Thursday, 27 June 2013


I had to look out some of my termly Reports from primary school, to confirm something I’ve always accepted as true: my handwriting is terrible.  The subject was labelled ‘Writing’, as distinct from ‘English Composition’, at which I seem to have done quite well (although ‘marred by untidiness’).  Here are some of the comments:

·         Poor – rather unsteady
·         Untidy – must try to slope all his letters the same way.
·         Uneven
·         Too much ink
·         Too large and irregular
·         Very poor and untidy
·         Probably tries too hard!

And a rare one:

·         Improving

My signature on official documents – cheques, the backs of new credit cards, contracts and suchlike – is similarly, let’s say, unsteady and uneven.  I blame this on a brief period during my banking career when I had to sign hundreds of ‘mail payment orders’ a day, at speed.  There’s a theory that people’s signatures evolve towards either a straight line or a circle; well, mine ended up as the contents of my green bin when the holly has just been pruned.  Complaints were received from banks around the world.

These actions and thoughts have been triggered by the arrival of my Book book, about which I wrote a few posts ago.  As a reminder, the idea is to record stuff about books – any stuff, there isn’t a plan – in this nice black-hard-covered A4 lined notebook, as a kind of archive.  My Book of Books.  Past, present, future; expectations, disappointments, love affairs.  I still like the idea, very much, but there’s one thing I hadn’t taken into account.  The blank first page is staring unblinkingly at me right now.  “If I’m to be what you think I am,” it’s saying, “you’re going to have to write considered words in me.  Preferably with a proper fountain pen, in properly sloped copperplate.”

I’m considering my considered reply.  At the moment it’s along the lines of “flip off, page one, I’ll scribble whatever I choose, with whatever writing utensil comes to hand.”  In fact, I’m just going to make some notes about ‘Lionel Asbo’, in a commensurate fashion.

At the same time, I can’t help thinking that the Book has a point.


Tuesday, 25 June 2013


This is a useful word, from the native American language Lakotah, which means ‘to be provoked beyond endurance.’  I reached a state of akaspa last Thursday, and have been ducking in and out of it ever since, the frequency depending on the arrival or non-arrival of communications from a couple of organisations.
I’m not going to name either of these organisations, because I don’t want to offer them the oxygen of publicity.  (To quote the great late Linda Smith, I wouldn’t offer them the oxygen of oxygen.)   Suffice to say, the first is a purveyor of satellite TV, the second of internet broadband, “connectivity”.  For their protection, let’s just call them ‘SK’ and ‘TB’.   (Those quotes around the C-word in the previous sentence are intended to convey irony, in blatant unsubtle shovel-loads.)  Let me explain.
Ten days ago, SK wrote to me announcing a dinky little box which, once installed, would allow me access ‘on demand’, on my TV, without involvement of a computer, to catch-up TV services like BBC iPlayer and many others.  (I’ve hardly ever used these services, to be honest, because I’m incapable of watching television on a laptop – I want to watch it on my lavish 42” Hitachi, thank you very much.)  Best, this little box will wirelessly connect directly to my home network router (supplied by TB), and thence to the internet. 
That’ll do me, I thought, and ordered it.  £21.95.  It arrived as expected  last Wednesday, and I set Thursday morning aside to install it.  Then the fight started.
You don’t want the details, do you?  No.  So let me just count the emails and ‘help’ messages (27),  time spent waiting in ‘chat’ queues (about 45 minutes – rather annoyingly, this tended to increase rather than decrease, and I almost smashed something valuable, such as my own teeth, when I slipped from fourth to sixth in the queue), and false hopes (“what you need to do is …”; no it isn’t…).  Finally, I got a definitive answer from SK: “change your Multiplexing method in your ASDL settings to ‘LCC-BASED.’”
Whew, at last, an answer!  Straightforward, eh?  All I have to do now is find out from TB how to do this.  Don’t bother your frazzled little head about what it means, or even whether it’s a safe move or might cause smoke to plume from the router.  Just tell me which buttons to press, please!
TB replied on Monday morning.  It seems it’s impossible to make this change, because to do so would require the co-operation of a sister organisation called TB-Op*nR**ch, who have a policy of never communicating with either their customers or their colleagues.  (I paraphrase.)  They are in a three-way Mexican stand-off.  So I’ve written back to SK to ask them whither the way forward, if any.  I await their reply.  And await.  And await.  My akaspa is subsiding, as it does.


In the supermarket car park this morning, I saw, not at all for the first time, a lovely pale blue 1960 Morris Minor 1000.  I vaguely know the man who owns it, and once had a conversation with him about upkeep.  “It’s easy,” he told me.  “Just change the oil and the filters and the plugs.  You can get them all still.”

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Meta-watching – cuts both ways

I have very mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, I’m instinctively supportive of the loudest popular response, which is to say, in effect, “You looking at me?  What you looking at, man?”  On the other hand, there are some nasty people out there, who should be prevented from doing nasty things.  On the third hand – and this may not be a completely rational attitude – I find it hard to trust anything William Hague says.  Perhaps he could get in touch to assuage my concern when he reads this.
What I don’t entirely understand is why the authorities are making such a big deal of it.  After all, we’ve all known it’s been happening, or has been poised to happen, for years, haven’t we?  Moore’s Law has been proven for decades, so its corollary – if the capability exists, it will be used – doesn’t take much thought to deduce.
So why are NSA and GCHQ and the rest so faffed about the fact that someone’s pointed out the obvious?  If it was me, I’d be shouting from the hilltops that there’s no point in you terrorists even thinking about it, because we know who you are and we’ll get you.  And publishing pictures of my datacentres, outlines of the algorithms I’m using, even your email addresses and phone numbers, to prove it.  Doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not – if you don’t like it, sue me.  (After all, the rule of law cuts both ways.)
All this weak-kneed evasiveness and defensiveness just makes them look evasive and defensive.  After all, if Moore is right and pretty soon the capability will be free and downloadable from some site in Korea, you and I will be hacking GCHQ over our aperitifs before dinner, just for a laugh.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Dedicated Follower?

Well!  What I know about fashion could be written on the back of an H&M thong; but I see from today’s Guardian that David Cameron’s preferred version of ‘smart casual’ is a pale blue cotton shirt and un-ironed navy chinos.

Well again!  I have been wearing precisely that (not all the time, you understand, but quite often - as I type, in fact) for at least a decade.  Indeed, if you check out Google Earth’s aerial view of my back garden, you can just discern me ducking into the garage precisely thusly attired.  (You can’t see my shoes, though.  Nor his, but I bet they’re not M&S flip-flops.)

 I knew there was a lot of surveillance and stuff going on, but this smacks of desperation.  Hands off my style, Dave, or I’m going to have to employ one of those image consultants you hear about.  That’ll show you!

Still, at least I don’t roll my sleeves halfway up.  But I’m probably not as busy as him.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Gigs: The Flamingo

Sometime last year I started to post some reminiscences about my youthful days as a rock’n’roll superstar in that famous forgotten band Dave Anthony’s Moods.  A casual conversation with a friend, an email exchange with another, and a possible yet-again resurgence of interest (there may be a vinyl 45 rpm EP out later this year) rekindled me, and I was prompted to look back in my archives and throw out a little bit more.  So here’s a snippet of the beginning of my professional music career.  I don’t think I’ve posted it before, but if I’m wrong, please forgive the foibles of an old man.

The Gunnell brothers were said to own the West End club scene, to have it sewn up, Kray-style gangster model.  This was almost certainly not true, or at least exaggerated, but they did run a tight ship.  They had most of those bands who’d been our inspirations, like Georgie Fame or Zoot Money, on ironclad contracts.  Their offices were in Gerrard Street, from which their web, propelled by rumour and fear, spread across the land (or at least as far as Brixton).  We were in four sets of contract negotiation at the time, and at the interview, once we’d played coy, Rik smiled and said ‘you know you’ll end up with us eventually, don’t you?’, while Johnny stood at the door and fingered his cheek scar.  We smiled and trembled out of the office. 

The truth is that they loved the kind of music we were trying to do, and The Flamingo in Wardour Street was their showcase and nerve centre.  I’d visited a few times

There was a gig in transit from Bournemouth to London, in some kind of shed in Reading – I think we played a blinder, blinded by the prospects of this freedom we were storming into.  We then got to our new home, probably dumped onto the floor whatever kit we’d brought in the back of the old van, dropped ourselves to the floor and slept.  In fact, I remember that: drunk, exhilarated, falling onto the floor on top of some kind of sleeping bag package …
Then, the next night, playing our inaugural gig at the Flamingo.  Support to who knows who.  We were allowed into the so-called dressing room, a cupboard stage left, packed solid with musicians just come off or waiting (like us) to go on; when I went out to get a Coke I was punched in the face (not very hard) by a huge black guy who felt I’d hassled him, jumped a queue, something.  I said “sorry” – why? he’d assaulted me – he said something like “be careful ‘round here”, a warning I over-heeded perhaps for a while.  When I got back to the dressing room with my Coke, there was a rather funny smell in there.


Sunday, 16 June 2013

Why can’t a computer be more like a car?

B received an email from X today.  It began ‘good morning!’, which isn’t X’s normal greeting, and contained a link.  Because they’d met yesterday at an emotionally charged event, B unwisely clicked on the link.  Very smart AV software warned her that this was a risky site, which had already tried to put a virus on her computer, and advised her to clean – mop it up and bin it.
At this point, B phoned me, because she’d had a similar problem last year which was even smarter.  The link didn’t just download its viral software, it also fairly accurately mimicked the AV system’s response: and if you accepted the spurious advice, it went ahead and installed the virus!  Well, you have to draw a line somewhere, I said, so go ahead and clean.  She did, and it seems to have worked.
What happened here is that, somehow, X’s address book had been stolen and used by criminals to disseminate their warped misanthropic excrement.  Why those people feel it’s necessary or appropriate to waste all that effort and brainpower is a question for the psychiatrists, not me.

When I get in my car tomorrow, I don’t expect it to behave any differently from today.  I don’t expect anyone (either BMW or someone pretending to be them) to have changed the layout of the pedals or the way the lights or the indicators function, overnight, without asking me.  Nor do I expect my next tank of petrol to behave at all unlike the previous one.  Until computers and their operating software (the car), and applications (the petrol), subject themselves to similar principles of self-regulation and quality control, IT will continue to be an infantile industry.

Just as a debating start point for tomorrow’s G8, can’t spam detection be lit through the same Prism as everything else seems to be?  That’d be a damned sight more helpful use of all that wasted effort, machinery and petrol.

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Book book

Or ‘The book Book’.  Either way, a brilliantly simple idea, thanks B. 

Instead of – or rather as well as – keeping a notepad beside you, on which anything from possibly-to-be-used-in-future-blog-post-quotes-from-newspapers, via debugging instructions or memorable song lyrics or transient phone numbers to data concerning books can be jotted, instead you can maintain a separate notebook (it should preferably be hard covered, A4) in which you write anything you like or dislike about books you’ve read, recently or in the past, or want to read in the future, or feel you should read, the main rule being that there are no rules, at least I think that’s how it’s meant to work (there may be a few others about inordinate punctuation and sentence length, also about the importance of strictly confining the scope to books, resisting the temptation to extend it to music, films, and other media –  otherwise running the risk of going full circle and ending up with a notepad beside you, on which anything from possibly-to-be-used-in-future-blog-post-quotes-from-newspapers, via debugging instructions or memorable song lyrics or transient phone numbers can be jotted, or even data concerning books), but I'm not sure about that, a bit more analysis might be needed, so don't wait up. 

Like I said, brilliantly simple.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Confusing blackbirds

I’d intended to write about a great idea (the book book – maybe tomorrow), but instead I’ve just amused myself for five wasted minutes in the garden, whistling imitations of my three or four local blackbirds’ songs.  (I’m a good whistler.)
They’re good whistlers too, and seem to be conducting conversations, across a range of a few hundred yards.  After my abject failure to transliterate the strange bee/donkey/ventilator Sound, I’m not going to go there: if you want to hear them, get your own blackbird-equipped garden.  (I should, in this day and age, be possessed of the means to record, store and upload soundclips, but I'm not.)
I know, it’s territorial marking and mating invitations.   So I’ve probably caused untold disruption – in fact, they seem to have gone quiet while they think about it – and I can expect them down the chimney any time later.


Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Sound - on Bees, Badgers and Donkeys

I don’t mind a mystery, and I always rise to a challenge, but I’d prefer it not to be at 11.45 p.m. after a good dinner of seared cod and Jersey Royals followed by lashings of sumptuous conversation. 

Very soon after I got to bed, I noticed The Sound.  It was somewhere in the interstitial internodes between a terminally failing bumble bee trapped behind a Venetian blind, an irritated but bored lapdog in next door’s conservatory, and a constipated badger.  (I hasten to qualify that I can just about imagine the first two, but made up the third; funny the tricks your mind plays ‘round midnight.)  It went, roughly, “Brzz.  Brz-brz-brz.  (Pause.) Brzzzz!”  Or sometimes “Urmph-bzz.  Umph.  Bzz-umph-bzz.”  Then it would seem to be one side of a half-heard one-sided conversation between a one-sided drunken couple somewhere down the road: “Whad-umpya-bzzrfr?”   “Burmmm…”
I got up to look behind the blind and out of the window, and of course saw nothing.  And heard nothing either: whatever higher power was inflicting this mystery/challenge on me was several jumps ahead.  Eventually it seemed to stop, or I fell asleep, or both.

I raised it, just as a conversation point, like you do, over breakfast.  Opinions varied between worker bees in the soffits, a ventilator outlet flapping in the wind, and the donkeys for the next day’s Derby across the field.  The bees seem to be the most rational explanation, but I have a soft spot for the stabled donkeys.

The experience reminds me of when I was kept awake for hours in St Jean de Luz, in about 1992, by incessant thumping music from just outside the pension.  After an hour or so, assuming it to be some inconsiderate kids, I leant out of the window and shouted, in English, “For fuck’s sake, put a sock in it, will you?”, with precisely no effect.  Next day I discovered I’d been swearing at a disco at the sports field half a mile up the road.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Road Placidity

I see the police are to be given powers to impose spot fines of up to £100 on tailgaters, middle-lane-hogs and the like.  Well, jolly good show, I say!  Here are a few other offences I’d add to the list:

·         Failing to raise a hand in recognition of someone giving way to them at a row of parked cars.

·         Pretending to make a gesture of thanks while in fact raising the middle finger of the left hand.

·         Blowing the horn after ten seconds when a driver lets a waiting vehicle out from a side street, thereby delaying the offender by twenty seconds from catching up with the half-mile tailback 200 yards ahead.

·         On the motorway, overtaking at two m.p.h. faster than the overtaken vehicle, and then reducing speed in front of them to two m.p.h. slower.

·         At a roundabout, not signalling left or right until actually turning left or right.

Any more, anybody?

A proportion, say 50%, of the fine should be donated by the state to the victim of these crimes, with the proviso that it must be spent, within six months, on something they wouldn’t otherwise have bought.  Should kickstart the economy.

The same principles should be applied to shopping trolleys.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Caravan Diaries, last weekend

On the way back from Porthgain to Wiseman’s Bridge (or Wisemansbridge as some have it), we stopped off at Narberth to pick up some essential supplies, mostly Schweppes tonic and yogurt.  Also fruit: some delicious cherries, and two ‘flat peaches’, from a wonderful shop called WiseBuys.  Have you come across flat peaches?  No, nor had I.  They’re very small, as peaches go, and, erm, flat.  And also delicious.  If your local fruitier doesn’t stock them, instruct him/her to do so.  They could be the next cranberry.
I wanted to show Narberth/Arberth off to B, so we wandered around a bit.  At the top of the high street, I noticed the bookshop.  It looked closed from a distance, but we approached anyway.  It’s open.  For reasons lost in time, the sign above the door reads ‘BOOKS Animal Kitchen BOOKS’.  If that doesn’t entice you in, what will?
The proprietor is there, just as he was a decade ago when I last visited: and I mean ‘just’; sitting behind the counter, reading a book.  “Look around,” he suggests.  “They’re arranged in categories.”  I am in no doubt that this is true, but it would take me some hours to analyse the non-Dewey system being applied, so we just wandered around in awe.  The shop measures maybe 200 square metres.  The aisles are elbow wide, if you’re slim.  And the books tower to head height, those that aren’t in floor level cardboard boxes.  There must be thousands of them. 
It’s impossible to choose one, so we drift back to the entrance.  On the way, B spots a book about Afghanistan that interests her, so picks it up.  As we’re about to pay, I see a copy of the ‘Tao Te Ching’, in poll position on the counter.  I read this when I was in my twenties, and had been thinking only the other day that I should read it again.   I reckon he assessed me as I walked in, thought “he’ll buy this, maybe,” fished it out and put it there. 

Back at the caravan, we finished cleaning the algae off the walls and the weeds from the patio, and planted up a couple of pots.  The television has packed up again, so we missed the weather forecast.  “The TV is hidden and nameless,” as Lao Tzu almost pointed out.