Friday, 26 February 2010

Do not spam

A feature of googlemail that I rather like is that you, the user, get to decide which messages are spam. This contrasts nicely with a friend of mine’s e-mail account which scanned his incoming messages with the zeal of a 21st century Revd. Bowdler and then deciding which were suitable for his view. This, inter alia, meant that all messages from a car club he was a member of were condemned because of their frequent references to lubrication. And we all know the problems the virtuous town of Penistone has had over the years. Googlemail at least allows you to choose. All messages come your way until you classify one of them as spam. Thereafter all messages from that sender become spam. This is great. This means that if I was a) unfilial; and b) she was computer literate I could class my mother (silver hair for the use of) as spam. I can do it to anyone. My boss (if I currently had one), my girlfriend (as before), friends and relatives could all find themselves – as far as googlemail is concerned – wallowing in the same moral stew as those impertinent people who keep trying to sell my pills by making personal innuendoes about my prowess and misspelling my name in the process which is doubly tactless. In a world where choice is stripped away from us in the name of safety, protection, security and – ironically – choice, this is a small freedom to be cherished. Enjoy it while you may.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Go Children of the Country/ The Day of Glory Has Arrived if that's all right with everyone here? Jacques? Happy? Good! Er, right then. Allons!


Albert spat over the side of the sleigh. 'Hah! "Wouldn't It Be Nice If Everyone Was Nice", eh?'


Terry Pratchett



One of the odder things to come out of the Brown is a bully allegations is the number of commentators lining up* to complain that so what if he gets angry and shouty and grabby, he’s the leader and we don’t want someone soft in this time of crisis do we? The implication being that unpleasantness towards your work colleagues is a sign of strength of character and moral seriousness. It isn’t, of course, and the fact that people are peddling the idea that it is says more about the moral collapse of English politics than any amount of unpleasantness in the cabinet office. George MacDonald Fraser wrote in awe of his old commanding officer, General Slim, noting that the only time he saw him snarl at one of his soldiers was to reprimand one who had attached a skull to the bonnet of his jeep. He then tempered his rebuke by pointing out that it might have belonged to one of the soldier’s comrades killed in the retreat. This does beg the question that it would have been more morally acceptable to display an enemy’s skull which is a matter for another day. Genghis Khan displayed the skulls of his enemies I believe and he was, according to one of my brothers, a paragon of religious tolerance. The Ancient Celts were headhunters, a fact that tends not to be referenced in Enya songs or new age shops, though both would be rather more fun if it was. I’d take them much more seriously if they had the head of Richard Dawkins scowling at me from a glass cabinet instead of an overpriced geode. But I digress.

So is it possible to get things done in difficult circumstances by being nice and pleasant to people? Of course it is. I would go further and say that it is more efficient as a willing worker beats a dozen driven slaves. This does not mean an end to discipline and good order or that every decision has to be cleared with the typing pool, although it is my strong belief that a great deal of life would be improved if important decisions did have to be cleared by the least powerful. After all, it is they who tend to be the most effected and have the least hang-ups about pet projects, psychopathic disorders, personal vendettas or messianic tendencies.

Oh, one thing that has come out of all this for me is that it has confirmed a truism my own experience has taught me: all bullies are by no means cowards but every bully is convinced that he is the victim.

*in a disorderly manner and presumably pushing, kicking, pinching and giving each other chinese burns and dead legs

Saturday, 20 February 2010

For you Chadwin, the war is over

I see that a Scottish brewery has brewed a beer with a strength of 41%. That’s 1% higher than most malt whiskies, alcoholism fans! Previously they had brewed one at 32% to the dismay of assorted pecksniffs out there and then a German brewery got to the 40% mark and so here we are. Now I am not that fascinated in this tapsters’ arms race but I was taken with the fact that the Scottish beer is called Sink the Bismarck. For those of you whose knowledge of the navies of World War II is not all it might be, let Wikipedia illuminate:

There is also, of course, the 1960 war film Sink the Bismarck! which starred Kenneth More in the days when you weren’t allowed to make films in Britain unless he had a major role.

I have to say that I am mildly surprised that there have not been complaints. After all, the war ended 65 years ago and we really ought to give the Germans a break. I am conflicted (sorry) about this. One of the worst moments of national embarrassment I have suffered was when I was training a German volunteer in the fine art of sorting and pricing books donated to a charity bookshop. I emptied out a bag onto the sorting table and, you’re way ahead of me, they were all of the ‘Shoulder Flashes of the Wehrmacht 1938 – 1944’ type. I made an English squeaking noise about these books selling terribly well (which they did) and she sadly said “In England war very popular”. She never came back.

On the other hand, I did once manage to get a totally gratuitous reference to the war into a best man’s speech and cannot share The Guardian’s tutting disapproval of the England football fans habit, when their team is playing Germany, of sticking their arms out sideways and swaying from side to side while humming The Dambusters’ March. It is, of course, partly my age. I did a fair bit of my childhood in the ‘70s and it was impossible to escape the war if you were a young boy. Comics with titles like Hotspur, Victory and Warlord abounded and every newsagent had a spinner of those Commando War Library picture stories. The most startling thing about 2000AD when it was first published in 1977 was not its knowing humour and sneaky politicising, but the fact that it had no WWII stories in it. It seemed to be part of the BBC’s charter that they had to show 633 Squadron every Thursday at six o’ clock and the television schedules were awash with series such as Colditz, Secret Army, Tenko and so on. I remember a teacher at prep school gently pointing out to us that swastikas and RAF roundels were not really festively appropriate decorations for the Christmas crackers we were making for the school tree. The only wonder of it all is that I’m not in the habit of always carrying a gas mask with me whenever I leave the house or fretting about Nazi paratroopers disguised as nuns.

Still, all friends now and I’ll drink to that, but only a small glass please.

Friday, 5 February 2010


Owing to a series of mildly odd events, I found myself in Sheffield for a day the other week. All very pleasant, albeit wet and an appallingly early start. I’m with the uncle who, on being told that his train left at 6:00 am, responded ‘You mean there’s one in the morning as well?’ Many moons ago I lived in Sheffield for a few months and as part of the diaspora are domiciled there I visit fairly often. However, this was the first time I’d been in the centre for ages and it’s all changed. I couldn’t even work out where the Leadmill was which was embarrassing as my first job was there. There was also a big wheel in a square which was odd. The actual reason for my visit turned out to be a bit of a wash out but it gave me a chance to meet up with one of the clan elders and receive new orders. We also visited the Millennium Gallery where they were staging a John Ruskin themed exhibition with the title Can Art Save Us? I was slightly disappointed to get to the end to find that in their studied opinion, yes it can. I’d been rather hoping for a twist ending along the lines of ‘nah, not really.’

The Millennium Gallery is part of a group calling itself MuseumSheffield. It used to be called Sheffield Museum apparently but the council farmed out the running of it to a private company which immediately rebranded itself in a fit of prioritising. At first this wilful reversal is disconcerting, but after a while it grows on you, or on me anyway, and I spent the next few days amusing myself and dismaying companions by referring to MuseumBritish and TerrierScottish. Try it yourself and see that I’m wrong.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Snow with occasional outbreaks of war crimes

It’s hard not to fondle that chip on your shoulder when there’s a heavy snowfall here in the north east of England and it is not mentioned anywhere in the national news. Had the south east had the snow we had on Saturday morning, Blair’s evidence to the Chilcott enquiry would have been relegated to the humorous ‘…and finally’ section with reporters yet again placed in snow-covered fields and streets to look cold and a tad fed up while stating the bleeding obvious to camera. The Daily Mail would be calling for an immediate election because the editor’s street hadn’t been gritted while adverts from solicitors offering to sue the Met Office if you’ve slipped would be all over the cable channels.

Meanwhile, Blair. Wasn’t that odd and more than a little creepy? I’m surprised that there has been some disappointment that he didn’t break down and weep or do a Jack Nicholson from out of A Few Good Men (‘You want the spin? You couldn’t handle the spin!’) or just explode into a miasma of smug complacency, but then he never was going to do any of these things. While our involvement in the invasion of Iraq is the most appalling thing a British Government has done in my lifetime, expecting Blair to admit an error or show remorse is like expecting, well it’s like expecting Tony Blair to admit an error or show remorse. He’s that rarest of things, his own simile.

But weep not. He knows that he has lost the only thing a politician truly craves for, his legacy. Not the architect of new labour, not the man who broke the political mould. His legacy is a memory of an intellectual lightweight who tried to buy profundity and greatness on the backs of a hundred thousand corpses.