Hangin’ on the telephone…

Had a call from Mr Vodafone.

Mr V: Hi Mr Jones, you know that your annual contract has expired?

Mr J: Yes.

Mr V: Well, we’d like to keep you as a customer so if you’re happy with the handset we’d like to give you the next six months line rental at half price.

Mr J: Cool!

Deal done, jobs a good ‘un (as they say in Manchester).


Book review: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

I approached this with considerable trepidation.

It was a ‘set text’ ‘ a novel from the list for the Readers Group.

I haven’t read many works by mainstream American authors though I am familiar with Steinbeck’s work.

As I said, approached with trepidation.

And pleasantly surprised.

Set (as is Grapes of Wrath, a work I know well) during the American Depression, Cannery Row is an examination of people and events in the Monterey district of California.

There is a surprising social ecology to Cannery Row.

There’s a micro’economic/social entity that is fed by the people and acts we encounter; visitors to the whorehouse, the work produced by the canneries and – much to the fore – by Doc’s endeavours.

Outputs of this feed trickle down to the smallest, most insignificant (if that’s not an oxymoron because in this work Steinbeck has chosen no character to be completely insignificant) character and affects their lives.

Is this an indication of Steinbeck’s humanistic views; this sensitive exploration of a smaller model of society as a whole?

If so it makes Steinbeck an idealistic writer, a romantic author.

Certainly one of the pivotal characters – Doc – is an over-romanticised character.

A kind of ‘community elder’, Doc is a lonely man; lonely by choice, lonely by design (as much as any character is designed by its author) and lonely as programmed by his ever’present musical selections.

Doc seems familiar; perhaps there are shades of him in Casy, a character who features in The Grapes of Wrath (the only other Steinbeck novel I’ve read).

Cannery Row displays an interconnectedness between all layers of human society.

From Doc to the bums who occupy the grandly titled Palace Flophouse (a near derelict shack the boys occupy and pay no rent for).

To the Chinese shopkeeper.

To the working girls who ply their trade in The Bear Flag.

The writing is pleasantly readable; Steinbeck chooses not to load the reader down with details of The Great Depression in Cannery Row.

And there is also humour.

And these two things make this book peculiar to read.

Most works that centre on the Great Depression convey the hopelessness, the grinding unimaginable despair of the time.

Cannery Row does not.

It is an undepressive book set in a time of terrible depression.

An interesting contradiction.

Cannery Row isn’t a Great Work.

It’s a small, tight, readable observation of life in a subsection of Californian society during one of America’s toughest times.

But because it is an observational work of the calibre that could have been written by a war correspondent (which Steinbeck had been), it contains the first two but lacks the third of the things that have been drilled in to me that All Great Works Must Have: a Beginning, a Middle and an End.


Cleaning out my closet

Blimey, I’m quoting Eminem!

I’ve just finished performing some housekeeping on an old email account. I don’t know why I still keep it, I don’t use it any longer.


While I was cleaning it out I came across an email received on Monday April 18th, 2005.

From a complete stranger, offering help.

She said:
I had an email sent to me that you live in Andalucia, Spain and have had your Dalmatian stolen? I live in Nerja with my husband and our two Dalmatians and have been involved in rescuing and rehoming Dalmatians in this area.

How can I help you find your dog? Please send me lots of details about your dog and a photo if possible and I will try to be of some help. Do you live near farms or neighbours who do not like your dog? Let me know the background to the problem and I will contact others for you in the region.

Was it really 2005 when Baron disappeared?

So much has happened in my life since then.

I remember receiving that email from Diane in Nerja; I thought she was brilliant to offer to do what she could for a stranger who – let’s face it – didn’t even live in her region of Spain and therefore wasn’t likely to meet up with her.

I also remember the sleepless nights – sixteen of them – waiting for news of the missing dog.

Given Baron’s propensity for wriggling under fences and bouncing around in every balsa within sight, I half expected to get a report that he’d finally been trapped by an irate farmer and his poisoned corpse had turned up in a barranco – its location finally given away by the smell of rotting flesh.

I was thrilled when I got a sketchy report that a dog that ‘may or may not be a Dalmatian’ (go figure that one, my friends!) was seen with a group of hunters in the alta montanas above the village of Trevelez.

Even more thrilled when it was confirmed that the dog (who had been working with the hunters as a retriever) was indeed Baron.

Sitting here thinking of Baron – and all the scrapes and adventures that seemed to accompany him wherever he went – has brought back memories of Spain that haven’t been aired for a while:

* The early morning I drove around a corner on a mountain pass to see my three equines walking down the track towards me – eight Km from the farm where they should have been.

* The terrible phone call I received (I was working in the UK at the time) to tell me that Beech had severely damaged a hind leg and might have to be destroyed.

* The awful time I woke in a sweat knowing that something was horribly wrong, then realised that what I’d heard in my sleep was Beech crying at me from the garden, telling me that he was in big trouble. I nearly lost him that day too; was ten minutes away from the deadline when I’d have to give him an injection to put him to sleep.

So my thoughts haven’t been about Spain per se.

Animals, problems and Spain.

And now more memories are flooding in.

None of them very pleasant; all seem to involve the continual struggle it seems that I endured while I lived there – physical, emotional and bureaucratic.

I’m just sitting here reliving the day that I was arrested by the Guardia Civil for keeping my horses on a farm when I had the the land-owner’s permission (and had a written contract to prove it).

No matter; I was still arrested.

Now that really was a crazy day.

So I’ll take this opportunity to let you know that one guest blogger who has stepped up to the plate is Spanish.

Antonia will sign on in a few days.

I’ll keep her company for a little while before I go quiet, and when I’m organised with my OU work and my new 9-5 I shall return.

Oh yes.

I shall return.



Not quite a perfect overlay but (hey, the only graphics package I’ve got on this laptop is Windows Fax/Image viewer!) I’ve slotted in a new photo in the blog header.

This is the Manchester canal at Sale just next to the Sale Metro station.

One of my favourite Manchester views.

And indeed places.


Sometimes I live a simple life

Today I:

Backed up my laptop (complete not incremental)

Backed up The Lovely S’s laptop (same procedure)

Backed up my iPod

Backed up the static html and all content on the website

Backed up the MySQL database, php-scripts and CSS that makes this Blog

Backed up all posts and comments

Downloaded and installed an additional layer of Anti-spam clevery-stuff

Moved my MP3 and MP4 files off my laptop hard disk on to my half-terabyte external hard disk (thus creating almost 10Gb of free space on my laptop. Yay!)

Set my iTunes software to look for all music on the external hard disk as a default

Took The Lovely S a cup of tea and breakfast in bed

Got in to bed for another hour or so and read

And cuddled

Got up, did getting up then getting dressed things

Made a picnic

Drove in to Bromsgrove, minor shopped

I mean we only shopped for a couple of items, not that we went shopping for any minors

As if!


Went to the coffee bar and ahem ate carrot cake, drank hot chocolate and read The Daily Telegraph

Just like being back in Iceland, but without the Telegraph

Went to the park, found an excellent sitting down spot, spread our wings (and things) and sat

And read

And picnicked

And people watched

And chortled at what we saw

Then read some more



Read a bit more

Came home

Washed, changed

Started writing this post

Drove to Worcester

Walked about town for a while

Went to the cinema

Watched The Simpsons (The Movie)

Laughed and held hands while doing it

Came home

Ate toast, drank hot chocolate (yes, more!)

Finished this blog post

Shut down the computer (this is a prediction)

Went to bed (ditto)

Fell asleep in the arms of a beautiful woman (bit of a dead cert!)


Today I lived a simple life.

But it’s been fun.

(Horse) News At Ten


I’ve been remiss.


Much has occurred.


Horse stuff:
Two days of fence-judging at last week’s British Riding Club Horse Trials Championships had many things worth reporting on.

But I won’t bore.

I’ll just say that the first day was excellent with many things going on.

And the second day was even more excellent (due largely to having The Lovely S with me).

Meanwhile my own horse news:
I’m schooling Big Vin each evening; concentrating on transitions and changes.

I know this is esoteric flatwork stuff, but if we’re to continue to improve our jumping we need to elevate our dressage considerably.

There’s a Hunter Trial competition at Allenshill on Saturday which we’re going to enter.

I think we’ll school around though, rather than ride in full-on competitive mode.

I’d like to use the Hunter Trial as a valuable training opportunity because…

Next weekend we’re competing in a Mercian Teams Two-Phase Horse Trials at Deer Park in Gloucestershire.

So schooling Vin around Allenshill’s Hunter Trial course would go a long way in our preparation programme.

Other horse news:
I’m walking Beech out morning and evening.

I’m giving him half an hour of grazing on the end of a long lead.

He’s had his shoes removed and feet trimmed; sounds as though he’s got his carpet slippers on when he walks on concrete.

Beech’s mental state has improved dramatically since I started walking him out to graze.

He looks perky and has adopted an alert, interested expression rather than looking permanently morose.

His final set of x-rays are due in a couple of weeks.

Once they’ve been developed and analysed we’ll know where we go next in the Beech Healthcare Plan.

So all in all the horse-world has been busy lately.


Pssssst… wanna buy a pistol?

It’s a beaut.

* Beretta M9, 9mm (so it’ll take NATO, Russian and Chinese 9mm ammunition)

* Semi-automatic

* Single or double-action

* Handle up to 15 rounds

* 1,200 feet per second muzzle velocity

* List price = $263 each

It’s very similar to the 9mm Browning Hi-Power I carried around with me for four years, but with a loaded weight of 2.55 Lbs it’s significantly lighter.

And terribly (sic) accurate.


We might be able to get you up to 80,000.

That’s the number that the US troops have misplaced in Iraq.

Eighty thousand?

A couple of hundred weapons AWOL from the armoury might be fair enough given the scope and duration of the conflict in Iraq.

But… eighty thousand?

Given the proximity of Turkey to Iraq, I wonder how easy it would be for an enterprising European to do a little shopping in the region?

Smuggling automatic pistols in to the UK would be ridiculously easy.

Hell, if I can smuggle a person in to the UK, getting in a bunch of Berettas would be child’s play.

And 9mm ammunition almost grows on trees – if you know where the picking’s good.


But that’s only the UK.

Suppose these 80,000 beautifully engineered weapons of individual destruction turned up somewhere else?


In the hands of the enemies of the US-led coalition?


Do you think we should add to the arsenal of the enemies of democracy the 110,000 AK47s that have also been misplaced?

Which are, boringly enough, weapons of 7.62mm calibre (and after Bosnia there’s enough 7.62mm ammunition swashing around the planet to keep us all happily killing each other for decades to come).

We’re all doomed, Captain Mainwaring, doomed!