Sunday, 27 October 2013

The great commuting conundrum

Commuting. On a list of life's most depressing activities this surely must be pretty close to the top.
If I could see a way to avoid it I'd take it, but as long as I have bills to pay I have to go to work which means finding the least annoying method of getting from A to B.
The current method of choice is by motorcycle and that has been the preferred option for some time now. The car became too frustrating because one of my biggest hates on the road is sitting in traffic that's either crawling or not moving at all, so I gradually shifted from using the bike occasionally to using it all the time because when you're riding a motorcycle there's no such thing as a traffic jam. But as we move closer to the winter I start to have worries about the really cold days when there's ice on the road, there's bugger all grip, and my fingertips go beyond cold and numb and move into the realm of physical pain. It wouldn't be the first time I'd pulled up at traffic lights, knocked it into neutral and leaned down to cuddle the engine just to get a little warmth into my fingers.
These are the days when an alternative needs to be considered, and that's where the real problem begins. The car is pretty much a no-no because the wife needs it most days, and I'm determined not to buy a second car again.
It's too far to cycle every day and when it's dark, wet, cold and miserable my life expectancy would be considerably shortened if I was to attempt it.
This leaves me with public transport. There isn't a railway station near enough for that to be a viable option, which means using a bus. Oh dear.
The obvious problem with bus travel is that it doesn't go exactly where you want to go when you want to go there which means a timetable that's guaranteed to not work for you, and a considerable walk at either end of the journey. Now I know I usually love a good walk, but when it involves going to or from work it sort of takes the shine off the experience.
Then we have the issue of sharing your personal space with all and sundry - often those who you'd cross the road to avoid if you saw them coming the other way. Pick a bus at just the wrong time and you can let yourself in for all manner of living nightmares. Single mums with screaming brats, anti-social phone users who believe the whole world needs to hear their conversation, the ignorant youths for whom the word 'personal' as in 'personal stereo' means nothing and generally being surrounded by the great unwashed are just some of the horrors that await the bus user. You're also guaranteed (unless you're lucky enough to travel with a friend) to have the seat next to you occupied by one of the following :-

1. A little old lady with a giant shopping trolley who takes an eternity to climb the steps into the bus, and spends a further two ice-ages fumbling in her purse for her bus pass before plonking beside you smelling of wee.
2. A Special Brew-enhanced social drop-out with a dog that spends the entire journey trying to sniff your crotch.
3. A terminally obese ugly fucker who crushes you against the window while at the same time taking up half the aisle.
4. Someone who smells like they've spent the day cleaning deep fat fryers in a very hot environment with no showers.
5. The local nutter who'll manage to hold a conversation with you even though you deliberately avoid saying anything or making eye contact. The other passengers will be smirking or laughing at your misfortune, secretly thankful that it's not their turn today.

It truly is a nightmare. Trapped in a big tin box with the cast of Fraggle Rock trying desperately to focus your mind on reading a book, listening to music or staring out of the window - anything but allowing yourself to acknowledge the pitiful situation you find yourself in.
I hate driving the car these days because it's too frustrating; even riding the bike can be a test of nerves but it's still preferable. But even though I fear the bus and the horrors it holds, I know that it's inevitable that at some point during the coming winter I will have no choice but to face it because no matter how awful an experience it may be, it's nevertheless preferable to death from hypothermia or sliding under an oncoming truck.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Never mind thumbs, what about the legs?

Those who are into the whole evolution thing are always on about how the human body will change over time, adapting to the way we live our lives. The standard joke has long been that we'll all develop an enlarged right thumb from constantly pressing buttons on the TV remote control, and these days one could argue the same case for the index finger from all the frantic mouse-clicking.
It might actually be interesting to attach a miniature pedometer to your finger to see just how many clicks you execute in a day; it could be that using a computer is like taking your finger to the gym. Now there's a new marketing strategy.......
The flip side of this argument is the question of what will happen to the parts of the body that get used less with the most obvious cause for concern being the legs, and that's what I'm going to focus on today.

Yesterday I was waiting in a hairdressers while the wife was having her hair done, and as she was paying there was a call from a client cancelling her appointment because she had spent twenty minutes trying to find a parking space and was giving up. Absolutely pathetic.
We had parked on the outskirts of Ely by the golf course and walked into town - a smidge over a mile to the hairdressers - popped into Sainsbury's for a few bits, and then back to the car. Total distance covered was three miles with no ill effects whatsoever and definitely no parking problems. So what was wrong with little miss "Why can't I park my German 4x4 outside the shop door?". She's just one of the current crop of individuals who seem to consider it beneath them to have to use their legs. That's what poor people do isn't it? It's yet another case of someone who feels the need to live up to a bullshit glossy magazine ideal where everything comes easy, and the world is perfect.
If 'perfect' is how these people consider such a life, they're grossly mistaken. The average person living such a supposedly idealistic life is a self-centred obnoxious arrogant arsehole who I personally wouldn't want to associate with.

Side-rant over, and it's back to using our legs.
We see examples of this problem every time we visit a supermarket. People who'll sit and wait for ten minutes for someone to get back to their car and vacate a spot that's twenty feet from the door, when there's fifty empty spaces at the other end of the car park. If they parked over there instead and walked a little further they'd be in the store quicker, but clearly I'm missing the point somewhere.
The worst bastards for this are those who park in a disabled area even though they're not disabled or carrying a disabled passenger. Scum.
Then we have those who live a stone's throw from the local shop but will still get in their car and drive there to buy newspaper. Or worse still, the ones who will go to the local pub in the car, spend a night on the piss and drive the five hundred yards home. Why?
And of course we have the school run mums who block up the roads every day with their armoured personnel carriers because it's far too much to expect little Quentin to walk or cycle half a mile to school when he's so much safer sitting in a traffic jam for an hour.
If this trend continues and the evolutionists are right, future generations will have something resembling toothpicks dangling from their pelvis.

It's not all bad news though, because while half of the population are firmly stuck behind the steering wheel campaigning for drive-through botox clinics, the other half are reversing the trend by increasingly turning to cycling. Clearly fed up with the government's intention of making car ownership so expensive that only the rich can afford to drive, and the town planner's ingenious schemes to make town centre access more or less impossible, more and more people are leaving the car at home and turning to two wheels. With the trend for heavy cumbersome mountain bikes at an end, the market is now dominated by practical lightweight machinery that makes the majority of journeys quicker and easier than they would be by car while at the same time invigorating their riders with that wonderful feel-good factor that exercise gives, and that sitting on your fat arse in a traffic jam doesn't.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Transatlantic swings and roundabouts

If there's one thing I really have no interest in whatsoever it's politics, but one thing that occasionally rears it's head is mention of this so-called 'special relationship' between Britain and the USA.
Funny thing is, nobody ever seems to be able to clarify exactly what is special about it.
I suppose we have a closer relationship with the American people than we do with, say, the French, but I daresay that may have much to do with language and history. Say no more....
When it comes down to it, perhaps it's simply about sharing a common language and way of life, although that does beg the question of why no mention is ever made of a 'special relationship' between Britain and Australia.
When browsing the web though, particularly on forums and suchlike, it's surprising how many people find it necessary to slag each other off based on ill-informed opinions on each other's geographical location. An endless parade of 'stupid Brits' and 'bloody Yanks' based arguments that do nobody any favours and only serve to make the individuals on either side sound ridiculous.
Yes, there are differences between the two nations and although I'm far from being any kind of expert I thought I'd see what I could come up with to show how different or alike we are either side of the Atlantic, and given that around a third of the hits this blog gets are from the US it's a golden opportunity to actually get some feedback. I've been doing this blog for quite some time now and I've not had a single comment. Just as well I do it mostly for my own amusement...

First of all I'm going to mention ice-cream. I've never been much of a fan of ice-cream, and for many years I've wondered what all the fuss was about American ice-cream. However, a couple of weeks ago the usually expensive Ben & Jerry's ice cream was on offer in the supermarket and in an uncharacteristically frivolous move I grabbed a tub from the freezer.
After dinner that night experimentation commenced and after just one spoonful I came to one simple and unpatriotic conclusion - British ice-cream sucks. Seriously, virtually every ice-cream I've tried in this country has left me unfulfilled, especially the normal cheap stuff in the big tubs which is so filled with ice crystals, the water content must be huge. So there's one difference - America can do ice-cream, but Britain can't.
That little victory can be offset though, because if there's one thing we do seem to do well it's chocolate. I've tried some American chocolate and frankly it's like the ice-cream scenario reversed. Dull, uninspiring and tasteless.
And let's not forget about beer. Britain has an incredibly long history of making great beer, although I've heard that there are a number of emerging micro-breweries in the US where they're making real ale. If they get it right then maybe the country will gradually be coaxed away from the standard lagers and enjoy some proper beer for a change.
Petrol is an area where Americans are very lucky. We often hear moans from them about the rising price of 'gas', but try having to pay the equivalent of 8.5 dollars per US gallon and see if you can still afford to run around in a five litre V8. In the UK, only the wealthy can afford to drive Range Rovers while the rest of us bimble around in frugal little euroboxes; not necessarily because we like them, but because the government will pull our pants down and do unspeakable things to our bottoms if we can't do at least 50 miles per gallon.
Personally, if I could pick any car I wanted and not have to worry about running costs, the top 10 list would include a Cadillac CTS-V, a Chevy Camaro (like Bumblebee) and a GT500 Mustang. I'm struggling to think of any car currently made in the UK that would interest me except perhaps the Ariel Atom.
If there's one thing Britain should be proud of, it's the National Health Service. We often grumble about it, with its long waiting lists and how the average GP is about as much use as a chocolate teapot, and although private healthcare is available it's incredibly expensive. But the idea of having to pay out extortionate amounts of money each month for health insurance like Americans have to makes me feel very lucky that I live in this country.
Americans have the right to defend themselves and their property with deadly force (yes I know laws vary from state to state), but in Britain if you were to have a go at an intruder you'd be more likely to do time than him. It's against his 'human rights' to be assaulted you know.... Yeah right - if every house contained somebody with a .45 and the legal right to use it, burglary rates would plummet.
Most of the TV programmes I enjoy come from the US, but I'm very glad that I don't have to put up with commercial breaks every few minutes.

So far then, this sounds like pretty much a draw. And that's what I would expect, because although we're separated by about 3000 miles of water our lives aren't really any different. It's not a case of one being better than the other, it's just two countries filled with a broad spectrum of people.
If this 'special relationship' really exists in some way outside of politics, its that we can appreciate aspects of each others lives and accept that when all's said and done we're basically all the same.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Captain Custard Vs the onions of doom

There are many things that happen as we get older. The unfortunate growth of random hairs in awkward places, wrinkles, and the unwavering belief that everything was better back in the 'good old days' to name but a few.
Another thing that changes is our eating habits. I've always eaten like a horse, but somehow I don't seem to able to pack in quite as much as I used to before feeling completely stuffed and in need of a nice lie down to recover. Not to mention the fact that having slowed down a bit means I burn less calories and the race against an expanding waist is becoming harder to win. Twenty years ago my stomach was flat - concave even - but these days although there may be a six-pack lurking there, it's cunningly disguised under a fat bit which extends sideways to enhance the love handles. I hate it, especially as it's the only area of excess flesh I have. Why can't it be evenly distributed all over, then those couple of pounds wouldn't be noticed? Not fair.
My father has the appetite of an anorexic mouse, and as I seem to be unable to prevent myself from being like him in so many ways, I suppose it's inevitable that one day I too will be satisfied with a main meal that at one time I would have considered merely a starter.
It's not just the quantity that's changing either. Certain foods are beginning to drop from the menu because the body can't deal with them in the same way as it did in the past. Anything containing mustard is now out of bounds, and pasta can't be eaten two days in a row, but the one that's now starting to bug me is the humble onion.
It's got to the point where the smell of onions seeps from my pores and my mouth tastes awful. Even the onion powder used in crisp flavouring has a major effect.
But as onion is present in so many things it's hard to avoid completely, and a chilli or curry without onions would definitely be missing something crucial. Besides, where would we be without the entertainment value afforded by excessive onion consumption? Even at 42 my inner child still finds flatulence hilarious, and it would be a shame to have to rely on peas, sprouts and cabbage without the onion to act as a catalyst to boost the effect to cataclysmic proportions.
In fairness I suppose I've suffered from these side effects for a long time, and not just with onions but also their cousin garlic. Garlic is a wonderful thing in moderation, but on one occasion I fell foul of its awesome power in a big way. About 19 years ago when I'd not long met my wife, a group of us were at the seaside and decided to stop off at a burger stall for some sustenance. There was an assortment of burgers on the list including one that claimed to be a 'garlic burger'. To me this suggested that there would be a little garlic mixed in with the burger meat, so being the adventurous type I plumped for that instead of the standard cheesburger.
Unfortunately it turned out that the vendor's idea of a garlic burger was to slap an ordinary burger in a bun and drop a large splodge of garlic puree on top. Not having paid too much attention to this process, I proceeded to gorge myself. The first bite was the warning shot across the bow, but in my hunger I failed to heed the signs and carried on. By halfway through I knew something was seriously amiss and scraped out the remaining garlic but by that time the damage had been done.
The taste was ingrained in my body, everything tasted of garlic. The odour seeping from my skin was disturbing enough to keep the general public at arms length, and the UN declared a 10 metre exclusion zone around me to protect the innocent from my breath. In the end it was about a week before the smell disappeared and the world returned to normal. Looking back, I'm surprised my future wife didn't turn on her heels and run away.
Due to that experience I'm always careful with garlic and generally use less than recipes call for lest I end up with a repeat performance, but the after effects still linger a while.
I know this issue isn't exactly an allergy; more an intolerance if anything. Perhaps it's only a problem in the same way that drinking too much beer results in driving the porcelain truck, and I'm buggered if I'm going to eliminate beer on the basis that overindulgence results in a psychedelic yawn and a negative happiness factor.
I just need to be wary and face the fact that the onion family simply doesn't like me, while all the time being aware that by the time my meals become the size of my father's, the amount of onion consumed will be negligible anyway.