Sunday, 27 January 2013

Is it worth the aggro?

It's gone! Rain overnight has washed away the white stuff that's been hanging around for the past week and now I'm reminded what colour the world is supposed to be. In a way it's a bit like watching an old black & white film - makes a nice change from time to time but it's always nice when it's finished and you can go back to colour.
Now of course we're gonna have rain for a few days, but we have to have something to grumble about don't we? It's a fundamental part of being English. Lots of countries have a climate. We have weather, and we grumble about it. Too hot, too cold, too much rain, not enough rain - whatever it's doing it's never just right and somehow I feel that it never will be because moaning about it is hardwired into our thought process.
I could go out for a ride on the bike in the height of summer with no wind, warm tarmac and twisty back roads, and at the end I'd still have a grump on because the hot weather made me all sweaty under the protective clothing, plus I'd have to clean a thick film of squashed bugs off the bike and helmet.
It's as if everything good has a price tag attached. If you go to the cinema you get the huge screen and great sound, but the trade off is the kid in the seat behind who keeps kicking the back of your chair and the guy in the middle of your row with the weak bladder who keeps wanting to squeeze past, not to mention the extortionately priced snacks that force you to go to the supermarket beforehand to stock up on drink and sweets to sneak into the cinema under your coat.
You go for a nice meal out, and then comes the bill. You have a good time having a laugh and drinking with friends, then spend the next day feeling like someone's jammed your head in a vice. Base jumping without a parachute would be thrilling, but landing would be a bitch.
The question is whether the downside of something is worth the trade off. I'm prepared to spend over 200 pounds a year on bike tyres because I love the thrill of the acceleration, but I don't go to the cinema any more because it's a rip-off and the film will be out on DVD within six months anyway.
I don't go on foreign holidays because I couldn't deal with the crowds at an airport, but I love climbing to a high peak in the Yorkshire Dales even if my heart rate does go through the roof and I slip over in sheep shit.
Everyone will have different crap they will or won't accept in order to get the good stuff. Ranulph Fiennes walked to the north pole and ended up cutting his own frostbitten fingers off with a saw, whereas I won't go into a shop if there's lots of people in there. We all have our level, and although I'm gonna spend the next few days griping about my bike getting covered with salt and grime, I'm prepared to put up with it because now the snow and ice has buggered off at least I'll be able to ride it again.

hardcore nutter

Monday, 21 January 2013

Got faith?

Does man find religion or does religion find man?
In a world where God appears to have given up the driving seat and opted instead to sit in the back staring out of the window and listening to Metallica on his iPod, I wonder what place religion has in modern society.
At a time where people are more likely to worship at the altar of St Tesco than visit a church of any denomination, religion has become more or less defunct. People don't feel the need to put their faith in a deity because they have faith in themselves or in science, leaving no room for what may or may not be a fairy tale created by those with power to keep the uneducated masses in fear and therefore under control.
For my own part I've questioned the existence of a higher power a number of times but have never found anything convincing enough to actually have faith. Faith is unquestioning, but I have lots of questions that remain unanswered.
Scientists expound the concept of creation through the big bang theory which in some ways I can see - enough evidence has been presented to suggest that it's true. However, as I see it nothing comes from nothing, so if there was this enormous explosion who lit the blue touchpaper? That makes it one-all between God and science.
Scientists also put the writings of Charles Darwin on a pedestal, saying that all life evolved from amoebas or whatever, but I fail to see a proper explanation of diversity. If man evolved from apes, why do we still have apes? Diversity in humans ranges from rocket scientists at the top of the food chain all the way down to bottom feeders like traffic wardens with no physical difference between them, only a desire to make the world a better place by the higher echelons and an equal desire to anger and persecute other humans at the other end of the spectrum. What did Darwin have to say about that? No idea, but the Bible says God gave man free will, which on one hand explains everything and on the other hand sounds like an enormous get-out clause.
I tried to find religion. For a while a few years ago I was searching for greater meaning and attended church every Sunday hoping to be struck with some kind of theological lightning bolt; a moment of clarity and a sense of purpose. But it didn't come and I was left feeling empty and confused, so I gave up trying.
To date the only thing that has made sense to me is Buddhism, which given that it's a religion with no deity kinda says something.
I know there are deeply religious individuals who have had a life-changing experience that set them on the path to belief, and to them I say 'good for you'. In many ways I wish I could be in that position, but I'm not.
For all we know this could be some giant sadistic cosmic experiment where someone has put man on this planet just to see what happens. There may be something to this. Every creature on earth has it's own place and it's own role to play. A cow eats grass, shits a lot and makes other cows. That's what they do and they never wonder what else they could do instead to make their day more interesting. A spider is programmed to spin a web, catch flies and eat them. At no point has a spider decided to invent a radio to relieve the boredom between lunch and dinner.
Humans however have never sat still and been happy with their lot since time began. Man has constantly striven to improve life and make himself happier and yet we're still bloody miserable, still killing each other (usually in the name of religion), and still haven't had an era of fashion that hasn't been looked back on twenty years later without shame and embarrassment. The point here is that we don't belong here. We don't fit in.
So what to make of all this? Well, anything that has the power to create the universe is way too vast for the human mind to fully comprehend, therefore any religion or scientist that claims to hold the answer to life is clearly deluded.
In which case I'll keep calm and carry on (as the slogan on every other coffee mug proclaims) and hold on to the vague hope that even if I don't ever find an answer, I'll at least reach the point where I couldn't care less one way or the other.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Thank you for the music

With the likely demise of HMV, the already piss-poor availability of music on the high street is going to become a barren wasteland. Technology has changed both the way we purchase and listen to music.
The advent of the MP3 initiated the decline in music sales on physical media, and its portability and versatility caused the masses to make a shift in how they listen to music.
Music on the go went through a dramatic change when Sony brought us the Walkman in the 80's and suddenly people began walking around in their own little isolation bubble, but as battery life was an issue the idea of walking around plugged in all day was out of the question unless you had a Rambo-style bullet belt filled with AA batteries.
Fast forward to today and memory capacity has skyrocketed and MP3s can be played on anything from a home PC to a mobile phone. And although for many this has been a step forward, there are those including myself who see it as the death of real music, mainly because the way in which it's listened to means that it becomes simply the aural wallpaper of life rather than an activity in its own right. Seriously, how many people under about 30 actually own a decent hi-fi and make a point of sitting in front of it to listen to music?
The thing about MP3 is that it is a compressed format, meaning that data is removed from the original uncompressed file to make it smaller so you can fit more tracks on your MP3 player. The more you compress it the more of the original data you lose. What this means is that MP3 doesn't tell the whole story of the music as played by the artists. The level of detail missing in an MP3 compared to a proper CD is huge, but as so many play their music through crappy little earphones or worse still the annoying scratchy noises produced by the speaker in their mobile phone, they wouldn't really notice.
As a kid I was introduced to lots of music as I had the influence of four older siblings. Growing up was a deluge of R Dean Taylor, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Toyah, Ultravox, Deodato, Hawkwind, Justin Hayward and many others who shaped my musical tastes for the rest of my life. Although my tastes have gone through phases and expanded over the years, the things I listened to in my teenage years I still listen to to this day, and I suspect that's true of most people.
When introduced to the world of real hi-fi at the age of about 14 by a friend's father I immediately saw what I'd been missing out on. Being able to pick out each individual instrument in a level of detail that allowed you to hear the guitar players fingers moving over the strings, the subtle vibrato of a bow drawn across a cello, the player's breath intakes whilst playing the saxophone, everything that transformed a pleasurable sound into a magical experience that made me spend many happy years sitting down with my eyes closed immersed in music. A time when you'd put on an album and just listen from start to finish without thinking about anything else - almost a kind of meditation.
The selection and purchasing of this music was something you used to look forward to, but HMV decided to make it impossible to find what you wanted, because the layout was confusing, genres were mixed up making browsing next to impossible when combined with the vast fields of cd racks containing little you'd ever heard of. The listening posts where you had the opportunity to discover something new and different seemed to vanish without trace, and half the store was full of electronics, memorabilia and gaming stuff. Frankly I'm not in the least bit surprised they've gone to the wall because they sucked all the pleasure out of shopping for music. I, like most people now, see websites like Amazon as the first port of call for buying CDs.
I'll research bands on LastFM, listen to some tracks via YouTube, and decide what I want to buy before committing to a CD purchase (how many times have you bought an album to find that the single that prompted you to do so was the only good track and the rest was shite?)
Music and the way it's listened to has changed greatly and in many ways people are now missing out on so much of it's potential to give pleasure, but the technology that has introduced these negative factors has also opened up the gateway to more music than we could ever have imagined. And we won't be buying it from HMV.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Straight from the horse's rump

I'm sure that at some time I've uttered the phrase "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse", and thanks to Tesco there's a fair chance I actually have. And you know what? I couldn't care less.
I daresay issue could be taken with the misrepresentation involved in selling horse meat in a product labelled beef, but as far as the issue of eating horse is concerned I'm totally unfazed.
A horse is just an animal like any other, and just because some people choose to give one a name and ride it doesn't put me off in the slightest. I'll eat pretty much anything.
Some people get all funny about the idea of eating rabbit, but once you've removed the extremities, skinned and gutted it, it cooks up into a very tasty casserole. I've shot, prepared, cooked and eaten a number of things including rabbit, pigeon and crow and also a pheasant I hit with the car.
Nowadays people get all shocked when I mention these things, but there have been times in the past when the consumption of these creatures was perfectly common as the availability of meat was not as easy as it is now.
In fact I think it would do people good to have to deal with the acquisition of their meat from its original source from time to time to remind them of what they're dealing with. The supermarkets isolate them from the reality by doing all the icky stuff for them and presenting the prepared product in a form that doesn't have a recognizable face.
Would people think quite the same way about a burger if at some point they were faced with having to put a bolt gun to Ermintrude's head before hanging her up by the feet and slitting her throat? Probably not, but at least it might instill a little respect for the animal and the process. Mandatory work experience at an abattoir would be a good addition to the national curriculum for schoolkids.
I'm finding it hard to think of any animal I wouldn't eat if it was put in front of me on a plate. I've had parrot fish, octopus and all sorts, but I'd probably draw the line at fresh oysters because after all it's just snot in a shell but I suppose they barely qualify as an animal anyway. I had to dispatch a myxie-infested rabbit once and I didn't consider eating that, and city dwelling pigeons are disease ridden bastards that live on garbage so I'd avoid those. But aside from creatures that are best suited to being sealed in a biohazzard container and dropped into a furnace, and anything that still has a pulse, I think I'd try most things.
So there we are. Thanks to a news article about a few people being outraged by something trivial (for a change) I've managed to come up with yet another post about food and yet strangely I don't feel too guilty about it. After all, food is something we all have in common unless you're a supermodel. It's part of the holy trinity - food, drink and sex. And thanks to food we get Nigella Lawson with whom I'd happily share all three.

Mmm, looks tasty. Now where's my rifle....?

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Naughty but nice

Those that know me know that I have a tremendous weakness for all things biscuit. For those who don't know me, the background image of this blog should provide a bit of an indication that there's something biscuity afoot.
This affliction began back when I was very young, when there wasn't anywhere near the variety of biscuits available as there are now, but it's interesting to see that most of those around at that time are still on the supermarket shelves to this day. The old mainstays like Bourbons, malted milk (or 'cow biscuits' as the toddler me called them), ginger nuts, fig rolls, rich tea (god help us), Jammie Dodgers and of course custard creams are still made and it would seem that despite the onslaught of the young and overpriced pretenders, they're just as popular as ever.
As a kid the desperation to fuel the biscuit-monster knew no bounds and when supplies were exhausted I could often be found raiding the dog's box of Bonios and gnawing away in the happy knowledge that at least I too could have healthy teeth and gums. The teeth could easily have broken, but at least the fragments would have been healthy ones.
The one thing that has always bewildered me with the biscuit world is the issue of dunking them in your tea. Now I like tea and I find it deeply upsetting to get to the bottom of the cup to find blobs of soggy biscuit. That said, perhaps I can understand the need to dunk Rich Tea biscuits in your cuppa because 1: it's the only biscuit I absolutely cannot stand, and 2: they're only bought by little old ladies with no teeth so making them soggy and sucking them to death is about the only way for them to obtain even the slightest biscuit satisfaction.
For anything else I consider it sacrilege to directly combine a biscuit with any beverage. I like biscuits to taste like biscuits and tea to taste like tea. Simples.
The amazing array of different biscuits out there now is mindblowing and it would take supreme dedication for even the most avid biscuit anorak to make their way through all the possibilities. The overwhelming amount of choice leaves me in a quandary if I happen to decide to deviate from my regular custard creams and have something else for a change. Not to mention the issue of value for money - I can buy many packets of custard creams or ginger nuts for the price of half a dozen luxury cookies. And whilst the luxury ones are superior to the basic biscuits in so many ways I know that when I feel that urge to munch through an entire packet in one sitting I'd be really pissed off if a whole packet meant just five minutes and a dozen mouthfuls, because the last thing you want is to be left high and dry in the midst of a biccy bender. When that happens with custard creams there's invariably another packet in the cupboard to refill the biscuit barrel, but the luxury items are just too costly to keep a (un)healthy stash.
The supermarkets are canny buggers though and it's only a matter of time before they catch on to the idea that they could make more money if they stopped selling the cheap ranges of the old favourites, forcing the country's bicaholics to fork out for the premium range items.
When that day comes I shall have to go over to the dark side and become a convert to the dunker's faction, because these days it's the only way I'll be able to make my way through the Bonios.

Friday, 11 January 2013

The Ministry of Problem Creation

Every so often it hits you how hard it is to actually get anything done at work in this country. It seems as though whenever you try and achieve something there's a grinning dickhead in a suit holding a giant roll of red tape. No matter what it is you can guarantee it's tied up with enough volumes of rules and regulations to make the floors of the British Library groan with the strain.
At work we have been forced to replace some high pressure pipework and isolation valves due to corrosion issues, with a new stainless steel system. Now you'd think that despite this being a six inch diameter 40 bar compressed air main that runs from receivers in the basement to a research facility three floors above, plus stress calculations and non destructive testing of the parts that the job shouldn't really take all that long - a few weeks maybe. And yet thanks to the Ministry of Problem Creation we have our insurance company and another associated notified body ensuring that our research facility remains unusable for as long as possible. Physically the job should only have taken a few weeks, but here we are seven months down the line and we still have a big empty space where the new pipework should be. It has to be deliberate.
The simple act of buying something can also be full of pitfalls and stress once the Ministry gets involved. Another example from work is where you wish to purchase an item from a company. You've done your research, made phone calls to the company's tech support department, trawled through specification sheets and done the same for any other suppliers alternatives. So you try to make an order. Now the first indication that things are about to go wrong is that there's a computer system involved, so you know you've taken the first step along the road to hell before you've even started. If the thing to be ordered is rather expensive you're going to need three quotes. Ah, but this thing may only be made by one company and they only sell direct. Still need three quotes. Erm... let me explain the concept of 'Only One Company Makes It'....
OK, after much wrangling the powers that be agree that one quote will have to suffice. Marvellous. But you've got to fill out another form to explain why this is the case.
Next there's the question of whether the supplier is on the database. Hopefully they will be because if they're not, then by the time the administrative process is completed to add them then all the quotes you spent the last week getting together will have expired and you'll have to start again.
Many years ago when computers first started being used in businesses there was much talk about the concept of 'The Paperless Office'. Lots of people in cheap suits were running around getting excited at the prospect of an office environment devoid of filing cabinets. Then the reality must have hit home that all computers systems eventually go tits up so everything still had to be printed as a backup, plus no filing cabinets meant there was nothing left for the short-skirted secretaries to bend over at, so panic set in resulting in the complete deluge of laser-printed forms we see today. As hemlines rose so did the number of forms that needed to be filled in and filed (preferably in the bottom drawer).
So what's needed now is some sort of simplification. Let's imagine for a moment that instead of all the forms and administrative bollocks we just had some form of instant financial transaction perhaps involving simple tokens. For sake of argument let's give these tokens a name, like 'money'. Yeah, that'll do, and where an item has a value equivalent to a certain amount of 'money' you can simply exchange said 'money' for the item you want. Brilliant! So when I need a piece of apparatus that costs a couple of grand or whatever, I can go to someone who'll give me the 'money' so I can go to the place that has the item and exchange the 'money' for it and bring it back with me. It would be so easy! How come nobody has thought of this before?

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Living the dream

We're all consumers to some extent whether we like it or not. We have to eat, we need clothes and shelter, and that's about it when it comes to basic survival. Indeed life used to be like that and even those things we made or grew ourselves. Early man never had to worry about his carbon footprint.
So how did we get from there to today when the masses would include a 50inch TV, designer shoes, and an Audi TT in the above list of life's necessities?
People's expectations of life have spiralled out of control to the point where there are those whose perspective of life is so skewed that you scratch your head in wonder at the insanity of it all.
Individuals who make it their life's aim to gather as much material wealth around them as humanly possible, mock and treat with disdain those with less, and all the time forgetting that you can't take it with you when you die. So what's the endgame? Is there one? No. Because for these people enough is never enough.
I admit it can be difficult to resist the lure of shiny things (we all have our inner magpie to some extent), but once you realise that material possessions don't actually make you any happier it becomes far easier to detach yourself from the endless treadmill that is rampant consumerism.
For many it's all about image and I can only conclude that those of this mindset are seriously lacking in self confidence if they think that wearing Prada, holidaying in the Caribbean and driving a Range Rover will make others think more highly of them. It's all bullshit.
I used to be a slave to 'stuff' myself and it took a long time for this way of thinking to develop. Having had a best friend with whom I vied for having the latest this that or the other I can honestly say that I've played the game and found no improvement in my quality of life by having those things. Indeed I'd have been much better off spiritually by spending the money I've wasted on TVs, camcorders and suchlike on more worthwhile things like experiences. I'm sure it would be far more gratifying to be sat in your wing-backed chair wetting yourself in the corner of the retirement home if you could immerse yourself in memories of the glory days visiting Egypt or paragliding off the top of Ben Nevis rather than the day you splashed out 600 quid on a DV camcorder that you used just a handful of times until you realised that you never bothered to watch what you recorded and you looked a twat carrying it around anyway.
I'm wondering if much of this can be blamed on fairy tales. Seemingly innocent stories told to small children that program them at an early age that everyone lives happily ever after in a palace with their prince.
Well I think it's time these stories were re-written in a manner that they reflect real life rather than their nonsensical idealistic clap-trap. Stories where Pinocchio gets mercilessly teased by his classmates for being different so that eventually he gives in to the rigours of adolescent depression and tops himself by drinking half a gallon of Root Out.
Or where Snow White contents herself with sitting on her arse all day living on seven lots of disability benefit while the dwarves try to claim off their insurance because their pickaxes have been stolen and sold on for scrap metal.
Jack would have ended up in rehab because anyone who could come up with a story about giants living at the top of a runner bean plant must surely be tripping.
Maybe if childhood stories were changed in this way then children wouldn't grow up expecting the world to be some magical playground where every conceivable pleasure is handed out by the fairy godmother and nothing bad ever happens to anyone unless they're an evil bastard that deserves it.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New year, fresh start

So it's the start of a new year and all over the country people have made new year resolutions. This is a tradition I've always dismissed as pointless - if you want to change something in your life just do it, why wait until you flip over the front cover of your new celebrity calendar? Particularly when most resolutions get broken before the end of January.
This year though I've had some things that have made me sit down and reassess aspects of my life. The realisation that things have not been as they should and in many cases these things have been ongoing for quite some time. I've hurt people I care for when they don't deserve it, I haven't made the effort to maintain sufficient contact with family members and friends, and I've shut myself off from the world to a point that's made me bitter and twisted.

I'm determined that this year is going to be different:

I WILL make an effort to stay in touch with my brothers and sisters.
I WILL spend time with friends outside of work.
I WILL make myself feel better through more exercise.

I WON'T make those I love unhappy.
I WON'T sit around getting depressed at not having enough to do.
I WON'T cane the arse off my motorbike (unless there's an Audi driving wanker involved)