Monday, 30 September 2013


People out of work for more than two years will have to go on work placements in return for their benefits, under changes being unveiled by the chancellor.

Does that include MPs?

I see that all parties are in vote buying mood and offering us a whole gamut of unsustainable bribes to get us to vote for them.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

This is Not a Pen

Doing my usual perambulations around Western Europe again (Holland and Italy this week), reading airline shopping catalogues.

This is not a pen. Or to paraphrase Magritte; "Ceci n'est pas un stylo."

It may have started out as a pen, indeed it may have been developed as a pen; however, it ceased being a mere pen when stupid people started paying vast amounts of money for it, at which point it transmogrified into a lifestyle statement, having the express intent of saying something meaningful about the person who wields it (usually something to do with their perceived social status).

To me it says; "Dick head for paying 320 Euros for something that shouldn't cost more than £20."

This, however, is something in an entirely different category.

It's what we experts call a "Gadget". Gadgets have a use (albeit that some are severely limited, like the iPhone, for example, which falls more into the previous category). This is a pen, but with infinitely more functionality than the aforementioned Mont Blanc, and at half the price, which is still a tad high - but that's the consequence of being an object of desire and appealing to Gadget-Man (being a technologically more sophisticated version of Homo Neanderthalensis, of which I happen to be a member).

Monday, 23 September 2013

Costa Concordia TV OK

See the large, white dome on the upper right of the Costa Concordia? My company supplied that - it's a TV antenna. Good to see it survived.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Moore Bacon Please

It's nearly the end of September - time to get the sprouts on the boil for Christmas!

We went to Oxford yesterday to see the Henry Moore and Francis Bacon exhibition at the Ashmolean. 

While I like Moore (despite his stuff being a cliché for every new bank or FTSE HQ in the 50s and 60s), I never much liked Bacon's stuff. His lover was chap called George Dyer, who was also his muse. I have reached the conclusion that Bacon must have really hated him in order to disfigure Dyer's face in almost every painting of him.

While we were shopping for some underwear in Primani (hers, not mine) I heard a trendy couple calling after their children, Elle and Hudson. Who am I to judge? Yet it did make me smile.

On the way into Oxford we visited The Trout, the Thames-side venue for many of the pub scenes from the Morse detective series. I remember the place from some 15 or 20 years ago - dark and dank. It's been completely transformed into a 70 to 150 cover fine dining establishment with the most incredible designer lighting. Morse would turn in his MkII Jaguar if he saw it now.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Overheard in the Restaurant

The Chairman is studying the wine list and about to place a drinks order with the young girl behind the bar, who looks the type who doesn't do named wines and prefers numbers from a list.

Chairman: "I'd like a large No. 2, please."

Landlord: "The toilets are over there sir."

Friday, 20 September 2013

Prohibited Gifts

Strange things to sell in an airport, but I guess that's just Palma for you!

Spotted these the other week at the Frome Cheese Show - cute, in a Stephen King way....

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Evolutionary Barter on the Med

Yesterday I had only the one meeting in Palma (de Mallorca), so after having done my duty by making my distributor aware of my company's latest offerings, I decamped to Portals Nous for a bite to eat. I sat in 30 degrees of heat, admiring the numerous yachts in the marina (bemoaning the central heating was on at home) and desperately hoping I'd spot something monstrous being parbuckled; however, I suspect one has to be in Italy for that delight.

It's the kind of place where one sees portly, rather hairy, simian-like men of a certain age escorting svelte, long legged women half their age. These women are not at all put off by the visually challenged nature of their partners, it being adequately compensated by their large bank accounts and private yachts.

This got me to thinking of the psychology involved.

No-one is fooled by these liaisons, least of all those who partake in them. What they are engaged in is evolutionary barter; the women trust that any issue from the liaison will have the evolutionary benefit of improved social standing and inherited wealth (not to mention a dash of genetically inherited business acumen, if such a genetic trait exists), and the men hoping their gene pool will be vastly improved by the addition of a dash of beauty, although genetics doesn't necessarily work that way. The advantage lies with the women and the men can only hope there isn't a throw-back down the line (Benie Ecclestone was lucky with his kids, but his daughters may give birth to ugly dwarves).

Whether one favours nature or nurture as the dominant factor, the fact remains that any progeny raised within an environment where deals are struck as a matter of course will gain on both counts. Mind you, it could work in reverse, with the progeny inheriting their fathers' looks and their mothers' brains.

Thinking about it, does it matter whether a partner is chosen for their looks, their personality or their wealth? Of the three, the first will fade over time and the third could disappear in the burst of a commodity bubble. The second, however, is more long-lived, unless one gets early-onset dementia or passes through the menopause.

A friend of mine - well more an acquaintance who abuses me a lot - commented on the misty nature of the photo above, attributing it to the poor imaging of the Samsung. I replied that it was an evocative arty shot, conveying relaxation, ease and a languid afternoon in the company of the Med, thus hiding the embarrasing fact that the lens of my mobile phone was liberally coated in the oil from the fried squid I was eating.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Europe & Taxi Drivers

I'm not sure whether I'm for being in Europe, or leaving it.

My pro European side tells me we should be in, if only to influence the drafting of some obscure EU rule on forcing the buggers to install tea and coffee making facilities in continental hotel rooms, which for some reason they no longer provide. It would be a civilising influence.

Not sure it you've experienced continental taxi drivers of late - especially Spanish ones - they seem to think it perfectly acceptable to drop you off in the general vicinity of your destination, even if that's several blocks away. I suspect this is greatly influenced by too great a reliance on satnavs - "If the satnav says it's here, then it's here."

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Lesson in Marketing in Madrid Airport

On the way to Heathrow yesterday I was listening to an item on Radio 4 about Freeminers in the Forest of Dean. One old miner had created a visitor centre and was perplexed why not a single soul had visited it in 15 years. The interviewer conducted a survey of the area and suggested a dirty big sign at the entrance from the main road saying "Private" may have had something to do with it. Just a suspicion, mind you...

In Madrid today, Palma tomorrow, home Thursday. At least it's warm.

Madrid airport must win the prize as the airport with the worst signage in the world. Me and a herd of fellow travellers on the same flight spent about half an hour trying to find the exit. After a few circulatory perambulations we finally found the shuttle train to the main terminal from the gates, and I swear the journey was similar in time as going from Bristol Parkway to Swindon.

I detest Spanish TV - the buggers insist on dubbing everything, and the advert breaks are about half an hour long. No bloody mini-bar in my hotel room either, never mind about tea or coffee making facilities - dire!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Country Boy Goes to Town

Went to London on Friday for a conference in the Lloyd's Building. 

I'm always shocked by visits to The Smoke, despite having worked there for most of my commercial life until moving to the sticks some 10 years ago. The pace of change in relentless and hardly a visit goes by without some dramatic change to the skyline. 

One of my former offices is unrecognisable, and another seems to be destined for some major surgery.

This place used to be the site of The Baltic Exchange, where I first ventured into commercial life after leaving my shipping company. My MD at this place narrowly missed (by less than 30 minutes) the IRA bomb that destroyed it. On the destruction of that venerable building we relocated out to the Docklands, to the very office in which I'd worked before joining the company (it was owned by my shipping company).

Through this portico is St Helen's Place, a narrow cul-de-sac which is frequently used as a filming location for period dramas. I had an office on the 3rd floor on the right. Now some hideous Frankenbuilding seems to be under construction within its confines, unless it's just renovation (which seems more likely, as it's listed). 

It is the fate of all new buildings to be initially hated as an eyesore. I wonder how many of these new edifices will still be standing in 200 years time?  I dare say some will stand the test of time and become much-loved landmarks - a bit like the Lloyd's Building, which is generally accepted now as part of the architectural canon that is London Town.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

From an Old Shipmate

Received the following from an old shipmate of mine. Poignant and well crafted. A man after my own heart:

"How exceedingly clever it was of the Romans to cease being Romans and become Italians.  I can picture a ceremony in which emperors, legions and cohorts exchange crowns for fedoras , chariots for fiats and armour for Armani . The most empirical nation in the history of mankind  was able to rebrand itself into the rather dotty but much loved cousin who always turns up at weddings and funerals, impeccably dressed but you just know that inside those hand crafted shoes there are a plethora of holes in his socks. 

Italy is able to amble  along with their barking politicians and fabulous nosh without being constantly compared on the world stage with their illustrious forefathers, all because of a name change. Likewise, Turkey has evolved without censure from the glory days of the Ottoman Empire and reinvent itself with the aid of rebranding.  

Had we had the foresight to sally forth as the London Empire for example during our relatively recent crack at world domination, it would be so much easier to be British today. We could probably have avoided all those expensive apologies to Kenya, India, Australia etc and not have had to shimmy  around the afore mentioned world stage in clothes several sizes too big, perched on top of our little pile of ageing nuclear ' deterrents'. 

We could have taken comments like the one made last week in St Petersburg by a Putin aide about Britain being somewhat inconsequential in todays Great Game on the chin, pulled another pint, doffed a kiss me quick hat and skipped into the wings. Instead, we had to listen to Cameron trying to join up cherry picked dots between our former role as Masters of the Universe and the rather scruffy hobbit like country that we are today. 

I for one, am comfortable with the hobbit look and can think of nothing worse than having to get up in the morning and don a suit of full armour. As hobbits we can shuffle contentedly along the byways and when we do find the odd truffle in the undergrowth it will taste all the better. Sadly though we are condemned to being Great British."

Copyright, Mark Hilpern.

Friday, 13 September 2013


Don't fancy coming across a coffee drinker while I'm driving. These are webs spun by spiders under the influence of certain substances.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

A Sign on the Wall

There's no room for error with this sign I saw at a local reclamation yard.

Hayley's dad finished the wall he was building for us. He does build an exceedingly good wall. Recessed lighting with switches, paving slab coping and even a limestone slab on which we can inscribe the house name.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Apple Discriminates Against Disabled

Apple's latest gewgaw, the 5S, has a fingerprint sensor. Surely that's discriminating against the disabled?

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Catch 22


  1. if Assad doesn't agree to place his chemical weapons under international control, he gets air strikes, and
  2. if he agreed, then he's admitting to having stockpiles of chemical weapons.

I'll be interested to see how this plays out.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Going Away

Chairman: "Would you like another cup of tea in bed?"

Hay: "No - I'm away all next week, so I have to pack."

Chairman: "But you're only away for a week - for me that's 1 pair of jocks, a pair of socks and a fresh shirt."

Hay: "Yuk"

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Bovine Electricity in Syria

Just saw a news headline - Teachers plan joint strike - God help Syria!

Had a herd of about 50 cows stampeding through our lane yesterday - cow shit and broken fences everywhere. Neighbour of ours works for the NFU Mutual  said it would probably all land on his desk on Monday (the insurance claims, not the cow shit).

I've been wondering why my electricity usage seems to spike once a week - thought it was when we fired up the oven once a week for the Sunday roast for the entire kampong, but it wasn't spiking on Sundays.

(Click to enlarge)

I finally twigged that once a week the immersion kicks in on our 500 litre water tank and heats it from the normal 45 degrees to over 60 degrees to kill off any bugs. That's a substantial drain.

We seem to be doing well on the feed-in, but it's a long way to go before we get a idea of what the winter will bring. We're hoping for an overall yearly electricity bill in the region of £300 or less, which is a substantial reduction on the estimated £1,300 we would be paying without all the green devices (solar PV, solar thermal, air-source heat pump, under-floor heating). 

That said, a £1k annual saving on an initial outlay of £40k means we're a log way from payback (well beyond my lifespan). Mind you, I shouldn't really include the under-floor heating in that figure (it's just a radiator), which would reduce the out-lay to some £15k and payback before I kick the bucket. Adds value to the house too, but again that's ephemeral, as I have no intention of ever selling.

The problem is that I've become OCD with reading and analysing various metres on a daily basis. Excuse me - I just have to read the metres...

Friday, 6 September 2013

Parallel Universe

From a Bristol Rovers fan on the local news after his team's 2-1 defeat by Bristol City; "We should have won that!"

In light of the fact that it would have taken Rovers 2 goals to win, analyse and discuss the logic of his statement.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Airport Security & Anti-Fraud

Was stood in line at the security in Milan's Malpensa Airport yesterday and the bloke in front of me must have spent 3 minutes intermittently taking things out of his pockets - take one thing out, wait a bit, remember something else to take out, think a bit, something else, etc, etc.

The bugger still managed to go through the electronic scan with his mobile and wallet still in his pockets and had to return. Some people just haven't got the sense they were born with.

Got to the airport after a 150 Euro taxi journey with an hour to spare before the flight departed, only to have my debit card transaction knocked back by Nat West's anti fraud procedure. By sheer luck I happened to have a couple of hundred Euros on me in cash. This always happens at the most inopportune times. I will have to get myself taken off their anti-fraud thing.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Secure Stone

Airport security is getting worse - yesterday at Stavanger I had to remove all my cables from my travel bag for the first time ever. It wouldn't have been so bad, except for the fact my SAS flight to Copenhagen was cancelled, so I had to go out into the check-in area again to re-book a flight to Milan via Frankfurt with Lufthansa - so two trips through airport security.

Last weekend we went to Tewkesbury and visited the Abbey (see previous post). There's a notice there that says William the Conqueror, or William the Bastard, as he was known (but not to his face), had stone for the Abbey brought over from Caen. Seems a bit daft when you realise the place is a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the source of Bath stone, which is some of the best limestone in the world.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Schindler's Lift

Flew to the west coast of Norway on business yesterday and headed into the mountains to be in antenna heaven. Simply stunning scenery - what a place to work!.

By the way - I'm not sure why the above video is auto-playing.

When I got back to my hotel in Stavanger I noticed I was in Schindler's Lift.

The Scandinavians have a way with pine than makes it look butch and cool. All we seem to do is make it look cheap and nasty.

Off to Milan later today and back Wednesday evening.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Syria II

However, having said that (see yesterday's post), if Putin says it's inconceivable that Assad has used chemical weapons, you can bet he did use them, and probably got them from Russia.