Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Once more the chugging of pistons ...

Six years ago the Metropolitan Railway celebrated 150 years of operations. Steam trains hauling vintage carriages delighted our eyes. This past weekend it was the turn of younger sibling District to reach that venerable age and as usual we had the pleasure of watching the old trains once again.

Metropolitan number 1 was fortuitously saved from the wreckers yards when London Underground (shame on them) were trying to get rid of it some 50 years ago. It was built at the turn of the 19th century to haul the express services from Baker Street to Aylesbury, and beyond to Verney Junction. It led a preserved train of "Chesham" set carriages dating from 1890 and had the electric locomotive Sarah Siddons at the back in case a bit of extra puff was needed.

I loved the driver's enjoyment of his role - he waved nicely to us as he passed - and his bowler hat, waistcoat and red scarf.

The introduction of new signalling systems on the Underground means that there may be no more such runs (unless maybe they stick a modern S stock carriage at the front, which would totally ruin the effect). Indeed, this particular journey only went from Ealing to High Street Ken before turning round, so not a lot of real smoke would have got into the tunnels.

Quaint though the train may be to our eyes, a hundred years ago people really did commute into central London from way out in the countryside in just such a way.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Now we are 5

As each development in technology, over Man's long history, has moved from the conceptual to the implementation so, one can easily imagine, there would always be the same bemusement and scepticism. For example, consider the day that someone, perhaps lying on their back after a hard day's gathering in the late stone age and contemplating the smooth boulders in the stream nearby, thought "Hmm, I bet those would roll nicely, wonder if we could improve on them". And then, later that day, having to persuade his jeering friends that, yes, there was some real practical advantage to moving a dead mammoth on some little round stones rather than the traditional way of shoving it on to a sledge and letting the women pull it.

So it must be with the tech wizards of today. They pore over circuit designs and blueprints, millions of lines of computer code and tiny electronic components and think "Hmm, if we connected this bit to that bit and put a few micro-volts through it, it would be really cool, right?". And then they look out of the window of their glass towers over the teeming masses below and think "But how the hell are we going to convince those dumbos to buy it?"

Today we are at one of those fascinating moments. Today it is possible to buy a smartphone with 5G capability and to connect to a network (in a few cities, for now) that offers it.  Today, as I learn in The Guardian, you can at last achieve the undoubted Holy Grail of technology, download a movie in seconds using 5G.

The "download a movie in seconds" test has been one of these memes that haunt the smartphone age. Every time there is an improvement in network and processor speeds then the only thing that anyone can think about as to why it matters is how fast a movie can be sent from server to phone. You still have to watch it in real time, of course, but that small point is clearly irrelevant. Like a child screaming "I want it now" as it passes a sweet shop, the movie-consumer is, it seems, motivated only by the transfer time.

There are those of us, and, I suspect, perhaps a very large number, who actually don't care about either watching movies on our phones or, if we do like to watch, are not that bothered if it takes a few minutes or seconds to acquire them, or even if you have to set it up to download overnight (just like we did back in the dark ages of the internet for almost everything, all those centuries decades a few years back). We don't admire and use this technology to watch bloody movies. We use our phones to keep in touch, to check on transport and the weather, to look things up or just follow the news. Yes, once we all have 5G no doubt we will become used to it and start taking it for granted. But it is hard right now to summon up any excitement. And as to paying £60 a month plus for the right to download a film, that I will never have the patience to watch, a bit faster than I can do now ... well, let us return to our chums squatting over their roast mammoth and idly rolling roundish stones up and down the banks of the river.
"This, what do you want to call it, wheel thingie? I mean, it rolls around sure but what it's actually for?" ponders Og.
"What's it for?" replies Ug, sucking out the last of the marrow-bone and tossing it for the kids to fight over "Dunno. But tell you what, my old son - we could paint a totemic design on the side, sort of black and white pattern, be pleasing to the gods that will".
The light of inspiration reaches Og's shaggy-browed eyes. "You mean - a go faster sticker?"
"Yeah. And we could have races, you know, see which one hits the water first."
"With valuable prizes for the winner"
"Got it in one. And as this is my very first formulation of this vitally important idea, I'm going to call it - formulation one racing. Which I now own, by the way,"

I am now eagerly awaiting the arrival of 6G. A system so fast, so clever, so well-attuned to our needs that it will stream the movies straight into our brains for us to watch at our leisure later.  The fact that 99.99% of them will be worthless American dross need not concern us. It certainly doesn't seem to bother anyone wandering London right now marvelling at how fast they can download them.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Khan: It's me or else

From our correspondent lurking around the bazaars in Karakorum in the hope of not being seen

President Genghis Khan of the Mongolian Republic formally opened his campaign for re-election last night at a gathering of clans near his pleasure dome at Xanadu. Although the president does not, strictly speaking, have to go through the process, since anyone declaring themselves a candidate is automatically classified as a Chinese-loving foreign devil in league with the sinister western powers of the Holy Roman Empire and the Aztecs, and hence disqualified under the Head Chopped Off By Scimitar Act, nevertheless he likes to keep up what he calls the "quaint traditions of the morons who voted for me".

The President began his address by tossing the freshly severed head of an opponent into the arena with the exultant yell "There's more where that came from". He followed it up with a blistering attack on the Pope, the Shogun of Kobe, the priests of Angor Wat who refused to let him knock down the temple for a new camel-racing track and anyone capable of reading or writing on the grounds that sooner or later they would write something about him that he didn't like.

Under the slogan of Let's Make Mongolia Greater By Destroying Everyone Else, Khan led his tribesmen in the chanting of "What do we want? A Horde" "What colour shall it be? Golden" before announcing that the result of the first opinion poll was:

       G. Khan (Progressive All-Mongolian People's Slaughter 'Em All Party) - 100%
       Everyone else - 0%.

He said that despite the encouraging results, he was not complacent and still needed campaign funds. The basis of donation was simple, he went on, everything you own plus what you can steal from your neighbours. These funds were needed not only to counter the lies of everyone else in the entire world who seemed to think he was no more than a blustering lying tyrant but to build another ten stately pleasure domes, one for each wife, as well as the long-awaited Great Wall of Mongolia to keep out the Chinese.

When an advisor pointed out that the Chinese already had a Great Wall of their own to keep out the Mongols, Khan was not ruffled. Playfully severing both of the hapless official's arms, he joked "I wanna build another wall on top of the first two and then put a few pleasure domes on top of that. That's what the Mongolian Hordes want. Or, if it isn't now, it damn well will be once I've shown them what the alternative will mean for their families. "

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Khan: Prince John's son would make an excellent king

President Genghis Khan, the leader of the Mongolian States, has intervened in English domestic politics ahead of his controversial state visit to London. writes our correspondent (who had been found hiding in his cellar in Genoa and was shipped back in a galley to complete his posting in Karakorum). Khan, who we last covered in these columns a while back, was quoted as saying "This John is really an excellent leader, his skills at diplomacy, his popularity amongst the nobility, his passion for justice and fair treatment of the peasants all make him the sort of man I can do business with. And when the time comes for him to leave office, say with a few arrows in his back or being drowned in the Wash or having a surfeit of lamphreys, then I'm sure his son, John's son, will also be a fine leader who will do everything my son Kublai tells him will work harmoniously with my successor to glorify the Mongol empire to strive for world peace.  See what I'm saying here, feller? No? You want to go to on seeing or would you like to beg for alms at the Dung Gate for the rest of your life? Hey, now you're getting it"

Whilst in England the president is expected to enjoy his favourite sport of playing golf with the heads of anyone he has fallen out with as well as a state visit to Wales to burn a few Welshmen. Suggestions that England become a vassal state of the Mongol Empire have been played down, Khan merely observing that "If we need somewhere to sell our chlorine-washed camels then I think we all know who's gonna be buying them, know what I mean?".

Asked about the former ruler of England, King Richard, who has been struggling to hold onto power for several years, Khan said "I hear he's still in jail somewhere in Europe. Best place for him. I told him to come to my summer palace at Xanadu to kiss my feet in total submission and the bastard refused. Now, I never hold a grudge, I have total respect for my fellow rulers but let me just say this: if he wants to be ransomed then there ain't gonna be a whole lot of cash coming down the Silk Road to bail him out, no sirree"

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Election Fever

Excitement is at hurricane level here in the streets of beautiful Ruislip, (reports our correspondent). Since dawn a long queue of eager voters have patiently waited for the polling stations to open. Flasks of coffee have been passed down the lines while smiling policemen have posed for photographs with the many street urchins drawn to the noise and bustle of this great state occasion. Trees are plastered with election posters and many in the streets proudly wear the rosettes of their chosen party. Surely the good people of this ancient borough have drawn together in strength and unity to celebrate their magnificent heritage .....

Umm, we interrupt our correspondent who has possibly failed to do sufficient research into the subject and seems to be relying on news stories relating to other elections in other countries, possibly from many years ago. Here is a more coherent report.

The apathy has reached a level that you could stir it with a spoon (reports our new correspondent who is sitting at his desk idly checking out his Facebook page) as the people of beautiful Ruislip drive to work, commute into central London, go shopping or take the kids to school on a typical and rather pleasant May morning. Some may vote today. Most will not. It makes not a jot of difference to anything at all. These are the elections for the European Parliament, an organisation that Britain will leave as part of its withdrawal from the European Union. Nobody has the slightest interest in anything the successful candidates may say or do. They never had much interest in the days when Britain was a keen member. The power in the EU continues to be with the governments of the 27 continuing members and, even should the referendum result of 2016 be overturned, will still be so albeit with a much diminished UK voice added.

Our Editor adds: The results will be known on Sunday and may or may not be brought to you here depending on whether any of our correspondents can be arsed to find out what they are.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

French rails old and new

Been a while since my last post. Part of the reason is that Mrs C. and I were holidaying in the far south-west of France.We spent a highly enjoyable morning trundling up a mountain side on a cog railway.

This little chap takes you to the top of La Rhune, some 1000m up, overlooking the rolling Pyrenees between France and Spain.  And for those desirous of something a bit more modern, here's a nice tram pic (and you know I can never resist a tram shot) from the centre of Bordeaux.

These trams need some watching - they hurtle around the square seemingly in all directions and with almost no noise.

The holiday was mainly about cruising around the rivers that make up the Gironde estuary and sampling (as one has to, really, so as not to offend the locals) some of the great wines of the region. How we managed to return without needing new and much larger clothes I shall never know.

Friday, April 12, 2019

A Matter Of Some Gravity

In the week that Britain requested, and was granted, a further extension of EU membership whilst attempts to construct a Parliamentary agreement on how to leave continued, the news that a black hole had been imaged for the first time made world headlines.

The first is the culmination of exhaustive efforts to manipulate the views of many disparate people; the second is the culmination of exhaustive efforts to manipulate data obtained from many disparate telescopes.

The black hole in M87
The black hole in London SW1

It would be cheap and easy to suggest that Brexit is the black hole of European politics, that hapless soon-to-be-ousted British PM Mrs May is sucking the life out of her colleagues in the same way that the gravity well of a black hole slows and bends light round it, that time stands still on the edge of the singularity at the heart of a black hole in much the same way that it grinds painfully slowly whenever Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg opens his mouth and that the picture of the utter blackness at the centre of the hole is not dissimilar to to the holes in the brains of those who have convinced themselves that
  1. No deal is better than a bad deal
  2. There are no good deals
  3. Therefore no deal is desirable
  4. Anyway it doesn't matter because it can be "managed"
  5. We haven't the faintest idea what "managed" means or how it would work but hey, it sounds cool and it means we can dump the problem onto someone else because we certainly are not going to spend any time at all in doing any real work into finding a solution.
As I say, to go down this path  would be a slippage of the high standards of journalism that we have sought to maintain for some 15 years in these columns and we shall steadfastly refuse so to do.
[What about the high standard of editorial control? Ed]

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Dr. Commuter helps out ... "A Tory MP"

Dr. Commuter writes:   There are some people in the world who, sadly, perceive a different kind of reality to the rest of us. We doctors call them "loonies". They are to be pitied, rather than condemned. Let us take the case of Mr. MP (real name hidden to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering to his constituents). He does not understand why his party leader is talking to the leader of the opposition in an attempt to reach an agreement on how Britain should leave the EU. "Why, oh why is this necessary?" asks Mr. MP.

The answer is that a minority administration, that, after two and a half years, has failed to negotiate a settlement for Britain leaving the EU that Parliament will accept, should either resign or find common cause from other parties in Parliament. There, that wasn't so hard to understand was it? Now take a lot of tablets, go and lie down and hopefully stay that way whilst the grown-ups make some decisions.

If you have a pressing matter that you have procrastinated over for a ridiculous amount of time whilst knowing all along that you were getting it wrong then you are welcome to ask Dr. Commuter for advice but we warn you, you probably won't like the answer. Terms and conditions most definitely apply, subject to an indicative vote, cross-bench support and a great many points of order.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Go on, say you're sorry.

500 years ago a small band of Spanish thugs and some local allies arrived at the capital of the Aztec empire, the city of Tenochtitlán that is now Mexico City, and began the process that would put an end to the indigenous culture of an entire people. Though almost entirely motivated by greed and savagery, they got one thing right - the Aztec religion was based on warfare and human sacrifice. If it existed today, it would be the subject of the sort of attention that the fanatics of the "Islamic State" have recently received.

What makes me bring up this topic (and it was part of my special subject for A level history so I do know a little bit about it) is the story in today's Guardian that the president of Mexico has written to Spain's king Felipe VI asking for an apology for all the nastiness of the conquest. The Spanish government has rejected the idea. They could, of course, have acceded with something on the following lines.

"Dear El Presidente,
I hope you are well, we are all quite well here and looking forward to the summer hols.
My mum told me I am awfully sorry about the bad things that were done long ago by some of the big boys and promise not to do it again, really, even though it wasn't me and it wasn't my fault. I accept that you will stop my pocket money until the royal palace has been reconstructed.
Felipe R.

That might be enough to prevent hordes of swaggering, sombrero-wearing banditos from marching on the Spanish embassy before firing bullets into the air, swigging tequila and then slumping down in front of the cantina as a protest but it will surely open the floodgates. What else might we expect?

  • Descendants of King Harold demand compensation from Queen Elizabeth II for an eye-related injury caused by her distant ancestor.
  • "Romans must apologise for Iceni massacre" says leader of Norfolk Council.
  • The RSPCA sues God for forcing animals into unnatural living conditions on the Ark
 and no doubt you can think of others.

If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this piece and need counselling or if you feel you have the basis for a valid claim against any historical personage on any grounds whatsoever then call us now. Terms and conditions apply and will be based on either current or historic laws according to whatever is most to our advantage. Claims against fictional characters, aliens from Tharg and anyone from before the Ice Age will not be considered.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Dr. Commuter advises ... Mrs June*

* name disguised  

Dr. Commuter writes: Some times what seems perfectly rational behaviour to one person can, in reality, be obsessional and self-destructive. Symptoms include a refusal to accept what is apparent to everyone else, the belief that everyone else must be mistaken despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and the delusion that if something is repeated enough times it becomes true.

Recently I have been working with a lady whose high-powered position in public life means her anonymity must be protected. I have therefore used the back entrance to No 10 Downing Street and only the Cabinet Secretary has been privy to our meetings. Treatment begins with trying to reach an agreed starting point and then building up in stages as I win round the patient's confidence. For example I might say "It is a nice day today", to which she replies "Yes it seems to be".

I say "I did enjoy last night's EastEnders, such a richly realistic portrayal of everyday life" and she will nod approvingly.

Then I make the first attempt to alter her perceptions.
"Such a shame that your plan to leave the EU is being rubbished on all sides, isn't it?".
This is what we doctors call the moment of putting the boot in. From now on it could go one of two ways. If the patient is on the road to recovery she will say "You are absolutely right, what was I thinking of, I have nearly done great and utterly unnecessary damage to my country, I will think again". But if she replies "I am right, everyone else is wrong and all my enemies will be as dust beneath my chariot wheels for surely God will smite them for their disbelief" then, alas, I must book a further set of appointments and ask her to delay the Brexit process for another few months.


If you have any questions for Dr. Commuter please sit on them for a while as it does appear that the anonymous patient whose condition is discussed in this column is going to need a great deal of attention in the near future.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Poetry Corner

A type of short poem called a "Cherita" has recently come to my attention. Created in 1997 by Ai Li (who is also, I learn from her website, an evidential spiritualist medium) it take the form of a one line, two line and three line stanza. This makes for very short pieces indeed and you might think that if you buy one of her books you will get at least one of these fragments per page. Not so. Every other page is blank so that "the reader can pause and for the words to echo in the after silence"

Here is an example of a Cherita (I hope it is ok to reproduce but as it was on a flyer widely distributed in a public space I don't see why not). Starting each line in lower case seems to be the norm with this style, by the way.

your reading glasses

are still
where you left them

on an old page
the silverfish
miss you

I am not able to insert a blank page here because, well,  because this is a column on a Google blog not a printed book, so you'll just have to pause and imagine one while the words echo in the after silence. I find myself thinking about how I would go about squishing the silverfish and then trying to get the stains off the old page, and probably sitting on your reading glasses but that just serves you right for leaving them on the sofa in the first place.

I think the echoes will have died down by now and you should have the idea of Cheritas, and assuming the spirits are happy (Is there anybody there? No, I didn't really think so) here are a few of my own to get you pausing. Don't forget to add an after silence, length optional, as you read each one.


the computer monitor

is black
and not responding

oh why do these
windows updates
take so bloody long?


i hear a knock

is it the

no, it is
just another
pizza delivery leaflet


the platform is crowded

my train is not

many eyes strain
upward but the indicator board
gives no answer


masterchef is on the telly tonight

it would be nice to
have some peanuts

but there are none
the house


I think that's enough to be getting on with. If you would like to see your own efforts published in these columns please send them in to the usual address. Terms and conditions ... oh sod it, let's do this properly

terms and conditions apply

the editor's
decision is final

no correspondence
can be entered into
so don't waste our time with it, ok?

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Identity Crisis

The Government's proposal to institute an age check on UK internet users who wish to visit pornographic websites is so staggeringly inept it would defy belief - would it not that these are the same people making our country a laughing stock over Brexit. They have, it appears (but this may not be confirmed) entrusted the verification process to a US business called MindGeek (and that name alone should put the shivers up anyone who cares about the misuse of personal data). MindGeek, I learn from The Guardian is itself in the pornography business through its ownership of a number of websites. It will run the checks through another subsidiary AgeID*

Apparently if you want to look at naughty things in future you must either supply your passport or driving licence or similar to AgeID or - and this really does make my mind boggle - buy a pass from your friendly local newsagent which will be valid on a particular device. Yes. Your newsagent.

Scene: A small village. A newsagent. At the counter Mr Jones busies himself marking up papers for delivery. Enter Mr Smith, a little nervously. He speaks quietly so that the old ladies having tea in the corner cannot hear.

Jones: "A fine morning to you, Mr Smith. How is young Jayne's rash doing?"
Smith "Clearing up thanks, Mr Jones."
Jones "And what can I do for you today? Your usual gums and a lottery ticket?"
Smith "Yes, yes of course... but actually I was wondering ... er, my friend was wondering ... he is doing some, ah, research, into art, yes, that's it, art, and there are certain websites he needs to visit and apparently for some of them he needs to prove his age and has to come here to have it done, as it were. He can't make it - he's laid up with the gout, poor chap - so he asked me if I could just get one of these pass things for him. To go on my iphone, which I shall be lending him later on. Er, you needn't tell Mrs Smith, she disapproves of art"
Jones "Yes of course Mr Smith. Your - er, your friend's privacy - is assured at all times. ENID, MR SMITH AT NUMBER 38 WANTS A PORN PASS, WHERE HAVE YOU PUT THEM?"

The stupidity of the Government, or whoever is advising them, lies in the following:
  • Giving huge amounts of sensitive personal data of UK citizens to an American commercial enterprise can only end badly. Unless AgeID is based here and controlled by responsible UK citizens subject to UK law then we might as well put the whole lot on the internet for sale to the highest bidder. Which will happen anyway as soon as this outfit gets hacked.
  • Giving the data to an outfit that has a vested interest in as many people seeing pornography as possible is like asking the Mafia to advise on a new anti-racketeering initiative.
  • What on earth stops an adult (say an 18 year old) handing his phone to his 17 year old mate and saying "Have a look a this, it's brilliant"?
  • What will stop the computer literate from signing up to a Virtual Private Network service, which will then obscure their IP address and spoof it such that the websites they subsequently connect to will not be able to identify them as UK-based?
  • The scheme relies on some sort of block being put in place by UK ISPs. Will they really be able to act quickly as new websites pop up to replace each one that is blocked?
  • And given the dreadful events in New Zealand, isn't it obvious that the real threat to us all is hate and extremism?

* Not to be confused with the highly respectable charity AgeUK, for which your correspondent used to do voluntary work.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Joined-up Banking

I bank with Barclays (they gave me a clipboard when I signed as a student half a century ago and I'm still grateful). Today their normally reliable mobile banking service has failed and social media is full of angry comments from my fellow customers. Barclays has not got a lot to say about it on Twitter but did amend the front page of their main personal banking website to provide an update. It looks like this:

As you can see (if you bother to click on the image to see it full size), it acknowledges a problem and invites a visit to the service status page to find out more. I don't know if they were hoping that nobody would take them up on this but here at Ramblings we take nothing for granted and, full of trepidation but determined to plumb this matter to its murky depths, we did indeed visit the aforementioned page. And this is what we found:

Hey. Whoa there. Nothing to see here, right. Just move along. Everything is just fine. We haven't bothered to update this page for four days but that's totally acceptable in an industry where the simple clearance of a cheque takes about as long.

You might think that the person who wrote the message for the main web page would have updated the service status page as well. Maybe the pressure of penning those few lines was too much for the poor chap. Perhaps he couldn't go on with it any more and even now is standing on a ledge high above Canary Wharf contemplating a bleak future whilst his colleagues, the wind whipping at their ties, edge carefully out with arms linked.

"Don't do it Johnson" shouts the Personnel Manager "Think of the firm's outing. There's some fresh blotting paper just arrived in Stationery. Come back and we'll all chip in to update that dreadful status page."

Will he do it? I'll have another look at the service status page sometime and maybe let you all know.

Monday, February 25, 2019

How Low Can You Get?

Travellers wishing to take the scenic and rather relaxing Chiltern Line north of Harrow-on-the-Hill may sometimes stray up to the very end of Platform 1 whilst waiting for the next train to arrive. Should they be thinking of a pleasant sit down they need to be warned. Only the very short will find any comfort here. For in this quiet and rather unfrequented part of the station is to be found a bench that no person of normal height is likely to use; unless they wish to incur a severe degree of back ache.

Here is that strangely undersized piece of railway furniture, looking a little like those tiny chairs found in infants' schools when compared to the ordinary benches on the adjacent platform. It's been there for a long time. I can't be the first to have commented on it.

By the way the white triangle at the base of the picture is not a camera error. It is the amazingly bright sunshine of what has become the warmest February day on record, going up to around 20c.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

An Unexpected Destination

Here's something I've never seen before in all my years travelling on the Metropolitan Line. There is a siding at Rayners Lane but it is used exclusively by Piccadilly trains. You might think that maybe this shows there is a problem further down the line toward Uxbridge but whenever there is, then they invariably halt the trains at Harrow-on-the-Hill. Indeed if a Met were to use the siding then it might well screw up the Piccadilly timetable [Not that anyone would notice: Ed]

The services wasn't that good at this time but the Met were keeping very quiet indeed about it. There were delays on the Circle and no doubt these were impacting on the Met as well.  I had to detrain at Preston Road so took the Watford and when I alighted the indicators showed the train behind was for Uxbridge. And so the mystery may never be solved.

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


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.