Wednesday, 23 June 2010

21 Years Later

The other day, I finished reading "The Man Who Watched the Trains Go Past", by Georges Simenon, put it in it's proper place on my bookshelf (next to "The Yellow Dog" by the same author), and checked my store of unread volumes to decide what to tackle next.

Eventually I chose "The Dam", by Spiros Plaskovitis.

It's a novel that was written in 1961, and is about a dam. I don't really know any more than that. So far, we've been introduced to the dam, and to the workers who take care of it. Funny things are happening, but because they're outside their routine, they just ignore them. Until an engineer turns up unannounced and asks them where the cracks are. Cracks? What cracks?

No doubt things will either become clearer or more obscure - I've no idea what kind of novel it is, though I suspect it's not something I would have normally bought.

On the first page, there is an inscription with my name and a date. And a price (£9).

When I was younger, I used to write my name, place and the date in every book I bought. Since I don't keep diaries and can't remember much that happened to me longer ago than a few days, these inscriptions are pretty much all that remain of my younger self. When my father died, I was reading Anthony Trollope's "The Way We Live Now", and I wrote the date at the top of the page that I was on.

I've long since given up defacing my books in this manner, and of course nowadays I have a blog to record anything interesting that happens in my madcap life.

Anyway, back to "The Dam". From what little I remember, I was staying in London for a week with a group of students, and we went on various day trips by coach. One of these was to Cambridge.

Of course, I made a point of visiting the Mathematical Bridge.

Picture: Chris Millar. License

And being a University town, they had a large academic bookshop. As the 19-year-old me was intending to get down to some serious work learning Modern Greek in the near future (I'd only been putting it off for about 4 or 5 years at that point), I found the bookshop's small Greek section and picked a book. I'm not sure why I chose that particular one. Obviously not for its exciting cover. I do remember that I had to look up the title in a dictionary once I got home.

And now, 21 years later, the time has finally come. I've read ten pages so far, which is nine-and-a-half more than I've managed before. If I'd known then that it would take me this long, maybe I'd have saved my £9. After all, that was probably a lot of money at the time - it would have bought at least 6 pints (less than 3 today). Or maybe I'd have bought it and filled that front page with notes about my visit to Cambridge. So that instead of one solitary memory about a bridge, I'd have at least another blog post's worth. The problem with young people is that they just don't think ahead.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Flying the Flag

England really isn't a bad place to live, most of the time. It's generally safe, and the locals are reasonably friendly. However, every four years the locals get very excited about something called The World Cup. Britain is probably the only country in the world without a national football team. Instead most parts of Britain have their own international teams. The largest of these is of course England. At World Cup time English flags appear everywhere. Every other car is emblazoned with them, people have their hair dyed with flags on them.

I'm almost tempted to scrap my old TV and buy an HD flat screen, because they're being sold at reduced prices almost everywhere, so that England fans can watch their team lose in high resolution. The local pub drastically reduces prices of their pints during England games, which isn't ideal. You have to drink your cheap pint surrounded by normally rational people who have somehow turned into rabid animals. Who shout and scream when their team gets within 10 feet of the ball, and who look like they're ready to commit murder when the other lot score.

I'm not sure why the English are always so hopeful. They keep banging on about how they won the cup in 1966. If I was an England fan, I wouldn't want to draw attention to the fact that my team hasn't won bugger all for 44 years. A few weeks ago they were even beaten by Woody Harrelson. Not the best of omens.

I'm thinking of suggesting to the landlord that he reduces the pints during the games that no-one wants to watch - after all, that's when he needs the business.

There was such a game yesterday afternoon. It was a sunny day without a cloud in the sky. I was sitting outside having a leisurely lunch and a few pints, and reading a Simenon novel. There were only a few of the die-hard locals inside, half-watching the match. It was Greece v. Nigeria.

Now, I'm not a football fan. Nevertheless, I did watch the start, with the national anthems, and I might have wandered inside every so often, usually when there was a lot of cheering on the TV. And I caught the last 5 minutes. I didn't cheer, but I was happy to see that a country with 150 million people to choose 11 players from was beaten 2-1 by the Greeks, who are only 6% of the size. The Greeks who are currently suffering all manner of crap due to economic woes, who now have something to cheer them up.

Which is great. And now, since I've had enough exposure to football to last me the next four years, and I'm also a little sunburnt, I think I'll cut down on my visits to the pub for the next month or so, and keep my head down until it's all over.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Something in the Water

Picture by Roger McLassus [License]

Today I finally got round to registering at a new doctor's surgery. It's only taken me 6 years. On the two or three near-death incidents that I've had since then, I've had to drive 8 miles to the old place, whereas this one is 2 minute's walk away from my flat.

There was a form, of course, and in addition they wanted some proof of identity. Photographic ID to prove who I was, and some proof of my address. The only photographic ID I've got is my passport, so I took that. As far as proving where I lived, they wanted what is becoming the standard these days.

In this digital, security conscious age where credit cards and passports contain smart chips, holograms and so on, this proof is none other than the super-secure "recent utility bill". Because it's not like any 10 year old with a word processor could possibly forge one of those. Oh, no.

As I was tearing the flat apart hunting for bills, I was almost tempted to see just how good my all-singing-all-dancing-printer-scanner is. All my bills are paid automatically by Direct Debit, so when letters from the electricity or water people come, I tend to chuck them on a pile. Sadly, there's more than one pile. And every time I need to find something, the piles get disturbed so that the most recent items are not always on the top.

I managed to find a lot from 2008. This was obviously a good year for bills, or maybe I just opened more of them. Then I found one from May 2010, but it was an electricity bill. The problem there is that they always address them to the letting agent rather than me. Even though they have no difficulty taking the money out of my bank account. So I needed a water bill.

Since these bills are apparently all the identity theives need, it was reassuring to know that if they broke in, they'd never find one recent enough. Or perhaps they'd already done that and taken all of the 2010 ones?

Finally, the last envelope on the last pile had a suitably recent letter. I'm not sure what they would have done at the health centre if I couldn't find it. I would have had to explain about my piles, and they would have said that if I had piles I should see a doctor, but not until I'd registered.

As part of the registration process, they get a nurse to examine you. This is normal practice, but I'm scared in case they find something terminal. They also gave me a small container which they want me to fill. "It's only to dip." said the receptionist. I'm not sure what that means - once the water has left my body, I don't really care what they do with it, though I'd advise them to stick to humous or taramasalata.

I suppose this means that I can't go to the pub tomorrow evening (the examination is on Thursday). Though if I did it would save a lot of hassle, as I might as well just fill the container with neat cider, and cut out the middle man (and my digestive system). Alternatively, I could use tap water. I'm tempted to do that and see what they diagnose.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Ideal Home?

Reading through my favourite blogs, there seems to be a recurring theme for many of you. Homes. Bee's taken in another family member, Chris is swithering about whether or not to move out of his unique Manchester home (apparently instead of being timber framed it's made out of CD cases), and SHG is in the process of moving Cowbell HQ to a new location. Kat and her husband are still busy doing out what is to be their dream home, and VE has an exclusive report suggesting that the President of some former British colony (I forget which) is considering painting his house a less boring colour. I think he needs a few tins of that Tartan paint.

So I thought that as a service to my readers, I'd try and find this week's must have property.

I spent hours scouring the world for that ideal but unique home. Well, I would have spent hours, or even weeks if it weren't for those nice folks at google. Anyway, if anyone has a drum can you please roll it for...

The Nuclear Bunker

There are apparently loads of these for sale in the USA. In addition to the rather modest property featured in the video, someone has done some extensive renovation of a missile silo in New York State. Two private suites in a spring-loaded structure designed to withstand a direct nuclear strike would be ideal when those troublesome or quarrelsome relatives decide to pay a visit.

These underground structures stay at a constant temperature all year round, which is ideal for wine buffs, and no doubt saves on heating and cooling. And you won't have to worry about dry rot, termites, ex wives, burglars or Word War III.

There's loads of space, plenty of scope for DIY, and the best thing of all is having something like "Atlas F Missile Silo" as the first line of your address.

I must admit that although at first I thought this was all a bit silly, the idea of living in such a place is quite appealing. However, I've decided not to move just yet. Apart from the rather long commute to work (even if some of these places do have their own runways), there don't appear to be many pubs nearby.

How did on Earth did they expect to keep civilisation going in these bunkers without decent boozers???