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

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.