Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Greetings from Holder Grange!

The art gallery

It hardly seems possible that another year has flown past and it is time to provide the less fortunate of the world with another update from Holder Grange.

As I sit at my desk, looking over the expanse of sparkling snow on the front lawns, I’m tempted to describe 2009 as the ‘year of cheese’.

It all started with a terrible misunderstanding involving our number one daughter, a private party, several leading figures from the international professional domino circuit, a prominent peer and an undercover journalist. The Babycham had been flowing, the guests were all consenting adults and it was all very harmless fun, but the resulting publicity from an obviously doctored photograph, caused poor Veronica to flee London and return to the family home.

Being the overly sensitive soul that she is, she rescued the goats at the party and housed them in the paddock. We also have a shed full of autographed table tennis bats that will go on e-bay next year.

In these harsh economic times, I told her that I wasn’t going to have any freeloading goats on my property and that she needed to find a way of making them pay their way. So, the enterprising Veronica decided to enter the cheese making profession.

The whole family soon discovered the joys of rennet and curdling. Veronica has become quite a celebrity on the specialist foody circuit and has been appearing on a late night specialist cable TV channel sharing views on extreme enzyme action to the world.

The wife was rather down after her personal trainer had a breakdown earlier in the year. The man suddenly declared he couldn’t take the stress and between fits of sobs, vowed a life of celibacy under holy orders. The cheese business seemed to provide the perfect tonic with her taking over responsibility for the marketing. She has hired Miguel, an ex-professional tri-athlete and together they travel all over Europe extolling the health giving properties of our cheese.

They are often away for weeks at a time, before returning exhausted, but fulfilled to the dairy.

Number one son has also become involved. After last year’s problem with exotic herbs, the farcical miscarriage of justice and his spell at Her Majesty’s pleasure, he found himself a job at a large Merchant Bank. However, he gave that up declaring that ‘he couldn’t lower his morals to that degree no matter how much it paid’.

He also returned to the Grange and as Veronica’s Cheese business took off, made it his job to supply exotic milks to expand the product range, helped in no small part by the contacts of his Lithuanian girlfriend. Hardly a night goes past without a tatty van appearing at the back door of the diary and a couple of Eastern European types unloading vats of Llama milk, Reindeer milk or Zebra milk powder. No matter how many times I tell them that the powdered Zebra milk is no use for cheese making, they still bring it, so my son has to sell it on in London.

My number one daughter introduced my son to his now girlfriend, a rather statuesque and pneumatically enhanced Lithuanian who will be with us for the Christmas period. Her job as a provider of specialist party services is particularly tiring. My son says that she needs to drop out of the scene for a while after a particularly busy Christmas Party season and some problems at the party of a major Tory party donor. It will also give some time for the carpet burns to heal.

Sadly, number two daughter will not be home for Christmas. Having decided that she needed a different outlet for her musical genius, she has given up the Cello and the Conservatoire; instead she now plays for an all girl musical combo who specialise in Thrash Metal Country music. At the moment they are touring clubs in Amsterdam and Germany in a converted military ambulance. This is because they all have numerous bodily adornments that play merry hell with airport security scanners.

Just how they will cope when they fly out to Las Vegas in the New Year to play a club just off the strip I don’t know. At this point, I had hoped to include a link to her bands website, but it seems to have been hacked, all the views of the band are obscured by girls in various states of undress who, struggling to remain upright, hang onto poles.

Anyway, I think it is time for me to wrap up. The wife and Miguel have just arrived back from the Venice International Cheese Festival. Poor Miguel looks absolutely shattered and my wife is having to help him out of the car and back to the house. That man gives his all on these trips, but my wife always returns in a better mood because of it which helps my nerves and protects my cellar.

All that remains is for me to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. I trust that 2010 makes nonsense of your fears and a reality of your dreams.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I am Ironman

As my stalwart yeomen know, I have an abnormally effective immune system. While others may dissolve into fits of cough, sneezes and sniffles with the onset of a cold, I merely shrug as thousands of little white blood cells round up any invading cold viruses and expel them with a stern warning never to return.

When a nasty little flu bug decides to do the rounds of our office (see Note 1), my constitution is such that they take one look at my nostrils and decide to go for an easier target.

Sadly, this doesn’t mean I never get ill. It just means that while others around me are suffering from a cold, I will have contracted a far rarer and far more virulent bug.

At the moment, I am forced to endure a colleague moaning while making all manner of strange noises into a decidedly dodgy looking handkerchief. Every now and again, he looks at me with pink rabbit eyes and moans between fits of coughing and sneezing.

I think he is trying to stitch me up and get me to send him home.

That’s not going to happen. I struggled into work today with an army of exotic Bolivian Fugue viruses doing battle over my tonsils while a group of affiliated Asian bugs are being expelled from my every orifice. While I type this, another group of yet unidentified microbes (see Note 2) doing battle inside my cranium are causing a severe headache while being bashed into submission.

Note 1: Which is all too common for my liking. We have a rather old fashioned air conditioning system which flu bugs seem to think is some kind of luxury resort and flock to every winter.

Note 2: Although I have no idea what they are just yet, I remain convinced that they would prove fatal to a lesser being than me.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

James Bond on the Clapham Omnibus

Here is a little game for my fay yeomen. Think of the most mundane fantasy perpetuated by the media and by the advertising industry that is just impossible to recreate in real life. By that I mean the media portrayal of lifestyle of the fictional and the real.

At the moment, I think that my offering in this arena would be personal transportation.

In the media, people drive cars that match their character and position. While us mere mortals by cars based upon our budget and the mundane practicalities dictated by our lives, media characters are blissfully unfettered by such restraints.

A good example of this could be Morse, the fictional detective created by Colin Dexter. Although he worked in Oxford , a notoriously difficult place to navigate in any car, he elected to drive an old mark 2 Jaguar. Of course, despite its age, this car never let the Inspector down (see Note1). More amazingly, whenever Morse was called upon to visit anywhere in Oxford, he always found a convenient parking space right outside his destination – something that any visitor to Oxford will tell you is as likely as snogging Elle McPherson.

You never see James Bond on the bus. Despite having an office in the middle of London, he never arrives late due to leaves on the line or a signalling problem at London Bridge . He is never shown popping into the local newsagent to pay the congestion charge. Despite having a change of clothes for every eventuality, you never see him hauling a cumbersome case through an airport (see Note 2). Again, the creative process not letting real life and practicalities never intrude and tarnish the fantasy.

Like everyone else, I swallowed the fantasy. From a tender and innocent age, I had a yearning for a car of my own, the freedom of the open road and the ability to get from A to B in the shortest possible time. I absorbed the marketing and advertising and the hype that the badge on your car moulded the callow youth and defined the man. (see Note 3)

Now the lifestyle fantasy that surrounds my car is so ingrained that I cling to the idea that it will get me from A to B in the blink of an eye. Despite all experience to the contrary, I believe I will arrive at my destination and glide into an available (And free) parking space within spitting distance of my goal. With wind-tousled hair (see Note 4) feeling calm and fresh, I will be ready to enjoy whatever delights B has to offer.

While Inspector Morse has the magic of television to help him through the car hating streets of Oxford, I don’t have the same help to navigate my way to Cambridge. I have to endure the jams and the congestion and the frustration and the cyclists (see Note 5) of a daily commute.

The mandarins of the council have, like every other congested city in this Fair Isle, decided that action must be taken to stop people driving cars in the city. To this end, they have drawn a line around the city and decided that everyone who passes this line will pay a ‘congestion charge’ fee. For me that means paying the fee for travelling approximately 20 yards inside the zone.

As you can imagine, I was none to pleased with the idea, so earlier this week, I attended the Cambridgeshire Transport Commission to oppose the idea (see Note 6). It seems that the new wibbly-wobbly bus and some fantastic new park and ride schemes will persuade us all to abandon our cars and take to the buses.

They are poor and deluded souls. They have years of programming by the media to overcome if they think they can achieve that. But, I am prepared to be flexible on this. The day I see James Bond using a bus to get to MI6 headquarters, I will be at the head of the queue for Cambridgeshire’s wonderful wibbly-wobbly bus – despite it not going anywhere near my workplace.

Note 1: And come to think of it, never required the dear Inspector perform any impromptu maintenance or even fill it with petrol.

Note 2: Given his choice of cars, I cannot see how he manages to fit his entire luggage into the limited boot space either.

Note 3: At such a tender age, I failed to consider that I would find myself restrained by budget and what proved to be, for me at least, the rather troublesome hurdle of convincing Her Majesty’s Driving Examiners that I was a fit and proper driver. Yet the fantasy was born and the clever marketing men at the car companies convinced me that I was, by the simple virtue of hire purchase, one day going to own the penis extension of my dreams. I never did get to own that car of my dreams. Practical considerations intruded that mean that all my life I have driven cars that define me as extra #6 in the automotive cast list with my participation likely to end up on the cutting room floor.

Note 4: OK, so I know that there is not enough hair on my hair to tousle, but this is all part of the fantasy. Heroes are never follically challenged on celluloid. So, deep in my brain, irrationally charged synapses flare into action as soon as I turn the ignition key. Somehow, when I brake and change down for that fast left hander, catch the apex, squeeze the accelerator and feel the slightest hint of g-forces, for a brief moment, a very brief moment reality blurs. For moment, I believe I have a full head of hair and a buxom blond has appeared in the empty passenger seat to simper “Oh James, the way you handle that gear stick really sends me.”

Note 5: Don’t get me started on the cyclists.

Note 6: I went by car as there wasn’t a bus laid on.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Double Entry Bookkeeping and Childhood Dreams

As my cogent yeomen know, I am a bear of very little brain. This isn’t always a disadvantage, sometimes it is positive asset.

Take the G20 summit in London, while all of the leaders took turns in announcing the unanimity of all concerned and the success of the summit (see Note 1), I remained unconvinced. When all the papers laud the communiqué (see Note 2) as giving real hope for the world economy, I remain disappointed. (see Note 3)

You see, I find it difficult to believe that additional regulations will achieve anything more than provide job opportunities for those young children who have dreamed since they were at kindergarten of becoming auditors. (see Note 4)

Regulation is a problem because it flies in the face of human nature. My logic for being cynical about its likely success is because business, like sport is a competitive environment. With the will to win so great, human nature is such that people are encouraged to play by the letter of the rules rather than to the spirit. I’m not going to search out any of the zillions (see Note 5) examples where sportsmen have sought ways to bend the rules or those where the rules were deliberately or accidentally broken, but I think you can find plenty of your own.

In the UK, the regulator, FSA, had a budget for £250m for staff costs in 2008/09 (increasing to over £300m in 2009/10) according to their latest business plan. Printing out their regulations would destroy a small forest. Yet this didn’t stop various banks from playing pass the parcel with various toxic debts.

You see, the various financial institutions juggle risk against reward (see Note 6) and will still seek to maximise the reward. By simply adding more regulation we will achieve very much. What will happen is that the various financial institutions will simply seek to employ cleverer people with the intent of finding ways to maximise the reward by, like sportsmen, finding ways to take the risk by sticking to the letter rather than the spirit of the rules.

Sadly, business success has only one measure – profit and everything else, including ethics are secondary to the pursuit of wealth.

But fear not, my saturnine yeomen, for this singular purpose of business is also the means by which we could make other considerations, especially ethical considerations more important in the corporate world.

For every profit is subject to taxation. Whatever the risks, whatever the excesses of a business, our governments take their cut of the profits in taxes.

The answer is to make this taxation voluntary. By offering businesses exemption on their tax bill for showing they comply with an accredited and ethical scheme. So Trade Unions could run an accreditation scheme that would knock 20% of the tax bill if a company complies. You could knock a further 20% off if the company is accredited as following the spirit of the regulations as well as the letter. It could be extended to fair trade, the environment, community and all sorts of different considerations.

The profit would be directly affected by the ethics of a business and BINGO! We have a way of stemming the excesses.

Not only that, when wrong doing is detected, we have a way of making sure that we have the means to exact retribution. Remember, Al Capone was eventually brought to justice for tax irregularities.

So for all you G20 leaders reading this little blog, why don’t you phone round your pals and see if you can persuade them of the wonderful simplicity of my little plan in time for your next little shindig in Japan? If you want a few extra details, you can always leave a comment below, I’ll happily put a little meat on the bones.

Note 1: And then promptly returned home to tell their domestic audiences how they fought out to secure an agreement that secured their own particular national interests.

Note 2: I am sure that President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is particularly pleased because he can return to France and proudly announce that after weeks of concerted lobbying and negotiations behind the scenes, he gained international agreement that the G20 would issue a communiqué instead of the a vile anglicised statement.

Note 3: This disappointment was extended to cover the protests as well. They seemed all rather lacklustre. I guess that even anarchists are finding their budgets are being cut back in these uncertain economic times.

Note 4: Otherwise we would end up with a nation of train drivers, nurses, firemen and lap dancers.

Note 5: A few years ago, in order to exaggerate a point I would have used ‘millions’. The responses to past disasters and crisis meant that soon became devalued in the exaggeration stakes so ‘billions’ had to be used. The current crisis has the G20 talking in terms of ‘trillions’ so I am now forced to jump up to ‘zillion’ and I don’t even know if that is the next step up from a trillion or even if it is a real number.

Note 6: We all balance risk against the reward as part of our daily lives. Some of us are more risk averse than others. On a hot day we may fancy an ice-cream from the shop over the road. Some of us will consider crossing the busy road to risky and forgo the treat. Others will consider the risk to our long term health and give the cool gloop a miss. Then there are those who will shout ‘GIMME THE LOLLY’ and run headlong into the rush hour traffic.

Media Whimsy Watch.

My theory is that the appearance of whimsical items in the “serious” media is in direct proportion to the economic prospects.

The G20 summit has obviously had some impact, albeit small.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Teaching New Dogs Old Musical Tricks

As life bestows its chronological gifts, I have reached the stage where I am faced with bafflement when considering modern popular music combinations.

As the sands of time shift, the modern music scene seems to become increasingly difficult for me to comprehend and I find myself seeking solace in the timeless classics.

My daughter has tried to explain to me the merits of various contributors to the music of the current generation, but all of these reality TV show winners seem to look alike to me and all their songs appear to be covers of the proper music from my youth.

I cannot be alone with my confusion over modern music. Such is the state of the scene at the moment that we are seeing the industry encouraging the strange phenomena of bands that split up with artistic differences years ago (see Note 1) to reform and undertake huge arena tours. Even Michael Jackson is currently undergoing a 45 000 mile service with his cosmetic surgeon ready to moonwalk onto stage for a few intimate gigs at the O2 arena.

It seems to me, my mellifluous yeomen, that modern music lacks something. The youth music scene today seems to have forgotten why it exists – it is there to challenge the establishment. It is there to drive hormone fuelled youth into a frenzy of indignation and ignite a passion to change the world.

I was a mere child when Messrs Townsend, Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon started ‘The Who’. By developing a stage act where they destroyed their instruments at the end of the set (See Note 2) and setting the standard for thumbing ones nose at the establishment.

Drawing a veil over the way Roger Daltrey was to subsequently going to retire to a country mansion, become a renowned fly fisherman and advertise American Express; I will point modern songsters to the late lamented Keith Moon. There was a man who epitomised the Rock and Roll lifestyle and ensured the fame of the band. (see Note 3)

Keith Moon defined the style of the band with his delivery of percussion. He provided the beat that drove the music. (see Note 4)

What the musicians of today need to realise is that unless you have some beat in the music, they are never going to be able to whip the audience into rebellious frenzy. How can you expect your songs to probe the mass consciousness to promote the downfall of the western world when they are as memorable as third rate marmalade? Without a mob following, how can they ever expect to enjoy a garage stuffed full of Ferraris attached to a 20 bedroom mansion overlooking a couple of acres of trout lake?

So all you young wannabee musicians out there must get real. If you want to make it big, you have to listen to the legends in the business like Bruce Dickinson (see Note 5) and drive the beat home

There isn’t a single song that I have ever heard that wouldn’t be improved by giving it a bit of extra cowbell!

Note 1: This normally meant that the band members deciding that their years as the symbols of rebellion against the status quo was over and they either bought huge country houses and collected classic cars or retired to rehab for many years before returning to the public eye by advertising car insurance.

Note 2: This meant that they avoided the need for any tedious encore, although they often destroyed equipment of greater value than their fee for the gig.

Note 3: His exploits are legendary such as his penchant for driving cars into swimming pools and his love of flushing industrial strength fireworks down toilets.

Note 4: There could be an element of jealousy behind my admiration of Keith Moon because as everyone knows, I cannot carry a beat in a bucket.

Note 5: And a belated birthday wish to Christopher Walken who celebrated his birthday on the 31st March.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Motivation is Concentric Circles

After the debacle that was Evar’s attempt at a motivational seminar in the ‘Rat & Ferret’, a group of us decided that we would help him out by adding ‘structure’ to his technique.

I was the first to arrive and I sat nursing a pint of Nightswerve’s Velvet Cudgel while I waited for the others. Evar turned up a short time later quickly followed by Lillian Flotelitely, who had offered to enhance Evar’s limited wardrobe by donating some of her late brother’s clothes. (see Note 1) .

A little while later, the roar of a fleet of Mercedes cars signalled the arrival of a bafflement of Management Consultants (see Note 2) we had secured for the occasion with a little help from Padstow (see Note 3).

The bafflement entered the lounge and immediately agreed that, in the spirit of standardisation, they should all order the same drink. They then stood at the bar and argued over exactly what that drink would be for a good ten minutes before Mattress Madge intervened and gave them all a pint of Velvet Cudgel explaining it was the local standard. Thus placated, they joined me at my table as Lillian led in Evar.

At first, the bafflement nodded and muttered, before one of them decided Evar’s tie needed to be upgraded to silk. Another announced that it wasn’t an upgrade that was needed, but a replacement bow tie was required. The third immediately declared that the tie was an overhead and needed to be dispensed with. They squabbled amongst themselves before Lillian suggested that the tie be blue instead of green. They muttered a bit before all nodding and agreeing that a blue tie would be acceptable.

There was then a period of unexpected unanimity. All agreed that what Evar needed was a PowerPoint slideshow and that pictures and videos (see Note 4) would be spliced into some slides showing the latest management thinking gleaned from 10 minutes on Google.

When we tried to assemble the actual presentation, things started to get heated. Throgmorton Cranfield insisted that the presentation had to start with a slide consisting of concentric circles. Evander Waterhouse, immediately countered that this was against ISO43277/B and that all presentations must open with a two by two matrices. For a while, Abraham Logica said nothing and sat there thumbing through a leather bound folder before suddenly launching into a tirade claiming that both were wrong because of the template being used.

It looked like they would come to blows and try as we might, we could not calm the increasingly heated debate. In the end, Mattress Madge, Evar and I retired to the snug bar and decided to do the presentation ourselves.

When we returned an hour later, the argument was still in full swing and the walls had been covered in yellow post-it notes. I tried the polite cough to gain their attention and was totally ignored. Mattress Madge slammed a fist down onto the table causing glasses, blackberries and folders to jump several inches into the air.

The room went silent. The Management Consultants looked at Mattress Madge with their jaws hanging open.

We showed them our presentation.

Whether it was the quality of our offering or the sight of Mattress Madge all a quiver in pent up frustration, I don’t know, but the bafflement accepted it with fulsome praise.

After agreeing that Evar would give his first run through of his presentation at ‘MacWhirtles Widgets and Flanges’ next week, we all handed the Management Consultants our watches, they declared it was 22:37 (see Note 5) and we all left happy.

Note 1: The unfortunate Stanley Flotelitely will be sorely missed. A rather eccentric engineer, he travelled around the town in his patented steam powered car. His lifelong ambition was achieved last year when he developed the world’s first steam powered, fully automated Hurdy Gurdy orchestra and performed an open air concert in the local park. Sadly, while attempting to incorporate bagpipes into the orchestra, a poorly manufactured non-return valve resulted in his demise and the complete destruction of his workshop.

Note 2: I am reliably informed that bafflement is the correct collective noun when describing more than one Management Consultant. As everyone knows, a single Management Consultant is described as a flim-flam.

Note 3: Padstow had been stalking a minor soap star who had been booked to open their annual conference in Scarborough, it was our good fortune that he had decided to go for a walk on the hills and managed to get the pictures. The consultants claim they were playing charades and trying to act out Bo Peep and who am I to contradict them?

Note 4: All of us were particularly taken by one video of Evar and Yvette shot on a break from one of his competitions. In another unexpected show of unanimity we all agreed that for a big girl, Yvette is surprisingly flexible and that the video could not be shown without fear of arrest.

Note 5: I’m unsure whether or not this note is needed or if I should even include it. If you believe that it is surplus to requirements, then read no further. For as everyone knows, a Management Consultants job is to go into a company, borrow your watch, tell you the time and keep the watch.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Footprints in the Sands of the Blogosphere

I do read other people’s blogs and occasionally, I even remember to comment (although I have been known to click the submit key and then close the computer down without ever realising).

Very occasionally, I get carried away when I comment. There are a number of people who know this, most of them vowing never to have anything to do with me ever again.

This morning, not only did I get carried away, I also felt the result was worthy of saving in my own blog.

I happened to visit the Richard Madeley Appreciation Society and read his account of his adventures while filming his wildlife documentary series you will be able to see on BBC Prime Time in the autumn.

He inspired me. For my comment, read on……

I'm incredibly jealous - of the project not of your encounter with the hotel keeper (see Note 1).

Some years ago I decided to take time out to travel the world and decided to hitch hike to Margate. I got picked up by a very friendly Hungarian lorry driver (see Note 3). He told me fantastic tales of the great ferret polo matches of his youth when whole villages used hoes to try and propel a pumpkin into the opposing teams well while mounted on a ferret.

I immediately vowed that I would try my luck as a semi-professional ferret polo player. Sadly, the money ran out just outside Lille (see Note 4) and I was forced to abandon my dream and ended up running guided tours in an abattoir until I could earn my fare home.

Note 1: Footnotes in comments on other people's blogs? Oh my god, perhaps Patrick is right and I am catching a dose of the Danielewskis. (see Note 2)

Note 2: Which should have been Note 1. I suspect there is more to this encounter than you are letting on such is the penchant for bathroom couplings in Eastern Europe and the communist legacy of the lack of shower facilities.

Note 3 : Who had a terrible sense of direction and we ended up sharing the last bed in a very peculiar hotel just outside Bucharest.

Note 4: As I said, the lorry driver, who by now had appointed himself as my trainer had a very poor sense of direction. (see Note 5)

Note 5: He was also very fickle. He abandoned me in Lille to take up with a young French boy who he said he would make star, however with a name like Eric Cantona, I doubt he had a hope.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Motivation is a Lycra Body Suit

With the Winter Olympics in Vancouver rapidly approaching, Evar’s training program is really stepping up a gear. Before dawn every morning, he is out pounding the pavements on his 30km run, normally with his trainer on his back bellowing words of encouragement in his ear.

After a successful training camp in Bulgaria last month, Evar is in confident mood that next years Olympiad will be his best ever. The trouble is that none of this comes cheap and with the global financial crisis has meant that sponsorship deals are getting hard to come by.

The regulars at the ‘Rat & Ferret’ are trying to do their bit to help out. A few months back we held a Dustman’s Knock-a-thon (see Note 1) and raised enough for a carbon fibre ski pole. The after hours, high stakes domino game (see Note 2) raised enough for the other pole plus a lurid Day-Glo pink and lime green lycra bodysuit (see Note 3).

Sid and Evar have come to an agreement over Evar Merchandise sales with a small corner of the bar being set over for the sale of Evar mugs, Evar t-shirts, Evar pens and Evar nightwear. (See Note 4)

Sales were a bit slow to start with, but once Sid installed a trampoline in the beer garden and Evar has been doing a couple of hours of his freestyle work on it each week wearing his new lycra bodysuit, it picked up. It is certainly been drawing the crowds after school, enabling Sid to gleefully part the girls from their pocket money.

Despite all of this, Evar is struggling to get the funding to make sure he will be plying his stuff on the Canadian slopes.

However, he may have found the solution. Roger Black turned up to try his luck at the high stakes domino game. Roger didn’t last very long after drawing ‘The Spot’ in the second round and he and Evar got chatting. Roger, his tongue loosened by a pint of Velvet Cudgel, happened to mention that an Olympic medal or once holding the door open for Neil Armstrong , makes you eligible for the lucrative motivational speaking circuit.

Evar’s eyes narrowed, he nodded and he set his jaw.

“Zees I can DO!”  he yelled as he pumped a fist in the air.

For those of us present, it was like hearing Arnie announce “I’ll be Back!” for the first time. In seconds, the regulars of the ‘Rat & Ferret’ agreed to be the Guinea Pigs at Evar’s first attempt at a motivational seminar.

To be honest, the seminar itself wasn’t an overwhelming success. Evar decided to make a grand entrance, resplendent in his lycra body suit shouting “Cummon! Cummon! Cummon!” continually. After about 10 minutes, this became a touch wearing and the audience was more bemused then motivated.

Eventually, Evar stopped and looked around the snug bar,saliva dribbling down his chin.

“Who vants to be motivated?” he demanded as he looked around the room for someone brave enough to catch his eyes.

Nobody moved. Evar waited and the snug bar remained eerily silent.

“Me?” Stevie Bogmuffin slowly raised his hand.

Evar dragged him out to the front, jumped onto his back, produced a riding crop and started to bellow “Run! Run! Run!” in his ear.

To his credit, Stevie did three laps of the snug before collapsing. Poor Evar is still trying to work out what went wrong. A group of us regulars are meeting up with him tonight to see if we can help out, but on the strict understanding that the lycra and the riding crop don’t make an appearance.


Note 1: For the un-initiated, Dustman’s Knock is a game that is very similar to Postman’s Knock, only muckier.

Note 2: It was a stunning final with local hero Dick ‘Bromide’ Gilmarsh edging out Tom ‘The Spot’ Ludowicz in the deciding game. Tom, who flew in from Vegas in his private jet, stormed out claiming that a Mattress Madge shimmy had distracted him during a vital play. Dick meanwhile has said that he will use his winnings to buy a new shed for his allotment.

Note 3: Which, as per Evar’s exacting instructions, was purchased a size too small with a double stitched gusset.

Note 4: Yvette also supplied some other Evar branded items that she had specially made in Amsterdam, but these were impounded by Customs.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Darwin’s Evolution of Synaptic Tangent

It is time, my chipper yeomen, that I set you a small puzzle to start the week, and trust me this is a small puzzle. It has been a while since I set off on a trail of synaptic tangents, so I am going to start off small, can you connect Charles Darwin with Melinda Messenger?

Another reason I am starting off small is that I am finding inspiration hard to come by.

I believe that something has subtly changed in the BBC newsroom. This is probably not unique to Auntie. As a bit of a news junkie I do tend to flit from news source to news source like an addicted bee hops from poppy to poppy. (see Note 1)

It seems that the news pages have been slipping towards the idea that they are only supposed to report on the ‘heavy’ news items and that these must be delivered with the most depressing tone possible.

The nearest I came to inspiration over the weekend was a story over the weekend about a portaloo arsonist operating in San Fransisco. Sadly, the company spokesman already managed to deliver the obvious pun. I did note that the police did not state that they ‘have nothing to go on’, so I can only assume that they are following up the leads that point to Malibu and the neighbours of Bob Dylan.

Looking at the BBC news website this morning, there was very little there that could lift my spirits and nothing that sparked a creative synapse. The nearest I could find was a piece on Charles Darwin’s university days and that didn’t seem to hold much promise. After all, it blandly reported that the young Charles didn’t waste his student grant on anything mundane like books. (see Note 2)

Then I found a fantastic synaptic tangent to the pneumatic Melinda!

Have you found it yet? Well, those cheeky journalists at the BBC spotted that while a student, Charles Darwin paid the extra to have vegetables with his meals (see Note 3) and used it to pump the ‘five a day’ healthy eating mantra. For those of you who didn’t realise, Melinda Messenger, when she isn’t dancing on ice (see Note 4), is the face behind the NHSfive a day’ message.

Well, if you excuse me, I must sign off. All this talk of healthy eating has given me the urge to go nibble on a melon.

Note 1: OK, there is no scientific basis for believing that the pollen from the poppy is anyway addictive to bees.

Note 2; It’s good to see that nothing much has changed with student life over the years. Modern students might not collect beetles, but they certainly try to avoid frittering their money away on books.

Note 3: Well, some things about student life have changed. If my son is anything to go by, modern students cross the road to avoid vegetables.

Note 4: I’ve never actually watched this show and never will in protest at the exploitative reality format. Sadly, it doesn’t stop me giving it a plug every now and again. I’m sure a psychotherapist would love the opportunity to explain that.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Perils of a Burned Out Clutch

Ah my fervid yeomen, I fear that sometimes that my clutch needs a good service. I am not talking about that my automobile is suffering a fault, but the mechanism that sits between my brain and my mouth.

When I am dealing with the written word, be it for work or pleasure, my brain tends to switch to this strange mode. Things happen around me and my brain reacts.

Yesterday, a group of colleagues were engaging in conversation near my desk and were talking about various ways to cope with stress (see Note 1) while I was trying to write the weekly great work of fiction which is the progress report.

One of my colleagues mentioned that to relax he likes to play the clarinet. My brain, absolutely determined to divert from the boring business of justifying refactoring, saw its opportunity and escaped off onto a tangent.

What I meant to say was “Is that a Euphemism?” what actually came out was “Do you do it in private with a bottle of baby oil and some tissues?”

As you may imagine, this was not met with a universal reaction of mirth. A woman with the group appeared most offended (see Note 2) and I felt the need to apologise.

It reminded me of the kitten naming incident I wrote about in my blog yesterday. (See Note 3)

Not all of my interventions into other people’s conversations result in disaster. Only this morning another, recently married colleague was in need of lawn mowing advice. (see Note 4) I was only too happy to help and suggested two options, the Suffolk Punch and an alternative. Of course, the alternative caused my brain to fire up and all sorts of synapses to flare up. One-liners from “Remember to keep your over-sized wellies by the back door” to far, far worse sprang to mind. (See Note 5)

I really don’t have much of an excuse for coming out with conversation stoppers like that. I’m a grown man and should by now have found away to ensure that the clutch is engaged in such circumstances.

Some would take the easy way out and blame the pressure, the stress, the dodgy air-conditioning, but I really cannot do that. My writing tends to take away the stress, the more stress I’m under; the more I retreat to my virtual reality. When I feel pressure, the end result is normally a ‘Rat & Ferret’ post and after one of those, I feel a lot better.

Besides, what I do can hardly be considered stressful, real stress can be found in this very poignant tale of Major Edward "Mick" Mannock VC.

Note 1: My own favourite way is to down a few dried frog pills and sit down with a blank document open in Word. I just let my brain take me on a merry jaunt and I let my fingers tap away and see what results. Today, you got this. At the time of writing this footnote, I have no idea what ‘this’ actually is, only the opening gambit. As in chess, the end result is a matter determined by random synapses as my brain tries to out manoeuvre me.

Note 2: No, I mustn’t say it. Such comments usually serve to line lawyer’s pockets.

Note 3: Thinking about Mike yesterday, I decided to see if he had left his foot fall somewhere on Google. I did a couple of searches and discovered a lead in Melbourne, Australia. I fired off an email and discovered it was indeed he! This is an object lesson for all those former yeomen who have had expensive therapy and moved to the other side of the world to forget. Be afraid, be very afraid. I have Google and I am not afraid to use it.

Note4: Recently as in last year, but it is recent enough to have me think that this is the first time in a while he has looked out of the window and realised the grass has got long.

Note 5: Those who didn’t follow the links may be confused, but hey! I was just thankful the guy wasn’t Welsh, or I am sure the clutch would have burned out and I would have been in trouble again.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Group Therapy

It was sometime in the mi-90s that I first started to write for pleasure. There I was, happily sliding towards my 40s when I met Mike. I’m not quite clear on how it happened, but somehow, under the editorial leadership of Mike, a magazine came into being that satirised the official company magazine.

Calling our offering a magazine was probably stretching the point. While the company magazine was glossy and slick, ours consisted of a few sheets of A4 paper stapled together. While the company had access to an editor, ours went out typos and all. The company used professional photographers. We cut cartoons from back copies of ‘Punch’ magazine and changed the text underneath. The company undoubtedly had access to tools that ensured it was laid out impeccably. We would sit with bits of paper and glue, stick the contributions to the A4 sheet and photocopy them.

Despite this, our offering was surprisingly popular. For ‘Children in Need’ we produced special editions, charged the princely sum of 50p and sold out before lunch. (see Note 1) Above all, I found the act of writing bits of it highly therapeutic.

Mike moved on and by popular demand I carried on with the magazine. Then came the unfortunate incident of the new kitten. One of the (female) managers came into possession of a kitten. She may have let slip that she hadn’t thought of a good name, so naturally, I sought to help. In one edition we ran a competition, ‘Guess the name of X’s pussy!’ It didn’t go down well and management introduced censorship and the edginess and feeling of fun was lost. The magazine faded away.

Back then my writing wasn’t up to much. My effulgent yeomen may be thinking that nothing much changes, but hard as it is to believe, my writing has improved since then.

At the time, I was already using the Internet. I started off with a CompuServe account using the mosaic browser and a 19.6K modem. With my creative outlet gone, I started to explore the internet for other outlets. I started off going to newsgroups, eventually graduating to messageboards before discovering a few sites on the web that catered for writers.

Eventually, I grew bored with the writing sites and decided to write a blog instead. Now, virtually all my writing is either in a blog or is reworked from one of my ramblings that started as a blog. I find that this gives me the therapy I crave without having to commit to heavily.

The blog gives a lot of creative freedom and allows you to do all sorts of clever things with other media, but I essentially use it as a written word tool. However, there seems to be a limit to just how much I can read in a blog and how much I can interact with the writer or as a writer. In my eyes at least, it has been a shortcoming of the internet that reading off a screen is difficult. Reading from a book or a piece of paper is so much easier (see Note 2).  It is almost as if going onto the internet immediately sets your attention span to a lower setting.

For all of the advances in technology and the Internet, the position of the book has never been challenged.  For interaction and presentation, you cannot beat the Internet.

Then there is the issue of putting writers together on a site. There always seemed to be ‘issues’ amongst writers on an internet site. It was fine when all of the writers were happily praising each other like luvvies on the red carpet at the Oscars, but that never lasted. Sooner or later constructive critiques would be asked for and received signalling tears before bedtime. As I think one great wit once put it, ‘You can stroke some of the egos all of the time, all of the egos some of the time, but not all of the egos all of the time.’

There was no better example of this than the collaborative story. One writer would write a paragraph or two and hand over to another writer to add a bit, who would hand over to another. The trouble was that you would write a bit setting up a later contribution only to have your ideas stamped upon by some guy who believed that all stories needed to contain at least one herd of flying, killer gerbils.

I loved the collaborative story; it was just so rare that one ever got finished.

The other day I was doing my news junkie bit on the BBC Technology site and I came across the story covering the South by Southwest Web Awards, in Austin, Texas. (See Note 3) Seeing that the winner was British, obviously I felt I should take a look.

The ‘We Tell Stories’ site was a really pleasant surprise. For the last few days I have been poking around an enjoying the way the new modern takes on classics were presented making the most of the interactive nature of the Internet. I keep finding myself going back to have another look and a little play.

Yet, I somehow doubt that this is another Flickr, Facebook or Twitter. You see it lacks one rather important element – the ability of the masses to contribute to the story. At the moment, all it does is provide content and once that content is exhausted, people will stop coming and the site will languish on some backwater of the Interweb.

If this site is to become ‘the next big thing’, it really needs to make tools available to the masses that will allow them to provide content into the site, which in turn will ensure that there is always something there for the returning visitor.

Consider the story posted called ‘The (Former) General’. You navigate through the narrative by clicking on the arrow keys, you choose the direction you want the story to move in. Now consider if the tools were there to allow a group to collaborate on the story, to add routes, to branch off one plot and into another, to add new nodes and their own prose or poetry (or pictures or video). Suddenly you have a tool to allow people to be creative, generate content and above all a commitment to the site and returning foot fall (see Note 4). It would even give those with the desire to control armies of flying, killer gerbils the ability to create their own plot line without upsetting the egos of other writers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this site, I just would love to play with the tools and produce my own interactive stories using them.

Note 1: There is absolutely no truth in the rumour that, to ensure sales success, we had removed all of the toilet rolls from the toilets.

Note 2: I wonder if it has something to do with you look down to read a book and straight ahead to read a screen? I wonder if there is some primeval trigger in the brain that has conditioned the human race to equate looking ahead with adrenaline type activities that require physical action such as hunting or avoiding being hunted, while looking down means you feel secure, and so can relax?

Note 3: I like the idea of an ‘elevator pitch’. It obviously saves the licence payers money by doing away with the need for a studio. I wish that some of the people who give me presentations would learn the technique.

Note 4: I’m not quite sure what the Internet equivalent to ‘foot fall’ would be.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Bewildering Air of Unmatched Non-conformance

Anyone interested in purchasing this hilarious party attire should visit funnfrolic.

It seems that I have picked up some kind of strange ailment. It is one of those horrible illnesses where you feel bad, ache, get tired quickly and feel a little ‘odd’. (see Note 1)

This has been made worse by somehow tweaking a rib muscle in my sleep. For those of you who have never managed to tug an intercostal, I can testify that it is a particularly painful affliction whenever you twist your torso. (see Note 2)

This second problem is probably best fixed by getting plenty of rest and maybe a trip to the ‘Rat & Ferret’. Sid always has a couple of bottles of Ethaniel Nightswerve’s Thoracic Embrocation under the counter for such emergencies. Had I not felt quite so ‘odd’, I might have even paid the premium to have Mattress Madge and her amazing manipulating digits apply it, but, at the moment, I’m not quite sure that I would get the most from the occasion.

I know my cognitive yeomen will suggest I should go visit my doctor’s surgery.

This is probably good advice, but sadly my past experiences tend to suggest otherwise.

My last visit was on a balmy sunny day. The surgery was hermetically sealed from the outside world with the heating turned up to full (see Note 3). As I walked in, a neighbour with her sick child waved at me and I felt obliged to sit between her and on old man with a complexion of a medieval manuscript.

While I was treated to the latest gossip, her son coughed, sneezed and wheezed. Then in apparent contradiction to his mother’s assertion that he was an angel, wiped his nose on my arm. The old man was replaced by a woman who seemed to have an angle grinder in her chest cavity.

When my neighbour was called, I was left to contemplate a geriatric copy of Reader’s Digest while a man with a face not unlike an over-ripe Victoria plum, coughed into my left ear threatening hearing loss.

Eventually my name was called over the crackly PA and I got to see the doctor. Ignoring my detailed description of my symptoms, he shone lights into every orifice, poked planks of wood around my mouth and stuck his stethoscope places I’d forgotten I had.

Ignoring my obvious discomfort and weakened state, he snapped on a latex glove with far too much glee for my liking and then decided an impromptu prostrate exam would be fun. It wasn’t.

After having me climb on the scales and him give that long intake of breath normally the preserve of car mechanics, I expected him to reach for the prescription pad. He didn’t.

Instead, he told me I had a virus (see Note 4). What I needed to do was to lose weight, drink less, take more exercise and rest and drink plenty of liquids – which seemed the most contrary and contradicting diagnosis.

So, I sit here feeling ‘odd’, but not odd enough to visit the quack. I think I can guess what he would say should I pay him a visit. I have an idiosyncratic virus. I should rest, sit quietly at my keyboard and regale the world with my feeling of ‘odd’ while drinking copious amounts of liquids in the form of beer.

You know what? I think I’m beginning to feel better already.

Note 1: I realise that there is a fair proportion of the population scratching their heads at this. It is generally accepted that ‘they’ have already observed my behaviour, produced their clipboard and written ‘odd’ against my name in green biro. However, I still stand by my claim of feeling ‘odd’. To try and make this odd state off affairs easier to explain, I decided to consult an on-line thesaurus to see if I could find the correct state. There are a huge range of words there. I particularly liked wacky, weird and screwy. I did consider kinky for a while, but as I said, I’m getting tired quickly so it was discounted. In the end, I decided that the best I could come up was odd, but decided to add a pair of quotation marks so you realised that I am in an odder state of odd. 

Note 2: Which is another reason why the word kinky was discounted.

Note 3: I’m undecided whether this is a marketing ploy by the medical profession to ensure that all the happy germs floating around the waiting room have a chance to find a new host to guarantee future income or if it is to make sure that people don’t start to feel better and wander off before their turn to see the doctor.

Note 4: It is absolutely impossible that a single virus could have caused me to be that ill. At the very least it was a whole army of the little bleeders all behaving like they were on a stag weekend in Blackpool.


Monday, March 16, 2009

I woke up this mornin'

I had this wonderful idea that I would kick off today's entry with a little rhyme in the style of the blues. I'm sure you know what I mean....

"I woke up this mornin' and my little doggy was gorn.

I woke up this mornin' and my little doggy was gorn.

There was a wet patch on the carpet, and a big one in my shoe."

You know how my mind works, I had something I wanted to eventually get round to writing about, but I didn't want to provide too many clues.

It will come as no surprise to learn that I do not own a dog and therefore it couldn't have scarppered after leaving a calling card in my footwear. (see Note 1).

It is probably no shock to my voluminous yeomen that I was to get a little sidetracked while looking for examples of blues verse and I found this particular diity describes as 'salacious'

See that spider crawlin' up that wall 

See that spider crawlin' up that wall

He's crawlin up there to get his ashes hauled.

Let me be your little dog till your big dog comes 

Let me be your little dog till your big dog comes

And when the big dog gets here, tell him what the puppy done done

Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me 

Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me

It may be sending you baby but its worryin' the hell out of me.

So I have been sat here staring at that rhyme and wondering about the salacious content. To begin with, I thought I must have got the meaning of the word salacious wrong, but the dictionary confirmed what I thought it meant. 

sa·la·cious Pronunciation: \sə-lā-shəs\ Function: adjective

Etymology: Latin salac-, salax, from salire to move spasmodically, leap — more at sally

Date: circa 1645 arousing or appealing to sexual desire or imagination lascivious, lecherous, lustful; sa·la·cious·ly adverb sa·la·cious·ness noun

The first reading left me cold. I turned the lights down low and tried again with the same results. I tried lighting a few candles and touch of Mantovani on the hifi and my loins failed to even twitch.

Reading it fast or slow made no difference. Imagining it sung to a classic blues backing track just had me scratching my head. (See Note 2)

In an act of singular desperation, I even tried to sing it myself (see Note 3)

I have to admit defeat. I thought I was a man of the world, a man with an euphemism for every occasion, but this lyric has me well and truly stumped. What on earth does it mean by 'ashes hauled'? Would I enjoy it?

It looks like song lyrics, especially blues song lyrics, hit the same dark hole in my Psyche as poetry.

Perhaps I should just write about my original topic, if only I could remember what it was....

Note 1 : We do have a psychotic cat that although being an absolute model of virtue in all matters pertaining to the toilet, finds numerous other ways to amuse herself. Her current favourite is waiting until you are asleep then pushing herself under the bottom of the duvet to slash and bite your toes.

Note 2 : Mainly about how the waiters could dance like that without spilling any of the beer.

Note 3 : Sadly, if the microphone on my computer wasn't a bit dodgy before, after a couple of bars it had well and truly raised the white flag.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lazy Sunday Afternoon


Well, my pertinacious yeomen, my little experiment yesterday with the video proved less than perfect. It seems that the sound quality on the video was not of professional quality.

Stung by the comments, I have spent the morning tinkering with the computer. I have upgraded my display drivers (see Note 1), downloaded the latest versions of the webcam software and generally tinkered and tweaked since I first surfaced from my pit.

So far, success has been found to be, errr... limited. I can make the microphone pick up my dulcet tones better, but only if I turn all the settings up to full. To be honest, I was starting to get a little frustrated with the lack of progress, something that just shouldn’t happen today

Deciding that there must be something better to do on an easy Sunday morning and struggling for a topic to write about, I went  out into the street and took a couple of pictures of flowers in the sunshine.

Strange how just walking away from a problem frees up the brain. By this, I don’t mean that I have solved my little microphone issue, just that in finding that little link up there and listening to it has got me to unwind a touch and start to follow a few links on You Tube.  Yes, I know, I am really cheating here, just sitting here, slowly, softly getting so laid back and relaxed, typing a few words and throwing in a link to another music video.

Had I continued, I would have been so laid back I was in danger of grazing the back of my head and you would have a music list that would last you until Wednesday, but that last one set up an echo.  Try as I might, there was a troublesome synapse that just wasn’t prepared to be a wimp. It was becoming an albatross around my neck, it was determined to stop me dreaming (see Note 2).

All I wanted was a touch of entertainment and here was a troublesome synapse holding out to keep me in a spin (See Note 3). It was a constant fight for me as the rogue thought kept blinding me to my quest.

In the end I knew it was a lost cause. The trap was tripped. The rogue synapse was determined to dictate the words from my mouth.

I’m not going to admit total defeat though. I’ll not spend time looking for a way to make a long and complicated ‘connections’ blog.

You see, there are times when you wonder just what on earth our government is playing at. They are now trying to make us all ‘healthy’. They are worried that we are drinking too much, so they want to make alcohol more expensive. A strange measure that seems to suggest that the drinking of alcohol is only a problem for the poor as it is they that will find pay the greatest proportion of their income to enjoy a drink while those who manufacture the demon drink will benefit from the higher prices. Odd.

There is also a body of opinion out there who want to tax chocolate in order that we will all forgo that particular pleasure and buy broccoli instead. Mind you, this could be just a ploy to stop the new film of Marianne Faithfull’s life story.

Note 1 : Yes, I realise that the display drivers have nothing to do with the microphone, but I noticed that on some occasions, when I was using the webcam the screen seemed to start to lose the odd pixel and look grainy.

Note 2 : It was a toss up between that one and this one. I hope I made the right choice.

Note 3 : You know what, just having one from these guys is not enough, you’ve made me so very happy.