One bonobo's view of the world...and stuff.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Feathery limbs in leathery Lambourne

Since azahar has taken the wind out of my Pope post...

Today is the centenary of the poet John Betjeman's birth. God, how I loathe his tedious, sentimental, bafflingly popular doggerel. I don't think it's just because we studied him extensively at school - a soft option for O Levels - because I like some of the other ones we did (RS Thomas, Dylan Thomas, Larkin, Hughes, Owen, Sassoon). What annoys me most - apart from his facile dum-de-dum metrical scheme - is the way he's held up as an exemplar of 'Englishness'. It's not a kind of English I've ever been a part of.

I admit that I don't read much poetry, but I've been trying to read more lately. I've bought the collected works of Norman McCaig (excellent!) and TS Eliot (I really must make a stab at The Four Quartets and The Wasteland again). In the past I've liked Yevtuschenko (who I once met), Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, Whitman, Stevie Smith, the Merseypoets (McGough, Henri, Patten), Burns, McDiarmid, Yeats, Heaney.

What poets does everyone remember from school? Did you like them? Did they stick in the mind? Or where they just a boring waste of a period of your life?

The Pope vs Darwin

Pope Ratzo is to reevaluate the Catholic church's position on Intelligent Design. (see here). The Polish guy said that evolution is 'more than hypothesis', and I understand that the official position is (something like) 'God created evolution.' But this sows more doubts than it assuages.

Now Ratzo is moving towards (so-called) Intelligent Design - the theory that God has a hand in every single fruit fly mutation. I can see why he'd want to lean that way: If we can explain The Origin Of Species without recourse to a supernatural entity, the whole edifice comes tumbling down.

Isn't this one of those examples of casuistry - the Jesuitical art of arguing that black is white? If it's not true, then all of Catholic doctrine is untrue, therefore it must be true because everyone has to go on believing.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Why I hate DIY

In Human Factors/ Ergonomics, we sometimes talk about ‘Maintenance Induced Latent Errors’ – that is, when someone’s fixing something, they make a mistake which is not noticed at the time but which later has disastrous consequences.

This is why I hate DIY.

So…I get a desperate phone call from home yesterday saying the washing machine’s broken. As soon as I get home I go to fix it – the start button has slipped back and got jammed behind the fascia. (By the way…this was my second repair of the week. Last week I had to put the drive belt back on. A charlatan of a repairman tried to sell us a new circuit board!). To get at the buttons I have to get the top off the machine, which meant pulling it out from the kitchen units. This proves difficult, because one of the legs has come off and it keeps on jamming on a gap in the flooring, and I end up having to pull the tumble drier out also to get at it – which means untaping the vent hose from the duct in the wall. Anyway – I do all that, and fixing the button is a doddle (Couple of screws for the top cover, unclip the circuit board, clip the button unit back into its mounting – repeat in reverse). Then all I have to do is re-tape the tumble drier hose and put it back…But the washing machine is still hard to budge, so I decide to fix the leg back on (by a miracle I know it’s in the cutlery drawer). This means tilting the machine on its side and simply screwing the leg back in. Problem is – I can’t tilt it because it’s constrained by the feed and drain hoses and electrical cable. So I unplug it, unscrew the jubilee clip on the drain hose under the sink and turn off and unscrew the feed hose from the water supply (with a minor panic when I find there’s a second, old and disused hose which I inadvertently turn on, causing a minor flood). Anyway…I do all that, on goes the foot, I slide the machine back in place and connect everything up again. By now my work clothes are filthy and partially soaked (never mind – dress down day tomorrow), so I go upstairs and change. Then I go back into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, and while the kettle’s boiling I notice there’s some dishes in the sink basin. So I tilt the basin to empty out the gungey solution of yesterday’s rice…Strange…Why are my feet so getting wet? Yup, you guessed it…I’ve forgotten to refit the drain hose from the washing machine and the sink is draining through where it’s meant to go. And, of course, the hose has been pulled out of the kitchen cabinet so I have to pull the machine out to get it.

But that’s just a simple DIY job. Suppose, though, that it’s a complicate chemical plant of the cooling system of a nuclear reactor. Do you reckon they’re any better? I’m afraid to have to tell you that experience suggests not.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Does anyone else do this?

Say I'm going out to the car to go buy milk or beer or something. I pat my pocket for my wallet...not there. I go to the kitchen and look on the countertop. Nope. I probably left it in the car. But then my mind leaps ahead. What if it's not in the car? I might have left it at work? Is there anyone still there who I could call? Or maybe I dropped it at the last supermarket I was in? I'd have to call them up and then go get it - but that would take time and I've got X, Y and Z to do. Hmm...what's my plan B for those? And, damn, it's got that phone number for suchandsuch, and if I don't phone tonight I'll have to do X, which means Y...Oh! There's my wallet on the car seat!

What a stupid fucking waste of mental energy! I could have been using those brain cells for...ooh, something. If only you could donate spare brain capacity to seti@home.

Günter Grass

Günter Grass has long been one of my literary and political heroes. Following his revelations about his Waffen SS past, I've been trying for a way to let him off the hook. I have to say, though, I kinda agree with this article by Christopher Hitchens. My initial reaction on reading was to fulminate - but I think he makes his argument well. Not sure I agree with his literary judgement, though.

Elsewhere on the web

What to do if you want snakes on your plane.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Edinbuggering about.

I took a few days holiday last week before Sophie and Adam went back to school. Part of the time was devoted to buying a new car (and all the money stuff associated with that).

Once that was sorted, we went through to Edinburgh. I bought a really cool kalimba (aka 'thumb piano') made from a sardine tin and we had lunch outside at a cafe in a church crypt. Here's a good Social Engineering idea: If mosques were to open cafes, they'd lose some of their scariness, they'd become integrated into the wider community...and the food would be brilliant!

The main purpose of the visit was to see the Ron Mueck exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland. It's been getting a lot of press.

The baby is some 6m long. The spooning couple are about 14in and look as though they could stand up and dance. I'd've been damn scared if the baby had stood up.
This review here is pretty savage. It argues that Mueck's stuff isn't really art. A similar comment I've read is, 'All very clever - but then so is taxidermy.' I can see the point - there's a difference between the model-maker's skill in creating a realist representation and the artist's skill in imbuing it with meaning. However...I found that seeing the figures on such an enormous scale really made me stop and look at them. And surely that's what Art should do? Make you look? One piece was a baby at about half scale which was mounted on a wall. The unusual perspective shift was dizzying. It also works as sculpture. In some of the pieces the tension of the muscles and pliancy of the flesh was exactly right.

The Edinburgh Festival is in full swing, so we wandered up and down The Royal Mile, having flyers from fringe groups thrust upon us and watching street performers. A particularly impressive Swedish magician did a variation on the cup-and-balls trick...and I have no idea how he managed to sneak the melon under his hat.
We had the devil of a job getting out of Edinburgh. We never seem to take the same route twice. They have an...'interesting'... approach to signposting whereby you follow signs for Glasgow, then when you get to a particularly complex junction...they disappear. Or sometimes they say instead 'West' or 'North'. But how do you know which way the motorway is if you don't know where you are? And if you do know where you don't need a sign. We came back via a somewhat convoluted route.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Doing my bit for global warming

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm temporarily green - using public transport to get to work on account of my car having been declared dead. The cost of repairs wouldn't be worth it.

God, I hate car buying. Thanks to a generous father-in-law, it turns out we can get something reasonably decent - so it's more or less a matter of just walking into a garage and saying 'Yeah, that looks OK.' So where's the stress? Well, I guess it's a matter of psychological and cultural baggage. Firstly, cars are meant to be a manly thing. But being a bit of a girly boy I neither know nor care about them and immediately feel at a disadvantage talking to dealers. Same as in pubs when folk talk about fitba. Then there's the whole sales negotiation thing. You're meant to show off your business acumen by getting a good deal. You go along with your Parker's Guide (the guide that tells you how much every model in every variation should be selling for), show that you know the market and have other options, walk away a few times, brazenly ask for £1k off, a free hi fi and a blow job...etc. etc. Frankly, though, the dealers are better at this sort of thing than I will ever be and I always walk away a) feeling slightly dirty and b) with a nagging feeling I've failed in my sacred duty not to be ripped off. I won't have been ripped off: I'll have a car that I'm content with and a loan I can afford.

For them's as gives a flying fuck, here are all the cars Cath and I have ever owned:
  • Cath's first car was a Ford Escort that cost about £200. She drove it about 6months, and then it went for scrap.
  • Then she got a lease car through her job - a Ford Fiesta.
  • My first car (we met on a residential driving course, and I was still taking lessons after we got together) was a Ford Sierra. When we moved to Scotland I didn't need a car and it sat outside our flat. There was a hairy moment when our street flooded and I had to start it up for the first time in three months (it worked...eventually...but the steering wheel had gone mouldy). I'd had a couple of self-inflicted bumps, so when I put it in for pre-selling insurance repairs, it was declared a write-off (soI got a better price than I otherwise would have).
  • Meantime, Cath had bought a VW Polo. That kept going for years...although for the last three or so the throttle return mechanism had been operated by a complex system of external springs and bailing wire. (Remind me to tell you that story).
  • About ten years ago we bought the Fiat Tipo (the one that's just been declared dead)
  • Three years ago we bought a very suburban Renault Scenic.

The advantage of getting to work by train/bus is that I can read and listen to my 'Pod. My current book is The Folding Star by Alan Hollingshurst. I'd had it on my shelf for years after a friend recommended it. It's utterly filthy - lots of hot man-on-man action - but rather good

I also get to read the free paper we get at stations. It's worth the cover price for the surreal letters page alone. Examples from today's edition:

"Someone spilt a large glass of dry white wine over me at the weekend and it soaked me. How can this be?"
"Depression is merely anger without the enthusiasm."
"My great uncle would sit out on the porch, whittling away at wood all day. One time he whittled me a boat out of a slightly larger wooden boat I had. It was almost as good as the original one, except it was covered in whittle marks and had no paint because he'd whittled it all off. That being said, my favourite uncle was Uncle Caveman. We called him that because he lived in a cave, and occasionally he would eat one of us. Later, we found out he was a bear."

There's been a stooshie at this year's Edinburgh Festival. Mel Smith plays Churchill in a play about a meeting between him and Michael Collins (The Irish revolutionary, not the Apollo 11 astronaut) and he's been complaining that Scottish law means he's not allowed to smoke a cigar on stage. I'm reminded of the famous story abou when Dustin Hoffman as playing alongside Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man. Before the famous dentist chair torture scene, Hoffmann was agonising overer his 'Method', about how he could really get inside the character and feel his pain. Larry said to him, "My dear boy! Why not just pretend?"

Also on the same theme, from the free paper:

"He might try smoking crushed coal and diesel fuel instead - I think the ban only covers tobacco products...You just need to think outside the box"

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Stuff an' ting

As you can see, I'm still having title trouble. Thing is, this is a portmanteau post.

My Morning Routine

Get up. Run bath. Stumble around without lenses in, trying to find clothes. Take bath. Fry. Put clothes on (with the exception of socks, which are usually missing). Shout for Sophie and Adam. Open Emil's door. Ignore him shouting thet he's tired, lift him up, if damp undress him and drop him in the bath. Ask him to walk downstairs. Carry him down. Fight him into his clothes. Put kettle and radio on. Put kids' dishes, cereal, spoons, milk on table. Join Cath in shouting for Sophie and Adam again. Try and persuade a still angry Emil to have breakfast. Carry him into dining room, sit him on chair and put cereal in front of him. Shout for Adam and Sophie again. Make sandwiches for Adam and Sophie. Make coffee. Put lenses in. Go upstairs to look for socks, Shouting to Sophie and Adam again. Help one or both of them to find the clothes which Cath has already placed in front of them. Go downstairs. Dodge Cath who insists on doing her hair in the hall. Put socks on. Shout Adam and Sophie again. Try and persuade them to put down whatever they're playing with and get breakfast. Put their sandwiches in a bag along with juice and place in hall. Help one or both of them to find shoes. Shout at them to get shoes on. Sit down, and have two sips of coffee. Dodge Cath as I go into kitchen to look for my work ID. Aim for the door (dodging again). Get called back by Emil for a kiss and a cuddle. Open door. Run for train.

The Lebanon

The sending of an Arab League delegate to the UN sounds highly significant to me. From the Lebabese point of view, they can see a cease fire agreement being negotiated amongst the Security Council. Two of the Council's members have been publically against an immediate cessation, which they translate (quite correctly) as 'Give Israel enough time to finish the job we've given them first.' Plus, the presence of the UN has so far signally failed to help them in any way.

The Writing's On The Wall

I've been looking at stuff by Banksy recently (graffiti artist and urban situationist). Here's some bits I like:

Unfortunately I can't find pictures of his more situationist climbing into the penguin enclosure at London Zoo and writing 'We're bored with fish.'

Monday, August 07, 2006

It's such a strain having to think up 'witty' titles all the time.

It was a double celebration at the weekend. Cath and I got married on her dad's birthday, mumblemumble years ago. On Saturday evening, I made a special meal - as detailed on Flaming Pie. which we had with a bottle of champagne. I don't normally swoon over champagne myself, but this was a nice, yeasty bottle of Tatinger.

Yesterday was also, sadly, the first anniversary of Cath's mother's death. We had her dad over and made a fuss of him. He's just discovered that they've been serving him powdered mashed potato, so he requested something with proper mash - hence my other Flaming Pie recipe. Honestly...I don't understand powdered mash. You can even get frozen mash! How difficult is it to boil and mash a few potatoes? He unexpectedly gave Cath some money, which was very generous of him. It means we can buy another 'proper' car sooner than expected. I was planning on buying something basic to tide me over.

Currently Enthusing about:

A podcast of Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry discussing religion.

Currently reading:

A Folding Star by Alan Hollingshurst

Giving heavy 'Poddage to:
  • The Breeders.
  • A Hendrix blues album. I like Hendrix best when he's holding it in a little. This album is slightly marred at one point by a drum solo. No. NO. There shouldn't be drum solos. Ever.
  • Bjork - mainly 'Medulla' .
  • The latest/last Johnny Cash. the can do the blog subscribing thing by using an Atom feed ( or RSS ( Don't ask me how it works, though.

Friday, August 04, 2006

OK, you win.

It seems that blogs are now the prefered mode of communication for those who have been driven out of hootoo. I'll still visit to discuss esoteric matters, but I guess it's time I cranked up this thang as my social space. you'll see, I've finally published some photos. My holiday tales are divided up into bite-sized chunks for easy mastication. I'm also going to post a few recent flower photos on my flickr site - in fact, I might have posted them already by the time you read this.

What else, what else...

This is our friend Sara on the day we said goodbye to her as she moved to Regensburg:

Then a couple of weeks later we got a call saying she was back because her flat sale had fallen through. She finally leaves today, and went out for dinner with Cath and another friend. Gunnar, who was back over to help, was at a loose end, so he came over and we drank wine and shot the shit ('Wir haben das scheise geschossen'?), mainly about Hizbollah. Some significican t points:

  • Israel are in real trouble if even reasonable people like us are coming down in favour of Hizbollah.
  • On the other hand...the Israelis have managed to do something that noone's managed in the last 40-odd years: to unite all the Lebanese factions.
  • Why did Israel start the Gaza blockade? Sure, they'd had a soldier kidnapped, but Palestinians are getting captured (and rourinely shelled) every other day. Is it possibly coincidential that on the day of the invasion, Hamas had just signed an accord with the PLO that even the militant PLO factions wouldn't agree to?
  • The report into the Hariri asaination seems to have disappeared. But then evidence had been uncovered of BND (German intelligence) involvement in Lebanon...and the explosive used was the same type that Mosad used.
  • Hezbollah isn't actually a proscribed organisation in the UK. It's External Operations wing is - and that's the part financed/operated by Iran. This grew out of an Iraqi shiite organisation called Dawa and was responsible for the suicide bombing of the US embassy. The leader of Dawa was one Nuri al-Maliki

Anyway...that was the shit shot.

What We Did On Our Holidays: Part 5

We went to see an old friend, Isabel. We'd lost touch for a few years while she was going through a horrible separation. She used to live in this slice of heaven, until her husband broke too many of her ribs. She's now regained her feet in Dunoon, a ferry ride away, and has a lovely house and a satisfying job organising homecare services.

Isabel's friend Andrew took us out on his boat and we tootled along the Holy Loch (where our nuclear arsenal is kept) and Loch Goil:

I'm not 'an animal person', but we've always been very fond of Isabel's dog, Alligin. She used to hop uninvited into the boat from the island with us and into our car with us. One time we went a walk at this gorgeous beach and she kept on running up and down the full 2 miles until we thought her wee legs would get worn down. She was amazingly sweet natured, and the only reason she used to bark at seals was because she wanted them to be friends. ('What are those strange fishy dogs?'):

But she was getting on in years, and on the boat, she first fell down a hatch to the lower deck, and then fell into the harbour. (The mind said 'I can jump that.' The legs said 'No you can't'. Sadly the next day she fell off the boat again and is no more.

What We Did On Our Holidays: Part 4

We went to the Trossachs again, to Inchmahome Priory. You have to get a boat because it's on an island in Lake of Menteith:

There's only one lake in Scotland. There are countless lochs, but a Victorian cartographer made a mistake with one of them.

The priory's all very atmospheric, yadda yadda:

A nun was buried standing up, because of her wickedness. My kind of nun!

We found a good tree to climb:

On the way back we stopped at a pub. We turned into the car park at the precise same time as our next door neighbours, coming from the opposite direction. Wouldn't it just be so weird if there were never any coincidences?

What We Did On Our Holidays: Part 3

We took my father-in-law, Martin to see my brother-in-law Cameon and his wife Margaret in the village of Meigle, in Perthsire. It was the start of the heatwave.

Here's wone of their cats. I think this one is Misha, but it might be Tima. They have Russian names because Cameron and Margaret spent many years in Russia and Ukraine in Soviet times.

You can see one of Cameron's books on Russian politics on his site. And that's how he always dresses, no matter how hot it gets.

Here's some small people doing the kind of thing that small people like to do:

What We Did On Our Holidays: Part 2

We went to The Trossachs (hills about an hour from home. There's a nice walk with musical objêts d’art dotted along it. Here's the family getting campanological:

We went to Glencoe. It wasn't the best of weather, but the clouds made the mountains suitably moody. Adam and Emils and I went up a ski lift (Sophie didn't want to). It was cold.

These are 'The Paps of Glencoe'. In days of yore, folk must have gazed upon the mountains and said 'Phwoarr! Look at the rack on that!'

This is Rannoch Moor - a bleak place but atmospherically beautiful. In the early evening we went for a walk on a hill overlooking it - but I forgot to take the camera out of the car. Poop walked up the hill like a champion.

On the way home we found a great café for dinner. They do vegetable tempura and chips, and a nice bottled beer. They have lots of bird feeders right outside the window, and a bird identification chart. I think we saw siskins

What we did on our Holidays: Part 1

We went to The Glasgow Show. This takes place yearly on Glasgow Green - a green space traditionally used for drying washing and public executions. Now it's regarded as belonging to 'the people'. In true East German fasion, we even have a People's Palace Museum where (amongst other things) you can view Billy Connolly's gold wellies. I was rather disappointed that this year they didn't have a vegetable competition. I love surreal displays of neatly turned-out onions. After that we went to a new German brewery.

Here's a crazy frenchman wobbling atop a sixty meter pole:

Here's an Italian chick doing death-defying horsey things to a heavy metal soundtrack:

Here's Dundee's finest singer/songwriter, Rab Noakes:

Here's Poop with a huge lolly:

This is eventually going to be Gimped (Linux for "Photoshopped") into B&W and posted on my Flickr site: