Monday, 25 January 2016

Not angry, just very disappointed

There are certain things in life that simply do not meet our expectations.
Whether it's something that has been recommended to you, or which has had rave reviews in the press, or simply something that has a long established reputation for being a thing of luxury and desire.

On Saturday morning we popped into Ely for a few things, and walking through the market I spotted a sign at the fishmongers advertising lobsters. Granted they turned out to be cooked and frozen American lobsters rather than fresh, but a lobster for a fiver sounded like a pretty good deal, especially as I'd seen a fresh one in Waitrose a couple of weeks earlier for fifteen quid.
Lobster is one of those foods that so many aspire to and is held in high regard, but having now had it two or three times I think I can safely say that I won't bother again.
For the size of the creature there's very little meat, and to me it tastes no different to prawns. This is not a bad thing in a way as I like prawns a lot, but with the usual cost of lobster and the job of preparing the ugly armour-plated bugger, I'd rather just have prawns instead - to hell with the snob value.
The same fishmonger had a huge fresh squid for sale, and I wish I'd had that instead. You can't beat a nice bit of calamari.

As if one disappointment wasn't enough, later that day the lobster was joined by a bottle of Fino sherry procured on a whim from Tesco. Described as "A delicate, dry sherry to be enjoyed young and fresh", I thought I'd try something a little different from the full cream sherry I normally enjoy.
Big mistake. I don't know if sherry is something that can be 'off' like wine can be, or if it's supposed to be like that, but I suspect that if you poured this stuff on a car it would take the paint off.
I don't know whether to take it back and demand a refund or simply pour it down the sink. It will undoubtedly make a better drain cleaner than it does a drink.

This happens time and time again. Movies are a good example of the gulf that often reveals itself between the promise and the reality.
It often seems to be that the more rave reviews and awards a movie gets, the more of a disappointment it turns out to be. 'Mad Max - Fury Road' had the critics getting all uncomfortable in the trouser department, going on about how fantastic it was. I watched it and was bored shitless by the relentless barrage of car-crash-explosion-repeat, lacklustre acting and a plot so thin you could see through it.
'The Wolf of Wall Street' was full of promise, had high ratings, and things with Leonardo DiCaprio are usually pretty good - but this was utter bollocks. So bad in fact that it completely failed the 'half-hour rule' - if the first half hour of a film doesn't grab us, we turn it off rather than waste another hour or two on drivel. If this had been a cinema showing I would have walked out.

Gradually I'm learning to ignore the hype attached to such things and therefore the disappointments are becoming less frequent, but despite my growing world-weary cynicism I still get caught out.
Eventually I'll get it all sussed, by which point I'll be able to successfully ignore all attempts to persuade me to buy what I don't need, eat nothing but homemade soup and bread,  and the only entertainment needed will be a perpetual loop of every episode of 'House MD'.



Saturday, 16 January 2016

Transparent as a window

I've been uncharacteristically outspoken recently. I know I let off steam on a regular basis on  this blog, but for once I've actually stood up and made a noise about something I believe in.
I don't know if it's part of getting older that I'm less afraid of speaking my mind, or if it's just that I'm fed up with the lack of interest exhibited by the majority of people in the world around them, but either way I decided that even something that most would consider trivial or irrelevant was worth making a noise about.

Back in August last year I noticed that the tree outside the local pub had an armoured power cable nailed to the trunk, leading to an enormous length of fairy lights wrapped around the trunk and lower branches to a height of around thirty feet. The cable was so tight that over the obvious couple of years it had been there, it had become tightened with the continued growth of the tree.
Now I'm no botanist, but it was painfully clear even to me that this was not a good thing for the tree - especially as the tree in question is a horse-chestnut that's at least 200 years old.
I'm not some right-on tree-hugging hippy by any stretch of the imagination, but somehow the idea that someone could do this to a tree that had been around for generations seemed just wrong. I mean how the hell could anyone justify risking such an ancient living thing for the sake of a bunch of tacky fairy lights? Only a complete fucking moron, surely.

Suppressing the urge to pay a midnight visit with a ladder and a pair of wire cutters, I contacted the clerk of the parish council to try and get something done by legitimate means.
Assured by the reply that the matter would be pursued, I sat back and waited. And waited.
What happened? Fuck all.
Tiring of getting no feedback I got back in touch with the parish council who said that they'd had the tree checked by a professional who said everything was fine. Excuse me? Who was this person, Stevie Wonder? I'm sorry, but I don't have any regard for someone who calls themselves 'professional'. Taxi drivers insist they're 'professional drivers', but we all know that with the possible exception of White-Van-Man, taxi drivers are pretty much the worst drivers on the road.

The suggestion was made that a meeting take place so that I could point out to those concerned exactly where the problem lay.
Meeting the clerk, the council chairman, and another council member outside the pub this morning, I proceeded to point out exactly where I felt the problem was - I even took the precaution of arming myself with a class 3b laser pointer borrowed from work to be absolutely clear.
Despite the tree being tightly bound by the wire and pointing out where it was cutting into the bark, I was failing to make any impression. The clerk made all the right pacifying noises, and the chairman did his best to be firm yet intimidating (a big mistake because I have no respect for anyone who trys to play that shit with me). Remaining calm and polite was not achieving anything, but I was determined not to be anything other than confident yet serene. Nobody listens to a shouty idiot.
The third councillor was a whole different matter. Propping up the bus shelter with a face like thunder, she had taken an instant dislike to me, which I thought odd given that she knew nothing whatsoever about me and I was being nothing but polite.
The knives really came out though, when I suggested that risking damage to the tree for the sake of a bunch of tacky fairy lights that only get switched on for a couple of weeks a year was immoral.
In full attack mode she launched into a little speech about that being just my opinion and that everyone loves the lights. I said that while I acknowledged that it was indeed my opinion to which I was perfectly entitled, perhaps if she were to actually poll the residents as to whether fairy lights were more important than the health of a 200 year-old tree, she might be a little surprised.
If looks could kill I'd have disappeared in a puff of smoke, but at least she had the sense to shut the hell up. She couldn't have been more transparent if she'd tried - here was the woman who obviously wanted the bloody lights putting up in the first place.

When the conversation had concluded with a hefty collection of platitudes and assurances, I walked home secure in the knowledge that for all the talk, absolutely nothing will happen as a result.
I tried. I felt an injustice was taking place, and that by bringing it to the notice of those with the power to make it right would be the right move.
Maybe I should have done the ladder and wire cutter thing in the first place, but to be honest I think my tree-climbing days are long gone.
But who cares - it's only a fucking tree, right? Tossers....

Approx 100 years ago and recently.
After such a long life, the tree (the big fella just to the right of the pub)
is at the mercy of the twinkly light brigade.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Everyday awesome

Despite being Saturday and not having to get up for work this morning, I nevertheless dragged my weary carcass out of bed at six o'clock and pulled on some clothes.
I then grabbed my coat, some shoes, and a pair of binoculars before heading outside into the early morning chill to stare at the relatively cloudless sky.
I only had to wait about five minutes before I spotted what I was waiting for - the international space station. Even with binoculars it just looks like a bright star, but moving very fast across the sky. From when I spotted it until it disappeared from view was only a matter of a couple of minutes, but in that time I was surprised at the feeling of awe it inspired.
I have no idea what goes on up there or why it has been necessary to spend over 150 billion dollars on it, but when you consider that mankind has built something which travels at around 17,000mph, orbiting the planet in just 1 1/2 hours 400 kilometers above the earth, you can't help but feel a sense of incredulity - to see this tiny speck hurtling across the sky and know that there are men up there including our own Tim Peake.
And yet we go about our everyday lives without sparing a thought for it. It's been up there for many years and for the most part we've forgotten about it.

The same could be said for many other things in our lives. The technology we use every day is really quite incredible.
Back in the 1970's we were recording music on cassettes, if you wanted to call someone you probably had to use a public telephone, and there were only three channels on the television which itself had a screen like a goldfish bowl and weighed more than a Ford Transit. Come the 80's the first mobile phones were arriving - the size of a house brick and usually clamped to the ear of a loud-mouthed yuppie with red braces and a Golf GTi. Compact discs arrived, enabling us to hear our favourite albums without the accompaniment of assorted clicks and pops we'd been used to with vinyl records, and the increase in use of fuel injection systems in our cars instead of carburettors meant that time spent under the bonnet fixing the damn thing was on the wane.

Since the late nineties when the internet really started coming into its own, things have come on in leaps and bounds tech-wise with communication, shopping and everything else the web makes easier for us to do.
Now we have enormous ultra-high definition televisions less than an inch thick, we have devices with all the functionality of a PC, camera, music and video player, satellite navigation and many other things, that fits in our pocket, and there are even wigs that don't reduce passers-by to fits of hysteria.
Doctors can see inside our bodies without cutting us open for a poke-around thanks to MRI scanners, cars can run for over 250,000 miles before being consigned to the big scrapyard in the sky compared to thirty years ago when an engine was knackered if it had 100,000 miles on it and the rust was installed at the factory, and the lights in our homes now use a tiny fraction of the energy they used to.

We're surrounded by amazing technological feats that we just take for granted. When something new emerges there's a bit of 'ooh'ing followed by a steady stream of early-adopters before the price comes down, sales go up, the market gets saturated and it becomes a disposable item, making way for the next 'big thing'.
First we wonder why it's needed, then we get used to it before wondering how we ever lived without it. Yet we forget just how much has gone into making all these things happen.
The designers and engineers, those with the vision and determination to turn dreams into reality, the endless scribbles on the back of cigarette packets in the pub, and the tinkering of brainy yet socially awkward men in sheds, all have had a part to play in the technological marvels that surround us today.
So next time you make a video call to a relative on the other side of the world, walk away from a car crash that would have killed you if it had happened a couple of decades ago, or heat up yesterday's leftovers in the microwave, spare a though for all of those people that made it possible.