03 November 2007

Smiles and Goodbyes

It's not often that Mrs Botogol and I go to the pub of a Friday evening, but last Friday we did: we found ourselves with a small window of time: after some oohing and aahing at a riverside firework display and some 'yes, butting' at John Humphrys In Search of a Decent Mic, and prior to collecting a Botogol child from a party (100 noisy teenagers crammed into a biggish suburban Victorian house, all texting their absent friends).

"D'you know what I fancy doing, Mrs B", I said, "in this snatched and precious child-free hour we find that we have together?"

"Scrabble, I suppose?" she said, not entirely unenthusiastically.

"Nope", I said , "well, actually, later on, yes, possibly, but nope: right now I fancy going down the pub, so fetch your coat".

An old joke, but a good one, and a cheap laugh is always worth a smack round the back of the head. That's what my Dad says, anyway.

So that's how, dear reader, we found ourselves sharing a jumbo packet of cheese and onion in the Twickenham Tup, snucked up hard against each other on a large leather sofa shared with two spotty teenagers, all of us watching the house band Cambio strum out their very own version of Babylon (yes, indeed: they made it their own)

I say 'band': it was actually two kids with guitars; and less Pet Shop Boys - more Flight of the Conchords.

To be frank I thought Their Good Riddance (Time of your Life) worked better than their Moonlight in Vermont but, at the end of day, I'm a sucker for live music of all sorts and as Mrs Botogol sagely observed: if they haven't ever rehearsed Mustang Sally they can't really be expected to play it for any random bloke in the pub just because he shouts loudly, now can they?

So it came to pass last Friday evening, while two unappreciative old men in a far corner of the cavernous suburban pub nursed their quiet pints of London Pride, unseeing, unhearing and while, behind the bar, three strappy-topped young barmaids danced and pranced, Mrs B and myself, on our leather sofa shared with two young texting teenagers, well: we rocked.

While we rocked our sofa-companions texted blurry camphone pictures to absent friends, and eventually I went off to the bar for two more glasses of Australian Pinot Grigio before the second set, then at 10.25 we had to put our coats on and left: no encores, no cheers, no vote of thanks, no epitaphs, we just slipped away.

I'd honour Cambio with a link, but they appear to be the only band in the Western Hemisphere without a page on MySpace

John Humphrys, since you ask, was rubbish. Well, for anyone who, perhaps, hadn't realised that Humphrys has met quite a few famous people, some of whom have been mildly funny, it would have been a revelation. But for the other 569 people in the building, the ones who had come to this Book Festival event hoping to hear about his book it was a tad disappointing. "Thank you very much Mr Humphrys", said the hapless MC sending Humphrys off into the deep, dark night with a few well chosen words, "for coming here to talk about your book. Although you didn't actually say much about it did you?"

We could hear the teenage party a good three roads before we got to it: music, voices and dancing, merged with the bleeps of incoming text messages and missed calls. In the shadows of the front garden our particular teenager answered her call, and we set off for home. What was the party like, we wondered "It promised a lot, Dad, but yielded little"

We took the short-cut home, over the railway station bridge, and it was there, high above the platforms and the electrified tracks, in the neon gloom of an autumn night that we spotted our S J Harvey's peculiar and poignant notice, and we paused, and we hurried on.


There have been 107 green ideas since I started in Oct 2006, and it's been a lot fun.
I'm not stopping now, not exactly, but I have a new project in mind and I'm not sure I will have time to manage both. If the new thing works I'll be back in the new year, I reckon; if it doesn't - well perhaps next week. Or perhaps once a month.... or once a week :-)

29 October 2007

Working 5 to 9

This last fortnight I've been working like a dog.

Well, OK, not exactly like a dog: not rounding up sheep, sniffing out drugs, helping blind people cross the road or fetching dead birds in my mouth. Nope: for this dog it's mainly Powerpoint, for there's nothing like a change in management structure to raise the demand for slides.

I should write a book about it:

An introduction to Powerpoint in Business.
  1. Content: how to judge the quality of the MIS by the layout of the slide.
  2. Avoiding the complete sentence: how to write in bullets.
  3. Advanced Formatting: how to fit the Executive Summary on one page without reducing the font size)
  4. Powerpoint by Committee: the importance of versioning and the futility of style.

When one is working silly hours blogging sometimes feels like homework. Perhaps it would work better on a slide....

20 October 2007

Dumbing Down

An American reader tells me my blog is too complicated for her friends to understand, and that I need to dumb it down.

"Don't tell me!" said I, smugly, "it's the irony and the cultural allusions right? Too much irony and too many cultural allusions." She told me no one likes a smartass, and did I imagine that The Simpsons was made in America solely for the benefit of Brits? Sometimes I feel very Old Europe.

I asked her to explain

Well, for one thing, she told me, you should start a story at the beginning and then go on to the middle before getting to the end. And stick to the subject; quit wondering off. And don't mention Tesco so often. Or Blue Peter. And sort out those long sentences and what's the 'lower remove' did you make that up? And, omigod, would you please, please just finish things off properly and not leave them dangling: I mean, dude, did you get to see the semi-final or not?

Perhaps I should have explained: my friend is a New Yorker. They don't talk like that in Colorado. No siree, Bob mcDandy they don't.

Actually I like New York - it's just like London. Only with more weather; and 40watt lightbulbs, and it has never palled that one of the perks of my indescribable job is that I regularly get to visit London's twin city.

Mind you, trips to mirrror-world are less rewarding since old Forbes sold his Fabergé egg collection in 2004 - nine eggs he had along with toy soldiers, and old monopoly sets, in a tiny dark gallery on 5th avenue where sometimes I'd be the only visitor, marvelling over painstaking exquisitry.

However, while Manhattan may have lost its Forbes' eggs I can still recommend it, as it's the venue for some fine margaritas; indeed perhaps the perfect margarita can be found in Dos Caminos, where they have 120 brands of Tequila and a basement full of Mexican wetbacks hand-squeezing the limes. And don't miss the weirdly unpromising but surprisingly excellent blood orange margarita in the louche and low, chic and charming, bad and baleful, Morgans Bar.

"So do you think?", I asked my friend, absently, for one part of my mind was back in that dim-dark bar, struggling to double the tax in my tequilia-swimming head, "So, do you think that if I DID dumb down my blog, would I get more comments?"

16 October 2007

Education Special

On Friday evening Mrs Botogol and I had dinner with four teachers, all from the same school. Worryingly: three of them taught me when I was at the school myself, many years ago.

Frighteningly: the fourth is younger than I am but, just like the others, had taught at the school for more than twenty years.

With all of them so thoroughly steeped in the education system, and my mysterious incomprehensible job in the city, I had wondered if we would have anything in common but I needn't have worried: in an intriguing bout of role reversal, as the evening wore on I lectured the history teacher on the battle of Borodino and the economist on Idea Futures while they regaled me with stories about what it is like to own a racehorse. I guess we were all trying to impress.

Then on Saturday the Botogol family went en masse to the Cheltenham Literature festival. That's right: more school.

Well, that's what happens when you go and get educated: one moment you're throwing babyfood on the floor and tantrums in Tesco, the next you're in the third row of Cheltenham Town Hall listening carefully to Roy Hattersley's opinion of Stanley Baldwin and Britain in the interwar years. Or smuggling a sly syllepsis into an otherwise grammatically undistinguished blog. The first sign, I reckon, is watching Blue Peter: it's all down hill from there.

Anyway: the festival. In the end there wasn't any poetry at all, gay or otherwise: in the morning we all went together to DT and History; then after lunch (we were all hot dinners) we split up: while I'm not claiming that the education system is dumbed down or anything, let's just say that Mrs Botogol and I had Add. History followed by Comp. Lit, while the Lower Remove had a spare and went off early to watch to semi-final.

If truth be told I was a tiny bit jealous; but I quickly thought of a way to get my own back:

"Haven't you got any homework to do in half term?" I asked my youngest, "that you should be doing this afternoon?"
"No, Dad, I've just got one piece, I don't need to start today"
"Oh, what do you have to do?"
"I've got to write a play in two acts, about environmental issues"

Might as well leave it to next week, then.

12 October 2007

I'm with Wayne Barnes

U11s run a lot faster than U10s and this season sometimes referees - even super-fit triathletes - find it hard to keep up. So, at two tries each, with three minutes to go, when the super-fast left wing was caught by the full back in the far corner, well I was just very glad I had a touch judge, and when his flag shot up it was a simple matter to call a line out 5m back.

"Line-out??" said the TJ indignantly, "Line out????? He wasn't out! That was a try!"

Now, I might not have the prestige of Wayne Barnes, but on my side I have many more years of experience, and I knew what I was doing:

"But..", said I, "...but you put your flag up!"

"Yes of course I did! I was signalling a try!"

There was a short pause, punctuated only by very troubled 11 year olds

"Ummm, yes,.. sorry about that, ref", he said, (delightfully sheepish, now) "I was, um, excited ... but it was a try"

I don't suppose this situation comes up very often for it's not mentioned in the Continuum. So I pondered for a moment, surrounded by 11yr olds with points of view, and it didn't take me long.

"Sorry boys, silly mix-up. Try given"

The boys were fine about it, I relaxed, problem solved.

Except for ....except for.... over on far, touchline a small group of parents were incensed "Oi Ref! But he put his flag up! Oi Ref, what are you doing? It's a line out, surely"

There are a great many hand signals available to the rugby referee, but they don't include anything for "Sorry, everyone, but the touch judge is a prat"

So I had to make one up. I'm altogether not certain it worked, but touch judge understood which, after all, was the important thing.

07 October 2007

Simplifying My Life

I could kick myself.

Really: what's the point of having a World Cup Wall Chart if I don't read it? What an idiot.

In my defence: I never seriously thought England had a chance of making the semi-finals; but obviously I would have at least pencilled it in to the calendar, wouldn't I? You would think so, wouldn't you? A clue: 'no'.

So, at 8pm on Saturday England will play France in the semi-final of the World Cup..... and Mrs Botogol and I will be at a gay poetry reading.

Early this morning, thundering four abreast on our hardtails down the tow path at Ham, my friend announced he was simplifying his life. We were surprised, we said. On whole, we told him, he seemed pretty simple to us already. No, he said, by simplifying he meant he was jettisoning the unnecessary, the distracting, the inconsequential and the inessential in his life.

Well, we naturally assumed he was dumping us and we were a trifle miffed. "What, after all these years?", we asked, and I quickly mentioned the inner tube he still owes me.

But it turned out he didn't mean us at all. He meant... well.... So far as I could gather he meant he couldn't make the poker school at the Cabbage Patch of a Wednesday evening.

Simplify his life. And he's not even a Quaker (#41)

But maybe he has a point; maybe you CAN'T follow rugby AND go to gay poetry evenings.
Not in the long run.

04 October 2007

Abercrombie and Fitch

It's like Kid Nation, but crueller and I was there last night: Noisy, crowded, dark but flashing-bright: hell it is for the middle-aged or the autistic and for an autist of a certain age it is very torture.

Too loud to hear yourself think; too dark to tell the girls' clothes from the boys, the assistants from the shoppers, or toilets from the changing rooms: it's also a maze, with a secret cash desk and TWICE I heard people asking for help finding the exit. In fact there's only one thing you can imagine that's worse than browsing at A&F, and that's ... ooh . . say.....being after a certain *specific* thing that you have seen on the website, of which the staff are completely ignorant, and not, when it comes right, brutally down to it, not being quite sure what size your daughter is.

"Sir, I have been thinking about that t-shirt you're after: might it, in fact, be girls shirt? Because, if it is, I think you're looking in the wrong place!"
"Well, do you know: it just possibly might be"

Reader, I survived, and what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, yes?
Daughter, mine, it was worth it :-)

And I didn't have any trouble with my credit card

01 October 2007


It's been a long time since I thought of Mr Motivator, but there he was, on Sunday, motivating. And a very good job he was doing as well: in front of him in Hampton Court Great Park stood 4,000 turquoise-clad idiots all pumping to the left, lunging to the right, and jumping on the spot.

Except me. Never one for dancing in public (except for the flamenco of course, and the rugby club dinner, naturally), I remained still and poised, cool and alert, coiled like a spring and ready to run.

Well, jog anyway. Ten kilometres is an awfully long way. And I got stuck in the maze.

Forty-Eight minutes Fifty-Two seconds, though :-)

I call that well and truly motivated.

24 September 2007

Even Fancier

I did have one respite from the rugby at the weekend: Mrs B and I went to Casino Royale party. That's right: bleeding fancy dress again. But thank goodness for an easier theme: the party was at a riverside restaurant bar so I parked up on the opposite bank, donned my pale blue speedos and swam over.

I fancy I made quite a splash. And not just when I jumped in.

A splendid evening, even despite the barman refusing me a cash back on my Northern Rock debit card. Where's Felix Leiter when you need him?

23 September 2007

Trying Times

This last week I have been mostly watching rugby.

One week down, three long weeks to go.

Last Thursday my son and I pinned up the Times World Cup Wall Chart in the same, prominent place that Mrs Botogol has accorded all world cup wall-charts since 1995 - the inside of the coat cupboard door - and on the Friday evening we solemnly inked in the humiliation of France. Then we lost interest in the chart, and since then haven't entered a single result. Something to do with watching England I think. And tripping.

When I haven't been watching Rugby on the television, I have been watching it in the flesh, and when I haven't been watching it in the flesh, I've been coaching it, and when I haven't been coaching it I've been refereeing it, and when I haven't been refereeing it I have been talking about it at dinner parties. (A thought: is there too much rugby in my life? Can there be too much rugby in anyone's life?).

When I sit and think about it, I don't know why I even watch the pool stages of the World Cup: an endless procession of well meaning, brave but ultimately hapless minnows bullied and overcome by a ruthless, foreign superior force with whom they simply can't compete. I mean: if I want to see that, I can see it at work.

At work, my boss's boss has a new boss. Not that anyone has left: No, the new boss (my great-grand-boss you might say) is an extra layer of management inserted between my boss's boss and his boss. The uber-boss. We call him the uber-boss - the other middle managers and I - because he's as far up the chain as we can imagine. We are told on the intranet that the uber-boss himself has a boss, but emotionally it's hard to conceive what such a person would be like - a person of whom it is said that he reports to the ur-boss himself, the CEO, the one who appears on the webcasts.

When I say that no one has left, I should say: no one has left yet, for last week the minnows actually got to meet the Kwisatch Haderach [my great-grand-boss. Yes the new one...keep up] and, well, let's just say I reckon we are in only the pool stages of the RWC of our next grand re-organisation, that the charts are not dry on next week's powerpoint and at high levels some yellow card offences have been noted: Lack of directio, Disorganisation,Tripping. That sort of thing.

Why is tripping so bad in the list of Rugby sins anyway? For there is no two ways about it: in the hierarchy of grievousness tripping occupies a top spot: worse than punching, trampling, stamping, testicle squeezing and eye gouging, not as bad as biting, spear tackling or failing to get your round in.

Goodness, I once saw an eight year old sent off for tripping.

Although, oddly enough, it was his father he tripped; who was also the coach; and the referee. Fortunately you normally get tripped only if you are carrying the ball.

09 September 2007

Autumn Heat

Lately in London it has been unseasonably warm; and I have mostly been running for trains.

It's also been September. September is the month that SouthWest trains turn off the air-conditioning and switch on the heating.

Consequently, I have been very hot; and my my suit doesn't even have ventilated armpit holes, either, so when I say "hot", your mental picture should be "looks like he was caught outdoors in a hurricane".

Wednesday was hottest. I was in a hurry; I forget why; and I emerged from the underground at Waterloo just 87 seconds before the train left, which in the madcap world inhabited by Southwest trains means 27 seconds before the gates shut. So reader, I ran.

Much later, as I stood in the crowded aisle wiping the sweat off my blackberry, I reflected on my mistake. And on my bad luck for not only was it the hottest, most humid, sweatiest Wednesday for 47 years (I blame Gordon Brown), it was also the 1-day test match at the Oval and at Vauxhall 3,141 fans boarded. Singing.

When I say 'caught outdoors in a hurricane', by the way, I do mean Katrina. Not George or Eric or some other inconsequential tropical storm. Oh no.

At Raynes Park a seat became vacant, right before me. The woman next to it was so alarmed at the prospect of my sitting there, she gathered her possessions and escaped to the next carriage.

I judged it best to remain standing.

When I left the train at Kingston, three girls giggled and pointed at me behind my back (at my back probably) and most rudely, I thought. I would have stopped and remonstrated with them, but I simply hadn't got time, and instead I sprinted for the excess fares collector, in the hot corner near the ticket barrier.

I didn't want to be even later for New Parents evening

05 September 2007

Flowers and Memories

This morning, for some reason, I forsook my normal Guardian and bought The Times. On the platform, waiting for my coffee to cool, my train to arrive and my blackberry to synch, I read the births, engagements, marriages and deaths.

Normally when I do that there it is, smack in the middle: a name I know (the name that - presumably had already caught my subconscious eye and prompted my conscious read). This morning, however, I didn't know anyone.

But, even so, one of the sparse, 9point, close-spaced unknowns brought a lump to my throat (I have become so much more readily moved in my middle-age): an old man who died, aged 97, just 19 days after his wife.

But why don't people, any more, want flowers at funerals? What could be better than a simple gift of flowers: beautiful yet ephemeral, costly but without value? Instead we are asked, tackily, to give money to sad donkeys, or some such, to be totalled up and reckoned in a table of relative (and relatives') grief.

When I die I hope presents, donations and flowers are simply not mentioned, and that people will perhaps just come. Just come. And, if they come, their flowers, should they think to bring any, should be made so very welcome, but they bring no cash in their pockets to be offered up by direction, for a gift solicited is no gift at all.

I hope they play songs by Eddi Reader...

... and even read extracts from my blog :-)

02 September 2007

Don't you at least want chaps with that?

Don't you just hate fancy dress?

I was sweating badly, but the couple in front of me in the queue were in even worse trouble. "Well", he said, "well, the thing is: the theme is England".

"Oooh, that's hard", said the owner of the shop, who is -- hmmm, let us say theatrical, "England! Nothing more precise than that?"

"No", said she, miserably.

"and absolutely no ideas of your own at all?"


A little ball of tumbleweed blew in from the street, and somewhere in the distance an urban fox howled.

"Oooh", again, "that is hard. Well, the only thing I can suggest is that you look at our website for ideas, and then come back to me, otherwise..... ooh England. That is hard! Well, of course, I could do you Saint George - you know with the red cross and everything....or of course a Beefeater, they're English aren't they? And we've always got cricket players.... or Sherlock Holmes,
or Shakespeare, or Robin Hood, or Oliver Cromwell, or a Morris Dancer. But really I just don't know! England! That IS hard! Well, as I say, have a look at the website, and come back to me!"


The changing room curtain opened and out came an inoffensive looking accountant dressed from head to toe in bright, offensive, pink. He looked around for support, but the staff completely ignored him. It was the pinkest imaginable invisibility cloak. "Star Trek?" I ventured. "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", he confided. "Oh", I said, "Well, excellent"

The reluctant English couple headed for the changing rooms, struggling under the weight of their chain mail, and at last it was my turn.

"Cowboy hat please"

"Ah, a Western outfit?", well we have some marvellous costumes that you'll just love...."

"Just a hat, please"

"But.....", he said, "But....."

To be fair, the party was excellent. There was a quick draw machine, pork and beans, a bucking bronco, an Abba tribute band and an unusual fruit bowl. I sat on my hat.

It's always sunny, in a rich man's world.

20 August 2007

Slip-Sliding Away

It's been a long time since I held hands with a grown man. At a guess 1973.

Until the weekend, that is, when I took a deep breath, shifted my weight on to my toes and held hands, quite tightly and more than once, with a young, tanned snow board instructor.

Reader, I even gazed into his eyes.

Until he told me: no, even though it was true, he had said to look straight ahead, perhaps I should rather look over his shoulder toward the crest of hill, and was I ready to let go now ?

I was at the artificial ski-slope at Sandown Park for private lesson. He was a lot better on a snowboard than I was, but on the whole I felt I was dressed more cooly: while he sported a bright red junior ski-klub sweatshirt and a baseball hat back to front. I was wearing my ultra-baggy (triathlon weight-loss) snow-boarder-cargo-pants and my sly hat.

Unfortunately, although I was cooler I was also indisputably hotter: it may be a miserable August in England but hopping up a steep slope wearing a hat and gloves and with a 10kg deadweight strapped to your ankle can certainly warm you up. Even when you have ventilated armpit holes.

When I took off my knee-pads, I had sweat patches on my knees.

14 August 2007

Back to Work

How people are expected to come back from holiday rested, energised and raring to go is a total mystery to me.

It makes no sense: you take two weeks off running, you come back slower, not faster. You take two weeks off work, you forget all your passwords.

And in my case also you forget where your office is.

You can only imagine how amusing that was: bursting in to find the new Regional Cross-Functional Inter-Department Coordinator sitting in my office trying out my chair. I must have given her a good half-minute of the Goldilocks treatment before I remembered that I had moved again just three days before I went away.

I actually suspect I have been away longer than two weeks, but have forgotten it all in a haze of manzanilla, or perhaps we were all drugged on that bus. As well as the memory loss, this would explain why it's become winter. And why everyone seems to have forgotten about standing on the bleeding right on escalators.

At least they missed me while I was a way (well, I left some little booby traps behind to make damn sure, of course)

08 August 2007

El Presidente! Él está viniendo!

Yesterday the Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (for it is he) chose to visit the bird-watchers' paradise that is the Doñana National Park. So did the family Botogol. I think it is fair to say that of the two of us, he attracted the more attention.

Eventually, we found out it was the presence of el Presidente that was the reason we spent forty-five minutes parked on a beach in a sweltering bus containing 17 excitable and excited Spaniards, all speaking a style of impenetrable Spanish where all but the first two consonants of every word are silent.

We were waiting to cross the estuary back to Sanlúcar, a tantalising 500m away; the ferry was there, but it wasn't moving. Through my binoculars (with which I hadn't managed to correctly focus on a single bird all morning) I could see across the water people in the cool café shade enjoying their ice-cold manzanilla and tapas. We had 2 litres of tepid water.

With a peculiar sense of deja vu, I stood and approached the bus driver, plaintively, but the bus driver, he shrugged; I subsided.

Then without warning I leapt from my seat and made a grab for the door. Without even turning around, the driver snorted and hit the central-locking button, and I returned, defeated, back to my bench.

Perhaps, I thought, they are waiting for us all to collapse one at time in the heat, so that they can harvest our kidneys before propping us up in a bath of ice. I thought longingly of my phrasebook (Chapter 11: In a Hostage Situation). Why do you always leave it behind in the villa when you really need it?

At least our loved ones would have a decent photographic record of how we had spent our final hours: that is, bouncing around in a large-wheeled bus up and down a bumpy beach terrorising the local wildlife into panic or flight for the entertainment of the tourists. Totally ignorant of avian fauna, and in the complete absence of any English commentary whatsoever, we had enjoyed ourselves spotting big birds, little birds, medium-sized birds and - I think I can safely say - seagulls. Also, and really the highlight of the morning, a dead seal. And deer, lots of deer.

There are rumours of a lost stone-age tribe in the Doñana, living in prehistoric grass huts, feeding entirely off wild boar, berries, and medium-sized birds and totally unaware of the existence of Manzanilla sherry. But we didn't see any.

A shiny black Toyota suddenly roared from the trees and shot across the beach and straight on to the ferry. Spanish cameras clicked, the ferry turned and sped off towards Sanlúcar and we were finally released on to the sand to await its return.

When we finally got on the boat, some twenty minutes later, the ferryman was understandably excited. "You'll never guess", he said, "who I had in the back of my ferry this morning"

02 August 2007

Manzanilla and more

Example of Flor
Originally uploaded by catavino.
If there is a single drink in the world that rivals the margarita for style and sophistication it's a manzanilla sherry. Produced from fields of alien, white soil in a remote corner of Spain, its pale colour and its dry, salty, yeasty flavour is without compare.

Thanks to the mathematically-pleasing solera system each and every glass of manzanilla contains wine of inestimable age and that, with its subtle flavours should ensure that it commands vast prices, yet its so unfashionable you can buy it in supermarkets from €2.95 a bottle. How does that work? What is there about this drink not to like?

Unfortunately for me, though, in last night's blind triangular tasting, I was unable to distinguish it from a fino.

It's hot here, but it's breezy enough to be comfortable; it's remote but we have sky TV; in the evenings the pool is warm and the tennis court is cool. I have hired a mountain bike; I have drunk a bottle and a half of manzanilla.

31 July 2007


Cornered Radiance
Originally uploaded by omalingue.
There are as many types of internet connection as there are ways to cook an egg. You have your basic hard-boiled dial-up connection; your easy-over DSL connection and your ADSL sunny-side up. For variety you might try poached wireless and for all round class and taste nothing can beat your T3 cable-modem a la benedict

In our beautiful, peaceful, shady Spanish villa on the Costa de la Luz we have the worst kind of internet connection; your deeply disappointing, white-only omelette connection: your infuriating intermittently working connection. Your OK, I can work around it, I can write it off-line…. hey look it’s back ! quick! edit / copy / blogger / new post / edit, / paste / publish, bugger, its gone again, did it go, did it go? kind of internet connection.

If you are reading this, it worked.

And if you are reading this then you will be most likely sitting at a desk in front of your computer. I will most likely be on the beach, or in the pool, or sitting in the deep, dark, cool shade of our perfect terrace, feet up, with the new Patrick Gale in one hand, a glass of ice cold Manzanilla in the other, and bowl of salted almonds balanced on my suddenly alarmingly ample stomach.

For I am on holiday.

This is the life, eh?

26 July 2007

Sol y sombra, arena y sudor, vistas y siesta, tapas y vino

La Siesta
Originally uploaded by jose_miguel.
We're all off to sunny Spain!

...via Stanstead @4.30am and Ryan Air @15 kilos of luggage per person

15 kilos ?? My new flamenco kit weighs half of that on its own.

This evening, after working late, I am mostly packing. Also configuring a new laptop, bidding on eBay, weighing five different suitcases but not myself, downloading onto my eTrex the co-ordinates of every geocache within 10 miles of Conil de la Fontera, and - it transpires - updating my blog. All that before the highlights of the Tour de France and perhaps a quick game of scrabble with Mrs Botogol.

I don't know if our villa even has wi-fi, perhaps the laptop is a waste of 2.72kg; besides, it'll probably be too hot to blog the next two weeks.

15 kilos totally ridiculous. Only one way to manage: I'll have to actually wear the flamenco boots.
..as well as the jacket
..and the hat.

23 July 2007

It was 50 years ago today...

Fifty years ago to this very day, perhaps to this very minute, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sat in a recording studio in Hollywood with Ray Brown (double bass) Herb Ellis (guitar) Oscar Peterson (piano) and Louie Bellson (drums) and together recorded 10 of the finest pieces of music ever laid to vinyl, including Autumn in New York, Stompin at the Savoy, They All Laughed and Love is Here to Stay.

This picture was taken twelve months previously and was the cover of the first of two albums they recorded in just four sessions in two successive summers. When the picture was taken Louis was 56 and Ella just 39 - significantly younger than I am now.

Frighteningly, I have been listening to those two albums for over thirty years, so when I first heard the recordings they weren't really very old. The equivalent to my children listening now to music from 1987.

But not really, for Ella & Louis have no equivalent: she of the purest voice and he of the purest trumpet, individually they were stunning and together for those four golden days in 1956 and 1957 they were untouchable, unmatchable, ineffable.

The picture to the right was taken in 1952, while they were in their primes.

Louis died in 1971 and Ella, poor diabetic Ella, died in 1996.

The first time I heard Autumn in New York in the 1970s, it was on my parents' old stand-up mono radiogram. In the 1980s I played it at university on my Comet hi-fi. In the 1990s I bought it on CD and played it in the car. Now I am listening to a this .wma as I type,

To me this song sounds as fresh as when Ella & Louis laid it down - exactly fifty years ago today.

22 July 2007


Woosh 3
Originally uploaded by ashwinds..
On Friday I took the day off work and drove all the way to Hampshire where I forked out £60 to receive a three-hour telling off.

I was one of eleven poor feckless saps with felt-pen name-labels humiliatingly stickered to our chests all crammed up in a small room in a 1970s office block on the UK Atomic Energy site in Winfrith, near Bournemouth.

Commensurate with our delinquent status, we had been forced into stress positions: peculiar old-fashioned chairs with those little folding tables under your elbow on which to rest your pad on. Every single chair in the room was right-handed

The room was hospital-grey and very hot. Behind yellowing curtains there were floor to ceiling cross-wired windows and a certain tension filled the air; it was half Edge of Darkness, half Gregory's Girl.

Just forty-five minutes previously, having arrived an hour early for my scheduled remonstration, and with the unaccustomed freedom of not a soul in the world knowing or caring where I was, I had rested in a cool, dark pub for traditional ham-egg-and-chips and a pint of foaming English ale (£9.45). Now I was at the mercy of an earnest and enthusiastic pair of professional chastisers: two middle-aged driving instructors from the West Country.

It was a Driver Awareness Course.

What I actually need, of course, is a speed camera awareness course; sadly the Dorset Constabulary don't offer those, and anyway the horse had bolted: I was caught back in May, and this seemed a better option than three points on my license. It never crossed my mind that the course would be led by a Reg Hollis and David Brent tribute band. Next time I'll take the points.

The course mainly consisted of DVD nasties: photos of crashes, videos of crashes, dummies being run over, dummies being crushed. Far and away the worst was when they produced the speed-camera pictures of our own convictions to humiliate us. As the first one flashed up my flesh crawled; I alone knew what was coming. I accepted that my fellow participants would be shocked, but I hoped those instructors - men of the world - would seen it all before. But it turns out I am the only person these fifteen years caught speeding in Christchurch dressed in a pirate suit. With a parrot.

"So, Mr Botogol", asked Reg, fixing me with a piercing look, "why were you travelling at 38mph that fateful day?" Everyone else had already related their narrative, their desperate excuses, their sick children, their sparkling, highly polished anecdotes, and they all leaned forward expectantly, "Well", I said, "well, I was wearing this eye-patch, right..."

At the end of the course, the participants were effusive in their praise for our two instructors. "I'll never break the limit again" choked Jackie, from Poole, and our instructors beamed.

"We're not on this earth for long" opined Reg "No, not for long" chimed in Brenty, "So therefore we all of us", Reg continued, "need to live a happy and a safe life".

It was worth a day of my precious holiday, just for that.

- concentration
- observation
- anticipation
- space-giving (sic)
- time to plan

17 July 2007

Ready for anything

On balance I am not very keen on traditional dancing. African, Indian, Morris, Portuguese, Inuit, it all looks pretty much the same to me.

So when our friends emailed us at the weekend to ask whether we would like to join them, while we're all on holiday in Spain together, next month, for an evening of flamenco dancing, well, I wasn't that keen.

When I found out it is participatory flamenco dancing, I wasn't keen at all.

You see: I am not, Mrs Botogol will readily confirm, much of a dancer. I will admit that I have, once or twice, been seen on the dance floor at the annual rugby club dinner and dance, after a pint or four, but otherwise, well, suffice to see my feet are as dexterous as my elbows. I like to think my dancing is of the mathematical type.

But then again, I reflected, going on holiday with friends involves some give and take. While on the one hand it's true to say that I'd rather have my head nailed to the floor than attempt the flamenco, on the other hand it promises to be a novel thread in the colourful pattern of life's rich tapestry. Also something to blog about (twice, it seems). So I acquiesced.

But NB: there will be no cameras.

15 July 2007

I know what I like...

...and I like what I know.

Without a hint of a shadow of a doubt, the absolute best part of an all-round excellent gig by Genesis at Twickenham last week was Phil's tambourine dance solo in the rain. Not because it was funny - which it was - not just because the dance is a traditional feature of Genesis live - which it is - but because of the heart-wrenching, unashamed, sentimental, sheer bloody nostalgia that led the band to put on, on the big screen behind him, footage of a younger, hairier, bearded Phil from the 1970s doing the exact same dance.

You can make it out here (just about)

Before Sunday, the last time I saw Phil Collins live was about 2004. I was on my own in New York for a weekend and Phil was playing Madison Square Garden on the Friday. Unaccountably no one I knew at work wanted to come with me, so I went alone.

It's not great going to a concert on your own at the best of times, but evening was really made up when I found myself sitting a row of seats that seemed to have been reserved specially for lonely, billy-no-mates-losers like myself: the entire row of seats were singles; every single one of the occupants were male. On my left was a vast middle-aged baby from New Jersey, at least 300lbs, dressed like a seven-year old in pink t-shirt and billowing shorts, sucking on the teat of bottle of isotonic sports fluid. On my right was a Korean who had brought his laptop.

How desperately I wanted Phil to realise that I was with them, but not of them.

The audience in Twickenham were completely different, hardly geeky at all :-)

10 July 2007

Mud and Philosophy

Every Sunday morning at 7.45am I pull my weary body out of bed, put on a pair of baggy lycra shorts and go mountain biking with two friends (counting Jake, I have three friends).

Last Sunday my bike and I celebrated 3000 miles together: this magic number rolled up on my handlebar computer somewhere in the middle of Richmond Park (I can't be sure precisely where: having anticipated the moment for months when it came, of course, I missed it)

3000 miles! 3000 mainly muddy miles, for south west London has unexpected pleasures to offer the enthusiastic mountain biker. That's around 170 Sunday morning outings, perhaps 100 ascents of Richmond Alp, 75 crossings of the Col de Teddington, 30 wild descents of the Wimbledon Common Massif.

I like statistics.
  • miles covered - 3000
  • punctures in the rain when I was in hurry - 7
  • punctures in fine weather when I have all the time in the world - 0
  • broken spokes - 3
  • new front tires - 2
  • crushed squirrels -1
  • dog bites, while actually cycling along quite fast, actual teeth actually closing on my foot - 1
  • falls on to hard, dry ground - 4
  • falls into the cold, clammy River Crane - 1

We go pretty fast, for forty-something mountain bikers, but not so fast that we can't speak. "Of course its more than 3000 miles, really", I remarked casually, carelessly, to my cycling buddy as he pedalled, red faced, sweating and panting beside me, dutifully admiring the display that read 3001 "yes, a lot more than 3000 miles if you count the miles I've ridden with the computer not working"

"Well I don't count them," he replied, "No one would: just as the tree that falls in the forest with no one to hear it, makes not a sound, so the mile cycled without a computer to record it, is a mile untravelled" and with that he shot ahead.

Now, over the years the conventions for philosophical argument on two wheels have become very well established between us: in order to make your rejoinder you have to catch up, pull out of the slipstream and work your way alongside.

Put it this way: it's a form of philosophy in which you don't waste words.

It's also a form of debate that has the advantage of being the only type of philosophical discourse, at least so far as I am aware, that can be won by the strength in your calves. It's a bit like Alan Turing's run-around-the-house-chess, except you are more likely to end up sprawling on the floor with the contents of a water-bottle emptied down the back of your neck (a roughly 2 times in 170 chance, to be precise).

I couldn't quite catch him, so I squirted my water-bottle from a distance. I missed.

But 3000 miles! Did I celebrate? Reader: I held a margarita party. But is it still a party, if nobody comes?

06 July 2007

We're all on Facebook, now

Originally uploaded by canon.fodder.
Never accuse me of not jumping on a bandwagon: I have joined Facebook, And already I have received my first friendship request! It was from Jake Madden aged 20 from Colorado. (For reasons of verisimilitude I am using his real name). Hi Jake!

I quite surprised myself how excited I was to receive a friendship request. The last time someone asked me, just blurted, straight out like that, "Can I be your friend" I was eight and a half. It was Delia Page; I pulled her hair.

Ever since then I have promised myself that if it happened again I would handle it better. I knew the time had come. I accepted. "How do you know Jake?", asked Facebook, quick as a flash.

Facebook recognises thirteen different answers to that question. I considered them all, carefully.
#6 "I suspect he is some kind of creepy internet stalker" seemed to fit the bill, but I paused, the echo of Delia Page's thirty year old tears ringing in my ears, and reconsidered.
#4 "He stumbled across my blog and was impressed by my dry English wit (if understandably a little confused by my use of irony) and wanted to know me better" was tempting.
But in the end I settled for the simple, if self-contradictory
#13 "I don't even know this person" .
All in all, an odd place, Facebook

Later, Jake sent me a Facebook message [it's just like email except that because of a strategic error by Facebook you have to go their site to collect it*] I clicked. Jake had written: "Just so you know, no I don't know you, but no I am not some creepy, faceless internet stalker"

So that's all right then.

If you are interested, I am just plain botogol on Facebook. I have just one friend (hint)

* Then how do you know you've even got a message?, you might ask. Because they send you an email to tell you. hmmm...

02 July 2007


Originally uploaded by April H..
Our garden is soaking wet; saturated; absolutely sodden. This is in part because it has rained every- day- for- the- last- three- and- a-half- weeks. But it's also because, on Saturday, I poured on to the lawn enough water to supply a small African village for a month: Reader, I emptied the paddling pool.

Now let's be clear: this is no ordinary paddling pool; although if you were to judge from the picture on the box you'd imagine it was one. Yes, if you were judging solely from the picture on the box, perhaps in a hurry, you can be sure that you would have no chance of comprehending any where near exactly how BIG it is. Especially if you were accompanied that day in Homebase by, say, an excited 10 year with the clear opinion that it certainly wasn't any larger than than the old paddling pool, the one we had last year, if anything slightly smaller, Dad, come on!

Neither, if you were judging from the picture on the box, would you gather that it had a filter, and pump.

Reader, our paddling pool is 3.2m diameter and over half a metre deep. That means it contains roughly um r=1.5m....π=3.14, tum-te-tum- te-tum...te .... well, about 4,000 litres of water. That's enough for an African family of five to live on for 6 months. Or an American family of three for an afternoon.

No one could accuse me of being green but even I had a slight twinge of worry when we ran out of hot water and had to switch on the immersion heater to keep up the temperature while we filled it.

That was three-and-half-weeks-ago when we filled it up, since then we've have had precisely 58 minutes of sunshine and the children have been in it precisely twice. One of those times voluntarily.

At lunchtime on Saturday I read the five day weather forecast. I hummed. I levered up a corner of the pool to inspect the rotten, glutinous 'grass' beneath. I haa'd. Slowly I came to a decision and I removed the cover, fetched my snorkel, and plunged my arm into the freezing cold water to undo the plug and attach the hose. Water gushed out in a most satisfactory way; and when I went to bed that evening it was still gushing. On Sunday morning it had stopped and I wrestled with the still-surprisingly-heavy-last-5cm and tipped the remaining slimy water out of the sorry-looking deflated pool and all over my shoes.

Thank goodness for global warming, that's what I say, otherwise I would have ended up cold AND wet.

26 June 2007

Wimbledon and the Hawk-Eye delusion

The Crouch - pic by aluytenuk.
Quite the best part of Roddick v Gimelstob on Monday afternoon was Hawk-Eye doing its stuff.

Court 1, first day: Two enormous men, in enormous shorts, face up to each other across a half-size tennis court. One bounces a ball on the turf and straightens up; the line judges take up their ludicrous Wimbledon Crouch. The ball is tossed into the air, Serve!

Thwack! A flash of agassi-belly, "FAULT!" "15-30"

But what's this? Instead of retiring meekly, a player apologetically raises his hand.

"Mr Gimli", intoned the referee incredulously, "Mr Gimli, son of Thimli, son of McEnroe, is challenging the line call!", then adding rather needlessly: "the call made was: 'out' ".

It was the first ever Hawk-Eye challenge at Wimbledon (and I was there) The crowd loved it. The offending line judge hated it. How he squirmed in his seat as Hawk-Eye blinked into action ("Hawk-Eye operator, actually". Wouldn't that be a great response when quizzed at parties?).

On the big screen a virtual No 1 Court appeared and we gasped as our virtual pov zoomed, dizzily, like google earth, down, down until we took up position a few virtual centimetres above the virtual grass, to see exactly where the virtual ball would bounce. In came the ball. In the background a tiny, virtual line-judge leapt from his virtual seat and a speech bubble yelled 'OUT', but in the foreground we could all see the virtual ball just touching the virtual line - it was in.

Although personally I wasn't convinced: no cloud of virtual dust, see.

Great fun but, at its heart, not entirely honest, for this isn't really a replay. The system isn't really watching to see whether the ball is out or not. It already decided that. This is an animation. It follows the decision, not the other other way round.


Wimbledon sorts people: Centre Court, No.1 or Outside Courts? Members' Enclosure, Debenture Holders' Enclosure or Henman Hill? Food Village, picnic or Pimms & Champagne bar?

Mrs B and I know where we stand, and we headed for the last-named, and a glass each of watery Pimms (no, sir, no Margaritas) where we watched the people. Young people, old people, all middle-class people. To our left a couple were kissing quite passionately, his hand on her leg. The rings on their fingers, showed they were married but not, opined Mrs B confidently, to each other. They were oblivious to our gaze.

Over their heads, on the big screen, a virtual tennis player tucked a virtual tennis ball into her virtual knickers.

One day they'll probably have Hawk-Eye in the bars as well.

21 June 2007

The limits of human knowledge

Every once in while, commuting home, I encounter a strange singing duo on Kingston Loop. They have been going a long time now - it might be 15 years since I first saw them - and I'd put them in their 50s or 60s. They make money not from guilt or embarrassment in the way that the young hostel-seekers do, but from their humour: They earn their crust from comedy songs with strange lyrics and not-bad-harmonies, backed up by a thin-sounding guitar; they accept Luncheon Vouchers and Rupees and they collect their money in an omelette pan; they are probably at least half mad; I like them.

They only have two songs, the first is called "This Train" and is a duet:
"This train......."
(...calls at Vauxhall, Queenstown Road, Clapham Junction, Wandsworth Town...)

"This train...."
(...is composed of eight coaches and you'll find the guard situated in the middle carriage)

"This train.....".
(...has first class accommodation, for first class ticket-holder only)

"This train....."
They rarely get through the song without being drowned out by the on-board tannoy, which, of course, is the whole point.

I thought of those two, last Tuesday night, while I was listening to the three-quarters-crazy David Gamez opine on the Limits of Human Knowledge at the ICA
"Can you go a go a bit slower, please" was the first question from the floor, as an excitable Gamez rattled through slides of impenetrable powerpoint, gabbling in incomprehensible philosoperese
(....,nonotreallyiveonlygoteightminutestosumupabout300pagersofmynewbooksoI'mjust goingtothrowthisatyouandhopeyougethegistofit")

"Only five minutes, now"), piped up the chairman, helpfully
Just 2 minutes - but fully 17 slides - previously, Gamez had told us there was no such thing as objective time but now, in the face of a watch and an impatient chairman, he folded completely and - was it possible? - he speeded up
(...however, positive scepticism is self-reflexively challenged because it does not place the aspect of positive scepticism above others. This forces the positive sceptic to endorse aspects that directly challenge it, and positive scepticism is led by its own arguments into an unstable sustaining/ negating relationship with the labyrinth of theories around it)
You are quite right: I didn't note that down, I copied it off his website, but I swear that's what he said. He also said that there's no such thing as truth; there's no such thing as knowledge and he couldn't be at all certain that we were real people, rather than aliens.

That last thought was entirely mutual, and there's not a speaker in the land who wouldn't have given an arm and leg to follow a performance as poor as Gamez.

Apart, that is, from Mark Vernon, former priest turned "passionate agnostic" who was next up and who read, entirely devoid of passion, from his script about....well I forget. Or Stuart Sim who promised belligerent atheism, but never came close.

It was a relief when we got to artist (and not philosopher) Emma Kay, who makes art ("digital print, on paper", I ask you) which explores the depths of her own ignorance. The Bible from Memory, Shakespeare from Memory, History from Memory, The Complete Series Two of the Catherine Tate Show from Memory. (OK I made the last one up). Odd, yes, but also oddly compelling, and at least she made sense.

As did - to be fair - the coherent, logical, lyrical and plausible chairman Hilary Lawson, a man whose promise was seemingly cut short in the Lower 6th when he encountered Epimenides' Paradox in a vulnarable moment, and has never being able to shrug it off since.
"The trouble with saying that there is no such thing as objective truth", he lamented, plaintively, "is that the statement in itself sounds awfully like a claim to be an objective truth".
A logical black hole, with a whats-the-point horizon which even a long career in philosophy has not equipped him to overcome.

If there is a limit to human knowledge, it's certain Google haven't heard of it and by the miracle of the net, and the power of Google, the other hit of of the singing duo on the Kinsgton Loop is actually available for you to hear (hat-tip to the OCD-fascinating London Underground blog)

It's a protest song. A protest against not being allowed to have a wash and shave in toilets at Waterloo
"for if you can't have a shave in a toilet", they sing, "then where can you have a shave?"
Now that's question to which answer really is beyond the limits of human knowledge.

09 June 2007

Berliner Denkmal

Nicely settled in our friends' garden, with a chilled Weißbier at one elbow, and a bowl of gemischtensnacken at the other, I placed side by side on the table a small-scale bus map and a pictorial tourist plan of the Berlin Wall in 1962.

Studying them intently, I tried to work out whereabouts exactly on our walk from Mexikoplatz to Kleinmachnow we had passed from the old West Berlin into the old DDR

It was hard. Tracing my finger along the along the route I looked back and forth at the two inadequate diagrams... trying to work it out.... looking for some sort of clue... well, now, judging by that bend in the road it must be just about....there!... yes, just where... Hang on, just where Benschallee becomes Karl-Marx-Straße.

A little stupider, but undeterred, I thought hard - trying to visualise it. So that would about around that odd bend in the road...where that strip of woodland was, and the empty lot and.... that memorial to "Berlin, a city divided"....

Our friends' house is just beyond the Berlin city limits; in 2007 this places it outside the dotted line that marks Zone C of the S-Bahn. Twenty years ago the house was outside a twin barbed wire fence and in the DDR. Our friends didn't live there then. It's a brand new house in an always desirable suburb, once the haunt of party workers, since turfed out and banished to small apartments, now the haunt of property developers.

We had a busy weekend. We sailed on Wannsee, toured the Pergamon, walked over Glienicker Bridge inspected Checkpoint Charlie, just missed Knut's visiting hours at the Zoo, tramped the length of the Kudamm (haunted by images of Knut) footsore and dusty until in KaDeWe we bribed the children with €10 each to explore the toy department while Mrs Botogol and I enjoyed smoked salmon, oysters and champagne in the food hall.

Berlin has become a city of symbols and memorials: through the centre snakes a double line of cobbles, marking the path of the wall, of which a few fragments survive (I wondered what would happen if I tried to add to the graffiti - are they still just wall or have they become monuments?) At the site of Checkpoint Charlie a sign still announces that you are leaving the American sector, the Reichstag stands proud, in Friedrichstraße the Topology of Terror records the Nazi history of the old ministry buildings, while near Potzdamerplatz we entered the eerie, disorientating, holocaust memorial, more than one tourist in tears on its blank grey slabs.

Strangest of all monuments: driving from the airport I saw a structure that I couldn't understand, but was sufficiently intriguing for me to note down the text. VVN / Der Toten Mann.

Google tells me the VVN is an anti-nazi organisation, the Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Naziregimes Der Toten Mann means The dead man.

Did I write it down wrong?

On the last evening we had dinner in a converted mill. It was easy to imagine it lying derelict under the communists' now with its aperitifs, amuse-bouche, ice-buckets, gliding waiters, it was an appropriate symbol for upmarket and sophisticated place that Berlin has become.

Still Germanic though: we had booked a table indoors and our decision to sit on the terrace for a pre-dinner drink caused just a tiny stir... but the Maitre D recovered himself, and ushered us smoothly through with a warm smile. And told us firmly told not sit in any one of the seven tables with the best view. They were all empty, but all Reserviert, all evening.

The menu was big on asparagus, and we did it justice - but not quite brave enough to indulge in that bizarre middle-class English idiom of eating it with our fingers (when in Rome...you use you knife and fork). For main course I had the veal (tasted like chicken) and my companion enjoyed the chicken (tasted like veal). Afterwards we enjoyed A selection of cheeses 125 gram. Don't you love the Germans?

Walking back several bottles of Trockenwein the merrier, a few yards off the road into the woods we came across a war memorial for the citizens of Kleinmachnow who had died for the Fatherland. 1914 to 1918.

There were fresh flowers at the base.

I asked if there were a second world war memorials. "Yes, I have seen one. It's not far from here... It commemorates the fallen Russians"

06 June 2007

Work-Life Balance


In the same way that my dog doesn't eat meat*, I don't do those blog-tag, memey things.

However for some reason I was quite taken by outside_jane's journey to work, and I unaccountably resolved to do the same thing. So here it is: my journey from home...

My Street

...to work


Except, not quite the same thing : while she is in the sub-tropical Phillippines, and works in a glamorous dive and surf shop, I am in suburban London and the only surfing I manage is at my desk, between coffee-break and lunchtime. Oh, and in the afternoons.

I'm not sure if this is a good idea, or quite the most tedious post I've ever made on this blog. If for some reason there is anyone still reading, and remotely interested, here's the complete set of pictures - as thumbnails, or as a slideshow

*....because I don't give it any.

30 May 2007

Walking in the Rain

About fifteen cold, wet and very-muddy miles along the Cotswold Way we reached the precise spot where in 2006 our hosts (so they were telling us) had encountered a naked hiker. The children looked around eagerly, hoping for a repeat sighting, as if the walker were a permanent feature of that section of the Cotswold escarpment but, like a badger, he was nowhere to be seen, and to be fair it was hard to imagine weather less conducive to nude rambling.

The rain hardened, I drew my hood in around my face. My boots were heavy with red earth and sheep-poo, I had long-since zipped up my ventilated arm-pit holes, so I closed my eyes and imagined hot, sun-baked earth.....while I listened to the children's questions.

"So he was just walking along, naked? Did he say 'hello'?"
Silly question: of course he said hello. I'm not sure if it's a countryside thing, or a rambling thing, but everyone on the Cotswold Way says 'hello'. The first day I had naturally assumed that our local hosts actually knew all these people, before Mrs Botogol put me right '"No, stupid, they are just being friendly". I liked the sound of that and the second days I was like Crocodile Dundee I was that friendly. In fact, I reckon I'm a chameleon, the way I fit in: last week throwing thundery glances at a chic gay theatre in London, this week throwing cheery 'Good Mornings' at ramblers on a national trail. Only my lack of poles betrayed me.

"No he didn't, he just walked by quickly" (Aha..not a real rambler after all!)
"Could you see everything?"
"No he held his hands in front of him as he walked past"
"Did he have a ruck-sack?"
"I couldn't see what type of sack he had, the way he was holding his hands in front..."

Altogether we walked 25 miles. It rained for the entire first day, and most of the second. I only fell over once but when I did it hurt a lot and because of the rain, the blood didn't really clot. On the way we did 4 geocaches, and we bought 43 doughnuts, muffins, buns and mars bars in Broadway; but we didn't go to any pubs because we were were too wet, too muddy and too numerous.

In Stanway we saw the largest gravity-fed fountain in Europe and high, high up on the hills, at Belas Knapp we ate ginger cake over a 4,500 year burial chamber where excavators have found 38 skeletons over the years; all of them, according to the audio-guide - all of them hikers who attempted the long climb from Winchcombe in inclement weather while wearing inappropriate footwear.

There were only 23 of us; a mixture of old friends and mutual strangers, but because it is a very small world one of the strangers turned out to have been to school with Mrs Botogol. Of the 15 adults four have indescribable jobs, four work for the government, six work for themselves and one is retired. Only one had a second pair of walking boots - dry you see - to wear the second day. Another carried an umbrella all the way - and had a spare brolly in his rucksack - which he didn't share with anyone, not even when we stopped for lunch.

"I guess you'll blog about all this when you get home",
opined our host, later that evening, curry eaten, red wine finished, the barrel of beer considerably emptier than it had been when we all arrived.
"I'm not really sure", I reflected, "that you'd all want to read about yourselves",
"You could disguise our identities", he said, "and jazz us up a bit? Steal our best jokes? Put words into our mouths?"

"Yes", I said, "Well, yes, I suppose I could"

26 May 2007


The Botogols are away. If it's Monday it's Gloucestershire, if it's Friday then it's Berlin.

Germany /-/ Gloucestershire
Berliners /-/ Bucolics
Jungen /-/ Yuppies
Kurfürstendamm /-/ Cotswold Way
Unter den Linden /-/ Under the trees

They couldn't be more different, could they? One known world-wide as an oasis of ostentatious, decadent capitalist wealth, encircled by a hostile proletariat, for all the world as if there were a wall between them; the other the capital city of Germany.

I don't know if I'll have the time to blog.

24 May 2007

Three Pounds Eighty

"Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, I am really sorry to bother you on your journey home after a busy day, but I am currently a rough sleeper and I am trying to raise eight pounds tonight to get into a hostel.

"Normally I do sell the Big Issue for a living, but today there was a problem and I only got a small number to sell so I am £3.80 short tonight. If I can raise that, I will be able to get into the hostel and have a bed for the night and keep warm and dry. If you can spare anything I would be really grateful. God bless you"

I probably hear that speech once a week commuting home on the train. Probably every other late-night commuter in London hears it as well. I wonder how many young men there are (for it is always young men) travelling the late night trains, all with this same patter? They are well rehearsed - much of it is delivered verbatim - and most strikingly it is always precisely in the same tone of voice: a tone of voice that is at the same time apologetic, respectful, slightly embarrassed, self effacing and polite. The whole package is a successful meme, no doubt about it. Where did it come from? Did it evolve naturally by imitation, did someone actually script it?

And why does it work? All the passengers know they are being spun a line; there is no shelter further along the Kingston loop turning away the young homeless for want of £3.80.

We have heard it all before; the performers know we have heard it all before but nevertheless they proceed to deliver it again, straight-faced, and because they deliver it we passengers give them money. All parties all complicit in the shared fiction, a suspension of disbelief, a doublethink: an unspoken - but clearly understood - agreement between strangers to a pretence that makes it easier - less embarrassing perhaps - to give and to receive. I wonder if it happens in the same way in other countries?

But last night something different; the spiel delivered, the hapless supplicant was moving down the carriage collecting money when a second man entered at the other end of the carriage and started the exact same speech. Beggar #1 started guiltily and backed away. Too late; he was noticed, and he turned and ran down the aisle, hotly pursued by beggar #2.

A small window in this world opened to me.

I never give them anything, anyway.

22 May 2007

In The Country

We were in the countryside last weekend - Mrs Botogol and I - on our way back to London after a romantic weekend away, and we had this idea: why not visit a proper Farm Shop and buy some goodies to take home for our supper? You know the sort of thing: fresh mushrooms with moist soil clinging to the base, home-made high-strength cider, dark red well hung organic beef, individually crafted ravioli containing smoked venison and artichoke hearts. That sort of thing. The sort of thing you get from Farm Shops, right?

The trouble is: Farm Shops in the countryside simply aren't as rural as the ones in town.

In South West London the farm shops and farmers' markets feature cheery, red-faced sons of the soil who wax enthusiastically about their terroir, their traditional methods, the injustice of DEFRA subsidies and the importance of knowing-where-your-food-comes-from. While they ramble they press tiny organic tomatoes into your hands, before weighing out a pat of butter on brass scales. They wear latex gloves to handle the produce. They call you 'Sir'

In the countryside farm shops are staffed by sullen-faced tattooed rustics, moonlighting from Homebase, who don't know celery from celeriac and call you "Yeh Wha?". They have freezers with manky-looking scallops, they microwave their pasties, and they don't-know-where-their-food-comes from.

We selected Bombay mix, beetroot and turkey twizzlers. Our assistant was sooo slooow on electronic cash register that we abandoned the the whole lot on the belt.

It's nice to be back home

21 May 2007

In Two Minds

One of the advantages of working for a very large, very posh big-city firm is that it has no corporate memory; consequently it forgets which of its staff left voluntarily and which were hustled indignantly out the door and both sets are invited to the alumni evenings. Which makes for excellent alumni evenings. Last week I was invited to just such an event - drinks and canapés - by the employer before last. Initially, I was in two minds whether to go, but....

... but when I got there, I found I was in two bodies. Either that, or I'd slipped through a gap in the space-time continuum and I had arrived 10 minutes before myself as - it seemed - someone had taken my name badge and gone inside with it.

I was nonplussed: I didn't like the idea of an alter-ego working the room, meeting my network, making new contacts and, well, probably eating less, drinking less, sweating less, being more polite and making a lasting positive impression. Suddenly I cheered up, and the bright, bubbly hostess reassured me further: "Don't worry! we'll just print you off another badge!" she said brightly, bubblily, "What's your name again ?"

My spirits fell once more - it was noisy in the bar, and my name is sometimes difficult to pronounce and hard to hear and, sure enough, within moments I was one half of a ghastly sketch routine.. "NO!" bellowing politely over the din, while still smiling charmingly (I hoped) "NO! NO! IT'S BRAVO, OSCAR, TANGO, OSCAR, GOLF, OSCAR, LIMA!",
"Sorry Oscar. Oscar what?"
"Mr. Lima?" (doubtfully)
She inspected the spoiled tablecloth suspiciously: "Aaah", she said, "like the mountain in Siberia! Why didn't you say so?"

Eventually she gave me a ruby-red badge. There was a system: alumni had red badges, junior staff had silver badges, partners had gold badges, and senior partners (alpha males all) had circles of silver-badged acolytes taking advantage of rare face-time with their Gods. A passing waiter offered a me Pineapple Martini so convincingly disguised as a margarita that I actually took it, and that's how I found myself encircled by my horny-handed beer-swilling old friends, clutching a girlie drink.

Every last one of them was running a triathlon. What is it with these people? have they no originality? We descended immediately into OCD training talk and before I knew it, hours had passed. I wasn't drunk, though: I had eaten far too many canapés for that.

Eventually the triathlon conversation began to pall (really) and I paid attention with one part of my mind while with another I scanned the passing name badges half looking for myself and half for escape; scanning carefully for it was dark and I had left my old-man glasses at the office; until a moving plate of prawns tempura provided the perfect opportunity to slip away, and I plunged amongst the serried ranks of red-badged blue-chip FTSE 100 employees, holders all of indescribable jobs for a bit of reunion oneupmanship

".. so you must know Roger then?", "Yes he works for me"

"..I'm retired, actually. Well, we didn't plan to sell up but they were offering silly money, so.."

"...then somehow Country Life got to hear of it, and the next thing you know our old barn was featured as their Organic Eco Conversion of the year. It was all rather boring, but Sue's actually made quite a business of it since..."

"...well, I just write about ordinary life and so on.. Well, 5,217 hits last month and eleven comments, I don't know if that counts as a
lot - yes I did see it - Sunday Times yes, she's very good isn't she? No I - ha! ha! - no I don't think any publishers going to be interested in mine..."

I felt I was in two places at once (perhaps three, if the badge-thief was still present) both participating in and observing the ritualised work-based exchanges, and standard personality-types. With them but not of them. And I wondered if everyone else felt just the same. Or are they all like that at home?

Then I pulled myself together and had a mini roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, washed down with one of those rather-nice Pineapple Martinis. At the far end of the room I could see someone who looked strangely familiar. It was all far too much excitement for one evening and I reached home far too late.