Tuesday, 26 February 2013


Here are five items I expect to see in tomorrow’s papers.  One of them may be true.

A Twitter feed suggests that the entire priesthood of the Roman Catholic church is considering resigning, “just to be on the safe side.”

Tesco announces 2,000 job losses and 2,000 new jobs.

The Ministry of Justice is to set up a Royal Commission to investigate the abolition of trial by jury.  “They’re all thick, and they ask stupid questions, and they don’t always get it right,” said a senior judge.

Daniel Day Lewis is to be knighted in the Birthday Honours.  “I’m relaxed about being called Sir Dan,” he said, slipping into character for his next role in a biopic of Alan Sugar.

Standard & Poors and Fitch plan to upgrade the U.K. to a new credit rating, AAA+++.  “Them Moodys always gets it wrong, innit?” said a spokescomputer.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Quo Vadis, Latin?

Pope Benedict chose to announce his resignation in Latin.  I can’t imagine that this was dictated by precedent, nor that it was his own mischievous choice (though he does seem to have a twinkle in his eye occasionally), nor even that he was instructed to do so by God, because by permitting him to resign God has effectively informed him that He no longer has confidence in his (Benedict’s) ability to be His (God’s) representative on Earth …  It does tell you a lot of what you need to know about the RC Church, though.

[Sorry, this is partly prompted by my starting a long overdue reread of Joseph Heller’s ‘God Knows’, the first person story of the Biblical King David, a guaranteed laugh a page.  Sample quote: “Abraham dumbfounds me still for having performed with apparent ease a feat of incredible difficulty.  He circumcised himself.  Now this is not an easy thing to do – try it sometime and see.”]

Sorry again, I digress.  I was reminded about Latin this morning when I found myself saying ‘tabula rasa’, without thinking.  It was in connection with the opportunities presented by an uncultivated garden, and was met with an appropriately blank stare.  I thought about it and realised that I often say “de facto”, or even “ipso facto” in conversation, again without wondering for one moment whether my collocutor knows what I mean.  And we all use more daily Latin than we imagine – think QED, RIP.

I have little Latin, because of how I was taught at school.  It was a subject at Southbourne Prep School, before I was eleven, and I loved it.  It was like a kind of mathematics – pure logically constructed formulae without the noise of meaning.  (It took me decades to understand that I could have been a mathematician.)  But when I went on to the grammar school, that enthusiasm was methodically destroyed.  It became about memorisation rather than comprehension, vocabulary rather than structure.  I was accused, by an idiotic teacher (Mr Green, I think he was) of being little better than an idiot because I’d failed to hand in a translation of some banal, irrelevant  passage from the Gallic Wars or somewhere.  I was expected to get O level, because I was expected to become a lawyer (for which it was then a prerequisite, or ‘sine qua non’).  I failed the exam, twice, the second time deliberately.  Oh well, another career path closed off.  Factum est.

Just to come back to my first paragraph, a couple of tags gleaned from a quick trawl through pages 1801-1806 of my Chambers Dictionary: “crambe repetita”, and “cucullis non facit monachum”.  Interpretations available on request, subject to admission of surrender.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


I’d thought for some time about a post which would illustrate the glories of the English verb, and my friend Rog, in a tweet which indicates that he’s been thinking along similar lines, prompted me to have a go.  Of course, I may be completely misconstruing Rog’s motives here, in which case I shall offer him my sincere apologies.
Verbs are, and have been since the time of Chaucer, the bedrock of the language.  I’ve thought about that assertion since I wrote it (back in the mists of time before I’d had my first G&T), and I will be defending it against all rival contenders ( nouns, adverbs, pernicious adjectives).  It would be cowardly of me to do otherwise.
You will have noticed that I am going to run out of ideas very soon, in fact will have done so by the time I pour my next glass of Shiraz.  I was hoping to make this post more interesting than I have – I’ll try harder next time (I envisage a future in which I would be exploring the mysteries of mood, voice and person, and would have deciphered them all). 
There’s one missing.  If you’d read to the end of this, you’d have been able to work out which one.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Where next for technology?

The Observer is always a useful source for amusing trivialities.  So it is that today, on page 32, I learn that scientists are making valuable discoveries about long term climate trends by analysing the urine deposits of a wee beastie called the rock hydrax.  This creature apparently pees in the exact same spot in its rock dwelling place every day, and has done so for countless generations, thus providing dietary data going back as much as 55,000 years.

My initial thought was that I knew it’d been a mistake to clean the undershoot zone in front of my downstairs loo so often.  But then I turned a couple of pages and came upon a feature about Apple’s much-trailed iWatch, and how it would have to offer uses over and above those already provided by a Phone or a Pad; and I think I have a contender, albeit one which is marketable primarily to men (although many women might latch onto it as a winning Valentine’s present next year).

This is based on the observation that a watch, properly worn on the wrist, will be pointing in pretty much the right direction.  May I introduce, free of charge, the AAA app, standing (pun intended) for the Accurate Aim Assist.

Depressingly, I fully expect to be told, within hours of this post, that it’s already been done.  (The app, I mean.)  And yes, I do know about the fly painted on the urinal wall.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Random Recipe Generator

When I became single again, five-plus years ago, I quickly worked out that one of the problems was going to be feeding myself.  I’d always enjoyed cooking, but I also have a lazy streak, so the temptation towards ready meals had to be recognised and countered.  I have a reliable repertoire of about eight proper dishes, which I’m happy to prepare when I feel like it; and sometimes I like just making something up.  I also recognised that quick and easy options, and even readies on occasion, would have their place, I wasn’t fiky about it, but I didn’t want to drift away from proper cooking.  So I invented this.


The idea was that I’d pick a main ingredient and then, by some procedure which never quite got developed, decide how and in what cuisine I was going to cook it.  For example, lamb shanks braised a l’italienne (except that that happens to be one of my standbys, but you get the idea.)

Of course, it never happened, and I’ve ended up with the eight, plus a smattering of easies and sluts.  But now that I find myself tip-toeing towards being slightly less single, I sometimes feel the need to create something that will amaze someone.  What I need is an app which will do what I never managed, at the click of an icon.  Spanish salmon risotto, anyone?  Or stir-fried middle eastern pork chops?  (Erm, maybe not…)

It needs a bit of work, I know. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Frazzled? Moi?

There are, or soon will be, more internet-enabled mobile devices on the planet than people.  About seven billion (whatever that means – numbers bigger than a thousand or so tend to lose much meaning to me).

Leaving aside the obvious question, ‘why?’, you have to wonder what the long- or even short-term effects might be.  A couple of decades ago, there was a big scare about how leaks from  microwave ovens were frying our brains.   Scientists assured us that you’d have to actually put your head inside the microwave and switch it on before any harm resulted; and some clever satirist pointed out that you’d have to cut it off first, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to close the door … and that one went away.

The radiation in an oven is obviously a lot more powerful than that from a phone, and is thoroughly screened.  Whereas that from a phone is tiny, but is the opposite of screened – it has to get out there, as strongly as possible, that’s the whole point.  But, though each device’s contribution may be miniscule, multiply by seven billion and …

But what concerns me most is this.  If all this radiation is indeed cumulatively rotting everyone’s brain, how will we know?  There are already worrying signs (the Bank of England’s quarterly economic forecasts, horseburgers, Adele) that humanity’s critical and analytical faculties are on the wane.  Degraded brains can’t resolve their own degradation.

I’m not worried about it, though.  My brain’s still fine.  And I only own one mobile phone (which often doesn’t work.)  And I counted up to nineteen just now, when I’ll be a hundred.  Nurse, I need a top-up.  Oh, sorry, nurse is out for her psychotherapy.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Adult Gaming Centre

Anybody know what one of these is?  (And what other sorts of gaming centre are there?  Teenage?  Pre-school?)  Not having a gambling gene in my body (all right, I have bought the occasional lottery ticket, and actually won ten quid once; and I drew Kauto Star three years running, from 2008, in the Boxing Day family sweepstake on the King George VI Chase, but that doesn’t really count), I’d imagined it would be some kind of amusement arcade, with fruit machines and pinball tables and suchlike.  Turns out there’s been progress since those days.  Things called Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) allow you to stake up to £100 a go on a sort of electronic poker game, which lasts about twenty seconds, usually helps itself to your C, and invites you to have another try.  Nice way to while away an evening, and your benefit cheque.  

Anyway, it seems we are to get one, just up the Oxford Road.  The site is a few doors from a charity drop-in centre catering for vulnerable people, which was obviously a plus factor in the developers’ choice of location.  (That it’s also almost opposite the police community office may have escaped their notice, but that doesn’t really matter, it’s hardly ever open.) 

Alan, whose role in life is to monitor planning applications and drum up opposition to them, informed us of this at our Neighbourhood Watch meeting the other evening.  The original application had been unanimously thrown out on referral to the planning committee, but the developers of course appealed, and an anonymous Inspector in Bristol, who’d never been to the area let alone talked to the residents, rubber-stamped it.  Our only recourse now would be to take it to the High Court, which I don’t think we could afford at about £12,000. 
The brilliant police representatives at the meeting told us that, regretfully, they were not allowed to add their voice to the chorus of objections, as the premises had no previous record of association with anti-social behaviour.  Well, it was a fitness centre until recently, and before that a haberdashery.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Keeping tags on them

The Government proposes to make electronic tagging of all dogs compulsory.  Fair do's, the Representation Of The Species Act hasn't yet been passed, so we can do what we like to the poor beasts, short of cruelty.  But I'd like to propose compulsory tagging of politicians.

This will tell you all you need to know about stray MPs.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Spirit of Free Enterprise

We are constantly battered from all directions with the instruction that our current economic woes will be overcome by an unleashing of the latent, suppressed spirit of entrepreneurship. 

A couple of true stories.*

Rob works in recruitment, or did.  He was made redundant last year, and spent months firing off CVs and travelling all over the country for interviews, until at last he was offered a three month probationary post, covering a field some way distant from his expertise and experience.  He took the job, but soon discovered that employers in this field just weren’t recruiting, anywhere, anyone.  So he thought, off his own bat, ‘well, I’ll look around a bit at my own area’, and managed to achieve quite a few placements.

Last week, his probation expired, and he was informed that his position would not be confirmed.  It was recognised that he had delivered some results, it was explained to him, but they weren’t within his agreed key result area, so didn’t count.  The CVs are out again.


Christine had been working for her company for fifteen years.  One day, she came up with a clever idea to reorganise her department in order to increase throughput and save costs.  She took this to her bosses, who were enthusiastic and charged her with working the idea up into a detailed proposal, which she did, over a two month period.  She presented her plan, which was accepted wholesale.

A few days later, she was called in.  The savings she had identified would indeed be realised.  One of these was to eliminate a layer of management, and Christine’s job had been selected for this purpose.  She wasn’t sacked, she was offered a sideways move into another department, which of course she accepted. 

*I’ve changed the names and blurred the details, obviously.