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

Monday, 31 August 2009

Technology the spur

Mrs BB’s birthday card to me had two people staring at the heavens and was captioned: “Do you think there’s somewhere up there where they don’t play football?” She knows my antipathies. Mind you I expect to be – and am - attacked for my sports interests, especially F1. The cars are noisy and just go round and round, I’m told. I say if the technology is of no interest forget it.

Raikkonen won the Belgian Grand Prix yesterday because of technology. Despite having a Ferrari that was only intermittently faster than Fisichella’s Force India he picked his moment, pressed the Kers button and went into the lead. Kers converts and stores waste energy produced by applying the brakes and is available for 6 – 7 seconds a lap.

Fisichella didn’t have Kers. Why not? Because of the laws of physics. Kers weighs about 30 kg, a huge addition to the overall weight of a racing car. Not everyone has been able to balance that equation. It’s far easier to watch a Guatamalan kick a ball about and, occasionally, kick a Ghanaian. No technology in that.

PROOF POSITIVE Lucy, faced with some fence painting, suggested I should do a comparison test on Cuprinol and its competitors. This photograph of our shed is one reason why I am the kettle and the pot.

MUM’S LIST Other phrases used by my mum keep on returning. “Giving backword” means reneging on something previously agreed. I use it without explanation; most people find it self-explanatory.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

When times were just a wee bit harder

Vocabulary, domestic methodology and items employed by my mother between 1939 and 1950. Not necessarily unique to West Riding of Yorkshire

All being well West Riding version of deo volente
Bodice White flannelette waistcoat worn over vest and under shirt by children with weak chests
Boggle (n.) Solid excretion from nostril
Bread dipped in egg French toast; main constituent dried egg powder.
Broddling Excursions, using rotating finger, typ. into ear or nostril
Browned on Euphemism for burnt
Cabbage water Served in a cup with Oxo cube; stratagem to force nutrition into cabbage-hating youth
Cake Two discs of potato holding very thin layer of fish, deep-fried. From fish and chip shop.
Canadian supper cake Wartime recipe where liquid paraffin replaced lard/butter, etc.
Candles Liquid excretion from nostril
Chavvelled Ragged, worn
Conk Core (of apple)
Crack beetles on mi belly Over-eaten
Cut, The Canal, specif. the Leeds-to-Liverpool
Diddle Stand on one leg then the other because of bladder pressure
Drawing Dangerous way of encouraging coal fire to “take”. Sheet of newspaper held over fire-place to encourage rush of incoming air under grate; newspaper almost always ignites
Firelighter Sheet of newspaper rolled into long tube and folded into interlocking triangular pattern to “start” fire. Far harder than it looks
Fix-fax Skeins of white tegument (cartilege?) in cheap cuts of meat
Ganzy Jersey; pullover (corr. of Guernsey)
Gill Half a pint (typ. beer, milk); elsewhere in UK one-third of a pint
Gollocky Left-handed
Hogging cap Flat cap with body stitched to “neb”
Kaylegged Tired
La-di-dah Middle-class, upper-class, from "down south"
Lost its nature Useless (typ. elastic)
Muckments General rubbish
Nattercan One who importunes irritatingly
Narrow-gutted Mean-spirited, ungenerous,
Nip-curn Mean (lit. nip-currant, ie, someone who nips currants in half to make them go further in a teacake)
On the prod Restless; household pet’s way of asking for food
Ovoids Egg-shaped lumps of compressed coal-dust; used during coal shortages
Panel patients Pre-NHS, presumably poverty-stricken, patients treated virtually free (ie, 2s 6d or half-a-crown a go) by family doctor
Progging Gathering wood for bonfire
Proper going-on Reorganised and supposedly improved way of tackling life.
Reckon Judge to be, eg, I reckon nowt to that
Ruttling Vibration of saliva in back of throat during sleep; often a prelude to snoring
Scraps (Bits?) Small particles of deep-fried batter scattered (free) on portion of fish and chips
Scruffs Young people, of terrifying reputation, from nearby slum
Seg Small three-point nail for protecting shoe heels
Septic Seemingly outdated phenomenon; in the immediate post-war years (possibly due to malnutrition) minor cuts and abrasions often became infected and were said to “have gone septic”
Spitting Ejection of flaming fragments from fire-place; the result of rain getting into stored coal.
Thoil Bring oneself to do something, eg, I can’t thoil to pay that much
Trolley Abbr. trolley-bus
Window-bottom Window ledge

PS (latest from my brother) Mither Dither with a different initial letter.
(Latest from me) Doiting Losing one's wits

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Happy birthday, Yorkshire lass

Janet Baker
Born August 21 1933

Stark contrast with the manly role of knight,
The faintly pantomimic joke of dame
Arrived, the way things do, as a polite
If regal tick against the box of fame.
Singer and monarch shared the irony
Of heavy faces and of reticence
And thus the honour’s ambiguity
Tended towards the side of temperance.
A world away from deep-set souvenirs
Of Dido, Dorabella, Orfeo,
The Mahler songs and Handel’s baroque airs:
Intemperate outcome of a voice aglow.
The titled name a grace note lacking grace,
The music permanent in time and space.

Friday, 21 August 2009

New invention not needed

You can boil, fry, scramble or poach them. I like poached best but the process sets me on edge and it makes sense to turn to Mrs BB, the household’s ace poacher. I’d prefer to do it myself, but without hassle.

Yes, there’s a pan thing with detachable saucers but the result is not a poached egg. Baked, perhaps, or steamed. Time for technological ratiocination. I concluded I needed a bun tin with a separable bottom. Paying for this at Cooks Galley in Abergavenny I mentioned the reason. “Haven’t you heard of this?” they said. This was was a floppy plastic simulation of the outer petals of a water lily: Eddington’s Poach Perfect, £5.95 a pair. Does what it says it does. Hope I haven’t rediscovered the wheel.

LET’S HEAR IT FOR LIFE Physics gets a regular work-out on our minority appeal TV channels, biology less so. That’s why I grabbed the three-part series, The Cell, with both hands (Plutarch has already posted on the first installment). The disadvantage with physics is that, at particle level, it’s theory and maths; biology is the visible world. Installment two took us up to the thrill of the double helix, but setting everything beautifully in context.

Together with poignant support for Newton’s tribute to Descartes: “If I have seen further it’s because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Cell division was visible microscopically in 1875 but not understood. Nevertheless the viewer recorded, in pen and ink, the migration of stick-like things to either end of the cell. Now we know these sticks are chromosomes and video cameras record the moving process – exactly like those nineteenth-century drawings showed. The eye of the scientist and the eye of the artist: both wonderful

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Here's my idea of a hero

Definitions of a hero include “a man admired for great achievements”. For me that describes Andy, a neighbour who’s building a plane in his garage. Not a microlight but a real twin-seater, a Vans RV9A. He’s been at it for several years and admits the final step will probably require sponsorship, or some other external source, to acquire the £22,000 for the engine and the avionics.

Even though the Vans is a simple plane and Andy says you don’t need to be an engineer, the work requires patience and a meticulousness I know I don’t possess. He mentioned a typical recent task: positioning the tailplane so the holes to secure it could be drilled in the rear fuselage. Thereafter the tailplane was detached and stowed away again. Heck, if I’d managed to attach it I sure as hell would be disinclined to take it off again. But lack of space forces many space-saving measures.

As to being meticulous… he showed me a discarded fuel pipe. In bending it he’d introduced a tiny kink which he couldn’t live with (“I’d know it was there.”). Of course, it makes a difference when you know you’ll be flying the plane yourself. Another encouragement is that each finished sub-assembly must be professionally inspected before it’s all put together.

Total cost? Earlier, when interviewing him for a website I run, we came up with: “the price of a mid-range BMW”. Now, he shrugs his shoulders. “Let’s say one of the cheaper Aston Martins.” And there’s another vital ingredient: a radio tuned perpetually to Radio 4, according to a mate who was helping.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Hey, socialistic medicine isn't all that bad

America is currently being misinformed about the British NHS (National Health Service), as Obama tries to get his healthcare programme approved. I have no wish to interfere in US politics but I feel the horrific lies should be countered. I have somewhat overrun my 300-word limit - blame passion.

Welcome to the Offshore European Gulag (otherwise known as Great Britain) where we put seventy-year-olds on the front step on winter nights and break up their remains for kindling the following morning. Where our hospitals saw off more wrong legs than right (and left) legs. Where the government forces you to pay for health care which it denies you when you get sick. A land racked by plague and runny noses for which our incompetent foreign doctors have no cure. Welcome to socialised medicine and over to your tour guide – Rush Limbaugh!

On the other hand, how about this story on telly last night? A patient in the West Midlands received a transplanted liver from which part was removed and used as a transplant to a baby. A woman in the same hospital who had a liver complaint fatal only to women received a healthy liver and her liver was transplanted to a young lad (coincidentally from my home town, Bradford). All doing well. Tens of thousands of pounds worth of surgery for a small payment deducted from everyone’s pay-cheque..

Vast and wealthy private interests in the USA, egged on by the Republican Party, are attempting to terrify sectors of the American population into rejecting Barack Obama’s health care scheme for the poor by citing what happens under such “communistic” schemes as Britain’s NHS (National Health Service).

As well they might. The NHS is one of the biggest organisations in the world and employs 150,000 people. Inevitably things go wrong in a service that size. Luckily the people who run it are able to improve their performance by copying super-efficient large organisations in the private sector. Like General Motors (Joke, if in rather bad taste).

Not only does the NHS make mistakes it gets a bad press. Newspapers seize on surveys about dirty wards and run them big. It’s quite irrelevant that these newspapers happen to support the Conservative party which is to your Republican party what a meerkat is to a grizzly bear.

The word is out in Britain, the NHS stinks. I was subjected to this opinion only last week. Where was the evidence garnered? I asked. Oh let’s not bother with evidence, the opinion is “prevalent”. Especially in papers owned by the Great Axeman of Evil himself, Rupert Murdoch, who also owns that simon-white source of impartial information, Fox News.

But alas for my informant I know something about his background. Within the last decade he’s had his cataracts done and his prostate set to rights. By the NHS. And the service he received? “First-rate,” he says. Clearly the NHS were trying to change his mind about them but failed miserably.

I cast my mind back over the NHS I know about personally. In my case an endoscopy arranged within a few days and the results provided there and then. The patience of the hospital staff caring for my father-in-law who, maddened by Alzheimer’s, hated the world during his final days. A follow-up on a breast cancer check for my wife conducted with professionalism and the sweetest of sympathy. Yeah, the NHS stinks.

And perhaps the most telling encounter of all. My much wealthier cousin had a private health package and was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. But the surgery did not take place in a private hospital. “Oh no,” said the surgeon, “we’ll use Bart’s (a renowned NHS hospital in central London), the facilities are much better there.”

If labels like “socialised” and “communistic” are applied to health care, usually by people who haven’t the faintest idea what these terms mean, then they are stigmata I will cheerfully bear. Better a live Red than a capitalist dead as a matter of principle. And incidentally I do have experience of US health care and it is superb. My younger daughter was born in Pittsburgh and my Blue Cross/Blue Shield covered it all bar $20. Such a picky amount!

Just one sad moment. The baby was overdue and this led to a forceps delivery which, unlike in NHS London with the elder daughter, I was not allowed to watch. Never mind. Our doctor brought her out to show me and in all innocence and without a hint of accusation I asked about the head bruising. I shall never forget the stricken look on his face. He thought I was complaining and, worse, I might sue. Not in a million years. But might his fear have been a byproduct of a market-led system?

One final comment. An American political analyst interviewed by the BBC last night said Obama’s programme would be a “tough sell” given the state of the US economy. In fact, Britain started to introduce the NHS in 1945 when London and many of our manufacturing facilities had been bombed flat, when most of our merchant shipping fleet was at the bottom of the Atlantic, when we owed the US billions in War Debt (only paid off a few months ago) and when the Cold War was getting into the act. Course, things are much harder for the US now.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Cake cooking as theatre

Recently Mrs BB made a cake. Nothing unusual there, she regularly produces cakes, buns, cheese straws, ragouts,, dinners based on Welsh lamb, chili sans riz and eggs mornay for birthday boy. Once she did petites bombes de volaille.

But the aim with this cake was “to use up some bits and pieces.” Even I knew that this would not be simple rechauffage whereby two florets of broccoli, an anchovy fillet and a slice of Tesco mature cheddar starting to parch are combined in a savoury which Mrs BB would refuse to give a name to. Cake components are few and their union depends on ratios.

Drying up at the time I started to theorise aloud. “If you had an odd amount of flour, say 7½ oz, you’d scale down the fat by about…” And that was as far as I got. The language quickly changed into that inscribed on the Rosetta Stone and we were into tablespoonfuls and – a new one for me – “half-knobs of butter”. Mrs BB does have a high-tech weighing scale I posted half a year ago. It hangs on a hook I put up specially. Even as I speak hook and scale are turning into untouched conceptual art.

Making a cake is an act of chemistry which is why I’m able to write about it. But this is “theatrical chemistry”. Cake recipes are specific about amounts to achieve the correct “ratio” – a word no cook ever uses. Nor it seems is much attention paid to amounts. Chefs hate figures: centilitres are ugly and technoid whereas handfuls have links with the Middle Ages. I finished drying up and left to commune with the flat-screen.

NOTE: The cake - almond as it turned out - briefly occupied the container illustrated

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

An attempt to climb Mt Impossible

Ever tried to explain why you bought a picture? Objectively? Honestly?

The one I have in mind purports to show the natural world. Except it doesn’t. The random colours, lines, shapes and shades that constitute nature have been replaced by an ordered view. Ordered but not predictable. An order that carries the type of logic that is just about detectable in a language you do not understand. For this is a work of art, and that’s a fact not necessarily a compliment. The word art has links with artificial and artifice.

From 3 m away the picture is seen as a pattern, not of course symmetrical. A pattern defines something that is whole. Closer examination reveals that the logic – recognised if not understood – is worked out so that all parts combine harmoniously to create the pattern. The pattern in no way resembles any other picture I know but the certainty of its logic does.

The picture is unique and matches my untutored prejudices. The decision to buy is not based on the desire to own but to live with the picture, an important distinction. Buying refines the assessment processes; it tests their validity since there is nothing sadder than a picture that has managed to dupe itself into acceptance.

Pictures change because we change. This one already has. Once it consisted of a foreground containing the subject matter and a small, much darker background. The latter is now more dominant by, paradoxically, becoming more distant. There is now a sense of “out there”. I have tried to avoid subjectivity but I must accept a newer brooding quality, even confrontation. The picture would not look well on a chocolate box.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

It's chalk what talks

SPEAK MEMORY The years roll by, the eyes gum up, the synapses disconnect, the joints cease to flex and the brain turns to Angel Delight. Everything declines except the importance of the chalkboard. Forget the nano-second responses of email – this is how members of the same household communicate. This is our defence against the moment that is the very symbol of old age: “Damn, we forgot the flat-leafed parsley.” For the Bondens, both of them, have always striven to be middle-class.

On this day the chalkboard suffered data overload as we prepared for a visit from our elder daughter. As far as our worn minds can recall, all was acquired. And then came the beautiful, self-purging moment when a wet sponge reduced the black surface to shining nothingness. After which, as Housman said, “all’s to do again.”

DO I STILL EXIST? Recently I googled my real identity – the dull-as-ditchwater surname preceded by the mildly exotic Vorname. Alas I share the combination with an American quarterback and the initial pages were devoted to his college career, his entry into the pros, his lacklustre performance and his final “release”. Then came pages about an eponymous Pennsylvanian pervert and a Tennesseean arsonist (I kid you not) before I finally re-read an article I wrote for an American plastics magazine. Very much a sic transit moment.

Whereas when I googled Barrett Bonden, Works Well was fourth up. So my fictitious self has a greater presence than my corporeal self. Could someone of a philosophical bent provide me with much-needed reassurance about this?

Monday, 10 August 2009

Fifteen minutes of Warhol time

A post for Zu Schwer (neé Rouchswalwe) which has roots in one of her posts.

Each nationality in the press party contributed to the sayonara evening which ended the Citizen Watch visit to Japan. I said, “The guy from The Financial Times insisted I should speak for Britain. Not, as I had hoped, because I am the best British journalist here, but because (long pregnant pause) I am the oldest… and Japan venerates the aged.”

I was 53. I went on to sympathise with Japan about its diminishing population. “For what else could explain the plastic rather than organic policemen that dot the roads we have travelled on?” It took time for the audience to realise I was referring to an anti-speeding system then in vogue, where every tenth plastic policeman became a real one equipped with a radar gun. But when light broke through the laughter was encouraging.

I delivered my formal felicitations in phonetic Japanese, to the consternation of the amazingly expert woman translator who, up til then, had been freewheeling with English into Japanese.

It all sounds feeble now. But I faced people eager to hear what I would say next. I was able to pause creatively, to milk the laughter and the use of the translator. It was the high spot of my brief (and previously inauspicious) public speaking career. Since then it has been a steep and humiliating decline and I have retreated into the Nabokov Defence (the basis of a sonnet I posted): “I think like a genius, I write like a man with talent, but I speak like a child”.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

A momentary indulgence

It’s a turn-off, I know, but I need to write something about maths. Wrestle with it. I can’t do maths but I have a probably unjustified feeling I dimly understand its broader contours. Whatever, I am drawn to it unlike other seemingly impenetrable subjects like voodoo, haute cuisine and chess.

Fearful of bidding my readership goodbye let me invoke a 1960 article by the physicist Wigner called "The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences". It starts with a truism – that physics has a mathematical structure. But then comes the rather more startling point: equations decribing relationships in physics often contain pointers about the way physics may develop in the future. I find this fascinating.

Lazy people like me have often referred to maths as a language, a way of saying something precisely and rigorously. It is of course but it’s much more. There is a case for saying that the maths of physics is physics. For Wigner adds that in some cases these so-called pointers to the future are far from airy-fairy; they may be regarded as empirical (ie, susceptible to development by observation, experience and experiment).

There are many examples but the classic one is the work done by Maxwell on elementary electrical and magnetic phenomena in the mid-19th century. His equations also describe radio waves which were discovered by Hertz in 1887 a few years after Maxwell’s death. And radio waves are at the heart of the later physics we all love and are totally baffled by. Hey, doesn’t this sort of stuff leave astrology bobbling about in its wake?

Sorry about that. Regard it as an aberration.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Cheap clothes can embarrass you

Query: Does this post touch on one of those hard-wired but rarely admitted differences between men and women?

This morning I discarded a pair of underpants - a gift from my mother-in-law, dead these last seven years, so they were possibly ten or twelve years old. Unlike the rest, these pants were made of silk. Presumably more expensive than cotton but, it seems, more durable.

I only buy cheap clothing - other than for ski-ing. I conclude that good clothes wear out while cheap clothes disintegrate. The prelude to this disintegration is when long lengths of thread wrap themselves round my buttocks, calves or elbows. Cheap clothes are cheaply stitched. The so-called track-suit I wear when cycling in the shed (qv) came from Primark and cost £12. Much thread has already detached itself and no doubt, one of these days, I shall walk, embarrassed, from the shed back to the house.

I briefly abrogated the cheap-clothing policy when I bought a Savile Row suit prior to crossing the Atlantic and presenting myself as an archetypal Englishman at job interviews. This suit neither wore out nor disintegrated; I simply got too fat to wear it. The fact that the drainpipe trousers were eventually fifteen years out of fashion didn’t worry me.

I assume that all clothes, cheap or expensive, are machine stitched. So why do some machines do the job while others don’t? Then there’s the matter of buttons. If I were more interested in clothes (Chinos are the only trousers!) I’d have given all this more thought. Luckily the people who read this blog do just that and I await their soothing answers.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Nothing so dangerous as a keyboard

Dedicated to all those I have
unwittingly – and wittingly – hurt, insulted,
misunderstood, put down or passed

This is a modern type of dance: we sway,
With thoughts engaged but hands that never touch.
Our partners may be half a world away,
Unheard, held only in the pixel’s clutch.

Words normally succumb to charm and style
On television and in politics
But here they’re all we are - no frown, no smile,
No waving hand, no nervous facial ticks.

Consider now that oh-so-witty phrase
Launched nude, destined for distant scrutiny,
Mere words that lacked the normal artifice
Of gesture, tone or personality.

Arriving, frozen, in its shorn-lamb form
The letters fixed, the burden divergent,
A dozen novel voices in a swarm
Of unintended causes for dissent.

Misread, the words return as bleak response
Like local wine they have not travelled well
The wit that wore such nonchalance
Is now dull-voiced, a melancholy bell.

I could be bland for blandness rarely hurts
And many people search out Mother’s Pride*.
There’s comfort in a cliché as it flirts
With what is known, well-worn or lately died.

I could attach a photo of my face
Its drooping gauntness admirable proof
That age and underlying lack of grace
Are reasons why my prose can sound aloof.

To blog – that ugly word – is idle fun
With answers that supply a rich reward.
But oh the flaw of simple words alone
Without the aid of physical accord.

For what is said and what we want to say
Bestrides a gap as wide as any wound
It is the price that intellect must pay
When our humanity has run aground.

* Thermometers thrust into mouths
sometimes break and fragments are
swallowed. As antidote, sufferers were
made to eat cotton-wool sandwiches.
Technology has moved on and Mother’s
Pride sandwiches, lacking cotton-wool,
do just as well.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Save the BBs from poisoning

Any ideas? The upper surface is sticky, possibly even slimy.