The poor old EU takes a lot of stick, and surely it can’t all be deserved?  Only last week, the government faced a major revolt as some of its members wanted a referendum to reclaim some powers from Brussels.  I fear they may have rather misunderstood the importance of the EU to any UK government – it is a rather handy scapegoat for anything unpopular (just ask Jim Hacker).  If you have all the power, then you also accumulate all the blame – as the other “half” of the coalition has discovered after years of safety in political obscurity (and this has occurred even with a rather modest share of only some of the power).

I’m also not terribly convinced that leaving the EU would do much to protect us from the economic woes afflicting our main trading partner and a continent which lies little more than 20 miles away.  Let’s face it, they seem to be looking for money from China – and they’re neither part of the EU nor physically close.  But, what do I know?

The word “eu” of course, comes to us from the Greeks – a little ironic given the current trouble they seem to be causing the EU.  Eu (or eus) means well, pleasant or good.  So, euphony (eu + phone) is a pleasing sound – which rather fails to explain the euphonium (surely other more deserving instruments could have been blessed with this particular appellation).

Euthanasia – rather frowned upon today – comes from the concept of a good death (and it was this derivation which inspired this post via a recent episode of “In Our Time”) while euphemism comes from good speech and eulogy from good word(s).  In fact, it is from the “art” of eulogy that this blog springs: so clearly one can take direct translation from the Greek too far.  Back in the last millenium, when people left whereso’er I was working I would write a brief eulogy to mark their departure (not for everyone, obviously, just for those I knew well).  These eulogies would all be based on the truth – but wilfully mis- or over-interpreted to produce a soi-disant amusing result (so, not much has changed).  It was my attempt to re-capture the “glories” of these juvenilia that has led to so much suffering (or at least being reminded of them acted as one of the proximate causes of GofaDM).

Not all words starting with the letters “eu” have this etymology.  The word “euro” does not come from the Greek at all – but instead from an aboriginal Australian word for a type of kangaroo.  If you’re going to name your currency after a kangaroo, I think you’ve got to expect a few ups and downs – and, probably a pouch.

Whilst vaguely on the topic of the the current Euro crisis, am I the only one to feel that Ben Stiller must be a shoo-in to play Nicolas Sarkozy when the film is made?

The title you say?  I thought it rather an apt description of the style of GofaDM (which very much follows in the footsteps of John Lyly).



Not just a county to the east of London (even for an Igor or one with a related thpeech eccthentrithity).  Though, it is worth noting that Essex currently seems rather popular with television programme makers – though I suspect this may have more to do with its proximity to London, and the media hotbed of Hoxton, than anything intrinsically fascinating about the county itself.

But no, I must tear myself away from East Anglia and instead turn the searching gaze of GofaDM to the subject of morality.  I like to imagine that I lead a somewhat ethical life -though, as this blog has established, I could represent my country at self-delusion.  However, this week my ethics were put to the official test.

My employers started out as quite a small company, but having been taken over three times are now part of a huge corporate behemoth (though, so far as I know, it is neither attracted to bright lights nor have I caught it nibbling on my clothing).  With each take-over and resultant increase in size, the degree of bureaucracy has grown exponentially – as is inevitable.  We humans aren’t good in groups of much more than 150 or so, though that doesn’t seem to stop us trying to form much larger groups and then wondering why it’s all gone wrong.

The latest wizard wheeze from Head Office was an on-line ethics test.  I’d been avoiding this for months as I felt I had better things to do – well there was still grass capable of growth and paint with the potential for drying – but the email-based bullying had become daily and started including the word “Final” and an increasing number of asterisks in the subject line, so I felt I better succumb.  Prior to taking the test itself, I had to endure the “training” component of the exercise.  This had clearly been prepared by our friends across the Herring Pond, and seemed to be aimed at the under 5s.  By luck, I turned off the narrator – so only had to read the blindingly obvious statements prepared for my elucidation (rather than having them read out to me).  To maintain our fleeting attention, the training included “amusing” little scenarios where two characters played out a variety of ethical “dilemmas”.  In each of these, a sociopath chats to a colleague and lays bare the moral vacuum that forms their soul.  We are then instructed as to what we, as good little drones, should have done instead – though, in at least once case, this did involve violating causality, which years of reading and watching science-fiction has taught me seldom ends well.

After making my way through this instruction (as rapidly as possible) came the “test”.  It wasn’t quite Only Connect.  It comprised only four multiple choice questions (and budgets must have been tight, as rather than the five traditional answers this test only ran to four).  Without the benefit of the “training”, I would hope that almost everyone aged 5 or over should have found the test entirely trivial – though I suppose this might be my woolly liberalism showing through.  I presume anyone who fails is marked out for a career in politics or time at her majesty’s pleasure (or, based on recent events, quite possibly both!).

Still, I shouldn’t complain too much.  I am paid handsomely for carrying out such foolish, but trivial, little exercises – and I do now know that, in a very limited sphere at least, my moral compass is pointing north.  I guess I should also be grateful that our major corporations are embracing ethics (and I’ve worked for one that certainly wasn’t doing so at the top) – though one feels the world of business (and indeed, the one beyond) still has quite a long way to go (given the continuing nature of the news).

So, perhaps I should finish with a suitable peroration:  The only way is ethics!

Crockery mockery

An attractive chap or chapess may be referred to as dishy – well, they may be in these Isles: whilst lacking any etymological insights, Mr Collins does suggest that the rest of the English-speaking world may not share this particular usage.  Even here, you never hear tureen-y, plate-y or bowl-y used, certainly not as a compliment.  Surely, bowly or tureeny should be like dishy, but with a bit more depth – and, thus, a more complete blandishment (or even flan-dish-ment).

You can compliment someone (normally a lass) by saying that they a possess a porcelain complexion – though less often than formerly, given the strange immanence of fake tan these days (though, I suppose it is safer than covering your visage with white lead).  Try comparing a lady’s complexion to Delft, faience or earthenware and you will be met with incomprehension or a swift right hook: but I feel earthenware is a particularly good choice of simile for the fake tan generation.

It would seem that tableware similes are not (generally) considered the sincerest form of platter-y.

No-one ever sails in a gravy boat (or would they be powered by steam or diesel engines these days?), but many of the political elite are all too keen to climb aboard the gravy train. The gravy car and gravy plane have yet to enter the public consciousness.  However, there is one area of transportation in which crockery reigns supreme:

The vessels used by aliens to cross interstellar space (prior to grabbing intellectually challenged Americans for probe-based experiments of questionable utility) are always described as flying saucers (even in French!).  No-one ever sees (or even claims to see) a flying cup or demi-tasse – do they remain in orbit as the handle would adversely affect their performance in the earth’s atmosphere?  Mr C is pretty clear that a saucer should be associated with a cup – and given the rarified nature of the interstellar medium cup-based travel between the stars should not be an issue.  Are flying cups one of the secrets our governments are keeping from us?  Is one, even now, being analysed in Area 51?  Could I create a whole new conspiracy theory?

Writing of saucers and similes, I feel that saucery is less a comparison (though I suppose one could describe a small plate as being quite saucery) and more the magical power to control crockery – or perhaps just to create a perfect a roux (Alain?).

Philosophical Fencing

Just to the south of Cambridge station, a new block of flats (or, apartments as I suspect its sponsors would prefer) is rising.  The building is up to two and a bit floors, but has almost no walls.  To prevent the chaps (sorry, no sight of a chapess so far) working on the site from falling from the first floor to their doom, a yellow metal barrier has been erected around the edge of the floor (where one day, I presume, a wall will stand).  This barrier is part solid and part grille and advertises that it was provided by a firm by the name of KGuard.  I rather like to imagine that the K stands for “Kierke” – and as a man who wrote several books entitled “Upbuilding Discourses”, the Danish father of existentialism strikes me as very much the right philosopher for the job.

Even without Kierkegaard on their payroll, the fencing should provide Immanuel barrier so that workers Kant fall off.

KGuard promote themselves as “world leaders in edge protection” which is a very fine strap line for any business – and “edge protection” does have a rather philosophical feel to it as a concept.  It also suggests that they provide bodyguards to at least one member of U2.


The cry of a Cockney wolf: obviously.

Not that the Cockney accent should be singled out for h-dropping – it occurs in many other English dialects and is big in Serbian and was big in Late Latin as well.  Oddly, romance languages recovered these dropped Hs after they inherited them (or their absence) from Late Latin, only to lose them a second time (which smacks of carelessness) – and they remain lost to this day.  Perhaps all these lost Hs explain the great abundance of hydrogen in the modern universe – though I suppose quantum theory would tell a different story.

But no, I’m just teasing – this really is a post about an owl.  Last night, as I cycled to a concert I had a close encounter with one: not in the 100 acre wood, but in a wood of barely a single acre a scant mile from home.  I saw him (or her – it’s hard to sex an owl based on a relatively brief night-time sighting) crossing the cycle path just in front of me twice in very quick succession.  I’m pretty sure it was a tawny owl – or, if a barn owl, he might want to lay off the voles for a while as he was really quite stocky.  I was planning a wisecrack about liking my owls like I like my port – but then realised this was nonsense.  I have nothing against a little owl, but a little port is an abomination.

This is only the second owl I’ve seen in the wild (so not really enough for a parliament yet) – and given that the first was in May, my owl service is improving (in a nod to the great Alan Garner).  My wildlife encounters didn’t end there: on my return journey I passed a fox but, disappointingly, there was no sign of a werrity.  Nonetheless, with my new wildlife spotting skills and recent broadcast experience, I eagerly await my call-up to Spring or Autumnwatch.

Between the wildlife, I went to see CUCO’s first concert of the new academic year.  They were excellent as usual – though given the change of year, there had been some turnover in the personnel (some similarity with the start of the new Association Football season, though without the obscene transfer fees).  The programme had everything: Vaughan Williams, Mozart and Stravinsky – some singing (rather beyond my current level), a double piano concerto and a symphony (all three pieces new to me).   As a patron of the arts, I was even provided with a complimentary tub of ice cream.

What more could any chap want from a night out?

Sir Jerry?

Then again, I don’t think you can knight a mouse – and as a US-citizen (or, occasionally French), it could at best be an honorary title.  Still, perhaps more chance here than with my earlier attempts to beatify one.

But no, it’s only a feeble pun – so no surprise there.  Yesterday, I was due to undergo a little minor surgery (Sir Jerry?) – not, I should make clear, to remove a trapped child.  No, my planned surgery had more to do with miners than minors.

I have a cluster of moles in the small of my back, and a few weeks ago one of them decided to bleed.  The location made it virtually impossible for me – even with a complex arrangement of mirrors – to see what was going on.  Bleeding moles are generally considered a warning (or a garden pest), so I went to see the doctor – though Humboldt squid have been exposed to more sunlight than this mole.

Whilst Sawston has quite a large surgery, it does seem to possess but a single magnifying glass – so I had quite a long, and topless, wait while it was tracked down.  The considered opinions of two doctors (and one student – though he kept pretty quiet) were that there was no problem with my mole, but that it should be removed anyway.  Rather a dangerous precedent, thought I, as the rest of my body is problem-free and I don’t really fancy any precautionary amputations.  Still, I figured I should follow the medical advice – and I was duly booked in for minor surgery.  I should make clear that I had nothing against the mole, given its location I barely knew it was there – though I suppose the small piles of earth I found between the sheets each morning should have been a clue.

Anyway, cutting to the chase, yesterday I headed to the surgery to have my little velvet gentleman removed.  Once again, it was inspected by a further doctor and a nurse and they also decided it wasn’t an issue – and as a result, that it should stay.  The doctor seemed concerned that my skin was quite tight, and that stretching would be an issue for my healing.  However, I do think I will still have to see a further doctor (the 4th) who, as a dermatologist, will have the final say.

Given that the primary doctor on both my visits was female, and I spent considerable time topless on each occasion, I am beginning to wonder if this is all a ruse to cop a look at my ripped torso.  If the dermatologist is also of the distaff persuasion – then I shall be convinced that there is some Diet Coke lurking just out of shot.  Perhaps I should just tell them that I am more than willing to pose for a modest fee (or cake) – there is no need for the medical subterfuge.

My only disappointment with keeping my mole is that it cannot be sent off for biopsy – well not unless I go with it.  Biopsy is one of my favourite words, which along with almost and chintz, has the unusual feature that all their letters appear are in the correct alphabetical order (with no repetition – nor, for that matter, hesitation or deviation).  These may be the only three six-letter words to share this property – and certainly, despite rather more thought than it really warrants, I have failed to come up with an example beginning with D.  Unless readers can think of any…

Most love Winter

Or so claimed, the splendidly named, Coventry Kersey Dighton Patmore in his poem “Winter”.   This appeared in the volume of odes entitled “The Unknown Eros”, widely considered his finest work,.  From a rather cursory survey of his masterwork, I can tell you that he was no Pam Ayres.  He must also have moved in a rather different social circle to me, as I know of no-one who claims to be enamoured of the season (unless it be for the opportunity to ski – or otherwise slide – at relatively modest cost that it affords).  But, with a name like that, I can forgive him quite a lot!

Still, love it or (more likely) loath it, it has become clear that winter is – or at least its heralds are – upon us.

Yesterday evening, on my way to see (and, perhaps more crucially hear) the Endellion String Quartet, I saw a gritter abroad in the twilight – my first sighting of the season.  Encountering a working gritter in a car can give rise to concerns about damage to your paintwork.  Meet one on a bike and the main concern is having a shovel-full of salt hurled in your face.  Luckily, it wasn’t spraying – and so I didn’t receive my RDA of sodium for the month of October in one go.

This morning, a little after eleven, I was finally forced to admit defeat and turn on the heating for the first time since Spring.  And, to silence any doubters out there, here is photographic ‘proof’ that the heating was running (at least for the few seconds needed to capture the image):

(Seeing the picture, I can’t help thinking that the controls – hidden since Spring – could do with a wipe-down with a damp cloth.)

So, in Fish Towers at least, 20 October 2011 marks the official start of Winter – a bit of a shock coming, as it does, barely two weeks after high summer.  Still, according to the boffins in Bracknell, by Sunday we should be back into late summer warmth.  It’s all very confusing and not just to me!  I have tulips coming up in the front garden – which even given my rather limited knowledge of horticulture, I’m pretty sure is not supposed to happen until Spring.  I’m also still harvesting fresh tomatoes and raspberries, and gathering up vast quantities of fallen leaves.  I feel like I’m living in a pizza or maybe a violin concerto: within the grounds of Fish Towers I seem to be enjoying the four seasons – all at the same time!


An epithet some might apply to me, though I prefer absent- or butterfly-minded, or better still, laterally cognitive.  However I may try and dress it up, I have long ago had to come to terms with the fact that I live both alone and with an idiot.  This very e’en, it took three attempts before I manage to exit the house with everything necessary – and that wasn’t even a particularly bad performance.  Perhaps my brain is just too highly trained?

Anyway, this subject was not supposed to further indulge my rampant egomania – but instead consider the vexèd question of avian intelligence.  I will freely admit that some birds are almost the entire hamper short of a picnic.  The pheasant, and in particular the male of the species, seems almost unutterably stupid – as but one example, it is clear when they attempt to roost at night that the average pheasant believes it is roughly the size of  a house sparrow.  This makes for a noisy – and one assumes, rather uncomfortable – few minutes each evening.  Others birds, the corvids in particular, are widely regarded as being really quite bright – with jays regularly out-witting squirrels.  As a result, it seems rather unfair to use bird-brained as a synonym (albeit an informal one) for silly.   I fear it represents a rather mammal-centric point of view.

I was reminded of this injustice this bright and breezy morning as I cycled into Cambridge.  In the area I think of as rabbit-alley – where from the gloaming until dawn, the cyclist’s long-eared nemesis lurks – I startled a small bevy (or they certainly would have been, had they been quails – or, indeed, attractive game birds of a rather different kind) of red-legged partridge.  These are rather a smart looking game bird, which I’m sure wouldn’t be caught dead in a pear tree on any day of Christmas.  Whereas a similar grouping of bunnies would have run towards my oncoming velocipede, the partridge much more wisely ran away from impending doom utilising their rapid, and rather amusing, gait.  Once again birds demonstrated superior avian intellect when compared with the duller-witted mammals that share their habitat.

I’d like to see the phrase bird-brained replaced with bunny-brained.  It retains the alliteration, but seems much more zoologically accurate – and avoids tarring (let’s face it, they’re already feathered) an entire Class (Aves – yes Carl, it’s been a while) with the same brush.  Or would this be considered PC (or in my case, Mac) gone mad?

Low aspirations

One of the features of the looting which accompanied this summer’s rioting in the UK was the rather low aspirations of the looters.  Mindless entertainment and cheap clothing seemed to be the primary targets for their larceny – though some also aimed for cheap, “value” range food staples.  Bookshops escaped almost entirely unscathed – which strikes me as a searing indictment on the quality of today’s opportunist criminal element.

Today, I learned that such low aspirations are not limited to looters, and that paucity of ambition has been the undoing of at least one criminal.  It would seem that someone has been attempting to use my credit card – or at least its details, as I still possess the card itself.  However, the fool used it for a moderately large shop at Tesco and this was immediately detected as fraud (by the splendid folk of John Lewis Financial Services). Had they attempted their scam in Waitrose or the Co-op, it may have gone undetected for months – but I haven’t shopped at a Tesco in many a year (though reading Matathew’s recent post suggests it can be quite a profitable experience for the sharp-eyed shopper!)

My woolly, liberal attempts at middle-class, ethical shopping have finally borne fruit!  My shopping habits are sufficiently unlike those of the typical felon (or indeed, most of the country’s law-abiding citizenry) that they provide me some protection from card crime.

The attempted fraud does mean that my card has had to be cancelled (though it was almost life expired anyway, added to which almost all the writing has already rubbed off), which will that mean my spending habits will be somewhat constrained for a few days.  I should be feeling terribly upset and/or violated – but to be honest I was more amused by the whole incident and rather proud that JLFS had recognised how out of character use of Tesco was.  I suppose the rather poor quality of the modern criminal is rather depressing: it seems we should not be relying on our fraudsters to haul the country out of its current financial difficulties (though, perhaps the banking crisis should have acted as a small clue in this regard).

On a related topic, I heard the splendid Andrew O’Neill on the radio pendant le weekend who had (for reasons unexplained) been without a mobile phone for some months, and had been relishing the freedom.  I am now wondering if I should plan to set aside a few days each year to do without one of modern life’s apparent requisites?  A sort of rolling lent, if you will?  I feel it could be rather good for the soul – or closest humanist equivalent.

Metablog Six: Vlogging a dead horse

No horses were harmed in the making of this post.

Behold!  Video…


(Sorry, not in 3D – not even in HD – but it’s the sheer technical prowess that counts!).

Yes, I’m wearing a hoody.  Yes, I’ve used YouTube!  A demonstration that middle-aged dogs can learn new tricks (and, for the cynical out there, I did not get a child to help me – I am quite childish enough without any assistance).  Or, at least this dog can still learn – I cannot speak (or bark) for other canines d’un certain âge.

The very observant may have noticed that the wall to the side of my head is, like the speaker, cracked.  This is no cause for concern – Fish Towers is not about to collapse – it is merely a little settlement (and I have some expertise in settlement, as you may have deduced from Fish Tales).

If people like the exciting new video element to GofaDM – a rather static talking head (but without the skilled writing of Alan Bennett) – I might create others.  If, as seems more likely, the general response is one of revulsion followed by a high-profile campaign to prevent further such outrages, then I fear this will act like a red rag to a bull and the vlogging will continue until morale improves!