Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Let's go retro! Or not....

There's a big interest in all things 'retro' these days, and despite being seen as a wonderful opportunity for ripping off the more gullible members of society by advertising any old shit on Ebay as being 'retro' or 'vintage' and doubling the price, there seems to be a genuine interest in stuff from our past.
Now rose-tinted spectacles can be a dangerous thing (try driving that car you loved twenty years ago now, and see how terrible it is compared to the one you currently own), but that isn't stopping people from wanting to turn back the clock to bygone days.

You need look no further than the revival of interest in vinyl records for evidence of this.
Sales of vinyl shot up last year (possibly fuelled by the appearance of a range of LPs in Sainsburys) as people suddenly became all misty-eyed about how we listened to music in the past.

I'm not immune to this. Only recently I did a post about how I love sitting and listening to an album from start to finish, unlike most youths who can't see music as anything more than a constant background noise accompanying their lives, and as a result I've been casually looking at various turntables from Rega, Pro-ject and Audio Technica with the idea that it might be a cool thing to have again.
But against such romantic notions I have to balance the downsides of vinyl such as the background hiss and how carefully they need to be handled if they're to be kept in good condition.
I have to remember why I replaced all my old records with CDs in the first place, even if it did take me a while to get used to 'A trick of the tail' by Genesis not jumping at one particular point.
The wife had a huge record collection (mostly 70's funk including many rarities), but they were all disposed of along with all of mine excluding three that I didn't want to part with for various reasons.
Somewhere in the darkest depths of the loft lurks 'Three sides live' by Genesis which I kept because the original CD release had a different track list. This has since been re-released in original form, so no need to keep that.
Then there's a synth album called 'Space Art' which I've recently found on Spotify, and a limited edition numbered 10" single of 'So in love with you' by Spear of Destiny which I thought might be worth something, but when I checked the other week I found it's only worth about eight quid.
So if you consider the down sides, which include the fact that records now cost twice as much as CDs, why on earth would I want to buy another turntable? No idea, but I still have a hankering.

Video games are another area where 'retro-cool' pokes its nose into our business. It's perhaps unsurprising as for the most part games haven't really changed for many years beyond prettier graphics, so it's no wonder people start to revive an interest in games from way back when the graphics may have been awful, but the gameplay experience was so much more rewarding.
My first 'proper' gaming took place on a Sinclair Spectrum, and a while ago I found that the entire back catalogue is out there to be downloaded from various websites and can be played on a PC via an emulator program.
Naturally I threw myself into this, downloading all the old favourites like Chuckie Egg, Elite, Paperboy and Pyjamrama and settled down for a session of reliving old memories.
It didn't last long. It wasn't the poor visuals or the dodgy beeping sounds that ruined it, but the realisation that those games were suddenly so frustratingly difficult.
Needless to say I went back to the PS4, resigned to the fact that the reality of old-school games doesn't live up to the fond memories.

Things move on, and for the most part they improve - certainly where technology is concerned - but that doesn't stop us from wanting things to be like they used to be.
I can only assume that we feel happier and more comfortable when things are just a little bit crap.

Sunday, 25 December 2016


FFS, it's taken over an hour of fannying about with an inexplicably slow laptop to get to the point where I can actually get on with writing this blog post. I forsee Windows 10 being replaced with Linux in the very near future.
The only trouble is that I've completely forgotten what I was going to say, so I'll just wing it and see what happens.

We took ourselves off into Ely today for a walk, expecting it to be pretty well deserted, and apart from a few people who had booked their christmas lunch at assorted pubs and restaurants, those determined to get a bit of fresh air and the occasional dog walker, it was.
It was almost spooky how quiet it was, and I was taken back to those days before the country became a 24/7 culture, when it was like this EVERY Sunday.
How nice it was back then to have just one day a week when the world didn't run around like a toddler who's eaten all the blue Smarties.
Why do people have to wait for the annual commercial festival of greed and gluttony to be able to chill out for 24 hours. Is it too much to ask for just one day off a week from all the bullshit?
Of course it is, because almost everyone insists on continuing to go along with the whole christmas bollocks even though they're not christians and don't go to church, but the idea of having a day of rest more than once a year has become alien to the masses.

In a world where we now expect everything to be available at any time of day, and you can order something from Amazon on Saturday afternoon and it be delivered to your door by a man in a van on Sunday, any notion of actually stopping and just spending a day doing nothing fills the average person with dread - hence people reacting to the supermarkets being closed for one day by panic-buying enough food to feed a small country for a month.

As I've said before, I don't do christmas. Nothing, zip, zilch, nada.
In fact I find the whole thing tasteless, with my biggest bugbear being the rampant commercialism involved.
It usually starts around September with all the adverts for restaurants wanting you to "book now for xmas dinner" and gradually increases in intensity until about mid November by which time the shops are stacked to the gills with all sorts of shit nobody needs.
From then on it's full-throttle in-your-face "BUY! BUY! BUY!" until the big day finally arrives and everyone's faced with the fact that it's not like it's portrayed on the telly and all that's really happened is everyone has eaten so much they feel ill and is vowing to go to the gym in the new year, even though they won't be able to because their massive credit card bill won't allow it.

I'm sure back in Charles Dickens' time when workers earned barely enough to pay the rent and eat one meagre meal a day, went to church every Sunday and christmas was the only day they got off in a year, things would have been very different. It would have meant something and the run-up to it would maybe last a couple of days.
But today, when we can have a big fuck-off roast dinner pretty much whenever we like, don't have to save for a whole year to afford a kid's bicycle, and hardly anyone goes to church - what place does christmas really have?
Tradition? Yeah, right. We used to have Sundays where all the shops were shut, but that got in the way of businesses making more money, so there's one tradition that went out the window easy enough.
Saying something is tradition is no different from saying "we've always done it this way" and ploughing on regardless of the alternatives.
Sure, it's nice to have a few days break in the depths of winter when you don't have to go to work in the dark and come home in the dark, but we can take a week off without the excuse of some outdated religious festival that was supposed to celebrate the birth of the 'son of god' despite the belief that Jesus wasn't even born in December (if at all), and it only happens then because the church wanted to lure people away from the feast of Saturnalia etc to join their cult instead.

As it will have become clear by now, I am not religious, but I do respect other people's right to believe in whatever they like as long as they don't inflict it on others.
I'm not a christian so I consider it wrong for me to celebrate a christian festival.
I despise the way christmas has been turned into a shameless money-making machine, backed up by such a tidal wave of commercial propaganda that nearly everyone gets swept along without questioning why they're doing it.
It stinks.
You don't show your family you love them by giving them a pair of slippers once a year, but by your words and actions every time you see them.
If you see something you know a close friend would really like, just buy it for them as a surprise gift - it will be far more satisfying than running around Debenhams on christmas eve desperately looking for inspiration.
Want a family get-together? Why not arrange a barbecue during the summer?
Like twinkly fairy lights around your windows and a selection of glittery tat on a plastic fir tree? Fine - have it all year round if you like; why sit there clucking like a junkie waiting for his next fix until December 1st rolls around again so you can drag it all out of the loft?

In these supposedly enlightened times, it surprises me that people continue to employ the sheep mentality over christmas, seemingly unable or unwilling to get over the "we've always done it this way" attitude and make their own choices based on reason, but there're little sign of rebellion except for a few individuals who're generally shouted down and accused of being a Grinch or Scrooge.
So although I wouldn't stand up and shout that christmas should be abolished (though it would be nice) I would love to see more people take a step back from it all and think carefully about what christmas really means. How much comes from the bible, and how much comes from big business?
We've been given brains and the ability to use them, so why not do so?

See? Forget the plan and it turns into a rant. Oh well, whatever....

Sunday, 18 December 2016


On Thursday eight small satellites were put into orbit by NASA to study hurricanes.
They were delivered by a Pegasus rocket which was launched at around 40,000ft from a modified Lockheed TriStar.
A colleague walked up to me with his iPhone saying "Look, this is really cool" and I was surprised by the familiar sight of N140SC.
I had my reasons for being surprised. Firstly that it was still in operation after all these years, and also that there should still be media interest in it. After all, these launches have been going on since the late nineties.

More than surprised, however, I felt a sense of pride.
That's because I was part of the team of fitters and electricians who carried out the modifications to that aircraft.
All media coverage surrounding these launches focuses on the Pegasus delivery vehicle itself and its payload, with at best only passing mention of the converted TriStar.
Hardly surprising I suppose because big American companies like NASA and Orbital Sciences are unlikely to say "Special mention should go to the men at Marshall Aerospace in England, who made it possible for these high altitude launches to take place", are they?

While my own input was pretty minor in the scheme of things, it was still very necessary.
The Pegasus weighs 18,500kg plus payload (over 23,000kg for the Pegasus XL), so one thing that had to happen was that the TriStar needed to go on a serious diet to be able to lift it safely.
Myself and others were tasked with making this happen, so we set to stripping out the whole interior of the cabin. Everything had to come out, back to a bare airframe with just ducting and wiring looms left in the ceiling. Even the mid to rear passenger door mechanisms had to be stripped away to save weight - now they're just bolted in place permanently.
Apart from the two front cabin doors and the first twenty feet or so of cabin which houses crew seating and monitoring equipment, everything else is an empty shell. There's a lightweight partition separating the two areas, which me and my mate built.
I remember we ended up getting to know the design engineer pretty well during that part. We kept calling him over because his drawings didn't match up with the aircraft, and in the end he just said "Look, you build it, and when you've finished I'll come over and draw it", so that's what we did.
It may only have been tertiary structure, but we did our bit.

Towards the end of the job, there were countless drop tests carried out. With the aircraft on jacks, a huge steel cage full of concrete blocks to mimic the Pegasus was attached to the new release mechanism in the aircraft belly. With wooden blocks under the cage to absorb the impact and reduce the drop to a minimum, it was quite a sight to watch, with the whole aircraft shaking as over eighteen tonnes was released in a split second, accompanied by the deafening bang as the cage landed.
When Oscar (as it became affectionately know by the team, as it belonged to Orbital Sciences Corporation) went for its first test flight with a Pegasus attached, we went out to watch it take off with a distinct sense of collective pride.
As a team-building exercise, going to the woods to shoot your colleagues with paintballs had nothing on this.
We even had t-shirts made thanks to one of the guys who had a bit of artistic talent who drew a neat caricature of the plane with 'Oscar' under it.
So, as impressive as the Pegasus may be, this post is a shout out to everyone at Marshall Aerospace who made it all possible.
Cheers, guys!

Monday, 12 December 2016

Some people.....

This weekend I decided it was time to start making a bit of room in the shed by getting rid of some stuff I didn't want any more, so I logged in to Gumtree.
First was the original alloy wheels from the Beemer, which I recently replaced because they had rather a lot of corrosion on, including on the bead which meant one tyre wouldn't seal and kept losing pressure.
There was also my model railway layout. I started this about 18 months ago with great enthusiasm and the usual sort of expense that seems to go hand in hand with any new hobby, but the initial desire to produce a realistic railway quickly waned and it hadn't been touch for about six months.
So with photos taken and adverts posted, I got on with the day, checking periodically for any messages.

A bloke called Mike emailed about the model railway, and the conversation started as follows:

M: I'm really interested in your N Gauge layout and would like to buy it.
Please could you email me or phone

D: Thanks for the interest.
When would suit you to have a look?
Any evening between 6 and 9 is fine with me.

Later on I got a call from someone else who wanted the railway and would come out right away to buy it. Naturally I said OK and went to gather everything together and await the arrival of the buyer, who turned up, had a look and went away a happy man with his new acquisition, leaving me with the asking price in my pocket.
Got back in the house to find another message from the first guy:

M: Thanks for the quick reply.  How does Tuesday evening at about 6.30 suit?

D: Sorry Mike, it's just gone.

M: Ok. No problem.

You'd think that would be the end of it, but a few minutes later he came back at me and this is how the remainder of the exchange went:

M: Just looking at the messages between us, I said that Id like to buy your layout.   You then said when would I like to come and see it.
I said Tuesday at 6.30. You then said that it's now gone!!
How can that be, when I said that I wanted to buy it right from the onset?  All I was going to do on Tuesday was pay for it and pick it up.

D: Nothing had been set in stone, no promises made. Another guy has bought it and taken it away.
I realise you're disappointed, but that's that.

M: So when I said in my first email that I'd like to buy your layout, surely that meant that I'd like to buy your layout for the asking price.  How much more setting in stone would you have liked?  Very disappointed in you.

D: Seriously?
Look - between my saying it was still available and me getting your email saying you would come and buy it, I had a call from someone else who came straight out and bought it for the asking price.
It's quite simple.
Now, I suggest you stop getting yourself worked up over nothing and move on.
This is the last time I shall reply, and any further communication from you will automatically be deleted.
So much for 'No problem', because suddenly it had all become a very big problem for him.
It's a bloody model railway layout, not a perfect tissue match for a kidney transplant.
Why on earth would someone get so pissy about such a trivial thing?
It's unbelievable sometimes, the way people can get so obsessed about trivial little things and blow them so far out of proportion that they lose all sense of reason.
This bloke had lost nothing more than the time it took to write a couple of short messages, but he felt it necessary to get all uppity and self-righteous. Well, tough shit.
The worst bit about it all is that him getting on at me has pissed me off enough to spend half an hour writing a blog post about him. Twat.

Sunday, 4 December 2016


What is normal? Are any of us truly normal, or is there really no such thing, and we all simply exist on a sliding scale of weirdness?
I like to imagine that for the most part I'm fairly ordinary, but at the same time that could also mean I'm rather dull - which is probably not too far from the truth.
It's the little quirks that make a person interesting, but it can be difficult to identify your own quirks because to you they seem normal.
So I've had a think about this and decided that in my own little way I do a have a bit of OCD about certain things. I suspect most people do, and it would be interesting to hear about the things that others obsess over.
Here are a few examples of my own personal weirdness:

The volume control on any device, whether it's the car stereo, TV or whatever, must be set to a number that can be divided by two or five. 15 is fine, but 17 is a big no-no.
If the volume control has no numbers I can relax.

CDs must be arranged in alphabetical order by artist, and in chronological order within each artist.
While this is also a matter of convenience (making it easy to find the one you want), it's still something that winds me up immensely if I find something that's not in its correct place.
Also, when replacing a CD in its case the label must be the right way up, which is fine most of the time but there is the odd one where you can't tell which way is up. The internal turmoil this generates is disturbing.

When the car is parked, the steering wheel must be in the straight ahead position - unless parked on a hill of course, but we don't have many of those in the fens.

My square bedside lamp must always be square with the bedside table it sits on, along with the coaster and any books.

The kitchen knives must be arranged on the magnetic holder in size order, evenly spaced, points upwards, with the tops of the handles all at the same level. Any deviation from this could destroy the space-time continuum more effectively than a teenager with a modified DeLorean.

Any set of drills in a rack must be complete. Empty spaces are not permitted under pain of death, because sod's law dictates that the one you need is the one that isn't there. Therefore when buying a set of drills it makes sense to buy extras of the ones most likely to be used and lost / broken / worn out.

Now I've written these things down I realise that maybe I'm a bit of a freak. This is not all bad because if I'm even a tiny bit of a freak and everyone else has similarly weird issues, then perhaps that means I'm normal.
Whether that's a good or bad thing, I have no idea.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Talking to God on the big white telephone

The boy went out last night (shocking as it meant giving up valuable Playstation time) saying he was meeting his friend at the pub for a drink and would be home around 11pm as he still had to be up for work in the morning.
The wife and I retired to the welcome comfort of bed just before 11 and thought nothing of it.
After reading a couple of chapters I went to sleep, but woke up a short time later with her fidgeting and sighing beside me - fretting that he still wasn't home.
He's normally pretty good about sticking to the times he says, so a bit of worry was creeping in and I texted him to check he was still alive and to prompt his return.
He finally rolled in at 1:30am and stumbled into his room before rushing back to the bathroom in the first of several extended and rather noisy visits - the price one pays for overindulgence.

With all that going on, any chance of sleep evaporated, so the wife made tea and we lay there reading and pondering what's to become of the boy and his worrying relationship with alcohol.
By the time things quietened down, time had moved on significantly, and as a result I only got about two hours sleep last night and am definitely not feeling my usual morning self - mostly because my brain still thinks it's about 2am.
It's easy now to be disapproving of such antics, but I can't be too hard on him because I remember doing the same things myself at that age.

When I was about 15 or 16 my parents went on holiday by themselves, leaving me with the house to myself for a week.
A mate came round and we spent the evening sampling our way through the drinks cupboard before moving on to mum's selection of homemade wines while watching a Tom & Jerry video which by that point had taken on a whole new dimension of hilarity.
Then it happened. The inadvisable cocktail of questionable homebrew, Bacardi and who knows what else had decided to head for the nearest exit, so I stood up, fell over, and commenced crawling towards the smallest room.
I didn't make it. Halfway up the stairs I could restrain it no more, and the hasty application of a hand over the mouth did nothing but change the stream into a spray.
I did my best to clean up but I must have been fighting a losing battle. My parents never said anything, but a new stair carpet was installed shortly after their return.

At 18 the pub was no longer out of bounds and of course became a frequent destination - especially as it was literally about 200 yards from the house.
One fateful evening I went there with my brother-in-law and his neighbour and indulged in a few pints of snakebite & black.
I vaguely remember getting home and going up to bed, but the next thing I knew was being naked in the bath, throwing up down the plug hole, wondering what all the red stuff was and why it wouldn't run away.

At a friend's birthday party everything was going well - I was enjoying the company of an older woman while discovering the interesting taste and effects of a bottle of Pernod.
It was all fine until I sat down on the sofa and promptly passed out.
I awoke suddenly with the now familiar feeling of impending doom, and rushed to the living room door, aiming for the downstairs privvy.
It was shut. "Strange", observed my Pernod-addled brain. I tried to open it and found it locked, so I turned the key and flung open the door and looked out in confusion at the back garden.
At this point I felt my mate's hand on my shoulder as he asked "What are you looking for?"
"Err... bog..", I said.
Suddenly I was flying, as my mate picked me up and ran with me to the toilet, getting there just in time for a technicolour yawn of epic proportions.
When I finally emerged I was given the choice of going back to the party or bed. There was no way I could show my face after such an exhibition, the older woman probably would have gone off the idea, and in that state there was sod all I'd be able to do about it even if she hadn't, so bed it was.
I was ill for two days and I've never touched Pernod since.

So with three almighty alcohol-fuelled fuck-ups under my belt, I finally learned where to draw the line by the time I was in my early twenties.
I only hope it doesn't take the boy long to figure it out either.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

University of life

As Michaelmas term draws to an end, and I begin to feel a sense of relief that the worst bit of the academic year is behind me, I look around at the stupids and realise that although the faces and names change from year to year, the characters are always the same.
I've been doing this job for over twenty years now and seen all sorts from 'normal' everyday people, through shy retiring types too afraid to speak up or look you in the eye, to arrogant loud-mouthed wankers whose very presence puts me on edge and makes me start looking around the workshop to see which tools would make the most effective weapons.

My direct involvement with most is fleeting, but it's surprising how quickly you can form a first impression that turns out to be right on the money.
I have nothing to do with first or second year students beyond trying to avoid moving around the department between lectures when there's the risk of being caught up in a tide of smelly bodies clutching rucksacks and cycle helmets, all talking at once while staring at their phones.
Those who I have more to do with are in the third year of their bachelors degree, when they carry out a series of lab experiments as part of their coursework.
At this point I start to notice those that stand out - the late and disorganised, the lame excuse inventors, the keen but misguided, those who don't really want to be here but also don't know what else to do with their lives, and of course the obligatory in-your-face fuckwit. Every year has one.

As soon as the year's arrogant tosser has been identified, he's a marked man (not had a female pain-in-the-arse yet), and the whole team keeps a careful eye on him.
We try our best to be professional and treat everyone the same, but as with life in general, you tend to treat others the way they treat you. So when some 21-year-old upstart struts in and starts talking to you like you're something nasty they've found stuck to the sole of their shoe, it should come as no surprise when their attitude comes back to haunt them.

Every year we have a few students doing projects for their Masters degree, by which time most of the unpleasant troublemakers have been carefully weeded out to avoid the risk of getting blood up the wall. The occasional one slips through but thankfully it's a rarity, with most of them being the best that the previous year had to offer. There's still the odd one who doesn't know their arse from their elbow, but we do our best to guide them through the process.
By the time we get to those doing their PhD, we generally find ourselves dealing with pretty good people. Most are hard working, determined individuals who quickly achieve a rapport with the technicians.
Some need a bit of firm house-training in terms of their understanding of what is involved in making things; the physical processes and the time they take. Most things they need are prototypes that need to be designed and built from scratch, and as the average engineering student doesn't even know which end of a hammer to hold, it can all come as a bit of a shock to them.
By the time they've done their three year stint and been 'doctored', the majority leave here with a good job in industry. Over the years I've seen them go on to research jobs with companies including Rolls Royce, Lockheed Martin, and Renault and Ferrari F1 teams, and it's a good feeling to know that I've been a part of enabling them to achieve that.
I've also witnessed them develop as people and got to know them reasonably well, so by the time they leave I'm sorry to see them go.

Of course there have been one or two that it was a relief to see the back of, but it's impossible to avoid every over-confident dickhead with all the social skills of a honey badger on crack.
If it was, the world would be a better place.
It would also be a better place if members of the 'Cambridge University Engineering Society' refrained from wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the phrase 'Trust me, I'm an engineer'.
No you're not, you're just good at maths.

Schlieren image of a Mach 1.5 shockwave
taken during the 3rd year teaching lab.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Bright light, dark room

After last weekend's disastrous trip into Cambridge we vowed never to do it again unless we absolutely have to.
It's just not us. We derive no pleasure whatsoever from battling crowds of people to wander aimlessly around shops that have nothing of interest to offer us.
The wife pointed out that we'd be better off killing time by going off some place where I could take my camera and try to get some good photos.
I enjoy photography immensely but recently it seems to have taken a back seat, so perhaps this wasn't such a bad idea.

Yesterday we needed to go to Ely early, and having awoken to a world under a blanket of fog, I decided to take my camera - fog can produce some quite atmospheric pictures.
As we walked towards the town centre, the sun was just starting to cut through the fog, shooting rays of light around the silhouette of the Cathedral, so while the wife went to get her hair cut, I wandered around taking photos.

When we got home I reviewed what I'd taken, saving the good ones and deleting the rubbish, before uploading a couple of favourites to Instagram.
Having managed to drag himself out of his festering pit of doom with the lure of a cooked breakfast, the boy looked at the pictures I'd taken that morning.
He then shocked me by saying he was considering buying himself a good camera and taking up photography himself. Having been tempted by recent deals, he is after an entry-level Canon DSLR.
This is wonderful news - that he might actually find something more constructive to do with his leisure time than swearing loudly at the Playstation and drinking vodka.
His job is giving him sufficient income to afford such toys, so no problem there, but given the fact that he hasn't yet grasped the basics of shutter speed / aperture / ISO etc, I can see that it will take a fair bit of guidance before he achieves the sort of images he wants.
I'm tempted by an SLR myself, but every time I get close to going for it I get put off by the idea of lugging a bag of bulky gear around with me.
I currently use an Olympus XZ-1 which has served me well for the past few years. It has all the functionality of an SLR apart from the interchangeable lenses, and it fits in a jacket pocket. On the down side, some of that functionality is difficult to access due to a fiddly menu system.
There are a few things I would like to be able to do that only an SLR can achieve, such as a usefully shallow depth of field and use of graduated and polarising filters, so I'm sure I'll make the move to an SLR eventually - it's inevitable.
In the meantime, I'll carry on with what I've got, while doing what I can to encourage my son to pursue his own enthusiasm.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Ooer, missus!

My original intention for this post was to delve into the world of euphemisms, but then I hit a snag.
I couldn't see a way of writing it without it turning into just another list of words and phrases that most of us know already.
We often use euphemisms when we're talking about subjects we might be slightly uncomfortable with, and using alternative words that inject a little humour into the proceedings makes us feel happier and more relaxed.
For example, other than the medical profession and parents trying to do the right thing, few people refer to sexual organs by their correct names because they're such horrible sounding words. For this reason alone we now have more words for vagina than Eskimos have for snow.
So whether it's about 'kicking the bucket', 'driving the porcelain truck', or 'bashing the bishop', we all have our own collection of preferred euphemisms that we use on a regular basis, and for the most part everybody knows what we mean.

An extension of the euphemism which does deserve a bit more discussion is the double entendre.
This is where an ordinary statement can be twisted around in such a way that it acquires a smutty alternative meaning.
For examples of this we need look no further than episodes of 'Bottom' or 'Up Pompeii', or better yet, Viz comic's 'Finbarr Saunders'.

The beauty of these double meanings is that with an appropriately inappropriate mind, even the most innocent statement can be reshaped into something to inspire amusement - usually accompanied by a barely-suppressed snigger or a blatant "ooer!".
Yes, I know it's all very immature and nothing more than schoolboy humour, but provided you don't have your head up your own arse it can be very funny indeed. Much like farts really - some people get all holier-than-thou about them whereas others find them a constant source of hilarity from the cradle to the grave. Including me.
In our house we'll all well practiced in the art of the double entendre, and when the mood strikes it can turn into a sort of competition to deliberately create them and see how long it takes the others to catch on.
The same thing happens at work. Myself and a couple of the other chaps can have each other in fits when we plunge into the murky pool of double meanings.

It's all just a way of injecting a bit of fun into the drudgery of everyday existence, and when you have a strong inclination towards depression like I do, it's important to hang on to the things that amuse you in some way.
I avoid watching the news because it's always about bad shit that's going on in the world, and I'm happier being at home than out in the big wide world where I can be subjected to the levels of aggression and self-interest that pervade society.
Finding entertainment in the little things is what keeps me going, and if they happen to be a bit simplistic then so be it. If I'm out, I like to sit by the window of the coffee shop watching the world go by and passing judgement - "What the hell is she wearing?" or "Jesus, look at the size of that!".
I find fun in farting competitions after a particularly effective dinner, I like to arrange the fruit in the bowl in such a way that a banana and a couple of plums are in pride of place, and I like finding unintentional dirty meanings for things people say.
It's not big, it's not clever, but at least it doesn't hurt anyone.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

I've started so I'll finish

I find cooking one of the most enjoyable things in life, and as long as I'm not being subjected to the restrictions imposed by whatever diet the wife is currently enslaved by, I can spend hours creating something that will be wolfed down in ten minutes flat without feeling like I've wasted my time.
This evening I was allowed the freedom to create my signature lasagne in all its waistline-expanding glory, so I set myself up with the usual things necessary for a session in the kitchen - namely a large glass of red wine (major abstinence fail, but I've resigned myself to it) and the iPod and Bose bluetooth speaker to provide the musical accompaniment.

Having started off with a Madonna compilation to satisfy the eighties urge, I switched to INXS's fantastic 'X' album. Once it started, I was along for the ride. With no loss of enthusiasm and no desire to change to something different until the last track had finished, I lost myself singing along and dancing around the kitchen leaving assorted splodges of ragu and bechamel sauce in my wake.
While everyone has their own particular favourites, that album has to be one of my personal all-time greats.
One of the things I love about it is the fact that it's one of those albums I can listen to from start to finish without getting bored, and that's something that seems to be pretty hard to come by these days.

Back in the days of vinyl records, an artist was restricted to around 45 to 50 minutes within which to fit an album, which meant they had to be fairly picky about the tracks to be included.
As a result, it was generally pretty easy to listen through the whole album without wanting to miss out anything. Okay, there might be one duff track from time to time that spoiled the experience, but on the whole you could put on an album and listen from start to finish with no interruption apart from turning the LP over halfway through.

When CDs came along we were blessed with a far cleaner sound, free from the characteristic hisses and pops associated with vinyl. Purists still argue to this day that vinyl is superior to CD, and they may have a point, although the hardware required to provide that level of reproduction is beyond the pockets of most people.
The CD also gave artists 80 minutes of potential play time, which although useful for compilations, meant that they felt obliged (or the record companies pushed them into doing so) to fill the available space. What this meant was that instead of putting out an album with seven or eight great tracks, they were padding it out with sub-standard stuff just so they had the requisite twelve to fifteen tracks.
What this means is that the most important function that CD players provided us with over and above turntables became the 'forward skip' button.
Now, instead of sitting down with your eyes closed and immersing yourself in an album for three quarters of an hour, you sit with your thumb hovering over the remote, poised to jump past the next crappy infill track.

Listening to that INXS album got me thinking. How many albums can you truly sit through from start to finish and enjoy every single track without skipping a single one?
And how many of those were released since the late eighties when CDs were becoming the dominant format?
Apart from the album mentioned above, such albums in my own collection include the following:

Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy
Supertramp - Breakfast in America
Marillion - Misplaced Childhood
Enigma - MCMXC AD
Dire Straits - Love Over Gold
Depeche Mode - Violator
Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
U2 - The Joshua Tree
Roxy Music - Avalon
Michael Jackson - Thriller

While some of these were released since the rise of the CD, the rest come from the days when vinyl was king.
I also have many albums that came out before the CD, but have been re-released with 'bonus extra tracks', which without fail roughly translates as 'stuff that was too crappy to make it on to any album, but we can't resist filling that bit of empty space on the disc'.
These include Ultravox's 'Vienna' and 'The Pleasure Principle' by Gary Numan.
It's hardly surprising then, that younger generations have grown up without the pleasure of listening to a whole album to the exclusion of all other distractions.
They're living in a world where music has become nothing more than aural wallpaper; a disposable commodity that's here today and gone tomorrow, or as soon as something newer and just as mundane and uninspiring arrives on Spotify.
That's not to say that good music is no longer being made - it's just harder to find, and harder still to find an entire album you like rather than just picking out a couple of decent tracks and ignoring the rest.