Tree top story


This news story – which fortunately has a happy ending – highlights why Norfolk is a special place.

1. The trees are aggressive.

2. A pub in the middle of nowhere can be full of people having breakfast before 9am.

3. The quote: “it pretty much stopped the car”. Pretty much. Not entirely.

Video nasty


Recording yourself practicing a musical instrument is inevitably disappointing. I have discovered this in the past. For some reason it never sounds the same and somehow the recording has picked up a lot more errors and squeaks than I heard when I was playing.

But an audio recording is benign, compared to a video recording.

I wanted to listen to myself playing a piece on the saxophone. I just couldn’t get the timing quite right and thought that a recording would help me spot where I was going wrong. The nearest gadget to hand did not appear to have an audio recorder, so I propped it on my music stand and used the video recorder instead.

Why did no one ever tell me what I do with my eyes when I’m playing?

During the straightforward sections I stare. Or rather I STARE WITH CRAZY BULGING EYES. Before a high note, I signal my intention with my eyebrows, raising them slightly in advance to a level proportionate to the pitch of the note. Worst of all, when I am improvising or playing from memory, my eyes roll up and my pupils disappear as I search the corner of my right hemisphere for the next note.

No. I am not going to post the video for you to see.

Earning a crust


I bought some fuel for the car and received vouchers for a free pizza.

I am old enough to know that there is no such thing as a “free” pizza. It will be a pizza with strings attached… So I read the small print on the website to find out exactly what I was giving to BP and Pizza Express in exchange for my Classic American Hot and Doughballs starter.

To keep the calculation simple I exercised my right to opt out of direct marketing where possible. I didn’t click the boxes which would allow Pizza Express to send me information “about products and offers” which might interest me. This just left the mandatory box to click accepting BP’s terms and conditions and privacy policy.

The terms and conditions told me that Calzone and Calabrese pizzas were excluded from the offer and I could only use my unique offer code once etc. The privacy policy told me that my personal information [my name and email address] would be used “to provide the information, products and services you request” [the 12 digit unique code for my free pizza]…AND it also said they would use my data to send me “information on additional products and/or services which BP reasonably thinks may be of interest to you”. The use of the word “reasonably” demonstrates that a lawyer was required to craft this sentence.

So the deal is: I exchange my email address for a pizza and starter. At my preferred restaurant the dough balls cost £3.45  and the American Hot costs £9.95 – a total of £13.40. If I assume that BP did a deal with Pizza Express and got the meals at a discount of, say, 75% (because PE will make plenty of margin on my Coca Cola and my dinner companion, as well as some repeat business if all goes well) then my personal data is worth about £3.35 to BP.

£3.35 is probably quite good value for a warm marketing lead… BP know that I buy diesel fuel and sometimes visit their service stations (I feel slightly pleased that I managed to outwit their marketing machine by inadvertently not using my Nectar card when I bought the fuel that earned the voucher – so they know less about me than they might have done). When I redeem the pizza voucher in London they will connect this with the fact that I bought the fuel in Hull and therefore place me in a particular customer segment (“Northern diaspora”?). They also already know that I use a Mac computer and a Chrome browser from when I completed the form, which also places me in a particular customer segment (“Not Microsoft Windows”?) and their cookies will tell them a bit about the websites I came from and go to when I visit their site.

I am looking forward to seeing what products BP reasonably think will interest me, but I used my special “Spam only” email address where I rarely log on, so it may be some time before I report it here.

I’ve just been reading a list of “10 things you should keep to yourself at work” – rather than give you a link (because you’d have to register to get to the page) I’ll just list them here:

The 10 things you shouldn’t do at work are: cause a drama, spread rumours, get jealous, have sex, let your personal life intrude, misuse confidential information, mention that you are thinking of leaving, talk about politics or religion, discuss your or anyone else’s salary and share your facebook, twitter or tumblr postings with your colleagues.

Which left me wondering a) what people are meant to do most of the time and b) what experience the author had to compile such a comprehensive list. It reads like a very concise story of working life. Not mine, I hasten to add.

This has prompted me to write a list of 7 things that you should do at work.

In no particular order, here they are:

  • Listen carefully and stretch the pauses in discussions. Most people are quite bad at saying what they mean so it makes sense to pay attention to what they don’t say as well as what they do say. Use silence as the shovel to let other people dig their own holes.
  • Ask a few very good questions. No one likes someone who interrupts and asks questions all the time, but you can gain respect by keeping fairly quiet and asking one or two thought-provoking questions when there is a pause in the flow (but they have to be good questions, not ones that have already been answered when you weren’t listening – see point above).
  • Keep your passwords secure and your files backed up. One day you will be glad you bothered.
  • Make the most of your time… and anyone else’s. If you are in a meeting it’s time to finish when things start being repeated. If you are working on your own it’s time to stop when you aren’t concentrating.
  • Be curious and find out why things happen. If something doesn’t seem to make sense, it probably doesn’t make sense. It’s often easier to do what other people do, but they might all be wrong.
  • Avoid unnecessary travel. It is easy to confuse the effort of going somewhere with actually doing something useful…
  • …but don’t miss necessary travel. Sometimes twenty-five minutes face to face is worth a lot. Especially if you spend twenty-three minutes listening.

What other tips have you got?

Back story


The Prime Minister and I have a number of things in common, so I was pleased to hear that we also share a back problem.

I suppose that his bulging disk might have been caused by the mighty burden of high office. Mine is usually caused by putting on my socks or getting something out of the kitchen cupboard.

It was no surprise to hear that his back problem had flared up whilst on holiday. Mine almost always recurs when we are on holiday. It first happened when I was in my early twenties, whilst staying in the Lake District. On one memorable occasion I spent a week hobbling around the Edinburgh festival with a walking stick, bent sideways so far that I could not remain standing unaided (this did not cause me to appear conspicuous amongst the regular inhabitants of Edinburgh).

David Cameron probably has lots of people giving him advice. I very much doubt that he needs mine, but here it is… Walk a lot. The gentle rocking of the pelvis will ease the pain and realign your vertebrae. You could also do some exercises to strengthen your core muscles, but I’ve lost my instruction sheet so I can’t remember what the exercises are. Oh, and don’t spent a lot of time sitting at your desk or in meetings.

Chin up


Jeremy Paxman grows a beard and it makes the newspaper headlines. I grow a beard and I am met with derision from my own family.

It was all because I watched Skyfall on the plane travelling to our holiday destination.

“Daniel Craig looks good in a beard,” I thought. So I resolved to stop shaving whilst on vacation… which proves I have learnt nothing from my swimming trunks experiment after seeing Craig emerge from the sea in Casino Royale.

Mrs R hated my beard.

“It’s like kissing a doormat,” she explained and refused to kiss me again for the whole duration.

I was secretly pleased. A doormat has stout, manly bristles that can scrape mud off your wellies. I want a chin like that, but when I ran my hand over my face it just felt like a sparsely haired rodent, with bald patches.

“Stop touching your face!” Exclaimed Mrs R at regular intervals whenever we sat at a restaurant table or at a picturesque spot.

For a beard novice the compulsion to touch is irresistible. It is like meeting a new person and being allowed to touch them quite intimately.

I was hoping for a rich blonde-mixed-with-auburn colour, which I vaguely recalled from my last attempt at facial hair more than a decade ago (inspired by a picture of a Viking) but this time my beard was mainly grey, with a few bits that just looked dirty, as if someone had wiped their wellies on my face.

After a couple of weeks I shaved it off. I sat down with the family and didn’t say anything…

…Mrs R didn’t notice my smooth cheeks until several hours later, when I ventured a goodnight kiss.

“Oooh!” She raised her eyebrows. “You’ve shaved… You look ten years younger.” (I would have been more pleased about this remark if it had been made the moment I emerged clean-shaven that morning).

None of the (mostly grown-up) children noticed for more than two days, despite the fact that I was with them all the time. Which proves something or other.

“Due to adverse weather customers are advised to take extra care on the station concourse”.

When did “rain” become “adverse weather”?  I enjoyed the wet weather yesterday. The vegetables in my garden appreciated the relief. I didn’t meet anybody who was complaining about the welcome showers in London where residual heat from the last few weeks is still making life uncomfortable.

“Adverse weather” should be reserved for genuinely disruptive phenomena, like snow in the cricket season and tornadoes in suburbia. Weather that is normal for our temperate island home – like rain, high winds and the occasional warm sunny spell – does not merit hyperbole.

A more sensible announcement would be: “please take care because the rain has made the floor slippery”. Although, as I stepped carefully across the glistening tiles, I wasn’t sure that an announcement was really needed.