Thursday, 14 February 2019

Bjorn to Brexit


    This month is the first time I have spent not-lambing for close on fifty years. Our one and only remaining ewe, one Daisy Death-wish, has today dropped yet another mutant into the world, aided by some friends who are housing her for the winter. So instead of late night vigils, all I get are a few photos to say the job is done, successfully, from a few thousand miles away. Great result everyone.
I did threaten that during this 'lambing-holiday' we might instead head off to South America to visit my son who is working out there but, as it happens, he is back in Blighty this month, so we will just make an 800 mile road-trip to see him in the Midlands instead, visiting a few other family members in the process.  Not that I have been lazy these last few weeks, as I have been constantly kept busy shuffling furniture around from one place to another, then occasionally back again, generally on my own. That's the one beauty of using Swedish furniture, it does all come apart and reassemble, even without a set of diagrams designed for idiots.
    In between times, I have found myself at my writing desk, the first time for nearly two years. A couple of ideas were kicking around in my head, occasionally shouting to be heard above the constant whirr of an overcrowded bureau full of un-completed admin. A framework has been drafted and a few chapters already scribbled towards a new novel based in the early sixties around a true set of events. I am not sure when I will get chance to finish it, nor re-visit the list of half-written projects lurking on my PC, but it is nice to get back to my preferred occupation, rather than the one I have forced myself into out of financial necessity. Out of total co-incidence I noticed a poster for a local writing group here in East Neuk and decided to attend one of their meetings. I have to admit it is the first time I have ever been to such a thing, but I am now card carrying member of Writersneuk.com, and already supplying contributions to their website.
      Obviously I can only make it to the winter events of writers workshops, pool matches, quiz nights etc, as we will be back in France from Spring through to Autumn. It was suggested that I could attend, via Skype, an innovation that allows people to pretend to be somewhere they are not. But then I happened to read in the weekend's paper about how Abba are going on tour this year, by hologram! Yes, instead of their tired 70-year old bodies being shoehorned back into lycra and high-heels, the crowds can enjoy Agnetha, as she was back in 1978, cavorting around in that oh-so-tight silver cat suit! Apparently, says the article, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t really them, so life-like is the stage act. So much so that, at a hundred quid a ticket, folks are queuing up to get a front row seat. Now that I have to say is a win-win for everyone, especially Bjorn's dignity and bank account. This is, of course, the thin end of a very long and fat wedge. How long before the Beatles get back together and take a world tour or, heaven forbid, The Bay City Rollers restart the fashion statement of tartan flares and tank-tops? The concept is limitless. Donald Trump could send himself out on stage, safe in the knowledge that when someone assassinates him, the bullet would go right through and into any world leader standing behind him. Once the Chinese get hold of the technology it won't be long before we can all get a hologram of ourselves for Christmas? My wife could send herself to business meetings in Aberdeen in her best suit, whilst simultaneously sipping gin by our pool with her rollers in. I could be at home writing a book, at work with a pointing trowel and in France mowing the lawn, all at the same time. Oh hang on a minute, I do that already!
   I couldn’t let this month's column go by without some reference to the 'B' word and the impending deadline of doom. Has anybody a clue what is going on? I mean, really? It is nearly a couple of years ago since the press filled up our ears with Article 50, back-stops, soft-borders and a whole load of other foggy jargon and propaganda. Now we get threatened with withdrawals, extensions and no-trade-deals, and it appears blatantly obvious that nobody has a Scooby-do about what will happen come April 2019. Should I be back in France by that date? Will they charge me to return to my own home? Or let me in at all? Will I still be able to buy wine and cheese on a British passport? Does our habitation tax double next year, unless we can prove our residency by singing both verses of the Marseillaise? Will my hologram be French, or British? In fact, does a hologram have to pay tax at all? Or need a passport for that matter? There's a question I bet Teresa May hadn’t considered? Oh dear, back to the drawing board we go...



Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Smart toilet seat


    Skiing season, 6 Nations season, possibly snowy season, wow, welcome to 2019 before it roars into the next decade. This should also be the golf season for me, as I enjoy playing the sport in winter in Scotland because the courses are a bit easier. Admittedly, you do have the howling wind sending the wee ball offline, as well as rain, fog and other inclement climate variants but, for a bad golfer like myself, it is all about the 'rough', as that is frequently where my ball ends up. However, what is normally 3 foot high goose-grass in summer which will swallow more balls than a Polish hooker, in winter is cut back, so that it can re-grow and thus, with a sharp pair of eyes I manage to get round without losing a box-full of the things. Now, if only they would put a net over the sea or, better still, make golf balls that float!
    I mentioned last month we are now in our new home and are still very much enjoying life by the ocean, not least because the weather has mainly been beautiful here in East Neuk. Beach walks with the dogs have been frequent, despite Louis's obsession with rotting seagulls which seem to adorn the shoreline this time of year. On numerous occasions he has either had to have one confiscated on his return to the house, or take an involuntary full bath after he has rolled in the damn things.  Our new kitchen has been put to extensive use and, on the whole, seems to function reasonably well. I have designed and built half a dozen kitchens over the last few years but when it comes to putting one in that I want to work in myself, some serious thought needs to apply, regarding proximity of appliances, sinks etc. My only complaint is the issue of the soft-close hinge. Yes, maybe this modern invention does have the advantage of doors not banging shut or drawers being left slightly open but it has really been taken too far, with the introduction of the slow-drop toilet seat.  Now we all know the eternal age-old gender debate about 'seat up or down' which has probably instigated more sexual harassment law suits than Peter Green, but now we have this in-between state where it is neither one thing nor the other. And sometimes, you don’t have time to wait the full 5 minutes for the thing to descend, if you get my drift? Hopping up and down and gritting your teeth surely can't be produce healthy outcome - can it? Well, from now on, ours is glued down permanently, so there Mrs F!
    This month I have to go to war, with the Chinese. No, not quite the whole nation - in fact, the take-away at the end of our street actually sent us a Christmas card this year, such is our working relationship. No, my truck with them involves mobile phones or, in my case, lack of them. Just 2 months have passed since my new Umidigi handset arrived from China, only a few weeks late. And, for a while it all worked fine until, for some strange coincidence, it packed up on Christmas morning. Since then, after vain attempts at fixing it, I have emailed, written, phoned and screamed at the supplier to replace or repair it, only to be bluntly ignored. So now, I have taken to naming and shaming them on social media, each posting slightly more vitriolic than the former. Despite still getting zero response, I do wholly realise that somewhere amongst this vendetta, I may be breaching some libel laws but I care not. I have even taken to swearing at them in Chinese! However, thanks to Bing Translate, for all I know I could be ordering a chow-mein! Not until the Emperor himself sends me a full pardon, or at least a refund, will I cease with my endeavours of justice. Keep your eyes on the press for a solitary figure sitting in Tiananmen square sometime soon!
   I am not quite sure where I have been hiding my head lately, but I have only recently discovered a new phenomenon that it about to spark the 4th industrial revolution (no, I never knew we had 3 previous ones either!). I am talking about the 'Internet-of-things'. I don’t know who came up with the name, possibly a small child, but basically this is a generic term for devices that are connected to the internet, allowing them to not only communicate with each other but also gather data to improve their productivity. Sounds complicated? Well it may be but it is surprising how many of these IoT gadgets we already use in our daily life and the list is growing at an alarming rate. Let's take one of the original ones, that gadget you can use at the supermarket to pay for your shopping. It knows when you shop, what you eat, what the weather is like, how fast you walk, how much you drink, etc. And you don’t suppose for one minute that it keeps all that information to itself, do you? Of course, you don’t have to use it, and many of us choose not to for that very reason. Basically anything preceded with the word Smart belongs to this category and it is stealing all your stuff and sharing it with strangers. As well as TV, phones and cars, you can get smart hairbrushes, toothbrushes, toasters and dog collars, the list is as endless as it is, in my mind, useless. However, the reason I uncovered all this uncomfortable information is that we have just installed a new heating system and it too is Smart - well, smarter than me anyway. Now, apparently, I can control the heating in the house, even when I am not there which, er, seems pretty unnecessary. But more than that, it knows what the weather is like because the internet told it, so can control itself accordingly. And, as it knows we are in Scotland, it possibly assumes it snows all winter and asks the bank for a loan to pay the gas bill? Apparently I can even set it to switch off the radiators every time I leave the room to go to the toilet. Adding on an extra 5 minutes for the slo-coach seat to go down, obviously. Ah, here's a thought, why can't someone invent the smart toilet seat, that I can control from my phone 5 minutes before I need to go for a pony-and-trap? Come on IoT, get it sorted.