Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Harlequin Duck

Come on, guys, this beautiful creature (it's a Harlequin Duck) is no more the result of a random collision of molecules than is the gorgeous person lying next to you in your bed. Or, if you don't agree, turn over and tell her/him that s/he is just the result of a random collision of molecules.

Tote dat barge, lift dat bale

As I am sure the whole of the UK and most of North America know by now, strong north winds blew down a part of my fence. A 6'x6' panel to be precise. Formerly held in place by two 7' x3"x3" posts.
Not any more.
The right-hand post (see diagram) was secured in the ground by Alvah Peck, an ex-policeman with time and a bucket of concrete on his hands. The left-hand post was secured into a metal box on a peg by Gary Jacobs, present whereabouts unknown.
The right-hand post has snapped off just above the concrete; the left wobbles in its metal box (the box having split open). As to the 6x6 panel, better not to talk about it: it might have killed someone on its flight south from here.

But, you know me, I am not one to be deterred by die Tuecke des Objekts, the bloody-mindedness of inanimate objects, so, armed with a big hammer and a glass of Argentinian Merlot, I went out today and STARED at the fence.

For a long time.

You know, I quite like the gap where the fence panel used to be. It's airy, it's liberating, it gives one a new view on the world. And once you put your mind to it, you can even find beauty in a neighbour's dustbin and compost heap.

So, after a reasonable amount of staring, I put the big hammer back in the toolchest and poured myself another of Argentine's finest.

When it comes to DO-IT-YOURSELF, nobody can tote dat hammer and lift dat glass de way dat I can.


If you watch a typical disco scene, you are witnessing something dedicated to St Vitus: an aimless twitching and gyrating which does not involve human contact of any kind (Thus Spake The Old Scrote). Me, I belong to a more gracious age:
I can do the Quickstep.
I can do the Foxtrot.
I can do a snazzy Viennese waltz with variations.
Given warning, I can still do the Gay Gordons and the Valeta.
If you have no idea what I am talking about, I am sorry for you. It was called "ballroom dancing" and I took lessons when I was 17-18. I, and my fellow acne'd sixth-formers from Wellington Grammar School for Boys made our way to a dance academy in the Square to get to grips, terpsichoreally-speaking, with sixth-formers from Wellington High School for Girls.
The music issued from 78s - it's a fair bet the gramophone was the wind-up kind - and was of the kind known as "strict tempo ". If you have never heard of, or listened to, Victor Sylvester and his Orchestra, you have escaped one of life's soul-numbing experiences. But, to give him his due, the old maestro did his bit to keep our feet moving properly and at the right pace.
The essential stance for dancing the quickstep, foxtrot and waltz was that the gentleman put his right arm round the lady's waist, decorously, held her right hand in his left, decorously, while the lady put her left hand on the gentleman's left shoulder, decorously, and then away, to the music and the instructor's voice: quick-quick-slow quick-quick-slow, or whatever.
Talk about a navel engagement without loss of semen. Never mind, it was all very innocent. More importantly, it was a way to civilise us brutish boys, and a chance for the girls to realise that if they didn't have boyfriends, they weren't really missing anything.
Tango, anyone?

Mary Kidd, I salute you

This morning I found it hard to get out of bed. Not because I was tired. Not because it was cold outside. Not because I would rather do anything than work on the bloody book.
No, it was because of Mary Kidd.
We had a real teenage pash, Mary Kidd and I. Lots of what we called necking, VERY steamy, but not, of course, going "all the way" - we didn't do things like that in my day. Someone - it could have been the Admiral of the Fleet - described this kind of heavy petting as "a navel engagement without loss of semen".
And during last night, without warning and for no reason, I dreamt about Mary Kidd. It was a lovely dream, full of love and warmth and cuddles, and that's why I didn't want to get out of bed this morning.
Mary Kidd was a big girl, tallish and plumpish and blonde and buxom and blue-eyed and eager, with a labial grip that could have raised the Titanic. We used to play duets on the piano between snogs (Her favourite composer was Leroy Anderson, bet you've never heard of him). And when her mom and dad came back from wherever they went in the evening, we all made polite conversation, the four of us, until I could decently escape and leg it the three miles back to my adolescent bed and my adolescent fantasies.
I loved Mary Kidd. In my fashion.
And I think she loved me. In her fashion.
But mostly, we both seemed to float on a sea of pneumatic bliss, waiting for the next grapple.

I haven't seen her since I was seventeen, and I have only heard about her once since, when someone told me she was married with two children and had put on a lot of weight. By which time, I was married with two children and had put on a lot of weight.

Please don't read anything into this event. And I would like it to be clearly understood that the fact that Mary Kidd was my oneiric companion during last night is no disrespect to, erm, Janet Lovatt, Maureen Partridge, Alicia Ball, Maureen Jones, Cynthia Brown or Cicely Whatshername from Shifnal, or Deirdre Thingummy from Attingham and the rest. Their turn will come if I have anything to do with it.

Can't wait for tonight's instalment. I might even strike really lucky this time and dream about Hornby Dublo trainsets.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

What a dish!

I have been thinking some more about pornography. It's a curious phenomenon. Imagine that you are hungry, really starving, so you phone up a restaurant and ask them to read out the menu. Or you fire up Google Images and look hungrily at pictures of succulent dishes. It's a funny business and no mistake. Or am I missing something?
Anyway, for those of you who are hungry, here is a really erotic picture. I know I'm wicked, but I just couldn't resist!

Pelagic trip

On the first of January every year, the San Diego Field Ornithologists take a pelagic trip (four and a half hours, from 8 to 1230 am). This year, for the first time, I went, hoping to keep my breakfast in my stomach and to add a couple of lifers to my birdlist. I succeeded on both counts, the birds being Cassin's Auklet and Black-vented Shearwater.
But what really made the trip for me were the dolphins that accompanied our boat for a lot of the time. There were two species (I don't know from cetaceans, this is what I was told): Common Dolphin and Pacific White-sided Dolphin. The pix is of the latter.
You know, we human beings think we are some punkins, but I suspect that cetaceans regard us as an interesting but generally unsuccessful species. Well, that's how I interpreted the look in their eye.
So, in my next life, I want to come back as a dolphin, but not the kind that gets tangled in fishing nets, ok?

Hillary for President. Or not

What is the most important thing about Hillary Clinton as a potential Democratic candidate for the Presidency? What is the first thing that springs to everone's mind?

Yes. You got it in one.

My personal view - with which you are free to disagree, especially as I might be completely wrong - is that Hillary Clinton is a totally unsuitable person to be the leader of the most powerful nation on earth.

But she is a woman, isn't she?, so I am in a very dodgy position if I oppose her candidacy.

Well no, not really. I am paying her the compliment of not thinking about her gender, but about her unsuitability for the job.

I've also ranted about race issues in the same vein. If you believe - as our damned Commission for Racial Equality believes - that the most important fact about a person is their ethnicity, we will get nowhere. Not only will we get nowhere, we will perpetuate racism by being racialist, if you see what I mean.

I want the freedom and the right to assess a person as a saint or a sinner, as a good egg or an asshole, on the basis of their performance as a human being, not on the basis of their gender, wealth, race, religion, nose shape or hair colour.

I don't rate my chances, though, in the present climate.

Gorillas in the Mist

I am sure by now that everyone knows the story of the mountain gorillas in the Virunga range, and the story of Dian Fossey, who spent years studying them and trying to protect them. Apparently 50 million people around the globe also saw the wonderful sequences in the BBC programme Life on Earth where David Attenborough had his first and memorable encounter with the Virunga gorillas.
Well, tonight, BBC ran a one-hour programme revisiting the mountain gorillas and reviewing what has been done since their last visit and since Dian Fossey's death. Among the people interviewed in the programme was a zoologist, Charlotte Uhlenbroek, as talented as she is beautiful (Sorry, but old scrotes notice these things, and to hell with political correctness). God bless her and David A and all the other people who have done so much to save the gorillas and the other great apes from extinction. In fact the Rwandan gorillas are now doing well, mainly because of the financial benefit to Rwanda of "eco-tourism". If ever the means justified the ends.....
In the meantime, I spent most of the programme pulling out Kleenex tissues to wipe away the tears that were streaming down my face. Literally. This happens to me more than I really care to admit. Thinking about it, I realise that what makes me cry is the beauty. Not so much the gorillas or the rain forest - although they are terrifyingly beautiful - as the people who do beautiful things. I cry when people show love for each other, when people express affection, when people do good things without thought of personal gain. I cry happy tears when I witness other people's happiness. I am a sucker for what my son Jeremy calls "acts of unconditional love".
Not sure if this is healthy, but that's how it is. It's a wonderful world, as Louis Armstrong noted, and it's well that we don't have to spend ALL our time thinking about the gloomy stuff.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Stracotto di manzo

Literally, extra-cooked beef. My, what a delicious dish. With sliced potatoes in a cheese gratin sauce.
The meat is similar in texture to the lamb done in the Greek style known as "kleftiko". Kleftiko from the Greek word for "to steal" (cf "kleptomania"), the idea being that you steal a lamb and bury it in a hot oven for 3-4 days, then dig it up and eat it, the meat flaking off the bone ambrosially.
I doubt if the gourmet section of my local supermarket, Tesco's, goes to all that trouble with the stracotto beef. bit it's a tasty morsel nonetheless.
Hell's bells, what I really need is a cuddle, but in the meantime, thank the Dear for good food.
By the way, I am still waiting for a serious PLOV evening in the City of Cambridge. Anyone listening?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Death and Pornography

I want to share with you my thoughts on the above subjects. No, that isn't true, I don't want to share my thoughts with you, I want to transfer my thoughts to you, so you can have the sleepless nights and I can get back to dreaming about nice things like chickadees and brinjal chutney.

[If you are of a delicate disposition, I advise you not to read further. There must be something on television worth watching....]

Back to D and P. As far as I can see, there are two serious issues that need to be addressed.

First - and this arises from a conversation with my childhood sweetheart, Alicia, who, like me, lives alone - what will happen when I die? What I mean is, how long will it be before someone finds me, and what state will I be in when they do? I don't know a lot about the decomposition of flesh, but having poisoned a few rodents in my time, I know that cadaverine and putrecine are not nosegay chemicals. So, I want to apologise in advance for any inconvenience my demise might cause, and, oh yes, while I think about it, whoever finds me, could they turn off the Central Heating: the cost of domestic oil is nothing short of scandalous these days.

Second, it's not only my own demise that concerns me, but the demise of my race. My brief encounter with the naughty websites (apparently something like 90% of the population spend 75% of their time visiting these) has scared me witless. As far as I can see, half the population spends its leisure time tying up the other half and beating it with whips and hairbrushes. Or was it cabbage leaves? Well, you know, dem sei wie ihm wolle, spanking, dressing up funny, and similar infertile activities.

When they are not into bondage - I had always thought of the need to bond as a very positive instinct - they seem to spend their time (How can I put this delicately?) munching on each other. I am far too liberal a chap to condemn fellatio and cunnilingus (two words that cry out for punnery), but I think people would get much more satisfaction out of a few sticks of celery if they just gave it a chance. Probably less fattening too.

It seems that getting the hots for the opposite sex is also out of fashion. If you haven't made it with someone who is built exactly like you, you are probably in need of counselling, it seems. Goodness knows what has happened to procreation. I don't want to be indelicate, but as any plumber will tell you, there are male parts and female parts and they are designed to complement each other, whereas....... oh hell, let's not go there.

It's all encapsulated in the limerick:

There was a young gay from Khartoum
Took a lesbian up to his room

And they argued all night

About who had the right
To do what and with which and to whom.

So, my beloveds, I am not only an old scrote, I am a bewildered old scrote. If and when I do pop my clogs, I just hope I will be found by a cheery police officer or a plump District Nurse. May it please God I am not found by a necrophile. Know what I mean?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Out-of-body Experience

Oh my beloveds, forget the turkey, I have something much profounder than splayed drumstricks to share with you. I think only embarassment at my dickheadery (asshattery?) has prevented me from telling you about this earlier.
On Monday afternoon at 15.13 hours, I had an out-of-body experience. I know the exact time because I was busy hardboiling an egg for my Oeuf Mayonnaise (qv) when IT occurred (Forgive the upper case, but this is for me a serious case, deserving of italic upness).
Picture the scene - well, if you have nothing better to do, picture the scene - I am in my bijou kitchen watching a bijou free-range egg (I only eat eggs that emerge from happy hens) trembling in a bijou pan of boiling water when there is a knock at my front door. With only seconds to spare before my egg goes from hard-boiled to cretaceous, I panic. Turn down the heat or answer the knock?
At this very moment, my beloveds, I had my OOB experience. I saw myself, from outside as it were, in my kitchen, dressed appropriately for hard-egg boiling in clogs, sweatpants and a teeshirt announcing the ornithological supremacy of San Diego County, and I realised that I WAS NOT REALLY THERE.
All this talk of parallel universes has unhinged me. The knock on the door was as muted as an organ-grinder's fart, distant and unimportant. I froze. I remember looking at the hard-boiling egg and I remember thinking, who needs them, I am a philosopher, a poet, the heir of Socrates and Dante. In a word, an Old Scrote. What do I need with eggs or knockings at the door?. Etcetera.
Thoughts like this are not healthy.
Apart from anything else, I was hungry.
But at least, when I came back into my body, two things happened. I was able to rescue my bijou egg; and the bugger at the door had given up. Which means that I could proceed to a cracking Oeuf M, and I know that I will receive an ESTIMATED electricity bill, because the poor sap at the door couldn't get into the garage to read the meter.
Well, I THINK that's who it was, but it might have been some quantal bloke come to explain String Theory to me (or Loop Theory if s/he's really on the case). They needn't bother: I have been in and out of parallel universes so much lately, I don't know any more, to coin a phrase, if I am a-Carmen or a-Cohen.
The egg was aces, by the way. Ole!

Talking turkey

I've been thinking some more about the Christmas turkey. I didn't tell you the whole truth, my beloveds.
It came from Henry's Delicatessen in as immaculate a condition as it is possible for a turkey to achieve, given that its gizzard has been stuffed up its cloaca and its naked body snapwrapped in clingfoil (or should that be clingfoiled in snapwrap?).
But as soon as we unwrapped it and removed its innards outwards, its legs came away from its body in a most unseemly way. As it lay, naked and uncooked, on the table facing me, the splayed legs were positively indelicate. I immediately thought of stirrups, if you catch my drift. The ladies of the house looked at it too, and I could see that they were equally incommoded by the raunchy spread of its plump drumsticks.
Inner flesh, sorry, in a flash, they had the beast re-trussed and into a tray ready for roasting. I, as males of my generation tend to do, thought it best to withdraw. Thus it was that I had nothing more to do with the turkey until it was ready for eating.
I am a soft-hearted person, but I did not feel sorry for this bird. That initial laxity of the limbs was unforgivable. On the other hand, when the ladies of the house said that they intended to give it a regular basting while it was cooking, I thought that was taking revenge a step too far.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Keeping Abreast

For an extra four to five years, I am prepared to make the sacrifice.....


This morning I visited yet another bizarre parallel universe. The Inland Revenue reminder letter has a call-centre telephone number (They are probably in Mumbai or Kuala Lumpur). I rang it to ask them how much I owed (as I had not had the usual tax return, only the reimnder letter). Automated system tells me to call my "local IR office".

I check the local IR office number in my phone book. A real person answers. I explain my predicament, and the nice lady at the other end says that, sorry, she can't tell me how much I owe. She knows, but she can't tell me.
Security reasons, she says.

She also points out that I have called the wrong department in the local IR office.
OK, fair enough, says I, then give me the phone number I should have called.
Sorry, can't do that, she says.
Security reasons.

So, I says, let me give you my address so you can get someone to send me a copy of the Tax Return. I've already got your address, says she. Is it 5 Bury Lane (etc), I ask.
I can't tell you, she says.
Security reasons.

Me: BIG SIGH.Then, says I, there is no way I can find out what I owe, although you know what I owe. So I can't meet the deadline of 31 January. So you will fine me for late payment. Is this fair, I ask the nice lady?

Leave it with me, she says. Goodbye, she says.

Later, she calls back, asks for my date of birth and my social security number. I was tempted to refuse to give them - "Security reasons" - but realised I would only be drawn further into the labyrinth. So I tell her the numbers, and she finally tells me how much I owe.

Listen, my beloveds, I am not making this up. It happened just the way I have told it. Anyway, I have written and posted the cheque (to yet a different office), so that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, By the Grace of God, Fidei Defensor, will sleep sound in Her Royal Bed knowing that J Allsop has paid his dues. Not that I have much faith left to be defended.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Euler's thing

My father told me that, between them, he and his brother could answer any question. Whenever I asked him a question, eg, What is the capital of Peru, he would reply "Ah, that's one my brother knows."

For those of you who have been trembling with frustration, here is Euler's famous equation, or, more properly, formula:

If you want to know what it means, well, erm, that's one my brother knows.

Bach's Organ Works.

Think Yamaha. Think keyboard, Think digital. My goodness, what an organ my daughter has. It is awesome: a zillion rhythms, including even 5/4 time (I wish you could hear my fragmented 5/4 version of "My Favourite Things", the musical equivalent of a motorway pileup. My next project is to do Bach's Toccata and Fugue in the same time signature - that should get old Johann Sebastian turning in his urn); and a trillion voices, including a breathy tenor saxophone that is pure Stan Getz, and a jazz guitar that is pure Django.
I WANT ONE. I want an organ that does justice to my talent. Or one that at least covers up my lack of it.

An arresting thought

I am very concerned about American security, and indeed about my own, but I don't know what to do about it.

My concern arises from the fact that on SIX occasions in the last two years, Immigration Control has taken my fingerprints and scanned my eyeballs. In fact it is SEVEN times, because on this latest trip, they did me at JFK on the way in, and at O'Hare on the way out. This means that they have multiple images of me and my bits in various places on their computers.

If one day, someone decides to collate all the records, they will find SEVEN of me and immediately put 2 and 2 together and make, well, 7. Don't misunderstand me, the uniformed gents and gentesses at Immigration Control are always a model of courtesy and helpfulness, but, mein Gott, one day they might regret letting SEVEN of me into the country.

What is their equivalent of a fatwa?

I hate the idea of G-Men descending on me as I stand at the water's edge with my grandchildren feeding bad bread to the ducks in the park, accusing me of goodness knows what heinous unAmerican offences, like feeding bad bread to American ducks in the park, and whisking me away - oh the shame of it - while my grandchildren look on thinking "You know, there always WAS something odd about Grandpa."

Am I worrying unnecessarily? Only time will tell, but I am seriously thinking of changing my name to something anodyne like Gorbachev.

Trouble is, eyeballs and fingerprints never lie. They have got me by the short and curlies and no mistake.

Mountain Plover

Well, here it is. The ones I saw weren't as well marked as this one (this one is in breeding plumage). An elusive bird, most people only see them when they come down to the lowlands for the winter, which is where I saw them. Even in dull winter garb, the eyebrow is noticeable.

Now, if it doesn't make your pulse race, I do understand. It's just that at my stage of the game, any little excitement is welcome.

And if I get melancholy back here in the Fens, I can always go and contemplate my neighbour's compost heap.

You say tomayto and I say tomahto

Ah well, it was bound to happen. You go away and bingo! you're back. I thought that 45 days would last at least 6 weeks, but something speeded them up. Bloody Einstein messing with time perhaps, I don't know. All I know is that, in no time at all as it were, tomaytoes turned back into tomahtoes, hoods and trunks became bonnets and boots again, cilantro coriander, eggplant aubergine, and, well, you get the picture.
Six weeks with the Munchkins has left me dazed but happy. Already I miss the hugs and the games and the runny noses. Kids are cute, but only to their parents and grandparents, so I won't gush. Just a line from each one to give you the flavour of the wonderful parallel universe they inhabit:

In response to ANYTHING AT ALL that I said: "I already knew that, Grandpa" I tried quoting Euler's equation to her (you know, the one that incorporates 1, 0, pi, e and i) and waited less than a second: "I knew that already, Grandpa." (Check out the wicked grin)

"I want a boiled head."
"You mean a boiled egg."
"No, I want a boiled head."
(Check out the wicked grin)

"That's my cousin."
This was her reaction to every primate we saw in San Diego Zoo.
(Check out the wicked grin).

Ten things that I loved about San Diego
1 The weather
2 The Zoo and the Wild Animal Park (Photo above taken at the latter)
3 Balboa Park
4 The birds
5 San Diegans' openness, smiles, friendliness
6 The crusty bread from the local deli
7 The buxom Mexican ladies working in the local supermarket
8 Breakfast at Zanzibar and the Big Kitchen
9 The canyons and the sea
10 Chicken piccata at Pizza Nova in Hillcrest.

Ten reasons to be happy I am back in Haddenham
1 My house and especially my marshmallow bed
2 Broadband (Sorry, Sarah, but dialup sucks)
3 Food (no disrespect to American food, but..)
4-10 er, sorry, can't think of anything else

The stack of mail awaiting me on my return contained the usual dreary bills - telephone, electricity ( HOW MUCH???) and tax demands. The Income Tax demand is intriguing. In fact they have not sent me a bill, but only a letter telling me that if I don't pay by 31 January, they will send round the heavy mob to beat the sh.. out of me, and maybe follow that up with a fatwa and a murrain on my cattle. So, I have to pay an unspecified amount by a specified date. Cunning, that.
Thank goodness I also had a stack of Christmas cards to open (What do you do about the people to whom you didn't send a card, but who have sent a card to you? What do you do about the miserable people to whom you DID send a card, but who did not send a card to you? Problems, problems).
Last Thursday, it seems, there were 100 mph winds. They blew my fence down, so now I can see my neighbour's dustbins and compost heap without climbing a ladder. There's always something, isn't there?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Toujours la Politesse

Of course we teach our children to be polite, to say please and thank you, but it rebounded on me this morning. At the breakfast table, I said to Kiki: "Let me pour you some milk."
She replied, solemnly: "Say it properly, Grandpa."
So I asked "Please may I pour you some milk, Kiki?"
"Yes, Grandpa, you may," she replied with regal solemnity.

It's not easy being a Grandpa.

Another example. I was playing "I Spy" with Sophie, and it was her turn. She came up with: "I spy with my little eye something beginning with W I T C."
I couldn't crack this one and gave up.
"Where Is The Cat," said Sophie triumphantly.

I think I am going to take up something easier, like Quantum Mechanics.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Happy New Year, and how!

I am using dialup, which is like walking through treacle, so forgive me if it's a short note. The munchkins go back to school next week, so I hope to do a bit of shameless birding, trying to bump up my American list. I got a lifer last Thursday (grandpa's day off): Mountain Plover, a flock of about 60 wintering on fields below the Salton Sea in Imperial County. If I could I'd post a picture.
Great fun, of course, with the children, and a few munchkin gems. My favourite was a comment from Sophie:
"When Grandpa eats icecream, he gets all girlish and giggly."
Who me?
Love and stuff.