Friday, 17 December 2010

An Englishman abroad

Mrs QO & I leave tomorrow to spend Christmas on Malta with a select band on her side of the family. This will be our third trip to this fascinating Mediterranean island. Everyone who was anyone in the 'invade and colonise' line has been through the place, leaving something behind; it's a fascinating mix of cultures. The Maltese language has Semitic roots, overlaid with much Arabic and Italian influence. The Maltese driver has lunatic roots, overlaid with much Italian influence. The island having been a British Protectorate, the theory is that one drives on the left, but this is honoured more in the breach than th'observance, frankly. Local wisdom is that one drives in the shade wherever possible, and if that disconcerts the oncoming Brit visitor, well, it's nothing personal. Road signs are misleading on the rare occasions they're there at all, roundabouts are just a way of using up concrete, and traffic lights can be out of action for years before repair. Nobody takes much notice of them, you see, so why bother rushing to do something about them?

The Maltese people are friendly and courteous, although two locals can exchange comments about the weather and sound as if a major ruck is about to kick off. The local brewery turns out worthy products, the sea is startlingly blue, the old buildings unearthly beautiful and Grand Harbour by night one of the most breathtaking views anywhere. I fell in love with the whole deal on our first visit, and am very glad to be going back.

Oh, and not to rub your noses in it, but the weather report from Malta this morning was 19 degrees and sunny. If you're feeling a tad jealous, it may help to know that we have to fly from Liverpool at Stupid o'clock on Sunday morning, so will be staying at a Travelodge in Widnes tomorrow night. Trust me, there are no grounds to feel jealous of us on that score...

Packing still remains to be done, so I shall sign off and wish everyone a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


It's Happy Blogiversary to me. Yes, one whole year of drivel smeared across this corner of t'internet. Only I must confess the actual date was yesterday, and I got distracted, faffing about elsewhere online. Oh well. That kind of suits the entire lack of discipline here at the Observatory.

To all those who have visited regularly - thank you very much, and please seek professional help without delay.

To all those who have found themselves here accidentally - hey, guys, that's Google for you. Don't blame me.

To the couple of visitors from the BBC domain who have appeared in the log over the last couple of days - I'm kind of sorry about the dorks reference, but not so sorry as to take it down. But I will if you change up your minds, how's that for a deal?

Monday, 13 December 2010

'Folkwaves' and why the BBC is managed by dorks

A slightly provocative title, yes. But I'm not happy.

For 25 years or so Folkwaves has been broadcast on East Midlands local radio. Its settled spot has been between 7-9pm on Monday nights, and although broadcast from BBC Radio Derby, the local BBC stations in Leicester, Lincoln and Nottingham carry it as well, thus reaching about a fifth of the country in geographic terms. It's also listened to by good numbers over t'internet. Mick Peat and Lester Simpson (above) are well known in this country and abroad as performers and promoters of folk music and are very effective communicators. The show doesn't just play music, it runs a gig guide that helps promote live events, club meetings and festivals.

Other 'specialist music' programmes appear in that slot throughout the week and go out to the whole region: country & western, Celtic, jazz. They too provide local event information, and all these shows are deeply rooted in the Midlands music communities, presented by people who really know what they're talking about.

The news that these shows are to be cancelled at the end of the year has gone down like a pint of milk offered to a Morris dancer. A Facebook page set up to protest the decision has been joined by over 800 in four days and the word is spreading. Many of us have e-mailed or phoned the BBC and some responses have been forthcoming.

The BBC have decided that 'specialist music' is "super-serving fans of a particular genre of music," to quote Simon Cornes, editor at BBC Radio Derby. "We feel it is part of our public service remit to now broadcast more accessible local radio into the evening."

Mr Cornes is, it seems, right on message. His regional boss, Stuart Thomas, had this to say:

"Although specialist music programmes like Folkwaves have been very popular with a loyal core of listeners, we feel that we now need to provide a programme that appeals to a wider number of licence fee payers in the East Midlands, especially as there are no longer any local or regional programmes available on commercial radio in the evenings."

Foxtrot Foxtrot Sierra.

Let's have a look at some of this. Is two hours a week 'super-serving' fans of a particular genre? Of course it bloody well isn't, even before we consider the fact that many of us listen to more than one of these 'specialist' programmes.

'More accessible local radio'. For the life of me, I have no idea what this means. In what way are these shows inaccessible? Do they pose problems for wheelchair users? Are they tricky to listen to if you live more than a mile from the bus-stop? Do they need a warning that people over 6' 5" may bang their heads? Sadly, I suppose we know fine well what the BBC means when it says 'accessible': football or bland playlist-approved muzak hosted by someone who looks up to Alan Partridge.

Moving on: 'we now need to provide a programme that appeals to a wider number of licence fee payers...' Why? You don't have to buy a licence to listen to BBC radio.

'... especially as there are no longer any local or regional programmes available on commercial radio in the evenings'

Yes, and you know why? Because local commercial radio in the evenings was crap. It was bloody awful. It's not too hot during the day, frankly, but the fact that it's died out in the evenings is a blessing and a mercy and a damn good argument for a free market. For the BBC to try and fill this gap with more of the same is analogous to the police getting worried that there are no fatal accidents any more at a particular road junction and going out to grease the tarmac.

I'm going to stop before I write myself into a real tantrum and say something regrettable. However, whether or not you're a folk music fan in the East Midlands, or a jazz fan, or a country & western fan, you may believe in the BBC's role to provide diversity, to strive for quality rather than mediocrity and to serve communities that may not necessarily be defined geographically. If you'd like to contact Stuart Thomas with your thoughts, I'm sure he'd be glad to hear from you:

Stuart Thomas
Head of Regional and Local Programmes
BBC, London Road, Nottingham, NG2 4UU!/stuartthomas

He'll be hearing from me.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

How not to do it


I have a deal of sympathy with those protesting over student fees. But this doesn't help.

The Countryside Alliance put 450,000-odd in the streets of London; they made their point effectively and marched silently past the Cenotaph. I should declare a disinterest at this point: I wasn't on that march, nor am I a CA supporter. But they evidently believed that if you're going to protest about something affecting your country, it's a good thing to observe a little respect for the memory of those who died to preserve for you the freedom to make your protest.

There are some things you don't have to go to university to learn.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Snow balls

There really has been a lot of nonsense talked about this refreshingly cool period we've been enjoying for the last 10 days or so. Some inadequates have complained about not being able to get to work merely because their car is buried in three feet of snow, there's no public transport and they have 20 miles to walk. Pffft, say I. This species would not now exist if we'd been so soft in earlier generations. The backbone has gone from us.

When the weather is like this, Mrs QO and I like nothing better than to turn off the central heating, throw open the windows, and remind ourselves how our ancestors lived. (I haven't specifically conferred with Mrs QO on this point, but I'm sure she would agree.) We relish an opportunity to huddle together for warmth, cooking a simple supper over a candle in a wine bottle, and chipping the frost from each other's eyebrows before going up to break the ice in the bath. This is the life, we say, peering at the computer screen through the freezing fog swirling around the house. We're honing our survival skills and toughening ourselves up to face whatever global warming can throw at us. Who cares about the Gulf Stream? Nasty foreign thing, we're fine by ourselves, thanks.

Yes indeed. Well, as I say, we like nothing better than all that, but tragically we have not been able to make such good advantage of the current climate. It seems that Mrs QO's bread will not rise, nor will my homebrew ferment, unless we keep the windows firmly closed and the heating on all day.

Ah well. We can't always have what we want.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The green belt doesn't go Red

Mixed feelings here at the Observatory about the failed World Cup bid. I'd have liked to see some of the matches take place in Nottingham, given the economic boost that would have resulted. But I will declare myself a NIMBY and say that I'm relieved that plans for a new stadium at Gamston now seem to be completely nixed.

Yes, I know, Gamston is a pretty tedious upper middle-class dormitory suburb that was Green Belt, and I remember it when it was green rather than BMW and Mercedes chic. The sins of the fathers... The remaining countryside between West Bridgford and Radcliffe isn't, perhaps, particularly beautiful, but it is a valuable wildlife haven and I walk the old footpaths around there several times a year. If a stadium were to be built there, the inevitable 'in fill' would take place and it wouldn't be long before there was no open land between the city and Radcliffe. I could accept that, provided that we'd made the most of the city itself, but there's an awful lot to do before we could say that we had. The Broadmarsh development seems to be stalled; the bold plans for the Eastside, for the north bank of the river between Trent Bridge and Colwick and for the old Boots site are all yet to make progress. It seems madness to me to take the easy option of developing greenfield sites outside the city while leaving scruffy, semi-derelict sites inside the town untouched.

Of course those inner-city sites have all sorts of problems attached, particularly the contamination at the old Boots site. That's why, after all the buildings were taken down several years ago, it's remained an open space, notable only for weeds. We will literally have to grasp the nettle, though, if this city is to be really proud of itself. It will take much longer, granted, but meaningful achievements do take time. Building a new stadium at Gamston as things stand would have been much like putting a daisy near a cowpat and saying everything was lovely.

Last comment. I'm sure the proposed stadium would have looked impressive if built. But if this was what was presented to FIFA (without a suitably large 'honorarium'), I'm not at all surprised the bid sank without trace. Crass or what?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Social networking

I've neglected the blog lately, yes. My second ever blog post dealt with my hesitation to get involved with online interaction again, but a few weeks ago - while under the influence, I freely admit - I found myself signing up on Facebook in my 'real' name. I'm here to admit to its addictive aspect.

My working life started in an old-fashioned printing factory. When I say, 'old-fashioned', I mean that we cast lead type there. Fresh from college, I was tasked with dragging the place over to photo-lithography. Not many years later, we were dragging the place over to fully electronic systems and buying Macs as if they were going out of fashion. But even with the most modern methods of putting ink on paper, there's a real lag between composition of text and pictures, and seeing the end result in its published form.

Not so with the internet and digital photography. Seconds after your first draft, there's your material up there, visible to a bazillion people. How cool is that? And it fits so well with our age of instant gratification - something for which I'm an unashamed advocate. Life is so pitifully short, let's have our fun quickly, while it's warm.

Blogging has been great fun, and I have no intention of stopping. (That may or may not be good news for some readers. Howsomever.) Facebook, though, has the extra appeal of remaking links with old friends. I know some will say - as I have myself - that real friends are the ones you stay in touch with in real life, and you don't need to be arsing about on Facebook or MySpace or whatever. I wouldn't argue. But there's a range of people that are, let's say, more than just casual acquaintances, if not so close that you meet regularly. The sort of people you'd enjoy bumping into at the local, even if you seldom if ever take back for dinner and to stay the night. (For any reason.) Most of us have friends in that category, I think, and Facebook can have something of the 'virtual pub' about it at its best - casual comments and brief touches of contact which leave you feeling part of a community of sorts even if you're separated by many miles.

Now, I will say straight away that I'd rather be down the local getting this sort of social interaction, but my liver won't take it.

I've also decoded the real appeal of Facebook. It's like inviting all these old friends and acquaintances round to your house, and while they're having a chat amongst themselves, you excuse yourself, saying you're going out for a fag or something, and you nip round to one of your friends' house and surreptitiously look through their address book and their photo album. "Ooo-er, he's put on weight... blimey, she used to be blonde... that's never their child, surely?"

And once you've had that pleasure, you look up one of their friends - someone you don't know from Adam - and trot off to their house, and do the same there. Now really, is this not enormous fun?

Mind you, at some point, it will occur to you that the friends you invited round are busy going through your address book and your photo album, and making equally rude comments.

Fair enough. Facebook makes voyeurs of us all. Which takes us back to the 'On watching and being watched' post a couple down, in a way.

And now, if you'll excuse me, someone's just commented on a photo I posted to my album. I must go and see who they're friends with at the moment.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The price of freedom

My business in London concluded, I stepped into a pub near Euston for a drop of lunch before getting a train. Spotting a handpump offering Thwaites 'Liberation', a beer I'm fond of, I thought that would be the perfect choice to celebrate the long-awaited release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

"Three thirty-two," said the pretty child behind the bar.

"Why, thank you for the reminder," said I, "but my train is actually at three fifteen."

"No, ze drink, iz three thirty-two."

I believe I lost consciousness for a moment, but a steely inner core kept me upright, albeit not exactly perpendicular.

"Young lady. I require one pint, not a lifetime supply."

She shrugged. "Iz three thirty-two."

See, this is where being English is such a pain in the arse. A Frenchman would start shouting and waving his arms... would probably still be shouting and waving his arms... while a Scot would simply turn round and walk out. But Mr English can't abide being thought of as poor, provincial, or just plain stingy. Most of the English are all three, of course, and I certainly am myself, but one hates to make it obvious.

Now, I do have quite a lot of Welsh in me, and I dare say that if an impi of Zulu warriors had appeared I might have managed a chorus of Men of Harlech, but I was brought up in Lincoln. Enough said.

And I suppose the waif behind the bar wasn't directly responsible for the grasping avarice of her employer. She was trying to better her life through hard work, and who can fault her there; I couldn't quite place her accent, but she was clearly from one of those benighted outposts of humanity like Tirana or Rotherham. Enough misery for one lifetime, I thought, so I let her live and contented myself with the usual petty revenges: handing over the disgustingly tatty and greasy five-pound note kept in the quarantine section of the wallet for just such purposes. And, naturally, pointedly not taking the empty glass back to the bar.

While drinking I got on the Blackberry and e-mailed the Burmese Embassy to say that I was delighted they'd let her go, but if they do bang her up again, could they keep her in this time, as I couldn't afford this twice in a lifetime.

I'm only joking. I could afford it again, but it would still hurt, even though Liberation is a quite splendid ale, and good to see it so far from its Blackburn home.
Going back some years, Thwaites was one of those brewers whose beers didn't travel over well and on the odd occasions you saw it out of its own territory, it was probably not worth trying. Theakstons out of Yorkshire and Castle Eden out of County Durham were the same. But I can report, happily, that the Liberation was drinking well in London this afternoon.

Oh, and for the avoidance of doubt, Aung San Suu Kyi is a hero of mine and I'm delighted to see her at liberty.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Monday, 8 November 2010

On watching and being watched

There I was, just sitting having a quiet pint at a city pub, when I realised I was being watched. Now they're being watched, potentially by the bazillions of people who visit this blog daily. Well, I say 'bazillions', in terms of regulars it's actually two or three, but they're very welcome and much valued.

That said, my traffic has recently much increased. It would seem that since I rather innocently used a picture of Jean-Luc Picard looking pained in this post, our friends at Google have stuck it up at about number five in the images list if you Google for 'Picard'. Well, who'd have thought, eh? I can only apologise to my visitors from Russia, the USA, Australia, Germany and... er... Wales... who were suddenly transported here under false pretences. That's what comes, though, of Google watching everything. And, of course, you watching Google and asking it questions.

Note from the above that I'm watching who's watching me. Check out the 'sitemeter' button at the bottom of the page. Some hide it; I prefer to leave it visible, so people can see, if they wish, what sort of trace they leave behind when they visit.

On the news this afternoon was an item about the Guvmint quietly going ahead with trying to get ISPs to record all sorts of communications, including blog visits and posts, who you contact on Facebook, all that kind of thing. Despite their fine words about wanting to reduce the power and presence of the State, they are now being housetrained by their officials in the Civil Service and various other state agencies. As we knew fine well they would once they'd been sat down and talked at by the men in grey suits for a while. Here's a prediction: it won't be very long before some new legislation tries to enforce this, with our Glorious Leaders banging on about 'The first duty of a Guvmint is to protect its citizens, and we can only do that by knowing every last fucking thing about you, who you talk to, whose pictures you look at, and where you drink beer. Oh, and by the way, we noticed you having that extra pint.' Or words to that effect...

Some say you have nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide. To which my invariable answer is: 'Well, give me all the curtains and blinds in your house for a month, then talk to me again'.

That's it, rant over, and I hope you notice I didn't even mention Eric Blair. Who, you say? Google him. If you dare.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Fuel economy

Having spent much of the weekend blamelessly clocking up pedestrian miles and less blamelessly dropping into licensed premises for beer, I thought I'd see what sort of economy I'm getting. A moment with the calculator reveals a figure of 10.9 miles per gallon.

Now that's not great. Even my old Jag XJS, with its 5.3 litres of V12 thirst, managed better than that.

And let's not even mention my emissions. Suffice to say Mrs QO has views and I fear a thorough service may be in order before long.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Travel broadens the mind

The getting of wisdom often involves a journey. Consider Paul of Tarsus, for example. There he was, just rockin' down to Damascus and woah... Mr Toad, to cite a more amphibious instance, realised after his epic voyage across the byways of Old England that when it comes to choosing your friends, mustelids aren't the way to go. Apart from badgers, obviously. After bimbling down the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy realised she wasn't in Kansas any more, and serendipitously set up a lucrative future for Elton John. On the Road was the novel of its time, and the fact that nobody you've ever met can remember Jack about it tells you something about its time. (See what I did there? Heh.) Finally, and surely most tellingly, in one of the most profoundly moving ouevres of our times, it was after this road trip:

that Boon finally realised he loved Katy. Ah, bless. So young, so fair.... Anyway, I'm sure you have your own examples, and mayhap you too have had a change of state associated with a journey of some kind. I thought I'd share with you my latest revelation. The day being fine, and the Aged But Aggravatingly Fit Parent having suggested a walk, I set out in his company to tread the canal towpath to the fair realm of Beestonia. A pleasant seven miles of manic cyclists and shy moorhens brought us to our destination, where two important truths were - by whatever agency best suits your belief-structure - vouchsafed unto me.

Firstly, the Crown is a pub well worth visiting. Crawl there on bleeding stumps if you have to, but go.

Secondly, and on a less worldly plane, I realised that just for once I was prepared to make a leap of faith, demanding no evidence and casting aside petty empiricism.

Yes. I saw his face. Now I'm a believer.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

He shoots, he scores... every so often

I'm not a big football fan. I keep tabs on how County & Forest are doing, if only to help predict whether there's a chance of getting a quiet pint in any pub within a mile of the grounds on a Saturday during the season. But it's not something I'm passionate about. The football, that is. I'm quite passionate about the pint.

But moving on. The lunacy of the economics of football can be quite interesting for a dispassionate Observer. I read today that the young Wayne Rooney has had a terribly hard time negotiating his new contract and has had to go on holiday to Dubai to recover. Poor lad.

I've seen his new weekly pay quoted between £150,000 and £200,000. I do hope Wayne knows which. I mean, at the lower rate you've only got a bit over £21,000 odd a day coming in, and if you were counting on £28,500 plus, you could easily buy a couple of extra pork pies and find yourself short. Or, as Wayne and Coleen are allegedly doing in Dubai, going a bit over-budget by spending £25 on a portion of chicken nuggets and chips or £300 for a Chinese meal.

I'm not having a go at Wayne & Coleen here. I might quietly regret that with that much money they can't find anything more imaginative to do than go to one of the most expensive hotels in the world to do no more than lounge in warm water and eat Chinese. You know what? I can do that at home for a shedload less than £300 - unless I go really overboard on the warm water - and I don't have to pay two grand a night for accommodation on top. I grant you I don't get as much sunshine or waiter service, even when Mrs QO is at her most helpful. But hey, it's their money, not provided by the taxpayer, so good luck to them.

What bemuses me is that he's deemed to be worth that kind of money by his employers. I looked up his career stats. Now as I said earlier, I'm no football fan, so perhaps I'm missing something. But as far as I can see, his overall career stats suggest that he scores one goal in every three matches he plays in. As far as his League performances go, it's a tad better at one goal every two and a half games or so. Does that strike rate warrant a contract worth £10 million (ish) a year? For context, as I read their accounts, Man U carry debt of half a billion pounds. Does that all add up? Comments from anyone wiser in the world of football would be very welcome.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Good times in town - 2

"You know, QO," said my mother-in-law after reading through my blog over breakfast one day, "the way you go on about it, people could get the impression you're always drinking." I laughed so much I nearly spilled my wine. Surely people couldn't jump to conclusions like that? Not my readers, at any rate. No, I won't even countenance the idea.

Anyway, this weekend was the Robin Hood beer festival. Organised by the local branch of CAMRA, this was the third year it's been held at the Castle, and a splendid venue it is too.

Many of us remember with a certain fondness the rather functional surroundings of the Victoria Baths, where the festival was held for donkeys' years, and how the ramp between canteen and main hall could surprise you and have your mushy peas down your front if you weren't careful. But there's no doubt the Castle is a delightful place to hold the event, and it's given it a real boost. Nottingham has responded with great enthusiasm and great capacity for the ever-increasing volume of beer provided by the good peeps at CAMRA. They're saying that the festival brought together more different beers than anywhere else has managed, which is a real achievement. I saw a figure of over 70,000 pints quoted in the media for last year's consumption, and the festival ran out of beer. So they doubled the beer order for this year. And they ran out of beer. I understand they got through to the end of Saturday night but had only 30 casks still running.

Beer festivals have come quite a long way since I started attending them in around 1980 or so. Lots more women come along, some of them even beardless, and lots of younger people too. I grant you that there's still a certain relaxed informality, shall we say, about the whole affair, and the merchandise on offer probably wouldn't sell huge quantities at Henley.

The festival is a credit to Nottingham CAMRA and indeed to the city in a wider sense; it's starting to appear on the beer enthusiasts' radar and bringing visitors in from quite a way away. It's also true that the ever-increasing reputation of the Castle Rock brewery and its excellent pubs is a draw for both locals and visitors. Their Harvest Pale was named Champion Beer of Britain at this year's Great British Beer Festival (the Big Daddy of UK beer fests) and given the standard of competition, that's a real achievement.

Having attempted to go to the Sunday afternoon festival session, only to find it was cancelled, we sat in the sunshine outside the Canal House and sipped some Castle Rock beer. Chatting to a friend who's also made a study of Nottingham beer for many years, we thought back to the days when Shipstones, Home and Mansfield dominated the pubs in town. They've all gone, of course, which is sad in one way. But the increasing number of excellent local microbreweries has meant a great deal more variety and, I venture to say, much higher quality for the local beer drinker.

I was going to put up this post yesterday but for some reason my six and a half hours at the beerfest on Saturday, plus the Sunday afternoon coda, left me a little distracted, and it's taken till now to gather my thoughts. I'm sure you'll understand.

Good times in town - 1

Now that's the best offer I had during my trip to Goose Fair.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Now westlin' winds...

... and slaughterin' guns, bring autumn's pleasant weather, according to Robert Burns. I didn't hear any guns this afternoon but a walk along the Trent and the Grantham Canal certainly provided very pleasant, bright and breezy weather. A glorious afternoon for a few miles along the waterways, in fact, although as ever at this time of year there's a tinge of melancholy at the year's turning. The trees are never so beautiful as when they are on the verge of becoming bare for the winter.

A slightly whimsical train of thought entered my head as I walked along the canal. A day or so ago I was praising the plan to invest heavily in new transport infrastructure for Nottingham - a forward-looking and bold investment in the future. Such was the Grantham Canal in its day - the end of the 18th century. Nearly £120,000 was spent - a very significant sum and one which stretched investors to the limit. However, once opened, the canal provided the fastest way to move goods and people between Nottingham and Grantham and it was a success. For a time.

The autumn of the canal's life was marked by the new-fangled railway, and indeed by 1845 the canal was owned by a railway company. Unsurprisingly, it fell into decline through neglect, and traffic stopped in the 1920s.

Over recent years, a lot of work has been done to make the canal an amenity for walkers and cyclists and a haven for wildlife. There's another post waiting in the wings to do with the short-sighted stupidity which very recently has probably put paid to the dream of re-opening the canal to water traffic, but that's for another day. Today the canal is sleepy, beautiful in a restrained way, and still an asset to the counties it passes through.

But not the asset its creators envisaged. I wonder how our descendants in 200 years' time will view the investments we're making now?

I'll leave you with that thought, and with the song referenced at the start of the post. One of my all-time favourites, performed by the mighty - and evergreen - Dick Gaughan.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Some things are too tempting to be resisted

But quite apart from my views on red wine, strong coffee and Tabasco, the big temptation for headline writers today has been how to flag up the story that Nottingham railway station is in line for a major refurb without writing "Full steam ahead..."

A couple of artist's impressions. Let's hope the architects are a bit more inspired...

All quite nice, yes, but good value for £60 million? Well, we'll have to see. I'm right behind the development of the station as the public transport hub for the city, I should say, being an enthusiast for getting cars out of the city. Cities are for people, not for cars, and one of the best things about how Nottingham has changed over the nigh-on 40 years I've been wandering around the city has been the steady increase in pedestrian zones. For more on a similar theme, see fellow blogger Alan-a-Dale's story here.

I read that part of the plan for the railway station is a 950-space carpark. A better solution to my mind would be to increase the amount of space dedicated to new retail space and 'public realm' around the site, and encourage people from outside the city to leave their cars at the various park & ride sites on the outskirts - and hopefully that would include the proposed new park & ride at Clifton as part of the tram extension. Let's hope that the funding for that can somehow be ring-fenced.

A promising sign in that regard was today's other big public transport announcement: that the Government want to go ahead with HS2, the high speed rail link between London and the north. The favoured plan is a line from London to Birmingham with two lines then going off to link up with the west and east coast mainlines at Manchester and Leeds respectively. The latter would run through the East Midlands; it would be nice to think it went through our new station, but I suspect it's more likely to be a new station serving the whole region.

Good news, then, and it's encouraging to see capital investment still possible in the age of austerity. While we're at it, could we puh-leeeze make sure any new trains are electric? As we contemplate the run-down of fossil fuels, it's plain embarrassing to be travelling to and from London in diesels.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Not permitted

Good news reaches the Observatory this afternoon: the proposed residents parking scheme has been scrapped in the face of widespread protest from the neighbourhood. I gather over 90% of residents who responded to the proposal consultation were against, and the County Council will not be pursuing the idea.

Excellent. A complex and expensive solution to a non-existent problem will now not be imposed on people who don't want it.

To celebrate, here's a pic of a part of the area you wouldn't park on anyway.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

What is a fair price?

Warning: more nerdish stuff follows...

Further to the previous post, I've spent more time working on this new Mac getting it to the point where I can actually produce some chargeable work on it, as opposed to just having fun in iTunes and Skype. I must admit I'd taken my eye off the ball in terms of developments in Mac hardware and Adobe software, and it's become sadly evident that I can't install my old copies of Photoshop and Acrobat on the new machine. They plain won't run, no matter what. End of.

OK, both are still available on my old Mac and indeed on the old Powerbook. But it's far more convenient to have everything you need on one machine, isn't it? So let's have a look at whether we can have a word with those nice people at Adobe and upgrade the software.

A few hours are now spent browsing the Adobe store website and various user forums.

OK, forget that. Maybe, as far as Acrobat goes, if I can persuade Adobe to allow a cross-platform upgrade. Yuh-huh, like that's going to be so easy. Given that I'm approaching 50, I haven't got the time left to call Adobe and go through the necessary routine to upgrade my PC version of Acro 6 to Acro 9 for Mac. It could take years and cost thousands of lives. No, we are looking at buying the latest versions. Fair enough, let's see what they cost these days.

Baise-moi. Now, I can remember the days when Adobe were every graphics pro's favourite as they were hungry for business, very cost-effective and much more user-friendly than those psychotic bastards at Quark. Those days would appear to have gone. The full version of Photoshop is around the £600 mark and the full Acrobat is over £500. Jeez.

I think I'll muddle along as best I can using my old machines. And investigate alternatives to Adobe software. For example, Photoshop is acknowledged to be the best photo manipulation software, but how about Gimp?

Having tinkered with this for a couple of hours, it would appear to do everything I need except that it doesn't handle CMYK colourspace. Well, that doesn't matter as much as it did a few years ago. In terms of everything else I regularly do in Photoshop, it's got it sorted. And guess how much it costs? Zip. Nada. It's free. Go read about it here if you're interested.

As for Acrobat, well, Quark's pdf export function is much more sophisticated than it used to be, and at first sight the new version I've got appears to be up to what I will need. If I get pdfs in from clients that need some work, I'll tinker with them on the PC - or send them back to the client with a politely rude note - until such time as the open source community sorts that out as well. The days when you had to spend vast sums of money on software may be drawing to a close. For example, instead of Micro$oft Office, why not try OpenOffice? I can thoroughly recommend it. Yes, it takes a little while to get used to, but then so did MS Office the first time you saw it, and OpenOffice is free too. You know it makes sense.

Right, no more techie nerdspeak for a while, I promise. We return you now to the usual mix of facile commentary and sweeping generalisation. It's what I do best.

Friday, 24 September 2010


Now, I've been using technology long enough not to get unduly moist at every new gadget that comes along. I must admit, though, that today's arrival has been very gratifying.

Pretty, isn't she? The new iMac 3.06Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4gig RAM, wireless keyboard and mouse. No tower, everything is packed into the 21.5 inch screen housing. It's all sexy as hell, to be honest. Ooooh, Matron, come and see my new computer...

It was - of course - strictly a business decision. For nigh on seven years I've been meeting clients' needs with a trusty old workhorse of a G4 dual processor, stable as you'd like, never a moment's problem. However, the clients are all starting to get uppity and wanting to upgrade, and if that's the way the business is going, I have to follow. So the new machine was but part of the investment - upgrading of software doesn't come cheap, I can tell you. Fortunately certain monies have been put aside over the years for this moment, so it's been do-able if painful.

I have spent most of the day installing and configuring software, and have several niggles to sort out. And some major bloody aggravations too. Getting Quark and associated graphic and font software up, running and fit for purpose is not the most trivial of tasks. But no matter, doubtless solutions will emerge. Since, however, it's Friday night, I'm not going to do anything further that might be remotely useful, and will goof off by surfing aimlessly and enjoying this ludicrously large screen.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

In the north country

The weekend was taken up by a frustratingly short visit to Mrs QO's esteemed parental units in the high north-west of England. This part of the country is stunningly beautiful, yet rather quiet - so many only make it as far as the Lake District, or stay on the motorway and pass by up into Scotland. The opening up of the Hadrian's Wall walk is bringing a few more people in but thankfully it's not on the mass-tourism trail, and long may that be so.

Some say the north starts at the Trent; some think of the South Yorkshire border as more like it. To my mind - having spent three years up in County Durham and 30 years visiting Cumbria - the north starts at Scotch Corner. Take a left onto the A66 and head up and over the moors...

I've enjoyed driving this road for a quarter-century or so. It's been considerably improved in that time, but not yet completely tamed - they're difficult to see in this pic, but there are still striped poles up by the side of the road to show how deep the snow is. And, of course, where the edge of the road is. This is valuable information, given the rocky drops on either side. This road still bites back in winter.

Having safely reached Penrith, we turn north again on the M6 and half an hour sees us at journey's end. Around here are sights like these.

Thanks to Backpacking in Britain for this one.

Mrs QO's brother and his family live up here. The views more than make up for the lack of mains water, I think. They get red squirrels on the bird-table...

I'm very fond of Nottingham, and we have some quietly beautiful scenery in the county. But if I didn't have to get to London so regularly, I'd really think seriously about being up in the true north for more than a few snatched weekends here and there.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Seasonal adjustment

Well, that's it for the summer's festivals. The camping kit is stacked in the hallway, waiting for a spare day to do the fettling that should be done before it's all carefully stowed away (OK, brutally and carelessly shoved) into the attic. The central heating has been on. Sweaters are being retrieved from drawers and previously undetected moths being sworn at in foul and intemperate terms. The Stoats Brewery is contemplating putting a winter ale on. Conkers are all over the pavements. No more this year shall we enjoy this sight:

I don't indulge myself, you understand, but you have to admire a pastime which combines fine old English tradition, healthy outdoors exercise, and so much beer. Well, OK then, my libertarian streak admits that you don't have to admire it, but I think you should. Just saying.

So we stand at the threshold of autumn. In fact, the chilly nights in the tent last weekend made us feel as if we were well over the threshold, but as I'm fond of saying: 'It'll get a lot colder yet.' (This saying drives Mrs QO up the wall, for some reason, which obviously enhances its worth as far as I'm concerned.) But I like autumn for all sorts of reasons. The Robin Hood beer festival will soon be upon us, for one thing. Last year's was excellent and Super-Disreputable Friend and his appalling wife will be beating our door down again demanding a bed for the night to sleep off the excess. Autumn's months give much better walking weather than sultry high summer, the rowan tree across the road will be a fiery riot of red, copper and bronze before long, and the bloody wasps are turning their little toes up. The child in me looks forward to Christmas; the blogger in me wonders if I can remember where I got the falling snowflake gadget I loaded on last year. Sod the salads, let's get a slow-cooked casserole on. Hearty food that sticks to the ribs is required.

And Strictly's back. Last year we were utterly determined not to get hooked on this trashy, superficial nonsense. What a waste of time and energy, we said, surely there's something better on BBC2, something enriching about Etruscan pottery?

Further this deponent sayeth not. It is for you, members of the jury, to form your own judgement.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Light and shade

Noise and silence. Movement and stillness. Drinking and sleep. We humans need contrast, some measure of daily chiaroscuro, to keep us alive and alert. Knowing this, I don't overly resent having to leave the quiet tranquility of my study to travel down to London from time to time. It can be all bustle and business, scampering to keep to time and being hassled by surly train staff, free newspaper distributors and scallies after some change, but the experienced traveller will so arrange his or her affairs as to leave some interludes during which the spiritual batteries can be recharged.

Exempli gratia, this delightfully peaceful scene was photographed this afternoon, not a minute's walk away from the junction of Euston Road and Tottenham Court Road. Tucked away behind vertiginous glass-walled financiers' offices, one can sit with a good pint of Young's, hear virtually none of the traffic and enjoy the sight of a mature horse chestnut surrounded by rowans. How nice is that? Oh, and in case you were wondering, it's the offices that are vertiginous and glass-walled, not the financiers. Some of them are pretty tall, admittedly. The financiers, some of them are tall. Anyway, moving on.

Meandering back to St Pancras - as a Nottingham Observer must if keen to get home - the ants-nest hecticity of the Euston area can be mitigated by a couple of minutes walk down one of the sidestreets to the Somerstown Coffee House. Now coffee is available here, and good coffee at that, but pour moi the attraction of this place is that it's run by French types. They know about good food and wine, and seem to be pretty well up to speed on English beer, too. Charles Wells Bombardier and Eagle IPA are well kept here.

It's a very pleasant place to pass an hour before the train home. Or two hours, if you've been sensible enough to arrange things that way. The only trouble is that one can get so settled that the train home may not be the one you originally intended.

And once safely back in the old home town, another good way of winding down from the buzz of the capital is to walk along the river and back home across the Hook in the late evening sunshine - although as you can see the shadows are already pretty long at 6.30 at this time of year. I might also point out that the Hook is actually level, but your photographer had perhaps been a little too tranquil in the places of rest mentioned above. You won't be able to see her clearly, but somewhere in the pixellated foliage is Mrs QO, foraging for blackberries and elderberries. She has a cunning plan for the fruits of the field thus garnered, of which more anon, perhaps.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

It's not often I do this...

'This' being passing on stuff that arrives in my inbox, but my darkly exquisite sister-in-law sent something to me today that - particularly being short of blogspiration at the moment - I thought I'd share with y'all. OK, it's a bit trite, but it appealed to my old-fashioned values. Such as they are...

An Obituary printed in The Times
Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:

- Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
- Why the early bird gets the worm;
- Life isn't always fair; and
- Maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge). His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a six-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust, by his wife, Discretion, by his daughter, Responsibility, and by his son, Reason.

He is survived by his four stepbrothers:

I Know My Rights
I Want It Now
Someone Else Is To Blame
I'm A Victim

Not many attended his funeral because so few realised he was gone.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Must do better, chaps

Headline from the Evening Post:

Notts Police still missing targets for house burglaries

I find that quite reassuring really. It's bad enough having burglars doing house burglaries without the police joining in.

And with that thought, farewell for another few days, as Mrs QO and I depart to another folk festival. Yes, Super-Disreputable Friend will be there, so there will be much crass and regrettable behaviour, too much drinking, probably a deal of mud and some blurry mornings. Still, nothing that a bacon buttie won't solve.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Some odd decisions

Superintendent Helen Chamberlain of Nottinghamshire Police (the cool blonde pictured left) was clocked by a fellow officer allegedly doing 79mph on the Epperstone bypass. Story here.

She has pleaded not guilty on the basis that she challenges the accuracy of the speed-gun, and the quality of the signage on the road. Her solicitor has also mentioned the decision to review the case after the event. The story is made more intriguing by the fact that the officer who clocked her and stopped her at the time felt able to deal it with by way of a caution, but an unnamed senior officer disagreed with this, and asked the Crown Prosecution Service to review the decision. They duly charged.

Doing nearly 30mph over the speed limit should see you summonsed to court. At the very least a fixed penalty should have been issued. So there's a questionable decision. But what I find most surprising is that she's now going to run a technical defence - something that frustrates the police when civilian punters try it on. She must surely have known she was driving over the limit. Even if the signage wasn't up to scratch (though I've driven that road plenty of times and have never been in any doubt it's a 50 limit), the limit on two-lane roads is only ever 60 at maximum. Unless the speed-gun was hopelessly inaccurate, it's hard to accept that a competent driver would not have been aware of going over the odds. And we note that there's no suggestion she disputed the roadside caution at the time.

Man up, Superintendent (if you'll pardon the expression, ma'am) and hold your hand up. The honest course of action would have been to enter a guilty plea but then argue that the speed wasn't as high as charged. "OK, I done it, but I didn't do it as bad as what they say", sort of thing. The court would then tailor its sentence depending on the outcome of a 'Newton' hearing to decide whether or not the alleged speed was correct. That would have been fair enough, albeit that a senior police officer would effectively be establishing her own force's technical incompetence, but as things stand it leaves a rather unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Let's see if some beer will help.

Permit me...

... to apologise (again) for the lack of activity hereabouts. Busy times continue: more enjoyable social engagements and a bit of a work crisis brought on by too much laziness a few weeks ago and a batch of long weekends. And more of the same in the pipeline. Ah well, I hate being bored.

Now, talking of 'permits', one subject on our minds here in Lady Bay is the proposed residents' parking scheme. The County Council sent through some proposals, claiming that in an earlier survey the majority of residents were in favour. I don't recall that earlier survey, and I think I would have, but let that pass. At any rate, they want to bring parking restrictions, Monday to Saturday, 8am to 8pm, with only those cars showing residents' or visitors' permits allowed to park in the parts of our suburban village concerned.

I've lived here for nigh on 20 years, I work from home, and wander round to the shops or the Post Office (or, indeed, the pub) most days, so I venture to suggest that I'm better acquainted with the general state of things than the wonks up at County Hall. Apart from match days - and with all due respect to the Magpies, we only really mean Forest match days - there is no significant parking problem. Everyone round here knows that every other Saturday during the football season, it will be a bit chaotic. But neighbourly arrangements are made; next door knows that if the road is full, they can block in our car, because we know where they live, and they know that if they don't move their car when things have quietened down, then I will torch it, dance up and down outside their window screaming, and stuff the burning remains of their car through their letterbox. Fair enough, everyone happy.

During the week, no problem at all. The Council say that during the week, too many cars from "nearby office workers" use the area. The only "nearby offices" of any size whatsoever are the Council's own offices at Trent Bridge House and County Hall.

To solve this barely-existing problem, which the Council itself is responsible for (to the extent it's a problem at all, which it isn't, and anyway they seem to be getting ready to sack nearly everyone they employ) the Council proposal is that every household (it's not clear what they mean to do about the many multi-tenanted properties hereabouts) will be eligible for a resident's permit, at the cost of £25.

[We interrupt this tirade to award the previous sentence the Worst Sentence Ever Written in a Blog Award. Tickets for the awards ceremony available from all good alcohol rehabilitation clinics.]

Should you be such a social gadabout as to invite a visitor who needs a car to get there, or should you wish a tradesman to be able to park his van outside to work on your house, you will have to purchase a visitor's permit, also at £25. Both kinds of permits will be £25 each year, naturally. If you lose one, or need a new one as you've changed your car, or if a visitor or tradesman forgetfully goes off with yours, it will be... you guessed it... another £25. Ker-ching!

One fellow whinger has worked out that the income for the Council will be of the order of £50,000 per year. Obviously there would be legitimate start-up costs - we'd have to have all kinds of signage, lines painted on the roads, etc etc (all good reasons in themselves to object) but would it amount to £50,000? Would it buggery. And every year after that, it would just be a nice little earner for the Council - and doubtless on top of that there would be goodly revenues from parking infringements.

We are not happy. Mrs QO and I have registered our complaint, and conversations with other local malcontents suggests that a fair number of others have too. We wait to see the outcome.

Well, that was cathartic. If you've read all the way to the end, I thank you for your patience, and reward you with a glimpse of some superb parking technique.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Lo, my children...

... I am come among you once again. I am sorely conscious of the hiatus or lacuna in my postings over the last week or ten days, but the salve is helping nicely, thanks so much, and I can therefore turn with refreshed intellectual vigour to providing the Observations without which your lives are bereft and hollow, as I'm sure you'd agree if you were sufficiently self-aware.

Life has been full of late. Various friends have invited themselves to stay, and you will doubtless appreciate that anyone calling themselves our friends will require more than the usual provision of food and drink. Especially drink, yes. I am palsied and trembling with the effort of heaving beer, wine and spirits up from the dank cellars of the Observatory to the habitable levels, while the good Mrs QO has been slaving away in the shambles and at the firepit to keep sufficient baked meats arriving at the humble board.

Over and above our self-sacrificing hospitality, we have jointly and severally created a 'princess dress' for a miniature person of our acquaintance, delivered a couple of guitar lessons, baked a birthday cake for the abovesaid miniature person, attended the party at which the cake was presented (I was strictly forbidden to drink or smoke in the presence of the younglings so sat in sullen silence throughout), Quarked a monthly magazine, brewed some ten gallons of beer, visited the excellent Riverside Festival:

and have also done a little breathing and sleeping. And this is meant to be the quiet time of the year...

But this is all good. Some of it was even lucrative, if only just. Catching up with friends is important, and so easily left out of life's hectic schedule if you're not careful.

OK, you'll have gathered by now that I don't have anything of real value to say, but I thought I'd just check in so you know I'm still alive. I know you were worried, bless you.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

How camping works

Following on from our previous instalment, I thought it might be helpful for those who aren't experienced campers - or, indeed, folk festival attendees - to sit at the feet of the master and glean some scraps of wisdom. Mrs QO and I have refined the process over many years and although I cannot pass on certain of the higher arcana in this public forum, it may help the novitiate to have a few discreet pointers.

Packing the car
QO: "Is your bag ready to go? Because it has to go in the middle of the back seat and that's where I'm up to."
Mrs QO: "Nearly, dear. Now, what do you want in your sandwiches?"
QO: "What? Oh... er... ham and mustard, please."
Mrs QO: "We've got some cheese, you know."
QO: "Yes, I know. But you know I always have ham and mustard."
Mrs QO: "If we have ham, yes."
QO: "Erm... yes, so about your bag... because if I can't pack your bag, I can't pack the bedding."
Mrs QO: "Why ever not? The bedding's all ready."
QO: "Yeah, but... the bedding always goes on your bag. You know what? I'll finish the sandwiches if you finish packing your bag."
Mrs QO: "Oh, you can take it if you like. I'll put the other stuff in a carrier bag."
QO: "You're taking two bags? Oh, for... how the hell can I pack the car properly if you take two bags? You never take two bags, we haven't allowed for two bags... I might have to move the washing-up bowl... but that would mean the inner tent going in the boot... and then... oh, God, we'll never get there..."
Mrs QO: "Oh, look... we've run out of mustard. Ooops."

Pitching the tent
QO: "OK, we'll drive round the campsite three or four times just to make sure of getting the right pitch."
Mrs QO: "That's fine, dear. Let me out here, would you? Oh, and pop the tailgate..."
QO: "Let's see. I have my compass here... OK, so that's north. The Met Office say prevailing wind for the weekend will be nor-nor-west, and obviously we want the back of the tent towards the wind."
Mrs QO hums a snatch of Aida to herself as she empties the tent poles onto the ground.
QO: "But of course before making a final decision, we need to check the slope of the ground. Fortunately I have my spirit level with me..."
Mrs QO assembles the frame poles and opens out the canvas.
QO: "And then there's the question of shade... let's see where the trees are, and I'd better check on the BlackBerry to see when sunrise is..."
Mrs QO, with a deft flick, drops the canvas onto the frame.
QO: "I wonder whether we might usefully dowse for any artesian springs that might lead to excessive dampness under the tent?"
Mrs QO, now humming a tune from Gilbert & Sullivan, taps the final pegs into place and rigs the guylines.
QO: "And I'll just Google the local mole population density..."
Mrs QO unfolds her camping chair, sits down, and opens the first of many beers.
QO: "Damn. I meant to look up where the ley lines are round here. Oh well, we'll just have to manage."
Mrs QO: "Want a sandwich, lovey? I think you packed them under the sundial. Ooh, isn't it nice here?"

That's enough classified material for one post, I feel. Moving swiftly on... you may recall I once wrote a post about a new kind of Barbie doll. I can now exclusively reveal yet another variant - surely one that will do superlatively well in the current zeitgeist. (That's French for 'these days', by the way.)

Among our extended camp family - by which I mean the group of friends camping together rather than anything smutty, thank you so much - was a miniature person of indeterminate age (though Mrs QO assures me the young lady in question is nearly four), among whose dearest possessions is a Barbie doll with very long hair.

Super-Disreputable Friend and I could not help noticing that it didn't seem possible to put the doll in question down without its legs splaying. Now, I grant you this is distinctly puerile, and we did get serious Extreme Aunt looks from the womenfolk, but we decided that new Slapper Barbie would be a market winner. See what you think.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Ton up

It seems that this is my 100th post. Well, don't that beat all... I only started this so as to learn something about blogging so I could help Mrs QO put up a site all about her craft-work, sell shedloads of stuff and make a ton of money. That was the cunning plan; what's happened is that there have been 99 outbursts of mental incontinence here, and Mrs QO's blog has still to see the light of day. Ah well. Such is life, and that's more or less how our plans have worked out for the best part of a decade. Go with the flow, we say, and pour another drink.

Despite the enervating heat, we have managed (between drinks) to get somewhat ready for the first camping trip of the year. This is always a bit of a trial, requiring as it does hauling many tons of equipment from their overwinter storage space and then 'fettling' them into some sort of order. It is at this point that I recall failing to do the planned 'end of camping season' fettling session last autumn, so last year's mud, flat batteries and empty paraffin lamps have to be dealt with. Or maybe not, we're not fussy campers. Fortunately we will be camping on a folk festival site, so food, water, showers etc are all laid on, and there's a fully-stocked town within easy reach. It's not as if we're going to be in Antarctica. There will be good music, good friends, and plenty of time in the meditation suite.

The weather will make its own mind up - at this time of year it could do anything. We are prepared for anything, of course, with drinks to suit all climatic conditions. Thirst-slaking beers for blazing sun, wine for the turn of the day as the sun dips over the treeline, whisky for the slight chill that comes on as Orion wheels overhead, and brandy for when it snows. Or even if it doesn't. Other emergency equipment always to hand includes at least two flavours of Pot Noodle, a guitar and a super-disreputable friend camping next door. (You know who you are.) All contingencies are therefore covered.

I leave you - since we're on the subject of cetaceans - with this wonderful image of a southern right whale trying to hitch a ride on a yacht, to the startlement of all concerned. No whales or humans harmed, though the yacht will need a bit of work, it seems.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

No sense of values

It has come to my attention that some deluded individual has started a Facebook tribute page to the deceased mammal featured in the last Observation.

What is the world coming to?

Doing a job properly

Two sub-contractors for Hampshire County Council are painting white lines on the A338. There are worse jobs on a nice day - out of doors, plenty of motorists to annoy, nobody to tell you not to light up. But all of a sudden, a problem.

"'Ere, Bert - wossat in the road?"

Bert leans forward and removes his sunglasses.

"Bugger me, Aristide, issa dead summat."
"Well, I can see that, Bert... looks like it might have been a badger."
"Bloody badgers, no road-sense. Worse than cats. Blimey, he's really copped it, 'asn't he?"
"Must have been there for a week by the look of it."

Bert thoughtfully rolls a cigarette.

"Well now, young Aristide, this is a bit of a problem. Can't paint over 'im, now can we?"
"Well, no, but I'll just get me shovel and..."

Bert gives his young colleague a pained look.

"Ho no you won't get your shovel. 'Aven't you learned anything on the job yet? Lines is us, no problem there. We work for a company who works for a company who works for Hampshire County Council, right?"
"Yes, I know all that. But why can't I just..."

Bert raises a magisterial forefinger.

"And Hampshire County Council - and its contractors or subcontractors - is under no circumstances responsible for removing roadkill. That would be New Forest District Council. Different bunch altogether. You've probably seen their boys around... bunch of cheeky buggers they are an'all."

Aristide looks puzzled.

"But... Bert, it'd take two seconds to scoop the bloody thing off the road and heave it into the hedgerow. He's past caring and who's to know?"

Bert shakes his head in mild despair and puts a gnarled hand on Aristide's shoulder.

"Look, lad... I know you weren't brought up with the old idea of demarcation, but this is exactly the same thing. It ain't our job, it's some other bugger's job. Can't go round doing some other bugger's job, where would that end up? We'd be helping stuck motorists, giving directions to people, picking up litter... gawd 'elp us and save 'us, it would be chaos! Besides, and this is what it's all about these days, we 'aven't been trained in the removal of roadkill. Can't do anything what without being trained, surely you know that?"

Aristide scratches his head.

"Can't see much training needed for scooping a couple of pounds of dead badger four feet off the road. I mean, I've been trained on the shovel. Three weeks that took, and a certificate."

Bert looks at him in some surprise.

"Three weeks? Bloody 'ell, they rush you young 'uns through it these days, don't they? But quite apart from that, we 'aven't got a licence. Got to 'ave a licence, obviously. So no, I'm your gaffer on this shift, and we ain't touching it. We'd be sacked on the spot - well, after a couple of weeks' counselling, anyway. We'll just to do the best we can, get back to the depot, fill in the RR27(A)(Mammal)(A-road) and fax it through to those lazy sods at New Forest."

Aristide sighs and shrugs his shoulders.

"OK, you're the boss. Still seems daft to me, though."

With a deep sigh and a hat-tip to the BBC.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

A bargain missed

Over many years of nubial contentment, Mrs QO & I have come to an amicable agreement about shopping for clothes. Mrs QO's clothes, that is, since I hate shopping for myself. Once every two or three years I am forced to go out and purchase a shirt or pair of jeans, after which I will spend a couple of days in a darkened room with a cool pint of beer to recover. But it seems that my presence during Mrs QO's retail forays is occasionally welcome, if only to hold the various items that she intends to try on while she fingers the hem of a fifth or sixth garment. I am from time to time invited to voice an opinion on an outfit, though since I once accidentally channeled Gok Wan and shouted "Oh my God, that makes your bangers look amazing, darling!" she tends more often to trust her own judgement.

At any rate, the agreement mentioned above is, briefly, that I will accompany my dear helpmeet on a retail mission on the understanding that for every shop entered, I will consume one pint of beer. Seems reasonable, I'm sure you'll agree. So it was that on this sunny, breezy Sunday, we ventured forth into the city centre to acquire a summer suit.

I was, as usual in emporia dedicated to the shrouding of the female form, standing around like a spare part, when my eye fell on this:

Well, I really don't know where you'd find a better offer than that. Getting known-brand women at a reasonable price - certainly on my budget - has been something of a challenge for years. I've never been able to go so far upmarket as House of Fraser women, but equally anyone with any social conscience has scruples about Primark women these days. Littlewoods women were more suited to the over-50s (and in any case the shop's gone now), Debenhams women were always a bit of a trial to return if they didn't fit, and Waterstone's women are all so earnest and bookish. And we won't even mention Poundland women. Even I have my standards.

So you can imagine my excitement, I'm sure. John Lewis women at roughly the same price as the sadly-departed Woolworths! It was indeed with Woolies in mind that I decided to indulge myself with a little 'Pick & Mix', so while Mrs QO was trying on a ludicrously skimpy top I wandered over to the sales counter and commenced negotiations. I said I was thinking of the ash-blonde lady with the exquisitely-sculptured cheekbones on the Hosiery desk, the bootylicious dusky one on Kitchen Appliances and the studious redhaired goddess of Gardening.

Things were going swimmingly, and only three security guards had arrived, but Mrs QO found me at that point and took me sharply by the ear. I issued several sharp squeaks of protest, but notwithstanding she dragged me to the Lincolnshire Poacher and injected me with several pints of beer. And so passed a golden opportunity.

Ah well. Perhaps there'll be another sale in the autumn.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Good times Friday

It's hot, it's been a looooong week, and Mrs QO suggested we meet up at the Canalhouse after work. So don't you be expecting anything profound.

Tell you what, let's just enjoy a clip from one of the most moving films of all time, featuring John Belushi in a toga. I think I need say little more. Oh, but for the blues fans out there, see if you can ID the bass player in the band.

He certainly can be strongly persuasive.

That was a hint, by the way. Post your answers in the comments, and you may win a parsnip.

I was going to leave it there, but - nay, damn it, let's have a gratuitous picture of the heroine of Animal House. I give you the luminous Karen Allen.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Simply messing about in boats

Back from a week of some of this in the Norfolk Broads:

...and I have the bumps, bruises and muscular strains to prove it. Oh, and the liver's taken a bit of a hammering too - yes, even by my (ab)normal standards - but the challenge of being well outside my comfort zone will have done me good, it says here in the life-coach manual. I don't know how many of you have done some sailing, but 20 feet of solid timber boom whipping round at head height is something that isn't part of my everyday life. Another interesting little pastime on Broads yachts - designed to go under bridges - is dropping and raising the mast. The brochures always say this is "simple and safe", but frankly they're lying through their teeth. The theory for dropping the mast says you undo the 'gate' that locks it upright, push gently against the mast with one person on the ropes and pulleys at the bow (or pointy) end of the boat, and another person will be at the stern (non-pointy) end ready to "guide" the mast into the crutches - basically a pair of wooden scissors in which the mast sits when down. The reality is that you undo the gate, and the mast then refuses to go anywhere. You apply unscientific violence and much abuse, and eventually the mast comes down far too fast and one runs the risk of being hammered through the deck of the yacht like a human nail. Bad form, I'm led to believe.

It is at this point that one wipes one's forehead, lights a cigarette, and lolls limply for a few moments thinking about life's sweetness and how you never told so-and-so that you loved them.

Having got the yacht under the bridge, one must - as night follows day - get the mast back up again. By a strange quirk of physics, the mast now weighs some 50% more, and even with the help of the pulleys it feels like one is attempting to raise the whole of Norfolk to the vertical. A later diagnosis from a technical adept suggested - and you'll have to pardon the jargon here - that "well, you 'adn't slackened off the topper-lifts so you 'ad the weight of the boom and gaff an' all." Well, one lives and learns, if lucky. Eventually the several thousand tons of timber is more or less pointing uppards, and one brave soul is told by the skipper to "jump down into the tabernacle and close the gate". What this means is that one gets down into a little hole, right by the currently unsecured counter-weighted end of the mast, and locks it into position. The question that goes through one's mind - should one be of any imagination whatsoever - is what happens at that point if one's crewmate should let go of the rope temporarily holding the mast upright before the gate is locked? I put this question to my more experienced colleagues one evening and was referred to the principle of the mediaeval trebuchet. If lucky, you'd come to ground in the water (so to speak) rather than on terra all-too-firma or somebody's else's boat.

All of this excitement is before one even raises a scrap of sail, which is when things get really interesting. But it's all good fun, and I can recommend it to anyone who's life has got too comfy of late.

Do, however, make sure your affairs are in order before you go. I'm just saying.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Excellent news

Anyone need any of the following: healings and awakenings, a cure for cancer, a raising of Chi or Om Energy beyond comparison and awakening of the soul to its highest potential? I know I need my Om Energy boosting. Fortunately, recent Observation has revealed the answer: Shekina.

It's changed my life. Now, some of you may be wondering how Shekina can do all that, over and above being quite cute. Here's the answer and, like, it must be true, cos it's on her website:

What is So Unique About Shekina, Harmonic Vocalist?
Shekina is a Harmonic Vocalist, and what is so unique about her sound transmissions is she is a direct voice messenger for Mother Goddess of Creation and the Blue Ray. Shekina has never sung before, not even for karaoke.

"... not even for karaoke." Well, that closes it out for me. And how exciting to think that, since I've never sung for karaoke, I might be a Father God of Creation and the Blue Ray too. How cool is that?


Thursday, 24 June 2010

Random thoughts

A busy week, partly because I shall be away next week - so apologies in advance to the few deluded souls who read this nonsense. We can all comfort ourselves with the thought that the French are out of the World Cup, and England are still in, and that means life can't be entirely bad.

No carefully thought-out post tonight - so situation normal, then - but here's something I've been meaning to post for a while. Holders of the Prince 2 qualification, look away now:

Click to enlarge (for those of you not used to driving on the internet)

And now a thought courtesy of this week's Private Eye:

Number Crunching
11 People killed in accident on oil rig leased by British company BP, resulting in four presidential visits, a $1.6 billion clean-up and the establishment of $20 billion compensation fund in two months.

15,000+ People killed in accident at Bhopal plant owned by American company Union Carbide, resulting in 0 presidential visits, no clean-up and $470 million compensation in 25 years.


On a lighter note, a 'compare and contrast' exercise. One picture depicts national support at the World Cup from England, the other from the Netherlands.

Oddly enough, it wasn't the English that were thrown out of the stadium, just for once. These days it's all about the sponsorship. Hey ho.

Live long and prosper.