Saturday, October 31, 2009

My cars: a short guide. Part V - My Triumph Toledo and another sad end

After the undignified end suffered by my Datsun and I had sold it to my dope dealer (which sounds a lot more louche than was the reality), I needed another car and agreed to buy my flatmate Wayne's Triumph Toledo. Wayne Francis was a reporter on the Evening Mail where I worked as a sub, and Wayne liked a pint or two, then three or four, then five or six. The night Wayne didn't arrive home three sheets to the wind was the day of the Second Coming.

Wayne was from Bristol and had a broad Bristol accent. In many ways he fitted the clichéd view of reporters (as I did when I was still working as one, except for the heavy drinking. One girlfriend I had was warned by a doctor in the hospital in which she worked that reporters were like sailors - they had a girl in every port. She was living in South Wales and I was living in Newcastle at the time, and when she told me what the doctor had told her, I pooh-poohed it and swore my undying love. Unfortunately, I WAS running two more girls at the time, one of whom even had the same name as she did, she made it difficult when one of them rang and I was told: "Patrick, Amanda on the phone for you."), but he was a good reporter and eventually became the Sun's royal correspondent.

I met him again years later when he got sick of following assorted royals around the world and joined the Mail instead. He told me that the Palace operated a system of apartheid among the various royal correspondents and distinguished them between 'one of us' like, for example, the Mail's Richard Kay, and 'not one of us' like, for example gobby, hard-drinking Wayne from Bristol. But it didn't bother him one jot.
I can't remember why he was selling his Toledo (his was dark blue, not brown like the one pictured), but I was interested in buying it. I no longer needed a car in order to bump my income be fiddling expenses, because as a sub-editor I didn't get expenses, but I still needed a car to get around. It, too, provided good service for several years, although, if I remember correctly, the radio went on the blink, and there was some special kind of fiddling around with it to get it to work.

The end came for the Toledo quite quickly and in an unexpected way. By then I was working for Power News, the CEGB staff newspaper, and was once again creaming the moolah in buckshee total bullshit mileage expenses even though I was still a sub. (If you remember, we used to organise long and completed pointless trips simply to claim mileage, the odd thing being that everyone from the editor up knew what was going on.)

First the chassis 'broke'. I use inverted commas because I am not to sure chassis can 'break' but this one did and the engine sank by what must have been a foot or two. Now, I would simply get rid of a car like that an accept the financial hit, but then, I was rather more stupid and got a garage to repair it. This they did. A week later, I was returning from the printers in Bicester and was just north of Stratford when a car suddenly drove onto the main road and I went straight into it.

My car was a write-off, and I was lucky to survive, especially as my seatbelt was broken and I was, to all intents and purposes, not wearing one. And that was the end of the Toledo, just a week after spending £400 (in 1983, now, in 2013, anything between £1,1018 and £1,963 according to a very useful website called What's It Worth which you can find here for working out today's prices in pounds and here for doing the same in dollars) on having the bloody thing repaired. Next came my massive Vauxhall Victor, which was built and, unfortunately, also drove like a tank.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Modern dilemmas: an occasional series.

I have called this Modern Dilemmas, but actually the dilemma is age-old - only the names have been changed to protect the guilty. In fact, nothing has been changed and I shall begin with names. My daughter Elsie turned 13 in August, but didn't have a party at the time. Instead, tonight she and three of her friends were taken to the local pub for a meal. Her friends were Ruth, Amazon and Amber, and immediately the reader will realise that this is being written in the 21st century. Once only the heroines in schlock novelettes and lowbrow TV drama had names like Amber and Amazon. But in the year of Our Lord 2009, young 13-year-old girls from Cornish secondary schools are now so called. I had heard about Amber and Amazon but I had never met them before. I knew Ruth well. All three are very pleasant girls and none really has a Cornish accent. Instead, all of them, young Elsie included, speak in that way, like, in which Ts are dropped regularly but which is otherwise pretty classless. Even Princess Di herself had an odd accent which would not have been out of place in a typing pool. And Tony Blair was the worst offender for leaving out his Ts, especially as he did it to suck up to the great unwashed.
The dilemma was that all three of my daughter's guest, although Ruth to a slightly lesser extent, have appalling table manners. Elsie, I'm glad to say, more or less passes muster, except that her manners have slightly gone to seed since she has been attending Wadebridge Secondary School. But when she is at home, I pull her up smartish, even at the risk of being unpopular. I can honestly say it's the only thing I am quite strict on. But what do I do about the table manners of the other three when I am sitting at table with them? My inclination is gently to admonish them in the kindest, but firmest way possible. But that can so often go awry, leaving the child involved rather bruised. And, I here you ask, is it any of my business anyway? Well, I think it is. However, tonight I took the diplomatic option and said nothing. I merely bit my lip, grinned and bore it all stoically, not least because I didn't want to show up my daughter in front of her friends. Young ones are very sensitive about these matters. (As it was I was ticked off once or twice for laughing 'loudly' and only got off the hook a little when Amazon announced her father also laughed loudly and was always being told off for doing so.)
Even when Amber attacked her ham using her fork like a dagger - stab, stab, stab - I was, to my own horror - a model of discretion. I pride myself that I didn't even allow myself to look pained or sigh quietly. An onlooker would have assumed I was quite happy to see these children eating like slobs (I do exaggerate a little, but you get the picture.)
I have faced this dilemma before, when my nieces and nephews across the lane in the farm have come for supper or when I have been invited for supper there. At the risk of sounding prissy, it turns my stomach to be sitting at table with someone who, as they unfortunately do, eat with their mouths open and who don't put all the food in their mouth at once, but leave some hanging out. When I have been over there, I have kept quiet. When they have been eating at my table I have, as gently as possible said something (to my wife's irritation as she is the kind who hate confrontation of any kind). But what is one supposed to do?

An afternoon with Julie Christie and Dirk Bogarde. Could have done without Dirk Baby. Ham? Yes, and then some

The Daily Mail is giving away a set of 'Hollywood Classic' films, i.e. tat which otherwise no one in their right mind would consider trying to sell. So on Wednesday, I wandered through to Promotions and grabbed myself several. At the moment I am lying in bed with 'flu-like symptoms' (it's not a cold, as I don't have a headache - I suspect it has something to do with those bloody statins) so I decided to watch one of them. I chose Darling because everyone talks about it, but having seen it, I wonder why. Christ, has it dated. And the script is by Frederic Raphael - he even won an Oscar for it - so every second line is a clever quotable quote. It also stars Dirk Bogarde who, in my opinion can't act his way out of a paper bag, always comes across as gay and should have stuck to light comedy. If you want to see some hilariously bad acting in a hilariously terrible film, watch Bogarde in Visconti's The Damned. He and it are truly awful. Who says homosexuals always have better taste. Darling is also pretty dire. At the time, it was daring and modern, but now it just comes over as facile and dated. Those of your interested in a little more pfgpowell bile might care to visit my IMDB review

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blogging: when will it end?

This blogging is getting to be a habit and it seems that so far I have written 419 entries this week alone. When will it end? What will end it? Death? Bankruptcy? Can people (either of them) really find any satisfaction at all in reading the inconsequential dribblings of a washed-up hack whose only gift is knowing more than the average joe about where to put the commas? I hope so.

NB A while ago, I started an entry about 'how the Left works' and got so carried away that I never got around to finishing that particular strand. So if you are getting bored with my interminable account of how over the years cars have got the better of me, stick with it: and exposé of the fiendish Left is still to come.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My cars: a short guide. Part IV — my Datsun Cherry and its sad end

Before I start, I should note that I am quite aware that an account of all the cars I have owned might not make the most interesting reading. However, I have private (and very simple) reasons for doing so.
The 1300 did great work, carrying me up and down the country to visit my then girlfriend - I was living in Newcastle and drove down every 3/4 weeks to see her in South Wales - and then saw me through to my move to Birmingham when I joined the Evening Mail as a sub. But within a few months, a turned into a side street just off Colmore Circus where the Mail offices were (they're now in some godforsaken industrial estate in Castle Bromwich near Spaghetti Junction), lost my concentration as I cheerily waved to a friend and crashed into a car coming the other way. The car wasn't a write-off, but it would have cost an arm and a leg to have it repaired and I couldn't be arsed. The only silver lining was that about an hour after the crash, I was approached by one of the compositors who I had never seen before who informed me that he had witnessed the crash from an upstairs window and that the other guy had been driving in the middle of the road. So we were both to blame, and as far as insurance was concerned, I wasn't out of pocket. I got rid of the 1300 and bought my nest car. The one irritating aspect to the 1300, which was otherwise quite a nice car, was that BL, or whatever they were calling themselves that week, had used a fancy hydro-suspension technique in its design, which provided a great ride when it was in good nick, but which you could never again get quite right once it was out of kilter. And by the time I came to get rid of the 1300, it was well out of kilter. Steering was becoming a challenge especially at high speeds on the motorway.
Datsun Cherry (which looked very much like the one in the picture on the right) was for sale at a secondhand car dealership at the bottom of Milner Road, the street where I lived in Selly Park, Birmingham. It cost was in a very nice condition and cost me a round £1,000. It had no blemishes of any kind and ran very nicely indeed. I was particularly pleased with the spring-loaded gear shift. However, a week or so after buying it, the alternator failed. I was in Leicester at the time, visiting me girlfriend (another one, not the one mentioned above) and, to be fair, there is no way the dealer could have known it was on its way out. However, once I had bought another (courtesy of the RAC chap who came out to help me - they and their AA counterparts have a sideline in supplying parts to stranded motorists who pay a little over the odds, but are grateful for getting the part there and then) and was back home in Birmingham, I walked to the bottom of the road and asked the dealer - there was two of them, in fact - what they were going to do about it. Nothing, they told me, and pointed out, as I just have, that there was no way they could have known the alternator was about to go tits up. Dear reader, I then did something I have never done before and which taught me a valuable lesson: I simply sat it out, was perfectly reasonable and insisted that I should get part of the money back. I was patient, kept it friendly, but I didn't let up. And, finally, I bored them into submission. I can't remember how much they gave me to offset the cost of a new alternator, but I remember being happy with the sum.
The Cherry gave sterling service, was a nippy little car and I liked it. Then things went a wrong. I noticed a little rust on one of the front wings, a tiny amount really, hardly noticeable, but still being young and stupid enough to fancy a little car DIY, I went around to a friend's house and borrowed his Black & Decker. The idea was that I would gently sand of the top coat, get to the rusted area, sand away the rust, apply a primer, then apply paint. The trouble was that the deeper I sanded (actually I was using the rotary wire attachment), the further I delved into filler: it turned out that most of the wing consisted of filler. It seems the dealers were buying up care which were closer to wrecks than anything else, having the body tarted up and selling them. It made - and makes - no sense to me unless they bought them for a song and the bodywork undertaken cost them almost nothing, or else they would not make a profit. And another puzzle was that mechanically the Cherry was very sound and I do not remember having any trouble at all. Anyway, needless to say (although, as always when people use that stupid phrase, I shall say it anyway, whether or not it needs to be said), after my botched attempt at DIY - I didn't fill in the rather large hole I had made - the car looked rather more ragged than I should have liked. Added to that, while on a trip to Essex to try to get off with a girl I fancied (I didn't), someone skidded in the snow and smashed into the Cherry while it was parked outside her house. So it looked even more ragged. That's when I decided to get rid of it. I sold it to the West Indian chap I used to buy my blow from at the Kings Head in Balsall Heath. I was surprised he wanted it, but he seemed happy enough. My next car was a Triumph Toledo, which I bought from my flatemate, Wayne Francis.

My cars: a short guide. Part III - addendum (and a PS)

A reader has written in with comments about the 1300 and my guitar, so I thought I might add a little:

1) The 1300 was a great shagging car. The back seat was almost flat and the car was quite wide, so you could get quite comfortable and shagging was a dream. It was not a dream in the Corsair, on the other hand, which had a terrible back seat.

2) To date my musical career has still not taken wing. On guitar on know several jazzy sounding chords (tho' I can never remember their names), so I am capable of a certain amount of bullshit playing. However, I never play when I know there are guys around who really can play the guitar as they would spot the bollocks within a nanosecond. Like many things, the more you practise, the better you get, and unfortunately I am something of a gadfly as far as that kind of application is concerned. But to put these things into perspective, I did jam (on separate occasions) with both Jimmy Nail and Sting, but was unimpressed with the talents of both so nothing came of these matters, so, not to put too fine a point, they blew it.

NB I twice got drunk with Black Sabbath, the first time just after Ozzy Osbourne had left, and the second time when they had hired a new singer. On that second occasion I also had a spliff or two, which led to the embarrassing situation when the band invited me to hear a couple of new tracks, but, as usual when I had mixed my drinks - beer and spirits - and then had a smoke, I began to feel very sick, so I ran out of the rehearsal room into the john and was very sick for the next hour or so. On both occasions Black Sabbath were staying at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth and I was nominally a British correspondent of some US rock newspaper or other, which is how I got the in with Black Sabbath. For the record, spliff in hand or not, drunk or not, Black Sabbath's music has never done and never will do anything for me.

PS I should like my correspondent to consider adding content to the blog I know he has registered. I can assure him he will enjoy setting down his thoughts.

My cars: a short guide. Part III - My Austin 1300 and how I graduate from dodgy 'good runners' to something a little more respectable

In October 1975, I joined the South Wales Argus as one of its district reporters and was based in Ebbw Vale. I was still running the Ford Corsair, but by early 1978 it was obvious the car was rapidly running out of steam, so I looked in the classified ads and spotted a white Austin 1300 for sale. The price was right - that is it was quite cheap and well within my price range - and the specifications were good. In many ways it seemed to good to be true and I was sure that by the time I was able to look it over, someone else would have pipped me to the post. But they didn't, and I bought it. It was a nice car, very tidy and in good condition. There's was nothing at all wrong with it and I had had a stroke of luck. That July, I applied for, and landed a job as a head office reporter on the Newcastle Journal, a morning paper, so I packed all my belongings into my Austin 1300 (there was not too much, just my clothes, a sound system and my guitar) and headed north. More follows

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My cars: a short guide. Part II — a rustbucket Hillman Superminx and a slighly snazzier V4 Ford Corsair

I had the Triumph for a month before it rolled down the hill and out of my life. As I said, my insurance agent just happened to be passing, and he told me of a Hillman Superminx for sale at a garage in Newport. I think I went and bought it the same day, although that seems unlikely.
It, too, was in no great state as a car, but its defects were not immediately apparent. It was something of a tank of a car, ponderous and heavy to steer, but I can't remember any particular disasters or faults. However, I knew the time was approaching when I should get rid of it when my girlfriend and I drove to North Lincolnshire to visit her parents and her sister and brother-in-law who were also staying. Her brother-in-law was an Irishman and a mechanic with the RAF. He kindly said he would take a look at the car to see whether there was anything amiss. It was apparent that there was, that the whole chassis was more or less rust, when he tried to jack up the car. In stead of lifting the car bit by bit as it was designed to, the head of the jack simply disappeared into the chassis. I did get rid of the car, although I can't remember where or how.
My next car cost me, if I remember £295. It was a Ford Corsair with a 1700cc V4 engine and, although he was still almost a banger, was a huge step up from the junk I had so far been driving. It went like the clappers. The only cosmetic fault it had has a hole the size of a small apple at the bottom of the driver's
door. I did have one or two problems with it, however. One problem was simple though bizarre and took a while to diagnose. I was driving from South Wales to Staffordshire to see my girlfriend when the engine kept cutting out. It got to the point where I could only crawl along in fits and starts in second gear. I pulled into a petrol station, but it was after 5pm and the mechanics had shut up shop for the week. The women behind the counter, however, took pity on me and told me her husband was a keen amateur mechanic and he would take a look to see whether he couldn't sort out what was wrong. It took him several hours, but he succeeded. The problem was that the coil had somehow worked itself loose and kept banging against the engine block. This caused the engine to cut out. But when it cut out, the car stopped and the jerky movement banged the loose coil away from the engine block again, so the engine began firing again. This is what I had put up with for several miles before I stopped at the petrol station. He guy simply tightened up the coil again and the problem was solved. The only other problem I had was when the clutch cable went and I had to have a new clutch installed.
I had drove the Corsair (which is pictured above. Mine was the same colour, except that it had — a rather naff — black vinyl roof) for about 18 months before I got rid of it. By then it was getting rather ratty. The brakes were completely shot and so was the steering. I sold it for £80 to some guy up the road and felt guilty about that because it really was a death trap. My next car was another step up, an Austin 1300, more of which another time.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Don't count your chickens - you never know, one might get away

Well, it all went well for a day, then this morning, while adding 'labels' to my previous entry on how my laptop is behaving again and underling the imperative of smug gits such as myself thanking God for his small mercies, it bloody happened again. Sod's Law — freezing bloody cursor. This really is irritating because my plan was to sell it while the going was good, but — all pretensions to being a complete unethical cunt notwithstanding — I wasn't going to do so until a week or so had passed without the cursor freezing. Oh, bloody well. See how this thing pans out. Onto other matters: dawn broke, and I kept a sharp eye on the clock. Seven o'clock followed six o'clock after exactly 60 minutes, so all is otherwise still well in the world. Further clues that today is shaping up not to include any more unpleasant shocks: the fridge is still quite cold, I turned on the cold water tap at the bathoom sink and water came out, and Justin Webb on Radio 4's Today still sounds like a rather smug git (so that would be two of us).

Friday, October 23, 2009

In praise of life's small mercies.

It is quite odd how small, insignificant details can please us. A day or two ago, I wrote about my growing collection of laptops and why I bought the third: the first was slowly misbehaving and I decided I would try to sell it before the malfunction, whatever it was, set in properly. Unfortunately, that seemed to happen far faster than I had anticipated, so that for the past few days, the cursor on this laptop — I am writing on it now — would freeze and the only way I could get to use the laptop again was to reboot it. Things looked even bleaker when I rang an Apple dealer in Kensington who told me that the fault probably related to the logic board, that I would most probably need a new logic board, that I was looking at spending around £200 and that as far as he was concerned it wasn't worth it. He did, however add — and this will put his downbeat analysis rather in perspective — that the dealer he worked for would give me £100 of the price of a new Macbook is I part-exchanged the iBook. What made it all the more galling was yesterday the laptop even stopped recognising that it had a built-in airport card, one which was supposedly brand-new when it was fitted just over a month ago.
Then, researching (a posh word for 'looking up') possible remedies on the internet, I came across a process called 'repairing permissions'. This is quite easy to do, and I did it. And it seems to have cured whatever is was amiss. Such little things can cheer you up.

My cars: a short guide. Part I — A Triumph Herald, the wreck which was my first car

My first car was a Triumph Herald. It was a complete wreck and a death-trap, although at the time I was as pleased as punch with it. I was 25 when I bought it and knew little of life or the wily ways of South Wales wideboys, and I knew even less about cars. I was working in South Wales as a reporter for a local weekly, and quite apart from wanting a car of my own because travelling up and down the Valleys was more convenient by car than by bus, I also wanted to boost my rather meagre wages with the oddly extremely generous mileage we were paid. (At one point, a little later in my career in South Wales and working for the South Wales Argus, the weekly's sister paper, I actually doubled my weekly wage by claiming bullshit mileage expenses. The odd thing was that the news editor who signed off those expenses every week must have been aware that Abertillery to Brynmawr and back was only about six miles, not the 20-odd miles I was claiming for, and surely he must have been puzzled that when I went on my rounds of police calls in Brymawr, Ebbw Vale and Tredegar, I didn't simply make a a round trip, but claimed that after each visit to a police station, I returned to Abertillery to start a new journey to a new location. But this is exactly what I claimed I was doing, and it was a simple ruse which usefully bumped up my expenses each week almost tenfold. Getting on top of how to claim expenses is the first vital lesson a reporter must learn. If you can't do that properly, you'll never do anything much properly).
The Herald I had set my heary on was for sale on a car lot a hundred feet or so off the
main road in Blaina, a real shithole between Abertillery and Brynmawr. What to my eyes looked like a rather down-at-heel car lot a was, in fact, more or less a junk yard. But I was a naive sort of chap in those days, very trusting. The Herald was like the one above, although mine was an indeterminate mid to dark grey and a lot, lot rustier. It was for sale for £95 (in today's money £597 according to, though that does seem to me to be extraordinarily high), but I had only managed to save £65. I had been regularly looking in the classifieds for cars for sale and the prices being asked were always way beyond what I could afford. The Herald was the cheapest car I had yet come across by a long chalk and I had set my heart on it. However, even at the cheap price being asked, I was still £30 short.
'I've only got £65,' I told the 'salesman' plaintively, fearing that he would tell me to get on my bike.
'That'll do,' he said magnanimously, and I should, of course, there and then have smelled a rat. But I was so chuffed to have my first car. The salesman filled me in on its finer points and explained that I had to have a wire leading form one part of the engine to another to complete the circuit, but that this wire should be removed when the engine was not running or else the battery would be drained. So for the next few days, I conscientiously removed the wire whenever I parked it, and put it back in place when I wanted to drive some.
A weekend or so later, and proud as punch, I drove it my car from South Wales home to Henley-on-Thames to show my younger brother. It was a difficult journey because I got lost at Usk. Also the spring which was linked to the accelerator pedal to return it to the neutral position when it was not depressed had been lost and replaced with a heavy duty one from a lorry. Ten minutes after setting off my right foot ached like hell.
The following morning, I got up very early to drive back to South Wales and discovered I had forgotten to remove the wire, so the battery was flat. Mark, my brother, got up and gave me a push to the nearest hill, and I managed to bump start it. But I was still heavily in love with my 'car', so I didn't care. A week or two later, I parked it somewhere or other, crucially on a hill, and when I returned five minutes later, it had gone.
'Christ, it's been stolen!' I thought, but in my heart of hearts I knew that no one in their right mind would steal this heap of shit, and of course I was right. It hadn't been stolen, it had simply rolled away down the hill, turning right as it did so, and into the back of someone else's car. You see, every time I had applied the handbrake, nothing had actually happened, because it didn't have a handbrake. In fact, had I turned around when I had parked it a few minutes earlier, I would even have seen it rolling away.
The car was a write-off, but as so often happens in the South Wales valleys, as I was being interviewed by police over the absence of a handbrake, my insurance agent walked by, saw what had happened, and advised me that a garage he had visited earlier that day in Newport had for sale a Hillman Superminx which might suit me. So once all the boring business with the police was out of the way (which, naturally, led to a fine and three penalty points on my licence, the first of many), my girlfriend drove me to Newport and I bought the Superminx, for, I think, £200. It, too, was heap of shit, but not quite as bad as the Herald. However, the important thing was that I had a set of wheels again and could carry on creaming it on mileage expenses. The Superminx was identical to the one shown above, except that it was also a lot rustier. More about it in another post. And still to come: my Ford Corsair V8, my Austin 1300, my Datsun Cherry and my Triumph Toledo. Can you wait?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I'll come clean: I don't have a sense of humour, or so spoof sci-fi 'buffs' would have you believe.

I'm obviously in something of a chatty mood tonight, so after a little drama — Lifeline SouthWest rang to say my stepmother had fallen over, was not hurt, had to get up again, so could I go round, which I did — I've decided to inform those non-Brits among the two of you of a spectacularly unfunny sci-fi radio series and its spectacularly unfunny follow-up series. You might, of course, hear about it from others for whom 1) the original series was spectacularly funny, and 2) the follow-up is an equally smash-hit ribtickler. I am, of course, talking about The Hitchiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Its fans regard those such as me as philistine who have had a sense of humour bypass. We regard them as nerdy, geeky fuckwits who in the pecking order of those to be kicked regularly come just before trainspotters and C&W 'buffs' from the West Midlands. Actually, make that all buffs. If any group of people deserves perpetual scorn and a dose of swine flu, it is 'buffs' whether their thing is films, the blues, C&W, photography, cars or stamps. Incidentally, it's strange how you cannot be a 'buff' of some things: no one could be a fishing 'buff', for example.
Back to THGTTG, I must admit that it leaves me absolutely and utterly cold. Where's the joke. I posted a message along those lines on the Radio 4 website and was told that I lacked a sense of humour. Perhaps I do, but if thinking the crock of shit is funny gains you you Humour Badge, then count me out.
Actually, it occurs to me that slagging of buffs of every stripe might be worth an entry in itself. Oh, what the hell, life's too short.

A third laptop (which is something of a luxury), a second set of the same faults on my first laptop, and a missed opportunity to be unethical

Having sailed through rather choppy waters these past few days, this blog is pleased to announce that the following topic is neither controversial, indiscreet or even interesting. (And would someone please tell me an easy way to distinguish between the distinct meanings of 'discrete' and 'discreet'? I only know, unhelpful as the knowledge is, that one doesn't mean the other, and whether or not I have used the word I want to use in the correct manner, whether I have used the incorrect work correctly, or vice versa (if you see what I mean, and if you do, tell me because I don't) — pause for breath — I really do not have a clue). (Furthermore, I have just used a set of parentheses within another set of parentheses, and I am certain that such usage is completely unacceptable, and if not unacceptable, at the very least unconventional. Wasn't it Eugene T. Mahlzeit who said . . . (cont. P 94 and back to more mundane matters).) (Note the correct positioning of the full stop between the two sets of end parentheses.)
My laptop, or rather one of the three laptops I now own is playing up. It is the 12in iBook G4 which goes with me on my travels. I also have a 15in Powerbook and last week bought a 14in iBook G4 with a view to selling this one. You see the cursor keeps freezing and the problem has been getting worse. So I reasoned that if I sold this one before the problem has fully set in, I could shrug it off as a 'new' problem if and when it reoccurred when the new owner had taken possession. Not very ethical, I know, but then I have never pretended to be ethical. However, now I won't even get the chance to be unethical becsause the fault is so regular that I could never pretend it had only 'just' started once the laptop had left my hand.
One of the two faults is that the airport card goes missing. Oddly since it has been going missing, the problem with the freezing has not yet happened. You and I might think the two were related, but MacMan Lee, the Mac repairer who took £80 off me just over four weeks ago for apparently correcting a very similar fault by installing a new - he says - airport card says they cannot be connected. Well, he would, wouldn't he.
I bought the second laptop last week and picked it up on Tuesday. I shall have to do a fair amount of creative thinking in order to slowly introduce it into this household as having a bigger screen and generally looking bigger, I can't pretend it is this one. My dilemma is that every time a bill arrives - and over these few weeks what with buying another car rather than MoT the old one, the electricity bill, the MoT bill for my wife's car and the car tax - I engage in a fair amount of moaning and complaining. Buying a - third - laptop for £253 lays me wide open. 'Well, if you can afford another laptop you don't need, you can certainly afford to pay the bills' is an accusation which it would be hard to defend oneself against. Do you see my point? I do so hope you do, because I shan't be getting much sympathy from this side of the fence.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A kindly word of warning to all bloggers

It is perhaps pertinent to point out that what a blogger records on his or her blog is, courtesy of the net — once known as the world wide web — accessible to — well, the whole world. So a degree of discretion is advisory and necessary. My apologies to anyone I might have upset.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

How the Left works: a discursive and rather long analysis of Marxist/Leninist strategy with a personal example (or something like that)

What is now more than 20 years ago, and it shocks me a little to say so as in some ways it seems far more recent, I lived and worked in Cardiff. I was working as a sub-editor on the South Wales Echo, which I had joined in February 1986. I was 36 years old. It was my first journalistic job since leaving the CEGB's staff newspaper, Power News, in September 1984, and my first job back on a real newspaper since leaving the Birmingham Evening Mail for Power News in November 2002.
I say that the Evening Mail was a 'real' newspaper because Power News was much more of a company mouthpiece in which everything was hunky-dory, the future was always bright and, I shouldn't wonder, the staff all went to work with boundless joy in their hearts, able as they were to devote another day to the glorious CEGB (Central Electricity Generating Board). As the electricity generating industry was so vital to the country and because any government of whatever hue wanted to avoid trouble at all costs, CEGB staff were treated with kid gloves and were exceptionally well-paid to keep the unions happy. So, for example, my wage jumped overnight from the £8,500 the Evening Mail was paying me to £11,300. In addition we got marvellous travel expenses, so all four of us subs, each of whom was responsible for two regional editions, organised trips away from the office for whatever reason, just to clock up the mileage. In addition, Power News was published monthly, so twice a month all four of us, plus the chief sub, travelled from our homes in various parts of the West Midlands to the printers in Bicester to proof-read. Naturally we could easily have organised sharing a car, but we all drove there separately to get the mileage, claim the exceptionally generous mileage allowance and boost our bank balances.
The pertinent point was that everyone higher up the ladder knew that such unnecessary trips were being made, but did not at all object, for three reasons. It kept the workforce sweet, they were doing the same themselves, and, anyway, as the CEGB (often wittily referred to by me as the KEGB, a regular quip which went down like a lead balloon) was a public body, it was public money that was being spent so what did they care.
This is a long way from Cardiff, but bear with me, if necessary to How The Left Works parts II and III.
Working on Power News was deadly, deadly dull, despite the comparatively large amounts of moolah I was earning. And despite the large amounts of moolah I was earning, I still got into debt.
At the beginning of the 1980s, I had become interested in photography. I ditched the silly 35mm holiday snap camera I was using with which I couldn't get the pictures I thought I was taking, and bought myself an SLR, first a Pentax something or other, then a Pentax K1000, which was not half as sophisticated, but which was the one I ended up using almost all the time. The next step was to teach myself developing and printing, and to print I borrowed all the necessary kit from a colleague of my then girlfriend (the one woman so far in my life I should have married, though at the time I was pretty immature, so I shan't claim it would necessarily have worked.)
By this time I was working for the CEGB and was being paid loads, so I started buying photographic equipment as though there were no tomorrow, my own enlarger - a very good one - lenses, flashes, slave units, trays, all sorts. And, of course, I got into debt, although at the time that didn't much bother me.
On holiday down here in Cornwall visiting my father at Easter 1984, I was out taking pictures along the north coast and fell into conversation with some guy. I can't remember anything about him except that he suggested that if I wanted to do photography properly, I should consider going to college and studying photography.
So I got myself a place on a very good course in the Wednesbury college of West Bromwich College, left my job and on the strength of £1,500 which, by chance, my father had given all his children, and the promise of four shifts a week working as a casual sub on the Birmingham Post, I left Power News, to my delight as well as that of the editor and chief sub, and began the life of a student. It worked well for a term.
Except for Wednesdays when we had a long session in the studio which didn't end until around 7pm, I would jump into my 2cv at just after 5pm, drive down the M5 from Wednesbury to Colmore Circus, Birmingham, and work a four-hour shift. Then it was back to my house in the Maypole (the area was so-named after a pub of the same name, which was one of those massive Brummie drinking halls and which has since been demolished) and often some kind of college work (always with a spliff in my hand) until 2am when I went to bed. I enjoyed that term a lot. Then it all fell apart.
Just after Christmas, the Post went for 100 redundancies and all casuals were axed. That was the end of that source of income. By Easter 1985, at the end of my second term, I realised did not have any money to pay my fees and support myself, so I had to leave the course and sign on unemployed.
Being jobless is no fun at all. I can't claim that what I felt was and is what others feel, but my sense of self-worth took a nosedive and I lived from 8am until the following 8am when the postman arrived with possible replies to the job applications I had made.
I was unemployed for the following ten months, first applying for jobs as a newspaper photographer which was, in retrospect, utterly unrealistic - who was going to take on a 35-year-old with no relevant experience and whose portfolio of photographs had almost no human subjects? I was offered one job, on a small weekly in Loughborough at something like £5,000 a year, but I just couldn't afford to go. Then I widen my job search to include reporters jobs, but again had no luck. The one possibility was on a news agency in Buckinghamshire run by an ex-Sun hack. It was a very successful agency, but it became apparent that his interest in me was more personal than professional (even though he was married) and it also became apparent that I didn't want to cross to the pink side, so that came to nothing either.
Finally, I also began applying for jobs as a sub-editor, and here my luck change, mainly because then, and possibly now, subs are always in short supply. The trouble was that at the time I found sub-editing deadly dull and really didn't want to work as a sub any more. But because of interest payments my debts were growing and so, very reluctantly, I accepted the job on the South Wales Echo in Cardiff.
Well, we've arrived in Cardiff, but no sniff of the Left yet. Wait till part II. Or not.

Sounds like a problem to me

Some words for you: please read them and reflect. Their meanings have nothing to do with the point I shall make:

row, object, tear, produce, refuse, wound, lead, bass, invalid, present, close, subject, intimate.

What do they all have in common? Hint: is it any wonder 'foreigners' have more trouble learning British English than they should. It won't be for a want of trying.

Cars, men's men, boys' talk, more cars and the desirability of not gettting into debt

Posting on this blog virtually every five minutes while I was on holiday has rather given me a taste for it, so in the spirit of the great British pastime to Establish A Tradition (And Any Tradition Will Do, The More Pointless The Better), I shall tell you all - both - about my new car. That should be 'new' car, because it is, in fact, more than nine years old and has had two previous owners. The major feature in its favour is that it is not the pile of shit I have been driving these past two years and which was due for its MoT on October 3. To be fair, it wasn't a pile of shit when I bought it (from the garage which services my cars and from whom I bought this new ('new') one and the one before the one before the car I got rid of yesterday.
This one is also a Rover, V registration and has only don 77,000 odd miles, so it should be good. The body is also in quite good nick, but for me its unique selling point was that Rob Gibbons, the Cornish garage owner with whom I swap both jokes and cars, only wanted £800 for it. The previous on, an R registration Rover, which had already done 131,000 when I bought it and was not much of a looker. It looked a tad shabby and, for example, Princess Di or any of her circle would never have been seen dead in it. But it was safe, warm and took me to London and back at least 60 over these past two years. However, the power steering had been making also sorts of noises first thing in the morning and especially in the colder months, two tyres were barely legal and the exhaust was shot to pieces. All in all I calculated that it would take at least £600 to correct everything, buy the tyres and get it through the MoT, so the £800 I paid for this one, which comes with six months tax and a full 12-month MoT seems worth it. It's like getting a better car for £200. (Or is that Irish logic?) I had only bought the one this one replaced as an emergency vehicle because the one before another Rover, though N registration (keep up at the back, you are wasting no one's time but your own) was damaged beyond any reasonable hope after I had several too many sherries while visiting my stepmother on a cold December day in 2007 crashed into a county council white van while tearing around our narrow Cornish lanes far to fast.
I should also point out that as far as cars are concerned, I am not a 'man's man'. In fact, as far as I can tell I am not a man's man in any other respect except when talking football, rugby and snooker and 'totty' (lovely word that, which will mean bugger all to our American friend). Cars, leave me cold except when it comes to attempting small repairs. All that twin-carb, supercharged talk leaves me cold. I went to West End Motors in Bodmin to see what might be available to me under the £2,000 scrappage scheme and it seems I could have been able to drive away in a brand new Nissan Micra for £4,999 all in. But why get into debt? I tried to persuade myself finally to join the human race and buy a brand new car for a change, but I failed.
Amen, or as we men's men say 'she's got a lovely pair of headlamps'. Boom, boom.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Experts: are some of them born losers?

On another topic entirely. I have been a keen backgammon player ever since I learnt to play more than 20 years ago, and when I bought a secondhand PC for my children to use (I have always used Macs, but because of schoolwork, they often need a PC for exchanging files etc.) , I was very pleased to discover that included in the XP operating system was a facility for playing other people around the world at backgammon. So ever since we have owned the PC and whenever I am at home, I have very regulaly played several games of backgammon.
The system invites you to gauge your playing ability. You can choose from beginner, intermediate and expert. I have chosen intermediate, which I think is about right. The system also tries to match you up with other players of the same skill level, but occasionally you are matched with a beginner or an expert.
Playing a beginner is usually quite boring and it is usually very obvious from the moves the other player makes that he or she is a beginner. What is amusing is when you play an 'expert', and remember the grading is always done by the player him or herself. The strange thing about the 'experts' is that all to often, and certainly more often than might be down to chance, they are extremely bad losers. If it is obvious that they are not going to win the match, they simply quit. That tells me an awful lot about a certain aspect of human nature.

A rather more personal entry than usual

A joke-free, far more personal entry this morning, and I should add that I am rather glad that this blog is occasionally read by at least two people. One of them knows that my marriage was not made in Heaven, and each morning that sad fact is underlined yet again by my wife. To put it bluntly, she hardly ever speaks to me and hasn't done so for quite a few years. In a strange way I am a kind of non-person, a semi-detached member of this family and in odd, subtle ways - which might just be me being paranoid - she even seems to exclude me. It doesn't help that, more or less by necessity, I work in London and am away for four days a week, but it would be simple thing for my wife to include me in things . However, she chooses not to. Last night was an example: my young son will be leaving primary school next July and starting secondary school in September, so yesterday was an open evening at the school we hope he will be able to attend. This has been arranged for several weeks, yet the first I knew about it was when my wife and my children disappeared out of the door. There is absolutely none of that chit-chat which I am accustomed to elsewhere, she is silent, grim presence who only speaks to tell me not to do this or not to do that or to inquire whether this or that bill has been paid yet.
I grin and bear it and try to keep things normal, but - and here's the very personal bit - each morning when I yet again I am virtually invisible to her and am ignored as a non-person, my heart breaks quietly. I don't want to sound pathetic, but that is a good way of describing it. And I don't know what to do about it.
I have spoken to my sister-in-law several times and after my heart attack I was finally in touch with a counsellor. But there is only so much talking you can do, and if my wife doesn't show any willingness to want to change things, there isn't a lot I can do.
I won't pretend that I love her any more, and the circumstances of how we eventually ended up getting married are not the most romantic possible, but I do know that two civilised adults who two children together should be able to rub along together for the greater good. The trouble is that in several quiet ways my wife is odd. Often she doesn't respond like a 48-year-old woman, but like a 7-year-old on a primary school playground. Several years ago, when there was a very stupid feud in her family and it was split down the middle, she took sides (her two sisters didn't) and just cut her father out of her life. He more or less became a non-person. She has done something similar with my stepmother, who has now returned from her nursing home and lives barely four minutes walk away. She has not visited her in more than two years, but no one knows why. It is very odd behaviour. In the early days when it was apparent that we were quite different people and weren't getting one very well, I would try to persuade her to talk things through. But as I think I have recorded here before (possibly in this blog's first incarnation) her family are emotionally illiterate, and my wife seems to be the worst sufferer. She finds it impossible to talk about herself or her feelings, not just with me but as far as I know with anyone else.
There is much, much more I could write, but there is, in fact, little point. I as moved to make this entry after yet again coming downstairs in the morning to find her one communication with me being a short shopping list. But it is good to have the chance to let of a little steam and I also know that both the readers I know of have experienced the downside of marriage, so I am grateful that they indulge me and that I know this entry will, sooner or later, be read by someone else.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Nobel Peace Prize, and my reaction were I informed I had won it

This has nothing to do with me personally, but I thought I might record how baffled I am that Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. What on earth for, for God's sake? I know I'm not along in being puzzled and tonight I heard on the radio that when first informed of the award by phone, the White House thought it was a hoax.
The whole Nobel Prize thing is anyway rather strange and utterly arbitrary. Several years ago, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin shared the Peace Prize, and look what good that has done anyone. The whole thing is a joke.
If I were awarded the Peace Prize, or, for that matter, any of the Nobel Prizes, I would haughtily inform the Swedes that they could take one guess as to what to do with the award. This is one Englishman (with German blood - never forget that) who cannot be bought. No sir! Damned foreigners!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The curse of The Nerds, whether left-liberal, Yankee smug or any other kind. But never underestimate them - ever

What is it with nerds? We've all met them - passionate committee members, rule sticklers when playing any sort of game, often humourless and, as I know to my cost, inveterate and self-important Wikipedia editors. I have made one or two contributions to Wikipedia over the years, although not very many. Initially, they were additions to the entry on my old school, the Oratory School, which had an interesting section on school slang. I added to it, informing the world, for example, of a small tuck shop we used to visit outside Checkendon called Blossom's and run by a Mrs Cox (ring a bell, Barry?). This entry marked my first run-in with a Wikipedia nerd, this one based, as it turned out, in deepest Arizona. Did I mean 'Blossom's', 'Blossoms' or Blossoms' ' he demanded to know (I assume he was a he, as curiously nerds are invariably male) because if you can't get it exactly right, the entry would have to be deleted. I asked him when he had attended the OS and which house he had been in, and that was the last I heard from him.
Later, I had a run-in over my additions - qualifications, really - to a hostile Wikepedia entry on St Paul Dacre. Now, I cannot claim to 'know' him, but I see him almost every day I come to work, I have spoken to him quite a few times and, despite his ferocious reputation and a tendency which Private Eye refers to as a 'vagina monologue' (very true, I must admit), in my small way rather like him. He is, however, a bete noir of the British left-liberal - make that the self-regarding, smug British left-liberal - and my edit was very unwelcome.
I said, broadly, that Dacre was a tall man and that like many tall men was, in fact, quite shy, and that like many shy men in positions of power, his man-management skills were pitiful and that he often overcompensated for his shyness and social discomfort with a rather forced laddish bonhomie. I didn't actually say it in those ways, but you get the drift. I wanted to redress the balance a little from the general tone of the entry which more or less suggestion Dacre was a rapid right-winger for whom burning alive would be too charitable.
(Sounds, exaggerated, I know, and in this instance it is, rather, but just a perusal of any left-of-centre forum - the Guardian, for example, will furnish proof in abundance that your average caring left-liberal is not about a bit of thuggery, all in the interests of progress, of course). I also added to my edit that Dacre's recreation was gardening (and in my experience, gardeners are never wholly bad. Could you see J. Stalin or A. Hitler with a trowel? No, not can I. QED.)
Anyway, my Wikepedia entry on Dacre was along those lines, suggesting that quite possibly he didn't necessarily eat three young children for breakfast every day. Well, left-liberal Brit was having none of it: Dacre not a complete and utter bastard? No way, the man must burn in hell. So my edit was removed on - annoyingly - technical grounds, and despite my reinstating it and trying to satisfy 'the rules' - nerds just adore 'rules' - several times, I finally admitted defeat. Most recently, my addition to the Wikepedia entry on the Spanish-American War is annoying the nerds, tho' now it is not the left-liberal nerds, but those who feel that we who were not born on a white picket fence with an appe pie stuck up our arse and whistling the Stars And Stripes are somehow sub-human.
My edit, well-sourced this time, to comply with 'the rules' pointed out that several respected US historians do not agree with the party line that the Spanish-American War was started to help the Cuban independence fighters throw of the Spanish yoke but was fully intended to find new markets for American goods.
(Incidentally, just as civilian casualties in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have been extremely high while the US fights the good fight - to introduce or preserve democracy, apparently - more than a quarter of a million Filipinos met their maker because of American action.) Well, several Yankee nerds were having none of this and removed my edit wholesale. Last night I re-instated it and shall now see how long it remains as part of the entry. I am not holding my breath. For reference you can find it here ( and as of 10.05am on October 7, 2009, it was still there.
Beware nerds. And never underestimate them.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

One last throw of the dice to see if I can't yet filch one of those Arts Council sinecures

As title. I feel that the name Sir Patrick Powell, knighted for services to the arts and crafts and what bloody else is a damn sight more evocative than plain old Pat Powell, remember him? He was OK, bit of a nutter, tho' don't get me wrong, I don't mean mad or anything like that, you know, just a bit wacky, a bit unpredictable, bit of a loose cannon, know what I mean?
Er, no. As far as I am concerned it is the world which is a bit 'wacky'.
Blathering on while I wait for YouTube to work its magic so I can embed the film here. Hurry up, for God's sake.

What does it all mean? Er, nothing.