Saturday, 6 February 2016

An antique book review


H.I. has just told me that there is talk of an 'Outnumbered' Christmas special being made. Another reason to look forward to Christmas (this must break some sort of record).

My old pen-friend, Nick Warburton, told me a few years ago that 'On Mardle Fen' had run its course, and it would be pot-boiling to write another series. I know what he meant, of course, but I would like a fresh series so much that I would be prepared to finance the production myself if I had the resources.

I now have every episode of every series either on disc (sent to me by Nick himself) or bought as an audio download. I bought an old iPod just so I could lie in bed listening to them, which is what I did last - stormy - night. They transport me, and transportation is what I crave the most these days.

The first thing I said to Mr Warburton about Mardle Fen was that I liked it so much that I fell asleep within about 5 minutes of the beginning of each episode. Luckily, he took that as a compliment.

My big nocturnal problem is that I cannot read in bed. I get a couple of paragraphs in, and the next thing I know is that it is the time when most ordinary people are getting up to go to work. For this reason, I usually only read at the kitchen table these days, but even that doesn't always stop me from falling asleep.

I am thinking about buying an even older bit of technology - a disc Walkman - so I can listen to audio books in bed. Either that, or I could employ a prostitute to pretend to be my mother and read to me whilst sitting in a chair as I drift off. She would have to be as old as my mother would be now though, because I am at an age where I find middle-aged women attractive, and need to read more books.

Miraculously, I have just finished reading a book, and the last few pages were read in bed without falling asleep. It was 'The Diary of a Georgian Shopkeeper', by Thomas Turner. It is his diary and he was a Sussex shopkeeper at the turn of the 18th century, as the title sort of hints at.


Like the typical British shopkeeper of today (or the rural, English ones) he was a despicable hypocrite who - when not utterly drunk - went from public house to public house, searching out drunkards to either chastise or press-gang into the fledgling Navy. Sundays mornings were spent in church praying for forgiveness at his drunkenness, and the afternoons getting drunk and playing cards.

He was sycophantically enamoured of the aristocracy, and would travel miles on foot just to be close to them at race meetings, etc. later noting in his diary that nothing could be finer than to be in the approximate company of Lord so-and-so, or The Earl of wherever.

He paid 4 shillings and sixpence to sit on the church vestry, thereby increasing his status in the community. I had forgotten that in those pre Welfare State days, rural churches supported the poor, either with cash hand-outs, the building of almshouses or the creation of Workhouses.

One entry describes how the vergers decide to buy a house for one broke local man - for a colossal £20 - because it would, in the long run, be cheaper than the parish supporting his huge family in perpetuity. You see, the house they financed was in a different parish, so it was £20 well spent to offload him and his brood onto a different church. Cunning.

I almost laughed when I read the blurb on the cover of the book, which compares him to Samuel Pepys, then I realised that the diary was edited and compiled by a direct relative of Turner. This may explain why I had never heard of him until I found the book.

End of book review - 200 years too late.

Friday, 5 February 2016

What do you think?

Another day, another 65-75 year-old celebrity dies. It is times like this when I am glad I am not a celebrity. Who's next?

Bill Gates was on 'Desert Island Discs' this week. Absolutely no surprises there. He said he was not very good at talking to girls when at college. REALLY?

We are building up to yet another storm this weekend, but this time it is going to hit us in the South the hardest. I haven't heard a name for it yet, but I am going to guess, 'Isabel'.

I said in the last post that I could not put up a new one, but when I left it loading to make a working drawing, it loaded up to this. I don't know if it will let me publish though.

You can tell by the bite-sized snippets that I am writing now, that I don't have much confidence in it, so I am not going to too much trouble to make it into a piece of literary art. At least this minimal style may hold John's attention for longer than the more laborious posts.

I know what he means though. I too tend to drift off if I am confronted with a complete set of filled-out A4 sheets, no matter how well they are written. I kid myself that I will put some time aside to read them in the evening, but after a few beers and my equivalent of a hard day's work, I seldom do.

That's what so refreshing about Rachel's posts. I pop over there to be insulted with a series of four-letter word insults about how I have no money of my own, do not understand her and do not appreciate her sense of humour, then all is right in the world for another 24 hours.

A few people who I used to enjoy chatting to in the pub have given up drinking, so no longer go there in the early evening. It is no fun being a tee-total in a pub. I miss them, and have to fight off the desire to see them dead, just so I can have another year's worth of chat with them before they leave forever, but this is a little selfish.

I miss Jane and Lance here, and I miss the infrequent comments from Mise, Groucho and Sarah Toa too. I think I have done something to piss Sarah off, but - for the life of me - I cannot think what. My blog world - like the pub - is not the same without these little conversations. It is diminished.

When I watched 'Local Hero' again the other day, I was reminded about Burt Lancaster's shrink, whose treatment consisted of perpetually insulting Burt by calling him a piece of shit, etc. until he gets thrown out of the office.

Somehow, it appears, Rachel has even managed to fall out with Weave - of all people - but they seem to have made it up now. I sometimes wince when I use foul language in Weave's presence, but I have to remind myself that I must not tone-down whatever I feel the need to say, just because of the sensitivities of one reader. Or should I?

It occurred to me this morning that 'reader' is a much better word than 'follower' in the blog world. 'Follower' sounds far too cultish. Now I am going to employ the old Molly trick by asking:

What do you think?

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

DJ Derek and cyber magic


If you walked into a pub or music hall when Derek was playing music, you would have expected to see a black West Indian on the other end of the mike, playing pounding Reggae and interspersing the tunes with comments made in a strong Jamaican accent, but when you finally caught sight of the DJ, you saw a small, elderly, Jewish, white man.

I really don't know how Derek started his career as a Reggae DJ, or even found a place in the hearts of the real West Indians who surrounded him at his gigs, or the place where he lived in St Paul's, Bristol. Anyone else adopting this style would have been considered an insult or piss-take, but Derek became an honorary Jamaican through sheer gall. He got away with it, and got away with it in style. Normally, instead of an ordinary microphone as in the photo above, he would have a vintage red telephone, through which he could hear the tracks as well as speaking to the audience - no headphones. This made it look as though he had a hot-line to the President.

His ordinary speaking voice was high Bristolian, which is an even more extreme version of West Country than Somerset.

I never really spoke more than a few words to him during some of the many trips he made to Bath, but many of my friends knew him well and booked him for events and music nights as much as possible. He was in great demand.

Well, at some point last year, he walked out of his house and has never been seen again. A campaign to find him has been running for months, but people are beginning to lose hope now, as he probably would have surfaced somewhere at some point if he was still on earth. The last CCTV footage of him was getting on a bus, and there was one false sighting of him in London which turned out to be someone else. Very strange, and very sad.

Changing the subject, I have been moaning for ages that I cannot get a free upgrade of my O.S. from Mac, despite many attempts and the upgrading of my RAM by +2 GBs (don't ask), so I decided to phone our local Apple shop, here in Bath.

After speaking to a few computers, I got put through to a very helpful, real, live woman, somewhere in the U.S.A.

She got me to perform a few tasks on my machine, then got me to sign a box allowing her to share my screen, which I did. The screen went black, then I saw her move her own red cursor over it, pointing to things whilst telling me what to do over the phone. I was childishly impressed with this bit of cyber magic.

The problem is not yet solved, but will be after she has sent me a bit of software through ordinary airmail, via the U.S. Postal Service and Royal Mail. In my case (the like of which she has never experienced before, she told me - why always me?) the problem cannot be solved using cyber magic alone, but I have to receive and instal a disc, sent to me in a paper envelope.

This will take 7 - 10 days to arrive...

Monday, 1 February 2016

Secret fixes

Today will also be spent on Health and Safety, but this kind is the sort that really matters - how to prevent several cwt of marble from toppling onto a passing child.

It will be done by what is called a 'secret' fixing, and by 'secret' I mean that you will not know it is there, and by 'not know it is there', I mean that I am not going to stick it on the outside and paint it red.

As mentioned many times before, a good restoration job should show no trace of the restorer by the time he/she has finished, and this is more difficult than you may imagine. One of the reasons why I despise most architects is that they are dead-set on leaving their mark on every petty bit of work they do, rather than have it so integral with its surroundings that - if successful - people will walk past it without even noticing it is there. 'It looks like it grew there,' is not a compliment they wish to receive.

The Great Fire of London and the WW2 Blitz on it have a lot to answer for. I remember, as a kid, London in the 1950s and early 60s, when most streets had massive, buddleia-filled craters dotted along them where houses used to be.

The skyline to the East remained almost unchanged at the expense of the East End, when the London Fire Brigade put all their efforts into saving St Paul's from incendiary bombs (it was erected in fine, Portland stone after the fire of 1666), but when the Docks turned into brown-field sites, the architects moved in.

It is a bit of a vicious circle really - you cannot revive a post-war economy without spending money on rebuilding, but after he rebuilt the bombed Oldfield Park here in Bath, Cyril Beazer went on to make even more money with his ghastly, fake stone, shitty little hovels, or a vast shopping centre built after perfectly good, pretty Georgian terraces were demolished to make way for it.

You would have thought we would have learned a lesson from the Victorian and early sixties architects who were instructed to clear away all the picturesque Georgian 'slums', rather than leave them standing and make them habitable, but David Cameron is now talking of doing the modern equivalent. The developers need a cash injection, as does the economy. It's a rather poor model when viewed in terms of 'the good of society'.

'The Big Society' doesn't go so far as to stop central government from meddling with local affairs by allowing developers to eat into the Green Belt.

Everything swings violently one way, then the other. From having no protection at all on lethally dangerous building sites, workers are now not allowed to pick anything up which weighs more than 25 kilos, so now the only people in the building trade with naturally acquired muscles are scaffolders.

Elderly stone-masons are now being sacked on a daily basis for not wearing safety goggles and dust-masks all day, when they are only using a mallet and chisel as they have been for 40 years.

There is a compromise long known by anyone who works stone. If the stone is high-silica and dangerous, then you always wear a dust-mask. If it is low-silica and just produces an irritating dust, then you might opt for goggles, or just pick out a few chips from your eyelids and wear the mask anyway.

If you wear both goggles and mask, the goggles steam up and you cannot see what you are doing.

In the old days, if it started to rain on a building site, everyone downed tools and went home on full pay. Can you imagine that happening today?! Railway workers are expected to work on Christmas night so as not to hold up mighty commerce.

The pendulum continues to swing.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

More H and S


My client viewed the ornate piece of marble I had installed as a test-run yesterday in a function room, and to my great relief, he loves it. I had mentioned in an email that it was a shame about the fire-alarm - break the glass - button, sensitively placed about one-inch above it, and he told me not to worry, as it was going to be removed. There is, after all, another to one side, almost within arm's reach of the other. How many bloody alarm buttons does one need?

I had already complained about the stupid siting of this bright red box, and they told me it may not be removed for Health and Safety reasons. They looked into the idea of painting it cream to camouflage it against the stone wall and lessen the visual impact, but of course H & S would not allow that either. The whole point, they implied, was that it was to be instantly recognisable so it could be speedily located in an emergency.

The actually building is a multiple series of tall arches, and three of these are fitted with large doors, as well as the two other exits, one of which is designated as a fire escape. All of the doors are fitted with a magnetic locking system which will unlock in an instant during an emergency, so all you have to do is push one of them to open it. You don't even have to turn a handle. The designated fire escape has no alarm button anywhere near it.

The owner of the - private - building asked them to remove the bright red button, so what they did was find a complete new set of white plastic button boxes which are approved by the fire authorities - because they have permanently flashing, blue LED lights on the front in case you cannot find them in an emergency.

I would love to be in on Monday morning's meeting, when the client gets hold of an H & S executive and screams, "Get rid of the f****** button!" two inches away from his face.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Gertrude's eye


We are sitting in the middle of a big high right now, so it is crisp and sunny outside, but I know that when the gale returns, it will be rotating in the opposite direction to yesterday. That should be sometime tonight.

I got out of bed late - about 10.30 - and the phone rang twenty minutes later. It was Green-Eyes, saying that she intended to come round so I could check the grammar on her essay, at 1.30pm. Plenty of time to shower and dress. Ten minutes later the doorbell sounded, and she was sitting in the kitchen with her laptop open. She must have turned off her phone and walked straight round.

It is difficult to proof-read anything when you have only just woken up, let alone read any meaning into it at the same time - especially when the subject is paediatrics. My knowledge about the health of children is limited, having not read all the published papers which she is supposed to have.

The government has passed legislations to ... 

"There is no such word as 'legislations'."

"But I want to say that they have passed more than one."

"'Legislation' is all you need to say."

"But they passed dozens."

"I'm telling you, there is no such word as 'legislations'."

"Well all right then, but I still think it should be legislations."

She worried when I took out words like 'what', as in, 'like what they did', because it decreased the word-count, but was soon reassured when I added a few others by telling her that she could not (couldn't) use the conversational apostrophe in a formal essay such as this one without losing marks.

There is, she told me, a software system they use to detect plagiarism. The essay is scanned in a second, and if you hit certain words used in the research material - no matter where it is sourced - over a certain percentage, you are automatically disqualified and thrown out of university. This explains why I kept saying, 'wouldn't this be a better word to describe...', she would tell me she couldn't - sorry, could not - use that one because it was used in the source material. So this resulted in quite a few inferior words and meanings. (If she were to have used this last sentence, I would have made her re-write it, but I'm too tired to do that myself).

Her next exam is maths, and she expects to sail through that. I would get somewhere around 10% either side of zero, but I have never expected to be administering medicines to children and run the risk of increasing the dose by one thousand-fold. When I make a mistake with numbers, nobody dies. I just lose money.

Two hours later, and I had scanned 2,800 words (10% either side of 3000) and the essay was ready to send off to her dyslexia teacher. If the teacher tells her she should have said, 'legislations', then I will lose all respect for the profession.

The sun is going down and Gertrude's eye is beginning to close. Batten down the hatches.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

More than their job's worth

I've just lost another 2 followers and I thought that the Google purge was over, so this may actually be an indication of some offence caused, or - more likely - the onset of boredom due to my repeating myself. Hey Ho (Copyright J. Gray, 1982).

My life is ruled by petty Jobsworths right now. A lethal combination of overly officious security staff and a woman whose sole reason for living is to enforce tighter and tighter H&S regulations means that I have not been able to earn a penny since the end of last Summer. I am not joking.

In about two weeks, I will be unable to earn yet another penny, as I am committed to attending jury service on pain of prosecution for contempt of court, so things are not looking too good on the 'feeding myself' front in the immediate future.

The more I get involved in other people's working environments, the more I understand why I have kept myself a free agent for over 40 years, and the more I regret getting myself involved in other people's working environments. I have been saying this for years, but now - more than ever before - I know this to be true: I am unemployable, despite what I have to offer to any potential employers.

I say to my client something like, "Do you think it would be a good idea to have one of these/make one of these/restore this...?" and he says, "Wonderful idea, please do!"

So I set about doing the thing he has so enthusiastically asked me to do, then I hit a series of brick walls in human form.

"You cannot come on site without Hi-Viz." Fine, I will don Hi-Viz.

"You cannot operate that tool without an extraction-system". Fine, I will get it installed.

"You cannot operate that tool."

"Why not?"

"Because the brand new extraction system has broken down".

"Ok, I will do it outside."

"No you won't."

"Ok. I have been given that lock-up. Please give me the keys to it."

The 'keys' turn out to be electronic sensors which only work after being programmed, and even then, only work between 6.30am and 6.30pm - only if you have them re-programmed every day by security... All I need is a fucking padlock, especially as the shed is behind a set of tank-proof gates which are under surveillance 24 hours a day by a team of ex SAS soldiers.

As far as I know, my client is entirely unaware of all this, but I am - through a separate agent - about to make him aware.

I would very much like to spend all day in bed - just the once - at the moment.