Thursday, December 26

barricades and barbecues

I've survived another night in NZ, staying with the trusting outlaws, who happily leave their doors and windows open all night. I've had to barricade my bedroom door. 

It's Xmas morning, and New Zealand's main worry is whether the rain will spoil barbecue plans. I agree with them - at least if everyone's out in the garden, you can get peace to watch the TV. 

I read a quote: Christmas is that special time when the whole family gathers in one place to look at their smartphones. 

In this country there seems to be a church on every second corner. Most of them are tiny, and look like ordinary houses. You learn to tell them apart by looking at the apex of the roof - a TV aerial means a house, but a cross means a church.

Friday, December 20

wet wet wet

It had been raining for weeks, and blocked gutters were sending waterfalls off the roof and under the house. I copped a Scottish-style drenching while up a steel ladder in a thunderstorm, using my hands to scoop out years of moss, leaves, and mud. And even some tiny bonsai trees, naturally-stunted

Meanwhile, someone I live with had offered kindly to sit reading near a window, in case I fell off and injured myself. But she was so immersed in her book, I wondered if she would even notice if there was an emergency. At one point I leaned down from the ladder and banged repeatedly on the window for her to come out and help. No response. Apparently she "didn't realise" I wanted help. Probably she thought I was just saying hello, or practicing drumming. It's an easy mistake to make.

Monday, December 16


The summer holidays have begun, a time of free simple pleasures. (Muddah faddah kindly disregard the last post). The beans are popping up.

Those are snake beans, but there's also soy, borlotti, and this monster, an Egyptian hyacinth bean, which is edible when young but poisonous when mature.

The silver beet is looking juicy. Probably the slugs, birds and possums will agree.

Yesterday I finished the book about the history of the periodic table. Fascinating, even if some sections brought back school memories of incomprehensible chemistry classes. 

As reward for finishing that, I'm now immersed in this Irvine Welsh, before the film comes out here. One druggy summer in Edinburgh, working as a dish washer I rubbed shoulders with ruffians (and the drug squad).

Saturday, December 14

first world disasters

I'm not one to complain.

Losing your job is a major life event. But so is not losing your job, when you've had your heart set on being sacked (with a handshake).

Then I lost a dear friend and confidant, my smartphone. Diary gone! Umpteen passwords to change and loopholes to close. Trying not to think of the embarrassing and compromising material now out there in the public domain.

On the way home last night I went shopping to buy myself something nice, as consolation. Then I realised there's nothing I want. Nothing! You'd think that's a sign that life's perfect, wouldn't you?

Sunday, December 8

3 captains, or 4 if you count the cricket guy.

I had an email from Rodders.

On 8 Dec 2013, at 10:33, Rodders wrote:

Must admit that it confuses me that, the creekit about to happen, you
are concentrating on sleeping.  Surely, you should be doing Our Prayer
for Cap'n Cook and the boys?

Coincidentally, last week I spent a day walking from the spot where Captain James Cook landed, later passing the place where former class captain Albert first lived after he landed, to end up at the shack where Cap'n Kev now lives (he came ashore and sold the boat).

Thursday, November 21

great big pest

Have you ever seen garden pests like this before? They're huge, and I think they look rather chic. They were in a neighbour's garden, and only on a specific species of plant. 

The blue one is an interloper. I think we all know how he feels.

In the second picture, they're on a bin beside the plant, perhaps waiting their turn on the leaves.

Sunday, November 17

passing the time / water

In the jazz club last night, while waiting for the concert to start, people were fiddling with their phones. To fit in, I reacquainted myself with the first app I ever downloaded, called Urinal Challenge.

The aim is to answer all 25 questions correctly. The first few are easy.

The first answer is obvious. You should choose the free urinal at far right.

Most of the questions are common sense if you're a normal male like myself. For example, question 7.

By the time you get to question 14 you have to think really carefully. I messed up. After I guessed wrong, the green arrow revealed the official correct choice:

I had chosen the position next to it. Can you understand my reasoning? My personal best is 22 out of 25, equivalent to 88%. At university that's a Distinction.

Thursday, November 14

conference extremes

This week I went to a conference, probably the last one I'll ever attend. Very enjoyable, the complete opposite of my first-ever conference. It all balances out.

My first one was half a lifetime ago in Cambridge, where I had to deliver a half-hearted and vacuous paper in front of about 600 clever and critical tech-heads. Stressful as eff.

If that was my most inhumane conference, this week's was the opposite. A roomful of like-minded geeks, communicating by tweets, with no need for small talk and other annoyances. All tweets, questions and interjections from the floor were actually on-topic! 

Monday, October 28

show business as usual

Distraction's the name of the game, so the Kardashian and Gaga backsides are more noteworthy than the US tapping Merkel's phone for a decade.

Or as old school chum Phil says - why will the NSA director's declaration, that newspapers reporting the Snowden affair should be shut down, not make the TV news? Answer: because Miley Cyrus's spat with Sinead O'Connor is FAR MORE IMPORTANT!!!

I distracted myself with two films in the last few days.

Captain Phillips - immensely exciting, without a single car chase, zombie, warlock, or superhero. And by Hollywood standards, only minimally gung-ho. 

Gravity - 90 minutes of SFX in search of a story. They say that every Sandra Bullock movie contract stipulates that the male lead has to tell her how attractive she is, and this film honoured that tradition. To be fair though, her acting was more believable than the script. I suppose the 3D version would be fascinating after a herbal smoke.

Wednesday, October 23

trains boats and planes

I'm indebted to Albert for these euphemistic news snippets from down under:

(Bureaucrat-speak re Sydney light rail closure after several derailments): initial investigations showed there were several contributing factors to the derailment, which were "related to an interface issue between the wheels and the rail that has led to accelerated friction and wheel wear."

(After Qantas planes only just avoided a head-on collision thanks to pilots' quick reflexes): two Qantas jetliners were flying in opposite directions between Sydney and Perth on September 20 when they were involved in what is known as a "loss of separation" in air space near Adelaide.

Albert's personal news is that he has returned to the ranks at work. Last week after a 20k hike in the heat, he came home by ferry with a smoker's cough from the bush fires.

Friday, September 20

fortunate ones

The job I'm doing at the moment required me to discipline someone this week. If I had gone ahead right away, my discomfort would have caused me to make a mess of it, and everybody would have felt bad. Instead, I took a couple of days to mull it over, and consider options.

Today I did the deed, gently and fairly but without backing down or going soft. What a fortunate person he was, to have me on his case!

 Meanwhile, last week's heat wave has ended in a return to winter chill, and the poor plants don't know if they're coming or going. These flowers are growing in the gap between houses, near where the possum jumps across every night. I'd like to discipline it with a shotgun.

It's Friday, and to paraphrase John Grierson I wish you all, over the borders and over the sea, in the campervan, or bus to Samye Ling, a very good night.

Thursday, September 12

action stations!

In the lead up to the mass sackings next month, Albert is spending the final weeks in his boss's chair, while the boss blows all his leave entitlement on a world tour. 

Albert's discovered he's actually rather good as a manager. He's still useless at the awful meetings, where there's endless talk about nothing. But he's very efficient at getting things done, while treating people with warmth. The other managers sit plonked at their desks all day, tied to keyboard and phone, but Albert uses his legs and the stairs to visit people and talk. With all the exercise and the adrenalin buzz, Albert will surely come out ahead, or in a box.

I'm a bit like that myself, thanks to the toilet training and nob school. If the navy hadn't knocked me back on the eyesight test when I was young, I'd have worked my way up to Executive Officer, the person below the captain who actually gets things done. Of course the free rum ration would have sunk me long ago. 

Albert's actually rather hoping he's not re-employed after the sackings, but what on earth would he do with his forced retirement? Probably start blowing dough on holidays and food, like Rodders. Or on drugs and escorts, like Hotters. 

Wednesday, September 4

industrial relations in new south caledonia

At the end of a long campaign last year, Albert's union won him the obligation to work an extra five hours a week, unpaid. This year's negotiations have resulted in a mass sacking.

Now he and his workmates have been invited to apply for their old jobs back (on a lower pay rate).

But all is not lost. Thank goodness for the anticipated largesse of old university chums. Minted as they are, they'll surely want to sub him a few grand here and there.

Saturday, August 17

a year in toiletry

It's been a toiletty year. I used a chic restaurant toilet, where the urinal was a glass wall looking out onto the terrace. The one-way glass lets you wee directly at the other diners without them knowing.

Before that I did a DIY toilet refit.

And I saw this urinal last month, on the trip when we visited UK, Bavaria and Spain. Which country do you think it's from, and why?

Tuesday, August 13

my favourite things

It's great to have people you love, but most of mine are in another hemisphere. Or dead. Perhaps to compensate, my life here is full of much-loved objects.

One possession that gives me a lot of happiness is my winter quilt. The quilt ratings here go from 1-season (summer only), right up to 4-season. But the one I bought was advertised as a 5-season quilt. Perfect for my skinny body, it's crammed full of new wool, yet it feels feather-light. 

The photograph actually contains several more of my favourite things, including the down pillow that travels everywhere with me. Without it, I'd suffer the screaming neck pain more often than I do. 

Hidden under the covers, another thing I'm grateful to is the electric blanket. A roasting bed at night is a wonderful welcome to oblivion. I sometimes even leave it switched on all day just in case I feel like an afternoon nap.

Even the book in the picture is my current fave, Irvine Welsh's Skagboys, a Trainspotting prequel. Possibly his blackest, funniest yet, it also makes you thankful that you've never had to live in the violent junkie subculture of proletarian Edinburgh. 

The ipad mini on the quilt is for bedtime scrabble, email, reading ebooks and the newspaper, Twitter and FB, and for writing this very post. 

Nobody's life is perfect, and mine has some major gaps, but what a fortunate creature I am really. So I am!

Friday, August 2

following the rules

The weeks in captivity had sickened me of Piddledorf. Ordinary petty burghers had been coming up to me, to offer gratuitous "advice", sometimes several times in one day. Do it this way! Don't do that! You shouldn't be walking on the grass, Wrong way! Go back! I'm before you! Don't put that there! Look where you're going! Do it properly! Shower before the pool, not after!

The best one was this demand, from a punter in the no-clothes sauna, delivered to the cellmate: take off your swimsuit! (And he stood over her while she complied). 

At last, one cold morning we got on the early train from Piddledorf, and made our escape. As the train pulled out, we found our seats, in the quiet zone compartment. Ahh, peace at last!

But then I noticed the businessman sitting in front of me, muttering into his mobile phone. I looked at the sign above his head, "No Phoning". Something exploded in my head. I got up and pulled at his sleeve. He said into his phone "hang on a minute".   I pointed at the sign. 

He whined: "but people are allowed to talk!"

I said (and I quote): "Just TURN IT OFF! Jesus, some currants want to make up their own rules! I mean, are we in effing Bavaria or not?"

He shut off his phone, picked up his briefcase, and moved quickly to another carriage. 

I sat there for some time, congratulating myself. If these people can dish out the rules, well they can effing well abide by them!

About half an hour later, the victorious feeling faded and it dawned on me that I had behaved just like the rest of them, smugly forcing rules down other people's throats. I felt disappointed, and a little ashamed. He had actually seemed like a nice guy, and I had made him so uncomfortable that he couldn't stand being in the same carriage.

So I got up and walked down the train to look for him. When I found his seat, he looked up, warily. 

I said: "I want to apologise. I over-reacted."

He touched my arm and said "I accept your apology gladly".

I thanked him and left him to it. Justice was done. I had shown that I was better than that. 

Saturday, July 13

viewing the bars

The day after our return to the PPP HQ, for a treat I walked on the grass in the park, and got away with it. Next, there was a formal viewing of the gold bars at the bank vault. It must have done my head in, because afterwards I managed to walk into a lamp post, breaking my specs but not my nose. Blood everzwhere, but people have been so helpful, advising me to always look where I'm going. Now, why didn't I think of that!

Piddledorf is a very small town where nothing happens, so I half-expect a local newspaper headline - "visiting relative of local politician survives collision after walking on grass".

The town is too small for an internet cafe, but they do have an internet pub, where I'm now typing this after breakfast, amongst chain-smoking serious drinkers. And in a one-horse town, who can blame them? If it wasn't for Erdinger weissbier and the double ration of bliss pills, I might lose the will to live.

Meanwhile, Albert is attending an annual re-enactment of the day the Kaiser stepped out of his carriage.

Yoga report
  • Yesterday I did the extended sun salute with the geriatric modifications and the Denny visualisations
  • Today so far there were the navy SEALs abdo exercises
Tai Chi report
  • None since Glasgow
Cardiac exercise
  • Ran up and down the stairs at the PPP 10 times, while the cellmate and PPP were playing canasta.

Useful links:
Retention Deficit Disorder
Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Sunday, July 7

drinking at lunch

In Scotland there was frequent lunchtime drinking. Twice we attended "pie and a pint" theatre performances (including a brilliant 50-minute Taming Of The Shrew), and I had to help the cellmate by wolfing her share of mutton pies and Tennents. 

And most of our day trip to Edinburgh was spent in pubs.

Sobering up on tea, in a pub with a Blissheid:

Wednesday, July 3

more from the botanics

Fishies at the Botties, and plants filling the hothouse.



Monday, July 1

Thursday, June 20

more music

Today's morning concert comes to you from the 800 year old church of St Peter. Great acoustics. 

I hadn't realised that JS Bach, in addition to his duties at St Thomas and around the city, was also musical director at this church. He was known for his knowledge of acoustics. As a party trick, he'd tell you to go and stand in the corner of a cathedral, then he would carefully choose a position at the other end of the building, face the wall and whisper a message to you. I'm trying to imagine the sound in this church in 1943, the night a bomb landed, destroying half the building (and the organ). 

The replacement organ is second-hand, moved here in 1968 from a smaller church about to be blown up (by the East Germans). 

As usual there's quite a bit of god-bothering in between the tunes today, but mercifully the minister is a woman, with a clear voice, short and to the point, so I didn't mind putting some coppers in the collection plate. 

Later there's an organ recital. Then a race across town to a big choral concert, which wouldn't interest me but for the composer. Both in churches. It'll be a busy night. I just pray there'll be no more of the god nonsense. 


Well, the organ music yesterday afternoon was so brilliant that I excused myself from the choral concert, and watched Ed Wood at home instead. 

Tuesday, June 18

Albert's news.

I believe Albert is in Leipzig for the Bach Fest, and to marvel at the world's largest station.

Say what you like about the communists who ran the place for 40 years, at least they left all the old buildings alone. Not that they had any option really. What with property ownership being verboten, there was no money to be made from demolition and redevelopment.

I wonder if the Party could ever have imagined that one day the west would restore the buildings and turn them to capitalist use. 

The  largest railway station in the world. Hitler could have staged rallies inside, and still have had lebensraum to spare.

Last night's performance of Bach's Musical Offering in the Evangelical church was a huge treat. For years I used to listen to it, with Mary Hopkin, on the old LP she nicked from her old man's collection. I know it inside out, so that last night I was able to get such fun from it, despite the jet lag doing its best to slam my forehead against the pew. And despite the family who dragged their poor kids in with them, to sit in front of me and play with their electronic devices. The band was the Freiburg Baroque Consort, and it was obvious that they love the piece as much as I do - the only difference between us being that they're world-class baroque soloists, and I know five chords on the ukulele. 

Today I'm in a packed old Lutheran church, for a Bach cantata. But the shameless old cleric is milking the moment, with droning sermons before every single piece, AND he's taking a collection, on top of the ticket price! 

Wait - now he's getting everyone to stand up and chant a prayer. What a nerve!

Lunch was duck and vegetable curry, with bubble tea flavoured with coconut. 

Tuesday, June 11

busy busy

It's been a busy time. I've been helping Albert with employment matters. It seems his employer needs to downsize, and will either pay people a year's salary to go away and not come back; or else they'll sack everyone and invite them to reapply for their old jobs at less pay.  Gee, I wonder which it'll be!

Fortunately, Albert's within range of the scrap heap anyway. But imagine his colleagues with kids and mortgages! 

If Albert ends up jobless, he can always become one of these old guys who spend their days photographing flowers. 

Wednesday, May 29

inspirational addiction

For the price of a carton of cigarettes, you can now buy a device that helps you wean yourself off smoking, by inhaling steam. Take a hit of pure nothing! A new business model moving in to exploit the market in smokers' lungs. I suppose it is a kind of progress. 

Meanwhile, thanks to innovation in the alcoholic world, diet-conscious drinkers can now inhale alcohol to avoid the calories ...

Even old Albert has resorted to indulging his addiction in inhaled form - his way to get a hit of pheromones is by breathing deeply around a fragrant young beauty. 

sometimes wonder if I'm the only normal healthy person left.

Wednesday, May 22

afflicted again

The last time I suffered an attack of waitress love, it wasn't my fault, the jet lag made me do it. I was in sub-zero Bavaria on my way to a family crisis. She was young and presentable, efficient, but otherwise unexceptional. She brought me coffee and a boiled egg, and that was all that happened between us, but it was a ray of sun at a dark time. 

Tonight I met up with Cap'n Kev in a city slicker bar. When Kev knocked over some glasses, within seconds a young goddess materialised to fix up the damage without fuss. She seemed to be the manageress, and though we were a couple of old scruffs she treated us with just as much attentive warmth as if we were the usual smart young clientele. I'm a sucker for an efficient and capable woman, but when it's combined with physical beauty and dress sense, I go weak. I experienced a strange urge to hand her my wallet and say "go and buy yourself something nice". I would ask nothing in return, but the right to gaze at her in wonder. 

Now, I know what you're thinking: it was just the beer getting to me. But this was all before I had a single sip. If I'd been drunk I might have taken her hand and gone down on one knee. A woman like that needs to be told how special she is.

Denny used to be like that - quick-witted, practical, capable and lovely. But only when she was sober.

When Kev redirected my attention to ordering a drink, we had tall glasses of draught weissbier. It was happy hour, so instead of paying about £16 a litre, we got it for the bargain price of £10, a mere three times what you'd pay in Bavaria. 

Sunday, May 12

feat of strength (with clickypic)

I once won a bet by tearing a phone book in half with my bare hands.

If you click the pic, you'll see how it's done.

Click to see how to do it.

Yes, if you slowly bake the phone book for several hours in a just-warm oven, the paper dries out and goes so weak that anyone can rip it, even me.

You could try it too, but I accept no responsibility if you turn your oven up full blast, set fire to the phone book and burn your house down.

For younger readers, an "oven" is a sort of clockwork microwave.

For younger readers, "clockwork" is a kind of ... ach, never mind.

Wednesday, May 1

cool at the beach

I had never given a second thought to this photo of my father, taken at the beach in Germany when I was a kid. I saw it again yesterday and realised - it's a man on his holidays at the seaside, but dressed immaculately in starched shirt and tie, and white socks. Why would he do that, when everyone else was in beachwear?

Then I recalled times, like in the picture below, when I have struck a similar pose or dress style. At a formal function, I was sitting by myself, trying hard not to show my true feelings about the situation - I didn't know most of the other people there, I was nervous and wishing I could be anywhere else. A man came up to me, took my photo, and said something like "you must be the coolest man in the room, how do you manage it?" And he was serious.

I think that must have been the first time I had an insight into the power of deception, and perhaps the value of a good tailor.

When in doubt, fake an aloof nonchalance - it must have been my father's strategy too. There he was, spending 2 weeks at a German beach to please his wife and kids, surrounded by a language he couldn't understand, when he would much rather have been golfing at home in Scotland. He was doing his best to hide how pissed-off and isolated he really was. I know how he felt.

Wednesday, April 24

farewell vintage rotel 610

When I was 20 I bought my first decent stereo from one of the first ever Comet warehouses. I took a taxi home with two giant heavy Goodman Magnum K2s, a record deck, and a marvellous amp made by an unknown upstart Japanese company called Rotel.

The thing had so much power that I never dared turn the volume up more than half way, but even then the building would shake. The poor neighbours!

Two fellow reprobates kindly agreed to help test the effects in my room.

As a public service for any antique engineers, this is the circuit diagram for the amp. Contact me if you need a high-resolution copy.

I've had other amps over the years, but not a patch on the old Rotel 610. So recently I bit the bullet and got hold of a new model by the same manufacturer, the bottom of their range, but still brilliant! The cellmate doesn't see what the fuss is about - to her, all equipment sounds the same.

Friday, April 12

modest home improvement

For 14 years I put up with a dodgy bog that often required help with a bucket of water.

Recently I gutted it and bought new fixtures. The only work I didn't do myself was connecting the plumbing. Some things are still left to the experts.

Before and after:

Monday, April 8

listless and blissless

Not sure whether I'm in shock, denial, grief, stress or all of the above. I wasn't prepared to feel so unsettled after the death, thousands of miles away, of a woman I've known since I was 20.

We were good chums as students. After we grew up, we would only meet up every 5 years or so, yet it was an ongoing connection, a bit like family but without the annoyance.

She and her partner were together for 40 years, longer than anyone I know and that includes anyone in my family. And they did it without the help of a wedding certificate (as far as I know).

They were a landmark in my life, and now it's as if an Easter Island stone statue is suddenly gone. 

Coincidentally, at the very same time, the bliss pills have stopped working. Must be a dud batch.

I have a beautiful photo of my friend, but she hated the idea of public pictures, so instead here's a peacock from Samye Ling, a place she had connections to.


Friday, March 29


A dear old uni friend died last weekend after a shortish shock illness. She and her family are in my thoughts many times a day. Even at this distance, it fair took the wind out of my sails, and suddenly my body feels a lot older. 

But it'll pass, and at least I managed a great swim, by starting slowly and only shifting gear after the first 10 lengths. Ordinarily I tend to go at it like a bull at a gate, breathless and resentful the whole time. 

At work, I stumbled wearily to the Easter finishing line, unfocused and mumbling. Now for four days of reading, sleeping, and the traditional Matthew Passion. Oh the profundity!

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