Monday, 23 May 2016

The grand parade of lifeless packaging

Sometimes I write about things that only a few people will be able to relate to.
My previous post for example wouldn't have held much interest for anyone who wasn't into aircraft or engineering.
To balance the scales a little, I think it's time I poked the finger of rebuke at something we have all experienced at some time - bad packaging.

In years gone by packaging was a much simpler affair. When you did the grocery shopping just about everything came in either a cardboard box, a tin can or a paper bag. The paper bag may not have been the last word in secure protection, but at least you could access your purchases without resorting to industrial cutting equipment.
The worst culprit by far in this respect is the thick plastic display pack that has been seam welded all the way around. The only way to open these things is using heavy duty scissors while being careful to avoid slicing your hand open on the razor sharp cut edges, which I find is virtually impossible unless you're wearing chain-mail gloves. Extracting a new USB drive from its plastic prison cell is a task of similar danger level to juggling with chainsaws.

There are some products with which I never seem to learn my lesson no matter how many times I'm disappointed. I don't think I've ever had a pack of bacon that can be opened by peeling the film off in the manner suggested. They tempt you by providing a little tab in the corner marked with the standard lie that packaging manufacturers use, which strikes fear into the heart of every consumer out there - 'Easy open'.
You know it's a lie and you shouldn't even bother trying, but there's some inexplicable force that urges you to try - you never know, this might be the one time when it actually works.
So you fiddle around for the next five minutes trying to tease the corner up with your fingernail, getting more and more agitated until finally you're rewarded by the sight of the corner of the film waving provocatively at you, daring you to take that final step which will seal your doom.
You know you should have just dived in with a knife in the first place, but now you've invested too much time and effort to turn back even though you know this isn't going to end well.
You take a firm grip on the film tab and carefully start to apply the pressure. Nothing happens to begin with, but then there's the tiniest movement and precisely four nanoseconds before you start to get overexcited, the whole tab breaks off and you're left attacking the film lid like Jack Nicholson did to the door in 'The Shining'.

Shower gel, like other liquid products, is marked on the bottle with the volume of the contents, but I firmly believe that there should be two figures quoted - one for the amount in the bottle, and a second which tells you how much of that you'll actually be able to get out.
It doesn't matter how long you leave the bottle inverted or how hard you shake it, you will never get it all out; at least not until you wash the bottle out ready for recycling, whereupon you end up with a bottle full of foam that refuses to come out at all.
Ring-pulls on the top of tins has made them far easier to open, and has (unusually for this area) actually been a good thing. Mostly.
You become lured into a false sense of security, to the point where taking a tin of soup to work for lunch becomes a regular habit until one day the ring pull simply snaps off with no warning, leaving you with a sealed tin, no tin opener, and an empty stomach. I've got quite adept now at using a hammer and screwdriver to resolve this situation.

Yogurt pots have been cunningly designed with a concealed spring in the bottom which chucks yogurt down the front of your trousers leaving a suspicious looking stain.
The flip lid on Tesco 1 litre bottles of vegetable oil self-destructs when the bottle is still half full, so you have to prise it up with a teaspoon to get it open. This is just the tip of the iceberg with veg oil, because ever since people realised that old diesel cars could run on it, the price went up from about 30p per litre to over a pound per litre - effectively imposing fuel tax on it.
I ran a couple of diesel cars on a 50/50 mix of diesel and vegetable oil with no problems apart from the exhaust smelling a bit like a fish & chip van, but once the financial incentive was gone there wasn't any point doing it, although those old cars did run better on the heavier fuel.
Anyway, I digress...

No matter how awful some packaging may be, at least there is one example that seems to have thankfully become quite a rarity, and that is the old Tetra Pak folded paper milk cartons.
Attempting to open one of these nearly always ended in disaster - these were the ones where you had to pull the flaps apart (ooer!) then drag them forwards again, splitting the seam neatly to form a spout. At least that was the theory.
If you were lucky enough for it to actually work without sending half the carton's contents across the floor or simply crushing the flaps rendering them useless and having to resort to scissors, that was the day you should have bought a lottery ticket.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Plane and simple

When I walked away from the aircraft industry in January 1996 to begin working at the University, it was the end of an era that I was only too glad to wave goodbye to.
I was sick and tired of being given the shitty jobs because I wasn't a company 'yes-man' who was happy to do 50-60 hour weeks, and I was fed up with the petty stupidity of the managers who made it feel like you were constantly working beneath the sword of Damocles.
To give you some idea of what they were like, consider the following:-

In the hangar was a tea/coffee vending machine, and if you wanted a drink while you were doing a job at your bench you'd grab one from the machine and leave it to cool on your bench while you got on with the job. Nobody took drinks onto the aircraft because that simply wasn't the done thing - a spilt drink could cause all sorts of trouble.
However, the bosses in their infinite wisdom had a yellow line painted around the vending machines and declared that if you bought a drink from the machine you had to drink it while standing within the yellow box. What was this? Kindergarten?
To make it all the more uncomfortable, the bosses would stand outside their office glaring at anyone who dared get a cup of tea, so the only solution was to empty a third of your brew down the drain, top it up with cold water from the fountain, and knock back the insipid result double-quick to avoid being hauled in for a bollocking.

This wasn't at all how I'd expected things to go when I'd started my apprenticeship nine years earlier as an innocent wide-eyed sixteen year-old with a long-established passion for aircraft.
Like most boys I had a fascination with planes and helicopters - an interest which was fuelled by presents of assorted books including 'Janes World Aircraft Recognition Handbook', and 'Thunder and Lightnings' by Jan Mark.
I became a bit of an anorak really, being able to recognise and quote specifications on a vast array of planes, and getting overexcited whenever anything flew over.
As a kid, the most common sightings were F4 Phantoms, Jaguars, A10s and the odd Tornado. I even remember experiencing a 'sonic boom' occasionally (before supersonic flight over built-up areas was banned) which was awesome, so it seems strange to me that people these days get so confused and upset on the rare occasions that they're heard - the only time it happens now is if fighters get scrambled urgently to intercept a potential enemy, when I guess the subsonic-only rule goes out of the window.

My sister used to go and watch the speedway at the circuit at Mildenhall when I was a kid, and sometimes she'd take me along. I enjoyed the racing with the dirt flying as the riders sped around the oval circuit with their foot on the floor and the bike drifting sideways through the turns accompanied by the smell of burning methanol, but after a while watching bikes going around in circles lost a bit of its appeal and I'd wander off to the nearby playground.
I wasn't too fussed about the swings and whatever, but because that playground was directly under the flight path for Mildenhall USAF base, when you stood at the top of the slide it almost felt like you could reach out and touch the gigantic C5 Galaxy transports coming in to land.
One summer at school, while out doing athletics (that's a laugh - me doing running and discus etc) an SR71 Blackbird flew over low and slow. That really made my day and I couldn't understand why the other kids weren't in the least bit interested that the world's fastest plane - something that usually flew at the edge of space - had just passed by.

So when I left school all I wanted to do was work on planes, and as I was fortunate enough to secure an apprenticeship at Marshall Aerospace I thought I was set for life.
Indeed, the first few years were a huge adventure. Assigned to Hangar 17 to work on Lockheed Tristars, I embarked upon an immensely steep learning curve which I thoroughly enjoyed.
OK, so it was more often than not a dirty job - I don't think my hands were ever truly clean for all the years I was there, but I was getting in there and doing the sort of practical mechanical job that I loved and I was doing it on things that had been an object of fascination thoughout my childhood.
I was living the dream.
Admittedly the dream hadn't included such activities as climbing around inside fuel tanks, replacing depleted uranium counterweights that had started to corrode, getting chemical burns from the hydraulic fluid, using assorted sealants that have since been banned due to being major carcinogens, and endless hours spent riveting skin panels, but on the whole it was a good job.
During my time there I worked on Tristars including the RAF tanker/transport fleet, King Hussain of Jordan's personal Tristar, and the Orbital Sciences Corporation 'Stargazer' launch platform for the Pegasus rocket which was for putting satellites into orbit.
Then there were assorted short-term periods on Gulfstream, Boeing 727, Boeing 707, Sentry, and Andover, before ending up on C130 Hercules which was when the rot started to set in.
Hercs were not a fun thing to work on, and I rapidly became disillusioned with the whole job - not helped by the attitude of the management.
Eventually it got to the stage where I dreaded going to work each day and at that point I knew I had to move on.

I've now not been an airframe fitter for more than twice as long as I was one, and I've never looked back with any fondness of that time until recently.
Memories of the shitty aspects have become somewhat blurred, as tends to happen as the years pass, but even if I was desperate I wouldn't go back to it.
I may have times when I get fed up in my current job, but I just have to tell myself that it could be worse - I could be squashed into an outer wing fuel tank with just a rivet gun for company and a head woozy from the effects of methyl ethyl ketone. Then things suddenly don't seem quite so bad.

OSC Stargazer Tristar - made in the USA, converted in Cambridge UK
by a bunch of hair-arsed fitters including yours truly.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Woeful eight

I've just sat through Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight'.
Two and three quarter hours of pointless drivel, with my bum going numb and wondering if it was ever going to end.

This is not my usual feeling towards Tarantino's films.
Pulp Fiction is one of my all-time favourite films - to my slightly twisted mind a work of art.
Reservoir Dogs was great - and I can't hear 'Stuck in the middle with you' by Stealers Wheel without seeing the image of Michael Madsen doing his little dance holding the scissors.
Inglorious Basterds was a blood-drenched fantasy about WW2 that was clearly Quentin's thoughts about "Hey, wouldn't it have been cool if this had happened...", and I loved it even though it was historically bollocks.
Then we have Django Unchained which was a glorious blood bath with a top notch cast and a good story holding everything together.

So what the hell he was thinking with Hateful Eight is beyond me.
The basic premise is that a gang has set up an ambush for a bounty hunter who is transporting one of their number to be tried and hung. Their plans are messed up by the additon of two unexpected extra people, and everyone winds up dead. How the hell that plot got dragged out for that length of time is a feat in itself.
Of course we were fooled by the trailer which looked promising, and the promotional appearance of Samuel Jackson on Graham Norton's show when it first came out.
Knowing what I know now, I'm glad I didn't fork out to see it at the cinema, because even having paid fifteen quid for the Blu-Ray leaves me feeling ripped off.
The only question that remains is: who on earth rated this crappy excuse for a movie 7.9 out of 10 on IMDB?

Even the involvement of the bad motherfucker
himself couldn't save this one....

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Celebrate good times.... come on!

I'm sure there's something wrong with me. OK, so there are probably many things wrong with me, but for the time being there's one thing in particular that makes me wonder if I'm a bit weird.
I don't understand the concept of celebrations.
It seems that for the majority of people, it doesn't take much for the bunting to be hung out and a collection of stalls to be erected in a public place giving the locals ample opportunity to spend a couple of quid on raffle tickets, guess the weight of the fruit cake and return home with food poisoning from a dodgy burger.
I, on the other hand, am happy to ignore these seemingly pointless events - preferring to tut and shake my head in confusion as to why anyone would bother with such things.
I know, I'm a grumpy old git.

We've just had a flyer shoved through the letter box about the upcoming village feast which I've written about before in a post entitled 'Funland comes to Craggy Island'.
This event takes place every year, along with countless other similar village feast celebrations across the country, and I've yet to figure out the idea behind it. Yes, I know that money is raised for charity at these things which is all very well but I can't help but wonder if it wouldn't be easier to just go door-to-door with a collecting tin and knock the whole feast thing on the head.
In the same way I don't get the idea behind big weddings, which seem to happen primarily for the benefit of the guests appetite for free food and drink, while providing the happy couple with a wonderful opportunity to accrue a massive debt which they can enjoy paying off for the next five years, just so they could emulate the celebrity weddings they've seen in Hello magazine.
Then there's new year where crowds flock together to celebrate the opening of the new Kylie calendar by getting pissed and making resolutions they won't even remember in the morning, let alone manage to keep.
It's the same thing with birthdays, Christmas, mother's day, father's day, easter and any other day that Clintons can use or invent to persuade people to buy a greetings card which will be looked at once and be in the bin two days after the event.
Recently it was the Queen's 90th birthday and I was indifferent. Yes, she's the monarch of this country but I don't know her any more than the old lady up the road, so what does it matter to me?
Leicester won something or other to do with football the other day and although I couldn't give a rat's arse, the fans were out in force waving flags, cheering and of course getting pissed.
In fact, the more I think about it, practically any kind of celebration is nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse for a giant piss-up.

Your average wedding reception involves a bar and free-flowing champagne. At a wake everyone drowns their sorrows in alcohol, and when it's your birthday people buy you booze because it's more or less guaranteed that you'll like it - I bet even the Queen sunk a few G&Ts on her birthday.
The football fans celebrated their team winning by drinking the pubs dry of crap lager, and in church they crack open a bottle of red wine and wafers to celebrate Christ's sacrifice - they're missing a trick here if they want to get a few more bums on pews because if they were less stingy with the measures there would be far more people prepared to tolerate a boring sermon and a couple of depressing hyms if communion involved a proper large glass of wine and a plate of chocolate Hob Nobs.
I knew someone that got involved with Morris Dancing which I thought was very brave of him to admit, but he did confess that waving their hankies and bashing sticks together was nothing more than a prelude to the post-dance pub visit.
The village feast, despite its many pointless and dreary aspects does at least include a bar and a stall selling the awesome Pickled Pig local cider (a potent brew that makes you forget where you left your legs), both of which are the only things with big queues in front of them.
So for this reason alone, weather permitting, I'll probably wander up to the village green next Sunday to investigate this year's village feast. Then once I've reached the stage of wondering what I'm doing there, I'll remind myself by queueing up for a couple of pints of Pickled Pig cider, safe in the knowledge that I'm not getting drunk, I'm celebrating.

"Hurrah, the mail turned up on time! Party!"

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Twiddling of the thumbs

The trouble with doing nothing is you never know when you've finished.
That's been my problem for the last couple of weeks since the most recent knee surgery, and although it's understandable that the healing process requires a certain lack of activity, there comes a point when you've had enough and want to play a different game.
Indeed, I did want to play a different game because I've exhausted my enthusiasm for Far Cry Primal and other current Playstation games, but upcoming releases such as Uncharted 4 and No Man's Sky have yet to hit the shelves. I tried Rainbow Six but didn't get on with it, and The Division wouldn't let me play unless I had online gaming acces (which I don't have because I don't like online gaming) so I've given up and dragged out the old XBox 360 because I've got a ton of good games that I can revisit to occupy the extended hours spent sitting on the sofa with my leg up.
However, the stitches come out tomorrow morning and I've managed a couple of local journeys driving the car so I should be OK to return to work on Monday provided I restrict myself to light duties. I'm very lucky to have such an understanding employer! Not that they have much choice.....

I plan to retire as early as possible, and the earliest I can start drawing my University pension is at 55, which gives me another ten years of getting up at 6AM and commuting to Cambridge.
There's plenty about my job that I'll miss when that time comes. It'll be a shame to not have that regular contact with a (mostly) decent bunch of people, and I'll definitely miss the frequent brain exercise required when resolving problems and designing experimental apparatus. I love problem solving, design and practical work. I love being given an idea and coming up with a rig from concept, through brainstorming, design, manufacture and construction of something that allows someone to carry out their research and achieve their masters degree or PHD. It's quite rewarding to watch a student develop from a wet-behind-the-ears undergraduate to a confident doctor of aeronautical engineering, off into the big wide world with a place in the research division of an F1 team or an aircraft manufacturer, or even to teach the following generations of undergraduates.

So if I get bored of sitting about at home twiddling my thumbs within a fortnight of surgery, how the hell will I cope with retiring at 55 with another 20 or so years ahead of me?
One thing's for sure, I don't want to sit in a chair slowly turning into a bitter and resentful old Albert Steptoe wannabe (well, no more than I currently am) with nothing in my life beyond the odd jigsaw puzzle and an overweight dog.
In other words, I don't want to become my father.
When the time comes, it will be imperative that I remain active. Maybe I'll be able to get a part-time local job, or perhaps do voluntary work to keep me occupied - there's no end of charity shops in Ely crying out for staff.
Whatever happens I'm sure I needn't worry about it. For one thing it's still a long way off and I might be dead by then anyway, but everyone I've spoken to who has retired from my place of work says the same thing whenever I bump into them and have a quick chat - " I don't know how I ever found time to come to work!".

Monday, 2 May 2016

Slam dunk

There will always be some aspects of human behaviour that we don't understand.
The internet is filled to bursting with activities that are bizarre, perverse, dangerous or immoral, but sometimes it can be the simplest of things. Things we see all around us every day that leave us confused and shaking our heads in disbelief.
It might be someones insistence on drying their laundry in a tumble dryer even though it's a bright sunny day. It could be a person who claims to love music but then goes and listens to Skrillex, or when someone spends an hour cleaning their car with a pressure washer when it could be done in twenty minutes with a bucket of water and a sponge.

One of the peculiarities of human behaviour that I will never understand is the practice of dunking biscuits in tea.
I love a good cup of tea and I also enjoy a nice biscuit or six, but as far as I'm concerned the two should not meet until they're already in my stomach.
This subject is a strongly contested one, with pro-dunkers and anti-dunkers perpetually at loggerheads. The dunkers are most emphatic that their way is the right way, with extensive research performed to discover the best biscuits for dunking. Apparently the pensioner's favourite 'Rich Tea' is the Chuck Norris of biscuits for dunking, and I suppose it's worth knowing these things if you're a dunking enthusiast who doesn't want their tea ruined by a pile of biscuity mush in the bottom of the cup.
But I'm keen to enjoy my biscuits the way the baker intended, with the right amount of crunch and tasting of flour, butter, sugar, and whatever else was added to the mix. Surely if you want your biscuit to taste of tea then you might as well just eat Rich Tea and be done with it.
Perhaps the problem is that Rich Tea are a crappy excuse for a biscuit, leaving a gaping hole in the market for a biscuit that tastes of tea but actually has a pleasing texture, like a tea-flavoured Hob Nob or similar.

For me though, I'm quite happy to enjoy my biscuits independent of my tea in the same way that I keep water separate from whisky - I enjoy them both but why would I want to dilute the Whisky experience with water? Maybe I can understand someone diluting some cheap harsh blended stuff like Bell's or Famous Grouse, but when you're talking about a nice single malt like Talisker it would be sacrilege to add anything else.
I once even heard someone say they liked to add lemonade to their whisky FFS!
There are some things that work well with others such as lamb and mint sauce, or Dave Gahan and Martin Gore, but others are better left to fly solo and tea and biscuits are perfect examples of such things.