Friday, 15 June 2018

Moving House: A very sensible and brief post

I haven't had much time to blog over the last 2 weeks due to the upheaval associated with relocating our life.

Not been the best of weeks. We officially moved into our new house last Monday. As our stuff was arriving by van on Tuesday morning we spent a night on the bare floor- did wonders for my glass back. Of course, it piddled down for two solid days. Next problem: couldn't get all our stuff in a 60sq metre van and had to hire a small truck to transport the rest. Tis amazing how much crap that can be accumulated considering that when we first arrived in Nuzzieland we had virtually bugger all and had to start from scratch. Enough moaning, otherwise I'll be labelled as the archetypal wingeing Pomm.

So, the worst is over, I suspect. Still, have custody of the old house until Wednesday. At least it will give us the chance to give the place a good clean. I've got 2 more weeks of work and officially retire on June 29th. I suppose this is where life gets interesting. Less stress, no more work and the new house can be organised and sorted, at leisure. It hasn't really struck home that I'm retiring. A complete change and direction in life. Can't wait........

Normal service will be resumed when I can find my medication. Arse.

Thursday, 7 June 2018


And so it has come to pass: Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now I need a place to hide away, or at least somewhere to take my medication.

I've handed in my resignation. On the 30th June, I become a man of infinite leisure. A country Lord living a simple life, enjoying simple pleasures. Anyway, I'm going to share with the world my letter of resignation. 

"As one door closes, another falls off its hinges and clouts you on the noggin"   

1st June 2018
Dear Prof. Mugumbo,
I am respectively tendering my resignation as a Senior Scientist positioned in the Institute of Difficult Stuff, Tipton. I understand I’m obliged to render 4 working weeks, as notice. Consequently, the commencement of my notice transpires from Friday the 1st June 2108, to encompass all hitherto days culminating in the demise of service on 29th June 2018. 
I would like it to be known that I’ve enjoyed service under your watch. You have proved to be a most professional of managers and a man worthy of esteem and respect. It is with great sadness that I relinquish employment, but I’m forced to do so under circumstances not completely within my control, but governed by fates, capricious and undiscerning. Indeed, as mortal men, we are just floating jetsam in the great ‘sea’ of change. Tossed and rendered senseless by forces beyond our control- feeble humans, that we are.
As you are no doubt aware, my beloved wife, Mrs. Saxon, has been beleaguered by a thousand furies and assailed by the wrath of rheumatoid arthritis. Tis a malady which waxes and wanes, but to date shows no abate. Consequently, my hand has been forced and I feel obliged to follow. In truth, the laboratory is best served by the recruitment of new, young and fresh-faced staff (nay, vibrant), unsullied by the burden of life’s tribulations. This is a gift I bestow upon the laboratory. Sir, do not squander but apply my selfless beneficence to the greater good. 
Yours Sincerely and with aplomb,
Flaxen Saxon 

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Estate Agents, Bloody Estate Agents

Estate agents get a bad press, right up there with second-hand car salesmen. Selling real estate is not an easy job, but in times of boom, they make a hell of a lot of money. And mayhap the profession attracts those with questionable ethics. Over the years I have bought and sold eight houses both in the UK and New Zealand. On reflection, my dealings with estate agents have been positive and I’ve been impressed by their dedication and professionalism, until now. 

When we bought our retirement property the estate agent involved seemed professionally confident and superficially charming. She told us how she became an estate agent after dealing with a particularly dodgy practitioner. In hindsight, this was an obvious ploy to gain our trust and to lull us into a false sense of security.  

The first warning sign came when we were in the late stages of price negotiation. Eventually, we agreed on a price and everything seemed tickety-boo. When we received the final document an extra $20,000 mysteriously appeared on the contract. When I confronted the agent, she said it was an error. No shit, say, I. But it was going to get worse. 

When we had signed the contract, the estate dealing with our current property asked to look at the contract. She was looking for a certain clause that would be to our detriment and she duly found it. The clause, ‘the 5-day cash out clause’ can be invoked if the vendor receives a better offer even after the signing of the contract. We had the option to withdraw from the agreement within a 5-day period after being served notice.  Alternatively, we could place a 10% deposit and be bound by a 6-week settlement date. At this time, we hadn’t sold our house, which meant we would end up with a bridging loan. We were loath to withdraw our offer, not only had we invested a $1,000 in building reports and legal searches, but the property was a perfect fit for us, in every regard.  Now you could say that we should have read the small print on the contract, and I would agree. And we should have had a solicitor to check over the contract before signing. And again, I would agree. Tis our own fault. That said, after purchasing 4 properties in New Zealand, I have never come across this clause before. And let’s be honest, who reads the fine print, anyway? (Flaxen, that is what you pay solicitors for, you daft sod). It appears to be s new innovation in the NZ house market. Bugger, Say I! I have been a fool (caveat emptor). The difference between being a fool and being stupid is that I don’t intend to ever make the same mistake twice. As I don’t intend to move again, this probably represents a theoretical appreciation. 

Subsequently, we have sold our house and it means that we will incur the financial inconvenience of a 10-day bridging loan- a total cost of about $1,000. But there is hope. It appears that our estate agent is obliged, by law, to inform us of this most majestic and controversial of clauses. This she didn’t do. So, we have grounds to report her to an independent body which investigates complaints against real estate folk. Indeed, just to show what a wretched individual our estate agent turned out to be, we caught her out on two separate occasions, downright lying to us. Double bugger says I! But what do you expect, she’s an estate agent, after all. 

So, gentle readings, is there anyone out there in the firmament, with a similar case of woe whilst selling or buying a property? If so, feel free to share your pain.  


Thursday, 31 May 2018


Seems like sound advice

I’m drawn to rational beliefs and philosophies. Hence my admiration for the British Empirical philosophers, particularly the sublime philosophy of David Hume.   As for the ancients, I’m attracted to the doctrines of Epicurus. Epicurus flourished c306 BC and founded a school in Athens (‘The Garden’). Not so much a school- more of a commune.  Unlike his predecessors and contemporaries, he freely admitted women and slaves. His philosophy was a mixture between contemplation about the physical world (he believed in indivisible atoms) and exhortations for a simple, sober life. His community was not averse to private ownership of goods and property, however, they preached against rampant consumerism.

Epicurus’ philosophy is associated with the pursuit of pleasure. But he was not a hedonist in the modern sense of the word. He emphasized simple pleasures such as friendship and satiation with a refreshing, but frugal repast and he did not encourage rampant sexual activity or gluttony (more fool him). Although allowing wine, Epicurus’ acolytes were not encouraged to imbibe to the point of drunkenness.

Most of what we know about Epicurus comes from the work of other philosophers. Although he wrote prodigiously (300 books), little remains of his work- mostly letters to his followers. He appears to conform to rational tenets and insisted that nothing should be believed except that which could be tested by direct observation or logical deduction. Although not denying the existence of the gods, explicitly, he taught that the gods did not interact with the world of man. This is as about as close to atheism that was allowed in Ancient Greek society without the serious accusation of impiety. He is credited with the insightful: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"  A potent critique of Theism as understood in the conventional sense and an accusation that appears highly relevant in conjunction with the Christian understanding of the deity. And indeed, his argument has remained a historical thorn in the side of religious belief and has spurred/spawned the development of a specialist sub-division of theology, called Theodicy.  No doubt, the arguments put forward against Epicurus’ original injunction/contention have been ingenious. To my mind they rarely address the core problem and represent an extreme form of theological sophistry which remains at best unconvincing, and at worst, absurd.

Of particular interest is Epicurus’ concept of death. While it is true that the act of dying can be extremely unpleasant, once we slip away we are no longer sentient and therefore beyond any conscious existence; pain can be no more. For Epicurus, death is an eternal dreamless sleep. He denies any form of afterlife in contradiction to most mainstream religions. Epicurus has no time for muddled thinking with regard to death. Death is not to be feared and is no different to the state preceding birth. I find this a sensible logical pronouncement and remarkably refreshing for his period. It is wrong to consider Epicurism as a cult of death. It is more about the celebration of life while we have it. This is a profoundly liberating philosophy.

I’m retiring at the end of June to my small holding in the country. I intend to lead a simple life; veggies grown; homemade rhubarb wine; fruit cider from the trees and eggs garnered from the chucks. I’ll supplement the freezer with a little bow hunting- plenty of critters for harvesting in the Wairarapa. I intend to follow the precepts of the ancient sage: a simple life with simple pleasures. Either that I’ll set up a commune for attractive fallen women under 30. Only time will tell…….Arse.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Sigmund Freud: Brief Notes

Behold the enigma

On my study desk I have a framed letter from Sigmund Freud to an English physician. Unfortunately, the letter is not dated, however, it was written when Freud was still practicing in Vienna, so it must have been written before 1938, after which Freud moved to Britain. It mainly concerns a case report Freud was working on at the time and I suppose there is enough internal evidence to be able to work out a close date for when it was written. But frankly, I can’t be arsed.

Sigmund Freud is considered the father of psychoanalysis, and I think rightly so.  He effectively founded the discipline and his theories dominated the field throughout the first part of the 20th century. Indeed, he still exerts a tremendous, and often a baleful influence, on modern psychoanalytic thought to this day.

Clearly, Freud was a man of formidable intellectual vigour and his capacity for work was astonishing. But Freud remains an intellectual enigma, out of tune with the intellectual timbre/temper of his time. Science had been in the ascendancy, in the enlightened West, for centuries. Freud, in spite of his intelligence, exhibited thought patterns akin to the intellectual methodology of Ancient Greek philosophers 2,500 years ago. He appears to have had no time, or at least seemed oblivious, toward empirical science and the scientific method. Like the Ancient Greeks, he would make observations of a phenomenon, then move straight to theory without the intervening stages of formulating a hypothesis and subsequent testing by experiment. In his own time these intellectual processes were clearly redundant and anachronistic. Like the ancient Greek philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, Freud thought that pure reason could unleash new knowledge. And in this regard, he is simply right, but only in the world of mathematics and logic. His contempt for the scientific method, at least in the realm of psychoanalysis, is illustrated by the following anecdote. On being told by an associate that a researcher had found experimental evidence for his concept of ‘Repression’, Freud was heard to remark: “I do not require experimental data for the validity of my concepts, they exist anyway.”

It is of no surprise that Freud’s concepts were often couched in the names of mythical Ancient Greek characters- the Oedipus complex being a striking example. He also introduced the Ancient Greek concept of duality into his theories: consider his formulation of the ‘life force’ and its darker blood relative, ‘the death drive’, named Eros and Thanatos respectively. It appears that Freud was a better Classicist than a Scientist. Much of his work would not pass the rigorous peer reviewed scientific standards demanded of modern scholarship, today. That said, Freud remains important because of his early influence on the ‘theory of the mind’, although most of what he preached has been discarded by modern psychologists. Perhaps only his simplistic model of the psyche has relevance to modern thought, although his ideas were arrived at by intuition and not based on anything intellectually concrete. Most educated folk are aware of Freud’s conceptualisation of the Id, Ego and Superego. His major insight was to recognise the importance of the vast unconscious mind and the sublime influence of the unconscious on conscious thought processes.

For all the intellectual derision and opprobrium aimed at Freud today by modern psychology Professors, Freud’s standing in the lay public mind remains high. Indeed, he has successfully invaded our unconscious thoughts and Freudian concepts remain entwined within our cerebral cortex (stop waxing lyrical, Flaxen, and take your medication). Our society is littered with Freudian slips such as:  Arrested development; Death wish; Phallic symbols; Anal retentiveness; Defense mechanisms; Cathartic release. And on and on and on. No doubt when these learned Professors have slipped this mortal coil, most will soon be forgotten along with their work, but Freud will endure.

Monday, 21 May 2018

The Royal Wedding

The sleepy Principality of Dudley is in incandescent uproar at the anticipation of the Royal wedding of Prince Barry (call me Bazza) and his bride, Sharon Mugumbo. The dream couple met when Barry was carrying out humanitarian duties in a Tipton brothel. Apparently, they fell in love when their eyes locked over a moist, crusty bed sheet.  There are naysayers who contend that a Prince of the realm should be marrying someone posh called Cassandra or Jocasta, rather than marrying a colonial, coloured actress, stripper, chanteuse and hair dresser. And a divorcee to boot. Some aver that the trend had been set when the Duke of Windsor nearly married Wallace Simpson 148 years ago.

Controversy was spawned after it was divined that local itinerants, sleeping rough in Dudley High Street, had removed themselves voluntarily to take up permanent residence in the local cemetery. Filthy Eric, of no fixed kneecaps, managed to escape the roaming death squads and opined thusly: “Can you spare 20 quid for a pack of fags and a bottle of ‘Thunder Bollocks’ wine? “.  When encouraged with a cattle prod he continued in a dissimilar vein:” Ooooh, what a lovely couple. May beneficence cascade upon their tumescent loins. And their first child, be a masculine child. Although she does look a bit dusky”

Mr Khan, of Mr Khan’s cheap shit and tat, has launched a gaggle of products celebrating this most inauspicious event including a line of commemorative mugs sporting the effigies of the hapless couple. Sharon has been rendered in shimmering topaz sporting a spear, grass skirt and a bone through her nose, while Prinz Barry is in the full regalia of the SS Totenkopf division. The effect is enhanced by the judicious application of crayon highlights and Sharon’s moustache has been rendered in shimmering shellac.

Mrs Enid Mugumbo, of no fixed morals, ranted on interminably:  “Oooooo what a lovely bride Barry makes. I remember his mother, Kylie, a great useless, thick, stupid lump with a penchant for banging foreigners".

Sharon’s father is unlikely to attend the wedding as he is washing his underwear that day. His book: ‘The Prince who shagged my daughter’, will be available in all good book stores later this week.

The royal Ferret, Shagger, was not amused.

Prince Phillip is 137

Filthy Eric, in repose 

Friday, 18 May 2018

More Health & Safety Bollix

I have the unhappy designation of Departmental Health & Safety Officer. Tis a poisoned chalice full of foul smelling ichor. My main duties revolve around meticulous form completion; maintaining a hazard register and a chemical register. There is a pressing need to conduct a monthly 'Health & Safety Audit' and an insistent obligation for each staff member to complete an annual 'Health & Safety Questionnaire'. Anyway, it appears to me that as long as I dutifully complete the assigned tasks the management gods are appeased and life, as we know it, rolls along with wistful abandon. Furthermore, real health and safety issues, issues that actually impact on the worker are conveniently ignored, especially where money is required to remedy the situation. For instance, we have a long-standing issue with the air conditioning and temperature control systems in the laboratory. As this requires a complete and expensive refit, the management have conveniently ignored our repeated requests, entreaties, nay pleas, for refurbishment.

Last year I decided to audit the atmospheric levels of a chemical compound used in the processing of cells for chromosome analysis. One of the chemicals used in the mixture is acetic acid which is liberated into the atmosphere during the process. Visitors to the laboratory often remark on the pungent odour which appears to permeate/pervade the area. Of course, the scientists and technicians can no longer smell the chemical due to a long and frequent acquaintance. Also, copper pipes in the fridges and freezers have corroded resulting in equipment failure on a regular basis.  Consequently, I thought it would be a good idea to check on the recommended exposure levels and was appalled to note that the permissible levels in an environment should not exceed 8ppm over an eight-hour period. With this knowledge in hand, I obtained a dosimeter for measuring acetic levels in the atmosphere. Although not highly accurate, the meter gives an indication of acetic acid concentrations, albeit in a semi-quantitive manner.

Over the course of several months I’ve  assiduously measured the acetic acid levels in the lab, especially during peak activity. Eventually, this will form the basis of a health and safety report, which once completed, will be forwarded to our Occupational Health Department for deliberation and perhaps thereafter passed on to Higher Powers. Very early on in the study it became apparent that levels were high normal or over limits deemed safe. This work often had to take second place to my normal duties and I was hoping to submit my ground-breaking study sometime in July. But the fates and the furies had other ideas. And it came to pass that a senior manager got wind of my endeavour. Within a thrice I became the attention of a gaggle of upper management types. To a man they wore perplexed and worried frowns over suits of burlap grey. Mayhap, they were expressing concern for the health of their dedicated scientific staff? Or could there be a darker, ulterior motive?  They fired off a volley of insistent and pertinent questions. My answers did not allay their troubles. Head suit, gasped: “Oh my god, we could be fined  200k.” At that revelation they shuffled into my boss’s office to further spread the woe. To fix the issue will cost a meagre 10k- I wonder if they would be so willing to comply if the legislative ‘Sword of Damocles’ was not swinging adroitly above their well coiffured bonces?  

Once management had departed, and as if in a fevered dream, I was approached by my very harassed looking boss. “Flaxen”, he intoned, “I want your report on my desk first thing in the morning”. Bugger, says I, as I was hoping for a relaxed evening with the local ‘swingers’. All the crusty bits had been scraped off my gimp suit and a new ‘glory hole’ had been lovingly fashioned. Instead, I’ll be huddled over a keyboard until the wee hours poring over statistics and standard deviations- ARSE.

Moral of the story:  If you want anything done, cloak it in the guise of Health & Safety. It stirs like a Behemoth and lurks at the margins of all corporate decisions and if they fail to heed/feed the beast, they will incur the wrath of power wielding Health and Safety Pendants. The penalty for non-compliance is dire and immensely expensive. It is important to remember that a judicious and constructive enhancement (fiddling sounds too harsh) of data is okay, especially if it conforms to your own nefarious agenda- all the best scientists do it.