Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Travellers' Tales

An unsolicited (and surprisingly badly formatted) email from Google Maps arrived bearing the following picture at its head:

It invites me to reminisce about all the places I have visited in the past month. I think I can accept the challenge ...

January 4th: We set out, with hope and trepidation, to traverse the notorious passage of the southern Ruislip slopes. As we passed no. 23 Hazel Road my wife observed that they were having an extra pint. The traffic lights at Balaclava Street were red as we approached but changed to green shortly thereafter and we effected a smooth junction with the traffic leaving the Conservative Association annual jumble sale. At length we were able to signal a left turn and arrived safely at our destination, the Home & Colonial Stores or whatever they are called these days.

January 11th. A light rain failed to impede our journey into Hazel Road. A man in a white van obscured our view of no. 23 but my wife thought he vaguely resembled the actor Sam Kydd and this afforded us some consolation. The traffic into Alma Avenue was heavier than usual thanks to the Liberal Democrat Dog Show and we reached the shopping emporium some two minutes later than we might have expected. The place seemed oddly familiar until my wife reminded me that we had shopped there the previous week.

January 18th: Magnificent blue skies with fluffy white clouds and a glorious sun casting a golden light on the miles of sandy beaches. Not in Ruislip, I hasten to add, but apparently the weather that morning in southern Namibia was spectacular. For us, sadly, it was a chilly drizzle and it was no surprise to find a puddle of water in the road near no.25 Hazel Road. Of the inhabitants at no. 23 there was no sign; my wife was of the opinion that they were visiting the in-laws but I thought it likely that they were merely late risers. The road south lay before us and we were afforded some gladness as we saw the hitherto red traffic lights turn green on our approach. The Labour party had a very poor turnout for their display of Victorian plumbing fixtures and hence we arrived at our destination early for once.

January 25th: I realise that these tales of our journeys are a trifle repetitive and would not have ventured to set pen to paper in the first place had it not been for the promptings to reminisce. But today all was changed! The car failed to start so we joined a caravan of some two hundred camels and a crowd of local tribesmen. Bandits attempted to ambush us outside no. 23 (where a pot of yoghurt lay plaintively by the boot-scraper) but we beat them off. Making a crude bridge out of twisted liana strands, we managed to ford the rapids at the foot of Ruislip Broadway and then we commenced the ascent of Inkerman Way, despite a chronic shortage of oxygen. The porters demanded extra backsheesh for the perilous descent into the alley behind the Post Office; we compromised by offering raffle tickets for the Ulster Democrats (Ruislip branch) annual dinner and dance and at length saw the lights of the Stores twinkling in the twilight to guide us home.

I trust these reminiscences will truly illuminate the fascinating travels of the past month and that my readers will excuse the minor embellishments with which I have sought to add some spice to the somewhat bland fare of the mundane. I wish to add my grateful thanks to Google Maps for prompting this rich flood of memories, to all at no. 23 and hope the rash clears up soon, to the family of the late Sam Kydd for making it clear that he was not in Ruislip on January 11th and, of course, to my dear travelling companion and fellow-reminiscer, Mrs Commuter. The liability for any errors or mistakes that remain in the text are entirely the fault of Google Maps and nothing whatsoever to do with me.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Shock! Someone thinks something might happen.

I was utterly riveted by the headline today in the Daily Express, which surely encapsulates the very best in English journalism. 


Let your tongue caress the lengthy vowel sounds of the so-enticing, yet in this case entirely misleading, word "Revealed". For as you peruse the rest of the "story" you realise that it entirely consists of someone, who has had a baby recently at a hospital near to where the Duchess of Sussex lives, reckoning that it would be a jolly good idea if the royal baby was born there as well.

That's it. Someone has thought that something may (or may not) occur and it has turned into some sort of world exclusive scoop that has been "Revealed" to us. I mean, the Gospel of St John has got absolutely no chance of competing here. It had never even crossed my mind that the Duchess would go to hospital for the birth - I assumed she would find shelter in a nearby barn or perhaps bang on the back door at Buckingham Palace and request use of a broom cupboard at the critical hour. But now, thanks to the unwavering dedication to journalist excellence that is the Daily Express, we learn - no, it is revealed - that she will go to hospital. And that hospital may well be one near to her home. Amazing.

Although - and here is a twist so cunning it could leave Christie, Le Carre and Deighton gasping for breath - she may not go to that hospital. We just don't know. Experts are divided. Those who think she will go there think that she will, but others, who fail to share that opinion, disagree. Experts eh? What do they know?

Don't bother to rush out and buy the paper (or even to click on the link above). There is nothing else of substance in this story.

Anyway, if she does go to that particular hospital she will, apparently, be in excellent hands. The lady whose thoughts on the subject gave rise to this story is of the opinion that it is "fit for a duchess". How she knows that, unless she herself is a duchess (or at least a countess), I am not sure. After my last spell in Hillingdon Hospital for an infected foot, I definitely thought that the place was up to the standard demanded by holders of the CBE, the Duke of Edinburgh Award and the Best in Show at Crufts, but worthy of a duke? No, I don't know for sure. Not a real duke. Maybe one of the Dukes of Hazzard or Duke Ellington. But never mind all this prevarication. If the Express wants to run an world exclusive headed "Revealed: Queen might get her next prescription from a Ruislip chemist", I'm certainly prepared to brief the journalists, pose for photographs and get onto the chat show circuit.  After all, why let the truth get in the way of a crowd-pleasing headline?

Friday, February 01, 2019

Avoid these months

There is a highly contagious trend afoot whereby a worthy, or maybe just fashionable, cause is linked to a particular month and a horrible hybrid word concocted. I first became aware of this with "Movember", something about growing a moustache in November for reasons that were never made terribly clear. Now we have come to the end of "Veganuary" where we were supposed to eat vegetables in January, for reasons that I have no interest in being made clear. I suspect others are on the way. The only way to defeat this smarmy, look how clever we are, we've put two unrelated words together, movement is to swamp it with ludicrous alternatives and thus drown it all out in a wave of popular derision.

Here, then, are my suggestions for forthcoming events:


  • Celebruary - Wear dark glasses even on dull, sunless days, walk down the street going "No interviews, please" and address everyone as "Darling". Score one point for each person who scratches their chin wondering who you are, two for anyone who takes a quick snap of you on their mobile and five when policeman begin linking hands to hold back the admiring crowds.
  • Parch - Don't just give up alcohol for March, stop drinking altogether. You'll be amazed at the weight loss.
  • Stapril - See how many pieces of paper you can join using just one staple.
  • Heymay - Spend the month going "Hey" to random strangers. Or "Hey, hey" if you happen to be a Monkee. [One for the older generation there: Ed]
  • Silverspoonjune - One for the wealthy amongst us. Flaunt it. Although you probably do that anyway.
  • Unrulyjuly - Refuse to comb your hair or brush your shoes, for charity of course. Or maybe as some form of protest. Perhaps a little mild chanting of "Down with this sort of thing" at events of which you disapprove.
  • Rawgust - Actually I'm getting a bit bored with this now. Do what you like.
If you have any suggestions for similarly pointless campaigns do please send them in to the usual address. There could be valuable prizes awaiting the most irritating.

The editor's decision is final, but may be subject to Terms and Conditions which, in the manner of the finest TV advertisements, will be flashed across the bottom of this page in very small print and which you won't read in any case because you are so distracted by the images flickering across the top. If you are unable to see these essential elements of the page then jolly hard luck. We suggest you upgrade your web browser, your computer or your brain.



Saturday, January 26, 2019

Those Awful Advertising Slogans - no. 15 - Lloyds Bank

The current Lloyds Bank advertising campaign is ubiquitous. Posters and press ads and a full one minute expensively-produced television ad where a small community living by the sea ("Ah"), get up really early one lovely day ("Ah") and go to watch some nicely animated computer images of black horses pounding along the waves. The ad concludes with the adorably attractive young girl, who is pre-figured by some cunning close-ups as the leading character, stroking the neck of one of the horses, (probably the most darkly handsome but they all look pretty similar to me).

Lloyds slogan, often coupled with some reference to their exceptionally long history, is "By your side".



The good folk of Hebden Bridge will no doubt watch the TV ads with many a hollow laugh and curled lip. For it is in that town that Lloyds have decided to close their branch, the only bank branch surviving after others left and those who need physical contact with a bank must make a lengthy journey elsewhere.

There would be nothing much to jeer at if Lloyds actually carried out their business in a way that justified their slogan. But they don't. It is pretty clear whose side they are not on - the small towns and small businesses of the UK. And there would be no complaints from me if their slogan truly reflected their business values. "Quick bucks our speciality" or "Sod you, we're OK" come readily to mind. Don't forget this is the recklessly led institution that took over HBOS in 2008 and then required £20 billion of our cash to stay afloat. We, the taxpayers, are the ones who have been by their side and how richly we have been rewarded. [That last bit is to be said in a mocking, sarcastic tone, I should think: Ed]

Friday, January 18, 2019

A Holiday Suggestion We May Decline

There is a wonderful website called Terrible Real Estate Photographs which is, for those of you who are unaware of it, a source of great joy not just for the very terrible pictures that some estate agents choose to illustrate property for sale, but for the witty captions with which Andy Donaldson (the site owner) embellishes them.

I dare not try to compete with the estimable Mr. Donaldson. However, I feel bound to make some sort of comment on the following image which was presented to me recently by a well-known interweb enterprise that facilitates making bookings with hotels and guest houses. I had been doing some lazy research in places near to where my mother-in-law is currently resident and this was high on the list of recommendations. It is described as a three bedroom holiday home featuring a garden.

The front
Not the front.

The proud owners did not add that the property benefits from two wheelie bins, placed so you always have to see one no matter whether you are relaxing on the spacious lawns at the back or strolling up the impressive drive to the front. The pleasing playfulness of the lack of symmetry in the arrangement of the windows and doors at the front is matched by the no-nonsense design of the whole. "This is an honest box" it says in forthright tones, the plain-speaking parlance of the hard-working down-to-earth folk of Derbyshire. [Don't want to worry you but we may run out of hyphens if you go on with all these compound phrases: Ed]

I decided not to make a booking.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Jubilations

Those wonderful people at PayPal have sent me an email. It begins with the heading "Congratulations!" and, as if that were not enough, continues "You've been selected to apply for PayPal credit" and then it spoils it all by adding "subject to approval".

I was pretty damn excited when I saw "Congratulations". Even more so with that cheeky little exclamation mark stuck on the back. This is it, I thought, this is the big one. I've won the Nigerian Lottery. I've been asked to handle Britain's negotiations in leaving the EU. I've finally been awarded the OBE for services to literature. Maybe all three.

It was disappointing to find that I was merely being congratulated on being selected to apply for something that I have not the slightest intention of applying for. I mean, if they had said "We're going to give you loads of cash, no questions asked, all right my son?" then I think that would have warranted a wry smile of satisfaction and perhaps a phone call to my wine merchant for a half-bottle of something fizzy. But no. The humiliation. Not only have I not have been granted credit, I have merely been "selected" to apply for it. Can anyone apply for it? Yes. Do you need to be selected to make this application? No, of course not. If you want it, you apply for it.

And now we turn to the sting in the tail, the giveaway that betrays the whole communication as a mockery and a sham. "Subject to approval", indeed. I am expected to make some sort of pleading application and then wait for some machine in an air-conditioned room at the other end to whirr and flash some lights and spit out some punched cards which a white-coated boffin will scrutinise before making a tick on a list on his clipboard. [This imagery may be a little bit dated, you know: Ed]

 No, PayPal. If you want me to be excited about your offer then make it something exciting. There is no shortage of institutions wishing to lend me money. Offer to deliver the money to me in a limo driven by one of your vice-presidents before whisking me (and wife) off to a sun-drenched holiday in a luxury resort with all expenses paid, and then just maybe, I can consider making an application. Until then, let me answer your email with one of my own.

To: PayPal
From: Ramblings
Subject. Felicitations! You have been specially selected to receive vituperative and insulting mentions in my popular column and you don't even have to apply for them.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Lemmings Revisited

Just before the madness exercise in democracy that was the referendum of 2016, I penned a whimsical little piece to summarise my feelings at the way the Brexit campaign seemed to be going. Tonight Parliament votes on the cunning plan to lower ourselves gently over the cliff  withdrawal agreement negotiated by the hapless minority Government led by Mrs May, a plan that is disliked by pretty well everybody and yet the only one on the table. The alternative, the dreaded no-deal, may well be the exact equivalent of the lemmings hurling themselves blissfully into oblivion while being reassured that this is far far better than staying precariously alive on the cliff-edge.

The real alternative, of course, is to remain in the EU until a deal that is generally acceptable can be agreed; failing which we remain on the grounds that the alternatives are so much worse.  Apparently this cannot be done because it would be a "betrayal of democracy". We have the paradox that those who argued passionately that Britain should "take back control" are now paralysed with fear about using that control in accordance with the constitution. We have a second paradox in that a further vote is also seen as a betrayal of democracy; does this mean there can be never again be a referendum on EU membership? If so what about the democratic result of the 1975 referendum? And why must a referendum be a Yes/ No decision? Suppose there are several options? How do you then reach a conclusion?

The British way has been to have elections to the House of Commons and to rely on the interactions between the MPs to produce an outcome that is both responsive to the wishes of the electorate and aligned with reality. Please can we get back to this?

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Wait for me

Users of Windows 10 will be aware that, every six months or so, Microsoft puts out a new version which is compulsory to have and which is installed on one's computer whether you wish it or no. Nobody knows why they do this. Social anthropologists and historians in the future will doubtless produce many books and attend many conferences on the theme of 'Compulsive tinkering as a way of making oneself feel good'.

I have still to hear of any ordinary computer user who has beamed with delight after yet another bi-annual update session whereas huge numbers of people have been greatly inconvenienced by loss of use of their computers as they grind through hours of updating and some have lost files and precious data as a result of Microsoft's incompetence.

The last update was unveiled in September and ran into huge waves of criticism, not least because it was full of bugs that had been flagged by beta testers and ignored by Microsoft. They pulled it, released it again, pulled it again and finally got something out that seemed to work late last year. Yet nothing materialised on the workhorse used to create this very column, my trusty PC Specialist machine. And, having read of the many woes of those who foolishly attempted to obtain the update early, when it was still full of bugs, I was glad to be at the back of the queue, though becoming a little concerned that I might still be left out when the next update, in May this year, is forced on us all. The fear was that the update process might get itself so confused that it failed, and then Windows itself may have refused to work because it was no longer up to date.

Those concerns have been dispelled for yesterday the long awaited update happened. Yes, the September 2018 release made itself known by making my PC so slow that I realised something was happening in the background, so gave up trying to work on it and did other things until a couple of hours later it reached the magic 100%, rebooted once or twice and got back to normal.  As to the changes - I haven't the slightest idea. It looks and feels exactly the same. It rebooted itself last night as well without telling me why. On checking the system log there is a lot of guff about an X-Box app update. Whoopee. I don't have an X-Box. Neither do I have a microphone or camera yet Microsoft is really awfully keen that my computer is equipped with the Skype video calling application. And they are making noises about changing my beloved Snipping Tool (perfect for making instant screen shots, some of which find their way into these little pieces).  It's all just tinkering with little marginal bits and pieces and one day these very words will be a footnote to an article in a learned journal entitled "Futility in 21c software development - notes toward a theory of pointlessness" or some-such and a jolly good read it will be.