Saturday, December 22, 2018

Unwanted Help

I received an email from Google informing me that Google Assistant had been downloaded to my smartphone. I had not requested this facility. Not only that, I had set my preferences on Google Play to download nothing unless I requested it.  I looked at the phone and there was a pop-up screen asking for permission to access all the data on my phone and to listen in at all times to anything I said. The alternative was not that I could disable or uninstall it . Oh no, the alternative was that it would go on running anyway but would not be "so helpful".  Realising it was already listening to my under the breath comments, I said "Go away" and, rather obligingly I thought, it put up a message saying "Popping off". I then looked, in vain, for any way to permanently disable the app. I suspect it is running in background whether I want it to or not and that thought is irritating.

You may say that I should be glad of having something that is ready to help. But get a load of this; it put up some suggestions as to how I could use it. The first was "Play Bruno Mars on Spotify". I don't use Spotify, my tastes in music do not include Mr Mars and in any case I have never played music on my phone. I use my little Sansa Clip when out and about, and hi-fi (or headphones when on my pc) when at home.  I think there was something about booking flights as well (yeah, right) and also telling me all about my busy (!) schedule.

Google should know all about me and appears to have learned nothing in all of the years that the two of us have been acquainted.  It's amazing, this lack of artificial intelligence.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

On the Face of it

You have to be careful when speed reading on the internet. I was glancing over the news headlines on The Guardian website and saw the following:

That's really good, I thought, basing my snap judgement entirely on the headline and ignoring the bit below. Yes, once upon a time chefs were indeed acne-ridden and spotty. The stresses of the job and the easy temptation to pick at leftovers caused all sorts of facial eruptions. But now a generation used to healthier eating and mindfulness has conquered the pustules and cysts; they can march proudly past the Clearasil on the chemist's shelves and casually scratch their chins without a care.

I even had time to ponder the thoroughness of the Michelin inspectors. Not only do they chomp through banquets of the finest food, swill down the best wines and select the most succulent of the petit-fours in case they feel a bit peckish on the way home, they actually go into the kitchens with a notebook and inspect the visages of the chefs for unsightly warts, boils and pimples. A job for a person with a strong stomach in both senses of the phrase.

Alas, no sooner had I constructed this fascinating image than I realised my mistake, reread the headline and noticed the space after "black". Back to reality.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Dr. Commuter advises ... Boris Becker

Dr. Commuter writes:   This is a sad case. Boris Becker, the teen-age golden boy of tennis back in the 1980s, has not enjoyed similar success with the management of his finances and has been contesting a bankruptcy petition in the English courts. Unusually, his defence had constituted a claim that he had diplomatic accreditation from the Central African Republic and hence immunity from the court action but he has now dropped the claim.

This is not the fighting spirit that won young Becker three Wimbledon titles. The CAR may be a strange refuge for a famous German but there are plenty of other countries to try. Why not declare yourself to be a ship and register in Panama? You can feel free to break any laws you like as you move effortlessly round the world, informing Customs and Coastguards that they can't touch you without creating a serious diplomatic incident. Of course the downside is having to live in a dock.

Or, if you feel you'd like to get chummy with an Australian, team up with wikileaker Julian Assange. I'm told there's plenty of room in the Ecuadorian embassy broom cupboard and you can spend many happy hours arguing about whether Goolagong would have whopped Graf and how to make bratwurst out of wallabies.

Leaving your clothes on a beach and turning up somewhere else in the world has worked for some but may be a bit overworked these days. Perhaps the tried and trusty Saunders defence is the answer - drool a bit, let your hair grow unkempt and forget everybody's name. The court is bound to accept that you have irreversible dementia and let you off. As soon as you are free you can carry on just as you were before and they can't lay a finger on you.

Anyway, whichever strategy you use, do keep in touch. If things turn out nasty here at Commuter Towers, I may be joining you in that cupboard.


If you have any questions for Dr.Commuter do please write to us at the usual address. Ambassadors are welcome as long as they bring an unfeasibly large tray of chocolates with them. Representatives from the Holy Roman Empire have left it too late, sorry. Terms and conditions will be waived upon receipt of a suitable emolument conveyed in a diplomatic bag.

Monday, November 26, 2018

We Have Been Here Before

Some things change and some same exactly as they were. Some fourteen years ago this very column was established with a principal aim of documenting the daily irritations of commuting. At the time my normal journey was on the Piccadilly from beautiful Ruislip into West London. Typical pieces like "New fares, old problems""Communications and Stupidity" and "Not a good morning", to select just three examples from the many penned up to late 2006, expressed the frustration of coping with cancelled trains, trains that were supposed to go to one destination but which were rerouted to another, utterly inadequate information and blatant lies about there being a "Good service" or only "Minor" delays.

This evening a fellow commuter let rip with precisely the same complaints on precisely the same line, indeed at the same station (Acton Town) where many of my pieces were born.

This tweet was one of about ten fired off  by "Lofty" this evening but the picture says it all. A crowd of weary commuters standing on a cold platform waiting for a train when they should by now have been well on their way home.  His invective includes the staff, although to be fair they are as often in the dark about what is going on as the passengers. I went through exactly what Lofty went through one grim evening back in October 2005 and you can read all about it in "Having a Laugh"

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Dr. Commuter helps ... Justin Bieber

The following snippet in today's paper has inevitably been drawn to my attention.

Dr. Commuter writes: -

Young idealistic people often wish to emulate the charismatic 1st century preacher but it is harder than they may think. Firstly, young Justin, you need to spend a huge amount of time studying the Torah and its many commentaries, such as the Talmud.  Fluency in biblical Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek is essential. At least ten years in a theological college should get you started. You will know you are on the first step when you have sufficient knowledge to leave eminent rabbis, who may have spent an entire lifetime on such studies, gasping with your wisdom and deep understanding. But this is merely the beginning.

It is time to start your ministry. Go out into the world and preach the basics of Judaism, just as Jesus did. Gather some disciples who will revere you for your teachings rather than your ability to wear a baseball hat back to front, impressive though this surely is. The occasional miracle may help convince the waverers but be sure to have several independent camera operators on hand to silence the sceptics.

Long robes and sandals are, I think, optional these days and riding an ass into town will be awkward - there are so few suitable parking spaces available - so a low powered motor scooter is acceptable. Oh, and give away all your worldly wealth. Sorry, I should have mentioned this at the beginning. This means all the cash, the houses, the jewellery, the shares in Apple, the Bitcoin stash and the rights to all your musical recordings and writings. Everything, my son, everything. Call me back when you have done this and we can continue your education.


If you have any questions for Dr. Commuter, religious or otherwise, do please contact us at the usual address. Dr. Commuter does not claim to be infallible but does come pretty damn close. Terms and Conditions apply, especially concerning the fate of your immortal soul.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Tube English - 6 Serving

Well, I never. I've been forced to resurrect a sequence from ten years ago, back in the days when I travelled daily on the Tube. I cannot claim any credit for spotting this one, it was delivered to me wrapped in brown paper and ribbons on Twitter, but it is worth logging here where it will be stored somewhat more permanently.

I don't recall the use of the word "serving" in this context before. They used to say things like "there is no service", which refers directly to the trains or "services are suspended" which is the same thing but somehow more elegant. How a train service can serve a station is hard to fathom. You can serve a meal (to a person). You can serve at tennis. A server, in computer terms, can supply data to a client computer that requests it. Service, in the context of the Tube, is supplied to the passengers. What I think the hapless tweeter meant to write was "Piccadilly trains are terminating at Rayners Lane, passengers wishing to continue toward Uxbridge should change there for the Metropolitan", as the BBC Travel tweeter nearly managed to say.

Anyway, as I don't commute any more I shall go on serving up vituperation and contumely from the comfort of my office at home, whilst wondering if dear old Milton was a commuter and whether he might have penned the following

They also serve who only stand and wait
For a non-running service that, if it ran, would be late

A Bit of a Laugh

Last year I watched with some bemusement as the price of bitcoin, the world's largest digital currency, rocketed upward. On December 8th, when it seemed to have hit a new and irresistible high, I warned that the way it was being sold was identical to many other great investment bubbles of the past and there was a very good chance of misery for latecomers to the market.

Just two weeks later and the price had fallen by 40%, and as usual the "experts" were talking about "corrections" and "relieving the pressure" and drawing their silly little graphs to prove that if you extend a line in one direction long enough then it goes over the edge of the paper. "Don't panic", they proclaimed "This is still the future and now that prices have come down it's a wonderful time to buy".

I lost interest in following the fortunes of the currency soon after (apart from writing this little fable to make the point that value is only what someone else will pay for something) only to take a fresh look when this story made it to the news. Oh dear, the price of a bitcoin, that was some $20,000 when I wrote my first bit piece is now about $4,500 and going down. Just think of all those people who cheerfully bought in when it was, say $12000 eighteen months ago, or when it had begun to decline from last December's peak, confident that things could only get better and reassured by the massed ranks of analysts. Hard not to smile broadly, isn't it?

The even funnier aspect is that history is not only repeating itself but those who should know most about it display the greatest ignorance. When the Wall Street crash began in November 1929 the "experts" of the day made all sorts of reassuring comments about "shaking out the lunatic fringe" and "the fundamentals are sound".  I am indebted to for the following gem from John McAfee (a name famous in the IT world for his anti-virus and PC utility software many years ago).

“People have panicked. But there’s no **** need. We’re in a bear market. They suck, yes, and not like a hooker with no teeth,” he urged.“But I’m 73 and have seen this dozens of times in many markets. Bear markets are like Winter. It’s always followed by a glorious Spring.”

I am sure John has more experience with toothless hookers than I do (not difficult really, as I must confess to absolutely none at all in this department, there isn't much call for dentally-deficient ladies of easy virtue here in beautiful Ruislip) but leaving aside his thought-provoking metaphor and the fact that the only reason he is upset is that he now runs a trading business that makes money if digital currencies are doing well and so anything he says is suspect, let us focus on his "I have seen this dozens of times" theme. So what? The Depression of the 1930s lasted until the boom of wartime despite the sage remarks of those who, in 1929, assured the public that share prices could only go higher. There is no magic markets fairy who guarantees that what goes down must come up. If the world's central banks create a digital currency for general commercial use, another story being reported today, and make a micro-payments system widely and cheaply available to the public then Bitcoin and the like will be obsolete at once. No glorious Spring. Not even a few chilly days with blustery showers. Just oblivion, going the way of videotape, the telegram and the flintlock musket.

[Are there going to be any more articles making a pun of the word "Bit" in the title? Should we make this a series? Your readers will want to know: Ed]

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

The case of the passenger (Mr Prosser) who is suing British Airways for allowing a very large man to sit next to him during a long flight is being widely reported. Being hemmed in for some 12 hours has allegedly caused damage to his back. The story is symptomatic of the casual contempt with which transport organisations treat most of their customers. It is one of the reasons I choose not to fly when going abroad.

A BA spokesman reinforced my prejudice with a remark that will probably have his PR department in meltdown. The "customer service manager" (my quotes) is reported as saying:

I regularly walked down the aisle and Mr Prosser was not sat in an unnatural position for an economy seat.
I wonder what, in the opinion of a member of the aircrew, the range of natural positions for an economy seat might comprise? Hunched up miserably with one's knees under one's chin? Half standing, half crouching to relieve the numbing ache in the lower back? Arms high above one's head to allow some blessed circulation of blood to the upper body?

And what might an unnatural position be? Could it be sitting comfortably, with plenty of shoulder room and able to stretch one's legs out in front without kicking the seat in front, and without similar interference from the seat behind? It certainly would be in my book because it is not something I have ever experienced.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Stumped by the Googlies, or something

How refreshing to see a truly British cliché replace the tired old Americanisms. Yesterday I was in despair when the BBC's political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg spoke, during the Today programme, of the ways in which politicians would "step up to the plate".  Not only is this an unnecessary import but it wasn't even used correctly. There is nothing remotely special or demanding about stepping up to the plate. The plate is where a baseball player stands when batting; every member of the team will take his place there facing up to 4 balls before advancing to first base or being out. There is only one way to step up to it and that is to stand up from the bench where you are sitting with the rest of your team, march out into the field and stop when you get there. I suppose they could do it walking on their hands or with the aid of a handy pogo-stick but I doubt if that ever occurs, not really.

Today the Guardian did the right thing as can be evidenced from the clip herein reproduced

It's perfect. A British expression used correctly, conveying the idea of defending with determination against whatever a hostile world may throw. More of them, please.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Brexit: Deal or No Deal?

I wrote the following on 19th September and it seems fairly on the money, given the extraordinary political goings-on of the last few days.

And, speaking of change, we are limping up to the finish line in the botched job that is Britain's exit from membership of the EU. Will there be a last minute deal that satisfies all parties? Or will the die-hards sabotage whatever emerges from the late-night negotiations on the grounds that any deal approved by the EU must, de facto, be detrimental to the UK? I have a horrible feeling that this may the case.
After weeks of "Yes, we will have a deal" and "No, nothing has been finalised", a detailed document has at last been published by the Government and presented to the nation, as well as to the 27 countries comprising the rest of EU, for approval. Almost before the ink was dry, the coffee rings on page 14 had been smudged and the words "Oh bugger" inscribed on page 92, pages 145-167, the whole of Part II and most of the Appendix, then the arch-Brexiteers were ready with Cabinet resignations, letters of no confidence in Mrs. May and ringing declarations that the deal was the worst possible outcome and they could have done a much better job. The little inconvenience of the fact that B. Johnson and D. Davis and others were senior Cabinet ministers for much of the time that the negotiations have been supposed to be going on seems to have been passed over. Perhaps they were doing nothing at all but writing endless drafts of letters of no confidence and the like, ready for the big moment when they could express their shock and horror at whatever deal was reached.

I suppose, to be fair, the unease in the Labour party and the outright disapproval of the SNP mean that there is much in the deal to have shock and horror about. I haven't bothered to read it on the grounds that it may be binned within a few days.

I doubt if Britain has been as poorly treated by its political leaders for a very long time. We have a polarisation of positions that is unbridgeable. From those who, as hinted in my earlier piece, will reject anything that the EU accepts on principle to those who will nitpick about everything, to those who are attempting to cobble something, anything, together to avoid the nightmare of a no-deal, to those who wish we had never got ourselves into the ludicrous state, there is no common ground.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Dr. Commuter helps ... Marks and Spencers

Yes, I'm sure we are all desperate to know the answer to this age-old stumper. What, indeed, makes Christmas, Christmas? A top level team here at Ramblings has been fully engaged with research into this most vital of questions for at least the last four seconds and I can now exclusively reveal their findings.

Our conclusive results are expressed here as succinctly as possible so that you can get on with the rest of your busy lives and not waste any more time scratching your heads, possibly failing to hear the phone with a last minute order that could mean make or break for your business and consequently being sacked, breaking up with your spouse and falling into a life of misery amidst the dustbins at the back of Ruislip station. Or does that sort of thing only happen to our editor? [It was only once and I'm over it now, OK? Ed]

The answer is:

a):   It's because of whatever we choose to do on Christmas
b):   Er, there's no need for a b because the a was so great*
c):   That's all folks

By the way, I have not bothered to screen the video that was packaged in the tweet shown above so I have not the faintest idea whether they managed to answer the question all by themselves and I couldn't care less anyway.


If you have any questions for Dr. Commuter please send them to the usual address. Terms and Conditions do not apply between now and Black Friday but we cannot undertake to do anything about your questions until afterwards, at which point they will apply again and with renewed force.

* With thanks to Rik Mayall from whom I have lovingly ripped off this line

Monday, November 12, 2018

Will They Never Learn?

I've written once or twice in these august columns about the blatant gap between the claims made for Artificial Intelligence and the reality, particularly when it comes to communications from web-based businesses to people like me. Or, in fact to me (I don't know what they send to people like me but it is probably similar). Prompted by no less than three dull emails received this morning I am prepared to return to this topic.

PayPal are keen for me to fill in a survey. The purpose is
to help us better understand your business and payment needs
I don't have any business needs that are any of their concern. I do not trade. They know this. Nothing I say can better their understanding because, to relapse into database terminology for a moment, if you add any number to null it is still null.

They are not offering payment for their estimated ten minutes of my valuable time, only the chance to receive a £5 Visa Virtual Reward. I have no idea what this is and the amount is hardly tempting so I am inclined to fill in a Virtual Survey rather than the real thing. Here we go.

Virtual Survey Question #1: May we ask you questions about your business and payment needs?
Answer: No.

My old friends TripAdvisor are terribly impressed with my ranking vis-a-vis the other researchers based in beautiful Ruislip (Yes, I managed to convince them I was not a resident of Crymych). I am, it seems, placed at number 34 in the list. I think this is jolly good and worthy of a glass of champagne but they are not offering to supply one, the miserable sods, Instead they want me to write another review and if I do - and my knees are still knocking at the prospect in offer - they will advance me to the glittering and hitherto unheard-of heights of number 33!  I will do my best but they will have to excuse my shaky handwriting.

And finally an electronic missive from Sainsbury's, a supermarket that Mrs C. and I patronise on a fairly regular basis.  With the strapline "Be the first to see our Xmas ad" it goes on thus:
To say thanks for shopping with us as much as you do, we've picked you out to see our new Christmas ad before tomorrow's big reveal on ITV at 7.45pm. So let us set the scene, then get watching - there's some behind the scenes footage for you to enjoy too.
If they want to thank me for being a regular customer they've got a bloody funny way of showing it. I dislike ads in general (as even casual readers of this blog might gather). As Sainsbury's know perfectly well from their records, there is a very high probability that I will do my Xmas shopping there. Only an adman could think that a Xmas ad could be a source of excitement. Only a stupid adman could think there was any point in advertising something to someone who is a regular customer anyway. I lack the words to describe someone who appears to think that giving me the opportunity to watch an ad before it is screened on TV is a reward for my long-term custom. Perhaps I might borrow the phrase used by one of the candidates in the current series of The Apprentice to describe the business acumen of one of the others - "Less than a frozen pea".

Friday, November 02, 2018

A Bridge Too Far

Mayhem on the roads in beautiful Ruislip today. Two serious accidents this morning, one in Ickenham and one in South Ruislip and now this afternoon another one (or perhaps two) in the same spot as the second, at the the low bridge outside South Ruislip station.  (Information from the local group on Facebook and pic courtesy of Google Maps).

The roads cut are lifelines to the A40; thanks to RAF Northolt that sprawls right across the southern border of the town, there are not many main roads in that direction. Meanwhile Breakspear Road to the north-west is closed (yet again) for HS2 work.  I'm rather pleased to have given up my volunteer job for Age UK earlier this year - this involved driving all round the borough collecting donations for the shops. There is a peculiar kind of stress associated with being stuck in traffic, not knowing what is going on, how long it may last or what alternatives may exist, compounded when you are made late for an appointment. I'm glad not to have any of that any more.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Icy Hand of Fate

There's nothing like being reminded of one's mortality, particularly on a wet Monday morning, as Mrs C and I surveyed our garden after torrential rain the night before. It is often thought preferable to adopt a more optimistic, life-affirming approach to the start of a new week. This is not the philosophy of the admen (or perhaps adwomen, let's call them adpeople and move on) who advise a well known price comparison website. (You know the one, Examine the Muskrat or something). Instead, they have clearly made a serious effort to get the "Non-Sequitur of the Year" award by sending me an email with the strapline "Get ready for a winter of fun" and following this with the remarkable statement
Make sure your life insurance is in place today so you can enjoy all the fun that winter will bring.
 I don't really need to be reminded to get ready for fun. Fun is the very essence of the Ramblings household's existence. It's non-stop fun from morning until late at night and we don't stop just because the first snowflakes are falling. Far from it. The moment the roads ice up, flights are cancelled and the A & E departments fill up with flu sufferers, we are out there, driving over black ice, chasing dogs across frozen lakes,  going out without a vest on and all the other madcap fun things one does in winter.

So it was timely, nay, helpful, to be reminded that one could enjoy all this fun even more with a bit of life insurance. Then it really wouldn't matter if we died screaming as the car skidded across the carriageway into an oncoming gas tanker, or we lay coughing up our lungs in an overcrowded ward where the medicine had run out because it was waiting to be cleared through customs (thanks, Brexit). We could die happy because someone else would inherit even more cash than they would have done anyway (assuming the life assurance company paid out - presumably they would have get-out clauses that exempted them from any payment if the death was our fault, and doing anything fun-like in winter probably counts).

I suppose what the adpeople wanted me to think was "'Ere, hold on a mo, I was going to attempt the North Face of the Eiger in winter (again)  but I won't really enjoy it, scrambling up the Hinterstoisser Traverse in a blizzard and rocks raining down, not unless I've put some life insurance in place. I'll just be worrying myself sick instead. I'll take out a policy. There, now I can break my neck and everything will be alright, nobody cares if I live or die provided I leave them something to spend".

It would have been far more helpful had the email said something like "Don't take any stupid risks this winter. Avoid dangerous winter sports, Wrap up warm. Drive carefully (if you have to drive at all) and let's all be here for the spring". But then I wouldn't have panicked and bought life insurance, would I?

Anyway, let assure my correspondents that I am absolutely ready for a winter of fun, just as ready as I would have been without their reminder, in fact. And I look forward to a spring of jollity, a summer of festivity and an autumn of unrivalled entertainment. So that's that.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

I'll just make a note of that

I have had my share of digs at Microsoft over the years. I keep trying to kick the habit - really, it's all down to will-power - but can you blame me for having another go when the following pops up on my Facebook feed?

If you don't know, the "Surface" referred to is a laptop computer but, as they say in one of my favourite films Airplane, that's not important right now. Let your mind boggle gently on the assertion that "Employees lose 76 hours a year looking for lost notes". It is so breathtakingly stupid that it deserves some serious analysis and could only have come from the same creative geniuses that gave us "The New Busy".

  • The source of this information? Not given. 
  • Who are these mysterious employees who spend so much time rummaging through filing cabinets, emptying waste-paper baskets and interrogating their innocent colleagues about who walked off with their precious scraps of paper? We don't know.
  • Who do these people work for? What do they do? Does this "research" apply to farmers, bus-drivers, soldiers, shop assistants, factory workers, miners, coastguards, traffic wardens and TV comedians who present travel programmes? Or just to a few people who happen to work for Microsoft and who are unbelievably disorganised and poorly managed. (Sarcastic voice off: That would be the people responsible for Windows 10 updates, would it?)

This sort of stupid generalisation is neither true nor helpful. If it is meant to be some sort of average, then, given that "employees" has not been defined, it must apply to all employees worldwide. Which, given that the vast majority probably do not do much in the way of making notes (see some of the examples of occupations listed above) suggests that a small number spend an amazing amount of time scratching their heads and pondering why the Post-It they carefully stuck on their computer monitor is no longer there - hundreds if not thousands of hours a year. How on earth do they hold down their jobs? How did they get them in the first place? - Surely they would never have made it to the interview because they would have lost the note telling them where to go.

Perhaps the next advertisement could include the following.  Every statement is verified by the Ramblings Research Institute and absolutely not made up, honest.

  • Employees spend 93 hours a year watching their computers boot up, display little blue circular things to indicate that the processor is too busy doing something else than to accept any commands from you and reading security updates that merely redirect them to webpages containing pages of endless gobbledegook about "security issues being addressed".
  • Employees spend a further 35 hours a year reinstalling drivers that the latest Windows update has uninstalled, calling IT Support to find out why their network connectivity has gone down and throwing coffee mugs at the screens at yet another message asking them if they wish to trust a printer.
  • Some employees waste an astonishing 114 hours and 18 minutes a year reading, gawping at and finally reacting with contumely to moronic advertisements by certain large firms who, unable to explain why we should buy their products clearly and simply, resort to invention and misinformation.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Hold Everything, This One Is Hot!

I'm still a little a-tremble with excitement. One of the emails sent to me today was from Skoda UK, with whom I recently transacted a little business. It tells me - are you sitting down and have you carefully put down any hot cups of tea or coffee that you might have been holding? These little precautions are important, you know - it tells me that  - do you know, even now, some moments later, it makes me catch my breath just a little - it tells me that - No, I cannot contain myself any longer ...

We've updated our Privacy Statement

Of course I rushed to open the brand new, updated, Privacy Statement and printed it out for comparison, line by line,  with the previous one (and what a thundering good privacy statement it was, one of the best I have read in many a long year) . I underlined in red ink all the changes, made appropriate markings for the spelling mistakes and errors in grammar and finally translated the whole lot into Latin so that it can be transcribed upon a granite monolith to be erected at the edge of my estate for all to admire.  I do hope this is the reaction that the PR people at Skoda were expecting.

[Some of the above is not strictly true. For further information about the slight exaggerations in the piece, and for a complete word by word exegesis of our Privacy Statement do contact us at the usual address. Terms and Conditions undoubtedly apply and these are available in our Terms and Conditions Statement which has not been updated for a while and that is why we have not bothered to send you an email informing you of such changes but rest assured, we will; provided that, by so doing, we are not in breach of our Privacy Statement in which case we will update it first and send you a lovely long chatty email telling you all about it: Ed]

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Winds of Change

It has been a splendid summer (if you like lots of sunshine) and a rather difficult one (if you are a keen gardener) but certainly a great contrast to most of the last few years when dullness, chill and rain (especially over Bank holidays) seemed the norm. All over now. The first big storm of the season - Ali - is battering the north of these isles and even here in beautiful Ruislip 40mph gusts are giving us a lively morning.

There is no longer a goldfish population for me to worry about; instead Mrs C and I have installed a large pot as a central feature of the garden. We've put a load of old bricks in the base to keep it steady and now it faces its first test amidst the rising winds.

And, speaking of change, we are limping up to the finish line in the botched job that is Britain's exit from membership of the EU. Will there be a last minute deal that satisfies all parties? Or will the die-hards sabotage whatever emerges from the late-night negotiations on the grounds that any deal approved by the EU must, de facto, be detrimental to the UK? I have a horrible feeling that this may the case.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Heads we win, tails we win.

My mother-in-law is not in the best of health and is living in a care home. On her behalf, Mrs. C and I opened a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions concerning her entitlement to Attendance Allowance. One of the sections is about changes to personal circumstances that they need to know and included in the list is the following (and remember this is addressed directly to my M-I-L, not to us):

If you become incapable of managing your own affairs
This has to be a classic example of Joseph Heller's Catch-22*. For if one is not capable of managing one's affairs then one is hardly likely to be able to digest a long Government letter let alone send a reply. And if one does make a reply to say that one is not capable, this surely would be deemed proof of capability.

We aim to sidestep this conundrum by explaining that she is not capable of managing her affairs, but that we are.

* For those unfamiliar with the origin of this now well-known phrase, it was the trap that ensnared Heller's protagonist - an air force pilot in the second world war desperate to avoid going on another, extremely dangerous, mission. The only outlet was to plead insanity but since only a sane man would make such a plea, it was automatically rejected.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

The Virus On My Computer

I am so used to receiving calls from liars, claiming that there is a problem on my computer and would I kindly let them have unlimited access to it, (such as this one), that it gives me great pleasure to think up ways to baffle and irritate them. Today I made a breakthrough. The phone rang and there was the customary silence before someone with a distinctly foreign accent asked if I was the "principal user of the computer" and then, ignoring my answer, began his spiel about my computer having been hacked and being a source of viruses.

At this point I had one of those lightbulb moments. "Yes" I untruthfully replied "I am the one who hacked it and filled it full of viruses".  I was about to launch into a detailed list of some of them and the awful things that they would do his systems if he was foolish enough to attempt to connect to mine but he panicked and rang off at once. I think he might have thought that I could send a virus down the phone.

I think it not a bad idea to have a ready made list of fictitious malware that one can quote back at these people so here are a few to get going with:
  • Slicer
  • Destructo-B
  • Moneygrab
  • Bye-bye Bytes
  • Tharg triple-tested
  • Deathstrangler
  • Boaty McBoat Face
  • Atahualpa's Revenge
  • Heavy Roller
  • Krusher2018
And no doubt you can come up with some of your own. Happy inventing.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Dr. Commuter advises ... Tesco

This plaintive cry for help was part of an advertisement for Tesco's home delivery service. Why come home to an empty fridge indeed? A top level team at Ramblings has been tasked with finding out the answers and here they are.

  1. Shop once a week or so, fill up your fridge with the food that you need and, amazingly, you won't come home to an empty fridge. But see 2.
  2. Is your problem that, the moment you fill up your fridge, the lodgers raid it and leave it empty? Dr. Commuter suggests that you evict them forthwith
  3. Don't go out to work then you won't need to come home.
  4. Don't come home.
  5. Throw away your fridge and store food in a larder, a meat-safe, a cellar and an ice-house built into your grounds. It was good enough for the Victorian aristocracy so it should be good enough for you.

If you have any questions for Dr. Commuter then do please get in touch at the usual address. Terms and conditions do not apply, unless we can think of some in the meantime.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

All Fished Out

Fate has played a cruel trick on us. The day before we were due to travel up north to tour the Isle of Man it became apparent there was a leak in the little pond in the garden and that our resident population of eight fish were at risk. Working at top speed Mrs C and myself bailed it out and retrieved them, using a variety of containers to hold the pond-water and plants. We were amazed to find about a dozen baby fish (not to mention two little newts); there had been very little sign of any breeding activity earlier this year and it has been several years since the last lot of youngsters.

All seemed well with the fish in their emergency accommodation on our return home but, on examination of the pond, everything went horribly wrong. There was a nasty cracking sound under my feet and water began gushing up through a split in the bottom as if we had struck oil. Clearly the water that had been leaking out had not filtered out into the garden but somehow been held under pressure below the plastic pond base. All thought of trying to fix the original leak was gone; the stark choice was to try to rebuild the pond or abandon it and having considered the increasing amount of work needed to keep it going (especially in these dreadful times of heatwave and drought), we plumped for the easy way out.

A brief message on Facebook about the plight of the fish was enough to bring round Kevin (and son), who were happy to add my motley lot to their existing brood, and at a stroke the aquatic population of our garden was reduced to zero (I should add that the newts were nowhere to be found and are regarded as escapees. Good luck to them).

So all the work of cleaning it all out last year and restocking with new plants in the hope of encouraging the fish to breed was simultaneously successful and utterly in vain. Damn and blast! The only good that has come out of it is that I no longer have to worry about endlessly pulling out strings of disgusting slimy algae from the black depths. We shall fill in the pond and plant some suitable damp-loving plants instead.

Stepping back in time on Man

Mrs C. and I escaped the heatwave in the south-east for a few delightful days spent roaming around the Isle of Man. This was our first visit so we did all the usual touristy things but with a special emphasis on the island's heritage transport systems. Horse-drawn trams run along the promenade at Douglas (right outside our hotel bedroom), there is an electric light railway going north from Douglas to Ramsey with a spur that takes you right to the top of Snaefell (and we were lucky to be there on a glorious day of magnificent views and brilliant blue skies) and the steam railway (on a three-foot gauge) runs to the south via the old capital at Castletown to Port Erin.

I haven't put many tram or railway photos up for a while so I'm going to make up for it now. Enjoy!
Summit of Snaefell at 2036'

Electric tram

Steam loco ready to leave Douglas

Horse tram along Douglas promenade

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Yes Minister. Yes, Yes YES, oh yes!

I had not heard of the Minister for Small Business before today and the only reason his name has been brought to my attention is because he has resigned. Ministers are toppling rather fast these days, thanks to the split in the Conservative Party over Brexit that is reminiscent of the old Tory party tearing itself to bits over the repeal of the Corn Laws. However our man has handed back his despatch box and the keys to the Ministerial Rover for a different reason. During the past two weeks he has apparently sent over 2000 text messages of a sexual nature to two ladies, one of whom leaked the story to the Sunday Mirror.

I read the story without giving it much of a second thought because politicians and sexual scandal go together like a long ball forward and a hefty defender intercepting it (if I may shoehorn my final comment on England at the World Cup into this unrelated piece, thanks for bearing with me). I then had a second thought, which was this: How much work is it to send 2000 texts (on several platforms, I may add) in such a short space of time? Presumably our man sleeps and does other things, such as turning up at his office to approve whatever his Permanent Secretary says before enjoying a long lunch at his club and then sitting on the green benches in the Commons nodding vigorously at each twist and turn of Mrs May's vain attempts to hold her fractious party together. So let us assume his messaging is confined to a mere six hours a day.  That means over 23 messages an hour. One every three minutes or so. Almost non-stop pecking away with his thumb whilst. I assume, giving the impression of being really hard at work on important Government business and dealing with the problems of his constituents.This shows real dedication to his craft. Imagine if he had spent all that energy and creativity on assisting small businesses.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

There's a match on tonight ...

and my neighbours in nearby Westholme Gardens have been rather clever.

Whatever the result may be against Croatia, the England team have given a fine account of themselves and made many of us, despairing after so many years of under-performing, proud to support them once more.

Monday, July 09, 2018

At This Grave Hour, Here Is My Pledge To The British People

The resignations of David Davis, as Brexit Minister, and Boris Johnson, as Foreign Secretary, that took place earlier today have naturally led to a significant Government reshuffle. As the number of suitable candidates is not great and the desire of many of them not to undertake a thankless task probably outweighs their interest in holding high office, it is perhaps time for me to make own position clear.

Firstly (and I assume nobody else has gone in the past few minutes whilst I have been marshalling my thoughts and penning these few words typing into my web browser) let me make it clear, no I've already done that bit, umm, at this important time in our great nation's history .... island race ... mother of parliaments ... football's coming home ... Royal family, God bless 'em ... yes, my point is (has anyone else gone yet?) that should Mrs May (assuming she is still Prime Minister when she casts her cool, quizzical and frankly quite sexy look over this column1) seek a candidate for the Cabinet whose grasp of current events surely exceeds those of most of her crew by a pretty considerable margin then she should look no further than the author of these jottings.

I pledge to implement the Brexit that the British people voted for (if somebody could kindly remind me exactly what it was it would be helpful, because nothing any of the Brexiteers says makes the least sense and these guys have had years and years to think it over, discuss ideas with their European counterparts and actually do some real work towards it instead of just posturing) and I will not compromise or fudge on the core issues (whatever they may be and however contradictory); I am convinced of the wonderful opportunities that await us that are evidenced by the huge number of foreign businesses simply queueing up to move to these shores [Researcher: find out if any one at all has actually promised to move here, buggered if I've heard of any] and that the nations of the world are desperate to do business with us, join us in military alliances and find out the secret of our astonishing success at football 2

Here's hoping I can get a seat at the World Cup Final before the next crisis.

[Nobody else has gone in the past ten minutes so it's safe to post up this despatch: Ed]

1. That must be worth a CBE at the very least. If she is still PM.
2. I am no longer on any serious medication

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Those World Cup Predictions - Further Clarification

Once again, it is sadly necessary to revisit the somewhat rash and pessimistic assumptions that underpinned the otherwise entirely factual and accurate suggestions made a few weeks ago, that, by this stage of the World Cup, the England football team would be back home with their duty frees and Mr G. Southgate would be dusting off his CV. This afternoon the team managed to see off Sweden in the quarter-finals and and will play Croatia in the semi-finals this Wednesday.

It is a long time since an England team have been in such a position and there is indeed a fair chance that further progression is possible. This column has no hesitation in saying that, should we manage to do this and then in the final score more goals than the opposition, then surely we will be the winners; if this should not be the case then it will be another team that is. This much is crystal clear and indisputable. We shall rest upon this position and shall not be moved.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Those World Cup Predictions - an Explanation

It has come to the attention of this column that certain prognostications concerning the progress of the England football team during the early stages of the World Cup may have been somewhat inaccurate, not to say downright wrong. This evening the team managed to do things that, frankly, we had begun to believe were beyond them, viz:
  1. Win a quarter final
  2. Win a penalty shootout
That they did so against one of the dirtiest teams (Colombia, who left with six yellow cards and were very lucky there were no reds) I have ever seen (and I recall the Italy of the 1980s) made it all the sweeter. That they had just two shots on target out of sixteen (according to the BBC, but the more generous Guardian made it five out of fifteen) makes it somewhat less sweet; indeed your correspondent had abandoned watching the match during the second half and relied on the noise from the neighbours for updates right through extra time and the penalty process.

It was possible to keep tabs from the feedback outside because so many were watching this outdoors on one of the hottest nights of the year. For the record, June and now early July have been amazingly warm and consistently dry, with temperatures in the high 20s most afternoons.  It has been the most prolonged period of glorious summer for many a long year, spoilt only by the sheer lack of at least some rain to keep the gardens growing and the grass green. There are hosepipe bans under discussion in Northern Ireland - nothing threatened here yet but a decent drenching would ease things.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Web and the Taxman

Does the taxman really understand IT? I ask because of the following experience in completing my wife's tax return on her behalf. (For those inexperienced in these procedures, everything is handled on-line).

1 - I wished to download the completed return and the calculation of tax due. Both documents were saved by my browser with "PDF" as a suffix but without a "." in front of it, so they failed to open automatically when clicked upon. I corrected this but inexperienced computer users would be fazed and frustrated.

2- At the end of the process there are four options as to where to go when leaving the tax return section of the HMRC website. There isn't one to close it all down so I chose the next best - "Return to Self-Assessment Home page" and got a "Sorry, the link you have followed does not exist".

The actual completion of the tax return is straightforward and the Revenue have done a good job with asking all the questions first so that the right pages can be presented. But there does seem to be something lacking. Like actually testing it all.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Curse of the Scam Caller

I haven't had a scam call for a while. Plenty of silent ones, where, when you pick up there is nothing there at all, but today a genuine attempt was made to penetrate the defences of the Ramblings system. The caller was from "the technical support of Windows" and he was really terribly worried about some problem on my computer (he read his script so fast I couldn't follow all of it). I asked him if he covered all versions of Windows. He said he did. I said that was good because I was running Windows 2 on an Amstrad 256PC. He wondered how I was able to connect to the Internet at all (Quite well informed by the usual standards of these people). I said it worked just fine. He called me a liar. I politely informed him that that was precisely my opinion about him and the conversation was terminated.

Thus far, nothing exceptional. But a few moments later my internet connection went down. Funny, I thought. It came back. Then it went down again. And came back. After a couple more interruptions it seems to be back to normal.

Pure coincidence, of course. Yet a little bit unsettling. Was my friend managing to emit some sort of vibration that interfered with the digital signal on the telephone line? Was he, and perhaps a few of his colleagues with nothing else to do, crouched over a little effigy of your correspondent, sticking pins in and chanting weirdly in an ancient tongue? Or did he shrug, cross my name off the list and go on to the next victim?

If you have had a strange experience immediately after disappointing a scam caller, do please let us know at the usual address.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Back on the Bottle

Here's something that I never thought to see again. We succumbed to the persuasion of a salesman to try having our milk delivered to the doorstep and the first pint has arrived. It has been a long while since we had milk in glass bottles with silver foil tops. Pushing the finger in to free the top prior to prising it off without making a hole and spraying oneself - ah, there's a skill that might have rusted into disuse but, fortunately, the old training and years of experience kicked in and I poured my first dollop into a waiting cup of tea with what I can modestly describe as utter and total success, non-spillage wise.

It does seem strange to have a glass bottle in the fridge instead of the plastic that we have become used to. When I was young the milk arrived daily at almost all houses and the empty, washed, bottles went out on the front step. In beautiful Ruislip it has been many years since I saw either bottles on anyone's step or a milk-float making door to door deliveries. Presumably, if my neighbours adopt the same course as ourselves, these sights may become commonplace once more.

Friday, June 15, 2018

A tomb without a view

Art, and what makes something worthy of being called art, is an endlessly fascinating topic. I have previously ruminated on the strangeness that permits anyone to call themselves an artist and then automatically define anything that they do or create as art - and have this con accepted by others. We have a wonderful example of this intellectual arrogance in today's Guardian where my eye was unerringly drawn to the following story:

Pic: courtesy The Guardian

 Best place for him, you are probably thinking. Shame it wasn't under a quiet road out in the bush then there would have been less disruption to traffic while they excavated the hole, inserted the steel box (and the reclusive gentleman) and then replaced the surface leaving but a slender air-pipe to keep him alive.

Why do such a thing?
According to organisers of Dark Mofo, the artist’s stay underground is a “response to 20th-century totalitarian violence in all its forms”.
I'm sure that all of us, other than dictators wearing silly uniforms, will agree that we are all dead against 20th-century totalitarian violence. Actually, I am prepared to go one step further and hereby proclaim my total rejection of 21st-century totalitarian violence as well. I'm also (and here I know I am so far ahead of my fellow artists that it will be years before my genius is recognised) not at all happy about 18th-century absolutist violence and don't get me started on certain murky goings-on in the later part of the Bronze Age.

Practitioners of 20th-century totalitarian violence are, doubtless, cowering in their bunkers and preparing their monorails for an emergency getaway before our man is hauled up on a freezing Hobart night in front of a vast cheering crowd and starts his encore (I don't know, putting a bag over his face for ten minutes as a response to the price of chewing gum, or something).

What will he be doing whilst underground in total darkness and the buses and trucks rumble overhead?
meditating, drawing, fasting and reading Robert Hughes’s The Fatal Shore.
OK, so not in total darkness. And not in total discomfort as we also learn that a small heater and a thermos (contents not specified) were taken in before the tarmac went back on. So just a long lie-down really. Well, we can all do that. Last night I spent some eight hours lying on my back in near-total darkness with only my wife for company. I fasted for the whole of this period without even the comfort of a well-filled thermos. This morning I ate two slices of toast with marmalade to indicate my total rejection of religious discrimination in 13th-century Spain and drank a cup of tea to indicate my solidarity with the struggles of the Aztec peoples to be free to cut out the hearts of anyone they didn't like very much. Turner prize, here we come.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Extremely Urgent - Our Privacy Statement

I (and probably you as well) have been receiving a stream of emails and letters from businesses about their privacy rules and procedures. This has been prompted by tough new legislation from the EU. Obviously this column does not want to fall foul of the dreaded Euro-Commissars breaking down the door at 4 am and shouting "Your papers are not in order; for you, Britischer schwein, ze blog is over" and so here is our privacy statement. Like all the other notices I have seen it is, of course, incredibly important and urgent and essential even though, like all the others, it does not actually require anyone reading it to do anything.

Your privacy is important to us:- We promise not to disclose any of your personal information. Since we do not actually hold any personal information on anyone this is a pretty easy commitment to keep and we already intend to set up the Annual Ramblings Awards for Jolly Well Keeping to our promise, with a guaranteed prize of a nice cup of tea to the wonderful people responsible.

How we store your personal information:- we don't actually have any (see above) but if we did then it would go into the back of the filing cabinet under R (for "Rather important").

How we gather your personal information:- If you are daft enough to write to us including personal information then we will gather it. By "gathering" we mean putting it into the filing cabinet (see above).

Who is responsible for storing your personal information safely:- All information (not that we hold any, I hasten to add) is under the control of the Editor and, if any criminal prosecutions were to be brought for misuse, then he is the person to be fingered to the rozzers. Nobody else. OK? [I think we need to discuss this: Ed]

How to find out what personal information we may hold on you:-  Write to the usual address and make it worth our while to go digging into the filing cabinet. We promise to reply just as soon as we can be bothered.

How to find out more:- Don't bother, that's all there is.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Exclusive - England at the World Cup 2018

We brought you, several weeks before they happened, the highlights of England's magnificent run in the 2014 World Cup, in which the lads came oh-so-close to a place in the last 16. We covered, several days in advance, the fantastic, nay, incredible, performance at the Euros in 2016 when only the world-beating Icelanders were able to bring an end to our hopes of English hands on that trophy. And now, with the 2018 World Cup just days away, you don't need to waste your time watching or reading about it for, once again, we tell you everything you need to know about :-

England's Road to Glory
as told by our special correspondent1

18 June Volgograd: England 0 Tunisia 4
The Executive stand newly refurbished for the match

On a night of high drama in the seething vortex of hope that was the Rararasputin Stadium in Volgograd, England faced their first crucial game against no-hopers Tunisia. I missed the first few minutes of the game because there was some sort of mix up at the turnstiles A large gentleman wearing a raincoat with the collar turned up suggested I pay him 100 roubles for a "special VIP entrance"; I was a little disappointed to find that this amounted to him shoving me through a hole in a fence at the back of the terracing.

"This is the massive one"  England manager G. Southgate had said at a fairly packed press briefing earlier "We're totally confident. It's hardly worthwhile even picking any substitutes" But that's where it all went horribly wrong. Cheered on by at least 30 passionate fez-wearing followers, Mustafa and Ali had no trouble dealing with Butland2 who remained haplessly rooted in the English goalmouth. The only consolation for the English fans was a two-for-one offer on time-expired Golubtsy burgers which led to an unexpected reunion for many of them in Volgograd Emergency Clinic a little later that night.

Other match:  Panama 4 Belgium 4

24 June Nizhny Novgorod: England 0 Panama 5
Police struggled to hold back the enthusiastic England fans

"This is the big one" said manager G. Southgate at a moderately attended press briefing earlier in the day "We've trained hard for this and we're ready". England made 11 changes for their crucial must-win match against the all-amateur, cigar-puffing Panamanians but found the going difficult in the searing crucible of desire that was the Gulags'R'Us arena.

I did not see as much of the game as I would have liked because there was, apparently, some problem with my accreditation, according to the two policemen loitering in the street who then took me down a side alley in order to check my wallet for terrorist materials. After they confiscated a 200 rouble note ("for checking") they told me to "Go, you go quick" and assisted this process with a helpful push that, fortunately, propelled me through the crowd and, somewhat less fortunately, into (and I mean into) the muddy standing area behind the goal.

Juan and Pepito easily ran rings round the static defence of Stones and Walker. A vast cheering crowd of at least 25 straw-hatted borriqueros made all the noise whilst the English fans consoled themselves with Old Borscht's Vodka, on special offer at the Djugashvili End for just two kopecks a litre (and stomach pumps afterwards).

Other match: Tunisia 4 Belgium 4

28 June Kaliningrad:  England 0 Belgium 6
Huge crowds made a wall of noise behind the English goal in Kaliningrad

It was a sober group of reporters who gathered in the Kaliningrad Wimpy bar on the afternoon of the final match in Group G. Sober because border police had confiscated all the duty-free drinks, internal security men had removed all smartphones and laptops ("in case any imperialist running dogs had planted material detrimental to the glorious people's struggle") and the Kaliningrad JolliGoodski Motel charged 35 roubles for a small tin of something called HeiniKan.  "These Belgian lads know a bit about chocolate, but we've got the pride, the guts, God, Harry and St. George behind us" manager G. Southgate stated confidently at a rather poorly attended press briefing. 

England pulled out all the stops for their crucial, backs-against-the-wall, Dunkirk spirit, there'll always be an England-football-team, final group match at the blistering cauldron of emotion that was Kashaknishpiryogi Park. But despite making a further 14 changes and recalling Rooney, Charlton, Wright and Matthews, it was surely not England's night as Hergé and Poirot danced around a leaden front line of Sterling and Vardy to the delight of their 13 lace-flaunting supporters. At full time some English fans were on the pitch. They thought it was all over. The Spetznatz dropped a few barrel bombs. It was, then.

Other match:  Tunisia 4 Panama 4

All three other teams in the group qualified on the grounds that they are not as crap as England.

Mr G. Southgate, the acting England manager said afterwards to a deserted press briefing "I thought the lads done well. They had to play a full 90 minutes each time and getting the ball out of the back of the net so many times was a lot of extra work. The sun was in their eyes, their boots didn't fit too well and it wasn't fair that the other teams ran faster, passed the ball quicker and knew where our goal was. We would have won if only we had scored more goals than they did, it was that close. There's plenty of positives to take to the Euros in 2020. Our back passes were beautiful. Anyway, an English team is bound to win the FA Cup next year so we can be truly proud of our wonderful footballing heritage."


1. No surprises. It's our very own Ed.
2. Insert name of whoever actually did play in goal. At time of writing could be anyone, really.

Sunday, May 27, 2018


There's always one, isn't there? A few years ago we featured the bloke who has to stick his head in a bin. That should have been enough to warn off the rest. It didn't. Now we have the bloke who sits on a kid's swing and gets his fat arse stuck in it.
Pic: BBC
 Still, it only took the experts three hours to shift him, using the most advanced technology available:

When a "shove and pull" method of swing-release failed, the fire service arrived with a trusty screwdriver.
I don't suppose they do a lot of "release large objects from small containers" training days in the fire brigade. Perhaps they should have put a high pressure hose on him and fired him free in a jet of icy water. And his stupid backward facing baseball hat.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Hype Starts Here

You'd think they'd have learned by now. But no. Every time England play anyone in a football tournament, any fair assessment of their chances go out of the window and is replaced by a wild optimism worthy of the most swivel-eyed Brexiteer. This time the culprit is newly-appointed captain Harry Kane and, in the finest traditions of those to whom history is about Henry VIII chucking chicken legs over his shoulder, he has declared that victory is the goal. But that is not all. Tottenham Hotspur's star striker has nailed his colours very firmly to the mast.

I believe we can win it - anyone can. I cannot sit here and say we are not going to win it because we could do ... Anything else is not good enough
Them's fighting words, Mister. Anything else, eh? Should England qualify for the final (imagine it, actually being in the final, we've not been there for 52 long and miserable years) but not win then Harry will have failed by his own words and even though he might have scored some memorable goals, led his team to trounce others much more favoured to win and demonstrated a pride in his country's cause that would make every true-hearted Englishman rise to his feet, he will nevertheless stand down, flee shamefully back to the airport and arrive home with a blanket over his head as grim-faced minders whisk him away to an unknown destination. Or at least, that is what his words strongly imply. Not winning is not good enough.

Far be it from me to be unduly sceptical about England's chances (although I was pretty damn accurate in predicting our performance in the 2014 World Cup and not far off it 2 years later in the Euros) but I cannot help thinking that our 'Arry has let the pressure get to him. This is what he should have said

We know how to do back passes. We know how to hit the ball effortlessly to the heads of the opposing backs. We are unrivalled at crossing the ball to a man who arrives two seconds too late to make contact. Let us go boldly out and the show the world we can DO IT AGAIN. My target is to make the last 32. Anything else is not good - what? We've done it? Brill, I can stand down with my dignity intact, job done.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

The Ruislip Riviera

The weekend that is reluctantly drawing to a close today has been the hottest May Bank Holiday recorded in the UK. And the hottest part of the UK? Our very own RAF Northolt where 28.7c was registered yesterday. The combination of a break, heat and blue skies did strange things to the minds of many of my fellow citizens who made for the open spaces in unfeasibly huge numbers.

In beautiful Ruislip the impact was at its greatest in the streets around the Lido. My curiosity piqued by many comments on Facebook groups, I cycled up to see for myself. The traffic on the main road from Ruislip High Street was at a standstill long before the turnoff into the little road that is the only  direct car access to the Lido. A warning sign informed motorists that the Lido was full but very few appeared to take any notice.
pic: Alan Pritchard on Facebook
At the entrance to the Lido, with a backdrop of cars attempting (utterly in vain) to enter a full car park then trying to turn round again, a steady stream of holidaymakers were tramping in to join those already encamped on the little beach. From the entrance it seemed pretty busy:
pic: It's one of mine

but up close it was staggering:
pic: Alan Pritchard on Facebook
Some of those in this throng had parked recklessly on the main road and were getting parking tickets; others had commandeered any strip of unused pavement they could find nearby.

I can understand why parents would wish to take their kids out to enjoy the fine weather. It's a shame that there are far too many of them for the geography to accommodate. And I must admit a bit of smug self-righteousness as I pedalled home past the stationary vehicles. Ironically there was plenty of parking not far away, on roads near to the woods that surround the Lido, but this is the sort of thing us locals keep quiet about.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

When in Mexico ...

This colourful ad was featured in my weekend paper. I have not the slightest interest in tacos but was intrigued, not to say bemused, by their suggestion that I should "celebrate this Mexican fiesta the authentic way". Yes, if I happened to be Mexican, then no doubt I would indeed wish to celebrate the 5th May by firing some pistols into the air, donning a huge sombrero and slumping down against the wall of the nearest cantina [These old clichés never die, do they? Ed]. As I am not, I couldn't actually care less what the authentic way is and see no reason to celebrate this day either authentically or in true Ruislip style by slumping in front of the television with some beer.

However, that is not the most interesting question we can ask. Surely, if us Brits are supposed to celebrate Mexican festivals then why not the other way round? Are there not adverts suggesting that they Celebre el festival británico de vacaciones bancarias de la manera auténtica?  And so we move straight on to the Avenida de Toros Enormos in Mexico City for the following little vignette as Juan knocks on the door of Pepito's shanty (and Graeme Garden and Barry Cryer wince from afar),

Juan: Pepito!
Pepito: Juan! You'll have had your te - quila
Juan: Well, no old friend but that can wait. Haven't you heard? It's the May Bank Holiday back in England. We should be celebrating it in the authentic way, according to an advert I saw posted up over by Mrs Naughtie's Refried Bean Bar.
Pepito: And what might the authentic way be?
Juan: We drive off for hours to the beach, enjoying the many scenic traffic jams on the way, park miles away from it, stagger along in the broiling sun, pay too much for some ice creams, wonder where the sea has gone and why everything stinks of seaweed, drive home with sunburn, light a barbecue in order to turn some cheap and nasty burgers into cheap and nasty lumps of charcoal and then listen to Juan Virgo saying "Where's the cue ball going?" for the umpteenth time in the snooker final.
Pepito: And then we have a nice cup of tea?
Juan: Si.
Pepito: Fantastico. Vamos!

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Reach out, I'll Be There

The sheer misery and frustration caused to many of its customers by TSB's total screw-up of an IT upgrade has been filling the news for the past two weeks. A shotgun marriage with Lloyds back in the days of the great financial panic of '08, then a hasty divorce and reckless project management by new Spanish owners resulted in systems that failed.

For those of us lucky enough not be banking with this wretched outfit, there is the perennial fascination of picking over the lies, misstatements, corporate PR flannel and horrific jargon that inevitably emanate from businesses in such predicaments.  I could not resist picking up on this little morsel courtesy of the BBC. A couple, Mr & Mrs Jones, making a long arranged house move found their account frozen and were nearly stranded, having moved out from their old house and unable to move in to the new one.  As Mrs Jones makes clear, the bank staff were as powerless as she was:

The TSB staff were being as helpful as possible, but they were hampered by the terrible IT mess. It was a ridiculous situation to be in. We were in limbo," she said.

The money came through eventually. It was the bank's attempt to smooth it all over that deserves our contumely. This is what a "spokesperson" had to spoke say

"We're really sorry for the experience Mr and Mrs Jones have had whilst moving home and the inconvenience this has caused them.
"This isn't the level of service that we pride ourselves on providing, and isn't what our customers have come to expect from TSB. We have reached out to Mr and Mrs Jones, and we will ensure that they are not left out of pocket."
It is fairly clear from the most cursory reading of the news recently that this is exactly the sort of service TSB customers have come to expect, but the bit that really intrigues is the phrase that only a faceless PR person could utter and not sink through the floor in embarrassment - "Reached out to". What does this suggest to you? A mother opening her arms to scoop up a wailing infant? A celebrity embracing victims of some ghastly disease? Or perhaps, in the words used to title this piece, the sentiments of a popular beat combo conveying a degree of affection to a young lady? Do any of these sit comfortably with the idea of a banker who waits for a serious complaint to be filed before issuing a press release? What is wrong with saying "we have apologised?", or perhaps just "we talked to". What on earth does "reach" mean in this context? They didn't act proactively. They created a problem then tried to make it look as they were doing something praiseworthy as their big corporate arms extended to offer comfort to those in distress.

If there's any reaching going on, it's going to be many TSB customers reaching for application forms to transfer their accounts.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Spring - and about time, too.

This time last year I was worrying about the effect that the dry winter and spring might have on our garden and indeed on the availability of water during the summer. So much for history. There was no noticeable problem. This year it has been the opposite. Lashings of rain for months and a very shaky start to the spring. A false start a few weeks ago when it seemed to be warming up was followed by more chill, exacerbated by a brisk wind.

There was a nice interlude last week when we took my American cousin to Bath for a couple of night's stay and managed to pick two of the most relatively sunny days in recent weeks; the moment we returned to London it became unpleasant to be outdoors again.

Today it seems we may at last be able to think that winter is over. It is pleasant today and set to become fairly warm next week. Vegetation is taking off in all directions. I might even stop wearing my thick winter coat when I venture outside.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Those awful advertising slogans - no. 14 - McDonald's

I've avoiding mentioning the burger'n'fries giant before in these hallowed columns because its slogan - I'm Lovin' It - was self-evidently ludicrous given that the "I" in the lyrics was clearly a reference to their Head of Marketing. Today I noticed a new strapline to an ad in my daily paper. The subject matter was the calorific content of a McDonald's meal (and oddly, if you go to their website and look at the FAQs on the subject you will be told to go and study the menus in one of their "restaurants").  The pithy reason I should chow down on a burger and zero calorie coke is, apparently:

Because There's Only One You

Naturally we begin our examination of this proposition by considering an alternative meaning. What if there were two of me? Would it be fine if one clone binged out on fast food whilst the other cooked sensible meals at home? By the same token, would society condemn if one clone smoked and drank itself to death watching its other self pounding round the gym circuits? I have absolutely no idea. Science Fiction writers have explored the concept of multiple selfs for many years and it is an ethical nightmare, especially if there is a legacy at stake and Grandma's will, written in simpler times, merely says that the antique silver goes to her beloved granddaughter Cynthia - when there are fourteen of them jostling to get into the solicitor's office.

Perhaps we can return to this fascinating theme on another day. I am still struggling to see how my oneness has anything at all to do with my choice of cuisine. If I am of a mind to eat out and it suits me to call in at McDonald's then I will do so. I don't stand there on the High Street and think "Well, if there were more of me we could all go down the Chinese and have the big corner table and order one of those banquets for twenty, but there's only lil' ol' me here so a Big Mac it is." And I am hesitant to assume that anyone else does.

What do I do with the information that I am a single integer with a value > 0 and < 2? This could apply to any commercial transaction, from buying a ride in Mr Musk's space rocket to a banana in Waitrose1 . Telling me something I know and have pretty well always known is identical to telling me nothing.

What then does the slogan mean? At face value, nothing at all. It could just as easily have been
  • Because there are seven days in a week
  • Because you're a long time dead
  • Because it's a long way from LA to Denver [According to a popular song, I believe: Ed]
  • Because the boss is always right
and, given sufficient time, incentive and a strong coffee, I could go on. Incidentally, if the aforeseaid HoM has got this far and you like any of these soundbites, let's do lunch, yah? Only not at your place, if you don't mind, there is only one of me and I'd like to preserve what I've got just a little longer.

1.  Thanks to Andy Webb for doing the research on the cheapest  single thing one can buy in a supermarket.

Monday, April 02, 2018

TripAdvisor - New Heights of Dumbness

I did not think I would need to return to this topic again. Surely (I thought), they will have taken note of my coruscating comments about their grasp of geography and my various travels and the despairing, almost bitter, remarks when they assumed that all of these trips were by air. But no. For this is what greeted me in my email inbox this morning.

This email was despatched late last night, on April 1st. So is it a rather strange attempt by this giant of the Internet to have a little jape at my expense? Perhaps. But surely a joke that only one person (i.e. me) will see, and to which the jokester [Person who creates a joke, right? Ed] will never see the reaction, is ineffectual and trivial? They must have more imagination than this down at TA Towers.

What on earth, you may be wondering, is Crymych? Reader, I looked it up. It is a small village in Pembrokeshire. It boasts no less than some 400 inhabitants. It is hard to think that many of these are contributors to TripAdvisor and this makes my lowly ranking - 16th, I ask you! - even harder to comprehend. If they had said that I was #1 in Crymych I would have swelled with pride. I would be even now sharpening my pencil, loosening my belt and checking my wallet before heading out to add yet another apposite, sharp, yet well-informed and unbelievably helpful review to my extensive portfolio. But to rest at a miserable 16th, only just ahead of my good (and undoubtedly local) friend daviddruid - this is humiliation heaped upon contempt.

There is a link on the picture above that says "Not your town - update it here". So I clicked on it and it took me to a generic page of profile settings and I could see nothing that indicated my town of origin. It seems I may be stuck with Crymych and I hope the good folk of this lovely part of Wales do not mind sharing their set of reviewers with an interloper. I have a ghastly feeling that, were I to visit the local pub, the lively conversation would fall silent, the piano player would stop playing and the barman would ease a little closer to the stout wooden club kept under the counter. A voice in the background would say "They come here, they take over our precious reviewing slots, there's none left for local folk, we can't afford to eat at the sort of fancy places they go to, they're driving all the young people away to where they can do a bit of decent reviewing and look you, once they go they stay and there's none left here but the old and the lame, the valleys are dying for want of young reviewers and it's all this bastard's fault". And I shall smile and edge to the door and race back to my car and drive east at top speed, never stopping until the waters of the Severn are behind me.

Sorry, Crymych, it's really nothing to do with me. My heart lies in beautiful Ruislip and whilst I am conscious of the honour done to me by becoming a sort of honorary Son of Owen Glendower, it's just a ghastly mistake. If I ever do get a chance of reviewing the Wenallt Tea Rooms (#2 out of 2 Cafes in Crymych) or indeed the highly esteemed Crymych Kebab House (#1 out of 2 restaurants in Crymych) then I'll do my best. For I would hate to miss the chance of moving up in the rankings -  daviddruid  there's no way you're going to overtake me, OK bach?