Wednesday, 31 May 2017


Phew! The afternoon has turned very hot. I ought to be getting back to shifting and raking soil in the back garden, but I'll wait until it gets a little cooler. Meanwhile, I can spend time usefully on another post.

This one's about an annoying speaking habit that I've noticed in recent months. It may have been around for a much longer time, but lately it's become distinctly fashionable. I notice it because I listen to the radio a lot, and concentrate on what people are saying, and how they say it.

So, what's the issue for me? It's the little word I've just used: so.

'So' is a very useful word indeed. We all use it an awful lot. It's not just for sentences such as:

I didn't wake up this morning, so I was late for work.
I forgot to take my purse, so I had no cash with me.
I remembered not to go that way, so that's why I've got here on time.
You're much, much younger than me, so of course you wouldn't remember seeing him on TV.

In all these sentences, the first part explains the second part. Here, 'so' means 'and because of that'.

What about that sentence above, 'So, what's the issue for me?' It's similar to these:

So how did that important interview go?
So what were the results of those tests?
So did you get to see all the things you wanted to?
So who turned up in the end?

In these sentences 'so' seems to be a speech particle, a word one says when something has happened that you want to know about, and by saying 'so' you're picking up on that event or events, and signifying that you're about to ask what the outcome was. 'So' could be replaced here by noises like 'Aha!' or phrases like 'Tell me...'.

So far so good. (Look! Another use of 'so' - what a great little word it is!) But what is the particular usage that is now bothering me?

It occurs when someone asks a probing question that needs a careful answer. I listen to BBC Radio 4's midday consumer programme You and Yours most days, and the presenters often ask someone - a spokesperson for a trade body, for example - to explain why something has gone wrong for a group of customers, or why something can't be done to protect people from some malpractice. Whatever the presenter says, however he or she puts it, the person on the spot is as likely as not to start their reply with 'So...'. And not just the once. Every time they open their mouth it's with a 'So...'.

What's going on?

The 'so' they speak is absolutely redundant. It would make no difference if their reply omitted it. It's as if they were prefixing their reply with a 'Well...' or some other similar filler-word that buys time to think. Except that their reply is never hesitant. Not at all. It sounds confident of the facts, and aims to convince. The tone says 'I absolutely do know the true position here, and I'm going to give you a clear and frank reason why we haven't been able to help our customers.' And the 'So...' (which is a much more assertive noise than 'Well...') reinforces that confident tone. Clearly the 'So...' is meant to suggest that no further discussion is necessary. That's the explanation, it says, straight from the horse's mouth. Nothing else need be said about this. It's a speech particle to quell enquiry.

A couple of things here.

First, I have heard it only when somebody is being pressed to explain something, and their response has to have the ring of truth and authority. So it's being used in a moment of pressure. That might be important.

Second, perhaps coincidentally - or perhaps not - I've heard it only from the lips of men. And, moreover, men who sound educated, professional, and still young. The sort to bamboozle you with their quick minds and ways with words. (If any women - of any age or background - use 'so' in this way, I haven't noticed) I'm guessing that when such a man is facing questions, he wants to come back with a strong answer intended not only to defend his position, but to avoid looking incompetent in the eyes of his superiors or fee-payers. Losing face would be fatal. A measured response preceded with 'So...' can sound both well-considered and persuasive. And if it does satisfy the questioner, then it's job done, kudos earned, and other men duly impressed.

I don't mind an isolated use of 'so' in this way. But when it precedes every sentence they utter it becomes an irritating affectation that the speaker would do well to unlearn. And it sounds ridiculous when you hear exchanges on these lines:

Questioner: So you do admit it would be easy to recompense any overcharged customer?
Respondent: So I'm saying it can't be done without a change in the law.

I don't suppose this silly use of 'so' will fade away quickly. In fact I'm expecting it to gather further momentum. Then suddenly it will be dropped, when something newer and trendier takes its place.

A tap on the window

It was a childhood dream of mine to have large-scale Ordnance Survey maps on a mobile apparatus that I could have on my lap in a car. Back in the late 1950s I thought only of a paper map in a long strip, that rolled north and south. I couldn't see how it could be made to roll east and west also. I made do with real maps, bought in shops, that covered fixed areas. I never had a problem with folding them up, but it irked me that each sheet cost so much and covered so little of the country. A single map might be two or three times my weekly pocket money.

Once working, the personal map collection quickly grew. But the dream of having maps at various scales on a device that I could easily carry around with me never died. It was finally fulfilled in 2012, when I bought a tablet.

But a tablet wasn't quite the answer. It was a bit too large and heavy to take on a day out, and risky to use in a busy street. Nor was it weatherproof. Something like a proper solution wasn't long in coming: my first Android smartphone. And now I have my latest phone, with its large (but not too large) screen.

I still have a huge collection of paper maps, and I constantly consult the oldest of them for historical purposes. But I don't take them on holiday much. I've been trying not to since getting the tablet in 2012 - they clutter up the caravan. But it was never entirely practical to leave them home until I had the bright screen and long battery life of my smartphones.

I've always used a good road atlas. This is the latest-bought of the one I best like. I get a new edition every three years:

When touring, you need a road atlas like this to view a wide area of countryside, so that you can judge how far you can reasonably go. And, of course, choose the places to aim for. But on the road I rely on the phone. Most of my maps are downloads, and need no Internet connection to work. I use whichever scale is right for the moment - it's easy to switch between scales - and it's all there on a compact device that pops in my bag. So, contemplating a visit to Tyneside when I'm staying up in Northumberland in two weeks' time, I can summon up a succession of maps on my phone, each one suitable for a particular purpose:


All this is very practical, and very useful. Where could a problem possibly arise?

Well, there's none at all when at my destination, and walking around, or when on a train. But if I'm sat at the wheel of my car, I'm running a risk if I touch my phone and I'm seen by a police officer, or I'm caught on camera. For they've tightened up the penalties for using a mobile phone while driving, which includes checking your route when stationary at traffic lights. I'm certain that no distinction would be made between having the phone in your hands to make (or take) a call with it, and having it in your hands to read a map.

This doesn't faze me at all. In paper map days, you'd pull in, unfold the map (or consult the road atlas), then drive on. Now, in 2017, I shall have to do the same, but ideally cut the engine before consulting the phone, just in case I'm being observed. Then, after putting the phone away, fire up the engine and drive on. I don't think this procedure will be nuisance, but nuisance or not, I intend to avoid the attentions of the police. It would be galling to face an accusation of breaking the law, just because I was technically still 'driving' Fiona.

It's no answer to say that the police will surely have their hands full with more pressing matters. There will always be zealous officers who just happen to be looking, and feel duty-bound to act. How lucky do I feel? Not very. I don't want a tap on my window as I'm working out the best route.

Sunday, 28 May 2017


I was talking with a friend, and somehow we got onto the subject of Piers Morgan, whose present career has clearly escaped my notice. I really must make a greater effort to follow what well-known people like him are doing and saying. But there never seems to be a strong reason for doing so. So far as I am concerned, these media personalities might as well give up and go home. They make no difference to my life. That said, I don't mind Piers Morgan too much. He has polish and charm, and like all career TV conversationalists possesses a clever mind. But in this case he was flummoxed.

According to my friend - I never watch ITV, and I didn't see any of this - Piers Morgan was hosting ITV's Good Morning Britain, and was discussing life with two persons called Fox and Owl. I think I know who Fox is, but Owl is new to me. Both were describing themselves as 'non-binary' in relation to their gender. Piers was attempting to tease out what exactly they meant by the term, and whether it really had any meaning that everyday people might be able to understand. He failed to get anywhere until he pressed Owl to say what kind of prison would be the more appropriate if Owl were ever guilty of a crime and had to serve a sentence. Only two choices were possible, as the legal system was inflexible on the matter: there were men's jails, and there were women's jails, nothing else. As a non-binary person, which would Owl select as the better place to spend several years locked up in? It seems that Owl plumped for a female prison.

This is as much as I know about that TV conversation. I'm guessing that Piers Morgan followed up Owl's choice with a comment like 'Aha, then you do think of yourself as essentially female, and not as a completely genderless person?' Hoping no doubt to show that the 'non-binary' claim had no true reality, because while Owl might not be a conventional female, it still made basic sense to regard Owl as a female person, and it was a choice they would in this instance make themselves.

It's unclear to me whether Piers did really prove that point, and I have no idea what Owl said immediately afterwards to explain their choice of a female jail. Nor do I feel inclined to sit through the entire interview on catch-up TV. Still, it's interesting that there are people around who are not comfortable with even a minimum level of gender assignment, and have worked out a theory to account for their personal stance.

Well, I don't mind their having a non-standard self-perception. Not one bit. But I disagree that feeling different entitles you to jump the queue, to impose on other people, or to abandon ordinary social norms such as courtesy and kindness. And certainly not to claim, as a right, any kind of special treatment. I'd extend that to having a platform, such as a TV interview with a well-known presenter.

Somewhere in the course of the discussion, Piers Morgan apparently mentioned that there were currently some seventy terms used to describe all those who felt themselves to be something distinct from plain 'male' or female'. Seventy! What was going on?

I fear he was being deliberately obtuse. Human variation is huge. It's easily possible - if you want to do it, and put your mind to it - to invent a hundred distinct and nuanced ways to label people. Piers could have equally said 'What! Why only seventy?'

It's not hard to imagine a kind of 'gender spectrum', or perhaps a 'gender disc' - or even a three-dimensional and bumpy 'gender blob' - with most of the human population clustered in two large groups on it, but a sizeable number scattered elsewhere. Further along, or in between, or somewhere off to one side. In other words, every person alive would be somewhere, and their position (in a topological sense) would always be definable by co-ordinates. And this was where they had always been, whether they knew it or not. They might not be near either of the main clusters, but they'd still occupy a definite position that reflected their conscious self-perception, and their gut feeling about themselves.

This would be a gender model in which individuals recognised where they were in relation those cluster-people, the ones happy to describe themselves as simply 'male' or 'female'. And it should go without saying that all positions in this model would be as 'normal', and as 'good', as any other. Being a cluster-person would confer no special status. And the converse would also be true: being somewhere else wouldn't be special either.

This is in fact the way I personally look at things. Indeed, how I think of myself. I'm not necessarily at the very heart and centre of the 'female' cluster, but I'm definitely in that area on the blob. I always was; it's just that in later life I can see it clearly, and not obscurely.

An astronomical metaphor suggests itself. If you like, I've travelled long enough, and far enough, to look back and view the Gender Galaxy as a whole, and to understand where Planet Lucy is among all the stars and planets revolving slowly around the bipolar heart of that vast structure, all held together by a common gravity. And perhaps you can say the same.

What - like Piers Morgan - I find hard to grasp is the concept that a person could be 'nowhere' - or able to trickle around the gender blob like water, here one moment, and there the next. So that they might say 'I feel feminine' or 'I feel masculine' or 'I feel neuter' at different times, as the mood or impulse takes them. I just don't think that any ordinary person's self-perception really wobbles around like that.

But supposing it is possible, then life must be very trying for such a person. They'd have a point of view - and current behavioral requirements - that changed and fluctuated from hour to hour. They'd never have any proper self-control. They would never be able to build up a sensible, coherent life from a known fixed point. What goals would seem right? How could they develop any enduring personal relationships? Because to others they'd be unpredictable, their intentions unguessable, and altogether they'd be way too difficult to get on with. They'd also be unemployable, and always at odds with 'the system'.

And yet I've heard of 'non-binary' people who do have relationships and live fairly conventional lives. That makes me think that, for some at least (and to be clear, I don't mean Fox or Owl), adopting a 'non-binary' label may be a convenient way of gaining some leverage they would not otherwise enjoy.

That sounds like a blanket scepticism on my part of all 'non-binary' claims. But it's consistent with my general unwillingness to allow anybody a privilege or advantage based merely on a belief, no matter how sincerely held. There must be some obvious difference that matters. So I do say that a severely injured person has needs that trump the convenience of people with only sore fingers.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

My Postal Vote reprised

The last post related how my very first attempt to vote by post - the election of two local councillors - turned out to be rather difficult, although I got there in the end.

Well, the main voting papers for 8th June - the ones relating to the election of a Member of Parliament - arrived yesterday, and this time it all went very easily.

For one thing, there was none of that nonsense about tearing a big form into two bits along a line that wasn't clearly indicated. I got two smaller forms instead. That simplified the instructions at a stroke. In fact they were now reduced to a few short sentences, and everything was obvious:

There was still that odd quirk, where the smaller envelope was called Envelope A, and the larger one, the one you actually popped into the letterbox, Envelope B - and not named the other way around - but I coped.

There you are, one properly-sealed Envelope B. It'll reach its destination later today. So that's my General Election vote cast, for better or worse. It's no good anyone turning up on my doorstep to make me change my mind. Not even if they have a Hogarthian bribe to offer. The deed is done. 

These were the Parliamentary Candidates for the Arundel & South Downs Constituency:

A pretty decent range of candidates. And how did I vote? Oh, it'll be no surprise!

That's how Dad would have voted. My Mum would have chosen the LibDem candidate, and on the first postal voting form - the one concerned only with local councillors - I put my Xs against the two LibDem people, ensuring that she too had her wishes represented in this most important of elections. (Most important? Think of the major events that will be taking place in the aftermath to these elections. The country is going to be repositioning itself not only in relation to Europe, but to the wider world also; and the economic and demographic effects will have a direct influence on what local councils will need to do. I am confident that the Conservatives will best represent Britain to Europe and the world, and therefore, in that sense, I've voted in what I feel are the country's best interests) 

But I was also voting for myself. Given continued good health, I still have a twenty- or thirty-year future to consider, and it matters hugely to me who is in charge, what kind of person they stand for, what their policies are, and their competence to deliver on them. 

I trust the LibDems to be sensible on local issues, but I think their national programme is a mishmash of middle-ground ideas, without dash or daring. 

Labour's vision is Utopian: you can't fault it on concern for their own people, and its social fairness. But I am old enough to have seen past Labour governments come to grief for reasons that could have been avoided. Reasons such as financial mismanagement, vicious in-fighting between Hard Left and Moderates, wrong decisions on international defence matters, and a general unwillingness to depart from the worn-out principles and prejudices of another age. 

Avuncular male chauvinism is still alive in the Labour ranks, and I resent it. Nor do I like their 'blame it all on the toffee-nosed better off' attitude. Do they mean me? 

Like any party, they have their nice people, the passionate ones with hearts so warm and human you could toast yourself on them. That's what the Labour Party ought to be like, all the way through. But it isn't. There are others whose minds and motives are darker. And I can't help feeling that in the darkest hearts there lurks a hateful doctrinaire programme of radical social engineering. The awful scenarios described in George Orwell's 1984 and Anthony Burgess' 1985 come to mind as a warning of where such a programme could lead. I really don't trust Labour, however reasonable and likeable some of their front people may seem. 

I admire the Green Party. What they say is right, and some of it will have to be the necessary reality at a future point. But not in the pressing here and now. 

As for UKIP, I hear that they want to be a Better Labour, the party that truly represents the Working Class. Or maybe something else. They have lost their old raison d'ĂȘtre, and presently seem a spent force without a distinct programme. 

So it's the Conservatives for me. They go lightly on top people and anyone entrepreneurial, to encourage them all to stick around and pay affordable taxes to HMRC. Unfortunately this also encourages the growth of a well-off class who don't give a damn for the less well-off. That's deeply unattractive. On the other hand, they also speak for the well-informed and socially responsible middle class - people like me. They are my natural party. The best fit. And I trust the Conservatives to pursue their programmes with conviction, and a willingness to adapt to changed circumstances. Above all, to cherish the welfare and freedoms of the individual.  

I voted for Labour only once, in 1997, when New Labour was the thing, and a youthful-seeming fresh face, Tony Blair, was its front man, and the Conservatives were drowning in sleaze after too long in power. I expected so very much from New Labour. But it didn't materialise. Labour did nothing of importance, despite its massive popular mandate. It was a golden chance frittered away; and we now know that many wrong decisions were taken. Above all, we ended up as America's puppet in badly-justified and badly-planned foreign interventions. 

So the local Conservative, Nick Herbert, gets my X. I've never met him. I have no idea what he may be like in his constituency work. Maybe one day I'll have a reason to find out. For now, it's a vote to add to many thousands, and it's the emphatic assertion of my right to influence national events at times like this. Voting is dreadfully important: if I didn't vote, I don't see how I could possibly express any opinion on the government that takes the reins after 8th June.    

Monday, 22 May 2017

My Postal Vote on 8th June

I won't be at home when the General Election takes place on 8th June, so for the first time in my life I have applied for a Postal Vote. The first pack - for the election of two local councillors - came a couple of days ago, and I've now dealt with it. It will get posted later today. This post is about that experience.

Another pack - for the election of a Member of Parliament for the Arundel & South Downs constituency - is due shortly, and having had a warm-up on the councillors, I should be able to cast my Postal Vote for an MP with a more practiced hand.

But my goodness, what a rigmarole it is! What a palaver. What a kerfuffle. I won't be doing this again in a hurry. And certainly not make it my usual method of voting.

I had thought it would all be pretty straightforward. And in principle it is. You download a pdf of the Postal Voting Application Form from the District Council's website. You fill that in. This generates a Postal Voting Pack. The complication begins at that point.

The Pack contains two envelopes - A and B - and a big form which you have to tear into two separate parts, both of which need to be written on or marked in the right way, in exact accordance with instructions on another piece of paper. Here they are:

These instructions, which (as you can see) include diagrams, seem clear and straightforward, but left me slightly unsure what to do. Perhaps they would pass every known Plain English test ever devised, and would win a Nobel prize for clarity. But - and it must be me - I hesitated an awfully long time before committing pen to paper, and then splitting that big form into two parts, because the instructions weren't all that comprehensible. At least not to me. Of course, being completely unfamiliar with the procedure, and a bit nervous about messing up, couldn't have helped.

I've had similar problems several times in my life, particularly my working life, whenever somebody has attempted to explain a simple idea in simple words. I lose the thread, and my mind goes blank. It's one reason why I think it's no good my ever having any kind of paid tuition: I'd miss the point, fail to grasp the blindingly obvious, hit a brick wall of misundertanding, and waste my money.

Working it out for myself, in my own good time, is the only way. And if I can't get my head round it, I will cut my mental losses and try something else.

Surely most people must find Postal Voting an absolute breeze. But I thought it was all far from easy. And it had to be done just so. It wasn't something I could leave to my intuition, or my 'best guess'. Perhaps proper online voting, with screen prompts and pop-up information boxes, might work better for me.

Filling in the big form wasn't difficult, although I couldn't see why it had to be one large form when two smaller ones would have been easier to deal with - because the top part was radically different in purpose from the bottom part, and they had to be torn apart along a line which wasn't at all well-defined.

The business of tearing it into two was in fact the major first crisis. Arrows indicated where to tear, but there were no perforations and no dotted line with a scissors symbol next to it. And close by was a definite fold in the paper which a person might take to be the correct tear-line.

However, I parted the two halves where indicated. The voting half, when turned over, didn't match the diagram well.

But it turned out that I had in fact made my tear in the right place. Although I knew that only because when fitting each of the two parts into their respective envelopes, the return addresses ended up exactly aligned with their windows. Phew!

Ah, the envelopes. It emerged that you had to put one inside the other, and post everything off in just one envelope. But you had first to get the right bits in each envelope. Oh, dear me! I was soon and yearning for a reviving cup of tea!

Why wasn't the 'main' envelope, the one that swallowed the other and got posted, called envelope A? It was the more important envelope, at least from the point of view of my vote getting to the place where it would be counted. It made no sense.

At least there was a size difference between the envelopes, so even a batty old ditherer should see which had to go inside which. But they could have said simply:

# Put your voting paper with the Xs on it inside the brown envelope, and seal it if the return address shows in the window.
# Put the paper with your age and signature on it inside the white envelope. Now put the brown envelope inside the white envelope also. Seal the white envelope if the return address shows in the window. 
# Post the white envelope.

I'll have to go through this again in a few days' time, when the MP voting pack arrives. I expect to do better, but it's not a task I'm looking forward to.

Next time, I'll try to be at home when I want to vote. Even if I'd found this Postal Voting easy to follow, it's a sterile method. I like the electric atmosphere of Voting Stations on the big day. I like to be part of the unfolding drama. Casting a Postal Vote seems very, very tame. Almost sneaky, in fact, even though it's the same exercising of Hard-Won Electoral Rights.

Well, it's not for me.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Another weight-loss breakthrough

Earlier this morning - soon after I'd got out of bed - I weighed myself at home, nude and pre-breakfast. My electronic scales told me my weight was now 12 stones 13 pounds - 181 pounds - which meant that since the home-weigh on 31st October 2016 I'd lost 2 stones and 1 pound - 29 pounds, or precisely 13 kilograms. I'd burst through the two-stone barrier. How nice!

In fact this was half-expected. I'd had a good week with most meals cooked by myself at home, so that I'd had maximum control over what I consumed. I'd been able to stick to plan a bit more than is usually possible.

And here's what my main meals had looked like, beginning one week ago. All shots courtesy of Tigerlily, my Samsung Galaxy S8+ smartphone.

Lunch, Thursday 11th May. :

Evening meal at Jo and Clive's, later that day. Jo goes to Slimming World too, and made sure that her main and dessert were as syn-free as possible. But I had white wine and a gin and tonic to chase it down:

Lunch, Friday 12th May, at The Green Welly in Ditchling - my only other meal out this week:

Evening meal at home that same day:

Lunch and evening meal, Saturday 13th May:

Lunch and evening meal, Sunday 14th May:

Lunch and evening meal, Monday 15th May:

Lunch and evening meal, Tuesday 16th May. I did have a glass of white wine down in Brighton in the early evening - my only other dose of alcohol during the past week:

Breakfast, lunch and evening meal yesterday, 17th May:

Today's meal plan is this:

In close-up, so that it looks like a menu.

Items in bold have actually been consumed. Unbold means they are only planned, and I may need to change the detail, delete something, or insert some unplanned extras. As you can see, I've already sketched out tomorrow's menu. Thank goodness I love spreadsheets!

I must apologise to Rheya, my surfing friend from Guernsey, who will feel inclined to wipe me out of her life for buying and eating potatoes from Jersey, the rival Channel Island. She will at first blush think it a betrayal. It isn't: I'd eagerly eat Guernsey potatoes if I could find them on sale anywhere. The Jersey sort are just a poor substitute, for want of the real thing. What else can a girl do? At least they are from the Channel Islands, albeit the wrong one.

I've been refining my eating regime all along, and my 'standard day' now has only 7 syns in it, out of a total of 15 allowed. So I can fit in a glass of wine if I wish, and still remain virtuous. But I never reach for a drink unless it's a social occasion. My breakfast and late evening snack are invariable. I may be brain-dead at breakfast-time, and don't want to think about what to have. And the late evening snack has to be part of a going-to-bed ritual. I do add a cooked element to my breakfasts if I fancy it, although that tends to be mid-morning, or even at lunchtime. I follow this regime every day, whether at home or in the caravan. I'd hate to be staying anywhere else, in a hotel say, and not being able to keep to this optimum eating-plan.

As you can see, I prefer a hot lunch and evening meal - not many cold salads for this child! But in between, I snack on fruit - lots of it - and mid-afternoon I'll usually have a cold chicken drumstick to tide me over. At home I absolutely reject sweet desserts, chocolate, crisps, and all manufactured goodies that many people regard as harmless indulgences. I don't want to touch them. For one thing, my teeth and gums are in remarkably good fettle for my age, and I don't want to subject them to a sugary assault.

The thing is, I want to eat attractive, tasty food, and plenty of it. And I can. Nearly all the things in my home-cooked meals are heartily approved of by Slimming World, and not in any way contrary to a good weight-loss plan. Indeed, as measured by my electronic scales at home, in the last week I have lost three pounds eating all the things in the photos (and a lot more besides). The advice of Slimming World works.

Some might say I'm eating too much meat. Well, I highlight red meat and white meat on my spreadsheets, and try not to consume overmuch of the red variety. Nevertheless, I must be exceeding the current recommended weekly personal consumption of red meat. If this really proves to be unhealthy, then I will change my habits; just as I've reduced my bread, butter and cheese intake to almost nothing. But I don't want to forgo the particular nutrition that meat provides. There's a balance to be struck.

Nowadays I weigh myself at home on Thursday mornings, and get weighed again at the Slimming World group meeting the same evening, which will be tonight. I'm hoping that their scales will confirm a three pound weight loss. Or at least two pounds. I'm getting close to having my Two Stones Lost Certificate, which I'm eager to get! It's in the bag if their scales say 12 stones 12 pounds. My SW weight was 13 stones 1 pound last week, so it's possible. But not everything turns out as expected, and I may not 'officially' crash through the two-stone barrier until next week. Fingers crossed, anyway!

Well, my 'official' weight loss at Slimming World was only one pound. Good enough. But it'll be next week for the Two-Stones Lost Certificate.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Nightflight To Venus. Penmere, actually.

Hmmm! An electric conversation going on there! What's the story? (It's not one of my pictures, by the way)

But first, a pub-quiz question. Which very popular late 1970s pop group had a big hit with a song that begins with a chorus of

Sex! Sex! Sex! Sex!
Sex! Sex! Sex! Sex!

Is it a poser? Or are you so knowledgeable that you can blurt forth the answer without thinking? OK, a quick gratification. It was the opening to Rasputin, the 1978 hit by Boney M. It got to number 2 in the UK charts, number 1 in Australia. A lively number, and no mistake, featuring a balalaika riff, a potted history of what the Mad Monk did, what the besotted 'Moscow chicks' thought of him, and how he met his end at the hands of desperate noblemen who thought he had bewitched the Tsar and his family, and was ruining the country.

As you may know, Rasputin was very hard to kill, the suggestion being that he was in league with the Arch Fiend himself. But I think he was just full of life, and the indomitable will to live. And such a fiery will to survive surely had its foundations in the robust physicality of the man. Those 'Moscow chicks' in the song must have thrilled to his sensual vitality, and swooned to his touch.

I sound like an admirer, but his brutality would have put me off. Not every woman wants a bit of rough, and he was super-rough. And I dare say he smelled. Whether I would have been able to withstand those hypnotic eyes of his is another matter, of course.

Back to that picture on a train above. Here it is again:

It's the everyday work of an advertising firm, using four hired actors, arranged just so in the picture, with suitable expressions on their faces. But somehow it strikes me as having something extra about it. Possibly something unintended.

The two foreground characters, the woman and the man, seem to be enjoying rather more than a mere casual chat of the kind strangers fall into - indeed the kind that I have had myself from time to time, when on a train. This is the real thing. They have established a connection. They are seriously interested in each other. And getting on jolly well. So much so, that two other girls nearby are watching them avidly, to see what develops. I say 'watching them' but actually their eyes are on him; and it appears that they are fascinated by him just as much as the girl in the foreground.

And yet there's nothing remarkable about his appearance. He looks fiftyish, and seems to shop at Debenhams. But the ad is clearly suggesting that despite his greying hair and brown jacket, he has sex appeal in spades. I think the ad is suggesting more: that the most ordinary of us acquire a certain mystique on a train. We become alluring strangers that other passengers will speculate about, and want to talk to. And if the initiative is taken, by accident or design, well, look what can happen! Strangers can find themselves having a delicious conversation! And it might lead to love. Or, if not love itself - and a marriage proposal - then at least an irrepressible urge to get off at the next stop and have sex without delay. With fellow-passengers included.

And am I being all that fanciful? Look again at their eyes, and their expressions. He's scored. He knows he has. And they want him to do something about it.

And, since this is a railway-platform poster, it's a cunning enticement to buy a ticket and enjoy some adventure. Targeting people like that chap. But really anybody with spare time and a frustrated libido. What are you waiting for, the poster says!

Here it is, in all its glory:

I saw this when at Penmere station, one of the three Falmouth stations on what is now marketed as the Maritime Line. The line runs between Falmouth Docks and Truro, and enjoys a frequent service. I'd say that £4.40 for a cheap day return to nearby Truro is no great bargain, but £10.40 to go all the way to Plymouth (a big city to be sure, and definitely a good place for brand-new lovers wanting an an intimate lunch) is more like it. And Senior Railcard holders like myself would get a third off those prices! Wow! Better make sure I've cleaned my teeth, and my underwear looks great for that kit-off moment that's bound to come.

At this point I have to confess that the post hasn't so far achieved what I wanted, which was to link the good time being enjoyed by Debenhams Man on the train with Rasputin's magnetic allure and licentious ways. But that now seems a bit far-fetched and over the top, and the wrong thing to attempt.

Still, in a vague sort of way, I think there is a point to be made. The ad does seem to be encouraging people to regard a train journey from Penmere to Truro - or Plymouth - or indeed anywhere else on First Great Western's system, such as Bodmin Parkway, or Exeter St David's, or Severn Tunnel Junction - as a Sexual Odyssey they must not miss.

Was that intended? Well, yes or no, the poster caught my eye, and that was the message I drew from it. And if I hadn't, you wouldn't have had this post. So QED.

Let's now go off on another tangent.

I mentioned that Falmouth had three stations. It's one of Cornwall's largest towns. All the stations are different, and all cater for a different type of townie. Falmouth Docks, the terminus, is the station for those dwelling in the yachty marina flats and apartments. Falmouth Town is for town centre residents, of the better-off sort. Penmere (where this aspirational poster was) is for another kind of resident, with pockets slightly less deep. Further up the line towards Truro is Penryn, which is used by a lot of students living on the nearby University campus. Then there's Perranwell, which is a longish step away from the village of that name, and used only by piskies.

For most of the day, and on into the evening, there's a half-hourly train service on the Maritime Line. That's as good as the distinctly more suburban-feeling line between Exeter St David's and Exmouth. And almost as good as you'd expect in Sussex - between Lewes and Seaford for example. But this is Cornwall! Train services didn't used to be so frequent. I can only suppose it's a symptom of modern life: there are more people around, and everyone needs to make more journeys, and that justifies better railway services.

It also justifies improving station facilities. And the beautifying of run-down halts covered in weeds and litter, which is what Penmere was at one time. But a local volunteer group took it in hand, and have turned this little station into an absolute gem. It's gorgeously well-planted in a semi-tropical way, and a lovely place to wait for a train. Look at these pictures:

When it was just a run-down wayside halt, the station was called Penmere Platform. The volunteers have unashamedly pressed the nostalgia button, and recreated the old Great Western Railway brown-and-cream signage.

The modern facilities don't go too well with the traditional ones, but it's nice to have them there.

Considering that all that vegetation must grow at a rate of knots in the mild but damp Cornish weather, the volunteer group do very well to keep it all fairly immaculate. They have information boards up, to explain their formation, their subsequent achievements, and their accolades:

And while there I had a photographic bonus! A train came along!

It was slightly embarrassing. The driver thought I wanted to get on the train, and of course I was merely checking out the station, and shooting some pix, before driving off in Fiona. I got the impression that he wrote me off as a mad foreign tourist who had somehow wandered too far from her coach. Hey ho; it's the way I speak, and my funny hard-to-pin-down accent.

Perhaps I ought to have got on board for the hell of it, and travelled onwards to Falmouth Town, and beyond that, to Falmouth Docks. It really wouldn't have been all that far to walk back and collect Fiona. Look at this map:

Who knows, I might have got into amazing conversation with a seductive stranger!