Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Festive Greetings!

I probably won't be on here again until the New Year, so just to say Happy Festivities to all my blog pals, and anyone else who might happen to pass by.

Oh, and I receive this cheering message from Blogger every time I access it ...

... so can do no more than reciprocate their sentiments.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Right Way Up

Here’s a pyramid.


The base is when you were born, the apex is when you’ll die.  You have no choice but to climb the pyramid, through inexorable time.
The substance of the pyramid is your potential – what remains for you to achieve?  As you climb, your potential will inevitably diminish; that’s the way pyramids work.
So think outside the pyramid.  The higher you climb, the more you see.  And maybe by breaking off chunks of rock and throwing them, you’ll be able to change what you see.  (Sometimes they will bounce off other pyramids and come back.)
Of course, the worth of the climb will depend on how you do it.  You can go up the craggy, rough-clad outside, which will be hard but will increase your field of vision and focus your choice of chunks to throw; or you can crawl up the narrow inside tunnels, which may be easier but you won’t see so much, except through the occasional passageway that might lead to the outside.  Difficult to aim accurately through those though.
If you’ve chosen the outside path you can probably duck round a corner to a different route up (pyramids have four facets).  And of course there are many forks and turns in those tunnels too. 

Like the Pyramids of Giza, this metaphor is starting to crumble, so I’ll stop.  For now.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Can I be forgiven...

... for misreading the last word of this local paper headline?

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Marx was right(ish)!

Bee said to me this morning: “I think I ought to stop buying from Amazon.” 
I agreed, which was easy for me as I hardly ever do.  (I only go there once all other avenues have been explored, usually for obscure stuff that it’d be hard to find anywhere else.)  But that wasn’t her point.
Later in the day, I read Carole Cadwalladr’s exposė in the Observer of the near-slavery working conditions in their Swansea warehouse (which I already more or less knew about).  That was Bee’s point.
I accept that, obviously.  But my extra point is concealed in an opinion lurking early in Cadwalladr’s article.  “Amazon is successful for a reason.  It is brilliant at what it does.”  This is where I part company.  Amazon is actually rubbish at what it does.  Let me explain.
A capitalist system, theory tells us, exists for only one purpose: to produce (duh) goods and services which can be sold in the market, thereby enriching the owners of the system (capitalists) whilst rewarding the producers of the goods and services (workers).  Marx’s argument was that the inherent bias of the system (because power leeches upwards towards ownership and away from labour) contains the seeds of its own destruction, via revolution. 
Well, he’s been proved wrong on that one – so far.  But what he couldn’t have foreseen, of course, was consumerism, household debt, and the internet. The new capitalism is based on the belief that the present isn’t a problem, because you can just push it forward into the future.  My* old metaphor of the inverted pyramid of piss still holds up. 
So that’s why I say that your Amazons are bad at what they do – they just don’t get it.  They don’t get true capitalism, which requires a balance of contribution from each direction.  Henry Ford got it when he worked out that he could use people to make his cars, but he needed to pay them money, so that they could buy his cars. 

*Kingsley Amis’s, actually, but I’ve adopted it as a fond mindchild

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

(9, 3)

Shed the end of a vigorous song - and a tear.  Monkeys may puzzle no more.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


We were running a bit late, for reasons I won’t go into.  The curry house was booked for quarter to nine, and it was twenty to, with a ten minute drive in between.  At this point, she performed one of her party tricks.
“Have you seen my keys?”
Several minutes later, “Doesn’t matter,” she said, “I’ll take one of the spares.”  It was a blue one.
(I should explain that Bee’s spare keys are colour-coded – blue for front door, red for back, yellow for patio.)
The curries were quite nice.  As were the Cobras and the entertainment.  (There was a football team in).  Indian restaurants do seem to be quite loud on a Saturday night, don’t they?  We had one of those inaudible conversations, paid the bill, motored back up to the house and unlocked the front door.  Except we didn’t.

I’ve never been locked out of my own house (except that one time I was), even less someone else’s.  The blue key didn’t fit the blue door.  Or the yellow door or the red door or even the green door.  (The Green Door doesn’t exist, despite what Frankie Vaughan might tell you.)
We’re not ones to panic.  In this kind of situation, I almost wonder whether failure to panic is the most sensible reaction.  But we didn’t.  All sorts of options were considered, culminating in ‘Get a locksmith’.  Ever tried that in a semi-rural location at half-eleven p.m. on a Saturday night?  The solution is ‘Ask a policeman.’
The local police station was closed, of course, but there was a phone by the door, through which we got a couple of numbers.  About forty-five minutes later the super lock man turned up.  He had a magic device which opened the door without doing any damage (I won’t give details just in case any burglars read this blog – but “just as well you didn’t double-lock it”, he said).  Apparently, some locksmiths will smash the lock even if they don’t need to, for the extra revenue.  Not this one.
So then we spent the rest of the night filling in the insurance claim form.

(The keys were behind the radio.  The blue spare key was a red one.)

(There is a lie concealed within this post.  See if you can spot it.)


Friday, 15 November 2013

Best laid plans

It’s been an unusual couple of days, which has to be good.  Unusual is good.  About eleven o’clock Wednesday, as I was finishing my cold coffee and mapping out the plan, which entailed all sorts of domesticity, the phone rang.  Well, there’s an event!

Sam, who’s between jobs and delivering cars around the country to scrape a living, was stuck at Reading station, having missed the train to Newbury by four minutes.  (I was subsequently told that the timetables have been shifted forward by four minutes due to the absence of the scheduled leaves on the lines; I’m not sure I believe this.)  Could I help?  Course I could.  Pick you up at Reading station in about fifteen.
If you’ve been to Reading station recently, you probably need counselling.  There’s been a huge cosmetic makeover, which as far as I can work out has halved the number of platforms whilst doubling the time needed to get between any two locations.  (I’m probably being unfair; after all, they’ve only been at it for three years, hardly enough time to break something which was working fine, let alone repair it.)
I go there rarely nowadays, and he even less, so neither of us was particularly aware of the various  ‘pick-up’ or ‘drop-off’ points.  We had a hilarious series of phone conversations – “What can you see?”  “Cars in a car park.”  “I can see a pub called, um –“  “You’re in the wrong place…” “So are you!” – before we finally hooked up and set off for Greenham Common.  We had a really good chat, which wouldn’t otherwise have happened. 

Next day, Bee phoned me to let me know that someone had done a bit of road rage and seemed to want to reverse into her as she was parking, so she’d switched on her hazard lights, seen the aggressor off and caught the train to London.  When she got back six hours later, the hazards were still on, but the car battery  wasn’t.  She called the rescue people and spent some time wandering round Waitrose until they called back to suggest that she’d best be getting a taxi home. 
The taxi driver, on learning of her predicament, suggested that, instead of taking her home, he used his jump leads to start her car.  Naturally, she snapped this offer up.  He then thought he’d better follow her, just to make sure she didn’t break down on the way.  I don’t know yet whether he made any charge, I’ll find out; I suspect not.  Aren’t people decent?

The other good news is that Waitrose now do ossobuco cuts of veal, so that’s Saturday’s dinner sorted.  It does mean that I’ve had to buy a pack of the despised saffron, but hey! One in ten years is pardonable, innit?  Not even I would put turmeric in a risotto alla Milanese.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Who knows?

Yes thank you, I’ve had a nice blogbreak, and flushed out a few self-inflicted misconceptions, such as that there were categories – rants, raves and trivia – into which each post had to exclusively fall.  Hence the changed headline.  So here goes.  Put this into a category of your own choice, if you like; though I’d rather you didn’t.

I was going to spend a lot of time and effort in researching some answers, but it’s too late (in every sense), so instead here are ten questions.

1.      What proportion of current cabinet ministers are Old Etonians?

2.      Of these, how many are women?

3.      What proportion of the population are Old Etonians?

4.      What proportion of the population are women?

5.      How many current cabinet ministers inherited their wealth?

6.      Of these, how many are women?

7.      How many current cabinet ministers have worked for their living?

8.      Of these, how many worked outside the fields of public relations, law, or media?

9.      Please rate the following qualifications for a politician: rhetoric; forcefulness; logicality; consistency; empathy.

10.  Why can’t a woman be more like a man?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Farewell to a good old friend

Graham Livermore, who died last week, was the trombonist in Dave Anthony’s Moods throughout their existence.  He was also, I think, my closest friend within the band.  All 1960s groups had their internal frictions and ours was no exception: it’s unlikely that eight randomly selected personalities are going to get on, all the time, all together.  So alliances would form, shift, split and realign.  But Graham and I, I like to believe, stuck together.
He was a talented musician; nobody who heard him would question that.  He could play anything you put in front of him, reproduce by ear a tune someone might hum or play to him, and (dare I say) improvise more thoughtfully than anyone else in the band.  His solos on ‘Summertime’, which became his showcase number, were always melodies in their own right – sung from the soul, as it were – and I don’t think I ever heard the same one twice.
These qualities were, I suspect, not fully appreciated, by either his audiences or his colleagues, because Graham was the antithesis of a showman.  The one time he had a crack at ‘mak show’, somewhere in the bleak Midlands, a stupid girl grabbed the end of his slide and did some damage to his trombone.  Typically, he laughed it off, forgave her, got it fixed and carried on.  I don’t think I ever saw him angry.
In Italy, we’d share rooms at whatever pensione we fetched up in.  At our base camp in Milan, we evolved a system whereby the speakers were either side of the two beds, so each of us got his fair share of the stereo.   We listened to one another’s music: I brought ‘Smiley Smile’, he brought Ornette Coleman.  Later (once we’d been told to shut down the noise), he would use a set of coloured crayons to draw exquisite abstract visions, which he’d then screw up and throw away.
I haven’t caught the best thing about Graham, which was his dry, sometimes almost undetectable humour.  Once, after listening to Coleman’s ‘Double Quartet’, he looked across at me and, with a straight face, enquired “Why do they play like that?”  Another time, he pointed out that you could catch Coltrane, Davis and the rest repeating, recycling, the same licks in their solos.  “I do wish I knew what they were,” he remarked.  
When I was between marriages in the late eighties, we briefly became close again.  He hadn’t changed in the intervening twenty years.  He’d grown a lot of hair and beard, and was living in his parents’ house in what some might consider squalor.  It didn’t matter to me.

I spoke to Graham once, on the phone, about three years ago.  We had a nice little chat about music.  He was, he confessed, “a bit stoned.”  He spent his time, he said, making sculptures out of waste materials, which he hung from the ceiling. 
“They’re all different,” he told me.  I believed him.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

That’s enough, for now

When I started blogging, five years ago, it was from two motives.  Firstly, I’d recently lost my wife, and although the support from family and friends couldn’t have been stronger, I felt a need to reach out in new directions.  Secondly, I saw it – blogging – as an opportunity to exercise what I know to be one of my skills, writing.
Both of these aims have been more than achieved.  Through blogging, I’ve met many delightful people with whom I would never otherwise have had contact.  I’ve even met several of them face to face.  And, modesty aside, I know that I’ve been able to write, occasionally, some pretty good stuff – which would otherwise have been confined to the fading pages of a notebook to be read only by me.
So it’s been a good experience.  But I’m moving forward in my life.  So I’m going to take a break from blogging.  My ambitions are moving elsewhere.  Writing will certainly figure, but not here.  So will music, which I’ve shamefully neglected for too long.
I’m not disappearing in any sense – continue to expect comments!  In fact, I might become a comment pest…
Oh, and me being me, I’ll probably change my mind tomorrow. 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

A warning re some nasty malware

I've been away, in several dimensions, about some of which I'll update you later, but in the meantime I need to share the following with everybody.

Last Saturday, something calling itself  ‘Antivir*ouss Sec*urity Pro’ (I have deliberately garbled that name, you can guess the real words) appeared uninvited on my computer.  I have no idea how it got past my security filters – I suspect it somehow piggy-backed on a software update.  I’ll try and research this further.

Anyway, it immediately ran a ‘scan’, which reported 23 supposedly corrupt files which it couldn’t fix.  It then started to report apparent invasions, attacks etc. which it also couldn’t fix.  Finally, it effectively blocked my access to the internet, by advising me that the site I was trying to access was suspect and could damage my computer.  This included my home page, Wikipedia, and Google.  If I clicked the ‘continue anyway’ button, it got worse – I won’t scare you with the details.

At every step, I was told that I had to upgrade my protection, by giving them money and card details.) Naturally I declined to do this.  I tried to uninstall it, but it seemed to have craftily hidden itself away so as to make this impossible.

This thing is evil!

I called my software support service, who were aware of this Trojan.  I was advised that the only safe way to get rid of it is to reset the computer to ‘factory settings’.  You have to make sure you have a full external back-up of personal files before you do this, because you’ll have to restore them, along with everything else that didn’t come with the computer when you bought it.  (I started at 2.45 today and have just finished.)

This is obviously a seriously malicious bit of malware.  I don’t know how you can avoid it, but just thought I had to alert you to its existence.  If I find out any more about it, I’ll let you know – please do the same.

As an update, my brilliant brother has provided the following guide to how deal with it if you do get it:


Friday, 4 October 2013

They’re closing in on me!

Since I posted this over a year ago, the range of targeted adverts has narrowed drastically.  No more solar panels, female fashion accessories or baby buggies.  No, now they’re homing in on the fundamentals.  I am desperate for life insurance, private health insurance and payday loans.  And Amazin’ are even more convinced of my need for yet another copy of ‘The Essential Jerry Lee Lewis’.  (Can’t have too many of those, can you?*)
Isn’t it good when you see technology working as it should?
The spam is even more impressive – I now know that I need ophthalmic treatment (true), in Dallas Texas (less true), and that several effusive admirers of my blog would love to enhance certain aspects of my anatomy.**
But this morning brought a real delight.  Yesterday afternoon, I’d booked transport to Jersey, for Christmas with my relatives there, with a small, very customer-friendly airline.  They try so hard, you almost feel sorry for them, because in my inbox was an offer, as a new customer, of a discounted Christmas break, in Guernsey.

* I may just have given myself a theme there for tomorrow’s post.
** I’m not convinced.


Thursday, 3 October 2013

You can’t beat a good cliché!

Len Deighton once put into the mouth of one of his characters the thought that the cliché was a much-maligned means of instant communication.  (‘Billion Dollar Brain’, I think it was.)  But the character was, if I remember correctly, the baddie.
The trouble with clichés is that they almost always get drained of any meaning or relevance once you look behind them.  Let’s take the current favourite, here in British politics:

We are going to fix the roof while the sun shines!” 

This boils down to “We’re going to save some money, because another crippling economic crisis is going to happen and we need to be ready.”  There are a few things wrong here. 
First, and most obviously, fixing roofs in sunshine calls for a guaranteed spell of fine weather.  (As it happens, the roof of the house opposite me is being fixed, but it’s been raining for a couple of days, so they’ve stopped.  Luckily, they got the felt installed, otherwise water would presumably be dripping into the bedrooms by now.) 
Secondly, you need to make sure the walls can bear the weight of the new roof. 
And thirdly, using this cliché equates to admitting that ‘There Will Be Rain.’  In other words, we can’t control the economic weather, we can’t stop it raining when it chooses to.  This is such an abject confession of political failure that you have to wonder where they keep their brains.  Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!  It’ll come back to haunt them.  And bite them in the bum.  I don’t believe it!!

Okay, one more, which I haven’t heard recently (Ed: you will, Tim, you will):
You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.”
I can’t be bothered to deconstruct this one right now, just to say it boils down to “The end justifies the means.”  Hmm, heard that somewhere before.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Alien Invasion

It had been a slow morning, and I was starting to wonder how I’d fulfil my self-imposed daily blog quota.  I hadn’t even been out of the house, except down the paper shop (and there’s rarely any bloggable material in that trip).  I’d done a bit of housework, including ironing (ditto).  And though the newspaper and the radio contained several rantable idiocies as usual, my rant mojo seems to have gone a bit limp lately, and besides, I did one yesterday.

Just after lunch, I went outside to put the wheelie bin out.  When I came back, I noticed that the back door, and some of the surrounding brickwork,  was covered in ladybirds.  And I mean covered.  I didn’t do a precise headcount (carapace count?), I’m not quite that dedicated, but there must have been, ooh, sixty or seventy.
It was the first time I’d seen a ladybird all year, indeed I’d been wondering about this, especially compared to last year when they were around for days on end.  Just when you’re pondering whether the lack of a single ladybird can be worked up into an entertainingly informative blog post (Ed: prob not), seventy turn up at once, a coccinellidaeous flashmob.  I can use this, I thought, and went inside to get the camera.  I noticed that several had already made their way into the kitchen.
Just then the phone rang, as a result of which I had to do some business on the internet involving aeroplanes, so it was an hour before I could make my way out again, camera in hand.  Guess what, they’d all gone!  Well, there were about four left, to convince me I hadn’t imagined the whole thing.  Oh well, I thought, another blog idea gone carapace-up.  (Or down.  Or something.)
I remembered the ones who’d snuck into the kitchen.  Gone too.  I’m not particularly paranoid by nature; but I will confess that I went up to check the bedroom.


Tuesday, 1 October 2013

I’m a bit cross

 Now that you’ve opened this post, I can expand on that – I’m fucking fuming!  How much lower can that bunch of filth-brained scumbags lower themselves?  (Just in case you hadn’t guessed, I’m talking about the Daily Mail.)  How dare they slander a good man (read his biography) in that scurrilous way, purely in the hope that some of their lies and innuendoes will rub off on his son, twenty years after the father’s death?

Congratulations, Dacre, you have shown your true colours.  Cameron can wriggle and squirm all he likes, but this may just have lost him the election.  You have to wonder at the stupidity, don’t you?
The Mail claims, by some kind of weird osmotic process, to speak for something it sees as ‘Britain’.  If this is the case, then I have to say that I, too, hate ‘Britain’.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Wild in Wales? Not sayin’

On reflection, I don’t think I should tell you too much about that balmy summer evening in the tiny Welsh seaside village of ■■■■■■■■ back in 1993.  We were young (I was only 51) and foolish, and indiscretions were all too easy.
So, I’m not going to write about the note that was left on the cottage door (“Where are you, you bastards?  We’re THIRSTY!!!”), or the rushed curry and the leap over the wall to the pub next door, or the intense conversation, some while later, possibly concerning the disjunction between divergent views (one English, one Welsh) of contemporary Welsh art which narrowly evaded damage to both artists and artworks.  Nor am I going to write about a brief decamp by a few parties to the (closed) restaurant across the road, for music, dancing, wine from the cellar and nearly forcible separation of inappropriate pairings; nor the bemused expression on the face of the bartender back in the pub when asked, at half-one, whether they were still serving; nor about the difficulty, sometimes, to tell the difference, by sight, between whisky and brandy, and the consequences.  Especially, I’m keeping quiet about the insistence, in the face of adamant dissuasion, by one party at about three that it was perfectly all right to drive the mile back up to their caravan because “I drive best when I’m drunk; besides, I really enjoy it.”
Finally, I’d better not mention the cliff walk next morning, and how one party was unable to partake for, let’s say, annular reasons, whilst another mistook a low-flying coastguard biplane for a high-flying eagle.

No, best draw a veil over all that.  Apologies to those readers who were anticipating something salacious.  You had to be there.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

A week not in Chicago.

Bee is off tomorrow to Chicago for a week, with her best friend.  I’m anticipating some exciting reports about the waterfront, South Side blues, a trip out to the prairie and up the Sears Tower, and much more, but I won’t be getting these until she returns.  In the meantime, I’ve resolved to blog every day, to keep me out of mischief.  Or get me into it.  Or something.  Tomorrow’s will be about a ludicrous night in north-west Pembrokeshire, in 1993.  Or something.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Do the math…

Do the math… please, government, before you embark on this HS2 project.  Otherwise, in twenty or thirty years’ time it will come back to haunt you, or your descendants.   I won’t be around, nor will my own descendants (I don’t have any), but I promise this will happen.  There are two things you need to do, or have done, before you irrevocably turn on the green light.
The first is called a cost-benefit analysis.  There are two parts to this, which I’ll call tangible and intangible.   The tangible ones are those directly related to the project, to which you are sure you can subsequently ascribe monetary values.  What you do is divide a piece of paper down the middle, with a line.  On the left, you list the costs of the project, on the right, the benefits.  Obviously, at this stage these aren’t quantified, nor should they be.  The point is to make sure you’ve covered everything, every quantifiable cost and benefit, and that you will later be able to put a monetary value on it which you’ll be able to substantiate’: otherwise, it’s intangible.
Intangible costs and benefits are those you recognise you won’t be able to monetise, but which nevertheless have to be factored into the broad picture.  They’re the ‘what if’, ‘blue sky’, ‘OSINTOT’ factors.   Hint – if you’re using bullet or numbered lists, always leave an empty one at the bottom, there’s bound to be something else no-one had thought of.

Once you’ve done all that, then you can plug in some numbers.  This means putting monetary values on all the tangibles and, if you choose (and in this case you should), the intangibles too.  All these numbers, of course, have to be properly assessed, peer reviewed, and consensually accepted.  And then you can run what’s called a discounted cash flow calculation.  Here's how it works, but don’t worry – there won’t be a test at the end of this post.  Basically, what a DCF does is demonstrate, given the best estimates of all the variables, when this project is likely to go into profit.  It takes into account, crucially, the opportunity cost of the bottom-line option, which is always ‘don’t do it.’

Being an optimist, I assume the government (or whoever’s really in charge) has done all the above.  Well, you’d have to be really stupid not to, wouldn’t you?  So why don’t they just publish the results?

Oh.  I see.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Big Apple

1 lb 6 oz to be exact.  I'm so Proud!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Unlikely but true (#s 1 & 2)

I’ve had several events matching the description in the title recently, but I can’t remember them all, so here are just a couple.

1.      I make a certain 30 mile journey, from L & A’s to my home, via dropping off K, most Tuesday mornings.  I’ve been doing this for a few years, so I know the details of the trip quite well.  In particular, for the purposes of this post, that there are exactly seventeen sets of traffic lights along the way.  Many of these are components of fairly complicated junctions and roundabouts.  (By the way, what’s with this craze for putting traffic lights around roundabouts?  The whole point of a roundabout is to avoid the need for traffic lights, isn’t it?)  
Anyway, this (last?) Tuesday, I went through all seventeen sets of lights on green.  All seventeen, green.  This has never happened before, and never will again.  It’s a logistical impossibility.  I’m elated.  Or was.

2.      Today, the tree fellers came to chop down the half-dead pigeon toilet.  No, I’m not going to explain, except to say it’s the toilet that was half dead, not the pigeons.  They (the tree people, not the pigeons (although they can be too)) were very efficient.  I love watching those huge Magimix wood-chewing things. 

When they’d finished, the boss feller knocked at the door.  “Do you want to pay?”  He asked.  I toyed with the question for a moment, then said: “Um, yes.  Cash?”

Here’s the unusual bit.  “I’d rather have a cheque.”

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Which weekend was that?

If I say “this weekend”, I might be referring to the one just past, or the one just coming.  Usually you’ll be able to tell from the context, especially the tense of the surrounding sentence.  But it’s inherently ambiguous.

Now, if I say “last weekend”, the ambiguity thickens.  If I were to say, for example, “I went to Abergavenny last weekend”, apart from this being a lie, you’d be unsure which weekend I was referring to.  Your interpretation might be swayed by the day on which I made the assertion: if today were Monday the 16th, you might suppose I was referring to Saturday and Sunday the 7th and 8th *; but if I said it on Friday the 20th, I might easily be talking about the 14th and 15th.  (It’d still be a lie, but that’s not the point.)

“Next weekend” is even worse, because it’s about the future, and any inherent uncertainty could result in missed appointments, communication breakdowns, acrimony and tears.  The same ground rules as for “last” probably help; but they don’t cover Wednesday.  “I’ll see you in Abergavenny next weekend”, spoken over the phone even on a Thursday, could have repercussions way beyond the “oh well…”.  Wellington texts Napoleon:  “Wen U sed CU nxt wkend, Waterloo, I thought ment…” **  You get the picture.

So far, I don’t remember this amphibology placing me in any life-changing situations, maybe because if it’s that important, I’ll probably be specific about the actual dates.  I’ll be in Abergavenny on the 20th.  (That’s a lie too, by the way.)  Mainly, I just wanted to type the words ‘Abergavenny’ and ‘amphibology’, and see those dinky little superscripts popping up on the dates.

* A calendar might be helpful at this point

**Thanks to Bee for that one.



Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Five Things I Knew a Bit About but Didn’t Understand*

These are drawn, very loosely, from a rather marvellous book by Simon Flynn called ‘The Science Magpie’ (Icon Books Ltd, 2013).  The title tells you all you need to know about it.

1.      You believe your weight to be 8st 9oz, or in my case, 12st 3oz, right?  Wrong.  That’s your mass.  Your weight (which is measured in Newtons) will depend on where you are.  It’s a relationship between your mass and the strength of gravity, which varies from place to place.  To test this, go to the Moon.

2.      Water boils at 1000C, doesn’t it?  Well, it might do where you are, near sea level; but at the top of Mount Everest it’s just 680C.  No wonder it took them so long to get up there – couldn’t get a decent cup of tea.

3.      Heaven may be hotter than Hell, or not, depending on how you interpret the Bible and apply the relevant measurements.

4.      Guess what the most important equation was in the history of humankind?  That’s right: ‘1 + 1 = 2’.

5.      I still don’t know what ‘electrical charge’ is.

* I’m not saying I now do, completely, but it’s been fun confirming my ignorance.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Caravan Diaries (organised chaos*)

We were a bit late starting, so got to Newport just at the time that the robots who control the variable speed limits were changing shift.  The traffic was light, but we were told to keep to 40 as there were queues.  I was about to make a clever-clogs remark about this when we hit (not literally!) the back of a queue.  I decided that this was an example of what I dubbed ‘reverse effect syndrome’ – the speed limit causes the tailback; or to generalise, cures cause diseases.  This insight was met with a “hmm”, or possibly “hmmph”; but as the speed limit disappeared, so did the queue.

As a result, we were a bit late arriving.  It was dark, we were hungry and thirsty, but first I had to fill the water tank.  This usually simple procedure wasn’t.  I won’t go into details, because they’re embarrassing, but it concerns the hose, my inability to find the end of it, and, to generalise again, the need to guard against the outcomes of switching too quickly from one mode of thinking (driving fast – requires quick reactions and no interpretation) to the opposite one.  By the time I’d failed to solve my self-created problem, it was nearly ten o’clock.  Fortunately the gin bottle doesn’t have a ‘use by’ timestamp.


Saturday morning, after we’d resolved the hose crisis, and I’d reflected on how a stupid false assumption (which you may not even realise you’ve made) can lead to massive unforeseen consequences, we decided to go to Tenby.  I’ve been there so often I know it by heart, but Bee hadn’t been for years.  As we approached the town walls, we’d noticed signs saying ‘IRON MAN, ROAD CLOSED, 8 SEPT 9.30 am-5.50pm’.  Then there was a police roadblock, where a very polite smiling PC helped me do a U turn and go back the way we’d come.  So we went to Manorbier instead, had a lovely walk on the beach, and headed back to the van.  Seeing more and more of those signs. 
I wasn’t unduly worried, until I noticed one on the road along the seafront, which is the only way out of the caravan site.  We’d been planning a leisurely breakfast, perhaps a wander on the beach, head home about eleven.

Luckily, we bumped into a caravan neighbour, who explained that it meant what it said: get on this road before half-nine, or you’ll be stuck here watching cyclists whizz by until half-five.  “Will you be staying to watch it?” she asked.  Apparently (I found out later) Iron Man Races are massive long distance triathlon events (promoted, incidentally, by a rather shady profit-making organisation with, it would seem, the power to close down half a county).  So we rethought our plans and were on the road by nine this morning.


Just after Bristol, the car issued a warning: ‘ENGINE FAILURE: DRIVE MODERATELY.’  This being a German car, I guessed that meant ‘don’t exceed 120 mph’, but I was more moderate than that.  I’ve had this happen before.  I’ll sort it out tomorrow.


* Prominent in my oxymoron collection, but I rarely experience a whole weekend of it.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Tiny Tom?

This blog doesn't do smut, or not often, so I toyed with several titles for this post before settling on the above.  Feel free to suggest alternatives.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Dylan does it again!

He's a bottomless pit!

Like the rest of the universe, I was utterly perplexed by 'Self Portrait' when it cam out in 1970.  (Mind you, I was pretty well pretty perplexed by pretty much everything, that year.)  So I was seriously perplexed by this new double album, 'Another Self Portrait'.  If the original was so awful ('what is this shit?' is the famous review by Greil Marcus), how much worse can the out-takes be?  So I bought it today, just to find out.
I've only listened once  to disc 1, a mere seventeen tracks, but I can report as follows - it's bloody marvellous!  Why he didn't release this stuff back then, nobody can guess, except the Bobster.  And as always, he's not telling.

Monday, 2 September 2013

In praise of 112

In case you didn’t know, that’s the number to call if the emergency doesn’t quite warrant a 999, or if you’re not sure.  The reason I now know this can be summed up in three words: anxiety, panic, farce.

Around midday today, Bee phoned me to share a problem regarding her broadband, which was that, after moving house, it didn’t exist.

What should have happened was that, once her physical line proved to be working, she’d call her ISP, who would then get her logical broadband connection switched across.  So that’s what she did.  It took a while, but eventually it transpired that, instead of doing this, BT (for it is they) had cancelled the link.  In other words, a request to provide a new service had been interpreted as a request to cancel any service.  Easy mistake, happens all the time doesn’t it?

Even more interestingly (and I know you’re now glued to the screen; bear with me, it gets better), it proved impossible to reverse this wee error (i.e. doing the opposite of what you’ve been asked to do).  Literally,  physically impossible.  So BT cannot, it seems, correct their own F*ups. 

The only solution, it turned out, was to set up a new ISP contract.  This obviously required some research, which nowadays can only really be done online, which … you get the picture.  So she phoned me for help. 

I had nothing better to do, and I actually thrive on an interesting research project, so I got stuck in and after a couple of hours identified what I felt was the best fit to her needs.  So I phoned back to pass this on. 

No answer.

We now move from anxiety into panic

Bee lives on her own, though we’re very close and share everything.  But we’re 25 miles apart.  She’d told me that she’d be spending the afternoon painting her study, but would have the phone by her side. 

After the first couple of tries, I started to worry a bit.  After three hours, I started to panic.  She wasn’t answering her mobile either.  What should I do?  I imagined all sorts of things.  Has she fallen off the ladder?  (Possible.)  Has she had a heart attack?  (Unlikely, but not impossible.)  She definitely won’t have gone out without telling me.  Should I drive up there?  (I almost had my shoes on at 6.30.)  Then I thought “this feels like an emergency.”  So I looked it up and called 112.

The police, to whom I was immediately put through, picked up on my concerns at once.  After taking the basic details, the first thing they said to me was “an officer is on the way up there now.”  There were loads of supplementary questions, but that at least took the wind out of my panic sails.

Here comes the farce bit.

Thirty minutes later, the phone rang.  It was Bee.  She’d been anxious because I hadn’t called back with the broadband info, then the police person knocked at the door.  Turns out that, in spreading the dustsheets for the decorating, she’d accidentally dislodged the phone connection.  The police person was very nice about it.

I said: “Can I call you back in five?  I want to pour myself a very large gin and tonic.” 

Which is what happened.


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.