To my shock, and yours, this is not to be a diatribe against the software of a well-known (if less well-regarded) Seattle-based company.

No, I read in the yellow press that football is to close its transfer window later today. Apparently, it’s been open for some weeks now. Surely this is arrant foolishness. An open window, at this time of year, they must be freezing (or suffer from crippling heating bills). Even I, after living on Tyneside for several years and with the concomitant thickening of my blood, have had my windows firmly closed since early November.

Still, on the plus side, football must be very well-aired by now.


Fish Tales

I realised that I had mentioned Fish Towers in the last post, but have never explained Fish – who and wherefore he?  By the way, Fish Towers is one of the many aliases I use for my demesne in the (very slightly) rolling countryside of South Cambs.

So, in this blog I will tell you of Fish, and in particular of his genesis.  I should warn you that, in its original oral form, I can generally make this tale last over the course of several months – but I shall try and rein in some of my worst excesses and take brevity as my watchword in this written formulation.

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away… George Lucas imagined a series of science fiction films (if only he had also imagined some decent dialogue…).  For the purposes of this tale, we need only look back to the dying years of the last millenium and to the London borough of Southwark.  Harris (not his actual name, but the one I generally know him by) and I, after a hard day of graft in the service of electricity, repaired to the Mug House to partake of a battered pewter mug of bitter (or perhaps a warming glass of sercial).  We were joined in our conviviality by Harris (also not his actual name, but the only name I know him by).  I could explain Harris (and possibly Harris) and their nomenclature, but frankly this is usually where the story gets away from me – let’s just allude to BT engineers and leave it at that.

That evening, underneath the arches, was my first encounter with Harris – obviously, I had encountered Harris before as we shared an office in those halcyon days.  At some stage, over subsequent mugs of dark ale, Harris (not Harris) described me as “a rather highly spiced fish”.  At the end of the evening, we allowed a 4-CIG of Network Southeast to whisk (or rattle) us back to the various parts of Sussex where we were then resident.

In the days that followed (as is very much their wont) I found myself rather taken with Harris’ description of me, but felt it was rather a mouthful for every day use.  As a result, it was abbreviated to the Spicy Fish – a moniker I use to this day and which usefully shares the initials of the name with which I am registered with the UK state.  However, even this was too long for some occasions and it was divided into two quite separate appellations – Fish and Spicer.

At this stage I may need to make clear that I am both Fish and Spicer, or at least they both (generally) share my body and that which lies between my ears.  However, Fish and Spicer are also quite different people – Fish is the earthier of the two and is most known as a bibber; Spicer is a much more cultured individual, given to enjoying choral music and the finer things in life.  Perhaps oddly, Fish is the founder of the feast, as it is very much he who acts as host for any dinner parties I throw, lending his name as he does to “the Fish Suppers”.

Fish is also the source of the parenthetic generally used above: at a wedding in Ipswich many years ago I met a group of strangers who all knew Fish and regaled me with stories of the nights out they had spent together with my erstwhile counterpart.  Lest you think that ethanol may have played a part here, let me assure you that I do not drink to forgot, or drink and forget; these people had never met me before, though they had heard tell of some of my exploits.  Fish appeared to have declared independence from the more fuddy-duddy Spicer (and, indeed, me) and set out to pursue his own life.  At my advanced age, I find myself more of a mind with Spicer anyway, but it would be nice if Fish could report back on his escapades from time-to-time.

I presume finding that a named aspect of your personality has struck out on its own must be an experience common to most of my readers – but they do say “write what you know” (so I have).


Great excitement here at Fish Towers, after a mere 37 minutes of staring at an empty garden I have finally seen a bird.

OK, to be strictly accurate the garden isn’t empty – there are plants, tubs, a chair and bucket – and air, of course. However, the RSPB have little or no apparent interest in these items – though I’d like to see how their precious birds get on without the air!

To further clarify, I have seen (and indeed heard) other birds – but none within my garden until a lone robin braved my fevered attention and broke my duck (though, apparently, I’m not allowed to count that towards my total either).

Do our feathered friends have a lie-in (perch-in?) on a Sunday? Have they all gone to some sort of avian church and are spurning my godless, rationalist garden? Leaving me with Sawston’s sole atheist robin, the only one who does not fear Horus’ divine retribution.

Is this what fishing is like, I wonder? Taunted by prey you never see, whilst enjoying views of the great outdoors and starting at the stirring of every leaf.

It’s all way too stressful for me, I’m off for a lie-down.

Saving the planet…

…one Saturday night at a time.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC for short) has been running a competition for several years now.  The contestants are hoping to win the chance to build a carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) scheme on a coal-fired power station of their choice.  CCS is a fairly hefty bit of kit, which might most easily be explained as a scrubber (get your minds back out of the gutter, please) which scrubs a power station’s exhaust to remove most of the CO2.  In this way, we can head off global warming at the pass – or at least mildly slow its implacable advance.

OK, to be honest, it’s not so much the chance to build CCS the contestants hope to win as a huge wad of (taxpayers’ hard-earned) cash to pay for the thing.  Unfortunately, the competition is dragging on a bit and almost all of the contestants have left – some willingly, other less so.

I feel there is a clear opportunity here which our government seems to have missed.  We have a need to choose a winner from a number of entrants – and this is something Saturday Night TV has been doing for several years now.

Our entrants need to be “tested” against a number of criteria – which seems to lend itself to weekly trials (an obvious error in the current competition is that it takes too long, which destroys the narrative tension – the viewers need a weekly fix and probably backstage access on ITV2).  These trials will need to be judged – I suggest an older man, a rude man, a pretty girl and A N Other.  In the early rounds, we will have some complete no-hopers which could be handled by the judges on their own.  Once we have weeded these out, then the viewers would get to vote for their favourite – following some guidance from our judges, but probably picking the one with the most tragic backstory.  The entrant(s) with the least votes would leave the competition – perhaps after some sort of dance-off – in floods of tears and with frequent mention of having “been on a journey”.  The revenue from the phone votes could fund the winner’s CCS – and the blanket coverage in Heat (oh, the delicious irony) magazine should help to raise public awareness of the electricity industry and climate change (it might even make me and my job “cool” – or is it “phat” now, or “sweet”? “Groovy” anyone?).

The final element of this format is two loveable, if vertically challenged, Northern lads to present the show.  We already have DECC, so we just need to find an ANTT!

First for Martians

No blogs yesterday as I was in Woking on business. What can I say about Woking that hasn’t been said before? Something nice perhaps?

I do know one slightly diverting thing about Woking…

In recent years, when this planet has been invaded from space (I refer to the medium of soi-disant entertainment, rather than alluding to any government cover-ups), our wannabe alien overlords seems to choose New York, Washington or some other major, recognisable US city as their first target. I think we can blame Hollywood and its satellites for this projected focus for extra-terrestrial plans for lebensraum.

In the last few years, BBC Wales has done its best to convince us that Cardiff is, in fact, the primary target for non-human interest in the earth. However, if we return to the first tale of alien invasion, we find their primary target was (drum roll, please) Woking! Yes, in H G Wells original “War of the Worlds” the Martians chose Woking for the spearhead of their attack. He who controls Woking, controls the world! Or they did in the late Victorian era when rather more of the world map was coloured pink than is now the case. Even today, invading Martians would have access to fast, regular rail services to Waterloo and the South West – but I wouldn’t recommend they use the roads, some of the pot-holes could swallow a tripod whole!

The View from the Bummel

Mr (or perhaps Mrs) Collins has let me down badly with the title, but I have the word “bummel” on no lesser authority than Jerome K Jerome, so it stays.

As has previously been alluded to, I cycle around quite a bit – it’s a great life awheel!  With nothing between you and the world, you see a great many sights – and you can also get quite wet and exposed to vicious wind chill (but I’m British, and my ancestors built an empire by totally ignoring the weather).  You see a lot more of nature than in a vehicle – and because nature isn’t quite sure what a bicycle is, you frequently have to swerve to avoid it.  The wildlife I’ve nearly hit with my bike would fill an episode of Springwatch (or a very tasty casserole) – though perhaps a rather rabbit-heavy one.

However, rather than turn into tales from the riverbank I was planning to waffle on about road safety (thus helping to fulfil the public service remit of this blog).

I often wear glasses with polarised lenses and these help you see into vehicles very nicely.  What you see is often rather scary!  I have often seen lorry drivers using one hand to hold their tab and the other to hold a mobile phone.  They are usually also breaking the speed limit (presumably as a result of the dilution of attention) and so each of their two hands and their right foot are simultaneously breaking a different law.  I have racked my brains, but have been unable to think of any obvious law they could break with their left foot – which seems a pity.

Of course, it is not only some lorry drivers who have only a nodding acquaintance with the laws of the land.  My fellow cyclists often seem to feel that the red, orange and green lights that you see mounted on poles near junctions are attractive street art or early Christmas lights – certainly nothing to trouble them.

Whilst at times of perfect visibility during the hours of darkness many cars have enough lights on to stage a Premiership football match or support an ack-ack battery, it’s a rather different story during the hours of nominal daylight when visibility is poor.  Many drivers, especially those of drab or tarmac-coloured (tautology perhaps?) vehicles, feel that this is the time to save energy (very laudable in these carbon-conscious times) and run in “stealth mode” without a single light showing.

Around Cambridge, a worrying number of cyclists feel that night is the perfect time to try out their ninja skills – removing all reflective surfaces from their mounts, using no lights and dressing entirely in black.  This makes driving, and even cycling, in Cambridge during the hours of darkness really quite exciting.

I take the opposite approach when astride my steel (or aluminium) steed, wanting to be as visible as possible.  If I am mown down by a passing vehicle, I want them to really mean it.   I take the view that you never want to be the victim of an unprovoked attack as the provocation is where the fun is to be had; it would be like having a hangover without the preceding night on the lash.

However, I would not want to give you the impression that cycling destroys your faith in humankind (though, for rabbit-kind you should definitely leave with that impression).  On the contrary (and a bike) you are very well placed to see lots of acts of everyday kindness and courtesy on our public highways.  Oddly, perhaps, the people who commit these acts always seem to be so much happier than their fellow road users – and often spread that cheer as they go on their way.  There might even be a lesson here for us all – though I fear that several of the world’s major religions and a fair number of its heavyweight philosophers may have beaten me to that particular revelation.

OMG, a moral – even I didn’t see that coming.

Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-Race

The title should not (or at least not alone) be taken as evidence that I have finally lost my few remaining marbles or use of the spell-checker.  Of course, it refers to the Bard of Ayrshire and the 252nd anniversary of his birth.

All over the land, people will be tucking into haggis, neaps and tatties – though not in the US, where haggis is illegal (though widely smuggled from Canada, I believe) and so folk will be stuck with the rather more boring neaps and tatties combo.

I was first introduced to Robert Burns’ ouevre as part of my English Literature O level, where I was made to study Tam O’Shanter, as I recall.  I must admit, nearly 30 years later, that I cannot remember what skills or knowledge I was supposed to acquire as a result of this study – but they clearly didn’t stick.  I do remember resenting the requirement, feeling that I was being made to study Scottish literature – my O level also included a number of Scottish ballads (including Sir Patrick Spens, which did have some appeal and harks back to a day when the Kingdom of Fife came equipped with an actual King) and even my set Shakespeare play was the Scottish one (ha, I laugh in the face of superstition and tweak the tales of old wives, I studied MACBETH – there I’ve “said” it).  I now realise that the literature was in the English language, rather than written by English nationals – so perhaps I have acquired some wisdom over time.  (It’s also good to get that off my chest after all these years).

In subsequent years, I have come to appreciate Mr Burns work (both Rabbie and Monty, who I view as a role model) – it can be especially fine spoken aloud in a cod Scots accent (or probably in a real one, but I lack that facility).

This same EngLit O Level introduced me to Peter Grimes, the hideous poem by George Crabbe.  So awful was this experience that it took nearly twenty years before I was willing to see Benjamin Britten’s quite stunning opera of the same name.

On the plus side, I loved Lord Macaulay’s Keeping of the Bridge (and may prepare its recitation as a party piece for my declining years) and really enjoyed Macbeth (if enjoyed is a word I should use to describe regicide followed by mass murder).   In line with previous practise, I should at this stage boast about my final grade – let me just say that it is the one most commonly associated with ‘orses.

Slàinte mhòr agad!

Let’s Boycott Subway

Let’s be clear, I have nothing against subterranean public transport systems. No, here I refer to the US chain purveyor of rather unpleasant sandwiches – often shaped like a paralysing fish (sometimes called the crampfish or numbfish – look it up!).

This boycott is not, as you might imagine, a result of the low culinary or nutritional standards or the worse customer service. No, instead it is a response to their “pulling” of their advertising from the US version of the Channel 4 Series “Skins”.

I must admit that I don’t watch Skins these days. I thought the second series was absolutely brilliant, and I did try watching series 3 – but was forced to conclude that I was just way too old to be a viewer (though having said that, in the first episode there is a scene where one character breaks every college rule with great economy in less than one minute which still makes me chuckle).

Despite being a middle-aged, middle-class curmudgeon (as regular readers will be all too aware), I found nothing to offend my delicate sensibilities in the programme (which has almost certainly been toned down for our American friends), just a wonderful sense of energy and joie de vivre (it did make me feel a tad old – and that I might always have been a tad old – but I feel the fault there lies with me).

I would encourage any of the Skins generation who read this blog (as if) to avoid Subway in protest – and enjoy an improvement in the quality of, and their pleasure in, their diet as a positive consequence.

Worrying Lyrics

Perhaps it is unwise to listen too closely to song lyrics. I will leave opera alone, as if it weren’t for the (often) foreign languages used it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Though, having said that, unless the fish were very large relative to the size of the barrel, I suspect that would be much more difficult than is often supposed. I guess only experiment will be able to prove my suspicions right or wrong – but sadly I lack a barrel or a gun, though I do have half a trout in the fridge.

But I was struck by the issue of lyrics after hearing Ricky Martin singing “Livin’ la vida loca” on the radio earlier today. Ignoring the mixed languages of the title, at some point his paramour (for the purposes of the song) eschews water to drink insisting instead on French champagne. This is at best tautology and at worst risks trade war with the European Union for supplying champagne of some other nationality in breach of the Protected Designation of Origin status.

However, the song I have always felt contains the most worrying lyrics is Neil Sedaka’s hit of yesteryear, “Calendar Girl”. The concept of this song (or so I believe) is that the singer works his way through the months of the year linking each one with either some positive attribute of his belle or something he would like to do with her.

Thus, in January the year starts off fine and in February he seeks to become her valentine. So far, so good.

The relationship then accelerates and by March he is planning to take her up the aisle – we presume in some nuptial sense, rather than merely the canned goods aisle of his local Tesco.

In April, we learn that the poor lass may not be much of a looker as he is reminded of a rabbit every time she smiles. However, I’m sure a good orthodontist could help out in this department.

In May and June, he takes the full two months to ask her parents for the chance to take her on a date – perhaps a tad late given his earlier marriage plans. However, we don’t have to wait long to discover potential reasons for his procrastination. Come July, she is reported as all aglow – a clear hint of a pregnancy. Further shocking developments arise in September when it is revealed that she is yet to turn sixteen. October brings a worrying reference to Romeo and Juliet – and I’m starting to fear a double suicide. Fortunately, the rest of the year seems to pass off without major incident – though our “hero” does reveal a rather possessive streak.

The final refrain hints that our hero may also be suffering from some form of cardiac arrhythmia. Even assuming the marriage takes place, I fear our heroine will find herself a widowed, single mother before she can vote.

A harrowing tale I think you’ll agree – and quite at odds with the rather jaunty tune employed by Mr Sedaka.

A Tough Week for the Mobile Phone

I notice the phone hacking scandal rumbles on. As a sometime user of public transport, I am often forced to “hack” into mobile phone calls – but have yet to hear anything even mildly diverting. I still await the News of the World front page headline, “I’m on the train”.

I must admit I’m not a big fan of the mobile phone – I use it to a very limited extent and, all too often, have it on Silent mode where it can more readily be ignored. When I do use it, it is only as a substitute for proper planning (and I fear what damage the mobile is doing to the ability of future generations to plan successfully). I hanker for the days of my youth when the only phone was tethered to the wall in a chilly hallway.

However, this week a couple of news stories suggest others have taken their dislike of the mobile phone (their own or, more often, that of others) to even greater extremes than myself.

Someone in the Ukraine would seem to have fed theirs to a crocodile in a modern day taken on Peter Pan (certainly, one of the few uses my phone gets is as an alarm clock). I suppose a modern Captain Hook will learn to fear a snatch of some entry in the current hit parade rather than the more prosaic ringing bells of the original tale.

However, today British scientists plan to go still further and send their mobile phone(s) into orbit. As I recall from the strap-line to Alien, “In space, no-one can hear you scream” and this would equally apply to ringtones and inane conversation (though I fear texting and Twitter may still be possible). I can only applaud their efforts to restore peace and quiet to our public spaces and the attention of our young (and not so young) people to their current location and companions.