'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

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Monday, October 31, 2005

Harmless Drudgery

Following some fast & loose talk with the Bearded Lexicographer halfway up a crag, I've got myself a new job. I've been engaged to revise the IT words for the next edition of Chambers Dictionary of Science & Technology. So in the spirit of the blogosphere, I'd like to call on the world to collaborate in some harmless drudgery. The world of IT has moved on considerably since the Dictionary's last edition. In particular, the blogosphere has manifested itself, with all the implications that rapid social and technological changes bear for language. So I'd like to hear from you. I'm interested in new or different English words generated by the impact of blogging in particular or the online world in general. Guidelines: we already know about fisking, phishing, malware & podcasting. Let's go for the shock of the new. Anybody care to provide a concise two-sentence definition of, for instance, pwning? But don't just leave it at that. Other new words and their definitions, along with an independent citation, are hereby requested. Please contact me - either via the comments or the email address in the sidebar - if you wish to contribute.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Cousins Jim. But not as we know it

Cousins Jim. But not as we know it.

No. Not some silica based life form but an attempt to explain the use of the word cousin in Cumbria.

Ray is my cousin.
My great grandmother on my father’s side had a sister who married a Bowes from Workington (I think). You will need a pen and paper for this. The Bowes had a son who married. His wife when he died/left(?) didn’t marry again but had some children from 2 relationships. Ray is the eldest and he is my cousin. Ray has a half sister. She is also my cousin.
My grand father’s brother (my great uncle) was briefly married. His wife ‘buggered off’ (as they say in Keswick) with some chap (again from Workington). They had a boy who they christened with the same name as my grandfather ( first name, second name and surname). He too had a son, named the same way. This chap bears the same surname as me but with the Christian names of my grandfather. He is no blood relationship whatsoever and is currently in Durham jail, not as a screw I hasten to add (that’s my first cousin who was a screw at Kirkham jail – who also bears the same name. The jail bird Tom is also my cousin.
Do you follow me?
Oh … and Mike, who works with me, whose father was in Burma with my father in 1943 is also my cousin.
Are you clear on that?

Oh won't you write me a letter frae Aspatria. Les Delices numero ??

Today, in Spyatri, I tried to buy some croissants.
‘Nah’ was the response ..’ there’s no demand’
2 years back I tried to buy some for breakfast. I was informed that ‘as they were cakes they didn’t make them until the afternoon’ . ‘So’…. I says ‘can you make some of these cakes for tomorrow morning please .. make an exception’.
The Co-op made an exception and the following morning I was waiting at the checkout when the 5 (yes 5) croissants were put on the shelf.
‘I’ll take the 5’ I sez (would have preferred 6 but..).
‘You can’t tek aw 5’ says the checkout guard.
‘Why not?’
‘Cos there’ll be nin left’

Whats nepotism Dad

What’s nepotism Dad?
Nigel said, as they drove to work in the Rolls.
No idea son.. that windscreen’s dirty … must remember to wipe it.
But Dad what’s nepotism?
Yeah well drop me a note and get your mother to type it.

I’m on the train to London and back. Virgin’s £297 fare has worked wonders and made sure that the First Class Macassar carriages are nice and empty enabling me to get on with a load of work un-hindered by the working classes… or the middle classes or the upper classes. In fact the only people in here at all are people like me (on expenses) and RailTrack and Virgin workers going between jobs. A note to the Simmering Hostility Police: so far so good; staff very pleasant of all ethnic minorities including 1 Cumbrian; communication skills are good if a little loud, as I seem to be sat under a loudspeaker and 2 seats away from an Italian (virgin staff man) explaining Italian house design to a fellow worker. I have nihil against the Latins you understand.
The reason for the ‘nepotism’ tag and the boiling over hostility forcing me to blog is the Department of Trade & Industry, in the shape of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). It’s not really the NDA in particular (they just happen to be the most contemporary manifestation of my experience of things done in the public interest). Actually it’s not really nepotism either - see later. The government (let’s not beat about the blair) sets a set of rules and measures which it believes deliver best value for money. Yeah … I know this is starting to sound like a previous blog – but stick with me on this one.. The DTI, it’s servant the NDA, sets the agenda regardless of location or situation. No favour should be shown to local business, incumbents, competition should be the word most used, European Rules, transparency. They introduce something called ‘socio-economic impact’. BUT this is too soft for the DTI buyers and their agents to understand.
So - what has driven me to this outpouring? The fact that despite 30 plus years of doing work for the previous agent of the government - before my company can now bid work for the current agents (same people different clothes) we have to ‘pre-qualify’. This means a shit load of extra work and questions like ‘how do you communicate with your workforce?’ … ‘what is the turnover of staff and labour in your organisation.. and how do you establish the training needs and practice continuous improvement?’
What this lot forget or don’t know is that most of Cumbria is related through blood or marriage or familiarity. It is impossible not to be nepotistic(?).
I was asked once ‘how do you discipline an employee?’. My answer was ‘When I go home I have a word with his mother/sister/aunt/gran’. My auditor, for a second, thought I was joking. I then asked him who is father was and was he one of the Wigton Johnstons?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Hierarchy Of Human Needs

Some years ago I went out with a very talented jazz singer - who had a rather snotty attitude towards rock & roll, as jazz singers do. I would try to convince her, unsuccessfully, that rock & roll's great achievement is to encapsulate, in miniature, profound & complex truths about the human condition by means of the shallow and simple 3-minute song. She never believed me. The truth of this proposition was brought home last night - Maslow's hierarchy of human needs has its most perfect expression in Mary Chapin Carpenter's interpretation of Lucinda Williams' Passionate Kisses.
While listening to the song it struck me that Williams is using the conceit of a spurious but all-encompassing science (if management theory can be so dignified) to allow her words to express profoundly felt truths. A Metaphysical Poet would probably recognise & approve of this approach. Then again, it may just be the Me Generation throwing its toys out of the pram. Feel free to disagree in the comments . . .

A Kind Of Homecoming

I returned to London last weekend for the Total Bollywood Extravaganza of my cousin's wedding. This was an absolutely wonderful affair - lots of drumming, lots of singing, lots of dancing. And more drumming. And singing. And dancing. And did I mention the drumming? There was a lot of it. The whole thing was great fun & the sharp-eyed may even catch a brief glimpse of your bloggist, deep in conversation with the groom's mother, among the photos in the link.
The experience of return was a mixed one. Earlier in the weekend, walking around the streets of a western suburb with a cherished former lover, I'd been struck more strongly than ever before by how this was no longer my town. The imaginative experience of living in a great city, falling in love with one of its inhabitants and enjoying the lived moment in the desires of another is absolutely matchless. Truthfully, I probably lived that most intensely in Washington DC years ago, but London had always been the focus of my longing for the incomparable life of a city when you're in love. On Saturday the skies were grey & the pavements covered in leaves, the pollens of summer that concentrate in the great curve of the river between Molesey and Richmond had long since blown away from Bushey Park. London seemed to me to be shockingly inert - it had neither the immediacy of the instantly lived, nor the patina of memories that can make a revisited place such a powerfully felt experience. The fever had gone. On Sunday morning I drove back to Cumbria.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

California Blonde

To supper with the Renaissance Couple this evening. I walked into the kitchen to find Ren Man playing with his new toy - a California Blonde. Just to be clear, this is a particularly sought-after make of amplifier, not a leggy lovely from Palm Springs. The Renaissance Man was positively effusive in his praise for its features. It certainly made an impressive noise. But did it, I enquired, have a volume control that went up to 11? Apparently it did. There was only one thing for it. A microphone was thrust into my hands. The next few minutes are a blur I'd rather not dwell upon. Let's just say that the world is not yet ready for my unique and challenging interpretation of Waterloo Sunset. Nor, if it knows what's good for it, will it ever be . . .

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Full Nelson

Regular listeners to Radio Cumbria via this blog may be interested to know that I'll be turning up on the airwaves again tomorrow (Friday) to talk about Trafalgar Day and the strange connection my home town has with Nelson's finest hour. Curious? You can find out more by listening via this link (RealPlayer required) at about 10:00AM (0900 GMT or local equivalent) tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Forever Young

It's not that long since I was last refused service in a bar because I couldn't prove that I was over 18. (Colorado Springs, May 1990, as it happens). It was inevitable, I suppose, that the next great landmark of middle youth should rear up sooner and ruder than expected. I went down to Cockermouth today to book an appointment for flu and pneumonia jabs. The receptionist struggled for at least ten minutes with the appointments system on her PC before finally giving me her attention. She looked at me carefully. 'Are you over 65?' she asked.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Dustbin Laden

I am at risk, again, of offending the Barrow-In-Furness Simmering Hostility Police. This time the focus of my 'just off boiling' pointed remarks is Allerdale Refuse Management. Refuse = Garbage (for the benefit of our American readers). Refuse Management doesn't mean refuse management.... I'm labouring this ... move on quick.
Allerdale Borough Council charge the Ren Household an additional £2.56 a week for the privilege of having Trade Waste. The waste generated by our holiday cottage business is classed as Trade Waste NOT domestic. Are you with me still? I am written to once or twice a year by Brian Stansfield (head of Trade Waste Services- Allerdale) asking me to define the waste to a number of codes (a 2 page form!!) to say: how it will be contained; who the holder of the waste is; where it can be collected; and if am I the producer? I have to enter into a contract for them to provide me with an extra bin and for them to remove the waste. I send the form to them in duplicate;they sign and send it back. A struck off solicitor (Alan James) would charge £80 plus VAT to do this. I am losing the will.
Once a quarter they bill me £42 for the privilege. I have to pay once I get the bill as they do not accept direct debit (nor over payment). Brian S and I get on really well. He is only doing the job. It's the system that's stupid. Inevitably I miss the payment date. The system sends me a red letter. I pay. They send me another red letter there is some crossing in the post. I cannot remember if I have paid or not. I pay again. They now have a variance on my account they assume any variancece is negative. They withdraw my bin. I remonstrate. They apologise. I say keep the money 'it's only £42 .. treat it as an advance. NO they say, good humordly, we will send you a cheque. And so they do. They return a bin (this time smaller than the one I had). The refuse collection lorry drives over both bins and smashes lids. 6 months pass. I do not complain ... a bin without a lid is a lidless bin? One day last month an additonal lidded bin appeared on the front lawn. Things are looking up. I put the bin to use. 2 days ago one of the old bins (full of garbage) goes missing. I am now confused. I now have a large sulo bin (green wuith red lid) and a black smallish lidless bin. Which of these 2 bins is being charged at £2.56 a week?
According to my records I have not had an invoice for garbage since April.. have I missed one? Have they confiscated my bin? Who is the Queen of the Netherlands? What was the date of the South Sea Bubble? So many questions.. so little time. How many roads must a man walk down? I should 'phone Mr Stansfield and straighten this thing out but can I really be bothered. It is probably worth £2.56 a week not to have them write to me. The Martin Scorsese Dylan retrospective was wonderful by the way.

The Petrified Forest

Dr Biswell, heroic biographer of Anthony Burgess, came to visit this weekend. Saturday afternoon being unseasonably balmy for Cumbria in October we went down to Mawbray, the coastal hamlet whose charms I've previously blogged. Luckily for us the tide was out so we took a long walk across the sands late in the afternoon, when the coast of Scotland obscured by heat-haze and the sun hung above the horizon forever. One of the fascinating things about these tidal sands is that they really do shift - return to them week in week out and the shoals and rock-pools will have altered beyond easy orientation. On the way back we admired the petrified forest, which was by chance more than usually exposed. Here, close in to the beach, you can see the remains of a 9,000 year old forest. Stumps, boles, branches and trunks lie and sit half-exposed above the sandbanks at low tide. At present there's a few hundred square yards revealed: last winter there was perhaps half that area. It's an intimately tactile record of a vanished landscape, the soft texture of the wood brings home to you the realisation that the trees were alive recently enough, though there's nothing melancholy or troubling about their decay. Up the shingle the sand-dunes have been eroded to reveal the raised beaches which once covered this forest and now have been stripped away by the sea. The geographers tell me that 10,000 years ago there was no Solway Firth: sea-levels were much lower and part of what is now the Firth was then a freshwater lake, presumably left behind by retreating glaciers. On its shores was a forest - whose decaying remains we now admire, though I've no idea what sort of trees. Dr Biswell & I spent some time inspecting this example of ancient landscape, our imaginations quietly in thrall to its casual wreckage. Go and see it if you're in West Cumbria - but please don't take souvenirs: the water preserves just as much as it exposes and wood removed from the trees will disintegrate on dessication.

Ready For My Profile Now

Some readers of this blog may have been baffled by my apparent attempts to shroud myself in mystery. This was entirely accidental. The 'Who Are We?' link in the sidebar contained an error in the HTML for The Writer In Residence. As I never bother to look at my own profile, this went undetected. Now it has been detected and fixed. So you can gorge on the trivia of my taste in music, films, wine etc etc . . . Happy reading.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Starters For Ten

The all-conquering Sidney Sussex College University Challenge Team had its annual reunion this weekend - a tradition that dates back all of three years, but one that has become deeply loved by all concerned. So (from left to right) John Gilmore, John Adams, David Lidington, myself & Steve Badsey, along with Helen Lidington, Jean Adams & Phylomena Badsey (all three sadly behind the camera) met at a rather swanky hotel near Leamington Spa on Saturday night to commemorate the 2002 'Reunited' series. The evening was a joy - adrenalin recollected in serenity, to adapt a Cumbrian phrase - and one that I hope we will repeat for many years to come.
(Answers to FAQs: No, the questions haven't got any easier. And Paxman is really a pussy-cat).

The Tsemiotic Tsunami

Walking up Kendal high street in search of The Mint Bar the other night, something suddenly became obvious to us: Kendal is a town almost completely devoid of distinguishing characteristics. Like much of the plutocratic retirement home that is the South Lakes the town's full of the same shops and businesses that you encounter in any other small town in England. Hamburger bars, clothes shops, hairdressers & restaurants: round up the usual suspects. A great tsunami of international brands has washed away whatever local businesses once occupied the high street.
But as you travel north you reach the highwatermark of this wave around Dunmail Raise: Ambleside is heaving with outdoor brands; Keswick has more anorak shops than strictly decent, but the signs and hoardings are mostly local. In sharp contrast Cockermouth and Penrith are towns of authenticity, where local businesses, small shops and individual cafes and restaurants thrive well above the reach of retail-semiotic inundation. The inhabitants of north Cumbria, this other Eden, had better make the most of it: I'd give it 5 years before the tide rises . . .

Cinema Cinema

Apologies to those who - as Irene pointed out - would have listened to Radio Cumbria last week had they known another film talk was being aired. The Cineaste & I duly turned up on Val Armstrong's show (summary: - go see A History Of Violence with Viggo Mortensen). In the evening we went to Kendal (sadly minus a flu-ridden Director) for the inaugural Cumbria Film Makers' Short Films Night. In a room above the Mint Bar 40 people had gathered to watch six shorts by local directors, some of whom were on-hand to introduce their work in an alarmingly loquacious fashion. The standard was varied: one or two stinkers, a high class piece Mavis & The Mermaid by Shoreline Films' Juliet McKoen, and one unexpected gem - Matt Palmer's Daylight Hole, about a sound engineer who encounters something very nasty indeed in the Cumbrian countryside . . . The evening was the first of a monthly series of such events & is thoroughly recommended.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The endless waltz of British Rail

The endless waltz of Virgin Rail
Carries both, me and the mail
Travel first or standard class
Standard will still cost some brass..

So. Last week I did my monthly tour.. Car to Leeds, then train to London, 2 nights in the city (country bumpkin looking up at buildings....chatting to taxi drivers..... Avoiding eye contact with the Big Issue woman at St James Park..) then the train back to Cumbria.

All went well until we reached Crewe. I travel First Class (company insists), though it breaks my heart to have to pay nearly 300 quid for the privilege of the return ticket to Penrith. You do however get a free newspaper (£1), free drinks (£5) and a free sandwich (£5?). That makes the journey worth circa 290 quid. I digress.
At Crewe the train stopped as promised BUT did not go any further. The Train Manager, who body doubled and sounded like Idi Amin but much better looking, announced that "for the benefit(?) of the customers this train set will not be going beyond Crewe today because of problems with the vipers" . Crackle.... um.. piercing whistle feedback....... enefit of customers (pop) the problem is the Wipers .. the windscreen wipers have developed a technical problem.....and a driver is coming..... please make your way to platform 11 where another train set will be arriving maybe in 20 minutes.... customers for Manchester Picaliddy .......Pick ... Aaa.... PickAARdly should go to platform 6. There was no rain to be seen by the way.
Look! I do believe that if you are working as a train (set) manager, in the transport business, then you should know the place names of the country you are working in. Yes, yes I know I would struggle with some of them Ugandan names but - I am not managing a train set in Uganda, am I?
Anyway, Idi went on to manage his way through Warrington Bonk Qgway, CarLiz- le, Offen Home the Lake District and a couple more goes at Picadilly. I happen to like the Pickarliddy and will be using that from now on. Offen Home is pretty good.
After 45 minutes of musical platforms.. make your way to platform 6............no 11........... No 2 etc... we were settled once more on our journey.
At Preston, Idi was rested and we got a small red haired Glaswegian as our Train Manager. He was, yes you've guessed, completely incomprehensible.
He made his way through the train apologising for the delay, and asked me if I was travelling first class on a first class ticket (my crumpled Rohan yoyager suit wasn't enough?!); then asked 2 guys opposite me the same question. They replied NO - as the seats in standard class were all taken. Jock said that this was OK BUT he would have to declassify their seats. Oh. The public humiliation of having the 'Embroidered First Class Anti-Macassar' unvelcroed from your seat must be worth a few bob in compensation from Mr Branson.
Those anti-macassars must be worth a fiver so that brings the journey cost down to £285. I wonder how they work out the rest of the price? I feel a letter coming on.
Dear Richard...

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Cottage Industry

A new blog has arisen in the north-west. Cumbrian artist & film-maker Karen Guthrie's Cottage Industry tells tales from a rural laptop, including (a subject dear to our hearts) ruminations on why Cumbrian food can be so bad, the truth about Ken Russell's legs, and a fanatical dedication to the music of The Ramones. I commend it to the readership . . .

Les Delices De Cumbria - Part VIII

We were sitting in the bar of the George Hotel in Keswick, the Cineaste, the Director & I, plotting the success of an arts festival we're involved with. A waiter brushed past, serving food to two men at the next table. He set down their suppers and we stared in astonishment. Each plate was overburdened by a massive square slab of pastry, meat and sauce which left no room anywhere for such superfluities as vegetables or salad. Each slab was a good two inches deep. Heaven knows what they weighed or contained. The Director's eyes sparkled (she's purportedly vegetarian). What was it? we enquired breathlessly. Pie came the response. What sort of pie exactly? The waiter shrugged. It was just, well, pie.
The men at the next table grinned in anticipation and fell to. We never did discover quite what variety of pie they'd been lucky enough to encounter, so I can't pass on a firm recommendation, but I'm sure that if you stagger into the George one evening and just say I feel a pie coming on . . . the extremely helpful waiting staff will know just what to bring you.