Sunday, June 18, 2017

Heat and Fire

Europe is sweltering in the traditional late-June heatwave and even here in beautiful Ruislip we have 31c with several days of it still to come. The rich smell of barbecues is drifting along the breeze. Recent summers have tended to be disappointing but this one has already delivered a long sunny spell and now, in UK terms, some real heat and little prospect of a set of traditional thunderstorms to ruin it.

Alas, there is far less satisfaction to be had than might have been the case. We woke on Wednesday to hear the hideous news that an entire tower block of flats in Kensington had been consumed by fire, with 58 confirmed deaths so far and many residents missing. Normally such fires spread gradually either up or down but this one spread so fast in both directions that the whole block was quickly ablaze and no possible rescue could take place for the hapless folk trapped inside. A public inquiry will establish what happened but it seems that cheap cladding, rather than slightly more costly fire-proof cladding, was the reason that it spread so fast. That this should happen in the richest borough in London speaks volumes for our divided society.

A more natural type of disaster, but just as devastating, began yesterday in northern Portugal and is still on-going, Temperatures in Iberia have topped 40c and massive forest fires have overwhelmed the emergency services, spreading so fast that many died in their cars trying to escape.

The downbeat public mood was made visible in the Trooping the Colour ceremony yesterday to mark the Queen's official birthday. The crowd that flocked down the Mall to join the royals as the RAF flypast thundered overhead at 1:00pm was noticeably down on recent events.

All this amidst the chaos of a Government that has thrown away its majority and must now cobble together some sort of policy. These are troubling times, my friends.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Thank you, Facebook, and goodbye

I have never used facebook (except years ago under a false name for reasons connected with my job). Recently I wished to join one specialist group and created a new profile under my real name. No problems getting in, other than:

  • FB insists on my address being Ruislip, Slough.
  • It refuses to recognise the "high" school I went to (it requires selection from a list, the school is not in the list and it won't let me add it)
  • It persistently changed the dates of my various jobs forcing me to re-enter them several times to get it right.
But today I am told for "security reasons" I must send them a photo of myself and the account is disabled.

I have done absolutely nothing with this account other than connect to the group I mentioned above. They have not told me what the security reasons are. They have no way of knowing if the new photo I sent is really of me because I only uploaded one other selfie before and both could be of someone else.  I registered my mobile with them but they have not bothered to use it to help to verify my account.

I don't need this frustration.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Election 2017: Is Mrs May bonkers or just daft?

Prime Minister Theresa May is widely reported as having said that, following her wilful destruction of her party's majority in the House of Commons, that she would now govern with the aid of "her friends" (The DUP) and then said "Let's get to work". The "work" is the Brexit negotiations.

Nobody asked you to call the election. Nobody is preventing you from getting to work. You were at work before, were you not?

A less deluded person might have mused that maybe the mood in the country should be taken into account. But no, somehow the votes cast last night are irrelevant. The only thing that appears to matter is the votes cast in the referendum a year ago. Those votes are sacrosanct. The wishes of the electors now are not.

And politicians wonder why they are often regarded with contempt.

Election 2017: The Fickleness of Fate

After the election nobody wanted, the result that nobody expected. The nation rejected "strong and stable" Theresa May, snubbed "Another Independence vote, mebbe" Nicola Sturgeon, gave a resounding two fingers to UKIP and hesitantly moved a little toward the distinctly non-strident Labour and its hitherto much-derided leader Jeremy Corbyn.

May's gamble - calling a snap election to achieve a strong majority in the House of Commons - has failed. The Tories have lost 12 seats overall, despite some significant gains in Scotland (up 12 seats). There should have been a swing to the Tories against both UKIP and Labour, based on their incumbency and the presidential nature of May's campaign. But packing the cabinet with Brexiteers who projected a "We won the referendum so we can do anything we like" attitude has backfired badly.

The results in Scotland, where both Labour and LibDems recovered seats swept up by the SNP last time, makes the overall picture harder to interpret but it does seem to fair to suggest that voters are split 50:50 between broad right and broad left in England & Wales and more tilted to the broad left (including SNP) in Scotland. This strengthens the hand of the Remainer /Soft Brexiteers. However, with Brexit negotiations due to start in 10 days and a weak government about to be take shape (minority Tory propped up by the DUP according to this morning's news reports), the UK is in a febrile state. Will this make the outcome worse, with the government unable to make any compromises and unable to make any deals for fear of plunging itself into turmoil?

Just as in those dramatic days in 2010, we now face a period of intense horse-trading, bluffs, personality clashes and individual bids for power. Will a tired and undoubtedly shaken Mrs May (no matter what she might attempt to portray in public) have the strength to see it through? We will find out very soon.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

London Bridge and the Election

Mrs Commuter and I escaped the election for a blissful week of cruising down the Rhine and into the Main, visiting several spectacular medieval towns in the "Franconia" region of Bavaria. Alas, we could not escape the terrible news of another terrorist attack on London; in a copycat of the Westminster Bridge attack, a group of lunatics attacked people near Borough market and killed eight before the police got them.

The pressure on politicians to make instant reactions is overwhelming. Today it seems that the Conservatives would like to ditch some of the human rights laws and have longer prison sentences; their inability to understand that the attackers do not care about prison is deeply worrying. This is the same party that is proposing to cut the budget allocated to the police.

On our return we found another A4 flyer from the Green party, a leaflet from the LibDems (who continue to make Brexit the key issue) and no less than two colourful leaflets featuring Brexit betrayer B. Johnson. His slogan "standing with Theresa May" may well send shivers down the spine of the PM when she reflects on he supported his dear and faithful friend Dave.

The election is tomorrow and we shall be glad to be shot of it, to be honest [I thought we were always honest: Ed]. How this country negotiates a new future with the EU remains the single most important political choice and I don't have the slightest idea what the options are, not least because so much depends on the other 27 member states who are themselves considering their positions. This country will presumably opt for "strong and stable" (and she never panics, at least not too much, well,okay a bit, well, quite a lot really but no worse than anyone else would) Mrs May in the same way that Germans have put their trust in "mutti" [Angela Merkel:Ed]. Labour will have another bitter period of in-fighting and I look forward to UKIP splitting into "Continuity", "Real" and "Original" factions who can spend the next five years denouncing each other.

Or will Jeremy Corbyn confound the polls (and this columnist) by winning?

 Anyway, returning to the holidays theme with which I started, it's been a long time since I put up a tram photo. Here is one in Wurzburg where an inattentive tourist is about to get a nasty shock (it's ok, she was not struck)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

De Rerum Congegnites

A lavish two page advertisment in the colour supplement to my weekend paper, paid for by Virgin TV, has introduced me to a brand new giant on the massive-brainbox scene. Never mind intense speculations about the cause of the Universe, the meaning of truth and the underlying rules of mathematics, this is a philosopher for the twenty-first century with a logic that defys all criticism. The towering intellect in question is one Ella Williamson, hitherto unknown to me, possibly because she appears to ply her trade on morning television at a time when some of us are still in bed. And this is the nub of her interpetration of the world.

My philosophy is that gadgets should be easy to use, make life better or, in some instances, save you money or keep track of your usage

I think it was Descartes who established the fundamental principle of things
 There are two types of things. Everything divides naturally into one of these two types. Things that are nice but too expensive and things that are not so nice 1

and Bertrand Russell, in a technically ferocious appendix to the Principia went further

If x, being the quotient of desirability, is less than y, the perceived value of the device or gizmo in question, then, if z is the propensity to waste one's hard-earned cash and k the likeliehood of being arsed to do anything about it, it follows, trivially, that should x/y>{k...k0}.log z/(x^y)=z!!k, that the object will be purchased but remain unused in its box until the wife throws it out in the next round of spring-cleaning. 2
However, Williamson's tenet, or axiom, that gadgets should be easy to use or make life better is revolutionary. Who knew? I always thought that a gadget should come with an undecipherable manual (albeit in twenty languages), that the cardboard box it comes in should break no matter how carefully you try to open it, that the power button should be as close as physically possible to the operating buttons (so that you turn it off instead of doing what it was you wanted to do), that any cables and power supplies should be unique to the gadget, forcing the accumulation of drawer-fulls of such stuff and that the manufacturer will in any case produce an updated version that makes your recent purchase obsolete shortly after you finally understand to use it. And therefore my philosphy was one of resignation and despair at the sheer alien nature of the universe.

I was wrong. Hitherto I shall be a loyal follower of the Williamson Thesis. I shall expect gadgets to be easy and life-enhancing. It is a tough faith to keep. I hope I can prove myself worthy.

1. Les choses qui sont jolies, Paris, 1678
2. pp832-3 (I have cut out the lengthy digression about the best colour for a fitness watch strap)
3. Pedants may quibble about the word 'congegnites' that adorns the title of this piece. I tasked the Editor to find a Latin word for gadget; he claims there isn't one but there is an Italian word 'Congegno'. OK?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Election 2017: 4 - After the bomb

Out on the campaign trail the Manchester bombing is forcing a change of agendas. Jeremy Corbyn's speech suggesting that British involvement in foreign wars makes us a target of terrorism is both superficially true and yet entirely misses the point. The UK would be a target anyway because we have a free media which will report all such actions, giving the terrorists the publicity they are desperate to have. Our values are fundamentally opposed to theirs, especially on the equal treatment of women and men, freedom of religion and the creation of laws and Government through democratic participation. This is why terrorist attacks are indiscriminate and why they will have no significant effect - everyone who lives in this country is potentially a target and therefore everyone, bar the deranged, will continue to defy them.

On a different note, a single sheet of paper from the Green party informs me austerity will be ended, all cuts reversed and loads of money will be available for everything, apart from HS2. This last promise has a genuine local appeal although the accompanying illustration - of Frays Fields in Uxbridge - may or may not represent an area under threat if the proposal to put the railway in a tunnel up to the Colne goes ahead.

As with the Labour leaflet received yesterday, there is nothing to make me sympathetic to the candidate himself because it doesn't tell me why he wishes to become an MP.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Election 2017: 3 - Labour strikes first

The title of this piece may be a trifle misleading. It merely refers to the arrival of the first electioneering flyer. Vincent Lo has invited our support in exchange for a few bland promises that everything will be all right. The leader of the party, Mr Corbyn, is not mentioned or pictured. Mr Lo himself, though pictured several times, keeps a very low profile [Oh dear: Ed]. I have no idea of his background, interests or even if he lives in the constituency. There is barely a mention of Brexit and nothing to explain how Labour would, in Mr Lo's words "give the NHS the money it needs". The assertion that real wages have fallen by 10% since 2007 and that this can be remedied by raising the minimum wage does not appear to address the position of the huge number of people who earn more than that but nonetheless are finding things hard going.

Labour has no chance of winning here. The Tories got 50% of the vote last time and have a very high profile candidate in the shape of the Foreign Secretary, Mr Johnson, perhaps the only British politician in recent history whose appointment to high office caused titters in diplomatic circles all round the world. Whether he will continue to hold office in a few weeks remains to be seen but it is certain that Vincent will not come anywhere near him when the votes are cast. Still, he can always go back to being a bit-part player in Shakespeare:

"Lo, what light from yonder window breaks?"
"Well, I didn't see anything."  

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


On Monday night I saw a brief note on some news websites about an explosion in Manchester. There was a lot more on Twitter from eye-witnesses but it was not until waking up the next day that I realised the extent of the atrocity. A bomb, detonated by a young man, killed 22 and wounded some 60; mainly young people leaving the Arena after a pop concert.

There is no point in knee-jerk reactions to such an event. Deranged people like to to hurt others. It might take the form of someone thinking that violence will benefit a cause of which they approve or it might simply feed a personal gratification.  Describing the Manchester bomber as an 'Islamic terrorist' is false - he obliterated himself without a message, and (as the newly elected Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham said on BBC radio this morning) he represents nobody but himself, no matter which other groups of deranged individuals claim responsibility.

There will be more police, perhaps reinforced by troops, on the streets, just as we saw in London in 2005. It was not very clear then how they would prevent another such attack and no doubt, if there is no repetition and the threat level can be reduced, the numbers currently being deployed will return to normal.

There are no adequate words to comfort those who are suffering; all we can do is express support and solidarity, with defiance and contempt for those who celebrate the perpertration of such violence.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Windows 10 - is it me or are they just having a laugh?

A little shield icon popped up at the bottom of my screen that I did not recognise so I clicked on it and the following message was displayed:

Useful huh? I wondered which device driver was the cause of concern. In my ignorance I thought that if I clicked on the button marked, helpfully, 'learn more' then I would indeed learn more. But no. The aforesaid click opened up a standard Microsoft web page with a search bar. A blank bar. It did not even have 'device driver problem' or similar pre-inserted. Having told me I could learn more, it did the equivalent of a taxi driver picking up someone at Heathrow who asks for "central London, please driver" and dropping them off in Slough near the station.

So I have no idea which device has incurred the wrath of the backroom boffins  and if they want to play the game of alarming me for no obvious reason, I'm damned if I'm going to play along.

Techie note:
I had just done a backup to my USB 3.0 flash drive, which appears to be working perfectly well, but presumably Windows is capable of identifying it more intelligently than by the useless word "device". Or is it?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Flattery and the scam caller

People phoning you up to claim there is a problem with your computer, so that you will install software that permits them to steal your data or make you pay for something useless, is nothing new. But I may have found a new way to deal with them. This morning's call found me in a good mood so instead of my usual sarcasm or time-wasting tactics, this is how it went.

The phone rings, I hear the usual tell-tale silence followed by a burst of call centre background noise so I am well prepared for the intro.

"Hello, this is George1 from BT Technical Department2. How are you today?3"
"I'm fine"
"Good. I am ringing because we have identified a problem with your internet connection"
"That's funny because your department called me three days ago so why are you calling again?"
"Oh ... did they fix the problem"4
"Yes, they did a wonderful job. Why are you calling again?"

A baffled silence and he rings off.

1. Funny how all these guys in Indian call centres have European names
2. Yeah. And I'm Crown Prince Albert of Schleswig-Osnabruck
3. I suppose I ought to go on and on about my gammy foot
4. My line wasn't in his script but he recovered well. Some callers become abusive at this point but 'George' kept his cool. Well done

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Windows 10 - the perils of the update

I haven't written about my computer's operating system for a while so you might have thought all the problems, the criticism and the carping had gone away. Alas, the golden rule of IT is that if you have a good working product then it has to be "updated" or "enhanced" or "f*****ed up" (as we ex-IT professionals say). Yesterday there were two full restarts and updates, then a message about some glorious new future with something called the "Creator's edition". Microsoft still, after all these years, doesn't seem to understand the fundamental difference between an operating system and the programmes (or "apps", if you insist) that run on it. 

There was a scheduled reboot in the early hours to apply the finishing touches and I woke up my pc this morning hoping all was over. I entered my password on the loading screen and saw a message I had never seen before in some 25 years of using Windows - "User profile service failed the logon". And back to the loading screen. Ah, what to do? I tried again a couple of times. Same result. I tried the alternate profile that I created soon after installation last year but have never used. Same result. No help whatsoever on the screen to explain what this error means and how to progress.

A quick internet search on my mobile revealed this is normally indicates a corruption of the user profile and the standard recommendation is to use another. Fairly unhelpful in my case when both profiles are being rejected. Going into safe mode and activating a default admin account was also posited but in the end I settled for the good old-fashioned reboot and this time the profiles were accepted and everything was good.

Everything that is, except my carefully crafted desktop picture of the wonderful National Trust property Cotehele, site of some of our regular holidays. It had been replaced with some ghastly Microsoft blue screen. Why? Yes, I was able to retrieve it so no harm done. But why? All other desktop settings had been retained. What had my humble jpg done to incur the wrath of the coders from Redmond? Perhaps we shall never know.

The system did stick up a brand new email program and immediately complain that it wasn't associated with an email account. The fact that my emails go into Microsoft's very own Outlook 2007 seemed to pass it by. I think it may be a bit pushier with one or two other things, like hinting that I use Edge; we shall see.

My point in writing this little bit of spleen is to emphasise that the system had failed to load correctly, it had given me an error message but had not provided any assistance in solving the problem. I could not use the pc to access the internet to find a solution because the desktop had not loaded nor had I been given the offer of a default desktop. Despite all the help and user-friendliness supposedly embedded in Windows, when a critical problem occurred, there was no help at all. I can well imagine this causing genuine distress for some less experienced users.

All this a couple of days after a massive encryption-ransomware virus spread across the world, doing severe damage to the systems used by many NHS hospitals and surgeries. I saw this at first hand - whilst visiting my mother-in-law at Northwick Park Hospital, a porter arrived in the ward to take another patient away and told her "There'll be a delay love, all our servers have gone down".  Appointment systems were shut, forcing cancellation of operations and access to patients' data was restricted. The worst of this seems to be over for now, helped by a bug within the ransomware that allowed it to be halted, but the next one could be worse. Cuts in IT support expenditure in the NHS have made it very vulnerable.

We, as a species, have only become reliant on computers for the lifespan of about one generation and the speed of the adoption has been way too rapid for us to keep up. If they fail we don't have adequate fallbacks. It's getting a bit scary.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

President Khan dismisses head of MBI

From our own correspondent in Karakorum who is requesting a transfer to the Aztec Empire

 Sources close to President Ghengis Khan announced today that his old ally, General Jacomi, is no longer in charge of the Mongol Board of Informants. Apparently Jacomi is no longer able to do the job - for which he was widely praised by Khan before the election of the latter - because his head is no longer fully connected to the rest of his body.

The President was reported to be deeply distressed by the need to have Jacomi's body heaved out of his office and onto the nearest dungheap, in accordance with sacred Mongol tradition, and did not quaff more than 10 brimming goblets of beer and ox-blood at dinner. He was also said to have spent some time cleaning his scimitar before waving it about saying "Still pretty damn sharp, eh?"

Jacomi had been linked to the discovery of messages sent to the Chinese ambassador that appeared to confirm an attack on Karakorum was being planned. Rumours about these messages are thought to have assisted Khan's election campaign. However the discovery of a message from Chinese Emperor Bing that was translated as "Give us back Beijing and we will send you much gold", a message subsequently explained by Jacomi as "Just a joke I knocked up after inhaling too near a camel" may have caused the President to doubt his suitability.

The President is now considering who to appoint to the vacancy. There has been a surprisingly large number of dustclouds seen on the horizon recently, and there are no fast horses available for sale anywhere in town. The President's search for his next stooge fall-guy apprentice continues.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Election 2017: 2 - The Big Yawn

General elections used to be fairly exciting. The parties would present their proposals and leading politicians would battle it out over their ideas and suitability for office. Results could be hard to predict and votes mattered (at least in a number of marginal seats).

This year it seems flat and pointless. The lead between the Conservatives and all other parties is, in electoral terms, huge. In terms of the popular vote it is not - they are on about 38% - but the quirks of the British system means that this guarantees a significant majority in the House of Commons and if a majority of UK voters do not actually support them - well, tough cheese because elections here are not about winning national majorities but simply getting more votes than any one else, constituency by constituency.

Furthermore, the national agenda has been suborned by Brexit. It is like the anti-communist era of 1950s USA. If you voice any disquiets about the rush to leave the EU and cut all ties (the mantra "No deal is better than a bad deal" is how we are being softened up for this) then you may be branded at best a moaner, an anti-democrat and at worst a traitor. Just about any political policy can be framed in terms of whether it agrees with what voters are supposed to have voted for when they chose Brexit, albeit that the referendum did not ask anything whatsoever about policies, only about whether the UK should continue to be a member.

It is a pleasure to be able to record that the French public, in the Presidential election last Sunday, chose by 2 to 1 to put in a pro-European centrist.  Only 21 miles away from us1 but so very different in outlook. Mind you, something similar could be said about the Scots.

The Conservatives are running on "Strong and Stable" government. I am not terribly clear what the key slogans of any of the other parties are (mainly because I can't be that bothered to find out)2. It is a little curious that the British are being invited to re-elect the ruling party to make it stronger, rather than be told they will be better off, or that the nasty foreigners will be kept well away3 . It seems to be having to do with facing down those ghastly Europeans and ensuring that no deal whatsoever is done over anything, because that will really jolly well show them and make them sorry they ever forced us into leaving in the first place, or something. I am still wondering what will happen when the first planeloads of British pensioners, kicked out of Spain at a moment's notice, touch down at Gatwick and they all demand access to the NHS and housing.

1 From Dover, I mean. Not from beautiful Ruislip.
2 If any election material ever arrives I suppose I might be able to issue an update on this one.
3 Of course this does not apply to dear old Rupert Murdoch and his perpeptual attempts to buy up British broadcasting. Or any rich person who wants to buy up any property they can get their hands on and hide the ownership in a trust based in a country with no extradition treaty with the UK and total commercial secrecy.  Or any offshore trust that wants to do a dodgy deal with a Labour council in London to steal the ground from a much-loved local football club in order to make profits for themselves and their mates back in the Town Hall.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The rains have failed

This has been one of the driest winter/spring periods for many a year. In recent times I have documented torrential rainstorms and floods. From Somerset to York to Cumbria and beyond there have been harrowing stories of rivers gushing through poorly-protected towns, bridges swept away and farms drowned and cut-off. Not so in 2017. We had a week in Cornwall recently and, amazingly, had dry and sunny days throughout. There has been barely a drop of rain in beautiful Ruislip for what seems like ages. The ground seems to be holding sufficient water for the plants and trees to be flourishing, fortunately, but the first story of possible hosepipe bans has just appeared in my morning paper and it may be the harbinger of many more.

One really good test of the adequacy of rainfall is how often I need to top up the lake in my estate [pond out the back: Ed]. Again, in recent years, I have been bailing it out most winters in order to keep the garden from being inundated. This year I have twice had to fill up a large half-barrel with tap water to keep the level up. We did get a bit of rain a few days ago, enough to fill up the water butts but if the dry spell continues - as it is forecast to do - then I'll be unwinding the hose and topping up the pond yet again in a couple of weeks.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Election 2017: The one we did not see coming

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, had an announcement to make before the press in Downing Street earlier this week. Nobody knew what was intended. Her decision to ask for a dissolution of Parliament and to hold a General Election in early June was a genuine surprise.

This an election that feels wrong. The Parliament of 2015 is sufficiently fresh to be representative; the one-off Referendum on EU membership notwithstanding. May seems to be determined to remake the Conservative Party in her own image rather than to care much about what is right for the country.

I suppose I had better keep an eye on things though I have an uneasy feeling that after all the soundbites, the pointless TV coverage of politicians visiting factories and shops, schools and hospitals, the sloganising and the desperate search by the media for the story of the day, we will be left with a Parliament pretty similar to the one we have now.

We do know that it will no longer be graced by George Osborne, one-time Chancellor, who is retiring (for the moment) nor by one N. Farage, who has decided not to undergo the humiliation of another trouncing at the polls and is not going to stand. And that is about all we do know at present.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

There's gold in them thar pianos

The news story was fascinating enough - a hoard of some 913 gold sovereigns packed inside a piano, discovered many years later by a tuner and subsequently declared as Treasure (and therefore Crown property, albeit a reward will go to the honest folk who declared it).

But the bit that grips is surely the wonderful dead-pan statement buried in the report

The inquest heard 50 people came forward laying claim to the hoard, but coroner John Ellery ruled their true owner remained unknown.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking ...?

I take up my pen in this year of Our Lord 20--. T'was in the spring, just as the daffodils were a-dying back and the new lambs gambolling in the meadows that the piano tuning man came to stay at my father's inn. Times were hard and we never turned away a customer, not even a musician. He hoisted his great black tuner's bag on the counter and requested lodging.
"Show him to the best room" said my father and I beckoned the old man to follow. Once in the room he grasped my wrist
"I bain't got much time, younker. See here, I knows where there's gold, gold a-plenty, but I'm too old and infirm to go find it. I need a bright young lad to seek it out and I'll give 'ee a full tenth of all that ye bring back"

I was much amazed at his talk but said nothing. He reached into his bag and pulled out a gleaming tuning fork which he pointed at my heart.

"Swear to be true and not to cross me or this will sing to you and no mistake". I had no wish to have the fork pinged against my ear and did as he bade. He relaxed then and unfolded a grimy newssheet. "Now then" he said "This is where it is. Stuck down the back of this here piano over in Shropshire. If you goes there and says it was you what put it there, why they'll give it thee, and you bring it back here to me." 

"But sir" I ventured "Why should they believe me? This says the gold is many old coins, which surely someone of my age would never possess"
"I'll tell 'ee the way of it. You shall don this here piano-tuner's hat and this here piano-tuner's cloak and shall walk with a stoop and a quaver in your voice, and hold your tuning fork like this, and say you hid the gold many years ago for fear of foreign invasion."

His plan seemed fairly sound and so it was that I set forth on the quest of the golden treasure of Shropshire. But how I fared is a story for another day... 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Getting Knotted

I thought this was a belated April Fool story but it seems to be genuine. A scientific study on why shoelaces come undone, even though they have been carefully done up, shows that this is a natural result of the impact of shoes on the ground when walking and the forces operating on the laces as they move about.

Now I have long held this to be the case and not, as Mrs C is wont to insist, on my inability to tie them correctly in the first place. Henceforth I shall be proud to consider myself as adding to science when, no more than a few paces into a stroll down the road, one of my shoes works loose. Any researchers looking for a volunteer to assist in further studies (assuming that expenses are paid and luncheon vouchers provided, naturally) are welcome to get in contact.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Car spotting time

As seen in my local supermarket (in Ruislip, of course)

I must confess to feeling a tad envious of this one.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The End of the Affair

Today the British people abandoned the cause of European developement aimed at preventing centuries of hostile and competing nation states leading to militiarism turned its back on an outdated institution and regained its freedom.

We will continue to trade freely with the EU with full controls over our borders we haven't the faintest idea of whom our trading partners may be and whether we will be able to exert any more control than in the past

The interests of British nationals elsewhere in the EU will be fully respected under the new arrangements and millions of workers and pensioners need not fear that their rights to remain, work and receive health care will be in any way jeopardised We have no idea what will happen to them or to UK institutions and businesses that employ EU citizens or which are interlocked with the EU institutions.

We will retreat into being a closed and xenophobic society in which foreigners can be freely blamed for everything, just as they are in Trump's USA we will continue to uphold traditional British values of liberty and tolerance, just not quite as libertarian and tolerant as before

If the eastern frontiers of Europe crumble under Russian aggression, lack of investment and a renewed vicious nationalism, and slide into Balkans style conflicts with barbed wire frontiers and deportations, it's nothing to do with us. We could have promoted British values in Europe. Now we can only fulminate on the sidelines

The UK will continue to be a United Kingdom with the whole-hearted consent of all of its citizens Bye Bye Scotland, all the best

Friday, March 24, 2017

A man, a van and a pasty

A couple of years ago I considered the question "What makes a restaurant"; specifically, when is an eating establishment a restaurant rather than a cafe or a snack bar? I did not extend my research sufficiently far. For, whilst idly browsing on Tripadvisor for places on a forthcoming trip to Cornwall, the following caught my eye (and now it has caught yours, and it is fascinating, is it not?).

What grips the imagination is not just that a mobile van, selling only pasties and related products in a deserted car park in the middle of nowhere, can be ranked as a restaurant (or indeed that people have bothered to write reviews about it) but that it is 8th out of 20! There are twelve more eating places in this small town on the eastern fringes of Cornwall that are ranked below it. Is your mind boggling yet?

This establishment, which I admit does have some admiring reviews from local pasty-lovers, has the usual rankings

Since the only food offered appears to be pasties and similar filled snacks, they are presumably being rated compared to other pasty stalls, rather than, say, the 2 AA rosette establishment in town that is number 1 in the rankings. Fair enough. I wonder how you rate the service of a self-service snack bar?  Something like this, perhaps?

  • We walked up to the van and the man served us. Rating - 100%
  • We had to queue for a minute but then the man served us - Rating 100%
  • We asked for a hot pasty and he took one from the heated cabinet and gave it to us - Rating 100%
  • We had a choice of hot or cold pasty. Our server was very helpful in explaining that one would be hotter than the other and he recommended the local speciality, a half and half (one of each). This is the sort of attention to detail that you only get in top-end restaurants - Rating 100%
 Value presumably extends to comparing the prices against other pasties. But what do we make of atmosphere? Rated very highly by those in the know, so it must be on these lines:

  • The cigarette ends blowing around our feet as we stood in a puddle added a delightful touch of impertinence - Rating 100%
  • I enjoyed being sprayed with mud as one of the local youth hurtled by on a motorbike - Rating 100%
  • The fragrance of diesel emissions from passing tractors, far from clashing with the gravy oozing from the base of my pasty, reminded us of central Paris - Rating 100%
  • My companion was entranced to find a spray of flaky pastry from her sausage roll sticking playfully to her clothing - Rating 100%
  • Such fun for our kids to be able to run back and forth across the road whilst waiting for their food. We have no such facilities in Leeds - Rating 100%

To keep the boggling process going, here is a little snippet on the TA site for reviewers to consider
Typical questions asked:
  • Do you have gluten-free options?
  • Is there a dress code?
  • Do you allow dogs on the outdoor patio
I can imagine the inspector from TA (if there were such a person) brushing away a few last crumbs and striding confidently up to the man behind the counter.
"Good morning"
"Morning to you sir"
"May I enquire if your pasties, made as they are with the finest flour, are gluten free?"
"Aaar...mebbe. Mebbe not. There's them as knows and there's them as don'ts know"
"I see. Am I in breach of the dress code?"
"You're an outsider and we don't normally have truck with strangers and their strange ways. You're not a Revenue Man are ye? They don't last long round these parts"
"Umm,  might I let my dogs out on your patio?"
"Dunno. Are they from Devon? If so, they stays put"

Good luck with that report then.

** Update April 20th
Mrs C and I had a very pleasant week in Cornwall and, almost by chance, drove past the very site where Helluva Pasties does its trade. It is not really in a deserted car park in the middle of nowhere but located in a deserted car park adjacent to the main road between Callington and Saltash, and it was closed on the couple of times that we passed by. So I can make no further comment on the subject.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Exclusive: We did not spy on Trump

Ramblings  wishes to retract the story published recently that appeared to suggest that in some remote way this organisation may have been associated with a surveillance attempt on The World's Most Popular Man©. This allegation was wholly made up and pretend. However, as keen followers of TWMPM, we shall not be issuing any form of apology or explanation, other than the above. In fact, we shall go further. The story was undoubtedly created by our enemies, probably the so-called blog Investigations of a Itinerate Ickenhamite and nothing to do with us whatsoever. So there is nothing to apologise for and we demand an apology, and substantial compensation, instead.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Exclusive: We spied on Trump

Undisclosed sources, speaking anonymously to unidentified reporters within the Ramblings organisation have indicated the possibility, under certain extreme circumstances, that someone might, at some time or other, have asked someone else (nobody is saying who but their name might start with a 'D'. or 'K'. Or another letter) to look into the options of finding out whether it might be feasible, given a fair wind and a decent start, to review the contingencies contingent upon an investigation into the likelihood of finding out whether so-called President D Trump is actually a real president or just someone who gets photographed in the White House a lot.

This shocking disclosure has shocked everyone who has read and believed it and proves beyond doubt that if you say anything at all - no matter what - some dumb American is going to believe it.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Dream a Little Dream

In an "exclusive", the Daily Mirror (a news site I have hitherto overlooked, and how wrong I was) features a story that Paul Burrell, one-time butler to Princess Diana, receives regular messages from her in his dreams. Burrell, who has claimed to be the Queen's right hand man (move over, Prince Philip) and who somehow found a considerable amount of Diana's possessions in his attic after her death, (and how they got there nobody knows), may think that being the recipient of the thoughts of an ex-Royal makes him special.

I've got news for you, buster. I regularly have deep and meaningful conversations in my dreams with
  • Jesus
  • Buddha
  • Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (three at once, cuts down the cost)
  • Kaiser Wilhelm I (such a nice man and not at all stuck up)
  • Napoleon (and nephew)
  • Fred Flintstone
  • The man who put shot the arrow into Harold's eye at the battle of Hastings
  • His wife, who knitted him his woolly hat
  • The Tooth Fairy
  • The Dandruff Pixie
  • The Itch-in-the-left-leg Gnome
  • Shergar (via an interpreter)
  • Lord Lucan (the Crimean war one, not the one who legged it)
  • The bloke who used to sell jellied eels at the corner of Commercial Road and Aldgate in 1921
  • Two women I don't know very well called Vera
  • All attendees at the football match between Newcastle and Leeds, December 1897
  • Several people who were going to the match but got held up due to extensive delays on the Newcastle to Leeds railway
  • The bloke who had a regular newspaper column bemoaning the constant delays and poor service on the Newcastle to Leeds Railway, and several of his readers

and so on.

Newspaper editors: All exclusive rights to this sensational story, plus loads of others I will happily make up report, can be yours. Apply to the address below enclosing SAE

Lies and yet more lies department
Fantasy House
Easy money for sod all Avenue
Gullible, Berks

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Avoiding the Loops

If you use Google then you may be aware of its social media arm, Google+.  Although I take not the slightest interest in it, it insists of sending me little snippets of information from time to time, no doubt in the desperate hope of luring me in so I will switch my vast army of followers away from other similar offerings. Now you might think: this is the mighty Google, it knows all about my browsing habits, it knows where I live, it might even know my inside leg measurement, my taste in toothpaste and the number of goldfish out on the estate [pond out at the back: Ed] that have survived yet another winter of dark and freeze (all of them, as far as I can tell). And so, as you continue to ponder, assuming that by now you have not dashed off to something more interesting - and who can blame you?-  then you might assume that the snippets would be fascinating and topical, based squarely on the things that I want to know about and relevant to my fast-moving, contemporary lifestyle. Alright, you might not assume that because you may well know far more about the algorithms used to match snippets with lifestyles than I do but for the sake of argument let us assume that you would. In which case, wrap a few braincells around this nugget which popped up when I rashly clicked on the notifications button that told me there was something new waiting.

India huh? Bully for them. I admire the way the country is progressing and wish them well but see no reason why such a story should be pushed to me in preference to the myriad of other news items that are available. I have never been to India and have no plans to go, and fond as I am of the offerings of my local curry house, it is a Bangladeshi establishment.

What on earth is a hyperloop system? I mean, I know I write about IT matters now and then and transport matters (from a commuterial viewpoint) quite often, but this one has me stumped. Is it a theme park? Is it a giant shopping centre with a parking system designed by Ikea where you go round and round for hours looking for the way out until in utter despair you buy the first thing you see? Or is just, you know, an ordinary loop but a really slick ad agency has zooshed up the image to give it that "hyper" look so sought after by us urban trend-setters?

But it doesn't really matter a toss. Whatever it is, it's not going to be ready for at least three years and the cunning use of "could" means the whole thing may no more than a design on the back of an envelope already lodged in a bulging waste-bin on its way to the East Kolkata Municipal Garbage Works.

You might, I suppose, be thinking 'Why doesn't he just click on the link, which is, after all, recommended, and learn more, to his possible advantage?' There is a very good reason for my inert mouse-clicking finger. One touch and and a whole row of flashing lights will be twinkling on the servers at Google HQ. "Got him" they will be saying (in computer-speak), "He likes India, he wants to know more hyperloops and he cares about things which may or may not happen in the next few years". Every frivolous news item about anything happening east of Suez, however loopy, will be coming my way. I do not wish this to happen. The link will remain unsullied and I will continue to have not the faintest idea why a hyperloop in India, which may or may not ever get built, is of such concern.

Readers - do you have your own hilarious Google sent me a irrelevant notification story? Send them in to the usual address and you could win £££.

Terms and Conditions apply. By £££ we mean any amount between £0 and £2. The use of the word 'could' has been approved by the Advertising Standards Authority and Google+. The Editor is having a tea break but his decision will be final if he ever gets around to making one, which, quite frankly, could take a long time. Don't wait up.

Monday, February 27, 2017

And the Winning Picture is? Er, 'old on a mo, I had it somewhere...

I mused a while back about what would really go on behind the scenes when auditors were called in to investigate affairs at the Vatican. I thought that was the end of that particular story but somehow it has struggled back to life, albeit in a very different setting. For last night, at the Oscar ceremonies in LA the stars were not the actors, directors or best boys (whatever they are) but the accountants, from the rather large firm of PriceWaterhouseCoopers who somehow managed, in the finest traditions of Laurel and Hardy, to mix up the results for Best Picture. After the entire cast and crew of La La Land had made their tearful acceptance speeches and the rest were tearing up their invitations in disgust and preparing to leave, an amazing volte face from the beancounters behind the scenes resulted in Moonlight receiving this most prestigious of movie awards instead (cue fresh round of tearful acceptance speeches, I hope the supply of paper hankies lasted out).

Producers will be at their desks (or beside their pools) this morning, barking out instructions to get the exclusives on this sensational story which is certain to be the winning picture at next year's Oscars. I see Tom Cruise as thrusting young ambitious accountant Jim Price, with Meryl Streep as the wiser and more mature Eleanor Waterhouse who teaches him all she knows about how to count ballot papers whilst Julia Roberts plays the shy but brilliant computer expert Alice Alison Cooper whose bubbly and kooky personality so distracts Cruise that the whole count is nearly jeopardised - but there's a twist! (which I haven't actually thought of yet but give me time).

Here's a sample of my award-winning* screenplay.

Interior. Night. An office overlooking the glittering lights of LA. Price is hunched over a thick file of papers.

Price: Papers, papers, nothing but goddam ballot papers. God, I hate the accountancy business but I have to make it, I just have to.

Cooper steals up behind, puts hand on his shoulder

Cooper: Take it easy Jim. You know you can do it. I've been working on a brilliant new program to add up the papers but it needs your touch to make it work.

Price: I thought accountancy was all glamour and going to the Vatican to audit Cardinals. I never knew it was so tough

Cooper: You gotta believe Jim. 

Waterhouse prowls in looking mean.

Waterhouse: Are those papers counted yet, Jim? The Academy is waiting you know.

Cooper: He's so close Miss Waterhouse, so close. You don't know the pressure he's under.

Waterhouse: You think I never counted ballot papers? I've checked them with bullets flying overhead, I've checked them even though my parents were both dying of starvation, even when all the townsfolk begged me to stay to see off the bad guys, even when the asteroid was about to collide and I was the only person who could stop it. I've struggled against oppression and hatred to get papers checked. [music swells] I'm an accountant and I check papers, it's what I do. And before this night is out, Jim Price, you'll be doing it too!

Price: I will! I will count them.

Waterhouse: And here's how we make sure we get the right result, Jim. You put the winner into this envelope - marked 1 for coming first. You put the loser into this envelope - marked l for loser. Got it?

Cooper: It's so simple, it's beautiful. What could possibly go wrong?

Fade out.

* its only a matter of time

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Yahoo wakes up

A week, as Harold Wilson once observed, is a long time in politics. In the frenetic, always-on world of IT it is a vast amount of time. Imagine then my interest, if that is the right word, in an email that arrived this morning from Yahoo informing me that there may have been a breach of data security affecting my account in 2015 or 2016.  For I wrote about a very similar data breach some five months ago and took such steps as I deemed necessary to ensure the integrity of my personal data (almost none at all because I don't use Yahoo for anything personal). And now they have finally got around to informing me of another identical issue and apparently I am supposed to do something about it. Jolly decent of them or a flagrant contempt for their users and their security? [You don't want this to be an online poll, do you? It's tricky to set these things up, you know: Ed]

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Wrath of Doris

Storm Doris struck the UK with full force today and beautiful Ruislip was not spared, as this shocking picture of the devastation shows.

As usual, absolutely no sign of any Government assistance. We're on our own with this one but we shall emerge stronger and more resolute, I give you my pledge.

Update a few days later: I suppose I had better record that Doris had a nasty sting in her tail. We discovered substantial damage to a flat roof over an extension to our house, fortunately no major problems inside, but requiring a rebuild.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Met Throws A Wobbly

The Metropolitan Line was not on good form today. Two weeks ago there was a long gap in the service into town, exactly matching the time I wished to travel and they only bothered to tell people on the platform at Ruislip Manor after I had pressed the button on the Information panel to speak to a member of staff. Today exactly the same thing - nothing ran into London for some 20 minutes, nothing showed on the platform electronic displays or on my phone app that shows a much wider range of movements, not even to show trains ready at the terminus, Uxbridge; but this time nobody bothered either to answer the information panel (which broadcast the sound of a ringing phone for very long time; whether this a real phone or just a sort of placebo sound effect to calm irritated passengers I cannot tell) or make any announcements. And exactly as last time, on arrival at Harrow-on-the-Hill our train was promoted to be a "fast", saving some of that precious time lost hanging around the platform for me but making the journeys of anyone hoping to stop off before Finchley Road even longer.

Ah well, the problem would be bound to be fixed five hour later on my return, eh? Wrong. There was no now service between Baker St. and Aldgate; fortunately trains were running north but were packed about as full as could be. Today I broke my journey at Preston Road to visit a newly home-from-hospital Mother-in-Law [That's a lot of hyphens, they don't grow on trees you know: Ed] but kept an eye on the trains to make sure of the final leg. And just as well that we left when we did for not long afterwards this was the joyful news:

The various reasons for today's pleasantries were given as signal failure at Finchley Road, security alert at Moorgate and finally the absence of control staff. Yeah, maybe they were trying to commute in via the Met and gave up.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Who Ate All The Pies?

This familiar chant from the football terraces was gloriously realised last night in South London, where Sutton United went down 2-0 against Arsenal in the FA Cup. Step forward and take a bow (or bend a little from the neck anyway, not sure if the waistline can take a fullscale bow), the goalkeeping coach (and one of the substitutes) Wayne Shaw. Unable to hold out until full time and secure in the knowledge that he would not need to take to the field, Shaw was captured on a primetime BBC broadcast upholding all the values of the plucky non-league team he represents.

Sutton gained promotion last year from the league that the team I support, Wealdstone, play in and they were very impressive then. They put up a battling performance last night and can be proud of it. But alas, I fear that they will be remembered for feats of gastronomy rather than goalscoring for a long time to come.

It transpires Mr Shaw ate the pie deliberately as some sort of betting / publicity stunt and has been fired from his position at the club. Hmmm - one-off pie or continuing involvement with semi-pro soccer at a leading club? Tough call. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Telling It Like It Isn't

There is no need for satirists today; merely check the daily headlines and the stories just write themselves. Here, in a nutshell, is the short diplomatic career of the National Security Advisor to the President of the USA.

"Did you have contacts with the Russians before your appointment?
"But did you"
"I certainly did not"
"I think you did"
"Didn't, didn't, didn't."
"It seems like you definitely did"
"Well that's where you're so wrong because I didn't"
"We have pretty good information that you did"
"You weren't there and I was; er, not that I was there, but if I had been there then I would have known a lot more about it than you"
"Go on, admit it you did though"
"Absolutely not. I deny that completely. It was another boy somebody else my evil twin brother, look it wasn't me, I was miles away at the time doing my homework at my office." 
"But it was you and we can prove it, can't we?"
"Umm - its not fair, they made me, I didn't mean to."
"That's not good enough. Did you have contacts?"
"Umm. yes"
"I can't hear you"
"Yes, yes I did"
"So why did you tell everyone you didn't"
"I inadvertently gave the wrong information. AND IT WASN'T MY FAULT, OK"
"No need to shout. Now go away, hand in your monitor's badge and don't do it again"

Yup. To inadvertently give the wrong information is totally different from lying, even when you have been asked the same question many times on many different occasions. It's one step closer to admitting culpability than 'being economical with the truth', I suppose.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Khan: Defeat by the Mamelukes "Fake News"

from our special correspondent, still in Karakorum, but getting quite keen to come home

As reports continued to arrive from the front line in the Syrian desert of a massive defeat for the armies of the Golden Horde, inflicted by the Mamelukes of Egypt, newly-elected President Genghis Khan went on the offensive. Speaking to a selected group of shepherds, Khan invoked the wrath of the gods on those who disseminated untrue reports. The main part of his speech, based on the comments of his audience afterwards, appeared to be as follows: "Fake news, bad, not real, we won really, it's not fair, they cheated, they attacked when the sun was in our lads' eyes, we fought fair but they hit us when we weren't looking, everyone knows the Mongols are the greatest fighting force and we're going make them great again, er, greater than they used to be, those Mamelukes haven't heard the last of this, they're gonna regret being Egyptian, just they wait until I can raise another Horde and march them two thousand miles across the deserts and mountains 'cause this time my men are gonna whip ass, not that they didn't whip ass last time, they absolutely did, we won that battle and massacred all them Gyppos, and anyone who says our boys were slaughtered is just asking for it, and I've asked my very good friend Ivan the Terrible to lend a hand, not that our boys need any help, we can beat the whole world with both hands tied behind our backs, which is what I gather most of the survivors have right now, but I didn't say that, that's fake news, this was a glorious victory and we're gonna burn Cairo to the ground. And that'll show them Muslim terrorists. One day. Maybe."

Later the President was observed to have stopped foaming at the mouth and his tribal shaman said that, after he inhaled from the entrails of a freshly slaughtered goat, he looked much more like his old self. [The president or the shaman? Ed]

Presidential spokesman Zarn "the Slicer" Spicer added "This was the biggest victory for any army in the history of the world. Period. We killed at least two million of them, and that doesn't include the ones hiding under plastic sheets, whatever they are, and did not lose a single man, I say again, not one man. The guys with the battle wounds who staggered back into Baghdad screaming about being wiped out, they are all cheats and liars and were not even there and and they have a political agenda to damage the President who is the greatest military strategist in the universe."

Asked where the Horde now was, Spicer claimed "They are on their way to wipe out everyone else in the known world, OK? We'll be hearing from them pretty soon." He declined further questions.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

President Khan meets with Wallachian Head

from our own correspondent in Karakorum

Newly elected President Genghis Khan had his first meeting with a foreign head of state today. In a brief visit, Voivode Vlad Dracula of Wallachia had lunch with the President in the Summer Palace. Although there is little contact between the two countries, President Khan said that he had always been an admirer of Dracula's methods and was keenly interested in what he had to say.

"We're gonna bring back traditional Mongol practices of flaying people alive and tearing them apart between wild horses. Our people voted for that. But this guy, he's been around and he knows how to kick Turkish butt and they've got some great counter-terrorist methods in his country that we can learn from" the President said "I'm specially keen to hear more about impalement. Ramming a spike up somebody sounds wholly in keeping with the great law-abiding traditions of the Mongolian people, and it sure as hell stops them being terrorists ever again, or taking up terrorism in the first place".

Vovoide Dracula commented "I find the Mongolian way of unexpectedly riding up to cities, slaughtering the defenders with arrows and then slaughtering everyone else, something we can all learn from."

Asked about his habit of sleeping in a coffin, wearing black satin capes and having rather unfeasibly large front teeth, the Voivode replied "We should respect all cultures and traditions. In my country this is the normal way of life. Here they have camels, in my homeland of Transylvania we have bats. Same difference, huh?"

After lunch the leaders watched a traditional Mongolian football match. The Voivode was clearly impressed by the use of human heads for balls and was seen sizing up the heads of some of his entourage. Meanwhile President Khan signed an executive order to make a thousand ten-foot stakes for "purposes to be explained later and anyway the Chinese are gonna pay for them, sooner or later".

The Chinese ambassador declined to comment.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Those awful advertising slogans - no. 13 - Sainsbury's

First the confession. Mrs Commuter and I shop at Sainsbury's every week. There, I've said it. I know that, for some, that places us at once in a certain category and social class. But that is their problem. We shop there because it is one of the closest supermarkets to us and we can find everything we want in one go.

This week, whilst Mrs C dutifully sorted out vegetables and fruit and began loading up the trolley (which my proud task is to push, let me hasten to add, this is a team effort), my eye was drawn to banners and posters festooned around the place. So thickly strewn in fact that it was impossible to avoid the message. Remember that we were already in the place and buying stuff. So why on earth do Lord Sainsbury and his pals think it in order to proclaim the following gibberish?

#fooddancing is living well

Before I dissect this slogan, let me point those of you who find this sort of thing fascinating in the general direction of the ad world. The Creativity online website, for example, carries some revealing quotes from the agency who came up with the slogan and the campaign that showcases it, and from the adman from Sainsbury's who is paying for it (out of my and other regular shoppers' money!). Explaining that food dancing is people dancing in their kitchens whilst preparing food and that the people portrayed in the TV ads (which I sincerely hope I never watch) are real people who just happen to be twirling about when filmed, a creative director of the agency behind the campaign said

the aim of the campaign is to give Sainsbury's a more consistent look and feel, and also a "cooler" edge. Both the TV and print work contrast black and white portraiture of people with vibrant food in color, 
Oh, and get this, some of the films are filmed on iphones and gopro phones "to add an authentic reality-style TV edge". Filmed by the professionals from the agency, mark you, so really not in any way authentic or edgy at all.

Look, mate, I don't give a flying toss what other people do in the privacy of their own kitchens. If they choose to be filmed on behalf of a supermarket then I hope they got a decent fee. But why on earth should I shop at your client? I shop to buy food. I don't dance with it, or whilst preparing it (or whilst watching Mrs C doing it, to be a bit more realistic) nor whilst eating it. digesting it or evacuating the remains in the usual way a few hours later. Filming in black and white merely suggests utter pretentiousness, as though only admen can afford colour film so the rest of us have to make our home videos in black and white. Jeepers, even in the 1960s people made home movies in colour. Alternately it screams out perfume ad but at least now that Christmas is over we are spared that lot for another ten months.

How does this give Sainsbury's an edge? Do only their customers dance? I put it to the court that this is singularly unlikely; indeed, given the age profile of the average lot shuffling round my local store, the best they could manage would be a couple of half-hearted waltz steps before sinking back into a padded armchair and putting the telly on.

Incidentally, note the adspeak use of the word 'cool'. Question - what is the difference between a cool edge and an edge? [Ah, I think I know this one, give me a moment would you? Ed].

So the film of people apparently dancing spontaneously can be filed under Z for zilch interest. Let us turn to the hashtag.

This is the crux of the nub of the heart of the problem. A hashtag at the start of a word used in a publicity campaign has only one real meaning, if used correctly, and that is to indicate that the word in question is being used to tag postings on social media. Now this may be the case here but it is surely only incidental to the TV/Press/Poster campaign, where it is utterly irrelevant and moreover insulting, trying to suggest that this is a sort of grassroots idea that the caring, listening supermarket has taken up, instead of a slogan dreamed up in an agency by a man wearing odd socks and braces, whilst waiting for an intern to bring coffee. Hashtags were a novelty once. About ten years ago. Time to let them go.

But what do we make of the slogan itself?  How can fooddancing (with or without an otiose hashtag) be said to be living well? The people who do it may or may not be, but the action itself? This is why I was to be found staring up at the top of the food counters last week. I was trying to imagine the mind of the person who thought that this slogan conveyed a meaning and it was not a pleasant experience.

Sainsbury's already has a perfectly good slogan - Live well for less - which at least is understandable and conveys something, although since they don't define what they mean by 'less' it is still adspeak rather than anything useful. I can see why they have tried to give it a new twist [Is that a dance related pun? Jolly good: Ed] but they seem to have put a foot wrong here. Time for a new man in charge (or as they say in Italy, bossa nova).

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Move over, Ziegler

Readers who lived through the Watergate affair and the impeachment of President Nixon will also vividly recall the hapless Press Secretary Ronald L. Ziegler. An adman close to Nixon's aide Bob Haldeman, Ziegler was the one who had to turn out time and again to face the press and try to explain away the increasingly damning and overwhelming evidence for the conspiracy to use illegal means to damage Nixon's opponents. He will be remembered for his wonderful rebuttal of his own vehement attacks on those who tried to uncover the truth when he told the press that all his previous statements were 'inoperative'; it has been suggested that what he meant was not they were untrue but that the truth itself was simply whatever he happened to be saying at the time, and if he changed his mind then the old truths were no longer in operation.

A brand new Ziegler, in the shape of President Trump's Press Secretary has stepped forward. Sean Spicer has trumped [Must you? Ed] Ziegler with his very first official announcements over the size of the turnout for the presidential inauguration. Spicer has

  • Claimed a greater attendance than previous years, despite absolutely no official confirmation of the turnout and aerial photos showing far more empty space than for Obama's
  • Claimed that plastic sheets used for the first time in some way mysteriously made the crowd invisible. Plastic sheeting was used in 2013. How this would affect the visibility of attendees was not explained.
  • Threatened to hold the press accountable. "...things are going to change now. And they are going to change, and they are going to get it, right?" - Nixon speaking to Haldeman and John Deane in 1972 quoted in Deane's book Blind Ambition. 'They' refers to the press.

Reporters covering the Watergate story called Ziegler's assertions, claims and bluster "ziggies". I wonder if the "spices" will follow suit.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Meanwhile, at a football ground in Corleone ...

I am grateful to someone I follow on Twitter (a followee?) for drawing my attention to a fascinating statement from the Chief Executive of Leyton Orient FC. You can find the original here and it is well worth a look even if your interest in football is smaller than Donald Trump's humility but for those who prefer a precis, the statement refers to difficulties in which the club now finds itself. It is close to the relegation slots from League Two and may find itself there in a couple of weeks, and there has clearly been fan anger and unsettled players. Unusually the CE, whose use of English is interesting to say the least, attributes much of the problem to the absence from matches and from training of the owner. This gentleman is a Mr. Becchetti and the apologist is Alessandro Angelieri. The key phrase is

His personal business did not allow him to be close to the team, when he would usually come to the training ground every Friday and to the games on a Saturday. Mr Becchetti has a great charisma and the players definitely feel his absence.

 I fear it is time to return to a certain Sicilian town ...

The players were nervous that afternoon. It was the annual derby against Tattaglia Wednesday and the Corleone Rovers, playing at home, found their eyes turning again and again to an empty seat in the main stand. Where was their iconic boss, their inspiration? Why had he missed the training session? And lunch in the boardroom even though the menu featured his favourite dish, Pasta a la Yorkshire, in his honour?

Borgia, the hulking centre forward could stand it no longer. He turned to the chief executive, the boss's right hand man, Al Angels.
"Where is he, Al? He never miss a game. Why today?"
"I can't help you there son" Angels grunted in his Halifax accent "The boss does things his way and I don't ask questions, alright? There's nowt as queer as folk, as my old nan used to say and I don't cast a clout, sithee".
Much of his patois was lost on Borgia but he restrained himself and he went to gather the team for the kick-off, doing his best to reassure them.

For Angels the first half was a nightmare. Where the hell was Lucas Bexley? That enigmatic, sharp faced man from Leeds who had bought Corleone Rovers two years before and whose acid comments from the sidelines had fired up the whole team. He had his business interests to be sure - but every Saturday he would shut up his pie stall and take his place by the touchline, shouting out words of wisdom in a language that was unmistakeable, though none of the players actually had a clue what he was saying. But that did not matter. Today, sensing their chance, Wednesday had scored two easy goals while the hapless Rovers defence waited for a blast of abuse from the sidelines to unsettle the assistant referee and force an offside flag. They went in and stared glumly at the half-time pizza and it was all Borgia could do to motivate them to start the second half.

Still that empty seat. Rovers defended grimly but their hearts were not in it. The Wednesday strolled around, keeping possession, taunting their old rivals. Time was running out.

"Put some bloody life into it"
Borgia spun roun, heart pumping. Almost unnoticed, Bexley had taken his seat, hands firmly clasped around his flask of tea, that familiar flat cap jammed over his head. "Eee, that were rubbish, lad, rubbish. Seen better round our morgue"
The Rovers midfield perked up. With newly found speed they challenged for the ball. Borgia thundered forward. A Wednesday defender attempted to hack him down and the referee looked the other way until a bellow of "What the hell was that, ref? Put your bloody glasses on. That's a red card that is in any book and no mistake" made him hastily blow up, award a penalty and send off the trembling back. The goalkeeper, jiggling on his line as he tried to guess which way the kick would go, heard "Get that jessie off the pitch" at full volume, turned to give the heckler the finger and watched in horror as Borgia slid the ball into the net.

The Rovers were back in it and four goals later and the match won in style they trotted triumphantly to clap at their cheering fans amidst whose delighted ranks sat one stony faced figure.
"Call that football cause I bloody don't. Our nan could have done better even after she had her second hip done."
Nobody knew what he meant except his trusted consigliere Angels and he did not enlighten them. The boss was back.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Bad Taste Corner - 2

Dr. Henry Heimlich, inventor of the "manouevre" that bears his name, died last month.

Family and friends are said to be choked.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

President Khan Speaks Out

From our own correspondent in Karakorum 

Fresh from slaughtering his enemies, old friends who looked a bit like enemies, ordinary people who might well have been enemy-sympathisers and foreigners on the grounds that they look funny, President Genghis Khan has been making statements about his policies as a newly elected leader of the glorious Mongol Empire.

On being pressed by some of his old tribal allies about future rights to share waterholes, President Khan said that of course he would be keen to share everything fairly, but anyone who took his water would get what was coming to them.  "Let there be no doubt" he was quoted "It's our water. They can drink it but if they put a single Mongol sheepherder out of business, they'll be making water rather than drinking it, if you see what I mean".

Pressed about foreign relations and the future of MATO (Mongols against the others), President Khan said "This organisation has had its day. It's time for the Uzbeks, Turks, Kirghiz and so on to pay for their own defence. And boy, they'll need to because if my horde decide to have a go at them, they'll wish they had.". On the subject of relations with the Holy Roman Empire, Khan observed that "Their leader, Barbarossa, he's a man I can do business with. And that's good because with what I have in mind for the Middle East, there's going to be plenty of slaves to go around.".

Asked about his controversial remarks on knocking down the Great Wall of China and requiring the Chinese to pay for it, Khan rounded on his interlocuter. "I never said that, there's not a shred of evidence for it, this is fake news, you represent a crap organisation and will get what's coming to you". When the questioner pointed out that he was Khan's spokesman for Chinese affairs, the President said "Exactly. You got it. I stand by everything I said, apart from the bits I don't". The spokesman was seen to ask something else but vanished behind a huddle of guards and has not been available for comment since.

President Khan's appointees in the Government have all been approved unanimously by the Great People's Assembly. The membership of the Assembly, G. Khan Jr. and Mrs. G. Khan (no relation) said "We have total confidence in everything the President does. He is a man inspired by God and not a dangerous lunatic who says the first thing that comes into his head."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The World's Shortest Warranty

I bought a laptop the other day. A standard HP model. Today a message popped up to inform me that "Your HP warranty has expired" and that the "expiry date" was 13/01/17. So this computer came with a manufacturer's warranty that automatically expires the moment you switch it on for the first time. Impressive stuff. Guaranteed to earn a repeat order (he wrote, sarcastically).

To describe what they wish me to renew as a warranty is as close to a scam as you can get (though clearly not in any way illegal, I hasten to add). What they want is for me to sign up to a support scheme whereby I pay them upfront and they guarantee nothing except they might answer the phone in order to read standard scripts back. You know the scene:

Me: I've got a problem, here is the detailed description including error message numbers, all the steps I have so far taken to remedy it and my diagnosis based on reading 50 pages of other users with similar problems writing about them on your official support forum.
Them: Have you downloaded the latest drivers?
Me: Yes.
Them: Have you rebooted it?
Me: Yes.
Them: I need to escalate this to my manager. I'll get back to you. phone disconnnects

I'm not going down this road to frustration. I've got a warranty from the seller and normal consumer law applies. Whatever it was that magically ended its life the day I went down the mall,  I don't care.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Snow Chaos Slams UK as the Big Freeze Strikes...

... or so you might think if you casually glanced at the news this last couple of days. The army on standby in the coastal areas of Lincolnshire. Commuters braving it through the blizzards in Scotland. Dogs frolicking in the snow. And, er, that seems to be about it. Here in beautiful Ruislip we had enough snow to put a light dusting on the lawns and cars on Thursday night and it was gone by Friday mid-morning. The storm surges that threatened flooding on the east coast did not materialise. And all the pretty pictures of the white stuff shrouding the Highlands, Lakes and Peaks could hardly be much of a surprise, we do normally get some this time of the year over the higher parts of the country.

It has been far too warm for snow to have any impact. A few days ago the early morning frost required a fair bit of de-icer on the car windscreen; yesterday pretty well the whole lot slid off as soon as I applied the first touch of the scraper.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Don't Read This Now

Fascinating to see that a BBC story about the problem of procrastination, particularly with respect to students failing to address themselves to their studies, should feature a professor whose YouTube video on the subject has proved very popular. For these days, when you go to YouTube, you are required to waste time watching adverts before the video of your choice is made available. If, like me, you automatically look away when ads are thrust before you, what displacement activity do you select? There's all the other videos that YouTube will suggest, based on things you've watched before. Yes, one or two could be worth following up; oh, there's that very funny one I saw a while ago, why not go to that one first. Blimey, here's a link to an old TV show I used to really like, must check this one out, hold on, wasn't there something I was supposed to be doing, better check my online calendar, ah yes, doctor's appointment in a couple of days, that's not going to clash with that meeting is it? Better check my emails just in case, no it's ok but wow, someone I know slightly has just had a very special sandwich and put up photos on Instagram, let's have a squint, and while I'm here, anything new on Twitter? I see that sandwich has been featured again and three people have liked it, how very cool and interesting, weather seems to be settling in, and wasn't there something I was meant to be doing, oh yeah, how not to put off things, now where was that again? I'll watch it later. If I can be bothered.