Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Compare and Contrast

From today’s paper:

We can confirm that we are compliant with the tax regimes of all of the jurisdictions in which we operate.” – The managing principal of the London office of a US investment company which has, quite legally, transferred ownership of an east London housing estate to a Jersey-based shell company in order to minimise corporation and capital gains tax, whilst planning to triple rents and evict low-income tenants.  (The gentleman in question has just bought a £3.9m country estate for his own use, apparently using a similar offshore mechanism.)

Actions permitted by unjust laws can be evil…” – Philosopher Nigel Warburton, on the seizure or compulsory purchase, quite legally at the time, of Jewish-owned works of art by the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Five Randoms for Sunday

1. When I left the house at 11.30 this morning, I could hardly see through the windscreen for rain, wipers at full throttle.  Now I can see the Pleiades from my garden.  Isn’t weather wonderful?

2. The benefits of a third Heathrow runway are officially estimated at between 112 and 220 billion pounds, over a sixty year period.

3. I think I’m going to vote Green.  Look up their manifesto, then look up the Kippers’. 

4. Can we please rewind Christmas to about 1949?  A tangerine and a couple of walnuts will do me.  I want my Meccano set back though.

5. You can get used to anything, however frightful it might have seemed.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Is it over yet?

It must be, no bangs yet this evening. 

When I were a lad, bonfire night was the 5th of November, and lasted precisely one night.  (All right, it might have been shifted to the nearest weekend, but still, one night.)  And it was as much about bonfires as about fireworks.  Certainly the construction of the pile of the summer garden cast-offs was a drawn-out process, carefully engineered by my father to ensure maximised combustion when the time came.  (He was like that.) 

And when the time did come, nourished by a few splashes of petrol or paraffin, and there was that crackling skyward rush of flame and sparks and the fire grew from inside so that the edges of the pile became a black lattice against the fierce yellow interior, like streaks across the sun, and then the bonfire gently matured into a vermilion face-scorching glow into which you could thrust potatoes until they turned black on the outside and molten under the skins, and slap lashings of salted butter on them and deliberately burn your tongue eating them – well, who needed Standards or Brocks?

Of course, we did have fireworks too.  Wobbly rockets in milk bottles (which sometimes went haywire and spun off sideways); crackerjacks (which I hated because I was convinced they were chasing me); Catherine wheels (are they still called that?  I hope not, given the gruesome derivation); Air Bombs (unbelievably, the deputy scoutmaster once organised a firework battle, with these as handheld weapons) …  

I didn’t really like it.  The next days were much better.  My father would split open spent Roman candles, tip out the powder onto the drive and ignite it with a miniature display of sparks and colours that was better than the real thing.  My friend Mike and I once used leftover bangers to try and blow up a rotting tree stump in his garden – I think we may even have partially succeeded.   And I even used to enjoy collecting the rocket sticks.

I wrote here - gosh, five years ago! – about my best ever firework display.  I can’t recommend this approach though.


Thursday, 6 November 2014

Autumn isn't all brown ...

Just a few colours from around my garden today:

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

In Sickness and in Heat

A chance remark by Z, and a comment from Mike, has set off a chain of very early memories loosely around the area of ill health and bedroom fires.  The former is not a topic I’m terribly keen to pursue, because I’ve been getting enough of that at home recently (though everything seems to have settled down at the moment), but as Paul Simon put it, ‘preserve your memories.’  So:

Our first house, Watcombe Road, was heated entirely by burning coal, mostly in open fires, though there was a stove in the breakfast room (I think), which is where we did a lot of our living.  Central heating was a thing of the future; when we moved to the posh house in Stourwood Road when I was twelve, we were very impressed by the huge columnar cast iron radiators, even though I don’t remember them ever being much more than lukewarm.

Anyway, back at Watcombe, I tended to be a sickly child, and in those days the frontline defence against illness was to be kept in bed.  So Mike’s observation equating heated bedrooms with sickness rings a loud bell.  I think I ran through whooping cough, croup and chickenpox in fairly quick succession.  At that age, between about three and six, you don’t have a lot of expectations, so I don’t remember being particularly distressed by the symptoms, nasty though they must have been – it was almost a kind of normal.

What I do remember is the warmth.  Winter beds consisted of sheets, at least two blankets, and an eiderdown, all that being essential defence against the encroaching frost which painted intricate ferns on the windowpanes.  Sick beds probably had another layer or two, and the bedroom fire was lit!  I was allowed – encouraged – to draw, to look at pictures (I remember being given copies of ‘Illustrated’ and ‘Picture Post’ magazines, which was pretty advanced on my parents’ part, the equivalent of letting me loose on Mail Online today; of course, they may have been parentally edited), and to read: in fact I suspect my precocious reading ability owed a lot to being so ill so often.

I loved it, and developed an unhealthy penchant, for a while,  for crying sick when I fancied a day off school.  (I once tried dipping the thermometer into my tea, but that got rumbled.) 

But it also gave rise to perhaps my earliest nightmare, certainly of the lucid, waking kind.  (You know the ones: you’re awake, everything looks and feels normal, but something’s out of kilter, things are happening that shouldn’t be – and then you wake up properly.)   It was triggered by something I’m sure was called the Steam Kettle.  This was filled with water kept at a simmer, presumably by some sort of  paraffin burner, with a long neck which gently emitted steam, to keep the air humidified through the night.  I’d probably been looking at giraffes, or dinosaurs.  You can guess the rest.