Sunday, 25 November 2012

Driven crazy

I’m fine with urban driving.  I can manage the three roundabouts in Cardigan without a second thought, and don’t hesitate with the Tesco’s interchange.  Even the blind turn by the Newport post office doesn’t worry me.  However.  London is quite a lot different to West Wales.  For a start there’s a whole lot more of it, and a whole lot more traffic.  Like, a million times more traffic, ten more lanes in every road, and none of them marked because, of course, all the drivers know exactly where they’re going, ad everyone in London precisely where Chiswick is, in relation to Hammersmith or Richmond.  Except me.  They point this out to me by hooting loudly at every occasion.  They don’t seem to think that stopping in the middle of a one-way system, putting the light on and consulting an atlas is reasonable behaviour.  I don’t understand them at all.
Neither do I understand the people in charge of road signs on the M4.  Okay, driving west from Reading, there’s a single sign, warning of deer for 43 miles.  43.  Not 45.  Not 40 or so, but 43. But coming the other way, from the west, there’s a sign warning of deer for the next 27 miles.  Then, a few miles further on, another sign warning of deer for 10 miles, then, eventually, another warning of deer for the next 12 miles.  Is this because the highways department only had one sheet of extra large Letraset and they used up the only 4 and 3 on the westbound carriageway, so they had to improvise on the east-bound?  And more importantly, how do the deer know when they have reached the limit of the stretch where they are allowed to run out in front of fast-moving traffic.  What happens to a deer who ventures beyond the 43 mile limit?  I think they just had some spare extra large Letraset deer symbols and wanted to use them up.  And they didn’t have any badger symbols.

Thursday, 15 November 2012


According to the BBC, voters are heading for the polls to elect police commissioners today.  They don't mention how many voters are doing the heading. 2 or 2 million? I haven't noticed much enthusiasm, or much interest.  In fact I haven't noticed anyone noticing that there are elections. I did make an effort a couple of weeks ago to discover, on-line, who my candidates might be, and I found there are two, one Labour and one Conservative.  The Labour candidate promises to make the police concentrate on anti-social behaviour.  The Conservative candidate suggests that the police should concentrate on anti-social behaviour.  I don't know, it's difficult.  How do I weigh up the opposing priorities? How shall I choose? I could use the opportunity to express my opinion of the Conservative party.  Or I could stay home and do something constructive.  Yes I know we fought for centuries for the right to vote, civil duty, social responsibility bla bla bla, but today I feel like being a bit of a rebel. Like nearly everyone else in the country. 

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Pro Patria

My mother’s father came back wounded from France in 1918, with a string of medals. His children used to play with them, but never discovered how or why he won them, because he never spoke of the war.
My grandmother’s brother William left his clerical job in South London in 1912 to seek his fortune in Australia.  Took on a farm, found a girl, began to make good. When war broke out he joined up, crossed the world again, and disappeared into the carnage of Passchendaele.
On Remembrance Sunday, I’ll wear a poppy and remember, but I will always choke on the terminology used when referring to the dead and wounded of World War I. Whether they volunteered in a fantastical notion of comradely patriotic bravura, or whether they were pressed reluctantly into service by law or by social pressure, once they were in the field they had no say in the part they played, no control over their own fates.  A refusal to advance meant a firing squad.  A willingness to advance meant stepping into a hell where they would be shot, bayoneted, blown apart, gassed, crushed, shell-shocked, dismembered, ripped apart by barbed wire, drowned in mud, buried alive, or rubbed out by gangrene and dysentery. 
Nearly 10 million soldiers were killed in World War I. I am content to remember that they were killed, much as if their country had gathered them up and fed them into a wood chipper.  I don’t want to be fed lines about valiant heroic sacrifice.  They did not make the ultimate sacrifice; they were the ultimate sacrifice. They did not give their lives for their country.  They had their lives taken away.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

America the Tedious

The BBC is going to give us The US Election.  Blow by blow, state by state, as the results come in, with extensive commentary and analysis.  Why?  An all-night agonising coverage of our own general election makes sense.  Some of us will have been desperate to vote and will be on tenterhooks waiting to see if our vote actually made any difference.  But we Brits don't get to vote for the US President, so why not leave us with Heston Blumenthal and Midsomer Murders, and just give us the final result in the morning?  The BBC tells us that the choice of president will matter to us.  Of course it will.  It will effect us in the same way it will effect every other world citizen whose government, repressive or enlightened, will be supported, undermined, targeted, nagged, bolstered, insulted or ignored by the most powerful bully in the playground, but nothing we say or do will influence the result.  We are not even supposed to express an opinion, although I cannot help saying:
Note to Obama: Yes you can, but you didn't.
Note to Romney, re Olympics: Yes we can, and we did. Ya boo, sucks to you.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


Yesterday we woke up and found the internet didn’t work.  Never mind the long saga of getting through to BT and trying, unsuccessfully, to explain to the answer-by-rote call centre, that as the problem affected all 4 computers in the house, it must be their hub at fault, and not just us being incompetent with Windows.  What really made me think (once it was fixed), was that we were all at a complete loss without having instant access to everything and everyone in the world. We couldn’t get catch-up TV, we couldn’t natter on Facebook or Twitter, we couldn’t check our emails or update our web pages, we couldn’t contact customers, we couldn’t browse for Christmas presents, we couldn’t manage our money, we couldn’t, at a stroke, settle a dinner-time argument and establish when exactly Jane Austen first referred to white soup.  It might be because we live in the wilds, out of easy reach of High Street shops, libraries and friendly coffee shops, but I can really no longer get through the day without the internet.

Thirty years ago, I was working in a library (the place where information used to be accessed), where a strange new notion was introduced, whereby the phone receiver could be placed in a special cradle, miraculously linking our dumpy computer, working at the speed of a hibernating hedgehog, with computers in other libraries, so that we could share databases and catalogue lists.  The reference librarian (the only one allowed to access this high-tech esoteric system) was quite excited about it.  Me, I couldn’t really see the point.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Surviving the apocalypse

We've had the hedges cut in the lane.  Our friendly neighbourhood hedgecutter always phones in August, hoping to persuade us to have them cut then, probably because farmers can't cut theirs yet, and he's itching for something to do, but I insist on hanging on into October, so that the birds can make the most of the berries.  The hedges really do need trimming much earlier.  The summer growth of grass is just so much posturing, but by the end of August the brambles have decided to migrate, and start shooting out across the lane in thick and vicious tentacles, and the nettles and goosegrass, which have been lurching upwards quietly into the hedgerow all summer, suddenly decide they've had enough and flop over.  So it helps, in September, to tackle the lane with a machete.  But the hedgecutter, when he comes, doesn't just trim back the weeds.  He rips, mangles, snaps and savages his way through the hawthorn and ash and holly and blackthorn and elder so thoroughly the hedge is trimmed back to bleached bones.  Suddenly I can see the sky again.  If the birds haven't had their fill of the hips and haws, the elderberries and holly by now, tough.
What is odd though, now that I look more closely, is that although most of the leaves have been whipped off, along with every shred of new woody growth, most of the berries seem to have survived the cutting.  It's surprising enough with sturdy waxy little buggers like the rose hips or the holly berries, but how on earth did the bryony survive the thrashing and thwacking of the hedgecutter?  It is festooned along the shattered branches, in great swathes of blood bubbles, bursting with juice. The blackberries have gone, splattered into oblivion, but the bryony survives as if nothing has happened. I want to know how.