Sunday, 28 December 2014

A question of resolve

Within the next couple of weeks there will be a massive surge in new gym memberships as thousands of overweight people finally feel guilty enough about the state they've allowed themselves to get in to declare that their new-year's resolution is to get in shape. I think what they really mean is that they want to change shape - from spherical to something a little more aesthetically pleasing - and hopefully reap the benefits that accompany being less of a bloater such as reduced heart strain, increased energy levels, less joint pain, and better quality sleep.
It only seems to happen after the annual winter binge-fest when the chair is creaking under the added contributions of too much roast dinner, huge tins of Quality Street, and those silly orange and lemon jelly things that nobody would consider buying at any other time of year. People have done the usual thing of hoarding mountains of unhealthy crap over the preceding three months with the sole intention of consuming it all in two days straight, and then they wonder why they feel like shit and why the scales have suddenly developed a calibration fault.
I must admit to not being completely unaffected by this because any time spent at home with little to do results in boredom, and boredom leads to a significant increase in trips to the fridge to look for beer and cold sausages.

I don't know when or why the tradition of new-year resolutions began, but it's a fortunate coincidence for those with this particular affliction.
So as soon as the gym opens in the new year there will be a queue of sweaty faces and wobbly bottoms waiting to sign up for a membership, stealing envious glances at the long-term gym freaks with their perfectly toned bodies encased in all-revealing lycra and their faces wearing an expression of confident superiority.
The new recruits will sign on the dotted line of the direct debit mandate, with a determination to put all their effort into reversing the last few years or decades of self abuse. The scientific formula for the success rate of this is A/100=X where A is the number of new gym members and X is the number of new members who are still attending after the first month.

Some may feel that the gym is a tad expensive in the long term, and that the lycra-clad tofu and lettuce enthusiasts who frequent the gym are too intimidating, and so they opt to purchase their own gym equipment to use at home. Naturally this is doomed to failure because everyone knows that a cross-trainer will be used twice before sitting in the corner of the room being used as a convenient clothes horse until it finds its way onto Ebay.

Another popular resolution is to give up smoking, and again this is a great idea that meets with limited success, despite all the assorted patches and gum on the market. The problem with these things is that all joking aside, they're a fight against an addiction and addictions are hard to break. Whether it's reaching for a last pork pie before bed time, lighting up after a meal, or watching shite TV like Eastenders every day, to the sufferer the attachment to these habits is very real and requires a huge change in thought processes to see any positive result.

For my own part I need to stop constantly fretting over what will happen if the automatic gearbox on my car fails, what car I want to have to replace it, and why it's so hard to find a record shop these days. I want to stop worrying whether my colleagues have any respect for me, wondering if I'm ever likely to be free of pain, and forever trying to find a sense of purpose. In short I want to learn to still my mind and live in the moment.

Therefore to everyone who's going to make a new-year resolution to change something about themselves for the better, whether it's losing weight, quitting smoking or drinking, using the internet for something other than porn, or simply to greet each new day feeling grateful to be alive, I wish you all the very best of luck in your endeavours.

You go, girl.


Saturday, 27 December 2014

Soon be back to reality

Now that the silly season is officially over, I feel I can breathe a sigh of relief.
Yesterday we decided to brave Cambridge as the boy wanted to get some clothes and the sales was a logical place to start. It was with some trepidation that we set off, expecting to be faced with enormous tailbacks forcing us to change our minds and return to the Zen temple of peace and tranquility we call home.
Drawing closer to our destination we became increasingly unnerved as the roads almost resembled that scene in '28 Days Later' when Cillian Murphy is wandering along a deserted Westminster Bridge.
We managed to get done with minimal hassle in very little time and even when we left the city the traffic was incredibly light. So what's happened out there? Has everyone finally realised it's not a bargain if you weren't going to buy it anyway?

The only thing I've got to face now is putting up with every man and his dog asking if I had a good Christmas, which I shall try very hard to answer quickly and simply without launching into my standard anti-xmas tirade which is already feeling a bit worn out from being used on everyone who had the bad judgement to ask that most ridiculous of all questions: "Are you ready for Christmas?".
Ready for what exactly? What preparation does it take to spend one day getting drunk and fat? I can do that any time so why should it make a difference that it's a day when the unenlightened masses are allegedly celebrating the birth of a mythical being to cover up the fact that the only worship really being carried out is at the altar of rampant consumerism.

But enough about all that. I've just made a large batch of carrot and parsnip soup, and am now contemplating getting the pressure washer out to remove the green stuff from the driveway.
I know the whole point of a holiday is to kick back and do as little as possible, but it only takes a couple of days of that before I'm climbing the walls with boredom and desperately seeking something to occupy myself - as long as it doesn't involve painting the house. The biggest question is how long the bottle of Jack Daniels will last....


Saturday, 13 December 2014

Lights, camera, action hero...

My first recollection of the cinema is seeing the original Star Wars in 1977, and it set in motion a lifelong enthusiasm for George Lucas's creation. I still feel that the original trilogy is far superior to the prequels from more recent years, with the newer ones relying a bit too heavily on CG graphics and Hayden Christensen's acting which was more hammy than a ploughman's lunch and about as convincing as an email from Africa offering you a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity.
With a new episode in the making, I can't help wondering where the story could possibly be taken, and the cynic in me is crying out that it's just a shameless cash-in on the phenomenal success of the series, but I hope that idea is proved at least partially wrong. I want the new one to be a worthy addition to the saga so that my affection for Star Wars remains untarnished.
But not every film stands the test of time this way, and the most glaringly obvious examples of time eroding the appeal of a movie can be found in the action genre.
From the martial arts movies of the 70's through the unintelligible grunts of John Rambo to Steven Seagal proving that being a one-trick-pony is no barrier to movie success and a big paycheck, we've seen it all. With a dazzling catalogue of films featuring the dominating presences of Schwarzenegger, Stallone,  Van Damme, Seagal, etc we're shown time after time that there's no point taking out the bad guy with one bullet from 1000 yards when you can blow up an entire city block to achieve the same end. All of these movies are larger than life with enormous body counts racked up by a single hero who suffers little more than a few bruises and a torn vest, leaving a swathe of destruction that would have made the Luftwaffe's effect on London look like a job that could be cleaned up with a brush and dustpan.
When these films were released they had a huge following. Men could sit back and lose themselves in 90 minutes of mindless escapism while women could just about tolerate them for the sake of Van-Damme's glistening muscles when his shirt inevitably fell off during the big fight with Mr Naughty.
At that time - late 80's to mid 90's - I was completely hooked on these films and my VHS video collection began to swell with numerous examples which were watched over and over until I knew all the dialogue and who would be the next bad guy to explode on the receiving end of a 40mm grenade.
Eventually my tastes expanded to cover many other types of movie, but recently the old titles have started to emerge either on Netflix or in the DVD bargain bin in the supermarket.
Unlike the original Star Wars trilogy and countless classics that relied exclusively on a good story and top rate acting talent, the old action movies have suffered greatly with the passing of time and our own expectations of what makes a good film.
The other evening I sat down to watch 'Kickboxer' which I used to enjoy back in the day, only to conclude that it was more cheesy than a French delicatessen. There have been others too which have not survived being revisited years later. The best bits of 'Under Siege' were Erika Eleniak getting her rack out and Tommy Lee Jones proving he was the only actor involved with any real talent.
The first 'Terminator' film still possesses a decent story, but the effects of the fleshless terminator in the last scenes are now almost as laughable as ED209 in 'Robocop'. Almost without exception all these action movies fulfil every cliché, particularly the theme of a one-man army defeating the enemy despite being outnumbered hundreds to one by evil minions (not the purple ones) armed to the teeth with machine guns and heavy artillery. Throw in a few post-slaying witty quips, like Arnie's "Stick around" after pinning his hapless quarry to a tree with a large knife, lots of torn clothes to show off well honed muscles, and a final scene involving our hero walking slowly out of the smoke to a background of American soft rock. You always knew how it was going to pan out. It was as predictable as there being a Bond film on telly on Christmas day, but like a good road trip it was more about the journey than the destination.
That was then, but trying to watch them now is kind of embarrassing. I spot one of these films and say to the boy "Hey, I remember this, it was great - you'll love it!". Twenty minutes in he's giving me funny looks and if he makes it to the end he's in disbelief that I made him sit through such a torrent of nonsense and that I could ever have enjoyed such a thing. Okay, he'll get a bit of enjoyment from the gunfights and blokes kicking the shit out of each other for way longer than they ever would in real life, but that's about it. For my own part I'll sit through it determined to find that spark that made me enjoy it so much twenty years ago, but failing miserably and finding that actually it's a pretty crappy excuse for entertainment.
The recent attempts to resurrect the genre have been patchy at best. I admit I really enjoyed 'The Expendables' as a bit of brain-out fun, but the second one was simply awful so I have no intention of subjecting myself to number three.
Clearly this is why I've moved on. I enjoy watching many kinds of film including some old black and white ones, foreign films, and God help me even the odd chick-flick. I loved 'Breakfast at Tiffanys', although that might have been helped by the delectable Audrey Hepburn, 'White Heat' with James Cagney, and 'Some Like It Hot' with Marilyn Monroe. Even though decades have passed, these film are still as enjoyable today as they ever were, but the action movies were a passing fad that belongs in the history books of cinema.

Arnie felt his mouse problem demanded something
bigger than the standard commercial mousetraps

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

A time of reflection (been there, done that)

It was recently brought to my attention that the RAF had scrapped its fleet of Lockheed TriStars and I have to admit to having felt rather sad about it, especially seeing videos on YouTube of them being broken up for scrap like this one:


I started my apprenticeship at Marshall Aerospace in 1987 to train as an airframe fitter, and after spending the first year in the training centre honing vital practical skills under the tuition of two amazing guys who worked the 'good cop, bad cop' routine like seasoned veterans, I ended up out on the shop floor - specifically Hangar 17 which was the TriStar service centre.
During my time there (through my apprenticeship and beyond) I got to work on all aspects of the airframe and systems (apart from electrics, 'cos that's a sparky's job), developing the sort of familiarity with the aircraft that you have with a car that you've had to bits on a regular basis over an extended period of time - and I've had a few cars that have needed that level of love and attention...
There were many TriStars passing through that place - some for relatively quick jobs, and some for extensive major servicing involving a total stripdown back to virtually a bare airframe. The occasional commercial one came in, such as those operated by Air Canada and Air Transat, and from time to time we got to work on King Hussein of Jordan's personal TriStar which was an incredible piece of kit; a flying palace which beggared belief. The first time it came in was rather unnerving though, because the King's security guys were constantly wandering around, looking over your shoulder to make sure you weren't trying to steal the gold fixtures and fittings, with pistols hanging in shoulder rigs under their jackets. Eventually the amount of complaints of feeling intimidated led to airport security taking away the guns until they left which made us feel about as good as one can with a muscle-bound meatball with no sense of humour glaring menacingly at you while you're repairing the motorised table in the state room. As undeniably cool as that plane was, we were always glad to see it go.


 Another interesting TriStar was the one bought by Orbital Sciences Corporation which was converted to an airborne launch platform for the Pegasus rocket. The Pegasus is used to deploy satellites into orbit.
The conversion was a major feat, because apart from the modifications needed to hang the rocket from the belly there was an immense amount of weight that had to be shed from the plane to enable it to get off the ground with a fully fuelled and equipped Pegasus mounted underneath.


For the most part though, the TriStars that came through that hangar were those belonging to the RAF, and you'll have to forgive me getting my anorak on at this point. There were nine in total - six were ex-British Airways and were converted to tanker/transport planes (ZD948 - ZD953), and the other three were ex-PanAm (ZE704 - ZE706).
ZE706 spent years sitting on the pan outside the hangar being robbed for spare parts and generally rotting away. It was known amongst the fitters as the 'DeathStar', because if someone was sent to work on it their next stop was often the personnel office to collect their P45. The trouble with 706 was that it had been purchased in error. It was intended that it would be converted to a tanker, but the conversion couldn't be carried out due it being the wrong variant which lacked the necessary third cargo door.
So there it sat, sad and unwanted while the MOD decided what they were going to do with it.
Eventually, they decided to simply use it as a troop transporter, and so began the arduous project of reviving that sorry state of an aircraft from a corroded piece of crap into what ended up as probably the best TriStar on the fleet. There was a distinct feeling of pride amongst those of us who worked on ZE706 during this phase of its life, and all thoughts of the 'DeathStar' were banished when we watched it take off again, which made it all the more sad for me to know that at the end of its service life it was just ripped apart to be weighed in for scrap metal.
By the time I left Marshall Aerospace in 1996 I had spent my time on TriStars, C-130 Hercules, Boeing 727 (royal Bahrain), Boeing 707, Gulfstream G2, Andover, and HS125. I knew I had to get out of there because as much as I liked the fact that I was doing the job I'd dreamt about throughout my childhood, the way the company operated was sucking away my very soul, leaving me in a permanent state of misery.

Even though there were some seriously unpleasant aspects to being an airframe fitter like crawling around in wet fuel tanks, decorroding the internal skin of a TriStar's s-duct (the number two engine's intake) with a vacu-blast machine, stripping out a filthy bullet-ridden Hercules from some war-torn African shit-hole, getting smeared with all sorts of sealants and chemicals that have since been found to be highly carcinogenic, and getting your head addled by methyl-ether-ketone fumes, I can still look back at that period of my life and smile to myself.
It wasn't all bad. There were a lot of good blokes (and a few wankers of course but that's the same everywhere), I got to spend a few years doing what I thought I wanted to do with my life, and I learned a hell of a lot of skills including the ability to swear profusely which I never did before I left school, and like all bad habits has proved to be impossible to shake off.

Now I work in aerodynamics at Cambridge University's Department of Engineering - a world away from the demands and unreasonable behaviour of industry and I know that the only reason I'd go back to working on planes is if I'd retired on a big lottery win and wanted to do aircraft restoration at a museum as a means of preventing myself going insane with boredom.

ZE706 - rest in pieces.



Sunday, 23 November 2014

Great Expectations

There are some things in life that people do because they've been programmed to do them. We go to work, get married, have kids, take out a pension plan, try and fail to eat five servings of fruit and veg every day, and have a few drinks with friends to celebrate being one year closer to death.
At the same time, we eat, drink, sleep and screw because these things are hard-wired into our DNA, but they're natural processes that we do without being told that we should.
The others have been drilled into our minds since we were pushed into this world in a whirlwind of screams, wet icky stuff, and possibly some rather good drugs. From the word 'go' we're conditioned to expect certain things of life, although there will be variations caused by our experiences during our early years. If someone's childhood involves parents who spend every waking hour shouting at each other and throwing things, then the idea of marriage will probably hold rather less appeal when they're grown up.

Personally I think it's a bit of a shame that many of these expectations of life become so important to some people that they feel the need to pressurise others into following these ideas.
Take marriage for example. There's much to be said for the emotional security it brings, but it's not for everyone. Some people may feel that they don't need a piece of paper to spend their life with another person; that it's an outdated tradition that they want no part of. This is absolutely fine and I have no problem with that viewpoint. Unfortunately there are those who feel it necessary to constantly badger someone in a relationship with comments along the lines of "So when are you going to tie the knot then?", and react with shock and horror if they're told that it's not going to happen. "But your children will be bastards!" will likely be the next thought in their heads, but so what? It's the 21st century for God's sake.
Besides, the person in question might not want to have kids at all, which causes further shock and palpitations in our one-man (or one-woman) fountain of moral outrage. Why would someone possibly not want to spend what amounts to about a quarter of their lives and the whole of their wallet raising offspring that leave you emotionally drained and looking forward to them leaving and setting up home by themselves, so you can sit peacefully in the corner rocking yourself gently back and forth humming the theme tune to 'Postman Pat'?
Don't get me wrong, kids are not without their rewards, but I really don't believe anyone should feel in the least bit guilty about choosing to not have them - in the same way that I feel sorry for those who consider their life pointless and tragic if they're unable to have them because there are so many aspects of life to be embraced - many of which are hard to experience if there's a small person hanging round your feet 24/7.

The same problem exists with the more trivial aspects of our lives.
I don't celebrate Christmas at all. I think it's a colossal waste of time and energy and I'd love it if we got all Oliver Cromwell and just banned the bloody thing.
It goes way back to Roman times and the feast of Saturnalia - a week of celebrations culminating in a day of feasting on the 25th of December, involving fir trees, holly wreaths, gift giving and lots of other traditions carried on today. Then the Christian church decided to have a celebration of the birth of Christ on the same day in an attempt to woo the pagans away from their 'ungodly' ways - "Our God's just as cool as yours, look, we're having a big piss-up too!". The excuse for it being JC's birthday is bollocks anyway as historians believe he was actually born in the springtime.
The thing is, most people think I'm weird not doing Xmas and can't understand what my problem is. Well it's simple really - I have no problem with people celebrating a religious festival if they follow that particular religion, but to do so when you don't is just hypocritical. Not to mention that the festival has long since been stolen from the church by the modern religion of commercial greed.
The reaction of others to this viewpoint generally varies between disbelief and toxic, but some do admit to wishing they didn't get involved either. So don't. It's quite simple. The fact is that when you get back to work in the new year, everyone will be saying stuff like "Thank God that's all over", or "How the fuck am I going to pay this credit card bill?".
It's tradition. It's nonsense. Yet it's expected.

You'd think that in these supposedly enlightened times people wouldn't be so afraid to make their own choices without fear of being judged by others who really should be looking more closely at themselves instead.
It wasn't that long ago that homosexuality was illegal, unmarried mothers were put into lunatic asylums, and nearly everyone went to church on Sunday.
The world changes, and with the exception of Sunday trading and rap music videos, mostly it's for the better. Maybe it's time for more people to feel free to do their own thing; living their life the way they wish without worrying about what others expect of them. As long as our choices don't have an adverse affect on others we shouldn't be afraid of judgement.



Sunday, 16 November 2014

Getting all moist again

The heating is now on, the windows drip with condensation in the morning, and that fusty niff is back in the bedrooms, so it can only mean one thing. Winter is upon us once again.
I don't really have a problem with winter itself. I prefer it to summer when it's baking hot and all I want to do is hide in the fridge with the beer and not come out until it's all over.
I love a cold crisp winter's day when you can wrap up in a big coat and a thick wooly hat that itches like hell and leaves a huge red band across your forehead when you take it off. I love it when everything turns white and you can go off for a walk feeling the grass crunch under your feet and icicles forming at the tip of your nose.
But as always there's the need to take the rough with the smooth.

My house is an absolute bugger for damp problems in the winter, and having talked to many people about this it would seem I'm not alone. Even those who live in modern houses have their tales of woe despite my assumptions that a more recent build would have been designed to counter such things. Apparently not.
The bedrooms are the worst affected, with great puddles of condensate accumulated on the window sills in the morning, stains on the walls where moisture has run down leaving tell-tale marks that look like tiny snails have been having a midnight downhill race, and the ominous growth of nasty black stuff on the ceiling.
No matter how much we mop up, bleach the ceiling, and run around with a spray bottle of Febreze, we still end up walking into the house to be confronted with that slight underlying whiff of mould that usually results in an emergency Tesco run to stock up on air fresheners.
I even tried repainting the boy's room (which is the worst affected) using kitchen & bathroom paint, but the only difference is that instead of soaking the paint, the water just runs down the wall and creates a damp patch on the carpet.
The situation isn't helped by having freshly washed laundry and towels hanging about the place, but as putting them on the washing line just makes them cold and damp rather than warm and damp, there's little choice in the matter.
Today I threw caution to the wind and bought a dehumidifier in the hope that the extra cost in electricity will be justified by it being a useful weapon in the ongoing war against the damp.
Time will tell.

Winter also brings with it the days of going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark; forcing yourself to go out for a short walk at lunchtime just to get a bit of vitamin D.
Soon it'll be cold enough to be out there scraping the windscreen in the morning, freezing your fingertips so that they've barely thawed by the time you've got to work. That is of course assuming that you make it to work at all, because you take your life in your own hands with all the idiot tank drivers out there - the wankers who are just too damn lazy to clear their windows properly before setting off, preferring to navigate by the 'force' and one small patch of windscreen about the size of a postcard.

 In the meantime there's always the good stuff about winter to reflect upon, like the leaves having fallen from the trees and bushes at the roadside so you can see further round the bends. It's always nicer to vegetate on the sofa in the evening once everything has been done, without the sun still being up and about trying to convince you that you really ought to be doing something other than winding down for bed. It's just not the same being tucked up in bed a bit early with a large glass of red and a bacon sandwich if it's accompanied by the sounds of kids playing and the tosser up the road pressure-washing his bloody motocross bike for hours on end yet again. Far better for everyone else in the world to be indoors watching Newsnight or something while you eat, drink, and do squidgy things until the knowledge that you still need to be up for work again the next morning persuades you to turn off the light and get some shut-eye.
Winter is about being cosy. Knowing that if it gets a bit nippy you can always throw on another layer, unlike those hot summer days where you can only take off so many layers to try and cool off before somebody calls the police who charge you with indecent exposure.
Just like everyone else, I know I'll end up grumbling about it because that's what we do in this country.
Gone are the days when we were a global superpower with colonies wherever the indigenous people were armed with nothing more than pointed sticks and therefore provided little in the way of resistance. Gone too are those days of England being a dominant centre of manufacturing excellence, since most of the factories have been shut down in favour of cheap labour in the far east.
All we have left to be proud of is the NHS (despite being so desperately underfunded), moaning about the weather, and having the ability to laugh at ourselves.

Posh bacon sarnie. It's a winter evening thing.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Le Freak

Looking back at my previous post, I can see I wrote it from a rather dark place.
Luckily there are things that lift you back up when you're down, like talking things through with a loved one, watching a TV programme about people far less fortunate than yourself, or even just reading something that puts life into perspective for you.

In a recent post on a blog I enjoy reading by John Gray called 'Going Gently' http://disasterfilm.blogspot.co.uk he listed a few odd habits of his. I had a good chuckle at this, and it also got me thinking. I reckon anyone could write a similar list of their own if they were to analyse themselves closely enough and be honest about those things that others might consider a bit strange.
So I've given it some thought and come up with my own list of behavioural and psychological oddities.

1. I must be the only man who hates the toilet seat being left up.
2. The volume on the car radio must be on either an even number or a multiple of five, otherwise the universe will come to an end.
3. I have a very real fear of crowds, especially if I can't see an exit.
4. I hate talking on the phone.
5. Ants - kill 'em all!
6. Large volumes of water get me jittery, particularly around locks and weirs.
7. I feel very uncomfortable in shops that sell expensive stuff, and have an overwhelming urge to punch the snooty assistants in the face when they look down their nose at me.
8. The coasters on the coffee table have to be straight and aligned.
9. I'll spend ages making sure the cheese accurately covers the toast before putting it under the grill.
10. The kitchen knives must be super sharp at all times.
11. A 20 mile detour is preferable to sitting in a traffic queue for fifteen minutes.
12. A computer must respond within 0.25 seconds to any command, otherwise I want to introduce it to a large hammer.
13. I can't help whistling the theme to The Muppet Show when I've been dealing with inept students.
14. Tattoos on women are my biggest turn-off - even more than smoking.
15. Can't be near smelly people.
16. Still find farts to be a wonderful source of entertainment, despite being 43.
17. Don't like cats, but they have an inexplicable fondness for me. I'm sure they just like to wind me up.
18. Really don't like driving at night in the rain.
19. I stubbornly refuse to own or wear slippers.
20. The excitement generated by the proximity of guns could be a bit worrying.
21. I don't get why anyone would make a conscious decision to wear corduroy or tweed.
22. I don't trust things I don't understand.
23. I don't do Christmas.
24. Confidence is attractive, but vanity is not.
25. I consider religion to be the greatest cause of trouble in the world.
26. There's nothing better at the end of the day than brushed cotton sheets.
27. I know I locked the door, I remember doing it, but I still need to check I locked it again.
28. I become irritable and generally unpleasant when I'm hungry.
29. I'd rather be hungry or thirsty than consume poor quality food or drink.
30. I generally consider 'Everyone does it' to be the best reason to not do it.

Now this is just an abridged version of my issues, but already I'm concerned that there's enough material to deserve a prolonged stay at the funny farm. But here's the thing - we all have our own little habits and preferences. Sometimes they're more irrational or unconventional than others, but variety is, as they say, the spice of life.
So maybe it's time to relax about these things. Be who you are, allow others to be who they are, and embrace your inner freak.


Sunday, 2 November 2014

Can't get no satisfaction

Some days I get a bit too thoughtful for my own good, and when those thoughts turn to everyday life and what I do with it, I have to admit it can get a wee bit depressing.
For the most part I bimble along through the days, just getting on with what needs to be done and that's that. But when I start analysing how I spend my time outside of work it becomes clear that something is amiss.
Whenever I chat with people about everyday stuff, it always seems like other people's lives are a whirlwind of activity so intense it would leave Superman leaning against a lamppost, breathless and clutching at the stitch in his side.

I, on the other hand, sit down in the evening once dinner and the washing up are finished and wonder what the hell I'm going to do to fill the remaining hours in the day until it's time to curl up in bed for yet another night of  Olympic standard snoring.
The weekend is even worse because I don't have work to break up the day, and once the car is washed and the supermarket has been visited to stock up on Doritos and popcorn in readiness for the evening's slobbing in front of a film, there's still a big chunk of the day remaining.

Now there's always a few jobs that need attending to, but somehow it's hard to get motivated to deal with them even though I'm desperately bored. I need to de-spider the shed, rub down the bathroom door frame where the door is chafing, clean behind the washing machine, and invent a way of airing the towels every day through the winter without them getting in the way or resorting to the tumble dryer.
Instead, I'll choose to shoot people on the Xbox until the wife gets fed up with all the gun noises, then turn on the computer to kill a couple of hours looking at cars and boobs on the internet.
It's completely predictable, dull, repetitive, and frustrating - especially knowing that the only thing stopping it from being any different is me.
This behaviour could indicate one of two things. Firstly, that I'm clinically depressed and it's only a short step from here to an overly tight necktie. Otherwise it could be that I'm actually doing all that I want to do and need to accept the situation and embrace it.

I should be able to enjoy the fact that I've engineered my life to be as stress free as possible, leaving me with ample free time to spend doing as much or as little as I wish, and if I choose to kill time doing as little as possible between cooking meals and descaling the shower head yet again, then I should be able to do so without feeling guilty.
I think the guilt comes from thinking I should be doing interesting stuff with the wife - going here and there, exploring and having little adventures - but as she's of much the same mindset as me  neither of us motivates the other and we're left looking at each other going "So what do you want to do?", "I don't know, what do you want to do?" like those vultures in Disney's Jungle Book.
Inactivity leads to boredom, and boredom leads to all sorts of bad things like excessive chocolate consumption, trying to shoot magpies beyond the range of acceptable accuracy, and reactivating your Facebook profile even though you've spouted off repeatedly on your blog about how crap it is.
The most frustrating thing is that I'm always full of ideas about what I could be doing. My insane brain is constantly coming up with potential projects that could fill the empty hours with productive activity, but I still haven't installed a big V8 into a very small car, built a canoe, restored a steam engine, or learned to paint. I haven't followed up the idea of joining a photography club, the power kite only got used a couple of times, the archery had to stop when I knackered a tendon in my arm, and any hopes I had of actually learning to dance properly were dashed last November by the amazing exploding knee episode.

Perhaps it's time for me to accept that if I really wanted  to do these things I would have been doing them already, and that I must therefore be content with things the way they are. Anything I've done to change my situation, believing myself to be dissatisfied with life, has failed for one reason or another, and that can only be because although outside influences make me feel like I'm missing out on a big exciting life, the truth is that I'm happy as I am, and I need to stop being miserable about it.

Loved archery - gutted to have to give it up.

Friday, 31 October 2014

The Dalai Lama's 18 rules for living

At the turn of this century, the Dalai Lama issued the following eighteen rules for living.
 

Rule 1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

Rule 2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson

Rule 3. Follow the three Rs: 1. Respect for self 2. Respect for others 3. Responsibility for all your actions.

Rule 4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

Rule 5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

Rule 6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.

Rule 7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

Rule 8. Spend some time alone every day.

Rule 9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.

Rule 10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

Rule 11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.

Rule 12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.

Rule 13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.

Rule 14. Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.

Rule 15. Be gentle with the earth.

Rule 16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.

Rule 17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.

Rule 18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.


Wouldn't life be so much better if people stopped being so self-serving and followed these rules?



Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Got the blues

This year the Nobel prize for physics was awarded to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura for their invention of the blue light emitting diode.
This paved the way for a whole new generation of energy-saving lamps that we now see in our everyday lives; domestic lighting, TVs, car headlamps, and even the humble flashlight has benefited from their work.
Unfortunately, it's still the same old story of inventions made for good but also used for evil. In the same way that nuclear fission provided a way to generate massive amounts of energy to fuel our increasing demand for electricity but also led to the most horrific and devastating weapons in history, the blue LED which was intended to make our lives better has also proved to have a more sinister side. Allow me to explain.

Take a look around any electrical retail store and you'll see the problem immediately. The blue LED has found its way into anything and everything that consumes electricity.
My microwave has a blue display that sears your retinas when you're trying to set the time, the numbers on my blu-ray player are distracting, and my toaster lights up my face blue whenever I fancy Marmite on toast.
Nearly every PC and monitor at work now has power buttons and even fans illuminated with the damn things, and if you've tried to buy a new car stereo in the last few years you'll have been confronted by a literally dazzling array of what appear to be blue disco lights.

As soon as the blue LED arrived on the consumer market it became 'cool', so it was inevitable that the world's tat merchants would fall to their knees in reverence for this new-found tool for flogging their unnecessary shite to an unsuspecting public.
Remember when the roads were suddenly full of youths with blue LED windscreen washers on their cars? These were just the start, but at least you knew if the person behind you at night was a nob-head.
There's no part of car culture that hasn't been abused with the blue LED, and I still don't understand why. When all we had was red or green LEDs we didn't see all the crap that we have with the blue ones. With the exception of the Aston Martin Lagonda and KITT from Knight Rider I'm struggling to think of any car that put non-blue LEDs to great use. Certainly not in the way that the Barry-Boys do with the blue ones.

There will be no escaping this phenomenon shortly as the shops go for the big pre-xmas push, filling the aisles with all kinds of tasteless crap of which at least 80 percent will be illuminated by blue LEDs. Now as I've said many times, I hate Christmas, but even I can't help but think blue lights are about as unfestive as it's possible to get. Blue light is cold and clinical and does nothing to give a sense seasonal warmth and togetherness that so many consider to only be important for a couple of weeks of the year, so why do they do it? If it's not bad enough to produce a two foot shiny silver xmas tree that sings and dances when you walk past it, they go and cover it in flashing blue LEDs. Talk about the final nail in the coffin......


Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Devil's Work

There are definitely some inventions that the world would be a better place without. Things that are a constant source of irritation; whose only purpose seems to be to make our lives awkward, stressful or simply downright unpleasant.
Some of these things surround us in our everyday lives, and some we even bring into our own homes in the mistaken belief that our lives will be somehow enriched. We only need to flick through the Betterware catalogue for evidence of this.

Now I'm not going to go on here about the annoyances caused by other people's actions - that would take an eternity to write, resulting in a series of books that would occupy more bookshelf space than the whole Harry Potter collection.
Instead I want to point an accusatory finger at inanimate objects that were probably intended to either make life easier or entertain us, but instead serve only to make our lives a misery.
In my previous post 'Supporting Role' I mentioned the padded bra, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Let's take answerphones as an example. Someone probably phoned a work colleague and had to leave a message for his secretary to pass on rather than keep calling back, and thought it would be wonderful if everyone who didn't have the benefit of a secretary could have a similar service. As a result we have a device that gets you all flustered when you're connected to it so you either end up leaving an unintelligible message littered with 'erms' and 'ums', or doing as I always do and just hang up. If you're silly enough to own such a thing, all you do is rack up a huge phone bill calling back the people that left bizarre messages full of 'erms' and 'ums'.

This brings me nicely to the mobile phone (or cellphone if you're American), which has become an almost essential part of modern life, giving people the opportunity to keep in touch, and with the advent of the smartphone to have the world at their fingertips wherever they may be. The downside of this is always being contactable (unless you switch it off), patchy reception, mystical abbreviations in text messages (the younger the sender the weirder the message), unwanted texts and cold-callers, and the emergence of a new breed of idiot who wants to deliberately bend a new iPhone.
 Indeed, much of the technology we use every day has a down side. Our computers, smartphones, tablets etc have gradually changed the way many of us live our lives. We don't go out shopping so much because we can buy everything we need from the comfort of our sofa. Social media has made us less sociable than ever, and when you do meet up with people they still spend half their time with their phone in their hand checking for Facebook updates.

There's Dyson vacuum cleaners that cost a fortune but are about as reliable as a secondhand Lada, and blu-ray players that take so long to start up that you could have chucked a tape in an old VHS machine and watched the film before the blu-ray has got beyond the menus.
Anything involving Bluetooth is a waste of time because even if you do ever get it to communicate with another device the transfer rate is so slow it would be quicker to write the pages of ones and zeros by hand and send them by second class mail.

The kitchen is always a target for gizmos that promise to take the hard work out of your culinary endeavours, and we've all been sucked into buying these things at some time or other.
I've lost track of all the garlic presses that have made it take ten times longer to deal with the garlic than just chopping it finely with a sharp knife.
And what about the poorly designed mug trees that fall over if you dare to remove a mug and upset the balance?
Then we have microwave ovens that heat the bowl to roughly the same temperature as the core of a nuclear reactor while your soup remains stubbornly tepid, toasters that are impossible to clean properly, and food processors that claim to do twenty jobs but only do two of them effectively and the additional washing up takes longer than it would have taken to do the job without it.

Our cars are not exempt from this problem either. If I want to start the engine before putting on my seat belt I do not want the car to make horrible beeping noises at me until I comply with its desires, and if I wish to put my bag on the passenger seat I don't want the car to have a hissy fit because it thinks there's an unbelted passenger sitting there. I got so pissed off with this I went under the seats and disconnected all the sensors to make it shut up.
I don't want a car to decide when I need to switch on the lights or the wipers, I don't want my seat heated so that I think I've wet myself, and I don't want a big red light telling me I'm two weeks overdue an oil change. Yet the car manufacturers seem to think we need all these things because we're obviously too stupid to work it out for ourselves, so unless you go for one of the few bargain basement grot-boxes you get saddled with all this unwanted crap by default. In many cases it's just technology for the sake of it.
Personally all I want is a throttle pedal connected to a carburettor by a mechanical cable, a bunch of switches for the essential electrical stuff, a decent stereo and a comfy seat. An old Jaguar XJ12 would do very nicely thank-you, not a modern sensory deprivation chamber sponsored by Microsoft.

I'm going on a bit here, but I still feel I've barely scratched the surface. I'm sure other people have their own list of items from Satan's workshop that they feel they'd be happier without, and I'd enjoy hearing about them.
In the meantime, I still need to find a way to effectively clean my julienne peeler without shredding either the dishcloth or my hand.


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Supporting role

Oh well, there goes the diet. I managed about ten days of enforced denial, counting the calories in everything and limiting myself to about 1200 calories a day. The result? Misery. There's only so much water you can drink to flush away the stomach acid that's queuing up to set to work on the usual pile of biscuits and sausage rolls that normally descends in the evening. I did manage to shed 3 or 4 pounds, but the resolve failed completely tonight when we had a curry delivered. Sometimes you just can't help yourself.
So I'm sitting here full of lamb bhuna, mushroom pilau rice, onion bhajee and peshwari nan, contemplating swapping my jeans for a pair of elasticated tracky bottoms; something with a bit of give to accommodate both the food and the inevitable build-up of noxious gasses that will ensure the duvet will be floating six inches above the bed tonight. Worth it though.
The diet isn't my only failure recently. Apparently it was national 'No Bra' day yesterday, and I was completely unaware of it until it was too late. I think most people missed the memo on that one, because I suspect that of all people I would have noticed such behaviour. The idea was that women everywhere would go braless for a day to raise awareness of breast cancer, but clearly the concept of publicity had passed the organisers by.
As appealing as this idea is to a boob fan such as myself, I wonder what would really be accomplished by it. Everyone is aware of the existence of breasts and breast cancer, so what else is there to say? Any woman who doesn't know about self-examination etc is either stupid or living under a rock cut off from the rest of the world.
Obviously I applaud anything that might coerce women out of those awful padded bras which are the scourge of the modern world, spoiling the fun for men everywhere, but on the other hand there are some who would be advised to make more use of such things. I know one woman who never wears a bra, which combined with her being of mature years means she appears to have something resembling a pair of spaniel's ears under her shirt.
If 'No Bra' day did actually make a difference, you can be sure it would expand to cover other aspects of personal health. In the same way that having started off with 'mother's day', we're now surrounded by 'father's day', 'grandparent's day' and all manner of other opportunities to crow-bar a few more quid out of all the country's gullible inhabitants in return for a silly bit of printed card that will be in the bin the following day.
Perhaps we should have 'No Underpants' day to raise awareness of testicular cancer? Or maybe 'No Shoes' day to bring verrucas to people's attention?
With a bit of ingenuity there's room here for us to have a special awareness day every week of the year, but hopefully the subject of hemorrhoids can be avoided because I dread to think what such a campaign would involve.

I... errr.... sorry, what was I supposed to be more aware of?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Global warnings and mental pollution

 With the deluge of tree-hugging catch phrases such as 'global warming', 'climate change' and 'eco-friendly', there's no doubt that the whole environment issue is a real hot potato.
The amount of research that has and still is being done is generating such enormous amounts of conflicting data that it's hard to know which side of the fence to sit on.
To me the most persuasive argument says that the planet has been through periods of climate change many times in it's history (lots of geological evidence) and the current shift is just part of this natural process. The influence of mankind with all it's industry, cars, planes and vast herds of flatulent cows is so trivial it's like having a sly wee whilst swimming. In the Atlantic.
Everyone is saying we all need to do our bit to save the planet and stop consuming so much of the planet's resources. They've stopped selling tungsten light bulbs, forcing us to buy either fluorescent ones, most of which have only reached optimum brightness just as you switch them off because you've done what you needed to, or prohibitively expensive LED ones.
We run economical (and therefore dull) cars because the government want to squeeze us for as much tax as possible on fuel, and we recycle as much of our waste as we can otherwise we get hippies wagging their fingers at us while giving us a disapproving glare.
Interestingly there is a flip side to this. We are no longer encouraged to fix anything when it goes wrong - just chuck it away and buy a new one. Indeed many things appear to be specifically designed to not come apart and are covered with 'No user serviceable parts inside' labels.
We're encouraged to ditch our old 'dirty' cars and buy a nice environmentally sound new model, without any mention of the carbon emissions associated with the production of a new car being enormous compared with keeping an old one going.
This is especially true of electric cars which have the added issues surrounding the manufacture of all the lithium batteries. I'm not knocking electric cars - I'd love to have a Tesla Model S - just pointing out the downsides, like the battery leasing costing just as much as I spend on petrol demonstrating that the whole money saving idea is utter bollocks. Not to mention that unless you have a small solar farm in your back garden, the 'cheap' electricity you're using to charge your car is just shifting the pollution from your tailpipe to the power station which in all likelihood is powered by burning fossil fuels.
Spending too much time worrying about this stuff is a waste of time, and it's not really the sort of pollution that gives cause for such concern.
It's my belief that the biggest source of pollution in our lives (apart from my bottom after consuming too many onions) is advertising.
You can't escape it, no matter how much you hide away. OK, if you decided to live under a rock in the middle of Australia's Great Victoria Desert you might escape it, but you'd get very bored and thirsty for a while before you got bitten by something poisonous and died a slow and agonising death, which a bit of an extreme solution to avoid someone who's trying to sell you dodgy household gadgets you never knew you needed via a catalogue shoved through your letterbox.
We're assaulted on all sides with advertising. TV is obviously the big one, and I've noticed that on the rare occasion I try to watch something on one of the commercial channels, they all show adverts at the same time. In the middle of a documentary about sharks or something, the ads come on so I do a bit of channel-surfing to find something more interesting while the rest of the world is trying to sell me a holiday in Dubai. No hope. All the channels do it at the same time so no matter where you go, you'll inevitably come face-to-face with the 'Compare The Market' meerkats.
I've always found TV adverts annoying since we had the 'Shake & Vac' woman back in the 80's, and when that diabolical opera-singing fatso started telling us to 'Go Compare' I lost the will to live. Seriously, what fuckwit committee came up with that one, eh? And as for the habit of showing ads just five minutes after the programme has begun and five minutes before the end, just don't get me started...
This is why I only watch BBC channels where possible, because the only thing they ever advertise is themselves.
The radio has the same problem. In these days of DAB radio there are plenty of stations to suit whatever musical taste you may have. But every couple of songs you're assaulted by commercials for companies you've never heard of trying to convince you to buy double-glazing. The other day one came on advertising a new housing development with "...affordable housing from only £349,000 pounds...". I couldn't believe what I was hearing - in whose world can 350K be considered affordable?
Both of these media are experts at making the most of any marketing opportunity, especially on the run-up to Christmas. This is just one reason why I hate Christmas, or 'The Annual Commercial Festival Of Greed And Gluttony' as I like to call it. Every time you turn on the TV there's some prick telling you to buy a new sofa for Christmas. What the hell does a sofa have to do with a religious festival? According to the Bible Jesus was laid in the donkey's food basket, not a DFS leather recliner.
My biggest pet hate when it comes to advertising though, has to be the cold-calling on the phone - especially the recorded messages about PPI and anything that begins with some American woman with a southern drawl saying "Congratulations!". I know they can't hear me, but shouting "Fuck off!" down the phone and hanging up does at least make me feel a little bit better. It's getting so bad I'm considering changing my number.
When I want or need something, I'll go and find it. I really don't need to be brainwashed and force-fed adverts for stuff, and the more they try and the more irritating the advert is, the less likely I am to buy the product.
As a firm believer in karma, it's my opinion that along with all the murderers and rapists, the last circle of hell is populated by advertising executives. Couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch.
And here endeth today's rant.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

On The Buses

Last week was my personal experiment on the viability of using public transport for work. The hope was that I would be able to cope happily with this method of commuting and be able to get rid of one of the cars and it's associated running costs; not to mention my hope of finding a way to enjoy driving again by not doing the same boring route every day for work. On the face of it, it makes good economic sense. Although a weekly bus ticket costs just a couple of quid more than I usually spend on petrol, eliminating one insurance premium, MOT, tax, and servicing would put me up on the deal.
The one stumbling block I could foresee was my issues with walking any real distance. After the bike crash last year and the major knee surgery that followed, my favourite passtime of long walks in the countryside came to a sudden halt. So although the three quarters of a mile each way from the bus station to work and the third of a mile from home to the bus stop doesn't add up to much for most people, for me it necessitates the use of a walking stick, ibuprofen and on a bad day some codeine as well.
However, with my usual level of determination to beat anything that's trying to stop me doing something I want to do, I thought I'd give the bus a go for one week to see if I could make it work for me.
The straightforward conclusion is that it would. The exercise from the walking is a good thing, and not having to drive in rush hour traffic (especially when it involves Cambridge) has proved to be a fabulous way of reducing my stress levels. These are positive points, but until I've had my next surgery to remove all the bits of metalwork from my knee to stop the tendons and muscles grating across them, the pain outweighs these things.
Bus travel is sort of interesting though, particularly as it's a great way of playing my favourite sport - people watching. It really is fascinating, the spectrum of individuals you see both on the bus and at the bus station. There are the regulars who have their own little club and always sit together and chat. Invariably these groups consist only of women, because men are too concerned that any attempt to converse with another passenger might be misconstrued as sexual harassment or assault. I'm certainly not immune to this and prefer to retreat into my iPod or book and hope that nobody sits next to me especially as the seats are so damn narrow, forcing you to violate each others personal space. If you had to get any closer you'd need a condom.
This wouldn't be so bad if it was a cute 30 year old brunette with a liberal attitude to clothing, but with my luck it's usually some bloke with earphones so loud I can hear them above both the bus noise and my own music, who squashes me against the window making it hard to breathe, or a pensioner with many bags and the distinctive whiff of Murray Mints.
It doesn't need the other person to sit right beside you to make life unpleasant though. On one occasion the offending article in the form of a bloke with a heavily worn complexion and hair that seemed to have been styled with lard, sat in the seat in front of me. He was accompanied by an overwhelming odour that seemed to be a mixture of grease, sweat, and possibly decomposing flesh.
When he reached up to close the window, closing off any hope of fresh air, I had no choice but to move. Unfortunately the only seat left with any space around it was the horrible one in the middle of the back seat, but anything would be preferable to spending the next hour sitting near Mr Whiffy.
On the whole I think the benefits of bus travel over driving make it a good proposition, and I suspect that by this time next year it will be my commuting method of choice. But until the surgeon has made my knee fully operational and pain-free I guess I'll have to stick to dealing with the frustration of driving myself in the horrible dark wet winter weather with Audi man two inches from my back bumper as usual.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Thunderstruck

I don't make a habit of short posts, but in this case I'll make an exception.
Check out this video of two guys performing AC/DC's 'Thunderstruck' on cellos.
I've never known cellos to be played like this and I'm sure many will cringe, but it's just so friggin' awesome I had to share it.


Sunday, 28 September 2014

Fear of change

In years gone by I was always very enthusiastic about new things. I was one of those 'early adopters' of new technology - wanting the latest gadget when it had yet to make a big impact on the market and was therefore still commanding a high price. Even though I knew that within twelve months there would be a better updated version for half the price, I still fell into the trap. I remember spending 600 pounds on a Panasonic DV camcorder when they first came out. By the time the initial excitement dwindled and I decided it was too much aggravation to carry it around, and suddenly realised that I never bothered to actually watch what I'd recorded, the price had dropped considerably and the secondhand value was peanuts. I still have it in a drawer somewhere - a reminder of past mistakes I don't want to repeat.
I used to change my car pretty much yearly. Granted, this was largely due to the early ones being old heaps that were unlikely to pass their next MOT, but also simply down to being bored of them and wanting something different. The amount of money I've lost by doing this over the years is something I'd rather not calculate, especially as I spent considerable time and funds keeping them on the road while I owned them.
Odd then how time has progressively eroded my impulsive nature to the point where the notion of changing anything fills me with dread. Whereas I used to dive headlong into everything, I now go through a painfully long process of weighing up the pros and cons of the most trivial decisions. The really important choices are a mentally crippling nightmare. Nothing is straightforward anymore. Choosing a bottle of wine to go with dinner is a potential minefield with only previous experience helping to narrow down the options from the hundreds lining the shelves to the small handful that have been tried and successfully tested. There's still plenty I've yet to try, but once I've eliminated any Shiraz because it's too acidic, anything from Germany because they only send us awful syrupy piss and keep the good stuff for themselves, and of course any sort of Rose because it's far too girly to take seriously, I'm still left with a staggering choice. Even when I restrict myself to Rioja, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon if it's going with red meat, or a nice Chablis for fish or chicken, there's still a mind-numbing array of options. Thank goodness for special offers to help swing the deal.
The other day I went to change my mobile phone because the boy couldn't use Spotify on his one due to a broken headphone socket so he'd taken to commandeering the wife's tablet which wasn't going down too well. I figured rather than me replacing his phone when he keeps blowing his allowance on video games, I'd have a new one myself and let him have my old one which was still considerably better than what he had. The plan was good until I was perusing the range of devices in the EE store and my brain went into meltdown, wishing I'd never suggested doing all this and just kept my existing one. After much discussion about the various options up to and including saying 'bollocks to your bloody Spotify addiction, just play CDs' I eventually relented and plumped for some Sony thing which proved to be a pain in the arse to set up and has an operating system a few steps newer than the previous one and is taking me an age to find my way around it. I'd happily go back to an old basic dumbphone if it wasn't for the ease of texting with a QWERTY keypad.
The issue is amplified exponentially as the decision becomes less and less trivial, so when it comes to really important life-changing choices all I want to do is run away and hide; curled up in the corner in the foetal position hoping it will all go away. Invariably this doesn't work and I'm forced to deal with the situation, leaving me feeling depressed and inadequate.
I don't know if this is part of the natural ageing process or if it's just me spiralling relentlessly towards a padded cell and clothing with lots of interesting straps and buckles.
Perhaps that wouldn't be too bad. Eat what you're given, do as you're told, think what you're told to think. It would put all the decision making into someone else's hands, leaving plenty of time for more important things like licking the windows.


"So, Mr Martin, today we have a choice of  risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine, paliperidone, ziprasidone, or lurasidone. Or you could just stay the same gibbering wreck you've been for years...."

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Silicone heaven

Sitting here having put away half a bottle of Southern Comfort I'm feeling pretty good.
I've got a week off work now - my annual 'calm before the storm' holiday before the academic year starts and work gets all full of students again. There is the complication in the back of my mind of our biggest wind tunnel being out of commission due to a speed controller failure right before we need it to be fully operational for undergraduate teaching, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the electrical fairies will work their magic before the shit hits the fan (which probably won't be spinning) and we have to reorganise the whole teaching timetable at the eleventh hour.
However, I have a week away from being the boss and having to sort this stuff out and even though I may have a mountain of effluent to wade through on my return, for the time being all is well with the world.
My contentment is enhanced by actually having a cake success in the form of a rather good courgette cake (very similar to carrot cake if you haven't tried it) which has worked out very nicely. It was also a chance to test out my new silicone loaf tin which although not holding as accurate a shape as a metal one, does appear to have allowed the cake to cook far more evenly without getting the slightly overdone edges I usually suffer from.
After a day doing as little as possible beyond washing the car, giving up with 'Destiny' on the Xbox due to its ridiculous respawning points during the most difficult and intense firefights and cooking dinner, I can kick back further still with hardly anything to concern myself with beyond the question of whether to have cheese-on-toast or soup for supper and if I should put on Led Zeppelin's 'Houses Of The Holy' or Paradise Lost's 'Host' once the current Coldplay album has finished.
It's such a hard life.

 Okay, so I have a weakness....

The team carrying out servicing while the electrical guys
take up practicing black magic as a last resort



Butchery and Brazilians

Quite some time ago I had a go at reading Game Of Thrones by George RR Martin as I'd heard much talk about how great it was. I didn't get very far as it didn't draw me in - partly because I found it dull and partly because of all the weird names that kept me wondering how they were supposed to be pronounced. This is the sort of thing that ruins a book for me as it interrupts the flow. So I gave it up as a bad job and moved on to something else.
Since then the TV adaptation has arrived on the scene and inspired a whole new following beyond fans of the books which probably consisted largely of geeky 'Dungeons & Dragons' types.

Over the years we've binge-watched plenty of series including House MD, Weeds, Black Books, Orange Is The New Black, Heroes and many more. Eventually I figured it might be worth a look as we were after something different to get addicted to.
Luckily our nephew was kind enough to lend us the first three seasons of Game Of Thrones, along with a couple of advisories - 1. There's a lot of bloody violence, and 2. Whenever there's a woman you'd like to see rather more of, she will usually oblige.
This was all the incentive I needed so we gave it a go, and he was right.
Each episode consists of swordplay, fountains of blood, lots of nudity and shagging, all in varying proportions and intensities. There may have been some dialogue too, but in general it didn't seem to help the story which is more confusing than the instruction manual for a piece of Chinese-made flat pack furniture. This left me plenty of time to ponder alternative questions such as: given that these events are taking place in a world at a time equivalent to medieval Britain where the only shaving implement available is a well-honed hunting knife, how come all the women have Brazilians? Now I'm not a huge fan of the natural look and I love a Brazilian as much as the next guy but if they were going for any sort of authenticity there would instead be a collection of bushes you could lose a badger in. However, given the opportunity to see women like Natalia Tena ('Tonks' in the Harry Potter films), the beautiful Sibel Kekilli (reformed porn star) and Emilia Clarke taking it all off for our entertainment, I'm more than happy to overlook this matter.
A simple summary would be that Game Of Thrones is part battle, part porn, and all very confusing. Aside from the blood and boobs however, I have to admit that the acting is for the most part first rate. Peter Dinklage is awesome as Tyrion Lannister and for me is the crowning glory of the whole lot. I should probably also give mention to Jack Gleeson as King Joffrey, who manages a fantastic job of making you hate his guts, which presumably is the whole idea.
The trouble now is that season 4 is currently a bit on the pricey side so I'll have to wait a while to see what happens next, although having said that, given that a large number of major characters got killed in various nasty ways at the end of the third season, and that I'm no further forward working out which family is fighting which or why, it's likely that I'll now move on to something else.
It's going to be a tough decision, but we need something to fill the void until season three of Orange Is The New Black comes out.

Sibel Kekilli & Peter Dinklage

Friday, 12 September 2014

Jean Genie

Last weekend we went to the annual steam rally in Haddenham, which is just up the road.
Coming at the end of the rally season, it's one of the bigger events on the calendar and it has been one of those days out that I've enjoyed since I was a kid. Now in its 42nd year, Haddenham steam rally is full of traction engines, classic cars, commercials, motorcycles and far too many ancient tractors. There are assorted demonstrations and displays, lots of food joints, a funfair, the inevitable trade stands, and thankfully a very well stocked beer tent. Throw in some surprisingly good weather and ample opportunity for people watching and you have the recipe for a decent day's entertainment.
One such piece of entertainment came along as I was sitting on a crappy plastic chair outside the beer tent enjoying a wonderful pint of Pickled Pig cider (a local brew), in the form of an elderly gentleman. He must have been pushing ninety, but clearly still quite sprightly as he trotted along with his cane in his hand. What did it for me though was his attire, which consisted of a green tweed jacket, shirt, tie, and a pair of shorts in the same material as the jacket and of similar length to those worn by footballers in the 1980s. Finish that off with a pair of brown Jesus creepers combined with socks and a pair of legs that with all due respect we really didn't want to see and you've pretty much got the picture. If this ensemble was ever in style it must have been back in 1904 and the old chap had obviously decided that things really were better back in the 'good old days' and that was where he was determined to stay.
Your average old bloke tends to shuffle around in a particular sort of style that is instantly recognisable as a standard uniform for the retired man. Lots of nondescript beige items teamed with shiny brown shoes. I still don't know where old men buy their trousers because I've never seen anything like them in the shops - I can only assume they're mail order via Saga or something.
The question is, at what point does such clothing become expected? Is there some sort of cut-off age when society expects you to dress differently or is it just a natural evolution of the sort to be found in Darwin's 'Origin of Species'?
More importantly perhaps is this question: when does it become unacceptable to wear jeans?
I never normally see cotton-tops wearing jeans, and on the rare occasion that I do I'm struck by just how odd it looks. It's like a Morris Minor with racing stripes - it just doesn't belong.
This puts me in a bit of a quandary. Although I think I can still get away with jeans I know that before long I'll end up looking strange, like ageing rockers who still wear a pony tail even though the front bit has gone bald. So what to do then? I really don't see myself in beige pensioner slacks, and most of the trousers I like tend to be of a more gothic or military persuasion - very black with shiny bits or combats with many useful pockets. Neither of these are any more appropriate for an old goat than jeans.
Solution? Buggered if I know, but if I start wearing beige, a pork-pie hat, or anything made of tweed then I know it's time to end it all.

Gary Oldman - probably the only guy to remain looking cool despite wearing beige.
(from the excellent movie 'Leon')

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Who the f**k is Kim Kardashian?

There has been much in the news lately about so-called celebrities having their cloud storage hacked and naked pictures being posted online. The one making the most noise about this seems to have been Jennifer Lawrence who, along with many others has said how awful it all is, and what a terrible invasion of privacy this hacking business is.
Well I'm sorry, but anyone who thinks there's such a thing as online privacy is living in a dreamworld. If there's something you don't want the whole world to know about you then the last place you want it to be is on a computer somewhere, especially if you're someone who is in some way in the public eye.
Personally I'm overcome with indifference to Jennifer Lawrence. I don't find her particularly attractive and her acting bears a startling resemblance to an old oak sideboard. There are plenty of actresses I'd like to see in the buff, many of whom have been most obliging in that department in their movies, but JL isn't one of them. On the positive side, I'm sure the images won't hurt her career. It's all publicity after all.
Take quality actors like Kevin Spacey, Tom Hanks and Morgan Freeman. Do we see photos of them cavorting on a sunny beach in an overstuffed pair of Speedos all over the front page of the papers? No. They do their job, occasionally do the old red carpet thing, and that's all you see of them. They don't seem to have the need to be in the public eye all the time with the "Look at me!" mentality that is adopted by so many celebrities desperate to use diversionary tactics to disguise their mediocrity and feed their appetite for being the centre of attention.
Obviously it doesn't take much to qualify as a celebrity these days. All you need to do is get your bits out on Big Brother and you'll be in every glossy magazine in the dentist's waiting room for years to come.
There are people out there who seem to be famous for being famous. What do they actually do? I mean, who the f**k is Kim Kardashian? It's a name that seems to crop up every time you open a paper or magazine, or flick through the TV guide in yet another hopeless attempt at finding something that's actually worth watching. She's everywhere, and yet I genuinely have no idea who she is or what she does, and with all the hype surrounding her I can't even be bothered to Google her to find out.
Of course, she's not alone. Many names have come and gone, dominating the glossies for no apparent reason beyond being good at parties and flashing their freshly waxed crotch to the paparazzi as they exit the limo at some hyper-expensive trendy restaurant.
Every so often I wonder if I'm missing out on something by not doing Facebook or Twitter, but then someone reads out a few posts that they've had arrive which invariably centre around some banality that nobody cares about and I'm reminded of why I don't bother.
Yes, I may be a cynical old git and perhaps I should take a little more interest in the world, but whenever I take the time to look at what's out there I find myself perfectly happy ignoring all the inhumane violence and the nobodys who are full of their own self-importance.
I'm much happier in my own little bit of the world, and it reassures me whenever I stumble upon other people who are as unaffected by the world and all its bullshit as I try to be. I suspect I'm part of the silent majority in many of my thoughts and opinions, but it's always those who shout loudest that get noticed.


Sunday, 31 August 2014

Middle age spread

The scales must be faulty, I'm sure of it, but if they're not then I've just had a hefty reminder that all is not well with my body and I need to do something about it before it's too late.
I fight a constant battle with my weight these days and I'm increasingly on the losing side.
It's like a tug-o-war with my self control and determination on one end of the rope, and the other end being clutched tightly by beer, biscuits, cheesecake, chocolate, and anything else I have clasped in my arms as I emerge from Tesco in readiness for the standard Friday night slob-out.
It really isn't fair. Twenty years ago my stomach was completely flat and no amount of Jaffa Cake binging made the slightest difference. Fast forward to present day and the dreaded middle age spread is taking hold.
No longer can I indulge in regular pig-outs on stuff that I know I really shouldn't be eating but can't help myself.
No longer is an entire Chicago Town stuffed crust pepperoni pizza with chips, followed by a family size bar of Galaxy chocolate and a bag of Doritos a viable alternative to a plate of chicken and roast vegetables.
The time has gone when I can indulge in an unhealthy blow-out with no fear of reprisal from my body. Although I'm very keen on alcohol, these days I have to give very careful consideration to whether or not a second pint is a good idea, and I recognise when my body is telling me to forget the steak and have a good serving of root vegetables instead.
Yet still I try to rebel against everything I know about healthy eating by munching through yet another packet of Custard Creams washed down with an extra-large vodka and orange juice whilst slouched on the sofa watching a film. I know it's wrong, and stepping on the scales last night proved the point as at 11stone 9lb I'm currently the heaviest I've ever been. I've always been careful to keep myself around the middle of the recommended BMI scale and until now I've been reasonably successful. My current situation puts me right at the top end of the recommended BMI, which in rough numbers means that I'm 128 Jaffa Cakes away from officially being a fat bastard, and that is unacceptable to me.
Granted, the BMI scale is a flawed measure as the average rugby player or body builder would testify, but for an ordinary bloke such as myself it's not too far wide of the mark and I feel like I'm on the cusp of being heavier than I'm comfortable with. Indeed, the warning signs have been there for a while, like finding the waist band of my underpants being folded over by the increasing pressure from the belly, and the last pair of jeans I bought having to be a 34 inch waist rather than the 32 inch I've been used to for so many years.
I know what has to be done. Portion control, and no lapses into the junk-food zone including snacks between meals. In the past I've been able to shed a surplus few pounds within a week by pretty much starving myself which isn't a healthy way to approach the problem but it did get the job done. I'm now banned from this approach as being hungry makes me extraordinarily grumpy and generally unpleasant to be around. So a longer term plan is now required which means an end to the biscuit orgies and not having a beer every night when I get home from work. It's gonna be difficult, especially as there's a new tub of Carte D'Or caramel ice cream in the freezer with my name on it....


London calling

Friday brought with it the necessity to go to London. This activity is a front-runner in any list of things I'd rather avoid doing, along with drowning, electrocution, and listening to Mariah Carey.
Unfortunately on this occasion it was unavoidable owing to a hospital appointment, so having done all my homework to ensure I knew exactly where I was going, and with the wife to help me maintain my sanity (she lived there for a few years) if things got the better of me, we set off.
We only got as far as Cambridge before they somehow broke the train coupling two together, so we hopped onto another which turned out to be the one that stopped at every station on the way.
Arriving at Kings Cross, we had the usual culture shock. The sudden change in tempo from a quiet Fenland village to a huge multi-cultural metropolis like London is a major one and it takes a while to adjust.
First came a visit to Costa Coffee - a familiar oasis in a sea of madness - having managed to negotiate the crowds of tourists who seem unable to carry their luggage these days, insisting instead on dragging it around behind them on wheels to increase their chances of tripping up anyone else who dared get too close. There was also the unusual sight of armed cops around the station - not unusual for London, but it's not something I see every day in my hum-drum little life. The wife found it a bit unnerving, but I felt somehow reassured seeing large blokes carrying AR-15 rifles and Glock pistols wandering around. Far less worrying than someone wearing one of those black bin liners with a slit for the eyes in it. What are they hiding?
Having navigated the underground to Victoria and escaped the crowds, we arrived at our destination far too early as usual, so we walked to the river so I could get a look at Battersea power station.

Pity about all the cranes spoiling the view of
such a stunning bit of architecture...

While we stood there, a foreign tourist came along and asked me to take a photo of him with the power station in the background. It made more sense when he said he was a Pink Floyd fan, and wanted a picture of himself with the subject of the 'Animals' album cover. I admit I thought that was kinda cool.
Back at Kings Cross, the wife was surprised at the complete absence of rubbish bins when trying to dispose of our empty sandwich wrappers. I suggested it was probably because bins have been used in the past for convenient bomb storage, and picking up the odd bit of dropped litter is probably preferable to picking up large quantities of charred and mangled body parts as a result of some zealot trying to make a political or religious point.
The return journey was surprisingly easy. We managed to secure seats which is more than a lot of people did, as by then it was the beginning of the commuting period.
Despite the obvious overcrowding there were still idiots trying to force their way on to the train with bicycles - not even folding ones - and it made me wonder what would make someone choose to travel in this manner regularly. One can only assume they have little choice in the matter.
Disembarking at Ely and wandering back to the car, a feeling of serenity descended. Being in London heightens your senses, leaving you feeling exhausted. If nothing else, when life starts to feel dull and tedious, a trip to the capital makes you realise just how nice a calm and quiet life really is.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The power of boredom

A few weeks ago the wife announced that she was fed up with doing the food shopping, planning meals and cooking. This information didn't bother me in the slightest, because I saw this as my opportunity to take the reins and try to inject a bit of variety and creativity into mealtimes.
Don't get me wrong, it's not as if I don't participate in the whole cooking thing, far from it; I'm very enthusiastic about it and usually make dinner about half the time.
The added excitement for me is that it gives me something different to focus my mind on during the times when boredom has led me to moping about the house before giving up on finding anything interesting to do and resorting to looking at T&A on the internet. Now I have the inspiration to research recipes and ideas, plan a few different meals to supplement the usual suspects, and exercise the previously underused creativity.
A side effect of this newly enhanced enthusiasm has been an unhealthy interest in kitchen gadgets and gizmos, with any outing to the shops ending up with the need to find a home in the already crowded kitchen cupboards for a pasta machine or whatever.
Luckily, the success rate since the inception of the new regime has been pretty good overall, using the boy's rate of progress and emptiness of plate as a useful barometer.
Caution has to be exercised when it comes to desserts though, as excessive creativity results in the wife complaining about an expanding waist line. Therefore I have to limit having calorie-laden puddings to just once or twice a week because frankly it's easier than exercising portion control.
Yesterday I made a new variation on my ever-popular Mars bar cheesecake recipe, using crushed ginger-nut biscuits for the base, with the topping containing cream cheese, white chocolate and lime. The benefit of my cheesecakes is that they're usually on the rich side, so it's possible to make them last two days provided I hide them at the back of the fridge behind the machine gun nest.
Another result of actually getting off my arse and doing stuff is that I've been inspired to have a go at craft-type stuff that I'd never been bothered to try before. A quick look on the web gave me the idea to investigate 'decoupage', so having liberated an old wooden school chair from work that was destined for the skip I set about it with only a vague idea of what I was doing, but the end result can possibly be described as 'interesting'.  The seat and backrest are now a decoupage of black & white pictures of hot (in my opinion) actresses, with the frame contrasting in bright red, and I think the finished product is quite striking even though it won't to be everyone's taste. Unfortunately it would appear that finding somewhere I'm allowed to install it may be a problem.
I wonder how many other things I can ruin before I'm told to go back to being bored......