Sunday, January 30, 2005

Matt BarbetThis just in: Somebody reads this blog.

Until a few moments ago, today's highlights included spam informing me that I no longer need drugs to have an erection (thanks for the insight), and that I am an ideal candidate to "meet singles with Christian principles" (why?). But then, alt-tabbing away from a thoroughly unrewarding game, a highlighted name appeared in the middle of the screen. A name I wouldn't expect to find. That name is Matt Barbet.

As in BBC London News? Apparently so, as the email appears legit. Oh dear. This is not going to be good.
From : Matt Barbet
Sent : 30 January 2005 15:16:41
To :
Subject : Nostrils


Having been pointed in the direction of your blog by a sympathetic web-spy, I felt compelled to write in response.

Although, I disagree with your comments on BBC London News (no longer "LDN"), I believe you are completely entitled to your opinion. Fair criticism is always welcome.

On the nostrils issue though, you rattled me. "Surely not", I thought, and gingerly approached the mirror for closer inspection. After a couple of moments measuring, I can confirm that both nostrils are, in fact, the same size. One can only conclude that the studio lights are playing tricks again. (FYI - I closely resemble a hybrid of Brad Pitt and Jude Law away from the camera's harsh scrutiny).

Still, I'm glad you pay such close attention when I'm reading the news, and hope I haven't spoilt your enjoyment.

Keep watching!

Matt Barbet

PS Presence on the BBC website it work in progress.

This e-mail (and any attachments) is confidential and may contain
personal views which are not the views of the BBC unless specifically
If you have received it in error, please delete it from your system.
Do not use, copy or disclose the information in any way nor act in
reliance on it and notify the sender immediately. Please note that the
BBC monitors e-mails sent or received.
Further communication will signify your consent to this.

Firstly, "sympathetic web-spy"? The notion intrigues me. Does the BBC have special people whose entire lives are spent assessing the changing perceptions of the public faces of the BBC? (If so, what do they pay?) Or do the presenters' legions of fans email constantly to let them know who said what? Or was it his mum? And what specifically about using Google counts as spying?

My comments on BBC "No longer 'LDN'" News? Oh God, what did I say? He does know, surely, just as everyone knows, that anything written in a blog is not to be taken too seriously, especially not my blog.

Having looked up what I wrote, I'm now trying to figure a way to back out of it (spot the instinctive response), and wondering if I should. Basically I slated BBC London News for being not very good, although I now have no idea which part of the programme triggered that thought, and helpfully didn't mention the cause. I then made some silly comment about nostrils. Fortunately I didn't include the weak joke, which is still too poor to be explained now (and is possibly damn near libellous).

In mitigation, I don't really have any mitigating circumstances, but I'll courageously ignore that for now. Oh well.

As for "Fair criticism is always welcome", but mine wasn't really fair, was it? An unsupported opinion casually dropped into a post is hardly worth the paper it isn't written on.

However, I made Matt Barbet measure his nostrils. Now there's a claim to fame. Probably in category of "What have I done?"

To think that if only I was on the other side of the hill, or even half a mile in pretty much any direction, none of this would ever have happened. Admittedly I might well have given the patronising woman on South Today a neurosis about her ears by now (and should anyone happen to play spot the difference with her ears, and find the difference, then I will have just made a very lucky guess).

Honestly I don't really know how to react to this. I was not intending to offend, and the nostril thing only arose as the result of a flippant comment. Yes, I'm backpedalling, but that's only because the entire point of celebrities (or people at least within the M25 of Celebdom) is their otherness. They are not supposed to be real people, with functioning email accounts, and nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon (said he with nothing better to do, except work out why my tax code has changed for no reason, on a Sunday afternoon).

And now to move on to the really interesting bit: the BBC disclaimer. Is the proximity of "attachments" and "is" really annoying anyone else? Why the plural? Any attachment would cover any and all attachments. I know an email might have more than one attachment, but they would still be covered by any.

Oh hang on, when they describe the email as confidential, would that rather preclude posting it on a blog? Um…well, as I wasn't asked to sign a non-disclosure contract before being sent the email, I'll take the view that if it turns up in my inbox, I'll do what I like with it. Also this post would be rather dull, and somewhat limited if I did not quote the email.

Anyway, surely posting it with the disclaimer attached counts as adhering to the rules of the disclaimer (don't try this at home in court).

Does "act in reliance on it" strike anyone else as a slightly odd phrase? What is wrong with relying on or upon, or do not rely on it? Or can we rely on the contents of the email as long as we do not act on it?

One has to admire the plug for, just in case we have never heard of the BBC, nor their website.

All of this is my way of saying I haven't actually been brave enough to email him back.


[Edit: He's just been on the news. His nostrils arch upwards quite a bit, so when he isn't straight on much more of the nearer nostril can be seen, hence the apparent lopsidedness.

I must say that it is comforting to know that BBC presenters prepare to present the news by emailing anyone who happens to mention their name].

Friday, January 28, 2005

I obviously have a very sick sense of humour.

VW Polo ad, via Blognor Regis, whose site I was searching whilst trying to find a new address for that naughty, nasty Neil who has gone all incognito on us. Unfortunately he's probably intelligent enough to figure out that providing most of people asking for his new address with his new address is a sure-fire way to ensure that many of them will mention both new and old in the same sentence, which could reduce the newly acquired anonymity. (I know that's a long rambling sentence, but I've just spent the day writing in short, sharp sentences, and having to remember the difference between a colon and a semicolon, and I'm not going to do the colostomy bag joke now, and that's the second reference to one of those within the week, and should you wish to brush up on your punctuation, there's a good guide from Sussex Uni, and the guy who wrote that sides with me on logical quotation marks, and that perhaps ought to be whom, but on second thoughts it shouldn't, as it's not the object, but I'm not sure the object is quite what I mean, and anyway this annoying stream of consciousness is my way of recovering, oh and the Polo ad isn't, but it's still funny, yes I know it trades on stereotypes, but why do men with those scarves and bad sunglasses wear camouflage clothing, especially when it is often the only bit of greenery for miles around, and yes, that too is being superficial).

Anyway, Neil, or whatever you're now called, where have you gone, and can I have your new address please? I'll be as discreet as you want me to be.

It's quite annoying not having him there, as he was frequently my first port of call whenever I felt to urge to read blogs. And if this was a proper blog, then obviously that would have decimated my reciprocating readership, but as I don't have quite enough fessed-up blogging readers to be able decimate in the true sense of the word, I don't suppose it matters.

I'm also still annoyed that my oh-so-cunningly found address from the same stable as produces the blog (and I'm not referring to the genelogic one), is apparently a dud, having remained ridiculously blank.

Moving on:
They mocked me. I made the mistake of taking a labcoat to my photography course. Well, clothing designed to reduce damage from spilt chemicals (and tissues [not the discovered too late in washing machine type]), plus small, possibly darkened, rooms full of people who don't know what they are doing, with many chemicals. Seems logical enough. But judging by some people's reactions to making up solutions at the right temperature and concentration, I'm not sure logic applies to some of them.

For example: we have a small amount of developer which we need to dilute in a much larger volume of water, all of which needs to be at about 20oC. As I had been given a different job (playing with a stick), I tried not to get too involved. they were going to add hot water to the developer and then cold water to cool it. I managed to suggest that as there was so little concentrated developer, it wouldn't change the temperature much, so why don't you get the water at the right temperature, and go from there?

I then stood back, desperately trying not to say anything, as someone decants a couple of litres of near boiling water (but it's only 50oC. No, the thermometer only goes up to 50), and then tries adding water to cool it. Which given the jugs only hold two and half litres...

Much decanting, and adding cold water, and decanting, and adding more water, and we have umpteen containers filled with varying degrees of warm water. But we do have a jug at 20oC. I know it's gone badly, as I used the infamous nevermind. Which I only use when I'm sulking, as "Oh nevermind!" he snapped or when I've given up, as "Just d... Nevermind now" he sighed resignedly.

So the developing solution gets prepared, and 13 minutes of swishing X then Y every Z later, gets drained away. Meanwhile, the people given the task of sorting solutions have been struggling to get both the rinse and fixer to twenty degrees, in many unlabelled containers. I think is such a great sentence, especially when deployed after It's definitely X.

Tap, swish, twizzle. My this is fun. I want a longer stick. Then it's finished, except for the final rinse, but before then the instructor checks that they've all worked. Dump our films in the tank. Discover that the instructor got it wrong, and the fixer was supposed to be one to four, not one in four. Shouldn't make much difference, and not much we can do now. Go and have coffee, but being us lot, mostly don't, and bring our own bottles of water instead. Discuss the impossibility of transferring film from the canister onto the developing spool, without requiring the use of a stomach. Compare methods for opening the canister: using the specially designed tool, or using the shrapnel technique (pulling apart with one's fingers).

Go back, dip film in diet Fairy (well, very dilute detergent), clip to back of door, discovered the other end is a few centimetres from the floor, wipe of excess water, using fingers as mangle. Weight and hang up to dry. Get complemented on one the pictures, but I've no idea which of the 36 she was referring to.

Unfortunately, that's the end of the session, so I have negatives, hanging in a corner of a corridor, which I can't get to or see until next week. No fair, I want to see how I did, and I want to make prints.

Carrying on the pictures theme, I've just found some impressive satellite photography [source] showing the effects of the tsunami, including some of parts of Sri Lanka from Boxing Day, showing a very receded sea, and in one case, a diagonally sloping sea (but there is no indication of time). It seems callous (and it probably is) to look at this pictures solely in terms of physical or geographic activity, but in same way Chichester harbour from the air is fascinating, so are these pictures.


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

My faith in humanity is restored.

Which given the day I've had is probably just in time.

Work has taken me off to the exoticness of a different room. Which has the radio on all the time. On the same local station. I am now currently wishing a friend's fantasy, of Pink and Natasha Bedingfield eating each other, would come far too literally true (I'm not sure why he felt it necesary to share this fantasy with me). At least they have forgotten so far that they are Radio Twain. But to make up for it we have had the entire Simply Red back catalogue and that sodding Cher thing from years ago, with the infuriating pixelated voice (you know, the one that sounds like she's being strangled, [if only...]) repeatedly endlessly. For the attention of any crap local commercial radio DJs out there: It cannot be a "blast from the past" if it is the fourth playing of the day, and second in your show, and you played it a lot yesterday as well.

And when I say crap... the lead news item for much of yesterday was the opening of a new Subway. No, not a useful one under the A3 or anything like that, but the opening of a sandwich shop. The Mayor of Wherever turned up and everything. Except he'd gone by the time the local celebrity, AKA, dappy girl from local radio got there. Who then proceeded to discuss, live on air, what the shop sells, what she'd had for lunch, what the mayor was rumoured to have had for lunch, what random vox-popper has going to buy, all while trying to fit in many dismal innuendos, most of which failed to be even single entendres.
[In a voice laden with nods, elbows and winks] "So what are you going to do with that baguette?"
"Take it back to the office."
[Dead air].

But what really annoys me about this radio station is that occasionally it will play something good. Not bad in itself, but when the song is something like REM's Everybody Hurts they can turn it into an instrument of torture. Nearing the end of the song [about the 3:50 mark on my copy] it runs "Everybody hurts [pause] sometimes [tune carries on]". But not on this radio station. Oh no, they have to improve it. The song now runs "Everybody hurts [pause] sumt[Station Ident]Natasha Bloody-Bedingfield sounding like Pink".

According to my calculations, there's still one and half minutes of the song still to play. What happens to the bits of music castrated by philistine DJs? Do they float round the ether, only escaping when those with dials on the their radios turn the dial? Or do they cluster under bridges forever confusing people with their sourceless echo?

I haven't heard editing that bad since Expression. And they had the excuse of being hung-over students with exams to worry about, huddled under a set of windblown steps, whilst battling with SBN News bulletins which wait for no man (or woman, or band, or DJ, or interviewee).

But while I'm doing background noise, I have discovered the backdoor to the Bethlehem Hospital: trying to eavesdrop on a conversation, only to discover that is Portuguese, being spoken by a heavily accented Indian, and an Eastern European woman. I only figured out it was Portuguese when they started talking about Brazil, and doing yokel vowel sounds, as before then it had lurched between sounding French, Spanish, Russian, and something else. So now I am left wondering what is "my lover" in Portuguese?

Reverting back to the rant, and for this I will need a baseball bat, a bottle of urine, and a tin filled with finely ground aluminium and rust, with a magnesium fuse, oh and something to light it with. Why? Rude people in cars. Whilst standing on a traffic island waiting to cross the exit from a roundabout, one car entered the roundabout in the wrong lane, and swung off at the first exit. As he did so he lobbed a bottle of some liquid at me. He missed and the bottle bounced under the traffic going the other way, spraying liquid as it went. I was too busy jumping back to get the number plate. But at the next junction he turned left, which would take him into an area of supermarket car parks, and a few residential roads, which has no other exit (at that time of night). If I had had a baseball bat, I might well have chased those pretty curving brake lights on that shiny black car, if only to find out just how easily windscreens shatter.

Then walking across one of the car parks and at a zebra crossing I have to jump back once again. This time because a small yellow car decided that I was merely standing on the crossing, rather than using it, and therefore it accelerated round front of me. It then roared into a disabled space, which I had to walk past. No badge. Very low open topped car. Shorter than a wheelchair. Not much room for one either. Man clambers out, with only the level of difficulty that all middle-aged men in low-slung mid-life crises cars have. Walks into shop on his phone. So not deaf then. Must be blind.

The car is small, sporty, and has hoops behind the seats. It apparently has no hood, or at least not one in use. This is where the bottle of urine would have come in handy. I'm not sure which car deserves the thermit reaction on, and through, the bonnet more.

CWB's the both of them. Which brings me on to the next topic: the miraculous duo. Ta muchly. This now confirms that I have another copy of song number one (although in a remixed form) on the Matrix soundtrack, which explains why it sounds so familiar, and that I have never seen nor heard of the band responsible for song number two, and can only conclude that it occurred via the mysterious and unpredictable power of the university residential network, which explains why I don't remember seeing them. Now all I need to do is work out who I thought it would be.

And are the miraculous duo deliberately trying to vex me? One address is gekranken (although I suspect kaput is a perfectly acceptable, and real, German word, so why didn't I use that?), and the other has reverted to an older form, along with yet another complete template change. Perhaps he needs a new tagline: Whateva Sista - More facelifts than Rocky's mother.

(Or maybe he hopes the constant reinvention while disguise the ageing process. Happy Birthday).

And speaking of hideous sights (well, she does look she met a hornet's nest head on), I managed to catch the beginning of Anatomy for Beginners last night. I had the television on the background, post-ER, whilst emailing (bad habit, I know). I glance up at someone pulling apart a turkey. That's not a turkey. Does look like one though. Skin is odd, especially when it is slinking over the edge of a support.

I know I've had waterfights using pigs' hearts (oh the joys of a well-aimed aorta), but I have to admit to not being entirely comfortable at seeing a man's brain sagging round fingers like a pink colostomy bag.

Psuedo-facts of the day:
Canning Town: An area of the east-end of London where the produce unloaded at the docks was tinned.
Traditional English Tea: Grown in Hampshire using methods handed down between generations, each one a closely guarded family secret.

I was being silly, and unfortunately some people listening didn't realise it. I eagerly await the news story citing evidence of tea harvesting on the South Downs as an indication of climate change.

Thus I demonstrate the advantages of a scientific education, which are to use organs for pleasure, to be able to vandalise effectively, and to be able to talk nearly plausible bollocks.


PS. I really like nice men who send me emails telling me how to do things I'm not sure I could do, and which I have to do for them. That make sense? Not really, nevermind, I was just surprised by expected kindness.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Bondage and such.

But before we get into that, I have a task for you: Name that tune [6.9 Mb mp3].

Because I can't remember what it is. Actually I've never known. I think it's the tune from the Caffrey's advert from a few years ago.

While I'm at it, can anyone identify the band in this case [3.5 Mb mp3]? I have hunch I even saw them live, but can't remember who they were (obviously made a great in impression).

Guess who has been trying cure an ailing computer by investigating obscure directories, and deleting stuff haphazardly. And yet it all apparently still works (which just means I haven't used the broken stuff yet).

And now onto the interesting stuff: how are you on bondage?

It all started with one picture. One innocent question about just one picture. And before I knew where I was, I was swamped in references to Amsterdam, monks, soldiers, steel ties and, oddly enough, rowlocks.

Whoever would have thought that plain bricks and mortar could get so complicated? The pattern I wondered about was Flemish bond apparently. Use the following links to find out more about bondage patterns.

Ok, I've forgotten what it was I was going to blog about.


Saturday, January 22, 2005

BoshamI have just found a nice fun game on Flickr. Go to the popular tags section. Enter the name of a town near you, and look at the top 3 related tags in bold. What do they say about collective perception of the place? Some are predictable, such as London returning England, tube and architecture. Some like Portsmouth get swamped by a different Portsmouth. Some are baffling: such as Poole being intrinsically linked with Cornwall (Cherbourg I'd understand, but somewhere a couple of counties over?)

[I know the list is very biased, but I was trying to think of places, and therefore coming up with those that mean something to me, if only "turn right after the pub". Just be glad I thought Four Marks would be too hard to find].

Alton: towers, brown, food.
Basingstoke: underpass, aircraft, animal.
Bournemouth: beach, blue, sea.
Bracknell: Andy, Bracknell Festival, BW.
Bude: Cornwall, England, 1980.
Chichester: apple, apples, Bosham.
Exeter: cathedral, architecture, moto.
Farnham: beer, Craig, green.
Godalming: Treo, stone, stonehead.
Guildford: train, clouds, England.
Midhurst: bondcars, England, postcard.
Petersfield: autumn, Britain, driving.
Poole: car, Cornwall, England.
Portsmouth: New Hampshire, NH, Virginia.
Reading: book, books, newspaper.
Salisbury: church, London, people.
Southampton: 04, 13th, 1643.
Swanage: family, me, old.
Taunton: castle, Christmas04, England.
Torquay: holiday, Australia, BW.
Wareham: Dorset, blue, clouds.
Weymouth: beach, yachts, Amy.
Winchester: architecture, England, cathedral.

Cornwall: sea, beach, sunset.
Berkshire: UK, Aldermaston, England.
Devon: England, beach, holiday.
Dorset: England, beach, UK.
Hampshire: new, England, sunrise.
Middlesex: fells, November, POTD.
Somerset: UK, New Jersey, aurora borealis.
Surrey: tree, ducks, bridge.
Sussex: England, painting, gardens.
Wiltshire: sunset, UK, landscape.

What does it imply about Aldershot that there simply are no photographs with that tag? Although Andover, Camberley, Dorchester, Haslemere, Petworth and Woking [and virtually anywhere in Devon] were all blank too.

Did anyone else notice how Reading brought up book, books, and literature? Obviously I can't be the only person to have been stuck in Reading station with nothing to do for one hour and forty-two minutes.

[What do you mean reeding not redding?].

And when I've not been wasting time on Flickr, I have been wandering around trying to use up film. And then being surprised when I reached the end. Unfortunately I seem to have relapsed to churches, churches, and churches, oh, and for the sheer hell of it, a bridge or two. So now I'm worrying about how well most of the shoots will work in black and white.

Carrying a camera provokes some odd reactions. When I did it ages ago in Notacity, I kept getting hit upon. But today in Tweeton, everybody glowered, except for a grey haired woman clutching a neatly folded copy of the Daily Mail (and the man who told me the name of a church, and got it wrong). What on Earth is going on?

I really must learn to take pictures of things which aren't buildings, or the cherry-blossom outside said building. But in the High Street I tried, and realised that my shot of whichever old coaching hotel would be infuriating filled with stuff I didn't want there. Like ugly signs and shopfronts, ugly cars, and many ugly people cluttering up the frame. I think I need to learn to seek different aims in such situations (although it would be helpful if they weren't carrying one-handled plastic bags, miscellaneous long things, didn't look so haggard, and did you have to wear that coat?).

Oh, to live in a photogenic world...

...would be hell, because I'd be the token ugly one.

Other thoughts for today:
- What happened to all the snowdrops? In places where I remember massed carpets, there's hardly any left.

- Why were there a great many ridiculously priced cars, and souped-up less expensive cars suddenly descending on the library at lunchtime? The two people I've mentioned this to said drug-dealers. I'm not really sure drug-dealers tend to drive round in convoys of about 30, all with throbbing exhausts, and have their dealings in twee town centres at ten-past-one on a Saturday.

The next suggestion is that they were going to a wedding. 30 expensively, not necessarily smartly, dressed, young, or pretending to be young, men, each in their own car, with no passengers. Odd wedding that. Also, there's easier parking near each of the nearest churches.

But they weren't run of the mill cars (not even for round here, where there is a mill with a row of Porsches parked outside, on double yellow lines). There were assorted big Ferraris, a couple of molten-looking things I didn't recognise, an Aston or two, a clutter of Audis or similar, and couple of Golfs with too much plastic, extraneous lights, and holes drilled in their exhausts.

My guess is a post-racing lunch, but I dread to think which roads they had been using.


Friday, January 21, 2005

Tanzania geographic 091Newsnight just had a fairly interesting section about street design. But the site only has one paragraph of text. However the streaming video should have it until Monday's programme goes out. But I cannot check it as the stream is currently the live programme.

But anyway, I've now turned over to Bill Bailey: Part Troll. It's odd comparing which bits of material are standard and which were the ad-libs.

I had forgotten some of the songs (such as the excellent, but brief: How can I feel pain when you've been so supportive?). But honestly I think he was better when I saw him - in a much smaller place, which had much more interaction.

And is anyone else a bit bemused as to why the new Tracy Beaker magazine is being advertised at quarter past eleven? Tracy Beaker being some children's television thing, and the magazine being one of those "Part one out now, only £X.99 [normal price £X+Y.99]".

Hurrah! He mentions the toast girl! At one point he quizzes the audience about marijuana cookery, and when we were there one girl shouted out "Toast", and then explained that she had had it on just toast. Whom he then lampooned for her complete lack of culinary skills, and general enthusiasm. Anyway, he mentions her in the filmed show. To think I have been so near someone famous.

[His website claims the show was recorded in June 2004, and I saw him in October 2004. But the toast thing came from the audience. Maybe it's much more common than one thinks].


Thursday, January 20, 2005

So while the BBC is instructing us to practise being depressed for Monday, I am suddenly feeling happy: despite managing to not sleep last time.

I think it is combination of things. Not least the (relatively) warm and blustery weather. The ridiculousness of one cherry tree in town not only being in bloom, but with unfurling leaves as well, even though it snowed a few days ago (but not enough to settle). I drove back from photography with the window wide open. Not that unusual for me, but I was not wearing a coat or hat. Admittedly I do have to keep the windows open a lot to be able to see out of the car, as it is damp, and the rear screen heater works only well enough to produce smoke the last time I tried using it. That and I could not be bothered to close it after winding it down to leave the car park (yes I am the person who walks through the car-entrance, up to right level, gets nearly to the car, and then remembers I have to use the machine by the door to pay, even though it is free).

The photography course was advertised as for all abilities, but at them moment it is separated between those who were there last term, and the rest of us. I am not sure how good anyone else is. There are few people who obviously got a camera for Christmas, and now need to know how to use it. There are also a couple of people who I suspect protest slightly too much, and water down their knowledge and talent. And there is one really rude woman. Hails from somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean (but with an English name she pronounces as though it were Egyptian), but with a Hong Kong attitude - stand sneeringly and somebody will do it. Such attitudes work well when we are all walking single-file through many doors. Everyone else holds it for the person behind them. She would never touch it. Eventually I let one go, and she looked shocked when it rudely made her aware of its existence. She is just innately selfish, and unfortunately has [probably] always had enough money that she has never had to rethink it. She spent most of the time sneering down her nose at people. Including me. It always amuses me when people do that, as for a start I have much more nose to sneer down (it's about the only it's good for. That and proving I have binocular vision).

Once again I am doing what I do best: focusing on the negative. And that was not meant to be a pun given the context.

Anyway, photography: interesting so far, but not that insightful, but then it is the first lesson. Weirdly the instructor is incredibly like someone I was friends with at school.

Now all I need to do is find an Ilford HP5+ ISO 400 film. When I spoke to the tutor before booking the course she said she would buy films cheaply and sell them on. But now the plan has changed, and I need to find the right film, and then use it before next week. Which means I am now struggling to think of subjects to photograph. And then I realise that I am likely to have the same problems every week. I didn't think this bit through, did I?

[The localest camera shop has 36 for £4.99. Boots has it for £4.69, but they don't actaully have it, and headoffice insists they should not be stocking it, so they have to manually reorder it every time it frequently sells out. They can get for me in about a week or so. Oh. Rumour has it that Jessops do it for £2.99; my source tells me that lots of people were buying it; by the sounds of it two of which are doing the same course I am. Shame really because Jessops usually are useless].

By the way, do not let me forget my labcoat for next week. It's either that or I have to find a suitably stylish and flattering well-coordinated set of old clothes. I knew I had kept it for a reason. It just goes to show that there is some point to science degrees.

Which reminds me, what happened to my request to be reminded about yesterday? What is the world coming to when the people who read my blog cannot be relied upon to do even the most menial of tasks?

One question brought up by this: why are clothes so psychologically important? Last night I wore a t-shirt which has been my favourite for ages, and which unfortunately has been lightly manged upon by a moth (even though apparently it's spiders that do most motheating). But it makes me feel happy, and thin, and bouncy, and young, and confident as just me (more confident - it's not magical). All this from an old Surfers against Sewage t-shirt? Yep. But it just fits me. Not too big, not too square, not too tight. Which given I can drive people trying to sell me clothes mad, as they frantically try to find out which measurement they must have got wrong. Basically imagine a 2-litre lemonade bottle with a coathanger stuck in the top. It's nto quite to scale, but neither am I. Then factor in extra-long but ultra-skinny arms, at which point the assistants say they are just going to check with their manager and never come back.

And before I start bewailing the impossibility of buying shoes (narrow heels; wide, flat arch; long toes; and the killer is low ankle bones), I ought to stop this long and rambling post.


PS. Google has me as the first image for Braille [See it in situ near the end of the post]. Despite the image being hosted on the site, and lists that image and that site as well. Thus is the logic of Google.

PPS. Am I the only blogger not commenting George Bush and the great swearing [in]?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

CentrepointMadness (7).

Something, something, n, something, c, something.

Warning: this crossword clue may induce madness.

Obviously from the quick crossword in Monday's Grauniad. Which is living up to its reputation remarkably well recently.

Hopefully not related:
Go and give Neil a hug - it sounds like he needs it.

I've added a few more pictures to Flickr, but I haven't done all the details for them yet, as Flickr is still ailing.

Other thoughts:
Why is BBC London News so bad? At least with other local news programmes one can laughing dismiss them as provincial. But the programme based in the capital? Vaguely related: Why is one of Matt Barbet's [a presenter, but not a good enough one to merit mention on the LDN site] nostrils bigger than the other? It is one of those things where once you notice, it becomes really hard to notice anything else. Like the news, for instance.

Whilst engaged in such nasal curiosity, one of the news stories was about Arsenal winning a hearing on their right, and the right of Islington Council to use Compulsory Purchase to buy the light industrial properties around their new stadium. I have yet to figure out why a football club needs to buy land to build housing. Especially why they have to resort to CP to do it. Given the fuss David Sucher (Mr City Comforts) is making about a process called Eminent Domain is the US, and as ED sounds remarkably like CP, I wonder what he would make of Islington's willingness to aid and abet a football club.

Another football thing (don't worry, this will be all for this year). Exeter. Manchester United. Having to do it again. In Exeter. And the betting the predominantly student population of St James's Road and Old Tiverton Road suddenly found they were much more popular?

Whatever happened to Old Tiv? Not much probably. A few more slugs probably. And now I'm thinking about different people's houses a uni. I'd better reminisce elsewhere.

And while I'm thinking about walkable neighbourhoods (Victorian, therefore dreadful parking, and driving in Exeter is not worth the hassle), the Telegraph had an article (or two) at the weekend about some American's views on Prescott's Thames Gateway (and other) plans. Unfortunately, this article is in the Telegraph, so a wide selection of people will wilfully ignore it because it is just Tory ranting. Unfortunately number two, the American, Hank Dittmar, has allied himself to the Prince of Wales. Which means a bigger chunk of society which will ignore him regardless of what he says.

The second article also has a delightful quote:
"The challenge is not to foist on England a new US brand of chocolate box urbanism..."
Chocolate box urbanism? What's that - a thatched tube station, or Centrepoint with roses growing round the door? I think the objection is to developments conforming to one vogue, or possibly the vogue to which they conform.

But it does make me wonder which version of urbanism he would prefer. Chocolate wrapper urbanism? As ably demonstrated by the sundry damp, litter strewn, wind blown, concrete estates of modernism the last time round. From quote he seems like on the people for whom vernacular is too staid and traditional, and sees nothing wrong with employing the latest methods and theories, and continuing to always do so. (That sounds as if I'm part of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" brigade, but I'm not really, it's just that untested means exactly that, and so people can find themselves in continual loop of experiments. New and improved is just different. It has different faults).

Actually I wonder what he would do if someone asked him for a copy of whichever paper he is citing when he speaks about the claimed need for a cappuccino bar per head. He may be mocking such a notion, but what is prove that the notion is not of his own invention? Create a cardboard cut-out enemy, and then illustrate one's heroic prowess in vanquishing it.

I think I had better stop now.


Sunday, January 16, 2005

Mrs DoyleHaving spent a bit of time yesterday on Blog Explosion, I have come to realise that it is a very small world. One guy in Gloucestershire was amused by the keywords on Neil's site [View, Page Source, or similar]. Which makes me wonder just how unobservant I am, as I have nicked bits of code from his page so many times, and never noticed the keywords. Did I say nicked? Um, of course I meant been inspired by.

By the way, qu'est-ce que un spätzle? Other than sounding like the Yiddish for one who has soup spilt upon themselves, which cunningly brings me to the next person. Karma asked for the definitions of various words. This being the internet, and it being a Saturday afternoon, she got them and more. Hence the brief lesson in Yiddish in her comments section. She even linked to me on the contents of one comment. How fabulous is this woman?

Although there is one problem brought up by her site: she makes me wonder how many swearwords I do not know about. Also, is darn swearing? I always assumed it was something said in place of a swear word, like blimey (although I would not have said bloody was proper swearing either). But different people, and different groupings attach differing levels of importance and insult to each word. Where I grew up the ultimate evil was the c word. Then came uni, and a Welsh friend (ex-Monmouthshire really, but he gets cross if anyone points that out), who, along with his by-tha's, look-you's and boyo's flung it around in every semantic position possible. By the third year, I gave up caring that one of our new flatmates was habitually referred to as cuntface. In mitigation, he did have a wispy, dark, curly beard (that made him look like a 13 year old trying to look 16. When he shaved it off, he started looking 15), and he was Cornish.

I'm not all that sure why hideous insults are deemed to be appropriate names for Cornishmen. But they were, so that's ok. And it did mean we could have fun rearranging the keys on his computer keyboard to leave nice messages for him. One such involving the phrase "inbred hogfucka", but I cannot remember the rest of it. Charming bunch weren't we? And this, children, is why having ELC fridge magnet letters are bad. Especially when the cleaner asks about the messages left on the fridge, because he doesn't know what some of the words mean. Bagsy not explaining Felch yo'self (the r's having been used elsewhere, and the apostrophe being blue-tack), if only because I had to have it explained to me. I think the felcher is a position in yoga.

[And it is to my great delight that I find that Felch is a town in Michigan. On route 69 in Dickinson County no less. There's even a Creamery Road. I'll stop now, as there are quite a few other sniggers in that part of the world].

Now I see someone else in the world of Neil describing Hotmail as a bunch of cunting wankers. Which they of course are. Would I like a address? Um, I already have my .com one, which I've had since before Hotmail was bought by Microsoft (back when it had just the one round portcullis-like graphic). Oh, but go on, you know you want to. Um, maybe, er, nah. Oh go on, go on, go on. Sorry. You will, you will, you will, you will. Why? Huh? Because you can. But what about that bit I noticed, completely independently, the other day? You know, the bit that says the new bigger inboxes (now a quarter of the size of gmail, Woo!) are restricted to the USA only? Hello? That's odd; it's all gone quiet.

All of which is quite some way from my guaranteed method of making American girls laugh. Use "Bugger!" in earnest. Cracks them up every time. It's not even funny. I usually don't help matters by telling the girl in hysterics to sod off, which causes more mirth. Cue: It's bloody well not funny, as they start needing an inhaler. I can't even use wankstained bastards on them as they are the wrong sex. Damn, and I know that if I go any further I'll end up Captain Haddock-ing in a world of "Blistering barnacles". It's not like they have any decent swearing of their own: it's all about donkeys, shower-bags, and the ever-popular "Holy shit" always sounds like it is missing a "…batman!" As for their un-rude fannypack, I have no idea how fanny crossed the body as it crossed the Atlantic.

Unfortunately I'm now wondering if there is in fact a compendium of all the swearwords known to mankind (but rather too nervous about the potential consequences of sticking that query into Google). Which reminds me, that bit in the second Matrix film [crap wasn't it? What's the third one like?], where whoever the hell it is claims that French is the best language for swearing, that's just complete bollocks, isn't it? Merde: that's just mud. Salope: extra-large skiing trousers, or the diocese of Shropshire. Putain: lover of the Russian queen.

Oh, I should probably put some warning in about this post not being suitable for all audiences. But as most of you are American, you won't know what much of this means, so you can't take offence (not even with a free stile).

And I swear I was intending to be much more serious and grown up, not least because an apparently intelligent woman just linked to me for no reason, but somehow I cannot quite recall my intended content.

I wonder what this post will do to Google's treatment of this site. Will I forevermore be banished into the land known solely as "Unsafe"? Or will my stats suddenly improve, if only because there will always be people out there searching for "stupidly named towns in America", or possibly, as someone recently requested "Dar es Salaam Pussy". If only they'd noticed that after the pussy quoted came the word willow.

So, what is America's worst named town? Spread Eagle, Wisconsin, or is there worse?

And where was I? Oh yes, small world. Another site that turned up on BE is the most recent addition to the sidebar, which is currently chronicling Busted being bust.

In an effort to drag this blog back towards more decorous things, where do you stand on split infinitives? Or more precisely, what do you make of the following extract, which is the first line of the first section of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything:
As I sit here, in early 2003, I have before me several pages of manuscript bearing majestically encouraging and tactful notes…
Is that majestically encouraging, or bearing majestically? Working from the cliché, and from the anti-example of "to boldly go", I presume it is the latter, so the former in the sentence. But for a first sentence is ambiguous and a bit confusing really the best option?

Drat, drat and double drat. So near posting, and then I worry about getting the bit of French right. Which means I have hit the age-old puzzle of how many extraneous that's, it's and which's to stick in. I know what is that is pronounced kesker-say. I just can't remember what corresponds to which noise, and how many do not have a noise. I have a hunch my French French teacher would have a fit if she knew that I now think of is there…? as "eskiliya…?" So apologies if I have got a ce and a que the wrong way round, or do not need one or the other (it's the que that makes no sense). Zut alors! See I said swearing in French was not worth the effort.


PS. Immense pleasure can be had from fathoming out the MS Word spell checker's inability to cope with non-American swearing.

Hammersmith BridgeArse.

Ah, 'tis the internationally recognised signal for "where the hell did that post go?"

On Ryanstask [via GfB], he quotes what I recognise independently as Susan Sontag's obit, which reminds me of the odd use of the phrase "nattering nabobs". Not quite buying into the theory that a nabob is an American bird, probably a bit like a magpie, I launch into a rant about the incomprehensibility of that phrase, whilst managing to convert nawab sahib into a verb. But as Blogger ate it, you will just have to imagine the witty finesse.

I also notice that Ryan has recently visited a boat show, and there was Guinness involved. As I too have recently visited a boat show, although not quite the same one, which too had the inevitable Guinness stand, I describe this. Long story much shorter, and hopefully a bit less dull: Crash therefore traffic jam; rush-hour delayed; M25 closed J2-30, but they mean just Dartford; wide load in two lanes; thick police; 4 lanes closed; load stops while they check out a gantry; gridlock; finally escape; P&R from Morden; Thrice under river; Where is Canning Town (standing at station); DLR never as good as the first time; ExCeL big, cold, windy; bigger still inside; very corporate; boats is boats; half the main hall is white plastic, villas with rounded foundations and not a mast between them; digital camera envy; hunt for food; earplugged and chaperoned into seating round pool; windsurfing, funky, but they fall off a lot; near wind machines sails catch return flow at top; lighting rig swaying; fabric roof moving; steel girders bouncing and bowing; buoys blown out of pool; pool sides flexing; corner ballooning; camera frenzy, I don't join; leave; find food; eat in modern prefab tent; steel cables twitching, panels rattle and thump, not just the wind machines then; wander round the rest of the hall, and everything overhead is swaying; fail to find outside; return to the main hall, and into the motorboat section; eventually find outside; more interested in view than the assorted moored; the driving rain, now released from central London chaos, speeds through; wind round buildings knocks the tops of waves and carries them in eddies; which Millennium Mills; pretty lights in grey, polluting; smells of smoke, beer and horses, but no sea; planes out of City low and fighting wind, heading not course; out to rest of boats; Capital East Waterside, um, right; strings of builders' lamps attractive at twilight; bridge across odd, suspension curve, but no main wire, looks like it wants to be a transporter bridge; 3 colours hotels; very bracing, retreat; wander a bit more; leave; chestnuts fire still funnelling smoke under canopy, wind exploding it into cinders; platform shows attendance, as suits versus gautex; more money, less reductions, wrong end of the season; tube home, types of people, but I cannot find my type; as Northern line tails off, play from bar, amused and bemused reactions, from people I had realised were watching; drive home; London appeals, as always, especially parts unseen, but in terms of boat shows Southampton's better.

And still it is long. But as I have finally worked out why ExCeL has such juvenile typesetting, I now want to know if there is a chain - ExCeMilKey anyone?

Other stuff:
There was me discussing the joys of Christmas in January (that particular branch having been in Switzerland, with the Texan's father), such as being given a shaving set, when I had asked for a decent bike lock. Makes me feel less bad for my first ever recycled present. And it's so depressing to not be a child. It means that I have to buy everybody presents, and not get anything back from quite a few. I know it's better to give than to receive (and judging by what I've received from this lot over the years, that is quite possibly true); it's just the imbalance, both in quantity and thought, that gets to me.

Although the at least the elder child has developed what I'm sure is a thoroughly irritating habit of objecting and contradicting his mother, whenever she is inaccurate in her descriptions. Which given she has to trump any anecdote at any cost, can prove entertaining.

It's also quite worrying how polite we all are in not stopping her mid-knowledgeable monologue with a well-placed "Bollocks". One of her friends had to spend Christmas Eve removing everything from her hard drive, which took 4 hours, and then putting it all back again, which took 6, to get rid of all the spyware. One wonders why the friend is compelled to click "Yes" every time she is asked. Cue the diatribe about spyware, and telling both my brother and I off for using gmail, when we ought to know better than to let that spyware onto our computers. My brother and I do not point out that both of us actually read the agreements (for once) to find out what it uses the information for, and have no objection to it building a profile of our keywords to better aim the adverts we ignore, and sorry, what spyware? Or she just using ominous words simply because she expects that we will not know what they mean? (Or does she not know what it means?)

She then asks about browsers, and explains what one is, as we are obviously such bears of little brain. She then mentions her friend has found a wonderful little thing she did all on her own. She'll share it with us, if we want. But first she wants to know which version of IE we use, if we know. She seems a little dismayed to discover that we use Firefox. Oh, it would appear that her insider's tip was to use Firefox.

She tries to gloss over that by mentioning the dire editing in The Times. Which she mentions whenever we see her. This time there's a problem with a headline about snow in Texas, when apparently the only rarity was that it had happened in Corpus Christi. No-one ventures to mention that if the headline read Snow in Corpus Christi, half this country would be wondering why it had only snowed in one college in Cambridge, or is it Oxford? Neither did we suggest that if it infuriates her so, then why does she continue to read it? Anyway, it's Murdoch. Has she never seen Tomorrow Never Dies? [Note the utter non sequitur there].

Other interesting items include discovering Time Team's budget and tactics (and I've forgotten the date the relevant episode will be broadcast on). Apparently, what my uncle's group had thought was something fairly high powered for the 12th century, and had evidence of metalworking, was in fact a pigsty. According to Tony Robinson that is. This on the grounds that they found some pig bones. They also found bones from cattle, wild boar, deer, fish, and heron. I wonder why they choose to ignore the possibility that it was a heron farm? But TT's on-site, off-camera head archaeologist wrote in his final report that he thinks the hypothesis for the programme is utter pigswill. But they'd already done the bits to camera, and the reconstructions, and a pigsty suited the drama better. I suppose I am a bit naive about things like this. I tend to assume they aim for the truth, or as near as they can get, and they explain the problems and options. I have never really thought of such programmes as a director or producer somewhere noticing that they have 3 castles, two mills, 4 forges, but no farming structures in the series as yet, so do be a good chap and find something yokel-y this time.

And what does it imply about a child's lifestyle, if he will happily eat olives, and unpronounceable Portuguese sausages, or a bit of pestoed pasta, but refuses any form of potato, and shrugs at cooked vegetables. Yes, that's right, they live in Hammersmith. About the only car in the road that isn't a Saab is a Hummer. God knows how they can drive it round there. It makes fire engines look half-arsed. But it was off-roading when I saw it. Well, parked on the pavement. And they would need it cope with such hazardous terrain as speed bumps, kerbs, street furniture, other vehicles, and occasionally lesser mortals. It is also really considerate how they bought a car that allows dual use of a parking space. A Lotus Elise could easily fit under there.

Whilst (oh dear, that was one of the words my aunt apparently had had a editing blitz against at work) I'm on the subject of social observation, and amusement derived there from, I have just finished A Room with a View. And continuing in the same vein as the rest of my book reviews, as shall now state that it is a good book, predictable, but still good, so go and read it.

Though I have one observation about literature reflecting England before the modern era: people got naked more. Asexually I mean. It's all so-and-so happening upon someone in woodland seclusion, playing in a pool, or wrestling on the hearthrug. Or do I just lead a very odd life in not frolicking innocently and naked with new acquaintances? Maybe the fashion world will reinvent it, and so divesting oneself amid foliage will wipe out all the forty-foot la bising.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

WellBelated review of the year, Strang-stylee. Although he nicked it from someone else. But hey, it's a meme, that's how it works. Meme in this case not so much indicating a distinct transferable cultural unit, more a complete lack of original thought.

Anyway, the idea is that the first line of the first post of each month during a year gives one an idea of the contents of that year. Maybe. Shall we see how this runs for 2004?

Jan: Firstly sorry - I've just noticed that the googlewhack link in the last post is a bit whack, and of course I can't remember what it's meant to be (except that it came via the Mexican version of Google).
Feb: Thom Yorke on Hutton in the Guardian.
Mar: Well it's Super Tuesday once again (not that Super Tuesday, though it is) - and once again the stats have gone odd.
Apr: Well, I'm back.
May: [Assuming I can get this to work on blogger, but if it goes all redex on me, click on it and the link should work] Legoland commands you to read!
Jun: In order to break the "I must only do random, yet factually correct and interesting posts" perception, I'm going to launch into trashy internet faddiness.
Jul: Oh well.
Aug: I am Spartacus!
Sep: Yay for 10-hour days!
Oct: Well that was fun.
Nov: [This is one of those "it would have been helpful if I had clicked Publish, not Save as draft" posts, as it has now been superseded by events]. November 2nd 2004.
Dec: Is it a good sign if the university one attended finds itself on eBay?

I know I have cheated a bit with some of the square brackets stuff, but they are not really part of posts, more PS's. And I think there is a word which I should start only using in connection to water bearing holes in the ground. Also, I had no idea I used exclamation marks so much.


Drosophila melanogaster larvaeI've now done the blogkeeping I said I would do a while back. Someone could have reminded me. Incidentally, just how many different incarnations is that guy [follow the chain] going to have? Lesson for today: Tinker not.

Said he who is wondering if that bracket stuff in the name is really necessary. I have been writing this blog for a fair while, and thus far anyhoo completely trounces anyway in terms of recognition. Anyhoo hovers somewhere around the top of Google's list (and a fair chunk of the other results are things mentioning me), yet a search for anyway brings up nothing but umpteen variations on Whose line is it anyway? [Wherefore art thou Clive Anderson Josie Lawrence?].

So the bracket thing serves no purpose, but I have yet to delete it. I am not sure why. Possibly because it emphasises the fact that anyhoo was a second choice name (I could simply have changed the title and not the address, but that really would confuse people). It also suggests that under normal circumstances I would never use the word anyhoo1.

It seems odd to have been doing this for long enough to have archives in three different years. But then someone recently asked how long ago I had done X (which I thought had been fairly recently) and I was a bit surprised to find I needed two hands to work it out.

How time flies. Although actually if it did then it wouldn't quite so much. But this only works if one assumes that flight involves movement (or greater movement than that of the observer), which I think is a fair assumption. Wow, managing wedge a piece of Einstein's special theory of relativity into some particularly indulgent navel-gazing2. Surely there must be some award for the misapplication of science.

By the way, how did I miss that Einstein was the person who figured out Brownian motion? There's not much more to this thought, only my brother mentioned it, due to all the IoP stuff, and I realised I had always assumed that a certain Mr Brown [not the Paddington one] had found it out. Obviously he only descried and described it, and was unable to explain it.

Oooh, I am almost getting up to a theme. Yesterday I somehow managed to work in a reference to time travel, today I find myself pondering time dilation (it happens when time falls in love, or enters a dark room).

From the EY website:
It takes the energy output of at least one power station to keep the traffic lights in the British Isles operating.
Typical. That's exactly the sort of thing accountants would point out. Next they'll be saying all junctions should be roundabouts, and quoting bits of Radiohead. Eh? Not the ramming speed EY? Oh.

Men are six times more likely to be struck by lightning than women.
It can't just be that they are taller on average, can it?

I was going to conclude this post by mentioning the various biological posts on Language Log, which is the only place on the web to feature longer sentences than I habitually use. But thinking of them made me think of panhagglety, and I have just realised I have not eaten, so am going to do that now. But LL's whale stuff from before Christmas was quite interesting.

And all this little science fest was triggered by Neil at GfB linking to a paper peppered with gene names which look like they have been Rot-13'ed. Which of course I have not quite read yet. Involuntary response to seeing that dreaded D. word, you see. My sinuses still bear, if not the scars, then probably a few corpses.


1: Oddly I have varying degrees of any-ness. Anyway is for use in conversations to stop people digressing or deviating, and keeping them on subject. Anyhow is used to the same effect, but is a bit blunter, often carrying the slight suggestion that I wish you would bloody well get on with it. Anyhoo is used rarely, and usually only whenever I want to change the subject. [Up].

2: (If I am upright and perpendicular to the exterior surface of a near-spherical rotating body, which is moving at a fair whack, then how much faster are my eyes moving than my navel? And therefore, how much younger is my navel than my eyes?). [Up].

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

McFlyIn the bathroom.

That was the answer for the stream of people who appeared here after searching the BBC's search engine for something like where is the best place to get your kids to eat fruit according to jo whiley. Well, by the I mean an, and possibly not the right an.

It appears that the renowned Radio 1 "Everyone else is on holiday" DJ, Scott Trego-Mills, has taken to setting questions which can only be solved by people finding the right site using the BBC search engine. (Oh and the holiday thing: he is actually better than some of the people he covers). It's called The Big Fact Hunt On Radio 1. And any phonetic misinterpretation is purely in the mind of the behearer. Anyway, he does the breakfast show.

So did everyone else find the right answer before they got to reading what I wrote about in December the year before last? Or were there only 10 people bored enough to try? I suppose it was twenty past four on a weekday - so what was the person at Hampshire County Council doing? Can I finish a sentence in this paragraph without using a question mark?

And while noticing tracker stuff, I seem to be the only person whose Hitmap works (see the comments on the last post). Oh well. By the way, hands up if you are the person from Dar. I assume it's Dar es Salaam, but the mark might be a bit far south.

Anyway, I'll write up the other goings on at a later date, but will leave with the interesting thought which led someone here: Do McFly prefer curvy women?

I think I might have to ask Eva (or possibly her sister) for the answer to this one.


Saturday, January 08, 2005

River Arno at FlorenceHurrah! Hitmaps has started working. So now you can see how pitifully few people come here. And how many of them are search engine one-offs. Whereas the other tracker shows just how many of you there have been. And even tells me I have had a giddying, um, one visitor from Senegal. Celebration indeed. Unfortunately I missed what they were searching for. It's usually something completely unconnected arising from my infuriating habit of never staying on topic. So it will probably be something like (for this post) "Mitford problem India", "Jewish clicking prejudice" or "Czech Garfunkel in Senegal".

Speaking of topics, and cunning shoehorning a clumsy pun on topicality, if only I could think of a decent one: Hitmaps - why on the Europe view does it have links to maps to the UK and the Czech Republic, but not to any other country. The UK I could understand as the project is run by the OU, and is on an address. But the former Czechoslovakian republic of the Czech Republic?

And what's wrong with me? Simon & Garfunkel and Belle & Sebastian both in the same day. I'll pop in frenzy of gentle melodicism. How long before I reach for the very best of Crowded House - an album I have managed to sleep through before now.

Having said that the current song is finger-clicking good (if I didn't already use that description for West Side Story).

Onto something else. I have finished the book I probably had not mentioned I had started: Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh. I hope it is not supposed to be one of his better books, as I was not all that sure about it. I think it probably is meant to be a savage ravaging of contemporary prejudices and assumptions [I really should have planned that line a bit better]. However in some parts it is hard to know whether everything is intended or not. But then the book was first published in 1932, and the copy I was reading predates the beginning of the Second World War. Which makes the advertisements for the "latest additions" books in the back fairly interesting. What Hitler Wants anyone? Maybe Germany - What Next?, Mussolini's Roman Empire, China Struggles for Unity1 or The Jewish Problem then?

Anyway, not a very good book, although perhaps my initial confusion with the other Mischief book did not allow me to form an even opinion of it. So I have now moved onto another comedy of errors, which lampoons pride and prejudice (all I need now is to find a suitable Dickens title and I'll have the three piece suite). The new book? A Room with a View, EM Forster, which is proving better than A Passage to India (which I read whilst trying to work out if it was being funny or not). Best quote so far:
"It is so difficult - at least, I find it difficult - to understand people who speak the truth."

A much better book.

Shaking my confidence daily, since 2003.

1: Presumably noun, not Mitford. Up.

Friday, January 07, 2005

LadybirdOk, someone remind me: Wednesday 19th January. Because it's far enough off that it isn't immediate, so I don't have to worry about it, yet it's too near to forget about and then remember just in time. Spot who still cannot find the new blank diary which I know is about somewhere.

In other news. I think my banana plant prefers being in a centrally heated house. It is now sitting on the floor, having been moved from the windowsill, because it got taller than the window (and this is a huge 1960s style window). It's put on a couple of inches since I last measured a few days ago, and now comes to somewhere above my hip (including 6 inches of pot). And this is despite the serious greenfly infestation. I know: ladybird and be done with it, but where does one find ladybirds in early January? Oh and it's started weeping again. But last time I checked, that was a good sign.

Bizarre discovery du jour: green tapenade on crumpets. God knows which pregnant woman originally thought it up, but it works. I've only recently been introduced to the concept, and that was because we had run of butter, and the alternative was undiluted Marmite. Coincidentally (or perhaps PM-&-Chancellor-ally), why are green olives so much nicer than black? 20,000 words on my desk by 5 pm Monday please.

And surely there must be some award for most languages used in a single blog entry? The man's a walking babelfish. As-tu vu le dictionnaire? And unfortunately my language skills come to a grinding halt there. I could fling in a bit of gratuitous Swahili, but it later turned out that my painstakingly gathered vocabulary could have been cribbed in one go from the Lion King. Sodding Disney. They do lie though. That squashed banana thing does not mean no worries. It is something more along the lines of:

"Yeah, yeah. Sure I understand. Don't worry. I have a friend. You want bus, I get you bus. You want big bus I get you big, big bus. I get you many big, big bus."

An hour and half after the bus is supposed to be here, our friend turns up in his Toyota. A brief negotiation later, and he leaves, to bring a bus. He reappears with a matatu (which in a more touristy place has the wonderful name of "tandala," as that is how much it costs without pre-barter), which is a mini minibus, basically a van with seats. We explain that we are a large group, with many people, and much luggage. He disappears to purloin another vehicle. A proper minibus this time. He takes one look and doesn't even stop. Someone else approaches us and insists that he has a coach. A coach appears driven by someone we do not recognise. A short consultation later, and we leave on it. I still do not know who organised it.

Is anyone else out there still doing last minute Christmas shopping? Isn't it so much fun? Especially going out on such an Indians-were-sitting-round-the-camp-fire night. Actually I quite like dark and stormy nights. Although I usually expect them to smell of sea.

And now the nights are drawing out, and Christmas is officially over, how soon will it be before the first signs of spring appear? I refer of course to the perennially inflating Hot Cross Bun Index. I haven't seen any yet, but somewhere in the country they will have come. The Easter eggs are already out: a stockpiled three week's supply of air for every man, woman and child.


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

How very odd.

I received this email this morning:
From : Alexa <atdotcom>
Sent : 05 January 2005 02:44:05
Subject : Saw Anyhoo (yes &quot;anyway&quot; was already taken).
I recently came across your blog Anyhoo (yes &quot;anyway&quot; was already
taken)., and I think it's fabulous! I hope you had a great New Years.

My blog "A New York Escorts Confessions" has a bunch of regular visitors and I
think that some of them would enjoy your blog. What would you think about doing
a link exchange? If you'd like to, here is a short link to my site:

New York Escorts

Please let me know what you think.


On my initial scan I see fabulous, great, regular visitors and enjoy. Then I notice: the address; the misspelt name of the site; the odd little full-stop comma construct in the first line; the way the quote marks in the name of this blog are replaced by coding, yet the author's appear fine.

[Coincidentally, Blogger cannot do a literal blockquote, as the quotation marks all appeared even when they should not have done].

Why does this read as the product of mail merge? And hang on, didn't I mention within the last post or so that I did absolutely nothing on New Year's Eve? Once again the aversion to apostrophes kicks in. It's all insubstantial and generic. She couldn't possibly have set some program to mine information out of databases like half the BlogWhatevers which appear in the Buttonfest section on the left, could she? Either that or she did a basic cut and paste job, although I'd think most people would just get a machine to do it.

So do I check it out or not? It could be anything, just like any other automated spam. Well, I have Firefox in full down-boy-down pop-up killer mode, and can sit with my fingers posed over Alt Ctrl Delete. And as the website is not either a random selection of characters, or modelled on the by classical structure of I suppose it might not be as bad as I had feared.

I click. An image fills the newly opened window. Oh. It might as well been the Russian website, as the image depicts tooth-scrubbing fellatio. Er...but hang on there are words, and they don't appear to contain XXX, FREE!!! or VISA, so it might not be a porn site. Next item down is some nomination for some award. First mention of Belle de Jour. Then there's a film review. So maybe it is a blog after all. However at this stage I get distracted by the sidebar mentioning the lack of apostrophe in the name. Reading the linked entry, and perhaps I'll admit it is a blog then. But I have to disagree with her stance over the apostrophe, as she seems to think it's a purely aesthetic decision (said he suddenly noticing just how clumsy the bit in brackets is in the name of this blog). And she does know that the whole to-may-to ta-mah-to thing might just predate the Meg Ryan film she cites, right?

So it's legit then? Apparently. Not actually the most interesting of blogs, but not amongst the worst either. I'd put it down as someone wanting a publishing contract, and thinking they are working along the lines of BdJ. But it doesn't read as well. But maybe they'll do an illustrated edition (although, please God, no pop-up versions).

It is a real blog. So do they really want linking?

Maybe it's my innate Englishness, but to write basically saying "link me", just seems odd. Thus far, the links that have appeared here, and those to here from elsewhere, have been generated by people using links elsewhere, liking what they see (or not), and commenting on it. It's the internet: interact.

And if you do choose the mailshot approach, try customising it a bit more. Reference specifics. And check for minor errors. Otherwise I feel no more special than I do when I am informed that I have made it through to the 6th round of the Readers' Digest prize draw, and am guaranteed a prize (which I duly apply for by putting the letter into recycling, and magically within a fortnight later I have made it through to the 7th round).

So if we link exchange what do I get? Possibly nothing. Possibly to been included in her sidebar. Her sidebar which goes on for more than 5 screens worth, and includes 4 different lists of blogs. The second longest is "New friends", and below that, is a list the new people get bumped down to once they've had time to explore and become blind to the sidebars.

Am I being too cynical? Probably. But she's got what she wanted: a link. If she reciprocates then fine, and if she's really lucky she might get into my sidebar, but only I think her blog is worth reading.

I've also just received a letter from a publishing group, who with their customised frank claim to be "The areas leading [X] Group covering [A], [B], [C] & [D]."

So I'm a bit sensitised to dismal grammar at the moment. Come on though, the occupation of this group is the written word, and yet every letter they send out suggests their priorities lie elsewhere. And if it is something as stupid as the Post Office not doing apostrophes (dafter things have happened, especially when Royal Mail is involved), then what would be wrong with any of the alternatives which do not use apostrophes.

I'm sounding like I've become a cathode - spewing negativity in every direction. Oh well.


Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Mornington CrescentWhy does it not surprise me that the guy who writes City Comforts also listens to Radio 4? And how long will it be before the words "Mornington" and "Crescent" appear in his blog?

And on the other end of the scale (note I've carefully not said which scale), and because I am recip-addicted link-whore, I've also added WS to sidebar. Right up there next to unfortunately moribund Southern Cross. Can you tell I like juxtaposition?
[Well, I will have done once Blogger stops playing silly buggers].

Oh, and hands up if you think Flickr is addictive.

By the way, for UK people, Channel Four are apparently going to show a follow up to Jump London on Thursday at 10 pm. Thank you whoever reminded me by searching for parkouristes free running video. [Short burst of swearing at Blogger and its American date settings, which means I have a hard job finding the relevant post]. Er... permission to continue this another time as Blogger now claims this page does not exist, so well done you for reading this.


Monday, January 03, 2005

Orbs of DoomThe great Christmas write-up (because I never finished off the other one).

I spent Christmas aux mes parents (as if putting it in French disguises the complete lack of alternatives). Which was fairly standard: arguments abound, although this year it extended into world of wine connoisseurism, due to a very nice 1979 Rioja (it turned up somewhere random, and needed drinking). I say very nice because apparently something awful had happened to it, and so all the tannins had broken down. Which means the really vile aftertaste that most red wines have simply wasn't there. So basically it was bit like alcoholic Ribena. Never tried that though, I wonder which spirit I should use if I were to try it?

And seeing as we are such an interesting bunch, the next section is the films on over Christmas. Which the powers that be decided would just be fairly dismal. The best were invariably those aimed at children, but the pinnacle was not high. Shrek: enjoyable, yet I was not grabbed by it (although being Christmas Eve, I was trying to do other stuff at the same time, so that is by no means a fair verdict). Harry Potter: J.K. Rowling was a single mother when she started writing these books. How can one tell? Because my brother and I sat playing spot-the-rip-off. Indiana Jones features strongly. I am guessing she has sat through a fair few 1980's and 90's children's films. And does Alan Rickman ever play anything that which is not archetypal baddy? Capping of the strangely-familiar-fest was the Disney version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. For the record it was my brother who pointed the following out - by singing. One of the songs sounds oddly like Downtown by Petula Clark. And other than that it is a formulaic Disney film. Improbable, high cheek boned baddy, who whispers and swishes about, the inevitable fight of good versus evil, or fun versus control, the have-nots versus the haves.

Post-Christmas: Boxing Day was taken up with other matters. The 27th, and we went to my cousin's in Bury. Or rather we spent the 27th going to my cousin's in Bury. We left late, in two cars, as my brother was going back to London afterwards. I went up in my brother's car. As there was apparently all of 5 miles difference, we choose to go round the bottom of the M25, figuring it would be less busy. Although that decision was partly made for us as the queue from the clockwise slip-road reached back onto the road we came up on. For most of the Surrey section it was solid going the other way, and not much better on our side.

Oh, by the way, singing along to Simon and Garfunkel whilst stuck in slow moving traffic does earn one quite a few odd looks. But we probably gave each other a few whilst trying to listen to one of my brother's tapes (due to me having to choose from his selection, and being in the wrong mood for most of them, and the Rootjoose one being knackered). It was an original version of something by the Pet Shop Boys - the one with Suburbia and West End Girls on it. Only it had sat unused in my brother's car too long, and so we were treated to the remix version. God knows what had happened to it, but it sounded like the magnetised layers were no longer as attached to the cellophane bits as they should have been.

Getting into Kent, the traffic had cleared a little but the signs were warning of more ahead. Oh yes, that little place, what's it called? Bluewater. And whatever the one on the other side is. (It would have helped if we had remembered that it was the Bank Holiday in lieu of Christmas Day). As the end of the traffic jam coincided with Junction 4, we bailed, and after a bit of improv navigating, skirted round Orpington, and up the A20 (which is the route up to my brother's old house).

Deciding now was not the time to investigate the Woolwich ferry (does it still exist? How much does it cost? When does it run? How long does it take?), we opted for the Blackwall tunnel. How many bends does one tunnel need? Popping back out into the day light, and once again impronav kicks in. So we turn of the A12, and I scramble through umpteen pages of the A-Z.

In hindsight taking on what turned out to be the High Streets of both Stratford and Leightonstone was not the best idea I have ever had. Even if it meant I learnt how to pronounce the latter. Especially not when I later discover that to join the M11, we have to go on the North Circular, and to get to that we have to use the, you've guessed it, A12. Which after it disappeared westwards goes round in a dual carriagewayed big loop. Which I did not know about, as the next scale map I had was of South East England, where the M25 is six inches across, and London is a mass of unlabelled green roads. Oh well, speed bumps are fun.

Then we were rung up by the other car, as my parents rang up to say that they were at Bishop Stortford services, and where were we? I truthfully replied that we had just joined the M11, which we had, just a few junctions before we should have done. They [for when on the phone to either parent, it is always they, as both speak at once, and expect the person on the other end to hear everything and cope, often despite one of them being nowhere near the telephone] seemed a bit bemused when I asked which side of the river the services are. Well, how the hell should I know where Bishops "does this need an apostrophe?" Stortford is?

Mutually betwixt my brother and I means we too turn off to enter the services (it was all the speed bumps that did it). Traffic jam on slip road, but this apparently the Stanstead turn-off as well. The jam continues into the services. We jump part of the queue by choosing the Fuel Only lane when it splits off - only to discover that it merges with the main body of traffic again. There is chaos at the petrol station, with traffic jams everywhere. We drive down into the lorries section and pull over at the kerb next to other parked cars. We are both praying the petrol station has a loo. It does, and a queue. Apparently the men's is broken. Helpful. My brother being my brother ignores this, and uses the urinals, obviously working on the theory that as long as it keeps draining everything is fine. The woman in front of me is obviously put out when the man in front of her disappears into the solitary Ladies'. I end up in the disabled loo, and when I come out again, it seems we triggered a chain reaction. Half the shop is the queue for the loos.

Walking back to the car (there's something satisfying about walking past cars which cannot move), and my brother is by it peering at something. Getting in, and he complains about someone denting his wing. Oh. That could be why one doesn't park here. Driving out, and being faced with three lorries blocking the exit, we drive over the kerb between the lorry and car sections, drive at right angles through one of the queues for the pumps (very the Italian Job), down the middle between the pumps, round the back of the building, and ... and straight back into the traffic jam. This is when we discover the entire place is one big roundabout, with lots of short-cuts, and not short-cuts, and when the people waiting at the motorway junction don't move, no-one moves.

The parents ring again, and wonder why we went into the services when we knew what it was like. Because they forgot to tell us. Apparently they've only just got out. An age later, after being overtaken by the lorry that might have hit my brother's car, only which wasn't, as it had scrapes of the wrong colour paint on it, we get out.

Further up, and there's the aftermath of a very entertaining crash. In the outside lane is a silver Discovery, stopped, but looking fine. Behind it is a large white van with a spare-wheel shaped crumple in the bonnet. Behind that is a small red Seat. By the Seat are a cluster of people looking could but fine, and all the vehicles are empty. Only, when I say behind in one of those sentences, for the most part I mean under. The back wheels of the van are either side of the Seat's unbroken windscreen, with the rear overhang of the van sticking in the air.

Sheer fluke is the only explanation. Well, sheer fluke, and the van being empty, and the Land Rover being at a standstill, and the van throwing its nose down, and tail up as it braked, and hopping up a bit more as it pivoted on the base of the Land Rover, and the Seat simply coming in underneath at exactly the right time, and being landed upon. The Land River went forward under the momentum, and van and Seat found they couldn't move. One would struggle to recreate it, especially not having the van fall over.

Before we had got to the crash a police car had come screaming up the hard shoulder past the pre-rubber-necking traffic jam, but it was still battling its way back down the other carriageway when we saw it again a long while later.

Continuing up the provincial motorway, and it is provincial: it has only got two lanes. The main A-road I learnt to drive on has three for a hefty chunk of it. Anyway, we go off on some roman road towards Newmarket, both agreeing it is a very dangerous road, as my brother found himself going, let's just say, somewhat fast. It is long, and flat, and bloody boring. Which reminds me. People complaining that Stanstead should not be expanded in preference over other airports, due to the swathes of countryside which will be lost. Have they actually seen the relevant bits of countryside? It is all industrial monoculture. It is worse than Wiltshire for barren monotony. The spare land left over from the building the motorway is probably the most biodiverse area anywhere round there. Yes, expanding the airports will wipe out millions of plants. But they are all one of three arable species.

Anyway, I don't like places with not enough trees and not enough hills.

And it must be a bloody boring place, as about the most interesting thing round there is the section of road on which they test road marking paints. Eventually we get to Bury, or near Bury, or the roundabout with the big British Sugar factory (it took me much to long to figure out why it was built there, miles from the nearest dock where sugar cane products could come in. Wrong species), and the Silver Spoon flowerbed. My brother ignores my instructions. Or rather he asks for clarification, and so I foolishly read out what the AA said. Which was "third exit". Which is the sugar factory. So he drives past the next exit (which I think was the one we wanted) and drives off on some random road (which may or may not have been the one we just left), and expects me to navigate. I have a jumble of road numbers, but have no idea where we are, and which way we are going. We gradually hone in on Bury itself. And then drive past Waitrose a second time.

This is silly. We have map of Bury, which doesn't seem to feature any of the same streets we are driving past. It mere shows, in colour ill-chosen with regard to conversion to greyscale, a selection of roads, and a route which starts at a junction. How one is supposed to know when one reaches that junction I don't know, nor do I know which direction one is supposed to arrive from (which we might not be doing anyway).

I annoy my brother and insist we follow the signs to the station. Not least because it may be by the town, and the landscape around it might show which direction the town centre is in. But also because, with any luck, it will have a big map outside showing bus routes and things.

Just as we park outside the darkened station (oh did I mention the sun had set just after Newmarket? So, me bringing my hefty camera with which to take pretty pictures of Bury when we go on the inevitable "family gathering, and we're not drunk nor desperate enough for Pictionary, charades or sevens yet" walk, was not really worth it then?), my cousin rings, with my parents in the background. Oh, apparently the AA route is complete bollocks. It has odd little doglegs to account for the all-pervading one-way system, only it does not use the same one-way system, and so it ends with many no-entry signs.

Using the station map, and ignoring the advice of my cousin (would I? Instructions like "Go up the hill, or it might be down then up," do no inspire much confidence), I work out a route. There is still one variable, as I have no idea which way out of the station we should turn, but I know what to do when we get to either end of the road. We go left, and as there is no roundabout, right. Which gets us to a big roundabout we have driven round before. Straight across, and then we want the first right. Which I've already warned my brother might be quite small. Looking down the approaching one-way road onto which we come out further down, I say "Oh, down there, by the car sticking out". We approach what might be it, or might be a drive.

He drives past it. I assume he has seen something I have not, and so keep fairly quiet. We cannot use the next road, and suddenly my brother is refusing to turn right at the one after that. Oh great. Now I am lost again, and off the bottom of the only map I have. He is cross. Apparently I should not have pointed out the car sticking out, as he did not see it, and drove on looking for the car sticking out. Well, if he had tried looking in the first place...

We turn right, and find ourselves driving round the south of a marketplace come car-park, with a big hotel flanking the north side. We drive on, and approaching a t-junction fork, he asks the way. My gut feeling is right, so he goes left. More shops, more people, then fewer shops, and at each road, I peer for road signs, hoping to find any which are on the map. I do not recognise any of the names. Remind me not to let him do the printing next time, as I have three very similar maps, all on a uselessly large scale. To think the guy is an engineer, he's supposed to be good with plans, and having only useful information. [To be fair, he is good at what he does, which is get cross with contractors, and recess boiler flues, and confuse me with the word annular, although that isn't being all that fair. The word means distance between two concentric circles, so it equals r2 - r1, where r1 is the radius of the inner circle, and r2 that of the outer. He also gets cross when I, on seeing pictures of his latest project, point out all the things which should have been done in snagging, and I think knows it. And conforming (especially begrudgingly) to regulations makes some very odd structures].

Anyway, we continue having a flaming row, as we drive past Waitrose for about the fourth time, and eventually we find the right right-turn, and then navigate our way through the narrow streets, and end up outside our cousin's house. At twenty past four. I know we left late, and that was about noon, but over four hours on a two-hour journey? Not quite as bad as the Easter when we went to collect my brother from Warwick Uni, and managed to be forced to go via the outskirts of Birmingham, the total 2-hour journey up taking over 8 hours (we left late because I took, and passed my driving test that morning, and then got delayed as my driving instructor pulled over on the way home [me being in shock] to help a cyclist someone had just knocked off his bike. It was a really nice warm sunny day when my mother and I left, and yet we spent several hours sitting on a causeway in an impromptu lake). Then we had the excuse that the platforms at Leamington station looked like they ought to have lock gates at either end, but just apparently normal heavy traffic, one rogue service station, and a bit of grotty navigating?

So we got there. Hello'd a bit. I got told off for sitting on a radiator (my brother had woollen jumper on under his thick winter coat, I had a thick cotton jumper under leather jacket which was bought to fit my shoulders [read: too big round my chest], as I knew his car was warm. It wasn't, as he was). The Winter Pimms, with extra ice wasn't helping (Pimms, indoors, no lawn, at night? How can this be?). I am offered cake, and by aunt thinks I'm joking when I suggest the end piece, which was the uncut end of the cake. I am ever so glad that in my generosity, I gave that side of the family a big tin of biscuits (which had been given before Christmas). Which I then very nearly emptied, with a little help from the rest of our side, as we had carefully managed to leave before lunch, and arrive a long time after it.

We talk. There is jigsaw-puzzle-ige, as it was left out by my aunt and cousins, and my mother proceeded to point out that they hadn't sorted the pieces, and they weren't, as they thought they were, missing some of the edge pieces, but had got the sky, and the grass wrong. I think my aunt had been working on her own on it for some while, and expected to continue in the same manner. Which given she knows her sister (and how like each other they really are) means she shouldn't really have left it out. My aunt leaves to sulk and criticise her daughter, the daughter pops out with plates of "nibbles". Inverted commas, as they weren't nibbled. Her brother finished off one plate before I found out what it was, and within minutes all that was left were two and half black olives. Why are the green ones so much nicer?

Judging by the sounds emerging from the kitchen, our hostess had realised the locusts and/or gannets have landed, and they won't be stopped by mere trifles (though if you make it a big trifle...). It also appeared that her mother knew better how to make something which she has never made. I don't think it was the Pimms kicking in which meant that level of kitchen clanging rose as my aunt continued dispensing her advice.

Then dinner was served, or rather, we were told to help ourselves (cunning sidestep by my cousin, releasing her from the perils of intolerant diets, diet-diets, judging hunger and stomach size, and all whilst trying to appear fair). Which means we all take exactly the same amount, safe in the knowledge that there will be seconds if we should wish it.

Thai fish curry. I liked it. My mother complained (in the car on the way home) that it was bland. Said she who does not like spicy, nor hot, food, and whose curries are mainly indicated as such by the prescience of sultanas. Her rarely used curry powder was inherited. It has a pre-decimal price on it. The notion of mixing single spices is a complete anathema. My father complains that he was not sure about the fish. Which tasted very fresh, and completely without the going-off fishy smell. The man is getting paranoid about food. He will quite happily leave "Keep refrigerated" food out all summer and then eat it, yet if anyone suggests the fish or meat might be past (or more recently, coming up to) the best before date, and then suddenly it's iffy. If it had fresh blood dripping out it, he'd complain it had gone too cold to use.

So we ate. And then the cards came. Now given most of my family are like me, in that they are thoroughly nonchalant, unless they think they can win, in which bloody well get out of the way; and I know full well my cousins both happily cheat (Monopoly years ago. The male cousin was the banker who hadn't quite grasped that the roles of banker and player should be separate, and my female cousin oddly seemed to have an infinite supply of high denomination notes. Every time bankruptcy looms, she'd fish another one out of somewhere); and those who are most susceptible had been drinking the most alcohol; what would you make the impending scenario? Yes, an ideal one in which to find book on games, and learn a new card game.

I was between my mother and my female cousin. Unsurprisingly, after 7 rounds, I was still in last place. The name of the game was Pip Pip! No, I haven't either (well, until then). Basically at the end of each round one collects points for the picture cards [J=3,Q=4,K=5], the ace [=10] and the two [=11] which one possesses. To collect cards one has to win a circuit (having already used round for something else). Twos score higher than aces, with aces high. We were using two packs of cards, but I don't know if that is essential (I should think so though). A circuit is basically a lap of the table, in which every player plays a card. If one can follow suit, then one should. If one cannot, then one can play any card. The idea is to play the highest card of that suit. If someone else plays the same highest card (as there are two packs), it is the second player who takes that circuit.

However there are also trump cards. These are the cards in a suit which is determined at the start of the round by splitting the pack. They can be changed by someone calling out Pip Pip! as they lay out the King and Queen of the same suit. So if trumps were diamonds and you held the King and Queen of spades, you could call Pip Pip, and change the trump cards to spades. In doing this you would win 50 points, but it also means people know what two of your cards are. I think we restricted calling out Pip Pip to the end of a circuit, as having the trumps change mid-circuit gets a little controversial (especially as it is usually someone realising that they can do it, having just sorted their hand after their go, so play is now two or three players down from them, and the game might have been very different if they had called promptly). If they're nice they might be able to do it on their go.

Right, so each person has been dealt 7 cards (it might be supposed to be the number of players). The rest of the pack sits in the middle of the table, after the pack is split and trumps called. All players take their hands. The person to the left of the dealer (who was originally chosen by splitting the pack, not that it matters) plays [switching to example mode] the seven of hearts, and takes a card from the central pile to replace it (as do all players). The next player to the left plays the Queen of hearts. The next only has the 3 and 6 of hearts, and so plays the 3. The next plays the 4 of hearts. The fifth player plays the second Queen of hearts, and so stands to the win the game. The next player plays the other 3 of hearts. And the dealer plays the 8 of hearts.

So the fifth player wins that circuit, and keeps it as pile facing downwards in front of them. At the end of the round it will score 8, for the two queens.

He then leads with hearts, getting rid of the other 4 (he could lead with anything he likes, but the person who leads normally loses regardless). The next player plays the Jack of hearts. The dealer plays Jack of diamonds (the trump suit) to win control of the circuit. The next player plays the second Jack of Diamonds (to cries about the shuffling). The next player the ace of hearts, and so is the current winner. And after that comes the 9 of hearts, and the Jack of hearts.

So in that round the person who played the ace wins, and will score 10 for the ace, plus 12 for 4 Jacks.

(We were playing the highest scoring card wins, and the most recently played wins. So in a round where everyone played Jacks, the most recently played of either the lead suit or trump suit would win).

[Trying to clarify the rules on Google is a mistake. I cannot get beyond the Miss Havershams and Peripheral Interchange Program. And mentions of the same book we found it in].

That all make sense? Good, or tough.

Anyway, we played a card game, and the game was pretty much irrelevant. Once we finished, we left, although not before my aunt threw out a few well-chosen comments, which were perfectly honed to cause the most offence. She always does it. Usually if it is a brief visit, she scatters them throughout the conversation. But any longer, and she seems to hoard them up for use in the last five minutes. Odd.

The drive home was dull, enlivened only by realising I have seen the Canary Wharf cluster from far North, South and East, in one day. That, and discovering how grotty Essex really is. Everything has lights. There might have been vast tracts of beautiful countryside beside the motorway, but because every single road has streetlights (some on a gargantuan scale), it just seems as if the world is infected with orange mould. We went back over the bridge at Dartford. It's quite big. As is the river there, although in all the lights it took us a while to see where it was.

More recently was the hastily arranged visit to a friend - GA. It was hastily arranged as the last time I saw her she said she'd be at the family's pub for Christmas, but since then she hadn't replied to text nor email. She then rang up to say that she had been there for a week and was bored and wanted to see me. I agree, but she is a bit annoyed when I can't just drive straight over. Anyway, so I do other stuff, and then leave the house at the time I supposed to be there, after cursing the person who moved my car but stopped the engine with the choke out.

Mexican hat plantI get there just over 25 minutes late, but I was stuck behind a tractor for the last section. We exchange presents. I feel guilty for giving her a Mexican hat plant in film container. I get a possibly recycled chocolate orange in return. Which I suppose just about beast last year's Ferroro Rocher, which were allegedly all the village shop had. This year the excuse is that she went to Thorntons and had bought lots of expensive chocolates, but had left them on the island.

Why a small plant in a film container? Because it was supposed to be an avocado. But they hadn't sprouted yet. So she got what was effectively a weed, as the plant produces plantlets along the leaf fringes, which drop off and sow themselves all over the place. So she has an off-cast plant which isn't all that interesting at the moment - although I did tell her it was special and does special things. Why in a film container? Because I forgot to find a pot for it, and then thought about the problems of trying to transport a potted plant on a plane. Also, despite not being able to find anything to the contrary, I wasn't to sure on what customs might make of it (all I could find was mention of "restricted plants", but nowhere would say what those plants were). So a film container seems a fairly innocuous thing to be carrying - until they notice her new SLR is digital (our family has a history of interpreting customs and excise laws loosely. My grandfather's technique used to be to have whatever contained all the normal and legit stuff tied up with an apparently neat and elaborate knot. The customsmen being typically annoying would invariably ask him to open this package. Being able to tie knots, he'd pull one bit of string, and everything would be exposed. The customs men would prod a bit at the bundle of papers or pyjamas, find absolutely nothing of interest, and feeling fools, usher him on, and start on the next person in the queue).

Anyway, does anyone know what the Channel Islands would make of someone bringing a succulent of unknown species in from the UK? I couldn't find anything which makes it clear whether there are any restrictions.

So she now has a nice plant. And I carefully didn't mention that my original has grown the entire height of the window, is being held up with string, and at the top has formed a series of meanders as it has tried to grow through the window recess. At the base of each meander, masses of roots have sprouted. Apparently they flower, but I've never seen one. Oh and the plantlets get everywhere. And they grow everywhere. But other than that, it's a nice plant. One just needs to keep it in a small heavy pot.

All this from a find in a lab coat pocket (I think we were using them to do experiments on stomata). Judging by some of the comments, it only produces the all pervasive plantlets when it isn't all to grow fully. Trying to find more information, and it turns out that there is another plant with the same name. Helpful. Anyway, it appears to be Bryophyllum daigremontianum, native to Southwest Madagascar. God knows the name then.

Enough of the possibly poisoned chalice stuff. Post presents we went for a walk, complete with dogs. There are two. One older one, who is Collie-Labrador cross, and therefore bright enough to know it's me, and know what to try, and more importantly, what not to try. The second is apparently a puppy, but doesn't look it. God knows what she is, although by the look of her, I'd guess some percentage wolfhound. Less bright, and has a lot to learn.

Fortunately my friend has more sense than to suggest I drive in my car (it may have mushrooms, but it doesn't need fertiliser), and so wisely borrows the car of her younger siblings. We get out of the car, and the dogs bound off, ricocheting past the "Dogs must be kept under control" sign. GA talks about the geography project she did on the woods, and then repeatedly manages to get lost. She mentions her new digital camera. I ask her questions. She gets annoyed. Her standard reply involves the "automatic", and the reply after that is along the line of "it just does".

She maintains that whilst she bought it a while ago, she hasn't used it much. I ask her why it is not with her now. Apparently there's not much to take photographs of in late December. There's nothing to look at. Said she, the girl with the first class biology from Oxford, standing on the boundary between two different types of plantation, and two sections of different age woods, with banks, ditches and former canals running through it. Yep. Absolutely nothing of interest.

I try pointing out things, and she complains they are not aesthetic enough. Discussing pine trees, and she cedes some ground, but the changes her defence for not having the camera with her to her lack of case for the camera.

I persist, and having been made aware of the five different mosses growing together, she then protests that she doesn't like the colour green of two of them.

We walk on. I haven't been paying much attention to where we've been, as GA knows the tracks by name. So I'm a bit thrown when she says, "This isn't here."

We try following a road past a house to get back to the car pack, but it bends the wrong way. We turn back at the footpath sign, which helpfully is pointing along the road. Cutting through the woods, we come out by the canal, and after walking along beside it for a while, GA decides we have to cross it. So we then walk along the bank until we find somewhere we can cross it. The bank is what used to be the towpath, and of course, as it is four foot above the neighbouring ground, is pretty much a quagmire. They couldn't possibly have built the canal banks out of clay could they? I do all right until GA stops, and I have nowhere to go but slide slowly down. I still have the clay tidemarks on my shoes (having worn them not my walking boots, as my walking boots are in a box somewhere).

It's my own fault for arguing with her about the directionality of moss and lichen on trees. She says it's bollocks. I say not. She will admit exposure to different factors causes zonation in seaweeds and other stuff lining a shore. Yet the moment I try extrapolating into an environment in a different fluid she refuses to believe me. Despite standing in wood in which every tree shows a similar pattern. She claims that when in leaf the trees block out the light, and would stop sunlight having an impact on the trunks. Said she on mild, damp day in December, when the trees are damp on one side and not on the other - and this is with the sky being heavily overcast, so there is very little directionality to the light.

Oddly, beyond the ring at the base of every tree, mosses seem to favour the southern face, and a grey lichen the northern face. Higher up, rusty algae appears to grow wherever water flows and lingers, and so dominates the northern aspect of a tree. And still it's just chance, according to her.

I attempt to take a picture of an ivy clad tree in stand of grey, fading to pink, pines, but it won't come out, as even with the widest aperture the light levels still needed a slow shutter, and I think I moved. Playing with my camera she sees pictures very differently, although, as she said, it could just be she needs some new glasses. It's not very comforting to know that the person who is driving home cannot see the twigs on top of the birch over there. She could make out the split in the trunks, but not much beyond that. Oh well.

And so back to the pub, only to find that her father is about to go to the cash and carry, and GA volunteers to help him. Er...? Apparently he's hurt his back and shouldn't be lifting things. Oh, and as I'm here (and tall and male), would I mind coming along to?

Ok. I assume we're going to somewhere on the outskirts of Notavillage, Tweeton or Notacity. But then we turn left down narrow country lane. Well maybe we're going to one of the villages near Tweeton. I know I am supposed to abhor SUVs, or whatever the English are supposed to call them, but it's quite nice sitting in the back on one, peering over hedges. And it is a Land Rover, albeit a Discovery. And it does get muddy, ford streams, be dented, and have vegetation wedged in the wing mirror, so it's not as anachronistic as some of them (and don't try arguing that speed bumps are analogous to a ploughed field). Admittedly my car also does all of those things, including drive round with 6 foot of ivy hanging from the bumper. I think it's still got a thick layer of silage round the wheel arches.

Anyway, the magical mystery tour continues, and I can't quite her the conversation in the front. There's talk of 134,000. This is either the tsunami death toll, the overdraft of the pub, or part of the accounts of one of GA's clients. It's worrying when it sounds like it's bad, but I don't know what it was. He's still driving, and hasn't taken either of the turnings I might have expected. We go past the egg farm, and I notice (over the hedge) that there's a massive lake there. Did I never notice when it, or it is new, or is it just flooding? In don't know, and we drive through the village. Then onto one dual carriageway, along a bit I don't recognise, normally having already turned off regardless of where I'm coming from, and then of at the next junction. Through another village, and I wonder whether the route he took really was quicker than via Tweeton. Onto another dual carriageway, and then off and onto another one. I'm being to wonder quite where this cash and carry is.

We turn off, at a junction marked Scarytown. Scarytown really is. I remember going through it on one dark wet night, and being one of the things moving in the place. The only which wasn't another car speeding towards the "You are now leaving..." sign was a man in normal clothes sauntering along with machine gun slung over his shoulder. The entire place is twitchy and menacing - even a cul-de-sac of bungalows somehow managed to be threatening when I had to turn round in it.

Fortunately we don't penetrate the ring of car showrooms, and pull into the high fenced car park of the cash and carry. And then in. Firstly, as it was pre-NYE, the spirits, and the list is long and bizarre, featuring several "what is?" items, and some I simply ask about. And now I see why they bought me. At the back of a row of bright blue bottles is a green one. It's on the top shelf. I can't reach it from the floor. GA can only just reach the top shelf.

Elsewhere we have to purloin a ladder to get a box down, so we can open it. It's all very Shoppers' Paradise, although I didn't see any boxes of broken biscuits.

When I was growing up there were two sorts of household. Those which bought boxes of broken biscuits, and those which didn't. Ours did occasionally. Places like cubs did. I remember the friend whose mother bought only finest things for her child's birthday party, and overhearing her complain about the cost. Anyway she was the type of person who, whilst thinking doilies are infra dig, arranges cakes and biscuits both beautifully and with military precision on what she called "lined dishes". And then is terribly upset when the children disturb the immaculate scene (I could be imagining this, but I'm fairly sure the piñata has sequins sewn on. I remember the mother worrying about getting the bits of papier-mâché out of the lawn). I could never understand such attitudes. Look, it's sugar; they're children: they don't care.

Whereas virtually everyone else, while making symbolic gestures of civility, just bought a box and let the children rummage. And if it means having a small pile of battered bourbons at the end, so be it. But I think there was enclave of thorough pragmatic people where I grew up. Every time anyone had people round, we provided and ate exactly the same things - although it got more standardised after the built Sainsbury's, and forevermore the good townsfolk ate whatever happened to be on mutli-buy.

Although possibly this went a bit far when guests started to know exactly how many packets of what the host would have left. Yes, I am thinking of certain situation here - once upon a time at the house of the people who were washed out of their hotel room. Don't worry, they headed for the nearest palm, and then timed between waves to retrieve a wallet and some possessions. But of all the people it could have happened to, I can't think of better people. I mean that in a good way. These people are the type to be calm, think and cope.

Incidentally I was rather worried when I received a postcard from the Alabamarite. I did not look much at the image after noticing it was a symmetrical figure with red, green and gold bits, with a big blue and gold ring behind the head, and the entire thing on a red background. Late December, and from the Alabamarite: it'll be some tasteless ultra-Christian Christmassy angel. And then I read the first line:
"Hello [G. Bajrangbali] Greetings from India - seriously!"

Oh? Oh!

I read on. I wonder why flying via Moscow was scary. ...Uni...good elephant...henna...peacock...sari...Christmas tree!...Taj with sugar...hands...

[Chounker, chounker, chounker] That's nowhere near there is it?

It says the 15th. I didn't even know she was in India. Oh hang, she replied to the group email when one of the people from our final year flat commented on it being someone else's birthday, and the Alabamarite has the same birthday, and that was afterwards. I wonder if she got postcard with the gilded lily?

So how did she find a gaudy postcard of an angel in India? Turning it back over, and I notice it is a curiously hairless monkey, with a bell on its tail, pulling its chest apart, in a suitably gory way, to reveal a blue man and pink woman both with the gold headdresses both making the international "How" gesture. Either that or it's a pictogram of Stop in the name of love (before you break my heart/rip said heart from the bleeding chest with your bare hands) by the Supremes.

In fairness, the monkey does have flowing tresses and a couple of halos, and the colour scheme matches Catholic imagery, so you can see why I got confused. But the painter's signature does look like A Vishnu.

I've just notice the Alabamarite spells sari as saree.

And I assume G. Bajrangbali is the name of the artist.

Where was I?
Oh yes the cash and carry. GA is useless at shopping. She just doesn't look, doesn't move, and doesn't think. She still moves as if she's reading a book, which she used to do whenever she walked anywhere. Though at least this time she didn't use her finger to scrape out the sludge at the bottom of the free cup of hot chocolate (she invariably used to at school, as the machine spat a pulse of warm water at the powder, and called that mixing. And why are drinks from vending machines luke-warm, and only just over half-full? Unfortunately I can guess at both answers. A: So customers can't scald themselves and sue. B: Because it uses the high-pressure jet to mix the drink, and if there was any more liquid it would spill over the top when the water is squirted in). She's going to hate me for mentioning that. But it'll be fine as long as I don't mention the blue jumper with the big snowflake which she wore during the late 80's and most of the 90s. She obviously didn't grow much. Anyway, I'd better stop being a beastly child and get on with it.

Shop. Back to pub. Eat (remind me not to agree to whatever she has. Jacket potato. For her the main meal of the day. On my scale a snack). Play with camera - hers this time: ac Canon Eos 300D (I think). Get told off for daring to mention manual modes. Apparently I can't use M as I'll start it cleaning itself or something. Break camera. I didn't do anything. You saw me. I was just holding while I read the instructions. Camera still broken. Won't turn on. GA checks the battery. 90% charged. Oh. Put it back in. Still doesn't work. Put it back in again and it works. I've got as far as finding out from the trouble-shooting guide that if the camera won't turn on then either the battery is flat, one of panels is open, or either the battery or memory card is missing.

Tentatively continue trying to use it. I had been asking permission, and double-checking everything beforehand, knowing how infuriating it is to have someone grab something new and do unknown things to it. Oh, now I see what she meant by it having 7 auto-focus points. I assumed she meant pre-set optimums for distances. She meant there's a cross within the viewfinder, and red LEDs flash at each point in focus. I miss the red LEDs the first few times. They're very faint. And I wasn't expecting to see them.

Having been banned from changing anything in any of the remotely automatic modes (she doesn't seem to understand I wanted to do more that turn the dial to the picture of an electrified man. "But what does it do?" is a very dangerous question), I finally get permission to use the manual mode. I take quite a good shot of her (although with a direct flash, no way am I going to try to rotate the flash to bounce off the ceiling, when the flash pops up like a Porsche headlight on drugs, and with a bigger recoil than some guns). She deletes it. Well, if she hadn't been doing stupid things with her eyebrows she wouldn't look so bad in it.

She, of course, keeps the really dodgy picture of me mid-exuberant protestation. I saw it fleetingly, and about the only good things I can say about seeing me portrayed with a mouth like a horseshoe, is that at least it shows I have no fillings. Also I didn't know I had dimples when I did that.

Anyway, I berate her a bit more for having an expensive toy that she hasn't used, and try to disguise my reactions discovering the controls. To change the shutter speed, one uses a tatty little wheel which cycles round endlessly. The shutter speed is displayed on an LCD panel on the back, and it suddenly enters odd settings with nonsensical sets of numbers and symbols. To change the aperture, one has to use press a button, which also does something unrelated if you hold it too long, and then use the same wheel (spot who was groping round for the collar on the front of the camera). Given how poor the volume control on my radio has become, and that it is controlled by a disk in which movement detected triggers the change, not by a physical link, I am worried about how easy to trash this camera might be. Also it annoys me that I have to keep bobbing between the viewfinder and the rear panel. I have to pull out and down, and then go back in, set up the composition again, realise I need to change another setting, pull out again, change it, go back in, realign the camera. Basically it assumes you will never understand how it works or how it ought to work, and so it punishes you for daring to try. And I thought it was supposed to be a good camera.

There goes first and only place on my "when I get round to being able to afford it, like a good little consumer" wish list. Unless the one with less noughts in the name, but more in the price, has a better thought out control system.

Moving on. New Year's Eve was a non-event, literally, for once. The usual fallback, fell through (well I could have gone on my own, but that and having to drive home afterwards didn't feel right), as GA disappeared to the party of the friend of a mutual friend (who didn't tell me about the party, but it might be her type of party rather than my type of party). So I sat, scanned a film I forgot to scan in the last frenzy, stuck them on Flickr, and then watched Jules Holland, who had Basement Jaxx doing the same songs they did on the last Jules Holland I watched.

After that there's not been much, apart from discovering I don't like standing on very thick pile carpet, as it's like scree, and will keep suddenly giving underneath me. There was the traditional gridlock as several entire towns all went to the same set of out of town shops, each of which are having sales. I managed to upset one salesgirl by asking if the extra 20% of the products which were 50% of marked price was 20% of the original price or of the halved price. She didn't seem to understand the difference, and the shop obviously hoped no-one else would, as the reduction was 60% over all.

Oh, by the way what would you make of this?
Product: Linoleum floor covering.
Pattern: Steel industrial flooring [unembossed].
Colour: Grey.

You too can recreate that warehouse feeling, with this unique floor covering. Marvel at the precision copying of the non-slip fire escape pattern [This product is not non-slip]. In elegant, understated, universal grey, this product will bring that little bit of outdoors in.

Ok, so I made the description up, but the place with thick carpets was selling lino patterned with the ubiquitous pattern of modern fire escapes. I suppose it clangs less. Elsewhere in this shop: On the side of a pack of interlockable laminate flooring blocks, it proclaimed, "Wood-like sawing!" I presume that upon being sawn some laminate panels crack and delaminate themselves, and these do not, or possibly splinter lightly. I wonder how much effort has gone into making wood replacements act like wood? Another set of laminate panels proudly boasted that they were "authentic tongue and groove effect." They even had a surface which appeared to be copying the texture of MDF.

Sometimes I don't get this world.

As I've been typing much of this whilst West Side Story was on in the background, what is it about musicals and the name Maria? Admittedly this is based on a sample size of two.

Oh, and warning to the wise. Surely that should be a warning to the unwise, as the wise should already know it. An entire chocolate orange. In one go. Not good. But I had no choice as it had been half molten, so it was more of a chocolate apple, in one solid lump.

And I have not quite broken my mouse. It fell off the desk once too many times, and so the left button still functions, but is jammed at an odd again, and occasionally using it triggers the middle wheel as well. Somehow this means that every other thing I click closes, but then for some reason 4 of one thing will appear. Frustrating.


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