Friday, 19 September 2014

Ten books which have stayed with me.

Digg this

My friend Adam nominated me for this 'ten books which stayed with me' thing that is doing the rounds. It seems a noble game, but I did find this incredibly hard to work through and whittle down the list, To hep I made up some arbitrary rules to cut things out for example I would have liked to include Shakespeare's 'The Winters Tale' (excluded as a play), Animal Alphabet by Edward Carter (essentially a colouring book) and Hardy's 'I look into my glass' (excluded as a poem). I also excluded anything to which I have a connection, so there is nothing by:
but I gave it a shot anyway, so here we go:
1. Ordinarily known simply as 'The Ship's cat', 'The Adventures & Brave Deeds Of The Ship's Cat On The Spanish Maine: Together With The Most Lamentable Losse Of The Alcestis & Triumphant Firing Of The Port Of Chagres' is a narrative poem by Richard Adams, but it is hugely improved by the fabulous illustrations contributed by the great Alan Aldridge. I can think of no greater possession available to man than a copy of this book. I have had mine since it was published when I was a toddler. I love rhyme and Edward Lear's 'More Nonsense. Pictures, Rhymes, Botany, Etc.' and Hilaire Belloc's 'Cautionary Tales' could easily be substituted in here.
But they weren't.
2. 'OTHERLAND' by Evelyne E. Rynd. If you can read this and not be moved then you need a new childhood. What more is there to say. As this was not re-released you also get the joy of handling a beautiful piece of publishing at the same time. Remarkable.
3. Tad Williams, 'The Dragonbone Chair' from the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series. This is the book which introduced me to fantasy outside of Tolkien and made it fun. I have included it as an example of the terrible trash I enjoy reading on the side, which includes David Gemmel, Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden Not a great book, but a good yarn, well told. Worth a punt on a long-haul flight.
4. The doubtful guest by Edward Gorey. Typical Gorey wonderfulness, but with an added dollop of riddle and joy. To be fair, the riddle is not a tough one to solve, but I am quoting Gorey's verse in my head as I write this and I cannot help but love it. Most of Gorey's work would fit in this list, which is why this made it in ahead of 'The Specialist' by Charles Sale I recommend that you purchase both of these books immediately, even if you already have copies.
5. H2G2 - a bit of a cop out here, I am not able to narrow this down further, but anyone who has not included Douglas Adams on their list clearly does not know where their towel is. I think that the Dirk Gently books are actually a little better, but The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is one of the most important works of the 20th century. Everything which comes after it owes something to the work, especially the fantastic Discworld novels which sadly have not made this list, despite being sublime.
6. Hunger is not my favourite of Knut Hamsun's works, that would undoubtedly be Growth of the soil, but it is his book which had the most profound effect on me. I love all his work, but this one really hooked me during my university years and I revisit it from time to time still. I presume that I always shall.
7. Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment is an obvious choice. As with the Norwegian example above, I do sometimes wonder whether I do not simply enjoy the way that translators write in English. There are many Russian Novels which I love, the short list would include Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls and The Idiot, but Crime & Punishment wins by a head. I read this when very young and this have been able to revisit it many times, always finding something new. A delight.
8. The Trial by Franz Kafka appears here as an example of an unfinished novel. 'The final unfinished voyage of Jack Aubrey' (simply titled '21') in the USA) a another example, as are Charles Dickens' 'The mystery of Edwin Drood', Robert Luis Stevenson's 'St Ives' or Nikolai Gogol's 'Dead Souls',(which features in this list twice as an also-ran, but does not quite make the cut). I delight in the idea that we never actually know what was intended. This is particularly true of 'Dead Souls', but Kafka's work is by far the best example which comes to mind. The fact that he expressly wished the manuscript be destroyed adds something more to the appeal.
9. I do love a good nautical tale. The stuff upper lip of the man who, whether an alcoholic, seasick or just a buffoon, carries on in the appropriate manner befitting a British officer, with a stuff upper lip and an integrity and decency really strikes home. I want to model myself on these men, to do my duty however it may cost me personally, and I have no time for the modern fighting heroes such as Sharpe, who show pride and avarice and lack a sense of what is right. There are a number of names who fit this list. Patrick O'Brien's Jack Aubrey and Richard Maturin are sublime (they make another appearance on this list, but are not in the final ten) as is Alexander Kent's Richard Bolitho, but young Horatio Hornblower should be the hero for every young person. Forrester wrote better novels, 'The Gun' amongst them, but Midshipman Hornblower is as good a starter for ten that anyone might hope for.
10. And that leaves just enough room for Biggles, Bertie, Algy, Ginger, The professor, Smithy and the rest of the crew. W. E. Johns created a character out of truth, the early books are just serialised actual events, merely attributed to a fictitious pilot, and grew him into a legend. Cub, Gimlet and the inexorable Worrals never quite matched Biggles for pure damned Britishness and I keep a few copies by my bed. I have no desire to select a specific title; I think that 'Biggles of 266 Squadron' has a nice feel to it, but 'The Camels Are Coming' wins it by a nose. Chocks away!
Okay, there are my ten. I wrote this quickly on the tube and I no doubt will come to regret my decisions, but for the moment it shall have to do.


Thursday, 23 May 2013

Racists are annoying me today.

Digg this

I know they are racists, but most of them are more intelligent than this.

There is a lot shouting after yesterday's murder of a soldier in Woolwich. I say things like 'Harold Shipman was a Jew, do we deport all Jews? Savile was English, should all ex-pats be sent back from Spain?' and they say 'those are just two men, there are thousands of Muslims.
How can they not see that the angry men who hate England and the same as the angry men who hate Islam. How do they miss that they are a small minority of dickheads? How can they not compare themselves, wanting to burn Muslims, with the (English) Muslims who wanted to kill an English soldier because of the actions of other soldiers?
I really find it very hard to understand the ignorance.

The two murderers were English too - how many times can you shout 'send them home' to someone from just around the bloody corner?
I am just gobsmacked by the ignorance.

This is not especially coherent and it is not funny at all, but I am just pissed right off that friends of mine can be so bloody stupid.  I have been in warzones with some of these people - they know where this can end. They have seen pits full of dead babies who were born in the wrong house. I know they are better than this.

I am saddened.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Why there should be alternatives to the MMR jab.

Digg this

Being a thoroughly conscientious parent, I receive emails from my daughters' schools and even occasionally read them. This morning I just received a missive about measles. In lieu of reading it, I have decided to write a diatribe (or rant, if you will) on why I think that the decision not to provide separate Measles, Mumps and Rubella jabs on the NHS is a dangerous one.

Let me be transparently clear about this, I have absolutely no problem with the MMR jab and I believe  a parent who chooses not to immunise their child to be reckless and socially dangerous. My point here is not in any way that the MMR is a bad thing or that alternatives are required, BUT . . .

What we do know is that separate immunisations work - the very laudable intention of MMR is to combine the three for convenience and to make sure everyone has the best chance of being vaccinated. This is important for community immunity, which protects those who cannot be fully vaccinated (infants, the immunocompromised (e.g. cancer sufferers) and the elderly).  However wrong Wakefield* was (and he was as wrong and as evil as a man can reasonably be), there will always be TQ9 elements who will swallow this sort of bile, along with their homÅ“opathy.

The decision not to offer separate inoculation injections means that these parents, desperate as they are to show that they are going to extra lengths for their children in their striving for competitive parent of the year, have limited options and, in many, many cases, therefore, having made the grand gesture of protecting Tarquin and Flopsie from the evil MMR, give them no protection at all, to the detriment of our entire civilisation, before going back to checking the labels on their organic vegan food and sticking coke up their noses without checking first whether it has been cut with Draino.

Again, there is nothing wrong with the MMR, but refusing to offer the alternative is putting at risk not only those poor children who, growing up with TQ9ers already have enough to be getting on with, thank you very much, but also every pregnant woman, very young child and, in the end, human on the planet.

I welcome your thoughts in the comments.

* If you do not know about Andrew Wakefield, he was a surgeon who has been struck off for deliberately and fraudulently publishing false evidence that MMR caused autism for personal financial gain. We still are not sure what causes autism, which I argue could be the next stage of evolution for us and is not a system error, merely a different operating system, but we do know what does not cause autism. MMR does not cause autism. 

Monday, 29 April 2013

A definition of TQ9

Digg this

TQ9 (tee-cue-nyen) refers to an area of the United Kingdom, centred around Totnes and Dartington, which is much beloved of middle class hippies. Something which is a bit TQ9 is faux-hippie, wealthy alternative and generally wrong.

Easily identified by their hybrid cars, natural nappies, vegan shops and homoeopathy clinics, TQ9ers often sport dreadlocks and ragged clothing, but only from Toni & Guy and designer outlets.

She is too TQ9 to take little Tarquin for his vaccinations.

Typical TQ9er, makes sure everything she eats is vegan and organic, but never checks if her coke is cut with Draino.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The day that Mr Parker had a rail encounter.

Digg this

Before I start, it is worth noting that I am writing about this many years after is occurred, merely to tell an individual (Chris Lake) about the event. If you are not Lakey and you do not want to know then nobody will judge you for leaving now, you snivelling little quitter.

It all started with a Land Rover which I was given as a wedding present. That sounds like an extravagant wedding gift, but it really was not, it was a rusted out 1975 Series Three with 3 engines, none of which, it eventually transpired, was ever likely to work again.

The result of this is that I spent 3 months and several thousand pounds rebuilding her and putting a transit engine in, during which time I stayed with my parents. Staying with parents does not have the same connotations when you have your own home and a wife and *quick maths* a child (I guess the second one was on the way, but we did not know that yet), but it can, none-the-less, become a little tiring after prolonged exposure. With this in mind we called upon the visiting whirlwind that was Matthew Parker. These days he is just plain old 'Matt Vahiboglu', but back then he had panache!

Anyway, long story short, he visited, it was fun, he went home again and, and let's not mess about, this is where it gets interesting, he went home . . . BY TRAIN!

My guess is that most of you have left by now, but if you haven't then you should know that this is not going to get a great deal more interesting any time soon. In fact, just to make sure, I am going to toddle off to a train-spotting forum and find out some mindbogglingly uninteresting and unnecessary detail for you.

Eggesford station with a 142 Pacer.

We drove Matt to Eggesford railway station and waited for the train to arrive. When it finally rolled in it turned out to be a British Rail class 142 Pacer diesel with multiple units. It also was almost entirely empty. I mean to say, it probably had its full compliment of:
  • 1 driver
  • 1 train manager (or conductor as we called them back then)
The train rolled past us down the platform towards the unmanned hut where the token exchange is now carried out by the driver, since Kate Low took the signal box away back when I was a mere teenager in 1989 and it is now at Wembworthy Outward Bound Centre. The box design was the BR Western Region standard prefabricated box (SRS code Type 37a) irreverently known in some quarters as a 'plywood wonder'. The conductor/guard is also required to operate the level crossing at the station as well as this is not automatic.

It was clear to those of us on the platform that the entire train contained only one passenger, a slim, blonde. beautiful young woman, sitting alone at a table. Matt was the only person boarding the train at this point. As this was a post-'90s 142, the existing 2+3 bench style bus seats had been updated to Chapman bespoke high backed seats in the 2+2 layout on the Tarka line, standard class throughout with seats arranged in twos either side of a centre aisle. In each carriage there are 10 bays with seats around a table, with the remaining seats arranged face-to-back.

The young lady in question was sitting in seat 52, against the window on the platform side of the southbound train, this being a table seat. We jested to the effect that Mat was 'well in there', what with having her to himself and a whole train to play with and, Matt being Matt, he bid us adieu, climbed aboard the carriage and approached the young lady, asking 'Is this seat taken?' before seating himself between her and the aisle.

This caused much amusement on the platform, although not nearly as much as when, with the train just beginning to pull out of the station, the young lady's beau returned from the toilet and, finding his place filled, was forced to take up a station opposite Mr P (as was).

That is the end of my story, but, as best man for Matt and Ayse, I did promise to those who were listening to my dreary speech that I would recount the tale, should they ever ask. Now I need only point them here.

I maintain that he could have found a better best man,

Next week: something less dull (although it was incredibly amusing at the time) and here is a picture of the little mermaid:

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

A list of things that I like.

Digg this

Young @Dotmund posted a list of things he likes over on his marvellous blog. It was slightly touching. Then @LollyGee tweeted a list of things that she likes and so, being devoid of independent thought, I have jumped on this wagon, along with the cello player and the git with the triangle who is always trying to get off with the Tuba player's wife.

  1. Half melted jelly cubes.
  2. Huge destructive waves
  3. Sheets of rain falling, just beyond my shelter
  4. The smile of a stranger
  5. The feel of clean, fresh linen
  6. Rocks
  7. sand-ground glass on the beach
  8. Watching hens
  9. Rain on a hot day
  10. Mayonnaise
  11. Words
  12. FIRE!
  13. Cricket
  14. lapsang souchong
  15. Science and BEES!

@LollyGee eschews technology

@benjaminmurdoch loves stationary

@gazbeirne is no technophobe

@and_armstrong is not frightened of titties

@sinistergiraffe reminds me of my old dog, Fred. Always a keen farter.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Git in a car.

Digg this

So, coming up Topsham Road in the right lane (to turn right), this chap tries to overtake me approaching the lights then, because a car is coming the other way, pushes me back into the middle lane where I am sandwiched between him and another car and have to stop. This is the most dangerous part of this, although not the most scary.

I pass him going up Southernhay and he immediately tries to get past me again, despite a Porsche being right in front of me. I make myself wide (we are approaching parked cars and I need to go around them) and took up my whole lane. This enraged him (despite the fact that I was going faster than him at this point) and so he accelerates towards me, spinning his wheels and leaning on his horn. #

Breaking at the last minute (I am looking back and scared now - this is deliberate aggression) he drops back and repeats the manoeuvre, this time I think scaring himself, as he gets so close I cannot see tarmac between my panniers and his bumper. At least I hope he scared himself. He then span his wheels, went onto the wrong side of the road, by the merge point and shot off up the road, about 2 car lengths to the Porsche.

He then stops his car (at his destination, about 50 yards on) and jumps out, stomping back to me to begin shouting at me about how 'next time he will hit me' (possibly not a threat of violence, just of driving issues, but I was scared, this is a big fat heavy man) and how he wants my name to call the police. I gave him my name, because him calling the police should end well, but he keeps ranting.

He invites me to take his registration number but also keeps waving his coat in front of it as I try to photograph it.

Lastly, he calls me a fool. This is the bit that makes this so amusing as he is wearing clown shoes. Actual clown shoes. One red with a green toecap, the other green with a red toecap. And he calls me a fool.

So, this is just a rant, but if you are cycling and see this Passat coming up behind you, don't worry about who is right, get out the way - he is an aggressive and dangerous driver wearing footwear ill-suited to controlling a motor vehicle.

I was scared by his aggressive approach and genuinely feared for my life because of his deliberate aggressive driving. He had no respect or concern for vulnerable road users, was only seconds from his destination and, I am sorry to say, a bit of a nob.

Here endeth the rant.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The vasectomy revisited.

Digg this

My blog is light hearted and, on occasion, witty.

This post is not really so much fun, so if you do not want to accept the reality of a more serious and dour Manley then please, move on.

Three and a half years ago, I had a vasectomy. That post links to a whole host of others documenting my preparation, fears and reasoning, none of which I need to go into here, but we can assume that it was not something I went into lightly and we, as a couple, were fully committed to the idea that 3 daughters were enough and we did not need to have and more children.

There were concerns, I will not pretend that there were not. What if Jim dies and my new wife (because, let's face it, I am a good looking man and I'd get one at the drop of a hat!) wanted children? Should we store some of my little soldiers against the possibility of some future change of heart? The usual sort of things, but we decided that permanent sterilisation was the best answer for us and, given the relative complications of the two options, it seemed obvious to us that I would be the one to suffer the pain and indignity.

So, we did it. Or rather, I did it.

It hurt. Not for a couple of days, like I was told it would, but for ages. I did not go mountain biking for over a year. You should, however, not let that put you off. I had complications which were not serious, but were very, very rare and it did get completely better and was definitely better than a year of condom usage.

That said, there are consequences which I had never even considered.

As I am writing this I am unsure as to whether I am going to actually post it - I think my approach will be to write it all and then decide. If you read this then you probably will think 'yeah right!' because I will have, but . . . enough of that nonsense - if you are reading it then obviously I have, so let's just press on. (if you are not reading it then, quick! Sloths!

One of the reasons we were so sure that we wanted to become a permanently sterile couple was that Jim had very difficult pregnancies (none of the obvious stuff people can see, but a lot of problems during and after, which it is not my place to relate) and is physically not up to another.

So basically, I still do not want more pregnancies and suspect that I never shall. I stand by our decision to become a sterile couple and, even with the complications, the procedure was worth it when assessed against the huge added convenience which it offers for our lifestyle.

But . . .

(and that is a big butt)

. . . despite every 'jaffa' man who I have ever spoken to advising me to have the procedure, I would not recommend it to anyone.

It is hard to say this without seeming a bit pathetic and, on a purely logical basis I do not believe that it is appropriate, but the profound effect it has had on my life means that I want to warn others of it. I feel like less of a man.

I have no potential any more. I cannot make more life and the human race will no longer be any different for my continued existence (assuming I do not go back to war or decide to build a bomb in my shed, which seems probable - I am not really that way inclined).

I am not sure how to expand upon that - physically nothing has changed - certainly there has been no problem on the retarded virility front - but I feel rather pointless since the op and, frankly, it makes me miserable pretty much all the time.

I was going to extrapolate further, but I have pretty much decided that I am only writing this for me now, so I will not, but if you see this then please reconsider. I never imagined that I was the sort of man who cared about this sort of thing - I am revoltingly male in many ways, but it is not terribly important to me. What is important, it seems, is the potential I had and which I have allowed to be taken from me and, if you do read this (and, having said this, maybe I will share it - peradventure people should know?) please think about it more carefully than you have.

How can I explain?

Many young women, pre-pregnancy, are not very maternal and, whilst they might think of having children 'one day' they do not really think of themselves as ever being particularly 'mumsie'. Then, when they have a child, they change and start being excited by other people's pregnancies and delighting in the company of children. I, similarly, have changed from not caring whether or not I was fertile (I strongly suspected that I was not before we had children) to really caring a great deal now that I know that I am not.

As I said, not a funny post, just a cautionary tale. Additionally, it turns out that I do not write nearly so well when not being flippant, for which I apologise - I am not going to proof read this, so please just point out any errors you see and I will address them.

Maybe this picture of Madonna I made will take the edge off all the seriousness?

Cheers for reading.


Saturday, 12 November 2011

On setting a gravestone for my Grandmother

Digg this

Today I did something new. I put in a gravestone for my grandmother.

My paternal grandmother could be a bit of a battleaxe at times, but she was only like that because she knew she was better than other people (she once told me this in all seriousness) and, if I am honest, I am not sure I am in any position to dispute that. Certainly I do not pretend to be knowledgeable enough to judge.

It is perhaps a wonderful and sensible approach to life, after all, is that not the whole point of CBT? Without doubt she had a profound effect on us all, particularly in the stoicism line and we do mourn her passing, although it was her time. The girls, in particular, loved to see her, delighting in playing with the osteoarthritic lumps on her fingers in the innocent way that only children can and which we all secretly rather enjoy - We were frightened of Grandmama as children, but my girls never were, despite her looking far scarier than she ever had in her youth. It saddens me that the youngest will probably not remember her.

Anyway, Grandmama died just before Christmas and the weather was bleak. The snow was so very thick that it seemed as though the interment would not be able to go ahead, but it seemed important to get her underground before Christmas, so we went down to the undertakers with a 4X4 and were quite insistent.

It was not easy - the hearse was automatic and would not get along the Dartmoor lanes in the snow - some hills are too much for any engine when the ground is a rink of Olympic properties. I had to get out and push the hearse up 3 hills on the way (we would have towed it, but for the towing eye needing to be screwed in and being housed under my grandmother) and we finally gave up about 20 yards shy of the church.

Some villagers made the journey on foot and they sang 'all things bright and beautiful' whilst we ferried folk who could not make it by car around in the 4X4 and started only 30 minutes late. No funeral, just my 3 cousins and my sister singing Brother James's Air and some words from the rector and in she went.

Apart from the Rector calling my grandmother "Kathleen" (her name being Katharine), which she would have absolutely hated, it all went well (and that made my father laugh out loud, which rather settled the whole matter down anyway).

We stood there for a bit, so I called out 'Well I'm freezing, what say we all go back into the church for a sing-song?' and so we did.

A few carols in the cold and back to warmth we went.

It was all very pleasant, if that is an appropriate word, but her brother could not make the trip (he is well into his nineties, after all) and several people have said that they felt that the missed out on 'closure'.

I detest the term, but I know what they mean.

So we are going to have a blessing of the stone on the 20th, which meant, of course, that it had to go into the ground.

I went to the farm my Grandmother grew up on and found a hunk of granite, which I dug out from what used to be a hedge and brought it back to Exeter to have it turned into her gravestone.

Here is the stone, along with a mock-up of how I first envisioned it looking:

I am very pleased to be doing this sort of thing, it is immensely satisfying to be able to do something so definite and useful. Not that gravestones are intrinsically useful, but you know what I mean.

As it turns out, I have also left a space for my Aunt on the bottom of the panel. I can confirm that discussing with an octogenarian the preferred wording of her grave marker is a little bit surreal, but we had to make sure we left the right amount of room.

Anyway, it was carved out and now it is in the churchyard, after much heaving of rock today.

The photograph cannot really convey just how massive it is. Not large, as such, just clearly heavy. Serious, even. 1/2 tone of granite (and ballast) is not light. It is, for example, not on jot lighter than half a ton of anything else you care to mention. Nor is digging a hole on Dartmoor normally that easy a task (although it was not too bad, as it happened), but the job is done and I am very satisfied by it all.

Hers is 2nd from the right, front row - next to the wooden cross in the foreground. It will settle in, but I am happy with it. Not only does it look vernacular, but, much more importantly, it is from the farm she grew up on and I would prefer that, even if it was rubbish.

As an aside, it looks a lot less like a television in real life.

Sorry for rambling, have fun and, should she be alive, go visit your grandmother.

Friday, 9 September 2011

some naked Welsh men.

Digg this

This amused me an inordinate amount: