Sunday, 26 July 2015

Boy toy

The other day I posted on Facebook a plea for the loan of a chainsaw so I could take down a couple of trees in the back garden in preparation for the installation of a new fence. Any offers? Of course not.
There may have been a number of reasons for this failure including a very small number of FB friends, the generally limited quantity of people who actually own such a thing, and people's reluctance to lend out something that could easily dismember an operator who was anything less than cautious.
The other possibility is that even if everyone who read the post had a chainsaw in their shed, I still wouldn't have been offered one because ever since we were little kids we have never wanted others to play with our toys.

I've heard it said many times, "Men never grow up, they just get more expensive toys", and frankly there's a lot of truth in that. In about 1977 I had an Evil Knievel stunt cycle toy which was my pride and joy, and led on to a succession of two-wheeled toys from a Yamaha YB100, through a TZR250, an FZR1000, and a Suzuki Bandit 1200 with many more in between. I still look through the bike manufacturers ranges and now spend the odd period fantasising about the Ducati 899 Panigale.
As a kid it always seemed that as boys we had far better toys than the girls. Action Man would charge around in a Jeep with a machine gun blowing up the bad guys while his eagle eyes searched out his next victim, while brain-dead Barbie just sat around preening herself.
Big Trak was a vehicle that you could program to carry out a series of manouvres using the keypad on the back, whereas 'My Little Pony' did fuck all.
When the Rubik's Snake came out it wasn't long before we realised it could be made into a gun shape, which was a step up from using a stick for a gun to play 'army' with. In the meantime I have no idea what the girls were doing - probably tutting about the boys being immature, running around like idiots making machine gun noises. Obviously they were far more grown up, wrapping a length of string around their fingers and calling it a 'cat's cradle'. Cap guns were an option, but mostly they were cheap crappy things that broke within five minutes. Besides, we'd normally use up the caps trying to blow something up which was far more exciting.
While the girls spent time playing hopscotch and singing silly songs while skipping, we were making ramps to jump on our bikes, and sliding down the banks of a dried-up reservoir on a large flattened cardboard box that we'd liberated from a skip on the industrial estate.


 Barbie and My Little Pony had
nothing on Scalextric and Big Trak


Looking back, most toys and games enjoyed by us as boys involved some form of death, destruction, and risk taking. Move on to adulthood and nothing much has changed. As blokes we still hanker after cars, motorbikes, radio controlled helicopters and big TVs, and it's always a nuisance when we're forced to relocate funds that really should be spent on a shiny new iPad to the purchase of something rather more dreary like a washing maching.
It strikes me, looking at the picture above, that some women are also unable to leave behind certain things from their childhood, with Barbie being a prime example. It's a subject for a future post because I suspect I can extract a fair bit of mileage out of it, but the women that dedicate their adult lives to trying their hardest to look like Barbie are to me a thing of great hilarity.

It's hard to get into the whole grown-up toys thing without sounding rather sexist, but the fact is that a bloke is more likely to get excited about a new power drill than he is about a Dyson vacuum cleaner, and vice-versa.
Even the wife admitted yesterday that men always have the best toys, once I'd ripped through the unwanted plantlife with the newly acquired chainsaw and set about cleaning up the water butt with the pressure washer. My shed is full of tools, homebrew equipment, assorted bicycles and a very slowly evolving model railway, whereas hers contains a collection of gardening implements and an assortment of spiders.
The clearing of the garden borders in readiness for the new fence is a break from the normal, because it involves the sort of money I would normally never consider spending on something that doesn't have either a plug or an engine. Unfortunately circumstances dictate that such a thing is necessary, so regardless of how bitter the pill, I have no choice but to swallow it.
On the plus side, my toy box now contains a chainsaw, which I can line up with the axe and the machete in the section marked 'Zombie Apocalypse'.


Friday, 10 July 2015

Straight ahead, turn right at the tank

Just got back from a few days away from it all in a rented cottage in Pickering on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. Leaving home nice and early to make the most of the day, we headed north via Lincoln, the Humber bridge, and Beverley. We wouldn't be able to get into the cottage before 3pm, so a stop-off elsewhere to kill some time was in order.
With good memories of a previous visit, we though it might be a good idea to swing by Bridlington on the way. I recalled having what seemed to be the world's best fish & chips from a chippy next to the harbour, and as by this point it was lunchtime we made a beeline for the same place. My how things seemed to have changed. Not only was the fish disappointingly tasteless and the chips slightly soggy and greasy, there was a large number of seagulls with a penchant for dive-bombing raids on anyone daring to leave their food unguarded for even a moment. During the walk from the car park to the harbour it became obvious that Bridlington is in dire need of a major dose of urban rejuvenation. I don't remember being anywhere else where so many buildings are in a state of delapidation at best, and at worst actually falling apart. Building maintenance is clearly not on the list of priorities in Bridlington.
As we sat eating our crappy fish & chips with one eye on the circling aerial bandits, we noticed that there seemed to be an uncomfortably large proportion of those who appeared to be a bit...well...let's just say the lower end of the social spectrum. Every other person who walked by left in their wake an aroma of either stale tobacco, rampant body odour, or that special smell only found on someone who cooks every meal by frying it in lard.
We finished our uninspiringly bland lunch and went for a walk. Just as the thought crossed my mind (considering the obviously common social denominator of the town) that this was a place that could possibly be described as 'banjo country', we walked past a fairground shooting range that was actually playing banjo music. Taking this as final confirmation that this was somewhere we really didn't feel we belonged, we decided it was time to beat a hasty retreat, wondering why it seemed so different to last time and whether it might be that we've unwittingly become a little snobbish over the past decade or so.

The further away from Bridlington we went, the more pleasant the surroundings became until we arrived in Pickering and quickly located the cottage that was to be our base for the next few days.
Pudding House turned out to be a delightful old place that has been renovated to a very good standard. The owner gave us the tour and left us to it, and once we'd got our bearings, stocked up on few basic groceries at the local supermarket (essential stuff like bread and beer), and had a walk around the town, there was just enough energy left (thanks to only having had about three hours sleep the previous night) to spend the evening vegging out before bed.

The weather forecast for the next day was for heavy rain showers, so the idea of getting caught in a downpour while walking on the moors held limited appeal. Determined to not waste the day we managed to find something to do that was mainly under cover.
Eden Camp was a prisoner of war camp during WW2 and is now a museum of Britain's 20th century military history with all the exhibits, with the exception of a few military vehicles and large weapons, housed in the old POW huts.
On arrival, we paid our entry fee at the gate and, directing us to the car park, the woman said "Go straight ahead, turn right at the tank". It occurred to me that the likelihood of having that said to me ever again was rather slim.
Eden camp isn't a bad way to spend half a day, with some interesting exhibits, but by the end we began to feel that unless you happen to be in the area you'd do just as well reading a good book on the subject and saving the journey.


Wednesday's trip out was to Whitby. Pickering station is at the southern end of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, so we left the car at the cottage and took the train so we could all enjoy the scenery on the way and not have the issue of finding somewhere to park when we got there.
Unfortunately, by the time we got to Whitby, the heavens had opened yet again, so the first port of call ended up being a cheap shoe shop because my trainers had sprung a leak. On the plus side I didn't need to worry about my hair getting wet.
Whitby is a lovely town that I have dreams of retiring to, but like most places the shine does come off a little when it's pissing down.
After a lobster lunch and a decent walk the sun decided to prove that it really did exist after all, but by then it was time to catch the return train so we headed back, planning to stop off at Grosmont on the way to investigate the locomotive workshops.
The queue for the return train was already pretty long by the time we arrived at the station, and the guard was holding everyone behind the barrier until the train had expelled its previous occupants.
This wouldn't have been too bad apart from the one remaining passenger who was taking an eternity to walk along the platform. The old boy must have been pushing 90 years old, and had the most hilarious walk that looked like he was powered by clockwork. His legs went up and down a lot, but very little of his effort was being translated into forward motion. At this point I looked up and down at the queue of waiting people, then back to the waiting train and the Energiser Bunny on the platform who by this time was being overtaken by continental drift, and thought to myself "What the fuck are we all doing?" The wife and I discussed this philosophical poser and we concluded that the human race is nuts and we should just give up analysing it.


Thursday saw us back in the car to take in the wilderness of the moors to get ourselves the good dose of scenery therapy that we'd been craving. The Yorkshire Moors are not as breathtakingly beautiful as the Yorkshire Dales, but they can certainly be very wild and dramatic. The roads through the moors tend to be tight and tortuous with plenty of steep inclines, lined with an endless sea of heather and suicidal sheep. They are also immense fun to drive and, for a few miles when there was nobody in the way at least, I was able to push the Civic hard enough to put a grin on my face, terrify the wife, entertain the boy, and cause the stink of overheated brake pads to infiltrate the cabin.
After stops at Danby and Goathland it was back to the coolness of the cottage to make a decent dinner, which made a welcome change from all the overpriced and very disappointing meals out. After this week we've decided we'd rather spend more on the grocery shopping, buying stuff we really like, rather than constantly being ripped off with the substandard food so often found when eating out.


We had to vacate the cottage by 10am Friday morning and as by this point we were ready to head home, we packed up the car and made a fairly early start.
Made it home alive in about four hours despite the usual attempts of white van man and assorted blind old farts to foil our plans. Unfortunately the cupboards were bare so once we'd unpacked and had a quick cuppa, it was off to Tesco to stock up.
The Yorkshire moors are very nice, and if the boy hadn't been with us we would have done more with our time, but we also concluded that maybe we've reached the end of our rented cottage holidays now. Perhaps it would be preferable to get ourselves some passports and try one of those all-inclusive packages where you sit by the pool with hot-and-cold running waitresses serving tequila sunrises with little umbrellas stuck in the top.
Whatever we do next time, someone else can do the bloody driving.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Back, crack and sack

Summer has finally arrived, bringing with it those long sweaty days and even longer sticky nights when you wonder if it might be nice to just sleep in the garden. The only things stopping me from doing that is the prospect of having countless big hairy spiders running across my face, and the possibility of waking up to find my feet being eaten by a fox.
With Summer comes a huge change in people's attire. Young women wander around in rather distracting short-shorts and very little else, which doesn't do the mind of the average middle-aged bloke any favours, while men often use the hot weather as an excuse to show the world just how geeky they look in shorts and a too-tight t-shirt that accentuates the carefully cultivated curve of their beer belly.
I've never been any kind of show-off, even when I did have a reasonable body. I suppose I wasn't bad even up to a couple of years ago because riding big motorcycles is a pretty good alternative to going to the gym. Not especially muscular, but reasonably toned compared to many my age.
More recently though, things have got a bit slack. I haven't been riding motorcycles or indeed taking very much exercise at all. As a consequence, there have been a few pounds added to my frame which seem to enjoy hanging around my middle and giving me the beginnings of a cleavage. I may have to invest in a training bra.
Fortunately I'm still within the recommended BMI range so the fight is far from over, and I just need to get myself doing a bit more again. Perhaps I should just get another bike - a proper one like a KTM 1290 SuperDuke R, not the standard mid-life-crisis Harley Davidson. Harleys are OK if that's your thing, but I prefer something that actually goes round corners.

The thing is, as well as all the rampant totty strutting around town at this time of year in full-on "Look at me, I'm gorgeous" mode, there's also a few blokes that take the opportunity to show off their gym-honed physique by posing around with no shirt looking all muscular, toned and shiny, making the rest of us feel ugly and inadequate. Bastards.
I know I'll never be like that and I never have been, mostly because I'm too bloody lazy to put in the sort of effort it requires to get your body like that and to keep it that way.
The one time I tried to have a hairless chest was too confusing because I'd look in the mirror and see a pair of boobs rather than nice smooth pecs. Since then I've fought to just keep body hair to an acceptable length. I'd hate to look like some sort of neanderthal gorilla, but at the same time I'm not built to be hairless. However, because nature has decreed that I must have a hairy arse, I have occasionally been tempted to go for one of those 'back, crack and sack' waxes, but given that the one attempt by the wife to wax my back at home resulted in a major outbreak of spots and ingrowing hairs, it's not an experience I'm overly keen to repeat.
It makes me wonder how these guys get away with all the body hair removal they do in order to show themselves off. Maybe it's better if you do it regularly, but to be honest I'm just not vain enough to want to go through all that, and getting a body to justify the effort is far too much like hard work.