Thursday, 26 April 2012


This blog is suspended due to lack of traffic and google/blogger making difficulties. F.

Friday, 20 April 2012

The Noumenal

I want to show you something. You open the door into a large room and see everything inside is covered by a large dust sheet. There is nothing to tell you what lies beneath the sheet, your only clues are the undulations and peaks of the fabric. The lie of the land. Now suppose you are a fly. You take wing across the room and alight wherever you may but still you cannot detect what is below the fabric. You can walk on it but you cannot lift it, nor can you see or drill through it. You sniff, taste, listen, touch and look but what the veil conceals is remote. Being a fly you don't find this strange. Understood as a metaphor the scenario portrays the separation between total reality and the world known to our five senses.

Helen Keller was famously both blind and deaf and with only three senses you have to wonder what her locked in world was like. Not like ours, yet in a similar fashion our five senses would give us no knowledge of an unsensed larger reality. On TV I saw a shark that was sensitive to the muscle electricity of its prey, if that were us we would be able to find each other in the dark and round the corner too. Alas we're as blind to electric fields as we are to magnetism so there are six and seven sort of senses we don't have. On the other hand we do know of them. As evolved organisms biologists tell us we need only be aware of enough of around us to accomplish "the three Fs", to feed, flee and reproduce. We also have a sense of time and space though we have no sense organs for these, they appear to be built into our brains. 

So a three sense reality, a five sense reality and more, but what the total reality might be we don't know. Science takes us into the unknown but it can't lead us to experiences beyond our senses can it? Well who knows because with physicists trying to unite the cosmologically large with the sub atomic small they have devised a 12  or 13 dimensional reality. Historically where science leads technology follows so through our five given senses we might one day be admitted to a larger reality by means of a gadget.

Like Helen Keller who gained a sense through a vibrating balloon touched to her lips and so learned to hear, speak and communicate, and become a professor. I want a gadget like that because I want to break through the veil of unknowing and see the furniture beneath. If there is any, assuming our brains are up to it, which they may not be.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Against All Odds

There's a comic play by NF Simpson called 'One Way Pendulum'. A defendant stands in the dock with his alibi shredded, the judge has just asked what the chances are of him coming out of a Sainsbury's at ten twenty two in the morning on a bright sunny Tuesday just as a number 27 mounts the pavement? Extreme in the least and so an obvious lie. Guilty! For a moment I had to think. Got it, every event is a unique event. What are the odds of finding a randomised pack of cards in any one particular order? 52 X 51 X 50 X 49….. or ten with sixty eight noughts, more than the number of atoms in the galaxy. Yet more likely to happen than what you are doing at this moment.

Need a rest? Who was it said, 'You are an Englishman and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life'? My headmaster, but he was quoting Sir Cecil Rhodes. Odds on you're English too. We may laugh but Rhodes had a point, life is a lottery and we could have been dealt a poor hand indeed but for the accident of birth. For a start we did better than the founder of Rhodesia and de Beers did, by popping up in late 20th century Britain and not the 19th where he hung out.

Nor do we have to hide our sexuality as he had to or suffer from consumption and die before fifty. Hooray! On the other hand we aren't one of the richest men the world has ever seen. Boo! Anyway, when my headmaster quoted Rhodes like any patriotic prig I believed him, after all wasn't half the map red, hadn't we won the world war again, didn't our planes crowd the skies and the Royal Navy plough the oceans? And we had the atom bomb too. I thought it a miracle and though I suspected something wasn't quite right I couldn't put my finger on it. Until things began to pile up, too late I learned the Americans had all the money, the French had the painters, the Germans the composers and the Russians could dance the arse off anybody. I felt cheated. We weren't top dog after all. I was born a hundred years too late. 

Back to the man in court and the unlikeliness of our being in any one place at any one time. Like being born. I wasn't born during the Black Death or the stone age or a primitive tribe stuck up the Amazon, and nor were you. Homo Sapiens emerged some 250,000 years ago and since then hundreds if not thousands of millions of us have lived horrible lives and met horrible deaths, the whole Hobbesian nightmare - nasty, brutish and short. And on top of the happy accident of the when and the where of my birth I had the luck of a safe home, sufficient food and loving parents, and the fairy on top of the icing was I ticked all the boxes, healthy, handsome, bright and white too. Infinite good fortune and not of my making.

Phew! Through by the skin of my teeth. What are the chances?  Life was mine to throw away. 'And when you go up to Heaven,' the headmaster concluded, 'you will find St Peter himself behind the stumps'. Well naturally.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Time On The Cross

Easter, the spring celebration of birth and regeneration with hot cross buns, chocolate eggs, funny bunnies and a long weekend too. Whoopee! 'What you doing for Easter Jesus? Oh just hanging about.' The christians stuck it on the Romans but they got their retaliation in first. 'Put your feet together mate, I've only got one nail left.' And he obliged, gentle Jesus meek and mild, except when kicking the money changers out of the temple and running pigs off a cliff.

Spring, the death of winter and resurrection. Here's how to calculate when the festival occurs, it's the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Simples! 'Spring is sprung, The grass is ris, I wonder where the birdies is, Some say the bird is on the wing, But that's absurd, Surely the wing is on the bird?'

Absurd. Easter like xmas, when people go to cold stone buildings and do a lot of mumbling. (Thank you Eddie Izzard.) Me I can't bear to see that bleeding man on a cross, I never could, it frightened me as a boy, but then I was brought up in a time when death, blood and suffering wasn't the norm. He died for our sins even though we weren't born and yet to commit any, not that there's anything quite so simple minded as sin. No, he died because the established religious zealots wanted him out of the way. He was treading on their turf. Nail him up.

Mr Steiner came to a New York advertising agency and asked them for an original poster to promote the sale of the nails he manufactured. The creative department got to work and produced something to their liking. When Mr Steiner saw it he held his head and tore his hair. It showed Jesus on the cross and one Roman soldier saying to another, 'For a good job well done use Steiner's nails!'  No, no, no it wouldn't do, he would lose all his goyim customers! They had to try again. A week later Mr Steiner was called back to see the new poster. He fainted. It showed an empty cross in the foreground and two Roman soldiers pursuing a half naked man across the distant hills. One soldier was shouting to the other, 'This wouldn't have happened if we used Steiner's nails!'

Friday, 30 March 2012

Sky Rats

I am sick and tired of telling tourists in Trafalgar Square not to feed the pigeons. Ken has banned the practice. Do they listen? They do not. Get a new guide book. Or go to the north side and swap your sandwiches for excrement up there. The Heritage Wardens do nothing and the man with the harris hawk has given up and gone home. It seems even the vigilantes are defeated. I refer to the east european gent seen stuffing the blighters into a sack to flog to expensive restaurants. Where is he is now? Have the well to do given up on pigeon breasts?

The other day I was looking at the camp kid on his rocker atop the fourth plinth where Tom Paine should be when I heard a woman shout. 'Oh that pigeon! Have you got a tissue?'  'Too late luv, it's miles away by now.' Serve her right, she shouldn't have been feeding them. There's a bijou lock up built into the south east corner of the square, offenders should be stood in there for the night, pour encourager les autres. They're a sorry bunch hobbling around on their knackered pins. Damn nuisances. But back to the pigeons.

It's been a while since I last shared an Underground train with a pigeon but I had that privilege the other day, one hopped on at South Ken and off again at Sloane Square, it pecked around and waited for its destination to arrive. I don't know who was the more anxious, me or the bird. Whether it was making a single or return journey I couldn't say but I doubt it had a ticket. For all I knew it was working every platform on the line. When I surfaced there was a crowd of them in the square opposite Peter Jones, perhaps he was going to join them.

One Sunday the pigeons of Trafalgar Square were invited over for lunch by the pigeons of St Paul's. Come the day they duly arrived and everyone enjoyed a good meal. In return the Trafalgar Square gang invited the St Paul's posse over to their patch and they were pleased to accept. The next Sunday was a fine day, one o'clock came and went, two o'clock, three... It was getting on for four by the time the St Paul's posse arrived. 'Where the hell have you been?' their hosts demanded to know. 'Oh, it was such a lovely day we decided to walk.'

Should have got the District Line.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Toilet Humour

I used to work with a loud mouthed journalist who loved to employ Kelvin Mackenzie's loutish put down against any criticism of the Sun, 'You read it though doncha!' Kelvin's usual evasion and bluster. One brave day I spoke up, 'That's right I do, if it's in front of me, and I read toilet walls as well.' It did the trick. It's true, I mean you have to do something while you're standing there. The other day I stood before black crayoned Nietzche disapproving of a god that needs to be worshipped. So last century. Elsewhere, 'To be is to do - Sartre. To do is to be - Camus. Do-be-do-be-do - Sinatra'. Old hat but funnier.

How does the soprano sing? 'I dreamed I dwelled in marble stalls with many writings on the walls…' Something like that. 'The future of Britain is in your hands - While you're reading this you're pissing on your boots - Be alert, Britain needs more lerts - Always stick up for your dad because he stuck up for you - I like grils…' etc. etc. Old familiars all of them and once in a while a resurrected classic.

Like 'Here I sit broken hearted, paid a penny only farted.' Well that's dated isn't it? From a time when it did cost a penny and an old penny at that, when the coin had value and spending one was an expense. It's 30p at Victoria and a bleak experience it is too. In Harrods the bathroom costs a round pound. (My dog needs to use the bathroom! You hear that in New York.) Inside al Fayed's super-bog you get a tall man in a funny hat and not a peep on the walls. Daylight robbery. Get back to Egypt. I'm told ladies' loos don't host this kind of entertainment. Can it be true? Is that why stand up comedians are mostly men?

Years back there was a publication called The Golden Convolvulus which maintained the only place people could express their sexuality was on toilet walls. This was before Lady Chatterley, homosexual and divorce reform, abortion and the Pill. Since the 60's the fear of sex and its consequences has largely disappeared and as a result the confused and the lonely have largely fallen silent. Which all round is a good thing. Nevertheless there are still gay call numbers and wham-bam assignations. Piss poor I say. Why go cottaging when there are so many other places to meet?

I used to frequent 'Norman's - the grumpiest landlord in Soho' and The French House in Dean Street, still do the latter, the haunt of artists and writers I've seen some good stuff there. Here's something intriguing and truly memorable: 'My name is Armitage Shanks and I am not impressed'. A world opens up. But this from Alan Bennett beats them all: 'When the English have to resort to the toilet for their humour the writing's on the wall'.

Friday, 16 March 2012

St Patrick's Day

Tomorrow is St Patrick's Day and another opportunity for Brits to celebrate as only they can, by getting get pissed. Sunday being Mother's Day I worry she'll be left safe and sober. But Saturday first, with slopped glasses, silly hats and some good crack if I've heard it right, perhaps later if they're up to it. Nor will the festivities will be exclusive to O'Neill's or the other plastic paddy pubs, any place will do, and the young drinkers won't be on original drinks either, believed to be Magners, The Murphy's and legendary Guinness - the first nitro-keg beer - each one the invention of a marketing department and no more Irish than my granny. If you can fake authenticity you've got it made. The money rolls in.
But enough of my jeremiads, they are but by way of introduction. Here's a tale from O'Sullivan's Bar in Greenwich.

'Paddy is a gentleman!'
But he likes to drink the stuff
And when he's down upon the ground
He's still not had enough.

'Paddy is a gentleman!'
The kindest man you'll meet
So take him warmly by the hand
And help him to his feet.

'Paddy is a gentleman!'
He weaves a drunken dance
And we might be in his shoes
Not by choice but chance.

'Paddy is a gentleman!'
He'll call to you all day
And then he'll heap abuse on you
And you will walk away.

(copyright reserved)


Friday, 9 March 2012

The Germans

Me, I like a German. Which one you say? Well Max down the pub for a start. He lives over there in the week and over here at the weekend. Circumspect and self contained he is the personification of the stiff German. I have a go but I can't make him laugh. He makes me laugh. I split my sides. 'What are you doing today Max?' 'I'm going to have my hairs cut.'

I often run into our German cousins in holiday hotels. Happy to be in a sunny clime I walk full height and look straight ahead. I am blond and have blue eyes. 'Guten Tag!' I hear. It happens all the time. 'Guten Tag,' I breeze. 'Die Sonne scheint!'  'It does indeed.'  'Ach, I thought you were German.'  'Afraid not, just a smattering.'  'Was?' While I'm hereabouts let me settle the matter of the sun loungers... the Germans are up and on them before breakfast, meanwhile the Brits are in bed nursing their hangovers.

One winter I did a silly thing, I went to Tunisia. The hotel bar was dry so I had to search out a drink. Late back I saw the Germans drinking beer. Again the barman shook his head. 'Aber sie trinken Lowenbrau!' I protested auf Deutsch. 'Ah, Deutscher. Kein Problem!' The Afrika Korps was not refused a drink. Nor was I. I joined up. Nor were our cousins inconvenienced in Morocco, whereas I had to struggle to catch the waiter's eye the Germans simply shot their arm in the air and bellowed, 'Bier!' That's the way to do it but it's not my style, not all at once.

Germans speak good English but they can be hard work. Drink in hand it's what lies beneath the talk that counts, the search for fellow feeling and ready understanding, shown by expression, tone of voice, banter, nuance and word play etc. Alas the Germans seem to be deaf to what's going on, literal minded everything in conversation turns to substance and argument. The deafness has to be cultural because it's not a problem with other nationalities. Except the Americans who are more foreign than any continental, and who I'm convinced are Germans speaking English. Don't make jokes with either unless you stand up and announce your intention first.

And so we return to the knotty problem of German humour. The truth is they do have some, they slap their thighs and roar with laughter, especially if someone falls over. Schadenfreude - they even have a word for it. I asked an assimilated colleague about the apparent lack, he said his countrymen had many faults but a sense of humour wasn't one of them. Indeed. A German joke is no laughing matter.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The Charging Herd

When I'm not in The Widows Arms with The Blackheath Stick Men I can be found out with my sandwich board railing against the destruction wrought by the infernal combustion engine. Exactly what triggered my antipathy towards the motor car I don't know but I've always disliked the contraption. Maybe it was when I was a kid and we were forced off the side streets where we roller skated and raced our box-carts. For certain by the time I gave up walking country lanes. 'Look out, car coming!' Back when you could still hear the blighters.

On our estate owning a car automatically disqualified your council tenancy but as incomes rose small cars appeared, Anglias and Prefects, Imps and Heralds, and the magic Mini, which you had to love for blowing raspberries up and down The Kings Road. The thrill of the empty road called and car ownership grew and grew and GREW. You had to have a car or you were an arse and an unperson, the bigger the better and ever more ostentatious. And so the roads filled and filled until the cry went up, 'I'm stuck in the traffic!' No, you are the traffic.

In the Middle Ages they built cathedrals, the people loved them and everybody wanted access to one. It was a mass delusion and it impoverished the populace. Motor cars are the same. The model T made some sense in the US where farm distances were vast and a horse took all day, less so when cars became racing machines and the playthings of the rich. But what the rich have today the poor will want tomorrow and the manufacturers were pleased to provide. And so the peopled pavements disappeared, the streets where you were known and looked out for, where neighbours talked over the garden gate and children safely played. Before people got into their armour and slogged it out. Friendly not anomie.

The freedom machine ha ha, which chains us to murderous sheikhs and religious thugs, that homogenises and hollows out the high street, sends sprawl across the countryside and empties our pockets, that infuriates, alienates, poisons and kills. Too many, too fast, not to scale. No, bring back the packed omnibus with its community singing, the time when laughing shoppers conga'ed down the high street, and the citizenry queued cheerfully in the rain for buses that never came. The motor car! I don't want one. I have set my face. Anyway, I never had the money.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Gone To The Dogs

I was in the pub the other night watching a dog licking its arse like fury when its owner lifted it from the floor and holding it to her face gave it a big kissy-wissy-wiss. The dog, dutifully playing it's part as man's best friend, kissed her back, lapping its long pink tongue around her mouth and chops. 'Good boy!' she crowed, shaking him. 'He loves his mummy doesn't he?' Indeed he did, then wanting stimulation elsewhere she plonked the animal down again, whereupon it resumed teasing worms from the orifice that tormented it.

Not that I hadn't seen similar before but beered up I had to protest. 'One moment your dog is licking its arse and the next you're kissing it!' The gin and tonic shrugged, 'So what?' I went to add, 'Why don't you kiss its arse as well, and mine too while you're about it?' but decided otherwise. Drop it. End of subject. Serve the silly cow right if she gets canine toxocara and goes blind. So another one of life's mysteries, as if there aren't enough to be held at bay in the pub.

We love our doggies. The relationship is said to go back thousands of years when Canis lupus came to put its trust in man and so guaranteed its survival. Pack animals we both chased the same game, their senses were keener and their legs faster but we were smarter and our spears more effective. They hung around for kill and in doing so gave us warning of approach by night and day. It was only a matter of time before one got on top of the other. Now they get their kill from a can.

If you keep a dog you will have a protector, they bark and they bite burglars too. A cat doesn't give a damn, cats have servants, dogs have masters. Dogs are curious about people in a way cats aren't because they need to know where they fit in. I've noticed when a dog joins a group of people, and you refuse to take notice of it, after everyone has stopped making a fuss of it the odds are the animal will come to you. Only then do you pat it and let it settle beside you. Indifferent to its well-being you must be pack leader. Or it's your magnetic personality.

I have a vivid memory from childhood of two dogs stuck together. Big boys threw buckets of water and hit them with sticks but there was no separating them. I was concerned and frightened. My father saw the bullies off and put my mind at ease. He said, if I remember correctly, 'The one in front has gone blind and his friend is pushing him to the hospital.'

Friday, 17 February 2012

Art With A Capital A

I wonder if you saw Wednesday's headline: "Modern Art Is Rubbish In Barbican's New Show"? A Chinese conceptual artist has shipped over two container loads of his mother's rubbish to put on display. Apparently "it helps us to understand the reality of Chinese history and culture in the 20th century". Fuck off. With a bit of luck a cleaner will shovel it down the chute.

Do you remember the news story about the sculpture left outside a prominent New York gallery? Constructed from rusty cars a passing garbage truck took it away. The happy event came to mind when travellers stole a monumental Henry Moore bronze and sold it for scrap. At least they knew there was value in it. I've seen a lot of Moore's work and I'm confident it won’t be missed. Similarly the Barbara Hepworth that was recently liberated from Dulwich Park. A masterly improvement. One by one they are disappearing.

Like Charles Saatchi's £13,000 head sculpted from frozen blood, builders unplugged the freezer and the work drained away. Next thing porters at Sothebys tore the wrapping off a chair by Christo - he who drapes whole canyons - not knowing the wrapping was the point of the thing. And to trump it all a fire at a London Art warehouse destroyed Tracey Emin’s ‘Tent’, her beach hut and the Chapman brothers 'Hell', along with a ton of similar stuff. They won’t be missed, except by those who bought them, who couldn't bear to live with them and hid them away. Never mind, their pet Artists can easily knock up some more, in fact the Chapmans have already done so, their masterpiece has been resurrected as 'Fucking Hell'.

I subscribe to the view that there's no such thing as Art, there are only well made objects which anyone may enjoy, or not, as they will. A 'Work of Art' didn't exist until the late 18th century, and their delicate appreciation - aesthetics - was invented some fifty years later, thus we are plagued with 'arbiters of taste' and their impenetrable prose. Nonsense, Art is a conspicuous attempt by the elite to elevate themselves above the rest of us. Not that I'm the first to say this, or to contend you won’t find art where you expect to find it, and it won't have Art written on it either. Give me something that entertains or informs the eye, a book illustration or a well taken photograph, a knock out film, more so if it's something the rich can't hang on their walls, or lock away in a bunker.

But I'm a fair man, elsewhere in the newspaper Charles Saatchi proposes swapping some of the nation's Turners for works we don't have. They want our great artists and we want theirs. I love Turner but that is a good idea. Just don't let Mr Moneybags do the choosing.

Friday, 10 February 2012


There are billions of galaxies out there and each one contains billions of stars. You can't take it in even with Brian Cox smiling at you. OK so we've heard it before but now we're told each star has a planetary system like our own - exoplanets - billions of Earths in the so called Goldilocks zone, not too hot, not too cold. Am I surprised? No, I was brought up on science fiction and I've never thought otherwise.

I knew one day we would go to those faraway worlds and find beings living there, aliens with a technology more developed than our own, flying spaceships that far outstripped our poor puny craft. One day. Which rather left me with a problem, because if they were that much more advanced why hadn't they made the reverse trip and come to find us? After all they'd had millions of years to do so. I was baffled. Where are they? No aliens, not one, not anywhere. This is known as Fermi's Problem.

Well Fermi can take a rest because I've solved it for him and here's how. If you lived in a big house and you wanted to hide a large diamond where would you put it? You would hang it in the crystal chandelier, there among a hundred sparkling others no-one would see it nor a searcher think to look. And by the same logic intelligent aliens would hide themselves the same, they wouldn't slink about like ET or hole up in a drain waving their six arms. No, they would shape shift to look like you and me. And that's what they've done. They are here and out of their ships. They walk among us.

I'm serious. I've got proof. But it's hard to copy something as subtle as homo sapiens no matter how clever you are and thus they give themselves away. If your senses are as finely tuned as mine you can spot them, and you almost certainly have, it's just that you've yet to make the connection. I believe it was Socrates who said inside every person there is a human being trying to get out. And so it is with those that walk among us, similar, except inside them there isn't a human being trying to get out but a monster barely restrained.

Somehow I've always known this. The alien officer class are the sociopaths you rub up against in the office, and the crew are the uber-scum you come across on public transport and in the high street. There's something missing. They don't know how to behave. Like the howling Afghan who sells the Big Issue at my railway station! The idiot lunatic who tries to slap me on the back every time I pass him. It's hopeless. I have to dance round him. I've tried everything. Back to your ship bastard! By christ he's going to get it. My mind's made up, it's no good sitting here whingeing. I've had enough. Where are my boots? Soon as I'm dressed I'm going down there and give the c*nt a f*cking good kicking!

Friday, 3 February 2012


The other night we stood outside the pub watching a spider weave its web. The weather's been mild. Round and round it went in a geometrical way. It's not been taught to do that, I say, it's natural. Knowing heads nod. Instinctive, I add before raising the stakes, it's all encoded in their DNA. Mutters of dissent. Well where else can it come from? Answer came there none.

It's a miracle, but so is much of nature, especially at base level. If you want big numbers forget astronomy and take a look at cellular life. Eight million cells die and are replaced in your body every second. Dig into any one of these billions and you'll find a strand of your DNA, it's a small part but were you to stretch it out it would be two metres long. Put the lot together and you'd be in the outer planets. Amused to be 98% chimp? Well you're 30% lettuce too. And more spider. Awesome. You can't believe it but you have to. 

A friend of mine was recently shown a cape in the V&A woven from the silk of the golden orb spider. There was a picture in the papers. He was allowed to feel it too. Luxurious didn't do it justice. The output of a million spiders it weighs one and a half kilos. Imagine spider silk knickers. One day. Arachnids can produce nine different kinds of silks, weight for weight each stronger than steel. The boffins are trying to synthesise the stuff in order to build super light bridges and wide bodied aircraft.

I've read the big spiders you meet at home are at the top of a food chain that has human skin at the bottom. So the next time one of the eight legged blighters makes you jump and you're set to squash it stop, remember you may not only be killing your reincarnated granny but a piece of yourself. Yes you've been recycled. Already. Be merciful, trap granny in a glass and toss her out the window.

Friday, 27 January 2012

The Fall of the Roman Empire

I've been dipping into Gibbon's Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire and a jolly good read it is, but it's too long and detailed for me. He gives good account of why Rome fell but he leaves uninvestigated other possible causes. We did them at school, the ones I remember. For instance the role played by lead. Plumbum they called it, and so Pb and the plumb line, a length of string with lead at the end to stop it wriggling about.

The Romans made water pipes by flattening a length of lead, rolling it into a tube and closing the joint with.. molten lead. Lead is poisonous and is considered a health risk. Not by the Romans, they even added it to their wine to make it more red. The ruling elite were big wine drinkers, they drank so much they went daft which led to the collapse of The Roman Empire. That’s one theory.

They had a mania for building aqueducts across hundreds of miles of countryside to bring water to towns and cities all over the Empire. It filled their baths, fountains and wash tubs for everyone to use. I was told the Romans built all these aqueducts because they didn’t know water flowed uphill if the supply head was high enough. They teach a load of rubbish at school. Anyway the constructions were so vast in size and number it exhausted their reserves of manpower, money and material. And that is why The Roman Empire collapsed. That's another theory. 

But plumbing isn’t just about delivering water it’s about removing it too. The Romans built sewers under their cities. In Rome the main sewer was called the Cloaca Maxima which had its own goddess, Cloacina she was called, Our Lady of the Sewers. It emptied into the Tiber carrying with it the remains of yesterday's fine dining, dead dogs and human beings. Close by the Tiber runs into a tideless sea. In time the stench and disease so overwhelmed the inhabitants it led to the collapse of The Roman Empire. Another theory.

The Romans made their drains from short two piece clay sections that tapered along their length. These are the tiles you see on roofs all over the Mediterranean. In later centuries freak storms became so frequent the roofs blew away whereupon the plebs dug up the drains to put tiles over their heads. Again the plague overwhelmed everyone and that's what led to the collapse of The Roman Empire. Another theory left unconsidered.

Gibbon's history runs from LXXXXVIII AD to MDLXXXX AD. By my calculation the Romans were around for MDCCCLXXXVII years, which is a long time. By then the numbers got so out of hand they simply threw the towel in. That's my theory.
'Slave, wash that!'
'Sorry sir, they've pinched all the lead.'

Friday, 20 January 2012


Is our everyday conscious life so satisfying it needs no holiday, our self awareness want no escape? Be realistic. Whether you’re blue, pissed off or your heart has been broken a drink helps. This is the remedy known as self medication. What you're supposed to do is Pull yourself together, Get a grip, Weather it. Or see a doctor and get some pills, one drug being better than another.

Perhaps you're in a unhappy marriage and you don't know it, another long evening with your partner and the clock slow to go round. Niggle niggle, you can't settle. It's the condition of man you tell yourself, existential angst, unaware you are over analysing. Drink darling? No thank you. I’ll have one on my own then. If you must. Where's my coat?

Or you live by yourself and drink takes the edge off your loneliness. Why who knows, tomorrow you may find that all consuming hobby, make a new friend or meet the love of your life. But not tonight. Worse you are old and exhausted, time is the enemy and you are filling the days before you die. You are not unknown at the bottle bank.

It's said those who see the furthest drink the most - list the writers - but don't flip the logic, it doesn't work, as lesser talents have learned to their cost.  Moderation in all things is what the philosopher advises. Too much drink can damage your health, that amount being more than your doctor drinks. My own habit is described as moderately excessive. I love it, do those words belong in the same sentence?

If there was no down side to good cheer I'll wager the New Puritans would still try to deny us, believing as they do that the pleasures of the flesh are a block on the path to spiritual perfection. Life is not to be lived without suffering is their credo for we shall drink nectar in the next. Lovely, will we get a smoke too?

I used to joke I drank because it made other people more interesting, now I've learned pub people really are more interesting. See above. Like the regular who was finishing up last night when I entered, he's downed three and he's going home to a nightcap, two cans of John Smiths and a rum and pep. He's cheerful, he's a hero and he's coming up to eighty. You'll kill yourself you will, I say. Yes, that can happen, he replies, one doesn't want to die young.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Dancing Days

When I'm not out in my sandwich board railing against the urban destruction wrought by the infernal combustion engine I can be found in The Widows Arms with The Blackheath Stick Men. It makes a change, I can work off my anger and get some exercise while I'm about it. Now you may think Morris Dancers are a bunch of self abusers and want their bells tuned but you're wrong, where else can a man dance with a man and a handkerchief and not be laughed at? Yeah, I know, Greece, but I don't want to go there. They dress funny.

The Blackheathens are the bad boys of stick dancing, we dance hard, we drink hard and we molest virgins. Sometimes we have to go far afield. We black up too, like the Moors, except for Delroy who's excused. We give no quarter, no man is safe, neither his knuckles nor his beer, and no side will meet us in fair contest. OK so we're a little bit belligerent and a lot of bit inebriated, but to be old is to live in pain and we tire earlier than we used to. And when our knees are knackered and the dancing's done we're glad to up sticks and hobble to the bus stop. Except Delroy who's blind and has to be carried.

There's a man that's keen to join us, he's sixty five and fit and feisty, but though we're in need of young blood we won't have him. He's jewish you see. I suspect he suspects we're anti-semitic and I suppose we are a little. But it isn't that, not really, the fact is we're tied by lore and ancient custom. We haven't the heart to tell him, you have to be a complete prick to be a Morris dancer.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Pass The Curry Sauce.

Jim al-Khalili has vowed to sit down and eat his shorts if neutrinos are shown to travel faster than light, and I'll gladly join him if the Big Bang origin of the universe is ever substantiated. I don't like it. It makes me uncomfortable. Listen to it: once upon a time there was nothing and then there was a bloody big bang! It's the creation myth in long trousers. It's obvious, it's infantile, and it was proposed by a priest. So what’s my theory? I haven’t got one. I can't lay an egg but I know a stinker when I smell one.

When astronomers look up they see the galaxies flying away from each other, likened to patches on the surface of an ever expanding balloon. Using their heads they run things backwards and arrive at a dot some 14 billion years ago. No-one has the foggiest idea where the dot came from or why it should go bang, nor what happened at the bang point. Now wise heads are saying the universe has to collapse back on itself. The Big Suck. A suck and a bang, over and over, like breathing in and breathing out, among other things.

The observable universe makes up no more than 4% of the mass that's believed to be out there, the rest is dark matter and dark energy. The word 'dark' is used in preference to 'invisible' or 'imaginary' which rather gives the game away. The truth is the missing 96% is a mathematical fix to balance the cosmological equations. One day it's hoped to find out what the two represent. Good luck, meanwhile there's too much conjecture and too little evidence. The Big Bang is baloney. I am not a big banger.