The Obscurer

Category: Fimbles

Morning Bell

I drive my own car. I fill it up at the pumps, and when diesel hit 121.9p per litre, which I paid outside Chipping Norton a couple of weeks ago, it really struck me that there was an intriguing advert on the forecourt of the filling station.

“A great way to start your day,” the advert announced (or something like that), and it featured a picture of some breakfasting suggestions, purchasable, one presumes, in the little shop. There was a washed-out looking photograph of an arrangement of some common-or-garden morning staples; a coffee, a croissant, a sweet Danish pastry…but then, somewhat disturbingly, a fresh, folded copy of the Daily Mail and two cans of Red Bull.

And I’m scared, frankly. Scared that someone thinks that those last two items taken together are a suitable and safe way for someone to start their day. Scared that perhaps the creator of that advertisement personally kicks off their morning by necking a couple of cans of Red Bull while devouring the latest ravings that the Mail has to offer. The possibility that someone, once fully breakfasted in such a style, and no doubt swivel-eyed, delusional and frantically gibbering Daily Mail stock-phrases to boot, could then embark on a full day’s work doing, well, anything really, anything at all, quite petrifies me.

Am I wrong? Naïve? Am I the one out of step? Is a double dose of adrenaline and bigotry a popular way for people to begin their day? Perhaps, but I have to believe that it is not, that the constituent parts of this lethal cocktail are kept at a safe distance from each other for the most part, and that the only person who thinks that the Mail and taurine should be freely mixed is also the person solely responsible for this advert.

Clearly I need to take action. I don’t want that advertisement putting ideas in people’s heads and so I will be contacting the oil company – Total – myself and demanding its immediate removal (I will play the corporate responsibility card, that they should do the right thing, as well as the self-interest one, advising them that they could be sued if a high-as-a-kite customer snaps their wrist in a green-ink frenzy.) My main concern, however, is for the person who created the advert; but is it a Total staffer or an employee from an advertising agency? We need to know, because we need to track them down. Whether the author personally imbibes Red Bull while reading the Melanie Phillips column – a chilling thought – or just thinks it is a socially and/or medically responsible thing to do, here is someone who is clearly a danger to themselves and others.

But how do we do it? How can we identify this trouble soul? There were no clues on the advert itself; no credits, no copywrite symbol, no identifying marks of any kind as far as I could see. We don’t even know when this specific advert was made; the date on the copy of the Daily Mail was obscured, and the banner headline, “‘Why the English middle classes have had enough,’ by Simon Heffer” doesn’t narrow things down at all. They publish a similar article every other week: the specific article in question, if even uniquely identifiable, could have been from anytime in the last twenty-odd years.

Can you help? Please? A Red Bull drinking Daily Mail reader is a ticking time-bomb that will eventually blow, and when it does I want to know that I have done everything humanly possible to have prevented it.

Jumped Up

Yesterday our aging Rover 216 sailed through its MOT*; much to our surprise, and that of the mechanic at the garage who, following a cursory look at our car, was astonished and gutted to find that, try as he might, he was unable to locate anything he could fail it on. As a treat we decided to splash out on a full service in celebration (and as compensation of sorts for the mechanic.) It looks like we can put off the search for a replacement car for another year.

But the Rover still has its problems. If I don’t drive it for around a week the battery goes flat, and so I am becoming a dab hand at dragging our less aged and more reliable Zafira over, jump-starting the Rover, and then fiddling with its remote key to get it to re-sync with the alarm, which usually entails removing the remote’s battery and faffing about a bit. Perhaps, then, I should still consider trading up to a newer, smarter, snazzier car, one more commensurate with my standing as Cheadle’s premier blogger†?

In the meantime, however, since jump-starting my car has become part of my regular routine, I decided to check that I was doing it correctly – I don’t especially want to electrocute myself, or set fire to one or both of my cars – and so I did a Google search to confirm what the approved technique is.

And I came across this from the Motoring pages of the Telegraph where Nick Comfort has the same problem as me, only to a greater degree. It is no consolation to find someone worse off than you are, and if you do have a second-rate vehicle inferior to my doughty Rover than you have my sympathy; but that is the situation Nick finds himself in, lumbered as he is with an Aston Martin DB7. Apparently

Many Astons have starting problems. Their electrical systems drain a 12-volt battery if left for more than a few days, and only the newest ones have a sleep mode. In four years of DB7 ownership I have got through three batteries.

I already had a trickle charger to plug into the cigarette lighter, which was fine except that I had to feed the lead through the window, which entailed leaving the alarm off. Aston Martin has now supplied a charger that feeds a socket in the boot and exits under the lid so the alarm can stay on.

Last winter, however, I was without this device and my Aston’s battery was flat just a day after a 200-mile run.

Now I’m pretty confident that even my knackered old banger would start first time under such circumstances, and this tale puts me in mind of a recent story a friend told me: that lately he had taken his Merc to a garage for a service and had been informed that the spark plugs had fused in place. A common enough problem, apparently; common, that is, on the Austin Healey and cars of a similar vintage, but a fault that had been rectified by most manufacturers since that time by utilising different metals, though not, it seems, by the good burghers at Mercedes-Benz. This problem was compounded by the fact that the spark plugs were conveniently located in such a position that only the complete removal of the engine would allow access to them, at an appropriate cost.

So while the grass may look greener on the other side of the troll bridge it can sometimes be better to stay put, and so I’ll take my Rover over an Aston Martin or a Mercedes for the time being. In any event, my car is a beautiful pearlescent purple colour, it would look even nicer if it ever got washed, probably, and it’s now my son’s favourite car since we got shot of our even more knackered Rover 420‡. Yes, I think I’ll stick with it; at least for as long as the rust still holds it together.

* Update: the garage has just called to tell me that they’ve found in the service that the brake discs and pads could do with replacing. That’ll learn me to be so smug.
† That is to say I’m the only one I know of.
‡ The loss of which he is still just coming to terms with, as is his idiosyncratic way.

Were All Going To Hell

Apostrophes can be a problem; just ask those brain boxes on The Apprentice who on last week’s programme debated for around three hours whether it should be Single’s Day, Singles’ Day or Singles Day. (Singles’ Day, in my opinion, as it is both plural and possessive.) But who hasn’t made the odd mistake, writing “it’s” instead of “its”, or “your” instead of “you’re”, out of sloppiness, say, even when we do know the correct usage?

However, this, from the ever-entertaining GrammarBlog, really does take the prize.

The sheer weight of the apostrophe misuse here is astonishing; these are no mere typos, rather the work of someone whose grasp of the written word is so poor that “Punctuator’s” should surely join the rest on this list of the damned.

My favourite punctuation error has got to be “Thieve’s”, a word that is so commonplace and this attempt at writing it so wrong that a tiny child could spot the error at a glance; even “Thief’s” would be an improvement, although then I would be curious as to just what it is, belonging to the thief, that is in need of repenting. For different reasons I also love the inclusion of those pesky “Sport’s Nut’s” on the list; the realisation that they, along with “Loud Mouth Women”, “Effeminate Men” and some others will also get short shrift from St. Peter come the day is highly enlightening. I’m even more glad now that I abandoned my City season ticket a few years ago.

And what’s all that about “High Fallutent”? Do they mean “High Falutin’”? Or even, “High Fallutin’’s”? Perhaps even they don’t know.

PostScript: Please feel free to point out any of my grammatical errors in the comments box; it’s the only way I’ll learn.

A Momentary Lapse Of Reason

When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?

Which reminds me, of one of my most abiding early journalistic experiences, back in the day when I was a young cub reporter for the now sadly defunct Daily Splim. The Splim, you may remember, was a somewhat revisionist, iconoclastic publication. It delighted in taking conventional wisdom and turning it on its head; by, for example, championing Bobby Davro as an unfairly maligned comic genius, or by declaring David Attenbrough an ignorant bore churning out programmes of mindless pap that dumbed down the nation. Sometimes we were frustrated when our revisionist view gained ground and become the new orthodoxy, whereupon we would have to return to the subject and re-revise all over again, as in the cases of Jeff Randall and – most famously – the late great great Jeremy Beadle, whose reputation fluctuated between berk and seer so often that it must have made his head spin. Eventually, of course, all this constant reworking began to take its toll, until that sad morning when I turned up at work to find a small well of nothingness where the Daily Splim’s office had stood just the day before; the relentless pressure had seemingly told and the newspaper had finally imploded, crumpling inward under the weight of its own carefully constructed contradictions and paradoxes.

Anyway, back to the point of the story, that assignment I was talking about. The editor of the day decided that she wanted to rehabilitate Cain, and I jumped at the opportunity to interview the man himself. Cain, you will recall, wasted no time in becoming the world’s first murderer, and when there were only four people around to speak of. We wanted to hear his side of the story; our only existing source, the Bible, didn’t seem to give him a fair crack of the whip, and I think any dispassionate reading of the book clearly shows that God blatantly favoured Abel in every regard. With the big man so biased against him did Cain every stand a chance of a fair trial? There was no chance of finding an honest jury made up of twelve good and true, there were no uninterested parties around and conflicts of interests abounded. Could Cain have legitimately claimed self-defence? Diminished responsibility? Was he fitted up? What of reliable witnesses? Even God’s famed omnipresence deserted him on this occasion as he was unaccountably elsewhere at the time of the murder, although that didn’t prevent him from bellowing some cryptic accusation about Abel’s blood crying out from under the ground, but noticeably after the fact. So Cain’s card was marked, but it all had the feel of a Kangaroo court to my colleagues and I. We wondered whether the received version of the tale was all part of the propaganda we still read in the Bible to this very day, which as with all histories and mythologies is written by the winners.

All of these considerations flitted into my head as I journeyed to my meeting with Cain and my train snaked into Eden railway station. The place was predictably deserted on arrival, save for the car and driver the Splim management had put on to take me to Cain’s bungalow. I exchanged glances with the driver as he idled at the barren taxi-rank but we didn’t speak for the entire journey, leaving the decrepit station behind and heading along that pot-holed and unadopted East Road towards the Land of Nod. In what seemed like no time we were pulling onto the driveway of a single-storey wooden dwelling in the middle of nowhere, its external walls ringed with purple bougainvillea. The driver waited outside as I trotted up the steps of the house; the front door was insecure, swinging open as I knocked and tentatively entered, whereupon I saw an old man, Cain, remaining seated in a battered wicker chair, gesturing for me to sit on an obliging ottoman opposite him which he had clearly prepared with a worn linen throw, a mug of cooling tea waiting for me on a side table.

Cain was charming but quite insane. Whether his mental state predated or was a consequence of the trauma of exile I cannot say. He spoke openly as we discussed his family life, which he insisted was happy. He spoke warmly of his brother, but only ever in the present tense, as if in denial of his crime. Each time I tried to steer my line of questioning towards the siblings’ respective sacrifices, to God’s reaction, and to the final time he and Abel spoke, Cain would go off on a tangent; smiling wistfully as he recalled Abel’s birth, of their birthdays together, and what he saw as Abel’s eccentric career choice, eschewing the honest toil of working the land for that crazy shepherd stuff. It was only when we got onto that famous rhyme – those lines with which I opened this post – and the matter of their parents’ respective roles in the family, that Cain became strangely animated, alarmingly so, and I gained my only, tiny insight into the case. What did those lines mean, I asked him? I confessed I never really understood them. They were rubbish, snapped Cain, worse than all that one-sided nonsense in the Book of Genesis. Listen, he said, staring deep into my eyes, my parents were devoted to each other, we were all devoted to each other, until… But let’s just say that if there had been such a thing as trousers back in the day then it would have been Eve who would have worn them. Adam did all the delving, sure, but also a fair bit of the spanning too, not to mention the lion’s share of the cooking; admittedly darning, being a bit fiddly, was wholly Eve’s territory, concluded Cain.

He sank back deep into his chair, then explained how it was only much later that male and female roles seemed to become so divided along gender lines; sharing the domestic workload was a technique utterly lost until the renaissance, when Leonardo da Vinci managed to master art, science and helicopter design while still being able to rustle up a top-notch pasta salad, iron the kids’ shirts and run the hoover about the place. With that Cain turned and waved me away, in all ways exhausted, our interview clearly at an end.

I mention this for no good reason.

New Fast Automatic Daffodils

We wandered back up to the Lake District last week, and spring having been sprang there were certainly plenty of Wordsworthian daffodils playing host to us; but also, in a house shop in Bowness-on-Windermere, I spotted this wondrous sight.

Now, no doubt the scholarly amongst you will claim that there is no contradiction in this instruction; but by this simpleton’s definition, if you have to push a button to open a door, then it’s hardly automatic.

PostScript: Remember when this blog was more than just a collection of stupid pictures and videos? Me too. Perhaps this recent trend explains why my readership appears to have dwindled to an all-time low. But if we brave few can just stick together and keep the faith then who knows; something half-decent may happen along here before too long?