Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Early release

I have decided to move out of the slow-cook oven and back to my own workshop.

Being where I have been for the last month or so is like serving a prison sentence, and I want to stand some small chance of enjoying myself whilst working.

This will involve some logistical problems, but the lifters and shifters will just have to put my infuriating changes of mind down to some sort of artistic bollocks. I don't care any more.

Monday, 16 July 2018


The World Cup is over. Back to work. Quite a few Brits have lost their jobs by not returning home when they said they would. Their bosses never believed that England was going to get as far in as they did. You can understand it though - how could anyone tear themselves away from a semi-final match with their own country playing?

Now that the survivor of the latest Novichok poisoning  has recovered enough to talk to investigators, he has obviously been able to let them know that the container was still in the house where he lived with his partner. He was also able to tell his brother that the container was a perfume bottle of the spray diffuser kind. This could explain why his partner died and he did not.

Just think about it. You find a bottle of perfume in a park and pick it up. The woman will not be able to resist trying the scent, so sprays some on the back of her hand. Her partner becomes contaminated by the close proximity, or even by touching her, but having received a smaller dose, he survives.

It is very sad. It reminds me of the 'Butterfly' bombs of WW2 (above). The Germans made little bombs the size and shape of a medium pork pie. They had two little folding wings on them which opened up from the canister when dropped from the plane and, like sycamore seeds, they floated down and gently settled in fields. They only exploded when they were picked up.

There is a nasty twist to this. They were painted in bright colours which always attracted children. These colours seemed to have no real meaning or purpose, so it is thought that the painting was a deliberate tactic.

The children were evacuated to the countryside to escape the bombs on the cities.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

I hate Estate Agents

As you may remember, lovely Green-Eyes studied hard and became a paediatric nurse at a teaching hospital in London. She is still there, performing a vital job and earning very little, despite the 'London subsidy', or whatever they call the extra few quid that is supposed to deflect the enormous cost of living there.

She has been renting a very nice flat miles out of the centre, for which she and her flatmate pay a large proportion of their meagre wages to maintain. The tenancy agreement is coming to an end, and they have been searching for another place to live which is not a hovel.

Estate agents rule London as they rule Bath. Whilst it is still legal to do so (it won't be soon, but this does not help Green-Eyes), they extract every penny from tenants that they can, whether they are moving in or moving out. I say 'pennies', but really it is pounds. Lots of pounds.

Written in the small-print of her tenancy agreement, there is a little clause saying that to walk into a branch of the agents and hand back the keys of her flat, she will be charged £300. Remember, this is just to hand over the keys. This is one of many charges which brings the total cost of leaving one flat and moving to another to £4000. This does not even include rent.

Estate Agents, along with bailiffs, employ a good number of criminally-minded people who use what would be politely described as sharp practice. That is being far too polite, and soon many of these practices will be outlawed - as I say - too late for many hundreds of tenants.

Some years ago, I bought a small, dilapidated house in a town not too far from here, for not much money. The idea was to renovate it and sell it on for a good profit. This was my one venture into the world of property development.

The banks would not  lend me the money, so I reluctantly decided to sell it as was, for a modest profit. I called a local estate agent and put it on his books, then sat back and waited for the many enquiries I knew would flood in.

A month later I had received not one call from the agent, so I called him. He said that nobody had shown any interest in it at all. I suspected something fishy was going on, so I decided to pay a call to the agent's office in person. He had never met me, so did not know what I looked like.

I went up to the desk and said to the receptionist, "I am looking for a house in this area. I don't care what condition it is in so long as it falls within this budget. What have you got?"

She said, "I'm afraid we don't have anything like that on our books at present."

"Yes you fucking have! You have my house which I am trying to sell with you!" was my incensed response.

The crook was deliberately sitting on it waiting for me to lose all hope of it ever selling, whereupon he would get an accomplice to buy it for peanuts and they would both make a little killing.

I put it with a different agent and it sold in a couple of days for exactly what I asked.

I never forget it when a dog bites me, and I can hold a grudge for ever.

P.S. I forgot to mention that the rogue agent sent me a bill for a few hundred pounds for carrying out a very basic survey involving nothing but hand-drawn floor plans. Do you think I paid it? Do you think he took me to court for not paying it? I wish he had.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

High roads and high seas

I don't think anyone has captured childhood Summer memories so accurately as Laurie Lee in Cider with Rosie, but they were his memories, so who am I to call them 'accurate'?

It helps to have been brought up in a village. His village - Slad, near Painswick, Gloucestershire - is quite close to here, so I have visited it often. Bath claims to be at the foot of the Cotswold Hills, and I suppose if you stretch it a bit, it is.

The road between Bath and Stratford upon Avon (A46 as it is now known) is a wonderful old route, much improved by the Romans a couple of thousand years ago. There are many high stretches of it which must have been haunts of Highwaymen in the not so distant past.

If ever I go to Oxford, I ignore the ghastly M4 and branch right off the A46 past Cirencester. Much nicer. There are so many places of interest to the right and the left of it, and it is surprisingly easy to reach the birthplace of Shakespeare, right up there in Warwickshire - the very heart of England, and the spiritual home of The Archers.

Down here in the South, everyone thinks of The Midlands as a post industrial, cultural wasteland. I blame Birmingham for that. Black Country coal merchants. After the canals ceased to be the transportation for all that coal, Birmingham's city elders tried to improve their image by dubbing the place 'The Venice of the North'. That's like calling Venice 'The Birmingham of the South'.

I once almost bought a 72 foot Birmingham coal boat. 72 feet is the longest narrowboat you can use on any canal. It was in very good condition after much work on the hull, but it was configured exactly for use as a coal boat. It had a cramped little engine room at one end, and the rest of the space was the open hold for many tons of coal. It would have cost me £1200, and after I had converted it, it would sell today for around £80,000.

The owner was an alcoholic, and rather than bring it down (at great expense) from Birmingham on a low-loader, he sailed it down on the canals, crossing the Severn Estuary to connect with the Bristol waterways on the other side.

His wife called the coastguard, because he should have capsized and drowned in the 6 foot wide, 72 foot long thing. Somehow he made it over safely - well, almost safely. Halfway across he stepped over the running engine for some reason and the crotch of his trousers got caught in the large, spinning flywheel. When the edge of the flywheel started drawing him down and burning his testicles, he found super-human strength and tore himself away, leaving his trousers spinning around on the flywheel.

He arrived in his underpants, to the great relief of his wife. The coastguard never located him.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Back to the sea

Yesterday's post got me thinking about childhood holidays, and childhood holidays always get me thinking of Rupert.

One of the things I like about Rupert is how his animal chums and parents mingle with us humans without anyone questioning how they can walk upright or wear human clothes. They go to cafes and mingle with us without any sidelong glances. That is a real skill.

I would like to be on a secluded beach in England now, staring into a rock-pool at low tide and getting lost in an underwater microcosm.

We spent quite a few wonderful days lying on a beautiful beach in Cuba once, and the nearest fellow tourist to us was a gigantic Russian man with a shaved head and no neck.

He was there every morning when we arrived and was still there as the sun went down when we left.

He spent his entire holiday on his hands and knees with his back to the sea, building crude sandcastles, knocking them down with sweeps of his massive arms, then rebuilding them - over and over again. I have not seen an adult so absorbed in their little own world before or since.

He must have had a wonderful holiday.

Monday, 9 July 2018

A day on a small island

I had a few days out of the slow-cook oven last week, and now today I am back in it again. I know what is going to happen - as soon as I finish the job, it will become cool again.

Yesterday, everyone was pissing me off. It was not all to do with the heat, but closely linked never the less.

We went to a square here which is full of trees, chose the only available bench in the shade and sat on it. Those benches are designed for two people, or - at most - three very good friends or family, but only in the cool weather.

H.I. was trying to work out from where a floral scent was emanating, and thought it might be from a nearby tree. The time for tree blossom is over, so I put forward the theory that the source of the aroma may have been the sun-cream of the fat brown man who was lying on the grass in nothing but shorts, about 30 feet away.

H.I. could stand it no longer and got up to walk the 30 feet to the little tree on our right, to see if it smelled of anything. I turned my head to watch her sniff at it, and when I turned it back a young Chinese man had sat right next to me in the space that H.I. had vacated. I mean RIGHT next to me. We were actually touching.

I was so taken aback that I couldn't find the words to tell him to get out of it and find his own bench. H.I. could not believe that I had allowed him to steal her place.

I am trying very hard not to be racist, but I have to say that it is my experience that - as a generality - the Chinese have a very underdeveloped sense of personal space. Of course it could be that us insular English have an over developed sense of space, from sharing with so many others on a cramped little island with cramped little trolly busses.

I was fuming - mainly with myself for not telling him to eff off - and we stood up to find another unoccupied bench, albeit in dappled sunshine.

I looked over to our bench, to see the young man take his shoes off, stretch his whole body the length of the bench and lie down in the cool.

I began to think in terms of further racial stereotypes, and imagined that he had planned the whole thing from the beginning. Damn cunning sort of thing.

I realised that the heat was getting to my brain when I stopped myself from going over to him and physically turfing him off. I actually found myself wondering if he would respond using Kung Fu.

We went to an outside bar and I cooled off with a cold beer. Much better outcome.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Welcome to Doggerland

The above photo is from a tourist website entitled, 'Five Reasons to Visit Dungeness'. I don't think that my parents used any of them as an excuse for the holiday they took me on at the age of 3 or 4.

There are a few things which really stick in my memory about the strange stay in Dungeness. Two of them are in this photo, but one is in disguise.

My mother took me on that train and - as in the photo - it ran past that lighthouse. The the problem is that I distinctly remember the lighthouse to have been painted in black and white stripes. Perhaps someone could tell me if I am making this up as a false memory? If not then I think the stripes could have been a war-time measure, like 'Dazzle' painting on ships. Having said that, they would not have turned the light on for the  whole war anyway. I'm confused.

I remember the windswept desolation of the place too, and even at that age I wondered why anyone would take a small child to it for a holiday. Our little hut-like house was in amongst the dunes, and we had to dig the sand away from the door to get back in after windy walks on the beach. If it were not for the coarsely tufted grass on the miles of dunes, the entire house would have been completely buried. "I am sure this is where it was this morning..."

My father had to leave me and my mother alone for most of the time, possibly to look after the sweet shop he ran near the Devil's Punchbowl, and possible took look after my older sisters and brother. It is also possible that they were deliberately spending time apart - they went through a few tribulations that I was unaware of at the time, apart from the melancholy miasmas which sometimes gathered around the immediate area of my mother, which were not even dispersed by the relentless wind of Dungeness.

What I did not realise at the time was that Dungeness's whole atmosphere has been created by its geographical position in history. It has been under the threat of attack since Doggerland was submerged, turning Britain into Great Britain, the mainland being the largest of a series of islands. If Doggerland had not sunk we would not be in the Brexit mess that we are now, but then again German might be our first language.

One really good reason to visit Dungeness is to see the group of WW2 concrete listening devices which formed part of a complex of stations along that stretch of the South Coast. See the photo below.

Each dish or arc had a microphone set in the middle, and could pick up very small sounds emanating from the coast of France. An invasion would have been quite loud, with the steady thumping of ship's engines.

I have a friend who was brought up near them, and he said that even today, if you position your head in the right place of a curved concrete wall or dish, you can hear the traffic noise in France.

I love all the innovation of the pre-digital Second World War. All those boffins like Barnes Wallis messing about on the South Coast in Wellingtons.