Friday, 30 August 2013

Movement towards …

Bee moved house today.  The plan was that she’d phone me in time for her to pick up the keys and get to the new place just as I and the removal people fetched up.  What could possibly go wrong?
She hadn’t allowed for her old neighbours, of course.  One by one, they drifted across, to say goodbye, or to offer a drink or a snack, or in one case to indulge a small child who just wanted to wander round an empty house.  You can’t say no, can you?

I missed all that, I’m glad to say, because I was parked outside the new place waiting for progress updates.  The removers were supposed to wait for a call, but they arrived before that.  I welcomed them and explained the situation.  This was a mega bluffing exercise, as at that moment I had no idea what the situation was.  It didn’t matter: “We got bored hanging around,” said the team leader, “so we thought we might as well come on up.”  I had no argument with that.
Once they got going, they were phenomenal.  Neither of us has moved house for many years, and we’d forgotten how strong and strenuous and motivated these guys are.  Everything had been carefully labelled, of course.  (She’s very organised, despite her denials.)  I had to prevent the work experience lad from putting the microwave into the attic, but apart from that, all that’s left to do is empty about twenty-five boxes of whatever the hell they might contain.  We’ll do that on Sunday.  The volume of stuff in boxes seems to exceed the volume of furniture by a factor of about seven; but most of it is wrapping paper, and air.

After they’d gone, we sat down and had a cup of tea, followed up by a gin and tonic.  She looked around.  “I’m going to like it here,” she said. 

One of my few guiding precepts in life is ‘Don’t move away from things, move towards them.”


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Five positive foods

Just as an antidote to my last post:

1.      The first windfall* apples have dropped from the ancient Bramley tree.  I’ve peeled them, cleaned out the brown bits, sliced, lightly stewed and frozen them.  They’ll be delicious for breakfast, see #3 below.  Only a couple of dozen left hanging, but that’s more than enough for my needs.  (They’re the size of bowling balls, some of them.  Well, nearly.)

2.      I had the first four tomatoes for lunch, with some mozzarella; perfectly ripe, ten minutes from plant to plate, still warm from the sun.  I added some torn basil, but it wasn’t really needed.  A glut is coming soon, that’s fine.  I know how to make passata, and the remaining green ones, if any, will become chutney in October.

3.      At the last visit to the caravan, a couple of weeks ago, we thought there was probably going to be a bumper crop of blackberries around the hedge.  If so, and if the other scavenging inhabitants of the site don’t get in first, pounds of them will be picked, carted home and frozen.  They can then be quickly cooked down with the apples and dosed with yogurt whenever we fancy a comfort breakfast in the autumn.

4.      By way of penance, I bought some courgettes this morning.  I sliced them thinly and stir-fried in the wok with some garlic and parsley.  They were delicious with the braised lamb cutlets.

5.      What was #5?  Oh yes, passion fruit.  We are passionate about passion fruit.  Best thing since sliced mango.

*Dunno why I call them that; there’s no wind, but they fall anyway. 

Saturday, 24 August 2013


For reasons I won’t go into, I had to spend some time this morning trawling around Waitrose on a quest for a few ingredients which don’t figure in my usual twice-weekly shop (Thai fish sauce, straight-to-wok noodles, etc.).  It wasn’t an unpleasurable experience, offering as it did the chance to observe the bright young things of the Reading Festival, with their skimpy shorts and knee-socks and braided purple hair (and that’s just the boys…). 
At the checkout, as I finished loading up my substantial haul (does anyone else suffer from the anxiety that the till girl will start scanning before I’ve finished emptying the trolley?) I noticed that the lad behind me had just two items – a bottle of banana-flavoured milk, and a bottle of chocolate flavoured milk – so naturally I gave way to him.  His embarrassed mutter and smile of thanks have hung in my mind all day.
Anyway, on my drift through the aisles I had time to reflect on all sorts of things, and one of them turned out to be useless foods.  So here are a few.  They’re not things I actively dislike or am allergic to or anything, I just think they’re, well, useless.

1.      Maldon sea salt.  It costs more than Chanel Number 5, and tastes of salt.

2.      Saffron.  Use turmeric instead.  I guarantee that any friend who claims to detect the difference is a food writer for the Guardian.

3.      Courgettes.  They’re just stroppy adolescent marrows, aren’t they?  They need to grow up and resign themselves to their blandness, like we’ve had to.

4.      Runner beans.  We only grow them because we can, and we only eat them because we’ve grown them.  They taste of water, which is what they’re made of.

5.      Chick peas.  Dried or tinned, they need hours, if not days, of tenderising before they are even half edible, and then it’s like eating a well-soaked duvet.

 I have more.

Friday, 23 August 2013


“…the balance of power …”                                       Sir Robert Walpole
“England does not love coalitions”                              Benjamin Disraeli
“…lies, damn lies and statistics!”                                 Benjamin Disraeli
“Damn your principles!  Stick to your party!”         Benjamin Disraeli
“We are part of the community of Europe”             William Gladstone*
“… a fit country for heroes to live in”                     David Lloyd George
“… done very well out of the war”                              Stanley Baldwin
“… business as usual”                                                 Winston Churchill*
“… This is not the end…”                                           Winston Churchill
“… on and on and on …”                                            Margaret Thatcher
“I’ve not got a reverse gear”                                        Tony Blair
“Y’know…”                                                                You know this one
“This is no time for a novice.”                                     Gordon Brown
*Yes, these surprised me when I found them.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Haunted House

It is reported (Guardian, today, page 19) That the Prime Minister of Japan has refused to move into his official residence because of fears that it might be haunted by the ghosts of previous incumbents.

Having hacked into GQHC's tapes of certain intimate conversations, I can reveal that it's not the only place:

DAVE: Sam!  Sam?
SAM: Wha?
DAVE: Can you hear voices?
SAM: Voices?
DAVE: Yeah.  Listen -


Thursday, 15 August 2013

Just a thought

‘When the ruler looks depressed, the people will be happy and satisfied;
‘When the ruler looks lively and self-assured, the people will be carping and discontented.’

 Tao Te Ching, Chapter 58.

Discuss, with examples.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Oh boy ...

I heard the news today.  Thames Water have applied to Ofwat to be allowed to increase their prices, in breach of an agreement not to do so until 2015.  One of the reasons given is that they're losing money because poorer people are failing to pay their bills.

(Meanwhile, thousands of gallons are pouring down my road from a leak at the top, and have been for eight hours or more.  No sign of any repair work.  What a waste.  Could have been used for fracking.)

Sunday, 11 August 2013

This is absolutely true!

I was told this story by a gardener I happened to meet.  He had been doing a day’s maintenance in someone’s garden, and paused for lunch, which concluded with an apple.  When he’d finished it, he dropped the core in the green waste bin and went back to work.
When he got home that evening, he had an email from the owner of the property.  I haven’t seen the exact text, but it was, roughly: “Please do not put the residue from your lunch in the garden waste bin.   Food waste has to be put in the food waste bin.  Thank you.”

It is absolutely true – I was told this story!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

By way of lighter relief …

I went into town for a haircut, and as I’ve said before, had to come back with something more than I’d shed, so I wandered into HMV, looking for ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Before Sunset’, and found them on a single DVD set for £5.99.  I thought I was in heaven, until I drifted into the bargain section and immediately snatched ‘Hotel California’ and ‘London Calling’ for another tenner.
It doesn’t get much better.

Unclear Physics

It says here that doubt is being cast on the Supersymmetry hypothesis, which is supposed to fill the gaps in the Standard Model of particle physics.    Just in case you’d forgotten, the Standard Model is meant to explain how the Universe came to exist, and why it continues to do so despite all indications to the contrary.  The discovery of the Higgs boson last year was hailed as near-proof that the theory was on the right track.
But there are indeed a couple of gaps in this Standard Model, which Supersymmetry might be able to fill.  First, it only explains 4% of the matter and energy we actually see and feel, and consist of  – the other 96% is unexplained and undetectable, and so classed by physicists, with an honest if despairing frankness, as ‘dark’.  Bit of a shortfall, you might think.
The other slight shortcoming is Gravity.  You know, that stuff that glues you to the ground, defines ‘up’ and ‘down’, and incidentally makes the earth revolve around the sun, the sun hold its place in the galaxy, and the galaxy adhere to the rest of the universe.  You have to wonder how the theorists missed that one, don’t you? 
But that’s not the point.  Supersymmetry theory (and I have to confess that the details start to* elude me at this point), if proven, would fill these gaps.  Problem is, theories need to be verified by evidence, and so far the Large Hadron Collider** has abjectly failed to detect the anti-particles that would do the job.  So experimenters are bouncing the issue back into the theorists’ side of the court: perhaps the theory is yet another blind alley, like phlogiston and the steady-state universe and the green-cheese moon.  The theorists respond that it’s your experiments that aren’t good enough: you’ll have to build a Larger Collider, or make this one Collide a bit quicker, or just keep trying.  And so it goes on. 
Physicists seem to be up there with economists in their propensity to complain about the perverse failure of the real world to do as they tell it.  Does it matter?  Well, that question was probably asked when they came up with quantum mechanics, and many might have answered ‘no’.  But then we wouldn’t have had transistors and their offshoots, and you wouldn’t be reading this.  (So maybe ‘no’ was right…)

Meanwhile, what I want to know is: what is ‘electric charge’?  Nobody seems to know.


*If you believe those two words, then I can get away with pretty much anything…

** What happens to all those Small and Medium-sized Hadrons, I used to wonder, until someone put me right.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

A haiku

Here's a little moth.
Do moths eat cloth? Is that a
Myth?  I've no idea.

'that which eats away at anything, gradually and silently.'
'a fragile frivolous creature, readily dazzled into destruction.'

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Horses no longer for courses

I was saddened, though not surprised, to read that at least a thousand horses have been killed over the last six years for failing to jump over an obstacle which proved too difficult for them, and which, to put it bluntly, had been designed to precisely that purpose.  If you don’t accept that contention, just consider – when you watch a steeplechase, is part of the excitement praying that your preferred horse will make it over the next fence?

I used the word ‘killed’ above in place of the euphemistic ‘destroyed’, or even worse ‘elective euthanasia’ (ugh!), which even the Observer’s report didn’t see the need to question.  The British Horseracing Authority, which puts the case for the defence, should be renamed the ‘British Weaselwords Authority’.   After trying to undermine the bare facts with the last refuge of the modern-day scoundrel, percentages (those 1,000 dead horses are a mere 0.2% of the total number of runs over fences, so that’s all right then), they assert, with a straight face, that “[t]horoughbred racehorses are not animals that take well to being turned out to a field … and sometimes the most humane option is to put them down.”  (Substitute “kill them” for the last three words, please.) 

I’d say the most humane option is not to make them do it.  Although I wouldn’t call myself an enthusiast (or a gambler – which is what it’s really all about), I greatly enjoy watching a flat race, almost as much as I imagine the horses enjoy running it.  But jump races have always made me a bit queasy, and learning that the death toll is getting worse rather than better doesn’t assuage this reaction one bit.


I was born in the Year of the Horse, and they sense this.  Whenever I’m near them, they seem to single me out, with a smile and a wink.  Once, I was walking (on a designated footpath)with companions across a field in Pembrokeshire in which three beautiful horses were running free.  The others were a bit nervous, but I was enthralled; until the young colt ran up to me, grabbed me by the sleeve and insistently tried to get me to join in.  I eventually got free (one of the older ones might have come over and had a quiet word, I’m not sure), and bore a little bruise on my upper arm for several days afterwards.  I saw it as a badge of honour.

I’ve never ridden a horse: something I’d add to my bucket list, if I had one.  I have ridden a camel, though, and a donkey.  And a tram.