Wednesday, February 27, 2008

An earthquake is erupting but not on the A415

Woke up a little before 1 last night, absolutely convinced that the bed was shaking, and in the dark across the room I distinctly heard something fall over. Lay awake for a while.

No car alarms, no dogs barking, no sign of civil unrest or discord, no sound of anything else in the house falling over, Best Beloved still fast asleep. Decided I must have been imagining it - there was no earthquake.

Except that apparently there was.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Your children are gone and who can blame them

We all know from our nursery rhymes that being a ladybird carries certain lifestyle risks. I can now reveal where all Mrs Ladybird's children went when her home burnt down.

They moved in with us.

The first hint came before Christmas when the Boy opened one of the sash windows in his room and about 50 ladybirds fell out. Apparently that's how they get through the winters – they cluster together in a nice, secluded spot where they're unlikely to be disturbed. (Which in the case of the Boy's windows is a pretty safe bet; they weren't to know he was down to his last oxygen molecule and we’re pretty fussy about that sort of thing.) I’m afraid we weren’t the most hospitable of hosts.

But since then they've been everywhere and we must have got through a couple hundred more, no exaggeration. Every morning we would open the curtains and find a dozen or so crawling over the frames. Ladybirds on their own present no problems and they're great for eating aphids, apparently. But when they crash land on your computer as you type, or in your ear as you sleep, or your food as you eat, or your hair as you … hell, as you anything – that's another matter. A couple of weeks ago patience ran out and I treated them to my own little atrocity with a can of Raid. Since then their numbers have been down to manageable levels – one or two every one or two days.

And today a new variable has entered the equation. In the hall on the way to breakfast I found what I thought at first was the remains of a ladybird suicide pact – three of the little critters lying close together. Then I thought maybe it was a ladybird freefall stunt team all with a simultaneous equipment failure. In fact it turned out to be just one ladybird, lying dead between its two separated wing cases.

I could only find one explanation. This ladybird had exploded in midair. Either al-Qaeda are getting really vindictive or there’s a new predator on the range. A night fighter, radar equipped, that closes in along invisible beams and takes them down with a quick burst of the 20mm Hispanos.

It’s evolution, I tell you. Nature always finds a way.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I once had a meal, or should I say, it once had me

Think of everything you would normally associate with a greasy spoon cafe. Fried everything. Formica tabletops pretending to be tiled. Tatty wipe-clean menus. Questionable hygiene.

Now, throw out all the bad preconceptions and what's left is ...

... Norwegian Wood, Glen Fern Road, Bournemouth, which for some reason chooses to call itself a coffee lounge. I'm coining a new phrase: it's a greasy spoon without the grease. It's a grease-free spoon.

The food is cheap, plentiful and good. Apparently the Boy's father liked to eat there and I can see why. Yes, most of what's on offer is fried, but it's not swimming in fat; the place also does jacket potatoes and all that; and it even caters for veggies. Not that any of that had any bearing on my cheese and ham omelette with chips. Or my knickerbocker glory.

It's clean and pleasant inside; the staff are friendly; and instead of the fake formica it goes in for wood. Real, honest to God rough hewn wood (which sits strangely next to the plastic chairs).

In short, should you be passing through Bournemouth and feeling like a cheap and cheerful bite, this is the place.

As is hinted by the name of the place, they're into the Beatles ... The walls are lined with them. Photos. Pictures. Paintings. Paintings and pictures of photos. And so on. Also one, strangely, of David Bowie - I didn't ask why. Maybe he ate there.

End restaurant review, commence concluding thought.

Today would have been the Boy's father's birthday so were down in Bournemouth to view and sit ceremonially on his memorial bench at the crematorium, and conduct sundry other business. By "we" I mean me (the driver), Best Beloved and Ex Mother in Law in Law. The Boy decided he had had enough and stayed away ... which was disappointing for the others but to my surprise I told them I found I was on his side. He saw his dad's ashes being scattered and as far as he's concerned it's time to move on rather than revisit old scenes. As would I, I think. When my parents go - and given that they occasionally read this blog, I suppose this counts as due notice - I will pay attention to the proceedings up to and including scattering the ashes, but after that life will continue. If they want memorials, they'll need to provide instructions and an appropriate sum of money. I will also expect nothing more of my own bereaved when my turn comes.

Just so you know!

Can you say "mindless marketing mantra"?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pardon the convenience

When we moved into the new building last year, many of us were quick to spot the potential hazard of the toilet cubicle door that opened out rather than in, to the detriment of any man standing with his back to it at the time. Which, given the function of the room and what's on the wall facing the cubicle doors, is quite often. This was apparently in compliance with disability access legislation.

Nearly a year later, in deference to the number of men who stand and deliver (quite a few) vs the number of wheelchair users (0), and the fact that we already have a toilet fully equipped for people with disabilities that would be much easier for a wheelchair user to get into, and after much thumping and grinding that closed the toilets on each floor for a day, the doors have been reversed. All doors now open inwards and the men can breathe two sighs of relief.

Well, that's one cubicle I don't intend to use. The new lock looks flimsy. There are people in this high-tech, forward-looking company who can't master the subtlety of the little red square that appears when the door is locked, and test for occupancy with a good hard thump. I have established under controlled conditions that a good hard thump will open the door even if the flimsy lock is engaged. The other cubicle is Fort Knox by comparison.

This is probably way too much information for any of my regular readers but you never know, the facilities manager may come across it and save me the embarrassment of reporting my findings formally.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Modern Maintenance

Honestly, someone should do something about this crack at the heart of a major London tourist attraction. No wonder there's nothing else in the Turbine Hall - it's obviously unsafe to hold any heavy works of art. If it wasn't lined with tourists gawking at it then someone could fall in. (Apparently someone did ...)

Okay, okay, it's Art. Specifically it's Shibboleth by Doris Sacado. As cracks go I suppose it's quite clever, in engineering terms. I'm guessing a vertical trench was dug in the floor with power tools and this was then lined with a contoured mould to suggest that it had just cracked open. It looks like it just cracked open, with bits sticking out there and there so that sometimes you can't see the bottom, though it's only a few inches deep.

So, I have more admiration for this than I have for Tracey Emin's unmade bed, but that's not really an informative statement. Is it Art? I will admit that you can stand and look at it, and your mind goes into neutral, and strange neural connections occur, so on that basis it probably is. It might even be more Art than some of the pictures upstairs in the gallery. "If I did that for my GCSE," scoffed our resident GCSE Art student of a Mark Rothko, "I'd fail."

I thought I had taken a photo of the Boy's feet, one either side of the crack, which would doubtless make a profound artistic statement to the right kind of mind - but my camera seems to have rejected it. Everyone's a critic.

Monday, February 18, 2008

I had a dream

I was staying at the house of Eric van Lustbader* and we were discussing The Amber Spyglass, which I was re-reading** with about 30 pages to go. We agreed it was a disappointing end to the trilogy: his words (in the dream) were "it was a good marriage ceremony but the nuptials were disappointing."

Then, through the window, I saw two people from church,*** who were looking for me because it's a school day and that's where I was meant to be. Then I woke up.



* This is not a man I have ever met, seen or I think read, but I would say he was in his thirties with a sort of seventies cut.

** I really was re-reading it with about 30 pages to go. Finished it this morning.

*** Adrian C and David W. The David W who has a teenage son, not the unrelated David different-W who is a teenage son.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Separated at birth ...

... and brought together by the news. Steven and Rowan. Who knew?

Steven from Los Angeles

Rowan from Canterbury

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Different demographics

The Classic FM lead news story at 8.20 this morning while driving into work: "British relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks have welcomed the American government's statement that it will execute six men accused of planning the attacks if they are found guilty."

The Radio 2 lead news story at 8.30 this morning while just pulling into work: "Human rights groups have criticised the American government etc."

I don't know if this different outlook illustrates a fundamental dichotomy between classical music and easy listening, or even just between listeners to Simon Bates and Terry Wogan. There's probably a PhD in there somewhere.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Moving pictures

Without in anyway compromising my fundamental view that animated websites are the veriest spawn of the Dark One, may I nonetheless say that is quite cool.

For demon-spawn, anyway.

Make a fortune

Happy Chinese New Year! A little belated as apparently it was last week, but our resident Chinese co-workers only got round to handing out fortune cookies to everyone today.

My fortune:
"Prepare yourself for the future
Tomorrow will become the future"
I'd have said the future will become tomorrow, myself, but what do I know.

My manager's fortune is a little less mystical:
"Help, I'm stuck in a fortune cookie factory."
Long-term readers will of course recall that I am a snake dominated by wood and a seducer of human beings. Check out your own Chinese nature here.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

For a given value of ...

Midnight: Ben discovers Boy in living room, watching a muted TV, long after he should have been in bed. Throws him out in a stern and masterful manner.

Morning: Ben reports this fact to Best Beloved.

BB: "Was he up reading?"

Ben: "Well, technically ... he had the subtitles on ..."

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

If you control the givens, you can win any argument

A quote from Frank Herbert, apparently. I thought of calling this "Sometimes atheists make it too easy" but that itself would be too easy; as is the "test" below which, masquerading as something vaguely scientific, presents you with highly loaded yes/no questions, indicating even less awareness of Christianity and the real world than is displayed by your average Creationist, to determine your God Delusion Index. May I credit Ship of Fools for guiding me to this.

It finishes "with respect to Richard Dawkins", but I think he would want to disassociate himself as firmly as possible.

For the record, I scored 795 out of a possible 100,009,995 which puts me in the 500-1995 range: "highly deluded". The permitted ranges are: 0-45 normal; 50-95 mildly deluded; 100-495 moderately deluded; 500-1995 highly deluded (hello!); 2000-9995 profoundly deluded; and 10,000+ batshit crazy.

The one thing sadder than the atheist idiot that created this is the Christian idiot who posted it on YouTube, with the comment: "A STUPID video that I found -- a quiz that supposedly measures how deluded by religion you are. I'm glad this hateful moron won't be spending the next trillion years in heaven with Jesus and me!"

Timed nicely

You are breakfasty, like a pile of pancakes on a Sunday morning that have just the right amount of syrup, so every bite is sweet perfection and not a soppy mess. You are a glass of orange juice that's cool, refreshing, and not overly pulpy. You are the time of day that's just right for turning the pages of a newspaper, flipping through channels, or clicking around online to get a sense of how the world changed during the night. You don't want to stumble sleepily through life, so you make a real effort to wake your brain up and get it thinking. You feel inspired to accomplish things (whether it's checking something off your to-do list or changing the world), but there's plenty of time for making things happen later in the day. First, pancakes.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Occasional recipes: Beef with broccoli

This one, with astonishing ingenuity, is essentially beef with broccoli, though you'd never guess it behind the impenetrable title.

From The Cook's Recipe Collection:
  • 460g rump steak
  • 8 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 2 tsp sherry
  • 225g broccoli
  • 1" root ginger, freshly peeled
  • 6 tbsp oil
  • salt & pepper
Trim any fat from the meat and cut into thin strips along the grain.

Combine the meat with the soy sauce, cornflour, sherry and sugar.

Trim the broccoli into florets. Slice the ginger into thin slices.

Stir fry the broccoli until dark green, for a max. of 2 minutes, sprinkling with salt beforehand (it says, though I neglected the salt and it tasted fine). Set aside.

Stir fry the ginger and beef mixture for about 2 minutes. Return the broccoli to the mix, heat through for about 30 seconds and serve. Which in our case was on a bed of couscous but could be with noodles or whatever takes your fancy.

Preparation takes about 25 mins, cooking takes about five. Peasy!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Three epiphanies at Purification

I've mentioned the convent before in these pages, and Best Beloved's association with it, if you have a long memory. Today, as you're doubtless aware, is Candlemas and neither of us were at work, so back we went.

Even though it's an Anglican institution it is way higher than what I'm used to. If I'm the Chilterns, this is at least the Alps. We gathered in the vestibule outside the chapel, each of us clutching a candle. We processed in by candlelight, the nuns chant the Nunc Dimittis with the refrain "A light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel" in a key that would stun a passing bat. Censor, incense, the works.

At one point the officiating priest processed down the aisle with a Bible held over his head in both hands, as if he was about to swat a particularly nasty fly sitting on the lectern. I've always been very leery of anything that seems to treat the Bible as a holy object - it's paper, it's a book, it's about as holy as His Majesty's Starship, though considerably more useful - but I suddenly realised, "wow." In my church you're never more than three feet from a Bible. This habit was a relic of the days when your church's Bible was the nearest one for miles. It wasn't just the word of God, it was your only copy of the word of God. Of course they treated it with a bit more reverence. And that made me realise how blasé I can be. I mean, come on, I've got the full NIV text on my phone. But that doesn't lessen its importance.

So that was one lesson learnt. Another was that if an elderly black-clad nun glides up to you in her power wheelchair, your instinct is to look around for the Daleks. Or maybe that's just me. Or maybe not entirely me. After chatting over coffee to a delightful but extremely vertically challenged nun - if I'd fitted a microphone into my belly button I'd have been able to hear her perfectly - Best Beloved did confess, "that one reminds me of Yoda."

My Protestant instincts finally baulked at the closing number, a hymn of praise aimed direct at Mary, with words that really ought to have been directed at her son. Yet I'm too polite to keep my lips firmly sealed. But, lesson no. 3, I've discovered that on those occasions when you really can't get out of singing a hymn of Marian praise, with a little mental flip it's quite possible to fix in your mind the guy who's really in charge up there, the one that all the multi-winged sepha- chebuf- sebrephachim are singing praises to, and even do a quick on-the-fly reword inside your head. And thus you find your praises all being aimed at the right department.

I've no idea how well any of those lessons will serve me in future life, but I do look forward to finding out.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans

From (for some reason) the Sydney Morning Herald:
"German holidaymakers will be able to indulge their love of naturism by taking to the skies nude on special flights being launched this year, a travel company said today."
"The flights are aimed specifically at former East Germans, nicknamed "Ossis" in German, who feel nostalgic for the naturism that was authorised and extremely popular under communist rule."
Yes, one more nail in the coffin for Communism. And a mental image even more horrifying than sweaty, naked Germans with dangly bits: sweaty, naked Germans with dangly bits making an emergency landing ... escape chutes ... friction burns ...

Noel Coward was of course right:
"Though they gave us science, culture, art, and music to excess,
They also gave us two world wars and Dr Rudolf Hess."
And now, naked airlines.

Finally, ten questions to ask yourself before taking up the offer.