Monthly Archives: December 2011

In Praise Of WordPress

I’ve slagged them off all year, but today, just for today, I’d like to be nice to WordPress.

I’ve slagged their SpellCheck (and am about to do so again, since it doesn’t recognise the word “slagged”). I’ve slagged them for their words of encouragement such as “Slick!” and “Bomb!” and then slagged them again when they took them away (by the way, I’ve found out how to get them back). Most of all, though, I’ve slagged their topics.

I’ve poked fun at “what would you like 200 more of”, “is it better to have the first word or the last” and “which is more important, electricity or the internet”. I’ve fought off the urge to answer their question about strength, chose not to answer the one about free will and cleverly avoided the one about stupidity.

I even posted a fake list of the type of suggestions they’d be reduced to by the end of the year, and realise now that it wasn’t half daft enough.

And yet.. last year I wrote 197 posts, sometimes going five or six days at a time without writing anything. This post will be my 350th of this year. Even if it’s only to avoid the embarrassment of having a calendar with a load of blank days beneath a sign saying “I’m Part of Postaday 2011” I have done more writing. And I have to thank them for that.

I have to thank them for all of the new, genuine friends that I’ve made over the year (that’s you lot, in case I’m being too subtle).

And I have to thank them for their Weekly Photo Challenge, which I started taking part in as a joke and then found that I was really enjoying it, and was actually starting to think like a photographer.

We have two lovely photos of New York up in our office, and one day I took this picture:

It’s the Dublin skyline reflected in a photo of the New York one. I don’t know if it’s good or not, but I love it and I love the fact that I noticed the possibility in the first place.

So Happy New Year to Scott Berkun and all at WordPress.

And Happy New Year to all of you as well. I hope every one of you has a great 2012.

Tin x

How I Wonder What You Are

They called it the Star in the East.

Every year, at the same time of the year, it became visible in the sky above Xjrui.

Some said it was just the sun reflecting off another planet in their Solar System. Some said that it was a comet, admittedly one with an especially accurate internal timepiece. Some said it was just one of their own radio satellites, long since de-commissioned but still broadcasting the Xjruian equivalent of Celine Dion out into the vastness of space.

Others claimed that it was aliens watching them, the government watching them, or aliens and the government watching them.

Some believed that it stood directly above a place where something special had once happened.

Whatever it was, it guided sailors to safety, helped travellers across vast expanses of desert, boosted the sales of telescopes. All in all it was a good thing.

So Xjruians began to celebrate its coming. They made little star designs and hung them in their houses. Others made bigger star designs and hung them outside their houses. And, because the Xjruians are just as dumbly competitive as we are, neighbours set out to out-do neighbours until huge expanses of the planet were lit up every year, at the same time of the year, as brightly as this:

*

On the planet Zemejs, they called it the Star in the East….

But Inside It’s Quite Delightful

Sidey‘s Weekend Theme is “decorate”….

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The Christmas tree had arrived tightly tied and even more tightly shrink-wrapped so getting it in had been no problem. It was now two weeks later and, just as the clothes that you bring on holiday expand until they will not fit into the suitcase for the trip home, the tree had stretched its limbs and was now far too wide for them to get it back out. They couldn’t get it up the spiral steps and in any case it would never fit through the hatch at the top.

There was no way of getting the tree out of the submarine.

The idea of having a Christmas tree on the USS Regardless (there’s been a documentary, Carry On Regardless, made about it) came from Seaman Webb, a new and young recruit whose love of the sea was bettered only by his love of all things Christmas. If’d he’d had his way, snorted Petty Officer Crowe, he’d have had lights all over the outside of the hull and Santa climbing the conning tower on a ladder. The word Petty described Officer Crowe fairly well.

Commander Craig, always anxious to improve crew morale, had agreed to Webb’s request, and so for a fortnight there had been tinsel draped over every computer, fake snow in the galley and some badly placed holly in the toilet.

Craig had drawn the line at mistletoe. Sailors get enough slagging as it is.

All in all the decorations had been a success, apart from the time that the submarine had banked sideways to avoid an outcrop of rock causing a load of balls, in the polite sense of that phrase, to fall from the tree and bounce noisily about the floors, and the time that Webb, in an attempt to keep the pine needles moist, had sprayed the tree lightly with water from an after-shave bottle while the lights were plugged in and give a short electric shock to every crew member standing on the metal floor, as well as causing a glitch on every screen which made them seem to show that the sub was about to be attacked by a giant mackerel.

But now Christmas was over, the decorations had come down and all that remained was the indisposable tree. There may be those of you thinking that all they had to do was saw it up, but they did not in fact have a saw, since in a small tin tube made entirely of metal there is surprisingly little use for one. The tree remained for a week after the rest of the decorations, getting in the way and causing the crunch of underfoot pine-needles to echo eerily around the enclosed space. Eventually Craig sighed.

“Put in into a torpedo-tube,” he said.

The tree was loaded base first into the tube in a spray of needles and snapping twigs. It needed to be forced right to the end of the tube and Commander Craig was horrified to find Webb doing this with an actual torpedo. Eventually the tube was loaded, the button was pressed and the tree sped through the sea. With no target there was nothing stop it and eventually it bounced at speed up a beach, causing a flock to cormorants to flee in a flurry of wings and involuntary guano. It hit and demolished a statue (leaving just two vast and trunkless legs of stone) and eventually slammed into another statue against which it propped itself, its base sinking into the soil.

Mother Nature intends all things to grow, so roots eventually snaked from the bottom of the tree, the pine needles returned and the tree once again stood proud and alive.

And that is why there is a Christmas Tree on Easter Island.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

It is one of the famous of all images of the First World War – the football match played between the Germans and the English on Christmas Day 1914. There has never, however, been a report on the actual game.
Until now.

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No-one knows who did it first, but the Germans sent sauerkraut to the English, who sent mince pies in the opposite direction. After both sides had feasted Oberleutnant Meier from the German side produced one of those old, leaden-grey, leaden-weighted leather footballs and proposed a football match. English leader Major Smythe (a stereotype in twirly-moustaches) accepted, chose an eleven and appointed himself as captain, effectively demoting himself by one rank. Two goals were marked out by sticking four rifles bayonet-first into the field of mud. An old tin-mug was taken from a backpack and was christened the World Cup.

There was then a discussion as to who would referee. Smythe proposed an Irishman, Paddy, from among his own ranks. German scepticism about this was countered by Smythe on the basis that Ireland was neutral in the war and that therefore Paddy, despite the contradictory evidence that he had a rifle and had until this morning been firing it out of the English trenches at the Germans, must logically be neutral too. Throwing logic at the Germans was a mean trick, they had no real answer to it, so they agreed. This turned out to be a wise choice.

The game kicked off and one of the Germans toed the ball down the field towards Smythe, who controlled it with his chest.

The referee awarded a free-kick for handball.

“But why, Paddy?” blustered Smythe.

“Because my name is Maurice,” said the referee. “You’ve never bothered your arse to find that out, you’ve been calling me Paddy for months simply because I’m Irish, and I’m bloody sick of it.”

“Well, that’s a bit unfair,” said Smythe. He turned to Sergeant McDonald, his team’s Centre-Half. “Isn’t it, Jock?”

The game continued on a pitch that got muddier and muddier with a ball that got heavier and heavier. The two sets of spectators shouted, cheered, sang withering songs at each other (“no World Wars and no World Cups, doo-dah, doo-dah”) and slated the referee (“who’s the bastard in the uniform?”).

Just before half-time the ball arrived at height into the English penalty-box and a young German, Schmidt, unwisely met it with his head. This caused him to fall backwards unconscious, the lace of the football leaving a mark like the stitches on Frankenstein’s monster’s head, but the ball rebounded into the English goal.

The German fans went wild and celebrated, as Pathé News footage from the time suggests was customary, by throwing their hats in the air. The upshot of this was that a shower of tin helmets dropped onto a collection of heads that weren’t wearing tin helmets and Maurice had to play four minutes of injury-time while the crowd got treatment.

The second-half was virtually one-way traffic as the English fought for an equaliser, but by sound defence, some great goalkeeping (their keeper, Müller, had played Water Polo for Germany in the 1912 Olympics) and sheer luck the Germans clung onto their lead.

There were only seconds remaining when the ball made its way out to the wing to young Private Higgins. Just four months earlier Higgins had been playing for Tranmere Rovers in League Division Three North and was the nearest thing to a real footballer that either side had. He had never before played on a pitch such as this, but sheer skill and grit carried him past tackle after tackle, the ball stuck to his foot as if it had been stuck to his foot. One boot came off and sat in the mud, and still he carried on down the wing. He vaulted over an attempted sliding tackle, an unwise move by the German defender concerned who continued to slide until his progress was squelchily halted by a recently-dug latrine.

Higgins reached the by-line, bent his foot around and under a football that now had the density of a black hole and somehow lifted it into the German penalty area, where Corporal Adams launched himself acrobatically and overhead-kicked it at unstoppable speed into the goal. The English team leapt in celebration and then rushed to help Adams, whose two legs were the only parts of him visible above the mud.

Seconds later Maurice blew the final whistle. The game had ended in a draw.

“We’ll decide it with a penalty shoot-out,” said Smythe promptly, believing that England, as the inventors of football, would be far better at penalties than anyone else. He had no way of knowing that evidence from years yet to come, quite a lot of evidence in fact, would not back up this theory.

It began well for them, though. Schmidt took the first penalty for Germany and, as the books always recommend, went for placement rather than power, side-footing the ball towards the corner of the goal.

It stopped three feet short.

Adams was first up for England. Having seen the previous attempt he went for sheer power, putting all the might of his seventeen stones and his hob-nailed size-16 regulation army boot behind the ball. It cleared the goalkeeper by about five feet and sped over the heads of the crowd, over the trenches and into a minefield, where it exploded.

“Well, that’s the end of that,” said Müller. “We’ve only got one ball.”

“So we’ve heard,” said Adams. ”In fact, we’ve got a song about it.”

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It was two hours later. A campfire had been lit by setting fire to a pot of porridge (it smouldered for days afterwards). Someone had produced a guitar. The Germans were teaching the English the German words to Silent Night.

Meier and Smythe sat side by side, taking it in turns to drink what they refereed to as “Chateau Trench” (a mixture of diesel and the bromide that they put in soldiers’ tea) from the World Cup. Eventually Meier stood up to go. Smythe got to his feet too, holding out the mug.

“There’s still a mouthful left,” he said, “want to finish it?”

Their eyes met, eyes filled with mutual respect and deep, deep sadness.

“I’d better not,” said Meier quietly. “I have to work in the morning.”

Tis The Night Before..

… well, the morning before, anyway.

As a child born in mid-December it always irritated me when well-meaning but dim adults asking me what Santy was bringing me when I hadn’t even had my birthday presents yet.

What I thought whenever I was given one present to cover both involved words that a child my age really shouldn’t have known.

Anyway, with two November-born children as well as myself in the Tinhouse I have made it a rule (I wear the trousers in this house) that Christmas is not to be mentioned until after the three birthdays have past, and there are to be no decorations until after the final one, my own birthday on the 13th.

I came home from work on the 14th to find all of the decorations up. I suspect that they started when I went to bed the night before.

We have had a lovely, though fake, tree for many years. Tingirl’s wish for a real one was always satisfied by putting a tiny one, with its own little lights on the table outside her bedroom door. This year, however, she wanted a proper, full-sized real one and was backed in this by Tinson2. Mrs Tin stayed out of the discussion while Tinson1 and I firmly insisted on using the fake one.

So this is a photo of our real tree:

I wear the trousers in this house, but my family decide what colour they will be.

We also have a real, shop-bought crib

With a small statue of another God beside it to prove that a multi-denominational, or perhaps mixed-up, family we are.

But these are not important. A far better, and more loved, crib is this one:

And our favourite ornaments are these:

and this:

and our Christmas Tree fairy:

and finally this, which I love because I have no idea what it’s supposed to be:

We can’t remember which child made which decoration, but it doesn’t matter. They are part of each Christmas now, just as is the tradition that this evening we will all gather in Tingirl’s bedroom, that I will read “the Night Before Christmas” and that all of us will join in for the final “Happy Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night”.

And Happy Christmas to all of you. Thank you all for coming here and reading, and caring, and supporting. I think of you all as my friends and I wish all the best for the coming days to you all.

Love,

Tin x

Free At Last

I’m on holiday!!!!

My week of 13-hour days is over. I didn’t mind doing it because of the circumstances that caused it, indeed sometimes I even felt a great buzz while I was doing it, but there is no doubt that something like that does take its toll.

This was most clearly evident in the morning that I got up at 4.20 because I couldn’t sleep. I then, of course, wrote a post that I hope that you found enjoyable, or at least coherent. I genuinely cannot remember one word of what I wrote and have decided never to read it, I am going to leave it there as an example of what happens when some idiot gets out of a warm bed (even if he can’t sleep, the important word there is ‘warm’) in the middle of the night to sit in a freezing kitchen and spout gibberish at the universe.

Anyway, I’m off now until January 2nd. There will be blogging, there will be reading, there will be TV watching. Or there may just be ten days of coma-like sleeping, which will be just as good.

My only remaining problem is present shopping, which I have done very little. I did do some of it online, and it was while I was doing this that I looked at the City Deals website of which I am a member, which daily offers large discounts, for one day only, on a wide and unrelated range of products and services.

So, for just fourteen euro and ninety-five cent (at current rates about a nickel, or two pence) I bought two 25kg bags of rock salt for keeping my driveway clear of ice.

As the teenage daughter of a friend of ours said recently (and we have all taken to saying ever since), “what the festive f**k?”.

I didn’t really picture just how much 50kg of salt was going to be. I could now de-ice the main runway at Heathrow and still have enough salt over to put on a bag of chips on the way home.

If not only Lot’s wife but his family, his household pets and the entire football team that he supported (Sodom United, you don’t want to let them get in behind your defence) had been turned into pillars he still wouldn’t have had as much salt as I have now.

It is worth it, though, if only on the principle that if you bring an umbrella to work it will not rain.

I reckon we’re in for mild winters here for a least the next fifty years.