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.....

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Premature winter blues

Outside it's sunny and warm, with a pleasant light breeze wafting through the numerous flowering perennials in the back garden while bees, hoverflies and countless other insects busy themselves around them.
Meanwhile, I'm sitting on the sofa desperately trying to summon the enthusiasm to write this post.
Truth be told, I can't really be arsed but if I don't make an effort I'll just sit here sinking into one of those inexplicable pits of despair that are so hard to climb out of.
That's the thing when you have issues with depression - those who've never suffered with it really don't understand.
They say unhelpful things like "just pull yourself together" or "you have nothing to be depressed about", but it's not that simple.
After all these years I can usually sense when the darkness is closing in and do the right things to combat it, with varying degrees of success. I've so far managed to avoid medication, but been very close to it at times.

It gets worse in the winter when you find yourself going to work in the dark, coming home in the dark, and only grabbing a few hours of daylight at the weekend.
Many people suffer with seasonal affective disorder, popularly know as 'the winter blues', and this can be helped with light therapy or vitamin D supplements.
However, for someone who has a tendency towards depression, SAD just exacerbates the problems they face all year round.
Of course, if there really is something bad lurking at the back of the mind, constantly nagging at you, then it gets a whole lot harder to prevent yourself sliding into the black abyss.

My father is pretty much at death's door now. He decided to go into a nursing home because he could no longer cope, and his health has declined dramatically.
There's nothing of him but skin and bone - because he can't face eating he's wasted away to the point where he currently weighs just six stone with a BMI of 17. At 15 BMI the organs are shutting down, which means he'll die of malnutrition before the cancer finishes him off.
At least this way it should be less painful. He signed a DNR (understandably) and I don't think it will be long before it's over.

I guess having this situation preying on my mind isn't helping my own issues, which would explain the recent surges of despair. I'll be in the middle of a job at work, when I'll be overtaken by sudden urge to hide in the corner and cry.
It has been pretty busy at work of late and I think I'm due a break, so it's just as well I only have a week to go before I'm off for a fortnight.
I've got our department open days to deal with on Thursday and Friday, then I'm going to walk away and remain incommunicado, hopefully with sufficient time to get back on an even keel.
Lots of countryside walks with the camera are in order, because when I'm doing that I usually manage to find some inner peace.
Anything that prevents my mind thinking too deeply and over-analysing things is always welcome.

Apologies to the reader, but getting it out is a helpful part of dealing with things.
With luck I'll get my shit together and ensure my next post is more upbeat.

Taken this morning - the hoverflies certainly love the clematis in the back garden.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Studentactive Fallout

It's ball time again at Cambridge University.
I knew it was coming because exams finished last week, accompanied by much spraying of champagne (under normal circumstances I'd be livid about wasting alcohol, but champagne is crap and deserves to be poured on the floor) and students running around with great big smiles on their faces for the first time this year.
There has also been quite a collection of trucks and vans gathering on the college grounds since the weekend, which is always a sign. 

As I normally travel to work pretty early to avoid heavy traffic, I tend to see the fallout from these events as groups of tired, disheveled and mostly inebriated students make their way back to their lodgings.
The guys all look the same wearing the standard black tie outfit which proves that in certain areas the University still has its foot wedged firmly in tradition.
In these days of supposed sexual equality, it's interesting that the women don't have to conform to the same rigid control over what they wear.
On the plus side, it does make the scenery quite interesting and sometimes downright distracting as you drive past.
While some are dressed fairly conservatively, other sport dresses with great long slits up the side or neck lines that have been designed as a showcase for cleavage and more besides. Terrible..........

Where was I?
Oh yes...
Although the balls are probably the highlight of the student's social calendar, there are plenty of other occasions where they can don their penguin suits and high-class hooker dresses, and a few weeks ago I was invited to one of the so-called 'formals' at Queen's College by one of the researchers.
Being completely clueless about such things I thought I'd do a little digging to find out what this would entail before committing myself to anything.
As it turned out it would involve having dinner at the college wearing a suit and black tie, while sitting at long tables with a large number of (to me) complete strangers, before being expected to do that social mingling thing, which in my case usually consists of standing on my own with a glass of wine while wondering what would be the earliest time I can leave without appearing rude.
So would I like to accept the invitation and put myself through what amounts to an evening of torture, or would I politely decline and just go home where I can have a normal dinner and put my feet up in front of the telly with a nice glass of Scotch?
Can you guess which I chose?

Thursday, 15 June 2017


In the original 'Trainspotting' film we were introduced to what was apparently the 'worst toilet in Scotland'.
The scene is one of those iconic moments in cinema along with the "Do you feel lucky, punk?" bit in Dirty Harry, Jack Nicholson coming through the door with an axe saying "Here's Johnny!", and Anne Hathaway getting her glorious thrupenny bits out in 'Love and other drugs'.
OK, so we all have different things that stick in the memory.....
The Trainspotting scene however, does make me thankful that I've never come across a toilet in a state remotely as bad as that, but that's probably because I've never attended a music festival.

I admit to being a bit fussy about the facilities I'll entrust my bottom to, which can be a problem in the workplace where so many people seem to have sprinkler attachments on their arseholes, think flushing is optional, and have no idea how to use a toilet brush.
On a list of things I enjoy doing, running between every gents around the site trying to find a lavatory that is sanitary enough, with an increasing sense of panic because I'm about to give birth is pretty near the bottom; somewhere between having surgery and going to weddings.

It makes me wonder if people who leave toilets in such a vile state behave the same way at home.
I expect the majority do not, but when they're at work they somehow get the attitude of "Why should I clean that when someone else is paid to do it?", and I find that frankly appalling.
Even if cleaning toilets is part of your job, surely nobody wants to walk into a cubicle - mop and bucket in hand - to be confronted by the aftermath of someone's big night out featuring ten pints of Guinness and a dodgy chicken vindaloo.
On the back of the cubicle doors at work there is a sign that says 'Please leave this facility in the state you expect to find it', but I can't help thinking that replacing 'expect' with 'like' would be a considerable improvement, because expectations can often be pretty low.
While they're at it, they could also add an instruction sheet for how to use a bog brush and a small pamphlet entitled 'Hygiene - A beginners guide to moral obligations'.
Rant over.
Please wash your hands.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Still alive

I've just returned from one of my trips to London to meet up with the guys, and I'm happy to report that I'm still in one fully functioning piece.
After recent events it had crossed my mind to change the location or even cancel altogether, but we're British so it's in our nature to stick two fingers up at the bastards and carry on with life undeterred.

I'm glad we stuck to our plans, because it turned out to be a really good day.
Having met up at Kings Cross we walked to Camden Lock, passing by a trio of the old gasometers which have undergone an impressive revamp. Two have been converted into some sort of residential or commercial buildings with the external ironwork left intact, while the third contains an amazing circular garden space with mirrored pillars supporting an intricate mirrored canopy.
It was so wonderful to see an example of urban regeneration which retains such iconic structures.

We pressed on, taking a rest at the top of Primrose Hill (where I decided that women's yoga is now officially a spectator sport) to admire the view while the sun beat down, making me thankful I'd remembered to bring a hat to cover my virtually bald head.
From there we made our way through Regents Park, ending up at Wetherspoons for lunch and a couple of pints of ale.
Then it was an extended period of chilling out beside the lake in Hyde Park before heading to Blackfriars via Westminster where we chanced upon a very unusual sight - a huge collection of naked cyclists.
It was at this point I began to regret my decision to leave the proper camera at home, because it meant all I had available to take pictures with was my phone.
Apparently they were protesting against the city's car culture and raising awareness of the vulnerability of cyclists, but I suspect the crowds that gathered to cheer them on (ourselves included) were just happy to see a bunch of naked people.
Well, to be honest there were some we'd have preferred to not see, but at least there were plenty of good-uns to offset them.
Obviously I was more interested in the women, but it was impossible to not see the blokes as well, which wasn't such a bad thing because it did serve to make me feel pretty good about myself.

I suppose it was because of it being such a glorious day that there was a phenomenal number of people out and about, with assorted bits of street theatre and plenty of interesting sights.
I've said before that people watching is one of my favourite pastimes, but today that experience was turned up to eleven. London is a fascinating melting pot of all sorts of people, and today certainly didn't disappoint, so for once I actually felt a little sorry when it was time to catch the train home, leaving all that life and vitality behind.
I daresay it won't be long before I return though, because the boy wants a trip to the more affluent areas to go supercar spotting.
Hopefully there will be more naked cyclists.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

We're going where the sun shines rarely

I always rather enjoyed 'The Great British Bake Off', even in preference to Masterchef which has an unfortunate tendency to disappear up its own arse from time to time. 'Bake-off' at least has its feet rooted a bit more firmly on the ground, but there was always the odd ingredient that cropped up regularly, such as star anise and lavender, which I've never used and made me curious to investigate further.
Now I've always thought of lavender as one of those things which is for some reason very popular with old ladies, but certainly not on my list of things I enjoy the smell of.
Fresh baked bread, vanilla, burnt two-stroke oil, all fine - but not lavender.
The other day however, while we were visiting Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, we stopped off in the cafe for a cup of tea. Amongst the usual assortment of baked goods which these places kindly offer to help you get fat, was a lemon and lavender cake, so I decided to indulge in a slice - purely in the interests of research of course.
Both the light delicate sponge and the butter cream topping were populated with tiny lavender flowers, giving a subtle flavour that was absolute bliss. I'm sure it would be very easy to overdo it with the lavender, but the balance was just right.
So that's it, I'm converted. There's loads of lavender in the front garden but it hasn't flowered yet, so when it does I shall start experimenting with it. I'll just have to careful to not end up smelling like an old lady's cardigan.

Stately homes and their expansive grounds are usually great places to have a good walk without the intrusion of traffic noise, while providing ample opportunities for a spot of photography.
We've just spent a few days in Norfolk having a short break from normality, spending time relaxing and visiting the odd National Trust property including Felbrigg Hall and Blickling Hall.
It's nice to go away occasionally, even if it's nothing grand, but the wife and I are still not convinced after all these years that we're the kind of people who really enjoy holidays.
We like the idea of it, but the reality is that by the third day we've had enough and are ready to come home.
The place we were staying this time was only 70 miles from home - the sort of thing you could do as a day trip if you were so inclined - so it was only through stubborn determination that we saw it through to the end, especially as the weather left a great deal to be desired.
It strikes me that the best thing about any sort of holiday is being reminded of just how comfortable your own bed is.
With the exception of one cottage in Hawes that we stayed in several years ago, which had just been done up to a very high standard, the one predictable thing about any holiday is a hard uncomfortable bed. At a bed & breakfast we once stayed in, I ended up sleeping on the floor because it was more comfortable than the bed.
Now I know people bang on about loving a good hard mattress and it being good for your back, but I think they're talking bollocks. When it comes to beds, there's nothing worse than having pressure points on your hips and shoulders because the mattress doesn't have enough give to provide even support along your body.
My bed has a thick mattress of medium firmness, pocket sprung with a memory foam layer on top and it's the most comfortable place in the world as far as I'm concerned.
Holiday homes all seem to source their mattresses from the same supplier - presumably a long-established company whose business has its origins in the middle ages when they specialised in torture devices. Obviously, as the years progressed and torture gradually became less and less fashionable they had to move with the times, but they've never allowed themselves to forget their roots.

Beds aside, it's still good to have a change of scenery for a few days, and even if you come to feel that the sole purpose of a holiday is to make you appreciate your own home, the experience is rarely wasted.
We had a few days without the incessant background noises associated with a 19 year-old who enjoys rap music and swearing profusely at the Playstation, and he had a few days without being constantly nagged to "turn that bloody noise down", "give your liver a rest", and "stop fucking swearing".

Blickling Hall - luckily it wasn't raining that day.

At one with nature.

Fishing boats on Cromer beach.

 Proper engineering.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The big 'C'

On reflection, yesterday's post makes me sound like a whiny bitch, so I guess I should have a go at something else.
Even though it's far from being an uplifting subject, I want to ponder the 'C' word.
No, not the one reserved for Audi drivers, nor the one that happens on the 25th of December, but the really big one. Cancer.
I've been working up to this for a while, but haven't been able to formulate a plan for how to tackle it.
So I'll just dive in and see how it goes, because it's something quite personal and it might make me feel more clear-headed about it to write it down.

Ten and a half years ago I lost my mum to pancreatic cancer, aged 70. They caught it too late to do anything, but as pancreatic is one of the most determined killers it wouldn't have made any difference.
I had a good relationship with mum, and to suddenly be left without her was absolutely devastating for me.
Looking back, I don't think I've ever really come to terms with it. At the time I coped with it by burying my head in the sand, trying to get on as if nothing had changed - in my mind there was nothing I could do to change what had happened.
The day after she died I just went to work as normal; just taking off the day of her funeral where I cried about it for the first time.
Even to this day, if I happen to see a little grey-haired old lady wearing a red jacket I still do a double-take, thinking for a brief moment that it's her, only to come crashing down when the reality bites back that she's long gone.
I've been told that I never really grieved for her passing, but to this day I still don't know what that really means. Is grieving some sort of ritual that needs to be observed in order for the pain to go away? I can't see it.

Soon I'll have the opportunity to have another go at dealing with it because my dad has terminal lung cancer and has been told by the doctor to make sure his affairs are in order.
He has been a smoker all his life, so this is not exactly unexpected.
He had it a couple of years ago and underwent a course of radiotherapy to try and get rid of it.
This was the first time I'd ever seen my dad show fear and vulnerability. He stopped smoking immediately - even being a stubborn grumpy bugger took a back seat for once.
After about a year of fighting he was finally given the all-clear. The cancer had gone.
So what was the first thing he did to celebrate? He started smoking again.
No surprise then that the cancer came back pretty quickly, but this time there's no way out.
The location is too difficult to operate on, and being 82 and in poor health he probably wouldn't survive surgery. He can't have further radiotherapy because he's already had a lifetime's dose of radiation, and the effects of chemo would finish him off anyway. So that's it - just a matter of time.

My relationship with my dad has always been different from what I had with mum.
The only time I've seen him openly show any real emotion was when I took him to visit mum in hospital right near the end, when tears rolled down his face as he reached out and held my hand.
Within the family he's often been likened to Victor Meldrew (if you're not from the UK, he's a character in a TV sitcom called 'One Foot In The Grave') and I have no memory of him ever even hugging me as a child. Or any time for that matter.
He's never felt particularly warm, and whenever I've been round to visit he's made it clear after about half an hour that he's ready for me to leave.
Since the last diagnosis however, the reality of the situation seems to have hit home.
Suddenly he's more communicative, as if he realises there's now limited time to say what needs to be said. He talks about things in a way I've never heard from him before, and I can't help but think he knows how he's been in the past and is trying to make up for it before it's too late.
He's never been a big chap, but now he's practically a walking skeleton and it's hard to predict whether he'll be finished off by the cancer or malnutrition because other issues mean he's hardly eating.

For a long time I've been of the opinion that when dad dies it won't hit me as hard as when mum went, because I've never felt that close to him. He's always been that old-school, brusque, stiff-upper-lip type that just won't let anyone in or express himself in a way that lays him open to showing vulnerability or affection.
With his recent change in attitude, for the first time in my life I'm seeing another side to him; perhaps the real person that he's spent all his years repressing.
It saddens me that at 45 years old, it's only as he's at death's door that I'm beginning to get to know my father.
He's always been there physically, but the only real connection has been blood. Since mum died I've only been to visit him out of a sense of duty rather than a desire to spend time with him.
Why has it taken imminent death to bring him to life?
If nothing else, it makes me glad that the relationship I have with my own son is nothing like the one my father made with me. I'd hate to get to the end and have regrets about it.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Undeserving and unworthy

For most people in our modern world where consumption is king, the acquisition of that shiny new thingy you've been hankering after is a time of joy, but for some reason I never get that warm glow of satisfaction.
Instead, I feel a strange combination of numbness and guilt.
The 'happy happy joy joy' feeling is diminished by an overwhelming sense that I don't deserve this thing; that it's an unnecessary waste of money that would have been better spent on more important things, and that the guilt I carry in the back of my mind over things in the past make me unworthy of enjoying the fruits of my labours.
When I finally managed to get the car I'd wanted for several years, I couldn't stop thinking I should have just bought another five hundred pound shitter instead.
When I had a small windfall recently, I had to be practically ordered to the jewellers to buy the gorgeous Rado watch I'd been dribbling over for ages, and it still took a fair while to come to terms with what I'd done once it was sitting on my wrist.

It's much the same with any sort of praise. If I achieve something at work that is of importance and the boss is grateful enough to make a point of saying so, I just shrug my shoulders uncomfortably and mumble something about "that's what I'm here for".
What is it that makes me this way?
I sometimes think a psychiatrist would have a field day if they spent an hour or two delving into what makes me tick, and would probably end up having me carted off in a jacket with many straps and buckles by two burly men for an extended stay in a room that resembles the inside of a bouncy castle.
I know I have an active analytical mind that relishes practical problem-solving challenges, and I usually have the capability to manufacture the solution with my own hands. This is the aspect of my job that I love the most and I'm good at it.
So why do I go all dismissive and humble when another person acknowledges it?

Over the years I've come to realise that happiness cannot be found in material possessions, and I now readily accept that. But although I accept my life will not be better or more fulfilling if it happens to contain a nice new SLR camera, I don't understand why my brain tries to convince me things will actually be worse because it's unnecessary and who the hell do I think I am anyway?
I try to be a good person, and I know I find the greatest sense of satisfaction comes from helping other people, but just for once it would be quite a novelty to get home from a shopping trip that wasn't for groceries or home essentials, and not feel a level of guilt as if I'd stolen the stuff rather than paid for it outright.

I've long had issues with over-analysing life, and right now this is probably one of those times.
Maybe that's why I like to drink - because it switches off that bit of my brain which dedicates its runtime to making me feel bad about myself.
Unfortunately, since my last post about three weeks ago not a drop of alcohol has passed my lips in case I get a call asking me to take the nephew's wife to hospital to have her baby.
Due to these circumstances I've been able to stop drinking completely cold turkey which really hasn't been a problem, and suggests I've been nowhere near having any sort of drinking 'problem'.
However, I'll be very glad when the sprog has arrived and I can go back to keeping my internal character assassin sedated with vodka.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Lead us not into temptation....

Recently I've been able to reduce my alcohol intake, but although it's a subject that arises from time to time, this hasn't been a conscious decision.
In fact, it is only since the wine rack has been empty and I haven't been bothered to refill it that things have started to change.
The key appears to be whether or not the bottles are in plain sight. The more I see it sitting there, the more I want to indulge.

Now before I paint myself as some sort of alcoholic, I should point out that I'm a long way from having that sort of obsessive relationship with alcohol, but an honest assessment of what I do drink suggests my consumption may have been a little higher than the government's recommended allowance.
Mind you, government recommendations could perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt, along with not eating eggs, buying diesel cars because they're more environmentally friendly.... ah, on second thoughts we'll start getting rid of them because they're actually killing us, and making sure you get your five servings of fruit and veg every day.... no wait, maybe it's eight..... no let's make it ten, that's a nice round number.

The more visible the drink is, the more I want it - which can be backed up by the fact that there is a bottle of Captain Morgan's spiced rum and a bottle of Russian Standard vodka in the kitchen cupboard, and it's only because they're tucked out of plain sight that they're still there.
There's half of the rum left and the vodka is still unopened, which is actually rather impressive.
For me the key to alcohol consumption is clearly the moderation of temptation.
However, it's not just booze that this theory is applicable to, but anything that may be a personal weakness.
For example, I love Quality Street as much as the next person, and if we had a tin in the cupboard I'd be quite capable of taking three or four, putting the lid back on and walking away.
However, if the tin was just sitting on the table I'd take a couple every time I walked past and end up fat and diabetic.

The alcohol situation is always being reviewed, but in a week or two I shall be switching to total abstinence mode. My nephew's wife is heavily pregnant and fast approaching her due date, and I'm on the list of people she can call when she needs to get to the hospital (her husband doesn't drive), so it makes sense if I simply don't drink.
I guess that means I'm going to be getting through more tea than usual for a while, because alcohol-free beer is crap.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Yin is missing its yang

This morning, for the first time in quite a while, I'm actually feeling pretty good.
I slept well, my body doesn't ache too much, and the recent nasty cold seems to have done its worst and is beating a hasty retreat.
I've made it in to work with very little traffic, and I'm sitting here with a breakfast of coffee and some left-over Chinese takeaway from last night that I've zapped in the microwave.
Outside the sun is shining, and inside there's nobody else around to disturb me because I always get in about an hour before I'm due to start.

You're thinking this all sounds like trivial nonsense, and have no idea why should you be even slightly interested, but I'm actually making a point.
How often do we appreciate when things are going right?
We're very good at complaining when things go wrong and fretting over bad stuff that we have no control over, but proportionately there are few occasions when we take the time to be thankful for all the good stuff.

We spend our lives with a decidedly negative outlook on life (unless you're a gameshow host or have a fetish for licking windows) which is hardly surprising, considering what we're bombarded with every day.
For example, let's have a look at what's on the BBC news website this morning: 'Children die in Syria gas attack', 'North Korea fires missile', 'Thousands on 50p-a-week housing benefit', and apparently antibiotics could be linked to bowel cancer. Well doesn't that fill you with the joys of spring?
The TV news is no better. The headlines are a parade of attacks on the innocent, death, destruction, dishonesty, cruelty and general scaremongering. Years ago they used to do a brief article right at the end about something uplifting, like a panda who'd overcome erectile dysfunction, but even that seems to have been pushed out to make a bit more room for the weather girl who smiles happily while telling us it's going to rain again.
And although newspaper readership is on a steady decline, do they make an effort to inject a little sunshine into our lives? Well, if you're into football or celebrity culture you might find something of interest, but The Daily Mail still enjoys telling us every day that we're doomed because breathing gives you cancer, or wearing socks makes you go blind, The Times is full of political and financial waffle that is only understood by the sort of person you wouldn't want to meet at a party, and The Sun has stopped doing the topless totty on page 3.
So aside from the occasional film review and Garfield, what are the papers for if not to depress us?

We need some sort of balance to be restored, and although it's possible, the sad part is that you have to go hunting for it because the default resources for what's going on in the world all lean towards the negative side.
However, if you look at websites like http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/ or https://www.positive.news/ you'll find it's not all doom and gloom.
Indeed if the big news networks were to shift some of their focus onto stories such as those found on sites like these, the world wouldn't feel like such a bad place.

The question that arises from this is: Is the world really becoming a worse place to be or is it just the way it's portrayed by the media?
Yes, bad shit happens and it's important to be aware of the major events, but we don't need them rammed down our throats 24/7.
On the other hand, I believe the majority of people are fundamentally good, so why should the small minority who want to be arseholes get all the attention?

The old saying of "No news is good news" may have an element of truth to it, but because that has become the way we generally think, we tend to forget that good things happen in the world that are just as newsworthy as all the awful events that we're told about at great length.
In the same way, if we focus on the positive aspects of our daily lives rather than grumbling about the things that go wrong, maybe it's possible to retrain our brains to have a more positive outlook.
If we can take time to acknowledge the good things, however trivial, we could become happier.
And not watching the news might help too....

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Game of life

We've all played board games at some point in our life, and chances are we've even played some sort of sport. It might not have been since school when, if you're anything like me, you were one of the last to be picked for a team, but even if your only experience of sport was the humiliation of finding yourself face down in the mud on the rugby field, you understand that games and sports have rules.
Everyone generally plays by these rules and the game runs smoothly, at least until you land on Mayfair with a hotel for the sixth time in a row, at which point some kind of hissy fit results in all the cards, playing pieces and houses being scattered over a wide area.

But what happens when someone decides not to play by the rules? Imagine if Tiger Woods hit his ball onto the 18th green then decided to pick it up, dunk it in the hole and run around like a loony yelling "Touchdown!".
What if someone decided to sell all their property on the Monopoly board and bankrupt themselves by donating the proceeds to charity?
Well, if you're French there would be riots and the ports would be blockaded, if you're Spanish you might throw a donkey off a tall tower for no reason, and if you're British you'll probably tut and sigh.

It strikes me that life is much the same.
Most people just play by the rules that society has laid down, wanting to fit in with what everyone else is doing no matter how silly or pointless, and any attempt to go against the flow is met with anything from mild confusion to open hostility.
I remember the year we took the boy out of the state school system to home educate him. Anyone that heard what we'd done was full of negativity, but if anything he learned more in that time than he would have done at school. He only went back to school because of the frustration of all the hoops you have to jump through because you choose to do something different.

As anyone who knows me will be aware, I don't do Christmas. It doesn't affect anyone else, but the shock on people's faces when they're told this is always a picture. It's as though they simply can't comprehend how or why anyone would not celebrate Christmas. Funnily enough, many people go on to say that they wish they didn't get involved with it all either, but there's always some excuse that amounts to "everyone else does it".
This is the problem. We're expected to go through the motions regardless of how we genuinely feel about something.
Work hard at school, get good grades, get a good job, meet someone special, get married, buy as big a house as possible, have 2.4 children and an armoured personnel carrier to transport them around in, brag to other parents about how amazing your kids are, go to the gym, have holidays in Barbados, and if anyone asks if you fancy meeting up you have to drag out your phone and start prodding it intently while making a big noise about how busy you are.

Bollocks. I'm not playing that game, and hope I never do. I'm not that person and if I thought I was I'd be ashamed of myself, because I don't want to play that game or live by those rules.
I go to work to earn money to keep a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothes on our backs.
I have a car to enable me to get to work, and a few things to make my home life comfortable.
The house is reasonably clean and tidy, but a show home it most definitely is not.
When it's my birthday I'd rather ignore it, when someone moves into a new house I have no interest in going round to be given 'the tour', I'm hardly ever busy and have trouble finding things to do to fill the time when I'm not working, eating or sleeping, and I'm not remotely interested in anyone's new baby - to me it's just another noisy, demanding shit machine until it's old enough to communicate and do something more interesting than projectile vomiting.
My life is what those that play by the rules would consider dull and boring, and sometimes I beat myself up about that, wishing things could be more exciting, wondering how it would be if I was caught up in a whirlwind of social interaction, parties, foreign holidays, fitted kitchens and one-upmanship.

Slowly but surely I'm becoming increasingly comfortable and accepting of my life, reasoning that if I was that desperate for it to be different I'd do something to change things. But I don't, so I guess that means I'm actually content with things the way they are.
I listen to music, I enjoy photography, and I love cooking.
I'm happiest when I'm in the countryside away from the bustle of the world, whereas cities fill me with frustration, anger, and a desperate urge to run and hide. I don't go to big concerts or events either, because I can't face the crowds, and this fear is the same reason I've never had anything to do with airports.
I'd rather spend the evening on the sofa with a big glass of red wine and a packet of Jaffa Cakes, watching a couple of episodes of Game Of Thrones, then going to bed somewhere around 10:30 and reading a chapter or two before dropping off.

I play the game by some of the rules because it's the only way to make life work, but all of the peripheral bullshit can go hang. Especially that ridiculous way of greeting someone by sort of kissing but not kissing, because I have absolutely no idea what the etiquette is.
The rules of the game are too complicated to be bothered with, so mostly I just go with what feels right for me.
I suspect I'm not alone, but those who do play the game by the rules have a habit of shouting so loud about it that the rest of us can't be heard.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

.... as a newt

In the wee small hours of Saturday morning, the boy stumbled in very much the worse for wear. Again.
Having spent the evening in the company of his young lady friend, doing the standard "ooh, that drink made me feel good, let's have another" thing, he fell into bed about 1am.
Within a couple of minutes, he embarked upon the first of many trips to the bathroom to drive the porcelain truck. So much for a good night's sleep.

It must have been a session of biblical proportions, because he spent the whole of Saturday in bed with nothing but the odd glass of water for sustenance.
We left him to it and took a trip out to the big Garden centre in Cambridge in search of an appropriate gargoyle (don't ask), and I took the opportunity to give the wife's Smart car a long run as it's usually confined to short local trips.
 Having driven it a few times since she got it, I have to say that it really is a fun little car. Okay, so I wouldn't want to swap the the BMW for one, but it really does put a smile on your face as you bob along, metaphorically sticking two fingers up at the 'considerably richer than you' brigade.
The boy was ritually dragged from his festering pit of doom this morning and ordered to shower and have breakfast, but the sum total of his day after that has comprised of sitting in front of the Playstation.
As usual.

As I sit here typing my vague attempt at a blog post, the wife is watching an episode of 'Call the midwife' on the BBC iPlayer, which keeps distracting me with the intermittent appearance of Charlotte Ritchie.
Hardly surprising as she's gorgeous.
The mad thing is that I'll sit through all sorts of programmes if there's a bit of hot totty involved.
I'm such a tart.
'The Crimson Field' was a pretty good drama series, but I wonder if it would have held my attention quite as strongly if it wasn't for the presence of Oona Chaplin and Alice St Clair.

After a week of rest on doctor's orders, my pain has subsided significantly. The chest x-ray results came back normal, so the conclusion is that I'd suffered some sort of torn muscle in the chest wall.
Amazing that the pain was greater than anything I experienced during my shattered knee episode, from something that sounds relatively trivial. The body is a weird thing.
As it turns out, I'd booked this coming week off work too, so by the time I go back I should be over the worst.
After that it's just a matter of being careful not to overdo it.
Easier said than done.