Thursday, 27 May 2010

Anyone want a child's pushchair, needs painting?

Anyone who visits the internet knows that a large proportion of what you find there is garbage, and sometimes dangerous: get involved in it and you may be cheated, robbed, corrupted, or just waste a great deal of time. So it is pleasant to be able to note the existence of some enterprises made possible by the net which are in every way salutary and make all those who use them happy.

These are the sites for giving things away, things you no longer need but which you cannot be bothered to try to sell on eBay or take to a boot sale. The largest and most successful one originated in Tucson, Arizona (like many much less admirable ideas such as deep-fried peanut butter 'n jelly on rye): the Freecycle Network™ is now made up of 4,775 groups with 7 million members in over 85 countries. It is an entirely non-profit movement, run by volunteers, of people who want to give away and acquire things in their own towns. No money is involved.

It works like this: you email a description of something you want to get rid of, or that you want to acquire. If acceptable it will be published; you give only a nickname and your email address is not published but the group will forward replies saying "yes, please" or "OK, I've got one you can have" and you can make contact by phone or email, give your address, and arrange the collection (or, if you're polite, say "sorry, its already gone"). Should you suspect that they are coming to case the joint, you don't even need to let anyone into your house: you can simply tell them that you will leave it on your doorstep at a certain time.

My town has one of these groups with 5,291 members, and entries are currently being listed at the rate of around 250 a week.

The entries are moderated, of course. If you attempt to offer (or ask for) a Heckler and Koch MP5 in working order or a set of coloured photos of Ann Widdecombe in the nude (or clothed, for that matter), your entry will never appear. But offers of items that look as if no-one could possibly be bothered to drive over and pick them up will be happily published, for it is amazing what people might find useful: "two 6-foot planks with some nails and holes in them", or "bag of baby socks, clean, various colours" may well be taken up by someone who has a need for exactly those things.

There is an example here of the website of one typical local group in the UK

Over the last few months I have made a lot of use of a local group. I have replied to only one offer, and this was a mistake: it was a laser printer, and I found after a week or two that I didn't really want it, but no harm done: I put it back as an offer and someone was delighted with it. But I did offer the following:

A CRT colour monitor; 83 LPs; two hundred audiocassettes; a vintage wind-up portable gramophone with 38 78rpm records; a coal-effect gasfire; a scanner; a collection of software; a cast-iron firebasket; a videocassette recorder; 70 videocassettes; a box of electronic cables & connections; a 14" TV; a 22" TV and seven years back numbers of Private Eye.

For some of them I had half a dozen or more requests, and in nearly every case the items were taken up within a few hours, collected within a day or so and the takers expressed themselves very happy with what they got.

This has all been very rewarding but I still have a lot of things cluttering up the house which I don't need, such as two thousand books I shall never read again (or in some cases never have). But books look nice on the wall and I simply cannot give them away.

Monday, 24 May 2010


One of the nastiest columns in the increasingly rabid Sunday Times is written by one Rod Liddle and consists mainly of cheap sneers targeted at anything he dislikes. This week, however, he was replaced by A. A. Gill, another hack in the Jeremy Clarkson mould, whose piece has outdone Liddle in offensiveness.

In a feeble piece sniping at the Olympic mascots, which are named Wenlock and Mandeville, Gill writes: "...Stoke Mandeville, the hospital where drunk ex-motorcyclists go to get fitted with head wands and bibs".

Anyone who knows what is done at Stoke Mandeville will find this an utterly despicable jibe. Gill should be ashamed of writing it, and the Sunday Times of publishing it.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Well done, Craig lad!

It is difficult to see why the faithful are so unhappy about Dr Craig Venter's attempt to play at God by creating life. I mean, anyone who takes a good look at the range of life forms currently cluttering our planet—wombats, vultures, squids, Tories, tapeworms and all the rest of his unsavoury creations—must see that the first (and only, until now) holder of the top life-creator's appointment made a complete hash of the task; it is clear that it is time for someone else to be given a chance to have a go, and a top American geneticist with a neat and modest moustache/beard combo is just the sort of chap who is likely to come up with some much superior life forms, particularly with the financial support that he has secured from ExxonMobil; just think what God could have done if he'd had that kind of backing!

And, of course, he has made a much more sensible choice of raw material; God's attempt to create life "in his own image" was a no-no from the start, as he didn't actually have much of an image at the time. So it is not surprising that he finished up with the jumbled mess that we call Life on Earth. Dr Venter wisely chose to start with a common bacterium, synthesize its DNA, insert the strands into yeast and then into E Coli to make a synthetic genome, add a quotation from James Joyce and transfer the whole thing into an existing bacterium that causes mastitis in goats. It's obvious now, a child can see that this is the way to go, but conceiving it from scratch must have taken great imagination.

Anyway, bingo! We now have a synthetic life form with which we can do wondrous things, in all probability. And of course the boys at the J Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, will be taking precautions to make sure that their little fellows can't get out and cause a nasty outbreak of goat mastitis; still, even this would be less of a menace than the frog infestations, swarms of gnats, festering boils, locusts and all the other horrors which the original creator used to keep his creations properly grateful for his infinite mercy.

An early (unsuccessful) experiment at the J. Craig Venter Institute

Monday, 17 May 2010


This is how Horace Rumpole referred to his wife (she called him 'Rumpole'); John Mortimer took the title from H. Rider Haggard's She, serialized in The Graphic magazine from 1886 to 1887 and then published as a novel in various revisions up to 1896. With over 83 million copies sold in 44 different languages it is one of the best-selling books of all time.

[*By the way, why was Rider Haggard?]

I have a copy of the 1888 New Edition. I do not know how I came by it, but I must have been quite young because I remember being very impressed by some of Maurice Greiffen's 32 illustrations; Ayesha, as She was known to her friends, was a great unveiler and the pictures were mostly Victorian soft porn.

It was pretty good value for 3s 6p, with 277 closely printed pages, some featuring translations of the inscription on a fictional Sherd of Amenartas into Greek, both uncial and cursive, mediaeval black-letter Latin and black-letter English, as well as the thirty-two illustrations. It's a great story, and you can download the whole text from Project Gutenberg here, sadly without the illustrations but with the translations; some modern readers may want to skip these.

It has a tremendously plotty and complicated plot with some splendid passages: my favourite describes Ayesha's sad end. She was two thousand years old, you see, but having bathed in the flames of the Fountain of Life back then her appearance has never changed.

When a young Cambridge man, Leo Vincey, arrives with a friend in the African kingdom she has been ruling, Ayesha believes him , probably mistakenly, to be the reincarnation of her prehistoric lover Kallikrates (I said it was complicated) and urges him to to bathe himself in the flames so that he can join her in eternal bliss. Understandably nervous, he is persuaded to do so only when she demonstrates that it is really fun and quite harmless by bathing again herself. This turns out to be a very bad idea, for a second flamebath reverses the effect of the first so that, like Dorian Gray, the years catch up with her.

After much unveiling, "...she stood before us as Eve might have stood before Adam, clad in nothing but her abundant locks...". The flames envelope her, discreetly arranged, and then—ah, then (I abbreviate):
"The smile vanished, and in its place there came a hard dry look.....she stepped forward to Leo's side and stretched out her hand to lay it on his shoulder... Where was its wonderful roundness and beauty? It was getting thin and angular. And her face—by Heaven!—her face was growing old before my eyes! ...She put her hand to her hair and oh, horror of horrors! it all fell to the floor".
And so it went on.... "skin turned dirty brown and yellow", "... no larger than a big monkey...", "shapeless face with the stamp of unutterable age..." The fearful spectacle is described with a wealth of detail: no wonder the whole party swooned (the Victorians were great swooners) as the poor old thing died. Their servant Job also dies, of a fit brought on by terror, but the other two shake his cold, dead hands and then, understandably a bit fed up, strike out for the Zambesi and home, which they reach eighteen months later after incredible privations and suffering.

No wonder She hasn't been out of print since it was first published. The novel—or something like it—has been filmed at least nine times; the first version was in 1899. In 1965 Hammer Horror had Ursula Andress in the role.

[* Because he couldn't Marie Corelli, of course.]

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Letters from Stu Pidd-Guise

Towards the end of last year there was a letter published in Private Eye with the writer's name adding a final note. This has evoked a flood of letters of the same kind; they now appear in every issue in a section entitled Pseudo Names. Here is a selection:

We feel there should be a Pseudo Names song—perhaps to the tune of one of those 1960s novelty numbers.

Please do not stop the silly names correspondence. Man, it rocks!

Would you consider reviving the full column in time for Easter?

Only one Pseudo Name in the current Eye; the end of this juvenile rubbish is in sight—heaven be praised!

Please don't leave the Pseudo Names feature without a home this Christmas.

Will there be a special Christmas edition of Pseudo Names? We certainly hope so.

Pseudo Names will not be over until the fat lady has sung the last carol.

I was delighted to see Pseudo Names published in your Christmas edition. For me it was the icing on the tree.

Pseudo Names, along with Malapropisms and Spoonerisms, should be consigned to the garbage can of history.

We were wondering if earlier correspondents could ever have imagined that their letters would result in such a long-running and popular feature.

Being German, your English humour I find hard to understand. I hope that there are no hidden meanings that would trigger litigation.

Here in Ulm, I am one of the few people to understand your English way of thinking.

Though I love it to bits and look forward to its appearance, I'm not at all sure what the highly cultured Chinese would make of your Pseudo Names section.

Do you think it is due to state censorship that we haven't received Private Eye for two months here in Beijing?

We heartily approve of Pseudo Names going international.

It has been a very cold winter here. I should have stayed at home.

Of course, it is universally recognised that German Pseudo Names are the best.

Re the claim that German Pseudo Names are the best, is it not just typical of the Boche to claim superiority?

We do hope that you will not allow correspondents using false names to slip in subliminal political messages, thus undermining your tradition of political independence.

Some say that we need a leader who combines the best qualities of Gordon Brown and Margaret Thatcher.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Insomnia and the OAB syndrome

I sleep very well, on the whole. When anxious, or dreading the next day, I can usually do as Winston Churchill recommended: "Turn out the light, say 'bugger everyone,' and go to sleep". But sometimes I suffer from Overactive Brain Syndrome, which happens when I cannot keep pleasant thoughts from going round and round in my mind.

In the days when I used to Do It Myself, I would start happily planning something I was making and thrash about sleepless for ages: "I know! I could make a frame of four by two, cover it with chipboard, and..."

Another time, looking forward to going to dinner with some agreeable people, I might think: "I wonder if Ginette is going to give us one of her sensational ragouts de gibier", but in a case like this I would soon drift off in gluttonous anticipation.

Nowadays I sometimes draft posts for OMF in my head when I wake during the night. If I think it is going to be a good one I get deeply absorbed and spend what seems to be hours drafting and re-drafting it. I am never wide awake or energetic enough to write it down, so as with dreams much of it is gone in the morning and the sleepless hours were mostly wasted.

On the other hand, if after a bit I realise that the post is not going to be at all interesting to anyone, sheer boredom will soon send me back to sleep. This happened last night when I was drafting this post. I did remember much of it, so I am publishing it; sadly, it might have contained some good bits that I have forgotten.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Unprecedented for decades, mould-breaking...

...and into uncharted waters, I shouldn't wonder. Anyway, it might be worth watching tomorrow. Usually we get bored with election night after a few results are in, but for this one we have bought a new TV for the bedroom and intend to take a bottle of some modest claret to bed with us and and make a night of it.

We have a very good friend from New Zealand staying with us at present and we (well, I) thought of asking her to join us, but to be honest I don't think I could cope with a threesome nowadays. Ah, if only I were sixty-five again!


Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Stupid List

Here is an update to two earlier posts: Sugar Pills and Magic Water on the NHS, in which I described the Early Day Motion proposed by the MP for Bosworth, David Tredinnick, and Jackson's crazy ideas, which questions whether a distinguished actor is in full possession of her senses.

Seventy-three MPs originally signed the EDM. Five of these realised that in doing so they were supporting the daft notions of a crackpot and have withdrawn; many others will not be in the new Parliament.

But this still leaves many idiots who admire Samuel Hahnemann's 200-year-old homeopathic cult and are demanding that the NHS should spend money on such quackery. You can look up the names here.

Everyone can decide whether they really want to be represented in Parliament by an MP who is convinced that if a 'medicine' consisting only of water and no active ingredient is 'succussed' (struck a sharp blow) it will 'remember' what it formerly contained and have a beneficial effect on you when you drink it. If any of those listed are standing in your constituency you might write to them to express your contempt for their superstition and at the same time make sure that all your friends and family know just what they will be getting if they elect someone so simple-minded.