Friday, 8 November 2013

O tempora, o mores

Dear God, it's happened, All Souls has decided to become an institution like any other: it has announced the end of the practice of inviting shortlisted Fellowship Examination candidates to dinner on the day of the vivas. That is, no longer will it elect its Prize Examination Fellows according to their ability to suck up to senior barristers ("sometimes, dear boy, you must take the smooth with the smooth") over the port and walnuts. It even expects them, in a half-hearted fashion, to do some work: Fellows working outside academia must maintain active academic interests, albeit in a very part-time fashion. What weasel words in that final phrase, that eat the ones they follow. Magnificent rearguard work in the relevant committee to get them in. It gets worse, or maybe better, but certainly different: the translation paper has become optional, so that to become a fellow in classics you no longer need to know either Latin or Greek. 

"O brave new world, that has such creatures in it." Indeedy doody, Miranda was talking about men.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Comparative highway engineering

[This is a message from our sponsor, Network Rail.]

The Hitchin flyover is now open and has either had a dramatic impact or made no difference. Well, in several months, out of the dozens of trains that I've taken on that route, one (1) has used it. I'm ramping up my train travel so expect further incisive commentary on this exciting piece of engineering in

...wait for it, cliche fans...

due course.

(I so envy the skill of people who know how to typeset accents. No Good Boyo can typeset anything, it's his Marxist training,)

Right, message over. Back to the New Jersey Turnpike shortly.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Imperial child rearing

Young Amestris has graduated from high school / passed her A-levels and is off to college (the University of Thule, to study ultimatics) and the world should know the key to this success. The key is to have the correct rules, and here they are.

 1) I don't care what you eat but you must eat something. [You can let this one slide when they're 12.]

 2) No mess.

 3) No tattoos.  Especially not the hip alternative ones, they look particularly gross when you're 30.

 4) Never even think of doing smack. Junkies are boring beyond words and heroin is their substitute for having a personality.

 5) No motorcycles, no boys with motorcycles. Ever. You might come back from drugs or disease. You don't come back from brain or spinal damage.

 6) If you meet a boy called Adam Spratt, run away. You know how you can't get pregnant from sitting next to a boy on the bus? If the boy is Spratty you can, even if you're a boy yourself. Spratty is insufferably charming and swarthy and good-looking, has a nasty moustache and is totally useless and unemployable, a complete drone in fact. And the grandchildren will be equally swarthy and have equally nasty moustaches.

 Right, that's it. I'm off to solve global warming next.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Don't go West

One pleasure of the New Jersey Turnpike is WBGO. It says it's a jazz station but is more unreliable than that. If it were more reliable it would be worse.

 The other day I turn it on to find it interviewing Cornel West. Wikipedia describes him as a public intellectual which is not the same as an intellectual; he left Harvard in a huff after the president suggested that he might like to do more with his time than make rap CDs. Well, one rap CD actually.

 Which is enough to establish him, or anyone, as a humourless bore. So I flip. The next channel is a country station playing a song about reggae cowboys.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Piker boy

The New Jersey Turnpike plays a large part in my life, although I live in London. This is because the alternative is Route 1 (rout not root). After dropping off the family at Newark airport I very nearly found my way onto the turnpike but as usual missed the crucial sign telling you to swerve across four lanes of traffic towards Elizabeth. The swerve is not the problem, the problem is to remember that Elizabeth has anything to do with any other destination, intended or not. So I was stuck on Route 1 the whole way. And I had to trust to God that it was indeed Route 1 that I was stuck on, there wasn't a sign to be seen. Getting lost in that part of Jersey is no fun, the Sopranos was a documentary.

Route 1 is like any major highway, fast heavy traffic all the time. But with lights. You're in a herd, barreling towards these lights at 80, wondering if you can stop if they change. And JESUS CHRIST THAT WAS A LEVEL CROSSING. No lights there, what happens when a train comes? No doubt about it, the turnpike is worth its $6.50.

It has other attractions too. The Newark runway is right next to it, so you can be tooling along at high speed only to be overtaken by a 747 coming in to land. And is the smell that of the refinery at Linden or is it that smoking heap of machinery? Which is either my friend Bruce's clunker or a Dreamliner having an emotional crisis. My money's on the Dreamliner, Bruce's clunker has more self-respect.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Brain strain

I look up from Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale on the laptop to see that the white lino floor of the kitchenette is undulating. No, more than that, it's writhing. A quick mental check of the drugs I've taken recently confirms, only 2 beers, so WTF? Oh, I remember, I'd run out of dishwasher detergent so had improvised with the liquid stuff, seemed a good idea at the time but isn't, the dishwasher is pumping out foam by the gallon.

Remember, I screw up so you don't have to.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Living la vida loca

I've known Charlie since we were 2. Now he's a corporate litigator in mid-town Manhattan; when Consolidated sues Amalgamated Charlie's in there chopping someone off at the knees. Saving widows and orphans? Don't be silly, they're poor. At lunch we discuss my legal encounter of the previous day, which was a phone call from Carlos' lawyer asking, can I be in court tomorrow to do my bit as a character witness. Well with more than 24 hours notice it would have been a pleasure, but I'm in NY. Carlos doesn't know anyone else respectable (trust me on this, I honestly am respectable, really boringly so) and I wanted to help; he is a, er, shall we say less polished version of my brother and it would be a shame for him to go away.