Still Life with Wheelbarrow, Truck and Candelabra

I have no idea what the candelabra was doing there, perched on a half demolished wall in Muntazah, and judging from its very French shrugging posture, it probably didn't know either. Even within the category of 'things you'd miss if you were driving a car', this little tableau was unexpected, to say the least.

If you have lost a candelabra and suspect this might be it, let me know and I'll take the same walk next weekend. If it's still there, I'll retrieve it for you.

Same goes for the wheelbarrow.

Questioning the Beggar and Raising the Dead

Such is the deplorable degradation of modern-day English that many of us have forgotten all but the simplest formulae for effective communication. Indeed, it has become apparent that few, if any, of the under-93's have enough basic linguistic acumen even to question the beggar correctly.
spare some change?

Take the miserable specimen on the right, a typical sample of modern London's street furniture. Instead of asking pointless closed questions like- are you really hungry? which will inevitably be answered in the affirmative, better by far is to challenge with an open question- if you're so hungry, how come you're fat? or, if you have an eye for detail- if you're on the streets, why are your boots not worn? That's the way we used to do it, when Shakespeare was a boy and language was language.
you poor old sod, you see it's only me

Of course, not all beggars should be questioned in the same way. Should you be fortunate enough to encounter Aqualung himself, the only correct question is- Do you still remember December's foggy freeze when the ice that clings onto your beard was screaming agony? Such a question, I submit, transcends beggary and enters the realm of empathy, seeing the human being through the rags and dirt. That's how to question the deserving beggar and it certainly did all right for Ian Anderson. But reserve such questions for the real article, not the cadgers.

Aqualung is arguably the greatest beggar of modern times, having ousted Gandhi from the number one slot. But we shouldn't knock Gandhi's achievement. He it was, and he alone, who reopened the whole beggary competition which for two thousand years had been deemed closed. Lazarus, you see, had long been considered the beggar supreme. Something similar happened in 1930's body-building with Charles Atlas of the scintillating phrase- you too can have a body like mine. Bollox you can!
a body like mine

The trouble with Lazarus is that there is always some confusion surrounding him. It's not hard really, but there were two of them. Lazarus the beggar died (unquestioned) and somehow alighted on Abraham's bosom which must have been of a size with Atlas's. His beggee (a beggar needs a beggee, ok?) was the rich man, Dives (with two syllables) who went straight to hell for not correctly questioning his personal beggar. And quite right too - what an opportunity missed, your own private beggar on the doorstep.

But the other Lazarus was the friend of Jesus, whom He managed to raise from the dead. Now, I'm not going to tell you how to do this. I think it's probably quite tricky. But you know, if you're setting off to see one of your mates who's sick, and if he pops his clogs before you arrive, well, just give it a go. Why not? Take his hand and ask him to get up and walk. After all, what have you got to lose? The guy's dead!

The Joys of Heathrow Terminal 5 Departures

Less than halfway through this post, if you read that far, you'll realise that it isn't yet another sarcastic diatribe against the Heathrow experience. Quite the opposite, in fact. I downright like the place. I fly out of LHR T5 three times a year and haven't yet had a bad one. The glass-doored lifts from the Heathrow Express railway concourse to the departure lounge are your first sign of being in a hi-tec building. The massive steel-work and the vast open areas they support are just plain impressive by any standards.
Check-in couldn't be quicker, with plenty of self-service 'daleks' standing by to print your boarding pass. The only delay is the ensuing security check, but even that passes fairly quickly thanks to pretty adequate parallel processing.
Then you have the departure lounge itself, certainly the quietest I've experienced, thanks to the decision to restrict tannoy announcements to emergencies only. It's amazing how much that single innovation lifts the whole ambiance well above the stress threshold. I always make a point of being early. Playing brinkmanship with aeroplanes has always seemed a mug's game to me. So, once through security, more often that not I'll have a good two hours to enjoy the terminal. What's to enjoy? As a shopping precinct, T5 is well above average. Spacious, well lit, good variety, I've never had any problem finding suitable last minute purchases (which I should have bought over the previous week or two at home, of course).
Shopping over, it always seems to be breakfast time, and breakfast clearly has to be a very non-Qatari bacon and tomato sandwich and a large glass of wine (or two) in Huxley's. Wine, because loading up on beer before a long haul flight has obvious drawbacks. Alcoholic breakfasts are not my habit, by the way, but somehow feel perfectly natural before flying.
To further enhance the mood, the walk from Huxley's to the gate takes in two upmarket liquor stores where they habitually offer small tasters to tempt buyers. This time it was JW Black Label (pretty standard) and a MacCallan's 12 year-old. Very pleasant, though I actually prefer their cheaper 10.

And that's Heathrow T5. (But I hate T2, T4, Charles de Gaule, Schipol . . .)

Cartoon Budgies, Posterity, Calvin and Holy Willie

You see, there's nothing in the name 'Paraplexed' that specifically precludes featuring a 42 year-old cartoon of an irate fat budgie. I know it is 42 years old because, on the reverse side, in pencil, one can still read the deathless verse:

This budgie was drawn by me
In nineteen seven-tee

where the 'me' in question was not me, but my brother, who was 21 at the time and just embarking on a teaching career from which he has recently retired. Strange that a throwaway sketch produced merely to lighten a moment should have survived so long (in the bottom of the drawer I was tidying this afternoon) only to be replicated, albeit briefly, on several thousand computer monitors across the world. Stranger still that it might now endure in file format for the remaining duration of human civilisation.
And strangely unfair that this nameless budgie should be singled out for immortality ahead of the hundreds or even thousands of blackboard chalk drawings my brother produced almost daily, to illustrate a lesson, only to rub them out at the bell to make space for the next. Maybe there's something in Calvinistic predestination after all:

"What was I, or my generation,
That I should get such exaltation?
I, wha deserv'd most just damnation,
     For broken laws
Sax thousand years ere my creation,
     Thro' Adam's cause!"

Feet don't travel well

At least, walkers' feet don't. For the most part, this comes down to footwear. In desert climes, sandals are the obvious choice for daytime walking. (They're fine for night walks too, except that they're banned from most bars, limiting your choice of destinations). You may well think that acclimatising your feet to five or ten mile desert hikes would prepare them for anything. You'd be wrong though. The heels and soles may indeed become as tough as shoeleather, but the tops of the toes, the instep, the nameless inner and outer 'flanks' and the back heel, which, sandalled, touch nothing but fresh air and dust, remain as soft as a soft thing of your choice preferably not involving babies. This wouldn't matter if you never ventured to the frozen north and the lands of proper shoes. That's when you are reminded that the only comfortable walking shoes are ones that you've lived in for weeks, ones that have exhausted their repertoire of nipping, pinching, chafing and crushing. The only alternative is to stick with the sandals and put up with the frostbite. On balance, it could be the right thing to do.

The light is flickering...

and I'm not happy about it. I could switch it off, but then I couldn't see the keyboard. I could switch it off and wait till morning, but that would be tempting providence. It would be presumptuous of me to assume the sun will rise; that much at least I learned from David Hume. It will, of course, but let's not push our luck. The light is flickering because the dimmer switch is on its way out. It is very disconcerting. It's also a bit odd, because downstairs the lights on the Christmas tree are flickering too, but they're supposed to, which somehow makes it less annoying. I could switch it off and go out, and if I were in Doha that's probably what I'd do. But somehow wandering out into a late English night in near freezing temperatures doesn't hold much appeal. No, on balance, it's turning into another Chivas Regal in front of the TV night. I am on holiday, after all. Cheers!

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