rashbre central: May 2020

Wednesday 27 May 2020

scuttle award

There's a big black spider that lives behind the back gatepost. Every tie I go through the gate it comes out to have a look and then scuttles back away again. Even when I water the sunflowers, but I think that must be the water hitting the web.

I wonder how big a spider has to be before it gets awarded the verb 'scuttles'? Anyway, this one is big enough.

Then there are the spiders that have started cocooning the car. Okay, so it hasn't been anywhere recently. The spiders have woven webs between the driver door and the ground. I wouldn't expect them to catch much there if truth be told.

And as for the mirror.

Tuesday 26 May 2020

The Robo Vac ate my power cord

We've all heard about that dog. The one that ate the homework.

Sometimes the excuses need sprucing up or modernising.

Like the RoboVac ate my power cord so I couldn't log on.

(sadly true, although it didn't happen to me)

Sometimes it's the long and complicated excuses that don't seem as realistic.

But then, making up excuses when under immense stress must be difficult.

Sunday 24 May 2020

just checking?

Toy car, 1/24th scale, for illustrative purposes only

Maybe I need this for my novel writing? If I wanted to check someone's whereabouts and they had been driving a car, I wonder if any of the roadside technology would be of assistance.

For example, Could the authorities tell when the car left London and re-entered it, by the Congestion Charge cameras?

If I wanted to see whether the car had gone further afield, could the authorities use the green ANPR cameras (Automatic Number Plate Recognition)? I notice that they don't store the numbers unless there is, say, a missing road tax or another transgression.

There's also a set of traffic management cameras on Motorways; how long do they retain their data and how smart is it? (for example, would it know a Volvo or a Range-Rover?

It's a little more tricky to cross-check the phone records, because the mobile phone would be accessing so many masts on a long journey. However, the call log could provide the relevant information, by illustrating where the call originated, although I'm guessing that it is an infringement of human rights to use such data?

Verschränkung thought experiment

I've decided that we are all living in a quantum paradox now. We've known for ages that the internet was made of catz, which may or may not be a uzable fact. And that most of these government guidelines are open to interpretation. If they have gaudy chevrons around them then they are a quantum superposition. Or are they?

The very architect of many of the snappy one-liners is the perfect exponent of the flat-pack excuse. He's loading a few more (slightly lumpy ones) into his car for another extensive trip in this picture. Or is he?

But Dominic Schroedinger Cummings has other quantum thoughts. He can be in London and Durham at the same time. And he can make an integer number of trips back and forth along the A1, where restrictions in range functions can best be expressed by a formula.

I know what you are thinking. It's an inverse square, isn't it? There might even be a law about that kind of thing. It does bring in imaginary numbers, which is something I'm sure Mr Gove would expertly discuss.

But maybe these thought journeys are like the visible states of the Prime Minister, random subatomic events that may or may not occur? Is he in Number 10 or not? Is he Taking Back Control or not?

As well as cats, social media must be woven by spiders with all that world-wide-web around the place. It leads to another of Schrödinger's thoughts -


Stay alert.

Thursday 21 May 2020

boats back in the water

Well if it has to be lock-down then at least we have good weather for it. Even the boats are being put back into the water now, and the end of the car park is bustling with a tractor and a big crane. The black swans have returned.

In the town, there's still social distancing in full-swing and some of the shops have re-invented themselves and are selling different products. I just polished off an amazing raspberry brioche from Sara's Petite Cuisine.

And don't get me started on the Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese custard tarts) which are almost certainly the best in the universe.

The town has 2-metre markers on the pavements and chalk markings around serving hatches denoting the 'sweet spot' for service. We soon found the spectacular fish display in the Salutation Inn and even took home some fresh prawns suitably packed in ice.

But strangely enough, after all of that fresh air, a siesta beckons this afternoon.

It's not so surprising though. We were up until 3am this morning share-watching the Smash theatre show, which was beamed to our TV from Broadway via HBO and The People. We all decided it felt quite like going to the theatre, except the G+Ts were less expensive.

It's the first time I've ever seen George the RoboVac going about its scheduled 2 am cleaning chores

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Unpaid tax at rest in the water

With all of Covid and Brexit swishing around it is still interesting to see what else is making the news. I see the British owner of a high street discount retailer is in trouble for tax avoidance. A few years ago they sold some of the shares in their company and then took the £235 million profit without seeing the need to pay any British tax.

Instead, they took advice from one of the Big Four tax avoidance specialists - a well-known and reputable sounding firm. For suitably agreeable fees, the tax advisory firm suggested that the owner relocate to Monaco.

Pass the luxury yacht catalogue.

Oh well, it turns out that the advice given might have been unsuitable because the owner of the company could not stay in his house in Liverpool for 2-3 days a week without HMRC noticing.

He did buy the yacht though and a whopping big one it is too. Not as big as 'Sir' Philip Green's yacht (the so-named 'Lionheart' aka 'BHS Destroyer'), but large, nonetheless. Notice the money-loading-bay at the back of Lionheart pictured below:

Alas, the poor tax-avoiding mite has to pay the full whack on the profit from the £235m sale now. It's apparently some £84 million in taxes - which seems to be at a surprisingly low rate of 35%. I'd have expected it to be more like 45% or £105 million. Of course, he's decided to sue the tax advisors for the £135 million which is what it amounts to after interest charges and so on.

But then, it is difficult to get the staff these days. I notice that the same Big Four accounting firm was featured in a Financial Reporting Council warning of an “unsatisfactory” deterioration in inspection results for audits of FTSE 350 clients over the past year, after only two out of three of the audits scrutinised met the watchdog’s standard of needing 'only limited improvement'.

The watchdog’s sharpest criticism was reserved for the auditor of that cake shop, when a multimillion-pound black hole was discovered in the accounts last year. The cake shop went bust, but I expect the accountants got their fees.

Cake and eat it?

Tuesday 19 May 2020

Babylon Zoo alert

I expect, like many, I've puzzled over the Bluffer's explanation of the current situation on the virus. That scale of 1 to 5 doesn't seem to be getting much of an airing, but I suppose no-one can work out how to operate it properly.

As for the number-hiding, we are now seeing inconvenient truths being swept under the carpet whilst the Clown juggles through a daily number show. We used to call some of it spurious accuracy, when for example, the number of tests clicks up at 96,878 - although we all know that includes posted out tests being added to the numbers.

'Stay alert' sounds a little bit too much like living on the edge of my nerves and 'control the virus' isn't something that I know how to do, nor do scientists except the orange loony one in Washington who is snorting horse tranquillisers or something.

Then, to top it all, the other day we see that televisual nightmare Gove telling us to send our children back to school and get back to work if possible.

He's still hoping for a shot at the big chair.

The hidden problem that sees most of the Cabinet climbing the walls is that they are spending like there is no tomorrow. Getting people back to work would stop some of it and there might even be a few high streets left standing.

There's that 'let me get this straight' moment too. It's okay for cleaners, maids, gardeners, window cleaners to go back to work. Okay to play tennis or golf, maybe a spot of sailing too? and then there's that little gîte in France? Stay alert.

There's the dilemma. Boris is useless. He can feign sincerity and some people will believe him. He can wring his hands publically, but we all know he is looking for someone to blame. Will it be the scientists? the army? medical research? The testers? He can watch the orange lad position the World Health Organisation and the Chinese as scapegoats with an object lesson in blame avoidance. Stay alert.

And now, after last week's broadcast, he has managed to slice and dice the UK into its constituent parts. It is all very handy for another piece of his skullduggery. He can quietly let Brexit drift into the Theresa No Deal situation, by banning the B-word from Conservatives lips. Many pundits didn't think a year would be long enough to sort it all out anyway, now there's an available excuse, but the ideology of hard lining it seems to be winning over. The Moggster will get Parliament reconvened for just enough days to seal Britain's fate in the way that his so-called European Research Group lobby party intended. Stay alert.

And all bets are off as the Eurozone gets stretched like some kind of steel bar in a tensile machine. Get the ear protectors ready.

Monday 18 May 2020

smoke fairies

Like so many bands, smokily drifting off into the future. It'll be Thursday 22 April 2021 before they are at the Think Tank.

Thursday 14 May 2020

down to zero

Caught out again.

There I was editing the Raven novel, and I noticed that the main characters go into a restaurant as part of one of the sub-plots. Its a real restaurant and brilliantly positioned for what they are doing. The only problem is that it is a Wagamamas, which is another of the chains which have announced significant closure as a result of the virus. The related chains are Frankie and Bennies and Chiquitos, as the demise of the high street and retail parks march on.

Of course, these detail changes to a novel are nothing compared with the changes to the UK economy, which is predicted to tank by 10%. Over 1.8 million people are reported to have claimed Universal Credit in the United Kingdom, which suggests over 10% unemployment.

Getting paid by the government up to the day when the 80% government thing stops doesn't bode well, and the UK government must already know this. Pre COVID, the unemployment rate had been under 4% in UK, and already people were struggling, because of soaring underemployment, and non-enforcement or evasion of labour rights.

Shuttered shops and bust businesses doesn't bode well for these people, yet it isn't really getting commentary. Instead of Labour picking at Boris' latest statistics error, it could frame the post COVID situation with some intelligent questioning.

I can remember when working for a pan-European firm that the workers' councils and similar systems in other countries, (eg Germany, France and Italy) were enough to keep people employed significantly longer than in the UK.

UK job security laws require that an employer gives reasonable notice of at least one to twelve weeks before dismissal. An employer cannot, at any time, dismiss an employee in a way that breaches the basic ‘duty of mutual respect’, and after two years’ work, an employer can only dismiss for a fair reason as assessed by an Employment Tribunal. Also, after two years’ work, employers must give a redundancy payment. For significant cuts, most companies hire one of the axemen consultancies to come in and assist the process. Roll out the 'compromise agreements'. It's not quite George Clooney's 'Up In the Air' but significantly along those lines.

Job security, workplace democracy, and labour law matter: they are the best defence against depression, and of prosperity. Otherwise, we will be hitting a depression after the pandemic. Maybe not as serious as in the Trumptonian USA, but deep cuts nonetheless. Now we see an emerging crisis of confidence afflicting business, forcing them to plan for a future of mass unemployment, and emerging from fear of collapsing demand. It's especially the fat cats among the retailers protecting their own cash at the expense of everyone else (mentioning no names). The fear exists if the government fails to lay out the principles for a credible recovery plan - something one would expect the Conservatives to be all over - except they are not, but then, neither are the opposition.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Dali's Tarot

One thing I'd semi-forgotten in amongst writing was that once the novels were published I'd eventually get royalties. Thank you very much, dear readers. Anyone who can remember my royalty scheme from before when I published The Triangle as 'rashbre', will know that I re-invested my meagre royalties in the National Lottery. It lasted for years because of occasional wins, plus the occasional booster top-up. Well, I just received some royalties from January, and I decided to invest them in something that I was tinkering with for a novel, instead. I spotted a set of Salvador Dali tarot cards and plumped to purchase them.

This appealed to me because they were by Dali, quite unique, and I was sure they would be like 76 miniature pieces of art. This ties in with my last post too, because apparently Dali was originally commissioned to design the cards for the movie Live and Let Die.

I was not disappointed. To begin with, I'd imagined the box they were in to be playing card sized.

How wrong I was.

It is a lovely purple textured velvet finish box, embossed and with a card stuck to the font. Inside, there's a large format, thick-paged book which details each of the cards and describes the painting inspiration. Then there's a golden box with the individual cards inside.

It feels like a sumptuous gift, and an Isolation Days visit to a gallery all in one. Tarot-reading people might say that the minor cards don't carry numbers, which would make them difficult to use (9 of wands, for example) but notwithstanding this, the whole set feels like a well-executed piece of artwork.

I was impressed and will huddle away in a quiet corner on one of these LockDown days to enjoy it.

Saturday 9 May 2020

Live and Let Lie

There's an irony in Trump's choice of Live and Let Die as a campaign song, while he's using the pandemic as campaign material. Now he's talking about dismantling the coronavirus task force he had assembled to oversee the national response.

Having said that one day, the next he'd changed his mind. He told reporters that he had no idea how “popular” the coronavirus task force was, a curious form of words for a public-health catastrophe that has already caused more U.S. deaths than the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq combined and still running at 2000 per day.

But the man who tours an N95 mask factory wearing safety goggles instead of a Covid-19 mask defines himself as out of step.

It all amounts to nothing for the Republicans whose devotion to Trump is so strong that it has not faltered even in the face of the President’s reality-defying response to as he portrays it the 'Chinese virus' pandemic.

The US numbers are still going up, as Wednesday showed 2600, Thursday 2700 deaths. That's more than the World Trade Centre's 2606. Yet Trump's message is “I’m viewing our great citizens of this country to a certain extent, and to a large extent, as warriors. They’re warriors. We can’t keep our country closed. We have to open our country. Will some people be badly affected? Yes.”

Trump is money motivated, even more than power. He may be clueless but now he is panicking about his re-election and only listening to the voices inside his tiny brain. More a case of Lie and Let die as he hate-tweets his way out of another inconvenient jam.

It's thirty years on from his ghosted memoir, “The Art of the Deal,” in which Trump bragged about the sheer, addictive effectiveness of lying—his host writer snuck it through by calling it “hyperbole”—in service of his goals.

That's where he acknowledged, “You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”

Thursday 7 May 2020

lies, damn lies and statistics?

That Health Minister Matt Hancock must be under a lot of pressure. He lashed out at an Labour MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan who also happens to be a GP. The shadow health minister has been doing A&E shifts at a London hospital during the coronavirus outbreak and asked some perfectly reasonable questions in Parliament yesterday.

I'm wondering if the pressure is pushing Hancock to show his true colours? A few times I have listened to the explanations of numbers or the evasive way that questions have been answered. There was that 100,000 tests target by the need of April, which was mysteriously met by including home test kit send outs, but hasn't been again met since that original target date. And we are still hearing from Care Homes that they can't get tested.

Bluffer Boris has doubled down on Hancock's target, saying it will be 200,000 tests by the end of May.

Then there are the 400,000 PPE gowns flown from Turkey that are now deemed inadequate because they don't meet UK standards, although not actually saying (as of yet) what is wrong with them.

It's a bit rich, when we've seen people desperately making protective clothing out of bin bags and home sewing circles making masks, or hospital staff visiting their local DIY warehouses to get masks and other suits.

None of the much-heralded Dysons or Formula 1 ventilators have arrived either, so it all sounds a bit dubious around the thinly veneered Hancock podium.

Tuesday 5 May 2020

Ed Adams - The Square - the one with the neurotoxin plot

Fascinating to hear Trump using some of the plot moves from The Square in real life.

A small extract...
Elisa started, "When I lived in [redacted], I used to work with the [redacted] government on virus research. The funding provided by the government to this was exceptional and it was a great place to work."

"My own research was purely medical-related and was looking for advances in immunology. I knew many of the other scientists and although we didn't talk directly about the classified material, it was obvious that there was another group working on munitions style virus product. - A reverse take on scientists that build and those that destroy. This was science to kill and science looking for an antidote."

"At some point one of the labs was closed down completely. We were told it was electrical problems, but everyone knew it was a toxin-related closedown. The whole lab system had to be sealed off. I wasn't directly involved in any of it but several people I knew were and they looked pretty scared about what had taken place."

"And then I noticed that the team were all transferred away. It was overnight, and they just disappeared. I have not heard from any of them since."

"So how did this link to the threat to you?" asked Clare.

"It didn't," answered Elisa.

"But I did spend some time thinking about what seemed to have happened."

"They were making something nasty and then disappeared?" asked Clare, glancing towards Chuck.

Elisa continued, "Clare's right. They were working on a type of biological weapon. Using some form of airborne viral carrier - which is actually more difficult than it sounds. Let me explain..."

Oh, and this old cartoon shows how Chuck Manners met Elisa Solomon, then travelling under a pseudonym.

Will the Great Seal get a great kite?

I see that ITV is discussing 'kitemarking' news to show that it is real. I wonder how that will work, when we still have oppositional politics who can both claim to be right on issues that seem diametrically opposed?

It also sounds like a powerful weapon in the hands of, say, the US President, which he could apply stamped onto everything he broadcasts from the One America News Network, which he is in the process of acquiring via his son.

I thought this 'behind the scenes' shot from his recent presentation at the off-limits to the people Lincoln Memorial calls things out quite nicely. After the theatre of mono-spaced reporters 6 feet apart at the White House, take a look at the back-up suits in this picture. They are probably some of the same ones that file in to sit shoulder-to-shoulder along the edges during Pressers.

The Lincoln Memorial didn't really give a backstage area for people to hide, so a few more surfaced on this occasion.

As an example, Hope Hicks, who quit as an advisor to the President is back in circulation. In 2016, she gave nine hours of closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee during which she acknowledged that she sometimes had to tell "white lies" in her work as communications director.

She agreed to testify in a closed-door session during which lawyers for the Trump administration forbade Hicks from answering questions 155 times, claiming that due to "absolute immunity", Hicks "may not speak about anything that occurred during the time of her employment in the White House as a close adviser to the President". We can only speculate where that one was going.

Then, un-redacted search warrant documents from the Michael Cohen criminal case were released and it appeared a strong possibility that Hicks had known about hush payments made by Michael Cohen on behalf of Donald Trump before the dates she had previously claimed.

No wonder Trump has rehired her to a top spot back in March.

And then, standing in the middle is the I-visit-Covid-Wards-without-a-mask Vice President Pence, and standing close up and personal with him are Trump acolytes only one of whom is wearing a mask - no wait, he's from the TV Production company.

Less fortunate the heavyweight Fox interviewers who show the necessary separation from Trump, but not from each other. Still, if Trump gets his way the only non-fake news will soon be coming from a channel controlled by his son.

Sunday 3 May 2020

a GIFT of love songs from Ukraine

A spin-off from this world of lockdown is that everything is going online and virtual.

No wonder Zoom has become the weapon of choice, we are running out of time to install other ones.

The GIFT festival in Gateshead is a case in point. Shifted excellently from live performance to almost live and online, it illustrates what can be achieved with some Zoom, SoundCloud and a bit of Vimeo. The Guardian was gushingly praising of the event, which I reckon marks a new high point in accessible theatre - taking the shows well beyond Gateshead and the North- East.

Not only that, by limiting some of the sessions to small-theatre sized audiences, it preserves the material for taking on the road at a later date.

From the very open nature of the event - introducing the performers in a Zoom sequence before it all started, akin to having them lined up on an interviewers' stage, and then seeing the shows, some at specific times and other that could be either dipped into or downloaded after a certain time. Strangeness included.

Undercover performer … Gudrun Soley Sigurdardottir. Photograph: Julia Bauer

It certainly recreated the feeling of a visit to a curated event.

The challenge comes as everyone piles into the format and we find ourselves drinking from a firehose of options. NT, Guardian, Phoenix, SWSX.

I'm optimistic though. Good curation marks the better events. I guess that Theatre Makers who have that skill will still rise to the surface.

Yes, right now I'm listening to the magical RadiOh Europa playing love songs from Ukraine and Northumberland.