Saturday, 22 May 2010


I bought a grenade yesterday. Not a purchase I make every day of the week. I was joking with the chap behind the counter about whether I could claim it against tax. He rightly said that when the taxman sees the word grenade he is unlikely to be sympathetic.
The object I bought yesterday is probably a bit heavy for a grenade - 2 or 3 lbs, but it should do the job. I bought it to split wood. It is a pyramid shaped device made of very hard alloy. You put the spike end in logs, hit it hard with a lump hammer and Bob's your Uncle and Fanny's your fire fuel.
It was not always so. Grenades and I have history, which came to mind at this purchase.
Years ago, in my murky past, I learned to throw them. You would stand in the grenade bay facing the sergeant instructor. You would pull the pin with your left hand, and show him it, so you didn't throw a dud. A surprising number of people panicked and did just this. No boom. Once the pin was out, you would extend your left arm in the direction of the target (an old tractor tyre) and throw the grenade overarm with your right. The arm of the grenade would fly off, thus initiating the three or four second fuse. One or two cackhanded people actually dropped the grenade in the bay. That was what the sergeant was there for. In that event, he would grab you by the shoulders and push you back, into the side bay, specially designed for the purpose. The grenade would then explode in the main bay, harmlessly. I say harmlessly, but not quite. If any duffer were to drop the grenade, their humiliation would be complete as the entire squad would come and have a look at the damage. It was instructive. Shrapnel embedded itself in the brickwork of the bay walls. It took little imagination to see what it would do to a human body.
About the same time, a friend of mine, who was also an artillery officer, had a small collection of grenades in his rooms at University. They were second world war Mills bombs, made safe of course. He and I both held "positions of responsibility" in our hall of residence, and had rooms opposite each other. So other students used to come to our rooms for various halls of residence reasons. A favourite game we had at the time was to gaily toss these grenades to each other, much to the alarm of anyone who came in. I remember once one of the foreign students - a chap called Mr. Yipp, if I remember correctly - came in. He looked astonished to see the two of us playing catch with a grenade. "Don't worry," said my friend, "It's not dangerous till you pull the pin." He pulled the pin. Mr. Yipp's eyes widened. "No, no, no," my friend soothed, "it still isn't armed, till you release the arm." Mr. Yipp sighed in relief. Then my friend made a show of fumbling the thing and dropping it on the floor. A quick look at each other and then he and I were running out the door, and down the stairs. Before we had got to the next floor, Mr. Yipp, absolutely terrified, had past us!

Friday, 21 May 2010


The house is surrounded by birds.
Swallows are back from their African holiday. Or is it the other way round?
"Let's go to Laytham, you know how the chicks love it."
"What again? We go there every year. What about a change?"

A starling family has got in and nested under the eves just above the family bathroom. My ex father in law called them rats with beaks. Not far wrong. They're buggers for puncturing the sarking felt and finding a way in. And their brood keeps up a constant boring cheep, whilst I am on the khazi. Quite upsets my prime reading opportunity.

Her indoors did an unusual mowing marathon. But the dandelion clocks are indefatigable. The goldfinches are gorging.

But yesterday, there was a real surprise. A bird sat on the family room window sill. I entered the room, and he looked at me almost guiltily. He was a sparrowhawk, and he must have heard my sharp intake of breath. One glance. One guilty "I have just been a-killing" glance, and he was gone. A beauty. A thrilling, killing beauty.

Thursday, 20 May 2010


"You be Bosatsu.

I'll be the taxi driver, driving you home."

(With thanks to Gary)


Our Father which art in Heaven.

Why did you fuck off in the first place?
And why have you stopped paying the maintenance?

Thursday, 13 May 2010


A short reading list for aspirant zen students:

On Having No Head - DE Harding
Instant Zen 10,000 Ways
The Heart of Understanding - Thich Nhat Than
The Art of Happiness - Dalai Lama
The Inner Game of Tennis Timothy Gallwey
No death, No Fear - Thich Nhat Than
The Art of Peace - Morihei Ueshiba
Stillness Speaks - Eckhart Tolle
The Outsider - Albert Camus
An Introduction to Zen Buddhism - DT Suzuki
Everything Being Nothing - Tony Parsons

Saturday, 8 May 2010


My take on the General Election result is this. People want change. They view all politicians as being more or less as bad as one another. Countless doorstep interviews with constituents have collected this view. Hence the result - a preference for change, but an uncertainty as to who will provide it.
The prospect of a Conservative / Lib Dem coalition is an interesting one. Nick Clegg has come of age in the campaigning, even if his party was once again defeated by the first past the post system. Under PR, they'd have 150 seats. One could see him as a senior Minister. Likewise, the humane presence of Vince Cable in Cabinet has to be preferred to the odious George Osborne. Whilst full PR might not be the answer - and indeed in my view is not radical enough - electoral reform is most definitely wanted. No one outside the arms industry really wants Trident like for like replacement. Its huge cost burden could and should be ploughed back into redressing the apalling public sector debt that is the legacy of Labour's project. But a seat at the top international defence table shouldn't be given up lightly either. Europe might be a sticking point. One could see differences on taxation being bridged. The Liberals would push the Tories to be more humane. The Tories would push the Liberals to have sharper teeth. Cameron could prove by a formal coalition that he really does stand for change. Clegg likewise. So, a muddle. But potentially not a bad one.
But, to quote the old song, why are we waiting?
For several weeks if not months a hung parliament has been a real prospect. You'd think that with that truck coming down the road at you, you might just decide to get out of the way rather than wait around to get run over. You'd think that contingency planning would be such that one quick phone call would do it.
"Nick, we're on plan B then."
"OK David."
"See you later."
But it isn't. We're dawdling in the middle of the road till the tyre marks are on our neck, at a cost of about 10% of the FTSE value, so - far from academic.
And that pivots me back towards my usual despondency.
Mainly, these people just aren't up to the strategic, forward looking and imaginative act of truly governing in the national interest rather than the smaller, "business as usual" game of point scoring party politics.