Late April Fools

A think tank (which I suspect has as little to do with thinking as it does tanks) has garnered significant press coverage (and a mention in GofaDM) after deciding that UK GDP would be significantly boosted if we did away with bank holidays.

If we temporarily accept the hypothesis that GDP is the best thing a nation can produce, and put to one side the fact that any gain is likely to benefit the very few at the expense of the many, I still fear that this “analysis” contains more schoolboy errors than the entire output of St Custard’s.

Off the top of my head, I could point to the following silly mistakes:

  • The huge loss of GDP recently caused by the Banks might have been slowed (or even reduced) had they taken a few more holidays.
  • The UK actually makes very little (trust me, I’ve tried buying stuff we make and it’s not easy), we are mostly a service economy.  I’m not sure how many more haircuts, insurance policies and the like it is actually possible to sell (legally) in the extra days provided.
  • Many people seem to do most of their consuming on bank holidays, without them I fear for the future of the DIY, sofa, travel and tourist businesses to name but a few.
  • It is a common fallacy that working more hours produces more “stuff” which I thought  Cyril Northcote Parkinson had de-bunked pretty successfully back in 1955.  Whilst it is dangerous to generalise from a sample of one (particularly if that sample is me), I find that not only does it take me longer to do anything when I am working longer hours with less time off, I also tend to make more of a hash of the thing being done.

So, I fear that this plan would result in a poorer, unhappier nation which produces less work of a lower standard from an even smaller number of sectors – and one in which our bankers have way too much office time on their hands to produce dangerous, marginally legal (from the wrong side of the margin) financial products.

But, none of these represents the main thrust of my argument to retain – and indeed increase – our bank holidays.  My argument is, in fact, hydrological.  Over this current bank holiday weekend, most of the UK has seen more rainfall than in the preceding three months put together.  If the government is serious about tackling drought – and the very severe (and real) economic impact thereof – it should be increasing our quota of bank holidays.  Given the well-established fact that Tlaloc is a big fan of the bank holiday, we need to appeal to him to offer us his beneficence (in the from of precipitation) by adding some extras: especially in that difficult and dry September-to-March period where there are so few (and those that do exist are dedicated to other deities who are frankly failing to deliver on the cold, warm or occluded fronts).

Strange weather

As I may have mentioned before, I am no stranger to the Stevenson screen (invented by the father of Robert Louis Stevenson, apparently) having been a stalwart of the Weather Club when at secondary modern school back in the late 1970s.  Having the keys to the “screen” made me a very desirable chap, I can tell you – not just any lad of 12 could offer a look at his wet-and-dry bulb.

After a few years of cycling around South Cambs, I have realised my understanding of the weather is not quite as great as I might have imagined.  I used to think that fog and strong wind were mortally enemies – wherever there was fog, strong wind would be absent and vice versa.  Either I was wrong, or they have had a major rapprochement since 1979, but I can assure you that strong wind and fog can now often be seen out and about together.  I’m not sure how this works – you’d think a stiff breeze would disperse the fog – but it is nice to see ancient enemies burying the hatchet.

Today, I encountered another new weather phenomenon.  Before departing Fish Towers, I checked the forecast (dry) and the rainfall radar (not a shower within 100 miles of Sawston) and so was slightly surprised by the continuous and insistent rainfall that was my companion as I headed into Cambridge for a little last-minute Christmas shopping.  It would seem that the boffins at Qinetiq (or one of our other, somewhat euphemistically named, defence companies) have succeeded in developing stealth rain!  Yes, finally the dream of rain that is totally invisible to radar is a reality – though, the real breakthrough will be invisible fog (ideal for airports!).  No longer will the UK need recourse to fire- or cluster-bombing of civilian populations in order to undermine enemy morale.  No, in future the mere threat of being able to ruin fêtes and barbecues without warning should quickly bring Her Majesty’s foes to their knees and/or senses;  and how pleasing that we are finally able to use one of this country’s greatest strengths, and bring drizzle to bear in the field of conflict.

Still, bad weather is not without the odd delight.  Last week, while almost freezing rain was being hurled at me with stinging force by a fierce crosswind, I did have the pleasure of seeing a rainbow.  Not just seeing one, but for the first time ever I could actually see the end of the rainbow and where exactly it touched the ground: in a hedge less than 100 yards from me.  No sign of a diminutive Irish chappie with (or without) a pot of gold though.  Maybe all those TV offers to buy your gold through the post had proven too much of a temptation?  Or have the leprechauns all been recalled as part of the attempt to bail-out the flagging economy back home?


As a young lad, I seem to recall going to the Marlowe theatre in Canterbury to see a pantomime.  All I can remember, after all these years, is that a very angry Christmas pudding had a major (or at least memorable) role.  The theatre is named after local lad Christopher Marlowe and yesterday afternoon at Shakespeare’s Globe I finally saw some of his own work (I believe the panto was penned by another), “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus”.

As previously mentioned, I had invested in a seat and cushion – and a very sound investment they proved.  Whilst sitting down in comfort was good, even better was the protection provided by the thatched roof that we ‘nobs’ enjoyed during the reign (and I use that word deliberately) of old Queen Bess.  Just before the play began, the light rain we had been “enjoying” was replaced by thunder, lightning and really heavy rain – in some ways, rather appropriate for the subject matter (if slightly mis-timed) – but not much fun for the groundlings or those actors who had to emerge from the shelter of the stage canopy.  My day-job predicting the future once again proving its worth – it’s Wimbledon week and Glastonbury starts today, heavy rain was almost inevitable!  The sun did arrive by the interval – so I could enjoy my rather fine (if London-priced) tub of ice cream in its warming rays.

This post will now attempt to hang a sharp left, and try a little bit of theatrical review – though I suspect the late Sheridan Morley has little to fear.  Once upon a time, I used to see the RSC pretty regularly, but have fallen out of the habit of theatre-going in recent years and as a result was strangely over-excited as the curtain of rain came down over the stage (no fabric curtain for the Globe – too anachronistic).  I think the play provided everything one should expect from Elizabethan entertainment – and probably more. Bawdy comedy – and some of it seriously bawdy, with the expected knob and fart jokes joined by at least one clear allusion to what stand-ups call the C-bomb (but which James Naughtie calls the Culture Secretary), tragedy, music on period instruments, poetry, dance, a bit of rather out-dated astronomy (Marlowe was no Brian Cox) and even puppetry.

For someone who usually experiences drama via television, cinema or the book some elements of the live theatre seem quite weak – but others were a revelation.  The fight scenes and special effects cannot compete with modern filming and CGI – or even my imagination (which I should probably have been exercising).  On the screen you get used to seeing actors very close-up and with them talking quite quietly, which does make the theatre – especially in the rather loud weather of the first act – initially a rather different experience which takes a little while to adjust to.  The costume though was easily the equal of other media (and some of the changes seemed inhumanly fast – or at least one pair of unadvertised twins was involved) and the music not only extremely well suited to the mood and action but was only added where appropriate – most of the time the audience was trusted to find the correct emotional response unaided!  Some elements would never work on a screen, but were truly brilliant on stage – the dance and puppetry were very effective and Lucifer having the damned demonstrate the Seven Deadly Sins was incredible as was Hell itself at the end.

The acting seemed good to me – and you do get full 3D without wearing silly glasses as the action comes out into the audience (as did at least one thrown stick of celery and the odd grape!).  Paul Hilton as Faustus does make you believe in the man, despite his rather foolish and inconsistent actions.  Arthur Darvill (who always seemed so nice in the past) as Mephistopheles was really quite frightening when suddenly switching from Fautus’ servant/accomplice/confidant to his true nature as the demon with a soul to collect. Not only did these two get the main parts, but they were the only characters who get a chance to snack on stage – an important consideration for yours truly if he is ever to tread the boards.  The supporting cast were great and had to play several, widely varied parts each and I think part of the fun is trying to spot who they were last – I never did recognise Lucifer in his other roles (though I did see an awful lot of him in one of these).

The underlying story of Faustus does suffer the same defect as most tales involving a character with enormous occult powers – they don’t really do very much with them.  In Fautus case, he does little more than a few practical jokes and a bit of historical re-enactment.  If I were given all the power of Hell (not, I would suggest a very wise thing for anyone to give me) I’d like to think I’d get something done.  Then again, Marlowe did have to operate given the constraints on special effects in the late 1580s – so he has more excuse than more contemporary scribes who tend to allow a bunch of American teens to prevail over the massed forces of darkness.

To conclude, the whole thing was amazingly entertaining – though it’s hard to pin down exactly why.  I think there must just be something about the live theatre that means it is greater than the sum of its parts (a bit like live music) – that’s synergy, man.  Certainly, based on this experience, other trips to “proper” theatre could well be on the cards, and so could make their way into this blog if we aren’t all very careful…

Cake Walk

Safely ensconced at Glandwr Mill, it would seem that the title of this post does not create quite the dialectical opposition I had previously suggested.  My first two days in Cymru have each yielded both a fine walk and an excellent cake.  As a result, I can confirm that T H Roberts remains the cake connoisseur’s cafe of choice in this part of the world.

The rain, for which Wales is justly famed (and which my Sawston garden sorely needs), does serve at least two very useful purposes.  This morning’s downpours permitted a guilt-free lie-in and lazy morning (neither of which will be delivered by tomorrow’s sunny prognosis).   When the sun came out this afternoon (I’d always suspected something, you never hear mention of a girlfriend), we discovered it had also re-charged the local rivers so the Torrent Walk more than lived up to its billing – some seriously raging waters and evidence (for the more fanciful rambler) of a game of Pooh sticks played by local giants (I suppose there might be a more prosaic explanation for the tree trunks in the river – but I’m sticking with whimsy).

Tomorrow’s itinerary does not allow an excursion into Dolgellau, so any posts tomorrow night could see our hero going through the cake equivalent of cold turkey.  What this will mean for the quality (or even quantity) of any material produced is hard to judge…