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Saboteur

31 December 2008

John Martyn OBE

Picture of John Martyn
Oh, blimmin eck! Quite as surprising as the fact that he's still alive, is the award to John Martyn of an OBE. You could understand the Colombian govt giving it for services to that country's economy, but he's got it for services to music. Which is quite right - at his peak he trod a quite extraordinary path, never quite sounding like anyone else, and never quite influencing anyone else, but showing that you could do something different. I was a huge fan of his at the time of albums like Bless the Weather and Inside Out where he blended together an angry passion and a painful tenderness. And the music was a bizarre but compelling mixture of hard rock, folk, a bit of jazz, and an early form of trip-hop. It culminated (and fell apart I suppose) in the bitter and tearful Grace and Danger an album where the pain (of his broken marriage) is so unremitting you feel helpless. But that album also brought the element of Phil Collins into his music, and it was never quite the same, always after that a little too tidy.

Meanwhile, he was taking the rocknroll lifestyle to new levels of madness, but somehow survived. Somewhere along the way he lost half a leg, but still managed to keep going. Not just for music, then, but for proving the capacity of the human body to withstand all excess, it's a well deserved honour. Odd to think, though, that Rebecca Adlington got the same award, and she's (presumably) never taken a hard drug or drink in her life.

30 December 2008

A Ring of Fools

Picture of Odin, the wanderer
It must be the cold weather - or certainly the poor offerings on telly these evenings - but I'm tackling another long long work by a dead anti-Semite. In this case, Wagner's Ring, about 14 hours of music. I'm now about 66% through it, with the longest work, Gotterdammerung, to come tomorrow. I'm listening to the CDs and reading the librettos online, the first time I've paid such close attention to the text, rather than simply enjoying the music.

What strikes me most is how stupid almost everyone involved is. In this, it reminds me of Corneille. There is an 'official' reading of the work, according to which the leading characters represent the best of humanity, and there's the reading that someone like me can't help creating, where the so-called virtues of these people are madness.

Take Wotan, assumed to be the chief god. He's crap. And I think Wagner knows it. Partly because he's one god among many, Wotan can't command, but has to negotiate, bargain and wheedle to get what he wants. At the start, he has the builders (Fasolt and Fafner) in, and they're slightly worse than super Mario. To settle the bill, they kidnap his sister, and to get her back he has to give them The Ring, Der Ring, the ring which can give anyone total power, as well as a huge heap of treasure. Once that's gone, the game is really up for Wotan, but he potters about for the next few decades. Fafner kills Fasolt, so gets all the treasure and the ring, but does he enjoy it? Does he go on a nice cruise? Nah, he changes himself into a dragon and just guards the treasure in a cave, and sleeps a lot.

And so on. Of course, as with Corneille, the strength of the work is in the conflict between the 'official' and the subversive reading. Currently, my view is that the 'message' of the work is that the concept of god is illogical, therefore collapses under any 14 hour period of scrutiny. But I would think that.

26 December 2008

Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound
Poor mad, racist, fascist Ezra Pound. I got his complete Cantos for Christmas after it found its way onto my Amazon wish list, when the word usura bubbled back into my mind. Canto XLV is all about usura, and here's a recording of Ez reading it in 1958.

Dooomed!

25 December 2008

Harold Pinter

A brilliant screenwriter, a great playwright, a decent actor, a well intentioned but hopelessly inept campaigner, an embarassingly bad poet. Pinter was right to protest against the invasion of Iraq but why did he do it in poetry that would shame a thirteen year old? Google Harold Pinter bad poetry for all the proof you need. But for me, he'll always be a benchmark of Tony Blair's philistinism and totalitarian tendency. When a UK citizen wins the Nobel Prize, you'd think any UK PM would wish to congratulate them. Even if, especially if that writer has been a critic of the government. At the most cynical level, it would be a demonstration of the UK PM's acceptance of free speech and open debate. A celebration, if you will, of our democratic values which we wish to spread throughout the world. When Pinter won the prize, Blair completely ignored it. Pinter wouldn't have wanted Blair's praise, of course. If he'd been offered honours, we can be sure he'd have refused them. We wait to see what (if anything) Gordon Brown has to say following his death.

24 December 2008

Funny people

I've now replaced the ads on the right (which earned me nothing! and just continually taunted me with offers of competent tilers in Stokenchurch or somewhere) with a very web2.0 list of feeds by people I consider funny. So far they're all women, curiously. Let's as it were run through them.

Nancy Banks-Smith is, as any Guardian reader know, just the funniest reviewer of television in the world. She must be about a hundred and eight by now. Looks like she's immortal. Let's hope so.

Lucy Mangan is her natural successor. Sometimes her tv reviewing is too obviously influenced by NBS but she's genuinely witty. It helps that she has a Lewisham background - in one of the entries she talks about reading a book in Torridon Road library - and lives, I believe, in Beckenham, where she uses the same Waitrose as me. I'm beginning to sound like a stalker now.

On Balderdash and Piffle Victoria Coren managed to make etymology sexy. Since then, she's hosted Only Connect and is clearly dead clever and dead rich. Talks about poker too often, leaving me utterly confused ("when the flop went down I found I'd been flanneling a turbot"), but has the advantage of brevity that many bloggers (I mean you, Richard Herring) lack. Here's a fascinating recent article from the Observer.

Finally (for now) the one you won't have heard of, Ariane Sherine. She seems to have started the Atheist Bus campaign, and while we'll have to forgive her for having written for My Family, has promise, I think.

22 December 2008

Inevitably

the bathroom work has now stopped until the new year. Nothing done today as other work is demanding to be done. Actually, I'm not that bothered. It really is not much more than snagging now, apart from refitting the bath panels, which builder has agreed to do tomorrow. It's more of a problem for builder, because he's having to wait longer for payment. And he's agreed to take £300 off the roofing work that we'd already identified in the new year.

I can at least move my bathroom stuff back into the bathroom for two weeks, which means I have more room in the kitchen. And it means I did a smart thing today in buying a new bogbrush. From Woolworths, as it goes, at a stupid price. What a shop! As each shelf becomes empty, they sell it. The only bags they had (to put things in) were binbags, so I was traipsing around a rather smart town in Kent (hint: I began to feel disgusted and almost wrote a letter to the Telegraph), with this huge sack over my shoulder like a lowrent premature santa.

Some shops have their own atmosphere. Woolworths was desperately sad. I went into Halfords on Saturday to get a new headlamp bulb, and it smelt of disappointed ambition. I went into BHS today for the first time in years. Previously, I was put off by the SALE SALE SALE signs everywhere. Now it's the only shop that doesn't have them. It was halfempty. And HMV was basically saying we know you're going to buy dvds and cds, you don't care how much they cost, you'll even form a snaking queue halfway around the store to pay us. Packed. Bastards. I gave up and, reader, I bought the dvd I was intending to buy in Sainsburys later for £2 less. Take that, HMV!

20 December 2008

Not in Norwich

I've amazed myself this morning by being in and out of Bluewater by 10:15. Haven't got Christmas totally (aha) wrapped up yet but I'm well on the way, with literally days to spare. It's still touch and go if the bathroom works will be finished by Christmas. The floor is now grouted and looking good, so what's left:

shower curtain rail
mirror
tighten wc fixing to ground
replace whb splashback with one that actually matches the other colours
a bit of work on the outside window and back door

It's all entirely achievable in one day but ...

18 December 2008

Talk like a footballer

To be fair, the bathroom is an awkward shape, and hasn't builder gone on about it. To be fair, though, he did accept that he knew that all along. I sensed a tinge of bitterness that this means he can't charge me more even though the floor has probably taken far longer than he expected.

Yesterday the new tilers started again, and their first job was obviously to rip up the tiles Super Mario had laid, just to confirm that was a completely wasted day. Tonight the job's nearly done. A few odd triangles to fill in, and grouting and job's done. To be fair, it's a decent effort. Builder has not much of a gsoh, so I'll swerve the chance to wind him up tomorrow by saying, you know, I've decided I don't like those tiles; any chance you could take them up and replace them?

To be fair, I think the tiles are ok. So, just a few fittings more to go.

15 December 2008

Not so super Mario

Builder's hired hand, Mario, has made a strong bid to be acclaimed the world's worst floor tiler. My bathroom is odd-shaped but I don't suppose many bathrooms are perfectly square. When you're tiling a bathroom floor, you expect to have to cut tiles, don't you? Not Mario. On Friday he took one look at the bathroom and decided he didn't want to cut any tiles and so he laid a pavement of whole tiles around the bath, leaving all the tricky bits for someone else. His entire day's work consisted of laying 19 (I've counted them) tiles. Today builder told me Mario had an accident with a power tool at the weekend and so won't be back. I hope the alibi for me and my chainsaw holds up.

14 December 2008

Mutton

I believe mutton is somewhat fashionable, but no-one's told the meat man at the farmers' market. I bought about 500g of stewing mutton today for just over a pound. Coooked it in the slowest oven for about 4 hours, with a mix of winter veg and served it with mash. The meat was falling off the bones but still moist thanks to a frankly alarming amount of fat. Fantastic cold weather food and it seems to me that the credit crunch is going to taste of childhood. All that was missing was the dumplings and pearl barley. And rice pudding after.

(PS you can see from the link above that Prince Charles likes a bit of mutton. As if we didn't know.)

13 December 2008

Counterpoint

Image of an elbow
Got the email yesterday confirming that I'm in for next year's programme, to be recorded in February in 'central London' - presumably that'll be Broadcasting House again. I now need to start cramming on certain things:

nicknames of symphonies (eg Winter Daydreams)
musicians' curious deaths (eg Lully who lost his life in a conducting accident)
something about recent music (eg names of albums by wimpy rockers such as Elbow)
gilbert & sullivan, I suppose, oh no

09 December 2008

Moroccan sands

That's the colour of my living room walls, now, and probably easier to guess what kind of colour it is. No-one guessed that Amazon beat was a kind of blue.

So the living room is bright and airy now. So's the bathroom. The back yard is clean and tidy, ready for some planting next year. And I've thrown out all the black ash. Will this bring a change in my character? How can I continue to be the gloomy Catford hermit? I'll have to skulk in the kitchen.

Talking of skulking, I'm doing so in a sense tonight. I considered going to Charlton to watch the game v Coventry tonight. The prospect of freezing my nuts off while with very little prospect of enjoyment somehow didn't do it for me. And now I see we're a goal down at halftime. Oh, doom.

08 December 2008

More bathroom news

Splashback
Floor tileWoohoo! Paint on my bathroom walls at last! A first coat of Amazon Beat 4, to be exact. And a big bag of floor tile adhesive on the floor. And a second coat of emulsion in the living room, which is very nearly complete. And the splashback's grouted, which makes a huge difference, and to my eye, it's a good match to the wall colour.

I'm trusting the floor tiles will be a nice contrast, not some horror clash.

Bathroom update

For those who may have thought my silence might mean the bathroom is complete - it isn't. It's tantalisingly close, with mainly painting to be done (and floor tiling) but things slowed down last week due to builder's staff all being off sick, apparently.

Optimistically, I had booked leave today, thinking that there might be some tidying up to do, but it was obvious last Thursday that wouldn't be the case, so I've been in to work.

This is another writtenonthetrain blog, so again I'm going home with uncertainty of what I'll find.

Oh, the anticipation!

07 December 2008

Not just a great hairstyle

Farmers market this morning, and a fabulous catch on the Canvey Island fish stall. I felt spoilt for choice with some beautiful mackerel and seabass but topping the lot some fantastic red mullet. I couldn't resist the lovely shiny red fish and bought two of them for about 6 quid. The first one I filleted, and coated the fillets in Basque batter (separate an egg, whisk the white until it's frothy, beat the yolk until it's soft, fold the two together, coat the fillet in seasoned rice flour, then dip in egg) fried and served with lightly cooked savoy cabbage. Lunch. Fantastic.

In the evening I filleted the other one, and simply dipped it in rice flour, served with pardina lentils and psb. It wasn't as good, to be honest. The egg seemed to make the first one much better. The lentils were very tasty though. I'd intended to have them with lunch but my timing went wrong and they weren't ready. The process of cooling and reheating seems to have helped the flavour.

And then finally I looked at Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall's fish book, which is very dismissive of using fillets at all - the red mullet should be used whole, it says.

This post is official displacement activity to avoid thinking about football.

02 December 2008

Counterpoint and stereotype

I had a telephone audition today for Counterpoint, the Radio 4 music quiz. Apparently I did very well and other things being equal should be recording in February. The audition was conducted by Paul Bajoria, the producer of this and Brain of Britain and we chatted before it about the experience of Only Connect and about why and when I got interested in Bartok. And then the answer to one of the questions was Bartok.

Meanwhile, I got home tonight to see the end of Eggheads. My, CJ looks different. Turns out it's the winner of Are You an Egghead making his first appearance. I didn't even think about applying for this, thinking that the last thing they'll want is another balding middle-aged white man. Oh look, that's exactly what they've got. His name's Barry.

01 December 2008

Rootin' tootin' Luton

In Luton today, training again. What hard work it was! A large group, quiet and attentive, but just too quiet. No response to my neverfailedbefore banter, and precious little contribution to the discussion. Which is always worrying. Are they really taking it in or just going through the motions? Using the Council chamber didn't help, but there was a passivity about the trainees that was really quite weird.

As for Luton itself, and my first visit there, it would be unfair to comment. All we really saw was the Arndale Centre (blerr) and the Art Deco town hall, which is rather lovely. Here's the story from Wikipedia:
The original town hall was destroyed in 1919 during Peace Day celebrations at the end of World War I. Local people including many ex-servicemen were unhappy with unemployment and had been refused the use of a local park to hold celebratory events. They stormed the town hall setting it alight. A replacement building was completed in 1936.

One of the trainees (who didn't look old enough) told me that the rioters broke into a shop and dragged out a piano, and then sang songs as they torched the old town hall. One of the forgotten moments of radical British history, and presumably very worrying at a time when the threat of Bolshevism was taken very seriously. There's a good article about it here.

29 November 2008

Charlton 0 Southampton 0

Belying the score, a really enjoyable game. The first half was entirely Charlton's, with Jose Semedo running things in midfield and the new loanee Deon Burton doing an excellent job as a holding forward. But Kelvin Davis in the Southampton pulled off four superb saves.

Second half saw Southampton much better and Charlton curiously subdued and this time it was Weaver who had to keep the goals out.

As the game and the rain went on, the surface became almost unplayable, but there still plenty of action at both ends.

It's still too early to say if the team will recover from the Pardew trauma months. Clearly Phil Parkinson is his own man, making lots of changes from Pardew's last team, and there was a commitment about the players, particularly in the first half, that we haven't seen for a long time. Mood: cautiously optimistic

26 November 2008

Corneille

Picture of Corneille
Time to start the Corneille thread. Pierre Corneille, 1606 - 1684, was a classical French dramatist, a very close contemporary of the better known Jean Racine. Both lived and wrote in an age when Cardinal Richelieu was promoting a strong centralised state, when all aspects of culture had to support the idea of royal power. This manifested itself in some ways that seem more akin to Soviet cultural life in the 20th century: questions of form took on an ideological significance, and deviation from the prescribed rules of narrative or dramatic form could be seen as political opposition, and could be dangerous for the writer.

I studied Corneille many years ago at school, and hated him. It seemed to me he was a blind stooge of the imperial drive to power. But as time's gone on, I've begun to wonder if that was true, if it can be true. A blind stooge does not write powerful plays that are remembered and performed 300 years later. So my quest, which I began a couple of months ago, is to revisit his plays and examine if there is any trace of subversiveness in them. My happy initial report is that I think there is.

Why bother, though? A fair question. Corneille is unbelievably unpopular in Britain and I'll never sell this idea as a book. It's ages since I've taken part in any critical procedure and the terms of discourse may well have changed. Don't care. I feel this is getting back to what I really like doing, and if all that results is a website of discussion that a few people read and if maybe that leads our theatres to reconsider Corneille's plays, I'll be happy.

25 November 2008

Re-entering the 20th century

Since yesterday, I've had a working toilet again, and today the whb is in place and usable and a bath is standing politely in line. Some of the plaster is still too wet to paint, and the floor is still bare concrete, but it's progress. Meanwhile in the living room, the walls are stripped and some undercoating has been done. There's a patch of replastering to be done, a bit smaller than I expected, and a rotten window bar that needs to be replaced. It all feels like it's getting better and after last week's depression I'm feeling much more cheerful.

But tired. Training, like yesterday, is always really knackering, because you're there for six hours leading a group of people, keeping up their interest levels or trying to calm them down. And it's physically demanding for a lazyguts like me to be on my feet for so long. So why did I wake up at 3am this morning only managing to send myself back into a hypnopompic state for half an hour before 7?

24 November 2008

Inappropriate

Was in Guildford today, training mainly social workers, so inevitably the word 'inappropriate' came up and I had to write it on the flipchart. Oh the shame, I spelt it wrong. Anyway, at lunchtime the sandwich delivery service turned up in the carpark, playing an icecreamvan-like tune. The tune these caterers had chosen? La cucaracha. Now that's inappropriate.

23 November 2008

Survivors

9:40 and there's still another 50 minutes of this to go. Ease up on the 'dramatic' music, ffs. Probably something else will be on at 10. Oh look, Julie Graham has the same tiles in her bathroom that I'll eventually have. This got me thinking, what would I be like if I were, or believed I was, the only surviving human? I think it would be a long time before I'd kill myself from loneliness; being a miserable git has advantages. There's the joke of how the last man left alive decides to kill himself and so climbs the stairs to the top floor of the Empire State Building/Canary Wharf/Millbank Tower and jumps off. Halfway down he hears a phone ringing. That would never happen to me. One: that phone is just a message saying how you can recover excess bank charges or can declare yourself insolvent using a little known piece of legislation. Two: climbing all those stairs? I'd maybe get to the second floor, sit down, have a bit of a rest and then decide to rummage in people's desks for some porn. Then, and only then, I'd consider tossing myself off.

22 November 2008

Charlton 2 Sheffield United 5

It took seven minutes this time for Charlton to give away the first goal and for a while Charlton got back on level terms, but it was 1-3 at half time. The second half began disastrously, with an own-goal by Kelly Youga, and got worse. With more than half an hour to go, the score was 1-5. Pardew put the newboy Waghorn on, presumably with simple instructions - just go out there and score four goals, son. He did play a part in Charlton's second goal, and for a while a very unlikely comeback looked possible. The team began to play with a nothing-more-to-lose freedom and invention, but couldn't convert the chances. All in all it was a very open game with chances at both ends throughout the game - the score could easily have been 10-10. But it's a bad bad result, and even the fact that only a four goal deficit could free the team of their inhibitions, shows how badly motivated they are. Once again, the finger has to point at Pardew. Surely his time is running out. At time of writing I haven't seen any post-match comments. They'll be interesting.

20 November 2008

Where's the catch?

Still slow progress in the bathroom, but tonight builder has left a message on my answerphone along these lines: your bathroom is going to look so good [when it's finished] that we really think your living room should be decorated too [because it's currently a filthy dingy tip] and so, get this, we'll do it for nothing, for nothing, materials and labour inc, before Christmas, all you have to do is clear the room and put up with a bit more disruption. I can see one catch - there's clearly going to be some plastering needed, maybe £500 worth - but apart from that I just don't get it. The living room is a filthy dingy tip, true, but how long has builder been a charity? I'm delaying phoning him back, while I try to figure this out.

19 November 2008

A great score at Scrabble but

Olav Bjortomt is a massive figure in the world of quiz. Only 30, he's already got a wikipedia entry for his achievements. But the last two times I've seen him he's come second. Recently he had a disastrous first round in Mastermind (on West Indian cricket) and a brilliant second round wasn't enough to make good the deficit. And today, thanks to my early homecoming I caught the end of Are You an Egghead, which he was on. And he lost again. He would surely have been one of the favourites to go all the way. So even the mighty are affected by luck, and even the unlucky may be lucky one day. (This has been entry number one in the world of quiz thread in this blog.)

On the train, I said I'm on the train

I'm writing this on the train, not because I've got anything to say, but simply because I can. This is thanks to the mobile internet connection, which seems to be working really well, here at Charing Cross. I'm on the way home from a file inspection in West London.

Today, like everyone, I've been enjoying the discomfiture of the BNP. The Guardian has produced a useful map showing where not to live in Britain. Last night I searched the list for SE6 postcodes - there were only 3, which isn't bad. It's one good thing about Catford, I think, that there aren't any seriously monocultural areas, everyone has neighbours of all kinds, which makes it hard to maintain ignorant prejudices. Probably the worst prejudice these days is against East Europeans - because like any first wave of immigration they tend to be young single men who stick together and don't speak much English. While I was in West London I toyed with the idea of finding a Polish builder but the Ravenscourt Park newsagent no longer has the small ads boards that used to attract a crowd of Polish workers. I guess it's the result of legal action, or might it reflect the fact that Poles don't want our devalued sterling anymore and are all going home?

18 November 2008

Close the door, they're coming through the window

So, the door was hung yesterday. It's a very nice door and I'm very happy with it. But today, my builder slammed the door and the bottom rail of the adjacent window fell off. So that will need replacing. But builder too is getting fed up with how long this is taking - it seems my bathroom is stopping him from dealing with other people's jobs, so he's just going to patch it up. Oh lord I don't want to use him again. For so many reasons. One, this bloody bathroom is taking forever. It's not entirely his fault, but days go by when nothing seems to have been done - like today. Two, he's such a bleeding drama queen. He loves it when difficulties arise, loves recounting them to me and showing how resourceful he is in overcoming them. Just fucking get on with it! Three, as time's gone on he and his crew have got increasingly untidy in their work. Today when I got home, apart from finding nothing had been done, I found he'd spread dust sheet over a stretch of living room carpet, but it was on top of a new stain. Did he think I wouldn't notice? But then again all of this is probably in the standard builder's job description.

17 November 2008

About redundancy

I haven't discussed this much - the strand of this blog that covers my possible early retirement. The background is that evil govt has slashed my employer's budget for the year beginning in April 2009, so there have to be redundancies. When this was first mentioned, I got the figures for what I could expect. As I'm over 50 if I took VR I'd be entitled to collect my pension. It's not a huge amount but it's probably surviveable. At least it would provide a nice background income, enabling me to work from time to time. I'd also of course get a fairly large lump sum of redundancy money and pension. In those days, I imagined this would earn me some interest, but that seems less significant now. I can't believe they're seriously talking about 0% - is the whole world forsaking usura?

Anyway, I formally applied and today we were due to hear the outcome. It seems that so many people have applied for VR that whatever happens there will be no need for compulsory redundancies. This probably means that some of those who've applied for VR won't get it. There's a complicated points scheme to select them. We won't know anything more until probably January, when the final budget figure is given to us by evil govt. So there's a chance I will have to keep working after all.

In other news, my Brain of Britain was broadcast today. It still seemed to me that the other people got easier questions! But I was amazed that I got one question (what's the name of the biggest satellite of some planet?) right - where did that answer (Ganymede) come from? I can't even remember the name of the planet now. And I am glad that three of my correct answers were the following: Fidelio, Leporello, Elgar's 1st Symphony. Come on, Counterpoint, I'm ready for yuh.

14 November 2008

Let there be a light fitting

My word, the bathroom seems to be taking forever. Every day is so exciting. Will there be any detectable change when I get home?

One problem is that the extensive replastering is taking a long time to dry out, as it's not been that warm and I can't leave windows open much, so that's holding up everything else. On Tuesday night at about 7 my builder arrived with a lot of bustle and cleared out all the plastering equipment to make way for the rest of the team and went to Wickes and came back with the new door. On Wednesday, nothing much seems to have happened. Yesterday, the door was still in its wrapping, propped up against my desk but the light fitting had been installed and a new door frame was in place.

Sad thing is, I'm getting used to life without a bathroom or living room. I've gone beyond turning into my mum and am now her grandmother.

09 November 2008

The boy's doing well

When some players leave the club, they leave a bitter taste. Worst recent example being Danny Murphy, I suppose, who always acted as if he was too good for little old Charlton, even though he only put in a decent performance once in every three games. How we laughed when, even when most of the Spurs squad was struck by a mystery bug, he still didn't get into the team.

But Darren Bent was different. Always a perfect gentleman on and off the pitch, we were really sorry to see him go (but glad of the money). At times it's looked as if we pulled off the heist of the century in getting £16m for him, and at times it's been good to laugh at Spurs (it's always good to laugh at Spurs). But now with 5 goals in the last two games it looks as if he's finally making a mark - probably thanks to an infusion of confidence from Appy Arry. I couldn't be happier for him, and hope he keeps it up and gets back in the reckoning for an England place.

Meanwhile, my boys seem to have had a bit more pep and moxie about them, coming back from behind to almost win at Plymouth. Two weeks before the next home game, and by then I may even have a working bathroom!

08 November 2008

Grey

A grey saturday, brightened only by the drying shades of plaster on the bathroom wall and the hilarious jigsaw of plasterboard pieces on the ceiling. My once-beloved Charlton are in faroff Plymouth this afternoon. I had considered the trip, not so much for the football but for a weekend away, but they'll have to lose without me.

And you'll notice I'm now carrying advertising. I am strictly instructed not to solicit clickage, so please don't! After the last pension-based post, you can bet they'll be very dull. I'm not expecting to make a fortune, although you might occasionally CAROL VORDERMAN NAKED find a slight change in my editorial policy. When I first set up my toolkit website (brianhaines.co.uk/toolkit) I put an Ask Jeeves box on it, and forgot about it. Sometime last ARE THESE REALLY BRITNEY'S NIPPLES? year they closed my account and sent me a cheque for £3.54, which is so far my total earnings from tinternet.

04 November 2008

A rite of passage

This evening I am officially a grown-up. I had a meeting with a man from the Pensions Fund and as a result have acted swiftly to maximise my tax advantages in the time before I expect to early-retire. Basically it's this: I've requested that half my salary from now on goes into an AVC - additional voluntary contribution. It means the pay is tax-exempt, but I can't get at it until I retire - ie, if the plan works, in April. Then I claim it as a taxfree lump sum payment, which will mean I will have lawfully avoided paying nearly £2000 in income tax. It's also a fairly extreme way of forcing myself to save some money, and should give some idea of what life after work will be like.

And it's with the Prudential. I love the Pru ever since the surprise they gave us after Mum died. She had an old, penny-a-week, life policy with them, that had long been considered paid up. I remember the charming young man from the Pru who used to call every fortnight to collect the premiums. Mum's policy had been sitting in a cupboard with a face value of about £50. I sent in the claim and somewhere in the Pru's cupboards was their fading copy, which in the meantime had increased in value to about £2000. Mum would have loved that!

02 November 2008

Oh no, flashbacks

Like a bad trauma, yesterday's horrors have been replaying in my mind throughout the day, but I'm trying to put it behind me. Just wish to add this thought: if two or three players are underperforming, it's their fault; if the whole team is, it's the manager.

But a beautiful day today! I drove to the coast (Ramsgate) for lunch, through patchy sometimes thick fog on the M2, into a clear fresh seasidey day. Fishnchips from Pete's Fish Factory and a stroll through the town looking for personal landmarks: a particular restaurant and a particular bookshop, both closed, both looking slightly mad. Ramsgate is actually quite lovely to look at if you ignore the obvious deprivation, which you can't, and the evidence that a substantial number of the inhabitants are halfbarking, which is less obvious.

And even better was the drive back through the northdowns at their sunny autumnal best. Oh I love and hate Kent.

01 November 2008

Charlton 1 Barnsley 3

Does a Saturday afternoon get any worse? Torrential rain and - something I think I might be saying a few more times this season - the worst performance I've seen from Charlton since relegation. At least they wasted no time, going one nil down after just two minutes to a poorly defended freekick. After 17 minutes Barnsley took one of the worst corners you'll ever see. It ran tamely to one of our boys (Ambrose, I'm sorry to say), who calmly (and very sportingly) gave it back. Nicky Weaver fumbled his save from da Silva's shot and Macken put it away. It was all over by half time as once again a poorly defended free kick caught Weaver hopelessly out of position as a header from Moore looped over him.

Second half saw no improvement. A spell of maybe 15 minutes when the players looked interested but otherwise it was rubbish. Even though most of the crowd had left by the end, the booing was long and loud.

I think it has to be Pardew's fault. At times, rare times, admittedly, all of these players have shown quality, but as a team they are clueless. No doubt he'll be saying we need a few more players. He's wrong, and it only makes the players we've got feel even worse about themselves.

We're now in a relegation position and playing like this, that's where we'll stay.

PS (after previewing) It seems I've forgotten to mention Charlton's goal. Apparently there was one.

Progress?

Well, the guts are better, following the unusual remedy of a night in the pub. As for the bathroom, Thursday night was encouraging to find the basecoat on the walls complete, but basically sod all seems to have been done yesterday. At least another week of this then. Football this afternoon - probably a report here later.

30 October 2008

Eurgh - you might not want to read this

Yesterday my builder talked to me about how difficult it is for them to do the plastering while the old toilet's still in place - could I do without it? I said that might be difficult. What would happen if I had diarrhoea at the weekend for example. We agreed that the pan could stay in place but the cistern could go, so I can flush it with a bowl of water. Guess what happened last night/this morning?

Got home last night about 7:30 feeling incredibly tired. Took one bite of reheated steak & kidney casserole and threw up exuberantly. Early to bed, feeling incredibly cold, and kind of watched The Restaurant. (How surprising was that result, by the way.) Spent all night hardly sleeping with a feeling of bad things happening in my bowels. At 6 woke up to fulfill the prophecy. If I didn't have the builders in, I'd certainly have taken the day off, but I'm at work, hungry but scared to eat, and with little faith in Imodiom Instants - how can something so small be any good?

Had a flu jab yesterday - could that be the cause?

Please, Dawkins, let this end soon!

28 October 2008

Out!

Can't believe I wrote a post about an ironing board, but it's just that I'm getting addicted to throwing out old crap. Here's what's gone in the last two months:

a spin dryer (at least 20 years old and unused for quite some time) (do they still make them?)
an old laser printer
a defunct laptop
a vhs video recorder (I'd dumped the tapes at least a year ago)
a garden chair
a stock of cassette tapes
a turntable and a stock of lps, various
an ironing board
various will-never-fit-me-again clothes
a bathroom and its contents
a black ash (remember black ash?) occasional table

and there's still more to go.

26 October 2008

Limping behind technology's advances

Taking advantage of every suburbanite's dream, a skip of my own, I've thrown out all my cassette tapes, with regret for the unreplaceable ones - the radio recordings, the mixtapes by or for friends, and the tape I made one night of the sound of rain falling on Catford. Actually, that's entirely replaceable.

And today, I bought a new ironing board. Who would have thought ironing board technology would have advanced so much in 30 years? The new one has an automatic rachety height setting and hitech silicone pads to hold the iron. Fascinating.

25 October 2008

Charlton 1 Burnley 1

That was better, eventually. A poor start, going behind to a soft goal after 13 minutes - a drive that slipped through everyone in a crowded penalty area. Everyone then waited for the spirit to fail and the technique to vanish - but it didn't happen. The second half saw some inspired substitutions: Todorov and Sam on for Primus and Macleod meant that Cranie could go into the centre of defence, where he looked much more comfortable, and Basey took over at left back. It wasn't perfect, but the confidence grew and the goal - a header from Todorov from a Basey freekick - was pretty much deserved. Late in the game Varney should have scored but tried to dribble the ball around the keeper rather than just lash it in. Lack of confidence, obviously, but a win would have been more than we deserved. At last, the team had showed some resilience, and maybe it's a turning point.

Much more interesting than that was the presence of a god in human form just a few seats along from me: the legendary Derek Hales!

24 October 2008

A collapsing house

Picture of cracked brickwork
Well not quite. I've been putting off for years getting my bathroom (a ground floor single storey extension) renovated, and now I know why. The plaster was shot, so had to come off, but that revealed serious cracks in the brickwork and some dodgy joisting in the roof. So it's now a matter of tieing the wall together and putting on a proper render to hold it all together. If that sounds expensive, it is. I tell myself it'll all be worth it in the long run. I'll never be out of the tub.

23 October 2008

It begins

So, what's it like to take voluntary redundancy at the age of 55, with a liveable but unluxurious pension, limited prospects and very limited wishes for more full time employment? Join me, as I find out.