Thursday, December 31, 2009


A fine reminder from cultural offering.
Have the children thanked Aunt Maud for her generosity? As a further incentive to drop by the CO, I've commented with a link that could save your sanity.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A seasonal message from Aunt Jane

A guest post from my dear sister. Whose house acquired an Aga in 1938 (and Jane some years later). We are not in the least little bit jealous.

Dear All

Happy Christmas!  How are you all?  How can I help you feel better?

The problem with Yuletide letters is they’re all about us.  How can we make it more you-focused?  Tell us, for example, how much you enjoyed Prague at Easter, all done up in flowers and ribbons, and selling bangle-shaped doughnuts (you know, that’s such a good look for you…).  Did you catch a glimpse of Mr Obama, or just the enthusiastic cavalcades zooming about? 

How did you manage with your rather quiet summer of short visits and day trips?  Did you prefer kite-flying or roller-skating?  Why have you decided not to go skiing next February?  How many of your young companions can’t be trusted not to get lost in the snowy wastes, after that fiasco at the firework display? 

Is your vintage Aga working?  How do you find the gentle warmth and slightly annoying way it never can get up to stir-frying heat?  Do you like slow roasted stuff?  How much laundry can you cram into your new kitchen to make use of the energy?  What sophisms do you use to convince yourself the carbon foodprint – genuine slip there – isn’t really so bad as long as you don’t use any other heat source in the kitchen?  Does growing your own leeks count, or did all your veg suffer so much in the drought that it was hardly worthwhile?  Yes, drought.  Where were you in August?  And how much effort did you have to put in to rescue any kind of tomato crop from the blight?  Did you have any apples to speak of?  Could it be because you had to destroy the bees’ nest in your bedroom chimney last year, so only had moths this year?  Are you a little tired of insect infestations, and do you worry that the house has a grudge?

And here’s one:  how many of your young relatives got a distinction at Grade 7 flute, and how did it make you feel?  How did their siblings cope with their merit at Grade 2 clarinet?  Was it a blood-bath or merely a stand-off?  Well done.

And another:  how many of the 10 courses of the ‘menu decouverte’ at Top Chef Raymond Blanc’s flagship Manoir des Quat’ Saisons could you manage, and how many of them contained duck and marmalade?  How many times now have you asked for a Martini and then cracked when they asked you what kind, so you ended up with champagne after all?  Were you sure you didn’t have to drive anywhere when you finally got round to experimenting with recipes?  Can you remember what you decided?

Are your ears any better, now that you’ve decided homeopathy can’t be any less effective than conventional medicine?  I do hope so.  How distressed are you that swine flu is still a threat after all these months, when the kids could so easily have brought it home from school and Got It Over With?  Are you otherwise in reasonable health, all things considered?  If not, I hope it won’t last long.  Er.

How long do you think it will take you to finish the en-suite bathroom?  Have you found appropriate tiles and someone who will finalise the plumbing?  What colour will your cohabitee choose, and how will you persuade them that your idea was better?

Which of your senior relations has recently moved back to their own house after a prolonged stint in residential care?  Is it an improvement?  What will you worry about now?

Do please write back with your contributions, and in the meantime, what kind of Christmas are you having?  Hope it’s lovely,


Monday, December 14, 2009

Her Majesty's Neb

Some of you may be lucky enough to find a Jimi wallet in your sock a week on Friday. Some of you may be discerning enough to have one already.

Those of you from the fog-shrouded North-East Atlantic Islands may be concerned that recent events (,dear boy,) have pounded the pound. How can you maintain liquidity in the face of up to 33% devaluation?

Do not despair: follow Her Majesty's Nose to store four notes where our American friends can store but three.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Plumbing the depths of Design

When working from home, I take the dog and half an hour for a walk at lunchtime. A couple of days ago, we saw a heron, lazily flapping through the sky en route to snack on someone's Koi pond. One of the many benefits of a short daily walking holiday is the opportunity to unhook your brain for a few minutes and let it make random connections. Dog, heron, carp, document design: what could be more natural?

If you

  1. produce documents of any sort
  2. are not a trained designer and 
  3. have not yet seen Jon Moon's work,
then you would profit from his book or the templates freely available on his site. He recommends and illustrates four simple principles: Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity. Which suggests an obvious fishy acronym. Being British, Jon naturally went for the toilet alternative. That's just the way we are wired.

Or plumbed.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why write this blog?

Too much time on my hands? Er, no! (And it's getting worse: nearly two weeks already since my last effort  shuffled out of the draft pile and emerged, blinking, into the light of day.)

Can the poor suffering world struggle by without my Message? Quite possibly.

Am I looking for an argument? Well, no again: (I already have a wife).

I thought I'd start this blog with a long and insightful post into what I am hoping to gain and what you, Dear Imaginary Reader, might like to share. But events have supervened.

And I find to my horror that the Blasted Trunk has got there first. Again.
A blog is a great way to figure out what you want to do with yourself because writing regularly is a path to self-discovery. And a blog is a great way to build a network of people who respect you for your ideas, so it is the perfect tool for helping you to attain your goals and dreams, when you know what they are. And, this pretty much covers everyone, right? The super-focused and the super-lost: You should all be blogging.
I am at the less focussed (Editor Alice assures me that either spelling is correct) end of the spectrum.  A focus will no doubt emerge from the mists.


The real goal is something to which La Trunk alludes only indirectly. In every one of the blogs I follow, the writing has got sharper and clearer from month to month and year to year. I am hoping that, plugging away in notional public, I will develop the writing muscles. I am looking for that clarity of thought and word that rings out like a bell. A bell whose master bellmaker has shaved off exactly the right amount of bronze from exactly the right places so it rings loud, pure and true. That is the only measure of writing that has ever worked for me.

It is still and will probably always be slow and painful, with many reworks and corrections. Effortless superiority is probably beyond me. I saw one of Our Hero's manuscripts once, almost illegible as every word had been scored out and rewritten at least once. Plain superiority will have to suffice. If it was good enough for him, it's good enough for me.

And here's a secret: the tinkering is actually quite fun!

A Merciful Providence has ordained that the really bad stuff is at the bottom, where (I thought) no-one will ever see it. (That plan didn't quite work, but no doubt the scars will fade in time.)

Thursday, November 26, 2009


As the United States of America drops into their great celebration of hope in adversity, it is a fine time for us all to count our blessings.

A totally unexpected joy for me was a brace of kind references from Nicholas Bate and Cultural Offering. Thank you both.

A Winter Warmer

Now that I am established as a world renowned whisky expert, it is time to share my deep knowledge on other Scottish  delicacies. Winter draws on (oops, hope I didn't offend anyone there?). What do we all need more than a warming dish of porridge to keep us going through the day?

I was brought up on porridge, but memories of soaking the oatmeal overnight, or even gently simmering rolled oats in milk in the morning, just didn't fit my rather undisciplined lifestyle. If only I'd known that Technology provided the answer 30 years ago.

So without further ado:

Three Minute Fire and Forget Porridge


  • 1 ladle rolled oats
  • 2 ladles milk
  • 1 pinch salt

  • put in microwavable bowl
  • mix
  • microwave for about 3 minutes depending on size of ladle, power of microwave and, bizarrely, shape of bowl - may take two or three tries before you get it to your taste
  • stir
  • leave about 30 s
  • add milk; extras to taste

    extras could include

    • golden syrup
    • maple syrup
    • honey
    • raspberries
    • whisky (in moderation)

    go nuts!
    oh yes:

    • nuts
    Things to do while your porridge cooks

    Some of these can be done together. Some can't. Start the day as you will go on, setting and satisfying priorities!

    • Feed pets
    • Outline blog post
    • Rouse children
    • Let chickens out
    • Stroke one cat properly
    • Stroke four cats just enough to reassure them
    • Snog wife
    • Shave
    • Make bed
    • Brush a loveliness or two of ladybirds into a bug jar for wife to show to her kindergarten class
    • Read through your task list and set your subconscious to work out today's achievements
    P.S. Yes, I know some people spell  it "porage". My friend Po had a habit of writing long, angry emails on a broad range of injustices. I did find a helping of steaming Po rage quite invigorating of a morning.

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    Happy memories

    The rides are great.
    The pirate water fight is super-great.
    Sorry about your copy of "Everything is Illuminated", Emily. It, too,  remembers.

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    Saturday, November 21, 2009

    A friendly introduction

    Like many Britons (and all right thinking, properly educated, English speaking people), I am inordinately fond of the works of Rudyard Kipling. Especially "If", his inspirational exhortation to his doomed son.

    This is something of a guilty pleasure for my generation. We were required to see him as an apologist for a frankly racialist mindset which underpinned the British Empire. He was the quintessential type of the hidebound establishment that we were supposed to be rebelling against. Here is a nice picture of Malcolm McDowell and friend picking off leaders of that establishment in the closing moments of the 1968 film of the same name.

    Yet the poem holds up today. Written in a clean, natural rhythm, it simply lists the defining virtues for us all to aspire to. And they could have come straight off the blog of a life coach last night: grace under pressure; confidence; empathy; modesty; risk taking; accountability; persistence...

    So all this sage advice was available a hundred years ago. (Each generation has to find out for itself, of course. Especially now, when the nuclear family restricts access to wise old uncles and aunts.) The message for today is clear: the Edwardians strove to meet the same ideals that we do. They may have fallen short in different ways, but the foundations for success have not moved an inch. Don't bother with blogs until you have digested the books.

    So you chunter comfortably through the poem, checking off the virtues as so many slices of motherhood and apple pie. Then you double take as you realise what you've just read. Could he really have meant that?

    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you
    If all men count with you, but none too much
    There's food for thought.

    Nowadays we are to believe that, as far as relationships go, the deeper the better. We are to let down our defences, so our friends can hurt us. We are to welcome the inevitable pain as part of Life's Rich Tapestry.

    I wonder.

    Now, as then, one size does not fit all.

    Who says it's all work and no play?

    Dell? Pah!
    Samsung? Piffle!

    "It’s competition time!

    From now until December 31, each EC member has been issued a challenge to see who can generate the most traffic and sales to our Friends & Family online store this holiday season.

    It’s easy to participate -- spread the word to your friends, family, and business colleagues by posting a link to Cathie’s store on your personal networks (email, blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WaterCooler, personal website, etc.) to realize exclusive savings on the hottest HP consumer products this holiday season. 

    What’s in it for Finance employees? The satisfaction of knowing that you have personally contributed to HP’s holiday revenue growth AND a chance to win a prize from our consumer portfolio. If Finance wins, Cathie will draw an employee’s name to win the prize!

    You can follow the progress of the competition on the @hp employee portal throughout December.  Please direct any questions about HP’s Friends and Family Challenge to

    Happy Holidays!"

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    The folded A4 list

    I have wasted invested a lot of time following various time management gurus. There are two reasons for this deeply dysfunctional behaviour.

    1. They and their followers are generally nice people with interesting things to say on a wide range of list related subjects and
    2. The whole idea of wasting time on efficiency just fills me with silent laughter that sustains me when the real world gets unfunny.
    There are two tactical reasons for keeping a list of things to do:
    1. When you are interrupted with a new task (a thought of your own or someone else asking for your help), you can write it on the list instead of breaking off whatever you are doing and
    2. You always have something to do
    People write their lists on computers, notebooks, loose leaf pads and all sorts of things. But...there are few things less helpful than a list that is somewhere you aren't. If I'm walking the dog or gardening or shopping and suddenly have a thought, I will forget it before I get to my computer or my A4 notebook in my study.

    But a sheet of A4 paper folded three times to A7 will fit in any pocket and hold any thoughts, distractions and tasks until I get back to base.

    Latex gloves

    After you reach the age of six, smearing poo all over yourself becomes less of a sensual delight and more of a health hazard. In fact, our brains eventually develop a  deep rooted loathing of even comparatively harmless dirt and grime.

    But dirt, grime and dog poo (and, when our gods and plumbers abandon us, even our own poo) all need to be dealt with. This is a major cause not only of physical illness but also of intolerable mental stress.

    If only there was some way of stopping the grime actually touching you while you dispose of it humanely.

    But there is!

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Secret weapons - mini bolt cutters

    It has been estimated that there are 42,192 different tools which could conceivably be used in a domestic setting. So those setting out on Life's Great Adventure have some decisions to make. Unless they are blessed with unusually deep pockets, storage space and time to learn.

    I started off with drill, hammer, screwdriver and Mole wrench. You can do most jobs, after a fashion, with these. But I have spent many painful tortured hours bodging jobs which could have been done quickly, painlessly and well with a few proper tools. If only I'd read this blog then.

    The tough, independent inhabitants of New Zealand have a saying that any problem can be fixed with a bit of number 8 wire. (Hat tip to the splendid bignosedugly guy and his brave, inspiring account of his emigration.) My personal preference is 2mm (number 12) or a wire coathanger (a ubiquitous public nuisance in my youth, now sadly vanishing). Great for going places that a strategic finger can't go, as well as fencing and general bodging. And then there's chicken wire.

    Now, you can use bypass cutters on pliers or general purpose fencing tools (right. Oops: wrong fencing!). And I did, for many years. But it is awkward wrestling the tool into position and if you need to make a number of cuts (for chicken wire, for example) it is a slow, painful crawl.

    Or you can acquire a pair of mini bolt cutters. Every snip is a tactile delight: a slight squish as the wire is squeezed and then a click as it gives way. And every snip is a tiny remembrance of just how painful this job was and how easy it is now.

    So try it with pliers first: then you'll know what you're missing.

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    Sage advice

    • What does "success" mean, and how can you grab it? Nicholas Bate runs a tapas bar of tasty gobbets of wisdom. Sharp, witty and inspiring. Try the "how to think like..." series.
    • Looking for insights into career and real life? Penelope Trunk seemed to have the lifestyle from Hell until the Farmer came along. Wise, brave, incisive and beautifully written. Warning: too much information for some.
    • Quick, practical advice on getting more done? Mark Forster distils a lifetime's experience into practical methods you can pick up and use right now. Instant, life changing payback. And his user forum is the friendliest on the web.
    • Fancy a geeky scrap? Charlie Stross is up for it! Cheerfully offensive and very British. Intelligent and attracts a wide range of science fiction fans. Caution: read his rules before joining the fray.

    All dressed up

    Oh dear.

    It's taking a little while to craft the first few posts. There are a couple coming along. They'll be here next weekend (21 November).

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I have chickens to feed.