Sunday, 27 March 2016

Beating the bunnyfest blues

The UK is in a fairly unique position in that it sits at the meeting point of five major air masses.
It's these air masses that have a constant battle to decide what the prevailing conditions will be, and as a result we have the ingrained ability to bitch about the weather.
Unlike many countries which have a climate, we have weather which is at best a way of keeping things interesting (running the gauntlet of will it or won't it rain, well let's keep our fingers crossed and go for it), and at worst is an unpredictable bastard that's guaranteed to ruin the barbecue you were silly enough to have planned two weeks in advance.
It's obviously unpredictable because even those very clever people who study the weather with advanced instruments and computer prediction usually end up getting it wrong.
Since the legendary 'Michael Fish Incident' the Met Office has taken to always erring on the side of caution, issuing weather warnings whenever there's the slightest possibility of a stiff breeze or a bout of sustained drizzle.
As a result we treat these warnings with indifference, so when the weather really does go bat-shit crazy we're completely unprepared.

The only time the weather can be relied upon to be predictable is on a bank holiday, when you know with absolute certainty that it will lay down a barrage of everything nasty in its arsenal to ensure that the only entertainment you can seek is that which takes place indoors - probably involving a nice warm jumper.
Sometimes, however, you have to say "What the hell" and just get out there, which is exactly what we did this morning.
The forecast was full of biblical plagues in contrast with the view out of the window which was breezy but sunny, so it was a hard one to call, but having spent the last couple of days mostly vegetating at home, we desperately needed a change.
Knowing that most places would be shut due to it being Easter Sunday, we took ourselves off to Wandlebury woods, just south of Cambridge for a good walk and a much needed dose of fresh air.

Even approaching Cambridge, we could see the clouds rolling in from the direction we were headed, and a sense of impending doom began to descend.
The car park was surprisingly crowded, so we knew we weren't the only ones daft or desperate enough to venture out, but unsurprisingly it wasn't long before the heavens opened up and the rain came down with a vengeance.
Naturally I'd forgotten to bring a hat, but I doubt that even if I had, it wouldn't have been much good.
As most of the trees are still in winter mode and lacking any sort of foliage, shelter was in short supply so our only chance to escape the worst was to lean against a particularly large tree trunk.
By the time the rain passed over we looked like a couple of drowned rats, and then to add insult to injury the sun came out again like nothing had happened.

Despite getting soaked, it was still nice to be there. With the wind blowing in the trees, the sound of the rain beating against the sodden ground, and the absence of any traffic noise, it was absolute bliss compared to when we were battling the crowds around London the other week.
We may grumble about the weather - indeed I sometimes think it must be our national passtime - but it does at least add a bit of variety to life, and with the right attitude even the standard bank holiday blues can be beaten into submission. You just have to accept that getting wet is going to be part of your day.

 Wet at Wandlebury woods. Mad dogs and Englishmen etc....

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Short change zero

The other day on the way home from work I had the radio on for a change.
The presenters began discussing a list that had been published of the top ten things men over forty shouldn't wear, so my ears pricked up as I wondered just how many of these things I would be guilty of.
Amongst the items decreed to be unsuitable for me by the fashion police were t-shirts with the name of a band on them, track suit bottoms, football shirts, tracksuit tops, and the biggest no-no is apparently a hoodie.
Now trackie bottoms I have issues with - they're an item of clothing with two sets of rules, a sort of bi-polar apparel. If I'm out in the big wide world, the last kind of thing I'd voluntarily wear would be trackie bottoms.
OK, so that's not entirely true - I'd rather be seen in trackie bottoms than a dress, or lingerie, or Jo Brand, but when it comes to going out in public wearing some sort of trousers, they're not even on the radar. However, apart from lounge pants, trackie bottoms are the very best thing for slobbing around the house in.
Football shirts were never going to be an issue because I'm basically allergic to football and would never wear something that marks me out as being a Carlsberg-drinking, Seat Ibiza-driving lout who enjoys pubs with fruit machines and Sky TV.
Although I don't currently own a t-shirt with a band on it, I really don't see why this would be an issue. Obviously a forty-something wearing a Taylor Swift t-shirt would look rather strange, but if the band in question was more age-specific like Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd then I really don't see the problem.
I do admit to owning a hoodie though. I can't really explain why this happened, and god knows I shouldn't have to, but after hearing that article on the radio I'm suddenly feeling a bit self-conscious about wearing it.

Why is it that social rules change as we age?
Why do we feel the need to conform to certain stereotypes that are appropriate to our age in order to fit in?
Someone in their twenties would see nothing wrong with hooning around in a Mitsubishi Evo, testing the laws of physics with their arse on fire, whereas someone in their fifties would feel a complete tit doing the same thing and quite rightly so.
By that age society expects us to have grown up, become sensible and be plodding around in a beige Toyota Auris.
While the teenagers are wandering around with their trousers hanging halfway down their arses, middle-aged man is debating the pros and cons of an elasticated waist band to deal with that fine balance between comfort and disguising the inevitable belly bulge associated with a slowing metabolism, too little exercise and too many bacon sandwiches.

No matter how much we like to kid ourselves that we're the same person on the inside as we were when we were nineteen, the reality is that eventually we do change in many ways.
When I was about sixteen I felt great wearing a pair of white trousers and mirror sunglasses. It was the eighties and Miami Vice was all the rage, so it seemed only right to pay homage to Don Johnson in some way that didn't require the purchase of a Ferrari Daytona. If someone forced me to walk the streets wearing that outfit today I'd die of embarrassment.
Driving with the windows wound down and Snap's 'Rhythm is a dancer' cranked up was all very well in the early nineties, but now I'm more likely to have the windows wound firmly up listening to Steve Wright on BBC Radio 2.
As far as beer is concerned, I started out on Grolsch and Kronenberg before becoming 'educated' in the delights of real ale. Lately however, my tastes have changed again, abandoning the 'Old Speckled Hen' and 'Hobgoblin' in favour of lighter lagers such as Corona, Sol, or Asahi.
Today I realised that my previous favourite Americano from Costa had come to taste overwhelmingly bitter and that I actually prefer tea (a good mug of Assam) to coffee.

As a teenager I was still the proud owner of a 28 inch waist, an absolute certainty that I knew best, and yet was terrified at the prospect at having to address a group of people or try and converse with just one woman because they were obviously a completely different species that needed special handling that I hadn't yet read the workshop manual for.
Now I'm struggling to stay within the confines of 32 inch waist trousers and I realise that for the most part I know sod all. On the other hand, I have no worries talking to large groups (as long as I know the subject), and the realisation that women are actually human after all has meant I no longer go into a complete mental shutdown whenever I encounter one.

Even tastes in music evolve with the passing years. I still listen to stuff from my teenage years, because I suppose those years of growing up were so influential and a lot of music from that time is associated with strong memories. Paul Hardcastle's '19' and Pet Shop Boys 'West End Girls' remind me of the school sponsored walk and finding my own tastes in music with influence from my peers rather than my older siblings. Depeche Mode's excellent 'Violator' album and The Shamen's 'Boss Drum' send me back to long evenings tinkering with motorbikes in my mate's barn, punctuated by trips to the nearest petrol station to stock up on supplies of Nik-Naks and Skittles.
But although I used to listen to lots of heavy rock like Judas Priest, Guns & Roses and Iron Maiden, I very rarely drag that sort of music out now, and when I do I quickly tire of it.
It's a similar story with films. When I was younger I couldn't get enough of action movies. If it involved Jean Claude Van Damme or Arnold Schwarzenegger as a one man army beating the shit out of the baddies then I was all for it. Now such things generally bore me to death and I find myself preferring something French with a good story like 'Amelie', or anything with Audrey Hepburn as long as it's not a musical.

So things do change - our personal tastes and even our outlook on life. When we're young we might think we're important and invincible, but life teaches us that actually we're vulnerable and mostly irrelevant.
Even though our basic personality may be set early in life, our experiences continue to mould and shape us throughout our lives, ensuring that there will always be a market for beige slacks, tartan slippers, coach trips to the Isle of Wight, and the Honda Jazz.

"That Matt Munro's wicked, innit? Nah wot I mean?"

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Let them eat cake

After a very nice lunch at the pub, I'm now sat here while Italy are getting their arse handed to them by the Irish rugby team. I'm not a rugby fan - to me it's as confusing as a convincing ladyboy - but with my belly full of pie, veg and Peroni I'm not much use for anything else.
I'm also making my way through a wonderful piece of carrot cake procured from the local garden centre, which is a veritable treasure trove of pricey-but-good food and drink.
The way I'm feeling I may even stay on the sofa for the duration of the England rugby game which is on next. A proper Saturday.

It didn't start off so good.
I'd arranged to pop over to dad's to pressure wash the green gunk off his path, so I threw my kit in the boot of the car and made my way there.
I hooked up the pressure washer and turned on the water supply, then noticed a leak. Initially I thought it was just a loose hose union, but closer inspection showed that the water was coming through the metal pump casing inside the unit.
With fingers firmly crossed I got the job done, but by the end the leak was twice as bad as it was at the start. The nasty die-cast pump housing now had a visible crack running about 40mm along it, and that crappy monkey-metal is practically impossible to repair effectively.
I'd been disappointed when my old Karcher turned up its toes after about three years service, but this Clarke thing was now fucked after little more than twelve months light use. Guess I'll buy another Karcher next time.

After a cup of tea and a chat, dad gave me hand to carry the stuff out to the car.
"Where's your car?" he asked. "It's the BMW over there" I said.
I'd deliberately not mentioned buying it because I know how he reacted whenever my brother got anything nice.
"Is this new?" he asked as I loaded the boot. "Not new, but it's new for me" I replied.
"I'm saying nothing" he said, which frankly said everything.
I mean for fuck's sake, why does he have to get arsy just because I've bought a BMW?
It's not like they're rare or anything - some years the 3 series has even outsold the Ford Mondeo - and although it's undoubtedly a great car to drive and exudes a feeling of quality, it really is no different from any other standard rep-mobile. Even the running costs are no worse than a Vauxhall Vectra, so why the hostility?

For many years BMW man was the scourge of the road, and I admit I was a little worried that I'd never be let out of a side road ever again. But clearly most road users are well aware that the arseholes have mostly migrated to Audis now, leaving BMWs blending into the background as just another car. Even so I've been a bit surprised that I haven't experienced any real negativity from other drivers.
During the time I was driving a bright yellow Fiat Seicento I was victim of so much abuse it was unbelieveable - as if the mere existence of a small yellow car was enough to bring out the very worst in anyone who saw it. Bizarre.
What the BMW does have in spades is that underlying feeling of a quality product. It's been designed and built by someone who actually gives a shit, which is more than can be said for the crappy pressure washer that I deposited into the 'small electrical appliances' skip at the recycling centre on the way home.

Now the England game is about to kick off, and this evening we'll watch 'The Martian' as I've just finished reading the book. Wonder if the film will do it justice?
I'll probably finish my bottle of Jura whiskey and the rest of that lovely carrot cake too.

The Lazy Otter - damn good pie!

UPDATE - 9:30pm:
The movie of 'The Martian' is like a hugely condensed version of the book, with an unfortunate bit of Hollywood 'artistic license' tagged on the end. Not bad though.