Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Economics of the 'Lock-in'

I'm in charge of the pub for a couple of weeks while my boss is in Cuba. I don't know why I get left in charge when clearly everybody else has a better idea of how to run the place than I do. Take 'lock-ins'. Everybody loves a lock-in. The Landlord locks the doors and carries on serving drinks well after closing time. 

If I ran a pub that was licensed until 12.30am, I would only advertise that we were open until midnight. That way every night people would get to feel like they were in a lock-in, but I wouldn't have to break the law.

Lock-ins make sense for landlords, because they get to keep all the money. If I stay open another hour, I get about six quid after tax and national insurance contributions and student loan repayments are deducted. Plus, in the the unlikely event of a bust, I would lose my licence to sell alcohol. Clearly not worth my while. I much prefer a calm hour reading or an hour's sleep to six pounds and the chance to watch drunk people play pool badly.  

I don't explain this to anyone obviously. I just ring the bell at closing time and watch their incredulity when I refuse to serve them ten minutes later. This is the point where they explain that my boss would always definitely give them a drink at that hour. I am working on a facial expression that contains all the information in the above paragraph but I'm worried it looks a bit like my "I couldn't give a..." facial expression.

None of this matters tonight of course, because tonight is what they call in the East: Old Year's Night. And therefore anything could happen... as long as you remember to buy the staff a drink!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Plato, Deindividuation and the Christmas Jumper


SOME IMPORTANT BACKGROUND INFO ON MORALITY


Plato, as is usually the case, was onto something when he argued in The Republic that morality is not just a social construct. In the dialogue, Plato has Socrates repudiate Glaucon's assertion that anybody relieved of social constraints (in his example, by being in possession of a ring that conferred on its owner the power of invisibility) would no longer act morally. Socrates achieves this (8 books and a long digression into the workings of the imagined perfect state later) by demonstrating smugly that whilst societies have a social contract that we tend by and large to live by, this is not the basis for justice: the capacity for good and evil lies within ourselves. Pace Tolkien: the owner of the ring who chooses not to use it is not enslaved to his passions and therefore happier.  

MORE BACKGROUND STUFF

A couple of Millennia later, Twentieth Century psychologists were interested in the mental state of people who indulged in antisocial behaviour. Following on from the ideas of Gustave Le Bon, many speculated about the concept of deindividuation. This is a supposed state of mind that can cause an individual to act differently when they perceive that nobody can identify them. It was speculated that this state of deindividuation might be induced when an individual was wearing a mask or was part of a large crowd. It was claimed that the concept could explain the losses of personal responsibility (the kind lauded by Socrates) that lead to incidents such as looting and rioting by crowds made up of individuals who never exhibited such behaviour in other circumstances.

A QUICK ROUND-UP FOR THOSE NOT PAYING ATTENTION

So masks and crowds cause deindividuation - a state in which one does not feel responsible for one's actions. To this list, I would like to add a third factor: the Christmas Jumper.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CHRISTMAS JUMPER

In the Nineties, the Christmas jumper was a laughable object. Contemporary sources such as Harry Potter and Bridget Jones's Diary exhibit the wearers of these items as either nerdily unaware of how uncool they are or coolly ashamed to be wearing
it to please mum.

In the early Twenty-first Century, people started wearing them ironically. Hipsters scoured second-hand shops to get their hands on authentically gaudy ones. Then the supermarkets realised they were missing a trick and suddenly they were everywhere

About four years ago, alongside the usual tinsel ties and santa hats, I started noticing Christmas jumpers adorning the torsos of some of the office party pubcrawls that all bartenders dread at this time of year. 

CONCLUSION

And the behaviour of these crowds has gotten much worse. I put it down to deindividuation caused by wearing a Christmas jumper. The Christmas jumper bestows on its wearer the anonymity of the festive season - pubcrawling into pubs they have never been in before and are unlikely to revisit enhances the effect - before you know it, you have a pub full of middle-aged businessmen twerking and asking junior employees inappropriate questions about what they like to do with their thumbs during sex.  

FOOTNOTE

During his digression about the perfect state in The Republic, Plato concludes that the state should be ruled by philosophers because they are the smartest guys around. This seems the tiniest bit self serving. I might as well argue that bartenders should run things because governments should serve the people and nobody has more experience serving the people than the bartenders. Actually that is a brilliant idea. My first decree: a ban on Christmas jumpers (tinsel ear-rings and elf boots still acceptable).

Merry Xmas!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

To bomb or not to bomb?


Er... Not to bomb. That was easy.

I suppose it should no longer astonish me that the standard response to an atrocity such as that committed in Paris last month is to massively increase the budget of the military industrial complex that does so much to increase misery around the world. "There's been a horrific shooting in Paris? Quick we better buy some more bombs."  

How the hell is bombing Syria supposed to alleviate any of the problems of recent months? 

The Jihadists that radicalised the young men who went on the killing spree in Paris want the West to go to war. For them, a bombing campaign on a predominately Muslim country is a recruitment campaign. Dissatisfied young British men and women have already been slipping away by the hundreds to go and fight the Assad regime that has caused so much pain in Syria. Some of them have joined Isis. Some of them have joined other groups with different interests and ideals. The troops in Syria that are not with Assad and not with Isis are not a unified group following one command. Bombs are not the most discriminating of weapons and rely on accurate information coming from the ground. Who is to supply that information?

Something else is going on here. It is possible to see the whole bombing response as part of a broad neo-liberal agenda to move great swathes of public money into the hands of the privately owned arms manufacturing companies. But even seen in these cynical terms... it seems a spectacularly ill-advised way to proceed. Money means more to these people than morality, that much is obvious. But more than the safety of the streets of their own cities? Apparently so.

What about the other great crisis of Europe's near future? The number of migrants fleeing their war-torn country will not be reduced by contributing to the warfare that is tearing up the country from which the migrants are fleeing. 

MPs are debating now. You won't hear much about the neo-liberal agenda of the military industrial complex from that lot. Cameron will be making the moral case for war. Because wars can be moral now since Tony Blair said so in 1998. 




Wednesday, 25 November 2015

A Lift with The Dray

The dray manoeuvres into the car park of the Temple Bar twice a week. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons - both of these happen to be my shifts. So I have tried to cultivate a good relationship with the draymen. 

Traditionally, barstaff and draymen were always on good terms. In times past, barstaff would offer the draymen a pint in exchange for doing all the heavy lifting and ensuring that the pub got stock with long dates on it. However, over time, social mores changed and it became frowned upon (1) for staff to steal pints from their boss to donate to their colleagues in a related industry and (2) for people to drive Heavy Goods Vehicles after twelve pints of bitter top. These days the only thing a bartender can offer a drayman is the use of the toilet. The dray now lack incentive to do anything other than dump their stock in the cellar, explain that the machine is not working, use the toilet and depart. (The machine is a little electronic signature collection box that doesn't work - all draymen must carry one).

I think it a great shame that one of the great working partnerships of the industry has so soured and that bartenders now have to rack their own barrels on a Tuesday.

However, the draymen that deliver on a Thursday are very much of the old school. Happy to rack 'tubs' (a quick linguistic note: draymen refer to kegs and casks as ‘tubs’ but you must never do so as this is a drayman word and they will give you a funny look if you say it) and rotate stock without being asked. The Thursday draymen are not at all like the surly Tuesday draymen. Last week, they saw me coming out of Pye Bakery (more on this soon - I am sure you are anxious to hear my verdict on their sausage rolls) and held up the traffic on Heigham Street so that they could offer me a lift to work.

I was obviously quick to accept. I love riding in lorries but the opportunity doesn't arise that often. Until that morning, I hadn't been in the cab of a lorry for about twenty years. When I was a teenager living in a rural county and unable to drive (before I grew into an adult living in a rural county and unable to drive) my main method of getting around the vast uncyclable distances between villages in the Westcountry was to hitch-hike. Lorries were always the best lifts because the extra height would give you such a fantastic view of the countryside and because the seats were on springs.

I was pleased to note that the dray had sprung seats and we bounced our way up Earlham Road and into the Temple Car Park.


Thursday, 12 November 2015

Gloomthreaders - 1st Review

It has long been an ambition of mine to write a children's fantasy novel. So you can imagine my gumption when an old school pal got in contact to say that he had written a children's fantasy novel and would I mind reviewing it on my blog. Dammit, that was my idea, we can't both be successful children's fantasy novelists. Then I remembered that each time I try to write my children's time-travel adventure book, snappily titled: The Dial's Shady Stealth, I never get past chapter three because the paradoxes get too involved. Whereas here, I was presented with a complete 300 page manuscript. Cap doffed, good work.


People like myself who enjoy wasting time thinking about such matters, usually divide fantasy into four categories: Other World, Magic Door, Intrusion and Liminal. Stephen Rollett's Gloomthreaders: The Unlight Weke occupies the blurred space where Intrusion and Magic Door fantasies overlap. A space that lovers of mid-20th Century children's fantasy will readily associate with Alan Garner.  

The 'real' world occupied by its central character Felicia Hart is being impinged upon by dark forces that seek to control the Unlight. To do so, they must discover the whereabouts of the eponymous Weke that the heroine's father was last seen setting off in search of.


Putting the 'read' into 'Gloomthreaders'


It is an essential trope of the children's fantasy novel that the child must be orphaned as soon as possible. Essential because it feeds the prospective reader's fears (what if my parents were missing/dead?) and dreams (if only my parents weren't here, I could do what I like!). So with Mother dead in mysterious circumstances some years earlier and Father disappeared, Felicia enlists the help of her friend Hugo to search for the Weke herself.

Felicia and her erstwhile father are not the only ones looking for the mysterious Weke. The Council of Solarius are also interested in its whereabouts, but are its members quite what they seem?

I was pleased to see that the broad theme of emergent trust was deftly dealt with in Gloomthreaders. During childhood, we trust implicitly but, as we leave that family bubble and encounter the larger world, we have to learn how to tell those who would help us from those who would harm us. Adult characters in children's fantasy assist us with this lesson. Mummy and Daddy aren't here, who should you trust? Rollett has a good understanding of this. In a Dickensian (or I suppose these days, more Rowlingian) way, the names are sometimes the clue to a person's nature. A bit of fun that begs to be subverted.

One character in Gloomthreaders is fond of saying: "We know nothing - only that on which light falls." Light has long been a metaphor for knowledge. Rollett embraces this association and expands on it in certain passages. Wittgenstein springs to mind: whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. 

The novel imbues light with fantastical properties. Light can be Hard and used as a weapon. The opposite of Light is revealed not to be darkness - a mere absence. Instead we are presented with a true opposite: Unlight. This and other ideas (the fantastical creatures encountered and especially the Freeze - a mini-winter that occurs as a result of an alien planet's erratic orbit) that make up the core fantasy elements of the novel are elegantly combined with a realistic depiction of a child's moral outlook. Sometimes we do a thing because it is the right thing to do. Sometimes we act because we are frightened. Sometimes we have to act even though we wish we'd never got involved in the first place. Children's fantasy novelists who understand this (rather than getting embroiled in temporal paradoxes in chapter three) deserve acknowledgement...

...and sales, they also deserve sales. You can buy the book here.






Friday, 6 November 2015

On Meetings

I got called into the office of my new employer for a 'meeting'. One thing that I have always suspected about office workers is that they secretly love meetings. Oh, they might moan about in the pub ("What did you get up to today?" - "Bloody meetings all day!") but secretly, I suspect they love it, I mean it's not real work is it? If I had to go to meetings, I always thought, I would spend an hour or two daydreaming and then read the minutes later to find out if I'd missed anything important.

Well, this week I had my first meeting. The first item on the agenda was how often we should have these meetings (more evidence for my theory) but most of the rest could be summed up in a single sentence: okay, kid, you've had your fun.

Basically, when I joined up, I had free rein to write about what I wanted because they had to get these blogs ghostwritten and posted up and they had been short a blogger for a few weeks. Now they are back up to a full complement of staff and have written plans for what they want written for each company for the next few months. 

It makes it easier, obviously and I am in it for the money, so the quicker I can bang them out the better. But where, before, I might draft a mini essay on the philosophical puzzle of inverted qualia for a local printing firm, now I am expected to hack out sub-buzzfeedesque listicles with titles like '5 reasons why the business card is a practical advertising tool for your company'.

Anyway here are a few of my favourites that slipped through the system before I got called in:

The four-colour theorem

Norwich newspaper rivalries of the 18th Century

A short history of the Crystal Palace 

Tetrachromats

The Torso Belvedere (and gnomes)

A short history of pantiles








Wednesday, 28 October 2015

A trip to London

I found myself with a couple of hours to spare in London on Friday. Normally, the only thing I get to see of the capital is the Hammersmith and City line as I hurry from Liverpool Street station to Paddington to catch a train West. This time, I decided to apportion myself a bit of the afternoon to do some sightseeing.

Dressed in my city outfit of brown linen jacket, sage pullover and flat cap I headed straight to Threadneedle Street, home of the Bank of England. Other people seemed to have opted for a more formal look of suits and polished pointy shoes. Every time I go to London I notice that the men all wear polished pointy shoes. My hiking boots looked a bit out of place in Threadneedle Street so I decided to look for the Old Bailey where I was meeting my Father later that day. I knew it was round there somewhere but it wasn't on any of the signs. The reason being that, like Big Ben, it is not what you think it is. Old Bailey is the name of the street. The court is called the Central Criminal Court.

Because the IRA blew it up in 1974, you are not allowed into the public gallery if you have a bag with you. So I sat outside and had a cigarette. Jamie Oliver has bought every restaurant around the Old Bailey and turned them into Jamie's Italian restaurants. Perhaps this is the future of dining out - celebrity endorsement. I'm okay with that provided there is a stipulation that they all have campari negroni on the cocktail menu. 

I drank one and headed to St Paul's Cathedral to see the former location of the British branch of the Occupy movement. The Occupy movement was moved on by the Church of England in February 2012, because (seemingly oblivious to the irony) the church didn't want to be associated with a bunch of social reformers who campaigned for equality.

Quick selfie outside St Paul's
With an hour still to kill, I decided to head south of the river to the Tate Modern gallery that is free to get in (the Whispering Gallery at St Paul's is £18!). I walked over the Millennium Bridge to the South Bank of the Thames which was bustling with buskers and bubble-blowers and human statues that moved if you gave them money:

South Bank
I had a glance in the Turbine Hall - the huge exhibition space on the ground floor of the Tate modern. This is what I saw:

Turbine Hall exhibit.

Understandably wearied from all this cultural exposure, I headed back the way I'd come, pausing briefly to buy some hot caramel peanuts from a street hawker. A charity mugger asked me if I had thirty seconds and when I said "Sorry, I don't have thirty seconds as I am in a bit of a rush." She said, "How about thirty minutes?" If anybody can explain this to me, I would be delighted. 

I waited for my Father in the only bar near the Old Bailey that is not owned by Jamie Oliver where I made friends with the bartender. She gave me a shotglass full of free Smarties.


 
  

Friday, 2 October 2015

The Return of the Swiss

Every year at about this time, the language school over the bridge from work (opposite Louis' deli - home of the best Sausage Roll in East Anglia) hosts about 100 Swiss students from an engineering college in Basel. For some reason, some years ago, a group of these students adopted the Temple Bar as their local for the fortnight and since then it has become a tradition that is passed down. Every engineering student in Basel knows that when they come to England for their two week English language course, they must visit the Temple Bar.

My friend who teaches at the school says they are a nightmare group as they are always hungover and not paying attention.

Now that I have a second job ghostwriting blogs for local tradesmen, I am always looking for inspiration. So I decided to do a post for a roofer on the steep pitched roofs you see in the Swiss Alps. As part of painting the picture of Switzerland, I mentioned bank vaults full of Nazi gold and was censured by my editor who said that bank vaults full of Nazi gold was not a suitable thing to mention in a ghostwritten blog for a local tradesman. I rewrote it with a reference to cuckoo clocks or cheese fondue or something but I saw later that the original had been posted anyway. This annoyed me because of the extra work I had done on it, but pleased me because the original was better. 

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Human flu

I visited the Westcountry at the weekend and brought back some kind of horrible cold/flu bug. I was too embarrassed to call in sick to work as everybody knew I had been away for the weekend so they would assume I was just hungover. With the assistance of Lemsip (max strength) to stop my nose running and Hennessy (vsop) to soothe my throat and take away the taste of the paracetamol I struggled through. 

I noticed my corner shop still sells the original standard strength Lemsip. I was too ill to do a compare and contrast experiment on myself. But if I had been feeling better, it would have been interesting to do a blind experiment whereby I got someone to make me either a Lemsip (max strength) and Hennessy (vsop) or a Lemsip (standard strength) and Hennessy (vsop) or some kind of placebo e.g. Hot Lemon squash and Hennessy (vsop) and I could keep notes about how often I sneezed or whatever.

I tried explaining this to someone at the pub and they said it would never work because I would never find someone willing to make me hot drinks all day.

I've just googled it and apparently paracetamol and alcohol are a really bad mix. Next time I've got a cold I will have to take ibuprofen with my brandy.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Sports Thoughts

The Rugby World Cup starts tonight. I quite like rugby fans as there is never any trouble when they are in (because they are all massive so nobody would dare start anything). Fans of opposing teams sit all mixed in together and all clap a good try or conversion regardless of which team scored it. What's weird is the same people who are so good-natured when they are watching say Scotland play rugby turn into sectarian arsehats when they are watching Celtic play Aberdeen in the football.


The crowds gather outside the Temple Bar in anticipation...


Football fans are so partisan. I find it funny that a fan of the losing team can be seriously convinced that every referee decision for them was valid and every decision against them a travesty of justice and never doubt themselves. Another favourite is when they claim that they played better despite losing as if the score was not the final determinant in such matters.

I have difficulty with my pronouns when talking about sport. I always forget to say 'we' when talking about England. People are generally kind about it and don't tend to pick me up on it, or perhaps they assume I am Scottish because of my ginger hair.


The first time I drank beer and enjoyed it was during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. It was Stella Artois out of a stubby green bottle on the 18th June, the day England lost to the All-Blacks. I've basically never looked back...

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Strange noises in the night

Charlie, Spike and I have settled into our new house together and it is all set up rather nicely except for the fact we have no curtains (which Spike rather likes, him being of the photosynthetic persuasion and I can't stand, being of the have to wear an eyemask to sleep in at the bottom of a coalmine persuasion) or bookshelves.

Spike enjoying the natural light.
Then there is the strange noise whenever it rains. I have a habit of moving into houses which make strange noises. I'm sure you all remember how I solved the mystery of the singing freezer using the methods of Karl Popper. Well the new noise is a kind of a cross between a  doink and a thrum. It has the characteristic random pattern that you might associate with windchimes or rather a single wind chime because it has a non-musical but sequential structure to it. Oh and it only happens when it rains.

We've been through and eliminated all the usual explanations: pipework, neighbours, poltergeists etc. Why would pipework be affected by the weather? Why would neighbours make a strange sound when it was raining? Why posit a supernatural entity when reason and experience would indicate that there are natural explanations for most phenomena?

Then I happened to leave the house one day when it was raining. (I know, crazy life, huh?) Some guttering has developed a crack and when it rains the water makes an intermittent waterfall that falls directly onto a hanging basket support that is insufficiently tightly screwed to the wall. Doink and indeed thrum! Mystery solved. Now all I have to do is purchase a screwdriver... (it can live in the drawer with my hammer)

For those of you who are following my new career writing the internet for money, here is a link to the latest uncredited Finnginn blog to go online. You can tell it was me because of how I manage to shoehorn Johann Walter von Goethe into an advert for a printing firm.

 

Monday, 7 September 2015

Why I won't be voting in the Labour leadership election...

You can imagine my embarrassment when I applied to be a supporter of the Labour party so I could vote in their leadership election and was accepted. All the lefties I know have been barred from voting. The Norfolk People's Alliance drink in the pub sometimes on a Thursday and at least one third of them didn't even bother applying for a vote, so certain was he that his activism would be flagged up. 

Is it too much to expect some lowly intern who dreams of one day becoming a spad to trawl through my Facebook Profile, clicking on all the links to this blog and carefully reading them for clues to my latent anarcho-syndicalism? Could nobody at Labour HQ hack into my Amazon account and see how many Noam Chomsky books I have bought over the years? Surely there must be a police file somewhere containing photos of me marching against the Iraq war in 2003 with all those friendly Muslims and dangerous old ladies holding signs saying "make tea not war"? 

When the Labour Party doesn't reject you as a Trotskyite entryist, you have to ask yourself where you have been going wrong.

Of course, even though I haven't been barred from voting, they haven't actually emailed me my ballot paper yet. So unless they get their act together, that is why I won't be voting in the Labour leadership election.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Selling Out

Victoria Wood has an early stand up sketch about muesli, where she compares the hard work involved in eating the cereal to having two jobs. As a child, I found this funny because I appreciated the hard work involved in eating muesli, even if I had no experience of the second half of the simile until last year - when I decided it would be a good idea to get a second job. I'm sure you all remember my disastrous attempt at operating guided walks for the local language school. A job that I was not invited to take up again this summer.

This year, I thought something more sedentary would suit me. So I got myself a job blogging. I've been blogging for free for years to entertain myself and my nine followers (hi folks!). But it turns out you can get paid to do it. As long as you want to blog about, say, conservatories or patios - which I don't, obviously or I would use my own blog to talk about them. I'm just selling out. 

But knowledge has an annoying way of sticking and now I find myself in a situation where I know a lot about conservatories. Previously, I would look at a glass and brick construction attached to the side of a house and think, if I thought at all, 'that is a conservatory.' Now, not only do I know the difference between a conservatory and an orangery, I also know how to distinguish between Victorian and Edwardian designs and gable-ended and lean-to structures. I know what is wooden and what is u-PVC and which is better in which circumstances. And don't get me started on glass...

I can't share any of this knowledge of course because I don't know anyone who wants a conservatory. 

Some of the spiked copy I have sent in has started to go up online, so if you are in Norfolk and need a conservatory or patio or loft conversion, you might find yourself reading a blog that has a familiar style.

Link for the truly dedicated Finnginn (or patio) fan.

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Challenges of Pub Life

I've been in charge of the pub for two days and the experience has been a catalogue of minor catastrophes. 

1. A smashed window. This happens a couple of times a year and boarding over the smashed pane is surprisingly therapeutic. I don't think I use a hammer enough. The glazier is coming today. But in the meantime I have fixed the problem with sufficient subtlety that most people probably wouldn't even notice the difference:

"I guess that's why they call it 'window pane'."


2. The unheralded return of Premiership football to Sky Sports. Why didn't they tell anyone the Premiership was restarting this weekend? Surely they must have an advertising budget for this sort of thing? Took me totally by surprise. Obviously some people had found out somehow as there were an awful lot of people in the pub on Saturday afternoon to watch the match and only one member of staff (me) to serve them. 

3. The mystery of the missing Breville. One of the few delights about staying above the pub is that I get to use the boss's toasted sandwich maker. I don't have a toasted sandwich maker of my own (and have no intention of buying one now as I am getting married next year). Straight after work I go out to buy cheddar and a loaf of cheap white sliced bread. I return hungry, my pulse quickened from the busy shift and the anticipation of the crunchy snack. The Breville is usually on the side in the kitchen by the hob, but it is nowhere to be seen. I frantically search the cupboards. No Breville. I spy something Breville-like on top of one of the high cupboards but closer examination reveals it to be a George Foreman Grill. Where is the damn Breville? Then it dawns on me. The Breville is not here. The boss has taken it with him on holiday. I make myself cheese on toast.

4. The churchbells on Sunday morning. It is 2am by the time I get the last revellers out of the pub. I cash up the till and decide to take a bath. Middle-of-the-night baths are another luxury I treat myself to when staying above the pub. I can't have them at home because I have been told it is anti-socially noisy to start running baths in the middle of the night. I stay up until about three reading the London Review of Books. I set my alarm for 11. Eight hours sleep. Perfect. Seven hours into my perfect eight the loud clanging of churchbells wakes me up.

5. The dead python in the cellar. This one is pretty self-explanatory. 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Shelf Portrait

It is my last day off before I do my biannual stint living above the pub. Shortly after that, we're off to the Isle of Wight for a few days and when we get back I've got to move house. I thought I would spend the day packing up my old record collection, binning the scratched ones and taking a few that I don't listen to anymore to the charity shop. Turns out the records were the only thing holding up my cobbled together shelving unit and the moment I pulled them all out the thing basically cracked spilling coloured pegs from my Original Mastermind set everywhere:

If you weren't alive in the Seventies and Eighties, Mastermind was how people entertained themselves before Facebook was invented.
To add shame to shelf-destruction, in the cobwebby cave revealed by record removal what should I spy but the pair of nutcrackers that disappeared after a New Year's Eve party eighteen months ago and that my inner Poirot has accused practically everyone in attendance of stealing. Unlike Poirot, I had yet to acquire sufficient evidence to gather everybody into the library and make my suspicions public. For the last eighteen months, I have been happily cracking nuts in a pestle and mortar. A method that is so surprisingly satisfying that I may not go back to nutcrackers. The chimpanzees in this short clip have got the right idea.

Records are easy to pack at least. They weigh a ton, though. Everytime I move house I think 'I must digitise my music collection.' But I get distracted easily and I've changed today's project from sorting out music to seeing whether I can get Windows 10 to run on my old knackered laptop and thereby give it a new lease of life. It is so achingly slow to respond to anything that I can write this on my shiny new Chromebook at the same time as waiting for it to wheeze its way through the six months of updates necessary to lay the ground for its new Operating System. It is not looking hopeful. But I owe the old machine the chance to live a new life... possibly as a hard drive for the record collection that I will definitely digitise before I next move house.






Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Do MPs deserve a raise?

I dashed off two blogposts on Monday. One exploring my lack of inspiration and one on an independent Korean film I had watched the night before. As a consequence of my complaining that I had been having an uninspiring Summer ideas-wise, I have had a string of suggestions (two is a string, right?) that I feel I must respond to.

Esteemed author and biographer CD Rose contacted me on Twitter to suggest that I should find inspiration from watering his plants. I suspect that this may have little to do with inspiration, it may just be a gentle reminder that I offered to water his plants while he was away in Manchester (he knows that I am notoriously flaky in such matters - I was going to check on them today but ironically I didn't because it was raining - definitely tomorrow). Anyway, can everyone please click on the link above and download his latest short-story to your e-readers so I don't feel quite so guilty about murdering his plants? Thanks folks.

The second suggestion came from a local chef whom I shall call Strongtail. He collared me in the pub to ask what I thought about the recent ten-percent payrise MPs have awarded themselves. 

"I thought you could blog about that," he said. "I thought that would be right up your street."

"I dunno, Strongtail, I did a bit of politics around the Scottish and general elections. But its not a political blog."

"Do you think they deserve a 10% payrise?"

It is a complex issue and it is easy to see why people are indignant. The standard pay for a Member of Parliament is £67,060 Chefs and waiters would be hard pushed to earn that much in three years. Bartending on my current wage, it would take me over five and a half years to earn that much money. But this disparity is not what has annoyed Strongtail. From July MPs' pay is increasing to £74,000. This at a time when the Chancellor has announced that all public sector employees will be limited to a below inflation 1% payrise. What have the politicians done to deserve their massive raise?

Nothing.

It suits the wealthy that there is a link in popular perception between money and hard work. The poor know better than anyone that you have to work hard all the hours of the day to get enough money to enjoy a few luxuries after rent and bills are covered. Those luxuries - a few pints after work, a new pair of trainers, a summer holiday - are earned by those extra shifts worked at Xmas time, by walking to work instead of taking the bus, by being nice to that table of arsehats in the vague hope that they will tip. This link disappears as you move up the payscale. The wealthy have many luxuries and do not have to work at all. They set their money to work for them.

I am fond of Bertrand Russell's observation that there are only two jobs: moving matter round at or close to the surface of the earth and telling other people to do so. The people in the second category tend to get paid more. Those at the top (those who tell people to tell people to move matter around) are often in a position to choose how much they want to pay themselves.

Crazy upside-down world. 





Monday, 20 July 2015

Watching "Like you know it all"

Charlie went to bed early last night as she had a busy day at work today. I had foolishly drunk a cup of coffee in the afternoon. With no chance, therefore, of getting to sleep before about 2am, I decided to watch a film. I tape a lot of films (obviously by 'tape' I mean 'save digitally' or whatever magic way it is done these days) but usually never get round to watching them. After a year or so, I might get politely asked: "Do you need to keep every single Sang-soo Hong film from this film4 retrospective season?" and I will capitulate and delete them, but save one because I want to be the sort of person who is familiar with independent Korean cinema even though I am not.

But last night was my chance, so I scrolled through the planner to find Like you know it all languishing unviewed at the bottom between The Wind that Shakes the Barley and Tyrannosaur (which I may delete as I have since heard it hasn't got a single dinosaur in it) and kicked back on the sofa with a glass of sparkling water.

The film was alright, I suppose, if you like independent Korean cinema then you might well have liked it. Turns out I'm more the sort of person who likes mainstream Korean cinema like OldBoy and The Chaser. If I wanted to watch long sequences exploring the awkwardness of human interaction punctuated by discussions of the importance of freedom in cinema, I could just go to the pub with my friends.  

An interesting feature was that it had a two-act structure. The three-act structure is so embedded in Western cinema that it was quite liberating to have watched a film that took a different approach. Rather than the Set-up, Confrontation and Resolution that we are all used to and expect. Like you know it all had the same central character, Mr Ku, go through two Set-ups (two different cities, no other overlapping characters) neither of which reached a resolution. Mr Ku goes through no recognisable changes, learns no lessons. He starts as as an alcoholic womanising film director beloved of critics but less appealing to a wider audience and, after a series of awkward encounters with old friends and new colleagues in two locations in South Korea, he remains an alcoholic womanising film director beloved of critics but less appealing to a wider audience.

The film was critically acclaimed.  

Inspiration interrupted

I haven't been blogging much this summer. It is hard to create a post that (e.g.) seamlessly unites an anecdote involving spilt tequila with an accurate skewering of Nietzschean Ethics when I have to refresh RightMove obsessively every five minutes in the hope of finding a habitable property to rent that is within a) our pricerange, and b) walking distance of the pub. 

Poetry is out of the question of course, because I can only find the focus I need to write it in times of uninterrupted serenity or complete mental anguish.

Sometimes I find inspiration from a photograph, but I don't seem to have been using my camera (alright, phone - who carries a camera these days?) to capture the slowly unfolding bloom of a Norwich City summer. The only photographs I have taken recently have been of Newspaper articles so that I can text them to people to prove that I was right about something previously disagreed on. Like this article in the Guardian that proved that my home county of Dorset is the Afghanistan of the United Kingdom:


The blurry opium fields of Blandford Forum
A blurred photograph of somebody else's photograph. Is this the level of reportage I have sunk to?

Apparently so.


Monday, 29 June 2015

Moving On [insert appropriate preposition]

As previously reported, our landlady is selling our home and we have to find somewhere new to live. Moving used to be a lot less hassle when all I owned was a case of clothes, a dozen or so boxes of books and a chess set. Now I appear to be at an intermediary stage in life when I am rich enough to own furniture, but not rich enough to pay someone else to move it. 

We are trying to be positive and look for a place which will be an improvement on our current flat. Maybe with some outside space? Charlie would like a bit of garden. Spike would like a conservatory, but he doesn't get much of a say because nobody can remember the last time he contributed his share of the council tax. 

The good news is that now she wants to sell the property the landlady is finally going to fix the leaky shower. I am waiting for the 'handyman' to come round now. I am sure he will be impressed by what I have achieved with gaffer tape and superglue in the absence of someone with professional plumbing skills. He may even feel that his presence is superfluous. 

I think we can call that 'fixed'.
And while we are on the subject of superfluity. It is probably time that I showed you folks the latest addition to our household:
A recent visitor to our shores (presumably unfamiliar with British social habits after dwelling on the Isle of Man for a decade or so) presented it to us as a gift in lieu of wine. And not being the sort of people who will examine the teeth of a gift-horse (or even a weird sort of gift-giraffe/zebra hybrid), we accepted it. Now it stands in the lounge looking at me with its weird painted eyes until I turn it to face the wall. In my view, it is exactly the sort of gift you don't want to receive when you are trying to downsize all the accumulated crap in your life ready for an enforced move. I am in a minority in this view, everyone else loves it. So it looks like the charmless thing may be in my life for some time yet. We still call it "...that weird giraffe-zebra thing that Jamie gave us..." Suggestions for names welcome... and if anyone can finally settle the giraffe/zebra dilemma please get in touch. 

Monday, 15 June 2015

Round Numbers

What is the sum of the first four cubes? (I'll put the answer in the comments - but it should be obvious)



Yay, done it!

Okay, I missed one.

Alright, two.


But if you look they are the right colours just the wrong the way round, that's close right? Seriously, I have been trying to solve this for eight years (on and off) and this is the closest I've got.

Incredibly, this is the one hundredth of these blogposts that you have read. Well done you. I looked up the number 100 in my Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers to see if I could crib a few facts to include subtly throughout this post but it turns out that 100 is not a very curious or interesting number. When I read the book, I have to confess, I kind of glazed over in the middle. The early numbers from i to pi were truly interesting and every visitor to the flat that spies it on the bookshelf peeps at the end to see what the highest number is (It's Graham's Number which I wrote about way back in March 2012). 

I wanted to put up a celebratory poem or something not just some pictures of an unsolved Rubik's cube and a stolen fact about the number 100. Unfortunately, the only thing I have been working on is a long history of all the chess sets that have had an impact on my life. It's in blank verse pentameter and is a work in progress as it needs tightening up and I want to add a couple of verses (one about a glass chess set where the felt had worn off the bottom of the pieces so it made a horrible noise when you played and one about the experience of playing digitally) but you'll get the gist. People who hate poetry, especially blank verse, please stay for the title as it has a pun in it!

The Joy of Sets


Battle’s coming. I can hear it in the
Rattle of the box. The sliding wooden
Lid is slid back to reveal two equal
Sides of dark and light: Stout Rook, the frowning
Bishop and my favourite: The Knight - his
Seahorse-head and unique jumping prowess
Makes him by far the most superior piece.

Learned to play the game on Father’s Staunton
Set. One Knight had had his head unscrewed by
Some unknowing toddler’s hand then chewed by
Pericles our dog. For years we played with that
Headless Knight and I’d refuse to swap him
For his twin if he remained uncaptured.
Games could turn on one unnoticed Knight.

Ed brought back from Petersburg a
Soviet Set - pinched Pawns and spiky Bishops,
Atheist King crowned with sphere in place of
Cross. Then, innocent of death and grief still
Far away, we tallied wins and wagered
Desecration rights to the loser’s grave.
(Eighty-four, Fifty-nine to Ed last count).

Lit spliff in mouth: I ponder Jack’s damn
d5 pawn that dominates the yellow
Squares and stops my knight advancing. Bloody
d5 pawn. No way he's worth a Bishop.
Must have played a thousand variations
On the Centre Game before I looked it
Up: e4, e5, d4, pawn takes pawn.

Gothic visions wrought in gold and silver,
All Inset with semi-precious stones, sit
Unloved, untouched. The King never castled.
Bishops bide their time blockaded by the
Pawns who wait forlorn upon the second
Rank. Denied their fates. Never to be
Sacrificed and never to be promoted.

You get the idea...







Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Ecumenical Matters

Two brothers can't both inherit the farm so traditionally the second-born joined the church. I sometimes think I was cut out for the life of a clergyman (except for the inconvenience of having to get out of bed before midday on a Sunday... oh... and belief in God - I hear they are rather keen on that). 

The first priest I remember is the Reverend Thomas. My mum sang in the church choir and he came round ours for afternoon tea once. There were lots of bookshelves in the house I grew up in and his ecclesiastical eye immediately alighted on a dozen or so Dennis Wheatley novels (sample titles: The Devil Rides Out, To The Devil a Daughter, Gateway to Hell) They all had yellow spines with black writing which really made them stand out. I was a voracious reader as a child and I don't recall any books being prohibited by my parents (except when my dad told me I couldn't read the Silmarillion until I had finished The Lord of the Rings - still rankles). Those Dennis Wheatley novels always came with a stark warning from my mother: "Reverend Thomas told me I should burn the lot!" That made them seem particularly appealing.

After the Reverend Thomas moved out of the vicarage, we got a groovy trendy vicar in the village. I can't remember his name, but I do remember that he allowed alcohol to be smuggled into a youth club party in the village hall and one kid drank a bottle of vodka and had to have his stomach pumped.

I'd not had much contact with the priesthood in Norwich until I struck up an unlikely friendship with Father Peter - an active octogenarian who often pops into the pub with bottles and glasses he has found on the pavement outside. "Do these belong to you?" Occasionally, he would sit outside with a pint of bitter, smoking his pipe and drafting a sermon. Over the years, we got to know each other. I was touched by the little pieces of personal information he would sometimes share. Like the fact that his real name was Julian - but that he had been bullied at school in the 1930s because the name was too feminine so he had adopted his middle name. I told him that I shared a name with the famous Saint of Neocaesaria and naturally this led to a long discussion of thaumaturgy.

Last week, he came into the pub around closing time, much later than I had ever seen him in there before. He ordered a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale (which I knew to take from the shelf not the fridge - Catholic priests can't stand cold beer) and offered to buy me a drink. 

"I'll take a half of Ghost Ship."  

"Make it a pint." (this is the formal reply whenever a bartender says they will take a half - remember this.)

I detected a sadness in his demeanour and spoke with him whenever I got a moment between service. Turned out the church for whom he had worked for half a century were moving him out of his city centre flat and into a nursing home for priests in a village 15 miles south of Bury St Edmunds. With no pub! And worse... he was only allowed to take two of his five bookcases. What a way to treat a man. It's not like the Catholic church is short of a bob or two. I began to think about what I would do if I had to cut my book collection by three fifths. I suppose I could always start by burning a few Dennis Wheatley novels.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Election Selection

David Cameron is determined to interrupt my naptime. This morning was my first lie-in in nearly a week and I was particularly anxious to get plenty of rest today as tomorrow I intend to stay up all night watching the election results come in. However, Cameron has other ideas. In a last ditch attempt to secure my vote he has sent out an army of canvassing leafleteers to shove economically narrow-viewed propaganda through my letterbox. 

My letterbox is currently fastened shut with blu-tac in an attempt to stop it banging metallically against itself in every gust of wind. Our postman has been informed of this and happily re-secures it with a firm tap before whistling his merry way upon his round. But Cameron's faceless minions do not stop for a friendly chat. No doubt they have targets to meet. They hurriedly thrust their glossy lies into my life and leave me to the torture of the arrhythmic clang. Should I rise, pyjama-clad, unlock the door, fasten the letterbox, relock the door, pop the propaganda in the recycling and return to bed? I'll give it an hour, see if the wind dies down. 

The Conservative Party have no chance of getting my vote but they have secured the support of local hotel group that I shall call LIA (For those of you who like riddles - LIA is an easily solveable caesar cypher) in case any of what follows is libellous: 

The 'Beaches' hotel on 'Eerlham' Road
The LIA business model is to buy up hotels and remove all the features that make them pleasant environments and providers of local employment. When they took over the Beaches Hotel (sic - still worried about libel) near where I work they removed all the curtains and replaced them with whitewashed windows for that really classy look. They sacked all the onsite staff, replacing receptionists and night porters with keycode panels on the exterior and room doors. They stopped doing food and drink altogether. Breakfast chefs and waiters and bar staff all laid off. 

The resultant unstaffed hotel was cheaper but unpleasant. I started getting miserable looking customers coming into the pub invariably wheeling hand luggage. They would complain (to me - remember there is nobody onsite to complain to and they would repair to the nearest pub to wait for the manager to answer his mobile phone) that they could not gain entry using the keycode panels or that when they had finally gained access the rooms had not been cleaned sufficiently by the zero-hours-contract cleaning staff employed by a separate company. One guest showed me a picture on his phone of a healthy crop of toadstools that he claimed to have seen growing in the corner of the shower.  "Staying at LIA?" I would ask. "Can you recommend anywhere else nearby?" they would plead. "Sorry," I would reply, "LIA own all the guesthouses around here, now."

And then the prostitutes moved in (not just hearsay, here is the Eastern Daily Press report). With rooms for rent for as little as twenty pounds a night and no staff it made a logical and hopefully a safe base for them. I doubt these were young businesswomen keen to take economic advantage of their bodies for a short time in order to fund a better life. There is a good chance where there is organised prostitution (according to the article a woman was arrested and cautioned for controlling prostitution for gain) that there is some amount of exploitation going on.

This all actually happened. It is not some convenient metaphor for Britain under the Conservatives. But the owner of the LIA group has plastered his hotels with Vote Conservative signs and I deplore what he has done to the local hotel economy in the name of profit. And I deplore the ideological choices the Conservatives and their Liberal partners have made in the name of deficit reduction. 

Who gains?