Sunday, 25 December 2016

Humbug

FFS, it's taken over an hour of fannying about with an inexplicably slow laptop to get to the point where I can actually get on with writing this blog post. I forsee Windows 10 being replaced with Linux in the very near future.
The only trouble is that I've completely forgotten what I was going to say, so I'll just wing it and see what happens.

We took ourselves off into Ely today for a walk, expecting it to be pretty well deserted, and apart from a few people who had booked their christmas lunch at assorted pubs and restaurants, those determined to get a bit of fresh air and the occasional dog walker, it was.
It was almost spooky how quiet it was, and I was taken back to those days before the country became a 24/7 culture, when it was like this EVERY Sunday.
How nice it was back then to have just one day a week when the world didn't run around like a toddler who's eaten all the blue Smarties.
Why do people have to wait for the annual commercial festival of greed and gluttony to be able to chill out for 24 hours. Is it too much to ask for just one day off a week from all the bullshit?
Of course it is, because almost everyone insists on continuing to go along with the whole christmas bollocks even though they're not christians and don't go to church, but the idea of having a day of rest more than once a year has become alien to the masses.

In a world where we now expect everything to be available at any time of day, and you can order something from Amazon on Saturday afternoon and it be delivered to your door by a man in a van on Sunday, any notion of actually stopping and just spending a day doing nothing fills the average person with dread - hence people reacting to the supermarkets being closed for one day by panic-buying enough food to feed a small country for a month.

As I've said before, I don't do christmas. Nothing, zip, zilch, nada.
In fact I find the whole thing tasteless, with my biggest bugbear being the rampant commercialism involved.
It usually starts around September with all the adverts for restaurants wanting you to "book now for xmas dinner" and gradually increases in intensity until about mid November by which time the shops are stacked to the gills with all sorts of shit nobody needs.
From then on it's full-throttle in-your-face "BUY! BUY! BUY!" until the big day finally arrives and everyone's faced with the fact that it's not like it's portrayed on the telly and all that's really happened is everyone has eaten so much they feel ill and is vowing to go to the gym in the new year, even though they won't be able to because their massive credit card bill won't allow it.

I'm sure back in Charles Dickens' time when workers earned barely enough to pay the rent and eat one meagre meal a day, went to church every Sunday and christmas was the only day they got off in a year, things would have been very different. It would have meant something and the run-up to it would maybe last a couple of days.
But today, when we can have a big fuck-off roast dinner pretty much whenever we like, don't have to save for a whole year to afford a kid's bicycle, and hardly anyone goes to church - what place does christmas really have?
Tradition? Yeah, right. We used to have Sundays where all the shops were shut, but that got in the way of businesses making more money, so there's one tradition that went out the window easy enough.
Saying something is tradition is no different from saying "we've always done it this way" and ploughing on regardless of the alternatives.
Sure, it's nice to have a few days break in the depths of winter when you don't have to go to work in the dark and come home in the dark, but we can take a week off without the excuse of some outdated religious festival that was supposed to celebrate the birth of the 'son of god' despite the belief that Jesus wasn't even born in December (if at all), and it only happens then because the church wanted to lure people away from the feast of Saturnalia etc to join their cult instead.

As it will have become clear by now, I am not religious, but I do respect other people's right to believe in whatever they like as long as they don't inflict it on others.
I'm not a christian so I consider it wrong for me to celebrate a christian festival.
I despise the way christmas has been turned into a shameless money-making machine, backed up by such a tidal wave of commercial propaganda that nearly everyone gets swept along without questioning why they're doing it.
It stinks.
You don't show your family you love them by giving them a pair of slippers once a year, but by your words and actions every time you see them.
If you see something you know a close friend would really like, just buy it for them as a surprise gift - it will be far more satisfying than running around Debenhams on christmas eve desperately looking for inspiration.
Want a family get-together? Why not arrange a barbecue during the summer?
Like twinkly fairy lights around your windows and a selection of glittery tat on a plastic fir tree? Fine - have it all year round if you like; why sit there clucking like a junkie waiting for his next fix until December 1st rolls around again so you can drag it all out of the loft?

In these supposedly enlightened times, it surprises me that people continue to employ the sheep mentality over christmas, seemingly unable or unwilling to get over the "we've always done it this way" attitude and make their own choices based on reason, but there're little sign of rebellion except for a few individuals who're generally shouted down and accused of being a Grinch or Scrooge.
So although I wouldn't stand up and shout that christmas should be abolished (though it would be nice) I would love to see more people take a step back from it all and think carefully about what christmas really means. How much comes from the bible, and how much comes from big business?
We've been given brains and the ability to use them, so why not do so?

See? Forget the plan and it turns into a rant. Oh well, whatever....




Sunday, 18 December 2016

Oscar

On Thursday eight small satellites were put into orbit by NASA to study hurricanes.
They were delivered by a Pegasus rocket which was launched at around 40,000ft from a modified Lockheed TriStar.
A colleague walked up to me with his iPhone saying "Look, this is really cool" and I was surprised by the familiar sight of N140SC.
I had my reasons for being surprised. Firstly that it was still in operation after all these years, and also that there should still be media interest in it. After all, these launches have been going on since the late nineties.



More than surprised, however, I felt a sense of pride.
That's because I was part of the team of fitters and electricians who carried out the modifications to that aircraft.
All media coverage surrounding these launches focuses on the Pegasus delivery vehicle itself and its payload, with at best only passing mention of the converted TriStar.
Hardly surprising I suppose because big American companies like NASA and Orbital Sciences are unlikely to say "Special mention should go to the men at Marshall Aerospace in England, who made it possible for these high altitude launches to take place", are they?

While my own input was pretty minor in the scheme of things, it was still very necessary.
The Pegasus weighs 18,500kg plus payload (over 23,000kg for the Pegasus XL), so one thing that had to happen was that the TriStar needed to go on a serious diet to be able to lift it safely.
Myself and others were tasked with making this happen, so we set to stripping out the whole interior of the cabin. Everything had to come out, back to a bare airframe with just ducting and wiring looms left in the ceiling. Even the mid to rear passenger door mechanisms had to be stripped away to save weight - now they're just bolted in place permanently.
Apart from the two front cabin doors and the first twenty feet or so of cabin which houses crew seating and monitoring equipment, everything else is an empty shell. There's a lightweight partition separating the two areas, which me and my mate built.
I remember we ended up getting to know the design engineer pretty well during that part. We kept calling him over because his drawings didn't match up with the aircraft, and in the end he just said "Look, you build it, and when you've finished I'll come over and draw it", so that's what we did.
It may only have been tertiary structure, but we did our bit.

Towards the end of the job, there were countless drop tests carried out. With the aircraft on jacks, a huge steel cage full of concrete blocks to mimic the Pegasus was attached to the new release mechanism in the aircraft belly. With wooden blocks under the cage to absorb the impact and reduce the drop to a minimum, it was quite a sight to watch, with the whole aircraft shaking as over eighteen tonnes was released in a split second, accompanied by the deafening bang as the cage landed.
When Oscar (as it became affectionately know by the team, as it belonged to Orbital Sciences Corporation) went for its first test flight with a Pegasus attached, we went out to watch it take off with a distinct sense of collective pride.
As a team-building exercise, going to the woods to shoot your colleagues with paintballs had nothing on this.
We even had t-shirts made thanks to one of the guys who had a bit of artistic talent who drew a neat caricature of the plane with 'Oscar' under it.
So, as impressive as the Pegasus may be, this post is a shout out to everyone at Marshall Aerospace who made it all possible.
Cheers, guys!


Monday, 12 December 2016

Some people.....

This weekend I decided it was time to start making a bit of room in the shed by getting rid of some stuff I didn't want any more, so I logged in to Gumtree.
First was the original alloy wheels from the Beemer, which I recently replaced because they had rather a lot of corrosion on, including on the bead which meant one tyre wouldn't seal and kept losing pressure.
There was also my model railway layout. I started this about 18 months ago with great enthusiasm and the usual sort of expense that seems to go hand in hand with any new hobby, but the initial desire to produce a realistic railway quickly waned and it hadn't been touch for about six months.
So with photos taken and adverts posted, I got on with the day, checking periodically for any messages.

A bloke called Mike emailed about the model railway, and the conversation started as follows:

M: I'm really interested in your N Gauge layout and would like to buy it.
Please could you email me or phone

D: Thanks for the interest.
When would suit you to have a look?
Any evening between 6 and 9 is fine with me.

Later on I got a call from someone else who wanted the railway and would come out right away to buy it. Naturally I said OK and went to gather everything together and await the arrival of the buyer, who turned up, had a look and went away a happy man with his new acquisition, leaving me with the asking price in my pocket.
Got back in the house to find another message from the first guy:

M: Thanks for the quick reply.  How does Tuesday evening at about 6.30 suit?

D: Sorry Mike, it's just gone.

M: Ok. No problem.

You'd think that would be the end of it, but a few minutes later he came back at me and this is how the remainder of the exchange went:

M: Just looking at the messages between us, I said that Id like to buy your layout.   You then said when would I like to come and see it.
I said Tuesday at 6.30. You then said that it's now gone!!
How can that be, when I said that I wanted to buy it right from the onset?  All I was going to do on Tuesday was pay for it and pick it up.

D: Nothing had been set in stone, no promises made. Another guy has bought it and taken it away.
I realise you're disappointed, but that's that.

M: So when I said in my first email that I'd like to buy your layout, surely that meant that I'd like to buy your layout for the asking price.  How much more setting in stone would you have liked?  Very disappointed in you.

D: Seriously?
Look - between my saying it was still available and me getting your email saying you would come and buy it, I had a call from someone else who came straight out and bought it for the asking price.
It's quite simple.
Now, I suggest you stop getting yourself worked up over nothing and move on.
This is the last time I shall reply, and any further communication from you will automatically be deleted.
So much for 'No problem', because suddenly it had all become a very big problem for him.
It's a bloody model railway layout, not a perfect tissue match for a kidney transplant.
Why on earth would someone get so pissy about such a trivial thing?
It's unbelievable sometimes, the way people can get so obsessed about trivial little things and blow them so far out of proportion that they lose all sense of reason.
This bloke had lost nothing more than the time it took to write a couple of short messages, but he felt it necessary to get all uppity and self-righteous. Well, tough shit.
The worst bit about it all is that him getting on at me has pissed me off enough to spend half an hour writing a blog post about him. Twat.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

OCD

What is normal? Are any of us truly normal, or is there really no such thing, and we all simply exist on a sliding scale of weirdness?
I like to imagine that for the most part I'm fairly ordinary, but at the same time that could also mean I'm rather dull - which is probably not too far from the truth.
It's the little quirks that make a person interesting, but it can be difficult to identify your own quirks because to you they seem normal.
So I've had a think about this and decided that in my own little way I do a have a bit of OCD about certain things. I suspect most people do, and it would be interesting to hear about the things that others obsess over.
Here are a few examples of my own personal weirdness:

The volume control on any device, whether it's the car stereo, TV or whatever, must be set to a number that can be divided by two or five. 15 is fine, but 17 is a big no-no.
If the volume control has no numbers I can relax.

CDs must be arranged in alphabetical order by artist, and in chronological order within each artist.
While this is also a matter of convenience (making it easy to find the one you want), it's still something that winds me up immensely if I find something that's not in its correct place.
Also, when replacing a CD in its case the label must be the right way up, which is fine most of the time but there is the odd one where you can't tell which way is up. The internal turmoil this generates is disturbing.

When the car is parked, the steering wheel must be in the straight ahead position - unless parked on a hill of course, but we don't have many of those in the fens.

My square bedside lamp must always be square with the bedside table it sits on, along with the coaster and any books.

The kitchen knives must be arranged on the magnetic holder in size order, evenly spaced, points upwards, with the tops of the handles all at the same level. Any deviation from this could destroy the space-time continuum more effectively than a teenager with a modified DeLorean.

Any set of drills in a rack must be complete. Empty spaces are not permitted under pain of death, because sod's law dictates that the one you need is the one that isn't there. Therefore when buying a set of drills it makes sense to buy extras of the ones most likely to be used and lost / broken / worn out.

Now I've written these things down I realise that maybe I'm a bit of a freak. This is not all bad because if I'm even a tiny bit of a freak and everyone else has similarly weird issues, then perhaps that means I'm normal.
Whether that's a good or bad thing, I have no idea.




Friday, 2 December 2016

Talking to God on the big white telephone

The boy went out last night (shocking as it meant giving up valuable Playstation time) saying he was meeting his friend at the pub for a drink and would be home around 11pm as he still had to be up for work in the morning.
The wife and I retired to the welcome comfort of bed just before 11 and thought nothing of it.
After reading a couple of chapters I went to sleep, but woke up a short time later with her fidgeting and sighing beside me - fretting that he still wasn't home.
He's normally pretty good about sticking to the times he says, so a bit of worry was creeping in and I texted him to check he was still alive and to prompt his return.
He finally rolled in at 1:30am and stumbled into his room before rushing back to the bathroom in the first of several extended and rather noisy visits - the price one pays for overindulgence.

With all that going on, any chance of sleep evaporated, so the wife made tea and we lay there reading and pondering what's to become of the boy and his worrying relationship with alcohol.
By the time things quietened down, time had moved on significantly, and as a result I only got about two hours sleep last night and am definitely not feeling my usual morning self - mostly because my brain still thinks it's about 2am.
It's easy now to be disapproving of such antics, but I can't be too hard on him because I remember doing the same things myself at that age.

When I was about 15 or 16 my parents went on holiday by themselves, leaving me with the house to myself for a week.
A mate came round and we spent the evening sampling our way through the drinks cupboard before moving on to mum's selection of homemade wines while watching a Tom & Jerry video which by that point had taken on a whole new dimension of hilarity.
Then it happened. The inadvisable cocktail of questionable homebrew, Bacardi and who knows what else had decided to head for the nearest exit, so I stood up, fell over, and commenced crawling towards the smallest room.
I didn't make it. Halfway up the stairs I could restrain it no more, and the hasty application of a hand over the mouth did nothing but change the stream into a spray.
I did my best to clean up but I must have been fighting a losing battle. My parents never said anything, but a new stair carpet was installed shortly after their return.

At 18 the pub was no longer out of bounds and of course became a frequent destination - especially as it was literally about 200 yards from the house.
One fateful evening I went there with my brother-in-law and his neighbour and indulged in a few pints of snakebite & black.
I vaguely remember getting home and going up to bed, but the next thing I knew was being naked in the bath, throwing up down the plug hole, wondering what all the red stuff was and why it wouldn't run away.

At a friend's birthday party everything was going well - I was enjoying the company of an older woman while discovering the interesting taste and effects of a bottle of Pernod.
It was all fine until I sat down on the sofa and promptly passed out.
I awoke suddenly with the now familiar feeling of impending doom, and rushed to the living room door, aiming for the downstairs privvy.
It was shut. "Strange", observed my Pernod-addled brain. I tried to open it and found it locked, so I turned the key and flung open the door and looked out in confusion at the back garden.
At this point I felt my mate's hand on my shoulder as he asked "What are you looking for?"
"Err... bog..", I said.
Suddenly I was flying, as my mate picked me up and ran with me to the toilet, getting there just in time for a technicolour yawn of epic proportions.
When I finally emerged I was given the choice of going back to the party or bed. There was no way I could show my face after such an exhibition, the older woman probably would have gone off the idea, and in that state there was sod all I'd be able to do about it even if she hadn't, so bed it was.
I was ill for two days and I've never touched Pernod since.

So with three almighty alcohol-fuelled fuck-ups under my belt, I finally learned where to draw the line by the time I was in my early twenties.
I only hope it doesn't take the boy long to figure it out either.