27 May 2011

Men on bikes

Lan in Flight Struggling up the nasty ascent out of Alfriston, there were three of us: Three middle-aged men travelling the South Downs Way on mountain bikes.

Monty and I were a little ahead when Tweeter, bringing up the rear, was severely displeased to be overtaken by ancient, hunch-backed hiker in shorts and wife-beater vest yomping up the hillside at quite a startling pace.

The grey-stubbled loony evidently stoppeth one in three for as he drew level with my hard-pedalling, hard-suffering friend he held him with his glittering eye and muttered succinctly "You know what your problem is? your saddle's too low, you need cleats on your shoes and you're in the wrong gear".

"So, did he say anything to you two?" Tweeter asked when he related the strange ecounter to us a few minutes later, lying in the sunshine on the iron age fort at the top of the Down (just a few metres above the Long Man of Wilmington, had we but known it )

Monty and I exchanged glances "Well yes - he said we looked... weary...  he said he felt ... weary". And just at that moment a shadow flashed across us and we looked up in the sky "A buzzard?" I asked "some bird that's bigger?"

We were on the South Downs Way, some 80 undulating miles of it. Well, "undulating" is one way of looking at it. "back-breakingly steep" would be another way. But another way again would "astonishingly beautiful"

Fifty miles of bridleway we covered on the first day, then B&B in a country pub where, oddly, we met a wedding party, then thirty more miles the next day until after the hair-raising descent into Eastbourne that concludes the path we cycled another 30 miles along the coast to Rye and home. 115 miles altogether, four punctures, five new inner-tubes, one hair-raising double brake failure and a trip home for one of us to fetch a replacement bike.

And just one crash: myself, on day two, painfully and irritatingly: no blood to show for it! What's the point of falling off your mountain bike onto the hard flinty downs but having no heroic trickle of dried blood from elbow to wrist? Oil-stained calves alone don't make you a real biker.

The sun went behind a cloud and, re-energised by the view, and our rest on the ramparts, we got back on our bikes and pedalled away; it wasn't long before we caught up with the old man again, he was barracking a hapless inner-city group of kids on Duke of Edinburgh who were carrying insufficient fresh water.

We ignored him and pedalled on, like one, that on a lonesome road doth walk in fear and dread, and having once turned round walks on, and turns no more his head; because he knows a frightful fiend doth close behind him tread

26 May 2011

Miscellaneous Diversions

  • Fans of Question Time might enjoy the regular QT competition on the Capitalists @ Work blog:  Each week diverse group of cyber-people with nothing better to do with their time  compete to predict what questions will be asked by the audience. The new season started last week, so it's not too late to join in this week - there'll be post for your predictions on front page at some time today
  • five cute new ways to view Greenideas
  • when surfing the web from time to time I mark interesting pages -- you can see them right here on the sidebar here or on delicious (where there is an RSS feed)
  • the picture.. well you can never have too much Kandinsky, can you

19 May 2011

When reading habits take a hold

BooksI must be over the hill: while Seamus McCauley has the ability to keep track in his head of which page he has reached in his current book. I find I have trouble keeping track of which book it even was.

To be honest: marking-the-right-book is the real purpose of my Kandinsky postcard sticking out from behind the cover, because it never marks the right page (how can it when I have fallen alseep the previous evening, slumped drunk exhausted in my armchair, the book sliding to the floor ?)

With nothing to mark my place, my page-finding strategy, each evening when I resume duty, is to locate where the book naturally falls open (I admit it: I am a creaser and spine breaker) and then turn back a few pages until I find something I can remember and then re-commence from there.

Alas, this strategy is flawed and can prevent me from ever reaching the end of a dullish book - indeed I habitually go backwards as with half a book completed and enthusiasm waning, I turn eight-or-ten pages back hunting for the familiar before re-reading just six-or-seven pages forward and then falling asleep all over again.

I must possess at least a dozen books where I have read chapters 1-7 quite quickly, then most of chapter 8 five times before abandoning the book when re-encountering chapter 7 a second time from the opposite direction.

Perhaps I should get a Kindle.

But I worry that the systematic, ungamable organisation of a Kindle might shame me out of ever abandoning a book again: Do I want waste my life plodding through all those dreadful chapters 9 to 15?

17 May 2011

The Garden Designer

We've had our garden designed.

off the wall
Off the Wall, by Herr Saush
"Well, you are lucky", said Emma (the garden designer) "because the structure of your garden is actually good! It's just the, um, plants that we'll work on".
I asked Emma what she meant by structure. It means we already have a sunken sitting area; and brick walls.
So I asked what was so wrong with the plants then? And Emma took out some photographs she had taken in our garden in March and spread them out, gingerly, on the kitchen table. I noticed that the picture was taken from a folder labelled 'befores'.  

In her photographs our plants looked strangely random, and mainly brown. I glanced outside the window; she hadn't been enirely unfair. Mrs Botogol and I studied the pictures gravely, trying not to feel defensive.  
Then Emma dived into a folder labelled 'afters' and then alongside her monochromatic snaps of of our drab beds she laid some photographs of gardens. Gardens of beauty and elegance; Flower-beds of exquisite colour and texture; Desirable havens of scent and pleasure, of sunshine and warmth.  Mrs Botogol sighed approvingly, while I looked desperately from one side of the table to the other with a gowing realisation that I had been out-manoeuvred, this Emma was good, she was very, very good and this was set-up
And like Steve Martin before me I had no alternative. I hands-upped to overwhelming force, agreed with everything, and made just two demands to salve my self respect: I'd decided we'd keep the coloured paint on the walls at least, and as part of the general clearing out the overgrown Bay Tree on the patio had to go.
It turns out that white walls are an intrinsic and important feature of Emma's design: white walls, removal of manky old pieces of trellis to be replaced with vine eyes and wire.. and a selection of plants that would give our beds some structure.
"Yes, you mean brick walls and somewhere to sit?"
"Don't be silly, dear", said Mrs Botogol, and Emma explained that with plants structure doesn't refer to seating areas: it means using fewer colours and, especially, repetition.  
"So did you get a job lot or something, then?", said Mr Botogol Snr when he came round for lunch two weeks later.
- "Yes, Dad, something like that, do you like them?"  
- "Well, could it do with more variety?" 
I resisted the urge to smack him round the back of head and muttered instead about structure, and patterns and repitition.. "Well, I expect so, son", he said, when I had finished, "Yes in fact I am sure you are right", and he surveyed the garden carefully. "Indeed", he said, "it's lovely ... but while they were doing all that - couldn't you have got them to cut down that giant Bay tree?"

11 February 2011

Different Worlds

If a fourteen year old wants to join a rugby club in England he has to register with the RFU There is a form and, being fourteen, he will likely be given the form to fill in himself [when they are seven, their Dad does it]

After the routine of name, address, phone number, date-of-birth, what would you guess is the first thing the RFU want to know?

Did you guess: Have you played rugby before?

Nope, it's : Ethnic Origin (Please tick where appropriate)

These are the options, there are - I am not kidding - sixteen of them 1
  • White: British
  • White: Irish
  • White: Other
  • Chinese
  • Mixed: White & Black Caribbean
  • Mixed: White & Black African
  • Mixed: White & Asian
  • Mixed: Other
  • Asian and Asian British: Indian
  • Asian and Asian British: Pakistan
  • Asian and Asian British: Bangladesh
  • Asian and Asian British: Other
  • Black or Black British: Caribbean
  • Black or Black British: Africa
  • Black or Black British: Other
  • Other Ethnic Group

After evening training last week, one of our new joiners stared at the form, completely baffled.

"What should I put ?" he asked me
"Oh, don't worry about it", I said, "tick whichever you think fits you best"
He thought about it
"I think White-Other... I was born here"

Slightly surprised, I glanced over my shoulder at him, that wasn't the option I had expected to hear, but he was pretty muddy.....I checked the name he had written on his form: Ahmed Mahmood.

"Is that OK?"

Somewhere in the RFU there must be teams of earnest data analysts giving colourful powerpoint to blazered alickadoos, analysing micro trends in the ethnic groups by which they divide their world. Their world comprises sixteen precise and bizarre categories. The the world occupied by a fourteen year rugby players in West London is a different world.

1 - and no option for 'don't want to say'
2 - (obviously no, it wasn't that actual name no)

08 February 2011

Man Down

We have a house, we have a very old house in the country......and the drains are blocked.

Are there really alligators in the sewers of NYC?  [172/365]
This week, I have been mostly in our garden watching the excavation of a deep trench by two cheerful men from Dyno-Rod fortified only with Earl Grey tea laced with organic fruit sugar. ("tastes like washing up liquid")

Dyno-Rod. Dyno-Rod Dyno-Rod. Does the name conjure up for you a national squad of trained and uniformed drain-busters, gradually working their way up the Dyno-ranks?  Dear Reader, if you think that then you, are as mistaken as I was: it's a franchise.  You order Dyno-Rod, you get a couple of blokes from Bexhill who paid £40,000 for a bright red van. And why not?

First off, they prised up the ancient manhole cover on the terrace ("yeah, it is gull-poo, yeah, sorry about that"), and then with the clang of cast iron still ringing in our ears the three of us gathered to looked gravely down into the inspection pit. Professionals to the core all mention of the unpleasant contents within was politely eschewed, as two expert pairs of eyes, and one amateur, carefully sized up the direction of the foul drain.

It ran down the slope directly toward the only obstacle on my lawn: my carefully-level 12 foot trampoline... of course it did.

The trampoline had to be shifted. The three of us grabbed the sides and on Dyno-Rod's smooth count we heaved, manfully. The contraption rose from its moorings and we grinned triumphantly to each other, brute force triumphs over nature..

"OK, let's move it ... which way?"
"Up the slope!  let's go, 1..2...3... keep going.. keep going.. bit further..bit further.. MIND THE MANHOLE!"

05 February 2011

Gull Down

A marital dilemma..

An infrequent evening alone, sans children
Photo 232/365 - Vanquished
Pic - Aerokev
a consequent table-for-two at the poshest restaurant in town, our at-home pre-dinner bottle of Cotes du Rhone quite nicely half empty
Mrs Botogol and I were on the point of leaving, just minutes from our rendez-vous with gastronomy, when the phone rang

 "It's Gull Rescue, Mr Botogol, we can come out to you after all. We're on our way - with you in five"

"It was Gull Rescue, dear",  I explained, "they can come out after all. They are on their way now"
"But Alibert, our table is booked for... three minutes' time"
"I know.  Hmm.. there's only one solution", I said, "One of us must walk down to the George, claim our table, and then settle down to wait in the wing-backed leather chair in the lounge by the roaring fire, with an apple bellini .... while the other stays at home and helps chase an injured gull round the garden in the mud and rain"

I looked at Mrs Botogol, and Mrs Botogol looked at me.. a marital dilemma..
"I think", said she, pausing elaborately, "you'll want to take one for the blog"


"Well there you go", said the man from Hastings Gull Rescue, as we approached the angry, cornered bird, down by the compost heap, under the trampoline "that's one of your Scandinavian gulls".
I wondered how he could tell
"They are completely different!" he told me, astonished; it was something to do with the head. "Now then, don't worry, they can't hurt you, just get a bit closer... move veeerrrryyyy slowly..  don't worry..... FOR GOD'S SAKE KEEP AWAY FROM ITS BEAK"

We caught it quite quickly, and likely saved its life: the town foxes don't miss a gull with a broken wing on a February night. I thanked the brave catcher "I won't shake your hand, if you don't mind - never a good idea to loosen my grip" and Hastings Gull Rescue disappeared into the night, a £20 donation the richer.

I surveyed the gull-poo all over our paving stones..  a job for the morning I reckoned,  and hurried off down the High Street to rescue Mrs Botogol.  I found her quite content, well into her second bellini.

31 January 2011

Street Life

Has anyone noticed the astonishing resemblence between London's Shard and Mordor's mighty Barad Dȗr?

One is a fearsome monolith, a display of power and strength forged by deceit and ruthlessness, designed to dominate the wastelands around it for a thousand years. The other is a fictional creation of JRR Tolkein

The Shard
Barad Dur

26 January 2011

Musical interlude

Two songs I've been a humming to myself

This is the sort of band I'd like to play in... as if I had any musical talent at all.
And the story song brings a tear to the eye...

Cameo by the cool and harmonious New Country Rehab

-- # --

Meanwhile, you'll need a heart of stone not to smile at :

Another Like You by the geeky Hayes Carll with the implausibly sexy Bonnie Whitmore

24 January 2011

Dancing to the wrong beat

everybody dance now...
photo: Gin Soak
The building in which I work has a large and impressive foyer: marble-floored and marble-walled, a triple-height ceiling and a display of subtly expensive flowers that wouldn't look out of place at a Royal Wedding.

Guarding the electronic gates are stationed three or four blank-faced security guards. Grey suited, ear-plugged and miked up, they stare impassively, but not disinterestedly, at the comings and goings of staff and visitors.

Each morning as we approach the barriers we are required to hold out our photo-ID for inspection before swiping, the guards' brief glance a precaution against cards borrowed.. or stolen.

Blank-faced and impassive all, that is, save one guard who finds a pleasure in his job that escapes the others. He's worked for the bank for about two months but still he grins and he beams.  Each tiredly-proffered card is acknowledged with a point, a confidential smile, sometimes even a wink.  A heavy bag draws a sigh of commiseration and a helpful hand through the barrier; nervous and uncertain interviewees are greeted and directed reassuringly.  While his colleagues stand, still and unmoving against the wall, he paces back and forth, and dances from side to side, spinning on polished heels as flow of desk-bound executives parts around him. Twice I have seen a little skip of enthusiasm. He's a genuine character, familiar to all of us, a fixture who always draws a smile.

But in our sober and serious, politically besieged investment bank he doesn't hit quite the right note; doesn't speak with the right voice. I don't expect he will last very much longer.