Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Three yews

When I was little and I went to the village school, the walk there from home was full of fascination.

To describe it in detail would require many pages but for now I just want to tell you about one element of this walk. This is a group of three yew trees, the Triangle Trees, which stood about half-way along the path that cut off a big bend of the road between the level crossing (or, after 1964, its site) and the road/drive junction just near Lady Pease's house. The cut-through was probably only a couple of hundred yards long, but very useful.

The left-hand side of this path (heading towards school) wasn't very interesting. There was a tidy fence and beyond it the tidy grounds of the (rather grand) Hall. On the other side, though, was an intriguing wonderland. Towards the station end were some quite tall trees, then some lower scrubby wooded stuff, and then, before a more open (and hence less interesting) area, the three yews standing at one edge of the wooded part.

These three trees were very different in character.

A friendly, unchallenging tree stood right by the path, maybe just a yard or two off it. I cannot possibly convert into adult measurements my child's perception of its height, but it was really, by any standards, a pretty short kind of tree, like the runt of the litter or perhaps the baby in this little family. Being close to the path, and short, and friendly, this was a much-climbed tree, and its highly-polished limbs, glossy and smooth like artshop woodwork, or perhaps something sculpted or moulded, bore witness to this. Oddly, I can't remember ever seeing kids there apart from my own group of friends or my brother and his, but they must have been there or else the limbs would never have acquired that expensive bronze-cast look.

You could be up this tree in a couple of seconds. You couldn't design a quicker tree to climb: it was more like a particularly easy kind of ladder. Once you were up there, you couldn't really do much - there were no other positions to change to, no alternative branches to sit on, because you were either up it, or down, and that was about it. Nevertheless, it was quite a pleasing thing to have climbed up: you got a minor sense of accomplishment at merely being off the ground; you had started a climbing session, and therefore warmed up and reasserted your professional skills. You were up in something which might be a gatehouse or outlying fort, guarding the approach to the larger trees behind. You had a bit of a view, up and down the path. The flattish top was almost a comfy chair. This was an OK place to be.

Come down now from this first tree and stand by it, with your back to the path. You're facing the railway embankment which is maybe sixty yards away. Right in front or you, roughly fifteen yards off, are the other two trees of the group. They're equidistant from you and very close to each other so it's a long, thin isosceles triangle. A small path leads from the single, gatehouse tree to this pair, and once there you see a little, worn area between the trees, like a rather underused meeting place. In practice it's probably only there because that's where you climb from - there are better and more exciting places round here for a den, so I don't think it's that.

Arriving in this tiny clearing you might think you have a choice: the tree of the left hand or that of the right. Like so many seeming choices this is an illusion: only the right-hand tree is for climbing. I don't know how the left-hand one got so unclimbable. Was it the result of some biological accident, or did it decide decades or longer ago that it just didn't like kids? For whatever reason, it's become a perfect example of feedback: it's horrible to climb, so people don't bother to try, so it doesn't get smoothed and shaped by climbing the way the others do, so its unfriendliness is reinforced by new (awkward, spiky) growth - and so it goes on.

I've only climbed this tree a few times and it was no pleasure - you'd do it for the challenge or for the feeling of defiance, but not because you were going somewhere nice: far from it. Your dirty, tricky, painful climb is rewarded by, well, nothing much - suddenly you can go no higher and you're just left clinging uncomfortably to the trunk, a sense of arrival markedly absent. You're here but you're nowhere and the density of growth round you means there's almost no view. It was time to climb down before you even got here, you unwelcome visitor, and when, very carefully yet still covered in scratches, you reach the ground, you can't really see why you bothered with this tree at all. Face it: you hate each other.

The remaining tree, the one on the right, is a very different proposition. This friendly tree wants to be climbed. It's not as worn as its little relative by the path, but it does have some of the same patina, the evidence of generations of kids finding their way up it. It's not huge, but it is a proper climbing tree. There are enough good branches and enough gaps that it's an easy, interesting climb, and when you reach the top it opens out into a space like a living room, with maybe four or five places to sit. You're left in no doubt: you are here. You have a nice view too: the path, the little welcoming gatehouse tree, your hostile prickly neighbour, the woodland around you. It's a very fine place to be, and sitting up here you suddenly become rather adult and important, as if you should start calling meetings and discussing strategy. Actually, you should just enjoy being here.

Friday, 20 June 2008

The Bread Man Cometh

I have had a birthday sometime recently and my Dear Wife Bless Her gave me a Panasonic bread making device. I am so chuffed with this that I can hardly write. I had been dropping hints about such a kitchen wonder for some time, as my Dearest Muvver and my Bruvver of Height and Clevernosity are both satisfied owners of this type of machine; however I got busy/distracted with Other Stuff™ and had more or less forgotten so it was a genuine surprise when it was piped in by the servants' fife band and carried by Mr Thompson wearing a croissant costume. (He gets some strange ideas.)

Anyway anyway. I didn't get to try it out at once due to the continuing issue of Other Stuff™. Last night, though, I finally did. So I read the instructions very carefully and went through the detailed startup procedures with great precision. (Put ingredients in machine, turn on. Kind of thing.)

Then I got lost in an orgy of catching-up TV thanks to Mr Branson's Disk-Based Recording Device With Multiple Tuners. Specifically Family Guy and Heroes, a slightly odd juxtaposition but hey. I was just dozing off nicely when I was awoken by the unmistakable and utterly wonderful smell of delicious new hot fresh bread that I made. This is so brilliant that it's brilliant. Of course my skill in the culinary arts is well-known so it is hardly surprising that my first loaf (pictured above) was such a particularly fine example: these complex machines clearly need an expert hand at the helm.

But wow. I made bread. Me. Bread. I am soooooo pleased!

Monday, 16 June 2008


I don't normally blog about work much, for a variety of reasons, but I am really quite excited that my boss got a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours list. He's already an FRS, which to those in the know might be at least as big a deal, but in terms of public recognition the knighthood is obviously a huge issue.

Of course it would be foolish of me not to acknowledge that this is probably good for those of us who work for him, too. I am quite sure that anything like this is good in a number of ways which I need hardly spell out here. But, self-interest apart, it's jolly exciting news, and well done Nick! :)

PS God save the Queen! (a Smalle Flourisshe of Trumpettes shall Here be Sounded)

Lottie gets a degree; national half-holiday announced, commemorative coin struck

lot-tea Yay! Woo! My middlest of daughterosities has got a 2:1 and is therefore going to Cambridge in the Autumn to train as an undoubtedly excellent secondary school teacher.

This is very very very good. I mean, to be honest I thought that this would happen, as the portents were good, but it's still a very different thing to have it confirmed that it's in the bag. Yeah baby. Well done Lottie.

I go on Friday night with a Ford Transit van to collect Lot and 93 tons of stuff. Cardiff University has been a big success for her and I'll be sad to bid it farewell.

Graduation is on July 14th and we'll be staying in a nice B&B. More on this, and other matters, in other writingistical events to come.



Onwards and upwards!!!

Oh dear, gig-free zone

For the best possible reasons I am currently missing an incredible run of St Anne and St Agnes lunchtime concerts. This is very annoying because, I have explained ad nauseam elsewhere, they're an important part of how my week is structured.

On the other hand, I am doing lots of things which are nice, important, or whatever and which need doing so I cannot really complain.

I was particularly sad to miss last Friday's because my old friend John K was playing in it with a piano quartet. However, I had worthwhile stuff to do then as I do/did on these other occasions (work stuff, being in Banff, retrieving Lottie from uni, having lunch with a friend etc etc) and there is no point in obsessing about it - I will see him next time round.

At the moment it looks like my next chance to go to a gig will be Tuesday 24th June or maybe the Friday if the Tuesday is tricky. I am pretty sure I can hang on till then without going completely bonkers.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Warning - Train Weasel Alert; or, the Ethics of Some People Defy Belief

cute-banff-animal This train is overfull: people are standing at the ends of the carriages.

I've just watched a deeply loathsome weasel of a business type doing the most incredibly unethical thing of trying to keep the seat next to him empty. He's at a four-person table - all unreserved - where three seats were taken: he was in the aisle seat and "guarding" the empty window seat. Nice.

This creep lied to the first person, a black woman, who asked him about it. Then he initially lied again, but backed down gracelessly, when someone a bit more assertive (and whiter, but I am sure this was not a factor, yeah right) tried some time later. He had a very lame story about how someone had been sitting there and he thought they were coming back, but I am absolutely 100% certain that this was the purest b*ll*cks. The stuff spread out on the seat and table, making it look occupied, was all his as became clear when he had to shift it all to let the second lady sit down. Indeed, just from my memory of comings and goings as people boarded - as it happens, I was on first - I'm very clear that no-one had sat there at all on this service. Which is how Mr Weasel planned to keep it.

What a weasel, what an utter creep. Of course you'll never read this, oh weasel of seat D31 on the 1545 Piccadilly to Euston train, and even if you did you probably wouldn't care anyway, since you've obviously already decided that your desire for space for your weasel laptop and your unethical business weasel papers is far more important than anyone else's need to sit down on this ghastly overcrowded train. You horrible, horrible creep.

I don't like to be vindictive but I confess I am tempted to hope that your hard disk fails, soon, and badly, and that your last good backup was made on or before 28th August 2006. You weasel, you miserable miserable weasel. I've never met you but I really don't like you.

Update: you have been saved by the delete key from a looooong piece debating the rights and wrongs of this in more detail: my tendency to be ridiculously judgemental; the nature of Cosmic Justice; the question of in what scenarios the Train Weasel's behaviour might have been reasonable; an ting.

I spent hours on this but, on the final re-reading, came to realize that it contained nothing of merit.

Woo yay let's hear it for the delete key!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Bl**dy amateurs!

timesyog I was incensed to stumble over this piece of part-time strawberry yoghurt criticism published by the Times, of all people! Why (oh why) can't they stick to their core areas such as harrumphing and crosswords?


I am tempted to write to them and say "listen, buddy boy, I'll stay out of newspaper publishing if you stay off my manor know what I mean sunshine wink wink alright guv'nor" but I won't as it would terrify them too much and that would be unkind.

But the approach, darlings, the approach. Tsk.

Onwards and upwards!

Strawberry Yoghurt - Tesco's Finest Strawberries and Cream Yoghurt

  • tescofinestyumyumyum West Country Yoghurt blended with Channel Island cream
  • Blended with a dense, juicy compĂ´te of Senga strawberries

Strangely inelegant English with those two "blended withs" fighting each other round a corner there. Oh well.

I have written elsewhere about my former and misguided concerns about Tesco, whether (or not) they are ripping the heart out of the British high street [note 1], whether they really do or do not fly around at the dead of night in black helicopters [note 1], machine-gunning [note 1] small shopkeepers and food producers whose apples are too irregular in shape [note 1] or whose organic apples are too regular [note 1]. Or whatever [note 1].

Now, however, I realize that Tesco's are actually the loveliest and friendliest company on the face of the planet, and I love them, and they have never ever done anything even faintly bad nor would they ever. No. Indeed no. Indeedy notty.

This change of heart is of course in no way influenced by:

a. the discovery that they are suing people left right and centre for saying "boo" [note 1] and

b. the fact that at long last they have brought out a Tesco's Finest Strawberries and Cream yoghurt as I have been hoping for some time that they would [note 2] [note 3].

So, with my blogulistic integrity clarified and reinforced, with free speech campaigners applauding rapturously from the sidelines, on with the show.

This is a delicious yoghurt. Creamy but non-slimy, light texture. Loads of fruit including satisfyingly big lumps of strawb. Edgy, not too sweet (despite the scary sugar figures, see below). Senga strawberries are apparently praised for their fruitiness and juiciness (which is odd when you'd think that characteristics like, say, a love of classical music and a bright green colour might have been so much more obvious to go for) but, whatever, they do seem very nice in this yoghurt. It also has a nice non-alarming colour (Geiger counter not required) and indeed does not list colourings so maybe we are actually seeing its real or real-ish colour.

A truly delightful dessert. Eat it overlooking a sunny view with a nice drink to hand: or indeed at any other time and place.


A fine, fine yoghurt from this most excellent, caring and non-suing of shops. (Practically a family business anyway ... remember little Kevin Tesco, how sweet he was in the nativity play at the old infant school? And Nan Tesco, how she used to knit those socks for our lads in the front line. Don't forget dear old George Tesco, a stately figure on the way to skittles, in his top hat. My how we loved them all. Please don't sue me.)

Flavour: 8

Fruitiness: 8.5

Knowledge of Beethoven: 0

Magical Senga effects: 9.5

Grellt: 8.9

Sploorn: 3.1

Slime factor: 0

Corporate slime factor: oh no I said I wouldn't do this and please see [Note 1].

Overall: 8.6 and please don't sue me, I'm sorry I done it, I'm sorry I done it (I. Dury)

The Obsessives Corner

150g pot

Strawberries 18%

125kcal per 100g so

190kcal in this 150g pot

Or to put it another way (useful Tesco food info panel):

Vegetarian (how excellent that they actually confirm this! Others please note.)

Calories 190 = 9% RDA

Sugar 16.8g = 19% RDA

Fat 9.2g = 13% RDA

Saturates 5.4g = 27% RDA

Salt 0.2g = 3% RDA

Scary, huh? A fifth of my daily recommended amount of sugar, in one delicious yogo-hit. Makes me think, possibly a touch more than I actually want to.


Note 1: GOAK HERE.

Note 2: No goak here.

Note 3: Oddly I found sources on the net that suggest this yog has been around for years. Not in the Tesco's I know, is my only possible response. Hmmmph strange. Ah well.

Another Virgin Trains triumph

I should probably give this up one of these days. It's too easy to take the you-know-what out of the people who run the Virgin Trains website, because they make themselves such fabulously easy targets. And why, you ask, does it matter? Because things like this, which are easy to see and rant about, are, I feel, symptomatic of the deeper, sometimes more concealed malaise which afflicts the whole site, which is acute carelessness. I've just spent a few more happy minutes trying to make it work properly, understand the engineering works, buy yet more tickets, and sure, the spellings don't stop it, but the rubbishy untested thinking does. And orft we jolly well go ...
Please see the attached timetable links below, giving details of the revised service that will be operating on Saturday 14 & Sunday 15 June.
14 June Nouthbound
14 June Southbound
15 June Nouthbound
15 June Southbound
And a woo wah yippee-aye-yay!

I wonder who proofread this.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Teh Interwebs (v2.0)

cable Actually I was very very excited to hear that the Worldly WideWeb of Network Sites has now officially been moved to version 2.0. This is great progress!

Will they have to deliver a new cable modem to my house, do you think, or is it more like one of these "automatic software download updaters" which I gather are nowadays all the rage? Maybe my old wiring will not cope with all the new Version 2.0 data and I will have to have it replaced, preferably with the much bigger (or "bigger" as we technical people call it) Purple Sprouting Broccoli cable well known to motorway drivers, where it breezily waves in lush pastures, just waiting to be plugged into roadside information systems. Marvellous.

It's going to be great! Version 2.0!! Just think. It's bound to be much better than all the rubbish we now have. I can hardly wait. If a few more things in my life could also get moved to Version 2.0, that would be so good.


Vogel (v1.9b)

Go ahead! Strawberry yoghurt breaks

go-ahead-strawbgo ahead! (made for McVities in Holland)

strawberry yoghurt breaks - "delicious yoghurt flavour topping on light crispy biscuit with a sultana and strawberry filling, ooh yeah baby"

Right then.

Smells very sweet, almost sickly. The yoghurt gunge is that slightly addictive industrial yoghurt paste stuff, like yoghurt-coated nuts have. It's quite nice but doesn't have enough edge to really convince you that it's yoghurt. The biscuit is pleasant, brittle, flat, a bit like a garibaldi without the dead flies. In fact it's perhaps even flatter than the Italian "Hero of the Two Worlds", maybe a little distance on the way to being a matzoh (yum). The fruit makes a very limited impact indeed - it's in there somewhere but hardly jumps out yelling Strawberry! at you, or even Sultana!

NB the shift key was broken when they designed the packaging - or maybe gummed up with "a sultana and strawberry filling" - so upper-case letters are a bit of a rarity. But I digress. (G&S Chorus: yes yes he digresses.)

This is a low-fat product (hence the urging to "go ahead") and is perfectly pleasant and goes well with a nice cuppa. All of which is good and nice, in fact almost as nice as bunny-wunnies. Of course what it won't do is satisfy that screaming void in the very kernel of your existence that sobs crazily for strawberry yoghurt and babbles and whoops with delight when it is served. (You do have one of those, don't you? It's not just me? Ah good.)

PS It doesn't really say "ooh yeah baby" in the product description. Aha. I know you thought it did and I know you will never never be able to admit to being caught out by my "wacky humour"™. Aha. No. It does not really say it. Indeed not. Aha. It was just me being "sidesplittingly whimsical"™. (G&S Chorus: yes yes it was just him being "sidesplittingly whimsical"™. Aha.)

Welcome to Plodland: or, the Monarchy descends among its Peeble; we kneel in Awe and Gratitude

gawdsavethequeenThere are a LORRA LORRA policemen and women outside. No parking in the square, no parking anywhere much, lorries lurking to remove the last few vehicles. Police on every entrance to the square, by the hotel, outside the Charterhouse. Why is this?

Well a quick Webbity website (it's on version 2 now, you know) reveals that our monarch and spiritual leader and her charming husband (that's still just two people, please do try to keep up) are visiting the Charterhouse today. See:

Wednesday, 11th June 2008

The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh will visit Sutton's Hospital to mark the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Restoration of Charterhouse.

... and there you have it. Colin, prepare the bunting if you please. Tamsin, your best frock and a small bunch of flowers, prontissimo. Mr Thompson, kindly warm up the ceremonial bugle. (No, not "in the traditional manner": show some respect I beg you.)

We're going in.

FX assorted offstage cries an ting: huzzah! Gawd bless 'er! You're shorter than you look on telly! More huzzah! Vivat Regina! Etc. Various Trumpet Blasts; a Dancing Bear; some Helicopters. More huzzah! A Singing Chorus of Jolly Smithfield Meat Porters. More Joyous Shouts of Loyal Citizenry. More etc.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Virgin Trains' putrescent, vile, dreadful, amateurish website will be the death of me

aaaaarghvirgintrainspainsgivemestrength I leave it to you, dear reader, to figure out whether the title is meant figuratively. With my blood pressure where it probably is right now, I wouldn't bank on anything.

The trains are quite nice, it's a very useful service, and the people who work on them are lovely. So why has the website been designed by incompetent hyenas? They shouldn't be allowed anywhere near anything with money involved. Ever.

At this point I could write down a blow-by-blow account of why the above opinion has just been strongly reinforced by yet another encounter with the uselessness that is Mr Branson's personal vacuum-tube interface to your wallet. But why should I bother? Who cares? The website is rubbish; it does not work properly; you can upset it, apparently to a terminal extent, by simply using it as it claims to be usable; they do not maintain it properly (hint: it is now June). They are fools. I am currently quite dependent on this train service and its smelly, useless booking system but honestly it is enough to make me want to fly, and damn the expense and the ozone layer because the airline's booking system has GOT to be better than Virgin's wheezing, fragile, sensitive, pathetic, wilting little flower of an offering. Thanks Rich: you da man.

NB No smiley faces. None of this blog entry has cheerful lighthearted intent. I am not happy.

PS BUT ... two staff at the much-maligned offshore call-centre were nice and helpful and spoke excellent English, and strove to sort out what the website couldn't, as it was just sitting weeping quietly in a corner by then while still trying to steal my money. There you go, one nice thing.