Friday, March 22, 2019

Dr. Commuter advises ... Mrs June*

* name disguised  

Dr. Commuter writes: Some times what seems perfectly rational behaviour to one person can, in reality, be obsessional and self-destructive. Symptoms include a refusal to accept what is apparent to everyone else, the belief that everyone else must be mistaken despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and the delusion that if something is repeated enough times it becomes true.

Recently I have been working with a lady whose high-powered position in public life means her anonymity must be protected. I have therefore used the back entrance to No 10 Downing Street and only the Cabinet Secretary has been privy to our meetings. Treatment begins with trying to reach an agreed starting point and then building up in stages as I win round the patient's confidence. For example I might say "It is a nice day today", to which she replies "Yes it seems to be".

I say "I did enjoy last night's EastEnders, such a richly realistic portrayal of everyday life" and she will nod approvingly.

Then I make the first attempt to alter her perceptions.
"Such a shame that your plan to leave the EU is being rubbished on all sides, isn't it?".
This is what we doctors call the moment of putting the boot in. From now on it could go one of two ways. If the patient is on the road to recovery she will say "You are absolutely right, what was I thinking of, I have nearly done great and utterly unnecessary damage to my country, I will think again". But if she replies "I am right, everyone else is wrong and all my enemies will be as dust beneath my chariot wheels for surely God will smite them for their disbelief" then, alas, I must book a further set of appointments and ask her to delay the Brexit process for another few months.


If you have any questions for Dr. Commuter please sit on them for a while as it does appear that the anonymous patient whose condition is discussed in this column is going to need a great deal of attention in the near future.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Poetry Corner

A type of short poem called a "Cherita" has recently come to my attention. Created in 1997 by Ai Li (who is also, I learn from her website, an evidential spiritualist medium) it take the form of a one line, two line and three line stanza. This makes for very short pieces indeed and you might think that if you buy one of her books you will get at least one of these fragments per page. Not so. Every other page is blank so that "the reader can pause and for the words to echo in the after silence"

Here is an example of a Cherita (I hope it is ok to reproduce but as it was on a flyer widely distributed in a public space I don't see why not). Starting each line in lower case seems to be the norm with this style, by the way.

your reading glasses

are still
where you left them

on an old page
the silverfish
miss you

I am not able to insert a blank page here because, well,  because this is a column on a Google blog not a printed book, so you'll just have to pause and imagine one while the words echo in the after silence. I find myself thinking about how I would go about squishing the silverfish and then trying to get the stains off the old page, and probably sitting on your reading glasses but that just serves you right for leaving them on the sofa in the first place.

I think the echoes will have died down by now and you should have the idea of Cheritas, and assuming the spirits are happy (Is there anybody there? No, I didn't really think so) here are a few of my own to get you pausing. Don't forget to add an after silence, length optional, as you read each one.


the computer monitor

is black
and not responding

oh why do these
windows updates
take so bloody long?


i hear a knock

is it the

no, it is
just another
pizza delivery leaflet


the platform is crowded

my train is not

many eyes strain
upward but the indicator board
gives no answer


masterchef is on the telly tonight

it would be nice to
have some peanuts

but there are none
the house


I think that's enough to be getting on with. If you would like to see your own efforts published in these columns please send them in to the usual address. Terms and conditions ... oh sod it, let's do this properly

terms and conditions apply

the editor's
decision is final

no correspondence
can be entered into
so don't waste our time with it, ok?

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Identity Crisis

The Government's proposal to institute an age check on UK internet users who wish to visit pornographic websites is so staggeringly inept it would defy belief - would it not that these are the same people making our country a laughing stock over Brexit. They have, it appears (but this may not be confirmed) entrusted the verification process to a US business called MindGeek (and that name alone should put the shivers up anyone who cares about the misuse of personal data). MindGeek, I learn from The Guardian is itself in the pornography business through its ownership of a number of websites. It will run the checks through another subsidiary AgeID*

Apparently if you want to look at naughty things in future you must either supply your passport or driving licence or similar to AgeID or - and this really does make my mind boggle - buy a pass from your friendly local newsagent which will be valid on a particular device. Yes. Your newsagent.

Scene: A small village. A newsagent. At the counter Mr Jones busies himself marking up papers for delivery. Enter Mr Smith, a little nervously. He speaks quietly so that the old ladies having tea in the corner cannot hear.

Jones: "A fine morning to you, Mr Smith. How is young Jayne's rash doing?"
Smith "Clearing up thanks, Mr Jones."
Jones "And what can I do for you today? Your usual gums and a lottery ticket?"
Smith "Yes, yes of course... but actually I was wondering ... er, my friend was wondering ... he is doing some, ah, research, into art, yes, that's it, art, and there are certain websites he needs to visit and apparently for some of them he needs to prove his age and has to come here to have it done, as it were. He can't make it - he's laid up with the gout, poor chap - so he asked me if I could just get one of these pass things for him. To go on my iphone, which I shall be lending him later on. Er, you needn't tell Mrs Smith, she disapproves of art"
Jones "Yes of course Mr Smith. Your - er, your friend's privacy - is assured at all times. ENID, MR SMITH AT NUMBER 38 WANTS A PORN PASS, WHERE HAVE YOU PUT THEM?"

The stupidity of the Government, or whoever is advising them, lies in the following:
  • Giving huge amounts of sensitive personal data of UK citizens to an American commercial enterprise can only end badly. Unless AgeID is based here and controlled by responsible UK citizens subject to UK law then we might as well put the whole lot on the internet for sale to the highest bidder. Which will happen anyway as soon as this outfit gets hacked.
  • Giving the data to an outfit that has a vested interest in as many people seeing pornography as possible is like asking the Mafia to advise on a new anti-racketeering initiative.
  • What on earth stops an adult (say an 18 year old) handing his phone to his 17 year old mate and saying "Have a look a this, it's brilliant"?
  • What will stop the computer literate from signing up to a Virtual Private Network service, which will then obscure their IP address and spoof it such that the websites they subsequently connect to will not be able to identify them as UK-based?
  • The scheme relies on some sort of block being put in place by UK ISPs. Will they really be able to act quickly as new websites pop up to replace each one that is blocked?
  • And given the dreadful events in New Zealand, isn't it obvious that the real threat to us all is hate and extremism?

* Not to be confused with the highly respectable charity AgeUK, for which your correspondent used to do voluntary work.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Joined-up Banking

I bank with Barclays (they gave me a clipboard when I signed as a student half a century ago and I'm still grateful). Today their normally reliable mobile banking service has failed and social media is full of angry comments from my fellow customers. Barclays has not got a lot to say about it on Twitter but did amend the front page of their main personal banking website to provide an update. It looks like this:

As you can see (if you bother to click on the image to see it full size), it acknowledges a problem and invites a visit to the service status page to find out more. I don't know if they were hoping that nobody would take them up on this but here at Ramblings we take nothing for granted and, full of trepidation but determined to plumb this matter to its murky depths, we did indeed visit the aforementioned page. And this is what we found:

Hey. Whoa there. Nothing to see here, right. Just move along. Everything is just fine. We haven't bothered to update this page for four days but that's totally acceptable in an industry where the simple clearance of a cheque takes about as long.

You might think that the person who wrote the message for the main web page would have updated the service status page as well. Maybe the pressure of penning those few lines was too much for the poor chap. Perhaps he couldn't go on with it any more and even now is standing on a ledge high above Canary Wharf contemplating a bleak future whilst his colleagues, the wind whipping at their ties, edge carefully out with arms linked.

"Don't do it Johnson" shouts the Personnel Manager "Think of the firm's outing. There's some fresh blotting paper just arrived in Stationery. Come back and we'll all chip in to update that dreadful status page."

Will he do it? I'll have another look at the service status page sometime and maybe let you all know.

Monday, February 25, 2019

How Low Can You Get?

Travellers wishing to take the scenic and rather relaxing Chiltern Line north of Harrow-on-the-Hill may sometimes stray up to the very end of Platform 1 whilst waiting for the next train to arrive. Should they be thinking of a pleasant sit down they need to be warned. Only the very short will find any comfort here. For in this quiet and rather unfrequented part of the station is to be found a bench that no person of normal height is likely to use; unless they wish to incur a severe degree of back ache.

Here is that strangely undersized piece of railway furniture, looking a little like those tiny chairs found in infants' schools when compared to the ordinary benches on the adjacent platform. It's been there for a long time. I can't be the first to have commented on it.

By the way the white triangle at the base of the picture is not a camera error. It is the amazingly bright sunshine of what has become the warmest February day on record, going up to around 20c.