Friday, 20 April 2018

Bomb ping pong

Today is Adolf Hitler's birthday. Monday is St George's Day. It's going to be one long weekend of parties.

There is a free download you can get which allows you to put whatever subtitles you want on the clip of 'Downfall' when the generals are explaining to Hitler (Bruno Ganz) that he has lost the war. I have got this download but I have never used it. I don't think I could compete with some of the very good scripts that are already up on You Tube.

Google did not put up a 'Happy Birthday Hitler' frontispiece above the search box - my German dentist mate alerted me by SMS. He included a photo of his gay technician sporting a small black Hitler moustache. I don't think you are allowed to make jokes of that sort in Germany - at least not in public.

Thomas and I have an informal game which we sporadically play with each other, and that is to apologise for the discovery of unexploded WW2 bombs in each other's country. He apologised for the 1000 pound German one found in Bath last year, and shortly afterwards a freshly subtitled Downfall clip came up on You Tube.

The area in which it was found was up the hill in the wealthy Lansdown area, and the Downfall subtitles had Hitler saying that all those rich, middle-class people deserved the inconvenience. Everyone laughed.

Yesterday they found a British WW2 unexploded bomb in Berlin and they have evacuated streetfulls of people in case it goes pop. I apologised on behalf of the nation. Now it's his turn.

An elderly man said he witnessed a massive bomb fall into the river next to where out new bus station now is, and he waited for an explosion which never happened.

They trawled the river Avon for days looking for it buried in the mud, but they never found it. It is still there, and one day it might do us all a favour and destroy the hideous new bus station which they demolished a good-looking stone building to build. I will call Thomas to thank him when that happens.

Sorry if I have already told you about this, but today's news has been sidelined for Hitler's birthday.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

I insist you take me seriously

It is exactly fifty years since I began my Foundation Course at Guildford School of Art. Eek.

The Sit-In protests taught me more than the actual course. The 1960s was the beginning of the end for the teaching of traditional techniques and activities. When I went on to the Sculpture course, I concentrated on nothing but traditional skills and techniques - bronze casting, forge work, plaster casting, woodturning and a little stone carving with limited facilities and tools. To hell with Art was my attitude.

Anthony Caro had attended my college in the 1950s, so our sculpture studio was very well appointed and equipped. One Northern student actually began making little brick walls with brightly coloured RSJs on top of them. How embarrassing.

Toward the end of the course, Cro and I booked the large exhibition hall and set up what today would be called an 'installation'. There were neat rows of electrical sockets across the floor underneath metal flaps, and over each one we put small, conical piles of brown leaves (gathered in the Autumn woods and brought back in Cro's car), and threaded strands of cable up through them with low wattage light bulbs resting on the top.

On the night of the opening we turned off all the main lights and the little piles of leaves looked lovely. They glowed magically in the gloom.

Our fellow students arrived and we all agreed that one of the best things about Autumn was scuffing your feet through dry leaves on a walk, so we all walked around the hall in circles,  smiling as we destroyed the neat piles.

Afterwards, we turned out the lights and went home. We left the leaves scattered around the hall for the next two weeks, and when the caretakers told me to sweep them up and clear the hall, I explained that it was all part of the artwork and must stay exactly as it was for the duration of the booking.

I would have got a first for that these days.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018


Between 50 and 70 years ago, many West Indians arrived in Britain from the British Colonies - by invitation - to help with the labour shortage in the predominantly London areas of the NHS, the transport system and other civic posts which British white people could not fill for some reason.

They were met with a vitriolic form of racism which included the infamous signs on boarding house windows saying, 'NO BLACKS, NO IRISH AND NO DOGS'.

They carried on and gained respect and appreciation from the Brits - well, most of them anyway.

The pro Brexit lobby had a whole new attack against immigrants and all of a sudden, any Windrush generation who had not renewed their paperwork since the 1970s started receiving phone calls telling them to pack their bags because they were going to be 'repatriated' as aliens. The current Home Office cannot say how many people have been deported, or even if any have.

Theresa May said - during her long period as Home Secretary -  that she was going to make Britain a 'hostile environment' for immigrants, presumably to placate the right-wing here and secure her future in the ruling party.

As everything turns into a deeper and deeper mess here, I am beginning to feel ashamed to be part of it, albeit unwillingly.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Uplifting experience

I am a member of an organisation called 'Historic England'. One of my clients has a large, Grade One listed house and the estate manager calls them 'Hysteric England' when they pay a visit to make sure any work done to it is carried out correctly.

I became a member when I successfully listed (Grade 2) the 17th century dogs on a wall in a little village near here. I now get a regular online newsletter from them and yesterday they asked me if I would mind carrying out a survey from them to see if there is anyway they could improve it.

One of the personal statements I was asked to consider (which do you agree with most strongly...) was 'I enjoy going to bars and clubs at the weekend'. There was no margin where I could write 'not just weekends' so I just ticked the box.

Everyone asks you to complete a survey these days, and most of them are ways of gathering as much personal information about people as they can to sell on to advertisers (like Facebook, for instance). English Heritage promises not to pass on any information about me without getting my permission first, but my love for pubs and ancient buildings is  - thanks to Blogger - public knowledge in any case. It's old news and I don't need any encouragement to go to them.

I have begun to notice these buttons popping up in public places more and more. I even saw one outside a multi-story car park elevator in Germany.

How do you rate your experience in our elevator today?

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Weakness in numbers

The weather here is warming up to temperatures more in keeping with the time of year. This - as already said - has been the longest Winter in the living memory of people with short memories. It just feels longer.

Everything in the news is divisively messy. Should Theresa May have gone along with Trump and ordered British involvement in a strike on Assad (and, perforce, Russia) before Parliament gets back on Monday? I really don't know. I have deliberately not mentioned the RAF strikes against the Syrian government installations because I don't need a high blood-pressure argument right now. I can see both sides of the argument and I don't like either.

As the weather improves, small river-flies get trapped in the kitchen and bat against the glass in an attempt to get out and get on with their short seasonal life cycle. When they are in their ones and twos, I go to extreme lengths to release them into the open air, but then I remind myself what will be happening in a month or so.

Vast hoards of the little things will be attracted by our lights and swarm all over the walls and ceiling, then I will feel differently about them.

It is simple and straightforward to care for the life of one creature, but almost impossible to muster up the concern for thousands or millions. This is how genocide is carried out by ordinary people with families. The more individuals there are, the more difficult it is to feel empathy.

Something and nothing

I pretty much composed a complete blog post in my head last night, but when I awoke I could not remember a word. I'll have to start all over again. While you are waiting, have a look at this:

It seems that there is a whole society just dedicated to looking down holes.

The biggest hole I have ever been in was a hollow mountain in France. The way it is viewed is by driving up to the top of it and parking the car, then you pay some money in a ticket office and stand in front of a very small doorway. The guide lets you though in darkness and you find yourself standing on a metal surface. When everyone is in place, he turns the lights on.

Everyone lets out an involuntary gasp - some in fear. You see that you are standing on a tiny cantilevered  platform in a vast cavern which is over a thousand feet deep. So deep that they have a dummy figure on the floor below to give you an idea of scale, and it looks like a dot. The place even has its own weather system.

On a more positive side, the biggest man-made hill in Europe is Silbury, near the equally impressive Avebury stone circle (photo above). Charles the Second went up there with John Aubrey on his way to visit Bath.

I love all this stuff, as you know.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

To all things there is a season

I am really looking forward to Spring this year, and I am told it will arrive here next week. I cannot remember a Winter which has lasted so long as this one. I need climate inspired motivation.

Something about me has fundamentally changed. For most of my adult life I have had two cups of good coffee every morning, but now I prefer tea. Previously, I could not understand anyone under the age of 60 who scorned the kick-start of strong coffee for breakfast, but now I find that it can make me feel a little queasy. Maybe it is an age thing.

Possibly it is linked in with my giving up the smoking of tobacco. Last night in the pub I ran out of battery power for my nicotine vape so I asked someone for a real cigarette. After a couple of puffs I felt really awful, so I put it out. Not so long ago I would have two cups of coffee with cigarettes before I ate anything for breakfast. Not any more.

Ironically, my intake of nicotine has roughly quadrupalled since I stopped smoking. With real cigarettes, you set fire to them, burn them to the end then put them out. They have a beginning, middle and end. With vapes, the end only comes when the battery runs out, and even then I have a spare battery. Maybe I should have a couple of caffiene tablets with my vape in the morning.

A few years ago I stopped taking recreational drugs. Ok, you can call me irresponsible for doing them in the first place, but I was not alone. They found traces of cocaine all over the Houses of Parliament during a recent sweep.

So now I begin each day without the reason to live that coffee used to give me, and I end it without the pat on the back which drugs used to give me, but I still drink beer in one of the only pubs in Bath which permits vaping indoors. That will probably change soon as well.