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

Lavatorial

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?
Mental.

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.



Monday, 13 March 2017

Medical mystery and a Bavarian moneypit

In the words of Bill & Ted, it has been a most unusual day.
With a day's leave booked, I had two objectives to complete - get the car fixed, and see a doctor.
It shouldn't be too hard. The car was booked in at the local BMW specialist to have a new differential fitted, so I dropped it off at 8:00 before wandering up to Sainsbury's for a cooked breakfast.
I sat looking out the window at the world as I worked my way through sausage, bacon, egg, beans, tomato, toast and coffee. I knew the job on the car wouldn't take long, but I was also aware that the bill would be monumental.
I finished breakfast and walked into town, which was only just waking up, before making my way back to the garage to wait for them to finish the job.
By 11 o'clock I was back home, partly elated because the awful whining noise had disappeared, leaving the car eerily quiet, and partly angry because it doesn't seem right that a diff should be knackered after only 44000 miles, costing me over 1600 pounds, especially on what is supposed to be a premium brand vehicle with a reputation for quality German engineering.
Oh well, c'est la vie. Or should that be 'So ist das leben'?

Time to get an appointment with a doctor then.
I've had pain in the side of my chest for a week now, and as is usual with me I've been trying to ignore it in the hope it would go away.
Unfortunately things seemed to be getting worse so, tired of being nagged, I gave in to the idea that I really ought to do something about it.
So I called the GP's surgery and was told there were no appointments available for two weeks.
This is normal. There seems to be an assumption that everyone has ample warning that they might need a doctor.  However, there's no way I can tolerate this level of pain for a further fortnight, so I impressed upon the receptionist the urgency of my situation. I'm not one of those people who waste a doctor's time - I only resort to seeking one when there's something practically hanging off.
She relented, telling me to call back at 2pm when I would be assessed for triage and shoe-horned in at the end of the day.
I didn't make it that long.

In an effort to kill a bit of time I went out to the wife's car armed with a bottle of polish and a cloth to give it a nice shine-up. Big mistake. Something in the buffing action triggered the most incredible pain in my chest, and it was all I could do to stagger in to the wife and demand she take me to A&E immediately. She was all for calling an ambulance, but I wasn't having any of that.
Although there was a massive waiting time posted at the A&E reception, one look at me convinced them to get me in for checks within twenty minutes.
After exhaustive questioning, an ECG, blood pressure check and a session of poking and prodding which culminated in me virtually hitting the roof as I let out a scream of agony, they still didn't know for sure what was going on.
From there I was sent straight to the GP where I was subjected to further torture, after which the doctor admitted she wasn't sure either. I left with some heavy-duty pain killers and a referral note for a chest x-ray, which I have to make an appointment for tomorrow morning.
In the meantime I'm told to stay off work, rest, and avoid driving.

In summary then, the NHS is so overstretched you now need to plan any illness or injury in advance, codeine isn't man enough to subdue the pain I'm still in, and even though I have the option of chopping the Beemer in for something small, frugal and brand new, I'd rather fork out to have it fixed because it's just so damn good to drive.


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Hard Day's Night

Last weekend saw a concerted effort to start doing something positive about the assorted collections of crap around the house and garden.
You know how it is. There's always one drawer that becomes home to all those little things that don't have a place to live, and if those things are too big for the drawer of shame, there's always the shed or the loft.
Some stuff seems to just accumulate without you realising, such as phone chargers and cables that don't appear to have any practical use other than getting tangled up in the useful ones.
Other things have outlived their usefulness, but you don't want to throw them away because you never know - it might come in handy one day.
The trouble is, if you don't get rid of these things from time to time, you could easily turn into one of those nutters you see on TV documentaries who keep absolutely everything including old packaging, ancient newspapers, mouldy food and even (most disturbingly) bodily fluids.
I don't like clutter at all, and while some people like a 'homely' feel with lots of random frippery scattered around the place, I prefer a more clean and minimalist approach which is hard to achieve with three people living in a small bungalow.

First thing to tackle was the shed. With just a small but eclectic assortment of storage solutions, the space in the shed has never been very well utilised. This was resolved by taking a trip to Machine Mart for some of their 350kg metal shelving units, which I knew were good because we had some at work. A well-timed journey it was too, because just entering Cambridge I spotted a bright green Lamborghini Aventador, followed by an orange Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, a 2-for-1 supercar deal which had my internal ten-year-old boy wetting himself with excitement.
Getting the new units built and set up required the shed to be emptied first, when it soon emerged that not only was there a fair amount of stuff destined for the recycling centre, but that the local population of big hairy spiders has been booming.
A few things, such as a home cinema system, will find themselves on Gumtree in due course, while others have another destination lined up.
Amongst these items is my son's acoustic guitar, bought a few years ago during one of his many bouts of unfounded optimism, which is currently propped up in the bedroom awaiting dispatch.
Last night as I threw aside my clothes before getting into bed, my trousers flicked across the strings, striking a note which sounded just like that first chord of 'Hard Day's Night' by The Beatles, and now that song is firmly wedged in my brain and refuses to budge.
With everything neatly arranged on the new shelving and the old random storage units disposed of, the shed now looks more like there's some sort of order. Time to move on.

The next area to tackle is the loft, with the intention that it should be left empty apart from the water tank.
The loft is currently long term storage for many things. Some of these will be rehoused in alternative locations, like the new shed shelving where they can be accessed without using a ladder, while most will end up at the dump.
Motorbike crash helmets, boxes I kept for things still under warranty, a CRT television and an old PC will be disposed of, while The Vax and the boy's extensive Lego collection will be relocated.
It's a task that requires a certain determination and sense of purpose. It's easy to give in to that little voice that says "No, you can't just throw that away, that cost money" but if you do, you end up drowning in useless shit that doesn't get looked at from one year to the next.

Hell on earth. Never gonna get like that.


Sunday, 26 February 2017

Eat, drink and be merry

Eating out has long been a great pleasure of mine. I realise there are two possible ways of reading that statement, and both are valid, but here I refer to having a meal at a restaurant, cafe, pub or whatever.
Although in the back of your mind you know you could cook dinner at home for a week for the same money as one meal at a restaurant with change to spare, there's something nice about getting yourself tidied up and being waited on for a change. It also makes a change to not have to do the washing up.

Only once have I experienced the whole 'haute cuisine' thing, and an amazing experience it was too.
Although I was initially worried that I'd still be hungry by the end because the servings were so small, but two hours later after I'd seen off five courses, each a taste sensation in its own right with a glass of wine to complement it, I was very glad that we were staying in the hotel where we were eating. We dragged ourselves back to the hotel room stuffed, decidedly squiffy and ready for bed.
The average meal out doesn't come close to this unless you're wealthy, but you don't really expect it to.

The other week we went to a Turkish restaurant in Saffron Walden which was pretty good. As my only previous experience of Turkish cuisine had been a large donor kebab after a couple of pints, I wasn't sure what to expect, but as it turned out it was all very tasty.
Some people get all snobby about Wetherspoons pubs, but I think they're pretty good.
They don't pretend to be anything they're not. You don't go in expecting Michelin star fayre. You go to a Wetherspoons for a plate of down-to-earth food at an affordable price. Where else can you get lasagne with chips, salad and a pint for about six quid?

Some pubs seem to get ideas above their station though.
Yesterday we stopped at a local pub by the river on the way home from Cambridge because we were all hungry but quite frankly couldn't be arsed to cook anything.
The wife tried to be good and only had the omelette, but even that was disappointing - the omelette lacked any sort of finesse and the 'salad' comprised two slices of tomato and a small patch of watercress. My seafood platter was passable, and the boy's gammon steak was rather overdone.
We all decided against dessert because to be honest £5.75 for a slice of lemon meringue pie or similar seemed a bit steep.
What that place provided was ordinary pub grub at restaurant prices. We used to like it there, but we won't be going back. I don't like being ripped off, and judging by the small number of patrons on a Saturday lunchtime, I think word must be getting around.

The cost of dining out is going up and up, so we're more likely to treat ourselves to something nice at home these days. We may have to cook it and do the washing up, but all three of us can have a treat we really like for less than it would be for one meal at a restaurant, especially when you factor in the drinks.
Supermarkets have cottoned on to this and you regularly find some sort of 'meal deal' where you can get two main courses, two desserts and a bottle of wine for a tenner.
If you resent the cost of eating out and you're on a budget, it's a no-brainer.
Obviously it's no substitute for the warm fuzzy feeling you get from a good meal at a restaurant where they actually care about providing good food and service, or even spending a couple of hours in the kitchen preparing something nice yourself, but its value can't be disputed.
We'll still enjoy a meal out from time to time of course, but I think it will become limited to special occasions rather than just on a whim.




Friday, 17 February 2017

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit

As time goes on, I notice things about myself are changing.
I can't work at the pace I used to, I get tired more, I have trouble driving in the dark, especially when it's wet and there's lots of oncoming traffic, and I get out of breath far sooner than I ever used to.
My short term memory is also suffering, and I'm increasingly reliant on little Post-It notes stuck around the place so I don't forget important things.

Another thing I've noticed recently is a reduced attention span, particularly when it's with something I have limited interest in. While a few years ago I might have sat through a mediocre two and a half hour film, now I'll give up and do something else instead. I'd rather watch a couple of half-hour episodes of something than a whole movie.
This attention span issue has also started to interfere with my interactions with other people.
If someone is talking to me (especially if they're just rabbiting on about inconsequential nonsense), after a while I just stop hearing them. I'm still aware that they're talking, but it's as though I've tuned them out to the point where their inane ramblings have been reduced to a background white noise.
Unfortunately there comes a point where some sort of response is appropriate. I sense this and snap back to the moment, but by then I have no idea what they were on about and I have to make some sort of generic non-committal comment and try to catch up when they carry on talking at me.
This happens with some people more than others. Typically, if someone talks in a straightforward manner, making their point clearly, then there's no problem. But if they go into some long-winded shaggy dog story, often darting off at wild tangents, then I just switch off.

Some people don't talk much, and when they do so it's usually short and sweet. No problem. I'm one of those.
Others seem to be incapable of sharing silence and try to fill it with a constant stream of banality that just makes me want to run away to find some peace. Depending on who it is and what the situation is, hiding may not be an appropriate solution, which is when I start to just tune it out.
It used to irritate the hell out of me and I'd end up stressed out and angry because someone just wouldn't shut up.
Now I'm far less likely to have that reaction because I'm more capable of just blocking it out, so in a way it's a sort of psychological defense mechanism.

With the combination of poor attention span, unexplained depression, times when I can't remember what happened in the past few minutes, memory problems and general anxiety, it's hardly surprising that I started to worry that I was showing signs of early onset dementia.
Browsing the NHS website is a very efficient way of convincing yourself that you have all sorts of conditions and diseases and should really be dead by now.
But now it has come to light that I'm not the only one who reacts to certain people who constantly talk about nonsense in this way, so I feel slightly less worried that I'm mentally circling the drain.
I don't much care when I die, but I hope I still have all my marbles when it happens.


Everything in moderation

'Human' by Rag 'n' Bone Man is an excellent song - one of those that grabs you by the ears and won't let go. Granted, someone who only ever listens to classical music or jazz would probably have a different opinion, but for the most part I can't imagine there would be much argument.
However, because it's so good it's suddenly turning up everywhere, like trailers for TV programmes on the BBC, or as backing music.
No doubt this is good publicity for Rory Graham and sales will continue to soar, but it also means that before long everyone will be sick of hearing it, which is a shame.
This always seems to happen when a song is popular. The radio stations play it every hour, it crops up in all sorts of unlikely places, you can't walk into a shop without it blaring from the overhead speakers and even if you initially enjoyed it, it's not long before it's driving you mad.
A classic example of this would be 'I will always love you' by Whitney Houston which you simply couldn't get away from in 1992. The only difference was I hated that awful wailing right from the start, which only made things worse.

Over-saturation is a surefire way of taking the enjoyment out of pretty much anything.
I love a nice piece of rump steak, medium-rare with oyster mushrooms, blue stilton sauce, roast potatoes and broccoli, but if I had it every day I'd soon get fed up.
I remember mum getting frustrated with dad always saying how he loved egg and chips and could eat it every day, so she decided to prove a point and gave him egg and chips every day. I think he lasted about a week before he gave in.


We once went to Alton Towers just before the season opened. The company the wife worked for arranged a day where employees and their families could go and enjoy the park without the crowds of people and the usual massive queues for the rides.
'Oblivion' had just opened the previous year and I was dying to go on it. There were no queues at all and we got straight on. The first ride was immensely exhilarating and the second still took my breath away, but by the fifth time I just felt numb and wanted to move on to something else.
Similarly, Buttertubs Pass in North Yorkshire is a fantastic stretch of road to drive, but I'm sure that after half a dozen runs you'd be ready to try something different.

It's hard to think of anything that wouldn't have the pleasure taken away by overindulgence, with the possible exception of sex, but even then I think I'd occasionally want to read a book instead.
I must be getting old.



Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Note to self

It's very hard to avoid having an opinion on things. Maybe even impossible.
Beliefs such as those to do with religion are usually pretty much set in stone and any attempt to convince someone with a strong belief that they're wrong, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, will only be met by blunt refusal to acknowledge the argument followed by fingers in ears and some out-of-tune singing.

An opinion is rather more flexible, and as time passes I notice this more and more in myself.
Often an opinion is formed on the basis of limited information. You pick up on other people's viewpoints, hear snippets of news articles, get swayed by stereotyping, read a newspaper article, and compile these things into an opinion that makes sense to you.
If subjected to closer scrutiny however, these opinions are often found to be flawed, and sometimes more full of holes than a teabag.

The trouble is we can form opinions on subjects that we don't even have experience of, taking hearsay as truth, and this is where the old "Walk a mile in my shoes" thing emerges.
We can easily make assumptions about people based on what they look like, how they dress, what car they drive, or what job they do. We might see someone in the street in shabby clothes, dragging their heels with their eyes downcast, and immediately assume that they're some n'er-do-well who never made an effort in life, but for all we know they could have just gone through a traumatic experience that has left them emotionally battered.
We don't have all the information, and until we do we don't have any right to judge. But we do anyway.
You see a six and a half foot neanderthal with a shaved head and acres of tattoos, and you immediately cross the road because you feel threatened. This might be justified or it might not, but first impressions generate an opinion, and you make a decision based on the opinion that someone who looks like that is a potential threat and act accordingly.
The thing is, he might be a great guy who by accident of genetics turned out big, shaves his head because he can't be arsed to deal with bed hair in the morning, and happens to like body art.

I've shared a great many opinions on this blog. Some I still hold on to and others have changed.
For example, I've spent plenty of time criticizing tattoos on women.
I still don't like things like this:


To me it's like slapping one of those 'No Fear' stickers on a Ferrari - just wrong.
But I have no problem with subtle things like this:


I've even said that tats on men make them look moronic, and yet last year I got a large rose tattooed on my right upper arm in memory of my mum who died ten years earlier (her name was Rose), and in two weeks I'm getting another tat done.
That opinion got turned around, although there are still plenty of aspects of this whole area that don't appeal, but I no longer make a negative judgement of someone on the basis of them having tattoos.

I still hold on to my belief that we're all entitled to our own opinions, but what I've come to learn is that opinions are subject to change, or at least some flexibility as experience and the information on which they are based alters.
Although I do try to avoid making sweeping generalisations, I also need to exercise caution in expressing strong opinions because when they change you can make yourself look a bit of a fool.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

AA - Agriculture Anonymous

They say the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem, so it's only right that I start this post by saying "Hello, my name's Dave and I'm a tractorholic".
I wouldn't say I have a particularly addictive personality, although I do fight an ongoing battle to keep my alcohol consumption to sensible levels, and least said about JaffaCakes the better.
Apart from music, I've also never been a collector since a brief pre-teen period of stamp collecting.
The trouble with collecting things is the room they take up, but I'm working on a degree in space utililisation and hold a black belt in origami, so the single shelf that I've been assigned to house my agricultural machinery model collection will soon be subjected to some serious folding of space and time.
And not a moment too soon, because it is now as crowded as the M25 on a bank holiday.

So how did this strange and slightly sad state of affairs come to be? It's not as if I grew up on a farm or anything, but on the other hand, living in the Fens does mean farming machinery is as common a sight to me as a cameltoe is to a swimming pool lifeguard.
Let's not forget that most small boys have a fascination with tractors and suchlike, and when you have an engineer's brain there will always be an attraction to pretty much anything mechanical.
Indeed, I remember being awestruck by the vehicles on display when my mum took me to the 'East of England Show' in Peterborough when I was a kid; agog at the monstrous tractors and combine harvesters that would dwarf me now, let alone as a wee ten year-old.
The real culprit behind all this however is the 'Farming Simulator' video games.
I've been a lifelong gamer, but while the 'Call of Duty' and 'Far Cry' franchises may have reasonable longevity, eventually I always got bored and wanted something new to get frustrated with and swear at.
The recent 'Farming Simulator' offerings from Giants Software have been different.
There's no raised blood pressure, no frustration, and to the wife's relief no swearing or gunfire either.
If anything it has become my own sort of meditation, and I can happily lose several hours at a time immersed in a world of crops, animals and forestry. There's also still no sign of getting tired of it.

Since getting into this I've found myself on the road to becoming a fully fledged farming anorak - more excited by the sight of a Case International Quadtrac than a Lamborghini Murcielago.
The collecting of 1:32 scale diecast models is simply the latest symptom of my affliction, and although the shelf is now unable to accomodate additional similar models, I suspect it may be possible to fit a few smaller scale ones in the gaps.
In the meantime, I'm going to investigate whether the companies that sell experience days like driving a Ferrari have anything that involves dragging a cultivator up and down a field with a 300hp New Holland.
Or is that just feeding the addiction?


Friday, 3 February 2017

The big grey

During the summer when it's so hot that all I want to do is sit in the fridge with the beer, I dream of the cool temperatures of winter. It's easy enough to get warmer by putting a jumper on, but there's only so much clothing you can remove in an effort to cool down before it becomes socially unacceptable.
The trouble is there's so much more to winter than being able to stay at a sensible temperature, and just about every other aspect of it sucks.

While various members of the animal kingdom are hibernating or generally keeping their head down, we carry on regardless. We have jobs to do and bills to pay, so life carries on as normal.
Or does it?
There's no doubt that winter has a negative effect on us, and I'm sure I can't be the only one that feels like I'm just going through the motions on autopilot until the trees start turning green again.
Commuting in the dark at both ends of the day with barely a glimmer of sunlight between is soul destroying, and as soon as the weekend comes and you wash the thick layer of grime off the car it just gets replaced with a fresh coat the next time you go out.
Everywhere is muddy, wet, and washed-out looking, as if someone has turned down the colour with the TV remote.
You look out the window and all you can see is a vast expanse of greyness, so it's hardly surprising that so many of us find just making it through the week a bit like wading through treacle, as the oppressiveness does its best to crush you.

John Gray mentioned in his blog 'Going Gently' yesterday about the low volume of blog posts around at the moment, so perhaps one of the effects of winter is that it saps creative thinking.
I know I've had a distinct lack of inspiration of late, which is reflected in my recent lack of posts.
Trying to garner any level of enthusiasm at this time of year is an uphill struggle, which is possibly the only valid reason for things like Christmas, because without that one thing to look forward to, people might go a little bit insane.
Perhaps I should make something more of the winter solstice - an un-christmas celebration of the impending return of spring and longer brighter days. Now that's something to celebrate.

So in summary, winter is gloomy, depressing, suffocates creativity, makes the car dirty, costs a small fortune in screen wash for the car and electricity for the tumble dryer, and makes your boots get all muddy.
So I'm just going to wait it out as best I can, secure in the knowledge that eventually I'll be commuting in daylight once again, the snowdrops and daffodils will be in bloom, and the pigeons will start shagging each other senseless in the neighbour's trees.
Spring will arrive, bringing with it a welcome burst of colour and the need to push the lawnmower around at weekly intervals, then before we know it summer will arrive when I can start my yearly grumble about the heat.


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

More wheat, less chaff

It's been said that TV series boxsets are now more popular than movies.
This comes as no surprise, because as popularity has increased, so has both quality and quantity in general.
That's not to say it's all good news (there's plenty of garbage out there) but chances are anyone will be able to find several series that appeal to them, providing ample opportunities for sitting on the sofa with a bottle of wine and a tube of Pringles for a good old binge watching session.
Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Orange Is The New Black, Luke Cage, House MD..... hour after hour of quality entertainment that makes you wonder what the hell the movie industry is up to as it continues to churn out an endless stream of mediocrity.

For a while I thought my attention span was suffering from a catastrophic death spiral, but I've come to realise it's a combination of the generally lamentable quality of today's films and me being increasingly fussy.
If a movie doesn't grab my attention in some way within the first fifteen minutes, it doesn't look good. If I'm still not interested after the first half hour, I'll go and do something else rather than waste a further ninety minutes being bored on the off-chance it might get better. If it fails the 'half-hour-rule' then that's that.
Last night I picked a film on Netflix called 'Clinical', which sounded like it was worth a shot.
It survived the half-hour rule, but although it was mostly OK, it took a nose-dive about three quarters of the way through and by the end I wished I hadn't bothered after all.
This sort of experience has become so common that it's almost surprising when I watch a film that actually turns out to be good.

At the weekend we watched 'Hunt For The Wilderpeople' starring Sam Neill.
I admit I was sceptical beforehand, suspicious it was going to be one of those films that sort of wanders along aimlessly and ends up leaving you wondering what it was supposed to be about, but the wife was keen to see it and there wasn't much else to do so I gave it a go.
As it turned out, it was well worth it. I won't do any spoilers here, but if you want a well-acted film that's all about the story and the characters rather than big explosions and millions of pounds worth of green-screen computer graphics, then I'd highly recommend it.
As modern films go, it sits like a diamond in the rough, and I wonder if there are more films out there of this quality that I'm missing out on just because all the publicity gets focused on all the CGI blockbuster nonsense.
We only heard of 'Hunt For The Wilderpeople' because Sam Neill was talking about it as a guest on the Graham Norton show a while ago.

It's for the same reason that I'll often pick a classic film rather than a new release.
I'm bored of over-the-top movies that are just an endless barrage of special effects - I want something with a decent story and proper acting; not just gunfights, car chases, steroid-enhanced heroes and pathetic screaming women.
'Rear Window', 'White Heat', 'Roman Holiday', 'Some Like It Hot', 'To Kill a Mockingbird' - great films.
'Guardians of the Galaxy', 'Fast and Furious 6' - utter crap.
It's not as though I'm an old fart who grew up in the days when Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn were the current film stars and constantly wander around saying "It was much better back in my day!".
I'm 45 and grew up on a diet of 'Knight Rider', 'Airwolf', and an endless list of cheesy 80's action movies, so each of these classic black and white films is a whole new discovery. OK, so they're not all great, but at least they're an entertaining alternative; rather like only ever having listened to bands like Metallica and Judas Priest, then suddenly discovering Supertramp.

'Hunt For The Wilderpeople' can therefore be archived on the same shelf as films like 'Amelie', and 'Breakfast At Tiffany's' while I go on a quest to find some more modern films that feel like uplifting entertainment rather than physical assault.


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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