Saturday, 8 April 2017

Lead us not into temptation....

Recently I've been able to reduce my alcohol intake, but although it's a subject that arises from time to time, this hasn't been a conscious decision.
In fact, it is only since the wine rack has been empty and I haven't been bothered to refill it that things have started to change.
The key appears to be whether or not the bottles are in plain sight. The more I see it sitting there, the more I want to indulge.

Now before I paint myself as some sort of alcoholic, I should point out that I'm a long way from having that sort of obsessive relationship with alcohol, but an honest assessment of what I do drink suggests my consumption may have been a little higher than the government's recommended allowance.
Mind you, government recommendations could perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt, along with not eating eggs, buying diesel cars because they're more environmentally friendly.... ah, on second thoughts we'll start getting rid of them because they're actually killing us, and making sure you get your five servings of fruit and veg every day.... no wait, maybe it's eight..... no let's make it ten, that's a nice round number.

The more visible the drink is, the more I want it - which can be backed up by the fact that there is a bottle of Captain Morgan's spiced rum and a bottle of Russian Standard vodka in the kitchen cupboard, and it's only because they're tucked out of plain sight that they're still there.
There's half of the rum left and the vodka is still unopened, which is actually rather impressive.
For me the key to alcohol consumption is clearly the moderation of temptation.
However, it's not just booze that this theory is applicable to, but anything that may be a personal weakness.
For example, I love Quality Street as much as the next person, and if we had a tin in the cupboard I'd be quite capable of taking three or four, putting the lid back on and walking away.
However, if the tin was just sitting on the table I'd take a couple every time I walked past and end up fat and diabetic.

The alcohol situation is always being reviewed, but in a week or two I shall be switching to total abstinence mode. My nephew's wife is heavily pregnant and fast approaching her due date, and I'm on the list of people she can call when she needs to get to the hospital (her husband doesn't drive), so it makes sense if I simply don't drink.
I guess that means I'm going to be getting through more tea than usual for a while, because alcohol-free beer is crap.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Yin is missing its yang

This morning, for the first time in quite a while, I'm actually feeling pretty good.
I slept well, my body doesn't ache too much, and the recent nasty cold seems to have done its worst and is beating a hasty retreat.
I've made it in to work with very little traffic, and I'm sitting here with a breakfast of coffee and some left-over Chinese takeaway from last night that I've zapped in the microwave.
Outside the sun is shining, and inside there's nobody else around to disturb me because I always get in about an hour before I'm due to start.

You're thinking this all sounds like trivial nonsense, and have no idea why should you be even slightly interested, but I'm actually making a point.
How often do we appreciate when things are going right?
We're very good at complaining when things go wrong and fretting over bad stuff that we have no control over, but proportionately there are few occasions when we take the time to be thankful for all the good stuff.

We spend our lives with a decidedly negative outlook on life (unless you're a gameshow host or have a fetish for licking windows) which is hardly surprising, considering what we're bombarded with every day.
For example, let's have a look at what's on the BBC news website this morning: 'Children die in Syria gas attack', 'North Korea fires missile', 'Thousands on 50p-a-week housing benefit', and apparently antibiotics could be linked to bowel cancer. Well doesn't that fill you with the joys of spring?
The TV news is no better. The headlines are a parade of attacks on the innocent, death, destruction, dishonesty, cruelty and general scaremongering. Years ago they used to do a brief article right at the end about something uplifting, like a panda who'd overcome erectile dysfunction, but even that seems to have been pushed out to make a bit more room for the weather girl who smiles happily while telling us it's going to rain again.
And although newspaper readership is on a steady decline, do they make an effort to inject a little sunshine into our lives? Well, if you're into football or celebrity culture you might find something of interest, but The Daily Mail still enjoys telling us every day that we're doomed because breathing gives you cancer, or wearing socks makes you go blind, The Times is full of political and financial waffle that is only understood by the sort of person you wouldn't want to meet at a party, and The Sun has stopped doing the topless totty on page 3.
So aside from the occasional film review and Garfield, what are the papers for if not to depress us?

We need some sort of balance to be restored, and although it's possible, the sad part is that you have to go hunting for it because the default resources for what's going on in the world all lean towards the negative side.
However, if you look at websites like or you'll find it's not all doom and gloom.
Indeed if the big news networks were to shift some of their focus onto stories such as those found on sites like these, the world wouldn't feel like such a bad place.

The question that arises from this is: Is the world really becoming a worse place to be or is it just the way it's portrayed by the media?
Yes, bad shit happens and it's important to be aware of the major events, but we don't need them rammed down our throats 24/7.
On the other hand, I believe the majority of people are fundamentally good, so why should the small minority who want to be arseholes get all the attention?

The old saying of "No news is good news" may have an element of truth to it, but because that has become the way we generally think, we tend to forget that good things happen in the world that are just as newsworthy as all the awful events that we're told about at great length.
In the same way, if we focus on the positive aspects of our daily lives rather than grumbling about the things that go wrong, maybe it's possible to retrain our brains to have a more positive outlook.
If we can take time to acknowledge the good things, however trivial, we could become happier.
And not watching the news might help too....

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Game of life

We've all played board games at some point in our life, and chances are we've even played some sort of sport. It might not have been since school when, if you're anything like me, you were one of the last to be picked for a team, but even if your only experience of sport was the humiliation of finding yourself face down in the mud on the rugby field, you understand that games and sports have rules.
Everyone generally plays by these rules and the game runs smoothly, at least until you land on Mayfair with a hotel for the sixth time in a row, at which point some kind of hissy fit results in all the cards, playing pieces and houses being scattered over a wide area.

But what happens when someone decides not to play by the rules? Imagine if Tiger Woods hit his ball onto the 18th green then decided to pick it up, dunk it in the hole and run around like a loony yelling "Touchdown!".
What if someone decided to sell all their property on the Monopoly board and bankrupt themselves by donating the proceeds to charity?
Well, if you're French there would be riots and the ports would be blockaded, if you're Spanish you might throw a donkey off a tall tower for no reason, and if you're British you'll probably tut and sigh.

It strikes me that life is much the same.
Most people just play by the rules that society has laid down, wanting to fit in with what everyone else is doing no matter how silly or pointless, and any attempt to go against the flow is met with anything from mild confusion to open hostility.
I remember the year we took the boy out of the state school system to home educate him. Anyone that heard what we'd done was full of negativity, but if anything he learned more in that time than he would have done at school. He only went back to school because of the frustration of all the hoops you have to jump through because you choose to do something different.

As anyone who knows me will be aware, I don't do Christmas. It doesn't affect anyone else, but the shock on people's faces when they're told this is always a picture. It's as though they simply can't comprehend how or why anyone would not celebrate Christmas. Funnily enough, many people go on to say that they wish they didn't get involved with it all either, but there's always some excuse that amounts to "everyone else does it".
This is the problem. We're expected to go through the motions regardless of how we genuinely feel about something.
Work hard at school, get good grades, get a good job, meet someone special, get married, buy as big a house as possible, have 2.4 children and an armoured personnel carrier to transport them around in, brag to other parents about how amazing your kids are, go to the gym, have holidays in Barbados, and if anyone asks if you fancy meeting up you have to drag out your phone and start prodding it intently while making a big noise about how busy you are.

Bollocks. I'm not playing that game, and hope I never do. I'm not that person and if I thought I was I'd be ashamed of myself, because I don't want to play that game or live by those rules.
I go to work to earn money to keep a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothes on our backs.
I have a car to enable me to get to work, and a few things to make my home life comfortable.
The house is reasonably clean and tidy, but a show home it most definitely is not.
When it's my birthday I'd rather ignore it, when someone moves into a new house I have no interest in going round to be given 'the tour', I'm hardly ever busy and have trouble finding things to do to fill the time when I'm not working, eating or sleeping, and I'm not remotely interested in anyone's new baby - to me it's just another noisy, demanding shit machine until it's old enough to communicate and do something more interesting than projectile vomiting.
My life is what those that play by the rules would consider dull and boring, and sometimes I beat myself up about that, wishing things could be more exciting, wondering how it would be if I was caught up in a whirlwind of social interaction, parties, foreign holidays, fitted kitchens and one-upmanship.

Slowly but surely I'm becoming increasingly comfortable and accepting of my life, reasoning that if I was that desperate for it to be different I'd do something to change things. But I don't, so I guess that means I'm actually content with things the way they are.
I listen to music, I enjoy photography, and I love cooking.
I'm happiest when I'm in the countryside away from the bustle of the world, whereas cities fill me with frustration, anger, and a desperate urge to run and hide. I don't go to big concerts or events either, because I can't face the crowds, and this fear is the same reason I've never had anything to do with airports.
I'd rather spend the evening on the sofa with a big glass of red wine and a packet of Jaffa Cakes, watching a couple of episodes of Game Of Thrones, then going to bed somewhere around 10:30 and reading a chapter or two before dropping off.

I play the game by some of the rules because it's the only way to make life work, but all of the peripheral bullshit can go hang. Especially that ridiculous way of greeting someone by sort of kissing but not kissing, because I have absolutely no idea what the etiquette is.
The rules of the game are too complicated to be bothered with, so mostly I just go with what feels right for me.
I suspect I'm not alone, but those who do play the game by the rules have a habit of shouting so loud about it that the rest of us can't be heard.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

.... as a newt

In the wee small hours of Saturday morning, the boy stumbled in very much the worse for wear. Again.
Having spent the evening in the company of his young lady friend, doing the standard "ooh, that drink made me feel good, let's have another" thing, he fell into bed about 1am.
Within a couple of minutes, he embarked upon the first of many trips to the bathroom to drive the porcelain truck. So much for a good night's sleep.

It must have been a session of biblical proportions, because he spent the whole of Saturday in bed with nothing but the odd glass of water for sustenance.
We left him to it and took a trip out to the big Garden centre in Cambridge in search of an appropriate gargoyle (don't ask), and I took the opportunity to give the wife's Smart car a long run as it's usually confined to short local trips.
 Having driven it a few times since she got it, I have to say that it really is a fun little car. Okay, so I wouldn't want to swap the the BMW for one, but it really does put a smile on your face as you bob along, metaphorically sticking two fingers up at the 'considerably richer than you' brigade.
The boy was ritually dragged from his festering pit of doom this morning and ordered to shower and have breakfast, but the sum total of his day after that has comprised of sitting in front of the Playstation.
As usual.

As I sit here typing my vague attempt at a blog post, the wife is watching an episode of 'Call the midwife' on the BBC iPlayer, which keeps distracting me with the intermittent appearance of Charlotte Ritchie.
Hardly surprising as she's gorgeous.
The mad thing is that I'll sit through all sorts of programmes if there's a bit of hot totty involved.
I'm such a tart.
'The Crimson Field' was a pretty good drama series, but I wonder if it would have held my attention quite as strongly if it wasn't for the presence of Oona Chaplin and Alice St Clair.

After a week of rest on doctor's orders, my pain has subsided significantly. The chest x-ray results came back normal, so the conclusion is that I'd suffered some sort of torn muscle in the chest wall.
Amazing that the pain was greater than anything I experienced during my shattered knee episode, from something that sounds relatively trivial. The body is a weird thing.
As it turns out, I'd booked this coming week off work too, so by the time I go back I should be over the worst.
After that it's just a matter of being careful not to overdo it.
Easier said than done.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Medical mystery and a Bavarian moneypit

In the words of Bill & Ted, it has been a most unusual day.
With a day's leave booked, I had two objectives to complete - get the car fixed, and see a doctor.
It shouldn't be too hard. The car was booked in at the local BMW specialist to have a new differential fitted, so I dropped it off at 8:00 before wandering up to Sainsbury's for a cooked breakfast.
I sat looking out the window at the world as I worked my way through sausage, bacon, egg, beans, tomato, toast and coffee. I knew the job on the car wouldn't take long, but I was also aware that the bill would be monumental.
I finished breakfast and walked into town, which was only just waking up, before making my way back to the garage to wait for them to finish the job.
By 11 o'clock I was back home, partly elated because the awful whining noise had disappeared, leaving the car eerily quiet, and partly angry because it doesn't seem right that a diff should be knackered after only 44000 miles, costing me over 1600 pounds, especially on what is supposed to be a premium brand vehicle with a reputation for quality German engineering.
Oh well, c'est la vie. Or should that be 'So ist das leben'?

Time to get an appointment with a doctor then.
I've had pain in the side of my chest for a week now, and as is usual with me I've been trying to ignore it in the hope it would go away.
Unfortunately things seemed to be getting worse so, tired of being nagged, I gave in to the idea that I really ought to do something about it.
So I called the GP's surgery and was told there were no appointments available for two weeks.
This is normal. There seems to be an assumption that everyone has ample warning that they might need a doctor.  However, there's no way I can tolerate this level of pain for a further fortnight, so I impressed upon the receptionist the urgency of my situation. I'm not one of those people who waste a doctor's time - I only resort to seeking one when there's something practically hanging off.
She relented, telling me to call back at 2pm when I would be assessed for triage and shoe-horned in at the end of the day.
I didn't make it that long.

In an effort to kill a bit of time I went out to the wife's car armed with a bottle of polish and a cloth to give it a nice shine-up. Big mistake. Something in the buffing action triggered the most incredible pain in my chest, and it was all I could do to stagger in to the wife and demand she take me to A&E immediately. She was all for calling an ambulance, but I wasn't having any of that.
Although there was a massive waiting time posted at the A&E reception, one look at me convinced them to get me in for checks within twenty minutes.
After exhaustive questioning, an ECG, blood pressure check and a session of poking and prodding which culminated in me virtually hitting the roof as I let out a scream of agony, they still didn't know for sure what was going on.
From there I was sent straight to the GP where I was subjected to further torture, after which the doctor admitted she wasn't sure either. I left with some heavy-duty pain killers and a referral note for a chest x-ray, which I have to make an appointment for tomorrow morning.
In the meantime I'm told to stay off work, rest, and avoid driving.

In summary then, the NHS is so overstretched you now need to plan any illness or injury in advance, codeine isn't man enough to subdue the pain I'm still in, and even though I have the option of chopping the Beemer in for something small, frugal and brand new, I'd rather fork out to have it fixed because it's just so damn good to drive.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Hard Day's Night

Last weekend saw a concerted effort to start doing something positive about the assorted collections of crap around the house and garden.
You know how it is. There's always one drawer that becomes home to all those little things that don't have a place to live, and if those things are too big for the drawer of shame, there's always the shed or the loft.
Some stuff seems to just accumulate without you realising, such as phone chargers and cables that don't appear to have any practical use other than getting tangled up in the useful ones.
Other things have outlived their usefulness, but you don't want to throw them away because you never know - it might come in handy one day.
The trouble is, if you don't get rid of these things from time to time, you could easily turn into one of those nutters you see on TV documentaries who keep absolutely everything including old packaging, ancient newspapers, mouldy food and even (most disturbingly) bodily fluids.
I don't like clutter at all, and while some people like a 'homely' feel with lots of random frippery scattered around the place, I prefer a more clean and minimalist approach which is hard to achieve with three people living in a small bungalow.

First thing to tackle was the shed. With just a small but eclectic assortment of storage solutions, the space in the shed has never been very well utilised. This was resolved by taking a trip to Machine Mart for some of their 350kg metal shelving units, which I knew were good because we had some at work. A well-timed journey it was too, because just entering Cambridge I spotted a bright green Lamborghini Aventador, followed by an orange Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, a 2-for-1 supercar deal which had my internal ten-year-old boy wetting himself with excitement.
Getting the new units built and set up required the shed to be emptied first, when it soon emerged that not only was there a fair amount of stuff destined for the recycling centre, but that the local population of big hairy spiders has been booming.
A few things, such as a home cinema system, will find themselves on Gumtree in due course, while others have another destination lined up.
Amongst these items is my son's acoustic guitar, bought a few years ago during one of his many bouts of unfounded optimism, which is currently propped up in the bedroom awaiting dispatch.
Last night as I threw aside my clothes before getting into bed, my trousers flicked across the strings, striking a note which sounded just like that first chord of 'Hard Day's Night' by The Beatles, and now that song is firmly wedged in my brain and refuses to budge.
With everything neatly arranged on the new shelving and the old random storage units disposed of, the shed now looks more like there's some sort of order. Time to move on.

The next area to tackle is the loft, with the intention that it should be left empty apart from the water tank.
The loft is currently long term storage for many things. Some of these will be rehoused in alternative locations, like the new shed shelving where they can be accessed without using a ladder, while most will end up at the dump.
Motorbike crash helmets, boxes I kept for things still under warranty, a CRT television and an old PC will be disposed of, while The Vax and the boy's extensive Lego collection will be relocated.
It's a task that requires a certain determination and sense of purpose. It's easy to give in to that little voice that says "No, you can't just throw that away, that cost money" but if you do, you end up drowning in useless shit that doesn't get looked at from one year to the next.

Hell on earth. Never gonna get like that.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Eat, drink and be merry

Eating out has long been a great pleasure of mine. I realise there are two possible ways of reading that statement, and both are valid, but here I refer to having a meal at a restaurant, cafe, pub or whatever.
Although in the back of your mind you know you could cook dinner at home for a week for the same money as one meal at a restaurant with change to spare, there's something nice about getting yourself tidied up and being waited on for a change. It also makes a change to not have to do the washing up.

Only once have I experienced the whole 'haute cuisine' thing, and an amazing experience it was too.
Although I was initially worried that I'd still be hungry by the end because the servings were so small, but two hours later after I'd seen off five courses, each a taste sensation in its own right with a glass of wine to complement it, I was very glad that we were staying in the hotel where we were eating. We dragged ourselves back to the hotel room stuffed, decidedly squiffy and ready for bed.
The average meal out doesn't come close to this unless you're wealthy, but you don't really expect it to.

The other week we went to a Turkish restaurant in Saffron Walden which was pretty good. As my only previous experience of Turkish cuisine had been a large donor kebab after a couple of pints, I wasn't sure what to expect, but as it turned out it was all very tasty.
Some people get all snobby about Wetherspoons pubs, but I think they're pretty good.
They don't pretend to be anything they're not. You don't go in expecting Michelin star fayre. You go to a Wetherspoons for a plate of down-to-earth food at an affordable price. Where else can you get lasagne with chips, salad and a pint for about six quid?

Some pubs seem to get ideas above their station though.
Yesterday we stopped at a local pub by the river on the way home from Cambridge because we were all hungry but quite frankly couldn't be arsed to cook anything.
The wife tried to be good and only had the omelette, but even that was disappointing - the omelette lacked any sort of finesse and the 'salad' comprised two slices of tomato and a small patch of watercress. My seafood platter was passable, and the boy's gammon steak was rather overdone.
We all decided against dessert because to be honest £5.75 for a slice of lemon meringue pie or similar seemed a bit steep.
What that place provided was ordinary pub grub at restaurant prices. We used to like it there, but we won't be going back. I don't like being ripped off, and judging by the small number of patrons on a Saturday lunchtime, I think word must be getting around.

The cost of dining out is going up and up, so we're more likely to treat ourselves to something nice at home these days. We may have to cook it and do the washing up, but all three of us can have a treat we really like for less than it would be for one meal at a restaurant, especially when you factor in the drinks.
Supermarkets have cottoned on to this and you regularly find some sort of 'meal deal' where you can get two main courses, two desserts and a bottle of wine for a tenner.
If you resent the cost of eating out and you're on a budget, it's a no-brainer.
Obviously it's no substitute for the warm fuzzy feeling you get from a good meal at a restaurant where they actually care about providing good food and service, or even spending a couple of hours in the kitchen preparing something nice yourself, but its value can't be disputed.
We'll still enjoy a meal out from time to time of course, but I think it will become limited to special occasions rather than just on a whim.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit

As time goes on, I notice things about myself are changing.
I can't work at the pace I used to, I get tired more, I have trouble driving in the dark, especially when it's wet and there's lots of oncoming traffic, and I get out of breath far sooner than I ever used to.
My short term memory is also suffering, and I'm increasingly reliant on little Post-It notes stuck around the place so I don't forget important things.

Another thing I've noticed recently is a reduced attention span, particularly when it's with something I have limited interest in. While a few years ago I might have sat through a mediocre two and a half hour film, now I'll give up and do something else instead. I'd rather watch a couple of half-hour episodes of something than a whole movie.
This attention span issue has also started to interfere with my interactions with other people.
If someone is talking to me (especially if they're just rabbiting on about inconsequential nonsense), after a while I just stop hearing them. I'm still aware that they're talking, but it's as though I've tuned them out to the point where their inane ramblings have been reduced to a background white noise.
Unfortunately there comes a point where some sort of response is appropriate. I sense this and snap back to the moment, but by then I have no idea what they were on about and I have to make some sort of generic non-committal comment and try to catch up when they carry on talking at me.
This happens with some people more than others. Typically, if someone talks in a straightforward manner, making their point clearly, then there's no problem. But if they go into some long-winded shaggy dog story, often darting off at wild tangents, then I just switch off.

Some people don't talk much, and when they do so it's usually short and sweet. No problem. I'm one of those.
Others seem to be incapable of sharing silence and try to fill it with a constant stream of banality that just makes me want to run away to find some peace. Depending on who it is and what the situation is, hiding may not be an appropriate solution, which is when I start to just tune it out.
It used to irritate the hell out of me and I'd end up stressed out and angry because someone just wouldn't shut up.
Now I'm far less likely to have that reaction because I'm more capable of just blocking it out, so in a way it's a sort of psychological defense mechanism.

With the combination of poor attention span, unexplained depression, times when I can't remember what happened in the past few minutes, memory problems and general anxiety, it's hardly surprising that I started to worry that I was showing signs of early onset dementia.
Browsing the NHS website is a very efficient way of convincing yourself that you have all sorts of conditions and diseases and should really be dead by now.
But now it has come to light that I'm not the only one who reacts to certain people who constantly talk about nonsense in this way, so I feel slightly less worried that I'm mentally circling the drain.
I don't much care when I die, but I hope I still have all my marbles when it happens.

Everything in moderation

'Human' by Rag 'n' Bone Man is an excellent song - one of those that grabs you by the ears and won't let go. Granted, someone who only ever listens to classical music or jazz would probably have a different opinion, but for the most part I can't imagine there would be much argument.
However, because it's so good it's suddenly turning up everywhere, like trailers for TV programmes on the BBC, or as backing music.
No doubt this is good publicity for Rory Graham and sales will continue to soar, but it also means that before long everyone will be sick of hearing it, which is a shame.
This always seems to happen when a song is popular. The radio stations play it every hour, it crops up in all sorts of unlikely places, you can't walk into a shop without it blaring from the overhead speakers and even if you initially enjoyed it, it's not long before it's driving you mad.
A classic example of this would be 'I will always love you' by Whitney Houston which you simply couldn't get away from in 1992. The only difference was I hated that awful wailing right from the start, which only made things worse.

Over-saturation is a surefire way of taking the enjoyment out of pretty much anything.
I love a nice piece of rump steak, medium-rare with oyster mushrooms, blue stilton sauce, roast potatoes and broccoli, but if I had it every day I'd soon get fed up.
I remember mum getting frustrated with dad always saying how he loved egg and chips and could eat it every day, so she decided to prove a point and gave him egg and chips every day. I think he lasted about a week before he gave in.

We once went to Alton Towers just before the season opened. The company the wife worked for arranged a day where employees and their families could go and enjoy the park without the crowds of people and the usual massive queues for the rides.
'Oblivion' had just opened the previous year and I was dying to go on it. There were no queues at all and we got straight on. The first ride was immensely exhilarating and the second still took my breath away, but by the fifth time I just felt numb and wanted to move on to something else.
Similarly, Buttertubs Pass in North Yorkshire is a fantastic stretch of road to drive, but I'm sure that after half a dozen runs you'd be ready to try something different.

It's hard to think of anything that wouldn't have the pleasure taken away by overindulgence, with the possible exception of sex, but even then I think I'd occasionally want to read a book instead.
I must be getting old.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Note to self

It's very hard to avoid having an opinion on things. Maybe even impossible.
Beliefs such as those to do with religion are usually pretty much set in stone and any attempt to convince someone with a strong belief that they're wrong, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, will only be met by blunt refusal to acknowledge the argument followed by fingers in ears and some out-of-tune singing.

An opinion is rather more flexible, and as time passes I notice this more and more in myself.
Often an opinion is formed on the basis of limited information. You pick up on other people's viewpoints, hear snippets of news articles, get swayed by stereotyping, read a newspaper article, and compile these things into an opinion that makes sense to you.
If subjected to closer scrutiny however, these opinions are often found to be flawed, and sometimes more full of holes than a teabag.

The trouble is we can form opinions on subjects that we don't even have experience of, taking hearsay as truth, and this is where the old "Walk a mile in my shoes" thing emerges.
We can easily make assumptions about people based on what they look like, how they dress, what car they drive, or what job they do. We might see someone in the street in shabby clothes, dragging their heels with their eyes downcast, and immediately assume that they're some n'er-do-well who never made an effort in life, but for all we know they could have just gone through a traumatic experience that has left them emotionally battered.
We don't have all the information, and until we do we don't have any right to judge. But we do anyway.
You see a six and a half foot neanderthal with a shaved head and acres of tattoos, and you immediately cross the road because you feel threatened. This might be justified or it might not, but first impressions generate an opinion, and you make a decision based on the opinion that someone who looks like that is a potential threat and act accordingly.
The thing is, he might be a great guy who by accident of genetics turned out big, shaves his head because he can't be arsed to deal with bed hair in the morning, and happens to like body art.

I've shared a great many opinions on this blog. Some I still hold on to and others have changed.
For example, I've spent plenty of time criticizing tattoos on women.
I still don't like things like this:

To me it's like slapping one of those 'No Fear' stickers on a Ferrari - just wrong.
But I have no problem with subtle things like this:

I've even said that tats on men make them look moronic, and yet last year I got a large rose tattooed on my right upper arm in memory of my mum who died ten years earlier (her name was Rose), and in two weeks I'm getting another tat done.
That opinion got turned around, although there are still plenty of aspects of this whole area that don't appeal, but I no longer make a negative judgement of someone on the basis of them having tattoos.

I still hold on to my belief that we're all entitled to our own opinions, but what I've come to learn is that opinions are subject to change, or at least some flexibility as experience and the information on which they are based alters.
Although I do try to avoid making sweeping generalisations, I also need to exercise caution in expressing strong opinions because when they change you can make yourself look a bit of a fool.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

AA - Agriculture Anonymous

They say the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem, so it's only right that I start this post by saying "Hello, my name's Dave and I'm a tractorholic".
I wouldn't say I have a particularly addictive personality, although I do fight an ongoing battle to keep my alcohol consumption to sensible levels, and least said about JaffaCakes the better.
Apart from music, I've also never been a collector since a brief pre-teen period of stamp collecting.
The trouble with collecting things is the room they take up, but I'm working on a degree in space utililisation and hold a black belt in origami, so the single shelf that I've been assigned to house my agricultural machinery model collection will soon be subjected to some serious folding of space and time.
And not a moment too soon, because it is now as crowded as the M25 on a bank holiday.

So how did this strange and slightly sad state of affairs come to be? It's not as if I grew up on a farm or anything, but on the other hand, living in the Fens does mean farming machinery is as common a sight to me as a cameltoe is to a swimming pool lifeguard.
Let's not forget that most small boys have a fascination with tractors and suchlike, and when you have an engineer's brain there will always be an attraction to pretty much anything mechanical.
Indeed, I remember being awestruck by the vehicles on display when my mum took me to the 'East of England Show' in Peterborough when I was a kid; agog at the monstrous tractors and combine harvesters that would dwarf me now, let alone as a wee ten year-old.
The real culprit behind all this however is the 'Farming Simulator' video games.
I've been a lifelong gamer, but while the 'Call of Duty' and 'Far Cry' franchises may have reasonable longevity, eventually I always got bored and wanted something new to get frustrated with and swear at.
The recent 'Farming Simulator' offerings from Giants Software have been different.
There's no raised blood pressure, no frustration, and to the wife's relief no swearing or gunfire either.
If anything it has become my own sort of meditation, and I can happily lose several hours at a time immersed in a world of crops, animals and forestry. There's also still no sign of getting tired of it.

Since getting into this I've found myself on the road to becoming a fully fledged farming anorak - more excited by the sight of a Case International Quadtrac than a Lamborghini Murcielago.
The collecting of 1:32 scale diecast models is simply the latest symptom of my affliction, and although the shelf is now unable to accomodate additional similar models, I suspect it may be possible to fit a few smaller scale ones in the gaps.
In the meantime, I'm going to investigate whether the companies that sell experience days like driving a Ferrari have anything that involves dragging a cultivator up and down a field with a 300hp New Holland.
Or is that just feeding the addiction?

Friday, 3 February 2017

The big grey

During the summer when it's so hot that all I want to do is sit in the fridge with the beer, I dream of the cool temperatures of winter. It's easy enough to get warmer by putting a jumper on, but there's only so much clothing you can remove in an effort to cool down before it becomes socially unacceptable.
The trouble is there's so much more to winter than being able to stay at a sensible temperature, and just about every other aspect of it sucks.

While various members of the animal kingdom are hibernating or generally keeping their head down, we carry on regardless. We have jobs to do and bills to pay, so life carries on as normal.
Or does it?
There's no doubt that winter has a negative effect on us, and I'm sure I can't be the only one that feels like I'm just going through the motions on autopilot until the trees start turning green again.
Commuting in the dark at both ends of the day with barely a glimmer of sunlight between is soul destroying, and as soon as the weekend comes and you wash the thick layer of grime off the car it just gets replaced with a fresh coat the next time you go out.
Everywhere is muddy, wet, and washed-out looking, as if someone has turned down the colour with the TV remote.
You look out the window and all you can see is a vast expanse of greyness, so it's hardly surprising that so many of us find just making it through the week a bit like wading through treacle, as the oppressiveness does its best to crush you.

John Gray mentioned in his blog 'Going Gently' yesterday about the low volume of blog posts around at the moment, so perhaps one of the effects of winter is that it saps creative thinking.
I know I've had a distinct lack of inspiration of late, which is reflected in my recent lack of posts.
Trying to garner any level of enthusiasm at this time of year is an uphill struggle, which is possibly the only valid reason for things like Christmas, because without that one thing to look forward to, people might go a little bit insane.
Perhaps I should make something more of the winter solstice - an un-christmas celebration of the impending return of spring and longer brighter days. Now that's something to celebrate.

So in summary, winter is gloomy, depressing, suffocates creativity, makes the car dirty, costs a small fortune in screen wash for the car and electricity for the tumble dryer, and makes your boots get all muddy.
So I'm just going to wait it out as best I can, secure in the knowledge that eventually I'll be commuting in daylight once again, the snowdrops and daffodils will be in bloom, and the pigeons will start shagging each other senseless in the neighbour's trees.
Spring will arrive, bringing with it a welcome burst of colour and the need to push the lawnmower around at weekly intervals, then before we know it summer will arrive when I can start my yearly grumble about the heat.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

More wheat, less chaff

It's been said that TV series boxsets are now more popular than movies.
This comes as no surprise, because as popularity has increased, so has both quality and quantity in general.
That's not to say it's all good news (there's plenty of garbage out there) but chances are anyone will be able to find several series that appeal to them, providing ample opportunities for sitting on the sofa with a bottle of wine and a tube of Pringles for a good old binge watching session.
Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Orange Is The New Black, Luke Cage, House MD..... hour after hour of quality entertainment that makes you wonder what the hell the movie industry is up to as it continues to churn out an endless stream of mediocrity.

For a while I thought my attention span was suffering from a catastrophic death spiral, but I've come to realise it's a combination of the generally lamentable quality of today's films and me being increasingly fussy.
If a movie doesn't grab my attention in some way within the first fifteen minutes, it doesn't look good. If I'm still not interested after the first half hour, I'll go and do something else rather than waste a further ninety minutes being bored on the off-chance it might get better. If it fails the 'half-hour-rule' then that's that.
Last night I picked a film on Netflix called 'Clinical', which sounded like it was worth a shot.
It survived the half-hour rule, but although it was mostly OK, it took a nose-dive about three quarters of the way through and by the end I wished I hadn't bothered after all.
This sort of experience has become so common that it's almost surprising when I watch a film that actually turns out to be good.

At the weekend we watched 'Hunt For The Wilderpeople' starring Sam Neill.
I admit I was sceptical beforehand, suspicious it was going to be one of those films that sort of wanders along aimlessly and ends up leaving you wondering what it was supposed to be about, but the wife was keen to see it and there wasn't much else to do so I gave it a go.
As it turned out, it was well worth it. I won't do any spoilers here, but if you want a well-acted film that's all about the story and the characters rather than big explosions and millions of pounds worth of green-screen computer graphics, then I'd highly recommend it.
As modern films go, it sits like a diamond in the rough, and I wonder if there are more films out there of this quality that I'm missing out on just because all the publicity gets focused on all the CGI blockbuster nonsense.
We only heard of 'Hunt For The Wilderpeople' because Sam Neill was talking about it as a guest on the Graham Norton show a while ago.

It's for the same reason that I'll often pick a classic film rather than a new release.
I'm bored of over-the-top movies that are just an endless barrage of special effects - I want something with a decent story and proper acting; not just gunfights, car chases, steroid-enhanced heroes and pathetic screaming women.
'Rear Window', 'White Heat', 'Roman Holiday', 'Some Like It Hot', 'To Kill a Mockingbird' - great films.
'Guardians of the Galaxy', 'Fast and Furious 6' - utter crap.
It's not as though I'm an old fart who grew up in the days when Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn were the current film stars and constantly wander around saying "It was much better back in my day!".
I'm 45 and grew up on a diet of 'Knight Rider', 'Airwolf', and an endless list of cheesy 80's action movies, so each of these classic black and white films is a whole new discovery. OK, so they're not all great, but at least they're an entertaining alternative; rather like only ever having listened to bands like Metallica and Judas Priest, then suddenly discovering Supertramp.

'Hunt For The Wilderpeople' can therefore be archived on the same shelf as films like 'Amelie', and 'Breakfast At Tiffany's' while I go on a quest to find some more modern films that feel like uplifting entertainment rather than physical assault.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Let's go retro! Or not....

There's a big interest in all things 'retro' these days, and despite being seen as a wonderful opportunity for ripping off the more gullible members of society by advertising any old shit on Ebay as being 'retro' or 'vintage' and doubling the price, there seems to be a genuine interest in stuff from our past.
Now rose-tinted spectacles can be a dangerous thing (try driving that car you loved twenty years ago now, and see how terrible it is compared to the one you currently own), but that isn't stopping people from wanting to turn back the clock to bygone days.

You need look no further than the revival of interest in vinyl records for evidence of this.
Sales of vinyl shot up last year (possibly fuelled by the appearance of a range of LPs in Sainsburys) as people suddenly became all misty-eyed about how we listened to music in the past.

I'm not immune to this. Only recently I did a post about how I love sitting and listening to an album from start to finish, unlike most youths who can't see music as anything more than a constant background noise accompanying their lives, and as a result I've been casually looking at various turntables from Rega, Pro-ject and Audio Technica with the idea that it might be a cool thing to have again.
But against such romantic notions I have to balance the downsides of vinyl such as the background hiss and how carefully they need to be handled if they're to be kept in good condition.
I have to remember why I replaced all my old records with CDs in the first place, even if it did take me a while to get used to 'A trick of the tail' by Genesis not jumping at one particular point.
The wife had a huge record collection (mostly 70's funk including many rarities), but they were all disposed of along with all of mine excluding three that I didn't want to part with for various reasons.
Somewhere in the darkest depths of the loft lurks 'Three sides live' by Genesis which I kept because the original CD release had a different track list. This has since been re-released in original form, so no need to keep that.
Then there's a synth album called 'Space Art' which I've recently found on Spotify, and a limited edition numbered 10" single of 'So in love with you' by Spear of Destiny which I thought might be worth something, but when I checked the other week I found it's only worth about eight quid.
So if you consider the down sides, which include the fact that records now cost twice as much as CDs, why on earth would I want to buy another turntable? No idea, but I still have a hankering.

Video games are another area where 'retro-cool' pokes its nose into our business. It's perhaps unsurprising as for the most part games haven't really changed for many years beyond prettier graphics, so it's no wonder people start to revive an interest in games from way back when the graphics may have been awful, but the gameplay experience was so much more rewarding.
My first 'proper' gaming took place on a Sinclair Spectrum, and a while ago I found that the entire back catalogue is out there to be downloaded from various websites and can be played on a PC via an emulator program.
Naturally I threw myself into this, downloading all the old favourites like Chuckie Egg, Elite, Paperboy and Pyjamrama and settled down for a session of reliving old memories.
It didn't last long. It wasn't the poor visuals or the dodgy beeping sounds that ruined it, but the realisation that those games were suddenly so frustratingly difficult.
Needless to say I went back to the PS4, resigned to the fact that the reality of old-school games doesn't live up to the fond memories.

Things move on, and for the most part they improve - certainly where technology is concerned - but that doesn't stop us from wanting things to be like they used to be.
I can only assume that we feel happier and more comfortable when things are just a little bit crap.