Friday, July 30, 2010

The Private Psychedelic Reel

...don’t look at the sun if you have an Ilfracombe. Fat Charlie the Archangel sloped into the room. Bonedigger, bonedigger, buried underneath; born with ‘Portsmouth Football Club’ engraved on his teeth. Scab and matter custard, topped with cockroach legs. I can tell you a funny story about poached eggs. Dungeness crab and weasel a la Bristol Temple Meads; that’s the kind of breakfast a man such as me needs. If man is five, if man is five, the devil is six; Paul, Ed, Will and Ginger are picking up sticks. The cornet player’s cornet player, banging on the door. Plato ate a potato shaped like a Henry Moore. Sign says woo!
stay away fools,
off of my land!
Turn and fully return knob, hold child on stand...

Frank Key

We've been busy. Having already made this week what in fashionable football parlance is referred to as a 'marquee signing' in the shape of The Yard, The Dabbler is quickly establishing itself as the Manchester City of the blogscape.

The legendary Frank Key is the latest big name recruit of the transfer window - he will be writing a weekly column called 'Key's Cupboard', including brand new Dabbler-only content.

But for a kick-off, you can sample his unique genius in the infamous cautionary tale "Impugned by a Peasant".

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Over at The Dabbler (beta) I post on a terrifying 16th century family portrait, which I saw at Longleat House.

Have you been to Longleat? You get to drive around amidst lions and tigers and wolves and, most thrillingly, deer. Not monkeys at the moment, alas, they all have herpes, naughty things.

We took Brit Jnr a few weeks ago. What a waste of time; tots can’t see anything. At one point you can wind your windows down and feed the deer repellent pellets. One monster was literally poking its enormous head right onto Brit Jnr’s shoulder, but she only had eyes for a plastic cup. It crinkled. The lions, tigers and giraffes were quite lost on her but she got very excited about some chickens. More on her scale I suppose. Plus, she’s got no frame of reference by which lions should be more interesting than say, Yorkshire terriers. It’s a good day out though, if your kids are a bit older than 11 months.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Dabbler

Those of you who enjoy Think of England and other associated sites in this corner of the blogosphere will be very excited to learn of the imminent launch of The Dabbler.

The Dabbler - – is a new multi-contributor culture blog. Your pals Gaw, Worm, Nige, The Yard and I will be amongst those multiple contributors, along with numerous internet visionaries, luminaries, lunatics and special guests.

Over the coming weeks it will be launched properly in a swanky magazine format, probably using Blogger’s trendier cousin Wordpress.

But for now, you lucky Think of England readers can check it out in a nascent Blogger incarnation, including the very first post in which I select my 6 Clicks for the Endless Voyage (a feature). Subscribe, add it to your favourites, and remember you were there at the beginning; in a few months The Dabbler will be bigger than Dawkins.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Palms and needles

Outside my office is a palm tree, and next to it is a wintry conifer. This seems a bit of a jarring, climate-messing juxtaposition. Is it unusual? I know little of such matters.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Birthing Partner reunion

A flurry of birthday parties these weeks as the bumps of the antenatal class reach the grand old age of One. The mums have seen each other a great deal in the last year and a bit; for the Birthing Partners this is a reunion of changed, chastened men. The beards, interestingly, are mostly gone. The consensus amongst us is that the ‘classes’ might just as well have been coffee mornings for pregnant women, since the sole but very worthwhile thing to come out of them is the mum’s network.

On Saturday we were in the garden of the cheeky church loudmouth for Evie’s birthday. There are a lot of Evies about, it was the hot name of 2009. The babies scramble on the lawn for our inspection. Lee and I feel a natural affinity as his Ben and my Brit Jnr (the two youngest, funnily enough) are the only tots to have worked out how to walk. The rest of these Dads don’t know what’s about to hit them. We talk about destruction and sleep and vuvuzelas.

Lee’s wife trundles over. We blench. Somebody says “Oh, wow.” She is enormous. “Yes,” says Lee. “We’ve got another one coming. Already. Due in October. ”
“October?” says the church loudmouth. “Wow….”
“Gosh,” I say.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” says Lee.
“Wow,” says somebody, again.
“Yes,” says Lee.

Friday, July 23, 2010

My biggest break

When, much later in my career, fawning interviewers ask me the inevitable question: “So, Brit, what would you say was your biggest break?” I shall reply “Sixteen.”

It two reds and two blacks. Nobody was more shocked than me, it was a full-size table and for the first red I had to use the absurd long wobbly rest. This gargantuan score was easily sufficient to win an intra-company snooker biggest break competition yesterday, by a margin of twelve. My prize: a 2010 Wacky Races calendar, good for five months.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Things you can buy at Chief Trading Post, part 6

A No Smoking Gorilla.

A Sailor (Chef?) Teddy Bear Rocking-Chair (one Sailor/Chef Teddy Bear Arm missing), a Rocking-Aeroplane.

An Obscene CD-Rack (carved).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Local Hero

Watched Local Hero the other night, which I hadn't seen since I was a kid. If I had a top ten of films, which thank God I don't, Local Hero would now be in it. I could happily have watched it again straight away, but it was really late - like, 10pm or something crazy like that.

Much of the rest of my top ten, if it existed - which it most certainly doesn't - would consist of the movies of Wes Anderson. He must surely owe a debt to Local Hero in terms of tone. "We have an injured rabbit also" could easily be a line from Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The three-legged dog of Westminster

What is there to protest about these days? This is an interesting piece on the 'Democracy Village’ protesters in Parliament Square. Tasty titbits include the description of some protesters protesting against other protesters within their own protest for being Christian; and the fact that uber-protester and London landmark nut Brian Haw views the Village as yet another dastardly plot by the State (the sole, overriding and thus far remarkably unsuccessful purpose of the British state being, of course, to prevent Brian Haw from protesting).

But for me the most striking thing about Tanya Gold’s article was the line “A three legged dog lies on the grass.” Unexpected and jarring, it looks like it’s been put in the wrong place:

There are 20 tents, some homemade signs and a sailing boat near a sound system which the inhabitants use to make speeches and read poems. It is not, as the mayor and other critics have claimed, filthy, but it does have a chaotic, never-to-be-seen-again curiosity: a campsite surrounded by the Treasury, the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey. A three legged dog lies on the grass.

Why is this three-legged dog suddenly brought to our attention? Who is its owner? Is it part of the protest or merely an innocent observer? Or is it a metaphor for something? How significant is the missing leg? Did the State remove it? Does the dog represent the protestors, weakened but defiant? Does each of the three remaining legs correspond with one element of the Treasury/ Palace of Westminster/Westminster Abbey triumvirate? What breed is it, what colour? Above all, is its tongue lolling out so that it looks like it has a big silly doggy grin on its face?


Philip Hollobone’s arguments for a France-style burka ban make little sense – “it’s part of British culture to see people’s faces and say ‘Good morning’”? Oh really? Has he been to any British cities lately? Anyway, by that logic we’d have to ban low hats and high scarves in bad weather. But France generally gets it wrong. From the British perspective the only thing that matters is whether all the women who wear burkas are being forced to wear them against their will. If some but not all are being forced, then the possible ban available would be on the forcing of burka-wearing. And by all means, feminist or moderate pressure groups can feel free to encourage Muslim women not to wear it. But if at least some women are choosing to wear the burka, then that’s the end of the ban idea.

The thing was neatly summed up by a correspondent to a BBC Radio 2 programme yesterday morning. “When I’ve been to Arab countries,” she wrote, “I have had to cover my head and body. I strongly feel that when they come to this country they should obey our rules.” Her error, and the nub of it being, of course, that we don’t have rules like that.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My middle name is Hussein

Flicking idly around the sports channels, I was amused to note that the Chicago Cubs baseball team includes a player called Starlin Castro. This, surely, must be one of the most UnAmerican names ever?

Friday, July 16, 2010

For the Corsa Lady

Last night a queue at some traffic lights was just long enough to block the clear left branch down which I wished to scoot. The Vauxhall Corsa in front noticed this and obligingly inched, squeezed and squoze forward so that I could scrinch, scrunch and scronch past and away. As I passed, the Corsa Lady gave me a big smiley wave, which I returned. Ah me, it was a warm human moment.

I hate the way that driving brings out the worst of us – mostly, I suspect, because of fear. Saintly and rare indeed is the person who is as good-natured inside her car as she is outside of it. Amen.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Terrible blow for warmists

...Prince Charles is on board. And thus the zeitgeist disappears over the horizon.


On the subject of the Times paywall, I’ve been asking myself: why do I buy newspapers? In fact now I only regularly buy the Sunday Times, which costs £2 a week, the same as the paywall that I’m still unwilling to breach. So why do I buy the Sunday Times for £2 a week?

1. telly guide
2. cryptic crossword
3. a general Sunday ritual
4. columnists
5. film, book and music reviews

For those reasons in that order. I’ll read the sport and some of the news, but it will be stuff I already know from the TV and internet, mainly the BBC. I don’t care about most of the ST lifestyle supplements. I’ll leaf through the mag.

The Times paywall can only offer me 4 and 5, in a different format. But The Guardian is just as good for reviews, if not better, so 5 is irrelevant. That leaves the columnists. The Times probably does have the best roster of hacks, but are they worth £2 a week compared to free papers and blogs?

Possibly, but the other side to this, strangely, is that if I did pay £2 a week I would feel obliged to read them regularly in order to get my money’s worth, and I don’t want to feel tied.

The Times Online needs to tempt me with something new that only it can offer. The web offers interactivity, so perhaps it needs to make its columnists work much harder. Get them all to interact with readers in the way that Peter Hitchens does - in the way that, um, bloggers do for free.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chief Trading Post: Bronze tart update

In an earlier post I erroneously stated that the price of the full size tart in bronze, reclining was "just under £1,900". Not sure where I got that from -low-res image and faulty memory - as I was miles out.

Having been back to Chief Trading Post, I can confirm that the price is in fact an eye-watering (and oddly specific) £12,312.86.

Chief Trading Post also claims, rather dubiously in my opinion, that the bronze is a "Lady Coffee Table, Lyling (sic) Sexy". I don't doubt the Lyling Sexy bit, but it's far from clear where you'd balance your coffee.

While we were there I purchased a tropical fishy mobile/windchime thing (£2) for Brit Jnr's room. I asked the assistant how often people bought the large, sexy bronzes. "Not that often," she admitted. "It's always a bit of a surprise when someone wants one, to be honest."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Marina Hyde

In addition to having a magnificent proboscis, Marina Hyde is the closest thing that British hackery has to a Queen of Snark. Read her here on Lindsay Lohan’s incarceration. Hyde manufactures a lot of good verbiage out of the world’s trivial nonsensicalities. Perhaps she's wasting her talents. But then again, who isn't?

Her only serious rival for well-made snarkiness is probably Caitlin Moran, now hidden behind The Times’ paywall (anyone bought into that yet?). But Moran is, like her face, softer and a bit squishier than Marina Hyde, whose prose is as sharp as her nose.

And if you think this comparing of the columnists’ looks and writing styles is irrelevant and sexist since nobody worries about the physiognomies of male journalists, I’d just like to point out that Rod Liddle is sloppy and provocative in a tired sort of way, and Peter Hitchens is frightening, a bit twisted and clearly the less successful younger brother of Christopher.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Think of England: The poetry spin-off and blegging site

Visit the new Think of England poetry site here.

Nobody asked me to write Think of England and no reader should be under an obligation to pay for things that I have done for fun. But some readers are kind enough to want to show their appreciation for amusement I may have inadvertently given them.

Every blogger’s gotta bleg sometimes. I have 'supported' the RNLI for years without having actually done anything except set up an electronic Direct Debit and put a window sticker in the Focus. However, it occurred to me that I might be able to do something positive with the rambling nonsense resulting from the thousands of words splurged onto this blog.

I have therefore collected up some of the more memorable verses, torrents of doggerel and prose-poems that have appeared on this site and elsewhere on the internet over the last 5 years or so, and put them in one handy site here: More will be added over time.

So if you have enjoyed such things as The Blogger’s Lament or The Chav, or perhaps the prose-poem oddities such as John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood or In Ilfracombe, Hungover, and wish to show your appreciation any time, you could pop over there and contribute a few quid to the RNLI via the button on the sidebar. There’s no hurry.

If you do, you will earn my thanks and good opinion. And if you don’t you will not be diminished in my eyes, dear reader, as God knows there are enough good causes out there calling for your hard-earned dosh.



I'm glad Spain won the World Cup because they played the best football. It was admirable that they stuck patiently to their 'ticky-tacky' passing to overcome, 1-0 every time, the increasingly efficient spoiler tactics of Portugal, Paraguay, Germany and Holland.

Also, I can't bear the sight of Arjen Robben. It would take a long time indeed to tire of punching that face.


PS. when Xavi-Iniesta retires, it should go and live in the Himalayan hut with Isner-Mahut.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The St George Car-Washers

Having a constitutional resistance to washing my car I tend to… well that’s not quite right. ‘Constitutional resistance’ suggests a thought-out principle, but it’s more that it rarely occurs to me to wash my car, which I see purely as a daily transportation machine and a place to listen to my CDs. Last year I had to interrupt a well-known blogger and some-time autophiliac, who was launching into a paean to some sporty motor, to tell him that I drove a Ford Focus with roofbars. “Ah then you wouldn’t know what I was talking about,” he admitted, correctly.

Start again.

Not often thinking to wash my car I tend to allow months to pass between cleanings, but when the Focus becomes unpatriotically dirty outside and repugnantly fungal inside I take it, reluctant as a dog to its bath, to Church Road, opposite St George’s Park. Here an unlikely horde of Lithuanians, Turks and possibly Poles will clean it inside and out for a tenner. They do an incredible job – I always have to check the numberplate to make sure it’s the same car, and then drive it home carefully because the bit underneath the pedals is slippery with polish (Polish?) – but for those used to shopping at Tesco it’s a disconcertingly chaotic arrangement, especially the first time.

You turn up, manoeuvre your vehicle nervously into the general melee of motors, spraying hoses, eardrum-rattling dance music and Lithuanian/Turkish cusswords, get out and stand looking vaguely about yourself, waving your car keys. Eventually from the melee a particular Lithuanian or Turk will emerge and take the keys from you and bellow “inside and out?” You will nod and exit rapidly, praying for the safekeep of your vehicle. After a stroll around the park with your wife and offspring, perhaps a coffee at Grounded, you will return to the melee and once again stand looking vaguely about yourself, mouthing “Ford Focus?” until somebody emerges to take your tenner and return your keys. Then you cross the road to the Park carpark where they’ve left it, check the numberplate and drive carefully home.

At least that is how it’s been for the past few years. Last weekend however, I noticed a creeping service-industry legitimation of the melee. For a start, it has acquired a sign and thereby a name: Diamond Car Wash. Even more alarmingly, it has sprouted a professionally-printed menu, with different price bands according to the size of the vehicle. The next stage is, I suppose, a till. Then uniforms, then a website, then health and safety, then expansion. Then they’ll stop washing cars themselves and hire employees, then they’ll get fat and lazy and buy big houses in Kingswood and wash their own cars for fun on a Sunday while their uni-educated kids hang around in Clifton where nobody washes their cars because they’re too bohemian and good luck to all of them, why not, its really none of my business.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Nige posts a Happy Birthday to Ringo, who has just turned 70.

People only notice that Ringo wasn't a musical genius because, rather unfairly, all of his bandmates were. It's not normally required of drummers to even be name-able, let alone mono-monikers (yes Ringo is up there with Madonna, Elvis, Jesus, Diana, Britney and Stalin).

But Ringo got it, ie. he was very good at being a Beatle. I always enjoy those interviews where Ringo just says something very very odd, and you get the feeling that possibly even the other Beatles don't get the in-joke.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


This is a heartening story. It takes a lot of skill and effort to undo the work of stupid, evil people, but we win.

The Kingswood Car-Washers

The other week The Local Character and I got to talking, I forget by what conversational route, about Bristol Zoo. The Zoo is small but perfectly formed and sits in Clifton, which is the nicest but most expensive area of Bristol. The LC was waxing wistful about Clifton (he and I live in east Bristol, which is less nice but cheaper).

“It’s lovely just to be up there sometimes,” he said, from on top of his horse. “Sometimes Oi wish I’d moved up that way. Oi had the chance I suppose, years ago. Could of bought up there. But Oi didn’t, Oi bought in Kingswood. That’s the way it goes though, you make these decisions in loife.”

“The buildings are so nice in Clifton,” I observed. “You’ve got the college overlooking the zoo there...”

“Yeeeeaaaass, but it’s not just that. Everyone’s more, I don’t know, laid back. It’s not so… Well, you don’t see everyone out washing their bloody cars on a Sunday.”

Contempt, pity, great despair, these were all conveyed by that “washing their bloody cars”, for the two classes of Kingswood car-washer (Mondeo drivers and chav boy racers), and for humanity in general. Sadness and bleak laughter too, at life’s arbitrary twists. This was a new side to the Local Character.

“At least we can always go and visit Clifton,” I said quickly, for I could see him sagging in his saddle.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Dead animal spotting update

Following the weasel/stoat controversy, I yesterday spotted another interesting dead animal on the lane. Any idea what this rodent is? A poor photo I'm afraid (for which no possible excuses given that the subject remained very still throughout the shoot) but it was small, perhaps two inches long, with a long nose.

Today I will be taking my family and my healthy interest in spotting dead animals to Longleat Safari Park, though that attraction is admittedly more famous for alive ones. I will also be attempting to spot herpes-infected monkeys, from a distance.

Monday, July 05, 2010

6 Music

The BBC has given 6 Music a death row reprieve but Asian Network is still for the chop. There was a general conspiracy theory around that the Beeb never had any intentions of cutting 6 Music in the first place, but were just using the threat as a smokescreen for getting rid of Asian Network without looking too racist. Quite plausible, as conspiracy theories go.

Change is not good

Do you like my new look? Never mind, you'll get used to it.

A 'The Lanes' link has been added to the sidebar for ease of access to some rambling nonsense. More great and small changes will be coming soon. We live in exciting times.

Things you can buy at Chief Trading Post, Part 5

A 5-foot winking boy statue, in a sort of Manga/Jeff Koons style; a golden eagle.

A nude bronze, well-endowed.

Saturday, July 03, 2010


The general feeling after yesterday's match was that Nadal had thoroughly outplayed Murray. Yet about halfway through the third set, a commentator observed that Murray had actually won more points in the match, despite being two sets down.

I've never been quite sure to what extent the bizarre scoring system creates the drama in tennis, nor indeed to what extent great players can 'manage' the system, eg. cruising through the early points in games, or not chasing 40-0 games when receiving, to conserve mental energy for critical points etc. If the system consisted of sets scored like table-tennis or squash, would it be a completely different game, and would different players dominate?

Friday, July 02, 2010


Iain Duncan Smith's performance on Question Time last night was, by some distance, the most impressive I've ever seen by a party politician. Like most, I used to view the man as a bit of a joke, but the way he has taken the time in Opposition to look, seriously and without ideological baggage, at the most shamefully neglected part of British life - the hopeless, inescapable benefit-dependent sink estates - is admirable.

Ed Miliband's obviously-stupid rant about the IDS proposal to help mobility within these areas being an 'on yer bike' measure was depressing to hear. Balls and Miliband Minor have failed to understand the zeitgeist. People see the Coalition as a temporary period of grown-up politics and want it to succeed. In the power vacuum, Labour is doing itself damage with old-skool party sniping. Lacking an identity, it has become clearly identifiable only as the Nasty Party. Their best option was to take a similarly grown-up 'we're all in this together' tone and wait for the cuts to make CamCleggism unpopular as a matter of course. It is becoming increasingly clear that David Miliband is the only credible candidate from the five on offer.

If you ever get bored come knock on my door

Gaw rightly remarks on the child-and-parent-pleasing musical stylings of They Might Be Giants, whose album/DVD Here Come the 1-2-3s has held the number one spot in the Brit household for some 10 consecutive months now. Every tune is an ear-python and lyrics include "Everybody at the party is a multi-sided polygon" and "The definition of zero is the mathematical value between positive and negative values". I firmly believe that you should frequently talk way over the heads of infants and striplings; it gives them something to aspire to.

Here Come the 1-2-3s also includes this, which is the most beautiful song ever written about noisy neighbours. Possibly the most beautiful song written about anything.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Front crawl

Is it just me or is swimming the most knackering of physical activities if you’re a bit out of practice? Something to do with the breathing rhythm. After just one length of the Kingswood pool the other day I had to take a breather. Then I just about managed three in a row. Then I had to stop. One problem, I suppose, is that swimming lengths is incredibly boring so I don’t often do it except on holiday, when for some reason it becomes the only physical exercise I don’t resent. By the end of a week somewhere hot I can swim like a fish, but in the gap between hols my lungs seem to forget how to cope.

The other problem is that I insist on doing front crawl. Breast stroke, which is the easiest and the one everyone really wants to do, feels like a cop-out and is only really permissible for OAPs and women. Backstroke is impractical in busy pools and you’d have to be a prize plonker indeed to do the butterfly in public. So front crawl is the only sensible option.

Also I’ve always admired barrel-chested men who can do endless lengths of front crawl with a beautiful, symmetrical steadiness and economy of style. Burt Lancaster in the (bizarre) film The Swimmer had the knack, and so did my dad, so I suppose that as with so many things I really just want to emulate the best bits of him. Certainly I have inherited the barrel-chest but I’m not so sure my front crawl is as elegant. The good thing about swimming however, is that you can’t see yourself doing it, so it’s quite easy to imagine you’re just like Burt Lancaster.