Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

We still had copybooks when I was at primary school, but they were boring things.

Like ruled exercise books, but the top line was occupied by repeats of a single letter. Your job was to fill the rest of the page with carefully crafted copies, using your wooden-handled, steel-nibbed pen, dipped into the inkwell, made out of thick white china which fitted into the hole at the top edge of your sloping desk, & which was regularly replenished by the ink monitor.

You had to be vigilant to make clear distinction between your upstrokes & downstrokes, to be careful that the nib did not get crossed or stabbed a hole through the paper, & to avoid making any blots.

And we think it a bad thing that students don’t get enough practice with their handwriting these days?

Generations before mine at least had something a little more interesting to practice their copperplate skills on. Instead of just a single letter, their copybooks had instructive messages to pass on, which by dint of being repeated by the child line by line to the bottom of the page, were bound to stick in the memory.

And so this poem by Rudyard Kipling almost, but not quite, nostalgic for me, yet seems peculiarly apt to the circumstances of today.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace,
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Rudyard Kipling

Not prose that goes all the way to the end of the page - Christopher Reid, in a negative definition of what a poem is.

Related posts

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Scholias, notis, and gloses

Look. Saddam Hussein was a bad man. A mad man.

He had been causing trouble for years. We had tried everything. He was still there!

After the Cold War was over the commies were no longer a threat, so we had to worry about rogue states instead.

They did not need industrial scale economies of war. Modern science can give them Weapons of Mass Destruction which can be manufactured anywhere. Germs. Chemicals. Even small bombs made really nasty by being contaminated with nuclear stuff.

The 9/11 bombers proved that these fanatics can kill us all. By hurting America they hurt us. So we had to do something.

The Iraqi people couldn’t do it for themselves; they deserve the help of a Good Man.

I know my duty. I decided to help protect them all. I am a Good Man, I am.


Yes of course I am sad that a lot of people have died. Things aren’t good, still not working very well.

But look – I have the scars on my back.

Reasons to be cheerful

Today there is not a single cloud in the sky – literally. Just a very high, light haze leaving a perfect pale blue wash over all.

The tops of all the hills are visible, covered in grass which is surprisingly green, given how sere they have been in spring these last couple of years at least.

Let us hope it is a sign of better things to come

Friday, January 29, 2010

Jolly hockey sticks

Goodness what a sea change has come over the climate change debate. Healthy scepticism is breaking out all over. On Monday on Radio 4 Justin Rowlatt asked if the environmental movement is bad for the planet, & today even Frank Skinner has had a go in The Times.

Anybody who has ever looked at any kind of time series would be interested in the hockey stick graph.

I am reminded of a debate which used to rage over the future levels of car ownership in this country. In the 1970s the graph showed a similar hockey stick shape or J curve. The implications of a continuing upward trend for land use, road building, parking & housing design were profound.

But there were those who argued passionately that growth would probably follow the pattern so common in nature – where the handle of the hockey stick in due course stops growing & levels off, to produce an S-shaped curve.

I haven’t followed that debate for the last 30 years, & am not in the mood to see if I can find a graph to show what has actually happened since then. And of course the motor car has not been around for long enough to demonstrate cycles of natural up & down variation around a long term trend.

But one major worry about growth in car ownership was environmental pollution – don’t remember anyone mentioning CO2 in those days, it was the emissions to the atmosphere of nasties like sulphur dioxide, NOx, particulates and, of course, lead which we had to fear.

Well lead was eventually removed from almost all the petrol, without car engines knocking themselves to destruction, & NOx & sulphur dioxide emissions have been greatly reduced, despite the increases in traffic.

And OK, the fundamental law of physics tells us that more CO2 = global warming. But what other law of physics steps in to give us a very cold spell of weather – I am sorry that my science is not up to this, even though we learned about the difference between the definition of weather & climate at primary school.

And what about that law of human behaviour & ingenuity, the one that pushes engineers into finding more efficient & elegant ways of producing the same result, without having to sacrifice the function altogether? Steam engines may have their aesthetic attractions for the eye, but they cannot otherwise compete with a modern train.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reasons to be grumbly

Yesterday morning I was woken to the sound of cascades of breaking glass & tumbling cans. The recycling boxes were being emptied – a day later than scheduled, or 15 if you count the collection missed altogether because of the weather. Some people had even been waiting since before Christmas.

To be fair - & it’s such a rotten job the collectors deserve not just fairness but grateful thanks – they were definitely out working hard around the village on Tuesday, but were obviously having to break more frequently to go & offload.

Fingers crossed, we will now be back on schedule without further disruption.

Until we get all the traffic delays come spring as they start trying to repair the ice-gouged potholes in the roads.

Some of us are only happy when we have something to grumble about.

A fox, paddling in a dug-out canoe

Ben Macintyre has written a column which claims that the web and the internet are turning us all into foxes (even though some of us are still physically & emotionally trapped in the body of a hedgehog).

Opportunity knocked

When I was at university, back in the Dark Ages when only 5% of the age group had that privilege and only ¼ of them were female, one of the questions which might be put to us – by tutors – was: Is it worth using such scarce investment resources to educate girls who will probably withdraw shortly from the labour market in order to be wives & mothers?

Of course any girl who could not justify her resounding answer YES! really should not have been studying economics.

One part of the answer usually involved the idea that the benefits of her education would show up in better educated children, encouraged to talk, argue, question from an early age.

And now the government sponsored An Anatomy of Economic Inequaltiy in th UK: Report of the National Equality Panel (Jan 2010) tells us that “The gap in assessment for English children [at age 5] depending on mother’s highest qualification was … equivalent to 15 months of typical development – between those whose mothers had no qualifications and those with the highest qualifications.”

The real question should have been why do we not devote more resources to giving this opportunity to more of those perfectly capable of benefiting from it.

Related posts

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reaching an agreed conclusion

Doctors are uniquely empowered to face and shape their own deaths, whatever the legislation” wrote Dr Mark Porter in a thoughtful & very honest article about euthanasia. Some of their patients may envy that, & feel bitter about how that empowerment is denied to them & their loved ones.

I wonder if anyone has ever done a study of how doctors die (or would like to) – along the lines of those which ask female obstetricians about whether they would choose a C-section over natural childbirth for themselves.

Of course we know that doctors have one of the highest occupational rates of suicide; which means that doctors also know only too well, through the loss of admired friends & colleagues, how even good people, with much life left, may be tempted to leave too soon.

As Dr Porter also writes: “But it’s not what I think that matters ... What really matters is your opinion. So make your voice heard

Baby long legs

It has been scientifically proven that English legs are getting longer. Alan Dangour showed that the legs of English boys and girls are now longer than they were 20 years ago, according to an article in Eureka, so it is not just my imagination – assuming that the same holds true once they reach adulthood.

It is thought that this is down to improved diet and environmental conditions, though it does not help with the question of whether legs have grown longer only in the last 20 years or whether & how much they have contributed to the much longer term increase in average height of people in this country.

The legs are usually the least developed part of a newborns visible anatomy – I am always reminded of a tadpole - but I am wondering if anyone has done research into whether legs these days are more developed at this stage too.

They are certainly well developed at an early age.

One day recently while the ice was still thick on the pavements there was a young girl on the bus with grandma. Probably just either side of her third birthday, I thought. She was attracting attention - she was at that unselfconsciously chatty stage, her voice that distinctive combination of high pitch, sing-song & drone.

Then she stood up. Good heavens, she must be more like 5 or even 6.
I paid her even more attention. When she decided to stand up on the seat it was clear that her legs were indeed very long – probably longer than the rest of her - & well formed. But she was wearing a daytime nappy, & she was on the reins. When she sat down she went back to being 3 again.

It makes me wonder if the leg development might be happening even before birth.

Mothers too are better nourished these days, but it also reawakens another question – has any research been done into children born to mothers who spent a long period on The Pill before they ever got pregnant? Could the change in regulation of the mothers hormone cycle be producing subtle changes in the way the foetus develops, not necessarily for the worse? I have vague memories of being startled the first time I heard that vitamin D is technically a steroid hormone.

And while being confined to a buggy for so much longer than used to be the case may be contributing to the obesity epidemic, it does not seem to be doing legs any harm.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The greatest improvement in the productive power of thought

We have long been aware that people differ in the way they can see things, at least in those ways which are amenable to correction with the aid of an extra lens.

The science of brain scanning is revealing all kinds of other differences in perception.

Some people really are tone deaf or cannot hit the right note even if they know what it is. Others cannot recognise a face, even of their own child while some can recognise any face once seen. And so on.

Medical scientists in particular tend to christen these ‘conditions’ – prosopagnosia for instance. I prefer to think of them as examples of human variability.

But if we do not all perceive the world in the same way, can we maintain that the world is.

Can it be an entity which we can understand by observation?

Yes - in fact it is probably essential that we each see it differently (albeit in overlapping ways).

Just as division of labour makes us more efficient as economic producers, so division of perception makes us more efficient as observers, interpreters, understanders & inventors of our future.

Related post

One of those days

Today is one of those days. I have already lost one post which just disappeared in to the ether, then it published another (one only just begun) entirely without my say s0.

So I am giving up & going home

Let's do lunch

Sales of McDonalds in Britain were at record levels last year despite the recession.

To which I have contributed rather a lot – in terms of the percentage growth in my own expenditure in the chain.

The reason is, overwhelmingly, the weather, although I do not wish to give the impression that I do it only because forced – it’s just that some variety would be nice.

But the number of days in 2009 on which one could sit outside to eat sandwich, pie or salad could be numbered on the fingers. Those of us without an office desk to sit at perforce had to find somewhere else that is warm & dry.

And McDonalds is just the nearest; on so many days the weather was so miserable that one just did not want to venture further afield.

Besides, McDonalds has other advantages to offer – plenty of space to put down your bag & wet jacket – no sitting cramped up on trendy bentwood chairs.

The local branch is clearly well run, with staff morale high, & therefore a truly friendly welcome.

And a reliably available menu even when the lunchtime rush is over, whatever time you go in.

They are also well aware of the new magic number: "We have ensured that, even if you walk into our restaurants with just £1 in your pocket, there will be something there for you.”

Related post

Monday, January 25, 2010

What's in a name?

It has occasionally occurred to me to wonder if by any chance Frank & Vicky Pope are related.

Both have a professional interest in oceans – one as a climate change scientist, the other as an ocean correspondent.

Which would be the bigger coincidence? Two close relatives achieving prominent but independent positions in the same field, or two people unrelated by genes or blood or marriage working in the same field & just happening to share a surname?

Related post
Deep dream job

Looking under the bed

Like many others I wondered what was the point of the home secretary telling us that he had raised the terrorism threat level. What was I supposed to do about it?

At least there used to be posters about abandoned bags etc in the days when the IRA campaign was at its height

It is not the first time I have wondered about the current alarms. Back in the days when I first started tootling around on Google, keen to try all sorts of things to learn about how it worked, I once came across a mystery site which, in a idiotic way, I thought might be being used by terrorists to communicate with each other. I quickly realised that was just plain wrong, but it set me thinking: who should I have told if it were.

I asked an acquaintance – ex-Scotland Yard. He suggested our community beat officer, which did not seem quite right somehow.

Now, in the interests of being a good citizen I have taken the trouble to find out.

One of the following should fit the bill.

Madeleine moment

I was late going in to town last Friday, got to the bus stop in the middle of the village about 2pm.

There is one advantage to that – the buses are quiet, not even very many gallivanting pensioners.

There was one young man already waiting; I would have said twenty-something but am learning, in the interests of accurate reporting, to add 10 to any such estimate I make these days.

He lit a roll up cigarette. And I was transfixed. The name Sail had just popped into my head.

The name of one very particular blend of tobacco. It was the smell that did it. A smell which holds a very special place in my heart.

Funnily enough it has been years since I could remember the brand name, & I have tried. Even tried in my early Googling to find it via their slogan: Sweeter Than A Nut. No luck. I can remember exactly what the pack looked like, & have most certainly never seen it on sale in this country, not even in specialist shops.

In the now increasingly common senior moments a name usually comes back, after a while, to a feeling of annoyance – why would it not come before? On those occasions there is no doubt that I know that that is indeed the name I was searching for. The funny thing this time is that, although it felt like a confident memory, I did not think that the name actually rang a bell, was not sure of it at all.

This time Google did come to my rescue – I was even able to find a picture.

But it answers only to its own name – Sweeter Than A Nut still does not do it.


Related post

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Enforced food waste

If we want to cut down on food waste we could make a good contribution by persuading supermarkets & manufacturers to go back to making stuff available in smaller sizes suitable for use in the large number of households which now consist of only one or two people.

My particular current bugbears are bread & milk. It is impossible now to buy a half a pint of milk; it is even very difficult to buy long life full cream milk in anything smaller than a 1 litre carton.

Skimmed or semi-skimmed milk does not keep well, you really need to use it on the day of opening.

It is also virtually impossible to buy any ordinary kind of bread as a small loaf – even Hovis has disappeared. I am usually reduced to looking for those overpriced baked fresh in store rolls – production of which ceases some time in the afternoon, so the bread baskets are bare by the time I get there.

People say Just buy a large loaf & keep it in the freezer. Well that's fine if you have hungry teenagers & defrost a whole loaf at a time - if you need just a couple of slices, it is an absolute pain. A small loaf needs only a simple bread bin for keeping in - carbon footprint virtually zero.

There are so many things you can eat on toast – beans, cheese, eggs, tomatoes, sardines, honey, black treacle. With an imaginative side salad maybe a cup of soup before & a yoghourt after, a well balanced, nourishing & easy to prepare meal for those no longer able to contemplate all the standing & energy required to produce more complex dishes every day.

When large supermarkets first made their appearance on the scene they were avoided by those living in smaller households – street markets & specialist shops did not insist you bought only giant sized family packs.

Then supermarkets cottoned on to this market – especially when the elderly were joined by affluent working singles or childless couples - & even more so when they realised that families too sometimes welcomed the chance to each choose their own dish for supper tonight.

I do not know why things changed back to the bad old ways.

I throw away far more food than I wish or intend to do, merely because I am so often forced into buying 6 or more lamb chops or chicken legs & then just quail at the thought of thinking of something to do with that last one.

Continuity black hole

Twenty first century man travels much more freely than his forbears; where they negotiated rickety staircases with missing treads, rough ground, uneven pavements & met insuperable or impenetrable barriers, we have travelators, escalators, lifts, automatic doors & access ramps. We can even fly.

Eventually we do have to come back down to earth, almost always, with the help of a lot of clever mathematics, on a designated landing strip.

We think that, mathematically speaking, the universe is an undifferentiated mass of points without gaps, through which we may travel freely in any direction in space without let or hindrance, on a kind of travelator which passes through or over any point.

Sometimes we have minor accidents, we do not quite make it on to the runway as we should. But then we just say oops! & pretend that we did, after all, mean to land where we did. Sometimes the results are more disastrous, fatal even.

We depend on mathematical equations & models to navigate us through these days of computers, budgets, targets. Most of these use the kind of mathematics of continuous functions, which depend crucially on the assumption that any answer is possible, corresponds to something in the real. Where it does not we round or truncate to something which does, cheerfully pretending that the reality gap does not exist.

Most of our accidents have been minor (we think).

They may not always be so.

Related posts

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Nepotism & journalism

We know, from the Milburn report, The Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, that journalism is one of the professions which has experienced the biggest decline in social mobility, but what is perhaps less commented upon is the way in which it seems to be very much a family business these days.

We have the Dimbleby brothers in charge of the BBC tv & radio versions of Any Questions.

News International is still pretty much a family business. And there are several husband/wife teams whose work regularly appears in The Times – Muir/Macintyre, Purves/Heiney, Wagner/Gilbert, Vine/Grove, Moran/Paphides to name a few.

I was prompted into thinking about this again by a very timely article yesterday – a much needed corrective to the majority coverage of Haiti which is full of angst & portrays Haitians as helpless, defeated people unable to do anything to help themselves, totally dependent on outside aid. It was written by Isabelle de Caires who is described as ‘from Guyana and worked for the Stabroek News.’

Yes, & just happens to be married to Chief Cricket Correspondent of The Times, & daughter of the greatly missed founding editor of Stabroek News .

Now of course it is natural for people to marry people they have met – often, these days, most likely to be through work - & to marry people with whom they share a passion for the written word. These are all good journalists/ writers whose work helps keep me buying The Times every day.

But I just wish they had mounted a stronger defence of the idea that sometimes the partner of an MP is the best person to work in their support, the only criterion that they actually do the job, & that MPs should not, uniquely, be barred from working together.

Parity of exchange

The Financial Times was reporting the crisis in Foreign Office funding in December- while Parliament was on holiday. Not much notice seems to have been taken until Lady Kinnock made her remarks in the House of Lords

It is very hard to understand why anyone ever thought it a good idea to make the Foreign Office take its own foreign exchange risks on their £830m core budget – a minuscule amount in the context of the sums traded on foreign exchanges each day, but needing complex operations given the number of different currencies involved in virtually every country in the world. This just guarantees greater variability & therefore unpredictability in the best way to hedge ones bets. Surely best left to the experts in the Treasury?

And even if the Foreign Office had its own experts, or were allowed to contract with outsiders, would they be permitted to proceed on the basis of a different view of prospects for the British economy than that of Her Majesty’s Treasury? If not, it’s just a double whammy the diplomats have fallen for.

The sudden & sometimes arbitrary cutbacks which now have to be made will have long lasting & incalculable effects. Not least because of the reported cuts affecting locally recruited staff. Each person who loses their job or has to accept reduced hours will have a network of family, friends, acquaintances & neighbours who will be dismayed by the lack of loyalty to their servants displayed by Her Majesty’s Government.

And I wonder if this might be an unlooked for consequence of the Bank of England’s decision to withdraw from the provision of retail banking & clearing services to government departments.

Related post
Treasury bankers

Origin obscure

It was a Times crossword clue which set me thinking – is caramel derived from camel? They are, after all, pretty much the same colour.

The OED does not consider the possibility, suggesting instead that caramel comes from Latin words for a little tube or alternatively, sugar cane. The origin of camel is equally complicated, possibly even derived form the same source as elephant.

I think I prefer my simpler explanation.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Explaining the weather

So now we can all just go back to being wet all the time, with the precipitation no longer getting frozen on its way down.

The track (& only the track) was mystifyingly wreathed in mist this noontime. I was trying to work out if it was cold rain falling on warm earth, or warm rain, falling on still tundra-like clay beneath the mud, which was causing the condensation.

The sooner the BBC changes its purveyor of the nation’s weather the better.


It’s MY vote

I do not pretend to know anything about the politics of Massachusetts, save for the Kennedy connection.

But I wonder if the surprise Republican win in Ted Kennedy’s former seat has all that much to do with politics – in the sense of policies – as has been said.

Electors really do not like being taken for granted, & the Democrat candidate does seem to have done that in this case.

I am reminded of the case of PatrickGordon-Walker.

Harold Wilson had intended to appoint him as Foreign Secretary when Labour returned to power in 1964, but Gordon-Walker lost his seat in what many saw as an unprincipled campaign on immigration & race in his Smethwick constituency.

Reginald Sorenson, long standing MP for the safe East London Labour constituency of Leyton, was persuaded to accept an appointment to the House of Lords & Gordon-Walker stood for Labour in the resulting by-election.

He lost.

There are different theories about why, exactly, but it was clear that the voters were just not going to be told what to do in this way.

Related post

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Not many dead

In an intriguing article on The Times Archive Rose Wilde explores the reaction to the first Zeppelin raid on Norfolk in 1915.

The Times played down the damage in a leading article:
They have killed a boy, an old lady, a middle-aged shoemaker, & a soldier’s widow, & they have injured a baby. They have also demolished 3 or 4 house, & smashed a thousand windows. These are paltry achievements …”

In other words nobody who really mattered was killed.

How very different from our own dear days, when, instead of saying ‘Is that the worst you can do?’ we go into melt down, searching even babies & old ladies – not to mention shoemakers! - for the wmd they might have hidden somewhere

Though, to be fair, The Times did go on to say that ‘it will be unwise to meet such an episode with jeers & nothing more.

Well we were at war

Related post

The path of wisdom

I was very impressed by the interview which Razi Shah, the solicitor for Munir Hussain, gave to Radio 5 yesterday, following the decision of his client’s appeal which had been fast tracked & presided over by the Lord Chief Justice himself.

Dignified, even charming, in making his case, without aggression, without criticism of the jury’s verdict, showing keen awareness of the legal & social issues involved, he very skilfully got in the important point that this incident was over in less than 5 minutes – I had certainly been left with the impression from earlier press reports of the original trial that Munir Hussain & his brother had had much longer to plot to chase the burglar - & gracefully thanked the Lord Chief Justice for exercising mercy.

There was just one point which gave me pause – when he said that his client had feared for the honour of his wife & daughter – a sensitive topic these days. But then I remembered that one question which used to be put to those claiming the status of Conscientious Objector was ‘Would you attack/kill a man who was raping your wife/sister/daughter?’ – not culturally different at all.

I could not understand the original sentence, even granted that I did not hear all the evidence at the trial, & am not disputing the jury’s verdict. What purpose could it serve to send such a generally law-abiding man to jail for such a long time?

It appears from this interview that the trial judge was following sentencing guidelines, which the Lord Chief Justice has now said must be tempered in exceptional circumstances.

Sweet dreams

This morning on Woman’s Hour Professor Jim Horne, Director of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University, said that you can get your baby to sleep longer at night if you ensure that they take their daytime sleeps in the light.

Under a window - curtains left open. Or in the garden if it’s a fine day.

So the old fashioned idea was not so daft after all.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

National treasure

Neil Macgregor is a national treasure.

The various tv series he did while director of the National Gallery taught me a lot – I especially remember one about how technology affected art – different brushes, pigments, textures & qualities of paint & surfaces for painting on.

And now we have an ambitious radio series A History of the World in 100 Objects - a story of endless connections.

He has a gift for phrase making:

Packing for a journey starts with a toothbrush & ends with excess baggage.

If you can shape a stone you can shape a sentence.

There is a clear purpose behind all this, one which might even lead to accusations of special pleading about the right to hold, the rightness of holding all these objects in a British museum for the higher purpose of teaching us that we are all connected, people are people across time & space, not insuperably divided by ethnicity & culture; a point of view which is close to my own heart.

He may even be subtly reassuring us, get over your guilt about buying too much stuff; the things we make make us human.

Almost makes me want to go back to Toynbee, Wells & Childe to compare & contrast

Snow lottery

I caught an interview with the Executive Councillor in charge of snow on local radio this morning. It turned out to be instructive & interesting.

There have inevitably been complaints about gritting (lack of) & bin emptying (ditto), & some people have undoubtedly seen little of either. We have been more lucky – there have been only two days when I personally could not get out, or felt it unwise to do so – but then I have not attempted to go just to the village. If I can get to the bus stop better to go all the way to take advantage of the facilities in town.

We have even had our bins (though not the recycling boxes) emptied, albeit two days late in the week after New Year.

The councillor admitted that they had all been taken by surprise by the snow of 20 December – which means presumably that the Met Office really did not get the forecast right. So by the time the gritters came out roads were already blocked by stranded or abandoned cars. After that first day the main roads were certainly well cleared.

The story about side roads & pavements is more interesting, in its way. These have always been the legal responsibility of the County Council, but contracted out for many years to the local district council. Then last year, after a thorough review of costs, the county took the responsibility back in house – taking over, as it happened, on 14 December.

Bad mistake, as it turned out.

So there has been a re-review. The district council has taken back the responsibility & to make assurance doubly sure has bought two quad bikes with snow blades & a small tractor ditto, to make certain we can cope in future if this winter is the new norm. They have thus spent more this month on snow clearing equipment than they have in the last 15 years.

On the bright side all the hard work on the drains has paid off. The thaw has brought no floods round our way, though the river & the stream are in full spate. Even the track, which was still covered with a thick layer of ice on Monday, muddy & very wet on Tuesday, was almost springily dry under foot today. I have passed that way each day in order to take more than a month’s worth of washed & squashed down to recycling.

Local radio has really proved its value, keeping us up to date with road & school closures, bus routes affected (as far as I know the trains never stopped - a pretty impressive achievement given the height they have to climb to & the steepness of some of the inclines involved.)

Even now. This morning they were reporting (a trifle sceptically) that Snake Pass is still closed.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Snow tragedy

Priscilla Masters writes detective fiction set in Leek, so her books have added local interest.

I have just been reading her Wings Over The Watcher, which, just in passing, as a piece of local colour, mentions a tragedy from the hard winter of 1947, the crash of an RAF Halifax bomber over Grindon in the Staffordshire Moorlands just above the beautiful Manifold Valley whose cave was a regular destination for our Sunday picnics.

Its mission had been to drop vital supplies to villagers cut off by the snow. It surprises me that, as far as I know, I had never heard anything about it before.

All eight people on board (including two press photographers) were killed, on 13 February 1947.

When I went to The Times Archive to check the details I found some other very salutary news on the same page.

Many passenger train services were cancelled so that coal trains could be given absolute priority on the lines.

Street lights were blacked out except at junctions where there was heavy pedestrian traffic after dark.

Shops had their electricity supplies severely restricted. Only those providing vital commodities (food, dairy, dispensing chemists) could operate as normal. Important services, such as banks & boot & shoe shops, were allowed limited supplies. All other shops – including the big West End department stores – were allowed no electricity at all.

And – shock, horror - in Inner London the 7pm delivery of letters, together with the 7.30pm & 9pm collections were suspended until further notice.

And we think we have just had it very hard in 2010.

It is also salutary to compare the amount of press coverage of the accident at Grindon with that of the various 'tragedies' experienced this year. Just one brief report followed up next day with a list of the dead.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Middle class targets

So the battle has been joined. Middle Class votes are what matter for the next election. Gordon Brown has them in his sights.

But what does Middle Class mean?

If you read The Times, most of their writers seem to think it means having your children privately educated, with all that implies for job, income & lifestyle.

A very small class; 93% of children go to State schools.

Our Prime Minister is not alone of course. One of President Obama’s first acts was to set up a Middle Class Task Force on Middle Class Working Families.

A report published in July by the Council of Economic Advisers described the kinds of jobs these American middle class families would need to fill in the future.

Aircraft Mechanics: 2008 median earnings: $51,390
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians: 2008 median earnings: $30,610
Environmental Engineering Technicians: 2008 median earnings: $41,100
Electrical Power Line Installers and Repairers: 2008 median earnings: $55,100

A lot broader than our definition of middle class – I am pretty sure most would fall into the Registrar General’s Social Class 3. Bang in the middle of classes 1 to 5, but what we would have called Skilled Working Class.

So its not just exams that get grade inflation.

As the Economix blog commented at the time “They say there’s only one thing that matters in real estate: location, location, location. A similar mantra could apply to the job market: education, education, education.”

Now where have we heard that before?

Of course Mr Brown has not forgotten about education. He said that " the next project for New Labour, our next generation project... The coming decade will provide the UK with more middle class jobs than ever before … in the next decade, only 10% of jobs will be unskilled - the biggest number of middle class jobs in our history.” To be achieved through education.

So we have another inflation – this time in targets: 75% of people aged under 30 to have access to either university or technical college.

Related posts

Favourite biscuits

It must be an age thing – like crisps.

You don’t have a favourite biscuit? What planet are you from? Call yourself fit to run the country?

They were at it again interviewing Nick Clegg on Radio 5. Naturally he had an answer he had prepared earlier.

I have a definitely unfavourite biscuit, one which will always stay in the tin of Family Selection, because that is the only way one would ever make its way into the Hedgehog homestead.

I suppose I would eat it if we had been snowed in for a fortnight & there was nothing else left, or offered one as the sole choice in someone else’s house. But otherwise – euugh!

Chocolate Bourbon.

I don’t know why, I just hated the first I ever tried, far too sickly sweet & yucky, over 60 years ago, & have mostly managed to avoid the torture ever since.

Otherwise, I love biscuits. Bring them all on.

Having a favourite biscuit is like having a favourite among your own children & my vote will go to the first politician to give that answer to the question.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Protest Poem

Something stirred at the back of my mind when I wrote about Gay wellies.

It was this wry, resigned poem from a 1982 collection, Winterlude, by Vernon Scannell

Protest Poem

It was a good word once, a little sparkler,
Simple, innocent even, like a hedgerow flower,
And irreplaceable. None of its family
Can properly take over: merry & jolly
Both carry too much weight; jocund & blithe
Were pensioned off when grandpa was alive.

Vivacious is a flirt; she’s lived too long
With journalists & advertising men.
Spritely & spry, both have a nervous tic.
There is no satisfactory substitute.

It’s down the drain & we are going to miss it.

No good advising me to go ahead
And use the word as ever. If I did
We know that someone’s bound to smirk or snigger.

Of all the epithets why pick this one?
Some deep self-mocking irony
Or blindfold stab into the lexicon?

All right. Then let’s call heterosexuals sad,
Dainty for rapists, shy for busy flashers,
Numinous for necrophiles, quaint for stranglers;

The words & world are mad! I must protest
Although I know my cause is lost.
A good word once, & I’m disconsolate
And angered by this simple syllable’s fate:
A small innocence gone, a little Fall.

I grieve the loss. I am not gay at all.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Licence to kill?

A very slightly dodgy general store has a new and prominent sign in its window: WE NOW SELL CIGARETTES.

This startled me; I looked for the rubric above the door: Licensed to sell tobacco. There was none. So out of curiosity I glanced up at the doorway as I passed a newsagent chain: no sign there either.

Can I really be imagining that such licences were necessary during my childhood? I have had no luck so far trying to get the information off the web.

Keeping up the good work

I thought my eyes were deceiving me when I spotted a job advert in The Times headed Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.

But no, this organisation still exists to make major awards to scientists and engineers for research, development and design – it has capital assets of £60m from which to make annual disbursements of about £2m.

I wonder if there will be any comparable organisation founded this year which will still be doing such good work in 160 years time.

And I just noticed – Pooh Bah* gets two ex officio seats on the Commission – one in his capacity as President of the Council & one as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills.

*Baron Mandelson of Foy in the county of Herefordshire and Hartlepool in the county of Durham.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The sheep of the nation

Last Sunday a BBC news report told us that Gordon Brown had led the tributes to Robert Hamer, the Sunday Mirror journalist killed in Afghanistan.

It is good that the Prime Minister should pay his tribute, but I get really angry at the idea that he must always lead these things.

What about his family & friends, colleagues? Don’t they come first?

At least the BBC dropped this formulation in later bulletins.


Of all the countries I have visited Haiti is the only one I really should not want to visit again.

It was 40 years ago & I was there for less than 48 hours, so I did not get to see very much. But the atmosphere was somehow threatening, even though the people I met were charming & helpful.

It’s not the people. I can’t remember whether it was PJ O’Rourke or David Landes who pointed out that the value (in the labour market sense) of even the poorest most ill-educated Haitian multiplies manifold the moment he gets to New York even as an illegal immigrant.

Somehow it sums up everything to hear a reporter tell us that he had come to a kind of makeshift camp or congregation of the people just a few minutes walk from the airport, but even there there had been no sign, as yet, of any aid getting through.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Details that matter

Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs are advertising on local radio to make sure that all those who have tax bills to pay this month are aware of an important development.

The collectors’ bank account details have been changed, so make sure you pay the money into the right account. Or else.

Related post
Treasury bankers

Dear Prime Minister

I enjoyed one anecdote in particular from Antonia Fraser’s Must You Go? on Radio 4 this morning

Harold Pinter received what was, in the circumstances, a rather fine letter of congratulations when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The only problem was that it began Dear Harold & was signed Yours, Tony even though the two had never met.

The laureate replied with a letter which began Dear Prime Minister & was signed Yours, Harold Pinter.

Related post

Sign language

There has been a real outbreak of bus drivers sailing on by, leaving would-be passengers stranded at an ice-bound bus stop.

I first noticed people complaining in the week after Christmas, but I put it down to them not being schooled in the ways of buses – resorting to this mode of travel just because they could not get the car out. Under the rules the bus will not stop unless you stick out your hand to signal to the driver.

Actually this rule also disconcerts people who move away from London, where buses stop unless the red sign marks it clearly as ‘Request Only’; many was the time I stood at a bus stop outside the university, fuming at an inconsiderate driver, until someone explained the strange provincial rule to me.

City bus drivers have to be ruthless to make progress & attempt to keep to the timetable in the midst of all the congestion. Out in the country however the rule tends to be honoured in the breach, with drivers at least slowing to check, or even waiting for those they recognise as regulars who are approaching a stop. I have even had one driver ‘hope I didn’t mind’ him tooting his horn to drag my attention away from the newspaper article in which I had allowed myself to get too absorbed to notice his arrival.

But this sailing on by has happened to me 1½ times these past two weeks, so something is definitely going on.

I can think of two possible reasons. The first is that for some reason the drivers have become unhappy & bolshie, dissatisfied with management & just going through the motions of doing the job – something very similar happened on the local trains after privatisation, though that seems mostly to have been cured recently.

The other reason is the weather.

Suddenly the concentration has to be all on the condition of the road ahead, distracting attention away from what is standing waiting for you on the pavement.

I tend to believe the second explanation.

We are all distracted, befuddled & bemused some of the time as we adjust our routines to cope with these exigencies.

I missed my stop coming home on Tuesday night. Even when the driver stopped anyway & called out ‘This is your stop’ it took me a while to realise he meant me – the windows are now so dirty it was impossible to see outside.

But it proves that drivers have not lost their consideration & concern.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A step on the slippery slope

Much fretting over the common idea that the official advice is not to clear the snow from the path outside your house or shop – if anyone slips, you could be sued. This of course, is down to elf’n’safety rules in the litigious society we have become.

I can remember this advice first becoming popular in the 1960’s – or possibly even as far back as the 1950s. The theory was that instead of being helpful you might just create a greater hazard as it is impossible to ensure that a cleared surface will be completely dry, will not be covered by a film of water which can freeze into lethal black ice. And yes, you might be liable if anyone slipped.

It may be no coincidence that this change of heart came about just as more homes were getting central heating or at least modern gas or electric fires (encouraged by the Clean Air Act); the ash from the open coal fire used to do at least as good a job as modern salted grit, & so was made good use of. Extraordinary now to remember that this otherwise constituted by far the biggest component of household waste sent to landfill - hence the way that even modern plastic dustbins & wheelie bins come inscribed with the warning NO HOT ASHES.

It was an icy step that caused consternation among the medical fraternity of Manchester in (I think) the 1860s. A woman slipped on an icy step & fractured her wrist. Something went wrong with the setting & she lost the use of her arm completely. So she sued the doctor at The Infirmary & was awarded £50 compensation.

The local branch of the BMA called an emergency meeting to protest at this unprecedented imposition upon one of their profession.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Newsagents woe

Not a good new year for the small newsagent shop.

Cigarette prices up (without any offsetting reduction in the extra levy which was imposed last year to compensate for the cut in VAT)

The Times put its price up by 11% on Monday. Just following the fashion - everything £1.

Related post

Alcohol epidemic

I have lifted this useful graph showing UK alcohol consumption per head from a very thought provoking piece by Mark Easton about the drinking epidemic that grips us now.

I cant help but note that it confirms my feeling that the drop in alcohol consumption in the middle years of the C20th coincided with, or was replaced by, the smoking epidemic – drinking began to rise again after the news about the link between smoking & lung cancer began to be publicly known in the late 1950s.

I am not suggesting that it was that simple – there are clearly many other factors in play, not least alcohol's ease of availability, social acceptability together with the liberation of women which has given them more disposable income of their own & more latitude in the way they behave in public.

Then there is the question of relative price; the rise in prices of cigarettes is at least an order of magnitude greater than the rise in the price of alcohol.

Which brings into question the role of government policy in all this. Does it have any effect or does it just follow behind fashion & public opinion, pushing on the open door of public acceptability?

Consumption of illegal drugs has grown despite the very expensive war being waged against them.

One of the odder effects of the recent anti-smoking legislation is the sight of NO SMOKING signs in shops which had generally speaking not felt the need to display them for years – people had long since accepted that it was just not done. And despite grumbling, there has been little real attempt to defy the ban.

I suspect that the graph conceals all sorts of changes in the pattern of who drinks what when & where. The continuing popularity of spirits comes as a bit of a surprise to me – it is now so rare to be offered a glass when you visit anyone’s house.

And looking at the graph comparing liver disease in the UK & Mediterranean countries, one is tempted to conclude that wine must be the real culprit.


The art of walking on snow

I feel ridiculously pleased, proud, & certainly relieved, to have rediscovered the art of walking on snow (& ice).

Stand up straight, take it steady, watch where you are going, & put your feet DOWN.

If you walk as if you expect to slip – head down, back bowed, knees bent, shuffling – YOU WILL.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Gay wellies

This is not a harrumph about the way a ‘perfectly good word’ was ‘hijacked’, it just seems the mot juste.

Bright. Fun. Highly coloured. They just don’t fit my meaning.

I hope the wellies do, for the subject is wellington boots which, in a demonstration of how quickly markets can respond are suddenly being sported by young women who would not have been seen dead in them two weeks ago.

Spots, swirls, stripes, multicoloured.

Fashion provides a fruitful laboratory for studying everything from memes to global capitalism.

And gay is fun, lightens the mood, shows the resilience of the human spirit & a refusal to be cowed, bowed down or confined to barracks.

Bus pass joke

A nice joke to close Kenneth Steven’s Radio 4 progamme about WB Yeats's The Lake Isle of Innisfree.

A poet had been visiting an Irish poetry reading. Asked if he needed a lift home, he politely declined, explaining that as a man of over 60 years he could simply say “I will arise & go now, I go to Ennis. Free

World on ice

Such is the parochial nature of our national news bulletins that it was only when I heard World Service last night that I realised that it is not just this country which is suffering from unprecedented ice & snow. Not even just Europe.

China. Mexico. Florida. These were just some of the places mentioned.

It is all very well for some (& Edward Miliband is the worst offender I have heard) to sneer that of course such is not inconsistent with global warming. I understand the argument they are putting, but it sits badly with the previous emphasis on vineyards on the Tay, small island countries sinking beneath a rising tide & polar bears forced into extinction. Young master Edward in particular should listen to the tape of himself & consider whether it might not, in fact, have been more politically savvy to explain without condescension to the voters who genuinely do not understand.

On a related point, Carl Mortished (one of my favourite columnists) was the only journalist I have read who explained why there was a bit of a panic about gas supplies last week - a hiccup in production at the Troll gasfield, not just the high demand because of the bad weather which everybody else implied.

He also pointed out that although we are supposed to have enough wind turbines to provide 5% of our electricity, on January 7, a freezing but windless day, the turbines provided only 1 in every thousand units of electricity that we needed to keep the blood flowing & the wheels turning.

Related post

HGV manoeuvres

Entertainment was laid on at the bus stop this lunch time.

An HGV driver, who had missed the junction, turning his vehicle at the crossroad, which is anything but square set, with a steep hill in one direction. A difficult manoeuvre at the best of times. Today, although the centre of the roadways are clear, snow still lies deep at the sides & cars, not wishing to risk the hill, are parked nose to tail all along right up to the corners.

I admired the pinpoint skill with which he managed four points of his turn, but then he stopped for a rest while the bus came through.

There is a post script however.

Our bus driver had to take avoiding action as we came to the turn to the bus station in town & an HGV cut across from the outside lane to make the turn ahead of us.

And yes – it was the same colour, & bore the same logo as the one at the corner 45 minutes earlier.

Which would be the stranger, two drivers from the same company not knowing the way, or just one driver getting a bit lost?

It is of course neither here nor there that the www emblazoned on his side ends with .IRL

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Not another Malthus

I was looking at Times Online to check my impression that the word ‘proportionate’ is suddenly being applied widely to all sorts of things.

A simple search confirmed the growth in the popularity of this idea of the need for proportion – over 200 mentions in 2009 compared with a mere 2 in the year 2000.

I turned to the historical archive to see how things had been in the past, & found one of those happy little coincidences, an unexpected result from long ago surprisingly related to another current concern.

A review from one of the very earliest editions of The Times, 19 January 1795 - On the Nature & Principles of Public Credit.

Samuel Gale of St Augustines, East Florida had a scheme to “recover this nation in less than 16 years, to a higher degree of wealth & prosperity than Britain in her greatest glory hath hitherto ever beheld … A revolution in finance, operated without any public self denials."

Since the scheme involved a rather dodgy manipulation of the character of arithmetical & geometrical progressions, the reviewer unsurprisingly concluded “It appears, upon a survey of his plan, that, if Government thought it expedient to adopt it, the financiers must apply it with the greatest caution; for a small error might be productive of the worst of consequences

Interesting that Malthus almost simultaneous deployment of these progressions as applied to population is still reverberating

The Young New Year has come so soon

This poem by an unknown author comes from a Poetry Society anthology of verse especially suitable for speaking aloud – something which was so popular in my childhood that there were even competitions. I made my first public appearance at the age of six, reciting AA Milne’s Has Anybody Seen My Mouse?

It cannot really be that long ago, can it?

The New Year

The Young New Year has come so soon
I wonder where the Old Years go?
To some dim land behind the moon
Where starlight glimmers, pale & low.

And everything is grey & cold
And there they sit, these ancient years,
Their eyes so kind, & dim & old,
Their faces lined with vanished cares.

Their voices rattle, dry like bones,
The while they talk of what has been,
And murmur in their hollow tones
Of all the triumphs they have seen.

While the Young Year, with earnest eyes,
Comes buoyant on, to run his race,
Nor dreams how fast his life-span flies
Nor how his end draws on apace.


Saturday, January 09, 2010

Shield against terror

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has been charged with, among other things, attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. He is not the first - Najibullah Zazi faces a similar charge.

In his autobiography, RF Delderfield recalls the air attacks on London of World War I: “they were the first air attacks on any civilian population & therefore carried with them the terror of the unknown, much as the threat of atomic warfare strikes the European today." He describes “the exhibitions of panic & mass hysteria which were commonplace in 1915” & allows that “the semi-abortive raids of the Kaiser’s Zeppelins” might appear trivial to his readers – those who “quickly adapted themselves to the air attacks of WWII, & to the shattering descents of flying bombs & rockets.”

Hiroshima. Dresden. Shock & Awe in Baghdad. Mass destruction in anyone’s book.

But chemicals in a young man’s underpants?

I do not underestimate the heinousness of what he allegedly attempted to do. Nor the nervousness, if not terror which one might feel on hearing about it. I flew regularly during the height of the Cuban hijacks, but it was after my third ‘lucky escape’ from an IRA bomb in London – the one in Harrods at Christmas 1983, which blew up moments after I left the store, that I realised that one should look at these things the other way round; if I were deluded enough to actually want to be standing next to one & get caught by the blast, then I would have to be very ‘lucky’ indeed to achieve an end with such a low probability of happening to me in the spot I happened to be in at the time.

If we react with a kind of blind terror & overstatement of the crime attempted, then we just begin to look like scaredy cats & the terrorists have achieved their true aim, which is to strike fear & terror into the hearts of men.


Related posts

The Beatrix Potter Guide to Business

Being snowbound last Tuesday had its compensations, among them a chance to hear “The Beatrix Potter Guide to Business” – one of a whole series, broadcast at a time I am not usually at home.

A well crafted interpretation of the tale of Ginger & Pickles.

An object lesson in how to ruin a business with an excess of credit, & the role the Pound Store can play in the return of customer confidence.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Complex ideas

Before reading Tristram Hunt’s biography I had not known that Friedrich Engels was such a polymath, a keen reader with an impressively fluent ability in several languages.

Like all non-specialists he sometimes failed to appreciate the finer points of the subjects he embraced with such enthusiasm; as a good Materialist he dismissed “those parts of theoretical science which went beyond a reflection of natural phenomena.”

For example:

When one has once become accustomed to ascribe to the square root of minus 1 or to the fourth dimension some kind of reality outside of our own heads, it is not a matter of much importance if one goes a step further & also accepts the spirit world of the mediums


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Whence spiders spin

I heard two interviews with Icelandic voters on the radio yesterday, giving their opinion about the decision to hold a referendum on the question of paying compensation to the UK & Netherlands governments for the failure of Icelandic banks.

Both Icelanders mentioned the insult they felt at the use of anti-terror legislation by Gordon Brown as a reason for why they felt that they should not be the ones to pay

Monday, January 04, 2010


This picture from the Times Archive was published in the paper on December 29. I scanned it first for reasons of pure nostalgia – remembering what it could be like to be ‘trapped by snow & ice in the unforgiving country of the Derbyshire Peak District, around Chapel-en-le-Frith.'

Even the address on the back of the coach – The Quadrant, Buxton – brings back waves of nostalgia.
Those were the days – 1958 to be precise – when such was a regular occurrence. We used to look forward to visiting our grandparents for February half term because there was a good chance we would have to extend our stay, unable to go home in time to return to school.

It was not good news for grown ups however. When this picture was taken it was only a year after the Train Crash at Dove Holes, in which the driver died as the result of a great act of heroism. The trains lay on their sides, at the side of the track, amidst the snow & ice for what seemed like forever.

Another time my sister & I were on a bus going home – the rail line must have been impassable, since by that time we preferred to make the journey to our grandparents by train, an exciting journey involving two changes at Millers Dale & Buxton, where we had to cross from the now disappeared Midland Railway station to that of the London and North Western, whose line travelled to the north. Despite the snow & ice the bus was still running but as we went over Long Hill, a beautiful scenic route now barred to heavy traffic, the radiator boiled over.

Some way down the snow covered field to the side of the road a stream was still running, so it cannot have been all that cold. The driver invited my sister & me to accompany him on the scramble down to fill up a can with water to replenish the radiator.
It is only in recent years, with all the scares over child protection, that it has occurred to me to wonder about his motives; not in any way to impugn his – there was not much he could have done, in full sight, in the empty snowy waste – but perhaps he thought we might not be safe left unsupervised on the bus. Or perhaps he just thought we would enjoy the excitement of the adventure.

The last snow related adventure I can remember was in the early 1970s when I had visited, for what was almost the last time, my grandparents for the weekend. The snow made the journey to pick up the London train very difficult, so much so that by the time I made it to Stockport the last train had left, but a very kind man locked me in the Ladies Waiting Room (complete with a well filled bucket of coal for the fire) to await the Milk Train.

That is until Saturday January 2 2010.
They were forecasting bad weather, with outbreaks of snow, just as the last lot had pretty much melted away but we pretty much got through the earlier bout unscathed & things did not seem too bad, early on.

By late morning local radio was informing us that all bus services, including the one to the airport, were suspended, not just those which have to negotiate the hilly local roads. Within a very short time they were relaying a Police message that all roads in the county, even the main ones, were closed.

We battened down the hatches, thankful that, although I long ago managed to train myself not to greet Christmas as an occasion for laying in food as for a siege, the uncertainty about being able to get out in the run up to the holidays had persuaded me to make sure there was plenty of all essentials in the house.

Today, after a very severe frost, conditions are treacherous everywhere under foot, though the main roads have been gritted & if you can reach them, the traffic runs normally.

I was astonished to find that town looks as if almost nothing has happened. The gritters have made a good job of all the pavements, but there is not the deep encrusted icy snow lying in the parts they do not reach. Since we have not even tried to go anywhere since Friday I cannot say whether that is just because they had less in the first place, or if it just never settled the way it does in the country, or if it is because the frost has just been so much sharper away from the heat generated by all the traffic & centrally heated buildings in town.

In any case, I blame The Times Archive editor. They put the hex on us by publishing that photograph.


Saturday, January 02, 2010

Previously in favourite quotations (9)

My appetite doesn’t get out of bed until hours after the rest of me – Joanna Trollope

It is better to help a lot of people make a living than it is to make a few people make a fortune – Robert Crampton

There are no rules as long as you stick to them – Frederic Raphael

Fear is the price you pay for love - Susan Fletcher

You think you have a memory; but it has you - John Irving

Words are our subtillest & delicatest creatures – John Donne

Bad artists copy, great artists steal - Picasso

Victor Hugo was a madman who thought he was Victor Hugo – Jean Cocteau

We are all strong enough to endure the misfortunes of others - LaRochefoucauld

Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year resolution

Another poem from Charles Lamb, still relevant in the age of the blog & other forms of computerised life records.

You really do feel for the small boy, biting his protruding tongue, struggling to keep things neat.

I wonder what the children of the future will wrestle with, as they are increasingly less likely to have to struggle with hand writing all misshaped

Written In The First Leaf Of A Child's Memorandum-Book

My neat and pretty book, when I thy small lines see,
They seem for any use to be unfit for me.
My writing, all misshaped, uneven as my mind,
Within this narrow space can hardly be confin'd.

Yet I will strive to make my hand less aukward look;
I would not willingly disgrace thee, my neat book!
The finest pens I'll use, and wond'rous pains I'll take,
And I these perfect lines my monitors will make.

And every day I will set down in order due,
How that day wasted is; and should there be a few
At the year's end that shew more goodly to the sight,
If haply here I find some days not wasted quite,
If a small portion of them I have pass'd aright,
Then shall I think the year not wholly was misspent,
And that my Diary has been by some good Angel sent.

Charles Lamb

A diary is like a perfect friend, always agreeing with the writer -Edwina Currie