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

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Can't see it; haven't got it

I have three roles in Mrs BB’s kitchen: to wash up, to lift things down from high shelves and to observe. Recently I observed blind baking beans in action, preventing that culinary solecism whereby pastry case and tart contents combine. I recognised their function but couldn’t remember having seen this procedure before. It turned out Mrs BB had bought the beans two years ago. And before? Real beans, but “they’d begun to look a little secondhand”.

I wondered if cooking beans end up in that destination I identify as the Food Processor Bermuda Triangle involving tools for comparatively rare but very specific tasks (eg, a melon baller). So rare that when the need arises one bodges rather than look for the tool. The phenomenon reaches its expensive apogee when a food processor is “put away” rather than being left on the work surface. “Not in a well organised kitchen,” replied Mrs BB a trifle frostily.

I AM NOT SEDUCED by perfumed toilet products. My preferred shampoo is Head and Shoulders which has a chemically smell and an in-yer-face aim (gets rid of dandruff). My favourite soap is Wright’s Coal Tar. If I could find a tooth-paste flavoured with petrol I would buy it. Yes, I know, it’s a man’s thing and its finest expression is a deep love of Swarfega (alas, now newly packaged). Used by garage mechanics for cleaning oily hands it is a luminescent green gel which feels excitingly slick to touch and has a hypnotically techno smell. It’s at its best when taken from an industrial-size container and it not only works well but better than you could ever expect. Welcome to this blog.

Novel progress (Working title: Bloggers Unite). Chapter one: 3420 words, Chapter two: 3806 words. Chapter three: 698 words.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Getting the better of Photoshop

I shouldn’t be posting grandson for a second consecutive time but he has WALKED ON WATER! I was trying to redesign the blog's home page montage and he insisted Photoshop’s Photomerge Panorama feature wasn’t the way to go. It had to be PS’s terrifying system of layers. We had many false goes; the jargon is horribly knotty (Why for goodness sake “duplicate” rather than “copy”?) and for a time there was no way out. Then it happened; immediately I had him repeat what he’d done. And, of course, once you know, it’s the only way and you start to understand why it’s so complex.

I know other people have given up on Photoshop and opted for easier software. Fine. But if there’s something you’d like to do, chances are PS will do it. And despite appearances PS was designed by humans for humans. Ughh, how smug I’m getting.

IT MUST HAPPEN. Had a chat with my younger brother recently. For no good reason he doesn’t figure often in WW. Much of his adult life he has sailed and recently I was drawn into this esoteric yet absorbing activity. Just enough to understand the buzz. For various reasons he sold his 36 ft yacht Takista and now he’s on the brink of buying a Contessa 32. He’s a successful businessman, now retired, and he started talking about the favourable economics of getting another boat. Passionately I begged him to put aside the instincts of a professional lifetime and just respond to the boat’s aesthetics. This may well happen. I hope the photo shows why I urged him on.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Surfer's last wave

A hurricane, driven by my 6 ft 4 in. grandson (see above), has transformed my computer into a lean, serene machine. Boot-up takes about a minute, icons have been scythed from the desktop, impatient programs no longer lurk on the start-up toolbar, the registry (ie, the machine’s DNA) has been re-arranged, temp files trashed, and so on. Opened windows slide effortlessly and buttons depress like those on a Mac. There’s talk of converting the second hard drive – retained so my granddaughter could play Sims without disturbing my part of the computer – into a repository for Linux.

Yet the work included at least one of those circular journeys so typical of computers; a special kind of irony, if you like. I run a website for the local community. Several years ago a feature called FTP Surfer allowed me to look at the website files stored on the server as opposed to those on my machine. This had become defunct and grandson and I worked hard to restore it. We contacted the ISP, changed passwords, permutated the changed passwords and consumed a further hour in general fiddle-faddle. Finally FTP Surfer was restored.

I then showed grandson the workings of Dreamweaver, the complex software with which the website is created and maintained. I revealed, for instance, the many files that go to make up Belmont Rural, plus… Oh no!… all the reflected files on the server. So that’s why I was able to get along without FTP surfer working. Its need had disappeared.

The irony lies in what happened next. In grandson’s purge of unneeded programs, the next casualty was FTP Surfer. Seen as a problem, repaired, and now rushed off to Tyburn.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Beware the editor's footnote

Still coughing but becoming more loquacious.

I spend my leisure fencing with the literate, multi-talented, globe-spread, no doubt handsome people of the blog world. But I have another life – running a local website – where passions take a different turn. For instance:

The editor's right to edit is understood but when my words "the Rotherwas Waste Recycling Centre" were changed to "the dump" I queried this with the website's editor-in-chief.

Our discussion centred on public awareness. Many folk may not realise that, on average, 80% of the unwanted materials delivered to The Rotherwas Centre are in fact reused for… etc, etc,
Cllr X

NOTE Since Cllr X has uncomplainingly borne not only changes to many of his website contributions in the past, but even outright refusal to publish other contributions, he is fully entitled to draw attention to what he considers heavy-handed or unsympathetic editing. Calling the RWRC the dump diminishes the centre's functions, it is true. But no label is an exact description. I reacted to the newer term in the way I might had I been faced with "rat catcher" elevated to "pest and rodent extermination officer". Also the shorter word has benefits: asking the average Herefordian the way to the dump might well produce an immediate answer, whereas there could well be a pause (at best) if the longer phrase were inserted. And since the website has only one worker-ant I feel I can dispense with editor-in-chief for the shorter, punchier - website editor.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Despatches from El Alamein

Just a heavy cold but complicated, as always, by the after-effects of a childhood racked with chronic bronchitis now retro-diagnosed as asthma. Feverish dreams in which I’m compelled to complete a sodoku game (it’s no go; conscious or unconscious I don’t know the rules) followed by two months of coughing. I exacted some revenge months ago by writing a sonnet on that latter subject.

Colds are bad news because I know they can’t be cured. So, treat the symptoms. The temptation to use scotch must be eschewed since the symptoms persist, enhanced by a murderous headache. In my case the bronchi and – rather surprising – the diaphragm blaze with pain after every cough. Pain demands an analgesic, hence industrial-strength ibuprofen.

The result is a pyrrhic victory (“Any more wins like that and we’re done for.”) As the drug fights the nerve endings the battlefield is laid waste. But the battlefield is my body and what laughably passes for a mind. The fruited plain becomes nothing more than landfill. This is not the time to embark on a demanding new verse form or to entertain a fellow blogger with a comment that will read a week later as pure boiler-plate. The prescription is thus analgesic plus abstinence from creative activity.

And that includes thinking. No great loss since sooner rather than later thoughts will turn to the state of my lungs. Finding things to curse is one solution, self-induced torpor is another. I leave the TV switched off: good stuff turns enthusiasm into wheezing, bad stuff makes me angry with the same result. I may if I wish contemplate the case of Michael Jackson.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A post from the distaff side

Plutarch's most recent post consists of a breaking wave, reminding me that when we met at TBR he was interested to hear Mrs BB had taken up painting and urged me to let in some light on this matter. Mrs BB's reaction to this was predictable (ie, No.) but one doesn't live for forty-nine years with someone and not discover one or two of the pressable buttons. In the end neither of us could decide which of our preferences should get the nod, so here they both are with another thrown in for good luck. The fact that neither is precisely aligned can be blamed on the one who operated the camera.
PS: Further close examination revealed that the twin paintings were not only unaligned but out of focus. Hence their replacement.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Chillis and the Voice of Doom

In what my elder daughter referred to as “the often times” there was just one TV channel and the BBC filled up gaps between programmes with film of a rotating potter’s wheel and a speeded-up train journey covering London to Brighton in sixty seconds. This post may well fulfil the same function, for I am presently otherwise engaged.

The chillis have nothing to do with technology and merely serve as a reminder that my lack of faith in received religion should not be allowed to extend to horticulture. They came from a single plant sown by Mrs BB and which, despite my deepest foreboding, went forth and multiplied. They will be dried and/or frozen. The purple plastic bag has Internet links since it came from Purdy’s, a shop I believe to be located in Vancouver, BC. No prizes for making the connection.

AS I STARE into the monitor, involved in the aforementioned other work, a crisp didactic female voice says: “You have reached your destination.” I deserve this since I’ve dribbled on rather too much about mortality in recent posts. But this is not condemnation from a surrogate Grand Seigneur. It is my satnav, triggered by computer activity, possibly the optical mouse. I reflect briefly on the persistence of horticulture, and resume.

TO MY FOUR COUNSELLORS The rewrite is two-ninths complete and may be up to fifty percent at the end of the day. This is gratifying though judgement will be what counts. I thank you all but end on a note of authorial caution: rewriting is sixteen times easier than writing.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Another act of self-expiation

Speech came first; alphabets provided the toolbox – the technology – by which speech became visible. And a rare old hash we made of it. We’re all aware of English negligence (enough, cough, bough, through, for starters) but the French are just as bad. Take feuille (leaf); could there be a more complicated way of spelling a syllable and a half. As for Finnish – why all the umlauts? Since the double dots modify vowels why not pick more precise vowels in the first place?

Two cheers at least for German, then. I know just enough to recognise Germans worked harder at relating the alphabet to speech and in maintaining consistency thereafter. I particularly like the iron-clad rule that ie spells ee, and ei spells aye and it curled my teeth in America to hear Steinberg rendered wilfully as Steenberg. Yes I know Germans use (possibly invented) umlauts but somehow they don’t seem as prodigal as the Finns.

Learn the basic pronunciatory rules in German and you’re more or less home and dry.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen
Diese Küss für ganze Welt.

(Be embraced (oh ye) millions,
This kiss for the whole world)

It’s a crime to offer it unsung, and without the tenors pushed so far up the scale they’re almost trebles, but I do so knowing that a few days’ familiarity will be enough for the average Yorkshireman (Is there any other kind?) to communicate those words.

Why am I doing this? In self-expiation. The few Brits attracted to other languages tend to get swoony about French. And I’m more guilty than most. Pax vobiscum. Oh, what a smartyboots.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

It's not voyeurism it's maths

Womens’ shoes have not figured enough in Works Well. They’re important because my standards in pulchritude were established in fifties’ films when women stars were heavily made up, had hairstyles apparently achieved with a planishing hammer, wore sheathlike dresses even in the kitchen and walked around on stilettos. I’d always vaguely assumed this was standard footwear everywhere and it was only in, say, the eighties I realised this was no longer the case.

It’s no doubt crass but I secretly admire stiletto-clad feet. Possibly it’s a fetish. Certainly it’s unforgivable that women are still required to cripple themselves in order to pander to male preferences and in public I’m world president of the Anti-Stiletto League. But in secret…

I conclude the appeal lies in the shoe’s geometry. In profile the stiletto can be rendered as a triangle with a right-angle between the heel and the sole. The angle that matters is the one above the right-angle and it’s a case of the smaller the better; as the heel is lengthened this angle shrinks. Interestingly, though, there is a limit. The shoes shown are pretty near that limit since the tops of the feet are virtually in line with the front of the calf.

In the ballet dancer’s feet, conveniently x-rayed, the angle (in this case relating to a non-existent shoe) has diminished to zero. Leg and foot share the same vertical plane. What started out as an audaciously sexy re-arrangement of nature now becomes an anatomical deformity. There’s no percentage in losing the concept of the foot altogether. I’m glad about this.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Perhaps it was the drink as well

Champagne, Stella Artois lager, Adnam’s and Fuller’s ale failed to dispel our conviction that there was too much to say and too little time, when Plutarch and I met yesterday at The Blogger’s Retreat. Blogonames cropped up and were rearranged in the pantheon. I mentioned I was considering resuming a dormant novel and to husband my waning resources Works Well should be closed down. “Write both,” said Plutarch succinctly. Outside it was pouring and he lent me his umbrella, explaining that his wide-brimmed leather gaucho’s hat offered sufficient protection.

And then an epiphany. On the rush-hour-jammed tube to Paddington I found myself pressed against a small man standing up and contriving to read a paperback. I was pierced with homesickness for life in London. The greatest city in the world and you pay the price in discomfort, as this man was quietly proving. It’s worth it. But London is for youth, not old age.

TECHNOLOGY IN YOUTH Trolley buses, painted blue and cream and adorned with the city’s coat of arms (Motto: Labor omnia vincit), carried me to the centre of Bradford years ago. When the driver floored the “accelerator” relays clacked open and shut, powering the motor. If you pressed your ear against the metal post supporting the overhead cables you could detect a faint whirring as the bus – as yet unseen – approached.

The bus stop I used stood close to the open door of a carpenter’s workshop where an unguarded circular saw was frequently at work. I can hear the rising scream now as the noise changed steplessly from C in alt to G# above. In those days I had perfect pitch, now I resort to perfect lies.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Not yet finished with George Frideric

As the final rippling interplay of the Amen chorus dies away, you are left reflecting on the words. Most come from Isaiah and they’re a mixed bag. Some are sublime…

He was despised, despised of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

…especially the deliberately understated “acquainted”. On the other hand, bathos may be only a crotchet or two away…

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace.

…raising a number of anatomical questions. I was familiar with both the above but this was the first time I was aware of the implications of…

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain...

… so paradise will look like Lincolnshire superimposed with a New York street grid pattern. Climbers not welcome. If Yahweh doesn’t like gradients or curves (Motorcyclists, too, it seems will not be welcome) why did he create them?

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Traffic, maths and Handel

FAST + SLOW = BANG! We were bedevilled by road safety signs during our trip to the Peak District but excess didn’t end there. On a ten-mile stretch south of Leek there are three dozen speed cameras. One small village was monitored by three pairs. This has the desired effect and traffic adheres to the limits.

Yet local drivers will have sussed it all out. Such cameras cost £50,000 and no local authority could afford that investment so many must be empty boxes. Use the road regularly and you get to know which are which – and speed accordingly. Crashes between speeding locals and slow-moving foreigners have no doubt become a spectator sport.

HAND-HOLD GUIDE No prizes for guessing why I responded to this from the Oppenheimer biography; “Weinberg… observed that mathematical formulas were like temporary hand-holds for a rock-climber. Each hand-hold more or less dictates the position of the next hand-hold… ‘A record of that is a record of a particular climb. It gives you very little of the shape of the rock’.”

LIFT UP YOUR EARS Saw a different version of Messiah at the weekend: Harry Christophers and the Sixteen - a handful of period instruments and a tiny (18 members) choir, albeit all professional, singing with passion, clarity and power. For those unfamiliar with live performances of this work there is a British tradition of standing up during the Hallelujah chorus, the reason being too tedious to recount. Mrs BB and I are dubious about this but, moved by the performance, we joined in - to be rewarded by a significant improvement in the sound quality. Who can understand or prescribe the so-called science of acoustics?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

... and now the nuts and bolts

Those familiar with this blog may think the helicopter (previous post) was more of an indulgence for me than for Mrs BB. Not true! She likes taking to the air and even enjoyed a float-plane flight over the mountains of New Zealand. But helicopters are techie and techie is my thing.

The financial side, however, is appalling. Our R44 Raven II (manufactured by the hopelessly mundane Robinson Helicopter Co) cost about £300,000 and demands an insurance premium of – wait for it! - £10,000. Inspections, servicing and hangerage push the flying bill to £200/hour. But it’s fast - 97 knots or, say, a ground speed of 120 mph. At one point Anthony, our pilot, needed to increase our cruising altitude of 1000 ft by half that again. Done in a veritable eye-blink.

But no hovering. It’s too expensive in fuel, I believe, and that’s why we missed our daughter’s village. Nostalgists who respond to quarter-inch plate would have been disappointed by the R44’s fragility. The doors flap like leaves and the joystick (or whatever it’s called) is a mere 10 mm aluminium tube. Weight-saving is apparent wherever you look.

Such a lightweight craft is sensitive to natural forces. We flew through a col in the Malverns where hillwalkers were able to look down on us. The approach was tranquil but the wind beyond the col buffeted our port side. Instrumentation is almost minimal; the top screen above the panel is a humdrum satnav, not much different from the one that guided our car to the Drum and Monkey. Nevertheless, I fear it’s the only way to travel.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Away from Channel gales

Forty-nine years ago Mrs BB and I emerged into a gale from the church of St Mary and St Eanswythe on Folkestone’s cliff tops (there’s a Turner painting that includes it) and stumbled into our married life. Today’s celebration was more tranquil and more uplifting. I’d arranged things secretly and Mrs BB, bemused by an hour’s drive into Worcestershire, swears she thought we were going to buy a sapling. In fact she spent the drive wondering how to dissuade me from this since we already have too many trees in our garden.The rendezvous was The Drum and Monkey near Upton-on-Severn where we later had lunch. Since the pub didn’t open until midday bemusement continued as we sat in the car making forced conversation.All was explained when a small helicopter (belonging to the egregious Richard Hammond of “Top Gear” as it happened) landed in an adjacent field and Anthony Stockman, our pilot, beckoned us over.

We failed to see the tiny fifteen-house village in Gloucestershire where our younger daughter lives. Nor did we spot the equally tiny village of Sellack which accommodates one of our favourite gastropubs. The area’s rural beauty is a constant diversion.But it’s not all beauty. We found Chez Bonden by first identifying Tesco, deservedly diminished from the air. Then up Golden Valley (location of the C. S. Lewis bio-film, Shadowlands) flanked by the Brecon Beacons,
a circular tour of Hay-on-Wye (above), down the Wye to skirt Hereford, pop over a gap in the Malverns and back to the D&M. With time to reflect on the randomness by which couples are brought together.