Wednesday, December 24, 2008
I hated it as a kid. It's just not a kids' dessert - all those dark and spicy tastes - but I ate it because there was money in it!
Deep inside the inner darkness of the pud threepenny bits and tanners (sixpenny bits) were lurking and if there was one in your dollop of pudding you could keep it. I actually had a love/hate relationship with that tradition too. I loved the money of course but hated biting into a piece of pudding and nearly breaking my teeth on the hard metal coin and having that taste of ... erm, coin (didn't you put coins in your mouth when you were a kid??). In the end I used to eat my Chrissy pud without completely closing my jaws.
Look, there's a threepenny bit - weren't they brilliant? In fact, wasn't that nutty pounds, shillings and pence currency brilliant too? There is just something wonderfully anarchic about having a currency where 12 pence make one shilling and 20 shillings make a pound. The fun we had at school adding and multiplying all that lot!
Pound notes, ten bob notes and then the coins... I am (believe it or not) too young to remember farthings but the concept of having a coin worth a quarter of a penny - great! And then threepences which where a quarter of a shilling and sixpences which were of course half. Then there was the half crown, worth two shillings and sixpence (2/6) - half of something that didn't exist any more (apparently crowns were minted until the sixties but I never saw one in normal day to day transactions nor did I ever hear of anyone who had seen one). Eight of these half crowns of course made a pound. Eight!
And all this calculating in base 12 and base 20 never seemed strange or difficult. You could buy, say, three things in a shop which cost 3s 6d, 10s 4d and 15s 9d and quick as a flash the shopkeeper would know that it came to 1 pound 9s 7d - without electric tills to add it up.
Ah, and the abbreviations... yeah - more anarchy. Lsd... yep, it was called lsd, pronounced, "pounds, shillings and pence". For shillings, not unreasonably, we used "s" but for pennies we used "d" and for pounds "L" which was elaborated into the pound sign (which I can't get to work in blogspot). Why L and why d? Cos it's Latin of course! L was short for librum, a Roman unit of weight, and d was for denarius, a Roman coin.
Now, the pound was related to the value of a certain weight of a certain quality of gold. Unfortunately in Guinea the Brits found a gold of a higher purity and so the same weight of that gold was worth more than 20 shillings... consequently we also had the "guinea", as an even more eccentric member of what was already a pretty wacky family of currency denominations, which was worth 21s. As a kid I remember that prices for cars and furniture were always quoted in guineas. This was a brilliant double whammy. The prices would be something like "899 guineas" so that you had the standard 99 trick to make you think, "duh, it's only 800, that's cheap!" coupled with the fact that each of those 899 guineas was one pound and one shilling... so another 5% more than you thought!
So you don't just have a currency, you have multibase mathematics, history, geography and metallurgy all mixed in together... a bit like a Chrissy Pud... ah! Yeah... so, anyway... I managed to get one, a Chrissy pud, because... well, because Xmas just wouldn't be the same without eating something that no one likes!
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Maybe I have just been on the road too long - the Diddly Tour 2008 came to an end last Sunday morning at about 06.30 when we got back from...somewhere. Over the last few weekends alone we have clocked up nearly 4000 kilometres driving the length and breadth of Germany.
From the north in Stade (above right) near Hamburg to the far south-west in Freiburg and through Mainz (below left) in Hessen to Regensburg in the east we have diddle-skiddly-idled all over. From hotel to hotel, location to location with the result that most of the time we didn't know where we were.
Anyhow, that's it for now - no more of this until next year; and the good side is I have the perfect reason for feeling run down.
(CD available from the band's website!)
Friday, November 07, 2008
Buzzy has ARISEN!!
This is where he has been recuperating this last year having had a motor transplant and exhaust pipe implant.
But finally on Wednesday it was time for him to get back to work.
One sort of 'drawback' about living in Deepest Bavaria is that the authorities get concerned from time to time with the environment (normally when they think they can make money on the deal). The latest fad is with what they call over here Feinstaub which translates as 'particulate matter' and so from next year if I want to drive into the centre of Munich - where I happen to live - I will need a sticker to show that Buzzy is not a Feinstaub criminal.
Now keep an open mind when you watch this and tell me honestly how could anyone think that Buzzy could be a danger to the environment...
*The title is in Modern Greek and an adaptation of what people say to each other at Easter, 'Christos anesti! Malista anesti!" It means 'Buzzy has arisen! Indeed he has arisen!'
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
In German it's called the Frankfurt Buchmesse (for the xenolinguistically-challenged among you: Buch = book and Messe = exhibition) which is why one of my more misguided English students described it to me as, ze biggest book mess in ze world!
I remember thinking at the time, 'you haven't seen my bookcases mate!'
Anyhow, I went on behalf of my book - did I mention that I had written a book? Ah! There it is...
I was there about 6 or 7 years ago too when the book was just sheets of A4 stapled together and I thought I would try again now that it is such a lovely tome.
(What do you say to a book maker when he visits you?
Make yourself a tome!)
The Buchmesse has got bloated since I was last there it seems. For example the catalogue I bought last time was a bit less than half an inch thick and this year's was split into two volumes which put together are about 2 inches thick. It also seems to have become more slick and impersonal.
It's still fascinating to stroll through hall after hall and marvel at the sheer immensity of the exhibition and the mountains of publications but wandering round hawking my work I felt a bit like an anachronistic peddler with a hand cart creaking through a swish concrete and glass shopping arcade.
Anyway, they'll be sorry... Harry Potter - where are you??
Maybe I rely on my inner clock more than most as I don't wear a watch or carry a timepiece and so I notice it more...
What??! You don't wear a watch?
No, haven't for years.
That is partly due to the fact that in deepest Bavaria the clocks on bus shelters, buildings, stations, etc. all actually work so I found I didn't need one and I hate wrist bands and chains and necklaces and rings and all that stuff so I did away with my misted-up Sekonda when it finally ticked its last and relied on my instinct (ok, plus all the aforementioned clocks too).
Anyway, spring forward, fall back was my method of remembering what happens when the clocks change. In spring you lose an hour whereas in autumn you gain an extra hour in bed, which would be great if I could actually sleep!
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Mannheim: erm, ugh
Little bit less brief:
Siegen: reminded me of the centres of those English cities which were "redeveloped" in the 60s and which consequently gave birth to the expression "concrete jungle". Apparently Hitler was made an honorary citizen of Siegen - although I don't suppose they had much choice. Fittingly, and tellingly, the city is twinned with Leeds!
Düsseldorf: bloody hell, really nice! There were elements which reminded me of Liverpool and others which reminded me of Thessaloniki! Mad night life in the Altstadt, which was still going on as we trooped back to our apartment at 4 am, and, despite the copious amounts of alcohol which seemed to have been consumed, all very peaceful and good-natured. I would definitely go back for a weekend for some proper research.
Mannheim: heavily bombed in the war and rebuilt on a doughnut-brain, American 'grid system'; giving rise to romantic street names such as K7 or A3. Maybe it's psychological but it seemed to me for this reason a sort of windy, soulless city - however I have to admit the people we met were very hospitable.
We got back on Sunday and I am still exhausted.
But at least I have another day before putting off my rock star head and putting on my author head to visit the Frankfurt Book Fair on Thursday and Friday.
Ah, and there was time, as we were driving in and out of the Altstadt in Düsseldorf lost, for me to get in another Sparwitz.
We had heard the news that the shares of Magners, the Irish cider company, had fallen dramatically.
"Oh yeah, I know what that's due to...", I said to the other 3 guys in the band who looked at me in astonishment, knowing my gossamer grasp of stock market ins and outs.
"Yes, indeed... that's a clear case of insider trading..."
....oh, COME ON ! ! !
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
There is something quite splendid about the fact that the Mosel to the right or top of the picture flows into the Rhine along the bottom and that the city grew from this.
I love rivers anyway. I grew up on the mouth of one , the Mersey. And I love the idea of them - that they just find their own way to the sea, either meandering quietly or gushing directly... or both!
I used to push Biddy along a little river, the Würm, near where I used to live in Munich and I couldn't get over the fact that we could have jumped into it and been slowly swept to the Black Sea, via the Isar and the Danube.
Anyway, I was talking to the barman in the place where we played on Friday night and he said that the statue had been destroyed in the war and not replaced until the 1980s, which would explain me not remembering it cos it wouldn't have been there in the 1970s when I was there last!
But, subsequent perusal of Wikipedia dashed my short-lived hopes. The statue was indeed destroyed by American bombs in the 2nd WW, but replaced in the 1950s... ho hum.
On the other hand what I did kearn from Wiki was how Koblenz got its name. It is a corrupt form of confluentes, the Latin for 'flowing together' which is what they called this place where the 2 great rivers meet.
You may, one day, look back and thank me for that information!
(... or you may not)
Friday, October 03, 2008
We are playing two nights in Koblenz, up where the Mosel meets the Rhine.
We played last night and then went off to the 'Hotel Continental' to spend a superstar night. This hotel was quite amazing... located in a kind of time loop back in the 1950s-German-Democratic-Republic style. All the elements of the decor combined to say "cold war shabbiness".
One of the numbers missing from the door; mattresses with springs; sad, greying net curtains; a ceiling which looked more like a floor; a painting over the bed with a landscape from Venus; a breakfast room which invited you to commit immediate suicide...
But they were very friendly...
I walked along the Mosel before and came to the Deutsches Eck. Now I know that I was there at exactly the same point in 1978... I could even see the camping site where I stayed but I couldn't remember this:
I was expecting to see things I didn't remember but this was a little surprising.
Maybe they built it in the meantime...
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
I think I have neglected to mention that I am in Liverpool at the moment...
Well, yesterday I finally got down to the beach at Formby Point just in time for a glorious, breathtaking sunset. Almost horizontal, tired sunbeams streaming across the surface of the sea, making the dunes go a strange pale red and the air clear enough to see over to the Welsh mountains in the south west and the peaks of the Lake District to the north.
What better way to follow that as the darkness encroached than to go and have a pint?
Scotch Piper I think to see what the guest beer is this week.
I love this idea of "guest beer" which you find in the pubs these days. It's a chance to travel randomly around the country trying out local brews from the comfort of your own local. So, got my beer, nice head, lovely auburn colour.. first swallow..glug glug...mm, excellent. It was a really good pint.
The only objection I have is to the name...
I mean you can't go into a crowded pub and ask for a pint of Bonkers, can you?
Bloody good pint though...
Saturday, September 20, 2008
According to phrases.org.uk, "...the earliest citation of the phrase is from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, 1596: "With bated breath, and whispring humblenesse."
Gerrin' there, Willi lad! Don't you wish you could drop the odd Shakespearean iambic pentameter into a conversation just like that? Bugger, maybe you can!
Anyway I have managed to digress before I even finished my first sentence, so even more breath will have been bated in the meantime - apologies for this.
So... erm, ah yes - many of you have been waiting with bated breath, well, I say many... some of you have been waiting... well, I say some... actually I doubt that anyone has been waiting with bated breath for part 2 of my post down below, Three Steps to Heaven, however;
"...this shall not deter me from my course" (iambic pentameter! Shakespearean? No, Neutronian.)
The thing is, I was on about trying to find a way to visualise vast amounts of time, so I suggested imagining one step to be the equivalent of 2000 years back into the past. On this basis you would then need around 6 paces to reach the agricultural revolution when humans first began to settle on bits of land and farm them. Then to get back to the earliest distinctly human fossils you would need about 80 paces - not even the length of a footy pitch. And don't forget each of those paces contains 2000 years of sunny days and rainy days, summers, springs, winters and autumns full of what people do with themselves, being born, reproducing, loving, having arguments, worrying, having fun, getting old, dying, etc., etc.
After 80 paces it's not people doing all that any more but hominids and ancient animals living and dying... in the previous post I posed the question, "how many steps back to the end of the dinosaurs?" Well, keep walking these 2000-year paces... 150, 400, 1000, 1500 (there we pass the time of Lucy our Australopithecus ancestor)... keep going, sunny days, rainy days, etc.
Actually, it might be better to get a bus since you will need to walk over 32 kilometres to get your first glimpse of a dying dinosaur. On my scale the end of the dinosaurs is some 32,500 paces away back into the past!
Is your mind boggled? Is it boggled?
(Apologies to fans of the Flintstones)
Friday, September 12, 2008
(Do I sense the makings of a new nursery rhyme here?)
I was feeling a bit left out here with all these protons having a good time and the thing is they could have made it cheaper by using neutrons...
How?? I hear you ask...
Well, you see with neutrons there's no charge...(boom boom).
I waited till today just to be sure, but it does indeed seem that there was no big bang boom boom so it would appear there was a great deal of misplaced conCERN... (boom boom boom).
Wow, bad physics jokes make you tired, huh? Need a lie down on my photon...erm...futon.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Nah, course they're not... but tomorrow at CERN the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) is going to start whizzing protons around and start the search for the explanation of everything.
I mentioned it here and for loads of info and interviews and whatnot there is this wonderful website put together by the wonderful BBC's Radio 4 - Big Bang Day.
See you in the black hole!
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
Pinker talks about the date possibly being around 45,000 years ago.
Now, I don't know about you but I find numbers from around that big and upwards hard to digest. I think we tend to be comfortable with tens and hundreds but when you get into thousands, never mind millions and billions, we lose the arithmetical perspective.
This is perhaps why politicians can say, "the plans we have for reforming XXX will cost 5 or 6 billion pounds/euros/dollars..." and no-one says in return, "hang on a mo, pal... that is a difference of 1 bleeding BILLION! What kind of accountants do you have there?"
Anyhow, I put down the book, turned off the light and started thinking about making all this a bit more graphic.
How about imagining you are on a path, let's say a long country path in the autumn sun... so not too hot, pleasant and fresh... the leaves on the trees are just beginning to turn from green to a slight yellowy-brown... late wasps are buzzing drunkenly...
So... erm.. oh yeah - we are on a path, and now imagine that one step you take is the equivalent of going back 2000 years into the past. So with one step along the path you cover all of recent history back to the clock change from B.C to A.D.
Ok, one step and we are back 2000 years to about year zero. Then take another step and we have reached the first known written texts, the beginning of writing. Every book/papyrus roll/clay tablet/etc. that has ever been written in human history for people like me to nod off to is covered by those two steps.
Take 4 more steps, so 6 altogether so far, and we have arrived at the moment some people somewhere grew a bit of wheat and put a fence around it. The start of agriculture.
To get back to Pinker's date for the possible emergence of us as a species of tool-using, hunter-gathering, foraging creatures you need another 18 steps (please feel free to check my maths!).
So, 24 steps in all to get back to the very first humans who were like us. We wouldn't even need a sit down. Then to get to the oldest distinctly human fossils you need about 80 paces.
Ok, this is fun! Where to next? How about everyone's favourite - the dinosaurs. Let's stroll to the "end of the dinosaurs"; the massive meteor collision which wiped out all the tyrannosauri and brontosauri and whatever and left the coast clear for our very early mammalian ancestors.
How many steps do you think? 100? 500? 1000??
Have a guess, I'll tell you later!!
Sunday, August 17, 2008
My dad used to say,
"Are you wearing odd socks?"
"Yeah, and funnily enough I have another pair just the same at home."
Right so... erm...
Oh yes, on Friday it was 15th August. To most of you simply a day. To me, for two reasons, a bit more.
Firstly, here in Deepest Bavaria (and in Greece), it is a public holiday, Maria Himmelfahrt (which, due to a linguistic coincidence between English and German, provides us Anglo-Saxons with a little puerile amusement - Himmelfahrt... tee-hee-hee).
Had I not lived in Greece and Deepest Bavaria and been asked maybe ten thousand times by English students what this day is in English, then I, like you, wouldn't have known that it is, in fact, Assumption Day. Reassuringly, having told the students this, you can then ask them, "and what is Assumption Day?" and find that they have no idea!
So, it's a day off in Deepest Bavaria and Greece but also in Greece it is the "end of the summer" or rather, "The End Of Summer". This is another thing I like about the Greeks - they are totally loopy.
I first heard this end-of-summer thing during my first summer in Ioannina probably somewhere round about today, 17th August:
Greek shopkeeper: Brrr, you can tell it is the end of summer!!
Me, soaked in sweat: But it's 45°C!!
Greek shopkeeper and other (Greek) customers: Brrrrr!
The other odd sock is that yesterday evening there was a lunar eclipse here in Deepest Bavaria. Unfortunately, in these days of street lights and living indoors, nobody so much as notices it but it's an amazing thing... and it is easy to imagine how it must have struck terror into the hearts of our hunter-gatherer forefathers and mothers. Very, very slowly a shadow creeps over the surface of the full moon, turning it a sort of miserable bluey-grey until the shadow totally consumes the moon and it then goes a dull red-brown.
I find it amazing to stand there and look at it and imagine that a line from the moon to my eyes which would then be extended back through my head and through the earth would point to the sun, shining away million of miles behind us.
And what links these two socks? No idea actually... hmm, maybe the full moon itself.
I think (in the sense of I am now making this up) the full moon has something to do with the dating of Assumption Day and I am relatively certain (= 100%) that it really has something to do with the eclipse.
Once again Douglas Adams' fundamental interconnectedness of all things to the rescue.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Anyway, I seem to be hearing voices saying, "does it really matter?"
I must admit I have problems with this question. At the risk of being not PC and not tolerant of others' viewpoints and not willing to see the controversy and all that claptrap, my immediate response is, "well, of course it f***ing well matters! It's about where we come from, where the world comes from, where the bleeding universe comes from."
But I think I have missed something in the question. What this question really means is, "I don't know anything about this... I don't want to know anything about this... I am not even the slightest bit interested in this... and therefore I don't understand how anyone else could be interested in this so... does it matter?"
Hmmm... well, does anything matter in that case?
In one sense no, nothing matters. In just 100 years you and I will be dead as herrings but maybe someone will still vaguely know something about us. In 500 years we, our children and even our children's children will be herring-like.
In another sense though, personally, yes things most certainly do matter. I am a human and I can revel in the fact that things matter... they matter to me right now, I demand that things matter!
It happened that I had my guitar with me one day in the teachers' room of a language school where I used to teach. The other teachers wanted to hear me play something so I took out the guitar and started to tune it.
"Oh, what is it with these guitarists?" one teacher asked, "they always have to tune their guitars before they play something! What does it matter?"
(I should mention in her defence that she was Scottish and maybe having been brought up on bagpipe "music" the concept of being in tune was alien to her.)
"Of course it matters, of course you have to tune it... otherwise it sounds horrible"
"Ach, sounds alright to me!"
So I detuned the guitar seriously until even she had to admit that it didn't sound good.
"Right, so how it sounds to you now is equivalent to how it sounded to me before, ok?"
It mattered, it matters, it will matter...
Actually, come to think of it everything matters and as the Large Hadron Collider mght show us where matter came from, it matters too!
25 years ago now I was just being called out of an English lesson by a frantic secretary at the company where I was working and told "the waters have broken".
The rest is history!
My Nicky is 25!!!!! (Neutron faints away into a mouldy, shrivelled heap)
Well, if the weather remains fine - and it BETTER HAD or there will be trouble - we will all be meeting up at the Hirschgarten, Munich's largest beergarten and downing a few litres of Augustiner from the barrel - erm, well, from the glass...and then the pain might recede somewhat.
Happy Quarter Century, darling!
Monday, August 11, 2008
Meanwhile my JamWave erm... thing now has a new design and you can listen directly to a couple of songs. Don't know what good it does me being on JamWave but there you go.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Well, it all began at Xmas 1964 when I got this as one of my presents...
The diary stayed in Liverpool for a long time and then my mother generously gave it to my older daughter - so that my kids could have a good laugh at my expense!!
And, as they do, they did. They really did.
I have had the piss taken out of me mercilessly since then for the naive, innocent, ten-year-old-boy entries I made and for my... erm... somewhat limited access to toys and my consequent enthusiasm for what to my modern-day kids, spoilt, if I may say so, by PlayStations, Gameboys, PC games, etc. which would then have been like artefacts from another planet, seem like objects of incredibly mind-numbing boredom!
To be fair, the very first entry, 1st January 1965, does reveal a certain access to what was a that time a very, very new toy called 'lego'.
Curiously, what looks like the first entry - for 31st December 1964 - is in fact a bit of Winston-Smithian re-writing of the past.
Anyway, one of the catch-phrases which has developed amongst my kids to underline the poverty of my childhood play is "Played with sticks. Had a smashing time" (normally done in a Mr Bean-type voice) followed by peals of derisive laughter.
Well, after intensive research of my records of 1965 I can now reveal that I did NOT play with sticks - at least if I did, I didn't bother writing about it.
I think there has been a conflation - as in ancient writings of the past; e.g. the Bible, the Iliad or Odyssey to name just 3 - of two quite separate entries. The first is from 2nd January above where you can clearly see "Played on the pipes... had a smashing time." These were huge concrete sewage pipes which were lying around on a field behind our street waiting to be put underground and it was pretty exciting playing on them, I can tell you!
The second part of this conflation or misinterpretation probably comes from 11th August... here we see, "played with bits of wood..."
Not only are they clearly not sticks they turn out to be bits of wood which would fly through the air if we spun them!!
Beat that with your poxy PlayStation...
Saturday, August 09, 2008
Bleeeuuugghhh... and no matter how you grub around with your bills, tot up the mileages you have driven, rake around for expenses you have had, you always end up having to hand over a huge wodge of cash to these pecuniary leeches.
Today will be like this from Black Books (highly recommended!!)
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
(Does this mean I no longer have any children??)
Anyway, William so far has received all sorts of wonderful pressies, has had cake, gone off with his mates to one of Munich's very pleasant open-air pools, will be back later for more cake and an evening of varied entertainment.
It made me wonder what I did on my 13th and what I got... so, I searched around or my 1968 diary (yep, I kept a diary then... did it for years actually).
Wednesday, October 16th 1968
This morning I got an Ordinance Survey Map of Roman Britain off Auntie. In Rugby this afternoon we lost 11-8.
Phew... steady on - an overdose of excitement there. Further reading revealed that the Ordinance Survey Map of Roman Britain was not the only pressy:
Friday, October 18th 1968
This morning at the Baths we did gliding in. Tonight my Electric organ came. It is great! At the moment I can play "Abide with me" and "Hark the Herald angel sings!"
This was not a real electric organ by the way - the kind you can programme to play an orchestra-worth of music - this had bellows inside it run by an electric motor (hence electric organ) and it was so loud you could hardly hear the notes.
Meanwhile back in Liverpool in 1968 the excitement had still not abated:
Tuesday, October 22nd 1968
In Gym this morning we ran the mile. I equalled my personal best with 7 mins 9 secs. I am still recovering from it. Tonight the legs for my organ came but fixing them on had to be postponed...
(Sorry, I have no idea why, there the record ends!)
So here we have proof that the kids of today don't have all the fun!
Happy Birthday William!!
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Over the weekend we were up in Nürnberg having trials of our own getting the PA to work at the Bardenfest where we played Saturday and Sunday.
I (or 'we' until Sunday night) drove up to Nürnberg on Saturday, played two 2-hour sets till 11 pm... had a 'couple' of pints... staggered back to the hotel, 'slept', got up, had breakfast, went back to our stage and played two 2-hours sets again until 10 pm, drove back to Munich - got up, checked emails etc, went off to the studio to do the arrangements for the last lot of songs for the new CD, went off to play a solo gig, had problems with cables and my guitar, got the lovely TM to bring my reserve guitar down to the club, plugged that in to find the battery was nearly flat, played a set, battery gave up on me, changed the battery, finally got everything working, played, ended up talking to an undergraduate from Texas who invited me to Las Vegas to see the Beatles show "Love" over there, oh, and who videoed the evening and said, "you're gonna be SO famous in the US!!" - had a beer or two and went out to find my bike and cycle home through the desultory rain drops that were apologetically splashing on me from the sky... and then the aforementioned cognac...
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Maybe July and August go so quickly because they are interloper months, gate crashing into the calendar.
Have you never wondered why Septem-ber (septem = seven in Latin) is the ninth month, Octo-ber (octo = eight in Latin) is the tenth month, Novem-ber (novem = nine in Latin) is the eleventh month and Decem-ber (decem = ten in Latin) is the twelth month?
Well, it's the bleedin' Romans innit? Just because Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar were deified after their deaths they also had to be given months too - as if being elevated to god-status was not enough. So they bunged July and August into the calendar between June and September. So, now, my theory is that the summer is getting its revenge by making these months shorter than they should be.
Well, it could be!!
Anyway, for something completely different, here's a really creepy video which shows us what has been going on in the world of robotics while we weren't looking (you might want to turn down the sound a bit before you watch!)
Monday, July 21, 2008
What an incredible achievement – and what an unbelievably sad sequel that nothing happened afterwards.
What really gets me irritated is the number of people who are reacting to me mentioning the Apollo landings by saying, “yeah…IF they landed!”
What kind of dozy walliness is this? I have never understood what the original hoax nutters stood to gain from all this lunatic self-contradictory doubt casting that they indulge in.
I also fail to understand the appeal it seems to have.
The only excuse I can think of is a basic ignorance of the situation at the time and a total ignorance of the Apollo programme and what it entailed.
In the most charitable of analyses, the “hoax” would have had to include hundreds of astronauts, technicians, engineers and sundry experts none of whom have ever come out with an exclusive confession nor has any been left posthumously.
I mean do these HBs (hoax believers) dispute the fact that the Apollo missions just went to the moon or that they actually landed in some cases?
If it’s the first case, it would mean they are saying that Apollo 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 were all faked, as all of them circumnavigated the moon one way or another!
If we’re just talking about landing then it’s "only" Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17.
That’s such a lot of hoaxing!
Anyhow to read some sense about all these wild conspiracy “theories” I would recommend:
Moon Base Clavius
and Phil Plait’s
Meanwhile, happy anniversary Apollo 11!
Saturday, July 05, 2008
There was Munich's 850th birthday, the Euro 2008, a big Irish festival, the Tollwood festival...
There was also translating and teaching, playing gigs and recording, the continuing struggle with the council in Liverpool about my mother's house, the realisation that my bus - Buzzy - had reached the age of 20 and simultaneously the end of the road, sorrow drowning, beer quaffing...
There should have been a cascade of blogs, a surfeit of bloginess, a blognogalous bonanza...
But, you have to be either doing it or writing about it...you can't do both - unless, that is, the writing is the doing or the doing is the writing... in which case... erm... dunno.
Anyhow, assuming July is less murderously busy, I intend to dip and delve into June's archives and try fill out those topics above with a bit of fleshy detail...
(Don't hold your breath though)
Monday, June 30, 2008
Well, well... I actually picked a winner! The team I chose to follow in the absence of Hingerland only went and won the Euro 2008 Championship!!
And what a joy it was to support a team that can PLAY; a team that can PASS; a team that doesn't look as if they only met each other a few hours before the game...
Hmm, it's going to be hard to go back from enjoying Spain to suffering the pain of a Hingerland campaign.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Friday, June 13, 2008
Anyhow, it was all a mistake,
"...Thomas Sullivan, a New York coffee merchant who turned to tea, sent out samples in small silk sachets rather than as loose tea. His penny-pinching was misunderstood by his customers who failed to realise that they were supposed to cut open the sachet and empty its contents into a pot before brewing their tea. The result was an instant success with American tea drinkers." Say no more...
Reading the article reminded me of what my dad always said about teabags, "they just fill them with the leftover dust in the crates! Grrr..."
But I also recall clogged plug-holes, jammed with tea-leaves... and that horrible moment when you are draining your cup and you get a mouthful of them... bleeeuuuuugh! That is the reason that I still leave a drop in any cup of anything I am drinking.
(Cup... not glass)I have kind of got used to teabags now, but I do miss tea caddies, those funny little spoons for the tea, teapot cosies and the sound of the boiling water pouring onto the leaves in the pot...
Time for a cuppa!
Saturday, June 07, 2008
I have to admit this has left me free to approach this Championship with a relaxed feeling of calm which is wonderful. No frustrated screams of anguish at the TV when the Young English Millionaires show that they still do not understand that the basic principle of passing includes the fact that the ball should go to one of their own team-mates.
I realised that watching England play in one of these competitions is like driving an underpowered car up a steep hill... you clasp the steering wheel tightly and push with all your strength to try and help the struggling, spluttering vehicle make it. After watching England 'play' I would find myself totally knackered from the exertions of attempting to inject some vigour and inventiveness into their tactics from my living room.
Anyhow, for this tournament I have adopted Spain as my team. It should have been Greece but I just can't accept the horrible way they played in the last championships - somehow Otto Rehhagel time-machined the Greeks back to the dour scientific football of the 1970s. It used to be fun watching the Greeks play football and he drilled that out of them - making the team something like football's version of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'.
So, Spain... yeah. I watched them play Peru last week and experienced something I had never felt before watching 'my' team play international football - these lads can play! They really can play!! Good football - good moves - skilful runs down the wing - clever defence-splitting passes - erm, WOW!
So, we are stocking up on papas fritas and cerveza and practising the new chant:
Hespan-yar, Hespan-yar, Hespan-yar...
Friday, June 06, 2008
Πέρυσι τέτοιον καιρό διαφήμιζα έναν μαγικό χώρο στην ορεινή Ηλεία, έναν χώρο για σεμινάρια και εναλλακτικές διακοπές. Ύστερα από τις φωτιές του Αυγούστου 2007, αυτός ο χώρος και το πανέμορφο δάσος που τον περιτριγύριζε μεταμορφώθηκαν σε μια αναπαράσταση της Χιροσίμα.
Η καταστροφή του περιβάλλοντος είναι ολοκληρωτική κι έτσι αποφάσισα να σας προσκαλέσω κατά τη διάρκεια των διακοπών του καλοκαιριού, αν θέλετε, να έρθετε να μας βοηθήσετε να στηρίξουμε το δάσος, έναν ελαιώνα και ένα μικρό αμπέλι στην αναζωογόνησή τους.
Well, let me show off my Greek.. cos, if you've got it, you've got to flaunt it!
This is from some friends of a friend in Thessaloniki and it's about a 'magical little village' in the Peloponnese and the beautiful forest around it which was all burned to a cinder in the fires last year. The mail is an appeal for volunteers to go there in the summer and help to replant the forest - a few olive trees here and some vines there.
What a great idea, camping up on the hills above Olympia and doing some honest work in the fresh air... with the prospect of wonderful sandy beaches down on the coast in the evening...
Hmmm... worth a ponder...
Monday, June 02, 2008
My apologies if this has affected any of you in the same way...
...mm-we're all going on a - a summer holiday...blong...no more workin' for a - weekortwo.....
...argghhh! SHUT UP!!
Saturday, May 31, 2008
This was my DREAM as a kid... to go off somewhere in a converted double-decker (without Cliff of course).
Actually it's a nifty little song too - in its cheesy way - right down to the key change two-thirds in...
Ahhh... nostalgia - truly a return to pain.
(Sorry the layout's a bit of a dog's dinner in Firefox)
Thursday, May 29, 2008
But I don't like pollen - and pollen most decidedly doesn't like me.
(I have ranted about this before... here )
The air outside is a choking, dusty, tickling mass of pollen floating on little whispy white tendrils.
And dainty though it seems, it is attacking my immune system with a nasty viciousness causing my eyes to become sticky and raw, my chest to wheeze like a broken accordion and my nose to run like an England footballer would have to if we should ever win another trophy.
Hay fever... or as I renamed it in the post I linked to above, APS - Anthropollenic Poisoning Syndrome.
Urrrrrghhhhhhh, bleeuuuuuuuuugh, nuuuurrrrrrggghhhhhh....
A little later...
I have tried to wreak my revenge on the pollen by eating a few dollops of honey - that has something to with pollen doesn't it? - mixed with Greek yoghurt. Wow...!!!
This in turn has opened up the Greece archives in my noddle and started an itchy, tickly feeling there too... the itchy, tickly desire to be somewhere else.
I feel another Hypothetical Holiday coming on...
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
As I mentioned the 'space' v child welfare/drug clinics/save the rainforest/etc argument has arisen on a good few occasions when I have mentioned this Mars mission.
I wonder why 'space' always gets used in this kind of comparison as if it's the only thing government spends money on which could be spent elsewhere.
The Phoenix mission is costing something like $420 million. It is a lot of money for you and me but it's 'only' the money Hollywood spends/wastes on a couple of blockbusters. Mind you, if that Phoenix sum were distributed to, say, the population of the US and the UK, everyone would end up with roughly one dollar.
In Munich there were plans to build a super-duper magnetic monorail Transrapid link from the centre of the city to the airport. This was going to cost €1.85 billion. People complained that it seemed rather a lot for something we didn't really need but there was no, "why don't we spend the money on health care" protest.
In the words of Ena Sharples, "there's nowt so rum as folk".
Monday, May 26, 2008
It is stunning to think that these machines are going about their business so far away from us that even light at the moment takes 15 minutes to get to us.
Whenever I talk to people about this kind of thing I always seem to end up in arguments about how the money could better be spent on improving the world somehow. But, firstly, this DOES improve the world AND I feel it's a lot more justifiable than spending millions on football players or Hollywood spectaculars not to mention the incredible sums that we spend just to be able to blow each other to smithereens.
(Photo: NASA )
It's the surface on Mars; it's the horizon on Mars; it's the sky on Mars; it's Mars-vellous.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
And if so... so what!!?
The first time I did anything like this was the moon landing early one Monday (?) morning in the summer of 1969 (and yes, I am firmly convinced it happened!)
The Phoenix landing will be 'live' on NASA TV (incredibly it doesn't work on Firefox...you need IE). I say 'live' because the actual landing will happen some 15 minutes before we receive the signals from the surface of Mars; that's how far away it is (wow...that still presses those geek buttons of mine!)
Edit: This is a good link to an animation of the landing sequence.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I was having a holiday which consisted of day trips to Greece. On this particular day I had arrived in Ioannina, where, as you regulars will know, I used to live. I was staying in a hotel which was a madeover dream version of the block of flats where I lived there and the room was an enlarged and very much smarter version of my room with its balcony overlooking the lake.
I had just had a shower and got ready to go out when I met a mate of mine who plays in a band with me. We started playing a song in the hallway onto which the hotel rooms opened. From behind one door we heard two voices joining in, singing rather nice harmonies and then the door opened and these two people, a girl and a bloke, invited us in.
The room was quite enormous and well furnished - for some reason I noticed the carpets which were new and light. The somewhat unusual feature of the room were three large pedestals at intervals around the walls upon which were three enormous cylindrical glass tanks each containing a very colourful and large squid. And in the far corner of the room next to a broad window there was another huge squid, about the size of two couches, sitting happily on the floor looking around.
I sat down on a couch and two little squids came over to investigate... like a couple of dogs. I had a coffee and then suddenly remembered I had to leave to get back home as it was only a day trip.
Right, get your dream books and tarot cards out and tell me what all that was about!
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Distraught boy: Dad, dad...my pet deer is dead!
Sympathetic father: Yes, son, I knew about it... but I didn't have the hart to tell you...
Ok, you can look now!
(And any comments containing the expression, "oh deer" will be severely dealt with!)
Sunday, May 18, 2008
It turned out that Subway doesn't have food either.
There was one disconsolate family sitting in the corner munching doggedly, illuminated by harsh fluorescent light, as I went in. I told the obsequious Subway-sandwich-maker that this was my first time in Subway which was probably a mistake as he immediately became even more slimily obsequious and his transparent plastic gloves seemed to ripple with anticipation..
How can I help... oh, your first time ? ... what would you prefer ? ... a half or a full ? ... oh, a good choice... and what kind of bread ? ... excellent ... would you like it toasted ? ... and now - the salad... a little of everything ? ... oh, and now the dressing ? ... and is it to eat here ? ...
Oh, just give me a F******* SANDWICH pal!
I watched him slowly jam all kinds of chicken and salad and vegetables into this poor overloaded soggy roll and then wrap it up tightly in all sorts of paper... it reminded me of how you used to sit on your suitcase before your hols trying to get it to close on the vastly overestimated amount of clothes you had packed.
Wrapped in paper, then wrapped again in a sort of plasticky paper wrapping and then popped into a plastic bag along with two serviettes.
I wandered out and looked for somewhere to sit and eat it - a bench by a busstop. I unwrapped it and this sandwich thing expanded like a rubber dinghy. You just cannot get these "sandwiches" into your mouth. They are far too wide and as you try the whole thing sort of falls apart and you end up with all kinds of sticky goo on your face, your hands, your clothes...
It took so much concentration to eat the bloody thing that I was still hungry at the end because my brain had been too busy to register eating anything.
I was reminded of when I worked in advertising in London and would slip out up Avery Row to one of the many little sandwich shops for lunch. It was an experience in itself to watch the blokes make two tuna and egg with salad on brown and cheese and pickle with tomato and anchovy on white with a flash of olive-skinned hands and then to go and sit in Grosvenor Square to eat the manageable, mouth-sized delicacies.
Way to go, Subway.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Saturday, May 03, 2008
Randomly listening to Radio 4 yesterday, I captured a few of my favourite bugbear monsters: sikth, intEgral, REsearch but the winner was a woman talking about energy-saving houses.
She said; "whevver peepull really make the most of their 'ouses is a mute point!"
Now, I don't mind accents...but a mute point...
And then there was the email I got from a window company (I am looking for quotes to do the windows on the house in Liverpool):
its the glassman thanks for your email i have looked at your photos
to match the excisting with a 25mm georgian bar supply and fit remove all debris all to fensa regs k glass fire escapes etc.
I thought the last 2 words really set it off! If he's the managing director, what are the rest of them like??
I suppose I should be glad he uses spaces in the text...
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Bleedin' hell, he was a useless teacher. Ok, there were deficiencies he couldn't do anything about like his penetrant whiny voice and his pwoblem with pwonouncing 'Rs'. But he also had the ability to make any and every aspect of chemistwy TOTALLY BORING.
He was a disaster, a dwag, a sleeping tablet of a teacher.
So much so that as a survival tactic we developed the 'Fwiday Chemistwy Footy Game'.
Mr Stark's favoured words - and the words we mimicked most - were 'pwecisely' and 'valency' and so, before each Friday lesson, we would split the class up into two 'teams' and the one team would get a 'goal' every time Mr Stark said, 'pwecisely' and the other team would score with each 'valency' he uttered.
This was great except that you would have Mr Stark at the front writing some gobbledeegook on the board and he would say, "...and this is pwecisely what we would expect..." and half the class would whisper "YES!" and punch the air... which made Starky look round and give us a puzzled beady look. Then he would say '...and the valency is..." and there would be an exhaled "GERRIN' THERE!" from the other half of the class.
And whenever he said, "...the pwecise result..." there would be a hit-the-post-I-don't-believe-it "OOooooh!"
No wonder our chemistwy wesults were so cwap.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Person 1: I say old chap, these nuts make me sneeze!
Person 2 (who fortunately asks just the right question): Well, well! Why's that, Neutron me old mate?
Person 1 (...yeah, ok... me): Because they're C-ashoo nuts!
... oh, please yourselves...
Hmm, so, if I have been tagged twice does that mean I have to write 12 taggy things? Oh, bugger that - it's going to take long enough to do 6. I mean the moment I think of something, it's not random any more, is it?? It's like saying, "don't think of an elephant!"
Why couldn't I have been tagged with "Write 6 things which start with x..." or "What's your favourite beer to drink when watching someone putting up wallpaper?"
Why does it have to be random things!!??
Ok... ok... step by step... random things about me... ok, r a n d o m . . . . t h i n g s . . .erm
... ok... here's one:
The Greek Minister of Defence once trod on my foot in a café in Athens...
That's enough for now I think...
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Friday, April 18, 2008
After delays due to rain and cold - I mean it was August - and urgent translation jobs, I finally got outside in the front... paintbrush in hand, tin of paint about to be levered open. When I looked more closely at the window sills... and gently prodded them I found that, under the buckled layers of old paint, the wood was all crumbly and rotten - eminently not paintable...
So I returned to the kitchen, amidst comments such as, "that was quick"..."another world record", to have a think. And having thunk I came up with a a solution, a temporary solution...
t e m p o r a r y ...!!
Ok, it's brown and it doesn't look like paint... but it is water resistant and will (should/could/might just about) keep the rain out.
So I stuck strips of packing tape over the window sills... working from under to over... clinker style. Downstairs was ok... upstairs I had to throw the roll from one window and catch it at the other and then somehow stretch out the tape and stick it on.
This was intended to be a temporary solution, remember? Until I could get over again in November, say.
As it turned out I didn't get back until this week... and the packing tape is absolutely fine! It has majestically withstood a Liverpool winter of wind, rain, frost and snow!
I rest my case.
Anyway, I came back from ASDA on Monday with a few meagre supplies of milk, bacon, sausage etc for me on my own, bunged them in the fridge and switched it on. It was bloody freezing in the kitchen and I was sitting there looking at my breath condense as I breathed out and I said out loud, "it's like a bloody fridge in here!"
I remember when we got our first fridge back in the early seventies. For days previously I had been dreaming that we would be able to make ice cream!!
My dad and I were here on the morning it was delivered. We were both totally excited - like two schoolboys - well, I was a schoolboy and my dad was 64 but a schoolboy at heart. We put it in the kitchen, plugged it in, switched in on..."whirr, whirr", "oooooh!" And then we looked around for things to put in it. My mother went nuts when she came in cos we had put everything in it... milk and stuff, ok, but also flour and tins and rice and packets of custard powder... everything, all jammed in.
Anyway, back to the kitchen where a little light - not unlike that little light in a fridge door - was just going on in my head. "It's like a bloody fridge in here... so why have I got the fridge on in a fridge?"
Before we had a fridge we used to keep everything in the pantry, which I must admit has been quite forlorn since the early 70s, so I put all my supplies in there and it has been great.
Eat my carbon footprint, suckers!
Monday, April 14, 2008
After a hard day phoning British Gas, TV Licensing, Electoral Registry, HM Pensions etc etc and getting increasingly close to apoplexy when being told for the 50th time how important my call is and how I will be connected as soon as one of the incredibly busy operators is free, I am going to go here for a walk.
Presumably these companies installed the unbelievably irritating recorded menu systems to save time... so why does it take something like forever to get through?
Anyway, The Beach!
Formby Point to be more exact.
Some photographer or other said, "you can't have too many pictures of the beach," and he probably never spoke a truer word.
And as an added extra the salty air by the sea makes you... thirsty - and so it is not unknown for one to follow a brisk walk along the dunes with a refreshing pint or two...ahhh...
Yes, I am in Liverpool again... thanks to Ryan Air and a 1 euro-cent ticket. Yes, 0.01€ - HA!!
I think I will do some one-photo-a-day sort of things...
But first... time to quaff... right-handedly.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Ok, apart from the mug being empty and it being my left hand - oh, hang on a mo...that's what it's about...
What's not right about the picture is that it's my left hand. I realised the other night sitting in the living room, with the table to my left, that the beer does not taste right if I use my left hand to hold the mug. When I pulled up a chair to my right and used my right hand the beer tasted right again.
I have since tried this with red wine and would have tried with my Xmas whiskey but that has sadly disappeared; and the information about which hand I used to drink it with has been lost to the hazy Scotch mists of the past.
Anyway, try it... see if left or right is right or wrong.
And even if you don't notice any difference, it's a great excuse for getting pissed...
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
I love them... but they just don't love me...
As I have mentioned here and here, I love phasoulada, Greek bean soup...or the thicker version - gigandes - you get for starters.... mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!
So, along with the excellent spanakopitta T-M made yesterday I also pigged out on gigandes - and am now experiencing the consequences...
Thursday, March 20, 2008
I have read quite a lot of his books from my teens onwards and while I never really, totally liked his writing style, which I sometimes found a bit awkward and bathetic - with the exception of 2001, A Space Odyssey where I think the influence of Stanley Kubrik made a huge difference, his ideas, his visions of the future were breathtakingly imaginative and always based in a sound knowledge and understanding of the current cutting-edge of science. Sometimes I found myself enjoying the explanatory footnotes and references at the end of his books as much as the story itself!
Who has not stood in the kitchen early in the morning or late at night, taken a tub of crunchy, chocolaty, yummy ice cream out of the fridge and felt the strong urge to eat the lot?
Just happened to me - it was a tub of some American crunchy, chocolaty yumminess and I was only stopped from a pig-out by realising that the spoon I was furtively using to dig out little dollops of delight had come from a dishwasher which had not yet washed the dishes... bleeuuugh...
However, I did return some minutes later, when my coffee was ready, with a clean spoon, a teaspoon, and hewed out some very decent and well mannered chunks into a small cup and then, on an impulse, mixed in a spoonful of peanut butter.
Not in the A.C.Clarke category of great ideas... but not bad.
A couple of weeks ago I had a cold; a sort of cold; a cold from a parallel universe maybe (sorry, reading David Deutsch's The Fabric of Reality at the moment); a cold but not a cold... anyway, along with having some unusual effects, it had the standard effect on me of putting me right off coffee and black tea and making me think that peppermint tea was quite a nice drink. This, actually, is a better way to define a cold for me than the effects and symptoms - a sort of Descartian 'I like the idea of drinking peppermint tea, therefore I am sick'.
This 'not liking coffee' continued though; a couple of days, a week, a week and a half... I kept asking myself, 'you do fancy a coffee, don't you?' And the answer would be a puzzled, 'no, actually, I don't!'
Family and friends were starting to get worried about me... in hushed tones they would ask,
'has he still not had a coffee...?'
Well, I am back to liking coffee again now but the strange thing during that time was not the not drinking coffee - I simply didn't want any - but all the time there was a feeling that something was missing, that there was some sort of invisible hole in my morning routine, some sort of black hole, some sort of black coffee hole...
(Cue Zarathustra theme... daa-daa-daaaaaaaaaaaaa - da-daaaaaaaaaaa...)
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
My old laptop Lappy is old. Quite the old gentleman among laptops. He runs - or rather limps - with Windows ME; he needs a good few starts to get on his feet and sometimes I think he has something of a slipped hard disk. Any normal person would have got him a bed in a home for the computer aged.
But I have this urge to tinker and keep things going as long as they can – I hate throwing things away just because they don’t work any more (you should see my cellar).
I have been wondering for a while about maybe trying out a Linux operating system as a way to rejuvenate him; this whole Linux thing has fascinated me for a while – such a great concept – and I have been looking for a way to try it out. So, a bit of research last Friday and on Saturday I was busy getting Mandriva One downloaded. I was trying it out on my old PC which has served as a guinea pig on a few occasions. The reviews I read all said things like, ‘Mandriva is ideal for newcomers…’ ‘installed in just a few clicks’, statements which immediately make me suspicious but it was actually dead easy.
You download the OS file, around 400MB, save it on your computer, burn it onto a CD, tell the PC to start from CD-ROM, insert the CD and boot …and there you have it- a ‘live install’ which runs from the CD and doesn’t change your hard disk until and unless you want it to.
When I got my first PC back in 1999 I was a complete e-ignoramus. So much so that I thought you just switched off the PC with the switch at the back when you were finished, like a TV or a light. I remember my daughter Nicky exclaiming, ‘Daddy!!! You have to shut it down!!’ In the meantime, in my tinkery way, I think I know my way around Windows fairly well and I realised early on that you can always use the forums if you need help. Now, the good thing about Windows forums is that you get not only e-ignorami turning up but also absolute doughnuts who start threads like:
Doughnut: My PC won’t run! Can anyone help!!
Windows expert: Have you plugged it in to the power socket?
Doughnut: Oh wow! Great tip!! Now it works fine!!!
And that makes you feel better in a superior ignoramussy way.
With Linux/Mandriva I was a little bit back to those 1999 days. Gingerly feeling my way around a new environment. It has a nice feel to it definitely and you quickly realise this has been created by people who have thought problems through, which I really like.
But the forums…!
In the Linux forums they don’t say ‘have you tried plugging it in’, they all seem to come from the higher world of IT development and programming and reply with stuff like,
‘…extract ndiswrapper sources with the command tar zxvf ndiswrapper-version.tar.gz. This will create ndiswrapper-version directory. Change to that directory and run make uninstall, make Login as root and run make install…’
‘…make sure there is a link to the kernel source from the modules directory. The command ls /lib/modules/`uname -r`/build should have at least 'include' directory and '.config' file…’
This calls for a serious, ‘HUH?’
Anyway I am going to persevere. My PC has already managed to connect to the Internet via a Netgear USB adapter which I have had for years and had never worked until Mandriva came along so who knows what else I will discover.
Maybe Lappy will Linux on ME (very bad pun on ‘Lean on Me’ – no? Ok)