Wednesday, September 26, 2018

September 1918

Those poor beggars. To us, they looked to be either young boys or old men. Dressed in rags, starving. They just threw their guns onto a pile at the side of the road and shuffled off into the distance. My Grandfather, then serving as a Driver in the Army Service Corps, remembered watching the Bulgarian surrender at the end of September 1918. War in a land without a name Southern Serbia, Alf called it where maps now place (Northern) Macedonia or FYROM from Salonika’s dubious attractions to a frontline where even water had to be delivered by mule or lorry train. His war was a sideshow to a sideshow: out of the birdcage, out of the garden. Where boredom and malaria took a greater toll than bullets and shells. Tiadatha’s braves moved out over Muckydonia to face the Bulgar and the Hun. Soil too shallow for trenches; in this land you froze in winter, baked in summer fought mosquitoes and ennui in between, watched all the while by an enemy from Crowns Big and Small and the Devil’s Eye.   Then from Dobra Polje to Doiran the line began to move – following Desperate Frankie’s urgent plan to capture the Vardar and Strumica. In the bloody aftermath, corpses packed standing in lorries the easier to transport, silent sentinels of death. So standing on that dusty road he watched that vanquished army walk away to a shattered land that had bleed so much but now could not bleed anymore. Bulgaria - the first Central Power to fall. An end forming the birth pang of fractious new nations: freedom’s allure mingled with nationalism’s latent dangers. There were no winners in that, Alf said. He was no military hero, never keen on the soldiering life. There because he had to be, yearning to go home: after going through that, I wouldn’t even join a library his response. I owe it to his memory to staunch centenary ‘celebrations’ because there were no winners in that. Nothing for idiot politicians to exploit, nothing to glory in, not after what he saw on the road from Doiran. For Alf and all those of the Entente or Central Powers who fought in 'Southern Serbia' and the Salonika Front. Serb, Greek, Bulgarian, Yugoslav, French, British, Irish, German. It was the beginning of the end and a century on, we still haven't lived up to your legacy, or honoured your suffering and loss.

Monday, September 24, 2018

A Pound for Every Time I've Heard That

Waiting for a bus in Heckmondwike the other day, I was fascinated by a conversation between two women of mature years, who were talking in the shelter at the town's bus hub (too small to qualify for a grown-up bus station, apparently...). Anyway, these two were discussing the merits of the town's several pound shops; that retailing phenomenon of post-industrial northern towns that blots many a once proud high street. The latest, housed in yet another former bank building (as the pound shops proliferate, so the banks seem to disappear in inverse proportions) caused a divergence of opinion: while one thought it was the best yet, the other announced she'd boycotted it as it was 'illegal'. The argument in support of this finding betrayed a fascinating mix of faux outrage and mangled consumer law. The proponent said that she refused to shop there, because they were selling 'loads of stuff for more than a pound' but it's name had pound in the title, therefore it was 'illegal'. Now, I always like a well-argued legal discourse, but there were a number of problems here. First, as with the bus analogy I used when teaching Law, the title doesn't mean you can buy exactly what it says on the sign. For example, buses sometimes have words like 'Mars' or 'Tetley's tea' on the side, but you can't demand either to be taken to the Red Planet or served a refreshing cuppa - because these are adverts, or in a glorious legal formulation 'mere puffs'. These don't constitute an 'offer' that is capable of 'acceptance' in the contractual law sense. So, unfortunately, our bus shelter advocate's boycott is 'wrong in law', to use a great judicial slapdown, because there's nothing on which the phrase can be used to base a valid contract on. I felt it would have been advisable to point this out, but she then rather destroyed her own argument by pointing to her shopping trolley, which she said she'd bought from a pound shop in Bradford for fifteen quid. I think that's called 'cognitive dissonance', but was constrained from taking up the issue as my bus to Dewsbury had just arrived, and time and Dewsbury wait for no-one, whether travelling with a shopping trolley or without.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Fenella Fielding

Sad to read of the death at 90 of the Queen of Vamp Camp. A classical actor with a long list of stage drama to her name, she would be forever associated with the Carry on howler 'Do you mind if I smoke' from the 1966 film Carry on Screaming!. The BBC obituary takes the classical high ground approach to Fielding's work, emphasising how she turned down further Carry On roles. But there's a curious anomaly here: she is said to have refused the title role in Carry on Cleopatra - a mistaken reference to the 1964 film Carry on Cleo. The obituary clearly suggests that she was offered the title role in a film made two years before 'Screaming on the back of her smoking hot performance with Harry H Corbett. Interestingly, while Fielding got to deliver her knock out line in 'Screaming', her 'nemesis' (as her obituary has it), Kenneth Willams got his laugh-out loud howler in 'Cleo, 'infamy, infamy, they've all got it infamy'. The Carry Ons gave us some great performances and laughs that stand the test of time, but time travel wasn't one of the gifts shared by the performers. I would get out more, but I seem to have got a little plastered...

Monday, September 10, 2018

Sex toys that spy on you: a data protection leak too far?

Imagine, getting down and dirty with a vibrator, only for it's inbuilt sensors to pass every moan (or whatever happens when you're buzzing...) to the manufacturer, only so they can improve your experience, of course. The Daily Wail or Murdoch's grubby minions would be over this like a rash: being spied on by your smartphone's bad enough, but when your dildo does the dirty on you and tells the waiting cyber world, it's really time for what happens in the boudoir/dungeon/garden shed to bloody well stay there.

A well Settled afternoon

The town of Settle in North Yorkshire's Craven district has always held a fascination for me. Before the A65 bypassed the town, it was an unavoidable, but picturesque bottleneck on the way to the west coast or Lakes. My dad liked the place, and would always opine that it was 'just like Switzerland' when he drove under the railway viaduct. It turned out that his only experience of Switzerland had been a journey in a sealed train at the end of WWII, and the totality of Switzerland to him - as a thankful soon-to-be ex Sapper - was a peaceful land with big hills through which his train to freedom and home wended it's merry way. I remembered this yesterday when I returned to the town. Off the bypass at the Settle/Horton-in-Ribblesdale turning, past the Falcon Hotel and into the main square, with its Ye Olde Naked Man Cafe, the house where Edward Elgar stayed with his friend, the local doctor, and centre-piece stone shops with upper floor galleries. My purpose in going to Settle was to show off the town's railway station - the starting point for the Northern Rail's Settle-Carlisle line '72 miles of splendour' as the station sign unselfconsciously, and entirely truthfully, proclaims. If you're heading west from Skipton, turn off the A65; third exit from the roundabout just after the railway bridge. Follow the Settle/Horton-in-Ribblesdale, visit dad's Switzerland and a railway station that, if anything, rather downplays the wonders it plays host to.