Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Six steps

Brit Jnr took six steps yesterday morning, her personal best. At the moment all of her steps are gleeful, open-armed and aimed towards me. It’s very flattering, I’m making the most of it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Ahead of the curve as ever, I yesterday joined Facebook. This was purely to view a specific group page which a mate has set up for an old gang. I was alarmed to discover that Facebook reads your email addresses to suggest ‘friends’; and that other people who have your email address can discover you unless you monkey with the privacy settings. Of course, I now blush at my naivety.

Please don’t be offended if I ignore any request you might have made to be my Facebook pal. We can be pals on Blogger or sometimes even real life. It’s just that I am at capacity as far as internet time-wastage goes and I really cannot afford to get drawn into that world.

The importance of staying out was brought home to me yesterday by a young female blogger who had linked to the infamous Scottish hate the English post. I perused some of her other posts and they all seemed to be long, agonised complaints about people who had been horrid to her on Facebook.

England fans

The Fabio-ed sign of the Lord Raglan (pub just down the road from me) looks rather forlorn, post-Sunday. Now more like a Wanted sign.

The Yard thinks English football supporters are all stupid for getting angry about useless performances. It’s possible that he doesn’t hang around much with people who have little St George flags on their cars or a big ones hanging from their windows, but in fact both of those patriotic expressions are perfectly consistent with expecting Brazil to win the World Cup or having a few quid on the Argies.

Of course you hope for a win in the same way that you hope your team wins the FA Cup, but what people expect from England is a bit of a run. For the players to be inspired by the big stage rather than shrivel on it, to be more than the sum of their parts and to play at their top level or perhaps a little above, rather than the 35% capacity which I estimate was the team average (Wayne Rooney, superstar of so many ads and endorsements, was at about, generously, 10%). The 1990 team got knocked out by Germany too but they got a heroes' reception and an open top bus. Never blithely assume people are stupid; England fans know the score.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Things you can buy at Chief Trading Post, part 4

A lifesize Elvis (Vegas era), with guitar.

A ceramic hare/kangaroo? A big, hellish crab.

Oh all right then

Germany were better than England but not as much as everyone says. The disallowed goal was the first critical moment because 2-2 at half-time would have made it a completely different game, England would have had momentum and Germany would not have been able to play on the break in the second half. The second critical moment was Gareth Barry’s failure to hit the ball first time from an England corner; he tried to trap it, failed and Germany scored the third from the break. Up until then I was fairly confident England would equalise as they were in control.

Germany would still have been a better team than England but, as everyone who knows the game knows, football is a game in which the worse team often wins, through luck, fight and critical moments of inspiration or individual error. Being the superior team merely increases, in theory, your odds of creating more chances than your opponent. Over a league season the best team always wins; in knockouts they often don’t. The margins are very fine: for the winners, flukes are always forgotten and for losers bad luck is never forgiven.

In hindsight it is easy and fun to say how rubbish we were because the thing we English enjoy most after winning is wallowing in a loss. At the World Cup finals there is only one winner and 31 losers. Therefore there will always be reasons why 31 teams failed. For England, take your pick.

None of which is to excuse the consistently poor showings of this so-called ‘Golden Generation’, a team of neurotic talents who have underperformed every time they’ve been put on the big stage. This time, Capello found a way to make them perform in the qualifiers, but failed in the tournament. In tournament football, you just need to get lucky enough to find a team that functions for a brief period. Capello’s biggest mistake was sticking rigidly to a formula which obviously wasn’t functioning in this particular brief period. But then again, had that Lampard goal stood, he might have won, and there’d be another roll of the dice and another chance for it to suddenly click.

The ‘root and branch’ theories about why English football is doomed to failure are irrelevant. England’s cricketers have been pummelled for years for their poor limited-overs efforts. The rest of the world, we were told, had left us way behind, we’ve got it wrong at the root. Suddenly, by who knows what series of flukes and inspirations, the team has found a way to function and we’re world T20 champions and duffing up the Aussies at will. The strange thing about sport is that you never know when success might suddenly sneak up on you. Mostly, it doesn’t, and the default state for sports fans is suffering and disappointment. This is something that those for whom sport is a constant companion, rather than a quadrennial distraction, know in their bones.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Great performance by England beat Australia and go 3-0 up in a five match series.

And that is all I have to say about this weekend's sport.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Budget and Balls

Every time I turn on the telly at the moment it’s either vuvuzelas or Ed Balls. Few politicians can have grabbed at the luxury of Opposition Sniping with such greed; even by New Labour standards the man is shameless. Balls and Milliband Minor appear to be the Labour leadership candidates most vigorously banging on the ‘no cuts’ drum, conveniently forgetting that in power they had budgeted for over £40bn of them with no clear plan for the how or where.

Balls’s strategy for damaging the Coalition, perhaps hoping to engineer some sort of Liberal backbench revolt (ha ha) is to claim that this was an ideological Tory small-state Budget which the Lib Dems are being reluctantly forced to prop up. This is disingenuous twaddle and Balls must know it.

First, none of the arguments from history or Japan are directly analogous because right at this moment huge sovereign debt is viewed as toxic by the markets. Therefore Governments have to be seen to be able to service the deficit, which is why the Cutting Budget was the most pressing practical issue faced by the Coalition. Whether the most severe cuts will ever actually materialise over the next five years is another matter entirely; the Budget in itself was the point. The hysterics are thus misplaced.

Second, this was plainly not a Tory Budget, it was a Coalition Budget. The income tax threshold increase and CGT rise are Lib Dem policies. In fact, it is remarkable how generous the Tories have been as the stronger partner. This is very bad for Balls because the entire centre-ground is occupied, leaving him clinging to the hope that the Coalition will fall apart so that the centre-left opens up.

Third, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this Coalition is the best thing that has happened to British politics for a long time. I’ve been summarising Budgets and Pre-Budget Reports for 11 years now and on every previous occasion the speech at the dispatch box was delivered by a dour Scotsman and was quite irrelevant. This is because the speech was spin; all the actual measures were buried in arcane language within a Domesday Book-sized pile of Budget Notes and supplementary documents. Despite all the headline announcements, the Emergency Budget was the easiest I’ve ever encountered, its Domesday Book was a slim volume and everything important that was in the Budget was explicitly stated by George Osborne in the House of Commons.

Being in Coalition – where they know they will be able to blame each other at the end of it - has effectively freed the Government from having to spin to the public or bow to the ideological pests within their own parties. Can you even remember a time when a PM has been as explicit as Cameron about bad news? Even more surprising is that because they have been able to decide the compromises so quickly, and apparently get on personally, they have been able to create a platform from which they can be swift and radical rather than slowly fudging. This probably won’t be able to happen again because if coalitions become common the dynamic will change. Despite the economic situation, CamCleggism is a brief Golden Age; we should enjoy it. Balls to the Eds.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Isner Mahut

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that the impossible Isner versus Mahut tennis match has fundamental implications for the very harmony of the universe.

It is obvious that Isner and Mahut are perfectly-balanced anti-doppelgangers. Isner is the unstoppable yin; Mahut the immovable yang.

Tied overnight at 59 games each in the (un)final set, it is vital to the structure of the cosmos that neither win today. Instead, they should carry on until they reach a magic number, such as the balanced prime 1,103.

At 1,103 games each they should immediately retire from tennis forever and go to live together in a wooden hut high in the Himalayas, where they should spend the rest of their days playing out endless chess stalemates and drawn games of noughts-and-crosses.


Booosh! Paaarp! Booosh! Paaarp!
Gerrard's cross!
Paaarp! Booosh! Paaarp! Booosh!
Terry’s block.
Boooo! Paaaarp! Paaaarp! Boooo!
Same formation?
Booosh! Booosh! Booosh! Booosh!
Like Playstation!

I love foopball. And props to Fabio for the finest immediate post-match interview by an England coach ever recorded.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Budget

Thanks to all of you who voted Conservative or indeed Lib Dem (and equal and opposite curses to those who didn’t), as the Coalition Government’s extra ‘emergency’ Budget means that my business is quids-in for 2010. This won’t particularly materialise in my bank balance until November, so don’t pester me for a grateful pint until then, by which time you will have forgotten anyway.

The only downside is that I will be working for most of the next 48 hours, after which my brain will be deep fried and I will have nothing coherent at all to say about the Budget or anything else (which has never stopped me blogging before, I pre-empt you by saying).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Boo Two

“When England beat us they were incredible. Incredible. And for 20 minutes in the game they were perfect. Boosh! Pass. Boosh! Control on the chest. Boosh! The volley. Everything fast. It was like PlayStation,” said Slaven Bilic, referring to England's 5-1 thrashing of his Croatia team in September to qualify for the World Cup finals. “And now...when I watch them against USA...what has happened to your team?”

Good question, Slaven Bilic. It’s the one Fabio Capello is paid £6 million a year to answer; so it’s his fault. But they’re the same team and formation that thrashed Croatia 5-1 ‘like Playstation’, so it must be the players’ fault. They didn’t try hard enough, they have no heart. They tried too hard, became self-conscious and failed to express themselves. There’s something unique in the English mentality that means our players freeze on the big stage, which is why we never win the World Cup. France and Italy, the two most recent European winners, have been just as bad, so it’s just the way sport goes, nothing unique about us. Two draws against weak opposition is a catastrophic start. Unlike Spain and France, we’re unbeaten against weak opposition, so in context it’s far from a catastrophic start. If we can’t beat Algeria there’s no way we’re going to beat Slovenia; we’re exiting in humiliation. We always start slowly when we’re going to have a good competition – jeered off the pitch in the 1966 opener, scraping through in 86 and 90 – the shock will force us to radically change, improve and go all the way. It’s the usual: unconvincing progress from the group stage then a couple of good performances followed by elimination on penalties by Germany or Portugal.

England’s draws against the USA and Algeria thus far in the World Cup have been consistent with all of the above theories and predictions. Somebody will of course be right but they shouldn’t brag about it and say ‘I told you so’, any more than a sweepstake winner should claim clairvoyant powers. We are riding along right at the very edge of Time: behind us is an incomprehensible tangle of damn things; in front, the glare of the great unknowable at which the mind blanks. Helpless, we sound our vain opinions like vuvuzelas parping into the void.

Think of England Style Icons: Mr Bump

Though clumsy, Mr Bump was a visual delight, his bandages crisp against a vivid sky blue. In retrospect, clearly the inspiration behind my continuing fondness for Adidas Gazelle trainers.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Boooooooooooo. (Paaaaaaaaaaarp.) Boooooooooooo.

I hate football.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Poetry analysis: Vuvuzela Johnson

Yesterday’s publication of Vuvuzela Johnson has sent shockwaves through the poetry world and Think of England has been inundated with emails - some timorous, some furious, but most concerned with the rationale behind my choice of examples of things that are "intoxicating to parp", namely:

A gin-soaked trombone,
A pot megaphone,
A line of coke on a c harp,
A vodka kazoo...

I can’t possibly reply to all of the emails individually, but hopefully this general answer will help quell the clamour:

Yes, ‘gin-soaked’ is an obvious reference to the Rolling Stones song Honky Tonk Woman and therefore a self-reference to the Stones’ appearance in the previous post in which it was claimed that the Lightning Seeds plagiarised Get Off of My Cloud; and yes the latter band’s Ian Broudie was the man behind Three Lions, and no, of course this World Cup reference is no coincidence in a poem about vuvuzelas.

The above hardly needed spelling out, I feel, and it should also have been clear to even the meanest intellect that the “line of coke” was demanded by ‘gin-soaked’ via the internal rhyme of “soak” and the oblique eye-rhyme of “gin/ line”. Those of you who noted that Mick Jagger played a c harp harmonica and has also been associated with intoxicating substances should get out more.

At least thirteen readers have attacked me for shunning the more lyrically obvious “sherry kazoo” in favour of the harsh consonants of “vodka kazoo”. This baker's dozen of ignoramuses should go to the back of the poetry class. “Vodka kazoo” was the only sensible option in a football-related poem: the double ka sound allowing us to visualise the Brazilian maestro Kaka waltzing through some Baltic defence in three kicks and a shot (soaked, coke, ka ka! Pass, pass, trap, score! Ka ka! Bang bang!)

Full marks to the seven of you who spotted the assonance and imperfect dactylic rhyme of “vodka ka” and “pot mega” – the latter naturally a play on omega, the symbol for which - Ω - looks exactly like the ball as it is placed on the penalty spot for the inevitable tournament-ending miss from some unfortunate England player – literally the last ball, the omega ball, of our World Cup.

Hedge cutter

The other day in the lane I had to scrunch myself up to avoid what could have been an untidy encounter with a hedge cutting vehicle much like the one pictured above. It was being operated with impressive skill by the driver, who had to use a variety of levers and pedals to simultaneously move the vehicle in the right direction, mow the ground level verge and use the cutting arm to sweep up and down the hedge itself.

Nothing overly surprising about that I suppose – you’d expect someone let loose with one of those machines to know what he was doing. I only mention it because the driver was very, very old and appeared to be operating the equipment half-asleep from a virtually horizontal reclining position.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Vuvuzela Johnson - The poem

Vuvuzela Johnson
by Brit

A gin-soaked trombone,
A pot megaphone,
A line of coke on a c harp,
A vodka kazoo -
These are but a few
intoxicating things
to parp.

Vuvuzela Johnson

Gaw complains here about British football’s culture of stubborn anti-intellectualism. Football is undeniably thick, but sometimes I wonder if it’s for the best – I mean, just look what happens when an intellectual opines on the game (h/t Frank Key).

Now Boris Johnson is a man who treads the fine line between clever and stupid with no little nimbleness for a large man. Heard a wonderful turn of phrase from him on the radio this morning, remarking on his desire that vuvuzelas be banned at the 2012 Olympics: “I don’t want to diss the vuvuzela, they are clearly very intoxicating things to parp.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I was reminded the other day that back in the mid 1990s Oasis were successfully sued for half a million dollars by The New Seekers, because the track Shakermaker nicked the melody from I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing. This was a pretty arbitary ruling - after all, they might just as well have been sued by the Beatles too, since Shakermaker put the melody of I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing over the instrumentation of the track Flying.

It was arbitrary also because, consciously or otherwise, musicians constantly copy each other. I'm thinking of become a musical plagiarism lawyer because I notice this all the time; perhaps you do too.

For example, to take a couple of random ones I have noted recently from listening to the radio, the Keane song Somewhere Only We Know...

...sounds just like Brompton Oratory by Nick Cave...

...and The Lightning Seeds' track All I Want... basically a soft version of Get Off of My Cloud.

Come to think of it, I rather wish I could stop noticing these things; they get in the way of just getting on with one's business in a sensible manner.

Drastic Prune

A colleague has sent me an email containing a heavily edited version of a publication, with the subject line "Drastic prune".

Good name for a band, that.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Push the red button

The BBC is apparently looking at streaming a vuvuzela-less World Cup via the red button. I can see this muted alternate reality being very appealing for the more soporific games. The first round matches of the group stage are always the worst (apart from the final) because nobody dares to lose, there are too many sendings off and the ball is always a crossbar-clearing balloon created by Adidas who for some reason see weightlessness as the endgame of ball innovation. Vuvuzelas are a new distraction, at least. Lionel Messi says that playing amongst them is like being deaf. Only the Germans, such as Worm’s wife, aren’t complaining, having thus far been the one side apart from South Korea to play well. Jamie Carragher says this is because they have a sneaky advantage having practiced with the Adidas balloon in the Bundesliga last season. The other explanation for the Germans playing unexpectedly well is, of course, that they are Germans. Apart from regularly beating us on penalties the most dastardly thing the Germans have done since 1945 is to adopt Three Lions as a terrace chant. In a packed pub garden on Saturday evening, an hour before kick-off, my friends and I agreed that Three Lions is bloody fantastic football song to sing, which it is. Watching England games in pubs also means that the noise levels are so high anyway that you can’t hear the vuvuzelas and there is no need to push the red button. English fans in South Africa are complaining that the vuvuzela drone drowns out all their singing. On the other hand, if we’d had vuvuzelas at Euro 96 the Germans would never have been able to adopt Three Lions, so it’s all relative.

Things you can buy at Chief Trading Post, part 3

Various ornamental animals including pugs and storks; a large bronze mounted warrior, possibly Genghis Khan?

Two lifesize wooden horse skeletons in crates; a classical statue, possibly Atlas (right, supporting Overflow Car Park sign); plant pots; a 20 ft sculpture of elephants supporting other elephants (left); house for a very wide dog.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lego Green

This is brilliant.

Agent Green

Yes it was a terrible blunder but surely this headline in the Belfast Telegraph is taking it too far into the realms of conspiracy?

Update- alas, they've fixed the Belfast Telegraph website, which originally said "Steven Gerrard's flying start ruined by USA's Robert Green" .

Lincoln Green

Mrs B and I went to the cinema last week for the first time since the birth of Brit Jnr (ten months if you can believe such a thing). Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood seemed the least bad option given the timings, and it was watchable though fell between the two stools of gritty realism and comic caper. So it was probably worse than the Costner one and obviously much worse than Errol Flynn (I think someone should do a proper job on Robin Hood, as Boorman did on Arthur; call it Robyn Hode and make it a bit nasty).

Anyway, I was intrigued by Russell Crowe’s approach to Robin Hood’s accent. I wouldn’t compare it directly with Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins, because although Dick’s accent was bizarre (Meeeeery Poppunsh), it was more or less consistent throughout the film. Crowe, on other hand, spoke in a perfectly plausible Geoff Boycott-style Yorkshire brogue, but only in some scenes. In others he spoke in perfectly plausible Dublin, Bootle Scouse and RP. In each scene the accent was internally consistent, but you never knew which one might pop up next.

I could detect no particular rationale behind the choice of accent (was it Irish for lighthearted moments, Scouse for speeches, Yorkshire for domestic scenes etc?) but given the care and attention that Ridley Scott put into the costumes and CGI effects I can only assume that there was one, which I missed through inattention.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Wavin Flag

The World Cup starts today. I hope South Africa will be good hosts, certainly the song about wavin yo’ flag is a goodie. When I am older I will be stronger – unusual that and rather moving. In recent days I have remembered how much I love World Cups. What would my view of the world be without football? It would be like the American view. Would we even have heard of such countries as 'Paraguay', 'Ivory Coast' or 'Italy'? The Brazilian national team is a world treasure. This year the Spanish have the potential to be the most beautiful team ever and all things being equal they’ll win it – though the strength of football is that all things are never equal; no other major sport produces more upsets because there are so many different ways to score and prevent goals.

It’s not essential to my enjoyment that England are present but it’s preferable if they are because no matter how the party turns out it’s always better to have been invited. I will inevitably get my usual surge of patriotism when England come up against a biggie - we’re always best as underdogs and for as long as I can remember England have suffered with always performing just about as well as the opposition – dramatically raising their game against Germany or Argentina and equally dramatically lowering it against minnows. But that’s all part of the tradition.

My favourite one was Mexico 86. I was nine years old and I can still taste that World Cup. All the colours were turned up to max and Mexico might as well have been Mars. On the day of the final I was staying at a friend’s house and we had to beg his dad to let us watch it – he was Royal Naval officer and a dreadful rugby snob who referred to football as ‘soccer’. He poured utter scorn on my nine year old enthusiams and dreams and I’ve still never quite forgiven that type. In those days the players were still Our Boys going off to do their stuff against the Martians. Today familiarity with the world’s best players through the cosmopolitan clubs has removed much of the exoticism; and Our Boys are loathed as overpaid, overhyped brats.

I wonder now though, whether the fact that everyone accepts that they’re overhyped means that they’re now underhyped. As for overpaid, you can’t really blame them for taking what’s thrown at them and at bottom they are still what footballers always were: big boys who want to run and kick and score goals. I think they deserve sympathy: they’re the generation of players for whom retirement will consist of an endless empty existence in a dream home, listlessly potting pool balls in the basement games room while upstairs a fattening WAG plots the most effective way to fleece them at the divorce court. But that’s when you’re older, so to hell with that, just wave yo flag...

Things you can buy at Chief Trading Post, part 2

A ten-foot tall 'Cement Spirit House' (sic).

Easter Island Moai heads, stone mushrooms, an elephant, a large shoe house.

A full-size tart in bronze, reclining (price just under £1,900)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Humpty Dumpty

When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master...that’s all.”

This bit of Lewis Carroll is used a lot in internet bust-ups but often wrongly. Some seem to think of it as an extension of Wittgenstein’s Private Language Argument, which demonstrated that a purely solipsistic language is an incoherent concept. In fact Humpty Dumpty is just a witty gag. A correct application in an argument would be to satirize a sophist who has deliberately equivocated between two different meanings of a word to make a single point, or who has wilfully misled by pushing the definition of a word beyond the commonly recognised boundaries of reasonableness, without indicating that he is doing so.

An incorrect application would be the circular argument whereby you assume a particular definition of an ambiguous word and, in the face of disagreement, produce the Humpty Dumpty. An even more incorrect application would be as a prop for the literalist idea that words have a single, universal, timeless definition. This is a category error and is obviously not the case because words change their meaning over time, have ambiguity, shades, double-meanings etc. They are frequently, perhaps usually, inadequate for containing reality. Commonly recognised boundaries of reasonableness are all we have. ‘Black’ and ‘white’, for example, are far from black and white when it comes to describing humans.

Poetry, most jokes and word-coinage would also be impossible if words were ‘objective’ in the scientific or Platonic sense, rather than the ‘generally agreed’ sense (thus ‘objective’ is itself an example of the problem). A good counter-argument to the misapplication of Humpty-Dumpty is another bit of Lewis Carroll. Who is the master here?

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Hobson’s Choice

For family logistical reasons I have in recent weeks been sometimes required to cadge a lift to work in the morning with either of two colleagues. One of them listens to Chris Moyles on Radio 1. The other listens to Chris Evans on Radio 2.

I really cannot decide which DJ I like less; but I would like to express in the strongest terms my dissatisfaction with the BBC for installing in the breakfast slots of the nation’s mainstream radio channels the two most annoying people called Chris in the history of broadcasting.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Things you can buy at Chief Trading Post, part 1

A cabinet, some dusty glass bottles and bowls, cartwheels, a large Hindu frieze, some windchimes.

A variety of rocking horses.

A frightening statue.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Old Left

So the supporters of Portillo-sofa-snuggling Diane Abbott (shall we call her Labour's Decent Left?) are capitalising on rival leadership candidate John McDonnell's 'joke' that if given time-travelling powers he would go back and assassinate Thatcher.

Hilarious, John. Now back to obscurity with you.

Land of a Thousand Dances

So as I was saying to Nige, I've never had a problem doin' the Pony, the Chicken or the Mashed Potato and I can still just about manage the Alligator on a warm day. My Watusi days, alas, are behind me (skiing accident). My Twist is a little jerky, my Jerk a little twisty. I've long struggled with the Fly, the Tango, the Yo-Yo and the Sweet Pea; and I'm afraid the Hand jive, the Slop, the Bop, the Fish and the Popeye have always eluded me.

These are merely the 16 dances mentioned in the original Chris Kenner release of the song Land of a Thousand Dances, later made famous by Wilson Pickett and covered by such distinguished artists as the Walker Brothers, Roy Orbison and Vinnie Jones.

It is a little known fact that the first cut of the song did indeed contain references to exactly 1,000 different and genuine dances, all of which Kenner would perform with vim at his riotous live shows. It was only for reasons of disc space and commercial viability that Kenner was persuaded to edit the recording down to 2 minutes and 12 seconds, from its original fourteen hours.

The dances included the Sprong, the Fop, the Malty Mash (below), the Slug, the Goop, the Ping, the Nads, the Slurper, the Cloot, the Kingsnorth, the Bleg, the Worm, the Pug, the Big Cahuna, the Lop, the Ligger, the Django, the Spango, the Mop, the Lackadaisical, the Breaststroke, the Egg, the Muggsy, the Gaw, the Grippy Leg Leg, the Spinal Collapse, the Nige, the Monkeyhammer, the Toe Jive, the Cornet, the Risky One, the Kevin, the Googly, the Wrong'Un, the Portly Gentleman Insouciantly Entering a Brothel, the Bog, the Tuesday, the Spinach, the Cupcake, the Vincent Van-a Gogh-Gogh, the Judd, the Possible Weasel, the Miserable Wretch, the Serious Misjudgement, the Monty, the Crabalocker Fishwife, the Wobbler, the Garden of Earthly Delights, the Boff, the Grope, the Git, the Waltz, the Anatomy of Melancholy, the Gang of Small Unruly Boys, the Random List, the Yoghurt, the Welshman, the Willard, the End of All Things, the Fag, the Time I Got That Mysterious Item in My Shoe, the Bang!, the Scooch, the Lembit, the Trouser Press and the Rumba, to name but sixty-five or so.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Chief Trading Post

The best shop in the Bristol area, and probably the world, is Chief Trading Post, in Oldland Common. It is, I suppose, a Garden Centre; but Chief Trading Post is a ‘Garden Centre’ in the sense that Salvador Dali is a ‘landscape painter’.

It consists of a series of vast greenhouses, some which contain heaped junk, rejects and broken things; and some of which (and the boundaries are fuzzy) contain many hundreds of items for sale, grouped into categories all of which seem to be ‘Misc’.

There is also a very good café. The food and drink is relatively normal but the seating is not. For example, inside the main building we have The Satanic Table:

And then just outside in the greenhouse is a bewildering range of themed seating, such as the giant clay pot containing circular benches and a table, and guarded by this sort of African warrior…

…or this one, below, which we call the ‘Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer Table’, for the very good reason that next to it is a model of Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a big wobbly head. Above the table is a big blue glass ball, a birdy thing and a heater with the sign: “Touch Button Every Twenty Minutes For Continuous Heat.”

You can buy many things at Chief Trading Post. I will illustrate some of these in future postings, but here is a foretaste:

Friday, June 04, 2010

The Squirrelhunters

Despite the expert coaching of the Lancastrian dwarf I didn’t much enjoy shooting and I didn’t particularly like myself for the bits I did enjoy. This might have helped harden my lack of sympathy for the libertarian argument for guns-as-toys, but there are other, grimmer reasons too. Anyway, I don’t see why people need to own guns for reasons outside of occupational usefulness and I think the fewer guns there are about the place, the better. There may be a further tightening of our already tight laws, as after Dunblane – gun legislation is, after all, the only possible outlet for our desire to do something practical in the wake of the Cumbria horrorshow – or there may not. Personally I wouldn’t oppose further tightening on the basis that the British Olympic shooting team can’t practice (who cares?) or that blasting shotguns is fun (so is speeding on the motorway, if you’re a certain type of man).

Just over a week before Cumbria I was strolling the bottommost lunchtime lane in aching sunshine when some unseen shootists above, but not nearly far enough above, began blasting away. It was fearfully loud in the valley and annoyingly unrhythmical– what was peaceful became fractious and tense. After each shot I heard disconcerting whirrings and pings in the long grass above the lane. All local animal life buggered off and all enjoyment was ruined. I turned around and headed back, half-expecting to feel the hot sting of a wayward pellet at any moment (strangely, I specifically felt that my right ear would be shot off, can’t explain why).

The shootists were, I suppose, the camouflaged squirrelhunters for whom the Local Character showed such withering contempt. I wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to march up to them to put flowers in their shotgun barrels, but I did want to say “Oh, grow up.”

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Lane etiquette

Adjacent to our office is a small business dedicated to producing magazines about France and Australia. Its employees have been in about a year and they are, with a couple of exceptions, a snooty mannerless bunch who park their cars inconsiderately.

One swarthy chap in particular sometimes strolls about the lanes of a lunchtime, so twice or thrice I have passed him as he walks uphill and I down or vice versa. On each occasion I have arranged my face into suitable nods and greeting-grimaces, even preparing an “Afternoon” or a “Lovely out, isn’t it?”. And on each occasion he has completely blanked me, eyes fixed on the ground as if we were passing in Piccadilly Circus rather than a narrow country lane in the middle of nowhere.

I can only think that he’s a Londoner. At any rate he has no grasp at all of the unwritten but clear rule of Fleeting Greeting: you should always acknowledge a passer-by when it would be more absurd not to do so.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Green Torah

It’s not original to point out the parallels between Greenism and millenarian religion. There is a Fall (from a state of harmony with nature to greedy capitalism) and obviously an Armageddon, currently manifesting itself as rising sea levels and melting ice caps. And God knows there are plenty of prophets and high priests and missionaries and even heresies.

Now I have discovered the Green Torah, or specifically, the Green Leviticus, in the form of a tubular toiletside tome called ‘1000 Ways to Save the Earth’. A thousand ways, as you might imagine, is a Big Ask even for finger-wagging Greens and the barrel is well scraped by the late 800s, but it’s a remarkable work nonetheless. There is, it seems, no area of everyday western life - however humble, innocent or trivial – about which one shouldn’t feel guiltier. Did you know, for example, that you ought to encase your Ipod in something made from recycled Columbian truck tyres?

As with all good religious rulebooks, the Green Torah is a logical minefield. One Way, about wrapping your apples individually in old newspaper so they will remain edible all winter, is followed by another urging you not to buy newspapers but to read them at your local library.

The logic and consistency issues seem to largely stem from two fundamental problems in the Green ethos. The first is that the point of these Ways is that they’re effective when scalable - so even though you will make no measurable difference to the planet by doing these things on your own, if everyone followed your shining example then the Earth could indeed be ‘saved’. But most of the Ways can’t be scaled coherently (if everyone did stop buying newspapers there would be no newspapers to read in your local library nor indeed to wrap your apples in). The second problem is that the quartet of Green Goods in consumables - Locally-Sourced; Fair Trade; Organic; Carbon-Friendly – are often mutually exclusive or in direct conflict with each other.

Naturally, none of this logical or practical business should get in the way of a good self-righteous green fingerwag. In terms of tone, my absolute favourite is Way to Save the Earth number 899, Make use of comment cards, which states: “If you still use the supermarket, at least fill in the customer comment cards [sigh]. Use them to urge your store to stock more organic, fair trade and locally-sourced produce.” (My italics and sigh, to assist with the correct enunciation).

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Mega-Tuesday; and a fine expression

You may recall that I greet Tuesday’s inevitable arrival with no great affection. A post-Bank Holiday Tuesday, in dank blustery rain, and in the middle of what Nige would term a ‘workstorm’ ought therefore to biff my spirits something rotten. Oh well at least it’s a short week everyone will say, but in fact it is well known that four day weeks last longer than ordinary five day ones.

However, I have kept my pecker up on this Mega-Tuesday by recalling a terrific expression uttered to me at the weekend by a northern in-law. “She took me outside and bollocked me from arsehole to breakfast time,” he said, in a broad Lancs accent which you should mimic for the full effect.