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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

May 28, 2004


It's funny how much more intimate we were with the lives of people we were at school with, than we are with people we work with.

When you're at school, you know who is fostered/adopted, where these facts are known, who comes from a broken home, who lives with his/her gran.

in the workplace, you might know if someone is divorced, if they happen to tell you, but you don't know things in the same way as you did at school: know them because everybody knows them. Who lives with their parents, who lives alone, etc.

We learn to put on the public face, the work face, the protective mask - but at what point do we learn it? I remember knowing someone whose dad was joining the Freemasons, but now I'm surrounded by people who might be in the Freemasons, but they're not about to volunteer the information.

I know you but I don't really know you; I'm already assuming that most aspects of your life are similar to mine, because why would they be different? You should know about me that I never, quite, learned to put on the public face. I can't keep a secret, and I assume everything you might want to know is obvious, just from looking at me.

While we're on the subject, whatever happened to that trend of men sniffing each other's arses and all that?

Patron Saint of Mid-Life: Part 13 - Blue Bikini

This Friday's episode has just been posted.

Clean Your Windscreen, Guv?

I can't believe they did this, but Konica-Minolta have returned my broken Dimage F300 -- repaired. This after I specifically told them not to repair it. And they've taken £199 off my credit card, after I authorised a payment of just £7 for them to return the camera unrepaired.

The saga reeks of incompetency, from start to finish. First I contact them about the problem, specifically describing what I did, and asking for a rough estimate. They advise me to send it in for assessment, when they could, in my opinion, have just quoted me on a replacement lens/zoom assembly.

So I sent it in, complete with a covering letter explaining that I had dropped it onto a tiled floor etc. At no point did I ask for or suggest that this would be a warranty repair.

Two weeks later, I phoned them to chase it up, having heard nothing, and the girl told me over the phone that the camera was in the workshop being repaired under warranty.


Couple of weeks after that, I get a letter with an estimate for repair costs: £199, because upon examination the camera was found to have suffered impact damage. Except I already fucking told them that.

My options are to tick "please repair" and pay the full £199, or "do not repair" and pay £7 to have it returned to me. This I did, but judging from their apparent incompetency I kept a photocopy -- just in case.

So yesterday, finally, the camera arrived back in a battered, split, cardboard box. I would have been forgiven for removing the memory card and thinking no more about it, but I noticed that the lens, which wouldn't retract, was now retracted into the body. So I switched it on. It seemed slower than before, but I'm not sure if this is because I've been trying some newer models, and they're pretty quick at starting up, in comparison. But it works.

So I phoned to check my credit card statement, and lo and behold, they've snatched £199 off my account.

Not fine! The most I'd have paid for a repair was, maybe, £50. Instead, I bought a brand new camera, as mentioned below, the Dimage G600. On the phone to Minolta yesterday, they offered to refund me half the cost of the repair. But it's as if I stopped at the lights, and one of those street people offered to clean my windscreen for a pound, and I said, no. And they clean it anyway and expect me to pay for it.

I'm so pissed off with Minolta now that I want to return the G600 and buy another brand, any other brand, because I don't want them to have any of my money. Because though the F300 is repaired, it seems to be limping, not performing "as new".

May 27, 2004

Ah yes

Here it is:
But is it Shrewsbury or Shrowsbury? The traditional pronunciation of the 'ew' in Shrewsbury survives in the word 'sew'. In earlier days when spelling was more phonetic the name appears as Shroesbury and Shrowesbury, the 'ow' being sounded as in 'show'. It is a very handsome word when thus enunciated and befitting of such a beautiful mediaeval town. But just to confuse the visitor, you will find the locals pronouncing it both ways!


Pronounced How?

It's a longstanding debate, but how do you pronounce the name of the Epiphone Musical Instruments company? Most people I know say "Epi-fohn" to rhyme with "telephone", which makes a certain kind of sense. But I have always seen it as a pun on the word "Epiphany", meaning
A revelatory manifestation of a divine being, or a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something.

It's also some kind of feast.

So how do you find out. Some suggest, you phone the company, and the way they answer the phone is the way it is pronounced, but that isn't necessarily true. We had someone reading our telephone menu messages who (in my opinion) put totally the wrong inflection on the company name. But hey.

There's also the Shrewsbury issue, which my good friend Si researched some time ago. Half the people who live in Shrewsbury pronounce it "Shroo-sberry" and half pronounce it, correctly, as "Shroh-sberry" - it's something to do with Old English and what a Shrew or Shrow was, apparently.

So people who live/work there do not necessarily know.

As far as Epiphone goes, I always think the Epi-fohn pronunciation is indicative of the typical guitarist's world view: literal, face-value, un-figurative. And of course my "Epiphany" pronunciation is indicative of my hoity toity namby pamby poetic and slightly paranoid view of the world.

But think of this. The word "Epiphany" comes from the Greek epiphaneia (manifestation) or epiphainesthai, to appear. And the Epiphone Musical Instrument Company, as it happens, was founded by one Epimanondas Stathopoulo, whose surname is the Ellis Island version of Stathopoulos (yes, Mr Yankee Immigration Functionary, removing that "s" from the end of the name made it so much more American and intelligible).

So, a Greek company, founded by a guy whose name was shortened to Epi, whose company name Epiphone could conceivably be pronounced to rhyme with the Greek-origin word Epiphany... what price now that my pronunciation is correct, and the rest of you are ignorant redneck shitkicking hicks? Huh?

This public service announcement brought to you by the Oil Of Shrewsbury.

Beer, Chips, and Chocolate

Of course we're a fat nation. My home town of Dumpstable was decimated as successive council geniuses pulled it apart in order to make the roads wider for cars. Almost none of the original buildings of the "historic market town" remain.

Just the other day, one of the genius organisers of the local (not Dumpstable, but where I'm living now) carnival was insisting that pedestrians, including those with pushchairs, should struggle along at the side of the path in the park, over the grass, sure, but also over the tree roots etc., so that important motorists could drive their cars into the park, closer to the event. God forbid they should have to walk any distance.

And the thing about the big park where we live, it is enormo, and you can basically get into it from 3 or 4 locations all around it, from one end of the town to the other: so most people didn't really need to drive at all.

Alternatively, since the carnival consisted of two beer tents and a brass band, put a tent up in the garden, get some beer from the fridge, and fart.

In other health-related news, I hate to criticise ER, because it has consistently been one of the must-see programmes of the past few years, with a strong cast that could stand losing a few big egos -- not to mention my stunningly beautiful secret girlfriend Maura Tierney.

But whereas the BBC's Casualty was twee and ridiculous with its little family dramas involving overturned cars and people falling downstairs or off ladders, ER has always used its main cast of doctors and nurses to generate its dramas, with the occasional button-pushing of children in peril.

But you can no longer suspend disbelief when yet another tragedy befalls John Carter. People joke about EastEnders, and how nobody can ever be happily married, or indeed, happy, for long, but in ER you can not only not be happily married, but you're not allowed to have healthy children - not keep them at least, and certainly not stay married or alive and have them.

So with the hapless Mark Green (stabbed, mugged, divorced, delinquent daughter, fucked up, dies of cancer) out of the way, and Romano (fucked up and lonely, arm lost to helicopter, killed by another helicopter) out of the way, and Weaver (fucked up and lonely until she finds lesbian love... but then lover killed in line of duty and their child snatched by intolerant grandparents) still reeling from the loss of her baby, it falls to Carter (rich and fucked up, stabbed, or shot was it, drug addicted etc) to have a still-born child and all the suffering that entails.

Enough already! At least Abby Lockhart (fucked up by bipolar mother and brother, alcoholic, poor, and lonely) got to graduate... or did she?

May 26, 2004

Just in Case

You were too stupid to spot a bit of irony, there is a whole web site dedicated to explaining jokes for you


Take the rat for a walk, love

"Among other findings, the analysis determined that the Chihuahua is actually a type of large rodent, selectively bred for centuries to resemble a canine."


I always think insurance is a total racket, but it seems to work for some people.

Word to the Wise

If you are me, what you don't want to have been the last song you hear before stepping out of the car in the morning and going into work is the corkingly catchy "He's Mine" from Carolyn Dawn Johnson's Dress Rehearsal:
Well I've got him, he's mi-i-i-ine
Makes me feel like a real live woman insi-i-i-ide
Funny how a little love can get you so hi-i-i-igh
Can't want to get my hands on him tonight...

May 25, 2004

Johnny Go Home

I've been meaning to mention this for a while, since the South Bank Show on him, but where to begin? Why the Belgian Johnny Hallyday is so popular with the French is bemusing. Perhaps because he speaks French, they assume he is French.

Perhaps French country people are so unsophisticated, they have no conception of different nationalities speaking the same language. They have sort of adopted Celine Dion for the same reason, though I have witness members of my family (by marriage) laughing at her accent.

The truth is, in France, Johnny is only popular with other people - i.e., you never meet anyone who admits to liking him. A bit like Abba were to Brits in the un-ironic 80s. On the other hand, Johnny is everywhere - in every "Hello" type magazine, Paris Match, even l'Observateur, or whatever it is called. And Johnny books are in every book shop, his face on every newsstand, etc. Which is odd, because he obviously sells magazines, but still you never meet anyone who admits to liking him.

The French, it is commonly acknowledged, have never really "got" rock and roll, and their national music is still dominated by chansons and all that piaf-t. On French radio, they have rules, so they can only play so much English-language stuff, and then it has to be in French, which of course explains the popularity of Johnny and Celine. And this has been going on for years and years.

It's fascinating to me that he is such a massive star, and always has been. I remember when I was at school, my former best friend went on a summer holiday to the south of France, and came back talking about Johnny Halliday. This would have been around the time that Elvis died. And the funniest thing was, I always felt that Dave (name changed to spare his blushes) adopted some of the Halliday look and style, and in fact grew to resemble him quite closely. I mean, the guy was fundamentally uncool, which was why I liked him, and he needed me around to add the vinegar to his dressing. And probably the mustard. He went to see the original Grease movie and adopted a quiff+DA hairstyle, not just for a couple of weeks, but for years after. Which just made him resemble Johnny more.

On the South Bank Show, people were comparing Halliday to James Dean and Elvis, which was almost embarrassing. Because it was clear, crystal, that the French were still not getting that he wasn't cool. Not only not James Dean, not even close, not even close to dead, fat Elvis, much closer in spirit to Cliff Richard.

So in France you enter this strange celebrity vortex, where the A-list star, the one you never see sitting around wasting his life on TV chat shows, the one who is Too Big for TV, the one on every newsstand, in every gossip column, is, basically, Sir Cliff.

There's an incredibly funny passage in Tim Moore's book about cycling the route of the Tour de France, French Revolutions. He notices, in the way only cyclists do, how many unspooled cassette tapes litter the roadside. He decides they're all probably Johnny Halliday tapes, and plays out the imagined conversation between a loving couple in his head. "Johnny's great, isn't he? I really love him." "Yes, I agree, he is great, but you know? Let's agree that he is great, but that we don't have to listen to his terrible music any more." "Yeah, let's..."

Something like that, forgive me Mr Moore, but you will appreciate I am too lazy to check the actual book. But it is great, in a way, that someone can be such a huge star, but not be any good. At all. I mean, totally unlistenable, pompous, overblown, tuneless. But he makes great shows! And nobody I have ever met admits to liking him!

Incidentally, my own cycle ride roadside detritus observations reveal what appears to be a local epidemic in lighter gas sniffing. Empty aerosols of butane litter one particular country lane, from top to bottom, and you can see the discarded lids in the ditches too. What with all the McDonald's wrappers, I deduce that a local "good night out" involves a trip to McDonald's, then parking on a quiet country lane for a bit of gas sniffing. Then drive home at 75mph and kill a few pedestrians, I assume.

A Johnny Halliday concert would be (marginally) preferable.

I 100% agree

Or I should say, I agree 100% with what Ken Livingstone and all the other 4x4 haters are saying about the ridiculous fashion for big 4x4s. They're too big, too ugly, and ridiculously inefficient. And. Ken's right, there's something fundamentally idiotic about people driving them around town, especially those who cite the occasional pot-hole as a valid reason, as if that made a difference.

It's like carrying a great big Samsonite suitcase to work every day to hold your sarnies (or SlimFast shakes).

I hate hypocrisy. But, always prepared to make an exception in my own case, I really really really want a VW Touareg please.

Warm n Wet

We have a little ritual, Didi and I, when the Grand Prix (or indeed qualifying) is on. It is usual that CJ does something to upset her early in the race/session, and she comes over to me for comfort and a cuddle. And the white noise of the motor racing sends her to sleep. So she sleeps in my arms for an hour or so, and then we wake up and the grand prix is over and I get to go an mow the lawn, or untangle the power cable to the mower at least.

I've been thinking, this is quite nice. We have a restful hour together and it's a thing we do. But then on Sunday she wet the bed, i.e. me, in the middle of the race, so frantic cleaning up ensued and she got a bit upset.

Must be nice to just let go and wet yourself. Haven't done it for a long time. I have vivid dreams about not being able to find a working, private, toilet, but I don't wet the bed. But that warm wet feeling is not unpleasant.

Poetry Evening

Lose Weight Eat Cake is a cracker today. Go there and be square.

Patron Saint of Mid-Life: Part 12 - Guilt Trip

Just published

May 24, 2004


So. Konica-Minolta Dimage G600 has arrived. It's dinky, but operation is relatively straightforward. I'm not sure if I'll miss the mode dial that was on the F300, but we'll see. Li-ion battery charged up fairly quickly, and the camera impresses immediately when you fire it up. Whereas many digital cameras take 4+ seconds to start up, to become ready for the first picture, the G600 starts up in the time it takes you to slide the cover off and turn it round. In a way, it's ready before you are.

I've yet to take any proper photos, because office lighting is not conducive, but I did take a cracker of the end of my finger in macro mode. The flash fired, and the end of my finger has simply burned out, so it looks like an ET phone home finger or something. Superb.

180° About Face

What it comes down to is this: the Olympus 8080 camera takes fantastic photos. It's the lens. Leaving aside the noise issue (only visible at "actual pixels" and if you know what you're looking at), the quality of the glass leads to magnificent photos: sharp, well exposed, accurate.

And though I was annoyed that it (and most other current models) uses a Li-Ion battery rather than AA rechargeables, the battery does last ages, so you can shoot away to your heart's content.

You need a huge memory card or two, because on SHQ, you get about 3-4 images per 16MB of card. I only borrowed a 16MB CF card for the weekend, because I didn't want to open the packet of the 32MB xD card supplied with the camera, so I was running up and down stairs to transfer images to my Mac the whole weekend.

I got some great pictures. But I'm still not keeping it. For two reasons. On its own, it's too big and heavy for the kind of photographer I am, and while I'm happy with it around the house and in the garden, I'm not going to like keeping it with me for a whole day when I'm out and about. Just thinking about the strap round my neck on a hot day produces phantom chafing.

And because of the noise issue, there's no option other than to shoot at 50 ISO all the time, and that requires the flash for indoor shots. And the built-in flash isn't powerful enough, and can't be angled to avoid harsh lighting. I'd need an external flash, so I could bounce it off walls and ceilings, and that would double the size and weight.

So the Minolta G600, 6 megapixels and about half the price, is on its way. I'll let you know...

May 21, 2004

Patron Saint of Mid-Life

Patron Saint of Mid-Life will now appear in its own blog. While I'm happy with a little bit of confusion between factoids and fiction -- or faction, as Normal Mailer put it -- some of the posts are quite long, and they just get in the way.

So from now on, I'll post a link here to the full monty on PSoML.

Expect to see loads of Google ads for HRT and other products aimed at the middle-aged.

PSoML Part 11

Part 10 is here

part 11: jumper

There had been a time, shortly after Ronnie left school and before she and Dave had, Lucy visited him where he was staying. Ronnie wasn’t exactly living in the best circumstances, but he made the effort to get the place as clean as possible for her weekend visit. It was during Easter. Ronnie was sharing a flat with a couple of other members of his band, and he had a choice, while Lucy was there, of sleeping on the couch in the communal living area, or sticking a camp bed in his bedroom. She was really nice about it and insisted he use the camp bed option. Otherwise there’d have been no getting to sleep.

They went out for the day, wandered around London, stopping frequently for coffee and talk; then sat in a pub for the evening and missed the last bus home. Neither Ronnie nor Lucy could afford a taxi by this time, so they walked home, which turned out to be about three or four miles. They’d been talking all day, but carried on, hardly noticing the distance they were having to walk, or the blisters on their feet. Arriving home in the small hours, they went to their separate beds. The flat was cold, so Lucy was borrowing one of Ronnie’s jumpers. It was an old, baggy, woolly jumper that he’d scalded by drying it too close to the electric fire. So it was blue with a kind of orange burn on it that people mistook for spilled paint. It was as close as Ronnie ever got to seeing Lucy naked. She had the most beautiful legs: smooth and brown. She was wearing nothing but his big baggy jumper and her underwear, and he got a quick look at her legs as she got into bed and under the covers. Ronnie’s fingers were burning with the anticipation of what it might feel like to touch her, to gently run his hand over her skin.

They sat in the café and talked about it. Lucy said, “I knew you were checking me out. I was exhausted from the walk, and I’d been thinking all day how odd it was that you hadn’t made a move on me. I mean, I knew you had always been a loyal friend to Dave, but things were different now. Time had moved on. You weren’t seeing him every day, and we were a long way from him. But we spent the whole day together, not two feet apart, and you didn’t even try to kiss me.”
“I was like a busted radio,” said Ronnie, stirring his second coffee. “I just didn’t pick up any signals from you. Or couldn’t, more to the point. Didn’t know what to look for.”

They had lain in the dark for about another hour, talking about things, voices croaking from the effort of keeping up a 12-hour conversation. They’d spent the evening talking, then the long walk home talking, and then they couldn’t stop talking. It was the first and only time they’d had so much time together, and certainly the only time he got to spend as much time with her without Dave being there. Staring at the ceiling in the dark, feeling the night breeze blowing across his room from the open window, Ronnie was saying a silent prayer that she’d ask him to get in bed with her. No way he was going to make the first move. His best friend’s girl and all.

“I wrote a song about it,” said Ronnie, after a pause.
“I know,” Lucy said. “Who was it recorded it? Jody somebody?”
“Jo Dee Peters. But I did record it too.”
“When? I never heard it?”
“It was on that record I’m trying to get back off my first wife.”
There was a long pause. Then she smiled at him.
“We’re trying to get back a lot of things, aren’t we?” said Lucy. “It’s so hard.” She stared down the street towards the church. “We need to put things back where they belong.”

Evidence for the prosecution

I'm going to keep it for the weekend to make my mind up, but things are not looking good for the Olympus C-8080WZ. It's a nice-looking camera, solidly built, with a magnesium alloy body and a huge chunk of glass in the lens. It turns on quickly (what we want) and it's autofocus performance is good. Nice macro feature, and a super-macro feature - also what we want.

But. And it's a big but: noisy. When I say noise, I mean the visual kind. Problem is, it's an 8-megapixel camera, but the sensor on it is the same size as a 5 megapixel model. Straightforward reason for this: cost. Not of the sensor, but the need to develop new lenses to cope with different sensor sizes.

The sensor (CCD) in most digital cameras is teeny weeny, about the size of a fingernail, no more. And the lens has to focus all the light onto this small spot, which is why that digital SLR models (pace The Canon 1DS, which costeth of the fortune) turn, say, 28-70 mm zoom lenses into 42-105 mm zoom lenses. Because instead of focusing onto a full frame of 35mm film, the lens has to focus on a small proportion of it.

Obviously there's only a finite amount of light and detail that can be focused down to a fingernail-sized area. Which is why the lens quality of a digital camera is so important. Stick a higher-resolution sensor into a camera with a lens designed for the lower-resolution sensor, and you are not necessarily going to see more detail, simply because the lens isn't capable of resolving it. The overwhelming problem with an 8MP CCD is that it's hard to get enough light onto it, even with a lens specifically designed for the job. It's the laws of physics or something.

Because there's not enough light, the camera artificially boosts what it sees: hence noise. It's like using a really fast kind of film, 1600 ISO say. Where you used to get film grain, you now get noise. Like flecks of colour in a black and white image. The extra detail and resolution captured by the CCD is just spoiled by noise. Now, with the Olympus the problem is not as bad as it is with some of the other 8 megapixel models on the market; but it's bad enough. Fact is, any ISO setting above 50 will see noise.

And ISO 50 is not, for me, a realistic option. If I was still buying film, I'd mostly be buying 200 or 400 ISO, because I like to shoot indoors without the flash. And I don't think I'm alone in preferring to do this. So, my advice: probably 5 megapixels is the pinnacle of what can be achieved with the sensor at this size. See what the 11 megapixel Canon 1DS can do with its full-frame sensor, and you see the future. It's time to make it at least the size of two fingernails. After all, the same is true of film: you get a huge leap in quality and detail with the use of medium- and large-format film stocks as opposed to 35mm. In the pipeline are 10- and 12-megapixel digital models. It'll be interesting to see whether this is just more pixels squeezed into the same space.

May 20, 2004

Mixed up Confusion

Some of our younger readers might remember that not long ago I dropped my Minolta Dimage F300 camera and bust the zoom mechanism. I sent it back to Minolta for repair, but in the meantime borrowed a Canon Powershot S1, a 10x optical zoom model.

I was fairly happy with the Powershot and more or less decided I would keep it.

But things change. Minolta informed me by the telephone device that they were repairing it under warranty, which I thought was a result. So I sold on the Powershot, having decided, after all, that I couldn't live with its less-than-optimal autofocus performance. Not bad, but nowhere near as good as the Minolta, with its tracking autofocus.

So this morning, what do I get in the post? An estimate for repair from Minolta, because they discovered that the camera I had told them had been dropped had been dropped. £198! Which is slightly more than I'd have to pay for any number of brand new cameras.

So now I'm thrown, and just don't know what to do. I'm torn between going for the features and quality of a much bigger camera, like the Olympus C-8080 Wide, which has had some very good reviews; or, another compact model, like the Konica Minolta DiMAGE G600, which I guess would be a natural successor for the F300 I broke. I know that Minolta make good lenses, and I know they lead the industry in terms of startup times and focus times etc. On the other hand, it's got a 3x optical zoom (as opposed to 5 on the Olympus) and no hot shoe for flash etc.

I'm going to give the Olympus a trial; it's the one major brand I haven't tried, and they are the market leaders.

By monday I should have made my mind up.

May 19, 2004

I got nothing

Today on Fark.com. It's all I got.

May 17, 2004

Peace in our time?

Perhaps the Beatles and Apple computer can now make their peace with each other, set aside their differences, then club together and sue Gwyneth Paltrow.

The weekend news

Had one of those Sunday mornings which started in slight amusement that people could get things so wrong, and ended with me having to switch the radio off, because they kept rabbitting on about block voting and political bias in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Which is nothing of the sort, of course. While it's true that, obviously, nobody was going to vote for the UK, the Eurovision voting isn't about people voting for each other (as poor old Terry Wogan seems so convinced it is), but people voting for themselves.

If Eurovision, and the wider issue of European Union enlargement, is about anything, then it's most clearly about social and economic mobility.

What's amazing to me is that while the British seem to be nationally obsessed with immigration and economic migrants and asylum seekers and the rest of it, they can't quite manage to put 2+2 together when it comes to something as simple and obvious as the Eurovision Song Contest. Why did Croatia award so many points to Serbia Montenegro? Not because they love the Serbs, that's for sure. But - hello? - does anybody remember that these Balkan countries all used to be one confederation? Lots of Serbs and Montenegrans still live in Bosnia, obviously. And FYR and the rest.

And the Swedes? Clearly, they pop across the bridge into Denmark to do their voting; or they just live there. It's as if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all had separate entries. Of course all the Scots in England would vote for the Scottish entry.

But, shame on the British, or the English, nobody from here seems to see Europe as a place in which to move freely around. Obsessed as we are with America, American toadies that we are, we should be able to see the opportunity: to drive from New York for a new life in LA is surely no different than to leave Gdansk for Paris or London.

So bollocks to all the whingers complaining about the politics. Get to fucking school, learn a language, and go seek a better life. Then when you're living in France or Spain or the Czech Republic you can understand how you can vote for the UK entry to your heart's content.

Anyway, rock on Ukraine. She was a winner the moment she stomped onto the stage.

May 14, 2004

Secret Girlfriend

Those of you who receive as many free magazines as me will be aware that the most beautiful girl in the world is featured in the Samsung Digimax U-CA 3 advertisement, complete with Breton-style t-shirt and elfin face.

She is my secret girlfriend, though I am concerned she is about to clonk herself in the face with the digital camera she has around her neck.

For the sake of what?

I confess to being completely nonplussed by this whole Maxine Carr thing. The determination of the press to identify her new secret self seems to be vindictive for the sake of it; something they do to conjure up another news story, another few pence from the pockets of newsagent punters. And then another news story after that when some vigilante kills her.

Let's draw some tenuous connections here. First of all, when they get her killed, aren't they -- in effect -- making themselves worse, morally, than she is? She provided a false alibi, the kind of stupid, dumb, thing that people do every day in the name of romance. She didn't kill anybody or cause them to be killed. And, crucially, in my view, her falsehoods didn't, in the end, help the real killer to get away with it.

So here's my tenuous connection. Those shitkicking redneck US soldiers in Iraq, who are torturing and humiliating Iraqi resistance fighters (or insurgents, whatever you want to name them), are doing so because somewhere along the line someone put the idea in their tiny little brains that Iraq was responsible for the Sept 11 attacks. In their minds, they're paying back the lost lives and the suffering of families back home.

And when the newspapers manage to reveal the address/identity of Maxine Carr, someone with a similarly tiny brain will attempt to punish her, because the woman has been demonised by the press, turned into Myra Hindley The Sequel, and is equally to blame for the deaths of Holly and Jessica. We all know how Myra Hindley was used to sell newspapers, and now she's dead, so they're looking for another. So shame on them, and shame on anyone who buys a newspaper because Carr's face is on the cover.

May 13, 2004

Mission to Mars

This article in today's Guardian about NASA's continuing attempts to justify its existence is interesting.

If we posit that a manned mission to Mars will never happen, because (a) it will prove to be too risky, (b) too expensive, and (c) anyone who volunteers for it will be a nutcase, then NASA is just an extremely hi-tech job creation scheme for the socially inept.

Sooner or later, mark my words, some genius(es) will come up with one or all of the following technologies:

  • Cold Fusion

  • Anti-gravity

  • A completely indestructible construction material

And when they do, all this spaceflight stuff based upon 1940s rocket technology will be completely redundant. And furthermore, these technologies, and maybe others, will come along just as the NASA sciencebots are reaching the finishing post.

I say all this because I am reading Pandora's Star by Peter F. Hamilton. When they say in the review that this is "epic" they mean that it is long. If it were a city it would not so much be a high-rise metropolis as an urban sprawl. It takes about 300 pages to get into it, but once you are in it is most enjoyable, bar the knowledge that this is a "Part I" and you know you'll reach a cliff-hanging ending and have to wait a year or so for the sequel, if you remember.

The key scene in Pandor's Star happens in the prologue, as NASA astronauts are about to make history by stepping out onto the surface of Mars. Except they are greeted by a laid-back surfer-type university researcher, dressed in an adapted diving suit, tethered to his desk back in California through the wormhole through which he has just stepped.

Not sure I believe in wormholes, but I do believe that government money should not be directed at programmes which use technology that barely works. In the case of space exploration, it's long been time to tear it all up and start again. In the meantime, I'd like to see NASA dedicate themselves to perfecting the non-stick frying pan and Velcro.

One Dorrar Fifty Four

According to this Mac rumour on AppleInsider, iTunes Music Store for Europe is set to charge €1.29 per song, which translates as $1.54, a whole 55 cents more expensive than iTMS in the USA.

Here is a list of all the tracks I will be buying at that price:

May 12, 2004

Wake up and smell the coffee

In the days before lifestyle gurus set themselves up as experts on selling your house, the basic received wisdom was that you should have the lights and heating on, and a pot of coffee, because people like the smell.

But I see this as a risk, because some people (e.g. some pregnant women) are made nauseous by the smell of coffee.

Actually the smell of freshly baked bread is a bigger turn-on, especially to those cranks who restrict themselves to the caveman diet (it's like offering a bacon sandwich to a vegetarian). But baking bread, if you are me, involves covering every surface in the house with flour, which is not quite so attractive.

Speaking for myself, there is nothing I like better than to arrive home to the smell of baking potatoes. Oh to have been the first caveman to discover that throwing a poisonous Maris Piper into the camp fire (run out of logs, presumably) resulted in a delicious, homely, aroma. And then to have to quickly invent butter and grated cheese. I put the whole responsibility for the Neolothic diet of carbohydrates and dairy products down to this irresponsible person.

What was that story about the invention of roast pork? Something about how during an early Chinese Fireman's strike, John Prescott was trapped in a burning building?

Anyway, that attractive fellow Nigel Slater has "waxed" eloquently in the Observer to this effect:
"To get a really fluffy baked potato you need 'floury', the sort that have white rather than yellow flesh and crumble when you cook them. Varieties such as King Edward, Maris Piper, Wilja, Ailsa and Golden Wonder are what you want."

I did some the other day with some Desiree, and the results were horrible. Not to mention that Benecol and half fat Edam doesn't have quite the allure of butter and East German Cheddar.

I'm only joking about the Cheddar. Everyone knows the best Cheddar comes from Canada.

Fujifilm Finepix S20 Pro Zoom

There a digital photography sites galore out there, but, for me, only Steves Digicams really tells it like it is, and a picture speaks a thousand words. I was interested to see whether Fuji's latest iteration of their Super CCD would deliver the goods.

They've changed the technology so that there is one large sensor and one small sharing more or less the same space: one to capture light and one to capture shadow detail. It sounded like an interesting theory, but the truth is that the hexagonal arrangement of sensors simply fucks up the image. I've said it before, and I say it to anyone who asks: forget Fuji. They are popular because they seem to offer good value for money, but they take a crap photo. The page linked to above shows the stark reality of a Fuji photo and Steve concurs:
"The bottom line for most digital camera buyers today is image quality and price. The FinePix S20 Pro in my opinion does not deliver the level of image quality that we expect from a 'top of the line' digicam. "


Now, there's a word I like to see. And there's a lot of it about (botched operations, botched track repairs, botched industial oven maintenance, botched occupation of Iraq...).

Botched evokes just exactly the kind of slapdash, half-hearted, unprofessional behaviour that infects the world; but it also implies the other thing, the thing that makes such behaviour immoral: malice, or prejudice.

May 11, 2004

Caveman Diet

This afternoon I have been thinking about
the caveman diet, and wondering whether it would be beneficial, mid-life crisis-wise. On the one hand, I buy into this theory that we evolved to eat certain foods and are poorly adapted to certain other foods.

"The essentials of the Paleolithic Diet are:
Eat none of the following:
· Grains- including bread, pasta, noodles
· Beans- including string beans, kidney beans, lentils, peanuts, snow-peas and peas
· Potatoes
· Dairy products
· Sugar
· Salt
Eat the following:
· Meat, chicken and fish
· Eggs
· Fruit
· Vegetables (especially root vegetables, but definitely not including potatoes or sweet potatoes)
· Nuts, eg. walnuts, brazil nuts, macadamia, almond. Do not eat peanuts (a bean) or cashews (a family of their own)
· Berries- strawberries, blueberries, raspberries etc.
 Try to increase your intake of:
· Root vegetables- carrots, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, Swedes
· Organ meats- liver and kidneys (I accept that many people find these unpalatable and won’t eat them)"

On the other hand, people who subscribe to theories like this also like to believe in the Decimal Hour and alternative alphabets and
the like. So you just don't know. Once a crank, always a crank. It's a bit like that Mel Gibson film, Conspiracy Theory, where he is totally bonkers about everything, but right about some of it. Sort of.

The 6 CDs in my car at the moment...

...are all new, past couple of weeks. Which is remarkable, because I haven't been buying many lately. Not because I download everything, but because there just hasn't been anything of note released, much, and it's much harder for someone with my specialist tastes to find out about new stuff. CD Now used to have the most straightforward system, but since being purchyased by Amazon the whole system has fallen apart. And there just isn't anybody I trust when it comes to reviews and stuff, because there isn't anybody out there, far as I can tell, who goes for quite the same mixture of stuff as I do.

Not to sound superior, but most people are either into that which I consider worthy-but-dull (all that alt.country stuff) or they like commercial male vocal things. It's a sad fact that, bar a briefly fashionable period 1992-95, women in country music get short shrift from radio stations, on-line reviewers, and their own record companies.

Anyway. I have the following on multi-disc shuffle play at the moment:

  • Carolyn Dawn Johnson - Dress Rehearsal

  • Brad Paisley - Part II

  • Gretchen Peters - Gretchen Peters

  • Allison Moorer - The Duel

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter - Between Here and Gone

  • Allman Brothers - Classic (Universal Masters Collection)

The Allman Bros compo I'm quite pleased with. It was only 7 quid, but includes all the tracks I would have included, as previously noted.

The Gretchen Peters record probably qualifies as worthy-but-dull, or will soon (like MCC). She's a songwriter, and gets her stuff done by major artists like Suzy Bogguss (well, she was major once), Patty Loveless, and Lee Ann Womack. Some of the stuff is unfamiliar, but there are tracks I already own by other people. It's always interesting to hear her own, low-key take on things, though being low key they don't have quite the impact of the more commercial versions. She is a good songwriter, though, with a tendency towards story telling.

This is also true of Carolyn Dawn Johnson, another songwriter with a new record out. Again, she's written hits for others, but benefits herself from being fairly attractive, blonde, and able to sing her own songs quite well. Her song, "Georgia" on her first record was an instant classic.

This one features more of the same; good songs, commercially produced, with some nice musicianship (all the usual suspects are here, and Dan Huff produces). I suspect the presence of a Variax where the sleeve says, "Sitar," but I may be wrong. I'd say that the strength of CDJ is that I'll still be playing this in a year's time, but ask me in a year's time.


I never wanted to be bourgeois, particularly; but then I had no real yen in the other direction either. By default you end up in a situation that rankles, occasionally. It's better than living like a student, of course, but there are things about the suburban life that just kill me. Sundays are the worst. It's not because it is traditional that you wash your car or mow the lawn on a Sunday; it's because you've been putting it off and the weekend is nearly over.

I hate those two things: mowing the lawn and washing the car. I've tried doing it the other way around, but the paintwork got scratched. With the Passat, I've determined that it is a Bad Thing to use a car wash, because the brushes do scratch the paint. So I have only ever washed it manually, which means I have only washed it, approximately, 4 or 5 times in around a year. Plus I had it valeted at work around three times. And in France once I applied a jet wash.

Mowing the lawn is the one aspect of gardening that falls to me. Up to me, I'd concrete it over, or let it grow into a jungle (aka a site of special scientific interest). It's not so much the actual mowing, but the cable. The cable, no matter how careful you are, always manages to get tangled up with itself, and it is this I hate more than anything. That advert on at the moment, with the mower that tidies its cable away, brings tears to my eyes.

May 10, 2004

Thick cut chips

Went to London Friday, on a train, the first time in many years. Quite a traumatic experience, all in all, because I'm Not Used To It. I go places in my car mostly. Last time I was this traumatised, I was flying back to Englandland from Chicago.

The flight in Chicago was delayed due to stormy weather in New York. Eventually it took off, one in a long queue of planes leaving at the same time. And instead of having a few hours to kill before my flight back from Newark to London, I had to dash directly from one plane to the other. I tell you, it was almost a miracle to see my luggage arrive on the carousel.

Arrived back at the more-deserted-than-usual train station late-ish on Friday night and decided to stop at George's Tradition for some award winning fish and chips.

I was struck, waiting in the queue, how bright and friendly all the staff seemed to be; and how dull and stupid all the customers were. Six people were waiting for fish to finish cooking. There was literally a five-minute wait. But every single other customer, apart from myself, managed to forget what they'd ordered in that interlude. So that when they started putting the orders together and calling them out, people were just staring into space.

And that, my friends, is why I want to move house. There is an infectious disease in Snottingham called Thickflu, and everyone seems to get it eventually.

PSoML Part 10

Part 9 is here

Part 8 is here

Part 10: St Guthlac Sur Mer

Ronnie and Lucy both felt awkward, later, sitting in Hazel’s kitchen drinking yet another cup of coffee; so much intensity before lunchtime, while everybody else was only slowly getting themselves in gear. Hazel asked if they had any plans, and Ronnie shrugged, feeling an adolescent embarrassment. Didier walked in; Hazel’s husband looked slightly hungover and looked at everyone under hooded eyes.
“Actually,” said Lucy, “I was going to ask Ronnie to take me for a drive. I’ve never been to this region, but I really should have done before now….”
Didier snorted into the coffee he’d just poured. “You are going to do some work? But you are on holiday?!” Ronnie mentally added, “Zut alors!” because that’s exactly what it sounded like Didier was about to say.
“Well, not working, really,” said Lucy. “Just interested. It happens that I’m interested in the very thing I do for a living. I know I’m lucky. What do you say, Ronnie? Fancy a drive?” She gave him an intense look. Ronnie got the message.
“You bet,” was all he said.

Ronnie went back to their cottage to pick up his car keys and Lucy’s digital SLR while Lucy stayed behind talking with Hazel and Didier. On his way back in, Jane Hinchcliffe met Ronnie at the door.
"Hey. We haven't had much of a chance to talk."
"No, I know. It's been..."
"Well, doesn't matter. But I was just going down to the pool. Do you want to come down? We could catch up."
"Actually, I was about to go for a drive with Lucy."
"Oh. You've been spending a lot of time with her."
"Well, I guess. Happens we’re sharing a cottage – but we were too drunk to talk much last night."
"Something I should know about...?"
"No, not really. It's..."
"Never mind then. Catch you later."

After she'd gone Ronnie stood in the doorway and thought about it. It was true, he’d barely interacted with anybody since arriving. There was a chance his behaviour would seem supercilious, arrogant, to the others. Which some might interpret as a continuation of the way he'd behaved towards them at school. It wasn't that he didn't want to spend time with Jane, or Sally, or even Dave. Any of the others. But it was already understood that Ronnie was going to look after Lucy. Be her taxi, her sounding board, whatever she wanted. And if she wanted nothing, that was fine, then he'd be free. But if she needed someone to drive her around, Ronnie would be the one to do it.

Guilt, obviously, he realised. And manifesting itself in a strange way. No matter what, he was going to do whatever she wanted to do, she came first. It's like we're married, he thought. Not just married, but newly married. And, his heart pounding in his chest, Ronnie realised he was fine with that.

Lucy came up behind him. "Ready?"
"Always ready."
"Who said that?"
"I just did."
"No, it was in a book I think."
"So what were you thinking?"
"I was thinking about how much time we're spending together and what the others are going to be thinking."
"I know. It's a bit of a scandal already I think, judging from what Hazel was saying. Do you mind? I mean, I never intended to monopolise you.” Lucy smiled, added, “I mean, I want to monopolise you, but never intended to want to…”
"As long as you don't mind, there's nothing I'd rather be doing,” said Ronnie, truthfully.
"Well, that's okay then, isn't it? Let’s get out of here."
Frowning slightly at her eagerness to escape their old friend’s hospitality, Ronnie caught up with her.
She took his hand and gave it a squeeze. "Can I drive?"
"In your dreams."

It was already warm, with the sun only halfway up in the sky, and everywhere was bathed in brilliant light. The sky was a uniform azure blue. The roads seemed smooth and quiet. For a while they didn't talk, and then they did. They found a side road off the main holiday routes which wound through several villages. They were all beautiful. After a while they started ranking them in terms of dream home desirability, deciding quickly that even the most minor flaw would disqualify it. For example, one place had just one flower under the "Villages Fleuris" ranking, which was pathetic, unless you're a hay fever sufferer. Another had an ugly grain store; another, the wrong kind of supermarket: Ed, rather than SuperU. Lucy had borrowed a map from Sally. It started out as an aimless drive, but after a while she caught her breath and started issuing instructions.

"Where are we going?" asked Ronnie.
"I've got to see this." She was pointing to a spot on the map.
"What is it?"
"It’s a village called St Guthlac sur Mer."
"Well, there must be hundreds of places like it, but, it's clear from the map it's about 10 kilometres inland. I bet it used to be right on the old coastline before they reclaimed all this land from the sea."
"Right up your alley, in other words."

When they were two kilometres from the village and knew where they were heading, Lucy folded the map and leaned back in her seat with a sigh of contentment.

"So. Weird or what?" she asked. "The last time we saw these people they were all children."
Ronnie agreed. "But I'd have punched your lights out if you'd called me a child back then."
"It's hard to think back what everyone was like. Some people think you can see the adult in the child, but it's not always so easy. You haven't changed much, and Dave - for example - is recognisably an older and sadder version of himself. Douglas seems like a really cool and contented guy, though, but what was he like then?"
"He always seemed nervy and spotty to me."
"Exactly. Whereas Dave worked at being the coolest guy in the school and has turned into a..."
"Mid-life crisis in progress."
"Don't forget bald."
"I feel for him a bit in that respect. I know it must have hurt when he realised it was happening. I was expecting something like that myself." Ronnie silently blessed the genes of his mother’s father, whoever he had been.

They rounded a curve in the road and passed the sign welcoming them to St Guthlac sur Mer, and then another one directing them to the Vieux Port. There wasn't a whole lot of village visible from the main through road, which split in two, becoming part of a one-way system around the outskirts, leading traffic away towards the coast. Ronnie drove slowly, looking for a turn into the main part of the village. On the hillside to their left, there were some new houses going up, but that had been the case in almost every village they’d driven through. They were in the classic Vendéen style: two low side wings with a mini tower in the middle. The roof tiles were red, the shutters blue, the walls, where painted, were white.

Ronnie saw a faded blue P for parking and turned right, following a narrow lane until he saw the small but empty car park. They stepped out of the air conditioned car into the ineffable hanging heat. The tarmac sizzled and the air shimmered. The cooling fan in the Audi’s engine kicked in automatically and somewhere in the village a church bell rang. It was half past noon on the village church clock and the place seemed deserted. With a tissue from his pocket, Ronnie picked at one of many dead insects on the windscreen of the car.

"Do you think we'll need our coats?" Lucy said.

They walked towards the sound of the bell. Lucy reached for Ronnie’s hand again, and Ronnie tried not to notice when she took it. She asked him his opinion of Didier.
“Strange, isn’t it,” said Ronnie, “How after all this time someone can seem so different from the rest of us. We all have in common that we grew up around the same area and went to the same school. At the very least we all have recogniseably the same accent.”
“Yes, he sticks out like a sore thumb,” she said. "And not just because he'd French."
“I thought it was strange the way he pounced on you over this visit, like you were treating it as a business trip.”
“And here’s my question. How did he know I was about to mix business with pleasure? I never said anything. I never finished my sentence.”
"What do you mean?"
"Well, the fact that he pounced on this, knowing it was to do with my job, I never told him that– today or yesterday. Also I think he lied about something else."

They'd stopped in front of the church. The sign into the village had said it was 12th century, and even the little Ronnie knew about architecture was enough to confirm this. A rough arch framed the door, which was of old oak and open halfway. The whitewashed walls were supported by flying buttresses all around and the clock tower seemed to lean outwards. Ronnie’s eyes struggled with the contrast between bright sunshine and the dark interior, but it didn't look as if there was anyone inside.

"Shall we?" Lucy asked.

Without waiting for an answer, she walked into the cool church and Ronnie followed, asking, "What did he lie about?"

"Something really odd. He said he didn't know the name of any villages that had once been on the coast. I asked him when you went back to get your keys. But I saw his car when we came out. I assume it was his: an old Peugeot with a french number plate. He had a commemorative sticker in his rear window. Saint Guthlac Sur Mer, Fête des Marais 2000. Something like that anyway. I mean, the name only rang a bell when I saw it on the map, but it all adds up."
"Perhaps he forgot."
"Perhaps, but it seems an odd thing to forget when someone’s just asked you about it."
"But why would you lie about something like that?"
"I've no idea. But I thought I should say."

She stopped in front of the altar, looked up at one of the dusty-looking stained glass windows. There was nobody else in the church, and Ronnie waited as his eyes became accustomed and he could make out more detail.

"So," Lucy said, with a full stop. "Why is a no-longer fishing port in the Vendée named after an eighth century English saint?"
“You what?”
“St Guthlac is very familiar to me. He was a hermit of the Lincolnshire fens; renowned for being a friend to all the animals – except the crows.”
“The crows? How do you know all this?” Ronnie’s confusion was compounded by the heat.
“It’s a thing I know because Guthlac has a connection with land reclamation and coastal erosion. And he was also adept at persuading rats to vacate premises.”
“Like the Pied Piper…”
“Of Hamelyn,” she finished.
"Perhaps it's not the same Guthlac?"
"No it is. See, that window, that scene portrays Guthlac driving vermin away with his staff. And that one shows a crow or raven eating one of his eyes."

Ronnie sat down on an old wooden pew.
Lucy was on her hands and knees looking at a brass inlay in the floor.
"Are you about to start rubbing?" he asked.
"I'm trying to read the inscription. It's been rubbed so many times it's gone faint."
Ronnie said, "I'm feeling a bit faint myself." Lucy looked up, concerned. "Joking," he said.
She hauled herself to her feet. "Anyway, it's all in Latin, and it's been a long time."
"Take a photo," suggested Ronnie. She looked as if she was about to kiss him.
"Genius," she said.

"I am intrigued by what you said about... whatsisname," mused Ronnie as Lucy set up her camera.
"Hmmm. I can't work out why he'd lie about something so... easily found out. How did the conversation go?"
"Almost as soon as you left the room to get the keys. I was about to make a move and he sort of stopped me. Cornered me a bit, actually.”
"Invading your personal space."
"Like that. And a bit smelly. And he asked if I had planned anything else for today, so I said nothing, apart from going for a drive with you. And he wanted to know if we were going to the beach, and I said, no, actually, I'm really interested in finding a museum or something with information about the land reclamation, you know, what we were talking about, all the monks and the Dutch engineers draining the marshlands and reclaiming land. So like that, and he kept asking questions, all interested, but also kind of aggressive, if you know what he mean."
"Aggressive in what way?"

Lucy paused to flash off a couple of shots and review them on the LCD screen.

"Well, okay, so this is a little bit like a busman's holiday, and he was asking – again – what did I want to go doing something work-related for, why wasn't I going to sit by the pool and relax. It was all a bit... you know. A drive out and a trip to a museum or something with a professional interest, doesn't seem too excessive to me."

"Anyway...?" prompted Ronnie.

"Yeah, so I said, is there anywhere round here with a museum? Don't know, he said. I asked, obviously there are places that used to be, you know, on the coast, but now they're inland, and did he know the name of anywhere like that? Don't know. Is there anywhere near here, I said, where the name would seem to indicate it used to be right next to the sea? Like this, St Guthlac Sur Mer. And he said, don't know. And that was it, when I finally got away I thought, well, I don't like him very much, even if he is letting me stay in one of his cottages for free. And then as we walked out and got in the car, there I saw it, the sticker in his windscreen."

"I see."

"So I know, genuinely, you can put something in your car window and completely forget all about it and all that. But this was different, this was, 'I don't know,' to every single question. And really abrupt. Okay, you might forget the name of the place, you might forget you once put a sticker in your car window, but you don't forget the fact of the place. The place exists, and you know about it."
She sat next to him on the pew, almost as heavily as he had, and sighed. “You think I’m imagining it?”

"Of course you are,” said Ronnie. “No, I believe you, I really do. I just wanted to hear the details. Sorry, I never doubted you in the slightest. There are ways he might not know about it, so it would be easy for him if you confronted him to plead innocence. But Sally was saying last night that he's local, he's lived here all his life, and given he was behaving in an odd way in general, I agree with you, he was lying, but I can’t imagine a reason why."

"It’s just the most bizarre thing to lie about. All because he didn’t like the idea of me going for a drive with you? Or doing something work-related. Or what?"

The sound of a baby crying outside broke the silence, and suddenly they were no longer alone. "Come on," Ronnie said. "Let's find a café, and you can tell me all about this Guthlac character."

The village had just the one café, connected to a hotel. There was a small garden terrace with a fountain. There was a view down the street to the church, or you could face the other way onto the covered market place. Ronnie and Lucy had wandered through the market place – which had a sign saying it was 13th century, and another saying, “Défense de Uriner” – to get to the café.

They’d just about stopped laughing about it when the café crèmes arrived. Lucy broke a sugar lump in half and stirred it in, looking back down the street to the church.

"I get the impression," began Ronnie.
"Your mind seems to be working overtime. This village has a mystery to it, which I'd love to know."
"I was trying to think of a way to explain it. Saint Guthlac is important in all of this. He's not a major saint you know, and I'm not Catholic, not practising anyway, so it's not like I’m an expert on saints. But I do know about him, because of his connection with the Lincolnshire fens."
"Go on," said Ronnie, sipping his coffee.

"Before he was a saint, he was a hermit. You know there used to be a kind of a career progression, where you'd start off by being a regular monk for several years, then you'd become a hermit for a while, and then you were made a saint. So you just make a decision to be extra holy, and go for it."

“Holier than thou.”
“Exactly. Holier than everybody.”

When Guthlac decided to be a hermit, she explained, he went off into the fenland. The significance of this was that the fens were considered beneath human notice. The land had no utility, so it was judged worthless, in much the same way as parts of the American plains are called Badlands. Bad, as in, too poor to sustain a crop or livestock. The fens weren't valued for their beauty, either. “This was in the 9th century, before the Romantic era and all the stuff about beautiful landscapes, or those theories of the sublime. We’ve only learned to look at rugged countryside and call it beautiful relatively recently.

“So Guthlac, in a way, was like Stig of the dump. He's living in the natural equivalent of a landfill site, or a toilet. But by becoming a holy man, a hermit, then a saint, he suddenly makes the place important.”

"Important how?" Ronnie asked.
"It's like one of those blue plaques on a building. So-and-so lived here, and now you can't pull this building down or change its façade. Because he lived on the fens, he brought them to people's notice. So the fens became valued. It's like being saved, you know, for born-again Christians. There's a judgement passed on the fens; they now have a value, and they're now worth saving. So if not for Guthlac -- or someone like him -- nobody would have thought, a couple of centuries later, that the land was worth reclaiming."
"So that's when the Dutch engineers show up with their pumping machines and drain the swamps, and turn what was worthless land into farm land."
The penny dropped for Ronnie, and he thought for a moment. “So that was the fenland,” he said. “What about the coast? You said he was connected to the coast as well?”
“Yeah,” she said. “It’s not quite the same thing, but in a similar vein. There’s a place on the fens called Crowland that is all connected to him. Round there was where they drained the marshes and turned it into valuable farmland. But on the coast, also, there’s a little village called Fishtoft or something. And that place had some kind of infestation. So again, Guthlac got rid of the infestation, or the thing that was making the place a bit of a dump, and turned it into a nice place again. So he’s connected to the whole idea of reclaiming things that are either beneath notice in the first place, or have become a bit run down.”

"So you were asking, why is a village in France named after this saint-of-the-fens..."
"There's a connection, because this land was reclaimed too. Or you could say it was saved or redeemed. And I’m wondering if there isn't also a supernatural element."
"What do you mean?"
"Like somebody thought there was some magic in Guthlac's name."
"Or his bones."
"Exactly. Or not his bones. His staff, maybe.”

Someone who should have a blog of their own writes...

Black and good morning.

There was a road traffic accident more or less outside our house last night. The main road into the village was closed from about 4pm until 11.30. While they took photos, measured things, drew lines on the road, drove cars fast up the road and skidded them. At one point there were 6 police cars flashing away.

The car that hit someone had its headlight smashed, the bonnet dented, and the windscreen on the driver's side was shattered to pieces. The pedestrian was thrown right across the road; on the opposite side of the road to the car and slightly ahead of it. On one of the police skid tests that I watched they came flying up the road and locked the brakes up and still managed to stop sooner than the driver of the car had done.

I saw him: he looked about 20, and he had a hood on and chain smoked while the police had him. His girlfreind was all dressed up but her face looked like a bulldog: all swollen up with crying. Like that King Crimson album cover. Guess he'll be having to do more than a police driving course to pay for that one. I assume it was a fatal accident, because he must have been tearing up the road to mash his car up that much on a human being and to propel them right across the road. I reckon, based on watching the police skidding the car, he must have been doing over 60 (30mph limit). He probably thought he was a cool great driver and completely safe, but he hadn't reckoned on the God of Doom pissing in his mouth like a usless towel head Iraqi while he wasn't looking.

When the truck came to take away the car, I noticed it was the same people that took my car away. And that reminded me that I still haven't had my tax disk back from Direct Line in spite of them promising over two weeks ago that I would have a cheque by the end of the week. They lied again. Crooks.

1) 65% of drivers under the age of 25 are driving under the influence of drugs according to government statistics.
2) 9 out of 10 accidents involving pedestrians at only 40mph end in the pedestrian being killed.
3) One of the first checks that the police do when you "pop" a pedestrian in a reality roadrage game is to check with your phone company to see if you were on a call at the time of the accident. If the pedestrian dies, and you were on the phone at the time, even if you are "hands free" you will be charged with manslaughter rather than dangerous driving.
4) Most people are theives and liars.
5) Baby Jesus will not protect you when your number is up and it is number 13.
6) It is an offence to use your hazard warning lights when there is no hazard.

Anyway, there was also a collision on the ringroad. It is never safe - there are always druggy twats driving in their hoods and baseball caps. We arrive at our destination mostly down to luck and safety in numbers.

May 06, 2004


Upset an estate agent yesterday, which, I don't know, feels like payback, even though I've no particular grudge. But it's such a racket isn't it? So little effort for so much money. This particular estate agent drives a huge gold mercedes, too, so your heart bleeds, obviously.

In other news, I was listening to "Part II" by Brad Paisley on the way to work this morning. It arrived yesterday. Most enjoyable, too. There's some ridiculously fast playing on the opening track, and the lyrics are funny. Quite a few of the songs sound like they're going to be the traditional maudlin type malke vocal country song, but then they kick into some quite funny lyrics, which is all you could ask really. Most of all, he's a fantastic guitarist, which is what I'd heard about him, so I'm pleased.

May 05, 2004

The last refuge of the chancer

The BBC (on ONE at least) have gone all Helvetica, which, I can't tell you, fills me to the brim with rage.

The "I hate Helvetica" site says it all: it's not that it's inherently ugly, but it is so overused. Not only overused, but always used in exactly the same way. (Of course it's not beyond notice that the site also commits a grammatical sin with an apostrophe error and the incorrect use of "there computers" - NOT as in, "them there computers," unless that is what they meant.)

When a designer uses Helvetica, especially in the cliched way currently in use on the Beeb, it's an admission of total incompetency. It's a sign that someone is absolutely bereft of creativity, a stranger to originality. There are millions upon millions of typefaces in the known universe, many of them attractive, recent, the product of hours of painstaking work. And yet the inspiration-free blagger designer, the chancer with a fictional CV and a bootleg copy of Photoshop, is just to damn lazy to live a little, to learn a little, to make some kind of effort.

Whoever did this, I say, deserves a good slapping. The BBC have moved from corporate redesign evoking 1930s public utility (the Gill Sans thing) to an empty cliche evoking 1950s... er... Swiss public utility. Give them a few years and they'll go all psychedelic on us - except they already tried that with BBC3.

What's to debate?

The photos are so obviously fakes/staged, whatever. I don't see what the debate is. I know the army people have gone on about the equipment being wrong (it looks like it came from army surplus or a hunting supplier to me, with the gun from Toys R Us), but surely the most telling detail is the way they've got the "Iraqi" prisoner wearing an Iraqi football shirt. Just in case you didn't know. It's cartoon-like in its obviousness.

And as for the pee pee picture, please. If men had that much control, the toilet floor would be dry, wouldn't it?

May 04, 2004

Between Here and Gone

Mary Chapin Carpenter's new record, "Between Here and Gone," is something of a return to form. Probably the best since "Come On Come On" in 1992.

The only thing that slightly jars is when her voice does this deep/gruff thing, which is something that's become more prevalent with age. It can spoil an otherwise nice song.

On the web site, under photos you will note that she is mostly photographed from above. This is because she is quite Big, as in Fat. I don't particularly care, mind. I've seen her live, so how could I not now that she is quite short and chubby? But her record company (those nice people at Sony) insist on promoting a mythologically slim version of her. You'll rarely see an album cover photo showing her correct size and girth. On the cover of "Come On Come On," her most successful album, she looks positively anorexic.

But she's one of those people, like Andie MacDowell, with a slim face and a big bum and thighs. These people can get away with it, photographically, whereas people like myself, the fat goes to the face first.

Anyway, I should say, a MCC record is really like a MCC+John Jennings record, because Jennings and his guitar playing have always been an essential part of her sound. He's a great player, and they go together like bourbon and coke.

So it's a nice record, some good songs, but I'm not sure it won't slide, eventually, into the Worthy But Dull category. I'm thinking now of a line in a Sara Evans song, "It sure is a long stretch of highway / Between going and gone..." and I'd rather be listening to that right now.

It's open season...

on Royal Mail at the moment. Missing post, late post, lost post, stolen post. I tell you, we are heading towards the dark ages. We'll wake up one day unable to use email because spam and viruses are clogging up the system; and the phone system will be similarly clogged with text spam and junk voice mail; and we'll want to be able to post letters again, only there won't be a post office any more.

In my limited experience, from which I am going to generalise wildly (take cover, trekkies) there will always be at least one person in each local delivery office who is nicking stuff. There just always is, which is why you're advised not to send cash in birthday cards and so on. So multiply one thieving scallywag per locality and you have the size of the problem.

You're as likely to flush out the thieves as you are to deal effectively with email spam, fraud, and viruses. It's the perennial problem of noise, so beloved of Michel Serres. It's always going to be an imperfect system, one that functions in spite of its failings, a system that works, if you will, because it does not work.