don't, they just do it because that's how pigeons are.  So I shouldn't really laugh at them, but WTF.).

So it was interesting to read an  interview the other day with Ricky Gervais, a comedian who has made a bit of a career out of that sort of (fictional) exploitation of irrational incongruity, in which he banged on at length, and quite funnily, about the sanctity of 'facts'.  In a nutshell, you're allowed to say 'he wasn't funny' (opinion), but not 'nobody laughed' (fact; of course facts, as I understand the word, have to be verifiable, maybe actually nobody did laugh ...  but that's leading me further into the murky streams of the scientific method than I have space to dip right now ...)

(the plain people of ireland : will ye come to the point now? We're tired of all this philosophisation.)

Oh yes, sorry.  Rationality is the inability to hold six contradictory opinions before breakfast.  Contradiction is easily detected, by the application of one or two elementary logical constructs, the best of which is the syllogism.  So when Nick Clegg says that a) our troops will be out by 2014 (first premise), b) our troops will be out only when conditions on the ground permit (second premise), this syllogism leads to only one conclusion: conditions on the ground will permit withdrawal by 2014.  No other conclusion is admissible.  So why didn't he say that? 

Two explanations are possible.  One, he doesn't understand the simple rules of logic.  Or, two, he's trying to disguise a lie with rhetoric.  I suspect both.

Why isn't simple logic a mandatory subject on the national curriculum?  Oh no, of course, they're abolishing that, aren't they?  Just don't tell the pigeons.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Odd-numbered organs and octopi

I posted a few weeks ago to the effect that the bee might be the only creature with an odd number (greater than one) of organs, i.e. three eyes (turns out it's actually five, of two different sorts - thanks Sue!).

I now find, courtesy of Paul the World Cup predictor, that an octopus has three hearts.  How about that for over-redundancy?  Even BP didn't think of putting in more than one blow-out preventer.  They do, however, meet the second definition of octopus in my beloved dictionary, which is "a person or organisation with widespread influence".

Chambers usually avoids value judgements, as dictionaries should, so isn't explicit about the nature of the "widespread influence" in question; but I imagine I can see or hear the raised eyebrow and the sniff.  You wouldn't call BP an octopus as a compliment, would you?  Actually, it's a slight - BP doesn't have even one heart.

Sadly, your average octopus apparently lives for only three to five years, despite all those hearts (it must be exhausting keeping all those tentacles going, though).  This analogy is starting to wear a bit thin, isn't it?  So, to close on a lighter note, a prize to the first to answer this question: "what's the plural of octopus?"

Monday, 12 July 2010

A visit to the Globe Theatre on the Occasion of the World Cup Final


Hot, how hot, how hot, how humid, hot!
And that’s just here in my cool windowed plot!
Withstand that walk to Great Western’s fell lair,
Train, taxi, sun on my thinning hair?
And that’s just Journey – then six hours or more
Of Good Will’s Henry, One and Two of Four.
How shall we survive?

If England’s weak
Faltering knights by miracle should make
The semis, nay the finals, ‘gainst the Hun
(or whoso else hath made it through by then)
Faith, then I swear by fab Capello’s pox
At home I’ll bide and watch it on the box.

Don’t be such wimps! The tickets all are paid
For, months ago, we’re seated in the shade
(I think), and at the breaks your fevered brains
By ale shall slaked be.

I’d prefer champagne.


How can these words so dry and old on th’page
I read last week, (to capture and assuage
The need, should heat o’ercome me, to attend) –
How a simple actor, Allam, doth befriend
Us, dry ‘Sir John’ to Falstaff’s wit-fired heat – ?

I thought it was really good.
Me too. Let’s eat.

Sounds good –
I need a wee –
Don’t tell me the score –
– sounds good to me.


Proud Spain has won, the cup bestowed
Foul and fair, the plays are played
Great Western ploughs its weary road
Back to hotspurred homes – but stay!
Shall we replay, xenophobes?
Shall we return to Shakespeare’s Globe?

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Value for money

I heard yesterday that the careers advisory service in a local authority near me, which goes into schools and tries to help teenagers, not just to find a job but also to explore and maybe overcome the social, familial and personal impediments to this goal, is to be closed down, on the grounds that it is deemed not to deliver "value for money".  In the conversation, I took an accountancy approach: I understand the money bit, it's their budget; but let's see the other side of the ledger, value: put a price, in pounds, on the swim or sink outcome, for the rest of their lives, of each of those kids, please - then and only then can you draw up that balance sheet.  These bastards need to be challenged on their own ground.

O.K., that's straightforward enough.  But, reflectively, I started to ponder this concept of "value".  If we're to take this onslaught seriously, we need counter-arguments.  And, given that by my own admission the "value" side isn't going to be couched in financial terms - I've just demonstrated the banal futility of that - then we need to shift the ground.  You put your money down - I'll call or raise you with my value.

So, as I often do, I resorted to the dictionary.  (Chambers, if you want to check up on me.)  "Value" is of course variously defined, but the most apposite one here, I think, is "intrinsic worth or goodness".  I'd settle for that, in a room with a bean-counter, but let's go a step further.  "Intrinsic: genuine, inherent, essential".  "Worth: moral excellence".  Moral excellence: ponder that, bean-counter ... and also a definition of worth that teeters toward poetry: "deserving, justifying, meriting, repaying or warranting consideration, attention, the effort, the journey, taking some action ..."

I rest my case.  And I didn't even get round to "goodness".