Friday, 31 December 2010

New Year Resolutions

I wonder how many blog posts are being composed at this moment, across the universe, with this title.  I'd bet on millions.  And of course the corny question, how many of those resolutions will be kept?  The whole notion is nutty, of course.  It's just another date, insignificant in every real sense.  Just a convenient way of keeping track and agreeing appointments.   The so-called New Year occurs all over the place - see here - and the one we celebrate, January the first in the Gregorian calendar, is completely arbitrary.  If anything, here in the northern hemisphere it should be the Winter solstice, when the days start to light up. If it was down to me, I'd go for the Spring equinox, time of renewal and rebirth.

Anyway, time's running out, so I need to make my resolutions.  I've whittled my shortlist of about eighteen down to five.  The baseline rule being that these shouldn't be things you kick into tomorrow and then fail at by the Chinese New Year, but resolutions - things you resolve - to be achieved by this time next year.  Here they are.

Live less in the past and the future.
Break a few useless habits, like sleeping when not tired.
Stop saying 'Actually' and 'Of course' so much.
Finish and publish (somehow) my (partial) autobiography.
Make more music.

Check me out.  Toots Hibbert has just come on.  Have to go.  Happy New Resolutions.

Penultimate Post

No no, not penultimate ever, just of this year; or should it be of this decade?  Eleven years ago there was a debate, as if it mattered, over whether a decade commenced with the year numbered zero or the one numbered one.  If I ask you to count up to ten, I'll bet you'll start at 1, not 0.  So it's arguable that the noughties are about to end, rather than having done so twelve months ago.  Do I care?

No, but it's got me through to 8.43.  Only another 197 minutes to go, minus the three it took me to do that calculation and type this sentence.  Time-filling project going well so far.  Next?

The phone rang at about 2.30 this afternoon.  I should explain that I've recently become the co-co-ordinator of the local Neighbourhood Watch, a role which seems to consist of forwarding messages from the police about local crime, organising six-monthly meetings and the odd social gathering (next one 16th January, mulled wine to be project-managed), and being unaccountably popular for doing all that.  Anyway, the phone call was from A down the road, who'd noticed that a suitcase had been dumped in the Close, next to a white van which had been parked there for a couple of weeks and had a flat tyre, and should the police be notified?  I gently pointed out that they might be a bit busy today, but I would monitor the suitcase.

How're we doing?  9.07.  Not bad.  Just checked - the suitcase hasn't moved.  Yet.

3.30, the phone rings again.  It's C from next door.  She's having lunch in town with a friend, but has just spoken to her frail 91 year old dad, H, who lives with her, and it seems he has a bit of a problem.  I find the keys and dash round.  H has fallen out of his chair, trying to get up to retrieve his stick, which he's left in the next room, and is crouched down facing the chair, unable to move.  I try to haul him up, but he's too heavy.  "Keep still, keep calm," I tell him.  He grins up at me.  "Yes, that sounds like a good idea,"  he says.  He's not in pain, just distressed: as much by his own stupidity as anything, I think.  The amazing paramedic arrives within ten minutes of the 999 call, during which time H has managed, with my help, to get himself back up into a seated position.  Paramedic embarks on an exhaustive series of questions, examinations, tests.  C has got back home by now.  H seems to be fine; I decline the inevitable cup of tea (I think I need a drink) and head back next door.  [At this point, I'd like to pay tribute, not for the first time, to our fantastic emergency services, and pray that this skinflint government doesn't manage to completely fuck them up.]

Unusual day so far, no?  (And I haven't mentioned the morning, also unusual but private.)

Wow, 9.27, doesn't time fly?  And I know my watch is 5 seconds fast, so there's a saving.

Well, actually, that's about it, except for my dinner, which was, for the occasion, haggis, tatties'n'neeps, washed down with my patent onion gravy and a dusty bottle of Cote Rotie I found lurking at the bottom of the wine rack.  (Bottle not yet drained, I hasten to add, it's only 9.33 for goodness sake.)  The haggis was interesting.  Stop yawning please.  I couldn't get a whole one (sold out, just as well, I'd never have finished it) so settled for two microwaveable vacuum-packed slices - genuine Macsween - which were delectable.  As you know, I'm a connoisseur (there's another 45 seconds gone looking up the correct spelling of that word) of comical food labelling, so I'll share this one: "Be careful removing pack from the microwave, as it will be hot."

9.54.  So little time, so much to do.  I still have another blog, about resolutions, to write, and Jules Holland starts at eleven, with Kylie, Wanda Jackson, Toots of the Maytals, Captain Beefheart (only joking about the last) ...  Later.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Monday, 27 December 2010

Scrabbling around

Rosie recently accused me of being a talking crossword.  I have no idea what that means, but I think she must be right, because my brain (or whatever it is) immediately came up with 'Angry chat puzzle? (7, 9)' - which of course means absolutely nothing either as a clue or a solution.  But I can't stop playing with the words and their letters.  I realised just the other day that my surname is actually Elgar.

I've just wasted an hour trying to find an anagram for Happy New Year, or variants thereof, but I can't.  So, in clear:


Wednesday, 22 December 2010


I'm not normally one to brag in public (in private, to myself, that's another thing), but this is special.  So let it be known that today I prepared the following:

A batch of celeriac and leek soup, to be frozen for Boxing Day;
A chicken and lentil curry (murghi aur masoor dal), also for Boxing Day;
A cauldron of minestrone containing seven vegetables (eight if you count the bay leaf);
A batch of ragu al bolognese;
A wholemeal loaf.
Oh, and a gin and tonic.

Look on my works and despair!

Only trouble is, I'm not really hungry now.  Think I'll just make an omelette.

Margaret's Pies

A few minutes ago, as I was sitting here contemplating a pre-prandial dry oloroso, I heard what sounded like a high-pitched road drill out in the back garden.  Has some child received an early present, I wondered? and do they do junior pneumatic drills now?  It wouldn't surprise me.

I went out to investigate.  It was a gang of magpies having a conference, or a war, hard to tell which as I don't speak magpie fluently, in my leafless copper beech.  There must be some tasty carrion somewhere nearby.  The local red kite flew over, glanced down and wisely decided to keep going.  The other birds were keeping their heads down.

Just for fun, I clapped my hands.  The magpies must have experienced gunfire or something in the past, because they all scooted off to the next-door-but-one's leylandiia.  I counted them out: there were seven.  So somewhere out there, there's a secret that can never be told.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Deep and crisp and uneven

I know some people claim to like the stuff, to find it arousing or stimulating or pretty or whatever, but probably they haven't spent the day watching it pile up at an inch an hour while they wonder where the wellies are and when would be a good time to trudge out and haul some coal in, and how many sausages there are in the freezer and whether the corner shop will have any potatoes left that haven't gone mouldy by the time the pavements have become passable, possibly next Wednesday, whilst also wondering whether the folks flying over from Jersey have made it, and if so where they are now; and whether you're glad or not the party's been cancelled, glad because it was always going to be a bit of a trial, not glad because of so much wasted effort and disappointment ...  and how to replan the next seven days, on the assumption, from a position of practical pessimism, that motorised transport can't be counted on, in order to deliver the expectations - yours, but more importantly others - that wrapped and labelled gifts (leaving aside the ones that were meant to be handed to the Jersey folks before they set off, tomorrow morning, to Sri Lanka, from a snowbound Heathrow), soup, rolls and curry for Boxing Day (none of which have been made yet) and onesself (clean and black-tied) will turn up, on time, for champagne and canapes on Christmas Day in the morning.

Let it snow?  Bah, humbug.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Lucky horseshoe

Here's how to get an adrenalin kick.

I came back from my usual Monday overnighter at Datchet, parked up, walked round to the front, opened the door, defused the burglar alarm, closed the door, dumped the bag on the stairs, opened it and pulled out slippers and newspaper; so far, so routine.  Then I remembered I needed to nip up to Waitrose for a few things.  Shoes still on, luckily.  Out through back door, down the garden to the car, up the Oxford Road, whizz round Waitrose, back home, job done.  You're bored enough, so let's skip over the rest of Tuesday and jump to Wednesday morning, today.

Today is the day when the Christmas Shopping Death-Eater is going to be vanquished, or at least severely disabled.  So I'm all geared up, sluiced and breakfasted, list in pocket and ready to roll by nine o'clock.  But, the shops and car parks of Reading Town mostly aren't open yet, so there's time to nip down the shop for the paper, as usual. 

I'm paranoid about leaving the house without my keys, ever since I did it once.  So I check my pocket.  They're not there.  I check everywhere I could have left them around the house.  Not there. 

It's funny how the most irrelevant thoughts flash through your mind at such moments.  What I felt, first, was sadness.  I've had that little silver horseshoe on my key-ring since I was eighteen.  I must have stupidly left the keys in the front door when I got home on Tuesday morning; they're stolen; and now I've lost my oldest possession.  I felt sad.

That didn't last long, of course.  Rational logical practical Tim took over pretty quick.  My house is now in danger of intrusion.  OK, sort it out.  Check details of Chubb front door lock.  Bolt front door from inside.  Exit via back door (key luckily not on lost ring).  Up to Homebase (car key also luckily not on lost ring).  Buy replacement lock. Back home.  Install new lock ...  Forget about Christmas shopping surge for today, probably. 

So that's what I do.  Except that I don't get past step three.  Because as I walk across the lawn towards the car, something glints up at me from the grass ...

That's when the adrenalin kicked in.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Scottish Play

Unexpected evening.  After engulfing my spag bol, the plan was to settle down to Antiques Roadshow and then Inspector George Gently, a gentle Sunday night of mindless telly.  Instead, I somehow found myself watching, on the great BBC4 channel, this riveting political drama/supernatural thriller/demented-late-Pam's-dream-sequence-episode of Dallas.  Two hours later, I glanced back at the original text of Macbeth, hoping (after having seen this thing, now, four times), to work out what the flip was going on.

I still haven't a clue.  But I can report the following: they're all mad.  But they each become madder and saner in turn, swirling around and missing each other's madness and sanity in one of those dances where nobody actually touches, until they all, accidentally or deliberately (nobody's sure which), get killed or emotionally maimed - including, especially, the guy who comes out on top.

Fun evening.  Everybody who believes they know anything and can do something about it should have watched.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Anonymous comment

I get these from time to time.  They never appear under the actual post, just in email notifications.  Usually, I ignore and delete, assuming them to be some weird kind of spam.  But this one caught my eye.

"I be enduring be familiar with a few of the articles on your website in the present circumstances, and I unqualifiedly like your tastefulness of blogging. I added it to my favorites net age muster and last will and testament be checking assist soon. Will report register in view my position as highly and leave to me be familiar with what you think. Thanks."

What do you think?  A computerised translation from a dying language?  A lost work by Ezra Pound?  A coded message from a drunken ambassador?  Whatever, it has a certain surrealistic poetry, so if you're out there, Anonymous, thanks too - I'm not taking the piss, just being entertained.  Giggling, actually.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Safe Christmas.

Finally, in this unprecedented flurry of news-derived blogposts:

Today's Guardian has a two-page feature, under 'Health', full of sound, sensible, stodgy advice on how to avoid injury, stress, accidents, divorce etc. over the festive period.  The following caught my eye:

'Don't leave food that's cooking unattended in the kitchen, and don't cook when you're drunk...'

How does that work, then?

Shark attacks

Well, now we know why they call it the Red Sea.  Interestingly, the word I've seen used over and again by shark experts in reference to these incidents is 'unprecedented'.  Personally I'd have thought that five in three days set pretty much of a precedent, but let that pass.  The best bit was on the TV news the other day, where a British woman said it wasn't going to stop her going in the water.  'You can't let it spoil your holiday, can you?' she said.

Naughtie Auntie!

Just in case you didn't know, on the Today programme on Monday morning, just before the 8 o'clock news, Jim Naughtie accidentally (we assume) replaced the first letter of culture secretary Jeremy Hunt's surname with a C.  Sadly, I wasn't up in time to hear it, but Jim was apparently torn between spluttering apology and choked-off hilarity, blaming it afterwards on 'Dr Spooner'.  It wasn't, of course, a Spoonerism (or Snooperism as by friend Bill used to call it), which is something of the order of 'riding around in roaring pain on a well-boiled icicle'; he would have had to have said 'Heremy Junt', which wouldn't have been funny.

But it gave the Guardian the opportunity, which they gleefully took in today's edition, to print the word in question, unasterisked, twelve (12) times by my count, surely a record.  I must nip out and buy the Mail and Express to see how they got on.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Another one from 87

Upstairs this afternoon, ironing shirts, I looked out of the window at the remnants of the snow, and remembered this.  It - the song - says all there is to know about where I was at when I wrote it in 1985,  as my marriage was disintegrating into painful shards.  I sat there in my house in Harrow, staring out of the dark window, and wrote it down, more or less in real time, as it happened.

By two years later, when I came to record it on my little Fostex 4 track and my Roland drum machine, all that angry emotion had been flushed away, and I could have some fun.   It's the most enjoyable recording I've ever done (until very recently).

Drifting into Danger

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

"A Grand and Bold Thing", by Ann Finkbeiner

As all three of my regular readers will know, I developed an interest in astronomy at the age of six (when the Solar System had only just been invented), and have been keeping a weather eye on the night sky ever since, even though I had no real idea of what was actually going on up there - until now.

One of my favourite blogs is The Last Word on Nothing, to which Ann regularly contributes.  A while ago, she despondently lamented that her book was "dopey" and no-one was reading it.  So, nice person that I am, I bought a copy off Amazon.  It arrived next day, flapping its covers impatiently at me.  That evening I popped out for a quick peek at good old Orion, then switched off the rubbish football and settled down for a read.

This is the story of the Sloan Project, which was conceived back in the eighties by an inspired astronomer called Jim Gunn.  His idea was that, given the rate of expansion of technological capability - almost faster than that of the universe itself - it should soon be possible, using telescopes and cameras and computers and all sorts of other whizz-kit, not to mention human beings and their brains and muscles, to make an observation-based map of that universe.  And even if it turned out not to be possible, that wasn't going to stop him.  So he just went ahead and did it. 

That's a bit of an oversimplification of the plot of this enthralling book.  The story is convoluted to say the least.  From Jim's simple concept, the route to the eventual staggering outcome takes in a huge cast of characters, initiatives and setbacks, the constantly shifting background of the science of cosmology itself; not to mention the esoteric spheres of project management and financial control (without which, of course, the universe wouldn't actually exist).  In less than 200 pages, the book leads you gently through all this, even the science - although the bit of my brain reserved for storing and expanding acronyms did start to smoulder a few times.  But the inspirational final chapter made me feel, even just for a moment, that I actually understood what all that stuff out there might really be, how it got there, and why some driven people will do almost anything to nail it down.

Oh, I forgot to  mention, it's also really funny.