Saturday, March 29, 2014

A sentence I thought I would never write: I washed my car this afternoon. What better proof of turning 50 & total submission to suburban weekend conformity? Who'd have thought it?

OK, I can hear the sniggers. By way of explanation, I did (on occasions) take the previous car to the car wash. & I would (on occasions) do the interior. However, during the past couple of months we've had the combined effects of building work next door, the railway line development, new water pipes being laid in the road parallel plus unusually high air pollution (smog warnings on the Ring etc). I'd started to notice a thick layer of silt each morning for the past week or so & deduced this was probably not very good for the paintwork. According to the Renault dealer, the auto car wash isn't the best solution & therefore ...

How many times had I seen my Dad do it but not paid attention? Anyway, I worked it out on my own : a general hose down first; a soaping on top with another hosing; the sides, bonnet & back & another hosing; then the wheels etc.. Windows. Then a quick polish. Easy peasy, really, can't think why I didn't do it before - another of those 'male myths' that vanish with the slightest breeze. OK I didn't do a wax polish (or Brazilian) there are limits but the result looks pretty spiffy. In a weird way it was ... almost enjoyable.

What next? Put up a shelf?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Plenty of reactions today to the 'new look' & all favourable (more or less). The general consensus is that they are "really quite trendy" & make me look younger. No one used to say that back in the seventies as I recall.

A couple were a bit strange - one colleague asked whether I'd worn contacts before (me?!) while the other said I looked like 'Where's Waldo?' (or Wally or Charlie depending on your edition). Or maybe that was an effect of the shirt.

Driving is fine & most of the essential day-to-day stuff (stairs, walking in & out of rooms). Reading & writing are still a bit of an experiment - distances, angles, etc..

Still seeing how it goes ...

Saturday, March 22, 2014


For any Viv Stanshall fans out there there's still time to catch Radio 4 Extra's 3 hour special. It went out at 9am this morning but it will be broadcast again at 7pm (& there's always iPlayer). 

Have an unusual day ...


The new specs have arrived & so here's a photo so my Mum can see what they're like. (& no, I've not suddenly embraced the 'selfie'). 

The first impressions were good: as if miraculously the world had acquired a new-found clarity & precision. Car number plates! Individual blades of grass! A new tint of blue to the sky! Then, ten minutes later, sitting trying to read a poem by Devin Johnston over a coffee I found I couldn't focus on the words. The penny dropped that this was the famous polyfocal effect - where before I would tip my head & look through my grubby old lenses at a distance from my nose, now I am supposed to keep my head straight & look down through the lower third. Panic! - I simply don't & can't read that way, I need the whole page

I return to the optician. He's most understanding & tells me it's perfectly normal & that my eyes & brain will start to adjust. I explain that I feel as though my existence has suddenly shrunk to about 5 per cent. It'll be like living in a corridor. No, he explains, the gradient will become more tolerable, just give it a few days. 

In the most literal sense, I'll have to see. Typing this I'm lifting & dropping my head to experiment with focus. Already I've discovered that I can read books at arm's length which is perhaps a good way to start acclimatising if a little comical. 

As for the 'new look' the irony is that they're pretty much the same frames I had back in the 70s. The thin metal styles are - I'm told - 'out' & these are terribly "tendance". It seems they also make me look younger than the owl-eyes circular style (cf Huxley & Walter Benjamin) I'd picked out initially. Then again, who am I to judge? K & the girls have given them the thumbs up which, I suppose, is all that matters. 

& I've been given strict instructions to clean the lenses only with water & a little soap. The wipes I've been buying damage the coatings. So that's a saving of sorts. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

"The proportion of graduates failing to pay back student loans is increasing at such a rate that the Treasury is approaching the point at which it will get zero financial reward from the government's policy of tripling tuition fees to £9,000 a year.

New official forecasts suggest the write-off costs have reached 45% of the £10bn in student loans made each year, all but nullifying any savings to the public purse made following the introduction of the new fee system."

(reproduced from today's Guardian)

To put it another way: poorly thought through, insufficiently costed, ideologically motivated, irresponsibly implemented, deceitfully justified, & will be - no doubt - spun this way & that to save the skins of those responsible & to shift the blame onto others. Meanwhile, much damage will have been done with more to follow.

Let's wait for the phrase "lessons will have to be learned".

A CD from Germany (Julia Holter's re-released first album Eating the Stars).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Just watched the first episode of W1A thanks to L. successfully getting it to record on one of the two devices. Hooray! (It's also something of a miracle that I actually watch a programme of an evening. Where did that habit go?)

It's a pretty good start - running gags about collapsible bikes, muddled coffee options & non-office space. However ...

... I find I'm laughing but in a way that makes me feel distinctly uncomfortable. Why? One: that the BBC is now becoming so utterly self-referential (Carole Vorderman, Claire Balding cameos). Is this satire or in fact how most BBC execs actually think? Probably. Two: that many people I work with will laugh about it tomorrow but then replicate the very same inanities in the next meeting. How many times have we sat around being told of the merits of the latest software gimmick with No Signal projected on the screen? You know the scenario?

Amazeballs maybe ... it's not funny any more.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Creaturely (Devin Johnston) arrives this morning - a collection of essays/ prose poems/ meditations/ walks & talks. Strolls might be a good approximation. There's a leisured pace to pieces, thoughts come & go. I like the format. Clever. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

What a great surprise finding that Caroline (the CD & vinyl store) once in a gallery in Brussels (now demolished) is alive & well on Bvd Anspach. I go in & just know I'll find something good. True enough: the elsewhere hard to find 'Tragedy' by Julia Holter.

Trawling through Holter-related stuff & interviews I see she's studied with Anne Carson (did I say that in an earlier post?) as well as a very interesting academic/ composer Michael Pisaro (I think I've got that name right) who has some fascinating music of his own (involving, of course, JH in places). That tingling feeling in the fingertips of having struck another seam to explore. Exciting!

There is also this you can watch & listen to:

6 minutes 36 seconds you will not regret.


Friday, March 14, 2014

So Tony Benn has died.

I remember lying in bed in a flat on Rue Haute some twenty-five years ago listening to a programme on the BBC World Service. Someone was talking about the British State and the nature of political power - especially the way that politicians had ceased to see themselves as deriving their power from the people who had elected them. The clarity and intelligence of the speaker was a welcome surprise given the usual trundling out of cliches and sound bites. I wondered who it was and finally caught the name at the end. Tony Benn. Out of context and with poor reception I hadn't recognised the voice. Now it made sense.

I'm sad to know that yet another figure within my pantheon of Mavericks, Oddballs & Pieces of Grit in the Oyster of Life is no longer around to give flavour to these increasingly bland days.

Can you imagine someone like this emerging out of the current political scene?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

One or two of the regulars have mentioned that things are a bit quiet on the Blog front. By way of explanation, this is the crunch time for exam classes & so my efforts are channeled into Coursework submissions & Orals & practice exams. Give it a week or so & we're out of the woods.

In the meantime ... expect a post on the new pair of glasses - I have finally accepted that the current pair are under strength & grazed in places. (It has been, after all, twelve years ... ). Apparently little has changed but at 50 I have to bow to the inevitable & go for progressive vocals. No, that should read "focals". I will have to watch my step walking downstairs. The lenses are being made in Japan & so it will be a good ten days before I'm sporting the "new look" which - given the way frames go in & out of fashion - will be much like how I looked back in the 70s. Anyone remember?


Rupert Thomson's novel The Insult arrived this morning. I'm led to believe he's one of those people I should have read. I picked up a copy of Soft in Antwerp over the weekend.


From where I type I can see the trees are in full bloom, the pink blossom caught in the late afternoon sun. A colleague reminded me that this day a year ago we had ... snow.


Sunday, March 02, 2014

Renault Clio IV update ...

for any petrol heads out there ... the trip to the UK & back was a good opportunity to see how the car managed on longer journeys. Here are the stats:

To the UK -

375 km door to door
70.9 km/h average speed
433 km estimated to go on the one tank
6.3 L per 100 km used
13.4 L used

Return (allowing for some extra kms down to Folkestone harbour in between) -

387 km door to door
62.2 average speed
538 km estimated to go on the one tank
6.0 L per 100 km used

(= 900 plus kms on one tank? - hard to believe ... )

which seems pretty respectable & - at least in part - due to the fact that I was using the ECO button & wherever possible on cruise control at 110 km/h. Leaving & returning into Brussels (tunnels etc.) obviously affect motorway averages.

Other things I noticed ...

1) a firmer ride than the other cars I've been used to - it's also a lighter car (some of the big gusts of wind make themselves felt)
2) the wind noise issue varies - I sense it is mostly to do with cross winds & with music on it fades into the background
3) an annoying 'click' when going over bumps produced by the back boot cover (which can be solved by a coat lying across it - I will work out a better solution)
4) coffee cup holder is well-placed for intermittent swigs
5) snazzy SatNav is hard to read in full sunlight

All in all, a very pleasant trip & you feel as though you are actually driving (as against the Scenic where it feels more like watching television in a comfy armchair). The TCe 90 engine is capable of enough power - don't believe those Top Gear reviews etc. that claim to the contrary (& very very quiet - probably why you notice other sounds). In any case, given the roads on both sides of the Channel you'll be lucky to go - legally - much above 110 km/h. The M25 is mostly around 80 km/h from what I can see.

I still like it - but it's maybe not quite the 'coup de foudre' of December.

Further updates as & when ...

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Over in the UK for the moment ...

Stopping off on the way to the M25, I had my usual showdown at Maidstone services. Placing a copy of the Independent & a KitKat I said crisply & firmly "just these two, please". The saleswoman who's always there scans the items & then asks - gesturing to a pile of Cadbury chocolates - "would you like any of these?" I just look at her & she hands me my change.

Which of these scenarios is the more depressing: a) that she hears me & is so programmed to deliver the set phrase she says it regardless? b) that she is so numbed by the day-in day-out mindlessness of the job that she doesn't listen to customers (maybe a defence mechanism) & in auto-pilot mode simply says the same thing to everyone (fearing, perhaps, the consequences from Above if she went against training)?


At least the cats miss me. Yesterday morning, I'm told, they delivered several puddles in the hallway & kitchen as well as a little pile before the front door. That affection should be shown with such finesse ...

(Rob - if you're reading this, do not tell Gail ...)


Off to Camberley to rifle through the Charity shops for cheap Percy Jackson novels for the Brussels Sprouts. Why pay £5.99 when you can snap them up for 50p?


. Driving into work the other morning with 'Village of the Sun' playing & humming & drumming along  & think...