Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book: Don't Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs by Paul Carter


I picked this one up because I work in the Oil & Gas sector and wanted to know more about life on the rigs. The book doesn't offer much by way of quotables but it is very snappy with no filler, and Carter knows how to keep the reader hooked - he focuses on the gruesome (there are several deaths along the way), the hair-raising, and the hilarious, and offers lots of interesting observations about all the different countries he visits; it's a long list including the likes of Australia, Japan, Singapore, Scotland, Brunei, Nigeria, Philippines, China, Russia.

****

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Book review: The Spike Milligan Letter


This collection of letters, which comes with an insightful introduction by Norma Farnes - Spike's manager/PA - makes for a near perfect portrait of this much loved comedian.

Milligan gave us a world of comedic nonsenses but these letters he was also caring humanitarian, with a strong sense of civic pride, and that he would try to make a difference wherever possible, typically by putting pen to paper. My favourite letters include:

  • A letter to an MP decrying the local councils reckless destruction of beautiful historic buildings.
  • A request to the manager to of a band (The New Seekers) to come collect his mail. The manager was the previous occupant of Spike's office. 'The inmates of my office are taking mountaineering lessons and using breathing apparatus every morning to surmount the South Col of the mountain called The New Seekers Height. Samples of this mountain have been taken and analysed as being made from fan letters, some 2,000 years old.' 
  • A letter asking for a bird bath belonging to a soon-to-be demolished property, to be gifted to the National Trust. This is followed up by a short letter advising that while the authorities have been dithering the bird bath has been broken by vandals.
  • A series of letters to and from the phone authority are also classic.
  • His letter to the Ministry of Public Buildings & Works, that results in the council retaining historic Victorian lamps. 
****

Monday, August 01, 2016

Book quotes: Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse


Something Fresh is another re-read, because there's nothing quite so comforting as returning to a Wodehouse. Here is the original review.

Quotes

The sunshine of a fair Spring morning fell graciously on London town. Out in Piccadilly its heartening warmth seemed to infuse into traffic and pedestrians alike a novel jauntiness, so that bus drivers jested and even the lips of chauffeurs uncurled into not unkindly smiles. Policemen whistled at their posts--clerks, on their way to work; beggars approached the task of trying to persuade perfect strangers to bear the burden of their maintenance with that optimistic vim which makes all the difference. It was one of those happy mornings.

Day and night the human flood roars past..

This son, christened Ashe after a wealthy uncle who subsequently double-crossed them by leaving his money to charities, in due course proceeded to Harvard to study for the ministry. So far as can be ascertained from contemporary records, he did not study a 4 great deal for the ministry; but he did succeed in running the mile in four minutes and a half and the half mile at a correspondingly rapid speed, and his researches in the art of long jumping won him the respect of all.

But owing to the pressure of other engagements he unfortunately omitted to do any studying, and when the hour of parting arrived he was peculiarly unfitted for any of the learned professions. Having, however, managed to obtain a sort of degree, enough to enable him to call himself a Bachelor of Arts, and realizing that you can fool some of the people some of the time, he applied for and secured a series of private tutorships.

It is in the Spring that the ache for the Larger Life comes on us...

Three months ago a million girls could have laughed at his morning exercises without turning him from his purpose. Today this one scoffer, alone and unaided, was sufficient for his undoing. The depression which exercise had begun to dispel surged back on him. He had no heart to continue. Sadly gathering up his belongings, he returned to his room, and found a cold bath tame and uninspiring. The breakfasts--included in the rent--provided by Mrs. Bell, the landlady of Number Seven, were held by some authorities to be specially designed to quell the spirits of their victims, should they tend to soar excessively.

"Does the Mammoth publish you, too? Why, we are comrades in misfortune--fellow serfs! We should be friends. Shall we be friends?"
"I should be delighted."
"Shall we shake hands, sit down, and talk about ourselves a little?"
"But I am keeping you from your work."
"An errand of mercy."

"Read the papers. Read the advertisement columns. I'm sure you will find something sooner or later. Don't get into a groove. Be an adventurer. Snatch at the next chance, whatever it is."

He had very little mind, but what he had was suffering.

For the space of some minutes he remained plunged in sad meditation...

The Earl of Emsworth was so constituted that no man or thing really had the power to trouble him deeply; but Freddie had come nearer to doing it than anybody else in the world.

"Don't, old man! Dickie, old top--please! I know all about it. I read the reports. They made poor old Percy look like an absolute ass."
"Well, Nature had done that already; but I'm bound to say they improved on Nature's work. I should think your Cousin Percy must have felt like a plucked chicken."

Whatever was the attraction across the room once more exercised its spell. His lordship concentrated himself on it to the exclusion of all other mundane matters. Presently he came out of his trance again.

The cold beef had the effect of restoring his lordship to complete amiability, and when Adams in the course of his wanderings again found himself at the table he was once more disposed for light conversation.

"...Tell me, Adams, have I eaten my cheese?"

"Well, it's deuced peculiar! I have no recollection whatsoever of placing that fork in my pocket . . . Adams, I want a taxicab." He glanced round the room, as though expecting to locate one by the fireplace.

"What a nut!" said Adams to his immortal soul.
Wafted through the sunlit streets in his taxicab, the Earl of Emsworth smiled benevolently on London's teeming millions. He was as completely happy as only a fluffy-minded old man with excellent health and a large income can be. Other people worried about all sorts of things--strikes, wars, suffragettes, the diminishing birth rate, the growing materialism of the age, a score of similar subjects. Worrying, indeed, seemed to be the twentieth-century specialty. Lord Emsworth never worried. Nature had equipped him with a mind so admirably constructed for withstanding the disagreeableness of life that if an unpleasant thought entered it, it passed out again a moment later.

His was a life that lacked, perhaps, the sublimer emotions which 55 raise man to the level of the gods; but undeniably it was an extremely happy one. He never experienced the thrill of ambition fulfilled; but, on the other hand, he never knew the agony of ambition frustrated. His name, when he died, would not live forever in England's annals; he was spared the pain of worrying about this by the fact that he had no desire to live forever in England's annals. He was possibly as nearly contented as a human being could be in this century of alarms and excursions.


The specialist was proud of his collection.
"How long? To make a collection as large as mine? Years, Mr. Peters. Oh, many, many years."
"I'll bet you a hundred dollars I'll do it in six months!"
From that moment Mr. Peters brought to the collecting of scarabs the same furious energy which had given him so many dollars and so much indigestion. He went after scarabs like a dog after rats. He scooped in scarabs from the four corners of the earth, until at the end of a year he found himself possessed of what, purely as regarded quantity, was a record collection.

Collecting, as Mr. Peters did it, resembles the drink habit. It begins as an amusement and ends as an obsession.
He was gloating over his treasures when the maid announced Lord Emsworth. A curious species of mutual toleration--it could hardly be dignified by the title of friendship--had sprung up between these two men, so opposite in practically every respect. Each regarded the other with that feeling of perpetual amazement with which we encounter those whose whole viewpoint and mode of life is foreign to our own. The American's force and nervous energy fascinated Lord Emsworth. As for Mr. Peters, nothing like the earl had ever happened to him before in a long and varied life. Each, in fact, was to the other a perpetual freak show, with no charge for admission.

Mr. Peters, in his character of showman, threw himself into his work with even more than his customary energy. His flow of speech never faltered. He spoke of the New Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, Osiris and Ammon; waxed eloquent concerning Mut, Bubastis, Cheops, the Hyksos kings, cylinders, bezels and Amenophis III; and became at times almost lyrical when touching on Queen Taia, the Princess Gilukhipa of Mitanni, the lake of Zarukhe, Naucratis 64 and the Book of the Dead. Time slid by.

"I have--pretty nearly. It's all right for you idle rich, Aline--you can sit still and contemplate life; but we poor working girls have got to hustle."

The 'Wanted' column of the morning paper is a sort of dredger, which churns up strange creatures from the mud of London's underworld. Only in response to the dredger's operations do they come to the surface in such numbers as to be noticeable, for as a rule they are of a solitary habit and shun company; but when they do come they bring with them something of the horror of the depths.

Suspicion furrowed her brow.

There are moments in a man's life when a girl's smile can have as important results as an explosion of dynamite.

He had reached that depth of gloom and bodily discomfort when a sudden smile has all the effect of strong liquor and good news administered simultaneously, warming the blood and comforting the soul, and generally turning the world from a bleak desert into a land flowing with milk and honey.

The east wind explored his system with chilly fingers.

The deeper he went into this business the more things did there seem to be in it of which he had not thought.

'It sounds thin to me'

"Your sort of man makes me sick. I know your type inside out. You overwork and shirk exercise, and let your temper run away 178 with you, and smoke strong cigars on an empty stomach; and when you get indigestion as a natural result you look on yourself as a martyr, nourish a perpetual grouch, and make the lives of everybody you meet miserable. If you would put yourself into my hands for a month I would have you eating bricks and thriving on them. Up in the morning, Larsen Exercises, cold bath, a brisk rubdown, sharp walk--"

 The Blandings chef had extended himself in honor of the house party, and had produced a succession of dishes, which in happier days Mr. Peters would have devoured eagerly. To be compelled by considerations of health to pass these by was enough to damp the 207 liveliest optimist. Mr. Peters had suffered terribly. Occasions of feasting and revelry like the present were for him so many battlefields, on which greed fought with prudence.

He proceeded to mount the stairs. He was sorry for Mr. Peters, so shortly about to be roused from a refreshing slumber; but these were life's tragedies and must be borne bravely.

"Believe me," said Ashe earnestly, "it will not be handed to you. I have studied the Baxter question more deeply than you have, and I can assure you that Baxter is a menace. What has put him so firmly on the right scent I don't know; but he seems to have divined the exact state of affairs in its entirety..."

The memory of Mr. Muldoon's cold shower baths and brisk system of physical exercise still lingered.

 Superhuman though he was, George was alive to the delicacy of the situation. One cannot convey food and drink to one's room in a strange house without, if detected, seeming to cast a slur on the table of the host. It was as one who carries dispatches through an enemy's lines that George took cover, emerged from cover, dodged, ducked and ran; and the moment when he sank down on his bed, the door locked behind him, was one of the happiest of his life.

One has to go back to the worst excesses of the French Revolution to parallel these outrages.

Listen to me, Joan. Where's your sense of fairness? You crash into my life, turn it upside down, dig me out of my quiet groove, revolutionize my whole existence; and now you propose to drop me and pay no further attention to me. Is it fair?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Book review: The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway


The Old Man and The Sea, which I first read ten years ago, is just as good on the second visit. The style of writing is unique. It grabs you from the get-go and never lets up, taking the reader on the journey of a life-time with a tired old fisherman who is locked in a 'to the death' battle with a giant marlin.

*****

Quotes:

...he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.

The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.

No one would steal from the old man but it was better to take the sail and the heavy lines home as the dew was bad for them and, though he was quite sure no local people would steal from him, the old man thought that a gaff and a harpoon were needless temptations to leave in a boat.

The old man opened his eyes and for a moment he was coming back from a long way away. Then he smiled.

 I can always come in on the glow from Havana. There are two more hours before the sun sets and maybe he will come up before that. If he doesn’t maybe he will come up with the moon. If he does not do that maybe he will come up with the sunrise. I have no cramps and I feel strong. It is he that has the hook in his mouth. But what a fish to pull like that. He must have his mouth shut tight on the wire. I wish I could see him. I wish I could see him only once to know what I have against me.

He could ruin me by jumping or by a wild rush.

'Fish,' he said softly, aloud, 'I'll stay with you until I am dead.'

'Fish,' he said, 'I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you before this day ends.'

I wish I was the fish, he thought, with everything he has against only my will and my intelligence.

He settled comfortably against the wood and took the suffering as it came and the fish swan steadily and the boat moved slowly through the dark water.

“But you have not slept yet, old man,” he said aloud. “It is half a day and a night and now another day and you have not slept. You must devise a way so that you sleep a little if he is quiet and steady. If you do not sleep you might become unclear in the head.” I’m clear enough in the head, he thought. Too clear. I am as clear as the stars that are my brothers. Still I must sleep. They sleep and the moon and the sun sleep and even the ocean sleeps sometimes on certain days when there is no current and a flat calm.

... I could go without sleeping, he told himself. But it would be too dangerous.

But the fish kep on circling slowly and the old mand was wet with sweat and tired deep into his bones...

I must hold the pain where it is, he though. Mine does not matter. I can control mine. But his pain could drive him mad.

He saw him first as a dark shadow that took so long to pass under that boat that he could not believe its length.

But I must get him close, close, close, he thought. I mustn't try for the head. I must get the heart.

“Fish,” the old man said. “Fish, you are going to have to die anyway. Do you have to kill me too?” That way nothing is accomplished, he thought. His mouth was too dry to speak but he could not reach for the water now. I must get him alongside this time, he thought. I am not good for many more turns. Yes you are, he told himself. You’re good for ever. On the next turn, he nearly had him. But again the fish righted himself and swam slowly away. You are killing me, fish, the old man thought. But you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who.

He felt the iron go in and he leaned on it and drove it further and then pushed all his weight after it. Then the fish came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air above the old man in the skiff. Then he fell into the water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and over all of the skiff.

He’s over fifteen hundred pounds the way he is, he thought. Maybe much more. If he dresses out two-thirds of that at thirty cents a pound?

It was an hour before the first shark hit him.

“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” I am sorry that I killed the fish though, he thought. Now the bad time is coming and I do not even have the harpoon. The dentuso is cruel and able and strong and intelligent. But I was more intelligent than he was. Perhaps not, he thought. Perhaps I was only better armed.

The old man knew a very bad time was coming.

“I shouldn’t have gone out so far, fish,” he said. “Neither for you nor for me. I’m sorry, fish.”

“Half fish,” he said. “Fish that you were. I am sorry that I went too far out. I ruined us both. But we have killed many sharks, you and I, and ruined many others. How many did you ever kill, old fish? You do not have that spear on your head for nothing.” He liked to think of the fish and what he could do to a shark if he were swimming free. I should have chopped the bill off to fight them with, he thought. But there was no hatchet and then there was no knife.

I should have some luck. No, he said. You violated your luck when you when too far outside.

The wind is our friend, anyway, he thought. Then he added, sometimes. And the great sea with our friends and our enemies. And bed, he thought. Bed is my friend. Just bed, he thought. Bed will be a great thing. It is easy when you are beaten, he thought. I never knew how easy it was. And what beat you, he thought. “Nothing,” he said aloud. “I went out too far.”

The boy saw that the old man was breathing and then he saw the old man’s hands and he started to cry. He went out very quietly to go to bring some coffee and all the way down the road he was crying. Many fishermen were around the skiff looking at what was lashed beside it and one was in the water, his trousers rolled up, measuring the skeleton with a length of line. The boy did not go down. He had been there before and one of the fishermen was looking after the skiff for him.
“How is he?” one of the fishermen shouted.
“Sleeping,” the boy called. He did not care that they saw him crying.
“Let no one disturb him.”
“He was eighteen feet from nose to tail,” the fisherman who was measuring him called.
“I believe it,” the boy said.

Finally the old man woke.
“Don’t sit up,” the boy said.
“Drink this.” He poured some of the coffee in a glass. The old man took it and drank it.
“They beat me, Manolin,” he said.
“They truly beat me.”
“He didn’t beat you. Not the fish.”
“No. Truly. It was afterwards.”

Idea for comments

When I read interesting articles, I like to see what other readers are thinking by perusing the comments section. The problem is the default is for the comments to be sorted by 'date order' and you have to click on 'reader recommended' to view the comments that have been voted up by the crowd.

Why not reduce the font size by a few points and split the comments into two columns, with the most recommended comments in the left column and a river of the the latest comments in the right column. Simple.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Book review: A Christmas Momeory by Truman Capote


My edition of Breakfast at Tiffany's (pictured above) includes a short story titled 'A Christmas Memory'. This proved to be the true prize of the book, turning it in to a keeper.

I hope to return to this tale every year. It's just fifteen pages long and is perfect in every way.

*****

Book quotes - Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote


Here are some more quotes from Breakfast at Tiffany's.
"... An agent could ask for more? Then wham! The Story of Dr. Wassell. You see that picture? Cecil B. DeMille. Gary Cooper. Jesus. I kill myself, it's all set: they're going to test her for the part of Dr. Wassell's nurse. One of his nurses, anyway. Then wham! The phone rings." He picked a telephone out of the air and held it to his ear. "She says, this is Holly, I say honey, you sound far away, she says I'm in New York, I say what the hell are you doing in New York when it's Sunday and you got the test tomorrow? She says I'm in New York cause I've never been to New York. I say get your ass on a plane and get back here, she says I don't want it. I say what's your angle, doll? She says you got to want it to be good and I don't want it, I say well, what the hell do you want, and she says when I find out you'll be the first to know."  
"She (Mag Wildwood) was a triumph over ugliness, so often more beguiling than real beauty, if only because it contains paradox. In this case, as opposed to the scrupulous method of plain good taste and scientific grooming, the trick had been worked by exaggerating defects; she'd made them ornamental by admitting them boldly. Heels that emphasized her height, so steep her ankles trembled; a flat tight bodice that indicated she could go to a beach in bathing trunks; hair that was pulled straight back, accentuating the spareness, the starvation of her fashion-model face. Even the stutter, certainly genuine but still a bit laid on, had been turned to advantage. It was the master stroke, that stutter; for it contrived to make her banalities sound somehow original, and secondly, despite her tallness, her assurance, it served to inspire in male listeners a protective feeling."

Book review - Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

My expectation of 'Breakfast at Tiffany’s' by Truman Capote was similar to my expectation of the film (still unseen); that it would be a breezy piece of enjoyable froth. I was far off the mark. Capote's famous short story is richly put together and the central character, Miss Holly Golightly, is far more complex than I had anticipated. This is a memorable piece of writing about the human condition and a great story to boot. Fantastic.

**** 1/2

Quote:

‘I don’t want to own anything until I’ve found the place where me and things belong together. I’m not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it’s like.’ - Holly Golightly

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Video - How Olive Oil is Made

This short video explains the difference between traditional and modern olive oil manufacturing techniques: 


TV series: God of Noodles / Master of Revenge (South Korean)


The God of Noodles (aka The Master of Revenge) is an exquisite South Korean revenge drama series. The story starts of in a straight forward enough manner but quickly adds convolutions and twists to keep the viewer glued to the screen, anticipating where it will go next. The masterly villain Kim Gil-Do is played menacingly well by Cho Jae-Hyun.

It's the best drama I've seen so far in 2016. Seek it out and enjoy.

5/5

A nice summary video on Viktor Frankl's Logotherapy

Viktor Frankl: Logotherapy and Man's Search for Meaning

Book: Hitman Anders And The Meaning Of It All by Jonas Jonasson


Having greatly enjoyed The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, I had high hopes for Hitman Anders. Unfortunately, this book didn't come close to Jonasson's debut novel. It was sufficiently interesting to keep me going through to the end but not in a good way...I was constantly hoping for the story to switch into a more gripping phase, but instead it just carried on as it started. The lack of endearing characters didn't help the case.

** 1/2 (if I knew what I know now I wouldn't have read this one)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Uses for WD40

I recently discovered that this oil-type spray is not the best for losening hinges and locks - you're better off using a thicker machine oil for those purposes. However, WD40 does work wonders in many other areas:

  • I just used permanent marker on my white board and it dried super fast. I sprayed on a little WD40 and it completely dissolved the ink in seconds. 
  • I've also used the spray to remove sticker residue from a CD case and from a washing machine...it worked a little miracle.
I'll be adding to this list as I try and test other uses.

It's a good thing I don't have a house

Otherwise I might have bought a manikin, which was on sale at BHS for a mere £40. It could have made for an excellent conversation piece, or possible garden statue.

BHS is in its final phases of administration, is even selling it's fixtures and fittings.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Car insurance - it pays to shop around

Having recently switched out my dinky 1.2 litre Vauxhall Corsa for a 2.0 litre Audi A3 with a modified exhaust (not my choice!), I was expecting my car insurance to really sting me this year. When I ran my details through two insurance search engines, they gave a best price of £520 for the year. Not too bad, I thought. Then I tried a third search engine, which enabled me to be a bit more accurate with my details, and this yielded a quote of just £430. I called my insurance company, who I've been with for a decade or so and said it was time to call an end to our beautiful relationship, or something to that effect. Well, the kind person on the other end of the line used their special powers (i.e. delegated discounting capability) to bring in a quote of around £353, which is even cheaper than what I'm paying for the Corsa.

Not a bad result for less than an hours worth of searching.

: )

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Brexit - changing of the guard..could've been worse

Theresa May is our new prime minister. It's too early to form a meaningful opinion but the fact that a 'remainer' is at the helm is surely a good thing. Don't get me wrong, from an economic transactional perspective we are in a much, much worse position than we were before. It's just that it could have been much, much worse.

Another FT tweet - income inequality


Macro: An eyebrow raising set of facts from BAML (via the FT's Twitterstream)


Monday, July 11, 2016

Pokemon Go!

What, I've only just learned about this?  Lord knows how distracted I would be if I owned a smart phone.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Brexit - how we decide things has changed

From Gillian Tett at the Financial Times:

"Before the referendum, British citizens were subjected to a blitz of advice about the potential costs of Brexit from “experts”: economists, central bankers, the International Monetary Fund and world leaders, among others. Indeed, the central strategy of the government (and other “Remainers”) appeared to revolve around wheeling out these experts, with their solemn speeches and statistics.

The pro-Brexit politician Michael Gove warned, “People in this country have had enough of experts,” and to some extent he was proved right: the country narrowly voted to ignore their advice and leave anyway. 

... citizens of the cyber world no longer have much faith in anything that experts say, not just in the political sphere but in numerous others too. At a time when we increasingly rely on crowd-sourced advice rather than official experts to choose a restaurant, healthcare and holidays, it seems strange to expect voters to listen to official experts when it comes to politics.

In our everyday lives, we are moving from a system based around vertical axes of trust, where we trust people who seem to have more authority than we do, to one predicated on horizontal axes of trust: we take advice from our peer group.

You can see this clearly if you look at the surveys conducted by groups such as the Pew Research Center...

What is even more interesting to look at, however, are the areas where trust remains high. In an annual survey conducted by the Edelman public relations firm, people in 20 countries are asked who they trust. They show rising confidence in the “a person like me” category, and surprisingly high trust in digital technology. We live in a world where we increasingly trust our Facebook friends and the Twitter crowd more than we do the IMF or the prime minister.

In some senses, this is good news. Relying on horizontal axes of trust should mean more democracy and empowerment for ordinary citizens. But the problem of this new world is that people can fall prey to social fads and tribalism - or groupthink.

“The rise of ‘a person like me’ has given birth to a ‘post-truth’ era, where comforting narratives and familiar messengers beat fact and argument,” points out Nick Barron, an Edelman executive. “Social echo chambers prevent effective scrutiny of individuals, organisations and campaigns that we think are on the ‘right side’ of an argument . . . ‘My truth’, ‘our truth’ and ‘the truth I feel’ beat ‘objective truth’.”

Either way, nobody is going to put this genie back into the bottle. So we all need to think about what creates the bonds of “trust” in today’s world. And recognise that the 20th-century model of politics, with its reverence for experts and fixed parties, may eventually seem as outdated as restaurant guides. We live in volatile times."