Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Wisdom unhinged

Leaving aside the fact that much of humanity seems hell bent on causing as much chaos, death, destruction and tax evasion as possible before they die, I like to believe that there is sufficient good left in the world that it's not yet time to duct tape a plastic bag over my head.
Feeling better about the world can come from a greater understanding, acceptance of the many different types of people, or simply being able to have a bloody good laugh at the absurdity of it all.
We're taught that age brings wisdom, but that's clearly nonsense because most people continue to make mistakes their entire lives. Though you may learn through experience not to do something again, there's bound to be another opportunity to make an idiot of yourself just around the corner.
People try many sources in search of wisdom such as religious texts or the writings of the Dalai Lama who I personally have a lot of time for, but there are others who have the ability to put life's little mysteries into perspective, and as examples I've listed below a number of quotes from a couple of often overlooked sources - Terry Pratchett, and the comic strip 'Calvin and Hobbes'.
Hopefully some might put a smile on your face or give you something to think about.

Terry Pratchett quotes:

1. Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.

2. A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores.

3. Geography is just physics slowed down, with a couple of trees stuck in it.

4. An education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on.

5. Give a man a fire and he's warm for the day. But set fire to him and he's warm for the rest of his life.

6. Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time.

7. In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods. They have not forgotten this.

8. Only in our dreams are we free. The rest of the time we need wages.

9. The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.

10. It is well known that a vital ingredient of success is not knowing that what you're attempting can't be done.

11. Some humans would do anything to see if it was possible to do it. If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying 'End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH', the paint wouldn't even have time to dry.

12. Wisdom comes from experience. Experience is often a result of lack of wisdom.

13. It’s not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing it.

14. Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.

15. Inside every sane person there’s a madman struggling to get out.

16. The entire universe has been neatly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks.

17. Goodness is about what you do. Not what you pray to.

18. The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.

19. They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it's not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance.

20. There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this.

Calvin and Hobbes quotes:

1. A day can really slip by when you're deliberately avoiding what you're supposed to do.

2. There's no problem so awful, that you can't add some guilt to it and make it even worse.

3. I'm killing time while I wait for life to shower me with meaning and happiness.

4. Reality continues to ruin my life.

5. Life's a lot more fun when you aren't responsible for your actions.

6. Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.

7. Life is full of surprises, but never when you need one.

8. So the secret to good self-esteem is to lower your expectations to the point where they’re already met?

9. God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind that I will never die.

10. In my opinion, we don’t devote nearly enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks.

11. I don’t know which is worse: that everyone has his price, or that the price is always so low.

12. Nothing spoils fun like finding out it builds character. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Busy doing nothing

While the rest of the world appears to be running around like a headless chicken, getting all stressed out and telling anyone daft enough to listen how there simply aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done, I deliberately engineer my life to be as stress-free as possible.
I have no trouble doing what needs to be done because there is so little that needs doing.
This confirms my long-held belief that life is only as stressful as you make it. I sit back watching others work themselves up into a frenzy as they rush about from one self-induced crisis to the next as though being in a constant state of angst is their own personal crack cocaine.
Different things work for different people of course, and no doubt some of these stress monkeys would rather have something sharp and hot inserted somewhere sensitive than spend an hour reading a book or sitting by the river with a nice cold pint watching the ducks.

Last week I was off work, using up some of the leave that I'm blessed with having a good amount of.
I'd planned to do a couple of jobs to keep me occupied sufficiently to stop boredom setting in, but I wasn't going away anywhere.
The conservatory roof needed attacking with the pressure washer, I was going to service the Honda, and then I intended pottering around doing some of those little tasks I'd been putting off for a while.
I got the roof cleaned, but then I urgently needed new tyres on the Beemer so servicing the Honda has been deferred to next month.
The plan to do all those little jobs around the house also amounted to nothing because as hard as I tried, I couldn't remember what any of them were.
Oh well, Playstation time then.

Having become frustrated with 'Doom', which had been really good up until the point when I was supposed to kill this fifty foot tall minotaur sort of thing that simply refused to die, I searched the local video game library (AKA my son's bedroom) for something different.
I slipped 'Farming Simulator 15' into the PS4, wondering if years spent playing first person shooters and drivers would make me find this sort of thing incredibly tedious, but I didn't really know what to expect and I was getting desperate.
I definitely didn't expect to become so utterly addicted to it.
Usually if I sit down for a gaming session I'll play for about two hours, maybe three if I'm on a roll.
With this game I spent the rest of the week getting up early to switch it on and the console wouldn't be turned off until bedtime, occasionally leaving it running itself while I dealt with meals, trips to the lavatory, and a visit to my father.
Even internet porn didn't get a look in as I spent hour after hour ploughing, fertilising, sowing, harvesting, expanding the farm and buying increasingly exotic machinery while the money kept rolling in from all the renewable energy sources I'd bought and placed around the map.
I was truly hooked, and having to go back to work on Monday was even more saddening than usual because I wouldn't be able to feed this new addiction.

It sounds insane that a 45 year old bloke could spend so long doing something that the headless chicken brigade would consider a colossal waste of time. But what is a waste of time?
Does it really matter how anyone spends their free time? Whether someone likes to spend their leisure time watching TV, baking, skateboarding or juggling flaming chainsaws with greasy handles while tap-dancing on the back of an angry crocodile, surely their choice is as valid as anyone else's?
The trouble is that I tend to feel guilty if I'm not accomplishing something of value - constantly fighting that nagging voice in the back of my head saying "You really should be doing something more constructive you know", and most of the time I give in.
If I have nothing to show for my time I feel I've wasted it. Last week however, I fought back.
Apart from a bit of daily exercise either on the cross-trainer or cycling, I spent most of the time sat on my lazy arse and achieved sod all.
And for once I didn't feel bad about it.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

On yer bike

Cycling has long been a favourite outdoor activity for me. It has always been a wonderful way of getting away from it all - a time when it's just me, the bike, and whatever little-used back roads I find myself riding down.
Once I'm off the main roads and cruising along with no sounds apart from the tyres on tarmac, the tall grass rustling in the breeze and grasshoppers chirping in the verge, it's almost meditative.
I used to find the same sort of thing when I was doing archery. Once I was on the line it was as though the rest of the world and its distractions disappeared, leaving just me, my bow and the target.
That was half the reason I did archery. I never felt compelled to be competitive beyond improving my ability for my own gratification, but I enjoyed the activity and there were some nice people at the club who were happy to have a chat when we weren't shooting.
It was such a shame when I damaged a tendon in my arm and was no longer able to shoot because it meant my twice weekly meditation session also came to an end.

Riding my bike is the only way I'm able to come near to replacing that feeling, especially if it's early on a Sunday morning before the rest of the world has taken to the roads.
Then of course two and a half years ago my world got turned upside down by the motorcycle crash and since then my attempts to do any sort of cycling have been patchy at best.
After the first surgery to rebuild my knee I sold my 1200 Bandit (knowing I didn't want to ride a motorbike again) and used some of the money to buy a Trek 1.1 road bike to replace the Diamondback hardtail mountain bike I'd been using for the past few years - a decent enough bike which was fairly light and pretty good for tarmac use with the fitting of semi-slick city tyres. I'd fancied a nice lightweight machine for a while and in many ways it is a fine entry level bike, but like most things there was the odd drawback.
The first thing was the toe-strap pedals. My feet naturally turn outwards slightly, so forcing them to point straight forward made my hips ache and the injured knee screamed at me. So I replaced the pedals with a decent set of alloy mountain bike ones to give my feet the freedom of movement I need.

For a while all was well and cycling was proving to be a useful form of physiotherapy, but after a few months the knee pain was increasing and it was time for more surgery.
After a recuperation period I got back on the bike. Things were a little better, but by this time I was tired of the razor blade that manufacturers find necessary to fit to road bikes in lieu of a proper saddle. My bum doesn't have much in the way of natural padding, and padded cycle shorts are restrictive and make you feel like you're wearing a nappy. So the next modification was to fit a nicely shaped gel saddle that keeps the weight off the delicate bits and provides far better support without the need for padded clothing.
Unfortunately I didn't have long to enjoy the benefits of this because once again the knee conspired to make any such exercise too painful to bear.

A couple of months ago I had surgery on the knee again, and it seemed to make a huge improvement, so once things had had time to heal I tentatively swung my leg over the bike and went to the end of the street and back and was surprised that it didn't hurt at all.
With hope in my heart I pulled on some trainers and rode off to the old pumping station which is about a mile and a quarter from home, and by the time I got back I was still pain free and feeling so happy it was amazing.
I was however quite out of breath even after such a short distance. I knew this would be a problem. Having been without proper exercise for the best part of a year has left me with a subterranean fitness level, plus my left leg has about half the strength of the right one and needs to be built up.
I'm not disillusioned though, just determined to get back as close as possible to my pre-crash capabilities and fitness.

For the bike there just remained one more modification - the handlebars.
I've tried to get on with drop bars but for the sort of riding I do they're just not right. I found myself always riding with my hands on top of the bars which makes it awkward to reach the brakes and still pitched me slightly too far forward for comfort. Plus to be honest I didn't like having any sort of association with the standard issue lycra-clad tossers that usually ride road bikes - especially those who ride in big groups spread out across the road pissing off motorists.
So I took the plunge and ordered Shimano Claris shifters and brake levers for flat bars that match the existing derailleurs (good old Amazon Marketplace), and picked up some low-rise mountain bike bars and a pair of grips from the bike shop near work.
It took a couple of hours work to strip off the original bars etc, fit the new components and rig the gears correctly, by which time the bike was looking rather different.

What I've ended up with is a sort of Frankenstein's monster that combines the best attributes of a road bike and a standard off-the-peg hybrid.
I've retained the light weight, gearing, geometry and low rolling resistance of a road bike while adding the more ergonomic riding position and comfort of a hybrid.
This morning was my first proper ride in this configuration, and I'm happy to report that the desired effect has been achieved.
I did a 9.5 mile circuit which although not very long by normal standards felt like quite an achievement considering my current physical condition, and the bike felt fantastic. The riding position is now spot on for me with minimal weight on my wrists and the wide bars giving good stability.
I can now look forward to getting out there whenever the great British weather isn't taking the fun out of it by raining or blowing or some disagreeable combination of the two. My fitness and strength is already starting to get better, and even if it's not appropriate to go out on the bike there's the cross trainer in the shed to make sure I don't have an excuse to slack off in my pursuit of physical improvement.
And who knows - all this effort might even help shift those few unwanted pounds around my middle.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Honesty in advertising

Advertising is a dodgy business, isn't it?
Every company wants to sell their product - of course they do - but whether the product is good or bad, the ad men have the job of convincing the general public that their lives will remain incomplete if they don't run to the shops right this minute and beg the confused and slightly scared woman behind the counter to sell you one.

However, by now anyone with enough brain to not want to read Heat magazine knows exactly what the advertisers are playing at and are not fooled in the slightest.
So adverts have become increasingly devious - preying on people's insecurities and weaknesses in an attempt to sell the latest wossname.
In no corner of the marketplace is this more obvious than the shadowy one where the shelves are filled with sanitary towels, condoms, thrush cream, and things to shove up your bum because you haven't had a shit for three days since that triple helping of lasagne and you're worried you might explode like Mr Creosote in Monty Python's 'Meaning Of Life'.
It seems strange to me that advertisers feel the need to dress up these sort of products in all sorts of flowery packaging in an attempt to convince the teenager at the checkout that it's just a harmless box of tissues rather than something that (god forbid) might give away the shameful fact that you've got the painters in.
I'm sure that women across the globe breathed a sigh of relief when the ad men showed them that what they really ought to do during their period was to go roller-blading rather than eating chocolate and cuddling a hot water bottle.

Adverts are everywhere - billboards, TV, magazines, buses, pop-ups on your computer (use Ad-Block to defeat this shit, it's brilliant) and they're getting more and more cunning as we become harder to fool.
Sometimes they go too far and you get to the end of an advert on TV and still have no idea what was being advertised. Others deceive you into thinking it's an ad for a car but then it turns out to be for something to do with perfume.
In the world of advertising nothing is what it seems, but it hasn't always been this way.
Many years ago there was a good chance that an advert would be straightforward and unencumbered by the stylised garnish that we have to scrape away from the adverts of today.
Here's an example (click to enlarge) of what I'm talking about from the Wolseley car company:

I think this is great and I'd very much like to see a return to this sort of advertising.
It's honest. It tells you something positive you can relate to and has a simple picture of the product instead of replacing it with a skinny tart on a magic carpet or similar.
With this in mind, I've compiled a few adverts for modern products using this level of honesty in the hope that advertisers will cotton on to the fact that we're fed up with being lied to and we shouldn't have to resort to a slide rule and logarithm tables to work out what an advert on TV is trying to sell us.
Personally, if an advert annoys me I make a point of not buying the product, so what I want to see instead is something like these: