Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Hills Are Alive

Sadly, nobody made a 1970s horror film with that title.  They had Eyes.  (But if so, they must’ve been alive, surely?  You can’t have eyes if you’re dead – you can only have deadeyes.)

So, moving rapidly on: everyone agrees that The Sound of Music is the best awful song ever written, in the best awful musical ever written, at least by R&H.  A school of thought suggests that they should have packed it in after Carousel, and I have some sympathy with that, only bidding South Pacific as a preferred quit point.  But they knew what they were doing.  Well, they’d both been in the trade, individually and then together, for half a century or more.  (The first trace I can find of Rodgers as a composer is a song called ‘Any Old Place with You’, with Lorenz Hart, in 1919; and of Hammerstein writing, with Otto Harbach and Herbert Stothart, a musical called ‘Jimmie’ in 1920, from which no songs, perhaps thankfully, seem to have survived.)
Anyway, what I’d meant to write about (prompted by some thoughts about rhythm, melody and harmony) – the actual sound of the stuff – will have to wait for another day.  Besides, there aren’t any hills around here.
(to be continued...)

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Christmas Card Audit 2017

Executive Summary:

·        No startling variations from last year evince themselves, apart from the decline in the snowy category.  This may be due to the misappropriation during 2017 of the word ‘snowflake’.

·        Several animals and birds (such as foxes, cats and owls) are resting, but will doubtless be back.  Others (dogs and nuthatches)are debuting: we wish them well.

·        The slight reduction in the volume of glued-on glitter is to be welcomed.  I read that the stuff is the next ecological-disaster-in-waiting.

·        A cute little girl has replaced a choirboy.  I’m saying nothing.


The full figures (2016’s, where applicable, in brackets):


Snow/Snowmen/Snowflakes:                 4 (10)

Santas/Reindeer:                                   3 (3)

Animals/Birds:                                      12 (12)

of which          

Robins:                                     2 (3)

Free-range reindeer:                  3 (3)

Horses:                                     1 (1)

Foxes:                                      0 (1)

Sheep:                                      2 (1)

Cats:                                        0 (1)

Squirrels:                                  0 (1)

Wrens:                                     1 (1)

Owls:                                       0 (1)

Penguins:                                 1 (1)

Partridges (in pear tree):            0 (1)

Bullfinches:                              0 (1)

Dogs:                                       1

Nuthatches:                              1

Landscapes:                                          3 (4)

Nativities/Wise Men/Angels:                 6 (7)

Christmas trees/Baubles:                       4 (9)

Abstract:                                              4 (2)

Mail-letterboxes:                                   1 (3)

Choirboys:                                            0 (1)

Booze:                                                  1 (1)

Flowers:                                               1

Forests/woods:                                      3

Cute children:                                       1

Houses:                                                1


Special categories:


Homemade/designed:                            3 (4)

Cards with glued-on glitter:                   8 (10)

Wonderfully weird:                               3 (1)

Posh yet restrained:                               1


Again, I can’t nominate a Card of the Year– they are all equal in their various ways.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Astany Portorm (3, 4, 2, 1, 5)

When I got back here on Tuesday, everything was fine.  I worry occasionally and slightly – has the house burned down? (unlikely, I’d have been told); has the boiler broken down (that’s happened); has a power cut switched off the alarm and then failed to switch it back on again (nightmare scenario) ….

No, all was fine.  So I went up the supermarket to stock up for the few days I’d be here.  Also fine.  But.
When I got back, I opened the front door (as one does) then closed it.  Except that the latch pushy-in-and-out thingy didn’t push out.  I have, of course, two locks on this door, so as it wasn’t an immediately urgent problem – not up there with the alarm – I investigated briefly, determined that the lock was knackered beyond repair, and got on with what was left of the day.
Wednesday was spent finding a replacement lock that near enough matched the dead one.  I ended up at Reading’s wonderful long-lived ironmongers, Drews, where a cheerfully caring young man helped me find what I needed, leaving me with what proved to be a presciently potent parting platitude – ‘hope it goes all right!’
Don’t worry, I shall now cut to the title.  After, at about 3 o’clock when the light was starting to fail, discovering that the pre-existing hole in the door was too big (the spindly thingy that connects the outside to the inside has to be precisely aligned, which the right-sized hole will achieve automatically whereas a too-big one permits the thingy to wobble around, making it really hard to join it all up, and… where was I?), I gave up and moved on.
Of course, this morning, after a good night’s sleep (apart from the wind – not internal, there was a serious storm going on outside) I dealt with that now minor impediment in minutes flat (well, about twenty of them) and completed the installation.
This is where I found that I needed to shim out the thingy that’s attached to the door frame, which catches the lock’s pushy-in-and-out thingy and causes the lock to, erm, lock, by about a quarter of an inch.  I needed a little bit of wood just that thick.  But where to find such a thing?  The idea of having to haul down to yet another diy joint was not on.  It had to be locally sourced.  Another twenty minutes head scratching and wandering around ensued, then the solution caught my eye.
About thirty years ago, it seems that some kind body gave us a presentation bottle of Dow’s Vintage Port.  The box it came in now contains old forks, parties for the use of.  It was in the garage/workshop/study.  Ah, maybe…!  Yes, its lid is exactly the right thickness and width (3”) for the shim I needed.  All I had to do was saw off the right length and drill three holes in it.  The forks aren’t quite as well protected as they were, but they’ll survive.
As the post title says – ‘Any Port In A Storm’.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Watts and Barraclough

Several posts ago, as a starter for my ambitious project to hit 1,000 posts on my 10th blogging anniversary, I put up a list of surnames, with the idea that just asking people to guess the context would be good for a shot or two.  My brother inadvertently blew my cover with a comment identifying them as teachers at our grammar school, so I might as well cut straight to the Act II exposition, which is to say something about these long-dead formers of my self.

I’ll start with a couple about whom I remember least, and will therefore have to make up most.

Mr Watts had an artificial leg, having lost the real one in the war.  I think it was his left one, because I can picture him riding his bike to school.  This had been modified so that he only had to pedal on one side; I’d only see him in the morning, when he would be riding along Mallard Way towards the staff entrance and so would be on the same side of the road as me.  But it could have been his right one.
His inevitable nickname was ‘Pegleg’.  I guess he must have been aware of this, but he was a kindly soul who clearly had a thick enough skin to elect to be a boys’ secondary school teacher in the knowledge of all that would entail, and I don’t think there was ever any unpleasantness serious or discernible enough to need escalating.
I have no idea what he taught.
Mr Barraclough taught, I suspect, geography.  If so he must have taken me over from Mr Styles (q.v.) when I was in about the fourth form and done serious damage to my interest in the subject.  To be fair, my interest in any subject other than skiffle was at serious risk by then, so I can’t completely lay my abysmal O level performance at his door.  Oh all right, I can.
I remember him being extremely tall, which is confirmed by a photograph I’ve recently stumbled across online.  Online sources also suggest he was an avid user of the cane, but I never experienced that.  Mind you, I don’t remember ever having been caned during my school days (or since).  I was too timid to be a threat to any of my teachers.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Research suggests

Whenever I read those words I reach for my logic gun.

The latest research suggestion is that a person who smokes one cigarette is twice as likely to go on to smoke a few more than another person who smokes one cigarette.  (I simplify the maths for blog-effectiveness, of course.  But not the logic.)

I’d have thought that most people (usually kids) who decide to try a cigarette (or anything else dangerous, for that matter) do so either because they are peer-pressured to, or because they want to, and will probably go on to try a few more, at least ‘for a period’ (undefined).  The detailed commentary on this ‘research’ does make this qualifying point among several others – for example, that it was a self-selecting sample drawn from widely variant populations and can therefore be considered as, at best, ‘only an estimate’ – but that doesn’t stop the journalists (I’m drawing on the reports in the Guardian and the Times) from headlining this as if it’s in any way factual or significant.

I have no axe to grind here, as I stopped smoking several months ago and don’t intend to start again.  I’m just against spurious science.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018


Yes, I know.

I’ve just about got the hang of the stove top – you slide things around sideways rather than turning a knob – but I clearly haven’t quite cracked the ovens yet.  I know that the top one is very hot and the lower one quite cool, and that within either of these the shelf position is crucial in determining the actual cooking temperature, but fine tuning is obviously still beyond me.

I know this to be so because after my best efforts it proved hard if not impossible to distinguish the carrots from the turnips from the onions.  In gas cooker terms I roasted them at gas 6 for about 25 minutes then turned it down to 3 for another half an hour or so.  Clearly I need to practise more, because they all ended up black.
The oxtail stew was still superb though.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Technology makes it simpler for us

My fabulous new camera has 17 buttons on its outside.  That's including the one you press to take a picture.