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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Location: Bracknell Towers

Friday, June 30, 2006

Pride goeth before destruction

Earlier this week, the editor received a letter from the Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside. (Lady Bracknell confesses that she has very little idea of the nature or the extent of this gentleman's general duties, beyond the fact that he evidently feels it incumbent upon himself to send stock letters to such local persons as have been honoured by our dear Queen. A task which can not have been particularly onerous, given that only one sentence need be altered in the template in order to give the impression of the missive having being crafted anew for each recipient.)

Lady Bracknell, who was otherwise unmoved by her reading of said letter, was nonplussed by the Lord Lieutenant's statement, "Merseyside is proud of you". She is not persuaded that it is possible to feel proud of an individual of whose existence one was not previously aware.

At the time of the last census, the population of Merseyside was estimated at just over 1.3 million souls. Whilst the editor is by no means a shrinking violet (on the contrary, Lady Bracknell has often felt it necessary to have words with her about her deplorable habit of engaging complete strangers in conversation), it would be stretching credulity beyond any reasonable limit to imagine that she has had the time or the opportunity to make herself known to more than a tiny fraction of the population as a whole.

In order to put the veracity of the Lord Lieutenant's statement to the test, a colleague of the editor has devised what can only be described as a cunning plan. (A plan which, apparently, has its genesis in a particularly unwholesome Channel 4 programme in which willing victims are exposed firstly to the humiliation of having passers by estimate their age when they are dressed in their most unbecoming garments, and latterly to intrusive medical procedures designed to eradicate any element of individuality from their appearance. This is then termed as "looking younger".)

The editor's colleague (whom we shall call, "T") suggests that she and the editor should stand in the centre of Liverpool on a busy shopping day. While the editor writhes under the scrutiny of the great unwashed and makes frantic attempts to look inconspicuous, T will approach them with a microphone and a camera crew and demand in stentorian tones, "Excuse me Sir/Madam, could you tell me whether you are proud of this woman?"

There is, of course, no need to actually run this exercise. It should be abundantly clear to even those whose intellectual capacity is such that they have attached vulgar little flags to the windows of their motor cars in order to "celebrate" England's participation in the World Cup that the suggestion that Merseyside is proud of the editor is utterly nonsensical. And Lady Bracknell would thank the Lord Lieutenant not to put such ideas into the woman's head at a time when she is already proving more than ordinarily intractable on the subject of taking dictation.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Servant Problem

Lady Bracknell must apologise for the recent dearth of entries to this blog.

Her regular readers will be aware that her ladyship is unfamiliar with the workings of the computing device; is much too elderly and aristocratic to learn secretarial skills; and therefore relies on her editor (who, let us not forget, is remunerated handsomely for the performance of her duties) to act as a modern-day amanuensis and convey her employer's words of wisdom onto the screen.

Since Saturday last when our gracious Queen saw fit to bestow membership of the Order of the British Empire on her, the editor has consistently argued that she is either too busy, or too tired, to take dictation from her benefactor. (Lady Bracknell should add at this point that, while she would never dream of questioning the Queen's judgement on any matter, in her own limited experience as an employer of the editor, she has observed that the woman is both reluctant to take orders from her social betters and far too fond of expressing strong opinions in company. Still, the deed is done, and Lady Bracknell confesses that she is not above enjoying the kudos conferred upon her by the fact that she has a titled member of staff.)

Evidently, the stress of keeping the knowledge that she was to be awarded an MBE to herself for the better part of five weeks has now been superseded for the editor by the demands of obtaining a suitable outfit in which to attend the investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace. She is very excited to have found a local milliner: by all accounts a young lady of not inconsiderable skill and knowledge, and one who will not permit her customers to purchase hats which do not become them. This talented young businesswoman will provide a bespoke hat for around £120: even Lady Bracknell is forced to admit that this sounds very reasonable, and to agree that supporting owners of small businesses is always preferable to pouring money into the infinitely deep pockets of chain stores.

With the vexed question of the hat resolved (apparently, the editor's face demands something called "an east west brim"), the issue of what is to be worn over her smart black frock has come to the fore. In the absence of anything which precisely meets the editor's requirements in those cyberstores which she generally frequents, the decision has been reached to have a tailored jacket made for the occasion by a dressmaker.

The editor is insisting that the jacket and its lining be fashioned from silk, and has therefore been spending her evenings searching for fabrics of the desired weight and colour on the interwebnet. Samples have been ordered from here and here, and the editor is to take tea next weekend with a lady of her acquaintance, whose taste in such matters she respects, in order to make the final choice.

Lady Bracknell is in behopes that the meeting next weekend will resolve the editor's anxieties for the moment, and that she will thereafter submit to her duties as before. Indeed, given that Lady Bracknell has shown extraordinary leniency in this matter over the last week or so, should the editor fail to come to her senses very soon, her continued employment and residence in Bracknell Towers can not be guaranteed. One can not, after all, submit oneself to be seen to be taken advantage of by one's domestic staff.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Because you're worth it

Whilst watching her televisual device earlier this afternoon - the weather being far too warm for her to consider any more strenuous activities - Lady Bracknell was jerked from her recumbent posture by an advertisement for men's "grooming" products from L'Oreal.

The advertisment begins with a patronising, pseudo-scientific voice-over which attempts to browbeat men into the conviction that what they consider to be attractive "expression lines", women view with horror and disgust as "ugly wrinkles".

Rather unsurprisingly, L'Oreal counters across the developed world are packed to bursting with products which they claim will rid their male customers of these troubling disfigurements.

There is so much scope for vituperative outpourings here that Lady Bracknell is at something of a loss as to quite where to begin. But one must start somewhere.

Firstly, Lady Bracknell objects in the strongest possible terms to being portrayed as considering lines (on the face of a person of either gender) to be "ugly wrinkles". It matters not a fig to her ladyship how many advertising campaigns and magazine articles trumpet the superiority of a youthful appearance: she is not now, and never will be, persuaded. As with the desirability of hot weather, this is a matter of opinion, not of fact. To endeavour to present opinion as incontrovertible scientific fact is neither big nor clever, and advertisers will have to get up a lot earlier in the morning than they do currently if they are to have any hope of hoodwinking elderly, aristocratic ladies who pride themselves on having reached their own independent conclusions on such matters based on a combination of observation and rational thinking.

It has long been Lady Bracknell's belief that a youthful face is somewhat akin to a porcelain mask, in that, in repose, it gives away very little of the character of its owner. Once lines have started to form (and this is, after all, an entirely natural concomitant of the ageing process), the individual's character and temperament become delineated for all to see. In persons of a sour and embittered frame of mind, it is true that these lines are unlikely to have an attractive appearance. But they are merely the visible reflection of the person behind the face: they are not themselves at fault.

There is, in Lady Bracknell's personal opinion, no single physical feature which has more sex appeal than laughter lines. The deeper those lines are, the better she will be pleased. The very idea that anyone (again, of either gender) would deliberately attempt to disguise or obliterate such lines is beyond Lady Bracknell's comprehension.

Secondly, one of the products featured in the L'Oreal advertisement is called "Anti-Expression Cream". Surely Lady Bracknell cannot be the only person who is horrified at the suggestion that facial expressions ought to be eradicated in what is very probably, in any event, an entirely futile attempt to prolong a semblance of youth? Our faces are intended to be mobile. That is why they are underpinned with such complex musculature. And that is also why the rigid forehead of the botox victim looks so unnatural: we expect people's eyebrows to move. (Lady Bracknell has for many years wished that she had the ability to raise one sardonic eyebrow: unfortunately, she appears not to have been gifted with the appropriate gene. She can, however, curl her lip in disdain. Which accomplishment, she supposes, is not to be sneered at.)

How would Lady Bracknell advise men to increase their attractiveness to women?

Well, in the first place, she considers happiness in one's own skin to be of greater importance than any attempts to artificially increase one's attractiveness quotient to the opposite sex. But, assuming that the gentleman in question is happy in himself (and taking as a given the assumption that he has mastered the basics of personal hygiene), he would do far better, in Lady Bracknell's estimation, to work on his integrity, compassion and unselfishness than to stand in front of his mirror every morning rubbing over-priced emollients of dubious provenance into his face in an attempt to appear young.

Unless, of course, he is a man of middle years who is attempting to ingratiate himself with nubile but vapid young women who are only interested in his money. In which case, he is a) the architect of his own demise; b) an object of ridicule; and, c) beyond help.

Friday, June 09, 2006

In which Lady Bracknell shares her eBay expertise, such as it is

Lady Bracknell does not consider herself to be overly parsimonious, but neither does she see any intrinsic merit in paying the full retail asking price for something she wants when that same object is available more cheaply elsewhere in return for only a very little effort on her part.

It is this metaphorical nose for a bargain which has led her ladyship - via the computing skills of her editor - to make so much use of eBay, the online auction site.

There are some people who are nervous of eBay, and others who have wasted large sums of money on it. If you are an inveterate impulse buyer; or if your self-control is such that you can not trust yourself to stop bidding when you have exceeded the price you are willing to pay for the object of your desire; or if your competitive spirit prevents you from backing down in a bidding war, then eBay is probably not for you.

If, on the other hand, you were once a practised afficionado of the charity shop and the jumble sale, but are no longer sufficiently physically robust to enjoy such pursuits, then eBay should serve very well as an online substitute.

There are many comprehensive guides available to making optimum use of eBay, and Lady Bracknell has neither the time nor the desire to replicate them here. She will, however, enumerate some of the tricks she and her editor have learned over the years in the hopes that these will prove useful to her readers.

Do your homework. By no means everything which is held out for sale on eBay is cheaper there than it is elsewhere. Comparison shopping is, if anything, even more important on the Interwebnet than it is on the high street. Electronic items, in particular, are often listed at a higher price on eBay than that for which they could be purchased in a real shop. (Pray do not ask how Lady Bracknell knows this: she has her sources, and they are reliable.)

Check the shipping costs. There are a small minority of sellers who use shipping charges to bump up the profit they make on an item. If you are happy that the final bid price plus the shipping fees still represents good value for money, then all is well. But check before you bid. If you receive negative feedback as a result of reneging on a deal because you have realised too late that the shipping charges are extortionate, you will find that other sellers may well be unwilling to do business with you.

Set up "favourite searches". If you are looking for something specific which is not listed by the dozen every hour, consider setting up a favourite search. eBay will send you an electronic communication every time an item meeting the description in your search term is listed. Then you simply save the item to your watching list and wait for the auction to draw to a close.

Beware spelling errors. By no means all the people who list items for auction have perfect spelling. Lady Bracknell's editor searches daily for items produced by Thierry Mugler. It did not take her long to reduce her search term from "Thierry Mugler" to "Mugler". "Thierry" is clearly too difficult a name for many sellers to spell, and searching under the correct spelling excludes items spelled incorrectly from the list with which you will be supplied.

Don't bid the price up! Whenever possible, refrain from bidding until the last possible moment. (The exact timing of the last possible moment will depend on the speed of your Interwebnet connection and the steeliness of your nerve. Make sure you are signed in in plenty of time. Nothing makes the heart beat faster than placing a bid in the last 30 seconds before an auction ends only to be faced with a screen asking you to sign in.) Bid early, and you leave time for other interested parties to bid after you, thus raising the final price of the item. Decide what the maximum price you are willing to pay for the item in question is, and bid that amount in full as late as you dare. There will not be time for you to increase your bid by tentative increments of 50p if it transpires that someone else is bidding against you at the last moment. If luck is on your side, you will still win the item for less than your maximum bid. If not, you will be outbid. But you will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that you were not tempted to exceed your maximum.

Read the item description carefully. Horror stories abound, such as that of the gullible bidder who paid large sums of money for the cardboard box in which an X-box console had been sold. The item listing didn't actually contain any outright falsehoods, but it was constructed to give the impression that the console itself was being auctioned. ("Console" may be the wrong word, here: neither Lady Bracknell nor her editor has had any first hand experience of this type of device.)

Check feedback. The feedback system is one of eBay's great strengths. Nobody - sellers in particular - wants to have negative feedback on their record for all to see. Be suitably wary of sellers who either have multiple negative feedbacks or whose profile pages show that they have changed their selling identities. (Lady Bracknell should add at this point that the overwhelming majority of sellers with whom she has had transactions have been absolutely charming. Nevertheless, there are some unscrupulous people out there and it is wise to do what one can to avoid coming into contact with any of them.)

Don't be xenophobic. For the best bargains, don't feel you must restrict your searches to UK sellers. Lady Bracknell regularly buys items from the US. She has also bought from sellers in Lithuania, Greece, France, Germany and Australia. You will often find that post arrives more quickly from the US than from other parts of the UK.

Poor photographs can be your friend. This may sound odd, but Lady Bracknell will explain. Some sellers are very skilled at posting slick, professional, eye-catching item listings complete with multiple crystal-clear photographs. Others are not.


Above is one of the photographs which appeared in the listing for an auction which Lady Bracknell won on Wednesday. It is a mediocre photograph, and is thus not appealing to the casual browser. This is, however, a pair of Jean Lafont spectacle frames. Their recommended retail price is in the region of £200. The starting price for the auction was under £22. This appeared to Lady Bracknell to have the potential for being a very good deal, so she asked her editor to search for a better picture. And here it is. (The colour is 504.)

Lady Bracknell is pleased to report that she was the only bidder and that, even taking into account postage from the US, she has paid less than £33 for these frames. Of course, it may be the case that no other eBay user was interested. On the other hand, it seems more likely that it was the layout of the listing which failed to attract bidders. All the necessary information - model number, colour reference, and frame measurements – was contained in the listing, albeit with spelling errors and in a rather unattractive font. But a little time spent searching on Google was all that was required for Lady Bracknell to satisfy herself that this was a pair of spectacles she would be happy to add to her collection.

NB. If, like Lady Bracknell, you buy spectacle frames either on eBay or from other Interwebnet purveyors, it is important to have a warm relationship with your dispensing optician should you wish to have the frames glazed to your prescription. Marmite Boy had an unfortunate experience in this regard.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

To Norroway o'er the faem

Lady Bracknell, as her acquaintances cannot help but be aware, is not fond of hot weather. In fact, to say that she "is not fond" of it is an understatement somewhat akin to venturing the opinion that Young Master Marmite is not overly enamoured of carrots and that Mr Fork can take or leave broccoli.

Hot weather does not agree with her ladyship. For one thing, it causes her hands and feet to swell painfully. She is stout of figure and she is of Viking descent, a combination which renders her physiologically suited to colder climes than these. Norway, possibly.

(If Lady Bracknell may be permitted to digress for a moment, she has reminded herself of a story she was told last year. Apparently, one of our largest public sector employers has published internal guidance on something called the Intranet - Lady Bracknell gathers from her editor that this is something like the interwebnet, but containing rather less pornography - on the subject of measures to be taken when offices are uncomfortably hot. According to this helpful guidance, the susceptibility of employees to high temperatures will vary depending on their individual physiognomies. Which is a novel and entertaining concept and one which, Lady Bracknell suspects, could easily be turned into an amusing parlour game by an enterprising and imaginative person.)

If there is one thing which Lady Bracknell finds even more wearying than hot weather itself, it is the constant pressure (to which, naturally, she will not bend) to claim to be deriving enjoyment from it. As her ladyship's regular readers will no doubt recall from the entries she published on the subject of Christmas, Lady Bracknell has no wish to deprive anyone of his or her enjoyment of particular times of year or meteorological phenomena. But she really does take exception to the degree of personal affront displayed by certain individuals when she takes an opposing view.

In what precise way is their own enjoyment of hot weather diminished by discovering that Lady Bracknell would much prefer a crisp autumn morning to a broiling hot summer day? It is not as though there are any moral issues at stake here: Lady Bracknell is not barging in to a convention of vegans, brandishing a bloody haunch of venison. The conviction that hot weather is good is not one which was arrived at after years of ethical and philosophical wrangling: it is nothing more than a matter of personal taste.

Lady Bracknell is very fond of the colour blue. It is likely that, from time to time, she will meet persons whose favourite colour is red. If, upon hearing of this affection for red, Lady Bracknell begins by begging the lover of red to reconsider his or her ill-formed preference in light of the self-evident superiority of blue, and ends by taking offence because her interlocutor is immovable on the colour issue, she would hardly expect to be paid any sort of heed. But, of course, Lady Bracknell would not behave in such a manner because it does not matter a fig to her that somebody else's colour preferences are not in tune with her own.

And the next time someone asks her, "Oh, but how can you not like this glorious weather?", she will be tempted to respond in a less than civil manner.

Lady Bracknell has strayed more than somewhat from her original intentions in penning this entry. All that she had really meant to say was that the degree of welcome relief from the effects of uncomfortably high temperatures which can be gained by the simple expedient of having one's hair cut is astonishing.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Apistephto, ki'omos alithino*

When Lady Bracknell suggested recently that disabled persons might wish to buy vast quantities of chocolate bars in order to win a place in the Big Brother house, she was merely, to use the modern parlance, "having a larf".

The Dude and Becca were never in any real danger of having to sacrifice their currently svelte figures to consume innumerable fingers of wafer biscuit enrobed in a chocolate coating of indifferent quality.

Lady Bracknell was not at the time persuaded that anyone would purchase more Kitkats than they could realistically expect to have eaten before the sell-by date for the dubious benefit of thereby possibly winning a sojourn in the house in question.

But Lady Bracknell was wrong. Evidently her advanced age has prevented her from being in tune with the zeitgeist. It has been reported that one woman bought over 10,000 Kitkats.

Let us pause for a moment and attempt to envisage how much space 10,000 bars of chocolate take up. No, it is no good. Lady Bracknell has little in the way of spatial awareness at the best of times and, beyond being quietly confident that they would take up a lot of room, cannot project with any confidence just how much room that would be.

The mathematics, though, are easier. Hypothesising that the RRP for one Kitkat bar is somewhere in the region of 50 pence under the decimal currency system (ten shillings, therefore, in old money), this lady has spent five thousand pounds for a one in one hundred chance of being incarcerated for several weeks in the company of persons whose combined intelligence, charm, self-knowledge and integrity (with the notable exception of Pete) approaches that of the average garden slug. What strange times we do live in, to be sure.

Lady Bracknell is in behopes that the 10,000 chocolate bars, despite their indifferent quality and their deplorably low percentage of cocoa solids, have, at least, been eaten. That they have been donated to disadvantaged children who cannot afford their own chocolate bars, and who generally have no option but to subsist on bread and dripping. If it is ultimately revealed that said chocolate bars were merely tossed aside once their wrappers had been feverishly torn off, then Lady Bracknell will be doubly appalled.

*The title of this blog entry has been transliterated from the Greek. Lady Bracknell lived in Athens for a while when she was considerably younger, and "Apistephto, ki'omos Alithino" was a popular television programme at the time. The programme was American in origin: its original title was - if Lady Bracknell remembers correctly - "Strange But True".

As was often the case, a title which had been designed to be short and snappy became somewhat cumbrous in translation. The example of this phenomenon which most sticks in her ladyship's mind is the television adverts for Mars bars. Readers above a certain age will no doubt recall that Mars bars used to be marketed under the following slogan: "A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play". (Lady Bracknell apologises to any reader who finds that he or she now is now humming the accompanying jingle and cannot stop doing so.)

This was translated word for word in the contemporaneous Greek advertising campaign, resulting in the following far-from-compact slogan:

"Ena Mars kathimerina sas voethai na thoulevetai, na xekourazetai kai na pexetai".

Try singing that to the jingle. Lady Bracknell suspects you will run out of music quite some time before you run out of syllables.

(Lady Bracknell's Greek is no longer fluent, and she has never, in any case, been fond of transliteration. She apologises profusely to the delightful inhabitants of Greece if she has made any errors.)

Thursday, June 01, 2006