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 Zappa 
 the Bird   the elephant 
 Unlikely threads   Free‑range thinking   Blackbird   'Phosphate'   JUBILEE plans   strikes, flights & crashes 

I wonder if the non-stop bad news from Ukraine is forcing open other doors: anything to distract from what is happening now, and what these unfolding events presage for our future…  Certainly one predictable consequence will be the shortage of wheat and fertiliser across the world - Russia and Ukraine between them account for much of the world's supply.  This will affect, pretty quickly, many African nations Russia has been courting assiduously over the last few years, but some analysts pointed out that Mother Russia too is experiencing shortages of basic foodstuffs: "sugar, onions and cabbages".  I'm not sure what counts as a basic foodstuff here in the UK, but I'm fairly sure onions and cabbages aren't at the top of what your average Tesco shopper will start fighting over as the shelves begin to empty…
birthday card
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us; To see oursels as ithers see us!
Despite some questionable cards, my birthday (seventy-five and counting…) slid past causing barely a ripple on the surface of a life mercifully distanced from world events, at least so far…  As Covid showed over two years ago, the 'here and now' is much too close to make plans for, so I shan't try.

Somebody said - somewhere - that in stressful times it helps to read books and I am certainly doing that.  Not books aimed at explaining current events, just good books.  Scattered around my various reading places are the following:

⤳ Nicholas Shakespeare's Bruce Chatwin biography
⤳ A couple of Patrick O'Brian seafaring novels
⤳ A collection of concise historical biographies curated by Alistair Horne
⤳ Yeats' Collected Poems

In the days following my birthday Britain is enjoying unusually warm weather, as an area of high pressure sits over eastern Europe feeding a southerly stream of warm air over the country.  To my surprise I find myself listening to an entire night of Radio 3 music.
A Wigmore Hall concert of Mozart and Bach by Angela Hewitt forms the basis, but a Bach motet in the interval also slid underneath my defences.  Normally his (or any classical) vocal music leaves me cold - too fussy and, well, religious.  Not tonight: I enjoyed it, and I sat through the whole Sibelius violin concerto that followed, mesmerised by that pulsating opening.  So, two new musical avenues have opened up…  Nice!

0605 BST:  March 27th 2022
I'm awake, but it's still dark.  Of course - the clocks have gone forward even if my brain hasn't yet caught up.  I fumble the radio on and stumble into a programme I used to listen to, hearing mediæval plainsong.  Uh-oh, it's 'Something Understood', an offtimes vacuous feelgood programme that has lost its way - or fresh ideas at any rate - over the last twenty years or so.  Presently the plainsong seques into a trip to an island lighthouse in the company a Cistercian monk (you have to cut me a little narrative slack here…)  Next comes a reading of Philip Larkin's 'Mr Bleaney' and by now I'm hooked.  Turns out it is a decades-old programme repeat by one of the best of the 'old BBC hands': Piers Plowright.  His voice is refreshingly normal in an easy, almost accidental, way that virtually no other presenters can manage.  Soon he is mixing an old tramp singing 'Jesus blood, never failed me yet' recorded on a London pavement with a personal interview with the 94-year-old Studs Terkel, riffing on websites ("spiders make 'em, right?"), software and hardware ("pots'n'pans is hardware; software is cushions and curtains.  You see where I'm coming from?")  Somehow he links all this to Angela Hewitt's playing of Bach's Goldberg Variations, then runs it into Bob Dylan's gravelly 'Nettie Moore'.  No-one else could have pulled it off.
 
As if a non sequitur were needed…
I texted a friend whose notion of music 'fit to be listened to' excludes everything that predates the 20th c. ("Dead white composers have had their chance - let's give new stuff the stage from now on") with news of a BBC R3 evening of Frank Zappa-related material.  That Zappa was white - and dead - cut no ice: Zappa was and is OK.  I'm listening now to the raunchy ending of 'Pedro's Dowry', a piece whose meaning was spelled out by our BBC R3 announcer thus: "The topic is all Zappa - suburban storytelling… real lives, relationships, sex, humour - something at which he was brilliant.  In Frank's own words (and I paraphrase only slightly to avoid unbroadcastable profanity), 'Let me tell you the story here - this was also written as a ballet but we don't have the budget for that.  Here is the plot: A woman waits for a man in a skiff…' (continues at length, ending in slow grinding sex - the bit I'm listening to right now).  The piece ends with the sound of a ding-dong doorbell." There's much more of course, but you'll just have to root out the concert on BBC Sounds if you want to enjoy an evening of 'different' music.
 
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A Charlie Parker boxed set
For some unexplained reason (guilt at all the messiness?) I embarked on a minor cleaning - well, tidying-up actually - spree today.  A sheaf of old jazz LPs has lurked underneath a good quality turntable deck perched on a chair in my window.  There is no reason for it to be there, anymore than there has been a reason for me to move it and so matters remained - until today.
"I'll see if they are worth any money by now" I thought to myself.  To cut a long series of Google searches short the answer is no.  It is possible that somewhere in the world a collector is waiting to pay actual money for them but the prices quoted are simply not worth the time needed to package them up; in fact they weren't even worth the time I spent searching for this information, but of course I didn't know that then.
To rub salt in the wound the only record worth anything - by an obscure British blues harmonica player - turns out to be, when I tip it out of its cellophaned wrapper, so hopelessly warped (wrinkled is really the word…) as to be worthless.  I'm gutted.  The part of me that thought itself a collector has to accept a crueller description: I'm a hoarder.
If I can capitalise on this current ruthless streak I might divest myself of much useless stuff.  Watch this space…

Apparently there is a vinyl shop lurking almost unseen near Southport town centre, so I'll see if my records are even worth giving away.  A couple of nearby small streets are filled with genuinely local, small businesses and, rounding the corner of one onto a busy main road, I passed an old-fashioned pub (think 1950s for both the decor and the clientele, if not the prices) where Talking Heads 'Road To Nowhere' was playing to an irony-free bubble of cheap lager and John Smiths smoothflow drinkers lounging outside.  No, I didn't stop…
Bruce Chatwin saw and despised this trait (collecting) in some of his Sotheby's clients, whose desire to 'possess' something overrides rational judgement.  In 'Utz' he states that "A piece in a museum is like an animal in a zoo.  The collector's enemy is a museum's curator".  He argued that an object - any object - was potentially beautiful of itself, regardless of its cultural significance.  Hence, I suppose, the famous 'Chatwin Eye', transcending all knowledge and/or historical baggage, able to see only the object itself.
Collectors want to touch and feel (caress) objects.  Contrast the "DO NOT TOUCH!" signs littering most museums.  Surreptitiously I try blowing on all hanging displays simply to make them move…  Fun in and of itself, it is also the only aerobic exercise you are likely to get in a museum today short of running away from a bomb scare.

Record shop update:
The friendly, heavily bearded proprietor was adamant: "We're not buying anything at the moment."
"No problem - you can have them free."
"Sorry mate, I really don't have the room right now…"

So there you have it - all those doom-sayers foretelling massive post-Brexit shortages across our retail sectors were wrong.  In the collectors world of cool jazz, 70s disco and heavy metal picture discs we are pretty much self-sufficient.  TAKE THAT  Rishi Sunak!
 
The elephant in the Ukrainian room
This is meant to be a 'diary' of my unfolding life and not a political tract, but how can you live a normal life when the possibility of Vladimir Putin's Ukraine invasion spilling over into Western Europe lurks behind every day's headlines?
I alluded above to 'reading more books' as a kind of therapy against the constant litany of bad news, and have just finished a book that could have been designed to make me feel better - Synchronicity again.  It was published in 2000, so commissioned and written well before that date.  It stands as a reminder that ignoring history is always a mistake: we're too stupid not to keep repeating ourselves…

Oh yes, that book - I nearly forgot: 'Telling Lives'.
It is a set of biographical essays whose subjects, ranging from Ian Fleming's brother Peter via the Norwegian polar explorer Nansen, Margaret Thatcher ("The Eyes of Caligula, the Mouth of Marilyn Munroe" in the words of an obviously smitten French President Francois Mitterrand), Kim Philby and Germaine Greer (separately, not together…) to Bruce Chatwin, should provide hours of though-provoking reading.
All the essays, with one grindingly boring exception, are interesting and engagingly written.  The last two are about Richard Cobb (an academic I'd never heard of but feel close to, so good was David Gilmour's affectionate evocation of his eccentric life: "Wary of vegetarians and teetotallers, he liked people who shared his capacity for enjoying food and drink…") and Isaiah Berlin, someone I thought of (wrongly as it turns out), as a drier-than-dust philosopher.  In fact he was the living embodiment of a couple of Greek café philosophers that featured in a wonderful book about living well into old age on the island of Hydra - the book 'Travels with Epicurus' is referenced here 


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"I think we're just about HERE…"
Following an extended spell of beautiful weather JQ and I decide to go for a pinewoods walk - the first of the year - as rain and possibly sleet is forecast to sink slowly down over the country.  The whole area is criss-crossed with paths, both signed and informal, so it's a relief that the different land management agencies - local council, National Trust, Natural England etc… - put up information boards at strategic points both in the woods and across the dunes.

We manage 7-8 miles without getting too wet and jump on a train back to Southport for a post-ramble pint.  The plan is to visit one of the many mini beer venues in Birkdale village before we separate to go home.  As the train pulls into an earlier station John catches my eye, "Did you see the chairs outside the Beer Station?  They usually have a couple of good pumps…"
"Meaning..?"
"Well, there's no guarantee the [name of Birkdale bar redacted to avoid offence...] will have decent beer…"  His left eyebrow moves imperceptibly.
We grab our bags, leap up and rush through the closing doors.  Walking back the entire length of the platform (this exit is the opposite end to our planned station) we can see the giant umbrella, the seats and a dozen or more beer kegs arrayed outside our new destination.  Marching confidently in the owner looks up and smiles, "Sorry, we're not open yet - give us ten or fifteen minutes, OK?"  A small bar in a predominantly residential area, I suppose they have to stick carefully to their alloted opening hours and, happily, the wait was worth it.
 
April Fool's Day - London
My return train ticket to London (return, mind you) costs a mere £25.  A remarkable enough figure today, it can only appear less believable as time passes, but it's true.  Any London trip takes - for me - the thick end of a day as I have long-ish commutes at either end, so the addition of an hour's reading time to the main journey is small beer weighed against the almost 40-quid savings.
And I do have a lot of reading on my plate.  Having started an early Michael Lewis book (The Big Short) I've become a fan, and Steve has a couple more sitting on the table waiting for me.  He's less keen so, between walking the dog and London pursuits, I'm on catch-up.

Drawing the threads together…
And what strange associations! The Money Culture  is a collection of articles published by Michael Lewis in the late 1980s, leavened with a few longer essays spearing the attitudes of everyone involved in 'money' - the sellers, buyers, shysters and dupes.  He ropes in Spengler, Thorstein Veblen and an Amazon explorer who allegedly found one of the sources of that great river, but is now the captain of a cruise ship.  Bizarrely, one of the passengers on the featured cruise could easily have featured in an old Jimmy Buffett song: So they save a little money
Take a little trip
They only see the islands
From a tacky cruise ship

Buy a little liquor
Buy some sea shells
Husband tries to sleep
Wife just yells
Morris!  You can sleep when you get home!
Morris' Nightmare © Jimmy Buffett 1978
As the ship headed south from Barbados and, eventually, up the Amazon towards Manaus their (heavily managed) contacts with locals bearing souvenirs brought forth some philosophical gems:
"…a Spenglerian might argue that the decline of the West must have begun when we stopped selling beads to the natives and started buying them." And nor is philosophy finished with yet - towards the end of his book Lewis invokes the spirit of Thorstein Veblen which (as any fule kno) was the name of Travis McGee's economist pal Meyer's boat after his first, the John Maynard Keynes, was blown up by baddies quite late in the series.
 Links:  Travis McGee  |  NYT opinion 

 Top    Bottom  Yep, I know - I've lost most of you with the last few paragraphs but what can I do?  I'm a dinosaur…
Sitting quietly in a London garden with Hugo the dog idly watching flies buzzing past his nose, I'm re-reading a favourite book on the pleasures of growing old.  It's philosophy you see, otherwise it would be about the disadvantages of, well, you get the idea…
The book invokes Plato (all those frightening shadows on the cave wall); Aristotle, who "apparently never met an old man he liked…", and offers nuggets of hope from a book entitled A Philosophy Of Boredom.  Boredom is a new idea apparently, only appearing in the late eighteenth century.  And 'Late eighteenth century' is - as we all know - pretty new to philosophers dealing, as they often are, with ideas that started bothering us millennia ago.

Boredom?  Old people?  Wherever next??  Well time itself of course.  Naturally there is a book dealing with this, and the Greeks have two different words for time: chrónos for fixed, measured time (Rolex, Omega, City traders…) and kairós for subjective (i.e. our human) time - basically the part they can't sell us.
 Links:  Epicurus  |  Boredom  |  Time  |  Here Today? 
Phew!  Time for a break…
I was going to write something else here, but all the books just said 'go with the flow and enjoy the now - why rush?'  And that great thought - the one that ties all this together?  I had it a moment ago but (you're ahead of me here…) it just slipped my mind.  I was busy punctuating a sentence or something silly and - poof! - it disappeared.  What I did find however, was a new way to reach Richmond.  TFL (Transport for London) want to keep people out of Zone 1, whether on trains, tube or buses. A once underused overground line runs from Stratford all the way across north London to Richmond.  Provided you remember to swipe your Oyster card when transferring (to prove you didn't go through Zone 1) you can jump on at Highbury, and are charged the princely sum of - in 2022 - £1.20 each way.  A deal!
Walking down Water Lane to the river I see a small but doubtless pricey motor cruiser moored near Corporation Island.  Spotlessly clean and covered nose to tail with taut sun-bleached canvas covers, I count five slowly rotating wire beams (solar powered perhaps?) sweeping every conceivable landing place that might appeal to wandering seagulls.  The vessels main purpose might simply be to avoid tax rather than provide recreation.  I wander back across Richmond Green - finally 'going with the flow' and remembering lazy times  living here in the early '70s, waiting out the days before a momentous trip across Europe - part of the increasingly large part of my life known as 'That was then'…
 
The pianist Radu Lupu died today (April 16th 2022).  For some reason I though he was Indian but now find that, like my Chopin favourite Dinu Lipatti, he was Romanian.  Maybe it was the hair that confused me - certainly The Independent once referred to him as a "woolly recluse […]  like someone dragged unwillingly into the concert hall but asked to leave his begging-bowl outside".  Ouch!
I have him, from the 1970s, playing the Greig and Schumann Am piano concertos.  In both - judging from the CD sleeve pictures - he was well into his 'woolly' phase, but the playing is lovely nonetheless.

Free range thinking
Or, 'Happiness is an open mind'.  Open, not blank mind you - I feel happy to wander in my head…
The general health of my 91-year-old sister has fallen off a cliff in the last ten days or so - it really is that sudden - and I find myself 'seeing' as if through her eyes.  Delicately pale winter cherries have given way to the main event: huge pink cherry blossoms fighting it out with frothing yellowy-white hawthorns before the green of new leaves takes over.  She (my nature-loving Sis) is trapped in a hospital bed far from sunlight, or flowers, or …  humanity.  I'll take a phone picture of her garden with me to visit tomorrow…
Over the course of nearly two weeks we, the family and my sister ('the patient'), find ourselves at the coalface of an NHS run down (accidentally? deliberately??) over decades.  It is easy to point the finger at Conservative policy dating back over a dozen years, when Andrew Lansley brought in consultants from McKinsey to (very expensively) supervise the evisceration, so I will.

Read about it here. 

Whether it was ignorance, stupidity of just simple greed we can only judge by his elevation to the House of Lords as a reward (?) for being caught flipping his country cottage 'home' for a Pimlico flat to benefit from expenses he claimed (when confronted) were 'within the rules'.  Such leaders, eh?

A modern hospital is - it cannot help but be - the antithesis of a 'healing' place.  Industrial in scale and organisation, the upper echelons see that boxes are ticked as the foot soldiers (nurses, doctors, ancillary staff) try to provide a human face whilst being constantly chivvied to do a little more in a little less time.  Human warmth vanishes beneath paperwork designed largely to pre-empt possible legal challenges.  Where's the love in that?  I feel a bit of Taoism coming on…

Piglet (in Benjamin Hoff's wonderful exposition of Taoism using Winnie the Pooh characters) is the nervous, frightened one who, unlike the others, actually changes and grows throughout the stories.  I see my Sis (and she'll hate me for this) as an almost Pigletty type character, always deferring to the nurses ("I don't want to disturb them - they're busy enough…") and other staff.  She knows I chafe at this and apologises to them for my bolshie behaviour when I visit.  Her almost pre-industrial deference to authority - however slight - does bother me but our 16-year age separation papers over a multi-generational gap in attitudes that will never be bridged.

The beauty of applied Taoism (and believe me, I am trying to apply it) is that we can both, sorta, accept our differences.  These differences reappear when she returns home complete with a care package that provides (and I'm quoting here)  "[a] person-centred approach [that] gives our older clients more choice and control…"  I see a set of disparate visitors ranging from the tuly excellent (thank you Mandy) to one tattooed creature who might have stepped straight out of the darkest recesses of an episode of 'Little Britain' cancelled for being too disturbing.
 
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Back home (briefly) in Southport…
I am sitting close to two open windows writing this.  When my attention wanders I hear a blackbird proclaiming his territory.  Suddenly, the thought strikes me that this same blackbird is singing when I wake each morning, just before the sun rises.  I've lived here for several blackbird generations now, and know their perches.  At the back, it's a neighbours decorative garage finial; in the front it used to be the tall gum tree that succumbed to honey fungus a year ago, so now my 'front garden' blackbird perches high in next door's beech tree.  His song is just as loud.
It is nine-thirty and the evening is dark - his song has ceased but, during this time of ever-expanding daylight, I know he'll be singing again when I swim back up into consciousness tomorrow.  It is awareness of these almost background noises that we lose at our peril - hunched, as indeed I am right now, over screens - "Touching keys & fondling mice / Searching cyberspaces".  My loyal reader will have no hesitation nailing that lyric fragment, referenced a few pages ago 

"And a glass of water, please!"
The leitmotiv of my current (Aughton) life as Sis calls out from upstairs, downstairs, this room or that.  But it's good, of course, that she's drinking lots of fluids (as I am myself, though out of a dark green bottle rather than the tap…)
My current task is to bring home a big ox-tail (yep - the real thing: the actual tail of an ox) casserole; a dish only Lal and I really enjoy and best done in a slow cooker with all those cheap but tasty vegetables kids today can neither identify, spell (and therefore ask for), or even know how to cook.  If it ain't on top of a pizza or inside a bun they're lost.
At about 9:30pm a helmeted young wastrel knocked on the door and proffered a shabby cardboard box.  "Excuse me?"
"3 Moss Bank?" he asked.
"Yes - what's that?"
"Subway"
"Huh?"
"A sandwich - from Subway."  Finally I twigged.  Someone from a nearby block of flats had ordered a 9" tubular sandwich from Subway - a company that recently lost an interesting case against HMRC (UK Customs & Tax).  Brazenly, they claimed their bread rolls should be classed as 'food', despite containing so much sugar they qualify only as confectionery and, therefore, subject to VAT!
How desperately sad that this young kid should be forced to ride his little scooter all the way from Ormskirk with one lousy roll filled with, well, whatever…  Happily, all went well with the oxtail (if not from the ox's point of view - sorry); it provided four tasty meals.
Boris's proud claim to fill the UK with 'high-paying jobs' post Brexit is steaming ahead full speed - he seems as unaware of reality as Vladimir Putin, if marginally less dangerous…
 
"Have you ever had a phosphate enema before?"
"Er, no."  The nurse waved a small green and white cardboard box over the foot of my bed and smiled.
"A virgin" I'm sure she thought and, in the world of phosphate enemas, I'm here to tell you she was right.  In'n'out the same day, shaved and stitched, courtesy of a sympathetic Scouse nurse who shared my disdain for hospital protocol and fixed up an unauthorised taxi-ride on the QT.  We will now change the subject.

The ides of May
Thought it was only March, eh?  Not so - they all had 'em, and I'm happily here on the other side of that hospital visit (above), planning the sale of my VW Camper on several grounds: I'm getting older, I don't go to music festivals any longer and, post-Covid, I reckon most of my forthcoming travel will eschew campsites.  Hell, I might even sell the tent.
What I AM planning however, is a trip to the Atlantic coast of Spain.  A friend there has provided lists of places to 'research' but I feel I will just arrive open-eyed, the better to absorb the feel of a totally new place and culture.  He has promised some live Galician bagpipe music, but I fancy wandering around the town (Pontevedra) and nearby city of Vigo as a flâneur, possibly with only my smallest camera.

I'm conscious of having referenced - several times over the last few pages - books I've been reading.  Some, say the Matthew Crawford books and the Tao of Pooh, could be considered pop-philosophy (in a non-perjorative way…)  In all of them Hegel is referenced often enough for me to prick up my ears when the saintly Baron Bragg of Wigton (or 'Melvyn Sugarbutty' as Kenny Everett once memorably styled him) ran an 'In Our Time' BBC R4 programme on 'Hegel's Philosophy of History'.  The picture alone was enough to put you off but I thought 'what the heck' - it's worth a listen.  Well maybe it was, but I was listening on an evening when the wind died away and the setting sun cast its low golden light on the houses outside my window and small clouds drifted lazily downwind.  It's true I missed the sharper points Melvyn and his learned professors were agonising over and, had I been a guest I would have been useless.  But as a listener, I got my Hegelian money's worth.  Overall though, I'd rather be me than a 'philosopher'.  Rather, in fact, be Pooh than Eeyore.
(Yeah - I think I got that right…)
 
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An extra Bank Holiday in June
The sense of impending overkill is hard to shift.  A rogue thought tickles me: might The Establishment have a body-double ready in case Brenda (Her Maj) doesn't make it to Friday?  All those Platinum Jubilee preparations,  A N D  she has to be nice to Boris!  Anyway, the funeral can't be that far away and it's going to be much bigger when it comes - not least for the massive celebratory fireworks display Charles is sure to commission.  But that is all you're getting from this subject on that subject.

Moving on…
I'm now busy organising a brief trip to Galicia.  Covid restrictions have all but vanished so naturally new hurdles have risen in their place - the way of the world.  Actually not so new: rail strikes, Bank Holiday airport chaos and the aforementioned Platinum Jubilee Celebrations.  Last time there was a similar kerfuffle - a wedding if I remember - I was in the happy position of being able to take off to the Highlands  to enjoy a Royalty-free (now where have I heard that phrase before?) weekend on Skye, blessed by fine weather and good whisky.

This time I'm trapped by circumstance, but still able to wander the Irish Sea coast as I contemplate imminent escape.  Sometimes it really is nice just to be in a place others struggle to get to on, say, a Bank Holiday.  There are always spots just a little out of reach of the hordes you can simply walk to - no motorway queues, traffic snarl-ups or parking hassles and, far out on the beach, (almost) no noise - bliss!
My poorly Sis, trapped at home by her current inability to walk far or drive at all, has nonetheless a small but beautiful garden to enjoy.  It is overflowing with plants, birds and insects and we spend as much time as possible just being in this tiny cornucopia bathed in sunlight, surrounded by the sounds of bees, squabbling blackbirds, robins and (not one of my favourites - sorry) feral pigeons.

As for the Bank Holiday itself?  Well, I might venture into town for a pint of beer in a small pub only locals can find - and we'll all relish the fact that we can slip quietly away from the hoopla when we choose.  Day One started in sunshine and, staring lazily into clouds from the end of the pier, I thought I saw - way off in the distance over the Ribble marshes - a pair of small silhouettes not unlike seagulls but behaving differently.  Just the two of them cutting large arcs in the sky but tantalisingly far away - could they be ospreys?  A quick call to my local twitching expert, M. Tourette, produced a definite 'maybe'.  Alas no binoculars, so no confirmation…

I've booked my flight to Spain with Ryanair amid tales of mass cancellations and chaos across the country, as the extended Queen's Platinum Jubilee overlays half-term holidays.  (I'm writing this before flying so should, perhaps, be cautious.)  However, it seems that Ryanair's boss, the bolshie Michael O'Leary, might have made the right call during the pandemic by not sacking his staff but rather keeping many on and reducing wages.  Apparently he has the flight crew to cope with bookings and, unusually, Liverpool airport is not among those quoted in the media as struggling.  Who knew?
Having navigated the labyrinthine Ryanair booking pages and paying for extras that are within most other airline's standard ticketing, I am spat out the other end with - still - a cheap price if it goes ahead.  A few years ago, and far from the prospect of flying Ryanair, I revelled in the warm embrace of generous BA hosties  who knew a thirsty passenger when they saw one.  One day I may return, but for now I'm stuck with an airline that seems to charge extra for farting.

It's funny how even a small break can push the day-to-day into the background.  Our serving (and lying) Prime Minister has just survived a vote of No Confidence - but not by much.  Poor Boris is busy shoring up what he hopes is support among his duplicitous MPs instead of running the country, while I am simply checking on bag storage in Porto before I catch a bus north to Pontevedra next week.  I gave up on politicians years ago - all Boris is doing is swelling the ranks of disbelievers such as myself by his crass antics.  He really is too silly for words…

 An opinion piece in Unherd neatly skewers his personality and pins it to the museum display board for our gratification.  Here is part: "Johnson has been a prolific writer and public speaker for nearly 30 years.  But if we set aside the insults and the gaffs ("tank-topped bum-boys", "picaninnies", "clearing the dead bodies from the beach"), few people could quote a word he has ever said.  When challenged about his past comments, Johnson invariably seems astonished that anyone should have taken them seriously.  For Johnson, ideas and arguments are like rhetorical flares: sent up into the sky to awe and amaze, while distracting from the emptiness around them.
[...]  Johnson himself has no economic policy to speak of.  His approach to economics - like his view of history - centres almost entirely on heroic individuals: those "entrepreneurs" and "wealth creators", for whose "concupiscent energy and sheer wealth-creating dynamism" we should give "humble and hearty thanks".  [...] Johnson can give his party no star to steer by, for he has none.  His political compass points only at himself."
Did Boris kill conservatism?  BY ROBERT SAUNDERS  June 7, 2022

  Well, amen to that!
Winding down the last few days before travel, the news comes in that my return date marks the start of a week of domestic rail strikes that will (according to the unions involved) 'bring the rail network to a standstill'.
I await the arrival of Saturday, when I can wander down to Liverpool John Lennon Airport and just, fly away……

Obviously I'm writing this in anticipation and, if the stars line up, Ryanair pays its pilots, crew and airport fees, Merseyrail manages to keep the trains running, well - the next page should find me in Galicia.  Aah yes - writing 'in anticipation'; never a wise move.  The day before, using my phone for, y'know - day-to-day stuff, I noticed the battery seemed stuck on 94% for quite a while.  No alarm bells rang until I got home and saw '94%' still on the top bar.  I fired up Bluetooth and started blasting a Mahler concerto to my speaker after which…  '94%'.  No worries - I'll just plug it in.  Now, the battery shows 'Not Charging' at which point the first frisson of panic registers.
"Smart phones are wonderful.  They do everything you know!"  Wonderful indeed until, er, they stop doing everything, at which point you're fucked.  That's the technical term - I don't know what it is in polite language.  Technically that is exactly how I felt with my tickets, Covid certificates, boarding passes and sundry arrival info all sitting on a phone with life limited to what was currently in the battery.
Luckily I have the use of a friend's phone (thank you Joan!) and spent the next hour frantically loading my info onto it.  But still, that dying phone was the number to which verification texts would be sent.  Did Marco Polo have to deal with an ancient version of 'computer says no'?  Possibly he just drew his sword and sliced the head off an offending minion or two.  I wish I had the same ability…

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