Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Stormy weather

I have posted comments about the changing climate before but it seems apposite to do so again today. Here in beautiful Ruislip the temperature is a balmy 13c, though the winds are pretty lively right now as we pick up the tail end of  "storm Frank". (Major storms are now named by the Met Office and this is the fifth big one of the season). People have been sitting outside cafes during the day. There have been no night frosts. Daffodils are appearing, some even flowering. We might be in April.

The contrast with the north of the country could not be starker. The storms have battered Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire with huge amounts of rain that have caused extensive flooding. Frank is now doing its worst in Scotland. Bridges are down, city centres like Leeds and York flooded and aeriel views show huge shimmering inland seas over the lower ground. Defences based on "once in a hundred year" events have failed and it is apparent such events are now to be expected every few years.

Two years ago I was writing on exactly the same theme - the devastating rains (though Southern England took the brunt of it then) and the mildness of the weather. December does not seem to be part of winter any more and autumn is changing to be the stormy season. Yet popular culture continues to associate this time of year with snow and stillness. It gets harder and harder to imagine the world of Good King Wenceslas - deep and crisp snow, cruel frosts and cold clear nights. It would be a great shame if the young generation never know the joy of building a snowman.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Nurofen: The Real Headache

The makers of the well-known pain-reliever Nurofen have been castigated for marketing various versions of the same ingredients and claiming that each is suitable for a different type of pain. I claim no particular medical knowledge but, as I understand it, pain is a chemical signal transmitted through the nervous system and perceived in the brain. Any pain relief product either acts directly on the cause (such as a sprained muscle) or suppresses the pain signals. Nurofen is one of the latter. It follows that it does not target any particular type of pain and therefore to say that it does is misleading. I'll go further. It is lying.

Naturally the PR people were quick to obfuscate.The head of regulatory and medical affairs in Europe was quoted thus:
Consumers want the navigation in a grocery environment, where there’s no healthcare professional to assist in the decision-making.
I am a consumer. I don't want to be "guided in a grocery environment" when buying pharmaceuticals. I will buy products I know (or, in light of this story, products I think I know) but in any case of doubt, I will ask my friendly local chemist. Who would probably guide me toward the cheapest, generic, form of the appropriate drug.

Nurofen works. I take it myself, about once every two years when I have a headache bad enough to justify taking something for it. But what am I really buying, a product carefully researched and developed to be the best, or an image, lovingly tended and buffed up by "creatives" with long hours spent on choosing the right pantone shade for the logo and the right phrase for the strapline? This link, to a Daily Mail article reviewing various painkillers and showing what is in them, may prove instructive.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Trump: The Truth.

Donald Trump, another rich American who is trying to buy himself the Presidency, has made world headlines with his suggestion that the US close its borders to "all Muslims". Apparently this will prevent terrorism. Mr. Trump, bless him, does not appear to realise that there is no obvious way to test anyone's religion, nor will his measures assist in making America safer from home-grown terrorists. Given that some of the worst atrocities in recent years have been carried out by white, right-wing nutters who can acquire weapons with ease, one has to ask:

Who's side is Donald on?

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind (not too sure what that really means but it sounds cool, yeah?). What I mean is, he is clearly trying to undermine and split the Republican Party. Yet he is clearly not a Democrat or a sleeper supporter of liberal America. I suggest that he is really a deep agent for the Islamic State terrorists, his purpose is to divide American and world opinion with the object of forcing many Muslims to identify with ISIL (or whatever they are called) and to oppose liberal democracies. He is certainly going to help them recruiting young and naive persons who see western conspiracy everywhere.

So the correct solution to Mr. Trump's increasingly nasty utterances is for him to be arrested by agents of Homeland Security, deported to Guantanamo Bay for some "questioning" and have his assets seized as being undoubtedly obtained through crime. At a stroke, the US government can help reduce its deficit, ordinary people all round the world will be reassured that the real enemies of democracy are being confronted and a vicious big-mouth who attempted to bulldoze parts of Scotland for his private golf courses will have met his match. What a great present for Xmas that would be.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

God and the Auditors

Alarmed by disclosures about the way the Catholic Church manages its finances, the Pope has brought in auditors. This could be interesting. As one who began his career with nearly seven years in Chartered Accountancy, I feel I have some insights into the first day of what will undoubtedly prove a fascinating assignment.

Scene: A back room in the Vatican. Enter George, audit senior, Tarquin, 1st year trainee and Mr. Farquarhson, the manager. They seat themselves, open notebooks and sharpen their pencils.

Farquarhson:  This is a very big one for the firm, lads. We've got to make a good impression on this client, it could lead on to much bigger things. Now we've only got two weeks allotted for this review so we'll have to look sharp. George, have you got the plan ready?
George: Um, yes, I've had a look at the draft accounts, the mission statement and the organisation plan. As I see it, the first thing we need is a cup of coffee. Off you go, Tarquin, the machine is down by the Sistine Chapel, mine's a large Americano and don't start chatting up any nuns.
Tarquin: Right ho. exits
Farquarhson: Now, then George, I'm having lunch with one of the senior financial advisers, a Cardinal Borgia. At his estate in Sardinia. The helicopter will be picking me up in about ten minutes. What will you be doing?
George: I thought we'd go to the Vatican canteen.
Farquarhson: I meant, what is your work plan for today?
George: Ah. As it's the first day we need to walk about, get the feel of the place, talk to some priests and make notes on how it all works. Then I'll get young Tarquin to check the petty cash in the Museum and count a few candles, see if their stock records add up.  I'll have a look at the confessional records, get the computer audit team to run some tests and see how sins have changed over the past hundred years or so, make sure the Church is properly accounting for everything and the right number of sinners are in hell.
Farquarhson: Excellent. Tomorrow I've been asked to go on a short tour of South America. The Lear jet will pick me after breakfast and I may not be back for a week or so. Think you can cope?
George: No sweat. OK if I take the afternoon off though? I'd like to have a stroll round the Forum.
Farquarhson: That's fine.
Tarquin enters with coffees
George: Ah, that's what the doctor ordered.
Farquarhson: Had good look round, young man?
Tarquin: Golly yes. It's a big place. Lot of praying going on round the front. I wonder what that's all about? laughs
George: Nothing to do with us. We just check out the books.
Farquarhson: Yes, stay focussed lads. Right, I'd better be off.
George: By the way, there's a note here about millions of euros just lying around, some sort of surplus from the collections.
Farquarhson; I'll read it when I get back from Rio. Bye. exits
George: Have a good one.
Tarquin: What should we do now? I've never done an audit as big as this before.
George: Don't worry. They're all the same, really. We just do what we always do. Although I think here we may get some decent wafers with our tea....

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christmas Catalogues - the gifts that go on giving

It's that magical time of the year. As the skies darken and the temperature plummets, as the leaves fall leaving twisted bare branches dancing in the gales, as the lights go on in the shopping centres and the retailers rub their hands in expectation, so we can expect to receive those wondrous tidings of good joy  that are the Christmas Catalogues. No matter that we may only rarely have purchased - or in many cases, never at all - from the emporia soliciting our custom. The bright packets thud upon the doormat and are marvelled over nonetheless. There are 'festives' and 'yuletides' galore. There are Santas and robins, ribbons and tinsel, and those wonderful prices with a much higher price shown crossed out. Always there is a higher price and a 'saving' for us to gawp at, eyes wide and fingers itching for a credit card. Not to use, mind you. To put safely away.

I keep the catalogues in the bathroom. For there is nothing so pleasant, when one is seated comfortably, than to flick through them, admiring the shiny photographs and curling one's lip at the vast savings one is supposed to be making by buying something. And then not buying anything.

There is also the wonderful juxtaposition of certain items. Two well known distributors of office supplies, Viking and Staples regularly vie for our attention. But at this time of year, amongst the multi-coloured pens, the stapling machines, the storage boxes and the reams of paper, the shredding machines and the filing cabinets (and let's face it, one can spend many happy hours browsing such stuff, comparing one type of ring-binder to another and pondering the merits of a mesh in-tray and a pack of spiral-bound notebooks) there are also hampers. I don't mean the simple wicker baskets. These are your actual Xmas hampers, stuffed full of the sort of things people buy at this time of the year to give to others when they can't think of anything else but desperately want to give something other than a gift token. And the mark of a Xmas hamper is that the products are things that are themselves familiar but are marketed under names one has never heard of before. I cite as my first witness, your honour, these ingredients taken from hampers marketed by Viking.
  • Mrs. Bridges Orange and Cranberry Marmalade
  • Hamlet Belgian Chocolates
  • Crosta and Mollica Grissini
  • Sally Williams Nougat
  • Grandma Wild's Luxury Mince pies
  • Monty Bojangles Scrumple Nutty Truffles
  • Old Hamlet Mulled Wine Manilla packet
  • Eternal Grocer Chilli coated peanuts 
Are these not wonderful names? Do they not fill your head with ideas, visions of dedicated, white-haired, apple-cheeked, a-bonnetted women stirring bubbling concotions with wooden spoons, twinkly-eyed, gnarled old craftsmen patiently showing the apprentices how a master truffler gets that final difficult bit of nut to stick in, Edwardian butlers striding into the kitchen to taste the breakfast before bearing it away on a silver salver 'upstairs' where young Lord Bojangles is dallying with a actress? And the dramatic potential is boundless. You only have to let those names roll off the tongue and the play is unrolled before your eyes.

Scene: A castle battlement in Denmark.Night.
Enter Crosta and Mollica, guards
Crosta: What, has this thing been seen again?
Mollica: Ee'n so. It stalks abroad
Crosta: Tis passing strange
Mollica: Bleeding incredible, in actual fact
Enter the ghost of Old Hamlet
Old Hamlet:  Oh woe, woe, a thousand woes
Crosta:  That's him, alright
Mollica:   Let us report this and then forget all about it
Crosta:   It shall be so

Scene. Inside the castle
Enter Mrs Bridges and Grandma Wild, witches
Bridges:   When shall we three meet again?
Wild:    Two dear, Aunt Bessie couldn't make it, it's bingo night
Bridges:   Then shall we suffice 
Wild:   Hark - I hear a drum.
Bridges:   You've got your hearing aid back to front again
Wild:   It is Hamlet. And friend.
enter Hamlet and Monty
Monty:  Snap out of it Hammie, you've got to move on, son
Hamlet:   But I love that Sally Williams, though her family is mortal enemy to mine.
Monty:   Oh I thought you were still fretting about your dad.
Hamlet:   No, he was well past it, falling off that tower into the sea and being stabbed by those conspirators, best thing that could have happened.
Bridges:   Hamlet, thou shalt be king hereafter!
Wild:   And treasurer of the debating society!
Monty:   This is passing strange
Hamlet:   We've had that line
Monty:   Yeah but I kinda like it
Wild:   But beware. Beware of a man who sells tinned foods and soft drinks
Bridges:  Beware of a man who stocks sauces and condiments
Wild:   Beware of a man who always has special offers
Bridges:   Beware of a man who an apron brown sports
Hamlet:   You mean?
Bridges & Wild:   The eternal Grocer!

And so on. Coffee break is over. Thank you for coming and good night.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Pleasures of the Market

[Not another heavy piece about economics is it? It's years since you studied it, you know: Ed]
Actually, no. This is about a real market, the craft and foodie market that graces beautiful Ruislip once a month, held in the medieval surroundings of the Great Barn. Today will be one of the main events of the year with only one more fair before Xmas. It was held yesterday as well but the rain and murk kept us away. Sadly, the awful weather blighted another key event of the local calendar, the switching on of the Xmas lights as part of Ruislip Manor Fun Day (but given that this event was relegated to a rather tawdry set of stalls in a car park, compared to taking up the whole of the shopping area of Victoria Road in recent years, it was a bit of a damp squib anyway). Today the skies have cleared, the airs are mild and the breezes light so we will make the effort.

Despite the enormous range of goods in supermarkets, there are always things at the craft market that are different. A lot of stuff is made locally, by the people who turn up every month to sell it. If you want to know what's in the jar, you have only to ask. There's specialist olive oils, buffalo meat, real Arbroath smokies, fresh cakes, whole ciabattas and sourdoughs, tasty and well-filled meat pies, cheeses from nearby farms, any amount of chutneys and sauces and plenty besides [Enough, it's a long time till lunch: Ed]. 

We don't buy a huge amount but it's always nice to mill around, inhale the aromas from the paella stalls and hog roasts and nibble the odd freebie. There is no road traffic to disrupt the free flow of people and no music blaring at us. There are almost no branded goods on display. The greetings cards, the knitware, the pottery and the candles are all made by the stallholders. Ruislip ceased to be a village a century ago but on market days - and in some sense on Rembrance Sunday - it reverts to feeling a bit like one.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Before the Big One

This Saturday the football team for whom I hold a season ticket [Is this grammatically correct? Ed] will play a team three leagues above them in the first proper round (or first round proper as it is sometimes quaintly known) of the FA Cup. In other words Wealdstone of the National League South will host Colchester United from League One. There is therefore a huge sense of anticipation around these parts. Colchester should be the massive favourites and consequently are on a hiding to nothing - a win is no achievement but should they lose then there will be rejoicing and amazement indeed in West London and the inevitable dubbing of the winners as the 'Giant-killers'.

The game may be diabolical. Who knows? Based on our normal form we will have several players booked, concede one or more penalties and waste innumerable chances to shoot in the general direction of their goal (never mind shoot on target). I wouldn't be surprised if one of our players, or even the manager, gets sent off. It's happened before. We have form.

But then again Colchester may freeze, daunted by playing at an unfamiliar pace and style, and perhaps by whatever we can slip into their pre-match tea.

However it is the delicious expectations that make this fascinating.  As it stands right now we could go into the second round. The BBC are filming highlights and before the match are actually hosting the main preview show, Football Focus, from our ground. What on earth will they do if we survive?

It is amazing to note that in 1949 we also met Colchester in the first round of the Cup and it was only the second live match ever televised in this country. And we won. Can history repeat? Will Scott Davies repeat his much talked about wonder goal, scored in the third qualifying round against Brockenhurst? Will the Wealdstone Raider lead us in the mass chants of "Yerve got nah fans, Yerve got nah grouaaand"? Or will we trail sadly away at 4:45, musing on what might have been?

[A match report may be posted here, depending on the result: Ed]

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Just don't drop him, ok?

The BBC news site has informed me of this important development

and I am sympathetic. Young children are held over fonts whilst being Christened, young men are held over toilets by their mates after drinking too much and sometimes festive events are held over until a more suitable time. But they do things differently, and perhaps a little more violently, in the Indian Ocean.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

So sue me

It may be a hoax, of course. It reads like a spoof headline in an online journal of spoofery such as the Onion. But let us assume that it is real, that a well known national newspaper has recorded what has really occurred in a courtroom in New York.


New York woman sues 12-year-old nephew over hug that broke her wrist
 
The article explains that the lady, who is taking a child (her own nephew, no less) to court to claim that he used excessive force when hugging her, justifies her actions thus:
“I was at a party recently, and it was difficult to hold my hors d’oeuvre plate,” she reportedly said. 
It is notoriously difficult to hold hors d'oeuvre plates at the best of times (and bloody hard work spelling them as well, thanks cut-and-paste) as many an errant stain on my best party-going trousers can testify, never mind when you've got a glass of lukewarm white wine in the other hand and are trying to cut up a gherkin with a plastic knife whilst weaving around a crowd encircling the waitress with the canapes and avoiding the bloke with the story about the car that just wouldn't start, and his wife with the funny eye, but I digress.

Now this lady [The lady in the news story, not the one with the funny eye: Ed] may be clinically insane or she may be advised by a clinically insane lawyer. The judge hearing the case, who has failed to jail (or is that gaol?) them both for contempt of court and bringing the American justice system into disrepute, may also be barking mad. But again, let us not be hasty. Let us assume all parties in this affair have most of their marbles and are cogniscent, in a legally binding way, of the consequences of their actions.  In which case we must surely contemplate the following drama.

Scene: A New York courtroom. (As I don't know that much about USA legal procedures you must allow a little latitude, alright?)

Clerk: All rise for his honour Mr Justice D. Crockett.
Judge: Now then, I believe we are hearing Pumpernickel vs Pumpernickel, are we not?
Clerk: We are your honour.
Judge: Who is representing the plaintiff?
Hamilton Burger: I, your honour.
Judge: Proceed Mr. Burger.
Burger: Your honour, I intend to show the court that the defendant, Wilhemina Brooklyn Pumpernickel, did wilfully and with malice aforethought dribble on the back of the neck of my client, her mother Chelsea Pumpernickel causing her enormous distress and a cleaning bill of $2.95 plus tip. Damages of at least $2 million are sought.
Judge: Is the defendant represented here?
Perry Mason: Your honour I speak for the defendant, who in any case is not able to speak for herself.
Judge: Why not?
Mason: She is only 11 months old. On those grounds I request this case be struck out.
Judge: Humph. Connell vs Connell has shown that age is no impediment to bringing a lawsuit. Or indeed stupidity. Or naked greed. Proceed, Mr. Burger.
Burger: Your honour, when on that tragic Thursday morning Mrs. Pumpernickel went to pick up her daughter, little did she know the full extent of the tragic events that were to occur.
Mason: Objection. Counsel is lapsing into cheap tabloid journalese.
Judge: Sustained. A little less prolix, Counsel, if you please.
Burger: As the court wishes. My client picked up her daughter and she dribbled on her.
Mason: Objection. Nobody has corroborated this statement and it must be struck out as being hearsay.
Judge: Overruled. I believe there is a suprise witness.
Clerk: Call Cyrus Chandler Pumpernickel.
Voice at back: Call Cyrus Chandler Pumpernickel.
Fainter voice at back, behind the first voice: Call Cyrus Chandler Pumpernickel.
Very faint voice in distance: Call Cyrus Chandler Pumpernickel.
Clerk: Take the book in your right hand and read the oath.
Pumpernickel: Which one is my right?
Clerk: That one.
Judge: Erm, how old is this witness?
Pumpernickel: Nearly free. I'm nearly free and when I am free I shall have a big party with jelly and cake and everyone has to give me presents because I'll be really free, I will.
Mason: Objection. Witness is making predictions not reporting what happened.
Judge: Sustained. Please control your witness Mr Burger
Burger: I'll try but he's an awkward little sod... I mean, yes your honour. Now then, young man, tell the court what you saw.
Pumpernickel: Can't remember.
Burger: whispers What I told you to say when we were outside.
Pumpernickel: Oh yes, she dribbed on Mum.
Burger: No further questions.
Judge: Mr. Mason.
Mason: Thank you.When did this dribble happen?
Pumpernickel: Don't know.
Mason: No further questions.
Judge: Witness may stand down. Go on, shoo. Would counsel like to sum up?
Mason: I have a surprise witness, your honour
Judge: It's very irregular but then you always do this so go ahead.
Mason: I call Monica Rockefeller.
Clerk: Call Monica Rockefeller. (etc etc)
Judge: And who is this person?
Mason: Tell the court what do you do, Miss Rockefeller.
Rockefeller; I work in the dry cleaners in Hackensack. Mrs Pumpernickel always took her clothes to us.
Mason: Do you recognise this blouse?
Rockefeller: Yes, it was the one she said her daughter had dribbled on.
Mason: And what was on the blouse?
Rockefeller: A solution of soap, gelatine and custard powder mixed up and dried to make it look like a child had dribbled.
Sensation in court
Burger: Your honour, this is....I'm fed up, he always does this, I never win anything, I resign.
Judge: Case dismissed. Plaintiff to serve sixty days for wasting my time. See you boys down at the club later.
Clerk: All rise.



Saturday, October 10, 2015

VW's apology

I don't get this. I've already referred to the diesel emissions scandal engulfing one of the world's largest carmakers. You'd think they would be dimly aware of what they have done. But no. In a full page ad on the back of my daily paper (and no doubt in yours as well) VW proclaim how they sorry they are - to their customers. Yes, they're going to put it right to the people who have have been driving their poisonous contraptions, pumping out noxious gases in flagrant breach of regulations. But to the rest of us who have had to breathe them in? Those of us merely driving behind a VW van or walking in the street as a VW car chugs past? Oh no, we don't count, only the poor saps who fell for their advertising get a quick "Sorry mate, we'll make it up to you, honest, don't tell anyone else, all right?".

Not too long ago VW were running ads in which people buying other brands of car were reassured by slick salesmen that their chosen model was almost as good as a VW. Surprise, they don't seem to be on tele at the moment. What next? A couple looking at a car belching out thick oily smoke while the salesman says, proudly, "You know, it nearly emits as much nitrogen oxides and particulates as a Volkwagen"?

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Tinker, Tailor, Rambler, Spy.

The BBC's Panorama programme broadcast an interview with Edward Snowden last night. Snowden, who revealed how agencies such as NSA and GCHQ were using modern technology to obtain data from electronic communications and devices, provided this fascinating nugget
Mr Snowden said GCHQ could gain access to a handset by sending it an encrypted text message and use it for such things as taking pictures and listening in.
I wonder what's in my file? There's bound to be one, I've said some pretty subversive things about London Transport in my time.  I think I have some idea

Secret File 26RRdd222. Subject: Ramblings (Ruislip, of) (Commuter, Ruislip, of)


28 March. Attempted to photograph subject. Turned on camera but nothing visible.
29 March. Tried again. Still nothing. Are sophisticated anti-hacking measures in place?
30 March.  Agent Snetterton suggested the phone might be inside a cover. Hadn't thought of that. Tried later and obtained short video of subject looking bemused whilst apparently typing on a keyboard. Sending secret message to foreign power?
31 March. Rear-facing camera shows unchanging view of a wall inside a house. Why has he left his phone propped up? Mystery. Sent pictures to Photographic Analysis, marked 'Urgent'.
1 April. Monitored phone call from unknown caller (number withheld). Transcript follows
...Caller    "Thousands of people are claiming PPI refunds...". The call was cut off by subject. Forwarded transcript to Decrypt Division for analysis. Front-facing camera showed subject looking exasperated. Clearly message is unwelcome. Sinister forces at work? Increased surveillance recommended.
2 April. Neither camera shows anything. Is he on to us? Agent Snetterton suggested phone might be inside a jacket pocket. Hadn't thought of that.
3 April. Subject calls wife to say he will meet her at the station. Camera confirms he is at the station. But is he really there? What does this mean? Is she part of the conspiracy? Recommend increased surveillance. Photo of station sent to Photographic Analysis, marked  'Very Urgent, kindly identify location'.
4 April. Monitored phone call from unknown caller (number withheld). Transcript follows.
...Caller  "Barclays, Lloyds, NatWest and HSBC have paid out millions...". The call was cut off by subject, who was seen to be visibly tut-tutting and shaking head. Recommend increased surveillance of the afore-mentioned persons.
5 April. Decrypt Division unable to decode transcript (see 1 April). Must be new and highly secret code. Need more resources. Must work harder.
6 April. Subject makes phone call to wife. Transcript follows
...subject; "Hello, where are you?"
...wife "I can't hear you"
...subject "Sorry, bad line, I'll call back".
Front facing camera shows close up of subject's ear and chin. Rear facing camera shows interior of house. But which house? Agent Snetterton suggests it may be subject's own house. Hadn't thought of that. Sent transcript to Decrypt Division and pictures to Photographic Analysis, marked 'Extremely urgent, where the hell is this?'
7 April. Decrypt Division unable to decode transcripts of calls. Photographic Analysis Division refuse to process any more pictures of subject's chin or interior of house. Agent Snetterton refuses to speak to me in canteen. File closed.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Fixing a hole

Everything's connected. A giant hole appears in a street in St. Albans. Carmaker VW is forced to recall thousands of new vehicles fitted with software designed to permit far higher emissions of noxious gases than is legal. Now they've got somewhere to put them.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Explorations in time and space

Is this the best year ever for the exploration of the Solar System? The first detailed pictures and data of Pluto and its moons; The first landing on a comet; And yesterday's, not entirely unexpected, announcement by NASA that there is water on Mars in sufficient quantities to form streams and interact with the landscape in a similar manner to Earth. Any one of these would be jaw-dropping enough. We are becoming confident that we can understand - and see - processes going on 4 billion miles away.

And how ironic that if we look back a tiny amount in time - say four thousand years - we have almost no idea about what our ancestors were up to. Mrs C. and I spent the weekend on a fascinating tour of the prehistoric landscape of Wiltshire led by an experienced archaeologist. We looked at henges and barrows, marvelled at the intricate gold and bronze artefacts in the museums and pondered the meaning of such enigmatic shapes as the Stonehenge Cursus and Durrington Walls. And you can make up almost any story you like because nobody knows anything, they can only infer from the evidence, most of which relates to the dead. We don't know why they built Stonehenge or Avebury. We don't know why they buried people in long barrows, then switched to round. We don't know why they moved stones around inside the henges and what those stones meant to them, and why they ceased to use the sites hundreds of years before the Romans brought these islands into the modern historical era.

We do know that they aligned their buildings with the solstices and can infer, from the dating of the huge animal remains at Durrington, that they gathered in great numbers at the time of the winter solstice for feasting. What did they think as the sun rose on the shortest day of the year? Would it fail to return unless they implored it?  Did their ancestors live on up there, or on the Moon?

We know what the Moon is made of, and comets, and even that tiny remote Pluto has its own atmosphere, mountains and smooth plains. But why Wiltshire is covered with enigmatic monuments to a skilled people who, alas, left us not a word to tell their story - we are unlikely to discover.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bad-mouthing the PM, or, Who's telling porkies?

A few years ago Lord Ashcroft, a wealthy supporter of the Conservative party, donated a lot of money to assist in the election campaign. He hoped to be given ministerial office as a reward. When it failed to come through, he resorted to writing a book about the Prime Minister and its publication this week, serialised in the Daily Mail, has included some fascinating insights into the early political life of our leader.

A distinguished Oxford contemporary claims Cameron once took part in an outrageous initiation ceremony at a Piers Gaveston event, involving a dead pig. His extraordinary suggestion is that the future PM inserted a private part of his anatomy into the animal’s mouth.
and
The setting was ... one of the finest quadrangles in Oxford’s Christ Church college. Often, the trio would be listening to the Seventies rock band Supertramp, and bantering inconsequentially about their love lives while getting stoned.

I am shocked. Shocked. To think that a man who regularly briefs the Queen on the management of her government could listen to Supertramp. I heard one of their records in the mid 70s and stopped listening after a few minutes and never heard them again.

As to the other revelations - well, the pig didn't mind, Cameron presumably didn't mind and it's going to keep the gag-writers and punsters happy for a while. And it probably isn't true, given the anonymity of the source and the weasel phrase "claims". I mean, I could "claim" that Lord Ashcroft got his money through crime, fraudulent accounting and the vilest forms of abuse of power. Has the noble Lord denied this claim? Must be guilty then.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Has Corbyn put his Foot in it?

This has been an astonishing year in British politics and it keeps getting more so. The Labour party has elected the most unlikely of candidates - Jeremy Corbyn - as its leader in scenes reminiscent of the election of Michael Foot, following James Callaghan's departure in 1979. Foot, a respected conscience for the Left and a man of considerable intellectual achievement, was also a non-establishment figure who believed he could change politics by doing it his way. He failed: up against the resurgent Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher, as passionate about her politics as he was about his, he did not appear as a credible Prime Minister.

Cameron is not Thatcher but he has led his party to what we all thought would never happen - a majority in the Commons and the routing of the leaders of the other parties (SNP excepted, of course). Labour has gone for the passionate man of conscience once again, a leader whose own loyalty to the leadership when he was on the backbenches was zero and who believes he can reach out directly to the electorate without the need of a media image. Sadly, we (as an electorate) can only form our opinion of the man through the media image and if he takes no positive steps to project one then it will projected for him, and given the hostility of most of the media to Labour, he will working under a huge disadvantage.

Even so, one might have thought he would have some sort of honeymoon period. Yet just three days after his election he was pictured at the Battle of Britain memorial service not singing (or mouthing, anyway) the National Anthem. Just as Michael Foot's image never recovered from his appearance at the Cenotaph wearing what was described as a "donkey jacket", the label of being disloyal will now be stuck on Corbyn and his disdain for managing the media will mean that no counter-image is put up against it. 

Does he really want to be Prime Minister? He won't last very long if he continues to give that impression, no matter how enthusiastic the crowds at rallies. It only took the Tories a couple of years to silence the "quiet man" [Ian Duncan Smith: Ed]. If Corbyn is still there in two years he will have done well.

Friday, September 11, 2015

"Great British" programmes that cannot fail

As the nation goes "Bake-Off" mad, and other similar titles are enjoying success on the screen, here are my pitches for the next ratings sensation. Commissioning editors, you know where to come.
                                     
  --&--&--&--&--

Windermere? Rutland Water? Ruislip Lido? All worthy bodies of water. You can paddle in them, fish in them and chuck away your cigarette stubs in them. But which is best? Find out in "The Great British Lake-off".

The smooth ascent of a Boeing 737...the imperceptible lift of a Cessna...the gut-wrenching, pushed-back-against-your-seat thrust of a Learjet. Aircraft from around the country fly into Heathrow and out again as we decide the winner of "The Great British Take-Off".

There's cod and haddock, of course. But aficionados of fish and chips know there is only one type of fish to sample late on a Friday night after five pints. Yet there are so many ways of preparing and cooking it. Whose methods will prevail in "The Great British Hake-Off"?

Nothing can match the rivalry of keen gardeners, especially those with immaculate lawns to maintain. We've scoured the country to find the finest exponents of grass management, leaf removal and aeration techniques. One of them will be crowned winner of "The Great British Rake-Off"

[As there is only one qualifying village, plans for the forthcoming series of "The Great British Thake-Off" have been shelved: Ed]


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Dodging the bullets

I took the tube to Finchley Road on Tuesday and Wednesday for rehearsals and then a final performance with my AmDram group.  On Tuesday the outward journey was fine. I looked idly at my phone, as one does, during a lull and noted that the Met had severe delays, and no trains were running to Uxbridge, though there were services up to Amersham and Watford. Ho, hum. Fortunately, by the time I was ready for the return journey, this had turned round and I waited only two minutes for my train whilst hapless Watford-bound passengers could only stand and stare. Yesterday as I arrived at dear old Ruislip Manor station, but was still in the street, my phone once again displayed the dread warning of doom (for a new problem, not a continuation) and this was compounded by the arrival of a train exactly in time for me to miss it*. Not to worry, only six minutes to the next one so no harm done.

Bearing in mind that tube strikes were threatened for these very days - which would have made it impossible for me to make my appearance before my adoring fans (all two of them), there being no other practicable way of getting there - and you may imagine my feelings of gratitude for a successful couple of trips.


*Yes, the old problem of dashing through the ticket machines and up 42 steps, knowing all the while that the sight at the top would be passengers inside the train smirking as the doors closed whilst I remain without.



Monday, August 31, 2015

Weather vs Bank Holidays - 2-0

I commented mournfully on the awful weather we had last year at this time. Just for the record, here is today's vision of hope, captured at 10:30 am.


Yes, folks, once again rain deluges much of the country and there's some high intensity stuff sitting over France just awaiting air traffic control and customs clearance before picking up some extra moisture from the Channel and dumping the whole lot on us.

So don't go camping, keep those plastic macs close to hand and put the electric heaters on standby. You have been warned.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

China learns the hard way

I don't suppose the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party have spent much time studying economic history. If they had, their responses to the huge instability of their stock markets, in turn sparking huge falls around the world this week, might have been less clumsy. They might even have taken some basic steps to prevent it.

J.K. Galbraith's The Great Crash has long been one of my favourite books. He wittily dissects the speculative fever that built up the great bull market of the late 1920s and the inevitable crash and depression that followed. None of the players in that market had learned from the economic crises of the late 19c. They permitted speculative buying of securities, in particular the pernicious practice of borrowing to buy, using the securities themselves as collateral. If stock market prices had risen in the past this was taken as proof that they would go on rising. So speculators borrowed more in order to make more guaranteed profits and as they eagerly lapped up new issues from promoters who themselves promised to invest the proceeds into other securities, so the rising prices of these meta-securities induced more buying and rising confidence on a steadily eroding foundation. Everybody in the market assumed that they could always liquidate their holdings at any time and realise their profits because there would always be others eager to buy.

Economists call this the Greater Fool theory and it has been proven many times. Investors staring at the plunging prices on the Shanghai market in recent days are just the latest victims of the fallacy that there will always be a buyer. It does not seem to occur to them, until it is too late, that if everyone in a market is buying in order to sell later on, and then they all try to sell at the same time (which must inevitably happen once the market peaks and all the automated stop-loss systems kick in) then there may be no buyers at all. Or not until prices have tumbled way below what anybody would consider good value. Clever investors buy at such times but they need good nerves.

Markets in the long run may well rise steadily. You can draw a straight line from the past to the future and see it pointing upward. But the long run is a very long time, much longer than the febrile memories of the young men shouting into phones in stock markets. In the short run huge movements may take place beyond the ability of any computer program to calculate (study Chaos theory if you need convincing). And it is in the short run that loans to finance share purchases need to be repaid.

The Chinese cut interest rates today, by a derisory 0.25%. If they knew anything about economic history, or Keynesian monetary theory, they would know this is likely to be futile. Who is going to want to borrow in order to invest in a falling market? They need to convince investors that the economy is stable and growing, that the banks have plenty of liquidity and that businesses are not about to go bust in a big way because consumer confidence is shot to pieces. It's a hard act to bring off.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Those awful advertising slogans - no 8. O2

I've refrained from mentioning this one before in the dim hope that it would curl up and die all by itself and thinking about it would just be a horrible memory. Alas no, they must have spent so much on the "creatives" who dreamed it up that they're stuck with it. And so, to your no-doubt despairing gaze and sharp intake of breath, I present the slogan that a leading telecoms firm thinks is going to make them sexy, desirable and worthy of our hard-earned cash.

Be more dog

There. I've written it (and used up some precious italics) and now my good friends at Google will preserve it for all time in these annals. An ungrammatical phrase that almost defies analysis. In plain English it should perhaps read 'Be more like a dog'. Or maybe it was penned by a man from Truro "Ar, that old Jethro on the farm, he be more dog than man, he be" and then it got mangled by the agency. If it is truly a statement of admonition then it should read "Be more doggy" or if not to sound too much like a parent engaging his bored two two old, "Be more doglike".

Of course I am taking the words at face value. Perhaps they have a particular mutt in mind, maybe the hero of one of my previous pieces, whose athletic prowess we must surely all desire to emulate. Or do they just want us to exhibit some of the more appealing features of the animals - the devoted look in their eyes as they espy Master opening a tin for their dinner, the endless fascination with retrieving a lazily chucked tennis ball in the park, or the ability to sort out the neighbourhood cats. And yet these seem somewhat unsatisfying activities to me. I do not seek to emulate dogs, or "dog" or whatever it is I am supposed to interpret as denoted by "dog". And even if I did, (and this is the cruncher), why on earth would I associate being more of it with buying a mobile phone? I have a mobile and my contract is not with O2. Am I going to ditch my provider so I can think "Gosh, now I am more dog. I was pretty dog before but now I am more of the same and it feels good. In fact it has changed my life and I  must start button-holing strangers to spread the word about how good it feels and I shall now buy another mobile so I can be even more dog than before, if that is possible. I shall wear an earnest smile, print pamphlets and spread the word of Dog on street corners and in tube stations (assuming they are not on strike). I shall speak about the iniquities of leads and the scarcity of lamp-posts. I shall demand more and bigger bones. Oh look, here come some men in white coats, why are they taking my arms? help, no, not the needle....zzzzz"

To summarise. I don't really know what this slogan means and that is enough to turn me off. And as I have often indicated, being told what to do by any commercial outfit is even more of a turn off. Tell me about your products, if you must. Don't tell me what to do or what to feel or what (God help us) sort of animal I am supposed to want to be like.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Monday, August 10, 2015

Shock, horror, scenes of terrible devastation, everyone panic etc.

This morning's headline must surely spell dark times ahead, if not the impending collapse of our economy and culture and perhaps heralds the wipeout of all life as we know it.

"Nightclubs closing at an alarming rate"

Let's take a moment to savour the implications. Are you scared out of your wits, buying sandbags and cancelling foreign holidays? Have you barricaded the doors, stocked up on tinned food and got your water purification tablets out from under that loose floorboard?

Well, maybe that's going a bit far. Does this story at least give you minor palpitations, a queasy feeling of unease, a sense that maybe it isn't worth having your hair done this weekend after all?

I see I've overestimated your reaction. Do you, in fact, give a toss about nightclubs and whether they close, no matter at what rate? I thought so. You and I, we share similar values. I couldn't care less about nightclubs. The idea of going to a dark crowded room to be deafened by someone else's choice of music (and I use that word with extreme distate because in my book music is something you listen to for pleasure not to torture your eardrums with monotonous computer-generated beats and the voices of "artistes" who cannot hold a note), and to pay stupid prices for drinks and to have to stand around holding them while people bump into you while spotlights dazzle you (and that assumes you've been able to get past a sneering bouncer in the first place to gain access to the wretched place) and then trying to get home at some unearthly hour in the morning with a splitting headache - need I say more? [No, point taken: Ed]

So why on earth should I feel alarmed if these places close? Pleased, almost smug, might sum up my emotions this morning. Let 'em all shut. The headline should read "Nightclubs closing at a very satisfying rate and the more the merrier says Minister of Culture".  And if this in some way signifies a reduction in the popularity of the "dance" music genre and a return to melody, musicianship and invention in the field of popular music then bring it on.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Legal insanity

If I buy a CD and listen to it at home that is legal. If my wife listens to it, that is legal. If I invite all our neighbours round that is legal. But should I make a copy for my wife to listen to on her mp3 player, then that is illegal.

If I use a piece of legally acquired commercial software on my PC then that is legal. If I backup the software because I wish to ensure that in event of a failure I can quickly restore the software that I have paid for, this is illegal. Should I back up data created by that software, if it uses a format copyrighted by the software owner, then this is illegal.

My source for these statements - the UK Intellectual Property Office   following a recent High Court judgement.

This unbelievable state of affairs arises from the continuance of 19th C legislation designed to protect authors of printed books and the inability of our legislators to understand the nature of digital goods. It is comparable to the law (repealed in 1896) requiring a man with a red flag to walk in front of a motor vehicle and deserves the profound contempt of all ordinary law-abiding citizens. No commercial interests whatsoever are harmed if my wife listens to something on her mp3 player that she can hear on the cd player at home. No commercial interests are harmed if I back up, for my own protection only, software or the data created by that software.

It is ludicrous that millions of ordinary people and thousands of businesses, charities, and almost certainly many departments of HMG are, theoretically, law-breakers. The High Court judges involved in this decision should be de-wigged and made to live for a few years like the rest of us in the real world.




Thursday, August 06, 2015

What is a restaurant?

I fell to musing about the characteristics of a food establishment that entitle it to be designated as a restaurant, as opposed to a cafe or snack bar, whilst I read my morning paper today. I learned that the world's largest burger chain is to begin a sit-down service at some of its outlets. American fast-food enterprises invariably label their retail units as restaurants. They share common characteristics in requiring customers to order and collect their food from a service counter, seat themselves and equip themselves with whatever eating tackle and condiments they wish.

In my book a restaurant is a place where you are greeted on arrival, shown to a table, given a menu, served whilst seated and waited upon until done. A cafe is a place where you order at a counter and are then served, or where the service is much more basic than a restaurant. (Menus permanently on the table is a good clue.) A snack bar is somewhere you order, wait and collect your food from a counter. (I am ignoring takeaways in all cases).  So a fast-food joint is not a restaurant. It is barely a cafe. It is a snack bar. It is cheap and quick and delivers exactly what is says on the tin (this is a popular saying, I'm not alleging that any particular well-known chain does serve straight from the tin, OK? [That needed inclusion: Ed]).

So it is interesting that the business in question is finally going to upgrade itself to a cafe status and I wonder when they will get around to opening a real restaurant.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Property and Privacy

The Prime Minister is reported as making a fuss about propety ownership and the ease with which the true identity of owners can be hidden behind nominees, foreign companies and complex legal structures. This is, or should be, a non-problem. Simply require the holders of any property, when formally requested by an arm of HMG, to supply the full details of the ownership chain including the names of all ultimate owners. Failure to comply within a reasonable time - and I cannot see why this would take more than a month - would automatically pass the legal title to the property over to the State. Reliance on the secrecy laws of jurisdictions outside the UK would not only automatically involve the sequestration of the property but the arrest on criminal charges of money laundering and conspiracy of the UK agents and solicitors involved in the sale.  Job done.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Have freebie, will blog

A full page ad on the back of my morning paper features the well known tablet manufactured by a well known, hitherto tax-dodging1, e-retailer named after a famous river.  The strapline is "#Have Kindle will travel" and then there is a bit of blurb starting with someone's Twitter username (but not their actual name and I can't be bothered to look them up) saying he/she was asked to take one and how nice it was to read a book on it. In Turkey.

OK, setting it in Istanbul fills out the "have travel" bit nicely. It is irrelevant as a a selling point unless you believe that hand-held devices (such as watches, cameras, mobile phones, compasses, swiss army knives and the like) can only actually be used in one's home, and who knows, there may be many thousands of such techno-phobes who do indeed shake their heads mournfully and put their ballpoint pens carefully down on the sideboard before going out to the shops because "they don't work outside, I've been told; but anyway I don't want anyone not from our street breathing over it".

What gives me pause is that the person supposedly2 penning this stuff was given the tablet. Of course it accompanied them on their travels. So what? If you give me a free lawnmower I'll do you the courtesy of taking it for a spin round my front garden. I'll happily quaff any reasonably authentic Scotch single malt should you proffer a bot. of same. Though it is more than 30 years since I abandoned using the stupidly overpriced products made by a famous company named after a fruit (and I don't mean Apricot, computer history buffs), I wouldn't chuck one away if they came round and presented me with one of their latest models and said "Go on son, the gigabytes are on us".

In short, testimonials from people who shell out their own cash mean something. Endorsements from those fortunate to have first class seats on the gravy train do not. Having said that, if you would like a favourable mention in these hallowed columns, then your course of action is clear.



1. Not any more, I'd like to make clear

2. I'd like to believe it because the text cunningly says almost nothing about the device and is mainly about the writer boasting about re-reading a book by Haruki Marukami3. But an ad means an ad agency and we all know who writes the copy for ad agencies, don't we boys and girls?

3. I've read it too, alright?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Those awful advertising slogans - no 7. Boots

Now how could Britain's favourite chemist have offended me? Unlike the other businesses featured in this occasional series, they retail the products of others. Surely it is the producers of ludicrously overpriced perfumes and the like who should face my ire?

No, let's stay focussed. For it is Boots itself that has sought to appropriate a commonplace saying and make it their own. Let's Feel Good. I mean, what does that say about them? Is some rival putting up posters with "Let's feel really awful today?". Who on earth doesn't want to feel good? Do you wake up some mornings, stumble blearily out of bed, chuck a shoe at some cat fighting in the alley outside your tenement and think "Today I want to feel good so I'm going to buy some bath oil?" Shopping is shopping. You go to the shops, buy what you want, go home. If you feel good before you start then fine. If not, buying things is not going to change anything (although it may put a smile on the face of the branch manager).

Not content with trying to associate "goodness" with "stuff you get in a chemists", Boots put the insufferably twee and patronising "Let's" at the start of their wish. It makes it sound as though we, the public, are somehow involved, that this is really our slogan and Boots are just joining in the general expression of well-being. But my friends, never forget that an adman wrote that slogan and admen have no souls or morals. I'll choose my feelings, thanks very much, and I don't need the marketing department of any corporation telling me what they are.



A six iron, I think, and get the secateurs ready.

I went for a real ramble today, around the woods and open country that surrounds Ruislip Lido. There was a pleasant surprise at the halfway point, on the Northwood golf course. Last year they cut down a long hedgerow along the side of one of the fairways. This year I was delighted to see a blaze of colour from an extensive wild flower meadow that has taken its place.





Not bad, eh?

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The TGV that wasn't

A very refreshing holiday that began with a Eurostar enroute to Amsterdam and finished in Avignon concluded yesterday with the return home. The TGV was supposed to deliver us to Lille about 40 minutes before the Eurostar connection for London. The turmoil at the freight terminal that had suspended services just two days before we had set out seemed to be over. For once there were no strikes by French lorry drivers, blockades of the terminals by fishermen or action by air traffic controllers (and that must be pretty rare). But of course a smooth journey home following our memorable cruising across Europe was never going to happen.

Avignon has a gleaming new station dedicated to the high speed services. In a few months Eurostars will be running there. Despite the heatwave it was reasonably cool as we we waited for the arrival of the train that was starting in Marseille. I noted, with that queasy but undefinable feeling of unease familiar to experienced travellers, that all the preceding TGVs were flagged as 5 or 10 minutes late, though ours was not. But it arrived late and it seemed to dawdle for a quite a bit and then as we pulled out of Lyon we slowed to a crawl and, having crossed the Rhone, stopped dead. Not necessarily a problem, you might think. Then the lights went out. Followed by the air conditioning. This is a problem, you would think and, my friend, you would be entirely correct. I became very uneasy when, after about ten minutes of nothing, a man looking a bit like Superintendent Drefyus' assistant in the Pink Panther films walked down the track as if looking for his keys which he was pretty sure he had dropped somewhere in the vicinity. About ten minutes later he walked back. I could not determine if he had found his keys. The lights and aircon came back on. And then we creaked away, with a muttered apology over the loudspeaker about "technical problems".

The train was very fast after that but unable to make up any of the lost time. We played with emergency strategies, including moving our luggage to the doors to make a really fast getaway in the hope of racing down into the Eurostar departure lounge in time to shout "hold that train". But it was not to be. With exquisite timing, as we debarked at Lille on one platform, we saw our Eurostar leave from the one adjacent.

Actually the Eurostar people were very good. Knowing that there were delays on the TGV connections, they were fast to give us tickets on the next train out, and we were lucky that there was plenty of room on it, and we arrived at St. Pancras having missed the rush hour which was a sort of bonus.

This is not the first time I have had to moan about the TGV service. It's a bit like my days commuting on the Piccadilly. You just know something will screw you up.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Modern English as it is mangled

Just because English is a fast-evolving language does not mean we have to put up with every new usage. Here are some of the more ghastly examples. I hope this will not be the first in a series.

Gifting
What was wrong with giving? Does gifting actually denote anything different? Does anyone ever use this word in day to day speech?
"Darling, have you wrapped up all the things you are gifting this year?"
"I'm off to the shops for some serious gifting"
"Oh God, I'll be so glad when I can see the back of all this gifting"

No, I've never heard anyone say anything remotely close to these phrases, either.

Pre-Order
In an email, BBC Publications, who really should know better, suggested pre-ordering one of their  magazines. You cannot pre-order anything. You either buy it outright or you place an order. The order will then be fulfilled. If the product is not in stock, you should be given a delivery date. Your order still stands whether in stock or not, the contract is based on the premise that delivery will be in a reasonable time in relation to the product and fair expectations.

The term pre-order is never used in business to business, where it is normal for goods not in stock to go onto back order for delivery as soon as they become available. I cannot see why this term is now used in retail, unless it is meant to be shorthand for "We want you to pay now but we don't have the goods in stock so we're going to sit on your money" in which case it should be replaced by "Prepay" and then everyone would know where they stood. If you are registering your desire to obtain something as soon as it becomes available and have not paid, and will not be charged until it is sent out, then you are ordering the product. Not pre-ordering. 

It is interesting that where you order a service in advance, such as airline or theatre tickets, you are not invited to pre-order. The phrase here is "book".

Funky
An Americanism which appears to have no discernable meaning at all. Funk, in English, means fear or cowardice. Funk in America used to mean a form of "music" involving excessive use of the amplified electric bass guitar and men shouting "huh, uh" at every opportunity to denote how cool, up-to-date and sexually desirable they thought they were. But the adjective funky gets routinely applied to anything you wish nowadays. It was even used to describe a kitchen featured on a "You're too lazy to go house-buying so we'll ferry you around and film you going "Wow" a lot so as to make a cheap TV programme" TV programme the other day.

I don't know if some users believe the word to be a bowdlerised form of a well-known four letter swear word, or, if some do, whether there is an Irish form called fenky but if not it can only be a matter of time.

Advisor
When you phone almost any commercial organisation, you will be asked to make selections from a menu, then they will play three minutes of music at you and then you will hear a recorded message telling you that "They are experiencing a high volume of calls but one of their advisors will be with you shortly".


By "advisor" they suggest an experienced, reassuring person in a business suit, hired specifically to answer your call, who will calmly and efficiently deal with your enquiry. But you will, when you are finally connected to a real person, talk to an ordinary employee who works for the organisation and who routinely answers calls directed to them by the automated switchboard. They do not advise their employer. They do not advise you. They are not advisors.

Pre-loved
Second hand. That's all it means. Someone owned the object before you. Whether they loved it or loathed it is not relevant. If you want it, you want it and if not, not. End of discussion. 

Drama
If a young bird fledges from its nest it is a normal event in the natural world. But if it is filmed for a nature TV programme the fledging will be described as a "drama".

Mission
Another TV misuse. If a popular comedian visits a part of the country on some trumped up excuse to fill up a six part series, she will be described as being "on a mission to...." do whatever is going on. Or it could be a well known business person dispensing advice to failing entrepreneurs. Or a singer teaching amateur choirs. Or a gardener espousing a particular form of gardening.

Leaving aside the religious aspect of the word, the essence of a being on a mission is that someone has required you to go and do something. Therefore it cannot be anything to do with a TV programme for nobody can be really tasked with doing anything in the world of TV; they have obviously consented to it, on the advice of their agent, and signed a contract for a nice fee, a book deal and a decent share of any spin-off adverts or feature films.

 I suspect that such shows commence in the office of a production company with someone staring up at the sky, folding their hands behind their head and saying in a reflective way to someone else who is half asleep after a long lunch
"How about we get Joe Blow to go to China to find the world's most talented panda?"
"Sounds promising" responds the second replete executive "But what would be the, ah, motivation?"
"Joe Blow is on a mission. No other reason needed. No further research required. One easy fee for him and an easier one for us"
"Excellent. What's for dinner?"

It is, if we wish to nitpick a little, possible to have a self-imposed mission, in the same way that I am sometimes impelled to check out if there any nuts left in the packet we started last week and so go on a mission to the kitchen to see, but then they should come clean about it. "Joe Blow is off to China because he felt like having a damn good holiday paid for by the TV production company he happens to own a half share in" - something like that would be refreshingly honest.

Hard-working
Let us end with a hearty round of abuse for this ghastly phrase, so beloved by politicians that it is used ad nauseum. I worked for over 40 years in the UK, paid all my taxes, continue to live here and intend to go on doing so. But I am not working now. Does this disqualify me as a voter, or mean I no longer have any claim to any benefits to which I may be entitled? No. So why go on and on about hard-working families when what they mean is "the British public"? Or do they? You see, that's the problem with these stupid phrases, dreamed up by speechwriters and image consultants. How long before we have a distinction between "the hard-working", the "easy working" and the "non-working"? If you work "hard" should you pay less tax? No, hold on, hard work is normally identified with earning more so paying more tax. Unless you are head of a large business and can base yourself somewhere like Jersey.  It's confusing. Politics should be simple and clear. I don't want to hear any more about "hard-working" people. Just "people", please.

 

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The Daring Young Dog on the Flying Trapeze

I have never watched Britain's Got Talent; I gather it is similar to what happens when large families have get-togethers and all the children are encouraged to do a piece - recite a poem, play the recorder - and are enthusiastically applauded no matter how dire the effort, even while the adults are wincing behind carefully placed newspapers.

It seems I must change my mind. I learn, from this riveting piece in today's Guardian that on the aforementioned TV show not only do they permit animals to take part but that stunt doubles are used for the dangerous bits. For it was the winner - a dog, no less, who in a scandal that must surely be dubbed Boniogate, stood quietly panting by a handler whilst another pooch donned the leotards and did the dazzling trapeze act that secured victory. The audience who voted for the acts they liked the most were not informed of the deception; apparently it's all right because, according to his proud owner, (who was reported as sharing the prize with the now wealthy canine), the dog was capable of doing the high wire tricks but doesn't have a head for heights. Or to put it another way, was not capable of doing the high wire tricks. Because the whole and entire point about high wire acts is that they take place on a high wire, not on a bit of rope laid out on the grass.

Now this gives  me problems, and I don't just mean taking easy potshots at the obvious aspects of this ludicrous story. Consider my bid to represent team GB at the London Olympics in the 100m. I was clearly the outstanding candidate with just the tiny defect that I can't actually run 100m in under 10s [or even 10 minutes: Ed]. Applying the BGT rules means this can be ignored and a suitable stunt double - Dwayne Chambers perhaps - could have stood in for me, and no-one would be any the wiser. Admittedly Mr. Chambers is black and I am not, and he is fairly muscular whilst I am somewhat more lissome in appearance but a bit of clever makeup and some camera trickery will easily get round that. So that's a gold medal in the bag for sure.

Let us return to the idea that "talent" can be measured in animals. What about my wonderful performing goldfish? Each afternoon I splash my finger in the pond, they emerge from the duckweed and open their mouths and I oblige with a pinch of fishfood that smells disgusting but which they adore. Should I enter them in next year's BGT? Or perhaps the Eurovision Song Contest - they could be filmed miming to something being sung by some suitable popular beat combo.

In any case, if you are going to include animals then the talent being appraised should surely be a talent that is meaningful to the animals themselves, not tricks taught in imitation of human activities. The fastest burrowing earthworm perhaps, or the squirrel quickest to unearth the tulip bulbs one's wife has just planted. The magpie with the most irritating "caw"; the fox that can lay the most crap overnight on one's finely raked gravel, the most persistently head-banging wasp in the conservatory. This is raw, natural talent and it ought to be recognised.

I am not sure how Boniogate was uncovered. Are there other cases of suspected mutt impersonators? Did a crack team from the Met Police Dog Squad take the case, with Rover going undercover as a yodelling poodle whilst Mr. Snuffles and Shep spent long hours in a kennel with the listening apparatus? Were there late night meetings in sinister, deserted car parks between Lassie and a hooded and cloaked beast identified only as Deep Growl, whose sage advice was "Follow the Kennomeat?" I look forward to the Parliamentary Select Committee that will uncover the whole rotten mess of corruption and half-chewed soft toys that must surely underlie this nefarious affair and which will inevitably lead to the resignation of the Chairman of the Kennel Club. As for the President of Crufts - dare I suggest that he will be hounded out of public life? [Ouch: Ed]

Friday, May 15, 2015

Another of life's little mysteries solved

Thanks to the BBC I finally know why one of the performers with the well known popular beat combo U2 [Never heard of them: Ed] has his colourful soubriquet. He's called "The Edge" because he keeps falling off them.

Perhaps he should be renamed "The clumsy oaf" or "The bruise".

Actually I used to have a U2 album, "The Joshua Tree". It was not in my possession for very long. 'Nuff said.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Election 2015 - Farage Lives!

A celebratory ode as Nigel F. puts his leader's hat back on after his party refused to let him go.

So welcome back then Nigel Farage
You only took the weekend off
Perhaps you sorted out your garage
Or took a stroll on Southend Pier

Your party threw you out of triage*
Refused to let you hibernate
Though power still remains a mirage
It's time to sink another beer

*yes, I know, you try finding a decent rhyme for "Farage" that hasn't already been used

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Election 2015 - Trying to make sense of it all

The dust is still settling on the amazing result of the general election. This column, like everyone else, accepted the opinion polls verdict that the votes would be split between Labour and Conservatives and a hung parliament would result. The real vote put some 6% between those parties and far from a swing against the Government, the Conservatives achieved a absolute majority in the House of Commons. This result was even greater than the BBC's exit poll predicted and that poll, announced at the stroke of 10pm as voting ceased, was regarded by everyone as rogue and overstating the swing to the Tories (until the first dozen results were in).

Therefore not only did the very many polls taken over the weeks up to the election fail to predict correctly but the exit poll, based on a very large sample and taken from people with no reason to conceal their preferences, was unable to gauge the full impact on voting patterns in key marginals. Does this tell us something about poll methodology or about voter decision making? Either the polls are based on false assumptions or many voters changed their minds in the final hours. If the latter, this has been seen before in UK elections but not on the scale of last Thursday.

The polls did get it right in Scotland where a social democratic bloc that can genuinely claim to represent the whole country now faces a conservative government that cannot make the same claim, not even for England where the Tory vote was 41% of the total cast. Did the English vote harden to the right in the face of the predicted landslide north of the border? Can most of the UKIP votes (14% in England) be treated as straying Tories who will return or has there been a shift to UKIP from Labour as well? If so, this, coupled with the LibDem wipeout, suggests a very serious problem for the left wing in England. How long can the union survive with the two main regions so opposed? Two generations ago the Tories were as strong in Scotland as in England - now they have almost ceased to exist.

It is fair to point out that the SNP gained just 50% of votes in Scotland. Is this their high tide? If they begin to fall back, and it is recognised that many of their voters do not support their fundamental policy aim of full independence, maybe the union can stagger on for a while. But if the forthcoming referendum on the EU results in a British withdrawal, surely the Scots will put every effort behind independence so that they can remain in, and the result of Cameron's victory will be the breakup of the UK and its isolation from European partners, massive loss of influence with the USA (which most definitely wants the UK to stay in the EU) and a diminishment of the whole of what used to be the UK.

This blogger supports UK membership of the EU, believes in the UK as a real force for good in the world and that British values of tolerance, freedom and fairness are vital. The 2015 election has put much of this in the hazard.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Election 2015 - an elegy for Nigel

So farewell then Nigel Farage
Thumped in Thanet, marred in Margate
Deflated by a heavy barrage
as Tory voters stood their ground.

Perhaps you should have tried in Harwich
but then again, it always was
going to be an awkward marriage
It's time to drink that final round

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Battle for Uxbridge and Ruislip South - 7: Isn't it quiet in here?

You wouldn't think there was an election on. Hardly a poster or placard in sight. No candidates patrolling the streets with posses of rosetted supporters and no mysteriously crackly and undecipherable loudspeaker announcements that always seem to come from the street round the corner but never your own street. No new leaflets through our door in the last week.

The winner, B. Johnson, continues to make national news as he positions himself carefully near to, but somehow a step away from, the man whose political career he may shortly terminate, if results do not go to plan. Consequently he has not been much in evidence around here but, then again, he doesn't have to do a damn thing locally and he will still get a thumping majority.

Meanwhile the polls show no movement at all. Labour and Conservatives locked at about 32% each and, depressingly, UKIP the next most popular party. For twenty years before the American Civil War there was an "American Party", commonly known as the "know-nothings". It was anti-Catholic and anti immigration, and especially anti-Catholic-immigration. There is a parallel with UKIP and its "I don't really understand all this but I know I'm against it" gut reaction to most political questions. I hope UKIP's longevity matches that of the know-nothings and it fades into the sunset after tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Election 2015 - Coalition looms

Because the UK had a stable two-party system for so long, it has become difficult to contemplate a future in which coalition government is normal. Yet a wider historical perspective would show that there have been frequent times when the two main parties splintered and deals had to be struck to keep a majority afloat or a third party managed to prevent one of the others from gaining a majority; going further back, the very concept of a party was unknown back in the 17c and 18c when faction and personal interest dominated and political alliances were formed as much from individual likes and dislikes as from a broad agreement on policy.

We have a parliamentary system. The vote this Thursday will allow us to choose our representatives. We do not get a vote on who is to become Prime Minister, nor on which parties may form the next government. No party is entitled to claim a right to form the government unless they can show they have a working majority in the Commons. Any group of parties that can do so are entitled to vote down any government lacking such support and to claim the right to form the government themselves. For parties to disdain the idea of coalition is a form of contempt for democracy. If most of us vote for several parties who are able to work together then this is a very good expression of democracy.

Furthermore, although politicians will say that coalitions inhibit them and they dislike the horse-trading, as much of this goes on within the parties as between them. Both Labour and Conservatives have had searing internal rows on divisive issues, including our future in the EU, trade union rights,immigration, privitisation and others. There are special interest groups within the parties that have to be appeased, sometimes going against mainstream policy, although one could argue that with party membership way lower than it used to be, the parties are less broadly representative. But coalitions within the parties produce a broad consensus that makes them appeal to a wide range of voters and the same principle should apply between the parties.

In short, there is no reason why my political interests should be the same as yours, but in most cases it makes sense for us to work together to secure the most reasonable result.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The ever-changing London

An afternoon at Belsize Park led on to an evening concert at the stunning Tudor Hall at the Middle Temple in central London. To get there I took the tube part way then walked from Warren Street through the heart of theatreland. That London constantly reinvents itself is a bit of cliche but even so, I was surprised at the extent of changes to areas I thought I knew.

 Tottenham Court Road used to be the hub of the electronics business with dozens of specialist shops selling cameras and computers, phones and hifi, even telescopes in the old days. I bought my first computer, an Apple II, there in 1981. Today there are barely five, all fairly small, outlets which together could have fitted into one of the big stores twenty years ago. At its end Centre Point looks quite different from what I used to know, with all the buildings on side ripped away and a great gap at the top of Charing Cross Road where a cluster of Victorian (?) properties await demolition. A new station front has been shoehorned across the street from the massive hole where Crossrail will pass underneath in the near future.

At least there are still musical instrument shops in Tin Pan Alley (Denmark Street) and some specialist bookshops in the area but where did all the coffee shops and restaurants come from? My wife, who worked there in the 1970s, remembers the area around Fleet Street as a culinary desert in the evenings. Not any more - the city is far more alive at night than it used to be.

The Battle for Uxbridge and Ruislip South (or somewhere else) - 6

Another flyer from the Greens this morning. On behalf of the candidate for the neighbouring constituency, Ruislip Northwood and Pinner. I've heard of people being keen and all that but surely they can't expect my vote in two places?

How dumb is Tripadvisor?

I have written a few reviews for Tripadvisor. Some for places in France, a few for the West Country and a scattering in other locations. As well as earning a batch of meaningless "badges" (little pictures that appear when I satisfy my vanity to look at my profile on their website), they tell me I have incurred 232 miles of travelling.

Now I last studied geography at school and I don't do much by way of sums these days since I gave up the day job, but surely, M'lud, even one trip to Penzance will amount to some 280 miles? If you simply added up each journey from home to each place reviewed it would amount to well over 2000. Obviously TA has some other, secret, method. I cannot imagine what it is.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Election 2015 - "Democracy is only real when you vote for us" - SNP

I am somewhat distorting the views expressed the other day by Nicola Sturgeon when interviewed on the Today programme on the BBC. It was early in the morning and I was listening only half awake but I am pretty sure she said "The voters have rejected the two party system".

Opinion polls are consistently showing about 34% of voters supporting the Conservatives and 34% supporting Labour. For the benefit of numerically-challenged politicians (naming no names, Ms. S. but I think you know who I'm writing about), that adds to 68%. More than 2 out of every 3 British voters supports one or other of the two mainstream parties. This is not voter rejection. This is a fairly whopping voter support of it. True, the SNP is doing very well in Scotland. In the context of the elections for the UK parliament, elections supported by 55% of the Scottish electorate at the referendum, the two party system continues to be representative of a very substantial majority.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Battle for Uxbridge and Ruislip South - 5

The Green party candidate sent a flyer round. It includes the following

One of our biggest problems in Uxbridge and South Ruislip is traffic congestion. We need a proper public transport service that takes the railway back into public ownership at the end of the current franchises.

I had a think about this. Most of the rail traffic through this area is on the London Underground system which is in public ownership. The bit that isn't is the line in the extreme south of the constituency that runs into Paddington, the old Great Western line and probably only West Drayton station is within the borders. So it is unclear how changing the ownership of this line can have any effect on traffic in the rest of the constituency. It is even less clear what "proper" public transport services should be; the candidate does not bother to specify. If there were to be public ownership and presumably greater investment in rolling stock, signals and the frequency of services, how would this be paid for? We are not told.

I am strongly in favour of public transport so I totally agree with the sentiments expressed but sadly, in the current economic climate, I think they remain out of reach.

Finally, what of HS2? The candidate is pictured behind a banner opposing it. But there is no mention of it in the stated list of Green party policies. And surely, as a massive investment in public transport that will be a direct challenger to both motorway and airline, is it not to be applauded? If not, what sort of public transport should we be investing in?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hold the line please, your oven is calling

Each Sunday it is my special pleasure to browse through the colour supplement (as they used to call it) of the national paper to which I subscribe. It is a rich source of material for this blog, highlighting (usually inadvertently) the absurdities of our world. Today, as is often the case, it was an advertisement that made me choke with laughter over my toast and peanut butter. For the banking arm of a well-known supermarket had chosen to run a two page ad on the theme of Kitchens of the Future.

It is telling that it is the bank, not the groceries wing of this mighty corporation, that is sponsoring the ad. They have failed at the first chance in making it relevant to me, the bloke actually reading it. For they declaim at once:
The kitchen has changed utterly since the beginning of the last century. No longer tucked away, it's more often an open-plan central living space in our homes where families congregate.
 At the beginning of the last century when my ancestors lived in over-crowded flats the kitchen was just about the only place the family could congregate. But, leaving that aside, I live in a typical mid 20c house. The kitchen is fairly small, has insufficient room for seats and is used for storing and preparing food. Adjacent to it is a convenient dining room and to next to that is the living room. These are the rooms where my wife and I congregate (sounds a bit rude, put like that: Ed) and when we move out and a larger family moves in they will surely do the same. 

OK, let's pass over the adman's ignorance and on to the main course. The kitchen of the future - what will it be like? It will, of course, be entirely full of gadgets connected to the internet and all of them constantly watching what we do, telling us what to do and re-ordering on our behalf. Because nothing is so unbearably time-consuming as the three minutes a week my wife spends in checking what we have in stock before we set out for the shops and anything that can reduce that will surely enhance the quality of our lives. (I take it this last bit was to be in a sarcastic tone, right? Ed)

It doesn't stop there. In the kitchen of the future we will have intelligent frying pans. They will know when the food is cooked on one side and will tell us so. And how will they do that? By a little light coming on? By making a funny buzzing sound? No. According to the ad, they will communicate via our smartphones. I had the next few lines written in my head before I finished my tea.

Scene: The kitchen of the future. Citizen AnthonyG#377k (Ruislip) is cooking his weekly treat of fish fingers. He has invested in a smart frying pan and, following manufacturer's instructions, set it up to talk to his smartphone.

Citizen A: (to himself) "Hm these fish fingers are frying nicely but how can I be sure they are ready to turn?"
His phone rings. He has left it outside in his jacket. He rushes off, still holding the spatula which drips hot fat over the floor. He fumbles for the correct pocket, opens the phone cover and tries to swipe the glass to answer the call but as usual is too late and the phone call goes to voicemail. He dials voicemail.
Voicemail: "You have one new message." He presses 1 on the keypad, transferring a little fat to it and making the glass all smeary
Message: presumably an eerie robotic sort of voice, a cross between a Dalek and William Hague  "Greetings. Your fish fingers need turning. Please complete within seven seconds to prevent sub-optimal cooking. Message ends"
Citizen A: "Bugger". He puts the phone down, rushes back to the kitchen. He is about to begin turning when the phone rings again. This time he is fast enough to answer it.
Caller: a slightly different sort of robotic voice, rather silkier and a little American "Your pork chops need turning. Do this now."
Citizen A: "What?"
Caller:  "I repeat, your pork chops, 232 grams of AsdaLid specials, require turning instantly. Please confirm that turning has commenced."
Citizen A: "I'm not cooking pork chops"
Caller: with a hint of menace "I think you are, Dave"
Citizen A: "It's fish fingers."
Caller: "Dave, are you sure you are competent to complete this mission?"
Citizen A: "Look, who is this? My pan has just called me. Who are you?
Caller: "Er, isn't that 0777733333332222222?"
Citizen A:  "No it bloody isn't"
Caller: "Oh. Sorry. Wrong number. I'm always doing that. It's so hot in this kitchen and sometimes my circuits get a little frazzled. Shall I sing you a little song. Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do..."
 Citizen A: "Bloody spam callers". He ends the calls. His phone rings again. Ignoring the smoke beginning to drift out of the kitchen he answers it.
Frying pan: "Oh there you are at last. Look, I've been trying to get through for ages. Your fish fingers are nearly burnt. I'd turn off the heat if I were you. I'd do it myself but I'm only the XF3 model, the cheap one and I'm not equipped to do that. Why didn't you buy the deluxe version? That one not only turns them for you, it butters the toast and flips the fish fingers straight onto the plate. But no, you had to go for the cheaper model. Huh. You can't tell some people."
Citizen A: "Alright, alright, thanks."
Frying pan: "Bye. Have a nice day. Oh, the fish fingers are now totally burnt and the fire alarm has told me it's about to go off. Talk to you later". Disconnects

It's come to something when your own kitchen devices hang up on you but it's surely coming. The man from the bank attached to the supermarket has said so.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Battle for Uxbridge and Ruislip South - 4

After a refreshing week away in the western extremities of our island, Mrs. C and I returned to find a small swathe of electioneering material waiting for us on the doormat. Each contains broad promises about spending more on the NHS. None of them analyse the current economic problems facing our country and explain how they will manage our tax and spending systems to cope. None explain how they will alter policies should they go into coalition, even though this still appears the most likely outcome of the election. One cannot make any form of judgement about fitness to rule from this stuff.

However, only five of the thirteen candidates declared for this seat have communicated with us so far. Boris J. is well in the lead having today sent a further highly polished missive to add to one sent ten days ago. For the record, as well as the main parties (Con, Lab, LibDem), we have UKIP, Green, a Realist, a Communities United (whose short leaflet contained half a dozen examples of broken or poor English and not one reference to anything local or even where the candidate lives), a TUSC , three independents and two nutters:- the Monster Raving Loony party represented by "Howling Laud" Hope (sic) and The Eccentric Party of Great Party by Lord Toby Jug.

I would certainly attend hustings between the last two named to see which has the dafter policies and, more important, the most flamboyant costume, the silliest supporters and the most eye-catching gimmicks to enliven their campaigns.

The winner continues to make national news. Boris was on the front page of the papers today, photographed at RAF Uxbridge in the control room where the Battle of Britain was directed. A glimpse into the future, perhaps?


Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Battle for Uxbridge and Ruislip South - 3

As promised and only ten minutes late, Boris made his appearance on a street just yards from my house this morning, neatly dodging the heavy rain shower that has helped sweep away the cough-inducing pollution of recent days. A group of about 40 locals gathered. This was a very surprisingly low-key meeting - no cameras, rosettes, leaflets or banners and just a couple of local councillors, one of whom (the leader of Hillingdon Council) acted as Boris' chauffeur and minder. 

Mr. J. made a short but cogent speech drawing on his Mayoral experience and pledging to be a strong representative. I was unable to be present for most of it due to another engagement but he touched on transport, housing and HS2 whilst I was there. He came across far better than his TV image of tousle-haired Bullingdon buffoon. A pity that he thought Sir John Randall was our retiring MP - until the redrawing of constituency boundaries, we were in Ruislip-Northwood and represented by Nick Hurd.

On another topic, whilst the BBC describes my part of this constituency as Ruislip South, the polling card has it as South Ruislip. This is hard to fathom. South Ruislip is some way away and has its own tube station. Geographically we are not South of Ruislip but East of the ancient village centre. So Ruislip South, which is clearly a political designation, is much more fitting than South Ruislip which is a geographical description. Well done the BBC and no credit to the officials who have falsely named us.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Election 2015 - Sausage Roll Scandal Probe Bid Stuns UKIP

Story of the day has to be this one. In the 18th century elections meant a massive free-for-all booze up in the town centre with each candidate plying the voters with as much alcohol as they could hold. We are a little more decorous today. UKIP has wisely abandoned the barrels of gin and hog roast approach and chosen to champion the humble, yet always welcome, sausage roll in their attempt to woo the good folk of Southampton.

Hopefully this will sway the candidates in other seats. Some of us here in NW London are quite partial to the odd sausage roll, not to mention pork pies, pasties, yorkshire puddings and barbecued spare ribs. Are you listening Boris? If you want my vote then you know how to go about securing it.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The battle for Uxbridge & Ruislip South - 2

Another communication from shock-haired Latinist Boris J., inviting us to meet him on the open space near to our house this weekend. Should I ask him about independence for Ruislip, and the annexation of Northwood to bring it back under our control, as was the case for centuries?

Monday, April 06, 2015

The battle for Uxbridge & Ruislip South - 1

Mr. B. Johnson has got off to an early start, delivering a short pamphlet purporting to be a "contract" 'twixt himself and the voters. Most of it is vague stuff about what others will be doing, including the local council and the GLA, and there are obligatory references to Heathrow expansion and HS2. But there can be no denying that he has won the first round. How much time he will have for local constituency matters once he has supplanted Cameron as Tory party leader remains to be seen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Election 2015 - It's all kicking off

I suppose I need to make a few topical jottings to reflect the near hysteria mild interest in the approaching dissolution of Parliament. It's odd to have the date fixed so far in advance. Speculation about precisely when an election would take place could be guaranteed to fill many column inches  in the Press in the old days. Today other stories are jostling for attention instead
  • David Cameron's TV interview where he revealed his intention to stand down after a second full term and named his likely successors.
  • Nigel Farage's attempts to keep some sort of party around him as candidate after candidate implodes
  • The SNP, resurgent after the near defeat in the Referendum, fancies itself to hold the balance of power once it has done terrible damage to the other parties in the Scottish seats.
None of this has much bearing on the policies we might expect from an incoming government. If I can make out any of it out, I shall report back.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Eclipse - myths and reality

Before we are plunged into the stygian blackness of the total solar eclipse tomorrow, Ramblings wants to ensure all of its readers are safe and well-informed. Here is our handy cut-out-n-throw-away guide to everything you need to know.

  • Never look directly at the sun. Use a piece of smoked trout. With a suitable piece, cut a small hole, mount the fish on a tripod and let the sun's image project onto a TV screen (you have a portable set that can be moved outside, haven't you?). Now you can host your own TV chat show in total safety, with lots of Dara O'Brain type interventions such as "This is all a bit fishy" and "These scales show the scale of the event".
  • Never look directly at your neighbours. If they are out with binoculars and surveillance equipment, looking at them is a dead give-away. With your head facing away at an angle of 380 sneak a crafty peek out of the corner of your eye. Don't forget to make copious notes afterwards,
  • Do not try flying a drone equipped with your iphone6 in a vain attempt to make a better picture. When the eclipse begins the drop in solar radiation will play havoc with the inertial navigation systems, the drone will crash in your neighbour's garden and your phone, with any possibly incriminating photographs, will be in their possession.
  • Do not attempt to take a selfie involving yourself, your spouse and children, and the Sun at the moment of eclipse. For this to work all of you must face away from the Sun with the camera pointing back at you. The light will not only burn out the optics but the reflections could give a nasty case of sunburn. If you wait until total darkness, then the flash will fire and all you will see are your own startled faces blinking back. Waste of time.
  • Do not bother hosting a last-minute wine and cheese party. It will all be over by 10:40 and who wants to sip warm white wine at that time in the morning?
  • Do not watch television broadcasts of the eclipse without something hard to bite on every time:
    • There is a shot of a presenter getting into an aircraft
    • There is a shot of a presenter in an aircraft, with headphones on, pointing out of the window and saying what a great view she has
    • There is a shot of a presenter in an aircraft going "Wow"
    • There is a shot of someone in the studio going "Wow"
    • Someone brings up the old "use smoked glass" myth. See above
    • Regional news infills show you wise old crofters shading their eyes, ice-cream salesmen in the south bemoaning their fate, tourists in Oxford Street taking no notice, smoked trout salesmen rubbing their hands with glee.
    • A real expert on solar physics is asked to explain about coronal mass ejections, sun-spots, solar flares, the solar wind, the sun's magnetic cycle and other stuff of enormous importance to us living on this planet, and who is cut off after a minute because we have to go to the news headlines.

These rules will keep you fit and stress free, and you can eat the trout with a nice piece of brown bread the moment it is all over.