Saturday, 27 May 2017

Jimmy Sweep's Paths of Glory


Hay's dad had had the chimney sweep round yesterday for the once yearly brush out. I do like his advert on his van.


I'm making good progress with the paths mown through the lawn. It's turning out better than I thought it would, but next year I'll be trying to add more than just buttercups, daisies and the odd poppy.




This is the area I'm still trying to reclaim from the spoil of the house and cabin footings. I'm going over sections of it on the ride-on mower on the highest setting, but still shredding cutting deck drive belts like they're going out of fashion. I bought a small harrow to drag behind the mower, which works well, but additionally drags thousands of buried stones to the surface - large ones from buried, Cotswold stone walls and scalpings from the car park we made.


Here's what's been reclaimed so far from all over the filed/garden. Enough to make a decent wall or two.


We planted a pear tree a quince and a plum tree last weekend and intend adding to them to create a fruit orchard. We already have two large and old apple trees and a couple of plum trees on the other side of the garden.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Reynard


Yesterday evening, at about 9.30, I managed to take a couple of poor quality, low-light snaps of our local fox snaffling the bones from No.1 Son's dinner of pork spare ribs.



It looks to be a youngster and is very sleek and healthy, unlike the one we've had visiting us for several years in the past, which was somewhat mangy and had a slight limp. This could be the older fox's offspring.

He, or she, has been a regular visitor at dusk since about a month ago, sometimes sat just the other side of the retaining wall in the photos, staring into our living room and observing us quizzically and a bit miffed if we haven't left the kitchen scraps out for it.

It was nearly dark, although the photos don't show that fact. A few minutes later Blackie, one of the neighbour's cats, crept into the scene this side of the wall, each animal being totally oblivious of the other until the fox crept past the house. Had a fight ensued, I'm uncertain which would have come off best, but I believe both seemed as scared as the other.


Thursday, 25 May 2017

Pining for the Fijords


I really don't know what they're putting in potting compost these days. Last year we holidayed at Lee Bay in North Devon and I collected some cones from some pine trees I particularly admired in the photo below, which was taken from our holiday rental.


I kept them in the fridge over the winter to scarify and sowed them a couple of weeks ago - some in potting compost and some in plain, garden soil. The ones in the garden soil have sprouted and are well on their way, whereas the ones in the potting compost just aren't doing anything yet and I'm fearing for their survival. I wonder if they've rotted.



We also have a Christmas tree in our garden which was planted perhaps some 20 years ago - it was one of those Christmas trees with a root ball. when that kind of thing was all the rage, and Hay's dad decided to plant it out after Christmas. It's now well over 40 feet tall.


I planted some seeds from it last year and they are progressing nicely.


A couple of years ago, on a business trip to Rome, I also collected some cones from an Italian Stone Pine tree - pineus pinea - the ones that are typical of Italian country scenes with the bare trunks and massive, spreading canopies. One seed sprouted, survived and is thriving.


Hay's dad has had a Monkey Puzzle tree for years. It was confined in a rather small pot and not thriving at all. We planted it out last autumn and that seems to be doing quite well now.


I started on mowing simple paths through the lawn last weekend and the result looks good, although not yet sufficiently visible on photos. It will certainly cut down on the mowing, as well as providing cover for birds and small mammals and wind flowers for insects. 


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Terrorism


Terrorist is a word that's increasingly on people's lips these days, especially after Monday's attack in Manchester, but what exactly is terrorism? People believe it's incredibly difficult to define - like beauty, or quality. There's the old adage that says one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, so the conclusion is that it all depends on your perspective.

The dictionary definition is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. Were the French Resistance terrorists? By that definition, yes - they targeted the Vichy as much as the Germans. To quote another well-worn phrase, history is invariably written by the victors and victors never portray themselves as terrorists. However, the French Resistance were actually freedom fighters using the weapons of terrorism - they were objectively both and it's not actually a matter of perspective. Any use of terror tactics makes one a terrorist, irrespective of motive. Regular armies can and have used terrorist tactics.

As always, there are differences between dictionary definitions and legal definitions - here are various legal definitions of terrorism which eliminate states from the equation:

  1. It can only be conducted by non-state actors operating undercover,
  2. It reaches more than the target victims (indiscriminate),
  3. It is legally illegal.
The following conditions fall outside some legal, definitions of terrorism:
  1. In war (and sometimes peacetime) when committed by a nation state,
  2. In self-defence,
  3. Against enemy materiel in times of war,
  4. Collateral damage.

That, bizarrely, gives a state carte blanche to commit terrorist acts against minorities.

Is terrorism ever successful - again, yes - there are many examples from the Yugoslavian Partizans through Israeli Irgun against the British in Palestine to Vietnam. You could even say that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a success in its intent, as it brought about the liberation of Balkans and the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, albeit at massive cost.

Terrorism's aim is to inspire terror - to terrify - and every candlelight vigil, every public tear, every emotional speech in response to a terrorist act is a win in the terrorist's book. They hurt us and hope to have scared us. What they don't like is popular indifference.

Perhaps this time they've picked the wrong target, as we have a history of dealing with IRA violence to the extent that we have a generation who are bit more stoic about it than most. However, the problem is that IRA violence never really impinged on those born after say 1987, who now range into their late 20s and early 30s, form a sizeable proportion of the population and are very prone to emotional outbursts, especially on social media - millenials, as they are termed. That emotional proclivity has, in many cases, spread into the older generation through the same vehicle - or, perhaps, it was always there, but social media has given it a platform.

The usual response from politicians is to call suicide bombers cowardly, but this is no more than a knee-jerk, political reaction to vilify for political reasons, and thus not really grounded in reality. Barbaric, definitely, but cowardly?. Someone who commits an attack using terror tactics and then runs away can feasibly be called a coward, but someone who is willing to die in the execution of an attack can in no way be called a coward when they pay the ultimate price. Would you have the courage to be killed for your belief,` whether that belief is warped or high-minded?

Can a suicide bomber be called deranged? If they are, then it must be a form of selective derangement, as they can lead normal lives and are indistinguishable from fellow citizens in every other area of life, which is what makes them so dangerous. Admittedly, some are indeed deranged and suffering from mental health problems, but certainly not all, unless you call all religious belief a derangement (there are arguments in favour of that - a suspension of disbelief).

The response can only be the rejection of the terrorist's narrative of a pending clash of civilizations and, while it can be counterintuitive, particularly in the emotional wake of tragedy, psychologists generally agree that the most effective antidote to jihadist terrorism is to police them as criminals, rally round to provide useful help in the aftermath of an attack, assimilate minorities to defuse the problem at source and get back to business as soon as possible.

Marches by the EDL and the like play to the jihadist narrative by tarring all with the same brush, thus increasing tensions and ramping up considerably the sense of oppression such that it actually increases attacks that can be viewed as justified by the newly converted perpetrators. The EDL is just as much a tool of the jihadist as the suicide bomber - they are the recruiters to the cause and certainly no solution.

The news media don't exactly help with their interminable analyses and endless human interest stories that play on the emotions of the viewers and makes them feel more scared than they ought to be - even with the latest attack you're still far more likely to die in a road accident and fewer are being killed by terrorism now than in the 1980s, although you wouldn't think it.

There is one crucial difference between the IRA and ISIS - not that ISIS has been identified as being responsible in this case. The political aim of a united Ireland is something that can be the subject of negotiation and compromise, whereas a caliphate isn't exactly negotiable.

Just carry on!



Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The End of the Pier Show


Following my redundancy I've decided to join forces as an associate with an old friend (we were at the same school, but I was 2 years senior), something I've dallied with previously but, at age 62, I think the time is right. People don't like employing anyone over 60.

I went to the UK head office yesterday in Hythe - it was a pleasant surprise. It's located on the end of a pier belonging to Solent Refit, a yacht refitting business. The photos below are the initial approach, a couple of shots of the office itself and the view in each direction. Given it's a marine focused business, the office is rather apt.








I won't actually be based there, as I'll be working from home, but what a great view. Here's a short video that shows the locale:

Monday, 22 May 2017

Planning Ahead


Overheard in the car while passing a funeral director's:


Chairman: "Have you spoken to your dad about funeral arrangements - he's in his 80s after all."

Hay: "He's going in the same grave as my mum."

Chairman: "I know that, but I mean preferences for funeral director - there's that new place on the High Street."

Hay: "No, it'll be the Co-Op again - I got 80 loyalty points for mum and I'll get the same again for dad."


Sunday, 21 May 2017

£350m a Week Wedding Posy


I find it strange that not one single political party is mentioning the legendary £350m a week (£18.2bn a year) saving from the EU to fund their 'unfunded' manifesto. You'd think the Conservatives, at least, would use it - it was mainly one of their Brexit planks for The Great Leap Backwards. It's also strange no party has said how they will pay the EU divorce bill.


Could it be that the £350m a week was not only legendary, but mythical too? Surely not....

I frequently dip into Leave campaign sites on Facebook to see the comments Ultra Brexiteers make. The constant refrain is; "This isn't what our father and grandfathers fought for." The delicious irony is that my father and his generation fought against the very kind of people who vent their spiteful hatred on these Facebook groups. It's a funny old world.

I do resent being told to F-off back to my own country by bumpkins who can't even speak the Queen's English and have surnames with Danish, Norwegian, German, Norman or Huguenot roots - but I guess that's the fault of the EU and immigrants. The irony is that before the vote for The Great Leap Backwards I could have migrated to any country in the EU I wanted to - can't now. I'm here for good to plague them - and I enjoy it, as their arguments are facile, not that being shouty and offensive is an argument.

There's talk of weddings all over the news. What with 42% of marriages now ending in divorce, I can't see many fathers of the brides wanting to shell out £30k for a wedding anymore. With marriage becoming less popular, I'd say that a wedding planner or wedding caterer was not a good career choice these days either.

I sold something on eBay last week and was horrified to see I'd signed up to giving eBay 10% of my earnings. Not only that, but they charge 10% of the postage fee too. Bloody iniquitous. Think I'll use Gumtree in future.

Is that a posy of broccoli - or lettuce - being clutched in Trump's paw?

 


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Non-Food Students


Apparently the Tories are insisting on foreign students being included in the immigration figures, despite the fact less than 1% of the 300,000 here at any one time remain after they finish their studies.

Now, following Brexit student numbers are set to decline dramatically as a consequence of the UK no longer being in many internationally funded research programmes, meaning student numbers - aka immigrants - will plummet without the Tory government having to do a single thing. It strikes me the Tories want to claim an immigration success through artifice.

That said, foreign students aren't exactly a drain on the economy - their student fees are eye-watering compared to native students. I suppose universities could feasibly drop entry standards even further to attract more natives to make up for the lack of revenue.

It was Pudding Night for the Friends of Old Sodbury Church last night - they're focused on maintaining the fabric of the church (not all are religious) - and I was asked do make 24 portions of a pudding of my choice. I chose a brioche and butter pudding with a caramel sauce.

I purchased 8 packs of Lidl brioche (brioches?) on Thursday and was horrified when I saw the sell-by date - some 3 weeks hence! God knows what they do to ensure they don't spoil for that long - they can't be real food with that shelf-life.


Hay particularly liked the gin and tonic jelly...


Friday, 19 May 2017

The Island of Parts


Hay ordered a humongous kitchen island from Gary, our tame furniture maker. Unfortunately she ordered it a couple of months ago, before my recent redundancy notice, and it's too late to cancel it now. When it's installed we're going to have a Grand Opening, along with a neighbour's newly built pizza oven. We're thinking of calling the island Necker.


I'm about half way through re-acquainting myself with 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'. The book concerns itself with different attitudes to modern technology and how we are split into the romantics and the classicists (or analysts, as I prefer to call them).

The romantics use technology but don't bother to understand it, and as a consequence get intensely frustrated with it when it fails and they can't fix it themselves. They have a love-hate relationship with technology - they love to use it, but hate the fact they're enslaved by repair men when it goes wrong. They feel emasculated.

Analysts, on the other hand, take the trouble to understand how technology works and get a buzz out of keeping things working by doing their own preventative maintenance to stop technical objects failing in the first place.

Romantics see a single entity, whereas the analysts see many discrete, but interlocking systems, each system being comprised of individual parts that all need attention to ensure the whole operates efficiently.

The Zen part of the book deals with the romantic view, where it's the whole that counts, rather than an analysis of the parts. That said, perversely, it's the analyst who is, in Zen parlance, more 'in the moment', being in tune with all the parts and performing maintenance like a ritual. Basically, it all boils down to attitude as to whether the maintenance aspect is seen as drudgery or joy.

I think I'm more inclined to the analytical side - I want to investigate things and understand them, which sometimes bring me into conflict with Hay, who is more into gestalts, especially when I spend hours at the computer researching an issue that's bugging me. Again, that's a paradox, as she's the scientist.

I can't help but feel an analogy here on the Brexit issue - the romantics favour Brexit (although not in Hay's case) and all the Blimpishness that entails, whereas the analysts favour remaining, having taken the trouble to sift the wheat from the political chaff. However, even here there's a paradox, in that the EU is a gestalt in itself - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, whereas the leavers are more attached to the parts, or subsystems - if a particular subsystem; their own country.

I sometimes wonder whether Brexit will eventually be the annex in someone's future book, 'The Decline and Fall of the British Empire'. Having lit the fuse of nationalism through an unshakable faith in a mythical, Arthurian past that can't be recreated, Brexit will have a job to stamp out the flames as they spread throughout the United Kingdom and bits drop off - just like the Western Roman Empire left nothing but a charred cinder in the shape of the solitary and economically ruined city of Rome, while the centre of culture and trade moved east to Constantinople to last another thousand years.

Generally speaking, and paradoxically, Leavers want the UK to stay as a Union, but what they can't seem to engage with is the fact that the Scottish Nationalist, the Welsh Nationalist and the Irish Republican is just like them. Their usual rejoinder is that the Union works - but then so too does the EU; the problems that plague the Union are exactly the same as those that plague the EU - small-minded nationalism. A slim majority of the British have gone from being Romans in control of Rome to barbarians at the gates of Brussels. Cognitive dissonance on a breathtaking scale and tantamount to saying Empire is OK, so long as we're running it.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

Cat Flap Conundrum


Trump maintains no President has ever been treated as unfairly as him. What about the ones who were assassinated? Methinks the Orange One doth protest too much - it's all self-inflicted. Make a complete tit of yourself in public and that's the result.

For some reason, the electronic cat flap is requiring new batteries every couple of weeks - the normal interval should be about 4 to 6 months. No amount of cleaning of terminals seems to cure the problem.

The reason we have an electronic one is because our neighbour's two cats, Blackberry and Orange (names have been changed to protect the innocent) keep coming into the house and eating Kitty's food, added to which, Kitty is a rather grumpy female and doesn't appreciate the intrusion by two rather mischievous and dopey male cats. That said, they often dart in whenever we have occasion to open the door, and we're cool with that - Kitty, obviously, is not.

Blackberry (or Blackie for short) often stays overnight - unbeknownst to us, until we feel him jumping on the bed in the small hours. He's such a lovely animal that we don't have the heart to chuck him out - and the neigbours are cool with that too. Both Blackie and Orange are ex farm cats, and as such, consider any open house part of their territory.


Blackie is conversant with the purpose of the cat flap, doesn't even bother to attempt getting through it anymore and is content to sneak in whenever we open the backdoor. Orange, on the other hand, is a bit thick and constantly paws at it and meows loudly to be admitted, despite access being barred. Orange has obviously never heard of Pavlov.

We're considering just leaving the cat flap permanently unlocked. Blackie has been suitably trained and won't even attempt to get in (well, not for a while), but Orange will barge in anyway.

It's all a bit pointless, as during the summer we have both sets of French doors open all day anyway and it's open house.

Stop-press - came down this morning to find Orange sitting at the bottom of the stairs.




Wednesday, 17 May 2017

A Boomerang Man Cave


When we visited Barrington Court on Sunday, we bought some tomes at the 2nd hand book depository they have there. I got a few cookery books and Hay found one written in the '80s on stately homes called 'The Last Country Houses'. Leafing through Hay's book I came across this wonderful, ready-made plan for a garage:


Yes, it comes complete with an annex for the chauffeur. We're going to have to start saving again...

This story about Chanel, the expensive boomerang and the 'appropriation of indigenous culture'. How the hell do people think culture spread in the fist place, if not by appropriation? There's a good side to this though - might see all these daft dream-catcher things disappear. I wonder what the implications will be for the Devon Cream Tea served outside Devon, the high fashion Roman sandal or all those Regency buildings based on Greek designs...


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Perfidious Politicians


The electioneering is under way and the parties are busy offering electoral bribes, to which history has shown we're particularly susceptible. We constantly accuse politicians of being hypocrites, but we too are equally hypocritical when we're standing at the ballot box and faced with the choice of tax increases to fund overstretched public services, or reneging on our values. We unfailingly choose for others to pay for increases, but not us.


I'm in a quandary over voting, as Brexit is a huge issue for me. Not one Leaver I've argued the Brexit issue with has managed to articulate a reason for leaving the EU that isn't based either on wishful thinking or a (possibly sincere) belief in the misinformation promulgated by the Leave campaign.

Hatred of the EU is an emotional and intuitive response and thus immune to reason or analytical assessment - the more evidence you present the more entrenched and furious they become. Psychologically this is quite understandable, as no-one likes being shown they're wrong when presented with facts and opposition tends to cross over into fanaticism. For the Leaver, the EU has become a scapegoat for all that ails this country, and Brexit the deus ex machina.

- How can it be said that EU immigrants are taking all our jobs when unemployment is currently the lowest in a decade?

- How can EU free movement be a problem when 50% of our immigrants are not even from the EU and it's manifestly within the power of the government to control that element?

- How can immigrants be swamping the NHS when, a) it's run by immigrants, b) the Tory government's cuts to social services have been proven to block the exit from NHS beds, c) the largest impact on the NHS is an ageing demographic along with new, more costly treatments and d) Tory cuts in health spending extend to us now being one of the lowest spenders, as a percentage of GDP, in western Europe?

- How can the EU be riding roughshod over our laws when we voted 'No' in only 2% of votes?

- How can we claim to be regaining our sovereignty when we're quite happy to cede it to the WTO?

- How can EU immigrants adversely affect our education system when a) the overwhelming majority speak excellent English as a 2nd language (unlike a lot of non-EU immigrants), b) the immigrants themselves are, in many cases, better educated than the natives and c) schools having large numbers of EU immigrant children (note the EU part, not non-EU) have been proven to outperform those with none?

- Yes, UK based businesses have received EU grants to relocate to other areas of the EU, but only when the other options were either complete closure or relocation outside of the EU. The UK being outside of the EU will make not one iota of difference - in fact it will probably provide an added incentive.

All the above are verifiable facts, but I can guarantee that no evangelical Leave voter will bother to check them as they're contrary to their deeply held, dogmatic beliefs.

To the choices laid before me:
  1. Theresa May, who is not a Brexiteer herself, is making the right noises to neutralise the UKIP/Brexit vote, but prevaricating and ensuring nothing happens until such time as the consequences of the Brexit vote really start to bite, as they already are doing with inflation, rising input costs and (consequently) jobs. She has her eye on the next but one election and doesn't want to preside over a calamity in the intervening time and risk being unelectable in another 5 years (of course, she will get the blame, not the perfidious electorate). All this demonising of the EU by Tory politicians will ensure a bad deal, and as she said; "No deal is better than a bad deal." However, no deal can also be interpreted as maintaining the status quo with no Brexit, as Brexit itself is the worst of all possible deals. I believe that, once the election is out of the way and it becomes increasingly plain that Brexit is the worst deal, she will use her mandate (in the instance of a landslide) to say she has a constitutional obligation to act in the best interests of the country, presenting the facts (which by then will be manifestly obvious) in plain language and not exit the EU, thus saving us from economic implosion and winning the following election. The problem is she's playing it very close to her chest at present for fear of losing the UKIP Tendency, so it's a risk to vote for her, plus I'm not a natural Tory anyway, as I place a high value on public services.
  2. Jeremy Corbyn has promised a parliamentary vote on any negotiated deal. More clarity, but still not what I want - I want a 2nd referendum on the deal as it will be the voters who are hit. His policies hold no terrors for me - I actually believe Labour is closer to reality on what ails the country than the Conservatives ever will be.
  3. LibDems have promised a 2nd referendum on any deal. The most obvious choice for me, but the LibDems are not likely to form a government in the immediate future.
Voting Conservative is a risk and depends on my intuition, but I don't really like the Conservative penchant for small government - which by definition means cuts to public spending and the attendant risk to the NHS. 

Labour would be close to my political beliefs and a guarantee of a parliamentary vote, although they are a tad further to the left of my natural position.

LibDem is closest to my political belief, but possibly a wasted vote - although, the LibDems are better positioned to oust our local Tory MP (our constituency had been LibDem for a very long time - Steve Webb, the ex Pensions Minister, was our MP up till the last election, when a 28 year-old Tory nonentity won the seat in a totally unjustifiable reaction against the Tory/LibDem coalition).

Hence the quandary. That said, I think it will be LibDem for both policy and tactical reasons - but that could change.


Monday, 15 May 2017

Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde at Wolf Hall


Continuing our determination to get the best value for money from our National Trust membership, yesterday we went to Barrington Court, a 16th C house in Somerset owned by the National Trust, among one of the first houses it took over and the filming location for the BBC period drama, Wolf Hall. 

As part of the renovation, Gertrude Jekyll, the famous garden designer, was asked to design the garden planting by the tenant, Col. Lyle of the sugar dynasty, who personally paid for most of the renovations himself while he had a 99 year lease from the National Trust.

It transpires that Robert Louis Stephenson, the writer of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, was friends with Gertrude Jekyll's brother and his surname inspired the name of the story's protagonist.





Sunday, 14 May 2017

Zen and the Art of Village Hall Painting


We spent a few hours yesterday morning as volunteers on the Village Hall Painting Party - it desperately needs a bit of a spruce up. 

As I don't have a pair of overalls, I had to find my oldest clothes and just take a risk either that I wouldn't get splattered with paint or I'd have to throw away the clothes.

As it transpired, not a single drop landed on me. Hay made the comment that had I been painting with gravy or wine, I'd have been covered in the stuff, an observation with which I had to  I had to concur.

Hay was covered in the stuff, but she was working in close proximity to the other blokes and it was wood primer paint from their brushes that landed on her. I, on the other hand, was working with wood undercoat in an area well away from the throng.

As I intimated a few weeks ago, I'm re-reading Robert Persig's 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'. Persig never actually mentioned to make of the motorcycle he used to make his trip, but on looking it up I found it was a Honda CB77 Super Hawk. Here are a few images of the CB77 in different guises.



Saturday, 13 May 2017

Microsoft Trumpish Cardigan


I've just finished reading a biography of James Brudenell, the 7th, and last (after he died, it became a subsidiary title of the Marquess of Ailesbury), Earl of Cardigan - the chappie who led the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. It's called The Homicidal Earl.


Cardigan was an utterly odious, vain, conceited, narcissistic bully of the Tufty-Bufty variety, who courted controversy and whose life was dogged by scandal wherever he went, (a bit like Trump, now I come to think of it) although he could occasionally show some uncharacteristic concern for the enlisted men under his command  (unlike Trump), despite the many floggings. He had a long-lasting feud with his brother-in-law, the Earl of Lucan, who commanded the Heavy Brigade and was Cardigan's superior officer, much to the Cardigan's chagrin.

Trevor Howard portrayed him perfectly in the 1968 film, The Charge of the Light Brigade, although it took a few liberties with some events. George MacDonald Fraser in his book, Flashman at the Charge, also described him quite accurately.

The Charge of the Light Brigade somewhat rehabilitated him back into society as a national hero, and he wasted no time in basking in the glory, but even then there was a charge that he didn't actually reach the Russian guns and was seen slinking back before the rest of his command.

To get to the point, in one passage he is described as having been totally faithful to his much younger wife - 'except for the odd dalliance'. Seems a bit of an oxymoron to say he was totally faithful, yet had the odd extra-marital liaison.

Been having some issues with Windows 10 and my Wi-Fi connection dropping out intermittently, despite the Wi-Fi icon showing me as fully connected. It's almost as if my laptop is losing its IP address somewhere along the chain of command and I'm buggered if I can fix it. Anyway - is there anyone out there who has ever had a positive result back from Microsoft Trouble Shooter, because as sure as eggs-is-eggs, I never have.

The dusting of rain has brought on the most God-awful hay fever and my eyes feel like I've had sand poured into them.


Friday, 12 May 2017

Nuisance Calls in the Compost Manifesto


Nuisance calls. We obviously have a landline, but we only have it by virtue of it coming with our broadband. We don't actually use it - in fact I don't know the number without looking it up on my phone. As a consequence, we never give the number to anyone and therefore any calls that come in on it can only be nuisance calls. I just pick it up when it rings and immediately put it down again. I don't even know why we bother to have a phone connected to the line. Habit, I guess.


We recycle all our vegetable waste into compost, as well as having a humanure pile from the composting toilet in one of the cabins. When emptying the kitchen waste bucket yesterday, it struck me that whereas the vegetable compost bin is always full of fruit flies and other nauseous critters, the humanure bin is completely devoid of smell or flies.

Regarding the leaked draft of the Labout manifesto - I often wonder how many people actually read party manifestos. I had a look at the leaked one and have to say that there's nothing there that I find particularly objectional, with the possible exception of hitting only those earning over £80k (it could be more generally distributed) and forcing public contracts to be awarded only to unionised labour, which is surely discriminatory. Party allegiances tend to be, for a lot of people, an issue of tribalism rather than whether they espouse the policies.


Thursday, 11 May 2017

Middle Finger Smart Champagne on TV


I'm starting to wonder whether our 'smart meter' is listening on our conversations. Time to get the tinfoil hat out, methinks.

I heard some sweetie manufacturer on the news talking about a proposed ban on sweetie advertising on TV before a certain time. He said TV advertising depends heavily on sweetie adverts and if they were to be banned it would reduce the number of TV stations as they battled for the reduced advertising revenue. Looking at the utter tripe that's on TV at present, compared to the quality we had when there were only 3 or 4 channels, I can't help feeling that would be no bad thing. More choice has been a disaster for quality of TV programming.

Talking of TV, have you noticed how the commercial channels pad out some of the time after the adverts by reprising the story so far, as if the viewer has the attention span of a gnat? Mind you, for some of these TV stations the viewers must have the brains of gnats.

Apparently English bubbly is the best in the world, according to a blind tasting conducted in Champagne itself, of all places. The oenophiles believe we'll be a major exporter by 2100. Can you imagine Black Country Bubbly ('it's great' - said in a thick, Brummie accent) with a picture of Noddy Holder or Ozzy Osbourne on the label?


When we were driving last weekend, someone in a car coming the opposite direction waited for us to pass an obstruction. On drawing parallel with the other driver, Hay gave the traditional wave of thanks. Once we had passed I put up my middle finger and Hay asked why I'd done that and I recounted a story from my youth. When I was a small kid, my old man was a new driver on British roads, as well as being an immigrant not conversant with UK road etiquette. Anyway, he didn't wait for an oncoming driver when still getting to to grips with driving in the UK, and the other driver gave him the middle finger. Poor old dad thought it was a gesture of thanks, and for a while he indicated his thanks to other driver by giving them the finger too. The more he did it, the more other drivers responded similarly. He was convinced that English drivers were the most polite on the road. He was mortified when he discovered the truth.


Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Propaganda


Will Ivanka Trump be selected as the next Director of the FBI after the suspicious sacking of Comey? I'm surprised the Land of the Free doesn't have 2 week consultation periods and notice.

m heartily sick of the same old discredited mantras popping up on Facebook from Ultra Brexiteers.
  1. Unelected EU bureaucrats, 
  2. EU interfering in our laws. 
  3. EU accounts have never been signed off, and
  4. A 2nd referendum is anti-democratic.
Addressing these fallacies in order:

Mrs May was not elected PM by the British electorate, she was voted for by party members. The number of public electoral votes by virtue of which she is an MP for Maidenhead was some 35,000. The PM determines which portfolio each minister receives, not the electorate. Constitutionally, the PM or a minster need not even be an MP (numerous Lords have been ministers and indeed PMs).

The European Commission is the main administrative body of the EU. It proposes and drafts new laws, and implements and enforces EU laws that have been passed by MEPs. It does not make laws. There are as many Commissioners as there are member countries - one per country - and they are nominated by the elected PM of each member country. They can be removed by the MEPs for misconduct. Like the handing out of UK ministerial portfolios, the President of the Commission determines which portfolio each Commissioner receives.

The President of the Commission (aka Jean-Claude Junker) is nominated - on the basis of consensus - by the PMs of the member countries and ratified by the MEPs, which are our elected representatives. They are quite at liberty to vote down a nominated President.

The President of the European Council (aka Donald Tusk) has no legislative function and is again nominated by the heads of state of the member countries. The President of the European Council used to  be a rotated among the heads of the EU member countries but, with the increase in the number of members, the task of consulting with each and every PM of each state became too time consuming and needed a permanent position.

So, without becoming a fully fledged state - precisely what  the Brexiteers don't want - the EU could not be more democratic than it is. In some respects it arguably is more democratic than the UK's own system.

Taking the 2nd point - EU laws

Official EU voting records show that the British government has voted ‘No’ to laws passed at EU level on 56 occasions, abstained 70 times, and voted ‘Yes’ 2,466 times since 1999. In other words, UK ministers were on the “winning side” 95% of the time, abstained 3% of the time, and were on the losing side 2%. The number of No votes has admittedly  increased in recent times. However, there have been a number of occasions where the UK voted No to a proposal that opinion polls at the time showed that the majority of the UK electorate actually supported.

The people who complain most about EU interference in our laws are invariably unable to provide a single example of an EU law that adversely affects their daily life to the extent that it makes it necessary to leave the EU.

Now for the EU accounts:


The European Court of Auditors checks the EU’s accounts and delivers verdicts on them annually. It actually gives two different opinions on them: whether they’re accurate and reliable, and to what extent there’s evidence that money is being received or paid in error. The auditors give an opinion on the accuracy and reliability of the accounts when they present an accurate picture of the EU’s finances and follow the rules of financial reporting. This has been the case since 2007.

If they’re mostly fine, but have some problems, the auditors give a “qualified” opinion. This was the case before 2007. If they have extensive problems, they give an “adverse” opinion on the reliability of the accounts. This has never happened.

The same opinions are delivered on the ‘regularity’ of the accounts—whether they’re free from significant errors. The Court of Auditors has always given an adverse opinion on this ever since it started giving opinions in 1995.

While the EU is ultimately responsible for its own budget, the majority of the spending is implemented by member countries. Both the EU and member states make a similar amount of errors. In the UK’s case, the Public Accounts Committee has criticised the government for designing programmes which add to the complexity of EU spending, and showing a “distinct lack of urgency” in tackling that complexity and reducing the penalties the UK needs to pay back to the EU. In any accounting audit there are always overspends, funds allocated where they shouldn't have been, etc. - it's not an indication of fraud. It's interesting to note that the UK own accounts aren't even made public.

Lastly, a 2nd referendum being anti-democratic.

Leaving aside for the moment that at the 1st referendum we didn't know the terms or consequences (other than alarmism from both sides), if a 2nd referendum is anti-democratic, then, by definition, a 1st referendum must also be anti-democratic, which is ludicrous. Democracy is a process that takes cognizance of changing circumstances, not a binary event for all time. Each  time we elect a new government we change our minds based on evidence. The argument that consulting the people a 2nd time is somehow antidemocratic is specious at the very least and fascist at worst - it's denying the electorate the chance to change its mind, which is the essence of democracy.

Indeed, Mrs May herself has said that if she wins the next election, she will allow another vote by MPs on the 2004 fox hunting ban. If MPs are allowed to change their minds and overturn previous votes, then why shouldn't the electorate have that opportunity too?

Given the amount of misinformation filling the minds of a large section of the electorate, isn't a 2nd referendum justified solely on that basis alone?

It just goes to show that misinformation, like conspiracy theories, never goes away and there is a large number of the electorate that fervently believes that the EU is run by unelected bureaucrats (aka civil servants), that 2% is far too great a number of our laws to be interfered with by the EU (even though the chances are they support a good proportion of that 2%), that the finance system is a basket case and that the electorate can't be allowed to change its mind.


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Eating French Fancy Email Toothpaste


Saw a comment on the French election which perfectly sums up the result; "But they had the advantage of first observing the real-world consequences of others' lapses from sanity. One could almost argue that France has been saved again by British and American sacrifice."

A French supporter of Le Pen was interviewed on the BBC news and complained that Macron didn't represent the majority of France. If you count the number of abstentions and spoiled ballot papers, Macron represented 48% of the total electorate and so the interviewee had a point, but given he had double the number Le Pen polled,I think it's somewhat academic.

It's interesting to note that, whereas a person's private life - and especially their sex life - is sacrosanct in France and has no impact of their public life, the prurient, Victorian, tabloid British press would have a field day over Marcon's wife and the professionally outraged from Tunbridge Wells would be foaming at the mouth..

It's that 'end of the plastic toothpaste tube' time in our household again. It's a struggle to  get the last, but not inconsequential amount, of toothpaste out of one of those damnable plastic toothpaste tubes. The desire to just chuck it away and pull out a new tube is overwhelming, but I shall persevere.

I came across something interesting last week. I  emailed a sales prospect who happened to be a CEO, but an automated response came back to say I was not on the authorised list of senders. It's obviously a perfectly understandable ploy to prevent spam from sales people, which could overwhelm busy CEOs within a company. In the Sunday Times I also happened to read that James Dyson reads only about 6 emails a day, which is an impossibly small number. I wonder if those 6 emails are daily updates from his 6 immediate reports, with all other email being automatically blocked?

Spotted this on a plastic plant pot I was about to get rid of:


See the symbol on the top right? Unless I'm very much mistaken, that  means 'do not eat'... I  wonder if it's OK to eat plastic plant pots if they're adequately cooked.

It's the annual poo-sticks thing again - the one where I have to take stool samples to check if I have bowel cancer and put the samples in the post. Not my favourite time of year, I have to admit. I did suggest to Hay, what with her being a biochemist and involved with medial things, that I simply do it in a saucer and she takes the sample. She didn't too keen on the suggestion for some reason.


Monday, 8 May 2017

Aspirational Lifestyles


Had occasion to go into the loos at Waitrose in Bath yesterday and I spotted this menu card for a curry on the way out.


Now it's based on a jar of Waitrose curry sauce, but you have to add a couple of things yourself, like a stick of cinnamon and a chili. Why aren't those ingredients in the jar of curry sauce already, unless it's a marketing ploy to make you think you're actually cooking a curry from scratch yourself, rather than cheating and using a jar of sauce? You're either using a jar of curry sauce for convenience, or you're not - there's a certain irrationality to using a jar and then adding several other ingredients that are missing from the jar.

We called into a kitchen shop exhibiting serried ranks of exorbitantly priced KitchenAid mixers at £500 or £600 a pop. I got into an interesting conversation with the shop assistant about the price of these devices; apparently distributors aren't allowed to put them into shop sales because it could detract from the brand image as an aspirational item.

Aspirational items are those characterized by a desire to achieve social prestige through ownership, or in other words, 'cachet value' to portray the owners as something they are not. In aspirational marketing there's an element of deceit, but a deceit in which the buyer is fully complicit. This is especially the case if the item in question is no better than a much cheaper item that does exactly the same as, if not more than, the much higher priced one - like, in this case, a Kenwood mixer. Brands capitalising on this are those such as Dyson and Cath Kidston.

Some fairly expensive items are worth the extra money simply because they are better made, perform a variety of functions or are simply beautiful -  like the Dualit toaster, which you can easily dismantle and for which you can buy replacement elements to make it last, literally, a lifetime, or the Kirby vacuum cleaner, which performs a myriad more tasks than a Dyson and is a complete home cleaning system.

Lifestyle-on-a-shelf is a phenomenon of the day - people hire professional decorators to give their houses cachet value that comes from their wallets rather than the creativity of their own minds. The obsession with lifestyle items has resulted in charity shops undergoing a boom as last year's lifestyle items (which are still perfectly serviceable) are thrown out in favour of this year's lifestyle item. Most of us are guilty of falling into this unsustainable and wasteful trap.

There's a Farrow and Ball paint shop in Bath which we passed yesterday. It's stocked to the gills with pretentious colour names. Hay and I joked about a Cannon and Ball paint range, which would include Rock On Tommy blue, That'll Do For Me distressed chalk white and Oldham orange. On reviewing today's post, I came across this.

A competing Chuckle Brothers paint range would be a good marketing idea - To Me To You grey and Oh Dear, Oh Dear green...

Talking of Dyson, he had his 70th birthday party on Saturday night and woke up half the people in the neighbourhood with a massive firework display. I slept through it, but Hay heard it above the din of my snoring. You have to admit that he's a very sprightly and active 70 year old.


Sunday, 7 May 2017

Reservoir Dogs & Pandas


Hay and I went on one of our usual weekend walks yesterday and selected Chew Valley Lake, followed by Blagdon Lake - both being huge reservoirs built some 50 years apart to supply nearby Bristol with water (Chew Valley Lake necessitated the evacuation of a village before being filled).


Chew Valley Lake


Blagdon Lake

When going on a weekend walk, we always take a rucksack each for waterproofs, a hat, binoculars, water, a picnic, etc., and at some stage there's always a request from one or the other of us to firkle around in the other's rucksack to find some item - it being easier for the other to retrieve the item than to take the damned things off. The request is immediately followed by the question; "Which pocket is it in," the answer to which is invariably the wrong one. We hit on the idea yesterday of wearing each other's rucksack, so we could easily find what we're looking for ourselves without having to divest ourselves of said rucksacks.

In trying to find somewhere close to Blagdon Lake to park the car we came upon this road.


Given that strange road names are usually given for a very valid reason, we decided not to attempt going down Awkward Hill...

When on walks I always find it curious how cattle grids can keep cattle hemmed in; when you think about it, all they have to do is go back to the farm building, find some boards and - hey presto - they could be over them in a trice.

While at Blagdon Lake I came across an Alsatian being walked by its owner. Having a soft spot for Alsatians I engaged in a bit of ball throwing with it, using a very soft and squidgy rubber ball. At one stage the dog decided to have a tug-of-war with me; I tugged at the ball in its mouth and my hand was immediately drenched in about a cup-full of dog slobber that had soaked into the ball. Very unpleasant.

We stumbled on a Mini convention at an hotel at Chew Valley Lake, The light blue one in the middle of the first photo was liveried as a police Panda Car, although I don't remember Panda Cars having wheel arches.




Saturday, 6 May 2017

Pay the Victim Metro Mayor


I'm a recent convert to the Android Pay contactless payment system, but what, for the life of me I fail to understand,  is why I can pay whatever amount for my shopping using my mobile phone, but only up to £30 with my contactless debit card. Could it be because a mobile phone has more security features?


Paul Nuttall, the leader of UKIP, has said that UKIhe's the vicitm of its own success. I guess that's political code for UKIP being a victim of his narcissism.

So we in the west have a Tory Metro Mayor at a cost of £1bn over 30 years, plus his salary. Why do we need one? The simple answer is we don't, but the Tory party does. Cities are traditionally Labour strongholds, but by roping in the traditional Tory voters in the shire constituencies, they stand a good chance of diluting the dominance of the city and possibly even gaining overall control - as they did in this case. The Metro Mayor is funded by central government and that money has to come from somewhere, and I'll bet it comes at the expense of the city councils. At least that's the way I see it - as a form of centralised control, when what we really need is devolved control. I always thought the Conservatives stood for less government, not more.