Monthly Archives: March 2007

Gerbil’s toupee

It’s very sad for poor old Nicholas Owen:

He was once, as he is now, a popular television newsreader. But was it ever thus?


While in Croydon recently Katherine and I overheard the announcer on the tram service and noted at length that it sounded uncannily like Nicholas Owen’s canned voice.

Almost instantly Katherine asked what his voice was doing in such a low rent establishment.

And actually instantly I came upon the most telling realisation of perhaps, but not actually, my whole lifetime: He’s clearly been arrested in the illegal and frankly unhealthy trade of Gerbils for toupees and then forced as part of his probation to read out the tram announcements. I know – it seems so obvious now I’ve said it. But why do these, frankly, criminals continue in their trade?

Because Gerbils wear some of the finest toupees known to man. Hit it:

Why go to the theatre?

Many people see the theatre as the height of bourgeois living, okay so maybe they see the opera or ballet as the height, but theatre is certainly up there.

There does however seem to have been an important change going on in London because recently football, the working class game, has become more expensive to attend than theatre.

Theatre, like sport, is live. And perhaps most importantly theatre attunes your senses in the same way that sport does when you are there. You concentrate much more on the mechanics of the production as well as the story in the theatre whereas if you’re watching a movie it can be easy to get lost in the film.

Now some might say that it is this getting lost within the film that makes film superior to theatre and there almost certainly is some truth in that. But the knowledge that all of this is being done in front of you for real, without and tricky shots of funny edits more than makes up for it. I think you must experience both to appreciate either.

But the question remains, if it’s cheaper to go to the theatre than it is to go to football doesn’t this mean that theatre can no longer just be for the elite? Or perhaps it is the other way around and actually it is simply that Chelsea and Arsenal are no longer real football clubs? Unlike, for example, AFC Wimbledon.

The Influenza Adventure – Part 4

[This is Part 4 of 4 in The Citron Investigations: The Influenza Adventure. If you are interested then please read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 first.]

“What could my neighbour’s cats have to do with anything?” Sarah asked.
“I am trying to decide that very question.”
“Well, although I hate colloquialism, ‘if I knew the answer to that…'”
“Oh. The saying is, ‘If I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t be asking the question'”
“So what have my neighbour’s cats got to do with anything?”
“As I say, I’m not sure. Would you mind describing them for me.”
“Well I don’t know where to start.”
“How about with their colourings.”
“That’s what I meant but she’s got more than 10 cats. So I’m not really sure what they all look like. There’s several tabbies, several pure black, at least one black one with a white underbelly. And so on, she has a lot of cats.”

I looked around the room. It was an ordinary room. An ordinary living room. There were no clues in this room and yet I had seen the clue from the moment I had entered it. It wasn’t in this room it was beyond it. It was in the garden. The most important two pieces of information were there to be watched on the real life television of her back window.

“When,” I asked, “was the last time that your neighbour mentioned your bird feeder?”
“Oh not for years now. It’s verboten. We used to row about it all the time.”
“Who originated the rows?”
“Well I did. Her cats keep trying to eat the poor birds. And I… I just don’t think it’s fair.”
“So why have you stopped arguing about it? Have you suddenly become happy for her to have her cats eat the birds?”
“No. No way! She just wouldn’t budge and neither would I. I knew that she’d never change and that we had to live next to each other so we both, about four years ago, decided that it was best to give it up. Give it up, ignore it, and just try to get along. It’s worked much better.”
“Until now.”
“No, including now. We still haven’t spoken about it since we made our pact.”
“Just because you haven’t spoken about it doesn’t mean she hasn’t been acting.”
“You know that cats are supposed to be being kept indoors during this bird ‘flu crisis? Her cats aren’t indoors even though she cares so much about them.”

I called out, “GEOFFREY!”

Geoffrey walked back into the room.

“Yes Citron.”
“Arrest the next door neighbour. Get forensics to check the bird feeder for poison for gods sake. I can’t believe you haven’t done it already. The neighbour isn’t a hardened criminal for Gods sake she’ll probably confess immediately.”
They both said, “confess to what”, at the same time.
“Confess to poisoning the bird feeder. She did it to protect her cats. She didn’t want them to catch bird ‘flu.”
“Do you want to interview the neighbour?” Geoffrey asked.
“No. Why should I? I want to go and get a less dangerous drink.”

And with that I got up, swished my coat tails behind me, and walked out of the room.

A group of nuns are cleaning the brass in a church on a blistering hot day

So the mother superior suggests that they all take their clothes off. Which they all do and work progresses as normal.

After a short time there is a knock at the door and the sister shouts out, “who is it”?

“It is the blind man,” comes back the reply.

The mother superior promptly lets him in. Upon which the bloke says, “Nice tits sister, now where do you want these blinds?”

Saving the world

There are some really simple ideas that come along sometimes and change everything. These are ideas that the moment you hear them makes you think, “oh that’s so obvious” but they really change everything. I’m not talking about things like Evolution or the world is round which are big ideas but have a lot of science behind them. It’s obvious to us now that the world is round because we’ve seen it from space but the first time it was said it wasn’t so obvious.

There’s a great apocryphal story about an employee at the Swan Vesta firm (they match matches etc). This guy who was like a janitor or something said to his bosses, “will you give me a million pounds if I tell you my idea and we use it – honestly it’s worth more but you have to promise that you’ll pay me if you use it”. After a lot of humming and hawing the firm agreed to give him the money if they used his idea. So he told them the idea, which was brilliant in its simplicity which was, “why don’t you only put the sandpaper only on one side of the box”. And all of the money that was saved by doing this was far in excess of the million pounds that they had to pay him.

This story might be true because nobody has ever disproved it but it’s almost certainly a reverse engineered story based on somebody having a conversation about how one kind of match box cost less to produce than another and then concocting the story around it.

The thing is that it’s very difficult to make money from some ideas. Some ideas are so brilliantly simple that they can’t actually be used to make money because they are so easy to copy. And some simply wouldn’t work in the same way if they were monitised. For example the world wide web and wikipedia are great examples of incredibly powerful things that were given away freely because they needed to be free or they wouldn’t have been successful. People like Tim Berners-Lee and Jimmy Wales must get asked all of the time if they wish, now they’ve seen the success of their inventions, that they had added a charge or royalties to it. And yet neither of them would have ever been successful if the charge applied.

I really think that the best way that people are going to find to save the world environmentally are going to be ideas like this. Ideas that don’t actually cost anything, or ideas which cost but cost far less than the current situation but can’t shift more units. By the very nature of environmentalism less is more. So how are these inventions or even less than inventions these ideas going to get through to us when it is in no companies interest to transmit them. This goes against the edict of consume more so how will it ever succeed?

Well in a closed system like a global economy the externalities will eventually internalise all by themselves. We have suddenly started seeing oil companies concerned about global warming. Why? That doesn’t make any sense does it? They should be the last people to come round to it. They want to be selling us their last barrel of energy. Yes of course they do but a large part of their business is supplying us with energy for heat. What if it starts getting warmer all by itself? They’d be out of business. The external cost of a warming planet has suddenly become and internal cost without the government even doing anything.

So firms will become concerned with this problem sufficiently to help us change our habits. But the big question is what if the solution is simply to consume less. Is it possible within the economy for this to naturally occur without massive government intervention?

I’m not particularly hopeful, we shall see.

Here’s an example which helps see how likely this is:

On average 62 billion e-mails are sent every day. Yes 62 billion! Obviously this is an estimate but even so it’s a big old number. Sounds about right to me though. 2 billion on the internet, 31 e-mails a day. Sounds about right. Some people are clearly slacking to keep the average down (I think I’m in about 100+).

A large chunk of this e-mail is kept – forever. Just stored on servers, on home computers, on work mailboxes. Just sitting there. And then those servers back this up and keep the same thing day after day even though it’s not really changing. That’s a lot of storage being used. And maybe it’s useful, maybe it is. I’m not going to argue about that really.

But take a look at the last e-mail conversation you had with somebody. Say it was 10 back and forth e-mails on a subject. This means that you have 10 e-mails in your sent items and 10 in your received. But in each subsequent e-mail the e-mail gets longer because it quotes from the one before it. So the tenth e-mail has all of the previous e-mail parts in it when they are totally unnecessary most of the time. I won’t say totally all of the time because from time to time I’ve looked back to see what I said if the conversation is happening slowly. But I only look down to look back because it’s conveniently there if it wasn’t I’d look back to my sent items.

Now a lot of these messages are spam which doesn’t get replied to, but a lot of e-mail is just these back and forth conversations which are just getting longer and longer.

Surely there is a better way? A better way of dealing with this? Surely it would take just a few key players to solve this problem. A few key firms to go in and change something to make this go away. But the problem is that you can’t sell it. Microsoft would be accused of taking a feature away from the users. And even though people wouldn’t miss it after a month or two and it would help save the world in a very small step at a time kind of a way people will never do it because it would mean giving up something that is only very occasionally useful and most of the time just takes up disk space – and the just in case thing would stop the change.

It’s the same reason that one supermarket hasn’t stopped selling plastic bags. If you force the customer to change and the customer doesn’t want to they’ll just shop elsewhere. But does the blunt instrument of tax work better? Perhaps we just need to help educate the companies about how the externalities are going to internalise all by themselves eventually.

Two nuns are driving in Transylvania

Suddenly, a vampire jumps out onto the car.

“Quick,” says one nun, “show him your cross”.

So the other nun rolls down the window and shouts, “Get off my f*!k!ng dashboard you c*nt!”

Life was fun

Steven recoiled as he read these words on the wall in front of him.

“Life was fun”

Life had been fun for Steven. It was true that life had been fun. But now that wasn’t the part that upset him. It was the idea that it could no longer be fun. That life had been fun once but that time was now at an end.

But that was the situation that Steven now found himself in. It wasn’t the sign’s fault. The sign was merely stating fact. The sign was presumably talking about someone else. And yet it seemed so relevant to him.

Life had used to be fun. People had used to call him Steve. He had used to ride a motorbike. But he couldn’t buy one now. Now it would be so middle aged. But what had made people start calling him Steven. That was where the change had come. That was the change and he resented the hell out of it.

Steven was his father’s name. Not his. People should know that. But… And yet… He couldn’t tell them. He couldn’t explain why he wanted to demand to them that they saw him as young. All he could do is hope. Hope and be annoyed.

Bare Faced Cheek

Here’s a thought that occurs: which is the perversion being naked or wearing clothes? Not that I’m a nudist I’m a card carrying clothes wearer. One of the few clothes wearers who feels the need to carry a card no less. But here’s my point.

There is an extent to which perversion is defined as doing what most people aren’t doing. But that kind of definition falls down when you realise that not many people are making lace anymore. Are the lacemakers perverted? Of course not. So we need a different definition.

Actually what would happen if you were a nudist, you’d grown up in a nudist colony, and you had always secretly wanted to wear clothes. Would you be a closet clothes wearer?

I imagine that the best alternative is to say that perversion is things that are animalistically not normal. Things like, supposedly, being gay. The idea being, I guess, that procreation is always supposed to be about making babies. This despite the fact that there are gay animals and all animals are naked.

This takes us back to that pointless definition which I guess is “people who do things which I don’t”. Is their any other kind of argument?

I can’t imagine one, which leaves us in the situation that everyone in the world is perverted except for you. Or that no one is perverted. Which is it? Or is it another word destined for the scrap heap?

The Influenza Adventure – Part 3

[This is Part 3 of 4 in The Citron Investigations: The Influenza Adventure. If you are interested then please read Part 1 and Part 2 first.]

I walked into the house. Her house smelt fresh and clean but not very warm. It smelt faintly of bleach. I wondered vaguely if she was an obsessive cleaner or if it was Special Branch who had been cleaning up during their evidence gathering. Or the often missed third option – both. It had been my impression over the years that the most common misdiagnosis by inspectors was due to missing the blend option. Oftentimes things weren’t as clear and organised as to have only an option a and an option b. Sometimes, often even, it was both. Or in the direst of investigations it was option c.

I was supposed to be interviewing this woman but why? I knew now that it was no longer a case of bird ‘flu, but what was it instead? I could ask her but presumably if she actually knew she’d have mentioned it already. I decided to go ahead. Cadeau hadn’t seemed particularly keen for me to be here in the first place it would be best perhaps to at least aim at the impression of a normal investigation.

Her house was arranged unorthodoxly with her front room at the back, which led to my first question as I walked into the room.

“Unusual to find the front room at the back, wouldn’t you say Ms…” I felt leaving things dangling was possibly the best way to get information.
“What is the purpose of this she said,” She said this in a voice that was not on directional volume. A voice that boomed in all directions. The purpose seemed to be to attract the attention of anyone other than myself to respond.
“Mr Citron is aiding us with our investigations,” Geoffrey chipped in.

“Well what’s the point of him? What about the other five men who have been in here. At least they seemed to have bothered to learn my name”.
“W-W-Well,” Geoffrey stammered, “your case has been being upgraded and moved around as we’ve got more information about it. We started by believing that your house was the epicentre of a case of bird ‘flu. But now we think this isn’t true. But unfortunately we don’t know what it is now. Now that it has become an obscure non-contagious case we have brought in Mr Citron.”

“Oh,” she said, as though the matter had been settled some hours ago and that Geoffrey had been reiterating rather than revealing.

“So,” I ventured, “Ms…”
“This lady is,” Geoffrey started.
“This lady can speak for herself,” she said on her own behalf, “I am Sarah Lockwinter. Miss Sarah Lockwinter. And you I notice are a Mr rather than a detective. Why is that.”
“Ah,” Geoffrey started.
“I too can speak for myself,” I said stopping Geoffrey short, “I am a kind of contract worker. I only get brought in if the case is really strange and the police can’t solve it. They don’t always characterise it this way but it’s true isn’t it Geoffrey.”
“Yes, yes it’s true.”
“I’m a gun for hire, but I do – just like those old fashioned criminals have certain principles.”
“What are they?” she asked.
“Well, I never like to interview sober. What do you say to a drink?”

Sarah nodded at this, stood up from her couch and walked over to the drinks cabinet.

“Officer,” she said to Geoffrey, “do you mind leaving us alone for a moment. I wouldn’t like to put temptation in your path.”
“Oh don’t mind me,” Geoffrey said.
“I do mind you, thanks.” Said Sarah, and with that she gave him a look so filthy that you would really have thought it would be a requirement to join a nunnery afterwards just to purge the spirit. It was a micro gesture but it was enough to convey to Geoffrey that he should back out of the room and wait until we were finished. And so that is exactly what Geoffrey did. He nodded at me just before he left. It was a nod asking for reassurance, I gave him none. It would have compromised me with the witness.

“So, Mr Citron, what’s your poison?”
“Hmm, a slightly less original joke than you’d probably hoped.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Well, never mind. You weren’t to know. I still get it less often than I get the offer of a squeeze of lemon. People like to say, ‘Mr Citron, a squeeze of lemon?’ which is particularly stupid because the drink I drink most often would curdle with such an addition and yet they say it to me anyway.”
“So what’s that?”
“What’s what?”
“What’s the drink.”
“Ah a White Russian.”
“That requires milk doesn’t it.”
“Yes. Sadly the police have my milk?”
“As evidence? But we know it’s not ‘flu now.”
“No, for their tea.”

There was suddenly a silence in the room. In fact this would have been the kind of situation where a breeze would have picked up to make a slight whistling sound if there had been one – but all of the windows were fastened shut.

“So what will it be.”
“I’ll have whatever you’re having.”
“Okay then a gin and cranberry.”
“You can have something else.”
“No, no. A promise is a promise.”

What had I let myself in for? I had been willing to accept any kind of regular alcohol and maybe tonic or water but to have fruit introduced was asking for trouble in my book.

She brought the drink over. It even had ice in it which she’d fished out of a plastic pineapple. I took a sip. It was immediately refreshing and then the after-taste made you feel more thirsty than you had at the start. It seemed like a dangerous kind of a drink. One that made you want more the more that you drank. Ye Gods!

I looked her in the eyes and said, “tell me about your neighbour’s cats.”
“What?” she asked as she looked surprised.

Tune in next week for the fourth and final part of The Citron Investigation: The Influenza Adventure.