Signs

As a professional prognosticator I am always on the look-out for omens, signs and portents.  Often I will cut a squash in half and study its seeds for clues as to the future’s unfolding (yes, I know augury more commonly uses the viscera of the animal kingdom, but as a (mostly) vegetarian I have had to improvise).

I can tell you that Christmas is almost upon us as I was able to acquire my Christmas double issue of the Mortician’s Gazette at the weekend.  In a tradition almost as old a Christmas itself, the price is that little bit more than double the price of its normal weekly edition and we will no doubt find that half this new higher price will pertain after the festive season.  I presume this is on the assumption that either (a) we will have consumed so much alcohol or (b) the standard of mathematics in this country is so low that no-one will notice.

But it is about the proliferation of signs of a less mystical kind that I wish to write.  On my journey into Cambridge I have to use a short stretch of new road on the Addenbrooke’s site between one cycle path and the guided busway.  A new piece of signage seems to be added to this road every day – by the Spring, I fear the road will be in permanent darkness such is their growing density.  As well as the almost totally ignored speed limit signage, we have rather contradictory signs as to where cyclists are allowed to ride – I think at least one is in the wrong place (or someone in the Highways department is a fan of Epimenides and is letting his love of paradox affect his work).

We now have two signs from APCOA welcoming us to their World of Parking.  As theme parks go, this doesn’t sound like an obvious winner – even World of Leather seems a better offering.  In addition to the welcome, the signs contain a stack of small print which no motorist could safely read, even on the off-chance that they were obeying the speed limit.  I think what they are trying to say is that if you have stopped moving for more than 30 seconds and have not offered APCOA a couple of limbs or your first-born, then you are in big trouble.

Today’s new sign was to give the road a name – it is now called Francis Crick Avenue.  Since the road is basically straight with a bend to the right at one end, I can’t help but feel this is a waste of a good name.  Mr Crick, as co-discoverer of DNA, needs a road with a far more helical course to bear his moniker – I would want to see at least one helix and preferably two (or we could have it intertwining with a James Watson Road).  As it stands, the road barely justifies Uri Geller Avenue as a label.

Still, whilst the road is awash with signage, at least it has a nice level surface.  Most of the roads on the hospital site are in an appalling state, several seem to be subducting under the hospital and also produce a rather unpleasant sulphurous odour – which makes two signs of tectonic activity.   (But don’t worry, I’m not expecting an imminent eruption – and, if the worst happens, Cambridge could do with some new hills!).

I have mused that the poor road maintenance might be a deliberate ploy to acquire new business – certainly, an unwary cyclist could easily been thrown from his steed and require the services of the nearby A&E department.  The ambulance service could also expect to offer a very swift pick-up and delivery – which should help them meet their performance targets.  Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t be giving our stressed NHS managers any ideas they haven’t thought of themselves..

In search of depth

This blog has often been criticised for its relentless focus on the trivial and superficial (OK, given the current emphasis on transparency, I will admit that this is not the case at all, it is merely a rhetorical device to introduce this latest twaddle – but bear with me, it might get better) and so I have felt it incumbent on me to go in search of a little depth.

In the course of this hunt, I have now seen three films projected in 3D (which I think makes 9D) – two of these within the last week.  This projection uses the miracle of plane-polarised light and so, to obtain the 3D-effect, one has to wear a pair of glasses with orthogonally-polarised lenses over one’s normal ‘seeing’ glasses.  At the cinema, one is seated amid the encircling gloom (to quote from my old headmaster’s favourite hymn, which we always used to perform appallingly badly to his great distress.  For some reason, this particular hymn, “Lead kindly light,” has always brought the Wild West and cowboys sitting around a campfire to my mind – though it was apparently written whilst becalmed in the Straits of Bonifacio, which lie between France and Italy, by an Englishman) and so my six-eyed shame is thankfully shrouded from all, bar any cats, owls or snipers (though only the first two are mentioned by Lear as having eloped in a pea green boat) who happen to be in the auditorium.

Ah, I seem to have mistaken excessive use of parentheses for depth – if only WordPress offered footnotes and a bibliography life would be so much easier.

6D of these films were animated while the remaining 3D used real people and props moving around in at least partially real sets (the animations obviously relied on wholly imaginary sets – very much sets found on the y-axis of an Argand diagram).  The depth effect seems to work much better, or at least be less confusing and/or irritating in the animated features than when applied to the “real” world.  I’m not sure if this is because the 3D effect is in some way subtly wrong, and this is more apparent when viewing a simulacrum of the real world or, if the relative simplicity of the images from animation are easier for the brain to interpret.

Mostly, I find that I am unaware of the 3D-effect, though in rapid real-life action sections I find it very hard to process the visual information and everything becomes very confused (well, I say everything – but really I mean me).  Occasionally it works really well, but at other times it reminds me of the black and white, stereoscopic photos my grandparents took many, many years ago with the image broken into a series of vertical planes at various apparent distances into the screen.

On the whole, I fear 3D offers little more than novelty in its current form.  For a start, it is pretty rare event that I find myself unable to decide which objects are nearer or farther from the viewer, even when watching a merely two-dimensional moving image.  The human brain is remarkably cunning at deriving depth from a host of little clues – indeed, in a number of famous optical illusions it over-rides the depth information provided by stereoscopic vision.

Still (or should that be Movie), the studios seem to love 3D, despite disapproval from far better critics than I, and hugely over-use it.  In the early days of wordprocessing and printing, people would use as many fonts as possible on a single page.  When colour screens first became common, web pages would be a confused riot of colour and movement.  Now with 3D, there is an obsession with using depth – if a screen has three lines of text then they must all lie in a different vertical plane.  If 3D is here to stay, one can only hope they can move beyond this foolishness and calm down a little.

The three films (Toy Story 3, Hugo and Arthur Christmas) are all well worth a watch: in any D, though I think they may be quite hard to follow in 1D (certainly, you would see a decidedly linear narrative).  Joyously, Arthur Christmas seemed to have product placement from The Co-operative Food – the only film in which I have seen this and it was the only plug I spotted (other than a brief glimpse of Shaun the Sheep).  Good old Aardman!   I presume the film was partially funded from their divi – and rather hope the premiere was held in Rochdale in honour of the Pioneers!

I may not have found much depth, but just feel those allusions!

Slider?

I was never a huge fan of the nineties sci-fi show, Sliders.  For those who missed this particular series, it involved the protagonists “sliding” from one parallel universe to the next by means of wormholes, generated by a handheld device.  The world visited tended to hold some element of sociological interest: well, I suppose visiting a world which differed from this one only in the colour of my front door would be quite hard to convert into an hour (or, this being the US, a smidge over 40 minutes) of riveting television.  However, the result did tend towards a sci-fi field-trip from Thinking Allowed, with John Rhys Davis (who later went on to still greater success playing a dwarf, despite what might have been considered the insurmountable impediment of his height) playing the part of Laurie Taylor.

Although the only wormholes in the vicinity of Fish Towers have been made by worms, principally members of the Oligochaeta, I am beginning to wonder if I have inadvertently passed into a parallel earth.

I read in the news that workers in the UK work the third longest hours in Europe (obviously, I’m bringing down the average somewhat – perhaps with greater application on my part, we might have gained the silver).  Not so shocking, but wait until I tell you by whom we were trounced: Greece!  No, that’s not a typo – the Greeks work longer hours than do my fellow Brits.  I’m sure the Greek economy had collapsed last time I looked.  How to explain this apparent contradiction?  Is it that Greeks do work very long hours, but it is only a very small proportion of the populace that work at all?  Or are they just spending long hours at their desks to avoid having to go outside?  For, if there is anywhere in the world where agoraphobia is likely to be a problem it must be Greece, where there lies an ancient agora around almost every corner.  Or, have a slid (slided? slidden?) into an alternative time line?

But this is not the only strand of evidence I have glimpsed in today’s news.  I’m sure at the beginning of the week, I lived in a world where the excesses of the financial services sector – and in particular the City, as it is known – had plunged the world into financial meltdown.  In this world, I’ll call it E1, our hospitals, schools, libraries, the Arts and their employees where bearing the brunt of attempts to fix the mess.  However, in the world of today, I’ll call it E2, our government has decided that the one promise it must keep is to protect the financial services sector from any form of restraint.  Surely, there were more important promises to keep – and, indeed, to fight for?  Was the world economy in E2 destroyed by rogue teachers and librarians?  If so, I’m worried about the new robot librarian at Sawston library – if that goes rogue we could be in trouble that goes beyond the merely financial…

Has the Coalition decided that the economy has bottomed out, so our rogue financiers can only improve matters if left to their own devices?  If so, I fear their understanding of statistics and probability is even poorer than I had imagined (and I can, and did, imagine pretty poor).  Or, perhaps they have confused their financial backers with the people who vote for them – which may not prove to be such a good idea in the longer term as financial institutions cannot vote in the UK (yet).  Still, if Flanders and Swann have not steered me wrong, I believe the late General De Gaulle will be thrilled by the UK being pushed a little further out of Europe – though, as with financial instituions, dead French military figures are (currently) unable to vote in the UK.

No, I think I need to have a stern talk with my worms and see if they can show me the way back to my own world.  E2 is too strange for me: Cambridge Heath is just not Cambridge, despite the nominative congruence.

Christmas Cards

It is that time of year when any parents of younger children will have the joy of the Nativity Play coming up shortly – or the more culturally-neutral modern equivalent.  The most recent such theatrical presentation I saw (albeit in video form) seemed to have re-focused the traditional story to place the donkey centre-stage.  Rather ass about upside, if you ask me.

This led me to the realisation that cribbage (or crib, if you prefer) would be the perfect card game to enjoy this Yuletide.  Not only do we have the consonance with the ickle baby Jesus, but scoring points for his nob chimes nicely with the spirit of Panto!

Every action has an equal and opposite distraction

Which could well stand as a motto for this blog, or indeed my life.  Many will recognise that I am mis-quoting Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion – though that assumes I am referring to Sir Isaac rather than Kirsty when I mention Newton.  Am I right in thinking that Sir Isaac is the only physicist with a biscuit named after him?  I recognise that the Chocolate Cox could be problematic, but the Lord Kelvin Crunch sounds rather good.

Tuesday night I was in London with what remains of Mitch Benn at the monthly Distraction Club – perhaps a dangerous choice of event for me, given my existing proclivities in that direction.  However, to make the most of my One Day Travelcard before heading towards music and comedy (and, dare I say it, their juxtaposition) I took in some art at the Royal Academy.  I do find that a mixture of Degas, Russian Constructivism and John Maine RA is the perfect aperatif to a night with Mitch and friends, don’t you?

I failed to spot any celebs at the RA this time, but thereafter went to an Italian restaurant, used as the venue for an interview in the RA Magazine, and I think I may have struck pay dirt there.  I say ‘may’ as the chap sitting next to me at the bar (not an alcoholic one nor, as the Degas reference may have suggested, a barre), watching the very ordered running of the kitchen at Bucco di Lupo, seemed very familiar.  Now, that could just mean I’ve seen him in Waitrose or the gym – but I was in Soho and he was intermittently reading a script, so I think he was probably a famous young actor (though I have no idea as to his name).  Still, I think it counts in my attempts to capture some of the Heat “readership” for GofaDM.  You will be pleased to know that the food was excellent – and I believe both very authentic and well-reviewed by the professionals – and suitable fortification for the comedy that was to come.

As a result of the unique way in which our railways have been underfunded for decades, I only caught the first two-thirds of the Distraction Club.  Had I stayed any longer, my journey time back to Cambridgeshire would have extended from around an hour to nearly four – which I think would have made it slower than the days when horses were still the only form of traction  (I know Stagecoach provide the local buses, but I wasn’t expecting the name to be taken quite so literally).  It may be that the NXEA website was wrong, or perhaps we would be pushing the bus replacement from Bishops Stortford, but on a school night I decided against taking the risk.

Nevertheless, the DC was an excellent night out.  I must have seen at least 8 acts (which makes it less than a quid an act) combining music and comedy in the basement of a Cask-Marqued pub a few feet from Oxford Circus.  Even with the rail fare, it was still cheaper than going to see a comic at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge – and with better beer on offer!  And, of course, you get to see Mitch Benn and the Distractions – though I have never seen less of Mitch, not as a result of a pillar or any other obstruction but because he has managed to lose an impressive amount of weight.  He looked positively svelte!  The gig, with its seasonal theme, made even me, a man much taken with both bars and humbugs (though I could be tempted by a mint imperial too), feel a wee bit Christmassy!

It’s no Cricklewood

In this blog, I have tried to give readers brief vignettes of life in the high water mark of early 21st century civilisation that is Sawston.  However, my current reading has brought into sharp focus how far I have yet to go.

I have heard it said (probably via Malcolm Gladwell) that 10,000 hours of commitment is needed before any skill can be considered mastered.  This blog has yet to achieve 10,000 elapsed hours – and only a tiny fraction of those can be considered “CPU time” – so I fear you will have a long wait, but it has also been said (this time by Robert Louis Stevenson) that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive – which may offer some crumb of comfort.  However, I notice that this post seems to have turned into an episode of “Quote, Unquote”, so let me try and wrest it back on track.

I have borrowed The Cricklewood Tapestry by Alan Coren from the Central library.  Avid readers might wonder why I have not turned to Sawston library for my reading matter given my previous writings on the importance of (not just being Ernest, but also) supporting your local facilities: well, I will tell you (and them).  Sawston library was recently closed for a week while it was automated.  No longer do you hand your book or books to a nice lady to have them checked in or out: you now do all of this yourself using a machine (though the nice lady is still there to prevent anarchy).  I presume the machine must have been very successful (at least in its checking-out mode) as the number of books within the library seems to have declined quite dramatically around the time of its installation.  Either that or the heating has failed and the remaining human staff have been forced to burn the books to keep warm.  I suppose I should view the new robot librarian as a positive commitment to the future of Sawston library, though I can’t help feeling that this is somewhat balanced by the disappearance of so many of the books (that many, myself included, would view as a rather critical element of the whole library concept).

Anyway, I have allowed myself to, once again, become distracted (and to split an infinitive in a most egregious manner).  The late, great Mr Coren wrote extensively throughout his career about the North London suburb of Cricklewood.  As a result, Cricklewood looms large in my (and probably the collective) unconscious – a stature it shares with, for example, Mornington Crescent – but which is probably quite at odds with the reality “on the ground”.  This is down to the skill and wit of the sainted Alan’s writings, and reading them has made me realise just how far I have to go if Sawston is ever to take its rightful place in the British psyche.  I suppose The Times may also have given him access to a rather larger readership than I suspect this blog is yet achieving – but I’m not looking for excuses.  While I have found it safest to read The Cricklewood Tapestry at home, as the outbursts of spontaneous laughter it engenders can cause one to be viewed askance if they occur “in public”, I doubt public perusal of GofaDM would give any such cause of concern.

Still, perhaps fresh exposure to a master of the genre of spinning the minor events of quotidien existence into comedy gold will lead to some improvement, so that I might achieve an incondign mastery of the blog-form before the last of my un-dyed hair turns grey.  Either that, or you should come back in a couple of decades and hope that Mr Gladwell was right!

Oh, Roger!

I am well known as a tennis pundit – well, I am to those lucky listeners to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire one afternoon 3 or 4 years ago who heard me correctly predict the results of both Wimbledon Singles Finals.  Sadly, I didn’t have sufficient confidence in my punditry to back it financially, so I’m still “working” for “the man”.  It is in my role as a tennis expert that I have noticed, with the exception of the recent ATP Masters, Roger Federer seems to have become somewhat estranged from his winning ways of late.  Younger, more poorly dressed whipper-snappers have kept him from winning tournaments – or even reaching the finals.

Given the fairly generous prize money paid out for winning major tennis tournaments, and his extraordinarily successful career, I had assumed that Mr F would not be short of a bob or two.  Certainly, I am always mystified by those who go on to earn their second (or, indeed, nth million for any n>1) – as I’d be quite happy to stop and take life easy after (or, if I’m being honest, probably well before) making my first million (be it in GBP, USD or EUR).  However, recent events suggest that Roger may be on his uppers.

Over the weekend, I happened to see some sort of advertisement broadcast by one of our many commercial television providers (I never hear these presentations, well not while I am within easy reach of the Mute button).  This starred the Swiss tennis ace, who seemed to be leaving on a jet plane to destination unknown.  The little vignette focused on the scanning of his hand luggage prior to moving on to the departure gate.  His hand luggage was a rather large sports bag (rather larger than I would try and sneak through as hand luggage) and the X-ray scan results showed it to be puzzlingly packed with small spheres.  On visual inspection, his only item of hand luggage was discovered to be packed with small spherical chocolates from one of Switzerland’s larger commercial chocolatiers.

Now, I will admit that my hand luggage is usually partly filled with food – in case I become peckish mid-flight – but I would normally have a greater variety of healthier options and would also have at least a book and MP3 player to keep myself amused during my confinement.  Perhaps, Mr F was expecting a very serious case of the munchies?  Though frankly, I think he has gone beyond the munchies and moved into the territory of serious addiction – and were he to consume the lot, he would not be moving around the court with his customary grace in future.  No, I am forced to assume that he has taken to chocolate smuggling to make ends meet.  Indeed, he used some of his contraband to “bribe” the two female customs officials to allow him to proceed.

Have other tennis stars of yesteryear also been forced to turn to a life of crime?  Certainly, no others have been foolish enough to be filmed “in the act” to my knowledge.  Will Andy Murray be caught smuggling haggis to the USA (where it is banned) in the future?  Aren’t we failing as a society if our über-rich tennis players are reduced to the role of food mules to keep the wolf from the door?  Some sort of appeal or bail-out is surely in order?  We found the money to keep our bankers in champagne and Porsches (not at the same time, this blog does not encourage drink-driving), surely we can do the same for tennis players?  After all, they’ve provided a lot more entertainment and pleasure.

Talking of financial rescues, I wondered if the French, Belgian (subject to its availability) or UK governments would help Stena Line if it found itself in trouble.  The idea of bailing out the ferries is rather pleasing.