Sunday, September 28, 2008

Haiku 77

Haiku 77
Hail the joyous Fall
When the leaves do tumble down
Followed by the banks

Friday, September 26, 2008

Major Questions Of The Day

I have spent much of the day putting together the questions for this evening's Rock Tavern Pub Quiz. One is always tempted to just take the first fifty questions out of the nearest Pub Quiz book, but this can be a dangerous strategy as so many published questions are simply wrong. Thus, to avoid the embarrassing situation where you find yourself trying to defend the wrong answer to a misleading question (hey Gordon, I know how you feel, pal), I always try to double-check each question and answer myself.
All this can be a fairly lengthy and boring task, so to pass the time I have been watching the BBC News Channel as it charts the fall of capitalism. The surprising thing, of course, is not that the international banking system is in meltdown, but that the plague of self-denial that has been such a contributory factor, still persists. The General Manager of what used to be HBOS (which, in turn, used to be the Halifax Building Society) was interviewed on local television last night about the potential consequences for Halifax of the takeover by Lloyds-TSB. He refused to say anything about the employment consequences of the takeover which, in itself, is perhaps understandable. But he went on to deny that the rescue emerged out of a period of panic and desperation and claimed that the business model that HBOS and the other banks had been working to was a sound and secure one. In response to such obtuseness, I decide to add an extra round to tonight's quiz. It will be entitled "Major Questions of the Day" and for those who want to play along at home, here are the questions. Qu 51 : What are the consequences of recklessly extending cheap, unsecured credit to people who clearly cannot afford to repay their debts? (A) Larger year-end bonuses for senior bank officials; (B) Increased sales of very expensive cars; (C) The eventual collapse of the banking system as we know it? (Note : more than one answer will be correct) Qu 52 : A fall of 80% in your share price indicates that: (A) You have been doing something wrong; (B) Your shareholders have been doing something wrong; (C) Nothing is wrong? Qu 53 : Which planet are most major bankers living on?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Haiku 76

Haiku 76
How green is the grass
Which layers the Autumn ground
Pigment-rich from rain

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thank You And Damn You JGC

Damn you JGC. It happens every time I go ten-pin bowling. You step up onto the lane wearing those ridiculous shoes with your fingers plunged deep inside a Bakelite sphere. You have no idea what you are doing and after you have released the ball you are just glad that it hasn't taken your fingers with it. And then some supernatural force guides the bowling ball down the lane, crashes it into the pins which collapse like perfectly detonated cooling towers. "A strike" someone shouts and, being of a certain age, you quickly check to see if the cafeteria staff are still working. And then you realise that you have, accidentally, done rather well. If you can do as well as that by sheer chance, what will the results be like if you try, if you think about it, if you refine your action? And you spend the rest of the evening watching your ball trundle down the side alley. The pins become monoliths which will remain standing for centuries.

So thank you JGC for your kind words about my Haiku. Thank you and damn you.
Leaving all poetic pretensions aside, I took up my old occupation of trawling the highways and byways of the Internet in search of joyful stimulation. And I discovered the website of the the auctioneers, Bonhams. What is wonderful about it is that the full catalogues for all the individual auctions are available on-line (these are the things which used to cost an arm and a gavel and therefore to have free on-line access to them is yet another reason to fall down in praise in front of the great web-God).
The catalogue I looked at was for the "Collectors' Sale of Potlids, Goss and Crested China, Commemoratives Art & Antiques". As with all such things, the real exotica can be found at the end of the catalogue so I quickly turned to the final lot, Lot 1304 "A bench seat with painted wrought iron frame, together with a stone bust of a man on a fluted plinth". Now I badly want this item. I think of little else all day (Alexander, who is Alexander?). I picture the bench seat on my yellow balcony. I imagine long conversations with the man on a fluted plinth. I rediscover my muse.
Haiku 75 On a cold dark night A man on a fluted plinth Pines for a bidder

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Windows On The Bus

I used to be a bus conductor. Have I told you that before? (He has only been gone for three days and already I am talking to the computer!). This was back in the days of back-loading, open-platform buses. I would balance myself against the pole with my leather change bag slung low around my hip and ring the bell with a practiced hand. It was a job of alternating extremes : on a clear and crisp Spring morning there were few finer feelings than trundling over the moorland roads of West Yorkshire. But on Saturday nights when the majority of your customers were drunk and mildly disorderly, there were few worse jobs. When the weather was poor, I would abandon my open platform and stand inside watching Halifax and its environs pass by. When things were quiet I would go up onto the top deck and take one of the front seats and look down on the world.

I was thinking of all this yesterday as I caught the bus into Huddersfield. I was remembering the days when buses had windows rather than advertising sites. Get on any bus in West Yorkshire nowadays and try to look out of the window and if you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of the world through breaks in advertising placards which, for some reason, the bus company chooses to plaster on all available windows. It is not that the adverts earn revenue or provide any useful information. They are annoying reminders - in 2,000 point cursive font - that the blasted bus runs every 20 minutes or some such nonsense.

So yesterday, when I should have been looking out of the window, I had to compose post-Xan Haiku No. 74 instead. Here it is :

Haiku 74
Frosted bus windows
Hide the cold-clamped world outside
And seal me from harm.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Haiku 73

So he has gone. Get over it. Get a life. He's only 35 miles down the road. It is not the end of the world.

It is the Monday morning following the weekend when Alexander went off to University. For the first time in almost nineteen years he is not going to be around on a daily basis. However, so far, he has kept his promise to keep in touch and we cannot complain that his phone calls tend to be at 2.30 in the morning. Sheffield is in a different time-zone after all. Between phone calls and texts I must find something to occupy myself with. Out of the bundle which is my Sunday newspaper falls the Guardian Supplement on Writing Poetry and I see a section on the Japanese concept of Haiku. The description runs as follows:

"HAIKU : A form originating in Japan, where it traditionally evokes emotion through natural imagery, with reference to a particular season. In English, it consists of three lines of five, seven and five syllables".

I remember many years ago knowing a chap who used to claim that he would always try to compose a sonnet every day as a form of mental exercise. I was impressed by this claim. It seemed to be something quite admirable, something you could do whilst drinking a pint in a pub, something that would make good use of the backs of old envelopes. Mind you, a fourteen line sonnet is ambitious and a project that should only be turned to once there has been a major discontinuity in ones' life, like the pub closing down or Blanche in Coronation Street passing on. For Alexander leaving home a three-line Haiku is much more suitable.

So here is the first of my post-xan Haiku's.

Haiku 73
Autumn spreads like jam
On the crusts of summer mud
Toasted by the sun.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Further development

Some of us may burn ourselves in sunny Spain, others employ people to mix sand with cement and make walls of brick or block. This picture is of our builder Alan pretending he is laying a block - actually he was posing (unrequested) for knowing I was taking a piccie! His wife had liked the last one Jane had taken showing an earlier stage of this development that we emailed them...
At last the rear extension of our Meadow Prospect development house is starting to take shape other than subterraneanly... and, indeed, the walls are already so high that scaffolding will be needed by next Tuesday...the visible mixture of different colour bricks will be rendered to match the neighbour's house (as visible in the photo), the outside of the yellow bricks on the left can't be rendered in the gap because that's too narrow for anybody to get in to render. The neighbour's extension on the left is very recent and ideally we would have shared a party wall rather than have an unusable gap but such is the way of planning permission delays time did not allow such a sensible plan.

What this picture does not reveal is the huge foundations below, passed by Building Control, or the underpinning connecting these to the existing house. Or that Alan has totally levelled front and rear gardens almost ready already for turfing or paving...etc.. And he with son and Dave and co. nearly have a massive steel beam in place that's going to hold the whole of the middle of the adapted house in place! I had to step over it to hand him the cheque for all these bricks an blocks...

It's coming along. It's good. But will still take ages before it finally comes together. Just as well, the housing market might have recovered enough by the time we are ready to sell.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Viva Espãna

The reason there has been no postings for the last week is quite simple : I had far better things to do. Like stroll on sun-soaked beaches, walk down marble-paved designer shopping malls (are you jealous yet?), sip cold beer in villages that cling to mountainsides, fight my way through gargantuan sides of beef (admit it, you are getting just a bit jealous), swim in a crystal-clear pool, and - above all else - enjoy the company of two charming hosts. So thank you Jamie and Bev for a massively enjoyable time which will long remain in our memories.

If you would like to see just a little of what we saw, you can check-out the Picasa web album by following the link in the sidebar. I will add some additional pictures to my Daily Photo Blog. But now it is back to reality, back to the credit crunch, back to financial meltdown, and back to nothing better to do other than send News From Nowhere.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Youth Games, Wandering Cacti and Cheap Whisky

This is the kind of post that can only be written by a grumpy old sod like me. The kind of post that pours scorn on the world of today and looks back with affection on the world of yesterday. The subtext says, of course, that the new generation of mission-driven, target-setting, risk assessors have failed to live up to the fine standards set by the previous generation. My generation. "Where have you gone, Harold Wilson, A nation turns its lonely eyes to you"
So I will start with the Kirklees Youth Games. If you live within five miles of Huddersfield, you will no doubt know about the Kirklees Youth Games. You will know about it because on every lamp-post for miles around large banners have been hung declaring "Kirklees Youth Games". However, your knowledge will be limited, because that is all the banners say. No explanation, no date, no place, no time. Nothing other than, I would imagine, a massive bill for thousands and thousands of banners. If you go in search of more information about this event on the web you do get to a website which simply says:
"Kirklees Youth Games, a major part of the council's Getting Fit for 2012 initiative, is having a big impact in encouraging and inspiring children to start and progress in sporting activity. In the Kirklees Youth Games the emphasis is just as much on fun, participating and doing your best, as being the best.The Kirklees Youth Games has lots of sports and sports related activity to enjoy - there should be something for everyone. Below are listed the events and activities which are currently taking place".
The only thing that is listed "below" is a School Sports Day which was held back in early July. The grumpy old man in me says "what a ridiculous waste of money".
Next is the "What is this world coming to" section and today it focuses on the State Government in California which is to institute a campaign of micro-chipping the cacti found next to State Highways to help guard against them being stolen. No doubt this will be followed by the appointment of Cacti Officers who will patrol the streets with microchip readers tracking down missing succulents.
And we will finish with the "Good old days" section. The good old days when whisky was 3/6d a gallon. The illustration comes from an old brewery manual of the late nineteenth century. Now those were the days...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Daniel Defoe, Spam and the Coming Apocalypse

The other day - for reasons too complicated to go into here and now - I found myself glancing through Daniel Defoe's 1726 little page-turner, "The Complete English Tradesman". Chapter Two of this useful handbook is entitled "The Tradesman's Writing Letters" and contains a number of good and bad examples of business letter-writing style. Amongst them is a letter written by a younf tradesman in the country to a wholesale-man in London, which goes as follows:

'SIR--The destinies having so appointed it, and my dark stars concurring, that I, who by nature was framed for better things, shouldbe put out to a trade, and the gods having been so propitious to me in the time of my servitude, that at length the days are expired, and I am launched forth into the great ocean of business, I thought fit to acquaint you, that last month I received my fortune, which, by my father's will, had been my due two years past, at which time I arrived to man's estate, and became major, whereupon I have taken a house in one of the principal streets of the town of----, where I am entered upon my business, and hereby let you know that I shall have occasion for the goods hereafter mentioned, which you may send to me by the carrier.'

As I read it I thought there was something vaguely familiar about both the style and the content and eventually I realised what it was. I receive two or three messages like this each week, normally from the unfortunate widow of the late Manager of the National Bank of Nigeria. What Defoe had cleverly discovered was spam. I noted the far-sightedness of the great man and read on. Not two paragraphs later I found this condemnation of twentyfirst century texting.

"I can by no means approve of studied abbreviations, and leaving out the needful copulatives of speech in trading letters; they are to an extreme affected; no beauty to the style, but, on the contrary, a deformity of the grossest nature."

The words fell like an apostles' blessing on a man who had minutes earlier received a text from his son saying "kan u pick me up at half 10". Was there no end to the man's predictive qualities? I amrrently working my way through the other 26 chapters of the book in search of a clue to the coming apocalypse.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Crime Of Fornication

Amy and I went to church the other day. It is not that we have undergone a conversion on the road to Brighouse, nor - in the face of the credit crunch - have we been driven to find comfort in what good old Karl Marx described as "the opiate of the people". We went, to St Matthew's Church in Rastrick, in search of a monument to the Rev George Braithwaite, an incumbent of the parish in the eighteenth century. I came across the Reverend whilst reading the "History of Brighouse, Rastrick and Hipperholme" by J Horsfall Turner. Tucked away amongst a series of outstandingly boring lists of local worthies is an extract from the "Archdeacon's Visitation" which reads as follows:
"1766. Rastrick. The Rev. George Braithwaite, Clerk, Curate, for neglecting to perform Divine Service in the said chapel on Sundays and Holy Days and particularly on Sunday the 15th day of June last past. For being guilty of great profaneness and immorality in Drinking to excess and being Drunk within the said Chapelry of Rastrick. For gaming and playing at Cards att (sic) public houses within the same and att other houses within the said Archdeaconry of York. For committing the crime of fornication with Mercy Lacey of Rastrick aforesaid, single woman [and begetting on her body one male bastard child] and in general for acting and behaving in several instances so as he ought not to have done, and for omitting to act and behave in others as was his duty to do, as a Clergyman of the Church of England, and as Curate or Minister of Rastrick aforesaid." The next mention of the affair was in 1769 when it is recorded that poor Mercy Lacey "performed penance" for "fornication with the Rev. George Braithwaite. There is no record of Georgie-boy being punished. Indeed, he seems to have remained as a minister at the church until his death in 1798. There should be a monument to such a man .... but I couldn't find one.

Froggatt Apartments

On Saturday we went for a family day out to try and discover where Alexander will be living for the next year. He has already been allocated a room in one of the new Endcliffe Village apartments built by the University of Sheffield, so armed with a map we went in search of it. It looks as though it will be one of the rooms on the top floor of the block shown in the photograph. It looks quite idyllic to me and I must confess to a wave of good, old-fashioned jealousy.

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud

For the last year or so progress along our daily walk of choice has been, for Amy and I, subject to climatic constraints. It is not that we are averse to the wind and the rain, living in West Yorkshire we are well used to such things. But the frequent rain of the last twelve months or so turned part of our walk into a mud-bath. Amy didn't complain, there is nothing she likes more than a nice mud-bath. But all too often I would return from our walks with my feet covered in sticky liquid mud and, unlike Amy, I wasn't allowed to clean my feet on the newly laundered bed-covers. Things got so bad earlier this year that I had to abandon our normal route and stick to the roads and pavements.
I was therefore surprised and pleased when a few weeks ago signs were erected stating that work on the path would commence shortly and I imagined that this would involve sinking some draining pipes and covering the ground with concrete. The work was finished in ahead of the advertised date, but the real surprise was what they had done with the site. No drainage pipes, no concrete : they had installed a wooden walkway and turned the spot into a bog garden. In one move, the problem was removed and an excellent additional facility was provided. Amy and I now look forward to the winter and everything the watery climate can throw at us. Our feet will remain dry and our walk will be enriched by watching the progress of the Ragged Robin, Yellow Iris and Common Rush.
Somewhere within the confines of Kirklees Council there is a man or a woman who was presented with the problem of the muddy path and asked to come up with a solution. Rather than reach for concrete and clay they looked for a more innovative solution. They deserve a vote of thanks - from Amy and I, and from many other local residents.

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...