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

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Why was he born at all?

I’ve had four near-death experiences. Technology was significant in three; absence of technology caused the fourth.
CLOSE KISS ONE Aged six or seven, I caught meningitis. Previously it would have been the Kiss of Death or being left as a vegetable, preferably not an aubergine. Luckily M&B sulfanilamide had just been invented and I lived on, my mental capacities only slightly diminished. Before, I was on course to be a genius.
CLOSE KISS TWO Unable to cure my athlete’s foot, the RAF flew me back from Singapore to Blighty as a CASEVAC (casualty evacuation). We took off in heavy rain from Negombo in what was then Ceylon. At a point close to no-return the pilot knew we weren’t going to make it and slammed on the brakes. The jungle loomed. This was 1957 when planes crashed a lot.
CLOSE KISS THREE Riding my motorbike down a steep hill, with the whole of my LP collection stuffed in the front of my raincoat, I met a car (the make of which I shamefully cannot recall) across the road, hit it amidships, somersaulted over the top, and not an LP was scratched.
CLOSE KISS FOUR I embarked on a solo ascent of a route called Fairy Steps (rated Very Difficult) which I had climbed before. A flake of rock weighing perhaps a ton and which had supported many other climbers over decades, broke off, broke in two and fell with my unroped body into a narrow gulley to form a Bonden sandwich.
OBSERVATIONS (1) No previous-life flashes. (2) No curses. (3) No Arghhhh. (4) I was being saved to write this blog.

PS: My brother, having read this post, sent me a photo of the Fairy Steps climb before the I unwittingly modified the route.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Saving bikers and my pocket

Back from the Peak District national park where they have a problem. On the narrow curvaceous roads motorbike riders have the life expectancy of a second-lieutenant in WW1. To ram this home accident spots are flagged with yellow Biker Crash Zone notices (in one case a mere 15 m apart), reinforced with others saying, typically, “39 bike riders have been killed or injured on this road”. Turn off that road and another notice announces that 22 riders have been turned into mince on the new road.

Very laudable. Bikers are more sinned against than sinning and always come off worst in a car/bike symbiosis. Regard them as a threatened species. But there are limits. When it doesn’t rain the Peak District is beautiful if austere territory. The frequency of these proclamations detracts from what one sees. Of course the scenery could become so yellow-spotted bikers won’t be tempted to go there.

TOO MUCH, I SAY Following a post about the irritations – financial and dermatological – of shaving, Avus put me right and I shall continue with the swivel-head Bic he recommended. However, in a gesture parallel to Christ being tempted by the Devil, my daughter bought me, inter alia, a Gillette Fusion Power for my birthday. This not only has a five-blade head and a trimmer for the bit under my nose but is also battery powered so that it jiggles across my face.

It has one big advantage – it requires almost no pressure and I finish shaving without feeling flayed. But I shall eventually discard it. The blades cost £2.40 each! I do not – could not – love my face that much.

Friday, 25 September 2009

The editorial mangle

Journalism is fun when you’re learning something new, especially if the interviewee is reluctant. But more time is spent re-writing than digging out news.

As a professional gesture to the local community I create a quarterly newsletter extracted from council minutes. This involves two imperatives: to make the minutes more zippy and to reduce the raw material into a presentation printed on two sides of A4. Briefly, I shrink 6000 words down to 1000.

At school it was called a prĂ©cis and there were rules to be learned. Faced with such a task most people would thrash around a bit whereas it took me 2½ hours. And so it should. I’ve done it for 44 years. Fifteen years ago it would have taken me longer because I’d have had to keep re-adjusting the wordage to fit the magazine space available. This morning my output went straight into a template I’d already created and I was re-adjusting as I was writing. All hail the benefits of DTP.

Because after those 2½ hours I not only had the finished text but it was shaped, coloured and headlined in a file suitable for emailing to the company who will print the 1700 copies for distribution.

Publishing, as much as any industrial activity, has profited enormously from the computer. Much drudgery has disappeared, leaving the writer to concentrate on writing. Of course computers have also removed some of the hidey-holes that bad writers used to conceal their incompetences. OK for a hard-nosed editor, less so for the shy debutante who’s just joined the ship. But then I enjoyed being a hard-nosed editor too.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Onions deconstructed

In a kitchen the onion is second only to the potato in importance; in the wider world it seems a limited basis for entertainment. Hence an investigatory visit to the Newent Onion Fair.

We could easily have missed the onions. The streets of this little Gloucestershire town were host to carousels, a Ferris wheel, slides, stalls selling cheese, wine and sausages and stalls run by charities and local organisations. “In the community hall,” we were told.

Stepping inside I stepped back fifty years to my weekly newspaper days when vegetable shows ruined many a Saturday afternoon I’d have preferred to devote to rock-climbing or motorbiking. This was the original nucleus of the larger event in Newent: a gardening competition based on onions. Produce arranged in a layout as far removed from nature as possible. Rosettes had been awarded; condemnation too. Against one exhibit was attached – rather cruelly I thought – a note saying that one onion’s diameter had exceeded 30 mm and was therefore disqualified.

Zach slid, rotated and consumed a whistle made out of sweetmeats. He also climbed enthusiastically into a fire engine. This reminded me of our local fun fair intended to gather data for a parish plan. I quote from the newsletter: BARRETT BONDEN. General dogsbody. Accosted at 11.30, and then every 20-minutes by a ten-year-old who wanted to know when the fire engine would arrive. Told the ETA was 2 pm, he showed up at 2.05 pm to register what was clearly an official complaint. “The engine might be attending a fire,” BB said. The lad’s frown suggested this wasn’t a plausible excuse.

Kids love fire engines

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

An ageist bike and a new mag

I drive an old man’s car – ie, with an automatic gearbox. However it is a car for old men who appreciate technology. The auto-box is light-years away from the power-hungry “slush pumps” of yesteryear and incorporates two conventional clutches which ensure very speedy changes up and down the six gears. If I flick the lever sideways I can change (and hold) gears manually, useful when travelling down steep winding roads.

Amazingly Honda now offer such a box for their heavier touring bikes. I admire Honda but this may be a step too far. An important feature of bike-riding, apart from a willingness to fall off every now and then, is the speed and ease with which one can change gear. A veritably sensual experience which even old men should not be denied. I foresee a mouth-foaming reaction from one biker who isn’t even old – Avus, are you there?

NEW TITLE Wired is a successful American magazine devoted to technology (plus Ideas, Culture, Business, according to the strapline). Now there’s a UK edition which, most recently, tests slim laptops, the ultimate chair, and “lawn mowers vs. sheep”. Major features include the search for dark matter, the physics of skateboarding, trials riding and free running, and an explanation of synthetic biology. Another major feature – which I avoided – explored Richard Branson’s greenness.

I like it because it slots in underneath pure science for which I lack the education. But I worry about its sustainability. The emphasis is cutting edge and I’m not sure there’s enough of that to go around. I hope it doesn’t lurch into history or repetition. A Christmas present?

Monday, 14 September 2009

Meet my superior alter ego

Without a computer I would be an aspostrophe-ridden bucolic in Adam Bede. I use it to buy books from 13,000 secondhand bookshops round the world (ABE), to buy books in French from French sources (cheaper even with the postage), to write verse aided by a free rhyming dictionary open in an adjacent window, to send cash to grandchildren, to phone US friends for free (Skype), to check equity investments and to update them on a spreadsheet, to produce a quarterly newsheet, to run a local website, to spec a digital camera unavailable locally, to view my house from the air, to download books for my ebook reader, to download my CDs on to my MP3 player, to check routes and driving times to distant parts, to ask tricky questions about website design and DIY of experts, to appear competent in foreign languages, to call up pictures of virtually anything, to store digi-photos and to scan and store optical photos. To blog.

It is vital my computer works well. It must be repaired when bust and incorporate worthwhile computeresque developments. When I arrived in Hereford I had a modified Dell. Over the years parts were replaced until the only originals were the power supply and the case. A new processor and motherboard caused even these items to be ditched and I am now left with the old keyboard. – sweat-stained and definitely unhygienic.

Barrie and Jim, who operate from a converted house on the estate, do my bidding and I have spent several thousand pounds with them. I do not resent this. A slow computer is a contradiction – like a well-equipped car that only travels in reverse. I could buy things cheaper online but with them I discuss what I need before writing the cheque. A vital asset.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

A debt remembered

Pittsburgh, Christmas 1971
I waited, knowing the festivities
Would choke the flow of transatlantic calls,
Delays which brought their own blank auguries,
A prelude to the saddest of farewells.
“Ah… yes…”, my brother said, quite languidly,
Languor that looked for comfort in delay.
But what he added lacked necessity,
The link was cut and youth had gone astray.
She died within a distant older place
I’d left behind with callow eagerness,
Yet unrestrained by any false embrace,
Encouraged, taught, with chances of success.
She wrote, I write, but here’s the difference
No letters, now, to foil my ignorance.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Does this convey his bigness?

When old dormice like us need to buy each other presents it’s a long-term, covert operation. Neither is inclined to wait months for something we want and bang goes another choice. The trick is to listen carefully to murmured exchanges during that somnolent Sunday-newpaper part of the week and then spirit away what’s been learned. That’s why I’m now reading “American Prometheus” a biography of Robert Oppenheimer, who masterminded Los Alamos then fell foul of the anti-Red witch hunts in the fifties. (Note: The protruding bookmark was a gift from Plutarch.)

Oppenheimer was a clever man – marvellous on intuitive leaps into obscure regions of physics. His cleverness is measured by those he worked with and who thought well of him. Since his golden period was when physics was turned on its head by quantum mechanics, his address book contained all the big names: Niels Bohr, Heisenberg, Dirac, Rutherford, Pauli, usw.

I’m well aware not everyone out there is turned on by physics so I need an analogy. Say you’re a committed Christian; imagine a time-warped contact with someone who had rubbed shoulders with the twelve disciples. Something on that scale. That’s all on Oppie, for the moment anyway.

MUG SHOT Lucy has just celebrated her acquisition of a new tea mug from a craft shop in Josselin, a Breton town I dimly recall – but for what? Beautifully photographed, checked out for lip contact, tis a thing to be desired. My mug, another gift from Mrs BB, may be my most treasured possession. Acquired over a decade ago from John Lewis, it is bone china, has a William Morris pattern and is of austerely correct design. Fits my lip perfectly.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Bibliophile, 74-plus

My socks, like novels of the avant garde,
Weigh on me now: I lack the power to stretch
Beyond that hindering swag of lard
Towards the problematic briarpatch.
I opt for looseness so my corded neck
Is unrestrained, a turtle’s periscope
That scans the route on a familiar trek
Through re-read books down a declining slope.
I fear tight clothes and tighter argument,
Prefer to wallow in the warmer mud
And so avoid the future’s accident:
The ketchup rather than the oozing blood.

This year I measured time along Swann’s Way
But knew the end and occupied the day.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Engine room chez Bonden

Working kitchens can be a thumbprint – even an EKG – of their users. A recent pictorial post by Lucy got tantalisingly close to revealing hers. Urged to cast aside the seventh veil she excused herself for various reasons, including one concerning an excess of bottles which I am compelled to sympathise with.

Anyway, in re. motes and beams, I am stripping away the Bondens’ seventh veil. Our kitchen is L-shaped, hence the two halves. This is of course Mrs BB’s territory but I enter it regularly to wash up, to perform certain unsavoury tasks beneath her notice and to provide dialogue when change is mooted.

1. Neff glass hob. Powerful, quick to react, speedily cleaned. Very expensive boon and benison.
2. Extractor fan cover. Changing filter paper is an “unsavoury task”.
3. Food processor. In teacosy-like snood.
4. Knife holster. All wood; large enough to accommodate sharpening steel.
5. Window blind. Awkward to remove; permanently at this level; decoration only.
6. Basil plant in pot. Just to brush past it is a delight.
7. “Monsieur Ariston” dishwasher. Used only by guests after dinner parties.
8. Foil and film dispensers. Literally indispensable.
9. Krups coffee percolator. Latest in long trudge towards perfection.
10. Spice rack. Compact and practical; not bought at novelties shop.
11. Microwave. Aged Panasonic; given the marque it should last for ever.
12. Cupboard. Converted from piddling nine-slot wine rack.
13. Brabantia touch-top garbage bin. Once you’ve touched you’ll never pedal.
14. Neff twin oven. Hyper-expensive; does everything; superb engineering detail.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Keeping faith with screw-caps

I have a horror of deathbed conversions, of being bullied by pain, fear or fatigue into embracing a received religion. I hope when that particular needle’s eye arrives I shall remain faithful to St Pragmatus, patron saint of the believable world.

Given my age and the growing relevance of Shakespeare’s most seductive, most sibilant line (If it be now, ‘tis not to come…) such considerations are important. Romanticism and fantasy are always at my elbow and require constant suppression. Briefly they got the upper hand at my birthday dinner last Saturday. I’d ordered a sauvignon blanc for starters and since the best stuff is brewed in New Zealand it came with a screw-cap which the restaurant owner proceeded to unscrew at the table.

I mock-complained. I told him that screw-caps are OK at home but in public one yearns for corkscrew panache. Complete nonsense, of course. Over the last ten years I’ve probably opened a dozen bottles of wine that have been corked (ie, undrinkable). None had a screw-cap. Yet because this was a jolly, sweaty social occasion I found it necessary to hark back mendaciously to one of those imaginary golden eras.

Corks are harvested from tree bark by curly-haired Mediterranean types who I’ve always suspected beat their wives. Corks can communicate a fungus to the wine resulting in a mouldy smell and taste. Screw-caps prevent this but they’re technoid. I’m ashamed I betrayed my intellect and resorted to jokiness even though jokiness was in the air. But I also worry about finding myself in a poor way, looking up and hearing a dark-suited man reading selections from The Song of Solomon. Beautiful but irrelevant. Will my belief in particle physics and the cell hold out?