Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Gong for Ray

Ray Davies was awarded a knighthood in the New Year honours. If the name means nothing to you then read no further. For those of us of a certain age, he was the perfect antidote to the (mainly American) manufactured pop singers of the 1960s. Unlike almost all of his contemporaries on either side of the Atlantic, Ray wrote songs about Britain and sang them in an English accent. The Kinks were never as musically brilliant as the Beatles, as exciting as the Who or innovative as the Pink Floyd but they produced a body of work (nearly all written by Ray with some by brother Dave) that spoke directly to me as a teenager growing up in the sixties. Ray would never have written a line like "JoJo left his home in Tucson, Arizona" (Get Back, The Beatles) or droned on about how he missed Massachussets (The BeeGees) or claimed to have met a "gin-soaked, bar room queen in Memphis" (Honky Tonk Women, The Rolling Stones). He sang about people trapped in poverty dreading the knock for the rent (Dead End Street), the fragility and charm of English culture (Village Green Preservation Society LP) and the simple pleasures of seaside holidays, football and beer (Autumn Almanack). His heroes did not find glamour in New York, LA or Paris - they met amidst the crowds outside a tube station (Waterloo Sunset) and his antiheroes chased the moment in vain (Dedicated Follower of Fashion) or found success unbearable (Sunny Afternoon, End of the Season). And who has ever written a love song based on meeting your girl for a cup of tea (Afternoon Tea)? Ray Davies, Sir Ray, did.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Still with us

A lot of famous people seem to have died in 2016, several unexpectedly. Let's try to balance out the picture by remembering those who are still with us and who will surely be green in our memories for a long time to come, if not forever. [Poetic exaggeration allowed, as it's Xmas: Ed].
  • What's 'is face, you know, the big bloke off the telly. Wears suits. He's still going strong. Isn't he?1
  • That girl who plays kooky characters in those US sitcoms. Or was it straight characters in kooky US sitcoms? You must know who I mean. Her mum played golf.2
  • The comedian, you must know him, does a lot of ads for floor polish.Terribly funny. Everyone knows his catchphrase - "Good evening ladies and gents". Brings the house down.3
  • That really famous politician, brought out her memoirs last year, catchy title like "Why I should be Queen" or something. Won an election with the slogan "Vote for me".4
  • That band, you know, jump and up down in time to the music, some of them can actually mime quite well, had a really fantastic tour of  that country, where is it now? you know the one, quite hot but lots of sandy beaches.5
  • The footballer, scored a goal once, funny hairdo, says "er" quite a lot. Unforgettable.6
  •  That woman, you remember, over the papers a couple of years ago, comes from Bootle. Or was it Barnstaple. Anyway, it began with a 'B'. Or was it a 'D'? Might be Droitwich now I come to think of it. Wore a dress. Black tights. Or was it a trouser suit? 7
  • Oh, that terribly witty chap, always on chat shows and has this wonderful daily column in The Sun. Or was it dropped? Actually, might have been The Telegraph. Or am I thinking of The Telegram? Or Gramophone. One of those really up to date titles.  Got loads of followers on Twitter. Or he used to have, not sure if he does it now. Didn't he change sex and then leave all his clothes on a beach and go off to Australia? Or was that his look-alike?8
  •  
Anyway, they're all still gracing us with their presence (or is that presences?) and they can't take those wonderful memories away from us no matter how many dodgy referendums they hold.

Footnotes
[Just to show some of us are still capable of doing some proper research, even if we've been sent on unpaid gardening leave during the so-called festive season: Ed]

1. He was the dodgy policeman who got knifed at the start of "Send for Inspector Blackthorn", episode 3.
2. Handicap of 73. Favoured a number 7 iron but tended to hook a little.
3. Also was the voice of that animated towel in the ad for Hildebrand's Towel Softeners
4. Currently writing her new book of inspirational speeches, provisionally titled "Listen to me"
5. Not Peru. Definitely. One of them got a stomach bug in Columbia and they cancelled the Machu Pichu gig.
6. Also used to look into the camera as the teams came out at the start.
7. Or a kilt.
8.No, it was him. His look-alike went to Morocco by mistake.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Those awful advertising slogans - no. 12 - Let's play buzzword bingo

Rather than pick up on any one nauseous ad, I thought this festive offering could be a bit different. We'll be exploring some of the words used by admen to describe products and, perhaps more crucially, the progenitors of the products. And then we can play an exciting game for all the family as we rack up points by seeing how many words we can find in the ads of our choice. Yes, it's time for Buzzword Bingo! [Er. I know you asked me to look into copyrighting this phrase but what with the budgie's cold and waiting in for the gas man* and trying to work out who sent us a rather odd Xmas card, I haven't actually got round to it yet but I'm sure it will be OK: Ed]


  • Passion - you cannot simply want to make something in order to earn a living and pay off the mortgage. You must do it with passion. Apparently people who farm tomatoes or make olive oil have this passion. Or so the ads tell me. I don't believe it.
  • Craft and/or Crafting - nobody in ads ever makes anything. They craft them. The idea is to divorce the process of design and construction by hand (good) from mass-production manufacturing by low-paid (probably Chinese) workers in huge soulless factories (bad). Beer made in small breweries is now routinely described as craft beer. Even though it is brewed in exactly the same way as in large breweries, just in smaller vats.
  • Excellence - Many years ago an influential  business book called In Search of Excellence helped propel this word into the limelight. The company I happened to work for at the time was one of those cited. Whatever it meant then, it is now routinely applied to everything and the the word has been devalued into meaning nothing other than a vague desire to be about as good as most of the rest.
  • Vision - All founders of any business are attributed with vision. The fact that most new businesses tend to fail, even though their owners had as much vision as those that succeeded, and therefore that luck is a key factor, is conveniently ignored. 
  • Natural - ah yes, the wonders of the natural world. Often found linked with Pure. Some natural things are good. Others are deadly. Who remembers when Perrier from a "natural" source was found to be contaminated with pure, natural Benzene? There is no virtue in being natural per se.
  • Pure - The purest product of all is distilled water. Since it tastes of nothing, you don't find it on the shelves (other than for topping up car batteries). Instead you find "mineral water" which contains all sorts of additives but it's all right because they are Natural (see above).
  • Perfection - How many times has something been described as perfect and then been Improved?
  • New / Improved / Just got better - Ad speak for something that is smaller than it used to be but costs more, or where the name has been pointlessly changed (big fee for the ad agency) and longtime customers are irritated (but ignored), or where nothing at all of any importance has happened but the Marketing Director is desperate to show her sceptical colleagues that she is doing something. Important - where something is said to be improved, on no account explain why it wasn't better in the first place. At this time it is fashionable for many perfume ads to appear - look for the strapline "the new perfume from ..." and ask yourself what was wrong with the old ones, because there must have been or why launch yet another into a very crowded marketplace?
  • Premium - adspeak for more expensive than something similar which is sold in less costly packaging.
  • Luxury - see Premium
  • Exclusive - adspeak for expensive. Always misused. Nothing described as exclusive actually is based on exclusion, other than ability to pay, because if it was then all sorts of laws against discrimination would be broken. Genuinely exclusive entities (such as golf clubs) don't advertise. Frequently applied to housing as in "Exclusive Development" when what they really mean is "Development".
  • Executive - The Civil Service used to be divided into three grades - Clerical, Executive and Administrative. In those days executive meant people who carry out the instructions of those making policy (and it was the Administrators who had the highest status not the Executives). It has changed meaning to something that becomes more vague and useless the more one thinks about it. We have imported the phrase CEO (Chief Executive Officer) from the US where previously Managing Director or General Manager were used to denote the bloke at the top but the word Executive is otiose - Chief Officer conveys exactly the same meaning and takes less time to say. You will often find ordinary detached houses for sale described as Executive and you will be none the wiser as to what distinguishes them from other ordinary detached houses.

I think that's enough to be going on with.

HOW TO PLAY BUZZWORD BINGO© [I did tell you it isn't actually copyright yet, didn't I? Ed]

The players flip through a magazine and select an advert each using some suitable method that will cause the minimum of argument.

Score: 1 point for each buzzword.
Score: An additional point if 2 buzzwords are used in the same sentence
Score: An additional 5 points if 4 or more buzzwords are used in the same paragraph.

The winner is the person who first wades through the advertising copy, announces his score and manages not to vomit.

* [I'm the one waiting in, not the budgie. Just thought I'd make that clear. The budgie tends to wait in anyway on account of how we've put him in a cage. Ed]

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Seasonal musings

I was strolling from the local park toward Eastcote the other day, as part of what passes for vigorous exercise these days in the Commuter household, when a lady of advanced years walking the other way (whom I did not know) said brightly "Isn't it strange how sunny and warm it is, with Christmas only two weeks away?". I made some commonplace remark and moved on. It's nice that total strangers have the confidence to make comments, (or perhaps I looked so downcast she thought I needed cheering up) but she was wrong. I posted on this very blog more than ten years ago to point out that we no longer suffer cold weather at this time of the year. Indeed, should the forecasters suggest that the temperature may drop towards 10 or 20 above zero just for a couple of days, you can be sure that the Daily Mail headline will read "Arctic Blast To Batter Britain" with a follow-up on "Celebrity top tips for avoiding a cold nose" or somesuch. It is not strange to have mild weather at this time of year, it would be snow and freezing temperatures that would be out of place.

But in our memories November was always chilly, brightened up by Bonfire Night and the smell of backyard fires as our fathers removed the leaves the non-ecological way; December was cold, wet and increasingly icy with sparkling clear nights that promised frost and left strange patterns on our (un-centrally heated) bedroom windows. You could seriously speculate about a white Christmas. We no longer do so. When I started commuting for the first time, going to school by train, in 1962 the winter was seriously cold, so cold that one day our train was held at North Harrow with a frozen track ahead. I cannot recall this happening since.

All of which makes the sort of stuff supermarkets insist on playing over their PA systems as you ponder between the Luxury, Premium and Special Gold nut selections all the more bizarre. Has anyone ever seen a one-horse open sleigh, let alone dashed through the snow in one? Does anyone round these parts go into "the meadow" to build a snowman? Is anyone really "dreaming" of a white Christmas or simply the dreading the horror of filthy slush and frozen snow heaped up at the side of roads, masking black ice for us to break our ankles over (assuming we have not been run over by a skidding car first)? And must they play "last Christmas you gave me your heart" as we walk past the meat counter? Or is Dr. Frankenstein the man putting on the CDs? I think we should be told.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bad taste corner

The news story itself is grim and sad - victims of online crime, who foolishly allowed themselves to be videoed whilst doing things normally only done in private, blackmailed and some driven to suicide.

But surely the Guardian might have assigned the story to someone other than its reporter Alexandra Topping?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Cake today, Cake tomorrow

We may live in a digital age but the easiest way to quickly encapsulate a lot of information is still the good old-fashioned notebook. This morning, thanks to a quick-witted cameraman, we can all get a glimpse of how a government aide views the crucial negotiations for Britain's departure from the EU, as she helpfully brought her opened notebook into a Downing Street meeting. Like other commentators, I have fastened on to the most important point, which I show below helpfully highlit.
Courtesy Barcroft Images/ The Guardian

The key words read: What's the model? Have cake and eat it.

So it is written and thus it must surely be. Forget goverment by parliament (now that referenda rule). Forget the rule of law (enemies of the people, according to a well known daily paper I refuse to name). Cake is the name of the game and, once we've thrown off the shackles of EU faceless bureaucrat enslavement, we will not only have cake but can eat it as well and jolly well STILL HAVE IT

Cake is good. The Great British Bake-Off is the most popular show on telly for a reason. So I am enormously reassured that our leaders have latched on to this essential fact with what must be called the Marie Antoinette policy. Pound sinking? Finance sector upping sticks for Frankfurt and Dublin? Industrial investors all round the world thinking "Shall we bother to spend any more in the UK? Nah". None of this matters a jot. We are going to have cake. Victoria Sponges. Lemon Drizzle. Coffee and Walnut. Chocolate cake. I hesitate to mention fruit cakes for obvious reasons. Whether the nation will divide, bitterly, over the burning issue of whether Jaffa Cakes are indeed of the cake family or merely jumped-up biscuits is, I hope, to be left to another time.

I trust that Theresa May is writing her resignation speech and has primed the Queen for another change at the top of Government. When Mary Berry drives round to the Palace to kiss hands, we will surely be on the road to that shining city on a hill where the shops are open all day, there is plenty of room in the car parks, there is as much cake as anyone can want and you can eat all you like and still have it. You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one. [Yes you are: Ed]

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Three for the price of one

 My eye was caught by an ad for a theatrical presentation at the Donmar Warehouse in Kings Cross and I present it to you thus:

Now there are well known trilogies like the Lord of the Rings or The Godfather, and there are series like Star Wars, in which the sequence of pieces develops its themes, stories and characters in a harmonious and pleasing way. Shakespeare himself has his natural trilogies (Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V, and the Henry VI series). One does not really expect three utterly different plays to be lumped together as a trilogy unless they have something that links them (other than that they are being performed at the same place by the same company). And so, it being a Saturday and there are few minutes to spare before we join the shoppers down at our local Sainsbury's (and having missed, without regret, "Black Friday"), I give you some sense of what this trio of plays should be like.

Scene: A storm near the Forum, just outside a low tavern
Enter Brutus

Brutus: This unnatural storm has soaked my toga. Hello, is that a tavern? Two pints here, Sir John, and see what Caliban would like. Has the Earl of Worcester left any messages for me only we're supposed to be working over the king this afternoon and then I've got a date lined up with Miranda up on Gad's Hill on the Ides.

I think something like that might pack them in but perhaps it needs just a little more work.


Monday, November 21, 2016

The honest spammers

I received a couple of emails today sent by spammers (which were quarantined by my ISP). Unusually, they were headed "spam mailout". It's the electronic equivalent of the postman putting your junk mail straight into your dustbin. Makes you wonder why they bother though.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

President Khan takes office

From our own correspondent in Karakorum 

The surprise election of Genghis Khan as leader of the mighty Mongolian republic continues to reverberate amongst the capitals of the world. Mr. Khan's policy positions on many key issues are not entirely clear but a speech he made a few days ago contains some clues. Speaking about the Great Wall of China, which has for many centuries barred his people from moving south, Mr. Khan said "We're gonna knock it down so we can ride where we want and burn anything we want and steal the rest and what's more, the Chinese can pay for it. Then we'll have to build it again to keep those yellow slitty-eyed pigtailed murderers from coming into our country, and you know what, they can pay for that again.". The Chinese ambassador smiled inscrutably when asked about these comments.

Asked about his foreign policy, Mr. Khan said simply "Anyone we don't like, we kill em, right? My Horde won't stand for any liberal nonsense about human rights. Cut off their heads, pile 'em up and raze their cities to the ground. Only way to teach them to respect us. Yah hear me Samarkand, Bukhara,  Baghdad? We're coming for you".

When asked about the impact on the environment of his measures, Mr. Khan uttered some words in his native patois that were hard to follow. One of his aides later translated them as "Screw you and the horse you rode in on, which you will shortly be carrying back home on your back because we'll have cut off its legs" or something similar.

The comments of certain local witch-doctors that the new policy of killing everyone for hundreds of miles around might mitigate against the creation of new jobs and a prosperous harvest were dismissed by Mr. Khan. "We've have enough of these so-called shamans and folk healers. It's time for the real people to have their say and what they're saying to me, loud and clear, is that killing everyone is good, it's why God gave us two arms to wield swords with, and hell, it's damn good fun and we Mongolian Hordes, we just wanna have fun and no peace-loving civilisation is gonna mess with that".

Finally Mr. Khan claimed he was only the humble instrument of God, announced he was divorcing the latest of his two hundred and thirty wives and marrying anyone he goddam felt like, and signalled the start of the building of a stately pleasure dome to be called Xanadu Towers. This was greeted by spontaneous applause from the massed ranks of the Horde (anyone not spontaneously cheering was observed soon not to be able to, as it's hard to cheer with your tongue cut out).

Mr. Khan is expected to spend a few days in Karakorum, mainly slaughtering people, before leading his armies on a grand tour of western Asia and Europe where slaughtering people is likely to be the main activity although the razing of cities, tearing up of trade routes and burning of books are known to be cherished policies.

Supporters of Mr. Khan's opponents in the presidential campaign were unavailable for comment as, according to well-placed sources, they had all been slaughtered.

 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Victory of the Liars

I suppose I ought to record, for the benefit of posterity, that everyone I know is still reeling from the shock election of D. Trump as President of the USA. Like everyone else, I treated his candidature as a joke and assumed he would either fall quickly by the wayside or spectacularly self-destruct. He did neither; instead be blustered. lied, bullied, lied and lied again and managed to fool enough voters to win the electoral college (if not the popular vote).

The parallels with the Brexit campaign are clear. The appeal to voters to assume that everyone in power is corrupt or effete and that turning the clock back to some imagined time of past greatness will make us all rich and happy, never mind that this is not something you can actually do. The demonisation of foreigners. The sneering dismissal of expertise (although I think we can safely assume that, should the President-elect fall ill, he will call for the best doctor in town, not for the most obscure). The belief that only a few simple laws can change everything and at once jobs will be created, houses and hospitals built, social cohesion obtained. The belief in belief itself, that anyone who dares question it is an enemy to be ignored or shouted down, not engaged with for none must challenge the sacred mantras.

Possibly the stupidest thing that Britain could have done, at a time when the USA seems poised to revert to the isolationist and protectionist policies of the 1930s, is to dump our main trading partners in the hope of finding something better. And that is what we did. Now we see our PM trying to woo India. And what is the first item on their agenda? Easier access for students and businesspeople to visit the UK. Oogh, those awful foreigners. What a nerve.

It will be interesting to see if Scotland manage to beat England in the World Cup qualifier tomorrow night. This could be another symbolic moment of national decline following (in the case of S. Allardyce of blessed memory) another moment of stupidity.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Dr. Commuter helps you to save those pennies

A reader's letter to the Guardian asked if it is worth putting reflective foil behind a radiator. Amongst the replies, this one caught my eye.
JustAnotherNum6er 22 Oct 2016 7:16
Fuel poverty groups distribute reflective panels to put behind radiators so guess there is something in it. Don't much care what it looks like if it helps to reflect back some heat, and sends a few pence less to the greedy energy companies.

Dr. Commuter writes ...

Ooo those awful energy companies. How do they get away with charging people for light and heat? Here are some tips for making sure they all become insolvent.
  1. Leaving your television running all night so that it is 'warmed up' in the morning when you struggle down to watch breakfast TV? Probably not necessary these days, modern sets do warm up pretty fast. Set your alarm to half an hour earlier, crawl downstairs and switch it on, then enjoy a final lie-in before you have to get up.
  2. Is that 500 watt searchlight in your garden really justified? You can keep an eye on the neighbours with a much smaller model.
  3. We all enjoy hot baths but setting your boiler to heat the water to just below boiling point then spending ages adding cold water and swirling it around is, frankly, a second-best method. Turn it down a bit.
  4. Do you have an illuminated house sign? Is your house number more than a single digit? If so, why not move to an address with fewer digits and save, save, save. Or switch it off altogether and sod the postman.
  5. Don't make toast in a toaster, hold the bread above an old candle (you can find loads of these in some churches, just lying about waiting to removed).

Those greedy energy companies won't know what's hit them. And that's not all.

  • Fed up with greedy water companies charging you to provide clean water and sewage disposal? Dig two big holes in the garden. Take your fresh water from one as often you like (after it rains) and use the other as a loo. Don't get them mixed up! You don't want the greedy doctors getting their claws in you.
  • Had it up to here with greedy airlines and the ludicrous cost of foreign travel? Get a job as an air steward, enjoy your first free time abroad, come home and resign. 
  • You don't have to put up with those greedy supermarkets and their avaricious suppliers, the so-called "farmers". There's plenty of natural food all around you. You do like earthworms, do you not?
 If you've enjoyed these money-saving tips, you can find many more in Dr. Commuter's Big Book of Money Saving Tips. It's packed chock-full of money saving tips, with loads of helpful tips about how to save money, including pence and even pounds in some cases. Save, save. save all the way with the Big Book of Money Saving Tips. Only £58, plus £25 p&p, and an annual service charge, from Dr. Commuter.
Terms and Conditions apply. Naturally.

Friday, October 21, 2016

What does a gorilla drink? *

Source: BBC


There was the usual crowd in the bar that afternoon. A couple of orang-utans nursed beakers of lemonade as they played cribbage in the corner. A baboon was hitting the Irn Bru hard, but quietly, over by the window. Some chimps were huddled over a very large bowl of peanuts. At the bar the ring-tailed lemur polished a couple of glasses.

The street door swung open and an enormous shadow filled the room. The lemur froze, glass in the air. The chimps fell silent, a few stray peanuts falling to the floor unheeded. Even the orang-utans looked round, scratching nervously.

The gorilla just stood there, filling the doorway, sizing up the joint. 30 stone of raw muscle and bulk, swaying lightly from foot to foot. His eyes fixed on the bar and he ambled over. Nobody got in his way. You figured that nobody ever would get in his way, not if they didn't want to be flattened.

"Yus Mr Kumbuka, sir, what will it be?" croaked the lemur, never taking his eyes from those huge hands swinging easily on either side of him. The place held its breath. If he was in one his nasty moods...

"Blackcurrant. As much as you've got. The real stuff, no water. Got it?"
"Yes sir, got it".

As the lemur began hoiking the huge bottles onto the bar we all began to breathe again. If the gorilla was going to go on a blackcurrant bender, he was in a placid mood. Maybe none of us would have our arms torn off today. The chimps nibbled peanuts. The baboon took a swig of his orange-coloured poison. It was going to be all right, just another hard day's drinking at the Zoo.


*Anything he wants.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Plan B fails

I ceased real commuting some years ago but I regularly take the train from beautiful Ruislip to Finchley Road. Today I was nice and early for the departure from the Manor. We stopped short on the approach to Harrow, with another train on the fast line also stopped. Potentially a bad sign, suggesting congestion ahead. We eased into the platform and the driver told us the other train was going first. So almost the entire trainload crossed the platform. So far no problem. Except he did mention something about a track problem...

No sooner had we pulled out of Harrow than we were told our train was now stopping at Wembley Park. We arrived, about three hundred people piled out and we all played the same guessing game - was it worth taking a Jubilee? The Met driver announced that it was possible the train behind would be running normally but he didn't sound very confident.  A Jubbly arrived and almost everyone got on. This is my normal fallback in the event of a problem on the Met and it usually works.

Except today it did not. We reached Dollis Hill (and if a station in London could be described as the middle of nowhere this surely must be a good candidate), stopped and were informed that there was a suspect package at North Greenwich and all Jubbly's were being held. Oh Joy. Naturally the Mets began running again but from this station all one can do is watch as they thunder by on the fast track. I decided to return to Wembley Park. Good plan.  A minute after I took my seat in a Stanmore-bound train, almost everyone from the inert southbound joined me, the driver no doubt having advised it. Presumably they could maintain a reasonable northbound service?

No. We sat at Dollis Hill for a long time due to "the trains ahead". Eventually we moved off, we all crossed over at Wembley Park and got back on the now normally running Met and back again past Dollis Hill (southbound still stuck there) and so on to my destination a mere 35 minutes late.

The only laugh was when the driver of the northbound Jubbly at Dollis Hill made his third announcement about the ongoing delays and suggested we all take local buses instead. Yes. Good plan. When I got home I checked if such a journey were possible. It is. London Underground  TFL's website allots 54 minutes to a trip that takes 7 minutes on the Jubbly and about 4 on the Met. We won't be bothering, thanks.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Dr. Commuter Helps Out ... Andy Murray

Source: BBC Website
Dr. Commuter writes:

This is a hard one. I suggest he plays in ranking tournaments and does his level best to win some of them and if he works jolly hard and hits the ball accurately and hard into the court (and not into the net, you'd be surprised how many players fall for that one) then he should manage to score more ranking points than any other player and he will be rated world number one.

If you have any questions for Dr. Commuter,  do contact us at the usual address.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Brexit and Parliamentary Democracy

Funny thing, your Johnny referendum. Supposed to be the ultimate expression of the people's will. Overrides parliament. And yet in the vexed case of Brexit, the total lack of detail about what is to replace our membership of the EU demands the utmost involvement of parliament. The government grudgingly suggests that maybe there will a debate at the end of the negotiating process. The government, voted into power in 2015 on a platform of supporting British membership, not of leaving, now claims to have some sort of direct mandate. So a handful of MPs, nearly all of whom stood behind our membership of the EU, are now going to decide how we exit and parliament will get a chance to rubber-stamp it. And it really is a rubber stamp for the government has made it clear that parliament may not change anything that is negotiated.

Oh, and we are not allowed to know what it is that is being negotiated because that would jeopardise our bargaining position. Umm, we've already done that, fellers. We've given unconditional notice that we are out. We don't really have a negotiating position.

Maybe Mr Johnson, our make-it-up-on-the-spot Foreign Secretary can sort it all out. Or should we all invest in Irish citizenship while the going is good?


Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The wonderful mind of the spammer

I know I've sounded off about email spammers before (for example in this little rant from 2005) but they seem to be increasing in number and I now receive about half a dozen a day. I don't really know why they bother because my ISP flags them up as spam anyway and then my email client puts them straight into the Deleted folder.

Even if these emails did make it into my Inbox, they would face one insuperable hurdle. The first thing I look at is the sender. And these emails have one fascinating trait that instantly marks them out - they all have incredibly silly sender names. Here are the examples from today's crop - see if you can spot what they all have in common.
  • gabrielacuppaidge088@gmail.com 
  • francismciveen479@gmail.com 
  • Washington.86@mediamagician.co.za 
  •  Jacquelyn82130@gmail.com 
  •  French.496@enitel.net.ni
  • deloriscolquitt6864@gmail.com 
  • coraswafford5959@gmail.com

Got it? They each contain a number as part of the "sender's" name (obviously we all know these names are generated by computer). Presumably the authors of the software that produces them thought that the digits make the names look more authentic. I think they make the names look utterly ludicrous. I mean, are we supposed to think that there are 500 people with the surname French (none of whom use a first name) based at enitel (whoever they may be)? And over 80,000 people rejoicing in the identity of Jacquelyn (no surname, you will have noticed) using gmail? And as for Francis Civeen (no, sorry, Francis M Civeen if you please), do they really think we will accept that he shares his unusual name with some 480 others?

We must be presumed to make such assumptions since there is absolutely no reason to have a number as part of an email address except to distinguish oneself from someone with an identical name at the same domain. So yes, I would accept JohnSmith05@gmail as perhaps legitimate. Perhaps even JohnSmith5000. But dear old Johnny doesn't write to me. Instead it's Ms Cuppaidge (one of a hundred or so) and poor old Washington down in South Africa. And it was good to hear from darling Deloris again.

So come on spammers, this a game you are losing badly. Try a bit harder. I can always use these names as characters in some of the dramatic entertainments I pen from time to time so your creative efforts may not entirely be wasted.

Update written a day later
Someone out there must have read the piece above. Today another seven or eight emails trapped by my ISP and most of the "senders" did not have numbers after their names. Strange, eh?  

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Windows 10 - Designed by morons

My computer installed updates tonight. It did so without asking me. The procedure included a reboot which meant anything I had been working but not saved would have been lost.

When I regained control I checked  to see if there was anything I could have done to prevent the unwanted interruption and found that there is a new feature called "Active hours". You can tell your computer when it is not to reboot without asking. But only for a set 12 hour maximum period. The preset is 8:00am to 5pm.

What does this tell us? Even though I have the "home" version, Microsoft assume I work office hours. I actually use my computer any time between 9:00am and midnight. Am I allowed to prevent reboots for this time period, leaving an utterly reasonable 9 whole hours for the system to bugger about? No, I am not.  Furthermore the time slot only relates to reboots, not the tedious installation of updates that takes place before when the machine will be locked up with the ominous message "Do not switch off your PC".  Great. So even if I specify when I would like not be interrupted I can't prevent an interruption. There is a temporary override for the reboot - provided I spot a warning message in time because you can't set it until an update is due. Given that the little icon that warns of messages is also used to promote crap like Cortana, I don't look at it too often.

It is genuinely baffling that Microsoft think everyone works standard US office hours, that the "home" and "professional" users should be subject to identical regimes and that users may not set hours within which no updates or reboots shall be applied. I keep thinking about ditching Windows and trying Linux and it gets more tempting all the time.



Friday, September 30, 2016

Those awful advertising slogans - no. 11 - Money Supermarket

Down in one of the lower circles of Hell, amongst the liars and fraudsters, must surely be the eternal resting place of people who make advertisements like that currently used to promote a website called Money Supermarket. The website is nothing in any way special. It is simply one of many comparison sites, listing various things one can buy online and purporting to find the best deals. However, the name is not the issue.

The advert, which is screened so often on certain TV channels that it is inescapable, shows a group of dancers dressed as builders facing, across a deserted city street with a vaguely American feel, a group of dancers wearing suits. The groups dance around, making grotesque poses with much flaunting of bottoms. No information whatsoever1 is provided until the end when the following slogan is broadcast: "You're so Money Supermarket". I suppose that the admen (I learn from my good friends Google that the agency that employs them is called "Mother")2 think that the endless repetition of this phrase will strengthen the image of their client. Perhaps. But then you could screen an ad every adbreak with the slogan "We're crap. Honest" and it would undoubtedly raise brand awareness and win loads of awards. Does it make me want to visit the website? Yes it does, actually (and I bet you didn't see that one coming). Assuming I had the technical expertise, I'd like to visit it in order to deface it, to inject viruses into their webservers and to so damage the commercial reputation of the company that they would be unable to pay Mother who would sue them and they would all end up in court. And then I would phone up Mother and ask "Who's the Daddy now"?3

You cannot be a brand name. Even less can you be "so" a brand name. I suppose the "You" is meant to be the hapless viewer (who I picture as an unshaven man slumped in a sagging armchair, scratching a bare chest and slurping beer while belching "Blimey, I am so Money Supermarket, I really must switch my insurance supplier, oh no, hang on, I don't have any and I can't afford it anyway" - am I close?). Or is it one of the bum-wagglers in the ad? My point is that it is not me. I am not "so" anything. I resent the idea that, just because some ludicrous prancers have been filmed doing something pointless, I identify with the advert. I positively recoil from it. I am not Money Supermarket and I'm proud not to be and they are not getting any of my money.

Thanks for reading. You're so Ruislip Commuter.

---------

1I could be wrong. I mute the sound and look away as soon as ad breaks start. One cannot help one's eyes straying back to the screen from time to time but whatever ghastly soundtrack or braying voice-over accompanies this ad is unheard in the Commuter household.
 2 Yes, really, I kid you not. The agency is called Mother.
3 Apparently still a popular phrase, though I assume it derives from the well-known 1960s TV wrestler Big Daddy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Who's next?

Lines on the short but totally succesful1 career of Sam Allardyce as England football manager

So, farewell then "Big man" Sam
Your big mouth got you in a jam
You said some things you shouldnt orter
Spilt the beans to a fake reporter
Now things aren't looking quite so nice
for ex-supremo Allardyce


1 A playing record that may never be emulated
P1, W 1, D 0, L 0, F 1 A 0

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Yahoo finally gets what it deserves

One-time internet giant Yahoo announced a couple of days ago that hackers had stolen a huge quantity of login details, including passwords and security questions. The firm, valued a few years ago over $100bn but now worth a derisory $5bn (in a deal yet to be completed by Verizon) may be worth nothing after class actions for damages shred its financial status and its reputation.

I have a Yahoo account but I couldn't care less about it. I use it merely to login easily to some other websites - Flickr, Tumblr and Freecycle - and could easily create new accounts for these if I needed to. I have never stored any personal information or files on Yahoo or the associated sites and the password on the account relates to Yahoo only. You may wonder why I have not availed myself of the free email and other services that Yahoo provides. I SAID, YOU MAY WONDER [I wonder why? Ed]. Yes, thanks Ed, I'm glad you asked. Draw up a chair and hearken to my tale.

It was in the year 19.. that my story commences. I was only a country lad helping out my father at the local abattoir when one misty night the sinister footsteps of a man with no legs were to be heard on the cobbled street outside. "Don't go and see who that is, the football's about to come on" observed my father and so I never found out who he was. But later that same year (or one very like it) I heard tell of this wondrous new invention some folk called the Interweb and upon making enquiries determined that I would create my own Interwebsite, and so I did. It was crude, I grant you, but shapely to my eye and contained real information that was nowhere else to be found, unlike the vast majority of suchlike which held naught but links to yet other Interwebsites which in turn held naught but links, and so on ad nauseum.

And now my story takes a sinister turn. For no folk knew of my Interwebsite; it was a secret because so many at that time determined how to go about their web a-browsing by using Yahoo, which at that time contained many links to other sites and was right popular on this account. Humbly I made request that my own offering might be considered worthy of inclusion. Neither reply nor listing was the outcome. I pondered and tried again with similar result and then once more. And thus, rejected in favour of others who peddled rubbish and flim-flammery, I bided my time and brooded.

T'was in the year 20.. that rumours of strange beasts called search engines reached our small village and upon investigation I found that even my modest Interwebsite was recognised and listed, moreover in a place of honour, and that many seekers after knowledge were aware of it, and that I no longer needed Yahoo; indeed from that time on did its fortunes decline until they reached the present slough from which they seem most unlikely to be destined to be rescued. And serve them jolly well right.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Windows 10 - the first big update

I'd read some worrying things about the latest major update to Windows - the so-called Anniversary edition (more prosaically known as 1607, because launched in July 2016) and wondered if it would screw up my or Mrs C's computer when our time came. It did not, though the upgrade process was its usual irritating self. I had scheduled mine for half past midnight. Imagine my surprise when I tottered into the study at 9:00 the next day to see a pathetic error message saying it couldn't manage to do the update and would I like to restart? I did, the system put up its little whirly thingy for the next hour and then told me it was all over but it still took another twenty minutes or so before I could do anything useful. So what was the point of the scheduled update?

Microsoft is unable to comprehend that some people know more about computers than others and consequently it designs everything for the lowest common denominator. I know exactly what every icon on my desktop does. I don't need, and dislike the look of, the little arrows that are overlaid on each one to denote it as a "shortcut". I had used a registry tweak to remove them in Windows 7. Windows 10 put them back. I used the registry hack again. Blow me, but after this latest update there they were again and once more I had to delve into the registry to convince the system that I really, really don't want them. I can choose my colour scheme and I can plonk icons wherever I want and make all sorts of other customisations with Windows' blessing, but am I sufficiently mature and knowledgable to know which icons are shortcuts and which are files held on the desktop? Not in the opinion of the lads at Redmond, that's for sure.

The real test of this upgrade will be when I next play the game Cities: Skylines, a fascinating diversion in the great tradition of Sim City but with an irritating habit of crashing and locking up the PC when it does because it uses up all the system memory. It staggers me that this is even possible with a modern operating system.

I was unchuffed to be told that the update has improvements for touch pads ( I use a PC; it doesnt have one) and to voice recognition ( I use a PC; it doesn't have a microphone) and something about Skype (see previous) and that it has lots of school friendly features (Duh!) and how wonderful Cortana is (whenever I type in a question it merely loads up Edge and does a search on Bing. Yeah, thanks, I can do that myself, except I use Google via Firefox). There are also improvements to security, I was informed whilst waiting for the little whirling thing to sod off during the setup process but they haven't bothered to tell me what they are so I am unable to comment. Which, seeing as that may be the single most important feature of the upgrade, is a shame.

Postscript a few days later:
The update has changed the system defaults for the web browser in favour of Edge. So I will change them back to what I had before. It is amazing that Microsoft has still not learned that people don't like being told to do and still thinks it knows better. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Summer ends.

In fact, we can be quite precise. The British summer (alright then, the summer as perceived in beautiful Ruislip) came to an end today. At 16:25. Following three days of scorching heat a torrential thunderstorm has delivered about 1.8cm of rain within  half an hour. The thermometer outside my back door, close to 30c yesterday is down to a miserable 20.

The timing of this storm, coming as Mrs C and I were on a train returning home and within two minutes of our destination, was exquisite. There was a wash on the line in the back garden that up till that point was nicely dry. We reached the entrance to Ruislip Manor station to be greeted by a wall of water, both falling from the sky and running like a stream down the hill. It was several minutes before it seemed feasible to walk the short distance home. By that time the washing was about as wet as if still on the first rinse cycle.

As I pen these words (how I love that phrase) the thunder is cracking but the downpour has eased back to a more normal pace. The last time we had rain like this, a couple of months ago, there was widespread flooding round these parts, particularly at the afore-mentioned spot outside Ruislip Manor station where the road dips sharply on both sides to pass under the railway bridge. If I can be bothered I may slip out later and see if it has happened again.

Before I go, here is the rain radar map. The purple bit, virtually as wet as it can get, is centred right over Ruislip. Innit marvellous?
Courtesy of weather outlook.com

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Boris? Not in these parts for much longer.

The Boundary Commission has issued proposals to redraw the constituencies of London. Amongst these is a tidying-up of those that embrace beautiful Ruislip, sadly and grotesquely divided at present into two. The Manor Ward, in which I find myself, will head north to team up with most of the rest of Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner. Thus we will say farewell to Uxbridge and parts south, including Hayes and Heathrow. This feels more natural since all of this area was developed along the axis of the villages that grew up along the banks of the river Pinn (Pinner, Eastcote, Ruislip, Ickenham, with Northwood as the offspring) but it has an important side-effect; no more will I be represented by the back-stabbing liar that is Boris Johnson, apparently our Foreign Secretary. and the man tasked, if you can believe it, with establishing our relations with the world as we exit the EU, the nation having comprehensively ignored the advice every friend elsewhere in the world gave us and with B. Johnson very much to blame for getting us into this mess.

I hinted at his wider ambitions when he first set eyes on us in his quest to return to Parliament. He has successfully seen off, and destroyed the career, of David Cameron. Is Theresa May in his sights? 

Monday, September 12, 2016

British ingenuity - the best in the world

A beautiful day in central London and the final day of the Tour of Britain so Mrs. C and I took ourselves to Regent Street to join the throngs. Although there were huge numbers of people in the streets, there were not so many standing by the barriers where the cyclists were due to make an alarmingly narrow U-turn so we took up position there.  Here you can see the peleton hurtling up towards us and then slowing almost to a halt as they squeezed round the curving barriers before shooting off back to Trafalgar Square.


                                        


    But the stars of the show were three intrepid technical crewmen. About half an hour before the race started they realised that a manhole cover in the middle of the road was loose; indeed every time a car went over it there was a loud clank. Would this pose a threat, perhaps send fifty of the world's top cyclists into an undignified heap of twisted metal and frayed shirts? The first thing was to inspect the problem and the boffins did not take too long before trying out the cure for all such ills - a bit of gaffer tape.




They tested it and it still wasn't right so what better than a bit more?


Job done, take a break fellers as the breakaway whizz around during lap 1.

And as there were no reports of anyone falling off at this position I think we can assume the tape is still there. Bad news for any modern-day Harry Limes seeking to escape from the police - they'll have to find another exit.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Posh Line

Other rail lines lay on replacement bus services when things go wrong. Not our beloved Metropolitan. Spot of bother in the verdant countryside north of Rickmansworth? Taxi!


Thursday, August 25, 2016

The mercury rises

Mrs. C and I have been away in the north, gracing Liverpool, Dumfries, Borrowdale and Newcastle with our presence before a final family rendezvous in Sheffield. Returning to London was a surprise for, with the aircon fully on as we raced back down the motorways, we hardly noticed the temperature outside. Emerging to 34c in beautiful Ruislip felt like arrival in the tropics. The heat has been cruel to some of our plants and the pond is full of muck (but the fish seem unfazed). Still, a few minutes in the chilled counter section at Sainsbury's and we cooled off nicely as we restocked our depleted larder.  Fancy it being hot for the August bank holiday weekend - these have been awful in recent times.

My new "ten years ago" feature highlights a typically unpleasant day travelling home on the tube during that long hot summer. Seems a world away now.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Getting a life (or, You shall go to the balls)

Responding to criticism of a new Channel 4 TV show, featuring nudity (artistic, essential, not in any way a desperate attempt to up the ratings, that suggestion is right out of order, OK?) which, I hasten to add, I have neither watched, recorded nor downloaded [I would have, but my VCR doesn't work any more: Ed], the producer is quoted thus:

the show’s critics should “get a life”,

 How devastatingly witty. And how hard to argue with. If you don't agree with me, then you don't have "a life" and should obtain one. I'm sure all critics are now reeling back in shock, gripping the edges of their chairs with white-knuckled hands before smiting themselves on the head and proclaiming "A life! Of course, that is what I should get. If only I had a life I would cease to take any interest in television shows that I happen to watch, or I would watch them without in any way vouchsafing an opinion or comment because so to do instantly betrays my lack of life and that, once I have my life, is clearly not going to happen."

Further perusal of the source material throws up something else unexpected. One Gemma Askham, described as 'sex editor of Glamour magazine' (and there's a job I don't remember my old careers master advising me to go for. "Now then young G, I see you enjoy writing and pleasuring yourself in the back row of geography classes, have you considered a career as a sex journalist, I'm told there's very good money in it") is quoted as saying
I guess the participants are trying to say, I don’t care if you judge me, I have the confidence to show myself for exactly who I am on TV, and even if you don’t pick me I’m still proud that I had the balls to do that.”

I don't think she thought that one through at all. Clearly, the female participants would not under any circumstances have had the balls; the men presumably did and that's what they were so proudly displaying for inspection (and perhaps counting). They had them anyway, I mean, whether or not they were selected to go on the show.

The question that remains with us is this: if you do have the balls to flash them in front of two million goggling1 viewers, have you got a life? Or are you in desperate need of one?

 1 This is not a euphemism, although these days with the fast pace of change in modern slang, maybe it is.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Windows 10 - Guess my location

There's a handy weather app provided with Windows 10. Naturally, I have set it for beautiful Ruislip. So imagine my surprise on seeing the following this morning:


I always thought I was in the UK but Microsoft, or the people who supply the weather stats, know better. It seems I may have been moved, inadvertently, to the Netherlands. I'm not sure if this will jeopardise my citizenship post-Brexit but if it qualifies me for duty frees then Hans - mach dampf!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Marooned in Istanbul

I received the following email this morning, with the gripping title of 'Travel issues'. Was it a promotion for a handy pack of paper hankies, with 'tissues' spelt wrong by some harrassed PR assistant typing away for all he's worth whilst grabbing a coffee, updating his social media status and peering goofily around the edge of his cubicle in the way so accurately portrayed by advertisments?1 Nope, the body contains the following heart-rending story that had me mesmerised for all of 0.0000 of a second (because the apparent sender, a friend, showed a "mailto" address with someone else's name, an obvious give-away that it is a scam). Anyway it makes quite enjoyable reading for those of us who like taking the piss out of scammers.

---------------------------------
Am sorry for not informing anyone about my trip,I had to be in Istanbul (Turkey) for a visitation but everything turned bad for me.I had my bag stolen from me with my passport and personal effects therein,I lost all my valuables including cash,mobile phones,business documents and my traveling documents,Thank God i still have my life,I have been issued a temporary passport by the embassy.Now am having problem paying up my hotel bills and I also have to pay for a return ticket back home.I need your help/LOAN financially and I promise to make the refund once I get back home,you are my last resort and hope,Please let me know if I can count on you and I need you to keep checking your email because it's the only way I can reach you.

Trust this gets to you

Your assistance in resolving this would be much appreciated

Regards ----------------------------

This is supposed to be someone I know. But it was sent to 'undisclosed recipients'. He thinks that I don't know where Istanbul is. He thinks that it would be normal practice to tell me about his trips. I am trying hard to be impressed with the use of the somewhat archaic 'visitation', a word that has gone the same way as 'luncheon' and 'charabanc'. He seems unable to use full stops or spaces correctly. He sets this out as a formal letter, complete with salutation, but twice drops his personal pronoun. He tells me the embassy is helping but apparently not so far as to settle his hotel bill or provide emergency assistance to return home. I don't know why the word 'loan' is so important that it requires capitalisation, and why, if he is writing to loads of people (the mysterious undisclosed recipients) am I his 'last resort'? And why, if he is being helped by the embassy, is he denied the use of a phone, given that claim that email is the only way he can reach me?

Oh, and that lovely sign-off. I have no idea what to make of 'Trust this gets to you' because if I am reading it then obviously it has. This is followed by the "much appreciated" throwaway line. This must be lifted from 'The Young Person's Guide to Business Letters' (published 1960, price 1/6 from all good bookstalls) or something similar. It's not that it's bad English (it isn't), it's the way it clashes so strongly with the tone of the rest of the email. From the breathless appeal for help ('last resort') to the cold and formal 'Your assistance'. What a shame the sender is not French or he would be begging me to accept his distinguished sentiments.


Anyway I composed a suitable reply, informing whoever is on the other end that I have loads of cash and can't wait to send it to them. Yet, despite the desperation that is supposed to exude from the email, they have not bothered to reply. Are they so swamped by people offering aid that they are having trouble keeping up? Or are they so brainless that they have screwed up their own hack of my friend's email and have routed all the replies somewhere beyond their reach? My money is on the latter.

1.I get all my knowledge of modern day business practices from adverts, as you may have gathered.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Summer at last

In the good bad old days when I earned a living in central London, the onset of a bit of really hot weather was a mixed blessing. Nice to be able to enjoy it with a cold drink in the shade, uncomfortable on the daily commute and downright unpleasant when things went wrong. So you can imagine what my feelings would have been, had I still been gainfully employed, from the following two exhibits:







The first is a current tweet from my good friends at the Metropolitan Line informing the world that there is no service from Harrow towards beautiful Ruislip and the second the thermometer by my back door. Yup, I would be sitting on platform 4 at Harrow, quietly frying and drumming my fingers whilst waiting for a train. Or perhaps queuing in the sultry street for a bus that would then lurch around a route that would get Mandlebrot excited before crawling up to Ruislip Manor.

This present heatwave will not last long, and compared to parts of Western Europe (45c in Spain anyone?) it is not too newsworthy but it's a while since we've had one. So worth a little blogette, anyway.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

What does She keep in it?

The press widely published, and commented on, this Press Association photo of Theresa May meeting the Queen on her appointment as Prime Minister. My interest in it is neither in matters political nor regal. The object that caught my eye is the royal handbag.



The meeting took place at Buckingham Palace. The Queen's own gaff, not her favourite haunt we know but nonetheless one of her homes. From time to time she actually lives there, kipping, watching tele, lazing about the gardens, the works. It's not just the office (as pictured above) but her very own place of residence. So why, I am driven to ask, does the Queen tote a handbag when meeting her new PM? Why doesn't she simply hand it to a Lady-in-Waiting, or even dump it on that handily placed settee? Why does she constantly keep her left arm extended in a pose that must make the muscles ache after a bit, and let's face it, she's not getting any younger.

If Her Maj doesn't trust anyone to guard her bag then surely we must consider a new line of enquiry; viz, what on earth does she put in that trusty black reticule? Her mum would have had a useful half bottle of gin and the Racing Post. Her grandfather a book of one penny stamps which he could examine, one by one, for no obvious reason. We know she never carries money, and by the same token, sports neither a Freedom Pass nor a credit card, driving licence or passport. Is there a hanky in it, a nice one naturally, silk with her initials? A mobile phone with the private numbers of the crowned heads of Europe? Her life membership card for the Walthamstow Bingo Fellowship?

Of course, we shall never know (so long as she avoids employing Paul Burrell). Perhaps the bag will go into the Royal Archives at Windsor, to be unearthed by some Lucy Worsley of the future doing yet another TV show about the Monarchy. What is the significance of this little green roll of white sweets with a hole in the middle, she may muse, and why did the Queen keep the telephone number of 'Onest Harry Bookmakers of Repute scrawled on the back of a fag packet?

If you'd like to join in the debate, do please feel free to comment but be aware that you may jeopardise your chance of an OBE by so doing.

Friday, July 15, 2016

You go away for a few days ...

and the world goes insane.

Mrs C. and I enjoyed 10 days travelling mainly by rail to the Harz mountain region of Central Germany and then to the Rhine Gorge, returning today. It was intended to be a relaxing and peaceful break. And it would have been, had not the major news issues of the day kept breaking through. The sudden demise of the Cameron government, the crowning of Theresa May as PM, the eclipse of George Osborne and the crushing of the back-stabber Gove, all stories put in the shade by the resurrection of Boris Johnson ("a liar with his back to the wall", the French foreign minister). Ashen-faced and white-lipped a few days ago with the utter destruction of his own leadership hopes, the bouffant buffoon is now Foreign Secretary, an announcement met with barely suppressed laughter from news readers and Government spokespeople in many countries. As it was indeed by the other members of our holiday tour group.

And then today two stories that cause real alarm and revulsion; the atrocity in Nice by a thug who drove a lorry into Bastille Day celebrants killing over 80, and the coup in Turkey that threatens to destabilise an already chaotic and dangerous region. The laughter has stopped. The holidays are over.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Goodbye and Good Riddance, Nigel

I must protest in the strongest possible terms that are available to me. I sweated metaphorical pints of blood creating a searing and vividly emotive poem when UKIP leader Nigel Farage resigned after the 2015 general election. I went through hell and back, via the purgatory ring road and the demonic circles bus replacement service (stopping at Tartarus, Hades Central and Bristol Temple Meads) to write another deathless ode when the sod came back to life a few days later. Surely, no man could do more. There aren't any more rhymes for 'Farage'. I've been through the card.

And now what do we find? He's done it again. He's quit. And I suppose he thinks I'm going to be up all night with a hot towel over my feverish brow and a bottle of whisky to hand (as all good bloggers do), with my well thumbed Chambers on one side and the Ladybird Book of Simple Rhymes for Simple Folk on the other while I go through the agony for the third time.

No. I refuse. No more amusing little quippettes, snippets of doggerel, jokes about beer and blokeishness. It's not a joke any more. My country is being smashed up by dogmatic liars and if Farage sinks into the obscurity from which he should never have emerged, it will not be a day too soon.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Going to Extremes

I must say, the Weekly section of The Guardian (what we old-timers still think of as the 'colour supplement') does serve up some stupefyingly easy targets, so tempting for those of us ever on the search for inspiration. Lurking at the back of this week's issue is a short interview with somone who describes himself as an 'Ultimate Frisbee player'.

Now you probably know that a Frisbee is the trade name for a little plastic disk that skilled players can throw in such a way that it goes a hell of a long way. And that is it. You throw them and they go a long way. Someone may choose to catch and return the disk. End of story.

The gentleman being interviewed goes as far as he can to talk up his "sport" of throwing and catching a little plastic disk. It can involve 7 players a side on a 40m pitch. There is

a lot of running, jumping, sprinting and diving. There’s also the skill of throwing the disc itself, which is so satisfying. You use a forehand and a backhand like tennis, and put different curves on a throw in the way you release it.

OK, OK, it's athletic. Fine, so are loads of other team sports where running and accuracy with an object are required. My eyebrows raised a half a millimetre or so on learning that this activity is a recognised Olympic sport but then again, almost anything can be. What put much more severe strain on those little muscles above the eyes is the abuse of that word so beloved by unimaginative admen and publicists - 'ultimate'.

You want ultimate? I'll give you ultimate. How about these ideas, buster?
  • Razor blades are inserted round the edge of the Frisbee
  • The players are on a high wire over a deep gorge
  • The players are blindfolded and stand on a plank suspended above a tank of piranhas
  • They change Frisbees every five minutes and one in ten is booby-trapped with an anti-personnel device
  • They have to do a triathlon event before each Frisbee match
  • They have to come up with an original limerick, using the word Frisbee as one of the rhymes, each time they play
  • They have to play in front of one of those giant fans that power wind tunnels 

Extreme? Over the top? Ludicrous? Of course. But that is how you earn the right to use the word ultimate. Not by pretending that running around on a pitch barely a quarter the size of a football pitch is the hardest way that this game can ever be played, for this is what the word ultimate, if we are to use it correctly, means and it means only that. We may not able to stem those seeking to destroy the English language but we can at least have a tilt at those who do.


Taking Sides

Tonight Iceland play France in the last quarter-final of the European Cup. What should a patriotic Brit do? Who gets our support?

Here, then, after extensive and painstaking research, are the facts1.
  •  Iceland has never invaded Britain. The French2 did at various times and planned a full conquest as recently as 1805.
  •  We sorted out the Icelanders good and proper in the Cod War.
  •   French food is pretty good. Terrines, Rillettes, Quiches, Baguettes, Steak-frites. Entremets. In fact, patisserie in general3. Icelandic food is cod. 
  •  French farmers burn British farm exports at the drop of a chapeau. 
  •  EU regulations permit unlimited garlic sellers on bicycles to roam our streets without licence; Itinerant Icelandic cod-sellers wearing horns are confined to the Shetlands. 
  •  It was jolly unfair of Iceland to beat our gallant lads last week. 
  •  Louvre or Museum of Cod? Tough choice. 
  •  France doesn't have a major food retailer named after it. 
  •  Iceland have never won a major football championship so deserve our support as the plucky underdogs.
  •  France is a much nicer place to go on holiday to and deserve our support as the welcoming hosts.
  •  It's very cold in Iceland.
  • That bloody volcano that blew up the other year and stopped air traffic round the world - they only have extinct ones in France. 
  • You don't get tarte tatin in Iceland.4 
  • Chablis, Claret, Calvados, Armagnac, Champagne, Malbec, Cotes de Beaune. Or selected juice of cod. You decide. 
  • Plucky Iceland's dramatic win over a lethargic and unimaginative England is a real boost to the tournament and restores excitement.
  • French kissing is a lot more interesting than Icelandic nose-rubbing or whatever it is they do under all those parkas. 
I hope all is now clear and you can make an informed and objective decision.
Footnotes:
1 All facts are certified by the Editor (if he wants to keep his post).
 2 I exclude, of course, the Normans who were not French
3 I could go on.
4Yes, I know I've mentioned food already but this is wholly justified.

Weirder and Weirder

The Blind Date feature in Saturday's Guardian continues to shed new and fascinating light on what drives the next generation. The lady in this week's feature responded thus:

What were you hoping for?
To meet my future husband. Or a plate worth Instagramming.

Apparently her job is "visual merchandiser". I know what a merchandiser does - many years ago my firm employed a number of them to restock the shelves at retailers who carried our line of computer games - so I suppose a visual merchandiser restocks the shelves at opticians. And it must be a rather lonely and demanding occupation, endlessly clearing away unfashionable frames and tidying up the little cardboard holders, then laying out the gleaming new frames and lining them up in order of desirability, whilst clients waiting for their new specs blunder about in the manner so accurately depicted by advertisements for such places.

Is this why, instead of taking a photo of a tasty dish which she then edits to her own satisfaction, she can can only think of it in terms of the website that will deform the picture with some filter or special effect they deem suitable?

Actually, it was her prospective partner who really caught my attention. Described as a "technology journalist" [Amazing, a job description even I understand: Ed] he gave us the following deathless quote:

And... did you kiss?
She has read only one of the Harry Potter books, which weirds me out a little, so no.

Imagine his chagrin at meeting an attractive, and available, young lady who has read but a single, solitary, measly one of the sacred writings. Although clearly not a total barbarian, her feet are but on the first rung of the divine ascent, her novicehood plain for all to see, unworthy to be in the company of one on whom Grace has been bestowed by virtue of not merely having read all the canon of the blessed Rowling, but owning a hand-tooled boxed set of the works, each personally signed by no less than Amanda, assistant to the PA to the Lady. Those of us unfit even to put our foot on the first step of that holy mountain may still shiver in sympathy at the prospect of one who has been initiated attempting close physical contact with one who has failed to accept Ms Rowling as her redeemer.

"Weirds me out a little" - how kind and considerate to so temper what must have been emotions of rage and disgust. Perhaps there is hope for her, if she forgoes the devil's path of whipping out her phone every time someone puts food in front of her and devotes herself to the worship of Harry.

I never knew that young people put literary achievement ahead of a quick snog. How times have changed.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Windows 10 - Blood Pressure Raiser

I thought, mistakenly, that Windows 10, when installed on top of an earlier version of Windows, would pick up all of the settings that previously applied and thereby give me, the user, a seamless experience of upgrading. That illusion has already been shattered. And here is a bit more stupidity, for the record. Non-IT people may look away now.

My wife and I have the only two computers in the house, linked via a shared router. We were both on Windows 7. The printer is physically attached to her computer. This weekend she has made the step up to Windows 10. I assumed the network settings would all work just fine. Wrong. My computer could "see" but not communicate with the printer (apparently doing a windows spool job ??). I printed without a hitch whilst I was on 10 and she on 7.

A bit of Googling and it seems the homegroup needs to be set up. I click on my homegroup in the file explorer window and am told that "Anthony on PCS" knows the password needed to join. Umm. Hello? I am that Anthony of whom you speak and PCS is the identity of the computer I am using. I asked myself what the password was and no great surprise, for something set up in a hurry three years ago, I can't remember. In any case I suspect that Windows 10 created a new homegroup structure. None of the advice on the internet about how to change a password is of the slightest use because the option to do this is not visible on the edit screen.

The solution, it transpired, was for me to power off my computer, for my wife to set up a new homegroup and for me then to join it.  This cunning plan nearly got derailed when Windows, desperate to look after our security, even though we are the only people on the network, insisted on creating a 10 digit password. It helpfully provides a link to print it but when I clicked on it, I got an error message with one of Microsoft's ever popular but utterly unhelpful error numbers. So I had to write it down.

I then turned on my computer, watched the little blue circle go round and round for a bit and eventually was able to join the homegroup, at which point the printer now worked for me and the option to change the password appeared on the control panel section governing homegroups.

So to summarise, m'lud, it is my contention that the sodding software should have used the old workgroup settings, that instead of setting stupid levels of security for genuine home users, Microsoft should ask right from the start if you are setting up for home or business use and that the one size fits all approach to network security is ridiculous. The prosecution rests and, believe me, needs to.

Friday, July 01, 2016

What the Hell Is going on?

As far as I can tell, having reviewed information from all available sources (and that even includes asking the Ed, who didn't have much to contribute, in all fairness), not one senior member of the Conservative Party has today stabbed a hitherto much-loved and highly respected colleague in the back, no previously utterly unknown member of the Labour shadow cabinet has resigned in order to indicate disloyalty to the leader who appointed him in the first place and nobody from the front ranks of the Scottish Nationalist party has demanded independence, (whilst remaining in the sterling area), membership of the EU and a place for the Scottish football team in the semi-finals of the European Cup.

Is this the Britain we have come to know and love?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

So Long, Boris

They're coming and going at a dizzying speed today. In August 2014, I remarked on the decision of the then-Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to announce his intention of returning to Parliament as soon as he could find a suitable constituency. There was, indeed, one awaiting, the very spot where I have the honour to reside. I wrote at the time
... he then intends to position himself as the next leader of the party and will bide his time before knifing D. Cameron in the back in the traditional way.
At first all went well. Our man was selected as the candidate for Uxbridge and Ruislip South. At the General Election he was elected to Westminster. His mate, good ol' Davie Cameron, made good on his reckless promise to hold a referendum on British membership of the EU. Boris cunningly bided his time until Davey-boy returned from Munich Brussels clutching a bit of paper with some "terms" on which would make everything all right. He then shoved the long awaited knife right where it would do the most damage by declaring himself for the Leave side.

All that was now needed was for a narrow victory for Remain, horribly embarrasing our Dave and leaving Boris free to put himself forward as the man who could unite both sides of the fractured Tory party. But this was where it all started to unravel. Leave won. Ah well, thought Boris, my old pal Dave will clean up the mess. Wrong. Within a few hours of the result being known, Cameron had pulled out the knife and got in his own retaliation as he announced his resignation, leaving the "victors" of the Leave campaign to do the really hard and awkward work of handling the exit negotiations.

Still, the masterplan to rule the world was still on track, in a way. Boris could now stand for leader. His good ol' pal in the Leave Campaign, Micky the "slithy tove" Gove would back him all the way and together they would form the dream ticket.


Today that plan went horribly wrong. The Tove, deliciously, gave our Boris just a few minutes advance notice that, far from supporting him, he was going to run himself. Oh dear. Our hero is not used to being treated thus. Facing a real contest and having convinced many of his untrustworthiness, this morning's press conference turned into something that had not been planned. Instead of announcing his candidacy for leader of the Conservative Party, Boris chose to duck, chicken out, withdraw in a dignified manner, fearing insufficient support.

What will our classically trained orator do next? Obviously, he will retire to his country estates to read philosophy, write his life story and grow vegetables . Don't write him off too soon. In Roman times, he would by now be lying down in a long, hot bath with a nice sharp blade to hand and an amphora of Falernian wine to numb the pain of the slashed wrists. We live in gentler times, however nasty social media and the tabloids may become. The time of Boris the Statesman must surely come when whoever wins the forthcoming contest retires, utterly exhausted, in about fifteen months.

Statements of Intent

The leadership of the Conservative Party: a Statement

I wish to clarify my intentions with respect to the leadership election shortly to commence. I do not have the confidence in any of the declared candidates to unify our country and take us forward in the wake of the historic decision to destroy our links with our biggest trading partnerkick out the nasty foreigners / forge a new destiny amidst the open seas of international commerce and therefore am now undergoing consultations to see if there is a basis of which I can take the British people kicking and screaming into the nineteenth  twenty-first century

The leadership of the Labour Party: a Statement

I wish to clarify my intentions with respect to the leadership election likely to commence shortly. I do not have the confidence in any of the declared candidates to unify our country and take us forward in the wake of the  vigorous campaign for Remainthe lacklustre attempt to stay in / the inability to listen to our natural supporters and to state clearly what we believe in rather than what we are afraid of  and therefore am now undergoing consultations to see if there is a basis of which I can offer to the British people the same old stuff a glittering new future in the twenty-second century (when, experts assure me, is the earliest we can expect to be returned to power).

The leadership of the United Kingdom Independence Party: a Statement

What a bunch of narrow minded racist thugs they really are.

The leadership of the Liberal Democrat Party: a Statement

To be issued if and when the party should reappear as a serious political movement.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Night of the Couldn't Quites

Rooney has scored from a penalty. England have their dream start
Oh dear, Sterling couldn't quite get his head to that
Iceland have scored
Kane just couldn't quite keep that one down
Iceland have scored again
Sturridge has crossed but Vardy couldn't quite reach it
Iceland are defending easily against a static attack
And there goes Alli but he couldn't quite curve it toward the goal
Iceland are celebrating victory
Hodgson is walking down the tunnel. He couldn't quite manage to select a decent team.

Thanks to the ITV commentary team for setting the theme.

[Iceland beat England 2-1 in the first knock-out round of the European Championship. England had more than 2/3 of the possession and managed 4 shots on target. Iceland had 5: Ed]

Friday, June 24, 2016

Bye, Dave

A year ago David Cameron stood triumphant amidst the electoral wreckage of his opponents in the General Election. Today, having lost the referendum, he announced his own departure within the next three months.

How will he be remembered? As the man who kept things running after the financial turmoils of 2008? Or the man who rashly and needlessly forced the UK out of the EU, triggered the breakup of the UK, provoked other countries to consider leaving the EU, enormously encouraged its enemies and strengthened those with contempt for democracy on the right?

I suppose I can revisit this one in about ten years and answer the question. Assuming we still have a functioning power supply, internet and I can afford the bills.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Staggering Up To The Finishing LIne

A referendum is not the same as a general election. With an election we know that in five years we have another chance to express our views; in the meantime the MPs themselves reflect and express the views of their constituents. With a referendum we are bound to a single decision and may never, or at least, not in our lifetimes, have the chance to change it. If the result of an election returns a government whose policies fill one with dread, there is always hope to reverse them. There is little hope of that with the EU referendum, especially if the result is to leave. For a reversal would require the EU to let us back in as well as a change of heart at home. On the other hand, if the vote is to remain there is nothing to stop the leave campaign from firing up again in a few years. This one-sidedness about the vote is a very good reason to ditch such exercises altogether, except where they are genuinely reversible for both sides.

The arguments are going on right up to the wire but I made up my mind a long time ago and have heard nothing to change it since; indeed, the vicious anti-immigration line taken by the leavers  (subtext: anti Black, anti Brown, anti Irish, anti Jewish/Muslim/Hindu/Sikh, any recognisable minority really) has only confirmed my views and even persuaded some on the leave side to switch. Listening and watching the news is now a form of agony; one is waiting for it all to be over and to know where we are. The don't-knows are so numerous that no opinion poll has any value. What sort of world will we wake up to on Friday?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Don't let foreigners tell you what to do.

Rupert Murdoch, that well known non-British person wants us to leave. So your choice is clear.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Unforgettable ...er, who are you again?

If you wish to stand as an MP you need two things: A deposit of £500 and the written support of ten electors in your constituency of choice. It seems reasonable to suppose that the ten backers will then shift themselves on polling day to put their marks in the appropriate place on the ballot paper.

Alas, there are some candidates who are unable even to sway those who have apparently desired to see them elected. In the bye-election results for Tooting, South London, last night there were two who stood out in this regard. Bobby Smith got 9 votes. Maybe one of his nominators got lost on the way to the polling station, or the attraction of the local pie shop and an afternoon in the pub watching England actually win a tournament match proved too much.

But what can we say about Smiley Smillie (other than something obvious about the name)? Five votes. Five measly votes, out of 31,763. This person (I have no idea of the gender) could not even persuade half of his own backers, people who had taken the time to sign a nomination form, possibly even using their own pens so to do, to make the effort of crossing the street to a local hall, submit their name to a stern-looking official, take a piece of paper into a flimsy wooden booth and inscribe a cross on it. It's not as if they got confused about who they were voting for. You don't easily forget a name like Smiley Smillie.I'm doing my best to forget it now and it's not an easy task.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Lemmings - a fable for our times

The lemmings were fairly happy in their meadow but bothered by other, rather foreign-looking lemmings who came in from time to time. "Let's rush away from these horrible strange lemmings," said some of them, "because everything will be wonderful once we have taken control of our meadow". Some wondered if rushing away was the best thing because it was not at all clear what awaited them. "Trust us," came the confident reply. "The important thing is to rush off and that will show these awful foreigners what we think of them, they'll be begging us to let them follow, you wait and see."

As the lemmings dashed off the herd instinct took over so that all them joined in, even those who thought there was a fair amount of room in the meadow and that anyway lemmings faced enough dangers from owls, wolves and the like and that they should all stick together; they were united and singing songs about how great it was to be in control when they all fell over a cliff and were drowned in the raging seas far below. Even those who said it would be all right.

The End

Film rights are available. Terms and conditions apply. The names of all lemmings have been changed to protect the innocent.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Windows 10

I took the plunge this week and updated from good old Windows 7 to the shiny new incarnation of this long-running title. Microsoft has been nagging me all year, with its nasty trick of including the upgrade in its normal updates, and when I marked it to stop it going ahead, putting it back on the approved list without telling me. However, it is free so musn't grumble too much.

In the past I have migrated to new versions of Windows by buying a new PC; it's been so long since I last did an in-situ upgrade I can't remember what it was (Windows 3.1?)

I am miffed at the following which really should not have happened:
  • Nearly 3gb of files were downloaded last year. When I started the upgrade the whole lot were downloaded again. Why? Either the first lot should never have been sent or the last lot were not needed. 
  • Despite all sorts of assurances that settings would be retained, the video driver for my relatively new graphics card, GTX 960, was overwritten and replaced by a much less capable Microsoft driver. Yes, a Windows 10 version was available from Nvidia, makers of the graphic chips. My anger is that Windows did not tell me it was ditching the driver.
  • Similarly with the audio driver. There was no sound until I forced Windows to run a diagnostic test whereupon it sorted itself out. I then had to reinstall a piece of software for making recordings because the system had got confused about which audio driver did what.
  • The next day, when I did a restart, the system started doing updates which took about 20 minutes to complete. No warning that I would have to wait or chance to delay them. Just an irritating little swirly dot shape on the screen. Updates the day after an installation? What were they? I clicked on a popup that told me that the system was updated, expecting to see some details and all that happened was that the popup went away.
  • My date and time formats, set to normal UK (dd/mm/yy) changed to American (mm/dd/yy)
  • My currency format, £, changed to $.
  • Many of the desktop icons have been replaced by black oblongs. This seems to be an intermittent fault and the proper icons sometimes come back after I go in and out of the settings commands. There's a few comments on this behaviour on the web and it appears to go back to Windows 8 and even 7. But no acknowledgement of it from Microsoft. [Update: it seems the problem was created by a registry tweak to remove the pointless little "shortcut" arrow that goes over the icon to show that it is a shortcut, even though you know that already since you are the person who put the shortcut there in the first place. Hopefully a better tweak will come along]

That's the gripe list so far. Everything else does seem to be working. My desktop looks exactly like the old one (apart from when icons go black, as mentioned above), there's some funny little tile things if you click the start  Windows button but I've deleted the pointless ones (like Twitter which refused to update live tweets from people I follow).. My most complex piece of software is probably Skyrim with a number of mods. It failed to load until I removed them; now I am slowly putting them back one by one to see which is the culprit and the finger is pointing at one of the graphics enhancements.

Moral of this story: Don't upgrade to 10 if you are not confident about changing settings, reloading drivers and reinstalling software, or if you don't know someone who can help. Go for a new computer instead.