Thursday, 24 December 2009

So Here It Is...

As once again the BBC has let us down, here's a meritricious creepy story for Christmas Eve. Apologies.

Well I don’t know. Kids today. I’d’ve had a leathering from the da if I’d carried on like that.

I’m not going to apologise. I’m trying to rest and every night they’re at it with their noise and music and laughs and I think they get a fire going up there and I’m pretty bloody certain that’s not allowed by the council.

I mean I’m not asking for much. Just some peace.

So I made a noise?! So what? You’d have made a bloody noise yourself in my place. Night after night with the music and the shouting. Taking drugs no doubt and that cheap cider. It’s not good enough and I’m not going to lie back and put up with it. I’d go to hell rather. I really would.

Oh did I scare them, the little dears! Well they brought it on themselves with their noise every night and a saint would have broken if five sodding nights running he’d had to put up with it.

So I hammered and shouted and screamed and hammered some more and at last they hushed up and so I shouted at the absolute top of my voice:


And it worked. Blessed silence for a moment and then the screams and the sound of their running away. Typical, can give it out but can’t take it. What do their parents teach them these days? What about the teachers?

I mean, that’s no way to behave in a cemetery.

I just want to rest in peace.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

May All Your Christmases be Decorous

Well that was a year. 2009, when things got spoilt by people or organisations pushing it just a bit too far. Take Remembrance Sunday. As a teenager and a young man, not many appeared to wear poppies and certainly none of my peer group did. Then there was a slow re-emergence of poppy wearing and more people were doing it but it wasn’t commented on particularly. This year however, the Daily Mail spoilt it all by having a moronic campaign attacking anyone not wearing one with particular attention to footballers for some reason intelligible only to them. I’ve been wearing a poppy out of personal choice for ten years or so and I may well not next year if the Daily Mail is going to turn it into one of their dreary outrages. Mind you, they’ll probably be against them by then on the grounds that they cause cancer or because red is the colour of communism or because red is the same colour as ginger hair. And where did that come from? When did it become socially acceptable, nay desirable, to openly express fear and loathing of redheads? I must declare an interest here. I am a redhead, or was anyway. Some people unlucky enough to know me say it’s darkened to a browny colour or start wittering on about strawberry blond. Possibly they’re being kind as having ginger hair opens you up to unwarranted abuse these days, or at least from Tesco and Rod Liddle. In case you missed the story Tesco produced and then withdrew a Christmas card showing a redhead sitting on Father Christmas’ lap with the message ‘Santa even loves gingers’. So not content with destroying the high street and playing merry hell with the planning laws Tesco now see fit to mock the colour of my hair. I want extra points for that. Rod Liddle moaned in The Observer that the mother who complained should have taken the joke and wittered on about being muzzled by political correctness. Well, I’m happy to be accused of being a humourless killjoy by pointing out that restraining from mocking children for having a slightly uncommon physical attribute is not being politically correct, it’s being f**king civilised.

Which rather neatly brings us to the Christmas Number One. Of course I’m pleased that the Cowell nullity has been beaten by something else and there’s enough of the teenager in me left to be amused that this year’s winner has got swearing in it, but I also sigh slightly. Again, it’s gone too far. We wouldn’t be in this odd situation if Cowell had not seen fit to place one of his Midwich songs at the number one slot every bloody year. I have no issue particular with the X Factor, who am I to Jedward or Jedward to me? I fear not for the future of music. This generation’s version of punk will arrive. It always does when too much control from the top is imposed. But I have a nostalgia for the days when there was a minor interest in who would be the Christmas Number 1 and Cowell removed it and I don’t know why. He had to push it that bit too far and here we are.

So a Christmas wish and a hope for the new year, that busybody newspapers and over mighty supermarkets and music tycoons all calm down and leave us to our own devices. Just for a while.

Monday, 14 December 2009

A Burning Issue

I was just wondering, is David Tennant the only person in Britain who can gurn with the top half of his face only?

I haven't got enough to worry about.

Morning Thoughts

Listening to the radio early this morning while preparing to go out and do something necessary but mildly irksome, I heard a report that Tony Blair has announced that he had always been determined to invade Iraq because he believed that it was the right thing to do. I apologise if this is a lapse of taste, but I’m afraid the very first thing that occurred to me was that this was exactly the same defence that Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, used. I tell you one thing, it’s a hell of a thought to start the week with. Beware of people who are absolutely convinced that they are right and are out to do what they believe regardless of censure or condemnation. As Oliver Cromwell said: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.” And this is old Noll speaking, not a man known for his compromising attitudes as Charles I, Parliament, Christmas and the Irish found out in roughly that order. And people wonder why I’m not a morning person.

Monday, 7 December 2009

A Shameless Plug

Feast your eyes upon this:

I really should declare an interest. The authors are family. They were kind enough to ask my advice about the manuscript and as they were then wise enough to ignore it, it’s turned out rather well.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

All I Ask Is A Narrowboat

So I’ve been away for a week. On a canal in a boat. I’ve been boating on and off all my life, apart from a gap during my teenage years when I needed to concentrate on being stroppy for a bit, and have an unaccountable liking for it despite the fact that it can be uncomfortable, is often cold and sometimes wet with the added risk of drowning, being crushed between bank and boat or being sliced up a right treat by the propeller.

I know what you’re wondering and yes, I have fallen in, but just the once. It was at Braunston, a name writ large in infamy, and I managed to cut my hand. I still have a scar, albeit a small wimpy one which I sometimes can’t find. I can recommend the A&E department of Rugby General though. Because canals are, quite frankly, filthy, I was filled up with so many antibiotics that the doctor cheerfully pointed out that my spittle was probably the cleanest substance within a radius of at least five miles. It is typical of the boating fraternity that when I told fellow boaters of my accident instead of cries of admiration and sympathy for my bravery and stoicism I would inevitably get a lament of: “Oh, I really wish I’d seen that”. Somewhere in the family vaults is a photo of me dripping water and gore, the taking of which was the first thing my father did after I’d managed to somehow ‘scramble onto the bank’ as Rolf Harris used to put it.

I shouldn’t complain. One my happiest boating memories comes from a sailing trip off Scotland. We had moored up at Colonsay in the Hebrides and were returning aboard after a night in the pub. One our crew was very carefully climbing down the harbour ladder, focusing on the rungs to such an extent that he climbed past the deck without noticing and continued downwards unaware of his fate until he put his foot in the Atlantic. Memories like that keep me warm during stormy watches.

For all that though, my heart belongs on the inland waterways, particularly canals though it is true, as the great Michael Green puts it, that if sailing is mucking about in boats, then on the inland waterways it’s more ‘boating about in muck’.

Oh, and they’re called narrowboats, not barges.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Anyway, As I Was Saying

Well that was nice. A week away from the cares and woes of daily living and increasingly fretting about outgoing Dr Who's David Tennant’s habit of showing deep emotion by wrinkling his eyebrows into an odd shape and staring into the middle distance slightly to the left of camera. I needed a break.

It is said that for a blog to really be noticed, you have to do a list. So here is the curious list of ways to amuse a small baby you have been left in control of while you are a) childless yourself; and b) a man:


Prod baby in stomach


Say ‘gerrrschhhhhh’ to baby


Prod baby in stomach again


Look around in hope that one of baby’s parents is in the immediate vicinity with the immediate intention of relieving you of baby


Prod baby in stomach


Wave hand in front of baby’s face while saying ‘whee’ in a loud high-pitched voice


Comfort baby terrified by step 6


Sing The Good Ship Venus to baby. Previously absent parents will suddenly re-appear and object vociferously


Talk to baby in low reasonable tones about a subject close to your heart eg music; films; football; the comparative merits of the various actors who have played Dr Who/James Bond; that weird thing David Tennant does with his eyebrows (delete where applicable)


Prod baby in stomach

Follow the above steps and I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t be asked to look after said baby again.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

And I say it's in your other jacket

Here’s an odd thing. Outside an office complex in Newcastle is a fifteen foot high statue of Vulcan by Eduardo Paolozzi. It’s huge and it’s impossible to miss. A great hulking thing brooding behind the central station. Here’s a picture:

And now it’s gone. Instead there’s this:

Don’t know if you can make it out, but it’s a pile of shopping trolleys pole-dancing. Yes it is. Look again.

So where’s Vulcan? No-one seems to know. An on-line check on the local paper denies the very existence of the sculptor let alone the statue. Has it been sold to ameliorate these hard times? Is it in someone’s garden? Is it on tour? Has it been stolen? All very odd.

Anyone with any ideas, let me know. In the meantime, I’m off for a week but will investigate further.

Have fun.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Sniggering for Dummies

Beer Festivals. They’re rather ritualistic these days. You pay your entrance fee, pay a deposit on a half pint glass, pay for some vouchers and then swap those vouchers for an assorted number of half-pints of beer. As I like and approve of real ale I’ve been to a few of these recently and the similarities are becoming apparent. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to live in a time where cheerful enthusiasts can put together such occasions, but I am mildly troubled.

The last two festivals I went to (both within the previous couple of months, they’re breeding), I had the exact same experience of being behind new bugs on their first ever festival visit being mystified by the procedure described above. Okay, the voucher business is presumably to do with the licensing laws and the returnable glass is presumably a convenient way to raise funds and so on, but I am concerned that these are becoming closed rituals.

The British are rather fond of these. There is an assumption that you are meant to know without being told that is one of the most irritating aspects of living in this land. Don’t believe me? Try navigating through Paris by bus or London by bus and tell me which is easier. Paris bus stops and buses have maps showing where the bus goes whereas British buses simply give you a time and a bus stop name which is often different from the name the driver has been given. Paris buses tell you which stop they’ve arrived at, British buses assume that you know. It’s an abiding fault in our national character. My loathing for organised sport is partly a result of the fact that no one in sports lessons was prepared to tell me the bloody rules to football, rugby or cricket and to scream at me when I got them wrong. You were expected to know already. How? The British are obsessed with secret knowledge, the idea that of course you don’t do it that way, you do it this way, didn’t you know that? What, pronounce something the way it’s spelt? Pardon me while I snigger.

It does get damn irritating at times.

Anyway, glad I got that off my chest.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

'I do not drink ... unleaded'

The second Twilight film is released this Friday and the excitement is mounting, apparently. Not seen the first one and don’t intend to see this one either but I did have a go at reading the first of the books. I only got a few pages in before giving up which may be because as a 45 year old man I’m about as far away from the target readership as it’s possible to get. But that didn't seem to be it. No, as far as I was concerned my problem was suspension of disbelief. Oh, not that the pale and rather dishy boy at the back was a vampire, that didn’t bother me. I grew up with Hammer films. No, it was the fact that the heroine’s estranged father tried to win her affection by giving her a truck which she then drove to school. For some reason this did my head in. Oh it’s not that she’s a girl, my head would have been just as done in if it had been a boy who drove a truck to school. No, it was the truck. I was once a teenager, there are teenagers within my family and I have worked with teenagers and never once would I have considered giving any of them a truck. A moped, motorbike, car even if I had the funds, maybe. But not a truck. It just never occurred to me in the same way that it never occurred to me to give them a hovercraft or a Bren carrier (with the Bren gun de-activated of course, I’m not completely irresponsible) or an aardvark.

Anyway, so there it was. I’m trying to read this bestselling book and all the time I’m thinking ‘she’s driving a truck for crying out loud, to school’ and in the end had to return it from whence it came and move onto something else. Personally I think Ms Meyer missed an opportunity here. Vampires are popping up everywhere but truck driving teenagers are rare. The Teenager Who Drove A Truck To School. Now there’s a book I could read.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

I've got no limbs...

Called into town this morning on business I saw that Fenwicks have got their Christmas display up. This year it’s scenes from the nativity. A good while back they did Pinocchio which I used to pass every morning on my way into work. Interestingly, given my direction of travel, I saw the display backwards, as it were. So instead of a heart-warming story of the puppet who becomes a real boy I instead saw the existentially alarming tale of a normal boy who is turned into a wooden puppet for no readily apparent reason, suffers a series of mishaps and is finally dismembered by his own father. Hell of a way to start the working day.

Has anyone else read the original story? It’s harsh, to say the least. For example, when the good fairy makes a cricket Pinocchio’s conscience the first thing the sociopathic puppet does is kill it. No honest. Its poor sad ghost turns up a bit later. But then only two books have ever given me actual bad dreams and one of those was Bambi.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Melrose is where the heart is


What’s not to like?

It occurs to me that I’ve never met anyone who admits to disliking castles. Proper ones that is, preferably ruined. Nothing worse than a castle full of inhabitants. That's always the fatal flaw with Bamburgh Castle as far as I'm concerned. No, a proper castle should be in a degree of ruin and in the middle of nowhere, though Richmond Castle’s all right and is indeed in the middle of Richmond. Abbeys are good as well. I recommend Melrose which comes with its own vampire and Robert the Bruce’s heart. Tynemouth Priory is excellent value as it’s also a castle, a WWII gun emplacement and a coastguard station. It’s a sort of English Heritage version of a transformer toy. Dryburgh Abbey not only has Walter Scott buried there (with his biographer Lockhart buried at his feet) but also Earl Haig. That was a surprise. His tombstone is, by his request apparently, the same simple one that was used for the war graves in France and Belgium which would be touching if he wasn’t responsible for there being quite so many of them.

Battlefields, on the other hand, can be a touch dull. I have a soft spot for them but can sympathise with the 1/3rd of my uncles who slowly froze as I tramped around the Culloden battlefield occasionally shouting out excitedly that I’d found the place where young Wolfe of Quebec fame had probably stood, or some such. Earlier this year, myself and 50% of my brothers and sisters-in-law (and their dog) visited Bosworth field. Except, as you've probably read, it appears we didn’t. The actual site of battle seems to have been a couple of miles away according to new archaeology. Most of the site, it has to be said, is just fields, but in a meadow by the canal is a strangely affecting monument to the memory of Richard III marking the spot where, local tradition has it, he was killed. Someone had left a white rose there. And now it’s possible that it has no link to the battle at all. Ah well.

Stick to castles. You know where you are with them.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

AA Gill is away

AA Gill shot a baboon in order to find out what it’s like to kill a human. That has to be one of the odder excuses for killing a living thing I’ve ever heard. It’s up there with the narrator of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues who, you may recall, shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. At least he got the right species whereas Gill seems to have fallen into severe category error.

Anyway, why does he want to know what it’s like to kill a human? Is this a new hobby he wants to try out like hiking and this shooting is therefore the equivalent of a three mile walk through the downs before committing to doing Hadrian’s Wall in five days? If he’s that desperate to know, why not join the army and volunteer for front line duty in Afghanistan? He’d probably say that he’s too old for that option but then I’m too old to fully appreciate the joys of Ballymory but that doesn’t give me the intellectual right to hang around primary schools in order to find out what it might be like. And to those who might say oh come on it’s only a monkey I would be tempted to reply so are you and I mean that biologically, not insultingly.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

So farewell then one of my teeth

Back to the dentist and out it came. My tooth, or at least, what was left of it. And it didn’t come easy. I was perversely proud of that. It fought to stay with me, which is a damn sight more than some have done.

One odd thing, on my last visit when all she did was take a quick shufti, the dentist had five assistants. This time with a major procedure being carried out, there was just one. As I say, odd.

I had expected that in this 21st century that some kind of automated device would be used. You know, robotics, computers etc. Somewhat disconcertingly, they use pliers. Alright, dentist pliers, sterilised etc, but still pliers. More disconcertingly, the dentist and her assistant both wore welder type transparent face masks and I was given eye protectors. This didn’t happen 19 years ago*. Dentistry has obviously become more high risk in the last couple of decades.

*see previous post

Monday, 2 November 2009

Stephen Fry, an apology

As you may be aware I was mildly critical of Stephen Fry the other week. Do I then hold some responsibility for his upset? Just in case you missed this, Mr Fry announced he would twitter no more after another twitterer said he was a bit boring. This became international news and he’s changed his mind.

I have to be honest, my initial reaction was not overly sympathetic. Mutterings about kitchens and the advisability of staying within one if one is heat intolerant may have been heard issuing from my sneering hate-filled lips.

And yet, and yet.

I have suffered attacks of severe depression in the past. Not manic depression which is what Stephen Fry has but just depression, a sort of alternative for lazy people I suppose. And the thing that you won’t know if you’ve never had an attack of what Winston Churchill called his ‘black dogs’ is how trivial the immediate cause can be. The clich√© of the straw and the camel’s back is absolutely spot on here. So, when you’re already vulnerable for whatever psychological or medical reasons then the actual cause can be remarkably trivial. Breaking a plate, missing a bus or being mildly criticised can do it. My last bout was triggered by someone taking forever at a supermarket check out for example. Of course, my depression was not caused by being stuck behind someone for whom the concept of paying for goods received seemed both new and bewildering but the illness is a magnifying glass and you never know what it’s going to light upon. This is why, incidentally, it’s often not a good idea to ask someone what set their depression off because you’ll either be unsympathetic or mystified. Most sufferers in my experience don’t know themselves and, because the depression gods are cruel and capricious, the smallness of the depression’s trigger can become a further cause of it. Still, as they say in the army, if you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have joined.

I’m still don’t quite get this twitter thing. If I’m that desperate to know the day-to-day activities of someone I’ll stalk them. And on consideration I do think Stephen Fry’s critic was a bit unfair. What did he expect? Deathless wit or profound profundity in every message? Beautifully fashioned haikus four times a day? You don’t even have to pay for this, do you? Ah me.

Still, I will risk saying that I thought Kingdom was not very good.

Oh, and AA Gill is a twat. And if that upsets him then he shouldn’t have shot that poor bloody baboon in the first place.

Friday, 30 October 2009

A Tale for Hallowe'en

THE lost traveller said: ‘I must say, it’s very good of you to take me in, a complete stranger.’

His host smiled at him over the candles that stood sentry on the long dining table.

‘It is nothing, I assure you,’ he said. ‘I am grateful that I can be of service. May I press you to some more stilton?’

‘Thank you,’ the other replied, ‘you certainly may. Despite your marvellous supper I am still hungry. The fright I suppose.’

‘It is indeed highly alarming to be lost on the moors, at night and in such weather. Worse on this particular night I imagine.’

He chuckled at his guest’s nonplussed expression.

‘All Hallow’s Eve,’ he explained.

The traveller laughed.

‘I had forgotten the date,’ he confessed, ‘especially after your fine meal. Though I must confess that even in this constantly changing century I have never before dined without a scrap of meat. Vegetables only. I would not have believed it possible, yet it was one of the finest meals I have eaten in many a day.’

‘You flatter me. Doubtless your ordeal has sharpened your hunger. We do not often eat meat here. We cannot often get it you see. I think that this is perhaps right. Meat should be rare. Some more of this rather disappointing port? Or would you prefer brandy perhaps. I do not drink wine, for the gout you know.’

‘Thank you, but your port is excellent. I must say again how grateful I am that you took me in. After all I just turn up on your doorstep with some story about being thrown from my horse while taking a short-cut and this place so isolated. I expected to have the dogs set on me.’

‘That would have been a waste.’

This last was spoken in an unheard murmur. The host smiled again at his guest.

‘Again you flatter me. The pleasure is entirely mine. Here we are starved…’ he poured some brandy into his balloon glass not having tasted a drop of the port, ‘…of pleasant conversation.’

The guest took a deep draught from his glass and then felt suddenly drowsy, more drowsy than he had ever felt before. He could not speak and the remains of his port wine splashed to the floor. He could not lift his head, nor could he respond as his host, now testing the edge of the cheese knife against his thumb said pleasantly:

‘No, as I said, the pleasure is entirely mine.’

He stood and it seemed to the traveller that he loomed in darkness. As unconsciousness overcame him he just heard and just comprehended his host’s final words:

‘The thing is, I always like to have a guest for breakfast.’

With apologies to the late great Vivian Stanshall.

And then there’s what I suppose is the shortest ghost story ever. I first heard it as a young teenager. It went something like this:

THE last surviving human sat alone in the room. There was a knock at the door.

Finally have a listen and, as it is said, be careful for there may be some walking this night that should not:

An innovative examination of art, engines, fascism and sexuality. Well, a bit

I went to a one-off piece of performance/installation art last night. I was planning to tell you all about it but found that doing so was as dull and irritating as attending it. Wrecked cars, young women in basques and stockings, motorbikes and a porn film featuring one of the ‘artists’ were the main ingredients. High points included a botched entrance of motorbikes which more wheeled into the ‘creative space’* rather than speeding in with a transgressive roar. One of the easy riders panicked and started wardering the others like a father at a daughter’s first teenage party. There weren’t really any other high points. And the beer was lousy. Quite a good fire-juggler though.

I really do try and support contemporary art and then it goes and does something like this. It was derivative, boring, sexist, old-fashioned and trite. It was 'chocolate-boxy'.

You may gather that I didn’t really like it, not much.

It was also distinctly disconcerting to have a comedy stereotype confirmed. This was the kind of thing that pops up in lazy smug sitcoms. Maybe that was the idea. Maybe it was all meant to be ironic.

Now that really would be depressing.

*their words, not mine

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Spoiler Alert

A minor coincidence today. Mark Lawson wrote in The Guardian today about trailers/articles etc giving away the contents of TV documentaries and just after I'd finished reading that, 50% of my brothers contacted me about a film he’d just seen. It so happens that I knew more than I wanted about that film because Philip French had given a lot away in his Observer crit of it.

As it happens, the self-same Mark Lawson wrote a piece earlier this year bemoaning the fact that he found it hard to discuss a work of fiction without spoiling the ending to which the most common response on-line was along the lines of ‘well if your pleasure in this piece relies on knowing that the butler did it, then it can’t be very good’ which is a slightly odd attitude when you come to think about it.

It seems to date from E M Forster who found the fact that novels have to have a story so irksome that you wonder why he didn’t write something else, poetry or just essays or even perhaps nothing at all. Part of his objection seems to have been that people of a lower social class than him liked a story which only goes to show that there is no area of life whatsoever that the English can’t drag class into. It reminded me of the artist who had a working toilet installed in the middle of the floor in an art gallery and was delighted that the plumbers who’d done the work were totally mystified. So apparently that while beauty is truth and truth beauty, the really important thing in art is to mystify skilled artisans.

There is also arrogance here, I feel. Bear with me. Let us say that I decide to write a story in which Lord Carmody is found hideously burnt to death in his locked study killed by an invisible dragon secreted in the fireplace by his love rival Sir Duncan Duggleby.* Now, as the author of this meretricious piece, it is my decision how the story should be told. In the form of a locked room mystery a la John Dickson Carr and Jonathon Creek? A Tolkienesque high fantasy about dragons? A satirical take on English social mores using the magic realist device of an invisible dragon? These are some of the options available to me.

I decide on the locked room mystery option

Now let us say that I publish the book on vellum with a calfskin cover and because you have offended me, I send you a copy. Now it’s you who has the options. You may read the story the way I wrote it. You may look at the ending first. You may start in the middle and work backwards and forwards as the mood takes you. You may leave it aside and wait for the film adaptation. These are some of the options available to you.

Finally, it being a slow day in the arts world, let us say that a Serious Critic wishes to discuss the piece on Radio 4. Said Serious Critic introduces his (and the offenders here are almost invariably men in my experience) opinion of the whole sorry affair with the words: “By using the invisible dragon as weapon motif and deciding to have Sir Duncan Duggleby as the murderer, A J Chadwin shows that he has totally failed…” and so on.

The Serious Critic has removed without so much a by-your-leave all the options that the writer had considered and the reader had to chose from. And for what? Just so he can talk about it. Just so he can make his point about it. I trust you see why I find it a touch arrogant. It seems such a small return.

*I never said it was going to be a good story

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Frying Tonight

E-mailing a friend the other night to warn him about this blog, he asked if I was on Twitter. I’m not. Partly because I don’t see the point* but also out of an unfocused irritation with Stephen Fry.

This bothers me.

Can you be mildly irritated by Stephen Fry? Is it ethical? Is it even legal?

A quandary to obfuscate the most perspicacious of us.

*But then I didn’t see the point of having a computer, being on-line, joining Facebook and writing a blog, in that order

Saturday, 24 October 2009

What Time Do You Call This Then?

The clocks go back tonight. Just thought I’d remind you.

According to a piece in today’s Guardian BST was introduced in 1916 because of the perceived benefits Germany obtained when they introduced it in 1915. The Germans introduced it in response to a campaign by William Willett who liked horse riding before breakfast and golf in the late afternoon and disliked doing either in the dark.

Good grief as they say in Peanuts. So all that minor inconvenience and slight dislocation and hysterical editorials in afore-mentioned Guardian saying that if Scotland wants lighter evenings it should have its own time zones.* All for the pleasures of one man.

Mind you, you have to admit, it is rather impressive. One man changed in a fundamental way the lives of the peoples of two countries. One man. And his first success was in a foreign country. A country that his own country was at war with.

I bet that took more than a couple of facebook petitions.

Which leads me nicely to the subject of monomaniacs. I was reading an MR James story the other night and a character is described thus. It wouldn’t be used in a contemporary story. The word seems to have disappeared. When? Why? It’s not as if there’s no call for it anymore, there are still plenty of obsessive people out there. I once knew a lad who could get any conversation round to fishing in about ten sentences. It was quite fun to set him tests. Start with, say, the Schleswig-Holstein Question and see how he get from there to rod and line. Mind you, he must have thought I was a tad odd, what with starting conversations about the Schleswig-Holstein Question or whatever. I should have sold this to Radio 4 as the format for a panel show. David Mitchell could host it.

Anyway, the word seems to have gone. Was there a campaign I missed? Rock Against Monomania? Posters reading: Are You A Monomaniac? You’d Have A Wider Diversity Of Interests If You Weren’t! Was there a counter-campaign? Tee-shirts saying: Monomania. One Thing At A Time.

And ironically of course, both run by single-issue fanatics.

*I’m not making this up. It was about twenty years ago.

Friday, 23 October 2009

It's Competition Time!

There seems to be some confusion as to what the photograph to the right is of. So in the name of interaction etc I hereby announce that a crisp fiver will be awarded to the first person to correctly identify it.

NB This competition is not open to members of the Chadwin family or anyone who gets the right answer.

Well I thought it was odd

A young woman wearing pyjamas gave me a train ticket to Hartlepool the other day. I thanked her with the comment that I’d never been there but she told me I wasn’t missing much. She also said Middlesbrough wasn't up to much either. Then in a low confidential voice she said: “I do know I have a penis drawn on my face.” Sure enough, there it was, just by her ear, partly covered by her hair, in green felt tip.

Now this is one of those situations I find difficult to respond to. “Good” didn’t seem quite the right thing to say so I relied on the truth and said that I hadn’t actually noticed.

Well I hadn’t. You might say it’s a hard thing to miss but it’s not something you watch out for either. Not in the circles I move in anyway.

“Well, nice meeting you,” I said and wandered off. I think she may have had a drink or two. Possibly it was her birthday.

I’ve rarely felt so middle class and English.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Solzhenitsyn and me

I’ve been censored! They cannot stop me so they try to silence me! Well it shall not happen! None shall pass! No Pasaran! Let cowards flinch and traitors sneer! Exclamation marks for all!

Actually, all that’s happened is that I’ve found out that you can’t access this blog through the NHS computer system. It’s more likely that they block Google mail through which my maunderings are brought to you rather than a conspiracy of terrified members of the A A Milne estate and manufacturers of airport security monitors combining to ensure that no worker in socialised medicine should hear my invective.

Still, for a few moments I relived the exhilaration of the left wing teenager where all is possible and the world will become free and fair just as soon as I’ve finished shouting at a few people. Being left wing in your mid-forties is a different matter. The cynicism that breeds obedience is seeping into your soul and you start worrying more about the noise than what the noise is about. Once I had the fire of protest and socialism that comes from being sent to a private school and then, as the clich√© has it, I drifted towards gradualism and then to apathy.

But I drifted back again.

Many reasons. Mark Steel’s history of the French Revolution – Vive La Revolution – and the current Government loom large among them. Ten years working for a large philanthropic organisation helped as well, though perhaps not in the way the large philanthropic organisation wished or expected. And finally the creeping realisation that what with ID cards and blanket surveillance and political corruption and toadying to big business and lying about the reasons for going to war and all that, the old comfort of ‘such things don’t happen here’ has become ‘such things have not happened here yet’.

A la lanterne citoyens!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

That'll have to come out...

Off to the dentists’ today because my teeth hurt, and also, as I discovered to my intense embarrassment when filling in the registration form, that I haven’t had them checked for about nineteen years.


If you’d asked me in the pub when I’d last had a check up I’d have said “Oh, a few years back, you know.”

Nineteen years.

I didn’t know where to put myself.

They operate in packs now dentists. There were about five of them hovering around the treatment room, each poised and ready to do their bit. No idea who they were as the only person who said anything apart from myself was the actual dentist. She occasionally barked instructions at one of them but other than that they might have been performance artists down on their luck.

At least the dentist didn’t have bad breath like one I saw in Ireland. That’s a three in the morning memory.

Looks like an extraction is called for. Perhaps they’ll spring into action then.

I mentioned the fact that I was off to see the dentist to a friend and mentioned also that I thought it might be something to do with my wisdom teeth. I received an apocalyptic warning about those many years ago from another dentist, you know the kind of warning that appears in flashback with doomy music on the soundtrack. This friend then told me about another friend who had had her wisdom teeth out and how I’d better demand a general anaesthetic.

You don’t get this with other illnesses. You tell someone you’re off to the doctors’ with a cough most people don’t start chatting about tuberculosis wards or wasting diseases that their aunt had. If someone tells me their a bit worried about their eldest going off to university I don’t counter with “Yeah, I knew a lad who did that. Tried to kill himself. Still stammers.”

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Winnie the Franchised

Last year it was James Bond. This month it’s Winnie the Pooh and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (together at last!). Of what do I sing? Of authorised sequels as any fule kno. So we’ve had Sebastian ‘literary writer’* Faulks commissioned to continue the Bond saga with Devil May Care. Now we have Eoin Colfer’s officially sanctioned continuation of Hitchhiker and Don’t Know Don’t Care’s Return to the Hundred Acre Wood which picks up some eighty-one years after The House on Pooh Corner was published. Now I am prepared to admit under extreme interrogation by an intelligence organisation that feeds its results to MI5 that there is a modicum of justification for the Bond and Adams resurrections. But I cannot with Winnie the Pooh. Alright, there’s the Disney films and books but they’ve already branched off into a universe of their own. I saw one of the DVDs in the shops yesterday and the cover had Pooh wearing a sweatband a la Mark Knopfler which is the oddest thing I’ve seen since I came across the head of Buddha in a cage outside a restaurant in central Newcastle last summer.

No the problem with Return to the Hundred Acre Wood is that it is the official sequel, or continuation, as authorised by the Milne estate to the Pooh stories. They’ve even commissioned an artist who seems to have done rather a good pastiche of E H Shepherd’s illustrations. I heard on the radio some bod from the Milne estate explain that it was felt that the coming generation needed more stories in order to discover the bear of little brain. He admitted however that Winnie the Pooh and The House on Pooh Corner have never left the top ten list of best-selling children’s books since their publication which, unless there’s a crazed solitary collector somewhere hoarding them, would seem to suggest that the coming generation is being made aware of Pooh whether it likes it or not. He also stated that Milne himself only wrote the second collection because he was bored during a dull holiday and seemed to be hinting that he would have written more if he’d had more unsuccessful holidays. And here’s the problem.

The rather big problem.

This rather big problem is the last Winnie the Pooh story that A A Milne wrote: In Which Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There.

Even the soul dead cold critics who dislike Milne admit that this story is something else. And the something it is, is the end of childhood. If you haven’t read it I will pause a moment while you get hold of a copy and have a shufti.

There you are. See what I mean? This story is an ending. Milne intended the stories to stop here. It’s about growing up and moving on. It’s about putting aside childish things.

It is not a sequel hook.

Often the best of children’s literature has a melancholy running gently through or underneath it. This will pass. Puff the magic dragon is doomed to be alone as we all move onto salaries, mortgages and worrying about the neighbours. An Enchanted Place is one of the most touching evocations of this and I defy anyone to read it and still have a dry eye at the end.

And yet it is a happy ending, an optimistic ending because we can all take comfort in the fact that:

But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

*well that’s how he kept describing himself on Desert Island Discs earlier this year and who am I to argue

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Oh Matron, No!!


Save for certain specific and, on the whole, private conditions I’m against it. Where, when and to whom I expose my unlovely carcass is my affair and, I feel, should be under my control. Furthermore I believe that one of the sure signs of civilised living is that there are legal and social limits and conditions on my being obliged to gaze upon other’s bodies. Save for those blokes in summertime* and rugby players, we get this right on the whole, I feel.

After all, the first thing any torturer with an eye to promotion does is to get his or her victim to strip. It’s the first thing they teach you at Guantanamo after where to find the toilets and the jump leads.

You will therefore share my surprise at the reaction to the news that a security scanner at Manchester Airport apparently shows the naked body under the clothing in order to ascertain whether there is a bomb concealed there.

Now it is not this in itself that surprises me. Nothing the current administration does in the name of security and safety surprises me these days. No, my raised eyebrows have been caused by the public response, or at least as reported by the local Metro free sheet and the Guardian on line.

The people have spoken and the people are in favour of an underpaid security officer gazing upon their nudity in order to speed up the queues, save the embarrassment of being frisked and to reduce the chances of being blown up.

Really? Can this be right? Are we prepared for these paltry reasons** to let a bored guard gaze upon that which should be reserved for the sight of our doctor and loved ones?

Apparently so.

Curiously enough the being blown up reason (a goodish if cowardly one, we’d never have beaten jerry with that kind of attitude) seems to be fairly low down the list. Convenience is higher.

Now I know we as a society are besotted with flying, but are we truly that desperate? Already we’ve accepted delays, pollution, inconvenience, a curious definition of ‘near’ in the case of Ryan Air and an extra fee if we want to sit next to our children in the case of BA. Now we are ready, nay eager, to bare all for the privilege of going to visit places whose indefinable magic has been spoiled by all the putative nudists who have flown there with us.

Ah well.

Incidentally, a massive round of applause to the anonymous poster in the Guardian who responded to the comment: I don’t care. I have a six pack and 12” with the brilliant: I think you’ll find that’s a foot

*Chadwin’s First Law of Male Clothing: No male over the age of thirteen years should be seen wearing shorts unless engaged in a legitimate sporting activity or is, in extreme cases, Austrian.

**Yes alright, being blown up is maybe not all that paltry.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Terrible news!

I have written a children's book.

Sorry to spring that hideous intelligence upon you without warning. After all, you may have been eating, in which case, sorry for the mess.

Anyway I have written it and I do not wish to write it any more. I now wish for it to be published and make me money and therefore power beyond the dreams of man. A small gentle hope, but my own.

So how does a chap go about getting a children's book published? Do you need a criminal records check? An NVQ even? Where to start? To this end I have purchased a copy of the Children's Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2010 which I am sure will answer all my queries.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Back in the early days of this Government when the Fox Hunting Bill was plodding its way through Parliament, an apocryphal story was doing the rounds. Says the hunt saboteur to the huntsman: 'Enjoy this while you can. It'll soon be illegal." Replies the huntsman: "Foolish little man. We do not obey the law, we make it."

I don't know why but this tale popped back in my mind while listening to a Radio 4 news report on the expenses scandal and the fact that MPs are being asked to pay back some of the expenses they claimed, even though these expenses were at the time of claiming legitimate, but it did. An MP who had a startlingly posh voice (think the Colonel's wife in any given British WW2 propaganda film and then some) was complaining bitterly about how unfair it was and how they hadn't actually broken the law and had she mentioned how unfair it was.

It struck me that this was not, for want of a better phrase, not very, well, politic. Indeed, was it not in fact, impolitic? Earlier this year MPs received the worse battering they've had in my lifetime and the details of some of the expenses claimed still have the power to make me step back and blink. Forget moats and duck houses, fun as they are, and consider instead the state of mind that claims for the expense of the wreath for Remembrance Sunday or for a kit-kat given as a thank you present to an (unpaid) researcher. Now you may argue that compared to other countries, our expenses scandal is, frankly, embarrassingly minor. But is this not like an estate agent assuring you that while you will get mugged in this neighbourhood, if you bought over the other side of the park you'd be murdered, possibly even in your bed?

Politicians are paid (and paid well, let us put that canard to roost) to be politic and by making a fuss now and thereby keeping the expenses scandal in the public eye they are not doing what they are paid for. Keep shtum, pay up, nurse your revenge and pray that a terrible thing happens before the election to make us forget the whole business.