Sunday, 28 April 2013

Cup of sugar, anyone?

Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

I (mis)tweeted this the other night, partly in reaction to a disturbing article from 2005 by Jon Ronson about a man who killed himself because of his burden of computer-induced borrowing.*   Z responded “No point in coming to you for a cup of sugar, then”, so let’s get that out of the way first – I would be mortally offended if you were to turn up next day with a repayment.  I would weigh the sugar on the scales to make the point, and would check that the cup (if it was mine) wasn’t chipped.  (As you know full well!)
However, to get back to Shakespearean financial analysis.  Polonius was a sanctimonious old meddler who probably deserved all he got in his arras, and as father-to-son stuff his advice to Laertes might have been well-placed (and I’m aware that the whole speech is a comic piss-take): but Will requires us, whether he meant so or not, to generalise his wisdom, so we have to wonder whether it’s possible for everyone to be neither.

Of course, it is.  All we need to do is shut down the entire structure of human commerce.  And abolish money as a side-effect.  The notion of a world in which no borrowing or lending of money ever takes place is worth thinking about.  I was going to expand on this thought, until I realised I’d be missing my own point.
So.  My ninety-year-old friend K. insisted on paying her share of every taxi fare for every single Jersey journey, on the spot, because “I’ve never been in debt in my life and I’m not starting now.”   I tried to convey that she could just accept it as a gift, but she wasn’t having any. 

I said ‘human commerce’, which is ambiguous.  Can we measure out our human commerce solely in spoons of money, or should we be thinking in un-repaid cups of sugar and their real worth too?

* I highly recommend ‘Lost at Sea – The Jon Ronson Mysteries’ to anyone who wants to be simultaneously enraged and tickled pink by some of the absurdities of modern life.

No point coming to you for a cup of sugar, thenNo point coming to you for a cup of sugar, then

Thursday, 25 April 2013

More Island Notes

As it’s a slow blog day, a bit more on the Jersey trip, mostly about the hotel.

It’s called the Ommaroo, located on the coast road from St Helier to Gorey – just go up round the hairpins past Fort Regent, drop back down and it’s on the left, can’t miss it; though the car park is a bit harder to find, as I discovered three times. 

It can’t be on the right, because that’s the sea, or what passes for it here – a rather scruffy curve of beach with some anonymous industrial constructs to the far south.  Before these, you see an elliptical area, ringed by a  rather brutalist concrete wall, which fills with water at high tide.  There’s a rather charming blue and white art deco pier running out beside it.  Apparently this was (and possibly might still be) a swimming pool.  During the Occupation, it was the only location on the island at which German soldiers (officers mostly, one would guess), because they weren’t in uniform, could consort freely with local girls.  Afterwards, they might repair to the Ommaroo for entertainment.  None of the Jersey natives I speak to are able to confirm or deny this legend.

The inside of the hotel is multi-levelled.  Although there are notionally three (or possibly four, hard to say) floors, each of these contains many mini-floors, so that if you’re entering from, say, the car park (as we did, naturally), you will ascend and descend four flights of two or more steps before you reach the reception area.  The charming Polish receptionist will then cart your cases halfway back the way you came until he sends you off  in another direction (through the coffee lounge) whilst he hauls them up some stairs “because the lift isn’t strong enough.”  (Lord knows why – I’ve shown you the lift’s rules.)   The lift is just inside the door from the car park.

K. manages, with my guidance, not to fall up or down any of those steps (although she does succeed next day in tripping over the baby gate at the top of her grand-daughter’s stairs, whilst trying to evade their labradoodle, but that’s another story*.)

At breakfast next morning, the waiters present K. with a surprise – a birthday cake, which has been delivered by some relatives.  She’s overwhelmed, of course, and the waiters aren’t even slightly perturbed by finding that there aren’t any candles to light.  Some other guests (who turn out to share her surname) come over and sing Happy Birthday.

Later, I ask John the taxi, who’s from the Midlands but has lived here for thirty-five years, knows everything there is to know about the place, and doesn’t like it, why it’s called the Ommaroo.  “Nobody knows,” he says.

I believe him.

I think it's one of the most delightful hotels I've ever stayed in.  I have Somerset Maugham visions.


*By the way, anyone want to buy a labradoodle puppy sometime next autumn?

Monday, 22 April 2013

Five notes from a small island

1.      Jersey roads are carefully designed such that all right turns from side roads onto mains are blind.  The solution is to edge forward, gently or aggressively according to how local you are, until someone gives way.  The driver who gives way will invariably have ‘H’, for ‘Hire car’, on their number plate.  I suspect this is an island sport.

2.      The Jersey Bug.  The hospital has closed for all but A&E admissions.  It strikes without warning, literally – one person had to exit from a high-powered meeting, again literally on the trot – and then wipes you out for twenty four hours.  This happened to almost everyone I had contact with, from Friday evening through to Monday morning.  The worst thing is that none of the doctors seem to be able to guess at the incubation period.  So I’m possibly still in with a chance.

3.      The toilet in the General’s house doesn’t have a lock.  We are instructed to sing loudly to advise our presence, K’s song being ‘The White Cliffs of Dover.’  Hence a new bit of local near-rhyming slang: “Just off for a white cliffs …”

4.      Here’s the notice in the hotel lift, which amused me.  I could have rounded up some candidates …

5.      What was 5?  Oh yes, it was K’s 90th.  Despite some important guests being unable to make it due to (2.), she bounced back from the disappointment, feisty old tough Yorkshire pudding that she is, and had a great evening.  One thing that moved me was that people sent huge bouquets even though they knew she wouldn’t be able to ship them back home, just to show their affection.  (K, of course, moaned about ‘waste of money’, hiding her obvious delight; the General has arranged for surrogate bouquets to be delivered to Reading.)

Thursday, 18 April 2013


I wanted to post something before I set off on my travels tomorrow, and struggled with selecting the most important of my scatterbrained thoughts, so instead chose the least consequential. 

[Oh if you insist – I’m off to Jersey again, on a two-engined aeroplane (both with propellers, I think), for my – and I’ve thought this one through – sisterinlawsmotherinlaws 90th birthday party.  Saturday night, at the best venue on the island.  I’ll let you know how it goes].

Oh yes, the watch.  It’s at least twenty years old.  Cost £300ish when bought.  A couple of weeks ago it stopped.  Just like that.  I assumed it needed a battery (although normally they warn you by double-clicking the second hand) so I took it into the shop and they sent it away for assessment.  Turns out it needs a full service, at a cost of about £250.  I asked them what it would cost to replace it, at today’s prices.  About £1,600. 

It’s being repaired.  I love it, it’s an old friend.  It’s not that often that sentiment and attachment coincide with financial interest.


Sunday, 14 April 2013

Rest in War

Lennon opined that Elvis died when he joined the army in 1958; I’d put it slightly later than that (it was when Blue Hawaii came out), but I agree in principle, and I mourned.  Thatcher, though, indisputably died when she was mortally savaged by a dead sheep in 1990, and yes, I rejoiced. Celebrating or abhorring her career was appropriate then; it’s a bit late now.  So I don’t feel any emotions in either direction now: ‘87 Year Old Woman Dies’ isn’t really a big headline.*   

Some will argue that this is a suitable moment to evaluate her legacy.  Indeed, whole forests of newsprint and terabytes of server space have been doing just that, with one theme emerging – the Lady was for fighting.  So I offer my post title as a respectful epitaph.

By way of evidence, I submit a couple of observations, with suitably martial keywords, regarding Wednesday’s State-lite** funeral:

·         Heartlessness: 800 members of various branches of the armed forces active in the Falklands war are to provide the guard of honour, but I don’t recall reading that similar honours are to be paid to the surviving families of the 255 British servicemen and women who died in that conflict.

·         Confrontation, or Conformance, take your pick: anyone who behaves in a (non-violent) manner ‘likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress’ along the processional route risks arrest under the Public Order Act.  

* Even if you add ‘at the Ritz.’
** It’s not a full State occasion, apparently, because that would involve revealing how it’s being paid for, not to mention invoking democratic processes in sanctioning it.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

An Awfully Big Number

If I read his comments correctly, my brother was commiserating with me for my misjudged hubristic choice of not one but two BMWs (consecutive not concurrent), as against a VW, Peugot or Daiwoo.  The following anecdote will I’m sure further boost his self-esteem.  Bear with me, this could take some time.

The car, a BMW 335i coupé, was only a few days old when I went the wrong way down a hill in Bradwell, Derbyshire, and heard a crunch ahead of me.  The bend was too tight and there was an invisible raised kerb.  As is my wont, I took it on board, made sure it was still driveable and carried on back home to Reading.  My usual approach to such situations can be summed up as a simultaneous ‘oh shit’ and ‘oh well’.

Over the next few years, the beemer’s front bumper acquired a few more scratches and scrapes, until about eighteen months ago I decided it was becoming embarrassing and took it in to the garage.  I was directed to the Body Shop, where I discovered that they didn’t use Tea Tree Blackhead Exfoliating Wash but instead simply scraped the skin off and repainted it, at a cost of £450.  I made my excuses and left.

So, one day last week, I’m parking up at Waitrose when I accidentally pull six inches too far over what proves to be my second, fatal, high kerb nemesis.  I have no choice but to reverse off, knowing what’s coming.  Sure enough, a familiar crunch sound.  The man parking two slots along shakes his head.  “That’s why I always reverse in.”  But then I wouldn’t be able to get the trolley to the boot; and what’s a kerb doing there anyway? and several other thoughts flash across my mind, before I splutter “Why do they make the kerbs so high?”  He shakes his head again.  “They’ll just say BMW make the cars too low.”

So it’s back to the Body Shop.  It’s the same man as eighteen months ago.  “You again?” he doesn’t say, though I can hear him think it.  We take a look.  By now I’m getting used to people shaking their heads at my car.  “The bumper has to be replaced.”  He doesn’t say ‘this time’.  He doesn’t need to say how cheap it’s going to be.  As we walk away, the £ meter ticking up by the step, he does a double take.  “Oh dear.  It’s cracked the wing too.”

So here’s the awfully big number, which will make my brother glad he chose a VW.

£1,637.64, plus VAT.  I really like the .64. 

It went in this morning, and will be ready Tuesday.  I have a nice little Citroen loan car, which I shall hammer the guts out of over the next few days.  And I had a polite call at lunchtime, advising me that they’d found a wee dent in a door sill and a scratch somewhere else, and would I like them to fix those too, for another £500.01? 

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Fridge Soup.ugh

Do not under any circumstances be tempted to combine an onion, two cloves of garlic, a yellow pepper, some purple sprouting broccoli, three sticks of celery, half a tin of left-over plum tomatoes and a pint of turkey stock from Christmas, in the hope of getting a free lunch.  The result is disgusting.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Sibling Rivalry

Milimajor is crossing the Atlantic because he can a) no longer bear the scoffs and scorn of his erstwhile so-called colleagues in the so-called Labour party; b) no longer bear the carefully disguised pitying over-the-shoulder eye contact from Miliminor; or c) has been offered a seriously better paid job doing something useful, read the subtle tweets from godfather Tone, and thought ‘fuck all that, I’m outa here.  And I wasn’t really that into football anyway.’ 

As a fellow victim of sibling rivalry, I feel for him.  Tell me about it.  My brother has, throughout his life, outplayed me in almost every aspect of attainment.  I hardly know where to start, but the motorbike will do.  At seventeen, I mooted the idea of getting one, like my mates, and was forcibly made to wash my mouth out with two-stroke and write a hundred times ‘I must not think about motorbikes’.  Five years later, guess who’s whizzing around Bournemouth on some kind of Norton.  Or maybe it was a Vincent Black Shadow.  Doesn’t matter.  I’ve got over it.

Let’s go back further.  I was expected, at the age of ten, to look after him whilst my parents were swanning around doing work and stuff and my sister was trying to become a teenager.  Did he ever do the same for me?  Did he hell.  Even when I dropped him on his head in a train game involving dining room chairs, he showed no gratitude.  He just got up, bleeding from his eyebrow, and howled.  I was gutted, I remember: at least, I thought, you could have thumped me, shown some recognition.  But no, it was all about him.  And he must have been at least four, you’d expect some maturity, wouldn’t you?

And don’t start me on technology.  He was configuring wireless networks when I was still stringing coax cables across the pull-down kitchen clothes dryer.  He had the country’s first Pioneer 100-CD multi-changer just after I’d moved on from 78s, and the day after I got one, he gently, without a smidgeon of smugness, told me about this new gadget called MP3.  And don’t start me on the Fiesta XR2 – how heartless is it to upgrade to a Peugot 309 GT something-or-other the day after, on his advice, I’d bought one of those?  (Or my employers had, to be exact.)

And now – and now! – he’s moving house!!  Just like that: a mere eighteen months in the process, start to finish.  I’ve been trying to achieve this for at least three years, and haven’t got past the stage of ‘who’ll empty the attic for me?’, never mind ‘ where might I move to?’ or even ‘why would I want to?’ or ‘where’s the vertical equivalent of this sofa?’  And the little tinker just ups and does it!

Clearly, I’m going to have to rethink this relationship.  Right, done that: I still play better guitar than him.  Oh, but he plays better mouth organ than me. 

Friday, 5 April 2013

Just to round the week off –

- a few political quotes:

Who knows what these regimes will look like in ten, twenty years time?” – D. Cameron.  That would be the United States, Russia, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea.  Oh, and the United Kingdom.
We are welcoming entrepreneurs and wealth creators and the jobs they bring with them.” – G. Osborne.  Welcome, immigrant Russian oligarchs.  Bring your own minimum wage slaves.

Of course I can’t live on £53 a week, and no-one should ask anybody to do so.” – IDS.  Erm, I may have made that one up.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

“Not before time!”

Well, how very rude!  Luckily, I wasn’t there when a passing neighbour made this remark to house-painter John up his ladder.  I’m pretty sure I know who she was though, in which case I know there’d have been an accompanying sideways smile and she’d have paused for a little chat.  Plus, she was dead right.

I’ve been trying to get the outside of this house decorated for two years now.  Actually, ‘decorated’ is over-ambitious; I didn’t want décor –  pastel stucco, Laura Ashley front door, Cotswold stone-cladding –  I just wanted the crumbling sills and rusting Crittall casements salvaged, given a bit of TLC and painted: white.  Easy, you’d think, especially in these hard times.  Over the course of 2012, I was given some acceptable quotes, and reasonable quality assurances, all of which I was happy to accept – until I asked the fatal question: “So, when can you do it?”  Hums and hahs and head-scratchings would ensue.  I’d play a key escalation card: “This year?”  “Oh yes, almost certainly this year.”  “Almost?”  More scratching.  Often a mobile would ring about now:  a ploy, I decided.  Notebooks would be consulted.  “We’ll have a look at the schedule and get in touch.”

As the wintery summer wore into the bleak winter and then the heartlessly withheld promise of spring, I forgot about it.  A diary note for mid-April: ‘Decorators.’  My sigh wasn’t written on the page, but it might as well have been.

One Sunday morning three or so weeks ago, I was seeing a friend off when I was hailed from a ladder across the Close.  I’d noticed him on and off over some time, painting, repairing, tearing down overgrowth in the garden of the empty house.  He climbed down.

“D’ye wanname ta tek a lookit?  I ken see it needs a wee bi’ o’ TLC.”

I agreed with what I thought he’d said.  He took a look around, poked his screwdriver into one of the kitchen windowsills, a large chunk of which fell to the ground.

“Aye, bit nesh, that’ll need a remake.”  He shook his head.  “At least two tins of Tupac.  I’ll get that.  And a gallon Weathershield.  And the undercoat.”  Another headshake.  “Ye’re lookin’ at one-fifty.”  I thought silence was the best approach at this stage.  “An’ then there’s the labour.”  He broke out the huge grin I would get to expect over the coming times, and uttered a number I thought I must have misheard, until he repeated it and then, looking around again, revised it upwards by £200 “because ye never know till ye gei underneath,” and offered his hand.

I shook it, then asked the question.

“Ah well, I haftae finish up here, then I’m on a holday tae the Gambia wi’ me daughter in April … so I’ll need some spendin’ cash fe that … so – nex’ week?”


He completed the job on Good Friday, whilst I was away.  When I got back I noticed he’d painted the gates.  He came round this morning for his money, and explained.

“I was hangin’ about fa Robbie to finish, and I dinna like doin’ nothing.  And I thought I cannae leave it like that, not wi’ that black paint in the can.”  The grin came.  “Nae extra.”

John, who’s 67, says he can’t bear not working, and will go anywhere.  I have his number.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Very good year?

From yesterday's Observer, page 21:

'[Robert Owen] married Caroline Dale in 1799 and had seven children.  In the same year, he bought the New Lanark cotton mill ...'

Those Industrial Revolution philanthropists sure knew about hard work.