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Nine Days to Go

I should start a Doomsday Clock. We need a countdown.

Oh, it’s a day for rumour and insinuation. And the occasional downright lie.

I’ve got people telling me that the EU won’t offer a short extension, that they  won’t offer a long extension, that they won’t offer an extension at all…

And the front page of the bloody DAILY MAIL is accusing Parliament of wasting the past 1000 days because of “incompetent MPs and hard Brexit zealots“! 

One is British, you know but there is only so much hypocrisy I can take at once…

Shifting under my feet

I popped into the local Oxfam shop and spotted in the ‘books for free’ box a history of my Oxford college, Wadham.

Feeling it would be impious of me not to give it a good home I took it and stuffed some change into the collecting tin to show my disapproval of the unappreciative folk of High Wycombe.

And when I got back home I started to read… And discovered right in the first pages of the first chapter that I had drifted into a parallel universe.

I might have drifted across the time lines some while back. It’s hard to tell.

The reason I knew was that this here book, published by the college itself, says that Nicholas and Dorothy Wadham were childless.

And I have it fixed in my memory that I learned when going up to the college that they had founded the place as a memorial to their son who had died in some obscure war on the continent.

I’ve known this for decades. I’ve never bothered to look it up. It wasn’t necessary to do so. But now Wikipedia says the same thing (though who knows? They might have just read this same source) and I am either a) Someone who has been Wrong for decades b) Someone who has recently gone Wrong and is overlaying one story (perhaps Sir Phillip Sydney?) on another or c) someone who slips across alternate histories without meaning to.

I think I’m going for the third explanation: it’s the most romantic.

If only this slip-sliding were under conscious control. I would be the functional equivalent of one of the Nine Princes In Amber. Only without the immortality and infinite coolness, obviously. I could at least find my way to the happier possibilities where Nigel Farage is calling for another referendum and President Hiilary Clinton is trying to persuade the Senate to go along with her health reform plans.

Wikipedia: Foe of whimsy.

I got my copy of THE PAUL JENNINGS READER down from the humour shelf (1) in order to have something to read during my morning bowel movements today.

I have a copy after having heard him praised as a precursor to Douglas Adams by my friend Roger. I’d never been in the habit of reading the newspapers in which he appeared in his lifetime and was surprised to discover Griff Rhys Jones singing his praises in the introduction. We were in the same student production of ROMEO & JULIET long, long ago. Griff and I, I mean. Ah memories.

My relationship with Roger, I should say, isn’t like that of Jennings and his friend Harblow, which is the same as Michael Green and his friend Jack Askew in the COARSE series. Which is to say that Harblow and Askew are even more incompetent than the narrator at whatever they are trying to  do. Roger is more Ford Prefect to my Arthur Dent: he actually knows stuff and I just bumble around trying to look harmless while occasionally protesting about the unfairness of the universe.

Anyway, though I had picked it up to try to find the account of the time he met T.S.Eliot at a party, that’s a long way into the book and I came across two early pieces which were very typical of his style.

The first was ACTIVATED SLUDGE about a sign to that effect he had seen in Victoria Street SW1. He wrote two pages on the romance of that phrase and how he didn’t need to know what it meant to conjure up a picture of a great British export industry.

And the very next piece was HOW TO SPIEL HALMA in which he and Harblow attempt to figure out how to play the board game Halma from the instructions in German, by stringing together the few words they recognised.

And then I had to be That Guy.

I went and looked them both up on Wikipeidia. Such is the white hot heat of the technological revolution in the Cule household that I could do it without interrupting my morning toilet which was just as well. ACTIVATED SLUDGE is indeed a great British industry and one I have no doubt we export to the world and the Wiki article also taught me what the phrase ‘biological floc’ means which makes me one of the lucky ten thousand for today.

And the article for Halma told me not only how to play it, what the board looks like but also the name and nationality of the inventor and what British game (now even more obscure than Halma) he had taken inspiration from.

And it now occurs to me that the schtick Jennings was using, of deliberate ignorance to create whimsy (2), has lost all credibility in the age of the Internet. We are all ‘That Guy’ and supercharged pedants with humanity’s knowledge at our fingertips.

Only the fact that we can read plain statements in our own language and get them completely wrong stops us from becoming permanently serious. Thank God for our incompetence!

(1) Yes, dear readers I am at least slightly organised.

(2) There’s probably a Greek name for it.


The first snow of winter hit High Wycombe today.

This isn’t as major an event as it would be in less temperate climate (the illustration here is from several years ago when it was more serious) but because we don’t get much experience with white, slippery stuff on the roads people tend to panic and everybody in the vicinity decided to go home early and block the roads by driving along them at an average of two miles an hour.  It will all (hopefully, if the weather forecast is right) be melted and gone by the morning.

I was telling Chris (1) about the time I had a slightly more serious encounter with  heavy snow and the story I  had written based on it. This is another  bit of the fallout from the Arvon course I did last year. Up to the point that the ‘lift’ emerges out  of the snow this is pretty much autobiographical. In my case what I got was a good samaritan with a car who took me straight home but that wouldn’t make as good a story, would it?

The Winter Story       

The small, fat, disgruntled looking boy stood by the bus-stop as the sky emptied out every flake of snow in the world on Greater Manchester. He had a bag containing his schoolbooks, notebooks and pens and another bag containing his never-quite-sufficiently-to-be-accursed rugby kit and was just thinking that it was a damn good thing he had finally moved out of shorts and into long trousers because if he hadn’t the cold would be in even more intimate contact with his skin.

So that might delay him freezing to death by about ten minutes. Best guess.

At least, he thought, in a there-must-be-a-silver-lining-somewhere moment, he didn’t have to do rugby that day. They had cancelled afternoon school in time for him not to have to trudge out to the foul smelling changing room and suffer his dose of weekly humiliation.

On the other hand he was freezing to death at this bus stop and there was no sign of any rescue. He’d tried to thumb down a lift but small boys at bus stops must terrify people with cars. And now even the cars were thinning out and ending as the snow kept on falling. You couldn’t see that far down the road and the last two scheduled buses (according to the time table at the stop) had failed to show up at all.

The teachers had planned the evacuation of the school. They’d brought the school bus service in early to pick up those who needed it to get home. Unfortunately they’d timed it to depart five minutes earlier than he had got to the stop. If there had been a list with their names on it (he sort of assumed there must have been a list) someone must have shouted out ‘He said he got a lift home, miss’ when the roll was called. He could just see some merry japester in his form doing that. If he survived he would institute enquiries. Have his dad write to their MP. Do something.

But for now he was freezing to death.

He peered shortsightedly down the road: he thought he saw a shape coming and he stuck his hand out in hope it might be a bus or someone who would show mercy on a mostly harmless small fat little boy. With his other hand he picked up the rugby kit, willing to throw it through someone’s windscreen if it would get them to stop.

There was something there. It pulled up but not with a rumble of engines. With a swish and a clip-clop and a jingle.

“Oh, come on!” he said. “You cannot be serious!”

Standing at the bus stop was a large open sleigh. It was pulled by three large reindeer (wearing bells, hence the jingles) and driven by a wizened looking little man with a green cap, a whip and a large dewdrop dangling from his red nose.

“Hop aboard,” said the wizened little man, who had, the boy noted bitterly, a nice woollen scarf wrapped around this neck.

“Not likely! Where’s the wicked witch? Where are you keeping the Turkish Delight?”

The little man looked baffled. “We haven’t got anything like that here. Have we? Norman?”

The lead reindeer looked back over his shoulder at them, opened his mouth as to speak, thought better of it and just shook his head.

“Perfectly free of any such elements. Just a chance arrived conveyance to offer you a life-saving trip back home.”

“Chanced arrived my backside! You’re a setup you are! You’re the sort of person they tell kids my age to avoid accepting lifts from!”

“What? With reindeer? Specifically?”

“You’re a lot more suspicious than just a salesman with a Cortina and wandering hands. Appearing in the middle of the worst snowstorm in decades, pulling up by a lone schoolboy. I wouldn’t be surprised if you set this whole thing up!”

Clearly annoyed by this burst of cynicism the little man sighed. “Well, yes kiddo yer right. I did come here specifically to find you…”

“And did you set up the snow storm as well?”

“I can neither confirm nor deny any meteorological manipulation. But the important thing is that you have been Chosen! You are a wise and virtuous youth who my employer wishes to talk to concerning….”

The boy looked down at the rugby kit and remembered what he was willing to do to a passing motorist. “I have reason to doubt my virtue,” he said, “and I’m too wise to fall for that sort of flummery.”

“Well,” said the little man, “are you quite determined to freeze to death?”

The boy harrumphed, looked up and down the road again and got into the back of the sleigh, pulling the furs around him in as ungracious a manner as possible.

“Take me home.”

“Surely, young master, surely. But first,” said the little man cracking the whip hard above the reindeer, “a short diversion.”

And the reindeer began to tread their way into the air, rising above the snowbound suburbs and up towards the cloud layer.

“Now then,” he said, “young master Stanton, you’re probably wondering….”

“Who?” said the fat little boy.

The sleigh driver peered over his shoulder. “Oliver James Stanton?”

“My name,” said the boy, “is Stanley Throckmorton.”

“Really? Where’s Oliver James Stanton, then?”

“Never heard of him! Are you sure you got the right bus stop?”

“Well, this is a…. There’s been a cock-up somewhere.”

“Obviously,” said Oliver James Stanton snuggling down in the warm furs and feeling in control of things for the first time that afternoon.



(1) Who was kindly giving me a lift back from  recording the podcast: my thanks to her and Roger if you’re reading this please tell her about the story.

Unsolicited Political Advice

Theresa May has until Friday to come up with a Plan B.
She can have this one on me:
“Mr Speaker, it is plain that after all my hard work and sincere efforts to bring about the withdrawal of the UK from the EU in an orderly manner, there is no majority in this House for the actual measures that the EU will agree to. This is not because there is another plan that a majority will agree to! No, it’s because there are a half a dozen factions (some in front of me and some behind me) who think they could do a better job than me and one big faction (some in front, some behind) who don’t want to Leave at all!”
“What is worse, we now probably have insufficient time to pass necessary subsequent legislation to enact what the House decides (if can it decide anything) before the clock runs out and we leave the EU with whatever we have managed to cobble together at the last minute. This is intolerable to me and I don’t believe the nation will tolerate except for the enthusiastic minority (who in this house are mostly behind me) who want to abandon all thought of prudence in their enthusiasm for overthrowing all regulation that offends their terribly pure minds.”
“I could go back to the EU and ask for more reassurances but it would be as futile as my predecessor’s negotiations before the referendum, convincing nobody and annoying many. The Withdrawal Agreement we have now is the only one we are going to get. The Leader of the Opposition is deluding himself if he thinks otherwise.”
“All right then, since there is no agreement in this House we must needs look for agreement somewhere else. My predecessor threw this matter into the lap of the people and the people must bear responsibility for sorting this out!”
“I propose we ask the EU for six months delay in our Leave date and use it to hold a two part referendum both parts to be binding on Parliament. The first part should say roughly:
If we Leave the EU do you want the Withdrawal Agreement to be the basis of it? Yes or No.
The second should say something to the effect:
Do you want the UK to Leave the EU? Yes or No.
That way not only to the howling lunatics who want No Deal (yes, I’m talking to you Rees-Mogg!) get their chance but those who want to Remain but if we do Leave want some sort of order in the process get the chance to vote for that. Everyone gets a chance to make as clear a decision as possible. Mr Speaker a resolution to this effect will be placed before the House as soon as I sit down!”

Probably not safe for work

I found this in my inbox this morning. Before I pressed the ‘junk’ button I saved it for posterity as a perfect example of the type.

Warning contains mentions of sex acts. Sort of.

Do not mind оn my illitеrасy, I am from India.

This is your last chance to save your life.

I uрlоаded thе maliсiоus рrоgram оn yоur systеm.
Sincе thаt mоment I рilfеrеd аll рrivy backgrоund frоm yоur systеm. Аdditiоnally I havе somе mоrе соmрromising evidеnсе. The mоst intеrеsting еvidеnсе thаt I stоlе- its a videоtаpe with yоur masturbatiоn. I adjustеd virus оn а pоrn web sitе аnd аftеr yоu loadеd it. Whеn yоu dесidеd with thе video аnd taррed on а plаy buttоn, my dеlеtеriоus sоft аt оnсе sеt uр on your systеm. Аftеr аdjusting, yоur саmerа shооt thе vidеotаpе with yоu self-аbusing, in аdditiоn it sаvеd рrесisеly the рorn vidеo yоu mаsturbаtеd оn. In next fеw dаys my mаlwаre сollеctеd аll your sociаl and wоrk соntaсts.

If yоu want to dеlеte the rеcords- pay me 400 euro in BTС(cryptocurrency).
I рrovide yоu my Btс numbеr – 1DGQJBfLb11VBaKLhRzQWCFUXwKtoXgV21
You have 24 hоurs aftеr rеаding. When I gеt trаnsfеr I will dеstrоy thе videotape еvеrmоrе.
If you need 50h just Open the calculator on your desktop and press +++
Other way I will send thе tape tо аll yоur сollеagues and friеnds.

I find myself reflecting that specificity would have been so much more terrifying than generality. WHICH porn site? What friends? Give me names, dammit! You can’t just mass produce intimidation.

It is the pathos that makes this such a terrible thing as well as such a funny one. I don’t doubt there is a poor schmuck in India cranking this stuff out… I should probably rephrase that… But he hasn’t the skill to do the really difficult stuff so he relies on playing with people’s heads. And he isn’t any good at that.

The people who will fall for this are aged gentlemen who don’t understand computers. But aged gentlemen who don’t understand computers aren’t going to be able to make head nor tail of Bitcoin.

When I get calls from people who tell me that they are calling from Microsoft about a virus on my machine I can tell them to please go and get an honest job. With this poor fool I can’t even do that. I feel like starting a charity to help those like him give up a life of crime.

What? Oh, yes of course I ran a virus scan after reading it. I’m not totally unafraid…

Once more unto the… oh wait…

You will doubtless have heard by now that the Prime Minister has just bottled it. (I think that is the phrase that will be used in the majority  of politically active households for today’s events.)

She got her horse up to the starting post after years of breeding and training and then at the end cancelled the race lest someone else’s nag should win.

Now, I have tried very hard to be fair to the PM over the past two and a bit years. Though she was doing things I regarded as folly and moonshine I could at least see why she felt she had to do them and that she was doing them in very difficult circumstances. Those difficulties were partly of her own making and mostly of her party’s making but they were none the less real.

But here we come to the end of the Parliamentary road. There are only a few paths left and she still thinks there are options to be explored, some way she can reconcile the irreconcilable, make the nation unite behind one plan…

Theresa my sweet, you can’t. There’s no more give and take left. Any changes in the Withdrawal Agreement would a) be purely cosmetic and b) take far longer than we have.

People in Parliament have reached the point at which they are voting on principle. Even more shocking than that MPs in the Conservative Party are voting on principle. Your fellow Tories, dear Prime Minister, are not singing from the same hymnbook. They are unlikely to be at any  time in the near future.

To make things worse, the Leader of the Opposition is under the illusion that a General Election is the way forward. Now, I’m not saying that he would be a bad PM or that the election of Labour under his leadership would be any more disastrous or destabilizing than the last two and a half years. But on the Big Issue of the Day electing a party that stands on a whole raft of policies isn’t the way forward, especially with our rotten electoral system, especially with Labour still trying to be all  things to all people.

What is needed is a chance to put all possibilities back to the People, the  ones who through the incompetence of your predecessor in office, got to drop us in  this shit.

So here’s what I’d propose if I were allowed to pop up in the Commons.

  1. Ask the EU for a six month extension in the negotiating period and another six months on the base time of the transition period after leaving.
  2. Put forward two referendums one following the other after about a week or two.
  3. In the first ask: “Do you approve of the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU?” This gives the lunatics who want a ‘hard Brexit’, a ‘clean break’ or whatever is their preferred euphemism for maximum pain right up front, a chance to put their ideas to the people.
  4. Then ask: “In the light of the result of the preceding referendum do you really, really want to Leave the EU?”

And then do what the People instruct.

Don’t for the love of God either let us wander into a No-Deal Brexit without the People supporting it or reverse Article 50 without popular support. If you do your name will be even more accursed by later generations than David Cameron’s.