Thursday, 23 February 2017

Petrified Pussycat Blues

My new internet pastime is looking at antique auctions, which a site called Invaluable brings me from all over the world. I restrict myself to sales in Europe but even with that geographical limitation I  am overwhelmed with choice. There are not enough hours in the day for me to manage to scroll through all the catalogues available, let alone keep track of the rare gems I most want to bid on. Which is why the sale date for these two gems entirely slipped my memory. Presumably some other lucky customer bore them away as spoils:

Astonishingly, if you look closely, you will see that, even before the sale started, the cat had four bids and a price of £150 (English pounds at that)!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Much to Forgive

Having belatedly realised that Evelyn Waugh is a great writer, I am reading his diaries edited by Michael Davie. Unfortunately, Mr Davie has done a rather eccentric job, sometimes providing no footnote to identify a figure who appears again and again over months, years or even decades, sometimes providing detailed notes for people who only pop up once, in passing.

I have no criticism of  the notes themselves, which are usually v amusing, e.g this one, identifying  an unnamed fellow guest at a dinner Waugh goes to:

"Captain Hyde-Upward; it was his custom to polish and clean out his pipe while standing naked at his bedroom window."

Anyway, in hunting about in the index for information about those who are left unfootnoted, I discovered that Evelyn's older brother, Alec Waugh, invented, in April, 1924, the cocktail party, to fill the gap in London social life between 5.30 and 7.00.

Shame on him, I say, while simultaneously wondering how diplomats managed before that.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Out of Step

I went to see La La Land. I thought it was awful. Apparently I am part of a "backlash" but I had heard nothing but positive things about the film. I was favourably disposed toward it. It just turned out to be ill-conceived, lacking in depth and sparkle and, most of all, musically illiterate. I wonder if anyone else found it unenjoyable?

Anyway I had a moan about it here.

Monday, 13 February 2017


One disadvantage of living in Brussels is you don't get as much opportunity to overhear people saying intriguing things as you do when you are in Britain or Australia. Even if you speak adequate French, the majority of your fellow passengers on the average tram or underground here don't speak a) audibly, (continentals seem curiously inhibited about speaking reasonably loudly in public, damn them), or b) in French, so the chances of your understanding that something astounding is being uttered by your fellow-travellers are really pretty slim.

Meanwhile in the English speaking world, commuters remain, to a large extent, uninhibited about chatting quite loudly wherever they are, especially since the advent of the mobile phone.

Amazingly,  many people don't like this latter development. Angry columns in magazines and letters in the paper argue that those who talk on their telephones in the street et cetera are undermining the fabric of society and should be hounded until they stop. I disagree. I think the people who make this argument are simple killjoys. Some of the most interesting half hours of my life have been spent trying to piece together, from just one side of a conversation, what exactly is going on between the speaker I'm sitting next to on the bus and the person at the other end of the line. I freely admit that this is an indication of how very dull my life is, but surely, given that, it would be cruel of anyone to continue in the fight to deprive me of what little enjoyment I have.

Two bits of overheard conversation that I picked up on a recent trip to London should serve as illustrations of the kinds of things that bring me pleasure, mainly because they are equal parts batty and baffling:

1. A short, not particularly fit looking, 50-ish man in a tracksuit marched out in front of me as I was trying to cross the road just near Gower Street: "I said, 'I've got the best personal trainer in Brighton' and they all just looked at me", he was telling someone, outrage suffusing his tone;

2. A woman of about 40, with short hair that she'd chosen to dye a colour that I used to call maroon but is now more commonly called burgundy, passed by me in an echoing underground corridor. She was going in the opposite direction.

"We've agreed that, if we don't both find anyone else in the next six months, we'll marry each other",  was all I heard her say. It was enough to leave me even now, ten days later, buzzing with questions. Here are a few for starters:

why six months, why not now or in six years; why marry at all, if you don't really want to - do they have to meet the terms of a will; or do both parties actually really want to but neither is prepared to admit it; or is the burgundy haired one the other one's landlady and he needs the accommodation she provides and is buying time, so he can stay there for a bit longer; and, if they do marry, will the arrangement work in the long run - could half-hearted actually be a good way to go, in the sense that no illusions can be destroyed, because both sides have already acknowledged that they are making a compromise; also, under the terms of the agreement - that "if we don't both" clause - what happens if one of them does find someone else and the other doesn't, will the agreement stand, will the one who has found someone have to marry the one who hasn't anyway to avoid a breach of promise suit; and, for that matter, is there even such a thing as a breach of promise suit these days?

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Moving to Montana Soon

I met a man the other day who claimed that he has spent the last thirty-two years ripening avocadoes in a warehouse in Lincolnshire. I don't know if he was pulling my leg, but I don't think he was the kind of person who pulls legs. While I probably wouldn't like to spend that amount of my life performing that task, (although I have enjoyed a number of jobs that other people might regard as pretty dull and repetitive, and in fact it was their repetitive nature that most appealed to me), I am glad that someone is doing it, as I like being able to buy ripe avocadoes all year round.

I thought about that man while watching Toni Erdmann, (who is a man who likes pulling legs.)  I felt slightly uncomfortable, as the film seems to indict the work of people who spend their lives in non-creative, corporate occupations. But where would we be if someone wasn't prepared to stand in a warehouse in Lincolnshire ripening avocadoes? How would we manage if someone wasn't prepared to raise crops of dental floss and wax them down in little white boxes, (hey, an opportunity to slip in some of my favourite song lyrics, hurray:

I might be moving to Montana soon
Just to raise me up a crop of dental floss 
Raising it up
Waxing it down
In a little white box
I can sell uptown
By myself 
I wouldn't have no boss,
But I'd be raising my lonely dental floss
Raising my lonely dental floss
Well I just might grow me some bees
But I'd leave the sweet stuff
For somebody else...
but then, on the other hand
I'd keep the wax and melt it down
Pluck some floss and swish it around
I'd have me a crop
And it'd be on top
That's why I'm moving to Montana

Moving to Montana soon
Going be a dental floss tycoon
(yes I am)
Moving to Montana soon
Going to be a dental floss tycoon
I'm plucking the old dental floss
That's growing on the prairie
Plucking the floss.
I plucked all day and all night and all afternoon
I'm riding a small tiny horse
(His name is Might Little)
He's a good horse
Even though he's a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or
Blanket on, anyway
He's a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or
Blanket on. 

Anyway I'm plucking the old dental floss
Even if you think it is a little silly, folks
I don't care if you think it's silly, folks
I don't care if you think it's silly, folks
I'm gonna find me a horse
Just about this big
And ride him all along the border line
With a pair of heavy-duty
Zircon-encrusted tweezers in my hand
Every other wrangler would say
I was mighty grand
By myself I wouldn't
Have no boss
But I'd be raising my lonely dental floss
Raising my lonely dental floss
Raising my lonely dental floss
Well I might ride along the border
With my tweezers gleaming
In the moonlighty night
And then I'd get a cup of coffee
And give my foot a push...
Just me and the pygmy pony
Over the dental floss bush
And then I might just jump back on
And ride like a cowboy
Into the dawn to Montana
Moving to Montana soon


But after a bit I decided that perhaps the indictment is not about the work itself so much as the manner in which it is done, and then I didn't feel uncomfortable at all, because there has emerged during my lifetime the most frightful layer of bogus rubbish that is supposedly something to do with so-called 'management' but usually makes perfectly straightforward enjoyable jobs annoying and more difficult - and anything that attacks that is fine by me.

Take performance appraisal as an example. What a waste of time that is, (unless its real purpose is to reinforce a sense of hierarchy by placing workers regularly in the position of being told what their seniors think of them and thus reminding the workers that they are not powerful enough to reverse the process). And flipping bonding exercises, either in the form of days or even - eek - whole weekends away.  Usually the only bonding that is produced by these is the creation of a mass loathing shared by every employee for the coordinator or motivator or whatever idiot title the person with the butcher's paper has given themselves. Whatever label they go under, they are always creeps and idiots.  I should not forget either the endless, endless meetings explaining what is going on and what new developments are coming up in the organisation and blah de blah de blah. These may be intended to make everyone feel involved but they actually make everyone feel disrespected, since they take you away from urgent tasks and half the time whatever it is you are employed to do isn't changing one iota and whether or not the person at the top is called a CEO or a Change Management Enhancer is utterly irrelevant to what you have been hired to achieve.

The main thing to say though is that I found Toni Erdmann in equal measures puzzling, poignant and hilarious and I recommend it, if you want to see something intriguing, amusing and strange. If you want to read me saying that at even greater length, you can, here.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Snap, Crackle, Pop

I wish I were more tolerant. And, if I must be intolerant, I wish I could be intolerant about important things.

Instead, the thing I am absolutely frantically insanely intolerant about is something that harms absolutely nobody - it is the sound of cellophane wrappers crackling, brown paper bags rustling, crisp packets being delved into and food wrappings in general being undone.

Mostly, this intolerance of mine is inflamed on trains, but sometimes in cinemas and occasionally on buses. The culprit is usually a person just in front of me or just behind me, someone who decides they can't wait until they are sitting at a table before stuffing something edible into their mouths .

I know, I know, they are probably people under the most incredible pressure, running from one job to another, barely able to fit in a moment between dropping off the children at childcare and heading for their very important meeting on forward strategies for the external oversight committee on benchmarking the six-monthly performance appraisal development initiative.

But why are they sitting in the cinema then? Eh? Eh?

The curious thing - other than the fact that I can waste so much emotional energy on being annoyed about such an innocuous and harmless thing - is that someone rustling newsprint doesn't bother me, nor someone flipping through a magazine. It's only the noise of food being unwrapped or retrieved from its mini-sack that drives me to distraction.

I suppose it must be something to do with the ancient prejudice about eating in public that has been passed on to me by my elders and betters:  a winter's afternoon waiting outside Basingstoke station in a Mini with my father springs immediately to mind - two girls walk towards us and my father's face transforms into a mask of horror; "Fruit", he cries, "They're eating fruit. In the street"; you would think they were ... well let's not go into details; you would think they were acting in the most utterly depraved manner imaginable is an adequate summation of what you would think they were doing.

I wonder now if he would have been happier if they'd been eating sausages. Fruit certainly seemed to have struck him as the most unimaginably offensive foodstuff anyone could have chosen in that setting. Could it have been some kind of Eve/apple/Garden of Eden connection he was making? It's hard to imagine; I certainly never took him for a particularly biblical kind of man.

Friday, 3 February 2017

A Time of Healing

I used to like Twitter. Back when a mad tide of antic hilarity would sweep across it and people all over the world would start thinking up titles for silly things such as #egg movies - Inglorious Custards; The Devilled Egg Wears Prada - or #cheesefilms - Caerphilly He Might Hear You; Arsenic and Old Leicester; The Rarebit Proof Fence - or #lessambitiousfilms - Singing in the Drizzle; Instagram of a Lady; Girl with a Temporary Tattoo; The Spy who Quite Liked Me; Stuffed Animal Kingdom - or #awfulfirstdrafts - "Last night I dreamt I went to Manly again"; "May the Victorian Police Force be with you"; "I'm mad as hell and I"m going to take some valium" or #lameclaimstofame - "The President of Nigeria emails me quite often saying he owes me money"; "My house and dog were on the cover of our local telephone directory" or #depressingchildren'sbooks - The Adventures of Tom's Lawyer ; Where the Wild Thongs Are; James and the Giant Leach. 

Politics barely entered this happy playground of frivolous idiocy - and even when it did, as on the occasion that the entire nation of Australia got sick of its Prime Minister's habit of saying, "Folks, I've got to zip", it entered only so that fun could be had, (on that occasion the hashtag was #zipclassics - "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune sometimes has to zip";"The Zip on the Floss" "It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking 13. I've got to zip, thought Winston", "Far from the Madding Zip"; "A Tale of Two Zips"; "Zipper in the Rye" 

Alas, things have changed. Jollity is no longer on the Twitter menu. Since November, in fact, Twitter - or at least the part of it that I look at - has metamorphosed into a roiling, foaming pit of human fury. 

That's really the one thing I can't forgive President Trump for, (and it's not even something he intended) - I can't forgive him for sucking the sense of humour out of almost everyone. 

What is more, I can't really understand how he has done it. After all he is far more a figure of fun than his predecessor could ever hope to be. The truth is Trump is and always will be an entirely comic figure. He is Mr Punch, he is a buffoon, he is the oldest kind of stage idiot. And, yes, of course, I am aware that he has the codes to the nuclear buttons and, as they say now, yada yada yada, but there's not much to be done about that, and anyway Putin is probably about one hundred million times more dangerous than Trump is and has been accruing buckets of power for ages, so why are we suddenly upsetting ourselves with such a level of frankly hysterical violence, when things haven't really changed for the worse at all? 

And even if you do genuinely think that Trump is more dangerous than Putin, which I think just indicates a lack of real knowledge, then I would say to you that now, more than ever, silly games and pointless nittishness are the best approach to the problem. Wasting our time with nonsense is the truly sensible way to react to the prospect of potential worldwide mayhem, given that none of us is in much of a position to do anything constructive to avert it. 

Laughing really is the most enjoyable way to go. 

And besides, Trump is only one guy, even if he does happen to be the President of the United States for the moment. There are countless other people continuing to be dedicated and skilled and doing wonderful things. Let's rejoice at the fact that, for example, Rafael Nadal is back in form - and so is Roger Federer. That is one pretty enormously fantastic leap forward, given that no one seriously believed they would ever be back at the top of their games again. 

Come on, admit it, the tennis played in the last few days of the Australian Open was the most exciting tennis anyone has seen in aeons, if ever.

And if you want another brilliant reason that I absolutely refuse to give in to the pessimists and naysayers and throw my lot in with those who fume that humanity is comprehensively doomed, then look at my mother who, thanks to an extraordinary team of dedicated and patient and infinitely skilled medical people, has survived by-pass surgery despite being considerably older than the odds might allow. 

Scream all you like, vent and rage loudly, while there are people performing life saving acts calmly, intelligently and brilliantly, all is not lost - and Trump can't actually stop that. In fact, he can't stop a lot of things. And it will be entirely our own fault if we decide that, because of him, we can't still go on having fun.