Thursday, August 30, 2007

More from Over the Wall

In response to massive and insistent popular demand I have been persuaded to release a further piece from Horsley's popular Over The Wall magazine. This one dates from July, 2006: (names have been changed to protect identities)

Nowadays it seems that just about everyone has 'a great idea for a web site'.

It's pathetic. I mean to say - who do they think they're fooling?

Now Omnivorist - on the other hand - has a truly great idea for a web site.

Brace yourselves, fellow villagers, to be the first to hear about:

As a client of this bold and truly unique enterprise, you simply register (for a small fee) the names, addresses and dates of birth of your dearest friends and relatives, together with a short psychological profile of each. And, having done that, you just sit back and leave everything else to us.

We will commit to sending greeting cards and gifts, on your behalf, to all registered individuals at appropriate times throughout the year.

No more worries about missing the birthdays of obscure nephews. Banished: the purgatory of the Christmas card list. Gone: the fear of waking up in a cold sweat with the realisation that you have overlooked your own 10th wedding anniversary.

We at will look after everything.

All cards will bear a personal message written in a hand indistinguishable from your own. Gifts will be selected to delight or dismay the recipient, in accordance with your confidential wishes. We'll even forward you a picture of the ghastly tie you have just 'sent' to Uncle Norman.

When it comes to Christmas cards, why not surprise your friends with that 'hand-made' ("Oh my God, how do they find the time?") look. Courtesy of our affiliates in the Philippines, we offer two separate styles at very reasonable rates:

Option 1: Infant school 'pathetic'. Glued pasta and glitter.
Option 2: 'Sensitive, enigmatic'. Frayed linen, dried leaves, etc.

A modest additional monthly charge will bring you the benefits of our five-star service, including:

Flowers seemingly personally delivered (inexpertly wrapped, left on doorstep in the rain)
Other people's wedding anniversaries (clients will be required to undergo a short counselling session prior to selecting this option)
Gifts incorporating references to shared experiences (e.g. "How well I recall the wonderful spring we spent together in Budapest!")
Valentine cards with authentic 'tell-tale' postmark.
Easter bunny service.

Of course, it might all come horribly unstuck - but hopefully, by that time, I will be well away.

Local politics

It's election time here in Horsley and it seems the Green party candidate has a real chance of being elected to the local council - having come within a whisker of taking the seat from the Conservative the last time round.

There's only one small problem - a good proportion of people who might have been relied upon to vote Green are off on holiday at their second homes in Tuscany and Provence.

Maybe ultimately it doesn't matter too much. The wealthy and privileged sectors of society (within which I place myself, I should add) have never been very good at initiating massive social and technological change. And if we are to survive the imminent change in climate with anything like our present way of life, enormous adaptations will surely be necessary.

No, I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that, whatever the Guardian weekend might say on the matter - when it comes to living a green lifestyle, limited resources and a general lack of opportunity both make for a pretty good starting point.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ian McMillan

Just watched (a recording of) the South Bank Show on the Bard of Barnsley (Ian McMillan).

I'm grateful to him for reminding me of the miner's strike.

In my lunchbreak from my computer job I went down and gave money to the relief fund. Not on-line of course - but in person.

All the same, I remember thinking at the time that when all was said and done, maybe the old ways were at an end; that despite all those arguments about the competitiveness of the coal industry, it was all over and we better get used to the idea. To that extent, I was complicit in the outcome.

Now, looking back, I see things differently - or let's say, I view things more broadly. While recognising the way the 'tide of history was running', I find myself picturing the generations of miners who toiled underground to fuel the building of the empire; powering the blast furnaces and filling the coal bunkers of the dreadnoughts.

Their immense contribution to the wealth of this country is rarely acknowledged.

They've been set aside.

Of their lives and the rich communities they created only the faintest echoes remain.


I had no idea what a bowser was until last weekend.

I've just been watching TV pictures of people queuing
for water - most of them appeared fairly disadvantaged
to me. I know this might seem cruel or patronising but
I couldn't avoid the impression.

In Stroud (my local town) there was a report of young
toffs come down from the higher ground to ride jet skis
around the flooded streets, while people were fighting
to barricade their homes against the flood water.

Surely this can't be true. Tell me it's an urban myth.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Building on flood plains

If we have to build houses on flood plains - and it appears there are persuasive arguments for doing so - we should at least make them capable of 'riding-out' the sort of regular flooding expected over the coming years.

If houses were designed to stand clear of flood water, we might learn to see flooding as an inconvenience, rather than the disaster we are currently enduring.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Housing crisis

There is a lot of talk about the crisis in housing but very little discussion of what must surely be a major factor - namely the price of land.

Let's just imagine that the government were to introduce a 2007 Town and Country Planning Act in which, at the stroke of a legislative pen, they made an enormous amount of land available for housing development. Wouldn't this be a relatively straightforward matter? Aren't there many areas of land that are unsuited to agricultural development that could be made available for building homes?

Of course, an increase in the availability of land such as I envisage would undoubtedly lead to a dramatic fall in land values and there are many powerful interests who would oppose this. All the same, it seems to me that to attempt to address the problem faced by so many people today - namely the impossibility of creating a home of their own - without confronting the factors that support the current astronomical price of land, is to ignore the fundamental issue.

Or am I missing something here?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Cambridge University Underwater Exploration Group

A letter landed on the mat this morning inviting me to the 50th anniversary reunion of the Cambridge University Underwater Exploration Group and I found my thoughts drifting back across the years to the days when I was briefly numbered amongst its members.

Not for us the modern buoyancy compensator, balanced-piston regulator, or semi-closed rebreather. No - a pair of waxed canvas trousers, lead boots and an inflated sheeps bladder was all we needed to explore the watery domain.

But joking aside, I vividly recall my first (and nearly last) open-water dive with the CUUEG. Dropping off the edge of an inflatable dinghy, off Mousehole in Cornwall, I sank like a stone to a depth of 30 metres. After crawling around in the kelp for a while, we came up again - which I remember enjoying on account of the feeling of floating in a bright void.

Later in the week one of our instructors had the opportunity to spend a couple of days inside a naval recompression chamber. I later discovered that his status as an instructor amounted to the fact that he had survived the previous year's trip AND that he had decided to repeat the experience.

I didn't dive again for 25 years.

Though I won't be attending the 50th anniversary celebrations, I extend my heartfelt greetings to fellow survivors.

I'm sure it's all very different nowadays.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Blogger's block

OK - so let's try again.

This time - instead of attempting to write minor pieces of literature, witticisms etc. on which I might be judged in this life (or by posterity) - I'll simply record stuff that occurs to me day to day. I guess that's what a blog is meant to be about, after all.

Don't go away.