30 September 2010 (Thursday) - More Ranting

Yesterday I ranted about the British Kite Flying Association. Having very rudely told me to get knotted some four years ago, they keep emailing me personally, and asking for my input. (Even though they told me to get stuffed.) I know I should just let it go, but even after all this time, they still wind me up. Why do I let them get to me? Because I still believe in the idea of the BKFA. In theory it’s a brilliant idea that anyone who likes kites should band together to stop councils (who don’t know any better) from banning kites for mistaken Health and Safety reasons. In practice it’s a load of very well-meaning people who’ve utterly lost their way.
To illustrate my frustration with them, this morning’s flurry of emails brought a message from their secretary. He is now working on a collaborative project with the Central Council for Physical Recreation. He asked if I would I tell the BKFA of any examples of “Sports clubs who have approached schools to use their facilities out of hours and been turned down by the school”, “Schools I know of that have good sporting facilities which are not being utilised to their full potential” or “Examples where sports clubs using out of hours school facilities works well for both the school and the club”.
Whilst this is probably a laudable enough endeavour, it has nothing to do with kite flying. Most schools don’t have premises that lend themselves to kite-flying. Why on Earth are the BKFA getting involved with this? Especially as yesterday’s email apologised for the fact that they’d done nothing with their website as no one has time for it.

Yesterday I also mentioned about going to the arky-ologee club. As the chairlady arrived last night she actually stopped dead in the doorway, amazed by what she saw. We were setting up a laptop and projector to illustrate the evening’s talk. High-tech indeed for a club whose speakers often employ no visual aids whatsoever; and the use of a slide projector is seen as new-fangled. With a membership of mostly retired gentlefolk, most of whom would seem to be quite content with such a low-tech environment, I was amazed by today’s news.
I can’t help but wonder if the club’s latest venture is doomed to failure. The arky-ologee club has joined Facebook. I could be wrong. Time will tell...

Meanwhile in outer space, science has found another exo-planet. Exo planets are planets which orbit stars other than our own. When I was a lad the entire concept of an exo-planet was firmly in the realms of science fiction. But now they are an established reality. At the last count there were nearly five hundred of the things known. Whilst many are huge, comparable in size with the planet Jupiter, more and more smaller ones are being found. This most recent discovery is only twenty light years away, and is perhaps the most Earth-like so far found.
It’s such a shame that those touting the news don’t take this seriously. Take for example the United Nations decision to start legislating in outer space. At first sight it’s maybe a daft idea. But at the moment, space is anarchy. Who owns the moon? What’s to stop some nation sending up rockets and annexing the entire moon for themselves? What’s to stop anyone and everyone beaming messages into the ether? Who represents humanity should First Contact be made?
The radio today gave this news story thirty seconds. They spent longer laughing about it than listening to it. It’s a shame that the news media choose to ridicule such questions whilst exerting so much effort on bringing us the “news” (for example today was the delegates at the Labour party conference); most of which will be wrapping chips tomorrow and all of which will be totally forgotten in less than a month…

A bit of a rant today, I know. My opinions are always in a minority…

29 September 2010 (Wednesday) - Lydden Spout

Regular readers may recall an entry from four years ago when I complained bitterly that the British Kite Flying Association was in serious danger of losing its way. Today’s haul of emails has brought proof that they have lost their way so much as to now actually be on another planet.
BKFA news update #14 runs to twelve sides of A4, and touches on such diverse subjects as the Civil Aviation Authority and the government’s scheme to use schools sports facilities when the schools aren’t using them. There was a lot of hot air about child protection legislation which showed a complete misunderstanding of the whole concept of child protection legislation on the part of the BKFA. There was another apology for the lack of progress; this time on their website. And there was loads about the procedural affairs concerning their forthcoming AGM. On the plus side, after five years they’ve finally sorted out their kite flying insurance policy.

I also see that they have got two more kite flying clubs to affiliate with them. With a total of seven constituent clubs, they have now re-written their constitution. It originally said the BKFA needed to have a minimum of eight member clubs. It’s interesting that the first part of their constitution says that the BKFA is “To be a representative, elected body to unify all aspects of British kiteflying…” With only fourteen per cent of UK kite clubs being represented after some six years of effort by the BKFA, perhaps it’s time the BKFA gave up. It was a good idea that simply hasn’t worked.

Mind you, they did tell me (in October 2006) that “my opinions are irrelevant”, “my questions are not important” and that “I have no status”, so I must be utterly mistaken to feel that BKFA news update #14 might actually have had some news about kite flying in Britain.

(Rant over…..)

Regular readers may also recall an entry on Sunday August 15th when I went underground exploring the fortifications at Lydden Spout. At the time we got to crawl round the gun emplacements left over from the war, often in pitch darkness, and I was as excited as a kiddie playing “Smack Smack Bum”. So excited in fact that I didn’t actually listen to what Stevey was telling me about the history of the places we were crawling into.

This evening Stevey came to the arky-ologee club and gave a lecture on the history of the British coastal defences during the Second World War, with particular reference to where we’d been underground. Absolutely fascinating. And it’s criminal that these historical monuments are being left to rot.

Stevey has plans for us to go underground again. Can’t wait…..

28 September 2010 (Tuesday) - West Kent Skills Fest

A few months ago I had an email from the boss asking if any of our staff fancied manning a stall at the West Kent Skills Festival. I forwarded the email to my immediate colleagues. No one seemed keen on the idea, so I volunteered myself. A day sitting around talking to students about what I do for a living seemed a somewhat more attractive proposition than a day spent actually doing that living. Funnily enough, as I collected posters and exhibits for our stall during the preceding week, people seemed to be somewhat jealous about my forthcoming day out. All I can say is that maybe this is God’s way of saying read your emails next time (!)

I met up with a colleague from the Margate hospital, and we soon arrived in Tonbridge. Finding the Angel Centre was tricky, but we eventually found our reserved place. The idea of the day was to provide career choice information to local schools and colleges, and we were putting on one of seventy five stalls. We were next to a stall manned by staff from a nursery school on one side. On the other side we had an engineering firm who were offering students the chance to make and float Lego boats. Opposite us was a stall from Charlton Athletic football club (!) and nearby were stalls from Leicester University’s science department, Kent University’s maths department, Kent Highways, Kent police, the Army, and one featuring some rather foxy sailors (woof!). Also present were several other engineering firms, the Royal Air Force, my leccie provider (who gave me a free key-ring), and pretty much everybody and anybody. I don’t think the day could have been bettered for careers ideas

We set up our stall rather quickly, and we soon found ourselves faced with hoards of schoolchildren. At first I wondered if we would be able to hold our own against the competition, but in retrospect I think we gave a fair accounting of our profession. My colleague spoke very knowledgeably about the intricacies of blood groups and the excitement of urgent emergency blood transfusions. I spoke rather loudly, noisily and grossly about the fascinating subject that is human parasitology. (Students like that!) To illustrate my witterings we had a microscope rigged up to show microfilaria (the small blood-borne worms that cause sleeping sickness) and a foot-long dead round worm in a sealed pot (actually retrieved from a real patient’s bum). Between us we also touched on the automated analysis of blood, haemophilia, clinical (and other) uses of warfarin, antibiotics and bacteriology, cervical cytology, and histological examinations. I think we did ourselves proud – before long the students were telling their mates about us. Newcomers to the exhibition were asking the centre management where they could find the “Extreme Biology” stall. I quite liked being regarded as an “Extreme Biologist”.

We were told that there were over two thousand students who came to the exhibition. I don’t think we saw them all, but those that we did meet left our stall actually knowing what a biomedical scientist does and (I’d like to think) with some respect for the hospital biomedical scientist.
Or perhaps it’s fairer to say that most of them did. There was a small minority who flatly refused to even come near the stall because of the inherent squeamishness provoked by the subject matter. There was one young lady who was rather disparaging about the entire concept of biomedical science. She announced (rather patronisingly) that she intends to study at University to find out why people die.
And there was another blossom who asked (in a very shy voice) if she could be an air hostess. Bless….

27 September 2010 (Monday) - Little Bit of Politics

A sobering thought: not only was it “My Boy TM s” twenty third birthday two days ago, but now that the Labour party have chosen their new leader, I am officially old. I am older than all of the leaders of the country’s three biggest political parties. Perhaps that explains the political disaster that is current UK politics. Perhaps I’m old fashioned as well, but senior politicians are too young these days. They get to the top too early because they don’t seem to ever have “proper jobs” - they go straight into politics.
Compare this to the politicians of yore. Margaret Thatcher (aged 54 when first Prime Minister) was a research chemist and a food scientist. James Callaghan (aged 64 when first Prime Minister) was a tax inspector and a sailor. Edward Heath (aged 54 when first Prime Minister) was variously a banker, a journalist and an army officer. John Major was also a banker, moving to this career from the London Electricity Board.
But look at today’s senior politicians. For example look at the career of the Prime Minister. No experience of any non-political work. The new Leader of the Opposition only spent a couple of years in journalism before becoming a professional politician. Of the three party leaders, only the Deputy Prime Minister has any experience of the real world. We have a government of professional governors; qualified to govern, but with no experience of that which they aspire to govern.
It’s so ironic that the only one who actually has any experience of the reality that needs to be managed is the puppet. But that’s a rant that’s been done to death….

Meanwhile back in that reality, the word on the street is that there is to be a new Bill and Ted movie. The first two Bill and Ted movies are certainly in my list of favourite films; let’s hope this one is a good ‘un. Mind you, Rufus is now dead, so I’m intrigued to see how they get round that minor hiccup. For those of my loyal readers to whom this means nothing, watch the first two Bill and Ted movies: you have a treat in store. Sixty-nine, dude….

26 September 2010 (Sunday) - Sound Mirrors

Brian had phoned in the week to ask if I’d help him with lifting some furniture about; he had a nice man coming with a van to collect some bits he no longer needed. So after a quick bit of brekkie I wandered round the corner to his house. As always we started with a cuppa, and then we got some wardrobes down the stairs. There was a dodgy couple of seconds when I was trapped under a wardrobe, and another dodgy five minutes when it looked like we might be resorting to our old friend “Mr. Hammer” to encourage a wardrobe to go round the banister, but eventually all was well. And so we had another cuppa before taking a cupboard off of the wall. It didn’t want to come, but it soon changed its mind after a gentle bit of persuasion from our old friend “Mr. Hammer”. With the cupboard down we put the tumble drier where the cupboard had been. Moving tumble driers is thirsty work, and so we stopped for a cuppa.
And then the nice man arrived (with his van) to collect the furniture. He took one look at all of it, and then went mental. His ex-wife had asked him to collect the stuff, and had told him there were only two flat-packed wardrobes. There were actually three wardrobes, two bedside tables and two chests of drawers. None of it was flat packed. Whilst he phoned his ex-wife and had a major domestic, we helped his son load up the van. I did laugh when we couldn’t get it all in. As they drove off the nice man’s son said they’d be back soon to collect the rest of it. And so we drank another cuppa as we waved goodbye to the van. We then spent half an hour moving furniture into the front room into the space vacated by all the wardrobes and stuff, and soon enough the van was back. Minus the nice man. His son was driving and he’d found a friend to help him. I didn’t like to ask what had happened to his dad in the meantime. By now there were no parking spaces outside for the van, so they just pulled up in the middle of the road and blocked the traffic in all directions whilst we wrestled the last of the furniture into place. With the furniture all gone my work was complete, and so after a final cuppa I left Brian hoovering up the mess we’d made and I came home for some lunch.

‘er indoors TM  had been mucking about on the Internet and had found that there was a guided tour around the Dungeness sound mirrors this afternoon. As we had nothing else planned we thought we’d give it a go. Dungeness sound mirrors were built some eighty years ago as an early warning system designed to hear the approach of enemy aircraft. Within ten years of the instigation of the project, the invention of radar made the entire concept of sound mirrors redundant. But the afternoon was an interesting look round “what might have been”.

The weather was awful, but it was either the sound mirrors or sitting around at home. The sound mirrors are on an inaccessible island on private land which is fenced off by barbed wire. The locked gates and swing-bridge to the island are only opened to the public three times a year, so it would have been a shame not to have gone along. Something which rather sold me on the idea was that bearing in mind how awful the weather was, not many people would want to brave the elements. We thought that there might be maybe half a dozen other brave souls who wouldn’t mind the rain and would also come along on this walk. The chap leading the walk did a head count as we crossed the bridge onto the island where the sound mirrors were. There were one hundred and ninety one of us. Although we got soaked it was a good day out. At every point along the way we stopped and listened to experts telling us what we were looking at. My only regret (apart from the awful weather) was that we didn’t have enough time to let friends and family know about it, but we only had a couple of hours notice of the event ourselves. Next time will be different….

25 September 2010 (Saturday) - The Family Reunion

To Hampshire for the in-laws family reunion. Every year the family would get together for great-grandma’s birthday, and since she’s been gone the tradition has continued. This year the venue was in Ringwood; mutually inconvenient for everyone, but then, probably in the best place it could be, bearing in mind the distances people have to travel. And there’s a brewery in Ringwood with which I am not entirely unfamiliar…

Our journey down was rather uneventful, and we were among the first to arrive at the hotel. We settled down in the bar with a pint and a half of Ringwood’s Best and my mobile rang. My brother in law and his entourage were stuck in traffic. I gloated, and told them I’d keep people talking until they arrived. And soon people were arriving. So I got off my bum (easier said than done) and did the “meeting and greeting thing”.
I’m not sure how they have managed it, but the in-laws have somehow found a whole new tribe the existence of which everyone has been hitherto unaware. Once upon a time I had passed “The Test” in which I would have two family members pointed out to me at random. I would know their familial relationship to each other, and the common ancestor of said family members (or their partners). Now however there is an entire new load of collaterals, and no one (least of all themselves) seems to quite know exactly where they fit into the great scheme of things. Mind you, they seem pleasant enough, so I’m not complaining. I expect they will appear on my Facebook list over the next few weeks: that’s how I get to know most of the in-laws these days.

After a couple of pints of Ringwood’s Best all the stragglers had arrived and we went through to the meal. Usually this is the part I dread – being sat next to “normal people” and having to be on my best behaviour. But this time fate had smiled on me – I was sat next to a second cousin in law who I’ve known for years, and we jointly grumbled about how unfair it was that her sister got to sit on the kiddies table. And we tried (and failed) to throw paper aeroplanes at the kiddies table.
Dinner was served. To be fair, the food wasn’t as good as that which I’ve had in a lot of pubs over the year, but it was hot and tasty, which was a distinct improvement on last year’s venue. (The many and varied failings of the Victoria Hotel in Hastings have been ranted about enough in the past). And once diner was scoffed a laptop PC was brought around. It was hooked up to Skype and we all waved at Canadian cousins. And then as most of the family settled down to after dinner coffee and polite conversation, I settled down to a fifth pint of Ringwood’s Best and a game of “Smack Smack Bum”; an obscure party game in which I get as many children as possible to run round as posh an establishment as possible, whilst screaming as loudly as they possibly can. A tough job, but if I didn’t do I, who else would?

I slept most of the way home, and then once home I immediately set off to work. There was a bit of a backlog, and the opportunity for overtime had arisen. And regular readers will realise I’m a tad short of readies at the moment…

24 September 2010 (Friday) - Astro Club

One of the benefits of working in a hospital is that when the worst happens, I am (usually) on hand to visit people when they are unwell. Or to gloat at their misfortunes. It has to be said that hospital work can offer unparalleled opportunities for pointing and laughing. And so I popped up to visit Glenn, who’d had an emergency appendectomy overnight. He seemed in good spirits: if it were me in the hospital bed I would have been milking it for all it was worth…

And then on to the astro club. Regular readers may recall a blog entry from last Xmas when I drove down to Brighton to collect presentation boards for the astro club. We got to use the things this evening. I’m impressed with them, but to use them to best effect we need some way of storing the club’s posters which doesn’t involve rolling them up. If any of my loyal readers have a spare jigsaw puzzle case, do let me know.
Astro club went very well – we started off with a round-up of current astronomical news, then young Joshua gave an excellent talk on spacecraft. He illustrated his talk with models he’d made. And then his father gave a talk on the difficulty of identifying life on an unknown planet. I had great fun hawking the raffle (as always), and the evening clouds cleared enough for us to get the telescopes out.
I missed the astro club last month. A shame – it was good to get along tonight. The club was really good, and it’s something I’m proud to be a part of. Can’t wait till next time…

23 September 2010 (Thursday) - Quality Music

Up with the lark and on with the ironing. And then to Asda to buy some lunch. Whilst I was at it I treated myself to a new ironing board cover. There’s no denying that having one of the highlights of your day being the acquisition of a new ironing board cover is a tad sad.
It has to be said that sometimes I look back on my life and wonder if things might have turned out differently.

And so to work where I was faced with a challenge. It’s been suggested that between us we devise a CD or two of our favourite music. Each person suggests four of their favourite tracks aand a compilation will be made. Also (for Xmas) each person has to suggest a favourite Xmas track and a second choice. The Xmas one is easy. Roy Wood and the Wombles – “I Wish It Could Be A Wombling Merry Christmas Every Day” as first choice, and in second place is Kate Bush with “December Will Be Magic”. But a favourite four non-Xmas tracks: that’s not so easy.

First off something by Sparks. But what. And then something by E.L.O. But what? And something from my mis-spent youth. That would be the Sex Pistols. But they were rubbish. And then I realised that my favourite Sparks and E.L.O. tracks aren’t actually by them, but are cover versions. And that opened up whole new vistas to my indecision. Having spent all day pondering this one, I’ve come up with a shortlist (in no particular order):
  • Sparks: “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” covered by Neko Case
  • Sparks: “This Town ain’t Big Enough” covered by The Quackle
  • Sparks: “This Town ain’t Big Enough” covered by The Darkness
  • Sparks: “Something for the Girl with Everything” covered by Faith No More
  • E.L.O.: “Mr Blue Sky” covered by Lily Allen
  • E.L.O.: “Living Thing” covered by The Beautiful South
  • E.L.O.: “Stepping Out” covered by Fruity Buckfoot
  • Bonnie Tyler: “Total Eclipse of the Heart” covered by Nikki French
  • Ultravox: “Hymn” covered by The Kingdom Hearts
  • Sex Pistols: “Silly Thing” covered by Senaffa Beach

There’s ten. I’ll concede that Sparks do appear several times. But which ones will make the final cut. I wonder. In the meantime I’d better fit my new ironing board cover…

22 September 2010 (Wednesday) - Meters, Blogs...

Being on a late start I had some time to waste. So I got on to the power company. Yesterday I mentioned that they’d emailed me to say that my gas meter reading had failed validation. They sent me more emails overnight to that effect, so I thought I’d better get back to them. I phoned at 8am and asked what was going on. “Failed validation” means that the reading I gave them was less than the previous meter reading. The reason for that was rather obvious. The last few meter readings have all been estimates, and they have been over-estimating for years. As evidenced by the annual refunds I’ve been getting. They grudgingly conceded defeat. Which was just as well, as they admitted they’d already refunded this year’s overpayment. This refund hasn’t shown up on my bank account yet. I’ll keep checking.

I also needed to speak to them to arrange to get a new leccie meter fitted. Yesterday they said that any day next week would be fine for them to fit the thing. Today they say they can’t do it with less than two weeks notice, and the 6th October is the earliest they can manage.  I told them that I’ll come up with a date and that whenever it is, they need to be in and finished by 11am. They said they could offer a morning or afternoon appointment. I wasn’t going to argue; if their operative is not here by 11am I shall bill them for my wasted time (and see what happens).

Yesterday was my five hundredth blog entry here on Blogger, and my one thousand five hundredth since I first started blogging back on Yahoo 360 in September 2006. Averaging forty hits every day, my daily musings are read by people all over the world. This morning by 10.30am people from such diverse places as Halifax, Letchworth, Cheshunt, Guildford, Derby and Stony Plain had already tuned in. One thousand five hundred entries. That’s quite a bit – the archive takes up 39Mb of disk space. Back when I started I had no idea that I would actually turn out to be an avid diarist. I wonder how much longer the thing will run for…?

21 September 2010 (Tuesday) - Skint

This morning I read both the electricity and the gas meters. It’s usually about this time every year that I read the meters and then phone up the power company to ask for a refund of a few hundred pounds because their estimated readings are a little ambitious. But this year I wasn’t so sure. From my rough and ready calculations, I got confused. The on-line bill seemed to have far more tariffs than I was actually paying. So I phoned the nice lady at the power company to see if she would give be a refund. I read out the numbers from the meters. She seemed confused, and put me on hold. Then she announced that my electrical day rate reading is exactly the same as it was a year ago. She said she’d phone me back, and hung up. She phoned back – I’m getting fifty quid back off of the gas bill, and I’ve got to arrange with them to have a new leccie meter fitted. It wasn’t that long ago that they replaced the leccie meter because it was broken. I suppose fifty quid from the gas bill is better than a kick up the bum, but there’s no denying that I was hoping for a better result than that. And then to add insult to injury I received an email telling me that my gas meter reading had failed validation, and would I ring them back urgently? I’ll do that in the morning.

And then I checked my other mail. Four months after selling me a new car, Renault were trying to sell me another. And also were keen for me to take out anther loan as well. I suppose that is nice to know. I had a red reminder from the electoral register. That’s cheeky of them – I sent in their first letter and I completed the form on-line too. Nice to know their system’s not working.
A letter from the bank. I’d spoken with them a couple of weeks ago about increasing my overdraft limit. They agreed and were very clear that the only costs I would incur would be interest all the time I was overdrawn. Their letter said they’d charged me twenty five quid for setting up the overdraft. Cheeky beggars. So I phoned them up and spoke with someone who was helpful but didn’t actually speak English very well. He put me through to someone in Edinburgh who said she’d replay the tape recording of the conversation and would phone me back. She phoned back to say that they would waive the overdraft set up fee (this time) as a gesture of goodwill. That was kind of them. She also politely pointed out that I was actually rather more overdrawn than I thought I was going to be, and politely asked if I had plans to deal with this situation.

My mobile phone bill is five pence less this month than it was last time. Thank heavens for small mercies – every little helps…

20 September 2010 (Monday) - Up North...

I must admit to a wry smile as I drove to work today. Just as I turned on the windscreen wipers so that I could see through the rain, the weather forecaster apologised that it would be dry in the south again, and that it might be a little while before we again see any rain. It must be wonderful to be a professional weather forecaster; they can just spout any old rubbish they so desire. Nobody ever expects their predictions to bear even the remotest resemblance to reality. I would love that in my line of work. I could greet the deceased patient’s grieving relatives with “Oh, it wasn’t wind, it was cancer. Oh silly me!” and we could all have a good laugh about my incompetence.
Did you know that civil service meteorologists get paid more than NHS biomedical scientists?

Meanwhile north of the border, our kilted cousins are exploiting a loophole in the law which will enable them to continue making their distinctive traditional attire from its original source. Or will enable them to carry on making frankly stupid tourist trap gimmicks from an endangered species; depending on your viewpoint. Apparently whilst it’s illegal for most people to hunt seals, it’s quite permissible for native Eskimos to clout seals over the heads. And then flog the carcasses to the sporran industry. I can’t help but wonder how many people actually do wear the kilt in this day and age.

Tartan knickers are still de rigueur though, or so Prince Philip would have us believe…

19 September 2010 (Sunday) - A Very Busy Day...

Last week the Rear Admiral suggested an early morning fishing session at some point. It seemed sensible to me that he stayed over after Martin’s birthday party and we’d go fishing the next morning. When the alarm went at 5.30am I did feel a bit rough, and it was somewhat discouraging to see it was still dark outside, but going back to bed would be defeatist. By the time I’d got up and had a bit of brekky, I was warming to the idea. I had a minor shock whilst getting the fishing gear out of the shed – there was quite an epic splashing coming from the garden pond. But because it was still dark, I had no idea what was going on. By the time I’d found a torch and gone to investigate, whatever the commotion was had died down, and the fish all seemed rather peaceful, if not asleep. I can’t help but wonder what all the fuss was about.

I went into the house to find our house guest had woken and we loaded the car and set off to the pond. We were fishing by 6.45am, and as the morning wore on and the sun came out so the day got colder. And colder. With no fish biting and temperatures falling we very soon lost enthusiasm for the idea, and were in the Gorge having breakfast by nine o’clock.

Home, and after a spate of staring at Man vs Food and Fairly Odd Parents on the telly we set off to Lidl. I love Lidl – pikey central, but with one or two bargains on the groceries to be had. And then we went for a walk. First of all I took ‘er indoors TM to see the fishing pond. I’m not sure how she managed it, but she’d not seen the pond so far. Whilst walking across the field I saw something that made my heart sink. Not one but two herons were flying low across the water. I shouted at the things and scared them away temporarily, but they continued circling the pond. I’ve been saying to anyone who will listen that the fishing there isn’t what it once was, and has noticeably tailed off over the last few months. This could well be the reason – herons can empty a pond of small fish. And then start killing the big ones. I’ve since spoken with pond management and we’re looking into plastic herons.

Back to the car, and we drove on to Orlestone woods for a walk. A really pleasant place to be, and on a dead log we saw six lizards. Six! I counted them. The lizards let us get to within a yard of them before the larger ones ran away. The little ones stayed put so we could photograph them, and as it became clear we weren’t going to hurt them, the bigger ones came back. Once home and having put the photo on the computer and zoomed in, we saw that where I thought there were six lizards there were actually nine. I didn’t see three of the smaller ones!! And then home, listening to strange noises emerging from the car. I’m fairly sure I’ve detected a new strange sound which happens when accelerating. Having said that’ it’s a rather quiet sound, and normally I have a CD or the radio on, so it’s possibly a “standard car noise”. Let’s hope so. What with boilers and other cars going west, I really can’t afford any more expense.

Once home I tidied the garden. I mowed the lawn yesterday and left the grass cuttings. Today I raked them up – they did make the place look untidy. And then “My Boy TM appeared and started whinging. He’d been playing silly beggars with his mates and had managed to fall from a height onto his shoulder. So I chucked him in the car and drove him up to the hospital for a quick once-over. We arrived to find the place heaving with he Great Unwashed, but we were in and out in less than an hour. He’s just sprained and bruised himself, and the doctor’s given him a list of painkillers he should take for a few days. He took a few and went to bed. I can’t criticize - I slept in front of the telly for most of the remainder of the day. Today had turned out to be surprisingly busy…

Meanwhile it’s National Talk Like A Pirate Day. You landlubbers should be a-talking like them scurvy sea dogs. Arr! And they be a-having fun events up & down the country, they be, and raising loads of doubloons for charidee……

And that’s where I take off the pirate hat and go home.

What constitutes a charity? There’s several definitions, but I suppose we all know what it’s about. A “Charitable Institution” is one that does various good deeds and works. But there’s more to it than that. It’s not enough just to generally be a do-gooder. The charity needs money too – donated by the public. And that’s where “International Talk Like a Pirate Day” falls over. In the UK they’ve nominated the Marie Curie nurses as the charity. Now I’m in no way knocking the Marie Curie Cancer Care people, but…. Yes, I am knocking them. What they do, financed by public donation, is what the district nurses used to do years ago, financed by the National Health Service. Until one government or another realised that it was daft spending government tax money on something that charity will provide.
It’s the same with schools. How many “bleeding heart” letters home do parents get about fundraising events? To raise funds for essentials such as books? If you go to the seaside you get beggars pleading with you to finance the lifeboats. If you’re unwell, there are volunteers giving up their time to help run and finance hospitals.
If anyone is feeling public spirited, there are thousands of good causes that need cash. The Cat’s Protection League and the Little Dog Rescue are quite hard up. Guide Dogs receive no public income at all. There’s the John Aspinal foundation, Sight Savers, Action Aid, Oxfam….. In order to be named a “charity”, the cause should be entirely self financing. We do ourselves no favours by subsidising that which we are already paying for in our various taxes. Don’t go to the school’s barn dance or the hospital’s quiz night. You’ve already paid for those in your income tax and community charges. By continuing to give, you merely encourage the local and national governments (of whatever political parties) to carry on wasting money on the unnecessary rubbish that we read about it the papers.
And instead you might give your money where it’s needed. I know of several groups that could do with a bung……

Do any of my loyal readers feel that rant sounded familiar? It is based on what I blogged three years ago. In the intervening time I’ve seen nothing to make me change my opinion…

18 September 2010 (Saturday) - A Birthday Party

I was just thinking about going to kip last night when the phone rang. ‘er indoors TM  had been out at a mucky undercrackers party and on the way home her trusty vehicle gave up the ghost. Eventually (at 1am!) she was towed home, with the alternator belt missing. Which was a nuisance. To be honest the thing hasn’t sounded right for a while. Regular readers will realise that up until a week ago I had cash in reserve for such disasters. Oh well. Having a new alternator belt will just have to be her Xmas pressie this year. I just hope she didn’t spend too much last night on mucky undercrackers.

In the week (with help from the Rear Admiral) I took the top box off of my car. It would have been easier all round to have left it on, I suppose. I’ve heard that taking the box off improves fuel consumption. But a colleague regularly drives from her house fifty yards down the road to Dublin. She’s done exactly the same journey with and without her top box, and she says it takes exactly the same amount of fuel. But with the box off, I can now get under the barrier at the council tip. Much as the place can be “R-tard central” at times, my dustbin of garden waste was full. So full that I had to empty it before I could generate any more garden waste at all. The tip opened at 8am, so I was there for opening time, only to find that I was about thirtieth in line to get in to the place. And who should I meet at the tip but a fellow Blogger. I had one bin of garden waste to shift: he had a car full. I spent five minutes helping him shift his rubbish. Well, his car was blocking me in. It was either help him or beep my hooter at him. Either option suited me…

I then went to work for a dull morning. Which was probably for the best. Saturday mornings are either non-stop dead busy, or are just plain dull. I know which I prefer. Home via the garage to collect ‘er indoors TM who had arranged to have the fragments of her car delivered there for fixing. Once home with an empty compost bin I mowed the lawn. It was a tad long – I’d not mowed it for at least a month. Following a quick jaunt to the fishing tackle shop for some bait I put the telly on and fell asleep whilst watching “Tron”. A waste of the afternoon, really.

And then the clans gathered and we set off to the Queen’s Head in Kingsnorth where we’d planned a surprise 40th birthday party. All surprise parties are somewhat dependent of the guest of honour actually turning up, and during the week things had looked somewhat dodgy on that score. But eventually he was tricked into going to the pub, and a good time was had by all. There’s no denying that as the evening wore on things did get decidedly vague. Did we really play “musical chairs” to Sparks…?

17 September 2010 (Friday) - Would You Believe It?

I overheard a conversation today in which a particularly thick looking young lady was asking what all the fuss was in the news. Who was this “pope bloke”? What does he do? When informed that the Holy Father is the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church, the dumbo thought for a few minutes before dismissing Catholicism out of hand. She didn’t agree with it because she was a Christian (!)

I went back to listening to the radio; there were one of two thickos there as well:

People who find they have fertility problems can get treatment from the National Health Service, or from licensed clinics. Sperm donors at such centres are health screened, and their samples are deep frozen for six months after donation to ensure that the donors don’t go down with various transmissible viruses in the meantime. On the other hand you can buy a random bottle of jizz off of the Internet and hope for the best.  

Equally ridiculous was a war story. During the Suez crisis a squadron of bombers took off to bomb somewhere or other. (Suez, I would imagine). Or that is most of the squadron took off. One of them didn’t because the pilot, Flying Officer Derek Kenyon made a mistake and rather than pressing the “take off” button, he pressed the “retract undercarriage” button. Air crew staff found Derek crying and cheerfully asked him if he’d pressed the wrong button. After all, it’s not supposed to be possible to retract the undercarriage until the plane is in the air. Having twatted the bomber beyond economical repair, Derek was court martial-ed and went to prison, suspected of cowardice in the face of the enemy.

 Sometimes I despair about the world we live in.

16 September 2010 (Thursday) - Drains and Calendars

I was just settling down for a bit of a snooze last night when “My Boy TMstarted complaining about the smell in the garden. On lifting the manhole cover we found that the drains had backed up and so we had a literal case of “getting our own back”. I phoned the water people who told me that they’d send for a nice man with some rods, and that he’d be with me soon. They phoned back at 10.30pm and apologized for phoning so late. Why apologize – surely they realised I’d be sitting up waiting? They told me that the nice man with the rods was in Deal and would be with me as soon as possible. He arrived half an hour later which was rather impressive, as anyone who knows the roads round south Kent would agree.
The nice man lifted up the manhole cover, saw some dreadnoughts and concurred with my diagnosis that there was a blockage. So the nice man got some rods and had a good old heave and strain, but to no avail. Next door must have heard the commotion and came out to assure us that his drains were fine. He lifted his manhole cover to prove it, and then changed his tune somewhat. On seeing his drains were also backed up he did a complete about-face and announced that his drains haven’t been right for the last three weeks.

By now the nice man’s sidekick (Baz) had arrived. Without wishing to appear in any way racist, I couldn’t imagine anyone less likely to be called Baz. Perhaps there are lots of people of Ghurkha extraction called “Baz”; it’s just that I’ve never met them. Baz was left rodding whilst the nice man went off on a mission to wake up all our other neighbours. He then noisily set about a manhole cover with a hammer and chisel, which went down well with all concerned seeing as it was now past 11pm. Having hammered to his satisfaction he then announced he had the wrong manhole cover. He went back to our back garden, collected Baz, and the two of them went around banging on people’s front doors again. Half an hour later they came back and announced that they had failed, but that it would be a P1 job for Paul in the morning. Before they went they made the observation that the water level in the drain had subsided enough for us to use the toilet a couple of times. Thank the lord for small mercies. So I went to bed at 1am with one weight off my mind, wondering how Paul would fare in the morning.

Needless to say I didn’t sleep well; finally dropping off a few minutes before “My Boy TMquietly got up for work. I tried to get back off to sleep, but failed. I got up and checked the drains – still blocked. The nice man who came last night said that Paul would be here at 8.30am. He wasn’t here by 9.30am, so I phoned the water people to confirm that they were still sending Paul. They said he was on the way. I asked if they could perhaps chivvy Paul along a little. They said they’d try, and they assured me all would be done in time for me to leave for work. Paul rolled up at 9.45am, and seemed somewhat fed up. I got the distinct impression that they sent him out to clear up the messes made by everyone else. He got out his map of the drains which showed two manhole covers in next door’s garden. A shame that his map didn’t coincide with reality – there’s only one. So he went next door to have a look, and then announced the manhole he wanted was fifty yards away. And he went on to say that it would be a two man job and he’d need to send for backup. I left him to it, and after a few minutes I realised that things were quiet. Too quiet. He’d gone. He came back at 10.40am and said that he’d sent for his sidekick. However his sidekick wasn’t as speedy as Baz, and wouldn’t be here for an hour or so. In the meantime he planned to do another job in Canterbury Road. I again explained I had to go to work, and (not knowing what else to do) left him a spare key to sort himself out.

One of the fruits of my loin phoned me a few hours later to ask if the man bad been and gone yet. Totally leaving aside the question of which man (said fruit had the choice of the nice man with the rods, Baz, Paul or the unnamed sidekick) I said I didn’t know, and said the way to find out was to look inside the manhole cover. I heard a clattering through the phone, an exclamation about the smell of it all, and then an admonishment that I had been negligent in my parental duties in that I had never taught my offspring what a blocked drain looked like. I asked for a description of what could be seen under the manhole cover, and on hearing the description lacked any mention of floating turds I have made the assumption that the thing is now fixed. Thank heavens for small mercies.

In between all of this I played around with the blog settings; specifically the “Dates for the Diary” settings. Rather than having a written list which I would update as and when I remembered I’ve replaced it with a Google Calendar. If any of my loyal readers don’t like the look of the thing and prefer it how it was, clicking the “Agenda” tab at the top right gives that view. Clicking on any event gives as many details about the event as I’ve got, and it also gives you the option to add it to your own Google Calendar. If you’ve not got a Google Calendar of your own, I’d recommend getting one. They are free, and once you’ve got an event on there, you can customise the thing to email you reminders so that you don’t forget it. Or if you want, you can send me an email address and I’ll have the software remind you. Since I had a few minutes whilst I was waiting for Paul, I’ve added as many bonfire parades as I can, and also put in some beer festivals and kite festivals for next year. Have a look, loyal reader, and let me know what dates and events I've missed off... 

15 September 2010 (Wednesday) - All The Lonely People..

I read something in the news this morning which made me sit up and take notice. A woman in Devon died two weeks ago. That’s not remarkable in itself; I suspect it happens all the time. What was unusual (to me) was the fact that her funeral is being organised by the local council because it transpires that she was utterly alone in this world. No friends or family whatsoever. And as I read on through the article I got rather angry. This woman was a wartime hero. Now leaving aside the indifference of an ungrateful nation, what annoyed me is the fact that the Royal British Legion are planning a huge turnout at the funeral because she was a wartime hero. I can’t help but feel that maybe they should have befriended her while she was alive.

Perhaps this has bothered me more than it should: being a naturally gregarious kind of guy I worry about the lonely. I can remember feeling very awkward at a funeral some years ago. The chap who had been the secretary of the snake club had died. When several hundred of us turned up for his funeral we had to wait for a funeral already in progress to finish. There were only four people at that funeral. I’ll never forget their faces as they watched us come into the chapel. What had been deserted for their beloved’s funeral was standing room only for ours.
When my mother in law used to run a bed and breakfast, she would occasionally have guests drop dead. I remember her telling me that a couple of times she attended funerals of croaked customers. At those funerals she would be accompanied by one or two other residents of her B&B, but that would be all. These people would be way past retirement age, but still utterly alone.
As a child there was the tale of a beloved grandmother going missing from the Sussex village of Winchelsea. When the local river was dragged they didn’t find her body, but they found the bodies of two men who still remain unidentified.

All the lonely people….

And so to NeverWinter where I generated quite a few more ungrieved dead, and then to work where I generated quite a lot more stuff for my other blog. This other blog’s not doing bad for all that it’s less than two weeks old. And then home. Eventually.
I forgot that yesterday (with help from the Rear Admiral) I took the top box off of my car, and so this evening I spent a panicked few minutes looking for a silver top box in a car par devoid of any top boxes whatsoever.

14 September 2010 (Tuesday) - Radio, Reviews, Tattoos

I had a wonderful day at work, in a room on my own. I had the radio on (via the Internet). I love Radio Four. There was an interview with girl who had been held captive by a madman for eight years. There was a feature on the problem of increasing promiscuity in the older generation - they catch manky knob-rot and other such diseases, but because of their age and sensibilities they are loathe to get antibiotics for it.
We were warned to check our compost bins for grass snakes. In many parts of the country these unfortunate reptiles are in decline, but by setting up a compost bin we can give them somewhere to live and breed.
There was the tale of the accidental contamination of a batch of beer in 1900 which led to the poisoning of thousands of people (many of whom croaked) in the Manchester area.
There was an amazing program about the problems that authors face when they feel they want to kill off their own fictional creations. Apparently Conan Doyle had terrible problems getting his publisher to allow him to do for Sherlock Holmes. It transpired that Christie wanted to put the kibosh on Poirot for years before finally doing so. And more recently the author Colin Dexter got rather a lot of abuse for killing off his character of Inspector Morse.
And following the media furore about a schoolchild being expected to walk twenty yards to a bus stop, there was an article about how children get to school. In 1971 80% of seven to nine year olds got themselves to school. By 1990 that figure was down to 9%. The fruits of my loin both walked to school. As did I. Kids of today…!

Mind you, the radio wasn’t all good. There was some frankly dire drivel about “Ma Vlast” (some classical music dirge) which was composed by someone going by the moniker of Bedrich Smetana. Apparently this racket has become an integral part of Czech culture. All I can say is that I hope it don’t catch on over here (!) And having that dull article being followed by “The Archers” was just adding insult to injury.

And then the news made me think. For some time I’ve been a roving reporter for a couple of pub reviewing websites – “Beer in the Evening” and “Pubs Galore”. It’s something I’ve enjoyed doing and in my (nearly) two hundred reviews I’ve attempted to be honest. If a pub is good, I’ll say so. Similarly if a pub is awful, I’ll say so. Over the years I’ve read other peoples reviews which are clearly not so impartial. Many are singing the praises of a pub which can only be described as “mediocre” at best. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to spot a landlord who is bigging up his own pub. There are also reviews which are utterly slating pubs which frankly don’t deserve the criticism. When you also consider the rate at which pubs change hands these days, reviews of pubs aren’t always the most reliable things you’ll find on line anyway.
Pubs aren’t the only things reviewed on the Internet. Hotels and restaurants also get reviews: impartial and biased. One of the leading hotel review websites is facing legal action following allegations of it’s running defamatory reviews. I’ve been expecting this for some time. I wonder how much longer “Beer in the Evening” and “Pubs Galore” have got left?

And then on with the tattooing. It’s only two weeks since  “My Boy TMstarted his new hobby. He’s the first to admit he’s still got a lot to learn, but I’m pleased with his efforts so far. Even if doing me is like “tattooing a womble” (!) I quite like what he’s done to my arm, and the angel he did on “Daddies Little Angel TMis quite impressive…

13 September 2010 (Monday) - Earning

To Tescos to get some lunch. When I was a lad you got your food shopping from Tescos, and that was it. But over the years they have increased their range of products. So much so that you don’t need to go round a range of shops any more. They’ve done DVDs, music and clothes for some time. Over the summer they were doing camping gear. Today I saw they sold windscreen wipers and gloss paint. Is there anything they don’t do?

And so to work where I heard an interesting article on the radio. It has been said that money can’t buy you happiness. Research has shown that this isn’t entirely true. Apparently one achieves maximum happiness with an annual salary of about fifty thousand quid. One is miserable with an income less than that, but (apparently) earning more than fifty thousand quid doesn’t bring extra happiness. I’d be prepared to try it out, if any potential employers would like to participate in the experiment. After all, wasn’t it Groucho Marx who commented that in his life he’d been very rich and very poor, and preferred being very rich.

On the subject of earnings, Radio Four’s website has an interesting toy at the moment. You get to choose various professions and guess their wages. Some are paid far more than others. The others are (on the whole) worth far more than some. And still the lifeboat men do it for free...