Friday 30 March 2012

It's Ma'm as in jam

There's no doubting that Dave 'pasty' Cameron and his team of muppets has helped create a fuel crisis.  Suggesting that we all keep jerry cans at home has driven petrol sales through the roof.  But equally, there is a real problem with the British mind-set which is equally to blame.  It was the same with Olympic tickets...there was a panic to snap the things up - people were ordering £thousands of tickets, even for sports they weren't interested in.  The result has been that millions have missed out altogether.  And lots of people have been lumbered with tickets that in truth they don't really want.  I suspect, that this is, in part, a symptom of an overcrowded island; it is certainly a sign of an neurotic and  insecure population which moves from one panic to another.  The reason for this I am convinced is because throughout the years of rule by New Labour, there was a policy of rule by fear...a form of state-sponsored terrorism... constantly they communicated one threat to us after another so they could then show how they had 'saved the day'.  It was a good technique for keeping votes and keeping the population in check.  Clearly it worked and is an approach which the coalition has adopted.  As I rode in on my motorbike this morning, the fuel tank warning light came on.  So far I've been to two garages to put in petrol that I need to get to a meeting and then home without luck.  Panic buying has created quite a mini-crisis for me.

Last night we went to see 'She Stoops To Conquer' - another live streaming by the National Theatre.  It's a lively period romp which pales by comparison to last year's classics London Assurance and One Man Two Guv'nors, but provided a good evening's entertainment.  We'd booked tickets for the cinema at 'Olympic' Stratford, only to discover that it was on at our local cinema...I bet it was on at yours too.  Keep an eye open for them as they really do bring a new experience.  The live streaming concept has evolved quite significantly since we first saw one last year...and now instead of a static camera, you get several cameras, close ups and a real sense that someone has thought about production values.  Where it really works is that you can much more clearly see the expressions on the actors' faces and as the Oldies with us said "I could actually hear everything".  Everyone came home happy at a good evening's entertainment.

In her jubilee year, the Queen is touring around to meet and greet her subjects.  I'm not a royalist, but I know it creates a lot of excitement and happiness.  Yesterday she popped off to Valentines Park in Ilford to be greeted by 1500 school children and 10,000 other loyal subjects.  Among them was The Boy in full army cadet uniform.  He's spent weeks polishing his boots, creating a shortage of polish in our local Waitrose.  It would be an understatement to say that you could see your face in them.  He looked very smart indeed in his uniform, and was clearly delighted to be going.  I was delighted for him, and even more delighted to receive a text "I SAW THE QUEEN!!! SHE WAVED!!!  Which only goes to show that just because you don't agree with something doesn't mean that it isn't a good thing.  Ma'm.

Thursday 29 March 2012

The Most Incredible Thing

I love the arrogance of the young.

This week there's been a work experience lad in the office.  He's a confident lad.  Very confident indeed.  Which is a good thing.  He's quick too, and that's a quality to be admired.  But he's so quick that the number keys on the door keypad entry lock can't keep up, so the door remains stubbornly closed when he wants to come in.  Eventually he has to ring the bell for someone to let him in.  Of course he's not sheepish about that, he rants that the door lock is rubbish, it doesn't work and it's stupid.  The fact that he is the ONLY person in the office that can't use the keyboard doesn't matter to him.  He's right, the world is wrong.  We shouldn't snigger should we?

You can't knock the Pet Shop Boys can you?  From West End Girls onwards they've knocked out some pretty impressive and memorable tunes which have kept me and many others listening for I guess thirty years.  So it was with a degree of curiosity that The Cat's Mother and I decided to go and see their ballet at Sadlers Wells this week.  It's based on a Hans Christian Anderson tale about a king who offers half his kingdom and his daughter's hand in marriage to the creator of The Most Incredible Thing.  As ever, this isn't a full review, just my musings.  We both quite enjoyed it, but couldn't quite see why it has won awards.  Although a dance piece, which meant the story is pretty straight forward, they decided that we needed sub-titles...I guess they recognised that they had to appeal to a non-Sadlers Well type audience.  The interval was in the wrong place, by about ten minutes - it came right slap bang in the middle of a scene, and would have worked slightly later when there was so obviously a natural pause.  The music was generally Pet Shop Boys ish, which worked well in places, but got a bit tedious in others.  The music that didn't work well was  the pieces that were very unPet Shop Boyish.  The only thing was set in a Stalinist style society, which when I think about it was slightly odd given that it was ruled by a kindly fairytale king.  There were some great scenes - the opening one for example, the wedding, and when the Princess was dancing to a song by her favourite popstar who's image - we watched from the outside with the idol's image being projected onto the walls, and some overly-long ones (the magical clock lost some of its magic after a while).  If you're in town, it's probably worth seeing, and there are plenty of tickets available.  If you want to know more, this is a seriously long documentary You Tube clip, so only watch it if you've poured yourself a large Gin and Tonic...I've not managed to get through it myself

Our celebrity spotting included Janet Street Porter who followed us to the bar on the second floor after we'd been papped together and Chris and Neil who sat four seats in front of us.  They seemed to be enjoying themselves...and lets face it if they didn't who else would?  The rest of the audience was made up of alternately the usual Sadlers Wells crowd (why is it that each theatre has a sort of rentacrowd?) and Pet Shop Boys fans.  I would say groupies, but as they were girls, I'm not sure the boys would be too interested...some were planning to see it several times during its very short run this year.

There's a couple of ship-related anniversaries at the moment - one is the raid on St Nazaire during WW2.  It was not something I was not aware of until my girlfriend at University took me home to meet her parents.  Her father was a veteran, and was very proud of his exploits - he maintained close links with the veterans association.  I was at an age when the war seemed like ancient history, and I never really showed the sort of interest that I should.  If I'd not been quite so self-absorbed, I'd have looked it up so I could talk to him about it.  But in those days there was no Google and research was not the thirty second thing it is now.   I guess the same must be true of today's youths when confronted with the numerous wars that we've been involved in in recent years.  Essentially Operation Chariot involved ramming a ship, the Cambelltown into the dock gates at St Nazaire and then blowing it up to make the docks unusable by the great German warship the Tirpitz. It was the sort of madcap thing that is the story of legends, but wouldn't happen now.  The objective was achieved, but inevitably at great loss.  As I read today, one of those that died shared my family name. It has provided an interesting and thought provoking link back to the bravery of the past.

The other anniversary is that of the sinking of the Titanic on which comes up on the14th April 2012.  No wonder Titanic 3D has been released at the cinemas.  I still haven't managed to see it, and I can't imagine I will this time round., but there's always profit to be made out of tragedy.  That is also the case of the trustees and debenture holders of the Albert Hall who have been touting their allocation of tickets for the Teenage Cancer Trust.  Some people have no conscience.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

I fancy a pretty little Italian

Like all young men I lusted for a sports car.  Something mid-engined and Italian.  In my early years working for firstly Austin-Rover (as it was then) I was restricted to a company made car...hence an MG Metro was the best I managed.  My next job was with Nissan when most people still called it Datsun and every week we'd receive threatening letters from war veterans.  The management were somewhat more relaxed, recognising as they did that Datsun's were not made for thrusting young executives.  So not too many eyebrows were raised when I turned up driving a Lancia Monte Carlo. Which looked something like this

It was beautiful, bright shiny red and for the cynics amongst you, not a hint of rust to be found.  I loved driving it, with the engine behind my head.  Like all Italian mid-engined sports cars it had its problems.  The best documented (apart from the rust issue) was the braking performance.  But that didn't stop me driving it like a sports car should be driven and as only a young man knows how to.  One night, I was driving down the country roads of Sussex, and I didn't steer the car round the corner as it should.  In fact the tail whipped out, and then back and then out again and we careered up the grassy bank which did a very good job of flipping the car over on its roof before we eventually landed in the hedge the right way up.  As we climbed out we saw that we had stopped literally half a dozen feet from the edge of a quarry.  Luck was on our side.

May be I should have learnt my lesson, but I didn't and when he insurance company wrote it off, I went and found another one.  This time in silver:

It wasn't quite so bright and shiny, and mechanically it had a habit of breaking down.  On reflection it was a bad habit really.  But I loved it, and I still think it's one of the most beautiful cars I've ever seen.  It took The Boy's mother to hospital on  the night she gave birth.  Ridiculous really, but I couldn't give it up.  I drove it for a few years more before I was presented with a company car.  At that point it became surplus to requirements and sensibly it would have been sold.  But I didn't.  It went into storage whilst I harboured dreams of getting it rebuilt and back to original condition.  Weeks rolled into months which rolled into years and I never quite managed to find the money to get it sorted.  But my enthusiasm never waned.  Ridiculous.

But then last week the garage rang to say that one of their other customers was looking for a project, and would I be interested in selling it.  Oddly this had quite an upsetting effect on me.  I can't think why really.  So now it is decision time.  Do I sell, or do I do what I've always threatened?  Spend what I suspect will be a small fortune to refurbish a car that will never be worth very much. Of course the decision is obvious, simple and easy.  But I haven't yet worked out what to do.  Men and cars.  Ridiculous.

Monday 26 March 2012

Mad March

Rather than concentrate on the road this morning as I rode along on my motorcycle in the rush hour traffic, I was pondering the ups and downs of changing the clocks.  The Monday morning traffic was pretty distracted, and quite dangerous as everyone was still half asleep.  Although our bedside clock changes automatically, it didn't stop us waking up in a panic on Sunday morning, run around the house until we'd satisfied ourselves that we weren't running an hour late.  I can't wait for Scottish independence, then we won't have all those pesky farmers in the northern wastelands preventing reform of the summertime issue.

Have you ever laughed at a funeral?  Me neither, but I did the equivalent of it yesterday.  I'm still mortified.  And it has confirmed all The Cat's worst fears about me.  Oops.

Friday night we headed up to the Suffolk coast.  After a previous experience of heading towards east Anglia using The Cat's Mother's built in navigational skills, we turned on the Garmin Sat Nav to ensure we arrived without getting lost and in good time.  Both objectives were achieved.  Aldeburgh is a terrific place...managing to combine oldie worldy charm with oldie worldy charm perfectly...narrow streets, little cottages and not a Starbucks to be found.  If you're ever in that direction I can highly recommend a stay at the Brudenell Hotel...the rooms were fabulous.  It appears you can take the girl out of Essex, but you can't take Essex out of the girl.  As we dined, the table behind us was occupied by people who could have stepped straight out of The Only Way is Essex...bleached blonde blokes and bronzed girls in tight dresses that nearly reached their legs.  It was 'proper home from home'.

If we'd known in advance there are just twenty hares on Havergate island we'd probably not have booked...after all the island is 7.5km long, so it would be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack.  As it turns out twenty is more than enough, as they all tend to congregate together in one area.  The first thing we saw when we stepped off the boat was a hare, so sometimes ignorance is bliss.  They were introduced to the island by the farming community there, and stayed long after the farmers had gone.  The salty environment is not actually good for them, so they have a life span just 70% of hares in more traditional hare country.  The RSPB have a policy of non-intervention, which means the population stays pretty nature intended.  They have no real predators there, although just occasionally a fox will reach the island (although it was never quite explained how) and will do what foxes do best.

We got to and from there in a little boat, and it was a pleasure not to be forced to wear life jackets by the health and safety Nazis in either direction.  The sun shone and the gentle breeze made it a very pleasant little trip.

As it turns out twenty is more than enough, as they all tend to congregate together in one area. So we were able to spend a couple of hours watching them...sadly none of them boxed.  But then when there's only twenty I guess fighting off a suitor is probably not advisable.  They keep it in the family.

They generally sat around eating, didn't appear to be too bothered by our presence and when they decided to move, appeared to have only one speed - lightening fast.  Beautiful.   I've stolen some great pictures The Cat took and added them to mine so you can get a flavour of our delightful day.

 It doesn't end well for some

 There were more than just hares

Did I mention it's a bird sanctuary?