Sunday, December 31, 2006

And so that was Christmas

  • The sounds, the smells as the flat's very first Christmas meal is assembled ingredient by ingredient in the kitchen.
  • Classic FM's Top 30 carols playing in the background as we cook and wrap presents to take to the family on Boxing Day. Opinion of Anne-Marie Minhall being severely dented when she reveals that her favourite Christmas tune is "Sleigh Ride", or something of that ilk.
  • The Christmas pudding brandy catching fire. Eventually.
  • Five nights in a conventional double bed. Good grief those things are titchy! How does any couple with one of those things manage not to divorce on the grounds of physical incompatibility, i.e. their spouse takes up more space than a matchbox?
  • One less murdering tyrant in the world than there was a year ago. (In fact two, if you count Pinochet.)
  • "Mummy?" / "I'm not your mummy." / "Mummy?" / "I'm your Uncle Ben." / "Mummy?" / "Mummy's gone into town." / "Mummy?" / "She'll be back soon." / "Mummy?" / "I'm not your mummy ..." 21-month-old niece auditions for a part in Dr Who.
  • Wondering how the mouse traps are doing ...

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

That's my king!

Preach it, brother. Happy Christmas!

Ah well, nice idea

Cunning plan to give partially sighted great aunt an audio copy of The New World Order scuppered by not having enough blank CDs to put it on. I was thinking in terms of storage space - two CDs is quite enough to hold the sound files - versus playing time, when a typical CD won't play much more than an hour or so. So, she gets an audio copy of the wedding instead, and an IOU.

A little alarming to find that Windows Media Player has given ratings to my audio files. I didn't know Windows could critique as well as everything else.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

This comes to you from ...

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Bishop Lord Ben the Subservient of Mellow under Trollness
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

So there.

Round 2 to the ape descendants

This, children, is what you get for over reaching yourself. Once again it took the bait off one trap without setting it off.

When it came to the other trap, however ...


A little annoying that it was able to waltz past all the pollyfilla anti-meteorite foam that I carefully squirted into every available crevice I could find behind the sink unit, but so it goes.

By the way - all that stuff about the well 'ard Swedish farmer's daughter who laughs in the face of humaneness? I'm still the one who has to dispose of the body.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Round 1 to the rodents

Disconcerting to take a kitchen utensil out of the drawer and find it mouse-nibbled. Slightly more concerting to remember using the utensil within the last week and it was fine - so whenever the incursion happened, it was recent.

But even so ...

Traps were purchased and set last night. This morning the traps were still there and the bait gone. Round 1 to them. Today we purchase foam to seal up the likely point of ingress (a patch of wainscoat that seems to have been removed when the sink unit was fitted) and we reset the traps. And wait.

"Humane!" pleaded our neighbour when she heard about this. Humane, pah. She was talking to a Swedish farmer's daughter. Where Best Beloved comes from, the nice warm farmhouses at this time of year are under siege from a field of gray undulating across the landscape. You look out into the yard and you can see the mice building trebuchets and assault towers. They know this is a no-prisoners battle. Humane??

Anyway, the woman offered us the use of her cats. She wants humane, and so she hires out her furry Gestapolings? Traps are a lot more humane than anything a cat can offer.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Stationery in motion

Once upon a time I accidentally got on the mailing list of Viking Direct, and started to get annoyed by the endless series of stationery catalogues that kept arriving. Asking them to stop didn't help. Marking them as "return to sender" or even "not known" didn't help. Eventually I got to putting them in an unstamped envelope and returning them that way. Took about five minutes after that to fall off the database.

However, they do have some soul, even if they are a large corporation, as this little gem shows.

And as I'm stuck on no. 14, I would welcome any assistance.

Sometimes SFX gets it right

Their review of New World Order a couple of years ago was not one such occasion. However, the description in the latest issue of the original Tomorrow People theme as "cybernetically-enhanced whale song" is spot on.


Who needs drugs, eh?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Are you ready to WASSAIL?

The test of a good caroller, I've decided, is how many notes you think there are in "born the king of angels."

Anyway, that was fun. We carolled in the coffee lounge, mince pies were eaten, >£80 made for NSPCC.

I seem to have discovered my metier as a bass. If I possibly can then I prefer tenor, even if it comes out slightly flat (you don't notice if everyone is joining in). However, one of our number hadn't been able to join in the rehearsals due to a sore throat which has now gone; when I woke up yesterday I had a fair idea of where it had gone to. Sticking to bass seemed less likely to crack on the high notes like a fourteen-year-old. Of course, not actually being able to sight read music, my version of "bass" is the main tune sung a couple of octaves too low. But hey, it works.

We gave them the ever-cheerful Coventry Carol, 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' (with descant), 'King Jesus Hath a Garden', 'Away in a Manger' and 'O Come All ye Faithful' (also with descant). I can just about sing 'Away in a Manger' nowadays without coming out in hives. Well, you try being a five foot kid with choir training in a church of flat-voiced whispering children all at the four foot level, being made to stand out the front with the kiddies and sing the bloody thing year after year.

My editorial nature likes to pick at the inconsistencies in carols - like "Little Lord Jesus no crying he makes" versus "Tears and smiles like us he knew". My new issue is with 'King Jesus Hath a Garden'. I wasn't familiar with this one until a week ago, but take my word for it that in said garden:

" ...naught is heard
but Paradise bird
harp, dulcimer, lute
with cymbal
trump and tymbal
and the tender soothing flute."
So, naught is heard but ... and the song goes on to list eight things you can actually hear, which rather softens the impact of the naught. I can currently hear ... traffic on the road, the computer's fan, keyboard clicking, and very faint noises off from the other end of the flat. So in peaceful Paradise I can hear four more things than I currently can here.

Further, of those total eight, I just can't imagine harp and lute, two very gentle instruments, being accompanied by a cymbal and trumpet. Nor am I entirely sure what a tymbal is, apart from an obvious rhyme with cymbal that I'm coming to suspect they made up. ('Thimble' was probably tried but dropped for not making sense in the context, and they couldn't really tie it in with The Fugitive, so couldn't use Kimble either. They could have got 'nimble' in with a bit of effort.) I understand that birds of paradise have a song like a corncrake so maybe all those instruments are needed to drown the creature out, and the tender soothing flute is the musical analgesic one needs by the end of it all.

It's good to sing carols from different times with different takes on the English language. Filtering through it all helps you focus on the perennial take-home messages rather than anything cute, Victorian and snowy.

I'm all right

At Pirates of Penzance last week, we were sitting at the end of a row. Come the interval, everyone in the row slowly shuffled towards the aisle. Save the woman next to us, who ... stopped. And talked to a couple sitting in the row in front. And talked. And talked.

It was a narrow row. There was no graceful way past her, though several less graceful ways began to occur to me. I'll be charitable and assume 100% loss of peripheral vision in her right eye. Still doesn't excuse the people she was talking to, who very well could see us and could have given her a gentle nudge. In the end we clambered over the chairs into the next row.

How do people do this?

Likewise, I learnt this morning that there are people somewhere in our neighbourhood who think 4.30 a.m. is a good time for shouting "goodbye" very loudly to each other and revving car engines. Though this is a happier sound to hear at this time than "hello" because it does at least imply they are leaving the neighbourhood and soon silence shall fall once again.

We live in a world of six billion people. How how how how how are people able to blot the other 5,999,999,999 from their worldview?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Traditions and innovations

I didn't decorate at Christmas for years and years. Maybe because of childhood flashbacks to perforating my fingers with holly decked over the tops of pictures. Maybe because of laziness. Christmas 2000, my first self-employed Christmas, was when I bought my first tree, tinsel, crib ... Well, everything else in life had changed and I was spending a lot more time at home.

Christmas 2006 is our first married Christmas and hence our first opportunity to combine resources. Which tree do we keep? Which crib? Where do we put the cards? Tinsel? Etc?

(We can answer at least the tree one - the small one goes in the living room, the large one goes in the Boy's room because, well, it can.)

Not to mention this little chappy on the left. You've all seen the kind of thing - candles create an updraft which revolves the decoration, in this case cherubs dangling metal bits which chime against bells every 360 degrees (slow speed) or 180 degrees (faster speed when the metal bits incline slightly more outwards). Either way it produces an irregular ching ... ching ... (silence) ... ching ... that can be compared to Yuletide water torture, but hey, it's festive. It also casts an exciting time/space continuinuinuinum effect on the ceiling.

Another Christmas tradition we have developed over the last couple of years is the Kennington United Choirs Gilbert & Sullivan production, this year Pirates of Penzance. These are more recitals than performances - the performers use the barest minimum of props, stand up at the front of Kennington Methodist church and do the show. All much more fun than a regular production. Grey hair is a noticeable feature, and as G&S scripts tend to emphasise the virileness of the young heroes and the maidenity of the young heroines, seeing them played by people for whom being of a certain age is but a distant memory (and sent up for laughs) just adds to the enjoyment.

And - who knows? - yet another Christmas tradition may have been generated this morning with a churchful of people chanting out a carol to the tune of Queen's "We will rock you", clapping and stamping out the rhythm. Much more fun than po-faced "Once in royal David's city". But I doubt the organisers of Carols at Kings will be using it in the near future. Their loss.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Something for the weekend # 3: Best White Christmas ever

Something for the weekend # 2: Jack Black in Lord of the Rings

Something for the weekend # 1: Bush bumper stickers

Acknowledgement made to the unsung geniuses circulating these by e-mail and posting on sites.
  • Is It Vietnam Yet?
  • That’s OK, I Wasn’t Using My Civil Liberties Anyway.
  • Bush. Like a Rock. Only Dumber.
  • Let’s Fix Democracy in This Country First.
  • If You Want a Nation Ruled By Religion, Move to Iran.
  • If You Can Read This, You’re Not the President.
  • Of Course It Hurts: You’re Getting Screwed by an Elephant.
  • George Bush: Creating the Terrorists Our Kids Will Have to Fight.
  • (over a photo of Bush) Electile Dysfunction.
  • America: One Nation, Under Surveillance.
  • They Call Him “W” So He Can’t Misspell It.
  • Which God Do You Kill For?
  • Jail to the Chief.
  • No, Seriously, Why Did We Invade Iraq?
  • Bush: God’s Way of Proving Intelligent Design is Full of Crap.
  • Bad President! No Banana.
  • We Need a President Who’s Fluent In At Least One Language.
  • We’re Making Enemies Faster Than We Can Kill Them.
  • Guess What? Bush Doesn’t Care About Poor White People, Either.
  • When Bush Took Office, Gas Was $1.46.
  • The Republican Party: Our Bridge to the 11th Century.
  • What Part of “Bush Lied” Don’t You Understand?
  • Bush Lost Iraq. Deal With It.
  • Even Nixon Resigned
  • Republicans for Voldemort.
  • Who Would Jesus Torture?
  • Would Someone Give Him A Blowjob So We Can Impeach Him Already?
  • IRAQ: Arabic for Vietnam.
  • Give Bush an Inch and He Thinks He’s a Ruler.
  • Bring Back Monica Lewinsky.
  • My Country Invaded Iraq and All I Got Was This Expensive Gas.
  • If He Were My Bush I’d Shave Him Off.
  • My Kid’s an Honor Student and My President’s a Moron.
  • My Other President Was Elected.
  • When Jesus Said Love Your Enemies, I’m Pretty Sure He Meant Don’t Kill Them.
  • When Clinton Lied, Nobody Died.
  • Vampire Slayers Against Bush.
  • PBS Mind In a Fox News World.
  • I Never Thought I’d Miss Nixon.
  • Re-elect Jeb Bartlett.


Ted is sixteen years old, a little above medium height, brown eyes, blond-brown hair that he likes to spike. He lives in Salisbury. He is the oldest of three siblings and feels very protective towards the younger two, especially as his brother (the middle of the three) is a full-time resident of the paediatric unit at hospital. His stepfather is a conveyancing solicitor and the two do not get on. He left school after his GCSEs and is spending the summer working in an antiquarian bookshop before doing his A-levels at college. He also has various other issues that I won't go into here. Have you worked out that he's a character in a book yet?

The one problem I have with Ted is ... his name. Sometimes a character goes through several renamings before I hit on the right one. Sometimes I just know what that character's name is, and this one's is Ted, though I couldn't tell you if it's short for Edward or Theodore; probably the former as he's English.

But ...

I'm 13,000 words in to the next book and the number of times I've already had to work around "Ted said" or "said Ted" is getting silly. (Or in one case, "Ted lay on his bed with his hands behind his head.") It's also surprising how often he says said something else that rhymes with his name: thus (e.g.) "'it's red,' said Ted."

I could use synonyms for "said", but while I don't mind doing that occasionally, "said" remains the best word because it is so unobtrusive. The reader's eye glides over it and gets on with the narrative. You can have "answered," "responded", "shouted", "laughed" ... but use them sparingly. (Especially "ejaculated", which technically would work but is more generally taken to mean something else. And it's not that kind of novel.) Ted can't be the only character to get through the novel without ever just saying something.

The other obvious answer is to rename him, but as I've said, Ted (there I go again) is Ted. In my head. You'd think there's lots of boy's names available, but ... I don't like to use the names of people I know reasonably well. I'm not going to use the names of males of any age to whom I'm related. And other names just don't seem to work.

I once knew a Greg(ory), so called because his mother fancied the actor Mr Peck around the time of his birth. The double glazing salesman from hell that I used to live beneath had been named after Roger Moore's character from The Persuaders (seriously - his first and middle names were Brett Sinclair). Ted would have been born in 1990, so who was famous and fanciable then? Gary Lineker? Hmm, a possibility. But of course, the book won't be published for at least three or more years, so maybe I should look at 1993 or later.

Now I think of it, Gary is growing on me, as it were ... damn! I know one!

Ian? Hmm. Don't know where that came from. Knew an Ian at university, haven't seen much of him since ... Ian ... hmm.

Still not Ted, though.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Further thoughts of Ha!Ha!

I've always felt that pubs etc that insist on putting mint and condom vending machines side by side in the gents are asking for trouble. Ha!Ha! goes one step further and sells mints and condoms from the same machine. Which is really playing with fire.

"Well, love, I got us ... um ... uh ... some really nice mints."

It also amuses me that one of these products is labelled "easy on". As opposed to ...?

Ha!Ha! said the clown

The one time I've been done by a speed camera was driving down Botley Road, so being on the same stretch last night I stuck religiously to the limit. Which made it unnerving and annoying to be overtaken on the inside by the Seacourt park-and-ride in the bus lane.

Anyway, to Oxford last night for the first of two divisional Christmas dinners (the advantage of working for two divisions!) at the oddly named Ha!Ha! in what was formerly Oxford Jail/Castle. And all I can say is wow. They've done the place up nice - where once men toiled and groaned in captivity we now have a secluded, swish looking precinct full of trendy wine bars and expensive apartments that could actually make me want to live in the centre of Oxford ... if I was very rich. I could actually feel like a thrusting dynamic IT professional out on the town with colleagues rather than a jobbing editor slumming it in a day job until the phone call from Spielberg.

Ha!Ha! has nice food, reasonably priced, good service, high quality crackers with useful key rings and facts rather than corny jokes, music maybe a bit too loud. And the interesting feature on the left - a bowl of gas fire. My one suggestion would be that they turn the external lights on. You can take the dark, secluded look a bit too far - I only found it eventually on the second circumnavigation of the castle. Though the first circumnavigation was very instructive.

We also popped into Malmaison just to gawk - that's the hotel and restaurant in what was once the main jail building. You too can spend the night in what was a jail cell! And though this also looks very swish, with thick carpets and indirect hidden lighting ... by 'eck, you want to obey the law.

Nor was I the only one thinking of Noel Coward's last scene in The Italian Job.

Next week, Le Bistro Celte in Abingdon ...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Carols to cut your wrists to

A small group from work congregated last night to rehearse some carols that will be performed in the coffee lounge some lunchtime next week. I thought it might be fun - I haven't done organised carols since I was in the choir at school - and it was, even though for the first time I actually looked at the words of the Coventry Carol.

Sometimes I wish I was Jewish just so I could express it properly. Oy vey! The first hint is the cheery note at the bottom of the score: "This song is sung by the women of Bethlehem in the play, just before Herod's soldiers come in to slaughter their children." It's the ultimate lullaby. The women have obviously heard what's on the cards, and rather than flee they seem to have decided to hang around Bethlehem and see what happens. Though they already have a pretty good idea. Little donkeys and sweet singing in the choir this ain't.

Since what happened in Bethlehem once happens in places like Darfur every day, something like the Coventry Carol should be sung in every carol service. You know, just to keep us grounded.

The descendants of whoever wrote it went on to form Pink Floyd.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Windows crash

A year ago, the Buncefield explosion rattled the windows. To mark the anniversary, one of them decided to end it all and plunge to a horrible death on the driveway below. A loud crack at about 11.15 last night, followed a moment later by a distant tinkle. The pane had just snapped. Fortunately three quarters of it are still in situ, including the slightly dodgy bit we had always pegged as most likely to be the first to go. Strange.

Ever tried picking up bits of glass lying on dark tarmac by torchlight with gardening gloves?

Now, what do you do when you have a broken pane of glass in a window that goes up and down, but doesn't swing in or out, and it's thirty feet up off the ground, impossible to repair without scaffolding which will cost a lot of money? Exactly. You plug the hole and wait until the good weather next year when we were getting the frames restored anyway. Like all flaws with windows, we have relabelled our new-look not-very-see-through cardboard window pane as a feature.

Clerihew Corner

Augusto Pinochet
Had a peculiar way
Of safeguarding all we hold dear about western civilisation
By subjecting dissidents to torture and extermination.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Just got back from London City

Just got back from the 2006 Random House Children's Books Christmas Party, my annual excuse to brag that I get invited to the same parties as Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett. (Though if Pterry was there this year I didn't see him.) No interesting overheard conversations this year, though. And even though we were in the same city as the tornado, we didn't see any of that either. At the time of the really foul weather we were sheltering in a Pret in Baker Street, mournful sax solos playing at the back of my mind as they always do when I'm in that part of town.

Best Beloved came to London too to get biometricated at the embassy for a new passport; then we wandered down Park Lane, she went off to express herself through the medium of retail, I popped into Apsley House with an hour to kill and then onwards in the direction of Berkeley Square to drink wine and eat nibbles. Though there seemed to be a zone around me that only attracted wine waiters and repulsed nibble-bearers.

The things that occur to you on the coach. It suddenly struck me on the way in that World War 2 was a great shame. There are some fantastic examples of 1930s architecture on the A40 into town. The Hoover Building is a particular favourite. The way is also lined with 1930s semis, all larger and nicer looking than many of their modern contemporaries with the same number of rooms. The thirties was a time when we had shaken off WW1 and were finally getting the hang of being comfortably modern in the twentieth century. Then along comes WW2 and condemns us all to decades of post-war austerity and a penny pinching meanness of spirit that still lingers.

Of course, there are other reasons why many people disapproved of WW2 and my gripe is a long way down the list. Still, I offer it for consideration.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Eat your heart out, Indiana Jones

Ben the amateur archaeologist has been doing some not very difficult archaeologing. I've known about all these disparate elements at the place that I work for some time but for some reason they all fell into place today.

For a start, I knew that the entire Harwell site used to be RAF Harwell, a bomber field during WW2. Then ...

This monument is right at the edge of the site, next to the A4185 shortly before it joins the A34. On the other side is this plaque:

Just in case your graphics aren't up to it, it reads:
"This stone marks the end of the runway from which aircraft of No. 38 Group, Royal Air Force, took off on the night of 5th June 1944 with troops of the 6th Airborne Division who were the first British soldiers to land in Normandy in the main assault for the liberation of Europe."
(A quick note: I've also been to where the 6th Airborne Division was heading - Pegasus Bridge, in Normandy, the first bit of Europe to be liberated. So I've been to both ends of the flight.)

Turn 180 degrees from the monument and you see this:

The end of the historic runway in question - now just wasteland. You can just make out the curve of the Diamond Light Source doughnut halfway down. Note also the crane sticking up at a 45 degree angle, for reasons I will come to.

In the picture below you can just make out the runways of RAF Harwell, courtesy of Google Maps (picture obviously taken a couple of years ago, hence Diamond being a big circular patch of mud).

Letters (a) and (b) show the two ends of what was presumably the main runway, now Fermi Avenue. (c) and (d) are the two ends of the historic runway; the monument is at (d). And this is why it has attracted my interest because here is a close-up of (c), the start of the historic runway:

... right at the end of our carpark. I've been parking yards away from a bit of history for the last 2.5 years and I had no idea. The crane mentioned above is being used to construct the building shown here. That's how we treat our heritage.

Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy

From somewhere, the Boy got the bare bones of the chorus of that 1970s slice of uberkäse, C.W. McCall's Convoy. To stop him mangling it any further we did some web searching and found this Sims-like video on Youtube. Ah, the memories brought back.

If you want to know what on earth he's saying, it's here. And what it means, here.

If "Mercy sakes alive" was the strongest way your average trucker had of expressing himself, the world might be a slightly nicer place.

There was of course the spoof soon after - Convoy G.B. by Laurie Lingo (ooh, I just got that!), which is actually quite funny (unlike most parodies). Lyrics and a downloadable MP3 here, though you need to listen to the original first to know why something like this amuses me:
"The combine harvester shred a wheel,
And the driver lost control.
And a mobile DJ crashed his van,
So we ain't gonna play no Soul, 10 - 4."

Party like it's 1983

The rules:
1. Go to, and find the greatest hits for the year you turned 18. Which in my case was 1983.
2. Select at least the first 40.
3. Bold the ones you like.
4. Strike out the ones you hate.
5. Italicize the ones you are familiar with but neither like nor hate.
6. Leave plain the ones you don't recognize.

And the totally pointless answers are:

1. It's Raining Men - The Weather Girls
2. Come On Eileen - Dexy's Midnight Runners
3. Flashdance (What A Feeling) - Irene Cara
4. Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
5. Wanna Be Starting Something - Michael Jackson
6. You and I - Eddie Rabbitt and Crystal Gayle
7. Rock The Casbah - The Clash
8. Bang The Drum All Day - Todd Rundgren
9. Ain't Nobody - Rufus and Chaka Khan
10. Kiss The Bride - Elton John
11. Electric Avenue - Eddie Grant
12. Seperate Ways (Worlds Apart) - Journey
13. Let's Go Dancin' (Ooh La, la, La) - Kool and the Gang [but I suspect I would strike it if I heard it.]
14. We've Got Tonight - Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton
15. 1999 - Prince
16. Rio - Duran Duran
17. Sexual Healing - Marvin Gaye
18. New Year's Day - U2
19. Beat It - Michael Jackson
20. I Melt With You - Modern English
21. Down Under - Men At Work
22. Candy Girl - New Edition
23. Do You Really Want To Hurt Me - Culture Club [strike strike strike strike strike. George, don't ask such leading questions.]
24. Pass The Dutchie - Musical Youth
25. Faithfully - Journey
26. Rock of Ages - Def Leppard
27. Tonight I Celebrate My Love - Peabro Bryson & Roberta Flack
28. True - Spandau Ballet
29. Inside Love (So Personal) - George Benson
30. All Night Long (All Night) - Lionel Ritchie
31. Safety Dance - Men Without Hats
32. Little Red Corvette - Prince
33. Our House - Madness
34. Tell Her About It - Billy Joel
35. Mornin' - Al Jarreau
36. Total Eclipse of the Heart - Bonnie Tyler [And bold many times over]
37. Boogie Down - Al Jarreau
38. Sharp Dressed Man - ZZ Top
39. Photograph - Def Leppard
40. Mr. Roboto - Styx

Friday, December 01, 2006

On the matte

Very exciting - the glossy has arrived. This is a brochure advertising a new service and it has had a gestation period as swift and carefree as a breech-born baby elephant. It has gone from a six page fold-out to a four page; the content has been revised more often than the source code for Outlook, and that was after the official editorial sign-off. But it's here and that's what counts.

Just one thing to lead to confusion has been that we constantly refer to it as "the glossy". In actual fact it is not gloss but the exact opposite, matte laminate, meaning it has a very appealing silky smooth moleskin feel. But we can't call it the mattie because that sounds silly, dunnit?