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Journal Title: That's Mister Journal to you.
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Date:2010-06-27 22:26
Subject:Magpie as Metaphor

A week ago I decided I had to investigate the noises in the chimney-breast.

Some years before I moved into this house, builders removed the fireplaces, blocked up the hearths, and plastered and papered over the area. There used to be a hideously gaudy electric fire in front of the chimney-breast, but I managed to dump that in a skip when we moved office in the early part of this decade.

Anyway, from Thursday 17th I had heard the occasional scratching and tapping sounds from behind the wall.  They weren't constant or desperate, and I decided they were probably just a mouse that had found another new and exciting brick-strewn route from one bit of wainscotting to another. If I knocked back, the noises stopped as if I had scared off a rodent. But what if they were a bird or something that had got trapped in there? I resolved that if I kept hearing the sounds, I would have to do something about it.

So, Sunday morning came and with it a bit of scratching and knocking. So I peeled off the wallpaper, applied a chisel to the side of where the hearth would have been, and hammered away at the plaster.  I broke through and shone a torch in. After a while, there was movement.

A crack in the wall

I was unsure what type of bird it was. Perhaps a pigeon or a crow?  It ate some bread it was offered, and showed itself to be a magpie.

I tried many things to encourage it to come out of the hole in the wall. I tried shining the torch in, put a mirror opposite to grab its attention, opened the doors to get a draught through the house... but the hole I had made was not big enough.  More masonry work was called for.

Eventually it stuck its head through the larger hole, pulled back, then tried again and stalked out...

Free at last!

[pause while I install new batteries in my keyboard and restart my computer, several times...]

The young magpie flew onto one of my bookcases, where it preened away some of the dust and took a little more food. It was then lured though a window into the passage covered by my new plastic roofing...

Rake's progress

It tried to fly up but hit the plastic roof. It tried again, attempting to squeeze under one of the wooden supports. I pointed out the open back door with its easy access to the outside world, but the magpie was feeling frantic and in no mood to pay any attention. I had to climb up on a chair and grab hold of it. As I stepped into the garden the magpie got the idea and flew out of my hands.

That evening the magpies in the area were very vocal and excited, with a bit of formation flying. A couple of days later I saw this magpie with a parent.  It's a bit raggedy but free to fly. Not ready for an independent life yet.

I feel bad that I left it imprisoned for several days, but I honestly thought a bird would make more continuous noise and tweet (or rattle, in a magpie's case).

A similar story: the winter before last, I was walking alongside the Thames near where I live. I heard a very quiet tap-tap-brush sound. I thought it was probably the river pushing a floating can against some plants, but I was intrigued and wanted to know for sure.  It turned out the noise was coming from a beer can stuck in a bush, not visible from the path. I picked the can up and looked inside, but couldn't see anything except some leftover beer. I brought it close to the ground and poured out... a bank vole. It had climbed in through the hole at the top, fallen in, and then been unable to climb the steep sides of the upright beer can to get out again. Freed, the bank vole looked at me and then sauntered unsteadily into the undergrowth.

In both cases those creatures were in an impossible situation, but they struggled anyway. They struggled to get out, even though each attempt at escape was fruitless. But the act of trying to escape created noise, and the noise led to actions from someone else that achieved what they wanted.

Perhaps a magpie stuck in a sealed-off fireplace is just that. Releasing it, though, maybe that can mean something. I wonder what?

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Date:2010-02-11 20:39
Subject:Systems Of Romance

Romantic Gesture

"Oh, darling, you shouldn't have. No, you really shouldn't have."

I can't even begin to imagine what was going through the copywriter's mind.

Omitting three apostrophes! Saints preserve us.

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Date:2010-02-03 22:13
Subject:In which I am insulted by Corel

Got this from Corel today. I mean, really. Thanks a bunch.

No Value

Perhaps owing to another glitch they have e-mailed somebody else saying "Dear Valued customer, as a woman of easy virtue..." I do hope so.

Not that Corel's worldview is necessarily one to be shared, as I discovered when they e-mailed me back in December:

Corel overkill

Naturally I took the phrase "best Christmas ever" to imply that The Corel Team would create World Peace and happy times for everybody. Instead, it turned out that Corel believed that offering a 5% discount off its product range for a day would represent my "best Christmas ever". Yours excitedly indeed. Maybe "yours rather too excitably for comfort" would be more appropriate.

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Date:2010-01-18 21:29
Subject:What the well-dressed man about town is wearing these days, apparently.

I'm not sure these would be suitable for formal wear.


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Date:2010-01-14 22:12
Subject:Waiting for another gutter to fall

It's been a bit chilly here recently. And in the absence of anything humorous occurring to me, I thought I'd keep my pretence of journal-keeping alive by whinging and showing some of my photographs. As this may not be to the taste of all three of my regular readers, I'm going to use my first ever LiveJournal cut. Get the full story after the break!!!!!!!!! 

Read more...Collapse ) 

Is this thing on?

Right then, before Christmas. 21st December. I tend to feel a bit hard done by if my journey back from work in the evening takes three quarters of an hour. But there was a bit of snow, and that caused gridlock. The bit of the journey that normally takes 20-25 minutes took two and three quarter hours of sitting in stationary traffic or creeping forward a few yards. This is what it felt like:


Once I was off the motorway, I imagined that the rest of my journey might take another hour as it's normally less than 15 minutes. Instead it took four hours. Total journey time six hours forty-five minutes.  In Reading you can't get anywhere without going up or down a hill. As none of the hills had been gritted, nobody could get to anywhere.

The following day I took the train.

From the train 1

From the train 2

After a Christmas break during which I worked on marketing a company's software licensing options rather more than I might have wished, all the snow was gone.  Then more arrived.


It stayed cold. Ideal weather for icicles.

Icicles 1

Icicles 2

Here are the icicles at sunset. Or maybe the gutter is bleeding.

Icicles at sunset

Where icicles drip...

Ice 1

Ice 2

What icicles neglect to tell you as they're hanging down all pretty-like is that they are really very heavy and like nothing better than taking down guttering. And so it was that when I returned to my house last Saturday, the icicles and snow had slumped onto the pavement, leaving the gutter and the fascia  hanging precariously on three telephone wires.

Front of house

I spent some entertaining time leaning out of my window and slowly sliding the fascia/gutter combination sideways off the wires and then manoeuvring it to ground level. Not entirely sure how I managed that now. I punctured my thumb with a nail, possibly as predicted by the icicles in a Snow White Tribute / Sign Or Portent.

Then a couple of days ago one of the gutters at the back of the house was brought down, smashing the plastic roof underneath in 5 places. Since when the melting snow has been dripping through in large volumes.

Hole in roof

I've been taking the train into work this week... not keen on driving in snow these days.  From the train in the snow I have seen two pheasants by a frozen lake, a rabbit huddled by an embankment, and a deer looking up as it rested in a wooded area, possibly just waking up.

The snow is melting away. I have two gutters left, one of which was twisted out of shape by the first snow. I wonder if they'll stay up...

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Date:2009-07-17 21:19
Subject:Fast food

Got this unfortunate random-word verification request today.

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Date:2009-07-04 21:16
Subject:In which I lose patience...

...with a survey that keeps asking me what I think about aspects of Strictly Come Dancing, even though I've told it several times already that I've never watched the programme.


And they are still not done with me yet.

More dancing

It looks downright sinister to me. The central character, popular entertainer Bruce Forsyth, appears to have been the victim of a horrific Transporter accident and now has a woman going right through his sides. Either that or he is a Vampyr slowly materialising out of the night. But surely no Vampyr would be seen (un)dead dressed like a waiter? Meanwhile there's a bunch of crazy people strutting around under the baleful influence of an exploding Moon.

There were plenty more pictures like that. It is shocking what I will do for the vague chance of a £5 Amazon voucher.

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Date:2009-02-26 21:33
Subject:Hollywood glamour

Saw this a couple of days ago. How the town celebrated the Oscars success of Reading-born Kate Winslet...

Winslet Wild

Truly, local life will never be the same again.

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Date:2008-12-21 21:22
Subject:Going for the Singular
Mood: tired

I received this from a stock photo library recently:

single life

I think these guys must have my house under surveillance, I really do. I mean, there is nothing I like doing more than lying on a sun lounger, indoors, with my shades, T-shirt and shorts on, gesturing wildly at a blank monitor and about to topple face-first into my conveniently positioned paddling pool. It's all part of my vibrant, purposeful, and highly individualistic approach to the single life.

Luckily I have yet another handy error message for situations such as this.

Skippy's trying to tell us something

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Date:2008-08-10 20:20
Subject:Season's Bleatings

The post of 2nd August brought with it an RSPB catalogue. And what was the first thing the RSPB offered me?

xmas presence

Guys, Christmas is over four and a half months away. More proof of seasonal change. How soon before Winter in July becomes a reality?

Bah! Humbug!

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Date:2008-07-27 21:44
Subject:In which I discover that my life is emptier than I thought


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Date:2008-06-15 19:53
Subject:Faux Past

It's surprising how a small action can have such wide-reaching consequences.  Having taken on a replacement computer at work (as the one I've used since 2002 has been a little slow of late), I have been uninstalling some of the software I don't need. I got this message:

Past history

Just a simple mouse-click later, I was trying to remember where I had put down the scissors five minutes previously, and I couldn't.  Nor could I remember what scissors were, why I wanted them or even who I was. 

I realised to my horror that I had wiped out the whole of human history. Not only was there no back-up, but no way of rectifying my little mistake -- there is no longer any past to travel back to and stop myself clicking that button.

Sorry everyone. Look, it never happened, okay?

The really good news is that I have a handy error message that I find useful in circumstances such as these.

Human error

In other developments, I paid 120.9 pence per litre of petrol last week.

Nature notes: Lots of flies, greenfly and whitefly. Not that many bees, though a fortnight ago I did see the black shadow of a swarm hanging from a tree alongside the Thames. Wished I'd brought my camera.

Two weeks ago I found three headless fledgelings on my lawn. Well, they had hardly any feathers so not yet fledgelings really. I only noticed when I stepped back from looking at the pear tree and trod on one of them. Cat owners must be used to this kind of thing but I'm not. There aren't even may cats in this district so I blame the squirrels -- stealing baby birds and eating part of them is just squirrel style. I buried the birdlings under the magnolia tree. I can't remember my sainted cat Todd ever catching anything. He wouldn't even chase a marble. Enlightened feline.

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Date:2008-02-23 21:20
Subject:Railway Cutting and other nonsense

How am I going to get back?

I used the National Rail journey planner a few months ago. That was a disappointment.

Time Travel

Never mind. Debenhams is here to cheer me up, with a letter copywritten by somebody who has set the hyperbole level a little too high.

Gloss coat 

After all that stimulation I need a set of New Age CDs to calm me down. Alas the only ones I can find appear to tell a terrifying story of the gradual stages of Climate Change.

Climate Discs

Talking of the climate, this January I saw no butterflies. Did see two bumblebees though, on different  occasions. They were just flying about -- nothing like the skilled one I read about in The Independent.


Finally I have no idea why I found the following so funny. I dare say I should get out more.

Strange Taste

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Date:2007-11-07 20:55
Subject:I am lost

Yup, apparently it's a real place but LJ can't find it. Technology is sometimes such a disappointment.


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Date:2007-11-06 22:35
Subject:N is for... (part 2)
Mood: tired

Those few of you in my readers' circle may recall that milady Paularubia gave me the task of writing about things beginning with N. Ages ago, that was, but I here I go with part 2.

N is for... 99.9.  That was the price of a litre of petrol when I drove past the petrol station yesterday.

Today, the price just said 01.9.  What's happened there? I wondered, before realising that the sign was designed before anyone thought of the petrol price requiring four digits.

They said there would be rioting in the streets if petrol went over a pound a litre. But it all seems quiet, apart from the fireworks.

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Date:2007-09-20 22:22
Subject:Facebook band name generator

I have no intention of signing up to Facebook, as I don't have any friends I would want to keep in contact with via the site. Hmm, some might suggest that I should have stopped after the word "friends" there. 

But anyway, I was looking at the sign-up page you get sent to when you attempt to look at someone else's profile, and I was quite taken with the site's anti-spambot random word generator. It looks ideal for generating the names of obscure bands that one could drop while talking to one's non-existent friends, or very short stories one could claim to have read.

What? You never heard of them? They made that great album in '78, man!

That last one is a bit mean, trying to get the signer-up to type a word with an umlaut. We don't all have the ASCII codes committed to memory, y'know.

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Date:2007-08-23 21:53
Subject:Is this to be an empathy test?

My body was recently found underneath a pile of work. According to police sources it had been there for several months. "We are all shocked," said a spokesperson. "Self-dramatisation is never a pretty thing to witness. So he's working for a living. Well boo hoo, we all feel really sorry for him. Yeah right --"

I interrupt this meandering to pose the question: is some market research entirely without merit? That was what I found myself asking the carpet recently when filling in an on-line survey in the vain hope of winning a prize. I was shown a television commercial and then I had to respond to questions like this:

Am I alone in not bothering to invest any emotions at all in television commercials? But the research insists that I answer the question, and whether I say yes or no to each feeling my response will suggest I actively reacted one way or the other. 

Also my retinas glow red, I've seen things you people wouldn't believe and it seems to rain all the time here. So much so that one evening I was prevented from making my usual journey home from work as there was a bit of an obstruction on the road (440Kb).

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Date:2007-05-09 20:19
Subject:Anthony Burgess - father of Spam?
Mood: tired

About 25 years ago, I was given a book written by Anthony Burgess. I couldn't get through it. But something daunted I'm trying again, this time with a book given away with The Independent two months back to kick off its Banned Books promotion. It's A Clockwork Orange, and I'm finding it pretty dull so far.

The reason for this entry's exciting subject is that early on in the book, page 2 in fact, the narrator comments on somebody in the Milkbar who is drunk/drugged, and he quotes this person's speech: 'Aristotle wishy washy works outing cyclamen get forficulate smartish'. 

Now surely that is too close to the random-word Spam we are all sent on a daily basis to be a coincidence. Is it beyond all bounds of possibility that, tiring of the life of a novelist and seeing money-making opportunities elsewhere, Anthony Burgess faked his own death and set up a secret Spam-generating empire?

That is not the end of my adventures in Language and Literature, oh no. I thought this sounded rather jolly:

Mansfield Lark

And I was naturally tempted to add this one to my bookshelves:

Ignore this one at your peril

I have written before of the trials and tribulations affecting celebrities. You may recall my previous example, which showed how different celebrities are from us mere mortals: whereas you and I when driving encounter insects on the windscreen/shield and the occasional stone chipping the paint or denting the bodywork, Nicole Kidman has to cope with being assailed by the Undead. I guess the explanation is that when you're a big name, everything has to be on a bigger scale to match (if she ever calls you up to say can you pop round and take a spider out of her bathtub, my advice is to decline politely and run away fast). But what happens when you have been the star of a long-running television comedy about a radio psychiatrist, and your series finally comes to an end? There's the nagging worry that people might start to forget you. Just in time, somebody sets up a special language learning course to ensure you live on in people's minds!

Frasier Book

I can add nothing more, so allow me to sign off by saying:

And I will gather figs, When he my two weeks, shalt not spare. 
'Tis an etiquette jump kneel I despise, said he.

Light, break me (saying, I have cast lots;
But throughout my father cannot. -- whirl
With antlers myself jenkinsburg
magician irrelevant

Be saints, naked and love.

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Date:2007-01-28 18:46
Subject:The perils of stardom

I was intrigued to read this on the BBC News web-site. What a strange world we live in. 


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Date:2007-01-02 22:47
Subject:New Year, Old Me

My Christmas visit to see the family enabled me to catch up with the Round Robins sent to my mother. I particularly enjoyed this opening gambit. No, the writer is not writing a parody - he is totally serious.

Round robin

The rest of the letter failed to live up to that portentous beginning, sadly, but while I'm on the topic I'm going to quote a sentence I treasure from this correspondent's 2002 communication.

"We went via Batu Pahat, in Johore, where my paternal grandmother's favourite cousin died in a muddy creek in the jaws of a crocodile whilst trying to suppress rubber smuggling in 1927."

Like the unfortunate cousin, none of us saw that one coming. In copywriting, I find it is best to limit the number of ideas in each sentence.

Two surprises awaited me when I got back on New Year's Day. First off:


Released into the garden where the weather is mild and there may actually be the prospect of it finding caterpillar food... Dicey though.

And secondly those caring Spammers were working overtime throughout the Christmas break. Perhaps they thought I might be getting lonely. While their enthusiasm is obviously highly commendable, 1198 junk e-mails in 8 days is pushing it a bit, I reckon.

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