10 June 2012

Good morning to you all and I hope you are all in as fine a fettle as it is possible to be. Of course, much of this week has been all about the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee which has succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations in distracting both the press and the general population from the economic turmoil in which we find ourselves. Although the weather has been lousy, there has been much pomp and circumstance, great waving of flags and rousing three cheers. I should have bought bunting futures – bunting manufacturers must have made enough to retire on the sales leading up to this past weekend. Even I have to concede – one thing the Brits do well is put on pageants such as this. Fortunately, for those of us who are not particularly Royalist in our leanings, the various media sites have put together a collection of video clips which mean that we didn’t have to sit through the whole four days of nonsense; there are some excellent time lapse sequences which allow you to experience the events in a matter of moments.

The BBC site has a fun time lapse of the Thames Pageant (a good four hours of tedium condensed into just under three minutes) as well as an audio-visual presentation of similar Thames Pageants in the past. It’s interesting to contrast the sunlight in the Canaletto below with the gloomy grey and overcast skies of this year’s Jubilee pageant.

Canaletto Thames Pageant

The Guardian produced another excellent time lapse video of the procession up the Mall which covers that part of the festivities in two minutes. So, instead of spending four days’ standing in the rain and gloom, you can enjoy the most important parts of the celebrations in just under five minutes. Happy to be of service!

Even the French got excited about the Jubilee – we had the following photo from Erik Benson (who some of you will know) of his daughter Jane’s preparation for a Jubilee party near Cognac. Jane is an excellent cook and runs a market stall in Cognac called Sugar and Spice preparing all manner of English cakes and treats. Erik wrote that she was asked to cater for a Jubilee/birthday party for which she produced the following, amongst other delights:

Jane Benson's Union Jack Pavlova

(It seems the guy was a Brit anyway so perhaps the French didn’t get all that excited about it after all).

We did our bit to help the economy during these difficult times by purchasing a set of celebratory commemorative Jubilee mugs illustrated by Steve Bell, one of the Guardian’s more irreverent cartoonists. He has produced a succession of mugs for a variety of special occasions and this one takes the usual jaundiced view of the event:

Jubilee Mug - Diamond Liz

It shows “Diamond Liz” (modelled on the Damien Hirst Diamond Skull “For the Love of God”) with the slogan “Sixty Glorious Years on Benefits” and “Diamond Liz – Never Signed On”. The two characters “rampant” are depictions of Ed Milliband, leader of the Labour party (Millipanda) and the Prime Minister, David Cameron (Condom Man aka Dickhead).

Always glad to play our part.

The other big event this week which comes around even less frequently than a British monarch’s diamond jubilee was the transit of Venus. Just like the Supermoon, we were unable to witness it “live” as it were – the skies have been perennially cloudy ever since the passing of Penelope’s Sixty Sensational Celebratory Surprises. Fortunately, the various media outlets have provided wonderful photographs and yet more time lapse videos. The BBC has a page which has a number of links as well as a good video clip explaining why it is such a rare event. The Guardian has a time lapse video of images from the NASA site showing the transit – good stuff and probably better than we would have been able to see if the skies had been clear!

A couple of “fun” bits of news to finish this week: Firstly, voting took place in Oregon to approve the “twinning” of two towns with wonderfully similar names; the town of Boring in Oregon (population about 12,000) has become a “sister community” with the village of Dull in Scotland (population 84). The Guardian has an article explaining the significance of the event and also has another article about similarly unusual place names. Enjoy.

And finally, how about the following as a definition of irony?

A three-truck crash on Interstate 40 in Albuquerque in May destroyed one truck and sent two people to the hospital with minor injuries.  One tractor-trailer carrying a load of charcoal and charcoal lighter fluid crashed into the rear of a tractor-trailer carrying frozen meat.  The lighter fluid facilitated a huge fireball/barbeque.

[Albuquerque Journal, 5-17-2012]

And finally, finally: we just received the devastating news that our all-time favourite radio programme – Car Talk – is to “cease and desist” as from the end of September this year. I am in mourning! I know that many, if not all of you, will know of Car Talk – it’s one of the funniest yet informative radio programmes anywhere on the air waves.

Tom and Ray Magliozzi

I was first introduced to it by Susie during our famous “mooching” vacation together around southern California in what I am thinking must have been about 1989 (Sallie will know – it’s the time when Susie clogged up her septic). Susie kept raving about this radio programme where two guys talk about cars – I thought she was nuts! Every time she would remember that it was on, we had either just missed it or we were doing something that meant we weren’t able to listen live. Yet she kept going on and on about this programme, convinced that I would love it, and introduced me to their catchphrase – “Don’t drive like my brother!” We never did hear it on that trip and I went back to England thinking nothing more of it.

Then, some weeks or months later, Susie sent me a parcel containing a number of tape cassettes of some recent shows, transgressing federal copyright law and probably committing international mail fraud in the process. The rest, as they say, is history. Every Saturday morning, come rain or shine, kids’ soccer matches or other pressing engagements, Susie would record the programme and, every few weeks, send me a number of cassettes which I would then listen to on my commute to work (remember the days when cars had cassette players?). I introduced my work colleagues to the programme and these same cassettes travelled all over Oxfordshire and indeed further afield being passed on from hand to hand among a growing number of aficionados. We challenged each other to come up with answers to the weekly puzzler and, of course, failed 99% of the time. When the usual parcel didn’t arrive for a number of weeks we knew Susie was otherwise engaged, usually in the early stages of a new relationship which somehow prevented the regular Saturday morning taping – clearly she needed lessons on prioritising her responsibilities.

Finally, the Car Talk guys started producing their programme as a podcast which I was able to download from the interweb. Susie was relieved of her illegal copyright-infringing activities and I was assured of a regular supply of Car Talk. Honestly, by this stage listening to the programme had become a serious addiction and if I didn’t get my weekly dose I was liable to be moody and truculent all week.

Now that I no longer have a daily commute to work, I tend to save them up and Ms Playchute and I listen to them while travelling somewhere. We too challenge ourselves with the weekly puzzler – either the puzzlers are easier these days or we are less stupid than we were in the past – nowadays we are able to answer about one in three.

So, you can see what bad, bad news this is. It looks like when Penny and I travel some where in the future we’re actually going to have to talk to one another. Quelle merde!

Love to you all,


Stop Press: a late addition to this week’s news – a photo of me and Penny at her party weekend before last sent to us by Phil Timings.

Greg and Penny