Sunday, 1 December 2019

The merging of shopping festivals

My yearly festive twaddle rant.

In this fracturing world where nearly everyone must surely be aware that things are not heading in a good direction - especially environmentally - one might think that the amount of consumerism could be on the wain . . . manufacturers taking a bit of responsibility, or more likely, jumping on the 'ecologic' band-wagon/bus/trolly, bike, whatever. But, no. Certainly no evidence of this in our local cathedral of shopping.
I went in to get A4 paper, a bag of prunes and a bit of cheese but must have spent five minutes just gawping at this years Christmas displays of chocolate. It was definitely worse than last year. Ferrro Rocher marked their territory with a sort of pathetic golden cardboard arch under which you have to pass to get into the main actual food area of the shop. Other brands - mostly Lindt, it seemed, had been arranged in a huge block - a red and gold battleship ploughing its way between pasta and frozen foods.
People were loading their trolleys with a polite frenzy. Why? It wasn't even December. Then I noticed the Black Friday/weekend signs. All festive chocolate 30% off in celebration of this . . . event. We might as well just have Black Century and be done with it. The weekend has already spread to Black Week.


I did look up the origins of all this madness.

According to a site called History Stories, the first recorded use of the term 'Black Friday' was applied after a major financial crash on September 24, 1869: specifically, the crash of the U.S gold market Two Wall St financiers worked together to buy up as much of the nation's gold, thus hoping to drive the price sky high and make astronomical profits. The outcome was discovery of the conspiracy, stock market free fall and massive country-wide bankruptcy.

Apparently ten people have died in crushes over cut-price goods. The first in a Wallmart. A shop worker was trampled to death while opening the doors to a flood of eager people, another during a shooting incidents over goods in Toys R US . . .

I don't actually recall Black Friday being a thing until a few years back. Mad folk waiting in sleeping bags outside Harrods in January for various sale unmissables, yes, but crazed shopping on a Friday in November?

Anyway, I did get my prunes, paper - no cheese as there was a queue like the M25 around the counter - but I did fall slightly under the festive shopping spell, or perhaps it was a pine-needle/roast dinner/ho-ho-ho spray drifting down from the sprinkler system forcing us into goodwill to all food manufacturers.
My purchase, a very small box of 30% off After Eight mints. Just for nostalgia of the 70s reasons.



Monday, 25 November 2019

Cake number . . . 2,392

I like these sort of calculations: how many months might I have spent standing in postoffice/tax offices/supermarket queues/waiting for a tyre to be changed; how many months in bed - or years, rather; how much time drinking tea? how many weeks listening to The Four Seasons while waiting to be connected to insurance companies/banks/electricity providers, etc.
Then there are the more interesting calculations: how many times must I have walked down our road into town and back? in thirteen years - say four times a week, on average - 52x4 =208, thirteen years  =2,704, probably round it up to 3,000. Considering the previous house-owners reckoned they had done the meander around fifteen times in eighteen years (they were very fond of their BMW) - I think we're doing pretty well, walking wise.
And onto Mark's cakes, at least since I've known him - twenty-three years.
Probably on average (very vague calculation following) he makes a cake twice a week.
104 cakes a year x twenty-three years = 2,392 . . . cakes. Not to mention all the bread, Parkin, flapjacks, etc.

This was one of his best, but then I often say that - they are nearly always amazing.

The only two failures I can recall: a beetroot cake and a Neanderthal version of a Battenburg.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Visualising a billion

I've never intended my blog to be political but I felt I must try and write down a few facts on the wastage of money over this thing called Brexit.
I imagine most folk have difficulty imagining what a billion, for example, would look like or represent in real terms - especially if, like me, you got grade 5 in maths (ability to write ones name at the top of the paper).
Politicians do have a tendency to throw monetary phrases about . . . how many millions/billions/squillions they have/would have/will/should have spent on various building schemes, plans, roads, rail, hospitals, schools, or in the case of the present bunch of maniacs, how much was spent on the celebratory 50 pence piece (figures not available in this case - shame as it would have been fascinating to know) and the marvellous 'Get Ready for Brexit' campaign - A hundred million on posters that told the population to get ready for something as useless as getting ready for a mass seance to contact Churchill and ask his advise on how to get out of this pointless, time and money-wasting stalemate.

I just looked up some info on what Brexit has actually cost, as far as anyone can make a stab at the amount. sixty-six billion . . . or 1,000 roughly for every person in the country within the last three years.
So, what is a million or a billion in visible terms?
Say, imagining the amounts as hospitals, placed on a governmental, countrywide Monopoly board. A small one in Cornwall that was completed recently cost seven million, where as the reconstruction of St Barts in London cost around One billion. So, if we are talking about fairly expensive hospitals, say a billion a piece that would be sixty-six hospitals. Sixty-six hospitals, or many more schools, public swimming pools, new trains - versus Brexit. And not even Brexit. Lots of talk and hatred created by one word.
Still having difficulty imagining these amounts?
What about an MIR scanner - 895,000. Ah, that I can visualise. So, instead of Brexit we could have had . . . err, I couldn't work it out but enough scanners for everyone to have their own personal one had they have needed one.
What about a school? Very, very roughly, thirty million. Solar panels for every roof: 6000,00 or so for each house. New posts in teaching? An average salary is apparently about 70,000 per year. That would be worth investing in and relatively, a minuscule amount of money.
Anyway, the point being that astronomical amounts of money seem to be be magically available for spurious ferry companies, Brexit commemorative coins, parties, poster-splattered buses and a thousand other things when even fractions of these amounts could make such huge differences to education, infrastructure and above all tackling the climate nightmare.
Personally, I don't think this marmite, double-breasted blazers, cricket, crumpets, straw boaters, good old pint of British beer, Spitfires over the cliffs of Dover idea will ever actually happen - just a series of delays, transitions, arguments and more money-burning until Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and any other pissed-off county/region have split themselves from the mother rock and the UK is left on its own, complaining slightly about the weather and the price of tomatoes.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Buddhism and boot sales

Vide grenier, in this case - literally, empty your attic. I've blogged about these events many times as they figure quite high on our list of activities. Not quite so much lately as I'm in a bit of a purge phase feeling a move may be on the horizon . . .
Anyway, we did go to one this morning, and quite exceptional it was in its leafy, sun-dappled autumn way - held on a piece of ground next to the rugby stadium which has thoughtfully placed ancient plane trees for shade.
Sometimes on approaching a Vide Grenier I have an overriding sense that it will be a waste of time - an ocean of plastic and baby garments; this one had an air of possibility. Lots of great clothes, which we didn't have time to rummage through as Mark had a rehearsal in the afternoon, but within five minutes we had deniched (uncovered) several bargains.
Little worn Italian leather boots for two euros, a selection of videos including three volumes of Betty Boop; Casablanca, Grease and a bio-pic by Clint Eastwood and an excellent Paul Auster novel all for ten euros, and a beautiful unused Japanese metal teapot with stand for three euros.

Such joy.

So, the Buddhism bit . . . or Stoic, or anything else that encourages us to live in the moment. I equate the Vide Grenier experience as being similar to walking - except walking is healthier and generally requires no money being spent unless one happens upon a tea shop (unlikely in France) - in that one enters a small space of time where general worries and planning disappears as one peruses other humans' weird and wonderful/not wonderful collections of stuff. Of course there are moments (for me anyway) of: Holy shit, look at all this stuff - landfill, panic, there is no hope, etc, but on the whole it's a gentle, harmless and lazy Sunday morning activity which swages the desire to consume and recycles otherwise neglected things which would probably have headed to the bin.

re-homed teapot with its new companions.

Monday, 30 September 2019

The yawning abyss between beliefs

Youtube's algorithms present me with an interesting choice each day: really excellent political comment from someone called Phil (his Chanel- a different bias) who really should be prime minister rather than the blond swaggering idiot we have in No ten at the current time . . . actually, any of my three dogs, even the small runty one with three legs would be a better candidate - no offence Phil!
Oh, yes, algorithms.
Apart from Phil, they (appearing in my mind as tiny white-coated scientists scribbling down my personal data) suggest various subjects: Climate change, Permaculture, unusual houses, greening the world's deserts, astronomy, runner ducks, John Roger's wonderful channel: The Lost Byway; psychogeography, Vernon Bogdanor's history lectures, a lovely channel called 'Mossy Bottom' - nothing devient - just a charming young guy talking about his new self-sufficient life in a cottage called Mossy Bottom in the West of Ireland; Will Self talking about anything, George Monbiot lectures, and lots of French documentaries - great way of learning language - put on something that fascinates and marvel at how the information creep into your brain's word-storage facility.

Yesterday, I listened to Mr Monbiot's lecture given at Falmouth Uni in 2018. Entitled 'How to truly take back control', it was a utterly insightful, intelligent and hope-giving talk, set against the impending wreckage of the world we currently know - the need for new communities, the need for a new human narrative beyond Keynesian economics and Neoliberalism.
I thought about it a great deal during the day as I went about dealing with the heat ravaged-garden, and then later while doing kitchen chores opened the laptop to see what Youtube would present me with - A choice of French Documentaries entitled Bling! Great choice you little tiny scientists. I was utterly hooked on the absolutely awfulness of it all: the world's richest people, hugest houses, biggest yachts, most exclusive hotels, most expensive jewellery . . .  I think the most absurd bit of all featured a certain Chinese real estate developer who owned four Rolls Royces and only seemed to wear suits that made Liberace's dress code seem rather pale.
On the fifth floor of the utterly exclusive Monaco hotel he was being chauffeured to there was utter panic as his three bedroomed, panoramic sea-view marble suite (at 30,000 euros per night) was not actually enterable as the key code was refusing to work. Of course, just in time, a locksmith (probably helicoptered in) did arrive and saved everyone from utter humiliation and multiple heart attacks as the person would have had to wait . . . And I don't suppose it would have been like waiting in a Travelodge reception area with a mouldering pot plant for company and a free token for a drinks distributer . . .

68,000 euros a night . . . Royal Penthouse suite: the President Wilson hotel in Geneva (Image - Elite Traveller)

One of the world's most expensive yachts - a mere 330 million. I've just seen one for 4.5 billion . . . but it does have a statue made of genuine Tyrannosaurus rex bones. Oh, that makes sense then . . .

Maybe if you experience stuff like this all the time, you don't worry about what might be lurking on the horizon line as far as the future of the planet, and us as a species, is concerned. There was a great quote in the Guardian yesterday by a well known environmentalist planning to leave Sydney for a new apocalypse-proof life elsewhere. I can't find it now but it was something like: 'people think they'll be okay (in the face of climate breakdown) because they have superannuation.'

Friday, 13 September 2019

timely things

During a trip back to the UK last week I met the publishers who will be publishing my novel.
It was a really enjoyable meeting, and I came away feeling motivated, excited, very happy, and all the other things one would expect after slogging away at the writing game for a very long time.
How great it would be, I thought, to celebrate this personally momentous point in time by commissioning a painting or other piece of art/craft. And then the very thing presented itself at the Wirksworth Art and Architecture Trail in Derbyshire.
Some years ago I had mentioned to Richard Bett, a jeweller whose work I greatly admire that it would be wonderful if he could create me a bespoke piece to mark the point when I finally found a 'home' for my novel. He must have had a psychic episode as on seeing me he exclaimed 'Kate. You're here! Look - I made something for you." He hadn't known that the book had found a publisher, or that I would be at the trail but there it was, a silver pendant featuring the heroine of the book astride her horse, Kafka.


Wednesday, 4 September 2019


Walking into my friend's house yesterday was like entering a glorious multi-layered painting. Sadly, I didn't have my good camera with me but even the small one half together with duct tape managed to catch some of the shades and nuances of her chosen colour pallets. Much has been added and changed since my last visit a few years ago.
Her abode is an incredible, and almost edible, spectrum of opal greens, blues and lilacs, on the walls, fireplaces, doors, and contained in the hundreds of beautiful paintings and sketches, and works in progress. I found myself wondering how many shades of blue, green, mauve and occasionally bursts of bright orange and red could be counted within the houses's walls. Hundreds, thousands? It's not really something I've really thought about before despite having studied colour, to a certain extent, during my art college years.
When I returned to my brother's house this afternoon, I found he and my son were engaged in 'making a computer' - as you do . . . I asked what the thing was on the table that looked like a spool of 35mm film and he said it was an LED strip which could display about 16.6 million different colours. Still trying to digest this fact . . .
Here are a selection of the 16.6 million displayed in my friend's house.