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.