Monday, 30 November 2009

Brittany christmas, gingerbread and mice, aka The traps of wrath

Christmas has started early this year, as we're combining our summer holiday with Christmas. Why leave your home town in the best part of the year? Why go elsewhere when there's so many summer events at home? Abandon the damp and dark at midwinter, head for the Med. Well, we've gone a little off course and ended up booking a gite in Brittany, but at least it's a fair bit further south, and we will be warmed by the gulf stream (ho ho ho).

Time for the only Breton themed joke I know.
"Excuse me Breton chappie, what do you call this quaint religious procession?"
"Pardon, monsieur."
"I said, what do you call this quaint religious procession?".......

Meanwhile, right now we're busy at home, getting ahead on some of the things the rest of you will be doing over the next three weeks. The local garden centre had this fantastic fairy tale display, hence my opportunity to cuddle up with a five foot gingerbread man. (I'm the one on the right.) I'm full of christmas cheer, and goodwill to all, except the mice.

Spurs have won 9-1 against Wigan recently. Well I've been in a series of 0-0 draws with the mice, probably as the opposition has not bothered to turn up. But over the last 24 hours they have got through three mousetrap loads of chocolate, with no success at all on my part. So it's Mice 15 pieces of chocolate, Big Swifty nil. Can I ever come back from this 15-0 thrashing? All I have done is make the mice welcome. I reckon my game plan should be to hope the mice collapse from heart disease, as they won't be caught by the spring traps, unlike my knuckles. I've put another five pieces of choccy out tonight, and take solace from Wigan's 1-0 win in their subsequent match - it is possible to make a comeback.......

Friday, 27 November 2009

"Keep away" - tales of mice and men

" Keep away, unclean, unclean." We don't have a cross painted on our door, so we've put up our own notice. Frank was sick twice in the night, and it could be hospitalisation if it happens again. With diabetes, his blood sugars could hit the far north or south, compounded by the effects of dehydration, so we're keeping a close eye on him. Our house was buzzing last night, as we dealt with Frank, and the mounds of laundry precipitated by the sickness. We e-mailed all our National Childbirth Trust contacts to cancel the Open House we had planned to host this afternoon. Some people have come to the door and turned away! We're sealed up in our Plague House, spring loaded to take ourselves up the hospital ( we have 24-hour open access for Frank, yipee) so that he can be more closely monitored than we could manage at home.

Meanwhile, in a garage not ten yards away, there's something else spring loaded. Like an arsenal of cannons lined up on the cliffs against an armada, we have five mouse traps set, to deal with the winter invasion from their summer home in the compost heap. I feed my furry little friends Asda's least finest chocolate, as they take the sweet treat from the trigger, without releasing the trap. I don't know how they do it, as I catch my own fingers many times as I set the traps. I have given them about thirty portions of chocolate and caught four mice, which is probably about the same success rate that multi-million pound warheads achieve.

It's a waiting game, wondering if there's any more mice on their way, and where we ourselves will be staying tonight. Good night all.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

It was a game of two halves, with onions

It was a game of two halves, and if they could have contrived to play them concurrently we could all have got home an hour earlier. It was a windy night and Colchester struggled to string two passes together. And a light drizzle spiced it up a little with a slippery pitch.

Having been before I knew the catering for the masses in the stadium was limited, so I took my chance outside. Looking for my usual friendly-to-animals-farm-assured beefburger, organic onions lightly sauteed in rain-forest friendly butter, and a nineteen-different-seeds wholemeal bun, made from flour flown in from all over the world (but carbon offset, and orang-utan friendly), I was disappointed by what was on offer. Slabs of gristle fried in Castrol GTX, in a bun made of blotting paper, slathered with red sugar sauce that had once nodded briefly at a passing tomato.

The food was vile, the football dire, but the U's won 2-0. In the football table they're now in third place, but at the dining table they're North Circular Road Relegation League, division six reserves. I cycled the six miles home into a headwind, elated by the team's league position, and vowing never again to patronise that burger van.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Shock, horror - Big Swifty agrees with Roy Keane

Despite being a fan of most things Irish, I've always struggled with Roy Keane. Playing for the rich, powerful and immensely popular Manchester United, and also being a dirty player, are two bad marks from me. But on the other hand I wish he had played for my team. And his sending home from the 2002 World Cup for his outburst against Ireland manager Mick McCarthy confirmed my opinions of this man.
Having visited his hometown Cork in 2007 I was bemused by the elevation that he had been given, with many (usually very bad) drawings of Saint Roy as religious icon on display and for sale.
And he's back in the national news this week, telling the Irish FA to stop whingeing about the defeat by France, and suggesting they look to the team's performance over the two games, where they flunked the opportunity to beat a poor France team. He, quite correctly, rejected the suggestion that the match should be replayed, pointing out that Ireland had had the benefit of some shaky refereeing at an earlier stage in the competition, and that they had plenty of chances this week to beat France but failed to take them.
But was his criticism of the FAI in Dublin really about football, or was it an old Munster/Leinster sore re-opening? And would Roy like the chance to replay his season so far? His Ipswich Town have one win in seventeen league games. And Keane reckoned Mick McCarthy was a ***** ***** ****** ****** manager?

Friday, 20 November 2009

Spring cleaning in November, and summer holiday in December

It has been a busy year, since Frank's T1D diagnosis. Some of the time we've been frozen and dizzy from dealing with it all, other times we try to over-compensate by running a "normal life". Meanwhile the housework has been neglected at times, not that it's really a problem. But we've had a good fortnight, despite some moments of crisis, and we've made a few big decisions for the future.

Looking at our capacity, we have cut out or thinned down a few things we try to do. And we're catching up on holidays, with our summer break now booked today. We're off to Brittany for much of December, and looking forward to turkey galette for christmas dinner, followed by christmas pudding crepe for afters.

Meanwhile, our cleanup and clearout continues, with the house buzzing with vacuum cleaners, carpets being beaten (thank you Severine), surfaces being scrubbed, and junk being shipped out to the chazzer, the dump, or recycled. Home sweet home is even sweeter.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Mad axeman in Prettygate

In Hollywood the masculine heroes chop wood as easily as shelling peas. Having gone through the inevitable double-entendres to borrow my next door neighbour's big chopper, I set about the logs that remained from the fir tree that once stood in our garden. After much sweating, flailing and bludgeoning I managed to get some bark off the slices of tree trunk.

A new approach was needed, as the macho techniques learned from tv dramas clearly wasn't working. Rearranging the pile, I decided that the thickest logs were simply too much for Big Swifty. The smaller logs could be split and quartered using the big chopper and my hand axe as wedges, with my club hammer to drive them in.

Conscious that one shouldn't return one's neighbour's tools broken, I applied the hammer more vigorously to my own little axe, and buried it so deep in the log that it couldn't move further in or come out, or split the wood. Yanking the axe-handle, it snapped off, instantly giving at least one piece of wood for the fire.

Eventually a decent pile of logs emerged from the wood butchery session I was leading. And along came Frank, my trusty helper, to use his tractor to transport the wood to the porch, which was filled from floor to ceiling. As they say, you get warm twice from firewood, First, when you chop it up, and secondly, when you burn it.

Meanwhile I noticed that the gate had sustained storm damage from the blasting by wind and hail a couple of days ago. The whole of the gate was pock marked by the mothball sized pieces of ice that were blasted against it, chipping away at the protective surface and making hundreds of small craters. I don't know if we can put this down to climate change, but it was definitely the climate's fault.

In the good old days I used to follow the "reduce, re-use, re-cycle" principles, not because I was green, but because I was mean. Servicing my own car, I saved the black sludge and old sump oil, and used it on the fence posts and panels, and very effective it was too. No doubt it was polluting the groundwater and carcinogenic, but then I wasn't actually drinking the stuff. Modern wood treatments are so kind to the environment they won't hurt any birds or animals, or even the moss, algae and fungus we want to eradicate. Plus they get washed off by a heavy shower or a blasting from hail.

Looking forward to a fire tonight with my family and lodger. And my potential Hollywood axeman career is over.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Flavor bud living

For those that wondered, this blogspot's title is a play on this piece of music, one of my favourite "tunes". It is a Captain Beefheart composition, and he appears briefly at the beginning of this one minute long piece of music. Gary Lucas then works his way through this wonderful jangling music, wrestling with the guitar to play all the notes dictated by the Captain. I love the way it hints at a tune, but turns away just when we're on the brink of a melody, before it can properly become established. Wonderful invention, and well played Mr Lucas. For those less familiar with Don Van Vliet's work I suggest playing this short film three times, and then you can decide for yourself if you never need hear it again, or if you are hooked into the wonderful world of Beefheart's music.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Hail cease

Severine's shoes are dry at last. The day before yesterday we had heavy hail and wind for about ten minutes, with a hail-drift in our porch, which is a first for us. So much for any plans to get any exercise that day.

Then yesterday, it was fine and sunny, so we decided to cycle to friends at Manningtree. Come hell or high water, we were going to get our exercise, after days of poor weather. Well the fires of hell were unlikely in November, but we had plenty of high water. Although Big Swifty had allowed for all the puddles on the route, he forgot about the journey coinciding with a high tide. So his "avoiding the traffic" off-road route across the Colne valley involved crossing Haven Road and using Clingoe Hill subway, both prone to flooding after heavy rain, when combined with a high tide. Sure enough the tide-flap valves were closed, and we had four inches of water. Not a problem at Haven Road as we could freewheel across, but at the subway we had to pedal, as our momentum wouldn't take us the 30 yards under the road. Severine's shoes and trouser bottoms got soaked, mine only on one side as I adopted a one-legged pedalling technique.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed our ride out into the autumn sun across the becalmed plains of Tendring to Lawford. And shoes can always be dried.

Friday, 13 November 2009

I saw this and I saw that

Modern life on the streets. The weather? Rainy, dull, and dark early. Walking into town today I saw a (presumably) muslim (presumably) woman, covered top to foot with burkah, with just the eyes visible, the feet covered by modern trainers, and a mobile phone on the go. Later I went past Marks and Spencer, where there was a long queue waiting outside in the rain. Intrigued, I found out that a whole range of Christmas goods were being sold for 1p each as some kind of retro-brand promotion, with customers given the option to pay more as it's all for charity. And in my stylish tailor's, TKMaxx, and on my walk home, I heard various eastern European languages. One can only speculate what was being discussed on the phone and in the street, but it's a fair bet they were commenting on the weather and the queues. Lousy and long.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

After 31 years, it's time to move on

We've been busy clearing things out, making more room in our house for Frank and our lodger. And today I found my Geology Field Book last used before graduation in 1978. Why have I kept it so long? Firstly, I didn't know I still had it. Secondly, I'm a terrible hoarder. And I've looked at my fieldbook again, with my terrible drawings of rocks and minerals, all looking like formless dumplings, woolly sheep or children's scribble. Cezanne said everything can be reduced to cubes, spheres and cones - well he never tried to draw a rock sample in a science lab.

My journal has stereo photographs of landslips, with my attempts to annotate the physical features. Having studied these carefully I came to the conclusion that another landslip is likely to happen nearby, at some time in the future. I've managed to bring up a family, have a career, and cycled Land's End to John o'Groats, since I Iast opened its pages, and I can't see any circumstances where I'll need it in the next 31 years either. I've thrown it away right now, rather than keep it until I'm 85. OK, I admit it, I had one more last look.

Monday, 9 November 2009

It was twenty years ago today.....

The Berlin Wall fell on 9 November 1989. I was late for the party as I didn't arrive until October 2006. We were in our camper van, parked at the Reismobilstation on what we later found out was the no-man's land on the East German side of the Berlin Wall. Visiting again in September 2009 most of the gaps in the street where the wall severed the city have now been filled, with new buildings.

A few sections of wall remain, including this section by the Typography of Terror exhibition, on the site of the HQ of the SS. The "wallpeckers" have done their best to chip away souvenirs, but the wall is now protected. The wall is now a great tourist trail, options including the "Trabbie Safari", where one can hire a smoky old East German car, and be escorted by a guide in a trabbie procession to the main "Mauer" sites. I have no idea if there is a David Hasselhof impersonator straddled across the wall, awaiting the safari punters.

I was reminded at a lecture tonight that the celebrations in 1989 referred to the Berlin Wall being the last in Europe separating our communities. Of course, most city walls were built to defend the city from outsiders, not to keep the city dwellers in the city. Meanwhile, the "peace wall" in Belfast remains for the foreseeable future. Big Swifty announces his first quiz. Why do we need a peace wall in Belfast? Answers on the back of a postage stamp please.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

"Lest we forget" - how could we, watching the daily news?

Eight tiny jeeps took the veterans from the Town Hall to the War Memorial. But it's not just about the old guys and their time in the first and second world war; it's also about all the conflicts since, right up to the current day with Colchester's soldiers losing their lives in Afghanistan.

The High Street was closed to traffic, so that the space could be used for those taking part in the parade, and the onlookers. The crowd were respectfully quiet, as they watched the veterans, current soldiers, cadets and various local organisations, including The Town Watch.

A solemn ceremony at the castle park gates commemorated the fallen, a very moving experience. The band played Elgar's Nimrod magnificently, full of restraint and masterfully maintaining the requisite slow pace. The last post and silence followed the Town Hall striking 11 o'clock.

The crowd reflected on the occasion, no doubt thinking about the lost comrades, families and friends. Looking back, we can all see how the events on a world stage affected the outcomes of our own lives. My father's father died in the blitz in London, so I missed him by about fifteen years. But of course, my family's history would have been completely different if the second world war had not happened. My dad wouldn't have first been evacuated to the fens, and served in the RAF, and returned to the fens where he met my mum.

Hitler invades Poland, and one of many millions of consequences is - here I am.

Friday, 6 November 2009

I never met you Roy

"You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late" - Ralph Waldo Emerson
"A dedicated and highly respected dentist has died during a motorcycle race. Roy Parbury, who owned The Art of Dentistry dental paractice .....was competing in a British Motorcycle Racing Club race event at Lydden Hill in Kent when the accident happened", says the Essex County Standard today.
I knew him only by reputation. My connection is that he was my daughter's boyfriend John's dad. He was a busy guy, and I too have plenty to do. I assumed I would meet him sooner or later, as our offspring get along so well.
Condolences to his two sons, John and Mark, also motorcycle racers, and his family, friends and colleagues. Roy, I'm sorry I never met you.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band changed my life forever

An evening of nostalgia was expected, and a two-man show (Isoceles in association with Useful Idiots) served this up at Colchester Arts Centre, with lashings of pathos on top. Half expecting a show full of obscure references to the Bonzos, I was slightly disappointed that there were few Doo-Dah Band in-jokes or tunes, however the compensation was that the show could be enjoyed by anyone. But it would help to be at least 55 to know all the songs.

The two actor/singers were playing a has-been minor rock performer, and a never-was Vivien Stanshall impersonator, both waiting to audition for a "60s, one-hit wonders tribute show". With a nod to "Waiting for Godot", the audition never happens, as the players philosophise on life, interweaving lyrics from popular songs, and singing much reduced versions with their two voices accompanied by an electronic keyboard.

It was a tragi-comedy, and I'm sure most of the audience empathised with the lives portrayed by the artists. And the final line of the show was (almost inevitably) "here comes the twist, I don't exist" as the stage fell into darkness.

So, did I enjoy it? Well yes, but part of the fun was the audience. Remember the comedy sketches about "the nut on the bus" that always chooses to sit on the empty seat sit next to you? Well folks, that was my evening out. Just before the start this very nervy man occupied the inviting seat that was left after all the other groups, couples and singletons has taken most of the other 52 seats. With his Sainsbury's plastic bag full of whatever he needed to get through the evening, he fidgeted all show, dipping into his wrestling and boxing mags whenever the lights came on. Various rocking movements, and the odd puff on some electronic gadget that "smoked" his cigarettes, suggested he was struggling with (giving up?) smoking. Now and then he would madly laugh at an inappropriate moment, and he had a bit of a personal hygiene problem too. During the songs he would sometimes stamp his feet, though clearly his brain was beating to an entirely different drum.

And behind me was a very old man with a massive white beard, who insisted on badly whistling the tune he had last heard, even though the actors had moved on to some poignant discussion on our pitiful existence. On occasion he also gave voice to his thoughts about the play, which were quite entertaining in their own right.

There were times when I wondered if I was sitting in the middle of some performance art project, and that hidden cameras were recording my reactions to these two crazy guys. There I was expecting carefully crafted references on stage, to "my pink half of the drainpipe", and "the doughnut in granny's greenhouse", and what I got was 360 degrees of live art.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Information is not wisdom

There was a time when I was proud to say I had a book on everything. Yes, I have some special interests, but I have got by in life by being a generalist. This has helped me in my job, being able to work with lots of people, and seeing the links between what I do, what other agencies provide, and what is needed.

And in my time away from work I was always fairly handy in a quiz team, though some would say there is more to life than playing your joker on the "name the artist" round.

But along came the internet, and my stacks of books on obscure subjects became steadily more redundant. At first I held on to my repository of information, thinking that the www would never be a substitute for printed and bound pages. Slowly, I'm letting things go, freeing up some space, and clearing some tomes that have become rather dated. There's little I can just hand over to the chazza; I have to put the provisionally rejected books in a pile for a last once-over, and skip read, to squeeze that last bit of juice from the fruit.

Today I said goodbye to a book that I inherited a few years ago from my Aunt Beth, "How the city works" by Oscar Hobson, from 1938, but this was a sixth edition from 1959! It describes the workings of the City of London, especially looking at banking, trade and finance. The glossary of terms has no mention of hedge funds or sub-prime markets.

And now I have the internet to inform and entertain me. And what pearls of wisdom do I receive? E-mails teasing me, with pictures of camper vans on the back of bicycles. Information is not wisdom.


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