Sunday, 30 December 2012

It’s Quiz Time!

Everybody’s doing it, so here’s my 2012 Quiz of the Year.

1.      Who didn’t skyfall?

2.      Which tower of strength may have been dug up in a car park?

3.      Is there life on Mars?

4.      Where did water start just after it was stopped?

5.      Of what water-related asset was it said, in June: “Prices have bottomed out and investors feel this is a good time to buy.”?

6.      Who is ending the year even more pasty-faced?

7.      Two events proved that the world won’t end just because someone says it will.  Identify them both.

8.      How did someone earn £8,000 a day for knowing nothing?

9.      What illumination has finally gone out?

And lastly, an easy one:

10.  Who threw the best blog party of the year?

Friday, 28 December 2012

Odd numbers

I know I said I wouldn’t bore you with detailed accounts of the festivities, or not much, and I probably won’t any more, but this is pretty strange.

Every year Mine Host, as a final little present, buys each of the other six of us a five line lottery ticket for whatever the latest pre-Christmas draw is.  (The rules being that anything significant gets shared out, whilst minor wins are kept by the winner.  The details of this have never yet had to be negotiated; I won a tenner a few years ago and kept it.)

So at breakfast on Thursday, the tickets were issued and everyone got a pen and waited for the results.  That’s 180 randomly selected numbers, waiting for six randomly selected numbers to be read out.

So, how many tickets, out of the six, contained any winning numbers?  Two.  How many winning numbers did each of those two tickets contain?  One.  And guess what those numbers were?  In both cases, 39.

What are the odds against that?

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Babies Rule the World!

This is, I suppose, the essence of the Christmas message, which you can subscribe to regardless of your belief or affiliation.  (Unless you’re insane, of course.)  I hold no particular beliefs or affiliations, but the last few days have been a source of focus on this particular point.

I spend most Christmasses with fairly near, close, family, and the sleeping arrangements have therefore been fairly well established.  But this has been Boybaby’s first Christmas.  He’s eight months old, and knows what he likes.  So when I arrived on Tuesday at fizz o’clock (noon),  I had to do a rapid expectation adjustment on being told that I’d be sleeping on a put-up bed in the dining room. 

My brain flipped at light speed between anger, offence, and discombobulation, and settled on amusement.

“Well, you see,” it was explained, “B isn’t used to sleeping in with his parents, so he decides not to sleep.  So he’s got the bathroom.  And that means –”

And so it came to pass.  I won’t go through the musical bedroom convolutions which led to this inexorable outcome, but actually I got a good deal, because Boybaby apparently wasn’t too satisfied with the bathroom either (at eight months you’re entitled to insist on consistency in your lifestyle, aren’t you?) and let this be known; I was several floors, walls and doors away and heard nothing of that.

He’s got a baby walker, and has learnt to do three-point turns, frowning at the nearest adult when a doorway or a chair or something gets in the way, complaining in the language he’s rapidly inventing, and smiling thanks when you sort out the problem for him.  I’d thought he was going to skip the crawling bit and go straight to walking, but I subsequently revised this to ‘straight to driving’.


 So Boybaby was my Christmas joy.  Oh, there was a lot of other stuff, of course – drink, food, presents, games, silliness, drink, food, silliness, songs, all as usual but different – I won’t bore you with even the bits I can remember.  For now.



Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas Story

It’s Saturday morning, the fifth of January, and the doorbell has just rung.  I’m in no hurry to answer it –  I have an ineluctable sense that I know most of what’s coming – but I look out of the window anyway.  Sure enough, an enormous UPS lorry is parked in the road, and a team of men are unloading what looks like, although it can’t be, an even bigger packing case.  I open the door.

“Delivery for you, squire,” says the man.

“I know,” I reply submissively.


It had all started so promisingly.  “I’m going to send you lots of lovely presents when I’m away,” my True Love had said.  “More and more, every day, till I get back.”

“That will be wonderful, darling,” I said, meaning it.

And Christmas Day, sure enough, brought a delightful surprise.  A tree, with a bird in it.  How nice, I thought, stuck it on the patio, and carried on the festivities with my family guests.

Next day, Boxing Day, there was another delivery, this time of a pair of doves.  And another tree.  With a bird in it.  Ah, I thought, I’m starting an orchard.  But what’s with all the birds?  Ah well; she is an unusual girl, my True Love.

Over the next couple of  days, though, after I’d acquired two more pear trees, complete with partridges (as we’d worked out they were by a bit of googling), four more doves, six hens and four peculiar creatures that the label informed me were something called ‘colly birds’, I began to wonder if something might have gone slightly wrong.  But the arrival of five lovely gold rings (along with the by now accustomed avian life, and tree) soothed me a little.  Not even the addition of six geese, shedding eggs, by special delivery on Sunday threw me, although the garden was becoming a bit crowded by now.

Then the first batch of swans arrived.

I logged on the suppliers’ website.  “Howdy!” said the message on the help page.  “We’re having a teeny problem with our delivery systems at the moment.  Please try later.  Our best people are working to sort this out.”

When the milkmaids arrived next day and started trying to milk everything (I directed them to the colly birds), my guests decided it was time to leave.  They were wise – by yesterday evening, when I’d accumulated a population of twenty-four milkmaids, twenty-seven dancing girls, twenty lords, and a band of pipers, in addition to all the birds (though some of them had flown away, I think), it was getting a little close in here.  We did have a good party last night, though.


I look at the ominous packing case in the drive.  I know I’ll have to face it soon, but in a weak feint at procrastination I go and check the wine cupboard.  It’s nearly empty.  My True Love returns tomorrow, and she’s going to need a drink.  I have an idea.  Those thirty-five rings must be worth a bob or two down the scrap gold shop, and the wine warehouse is still open.  I beckon to some of the lords, and they come leaping over.

“Little job for you, sires,” I tell them.

Then I go out and crack open the massive packing case.  And the drummers start a-drumming.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Hi! Wet Christmas

"Frosty the Rainman", anyone?

Or "Let it Pour, Let it Pour, Let it Pour".

Will children listen to hear windscreen wipers in the storm?

And is it true that Santa's sleigh is being drawn by cats and dogs this year?

I don't really care, I'll be getting wet inside ...

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Ineluctable Modality, or something (or nothing)

Trying to be clever once again, in my last post I used the phrase "ineffable modality of the tangible" to reference my attitude towards a physical rather than electronic system of diary-keeping.  This was a misquotation, half deliberate and half sloppy, of James Joyce.  Let me explain.

Joyce’s original, in ‘Ulysses’, is “the ineluctable modality of the visible”.  I misremembered ‘ineluctable’ as ‘ineffable’; and I purposely substituted ‘tangible’ for ‘visible’ (that’s the ‘trying to be clever’ bit’).  But what did he, or I, mean?

‘Ineffable’ means, more or less, ‘not expressible’; so you could conclude that I got that bit right…  But the proper phrase (which sits at the core of the novel) stuck in my mind from my very first reading (albeit with rather obviously sub-standard glue).

‘Ineluctable’, though, is a much deeper word.  ‘Not able to be escaped from or avoided.’  The visible (or the tangible, or the audible) can’t be escaped or avoided.  This is a banal thought.  But Joyce isn’t talking about that.  He’s talking about the ‘modality’ of these things.  And that takes us even deeper.

The dictionary entry for ‘mode’, and hence ‘modality’, covers an unexpectedly wide expanse of meanings, from music through computing, fashion and petrology (!) to philosophy.  I’d always taken it to denote a kind of granularity – after all, a musical mode is a selection of notes to the exclusion of others – and I stand by that.  But in my mind the definition that comes closest to Joyce’s intention is this: “openwork between the solid parts of lace”.

What he’s saying, I think, is that we can’t escape the fact that we see the lace, not the holes. What we perceive is no more than a tiny part of what’s really there.  We completely miss the totality, in which the holes are as real as the threads.  A physicist, as well as a philosopher or a genius, will affirm the truth of this.  Dark matter, in every sense.


Don’t worry, I’ll lighten up next time.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Diary Has Landed

Through the letterbox this morning, in an envelope marked ‘FRAGILE’.  So I’m now available for bookings throughout 2013. 

Seeing Z's post just now has made me wonder whether I should reconsider my hidebound prejudice – I’ll probably have to next year, if the decline in SHOPS continues to outpace that of online services – but for now I’m comfortable with the solution that’s served me well for decades.  (It also keeps my memory agile, at least to the extent of having to remember where I left the damned thing.)  (And to be fair I don’t have that many appointments, unlike some people.)

It’s not ideal, I have to say – the weekend is scrunched up again, and there isn’t a weekly ‘notes’ – but it does have that ineffable modality of the tangible.  When I’m gone, these physical plastic- if not hide-bound volumes will continue to exist for scholars to pore over: as opposed to mere wisps in a cloud of electrons, to which nobody knows the password.

The other thing I used to enjoy about Collins diaries is that every day contained a kind of aphorism or quotation.  But this year, these seem to take the form of excruciatingly weak, failed, unfunny puns - pound shop cracker jokes -  for which you’d put a three year old into special needs.  ‘Dig down to find water and you’re doing well.’  I mean, honestly!  And that’s my birthday’s thought for the day, and one of the better efforts.  I may have to go through with a black felt tip.




Wednesday, 12 December 2012

How much time do I have?

Every autumn I need a new diary.  I still prefer the old-style book-shaped ones, made of paper and cardboard, because – well, I just do.  My life isn’t complicated enough to warrant electronic management.

So sometime in November, on my various excursions to that increasingly alien world called SHOPS (Slim Hope Of Purchasing Something), I started to check out what was available.  I knew exactly what I wanted: the same that has served me well for at least fifteen years.  A5, Week to View, preferably in black; and if Saturday and Sunday get the same amount of space as the other five days, that’s a bonus.  (They rarely do – why do diary designers assume that we’re less busy at weekends?)

Zero.  Ziltch.  The nearest match was in WhS, who have a ‘week to view’ format with the seven days scrunched up on the lefthand page and an empty opposite page headed ‘Notes’.  Eh?

So last Thursday, irritated, I woke up the computer and visited Azamon.  (Yes, I know.  But I really don’t have time to do all that tax research.)  A quick search and sure enough, there it was: as far as I can tell (it hasn’t arrived yet) a pretty close match.  So I swallowed and held my nose and ordered it.

The fact that they haven’t actually managed to deliver my humble request doesn’t in the least demoralise those nice computers at Amonza, because this morning they scratched their heads then emailed me with a list of stuff that, based on my previous purchases, they were pretty sure I needed.
Here are just three*:

An A4 Week to View Desk Diary for 2013, in black;

An A5 Day to a Page Diary for 2013, in black;

And the best one:

An A5 Week to View Diary for 2012.  In black.

To be fair, the last was quite cheap.


*(There was also a Jerry Lee Lewis CD, identical to the one I bought from them six years ago, which they presumably thought I must have lost by now.)

Monday, 10 December 2012


The next few nights are going to be a perfect opportunity to see this spectacular cosmic lightshow, apparently, because it's a new moon, and clear skies are likely.   I'll be out there looking, wrapped up warm, cricking my neck and trying not to fall over backwards.  And maybe mouthing a wish or two.
By the way, I've always wondered why meteorites, which sound small, are the big ones, whilst meteors, which sound big, are the little shooting stars.  It seems the wrong way round.

Friday, 7 December 2012


The first two dropped through the letterbox this morning.  I’m so admiring of these people who are organised enough to get their Christmas cards sent a whole four weeks in advance (the smug pillocks), but it does give me issues. 

After some soul-searching last year, and the year before, I chose to continue sending them.  There is sound reasoning behind this not-lightly-taken decision.  For a start, it’s a way of telling them I’m not dead.  (They wouldn’t know otherwise, mostly.)   More importantly, I don’t put up decorations (unless I’m having a party, which I’m not this year (again)), and cards do furnish a room; and you don’t get them if you don’t send them.  Plus it saves on dusting.  But two’s no good, is it?  You need at least a spread-out shelf’s worth.  Maybe a few more’ll drop in tomorrow.

I did some heavy pruning last year.  I chopped people I’d never met and didn’t expect ever to.  I carefully considered those I might have met years ago but who hadn’t personalised theirs (they’re just going through* the motions); and, going to the wire, I suspended those who might or might not send to me but are probably playing the same kind of brinkmanship that I am.  That’s an interesting game, in which you can only tell when you’ve lost, never when you’ve won.  (I lost two last year, by the way.)

Anyway, I went through and updated the address labels this afternoon, and it came to thirty-seven.  Then I opened the bottom drawer in the bureau and found a John Lewis bag with at least forty over-purchased cards from one, two or maybe even three years ago.

So there’s the dilemma.  Do I send those surplus cards, rather than buying a batch of new ones, thereby helping to save the planet but risking ridicule and embarrassment?  Or do I bin them and buy a batch of new ones, thereby impressing my friends and helping to save the economy?

I know my answer, but what do you think?



*This word typed itself as ‘torhough’, who must mean something in gaelic and anyway is too good to throw away.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


You know when I said I was forswearing rants here?  It wasn’t for lack of rantable material, I assure you: if anything, it was the impossibility of choice from a surfeit.  But there’s a difference between a rant and a whinge, and the last week has supplied plenty of whinge fuel.  But I don’t really like whinging.  But on the other hand I haven’t blogged for a week, because nothing blogworthy has happened except the rantable and whingeworthy.  But I have managed to distil one morsel of cheer from the bleak mire.  But you’ll have to wade through some of the mire to get to it.  But I won’t bog you down too deeply.

Last weekend was one of those rare occasions when many separate strands of my life decide to intersect and construct a beautiful, intricate knot, with me at its centre.  In other words, a lot of things were meant to happen; and they required precise, accurately timed two-way communication, which in my case is invariably via my BT landline.  Which decided, on Thursday, to take a holiday.

I have a mobile, not used a lot, so I phoned the fault reporting number.  After twenty minutes of  excruciatingly awful classical music and reassurances of how important my call was to BT (I’d be more convinced if they evinced any recognition of the fact that it might be important to me, too), a charming lady picked up, and I started to explain the problem.  This was the point at which the mobile ran out of ‘pay as you go’ credit.

Ah.  Now I’ll have to get the phone topped up, somehow, and start again.  Or do it online, which I should have done anyway (the broadband was still working), and and and –

Here’s the good bit.  At that moment, the mobile rang.  It can still receive calls.  I answered, and it was the lady from BT.  “Sorry, we got cut off,” she said.  She’d called me back.  BT had called me back!  I can’t tell you how that made me feel.

I won’t tell you about the mobile top-up part, and how that resulted in my credit card being cancelled, and the afternoon’s worth of failing to sort that out, because that would be whinging, wouldn’t it?  Mustn’t grumble.