Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Family Christmasses (cont’d)

When I got married in 1988, I joined my third family.  That was in August, and in about October the subject of Christmas came up.  I’d already realised that they did it on a scale I hadn’t yet experienced, so in a moment of self-confident rashness I said “Well, we can have it here, can’t we?”  There were expressions ranging from bewildered through delighted to highly relieved.  Afterwards, I was consoled.  “Well, you weren’t to know...”

It turned out that we were sleeping eight adults and two pre-teens in our just occupied, barely habitable three-bedroom house.  That proved easy once modesty, privacy, all that kind of stuff had been sufficiently downgraded – after all, I was used to roughing it.  What proved to be harder to cope with was the sheer scale of the thing.  Especially the presents.

This family’s approach to present-giving, it seemed, could be summarised as: if you know you need it, or are going to need it – a shirt, a suit, a pair of shoes, an electric toothbrush, anything –  in the next twelve months, wrap it up and call it a Christmas present.  (I exaggerate, but not much.)  This wasn’t in itself a bad idea, and it did add to the general jollity for the first hour or two – everybody likes a pressie, whether their own or someone else’s, don’t they? – but the rule, it also seemed, was that each one had to be opened, inspected and if you were unlucky passed round the whole family to be admired, before the paper on the next one could be touched.  Time passed.  Slowly.  Eventually lunch came to the rescue.

My exact memory of how it went is hazy now, but I’m sure that at some point after the pudding and before the next round of gifts – probably during the coffee and brandies, come to think of it – I had an inspiration. 

“Sing-song anybody?”

Twenty eyes lit up.

This story will be concluded in my next post.



Monday, 26 December 2016

Family Christmasses

I reckon I’ve belonged to four families so far, if a family can be thought of as a bunch of people you spend Christmas with. 
All four families were very different, but all four Christmasses were the same in essence, which I don’t need to spell out but will anyway  - gifts; food and drink; laughter and love; the occasional spat and reconciliation; exhaustion and unexpected energy reserves… I didn’t need to, did I?  So I’d like to have a look at the differences.
When I was growing up, Christmas was a time to be taken for granted, of course – I was a child, and children have the feelings they’re taught to and don’t question them much, do they?  So I won’t dwell on childhood Christmasses except to note that gifts were pretty frugal: this was the forties and fifties, and though my parents were well off by most people’s standards, there wasn’t that much left over for extravagance, which in any case wasn’t in their nature.  So our stockings would be bulked out with  tangerines and walnuts – strangely, those are the gifts I seem to remember most vividly.
Then I joined an Italian family.  The emphasis there was on the food and drink.  I read an article recently which feared that this was in danger of dying out, and there’s probably a risk of that, but I have few direct connections with Italy any more, so can’t say.  My Italian family was from Reggio-Emilia, which meant antipasto, then capelletti (or tortellini) alla panna (in cream; none of your wimpish brodo round there), then a huge bollito misto with salsa verde and rosso; cheese (appropriate wines to accompany all that, often home-made lambrusco, but not as you might know it – real lambrusco is raspingly dry and low in alcohol, drunk more in the manner and quantities we’d drink bitter); various desserts probably including zuppa inglese (English soup: trifle to you); rounded off with coffee, a slice of panettone and a grappa or cognac or several.  After all that there wasn’t much time, space or energy for anything else.
The third and fourth families will be along tomorrow.

Thursday, 10 November 2016


Oh heck, there’s a limit to how much of a fatberg can build up in the world before it accumulates until the sewers overflow and it bursts out and drowns us all in colourless gunge. 

OK, here comes Rational Tim.  What can we (I use ‘we’ to mean those of us who are sane, and I use 'sane' clinically) do?

  1. Make it geographical.  What happens in one place doesn’t have to happen in another.  So let’s revive and pervert localism (remember that?).  Let’s encourage the inhabitants of Shitsville Iowa and Crudham Doughshire to fight amongst themselves.  That way they’ll lose sight and interest, and the big issues will get swamped by the little ones.  Which leads to:
  2. Make it complicated.  Earlier this evening I heard a lawyer explaining on the radio just how convoluted the legal and judicial processes in both the U.K. and America are.  Doing this stuff with due process will, or should, require many man-years of expertise to achieve.  And if anyone tries to ride roughshod over due process, well, they’d be digging their own hole.  The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.  And having done all that:
  3. Make it moral.  Artists are the custodians of morality, aren’t they? 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016


Earlier this evening, I mistakenly described making risotto as boring, which it isn’t. *  Z put me right by pointing out that, in the right circumstances, making risotto can be quite comforting.  So boring it isn’t.

It is a routine, though.  At least the early stages (the fun comes at the end, when you transform this soggy mess into something uniquely exquisite, or thereabouts): soften the onion, add the rice, then half an hour of ladle of stock, stir, ladle of stock, stir, ladle of stock – with exact timing and quantities, so you’re not even allowed to wander off and do something else.  But you are allowed to think, so naturally my thoughts turned to breakfast.

Now that’s a routine!  Everybody must have one.  (Or at least everybody who actually eats breakfast.**) How else would we get to coffee time?  I’m not suggesting it has to be the same every day, of course; but the breakfast routine is the default when any or all of imagination, energy and willpower fail.  I won’t bore (ha!) you with the details of mine, except to say that feeding the cat figures in there, somewhere between the tea and the toast phases, and that timing (which I find is a key attribute of a good routine) has to be flexible: which keeps the routine from becoming a habit.

Which brings me to what I really wanted to say.  Routines are good, because they can be pulled in to take care of unimportant but necessary business.  Habits are bad, because they can’t be pushed out to make way for anything.  The trick is not to let the former turn into the latter.  Thinking helps.



* I will never tire of repeating my definition of boredom, which is wanting to do something but not having anything you want to do, even though I know I delighted (not to say bored) you enough with it years ago.

**Marco Pierre White once claimed he always had a three-course breakfast: a coffee, a cigarette, and a cough.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Leeds (4)

I half-promised the other day to write about a certain breed of small vehicle (now thankfully extinct), and as I’ve resolved to blog more often, in the hope of doing my bit towards revitalising this dying art, here goes.

The car in question was an anagram of Brian Retail – although I’m sure they’re no longer made, I’m also sure there are still owners, whom I wouldn’t want to upset should they goggle their enthusiasm and light upon this post.  You know what I mean.

Anyway, this particular one was owned by one of my first digsmates in Brookfield Avenue, Leeds, whose name, as it happens, was Brian.  Brian (who was a dental student and as far as I know never went into the retail trade, but never mind) was quite challengingly mischievous, in a good if dangerous way.  Having ferried me around for a while in this contraption, one day he asked me if I’d like to have a drive.  I’d recently passed my test, and any such opportunity wasn’t to be passed by, so I naturally accepted.

The driving position, as I recall, meant that a tallish person like me had to scrunch himself up like a used tissue just to fit in there, never mind drive the thing.  Having been instructed in the peculiarities of the pedals and the column shift, we set off. 

Brian gave me directions – “left here, straight on a bit, right” – and I was getting quite into it, feeling my way into the car’s unusual responsiveness to instructions, until he said “OK, go left here.  Best you change down to first.”

I did say he was mischievous.  He’d taken me to the top of the steepest hill in, if not all Leeds, then certainly the Harehills district.  It was about one in eight, a good hundred yards down. There was a set of traffic lights at the bottom.  Giggling, Brian told me how to proceed.

“What you do now, you put both your feet on the footbrake, you pull the handbrake up as hard as you can with both hands, and you stand up.  Oh, and pray for green.”

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Follow the Van (Caravan diaries)

We’ve been from Norfolk to Pembrokeshire and back in the past week.  As a result, the caravan is now asleep until the spring.

I learnt two interesting things whilst we were there.  (Pembrokeshire, that is, not Norfolk.)  The first was one of those circular routes that start from somewhere completely irrelevant, accidentally take you through several relevant places and drop you off at another completely irrelevant spot just next door.

For some completely irrelevant reason, we started singing that song about my old man said follow the van, you know the one.  Turns out they were evicted, had to load everything onto this van, there wasn’t room for her so she had to walk, toting a completely irrelevant bird, got lost and pissed, etc etc.  The interesting bit was, of course, the van, which started its life as a queue of transport camels crossing the Sahara, turned into a single horse- (not camel-) drawn vehicle which later acquired an internal combustion engine, before performing a career swerve, regaining its full name and becoming a mobile home (a term now exclusively reserved for static ones, the mobile ones being termed tourers) commonly known as a caravan, or string of load-bearing camels but, to us insiders, knowingly referred to as ‘the van’.

The other thing was to do with Julius Caesar, who apparently didn’t say (in Latin) ‘the die is cast’ but (in Greek) ‘the dice must be thrown’, or some such thing that means more or less the opposite.  What I learnt was that I’d been wrongly taught, about sixty-five years ago, that the ‘die’ in question was one of those metal stamps for making coins and ‘cast’ meant ‘forged’, as in cast iron.  Ah well.  I have little of either language, and less of the other.

In other news, there was only one rabbit.

Sunday, 18 September 2016


I have received a communication from the manufacturers of my car.  In a major upgrade, instead of having to drive with four wheels, I will now only need two.  This will make the car lighter and hence better.

By the same post, the makers of my cornflakes have informed me that, henceforth, an enhancement to their product will supply me with a solid block of corn, from which I can create my own personal customised flakes.  This improves my consumer choice.

And the government, my newspaper tells me, has decided that the election process will be simplified by allowing only one candidate on each ballot paper, thus removing the risk of ambiguity and error.  My newspaper has responded positively to this by agreeing to eliminate all adjectives and adverbs from their reportage, in the interests of clarity.

Finally, statistics prove that the majority of cats prefer avians to quadrupeds.  As cats outnumber humans globally, legs should therefore be discouraged.

I think it’s still good to be alive, but there’s always room for improvement.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

It was a Haunting picture

We were staying in a cottage, inaccurately named ‘Coastal View’, in Porthgain, and we’d arranged to meet up with our friends for a meal at Harbour Lights, the restaurant across the square.  They were staying  in their caravan three miles up the road at Mathry.  I don’t remember the meal, but afterwards I know we went back to our place, had a few drinks and decided to go next door to the Sloop Inn. 

I know that I was drinking whisky of some sort, and so was Paul.  A few artists lived in Porthgain, still do, and Paul got into an argument with one of them, called Bryn.  Bryn was drinking brandy, and we worked out next day that the glasses might’ve got confused.  He did pretty good representational landscapes of the local scene, which Paul decided to challenge on the grounds that he was hypocritically exploiting the tourist trade whilst simultaneously decrying it and thereby squandering his talent, or some such stuff.  Paul is good at challenging when he’s in the mood, and Bryn was in the mood too. 

The pub ran a gallery in the back room in those days, and they dragged each other out there, getting a bit rough.  I was sitting at the bar holding hands with Caro, because she’d reached her weepy phase and I’d reached my amorous one, so I don’t know exactly what happened out there.  Reconstructions suggest that blows had nearly, possibly actually, been exchanged.  They wouldn’t have been very harmful by this stage, but what is sure is that a picture got knocked off the wall, and the frame got slightly damaged.  We popped in the next day and viewed it: an impressionistic depiction of a coastal scene – Druidstone, I think – in a rather abstract style.  Good, but certainly nothing to have a drunken conceptualistic fight over.  We all, Bryn included, laughed and forgot about it.

A few months later, V and I were in Narberth, visiting the old aunts, Margaret and Ray.  They still lived at home in those days, in the house in Spring Gardens that their father had built in the early years of the century.  The carers came in twice a day, did what caring had to be done, and left.  Ours was a duty visit, and the aunts were still just interesting enough for conversation, but there are limits, so we made our temporary excuses and wandered down the Drang and through to the High Street.  There used to be a nice gallery down next to the second-best butchers’, before it failed and got turned into yet another tat shop.  There in the window was the Picture.  We told Paul and Caro about this, and next time they were in the area they went to have a look, but it had moved on. 

On subsequent visits to Pembrokeshire, though, we all seemed to come across it every so often in various unexpected locations.  I don’t remember the details now, but it kept cropping up.  It was clearly stalking us.

That winter, we were invited to Paul and Caro's house for a meal.  When we arrived we were instructed to close our eyes, turn around, open them and look at the wall of the stairwell.

“Well, we had to, didn’t we?” said Caro.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Reading and me, Part Three – Location, Location and, erm, Location

Ah well, two out of three…

The house was ideally placed for my commute, the branch line station being almost literally at the bottom of the garden (although I couldn’t actually get to it that way, having instead to walk a full two hundred yards down the road, something that initially frustrated me until I saw the benefits of not having hordes of commuters and other less savoury station denizens traipsing past the back gate at all hours).  There were good local shops, if we needed them, and a small friendly supermarket just up the road.  There were also a couple of interestingly quirky restaurants.  And the town centre was walkable.  So far, so good.

It was also within staggering distance of three or four inveterate party-givers, who formed part of what I soon learnt was jocularly termed the ‘Reading Mafia’.  This sobriquet wasn’t entirely appropriate; there was no firm evidence that any of them were involved in anything seriously dodgy, although contacts could no doubt be picked up in extreme need.  But the parties were good and frequent; and once the worst of our building work was done we fairly quickly became junior members of this party clique.  I was, of course, the new boy: believe it or not, especially if you know anything of my earlier history, I’d never been anywhere near this kind of scene before.  I dived in headfirst and lapped thirstily.

The only downside of the location, it transpired, was the noise factor.  We should of course have worked out that having a railway in the back garden entailed the odd train going along it – in this case, as it was the main line from practically everywhere to everywhere else, every few minutes during the day and irregularly during the night.  The first 4 a.m. goods train shook us, and the house, awake.  It is, however, surprising how quickly you get used to that.  There was also an unforeseen amount of road traffic; if you saw a map of Reading, and knew where my road is, you’d see that it’s a natural north-south rat-run between the Thames bridges and the M4.  Again, we just had to get used to that.  And secondary double glazing works wonders.


Sunday, 4 September 2016

Reading and me - Part Two

The house took some finding, because it had to meet several fairly strictly defined criteria.  It had to be nice, obviously.  It had, preferably, to be detached – we’d both had enough of dividing walls – which was a bit of a constraint in Reading, where the nicest properties tend to be terraced four- or five-storey Victorian town houses.  It had to be near enough to the town centre for shopping, and to commuting transport links.  And it had to be the right size and shape for the fabulous parties we intended to throw.

I think we viewed around twenty, over a three month period.  We actually made offers on a couple, which luckily fell through.  Luckily, because out of nowhere the dream house suddenly popped up.  I remember the viewing very clearly.  We briefly inspected the outside – pre-war red-brick detached, imposingly deep front garden, a sense of solidity.  When we got inside, we took one glance at the two spacious reception rooms, the elegant stairway and the galleried landing, looked at each other and just nodded.

The house was an executors’ sale, so there was no upward chain.  You can imagine, if you haven’t done it, the complexity of synchronising two sales with a single purchase, so this was an added bonus.  It was, however, also a wreck.  Not structurally – it had, we were told been built by a builder for his own occupancy, obviously a good sign.  It actually reminded me of the house I’d been brought up in in Bournemouth from the age of twelve, of which the same thing was supposedly true.

But it had been dreadfully refurbished in the 1950s, and then neglected over the years.  Just to give a couple of  instances: the lovely original brick fire surrounds had all been chipboarded over; and the bathroom was a plastic suite in yellow – yellow!   There was no heating worthy of the name.  And the plumbing and electrics were, let’s say, original.

We got rapidly in touch with a friend of Viv’s called Tony, and obtained permission for him to have a look.  Tony was an expert plumber and builder, and the sort of guy who relished a challenge, especially for a friend.  Having had a good inspection and an equally good think, he took us down a local Irish pub and gave us his views on what needed doing, together with a sensible price.  We discussed it in a lot of detail over the subsequent days, but we knew we’d committed in our hearts from the outset.  So we got onto the agents, offered the asking price, which was accepted, and moved in a month later, picking our way across the floor joists.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Reading and me – Part One

I’ll be leaving this town sometime soon, but I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else in my life, so I’m going to record some of that.
Apart from passing through, and a gig somewhere in Reading in 1965 just as my band was turning professional, I first came here in early 1988.  Viv and I met through a dating agency.  I lived in Chesham, she lived in Reading, we met up half way (Marlowe to be exact) and rapidly decided that it made sense for us to live together, and the choice of location was obvious.  I was commuting to London, it didn’t much matter where from, whereas her work was here, so we mutually agreed with her judgement.  But it wasn’t that easy.
The first time I visited Viv at her home in Blenheim Road was easy – she drove us there.  The second time was a bit harder, as I had to find my own way.  I knew I had to come along the A4 as far as Cemetery Junction and bear left at, as I remember clarifying on the phone, ‘that pub with the funny name’, which was the Jack of Two Sides.  (It’s long been closed.)  Due to one-way systems, I then had to turn left into Addington Road, left and then left again into Blenheim, and then find a parking space as near to 17 as I could manage.  This became easier with practice.
For some months, though, I was bilocating, which was unsustainably complicated.  I’d usually catch my usual Met line train from Chalfont and Latimer, driving there from whichever of my homes I happened to have slept in that night.  Other times I’d walk to Reading General station and buy a ticket to Paddington then take it from there.  This pattern was obviously quite expensive as well as ridiculous.  We had to find a house together, and it had to be in Reading.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Caravan diaries, Here and Now (Part Two)

I’d anticipated sharing, in enthusiastically avuncular tones, my childhood experience of this beach: climbing rocks (there’s a particular one, the Big Rock, they’d surely have to climb that just as I did when I was their age), dipping a hand into a rock pool (I know where the best ones are), collecting shells (you can’t have too many cockles and mussels and razors), watching the slow motion of the tides and working out when the beach would be at its best, feeling the sand and building castles from it, with that special glee of knowing that those tides are going to level them back to flat clean sand in a few hours, so it’s fine to wantonly kick over your own lovingly crafted creation just before you leave the beach for an ice cream (that’s fun!).

I was wrong.  Gus and Zerlina found all that all by themselves, immediately and instinctively.  It’s Tuesday now (I think) and we have to leave on Friday; so I only have two days to discover diverting and damming streams, shrimping (though we have no nets as yet), espying huge live crabs in the recesses of the deepest pools…  Sorry, did I say ‘discover’ there?  Hmm.


Caravan diaries, Here and Now (Part One)

If you want to know mindfulness, come to Wiseman’s Bridge.  If you want to explore it deeply, bring two small children. 

I first came here when I was probably somewhere around Gus and Zerlina’s ages, so let’s call it six.  Although I was born and brought up within earshot of the sea, and spent many of my early days on Southbourne beach, that wasn’t the seaside as we understood it:  that had to be Pembrokeshire, obviously. As my parents had patiently to explain to acquaintances –  who expressed perplexity as to why anyone would drive three hundred miles to get from one beach to another, taking about seven hours in the process (the Severn bridges, let alone the M4, not then even having been a post-war planner’s wet daydream, the journey therefore having to be made via the lowest bridging point at Gloucester, followed by scenic detours across the Heads of the Valleys and even further north, as far as Builth Wells sometimes, to indulge my father’s unexpressed passion for dramatic scenery) – those two versions of ‘seaside’ were so different as to make the whole thing not just worthwhile, but essential.

This time the journey was in three legs, over three days – Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  (Modern kids shouldn’t be asked to do seven unbroken hours in a car, even with more distractive technology than we could have imagined or handled, nor required to sing ‘Old McDonald Had A Farm’ and ‘Ten Green Bottles’ for seven hours.)  Leg one was from their child-minder’s to Z’s house: a mere forty minutes, just to soften them up.  Packing my car with what had been interpreted from the phrase ‘travel light’ proved a challenge, though nothing compared to then wedging it all, plus our own modest equipage, plus the food (and the extra food, and the oh-by-the-way food; and we still managed to forget the garlic) into Z’s car for the second leg, from Yagnub to my place in Reading.  Then it was just the boring last three hours down the M4, across the gorgeous bridge and into Wales, lunch at the best pub in the country (the White Hart at Llandarog) and so to – here!

Now is Monday.  I’ve only managed to get us as far as the caravan, and I’m already exhausted.  Parts two and three will be written tomorrow and, perhaps, Thursday, and published simultaneously when I get back to the internet-verse on Friday.

Friday, 8 July 2016

The Real Result

In an election, you have a choice between several candidates, whose proposals you can consider and choose between, and place your X accordingly.  If you decide not to do so, by abstaining, you may feel that you are nevertheless making a statement, which might be ‘none of these’ or ‘I don’t care’.  Abstention is thus a positive choice.

In a yes/no referendum, you don’t have the luxury of that ‘none of these’ or ‘don’t care’ third option.  It’s binary.  Your action has to mean ‘yes’ or ‘no’, nothing else.

In the case of our recent referendum, not voting had to mean ‘remain’.  What else could it possibly mean?  After all, it certainly wasn’t a vote for ‘leave’, and as I’ve shown there was no third choice. 

Therefore, the votes of the 28% of the electorate who abstained have to be counted as votes for ‘remain’.  So by not turning up, those 28% were saying they were happy for things to ‘remain’ as they are.

This being so, the real result was

Remain: 63% of the electorate.

Leave: 37% of the electorate.


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

And then…?

If the result is to stay in, nothing needs to happen.

If it’s out, a lot will have to happen.  Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

The U.K. will have to abrogate several Treaties –Rome, Maastricht, Lisbon, to name but three.  This will require at least one, if not several Acts of Parliament, which will have to go through the due constitutional process before receiving the Royal Assent.  I’d guess that the Lords will send it back to the Commons as often as they can.

In parallel, we will have to embark on the technical process of withdrawal.  I have no idea what this entails in practice, and I suspect that nobody else does either.  There may be some procedures written down somewhere, but they’ve obviously never been used in anger.  So it’ll take some work to turn theory into practice.  We’ll probably need a new department of the Civil Service to unravel it – and the Foreign Office will certainly need to be drawn in too; after all, we will also be renegotiating every single EU treaty with every other country we’ve signed up to, one at a time. 

Also in parallel, we will have to assess every single law, regulation and protocol that has emanated from the EU (or its precursors) and decide which of them to retain and which to repeal.   Given that these are enshrined in U.K. law, many Acts of Parliament will, again, be required, and will have to go through due constitutional process.

Then – and this can only happen once all the above has been performed, vetted and reviewed (not to mention publicly debated) – then, a single issue General Election will have to take place.  It’s impossible for this to happen in less than two years, and my guess is that it’ll take nearer eight.  By which time all the current generation of politicians will have faded away.

I have more!

It’s Too Late

I don’t mean that I’ve already voted so it’s too late to try and persuade me either way, though that’s true.

I mean it’s too late: the damage is already done.

Whatever the outcome on 24th June, this pointless, gratuitous referendum has already achieved what will be its one enduring effect – to unleash primeval instincts of stupid, unreasoning prejudice, xenophobia and deluded imperialism that have always been latent in this country, and give them a cause, a voice and a platform.  In doing so, it has diminished us – all of us – in a way that will take us decades to recover from, if we ever do.

All those who out of pure, misguided self-interest called for and imposed the referendum, so surrendering in advance to those forces, have earned their historic legacy.  Let them sink in its mire and be ashamed.


Friday, 3 June 2016

Caravan diaries (June)

Having initiated Z into the worst weather Pembrokeshire can throw at you, I felt obliged to share the best, so (having arranged for a week of perfect sunshine, gentle breezes and no rain), off we set on Monday.  All the traffic was going in the other direction (bank holidays, for people who have to go to work, are travelling days, not holidays at all, aren’t they?) so we made good time.

The site was fairly well populated, although largely with people I don’t know that well; having been there for nearly fifteen years, I’ve observed generations succeeding each other, so the inhabitants now tend to be the children or grandchildren of the old hands I’d first met.  They still wave and smile, of course, but they tend not to stagger down the hill at nine thirty clutching bottles and glasses.  (Nine thirty p.m., that is: they did their pre-yardarm drinking behind closed doors.)

There were dozens of small children (great-grands in some cases), who monopolised every square yard of grassy space with cartwheels, downhill bicycle races, chaotic games of cricket or rounders (you’re not supposed to actually carry the player to the next base, are you?) and all the other incomprehensible games kids seem to invent once they’re let loose into an unconfined, fairly rule-free space.   

No rabbits, though.  Last visit, they were out in force – this time, not a single sighting.  This may be because of the extremely thorough grass-cutting that seems to have become standard this season; or because they’ve all borrowed under the foundations of our caravan and are busy down there, doing whatever rabbits do for fun.  Anyway, there’s a rather alarming hole directly under the front of the van, which caused me a moment’s panic until I realised that it wasn’t on the scale of those car-swallowing sinkholes you hear about.  I alerted Joseph anyway, and he promised to ‘deal with it’ – I didn’t enquire too closely into precisely what this entailed, as I suspect it’s not very pleasant, at least not for the rabbits.

We’d resolved to come back on Thursday, but fine weather trumps resolve any day of the week, innit?  So we came back on Friday.  The sunshine is chasing us eastwards, and will reach Reading for the weekend, and Yagnub by whenever we do.


Thursday, 26 May 2016

Timbo gets a quality haircut

I’ve been going to Duke Street Barbers in Reading for about eight years now.  Prior to that, a ladies’ hairdresser called Diane had come to the house every six weeks, done Viv’s hair and thrown in a trim for me, but once that couldn’t be sustained I took a friend’s recommendation and ended up at Duke Street.

It’s definitely a gent’s barber’s shop:  it says, or at least implies, as much on the signboard outside the door, which even sports the once traditional red-and-white barber’s pole (which is, as I’m sure you know, a relic from the days when barbers were also surgeons, and so bandaged wounded limbs, evidently not very efficiently).  It has eight chairs and, as far as I can tell, up to four barbers.  There are a couple of long-termers, but apart from them the staff turnover is high.  I’ve had my hair cut by lots of charming barbers, male and female – the unisex rule applies only to the clientele, not the operatives – but rarely the same one more than twice.

So I wasn’t surprised to find a new guy bouncing out of the back room when I called in the other day for my usual light scissor trim.  (I learned a few years ago that this was what to order, having disastrously experimented with the various grades of razor cut – they run from one (bald) to eight (nearly bald).)  He greeted me effusively, which usually puts me off, as making small talk whilst being gently tortured doesn’t come naturally to me.  But this guy disarmed me straight away by telling me how much hair I had, and by implication how much he was looking forward to sculpting it.  I alluded to the cranial bald patch, and he pointed out that I’m fairly tall, so people won’t usually notice it.  I thought it best not to argue the point.

He was a damn good haircutter (I’ve been complimented on the job he did) but also a very engaging conversationalist.  He’d spent some time in Spain before coming to England, loved it, learnt the language, had I ever been to Spain?  Given another twenty minutes, I like to think he’d have invited me to accompany him on a holiday to Marbella, but that wasn’t to be.  Turned out he was originally from Morocco.  We need more immigrants like him.

The best bit was when the chat turned back to my luxuriant rug.  I don’t understand why blokes who have a good healthy crop choose to reap it all off with a number one.  “They think it makes them look hard,” my friend said.  “They’re right, it does,” I replied.  “Yes,” he said.  “But it doesn’t make them hard.”



Tuesday, 10 May 2016

This Brexit thingie

This blog doesn’t do politics, except when it does.  This is one of those occasions. 

I may as well use the tried and tested WWWWW formula.

What?  Answer: Nobody Knows Anything.  (© the great William Goldman.)  Predictions of the economic impact of Brexit are so wildly variant as to render them about as useful as that bus you are, or are not, about to walk under.  (Oh, and it seems our French friends have scuppered TTIP, so that card’s no longer on the table.)

Why?  The Daily Mail, of all media, has posed this very interesting question.  If Cameron is so worried about the outcome, why did he call the referendum in the first place?  Don’t hold out for an answer.

Where?  The Brexit camp is rather vociferous about our potential trading links with, let’s see: China; South America; India …  Rather less so about Russia, Saudi Arabia, North Korea.  And presumably they’re a bit equivocal about the USA at the moment.

Who?  Z has waxed eloquent elsewhere, so I’ll just list her three Premier League names: George Galloway; Marine le Pen; Donald Trump.  And add a few second-rankers: Boris, IDS, Govey… I could go on.  They’ve even tried to rope in the Queen.  But give me a list of Remainers (apart from those under orders, obviously)?  David Attenborough isn’t enough.  Mobilisation is called for.  Where are Ant and Dec when we need them?    

When?  That’s a tricky one.  Will the Turkish and Armenian  hordes overwhelm us?  Or will the Empire rise again in Hope and Glory?  Before the next general election?  O will we just muddle on, as usual?  We are British, after all.

Sunday, 1 May 2016


This is the last in a miniseries. 

Tortoises are demanding animate boulders.  That’s all I really have to say on the subject, but this is a blog post not a facebook quip, so I’ll have to expound.

Let’s take boulders first.  Basically, they don’t move (but see animate below).  You can watch one for hours before it proves it’s alive by sticking its head out to see if there’s anything green within reach.  If there is, it’ll eat it; if not, it’ll stick its head back in and revert to boulderdome.  If you catch one in the act, feel honoured.  It’s almost interesting.

As I hinted though, they can be animate, in the sense of actually moving.  When this mood takes them, they can be surprisingly sprightly.  We caught the older one halfway across the lawn a few weeks ago, it having somehow scaled a brick barricade five times its height and sprinted the equivalent of two or three of our miles, before pausing for whatever is the tortoise version of breath and looking around for something acceptably green to eat, the basic lawn grass of course not fitting its strict dietary regime.

Which brings me to demanding.  I mustn’t say too much under this heading, because after all, once you’ve taken responsibility you have to discharge it, don’t you?  But really.  Who needs three custom-built palaces?  Especially ones you spend most of your energy trying to break out of?

Friday, 29 April 2016


If you’ve never had a close encounter with a chicken, you’ll find it hard to believe how such a profoundly stupid creature could have survived the evolutionary process. 

My grandfather kept them in his garden, just down the road from my first home in a sedate suburb of Bournemouth, but I can’t honestly admit to having been particularly aware of them; I think they were probably discreetly disposed of by the time I was about nine.  But before that, he must have gone through the learning process I’ve recently embarked on.  Even grandfathers started out as babies, after all.

I’m learning fast, though, and I’m approaching some preliminary judgements about these curious beasts.

For a start, the cocks behave for all the world as if they were immortal, each of them certain in his own superiority to all other cocks, and prepared to fight to the death to prove it.

Secondly, the hens are determined to put themselves in danger.  All right, it’s nice to peck around in a great big grassy open space, but haven’t millennia of evolution taught you about predators yet?  Come home at night, idiots!

And thirdly, they’re all impossibly perverse.  Why, when a clearly superior being like me tries to help guide them in a sensible direction, do they persist in doing the opposite?  I try to chase them away from me, they run towards me; try to cajole them, they recoil.  It’s almost as if they think they know better – or would be, except that implies a thought process.

In a word – teenagers.



Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Animal Crackers

Until recently I hadn’t spent all that much of my life around animals.  My parents had two cats, consecutively – Scrap, who was a black adopted stray, evidently much loved, and Sandy.  Scrap died when I was about four, so my memories of him are almost entirely vicarious; and Sandy was a fat ginger neutered tom for whom I can’t remember ever feeling a scrap of affection.  (It was reciprocal, I’m sure.)  Then there were two dogs, again consecutive, both called Trixie, both Pembrokeshire corgis.  Trixie I died after only a few months in the family, and was immediately replaced by Trixie II.  I’d guess this was around 1953, when corgis had suddenly become quite fashionable.  I had to take this dog for walks, which worried me.  My fears were justified, because on one occasion a local male mongrel took advantage on my watch, fortunately without outcome.  I think Trixie II was ‘done’ shortly after this incident, thus becoming as fat and lethargic as Sandy the cat. 

Much later, I had two German shepherds, or Alsatians as the British public were trained to call them during WWII.  Again, these were consecutive.  The first was too friendly for his own good, wanting to socialise boisterously with every dog or human he encountered, which didn’t always work the other way.  He died of a mysterious virus at about two years, and was replaced with his temperamental opposite, a shy, nervous creature who was hard to get to know.  I loved him, but he scared me – not for myself, but for other people.  He was lucky to get away with some transgressions.

So my early experience of  animals wasn’t particularly special.  Recently, though, all that has changed, so over the next few posts I’ll tell you about some of my new friends, acquaintances and, dare I say, potential adversaries.

To kick off  with, then, cattle.  Or bullocks, to be exact – although I’m told that one of the seven is in fact still a bull: I haven’t attempted to verify this yet. As readers of Z's blog will know well, they visit the meadow every summer.   They’re placid creatures, but naturally inquisitive, and they don’t play to human rules, as I found when I incautiously went too close to one, just trying to be friendly, and he decided that my jacket looked like a tasty morsel.

They’re not stupid, though.  The other day, we found that they’d managed to remove the galvanised cover on the header tank of their water trough and hide it somewhere in the field.  This was the first move in a cunning plan.  They then unscrewed the ball from the ballcock, thereby causing the tank to overflow onto the surrounding ground and form a nice muddy lake, from which they were able to drink without having to raise their heads from their other important business, eating grass.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

In which I celebrate A Memorable Lunch

We needed to use up an hour before the clarinet-repair shop woke up from its lunch break, so decided to have lunch ourselves, fetching up at a reasonable-looking pub a few miles outside Norwich.  They had a lunchtime sandwich menu, and I selected (I quote from memory) locally cured honey-roast ham, Dijon mustard and tomato on granary bread, with salad garnish and chips.

What eventually arrived, served by the charming and extremely efficient but overloaded barmaid (who was the only person on public duty, the other member of the bar staff having called in sick and the management clearly not having come across the concept of ‘cover’) consisted of two inch-thick hunks of (admittedly fairly decent) bread, enclosing a single wafer-thin slice of fairly ordinary ham (sourced, I suspect, from the Tesco Express just down the road), a scraping of English mustard and two slices of tomato (probably Dutch to judge by the flavour, if that’s the right word), accompanied by a handful of lamb’s lettuce, one leaf of what might once have been rabbit’s lettuce, two more slices of the same tomato, and exactly three – I counted them - potato crisps.

I mean, really!  There ought to be an EU regulation about that sort of thing, oughtn’t there?

To be fair, the beer was nice.  So were the napkins.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Caravan diaries 2016 #1

The journey down was longer than it should have been, partly due to an entirely inexplicable traffic jam between junctions 16 and 17 of the M4.  The warning signs were lit up right from Reading (junction 12), a good 35 miles earlier.  Sure enough, as soon as we passed Swindon, we slowed down to a near standstill as the signs got more and more alarming.  It took about half an hour to get to about junction 17, when the traffic miraculously cleared and we were back to our normal speed – there was no sign of what had caused the tailback, and I ranted yet again along the lines of “it’s the bleedin’ warning signs that cause it, rant rant rant”.

The caravan had once again survived what was actually a fairly hard winter for Pembrokeshire; in other words, it hadn’t rolled down the hill into the sea, and was only partially covered in green gunge, which will have to be washed off next time – I couldn’t be bothered to do more than the glass door this visit, on the basis that that particular patch of gunge was visible from the inside, and that it was more important to show Z the ropes, and the view.

The other good news is that the lawnmower fairy had called and cut all the grass, even the bits that are usually left for me to delight in.  I can only wax optimistic – has this become a new site policy?  Or a gentle hint about general tidiness expectations?  Time will tell.

On Saturday we went and shopped in Narberth (or Arberth as it’s named in Welsh; couldn’t they agree on at least that minor international difference?  Evidently not.)  It’s still a delightful town, surprisingly thriving for what likes to see itself as a depressed, deprived area.  Staycationing might have had an impact, of course.  Good to see that the best butcher, Andrew Rees, is still vigorously trading, selling local wet fish as well – we bought a turbot, not a beast you see often in the shops these days.  And a local genuinely free range chicken, which we’ve only just consumed the last of, four good meals’ worth.  And the slightly quirky greengrocers’ (or greengrocer’s) cum deli had very new Pembrokeshire new potatoes – easily the match of Jersey Royals, especially for not having been over-marketed and so over-cultivated.  This shop is called Wisebuys, which of course years ago got renamed Wise Boys.

On Sunday the east wind did blow.  The caravan site, unusually for the Welsh coast, faces east (which confused Z slightly until I explained the shape of Carmarthen Bay, without even having to resort to a map – she’s very quick on the uptake…), and when there’s a good blast from that quarter we feel it.  The caravan trembles and strains at its anchors, making for mild excitement and pretend trepidation, always good fun.  And the sea, of course, was churned up beautifully, as these pics show. 

We weren’t as brave as those folks, and didn’t venture onto the beach.  Next time.  Z tells me she loves rock pools, so she has a treat in store, as do I – this particular chunk of my childhood is indelible, but does benefit from the occasional refresh.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Ou sont les pois-nieges d’antan?

Yesterday I decided to show off by cooking my legendary prawn stir-fry with noodles.  It needs green peppers and, ideally, pak choi; but pak choi was an ask too far for Yagnub Co-op, so we settled for mange-tout, or snow peas as they’re sometimes called, and I lobbed a pack into the trolley.  Come evening, they were nowhere to be found.  A certain amount of historical reconstruction, including inspection of the Co-op till receipt,  proved that they had indeed not been purchased.

I’m making a habit of thieving from supermarkets.  Only last year, as (the) dedicated reader(s) of this blog will recall, I nicked a tube of Polos from Waitrose.  So I felt suitably guilty as well as perplexed, and tried to work out what had happened, or not happened.

The best conclusion is that the pack of snow peas had accidentally spilled over the barricade into the next customer’s shopping.  I do hope they were as perplexed as I’d been, and I rather hope they decided to keep them and incorporate them into a delicious prawn stir-fry with noodles, unlikely though that is.  One can always dream.

The main rationale for this post is, of course, its title.

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Laws of Sudoku

I was seduced into these puzzles a few months ago, and now I divide my meagre residual leisure time between them and crosswords, which makes me an expert.  I’m sure that no-one who reads this blog is unfamiliar with Sudoku, so I won’t patronise you by spelling out the basic concept or the fundamental techniques.  I can, however, share with you a few tips I’ve registered during my (ahem) several hours’ in-depth experience:

  1. When all the obvious and less obvious connections have been detected, stare at it for at least twenty-five minutes.  Then do the quick crossword.  Then stare some more.  Then go and get a drink.
  2. The drink will have the immediate effect of revealing the bleedingly obvious link your eyes had meticulously swerved around throughout the pre-drink epoch.  Also the fact that you had written ‘4’ twice in the same nine-by-nine box.
  3. I always print it out from the Garduain website, for two reasons: a) there’s just about room on an A4 for the demented aides memoires I need as a memory surrogate; and b) erasers don’t work more than twice on newsprint.  (Actually, my confidence levels have risen to the point where I can start with ink rather than pencil, safe in the knowledge that I can always screw it up, screw it up, and print it again.  It’s surprising how differently take 2 can turn out.) 
  4. When the impossible has been eliminated, whatever remains must be, er, equally impossible.  Guesswork should not be resorted to – but occasionally pays off.  Only today, I had to downgrade a ‘hard’ Guranaid Sudoku from ‘impossible’ back to merely ‘hard’ as a result of an inspired guess, which turned out to be wrong but unveiled the (rather subtle) right approach.
  5. As an alternative to breaking down into uncontrollable metaphorical sobs, if it’s at all feasible, ask Z.  This never fails.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Five* Have Fun At The Dentist

*That being approximately the number of nearly intact molars I seem to have left in my mouth, not counting caps.

Ray, my dentist of thirty-odd years, retired at the end of last year, shortly after I’d made my appointment for yesterday’s check-up.  (I’d like to think this was a coincidence.)  So I was a bit nervous when I turned up ten minutes early.  Usually I grit my teeth and let them do the necessary, but a new, unknown dentist is bound to be a challenge.  The fact that the surgery didn’t open for another ten minutes didn’t help either.

I needn’t have worried.  He was charmingly camp, in an eastern European way.  The first thing he said was ‘I won’t ask you how you are, you’re well enough to get here and I’m not a doctor.  So, how are the teeth?’

I told him.  Unlike doctors, dentists can’t be lied to.  The next thing he did, after counting them and explaining very objectively the condition of the five worthy of mention, was ask me if I had time for him to repair the two most urgent.  The other three, he explained, could wait.  I asked how much time.

‘Depends whether you want anaesthetic,’ he replied.  ‘That takes a bit longer, obviously.’

By now I’d got the hang of this guy’s drill-side manner, so I swiftly decided to be equally honest with him.  ‘I’ll take the chance, but if I can’t bear it I’ll let you know.’  He smiled behind his mask.  ‘Shouldn’t be too bad.’

It wasn’t.  A few minutes in, he asked if I was okay: ‘don’t lie to me, now.’  And towards the end, ‘are you still with me?’  When he’d finished practically rebuilding the tooth that, it seemed, had been about to fall to pieces without my noticing, he filed a bit off a back one which had been nagging at my tongue.  The entire process took about half an hour, and was miraculously painless.  I cannot praise this man’s skill highly enough.  Or his entertainment value.    

And the whole performance (for that was what it was) cost me just £51.30.  I couldn’t help wondering what the one pound thirty covered, but thought it best not to ask.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Fantasy Brexit Cabinet

Prime Minister: Boris Johnson

Home Secretary: Nigel Farage

Foreign Secretary: George Galloway

Chancellor of the Exchequer: Nigel Lawson

Work and Pensions: Alan Sugar

Health: Jeremy Hunt

Transport: Ranulph Fiennes

Energy: Joan Collins

Education: Michael Gove

Culture: Tim Rice

Justice: Ian Duncan Smith

Minister Without Portfolio: Jeremy Corbyn



Thursday, 25 February 2016

There and Back Again*

Flann O’Brien tells, in The Third Policeman, how a road differs depending on whether you are coming or going.  When you are coming along it, the road can be inviting, enticingly undulating, gently pulling you towards your destination.  When you are going down the same road, it can be dreary, achingly hilly, frowningly forbidding.  In O’Brien’s novel, it is the road itself that changes, not the traveller, but we don’t need to stretch the metaphor quite that far.

I was, however, planning to stretch it in another direction.  My yesterday was a ‘going’ day.  Today has been a ‘coming’ one. 

The metaphor has, of course, just nearly snapped, because days don’t run in opposite directions.   Only nearly, though, not completely.   My whole life recently has been a-coming, not a-going.

*Quiz question: locate this fictional unfinished tale.

Friday, 19 February 2016

A Study Suggests

There are a lot of academic Studies out there, aren’t there?  Or putting it another way, there is a lot of academic Studies out there, isn’t there?  I’m sure someone has published a learned Study on the subject of The Collective Singular in Modern English. 

In fact I’d be amazed if they/he/she haven’t/hasn’t.  My own Study suggests that the academic study industry, in its broadest encompassment, is set to outweigh all other industries put together.  Nary a day goes by without at least two catching the media’s attention.  And they (the reported ones, that is) seem, mostly, to fall into one of two categories: statements of the bleeding obvious, and pure gibberish. 

The latest to catch my eye is the one suggesting that, in various life choices, we tend to favour the option located on our dominant side.  That is to say, right for right-handed people, left for lefties.  As an instance of this, the authors state that we’re more likely to vote for a candidate on the right-hand side of the ballot paper if we are right-handed, and vice versa.

Now, this is an American study, and America is a democracy (let’s assume) in which the right not to vote is constitutionally, albeit not explicitly, enshrined.  So it’s possible that these authors have never seen an actual ballot paper.  To be fair, I’m not particularly familiar with the details of the American electoral system, except that it involves things called chads, which may be hanging; but I reckon it’s safe to assume that candidates are, as here in Britain, listed from top to bottom rather than left to right.  Er, was this the best example they could think up?

No.  They also suggest that, at an interview, you should sit to the interviewer's right, or left, in order to make the best impression.  Now again, have they ever attended an interview at which they were given the choice of where to sit?  And at which they knew in advance whether the interviewer was right- or left-handed?  And have they considered that, whilst this technique might just improve your chances of getting the job, it might also put you off it?

Gubbish.  Gobbledegook.  Anyone got any other examples of this sort of pseudo-scientific codswallop?

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Country Ways

Not strictly true: Z doesn’t really live in the country in the extreme rural sense, it just feels like it, as those of you who’ve visited her will vouchsafe (and be able to confirm at her next blogfest on 16 July).

But I had a small initiation.  As you know, one qualifying feature of ‘country’ is lack of mains drainage.  Modern septic tanks take care of this with minimal maintenance and, when it all runs (ha!) according to design, rare problems.  It just so happened that my visit coincided with not one but two.  (I firmly deny any complicity…)

Roses, who lives next door, had noticed a bit of a pong, which she’d very easily traced to the feed to her tank.  Well, two of the five senses were quite enough.  So Z’s trusty BMWF (as she calls him) was summoned to the rescue.   BMWF has, I learned, been an energetic tower of strength (if you can have one of those) around the Zedary for more years than there are.  He rapidly ascertained that R’s tank flowed into Z’s, so the latter had to be investigated as the fount (?) of the effluence.  This proved to be untrue, but fortuitous.

Because it turns out there were in fact two separate, quite unconnected, blockages, one for each (entirely unconnected) tank.  This proves how easy it is to build a course of action on a false assumption – as Kingsley Amis memorably epitomised it, the ‘inverted pyramid of piss’.
Of course, once this had been established, the rest was easy.  Just scoop the water and sludge out of Z’s pit, so as to find the outlet pipe; dispose of the sludge; rod the outlet once found; all will then be well.

Except that it wasn’t.  I’m tired now, so I can’t go into the details of how BMWF eventually discovered that R’s problem was easily solved whereas Z’s requires a whole new run of outlet pipe to be laid.  I’m dwelling on my small country life initiation, which consisted of disposing of many gallons of sludge, in a wheelbarrow, down a couple of rabbit holes across the field.  Right, that’s enough dwelling on that.

The sole reason for this post, actually, is to report that, when told this story, Z’s friend apparently remarked “sort of Watershit Down, then?”

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Instruments of Tortuous Delight

I seem to be being drawn towards musical participations of various sorts, some more likely than others.  I’m not the musician I once was, due to lack of practice, in turn due to a combination of physical difficulty (my right arm doesn’t strum very well any more, and certainly can’t fingerpick), distraction (so much else going on in my life), and indolence.  I have five guitars – I had a picture of them all, but can’t find it and certainly lack the energy to recreate it – only two of which (the acoustic and, inevitably, my beloved Telecaster) I ever pick up nowadays.  Shame, really.

So I’ve gathered together all the other musical instruments I possess (with one exception, a mouth organ which I suspect is lurking inside one of the guitar cases).  Here they are.

Half of them, as you’ll see, are percussion.   The others are my old school recorder (which I can still tootle a bit); a mandolin that belonged to Viv, who never played it  (it needs restoration, really – the lack of tuning pegs, which doesn’t really show in the picture, makes it, erm, untunable); a duck, given to me as a birthday present by my brother: it took me ages to realise that you had to put your fingers on some holes and blow into its backside, whereupon it would emit up to, ooh, at least a pentatonic scale; and some little bells, which fall on the boundary but which I’ll count as not percussion, because you can do things with them other than shake and bang.  (I realise I’m on, ah, shaky ground here, categorically.)

I love percussion.  I have a great sense of rhythm, which sometimes even makes its way down the ever-lengthening neural pathways to my hands and feet.  I could have been a drummer, if I’d had the energy. 

My best ever percussion instrument was a Fiat 850 van we used to hire when Bessie, our Transit, was on one of her frequent rest cures.  But that’s another story. 

Thursday, 28 January 2016


There was a supposedly interesting programme on BBC4 about how the human brain works, which I almost watched, until the irritating presenter, the pseudo-psychedelic graphics and the usual portentous music turned me, and the TV, off.

But it reminded me of a little story from about forty years ago, which I will now tell you.  I’d issue one of those ‘this might bother you’ alerts if I could remember what they were called.  But anyway, here goes.

One of the many things I learned when I lived in Italy was an appreciation of all sorts of offal.  Brain (pigs or calves) was one of these.  [Treat it like sweetbreads or very tender calves’ liver, a dusting of well-seasoned flour and flashed in hot butter, delicately delicious.]

So one day it was decided that the local butcher would be put on the spot.  I can’t remember exactly how the question was posed, but he rose to the challenge.  It turned out that he had a pig’s head in the back room, which he’d be happy to split open for us.  (This must have been in the days when butchers bought in whole carcasses and did the business on the premises.)  The head was duly fetched out, carefully split open, carefully, with a gently wielded cleaver, and – I can picture it to this day – the brains drawn out and presented, on the palm of his hand, for our inspection.

“Hmm,” I remember saying.  “Not much, is there?”

The butcher gave me one of those smiles that say ‘I’ve been waiting for this moment for years’.

“If ‘e ’ad any more, it’d be ‘im eatin’ uz.”

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

My front door

I’d never have expected to find myself in sympathy with that security company (you know the one) whose sub-contractors inadvertently painted all their doors in Middlesbrough red and then allowed asylum seekers to live behind them.

It’s common for communities to have covenants about this sort of thing, which have to be obeyed.  As far as I can tell, the company in question weren’t conforming to any such rules, but merely got hold of a few cheap tins of paint and decided to put it to good use.  Perfectly reasonable, I’d say -  how were they to guess that a shitstorm of sanctimoniousness would burst over their heads for this breach of a newly-minted set of retrospectively made-up correctitude?

No, I have no problem with any of that.  Nor, given the way things are, do I have a problem with the meeja’s handling of the story.  I expect nothing else from them.  They need targets, and will be indiscriminate in selecting them, especially on a slow local news day.  The Mudroch press don’t care much where they point their paint-guns, as long as they splatter something.

No, my problem is that nobody seems to have gone to any lengths at all to identify, name, shame or prosecute the sub-human wazzocks who kicked the whole thing off.  Imagine the thought-process (if that’s not over-glorifying it): we hate immigrants; red doors identify immigrants; so let’s terrorise red-door-dwellers.  That seems to be taken for granted.

For so long as those mentalities – thuggery and blind-eye connivance with thuggery – exist, never mind persist, in this land, goodness and decency are, I worry, doomed.

My front door is painted white, by the way.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Well did you evah?

A cynical churl writes:

Swell?  Huh.  No sex, illicit or otherwise; hardly any flirtation; no falling over; only one small red wine spillage on the carpet; no appallingly tasteless music, not even background sort; no dancing; no drunken insults...  All you did was eat brilliant food, drink about a bottle of wine each (on average), and sit around having funny, stimulating conversations about everything from speed bumps in the Avenue to the lesser-known works of Terence Rattigan; and it was all over by 11.30 , a mere six hours' worth ...   Call that a swell party?

A gratified host replies:


Friday, 15 January 2016

A drink is still a drink. Innit?

In preparation for tomorrow's Neighbourhood Watch party, to give our livers a head start, Z and I are having an alcohol-free day, or at least part of one.  It's possible that the very last droplet of wine last night was consumed after midnight, and we might be forced to have a small glass of sauv blanc with the halibut steaks and boulangere potatoes later on.  But in the meantime we're enjoying a new cocktail:

Crush some juniper berries and infuse them in a small quantity of tonic water.  Add a few drops of angostura bitters, stir well and strain over ice and a slice of lime.  Top up with tonic to desired level.
This is called a Ginless Wonder.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Party Time!

No, don’t get too excited, it’s a local Neighbourhood Watch party, not a blog- or birthday- one. 

I haven’t had a party here for over three years, the last one being my 70th in July 2012, which a couple of my blog-chums attended.  My house is, I’m told, the right size and shape, and also, in the words of my friend and neighbour (and fellow-co-ordinator of the Watch) Nigel ‘has a good feel for a party’.  I’m not sure quite what he means by that, but I’m happy to go along with it .  I always think a party is made, not by the location or even the food and drink, but by the people.  I must know some pretty good party people on that basis, because in twenty-seven years here I can’t remember a single bad one.  (Party, that is; person neither, actually.)

Anyhow, taking no chances, the following notice, suitably framed and embellished, will greet attendees as they arrive.


If a quotation from Horace in the original Latin doesn’t get ‘em going, nothing will.*

Look it up if you need to.  Oh all right, the loose translation from my Oxford quotations book is: ‘Now for drinks, now for some dancing with a good beat.’  Old Horace was clearly on the right track.