Sunday, 24 February 2013

Desired things

OK, so poetry isn't something I normally pay any attention to, but the other day I was shown this poem.
I thought it was wonderful and decided it was worth sharing.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.


Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.


Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.


Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.


Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.


Max Ehrmann - 1927

Whatever happened to Sunday?

With life rapidly moving towards a 24/7 experience I'm beginning to hanker after the days when things were a little slower paced. We live in a world where opening hours of businesses are getting longer and everyone seems to expect to be able to do anything at any time of the day or week. The attitude is "I want everything, I want it now, and I want it delivered within 24 hours if you haven't got it on the shelf".
People are increasingly unable to switch off from the commercially driven life they lead, which I think is an important thing to be able to do if you want to retain any level of sanity.
That's what Sunday used to be about - a day of rest. Regardless of the religious aspects of Sunday, having one day a week in which to completely chill out really does make a difference.
Maybe it's just me getting older but I appreciate the concept of the traditional Sunday more and more.
I'm not suggesting for one moment that we all need to go to church in our 'Sunday best' every week because that really is expecting too much, but surely there's appeal to the idea of lying in bed until about 10 o'clock, having a full english breakfast, reading the Sunday papers, then heading to the pub for a quiet pint or two before returning home for a great big roast dinner and a hearty pudding that's so heavy you don't dare weigh yourself for several days after.
I know as a kid when the only Sunday trading was the local newsagent for about two hours in the morning and the pubs at lunchtime, I often moaned about there being nothing to do. I'd spend the day finding ingenious ways of wasting time until dinner then watching some dreary crap on telly until it was time for a bath and bed. Funny how that now sounds like an ideal Sunday.
Before Sunday trading took off it would be a perfectly common sight to see people taking their 17 year old kids to the local supermarket car park to teach them the basics of how to control a car, which I think was a really good idea - surely better to learn the fundamentals there than out on the open road. Anyone wanting to do that now is stuffed. Every supermarket is open seven days a week, and even the industrial estates are a no-go zone for such activity thanks to so many businesses working all weekend and the proliferation of CCTV surveillance. Try letting your kid learn to drive your car in those places and you'll end up with some jumped-up security guard turning purple at you and a visit from the local hobby-bobby.
Sunday was also the one day of the week when you could go for a drive for the sake of it and actually enjoy the experience.
In the days when petrol didn't cost an arm, a leg and the soul of your first-born, the amount of traffic on the road on a Sunday was fairly minimal and you'd have ample opportunity for a fun blast down your favourite country roads, whilst neatly slipping past the inevitable couple of old farts in a Morris Minor determined not to exceed 20mph because you knew with absolute certainty that at some point they'd perform an emergency stop for a layby full of litter so they could stare through the windscreen while drinking weak tea from a tartan thermos flask.
Now any thoughts of a pleasant drive on a Sunday get dashed the moment you pull out of your street because you find yourself confronted by the same level of traffic as you normally find on the way to work any other day of the week.
This is why early on a sunny Sunday morning in the summer you might be woken up by the sound of numerous motorcycles going past your house at warp factor six. But don't hate them. They're just trying to get in as many miles of fun as possible and back home before Tesco and Homebase open.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Fanfare for the common cold

When we sneeze whilst driving at 70mph we will cover approximately 10 - 15 metres with our eyes shut. We will also propel a cloud of nasties into the air which will hang around plenty long enough to find another host to cling on to. And with the sneezes come the coughs, the thick head and the need to walk around with your mouth open looking like a complete retard because you can't breathe through your nose, which is either blocked solid or running like a tap. It's not pleasant and it's definitely not attractive.
But when you have a cold you're not really ill, are you? Sure you feel like crap, you can't function properly and you're highly contagious, but it's only a cold. It's not a proper illness like malaria or mad cow disease (or mad horse perhaps), and if you were to phone in sick simply because you had a cold you'd feel like a wimp because even the most severe case of man-flu is still just a cold wearing brass knuckles.
So you make the supreme effort to gather up your supplies of paracetamol and aloe vera Kleenex (in the vain hope of avoiding ending up with a nose like Rudolph), and you drag yourself to work piloting a 1.5 tonne projectile in a public place when you really shouldn't be in charge of anything more dangerous than a wooden spoon. Once you get to work of course, everyone tells you that perhaps you shouldn't really be there, but by then it's too late and the cold is making its merry way around the entire workplace.
The fun doesn't stop at work though. Oh no. There's dinner to look forward to when you get home which regardless of how fancy it is, even if it used the finest ingredients combined and cooked to perfection, will taste like an old car tyre because your taste buds are shot to bits.
Actually this is a misconception - what you're missing is the ability to smell because that's what makes up 90 percent of the taste experience with the tongue filling in the rest with the sweet/bitter/salt aspects. So there.
So with the tasteless meal out of the way you can look forward to staring at the TV for the rest of the evening because that's all you're fit for. So you sit on the sofa surrounded by the corpses of dead tissues, looking like an extra from Shaun Of The Dead, wondering if simply dying might be less aggravation than continuing trying to breathe and having to sleep on the sofa again.
When you finally emerge from the other side of the cold you begin to remember the pleasures you take for granted. Taste, smell, the ability to think clearly, your own bed, and a nose that's the same colour and texture as the rest of your face are all reminders of why we should stay at home when we have a cold, wrapped up warm with lots of chicken soup and watching all the Star Wars movies for the hundredth time just so you can see the bit with Princess Leia in the gold bikini again (or maybe that's just me).
The common cold really should have been cured by now. Scientists have made so many great advances in medicine with cures and vaccinations against all manner of ailments, and yet the cold still seems to elude them. The average age at death has gradually increased over time as more old people are kept going beyond what nature intended thanks to downing so much medication every day (in a box with carefully labelled compartments in case the Alzheimers gets worse) that they'd rattle like a maraca if you shook them. Whether this is right or wrong isn't something I'd want to get in to, but it begs the question - if they've been able to achieve this then how come we still don't have a cold vaccination? It's not as if they're short of test subjects now is it?


Sunday, 10 February 2013

A cure for terminal boredom

I was beginning to think it would never happen, but I've finally got myself a project to occupy the seemingly endless amount of free time I have.
Ebay turned up the ideal project in the form of a Derbi GPR50 which has the dual benefits of giving me something to do up and being suitable for the boy to ride when he turns sixteen next year.
I admit to having had a certain level of trepidation as to whether I'd be able to get it in the back of a Honda Civic, but with an appropriate selection of foam blocks, flattened cardboard boxes and a length of rope, everything was suitably secured. Half an hour and a measly 185 quid later the bike was safely installed in the shed awaiting reference.





First impressions are that I've really got my work cut out but as I've got plenty of time and I like a challenge I have to say I'm really looking forward to getting my teeth into it. All the plastics are in an awful state and it's questionable at this stage how much will be usable, how much can be repaired and whether I may just manufacture new bodywork from aluminium alloy.
The bike has been stored for at least three years and appears to have had rather a hard life, so a total nut-and-bolt restoration looks like the way forward. Woo-hoo!

A couple of hours in and  'Donkey' is looking like the result of extreme dieting, with the remaining chassis components due for removal later today.





Interestingly, initial investigation of the engine suggests that it's been derestricted, so although not strictly legal for a sixteen-year-old, I'm not going to worry. I remember back in the day that at that age it was a constant battle to have the quickest moped, with various big-bore kits and race exhausts wherever you turned.
Back then everyone had 'proper' 50cc bikes, not twist-and-go scooters which were strictly for girls. There was the RD50 and DT50 from Yamaha, Honda's MT50, the Kawasaki AR50, with Suzuki pitching the TS50. Funny how times change as now almost everyone has a funky scooter instead, and even I occasionally think it might be fun to get an old Vespa or Lambretta as a toy.
Personally I never did the whole moped thing as I passed my bike test about a year after my car test (plus mum wouldn't let me have one), but later on I did have the experience of riding a Yamaha FS1e custom which was a little nerve racking. Vague hinge-in-the-middle handling led to thoughts of "Is it gripping? Well I'm still going round the corner so I suppose it must be...." Needless to say I was glad to clamber back on to the TZR250 I had at the time.

Any regular readers needn't worry, this blog isn't going to turn into a motorbike progress diary, but I might occasionally throw in the odd bit here and there.
The world in general will still find ways of annoying me to the point where I need to rant about something and get it off my chest, but right now I actually feel pretty good about things.
Only one thing is certain. It won't last!

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PS: It's now 1pm and Donkey is pretty much in kit form :-)






Sunday, 3 February 2013

One man can make a difference, Michael...

Having found that Lovefilm had recently added the first two seasons of Knight Rider to its 'Instant' service I decided I'd indulge myself in a little rose-tinted-glasses moment. After all, this was one of the TV shows that sort of defined my childhood.
I seem to recall that back in the late seventies American TV shows were a bit of a joke. There was Dallas and Dynasty (or 'Dysentery' as my mum liked to call it) and precious little else to convince us that the US was little more than a giant ego with a big mouth.
In the early eighties though we had an influx of American shows that appealed to those of my generation to such a degree that they became essential viewing. And as most people didn't have a video recorder the streets must have been remarkably free of teenagers on a Saturday evening.
Knight Rider gave us the most exciting talking car since an Austin Maestro told us to put on our seat belt and convinced us that a turbo made a car jump over things at will. It also provided me with my second schoolboy crush in the form of 'Bonnie', played by Patricia McPherson (my first was my second year primary schoolteacher Mrs Robinson).
Around the same time we were given The A-Team. This show was not to be missed despite the fact that every episode was more or less exactly the same. Someone hired the A-Team because the cops were too busy eating doughnuts to be bothered, whereupon the guys would drug BA, put him on a plane, and they'd all fly out somewhere to deal with some tin-pot dictator. They'd get captured and locked in a big room full of enough hardware for BA to build a fully functioning tank using only a gas torch before unleashing thousands of rounds of ammunition without anyone actually getting shot. Hannibal would then celebrate their victory by lighting a cigar and saying "I love it when a plan comes together".
Airwolf was my favourite show at this time. What's not to love when you have the coolest helicopter in the world blowing the bad guys to kingdom come to a background of one of the most memorable theme tunes of its time.
As usual the yanks, not content with making cars and helicopters the stars of the show, went a step too far by trying the same thing with a motorcycle, giving us 'Streethawk'. Oh dear. A bike that could negotiate 90 degree turns in excess of 100mph and could execute a complete backflip by strategic deployment of airbrakes was too much of an overreach and unsurprisingly it bombed.
America also gave us an endless stream of cop and detective shows including Magnum PI, Hunter, Hardcastle & McCormick (awesome theme tune and wicked car), Crazy Like A Fox, and obviously Miami Vice which spawned a whole generation of Don Johnson wannabes complete with white trousers and mirrored sunglasses. Oh no.... I did that.... how embarrassing.....
How could British TV stand up to the onslaught of all these shows? America had the A-Team and Magnum, while we had Dempsey & Makepeace and Miss Marple. No wonder transatlantic TV was largely a one-way street.
Although the transatlantic flow has evened out a bit these days, the US arguably still makes better TV shows than we do. And while Britain has undoubtedly produced some real gems, they become obscured by the avalanche of brain-dead programmes that proliferate the TV schedules like 'Big Brother', 'Help I'm a washed up celebrity give me a job', and 101 shows about doing up houses. Granted America is far from immune to crap TV with plenty of shows giving citizens the opportunity to discuss their most private problems with the rest of the world and beat seven shades out of each other in front of the cameras, but while they continue to provide me with things like House MD, Heroes, and Grey's Anatomy I'll let them off.


Saturday, 2 February 2013

I have attitude and I'm not afraid to use it

After two weeks back-to-back with a lab full of third year students doing a teaching activity, I'm becoming a little concerned at the state of my mind. By Friday I'd lost patience with a group of students who were the most arrogant f**kwits I've ever come across because when asked to leave at the end of the session proceeded to completely ignore me and carry on with their discussion.
So I just turned all the lights off. F**k 'em.
I compared having a lab full of students to walking into your kitchen and finding the floor covered with cockroaches, and I had a bit of an argument with an academic about the appropriate method of carrying out an experiment.
Luckily the roads were dry on the way home so I took it out on the bike (another resolution bites the dust) and arrived home in record time before marinading my woes in alcohol.
Today, what should have been a simple trip into Ely for a wander around turned into a giant waste of time as there was nowhere to park and the queues of traffic were more reminiscent of central London than a quiet fenland town. So, a long round trip later we ended up in the Maid's Head in Wicken where a glorious pint of Cottage Brewing Company's MGA saved the day from descending into a major hissy fit.
And now I'm sitting here with a pint of Spitfire beside me wondering why despite my good intentions of cutting down on alcohol I'm still no further forward. Perhaps it's a coping mechanism. Perhaps it's just because it's more readily available than weed. Perhaps I don't care any more. Perhaps the Hokey Cokey really is what it's all about.
As I've got older I seem to be less afraid of saying what's really on my mind. I'll moderate myself to varying degrees depending on who I'm talking to, but I don't go in for sugar-coating my words.
I guess some people may find me hard to take for this reason, but frankly I no longer see why I should walk on egg shells around people. I call a spade a spade and I have no time for political correctness. I object to The Dambusters having the word 'nigger' edited out, I'll use the term 'oompa-loompa' when it fits and 90 percent of Audi drivers are total c**ts. Fact.