Friday, February 27, 2009

And in the red corner...

There are flaws in my character, my perfective yeomen.

Yes, this is difficult to believe, but sadly there are matters on which I find it difficult to motivate myself to pontificate. Such is the problem with my 'chosen' topic of the day.

As I prepare for the ever-hastening arrival
of my session at the Oundle Festival of Literature, I have found it increasingly difficult to tackle the research for today’s post - political blogging.

Anyone with the stamina to follow my blogs will know that I am not averse to tackling the odd political topic, but I am with
Winston Churchill when it comes to our democratic structures when he said "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

The 'problem' as I see it being that the British democratic system is based on an adversarial system. This means that we are often treated to politicians trying to score verbal points while other members of parliament bay like rabid dogs caught in a thunderstorm.

With the parliamentarians behaving like verbal street fighters at the big set pieces like
Prime Ministers Questions, it is easy to forget that most of the real work is done using reasoned debate be it in committees or the floor of the house.

The reason for my disquiet about the research on political blogging, is that when I go and read some of the political blogs out there, they seem totally pre-occupied with the verbal point scoring and very light on the reasoned debate and the provision of alternate solutions. This causes me to quickly lose interest and go back to my quest for diplomatic blogs.

However, it is political blogging that is by far the most mature of the on-line web logs. The recent
Presidential campaign in the US was characterised by the use of the internet and blogs to mobilise support, push issues up the political agenda and of course, raise funds for the candidates. In at least one instance, the use of blogs is credited with having set the political agenda which unseated the incumbent Republican Senator.

OK, so I have to provide you with a few interesting links. First port of call would have to be
Guido Fawkes, a very irreverent political blog that concentrates on the tittle-tattle of the Westminster village. Then there is the be-spectacled dome head, Nick Robinson, who writes one of the many different blogs that now appear on the BBC website. You could do worse than visit Ian Dale’s site which seems reasonable enough, but also includes some fantastic links in his blog.

As this is a kind of a political post, I would like to finish with a political comment of my own. At the moment there is a lot of fuss going on about the pension being drawn by
Sir Fred Goodwin, the former head of the disgraced RBS banking giant. After being forced to resign as the bank imploded under the weight of losses in the sub-prime mortgage fiasco, Sir Fred chose to draw his pension. Now the world and their dog are crying foul and saying the money be returned.

This would set a most dangerous precedent. A pension is a contractual right that sits alongside your salary. It is not provided based on performance, but as part of your contract of employment. It is therefore a right. If the government start withdrawing a pension for an individual, it is setting a dangerous precedent that we could come to regret in future should some big corporate decide to use this precedent to their advantage.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guiding me to the Forest Path

On a Sunday lunchtime, a group of us get together in the 'Rat & Ferret' to enjoy a couple of pints of Dr Ethaniel Nightswerve's Velvet Cudgel and generally socialise. Topics of conversation are wide ranging and eclectic.

There are the common themes like our discussions on Evar's latest attempt at inclusion in the record books, postulations on the miracles of engineering that must constitute the barmaid's undergarments and the prospects of Oundelian Wanderers qualifying for European football. The latter topic we discuss with much head shaking and tutting now that the Oundelian star striker, Stan 'Twinkletoes' Ferchop has been injured in a freak pedicure accident.

As the level of the ale lowers in our glass, the conversation diversifies and starts to meander through life's little mysteries. (See Note 1).

On Sunday, the conversation had somehow found its way to the subject of teachers. As I recounted a memory of one particular teacher, I suddenly found Bertram Willder at my elbow and thrusting his card into my hand.

Trust me, you do not want to have a person like Willder at your elbow. He is one of those people who seems to be able enter a room without opening a door, so the shock caused me to spill a few drops of the Velvet Cudgel on my sweater. (see Note 2).

I looked at the card. For that particular event, Willder was operating as ‘B. Willder’, solicitor and partner in ‘Everyone’s a Winner’ law practice franchise.

Willder looked genuinely shocked as I declined the offer and started to start on his well rehearsed sales pitch. (see Note 3). However, when I made to tip some of the Vevet Cudgel on his sharp suit, he backed off. Muttering under his breath, he slithered away to pester another regular with an opportunity to invest in a steam powered toothbrush company.

You see, my setaceous yeomen, I am not a litigious soul. Besides, the subject of my anecdote, my ‘careers’ teacher, is protected by the simple fact that I cannot remember his name.

I can picture him well enough, the crop of unruly sandy hair, the patchy moustache that sat unevenly under his bulbous red nose. I can see him sat opposite me, eyes desperately trying to focus, the vein on his temple throbbing gently as he tried to control his natural aversion to teenage boys.

He wasn’t a dedicated careers teacher. His main subject was maths. It was generally accepted that the reason was that he became careers master was because he was the last to find an excuse when the headmaster asked for volunteers. His unfortunate and ironic assignment as the teacher to set young people onto the ideal career path was probably due to his need for constant nips from a bottle of Johnny Walker whenever faced by pupils.

The method for helping us making the career choices was ‘computer aided’. We were given a questionnaire with a number of questions. You answered the questions on a card which were collected and sent away to be processed by a huge computer.

It was the early days of computing.

Some weeks later the results came back and you were scheduled a meeting with the careers teacher.

I went in with an air of expectation only to be knocked sideways by stale whisky fumes. I recovered, sat down and waited for teacher to focus on me. He put the bottle, badly disguised as a brown paper bag in a drawer. At the third attempt, he grabbed a sheet of paper and thrust it my approximate direction.

Forest Ranger.” He slurred.

“Eh?” was my response. “I have a tree pollen allergy.”

He shook his head, grabbing the desk for support as he did so. A short monologue ensued in which he evangelised on the infallibility of the modern computer before drawing the consultation to a close with a bellowed “Next!” (see Note 4)

My career as a Forest Ranger was short lived. For a start there were a lot of us Forest Rangers roaming the Wiltshire countryside trying to herd trees into a forest. For those of you who have ever tried to herd trees, you will know how difficult it is. The task was made all the more difficult by there being more Forest Rangers than actual trees, so hardly a day went by without some squabble breaking out over a copse. In the end, they decided that perhaps we would be better employed elsewhere and they made me work in an office, doing menial and repetitive tasks while being ordered about by a man in a shiny polyester suit.

I didn’t last at that either. Perhaps, I was a bit harsh on that poor careers teacher. After all, I did end up working with computers. Maybe his monologue on the infallibility of computers did have an impact on me after all. Mind you, I just wish that somebody told me that if you really wanted to make money, live in a huge mansion and always have a pretty girl on your arm, you should set up your own international porn empire.

Note 1 : It widely accepted that on Padstow's birthday, when the drink had been flowing particularly freely we had actually managed to solve the riddle of the meaning of life. Sadly, none of us thought to write it down and the answer was lost amongst the resulting hangovers.

Note 2 : Which is a real shame. I liked that sweater. Now, instead of the happy faces of those chirpy Disney characters, Chip and Dale, exalting the world to smile on the front, it is now a mass of holes. It looks like it has been the victim of a swarm of moths on acid.

Note 3 : A sales pitch that apparently swayed Stan ‘Twinkletoes’ Ferchop, who has not thought this through. While he did undoubtedly stagger away from the pedicure, the circumstances are likely to cause a media frenzy that could cause him to lose his lucrative endorsement from Borthwicks, the family horse liniment supplier to the stars. Just what he was doing in an unlicensed foot parlour in Soho on the eve of the game against Aston Villa is going to be hard to explain. However, it is the fact that the pedicure was being administered by a naked girl smeared in boiled rhubarb that will probably lose him the sympathy of the court.

Note 4 : It transpired later that using the logic of the infallibility of computers, 60% of school leavers that year were destined to be Forest Rangers. 20% were going to were going to be bankers and bring the world economy to its knees and 18% were going to be car mechanics. The other 2% were going to have a long and happy career on the stage as drag queens.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

You might think that, I couldn't possibly comment.

My excitement is building as the big day of my talk approaches. I know I keep harping on about it, but for me it seems a really big thing. I have been plucked from obscurity in my community and asked to pontificate on a something.

My regular aculeate yeomen will be nodding sagely as they will realise that I never like to let an opportunity to pontificate pass.

To try and do justice to the occasion, I have been out and about on the web trying to find a variety of interesting places that I can share with my paying audience in the hope that they feel that they have achieved the nirvana of consumerism, that of value for money.

So it was that I have been out there, burrowing into various places discovering little gems for delectation and delight, such as this little blog from a magistrate.

Unfortunately, I have drifted from my quest. I have been sidetracked back to the search for diplomatic blogs. It is just I find the idea of a diplomat writing a blog such an interesting idea after discovering the FCO blogs.

My immediate thought on this was to try and discover if there are diplomats from other countries out their and blogging. With the aid of my investigative yeomen, I discovered the US Department of State blog and a blog from a US diplomat in South Africa.

This is beginning to become an obsession. The dried frog pills don't halt it and the tin foil hat has failed to halt the frenzy. I need something to distract me away from this and back onto my quest for material ripe for pontification. Any ideas anyone?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Never Lick a Diplomat

While the fact that it is Shrove Tuesday hasn't passed me by, I have found myself craving chocolate all day.

It all started when I got in this morning and one of the other early birds was handing out Cadbury's Creme Eggs. I wasn't going to look gift confectionery in the mouth, so I didn't mention that he must watch his stress levels as he obviously operating at the wrong end of Lent.

With great self-control, I put the chocolate treat to one side. You see, I prefer my creme eggs with my afternoon coffee. They are destined to be eaten according to ritual, slowly, deliberately with lots of licking to slowly strip away the sweet. milky chocolate from the pointy end.

Only after the breakthrough is made does the tongue come into it's own, probing into the exposed crevice, seeking out the sickly white and yellow creme from within.

Only when the very last scrap has been hunted down and consumed is the rest of the chocolate eaten. I stuff it all into my mouth and suck on it until the inside of my mouth is coated in the smooth milk chocolate.

Then comes the truly decadent moment. I take a sip of strong dark coffee and let it cut through the sweet chocolate and with an involuntary sigh, let it slip down my throat. Luxury.

Yet, my ganache yeomen, it is neither chocolate or pancakes that had my synapses sparking today. Today, I find myself thinking about diplomats.

It is not that I have developed any wish to toss or lick a diplomat.

It was a joke that arrived in my email. Before I share it with you, I should stress that I do so out of appreciation of the humour and not in anyway wishing to inflame tensions or show support for any particular faction.

The Palestinian Representative at the UN rose to speak. He paused and looked around at the other assembled diplomats.

'Before beginning my talk I want to tell you something about Moses.' he said and a gentle murmur went around the hall.

'When he struck the rock and it brought forth water, he thought, "What a good opportunity to have a bath!"

'He removed his clothes, put them aside on the rock and entered the water.

'When he got out and wanted to dress, his clothes had vanished. An Israeli had stolen them.'

As he paused, the furious Israeli representative jumped up furiously and shook his fist, 'What are you talking about?' He shouted. 'The Israelis weren't there then.'

The Palestinian representative nodded and looked towards the chairman.

'Good, and now that we have made that clear, I will begin my speech.'

Well, it made me smile.

I have always been enthralled by the world of diplomats and diplomacy. I think mainly because the faulty clutch between my brain and my mouth means my diplomatic skills are limited. I guess that is one reason why I am enjoying reading the FCO blogs, especially the one written by Philip Barclay and Grace Mutandwa, the British diplomats in Zimbabwe.

It makes me wonder, does anyone out there know of any other countries where their diplomats write blogs?

Stroking an old friend

When I was young, my father came home with a Hornby 'OO' train set. At the time, I was overjoyed. In those simpler times it was every boys dream to own a train set.

The reality of actually owning a train set proved to be anti-climax. Setting it up was fun enough, but I never actually got what my father enjoyed in the actually 'playing with' the thing. To me it seemed incredibly dull.

For those of you who are interested, the picture above is from the Nene Valley Railway site.

The reason I mention this is that I'm aware that life consists of 'Different Strokes for Different Folks' (See Note 1).

This is a little bit of a worry for me as I am well aware that my tastes may well differ from those of my audience when I come to do my talk. However difficult it is to believe, there could well be people there who would enjoy a good steam railway blog.

There are others who could be even more into their food than I am (see Note 2). One interesting blog that I have lost touch with was from the food pornographer. Imagine my delight in finding that not only the link still works, but the blog is still being updated.

Having re-discovered this site, this blog entry is now being cut short as I am salivating in my keyboard.

Bon appetite.

Note 1 : Please be careful out there. Going out and stroking complete strangers is not an advisable past-time. Sadly, like the days of young boys wishing to own train sets, the days when people appreciated a complete stranger stroking them on the omnibus are over. Today such actions are likely lead to a black eye and a restraining order.

Note 2 : This is even more improbable than finding people who would turn over their garden to a miniature steam railway as my waistline will attest.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dancing to a Different Beat

I like to think I have a good sense of humour and that I can see the joke and laugh along with the best of them. Even after a few dried frog pills, my sense of humour remains intact and I can guffaw with the crowd. Occasionally, I find myself ploughing my own lone furrow when it comes to comedy. Sometimes I find the joke just too sad and tragic to join in.

A classic example is one of the running jokes in Dad’s Army. Whenever the platoon were called to attention, you get the crunch of the assembled Home Guard’s boots hitting the church hall floor in unison, followed, exactly half beat later, by the boots of Corporal Jack Jones. This got a laugh every time – except from me.

I always felt that the audience were laughing at the afflicted and that the humour was cruel and heartless. This isn’t because I have a particularly strong Political Correctness streak or that I never laugh at cruel and heartless jokes. It is because I felt for Corporal Jones and in a small way even envied him. Here was a guy that was always exactly half a beat late on the song score of life.

You see, my defoliated yeomen, I would kill to be exactly on a beat, be it half a beat late or not. I cannot carry a beat in a bucket, which makes me a hazard when it comes to dancing.

At junior school, when the playing fields were deemed unfit for outside games, the teachers decided that we would do Scottish Country Dancing. Out would come the school gramophone, on would go some Scottish music and the entire class would form up into sets and dance with grace, beauty and above all, timing - the entire class that is except for me. I would be blundering around to my own, totally random beat. I may not have had timing, but I tried to make up for it with enthusiasm. That, my syncopated yeomen, was a big mistake.

It didn’t take long for the sympathetic teachers to bandage up my classmates broken feet, retrieve lost teeth and stem the bleeding from numerous noses. Very sympathetically, they took me to one side and told me that I was ‘special’. That dancing was not for me. I was destined for higher things I should look after the record player, carve my name with a compass on the school piano – ANYTHING except try to dance. And so it began

In my youth, when disco was in full swing, I was banned from clubs from Minehead to Newbury. From Bournemouth to Oxford, bouncers were told on no account was I to be granted access to the dance floor.

I soon learned that if I wished to impress a young lady, I never asked them to dance. When I forgot myself and tried to strut my stuff the date usually ended up at the local casualty department with me applying a bag of frozen peas to some part of my soon to be ex-girlfriends anatomy while waiting for the X-ray machine to come free.

My wife is wise to my shortcomings in the gyratory arts. She knows not to drag me onto the dance floor until late in the night when I have consumed enough alcohol to temper my shortcomings. I must be the only person in the country whose dancing improves after copious amounts of the falling down juice. Even with alcohol dampening my natural instincts, when we take to the floor I am under strict instructions not to lift my feet more than half an inch from the floor and to keep my elbows welded to my sides at all times.

Of course, my wife has been known to abuse this knowledge to her own advantage. Some years ago, at some charity fundraiser, I was approached by a lady who I will call ‘A’ to avoid her any embarrassment. My wife and ‘A’ didn’t get on. Some weeks previously, ‘A’ had beaten my wife in the Mother’s Egg and Spoon race at the school sports day amid some claims cheating and the inappropriate use of Blu-Tac.

‘A’ asked me to dance. I politely declined.

“It’s OK, Simon.” My wife oozed. “Why don’t you and ‘A’ enjoy a quick Jive?”

“What?” I spluttered as visions of the headline ‘Bloodbath at charity event’ in the News of the World flashed before me eyes.

“Yes, dance with ‘A’!” My wife commanded with a set jaw and gritted teeth.

The steely determination in her eyes made me realise that I was stuck between a rock and several nights on the sofa. As I took the arm of ‘A’ and led her to the dance floor, I watched my wife leading those present who were dear to her to the safety of the bar.

It turned out that ‘A’ and her fellow dancers were lucky. Casualties were surprisingly light, probably due to the wine flowing freely during dinner and ‘A’ still being in good physical shape due to her training regime employed for the blue ribbon Egg and Spoon race.

As ‘A’ was loaded into the ambulance and the paramedics treated those who had failed to escape the floor in time, my wife looked on with a look of triumph and I vowed never to let her use me as an offensive weapon again.

At the weekend, I went to visit the location for my talk at Oundle Festival of Literature on the joy of blogs (See Note 1). During the post-reconnoitre pleasantries, Paula brought up the topic of salsa.

As Paula is a long standing resident of the town and the night of the fundraiser is still a subject of local gossip, I naturally took her to mean the spicy tomato dish and my thoughts started to wander to tortilla chips and chocolate chili.

Yet, she wasn’t. Despite everything, Paula was hoping that I would attend the Grevel Lindop event at the festival (See Note 2). Visions of my past misadventures flashed before my eyes. I imagined the headlines, remembered my restraining order and declined the invitation.

The poor woman must have thought me mad. I probably went a very strange colour and made my excuses and left. Forgive me Paula, I’m sorry that I rushed off like that. I hope that this blog entry goes a small way to make recompense for knocking the door off the hinges as I ran off.

Note 1 : For those of you who have somehow missed this earth shuddering event, it is on March 7th in the Sir Peter Scott Building, Oundle School at 1:00pm. I promise I will not be dancing.

Note 2 : Grevel Lindop will be at the Festival on Friday 13 March, 7.30pm - 11.00pm at the 2 Acre Club in Oundle. Included in the event is a Salsa dancing lesson so bring along the partner of your choice and loosen those limbs.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Saving you from the hernia

Coming downstairs this morning, my immediate thought was, 'I wonder if I can play the organ today?' This is an oft reoccurring thought I have and occasionally get the chance to ask a sympathetic cleric. You will be amazed at the understanding and patience of these people. When I ask them if I can have the opportunity to have a blow through their pipes, they allow me into their parish church, lock the door and fire up the bellows.

I have to report that so far, on every occasion that I have had the opportunity to validate the question, the answer has been a resounding 'No'.

Still, by asking questions of myself like this and by following through on them, I hope I am showing myself as a proper role model for my children. As they approach the point where (I hope) they are about to cut loose and make their own way in the world without further financial help, I'm sure that they have picked up the little life lesson, never give up on your dreams.

I'm quite proud of my two children (See Note 1). They have taken a number of my little life lessons to heart. In particular ~

"Never run when you can jog. Never jog when you can walk. Never walk when you can stand. Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie."

Both my children have reached Olympic standard at this and it wasn't for the fact that actually entering the Olympics require them walking to the postbox at the end of the street to post the entry form, both would be a certainty for 2012.

So it was that neither was forced into work involving hard manual labour. Work that involves hours in the elements, suffering the very worst the British weather can throw at you. Work that requires you to strap heavy loads to your back and drag them for miles through dark and foreboding streets. Work that requires you to confront viscous dogs. Work that requires you to take evasive action from rabid joggers. Yes, my perfunctified yeomen, I am talking about a paper round. (See Note 2)

On Sundays, the lot of the poor paperboy / papergirl / paperperson is all the worse as the various papers slip in additional supplements to try and lure in a few extra readers and to wring out a little extra value from the poor wretch forced to deliver them to our homes.

The arrival of the Internet means that this shameful situation could soon be a thing of the past. Society could well come to see us forcing children to deliver papers the same way we now view the practice of sending small children up chimneys to sweep them (see Note 3).

With the internet, you do not need to purchase those cumbersome lumps of pulped forest. Most of the newspapers are now available on-line.

So it is that I can save you, my lithe yeomen, from a hernia. I know you are all waiting for part two of the Sunday Times Top 100 Blogs, but you do not have to heave half of Norway home with you! For yah, the article can be found on-line here.

Note 1 : I would be grateful if you don't tell them this as one of my greatest fears is that it is statements like this that put off the time when, for the very first time in my life I hear the words, "No, no, Dad, put your money away, I'll get these!"

Note 2 : My daughter did once forget the life lesson once and sign up for a paper route. This lasted about half a paper route when totally unable to find the houses to which she was supposed to be delivering she returned her sack to the shop vowing never to return.

Note 3 : We did try sending my son up the chimney once. It was a complete failure, he found a ledge half way up and just curled up and went to sleep. It was three days before he ran out of snacks secreted about his person and realised that nobody was bringing him food and drink. It was only then that he wandered out - a lot cleaner and fragrant than normal.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Back to School

A rather fuzzy picture of the sign on the maths building

The date for my foray into presenting at the Oundle Festival of Literature is getting ever closer. As you know, I am doing a session on the blog on the 7th March at the St Peter Scott maths building at Oundle School.

With every passing day I am becoming more nervous, but today the nerves were that little bit worse because I had to go back to school. It is totally irrational, but whenever I walk into a school for whatever reason, I get nerves. Today was no exception.

Still, I steeled myself and approached the venue for the first time to sort out a few of the logistics.

The locations for my blog talk, the Sir Peter Scott Building

It was probably a good idea to have had this little scouting raid as we did find a few issues with the access rights on the computers. According to the school's firewall, Multiply is a dating and relationships site and is therefore blocked. Hopefully we can get that sorted out, otherwise it will be a very short talk!

The classroom that will be used for my blog talk.

As Oundle School is not your average comprehensive, the facilities look good. There are certainly enough computers to go round and the room is light and airy. So, everything looks good - although I hope that I can rearrange the furniture a bit!

Looking at St Peters Church and the Great Hall from the maths building

For those of you who may not know where the Sir Peter Scott building is, it is on the corner of Glapthorn Road and Milton road. I took the photograph above to help you get your bearings and because it enabled me to get a photograph from an angle I wouldn't normally get to see.

Suddenly, with Welder's Grace, It's Saturday

As soon as I awoke this morning I vowed that the first thing I would do is write an entry for this blog today. Well. as it turned out I was wrong, it wasn't the first thing. So, as I sat there wondering who has been using my hair care products and wondering if I should re-model the shower in the style of a gypsy fortune teller's tent, I searched for a title.

It had to be something, pithy, brief and in tune with what I wanted to write about.

Around about this point, I realised that it was early and my brain wasn't quite firing on all cylinders. There I was, getting full value for money for my water taxes and on a quest for a title, when I hadn't a clue what I was going to write about.

Disaster struck soon after. I'd washed my hands very carefully, adjusted my dress (See Note 1) and, at the third attempt, disposed of the earlier business. I was drying my hands and trying to decide if I liked the new fabric softener used on the towels when 'it' hit me.

By 'it', I mean the title. "Suddenly, with welder's grace, it's Saturday".

Looking at 'it' on the page like that just doesn't do justice to the arrival.

In my mind, without warning, the bouncy puppies and the woman of the Fabric Softener ad faded to black (See Note 2)....

In the far distance, cones of light from a pair of headlights pierce through the dark and the drizzle. With full Dolby Suround-sound, the theme to Dick Barton, Secret Agent starts to drive the BBC Light Orchestra to a frenzy. (See Note 3).

A second pair of headlights appeared, weaving behind the first. My minds eye panned in closer along a winding country road across a moor. Two black, 1950's cars fought for position on the tarmac as a gravelly voice over man cut in over the soundtrack.

"Previously, our hero, Chief Inspector McCrindle Barleymow Honeydew-Fforbes of New Scotland Yard, had retrieved the truss of Arabian Prince Abdullah El-Ghianni from the gang of international greetings card counterfieters in their hideout in a small toffee refinery just outside York.

"As he started his race against time to get the prized artifact back to London before the start of the International Summit on the Manila envelope trade, he realised that he was being followed..."

A hand clutching a World War II service revolver appears from the passenger side of the following sudan . Three shots are fired. The minds eye focuses on the Good Inspector, his battered trilby hat pulled down over his eyes, hunches over his steering wheel and presses the accelerator to the floor.

The scene cuts from the moor and to a crowded, smoky basement, somewhere in Lambeth and the title scrolls in "Suddenly, with welder's grace, it's Saturday."

Then nothing.

Distracted by the cat trying to climb my left leg to check out the Amsterdam coffee shop scents of the fabric softener for herself, the imagination switches off.

I'm left with a title, a damned good title, but nothing to write about.

I'm really sorry everybody everyone, but there will be no blog entry today. You will just have to content yourself with trying to work out the synaptic link between the title and the picture. (See Note 4 if you need further clues).

Note 1 : This is dress as in my clothing not dress as in female fashion apparel. At the weekend a dress is strictly evening wear.

Note 2 : I never have understood why all of the women in adverts for laundry products look so happy doing laundry. At best it is a boring task, repetitive task and how the woman can then burst into laughter when some dirty a***d puppy climbs into the washing basket full of her clean washing is beyond me.

Note 3 : It was at this point I was going to try and do something really clever like embed the tune into the blog entry so that it plays automatically when you open the blog, but I decided that against it. If you want to hear it, then it is here.

I do this as a separate link because I am very aware of the embarrassment caused when web pages open up sound automatically. The other day, I was seeking out sources for the blog I wrote yesterday and I opened the The Lone Ranger link in a busy office without first turning down the sound. Yes, people did look. Oh, and another reason was I wasn't sure how to embed the file.

Note 4 : Imagine my disappointment at discovering the total lack of originality of the title. There I was doing a few Google searches and up that popped. OK, so it brought back memories and stirrings when I thought of Jennifer Beals.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Who is that masked man?

Last night I spent most of my time fighting Microsoft's PowerPoint. It meant that I didn't get the chance to do much in the way of research.

Instead, I shall respond to the deluge of the email I received.

It is highly probable that if you follow my blog here (and here and here), that you may have come across the man of mystery.

Those of you who may not have yet adjusted to my synaptic tangents, you may feel that I am about to explain exactly who was that masked man, The Lone Ranger. As a pre-Clint hero of the Old West, he was allowed access to the chain of beauty parlours around the badlands of 19th century America that ensured that he and his trusty sidekick were always impeccably manicured. Faced with such clean shaven and well moisturised good looks, the hoards of bad-guys soon saw the error of their ways and surrendered to be rehabilitated into society. A society where all women were beautiful, young and even when besieged by renegades, could always smuggle in their make bags and find time to touch up the slap.

Our hero and his sidekick could always be relied upon to remain pleasantly aromatic and spick and span thanks to the secret material used to make their outfits that always remains clean and ironed no matter how many days are spent in the saddle. Sadly, it is a material that remains secret to this day.

But as usual, I digress. No, I am talking about that legend of blog folklore, Evar.

The historical timeline of Evar remains vague in my memory, but is rooted in the early days of my first blog on Yahoo. I started this on 30th May 2006. Rather like the Old West of the Lone Ranger, they were simpler times. I wrote my entries, posted them and experimented a little.

I started to explore the blogs of other people and the other features on the site - like I would encourage any 'newbie' to do. Above all, I got into a habit of setting aside some time every day to write a bit, read a bit, post a few comments and build up my network of fellow bloggers. The comments bit being the important bit as this built up relationships with people far more experienced in the art than I.

Looking through my old blog entries, I can see how my voice and style developed. As my confidence and network grew, I spent more time on the formatting (using HTML which eventually took longer than the writing!).

Evar appears to have made his first appearance in my blog on 21st June 2006, co-inciding nicely with Wimbledon and me suffering an apparent attack of bad taste.

Evar was born out of one of the features of Yahoo which was the short messaging system. People could type in short messages on the front page of your site. Along with an appropriate little smiley face, you could choose an emotion to go with your message. Lumped in with the obvious 'smiles', 'hugs' and 'waves' was one for 'Best 360 Evar!'

Somewhere, now lost in the mists of time, lay a conversation with Marcus Jordan (Yes, another Multiply refugee from the crumbling 360 megalith) over the delights (or otherwise) of these messages and somewhere in these it was decided that ‘Evar’ referred to an over competitive Eastern European winter sports specialist

Now, I am not at all sure how all of this came about and the actual conversation is now buried in the bowels of some Yahoo post that will probably never return (tags are great for finding individual posts, but sadly never updated to reflect comments).

I have another shameful admission. I can’t even be sure that I remember Evar’s full name. Somewhere along the line he acquired a girlfriend, Yvette Munsderpiedder, with whom he competed in the 2006 Wimbledon finals until a scandal forced Evar into hiding with the famous detective, Chief Inspector McCrindle Barleymow Honeydew-Fforbes of New Scotland Yard hot on his tail.

Shortly after this, Yahoo declared that I was interesting. Something that felt like a huge honour at the time, but take it from me, you don’t want to stay interesting.

Evar continued and the legend grew. Stories wove around him and characters wandered in and out of the blog. Everything based around the simple premise of my local shifted from Reality A to Reality B where it became reborn as the ‘Rat & Ferret’ all aided by Dried Frog Pills and Dr. Ethaniel Nightswerve’s Velvet Cudgel. He still gets the occasional outing of course, but I am careful that before I let him out in public, I check that nobody has sewn a new label in my underpants.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Stoking the Fire

Do you ever have those times when you are sure you have done something and then discover days later that you haven't? Well, I have just had one. I thought I had posted this blog, but in fact I hadn't. It is probably my age or my tin foil hat getting tight or I've not got the dosage right on my dried frog pills.

I get the same sensation sometimes when I am driving. I suddenly find that I cannot remember negotiating a roundabout or passing through a set of traffic lights. Although that is more a case of having done something and then forgetting.

I'm rambling. Sorry, my prosthetic yeomen, let's give you that post that I promised and then forgot.

Evar popped by last night to show off his recently acquired bronze medal from the extreme ironing championships (in the king size duvet cover and sheets freestyle) and to make sure that we were all aware that it would have been gold had it not been for a 0.2 point deduction for a suspiciously stained sheet.

There were the usual accusations of sabotage by the now infamous Johanus Merkwier, but they weren't all that convincing given that the day before the competition he partied with a trio of his groupies in his Volkswagen camper.

It was during the discussions over where he could purchase new shock absorbers for his van that he suddenly remarked that I seemed to be spending more time on my blogs again.

I hadn't got the heart to point out that the main reason I was steadfastly looking at my computer screen was that he was wearing the new crocheted mankini given to him by one of the aforementioned groupies and what is claimed to have started the mattress manoeuvring in the first place. It isn't just that you can't help feeling a touch inadequate when presented by Evar in a mankini, but it was the fact that Evar has decided to grow, bead and plait his body hair that meant I was determined not to look in his direction.

But Evar does have a point. I have found a renewed energy for my blogging undoubtedly helped by having an easier time of things at work, but mainly down to doing this blogging talk at the Oundle Festival of Literature.

As part of this I have been busily preparing slides and researching some interesting sites to reference during the talk. I have also set myself up a second blog which will be the one that I shall be using to demonstrate blogging and, hopefully, set up an active blogging ring around the Festival.

These, combined with the inspiration gained on my travels around the blogosphere has really got the energy back and I find myself making time at all kinds of odd parts of the day to blog.

I can only hope the energy continues after the Festival!

Size doesn't matter

Let's face it, that is one of the phrases that a man never wishes to confront. It is right up there with 'I see you as a brother I never had' and 'OK, just as long as you don't wake me and pull my nightie down afterwards.'

However, we are talking blogging here, so I should gently divert you back onto matters more cerebral.

The date for my big event at the Oundle Festival of Literature is fast approaching. Somehow I have to find a way of filling two hours without my audience realising that actually I am just an ordinary, boring, old sod. It could be that the secret is already out there as Alexander Mccall Smith has sold out, but so far I have only managed to rattle off a grand total of three ticket sales.

Look my castellated yeomen, it is no good waiting to see if the tickets get cheaper - there are no discounts! Get your bookings in now - the booking office telephone number is on the web site.

Despite the apparent lack of audience numbers, I have been continuing my preparations and the research and the pretty slides are coming along nicely.

Last night, my daughter persuaded me that I should give Twitter a try.

Before you click on that link, it needs a health warning. This Twitter thing is terribly addictive and has the ability to sidetrack you totally from real life.

To oversimplify matters, the principle is that you 'follow' people on the site and you see what they are up to in their daily life in the form of short, 140 character messages and you then have conversations start up rather like sending text messages on a mobile phone.

In my first foray into the world of Twitter was a strange and surreal experience.

I soon started to follow Richard Madeley, who's blog I highlighted in these very pages after I discovered it in the Times Top 100 blogs. Then, much to my amazement, he started to follow me! Just what a megastar of daytime TV is doing following me is a bit of a mystery, but there you go.

Taking the opportunity, I decided to ask the question that has been on my mind ever since I first read his blog 'Do you write your own blog?' to which he replied 'Yes'. So loads of congrats and kudos to the guy. It certainly adds another dimension to the character you see on the boob tube while devouring your afternoon buns.

Anyway, back to the topic in hand. One of the strange phenomenon of the world of Twitter is the number of famous people you can follow on the site. In the real world it would be called stalking, but on this site it seems you can do it all totally legally.

Imagine the response you would get if you sidled up to a celebrity in a restaurant and asked if they wrote their own blog? The restraining order would be the least of your worries.

This Twitter thing is amazing. Next time you find yourself at a loose end and don't know if you want to knit some breasts or try something new on the computer, give it a go.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The day of my event approaches.

I'm pretty sure that there was someone famous (who's name I have forgotten) who said something like "stealing from a single source is called plagerism, but stealing from multiple sources is called research."

Whoever said it was obviously some smart fella who knew his stuff.

It is all pretty appropriate at the moment as the sands slip through the glass towards my session at the Oundle Festival of Literature. If anyone is actually reading this still, this takes place at the Sir Peter Scott Building, Oundle School on 7th March 2009 at 13:00 (thats 1pm in old money.) See the web site for booking details.

With that session on blogging rapidly approaching, it was with great fortune that one of my contacts from the days when I was interesting on 360 surfaced on Multiply. It seems that Neil (aka nomadtraveller) is not only well travelled, but he gets time to read the weighty Sunday papers. I guess you have to find something to do when you spend so much time in airport departure lounges.

It seems that there is a huge aid to my research published in this week's hernia inducing edition, part one of the 100 top blogs by Bryan Appleyard.

Very useful and very interesting - probably the kind of thing that Yahoo 360 had in mind when they started their interesting list and instead they got me! Never mind, I guess that one day they will learn!

It looks like there is a useful mine of information there just waiting for a claim jumper to devour.

As my lunch hour is almost over, I hadn't got much time for additional research, but suffice to say, I had a little surf. Have a go, you'll like it, not a lot, but you'll like it. (I'm sure it used to be his catch phrase, but if it ain't he'll never find me).

Also, I learned something. I wouldn't have believed it, but Paul Daniels is 70! He doesn't look it. Hasn't he worn well? (No, wait, that catchphrase was somebody else).