Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The M4 beckons

I will be in the car by ten-thirty.  I'll drive through the heatwaves of Swindon and Bristol, across the beautiful bridge into and through the swampy horror of Newport and the blandness of the new Cardiff bypass, until it all gradually fades down into the soft, shrugging and smiling oldness of Carmarthen, before it all dwindles into the road down from Red Roses into Wiseman's Bridge (careful down the hill, 4x4s whoosh up there as if it was the M4) - and then I'll find out - and this is the best bit - I'll find out whether the tide is in, or out, or halfway.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Verbiage Factories

On the day that our greatest industrial benefactor, British Aerospace (BAE) announces it's sacked 3,000 skilled workers because the demand side seems to be drying up (possibly due to the falling off in their traditional customer base of fascistic murderous dictatorships), it's obvious that our economy needs to rebuild its manufacturing base around a different paradigm, and I'm pleased to announce that I have found the answer - self-perpetuating words!

I am not talking about the magnificent energies that are dedicated every minute to the generation of literature, constructive journalism, poetry and lyrics, or even blogs: all of these engender real outcomes, whether tangible, intellectual or, sometimes, emotional.  I am talking about factories which produce and engender nothing but words which in turn produce and engender nothing but more words, until they end up with a miasma of self-perpetuating verbiage, like one of those fractal images that dissolve forever into themselves without anything new ever emerging.

you need to look at this to see what I mean

So, Think Tanks looks like our only growth industry.  If this is so, let's encourage more of them, by whatever monetary, fiscal or nudge measures we can manage.  Shall we start one?  Nah, we probably don't need to.  That list is a year old, and just today I noticed three new ones:  'The Council for the National Interest', 'The Human City Institute', and 'The Financial Inclusion Centre'.  They should be able to sort it out between them.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Insubstantial pageant?

Well, I don't know about that.  The last time I wrote about the replica theatre called 'Shakespeare's Globe' (just in case of confusion with anyone else's), it was about getting there, rather than about the rather flaky performance of 'The Danish Play', which frankly is too packed with quotations for its own good.

So this time, it's  going to be about the actual play.  'Doctor Faustus', by his so-called rival Christopher Marlowe.  I was dreading it.  I kind of assumed, (not knowing anything much about Marlowe other than that he was murdered on some river steps in Deptford, possibly by the KGB, this gleaned from a half-remembered Anthony Burgess novel), that it was going to be a bit of a slog.  The legend of Faust - sell your soul and body to the devil for twenty-five years and then take the hit - well, it isn't exactly a Dan Brown plotline, is it? 

As usual, I'd failed to take into account that plays only really work when they are staged and acted.  Why didn't they teach us that at school?  We spent countless hours force-reading this stuff on the page, failing to make any sense of it at all.  I now know that that wasn't my fault - the teachers didn't really understand their material.  If I was writing my ideal EngLit curriculum (ha ha, as if), I'd start with 'Don't let a child read a play until s/he has seen it performed', and take it from there.

Anyway, on the stage, it was a romp.  High comedy, both verbal and slapstick, scary beasts and spirits and politicians and priests (the Pope was definitely modelled on Peter Cook's cameo in 'The Princess Bride'), and even the tragic ending (can you guess what happens?) was just precisely overacted.

Can't wait for the next one.

Saturday, 24 September 2011


It would be a good idea to stockpile these now, if you can source some.  It seems that experiments at CERN have sent these cheeky little fellows some 400 kilometres to somewhere in Italy, at a speed slightly greater than that of light.  This is causing some consternation, and the scientists responsible are being rightly cautious (they’ve only repeated the results some 15,000 times, so it’s early days); but it appears that, if suitably peer-reviewed and confirmed, this opens up the possibility of time-travel. 

I haven’t yet developed the theoretical framework which would support any practical implementation of this, but I’m sure the guys at Apple are working on the iTime as I write.  It shouldn’t be too hard – after all, photons, when organised properly, can carry vast amounts of information (including these words), so why shouldn’t neutrinos be trained to do the same?  It’s already commonplace to ‘print’ three-dimensional inorganic objects following a blueprint, so organic ones, like people, can’t be far behind.  All we need to do is send an organic printer back to a pre-determined temporal location, scan oneself at this end, and hit ‘send and print’.  The neutrino waves will do the rest, and there we’ll be, watching ourselves conduct that first fumble in the bus shelter.  Or looking over Einstein’s shoulder as he gets special relativity wrong.  Or observing that butterfly flapping its wings in the Brazilian jungle.

Of course, we mustn’t ever intervene.  It’d be tempting though, wouldn’t it?  There are quite a few things I’d be tempted to change given the chance.

PS To my regular silent watchers, greetings, you are very welcome.  Feel free to say hello.

Friday, 23 September 2011


The Federal Reserve’s calculated decision to sell $400bn of short-dated treasury bills to finance the purchase of 6 – 30 year debt, rather than embark on another round of quantitative easing, may alleviate some immediate pressures, but it entails several risks, which are worth spelling out in detail –

Eh?  Oh, I am sorry, I seem to have strayed into the wrong blog there.  I do hope I haven’t caused too much distress. 

Right, I’m okay now.  I was asked to explain how I came to possess a spare clothesline.  But first I have a confession to make.  In fact, when my old one broke under the weight of too many trousers and shirts, I did not, as implied, install the new one.  Instead, I tied a knot in the old one, hauled it back up until the trousers were no longer dusting the patio, and took off into town to buy some CDs and books, and guitar strings and fingerpicks.  I should have taken photos, it would have made this even more interesting.

So, why do I (still) have a spare clothesline?  Serendipity, or perhaps synchronicity.  Two weeks ago, K (who’s 88) announced that hers had broken.  I offered, on my visit next day to Majestic for a top-up, to pop into the Range store next door and pick up a replacement, which I duly did.  £1.40 for 20 metres, that’s not bad, is it?  An hour after I got home, she phoned me to let me know that her kindly neighbour, Ray, had nipped up to B&Q, bought her a new line, and installed it.  We both found this quite amusing.  She offered to pay me the £1.40, but I said don’t be daft, I’ll hang on to it.  It might come in useful, you never know.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Does anyone know what they’re on about?

Our economy here in the ‘United’ ‘Kingdom’ is apparently set to ‘grow’ by ‘only’ 1.1%, and this is a bad thing.  Other so-called statistics bear this out (the ‘bad thing’ bit I mean): unemployment is 2.something million and rising; government borrowing has gone up (yes, up!) to an all-time high of £16 billion for August; and consumer spending is trenching (unless you’re buying Mulberry or such stuff).  And at least one kind of inflation is running at 4.5%.

Anyway, the economy will ‘grow’ (in my version of the language, that means ‘get bigger’) over the next twelve months, by 1.1%.  That’s a positive rather than negative number.  So why is it bad news?  And how does ‘growth’, however meagre, reconcile with all those other negatives?  How come, for example, unemployment is rising whilst the economy is getting a bit bigger?  And how come we need to borrow more whilst we’re brutally slashing our outgoings?

I have pondered before the question of whether it makes sane sense to base all our policies and expectations on the premise that economies can, and must, go on getting bigger and bigger, for ever, or be doomed.  But that’s for another day.   For now, I just don’t get it.  And guess what, I don’t think they do either.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


I have received many requests to provide definitions for Blogger’s word verification, um, words, of which this is the latest.  Exhaustive analysis allows me to reveal that they fall into three categories: words that look as if they might mean something, but don’t; words that could never by any stretch mean anything; and garbled obscenities.  This leads me to believe that there are not two (as I previously thought) but three teams of verbaliverificationalists at work there: 1) the munchkins, who tease you with blunt-edged neologisms that send you scurrying to the dictionary, then giggle; 2) the oompa loompas, who throw the alphabet up in the air then run across the field kicking letters at each other until they form a pattern which makes them all giggle; and 3) underdeveloped schoolboys, who just giggle then snigger.

For the record, ‘datirism’ (n) means ‘a compulsive impulse to fail to make any sense (or anagram) of a given item of input.’  But that’s not important now.

More to the point, I was led to remember a recent complaint that there were far too many words which all mean the same thing.  I disagreed, but now I’m thinking about the converse: one word which, though spelt and pronounced the same, means two or more quite different things.  Diverted by this idea, and exploring ‘pan’, ‘lie’ and ‘waffle’, I was diverted by Chambers’ totally irrelevant definition of ‘page three’, which I can’t resist quoting in full, because it’s classic Chambers: ‘the page on which, traditionally, certain popular newspapers print nude or semi-nude photographs of female models with well-developed figures.’

Don’t you just love that ‘traditionally’?  I could quibble with the syntax – a photograph cannot be nude or semi-nude – but that’s not important either.

So, to come to the important point, consider the word ‘bid’.  This has two distinct meanings, from two quite different roots, which can be summarised as 1) to offer, and 2) to command.  Here is a snatch of dialogue, possibly from Jane Austen or P G Wodehouse:

ARCHIE: I bid you, Clarinda –

CLARINDA: In what sense, Archie, do you say ‘bid’?

ARCHIE: Forgive me, my darling.  I said ‘bid’. I meant to say ‘bid’.

Friday, 16 September 2011


Here's Bailey, in a barrel in my garden.

I believe this cat to be called Bailey purely from an overheard conversation in the post office quite a few years ago.  He's not telling.  But he looks like a Bailey's, doesn't he?  He often lounges around in the garden, and occasionally plonks himself on my back doorstep: it's brick and faces south, so it's a nice warm snuggly spot for a cat to snooze; especially a confidently controlling one.  When I turn up from the car, Bailey thinks about it then decides physical contact is not appropriate, so he slopes off a couple of yards away, sits down and challenges me with his eyes.  He's the rule-maker. 

Bailey is huge.  When I first saw him from the bedroom window, I thought a white panther had escaped from a local zoo, until I realised that there aren't any local zoos around here.  But that's not conclusive.  Here near the centre of Reading, there have been sightings of deer, pheasants, parakeets, red kites and grey wagtails and, once (admittedly a few miles up the road) a wallaby.*  Life is wild around here!

* Sorry, can't resist an old SIHAC definition:  'Wannabe: someone aspiring to be a kangaroo.'

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


Haven't got time to work these up into deathless prose, so here's the raw material:

  1. Youth unemployment soaring, so make old people work longer.
  2. Must reinforce parental control over feral youngsters, so chop parents' benefits and evict them.
  3. Houses can't be sold, so build lots more of them, on fields.
  4. Internet makes face-to-face meetings less necessary, so build more railways.

That'll do for now, because I'm hungry.  I have more.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Fiscal dilemma

I received a pile of envelopes from HMRC this morning.  I’m not going into details, naturally, but the upshot is that they've concluded that they have been overtaxing me for the past three years, and will be sending me a big cheque (let’s just say four figures, but I’m not telling you which four). I haven’t a clue whether they’re right, or how they know all this, given that I haven’t completed a tax return for at least five years, because they haven’t asked me to.  I’ll be showing it all to my accountant on Monday evening, over the second G&T, and I think I know what he'll say.

So where’s the dilemma, I hear you ask.  Well, clearly I don’t need this money, as I have comfortably survived the last three years without it.  So what shall I do with it?  I could donate it to Warren Buffett, just to ease the pain - but I don’t have his account number.  Or I could donate it to charity – but which one?  I could hand it back to the Treasury, requesting that they leverage it and hand the proceeds over to Mervyn to help out with the next round of QE – but I’m not doing that.  I could go down the shops  - I received a wonderful birthday card a couple of years ago:

Or I could just throw a humungous party.  But that’s a lot of disruption for you all.  Oh dear, I didn’t have this problem yesterday.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Triple crown magic? (3,5)

Well done!  I have just completed the Guardian Cryptic Crossword (that's the big people's one) for the third day on the trot.  Should I:

a)  Wallow in hubris?
b)  Complain because they're getting too easy?
c)  Throw away the dictionary and the crossword list book?  or
d)  Get out more?

Postscript: it's not often I select a word which means exactly the opposite of what I intended.  I meant, of course, 'amour propre'.  I will try to avoid antonymy in the future.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Mishearings, innuendos and doubles entendres

Ensuing from a series of comments on another blog, involving a crude particle-physics-related anagram, I was prompted to put on an ancient Beach Boys album, containing amongst other joys (and a lot of carp), their cover of the Crystals' 'Then I Kissed Him' (for obvious reasons retitled 'Then I Kissed Her').

My mind was obviously running on some rather dubious tracks, because I heard the line 'I kissed her in a way that I'd never kissed a girl before' and thought "hmm".  (This brought to mind a Guardian correspondence from many years ago, concerning the correct plural of ... no, I'd better not say.  (If anyone knows what the French Connection I'm on about, please get in touch.))

But it did remind me of just a couple of famous mishearings, which I'm sure everybody knows but I can't resist repeating anyway, because they still make me laugh:
From the Shirelles' 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?':  "Can I believe the magic of your size?'
And from Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze':  "Scuse me while I kiss this guy!"
Any more, anyone?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

How does that work, then?

My washing machine broke down about seven years ago.  It was, then, itself about fifteen years old.  I wanted one exactly the same: after all, despite the twelve different options on the rotary programme selector and the five mysterious pressable buttons, I'd only ever used it for three purposes: whites, coloureds and occasionally delicates  (when I couldn't be bothered to handwash a pullover). 

So when the old one broke, it was dead easy.  I went to John Lewis and said: "Can I have a new Bosch Lavamat 3100 please?"*  The salesman didn't bat an eyelid.  "I'm sorry sir, that's a very old model.  Obsolete, in fact."  He frowned.  "What you need is the Bosch Lavamat 6100."  My heart sank.

He showed me one.  "Hang on," I said.  "That's pretty much identical to the 3100, isn't it?"  He smiled.  "Outwardly, yes.  Of course, the internal technology has been radically -"

I cut him off.  "I'll take one."

He smiled again.  "Very sensible, those Germans."

Thanks to Z for opening up this rich vein of potential bloggery. 
* I may have made up these model numbers.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Useless grapes

Useless for eating purposes that is, consisting as they do mostly of skin and pip - although they are quite tasty.

I turned them (and some vodka and sugar) into grape vodka last year, quite successfully, applying exactly the same technique as you use for sloe gin.  (see here.)  I started it in October, when they were more or less ripe, and it was ready for Christmas.  It didn't last long into the New Year.