Sunday, 28 June 2009

Major League Cynicism

Baseball bat - public domain imageA rather tacky matter came to my attention recently, and I was immediately tempted to invoke that cynical old proverb:

"Give 'em an inch, and they'll take a mile."

But on further thought I refrained, and even found something lacking in the proverb in general.

When you give someone an inch, generally you are inclined to do so because you believe they have at least some good qualities. One important such quality is a conscience.

And when somebody with a conscience has been offered an inch, and find that they have somehow ended up taking a mile, they will tend to feel bad about it. So they will have to take action to avoid goin' down the road feelin' bad.

Occasionally they will give back the mile and apologise for their fault. But now they are almost as poorly off as before, and are still feelin' at least kind of crummy after the apology. This may explain the relative rarity of this event.

The other approach is to convince themselves that they were actually owed more than a mile anyway, and showed noble generosity in only taking one. It is all the inch-giver's fault! Which, in turn, may explain gratitude's notorious propensity for turning rancid faster than fresh milk left out in the sun.

This leads directly to my proposed new and improved proverbial wisdom:

"Give 'em an inch, and they'll take a mile - and resent you for not giving a league."

No ingrates were harmed in the production of this post. Fat lot of thanks I'll get for that!

Friday, 26 June 2009

Faulty Love

A plucky British underdog at Wimbledon - public domain Elana Baltacha has been having a rough couple of days of it. The Moderate White-Skirted Hope of British women’s tennis is only just knocked out of the second round at Wimbledon, when she hears Minister for Sport Gerry Sutcliffe threatening to cut state funding to the game, on the grounds of continued failure to bring home an appropriate bag of trophies for the glory of the nation. The time for tough love has arrived. "Why are we not having the production line of players that other countries do?" he demands - so eloquently expressing his government's attitude towards both pastime and participants, that satire slinks off dejectedly to the dole hole. Ms Baltacha objects that this is not the sort of treatment she and her plucky band of comrades deserve. Thus far, at least, I agree with her.

The idea of the Government’s investing its time and authority in an earnest Five-Year Plan to make sure the Right People Win Tennis Matches is, indeed, an offence. The idea that the rest of us need to have our scanty wages docked to meet this national emergency goes beyond insult into injury. The Minister for Tiddlywinks should not be threatening to withdraw his largesse to the Lawn Tennis Association, or anybody else. He should not have any to give!

And supposing I accept that tennis, and tiddlywinks, and tossing one’s enormous caber are proper uses of public moneys anyway, then it is still not our plucky underdogs on the Grand Slam circuit who are their proper object. All those public parks and the dusty little courts thereon do need maintenance, and provide their thousands and tens of thousands of obscure folk with many a happy hour. Maybe our next Baltacha or our first Williams sister will come from there, and reap a harvest of trophies fit to dazzle every eye and set the fountains flowing with Pimm’s No.1 Cup. Or maybe she won’t. I couldn't really give a Minister's caber-toss.

Because tennis is properly played - not for the collection of cold metal, or for the putting down of foreigners - but for the players, and for love.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Go Zombies!

Zombie mob participant, by Grant Neufeld - public domain
A spam arrived in my inbox this morning, attempting to part me from my money in a manner so heroically incompetent that I was almost tempted to read the body text. The subject line read simply:

Minute Cash!

Well, it is true that many a little makes a mickle, as they say... but somehow, I don't think that Getting Rich Slowly Through Diligent Earning of Micropayments Now is the course my mysterious correspondent wished to propose.

My heart races with excitement. Surely, such a colossal boob can best be accounted for on the assumption that the Day of Spammy Judgement is upon us, and that even now hordes of slavering zombies are rising from the crypts of cyberspace, scooping out spammers' brains to wolf them down with copious ketchup and a side of cheesy garlic bread?

The alternative - that no such hordes exist, and that young Spam-I-Am over there is enjoying, not zombific decerebration, but a mere shameless incompetence in his chosen language of loot - is so sheerly monstrous to me that I resolutely refuse to consider it, and should probably not even have mentioned it in this generally obscenity- and horror-lite blog.

Undead abominations - Rah, rah, rah!

Monday, 22 June 2009

War-Toss Goes Chronic

Apatosaurus, by ДиБгд at Wikimedia Commons - public domain In a historic, nay even prehistoric, victory for the heroic crusaders of the War On Obesity, special temporal education commandos have gone back in time and radically slimmed down the dinosaurs. Apatosaurus louisae - better known to my generation as Louise "Thunder Thighs" the Brontosaurus - speaks for a grateful archosaur community when she declares:

"I used to weigh in at 32 tons and never got invited to loft parties, but with professional help I've got myself down to a lissome 16 tons, and what do I get? Still no invites, and now no deep-fried Häagen-Dazs and chips either? Bastards! Give me back my chocolate! THUNDER! THUNDER! SPLAT!!!"

Her Ministry of Mind Body and Spirit case-worker could not be immediately reached for comment.

Following the signal success of this programme, the leaders of the Free World are said to be mulling a similar retrospective extension of the War on Terror, thereby eliminating the other 16 tons and completing the War on Obesity's unfinished business; because, I mean, deinos sauros, it's not like the lousy boneheads are even trying to hide it, is it?

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Eliminatory, My Dear Watson

Keith Watson, the TV critic for the London Metro freesheet, this morning egested the following commonplace as the conclusion to his short review of NHS documentary The Price of Life:

Footballers transferred for £80 million and not enough money to pay for life-saving drugs: there's something wrong somewhere.

Now, this is everyday pub conversation fare, and normally would not warrant my leaping up like a cartoon turtle hero from the murky depths of my childhood, flourishing my rapier wit and crying, "Cliché, and away!" But not only is this routine expression of one's humanitarian credentials trite - it is as naggingly wrong as it sounds plausibly true, and Margarita and I shall be banning it from the saloon-bar of our famous Billy and Dragon boozer, just as soon as we get around to opening it.

And this, despite the fact that I value health very greatly and football hardly at all. Is it then just that I am a selfish bastard or libertoonian Quixote, donating the pointy end of the stick to the NHS that heals me? Verily, nay! The error is a logical one, and no approach to healthcare can possibly do anything to amend it.

Let us suppose that all Metro's readers or the saloon-bar's regulars were profoundly struck with the justice of the cliché, and voluntarily donated or otherwise invested their hard-earned football money into improved medical treatment facilities. Nobody could deny their right to do so, nor their good will in so doing. Now there won't be that thing wrong here any more, will there?

Well, actually, yes there will. It is true that some money will have been diverted from paying a bunch of guys to kick balls around, to saving and improving a bunch of lives. Good on everybody. Perhaps only a small portion of the loot will have been diverted to buying doctors and health executives their third Lamborghinis, though that may not be the way to bet. But either way, the exact thing that was wrong before will still be wrong!

There will still be life-saving drugs out of reach, and probably for a comparably large number of patients. They will not immediately be the same patients - but there will always be more people you can save for a while with a bit more investment, as you expand the medical system's ability and capacity. At least, though, footballers will no longer be transferred for quite so much. You can reduce the demand for football, and the profits and pleasures associated with it, arbitrarily far by this kind of persuasion, supposing of course that it works.

But there will still be other people spending money on ridiculous luxuries with similarly disproportionate profits attached to them, when they could have been spent on saving lives instead. Consider the cost, not of a goal factory, but of a beer-making factory, or a movie-making factory, or of one lousy yacht for Captain Poser to swan about and manufacture his well-heeled seadoggy fantasies with. Clearly, we need to persuade right-thinking people not to subsidise these either, and to get with the medical programme.

That thing will not now be wrong. There will still be a large, though probably reduced, number of people who are missing out on life-saving drugs, because they can't by hook or by crook be afforded. But at least, for the duration of their tragically short lives, they won't have been wickedly wasting effort and money on football, or beer, or movies, or other frivolous luxuries of that kind. And nor will anybody else. That whole, obscenely callous and self-indulgent, side of life shall have been eliminated.

Which will be nice, won't it?

I am, generally, in favour of living for a million years, and then settling down to some really serious long-term plans for the future. But I think I should like to excuse myself from my share of such life as is to be saved by hollowing it out of everything but barest necessity. Which is, by iron logic, the only way that thing can ever be put right.

If music be the price of life - play on! Yea, and even if football.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

What a Coq Up!

Wotcha, cock!  Red junglefowl, by A O Hume - public domainI was shambling home from work yesterday when I passed, for the umpteenth time, a neat little café near the station. I've never eaten there, and out of curiosity I happened to pause at the blackboard advertising their £5 special outside. My first thought was that this was rather good value.

Struck with sudden doubt and disbelief, I turned around, and checked the sign again. My second thought was that it might be very bad value indeed.

The main feature of the deal was a dish called Coq au Vim.

Ah, Vim! The jaunty livery of that daddy of all scouring powders - which still ruled the roost, or at least the grotty parts of the kitchen, in my early childhood - still has the power to unleash a surprising flood of nostalgic associations in its train. But its alternative kitchen use as a budget marinade for chicken is one of which I was previously unaware. And since I no longer possess the cast-iron guts of youth, I reluctantly decided that this was one nostalgia trip for which I would not, after all, be buying my ticket.

Monday, 15 June 2009

OMG, Lost My Blackberry!

Blackberry bramble, by Anthony Appleyard - public domain After about two hundred action-packed minutes in my overgrown garden, with a pair of shears and a ton of brute force and ignorance. It got in a certain amount of inevitable retaliation. Thorns were the bog-standard tactic, but particularly fiendish was the trick of catapulting concealed nettles at me with the released tension of a large cut stem. A lost car and two trikes were discovered in the midst of the thicket, and a cat objected vociferously to being disturbed in its hunt for rats and frogs and any other tormentables that might have sneaked in from the ill-maintained canal-bank over the fence. Tarzan, that bastard, swung off on one of the thirty-strand ropes of bindweed before I could cut it. He’ll be back! At least I should be able to see the charging elephants as they approach, now.

There is one stretcher, and one stretcher only, in the entire history above.

Speaking of thorny matters, I’ve now finished polishing the first draft of Rose-Bay and Adder-Fang, and sent it off to my intrepid first readers for appraisal. I’m now faced with the difficult choice of what new yarn to take up spinning until redraft time comes around. My working shortlist is:

  • Finish Lolly Black and the Broken King.

  • Finish Prince Boris, another parked tale in the same genre.

  • Push Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland to its next dramatic break-point, at least...

  • Fix the obstruction in the Tri-World Gunpowder Plot, and bash it forward to a conclusion.

  • Start a whole new darn urban fantasy yarn, provisionally dubbed Evil Genius, which is not particularly fairified nor yet fun for all the family: hardboiled grey comedy with natty black-and-white trimmings.

The last is fairly tempting, and will probably get priority if the plot finishes coalescing on me and actually makes sense. This is partly for reasons of Muse, and partly because it will stretch more of my underdeveloped writerly muscles than the others, but is mostly because I’m temporarily just a little bit fairied out for the moment.

Must go - Jane’s on the Blackberry, and from her vantage in my garret reports a great doughnut-begging of elephants assembling in the temple car park!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The Tale of Rose-Bay and Adder-Fang

From the evening I got back from Wales, a brand new fairy-tale has been rolling off my keyboard at about a kiloword a day, and yesterday with a great hurrah I finished it! It's 13,000 words long, which is not so hot from a publication point of view, but may change in the redrafting. One of the things about stories which tell themselves as fast as a fellow can get them down on disc, is that the telling pretty much gets given its head, and the plotting and tension have to be handled at high speed on the hoof. I'm still too close to Rose-Bay to judge how well that aspect works, at present.

I'll be handling this partly by letting it cool off for a bit after I've given this draft its final rough sanding, and partly by soliciting the opinions of first readers. If anyone out there feels the urge, please let me know - I'll mail you a copy, and all feedback will be received most gratefully.

These fairy-tales that are haunting me at present - Three Katherines, Lolly Black, and now this one - are rum things altogether, and I'll probably have a good old waffle about them, once I've got it straighter in my head just what my lady Muse is getting up to here.

Mmm, waffles...!

Monday, 8 June 2009

Taking the Waters

Manneken Pis statue, by 'CHG' - public domainSo the Euro-elections are over, and there is much agonising over the returning of two jacksuited fascist ratbags to represent our fair nation in the hallowed halls of Brussels. I'm none too chuffed with this result, myself. Did somebody enfranchise everybody's lower bowel while I wasn't looking? As for Margarita my English dragon, she has hidden her head under her wing in shame, and retired beneath my bed with the local Tesco's entire supply of spongecake - nor any shortage of booze in the blender.

The BNP leader, Nick Griffin, informs us that his success is a sign that the "waters of truth and justice and freedom are flowing again". I can only assume he alludes to the waters that flow eternally in the city of his destination, from its appropriately iconic statue the Manneken Pis!

But let us, as good democrats, not be too churlish about this result. Clearly the voice of the people has spoken, and its methane must be duly respected. In this spirit of constructive engagement, I have composed a catchy little victory filk to the tune of Madonna's immortal dancefloor anthem Vogue, and dedicate it to the tireless band of what-you-may-call-'ems to whose labours we owe this historic achievement. Get down and boogie, my funky Black Shorts!


(Euros 2009 Un-Mix)

Strike a pose
Like heroes -
Volk, Volk, Volk
Volk, Volk, Volk

Look around, everywhere you turn's some fellow
Doing better than you
[manly frown] -
Even girls, and guys who're black or brown or yellow:
What's a white boy to do
[and he don't mean no Jew!]

When all else fails and it's hard to feel
Like a chappy who's some kind of use,
I know a real copper-bottomed excuse
For doing bog all about it at all, so

Come on, Volk,
Let your body move to a new step
[groove in the goosestep]
Heil! Heil! Heil!
Come on, Volk,
Let your mind just go with the flow
[Master-Race a-go-go]
You know you can subdue it!

All you need is a little Racial Spirit
So use it for what it's for
[to start a nice civil war]

Might is Right, and that Might do us all Right, innit?
What we Will is the Law!
[have a couple beers more!]

It makes no difference if you're smart or a clot,
Or if you've only one ball -
When you've got the Blood-Right and your neighbour has not
Then you can steal his stash - smash and grab all his cash - yo, heroes!

Come on, Volk,
Let your passions strut on the World-Stage
[work that righteous outrage!]

Heil! Heil! Heil!
Come on, Volk,
Let your fists just fly with abandon
[they've got Adolf's brand on] -
You know you've got to lose it!

Victory's where you find it -
How you get it, never mind it!
Truth is in the steel-toed boot:
That's how I argue so darn cute!
Racialist, royally pissed -
Come on, you ****s, who wants some?


Victory's where you find it
[write it on a bog wall]

Victory's where you find it
[smash in a shop window]

Major Quisling, Oswald Mo-
-sely, and Francisco Franco.
Ernst Röhm was a scummy guy.
Hey, who cares, 'cos so am I!

Young Horst Wessel. Haw-Haw, Lord,
Had a bloody good record!
Let's get down to Wagner's Ring,
Shake our big jackbooty thing!

They had style, they had class,
Just like Brigitte Bardot's ass.
Eva Braun was one cute Kraut!
Love Miss Mussolini's pout!

Leni's Triumph of the Will
Gives me such a dirty thrill!
Don't walk off now, I'm just started -
Why'd you act like someone farted?

Volk, Volk,

[Oi, you've got to
Let your spirit sing "Who ****ing wants some?"

Oi, you've got to just

Make up for never getting any...

Oi, you've got to



This production has been brought to you by mystical Qabbalistic conspiracies, a rapidly-diminishing stockpile of Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin Ruby Beer, and my aggravated spleen.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Vote Cast, Drains Rodded Also

Alas, neither experience more pleasant than the other, nor promising of better effect! But I found myself in profound need of a shower after both.

It has taken this Euro-election campaign, and the serious doubts I had about the advisability of even voting in it, to make me realise just how very much I dislike every one of the significant voting coalitions knocking around.

I ended up voting for purposes rather more tactical than expressive. Had the Libertarian Party UK not donated these festivities the old two-finger salute, I should have mocked them yesterday in terms like:

People own themselves and their stuff, and then the government nicks everything in the country. Please put us in government!

But considering the alternatives, I should have voted for them anyway, and I should now need considerably less of a scrubbing. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats will now return my favour by coming round and blasting out my manky drains - whilst in Brussels, they can surely pick up some high-pressure jet of other people's liquid assets, approved by all current regulatory standards for the purpose.

The first lesson I am taking away from this experience has been well expressed by Patri Friedman, in his essay Beyond Folk Activism, whose arguments have just received a pretty hard hammering in against my instinctive emotional resistance. I dare say I shall be wrapping my thinking gear around them quite a bit harder, in weeks to come.

And the second lesson is to get back to my yarn-spinning, and keep my mind out of the sewer!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

An Unhelpful Guide to the European Elections

Yes, I am going to do the dirty deed. I shall be voting in the European Parliament elections on Thursday - not because I think the political institutions of the European Union have much more legitimacy than Honest Ernie's Used Cars of Repute, but because there are so many reeking bastards standing whose chances I am anxious to dish as resoundingly as possible. My excuse for this anti-social attitude is, like Strasbourgland, divided into three parts, viz:

1) The additional credibility to the Eurocracy from a vote, especially of a kind that gives them no love, is minimal; and

2) The additional benefits to any given They Saved Hitler's Brain Party from a seat in the Parliament and a sleeper on the gravy train are unhappily substantial; and

3) None of the Above has come down with swine flu and is not standing. Curses!

What I have not yet decided is which beggar to vote for, though I have a pretty good idea of who are the non-runners. Sensible of my great political influence and the responsibility this carries with it, I have decided to provide my constituency with my partial and potted interpretations of all the party platforms with which I, as a Londoner, have been regaled. These given, you, dear Reader, shall be the judge!

  • Conservative: We are the people who own the country.

  • Labour: The People own the country! We are the People.

  • Socialist Labour: The People own the country! King Arthur is the People.

  • Socialist Party of Great Britain: We are the people who own a lot of awards for singing along to John Lennon’s Imagine at the pub karaoke.

  • Liberal Democrats: The people own the country - which we will selflessly administer in their best interests.

  • Green Party: The country owns itself. We are its debt-collectors.

  • British National Party: The Country owns the people. Wir sind das Reich!

  • Christian People’s Alliance: Jesus owns the country. Give us a tithe, then!

  • English Democratic Party: Everybody owns a country but us*. Give us* England, then!

  • Jury Team: Let’s shoot craps! The winners own the country.

  • United Kingdom Independence Party: Europe owns the country, and it mustn’t! We are ready to take this heavy burden upon our shoulders.

  • No2EU Yes To Democracy: The European Union owns the countries, but the Labour Unions ought to.

  • Pro-Democracy: Step 1: We disown the Lisbon Treaty. Step 2: ?. Step 3: People elect us!

* Note the neat dealing of the second ‘us’ from the bottom of the deck, there. What a statesman the world has lost in me!

I hope that this little survey has been as constructive a contribution to our democratic process as I intended. Thank you and goodnight!

Monday, 1 June 2009

A Week with the Mam

Anglesey, Ordnance Survey map 1946 - public domainBeen up for a long leisurely week with the mater on the old Druid's isle of Ynys Môn, that is Anglesey: a great lozenge-shaped island about twenty-five miles on a side, broken off the mountainous north-west corner of Wales by the narrow Menai Straits, and riveted back on in the 19th century by the Menai and Britannia Bridges. The Menai Bridge is a fairly routine masterpiece by Thomas Telford, but the boxy iron Britannia has the fairer aura of the fantastic, courtesy of its famous guardian totems:

Four fat lions without any hair,
Two over here, and two over there!

as the local nursery-rhyme has it. The main courses of road and rail then continue north-westerly to another and lesser island, broken off Anglesey as Anglesey is off Wales - Holy Island, St Cybi's old stamping-ground, reached over treacherous tidal flats by the stout causeway called the Cob. On Holy Island stands the port and town of Holyhead or Caergybi, whence the Irish ferries sail. My own clan's local outpost is discreetly tucked away in a farming village none so far from the sea, somewhere off the main drag between Holyhead and the market-town of Llanfair P.G. - that Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch so celebrated in song and story, to a nursing-home in which my late and distinctly English grandmother finally retired with the remark, "Where did you say, again?"

Llanfairpwll is a pleasant place, quiet when tourist choruses are not attempting to gargle the railway sign, and home to a rather good branch of Pringles. I seem doomed never to sample the renowned pub grub of Ty Gwyn, which was still refurbishing its kitchens when I passed by in April. The little town of Gaerwen is not too far off, however, and the Gaerwen Arms boozer has also been doing good food good cheap for many years. Those of merely mortal gut capacity should beware the Gaerwen's homemade faggots - each of which very fairly approximates that useful academic concept, the spherical cow - but there is little else to be feared at this salubrious and family-friendly establishment.

The Island lies in easy sight of the mainland mountain-ranges of Snowdonia and the Lleyn Peninsula, but is itself mostly flat, though rather lumpy, with ridges and fists of ancient metamorphic rock frequently punching up through the raggedly fertile soil. Only above Holyhead itself does a worthy mountain rear its head: low, tumbled and gorse-grown, with magnificent views over land and sea from the peak.

Anglesey has been farming country as far back as anybody can trace it, with great store of both grain and livestock. The maritime tradition remains strong, though now there is more tourism and less fishing than of old, and the good volunteers of the local lifeboat station are kept as busy as ever. The other main local industries are nuclear power and aluminium - the latter highly dependent upon the former - and the futures of both hang presently in the balance.

Welsh speaking is very strong in these parts, though not necessarily in a form agreeable to the Welsh Language Society - adaptation of English words in preference to 'purer' forms, and promiscuous mingling of English and Welsh in speech, both being common, and the result bursting with such hybrid vigour as cloistered academics and self-contemplators so often find shockingly rude. As a rudely vigorous mutt myself, I am no impartial judge in this matter.

Môn Mam Cymru is one of the Island's proverbial titles - Anglesey, Mother of Wales - coined by Giraldus Cambrensis in reference to its fabulous fertility of old, but now more often used in token of her ancient status as a heartland of tradition: Druidry, Welsh culture, the old and resurgent language. I can hardly claim her even as an ancestor, since my own Welsh roots lie far away in the southern valleys by the Somerset border.

But over the years she has become, at least, something of a favoured auntie; and I always look forward to seeing her, when I come visiting with the Mam.