Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Creativity equals happiness

I noticed recently that our chopping board is getting a bit past its prime and could do with replacing.
Now I could pop into Dunelm or Wilkinsons and pick up another plastic one for a fiver, but figured it would be nice to have a good quality hardwood one instead.
A quick perusal of the John Lewis website proved that to get the sort of thing I was after would set me back about a hundred pounds, and although I don't mind paying for quality products I'm not a fan of being ripped off.
Time to change the thought process. Why buy what I can make?

A quick look in the scrap wood pile in the workshop turned up a couple of legs from a table that had been surplus to requirements about ten years ago, and had been sitting in the 'might come in handy one day' section ever since.
Table legs may not sound very glamorous, but the frame of the donor table was sturdily constructed from solid mahogany and was therefore perfect for the job.
I cut each leg along its length, and sanded the edges perfectly flat before gluing the pieces together to form a sheet, leaving them clamped together overnight.


This morning I milled it flat, cut the moisture trap and sanded it smooth, carefully shaping the edges.
When I got it home this evening I spent a few minutes oiling it to protect it, and I have to say I'm really pleased with the result.
A lovely mahogany chopping board and it cost me nothing more than a couple of hours effort. Bargain!


These days it's so easy to buy whatever we want, but sometimes it's so much more satisfying to make things yourself provided you have the ability.
OK, the chopping board would have taken far longer if I didn't have access to a milling machine, but it wouldn't have been too hard.

Upcycling has become somewhat trendy amongst the new-age ecomentalists, but it must be said that the sandal-wearing brigade kinda have a valid point in an age where so much is wasted and the concept of 'make do and mend' is becoming a thing of the past.
Many things are manufactured with the intention of them being thrown away and replaced with a new one if they go wrong, but I'll often have a bash at repairing stuff that breaks before resorting to replacement. Even if new parts have to be sourced it's usually better than forking out large sums of money for a total replacement.

The laptop I'm typing this blog post on went sick a couple of weeks ago when the little circuit board with the power button got irreparably damaged while dismantling it for a hard drive change.
After looking around and finding that it was going to cost around 600 quid for a similar machine new, I found a replacement switch module on Ebay for a tenner.
It turned up two days later whereupon I fitted it, rebuilt the machine, carried out a fresh installation of Linux, and here we are.

So where possible fix, make do, or simply make it yourself.
Even if you're not forced to financially, it's still an immensely rewarding thing to do and it'll make you far happier than staring at the television!

Monday, 1 January 2018

Same shit? Make it different.

Happy new year. Or is it?
2017 was quite frankly a bit shit, what with the Brexit pandemonium, Trump becoming president, North Korea doing its best to provoke WW3, and my dad dying.
We work on the assumption that when a new year comes around, things might get better, but by now experience should tell us that the only thing that ever changes is the calendar hanging up in the kitchen.
Sound depressing? Of course it does, but each year we continue to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning and carry on as normal, hoping in the face of all the evidence to the contrary that one day the world might become a better place.

And yet, although it's only January 1st, the news headlines are already full of people being stabbed at new year celebrations, a family dying in a seaplane crash, the body of a murdered woman being discovered in Finsbury Park, and a huge blaze in a Liverpool car park which destroyed 1400 cars.
Yeah. Happy new year.

So what can we expect to look forward to in the coming twelve months?
One thing we can guarantee is that the relentless media assault on the subject of Brexit will continue unabated, with my only real question being should we now refer to the process as 'Brexit Lite' or 'Diet Brexit'?
I have little or no interest in politics so I hesitate to put forward my poorly formed opinions (especially as I lost many readers and all my +1's when I dared have a dig at religion a while ago), but it seems that the main reasons Joe Public voted to leave the EU - immigration and being told what to do by Brussels - have since become more watered down than a nightclub beer while we've been distracted by the sort of bullshit that suggests the economy (which the average person didn't really give a toss about when it came to the vote) will be sent straight back to the days of bartering.
Despite all the politicians running around like headless chickens, what's really changed so far? Nothing, that's what. Life goes on as normal.

What else can we look forward to?
Well, presumably there will be a royal wedding which will no doubt boost the income of everyone who manufactures tasteless commemorative shite for a living.
Prince Harry is to marry some actress nobody has ever heard of, so naturally the media will have a field day whipping the nation into a frenzy.
I don't generally have much time for the royal family, but Princes William and Harry have my respect because they seem somehow more real than other royals who don't appear to do anything apart from play with horses or be offensive to foreigners. William has served as a rescue helicopter pilot, Harry served in the military, and they both get involved in activities for the good of others - perhaps influenced by their mother.
They're both good eggs in my book and I wish them well, but I won't be caught up in the inevitable hype that will be built up as Harry's big day approaches.

Otherwise it's just a case of whatever happens - same as it always is.
I'm not one for celebrating anything (except maybe birthdays other than my own), and the annual changing of the calendar is no exception.
But despite my general negativity and the absolute certainty that crappy things will continue to happen in the world, I'm still able to carry on with my head held high, safe in the knowledge that I and countless others like me will make every possible effort to make my interactions with other people positive ones.

If I can make someone's day better by being helpful or just plain nice, then I've achieved something.
It doesn't take much. Smile and say thank-you when you're buying your morning coffee - even if the barista looks grumpy, bear in mind they might be having a shitty day dealing with rude customers, but you could turn that around by being nice.
Engage the person on the supermarket checkout in conversation while you're packing your bag - it might be the only decent interaction they experience in a long and boring shift.
Making people feel appreciated for their efforts is important, even if they are 'just doing their job' (a frequent and totally invalid excuse for being rude) because nobody wants to be made to feel worthless.
Use your talents for the benefit of others - and not just because you're being paid to, but because it's the right thing to do.

The world won't become a better place because it's a new year or because it's a nice fantasy that it could be so, but it could be better for someone, even if only for a little while, if we choose our words and actions wisely.
Maybe then we can all give someone a genuinely happy new year.


Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Biscuity goodness

I don't normally watch TV programmes on commercial channels because the adverts are too damn annoying, but I made an exception last night for Channel 5's 'Britain's Favourite Biscuit'.
I think it's fair to say that many of us have a sort of guilty love affair with biscuits.
We know they're not good for us, filling us up with empty calories, but they're such an easy and rewarding indulgence it's hard to not get carried away.

Leaving aside the ridiculous amount of padding that saw the run time inflated to one and a half hours, the programme did raise a couple of highly contentious biscuit-related issues.
First, let's examine dunking. This is probably the biggest debate amongst biscuit enthusiasts - to dunk or not to dunk.
Personally, I sit firmly in the no dunking camp. I just don't get it. I don't want a soggy biscuit and I don't want bits of dead biscuit lurking in the bottom of my cup. Biscuit makers go to great lengths to get their product just as it should be, so why ruin all that hard work?
Everyone knows about the stereotypical British obsession with tea, and for many people tea and biscuits are inextricably linked.
I love tea, and I also love biscuits, but I don't want them to meet each other until they reach my stomach.

Brief mention was made of this recent fad of 'thin' versions of various biscuits, and everyone seems to share the same opinion. Why? You're just going to eat twice as many so any ideas the manufacturers might have about people still taking their usual three biscuits (or whatever) from the barrel are completely misguided.
It won't do anything to reduce your biscuit intake, because once you've opened the packet you're not going to stop until the guilt outweighs the desire to eat another one. Or until you've run out of biscuits.

The biggest issue raised was that age old argument surrounding Jaffa Cakes. Is it a biscuit or is it a cake?
Well, here's a clue - what's it called? IT'S A F**KING CAKE, PEOPLE!!
McVities even took the case to court to get them defined as cakes FFS!
So although I have an unhealthy adoration of Jaffa Cakes, they are definitely not biscuits. The end.

The list of the top ten biscuits as voted for by the British public didn't contain any surprises.
All the usual favourites made an appearance, like Hob Nobs, Custard Creams, Jammie Dodgers, Ginger Nuts etc, but when it came down to it there could only be one winner, which turned out to be that classic, the Chocolate Digestive.
Good choice.
A very good choice indeed, but also wrong.
The best biscuits on the shelves of our supermarkets today have to be McVities Digestive Caramels - chocolate digestives with a layer of caramel lurking stealthily under the chocolate coating, like a taste ninja ready to pounce on your taste buds.
And no, I'll accept no arguments against this - especially from anyone who actually believes 'Rich Tea' is an acceptable choice of biscuit.


Sunday, 17 December 2017

Pleasantries

It is generally taken as read that when someone says "How are you?", the only acceptable responses are along the lines of "Fine, thanks" or "Not bad" or if you're feeling particularly adventurous you might try your luck with "Can't complain. Mind you, no bugger listens if you do....".
It's one of those strange social phenomena - a question that doesn't really require an answer.
Of course, there's always someone who doesn't quite get this, and if asked the above question will proceed to tell you the gory details of their current medical or mental state, leaving you staring wildly around, looking for the nearest escape route rather than coming straight out with "Dude, it's just a pleasantry. I don't actually give a toss, I was just being polite."
When you go to see a doctor, they won't say "How are you?", they'll ask "What can I do for you today?" because they understand distinction between the two questions and that if you really were 'fine' then you wouldn't be there in the first place.

Where did such things originate from? If we happen to find ourselves in the company of some acquaintance or other but don't really have anything to talk about, why do we feel the need to avoid an uncomfortable silence by filling it with casual chit-chat that doesn't really mean anything?
What's wrong with a straightforward "Morning..." and leaving it at that? Why pretend to be interested in someone else's wellbeing when you know there's a 95 percent probability that they'll say "Fine", followed by "And you?" to which your painstakingly researched and thought-provoking response will also be "Fine"?
Unless of course you're American, in which case feel free to substitute the word 'Good'.

In the same way we learn the order of the letters of the alphabet, we learn which prescribed responses are paired with which questions.
When asked "Did you have a good holiday?" you must on no account launch into a diatribe about the pounding bass from the nightclub round the corner from the hotel that went on until 5AM and the puddles of blood and vomit being pressure-washed from the pavement every morning, but instead play according to the rules which state you must simply say "Oh, we had a lovely time, thanks".
In essence, the rule is that if you're asked a generic question where a standard reply is clearly expected, that reply must be a positive one because nobody is really interested in your tale of woe, and if they were, they wouldn't be asking you about it as you pass each other at the lavatory door at work.

The good thing about this ritual is that most people do get it. When we take part we're seen as being polite and friendly, passing the time of day with each other and generally being a nice person.
It's like talking without actually saying anything. We might not have much to say, but we've acknowledged each other and fulfilled our civic duty in not being an arse to each other, and we can go about our day knowing that we've done our bit.
If we didn't make use of these little pleasantries, I wonder how much we'd actually end up saying to each other....



Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Any old iron

It used to be very easy to run a car on a shoestring budget.
Back in the late eighties when I first set foot on the motoring treadmill, I owned a truly woeful succession of cars. These were all bought on the sole basis that they were very cheap, and the trouble with very cheap cars is that they frequently need fixing.
This was in the days when you'd open the bonnet and see a nice simple engine with plenty of access space around everything, compared to today's cars where you find a big plastic cover under which it looks as if everything has been vacuum-packed in order to fit the greatest quantity of assorted automotive jumble into the smallest possible space.
As a result you now have to dismantle half the car to reach ordinary service components while plugging it in to a phenomenally expensive computer to interrogate its brain.

DIY car mechanics is definitely on the wane, which as an engineer I consider to be a great shame because fixing your car was always a good way of bonding with it. A bit like the difference between a casual acquaintance with whom you share polite but inane chit-chat about the weather, and someone you share a deep and personal relationship with.
This was handy back in the day, because the cars I had did need regular attention.
I owned the tools anyway, my labour was free and parts were thankfully inexpensive, so many weekends were spent changing head gaskets, grinding in valves, stripping and cleaning carburettors, replacing wheel bearings and so on, just to keep some rusty piece of crap safe and functional so I could get to work during the week and explore the country roads with typical youthful exuberance at the weekend.
Main dealers weren't too bad for parts, there were lots of motor factors around selling pattern parts for around half the price of genuine ones, and if things were really tight then it would mean a visit to the breakers yard.

The breakers yard was like a cross between a toy shop and a zoo. All those wonderful parts at your fingertips creating fantasies of taking the V8 out of an old Rover and grafting it into something highly unsuitable to make a sleeper, while gazing sadly at the rusted shell of an old Jaguar, wondering if some careful panel beating and a large bottle of T-Cut would bring it back from the dead.
I remember one particular scrapyard that had a huge section full of American cars because of the US airbases in the area, and we'd make a special trip to look at end-of-life Mustangs and Trans-Ams like some sort of low-rent classic car show, while looking in disgust at the awful seventies offerings designed by someone with a fetish for straight lines, including interiors that appeared to be built from a random assortment of packing cases nailed together and wrapped in beige vinyl.

You could walk into the breakers and say to the bloke "I'm after a headlight and a distributor for a Mk3 Escort", and he'd point casually into the distance with a mumbled "Fords are over there", leaving you to saunter along with a bag of tools to remove the parts you needed (while discretely filling your pockets with random switches, bulbs and fuses). You'd drop into the office (usually nothing more than a shed with a fan heater and a selection of out-of-date girly calendars) with the parts you'd rescued and the bloke would take a quick glance and say "call it fifteen quid mate" and you'd be all sorted.

This kind of scrappy has long since disappeared, thanks to the overenthusiastic intrusion of Health and Safety, and the scrapyards have reinvented themselves as 'auto recyclers' who no longer allow you to wander around the yard in case you sue the company for allowing you to get dirty.
Now they've gone upmarket and taken the fun out of it, they seem to think it's OK to charge almost as much for second-hand parts as it would cost to buy genuine new parts from a main dealer, so unless you have a very unusual car that needs a part that's hard to find or perhaps need a complete engine, it's hard to imagine why anyone would bother. Apparently this is progress......




Sunday, 26 November 2017

It's rally season

Winter is coming.
Well, given that it's about 2 degrees celsius when I leave the house in the mornings, I'd say it's here already.
When I set off for work it's dark, cold and damp, and even the main roads resemble the Welsh stages of the World Rally Championship thanks to the proliferation of tractors carrying crops from the muddy fields to wherever it is they go that provides the halfway house between the soil and the supermarket shelves. Probably halfway round the world and back because it's cheaper to do that and pay poverty-stricken third world people to wash and bag parsnips than pay a British worker minimum wage to do it here.... So wrong.
On the way home at night, particularly when it's wet (which is more or less all the time) it's almost impossible to tell where the road ends and the verge begins, so the best you can hope for is that the tail lights you're following won't lead you into a ditch.

That won't be a problem this evening because as I sit here full of dinner and enjoying the effects of a substantial amount of vodka, I know I'm definitely over the drink/drive limit and not safe to go to Tesco for the large bag of Haribo Starmix that I'm currently craving. The fact that they close at 4pm on Sunday helps dissuade me too, so instead I've had to settle for a couple of Mr Kipling mince pies offered by the boy from his private stash. Sober me would have declined, but drunk me felt that to do so would be rude.

I regularly bitch about the hot weather in the summer because I simply can't function if it gets above about 25 celsius (although we were lucky enough to get away with only a couple of weeks of unbearable temperatures this year) so I find winter infinitely preferable because you can always get warmer by adding more clothes.
The other benefit is that you feel less guilty about hibernating.
Winter brings with it a desire to curl up in front of a roaring fire in a leather wing-back chair with a glass of single malt and a good book. Maybe a pipe and a pair of fluffy slippers too.
It almost seems like an insult to be required to leave the house for something as annoying as work, but needs must....
In short, winter turns me into a cross between Rowley Birkin QC and Father Jack Hackett. Who says I lack ambition?


Rowley Birkin QC (Paul Whitehouse)

Monday, 13 November 2017

It's started already

The forecast for yesterday looked acceptable, 10 degrees and sunny, so we went off to the coast for the day, anticipating a good long walk in the fresh air.
If nothing else, it would get us out of the house and provide me with an excuse to get a few more miles under my belt in the new car.
What we hadn't accounted for was the high winds that took your breath away and made it feel more like about 2 degrees. We fought a brave battle, but after taking shelter for a spot of lunch the only thing to do was fight our way back to the car and head home, somewhat weather-beaten.



However familiar and comfortable Hunstanton may be, it's no fun when it's like that.
On the other hand it did give us a bit of a reprieve from the persistent advertising campaigns for THAT time of year which are already building to fever pitch.
From billboards outside restaurants kindly letting us know that we need to hurry up and book a Christmas dinner, to every other TV advert pointing out that we can have a new sofa in time for the 'big day' if we pull our finger out and hand over a large sum of money to SCS, everyone with something to sell, no matter how irrelevant to the festive period, is desperately trying to empty your wallet for the sake of one day of overindulgence and bickering.
It's not even the middle of November yet, FFS!!

It is possible to cut yourself off from much of it - sticking to Netflix and DVDs for visual entertainment is a good start - but it becomes far more difficult when you inevitably leave the house and venture out into the world where it's all shoved down your throat at every opportunity.
I give it two weeks and you won't be able to go into a supermarket without being assaulted by shitty Christmas music being blasted out of the PA system (except for Waitrose of course - they usually have more taste than that) and you won't be able to find what you want because the proper food is hidden behind battlements of Quality Street.
What really galls me is all the soft-focus imagery of happy families spending quality time together, gleefully unwrapping gifts that are exactly what they wanted with hugs and kisses of appreciation all round, before mum comes out of the kitchen without a trace of sweat or frustration, carrying a turkey big enough to feed the entire street. And of course it's always snowing outside.
As if....

Still, as irritating or even downright nauseating as the Christmas adverts might be, even someone as anti-Christmas as me has to admit that some of the ordinary adverts are even worse.
Sometimes, when I can't be arsed to scroll through the Netflix menu in search of something to watch, I might resort to normal TV. There might be something worth a look that isn't on BBC like 'Bake-off' or 'Grand Designs', in which case I end up subjected to adverts, with my thumb constantly hovering over the mute button.
The 'Compare the Market' meerkats have outstayed their welcome even though they were funny once upon a time, but they can't hold a candle to the 'Go Compare' bastard who I thought had vanished but seems to have returned with a vengeance. Where's a sniper when you need one?
However, the prize for worst adverts ever has to go to 'Muller Rice'.
Honestly, what the fuck does a dancing bear have to do with rice pudding? I'm very surprised that the latest one hasn't been pulled for being offensive as the shitty dancing bears now seem to be doing awful stereotypical impressions of Jamaicans and black rappers. How the hell that got past the political correctness police I've no idea.
The world has definitely gone mad.









Saturday, 23 September 2017

Great chieftain o' the pudding-race

It appears my last post was not well received - I forgot the golden rule about not discussing politics or religion and it sort of bit me in the arse, so I'll try to keep such opinions to myself in future.
Instead I'll probably offend different sorts of people by sharing my experiences over the past few days, as the wife and I have just returned from Scotland.
Note that I don't have anything negative to say about Scotland or its people, so don't click the 'back' button just yet.

We've wanted to go to Scotland for a very long time, but as I've never fancied driving that far, we needed to find an alternative.
Now hindsight is a wonderful gift, and if I'd been lucky enough to posess it I would have taken a plane to Inverness and hired a car, but instead we opted to take the old fart's option of a coach tour.
On the face of it, the idea was sound.
We'd be picked up from the front door by taxi and taken to the coach depot from where we'd embark upon our journey. We were to leave on Sunday, returning on Friday with each day in Scotland involving trips to places of varying interest.
We knew that we'd likely be the youngest people on the trip (as is the nature of such things), but as everyone assembled to get onto the coach we realised we may have underestimated our problems.

People watching is always good entertainment, and the wife and I have a habit of giving certain people special names. Partly because it's fun, and partly because we're too unsociable to bother finding out their real names.
During the few days we were together we referred to the most sprightly of the bunch, a 70-something Londoner with a mouth that operated in a different time zone to her brain, 'Babs' (after Barbara Windsor), and I'll let you draw your own conclusions about 'Jabba the Hutt's big sister'.
Then we had 'Young Mr Grace', which will only make sense if you're familiar with the seventies British sitcom 'Are you being served?', 'Silent Bob', and 'Queenie & Phil'.

After the first hour or so of travel it was announced that they'd be playing some music from time to time to keep us entertained. Oh bollocks.
I was so glad I'd had the presence of mind to take my headphones and load up my phone with music, because it was torture to be aurally assaulted by James Last and his orchestra and assorted other old-person shite.
The first day involved a couple of stops en-route including Barnard Castle before reaching our halfway hotel midway between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, where we'd spend the night.
It was fortunate we were only staying one night at the halfway point because the hotel was crap.
The room was tiny with a bathroom so miniscule there wasn't even enough space for the wash basin which was out in the main room instead, and the bed was fitted with the obligatory granite mattress.
There was a rat's maze of corridors (all of which smelled of cabbage) to get to the room, the ageing decor was cunningly disguised by dim lighting, the floors moved around under your feet, and the food was mediocre. Otherwise lovely....
This was also the first time witnessing first hand one of the big drains on the NHS, as at meal times most of the oldies started popping pills faster than teenage partygoers at an all-night rave.

Day two saw us cross the border into Scotland.
Initially the landscape was like a button-back sofa, with rolling hills spoiled only by random clusters of wind turbines, interspersed with areas of post-apocalyptic desolation.
Once north of Glasgow the nasty bits gradually disappeared and the whole scene became like the best bits of the Lake District turned up to 11.
It really hit me when we found ourselves driving alongside Lock Lubnaig, and the sheer beauty of the scene moved me almost to tears; so frustrating that after all the dull places the coach had stopped up to then, we didn't stop here to be able to properly enjoy such a breathtaking view.

Arriving at our hotel in Crianlarich, within the Trossachs national park, we settled ourselves into a room that although not brilliant was significantly better than the first one. The shower was crap, requiring the user to run around in order to get wet, the extractor fan outlet from the kitchens was quite near the window, and there seemed to be a herd of elephants in the room directly above.
However, everything was clean and tidy and the young couple running the hotel actually cared about their guests, which was nice.

Scotch in Scotland. It would be rude not to.

The next morning we went for a walk to stretch our legs before we were due to depart for our excursion. We found a little path leading down to the river where spider webs glistened with dew and mist hung in bands around the mountains and over the water.
Ben More had a bright halo around its peak as the rising sun illuminated the mist from behind, eventually breaking through and bathing the area in sunlight and shadows. Quiet, serene, beautiful.
This is what we'd come here for.

Sun rising above Ben More

Our excursion saw us take the train to Oban on the west coast. The views from the train were spectacular as we wound our way through the countryside and once again we felt the draw of nature, desperately wanting to be out there, being part of it all rather than gazing longingly at it through a window.
On our arrival in Oban we made the steep climb up to McCaig's tower which overlooks the town and offers views across to the Isle of Mull, as well as apparently being a favourite hangout for the world's laziest cat.
World's laziest cat at McCaig's tower

View south-west from McCaig's tower

Subsequent days took us to places like Killin at the south end of Loch Tay, with some rather attractive rapids, and Aberfeldy where we went for a walk in the woods during a lunch stop and saw our first red squirrel.
We also visited a distillery. They said in the brochure that this was where 'Famous Grouse' comes from. As someone who enjoys good whisky, this was very disappointing because to me 'Famous Grouse' is cheap nasty blended shite that I'd only buy if it was to use in cooking or something - certainly not to sit and drink.
As it turned out, the Glenturret Distillery is a small-batch distillery which is only associated with Famous Grouse in that one of their single malts is a small ingredient of it.
We were taken round the various stages of the process, and as a whisky lover it was fascinating to learn so much more about it.
We finished up with a lesson on tasting whisky, first with Famous Grouse, which further confirmed my opinion of it, then with Glenturret Peated single malt which was so amazing I had to buy a bottle there and then - they only sell it at the distillery and a select few specialist shops.

Wet stuff at Killin

Another excursion took us to the Ben Cruachan power station - a hydroelectric power station built inside the mountain which has a natural reservoir at the top.
It's a 440 megawatt, four turbine rapid response station which copes with the surges in demand like everyone putting the kettle on when a party political broadcast comes on the telly.
When there's little demand and the rate is cheap (at night) the generators are run as motors and the turbines act like pumps, drawing water from the outlet in Loch Awe, back up to the reservoir 1200 feet above.
Very interesting to an engineer such as myself, but the experience was diluted by the interference of Health & Safety which meant that we only got to see a couple of sanitised touristy bits of the system rather than the really exciting parts.

By the time Friday came around we were more than ready to come home.
Don't get me wrong, Scotland is amazing but it would have been better to explore on our own terms.
A coach trip is a perfectly good way to experience this sort of thing, provided you're old enough to get overexcited if someone offers you a chocolate Digestive biscuit rather than a Rich Tea, and enjoy being bombarded with dreadful old-person music and the incessant historical waffle from a tour guide with industrial strength halitosis.
We stopped at Gretna Green on the way back, and never have I seen such a shameless cash-in.
Every kind of useless tourist-grabbing tat is packed into one small place, all of it extortionately expensive, but because of the history of the place and the inclusion of a big car and coach park, there's an endless stream of the old and putrid looking like extras from 'The Walking Dead' and the morbidly obese waddling from side to side like emperor penguins, ready to hand over their cash in return for a pointless trinket with a bit of tartan glued on.
The whole place is an example of everything that's wrong with the world.
As we went further south, the landscape became progressively flatter until we reached the snooker table that is Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire and the scenery was once again two-dimensional, devoid of lumpy bits to break up the tedium.

One final observation over the past few days is the behaviour of some of the crumblies, who seemed to feel entitled to steal everything they could from the breakfast bar at the hotel.
A huge breakfast was served every day, with all sorts of cold and hot things to choose from.
This clearly wasn't enough for some. There were jugs of fruit juice for people to take a glass of it to their table, but I watched one woman approach the juice furtively, take a half-litre travel mug out of her bag and fill it with juice from the jugs before tucking it away again.
Others swiped every portion of jam and honey from the table and stuffed them into their pockets along with pots of yogurt, pain au chocolate and basically anything that wasn't nailed down.
I wonder if any cutlery went missing too?
These aren't poor people - at almost 600 pounds each for the trip they can't be - so why do they feel the need to grab all this stuff they don't need?
These people are so tight they squeak when they walk.

As I said, Scotland is fantastic and the people are great, but if we return to explore further we'll do it another way.
The holiday was well organised, the driver was skillful, the host friendly and courteous, and the whole thing ran like clockwork.
However, coach holidays have a reputation for being for old folk and I saw nothing to counter that preconception, so if you're not at least drawing your state pension I suggest you look elsewhere.
Oh, and by the way - genuine Scottish haggis is way better than the stuff we get in the supermarkets in England!

Fantastic scenery in Glencoe


Saturday, 9 September 2017

The aliens are already here


Lately I've been pondering those eternal questions such as "Why are we here?", "Where did we come from?" and "How did fidget spinners become popular?".
Pointless toys aside, my musings took me along some rather odd and disturbing paths which I've decided to share.

According to the Bible, God created man in his own image. If this is true, God had a penis which would be silly if there was no Goddess to share it with (after all, what's the point of a plug without a socket?), so either man was not created in God's image after all or there is more than one God.
The Bible tells us that God created the first man, Adam, and then made a female companion for him using one of his ribs.
This means that Eve was basically a genetically engineered clone of Adam with a bit of the code rewritten to change male to female, so any intercourse between Adam and Eve was technically masturbation.
Needless to say, they didn't care because there was nobody else around to judge them.
So once Adam and Eve got bored of exploring the garden of Eden and figured out why they were different under their fig leaves, they set about creating the human race. If all people really came from this origin, then the following generations (for a while at least) would be the offspring of brothers and sisters.
Interesting. So right from the start we have cloning, masturbation and incest, three things the church has pretty strong views on.
Yet another case of the church effectively saying "Do as I say, not as I do".

So as it seems pretty clear that religion cannot be taken seriously, what of the more scientific explanation of where we came from?
Darwin's theory of evolution clearly holds more water, but there's still something about it that bothers me.
If man evolved from apes, why do we still have apes?
And why is it that all other species on the planet live their lives by a preset system of behaviour (eat, sleep, reproduce) without questioning their existence or trying to improve their situation in any way, while humans on the other hand have developed machines, technology, advanced materials, surgery and Pumpkin Spiced Baileys.
Why are we so different from all other life on Earth?
We simply don't belong here, and I may have come up with the reason why.

65 million years ago the dinosaurs were wiped out when a huge meteor crashed into Earth just off the coast of Mexico, with the fallout spreading around the globe.
So just suppose that meteor contained microscopic life forms that originated in another part of the universe, and when they crashed their big rock into Earth they got carried around the world with all the other debris.
Over the next 62 million years, they dragged themselves out of the primordial soup to follow Darwin's theory of evolution, eventually becoming homo sapiens just under 3 million years ago, alongside all the planet's indigenous species.
The subtle physical differences between people of different nations can be accounted for by evolutionary differences caused by environment and climate.
Therefore, humans are nothing more than a virus, gradually destroying the planet.
It appears we've become very good at it, too.

OK, so this is a pretty wacky theory, but surely no more so than that proposed by religion?
To me religion is just a leftover from the days when nobody had figured out the science and were desperate for any sort of explanation for why we were here.
A bunch of con merchants came up with a story to feed the gullible minds of the uneducated masses and the rest is a history full of bloodshed and disharmony caused by factions with slightly differing doctrines insisting that "My God's better than your God and I'm going to kill you to prove I'm right".
How lovely. 
Humans being aliens from another planet sounds a much better theory .


Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Back in black

I think it's fair to say that many of my recent posts have been a bit self-indulgent, so having had a bit of time out to reflect on my reasons for doing this blog, I figured I'd try to revert back to my observations of the world around me.
This isn't always easy either, because not everything that gives me pause for thought can be stretched out to fill a few paragraphs.
For example, this morning I was followed most of the way to work by a little Hyundai i10, behind the wheel of which was wedged a man so vast his chin had its own beer belly. It was a ludicrous sight which I suppose could possibly be the basis of a discussion about inappropriate choices of car that some people make, or perhaps the lack of self-respect of someone who lets themselves get that big.
However, until I've had time to ponder these points at greater length, I'm never going to get enough mileage out of them to make it worthwhile.

Instead, I'm going to let you into a little secret. I'm a closet goth.
I'm closeted because although I'd love nothing more than to have long black hair and, well, basically look like this....

.... the fact of the matter is that I'm a balding middle-ager who doesn't like to draw attention to himself.
For that reason I live my life in jeans and t-shirt, with the only vaguely interesting accompaniments being a pair of Vans SK8-Hi shoes which are probably the most comfortable footwear in the world ever, and a good quality and stylish watch, but at a glance unremarkable and invisible.

I first became aware of the whole goth scene in 1987 with the influence of a guy who I started my apprenticeship with. He introduced me to a number of bands I'd never heard before, like The Sisters Of Mercy, Fields Of The Nephilim, and Bauhaus.
For someone whose musical tastes were predominantly mainstream apart from the odd prog-rock band, this was a whole new world - and I liked it. To this day when I'm looking for new music I tend to investigate stuff that the majority of people haven't heard of.

The gothic style is fascinating to me - so different yet for the most part so stylish. Sure there are some weird and wacky interpretations around, especially when you look at those who lean towards the cyber-goth area, but the classical goth look can be very cool. Obviously it doesn't appeal to everyone, but I like it.
Indeed, one of the many reasons I harbour a fantasy of retiring to Whitby in North Yorkshire is that it has the reputation of being the 'Goth Capital of England'.

Another aspect of the gothic style that appeals is the women's fashion.
I've often said how I'm not a fan of lots of makeup on women, but when combined with the right clothing it creates an effect that I find most agreeable indeed.
Instagram is full of such imagery, including 'ladykateyes' who is a prime example of the sort of thing I'm referring to.


You can keep that whole Barbie doll nonsense, and I find all that collagen-lipped, silicone-breasted, orange-skinned bullshit utterly distasteful.
However, show me long black hair, pale skin, high contrast eyes and lips, all encased in a long figure-hugging lacy dress, and I'm a gibbering wreck. The only downside is that many such women are also into tattoos in a big way, which spoils the effect for me.

So the goths have style and the confidence to exhibit it, an interest in classical literature, some pretty cool music, and they're not generally depressive characters unlike the 'Emos' they tend to be confused with, unless of course they've been listening to 'Afterhours' by Sisters of Mercy which, even as a fan, I must admit is enough to make most people want to do themselves in.
I, on the other hand, have bugger all hair and an unrealistic dream of having a style that would make most ordinary people point and stare.
Goths aren't necessarily weird - they're just brave enough to be what they want to be without caring what others think. I wonder - what sort of weird and wonderful things would we see on the High Street if everyone took the same attitude instead of conforming to the established social norms?