Monday, October 20, 2014

Poppies at the Tower

The moat encircling the Tower of London has been filled with poppies to commemorate the British fallen of World War 1 - some 880,000 hand-made ceramics that sweep almost the entire circumference of the Tower and provide a vivid contrast to the ancient grey walls.

Mrs. Commuter and I joined thousands of others at the site this morning. There is no glorification of war or any attempt to justify it or dress it up in patriotic robes. Simply the field of poppies. A gaping hole was cut into the youth of our country and it is numbing to try to grasp that each poppy stands for one of them.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Under the bricks

A book review in the paper I idly perused at the weekend, as one does over a pleasant lunch in the conservatory on a mild Autumn day, suggested that clichés have a useful role to play in conversation. Rather than shun them, they should be embraced as making it easy to mark changes in the direction or tone of a discourse, and provide convenient pauses between the useful content. And having digested this message, I passed on to more important matters, namely the completion of the quick crossword.

This morning, flicking through the weekend colour supplement of that same newspaper, I read an advert for John Lewis featuring a woman’s account of dealing with insomnia [Must have been gripping stuff: Ed] and encountered the phrase – “it hit me like a ton of bricks”. I started, and stopped in my tracks, [Now then, now then: Ed] because that earlier book review was still in my mind and now I could not remove the mental image of someone actually being hit by a ton of bricks.

What on earth would it be like? How would you manage to be in a position where you could be hit, anyway? The most likely scenario I could come up with has to do with being on roller-skates, hurtling down the street and failing to avoid a building site. In that case we are hitting the bricks. This is not helpful. The crucial part of the imagery is that the bricks hit us. We are passive and the bricks are actively hitting. So it must be that the bricks are in motion. Perhaps a pallet, swung high above our heads as we walk blissfully unaware past another building site (or it could be the same as the first one above). But then, should that pallet fall, it would be the pallet that would strike and the bricks merely provide the ballast. I should think being clobbered by a pallet would be bad enough, especially if one hears the cries of the builders (probably in a gentle Irish brogue) advising us to “Look out there for the love of God, why don’t you” or whatever it is that Irish builders (Not really a cliché, there’s loads of them where I live) would shout in such a situation.

How can it be that we are struck by the bricks themselves? I fancy that the builders from the example above, have, in a distracted moment (“Whist, would you look at the legs on that, Michael, that would do me very fine”) lowered a pallet loaded with the afore-mentioned ton of bricks (The average house brick weighs about 4.3 pounds, a man from the interweb informs me, and a British ton being 2240 pounds, then this load comprises about 520 of them) on top of a trolley positioned at the top of a hill that leads down to the street where you are strolling, eyes fixed on the estate agent’s windows. The trolley is unbalanced, it begins to run down the hill, the weight of the bricks keeps them together, it hurtles out of control and strikes a bollard. The bricks fly off the pallet and as one great red mass obliterate us in a storm of dust, with chips splintering off the windows and faint cries from above “Jeez would you look at that, now we’ve got to pick that lot up before the foremen gets back from his tea”.

Yes, that would be how one might be struck by a ton of bricks. As to what it is like, well, pretty rough, I imagine. Being pulped and flattened and generally pulverized must be about one of the worst feelings in the world. Would one survive the smash? I very much doubt it. So the feelings on being hit by a ton of bricks must be (and these happen pretty fast) what’s that noise? Ouch that hurts, Hell there’s loads of them, This looks pretty bad, This is pretty bad, Goodbye world.

So when something is like being struck by a ton of bricks, it is like being crushed to death in a cataclysm of noise and terror. Pretty serious stuff. Hard to see quite how our lady (Remember her? I mentioned her earlier) could really think that her experience was similar to that. Her use of this cliché, far from oiling the wheels of the piece, as it were, puts a spanner in the works [Cough!: Ed]. Being hit by a ton of bricks is not really like anything else at all. Apart from being hit by a ton of flour or potatoes or anything else that might detach from a moving load and strike us. I’d say the odds on it being like anything at all recognisable are like finding a needle in a haystack. That’s a straw-coloured needle, made of straw, and the haystack is 100 metres square and 30 metres high.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sterling crisis hits England

No, not a run on the pound or desperate defensive measures by the Bank of England. The story gripping the nation this morning concerns a young football player who, on the eve of a European Championship qualifier against Estonia asked to be stood down because "he was a bit tired and had had a late night and eaten too many pies because some of the older players had taken him to a fashionable pie bar in Tallinn and he hadn't wanted to look weedy so he went for the dreaded beef, eel and oberwurst special and anyway his mum has written a note, and it wasn't fair because some of the bigger boys had nicer coloured boots than him and his were new and hurt a bit, and his socks kept falling down because the garter elastic his aunt had sewed was coming loose and he had a headache and the champagne on the flight must have been a bit funny because after two bottles he didn't want any more...".  Ah. Bless. Early night, son and take the rest of the week off. You only get paid a few million a year for playing 90 minutes of football a week. God knows it's not enough and, on behalf of the supporters who watched the game on TV at home and found other things to do after twenty minutes rather than put up with any more tedium, get well soon.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

After the vote, or, the Union saved

In the end it all went horribly wrong for the splitters. Gordon Brown rose from the dead to revitalise the union cause, the waverers wavered toward "No" and Alex Salmond fell on his sword. 55% was not as much as I would have liked but it is sufficient to put this issue to bed for a while. We still live in a United Kingdom.

Mr. Salmond is likely to be replaced by his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon. There seems to be a element of the piscine about the names of the SNP leaders but heaven forfend that anyone should make cheap jokes about it all being a bit fishy.

Mrs. Commuter and I heard the news in our hotel bedroom in Dijon, whither we had repaired on a short holiday to taste (and I mean that literally) the delights of Burgundy, a beautiful rural region of France that is home to many memorable dishes. Our final night's dinner of oeufs meurette, boeuf bourginogne and an assiette of fromages was not the sort of thing you eat every night, if you value your waistline, but we had done a fair bit of walking and felt justified in indulging.

Dijon has no underground system but trams run around (though not through) the historic city centre and though we did not travel on one, I know you'd like to see a picture anyway so here you are.
Sorry about the street sign but I think it adds a certain something to the picture [amateur naffness, perhaps?: Ed]

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Battle of Britain commemoration

The annual remembrance of the contribution of Polish airmen in the RAF was held today at the Polish War Memorial, situated at a junction of the A40 at the edge of RAF Northolt, the wartime fighter station where many Poles were based. After a brief service there was the laying of wreaths, starting with the dignitaries including an Air Vice Marshal, the Polish Ambassador and the Mayor of  Hillingdon,  and representatives from other boroughs including Newark which has a very strong association with the Polish effort. Then one wreath for each of the fighter and bomber squadrons commemorated on the memorial, some laid by survivors and others by relatives. Finally, the highlight was the flypast of a Spitfire and Hurricane. The wonderfully evocative snarl of Merlin aero-engines filled the air, coming just before the planes themselves, tiny compared to the jets on the airstrip, hurtled overhead.

We were fortunate that they made several passes, permitting your correspondent time to get his camera into position and take at least one reasonable picture. 
Polish War Memorial
Bandits at 9, skipper

Friday, September 12, 2014

Herons over Ruislip

I was enjoying a coffee as a well-earned reward for the efforts expended in my earlier post today when I looked up across the back garden to see an unexpected visitor.

My neighbour's shed seems an unlikely haunt

A zoom shot as it admires itself in the glass roof panel
I would rather these birds kept well away. Fortunately, at this time of year, the goldfish in the little pond are well camouflaged under a thick layer of plants but they will be exposed later on. Now I know what sheep farmers must feel when the wolves are circling...

Scotch Mist - Occasional reflections on a referendum. No 7 – SNP and the destruction of the English language

I really was not intending to write any more about the referendum. But it is now the number one topic on current affairs programmes and inevitably one is drawn into the arguments. This morning I was idly listening to Today in bed, as one does when taking a day off. [He's been retired for a while but we don't want to shatter his pathetic illusions that the business world still needs him: Ed] I heard an SNP supporter using the phrase "this failed political union" and once again the blood rushed to my head, my eyes rolled and my writing fingers began to itch.

  • Direct control from Westminster over all matters of Scottish life including allocation of housing, education, the police, investment, control over candidates for Parliament - that might signify a failed union.
  • Scots unable to buy property in the rest of the UK, forbidden to travel, discriminated against when working south of the border, refused entry to pubs and hotels, singled out for stop-and-search by the police, kept waiting for many hours to cross the border - this would indicate a failed union.
  • No democratic elections for many years despite continuous mass demands for them - that would show a failed political union.
  • Arrests of anyone campaigning for independence, bloody suppression of demonstrations, secret police, disappearance of activists, English commissars with arbitrary powers including detention, torture and execution - that would indeed signify a failed political union.

And so on. Now you could say that some of these things did indeed take place following the battle of Culloden when the people of the Highlands were punished for support for the Jacobite cause. And you could counter-argue that even then the majority of Scots supported the union and were not Jacobites and that, within a generation, Scots were serving proudly in the British army, were represented in Government and were enjoying the full fruits of the economic boom accompanying the expansion of the British trading and political empire (as anyone who has wandered through the splendid Georgian streets of the "new town" in Edinburgh can witness).

All that was more than 200 years ago. To describe the current state of the British polity as failed is like a child who has not been picked to star in the class play (where there are only 6 main roles and 25 kids) screaming "It's not fair" and banging her head on the desk. Put it another way - the UK model is widely copied and respected around the world as an example of how to create a peaceful, representative, honest system of government. The very fact that the referendum is taking place and will be legally honoured if the result is for independence is testament to the strength of the system. Yet the SNP says it is failure, and sure the SNP are honourable men and women. [That's enough Shakespeare at this time of the morning, thanks: Ed]. Yugoslavia was a failed union. Pakistan was a failed union. When it all ends in militias, shelling of cities and slaughter of unarmed civilians, that's a failed union. The UK has been an outstanding success, despite the relative domination by the English over the rest, a domination that is acknowledged and is steadily being reduced as devolution increases, and the merits of the UK far outweigh its disadvantages. If this is failure, give me more of it.