Monday, May 28, 2007

Did you think I'd got lost ?

Apologies for having absented myself for so long on this site, without explaining why. I shan't bore you with all the reasons, but the following, cut-and-pasted from today's My Telegraph, tells at least part of the story.

Could we have our lives back please, MyTel ?

You know how it is: you put up a post, and you wait for comments.

If you're lucky, comments trickle in. Then what do you do ? You reply, goes without saying. Well, it would be rude not to do so.

But you know what happens. Replying tends to generate more comments, which means more replies. You should by now be getting my drift .....

Then there are all those other posts that people put up - provocative, irritating, hilariously funny, incendiary, deeply thought-provoking, scathing, mickey-taking ....

OK, I'll just post a short comment, one here, and another there, just to show that I don't regard blogging on My Tel as a one-way street.

Hey, but hold on - someone's addressed me by name in the title of their comment. "Not so, Colin B," it trumpets . Well, one can hardly ignore that, can one - or they will think one rude, or that one runs a mile at the slightest hint of criticism ?

Is it any wonder that I've had no proper exercise for days, that my eyes are beginning to smart, that I'm repeatedly hitting the Refresh key, and wishing I personally had a Refresh Key as well ?

What's the solution ?

To blog between fixed hours each day, and tell folk what they are, so as not to risk giving offence?

To blog on certain days of the week only ?

Or to go for the nuclear option: to get Blog Central to shut down its servers from time to time, giving us all a break, a chance to reconnect with the real world ?

Or is this the Real World ? Had we all been leading furtive, hermit-like lives until this thing called My Tel invaded our lives.

Comments by 9pm British time please. That's to give me time to read yesterday's Sunday paper that I've barely had time to glance at so far......."

Posted by ColinB at 17:11 on 28 May 2007

If there are folk reading this who have not yet visited My Telegraph yet, then I strongly urge you to do so. It is an amazing addition to the blogosphere.

I'll post this straightaway, but return from time to time, adding some links that take you to the different features of My Telegraph . That said, the site is admirably intuitive, meaning that it's easy for pretty well anyone, including complete novices, to understand and use the different features).


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"My Telegraph" poser

Well now, there's an interesting situation developing on My Telegraph in which I have decided that discretion will be the better part of valour.

It's like this: there's a highly articulate "new face" by the name of Simone_w who speaks a great deal of common sense, but once in a while - and this is a personal view obviously - a hint of youthful callowness intrudes.

Yesterday I posted the following to Simone's post on the subject of street beggars, in which she expresses amazement that we do not all drop coins in the tin, on the grounds that it would be judgmental not to do so. She makes it abundantly clear that she is following the examples given to us (allegedly) by the founder of Christianity.

I keep my money, nett of income tax and NI, in my pocket

ColinB 15 May 2007 20:40

You refuse to judge a beggar, Simone, which is fine. I have no problem with that. But is there not a sense in which you are implicitly sitting in judgement in those of us who choose not to underwrite the lifestyle of these individuals - which is, after all, a matter of deliberate choice on their part ? Nobody is forced to beg. There are jobs for the unskilled which pay the national minimum wage. For those who are not medically fit, or have mental disorder, there is the safety net of the social services - both State and charity-funded.Homelessness I grant you is another aspect, which is a complex one in how it develops, and how to deal with on the ground. But dropping coins in a tin simply perpetuates and, in a sense rubber stamps, the status quo, and as each day goes by, the chances of escaping from that ever downward spiral decrease.

Later, I posted a comment on Malbonster's blog, in which he cheekily invited us to volunteer our ages (about which more later).

In scanning the other comments one sees Simone declaring herself to be just 13. It was simply that, a pure numerical reply, with nothing else to indicate whether this was irony on her part, which I doubt, or should be taken at face value.

Let me say straightaway that I have nothing whatsoever against youngsters posting to My Telegraph, provided their parents have been consulted. But I for my part am relieved that I have learned sooner rather than about her (supposed) age.

I will frame any future replies accordingly.

But what about others who are three, four times her age, still commenting away merrily on her posts, apparently unaware that they are engaging with a lass who is barely into her teens.

Someone I feel ought to tip them a wink, as I very nearly did that this morning: but how does one phrase it, so as not to appear dismissive of someone who is clearly a bright young lass, one whom her parents can justly be proud of ?

Any ideas anyone ?

Incidentally, I posted a second comment to another of Simone's threads yesterday (proving again she has maturity beyond her years in teasing out our responses).

It will explain (in passing) why there will be a short hiatus in my blogging activity for the next few days.

My Tel a counter against social atomisation ?

ColinB 16 May 2007 07:54

I'm 62, but trapped inside an Adonis-like body (although not everyone "sees" it first time - you have to kind of look straight through, like you did with those Magic Eye books).

I shall be in London for the next few days, re-engaging with that youth culture to which Malbonster refers. My daughter, the youngest (27) of our 3 is collecting her MRCP, so she and her 2 older brothers will no doubt ensure we experience the buzz and vibrancy of our capital city again (we now ive in France).

One of the greatest changes in UK society is the so-called atomisation, due to family members living further and further apart, working mothers, less mixing between neighbours, less involvement in clubs and societies etc etc.

It will be interesting to see whether My Telegraph and similar social sites can assist in reversing the trend. Older folk may well have the confidence (or foolhardiness?) to allow a gradual blurring between the real and virtual worlds. Already on this site we see examples of folk agreeing to meet up, as Phil Slocombe will attest (if he's reading this!).

I'm trying to decide if the "social atomisation" angle is worth developing in a full post to My Telegraph, ot whether it's too self-evident to bother with further. Again, ideas are invited.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Should we allow Tony to modernise Hell ?

This is my writing project for the day, and has just been posted to My Telegraph. That would be the place to post any comments (not wishing to fall foul of copyright or other legal considerations).

Do you support Tony Blair's proposed new Act of Parliament ? It's the one which just a week ago was a scribble on the back of an envelope, but which is now being forced through the Lower and Upper Houses at breakneck speed.
Just to remind you of its main points:

1. Hell is an outdated concept, at least in its present form. It needs to be replaced by something more in keeping with the 21st century.

2.Hell should become seen as a cooler place, making more efficient use of fossil fuels, eg for background heating purposes only, just sufficient to maintain a comfortable environment in remedial behaviour classes.

3. Too many folk are being consigned to Hell in secret hearings, on the basis of hearsay evidence, and without proper legal representation. Hearings should be be brought forward into one's pre mortem existence, allowing character witnesses (Peter, Alistair etc) to speak on one's behalf.

4.There needs to be a new body of human rights legislation to oversee the whole question of who is committed to Hell, and on what criteria. This could be done on an EU basis, delegated to Peter in Brussels.

5. Eternal damnation serves no useful purpose, giving the offender no opportunity or incentive to mend their ways.

6. Consignment to Hell should in many cases be replaced by a period of community service on Earth. A spell of quiet contemplation, eg pruning vines at a friend's villa in Tuscany, could substitute in certain instances.

7. Consideration should be given to a wider range of mitigating factors, like having grumpy next door neighbours, incompetent deputies , making bad decisions when jet lagged, and having one's arm twisted by men wearing check shirts and cowboy hats.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sunday Telegraph 13th May 2007

Here's a snapshot of Yesterday's Sunday Telegraph; page 2 of the main section.
It should enlarge on clicking, but here's a transcript anyway of the item top left headed:

My Telegraph, our personalised website for readers which launched last week, has already been a huge success. More than a thousand readers have signed up for a webpage on the site and around 500 have begun writing their own blogs.
Joining couldn't be simpler. It takes just a couple of minutes to create a profile and then you will be able to create your own blog, comment on blogs by other readers, save articles to read later and form your own network of bloggers.
Writing your own blog on the site requires no technical expertise - it's as easy as writing an email and the perfect way to keep in touch with family and friends.
There are more features to come over the next few weeks but if you missed out introduction to the site in yesterday's newspaper, there is a beginner's guide at

"There have been four quantum leaps in my lifetime where keeping up with news and opinion is concerned. The first was TV obviously (as a child), then Teletext (learning the latest on the Falklands War), then the Internet (about 1997). You can probably guess what the 4th is. Yes, it's My Telegraph, where I can be as passive or as active as I wish, responding to other blogs, or creating my own. It can be a heady, effervescent thing, My Telegraph, with its instant feedback. A word of warning though: it's not for the faint-hearted."

Colin Berry, Antibes, France

"What I have enjoyed most about blogging at My Telegraph is the chance to air my views on some of my views on topical issues, and to engage in debate with interesting, intelligent people around the world."
Mark Boardman

Saturday, May 12, 2007

An unusual challenge

I assume that folk who visit this site are in search of things that are a little off the beaten track. So having got here, please cast your eye down my little "slice of life" short story, because there's something unusual about the circumstances in which it was written.

The title is "Walk in a herb garden ", and it runs to slightly over 1500 words.


It was the best holiday they had ever had.

Derek and Fiona Cooper had to begin with preferred organized package holidays. Gradually they ticked off all the places they wanted to see, plus a few more which Holiday programme had said they must see. Having seen them, they couldn’t really see why.

Friends, more accurately erstwhile friends, had recommended other destinations. Derek and Fiona prefer not to talk about those, thank you very much.

It was Derek’s idea – the cheap flight to Toulon, picking up a hire car, and going into Marcel Pagnol country. He’d liked the film you see. What was it called now, La Gloire de Mon Au Pair or something ?

Actually, it was the French film star who played Marcel’s mother that made the greatest impression on Derek. He thought she was really dishy, and the music was quite good too.
Fiona on the other hand was entranced at the idea of those sun-parched limestone hillsides, and that abundance of herbs, just there for the picking.

Every night at the motel or nearby resto she chose anything on the menu that looked as if it might have herbs in it, on the assumption that if it had au or à la in its name, it was a fair bet it had herbs.

Derek’s aperitif was unchanging – a small lager first as a concession to French refinement, followed 5 minutes late by a proper half-litre. With the stomach suitably lined he was ready for anything that France or Fiona would throw at him.

When a week later they handed back the car at Toulon, Derek assumed that her herbal pilgrimage was now over, and he could return to “proper food”. How wrong he was. In the previous 7 days Fiona’s flirtation had developed into an all-consuming passion. Her every waking hour centred on those clumps and cushions of aromatic foliage that defied the oven-like condition on those hillsides in and around Aubagne and Garlaban.

Within minutes of parking the car on the hard-standing at the front of the house, Fiona was sizing up the frontage carefully, viewing it from different angles, and peering under the car.

It took Derek, busy with unloading suitcases, just a short while to twig to what was going through his spouse's mind, but when he did, his comment was short and sharp. “No”, he said, “ don’t even think about it , dear. Non, a thousand times non, comprenez ! "

“It’s comprends, my dear" she replied ”assuming we‘ve managed to break the ice after spending a dirty week together in France”. During the following week, the neighbours assumed it was another of those bad Cooper household holidays.

They heard the raised voices, the slamming of doors. Gradually word got around. Fiona was determined to have her herb garden, and since they had no back garden to speak of – barely room for the dustbin, rotary drier and rusting barbecue, it would have to be at the front. But where was Derek going to park the Toyota ?

The following Saturday, the peace of Peston Street was disturbed by the sound of a pneumatic drill, as Derek broke up the slab of concrete inside the carefully drawn rectangle that he had marked out. Its dimensions were carefully chosen such that with care he could still park his car above the excavated section.

A day later he backfilled the plot with Fiona’s planting mixture of chalk, sharp sand, broken pottery, and a few unmentionables, which she deemed would simulate her Provencal hillside. It was the planting out that bothering her now.

Could she trust the maximum height figures she had gleaned from library books and off the internet for all those new and exciting herbs ? She decided to take a chance, and soon the mail order packets arrived with the daunting Latin names.

Thereafter, the car was never on the hardstanding during the day. If Derek had a day off work, the car had to be parked on the street until one hour after sunset. Fiona was quite insistent about that. She also got Derek, reluctantly, and with much muttering under the breath, to mount vertical panels of aluminium sheets on the fencing surrounding the plot. Fiona said they would capture the maximum amount of sunshine.

During heavy rain she would rush out with sheets of polythene. Gradually, the herbs established, the bare earth gradually was colonised, and Fiona became a changed person, radiating spiritual contentment, Derek returned to his holiday aperitif habits as herbs gradually intruded on every meal that Fiona placed in front of him.

In time her repertoire of recipes increase, and her confidence grew. Inevitably, the problem with that car parked off-street became a source of marital friction. When Derek drove off each morning, Fiona was straight out, mourning the loss of each lopped stalks, or the foliage that had been roasted against the exhaust manifold. Derek dreaded the first 10 minutes of arriving home each night, as Fiona reeled off the list of damage, and insisted that something just had to be done.

At the weekend, a sullen Derek was to be seen stomping the lines of vehicles at the second hand car dealer. The salesman watched as he knelt under various vehicles, measuring up their clearance.

A few days later, the Toyota was gone, traded in for a pittance, and in its place was a Korean all-terrain vehicle with balding tyres, a remarkably low mileage for a five year old vehicle, and what the salesman described as a once in a lifetime finance deal ( one-third deposit , 14.5 % over 3 years plus 150 administration fee ).

For the next few weeks, Fiona was in renewed ecstasy, planting out ever taller herbs .
Let’s invite the Jones’s in for a meal” she suggested . “I’ll do them that recipe you so like she said. Let’s not dwell, dear reader, on the details of that flawed decision, or the strain it put on relations, between man and wife, between two sets of friends.
Suffice it to say that after a few mouthfuls of Fiona’s recipe, it became clear that the aromatic flavour they were tasting had less to to with Provencal hillsides, and more to do with the leaking oil sump on that 4X4 with the dodgy paperwork.

It was Fiona who discovered the trail of drips leading from the underside of vehicle across her precious herbs, adding a certain je ne sais quoi. Castrol lab technicians would have known exactly what, identifying partially degraded viscostatic GTX generously endowed with particles of soot and iron filings. The marriage survived, yet again, but now the vehicle was banished to the street, prey to every passing dog, vandal, and wingmirror.

Derek was back again with that hired pneumatic drill. Having decided that la coexistence between herb and car on the same plot was no longer possible, he had been persuaded (read nagged) by Fiona into breaking up the entire slab of concrete, thus quadrupling the area under herb. But Fiona suddenly realized she now had a problem with this larger plot. How was she going to harvest herbs at the centre, without trampling others to reach them ? Derek tried various solutions, like placing ladders and even hired Kwik towers over the bed to reach the middle, but then went and injured his back. His insurance company rejected his claim on the grounds that he had infringed paragrpah 93 subsection H. of the policy schedule.

He mentioned the problem to Fred at the Rotary, who in turn mentioned it to Bill down at the allotment, who brought in Alistair at the horticultural society. Within weeks there was much swapping of back-of-envelope drawings on possible solutions.

There was one thing on which everyone was agreed. There would have to be access pathways to the centre. But each square foot of path was one less for herb. What was the optimum pattern that provided best access with least sacrifice of planting area ? In time, word of the Derek’s conundrum spread, and began to engage and then ensnare a progressively greater range of experts.

Food began to go cold on plates in the Senior Common Room of the local university, as mathematicans attempted to struggle with the novel problems thrown up. Eyes began to gleam as the prospect of Nobel Prizes looming for cracking open entirely new area of mathematics.

You see, the problem defied all the usual methods of calculus - differential, integral and infernal, that CERN and NASA routinely use to deliver optimum solutions. They simply could not cope with the multivariate, polynomial equations that had to be solved.

Professors began to neglect their research and students as they applied themselves to numeric analysis. Even so, they found that their computers slowed as they tried to seek that perfect solution, in some cases grinding to a halt as processors began to overheat and melt, and printed circuits began to buckle under the load.

It’s not known exactly how long the Cray supercomputer at a certain elite institute was diverted surreptitiously onto the task of solving Derek’s problem. All we know is that key multimillion pounds programs booked on it months, sometimes years in advance, in areas as diverse as genetic sequencing, criminal profiling, modelling the Big Bang etc gradually slipped from their deadlines, leaving scores of frustrated angry researchers.

But the problem WAS finally cracked, and Derek put it immediately into effect, overcoming a lifetime of republican sympathies. Shortly after remodelling that herb garden, he began to get UKIP and BNP literature through the door, and passing cars with tatooed, skin-pierced men would sound their horns as they passed.

Why you may ask ? Because they had seen Fiona and Derek, out for a walk in their optimised herb garden, she pruning, thinning and harvesting, and he collecting up the cigarette ends tossed there by passing pedestrians. You see, the 4 criss-crossing paths, two at right angles, with two diagonals, created a patriotic Union Flag !


Well, what do you think ? Any literary merit there ? Even if there were just a smidgeon, I'd be tickled pink. Why ?

Well, it's like this. Iwoke this morning to find that Jamie McNab on My Telegraph had posted an appreciative comment re my "Nightmare" (see previous post), referring to my "enchanted keyboard". That gave me an idea. Why not make "My Telegraph" serve a useful niche role for whatever interests one has, ignoring that Amazon flow of constant new comment that sweeps everything away within tens of minutes. So I asked Jamie to provide three titles that were capable of humorous or satirical treatment.

What you read above was composed in just over 3 hours (including proofreading). after receiving his title. I've been given two others: "Encounter with a panda" and "Changing an electric lightbulb". They are taller orders, but I'll give them my best shot tomorrow and on Monday if possible (fitted around meeting visitors).

Speedwriting is fun, and forces one to concentrate primarily on plot and pace.

Looking back, I think my beginning was rocky - it risked losing readers at the outset. Candid comments are invited ! I mean that. Without feedback, there can be no learning curve.

Nightmare (posted to My Telegraph)

Preamble: the following was conceived on the spur of the moment yesterday evening, written at high speed - approx 45 mins- and posted to My Telegraph under my single username, ColinB.

It was visible on the Home page for less than an hour, NTS, before being flushed away by the deluge of new submissions. During that brief spell of maximum exposure it managed to attract just one comment (thanks Mark), who awarded it a mark of ? out 10. I deign to mention here the score he gave it.

A hour later I made a few alterations and additions, using MyTel's Edit facility, which may or may not have improved it. What are the ethics of that, I now ask myself ? Would Mark have given the revised version the same score ? Hmmmm. Food for thought. Maybe MyTel needs a facility for editing one's comment (or adding a rider). He could maybe add a second comment, I guess. Comments welcome.

Here, then, is the edited version, entitled NIGHTMARE.

I was walking along Buckingham Palace Rd. for the first time in many years. There had been lots of changes. I passed a handsome arched entrance, behind which, offset asymetrically to the right, was a gleaming modern building. I took a small video clip on my digital camera.

Lots of staff were going in and out through those arches, checking their watches, speaking into their mobiles, then making that sharp right turn into the new wing .

Yes, you guessed it. You're looking at the Daily Telegraph's new HQ . The paper spent years languishing in the Docklands while scouring Central London for a suitable building whose architecture would deny its staff any left-wing views.

As I walked on, I suddenly began to lose my bearings. First, the street name changed abruptly to Richmond Avenue. My confusion and disorientation became complete when further along it became Higgis's Way.

I was then amazed to find myself looking at a perfect replica of Buckingham Palace, but over the huge ornamental gate was a wrought iron sign reading "Blog Central". I heard someone say it had previously been known as Buck House.

Here's my second video clip, in which I'm heard to say "now there's a splendid residence". That was before I knew it had changed hands.

I then entered an avenue lined with dead trees and quickly overtook a party of Chinese tourists, doing the Serpentine tour. Something had been lost in translation, methinks, judging by their determined snake-like progress up the street, weaving around lamposts and other street furniture, with self-conscious grins on their faces, and passers by all shaking their heads in wonder. I heard one of them mutter "I can see now why it was called the Long March."

The group was being escorted by a silver-haired gent, staring in disbelief at the antics going on behind him. He had a Telegraph name badge, and was sporting an RAF tie. "The dead trees were intentional," I heard him say, "being symbolic of a previous era. Now PLEASE I ask you again, walk in a STRAIGHT line. STRAIGHT ".

I then heard him ask if anyone had with them an English-Mandarin phrase book. Everyone shook their heads, bar one who said in halting English "No Mr. Slogum, but I have other little red book here in Mandarin. That help you yes ?"

Finally I came to a vast green area. Above the entrance, manned by security guards, was a sign reading "My Soapbox Inc". As I was being checked in, a cheerful bespectacled lady stepped forward. "Would l care for a chocolate ?" she asked. I and some others were then led off in the direction of Old Speakers' Corner. The nice lady led the way, with her Scotty dog on a lead.

It was a long walk, during which we passed ( I kid thee not) thousands upon thousands of soapboxes, all neatly set out. Around each was a cluster of people, all in earnest debate. Some were applauding the speaker, while others, sad to say, were getting a bit hot under the collar, wagging and pointing their fingers, with a few hurling abuse and insults.

An attractive young blonde with a Welsh accent was rushing around, telling certain people to turn down the volume of their megaphones.

We finally arrived somewhat footsore and deafened, at Old Speakers Corner , where we were shown a few chained-off soapboxes - the originals we were told- with Tussauds waxworks of the great names of a bygone age.

There was also an artistic tableau of Richard Coeur d'Orléans at fisticuffs with an irate John Bull, whose bowler hat had been knocked askew. I was pleased to see that the pigeons preferred to perch on Richard.

Suddenly there was the sound of an emergency vehicle, with an old fashioned bell. How could that be, I wondered ? Bells were replaced with sirens a long, long time ago.

The sound of the bell got louder, and louder, and louder. Suddenly a voice broke in.
"Do stop snoring dear, and switch off that damned alarm clock ! ".

Thursday, May 10, 2007

New look for Dreams and Daemons

Yes, Dreams and Daemons has acquired a new look. Why the change ? Well, it's certainly not change for change's sake, that's for sure, since I'm somewhat conservative in these matters.

The problem with the old template was that it made inefficient use of the width of the screen - especially as so many folk, sensibly in my view, opt these days for widescreen laptops.

Look at the facsimile below of the old format. It shows what happened when it was stretched horizontally to use the full screen width.

The actual working space stayed the same - only the green borders increased - about as much use, one is inclined to think, as that famous chocolate teapot.

The present format, which I hope my present 40 or so daily visitors will like, gives a less cramped feel, and a greater flexibilty in positioning text relative to graphics.

Needless to say, you, the reader of this blog, can also stretch this page to make best use of your screen. When I do that long slim paragraphs become short fat ones. In other words, the line breaks are flexible. I'm not sure I knew that till a few minutes ago!

The hippo logo, a Mark 1 feature, has also been consigned to the dustbin of history, and replaced by a different beast, one who's less inclined to show off his dentition.

The present spell of navel gazing will continue briefly with my next blog post, on the matter of this blog's name, and how it seems to have gained a certain currency in the wider world.

When I pulled it from the air, back in October last year, I could find only one Google entry for "dreams and daemons", a reference to an obscure paper in the 1935 Journal of Philosophy. More about that later. I'm also thinking of ways of giving this blog more focus, by restricting posts to a narrower range of topics.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A lucky find in a haunted spot

It's about 50 miles from Antibes, as the seagull flies, or a bit longer for crows, assuming they prefer to stay over terra firma . We had read about in the guide books - a small compact medieval town on a stretch of Riviera noted for its flowers, although greenhouses might be a more accurate description. It's also a stretch of coast that motorists see from on high - the elevated motorway is visible in the background above, but that stretch of highway, perched on its concrete supports, sadly does the strip of coastal scenery no favours.

All one's misgivings about the hinterland evaporate when one arrives at the foot of the town, where the ancient bridge, with its curious dog-leg bend, straddles the river that brings silt and pebbles down from the hills.
Inside the village is the customary labyrinth of narrow passages, steep flights of steps, ancient doorways with intricately carved or moulded porticos. This kind of timewarp is virtually unknown in Britain, notwithstanding York, Ludlow, Lavenham etc which, although redolent of past centuries, seem somehow too manicured, too made-over with modern products off the shelves of Wickes and B&Q. Not so in this place: most of the stucco began peeling, bubbling and lifting in the 17th century, with little more than accumulations of algae, lichens and cobwebs to keep the remaining flakes in place, if not already bare.
The guide book said a visit to the monastery was a must ( confusingly, one of the books describes it as a convent). Sadly we never got to learn the gender of its inmates, since it was closed to visitors on the day we were there. That was a bitter blow, given that its founders - a Dominican order- had interests that extended beyond the spiritual world to the artistic - acting as patrons to numerous accomplished artists of their day whose work adorns the inner recesses.
But there is one lasting memento of our day trip, tinged as it was with disappointment, which sits on the coffee table in front of me as I write.
As we trudged our way around the monastery walls, something unusual caught my eye in the compacted aggregate that served as a path . There was just a red-brown rounded end visible, poking up just proud of the surface, which I wasted no time in prising out.

Before and after polishing ****************************

It was a knife handle, a little short of 10cm in length, but a knife handle with a difference. This one was heavy for its size - too heavy to be steel. And that red-brown coating was not flaky rust, but very adherent, more by way of a heavy tarnish. The picture on the left shows its original appearance. The one on the right is the other side after polishing, with a bright silvery lustre.
This is not electroplated silver, nor is it electroplate (steel dipped in molten silver). Given the density it has to be solid silver, through and through.
One day we will make a return visit to this time-warp of medieval prosperity, and the knife handle will be in my pocket. Maybe we'll seek out one of the successors of the diligent aesthetes who established their order in this Riviera town, a mile or so inland from a seaside resort of the same name - with added appendage; Jane with her linguistic skills can explain to him (or her) how we came by our find, and give first refusal on this artefact from an age when money was no object.
What would be nice would be for the monk, or nun, to say "Oh, we have five others just like it, but there's a gap in the display box", in which case we would be happy to see it reunited with its rightful owners.
Age of the handle ? No idea, but I suspect it is at least 100 years old, possibly a lot more.

PS Yes, this has been written as a bit of a tease, in the style of the Sunday Times's "Where was I ?"
And yes, you may also have spotted suggestions of writing on the knife in bas relief. Indeed there is, but I can't reveal what it says - that would give away too much, narrowing the search down to a few places within a 10 mile radius.
So where was I ? Answers on an electronic postcard, please to The prize ? Certainly not the knife handle, which is part of someone's national heritage. Hopefully you would settle for seeing your name emblazoned here in a large Technicolor font !
Afterthought: it is probably wrong of me to assume it's a knife handle. That's one small knife. On second thoughts, it may have been a small fork - one of those two, or three pronged ones that might be used for side courses, delicacies, shellfish etc. as distinct from the heavy-duty sort.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

What happens when King Tony the First finally abdicates?

Apologies first of all. I said in my last post that there would be a second progress report on MyTelegraph. That has been delayed for another day or two while I sought an OK from the Telegraph, and gave extra time for thoughts to crystallize.
Here's what I posted to MyTelegraph this morning, prompted by the headline in this morning's Telegraph "Brown to inherit Blair's surrender to Brussels"
(In case you were wondering, it's not the only paper we read. Sunday is the day that one or other of us trudges out to buy the "dead tree" version of the Sunday Times. Old habits die hard.)
Our Constitutional Mockery
Posted by ColinB at 07:56 on 06 May 2007

We are now just weeks away from Gordon Brown's "coronation".

Those of us who consider it absurd have been told to shut up. It's the British way of doing things: we just vote for candidates at General Elections with certain party political labels.

Parliament and political parties do the rest, like decide who is to occupy No.10, and be on our TV screens every night, acting for all the world like a (directly elected) US President.
Even mad George III would have been jealous of the power wielded by a modern British PM, accountable to virtually no-one except his own lackeys, such being his powers of patronage.

To rub salt in the wound, we read today that His Toniness is determined to leave us with a permanent legacy of his 10 year reign at No.10.

In his twilight weeks in office, he is to surrender more powers to Brussels, and do so in a way that makes it impossible for Brown to undo those 11th hour changes.

I will spare you the details - they are the subject of this morning's headline article in the Sunday Telegraph. Here are few key words. Revived European consitution, EU law, EU President. I leave you to join up the dots.

How democratic is that ? How democratic is our entire system that allows Parliament to foist on us leaders about whom we, the public , initially know next to nothing ? We then learn the hard way what these people really stand for, which, as often as not, is self-advancement, pure and simple.

Where are the powers that prevent these same individuals turning into virtually omnipotent rulers, who lead us into wars we don't want, who sign away our rights to outside powers, and who, to "secure their legacy", attempt to tie the hands of their successors.

Our British so-called democracy is nothing of the sort. It's basically dual monarchy: a figurehead sovereign who opens Parliament, who recites the speech of the real Monarch in waiting.

Keep reading your Samuel Pepys's diary if you really want to understand how Britain works. Constitutional monarchy ? Constitutional mockery more like it!
Updated Sunday pm:
Added this to the Comments section, in response to a question about how Brown is designated as Blair's successor:
Effectively disenfranchised

ColinB06 May 2007 10:16

"Brown succeeds Blair because of that infamous arrangement made over the crème brûlée in Granita shortly after John Smith died.
It's a case of Buggins' turn. I would question whether "Blair was voted as Prime Minister".
In my own Bucks constituency the choice was between voting for the Conservative candidate, who could be a labrador, and would still get elected, and a motley collection of other candidates, none of whom had a hope of winning.
It follows that millions of voters up and down the country have had no way of registering their opinion on Tony Blair 's 10 years reign - except by abstaining or making a protest vote.
If we accept that Britain's PM should be the focus of a personality cult, then surely he or she should be elected directly, comparable to a US President.
Personally, I'd prefer that our PMs were more in the mould of Clement Atlee or Harold MacMillan - guiding discussion within Cabinet, delegating as much as possible to Ministers chosen for more than arse-licking propensities.
In other words the PM should see his/her role as just that : prime amongst ministers, and to foster a collegiate atmosphere at No.10 rather than this present narcissistic Louise XIV gilded sofa-style of government."
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Friday, May 04, 2007

Create your own Costa (Lotza)

This post is one I sent to the pilot MyTelegraph this morning, which is now bedding down nicely.

I will provide a second brief progress report tomorow. It'll probably be the last, since it's reckoned a few more days of testing are all that's needed to expose the remaining bugs.

So, what's this I hear about you folks in Blighty having had the warmest April since records began, way back in 16 something or other?

Who can seriously doubt that global warming is a reality, whatever its causes ?

They now say you can look forward to a long hot summer. Time maybe to start planning that Mediterranean garden ? How about an olive tree as a centre piece ?

Better start saving now. The picture above is from a brochure that came through our door in January. It's from the local garden centre. We live in Antibes, roughly half way between Nice and Cannes.

The distinguishing feature of the Mediterranean climate is not so much its summer heat, as its winter mildness and WETNESS.

Compare that with the Alpine or Continental climates that begin a mere 20 or so miles inland(less in some places), where hard winter frosts will scythe down anything tender in the garden.

But we have had what might be called a winter drought, which had the local gardeners in despair - until, that is, about 48 hours ago.

It has rained solidly most of the night, and continues to do so as I write. We have discovered the downside of having a Velux (hinged skylight) installed in the roof.

It's great for light and ventilation, but acts like a drumskin during a storm, making sleep well-nigh impossible. Oh well, you win some, you lose some......

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Notes from a small-minded island

Bill Bryson confirmed my long-held suspicions today. Beneath that bluff, avuncular exterior is a grumpy, nay angry middle-aged man. That much was clear in the typical chapter of his travel books, when he would detail with loving care all the quirks of the folk he encountered - Americans, Australians, and especially us Brits, who he has taken to his heart.

But you knew what was coming as you neared the end of each chapter.

He'd relate some encounter, say, with a rude or pig-headed checkout assistant, and you knew that an expletive was forming. Bill Bryson in other words, is NOT someone who is "too good to be true". He does NOT have the patience of a saint, and the situations he meets can put him on a short fuse.

So it comes as no surprise to read in this morning's Telly that he's giving up writing to become a kind of Litter Czar. Yes, he loves Britain dearly - its countryside, pubs etc - but is in despair at our growing indifference to litter and fly-tipping. We are fouling up his paradise as well as our own.

Spiritually, I am with him every step of the way. But a word of warning, Bill, if I may be so familiar. Brits can be very severe on anyone who gets too passionate on the subject of litter.

I once knew someone who moved to a new town and was appalled at what he saw in the high street - not just fresh litter, but litter that had lain there for months, got turned into papier maché through several storms, and then congealed around every bit of street furniture. So when the local heritage society asked for volunteers to turn up in the main carpark one Saturday, bringing with them a broom and spade, he willingly volunteered.

Only half a dozen or so turned up, if that, but within an hour the town began to look transformed. It acquired a grace, a dignity, a sparkle, instead of advertising unkemptness and self-neglect.
But then the insults began. "Hello baby face. Why are you doing that then ? Why are you doing the work of a roadsweeper ?", and later " You are SO naive. Can't you see that you are being used to make a political point ? "

Later, one of his work colleagues, no less said, only half in jest, " You know, I'm beginning to have second thoughts about the wisdom of moving to that town of yours. I mean, volunteering to sweep a high street. How naff can you get ?"

You can probably guess who the volunteer was !

Anyway, more power to your elbow, Bill Bryson. You have entertained for years with your books, and charmed us with your quaint anglophilia. But you must know too about our unacceptable face: feting newcomers, turning them into celebrities, filling up column inches, all so we can gleefully knock them down again.

There will be those who will now portray Bill Bryson as someone in the throes of a midlife crisis (indeed, he may be) , who is now revealing himself as a closet Victor Meldrew. There's only one way to counter that: keep your sense of humour, because, believe me, you are going to need it.

Postscript: A short while ago I said on a Telly blog it was high time Bill Bryson was knighted. Back came an email, reminding me of my own description of him as the Thunderbolt Kid from Des Moines. Hadn't I forgotten something, the emailer said, like where Des Moines is ? The implication was clear: I was triply ignorant, in not knowing where Des Moines was, that Bill Bryson was still a US citizen, and that the Queen does not knight non-UK citizens.

And there I was, thinking that Des Moines was London suburb, that Bill Bryson was Yorkshire born and bred, and that it was unthinkable for a non-Brit to be knighted. Bob Geldof (Sir) - an Irishman. Or the philanthropist, now deceased, John Paul Getty Jr.(Sir) who took British citizenship late in life.

You know, there are times when I despair at the tendency of folk to speak first, think later. It tends to bring out my Bill Bryson end-of-chapter mode. Best then to stop at this juncture, me thinks ....
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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Buried under a mountain of junk

My house is filling up with knackered junk, and I'm getting angry and frustrated. Why ? Because most of it is just of out of guarantee, yet fit only for the bin.

There's that fibre mat from India you see in the picture above. It has faded to antique beige, but is still pristine blue on the underside. It wasn't cheap - 44 euros from a national chain. Then there's the reading lamp with halogen bulb for which we had to place an order, hand over 75 euros, and wait 2 weeks for delivery.

It began flickering the other day. When I opened it up I discovered that heat from the bulb has charred the insulation on the wires where , infuriatingly, they are inaccesible . No, it can't be repaired. I've tried tape (yellow in the picture, which does not work); neither is it possible to feed fresh flex through the support, since the base is a sealed unit.
Then there's the dining room set - a table and 4 chairs, made of enamelled steel.

One of the chairs has a broken back, and, as before, is essentially unrepairable. What is more, I passed one just like it recently, sitting forlornly in the local rubbish skip.
There's the rowing machine (see top picture), with a dangerously wobbly seat that does not glide. Thinking I had assembled it incorrectly, I returned to the store to look at the display model. Its seat was even worse than mine.
We have toasters that don't toast evenly, coat hangers with trouser clamps that snap as soon as you open them, click-clack beds in which the wooden slats break first, and then the welds on the steel frame.

Also in the top picture is an ironing board that we inherited from someone else. I gashed my finger on it the other day: the flanges on the underside have vicious sharp edges. But there is no manufacturer's name, no importer's name, no retailer's name. There is no one to whom one can complain. Why not ?
Most, if not all, of the goods I have mentioned are imported from India, China and elsewhere in the Far East. Most are priced to undercut local competitive offerings (assuming those firms haven't yet been forced out of business).
But I know from a recent TV programme that it's our local retailers - like Conforama, Carrefour, Castorama etc - that make a fat margin with huge markups on what they pay. The manufacturers and importers usually operate on pretty slim margins.
The EU presently runs a huge trade deficit with the Far East. I shan't bore you with the figures, but really, I ask you, does it make sense to import goods from so far away if they are shoddy, dangerous and quickly destined for the bin ?
From a website, I see that Chinese consumers are just as fed up with shoddy goods as we are.

Where are you when we need you, EU ? Maybe Peter Mandelson needs to make the EU protectionist for the right reasons - to keep out junk, and to encourage the Chinese and others to raise their standards. That's if they want us to continue buying their goods. But few of us can resist a bargain, can we ?

Update Tue 18:00: email from Louise on Chocs and Cuckoos:

Instead of throwing stuff away, Colin, why not telephone Emaaüs and get them to take away what you don't want. It is a great organisation and they will do their best to restore stuff and resell it or it will be sold for scrap

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