Friday, May 31, 2013

Set piece

Just over a decade ago I started writing a novel, set in the entirely fictional town of Helminthdale. As it happens I ran into the ground about halfway through as the conflicts between wanting to tell an intertwining set of daft stories plus what had become a sort of love story hit the brick wall of the central plot McGuffin. So I put it to one side and told some different daft stories set in a not-wholly dissimilar town of the same name. And every so often my thoughts would return to that question: just where was that story going?

And then recently I realised what the ending had to be. What it must be. It fit and it was inevitable. And I couldn't use it: the coincidence with what passes for real life was just too, too awful.


Well, here it is in its first rough form. I may come to use it some time in the future...

They stood there in the light drizzle, the full complement of Helminthdale Council dutifully waiting for the moment. The Mayor stood by the entrance of the new town hall, idly fiddling with the ceremonial scissors. At last, fashionably-late as usual, Punch came to the party. The great hulking frame of Godolphin Penkage lurched out of the corporation Daimler and waddled uncertainly towards the ribbon, municipal smugness writ large about his face.  

At this point there was an uncertain creaking sound.

The thronging herd, well-trained over the years not to notice the great man's size, pretended to hear nothing.

Bricks and a piece of decking plopped noisily into the river by the west wing.

Clifford and McKendrick exchanged glances. Nancy shivered. Then a strange thing happened. Almost as one, without a word and with neither panic nor haste the whole crowd took three steps back. The Mayor and Godolphin Penkage, both of whom struggled to admit a world beyond their egos, noticed nothing and prepared themselves for the ceremony. 

A couple of concrete pilings detached themselves from the base of the north wall of the town hall.

"Oops," muttered one of the Borough Engineer's team under his breath. "Told them so," muttered his oppo. Glancing round, McKendrick realised that everyone in the Works Department was standing well to the back of the crowd. Members' Services had drifted over to the bus station entrance.

The riverside walkway lurched drunkenly to one side.

The crowd noiselessly took nine steps backwards.

By this time even dignitaries too full of themselves for ordinary life realised that something was going on. They stood ready like rather alert beach balls. The crowd scarcely cared. The walkway slid into the water, followed quickly by the pier supports to the west wing. 

The crowd held its breath. The dignitaries left the stage. Nancy bit her lip and unconsciously moved closer to McKendrick. Clifford whistled softly. McKendrick stood ramrod-straight trying - and failing - to conceal his sense of marvellous wonder.

And then it happened.

A series of very large cracks and creaks heralded the end. The last supports for the two riverside wings of the building collapsed. The platform supporting the town hall shifted and tilted. A lurch, a groan and then a wonder. The whole building slipped and slid backwards into the river.

"That'll upset a few tea breaks," muttered Clifford.

McKendrick smiled. Then he turned and hugged Nancy.

Twenty yards behind, the Accounts Department was humming "Nearer My God To Thee." And then it started to rain properly.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The march of progress

Yesterday we marked the 60th anniversary of the conquest of Everest by Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay. A towering achievement in anybody's money.

At the same time I didn't send somebody an email asking: "And how old are we, then? Six?"

We live in exciting times.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Explorations in palaeontology

Following on from yesterday's ramblings...

(Moschops is a Therapsid from the Permian. Therapsids are one of the more primitive groups of Synapsid ("mammal-like") reptiles.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


I was going to write a post on Merriam's wonderful book on extinct marine reptiles and my profound disappointment on buying what was billed as its successor. And how black and white line drawings look more authentic and scientific and scholarly than even the best colour illustrations. I was going to move on to the Permo-Triassic explosion of reptilian diversity as the Cotylosaurs adapted to new environments and the ancestral diapsids and synapsids first took to the stage, looking little like the dinosaurs, birds and mammals they would beget. And I was going to illustrate it with Pareiasaurs and Placodonts and draw particular attentions to the convergence of evolutions that brought about the Permian Daedalosaurs, the Triassic Icarosaurus and the modern flying lizard. And that.

But I got distracted by a cup of tea.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Holiday reading: rainy bank holiday afternoon

And a last burst for this weekend...

The Saint Plays With Fire The Mind of Mr J.G.Reeder The Mask of Dimitrios Bulldog Drummond
Dr. Thorndyke's DiscoveryThe Black Gang The Saint Meets His Match They Called Him Nighthawk
Jennerton & Co. The Prisoner in the Opal A Case for Inspector West

(I have to admit: "They Called Him Nighthawk" is only in for its cover art. I don't reckon Sidney Horler.)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Holiday second reading

And for just as little rhyme or reason, some more books:

Death in High Provence Death and the Maiden The League of Frightened Men
Death of a Peer A Beauty for Inspector West The Blind Side
Dancers in Mourning Trent's Last Case Terror for the Toff

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Holiday weekend reading

For neither rhyme nor reason, here's a bunch o'books

The Red Triangle The Affair at the Semiramis HotelCurious Happenings to the Rooke Legatees The Red Thumb Mark by R. Austin FreemanThe Northing Tramp
Moran Chambers Smiled The Clue of the Twisted Candle Kai Lung's Golden Hours The Eye of Osiris The Old Man in the Corner

Can you guess which one I haven't read?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Twisted sister

Never mind the woman or the dog, look at the songs. Can you imagine going the twist to any of them?

album cover

"The Yellow Rose of Texas"
"Tea For Two"
and best of all: "The Indian Love Call."

Nelson Eddie: you've gotta dig that pussycat!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

More from the Observer's Book...

A few more from The Observer's Book of Commuters...

waitin for the number seventeen bus
The Tiller Girls: Genetically incapable of not walking four abreast along any pavement, station platform or canal towpath. Usually accompanied by raucous laughter, the handbags from hell and an overpowering smell of yesterday's face powder.

Trolley Dollies: Gentlemen of a certain age with suits of a similar vintage pulling along little cases on wheels with neither flair nor accuracy. Imagine Bernard Manning impersonating a BOAC air stewardess and you'd not be far wrong.

Franklin's Lost: They couldn't find the Northwest Passage and by God, they're not going to be finding their bus any time soon. In between times they meander aimlessly sadly between bus stops, driven mad by snow-borne mirages.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

So long Eddie

R.I.P. Eddie Braben

The passing of one of my heroes. An utter genius of a writer, a great artist and craftsman. We're the better for having had him round.

How could you improve Morecambe and Wise? Well, you could get them to drop the Abbott and Costello personae they often adopted in the fifties and sixties. Then you could write for deep-seated warmth of their friendship. And then you could add the daftnesses of childhood. And you get this:

Here he is talking to Miranda Hart about the experience:

(It wasn't until I read his obituary in "The Independent" that I knew about his head-butting Billy Cotton for not letting him follow Morecambe & Wise over to Thames when they left the BBC.)

It's a shame I don't have any links to clips of any of his radio shows. Mad compendia of music hall malarkey, gorms and grotesques, with Alison Steadman as Miss Tasker ("Shy of men. Always have been...") driven wild by men's thighs and the odd lurch into Comic Cuts surrealism that would lead Eli Woods to cry: "I've done some rubbish in my time, but..." And we'd laugh. Because it was warm and daft and funny.

Thank you sir.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

That Monday feeling

I know it isn't Monday but...

Monday, May 20, 2013


Sacha Distel & Bridgette Bardot I dreamed that the world had fallen apart around my ears and I was having to cadge cigarettes off Sacha Distel. As anxiety dreams go that's a doozy.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mag 168

elderly couple waiting for something or someone

"Did you remember to buy mints?"
"Yes, I remembered to buy mints."
"You didn't get those soft ones did you? They stick in my teeth."
"I got those big white ones you like crunching up while I'm trying to hear the telly."
"Good. I don't like those soft ones."
"Did you remember to lock the back door?"
"I remembered to lock the back door. Then you went back to check that I remembered to lock the back door. Twice."
"Oh my God! I left the gas on!"
"No you didn't."
"I don't remember switching it off after I'd boiled the eggs."
"You did. And you made me go back to make sure that you had."
"Are you sure?"
"I don't remember that. Shouldn't we...?"
"Stop your wittering woman. We're going on holiday and we're leaving all that stuff behind. And that's that."
"It's all well and good you saying that but what happens if we come back to find we've left the gas on?"
"If the worst comes to the worst and the house gets blown up we can always doss down in Molly's shed. Now stop worrying. We're supposed to be on holiday."
"Well, if one of us didn't worry where would we be?"
"We nearly weren't on that train in time. Pack it in and have a mint."
"Oh good, you got the ones I like."
"It'll be nice to get away from it all, won't it?"
"How's your Dennis' leg?"
"You were right: it is teak."
"I thought so. You can't spend all those years watching "The Antiques Roadshow" without learning something."
"You don't see teak these days."
"No. Our Doreen's dining room set was teak veneer. It was very nice. Contemporary."
"I suppose you don't see teak these days because it's cruel to elephants."
"How do you mean, cruel? To elephants?"
"They had all them elephants in the logging plantations hefting the tree trunks all about. It was very cruel."
"That's what elephants do. They trundle round, knocking trees over and chucking them about the jungle."
"Those little men that sit on their backs. That's what's cruel. They tell the elephant what to do by poking it behind the ears with a sharpened stick."
"Aye, well I can see as that's not much fun."
"Cruel I call it."
"There's times when I think that our Dennis could usefully be poked behind the ears with a sharpened stick. If his mum had poked him behind the ears with a sharpened stick a few times when he was younger he wouldn't be the trouble to her he his today."
"Here. Have one of these."
"I got you some wine gums."

Magpie Tales advert
More Magpie Tales

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Meanwhile, in the Danube Delta...

Those of us dwelling in the ignorances of the Western World would think that Romanian television consists entirely of repeats of "Beetroot World with Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej."

How wrong could we be?

Making plans for Nigels

It's that time of year again...

(Apologies for C4's advertising)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A constant tussle over livestock

The booklet cost £2.50 and I gave the lady at the desk a £5 note. A proper one with a picture of Dame May Whitty on the back of it. The lady at the desk rummaged in the coin tray for a considerable time. A good half of the tray was covered in pound coins and there was a mound of fifty pence pieces just to one side. But still she rummaged in the coin tray for a considerable time. Reluctantly she palmed a fifty pence piece then rummaged a bit more. In the end she gave me an assortment of 10p coins, some 5p coins, a twenty and the fifty pence piece. Scores of pound coins to give as change and she gave me two hundredweight of half-chewed threepenny bits. You have to wonder about some people.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Separated at birth?

(left) Popular comic character Nigel Farage
(right) Political heavyweight Jonah from the Dandy

Just sayin'

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


We were having the seat up/down argument the other day. We must have been bored: usually we only argue about sensible things like whether or not Michael Portillo is wearing a merkin on "This Week." Herself says the seat must be down but the lid up. I say that both seat and lid should be down to prevent unpleasant aerosol events in the bathroom. Herself says the seat must be down but the lid up.

The reason she says that is fair enough, I suppose. She claims that pop festivals gave her haemarroids. She reckons it was Glastonbury as done it. After three days eating Pieminster pies and drinking strong fire water she braved the bogs. A hour or so later, when she got to the end of the queue she went in. And came straight back out again. And didn't go to the toilet until she got back home a couple of days later.

Which is why she always insists on the lid staying up: "I like to know what I'm running away from before it's close enough to growl at me!"

Monday, May 13, 2013

Trying not to write about work...

For some reason I've had this earworm for the past few weeks...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sweet F.A.

I have a long-distance relationship with football: mildly interested but not so much as to be arsed watching a match, even on the telly. Even so, I'm often amazed at just how badly run the whole shebang is. UEFA, FIFA, FA, Premier League, all skittering about in squanderbug worlds of their own.

It hit home this week. FA Cup Final weekend. Manchester City vs. Wigan Athletic. David and Goliath stuff, full of the romance of the FA Cup. So the run-up to it has all been about Alec Ferguson's retirement. And the Sunday after the the Final. And the game itself was rescheduled so as to put the mockers on the BBC's early evening programming.

Back when I was more interested, the FA Cup Final was the last event of the season. The league titles had all been won and all the promotions and relegations done and dusted so we could all settle back for the year's finale. 3pm on that final Saturday we and the world would know that battle had commenced. It might be a dour grind between the big boys of the time; a daftly romantic battle of unequals or just some scrappy mess but whatever it was it would be one for the books.

It still could and should be.

For the record, I'm dead sorry that City lost but I think it's good for football that Wigan won. It would have been better had Wigan's win been the last word on the season.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Getting my hands dirty

The weather's warmed up a bit so I decided to have a nosy in the compost bin which has been keeping cats' bottoms warm all winter. It's pretty much nicely-rotted now so I chucked a load over the bare bed by the hazel bush in the corner. I also decide to put a spare big plastic box to use. It was originally given to us by the council to hold old newspapers for collection (only old newspapers, mark you) and has been redundant this past few years since we started having four humongous wheelie bins to manage on their behalf. So I half-filled it with compost from the bin, added a layer of coir compost and then topped it over with a few inches of multi-purpose compost from a bag.

I havered a bit about what to put in there: I've some tomato plants that are still a bit on the small side and not really suited for being by the side of the house; I'll stick with Plan A and get a couple of growbags for the back garden. I sowed a couple of rows of Swiss chard and a row of dwarf broad beans (I like them, The Small Object of desire thinks that beans are Things Of The Devil) and planted in a few scented-leaved pelargoniums at the front to soften the edges a bit and confuse any pests that depend on their sense of smell to find the plants they're going to ravage.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Raw envy

The Small Object of Desire was talking to a colleague fresh from a film archivist's conference.

"How did it go?" she asked. 
"Oh very nicely. We had a good last evening. It's a bit geeky but it's a brilliant film."
She was telling me this as I cooked tea.
"Which fillum?" I asked. 
 "Oh, it was an old Fritz Lang film from the thirties. She said it had recently been restored. Five hours long, she said." 
"Not Doctor Mabuse der Spiegler?"
"That's the one... Is it OK?"
 Yes. It is. Fancy being paid to watch it...

Thursday, May 09, 2013

From the Observer's Book

Now that The Small Object of Desire has been and got herself a new job I'm back on the public transport commute. I'd forgotten what a trial my fellow commuters are…

The Power Walker: Usually dressed like an extra from the touring production of"Bonfire of the Vanities," they're determined to stride out in a ruthlessly straight line, taking no prisoners in the battle for that stretch of pavement.

The Hypnotised Diagonalists: Earphones glued in to keep out the world, eyes fixed on the mobile device in their hand as they walk straight across you without warning as you try to cross that busy road where the pedestrian crossing's been out of action since last Summer.

Mrs. Overalls: Usually men, Mrs. Overalls dither about in shop doorways, train doorways, tram doorways, in fact any narrow passageway you may need to get through in a hurry. Their motto is: "I'm not actually going anywhere, and by God! neither are you."

The Metropolitan Cyclist: Expensive bike, speedos, hi-vis spectacles and streamlined cycling helmet, the Metropolitan Cyclist has the spatial awareness Ida seven-year-old and the arrogance of a ham actor playing a Spanish grandee in a remake of "Zorro."

TrishanEm: Two or three women functioning as one loud series of announcements about the sexual inadequacies of friends' boyfriends; bulletins about the doings of That Bitch; and Daily Mail headlines. Usually looking like the Black & White Minstrel Show had run out of burnt cork and had to resort to gravy browning.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013


Big Billy Bullshit corporations are very big on having somebody high profile employed to do their blue skies thinking, to hide the fact that the company's selling the same old blarney but wants to look like it's cutting-edge and can think outside the box. Grey-haired men in suits are paraded as "technology evangelists" or "social media evangelists" or the like.

I am very taken with this. I'd like to become a Have A Cup Of Tea And Stop Talking Bollocks Evangelist.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Holiday thoughts

We should start thinking about our Summer holidays...

Monday, May 06, 2013

Mutual discomfort

Having a glass of Doctor MacAndrew's Thunder Liquid in the temperance bar in Hannigan's Truss Boutique with Ken Barmy. He's in contemplative mood.

"I'm glad I'm unlikely to persuade venture capitalists to give me a shit load of money."
"Wouldn't you like a shit load of money?" I asked.
"Oh yes. But I'd be tempted to set up a mutual organisation for the libraries."
I understand his dilemma: I disapprove of the setting-up of Call Me Dave's "Just like John Lewis honestly" privatisations of public services but like Ken I sometimes worry that despite our deeply-held conviction that public services should be publicly-accountable and part of democratic organisations, there's the possibility that library services need rescuing from some of their local authorities.Luckily, for both of us, this is a purely philosophical quandary.
"Mind you, if I were to take over the libraries I'd set conditions." 
"To tell," I encouraged. 
"They could keep three libraries; I wouldn't want to know." 
"Too quiet?" 
"Too expensive for nobody to be using. Look at _____, the number of books they issued last month is what most of our branch libraries issue in a day. And we're paying way over the market rent for the place. Basically, it's just there to provide a nice little income for the school. Same with ______. And nearly all the books being issued are to the school they're set in. We're providing these schools with an excellent free school library service and paying them way over the odds for the privilege of providing them with the service. Conkers to that."
Amen to that. It would be easy to go off on one about the ways of schools.
"What about the third one you wouldn't want?" 
"Oh? The central library of course. Complete dog's breakfast. It's just a drain on resources - every bugger and his dog interferes with it and we're not allowed to actually run it as a library. Well, bollocks to them, I'd even let them keep the stock if they wanted. I'd just want the libraries we could run properly and deliver services in without having to constantly jump through hoops for permission to even do the basics."
" You've got to have a central library, Ken, how can you survive without a flagship library?" (I was being deliberately provocative). 
"Flagships are for people who like dressing up like Lord Nelson." 
This is quite true: does your local authority have a flagship social services office or a flagship environmental health office? No, of course not.

It's probably just as well that neither of us would be in a position to be setting up a mutual...

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Sings the wise thrush

Today is International Dawn Chorus Day. As if to emphasise the matter, all the feathered hooligans are in fine fettle, whether it's the wren and the blackcap blasting out their song from amongst the brambles; or the sparrows and goldfinches chirruping from the treetops; or Frankie Howerd the cat muttering to itself from next door's garage roof.

The cat I don't have made damned sure I was awake for it by jumping on my head at four in the morning.


There are those who would say that my planting wild garlic in the garden is an act of folly, and I'd be amongst their number when I'm grubbing them out of the path. But this time of year they provide a nice picture of glossy fresh green leaves and starry white flowers and I forgive them quite a lot. Especially as they also taste nice, the leaves having that flavour of strong spring onions with a small back-note of garlic about them.

Tonight I made some garlicky mushrooms to go with the pizza. I melted some butter in the frying pan, added a glug of olive oil and then slung in some finely-sliced mushrooms. I'd grubbed up a coiple of wild garlic bulbs, so I cleaned and trimmed these, squashed them with the heavy chopping knife and added these to tne mushrooms. Finally I rolled up a handful of garlic leaves and finely shredded them then added this to the pan.  A minute or so later they were in the serving dish ready to eat.

Friday, May 03, 2013

The sound of gypsy violins in a tin of Ovaltine

My turn to be full of a cold. A tear-stained, snot-ridden idiot.

The Small Object of Desire gets home from work.

"How do you feel?"
"How do I look?"
"A bit grim."
"You're supposed to talk me up, make me feel better.
"You look fucking awful."

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The flowers that bloom in the Spring, tra la!

I have been taken to task for not having banged on at copious length about Helminthdale's May Day celebrations. Well catkins and bells to the whole sorry mess if you ask me. There's only so many pigs-bladder hats anyone should have to put up with on the bus down the Penkridge Road and if Beltane consists of two drunken farts in the "Duck and Pullett" lurching over their table with cries of: "I'm fair motleyed out, I am!" then the sooner the Druids pack up and start taking up needlework the better.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Ever-decreasing circles

That nice Wendy, blaming Scarlet, has awarded me another copy of the award I got the other day off Savannah. Which mean that I have a Reality Award and bar, which is dead good and demonstrates once and for all that I'm not away with the fairies. Thank you. 

And now for the four questions. The good thing is that I'm now at an age where an already-tenuous grasp of reality combined with a failing memory will probably come up with entirely different answers...

1. If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?
I'd like the people I care about not to have to worry about health or money or anything.

2. If you could repeat any age which would it be?
I'd be tempted to go back to my early twenties and give myself a massive kick up the arse. Having said that, I suspect I'm a better person now for having been such a prat then.

3. What really scares you?

4. If you could be someone else for a day, who would you be? 
A man in a shed on a warm summer's evening painting a rocking chair for the woman who's just given him a cup of tea.

I am now moved to pass the meme on to somebody who's blog has touched me lately. If you're reading this you're eligible.