Water Water Everywhere

Saturday 8th February

And at the moment we are on bottled water.  The boiler broke last night and was leaking badly, so while we wait for our British Gas engineer to turn up we are waterless in Gaza.  Which is ironic as it is pissing down outside and, as you must all be aware, has been for at least a month.  And there is nothing quite as depressing as constant rain.  There has hardly been a clear day in the whole of January and now February is looking just as bad.  It isn’t even that cold either, though when the wind gets up, which is every other day, it feels quite bitter.  And the ground is so sodden, on the drive to Walton we pass flooded river after flooded river, and this is Essex – not Somerset or Cornwall.  Whole low-lying corners of fields have become lakes.  And the farmers are already complaining that the crops will be ruined or severely compromised.   The Government has miraculously produce 130 million pounds for flood defences when they have already cut the Environment Agency budget by more than that.  Of course there is no provable correlation and the floods could well have been as bad without the cuts, who knows, but it is indicative that the cuts, rather than simply reduce waste are actually doing damage as well.

And now of course people are beginning to say that the bad weather is a possible result of Global Warming.  The weather is actually a lot milder than normal winters, this does not bring tropical sunshine at all, but lots and lots of weather system driving in from the Atlantic.  The longer term consequences will be on house prices and insurance cover.  We live, unfortunately in a market economy, and those poor people who have been flooded may well find that next year their properties are uninsurable and virtually unsaleable too.

When will the wet weather end?  Not for a while I fear.

The Frustration of Computers

Saturday 7th February

We never learn.  And even if we do, to what lengths do we have to go to to protect ourselves?  We have gotten to a point where we simply cannot live without them.  Computers I mean.  And my laptop, crappy, grubby, old and a bit clunky is important to me.  There was a time when you went on holiday and no-one could ever reach you.  Now we all have mobile phones and e-mail and are on a piece of string, constantly being tugged by work, by friends and family.  The un-connected world has gone forever.  Besides, even though we have Syncplicity where all my files are constantly being updated in the clouds, and a hard drive with my photos’ and music on I cannot live without my laptop.

It is here after all dear reader where I communicate this wonderful blog with you every day from.  So imagine my horror when after having plugged my laptop in I noticed after about an hour that I was still on battery.  I checked I was plugged in, yes.  I checked the power was on, yes.  I swapped the lead with another socket and it worked.  Okay so the socket might be faulty.  Then it cut out again and I was on battery.  So, not the socket – oh no, not the lead I thought.

Because we have been here before at least twice, and you either pay about £100 for a Lenovo lead or get a multi-purpose lead with loads of connectors from PC world for about £60.  Besides the nearest PC world was a cab ride away.  I persevered and for a while I got the lead to connect, but it kept falling out and I bit the bullet and headed by cab to Clacton for a new lead.

In the cab I was telling the cabbie and he said it might be the kettle lead.  This is the first bit that goes from the plug into the voltage adaptor.  So at PC World I asked them to check.  And yes, it was the kettle lead.   £12.99 only.  Result.

But just why do we get so upset when our computer doesn’t work?  Surely we should welcome the fact that we cannot be reached?  Instead it causes major panic….

The Pastor’s Wife

Friday 6th February

I have just finished a really lovely book, and as is quite rare these days a book like no other I have read.  The author is Elizabeth von Arnim, who was born in Australia in 1866 and raised in England, she married a German. A Prussian Aristocrat, and had five children before she eventually left her domineering husband and returned to England.  By a strange co-incidence she was a cousin to Katherine Mansfield.  Most of her books which I will now look out are semi-autobigaphical as is ‘The Pastor’s Wife.’

The story is one of repressed female resistance in a male dominated world.  Ingeborg, our heroine is a Bishop’s daughter, the plain sister, the put-upon and largely ignored and yet inquisitive young woman who at 22 suddenly and completely out of character embarks on a foreign trip to Lucerne.  It is here she meets and is wooed by Robert Dremmel, a Prussian Pastor who she is enthralled and overwhelmed by, especially when he arranges a bethrothal which she barley understands and doesn’t have the moral courage to refuse.

She is swept away to a small farm in Prussia where she has to learn a new language and a whole new set of cultural behaviour.  She has six children which nearly kill her and only two survive.  And yet through it all she still has an innocence and a sense of wonder at nature, and a desire to learn and improve herself.  Her husband becomes more and more involved in his ‘research’ and then the neglected Ingeborg meets a famous artist who wants to paint her.

The book seems to get to the heart of both the woman’s feelings and the rigid German male-dominated social world she is forced to live in.  Beautifully written it is many ways a very modern novel.  I wonder what the Edwardians made of it when it was published in 1914.  All I know is I loved the book and felt quite sad to say goodbye to Ingeborg when the book ended.  Eight out of ten I would say.

Seven Cards

                                   It was Saturday night at the County Fair

                                   As I passed behind the Gypsy’s lair

                                    On my way to watch my favourite band

                                    She dragged me in by the hand

                                                            Seven cards I will deal for you     

                                                            Your future life will reveal how true

                                                            Three cards only can you draw

                                                            You must leave the other four

                                    Sit down young man and listen to me

                                    Old I am but I tell this for free        

                                    If the cards bring you luck or deal you harm                 

                                    I want no silver to cross my palm

                                                            There are seven ways to win in life

                                                            Seven ways it can end in strife

                                                            Whichever three cards that you choose

                                                            The other four you must lose

                                    The light was dim and incense she burned

                                    I knew I should leave but you never do learn

                                    Her hands were crabbed but sparkled with rings

                                    She laughed with her eyes as she told me these things

                                   I will deal them face down so you cannot see

                                    Whatever you do you must choose just three

                                   Draw them towards you but do not look

                                   Before you discover the choices you took

                                   First I must show you the other four cards

                                   I must reveal the lives you discard

                                                There are seven ways you can find a wife

                                                And seven ways to ruin your life

                                                Whichever three that you choose

                                                The other four forever you lose

                                    I paused for a minute, maybe it was three

                                    Then drew the cards down towards me

                                    She smiled again – now it’s too late

                                    These cards my friends will seal your fate

                                    Before I explain what life has in store

                                    I will show to you the other four

                                    The three you chose will later reveal

                                    What has been given and what you must steal

                                                There are seven paths in life you may tread

                                                Some will bring joy, some you may dread

                                                These four cards you did not choose

                                                Now I will show the life you did lose

                                    First we turn over the card of Joy

                                   Your first-born child would have been a boy

                                   The second card shows a single red rose

                                   For you, one love only we must dispose

                                   Card number three is completely clear

                                   All you desired and whatever you feared

                                   Would have been yours, it was really your choice

                                   You would only have had to raise your voice

                                   And the fourth is the Joker as you can see

                                   You could have swapped if it were one of your three

                                   For any of the four you thought you had lost

                                   But in life as you know there is always a cost

                                                There are seven chances for luck in your life

                                                And seven sorrows that cut like a knife  

                                                Whichever three that you choose

                                                The other four you are bound to lose

                                   The candle flickered, the light grew dimmer

                                   She leaned in close and her face became grimmer

                                   Now we discover your fate my friend

                                   Now you will see how your life will end

                                                There are seven roads you can walk in life

                                                Seven paths but none are alike

                                                Which of the three you may have chosen

                                                The other four to you are frozen

                                    The first card I turned showed a bag of gold

                                    You will be rich before you grow old

                                    Card number two was a single shoe

                                    But you will walk with a limp before you do

                                                There are seven ways towards the light

                                                Seven ways to win the good fight

                                                These three cards may help you some day

                                                But the other four may block your way

                                    The last card I turned showed a dagger through a heart

                                    As it slipped from my hand, I gave such a start

                                    What does it mean I asked the old crone

                                    Does it mean I will live and die all alone

                                    Oh you will know love and many many times

                                    But you will kill each one before the bell chimes

                                    Many women will warm your cold life

                                    But none of them will become your wife

                                    Money you will have but it may cause you pain

                                    As you sit in the sun it will start to rain

                                    Every woman that loves you you’ll break their hearts

                                    It is good to know this from the start

                                    Enjoy your fortune while you may

                                    The cards have been dealt, they have had their say

                                                There were seven cards dealt in your life

                                                Some make you happy, some bring you strife

                                                The three you have chosen will each bear a cost

                                                You will never know the lives you have lost

                                     As I stumbled away my life without hope

                                    I pulled open the tent and tripped on a rope

                                    And there right before me in front of my eyes

                                    Was a wallet, my hands closed around the prize

                                    I met a young girl whose beauty stunned me

                                    A week ago I was sure she had shunned me

                                    I paid for her rides and I took her to dinner

                                    I knew then that I would surely win her

                                    But I knew that this girl who became my lover

                                    Was the first of many, there would be others

                                    I teased her and smiled as I laughed in her face

                                    I won more money and put her back in her place

                                                There were seven cards and I chose three

                                                And even though there was a pain in my knee

                                                I had women a plenty and pots of money

                                                I was happy for a while – isn’t life funny

Low Interest Rates, High Debt

Tuesday 4th February

For as long as I can remember the Chancellor of the Excheqeur controlled interest rates, and with the advice of bankers and civil servants, raised or lowered it as he (it was always a he) saw fit.  It was a weapon, a monetary weapon to control debt, to control inflation, to stop disturbing trends getting out of hand.  One of the first things Gordon Brown did, and it was hailed as brilliant at the time, was to give the responsibility of setting Interest Rates to the Bank of England.  A monetary committee was set up and their main aim was to control inflation.

However, and there is always a however isn’t there; the financial crisis intervened and the Bank of England, with or without political pressure reduced interest rates to a ludicrously low and never before tried rate of half a percent.  The trouble with interest rates is that they are international and if other countries lower their rates you almost have to follow.  There was a race to the bottom, because everyone wanted their currency to slip and for exports to be cheaper and so a recovery more  possible.  By the way the Bank’s low interest rate has not controlled either inflation or the value of the pound.  And now that the thing has been stuck at this low rate for nearly four years it is almost inconceivable that it will rise.

But it will.  And not really because the Bank think it is a good idea, but international pressure and others raising their rates will force its hand.  In the meantime those with mortgages have had an easy time and we are experiencing a housing boom again where people are borrowing more.  Well interest rates are so low who can blame them?  And many companies are only surviving because their bank loan interest is so low too.  Whenever, and the ever-political Bank is indicating it will not be before the next election, interest rates do rise the increased debt we are happily taking on will become the next major problem and may just plunge us back into recession.  Happy days ahead.

It Don’t Need a Tune, It Grows of it’s own Accordion

Monday 2rd February

It doesn’t matter how much you tidy up, how much you throw out – things just keep growing.  The garden is the worst because this does literally grow with no help from you at all.  You trim back the bushes, try to keep on top of the ivy which will take over if you simply turn your gaze away for a minute or two, the lawn is mown every day in the summer.  And yet it just keeps on growing and then you need a ladder just to cut the tops of the bushes back.  In Walton only four years ago there was practically nothing, one old bush at the far end and a tiny forsythia tree.  We bought a few plants here and there, but now it is huge.  The Broom waves in the breeze and is three feet higher than the fence; the Marlow which has only about six inches of soil is over six feet high and needs constant pruning.  We put in a row of tiny white-grey bedding plants along the edges and now they are two feet high and really need ripping out and replacing.

But it is the same with everything.  We have just gone through the bedding ottoman and it was full of stuff we no longer use; old duvet covers I was too mean to throw out, at least ten odd pillowcases in varying degrees of grubbiness.  To the charity shop with the lot of them.  And yet the woman there said “Oh, lovely – this stuff always goes.”   So are we a nation of rabid buyers, even of tat.  At one time my wife was collecting all sorts of candlesticks, as along with soap she was selling candles.  When it came to clearing out I couldn’t bear to throw many of them and now have a mini-collection which one day we will undoubtedly take to the charity shop.  This stuff just keeps growing of it’s own accordion; it doesn’t need you to hum a tune.  Turn around and your house if full of junk.  Every Christmas you get a load more, and can’t quite bear to throw it out “My sister bought me that.” And back on the shelf or at the back of the cupboard it goes.

And the kindest thing you can do is leave enough money in your will to buy a skip for your family to throw it all in.

The World Outside Your Window

Sunday 2nd February

The world outside your window is all you really know, even if it is an Aeroplane or a car window.  As images flicker past we only get a sense of it all too; it is only when we stop and the image is no longer moving that we see the world outside our window.

And what do we know of the world further from our limited view.  Do we rely on the news or documentaries?  I know that I was actually surprised when I first went abroad that the trees and the grass was almost identical to that outside my Suffolk window – for all I knew it could have all looked quite different.  But when I mean know, I mean really know.  Do we understand the culture, the moods, the imaginings even of people as close to us as the French even?  I know that I am always slightly surprised that everything is still where it was the morning after I have gone to sleep.  Especially on returning to France.  Am I just scared that my whole life has been some surreal dream and that no-one else at all exists?  But I keep returning to that simple fact that all we really know is the world outside our window, and even that not very well at all.

If this is the weirdest blog I have ever written it may just be because I am confused.  Amazed really that everything is just as I left it, that the world outside my window is still there – more or less, but one can never be entirely certain, the same.

The Illusion of Time

Saturday 1st February

Does time really exist?  In any meaningful way anyway.  If the planets didn’t move, or more precisely if we didn’t go round the sun once every 24 hours so creating night and day would time still exist?  I know that we too wouldn’t exist without this spinning and so creating gravity, but putting that aside for a minute it seems that we, humans have created the concept of time as the measure of our days.  I am not sure that any other species counts the days, rather their cycles are triggered by the seasons or air temperature or the gravitational pull of the moon.  And once we began to measure the days and the bits of the days and the years we started thinking about ourselves in quite a different way.  Maybe no other creatures actually do think about themselves, well not in the introspective way that we do.

So is time just an illusion, and with it all our ideas of the Universe.  I mean what does a light year really mean?  186,000 miles per second is an awfully difficult thing to imagine anyway, and then multiply that by 60, by 60 again, then by 24 and again by 365 and you lose all sense of distance let alone time itself.  So if scientists tell us that the Universe is 13 billion years old what does that really mean.  Not very much I am afraid.  Maybe all Astro-Physics is simply incomprehensible.  All we can really understand is time as it relates to us, minutes, hours days and years.  And even these have no exact meaning.  Some hours fly past, the yers certainly do and yet to wait five minutes seems intolerable at times.

And yet our whole society is run on time.  Which none of us really understands anyway.  And if we didn’t exist would time have any meaning at all?  And that brings us to the biggest question of all – what is the meaning of the Universe?  Or is it all an illusion?  Anyway must dash – time waits for no man.