Friday, 26 December 2008

What goes up does not always have to come down in the intended fashion

Just a quick reference back to my travel arrangements.

Five people on a nineteen seater flight is not fun. But then nineteen people on that flight would have been worse. At least only four people were able to see the fear in my eyes, the whiteness of my knuckles and the intensity with which I kissed the tarmac at Silver City Airport.

There are reasons why I don't enjoy rollercoaster rides, the main one being that I don't like paying for the feeling that I'm going to die.

Sadly, I have a return ticket and the distinct lack of public transportation out here means that if I don't want to get on the plane next Wednesday, I'm going to have to start walking to Albuquerque now.

Other than that, joy to the world is immense although I can't quite get the hang of following the football at 7:36, even if the news is good.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Tea and coffee may not be served

This is the interior of a Beechcraft 1900D. It is the type of plane used by Great Lakes Airlines. I will be flying into Silver City, NM in one of these tomorrow.

To find this picture, I typed Beechwood 1900D into Google. A worrying slip.

This is the first trip where I've taken out travel insurance since I was 18 and going skiing.

Draw your own conclusions.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The full turning circle

Three years ago I bought the traditional Christmas present for my grandmother: tickets for the ballet, The Nutcracker at the Coliseum .

The plan was that she would go with mum (her daughter-in-law). They both loved going to the ballet and they both loved The Nutcracker. As it turned out, my grandmother was too ill to go, and it was the illness that killed her five months later. She was hiding how bad it was, worried that others might see her as weak.

Not being able to get a refund and not being anywhere near well enough to go myself, dad went. This was a palaver and a half because he was determined not to enjoy himself but to make it clear that it was a far, far better thing he did etc. That's fair enough when you consider that his only exposure to ballet was the Paul Hogan Foster's adverts ("Streuth, there's a bloke down there with no strides on!") and maybe a snippet or two of The Red Shoes.

On his return I was a little disappointed to find that his reaction was predictable. Whatever he felt on the inside, he was determined only to remind us all of the sacrifice he made by going, making sure the ticket wouldn't go to waste, helping mum navigate the dangerous waters of central London. I had hoped that the Gerald Scarfe designs might, at the very least, have given him some pleasure.

Three years dad, like his mother has passed on. Yesterday, mum, Diana and I went to see The Nutcracker at the Coliseum. It was a revival of the Scarfe designed production and I really can't see why dad too so negatively to it.

  1. It's short
  2. The music is mostly familiar to any one who has watched more than fifteen year of adverts on ITV
  3. The clever use of the sets in the first Act more than makes up for the quieter moments
  4. There's great value to be had in peering down into the orchestra pit
  5. Not only were the children in the audience majestically behaved (apart from a little raucous coughing) but one child was trying to copy the dancing in the aisle
  6. The Coliseum itself is a beautiful (if a tad gaudy) building
  7. Everyone is a fruit and nut case
I'm sure I thought of more. It hardly matters. Anyway, I couldn't come away saying I love ballet. I'd struggle to come away saying I can even see the point of it. But it was a good day and it's always interesting to experience new things (as long as there's no threat to life or limb).

There isn't a huge amount of plot, the second Act looks like a greatest hits package and forgets some of the inventiveness of the first. But the music is much better than before the interval so there's a trade off.

Having been to reasonable amount of live theatre (or legitimate, as Homer once said) this year, I'd much rather go back to see this than say, Six Character in Search of an Author. And it wouldn't be the first time a second half has failed to live up to the promise of the first with Never So Good starring that nice young Mr Irons being the best example.

I'm sure that, three years ago, dad probably did have an all right time. He just forgot how to express himself when it came to things that were outside his norm.

He was more worried about self-image than he ever let on. And at times like this I think it's important to let go of preconceptions. I had a good time at the ballet with two of the people who are most important to me. What else matters?

Sometimes life is simply about letting go of the preconceptions you have about yourself. I think I've got better at it over the last three years. If someone had wanted to make a funny remark about going to the ballet it would have said more about them than me. I wish dad had been able to see that a little more clearly. I worry that he stopped himself from opening up and that, as a result, he didn't get as much out of life as he could have.

I'm not about to become an advert for a new movie with a positive affirmation in the title. But I'm not going to rule anything out straight away either.

I might be trying too hard to find meaning from yesterday, perhaps it was (as Homer also said( just a bunch of stuff that happened.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Etiquette guide for all facets of modern life

When at the National Theatre on a Saturday night, if someone asks what your seat number is, the correct answer is not "row H".
When outside Norbury station on a Sunday afternoon, if someone asks you if you would some skunk or dope, the correct answer is not "no, no thanks".

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

A word of praise

In the run-in to Christmas, everyone needs a little help with ideas for presents. If all else fails (and assuming the recipient isn't a raving neo-conservative/fervent free market capitalist/fascist dictator) you could try the magnificent output of the best t-shirt company around.
Welcome to the world of Philosophy Football.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Any excuse or How to take the rough with the smooth

I don't need an excuse to go to Winchester.
That said, in stark contrast to the opening statement, I have managed the following excuses to go there in the last three months:
1 It's a convenient place to stop for lunch on the way to the where we're going
2 It's a useful route away from the the traffic jam on the way back from where we were going
3 It's a convenient place to stay when visiting a friend who lives in a town 15-20 miles away
4 It's a nice place to meet up with another friend and his wife for Sunday lunch tomorrow

It's hardly the social whirl of the century. But it is good to remind myself that the place I want to live is somewhere I always want to go back to.
Other excuses could have included
1 The torch lit procession through town for Guy Fawkes day
2 Because I want to
3 It's a really nice place to go
4 I feel at home there. In fact, I almost feel as though I own it although I know that I will probably never have the money to own so much as a bath and a sandwich toaster there

Tomorrow's trip is pretty important in that it will give Diana the chance to meet the final piece of my friend jigsaw. It's the man I inappropriately call Fildew. It's also the man I should accurately call Paul. He's married to Sarah whom I've never met. Should all the invited people turn up to our wedding next year, there will be three Sarahs and three Pauls. So, Fildew he remains.

And Fildew is an enigma wrapped up in cling film. If he felt comfortable with communicating with the outside world he'd be the most popular person around. But he's not so he has to make do with those who are dogged. In this case, that's me.

Anyway, if I thought he'd be able to stand the pressure of being sociable and organised for an entire day, I'd consider asking him to be my best man. But, like me, he's not.

Of bricks and mortar
After much gentle persuasion and idiotic determination, Nationwide finally deigned to lend us the money to buy the house in Ascot. Even after the decided to tell us that we had to stump up an extra £12,500 or go to hell, it took them three days to make a decision.

And within 24 hours of finally having the mortgage approved? The phone call. The estate agent. The news. The vendors have been knocked back by the owner of the house they wanted to buy. So, we're back in limbo. They want to sell us the house. We want to buy it. Where we go from here is anyone's guess.

Thursday, 6 November 2008


For anyone who may be upset by the result of the US election, here's a potentially unexpected bonus:
Sarah Palin's daughter no longer has to enter into a politically expedient marriage

By the way, if you are upset by the US election, why?

Isn't it frightening that a democratically elected politician in the great democracy on the planet has to give his first speech as president elect behind bullet proof glass?

Isn't it more frightening that the glass is there because of the fear that a fellow American is likely to be the one pulling the trigger?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Hope has sprung

The fat lady is warming up. I am going to bed.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Hope springs eternal or Waiting for the great leap forwards.

I remember 1992. I remember expecting Labour to win the general election and the crushing disappointment that followed. I couldn't believe that after 13 years, people still wanted to vote Conservative.
What crushed the spirit were the polls. Right up until the exit polls, Labour were destined to be the largest party in parliament. The result would reshape Britain's political boundaries. The pollsters got it wrong.
At least, the pollsters were said to have got it wrong. Perhaps they asked the wrong questions or wrote the answers down without really listening. Perhaps people were ashamed to admit that after 13 years of social division and policies that began the credit boom which is only now unraveling, they were still voting for the government.
Anyway, it's unfair to say anyone got it wrong. That would suggest that people used their democratic right frivolously and I'd hate to think that anyone would ever do that.
Well tonight my fear is that it is 1992 all over again. I had personal reasons to be deeply interested in the outcome of the 1992 general election. I have personal reasons for being deeply affected by the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.
In the last 18 months I have met and befriended more Americans than in the previous 34 put together. In under a year I am marrying an American and it's possible we may eventually live in the States. In the last four days I have become acutely of my dependence on prescription medicine. My heart condition is controlled by various prescription drugs and being without one of those drugs over the last few days has been intolerable.
And so I have been following the debates about health insurance with great interest. Only, there haven't really been any. It's been a non-existent issue.
It does rear its head in conjunction with the rhetoric of the campaign. From the right, the rhetoric has been all about socialism. Considering one of the main ways to get at Obama is to call him a socialist, it is amazing to think that no one in the US knows what a socialist actually is.
To think that anyone espousing a health scheme that still revolves around private insurance is a socialist is idiocy and juvenile propaganda. To claim that taxing those earning over $250,000 to help lower (not remove, lower) the cost of health care is as far removed from socialism as I am from a getting a book deal. Taxing the wealthiest to help the middle classes is not socialism. It's a glimmer of the redistribution of wealth.
Can you imagine a European socialist party with a limited tax plan to slightly reduce the cost of private health insurance by slightly raising the tax of a few? A socialist government would destroy the private system and replace it with a universal, centrally funded system that ensured equity regardless of social standing or wealth. A socialist government would increase the safety net for the poorest, funding it with the excessive wealth of those who had previously benefited from tax breaks designed to win votes rather than improve society.
Obama is no socialist. But until that term stops being thrown around with the same weight as thief or murderer, then sensible political debate will not happen.
But then calling him a liberal didn't stop people telling the pollsters they were going to vote Democrat. Socialist is one step further down the line. And I'm worried that the label will stick, that enough people will believe he cannot be trusted and it'll be 1992 all over again. That the (mental) energy invested in this election will bring only disappointment.

Anyway, I'll honour the outgoing president with one of my favourite Steve Bell cartoons:

Hope springs eternal. Every four years.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Were you just being kind?

I can't seem to stop sighing. What's that all about?

Thursday, 16 October 2008

In an ideal world

In an ideal world I'd buy one of the huge houses at the top of Oram's Arbour in Winchester. I'd enjoy the view through the trees across this magical strip of urban park. The view expands over the city itself and onto the Downs, rising proudly on the other side.

This isn't an idea world. So, although we are planning a move out of London, it wont be to Winchester yet. Instead a more affordable house in Ascot awaits and yes, you did read that correctly. It's a nice house, about the best we can afford even at this time of dropping house prices and although it's not the Arbour, it is next to the strip of land below. And, for the moment, that will more than do.

Monday, 13 October 2008

If at first you don't succeed

History is a funny old thing. Or not as the case may be. But with history it is possible to take yours eyes off the present.
We are currently so obsessed with 1929 and the depression that followed that we are in danger of missing impact of the depression.
There are two major government initiatives that must be stopped. Firstly the attempt to alter the rules of detention so that someone can be detained for up to 42 days without charge. The second is the expensive farrago of the identity card scheme. I abhor these ideas without reservation.
I abhor them because of the manner in which the whole nature of innocent until proven guilty is challenged by them. I abhor the necessity to collect information to which the government in not entitled. But I fear what could happen should the benign, paternal nature of modern government be replaced by something more repressive or authoritarian.
It couldn't happen here? Could it? Britain escaped fascism in the 1930s and has, whatever anyone may tell you, avoided extremes of governments. Although the Thatcher government seems to have been located on the extremity of British politics, its driven ideology has, until the last two weeks, become the norm. From 1979 until 2008 the centre of British politics shifted so that monetarist, decentralised, deregulated economics has been the accepted way for the economy to be run. Want to do it differently? Look at the States where anyone who disagrees with this philosophy is automatically a dangerous liberal or even a socialist (although let's face, those are tags used without any understanding of what they actually mean).
What would it take for our system to collapse? A sustained economic crisis perhaps? A collapse in faith in politicians? A charismatic figure to draw attention away from the issues and create folk devils to feed on an irrational hatred? Well, two out of the three are in place. Thank god for the lack of charisma in this country.
But who might these folk devils be? Well, Facebook groups suggesting that if people don't like it they should return home, do not help. Even if some of the comments may be attempts at humour, these groups do more damage than the Daily Mail ever could. By normalising these opinions it becomes easier for them to be expressed publicly in a manner which can become accepted.
The underlying current is that someone must be blamed. We are not conditioned to be able to challenge those who may actually be responsible. We ought to be attacking the monsters who have deregulated everything. We ought to be attacking upwards. As usual we are attacking downwards.
So, it couldn't happen here could it?

Monday, 6 October 2008

Love knows no boundaries

Love overcomes all barriers. Apparently. That includes the Home Office Border Agency.

There was a time when obtaining permission to get married meant appeasing parents.

More recently it alluded to convincing priests that you really had been going to church all this time, not just at Christmas and Easter if at all. Now getting a certificate of approval is required for all non-British people who dare to marry someone from these shores.

There will be those who say that it will stop marriages of convenience. But charging £295 and requiring a couple of photographs is hardly the way to do it. It’s not a measure to stop illegal immigration; it’s a method of raising revenue. Just like the £500 it cost for Diana’s Leave to Remain (and the £500 is cost last year too). Now doubt, once we’re married Diana’s visa will need to be altered to reflect her right to remain here indefinitely. That’s the big one at £795.

Marriage will not get Diana her ‘indefinite leave to remain straight away’. Marriage will give Diana another two years on her visa. After a further two years she will get resident status.

There are many conflicts here. First is the desire amongst our politicians to promote the family as the means of fixing an apparently broken society. Second is the desire amongst our politicians to promote strict immigration controls as a means of preventing our society becoming ever more broken. Third comes the promise to keep taxes low, direct income tax that is. Well, taxing foreigners who want to come here, or who are already here is hardly going to be unpopular as it helps to reinforce the fears stoked by numbers one and two.

And so marriage becomes a political football. Except for those involved. So, for those invited, forgive us if we don’t have a brass band at our wedding in October 2009, if we try and pass off the wedding cake as dessert or if we don’t have the finest champagne. Just remember the £1100 we’ve had to pay the government and enjoy the party we have managed to put on.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

No news might actually be good news

Pre-season. Ah the joy of a few brief football free hours. David Mitchell wrote in the Guardian about the pain of constant media focus on football in the summer and he's right, although not funny which is, after all what he's there for.
For Crystal Palace fans, it has been a pre-season of unrelenting gloom. Players leaving. Players not coming back. Chairman leaving.
None of which individually bother me other than the probable departure of Ben Watson. It's just that taken together, it spells another mediocre season where the focus is on anything other than football.
My enthusiasm is slightly tweaked though by an email from an American here in London. He's got friends coming over in September and wants to know if the Palace Swansea game was likely to sell out. Not at £30 a ticket. I'll break the cost to him nearer the time.

Monday, 7 July 2008

You make me brave

I'm sure there are cliches that go here. I'm sure that the first year is the hardest. I'm certain there are millions of people worse off than myself, whose pain is greater and constant, whose lives are masked by pain, poverty and hunger, humiliation and exploitation, disease and despair. It doesn't mean I can't feel loss and be affected by it on a daily basis. The suffering of others should never prevent you from
This Thursday is dad's birthday. I used to feel embarrassed that he would take flowers or wine to his mother on his late father's birthday or their anniversary. I felt certain that she would be over it or that she wouldn't want to be reminded of his absence.
And as I approach what would be his birthday, the first since he died I am drawn to follow his lead. And I see that it is what I have to do. Not just to help mum with her pain but to get help with my own.

Monday, 26 May 2008

That was the river

There are certain things I know now:

  • I know that when you try to make conversation with the butcher and he says, "Like I said, sir..." then you should just be grateful that you have a butcher you can go to. But don't expect him to be grateful that you're grateful
  • A conservatory is fine in the heat but it's even better when it's raining
  • You shouldn't really mention having a conservatory
  • Sometimes you have do a bad thing to appreciate all that is good
  • There are green parrots in the wild in Twickenham. I suspect they're following me. I used to see them in Greenwich Park. They may not, of course, be the same ones
  • Bristol is a nice city. I'm going back there soon
  • Radiohead didn't deliberately become avant-garde and obscure. They just forgot how to write songs
  • I'm not celebrating England's win over New Zealand. It felt like a low quality game between two low quality teams. A win only confirms that Michael Vaughan is a great captain. Michael Vaughan is not a great captain.. Ok, he might be quite good but he's such an arse. His interviews are limp cliches held together but simplistic, political analysis designed to promote the self than express honest emotions
  • Spot the odd one out in this picture (clue: the answer is Michael Vaughan)
  • Why is he the odd one out? Well, much like his interview technique, he's trying to be something he's not. He wants to look tough. He actually looks camp. Very, very camp
  • It doesn't matter what I think
  • It doesn't matter what anyone thinks
  • Strangers are often the people who help you to see more clearly
  • These days I only write in order to avoid writing. It would be nice to think that this essay really might write itself. Somehow I doubt it

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Five months on

Diana and I took mum out for lunch. There was an empty chair. It still hurts like hell.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Never Again. Never Ever Ever Ever Ever. Until Next Year

New Year's Eve on a plane. All bonhomie, champagne and good wishes? Not a hope in a million. Instead, it's blinds down, lights out and not even the merest sniff of an announcement. So this year I celebrated New Year (GMT) at 17:00 on a bus between the car rental office and Phoenix Airport (they call it a Sky Harbor, I wont be doing such a thing). I celebrated New Year (actual) twenty minutes late and somewhere over Ohio.
That said, it's more than I'd usually do. Celebrating and New Year aren't things I'd normally put together. I'd be more inclined to celebrate if it took an effort to move the clock forward but as time moves on regardless it hardly seems like it's done anything to deserve my praise.