Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Why I never invaded anywhere

Lee Enfield .303 rifle. The original design dates back to the turn of the century. But then the RAF was primarily into bombs.

Bren gun, known in the RAF as an LMG or light machine gun – so christened by some brass hat who never had to carry one.

Before the RAF capriciously decided I would be taught to repair radio equipment I underwent basic training - squarebashing (UK), boot camp (USA). I was warned about lying with loose women, about not brushing my teeth and about espousing the teaching of Bertrand Russell rather than those of the RAF’s Yahweh.

More important were: obedience to orders (including those requiring me to go out and get killed by the enemy) and killing skills. I’ll forgo the hysterical yet comical bayonet training and concentrate on the three loaded guns I discharged.

The first was a .22 rifle on a 25-yard range. One instructor got into position on the ground and another bawled explanations. When the prone instructor took aim silence descended and nervous anticipation rose. The discharge was like the tiniest of farts. Suppressing a snigger (which would have been unpleasantly punished) caused my sternum to ache.

I then shot a .303 Lee Enfield rifle on a 200-yard range. Did I hit the target? It didn’t matter. For me an enemy 200 yards away was a notional enemy, a mere theory. With the Bren gun we reverted to 25 yards. A burst required squeezing the trigger during the time taken to say “A thousand and one”. There was a caveat: “Don’t count to a thousand and one,” screamed the instructor.

Two bursts and the paper target tore apart, then – to my delight – detached itself from the holder and flew into the air. For the first time I had an inkling of why some men get addicted to shooting guns. Soon, however, I was wielding a soldering iron. Haven’t squeezed a trigger since.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Grips aren't really needed

In a recent comment Lucy mentioned “getting to grips with MP3 technology” as if it were quantum theory. This from someone who paints walls (and grouts them!), paints sellable pictures, has a black belt and two dans in cooking, is presently aborbing Proust by osmosis and uses a camera as a brain/eyeball accessory. I’d say MP3 technology isn’t rocket science if she didn’t also eschew clichés.

Lucy owns LPs illustrative “of a wasted youth”. Transferring their contents to CDs or DVDs is tedious and time-consuming (see The slob’s guide to LP – CD transfer). But not difficult. The silvery disc is then slipped into the computer and recorded on to the hard disc. Thereafter to the MP3 player.

Transfer software comes on a CD with the player. Because the original music occupies an enormous file it is subjected to a process called RIP emerging in slimmed-down MP3. Transfer is thus many times faster than real-time. I chose to edit down the info identifying each track (Who cares what key the Emperor’s third movement is written in?) but this is only for nit-pickers.

My Zen Creative Touch was bought for its (then) huge 20 GB capacity and for its 24-hr battery life. But note that word “touch”, think instead “horribly over-sensitive”. Precise track selection is an acquired art. However the 30 composer folders each contain a selection of works, some whole operas. Plus various collections. Several days’ continuous playing and I’ve only used one-third of the Zen’s capacity. Go on Lucy, bite the techno-bullet and view the Rosy Granite Coast while listening to Spem in allium.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Into the mindless world

The inset shows (imperfectly) the door to discomfort – discomfort that must be endured for six more weeks.

Presently school children are at a loose end. Their parents take them to swimming pools where they mess around, taunting adults engaged in length swimming. As a result I have temporarily withdrawn my labour from the South Wye Leisure Centre in Fownhope. But I need some form of mindless physical activity so it’s back to the exercise bike which I keep in the garden shed.

Swimming offers certain incidental aesthetic pleasures; the ex-bike none at all. Besides, it’s surrounded by garden tools, links with another alien world. As a very minor act of revenge I clip my MP3 player to the blade of a hanging spade, stick in the ear-plugs and pedal away on a sweaty, dusty journey that goes nowhere.

The MP3 player contains over a thousand tracks varying in length from a Schubert lied to a Bruckner symphony movement. But alas the ex-bike imposes its own cultural environment. Try as I might I cannot listen to, say, Quartet for the end of time while fake pedalling. So my huge repertoire is reduced to four collections (say sixty tracks) of the only pop songs I regard as worth listening to, most MoR and most at least twenty years old.

Yesterday I concluded with The Pogues’ The band played Waltzing Matilda, the best anti-war song I know of. This afternoon I’ll resume with Barbra Streisand’s Don’t rain on my parade. It’s OK but I’d rather be swimming.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Enough of tin-snips for the moment

Strong winds do shake…
Can beauty last or is its brevity
The thing which matters most? When badly sung
Is Cosi’s trio ruined fatally,
Its throb dispersed, its close-linked pearls unstrung?

The menace of a changing point of view;
Can Constable survive the biscuit* tin?
Is Waste Land’s stoic wisdom cast askew
When found in advertising’s rubbish bin?

Peugeots corrupt the valley of the Lot,
Displacing oaks with their unnatural sheen.
Yet cars depart, their sound a passing blot,
And succulence assumes its old routine.

Beauty - or art (he shrugs) - is form and place
Harmonic with apparent destiny,
A bell that rings and makes some sense of space,
A new yet old familiarity.

But I’m the filter of this quality,
I set the seal on what I recognise;
A week ahead I may disqualify
That judgement taken by my younger eyes.

And others share my infidelity
By ripping out that planted boundary fence,
Allowing torpor, whim or emnity
To muscle in on beauty’s permanence.

Time’s the villain for us all; it ordains
Our lives as well as that of beauty’s span,
Which comes and goes, diffuses and regains
A moment’s power, fading, soon outran

*Cookie for US readers

NOTE (1) This was to have been a sestina
until I checked out the sestina’s rhyme
sequence. Not for me. Like doing a 100 m
dash in diver’s boots.

(2) Incorrect verb tense in last line. But what
the hell.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

For Marja-Leena - a nosegay

European ablutionary facilities (AF) – a very quick guide.

HOME Chateau Bonden has four bedrooms, was built in 1998 and represents enlightened British AF practice. Disregarding the kitchen (main sink, ridiculously small rinsing sink, rarely used dishwasher) and utility room (sink, washing machine) guests may choose from three comfort rooms: (1) downstairs loo comprising seat of ease, tiny wash-basin, (2) main bathroom comprising bath, SofE, wash-basin, (3) “en suite” attached to main bedroom comprising shower stall which gathers dust, SofE, wash-basin.

So far so (almost) North American. However Ch. Bonden fails to accommodate guests’ toilet bags, etc. In cases (1) and (2) the token window-ledges are mainly devoted to books. The “en suite” (horrible but concise phrase) has a mirror ledge but this holds the hosts’ toiletries. At its price range and within its owners’ income, Ch. Bonden is about as good as it gets. Comparable older houses often have fewer SofEs.

HOTELS, etc. Improved during the last twenty years but lagging NA practice. Most true hotel rooms include at least an SofE and a wash-basin. Beyond that, notably in older hotels, tariffs may force guests to pay more for a shower (popular with hoteliers because of its small footprint) and quite a bit more for a bath. Incorporating these improvements, especially in France, has meant some incredible architectural contortions leading to weirdly shaped rooms.

B&Bs are often no more than slightly modified private homes and there are still places where bathrooms (ie, rooms with baths) and, more horrific, SofEs are shared. The better ones will say (smugly) “all en suite”.

The above, a mere 260 words, can be regarded as a discussion document.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Faces, hedges and metal-cutting

FULL FACIAL Visitors to Chez Bonden get a whole bathroom (English not American meaning) to themselves but males were previously required to shave standing over the loo since that’s where the mirror is. Now, thanks to this addition to the facilities, they may use their razor over the sink. This double-sided mirror brought back childhood memories about how strange my magnified face looked in a similar device at my grandparents’ house. Some people have even stronger feelings and fear seeing their face larger than life. Not just vanity (warts as big as golf-balls, etc) but genuine fear.

A QUESTION OF TEETH The hedge-cutting saga a week or so ago (High price for hating soccer) continues. To create a straight face of greenery it was necessary to cut back on branches that had virtually become trunks. My lopper, a word I have only just become cognisant of, lacked power and forced the acquisition of a pruning saw. Such saws, unlike those used on timber, have irregular tooth patterns. I would welcome an explanation as to why this is supposed to help.

OLD SNIPS BETTER I used tin-snips for cutting sheet metal during my RAF national service. A simple tool, resembling a looser, truncated pair of scissors, it worked well. Needing to cut sheet metal recently I bought what I fondly imagined to be a modern, state-of-the-art version. Despite its visual pretensions its performance was way down on the 1956 tin-snips; it haggled the metal. But it could have been me. Taking small bites I know about but is there an established technique?

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Welcome to an alien world

I pondered treating this subject in verse because of the wonder.

This a 200 bhp Kawasaki ZX14 bike engine. Not a cutaway drawing but a photograph of an engine where metal has been removed to expose the innards. Cutaways have had a powerful, almost mystical, effect on me ever since childhood. Sounds pretentiously goofy, but just reflect.

Dismantling a mechanical device does not really reveal its secrets. One ends up with parts; the relationships between them are lost. But cutting down like this takes you into places where a human being has no right to be. Inside the cylinder head where temperatures may exceed 600 deg C. Down into the crankcase where the shaft rotates a hundred times a second. And a ringside view of how the shaft's rotation is converted into an up-and-down action to open and close the valves.

OK, none of these things will happen because of the surgery inflicted on this engine. But they're only an imaginary step away. Roller bearings, for instance, even out loads and reduce friction, preventing the engine from destroying itself. On their own they are simple, unexceptional metal cylinders. On a cutaway engine, however, I may see and touch them, set in their cages, their function obvious.

This little world is compact, purposeful, precise and shorn of unnecessary detail. Engines themselves are commonplace but their function is a series of interlinked actions that to a lay person are - or should be - minor miracles. And the cutaway allows us to look into this world as it is. It's not magic, it's real!

Friday, 10 July 2009

Near-perfect solution to old problem

THE PROBLEM Sausages curl when fried. This makes it difficult to hold them in position in order that heat may be applied to all four “sides” to ensure even cooking.

THE SOLUTION A stainless-steel fork with six 3 mm thick tines; the tines are inserted longitudinally along the sausages. Because the sausage sides remain parallel the sausages may be rotated in three 90 deg. phases, holding their lengthwise shape throughout.

CONCLUSION The prototype works in principle; its application reveals an unexpected benefit; a modified prototype will improve the operation.

OBSERVATIONS (1) No extra perforation of the sausage skin (leading to flavour leaks) is necessary. The skin of a link sausage already has two holes at either end.
(2) Two wooden spoons or spatulas effect the rotation; one to turn the sausage, the other to hold its neighbour stationary.
(3) Fork width was based on the diameter of the frying pan; the five tine gaps were based on a 30 mm theoretical width of a cooked sausage. The latter dimension proved too conservative. Increasing it to 36 mm will allow freer sausage rotation.
(4) Inserting a metal tine along a sausage aids evenness of cooking.
(5) There’s an aesthetic, as well as a gustatory, pleasure to eating an evenly fried sausage.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Lingua not so franca

Passion problems
The first half, soiled with constant fingering,
Announces my pervasive ignorance.
The cleaner other half lies languishing,
Unsuitable for checking resonance.

The rift recurs again in oral guise,
Changing the conjoined name linguistically.
Collins-Robert must bend to Gallic ways:
With nasal in and disappearing t

A fat-backed key to France’s pawky voice,
But, oh, if leafing through were all it meant
To gain the knack that is my passion’s choice
And spawn a feel for inner argument.

I dwell on struggles, some still unresolved,
With memory and empathy at fault.
How many times was épanouir pursued,
Til “bloom” lay safe within my memory vault?

Ne… pas negates the verb, an early gain,
But sliding back is ever imminent.
Ne… que negates, but on a different plane,
Confers an “only” to what’s pertinent.

There’s even more from this negated source:
Noting the ne which jumps out forcefully,
One loses que amid the unfair course
Of tumbling smaller words in colloquy

More pain as sound and meaning start to fight,
When méfier stands in for mépriser
“Suspect” and “scorn” take futile flight
With understanding comically astray.

The work is hard and vague but, then why not?
It’s nothing less than cracking culture’s code.
It’s maths, and Joyce, a Heisenberg subplot,
A pool to swim, a purpose self-bestowed.

Friday, 3 July 2009

High price for hating soccer

Since nature is incipient, so is gardening. But in different ways. Again I write with fire in my belly.

A decade ago our house was on the rim of the estate near where children played soccer. The house side would have been an inviting goal had not the developer planted a small hedge of spiny pyracanthus which hindered ball retrieval. This pleased me since I loathe soccer in all its manifestations. However, the hedge is now over 2 m tall and I add pyracanthus to my list of antipathies.

The hedge grows sideways as well as up and I must protect those who use the pavement (US: sidewalk). Pruning has become ever more demanding as my collection of dedicated tools shows. Once conventional shears, secateurs and impenetrable gloves were enough. Then the branches started getting thicker and I needed a more powerful snipper. To compensate for increasing height and thickness I bought shears with telescopic arms. My most recent acquisition, powered shears, works more quickly but is lamentably heavy to use. And to reach the most remote sprouts on top I need my neighbour’s cord-operated cutter with its fishing rod handle.

It was about 30 deg C yesterday when I attacked the hedge. As I sweated my thoughts were full of soccer, The Brothers Karamazov, spiny branches, Mrs Thatcher and all wine based on the gamay grape.

TWO QUERIES: (1) Why is kohl rabi, so similar in texture and application to turnip, so much better to eat? (2) Are some subjects beyond the scope of versifying? – a proposition I am worriedly trying to resolve.