Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Any old iron

It used to be very easy to run a car on a shoestring budget.
Back in the late eighties when I first set foot on the motoring treadmill, I owned a truly woeful succession of cars. These were all bought on the sole basis that they were very cheap, and the trouble with very cheap cars is that they frequently need fixing.
This was in the days when you'd open the bonnet and see a nice simple engine with plenty of access space around everything, compared to today's cars where you find a big plastic cover under which it looks as if everything has been vacuum-packed in order to fit the greatest quantity of assorted automotive jumble into the smallest possible space.
As a result you now have to dismantle half the car to reach ordinary service components while plugging it in to a phenomenally expensive computer to interrogate its brain.

DIY car mechanics is definitely on the wane, which as an engineer I consider to be a great shame because fixing your car was always a good way of bonding with it. A bit like the difference between a casual acquaintance with whom you share polite but inane chit-chat about the weather, and someone you share a deep and personal relationship with.
This was handy back in the day, because the cars I had did need regular attention.
I owned the tools anyway, my labour was free and parts were thankfully inexpensive, so many weekends were spent changing head gaskets, grinding in valves, stripping and cleaning carburettors, replacing wheel bearings and so on, just to keep some rusty piece of crap safe and functional so I could get to work during the week and explore the country roads with typical youthful exuberance at the weekend.
Main dealers weren't too bad for parts, there were lots of motor factors around selling pattern parts for around half the price of genuine ones, and if things were really tight then it would mean a visit to the breakers yard.

The breakers yard was like a cross between a toy shop and a zoo. All those wonderful parts at your fingertips creating fantasies of taking the V8 out of an old Rover and grafting it into something highly unsuitable to make a sleeper, while gazing sadly at the rusted shell of an old Jaguar, wondering if some careful panel beating and a large bottle of T-Cut would bring it back from the dead.
I remember one particular scrapyard that had a huge section full of American cars because of the US airbases in the area, and we'd make a special trip to look at end-of-life Mustangs and Trans-Ams like some sort of low-rent classic car show, while looking in disgust at the awful seventies offerings designed by someone with a fetish for straight lines, including interiors that appeared to be built from a random assortment of packing cases nailed together and wrapped in beige vinyl.

You could walk into the breakers and say to the bloke "I'm after a headlight and a distributor for a Mk3 Escort", and he'd point casually into the distance with a mumbled "Fords are over there", leaving you to saunter along with a bag of tools to remove the parts you needed (while discretely filling your pockets with random switches, bulbs and fuses). You'd drop into the office (usually nothing more than a shed with a fan heater and a selection of out-of-date girly calendars) with the parts you'd rescued and the bloke would take a quick glance and say "call it fifteen quid mate" and you'd be all sorted.

This kind of scrappy has long since disappeared, thanks to the overenthusiastic intrusion of Health and Safety, and the scrapyards have reinvented themselves as 'auto recyclers' who no longer allow you to wander around the yard in case you sue the company for allowing you to get dirty.
Now they've gone upmarket and taken the fun out of it, they seem to think it's OK to charge almost as much for second-hand parts as it would cost to buy genuine new parts from a main dealer, so unless you have a very unusual car that needs a part that's hard to find or perhaps need a complete engine, it's hard to imagine why anyone would bother. Apparently this is progress......

Sunday, 26 November 2017

It's rally season

Winter is coming.
Well, given that it's about 2 degrees celsius when I leave the house in the mornings, I'd say it's here already.
When I set off for work it's dark, cold and damp, and even the main roads resemble the Welsh stages of the World Rally Championship thanks to the proliferation of tractors carrying crops from the muddy fields to wherever it is they go that provides the halfway house between the soil and the supermarket shelves. Probably halfway round the world and back because it's cheaper to do that and pay poverty-stricken third world people to wash and bag parsnips than pay a British worker minimum wage to do it here.... So wrong.
On the way home at night, particularly when it's wet (which is more or less all the time) it's almost impossible to tell where the road ends and the verge begins, so the best you can hope for is that the tail lights you're following won't lead you into a ditch.

That won't be a problem this evening because as I sit here full of dinner and enjoying the effects of a substantial amount of vodka, I know I'm definitely over the drink/drive limit and not safe to go to Tesco for the large bag of Haribo Starmix that I'm currently craving. The fact that they close at 4pm on Sunday helps dissuade me too, so instead I've had to settle for a couple of Mr Kipling mince pies offered by the boy from his private stash. Sober me would have declined, but drunk me felt that to do so would be rude.

I regularly bitch about the hot weather in the summer because I simply can't function if it gets above about 25 celsius (although we were lucky enough to get away with only a couple of weeks of unbearable temperatures this year) so I find winter infinitely preferable because you can always get warmer by adding more clothes.
The other benefit is that you feel less guilty about hibernating.
Winter brings with it a desire to curl up in front of a roaring fire in a leather wing-back chair with a glass of single malt and a good book. Maybe a pipe and a pair of fluffy slippers too.
It almost seems like an insult to be required to leave the house for something as annoying as work, but needs must....
In short, winter turns me into a cross between Rowley Birkin QC and Father Jack Hackett. Who says I lack ambition?

Rowley Birkin QC (Paul Whitehouse)

Monday, 13 November 2017

It's started already

The forecast for yesterday looked acceptable, 10 degrees and sunny, so we went off to the coast for the day, anticipating a good long walk in the fresh air.
If nothing else, it would get us out of the house and provide me with an excuse to get a few more miles under my belt in the new car.
What we hadn't accounted for was the high winds that took your breath away and made it feel more like about 2 degrees. We fought a brave battle, but after taking shelter for a spot of lunch the only thing to do was fight our way back to the car and head home, somewhat weather-beaten.

However familiar and comfortable Hunstanton may be, it's no fun when it's like that.
On the other hand it did give us a bit of a reprieve from the persistent advertising campaigns for THAT time of year which are already building to fever pitch.
From billboards outside restaurants kindly letting us know that we need to hurry up and book a Christmas dinner, to every other TV advert pointing out that we can have a new sofa in time for the 'big day' if we pull our finger out and hand over a large sum of money to SCS, everyone with something to sell, no matter how irrelevant to the festive period, is desperately trying to empty your wallet for the sake of one day of overindulgence and bickering.
It's not even the middle of November yet, FFS!!

It is possible to cut yourself off from much of it - sticking to Netflix and DVDs for visual entertainment is a good start - but it becomes far more difficult when you inevitably leave the house and venture out into the world where it's all shoved down your throat at every opportunity.
I give it two weeks and you won't be able to go into a supermarket without being assaulted by shitty Christmas music being blasted out of the PA system (except for Waitrose of course - they usually have more taste than that) and you won't be able to find what you want because the proper food is hidden behind battlements of Quality Street.
What really galls me is all the soft-focus imagery of happy families spending quality time together, gleefully unwrapping gifts that are exactly what they wanted with hugs and kisses of appreciation all round, before mum comes out of the kitchen without a trace of sweat or frustration, carrying a turkey big enough to feed the entire street. And of course it's always snowing outside.
As if....

Still, as irritating or even downright nauseating as the Christmas adverts might be, even someone as anti-Christmas as me has to admit that some of the ordinary adverts are even worse.
Sometimes, when I can't be arsed to scroll through the Netflix menu in search of something to watch, I might resort to normal TV. There might be something worth a look that isn't on BBC like 'Bake-off' or 'Grand Designs', in which case I end up subjected to adverts, with my thumb constantly hovering over the mute button.
The 'Compare the Market' meerkats have outstayed their welcome even though they were funny once upon a time, but they can't hold a candle to the 'Go Compare' bastard who I thought had vanished but seems to have returned with a vengeance. Where's a sniper when you need one?
However, the prize for worst adverts ever has to go to 'Muller Rice'.
Honestly, what the fuck does a dancing bear have to do with rice pudding? I'm very surprised that the latest one hasn't been pulled for being offensive as the shitty dancing bears now seem to be doing awful stereotypical impressions of Jamaicans and black rappers. How the hell that got past the political correctness police I've no idea.
The world has definitely gone mad.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Great chieftain o' the pudding-race

It appears my last post was not well received - I forgot the golden rule about not discussing politics or religion and it sort of bit me in the arse, so I'll try to keep such opinions to myself in future.
Instead I'll probably offend different sorts of people by sharing my experiences over the past few days, as the wife and I have just returned from Scotland.
Note that I don't have anything negative to say about Scotland or its people, so don't click the 'back' button just yet.

We've wanted to go to Scotland for a very long time, but as I've never fancied driving that far, we needed to find an alternative.
Now hindsight is a wonderful gift, and if I'd been lucky enough to posess it I would have taken a plane to Inverness and hired a car, but instead we opted to take the old fart's option of a coach tour.
On the face of it, the idea was sound.
We'd be picked up from the front door by taxi and taken to the coach depot from where we'd embark upon our journey. We were to leave on Sunday, returning on Friday with each day in Scotland involving trips to places of varying interest.
We knew that we'd likely be the youngest people on the trip (as is the nature of such things), but as everyone assembled to get onto the coach we realised we may have underestimated our problems.

People watching is always good entertainment, and the wife and I have a habit of giving certain people special names. Partly because it's fun, and partly because we're too unsociable to bother finding out their real names.
During the few days we were together we referred to the most sprightly of the bunch, a 70-something Londoner with a mouth that operated in a different time zone to her brain, 'Babs' (after Barbara Windsor), and I'll let you draw your own conclusions about 'Jabba the Hutt's big sister'.
Then we had 'Young Mr Grace', which will only make sense if you're familiar with the seventies British sitcom 'Are you being served?', 'Silent Bob', and 'Queenie & Phil'.

After the first hour or so of travel it was announced that they'd be playing some music from time to time to keep us entertained. Oh bollocks.
I was so glad I'd had the presence of mind to take my headphones and load up my phone with music, because it was torture to be aurally assaulted by James Last and his orchestra and assorted other old-person shite.
The first day involved a couple of stops en-route including Barnard Castle before reaching our halfway hotel midway between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, where we'd spend the night.
It was fortunate we were only staying one night at the halfway point because the hotel was crap.
The room was tiny with a bathroom so miniscule there wasn't even enough space for the wash basin which was out in the main room instead, and the bed was fitted with the obligatory granite mattress.
There was a rat's maze of corridors (all of which smelled of cabbage) to get to the room, the ageing decor was cunningly disguised by dim lighting, the floors moved around under your feet, and the food was mediocre. Otherwise lovely....
This was also the first time witnessing first hand one of the big drains on the NHS, as at meal times most of the oldies started popping pills faster than teenage partygoers at an all-night rave.

Day two saw us cross the border into Scotland.
Initially the landscape was like a button-back sofa, with rolling hills spoiled only by random clusters of wind turbines, interspersed with areas of post-apocalyptic desolation.
Once north of Glasgow the nasty bits gradually disappeared and the whole scene became like the best bits of the Lake District turned up to 11.
It really hit me when we found ourselves driving alongside Lock Lubnaig, and the sheer beauty of the scene moved me almost to tears; so frustrating that after all the dull places the coach had stopped up to then, we didn't stop here to be able to properly enjoy such a breathtaking view.

Arriving at our hotel in Crianlarich, within the Trossachs national park, we settled ourselves into a room that although not brilliant was significantly better than the first one. The shower was crap, requiring the user to run around in order to get wet, the extractor fan outlet from the kitchens was quite near the window, and there seemed to be a herd of elephants in the room directly above.
However, everything was clean and tidy and the young couple running the hotel actually cared about their guests, which was nice.

Scotch in Scotland. It would be rude not to.

The next morning we went for a walk to stretch our legs before we were due to depart for our excursion. We found a little path leading down to the river where spider webs glistened with dew and mist hung in bands around the mountains and over the water.
Ben More had a bright halo around its peak as the rising sun illuminated the mist from behind, eventually breaking through and bathing the area in sunlight and shadows. Quiet, serene, beautiful.
This is what we'd come here for.

Sun rising above Ben More

Our excursion saw us take the train to Oban on the west coast. The views from the train were spectacular as we wound our way through the countryside and once again we felt the draw of nature, desperately wanting to be out there, being part of it all rather than gazing longingly at it through a window.
On our arrival in Oban we made the steep climb up to McCaig's tower which overlooks the town and offers views across to the Isle of Mull, as well as apparently being a favourite hangout for the world's laziest cat.
World's laziest cat at McCaig's tower

View south-west from McCaig's tower

Subsequent days took us to places like Killin at the south end of Loch Tay, with some rather attractive rapids, and Aberfeldy where we went for a walk in the woods during a lunch stop and saw our first red squirrel.
We also visited a distillery. They said in the brochure that this was where 'Famous Grouse' comes from. As someone who enjoys good whisky, this was very disappointing because to me 'Famous Grouse' is cheap nasty blended shite that I'd only buy if it was to use in cooking or something - certainly not to sit and drink.
As it turned out, the Glenturret Distillery is a small-batch distillery which is only associated with Famous Grouse in that one of their single malts is a small ingredient of it.
We were taken round the various stages of the process, and as a whisky lover it was fascinating to learn so much more about it.
We finished up with a lesson on tasting whisky, first with Famous Grouse, which further confirmed my opinion of it, then with Glenturret Peated single malt which was so amazing I had to buy a bottle there and then - they only sell it at the distillery and a select few specialist shops.

Wet stuff at Killin

Another excursion took us to the Ben Cruachan power station - a hydroelectric power station built inside the mountain which has a natural reservoir at the top.
It's a 440 megawatt, four turbine rapid response station which copes with the surges in demand like everyone putting the kettle on when a party political broadcast comes on the telly.
When there's little demand and the rate is cheap (at night) the generators are run as motors and the turbines act like pumps, drawing water from the outlet in Loch Awe, back up to the reservoir 1200 feet above.
Very interesting to an engineer such as myself, but the experience was diluted by the interference of Health & Safety which meant that we only got to see a couple of sanitised touristy bits of the system rather than the really exciting parts.

By the time Friday came around we were more than ready to come home.
Don't get me wrong, Scotland is amazing but it would have been better to explore on our own terms.
A coach trip is a perfectly good way to experience this sort of thing, provided you're old enough to get overexcited if someone offers you a chocolate Digestive biscuit rather than a Rich Tea, and enjoy being bombarded with dreadful old-person music and the incessant historical waffle from a tour guide with industrial strength halitosis.
We stopped at Gretna Green on the way back, and never have I seen such a shameless cash-in.
Every kind of useless tourist-grabbing tat is packed into one small place, all of it extortionately expensive, but because of the history of the place and the inclusion of a big car and coach park, there's an endless stream of the old and putrid looking like extras from 'The Walking Dead' and the morbidly obese waddling from side to side like emperor penguins, ready to hand over their cash in return for a pointless trinket with a bit of tartan glued on.
The whole place is an example of everything that's wrong with the world.
As we went further south, the landscape became progressively flatter until we reached the snooker table that is Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire and the scenery was once again two-dimensional, devoid of lumpy bits to break up the tedium.

One final observation over the past few days is the behaviour of some of the crumblies, who seemed to feel entitled to steal everything they could from the breakfast bar at the hotel.
A huge breakfast was served every day, with all sorts of cold and hot things to choose from.
This clearly wasn't enough for some. There were jugs of fruit juice for people to take a glass of it to their table, but I watched one woman approach the juice furtively, take a half-litre travel mug out of her bag and fill it with juice from the jugs before tucking it away again.
Others swiped every portion of jam and honey from the table and stuffed them into their pockets along with pots of yogurt, pain au chocolate and basically anything that wasn't nailed down.
I wonder if any cutlery went missing too?
These aren't poor people - at almost 600 pounds each for the trip they can't be - so why do they feel the need to grab all this stuff they don't need?
These people are so tight they squeak when they walk.

As I said, Scotland is fantastic and the people are great, but if we return to explore further we'll do it another way.
The holiday was well organised, the driver was skillful, the host friendly and courteous, and the whole thing ran like clockwork.
However, coach holidays have a reputation for being for old folk and I saw nothing to counter that preconception, so if you're not at least drawing your state pension I suggest you look elsewhere.
Oh, and by the way - genuine Scottish haggis is way better than the stuff we get in the supermarkets in England!

Fantastic scenery in Glencoe

Saturday, 9 September 2017

The aliens are already here

Lately I've been pondering those eternal questions such as "Why are we here?", "Where did we come from?" and "How did fidget spinners become popular?".
Pointless toys aside, my musings took me along some rather odd and disturbing paths which I've decided to share.

According to the Bible, God created man in his own image. If this is true, God had a penis which would be silly if there was no Goddess to share it with (after all, what's the point of a plug without a socket?), so either man was not created in God's image after all or there is more than one God.
The Bible tells us that God created the first man, Adam, and then made a female companion for him using one of his ribs.
This means that Eve was basically a genetically engineered clone of Adam with a bit of the code rewritten to change male to female, so any intercourse between Adam and Eve was technically masturbation.
Needless to say, they didn't care because there was nobody else around to judge them.
So once Adam and Eve got bored of exploring the garden of Eden and figured out why they were different under their fig leaves, they set about creating the human race. If all people really came from this origin, then the following generations (for a while at least) would be the offspring of brothers and sisters.
Interesting. So right from the start we have cloning, masturbation and incest, three things the church has pretty strong views on.
Yet another case of the church effectively saying "Do as I say, not as I do".

So as it seems pretty clear that religion cannot be taken seriously, what of the more scientific explanation of where we came from?
Darwin's theory of evolution clearly holds more water, but there's still something about it that bothers me.
If man evolved from apes, why do we still have apes?
And why is it that all other species on the planet live their lives by a preset system of behaviour (eat, sleep, reproduce) without questioning their existence or trying to improve their situation in any way, while humans on the other hand have developed machines, technology, advanced materials, surgery and Pumpkin Spiced Baileys.
Why are we so different from all other life on Earth?
We simply don't belong here, and I may have come up with the reason why.

65 million years ago the dinosaurs were wiped out when a huge meteor crashed into Earth just off the coast of Mexico, with the fallout spreading around the globe.
So just suppose that meteor contained microscopic life forms that originated in another part of the universe, and when they crashed their big rock into Earth they got carried around the world with all the other debris.
Over the next 62 million years, they dragged themselves out of the primordial soup to follow Darwin's theory of evolution, eventually becoming homo sapiens just under 3 million years ago, alongside all the planet's indigenous species.
The subtle physical differences between people of different nations can be accounted for by evolutionary differences caused by environment and climate.
Therefore, humans are nothing more than a virus, gradually destroying the planet.
It appears we've become very good at it, too.

OK, so this is a pretty wacky theory, but surely no more so than that proposed by religion?
To me religion is just a leftover from the days when nobody had figured out the science and were desperate for any sort of explanation for why we were here.
A bunch of con merchants came up with a story to feed the gullible minds of the uneducated masses and the rest is a history full of bloodshed and disharmony caused by factions with slightly differing doctrines insisting that "My God's better than your God and I'm going to kill you to prove I'm right".
How lovely. 
Humans being aliens from another planet sounds a much better theory .

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Back in black

I think it's fair to say that many of my recent posts have been a bit self-indulgent, so having had a bit of time out to reflect on my reasons for doing this blog, I figured I'd try to revert back to my observations of the world around me.
This isn't always easy either, because not everything that gives me pause for thought can be stretched out to fill a few paragraphs.
For example, this morning I was followed most of the way to work by a little Hyundai i10, behind the wheel of which was wedged a man so vast his chin had its own beer belly. It was a ludicrous sight which I suppose could possibly be the basis of a discussion about inappropriate choices of car that some people make, or perhaps the lack of self-respect of someone who lets themselves get that big.
However, until I've had time to ponder these points at greater length, I'm never going to get enough mileage out of them to make it worthwhile.

Instead, I'm going to let you into a little secret. I'm a closet goth.
I'm closeted because although I'd love nothing more than to have long black hair and, well, basically look like this....

.... the fact of the matter is that I'm a balding middle-ager who doesn't like to draw attention to himself.
For that reason I live my life in jeans and t-shirt, with the only vaguely interesting accompaniments being a pair of Vans SK8-Hi shoes which are probably the most comfortable footwear in the world ever, and a good quality and stylish watch, but at a glance unremarkable and invisible.

I first became aware of the whole goth scene in 1987 with the influence of a guy who I started my apprenticeship with. He introduced me to a number of bands I'd never heard before, like The Sisters Of Mercy, Fields Of The Nephilim, and Bauhaus.
For someone whose musical tastes were predominantly mainstream apart from the odd prog-rock band, this was a whole new world - and I liked it. To this day when I'm looking for new music I tend to investigate stuff that the majority of people haven't heard of.

The gothic style is fascinating to me - so different yet for the most part so stylish. Sure there are some weird and wacky interpretations around, especially when you look at those who lean towards the cyber-goth area, but the classical goth look can be very cool. Obviously it doesn't appeal to everyone, but I like it.
Indeed, one of the many reasons I harbour a fantasy of retiring to Whitby in North Yorkshire is that it has the reputation of being the 'Goth Capital of England'.

Another aspect of the gothic style that appeals is the women's fashion.
I've often said how I'm not a fan of lots of makeup on women, but when combined with the right clothing it creates an effect that I find most agreeable indeed.
Instagram is full of such imagery, including 'ladykateyes' who is a prime example of the sort of thing I'm referring to.

You can keep that whole Barbie doll nonsense, and I find all that collagen-lipped, silicone-breasted, orange-skinned bullshit utterly distasteful.
However, show me long black hair, pale skin, high contrast eyes and lips, all encased in a long figure-hugging lacy dress, and I'm a gibbering wreck. The only downside is that many such women are also into tattoos in a big way, which spoils the effect for me.

So the goths have style and the confidence to exhibit it, an interest in classical literature, some pretty cool music, and they're not generally depressive characters unlike the 'Emos' they tend to be confused with, unless of course they've been listening to 'Afterhours' by Sisters of Mercy which, even as a fan, I must admit is enough to make most people want to do themselves in.
I, on the other hand, have bugger all hair and an unrealistic dream of having a style that would make most ordinary people point and stare.
Goths aren't necessarily weird - they're just brave enough to be what they want to be without caring what others think. I wonder - what sort of weird and wonderful things would we see on the High Street if everyone took the same attitude instead of conforming to the established social norms?

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Valar Morghulis

My father passed away peacefully on Friday afternoon with my sisters at his bedside.
I got there shortly after to be with the family and to say my final goodbye, but although it felt like the right thing to do, it felt strange to be saying goodbye to a dead body. It was dad, but he wasn't there any more.
Feelings, a bizarre combination of loss, distress and relief that his suffering is over, fought for attention resulting in an overall sort of numbness.
When I got home I tried to knock the sharp corners off my inner conflict with vodka, but just ended up with heartburn - this has been happening a bit recently so maybe it's my body's way of telling me to stop for good.
Anyway, I'm not going to write about this any more in future posts, so I'll make this the last 'poor me' one for the forseeable future.

Unfortunately death is everywhere - an inescapable companion of life, no matter what form it takes when it finally comes. When you're gone, that's it as far as you are concerned, but those left behind have to deal with the bereavement.
This week Chester Bennington took his own life. Front man of Linkin Park, he was a talented, respected artist who left behind a wife, six children, bandmates, friends and millions of fans around the world.
Such a shame his creativity was fuelled by demons that became too much for him to bear.

We hear of such things all the time in the media. Of course untold numbers of people die every day without us noticing, but our reactions to the passing of well known public figures varies according to how we perceived them in life.
Over the past couple of years we've lost people like Alan Rickman, Rik Mayall, Victoria Wood, Carrie Fisher and David Bowie, and I felt a loss at each of those - people who had in some way had an impact on my life.
In contrast, I greeted the passing of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson with complete indifference.

In the face of all this I now need to get on with life.
Today I spent a few hours wandering around Cambridge University's Botanic Gardens with the camera, which was a perfect distraction from things.
Back to work tomorrow with lots of jobs to do and people to deal with as they clamour for attention and prevent me from getting on with those jobs.
Oh well.... Valar Dohaeris.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Wanderer

The boy returned from his holiday in Majorca yesterday, replete with tales of drunken antics, jetski riding, people's reactions to his easily recognisable luggage (white Tripp suitcase covered with yellow smiley face stickers) and the obligatory holiday romance which may or may not continue - watch this space.
I have to say I was impressed with the way he dealt with something I've never done myself.
At nineteen ("n-n-n-n-nineteen" - whatever happened to Paul Hardcastle?) the boy is grown up now, and it's interesting how every new experience shapes and moulds him as a person.

What was also interesting was that it was the wife and I's first real taste of life without him in our lives 24/7.
At first it seemed eerily quiet, with questions of how he was doing constantly lingering in the back of the mind.
This was quickly replaced with a more easy-going attitude including sleeping with the bedroom door open and wandering naked between the bathroom and bedroom without the worry of being seen by someone who would react in the same way any of us would if confronted by our parents in their birthday suits.

My father's birthday suit amazingly still contains a beating heart, and given the state he's been in for some time now, I don't understand how this is possible.
I went to see him this afternoon (an increasingly traumatic experience) and was yet again shocked at his physical state. While I have no wish to lose my father, this is fast being outweighed by my desire for his suffering to end.
How awful it is when you ask someone if there's anything you can get them, and they ask for a gun.
I sympathise entirely, but within the law I'm helpless.
He still has his faculties and if he had the opportunity of help to end it he would - I would want the same thing in his position.
The law needs to be changed and I don't give a fuck what the pro-life brigade think. Until you're in the position where such things directly affect you, you can't have a valid opinion.
Anyone who holds the belief that 'all life is sacred' needs a dose of reality.
A persons life is their own, and as long as they are of sound mind they should have the right to choose what happens to that life.

I borrowed the wife's Smart to go and see him as my Beemer is in the garage for a new clutch and flywheel plus a couple of other bits. I would have had it back by now, but BMW sent the wrong crank position sensor so I have to wait until tomorrow to get my baby back.
After that I just have the weekend left before I'm back to work, ready to hit the ground running.
It has been so nice to have a break from the relentless parade of demands, but as I'm still at least nine years away from early retirement, I'd better not get too used to a life of leisure. I just have to brace myself and get on with it.
The question of having another motorcycle still dances around my head, and I've been sorely tempted several times while looking around. However, if I wait until spring 2019 before doing anything, when the insurance company asks if I've had any accidents in the last five years, I can just say "No", which will be much simpler than reliving the events of November 2013 and all the subsequent pain and surgeries.
The time up to then could be spent building or modifying a bike myself, which would give me something fun to occupy my mind and hands.
I have this idea of building a cafe racer based on a BMW flat twin. I've seen lots of photos of those done by other people and some of them (like the one below) look absolutely epic.
Food for thought....

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Doing it with Claas

Hanging on the wall just inside the front door is a little plaque bearing the phrase "This is our happy place".
Whenever we've been out in the big wide world, we come back and see it as we walk in the door and think "Yeah, it is - because it sure as hell doesn't exist out there".
Time has made us both incredibly world-weary, but we still force ourselves to go out and get involved for fear that otherwise we'd end up complete hermits.
We worry that we've made the boy the same as us, but as he's currently on holiday in Majorca with friends, he's still more adventurous than I am. For now at least.

I take anything on social media websites with a pinch of salt, because we all know they're full to bursting with people trying desperately to make their own lives sound full of fun and excitement, and generally showing off, but even so my own little life is (by most people's measure) incredibly dull and boring.
It does seem though, that whenever I make the effort to go to an event or to some attraction or other, I'm invariably disappointed. You turn up to something that sounds promising, you pay your money, and within half an hour you're thinking "Is this it then?" or "Why am I here?".
I want to believe that it's important to be out in there doing stuff, to be part of the big picture, but whenever I try it becomes obvious that the big picture was in fact drawn with crayons by a five year-old with ADHD.

This evening I'm going out for a meal with the family. It's very rare that we all get together, but anything involving a large group of people (even if they are family) puts me on edge, and frankly I'd rather not go at all. However, sometimes there are things you're obliged to take part in unless you have a staggeringly good excuse.
Given that I'm half way through my fortnight off work and haven't really done much, I'm beginning to feel under a certain amount of (self-imposed) pressure to make something more of my time off than playing Farming Simulator 17 on the PlayStation and going for the occasional walk with the camera.
I don't necessarily see this as wasting time - after all, I needed this time off to have a rest and it's hard to feel rested if you're running around like a headless chicken.
Anyway, living within spitting distance of open farmland means that occasionally I get to combine both of those interests, like the other day when I heard the harvest being gathered in the fields, so I picked up the camera and went for a walk to watch the rapeseed being harvested.
I may have trouble dealing with the world at large and the huge number of self-important idiots it contains, but provided I stick with my little corner of it I'm basically content with life's simple pleasures, and sitting in a field with a camera watching a field of crops being devoured by a large Claas combine and taken away in trailers pulled by Case tractors is infinitely preferable to being anywhere that involves being surrounded by people.

Update: The family get together turned out to be quite enjoyable in the end. I guess it goes to show that you need to have an open mind rather than preconceived ideas of how something will be.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Release the pressure

Chicken chow mein, special fried rice, hot and spicy squid, deep fried chilli beef, seaweed and a bottle of beer. Gone in record time. Now I'm sitting here clean and showered, feeling the tension of the past few weeks slowly ebb away as I come to terms with the fact I now have a fortnight off work.

Thursday and Friday were our annual open days at work, where prospective students get to have a look at what we do.
It couldn't have come at a worse time, given how much proper work is going on right now, but I suppose it's good PR.
On the plus side, I've managed to finish making the new high pressure particle seeder for laser doppler anemometry in the supersonic tunnel, which is a weight off my mind.
There's going to be loads to do when I get back and not having to finish that job as well is a relief.


We also managed to lighten the mood by putting a model of Starbug from Red Dwarf in the tunnel, and running it at Mach 2.5 while filming the schlieren image with a high speed camera.....

....and I've put the resulting video on YouTube:

So for now I can sit back and enjoy not having to endure the daily commute for a while.
I can remind myself what peace and quiet feels like.
I can take myself off somewhere picturesque with the camera.
And I think I'll book the car in at the garage to have that bloody clutch and flywheel changed.
Last weekend I spent a couple of hours in a car dealership psyching myself up to buy a brand new car. We discussed the options, looked at the figures and went for a test drive.
The car seemed perfectly accomplished, it did everything you want a car to do and it did it well, although it felt like there was something missing.
I walked away slightly disappointed with the pushy attitude of the sales manager (and greatly insulted by his part-exchange offer) saying I wanted to check out the competition before committing to anything.

When I got back in my own car and drove away, I realised what was missing from the one I'd just test driven.
Soul. That indefinable feeling a good car gives you when you drive it.
That car may have been brand new, but like most cars out there it's the sort of thing you'd choose in the same way you'd choose a washing machine. It was four-wheeled white goods. You didn't drive it and think "I've got to get me one of these!". Instead I just felt sort of .... well.... "Meh".
My Beemer might be ten years old and have suffered neglect by its previous owner resulting in a number of sometimes expensive issues, but it looks great and every time I get behind the wheel it comes to life and makes me feel good.
So I decided to just keep it and sort out the problems rather than pour thousands of pounds down the drain changing it for something I don't really want anyway.
Besides, my inner biker is starting to itch.....