Monday, 30 March 2009

Spring, and changing the clocks

The clocks went forward yesterday, and, while I am a little hazy on these things, this ought surely to mean we are moving towards Summer. I am slightly spooked by the fact that not only my video recorder, but also my microwave, is apparently clever enought to be able to change it's clock by itself. I can understand the video knowing - it spends it's life watching telepvision after all, and I am sure they mention the clocks changing on the News. But the microwave is not (as far as I am aware) in touch with any outside source... I am haunted by the fear that my microwave may in fact be brighter (or at least better organised) than me.

So, with all these harbingers of summer, I was a little disappointed when I woke, what felt like an hour early, looked out of the window and saw a thick frost. I has been a while since I've had to scrape the windscreen in the morning, and it did not feel in the least but spring-like.

On the other hand, the drive to work really was rather beautiful - the sun was shining, but there were also some very threatening looking clouds - deep grey and purple, like a bruise on the sky. The trees skeletal silhouettes against the sky made it look like a backdrop to Macbeth, or something equally sinisiter.

Closer to hand spring flowers (albeit covered in frost) were busting out all over - as well as daffodils and primroses, there is a lot of jasmine out, and this morning for the first time I could see pusy willow buds, and some bright green new leaves in the hedges, which is possibly blackthorn. Several magnolias have quite advanced buds - I hope the flowers aren't killed by the frost, and the ornamental cherries are pinkly ubiquitous.

I am not fond of pink, as a general rule, but am prepared to make an exception for cherry blossom.

There is no sign, in my garden, of the white violets which I transplanted from my parent's lawn (where they grew, wild and randomly) before they moved, so I am afraid that they did not survie the winter, which is very sad. On the other hand, the strawberry plant appears to have put out enthusiaastic runners and colonised the planter where the courgettes died last year, so perhaps one day there will be strawberries, and in the mean time I have an excellent excuse not to empty the planter and trying to grow courgettes in it again.

Instead, I shall try to grow courgettes in something else, although unless the slugs have changed their taste I shall probably fail. What I really need is a hedgehog, to eat the slugs and snails which infest my garden to a degree which seems excessive. I wonder whether anyone makes a mail order hedgehog.....

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

In Which Tiscali continue to FAIL

The Tiscali saga continues. So far I have had 9 different e-mails from "customer support", from 7 different people, none of whom seem to have read any of t he previous mails (in some cases, they appeared not to have read the e-mail to which they were responding, either)

One of them referred me to a term in the T&C which says that you can only cancel by telephone. Reading the whole sentence which she quoted shows that this erfers to cancelling within the 30 day cooling off period after first signing up. Now, if I only had a TARDIS, of course, I would indeed go back to May 2005 and do exactly that, and no doubt save myself a lot of hassle, but it does make me wonder. If you are going to quote something, doesn't it seem fairly basic to at least read it first?

However, It appears that I have now reached the heady heights of the 'High Level Complaints' team. Am curious as to whether it is the complaint or theteam which is High Level but I am hoping that this may, if nothing else, allow me to escape the endless loop of clueless automatons in the "customer support" team.

In happier news, the milkman did agree that it would be unreasonable to charge me weither for the 2 pints of milk delivered on Saturday after they were cancelled, or for the 1 pint of milk NOT delivered on Tuesday... so I feel that one victory, at least, is mine. Dairy Crest have a better and more navigable website than Tiscali do, too. And an 0800 contact number. I wonder if they offer internet access?

In Which There is a Disappointment

So, blogging has had to slow down a little as I currently have no internet access at home (May fleas infest the beds of the people at Tiscali) But, on the pus side, I had a trip planned to London, to go to the theatre and see a couple of exhibitions.

I had a trip to London, to visit relatives and go to the theatre. We had tickets to see ‘Madame de Sade’, starring Judi Dench and Rosamund Pike, and I was interested in seeing it for that reason, and also because a play which has 6 characters, all female, and several of them past the first flush of youth seemed to be to be worth seeing!

I was able to combine the trip with a work-related course, which meant that I could be at leisure in London by 4.45 on Friday evening instead of arriving at 10 p.m. – it was a lovely bright, sunny day (not, admittedly, when I was sitting on the railway station at 6 a.m., but later in the day, by the time I’d arrived in London!)

I met up with my 2nd Cousin John at the Royal Academy, where we were visiting the ‘Byzantium’ exhibition – very interesting it covered the period 330-1453 although the majority of the exhibits seemed to be from the later end of that span – mostly icons and other (Christian) art, but also various manuscripts, silverware, ceramics and jewellery. I found it interesting to see where the various pieces had been borrowed from – lots from Venice (no doubt things which were pinched when the Venetians sacked Constantinople in the 13th Century) but also some from Moscow and a lot from Athens. There were some particularly impressive 6th Century paintings which were originally painted for a monastery at Mt. Sinai – 4 or 5 of them are still at the monastery and had been lent by them, the other 3 were on loan from Moscow, having been taken there in somewhat questionable circumstances some time in the 1850’s…

The exhibition has closed now, but there is further information here

It was interesting to see similar patterns used in the back ground to religious paintings as I had seen in tile work while I was in Istanbul.

On the Saturday we were mainly visiting relatives, then went to the theatre in the evening. We were disappointed to learn, on arriving, that Dame Judi Dench had, unfortunately, sprained her ankle badly on Thursday night so she would not be appearing, instead we would see her understudy. This was a big disappointment as I am a huge fan of Judi Dench’s and have not seen her live for many years.

I have to admit that I was also disappointed by the play itself. It was written by the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima and translated into English – it’s hard to tell whether the fault was with the original or the translation but it did seem very slow moving and there were a number of speeches which were crying out for an editor. The play revolves around several of the women in de Sade’s life; his wife, her sister, his mother in law, and two society ladies, one of whom is a paragon of virtue, the other of whom is decidedly not, and finally, the maidservant. There are no male characters, the Marquis de Sade is the subject of most of the dialogue but is never seen or heard directly.
None of the characters came across as real people, they all seemed to be there to take philosophical stands and then justify them, so that the Wife has speeches about wifely duty and devotion, the courtesan about the ecstasy of sensuality and so forth. Quite interesting viewpoints, in some cases, but it came across almost more like a staged debate than a play.

The set was simple and static – no scene changes, very little in the way of propos, the costumes, on the other hand, were sumptuous – the play is set in 1772-1790 and 5 of the 6 characters are aristocrats, and the costumes reflect this – full period dresses and wigs, which at least gave me something to look at when the speeches dragged!

All in all, I would categorise it as interesting rather than enjoyable – not one that I would feel any wish to see again (even if it had Judi Dench in it the second time around!)

Sticking with the Japanese theme, on the Sunday I went to the Kuniyoshi exhibition , which opened on Saturday at the RA. I had not previously heard of Kuniyoshi but the exhibition was fascinating – the works mainly date from around 1830-1860 but have a very modern feel – you can see the connection to modern Manga. Well worth a visit!

Having a little time left before the train home I finished up with a quick visit to the National Gallery, always worth a look. My attention was caught by a portrait of Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Madame de Pompadour which reminded me of Dr Who, and ‘The girl in the fireplace’!

So despite the disappointment over Dame Judi it was a well-spent weekend!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

New Poppets!

On a happier note, , my new Poppets, 'Dreaming Spring' and 'the Impeccable Doctor Brown' plus a free Poppet who I don't believe has a name yet. I fell for Doctor Brown because I love his long coat...

I now have 10 poppets in all - the new ones have now all been introduced to the older ones, and they reminded me that there are fun, happy things going on as well as the irritating and frustrating ones ;-)
I'm not usually one for collecting ornaments or trinkets, but the Poppets make me s

In Which I Lose the Will to Live

I have been thinking, for a while, that I should look into changing my broadband provider. I’ve been with Tiscali since I first got broadband, about 5 years ago, and so have known for a while that I could get the same service much cheaper elsewhere, but as with so many things, it’s a matter of finding the time and energy to do the appropriate research and make the changes.

So, in the end I decided to get a bundle which also includes TV and phone, so I made a start with the cancelling and setting up.

1. Phoned BT, to cancel the line rental. Spoke to a very nice person, who confirmed that the contract could be cancelled on the date I wanted, no problem.
2. E-mailed Talk-Talk, to cancel call charges. Got confirmation by return confirming that the contract could be cancelled on the date I wanted, no problem.
3.Spoke to New Provider – set up connection, charges etc

4.Contacted current provider, tiscali….

Except, that’s where it all breaks down. I had checked the deal I was on and had discovered a number of things:
I learned that, according to their terms and conditions, they can change the terms any time they like. They will say on their website that they are changing the terms, and by continuing to use their services you are deemed to have accepted them.

Sneaky. So I went to look at the current terms, and what they say about cancellation, which is not easy. It’s as if someone has thought that if you make the information about cancellation difficult to find, no one will ever cancel.

But I found it. It says

“12.8.2 you can end your contract with us for the Broadband Services by giving us at least 30 days' notice to us by telephone or in writing (please see condition 13 "Contacting us"); "


“13.1 Written notices given under these terms and conditions may only be delivered by post or e-mail to the following addresses:
13.1.1 to us at the relevant address given on our contacts page located at our Website and addressed to Customer Services;"

I read this, and in my foolishness, thought, Ah, this means I need to write, e-mail or phone and give them 30 days notice. I tried to contact them via their ‘Contact Us’ page.

Silly me. Trying to use the ‘Contact Us’ Page leads to an endless loop of filling in the same information, pressing ‘submit’ and finding myself back at the start again. Began to think maybe ‘Submit’ was in fact an order from Tiscali to me.

I considered phoning them, despite the number they show being a premium rate one, but then I realized that this would avail me nothing, because it was after 6 p.m., and they don’t operate after 6 p.m.

So I went back to old fashioned methods and wrote them a letter, and posted it to their address as given on the ‘contact us’ part of the website, and stuck a stamp on it, and got proof of posting, and everything.

There was then a short intermission, of several days, then, having heard nothing, I tried again. This time, after only 4 attempts, I managed to send a message via the contact form.

I got an e-mail back, saying that I needed to telephone, as “cancellation requests cannot be dealt with by e-mail”

I e-mailed back to explain that (i) their own terms say that they can and (ii) as I said on the contact form, I was simply repeating what I had already put in a letter of the traditional kind to them.

Next, I got an e-mail to say they don’t accept cancellation requests by post, either.

The weird part about this, to me, was that there were obviously actual people sending these e-mails:- they were just non-standard enough to make it clear they were not automated. These e-mails, telling me I can’t contact them by post or e-mail for anything useful, also directed me to “try their ‘contact us’ page” which, as those who have been keeping track may recall, tells you that they can be contacted by, yep, post, e-mail or phone. . . .

After taking a few moments to scream quietly and ponder, wistfully, the chances of being able to track down whoever is responsible for this steaming heap of shit unfortunate state of events, and have them destroyed in lingering and creative ways arranging for a small plague of frogs, or double glazing salesmen to descend upon them.

Then I girded up my loins, and returned to the fray.

I telephoned them. I explained, politely and without using any rude words that I would like to arrange to cancel my contract with effect from 6th April, mentioning that I was aware that there terms and conditions required 30 days notice and that I had, in fact given that by writing to them.

The young woman on the other end of the phone told me that they don’t accept cancellations by post because of the Data Protection Act. I was very proud of myself for not giving her my ‘Data Protection Act 101’

She told me that there is no 30 day notice period. I bit my tongue and refrained from asking whether any of their published terms and conditions bear any resemblance to their actual terms.

She told me that they could implement immediate cancellation.

I explained, (still politely, reminding myself that she probably suffers enough by working for these clowns, and it is really Not Her Fault) I repeated that no, I needed the contract to end on 6th April, when my new provider took over.

She told me that she had already input the cancellation. Pausing only to bang my head against a wall a few times, I explained that no, I needed to have an internet connection until 6th April.

She told me that it was already ‘in the system’ and couldn’t be done.

I have to admit that at this point I was starting to wonder whether I had perhaps died without noticing it and been shunted into one of the lesser circles of hell, for unspecified reasons.

I pointed out that I had explained right at the beginning that I needed the cancellation from 6th April, and also that as I had already paid them for broadband up to the end of March.

She then said that she might be able to stop it, and a little later came back to tell me that she had.

We then moved on to the weighty issue of canceling the contract from 6th April.

She told me that they can’t accept ‘future cancellations’, and that I would have to phone again on 6th April. The ‘future cancellation’ option isn’t working on their system at the moment.

Wondering whether it might not be more fun just to stab myself in the eyeballs and have done with it, I pointed out that having followed all the rules in their own terms and conditions, having written, e-mailed and phoned them, and that if the problem was that their system wasn’t working, it would perhaps not be too much to ask that they deal with it. I made the revolutionary suggestion that perhaps she might, ooh, write it down, to diary as a cancellation to be pit onto effect on the 6th.

This seemed to be a revelation to her and she agreed that that would be possible.

I said goodbye, (after making a quick note of her name and the time of the call…I have a suspicious mind, I do) and sat back, feeling that I had a last succeeded in making all of the necessary arrangements.

With hindsight, it might have been better if I had done something else, something relaxing (you know, like juggling chainsaws, or herding cats)

Instead, I went to check my e-mails.

And found an e-mail from Tiscali, to say that they would be actioning my requested cancellation with immediate effect.

I sent them a reply, pointing out that I had just spent half and hour of my time, and a large chunk of my sanity arranging with their cancellation team for the contract to be cancelled as from 6th April.

I considered mentioning to them that sending an e-mail to say that my e-mail account will come to an end with immediate effect is a little…..short-sighted, but decided that life was too short. So I just reminded them that I had requested them to use my alternate e-mail address.

They sent an e-mail back apologising.

I went home, and discovered, to my relief, if somewhat to my surprise, that I still had internet access. And the same was true the following morning. I began to relax.

Turns out, this was a mistake.

I got home to find 2 things.

1. A letter from Tiscali, to say that another provider has requested a migration code but that they are planning to ignore it as I haven’t told them I want to move; and
2. That I have no internet access as “your username or password are invalid or expired”

Monday, 16 March 2009

Comic Relief and Cats (and Anteaters)

So, it was Red Nose Day on Friday, and on Twitter I noticed (via a tweet from Paul Cornell) that one Laurie Pink was offering to draw pictures in return for donations for Comic Relief...

I looked at the pictures on her site, and really liked them, so I made my donation, and requsted some (Sneaky) cats (Although I think for most cats, 'Sneaky' is probably the default position.

Later in the evening, I asked whether I might perhaps have some Anteaters as well as or instead of the cats, because, well, Anteaters rock.

And some time on Sunday night, while I was sleeping, pictures were drawn, and I woke up on Monday morning to this

028: £10 worth of sneaky cats! Some of which are SO sneaky ... on TwitPic

Which I think anyone would agree is an extremely nice thing to wake up to on a Monday morning! You can see a bigger version (which hasn't had the edgs cut off) at Laurie's Twitpic page where you can also see the pictures done for other people.

The original deal was that Laurie was making pictures for anyone who donated, and tweeted her with details before midnight on Friday. Whether she would be prepared to consider new requests now is something whih you would have to ask her!


Sunday, 15 March 2009

Love Your Independent Bookshop

I have been a little slow off the mark with this one, which deserves the widest possible audience - Joe Hill, author of 'Heart Shaped Box' (which, may I say, is not a book to read late at night, especially if you are alone in the house, as I was!)has started a competition on his blog encouraging people to buy books from Independent Booksellers. It's very simple details here All you have to do is to buy a book from an independent seller during the month of MArch,and send proof to Joe. He has some lovely books which he will be giving away to people drawn at random from the entires.

I really like it beacuse everyone wins - The independent book shops get more sales, we the buyer get the books and a warm feeling of having done the right thing, and some of us will ALSO get a lovely free book from Mr Hill.

The Books which I bought

A Bad Day at the Office

So, it’s been a long and stressful week at work – I don’t want to go into too much detail (I very much doubt that anyone I work with will ever come here, but paranoia speaks to me, murmuring caution…) But basically we have been having to look at ways of cutting costs, as our business is directly affected by the fall in the housing market. And as our single biggest expense (by a very long way) is salaries, the harsh truth which we have been addressing I that we have to reduce the wages bill. As if this wasn’t bad enough, another issue came up which has the potential to cause a huge rift between the partners, and the way in which it was raised caused a LOT of raised hackles

Now, clearly it is far worse to be the person or people whose jobs are on the line, or who are being invited to accept reduced hours, but it is also pretty unpleasant to be having to try to make those decisions. Add to this a couple of other things, and it became a very bad day – and, because I knew in advance that it was going to be like this, I had slept badly, and spent all day feeling sick.

My problem with this kind of situation is that knowing in my head that actually, the world is not going to end, that people will almost certainly not decide that I am single-handedly to blame for whatever is wrong and that fretting about it in advance will not help, But this knowledge doesn’t get through to my subconscious, so I end up not sleeping and feeling sick, which of course in turn means that when the meeting or whatever-it-is actually arrives, I am already tired, stressed and expecting the worst. Not helped on this occasion by having had a conversation with a colleague who was very pessimistic – again, I know in my head that this person is a very Eeyore-ish person, so normally I take what they say with a healthy pinch of optimism, but again, it is one thing to Know this, and quite another to believe it, deep down.

Fortunately, I have some very good friends, who gave me much needed support, without having to know any details. Equally fortunately, as often happens, things weren’t as bad as I had started to think they would be – we think we can work things so everyone gets to keep their job (at least unless things get worse) and the other issue turned out to be less (or at least less immediately) of an issue that had appeared – which made me thankful that I had managed to deny my first impulse to send a reflexive e-mail back at the start, as that would have undoubtedly made matters worse. A friend of mine recently referred to this as the ‘Lizard Brain’ – the part that is unreasonable, illogical, distrustful – it’s a good description. I must remember it for the future!

So, after all of this, I finished the week feeling utterly exhausted. So it’s just as well that I had (previously) decided against going to Manchester this weekend. Instead, I have stayed home, snoozed, had some very long baths, watched some suitably non-threatening TV and unwound a lot. and had chocolate-chip cookies. Chocoalte cures (almost) all ills.

I’ve also sorted out various bills - I have set up payments for the Council Tax and Water bills for the next year, neither of which has gone up by as much as I feared, have finally got around to reviewing (and arranging to change) my internet provider, paid the house insurance, paid the paper bill, paid the credit card bill and wormed the cat. All of which needed doing, and doing them also helped me to feel that I was back in control of things, which is also a Good Thing.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Aquatic Apes

Another visit to Bath Guildhall, this time for part of their ‘Darwin’ strand of events. The event was a discussion between Elaine Morgan, proponent of the Aquatic Ape hypothesis, and Simon Conway-Morris, who is Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at Cambridge . The discussion was chaired by Guardian journalist, and I understand that parts of it may be available as a podcast from the Guardian

I booked the ticket out of interest in Elaine Morgan’s hypothesis. Some years ago, I read a YA novella by Peter Dickinson, called ‘A Bone from a Dry Sea’ it is an SF novel in which the stories of a primitive tribe, and a modern girl, daughter of an archaeologist, intermingle – the book references the hypothesis and Elaine Morgan is specifically mentioned, which made me interested enough to seek out a copy of her book, “The Aquatic Ape”.

The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis suggests that humans may have gone though an aquatic phase at some point in our evolution – and that this explains a number of differences between us and the other great apes, specifically:

• Like aquatic mammals such as whales and seal, but unlike other apes, humans have a layer of subcutaneous fat
• The fact that we are bipedal, which she suggests is an effective way to keep our heads above water
• Lack of hair, again similar to aquatic animals
• Voluntary breath control
• Babies ability to swim at birth

Ms Morgan is a feminist and part of her interest in the hypothesis arose from the fact that the received wisdom (that human ancestors became hairless because fur could have caused hunters to over heat, when bounding across the savannah, failed to take into account the fact that by the same received wisdom, females would be gathering roots and caring for children, so why would they also have become hairless?)

Prof. Conway-Morris is an expert on evolutionary biology and in particular convergent evolution – he gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures a few years ago, and was a key player in the excavation of the Burgess Shale.

I found the discussion interesting – it didn’t seem to be a direct conflict between the two speakers, although Prof. Conway-Morris did mention other potential reasons why human’s may have lost their fur, apart from aquatic living, and also mentioned other species which can control their breathing but which are not aquatic:- he also spoke about his own interest, of convergent evolution, and the possibility that evolution is ‘aiming’ for something, rather than necessarily being ‘pushed up’ from below – also the idea of convergent evolution on other planets, leading to other human-like intelligent entities!

I didn’t leave 100% convinced of either theory, but it was fascinating.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

No 1 Ladies Author, part II

Following Alexander McCall Smith's reading, there was a question & answer session.

Are his books popular because they have happy endings? His view is that people crave resolution, we don’t always get it in real life, but we find books which have a clear resolution satisfying – one reason why classic detective stories are so popular, because the ‘baddie’ does not get away with it. This segued into a discussion as to the comparison between crime and the ‘ultimate stain of the carpet’ and whether it is significant that so many of the classis crime writers are women, which in turn led to a question about strong women and the fact that both of his series of books feature very strong women.

After commenting that his mother had been a strong women, but that he had never come across anyone who said that their mother had been a weak woman, Mr McCall Smith went on to say that Freud would no doubt suggest that his writing about strong women can be interpreted as an attempt to find or reunite with his mother. He commented that Mma Ramotswe is a motherly person, even though she has not any children of her own, but that he (AMS) had never been tempted to go to a psychologist in case if he got himself ‘sorted out’ he found that he stopped writing as a result!

On a more serious note he talked a little about Botswana, in response to questions about how his books are received there, and the country in general. He said that on the whole, people are very generous, and that he feels that this is in part because the stories are not the kind of bleak, ‘heart of darkness’ books about death and corruption which are often written by non-Africans about Africa. He was also of the view that Botswana had been very lucky in it’s leaders since independence in 1966 –Seretse Kharma, the first president taking a particularly strong line against corruption, and that in general, the country has a good record on Human rights, and was very fortunate that the diamonds in the country were not discovered until after independence!

There was then a discussion about the chronology of the books - AMS admitted that although in both series the characters move on and progress, there are a few chronological errors – for example, in the Mma Ramotswe books, although there have been 10 of these, the apprentices are still apprentices, and have not finished(and, he says, will never finish) their apprenticeships, and similarly, in the ‘Scotland Street’ books, Bertie has been 5 throughout all of the books, and will remain so, because it is so much fun!

And finally – he revealed that Mr J.L.B. Matekoni’s initials stand for John Limpopo Basil….and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is embarrassed by the ‘Basil’!

And so it was that the session came to an end.

As with the other Bath Lit. Festival events, there was a signing after the reading. I was fortunate to be reasonably near the front of the queue (although having started my getting-stuff-signed experiences by going to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett readings I expect long queues), and was able to get my copy of ‘The Good Husband of Zebra Drive’ signed – AMC was very friendly and chatty – I mentioned having first read his legal textbook, and he told me that from time t time he does get people turning up to get these signed (I had thought of this, but couldn't find my copy. It's probably in a box, somewhere)
While waiting, I amused myself by eavesdropping on the ladies behind me in the queue, who seemed aggrieved at having to queue, and by the fact that AMS was slowing things down by actually talking to people! I think perhaps they were the kind of Ladies who Lunch, and were unaccustomed to having to queue.

Friday, 6 March 2009

The No 1 Ladies Author

Another of the authors taking part in this year’s Bath Literature Festival was Alexander McCall Smith, author of the No 1 Ladies detective Agency and Scotland Street series. I love his books.

The first I read was a little different – in the final year of my degree course I took a course on Medicine, ethics and Law, and one of our text books was the always scintillating ‘Law & Medical Ethics’, by Mason & McCall Smith.

The second I read was the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, and I was hooked. They are very soothing books.

The event was in the Banqueting Hall at the Guildhall - this is quite large – it holds around 350 people and was fairly full – manly, it appeared, with ladies of a certain age (and in many cases, traditional build)

Mr McCall Smith was being interviewed – as part of the introduction we were told of the various awards he has won. These apparently include the ‘Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year’. This is a new one on me but it sounds like a perfectly splendid award to get – beer and crime writing in one compact and amusingingly named package.

There was also a discussion based around the fact that it was World Book day, and that one of the newspapers (The Guardian, I think) had been asking people which books they pretended to have read. Mr McCall Smith (I can’t bring myself to call him Alexander, it seems too familiar) said that he didn’t lie,(well, not too much) but instead would stay silent and nod… he then went on to set out his theory that downloading a book means that you’ve almost read it . . . and that you become familiar with it by some form of ‘electronic osmosis’…. I find this an appealing theory, and would have liked to ask whether it also works for traditional books. I have several classics with which I share my home, but which I haven’t got around to reading. Perhaps eventually they will be absorbed through my skin…

He then talked briefly about the new ‘Mma Ramotswe’ book, Teatime for the Traditionally Built, which came out today.

He explained that it features football, about which he claimed to know nothing, but that he had looked things up, and that readers might therefore, as he explained, “get the false impression that I know what I’m talking about”

We were read the final page of the book, which happily did not give anything away (except that Mma Ramotswe’s Tiny White Van may, tragically, have met it’s end. . .)


Wednesday, 4 March 2009

A post about weather

After the snow, I had thought that Spring had come. There have been snowdrops out for a while, there are crocuses, I have even seen a few daffodils.*

Which is why I was a little miffed when I stepped out of the house this morning into the bracing, spring-like . . . . . . sleet.

Yes. I think sleet is possibly the least fun weather there is. It has all of the cold, unpleasant aspects of snow, with none of the compensations, such as making things look pretty, or being useful for building things.

And rain is just as useful as sleet, if you happen to want puddles, or anything like that.

I was more upset when I discovered, on my way to work, that some people had had snow. Only a little, but enough to make things look pretty.

Just for the record, I am now officially tired of it being winter.

I wonder whether I should make a small sacrifice to Eostre.

*None of them actually in my garden. My garden is currently deficient in the snowdrops, crocus and daffodil lines.

Monday, 2 March 2009

In Which There Is A Secret (Also Dead Goats)

It's the Bath Festival of Literature again - which is a Good Thing. I did have a ticket to see Ben Goldacre at the weekend, but was feeling unwell and didn't go, which was sad, and which meant that tonight's event was the first one I had been to this year.

It was a 1 hour reading / Q&A with Jon Ronson.

For those unfamiliar with his work, Jon is an investigative journalist and documentary maker, who also had a weekly column in the Guardian newspaper for around 2 years, which was how I became familiar with his work.

Jon made a documentary for Channel4 (and then wrote a book) called ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ which is about the US Military and their attempts to harness various psychic powers. This has been made into a film, starring Ewan McGregor and George Clooney.


I turned up at the Bath Guildhall, and spent a little time milling aimlessly around in the foyer, as the doors to the room had not been opened. Once this minor issue was resolved, however, around 100 of us trooped in and settled down.

Jon started by reading us several short pieces which had started life as Guardian columns.

The first related to having found himself inadvertently making obscene gestures to a teenage girl (while trying to make a subtle point about manners)

The second related to father-son bonding and the attraction of a Swiss Army knife, with consideration of whether a Swiss Army Knife is a wholesome, outdoorsy kind of thing, encouraging whittling and manly pursuits, or, well, a KNIFE.

The third – is a deep and undisclosable secret. There are reasons why I cannot tell you*. If I did, Mr Ronson would be very upset. Mr Ronson clearly knows some very dangerous people. People who can kill goats (and, it appears, hamsters) just by staring at them. I would like to think that I am tougher than the average goat, even a goat trained by the US Marines, but I don’t wish to take the chance, either for myself or for my readers. (I don’t have enough readers to risk losing any of you).

I might be safe. You might be safe. After all, Mr Ronson is a Guardian journalist. Guardian journalists, like Guardian readers, are not well known for their homicidal tendencies – in fact, I am probably more at risk of being subjected to a silent but expressive hard stare but… Mr Ronson isn’t a Guardian journalist at present….and one can never be too careful. So I won’t tell you anything except that it was a very funny story. You all missed out, you really, really did.

After the deeply secret, burn-before-reading part of the, um, public reading we moved on.

To a short clip from a documentary about David Icke and other extremists, and another from the documentary ‘the Men Who Stare at Goats’, with details of how this came about.
This is one of those subjects which is initially amusing and then quite disturbing – the opening image, of a senior army officer, trying (in all seriousness) to walk through the walls of his Pentagon office. I defy you not to laugh. And then you start to realise that these were people who were giving intelligence advice to the man with the nuclear launch codes, and it starts to seem a lot less funny.

The happy thought which we were left with was this: According to experts (Jon specifically referred to Dr Martha Stout, but apparently it’s pretty much accepted)

1 in 25 people is a Sociopath.
[Edited to add. This may of course explain the woman in the framing shop, from the last post...]

This proportion rises significantly in certain groups of people, including senior politicians, captains of industry etc. This is another of those things which gets an initial (if slightly nervous) laugh, and becomes more believable and more disturbing the more you think about it. Especially if you have parked your car in the lower level of a poorly lit car park.

We then all spilled back out into the foyer where I bought myself copies of ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ and ‘Them – adventures with extremists’, both of which Jon then signed for me – very friendly – it’s nice to have a signing where the author has time to chat to the punters.

I also liked the fact that this year, the bookshop which is providing books to buy at all the events is not Waterstones, but an independent bookseller, Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights. It’s not that I don’t like Waterstones, but Mr B’s is something rather special, so I’m very happy to be buying my festival related books from them!

I also have tickets for Alexander McCall Smith and Elaine Morgan later in the week, which should be interesting.

*mostly, the reason is that he asked me very nicely not to.

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Sunday, 1 March 2009

In which I vent my Spleen

I was looking forward to an enjoyable weekend; I had stuff planned. Not a lot of stuff, not exciting stuff, but stuff none the less. I had one or two errands to run, then I was going to pop to the library to collect a book I had reserved, I was going to go to Bristol to look for nice books at the free-for-all at the Bristol Book Barn, where the owners of the building are allowing people to come and take the old stock (the lease having run out and the owners having not removed them). I was going to clear some junk out of the spare room, and perhaps bake a cake.

It didn’t start well. One of my errands was to go to Boots, to pick up my repeat prescription. I had mistakenly thought that I had another un-started inhaler, and it was only when I finished the one that I was using that I found out I was wrong, so this was at least mildly urgent. I got to Boots to find that it closed ½ an hour earlier than I had thought – they were pulling the shutters down when I got there. This was annoying, rather than anything else- it means I will have to pick it up on Monday morning, instead, which will mean I am late for work, and while I’m not on a clock, I don’t like to be late.

The trip to the library was fine too, except when I collected the book I realised I had made a mistake with the title and ordered the last-but-one in the series, instead of the most recent. Again, this isn’t one of those things which actually matter – the reservation fee is only 70p, and I can live with giving that to a library, but it was irritating. Especially as, since I used the online reservation service I have no-one but myself to blame for the mistake.

The bit which really annoyed me, however, was the shop which was supposed to be framing my Neverwear Neil Gaiman / Jouni Koponen Saucers print. They have had it for a month, and I got a phone call to come down. When I got there, they told me that they had not in fact framed it because the frame I had ordered wasn’t available. This was annoying (I mean, quite apart from anything else, you’d have thought that they would have known this, and could have told me this, at some point in the last month… For reasons best known to themselves, they had however, made up a different frame, on the off-chance that I might want that instead. (after all, it’s not as though I would have put any thought into choosing what I wanted, was it?)

I had a look at this, it was clearly no good.

The woman (I’m not going to call her a lady, that she certainly wasn’t) told me that they could get the correct frame in another 3-4 weeks. And then she suggested that if I wanted, I could take the print back home, in the wrong frame, until they got the correct one.

Well, I thought, that’s better than nothing, and would at least mean that my precious print was in my care, not theirs, which I would feel more comfortable with. OK, I said, and then hung around for around 15 mins while, with no apparent sense of urgency, they dug it out for me.

At which point, she turned round and wanted me to pay the full price of the (wrong) frame . . .

Now, quite apart from the fact that this was not what she had said when she suggested that I take the print back until they got the right frame back, it also ignored the fact that this would mean I was being charged the full cost of something I didn’t want and hadn’t ordered.

I pointed out to her (very politely) that that was not what she had offered, and also that I had already paid them a 50% deposit and that I wasn’t happy to pay the balance until they actually provided what I had ordered.

Her response ‘how would we know you’d bring it back?’

(Bear in mind that I’ve paid them ½ the cost, and that they have my name, address and credit card details and, and I think this is perhaps the most important, I had already made it 100% clear that I actually wanted the correct frame for it)

It rapidly became obvious that she had absolutely no intention of making any gesture whatsoever to acknowledge that her company had cocked up (did I mention that I had used them once before, and they had messed up, but I had given them the benefit of the doubt and that she know this?)

I ended up taking the frame and making them refund my deposit, because she was just so offensive and unpleasant that the thought of letting her have any of my business, and the thought of having to go back into the shop was just too unpleasant.

I’m not sure quite why I ended up quite so stressed about this – I think it was mainly her self-righteousness, and the fact that she seemed to think it was fine to be as offensive as she wanted. But I’m hoping that having vented my spleen (at excessive length) here I shall feel better about it.

And maybe tomorrow I will find another framer, one worthy of my beautiful print!