Friday, 30 March 2012


Although it’s a nice word to type, a good way to while away a few minutes acclimatising to the dimensions and touch of a new keyboard, it’s not exactly the one I want.  I have a blackbird in my garden who – there you are, if I wasn’t anthropomorphising the bird I’d have written ‘which’ – who is without doubt a person, not a thing.  I know this, because we have a relationship, which I won’t expand on but which has to do with my duties as to the stocking of the food table.  Soon, I’ll explain that it’s summer now and you and your lot are on your own, and he’ll understand.

No, this is about inanimate objects, and in particular their gender.  I’ve been telling everyone about my new computer, and today a friend asked me whether it was a he or a she.  I can’t think of the word for sexing a machine – can you? – and I haven’t turned it (him? her?) upside down yet, so I have no idea.  Nor have behavioural idiosyncrasies  had a chance to surface, thank goodness.  It’s it for now.

But, of course, it got me thinking about cars.  Come on, we all sex our cars, don’t we?  Just a few:

My blue XR2 Fiesta was obviously called Fiona.  She was like Lisbeth Salander.  Then came the Renault 19 16v.  Sleek, white, coy (she would hide her speedometer from her passenger).  Her name was Swift.  Felix came next – a bit brash, brave but insecure, Mondeosexual. 

My present car and I have no personal relationship.  We give each other orders or suggestions, which are followed, acknowledged or rejected, with mutual respect.  It’s efficiently functional.  Teutonic hermaphrodite.  But I do sometimes hanker after an 850cc side valve Morris Minor girl.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


Did you see how quickly this post got there?  No, of course you didn’t, because you don’t know when it started on its journey.  But I do.  Quicker than the speed of the Enter key.  Well, I say that, and I’m speaking proleptically because I haven’t actually pressed Enter yet, but I’m confident.

Yes, the new computer is here!  The nice JL installation man arrived on time, eleven-thirty, computer under his arm.  His job being, basically, to hook me up to the network, transfer my files across, make sure everything worked and get me to sign here.  The file transfer is an interesting one, because there are many ways of doing this, the worst of which seems to be Microsoft’s own solution, easy transfer or something.  I’d done a full backup yesterday to my external drive, just in case, which took about ninety-five minutes.  When Amil suggested restoring this, I expressed mild concern.  “It’ll take ages, won’t it?”  It took twenty minutes, after which I felt things were going to be all right.

I’d made a list of some of the software on the old laptop, ignoring the things I have no idea what they do (is there a grammatical expression of that anywhere out there?).  He suggested I just load up what I know for sure I want (helped me to do so, over and above the call) and let the rest take care of itself.  Very good advice – I had 26 items on my list, and so far I’ve loaded four.  It’ll probably be weeks before number five surfaces.

Of course, I had to spend the afternoon playing ‘boy’s new toy’ – this is even better than a new Dinky – and discovered at about 4.30 that I’d completely forgotten to have any lunch.

Anyway, as I write, it appears that in future I’ll be able to faff around on the internet at least twice as much in the same amount of time (I’m not telling you!).  So far so good.  All I have to do now is spill some wine over it.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Copse Racing

Bournemouth School, most of the fifties.  The school itself was a monolithic affair, red brick; but a monolith laid on its side, as it was only two storeys high but very wide, at least that’s how I remember it.  The older you were, the further to the right was your entrance: there were two playgrounds, the one on the left for juniors and the one on the right for seniors.  No boys were allowed in through the main, central entrance, which had a parliamentary aura about it.  That’s one of the many design flaws in grammar schools of that time, because ‘seniors’, who would be those boys of fifteen or over, didn’t need a playground, being more inclined to the library, to some kind of intensive sporting activity, or to the playground of Bournemouth School For Girls down below the fields.

Once I arrived, it took me probably a term to get the ropes; longer to take my sneaky control.  (I was good at that leading-from-behind thing, once I discovered it.)  My first trick was to be able to jump across the six-foot wide ramp down to the bike garage at its deepest point, ten feet, and grip on the other side; and then to be able to drop down the ten feet into the slope, by hanging on by my fingers and flexing my knees as I landed.  But that wasn’t enough.

To the left of the junior playground, there was a patch of waste land called the Copse.  It was a vale fringed on each side by scrubby trees, stunted undergrowth and dust or mud, depending on the season.  The school authorities blind-eyed it as an overflow playground.  For me, it was an overflow of the kind of location – beach, dangerous cliffs, dangerous bike rides – that my parents allowed or ignored, or didn’t notice, at home.  As you can imagine, it was a world for us boys.

Aside from falling off trees and getting our blazers proudly tainted with dog-do, the Dinky races were a brief but important interlude.  Twelve year olds get crazes, encouraged by parents.  Dinkies were one, parents presumably seeing them as a wholesome nudge towards the collecting urge, to be arranged in display on top of the chest of drawers.  We knew better.  Racing cars were for racing.  So we devised a track-based competition which, as far as I know, has never been replicated.  It was impossible to build a track wide and even enough, down the edge of the Copse, for four or five cars to compete in parallel.  Instead the winner was the one who could send his car furthest from a standing start.  This became a completely different skill set, combining the technical capabilities of your vehicle – I honed, refined, oiled and possibly sanded my Ferrari to its highest efficiency – with your knowledge of the intricacies of the course and, not least, your ability to launch your car at the right speed and trajectory.  So, actually, a bit like golf.

I haven’t been able to find a copyable photo of my Ferrari, but here's a link to something close, though not exact; I don’t recall mine having a driver.  A similar one sold on eBay for £500, apparently.

I’m not sure what was behind this post, apart from a casual comment on Christopher's blog, but I did enjoy writing it.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Why 50% tax is good for the economy

Let’s say you’re an executive who decides s/he wants to trouser an extra £60K.  We’ll assume that if this is taxed at 50% rather than 40, you will emigrate or withdraw your labour or something.*  Bear with me. )

So, you want an extra £60K, and you’re obviously desirable, otherwise they’d already have got shot of you.  So, under a 40% marginal tax rate, you’ll ask for and get £100,000 – 60 to you, 40 to the government.  Under 50% marginal, you ask for and get £120,000 – 60-60.    Either way, you get your £60K.

Here’s the good bit.  Your company is desperate to retain your services, as I said, and is happy to give you your £60K, but they have to raise the extra £20K to fund your extra income tax.  They could just put up their prices, but that doesn’t really work, because some smart competitor will come along and squeeze them out.  The best way is, in short, to sell more of their stuff, which is what they’re employing you for in the first place – which means economic expansion, which is what everybody wants, isn’t it?

I can’t see anything wrong with this, in fact up to a point, the higher the marginal tax rate, the greater the incentive towards increased economic activity.  There might be an inflation niggle somewhere down the line, but that’s the least of our worries at the moment.  I can’t imagine why the Chancellor hasn’t gone for it, can you?

The alternative trick, which I tweeted last week and which was hinted at on The Moral Maze this evening, is to make the 50% rate voluntary.  Shame the bastards into coughing up.  It might just work, self-esteem is a valuable commodity.

* So far, so unrealistic – what productive, motivated useful person would uproot and relocate, or turn into a couch spud, for the lack of £10,000, which is what it comes down to?  Multiply the numbers up and your case weakens, due to the economic law of marginal utility, which I wouldn’t dream of boring you with even if I could remember it. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Happy New Year!

No, not that one, silly, that comes in June.  Or September.  Or December.  However you choose to count through the solar seasons.  But from today, here where I am, there’s going to be more light than darkness.  That feels like a good place to start counting. 

 I sometimes wonder why our calendar year, and most of its dependencies, starts at, or around, the winter solstice rather than the spring equinox.  It depends where you live, of course.  Today should probably be New Years’ Day here in Europe and points north.  In Australia, you’d have your New Year in September.  Near the Equator, it wouldn’t really matter, because you don’t have the same kinds of seasons, and just the one equinox.

I was once accused of being a Dane, which might be true.  I think I’m a Norman, actually, because of my surname; but Normans were Danes or Vikings or something, weren’t they?  So that would account for my sensitivity to the solar seasons, and more especially to my precise delineation of them.  I suppose I’ve chosen the equinoxes and solstices as convenient points to regroup.  We need markers.  We’ll all choose our own, depending on our latitude and its weather and all the other ingredients in our personal mix.

More importantly, though, the financial year starts on 6th April, just as the forsythia comes into full bloom.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Here's a thing -

Can you tell what it is?  Of course you can.  It's a vacu vin pineapple slicer -

(You now know how to say 'pineapple slicer' in ten languages.)  You top and tail your pineapple, then simply drill down through it.  It takes out the core, and you're left with this -

Oh, and some pineapple rings.

If you'd been given one of these for Christmas, would you have believed it actually worked?  Nope, me neither.  But it does, effortlessly!  It's the best thing ever invented.  I do like it when they get something right.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Soliloquy after sunset

Venus and Jupiter were a finger’s width apart in the sky.  They looked similar, in the flat sky, two bright fires almost touching.  They were so close.  Love met Power – and they had so much brightness in common – and they met!

What a shame, it wasn’t true, an illusion and a delusion.  Venus, Love, is a hot seething lifeless cauldron.  Jupiter, Power, is a cold vapid ball of gas.  They are opposites, many million miles apart.  And yet we saw them together, almost touching, and we believed in them.  There’s no contradiction there.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

In which I wrestle with technology and my conscience

I rolled in at ten this morning from a night on the tiles, or with the in-laws, whichever you prefer.  I was half-expecting a significant email, so as soon as I’d defused the alarm and unshipped my slippers from the overnight bag, I raised the lid on the laptop.  Usually, when I do that it winks at me a few times with its little blue eyes, yawns, then deigns to turn up for work.  On this occasion, though, none of that happened.  The screen remained black, the mouse and keyboard played dumb insolence.  No lights of any colour flashed.  There were none of those reassuring whirring noises.  The stupid thing was catatonic.

I’ve been here before.  I know what to do.  You press the power button for a while, and eventually it wakes up, complains about being unexpectedly killed and resurrected, and then grudgingly boots and gets on with it.  This sometimes involves protracted white-on-black gobbledegook diatribes, to which I am occasionally ordered to press ‘enter’ or ‘spacebar’, or some other key, within 45 seconds,  OR ELSE!  I’ve once or twice been scolded that I should defrag my disk, whatever that means:  I respond, shoutily, ‘That’s your job, mate!’, then sigh and do it anyway.

This morning, none of that worked.  Nothing.  Nada.  Ziltch.  Niente.  [Insert your own Local Hero quote ad lib.]  It’s finally snuffed it, I decided.  So I hauled myself upstairs and hauled down my fallback machine, an elderly XP Toshiba that hasn’t been used for at least three years, and weighs a ton.  I plugged it in and booted it up, and it worked!  Well, after a few Rumpelstiltskin moments, including having to upgrade the anti-virus software, which took three days’ work compressed into ninety minutes; but it worked!  The important email wasn’t there.

One of the things about me is that I’m quite dogged, and quite analytical.  (That’s why I’m so good at crosswords.)  So once I’d sorted out the anxiety (that’s another of the things), I worked out that this computer’s problem was that it had been overfed with electricity.  Switching off the power might have worked in the past, but we were in Mr Creosote territory here.  So I unplugged the power cable and took the battery out.  That’ll teach you, I thought.  I let it all cool down, put it all back together – and here I am, typing this.

The thing is, though, (and here I muffle this machine’s ears and blindfold it), it’s going to have to go.  What replaces it is a question for another day.  I don’t have tribal loyalties, but I also don’t want to have to switch allegiances nor relearn how to walk or run.  I’ll be doing this within the next seven days – feel free to help.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

In which I recall a teenage party

Curry Queen’s account here sent me spinning back to 1960.  Saturday 9th July to be precise.  A levels were over, and Jill and I decided a beach party was required.  My diary entry reads as follows:
‘Party.  Fab.  Got drunk.  Had [?] record player down.  Fight.  Sat in shelter with Will etc.  Home 1.30.’

That doesn’t tell the half of it.

Somebody must have organised some beer, in a barrel.  I have a nutty memory of the barrel being rolled down the Southbourne cliffs and caught at the bottom, but that can’t be right, can it.  Most probably it was rolled gently down the zigzag slope and installed in the shelter. 

The ‘shelter’ has long been demolished, but I still have it in my mind’s eye – a red brick structure, facing the sea, benches on three sides, a quarry tiled floor and lights in the ceiling which stayed on all night.  That was how, about eight-thirty, I realised that we could have music.

My brother is definitely going to implicate himself here – but I claim full blame and credit.  Somehow, we snuck up and into the house and purloined the record player (see here for details) and a bunch of 45s, and somehow we wired it in to an overhead light socket in the shelter.  Music presumably ensued, I don’t remember that bit, though I think I lost a few Elvis singles there: maybe they’re washing up now at Le Havre or Mudeford.

The fight was around midnight.  Somehow the word had got out (I wonder how?  We didn’t even have phones, never mind Facebook) and a bunch of boys from the Secondary Modern fetched up, intent on trouble.  It all got out of hand.  I clearly remember thinking that I’d bitten off more than I could chew (Jill having long disappeared; she wasn’t even my girlfriend) and the police arriving (who called them?) and I must have salvaged the record player, ducked down with Will (of whom I remember absolutely nothing else) and eventually crawling back home at (it says here) 1.30.

Monday morning, we were hauled up before the Head, Mr Bennett.  It was just mild castigation, I think; certainly no lasting sanctions.  And to this day, I don’t think my parents had an inkling. 

Friday, 9 March 2012

Solar flares maybe?

We had an inkling that something might be slightly out of kilter when the satnav, Florence, issued  her first instruction before the car had begun to move.

“Make a U-turn,” she said.

We were going to Drury Lane to see War Horse.  (The stage version of course, not the allegedly saccharine film: I was collecting a Christmas present.  It was, by the way, ‘effing marvellous’, as the Sergeant might have put it.)  The theatre was 21 miles away, and we’d allowed ninety minutes to get there, park up and find our seats – ample time, no?  But we hadn’t allowed for Florence.

Florence is of the same genus and nationality as the satnav in my own car, but with a rather different personality.  Whereas BrΓΌnnhilde is terse, assumes a level of intelligence on the part of her pupils and doesn’t suffer fools gladly, Florence is a bit of an anxious, over-protective schoolmarm.   She would say things like “Keep right and continue on the M4” whenever we approached a junction, just in case we felt impelled to veer off left onto the slip road just for the hell of it.

All went well, though, as far as the Hammersmith flyover.  Then both Florence and Transport for London or whoever is in charge got completely confused, with the result that we ended up negotiating the multi-lane spider’s web of the Broadway.  Florence lost it.  “Turn right in 100 yards, then immediately right again.”  We ignored that.  “Follow the road for 900 yards.”  No other option short of shop windows, so we obeyed.  “Your route is being recalculated.”  I offered to get the map book out.  “Better not,” said A (who was driving).  “It’ll only upset her.”

Somehow we made it through.  I knew we were back on track when L spotted Harrods on the right.  “Familiar territory,” she announced.  At this point, Florence got a bit sniffy.  “There is traffic congestion ahead.  An alternative route cannot be recommended.”  You always know they’re rattled when they drop into the passive voice. 

We got there with five minutes to spare, not even time for a stiffener for me and L.  We were in row AA, right at the front.  You could see inside the horses, see the humans manipulating them – which somehow made it even more magical.  I found myself avoiding eye contact with Joey.

Monday, 5 March 2012


This was Boxing Day evening, I can’t remember how many years ago.  I do know that it wasn’t the Oyster Christmas.  I used to love oysters, and I still do in my mind – like being a fish without the breathing difficulties – but since that Christmas, when oysters were reduced at Waitrose on Christmas Eve, and unwisely bought and consumed … I’m not going to expound.  Just in case you haven’t got the message: NEVER buy a reduced oyster, however cheap.  In fact especially however cheap.  But this is not about the Oyster Christmas.

Valiant dutiful service had been done.  Aperitifs, wines, sticky liqueurs or brandies or malts had been bravely conquered.  Several days’ worth of food too.  (Food decreases in volume at Christmas, it’s a known fact, there’s no other explanation.)  Increasingly incomprehensible games had been played; all the expected, and some unexpected, songs had been sung, or at least recited, through ever-broadening grins; conversations, arguments, discussions had blurred into each other, as they do.  Unwanted brandies and Baileys were sitting around, looking forlorn.

Somebody said: “Well…”  Alan opened a baleful eye and cast it around the room.  Nobody goes to bed until I do!”  Then he started snoring.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

I can't even think of a title

My blogging mojo has gone for a long stroll round the block.  This happens at this time of the year; although it’s only March, it’s more like April (and we all know which month that is).  It’s to do with impatience – I’ve had enough of this bland winter, blossom is out across the street and there are bumblebees – I want the summer, and I want it now!  But it will take its own time; meanwhile, I’m bored.  This is how I think boredom works: wanting to do something but not having anything you want to do.  So I’ll have to tell you about my supper.

Due to a shopping malfunction, I had to improvise with fridge’n’freezer scrapings.  This usually – no, this always – means a pasta sauce.  A tin of plum tomatoes often saves the day, but for reasons already alluded to this option wasn’t open.  I thought a bit, spread the scrapings out on the worktop, and proceeded as follows:

I chopped two good cloves of garlic, a fresh tomato and some parsley, or at least something which was six days out of date but still smelt of parsley, just.  When I say a fresh tomato, let’s just say there weren’t any visible discolorations.  I should have peeled it, but couldn’t be bothered so just took out the core and seeds, it’s only there for colour really.  I found some diced pancetta in the freezer, and grated some parmesan.  Then I cooked it all, in lashings of olive oil, in the right order, plus a pinch of cayenne and black pepper, and served it up with some fusilli pasta (also cooked).

I’d like to be able to say it was delicious – in fact, I can, so I will.  It was delicious.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Dear Google

 There, that caught your attention, didn’t it?

I am pleased to advise you of an amazing money-saving offer.  From today, you DO NOT NEED to develop inconceivably expensive spyware for the purpose of constructing targeted advertising to irritate, and be ignored by, its recipient, because I and my thousands of friends have agreed to share, openly and free of let and hindrance*, all the information you need, simply by completion of the following simple form**:

 NAME:          Tom Riddle
ADDRESS:    4 Privet Drive
                     The World
                     The Solar System
                     The Milky Way
                     The Universe

PHONE:        )!!*(%)”%”!

EMAIL:     (xxx @

Making ill-advised jokes about blowing things up
Inverted pyramids
World domination
The special effects of asparagus (sprue) 

I do not wish to receive communications from the following:
·         Yummy Pizzas
·         Kozy Kabs
·         ‘Youbettamoveorelsewelldowngradeyourneighbourhood’ estate agents 

* Terms and conditions apply.

** Sample only.