Saturday, 30 April 2011

Aliens? Not yet

I'm indebted to a post called 'Rogue Planets' by Ann Finkbeiner of The Last Word on Nothing back in February for much of the following.

This morning I read a review of a book called 'The Eerie Silence', by Paul Davies, just out in paperback here (Penguin), which apparently debates the evidence base (or rather lack of evidence) for the existence of aliens, and why, if they exist, they haven't been in touch.

I make a couple of breathtaking assumptions here.  The first is that these aliens will have evolved on roughly Earthlike planets, the second that they will have discovered, at about the same stage of their evolution, the use of the electromagnetic spectrum to transmit information, and fallen in love with this as deeply as we have over the last century or so.  So let's look at the planets.

According to state of the art astronomy, Kepler -10b, the nearest candidate so far, seems to be about 560 light years away. Let’s pretend that it’s Earthlike (which it isn’t) and formed about the same time as us (who knows). It’s reasonable to assume, then, that evolution would have progressed at roughly the same rate, if not in the same direction. If so, what we see of them, and they of us, would be rooted in the late Middle Ages.

That’s a best-case scenario. So why are these clowns wasting their time hunting for medieval alien TV channels?  And why doesn't any of the literature I've ever come across take this simple fact of elementary physics into consideration?  If they are out there (unless they've discovered a way of moving information, never mind themselves, faster than the speed of light), we probably have well over five hundred years to wait before we can expect to see even their equivalent of Marconi's first efforts.  And another hundred for The Alien X Factor.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Calm down

You'll be aware of yesterday's spell of high-minded political debate in the Commons, when David Cameron repeatedly told Angela Eagle to "calm down, dear", afterwards claiming it to be a joke, referencing Michael Winner's well-known insurance advert.  Leaving aside the revelation that our Prime Minister identifies with Michael Winner as a role model, did you hear the reportage of the incident on 'The World at One', hosted by the inimitable Martha Kearney?  After the political correspondent had finished his piece, Martha took over with the customary acknowledgment.  "Thank you, dear," she said.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Superinjunction - an exclusive leak


I'm sorry, the content of this post cannot be divulged.  In fact I shouldn't be telling you that it exists.  Or that I'm the person telling you all this.  Please don't spill the beans, or someone will have to send in the judges.  If they exist.  Everything is banned henceforth.  But I'm not allowed to tell you that.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Sir George Martin

Just hope you all watched this wonderful programme which has just finished on BBC2.  This great man has been the source of so much joy over the last sixty years, from Ronnie Hilton via the Goons and the Beatles and countless others, through to seriously experimental Jeff Beck and Mahavishnu, whilst remaining so naturally funny and human.  I was crying with delight by the end.  I hope he lives for ever.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Caravan Diaries (part lost count)

I drafted a lot of this with some rarely seen technology known as quill and parchment.  The former a give-away from Le Manoir aux Quatr' Saisons (how did that get there??), the latter an excellent recycled pad called 'Save The Rhino'.

The information boards on the M4 said 'TAKE EXTRA CARE WHEN TOWING'.  In the way my mind works, I read that to mean 'Take less care when not towing'.  I know, I can be irritating.

New neighbours at White Park, replacing G and S who decided to give up the caravan having realised, after forty-odd years there, that they own a flat three quarters of a mile away in Saundersfoot . I wander across to say hello at about three o'clock and realise I've already met the new folks, and their greyhound whose name I've forgotten.  I leave at 4.15 three glasses of rose heavier, having been introduced to about twelve extended family members aged from two to not telling.  This caravan site is ruled by four dynasties, with Joseph as the Padrone.
NB Anyone know how to do accents?  Grave, acute etc., not Welsh.

Five little children are playing an unfathomable game involving frisbees (which nobody knows how to throw), shrimping nets, and everyone suddenly sitting down at the same moment, facing east.  Enthralled for an hour.  They reminded me of rabbits.  A sociologist would get a thesis out of it.

Then, a four-year-old, his father, and a border collie played football.  Hey, that border collie was the best header of the ball since [insert your ballheader of choice, since I don't know any].  I suggested to the father that the dog should be playing for Wales.  He said "Nah, not ready yet.  No tactical sense."

At eight o'clock, a bird starts singing for the sunset, up in the overhanging sycamore.  It sounds like a blackbird, but isn't.  Blackbirds have thirty-two different song patterns, all of which I know by heart, and this isn't any of them.  I asked another neighbour if it was a nightingale.  "No, nightingales are unmistakeable," she replied.  Not if you've never heard one, I thought.

9.00 pm.  The colours in the sky as the sun sets behind the woods on the hill up to the West.  Pale azure darkening through to deep cobalt and navy.  And the wine-dark sea below.  Soon there'll be stars, and then the Milky Way's great wheel will start spinning. 

Much like my head by that stage.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Crickets.....Please Don't Ever Change

This song just dropped into my mind for some reason.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Builders' tea

Here's a view of the back of my house, as it is at the moment.

A certain scuptural quality, wouldn't one say?  A touch Louise Bourgois even, n'est ce pas?

I'm having my soffits and fascias renewed, and so know roughly what those words mean.  A company called E******t came round to give me a quote a few weeks ago.  Cheeks were sucked.  "Well, the headline price is £18,000."  He heard my sharp intake of breath.  "But don't worry.  With the various discounts, subsidies, etcetera, we can get that down to - " a lot of fiddling with a calculator, then a beaming smile " - nine!"  He smirks seductively.  "That's if you sign up today, of course."

I've been there, had that done to me before, so I smiled back and showed him where the door is.  The next day, Craig from came round for a look.  "Two and a half."

So now, Craig and his brother-in-law have created this splendid sculpture and are working from 8.30 to 5 to ensure that I can hand over a solidly backed guarantee to whoever eventually buys or inherits this joint.  No more painting, ever.

But the tea is a major problem.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

ARS revisited

I've been watching Antiques Roadshow for about twenty years, on and off, so I'm an expert/boring old git/ARS otaku.  I've loved it through all its incarnations, from money-grabbing 'what's in the attic', through 'who gives a x about the antiques, just pose a few dolly-birds in the background', back through 'here's a Constable which may or may not be a Constable', and 'I'm a really interesting collector of Matchbox toys, here are just a few thousand of them' ...

It used to skip unpredictably around the Sunday night schedules, which made for difficult logistics when my mother-in-law was round for dinner with her firm expectations.  But now it seems to have bedded down into the eight o'clock slot, which suits my eating and drinking patterns fine; and more importantly, to have stabilised into human interest.  Tonight we had a wonderful lady who used to do voiceovers for the female leads (Ursula Andress, Shirley Eaton) in early Bond movies, and a guy who was pondering whether to take his huge model of Asran the lion to Australia when he emigrated, because there might be health and safety immigration issues as it contained some real animal components, albeit dead ones ... and a beautiful worthless picture which linked back through the owner's family to Lord Byron or someone ...

I can even put up with Fiona Bruce for this.  The older you get, so does the world.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Liechtenstein it ain't

I see that from a mere $70,000 it is possible to rent the Principality of Liechtenstein for a night.  That's a whole country.  Included in the price are customised street signs, a temporary currency, and a free wine tasting, while extras include toboggan rides, horse-drawn carriages and fireworks. 

This got me thinking, so I put on my entrepreneurial hat (the one in the spare room wardrobe, underneath the dead cameras and unopened cookery books).  As a result, I am pleased to announce that, subject to successful negotiations with my neighbours, you will shortly be able to rent the entire Close beside my house:

Customised street signs will unfortunately not be available, but there are good views of the fascinatingly quaint existing ones:

I am proposing that the temporary currency be pounds, shillings and pence, and will be talking to Mervyn King about the practicalities.  Glasses of Thames Valley Water, freshly drawn from yellow hosepipes, will be available (subject to hosepipe bans).  A visit to the Close car park, of special interest to connoisseurs of used condoms and syringes, is included in the price.

Optional extras include a tour of the highlights of my garden:

and viewings of some fine potholes.  There may also be an abandoned white van with flat tyres.

Bookings will open shortly for the summer of 2012.  Be sure to apply early, as demand is certain to be heavy in the absence of any other significant attractions in Britain at that time.

The price is yet to be determined.  17/6d should about cover it.

Oh, and there are grokes, of course.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Costly chocolate

Actually the chocolate was free, a Christmas present from my niece that I've only just got round to eating.  So, yesterday afternoon, with a cup of tea, I thought a bit of chocolate would be nice.  So I unwrapped it (it's dark hard stuff in the shape of a reindeer) and took a bite.  There was a crunchy kind of noise as a massive filling came out of one of my lower right teeth.

'Ah', I thought, and phoned the dentist.  The nice lady asked me if it hurt, and when I said no gave me an appointment for next Monday (having established that I was two years overdue for a check-up).

When I woke up this morning, though, I found that the meagre remains of the tooth were wobbling around all over the place whenever I touched it with my tongue or my upper teeth.  I can't be doing with that for four days, I thought, and called the dentist again.  I told a few lies about it hurting (it didn't really) and got a slot for two o'clock today, which I've just come back from.  I'll spare you the details, except to say those injections don't seem to work as well as they used to.  But I have a set of 'post-operative instructions', one of which is 'No alcohol for 24 hours', bah!  Among the instructions not given are how to eat, how to clean your teeth and anything about painkillers or not poking your tongue in the hole.  But I'll improvise my way through all that.  Soup sounds like a good idea.

The cost of that bit of delicious chocolate, then, was £47 for the dentist's five minutes of admittedly fairly strenuous work.  And he kept the tooth.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Garden Hose

No, not those socks you wear under your wellies, but the user instructions for my new hosepipe:

Wait, there's more:

I managed very well up to step I.  But even with my Bletchley Park skills, I couldn't decipher the barcode.  And J completely befrazzled me.  And I have eleven bits left over, not counting the screws, rawlplugs and electric drill.

But water does seem to come out of the end.  I think I'll go and have a hot bath now.

Sunday, 10 April 2011


Another book I refer to far too often (that's in addition to Chambers Dictionary, the Oxford Book of Quotations, and of course the Voynich Manuscript), is Chambers Crossword Lists.  This lists (spoiler in the title), words and phrases under all sorts of categories.  It's meant, and usually used around here, for cheating at crosswords; but sometimes it can be fun just to let it fall open at random.

So it was that, vaguely seeking different types of Hats, I've just discovered that the following kinds of Humour exist:

dry, sick, black, gallows, surreal, farcical, satirical, slapstick, lavatorial, barrack-room, Pythonesque.

Is this an exhaustive list?  Is it relevant, important, or interesting?  Is it even funny?  You be the judge.

I could move on to the next entry, Hydrocarbons, but you've probably had enough for now.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Caravan pictures

Just a few from Thursday.

Unwanted guests

Friday, 8 April 2011

Caravanland revisited

All the way down the M4 from Newbury to Bristol, the information signs were reading: 'THINK BIKE.  THINK BIKER'.  Vague images of Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin kept distracting me from the incidental business of steering this thing.  Around Cardiff, they started to say: 'THINK - DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE'.  Well, it's a bit late to tell me that, I thought.  But I'll leave the bottle of Old Bushmills in the glove compartment from now on.

On past occasions, I've been exhorted by these same displays (or rather the sanctimonious prats who sit behind them) to 'THINK - FASTEN YOUR SEATBELT', 'THINK - USE YOUR MIRRORS', and 'THINK - DON'T DRIVE TIRED'.  I'm surprised not have seen one telling me to 'THINK - DON'T THINK AND DRIVE'.

When I got there, the promised toilet connectivity hadn't been connected.  Unaccountably, I wasn't surprised.  The septic tanks, however, had been installed, with the result that my view, instead of the lush gently sloping green meadow down to the silver sea, now resembles an abandoned motocross course.  Not that I could see it for the haar.  Grass seeds have, however, been scattered, and at least I've gained some nice new turf on my sitting-out area in front.  To be fair, winter has been harsh by Pembrokeshire standards.  You can't dig eight-foot deep holes when it's permafrost or bogland.  Patience.  A Pembrokeshire virtue.

No rabbit movies.  As soon as you step outside to film them, they vanish.  Perhaps they're virtual rabbits.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Chili vs. Bol

Making chili (or chilli, opinions differ, mine included) con carne (a caravanland staple) this afternoon, I remembered some people I know who make a batch of what they call 'bolognese sauce', then freeze half of it to turn into a chili at a later date, by adding some spices.

NO!  Though the basics are the same - onions, garlic, mince, tomatoes, oregano - these are two totally different dishes which must never be allowed to meet or interbreed.

Bol: good beef mince, chicken livers optional.  Chili: best method is to boil a lump of brisket then shred it.  But mince will do, and usually does round here.
Bol: fry in olive oil.  Chili: lard or goose fat.
Bol: carrots, celery.  Chili: green peppers.  And red beans of course (though purists regard them as optional).
Bol: milk, white wine.  Chili: a dash of lager.  Secret ingredient: a pinch of instant coffee powder.
Bol: eat with tagliatelle.  Chili: rice or tortillas.  (Texans use cream crackers)

There, now you know.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

It's caravan time! Isn't it?

A heatwave is promised for the next few days.  Even Joseph's soggy hill will have drained down enough for it to be safe to drive across the grass to Plot 9, lower field, without the car sinking like a stone dropped into a quagmire and me having to find some kind of Functioning Telecommunications* to summon Joseph and his tractor to haul it out ... (*FT there consists of climbing to the very top of the hill, perching half-standing on the stile and waving the phone around until a bar appears.)  No, I won't have to do that.

The toilet should have been installed.  I say 'should', because nothing is certain in Pembrokeshire, not even (or especially not) promises.  I'm not really fussed, to be honest.  I'm usually happy to traipse forty yards across the field to the communal block, or go over the hedge in an emergency (only of one sort, you understand).  But you have to keep up appearances in caravan sites.  I learnt that years ago when I installed my patio, on sand, in three days, as opposed to others who had spent months laying foundations and installing fancy stonework and ornate steps, and sniffed when they saw my feeble effort (which is still in place, by the way, unless it got washed away  by the snow).  (Joseph also sniffed and opined that those patios were stronger than his tractor roads up the farm.)  Also, an inside loo does attract guests.

It'll be fun to see if the fridge is still working.  Also to film, with my spanking new camcorder, the springtime behaviour of the rabbits.  And to walk the geological shore and the industrial archaeology up the valley.  (I've written before about some of that, with this label.)

I can't wait to be there, in theory.  So why am I so reluctant to go?

I will, and will report back next week.


Saturday, 2 April 2011

Profoundly Philosophical Joke

This joke was told to me by an Irishman, late in the evening in a seedy pub in Edinburgh.  For some reason, it raises all sorts of deep questions about language, Wittgenstein, the meaning of meaning: none of which I can articulate. 

A group of cavemen are sitting around their fire.  They're hungry.  Just then, the hunter comes in, carrying a strange animal that nobody has seen before. 

After they've roasted and eaten it, they fall to debating what to call this new-found creature.  All sorts of suggestions are bandied around, until the hunter loses his patience and says:

"It's called a rabbit!"

The company mutter and consider this suggestion.  Finally one of them breaks, and asks:

"So, why's it called a rabbit, then?"

The hunter raises his eyes and stares disdainfully at the questioner.

"Because it looks like a fucking rabbit!"

Friday, 1 April 2011

The Lord Of The Rings in Three Easy Pages. Page Three

And All Roads now lead to Gondor’s capital Minas Tirith, a kind of Calabrian hill town, ruled over by Denethor, father of Faramir (handsome prince) and Boromir (dead) and mad as a chopped snake.

Mordor invades Gondor (another huge battle, elephants and all, see film 3), nearly wins, but gets defeated at last gasp by Rohan cowboys and Aragorn, with his elf and dwarf, helped by some dead people. Denethor incinerates himself.

Then it all goes a bit anti-climax really, and still several hundred pages to go.  Don’t forget though that Frodo and Sam, and the faithful Gollum, are still crawling towards Mount Doom in Mordor …

‘I know!’ said Gandalf. ‘We’ll ride up to Sauron’s front door and knock and he’ll come out and then and then …’

‘I’d better lead this one,’ said Aragorn.

So they did.

But, just as Sauron’s Wraiths, Orcs, Oliphaunts, Trolls, Wild Men, etc are poised to pounce unexpectedly on Gandalf’s little army, Frodo Sam and Gollum between them manage to drop the Ring (and Gollum) into the Hot Crack of Doom – and then Sauron and all his Orcs and Trolls and Wraiths all just kind of evaporate and die and there’s lots of big hot explosions and only baddies get killed and then Frodo and Sam get rescued by an eagle (don’t ask) and then everyone gets big hugs and it’s all very very lovely with loads of archaic language, thees and thous, and ceremony and then Aragorn gets crowned King and marries his childhood sweetheart and then all the chums set off for home.

‘Hah. You’d forgotten me, hadn’t you? I’m evil wizard Saruman, and you’re not getting away with trashing my Tower and nicking all my blow. Hurry home hobbits!’

‘Oh Saruman,’ says Merry, now a full Hobbit General with feathers and bar. ‘Learn, wizard! Me and my lads can and are gonna whup yo ass.’ And so they do.

Wow, nearly half a page still to go! Right:

Sam marries Rosie and goes back to gardening.

Merry and Pippin swashbuckle around a bit, then settle down and write their memoirs. Reunion album due soon.

Gandalf wanders off somewhere, giggling.

Frodo writes his memoirs and eventually finds a publisher.

All those evil people have evaporated and died, remember, so Middle Earth’s now a nice safe comfortable boring place to live (except for that spider …!)

No-one knows what happens to the elf and dwarf.

In the end, everybody lives happily ever after, except for all the Magical People, who have to sail away to America.


Tonto 愚人

In Japan you can buy live crabs from vending machines.