Friday, December 30, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Red Sky at Night

The sky to the west was grey. Not so much a cloud, more an all enveloping overcastness, but thin – like a sheet of greaseproof paper. 

The sun was going down, the light turned to deep red and the sky radiated redness

As it shone through the overcastness it lit the valley which, being mainly green, did not really do it justice. To the east, it stained the bleached wood of the barn, the camper, workshop wall and the stone on the drive. 

It also lit the side of the car which while being green, has a lustre finish which made it glow.

Meanwhile, the valley hummed with the optimistic anticipation of shepherds

Saturday, December 17, 2011

To Boldly Voyage

“…the London Eye…” 

The unconscious Radio 4 monitor in my cerebral cortex said “Oi! Listen up!’. The reason for this extra sensitivity being that I had just written a short news story about that very attraction. My client’s brief had included the instruction that I MUST NOT call it the London Eye. It is now The EDF Energy London Eye and woe betide anyone who leaves off the first bit. 

With the brain now consciously listening to what had hitherto been background chatter, I heard that Brighton was to have a similar spinning structure. Google pointed me to the web site which had relegated the star of the show, i.e. an enormous great wheel, to a rather banal graphic. They preferred to feature some attractive but essentially vacuous models, supposedly enjoying the VIP lifestyle. This is a visual cliché beloved of the elected members for Brighton and Hove City Council and its associated QUANGOs who think such people enhance the image of the place as a wired-up, switched-on and open-for-business city. Whereas, to my jaundiced eye,  it just makes the place look like a tosser’s paradise – but I digress.

I have obviously not been paying attention and was surprised to discover that not only had this thing obtained planning permission, but was already up and running.

It turns out that the proprietors had toyed with the idea of a slightly more creative name. Presumably working their way through the alphabet, or maybe just the vowels, they had considered calling it the Brighton O which I thought was fun but misguided. The point being that a sodding great wheel on the beach at Brighton would be known as the Brighton wheel whether they liked it or not. 

So, in the same way that the Noble organisation changed the name of the Palace Pier to the Brighton Pier, the wheel’s owners saw sense and called it the Brighton Wheel. 

Well, not exactly, for while they have not prefaced it with a clumsy corporate credit like its big brother up in the Smoke, they have dropped the definite article which means it is just Brighton Wheel. Even more unfortunately they have added a tag line ‘a sky voyage of Brighton and Hove’ which is just plain ugly  – a voyage of B&H? Surely not.

A voyage suggests a journey from one place to another, preferably by sea - not by the sea. And even if you come home again you should still have been somewhere in between. I do not think going 45 metres up in the air and then down again to land in exactly the same spot counts as a voyage. On the other hand I recently worked on an event which involved building a boating lake on the roof of Selfridges in Oxford Street. It was named ‘A Voyage of Discovery’ and that seemed quite acceptable as a title.  But I doubt the tag line will have a great effect on the wider success of the undertaking, as grammatical pedantry is unlikely to be a major consideration for those who come to Brighton in search of a quick ride. 

Anyway, having discovered the existence of this Brighton beach based big wheel, two questions immediately leapt to mind – what does it look like and how much is it for a spin?

Answers: Like this and £8
Answering these questions was not so simple on the BW web site. Well, as already mentioned, the logo shows a silhouette of the wheel, but it is hardly an image to capture the imagination let alone create an irresistible urge to ride the thing. Secondly the on-line booking process staggered to a halt before getting to the bit that says how much it cost. 

Unperturbed, I dialled the box office number. A charming young woman whose name escapes me completely picked up the call with a cheery “Brighton Wheel, how may I help you?”, “Is the wheel open yet?” I asked, to which I got the unexpected reply: “I’ll  just check…” After a moment’s pause she confirmed that they were indeed open. 

Call me naïve, but if I worked in the box office of a bloody great passenger carrying wheel I would like to think that I would know if it was open. Anyway I said that I had been looking at their web site and was wondering why there was no picture of the wheel on it? She sounded surprised and said she would look into it. I also mentioned that the on-line booking thing was kaput. She promised to look into that as well. We had a little chat about things wheelish and I discovered that that it cost £8, took 5 minutes to go round, that it was on a 5 year lease and had originally been in South Africa or was it Australia? I decided that this was probably not the time to enquire about the tagline.
Notwithstanding the above, the web site was not a complete waste of time and did divulge the information that there was a VIP capsule. Well this is Brighton.

But what with it being a sight-seeing experience I am not so sure that the blacked out windows are such a good idea…

Since my call to the nice box office lady, the web site header now includes a banner cycling through five pictures. Four of these show the wheel...

...though bizarrely enough the first frame does not (see first picture). It may be that it has always been this way and that my very slow connection failed to get to the second image before I called the box office. But either way they are missing a point, a quick look at a site like this should say BIG WHEEL - RIDE ME. This one does not, good job I am not an influential web site reviewer.

Being Brighton, there is much discussion about this revolving recreational ride. Some love it and some think it a blot on the landscape. I do not wish to join in this debate on the grounds that I quite like it, but do not have to live with it full-time. Also, while generally welcoming the revitalisation of the derelict seafront, I miss the dereliction of the abandoned arches, snow on the deserted beach and the grounded fishing boats which have long since retired to a less valuable piece of real estate.

Writing this has just reminded me of an incident I have not thought about for 25 years: Leaving the Zap Club in the wee small hours of a winter night I found a rather chilly John Hegley (a poet and musician of a humourous nature, m'lud) contemplating spending the night under one of these delightful, fishy-smelly craft having missing the last train to London after his gig at the club. I put him up for the night at Seaview (a run down tearraced house in the suburbs of Brighton and home of the Art Police) and gave him a lift to the station the next morning – how good am I? Obviously not good enough it seems,  for much as I like a bit of earthiness of car dealers and scrapyards around the back of Brighton Station I completely failed to prevent the powers that be from turning it into a ghetto of third rate, multi-storey nothingness. I also regret the renaming of the Place Pier and relish the 20 year old debate about what ‘real’ Brightonians should call it. But the detractors can take some comfort from the temporary nature of the wheel’s five year lease - even if the passengers may not:

Personally I am not sure that a few bits of scaffold are adequate to support this load, but I am not a structural engineer, so what do I know? Mind you, bearing in mind the prevailing wind, which blows onto the shore, it would certainly be an appropriate voyage of something to end up in the Sea Life Centre ideally located in the landing zone, right across the road. 

Pier, Wheel and roof of Sea Life Centre

It would certainly give the short snouted seahorses, octopuses and assorted crustaceans something to think about.

Crabby Caravan © Crap Creations 2012

Monday, November 21, 2011

Self Spamming

My email address was hijacked by some Russian spammers recently. I have been getting several hundred bounced email notifications a day for the last few weeks.

Fortunately my mail server bins them and sends me a list of what it has binned so I can oik them out of the bin if I want to. But I have to scan this list one line at a time for stuff I actually want. This is OK for the odd half-dozen emails, but when they are in their hundreds is is a bit of a bore and a lot of a chore. But one day while scanning the list I saw this:

Not only have I spammed myself, but my spam filter recognised it and binned it - a complete work cycle with no input from me - brilliant!

Now all I need do is extend this principle to work and I can take the rest of my life off.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Upton Downton

It is the third week of November and while it is lovely and warm during the day we have just started burning logs in the evenings. This also means we have started watching a bit more TV. We used to have four analogue channels, much of it crap. But, Glory be! our part of France went digital last week and we now have a new digibox which delivers some 20 digital channels, much of it crap. It is just like English crap except it is in French. Most of it is formula chat shows and game shows, US imports voiced in French and genre shows like Strictly Come Truffling and World's Tallest Truffle.

I kid you not ($160,406)

So we tend to watch the odd video cassette or DVD for a change. Among the goodies which always deliver are classic movies, and classy comedy including current favourites Black Books, Gimme Gimme Gimme, The New Statesman and Blackadder. I have also enjoyed The Sopranos and The Wire but Mrs PJ was not so impressed by these foul-mouthed, expressions of violent savagery - can't see the problem myself...

Anyway, in an attempt to drag ourselves into the 21st century we have just obtained a copy of the first series of Downton Abbey.

Even here in the depths of Le Countryside we have heard of this phenomenon, but have completely failed to grasp the awful truth. The filming is quality, the cast is mainly quality, the script average, the storylines drab, character development pitiful, and the prognosis dire.

In some respects it is a perverse inversion of East Enders. The characters, while coming from a different era have fewer skin complaints, more tiaras, and know their place. True to the requirements of the soap genre they live in each other’s pockets and treat one another with the usual mix of love, hate, curiosity, concern, contempt, devotion, lust, greed, hypocrisy and dismissive arrogance, but lack any imagination.

While Albert Square is a rectangle of greenery surrounded by dwellings, Downton Abbey is a rectangular dwelling surrounded by greenery.


For Christmas I would like a promise that there will not be a second series. I expect to be disappointed.

[Your expectation has been pre-empted, the folks back home are enjoying series two as you write and series three is due for release into the environment in September 2012 – Ed.]

Maggie Smith must be turning in her grave.

[Wrong again. - Ed.]

So What?

So much to do, so little time. I only wrote that sentence so that I could write this sentence. So, I was bored and decided to write this.

These three sentences include two valid uses of the word ‘so’ and one which is spurious. In the first example it is an adverb – it modifies another word. In the second it is a conjunction – it joins two things.

In the third it is just an annoying way of starting a sentence which could have been omitted without changing the meaning of what was being said and is becoming increasingly common. 

Listen to people interviewed on the radio and you will hear it.
Interviewer: How are you?
Interviewee: So, I’m very well.

It is starting to spread to sales people.
Customer: Have you got one of these in red?
Sales person: So, let me go and have a look.

I only mention it in an attempt to stop this linguistic twitch from spreading into the home.

I do not expect to be successful.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Woodcutter's Daughter

A principal player in the fairy tale genre is the (usually) beautiful young girl who lives with her father who is a woodcutter. Things happen to the young girl involving wolves, witches, goblins etc. and she invariably comes out on top.

It is essential that she is isolated and left to her own devices apart from a bit of help from fairy God mother, a prince, fluffy bunny etc.

The Woodcutter’s Daughter from "The Fairy Book" (1913).
Illustrated by Warwick Goble (I kid you not)
Her father’s solitary occupation is a device to explain why there is no one else around and why he is out of the house all day – after all woodcutters don’t need a factory or shop or anything else involving other people and you can’t fell trees indoors, you need a dense, dark and foreboding forest full of wolves, witches and goblins etc. 

The girl is the centre of all the action and her dad’s job get scant attention which is not only disrespectful, but is a missed opportunity to appreciate the finer points of wood cutting. I hope to redress this injustice right here, right now.

IT’S BLOODY HARD WORK – RESPECT. There, that just about sums it up.

Apropos of nothing, here is a picture I found at Tractomania of another daughter who fancied the life of a woodcutter  – after a fashion…

They say that wood is an excellent fuel as it warms you twice, once when you cut it and once when you burn it. It’s actually better than that. 

Earlier this year, Tricia found that one of our more mature oaks had fallen over.

This is a fallen oak tree, trust me

It was it the top of a steep bank and looks like it just died and broke off at the base.

We have no idea when it fell over or how long it had been lying there as it had fallen into heavy undergrowth and was just about invisible from below...

I inspected the thing with mixed feelings, namely ‘Whoopee! Loads of free wood to burn’ and ‘Bugger! Loads of tree to cut up’. So I put it off until last week. 

As they say in Woodcutting for Dummies ‘first find your tree’. Before I could cut the thing up I had to get to it which involved hacking through the undergrowth. This is hot work

Spot the difference from picutre above.

Getting to the branches was a struggle as the ‘outer layer’ is just twigs. This is hot work. 

Then I start hacking off the limbs being careful not to try and hack off a bit that is supporting the weight of the tree. If this happens the saw blade gets jammed as the cut closes up. It is not always easy to see if this is going to happen.

I chop up all the smaller branches and only get the saw jammed once. Getting it out involves jacking up a tonne or so of tree and using the second chainsaw to make a cut from the bottom of the branch. Getting your chain bar stuck is not something to be proud of and so I do not photograph it, which is a pity because the jacking operation was quite elegant. Needless to say this too is hot work. [But you still said it. Ed.]

Having chopped the branches into fire-sized pieces I then have to roll them down the hill so I can carry them off in the trailer. 

This is not too difficult as they have many of the characteristics of a wheel and roll down the slope to the track very easily. Unfortunately they then carry on down to the bottom of the hill and have to be carried back up to the trailer. This is hot work.

Next I have to load them into the trailer and sort them into a ‘ready to burn’ pile, and a ‘need splitting’ stack. Stacking and splitting is hot work.

Throughout the process I am thankful that I have a couple of chainsaws, a 10 tonne jack, a tractor and trailer and am not a woodcutter with an axe.  By my calculation the wood of this tree has warmed me up five times already and I haven’t set light to it yet.  Bloody bargain! 

Pity its best part of 30 degrees C at the moment – what a waste, should have waited until December.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Airport II – The ins and outs of modern travel

I underestimated Tunis Carthage airport on arrival. It is mainly a result of the joyless experience that flying presents to the traveller these days, especially in economy class.

But I was not overly impressed by this welcome advert from a mobile phone company on the luggage reclaim belt which had a sarcastic quality...

...nor was I moved by the austere arrivals hall...

It is all capped by the curious habit I have only experienced at Arabic airports of delaying my arrival at the hotel by making me queue to have my luggage x-rayed as I exit the terminal.

Leaving Tunis is a very different experience, while not exactly a bundle of fun, the departures hall is much more ornate and impressive...

complete with classical mosaics under the stairs:

But then I am reminded of the more prosaic features of modern life which make me wonder what school of marketing the concessionaires attended:

Strongbow €10.50                    Claymore €9.90

This example is from the multinational duty-free booze, smoke and stink retailers who revel in the name Dufry... Duty Free… geddit?

Who in their right minds would rather spend €10.50 on four cans of Strongbow cider-based chemicals than €9.90 on a bottle of, admittedly not very good, Claymore blended scotch? 

Curiously, both are named for weapons of war - and were I choosing between actual weapons it would be the other way round.

At the other end of the retail scale is this delightful example of window dressing:

It might have proved useful for this member of our cabin crew who seems to have lost her head.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Real Shit Job

This is Le Palais de Sport (AKA Coupole el Menzah).

The management have retained the services of a cat to control the vermin, it is great with rats and mice, but has yet to learn the basics of cat-powered flight so the local starlings have the roof to themselves.


There are 4,190 seats. One woman (centre right below) is responsible for cleaning them. It is a real shit job. 

No, really.

Friday, November 11, 2011

(Just) a bit of excitement

This is one of those jobs that can be summarised as airport, hotel, venue, hotel, venue, hotel, venue, hotel, venue, hotel, venue, hotel, airport. The bits in between are mainly traffic. Driving has its interesting aspects, such as traffic lights, one way systems and lanes which are optional, and horns which are obligatory. Life it seems is cheap, well, pedestrian life anyway.

On the way to the venue we pass the Libyan Embassy all snuggly and wrapped up in razor wire with an army Hummer at one end, an army truck at the other and a small squad of very bored soldiers on patio chairs inbetween. It is just round the corner from the hotel and I walked up there after breakfast on the first morning to get a nice picture, but they don't like you to take pictures so I had to take a couple from the bus each day and mash them together.

The Tunisians I have met all seem to speak more French than Arabic, all the signs are in French (and Arabic), there are croissants for breakfast, they do not tend to have mousatches or wear dish dashas.  In fact it is quite like France with more dust and worse drivers. But as I said I haven't been out much, so it is probably more Arabic elsewhere.

I did cross the road from the venue to buy a phone card the other day (one of the more exciting moments) and came across this blue box on legs at the side of the road.

I thought it was a post box at first until I saw the chimney. Closer inspecton revealed it to be a pavement barbecue.

The Singe 'n' Go roadside barbecue
 Ideal if you just have to have a sizzling sausage and cannot wait until you get home.

Other exciting moments were passing a dead palm tree:

Finding a copy of Miss Mécano:

 and trying to choose between a red Christmas tree and Ché Guevara air freshner (also in the shape of a Christmas tree):

 I did not choose either as very few things smell worse than a cheap air freshner.

More later, including Amen Corner, A Real Shit Job and the Tunisian Ant and Dec...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Amen Corner

Nice to have a local bank.

 Personally, I like my bank to be a little more secure

Amen, indeed. Or should that be Insha'Allah?