Showing posts from 2018

Gardening: a warning from nature

A friend of mine who is a gardener was bemoaning his workload to me and wondering how he was going to cope with the demands of the coming days. I mentioned that I was currently at something of a loose end and I could just about tell one end of a spade from the other (I would google it as soon as I got home) and he, perhaps rather foolishly, agreed to offer me some casual work. As a result of this chance meeting I appear to have become a gardener. Now when I use the title 'gardener', this suggests that I have some deep knowledge of greenery and a profound understanding of the land around me, which I do not.  I use this term to describe myself purely because I have done some gardening and therefore I can claim it in good faith. I have got the weals, bites and cuts to justify the title even if I remain a complete amateur.  I have cut stuff back, I have deadheaded roses, I have dug up roots, I have removed ivy, I have tussled with a bush whose name even now escapes me but it b

Dig out your misplaced optimism, England, it's the World Cup!

It's here again, the four yearly exercise in ambition, dreams, angst and eventual failure for anybody who takes an interest in English football.  I am a fairly poor fan, a former season ticket holder at Oxford United who nowadays seldom gets to a match but who talks a good game when required to in the pub and who follows their results with increasing surprise as they've turned into quite a formidable team.  The now obligatory affection for my team aside, as a resident of the central, south and eastern part of this island I am, of course, also a long-suffering follower of the most mercurial, frustrating, exhilarating team in the world,  the stuttering, infuriating but occasionally brilliant England. And it hurts. It hurts because England won the World Cup once. Because England have all the elements in place to be successful again: an established league system, a bunch of over-promoted, overpaid but also overly talented players, a football association equipped with the resour

Quiche rating for beginners.

My wife came into the front room brandishing a quiche which she held in front of me, declaring: "Look at that. That's a corker of a quiche, that is!" Now, don't get me wrong, it was clearly a very nice quiche - very colourful and clearly so full of healthy stuff that the loo is audibly quivering in anticipation - but how do you comment on that? How do you compare one quiche to another? I suppose there are some quiches which are poorly turned out. Should a feta quiche be inflicted upon you by someone who hates you, it will invariably be white, powdery and disappointing.  A Quiche Lorraine can be woefully devoid of bacon and thus ill-deserving the moniker. By contrast, a quiche may be too busy, as indeed my wife's chosen one was. It may taste wonderful but it may also just taste of loads of things which don't quite agree with each other. I don't know because I had already had my lunch. Plus, I can take or leave a quiche. I wonder if quiche rating is a

Bittersweet victory

Waking up after election day always brings out mixed emotions for a Lib Dem.  We are conditioned to suffer, being in a small party which is perennially, depressingly squeezed between the two lumbering elephants of the Red-Blue coalition.   Our gains are normally moderate, our losses always seem worse but when those gains come they are the greatest of moments.   It is therefore such a joyous experience to have woken up this morning to see some really rather impressive results across England. Having been hammered in 2015, the Lib Dems have been fighting for survival.  That crushing defeat had one amazing outcome: membership of the party more than doubled within days as people angry at our treatment by the Reds and Blues decided to join up. This new membership effectively saved the Lib Dems and it has been so wonderful to see these new members falling into step next to those of us who've been  suffering  campaigning for decades.  What is so inspiring is that those thousands and th

A day out in Gloucestershire

For Mother’s Day, we (‘we’!) decided to visit a local National Trust property, a deer coursing lodge just over the border in Gloucestershire. The lodge was built in the 17th century for a clearly hideously rich man so that he could entertain guests with this sport, apparently a precursor to horse racing, being quite simply an opportunity to bet on one of two dogs chasing the unfortunate deer for a mile down a narrowing field. Interestingly, I learned that the deer usually survived, doubtless to be put through the same trauma again although on occasion it would become that evening’s dinner. The lodge was typically grand, kind of like a portable stately home with massive fireplaces, high ceilings and the kind of repulsive portraiture so beloved of monied people of old.  I once worked for an organisation which held meetings in a fancy chamber which had two vast Gainsboroughs displayed, allowing me ample time to peruse them and to conclude that they really were atrocious, with tin

It's snowing! Head for the hills!

Apparently, it's winter, or at least it was once.  Now, we can't just have 'winter': we have to have 'The Beast from the East' (cold weather from Siberia) or 'Snowmageddon' (a bit of snow).  My favourite is 'Thundersnow', a brilliant name for snow with, er, thunder. So, that's cold, wind, snow, gloom. Winter, then. Now, there is no doubt that things have improved for most of us with better information and warnings available - not that anyopne heeds them.  People often have more understanding employers, there are better road clearances and preparations are usually made to deal with extreme weather.  The trains are all up the Swanney but that's normal: a spot of rain stops them on their tracks. What is depressing is how each winter - for that is what it is - gets more and more apocalyptic in tone, with blood-curdling threats issued by weather people and police - DO NOT TRAVEL!  This is generally good advice and things would be signifi

If the suit fits...

The need to wear a suit after a fair while once again arose this morning so I dutifully unloaded the old stager from the wardrobe and put it on.  I'll be honest, it was a bit of a struggle.  This is odd because all my other very ancient clothes fit fine.  I persevered with the waist hooks (it's a formal trouser thing, ladies) until they snapped into place, leaving me gasping for breath, feeling like I was enacting a period drama and for some reason had been sent to the female costume department for the most 'Keira Knightley' of corsets.  Mercifully, the jacket was a little more forgiving - it seems my neglect of those pecs and abs has paid off - so I ended up suited and booted. I trooped off to meet with people whom I sought to convince that I was the absolute fulcrum around which their operation should turn, we chatted for some time and eventually we all parted as friends. Whether 'friends' will translate into 'colleagues' I could not say but there we

Parenthood, part 94

The boy was bemoaning the fact that he can never be a rock star. His mother pointed out gently that, at 16, he still had time. His perfect teen response - shouted in truculent exasperation, naturally: "I can't because you have to start learning to play the guitar at three! You lot decided I should do musical theatre instead!" His mother noted that he never said he wanted to play the guitar, to which the now beetroot-faced boy retorted: "There was no point in my life at which I said I wanted to sing and dance!" He has a point.

I always do

Our local radio has started to play 'Always look on the bright side of life' quite regularly. This is very definitely A Good Thing. Hearing it played so often - and joining in with gusto every time, naturally - has made me reflect that it would make a truly brilliant national anthem, replacing the dirge we have. Imagine our Olympians standing on the podium, whistling away with a grin, or our footballers lining up before the start of a match, waiting for the end of some grand South American 'we-are-absolutely-brilliant-and-we-won-a-war-in-1857' anthem, then being able to sing along with Eric Idle in a jolly, self-deprecatory way. Schoolchildren would have no problem at all with the words.  They'd love it!  There's even a tiny sweary bit which they could all giggle over as they didn't sing it. And (with a nod to Billy Connolly, who suggested the Archers' Theme for similar reasons) imagine if you were an immigrant and you became British? Yo

There's something in the water...

The swimming pool was eerily quiet today as I went in to try to fend off my inevitable end for a few more minutes. Before getting the usual third degree burns in the shower, I decided to put my head round the changing room wall to see what was occuring. The pool was indeed closed, I discovered. Turns out someone had done a poo in it. Amusement quickly turned to revulsion and then appreciation as the leisure centre team undertook the full ET - scrubbing, sluicing, rinsing and testing. The supervisor was clearly in his element, proudly telling me that they had added the right amount of chlorine and tested the water to check it was okay and that the pool would be open in two minutes. I responded frivolously that he wasn't really selling the experience, to which I got the full jobsworth response, "I am merely giving you the facts, sir". And so he was. I bet he's been on a course. They clearly did a good job because I survived

Birds do it...all over me

As I took the bins out today, I felt something land on my head. I looked up and there above me on the telephone wire was a tiny bird doing that cute stuff they do when Countryfile is in the area. Naturally, I shared some of my best Anglo-Saxon with it - and, unfortunately, with the neighbours - before trooping in to the house to clean myself up. The bird flew off, doubtless very pleased with itself. 'How is this good?', you ask, 'A bird has crapped on your head!' Well, here's the thing: when I checked in the mirror, it turns out the little sprite had not shared the processed remains of yesterday's fatball curry with me: it had merely shaken off some water. So having thought that I had been s**t on from a great height, it turns out to have been nothing of the sort. The other part of this fortuitous turn of events is that only the other evening on QI they had mentioned that birds don't have bladders so they don't wee (the wei

First they came for the Digestives, and I said nothing...

I try not to be political on this outlet for my inner angst but news received this week quite literally takes the biscuit.  It was announced this week that, as a consequence of the collective national psychosis that is Brexit and the resultant economic shock the country has experienced, from now on there will be seven fewer Digestive biscuits in a pack.  Seven. Seven daggers to the heart, more like. The Digestive is an icon of Britain. Together with its slightly more austere cousin, the straightforward yet magisterial Rich Tea, the Digestive represents our country and our culture in a way that no mere flag, anthem, mildly aggravated tut or curry (still the national dish of choice) could.   It could very easily be asserted that the Digestive IS Britain. If you strip away all the vestiges of a state such as the government, the army, the Royal Family or any number of ‘top down’ impositions, what makes a country is what people do, what they eat, where they buy their loo r