28 December 2008

The Winchelsea Street Game: Blue Team Till I Die.

Another day in East Sussex, another bizarre, centuries-old Christmas ritual.

It was Boxing Day, and the Winchelsea Street Game: a medieval no-rules, no holds-barred contest in which three teams compete to gain possession of a Frenchman's Head

and stuff it in a beer barrel.

I mean, how rough could it be? Everyone is  (as the 'referee' reminded us) subject to the Laws of the Land, and the last fatality was in 1808.

Blue Team were short a player, so I handed Mrs Botogol my sunglasses for safekeeping, stripped off my coat, kissed the children a tearful goodbye, donned a blue neckerchief, and strode purposefully, amidst wild applause from the crowd, into the fray; keeping just half an eye on the dangerously young and strong-looking Green Team who were staring closely at me and nudging each other.

"I'm not a tourist!", I said, bravely, "I have a house here!"  They looked away, but there was something familiar about team Green: I had a strange feeling I had seen a couple of them before, but I wasn't sure where. 

Then the Frenchman's Head was tossed into the melee and all hope of the running, passing game we had planned evaporated as the three teams formed a 25-person collapsed maul on the hard and unforgiving surface of Castle Street.

"Mind the Clematis!", shouted the ref (it's that sort of village) "Mind the Lexus! Mind the man with crutches!"

In the midst of the scrum, the Head suddenly rolled free and I scooped it up and headed for the goal, with just three Greens to beat.

As I lowered my shoulder I suddenly recalled where I had seen then before: the George, Christmas Eve:    "Get the Catholic!",  they cried.

"No, wait!", I shouted, "you're labouring under a perfectly understandable misapprehension! I'm not actually a  ouch! oomph!"

"And do you really live here?" said a voice in my ear, "or is it just a holiday house?"; I tightened my grip on the Frenchman's bonce and fought for dear life.

The result, you ask? Well, cough, ahem, we won! By 4 goals to 3 to 2 and not, I like to think, without a contribution from myself1

Afterwards we all repaired to the New Inn for roast potatoes and to compare grazes. I had three. Grazes I mean, not potatoes (which is five fewer grazes than I received falling off my bike this morning).

"Actually, Dad, you quite surprised me", said middle-child, reflectively, "you were, well, quite aggressive".

1 I only went and scored the winning goal :-)

More pictures here and here
(Unaccountably the scenes of the crowd carrying me shoulder high through the streets of Winchelsea, chanting my name - all failed to come out, so you'll have to imagine)

27 December 2008

A new blog

picture by Laineys Repertoire
I have known Mystery Shopper for twenty-five years.

Some time garage attendant, fence-builder, cashier, waste pipe unblocker and strawberry handler (unfortunately, yes, in that order), I always knew that one day he'd make something of himself.

And now he has: he's a Frustrated Poet - and you can read his new poetry blog here.

26 December 2008

Little Donkey

picture by publicenergy
Mrs Botogol loves a Carol Service at Christmas and because I love Mrs Botogol this year I agreed to go with her.

But which Carol Service to choose? Well, of our houseful of Christmas co-celebrants only one is a regular church-goer and it's the Catholic Church where he worships so, of course - it being Christmas and all - it was to the RC gig which we agreed to accompany him.

And of course -  it being family and all -  he bailed out at the last minute; leaving Mrs B and I quite alone to brave the warm, friendly, and somewhat enveloping welcome at the Church of St Anthony of Padua in Rye.

I determined to be completely inconspicuous, but I had reckoned without the sign of peace, and the constant standing, kneeling and gesturing of the Roman ritual, and suddenly it seemed to be extraordinarily hot in the small, bright church.  Worst of all: the congregation was, shall we say, short of stature, and every time I stood up, bobbing half a tempo behind, I found myself towering a full head above the little old ladies in front of me, and face to face with the startled priest. "May the Lord be With You" he said, looking directly into my eyes.

 .."And Also With You", I replied; just a moment too late. I think I was rumbled.

It was a Family Carol Service and so not the best occasion for the priest, you might have thought, to devote his sermon to a denial of the presence of any donkey or oxen in that holy stable 2000 years ago; but that is, in fact, what he did.

There must have been 200 people crammed in that tiny church on Christmas Eve, and 198 of them comfortable and secure in their harmless - if evidently misguided -  belief in that poor blessed donkey.

It was the kind of clever argument which, delivered enthusiastically at the dinner table, would have earned me a sharp kick on the ankle from Mrs Botogol but with no wife to restrain him the earnest Father Joseph ploughed relentlessly on:  there is no donkey mentioned  in the New Testament, he preached, and no ox neither.  Their placement in the crib is a misapprehension, he explained, begotten of a myth, by way of a prophecy. So there.

It was an inordinately nihilistic message from (the Catholic) God's representative in East Sussex and while the tiny worshippers filed up to Communion I thought of  - and preferred - the optimism and hope of that famous atheist, Thomas Hardy, on the same subject nearly 100 years ago.


After the service we repaired to the George where we were inordinately chuffed to be recognised as locals . . and rather nonplussed to be offered a regular drinkers loyalty card.

Then, while Mrs Botogol carefully filled in the application form, the Taproom bar slowly filled with our accidental co-religionists, also on their way home from the service, who nodded, waved and smiled to us across glasses of sherry and local cider.  "Look away, dear!", I whispered urgently but, to my alarm, I couldn't restrain Mrs Botogol from waving back and joining in.

A glass and half later and "Yes, I was with you in church", I admitted, helplessly, to a middle aged table of merry donkey-deniers "but really: I am not of you"

I'm not at all  sure I've made quite the right first impression in our second home.

20 December 2008


picture by ~ fernando
Yonder see the morning blink:
The sun is up, and up must I,
To wash and dress and eat and drink
And look at things and talk and think
And work, and God knows why.

Oh often have I washed and dressed

And what's to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest:
Ten thousand times I've done my best
And all's to do again.
AE Housman.  'Last Poems'

We all need a break, sometimes. Even greedy investment bankers.

I'll be back on 6 Jan 2009.  Happy Christmas!

18 December 2008

The Spirit of Christmas

picture by law_keven
At work this year I have received just one Christmas Card:
Dear Botogol
it said
Have a very Happy Holidays 
(we don't have Christmas in Investment Banks, we have Holidays)
and thank you for all your help

'Ah, isn't that nice", I thought,
"I wish I knew someone called 'Kate'"
I stared at the scrawled handwriting trying my best to turn it into a 'Jane' (I know a Jane) or a 'Mark' (I know a Mark) or even a "Parminder". 
Not that I could recall helping any of them, mind, that didn't sound like me. But anyway it remained, defiantly "Kate".
Must have been delivered to the wrong office?

But then there aren't many people called Botogol where I work.

Frustrated, I took the option of last resort: with a creak I opened my office door and poked my head out to interrogate my team. "Oi!, team! did you see who left this card in my office?"  
They quickly minimised facebook, minicllip and www.get-a-bigger-bonus.com and concentrated carefully on my question. 
"No, Sorry", said Jane
"Didn't see anyone", said Mark
"I'm not sure?", said Parminder, who is quite young?  "because I don't really know her? but it might have been that woman from Controllers? Kate Jones?"

"Oh", I said, "right", I said, "It was Kate then. Well, thanks"
My Help
I wonder if I am supposed send her a card.

16 December 2008

Random Connections

Connections by alles-schlumpf
[There now follows a geek interlude. Normal service will be resumed in the next post]

When I see something interesting on the internet I post a link to it on the sidebar here on my blog 1 . Most days I post two or three links for delight of my readers who have all - so far as I can tell - entirely failed to notice.

The good news is I can do this in just a couple of clicks using delicious, which is a cool tool: for one thing: when you make a link you can see who else has bookmarked the same page, and then click through to see what else they have marked and if they are interesting you can add them to your 'network'.

So, wouldn't it be interesting, I idly thought one day, if there was a tool to search all of delicious and find users with similar bookmarks?   A cyberfriend-finder, no less.

Well, if you have an idea nowadays you can bet your IP-Address that someone else has had it first first and sure enough, after three minutes googling, I find myself on this website, which turns out to belong to one  andreas.s  - who is (drum-roll) one of only four people already in my delicious network.

Spooky eh?

So, now you are asking:  OK, then, Alibert, go on (sigh)  so which delicious user does share the largest number of wierd, random bookmarks with you, then?  And where can I find his blog? Perhaps he's writing about something more interesting today.

Well, using this cool tool  I found someone: he has bookmarked 604 sites - I have 900 -  and between us we have (drumroll, drumroll) no fewer than 12 bookmarks in common.

He is  Matthew Paul Hansen  - and he doesn't list any contact details but if he uses google alerts on his own name (and doesn't everyone) then I imagine he'll be along shortly.

1 Over there, on the right,  "Seen Elsewhere", see it?

09 December 2008

Party Time

Carnival by AARigo
Mrs Botogol and I did indeed go to a party at the weekend.

When did everyone start hiring staff for their parties?

It's hard to recall, now, the precise moment when our friends suddenly crossed this boundary that separates the ordinarily middle class from the genuinely wealthy.

It can't be that long ago: I can definitely remember being greeted at front doors by the hostess rather than a bewildered Serb, and taking my own coat upstairs and piling it on the heap on the bed rather than having it pulled lightly from my shoulders with a  "thenkyu, and iss thiss a pressent? I vill tek thet es vell"

In the hierarchy of wealth Canape Shifters must have come after cleaners and probably after Having Our Colours Done,  but before, I reckon, Cranial Osteopathy, personal trainers and dog walkers. I wonder if all these services will be relinquished in tidy reverse order now that the carnival is over for the wealthy bankers as well as the extremely wealthy bankers.

Still, the axes don't fall until next week, and meanwhile it was a good party, a fin-de-siecle-party, a stuff-the-credit-crunch and drink champagne all night, a we've-even-hired-a-band party and there were loads of staff: not a canape went unpassed, not a glass untopped up and not a guest unwelcomed.

It's good to see old friends, and we were amongst bankers so I was thankful I didn't have to single handedly defend the Wall Street bonus system all over again.

I did wish I had a pound for everyone who asked me whether I had been fired yet, for I'd have eleven pounds which would make up the rather repetitive small talk:
- "Good to see you as well".  "No, not yet luckily Ha! Ha!".  "Well anyone working for an investment bank has to be worried don't they?". "Well, I hope you're right".
"No, no idea at all, ha ha! Perhaps I'll hand out canapes at parties."

If there are any canapes, and if there are any parties.

04 December 2008

Paradise Lost last night

picture by AHMED...
Yes, the performance was in a church, yes, a real live vicar introduced it enthusiastically  [ "I just know this is going to be excellent. Unfortunately I can't stay to hear it myself. Bye"  Why do people do that?]

Yes, the subject matter is theological, and yes God, Satan, Adam and Eve all have speaking parts and yes it was written by a devout man - but still, but still. . .I reckon Paradise Lost is a deeply irreligious work.

And that's probably why I like it so much.

Perhaps, like any great work, there are so many threads, so many levels in Paradise Lost that every reader can find in it the narrative they want, and no doubt the other members of the audience in St Giles in the Field last night (the retired and aged, the rapper off the street for the free wine, the young earnest muslim, and the half-dozen assorted A-Level Students) no doubt they all heard, through the prisms of their conventions, something else entirely; but for me Milton is a subversive: Milton believes in a god, of course, but he believes in a god that no one could possibly worship:  A god that is cruel and humourless. A god that is sentimental and yet pitiless. A god of entrapment and condescension. I can't believe that Milton worshipped this god.

Whatever: he certainly didn't manage to justify His ways to this man.

The vastly likeable and entertaining, but slightly cheesy, Lance Pierson performed Book IX, in an assured and compelling piece of theatre, and it was excellent, but dispiriting:  a young married couple, idealistic and naive, commit a foolish deed in the pursuit of an illusory goal, and the roof simply falls in on their world, destroying the contentment they had.

But they were suckered, taken for a ride, and manipulated; as defenceless as the poor snake that Satan enslaves and are as badly treated. They have been advanced a loan they can't possibly pay back and suddenly it's the mother of all credit crunches.

It all ends in tears and, worse, mutual recriminations, Eve and Adam momentarily forgetting that they are on the same side.

It was an abridged version - of course it was - and naturally some of my favourite passages, it turned out, were not Lance Pierson's favourite passages and they were omitted. So in case any of the other forty people present are blog-searching for reviews tomorrow morning  (yeah, right) - here's two they missed:

Satan's state of mind as he approaches Eden.
                                          the more I see
Pleasures about me, so much more I feel
Torment within me, as from the hateful siege
Of contraries; all good to me becomes
Bane, and in Heaven much worse would be my state.
But neither here seek I, no nor in Heaven
To dwell, unless by mastering Heavens Supreme;
Nor hope to be my self less miserable
By what I seek, but others to make such
As I, though thereby worse to me redound:
For only in destroying I find ease
To my relentless thoughts
hasn't everyone felt like that. Doesn't everybody hurt, sometimes?

And here's Eve's defiance in the face of danger.
If this be our condition, thus to dwell
In narrow circuit straitened by a Foe,
Subtle or violent, we not endued
Single with like defence, wherever met,
How are we happy, still in fear of harm?

And so out she goes to face down whatever is out there. Doesn't everyone wish they were brave enough to feel like that?

Lance Pierson ended as Milton ended, and if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me. Here's Adam and Eve as they leave paradise (It's kind of like being made redundant but being sent to a good outplacement consultant)
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

02 December 2008

This Old House

picture by Mc Morr
Like everyone who works for an investment bank we have two properties: one to live in and one to lie awake at night, worrying about, when it's empty.

Still, at least it gives me plenty of time to practice my DIY, now that we're unable to afford any workmen, on account of the credit crunch; and the totally irresponsible lending policies of HSBC (what on earth were they thinking of lending me 134 times my bonus?), and last weekend I mostly spent painting (it turned out when I lifted up the old and evidently porous newspapers) our front doorstep.

Next weekend I am mostly removing paint, and that may not sound like fun, but actually it's a reassuring thing having a weekend planned ahead. Normally I wait for Mrs Botogol to tell me what to wear, then I put on the clothes that are indicated, inspect myself carefully in the mirror and I might think  "Smart shirt, stripey trousers? Hey, I reckon I'm going to a dinner party!" or  "Boots, Jeans, Jacket? - a long walk"   Last weekend I found myself in old t-shirt, shorts and trainers:  "Am I going jogging?"  "No you're washing the car"

The house is looking nice now; even if the front door does need another coat.
15th Century it is (the house, not the door) in Rye, if you would like to rent it. Then I could use the money to get a man in.