Thursday, 31 October 2013


There are a lot of festivals associated with this time of year. But in the fantasy Westcountry of my childhood, the 31st of October was always celebrated as Allantide (or Nos Kalan Gwav in Cornwall but the Cornish always insist on being so Cornish). Every Allantide, every child would be given a large Allan apple to shine and put under their pillow (and possibly eat, I never ate mine, I can't stand apples). 

I suspect that Allantide is just not a very marketable concept. With Allantide, the rules were as strict as if they had been designed by the Chinese Communist Party: one Allan apple per child. No more, no less. No room for market expansion. Allan apples are in season just before Allantide - so parents could literally just pick them off a tree. So when the big supermarkets were picking an Autumn festival to push, Guy Fawkes and Halloween had a distinct advantage. 

Guy Fawkes' Night is good for a market economy. Think of all those dad's old suits that have been stuffed with newspaper and ignited. And fireworks cost a bomb. Fortunately, there are now laws in place to prevent the current generation of British thirteen-year-olds indulging in the time-honoured tradition of letting fireworks off in park bins in memory of the man who tried to blow up the monarchy in 1605. But, what do they do instead? They buy a red plastic trident and demand Haribo from such neighbours as aren't too scared or elderly to open the door at night.

The marketing of Halloween (especially Halloween decorations) is a triumph of the free market so great as to make every anarcho-syndicalist (even the pommophobic ones) want to crawl under the covers and polish an Allan apple. Supermarkets literally sell the unsellable at Halloween.  There must have been a marketing meeting once where the question was asked: What are we going to do with all these giant orange squashes that don't taste of anything?

Pumpkin carving with the NRA
Halloween tat of terrible quality is manufactured in third world factories and then shipped in vast quantities to England where it is brought by parents responding to pester power from children responding to weeks of hype on television. Unlike Xmas decorations (which are usually just about of sufficient quality or expense to be kept in a box in the attic until next year) Halloween decorations are cheap bits of ugly plastic vaguely formed into a bat or spider or ghoulish mask all festooned with fake cobwebs and the only thing that can be done with them once November comes is to throw them all away and start the whole ghastly process again the following year.

I'm approaching what I imagine to be the limit of your patience, so I'll save 'Fancy Dress' until next year.

Oh and... Happy Sauin to my sole reader on the Isle of Man! (Probably Jamie).

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Ranting about work (part 2)

This is my fiftieth post! Hard to believe, isn't it? Thanks everyone who takes the time to read me. I know from the blogger stats that my most popular posts are the ones where I bang on about things that annoy me at work. So, here you go... 

Everybody should be familiar by now with my views on ice (see earlier posts Ranting about work (part one)and On ice (and ice cream) if you are in need of a refresher) but it turns out there are other things that piss me off about working behind a bar. I made a mental note of some of them so that I could share them with you and you can stop doing them. Here are three:

1)Your average barkeep is on his feet for eight hours a day, walks upwards of six miles a shift, sells his labour power for little more than minimum wage and spends a lot of time sober around drunk people. If you notice he is not smiling - why not tell him to cheer up?

2)It may occur to you while you are at the bar that your friends may want a drink also. A good idea in this situation is to wait until your footsore bartender has poured your drink and then (and only then) shout across the room to find out what Fred wants. Once Fred's drink is standing next to your own - that is the best time to ask Deirdre what she wants. Repeat for each subsequent round. Try to make sure your barman has tilled the order before adding to it. Before paying, wander off to double-check you remembered everybody and get sidetracked into a conversation about Norwich City football club.

3)If you have played a game of pool in the last fortnight you will probably want to share a shot-by-shot account of how the frame was won. Your friends may wander off but - don't worry! - your limping underpaid sober bartender is being paid to stand there and listen. Don't forget to include lots of confusing counterfactuals in your story. "If he'd gone for the red by the top corner then he would've freed my yeller, so he took the long red along the cushion - missed it - and snookered himself!"

All this sarcasm's given me a headache.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Relatively Speaking

Sometimes I think insufficient love is given to Galilean Relativity. Ever since the Special and General Relativities became so fashionable in the early 20th Century, I don't think simple old Galilean Relativity has been getting its due. And I intend to remedy that today.  

Asked by a journalist in 1919 whether it was true that only three people in the world understood Albert Einstein's theory of General Relativity, Mathematician and all-round smug git, Arthur Eddington is reputed to have replied, "Who's the third?" I like to imagine that the next question the journalist asked was: "How did you manage to wangle a two year trip to New Zealand to study an eclipse at a time when all of Europe is engaged in bloody war and can I come with you?" 

To understand General Relativity you need to wrap your skull around ideas such as four-dimensional curved spacetime and the equivalence of gravity and acceleration. Even its predecessor, Special Relativity, requires you to suspend intuition so far as to imagine that the Speed of Light is the same for all observers no matter how fast they are travelling. But Galilean Relativity is so simple and intuitive that I invented it when I was Fourteen.

I mean, I didn't get credited with it or anything. It's not called Finnginnian Relativity because obviously Galileo Galilei got there first in 1632 (at the age of 68!).  

Late developer Galileo Galilei
I had never heard of Galilean Relativity, when, travelling on an escalator on a school trip in the mid-1990s, I felt compelled to remark to my companion: "How do we know we are moving? We might just be staying still and everything else is moving past us." "Finn," my companion replied, "That sort of comment is precisely why you are never going to get off with any girl ever."

I saw immediately that he was right and resolved to keep all my relativistic thoughts firmly on the inside of my head from that moment on. 

Years later, I read about Galilean Relativity and how early modern scientists had realised that the question, "Are we moving?" has no meaning unless a reference frame is specified. "Is everything moving relative to my static position on this escalator?" is equally as valid a question as "Is this escalator moving?"

These days, I'm not so self conscious, I'll just go ahead and talk about Galilean Relativity and if nobody wants to listen... well... that's what this blog is for!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Lord Finnginn

My girlfriend needs more space. Literally. She's working from home today so I have been banished from my usual blogging spot at the dining table, so she can have room for all the notes, coasterless cups of tea and banana skins that are essential in a hard day's working-from-home. 

I'm more productive when Charlie's around, because I'm terrified that she thinks I spend all day napping and watching Millionaire Matchmaker on ITV2 plus one. Whereas everyone knows that I get up early to go for a jog around the park to clear my head ready to add a thousand words to that day's project. Alright, that's not strictly true. But I am limiting myself to one nap per day (two if I rise before 10am) and I only watch daytime television if I'm ill (and hangovers count as ill).

Most of my time is split between reading and staring out the window thinking about stuff. Uppermost in the chamber of my mind this week has been House of Lords reform. I've long been an advocate of a second chamber filled by lottery. I call the idea democracy from a Greek root meaning rule of the people. The current system of appointments is absurd - the House of Lords is filling up with party donors. Buy yourself a peerage. But did you know that two appointments per year are put before the Prime Minister by the House of Lords Appointments Commission? And any UK citizen can apply! Seriously here's the link! 

It gets better - last year only 400 people were nominated or put themselves forward. Four hundred applicants - two peerages. 200-1 odds of becoming a Lord! I intend to put myself forward forthwith. The pay is £300 a day! - On a good day I earn, what, thirty quid?

This evening, when Charlie asks just what the hell I've been doing all day? Instead of saying: "I read 200 pages of Barber's Myths and Legends of the British Isles" or "I spent two hours playing online chess and decreased my Elo rating by 78 points"; I will be able to say: "I applied for a peerage."