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Happy Birthday

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Today is the fifteenth of March. Today was a portentous one for Julius Caesar, but I always look forward to it with an anticipation of joy. Today is the birthday of my best friend.

Happy Birthday Julia, the dearest friend anyone could wish for.

I love this photo. Yes, I've stolen it, but I hope I can be forgiven today.

There is added joy and anticipation because we will be meeting in Kiev later in the year. Looking forward to that!

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The doorway - a column

I think I'm getting old. In fact I'm sure I'm getting old. Being realistic, I knew it would come, it always does, but I didn't expect it quite yet, and I certainly hadn't prepared for some of the things that come with it. The creaks in the morning I can handle, the aches at the end of a tiring day I can put up with. I can even accept walking into a room and wondering what the hell I went in there for.

The thing that is hardest to come to terms with is the intolerance. I've always seen myself as being particularly tolerant - or should that be peculiarly tolerant? - noted for it, in fact. Considerate to a fault, me. I've even been used as an example in a magazine article about British consideration and tolerance.

So, what's gone wrong? I hear you ask. I wish I knew. But I don't think it's all entirely down to me. But that could just be me being a tad intolerant. I'll explain.

Let's use an example. When I'm at work and lunchtime comes around, I head off to buy something in the town. I probably shouldn't say where I go, but let's just say that it rhymes with Barks and Fencer. From the office it's a fairly short walk through the town centre. On a sunny day it's a pleasant walk, at any other time it's just something you have to go through to get to where you want to be.

The thing I find annoying, the thing that seems to have eroded my tolerance and consideration, and Britishness, is demonstrated by a very small, insignificant few steps on that journey between my office and where my lunch is waiting. It's the doorway of Barks and Fencer. Yes, just the doorway - I have other gripes about this world-renowned, seller of underpants, knickers and things to cover them up, but they'll keep for now.

The shop is in what used to be Taunton's second-best-known hotel, which closed a long time ago and got repopulated by various things, including a rather fine Waterstone's book shop and, of course, the pants shop. The doorway is nothing special. Automatic double doors peel themselves back as you approach and, although I've never actually stopped and gawped, presumably close behind you. If there's no one in front of me I quite like doing a Jedi hand sweep as I approach, making it look like I'm opening them with my incredible powers.

As I say, the doorway is nothing special yet I fear it affects a lot of people in nasty ways. Sometimes it doesn't believe I exist and won't open when it sees (or doesn't see) me coming. It's a bit embarrassing to slam into the door when you think it should have opened for you, and you believe it's just playing games and will cave in at the last moment, and doesn't. But even that isn't the problem.

I think we've established that this is probably the most special completely unremarkable door in the universe. And it must have unseen powers beyond anyone's imagination. The nub of the matter is this. When other people walk through the door I can only assume one of two things. Either it drains them of all energy and impetus, or the shop full of underpants and my lunch is so enthralling that people entering are completely bamboozled as to what to do next. This is because every time I follow someone through the door, as soon as they've set foot beyond it, they stop, completely and utterly. It's like they become welded to the ground and just can't go on. It's like they weren't prepared for the wonders they'd find inside. It's bloody annoying.

And it doesn't stop there, even though they do!

On the way out it's exactly the same. People walk out through the doors, take just one tiny, infant step onto the pavement and freeze, bewildered, presumably wondering where the hell that sunlight, or Somerset rain, is coming from; wondering why there was a sudden change in temperature. Again, it's bloody annoying.

In the grand scheme of things this isn't remotely important, but it wears my tolerance painfully away to just below the skin where all the nerve endings live. It makes me mutter under my breath, and probably much worse, as I nearly bump into one of these bizarrely transfixed people, or have to avoid them dramatically.

Is it just me, or does this happen in other places and annoy other people?

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Happy Birthday Alice

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Today is Alice's 8th Birthday. Happy Birthday special young lady!

I can't work out where those eight years have gone; they have just flown by. These pictures were taken back in September when she started school. She really is growing up very quickly.

Alice, I hope you are doing well and staying safe in a troubled country.

With all my love.

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I love playing with words, and I love using words in an unusual and interesting way. But I also want to be understood. I have to wear two wordy hats – the one I use when I’m writing for myself, trying to be creative and having fun, and then there’s the one I have to wear at work where it has to be all straightforward, open and easy to follow. I try to make my creative stuff like that too, but I know I make the rules there; I don’t make the rules in my work use of language. But I do have to enforce them, which can be fun sometimes.

This is a genuine email that I received at work.

Here’s the background. There were problems with the computer system – there often are. Some people couldn’t get into their emails, some people couldn’t open Word, and then they would be able to but couldn’t save anything. The next day it would happen to a different group of people. This went on for a few days.

Then this email came out, sent to everyone in the building. Given the problem, I would question whether an email was the right way of telling people, but…..

“In conjunction with Third Party Supplier and Consultancy our ICT Network Services Communications team are continuing to proceed with further analysis, fault finding and eradication of any possible failure that may reside within the configuration or item on the network which is still continuing to cause internal County Hall network interruption problems similar to yesterday.

“I will of course inform you when a resolution has been found. However and regrettably at this present moment I cannot give an exact time of fault resolution.

“Due to the intermittent nature of the fault it is difficult to say categorically, how many customers are affected.

“Therefore and once again, I apologise for the inconvenience of non availability of service to customers who are experiencing problems.”

Now that’s a really wordy way of telling people what’s going on. In fact it makes the message almost unintelligible, and probably doesn’t tell them what’s going on, at least not in a way they’ll easily understand. I’m sure the person who wrote felt they had to use language like that because it’s what was expected of them. My argument, and the thing I have to enforce, is that it makes more sense to give people a message they’ll actually be able to follow.

Here’s my version.
“We know there is a problem. We are working on it but we don’t know how long it will take to put it right. We will tell you when the problem is solved. Sorry.” 

It’s going to be fun getting these techy people to write properly in English.

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Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

I've written about this on a few occasions before, and now that it's happened I thought I would break my (unintentional) silence to round it all up.

Yesterday, between seven in the morning and ten at night, the people of Scotland had the chance to vote on the future of their nation. It's a rare thing in these islands for such an obvious democratic event to happen at all. Yes, we have elections, and those elections are run in such a way that they never represent the actual will of the people. If a political party gets forty per cent of the vote they achieve a landslide victory. But that's another story.

Scotland had its moment in the sunshine - a rare thing in Scotland in my experience. I was there once at the beginning of July, contending with temperatures that didn't get above four degrees, and horizontal rain. If you see photos taken in Scotland, the chances are that someone has photoshopped in the blue sky and the shadows. Don't get me wrong, I love Scotland, I love Scottishness and I love that I have Scottish ancestry. Those things are very important to me, and that's why I took a keen interest in the independence referendum.

It all started a couple of years ago. There was an election and for the first time the Scottish parliament ended up being run by the Scottish Nationalist Party. One of their manifesto pledges was to have a referendum about independence. That set the ball rolling. It took a while, but a date was fixed, rules were drawn up and a question was drafted - 'Should Scotland be an independent country?' - a question requiring a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer. Six little words that would have a huge impact on the future of the UK, whatever the final answer.

Debates were waged, families and workplaces divided, and more Scots registered to vote than ever before. There was, of course, quite a bit of misinformation too - that always happens when politicians are involved. Some wonderful British icons were mauled in the arguments, the currency and who would have a right to use it, the NHS and the way it's funded, North Sea oil and who should benefit from the wealth it generates, the Queen and who she should reign over. Both sides had very different ideas about those things. Both sides made promises they stood no chance of keeping - again, that's politicians for you.

Anyway, the day, yesterday, finally came. The lies, conflation, exaggeration and rhetoric died away as people finally got their chance to put a cross on a slip of paper, stick it into a metal box and walk away in a democratic euphoria.

The polls closed at ten o'clock last night, and by five this morning the result was known. More people had voted than ever before in any form of Scottish election, and for the first time that included 16 and 17 year olds. Good.

As I said in my previous entries about this, I was torn for a long time on which way I would vote if I had the chance. Living in the south of England, of course, I didn't have a vote. Good. My Scottish genes wanted independence, my English ones didn't. All the others, well established genes from other parts of the British Isles, from Western Europe and beyond, didn't, I have to confess, get much of a say. It surprised me but my English genes won out. I decided that, personally, I didn't want Scotland to be independent, I didn't want the main link in the UK severed. And, I wouldn't have wanted the rest of us to suffer Conservative governments for ever more - that just isn't healthy.

So, listening to the radio this morning, I heaved a sort of sigh of relief when it was announced that the people of Scotland had voted to remain as part of the UK. I had thought it would be a close run thing, but the final margin was 55 per cent 'No' (to independence) and 45 per cent 'Yes'. 

And happily, our national nature says that 'that's that'. We will continue to talk about it but not to question the decision. It's been made, now sit down, have a cup of tea, perhaps something stronger, and work out moving forward together. That's what I like about us. In other parts of the world, people are so frightened by the possible result that they choose not to have the debate, they resort to violence and a lack of consideration that we just can't contemplate here. How unbritish can you get?

Somerset Remembers the First World War

As you will know if you read my entry last week, on Friday evening I was privileged to attend a preview and official opening of a new exhibition at The Museum of Somerset in Taunton. It was a gorgeous evening and standing in the courtyard of Taunton Castle, glass of lemonade in hand (I was driving as always) mingling with the other invited guests and watching colleagues working themselves into a frenzy, was a great experience.

We were all eager to see the new exhibition, but first had to go through the ritual of welcoming speeches and acknowledgements of all the hard work that had been put in to get us where we were.

Here are a few pictures - not mine because I didn't feel it was appropriate to take my camera along. I had a quick look around the exhibition and promised myself to go back when there weren't as many people around and more time to take it all in.

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I was really impressed by the artwork in the centre of the room (in this photo, the soldier with his back to you). It was specially commissioned for the exhibition and is created using poppy seeds.

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My colleagues, Helen (designer) and Sam (curator) preparing some of the exhibits.

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At the end of the exhibition there is a painting of this man, Harry Patch. He died, aged 111, only a few years ago. He was the last man alive who fought in the trenches on the Western Front and was a Somerset man through and through. I think this is an incredible picture showing his warmth and intelligence. He didn't talk about his part in the war until he was over 100, then he realised that talking about it might actually help to prevent something like that happening again. He was truly remarkable.

Exhibition in a noble cause

I'm feeling quite proud at the moment. I'll explain. As I'm sure you all know, this year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the first world war. Obviously, along with a lot of other European countries, this is a very significant anniversary for the UK. Over the past few months, and sometimes longer, a lot of projects all over the country have been put in place ready for the anniversary. In that, Somerset is no exception.

More than a year ago I was asked by the Somerset Heritage Service to give them advice about setting up a website, what job it should do and what content they should have. I was happy to do that for lots of reasons. I like working with the Heritage Service and have even done some volunteer work with them in the past. The result was http://somersetremembers.wordpress.com/blog/ .

Although I am very firmly a pacifist and always have been, I can't change the past, and we need to know about things like this war so that we don't make the same stupid mistakes in future (even so, a vain hope I think), so the war interests me too. On top of that, my grandfather actually fought in the war. He was posted in Palestine looking after and driving horses. When I was a child he used to tell me some stories about things that happened to him and people he met. Of course, because I was so young, he didn't tell me anything grim or horrific - and I'm sure there must have been things like that - but I did get a bit of a feel for his part in it all. Sadly, I don't remember most of what he said, which is a pity, and he hasn't been around to ask for a very long time, but I do feel a connection even now.

As part of the project I gave advice about, the Museum of Somerset is putting on an exhibition called Somerset Remembers the First World War. The exhibition opens this coming Saturday, and I hope it will be a great success. A couple of weeks ago I received an invitation to a posh opening evening this Friday. The exhibition will be opened by the Lord Lieutenant of Somerset, Lady Gass (no laughing at the back, please), and is quite a prestigeous event. I feel very honoured to have been invited. I'm also looking forward to actually seeing the exhibition.

Perhaps my fascination is because it was such a pointless, tragic conflict - really just a stupid family feud that got way out of hand and resulted in the deaths of millions of people and changed the world forever. I've recently read a lot about Russia's involvement - something that seems to be largely overlooked in western European history - an immense event in Russian history that partly led to the downfall of the monarchy and nobility, and the rise of the revolution.

Perhaps it's also because of my grandfather. We have lots of photographs of family members in their uniforms - my grandfather, his brothers, my great-grandmother's brothers and sisters - I intend to offer them to the project (to be recorded digitally) so that the sacrifice those people made doesn't fade away when there is no longer anyone around who remembers them.

Whatever the reason, I'm delighted to have been invited and look forward to attending, and reporting back.

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For Monika on her birthday...

...though I'm sure many others will recognise these places. This time, because I've photographed them lots of times, I tried to get images taken from unusual places and angles.

Happy birthday Monika

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more hereCollapse )

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The coolest job in the world

Here's a bit of a story, an anecdote. It's about me and just one of the funny things that seems to come along and stick.

When I bought my car, some time ago, I asked the company I bought it from if they would kindly organise the insurance for me too. There was a reason for doing this. For many years before that I had had company vehicles, so had no recent insurance history of my own. On top of that, the company I had worked for had gone spectaculary 'tits up' and there was no one to vouch for me. Becky, at the Toyota dealership, was happy to apply on my behalf and that application netted me a significant 'No claims bonus'. I was happy, they were happy and, I suspect, Toyota's insurers were happy too.

And life went on as normal. Because I pay by direct debit, I just get confirmation that everything is carrying on as before and I don't need to do anything at all about renewing it. I like that. They send me a pile of documents I don't even look at - who would? they really aren't remotely interesting. And, most importantly to me, I keep being insured.

That all happened this time around a few days ago. I don't quite know why, because as I've just said, these documents aren't interesting, but I had a quick flick through them as I was putting them back in the envelope. Amongst them was a printed copy of the original application, as filled in by Becky at the dealership. There was my name, address, date of birth and a whole load of other facts. I have to confess that Becky had guessed a couple of things, but that was probably done to put me in the best possible light as a low risk driver.

As I was reading down through the form, I noticed what it said next to the innocuous box labelled 'Occupation'. I had a chuckle. I looked again to make sure I had read it correctly. I had. I chuckled again. Then I thought, and chuckled again. When I had finished chuckling, and thinking, I decided that I probably had the best job in the world. (Not the real world, you understand, just the insurance world.) The form said that my occupation was, 'Inventor'. I hope you're chuckling too.

That was a few days ago, and ever since, in my idle moments, I have been wondering what exactly I invent - or what I would invent if I really was an inventor. I consider myself to be quite a creative person, but invention is creativity with knobs on - metaphorically and, often, literally.

As I say, I've thought long and hard about this and I've come to the conclusion that I would like to invent things that have already been invented. My creativity would be to invent them in a way that meant that they actually last, that they don't fall apart, break or self-destruct. I would, in short, build out obsolescence. I do understand that the long-term effect of that would be to not make any money, but I'd be happy, and so would everyone else.

I'm sure everyone else has a burning idea at the back of their minds, the idea of an invention that would change the world. Fellow inventors, what's yours?

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Finally, falling on one side of the fence

I’ve just been looking back through some of my entries and I’ve re-read what I wrote here on 19 September last year. It was my column about the impending Scottish referendum on independence.

I saw this video, used as a television advert, yesterday evening (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvymXo3xF3E) and it reminded me that I had planned to revisit this topic.  

Basically, I read that I couldn’t decide. In general that doesn’t surprise me, as someone who completely fails to commit to anything at all. It’s far less complicated that way. But, on this particular issue I can understand especially why I was so spectacularly undecided.

As I said at the time, there is a part of me (an ancestry I’m immensely proud of) that wants Scotland as an independent nation – after all, it has a culture of its own, an astonishing uniqueness that is easily recognised around the world. Its music, and the wonderful way it sounds, is familiar to most, its literature demonstrates a sense of nationhood that writing from England could never hope to achieve, its art and design is as Scottish as the hills, lochs, islands and mountains that inspired much of it. I intend every pun I use, and this is no exception; it has a voice that is easier to identify than most world accents in any language. Scotland deserves to be seen as being for and of itself. It shouldn’t just be a ragged northern part of something else.

Scotland has a lot going for it, there’s no denying. To start with, it delights me so very much that Scotland would be the only ‘western’ country where that vile dark brown muck that might just rhyme with Poky Pola isn’t the most popular soft drink. Let’s hear it for the very Scottish Irn-Bru (iron brew).

You can feel a ‘but’ coming, can’t you? Of course there’s a ‘but’, there’s always a ‘but’. And here it comes…..now.

But. The loss of Scotland from the United Kingdom would diminish the country, and the nation, beyond recognition. A UK without Scotland would be a mere shadow of what it is now. I can’t really imagine, and I think I’ve got quite a good imagination, my country not having the Scottish bit.

Obviously, Scotland wouldn’t move geographically, it wouldn’t up and resettle somewhere warmer. It wouldn’t even go for a change of diet, with less fried and more fresh – cold chips are comically known as a Scottish salad among British stand-ups. But its relationship with everyone else would change. And that’s quite a big problem. If the people of Scotland vote for independence, they have already been told that they wouldn’t be able to keep the pound. They’ve been told they wouldn’t automatically keep EU membership (so adopting the Euro would be out too); they wouldn’t automatically cling on to the same Head of State (technically, the Last King of Scotland might just be a queen!) and things like banking arrangements wouldn’t carry on as before.

These announcements, teased out of Westminster and Brussels in recent months, must have come as a bit of a setback to the ‘yes’ campaign.

No one is ahead in the race, if race it is. The average of the polls I’ve seen (and I really wouldn’t set any store by opinion polls before the event, because I think I’d enjoy misleading them if I had the chance, for comedy and practical joke value, if nothing else) suggest that about 40% support the ‘Yes’ vote, about 40% support the ‘No’ vote, and the rest are either undecided or not planning to vote.

There’s still a while to go yet. The vote takes place on 18 September, and only voters registered in Scotland get a say. So, my opinion simply doesn’t count and certainly doesn’t matter, but I still believe I have a right to voice it. Whatever decision the people of Scotland make will have an impact on me, and everyone else in the UK, and Europe for that matter, and on anyone who trades with any of us.

I’ve thought long and hard, weighed up the arguments that have swirled around, however briefly, in my head. And I’ve decided how I would vote if I could.

The ballot paper will have this question on it: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ And I would tick the box marked ‘No’. There, I’ve done it, I’ve nailed my colours to the mast. I don’t want a UK without Scotland, I don’t want to lose the links that all of us being part of one UK bring.

I don’t want a British parliament perpetually run by the conservatives. (Here’s a pleasing fact: there are more giant pandas in Scotland than there are conservative MPs.) We need that balance, we need the cynicism and rebellion that Scotland supplies, and we need the inventiveness, humour and good sense that come along with them.

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Happy Birthday special friend

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Today is my special friend's birthday - I hope it is, and will continue to be, a very special day, dear.

I'd also like to thank typical-tracy for taking, these, my favourite photos.

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Happy Birthday Alice

Today is Alice's seventh birthday. I know i say this every year, but where have those years gone?

As ever, these photos aren't mine, and I hope there's no problem with me using them.

Happy Birthday, Alice. Have a wonderful day and a brilliant year. You're growing up so quickly. I hope I can get to see and meet you again soon. With love and hugs from Paul.

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Floody Hell! Again

Since just after Christmas, this is what my outside world has mainly consisted of. The floods are back, some villages are cut off completely, some roads - big and small - are inaccessible and the whole region is under emergency measures (whatever that means.) For a while we were a news story; for a while we had national sympathy and international attention. Then a new story comes along, the reporters take off their wellies, get back into their cars and head off to somewhere more glamorous, even though nothing has changed.

And every day that it rains, however little, delays any improvement by at least a day. This won't change for quite a long time. Until we get three dry weeks the waters won't recede. And as it is, the weather here sort of reminds me of a holiday in Scotland in July I once had, when it was almost constantly 4 degrees with horizontal rain.

I've lived here most of my life. In fact, my ancestors have been here for hundreds of years, and almost certainly much longer than that. I know this area and I'm familiar with the way it works. The floods are no surprise to me. Some areas of the levels would flood every few years when I was a child. Some areas were deliberately flooded in a controlled way to spare others. But these days the floods seem to happen more and more, covering more areas every year, and more times each year, than ever before.

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There are lots of reasons for this, I suppose; high tides, strong winds, but the main one seems to be that the Environment Agency, in a bid to save money, has stopped dredging and maintaining the rivers that drain this reclaimed wilderness. If it hadn't been drained in the Middle Ages, this area would still be the swamp that Alfred the Great famously fled to as a hiding place in the late ninth century. It seems to be heading back to that. If the rivers aren't managed, rainfall can't get away, and this is the result.

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Food for thought - a column

Is it me, or do we live in a very strange world? Now, I realise that could be a leading question, so I'll tell you what I'm talking about and tell you what I think. (Oh my gods, he's voicing opinions again!)

I read an article on The Press website this morning. The Press is where I get my Christchurch news from, where I go to see what's happening in my favourite New Zealand city (and the wider country) from my own perspective of half a world away.

The article I read was headlined, 'Statistics reveal most dangerous foods'.

That headline made me think, or at least set me thinking about what those foods might be. I couldn't think of anything. Surely, having used the word 'foods', if they were going to stick to their brief, then the only foods that would be dangerous would reasonably be things that some people might be allergic to; and then I would question whether it was the food that was dangerous over the unfortunate situation the person finds themselves in. My thinking was basically, if it’s not food, it’s not dangerous food; if it is food, the very word implies that it’s sustenance.

So, slightly fascinated, hoping to learn something amazing, I read the article – and through the miracle of modern interwebby stuff, you can too if you so wish.

I started gulping for air after the first couple of sentences. After a couple more I was questioning my own sanity, that of the journalist who was trying to make a racy story out of nothing, and finally, that of the insured population of a country I love. The long and the short of it is that the story had the wrong headline, or the headline had the wrong story. I never can quite work out which way round that should be.

How can some idiot halving and removing the stone from an avocado, not thinking about what they are doing and ending up cutting their hand instead, imagine for a minute that it's the avocado that's dangerous and to blame? People like that shouldn't be allowed near sharp objects, let alone an insurance policy. How can someone choking on a piece of meat (and remember I'm a vegetarian, yet I'm still on the side of the meat here) blame that meat for the fact that they don't chew their food properly? Those people should be condemned to eating pre-mashed and mechanically recovered bits of dead animals, with their hands, in those squalid, loathsome MacBurger-type places. Though in those circumstances, they should probably be warned about accidentally chewing off their own fingers.

In fairness, the article does mention allergies and various conditions that mean people have to be careful about what they eat, but surely they know that already, so shouldn't have too many problems unless they are completely off their face.

As far as I can see, we live in a peculiar world where someone who burns their arm by spilling hot noodles on it, blames the noodles (for being hot, noodly and spilt!). But of course, this does seem to have become a world where blame is the universal currency, and along with it ridiculous corporate arse-covering on a humungous scale. The culture is that there has to be a culprit (who isn't the idiot damaging themselves, of course) and there has to be a demand for some form of reparation.

I want to make a pact with the world. It's quite a simple little agreement that I would be delighted to undertake. If people will stop putting patronising little signs on disposable coffee cups that say things like, 'Warning: may contain hot liquid', or, as I once saw on a bottle of shampoo, 'For external use only', then I will happily give away my right to complain, sue or blame someone else. If I'm stupid enough to thoughtlessly try to wash my hair and scald myself with hot coffee, it's my own bloody fault. If I drink shampoo thinking it’s thick, cold, foul-tasting coffee in a very strange shaped container, and it disagrees with me in some way, it's down to my own stupidity for drinking shampoo in the first place. No one else is to blame.

Then, once that agreement has been made, the rest of the world can stop worrying about me and my wellbeing. I'm sure it will be relieved and can spend its time thinking about far more important things. I will certainly be delighted to take responsibility for my own actions and stupidity. The only thing I ask in return is for the world to stop warning me about things that are completely bleeding obvious. 

Then, if I'm cutting up a pumpkin, and the unnecessarily large knife I'm using slips and .... in every sense of the phrase, I'll say no more. 

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In 2002, good old auntie BBC (gods bless her and all who sail in her) held a public vote to try and establish the 100 greatest Britons ever. Once that list had been sorted, they told people what the top ten was and got various prominent people to make a television programme about each of them, selling their merits.

Then there was another vote, supposedly influenced by the programmes and the top ten was put in order. I enjoyed all of that stuff, had my own opinions and scoffed at some of the people elevated to the rank of apparent national icon.

This is the final list of ten in the order finally voted for by the British public.
1. 
Winston Churchill (1874 to 1965) Prime Minister
2. 
Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 to 1859) Engineer
3.  Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 to 1997)
4. 
Charles Darwin (1809 to 1882) Naturalist, the originator of the theory of evolution through natural selection and author of 'On the Origin of Species'
5. 
William Shakespeare (1564 to 1616) English poet and playwright
6. 
Sir Isaac Newton (1642 to 1727) Mathematician, physicist, astronomer, natural philosopher, and alchemist (and probable nutter!)
7. 
Queen Elizabeth 1 (1533 to 1603) – English monarch (reigned 1558 to 1603)
8. 
John Lennon (1940 to 1980) – Beatle, humanitarian
9. 
Admiral Lord Nelson (1758 to 1805) Naval commander
10.
Oliver Cromwell (1599 to 1658)  – Lord Protector

And bubbling under were:
11. Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874 to 1922) Polar explorer
12. Captain James Cook (1728 to 1779) Explorer
13. Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell (1857 to 1941) Boy Scouts and Girl Guides founder
14. Alfred the Great (around 849 to 899) King of Wessex (reigned 871 to 899)
15. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769 to 1852) Military commander, statesman and Prime Minister

Looking back on that list from a vantage point of eleven years beyond, it doesn’t actually look as strange as I imagined it would. Things like this are obviously incredibly subjective, and, as the saying goes, someone’s anarchist is someone else’s freedom fighter, someone’s sinner is someone else’s saint.

I think there are a couple of serious mistakes in the top ten, and would gladly elevate a couple of people to take their places. I also have to remember that the list was of the greatest Britons ever! That’s a lot of people to choose from, from a lot of centuries.

To start with, the poll was carried out just a few short years after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The majority of the nation was still feeling the pain of that at the time, whipped up by large sections of the media who couldn’t stop talking about it. I don’t think she would make the high end of the list now.

And I’m sort of surprised, even though I’m not a royalist, that Queen Elizabeth the second doesn’t make the top ten. She actually rolled in at number 24. I definitely think she should be higher than that, if only because she sent my parents a card for their recent landmark wedding anniversary. Though, I would have to question her Britishness. She has much more in common with tenuous German nobility, in terms of her ancestry, than she does with me.

I would definitely push Alfred the Great up the list quite a way from number 14, probably swapping him with Nelson. Without this king’s wisdom, doggedness and foresight, without his passion for learning and his Anglo-Saxon people, England as a nation, would never have existed. I have to express a bit of an interest, because his idea of a united England and his desire to make it happen, formed while he was in hiding from the Danish invaders in the Somerset Marshes within walking distance of where I live. To think that I live within sight, from my upstairs windows, of the birthplace of this country, and I drive past a monument that marks that achievement every day. So yes, he’s got to be up there. It’s no accident in my mind that he’s the only monarch we have had who carries the words ‘the Great’ after his name.

The other huge omission is Florence Nightingale. Yes, she was weird; yes, she had her failings; yes, she conducted much of her life from her bed, but she got a lot done for both science and medicine, inventing the pie chart and nursing as we know it. Surprisingly, she was only number 52 on the final list.

A
part from that, to my mind it’s not a bad list. Of course, I would put them in a slightly different order, but so would just about everyone else, and it wouldn’t be the same order as mine. Personally, I would have Darwin streets ahead at the top. I would have Cromwell higher and Elizabeth 1 lower.

If you’re interested, here’s the list from 11 to 100

And I have met only two people from the full list, Sir Douglas Bader at number 47, and Bob Geldof at 75.

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What's in a name? - a column

What's in a name? Well quite a lot actually. Unable to sleep a couple of nights ago, I was listening to the radio. I like night-time radio, it's broadcast in a way that suggests the people doing the broadcasting don't think anyone's listening. It's sort of sloppy, yet engaging, amateur and professional all at the same time. Yet, the very fact that they're doing it at all suggests they believe there is an audience. And, of course, the fact that I'm listening tells me that there must be others out there as well. Interesting.

Anyway, there was a news story about a village in Wales. The village, according to the sign you see as you enter it on the road, is called Varteg. I'm sorry but this little bit might end up being a bit linguistically technical. Please bear with me, it will pass. In Welsh, the letter 'V' doesn't exist, and this means that the village name is an Anglicised version of, wait for it, Farteg. Now, the people of the village, their fellow countrymen and many others want the village to bear its Welsh name spelt the Welsh way. I'm inclined to wholeheartedly support that view. But there is some uproar from the prudish English living locally because they don't want to see the word 'fart' written loud and proud every time they drive through. Personally, I love the idea, and I hope to go there one day to see it for myself. I will chuckle, all the more in knowing that those prudish people probably aren't offended in the same way by the name Scunthorpe.

I love place names, and I especially love it when they're funny. I'm sure everywhere has funny place names, whether it's in the local language, in translation or an accidental rude word in a different language. There's a small Austrian town that has great difficulty keeping its signs because of its name. I'm sure you know the one I mean - it begins with 'F' and ends with 'ing', and it's not 'Farting'. And there are oodles of others all over the place. There has recently been a bit of a battle between the people who think they run Facebook and the people of an Irish town called Effing. The Effing people have triumphed, I'm glad to say.

I know there's a place in Kent called Thong - which, of course, means different things to different people. In Essex there's a village called Ugley. I love the thought that there might just be an Ugley Women's Institute. And again in Kent there's a Rough Common; the WI there would be interesting too. There are places called Twatt on both Orkney and Shetland. There's a holiday centre at a place in the New Forest in Hampshire called Sandy Balls. Dorset has a Shitterton and a River Piddle, which has spawned lots of Piddle place names too. I've been to Skinners Bottom in Cornwall, where, incidentally, the highest hill is called Brown Willy. Also in Cornwall, I once had a friend who lived at Jolly's Bottom. I've also been to Crapstone in Devon, where, presumably, the quarrying isn't that great. And I've been to Pant in Shropshire.

In deepest, darkest Lancashire there is Ramsbottom, and probably in even deeper, darker Lancashire nearby is Upper Ramsbottom! Talking of which, what happened in Assloss in Ayrshire? Or in Slackbottom in Yorkshire?

In Somerset we have some good ones too, not always rude (more's the pity) but certainly strange. Near Bristol Airport there is a village called Nempnett Thrubwell, and onother called Clapton in Gordano. Not far from where I live is Curry Rivel - ahh, the Indian food wars! And Four Forks (near Bridgwater) would come in very handy, all things considered.

One of my favourites is the village of Haselbury Plucknett, which is near Yeovil, as are Queen Camel and Camel Hill, though there aren't any camels there.

All of which leads me to ask you a very simple question. Have you got any near you, and what are your favourites from other places? Actually that's two questions.....

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She cannae take it Cap'n - a column

I don't know what to think. And that's not a nice place to be for someone who's always got bloody opinions, like me. How can I be grumpy if I don't know what to be grumpy about? How can I be enthusiastic? Ahem, no, that doesn't happen often these days. Let's stick to grumpy. This matters to me. I don't have a particularly well-developed vested interest, but I do have links through ancestry, culture and affection; and a kilt. 

In almost exactly a year's time, everyone aged sixteen and over who lives in Scotland will get the chance to vote in a referendum to decide whether they should go it alone, and be independent of the rest of the United Kingdom, ending over three-hundred years of formal union. I don't live in Scotland, so I have no say or influence. But whatever decision is arrived at affects me and everyone living in the UK, on lots of levels. Just the simple question of what this country will be called if Scotland gets a divorce is a very serious one, though I won’t trouble you with it now. And there are loads more things to think about over and above that one.

There is a huge part of me that is a real fan of the idea. Yes, go Scotland! Shake off the yoke of the English oppressor, stand up as yourself and show the world just how great you are. Scots have invented many of the world's most important things, Scots have created some of our most beguiling and skilful literature, art and music, Scots have adventured and discovered (in the age of adventure and discovery) punching well above their weight, Scots have shown their criminal dark side with at least equal merit to their southern cousins, Scots are to be reckoned with. After all, is it not a Scot (who we in England choose to suddenly call British because it’s convenient to do so) who’s Wimbledon champion right now?

I like to think of an independent Scotland getting rightful credit from its place in the world, getting the benefit of its own resources and skills, and collectively making the right decisions for its own future. Scotland should fly its own flag; something to stand under, proudly eating deep-fried pizza, neaps and tatties, drinking Irn-Bru, Grouse and Tennants Extra, singing 'Flower of Scotland' to the famously screechy pipe-driven backing track. Who cares if they have one of the lowest life expectancies in Europe, it would still be a good one and that’s nothing to be sniffed at.

So, yes, I'm a fan.

But wait, there are other, contrary implications too. We, as a nation, would be the poorer for not having our wonderful neighbours sleeping snuggly in bed with us. How would it be for us to wake up (to doggedly continue with the metaphor) and find that side of the bed cold and unslept-in? They may not like us that much (and let's face it, who can blame them?) but we, down south, need them whatever we may say. In fact, we need each other and we know it, even if we’d never quite admit it.

If we were to lose Scotland's representation at Westminster we would be condemned to perpetual government by the toffs and Slytherin wankers of the Conservative party. Without Scotland in the UK we would just have a red and white flag (nothing wrong with that I know, I mean, one of my favourite countries, and the home countries of some of my favourite people put up with that very well), and while blue is a long way from being a favourite colour of mine, it works in our weird Union Jack. If Scotland were no longer in the UK, we would be devastatingly the poorer culturally, we would lose most of whatever gravitas we actually have in the world, our institutions would have to change for the worse because of a sudden imbalance in how we're put together and what makes us tick. 

But we could give that twat Rod Stewart back, so it's not all bad!

If the big vote was tomorrow, as I understand it, the result would be more or less divided equally three ways (not easy in a simple 'yes - no' ballot!) with about a third of Scots still undecided. That means it's still all to play for whichever camp you choose to fall into.

As I said, I don't know what I want most or least. There are valid and sensible arguments on both sides. You can change people's minds with good reasoning, even if you 'cannae change the laws of physics!'

I think, as this coming year rolls on, it could all become quite messy. Beam me up until it's all over.

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This one's in the bag - a column

A news story broke here at the weekend. It wasn't a surprising one, no 'shock horror' this time. The deputy prime minister of this soon to be dis-united kingdom decided to kick off his party's annual conference with a bit of a bang. It sort of illustrates how insignificant the job is when his big announcement is that in about a year and a half's time there will be a 5p charge for carrier bags. Read all about it, and I hope you're sitting down and have the reviving brandy within reach.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24094290

Recovered? Good.

I'm sure you'd expect this anyway, but I have a couple of opinions - though more accurately, an opinion and a couple of points to make.

My first thought, when I turned on the radio and heard the story on Saturday morning was, 'Good. About time.' And that was pretty much my second thought too. I don't see a problem with it; I don't think it's something up for debate. Just go ahead and make it happen, Mr Clegg. And then I had third thoughts.

My third thoughts seem to be much more considered than my first or seconds. I suppose it's because they come ambling along after the initial reaction has looked around and made a run for it. Let's forget the obvious environmental concerns; they're a given that I don't think even have an argument against them. Let's concentrate on more people-sized issues.

When I do my weekly shopping I always take a few strong reusable bags of my own, so that I don't need to rely on Mr Sainsbury's free handouts. And most people I see doing their shopping at the same time seem to do the same. I think this has become the norm. I have no doubt that people who just drop in for a couple of things don't bring their own bags. They are more likely to walk out with one of those flimsy things that will eventually cost them 5p, and I'm sure that accounts for a hell of a lot of bags over a day, week, month or year.

My points, questions and concerns aren't really about the use of bags, but are more about implementing this scheme. As the BBC article says, this same kind of scheme has been running in Wales for five years. It has gone successfully and raised a lot of money for charity. To me, this creates a bit of a moral dilemma - do you continue to use the supermarket's bags and see the 5p as a legitimate donation to charity, or do you aspire to being miserly and deny that charitable donation by taking your own bag? Which is better?

My next point is more of a rebellious one. If I have to buy a bag, to pay 5p for it, I refuse to pay to then advertise for someone; because of course, the bag is an advertisement. Why, otherwise, do shops and supermarkets make sure their name and slogan are plastered all over the bags they give out? You, carrying their bag through the streets, are advertising for them, carrying a mobile hoarding. And with this scheme you'll be paying for the privilege. So, I've decided that, if that happens and I have to use one of their bags and pay 5p for it, I'll make sure I turn it inside out before I fill it. Perverse I know, but there you go.

My nearly final thought (probably my fifth or sixth by now) was even more simplistic. When I was a child, and I went shopping with my mother, in the days before carrier bags had even come along, she had a shopping bag or basket she always took with her. Why can't we go back to that? Then there just won't be bags available. People have become lazy, assuming they'll get a bag when they shop. If that option's not there they'll have to do the right thing, and the only people to suffer will be the charities that won't get their enforced donation. Back to the moral dilemma.

And finally, why wait a bloody year and a half before implementing such a scheme? When they announce yet another rise in the tax on petrol they've hardly finished speaking before the numbers have gone up at petrol stations all over the country. When they put another penny on a pint of beer, you're paying more that very evening. They have evidence from Wales, and other countries, that this works, they know what's got to be done, so why not just do it and say that, as of next Monday this is the way it's going to be?

Then it's in the bag!

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Unlike LP Hartley and the entire premise for his novel, 'The Go-Between', I'm not normally given to nostalgia. While I have memories, pleasant or otherwise, from times gone by, I can't say that I see the past in anything other than a pragmatic way. The definition of nostalgia is: a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past. I haven't got that.

And yet, (you just knew there would be a 'but' or an 'and yet' or a 'surprisingly' coming along with indecent haste) lately my looking back has been decorated with a blob of fondness on top, like strawberry jam on a West Country Cream Tea. The thing with me though, is that it sometimes seems to embarrassingly slide off onto the plate, or much more likely, my lap.

As ever, and without any more ceremony than I feel I can expect to get away with, I'll begin at the beginning. A while ago I put together a pile of compilation CDs for a friend. When I create a compilation CD I like to give it a theme, some thought; make sure that everything fits together well, that it starts in the right way and ends perfectly. I like to think I'm quite good at it, and the trouble I take to find the right pieces of music, fit them together in the right way and the right order, tell a kind of story over 80 minutes, is well worth it to the person I give them to.

One of the CDs I did in this recent pile was based loosely around the thought that, not all music from Ireland is Irish music (by which I mean that it doesn't have to be diddly diddly stuff to be Irish). The likes of Thin Lizzy, Stiff Little Fingers, Ash and David Holmes have their place and are just as much Irish music as The Dubliners.

Having said all that, I did include a couple of tracks by Clannad (as a bit of a cross-over, a kind of traditional electronica.) In the notes I sent with the CD I mentioned that both these pieces had been used, and were expressly written, as themes for a couple of television series. In telling me what she thought of the CD, my friend said that she was surprised that such good music would be used as television themes, and that it wouldn't have been likely to happen in her country.

This set me thinking, would I have enough pieces of appropriate music to put together a television themes CD? If so, what would I use? It turns out that the answer to the first question is, 'Oh yes!'. But the second is a bit more complicated. I pulled out a pile of CDs from my, it has to be said, extensive collection. (And yes children, I have and prefer tangible music. None of your paper-thin downloaded stuff for me.) I started flipping through them, finding odd tracks that I might use, not necessarily from television programmes I like or liked, but very much music I like.

Inevitably, hearing one or two of the bits of theme music for the first time for a long time, especially ones used in programmes from my childhood in the dim and distant past, produced the odd wave of nostalgia. One in particular floored me for a while. I didn't even realise I had it, and I played it three or four times. It really did send my mind racing back to when I was a child. I remember vividly being enthralled by this particular television series, it made a great impression on me. I loved the way it made me feel as a child, and last week I loved the way it made me think about my memories of it.

'The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe', a quintessentially English story, was actually a French television series. Here it was dubbed into English and narrated by a soft, sympathetic voice. It was in black and white and had a graininess that I loved even then. But it was the theme music that I loved most about the series. I understand now that the music for the UK version was different to that used in other parts of Europe, and I don't know what other countries got, but ours was a beautiful lilting melody, evocative of the sea and paradise, of loneliness and contentment. I remember wanting to have similar experiences, probably so that I could have that music wafting through my head as I made a shelter on a deserted island, foraged for fruit and milked goats. I can honestly say that this piece of music had more of an impact on me emotionally during my childhood than just about any other (and let's face it, I have lived through quite an era for popular music.)

So, I'm looking forward to putting the CD together, including themes from series like Red Dwarf, Black Beauty, Ski Sunday, Big Brother and much more besides. The new Doctor Who theme will loom large, menacing and uplifting, and Robinson Crusoe will be there evoking a foreign country where they do things differently, a Go-Between linking the past and the present to an uncertain future.   

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Something right – a column

I once wrote a song. Well, actually, I've written quite a few, but that's another story. This particular song I wrote has never been recorded, or even performed, and I'm the only person who's ever sung it. In fact, I don't think I ever even wrote the words down.

And this is the strange thing; there are songs I wrote, performed and recorded that I wouldn't recognise now if someone quoted them back to me, yet this particular song I can dash off - verse, chorus, tune, the lot. I wonder why. Here goes:

An elephant's memory's like Cleopatra's needle,
It's a fallacy.
It's just a sign of a changing time
That governments don't see.

False leadership never won fame.
False notoriety's just a game.
The tea they drink,
The gin they sip,
The game they play is leadership. 

Of course, now that I come to quote it, I can't remember it beyond that rousing opening. But it could well be that there never was any more than that. If I'd written that now, I'd probably have to lie down for a week to get over the exertion and clever wordplay. I must have been very clever back then; what happened?

The reason I'm saying all this is because of recent world events and my country's response to them. We've finally looked around and seen sense, good sense. Usually, in situations like this, we tag along on the coat-tails of that big, seemingly powerful land way across the western sea. We don't look at our neighbours and companions, instead choosing to eye up the, if you’ll allow me to use the euphemism, school bully and fall into line behind them. I've never understood why that is, or even what's in it for us. After all, a bully is always a bully, even if he's on your side. Sooner or later the mask will drop, truth will out and you'll get a kicking too.

The other thing I've never understood is why we spend billions on buying weapons from the bully, only to set off those weapons on the bully's behalf. Then we go back and feel we have to buy more. As far as I can see, only one nation wins from that arrangement, and it isn't little old us.

Anyway, recently, our toffy-nosed Prime Minister called parliament together for a special chat, even though it was in the middle of their long summer holidays - which I'm sure they weren't too happy about. His idea was to get backing for his desire to help the bully bomb the people of Syria. I assume he (and his Slytherin cabinet colleagues) has shares in lots of weapons manufacturing companies, thus getting a tidy income from all the extra work he was planning to give them.

But this time it didn't quite work out the way he'd planned. After the lengthy debate, a vote was taken and parliament decided narrowly to reject the plan to blow loads more people to bits. Good for parliament. In fairness to the toff, he accepted the decision (though he had little choice) and has gone even further by saying that he won't keep coming back for more votes until he gets the answer he wants.

For once, that all makes me proud to be British, proud of our limited democracy and unusually proud of the people who claim to represent us all. I'm sure this government will find a way of getting its hands dirty, something clandestine and behind-the-scenes grubby, but at least on the face of it, we're staying well out of this one. We're not poking our collective noses in where they don't belong. We're finally not giving apparently laudable reasons for doing something, when the actual motive is a completely different, hidden one. For once, go us!

And if our political masters don't like it or are embarrassed in any way, so much the better.

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When I was young, admittedly quite a long time ago now, there was a saying that had been around for a very long time. It was a saying that rang true and had a meaning, it was, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’. It’s not earth-shattering, it’s not complicated or far-fetched. If there’s a need for something, someone will invent it and make sure it does the job.

Since then, in those far-off, simplistic, innocent days, the world seems to have turned on its own head. It has become a more complex place with an ever more escalating desire for the next thing and the next, and probably the next. No one has time any more, no one has patience or anticipation. Everything must be now, and fast, and ultimately disappointing. The ‘wait’ has gone out of the world.

It seems now that scientists, who I generally have great respect for and some of whom number among my personal heroes, huddle in rooms – no longer smoke-filled, I’m told, and therefore they’re not scribbling on the backs of fag packets and talk long and hard about what they can invent next, what is possible. Irrespective of whether there is a need for it, or not. They then scuttle off to their labs, or underground bunkers, or evil lairs in mountain-top castles and invent away, with the 'If we build it, they will come' mentality.

They come up with things that no real person has asked for. Then they set the real villains of the piece, the marketing men and women, advertising agencies and the like, off on a mission to persuade everyone else that the thing that’s been invented is something they can’t do without.

And they’re really clever at doing that. They pay an awful lot of money to people who are generally admired by the public at large (though probably not by me) to say how wonderful they think the newly invented thing is and how much fuller life is now that it’s come along. How did they ever manage without it? How close would they have come to ending it all if it hadn’t been thought up? Who cares?

Then the public of the world, or at least those living in what used to be known as decadent countries, who can afford the new thing, think, ‘I can identify with that person, my life must be just like theirs (or at least, I’d like to think so), somehow I can’t do without this thing either, I must have one’. They seem to forget that the person doing the persuading is probably, or usually a famous actor, someone whose whole job is to dress up and pretend. And, astonishingly, it all works.

I have seen a gadget, a small thing that you can carry around with you wherever you go. You can take it on short journeys or long ones, on any mode of transport you like. You can forget you’ve got it with you for a while, or you can attend to its every whim. When you feel like it, you can take it out of your pocket or bag and plug it into your computer. Then a small miracle happens, it shows you where you’ve been, or more accurately, where it’s been.

Now, I don’t think I’m a stranger to technology, or advancement, or for that matter technological advancement, but if it was me doing that the information would be pointless, I bloody know where I’ve been, because I was there. I understand that it might be just a little useful, though probably more embarrassing than anything else, if I’d been blind drunk for the previous few days and had no coherent idea where I’d got to. But in those unlikely circumstances, I think I’d actually prefer not to know.

To me, someone’s just cobbled together existing technology, stuff that helps people find places they’re looking for, turned it on its head and then tried to get the world to believe they want it. That it will, in some way, actually be of use. It won't. It isn’t. It’s pointless.

Take the news story that broke last week about a beef burger, grown from cow stem cells in a lab rather than within a cow itself, over five years at a cost of more than 250,000 Euros. I understand the need to make better use of the resources we, collectively, have. I understand the need to produce food more economically and thoughtfully. After all, I’m vegetarian for lots of reasons, not just because I don’t like meat. But, is this The Answer?

I don’t think so. I think it’s more because scientists managed to get funding based on spurious arguments and skewed science. They did it because they could rather than because they should; because the technology that allowed them to do so was there rather than because anyone actually wanted the resulting mock flesh pattie.

The media here was gripped by the idea. For a day, they touted it as a ‘cure’ for vegetarianism, guilt-free meat for veggies. How little they understand the world, how little the media care about the people who consume their prattlings. How wasteful it’s all been, both in the short and longer-term. It seems we never learn, and neither can we go back to those innocent days when invention actually meant something.

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Gosh

I can't believe how long it's been since I last posted here. Where does the time go? I suppose it's a symptom of getting older, but it just seems to fly by. We're in August already and it feels like January was only a few days ago.

Having said that, I've been very busy - at least, when I've wanted to be. Settling into a, sort of, new job hasn't been very easy. I'm doing a lot of what I did before, but with more of an emphasis on certain parts of it - web. That in itself is fine, but new surroundings and working in a new team has its pressures. But being able to work from home at least one day each week has definite advantages. There's a lot going on  and I fear that when that all kicks in I'll have even less time. Never mind.

Much of my summer so far has been about leading up to a particular event, and that event happened on Thursday of last week. My parents had a very special wedding anniversary, their sixtieth! They had a blessing thingy in the village church, where they were married, and afterwards a garden party at home. Luckily, as anyone who's visited will know, it's quite a big garden, because there were about 90 people there.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of preparation leading up to Thursday, people arriving from all over, beds to be found if we couldn't put them up ourselves, and all the other stuff it takes to make something like that run smoothly. There were one or two hiccups along the way, like the garden marquee that decided to move to a different postcode area on the day before, but the great thing about an event like that is that it just happens, people get on with it and everything is fine. But, there are a few things I don't want to see again in a hurry - stacking chairs, gateaux and wasps!

But lots of things went right - the congratulatory message from the queen arrived bang on time, the weather was perfect, the bubbly was cold, the food and drink went down well, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Clearing up after was almost as heavy a task as the preparation but could be done in a more leisurely way.

It was a great day, and most importantly, my parents enjoyed it. Whatever she may say, my mother loves being the centre of attention and that worked out a treat.

On a different note, I have lots of photos to post from the other things I've been doing during the summer, visits and trips out, and I don't know when I'll get round to that - soon, I hope.  

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Dab, dab, dab


I have to say, I love radio. I think, with some soul-searching, I actually prefer radio to television. I realise this is an enormous cliché, but I genuinely feel that the pictures are much better on radio. And, the weird thing is, given just how important music is to me (always) I don’t really like music radio. The sort of radio programming that appeals to me most is the wonderful, human, enticing spoken word.  

Many years ago I fell in love with BBC Radio 4, the ultimate in informative, enquiring and thought-provoking radio. And I’m delighted to say that it has a little brother in New Zealand, National, which I spent a lot of time listening to when I was there. Some time ago Radio 4 became a bit intense though, just as the wonderful BBC decided to launch a rolling news and sport radio station called Radio 5. I switched to Radio 5. After that, 5 rebranded as BBC Radio 5 Live, and that is the station I listen to day and night, in the car, in bed, in the morning and in the bath.

Five live is broadcast on medium wave, and I like that. I like the crackles, the slightly off-station fuzziness and the fact that it kicks against modern trends just a little.

But, about a week or so ago disaster struck. Suddenly my medium wave signal consisted of only a dull, continuous, impenetrable interference. In my head it was dark brown in colour. (As yet, I can’t decide whether this is part of a much bigger and more serious issue still to be sorted which happened at more or less the same time and which has seen my broadband keep crashing, or if it works at all, it does so at a slug’s pace.)

I tried retuning my radio, and generally fiddling about, but it made no difference. It was still fine in my car, but every radio in the house was affected in the same way. In desperation I switched to FM and found BBC Somerset.

I listened to Somerset’s own radio station for a couple of days, but it was dire and showed no signs of improving. I’m sure it’s not the case with everyone; I’m sure there are people who love it, but to me, it seemed the most pointless waste of time and effort. BBC Somerset is unedifying, uninteresting and excruciating.

Again, in desperation, I came to the realisation that this couldn’t go on. Something had to be done. I love Somerset, but its BBC radio output was rapidly doing my head in. I made a drastic decision. One day last week, Thursday I think it was, I made a detour on my way home from work and bought a DAB radio.

I work in a very digital world, there are moves afoot to even include the word ‘digital’ in my job title. But I have to admit, here and now, that I’m not a particular fan of digital broadcasting. Perhaps it’s because I have little affection for television at all, but when we had the digital switchover here, I was reluctant, felt slightly persecuted and didn’t like the idea. Presented with a situation that meant it was going to happen whether I stayed up to my thighs in mud or not, I bought the set-top box and put up with stuff. Of course, it’s given me access to a few more interesting things, but on the whole it’s given me access to a hell of a lot more crap to wade through.

I haven’t fiddled with the tuning on my new DAB radio. I just found Radio 4, Radio 4 Extra, Radio 5 Live and Radio 5 Sports Extra and then stopped pushing the buttons altogether. I know when I’m happy, I know when I’ve got enough to be going on with and I know when I’m beaten.

Now, I suppose I should turn my attention to what’s causing problems with my broadband. I just hope it wasn’t my router that zapped my medium wave. I hope it wasn’t my medium wave zapping my router, I don’t think it’s the router itself, but I don’t know whether it’s the phone line either. I hate this stuff.

Space Oddity in space

I'm sure you've all seen this, but just in case you haven't.....this is brilliant.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lb20ozOlKMk

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