2008 — 19 June: Thursday

The merest placeholder — it's 02:17 and the Arctic ice is melting nearly as fast as I'm drooping. I chose the Joe Wright 2005 film variant, and this time watched the various extras, too. Nice film, neatly scripted by Deborah Moggach.

Now here's a new picture to leave you with, and (remember) every picture tells a story:

Christa, Peter, and the original garage door

This was in 1984 shortly before my brother-in-law's visit during which (in an unstoppable Teutonic manner that left his sister speechless) he managed to jigger1 the garage door to the point where I had to borrow my brick-laying neighbour's power saw to cut the damn' thing open and get our car out. The operation rendered the door unlockable. Hence the new one, which has now had two changes of colour, too. So, not only am I now the longest resident on this little 26-house estate, but I reckon I also have the oldest 2nd-generation2 garage door. Memories, heh? G'night.

Perplexed, of NZ... dept.

At risk of turning this diary momentarily into a blog, I note that one of my NZ correspondents (who, poor ol' chap, is losing the ability to spell Christa's name) asks overnight:

Is there somewhere in your diary that tells me how, if you have never driven or been licensed to drive before, you come to mention and display pictures of cars over thirty years? Am I to deduce that Krista was the driver for all that time? Enquiring minds (ie the dog) want to know, and I am mildly intrigued. Go on, I dare you, refer me to a blasted footnote.


She was indeed, Ian. There's a footnote or two along the way, but the bulk of the Mounce motoring history was narrated here when I became exasperated (not for the first time) at the supposed rationale3 for annual servicing. It was my job to finance these toys for Christa.

Christa learned to drive while she was in Nebraska on a one-year High School exchange programme in 1963/4. She returned to Germany, persuaded the authorities that her (non-stick-shift) licence was valid there, and went on to gain an informal degree in clutch control, as it were, from her Dad to accompany her academic ones. When she arrived in the UK in time for the start of her university job in 1973 she was driving a red Skoda coupé that was to become the bane of my life for many of the reasons that made Skodas of that geological era a bit of a standing joke. (I would have said "running" but you get the idea.)

I did have a driving lesson or two from Big Bro when I was 17, in dear Mama's Mini. (She had then only recently learned, too, to assist her commute to a part-time job as a school lab assistant.) Back in those distant days of efficient and plentiful (nationalised) public transport I lacked the motivation to drive, and I certainly lacked the financial wherewithal (lovely word) for either a car or driving lessons. Dad had a lovely large Daimler that was off-limits. Bro had his cherished Spitfire, equally untouchable. Mama moved on to an automatic Mini that she was most unkeen for me to use, and I stayed on the buses (and trains). Bro then exported himself and Spitfire to NZ (in mid 1970) and I basically moved out into my new life as an aeronautical engineering4 apprentice.

We encouraged Junior to drive as soon as he could, by the way, providing lessons and a car. Plus ça change. What puzzles and exasperates me more now (putting firmly to one side5 the unfathomable mystery of Christa's death) is quite why petrol has risen by 20% during my eight months and four days of dodging the potholes of the Benighted Kingdom! There are suggestions that up to 60% of the rise in oil prices can be blamed on speculation, dammit. (Another mystery: how is it that spivs, crooks, and financial engineers can all get far richer than me? Who nicked my finance genes?)

Brekkie beckons

10:10 and the sun is mostly shining away up there. Yet another potential cancer cure (isolating, amplifying, and re-inserting appropriate white blood T-cells) makes the news. House prices set to plummet by 9% this year. And Boris the mayor witters on, as does Life... Perhaps I'll remember the tomatoes this time?

A lovely piece of music by Alan Hovhaness (Fantasy on Japanese Woodprints) is playing on BBC Radio 3. I remember it took me (literally) years to track down a recording of his Fra'Angelico. I'd written down what I thought was his name on a scrap of paper in the Old Windsor house. That scrap remained in my desk drawer for over 20 years until this Interweb thingy came to my rescue. (I'm not usually quite as quick as this, of course.)

Spooky? Not really... dept.

I love coincidences. But (touch wood) I'm not superstitious. Mathematician John Allen Paulos featured in an email I wrote yesterday. He has a neat line in the first chapter of his book Irreligion by the way: "the certainty of uncertainty is the only kind of certainty we can expect." Anyway, today I find a nice piece he wrote a while back on whether an orderly universe is evidence of God. Snippet and source:

I've received a large number of e-mails from subscribers to creation science (who have recently christened themselves intelligent design theorists). Some of the notes have been polite, some vituperative, but almost all question "how order and complexity can arise out of nothing." Since they can imagine no way for this to happen, they conclude there must be an intelligent designer, a God. (They leave aside the prior question of how He arose.)

My canned answer to them about biological order talks a bit about evolution, but they often dismiss that source of order for religious reasons or because of a misunderstanding of the second law of thermodynamics.

John Allen Paulos on the ABC website

Of course, back when I were a lad (in 1959, and writing to President Eisenhower — a story for another time) CP Snow (who, when provoked by the supposed illiteracy of scientists, was liable to ask you to describe entropy) was arguing that "the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into [science] as their Neolithic ancestors would have had".

They were here just moments ago... dept.

Or (almost) in the words of that 1959 song recorded by Dinah Washington — what a difference a quarter of a century makes, 25 little years... (words and music of the original by Maria Grever & Stanley Adams).

Well, the front wall is still there!

Ghastly image... dept.

Readers of a certain age (or bent, for that matter) may remember a certain Tory politician with his sword of justice (or whatever tool he claimed to wield). He's cropped up in a review by Fiona MacCarthy of Ferdinand Mount's memoirs "Cold Cream". Seems a very likely purchase in due course:

When the young Ferdinand Mount becomes Selwyn Lloyd's bagman in 1962, [Lloyd] has been ruthlessly ousted from No 11 Downing Street by Harold Macmillan and is exiled in a dismal bachelor politician's flat in Westminster... Instead of the dim and loyal plodder in the background, which was always Selwyn Lloyd's public image, Mount comes face to face with a far more formidable and interesting character, a man of stalwart principle and unfathomable sexual ambiguity, whose eyes light up with longing when the dazzlingly boyish Jonathan Aitken comes into the room.

Fiona MacCarthy in The TLS

"Good God!" say Christa and I, as one. I liked the line "Nothing succeeds like failure if your blood is blue enough."

My own eyes are similarly lighting up as the chicken breasts in tomato, red onion and diced red pepper vinaigrette approach the end of their journey to a state of increased thermal agitation. I shall pile them onto a nice fresh salad and merge bodily with them in about five minutes from now. Now being 13:30 already. Good eats, I hope. Then I have some commercial tasks to perform out and about a bit.

Come back, Canute... dept.


Incoming tide

Better just check my tide tables before I depart, I guess.

Wild, late nights... dept.

Either I subconsciously took in the message of Tuesday's item on naps or the late night this morning caught up with me big-time. Still, I've resurfaced just in time to hear a brief chat with Randy Newman. Christa and I went to see him in Slough in the late 1970s — to my astonishment three-quarters of the seats were empty. Equally unbelievable is the news that Hampshire Plods are now to sport (and have already deployed to the Island) a replacement armoured Land Rover at £120,000. I had no idea I lived in such a crime hot spot.

Just (17:29) loaded Firefox 3 on another system. I shall exercise it a little before I deploy it everywhere else. The list of known issues is interesting. I gather the download servers crashed yesterday for a couple of hours under the demand.

Moving right along (19:35 or so) I rang dear Mama to check in, and tell her about Big Bro's revised Chile departure timetable. Can't be sure the message made it all the way from cortex to cortex (as it were), but I did tell her three times (which was good enough for Lewis Carroll [not to mention the giant computer Shalmaneser in John Brunner's excellent book Stand on Zanzibar]). It's also just struck me that, if I'm down in distant New Zealandland after 30 September my car tax needs renewing before I can drive it again. But will I get any refund for locking it in the garage while I'm away? Needs research. Can you believe I've never actually renewed a car tax disc in my life?! Pathetic.



1  A euphemism for the more technical term.
2  An infelicity of design (see footnote #1 above!) meant that the estates' garage doors wore out, one by one. Since (to this day) we were one of the few families who actually used their garage for keeping the car in, our door wore out rather sooner than the others.
3  I had an IBM manager (actually I had more than twenty of the blighters over the years) who confused the words "rational" and "rationale". I deliberately inserted the "wrong" one into my Opinion Survey answers one year to see if my admittedly snide comment made it all the way through into the management summary unaltered (as was claimed). To my delight, it did.
4  Hindsight might suggest that my total lack of interest in driving betokened (lovely word) a similar lack of interest in engineering. Hindsight would not be totally wrong.
5  I'm also puzzled at the way I was able to "inherit" a four-year no-claims insurance discount from Christa despite my status as a driving virgin, but since that falls into the category of "gift horse" I didn't push the line of inquiry too hard. I shall assume my age and wisdom have been taken into account!