Friday, August 31, 2007

Going For Gold

Still a year to go to the Olympics, but already China has its first Gold. Hats off to the hard men of Beijing!

The Thought Experiments Christmas Number One

Hey it's still August, so we can't ignore this piece of cutting-edge research. Bloggers, your challenge is to come up with a song incorporating all the top words - love, she, lord, party, say, like, buy, money, want and (why not?) Christmas. A festive number one is ours for the taking...

Whatever Happened to the Dirty Book?

This is the greatest village fete bookstall anywhere ever. Captions are welcome, but this time there is a point. Note that a book called Spicy Sex is on top of the pile. This should bring in the punters, we thought. But SS didn't sell. Books, I concluded, can no longer be convincingly dirty. Of course, there's chick lit, but that's not really dirty. The really dirty book is one read by boys with torches under the bedclothes. The Passion Flower Hotel springs to mind. Real, furtive dirt, I suppose, has fled to the internet. Everything else is just sex.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Catherine Zeta-Jones

I observe with dismay that my Keira Knightley post has received more hits than any other today. And I had nothing whatsoever to say about the lady. So - what the hell - that Catherine Zeta-Jones eh! What's that all about? In fact, I did once have a good story to tell about her ass.... But those were different times.

Shaving News

I have just been admiring a stand devoted to the Stealth edition of the Gillette Fusion razor, already a legend on this blog. Read all about the Stealth - a razor that, thanks to a breakthrough in blade technology, is invisible to whisker radar - here. It has to be in German, somehow...

Wang Ding's White Blur

Should have seen this one coming - the Yangtse River Dolphin isn't extinct after all - at least according to a Chinese state stooge who rejoices in the name Wang Ding. The announcement of the creature's extinction - on the very same day that China was hoping to hog the news agenda with the fact that there was precisely one year to go to the start of the Beijing Olympics (hold the front - no back -page) - was taken as a slight on the Glorious People's Republic, no doubt inspired by running dogs, reactionary lickspittles and suchlike. Next thing we know, Wang Ding has video footage showing a white blur in the distance, and the Yangste River Dolphin - a victim, of course, of massive industrial pollution - is no longer officially extinct. Wildlife is, like everything else in China, a tool of the state. Every giant panda in the world is in fact the property of the Chinese state. The crowd-pleasing cuties had better not be getting any ideas about panda autonomy...

Keira Knightley

Being something of a world authority on pretty young actresses - see my ground-breaking interview with Anna Friel and my Clive-James approved encounter with Monica Bellucci - I feel I should have something to say about Keira Knightley. But, somehow, nothing comes to mind. Oh, hang on...No, still nothing.

I Am Pretty Sure I Freely Decided to Write This Post

So Benjamin Libet is dead. He wouldn't have seen that one coming, unless he decided to die, but, then, he can't have decided to die because nobody ever really decides to do anything. Libet, you see, is the scientist who discovered that, prior to our conscious decision to respond to a command to perform an action, our brain kicks into action. Many have concluded from this that free will is an illusion, an after-the-fact rationalisation. Well, maybe. But I suspect this is another case of scientists drawing unwarranted conclusions from their work. Apart from anything else, the anti-free-willers would need to show that the pre-conscious brain activity specifically encoded this particular decision. It might simply be activity signalling that a decision is to be made. I know the reponse to this - that this still compromises free will - but anybody can play games of infinite regressions. As I have written before, free will is an issue that obsesses contemporary science. If real, it threatens materialism; if not, it threatens faith of course, but also our sense of ourselves as autonomous, fully-conscious creatures.  But I have always doubted that this is a real issue, rather it is an artefact of language and it can, therefore, never be resolved, only forgotten.

Ashbery and MTV

Thanks to Frank Wilson for drawing my attention to this weirdly heartening story. MtvU, a subsidiary of MTV, has chosen John Ashbery as the network's laureate. It was Frank who asked me to review Ashbery's lastest collection for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
As regulars will know, I am a craven fan of Ashbery, but I always assumed this was a rather specialised taste. This was not because he is 'difficult' - he isn't for people who read poetry regularly - but because a)to a rough approximation nobody cares about poetry and b)Ashbery obsessively evades direct statement, one of the easiest consolations of poetry. Or, as he put it in The Skaters, a poem that's been sending shivers down my spine for 30 years now, 'as I said I am not ready/ To line phrases with the costly stuff of explanation, and shall not,/ Will not do so for the moment.'
If you are wondering what consolations he offers instead, try this from later in The Skaters. 'He' is the poet.

'But it is here that he is best,
Face to face with the unsmiling alternatives of his nerve-wracking existence.
Placed squarely in front of his dilemma, on all fours before the lamentable spectacle of the unknown.
Yet knowing where men are coming from. It is this, to hold the candle up to the album.'

The spine of somebody at MtvU must also shiver.

The Napoleon's Tomb Caption

He was a small guy, but he always wanted to be buried in an enormous amount of chocolate.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What Books Are Published For

At last, it's all clear - this is what books are published for: to be left behind in hotel rooms. This top ten is, I suspect, an all too accurate snapshot of the state of British publishing - and reading. Though of course it raises the question of whether these books were read, savoured and left behind for others to share the pleasure, or abandoned in boredom or disgust. Personally I can't imagine anyone actually reading any of them, but maybe I'm being unduly harsh hem hem.

The Cuddly Pigs Caption

You still seem to be visiting in large numbers, but you only seem to comment on the caption competitions. I must, therefore, bow to the inevitable.

Gordon's Casino

So the City bonus boys are getting even richer and company directors need wheelbarrows to take home the cash they've looted from their shareholders. It's a funny old world this Labour Britain, even funnier now that it's run by a supposedly old Labour Prime Minister. I have no general, ideological objections to people making large sums of money, but I have two specific objections to the bonus boys and their hedge fund pals. First, they seem to be borderline sociopaths, capable of wrecking once decent restaurants.  Secondly, they - along with the non-doms who have flooded to London to exploit our tax haven status - have turned the central London property market into a semi-criminal casino; I speak from bitter experience. Company directors are just doing what they have always, in my experience, done - exploiting the supine complacency of shareholders. Of course, when challenged, all of these people will say this is simply the working of the market, evoking an amoral, though economically beneficial, abstraction lurking behind all their riches. They find this consoling because it appears to eliminate considerations of responsibility and justice. But it is nonsense. Politics is the real marketplace. For the success of London is nothing to do with any abstraction and everything to do with a political decision. Brown as Chancellor and, so far, as Prime Minister, has left the City alone and perpetuated our astonishingly generous tax regime for non-doms and company debt. Why has he - an old tax and spend socialist - done this? One answer that occurs to me is that, long ago, he decided that our best bet was to sustain our status as Europe's Hong Kong. This was made possible by our failure to accept the Euro and by Thatcher's labour market reforms. Unleashing our piratical financiers - and admitting plenty of overseas pirates -  was the obvious way to exploit this. It has certainly worked; indeed, it has probably sustained Labour in power by underpinning more than a decade of economic success and, crucially for the middle classes, the reassuring spectacle of rapidly rising property prices. As long as you are a property owner, you are better off for Brown and the bonus boys. But, I suspect, as a policy its days are numbered. Social tensions caused by the wealth disparity between London and the rest of the country are emerging. The world financial system on which London depends is unstable. The Americans are not going to stand by much longer watching the City steal business from New York. And, finally, a debt-laden electorate must ultimately notice the oddity of Mr Social Justice quietly approving the creation of a casino economy. Brown will know this; what he won't know, however, is what will drive the economy when he closes the casino.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Amy Winehouse Issues

Amy Winehouse's father in law, the improbably named Giles Fielder-Civil, suggests we should stop buying her records as a way of forcing her to seek treatment for whatever bad habits she and Blake Fielder-Civil, her even more improbably named husband, have acquired. This is a remarkable idea that opens up an entrancing world of possibilities. If we stopped buying Elton John's records, would he stop shopping? If we stopped buying Pete Doherty's records ... oh, we already did. If I stopped putting up pictures, would you stop writing captions? If I stopped reading Amanda's blog, would it cease to exist? Deep waters indeed. But perhaps the most important point is that, if Amy had followed the American famous person habit of using both married and maiden names, she would be called Amy Winehouse-Fielder-Civil, which sound as though it ought to be some kind of pun but isn't. Don't worry. August is almost over.

Merlin News

Hats off, too, to the indefatigable researcher who has come up with Merlin's home address. This is good to know - and that he and his missus enjoyed a 'comfortable lifestyle'. By the way, I'd never noticed before the startling resemblance between Nicol Williamson and Bill Bailey.

For Winnie

Hats off to Winnie! Pity she doesn't mention her alcohol intake - she looks to me like a dame who's not averse to a tipple...

The Funfair at the End of the World Caption

Somewhat busy so here's a pic to be going on with.

Sex with Amanda

Has she gone too far this time? Amanda is starting a feminist agony column. I should say at once that I absolutely positively insist Thought Experimenters do NOT post any spoof questions. 

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Village Fete Caption

Saga Lout Redux

I know it's August and things are slow, but really, was there any conceivable excuse for a paper to revive this nonsense and present it as a news story - and for other news outlets to report it as such? If ever there was a non-existent threat to society - indeed a non-existent phenomenon - it is surely the Saga Lout. Why Lout? There is no suggestion at all of loutish behaviour. And, if you can bear to read the piece to the end, the talk is of levels of alcohol consumption that, for the true binge drinker, would barely register as a pre-binge sharpener. I guess it's all part of the ongoing project to erect bogus threats, problems, menaces etc to divert attention from a widespread failure to deal with the real ones. Cheers!

On Architecture

This is a sloppy Guardian piece about the architect Rem Koolhaas. It sets up an important conflict - between Koolhaas's CCTV building in Beijing and the hutongs that are being destroyed to make way for such monuments - and does nothing with it. The conflict is all about context and the meaning of architecture. This video will give you some idea of what Koolhaas is up to. His context is a city of skyscrapers. Stretched out into a single column, his building would look like any other skyscraper, but it succeeds because of its distorted form. It will, I am sure, be brilliant; Koolhaas is a fine architect. But there's something troubling about these gesture buildings with which contemporary architects make their names. They - Hadid, Koolhaas, Gehry etc - are obviously slugging it out in some international weirdness contest. I don't hear much discussion of interiors, landscape or context, but I do hear a great deal about extravagant exterior shapes. There are occasional attempts to say these are the cathedrals of secularism, but this is undermined, first, by the fact that they cannot be built to last and, secondly, by the fragility and circularity of their contextual foundations. These buildings are overwhelmingly about other buildings, they lack the fabric of metaphysical and social narratives which, in effect, sculpted the medieval cathedrals. Furthermore, the architects' signatures are writ so large that they almost invalidate architecture's social role. A great eighteenth century architect may have been a star of his time, but, stylistically, he was also the servant of his time - as represented by his client, not of his ego. A spell of decent architectual anonymity might now be a good thing. Here in Norfolk I am surrounded by utterly anomymous buildings -  churches in Salle, South Creake, Salthouse and elsewhere - that are masterpieces beyond anything attainable by Koolhaas. (I took an American architecture student to Salle and he fell to his knees, saying he could tick off one more item on his lifetime list.) And they are masterpieces, in large part, precisely because of their anonymity.
The problem with these contemporary big names and their weird buildings is that they are widening the gap between art and and life. They are creating elite structures that have no aesthetic contact with people's imaginations, homes and streets. They are intensely scholastic figures. This, I suspect, may be the reason why we live in such a dismal age for domestic architecture and why so much domestic interior design now apes the manners of late modernism, persuading the occupants that they should feel at home in an office or restaurant. I love modern architecture. It has provided some of the great aesthetic thrills of my life. But we are in a bloodless phase of corporate mannerism sustained by brilliant but scholastically-inclined and over-competitive architects. It will pass. But sadly, by then, the hutongs will be long gone.
PS. And, just to add, this is the worst example of this current style I have ever experienced (I stayed in the hotel)  - a terrible, terrible building.

For Miss South Carolina

Poor Miss South Carolina is now the global image of dumb blondehood thanks to her dazzling explanation of why so many Americans can't find their own country on a map. Amanda, of course, sees the girl as the 'victim/perpetrator of the patriarchy', which, I suppose, she is, though, since Amanda can't write prose and breathe at the same time, she should, perhaps, reserve judgment. This whole American 'Beauty Pageant' thing is easily lampooned. But one thing can be said in its favour. These girls aren't ZAGs. They want to do something properly, something that embeds them in a culture. It may be a silly thing, but it's not as silly as being a waitress who hates her job and her customers.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Grabber-Thumper Picture Caption

Brideshead Revisited - the Sequel.

Just a Thought

There is really nothing useful to be said about the recent shooting of an 11-year-old boy in Liverpool - and it is being said at enormous length across all media, endlessly. However, I offer a sidelight. When it comes to saving individuals from the kind of life that can result in this kind of crime, Christian conversion (usually to some regrettable form of authoritarian Pentecostalism) is undeniably very effective indeed, on a purely individual level. It was mentioned in an interview by the doughty Archbishop of York, but swiftly passed over as, presumably, irrelevant. But is it? In the 19th century, the churches and other Christian organisations reclaimed and civilised great swathes of the civil wasteland created by industrialisation. Could they do it again with the grim legacy of consumerism-welfarism? It's hard to be optimistic - but then it's every bit as hard to see anything else making any difference. (Least of all, Jacqui 'Glottal Stop' Smith's bright idea of providing a safe place for crims to dump their old guns when they trade up.)
Meanwhile, Liverpool, with its famous community spirit, erects the traditional Wall of Silence...

The Royal Blackberry

More good news about Her Maj. According to one of the papers, she already has this handy device and has even achieved the wellnigh impossible feat of irritating Phil (a man known for his Zen-like calm) with her addiction to it. But the really good news is that she uses it largely to keep track of the racing results. A monarch is never more innocently - and usefully - employed than in following the racing, the one true sport of England (and the one we're best at). Bringing together the highest and the lowest in the land, town and country - but retaining its deep rural roots - it represents her realm far more completely, and in a far more benevolent light, than any other institutionalised pastime. Her Maj is, as ever, keeping her finger on the pulse of national life - a life that is largely ignored by an increasingly irrelevant political caste.

Gay Insurance

Another brilliant vid from the Thought Experiments brilliant vid service. Of course, it's nowhere near as good as Nige's rendering of YMCA in Finnish, but I fear we shall never top that.

How Not to Die 4: Animal News

If you want to live a fuller, longer life, do not be any kind of animal that carries humans. Poison is killing camels in Saudi Arabia and flu is killing horses in Australia. On the other hand, DO be a stinging, pollen-gathering, nectar-sipping insect. The ageing process has been reversed in bees. Vitellogenin is the answer. Thought Experiments is now obtaining large quantities of this powerful anti-oxidant and will be making it available to readers at a bargain price of $10,000,000 per nanogram - hardly, as Nadine Baggott would say, a celebrity price tag. The poor can simply rub bees in their faces. It won't work, but it's nice to have a hobby.


...well, back to normal. It was all a dream - though, as John Ashbery says somewhere, the 'all' signals clearly enough that it wasn't.

Vidia & Ant & Dec

In The Sunday Times today I interview Sir Vidia Naipaul and Ant & Dec. This would appear to be evidence either of my phenomenal range or my abject inability to be consistently serious. Or it could be that the ST sees me as some kind of great writer/TV presenters specialist. The hat is back because the mystery donor I mentioned in a previous post was, in fact, Vidia. It will be worn today as loyal commenter Grabber and I sell books at a village fete in Norfolk. He calls me Thumper, but we won't go into that.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The March of the ZAGs

We all know about WAGs - the wives and girlfriends of footballers - and we may be dimly aware of HAGs - Hollywood awful girls like Paris Lohan and Lindsay Hilton. Thought Experimenters will regard such creatures with an uneasy mix of irony, derision, pity and contempt. We should not forget, however, that young females regard them with admiration. And, as it happens, almost all young females work in bars, shops and restaurants. But they don't want to, they want to be like the WAGS or HAGs, famous for shopping and partying. This means they do their jobs badly, reluctantly and, should they become dimly aware of a customer, with attitude squirting out of their ears. Meet the ZAGS - the zero attention girls. Walk into a pub whose bar staff consists entirely of ZAGs and you would be well-advised to walk out. The following things are certain to happen. Possessed of the absurdly deluded idea that this pub exists for the purpose of selling drinks, you will attempt to make eye contact with the nearest ZAG. She will look away and become suddenly obsessed with making a phone call, slowly clearing glasses or vaguely wiping some already clean surface. If you are in a restaurant the ZAG waitress will be obliged to talk to you but will take revenge by gleefully explaining several negative things - this is 'off', the bar is busy, whatever - before taking down your order incorrectly and bringing you a Campari and soda with no ice. Shop ZAGs will be affronted by any interruption to their conversations. They will be unable to work the credit card machine and they will be wholly unaware of what their shop sells. All of these things happened to me yesterday. Some of them happen to me every day. The ZAGs are on the march. It is time for the BABs - bitter ageing bastards - to strike back.
PS. It occurs to me that nurses are, in fact, ZAGs.

The Vacated Shoes Caption

Friday, August 24, 2007

You Can't Judge A Book...

I suppose, in these strange times, we must get used to wildly inappropriate repackaging of literary classics - maybe it gets more people to buy them, even read them, even gain something from doing so, maybe - but this takes, does it not, the biscuit.
By the way, the lost video from my wilderness years with the Finnish Village People is now the number one viral video. And no wonder.

Out of Body Experiences

Scientists have found a way of inducing out of body experiences (OBEs). Practically, it is said, this technology may take video games to 'the next level' and enable surgeons to operate on patients remotely using a virtual self. Personally, I don't want either of those things to happen. But, leaving that aside, OBEs, especially when they are also NDEs (near death experiences), have often been used as evidence for the existence of the soul. The film Flatliners was based on the potent idea that an ODE/NDE represented an entry into a personal moral drama. Obviously any such interpretation is scientifically offensive. But, equally obviously, OBEs (and NDEs) happen and not necessarily to people who could easily be dismissed as liars or nutters. Scientists, therefore, have sought explanations. One was sleep paralysis, which seemed to be associated with the kind of OBE that led to tales of alien abduction. This latest seems fairly credible, though a little contrived. But what is interesting is the way scientists rush in to draw conclusions that are not actually justified by the experiment. Dr Henrik Ehrsson says it shows the criticality of the first person visual perspective, the feeling that our self is located behind the eyes. Hmmm, well not really - it merely shows that we can create this illusion by disrupting our vision.  Dr Susan Blackmore talks of 'disrupting our normal illusion of being a self behind our eyes'. This is loaded with ideology. Both philosophers and scientists like to shock by talking about the illusion of the self. They also like to say this because it has a consolingly anti-vitalist quality.  But I have never read anything that makes the phrase 'the illusion of the self' meaningful. I could go on for pages about this, but it would all come down to one question: to whom is the self an illusion?

The Bread Stick Caption

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Prezza the Pantomime Horse: My Part in his Downfall

Oh dear, John Prescott is to go. I blame myself. Nobody could survive this

Mind How You Go

Talking of depressing, how about this? Aieee - if a person can't even think about having a drink, that's me banned from all UK locations for the foreseeable future...


Reluctant though I am to return to the subject of Climate Change, this is an interesting look at the peculiar negative ethic that underlies the public debate. This negativity, I fear, might be part of a bigger, and potentially suicidal, we-are-all-guilty negativity that seems to have overtaken what might be called the liberal post-Christian West - and nowhere more so than in this country with its added burden of post-imperial guilt. One of the results is a failure to stand up to threats considerably more immediate and dangerous than climate change. Perhaps it's a straight preference for giving ourselves a light beating-up over actually doing anything about anything. Or maybe we're all too powerless now anyway. Or maybe this is a form of evolution by atrophy... Depressing anyway.

Meanwhile... A Heartwarmer

Hmmm well while I grapple with the technology required to view the lost vid (and God I was hoping that one would never get out), here's a heartwarming good news story from Somerset, whose county council deserves warm congratulations from all right-thinking people. On the other hand, you can't help marvelling at how rapidly the Victorians turned out the early volumes of the VCH...

The Lost Nige Vid

A rare, lost video of Nige - aka International Man of Mystery - has emerged on YouTube. This is his legendary party icebreaker, a performance of YMCA in Finnish.

The Lunch Caption

I'll have the Shreddies, but don't tell the wife.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The 1000th Post

My furious posting pace this morning had an ulterior motive. I wanted to get in before Nige to write this, the 1000th Thought Experiments post. Thank you, thank you, once again we've been great. Over the course of the next thousand I shall be pursuing a new policy. Unfortunately, I do not yet know what it is.

How Not to Die 3

Inside today's super soaraway tabloid health section How Not to Die:
It's not your fault, Fatso - the vicious virus that makes you to pile on the pounds.
It is your fault, Lard-arse - taking part in ABC's reality show Fat March will kill you.
No, it's all skinny Putin's fault - stick-thin Russian boss wants to kill us all
And, finally, it's not her fault - hot tips on how not to die while waddling down to Selfridges to meet Nadine.

Ponder Post 8

I have been remiss. My last Ponder Post was on July 7th. I must not abandon the project of solving all outstanding problems. Humanity is counting on me. But Ponder Posts are back with a big one. Shredded Wheat - not the bite-sized variety - comes in boxes of paper packages, each of which contains three pillow-shaped - er - thingies. Since two thingies ought to be enough for any man, why do they do this? Say I consume my two thingies on the first morning of a new pack. One is left over for the next day, but, by then, of course, it will have lost its edge of freshness. That may seem bad enough, but on Day Two my prospects worsen considerably. I consume the slightly staler thingy along with one more from a new three-pack. This leaves TWO thingies to grow stale over night. On Day Three, I am condemned to an all stale breakfast, though I can console myself with the thought that, on Day Four, my day will get off to a bright start with two absolutely fresh thingies. But then there is Day Five and the whole cycle starts again. Surely some packaging rethink is not beyond the wit of the Shredded wheat company. Or do they have some darker motive?

Amanda's Book: The Perfect Gift

Thought Experiments regular Recusant emails to tell me I am 'one of the finest book reviewers in the land' - 'One of"!!?? - and I should really be getting hold of an advance copy of Amanda Marcotte's It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. He is probably right, though I think I could get away with just reviewing the title. Is it not, for example, amazing how effortlessly she transfers the prose style of her blogging to the composition of fabulously clunky sub-titles and stale titles? Amanda, meanwhile, tells us that the cover design 'rocks my socks off'.  It consists of a staggeringly original image of a large ape carrying a scantily-clad woman. How do they come up with these things? I can heartily recommend this book; it is the ideal Christmas present for the patriarchal pig who has lost the will to live.

Social Networking News

Social networking was going to save the world, bringing us all together in one gigantic jelly-shaped mound of love, peace, pirated videos and lists of favourite tracks. Sadly it's all gone wrong. Social networking is going the way of all technologies - downhill. Here, for example, ghouls can sign up to track the deaths of MySpace users. The CIA, meanwhile, has launched A-Space, a site designed to overcome the terrible loneliness that afflicts so many spooks. And, finally, we have Arsebook, the anti-social networking site that puts you in touch with the people you hate. It looks like it's back to the old save-the-world drawing board.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Taking On The Cowdenbeath Crusher

Hopeful developments on the Tory front? Gentleman Dave Cameron, in promising a 'bare-knuckle fight' with Brown yesterday, revived a fine old English tradition. No true-born English reactionary could read this list without a sigh and a manly tear. Note, in particular, those evocative nicknames...

Tear Down the NHS 2

Following the article in The Times yesterday, in the Daily Mail Judith Allen writes a similar account of the collapse of ethos and the rise of bureaucratic cruelty among NHS nurses. These two articles signal an important chance in press attitudes towards nurses. Not long ago, you could hardly read the worse 'nurse' in tabloid without finding the word 'angel' nearby. Now they are routinely cast as villains. This is good news as it suggests an opening up of the politics of the NHS. Perhaps people are at last beginning to realise the extent of its failure. Meanwhile, our cancer survival rates are terrible. The NHS is a sovietised bureaucracy that kills people in order to sustain itself.

What's Wrong With Skimming?

Here it is then - the latest literary sensation from France - and for once it's slightly interesting. A prof ahs published an unapologetic defence of skimming the classics. Not reading them at all and forgetting them altogether are also, he says, no impediment to intelligent and passionate conversation. Seems to me he's stating the fairly obvious (a French trait, n'est-ce pas?) - life really is too short for many of the more doorsteppish classics. Anyone out there ever read all of Don Quixote, for example? (If so, why?) As a slow reader with defeatist and amnesiac tendencies, I feel little shame about what I've never read or forgotten - nor do I see any obstacle to expressing firm opinions about it. Am I honestly exepcted to have read Harry Potter or Lord of The Rings before opining? Come now... However, I do feel slightly ashamed of never having even started War and Peace or The Idiot or The Brothers Karamazov, to name but three - and, of course, having only skimmed Proust.
Confessions, anyone?

The Postman-Pier Caption

'Royal Mail boasts another pier delivered on time.' Okay, I'm struggling. I just like the pic and I am unaccountably fond of Cromer.

How to Stop Reincarnation

Chinese leaders are not what they were. In the good old days Mao Tse-Tung would happily starve millions to death in order to pay for his nuclear programme and organise the murder of intellectuals by head-stamping in Tiananmen Square. But, these days, the tyrannical fire barely smoulders in their breasts. They can't even organise a good religious persecution without the whole thing descending into farce. The Party bosses, for example, have just banned Buddhist monks from reincarnating in Tibet, this is, apparently 'an important move to institutionalise management of reincarnation.' Can't they see how stupid this is? The monks are obviously just going to sneak out and, like everybody else, get reincarnated in Goa, Big Sur or Notting Hill. Mao, a practical man, would have just stamped on the head of each successive reincarnation. What the Chinese need is some real anti-religious fanatic in charge. Now who might that be?


... there seem to have been blog problems over the past day or so. They may or may not now be resolved. I shall persist.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tear Down the NHS

This is a brilliant article which captures exactly both my own recent experience and the deep corruption at the heart of the NHS. Paul Cable's describes the cruel and offhand treatment of his dying father by nursing staff who feel little or no obligation towards their patients. This is reinforced by that great catastrophe of modern hospital design, the nursing station. This allows nurses to cluster, gossip, generate futile bureaucratic procedures and evade the patients. Gordon Brown could double or treble the billions he has poured into the NHS and it will have no effect on this culture of irresponsible cruelty. This institution has no ethos other than its own protection and perpetuation. The British really must abandon their sentimental delusions and allow the politicians to do what most of them know must be done. They must tear down the NHS and start again.

Pet World

I'm not proud of myself - but really, there's no ignoring this sad tale of a camel's love for a woman. Doggy love, on the other hand, is being positively encouraged, to judge by this. Funny old world.

The Sunflower Caption.

Inspired by the NHS's innovative new anti-smoking scheme involving talking begonias, I raise the question: what is the sunflower saying?

The Long Weekend

Okay I've been a bad blogger. But I have learned many things over the course of this Long Weekend.
1)Amanda knows the word 'risible' and Jeff likes Grease.
2)The Stone Hall in Houghton Hall, Norfolk, is, perhaps, the most extraordinary interior in England.
3)I cook better than Gordon Ramsay and with fewer expletives.
4)There is a god and he supports City.
5)It is best not to bring up the subject of trolls or Norway at dinner parties.
6)British children ought to be gagged and bound before being allowed in public eating places. They should also be told repeatedly that they are ugly and uninteresting in order to prevent excessive self-esteem
7)Vladimir Putin's sense of humour is a little awry.
8)The Jewish joke is alive and well.
Normal service will now be resumed.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Can Such Things Be?

It's been a long weekend and I'm not sure I can make sense of anything any more.

The Metal Detector Caption

Heavy Sunday after heavy Saturday. Can only manage caption contest.

Gordon's Strip Club Shame - But Not Yet

The amusing tale of the Australian opposition leader's strip club antics looks suspiciously like reverse spin to me - especially as he employs the Australian Defence, i.e. I was drunk at the time. This, after all, is the nation where a former PM, Bob Hawke, was valued more for his world record beer drinking feat (a yard in 11 seconds) than for anything else. Rudd had hitherto suffered from a notably dour, dull image. Maybe Our Gordon could pull off something like this himself, should his image need a fillip - heaven knows it would be very cheering to see him drunk and misbehaving in a strip club. Meanwhile, I am shocked to learn that Brown has his hair cut by Kevin Graham at Michaeljohn in Mayfair, at £160 a time. He pays £160 for that! They'll be telling us next he pays big money for those suits of his, rather than picking them up at Oxfam...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Careless Wispa

Apparently Cadburys has yielded to public demand and is to reintroduce Wispas. No doubt there will be more revivals as they seek to put the salmonella scares of recent years behind them and remind us of a more wholesome past. The Wispa bar always struck me as a bit redundant - a bland girlie imitation of the mighty Aero. I believe Terrys did a similar close-textured Wispa-type bar - better quality of course, being Terrys. That fine York company also made the best of all chocolate assortments - Spartan (all hard centres). One with Nineveh and Tyre now of course... Spartan should be brought back - and when it comes to bars, I'd nominate Tiffin, the original Tiffin that is - and the iconic 5 Boys. Any more?

Guten Tag, Herr Warne

Is it just me, or is the idea of Shane Warne, of all people, becoming German intrinsically hilarious?

Word Verification

Sorry I have been hit by a spam wave and I've had to turn on word verification for comments. Bastards.

Nadine Baggott - the New Jeff?

Following my post yesterday, I was, today, going to emit a spoof column by 'Celebrity Beauty Editor' Nadine Baggott, the woman with curiously smooth and rigid cheeks who advertises Olay Regenerist. (In fact, independent assessors from the British Skin Foundation have confirmed that it is possible to bounce pound coins of all four of her cheeks at once.) However, having done a spot of research in the lady, I now feel a mere spoof would not do her justice. According to Wikipedia, Nadine was born in 1964 in Orpington - hmmm - and has two cats named Mister CrazyLegs and Polar Icecap - aaaargh! Nadine has done all sorts of stuff - she even has an IMDB page - but she shot to fame with her Olay ad. Careful analysis indicates a number of factors at work here. 1)The ad is so bad that it seems to have been deliberately designed to inspire a cult following among the hungover and the angry. It is, in fact, beyond parody as this vid seems to show. 2)It also inspired a great national ponder about what exactly a 'celebrity beauty editor' is and, among teenage girls with three As at A Level in sumz, speling and drawring, it inspired a longing to be a CBE. 3)It is brilliantly designed to reduce strong men to tears of rage. This is, I think, because of Nadine's absurd pretensions - the shots of her taking notes like a real journalist are particularly infuriating -  because, in spite of the best efforts of Olay and God knows who else, or her deep unattractiveness which makes a nonsense of all the beauty stuff and, finally, because of her curiously ugly name. Nadine rage has sprung up on this blog and elsewhere - see, for example, here and here. But the really big news is that Nadine has a blog. Like 'Lord' Archer's, this is a rare and precious glimpse into a mind unerringly fixed on all that matters least in life. Nadine is, in short, a great consolation.

Friday, August 17, 2007


More from the mysterious Orient. I fancy this ingenious invention needs more work. It seems to make the wearer appear to be standing in a self-generated force 8 gale - and the tell-tale fans don't exactly enhance the hang of a chap's jacket. Nice try though - and don't forget: 'Scroll down for more'.

Olympics Update

With each day that passes, a visit to the Beijing Olypmics becomes an ever more attractive option. A pity London can't compete these days with a good old sulphur-rich, can't see-your-hand-in-front -of-your-face Dickensian peasouper. Maybe if Ken got to work now, banning all non-drivers from the capital and giving planning permission only for those companies that undertake to produce a fixed amount of visible toxic fumes... Meanwhile, if Our Boys and Girls are to give their best in Beijing, they'd be well advised to have a browse here.

The Pester Power Caption

Having been deluged by literally one request for a Friday caption contest, here it is. It may be an illegal example of advertising to children from the kinder gentler world of fifties England or Norfolk as we now call it.

How Not to Die 2

Thoughts Experiments' new tabloid health section, How Not to Die, today brings you important news from the not dying frontline. Those of you who took the advice about light exercise are in imminent danger of dying! The truth is, as super-buff hardbodies like me 'n' Nige have always known, is that you must exercise furiously and to the exclusion of all other activities if you are not to die. Meanwhile, Raj Patel comes up with some important thoughts about obesity... important but incomprehensible. Having read this article three times, I still don't know what he is saying. But I'm sure it's very disturbing. Finally, news from Germany. 'Vee haff brokken ze speet off licht,' say Drs Nimtz and Stahlhofen. For any readers who don't speak German, this translates, very roughly, as 'We have broken the speed of light.' The not dying implications are obvious... though probably only to the our resident physicist Gordon McCabe. And, while I am on the subject, what happened to tachyons? These particles are supposed to be predicted by Einstein's relativity and can travel much faster than the speed of light. They can also attain infinite speed in finite time and can, therefore, pass through every point in the universe simultaneously. Now they only appear in Star Trek episodes. Yet tachyons, I am convinced, hold the key to not dying.
Breaking News! Blood pressure can make you die! A worldwide blood pressure plague could set back the whole not dying project. Act now to get rid of pressure in the blood.
In tomorrow's How Not to Die: Celebrity beauty editor Nadine Baggott reveals her not dying secrets.

Don't Forget to Weep

Spencer Elden is now 17. This should interest you because he was the swimming baby on the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind album. Spencer says; 'I have to use stupid pickup lines like, 'You want to see my penis... again?'' I wonder if that works and, come to that, why does he 'have to' use such lines? Anyway, lowering the tone further, I am reminded of the advice given by one Tom Connolly, a very successful seducer, to a  young Frank Harris, later a sex-crazed journalist.'When,' said Connolly, 'you can put a stiff penis in her hand and weep profusely the while, you're getting near any woman's heart. But don't forget the tears.' This can hardly be said to be a pickup technique comparable to Spencer's since one is clearly, at this point, a lot more than half way there. Unless, of course, placing your tumescent organ in a woman's hand represented no more than ordinary good manners in late nineteenth century society and was emphatically not to be understood as a prelude to intimacy. I like to think so.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Hat Caption

The comments are barely dribbling in this morning. A caption contest is the only solution. I have in mind for this one something along the lines of 'Summer's End' or 'Last Days of the Raj'. The hat, incidentally, was just given to me by a very distinguished figure indeed. It represents my complete summer solution to the man hat problem.

Education News

As today's A-Level results show yet another dramatic slump in pass rates, a government minister has lashed out at a 'generation of idiots and wasters'.
At a private meeting, education minister Jim Placefiller said the results were yet more proof that today's youngsters were 'totally ignorant', had no desire to learn, and were a 'bunch of useless slackers. They know nothing. Nothing.'
He went on to condemn today's teachers as 'a waste of skin. Ignorant, talentless, and totally incapable of teaching anything. And the heads couldn't run a tap, let alone a school.' The only way forward, he said, was to 'sack the lot of them', close down the colleges of education, demolish the comprehensives, reduce the school leaving age to 14, and start all over again.
Mr Placefiller was unavailable for comment today.

More on Bergman

I have just watched two films - Persona and Autumn Sonata - by the late Ingmar Bergman. The last time I saw Persona I was sitting next to Nige in the Arts Cinema in Cambridge. I was knocked out then without fully understanding why. I was knocked out this time in a condition of complete understanding. Autumn Sonata, which I had not previously seen, is harrowing and beautiful. Those who dismiss Bergman as a mere miserabilist simply don't notice the astonishing formal beauties of his films. Anyway, I mention all this because I just came across this Samuel Beckett quote about that wonderful artist Jack Yeats. 'Yeats is the great of our time... he brings light as only the great dare bring light to the issueless predicament of existence.' Bergman in a nutshell.

Further Sven Sensation

Speaking as a very long term City fan, I am currently experiencing a degree of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand I want them to win; on the other hand I don't know what to do with myself when they do. For the moment, I shall simply croak a feeble 'Go, Sven.'

Cornwall Loves Me

In The Tin Shed Caption, I proposed that the Drill Hall in Lostwithiel, Cornwall, should be included in the TV series Britain's Favourite Views. This has caused quite a stir down in Pastyland.  Humble Drill Hall Wins TV Man's Vote screams the headline in This Is Cornwall. I am not a TV man, but I shall let that pass. In addition, I have a long, informative email from Gwyneth Roberts of Knutsford, Cheshire. She has collected 3,600 drill halls. The whole email is appended as a comment. She remarks that Lostwithiel doesn't strike her as 'the most spectacular drill hall' she's ever seen. All I can say is that it's MY drill hall.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Instant Vaporisation - The Way Forward?

Here's a hopeful development - though (a) it doesn't go nearly far enough, and (b) it most likely won't be enforced anyway. What is required is a device for instantly vaporising boombox cars and their inhabitants - or perhaps just the car, leaving the passengers sitting on the road in sudden slience, looking like complete arses. Once that's perfected, we can then move on to.... The floor's yours, bloggers.


... in the changing room. 
'I had some fuschias but their heads all dropped off in the fog.'
Does this happen? I think we should be told.

How Not to Die

Of course, it's very important not to die and the Health and Safety Executive has been doing cutting edge work on the front line of not dying research. Notably, there was the revolutionary The Role of Towels as a Control to Reduce Slip Potential which broke the taboo against discussion of the use of towels on damp bathroom floors. Sadly, the investigation came to no very firm conclusions. Of course, the HSE has earned the derision of the uninformed, not least for the report - said to be no more than a rumour - that it wanted children to wear safety goggles while playing conkers and even that trees should be cut down to prevent children climbing them. Eager to limit the damage to its reputation caused by such stories, on the Today show this morning - again I may have dreamed this - an HSE man said they were sponsoring a conker competition. As I said, these guys are cutting edge. Meanwhile, not dying is helped enormously by not having a pot belly of any size whatsoever and by walking  a very small amount very occasionally. Of course, we all know that not buying Mattel toys is an excellent way of not dying, though only the not dying enthusiast is likely to be aware of the need to avoid Guatemala during an election campaign. Remember not dying is a full time job. Mind how you go and, hey, let's be careful out there.

The Bad Sculptures with Flowers Caption

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Fun-Loving Gordie Update

So that's it - Oor Gorrdon's wee holiday is over already. 'Fourr hoourrs is enough for any mon,' he remarked from a desk in Cowdenbeath. 'Except tha' greet posh southern jessie Cameron, I ken,' he added, before falling to the floor, clutching his heart.
Mark my words - John Smith Mark 2.

Milk Bottle News

As a man mildly obsessed with cow's milk (in an entirely healthy way), I must bring this heroic character to your attention - and his excellent publication. Come on bloggers - get hitting - let's see if we can get his figures up to record levels (80) again...
(As for milk bottles, why is it - as I may have asked before - that these triumphs of modern design are incapable of pouring without collateral spillage in all directions? The old long-necked, small-mouthed glass bottle has never been improved on.)

The Joys of Summer Caption

On Freud 2

Responding to my post On Freud, Recusant draws my attention to this by Mick Hartley. I'll leave aside the ad hominem stuff and this silliness, 'It's a piece of chutzpah worthy of the man himself to now proclaim him as our only bulwark against the rising tide of fundamentalism and totalitarianism'. 'Only bulwark'? Nobody, as far as I know, has ever said anything like that. No, the heart of the matter is that Hartley's view is that Freud is 'wrong' and psychoanalysis, like phlogiston, should be consigned to the dustbin of history and bad science. This is, I suspect, the current majority view, but I still find it startling. Personally, I never once believed that Freud was 'right' in Hartley's terms. Yet I never doubted his importance and, indeed, greatness. I don't see any contradiction in this. Plato, Aquinas, Descartes, Hume, Newton and Kant might all be said to be 'wrong', but blithely to deny their importance for that reason would be madness. Right or wrong, they define certain ways of thinking, certain moments. Indeed, Marx - evoked by Hartley - was plainly very 'wrong', but his analysis of capitalism in the face of nineteenth century industrialisation endures. The moment, the way of thinking, of Freud was post-Darwinian. He was attempting to describe the relationship between society, civilisation and our animal natures. He did so with an astounding grandeur and percipience. The depth and scope of his thought are breathtaking. But he was not, as he believed, Copernicus or Darwin. They produced single insights - heliocentrism and evolution through natural selection - to which their names will always be attached. Freud produced no such insight. Rather, he defined our predicament. He may have used terms that now seem exotic, quaint or just crazy, but so did Plato and Aquinas. The idea that he can be dismissed just because he was 'wrong' is a product of contemporary literalism and the inability to step out of the simple-minded world of opinion and scientific efficacy. Bind your imagination with those ropes, Mick, and, trust me, you'll miss everything worth knowing

Monday, August 13, 2007

Calling All Casting Directors

I must draw you attention to this promising young fellow - James Myers, the man of a thousand faces (and a hard hat). I can especially recommend his showreel, which appears to be filmed in his kitchen, and the testimonials from directors. Truly a Troy McClure for our times.

The Wells 'Scope is Back

For reasons best known to you, dear readers, my post Homage to H.G.Wells and the Telescope Sign remains my most regularly hit. There was a sad follow-up - Grave News, which reported the disappearance of the telescope itself. Only the stand and the superb 'found' poem remained. But this, as my picture shows, is a story with a happy ending. The great Wells-next-the-Sea telescope is back. And, for the first time, I notice the huge cutout for the nose. Plainly this is a 'scope with Nige in mind.

An Open Invitation to East Europeans to Plunder Our Native Hedgerows

I've been out on the downs, picking blackberries. The bushes are heavy with big, ripe, burstingly juicy fruit - delicious, and there for the taking. I picked a pound and a quarter in no time. Thelocals, of course, can't be arsed - they'd sooner go to the supermarket and buy giant denatured 'blackberries' from Mexico at £3.99 a pack. But why aren't those resourceful east Europeans out there picking? Apparently they've been hoiking carp out of every patch of water and wolfing them down. It seems a shame, all that wild fruit going unpicked and uneaten...

Happy Birthday, Cliff Fish

Yes Bryan, it's August all right - August 13, the birthday of the gloriously named Cliff Fish. Rejecting the obvious career path of joining Country Joe and the Fish, Cliff co-founded Paper Lace (Billy Don't Be A Hero), thereby bringing joy to millions. According to Wikipedia, the band at one time numbered Carlos Santana among its members, but that, I suspect, tells us more about Wikipedia than Paper Lace. Anyway - happy birthday, Cliff Fish, from the blog that remembers. (Is Cliff, I wonder, a descendant of Preserved Fish III, already immortalised on this blog?)
I believe it's Castro's birthday too. Is the old boy still alive?

The Plastic Heron Caption

Ghengis Presley

I may have been dreaming, but I think I heard somebody say on the radio that, before long, one in four of the world's population will be Elvis impersonators. Meanwhile, it has emerged that one in every 200 men is descended from Ghengis Khan. This means that an awful lot of descendants of the great Khan must be - or will soon be -  Elvis impersonators. Jump suits are available here; it seems to be slightly more difficult to dress as a Mongol horde. Is it August? I really hadn't noticed.

City: More than just a Massage

So the pattern of the Premiership is set - Manchester City fighting it out with Chelsea, Newcastle and Arsenal for the top spot. Yes, the enigmatic Swede and the mysterious Thai have shown they can do more than massages. They have worked wonders with the temperamental boys in blue, largely by replacing them all. In the light of these developments I feel I must cancel my resolution to abandon City, always the neurotic's team of choice. Go, Sven, say I, and go, whatever your name is Mr Mysterious Thai.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Moths and Meteors

I need hardly tell blog regulars that last night was National Moth Night - a commendable attempt to whip up enthusiasm for these unloved creatures of the night (and day), which I marked in the usual way - having a few drinks and forgetting it was National Moth Night. Earlier in the day, a bemused Jim Naughtie, interviewing a human representative of the moth community, began by accusing moths of eating clothes, then thoroughly muddied the waters by mentioning this beauty, much to the mothman's bemusement (it's not a target species, not often seen and unlikely to be flying at this time of year). Moths - and their human representatives - seem destined never to be understood and appreciated.
Tonight, of course, we are to be treated to a spectacular display of shooting stars. I shall celebrate by having a few drinks and forgetting all about them.
Nature - it's so hard to keep up...

The Dance of Death

I was talking about death with a brilliant young doctor at a party last night. He said the old should just go home and sit down as 'everything is designed to fail at the same time', so fixing one failing system, most commonly the heart, was a very temporary expedient as another was bound to fail soon afterwards. This gave a peculiar poignancy to the nearby spectacle of the late middle-aged groovers who were, as usual, the only occupants of the dance floor, the young having better things to do. Meanwhile, following our conversation, Nick Cohen writes this morning (while kindly plugging my book) about the newly discovered disparities between the life expectancies of the rich and the poor. In rich parts of the borough of Westminster, for example, a wealthy 65-year-old woman can expect to live to 96 and a poor one to 77. The usual suspects - smoking, bad food, lack of exercise - are blamed, but I think, as does Cohen after talking to me, the most important factor is access to the best health care. In Britain we may have thought that the NHS democratised health care and that may once have been true. But now the rich know how to play the system. They master the variety and complexity of what is available so they can demand more from the NHS and, when that fails, they can go private. As a result, parts of Britain are rapidly becoming like Martha's Vineyard or Palm Beach, enclaves of the rich, old and healthy. This division is going to grow ever more extreme as it is now clear that, in a number of areas, medical science is making significant progress after a long period of stasis. These will produce expensive treatments that the rich will demand and pay for. The brilliant young doctor, therefore, may soon find the rich old are not, with good reason, going to sit down and wait for the next system to fail.
The trouble is, of course, we don't really know what to do with them when they stubbornly persist in Staying Alive - one of the songs that, inevitably and poignantly, always causes the most enthusiastic bopping among middle-aged groovers. Today, once again, we hear of shabby treatment of the old in care homes. The truth is that the young (meaning anybody under 50), however well-meaning, are impatient of or disgusted by the old. And they are confirmed in their prejudice by the unfortunate fact that even the most expensive modern medicine, though it may keep you alive, does not, as yet, rejuvenate. Once you're old, you stay old. Most damagingly, cognitive ability declines and nothing more effectively encourages impatience in the young  than elderly forgetfulness or mental incompetence. They might as well, runs the unspoken thought, be dead. This, I suspect, is one reason why the rich old cluster in their enclaves. They are seeking relief from the familiar, withering judgments of their condition, from the dance floor surrounded by the wincing and giggling young.

On Freud

In The Sunday Times - I review Mark Edmundson's The Death of Sigmund Freud.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Flags and Flagmen

As predicted here, the Arctic land grab is kicking off. Cool Canada and doughty Denmark are clearly very annoyed by the Russian action and are coming up with their own strategies. Watch this (icy) space, I say. Meanwhile, it's interesting to learn (as mentioned in that link) that the Russians have flags on the moon too. They got them there first, in 1959, when Luna 2 contrived to scatter Soviet pennants over the lunar surface. All this flag-planting - simultaneously quaint and frightening - rather like Russia, I suppose...

The Tin Shed Caption

This is some sort of army cadet tin shed thing in Lostwithiel, Cornwall. I nominate it as one of Britain's favourite views. It cries out for a caption. 

On Shaving, the True Cause of the Crash

I have been meaning to blog on the subject of shaving for some time, but, somehow, I shied away, it just seemed too intimate. But this morning, attempting in vain to open an eight-pack pack of Gillette Fusion Power blades - you need scissors, big ones,  I cracked. I am a sucker for the latest shaving technology and, sadly, I don't feel Wilkinson Sword has been quite up to the cutting edge  - geddit? - work from Gillette. On the other hand, blades for the latest Fusion system are now so expensive they are fitted with special security tags in supermarkets. Buying one of these six-bladed monsters is a huge and ongoing financial commitment. If the American poor have been suckered into Fusions, they will have had to borrow from Cowboy Loans Inc just to keep themselves in blades. When the crunch comes, these ranks of Cletus Spucklers will be forced to default and bring the world financial system to its knees. This is nothing to do with homes, it's all about shaving. But, I have to say, the Fusion system is impressive. Though it's rather like mowing your face with a combined harvester, it certainly eliminates the old stubble - especially in the Power incarnation. I cannot imagine what Gillette will come up with next. Perhaps they'll consolidate as all the Cletuses are forced to grow beards. But I suspect, come the next upturn, I'll be buying the Gillette Terminator Power - a small chain-saw like object with teeth and gouging blades to hook the stubble out by the roots.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Fri/Sat Ponder: How Fat is Brown?

In a long conversation with the wise and good Nick Cohen, I suddenly asked, is Gordon Brown now the fattest world leader? Putin's skinny as is Sarkozy; Merkel's none too porky and Bush looks buff. So I thought I'd get the ponder in before Nick uses it in one of his pieces. What is the Prime Minister's Body Mass Index? I think we should be told.

Smirting? Nein Danke

Now that smoking has become an outdoor activity (the intermediary stage before a total ban on public smoking, mark my words), a supposed 'new phenomenon' has been observed/invented by some bright spark desperately looking for an angle, and a truly dreadful portmanteau word invented to describe it. Why not floking? How about some more useful portmanteau words? Droking (drinking and smoking), smeating (smoking and eating), sminking (smoking and thinking), dralking (drinking and talking), smalking (smoking and walking), drogging (drinking and blogging)....

An Aurelian Laments

This global warming lark... In a quiet and entirely selfish way, I was rather looking forward to it getting under way, restoring the British climate to something more agreeable, cladding the hills with vineyards and olive groves, dispelling our native (internal and external) gloom and, above all, filling the woods and meadows with ever increasing numbers of butterflies, including species that have been poised on the far side of the Channel for years, waiting for things to look up. Instead, what happens? The grimmest, wettest summer in decades, if not centuries, and the worst butterfly year I can remember. Even now that it's suddenly turned seasonally warm (in London anyway), there's nothing out there, nothing... Oh well, I have my memories of these.
The warm weather, by the way, is the reason my brain has more or less ceased to work - don't expect anything meaty from me today.

Pangur Ban

I'm posting this rather lovely poem about a cat purely to annoy Bryan, who was last heard of heading west on a speeding train (don't worry - he'll be back). While the cat's away... Cat? Er...

God Only Nose

Here it is - the news you've all been waiting for - a double-nosed Andean tiger hound has been found, alive, well and suspiciously friendly, in the depths of the Bolivian jungle by the intrepid Col John Blashford Snell who, if he didn't exist, would have to be invented. As one who occasionally sports two noses, I have some fellow feeling with this nasally blessed creature.