Jobs Around The House

Tuesday 21st January

Why do we men hate them so much?  Is it because they are actually never-ending? Or is it that we are, despite female expectations, not all brilliant at DIY?

I am quite a good painter.  Wallpaper hanging I am good at too.  Sanding down wood, and filling and varnishing – I’m your man.  But hanging kitchen doors, ANYTHING electrical, ANYTHING to do with plumbing and I go to pieces.  Kitchen cupboards are my particular hate.  I know the theory, I can see how the silly hinges are supposed to work, but trying to get them lined up is rocket science to me.  I think it is because I am right left dyslexic; I cannot straightaway think which is my left and which my right hand, I have to think about it.  So too with clockwise and anti-clockwise.  I always have to think about it first before screwing or unscrewing and almost every time do it wrong.  And maybe with up and down too.  Consequently trying to work out why the cupboard doors overlap in the middle is impossible for me.

The kitchen chassis in my wife’s house too are knackered.  Too many bodgers, myself included have tried a variety of ever longer and thicker screws and the fabric of the chipboard cupboards is ruined.  She will have none of it of course.  It must be my fault.  As if the ownership of a penis automatically confers building skills.  So, I bodge and I bodge, all the time arguing that we should get a new kitchen.  All the time the repairs just make the thing look almost worse than it has ever been.  And even now I am waiting for yet another dose of plastic wood to harden and maybe give the screws some sort of purchase, knowing full well that the door will still be wonky when it goes back, and no amount of screwing in or out of the adjustment screws will make a bit of difference.

Yet does she ever ask that brilliant handyman if he has written a novel, or even a good poem, or understands Accounts, or can appreciate great Art or Literature.  No, these skills pale into insignificance when the man knows how to hang kitchen doors perfectly.

The Beauty of Sets

Monday 20th January

How often have you admired in shops a display of pottery or paperweights, or just a collection of  books all with the same spines – in other words a set?  What is it about sets, collections of things similar, that is so pleasing to the eye.  It almost doesn’t matter what the collection is, even something quite naff that you wouldn’t really want in your home, if there a few of them then they take on a collective beauty that each individual piece on its own simply doesn’t have.

There is nothing sadder than a bookshelf with just a few tired looking books trying to stand up, whereas a full groaning bookshelf is a pleasure to behold.  No-one even wants to look at a handful of desultory CDs, whereas a few shelves of neat CDs draws you in.

And when you decide to buy that piece of pottery you so admired in the shop, and get it home and unwrapped and place it solitary on your own shelf how sad it looks, how lonely, how insignificant, how pointless.  You almost regret buying it.  But buy a second similar piece and place it alongside and it straightaway looks better.  By the time you have a set they begin to look splendid.

So all I can advise is carry on collecting, a collection is always better than an individual, that is the undeniable beauty of sets.

Re-writing, re-writing and re-writing

Saturday 18th January

I am in the process of my third re-write of 2066.  This is more a look at sentence structure, repetition of words, trying to sprinkle some fairy dust over the whole story.  I do think it is a good story, certainly far better than Jane, which I have shelved – maybe for ever.  I feel good about the story, it still excites me as I re-read passages I almost know by heart.  I am tempted to just leave it alone, maybe it’s as good as it can get.  I have printed the whole thing out because I find that constantly scrolling up on the screen mean I don’t read it fluently.  The words printed out on the page have far more potency, seem more real to me than they ever do on the screen.

And the hard part is to try not to be seduced by the story, by the plot unfolding, by the ‘cleverness’ of my words, but to try to read slowly, to see if each sentence really works.  What next?  Well, I am intending to self-publish on the interent, though I have no clue how to do it.  Hopefully I will get some help.  I think the key too, is to try to get some interest going, to try and get people aware of the book.  Again I am not sure how to do this, but I do know someone who might know.

I almost feel sad that I have finished the story.  I have no idea what to do next.  It is the same feeling that you have when you have just finished a really good book, the thought of reading another one doesn’t exactly excite you.  It is only when you force yourself to start another that you begin to get involved.

Anyway the problem of another book is for another day.  I want to come up with a real strategy for this one.   I have practically rejected the idea of trying another publisher; the chance of finding someone who really believes in and pushes the book are pretty slim.  Hopefully self-publishing may be a better option.  Time will tell.

Which is the Worst Weather ?

Saturday 18th January

In Britain not only is the weather a major talking point, it is also a major moaning point.  We seem never to be happy.  Too cold, too wet, too windy, too overcast, too hot even; we never seem to be content.  And there may be a good reason for this.  We are in the temperate zone and being an offshore island we get most of our weather form the West, form the vast Atlantic, in fact straight from the Carribean, the Gulf of Mexico.  This is a lot further South then the latitude we sit on, so in general our weather is milder than Germany, Poland or the Scandinavian countries.  In fact several countries which lie far to the South of us are far colder in Winter.   But this is only part of the story, we also get some of our weather from the North and the East, and so we get cold blasts too.  In fact it is quite rare that we get just the Gulf Stream affecting us, as we have had for the last few weeks, bringing constant rain, wind and actually very mild temperatures.

And I think the key to our weather moaning is that we like our weather to be changeable.  We don’t like a spell of consistently the same weather.  If we have a heat-wave we are quick to tire of it.  Snow on the ground for longer than a week makes us all miserable, and worst of all persistent rain drives us mad.  And actually whatever weather we get when it persists for more than a few days and we tire of it, perpetually seeking a change in the weather.

T is for James Taylor

Friday 17th January

James Taylor was part of that talented generation that congregated in California in the late sixties and early seventies.  Along with Neil Young, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne. Carly Simon, and many others he was part of the singer-songwriter explosion that captured my heart back in the early seventies.  James Taylor also had a very distinctive voice, a laid-back delivery and a cultivated hippy image.  He was tall and dark and everybody’s friend.  He had a string of great albums in the seventies, of which ‘Mud Slide Slim’ is possibly the best.  His voice just draws you in; the melodies are simple and the playing immaculate, but it is that voice you are captivated by.  He almost laid down a template for the Eagles, but actually all these singers fed off each other, James was surely being influenced by Dylan and the Byrds himself.

He has managed to carve out a long career, with a series of fairly middle of the road records and is a great favourite playing live.  He hasn’t really changed his style much at all over the years and his voice still sounds great.  But somehow I lost interest in the eighties; he had nothing new to say, and his songs lacked that certain creative sparkle I was always looking for.   But as soon as I put on one of the old records and he starts singing ‘Hey Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox’ or perennial favourite ‘You’ve Got a Friend’, all is forgiven.  Very few artists can develop creatively as they age, most relying on their few early songs.  Maybe the hunger isn’t there anymore, maybe they daren’t step out of their security zone or maybe they just have nothing new to tell us.

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Times Remembered – The Ice Slide

Thursday 16th January

It was 1963, the coldest and longest winter in years.  Snow lay three feet deep in places, huge ruts in the quieter roads, where snow-chained cars inched their precarious way with full headlights on.  And even the main roads were filled with black sludge as new snow kept falling for weeks.  I was still in short trousers, and the tops of my legs were chaffed and red where they rubbed.  Still we never missed a day’s school, no matter how bad the snow and ice.

Within a few days there was a thirty foot long slide in the main playground.  It was compacted snow and ice and every snowfall just added to its slipperiness.  It became our major source of entertainment.  Rows of boys and a few intrepid girls would form and patiently wait our turn.  A good run up was essential and then like a long jumper you just launched yourself into the air and trusted to fortune.   If lucky you stayed on your feet, often spinning 360 degrees in the process.  Hunkering down with arms spread like plane wings was the best.  All too often you went down the entire length of the slide on your back, to even more cheers I might add, because the slide was packed with onlookers all muffled up from the biting cold.

And where were the teachers?  Where was health and safety?  Where any concern for our safety?  Why, the teachers not huddled in the tobacco smoke filled staff room were out there with us, cheering us on, and one or two of the younger ones even having a go themselves.  Remarkably no-one broke a leg, or cracked their skull open.  A few grazes, worn as badges of honour, the odd bleeding finger but no major injuries at all.

We were having the time of our lives.

Times Remembered – School Dinners

Wednesday 15th January

I don’t remember school dinners at Junior School; maybe I went home – I cannot remember.  I definitely never had packed lunches.  But when I went up to Grammar School I was introduced to the ritual of school dinners.  We were somehow allocated to tables of eight, with benches running down the sides.  Each table was ‘run’ by a sixth former, usually a prefect, and there would be at least one student from each year around the table.  Girls and boys were segregated, girls in the Upper Hall and boys in the lower.  Every so often a teacher would join our table and a chair would be provided at the end for him.

The food was collected by the most junior member of the table.  At a small hand signal from Sam Chivers (deputy head and a right tartar) we minions would run as fast as possible and form a (dis) orderly queue.  At the food hatch we would be handed a large stainless steel tray with our lunch on it.  Square stainless steel containers, with whatever the meat was, potatoes and usually boiled cabbage or carrots.  The table head would then dole out the food, in roughly equal proportions.  But the role of the ‘runner’ was far from over.  He had to quick as possible eat his food and be sitting ready and watching Sam Chivers who would surreptiously give the signal for ‘seconds’.  And again we would run and try to get one of the limited supply of second helpings.

As soon as the plates and cutlery and empty dishes were cleared away it was the same system for ‘afters’.  Chocolate concrete, or sponge pudding, jam roly-poly pudding, plum duff and oodles of thick yellow custard; ‘afters’ were definitely the best.

As the years rolled on I stopped being the runner and would berate the next little twerp for being so tardy in his duties.

I can never remember going hungry, we had big portions, and even bigger appetites as I remember.  But as in all of life back then the concept of choice was absent; now kids pick and choose and refuse to eat their greens and only want chicken nuggets and chips.  We always ate whatever was put in front of us.  The idea of not liking something simply never entered our heads.  Happy days indeed.

Trouble in Politics – Labour

Tuesday 14th January

Despite the polls which show a consistent Labour lead they too are in real trouble.  It took Neil Kinnock three failed elections to try to change Labour and still he failed.  It was only when Tony Blair stole the Tories clothes that he made Labour electable.  And now the Tories have moved the goal-posts again.  The new battlegrounds are benefits and immigration.  Both of which belie the fact that our economy is pretty crap.  The reason that benefits are needed is that Employers have changed the work-pay balance so far in their favour that many working people cannot even afford to buy the things they are making.  And at the other end of the spectrum, luxury goods are flying off the shelves as the rich get richer quicker than ever before.  Immigration is yet another way of dividing the working classes, creating mistrust and scapegoats out of each other.

So, the challenge for Labour is two-fold; to win back trust, to show they can be economically competent and at the same time to somehow try to reduce the huge gap between those at the top and those nearer the bottom.  And it is no good Labour just winning because the Tories are even worse than them.  Winning by default will only spell defeat at the next election.  Labour has to come up with some real answers to the blighted economy, and they must improve the lives of those at the bottom, or the winners will be UKIP or something even worse.

And one of the real problems for Labour is leadership.  Personally I quite like Ed Milliband, but he isn’t charismatic, he isn’t photogenic, he doesn’t so much lead as bob along.  2014 is the year in which Labour must really make it’s mark, come out with a real identity, a reason to vote Labour and start to look like  a possible government.  Or you never know the Tories might just hang on and win again.

Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Speaks in Edinburgh

Trouble in Politics – The SNP

Monday 13th January

Yes, Labour’s turn will come but first the remarkably successful Scottish nationalists, led by the most cheerful man in politics, Alex Salmond.   Their rise has been truly amazing, and co-incidentally is matched identically with the Tories decline in Scotland.  Not that the SNP are anything like the Tories, it is simply that they are an alternative to Labour.

And now they may be in trouble; they may have overplayed their hand.  They have got their famous referendum and it will take place in the Autumn of this year.  So what happens if they win it?  Will the other parties just have to accept it?  Or will they argue for future referendums to re-join the Celts to us?  And if they do win there will be so many complicated questions to answer.  Will all the current Scottish MPs simply be disinherited?  Will there be a transitional period of say five years to transfer everything to Edinborough?  Will the SNP have any reason to exist anymore?

And what if they lose?  How many years will they have to wait before getting another vote?  Will they automatically get Devo-Max?  Will the tide of nationalism reside, or simply get stronger?  And the SNP themselves, will they fight amongst themselves, blaming Alex for rushing the vote?  Will they do badly at the following Westminster elections?

All to play for and all to lose.  Who says politics is boring?  But whatever the result referendums, as David Cameron may live to find out, are dangerous things?  And the SNP could be in trouble…

Trouble in Politics – The Tories

Sunday 12th January

It was eighteen years since the Tories won an election and in 2010 they failed yet again.  Okay they won more votes and more seats than anyone else but it was still far short of a majority.   David Cameron had done everything he could to cleanse the Tory brand, trying to make it greener, more compassionate, loving the NHS, hugging hoodies and all.  But the folk memory of the Thatcher years was deep in the soul, branded there by years of pain and the scars just would not heal.

And how right they were.  Under the guise of deficit reduction the poor and working classes have been punished yet again.  And to cap it all our trusty knobhead Gideon Osborne, who looks as if he has a poker up his arse (and that he is enjoying it too), has just announced even more austerity, even more cuts.  And guess who will pay – you got it, the poor and helpless.  Well, they hardly vote Tory anyway do they?   The only tax cut they have really given was to those earning over 100, 000 pounds per year, and this is no £100 a year scrap thrown to the masses.  Someone on £200,000 got a £5000 tax cut last year.  That is £100 a week !!!

And of course many of the cuts have still to take effect.  The NHS limps on, despite an expensive re-organisation which will do nothing to help struggling hospitals facing closure or amalgamation.  And the Tories message at the election will be – job half done, don’t hand the car keys back to the guys who crashed the car.  Which is of course a lie, but has been repeated so many times that it is almost the accepted truth.  It is very unlikely that the Tories will gain seats, in fact they may lose some.  So, are they hoping for another hung parliament and being the largest party yet again?  I hardly think so, but in fact they have little choice.  There will be a few tax giveaways, a few sparkling new policies pulled out of the hat, and the politics of fear.  But actually they are in real trouble…