Monday, 7 December 2009

Elephants and Alcohol

Elephants love all forms of alcohol - but too much.

Elephants drink to forget.

When pissed, they see little pink human beings.

Because they are always dehydrated, elephants are very wrinkly.

Once they've lost consciousness, bankers sneak up on them, remove their tusks and commission small ivory figurines of Satan.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

A Big Hand

Fifteen months ago I started my MA in Professional Writing. The course began with a week's workshop; really, a getting-to know-you session. The object: a short three-act film, an adaptation of the Cornish Giant Bolster legend. Like many giants, Bolster experienced behavioural difficulties. He suffered with anger management problems, terrorised the local people at St Agnes, on Cornwall's north coast, and was appalling where women were concerned. The old tale tells of Bolster's eventual downfall, thoroughly deserved. Our workshop was great fun, broke the ice between the plucky newbies, and the film wasn't too bad.

Today, full circle. I find myself writing a feature on giants for a Cornish magazine. We have quite a few giants in this part of the world, so the legends go. They can be ferocious, making their bread from human bones; or they can be gentle spirits despite their huge strength. Sometimes playful, jealous or violent among themselves, from time to time they are also ardent suitors. But usually they are able to reason; a wise person may deal effectively with them - sometimes.

And today I visited St Agnes. With due ceremony, at tea time the Christmas lights were switched on. The officiating personality? No less than your man himself, Giant Bolster. There he is, above. It was good to see him rehabilitated back into the community.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Cornwall Centre: Aviation Exhibition

The Cornwall Centre, incorporating the Cornish Studies Library, is situated at Alma Place in Redruth, just off Fore Street. The Centre contains the county's largest collection of Cornish printed and published items, and is custodian of an astonishing range of material: books and pamphlets, newspapers, serial publications, maps, censuses, trade directories and images. For any form of research on Cornish matters, it's the tops. The librarians and staff are unfailingly helpful and knowledgeable, while resources include microfilm readers, photocopying, and power for your laptop. Entry is free and no membership is required.

Until the end of November, the Centre is running a special exhibition on aviation in Cornwall, from the very first flight of an aeroplane from Cornish soil in 1910, up to the present-day. Many rare items and images are on show and again, the exhibition is free. So if like me you're local, and keen on big silver cloud-boats, get yourself along!

The image above shows British Midland Airways Viscount 7 G-AWCV at Newquay Airport during July 1968. It was taken by the late Barry Cole, a keen follower of Cornish aviation matters and a generous friend who helped me with several written projects. Barry would have enjoyed the exhibition.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Truro's Mysterious Cornish Painting

Recently, I learned that Truro's Royal Cornwall Museum has received the historic oil painting below, portraying a nineteenth century Cornish mining scene. The painting shows a mine count house, or office, where an auction of copper ore is taking place. A large group of buyers, miners and bal-maidens is depicted, together with the mine managers.

A Cornish family with long-standing mining connections donated the painting to the museum, but little is known of its origin. It was probably painted during the early to mid 1900s, and is initialled 'WP', probably the name of the artist, but perhaps an indication of West Penwith, a prominent past mining location. The painting bears a striking resemblance to another work (below) in the care of the Museum, which is known simply as 'A Cornish Mining Sc

The Cornish Mi
ning World Heritage Site, which promotes Cornwall's mining legacy, has examined both paintings and found a number of similarities. In each, bal-maidens attend to their daily work, many wearing the distinctive white Cornish 'gook', a form of protective headgear. Buyers cluster round the managers as the sale of ore takes place. Both paintings show piles of copper, or doles, ready for selling, while background buildings and scenery also have much in common.

The Site says the paintings reproduce many typical activities of a Cornish mine of the time. Some details are particularly accurate. The earlier painting shows a raised wooden launder (or trough) carrying water from the mine engine house and shaft; such launders often leaked, and the painter includes this detail. Some of the bal-maidens are dressing (or processing) the copper ore, while other bring the ore to the balance scales for weighing, before it is auctioned.

However, artistic licence has also been used. In the later painting the maidens are dressing the ore close to the count house, which in practice would have been unlikely; such work usually took place within the industrial part of the mine rather than alongside the offices. In the more recent painting, a thatched house is in close proximity to a smoking mine chimney.

I spoke to Lucinda Middleton, the RCM's Curator of Arts. She told me, 'The similarities in the subjects, the broadly comparable colour pallet and the style of brush strokes, indicate the paintings are probably by the same artist.' However, she feels the two were probably painted some years apart. The recently donated work shows more attention to detail, suggesting a growing experience and maturity of observing and painting.

Both the Museum and the Heritage Site are keen to learn more about the two paintings, and so am I. If anyone can help with information, especially details of the artist or the locations portrayed, I'd be very pleased to hear from you.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

MOD Procurement - Only The Pensions Are Bullet-Proof

On 25 August 2007, an American Patriot missile shot down a British Tornado aircraft over Iraq, killing the pilot and navigator, Flight Lieutenant David Rhys Williams and Flight Lieutenant Kevin Main. During the same conflict, American aircraft attacked a friendly Kurdish and US Special Forces convoy. BBC translator Kamaran Muhamed was killed, while BBC reporter Tom Giles and World Affairs Editor John Simpson were injured. The Battlefield Target Identification System equipment programme, which could have prevented these tragedies, had previously been axed by the British Ministry of Defence. Subsequently it was half-heartedly reinstated. Today it is dormant.

And that sums up the decision-makers' distribution of billions of pounds each year, to protect our service people and the country they defend. For four decades, from conception to delivery the MOD's equipment procurement policies have been riddled with catastrophic failure.

This disaster has occurred not least from the financial point of view. Until the mid 1960s, the MOD contracted for its major systems such as aircraft, guns and tanks on a cost-plus basis, where the chosen supplier from industry took as its profit a percentage of the costs incurred in supplying the items required - so the more you spent, the more you made. The relationships between the Ministry and industry were often what would today be described as 'cosy', with major firms coming to the high table by turn. Not surprisingly in the circumstances, project cost over-runs were frequent. All that said, equipment was designed, built, and went into service.

But unable to control industry properly through its own rules of contracting, the Ministry turned to the process of competitive procurement. Companies would have to fight amongst themselves to win orders. This in turn often forced would-be suppliers to ignore their own cost estimates, and submit artificially low prices for their proposals to secure the work. Increased value for money from the Ministry's point of view? Often, no. Frequently, the projects stalled during implementation because the supplier was simply unable to take the pain of his real costs. The result? Either a rebid for the same equipment - causing untold programme delays - or an upward renegotiation of the price. For forty years, the MOD has shuffled between these two pricing method extremes, unable to find a middle ground allowing industry a reasonable profit while ensuring suitable financial controls are in place.

Neither does the Ministry enjoy sparkling relations with its own side of the fence. Often it clashes with the Treasury mandarins, not least at the end of each financial year when the Treasury seeks to recover unspent MOD budgets in order to reallocate them - as Government rules allow. In an annual ritual the Ministry argues against this though often, funds have lingered in MOD's coffers because of its fumbling in placing orders. Meanwhile, the armed forces, who the Ministry's staff think of merely as 'the user community', wait years for equipment. In meetings or project reviews with industry in which MOD civil servants and the military are both represented, ostensibly aligned as 'the buyer', time and again the atmosphere between them is toe-curling.

MOD's procurement organisation has a history of chronic staffing difficulties. During the mid-1980s, many of its offices were moved from central London to a single huge site at Bristol. The more able workers who didn't want to transfer to the south-west found new jobs in the capital, and overall staff calibre slumped. It has never recovered. These days, a rag-tag army of clerks and administrators makes up much of the MOD's buying force. Compared with industry, time-keeping and attendance are poor.

In attempts to improve staff efficiency, from time to time the Ministry has inflicted on itself various rigid route-map processes, which have stifled any slight tendency to innovation but provided peace of mind for the inexperienced and the timid. Instead of improving performance, predictably the result has been increased bureaucracy and further delays in ordering. Today, much of the Ministry's buying processes are gridlocked.

Not surprisingly, the MOD is at an all-time low in planning its future equipment needs. Decision-making is in hock to committees formed to promote collective rather than individual responsibility, which sits neatly alongside the comforting, popular concept of the no-blame culture. Repeatedly, projects are started, then cancelled and restarted as priorities are changed, and changed again.

Recently a huge order for two new aircraft carriers was awarded, but already the Ministry has allowed the delivery dates to drift into unknown waters. In Afghanistan, the Army has had to lease French unmanned spy planes by the hour, because the programme for the British equivalent is running years late. A contract for armoured vehicles has been put out to competition three times, but orders have still not been placed - and there is no sign of a decision on the winning contractor being made in the near future. A bid for a big programme can cost a company well over £100,000, with no guarantee of a return, but the Ministry is solipsistic and dismissive of industry's plight in repeatedly being asked to find such huge sums because of its dithering.

It isn't just the major systems and platforms that are affected. Vital personal equipment isn't reaching war zones quickly enough, directly resulting in loss of lives. Today, many front-line British troops are without adequate body armour or, incredibly, have to buy their own. This may have been the custom in Napoleonic times; today's soldiers are entitled to support consistent with their professional status, and the work they do. But in terms of bullet-proof protection, the priorities of MOD's civil servants are abrogation of responsibility, a safe, cushy office and a uniquely shielded pension.

And now, in a disgusting new twist, it emerges the Government is awarding bonuses totalling £47 million to those same civil servants, explaining that these are being paid on the basis of 'outstanding performance'. The figure coyly emerged in the form of a written reply to a parliamentary question from the Conservatives. Families of dead soldiers have lambasted the awards. Truly, when I learned of these payments I experienced deep revulsion.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday

Earlier today, a Remembrance Sunday service was held at Camp Bastion in the Afghan province of Helmand. 2,000 British servicemen and women gathered on a dusty, windblown patch of open ground at the camp in Afghanistan to join in prayer, lay wreaths and remember fellow soldiers who died serving their country. Today too, it was announced two more British servicemen have been killed.

One padre spoke of the dangers of glamorising war and another urged leaders of nations to shape a better world through 'wisdom, humility and a common love for peace.
' He continued: 'For many young people, until recently Remembrance Sunday was all about what granddad did. It's now about what young people are doing today and so it's very poignant.'

Meanwhile in Britain, sales of poppies have reached tens of millions. From huge memorial services and displays to individual buttonholes, the country has come forward to support war's wounded and bereaved, and embraced more than ever the cause of the Royal British Legion. The poppy factory at Richmond has supplied over 36 million of the paper and plastic flowers. A two-minute silence will be held at 11.00 am to pay tribute to the UK's war dead. This year it will be especially observed, as we remember, in particular, the fallen of Afganistan.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Oh No! BLP In Disarray

Nick 'Camel-Toe' Griffin could face a challenge as leader of the British Lunatic Party, following his recent performance on the BBC's Question Time. Critics within his 'party' say he fluffed the chance to make the case for nationalism to the British people, and are set to hold a meeting in a plot to topple him. "We're determined to get rid of him," a BLP member grunted from a pub skittle alley in Burnley.

The location and timing of the gathering are being kept secret because of fears that Camel-Toe could seek to have members who attend expelled. But apparently it's being organised by people linked to the so-called Reform Group of the BLP. They are said to support a new governing structure for the 'party', a committee, possibly chaired by loathsome former skinhead Chris 'Jack-Off' Jackson.

A number of BLP members have posted (anonymous) damning comments on fascist websites. One dribbled: "A lot of people will still not know what nationalism is about. From that point of view he fluffed it." Nearly a third of a hundred lunatics surveyed on a certain white extremist website, called on 'Mr Griffin' to stand down after his BBC performance.

Under the terms of its charter the BBC was obliged to give Camel-Toe a slot (as it were) on Question Time. Who could have forseen any form of positive outcome from the broadcast? But subsequently we witness crumbling, disarray, in-fighting among the BLP leadership. Go on: press the red button.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Song For Gordon

Gordon Brown, PM at last
Takes us down, into the Doldrums
No sense of fun
Dour and glum
Always a frown
With Gordon Brown

Every time, just like the last
Lies and spin echo the Blair years
Loves the EU
Freemason too
Always a frown
With Gordon Brown

Doo be doo
Be doo be doo
Be doo be doo
Be doo doo doo doo

Doo be doo
Be doo be doo
Be doo be doo
Be doo doo doo doo

Gordon Brown, not long to go
Billions lost, let the banks cheat us
Throughout the years
Crocodile tears
Financial clown
That's Gordon Brown

From an idea by Hugh Cornwell.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Fat Of The Land

Britain's population is the fattest in Europe. In Britain, 24% of the people are medically obese. Yet every day we throw away millions of tons of food. Do fat people come out at night and eat from bins?

Scotland is the worst affected area, where fatties flourish most. You have to wonder what they'd be like up there without all that heroin. Recently I was queuing in a fast food emporium in Perth. The guy in front asked for a 'burger mate, nay shite.' This meant, 'I'll forego the salad garnish, tomato, lettuce and so on thanks, just give me the processed-flour bun and the black rubber thing in the middle.' In Scotland, five-a-day is for the entire country rather than for each person.

Junk food isn't good, it's poison. You can't just exercise it away. It takes four hours to run off a bag of chips, and that's not including stops for snacks. Yet we continue to buy terrible processed food from places such as Iceland and Aldi. Surely not everyone in Britain is poor and too lazy to cook?

Of course, fat people are easy targets. Literally. But it's hard to believe that dietary common-sense has so completely gone out of the window. The odd apple instead of the usual meat pie in batter. A little less crap food, a little less blubber. And that replica sports kit will start to actually look quite good. Well, no it won't. But you get my drift.

Snail Wail

Adam Crozier, chief executive of Royal Mail, has set the scene for tense talks with leaders of the Communications Workers' Union. Today he called on them to 'shut up' and stop making 'nonsensical' claims about the effects their current strike is having on postal delays and backlogs. He wants to get back to the negotiating table and reach an agreement.

Well he might. Crozier is ex-chief of the Football Association, and before that Saatchi and Saatchi. He has more practical experience of tough business decisions than the flat-cap brigade on the other side of the picket fence will ever amass, or even begin to appreciate.

The Daily Mirror has recently drawn the attention of its er readers to Crozier's '£2 million home in leafy Surrey', to his £1.3 million-a-year salary, and to his Jaguar. Yet Crozier and his management team have to face Billy Hayes and Dave Ward, officials of the CWU whose views sound like a third-rate replay of newsclips from the 1970s winter of discontent. Crozier earns his money. Today, how many electronic options are there to posting a letter? This strike will do tremendous, perhaps terminal damage to Royal Mail.

In a short-lived, disastrous rebranding exercise, for sixteen months over 2001 and 2002 our national postal service became known as Consignia, before adopting its current title. Maybe it should revert to its previous name; have a look at the old logo above. Is it a plughole?

Monday, 12 October 2009

One In The Eye

Gordon Brown is now so weak that to criticise him would seem almost like bullying. He has the face of the kid your mother made you play with, the face of a dog at the vets. But just as MPs from all political parties turn toward preparations for the next General Election, once again the creature rises from its crypt - not Brown himself, rather the subject of honourable members' expenses. Enter Sir Thomas Legg, the auditor charged with bringing the Commons to book.

Following Sir Thomas's findings, we learn today that Brown is to repay £12,415, wrongly claimed for cleaning and gardening services. Casually trousered, the amount of money many people take home in a year. How Hazel 'Bride of Chucky' Blears must be clapping her chubby little mitts at such revelations.

Another of the so-called Bliar Babes, Brown's former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, has just apologised to the Commons for breaching expenses rules. Smith had designated her sister's house in London as her main home, a move that allowed her to claim public money for the mortgage on the family home in her Redditch constituency. The one with the husband and the artistic hard-core films.
Her apology was so sincere it was termed unreserved, rather than just the ordinary, sorry-lite version.

Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg has also been caught out. At first sight, Clegg's personality is like an old woman's cushion that's been left out in the rain for cats to piss on. Yet all is not quite as it seems. Here is a man who improperly claims over £900 for gardening expenses, over a three-year period. Nearly a pound a day. He's bolder than we think. Even more surprising, during his keynote speech at the squabbling Lib-Dem Conference recently, Clegg announced he wanted to be Prime Minister. Well, good luck with that one.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Country Phial

A lovely day here in Cornwall. London Acres is bathed in warm sunshine, across the field the river twinkles; peaceful silence broken only by birdsong. Time to go out then.

In the nearby lane, I met an elderly lady; she was snaffling blackberries from the hedgerows. The old soul was chatty and enjoying the warmth. She was also on the lookout for sloes.

I nipped back for two carrier-bags.
What better than to gather succulent blackberries during a gentle afternoon stroll around the nearby fields, an amble down to the path by the river. Both have blackberries galore - lovely with a dollop of cream, or in a pie. And also, the sloes.

Christmas has many disadvantages, but one compensation is sloe gin. Smooth, sweet, sticky, it brings comfort, a warm fuzzy swaddling as it slips down; the loathsome period recedes. Of course, you have to know to make it, so here are some instructions.

1) Collect lots of sloe berries - don't leave it too long, get out there over the next couple of weeks or you'll find they've started to turn. Good luck with this bit if you live in Newham. In fact, good luck generally.

2) Buy two 70 cl bottles of Asda Smart-Price Gin.

3) Get two empty 70 cl screw-top spirit bottles from your friendly publican.

4) Prick each of the sloes a couple of times.

5) Fill each of the four bottles half-full with gin, and a third-full with sloes.

6) Bung in a load of sugar, but leave a bit of space at the top of each bottle.

7) Give each of the bottles a really good shake. Oh, put the tops on first - sorry.

8) Place the bottles upright in a warm place. Inspect them monthly. Add more sugar, give them a bit of a shake. Put the bottles back unsampled.

9) Christmas Day. Drink four 70 cl bottles of sloe gin. You may need a friend to help you with this bit, eventually.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Show of Hands

What's been happening in the world of politics over the summer? It's usually a quiet time, but a few gems have emerged that we could touch on.

Nick 'Camel-Toe' Griffin, failed anorexic and leader of the British Lunatic Party, was pelted with eggs outside Parliament and forced to abandon a press conference. That's democracy for you. Police are poised to interview around sixty million suspects. An inspired media reporter revealed that following the assault on his person, Hitler-esque Griffin was 'whisked away'. But why eggs? Surely instead, samosas. Preferably frozen. Or just bricks.

After her over-publicised collapse from nervous exhaustion, 'popular' Scottish singer Susan Boyle received a comforting telephone call from none other than ... Gordon Brown. An attempt to show his caring side, perhaps. Or was it the beginnings of a support group?

Finally, because I've been wrestling with my MA thesis over the summer, I have yet to investigate Peter Mandelson's latest appointment. In particular, I'm keen to identify the democratic process by which he became Business Secretary. I'm assuming that, like (nearly) everyone else in Chuckles' er team, Rasputin has received a ringing endorsement from the electorate. It's just that I don't remember any such process taking place. I wonder what I'll find?

One Year On

11 September was the final day of my MA in Professional Writing. All work complete, thesis handed in. I've had a truly happy year, a wonderful experience. I'm so glad I left my job and took the plunge. The course was absorbing, fulfilling, fun. My fellow students were a great crowd, a real mixture but homogenous to the end. I've made some good friends; people I would never have met had I stayed in industry, with knowledge and views I was thrilled to encounter.

My tutors were fun, supportive, at times inspirational. For my thesis I had a terrific supervisor. I can't fault this course. My only difficulty was that there was so much on offer, so many options, extras, additions to the core activities, that I just physically couldn't do every single thing I wanted to - but that's hardly a complaint.

We had a lovely final day. Lunch at a local Italian in Falmouth. An afternoon meandering into a barbeque at our Course Leader's house, the place where a year ago we'd come together during our group 'getting to know you' project at the outset of the course. Full circle then.
Now, with all this knowledge and experience crammed into my head, it's time to earn a crust in the outside world. The next challenge.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Still Feeling Perky

No sign of life-threatening germs yet at London Acres. But from my upper balcony, across the meadows in the far distance I can see the granite outline of Penryn. Even this small Cornish town is now encrusted with Swine Flu.

I've been finding out what to do about H1N1. One idea seems to be to stay in, avoiding everybody in the world until the middle of next year. Though I'm not the most sociable being, I find that a bit of a dull prospect. On the web of course, there's masses of advice on staying healthy; if you followed it all you'd end up being the fittest you've ever been. We're also told, Corporal Jones-style, not to panic. There are helplines and e-doctors to assist us; I wonder how much calls cost?

There'll be plenty of the new Tamiflu wonder-drug to go round. No-one will be kept short. But hang on - Tamiflu won't cure us. It only alleviates symptoms, so if proprietary drugs are cheaper (is Tamiflu free?) we might as well buy Asda Smart Price paracetamol. Except, that would involve going out.

At least Salman Rushdie should be alright.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Boomtown Rats

American forces recently ended their permanent presence in Iraq's major cities. A grateful Iraqi government promptly declared the pullback National Sovereignty Day.

America's work is done; the world's policeman is moving on. Iraqi authorities are set to take full control of the new democracy. At last, stability has arrived in the region; all calm on the streets, all contracts in place. Hollywood is standing by.

The exact phrase used by the US administration for its exit strategy is 'pulling out'. Well excuse the vernacular but to many people, pulling out is what you do when you've fucked something.

According to United Nations statistics meanwhile, Baghdad is now considered safer then Mogadishu. Mission accomplished, then.

Blowing Bubbles

He flew so high. The whole world is in mourning over the Prince of Pop's premature passing. A truly great musician (couldn't play an instrument), extraordinary vocals (annoying), peerless dancer (OK, fair enough). Away on a pile of prescription drugs, allegedly. No more unusual antics with his little friends, or inevitable acquittals. No more contractual obligation albums. Aged just fifty, Michael Joseph Jackson has died.

Tickets for his final comeback tour, now cancelled of course, are becoming collectible. Refund or souvenir? It's a difficult choice to make.

Those left out of his will are transparently bitter, their greedy, furious eyes captured by the never-ending media coverage. Now wait for the shameless fight over the cash machine: album and media royalties, merchandising, music rights.

Already, RIP memorabilia has mushroomed.
We can choose from T-shirts, badges, posters, even fridge magnets. Oh, and watch out for circulation-boosting conspiracy theories peddled by the fourth estate.

The poor lad. For years, he hadn't looked himself.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Tears For Blears

Hazel Blears, the traitorous Red Dwarf, has admitted cruelty in her recent comments about Gordon Brown. But apparently, she didn't mean to sabotage his struggle to stay in office. She has grovellingly apologised for the timing of her resignation - on the eve of the European elections.

She concedes too, that she shouldn't really have worn a brooch bearing the slogan 'Rocking the Boat' during her Day of Reprisal. 'The effect on the party is something I will regret forever,' she now claims tearfully.

Of course, she gives reasons for her behaviour. These are to do with other people.

Pressure, she says, was put on her by the Daily Telegraph. Er, well, a big fat £13,000 payback for expenses improperly claimed suggests there was some reason for the Telegraph's stance. And fancy waving the cheque around on telly - like Father Ted's Mrs Doyle in the Mainland episode.

Because of the media, pressure was also experienced by her family, she explains, which was terribly upsetting - on her husband, and her 'dad'. Note the touching use of the diminutive to tug at our heart-strings. Works well, doesn't it.

Partly because of Blears' antics and the terrible publicity to Labour,
in the north-west of England the insane British National Party was able to snatch MEP seats.

Next Thursday, the Dwarf faces her Salford constituency, and possible de-selection. So, is this latest peroration an act of contrition, or merely a shameless attempt to keep her seat? And even if her remorse is genuine, who would want representation by an MP with such lack of judgement?

Miss Blears has said she will not return to the Cabinet. A view presumably shared by Chuckles and his remaining satellites.

Friday, 12 June 2009

It's A Girl!

Madonna's wangled another child from the Malawian authorities. At last we can sleep easy, as the pop diva expands her family while the country's judiciary graciously steps aside.

Mercy: 'Do you have AIDS, mummy?'

Madonna: 'Sure kid, they're over there, just out of shot. Now, look up at me trustingly.'

Madonna, the Red campaign led by Bonio, Tony Bliar's star-studded Africa Progress Panel. Genuine attempts to help Africa, or self-serving publicity platforms?

Now, you may not like Bob Geldof's robust approach, but he was first to put Africa's medical and financial plight in front of the world, and his work raised a lot of money. How the money was spent, of course, is another matter. But perhaps he has a credibility the others lack; is his ungracious gruffness a sign of genuine reluctance to benefit personally from his campaigns?

By the by, the story goes that Paula Yates used to spend a lot of time at home in the nude. Cooking, housework, watching telly, all in the buff. An odd quirk, you might say. But then, being married to Bob Geldof is probably enough to put anyone off clothes.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Because I'm Worth It

And another. This time it's Caroline Flint, glamour-puss, fashion model and former part-time Europe Minister. A close friend of the Red Dwarf, today Flint has claimed Chuckles has a two-tier government and treats female ministers as 'window dressing'.

The timing of this realisation is interesting. Three days ago Flint promised uncritical loyalty to Brown's tottering regime. Then came Cabinet musical chairs in which she was passed over. It's almost as if sour grapes drove her decision to resign, but in today's Telegraph, she denies being a wrecking ball.

'I want Labour to be re-elected and I still support the Government', insists the stilletoed assassin. She then goes on to explain at unnecessary length her views on wider sexism in the workplace, political and otherwise. This is an insultingly obvious attempt to move away from her specific motive in sledging Brown, and toward less controversial, more comfortable boilerplate. Transparency in government indeed - though not for hard-hearted Flint.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Bye Bye Babes

So. The Red Dwarf spitefully stabs Chuckles immediately prior to the European Election. A fantastic move, unprecedented. She's leaving the Cabinet, going back to her roots. Pass the Henna. I won't miss that plucky, chipper walk, the grin of almost demented gaiety. Vote for Hazel Blears if you will. She's a ball-breaker. I might like that ...

Squirrel Nutkin's off too. I don't want to rake up the past, but it seems perfectly reasonable to me that Jacqui Smith's unfortunate husband orders hard-core pornographic films. In his position so would I. It's just that I'm not keen on paying for them. For him, I mean. Obviously.

Beverley Hughes: another ginger, another goodbye, another limo back to Manchester. We could play book-ends, or something more interesting. Her expenses transgressions are relatively minor compared with Blears', and she's leaving for personal reasons. Let's hope they aren't as personal as Smith's.

In passing, I learned the other day that on his departure from office, all records of Tony Bliar's expenses were shredded. It's nice to have a good clear-out from time to time.

Happy Daze

I don't usually put jokes on this blog, but my friend Dave The Bass has kindly made a contribution that I can't resist.

A man died and went to heaven. As he stood in front of St Peter at the Pearly Gates he saw a huge wall of clocks behind him.
He asked, 'What are all those clocks?'

St Peter answered, 'Those are Lie-Clocks. Everyone on Earth has a Lie-Clock. Every time you lie, the hands of your clock will move.'

The man pointed at the first clock. 'Who's is that?'
'That's Mother Theresa's. The hands have never moved, because she never told a lie.'

'Incredible,' said the man, 'and the next one?'
'The Queen of England's. The hands have only moved twice, because she's only told two lies in her entire life.'

'Where's Gordon Brown's?' asked the man.
St Peter replied, 'Gordon's clock is in Jesus' office. He's using it as a ceiling fan.'

One of the joys of this joke is its flexibility.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Home Alone

Amid the scandalous revelations of MPs' second-home expense claim abuse, one clarion voice, free of guilt or shame, rings out clear, rising clean and pure above the frightened parroting of 'within the rules'. A crusading force for good gives the British people hope that integrity and truth will see off the rabble of hypocrites falling over themselves to apologise for having been found out. It's the Harriet Harmon Show!

As the bad news broke, the fearful shysters began to dribble and roll their eyes, but by contrast Ms Harmon was a model of composure. She was the only senior Labour figure brave enough publicly to discuss the wrongdoings of honourable members.

Appearing on TV, Harriet wept openly at the deceit and shamelessness of the cheats, while informing the nation with absolute conviction that she has never ever claimed any money or allowances for her second home. This only served to emphasise the wickedness of those party colleagues (particularly her many enemies) who had made extravagent claims, an effect she presumably had overlooked.

A little research throws some light on this behaviour. Harmon is not eligible to claim any money at all for a second home. 'I come under a different system because I am an Inner London MP', she grudgingly admitted when pressed by baying media interrogators.

Who's a lucky girl?

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Cows and Pigs: Fever Pitch

In 1990 the BSE crisis raged. During that period of 'Mad Cow' disease, tens of thousands of infected animals were slaughtered and burned. But the Agriculture Minister of the day, Tory John Gummer, publicly fed his four-year old daughter Cordelia a beefburger, in a ghastly publicity stunt designed to reassure us beef was safe.

Gummer's action was widely pilloried and led to a lasting mistrust of government pronouncements on health scares. Inexplicably his career remained unscathed, though I'm pleased to report the Norwegian Minister of Environmental Affairs, Thorbjorn Berntsen, described him as 'the biggest shithead I've ever met.'

Today we have swine fever. Which Cabinet Minister's child features in the above image taken this very morning? Is it the child of a Minister at all? Or a Catholic Minister, perhaps? Or is it some other child?

Will the image appear on Government information leaflets to be pushed through letterboxes across Britain?

A prize will be awarded for the most interesting and original suggestion as to the child's identity.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Brown Bottles

Recently, Gordon Brown apologised for controversial emails sent by his aide, Damian McBride, as part of a plot to smear senior Conservative politicians. He had not known of McBride's initiative, despite sitting in the cubicle next to him at work.

Mr Brown's apology took the following form:

'I take full responsibility for what's happened. That's why the person responsible for what happened went immediately.'

A masterclass in doublespeak. Segue to Brown's recent YouTube appearance, where he reveals measures intended to alter rules on MPs' claims for second homes and expenses, and smiles at us. A gro-bag smile forced, devoid of spontaneity or sincerity, but which stimulates in return a grin of delight.

Interestingly, a YouGov survey taken a short time ago reveals Brown is now less trusted than notorious womaniser and cad Boris Johnson. The poll found more people have faith in the Mayor of London to keep his word than the Prime Minister. Cripes!

Monday, 27 April 2009

I Was Only Following Holy Orders

Pope Benedict XVI has recently upheld traditional Catholic teaching on artificial contraception. The Vatican has always opposed the use of condoms and other forms of birth control, and encourages sexual abstinence to fight the spread of STDs. The Pope made his remarks during a visit to Africa, a continent that desperately needs every effective method to combat the AIDS pandemic.

The Pope has also attacked gay unions, gay adoptions, abortion, IVF treatment and lesbians wanting to bear children, claiming the traditional family unit is 'under attack' by 'radical currents' worldwide. Yet despite the Vatican's best efforts, in several European countries gay unions are legal, including traditionally Catholic Spain, while Italy's centre left coalition has promised some form of recognition for unmarried couples. France allows all couples the right to civil unions, joint social security and inheritance rights. Britain too has introduced a law allowing gay people to formalise their relationships.

Critics of religeon accuse the church of losing touch with modern life. The Vatican is doing itself great harm by flying in the face of common sense, and irreversible social developments. Its policies have created ecumenical polarisation. More importantly, the Vatican is meddling in medical matters which are quite beyond its expertise, and is turning its back on large groups of society.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


Recently I watched a film about King Arthur. It was a jumble of half-baked philosophy and pseudo-religeon, with lots of fighting. The leading lady turned out to be a seventh Dan in martial arts combined with edged-weapon combat. An American masquerading as a Pict, or 'Woad', was the flatpack antagonist who killed everyone he met, rather gratuitously I felt. The hero was tortured by paper-thin moral doubts and fears. Armies hacked at each other but sadly, reminded me of the massed ranks of gribbly orcs in LOTR. It was a terrible film, assuming it wasn't meant to be a spoof - a 'Blazing Arthur' type of thing.

If you want a good film, you must go back to the fifties and sixties. There, you'll find jaw-dropping American sci-fi and monster movies that really know how to entertain.
Who can forget the chilling effects in 'Robot Monster', made for $16,000 in four days. Or the intricate but masterly plot lines of 'The Brain From Planet Arous'. The courage of the all-American kid in 'Invaders from Mars' takes some beating while the daddy, 'Plan Nine From Outer Space', has the lot: wobbly sets, crazy aliens, toe-curling dialogue. These films are so bad, they're great. Watch them with a few chums, a bottle of wine and some snacks - you'll love the cinematic experience.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started. The list is as it occurred; it's difficult to put these films in order of merit.

Robot Monster (1953)
The Brain from Planet Arous (1957)
Invaders From Mars (1953)
Plan Nine From Outer Space (1959)
They Saved Hitler's Brain (1963)
Phantom From Space (1953)
The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)
Mars Needs Women (1966)
Attack Of The Fifty Foot Woman (1958)
I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958)
The Thing From Another World (1951)

Happy viewing!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Rag Week

I like reading newspapers. I enjoy The Times, and love it or hate it, The Sun is very good at what it does. But the Daily Mail, the Wail, is beyond me. Everything's going to turn out badly; threats to society abound, freaks will kill us, food is poisonous. For The Mail, nothing's better than scare stories, and ludicrous exaggerations about how awful it all is. Tragedy over triumph sells.

But just recently the Mail has surpassed itself, any remaining editorial honesty finally flatlined. In Britain, it's recently been campaigning against the HPV jab, the vaccine against infection associated with the development of cervical cancer, using its usual mix of sensationalism and horrific stories as 'facts' are 'revealed' over the alleged dangerous side-effects of the treatment. The Mail's strident voice insists no vaccination programme must ever, ever go ahead.

But at the same time, the Irish edition of The Mail has been crusading for the immediate introduction of the HPV jab countrywide, claiming that despite the Health Minister's recent shelving of a plan to do this, '... the Irish Daily Mail will not relent and will continue to urge the roll out of the vaccine.'

So we have the simultaneous printing of lurid scare stories in one country, and a pro bono publico campaign urging the nationwide launch of the treatment in another. The editorial stance is solely whatever will sell the most newspapers, the seriousness of the health issue simply set aside.

Add to this the foolishness of expressing such contrapuntal views in neighbouring countries, where thousands of people, all speaking - and reading - the same language, travel between the two every day. Did the Mail group believe no-one would pick this up?

Monday, 13 April 2009

Yum Yum

If you live in Cornwall you'll probably have tried a Cornish pasty. Many are inedible muck and too small, but some are divine. You have to really seek out the occasional good baker in order to get a top example.

Stick with traditional steak as your filling. Over the past few years, Lever Brothers principles have been applied to pasty marketing, and the choice of fillings has become wide but disgusting - chicken tikka, llama, spam. These are for the tourists and are best shunned.

In Falmouth town square, deep in the Cornish heartland, there's an excellent pasty emporium with good value, succulent pasties made on the premises. It's just the name ...

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Work Placements

For the last couple of weeks I've been working full-time in the real world. I spent the first week in Penzance at the offices of Cornish World magazine, and the second with the History Press, a book publisher based in Stroud.

These visits were made to satisfy the requirement of my MA for work experience in what we'll call the writing industry.
It was fantastic. I met two groups of lovely people who found the time and enthusiasm to make my stays interesting and demanding. I was encouraged to have a go at all sorts of activities: various types of writing, editing, image manipulation, electronic layout. I was made welcome at internal process and review meetings. I was given handouts on various parts of the publishing process, and on the accompanying marketing and sales techniques. I came away tired but very happy; both groups went out of their way to help me see as much as possible during my stays. It was tremendously worthwhile.

As I know from my previous working life, sometimes when students visit offices for work experience it's difficult to give them anything meaningful or interesting to do, mostly because of time constraints. But I wasn't dumped in a corner, left to my own devices, or given mundane stuff to do. I offered to make the tea, but more often than not it was made for me.

The most remarkable aspect of the last two weeks was the parallel between the processes and activities I experienced within the industry, and what I've been taught in the classroom. It was exciting and reassuring to find that correlation, which reflects very favourably on the the MA course content and the tutors at Falmouth.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Prince Philip - Spokesman for the Nation

I've never been Prince Philip's greatest fan. Over the years he's made the art of the severe verbal gaffe his very own. Thoughtless and prejudiced, Philip has sailed through life while commentators pussy-foot about his 'unfortunate blunders' and 'attempts to reach the ordinary people'. I've nothing in particular against mad old men, but neither would I allow them castles to live in.

But they say, if you give enough apes plenty of pencils and paper, and wait long enough, eventually one will produce a literary novel. And so, in a sense, it's proved with Philip.

Following a Royal Variety Show in December 2007, the great and good of the entertainment world were lined up to be introduced to Mr and Mrs Queen. Among them was Simon Cowell, the 'pop empressario'. As Simon stepped forward, head bowed to meet His Royal Highness, it's alleged Philip called him a sponger, breezily indicating he preys on the talent of others to make his millions.

Cowell has recently released this story to the media, claiming he feels insulted. Perhaps his grotesque ego believes it's not receiving enough attention at the moment. But what he's done is threefold. He's made himself look ridiculous. That said, he's got us talking about him. But his great achievement is to improve the public image of Prince Philip beyond the Palace's wildest dreams.

The Prince's spokesperson has of course denied the episode took place, but with exquisite disdain. 'The Duke of Edinburgh categorically did not call Mr Cowell a sponger. He has said he does not know enough about Mr Cowell to make any sort of comment about him.'

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Block 2: Reflections

Last Wednesday marked my final lecture for the second semester - or Block 2 - of my MA. For the past few weeks the course has been extremely active, with lots of fringe activities to choose from as well as the must-do stuff. Well done to all of us for getting through it (I ingratiatingly include the tutors here). And then, out like a lamb; after a final presentation, a quick pint at the SU bar and off home. Next week I start my industry placements, one week with a magazine, and one with a book publisher.

Perhaps because I'd been so busy, it didn't really hit me until a couple of days ago that the end of Block 2 is where the students start to say goodbye to each other, and begin their solo careers. It's all going terribly quickly. Over the summer, I'll be working on my book. My colleagues too will be carrying out their own projects, and group contact time will be very limited. This makes me sad, for I've enjoyed the company of some good friends during the last few months, and I'll miss them.

Block 2 wasn't as rigidly structured as the first semester. You were left a bit more to do your own thing, and make your own choices. I liked that; the University is awash with facilities and I hope I made the most of them. I'd like to have done even more, but sometimes I just ran out of time.

I was delighted with the options I'd chosen for Block 2: non-fiction, and features. Both were demanding, though in different ways, and both were satisfying. I feel we covered a lot of ground. My only doubt is whether I managed to absorb all I'd been taught. Actually that's not really a doubt, but at least I wrote most of it down. Referring back will be invaluable.

I spent the day after the end of term lying on my bed with a jumbo packet of crisps, reading a terrible thriller and feeling completely knackered. This isn't my usual lifestyle choice, so something must have caught up with me. But I did manage to totter to the pub that evening, where I met up with some of my friends from Uni for a pint or two. I had a lovely time. I hope we do it again before too long.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Crack Dealers

Red Nose Day is here. The television awaits. This evening, any interesting or amusing programmes that usually appear on a Friday will be let go.

Instead, we'll be battered into mumbling sixteen numbers down a phone line, pledging some paltry sum and falling back exhausted into our viewing chairs. No, not because of the act of donation, silly. We'll cough up, stupified by the no-marks who'll torment us with their lame acts and demands for money.

Featuring tonight, we'll have the pleasure of Europe's funniest man, Alan 'BMW angry grill teeth' Carr. Once again, Alan will peddle his hilarious gay ticket act. Nationwide, hospitals will be inundated with cases of split sides.

Or Ainsley Harriott, clearly an unwanted nuisance even on his own show, 'Dances With Saucepans'. How I'd like to stick a fork into one of his mad, bulging eyes. An embarrassment of riches, without the riches.

We'll look forward to Jonathan Ross, justly restored to his rightful place as king of everything after some trifling incident blown out of all proportion by a few mad people in attics. Good on yer, Wossie, welcome back to my living room. I love your easy, familiar style - have a knighthood, you deserve it.

We're promised these celebrities will do something funny for money. At last. But according to various reliable press sources, Jonathan Ross has a red nose every day. Perhaps a duet with Charles Kennedy then.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

My New Machine

It's all go at the moment on the MA course. Lots of nice regular work, plus all sorts of optional (at your peril) extra activities. My colleagues are beginning to look tired. I of course am sanguine, except that I wake up thinking of MA and go to sleep thinking of ... well, MA. Hard going you might say, and at the moment you could have a point. But the internet provides moments of hilarity between the tsunami of tasks, and serrendipitously, while surfing during my heroin break (used to be a nice cup of tea) I found this cunning machine.

When I worked at Falmouth Docks, people were said to have attacks of 'the fuckems'. Not that I've quite reached that stage yet. Never mind, nearly time for Easter eggs.

Friday, 27 February 2009

W B Yeats - He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

I'm not too well-read on the poetry front, but a friend introduced me to this. It always moves me.

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with gold and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Scaling the North Face of the Paper Mountain

Here I am, sat at my desk planning my weekend paperwork with care and efficiency. My MA course workload has suddenly shot up - maybe I should try the same.

I remain jolly in the face of adversity, it's good to be British at a time like this, we are born to it. At least I don't have to go down to the tube every night for a sleep or a good old sing-song to keep the spirits up. But the next few weeks should prove interesting. I'm writing this quick note firstly as a displacement activity, and secondly to avoid the need for pastoral care by talking to you about my distress.

That said, I'm off to watch the rugby on Saturday ... the oasis in my current world of sweated labour.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

John Porte and the Flying-Boat

One of my interests is aviation history. At the moment I'm researching the life and work of a man named John Porte. Here he is, standing in front of the Curtiss 'America' flying-boat during the summer of 1914.

Maybe you could help. I'll give you a brief summary of where I've got to so far.

During the First World War, Lieutenant-Colonel John Cyril Porte - to give him his final rank - brought dogged determination and unrivalled experience which fundamentally contributed to Britain’s battle against Germany’s U-boats.

Porte was born in 1884 in Bandon, County Cork in Ireland. In 1898 he joined the British Royal Navy. He developed a keen interest in the emerging submarine service, for which he volunteered in 1908. A great follower of technology, while still in the Navy he began to explore a new enthusiasm which would stay with him for the rest of his life - the possibility of designing and building a flying machine.

Ill-health caused him to leave the Service, but he learned to fly and joined a succession of aircraft companies, the first in 1911. From these experiences, he gained a great deal of knowledge on aeronautical matters. Despite his lack of formal engineering training, Porte found he had a natural flair for both aviation design and development. Through contacts in the aviation community, he met the earliest flying-boat designers: he came to view the potential of this water-based type of aircraft with great enthusiasm.

At the onset of the First World War, despite his health problems Porte rejoined the Navy, which he encouraged to invest in flying-boats for maritime patrol and anti-submarine activities. Early flying-boats were primitive and unreliable, but Porte felt the expertise he had acquired could be used to improve them. He was given free rein by the Navy to conduct experiments with this object in mind; these were carried between 1914 and 1916, at Felixstowe in Suffolk. The work was empirical, often round the clock, and performed by a small, close-knit team under Porte. The result was a new design, the prototype of which was tested successfully, and found to be much improved compared with the flying-boats then operated by the Navy. A production programme was hurriedly established, and the Porte flying-boats began to enter service in early 1917.

Between 1916 and 1918, hundreds of Porte-designed flying-boats were built. They were known as the Felixstowe 'F' series, and were manufactured both in Britain and the United States. Many technical advances and revisions were incorporated as each new type emerged. Porte would test-fly the new models as well as designing them, a rare combination of abilities that helped him greatly in refining his aircraft as he went.

The flying-boats fought a determined campaign against Germany’s U-boats, airships and fighter floatplanes, and were deployed widely around the British coastline, covering particularly the Channel and the North Sea. Hunting the submarines was much the most urgent task, because the potential of the U-boat to influence the course of the war by depriving Britain of critical maritime trade was profound. Porte’s aircraft contributed fundamentally to the deterrent vital in keeping Britain’s sea lanes free, and preserving the flow of merchant shipping. The principles he established became enshrined in flying-boat design and development.

Post-war, Porte joined the civil aviation industry and pursued ever larger and more complex flying-boat designs including a four-engined biplane enormous for its day. However, over the summer of 1919 he became seriously ill, perhaps as a result of over-work: he died in October of that year.

If you have any information you feel able to share on John Porte or his flying-boats, I'd love to hear from you.

Technology Triumph

I spent this morning at Uni in a 'special' class of one, alongside my tutor. The object was to plug this blog in to the Feedcat feed boosting engine. And between us we did it. This means, I managed to remember my password to the Feedcat site, and Alex set me up - not in an Al Pacino way, more a 'this works now' type of thing.

Since then I have played with all my new buttons, and haven't broken any of them yet. I have fiddled with the new sites connected to the buttons, and look forward to the next step on the journey of a non-technologist in my enhanced blogosphere.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Asian Babes - Sponsored by Sony Ericsson

I'm not terribly up on e-technology. With determined patience, my tutor at UCF has tried to explain to me the methods of smothering my blog with RSS feeders, networking platforms and so on. But I've struggled. The younger students on my course simply lap it up, the ingratiating lot. They have displays and counters for this and that all over their blogs.

It's dispiriting because I know it has taken only a matter of seconds for the young to 'put up' their button things. Meanwhile, I pore over the tutor's instructions for hour after tearful hour. The fate of my laptop hangs in the balance as I contemplate flinging it over the nearest picturesque Cornish cliff. I mean that.

But experience and cunning will outwit youthful enthusiasm. Since half the world seems obsessed with porn and cellphones, I've decided to use two terms on Slice of Life that (I imagine) have been top of the pops with search engines since the dawn of time. There they are, in the title bar above. My plan can't fail to get me up those reader / follower ratings. Watch this blog take off!

By the way, sorry about the choice of image above. I viewed the alternative as unacceptable.

Friday, 6 February 2009


Last summer my band The Slaves played a gig at Chris Gray’s Troubador recording studio in Falmouth. This was part of the Falmouth Arts Week celebrations, and we looked forward to strutting our stuff at such an unusual venue. Chris carefully rearranged his workplace to provide a really great atmosphere. All ready to belt out our electric folk mayhem, then.

We played on the middle floor between an arts exhibition above, and the toilets on the ground. The arty toffs who visited the exhibition stayed to come to our gig, get pissed and dance around with surprising aplomb. A lady named Miff had organised the shindig. She was eventually persuaded to dance too, overcoming initial reluctance and my romantic overtures which involved leaping from the stage and lunging lustfully at her with my tongue dangling out (could've been worse I suppose). All part of the act folks.

It turned out that among the audience that night was no less than Spider Stacy of The Pogues. That band! What they did with Irish music has been eulogised over many, many times and has given us all such a buzz.

At the end of the gig, Spider joined us on stage and sang Dirty Old Town, a song we’d never played previously. It went well, particularly because he told us the key he wanted it in; Helen even took an instrumental break - full marks! Spider was a down-to-earth, unassuming person, and was a pleasure to do business with. Over the next couple of weeks we all bought Pogues CDs, and in turn awaited massive orders of our album Mental Notes from Spider and all his mates.

This was only our first foray into playing with celebrity guests. Since then we've performed with some huge names, including SOME TEXT MISSING

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Shop in The Name of Love

I love Valentine's Day, though I never get any cards. That's not important. It's the laughable junk touted in the name in VD, as I like to think of it, that I especially admire. On VD, if you don't shower the lodestar of your life with tat, you're in deep.

Megacorp will provide a wonderful choice of rubbish with which to demonstrate the advanced sincerity and depth of your ardour. You can buy a VD card with a picture of an indeterminate fluffy animal, gazing at you with huge, emetically sentimental eyes. Often, modern technology has been used to advantage and when you open the card a little song will play. 'I will always love yoooooooo ...' or in a more modern idiom, 'Eat It Bitch'. The messages inside the cards are arse-clenchingly embarrassing, promising uncritical worship forever at the very least. To send such a card would surely suggest mental instability combined with obsession that wouldn't disgrace Glenn Close.

Flowers are also very popular. Florists, who have cottoned on to this, sadistically quintuple their prices knowing the condemned suitors will be obliged to queue round the block, or be kicked in the bollocks by the fairer sex. Twelve red roses or a small car; it's an easy choice to make.

Love being associated with the colour pink, around VD all sorts of pink objects appear in the shops. Men buy these things by the skip-load. Strange and rather ugly little dolls wearing t-shirts with loving slogans. Huge heart-shaped balloons with more writing on. Badges, sweeties, VD jewellery. Cuddly animals: lurid pigs, or Mr Hippo, or a great big hephalump. So you can't fail to forget the day, the supermarkets, florists and card shops will thoughtfully festoon themselves with notices giving the date, and details of new lines with which to celebrate the occasion - again, all in pink. Of course, the donor is only really concerned with one pink object, and where it might end up.

Oh - while you're at the shop buying this stuff, don't forget the Easter eggs and Mother's Day junk - they're already floor to ceiling in aisle 96.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Cornish History

For many years I’ve been a keen amateur student of Cornish history. I still enjoy the one-volume summary by Halliday, though it’s long in the tooth and a great deal of work has been carried out since its original publication in the ‘50s. These days there are many excellent books available, from tomes covering wider areas, to micro-histories. The latter are particularly interesting; they are often compiled by dedicated local folk who have intimate, unique knowledge of their subjects. Without their efforts, these small pieces of history would eventually be lost to us.

If you’re interested in carrying out some research of your own, there are some wonderful places to visit. The County Museum in Truro is most helpful and contains many interesting records which, by prior appointment, you are welcome to browse through. Redruth is home to the Cornish Studies Library, again with a most impressive set of archives. The Morrab Library at Penzance is privately run, but for a small charge visitors can access their basement files, which include a great collection of local newspapers going back to the First World War. There are a number of other museums and archives in Cornwall, as well as the public libraries, which also bear searching out. The staff really make these places; despite often being under-resourced they are unfailingly ready to lend a hand.

But beware! There is one danger. It’s easy to be side-tracked, so that you might make a visit with one subject in mind, and then find some very interesting document on quite another area that you simply must read. If this happens your visit starts to lose its shape somewhat, but it’s all there to enjoy – and who says there’s nothing to do in Cornwall on a rainy day?

Thursday, 22 January 2009

My Friend at the Docks

For twenty years I worked for multi-national companies on the commercial and contracts side of life, within the defence electronics industry. But an opportunity arose to change my line of business, and I joined the world of ship repair. The difference is staggering between a blue-chip office, and the more (shall we say) grounded surroundings of a shipyard. I found whole chunks of my experience had become irrelevant.

At the docks, there was little use for my understanding of intellectual property, or for the subtleties of software licensing. However, ship repair has its own skill set, again complex and demanding. The new job required an expertise I had to pick up on Day One.

Of course, this didn't happen. But what did happen was that I made a friend. I palled up with a comical, quick-witted colleague who had bags of experience and showed me the ropes. What I had brought to my new industry was an ingrained business sense, and a safe pair of hands when it came to bidding and negotiating contracts with our customers. But Jez helped me so much with the vital tools of context.

He was a model of patience, and a great trainer. He would sit with me and go over first principles, then more detailed examples. Though he was always very busy, somehow he found the time to do this. He didn't have to bother, he had received no formal instruction to take me under his wing. But as I became more able to play a part we both began to get the benefit, and enjoyed working together in what was often a high-pressure atmosphere. We became firm friends and I was sad to lose contact with him when I left the company to return to education.

So, we managed not to lose contact. Recently we went for a quick pint that turned into an evening. Jez and Sam have become parents to Kate, the dockyard is still beavering away, we both had tales to tell and the time flew by. We're going to make a regular thing of going for a beer, putting our worlds to rights, and laughing.

After all, I do owe him a couple of drinks.