Monday, 3 December 2012
To have no central heating is to be plunged back into the middle ages. There's something truly medieval about waking to a freezing house; to go out into the cold streets to run whatever errand, and know you're returning to a fridge. It also puts me in mind of my childhood. Back in the 50s and 60s, no-one except the very wealthy had central heating, and we didn't think it that odd to be able to see our breath condensing indoors, or scrape ice off the inside of our old, wooden-framed, single-glazed windows. Back then the only warm place was under the bedcovers, and somehow we seemed to survive it all. But now we appear to be less able to cope with feeling cold. Modern life is all about control, so we think we should be able to control the temperature of our houses. Not being able to do so makes us feel terribly insecure.
But Christmas is just around the corner. In fact, it seems to have been just round the corner for months now. You can usually tell it's Christmas when the annual John Lewis TV ad appears. This year it features a snowman making a long and difficult trek across a snowy country landscape to a town, and returning with a hat, gloves and scarf for what I assume is supposed to be his snow-wife. The whole thing was shot in New Zealand and apparently cost millions. But I have some problems with it. If I leave aside the obvious issues (ie the fact that a snowman is made of snow and has no functioning body parts or organs that would permit locomotion), how does he manage to negotiate the inside of a department store, and then both choose and purchase a set of accessories? Are we to believe that, in his local town, there are shops that specialise in selling things to snowmen? How are negotiations conducted? How is payment made? Is there a Snow Dollar or Snow Pound somewhere in the economy?
And another thing. Is the bonfemme de neige meant to be his wife? Their facial expressions (if they can be thus termed) certainly seem to suggest it. But what if they were fashioned from snow from the same drift? Would that not mean that they were, if fact, blood (or water) relatives; more brother and sister than husband and wife? Y'see? A simple TV ad about a couple of anthropomorphic snowballs opens up a whole can of worms. Frozen ones.
I write this on Monday evening. A log is blazing cheerfully in the grate. There are two as yet unopened sacks of coal outside. The central heating engineer can't come until Wednesday. For the first time this week, for some reason, I'm not overly concerned...
Thursday, 29 November 2012
But perhaps November shouldn't be the only month to be renamed in support of a charity. Another eleven months are going begging, just gagging for a suitable group to adopt them. Now, let me see...
Jamuary - when the Women's Institute encourages the making and selling of preserves as a means of fundraising.
Phlebruary - the month for giving blood.
Marchpain - in aid of depressed dyslexics who are apt to confuse marzipan with diazepam.
Aperil - dress as a monkey to raise cash for animal charities.
Maybe - a time when the terminally indecisive think about charitable giving. Or perhaps not.
Jooon! - in aid of those damaged by excessive watching of sitcoms starring Terry Scott.
Julycanthropy - to support people who think they might be werewolves.
Smorgast - providing cold snacks for those poor unfortunates that live nowhere near an Ikea store.
Syruptember - wearing a badly made bright red wig (with a chin strap) to highlight the plight of those who cannot afford a decent hairpiece.
Socktober - reuniting socks separated at birth with their siblings.
Distemper - funding the whitewashing of dogs. For some reason best known to the organisers of the charity concerned.
Perhaps I should mention that there is a premium rate phoneline for those affected by this blog post. Oh, and a translation service for our American cousins who haven't the faintest idea who Terry Scott is. Or what a Syrup might be.
Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Those of you who have (sort of) followed this blog for a while will have noticed the less than subtle changes that have overcome it as time has rolled on. The first Director General of the BBC, Lord Reith, famously stated that the purpose of the organization was to educate, inform and entertain. Whilst not seeking to make any kind of comparison between a part time council employee cum morris dancer and the First Baron Reith, I started blogging around four years ago in the (I now realise) mistaken belief that I could, perhaps, aspire to some of those lofty Reithian precepts. How dare I presume attempt to educate you, my dear, but admittedly very small, audience! You, who, I am sure, already knew the recipe for recreating Roman fish sauce. You, who have probably written more poems in emulation of Sir John Betjeman than I have had hot dinners. You, who have been made far sicker than I by far worse repasts than a tub of jellied eels.
But at least, at the outset, the blog had a sense of purpose. Over the intervening months and years, I have to say, sadly, that this sense of purpose has fallen away, to be replaced by what I can only describe as stream of consciousness drivel. It is the equivalent of an inebriated tramp, weighed down by supermarket shopping bags filled with old newspapers, muttering softly to himself as he shuffles along a poorly lit alleyway in a corner of a sink estate in south east London. In the rain. And I'm not going to do it any more. Well, not much.
Monday, 12 November 2012
A few years ago someone coined the word 'NIMBY'. The term is generally used in a critical way to denote those people who oppose the building of houses, industrial units, airports, etc. in their area, and means 'Not In My Back Yard'. And there certainly seems to be a fair amount of nimbyism around at the moment. Like it or not, the UK government has signed up to us producing x per cent of 'green' energy by the year two thousand and something. And so, rather like Arthur Dent's Bypass in the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, the infrastructure for renewables has Got To Be Built, and it's Going To Be Built. So, we're looking at wind turbines, some of which are around 400 feet tall, and additional pylons to carry all that lovely green energy. But every time a new wind farm is announced, or set of pylons planned, a Pressure Group springs into action.
Sorry. I think I'm getting a bit cynical in my old age. But pressure groups do seem to be a bit po-faced, don't they? I think they need to try and appeal to those difficult-to-reach individuals by being a bit creative. They could start with a snazzy acronym. Let's suppose you live in Petersfield and you want to prevent the incursion of wind turbines: hey presto! Petersfield Residents Against Turbines (PRATs). Or maybe you're part of a group of mums in the West Midlands who are trying to prevent the building of a new generating plant: Birmingham United Mothers Heavily Opposed to Local Electricity Substation (BUMHOLES).
Some pressure groups manage to turn themselves into charities, the better to raise funds in order to fight their particular battle. And it seems that, in order to summon up a bit of cash from the general public, supporters are expected to undergo ever more difficult ordeals in the name of charity. Whatever happened to 'excuse me, I'm collecting for BUMHOLES. Can you give me some money, please?' Now it's 'hiya, I'm being tasered by my local police force to raise money for BUMHOLES. Will you give me a tenner to get zapped?' How would you respond to the latter? Would you say 'no, that's a terrible idea!' or 'your story has touched my heart. I'll give you twenty quid...but only if I can watch'.
So. If the government decides to build a giant set of wind chimes overlooking your conservatory, don't despair. Set up your own little pressure group, give it a catchy cognomen, have bits of yourself tattooed to fill the fighting fund, and tell anyone who will listen that it's in the wrong place. And when they accuse you of being a NIMBY, laugh in their face and tell them you belong to the BANANA bunch - Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.
Saturday, 27 October 2012
The breakfast room had been smelling a bit musty, and I'd noticed a couple of dodgy floorboards. So, I took them up, only to be confronted by a set of floor joist bearers that were rotten and riddled with the result of over a hundred years' worth of woodworm. Over the next couple of weeks I spent a jolly time stripping out and replacing the bearers, treating them with anti-worm jollop and filling around twenty rubble bags with, erm, rubble. The stuff looked suspiciously like the leftovers of the bomb damage our house suffered in the last war, courtesy of the Luftwaffe. I also found that the skirting boards were rotten and knackered, and removing them dislodged huge amounts of wall plaster, which I had to pay a plasterer to fix. What had started as a bit of cosmetic work ended up as a mammoth (and expensive) task.
Then there was the laundry room. Stripped out, wallpapered, painted and fitted with new shelves, this at least was a reasonably quick fix. Mrs H was happy because she can, at last, set all the new sets of sheets and towels out. The sheets and towels we bought before we moved. Four years ago. And then it was time to move on to the next job; boarding out the loft. Not, as an American acquaintance thought, renting it out, but rather placing boards over the joists so I can use the area for storage. I will no doubt fill it with things that would be better taken to the rubbish dump. Why do I insist on keeping things that should be re-homed, or sent to landfill to fascinate a future generation of archaeologists when they eventually unearth them hundreds of years from now? Sometimes I wish I could live my life according to the code of the Buddhist monks. They manage with a razor, a needle, a begging bowl and a few other odds and sods. If you met a Buddhist monk in a supermarket you could bet your life you'd find him in the 'Five Items or Fewer' checkout queue.
There weren't many Buddhist monks in Willingdon church hall on Friday; just a bunch of morris dancers in mufti, attempting to get to grips with a dance called Bill Brewer, which is loosely based around the tune for Widecombe Fair. And quite a good dance it is, or will be once I've got the hang of it. Some morris dances demand a great deal of concentration and not a little technical skill; every bit as much as the contestants on Strictly Come Dancing have to deal with. I really do think that the BBC is missing a trick. I could see Strictly Come Morris Dancing working well as part of the Saturday evening schedule...
Thursday, 31 May 2012
Curiously, this warmer weather has had a strange effect on Mrs H and on me; we have simultaneously developed awful summer colds. But, being the stalwarts that we are, we haven't allowed it to stop us from getting on with things. I spent a jolly day yesterday, sanding down skirting boards and filling holes in walls, whilst Mrs H pottered around the house doing various exciting chores. I had thought, when I moved to the coast just over three years ago, that I would spend my time in solitary walks along a windswept beach, composing poetry or thinking through the next chapter of my as yet incomplete book, The Middenshire Chronicles, but that's not how things turned out. Instead, I work five mornings a week, then come home to a pot of filler and a sheet of sandpaper. But, once all the work has been completed, there will (I hope) be time for the walking and composing.
My preoccupation with work and domestic refurbishment does not, however, prevent my being creative. Why, only the other day I invented an eye test chart for illiterate gardeners - instead of capital letters, I used vegetables. And I came up with a way of avoiding the expense of personalised car number plates - simply take the letters from your car's registration number and change your name by deed poll to match them. Probably best I copyright these ideas in case someone else tries to pass them off as theirs.
Nor does work and DIY stop me from getting out of the house now and then. The other day I thought I would take the old papers and magazines down to the small recycling area that lives in a corner of the car park at the end of our road. It was a quiet Sunday morning and there was no-one else around. As I approached the recycling bins, I saw a man leaning against one of them, reading a newspaper in what I can only describe as a furious manner. When he clocked my arrival, he stopped reading, opened up the bin he had been leaning on, and started sorting through the mixed collection of papers and magazines therein. He placed the magazines in a separate bin, and returned the newspapers to the first.
'Don't people realise?' he asked. 'Papers and magazines should be sorted.'
I muttered something like 'Oh, really?' as I absent-mindedly placed my own mixed load of papers and mags in the bin. He instantly fell upon them like a wolf on its prey and began to furiously sort them into categories.
'I don't know what's wrong with these people,' he said. 'Magazines in one bin, papers in another. How difficult is that?'
I was about to point out the sticky labels on the paper recyc bins that permitted both types of periodical in the same receptacle, but thought better of it.
'Violence. That's all these people understand,' he said through gritted teeth. 'Violence.'
So, there I was. In a deserted street with a furious man who wanted to tear amateur recyclers to pieces with his bare hands. I decided to leave Mr Furious to his one man crusade, and wandered off to buy some newspapers to replace the ones my potentially violent acquaintance was e'en now in the process of sorting.
Never a dull moment is Sussex.
Monday, 9 April 2012
Twas on a bonny morn me boys
We sailed upon the sea - oh
All for to catch the silv'ry fish
And have some for our tea - oh
And it's heave ho me jolly lads
Let's start the outboard motor-oh!
Heave ho, we're homeward bound
'Cos we've passed our EU quota-oh!
Our skipper bold threw out the nets
Some seafood for to slay - oh
He caught some crabs and a couple of dabs
And threw the rest away - oh
The skipper sighed and sadly said
'There'll be no pay today-oh
For those in Brussels have decreed
We throw good fish away-oh
If anyone's interested in writing a few more verses, please feel free.
Sunday, 26 February 2012
Language is a fascinating thing; I love the way my own language has developed over the centuries, from Anglo Saxon, through Norman French additions to Middle and then modern English. It is the language of Beowulf and Chaucer; of Shakespeare and Betjeman; and of your humble blognator. I'm afraid I do have a bit of a thing about using language properly, albeit I accept that it is constantly evolving. And it does amuse me when people mess things up. Take proverbs, for example. Last week on the radio, I heard the presenter describe something as 'a pain in the proverbial'. I assume she wanted to say 'a pain in the backside' or, more vulgarly, 'a pain in the arse'. Now, this confused me. During the course of my life I've encountered a good many proverbs. 'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush' and 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away', to name but two. But I have racked my brains to recall any proverb that contains the word 'arse'. 'A friend in need is a pain in the arse'? No. 'Too many cooks spoil the arse'? No in italics. Perhaps what the presenter should really have said was 'a pain in the metaphorical arse,' where the arse symbolically represents the object or person that is causing the problem. Equally, she could have indicated that the given something was 'Figuratively speaking, a pain in the arse.'
Metaphors and similes are figures of speech that seem to cause more than a few problems. There is a tendancy to confuse the two. But I can explain the difference very clearly, here and now, with a couple of examples. 'You are a pain in the arse' (metaphor); 'You're like a pain in the arse' (simile). How hard is that? However, my own view is that it is only proper to describe something as 'a pain in the arse' when it is, in a literal sense, a pain in the arse. But it is, perhaps, unfair of me to restrict my fellow human beings to the use of the phrase only when gripped by chronic piles, or some terible fistula. So I am not going to place upon them any such restriction. Instead, being of a generous disposition, I shall explain the difference between the literal and the figurative. It pains me to hear someone say 'I literally laughed my arse off,' when such a feat is, of course, impossible. When I hear it I always have the urge to say, 'but I see you've had it stitched back on again.' If they must use this particular part of the anatomy to indicate the effect upon them of a witty remark, then do not use 'literally', which literally means 'word for word'. Instead, it would be more proper to say, 'I laughed so much that it felt like my arse would fall off'. Or maybe even, 'Were it possible for my arse to detatch itself from the rest of my body in response to the paroxysms of laughter that this particular incident generated, I feel almost certain that it would have done so.'
So there you have it. Just be careful that you don't confuse any of my arse-related ramblings with Seigneurie d'Arse, which I'm told is a nice little wine from the Fitou region.
Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Every now and again it's good to get out and do something. So on Saturday Mrs H and I decided to go for a wander round Lewes, the county town, and have lunch in one of the many eateries that are dotted along the high street.
I like Lewes, but there's something about the place that I can't quite put my finger on. The late Keith Waterhouse said that Brighton 'looks like a town that is helping the police with its enquiries.' But Lewes, on the other hand, looks like a town that is best mates with the Chief Constable, and tells you that you'd do well to remember it, as you both try to nab the last parking space behind Waitrose. Most of its inhabitants look quite well heeled and have that air of self-assurance that I've never been able to carry off. Even the down and outs are posh. A ruddy-faced street drinker strummed a guitar as he sweetly sang 'you killed ma wee brother ya bastard' or something very like it to passers-by; in any lesser town the same words would have been screamed out in the middle of the night outside a block of flats, and without the benefit of a classical twelve string. But I digress.
Mrs H and I negotiated the doors of our chosen eatery and were greeted by a shaven-headed whirling dervish, masquerading as a waiter, who handed us a couple of menus and promised to seat us soon. Initially, the menus could not be read as our glasses had steamed up. But we needn't have worried. The 'soon' turned out to be a few minutes as the dervish multitasked his way round the restaurant, clearing tables, laying tables, collecting monies and delivering meals. But eventually we were deposited at a table for two in the middle of the restaurant and left to our own devices to study the menu now that the fog had cleared from our spectacles.Eventually Mrs H settled upon a little smoked cod and haddock dish with chunky chips, whilst I decided to tackle the steak and kidney pie. Off went the dervish to fulfil the order, which gave us the leisure to examine our fellow diners. Behind us was a husband and wife with two children; one a girl around three years old, and her little brother, probably no more than nine months old. They had clearly been waiting some time for their food, as the girl was in the process of demolishing two slices of bread, which she laboriously buttered with a knife that was almost as big as herself. And, after every mouthful of bread, the child wept copious tears for no readily apparent reason. Her little brother, in contrast, was rather quiet and solemn, dressed as he was like a mini country gentleman, with a tiny tattersall shirt and a grey waistcoat. I expected to see a gold dummy on a watch chain tucked into his waistcoat pocket, but disappointingly this was absent.
After waiting for more than half an hour for our food, I enquired of the dervish as to its whereabouts. Off he sped, and returned five minutes later with the news that my pie had been dropped on the kitchen floor just prior to its delivery to our table. This piece of information I found very hard to believe, for the following reason. I noticed that someone in the kitchen would ring a tiny bell when food was ready to be collected. One of the junior dervishes would then dash into the kitchen, emerging with said food. And, whilst I had heard many tiny tinkles during the preceding few minutes, I had not heard the tumultous crash of a steak and kidney pie, encased in a ceramic pie dish, hitting the kitchen floor. I suspected that they had simply forgotten us and our order, and had concocted the dropped pie story to cover their tracks. Deciding not to cause a fuss, I let it pass, and settled down to my dish of complimentary olives to await pie number two.
A few minutes later, a young female under-dervish arrived.
'I'm really sorry, ladies,' she said. 'I mean, sir and lady,' she added, having noticed that I was, in fact, a man.
'It's the hair, isn't it?' I said.
She blanked this rejoinder. 'I'm really sorry, but it was me who dropped your pie.' I gave her a half smile in an effort to show that I felt her discomfort. They had obviously drawn straws in the kitchen, and this young lady, having picked the short one, had been selected to confirm the story concocted by the senior dervish.
'Your food will be here in a couple of minutes.'
Our food arrived in a couple of minutes and, I have to say, it was well worth the wait. But what was even better than the food was the middle aged, middle class couple on the next table, who were clearly having a blazing row about where they were going to spend their next holiday. However, it was conducted in a very quiet and civilised manner, like two people who barely knew each other politely conversing about the weather. She wanted to go to Aspen in Colorado. He wanted to go to Europe. What have you got against Aspen, she asked. The length of the journey, he said. You didn't think Bermuda was too far away when you wanted to go there, did you, she asked. Well, then we'll go to Aspen, he said. I really want to go to Aspen. What's the snow like at this time of year, he asked. I have no idea, she said...
We paid the bill and departed before things turned really nasty and they started dipping their fingers in the carafe and flicking water over each other.
Incidentally, I can thoroughly recommend the restaurant to you. Sorry, did I not tell you what it was called? Oh dear...
Thursday, 26 January 2012
But I do struggle to give things up. Ask Mrs H and she'll quite happily tell you. I have more books than you can shake a stick at. I have a shed full of odds and ends that I've been collecting for years, in the belief that they might one day 'come in handy'. And drawers full of fossils, miscellaneous pebbles picked up from beaches, old pens, bits of electrical equipment and beer mats that I can't bear to throw away. The declutter experts advocate getting rid of something if you haven't used it for a given period - six months, for example - but I find it nigh on impossible to ditch things that I haven't used for half a lifetime. Or more. I have tried to declutter; heaven knows I've tried; but I invariably get stuck after the first item. And that first item is usually a bus ticket or a till receipt.
So, I'm a rubbish declutter-er. But just lately I've begun to wonder whether I shouldn't have hung on to all of it. For in the North Laine area of Brighton there is a large emporium called Snooper's Paradise, wherein a positive gallimaufry of antiques, curios and collectibles are for sale. Walking round Snooper's Paradise is like taking a stroll through your life. A bit like a near-death experience, only in slow motion. I was in said emporium a couple of weeks ago, and saw a good many items from my past. I used to store my fossils and sea shells in old Havana cigar boxes; the shop had them for six pounds each. My father cleverly rigged up an internal telephone system in my bedroom so my mother could phone me when dinner was on the table. Those same telephones, long since gone to landfill, are now worth around £100. And old bits of military clothing which I picked up for pennies at jumble sales in the sixties when such things were in favour (blame the Sergeant Pepper album) now cost as much as a new suit.
So, dear reader, I've come to a decision. I shall call a halt to any kind of de-cluttering. I wil start to fill my house with piles of newspapers, empty bottles and cans, and my garden with redundant bits of furniture. And I shall retain every book, CD, electronic gadget, empty takeaway carton and any other object that passes my way, on the off-chance that it may, at some point in the distant future, be worth a few bob. OK; if you visit me you might have to wipe your feet when you leave the house; but on the plus side, I think I'll soon have my very own documentary series on TV.
Sunday, 1 January 2012
What is it about the turn of the year that obsesses us, both individually and collectively? TV stations and the printed news media give us their Reviews of the Year, often focusing on a list of those luminaries who died. Magazines tell us how to be A New You, offering tips on resolutions, diets, giving up smoking and the like. All of which beg the question...if you want to turn your life around, why wait for some arbitrary date to do it? If it's October and you're thinking of packing up smoking, why wait until January? If for no other reason, it'd save you a bit of money. If you have a twenty-a-day habit, stopping smoking in October could see you saving around five hundred pounds.
I've decided that, if I do have to celebrate the new year, I'm going to do it on the 25th of March. At the risk of being a bore, I've previously mentioned that, until 1751, the new year started on that date, otherwise known as Lady Day. Falling as it does exactly nine months before Christmas Day, it's the day when the Archangel Gabriel is said to have informed the Virgin Mary that she was to bear Jesus. And this year (or next year, to be pedantic), it falls on the Sunday when the clock is advanced by one hour, giving us 12 hours, 30 minutes and 53 seconds of daylight during which to celebrate. Contrast this with the measly 8 hours, 1 minute and 47 seconds vouchsafed to us on the first of January.
Dare to be different. This March the 25th, wish all your friends and neighbours a Happy New Year. And rather than giving something up, take something up. Clear your clutter. Construct model aircraft from kits. Learn Anglo Saxon. Or even start morris dancing...