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For Lindy and All Who Asked How My Birthday was going

Thanks for the good wishes and my best to your Mum on her 93rd and to you for having to handle it!

Alas the weather didn’t quite co-operate. I went out for about half an hour last night hunting shooting stars but all I caught was a slight sore throat from the cold night air. I keep telling myself that  one year, one year! I’m going to get myself organised enough to go where there’s no light pollution and spend the night of the Perseids shower celebrating my birthday in style. But this year wasn’t it. What with me going to the games convention Handycon at the weekend (1) and one thing and another it wasn’t to be.

Instead I took myself to a nice but tiny restaurant in Marlow where I treated myself to their ‘Lunchtime Gourmand Menu’. I nearly  didn’t because to me ‘gourmand’ implies eating far too much. Whereas what they gave me was a large number of courses but with smaller portions than if I had ordered their a la carte or set menu and with wines selected to go with the meal (and introduced by a cute young lady who told me what I might expect to taste: dammit now I wish  I’d written down the names of the wines…). It was lovely from the ‘amuse bouche’ to the ‘panna cotta’ and I must see if I can do it again some year. My brother and sister in law are taking me to a posh place in Radnage for their ‘tasting’ menu when I get back.

There was a fellow at a nearby table who used the phrase ‘our Polish friends’ in that jolly but defamatory way. And I thought “I bet he reads the DAILY TELEGRAPH.”

This was what sprang to mind because there had been a question on Quora (my favoured internet pontificating platform) about what British people think about  the Torygraph and I was thinking of answering it. When I got home I tried to use the incident in my answer… and discovered that I have what can only be an irrational prejudice against the publication. I haven’t read it since I was bored and without reading material one day  in the nineties. I picked up a copy of the TELEGRAPH someone had left lying around and found myself reading to my astonishment that John Major was an orator for the ages and bound to be a great asset to the Tories in the upcoming election. I put it down under the conviction that it was clearly  a newspaper for lunatics. And the fact that Major won the next election has not dissuaded me of this conviction. But when I came to write it down as a formal answer it seemed mean spirited and close minded of me so I didn’t bother. (2)

I read and approve of your exercise and diet program. It would be nice if the difficulty I have had getting into some of my shirts when I was deciding what to pack for Dublin inspired me to get back on the diet… Perhaps it will. After the Worldcon. Perhaps.

I envy you the chance to refurbish your place and tremble at the responsibility  of owning property. It’s just as well it isn’t a temptation for me but only a fantasy.

As to reading I just finished CIVIL WAR: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms by Trevor Royle which was massive and told me a lot more than Christopher Bloody Hill did back when we were doing the seventeenth century for A-Level. Everything from the Scots throwing their prayer stools at the Bishop to Samuel Pepys going to see Major General Harrison hung, drawn and quartered ‘and he looking as cheerful as a man could under those circumstances’.

And then I read a John M. Ford fantasy ‘The Last Hot Time’ which is beautifully written if rather light. The elegiac tone might be because Mike Ford was dying when he wrote it. (Goes and checks the facts… Hmm he died (very young) six years after this book was published.) The poems he composed to be the lyrics of the songs sung in the nightclub are just lovely and I would like to think someone has the good taste to give them music.

And as to writing… This is what I’ve managed to do today. I think I’ll go and post it on WordPress for the enjoyment of a greater public.



  1. Which was fun and allowed me to shift a large number of games I’m never going to play again and replace them with more games…. I also came down with something that made my nights sweaty and unpleasant… But went away with extra strength LemSip once I recognised what was wrong with me. I expect to come down with two or three varieties of Con Crud in Dublin. Note to self: pack some Lem-Sip….
  2. There is further evidence of the narrowness and prejudice of my political judgement in the astonishment I felt when I first heard that Ken Livingstone was a rising light in the Labour Party right after first seeing him interviewed.


(And at four o’clock in the morning I might say)
My apologies for not quite grasping your point when I read your last comment. It came to me in the middle of the night and having composed my answer I cannot get back to sleep without getting this down.
You say to me that I should not argue against the enactment of Brexit because ‘the legislature’ has given their word that it will go through and if I were to persuade them not to do so they would be being ‘dishonourable and unprincipled’ and that I by so doing would be ‘dishonourable and unprincipled’ myself.
Have I got that right now?
Well, in that case I have to apologise to you. I did indeed have a mental block preventing me from seeing your moral argument as you asserted I did. As you asserted all Remainers have.
I think the best way I can express that mental block is: because that’s daft.
You are elevating the virtue of ‘keeping one’s word’ above all other virtues and casting me in the roll of a tempter who is trying to turn frail politicians away from the path of righteousness. I do not see myself in that light.
Yes, one should keep one’s promises. But supposing another person has made a promise that does not oblige me to step out of their way if that promise is a harmful one let alone to actively support them.
Suppose (to snatch an example randomly from my seething, sleepless brain) one promises to find the home address of a work colleague for a friend. And one then discovers that the friend wants the information to go around and beat up the colleague who has offended them. Is keeping one’s word the right thing to do in these circumstances?
Most of my effort is going towards persuading those who support remaining in the EU not to give up hope and to continue to throw their opposition in the faces of those in power. Rally the troops, keep your powder dry stuff.
Surely you will allow the poor beleaguered MPs to give up their promise if it proves impossible to carry it out due to public opposition? (“Yes, dear I did promise you we’d go to the moon for our holidays but it turns out not to be possible this year.”)
I will not deny that it would please me greatly to think I had a hope in hell of persuading even one MP to gladly change their mind on this. I would not regard that however as breaking their word but rather recalling them to their greater duty.
“Salus populi suprema lex esto” which means ‘the good of the people should be the supreme law’ and which Wikipedia tells me is Cicero. Not the good of the party, not one’s own reputation but the good of the people.
We may disagree about the nature of what is good but surely not about our duty to pursue the good. There are means of seeking the good which destroy the good you pursue but I am doing my damnedest to stick purely to those means which are peaceful, honourable and legal in the hope that after this mess we may continue to have a means of honourable discourse and reasonable disagreement.
And now back to my bed.

A matter of perspective… No, no, it isn’t

I was reading just yesterday, on that excellent means for wasting time and creativity, a defence of the US Republican Party against the frequently made charge that they are on the right wing edge of a political system so out of whack compared with the rest of the rich, industrialised world that you might as well be looking at the court of Philip II of Spain, or maybe one of the Manchu Emperors for all the connection they have with civilised political discourse.

It was a good defence, pointing out all the things the Republicans had in common with European parties and calling out  to the many more extreme, dictatorial and cruel governments there are in the world. I almost wish I could find it now to take to pieces the rhetorical devices that had me nodding along and saying ‘Yes, yes, why can’t we all get along…’

(Brexit fatigue is hitting pretty strongly just now.)

And then today I read this.  

It’s the story of how a teacher in California who is sick with cancer is having to make a financial contribution to the salary of the substitute who has taken her place.

It gets worse.

The law under which this is done was passed in 1976.

Both my parents were teachers. I have ranted before about how right wing politicians in particular like to bully the people who try to ensure that the next generation can read, write, do basic arithmetic and wipe their own arses.

And since the time when I was just completing my post-graduate year at Manchester this vile piece of legislation has been there to make clear to the world that the people the Californians elect to run their affairs consider the teaching profession a bunch of worthless skivers who if they grow too sick to turn up and perform their thankless tasks must be punished for having the temerity to want to be public employees.

My good will for the conservative wave in modern culture has just evaporated again.  I am prevented by my age, ill  health and basic laziness from organising a revolution but I do wish I had done more recently to discomode the fellow travellers in the Tory party.

I  voted LibDem in the European elections (some of us have postal votes you know) so Nigel Farage sending me a photo of his repulsive visage and a bunch of self-serving drivel this morning was wasting his time. But I do wish I could do something that would get through the seemingly infinite thickness of the PM’s skull and that she could not rationalise away.

Ah well, it’s too late to take up tumbril driving at my time of life, citizens.

A Dialogue Between the Author and His Cat

“You have returned, provider of my daily fare. Did you pursue your intention to see the long awaited conclusion of the tale so long extended?”

“I did, oh companion and guardian of my home. Let me provide you with your supper (delayed by my fault in going to seek repast for myself) and then you may climb upon my lap while I describe the event and my conclusions.”

“It is a minor matter. Please do not allow it to happen ever again.”

A short time later…

“So then, what were your findings with regard to this work so much heralded forth in the gossip of the commonalty and the purveyors of daily tittle-tattle? (Yes, a little more there along the spine…)”

“I found it pleasing enough. In truth I could have delayed my delighting in it longer as is my custom with most such presentations, until the numbers attending are fewer and the press of the commonalty less close upon the judicious and superior soul were it not for the ‘spoiler’ warnings on every piece of rumour and review. Had I waited much longer the whole plot would have been revealed and the viewing pointless.”

“You have been known to not view something until you had the opportunity to read the summation of the plot posted by those who had gone before.”

“True but in this case I wished to see how they resolved the challenge set up by all the previous films and how much they could work in. In that regard it was good but not excellent. You will be unsurprised that the ending, though heroic and satisfactory as an ending was written by those who cared little for the philosophic implications of what they contrived.”

“In brief?”

“As expected the plot involved Chrononautic Expeditions and left the history of the fancied universe dangling in shreds and tatters of paradox.”

“Alas. But heroic deeds were done?”

“They were and heartstrings were plucked to good effect. I had no complaints in that regard.”

“Where did you have complaints?”

“In the darkness of the cinematography. I have mentioned to you before that fight scenes especially and most particularly those in fantastic narratives are murky and unclear to me. I do not think my advanced age is entirely to blame but rather the fancies of the directors.”

“You were away a good long time. Did the length of the piece cause you distress?”

“Some, it is true and the fact I was pent in and cut off from the exit by people entranced by the spectacle made leaving my seat impolite and impractical. But I discovered new reserves of resolve and physical capacity and despite being in my seat for three and a half hours did not disgrace myself, though my teeth were grinding by the end.”

“A heroic narrative of your own!”

“Indeed. The exercises I have been performing for the benefit of my left hip must have increased the strength of my pelvic muscles notably.”

“A cause for rejoicing. Though we could both be happier if it were leading to a great reduction in your paunch.”

“One must be philosophical in these things.”

“Finally, if a humble one may ask…”

“Is there such a being in the vicinity?”

“Why are we discoursing in such refined and polite tones this evening?”

“Because my old friend David Langford has, in a book of his reviews I obtained at the Eastercon, made mention of a collection of Kai Lung stories I had not previously known of. I purchased it in electronic format and it is all over my prose style just now.”

“By mentioning this tome…”


“…you pass the kindness on to the world. The balance of your karma improves. You may even be reborn as a cat someday.”

“A felicity of which I am unworthy.”

There’s a lot of funny people about

I was heading towards the bus station after my visit to the gym and my shopping at Tesco when I spotted a young, burly looking chap, taller than me who was looking around as if checking no-one important was looking.

Having clocked me and apparently deciding I didn’t count he nipped over to one of the aluminium clad concrete pillars that hold up the roof there by the library, stuck his tongue out and gave it a big lick. He then left in a hurry.

Is this a thing? Is it the latest health movement? Are young people suffering from aluminium deficiencies? Or maybe a lack of concrete in their diets?

Is it like the strange procedures that are supposed to send a pleasurable tingle up your spine? Will there be concerned headlines in the DAILY MAIL?

If there are, remember you saw it here first!

And another thing.

Every weekday morning just now when I finally emerge from my morning ablutions there’s the sound of an air horn somewhere nearby playing La Cucaracha . I’m not quite paranoid enough to think it’s the Observers letting people know that Cule is stalking the world so I’m assuming that it’s something to do with the team that has been refurbishing from just outside my flat to the start of the High Street.

Will I miss them when they go? Will they ever go? How big a fuss will the local horde of tut-tut merchants make when they see the final result of the refurbishment? Will I want to join them?

Chris, Roger’s wife, has a rant all prepared about the new lamp posts with the name of the road in illuminated letters on them. Me I’m more likely to kvetch about the quality of the pavement they leave us with.

Any back to my main point which is air horns.

Why would anyone want one of these pieces of 1950s technology? Clearly it’s evidence of deep insecurity to have a horn on your car that draws that much attention to you and evidence of obsessive compulsive behaviour to do it every bloody weekday morning regular as clockwork.

And now I go and look it up I find that those horns that play music aren’t what are called Air Horns nowadays anyway. I don’t know what they are called but they only seem to come in two tunes La Cucaracha and Dixie. Why no British GrenadiersWhy no Lilliburlero

THE PLAIN PEOPLE OF HIGH WYCOMBE: Have yer got that out of yer system now?

I think so yes. I need to go and lie down.

TPPoHW: A bit Paul Jennings this.

Hmm, yes. Not that that’s a bad thing, considering.





On Hearing that the PM might call a General Election.

(It was the headline in the GRUANIAD amongst other places.)

And what good, pray, would that do?

It would not give a clear answer to the most pressing and important question of the hour: What to do about Brexit?

It might, it is true, produce a government with enough of a majority to push through its own view of how Brexit should be handled but only perhaps. It is quite conceivable that it produces a further stalemate.

How would any of the parties be able to produce a unified and believable manifesto on the topic of Brexit? How would my local MP, who is a member of the ERG, stand on a platform that would suit Dominic Grieve, the anti-Brexiteer in the next constituency over? Both the major parties are split on the issue, sometimes several ways.

And both the major parties are officially of the opinion the Brexit Is The Only Way. Given our outdated and deliberately unrepresentative electoral system how are those of us who want nothing to do with it to have any chance of being heard?

It’s like being told that you have to shoot yourself in the foot but you are going to be given the important choice of which foot to shoot yourself in.

(I’ve used that line three times today: I’m that vain about it… Some major commentator should take it up. I would only charge a small amount for the rights. And some annoying person will now come along and tell me I’m unconsciously stealing it from somewhere.)



Adventures in getting old: Probably not a flerken

This what getting old is like.

I bought myself a new office chair a while back because the old one had become totally worn out. Bought it from Office Outlet, which used to be Staples and which will be vanishing sometime in the near future, and assembled it at home.

All went well until a few weeks ago when the back went a bit wonky. I wondered why but found no obvious solution.

At the start of this week I found a threaded bolt on the floor and worked out that it had fallen from the back of the chair, identified where it had come loose from and carefully placed it on the desk with the resolve to get the tool box out and screw it back into place.

I get home from the gym later that day and look on the desk. No bolt. Not to worry, the desk’s a bit cluttered: I’ll clean it up and have a proper search later.

Two ruddy days of clearing crap off the desk, searching on the floor under the desk, asking Monty if he is a flerken who has swallowed the thing. Monty will neither confirm nor deny. No sign of the ruddy thing.

Then it turns up on the table. Not the desk. The table I have also poured over half a dozen times. If Monty isn’t a flerken then am I either haunted or so absent minded and unobservant that I can miss such a ruddy obvious thing.

Still I got out the tool box.

And then I noticed it didn’t have a screw head but a hexagonal head.

And though I would have sworn I had kept it I don’t seem to have the hex key that came with the chair.

The bolt is back in place but not terribly secure. Maybe next time I’ll do what I keep swearing I’ll do and buy one of the really expensive executive chairs. Life’s too short to be vulnerable to the whims of flerkens.