Monday, 29 November 2010

Another laugh (Prudes look away now...)

This one gets extra points, because I stumbled across it whilst looking for something completely different.  It's a newspaper clipping from maybe ten years ago, and I pass it on without comment.  (click to enlarge, if you're up for it)

Reasons to be happy (part II)

After last week's post on measuring happiness, I've come up with a potential yardstick.  Out-loud laughter.  So here are a few things that made me LOL recently:

  • I followed a security van down the Oxford Road this morning.  On the back of the van was a sticker, apparently meant seriously: "POLICE: FOLLOW THIS VAN"
  • The instructions on my Ginster's Cornish Pasty say: "Preheat oven to 180C.  Place on a baking tray."
  • On the A322 near Bagshot, there's a road sign, pointing left, which reads: "A329 BRACKNELL.  A329M READING (M4).  All Other Attractions."
  • In the Guardian the other day, a diary item referred to someone who's apparently writing an "unauthorised autobiography" of Boris Johnson.
  • Duchy Originals Dry Cured Back Rashers: "Free range pork loins massaged by hand with sea salt and sugar, cured slowly and then marinated in duchy old ruby ale and smoked over cherry wood chips ..."  Don't know why that's funny, but it is.  It's bacon, FFS, Charlie.

There's another one, which I'll put up later (if I can be bothered).

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Only 156 rejoicing days to go

Or 3,700-odd rejoicing hours, or ... no, can't do the minutes, because although they've announced the day, they haven't yet set the time, and I don't want to commit lese-majeste.  It'll probably be about three o'clock.  The BBC's rapidly expanding squad of Royal reporters, this evening, hadn't got round  to speculating on that.  Or perhaps the Mail has already snazzled the exclusive.

Question is, can we sustain frabjous joy that long?  Back in 1947 or 1981, it didn't arise.  Expectations were calibrated differently.  But now, the paradox seems to be that it all has to happen much faster, whilst lasting much longer.  (That's why Big Brother and I'm a Celebrity had to be invented.)  There's plenty of material, of course: which coach she'll turn up in; the dress; the honeymoon; what exactly will be promised at the altar, given certain precedents ...  Actually, all this must have been worked out in advance.  As Pa said, they've been practising long enough: spoken, I feel, from personal experience...

By the way, has anybody else noticed when Easter is next year?  Or the May bank holiday?  Look it up.  Clue: the country gets a fortnight off work.  I'll be in Wales, I think.  William is going to be their prince sometime, after all.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

How happy are you?

Start thinking about it now.  The Government is going to want to know sometime soon, according to this report.  To be more precise, the Office for National Statistics is to be tasked with including a Happiness Index in its periodic analyses of the nation's wellbeing.  Details have yet to be worked out, but obviously there'll have to be some common baseline for the data gathering, and this can only start from the simple question: what makes you happy?  Once they've compiled this universal happy-hit list, then they can get round to identifying the units of measurement (happicons?) and answering other awkward questions about frequency-of-happiness-arising-from, duration-of-said-happiness, conflict-between-simultaneous-happiness-sources - not to mention counterbalancing sources of the opposite to happiness, which is called unhappiness ...  In short, all the usual kinds of things good statisticians take into account before they publish their findings.  So it'll take them a while.

But hey, we have to start somewhere.  So here's my random list of a few things that, more often than not, seem to make me happy.  The right weather.  Accidentally stumbling across something I'd completely forgotten I'd been looking for.  The right music.  Corny tearjerker moments in movies.  Empty country roads.  Smiles from strangers.  Accidentally stumbling across something I definitely wasn't looking for.  A problem solved by an insight.  Oh, and of course, flashes of love, however brief.

Go, Office for National Statistics, start counting!  We need your numbers, quickly.  Otherwise, how are we to know how we really feel?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Treachery of words

Some words seem to have the power to pick you up on their strong wings and carry you off to beautiful realms.  But beware - ride them too far and they'll capriciously let go, abruptly dumping you into a place you'd rather not be.

On a crossword-driven voyage through the dictionary, I stumbled across 'Rosa-solis: a cordial, originally flavoured with sundew juice, afterwards with various spices [Latin, rose of the sun]'

Lovely, eh?  Sounds delicious.  So I looked up sundew.

'Sundew: an insectivorous bog-plant.'

Oh well.

Friday, 12 November 2010

'Is this the real world...?'

Google Maps labelled the island of Calero, just off the Mosquito Coast, as being part of Nicaragua, whereas it's actually claimed by Costa Rica, the dispute having trundled on for about two hundred years.  On this evidence, Nicaragua gently invaded Calero, and is citing Google Maps as its authority - its sole authority - for doing so. 

There was another case recently where someone was allegedly caught on camera stealing a caravan, by Google Street View.  (They couldn't identify the thief, because his numberplate had been pixillated.)

In a few years, will we be hearing, as a defence in court: 'Well, happens all the time on Grand Theft Auto, so it must be all right'?

I could've got away with all sorts of stuff, couldn't I?  'Weren't me, guv, it was Scaramouche done it.'

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Old Song

Listening to me and Rosie's current masterwork, Captain MacKenzie, for the picazillionth time, I couldn't help wondering how it stacked up over the years.  The Captain and his recent companions were recorded on a 16 track Yamaha hard disc recorder, with a host of built-in effects and more bells and whistles than I know what to do with.  Sounds pretty damn good to me, despite all that!

In 1987 (that's right, twenty-three whole  years ago), between marriages, I acquired a (for the money) state of the art recording set-up - a four track Fostex cassette tape recorder, a drum machine and a cheap Yamaha keyboard.  Oh, and an Alesis reverb box (very important!).  Here's a sample of what I managed to come up with.

Looking For Love

OK, it has its flaws, but I'm still quite proud of it.  You had to be ingenious in them days, what with only the four tracks to play with, as any Beatle will tell you.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

New Song

Captain MacKenzie is the latest collaboration from Rosie and me.   She describes it as 'a goosebump tale' - certainly that's what I got when I read her words, and have tried to convey that in the music.  Hope you like it, and it doesn't scare you too much ...

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Old school recorder

For years I'd believed that my most precious musical instrument was my battered, much-repainted and rewired 1964 Fender Telecaster.  I suppose it still is - certainly in monetary terms, probably as an emotional trigger too, that guitar and I have been together to song-loads of places over the stretching years since I bought it from Eddie Moore's music in Boscombe in 1965.

But a challenger for my affections has snuck in from nowhere.  It comes in a brown canvas tube, with LARGE MA IV inked on the outside.  This means Southbourne Prep School, about 1949.  I hadn't really tried to play it since 1967, when we sat in a doorway somewhere in Calabria, jamming out of our skulls, and frightened some children (an event eerily mirrored in Bowie's song 'The Bewley Brothers', which he might have been writing at roughly the same time, a thousand miles away).

Anyway, I needed a kind of flutey sound for Captain MacKenzie to come home to, or from.  Nothing on the keyboard would do the job.  Last weekend I remembered the recorder, and found it sitting abandoned on a shelf in the garage.  I took it out of its case and cleaned it.  Took the mouthpiece off and scratched the string winding to ensure a tight fit, placed my fingers over the holes, left thumb underneath to control the octave, remembered the embouchure and the breathing, all just as I'd learnt when I was eight.  Then I played the tune straight from my head into the microphone.

So that old recorder, somehow containing, unused for decades, all that old memory, deserves to be cherished too. 

The poor old Tele never got a look-in on this song.  Next time.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Just a matter of time

Here's a pretty conundrum.

The clock is the single most significant invention of all time, agreed?  In particular, the version which is round, has two hands and a calibrated dial (we'll leave sundial, water clocks, digital, atomic etc out of it for now, if that's OK by you).  Without it, we wouldn't have had accurate navigation, wage-based employment or Gucci.  But that's not important now.

What suddenly interested me, at  four-fifteen this morning, was the perfection of a time-measurement device which divides the day into two sets of twelve, then each of these into sixty, then allows a calibration of the dial that accomodates not only this fairly complicated set-up, but also presents it in at-a-glance chunks of  minutes (five or ten at a time) and hours (twelve - OK, twenty-four would be more logical, but much harder to read: the designers obviously thought of that).

Except they didn't.  Hours and minutes were invented by the Babylonians, and refined by subsequent civilisations (the hours were originally dependent on the times of sunrise and sunset, which made them variable in length, a defect which took quite a while to spot and correct) so the inventors of the dial clock were in effect stuck with an inherited set of rules for measuring time - which turned out to be exactly perfect.  (Try thinking up a better set, but not if you want to sleep.)

How often does a problem offer such a 'fit for purpose' solution?  Did those Babylonians think "oh yeah, also this'll work really well when they get round to inventing the clock face"?  Or was it just serendipity?  Or was it some kind of intelligent design?  You have to wonder.