Thursday, July 25, 2019


We are, as I write this, experiencing the hottest day ever recorded in the UK. Fortunately, Horsham has a fountain, the kind that shoots water up from the pavement at various heights, to please the eye and provide a place for children and the adventurous to frolic and, on a day like today, cool off. Unfortunately, the Horsham District Council decided to celebrate the hottest day ever, by shutting the fountain off.

Horsham's Non-Water Fountain
Their excuse: sunscreen, it might get into the filters, and it might damage them. Also, children might slip.

This might have made sense (well, actually, no, it wouldn’t) but for a few extraneous reasons:

- Fountains in cities all over the world are famously packed with people on hot days. Some of these fountains are hundreds of years old and they all seem to be working fine, and as far as I know, no one has died.

- This particular fountain has been operating fine, even with children gamboling about in it, for several years now. Would another week have hurt? Why shut if off on the hottest day…ever?

No problems  here; must be Horsham-specific.
While it may seem illogical and indefensible (because it is), they did not do it because they hate children (although there is nothing to suggest that they don’t); they did it because they are afraid of water.

This makes perfect sense, when you take this recent move into historical context.

The Shelly Fountain, it was an icon of our town, it put it on the map, it was what people thought of when they thought of Horsham, but the Council shut it down, put a fence around it, left it to rot and then dug it up and made a planter out of it.

Such a joyful fountain...

...left to rot... pushing up birch trees.
The Swans, a much-loved sculpture in the Swan Walk Shopping Mall, depicted swans coming in to land on a sheet of water, about 1-inch deep. There were little jets of water that shot against the swan’s feet, giving the impression of movement. It was a lovely image, until they took the water out and replaced it with glass.


There was a water feature in the plaza near the Bishopric, a babbling brook that ran over a waterfall. This was turned off some time ago without funfair or explanation.

No reason. I guess they just didn't like it.
There is also a water fountain that was put in the town during Queen Victoria’s reign. It was restored in 1977 and hasn’t been active for as long as I can remember.

I can't recall ever seeing water in this thing.
And even the town watering trough has been turned into a planter.

Think of the poor cows!
So, you see, the move to turn off the fountain in the plaza was the next logical step toward a water-free town. If you come to visit Horsham now, you will find not a single water feature working. Apparently, this is what the Council is aiming for.

I understand their next move will be to drain the River Arun.

The River Arun, and The Riverside Walk, soon to be The Dried-out Trenchside Walk

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


Time was, you had to meet someone face to face to be scammed. Then con-men discovered mail, and the telephone, and email and their job became easier and easier until you could find yourself sat on your sofa watching Homes Under the Hammer, content in the knowledge that you had a hefty sum nestling in your bank while, unbeknownst to you, someone from the other side of the world was transferring your money from your account into his.

"Hell-o, Mr. Harling's Bank. This is Mr. Harling. I should like you take all
money from my accounts and place them in Cayman Island account, yes?
Oh, certainly, I am Mr. Harling. I do not pretending to be him.
Money is sent? Спасибо, I mean, thank you.
This has led me to develop a simple, but hard and fast rule: if anyone approaches me—via phone, mail, email, at my door or on the street—that I do not know as a friend or who is not responding to a request for assistance or sustenance, that person is, de facto, a criminal with the intent of pulling money out of my pocket and sticking it in his.

That this rule has led me to hanging up on actual utility companies and, in one memorable occasion, a hospital calling to tell me my father-in-law was being discharged and needed a ride home, is unfortunate, but I still believe it is better to err on the side of caution. I never click on links in an email and I routinely hang up on unknown callers.

But, while phone calls and extraneous emails remain a nuisance, they are easily dealt with, What I really fear is being scammed while I’m not looking. Fortunately, this has never happened. Until the other day.

I was doing the monthly updates of our accounts and noticed a fee of £98.83 taken from my bank account by a company I had never heard of. This didn’t alarm me at first. I often forget that I have bought something, but a Google search generally jogs my memory, allowing me to recall a holiday purchase from a little store in the Highlands a month or two back who have finally gotten around to taking their money. In this instance, however, the search only served to heighten my suspicion.

It was a loan company, the type catering to recently released felons and/or people with a bankruptcy looming in their background. Additionally, I found a thread on a message board about this company having taken a hundred quid from someone’s account in similarly suspicious circumstances. They were not only a dodgy loan company, they had form, so I went down to my bank, explained the situation and they, quite helpfully, canceled the direct debit, refunded my money and began an investigation.

Later that day, after finishing the household accounts, I noticed, with extreme unease, that we had more money than I thought we should. Having less doesn’t surprise, or unsettle me. But more? There was clearly something wrong. After some careful searching, I realized that a very expensive purchase I made some months back had never been deducted from my account. I wondered about this, and why I had no paperwork. Surely something that expensive would generate paperwork.

It took a while, but I finally tracked down an e-mail that jogged my memory. Something I had received and filed without thought weeks earlier: the sum I owed the company was being taken in installments, which explained why I had not seen a drop in our bank balance. Additionally, the installments had been converted to a no-interest loan by the company, and turned over to…a loan company.

In a panic, I contacted my bank, only to be told that, as the investigation process had started, there was no way they could stop it. They suggested I call the loan company, which I did, with great trepidation. I imagined they would not be pleased at my having taken the money back, and might say something like, “You took your money back? That’s okay, Vinny will be around to collect it. You’ll recognize him. He’ll be carrying a cricket bat in one hand, and a cash box in the other. You’ll become acquainted with one of them. Your choice.”

"Good morning, Mr. Harling. We can do this the easy way,
or the hard way."
The loan company, however, was cordial, and understanding, “Oh don’t worry about it,” the woman chirped, “It happens all the time.” Which only served to confirm what type of loan company they were.

Long story short (too late) everything was eventually straightened out, they got their money, the bank has been mollified, all future payments should go ahead without a hitch, and Vinny never paid me a visit.

But I’m still going to be cautious when answering the door for the next few weeks.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Day of the Ziffit

This is to be a day of sitting and waiting. Let me tell you why.

We are readers. And as such—and despite occasionally taking advantage of the amazing convenience of eBooks—we habitually visit bookstores and charity shops and return home with arm-loads of new acquisitions. In a perfect world, this would not present a problem—an ever-expanding library is a joy to a book-reader—but, alas, this is not a perfect world so we do not live in a mansion with a library and snooker room that we could turn into a library. We live in a tiny flat, a reality which, from time to time, requires us to cull the herd.

We undertook such a purge a few weeks ago. But this one was different, as we had discovered a service called Ziffit.

It sounded brilliant. You download the app, point your phone at the bar-code on the book and, ping, the book is added to a list, along with the amount of money Ziffit will pay you for it. You do this to all the books you want to get rid of, then take them to a handy collection point (there is, it turns out, one half a mile away from us) where they are shipped to Ziffit Central and a few days later, money appears in your bank account.

That’s what the website said, at least. The reality was a little different.

It started well. I pointed my phone at the first book. Ping! It was accepted. The next book was not. Nor was the next. Nor the next. I scanned several series, where one book in the series was accepted, and all the others rejected. I scanned old books, new books, rare books, popular books—nothing. In all, I scanned over one hundred books. Of that, only eight were accepted, for a total of £4.97. This in my view, wasn’t enough to bother with. So I didn't.

Undeterred, or perhaps because I had already done all the work to dig them out, I then scanned our collection of CDs.

The CD cull represented a major step in our efforts to regain storage space. We’d been hauling these CDs around with us for years but only recently realized that we no longer owned a CD player. So, even if we did one day decide to move several items of heavy bedroom furniture and search through the box under the bed to find that one song (rather than just cue it up on our phone) we wouldn’t be able to play it anyway.

Still, it was a heart-rending decision. These were physical items, sought-after jewels that, throughout our lives, we had scoured erstwhile records stores for and listened to over and over again. Each one evoked memories, making them more than just a collection of useless, plastic discs. But, while memories don’t take up space, things that evoke them do, so the CDs were consigned to the Ziffit pile.

That went marginally better. The hit-rate for CDs was about 1 to 4, so we ended up with a big pile of acceptables, and four big piles of rejects to haul down to the charity shops, which, incredibly, still accept CDs.

Following Ziffit’s guidelines, I boxed up the ones they wanted, closed out the list and moved on to the step where I arranged to take them to the local drop-off point. To my consternation, that option mysteriously disappeared, leaving me no choice but to arrange for a courier to come pick it up, which required our presence. And the pick-up window was from 8AM to 5PM.

The upshot was, in order to get rid of the CDs—and, hopefully, see £98.07 put in our bank account—we had to take a full day out of our oddly busy schedule so we can sit here, in the flat, all day long, waiting for someone to come take this box. (And how, I have to wonder, do people with the inconvenience of jobs cope with this?)

Ziffit, to their credit, did try to soften the blow by telling me that, on the day, they would send an email with a 1-hour window “so you can plan your day.” Sorry, too little, too late. I plan my day in the weeks leading up to it, not at 9AM when I may or may not get an email telling me to be here from 1 to 2PM. (No email yet, by the by.)

To conclude, it would have been a lot less trouble and taken a lot less time if I had just bundled everything up and schlepped it down to the charity shops. The only up-side to Ziffit that I can see is that, from here on, I won’t be tempted to try any of the “Bucks for Books” dot coms popping up like housing estates on green-field sites.

However, if you find yourself with a surplus of books, or a surfeit of obsolete CDs, and you don’t mind buying packing materials or waiting around all day for a delivery van, then you might give them a try. After all, despite my moaning, I am going to be almost a hundred quid to the good when this is over. And I am getting a day off where I don’t have to run here or there or do this or that so, all in all, I would call it a win. But just.

UPDATE: Three emails and two text assuring me they would come get my package today. We waited all day, and no one showed up. No hundred quid, and I have to unpack all the CDs and take them to the charity shop. Ziffit can stuff it.

Disclaimer: Ziffit is not paying me for this, aside from the money they promised for the CDs. They did not solicit a review and, frankly, would probably have been happier if I had not supplied one

Monday, May 13, 2019


Shropshire is beautiful. You should go. Right now. I’ll wait…

Back already? Nice, wasn’t it? We just spent a week there in a holiday cottage and it was wonderful.

It was a bit out of the way, and I have to say that the directions left a little to be desired. When talking to the owner, during the traditional “Where do we find the key?” phone call, the woman did warn me that the SatNav (short for Satellite Navigation, what you Americans erroneously call a GPS) wouldn’t bring me to the cottage. She didn’t, however, tell me where it would bring me. All she told me was to watch out for a black sign with a white arrow on it.

And so, we set off, thinking we couldn’t possibly go wrong. It only occurred to me how lacking her directions were when we saw the black sign with the white arrow. It told us we were on the right track, but we weren’t sure what to do with that information. The arrow pointed at a large and cluttered farmyard with a narrow strip of tarmac next to it, which did not look inviting. So, we continued to follow the SatNav, knowing that, at some point, it would steer us wrong, but we didn’t know when that might be.

Of course we went to a castle; the place is lousy with them.
The SatNav had us follow the road (a slightly less narrow strip of tarmac) and stop at a dead end in front of a house that was clearly not our holiday cottage. Fortunately, when we turned around in the driveway, the woman of the house—along with a guy out walking his dog—came over to see what we wanted.

I asked if there was a holiday cottage in the vicinity and she and the guy exchanged knowing looks, then told us how to get there. I think they go through this a lot.

Turns out, the owner should have said, “When you see the black sign with the white arrow, follow the arrow down the lane until it ends. Then keep going. When you can’t go any farther, that’s where the cottage is.”

Iron Bridge--World Heritage Site.
Don't let the photo fool you, there is a lot more to do
there than just stare at an iron bridge.
We did as the dog-walker suggested and found the cottage just as the owners were finishing getting it ready for us. They gave us the keys, showed us around, and then we never saw them again, which is what I like in a host, and which, I am sure, they appreciate in a guest.

Now, we have previously stayed at cottages where we needed the SatNav to get there, but we have never before stayed at a cottage where we needed the SatNav for the entire week, to not only continue to find the cottage after a day of sight-seeing, but also to find our way out in order to go sight-seeing. It was, in a word, remote.

There were canals everywhere, and they provided some excellent walks.

They also had an impressive aqueduct...

...and an impressive tunnel.
This is what it looked like from the outside.

This is what it looked like on the inside.
When we first started going on cottage holidays, we used to dine out every night. It wasn’t long before that got old, so we starting decreasing the frequency of restaurant meals and increasing the number of dine-at-home meals until, for the past several years, our routine has evolved into us arriving in the area of the cottage early so we can find a supermarket and do a week’s shop. Then, we spend the week going out in the mornings to a local tourist site and returning in the afternoons to potter about with our respective hobbies, make dinner, do the washing up and sit in front of the telly until it’s time to go to bed with a cup of tea and a good book. We, therefore, don’t really go on holiday, we simply live in another part of the country for a week. In this case, I was doubly grateful for our established routine because—SatNav or no—we’d never have found the cottage in the dark.

If you’ve ever stayed in a holiday cottage, you’ll know there are two type of hosts. One is the kind whose prime motivation is kitting out their offering as inexpensively as possible. This results in a week of disappointments as you discover cheap utilities, shoddy furnishings, inadequate plumbing (we once stayed in a cottage where the bathroom sink was so small I could literally—that’s literally in the literal sense—cover it with my hand), hard beds, flat pillows, thin blankets and single-ply toilet paper. The other type of host has a bit of pride and doesn’t fall for the false economy of buying cheap, knowing that buying quality means less breakage and wear, and results in satisfied guests who might turn into repeat customers. I am pleased to report that our latest hosts were of the latter persuasion. The cottage was well-appointed, with comfortable furniture, quality white goods, perfectly acceptable water pressure and plush toilet paper.

The weather, however, was not as accommodating. It was cool all week, cloudy and, from Thursday on, rainy. Still, we managed to visit some nice sites and see a great deal of stunning scenery. Then the food ran out, so we knew it was time to move out of the cottage and back into our flat, where we go out and do things in the mornings, potter about with our respective hobbies in the afternoons, make dinner, do the washing up and sit in front of the telly until it’s time to go to bed with a cup of tea and a good book, leaving unanswered the eternal question, “If you’re retired, how do you know when you’re on holiday?”

Shrewsbury, a perfectly adequate little city, even in the rain.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Tuesday Morning, 6 AM

This is the day my wife and I go swimming. For exercise. I hate it.

I hate the early start. I hate the chilly (and, until recently, dark) walk to the leisure centre. I hate changing in those little cubicles. I hate having to hold my stomach in as I walk to the pool. I even hate the swimming, which is mind-numbingly boring, and the public shower afterward. The only thing I like about it is stepping out of the leisure centre into the now-not-quite-as-frigid-and-dark morning to go to the Cafe in the Park for a cup of tea and a toasted teacake. That feeling of having the swimming behind me and something else to look forward to is what keeps me going back week after week (that, and my wife reminding me of how beneficial it is). It’s akin to hitting yourself in the head with a hammer just because it feels so good when you stop.

All of this is strange to me because, as a youth, I loved swimming. In fact, love is too bland a word. I lived for swimming.

Such was our eagerness to get back into the water that we—the half-dozen kids in the area I grew up in—designated Memorial Day as the opening of swimming season, and celebrated it each year with an inaugural trek to the local swimming hole.

Where I swam as a kid.
Memorial Day comes on the final weekend in May and, while it can often be deceptively warm, the holiday is separated from the time when the streams raged with a torrent of snow-melt by mere weeks. Consequently, the water was scrotum-clenchingly cold, but we never let that deter us. We walked over the fields and through the ravine to the nearest bend in the creek to splash in the fast, icy water until our lips turned blue, then we made our way back to our homes where the hot dogs, potato salad and watermelon of the first barbecue of the season waited for us.

Where I swim now.
School ended not long after, ushering in ten glorious weeks of summer, when I swam almost every day. From the age of ten or eleven until my early twenties, summer days were split between the series of cliffs, waterfalls and dam at the edge of the the nearby town of Stuyvesant Falls signified, respectively, as The Cliff, Lower Falls and The Dam and collectively as The Sand Bar, and the more secluded bend in the creek known locally as Wagoner’s.

The Sand Bar and surroundings offered the opportunity of jumping from high places into deep water, and the exhilaration of climbing back up the cliffs to do it again. There was also the thrill of crossing dangerous rapids to get to some of these places, coupled with the pleasantly disquieting knowledge that, if the water rose too far, you might be trapped out there, or be swept away by the white, roiling water.

The Sand Bar, taken when I was an adult. This is the beach (the actual Sand Bar).
Behind is The Dam. Cliffs and Lower Falls not pictured.
This is The Cliff.
Yeah, I jumped off that.
Wagoner’s, on the other hand, involved a languid stroll through dusty fields and down rutted farm tracks to a bend in the creek that was boarded by a ridge of rock on one side and shallow rapids on the other. This formed a pocket of slow-running water, deep enough to accommodate dives from the rope swing hanging from a tree on the high bank.

Both had their place, and were equally utilized, and I spent many lazy afternoons splashing in the cool, green water, or shivering on the rocky beach, waiting for the sun to warm me so I could go splash again. Everything about it excited the senses: the glaring sun washing the color from everything except our naked backs, which turned red in the first weeks before going nut-brown, the coolness of the water, the slightly rotting smell of the creek, the hushed heat of the ninety-degree afternoons, the wet bodies glistening, the sounds of yelps and squeals as the boys, and girls, swung from the rope or jumped from dizzying heights.

In comparison, the sterile, rule-driven environment of the leisure centre is…well, there is no comparison. I go there to exercise, to swim, back and forth, in a designated lane, over and over and over again. I realize this is good for me, I admit I can see the benefits, but I would give a pretty for just one afternoon of getting my exercise by climbing the cliffs, navigating the rapids or swinging from the rope to splash into the cool, green water.

Swimming--for probably the last time--at Wagoner's.
But after that, I really wouldn’t mind a nice hot shower (public or not) and a visit to the cafe for a cup of tea and a toasted teacake.

Monday, April 1, 2019

April Fool's Day

A strange thing happened this morning. My wife and I woke up to find, for the first time in, well, forever, that there is nothing on our calendar.

Today is the second day of British Summertime, which, even if the weather was crap (which it isn’t) is kinda nice. The sun is shining, the sky is a cloudless blue, we are both without the need to go to work (this is my wife’s first official day of Professional Retirement, having passed her exam and turned in her ‘L’ plate last Friday) and there are no appointments to keep, no crisis to deal with or even any pressing tasks we have been letting go that demanded attention NOW.

We are still in shock.

I know it’s April Fool’s Day but, trust me, this is not a joke, which made me wonder what jokes could actually be played on this day. The newspapers traditionally publish ludicrous, but almost believable, headlines on this day, but with the world being as it is, what could they possibly print that would be stranger than actual fact? Trump Resolves to Become a Rational Human Being? Britain Finally Comes to Its Senses? They’re not exactly laugh-inducing headlines, and they would be spotted straight away as untrue.

Typical Joke Headline
So, I decided to not think about it, or any of the other nonsense going on in the clusterfuck they call Britain or the Banana Republic across the pond, and instead walked into town with my newly retired wife to get tea at the Park Cafe.

Part of the reason for this unexpected leisure had to do with The Show being over. There were no songs to learn, no lines to rehearse and no practices to prepare for and, although that leaves a big hole in my life, for the time being, it’s a good feeling.

The Show—Keep Smiling Through—opened on Friday the 22nd, and closed on Saturday the 23rd, but that wasn’t because critics from The Guardian, The Independent or The Daily Telegraph panned us in their reviews; it was always scheduled as a two-day only event. Also, as far as I know, no one from The Guardian, The Independent or The Daily Telegraph showed up anyway.

The Show, in case you missed my previous post about it, was a WWII revue, put on by The Unitarian Players. It went well, and was everything an AmDram production should be, including awkward silences, flubbed lines and creative ad libbing.

We had a final meeting after the run, where they showed us a video of the entire production from beginning to end. It was the first time I had seen the show. All I knew of it were the parts I was in, so to see it fully and in its proper sequence was as new to me as it was to the audience.

The singing was really good. There are several members of the group with outstanding voices, and the ladies did their routines with practiced ease and no visible panic.

Us men, on the other hand…not that there weren’t some outstanding performances, but one guy (that would be me) managed to lead the group into the wrong verse of a song, which precipitated one of those awkward silences. In another skit, four of us were singing, and doing movements to, Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line, and we looked like four guys who had just met and decided to do a song and dance together.

Me, Rob and John ready for our Nightingale Sang in Berekly Square number
But it all added to the humor, and I like to think the audience took this unintended comedy to be part of the production.

The atmosphere, however, was what I recall most. It was thrillingly frenetic “backstage” (read: the church hall adjacent to the chapel): changing costumes, lining up for the next scene, trying to keep your voice to a whisper and checking the script outline to see if you might have time to gulp down a coffee before you had to go on again. It was—in a little church AmDram group sort of way—thrilling.

In the Green Room, waiting to go on.
Due to the subject matter, several members of the cast told me stories of their wartime experiences, both while we were waiting to go on and at the gathering after the event. They weren’t (thankfully) horrific tales, but they were personal, so I won’t recount them here. All I will say is, they put my consternation at Waitrose’s failure—for two weeks running—to stock my favorite Soft-Baked Belvita Breakfast Bars into perspective.

I'm the white blob on the right
It also puts into perspective that, no matter how fraught and angst-ridden the modern world is, at least no one is dropping bombs on us. (Aside from the obvious disadvantages, it would really put a crimp in the supply-line for those Soft-Baked Belvita Breakfast Bars.)

And so, we finished our tea, took a wander through the shops and returned home to do whatever we pleased with our time, which was a good way to remind ourselves that, despite all, life can be good at times.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Practice Retirement Update

Before I bring you up to speed on my wife’s Practice Retirement, I thought I’d provide an update to my WTF blog post of 15 January:

In the nine and a half weeks since that post—highlighting the absolute lack of real progress on Brexit in the two years and seven months since the Referendum—here is what has happened: Nothing. We are, if anything further from Brexit than when we started, and there has been no actual progress toward an actual solution since…well, ever.

To be fair, if you call getting everyone in the country pissed off at one another and so frustrated with the government’s inability to govern that they are wishing they would do anything—crash out, make a deal, hold a water-pistol fight in Horse Guards Parade with the last MP standing getting to decide the future of the country, anything—other than point fingers, blame each other for their own failures and fritter away time as if it was as endless a commodity as EU migrants waiting to invade Blightly, then I guess you could say there has been progress, of a sort.

But that has little to do with my wife, other than she is also facing a cliff-edge date in about a week’s time.

As you know, my wife began her Practice Retirement on the first of April last year. The idea was, she could sample the retirement lifestyle and then decide if she wanted to return to work or not. It was an ideal scenario, because my wife liked her job and I was certain she would feel lost without it and would want to run back to it before autumn set in. As it turned out, she took to the life of leisure, and discovered she really wasn’t as keen on this working for a living thing as she thought. It was, therefore, something of a mixed blessing when, during her absence, they abolished her job.

Now, by law, her office had to offer her a comparable job, or redundancy, or something, so, as the deadline neared, she began querying her office to see what they intended to do with her. Due to her need to provide three months’ notice, her decision had to be made by the first of January, so she began her enquires in November. By the end of December, she had heard nothing.

The deadline came and went, and still no word. When she at last managed to get a meeting (only by accidentally running into her boss’ boss at an unrelated gathering) they came to the table with no deal in place and no idea what to do about her situation. (Sound familiar?)

An offer of a comparable—though, unsatisfactory—job was hinted at but no other contingency plans were mooted, so my wife decided to make it easy for them and sent them a letter of resignation in mid-February. The only issue with that was, it meant her three-month notice period would end in mid-May, requiring her to return to work for six weeks. The supposition was, when they got her letter of resignation, they would advise on what they wanted her to do concerning the stray six weeks.

So, she waited.

And waited.


No decision, not even an acknowledgment that her resignation had been received.

So, she sent a reminder, and received a response that made it clear that nothing at all had been done concerning her resignation.

At length, and not so long ago, she received a letter asking if she would be happy to simply not come back, and not be paid for any excess time she might have been required to work. Incredibly, my wife was happy, genuinely happy, to do just that. She sent off her final letter, accepting their offer of nothing, and has yet to receive an acknowledgment that her acceptance letter has even been received, much less acted on.

And so, as her cliff-edge date approaches, she does not actually know—via any official letter or acknowledgment—if she is actually required to return to work on the first of April or not.

You may draw any parallels between this and Brexit that you like, I’m merely concerned with whether or not I need to get my wife up for work next Monday and send her off with a packed lunch to an unknown job that she has agreed to not be paid for.

Brexit Chart
(Big Government Decision Making)
Just realized this is last week's Brexit indecision chart but, really, there's little difference.

Job Offer Chart
(Little Government Decision Making)
Still no word.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Treading the Boards

It’s 5:51 AM and I am sitting in my office looking alternately at a blank screen and the paltry list of posts I have put up on this blog over the past year, and pondering the mystery of why, if I am so busy, I can’t find anything to write about. The reason is, some time ago, I made the decision to not write about these activities because I didn’t think anyone would be interested in them (as opposed, for example, to my kitchen renovation).

While I am still not convinced anyone would be interested, I am aware that not a lot else is going on in my life right now, so I’d better find a way to make these niche interests more interesting if I’m going to continue writing this blog. (And I sorta have to now; it’s one of the longest-running blogs in the short history of the Internet)*.

This encouraged me to think about what I am doing these days, and brought to mind the fact that I haven’t even mentioned my most recent undertaken, which is the one taking up the bulk of my time these days. Somehow, some way, about six months ago, I became increasingly entangled in an AmDram production.

(AmDram, for the US readers, is short for Amateur Dramatics. I’m not sure if this is a UK term, all I know is I never heard it until I came over here, but that may simply be because I wasn’t paying attention.)

Dramatics—Am or Pro—is not something I ever thought of getting into. While I do like theatre, I never leave a production thinking, “Hey, I’d really like to give that a go.” In fact, having known a few low-key thespians over the years, I was put off the idea when I discovered the amount of time and effort needed to put on even a small production. That, plus the fact that I can’t act. (Although, having seen a fair share of Amateur theatre, both here and in the States, I wonder that this is a requirement.)

My tale began last autumn, when a newish member of my choir sent me an email asking if I knew of any tenors (hint, hint) willing to help out with some songs a group she was in was doing. I said I’d be interested, even though I was unclear of what it was all about. I met with her, she explained a bit and, still not aware of what it was all about, I went to the meeting.

It turned out to be a local group putting on a sort of review of WWII songs and they needed a tenor and, well, stroke my ego and I’ll follow you anywhere. So, I signed on.

Over the ensuing weeks, I learned the songs, the movements, where the coffee was kept and, believe it or not, remained unaware of what I had gotten myself into. I remember thinking, as I was updating my schedule, that this new venture was not, as I had supposed, just another choir. With a choir, you can miss a session or two, but this—whatever it was—demanded my presence at the practice sessions, and I had to be there for the performances because—again, unlike a choir—there were parts only I could do. And I remember thinking I didn’t relish that sort of pressure.

And yet, I still remained unaware of what was going on until a few weeks ago, when I found myself on the costume committee, visiting local, and sizable, AmDram groups and hearing them chat to the other committee members, saying things like, “Weren’t you in that production of Oklahoma, back in ‘98?” or, “I was in Guys and Dolls with Allister last year, you remember him?” followed by, “Oh, yes, he and I did a modern-day version of Much Ado About Nothing in Guildford last year.” That’s when all the clues added up:
  • While I was practicing my songs, others were in a different room, practicing sketches.
  • Although I thought I was in some sort of choral group, not everyone in the group sang.
  • As the weeks went on, they became more and more focused on synchronized movements and costumes.
Then, belatedly, it hit me: I am in an AmDram group, doing amateur dramatics.

Fortunately, I don’t have a speaking role. All I have to do is sing, and do some movements to the songs, and over time I have noticed that, in most of the songs I am involved in, those movements (read: dramatic opportunities) have become less and less, and often disappeared altogether. (I told you I was a rubbish actor.)

As of this writing, there are two weeks and two days to the production. It will be presented at the Unitarian Church in Horsham on the evenings of the 22nd and 23rd of March, the Friday and Saturday. And I can’t say I feel anywhere near ready.

If you care to come see us—The Unity Players—present “Keep Smiling Through – WWII in songs and sketches” then, by all means, come. We’re trying to fill the hall; apparently, it’s no fun playing to a half-empty room.

Admission is free, which should appeal to you in the US. There is a Retiring Collection but if you’ve just spent a couple hundred on air fare, we’ll cut you a break.

And so, that’s what I spend a great deal of my time doing these days, until the end of March, that is, when they break up for the summer. They may or may not ask me to join them for their next production, but if they do, I think I might give it a go, as long as they don’t give me a speaking part.

* I didn’t want to digress inside the post, but a claim as bold as that needs some validation, hence the long footnote:

The actual, longest, continually running blog is (or may be) Rec Humor Funny (you can read a bit more of the story of RHF's creation if you like), which was begun in August 1987.

My first foray into the Inter-Web was on the 26th of March 1996, and I began a Web Log (the forerunner of Blogs and from which the term Blog was fashioned) shortly thereafter. In those early days I used Xoom, Geocities and Tripod, among others, before buying my own domain,, on 11 November 1999.

While I did have a number of blogs, they all merged from one into the other to form a continuous chronology, just with different titles. They were:

Cracks of Time
The Dumpster
Suburban Hell
The Soapbox 
and possibly a few others. 

These were all attempts to have some sort of creative, cathartic outlet while being held virtual prisoner by She Who Must Not Be Named (read the book).

In April 1999, I renamed my blog to Dance Diary so I could chronicle my latest obsession: becoming an Irish Dancer. This blog followed my progress, my competitions and my eventual trip to Ireland in 2001, after which it was re-branded as Postcards From Across the Pond, and it has remained so to this day.

In 2006 I finally moved from HTML to Blogger, and the Lindewald site eventually became home to my author website. All the past posts—the on-line versions at any rate—are gone, and Xoom, Geocities and their ilk no longer exist.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Renovation Resolution

When we last visited the ongoing renovation saga, we were waiting for an electrician to visit. This visit was promised by the electrician who had fixed the blown fuse that had defused our Thanksgiving Dinner, and who had been appalled by the state of the electrics. This had happened before, and no promised visit had occurred, so my wife and I set out to find suitable tiles for the half-finished kitchen.

This is what we have been living with since November
We brought the tiles home and I contacted the Kitchen Guy to come and finish the job. Then an amazing thing happened: an electrician came to the flat to prepare an estimate for the landlord to upgrade the fuse box.

We were astonished by this. The landlord had, heretofore, shown no interest in fixing the the fuse-box, despite it having been repeatedly reported as A) antiquated and B) dangerous. Apparently, he got tired of being told and figured he’d at least see how much it would cost to stop electricians chuntering on about it.

The electrician fiddled a bit, wrote up a quote (nowhere near as much as what we had already spent on the kitchen) and then set about unscrewing a switch-plate so he could see what the wiring behind it looked like. I told him he could see all the electrics he wanted to in the kitchen, where the walls were still nothing but plaster and wires, and he thought that was a grand idea, until he saw it.

When he entered the kitchen, he literally groaned and said, “I wish you hadn’t shown me this.”

Apparently, the wiring in our kitchen was not only dangerous, it was illegal, and to remain true to his electrician’s oath, he was duty-bound to report it. This meant the landlord would have to have the kitchen rewired, which did not make me happy. Causing the landlord to spend money had not been the plan. In fact, the entire project had been conceived so he wouldn’t have to spend any money, and here he was being forced to shell out God knows how much to rectify illegal wiring. This was not going to endear us to him, and I could see our nice, new kitchen being enjoyed by someone else while we lived under a bridge. (Revenge evictions are like a competitive sport among landlords here.)

Apparently, this isn't the done thing.
And so, the electrician left, and we called the Kitchen Guy and told him to stand down because it would do little good for him to tile the kitchen only to have it torn apart for the wring to be done. And we waited.

And waited.

The holidays came and went, a new year arrived, and another birthday eased me into an era that, as Paul McCartney notes, finds me losing my hair and wondering if someone will still send me a valentine, birthday greeting or bottle of wine.

And, still, we waited.

Then, in mid-February, the electrician arrived, and we had to move everything out of the kitchen and stack it in the living room while, for two days, he fiddled with wires and left us sitting in the dark for extended periods. When he left, we cleaned up, moved all the stuff back into the kitchen and called the Kitchen Guy. I expected to spend a week or so chasing him around, but he called straight back and told us he’d send a guy to do the plastering the next day.

So, we took everything out of the kitchen, again, and re-stacked it in the living room.

The plastering took only one day, but it needed five days to dry.

It also took me into an arena I am unfamiliar with. I can put up sheet rock, but plastering, to me, is a dark art. And seeing the plaster go on is a stark reminder that rooms in British houses are really little more than squared off caves. Plaster also has properties I was unaware of. Before the Plaster Guy left, he told me I needed to put a mist coat on it (after it dried, of course). I was grateful for this information, because it was news to me. When would I have ever painted raw plaster?

The Plaster Guy told me to mix equal amounts of paint and water, put it on and let it dry, after which I could do the real painting.

Then the Kitchen Guy came to inspect the work. He mentioned the Mist-Coat, as well, and I told him I was going to mix the paint 50/50 with water, as if I had known this all along. He said a 10 percent solution would do, and it depended on the paint, anyway. Not to worry, though, he told me, the directions for mixing a Mist-Coat were on the side of every paint can.

They weren’t.

Google suggested a seven to three ratio, and since that was between 10 percent and 50/50, I went with that.

Two days and three coats of paint later, the walls were painted.

We moved all the stuff back into the kitchen and called the Kitchen Guy to tell him he could start the tiling. I expected to spend a week or so chasing him around, but he called straight back and told us he’d send a guy to do the tiling the next day.

So, we took everything out of the kitchen, again, and re-stacked it in the living room. Again.

The next two days saw the Kitchen Guy and his minions tiling, grouting and siliconeing and, when it was all over, we finally had our renovated kitchen—three months to the day after the work began.

The following morning, we took all the kitchen stuff piled in the living room, put it back in the kitchen and life, at last, returned to normal.

Whatever that is.

What it used to look like.
What it looks like now.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

WTF Primer

For the sake of my friends and family in the US who might be wondering WTF is going on over here (I mean, what are we voting on, and why, and what’s at stake?), I thought I’d post a primer on WTF is happening, and how we got here.

In case you haven’t been paying attention over the past two years:

David Cameron wanted to prove he had a bigger dick than Boris Johnson (he doesn’t) so he called a Referendum, in which the people of Great Britain were asked if they wanted to stay in the EU or leave. The Referendum leaned toward the Leave side by 2%. Then David, who had promisedif the Referendum results were Leavethat he would immediately trigger Article 50, which is the codicil that would initiate our withdrawal from the European Union. Instead of doing that, however, he picked up his dolls and dishes and went home, leaving the country leaderless and showing just how stalwart, honest, and exemplary our politicians are.

David Cameron
Lost his vote; ran away.
Theresa May
Cleaning up the mess.
Boris Johnson
Has the bigger dick.

Also, it proved he had the smaller dick.

This was how we ended up with Theresa May as Prime Minister. As usual, it came down to a woman to clean up a mess made by a man. Terri had been a Remainer during the vote, but when the top job came into her orbit she swapped sides and decided she would lead the UK out of the EU and into the Promised Land, because it was the “Will of the People” and nothing must stand in the way of the Will of the People and the Democratic process.

Jacob Rees-Mogg
Just a random, rabid Brexiteer because I wanted you
people in the US to see what a poncy, smug
politician should look like.
ASIDE: I am really trying to be unbiased here, and I am doing my best to refrain from saying which side I think is right or wrong, or if leaving the EU is a good or a bad thing, BUT, I think it is a bit of an exaggeration to represent a 2% win as an overwhelming mandate from the people, especially when a large number of those people came out after the election and said they voted Leave just because they hated David Cameron. No sour grapes, just saying’. END of ASIDE

Anyway, the first thing Terri did was say she was going to negotiate a deal with the EU, and then it would be implemented without a vote in Parliament, because what could be more undemocratic than allowing the people’s elected representatives to weigh in on something as important as the direction the country would be heading in for the foreseeable future? That would be a terrible betrayal of the people. Well, the people, and Parliament, didn’t see it that way, so today they are voting on The Deal that Terri and her minions spent nearly two years hammering out with the EU.

A bit of why everyone’s knickers are in a twist over this:

Terri came back with The Deal, as mentioned, after nearly two years of negotiations, the details of which she held close to her vest while the negotiations were going on. That’s as it should be, but when The Deal was presented to Parliament, not all of the details were made available, because what could be more undemocratic than allowing the elected representatives of the people to be fully aware of what they were voting on? The people, and Parliament, didn’t see it that way. Terri did, however, and it took a Contempt of Parliament ruling to force her to reveal the full details of The Deal.

Now, when you have a country split essentially down the middle over an issue as important as this, when you work out a deal on how you are going to implement it, you are bound to piss off at least half of the population. Terri, however, managed—after nearly two years of negotiations—to return with a deal that pissed off everyone. The people who wanted to remain hated it, and the people who wanted to leave hated it. And the fine print, that she tried unsuccessfully to hide from Parliament, essentially gave the EU the power to hold the UK in the EU for as long as it wanted, and the UK had no say over it. This was the dreaded “backstop” which, both the EU and T. May assured everyone, was simply a last-resort option that no one was expected to invoke, except it was in the contract and, if it was there, that meant someone was planning on using it.

(When all this came to light, I began to wonder if this wasn’t Terri’s plan all along. She was, recall, a Remainer at first, so perhaps this was her way of keeping the UK in the EU, while pretending to take it out. You never know; this could be true.)

And so, the vote that the Prime Minister didn’t want Parliament to have, and which is happening today, is certain to end in a defeat for her. She’s not happy about this, because it is a dreadful blow to Democracy that she isn’t allowed to implement something that no one wants without a pesky, undemocratic vote getting in the way.

Furthermore, this may result in a vote of No Confidence in her and her government, which could mean a new Prime Minister, and perhaps a General Election. It also might cause a Second Referendum, to ask the people what they want to do now, and the Government is adamantly opposed to that because it would be a hideous blow to democracy to ask the people what they want, especially when the government is pretty certain the people don’t want what the government wants, and that would be a lethal blow to the Democratic process of dragging the people in a direction the government knows the people do not want to go in.

So this is the clusterfuck we find ourselves in at the moment. But do you know what? I’d still take Brexit over Trump any day.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Lurching Forward

Well, at least we don’t have to wait to see if 2019 turns out to be the shit-storm that 2018 was because the shit-storm has followed us into the new year.

Yeah, I'm looking at you, shit-storm makers!
Enjoy the ride!

For me, personally, it's not so bad.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but last year I did propose to make 2018 the year I learned to play the piano. How did I do? Well, I won’t be playing Carnegie Hall any time soon, but I do know my way around a keyboard, and if I have a music score with only a few notes (as opposed to some classical piece that requires you to hit 15 keys at once) I can puzzle it out fairly well. So, I would say I can, indeed, play the piano, with much room for improvement.

At this point, I'm pretty sure this dog plays better than I do.
On the other hand, I must be learning something, as I was able to
figure out what this tune was just by looking at it.
(Stole this off of FaceBonk)
As for 2019, I don’t have any goals aside from finishing book 7 of my 8-book fantasy-adventure series, and starting book 8 before this year is out. That will allow me to start finalizing the series in 2020 and, hopefully, have a book or two up on Amazon in 2021.

That’s the plan, anyway.

Our kitchen still looks like a construction zone, and since it’s down to the landlord to make the next move, I expect it will be like that for some time. On the other hand, Curry’s delivered a dryer a few weeks back that filled up our dryer-shaped hole, so life is good, and today they are bringing (they promised) a dryer that actually works, so life is about to get even better.

Someday, this will be a nice, clean, newly-tiled wall.
Some day.
My flirtation with vegetarianism is taking hold, with only a few niggles, the main one being that vegetarianism is suddenly becoming the In Thing, and I don’t like looking as if I just jumped on the bandwagon. Accordingly, I’ve half a mind to jump off, but that would be self-defeating.

The other niggle is, all those meat-substitutes that lured me into the world of vegetarianism do me little good because my vegetarian wife avoids meat solely because she doesn’t like it. Therefore, a non-meat product that looks and tastes just like meat isn’t something she would eat, so we still have to prepare separate meals, which was one of the main reasons I chose to go meat-free.

Vegetarian friendly, unless, of course, you simply don't like meat.
To her credit, she’s researching some tasty vegetarian (and even vegan) meals that suit me just fine, and there’s no reason I can’t have a faux hamburger or a fake sausage roll from time to time.

My wife and I took up Tai Chi some time ago, and we will continue this activity in the New Year, despite that, too, having turned into The Next Big Thing as soon as we took it up. Accordingly, probably half of you reading this will be doing Tai Chi. If you’re not, don’t fret; you will be by the time this year is out. Don’t fight it, it’s pretty cool, even though you feel like a tit when you first start doing Parting the Horse’s mane, and Cow Looking at the Moon. Just remind yourself that you are doing a real Martial Art and that, once mastered, you will be able to kill someone, albeit very slowly.

Grab the Chi!
The benefits of Tai Chi are numerous. Do a Google search; you’ll find more information than you can take in. Also, you’ll find there are several classes near by to where you live. They’re like AA meetings. Come join the cult.

Despite the benefits of Tai Chi, I thought something more high-impact, to balance it out, would be a good idea, so my wife suggested we take up swimming again.

We used to go for a weekly swim at the local leisure center when we first moved to Horsham sixteen years ago. Due to the inconvenience of jobs, we had to go in the evenings and we soon tired of that. The leisure center was brand new back then, but the the lockers and changing booths were already vandalized and, after a day’s use, the pool area was a proper mess, so we stopped going. Fast forward to now and we are able to go in the morning, which is more agreeable. The vandalism we witnesses all those years ago has still not been fixed—the same changing booth locks are broken and the same lockers have their doors ripped off—but at least the place is cleaner in the morning than it is at the end of the day.

The disadvantage I have now is, with all the activities we are taking up, I am finally getting to know some of the locals, which means I am more likely to run into someone I am acquainted with. There is nothing like exchanging awkward, morning greetings with someone you vaguely know while you are nearly naked. I like to think I’m in fairly good shape but let me assure you, a bathing suit does me no favors. Most of the exercise I get at the pool is from walking around with my stomach sucked in.

And so, 2019 starts with better eating, more exercise and the hope of finishing my epic, seven-years-and-counting writing project. Now, if the politicians would just sort themselves out, it might be a good year.

Happy 2019!