30 November 2010 (Tuesday) - This n That

We’ve had a seriously heavy snowfall overnight (three inches), and as usual the country has ground to a halt.
Normally when it snows I walk to work, but being on a late start (and finish) meant I’d be walking home at 8pm, which is a bit late for that. Also my foot’s still sore, and probably not up to walking the four miles to work. Mind you, my foot’s a lot better than it was, now that I’ve squeezed a pint of pus out of it (yuk!). I’m now wondering (hoping) that my recent problems wasn’t gout at all, but was actually an infection. That would suit me – an infection would just be one of those random occurrences, rather than something which is directly related to my home-brew (which gout would be). If only I had access to a G.P. to find out.

After a morning wasted in NeverWinter I extracted my car from the snow, and set off to work. I spent a little while in the car park taking some photos, and then it was on with the work where I was amazed to find that this time no one had phoned in trying for “snow-leave”.
This winds me up a bit. I blame the schools entirely for this. The schools close down at the mere mention of the word “snow”, and children have come to expect it. We have brought up a generation here in the UK where “snow” is synonymous with “day off”. We’ve had junior members of staff not show up for work in the past. They live five minutes walk from work, but didn’t come in. When challenged why, they honestly believed that half an inch of snow on the lawn meant that the world had shut down for a day.

Normally late shifts at work are dull, but this evening “Daddies Little Angel TM rang for a chat. She was on the Dartford crossing. Having left Lakeside shopping centre at 3pm, her and her chauffeur had only just got to the high point of the bridge. A journey which I’ve driven in five minutes had taken them four and a half hours because of the traffic chaos caused by the snow. We then spent a little bit of time calling up the BBC’s travel pages on the Internet. It didn’t take long to find links to webcams on that bridge, so we could watch and gloat.

And then this evening I found something on-line that made me stop and think. It would seem that my old Boys Brigade Company is no more.
I was in that Boys Brigade for nearly ten years – I was one of the first four of its members to get the Queens Badge. I’ve still got my Queen’s Badge. Although I left the B.B. in 1984, I went back every year to help with the hiking-camping contest, up until the last one in 1990. I was one of the guests at the retirement of the Company’s founder in 1995. Ten people on my Facebook list are from the halcyon days of the B.B. I even met ‘er indoors TM  because of the B.B. And once we’d left Hastings we made a point of going back to the church where the B.B. met to get married in. We got both our children christened there, because that church was the home of the B.B.
And now the 8th Hastings is gone. It’s the end of an era. It’s been replaced by the Friday Friendz (!) How lame is that…?

29 November 2010 (Monday) - Stuff

In theory burglar alarms on cars and houses are a good idea. In practice I honestly think they should be outlawed. Surely it would be better to have a silent alarm which goes off at the police station to alert them that something’s going on, rather than having something making a god-awful racket in the street where no one is going to do anything and which everyone ignores.
Several people along our road have them, and when they go off at 4.30am (like one did today), they ring and scream for over an hour. No one comes along to see what the noise is about; the police certainly don’t. All that happens is that everyone suffers the noise until the battery finally goes flat and the noise stops. It was just as well that I was on a late start today – I got a bit of a lie-in to catch up on some missed sleep.

I had planned to be at the doctor’s for opening time for them to have a look at my gout-ridden foot. But over the weekend a combination of no beer, celery and ibuprofen had reduced the pain somewhat. The foot was still rather red this morning, but I could move it about better than I could yesterday. And from what I can gather, I didn’t think there’s an awful lot the doc can do other than prescribe ibuprofen and tell me to avoid the stout. And it had snowed a bit overnight and I didn’t want to drive in the snow.
So rather than waiting on their doorstep I thought I’d give them a ring to ask their opinion. I started phoning at the surgery’s opening time. After over two hours of chasing round their automated switchboard I gave up and drove down to the surgery. I hobbled in and explained that I’d been phoning for over two hours, and asked if I could see a doctor. The old bat on the desk clearly hadn’t listened to what I said; she told me there were no appointments available, and that I should have phoned earlier. I asked her if she’d ever tried phoning the surgery herself, and re-iterated that I’d been trying to get through for two hours. She merely stared at me, and repeated that there were no appointments. She suggested that I might like to try again tomorrow. “Try” being the operative phrase, as they could offer no guarantee of an appointment tomorrow either.

I got to work, and just out of curiosity I phoned the G.P. surgery just down the road from my house. The phone was answered on the second ring by a nice lady who told me that they are taking on patients, and suggested that I popped in tomorrow morning to talk to them. I might just do that: I’ve not been happy with my current surgery for some time. They weren’t overly helpful with my creaky knee, and they couldn’t have been less helpful with my (possibly) broken arse bone.

Mind you, my G.P. might be rubbish, but my hospital is the best in the country. And it’s official!!!

28 November 2010 (Sunday) - Dull

I suppose that I had a reasonable night’s sleep. Certainly better than some I’ve had recently. I would have liked a bit more of a lie-in, but the foot was throbbing. Seeing how you can’t take ibuprofen on an empty stomach meant I needed to have brekkie before taking anything to ease the throbbing. So I got up. I tried sitting with my leg up, but I’m not sure that actually helps. Having sat with my leg up for any length of time just means that when I go to stand my foot *really* hurts. If I just sit, then the throbbing is bearable.

Some time ago I’d offered to give another talk to the astro club; I’ve been working on a presentation about comets for a little while. At last Friday’s meeting I found that I’ve been pencilled in to do this talk next October. So I spent a little while this morning doing some more work on my presentation. Comets have always been a fascination of mine. If any loyal readers would like to know why, then I suggest they book a date in their diary for next October…

I spent some time in NeverWinter, and then we went to Tesco to get some Xmas pressies. What with double clubcard voucher points refund offers we went to the checkout with nearly a hundred quid’s worth of stuff, and only handed over thirty five quid. I shall start taking my clubcard a bit more seriously.
Mind you I have it on good authority that the BOGOF offer in B&Q needs careful scruting if you don’t want to get ripped off. The Rear Admiral phoned to have a grumble. H’ed bought a dozen items on “buy one, get one free”. It doesn’t work like you’d think: buy one of something, get something identical free. It works that for everything you buy, you get something free. But not just any something. Specifically the cheapest something. So if you buy two Xmas trees and two bags of crisps thinking they are “buy one, get one free”, you pay for both Xmas trees and get the crisps free. I thought that was a con.
The way round this is to pair up your purchases, and do loads and loads of transactions with the store; each transaction being of only two similarly priced items. Each transaction also costs the store eight pence (or so I am reliably informed).  If any of my loyal readers hear that B&Q have changed their policy, do let me know….

And then home where I slept through “I Am Legend” on the DVD, and woke to find that James Bond was on the telly. I remember Goldfinger being a much better film thirty years ago.
Sundays for me seem to have got into a rut. Following a really good Saturday, Sunday just seems to be a day to waste before I go back to work. I had hoped to have done more with today. But a combination of sub-zero temperatures and an inability to walk more than ten yards without needing a break made today somewhat dull. Perhaps I’ll do more next weekend…

In the meantime I’m having problems in NeverWinter. Does anyone have any tips for dealing for a stroppy manticore…?

27 November 2010 (Saturday) - Miss Scarlett Did It !!!

According to the NHS website, gout affects 1% of the male population. Just my luck. My right foot has been swollen up like a balloon for two days now. I really shouldn’t have gone to work today, but I either have a sense of duty or a sense of stupidity.
On the way home I drove past the G.P.’s surgery in case they were open. They weren’t. I tried the pharmacy next door. I asked if they had anything for gout. They asked how I knew I had gout; had I had it before? I explained that I wouldn’t normally self-diagnose, but with the G.P. being closed, the Internet seemed to make me think that gout was my most likely (immediate) problem. The nice lady sold me some ibuprofen to relieve the swelling, and suggested I went back to the Internet to get some ideas about how I might control my gout through changing my diet.

So I went back on line. Guess what causes gout? I nearly cried, but I expect my loyal readership with laugh. Stout !! I’ve spent quite a bit of money on making stout over the last few weeks. I’ve got another five gallons of the stuff brewing for Xmas. And it turns out that I shouldn’t really touch a drop of it.
So if any of my loyal readers should happen to pop in over the festive period, feel free to help me empty out the barrel of stout. It’s a good job ‘er indoors TM  likes the stuff. For myself, I’ve visited the brew shop and have some light coloured wheat beer to make up.

Other than cutting out the stout, I wondered if there was anything else I could change about my lifestyle to sort out this gout. I don’t really eat a lot of red meat, and I have poxy salads quite a bit already. I could lose some weight. Well, I could in theory. In practice that is easier said than done. The internet says that celery and cherries and drinking loads of water are supposed to help. The internet however doesn’t say where you can buy cherries in late November. Tesco’s didn’t have any when we went there this afternoon. They had celery, though.  They didn’t have much in the way of canvas shoes, which was a shame.

I slept for much of the remainder of the afternoon, and then whilst Miss Blue got ready I assumed my alter ego of the Reverend Rose. Andy had organised a murder mystery evening, and I’d been looking forward to this for some time.
Once Miss Grey and Colonel Mustard had arrived I drove us all round to Blackwater Manor. The vicar drove, because the vicar wasn’t drinking that night. Because of the tablets he was taking for his gout.

We arrived to be greeted by the butler, who soon disappeared never to been seen again. Professor Plums and Lady Blackwater were in residence, and very soon we were joined by Mr Green, Major Strangely-Brown (he was!), Miss Scarlett and a shifty looking Russian. After a welcoming cocktail, everyone wandered off and the lights went out. There was a scream from “Latrine” (the French maid); the shifty looking Russian was dead. Despite having a lump on the back of his head and stab wounds in the chest, as our investigations proceeded we speculated on the possibilities that the deceased had been variously shot, smothered, hung, garrotted and poisoned. To begin with we were rather hampered in our investigations by the fact that Mr Green seemed to have an unholy fascination with what Major Strangely-Brown had been doing in the lavatory. And then we found that the hallway was filled with feathers. Bird feathers (as opposed to cow feathers!). But with the help of some rather cryptic clues we eventually got past that stage.
Eventually we found the closed circuit TV. In the hour before he was murdered, everyone had had dealings with the shifty looking Russian. He was a nasty piece of work, that shifty looking Russian. He was trying to bribe and blackmail everyone there. Miss Blue was secretly running an escort agency featuring ladies of loose morals and even looser knicker elastic. Colonel Mustard was in the fiddle; selling arms to Chechen rebels. Professor Plums had been guilty of research malpractice. The vicar turned out to be still in the closet. In fact the only one who wasn’t being blackmailed was the environmentalist Mr Green, who wasn’t happy that the shifty looking Russian was going to bulldoze the ducks and stuff.

Eventually we figured out what had happened. As the lights went out Professor Plums had tried to shoot the shifty looking Russian, but had missed. As the shifty looking Russian ran away, Miss Blue smacked him over the head with the candlestick, and he staggered into the kitchen. This was where Miss Scarlett did for him with the glass shards from the broken poison bottle so that he wouldn’t reveal the fact that she was a secret MI6 agent.

A brilliant evening. Great fun, and we had to think too! Andy did wonderfully with the plot. I can’t wait until the next one. But next time I’ll spend the evening sitting down. Because standing up played up my gout….

26 November 2010 (Friday) - Astro Club

I had a wonderful sleep last night, and awoke feeling really refreshed and raring to go. As I rolled over I checked the time. It was five past two – I’d only slept for three hours. I then dozed intermittently for the rest of the night, seeing every hour as it passed. At half past five I gave up laying awake, got up and did the ironing whilst watching Star Trek.

To work, where I heard a malicious rumour that wombles are now actually extinct. Surely that can’t be true? Endangered, maybe. But extinct?

And then to the astro club. Again I was proud to be a part of the astro club – despite a shaky start three years ago, the thing is now really good. We started off with a talk about the sun from one of our youngest members. Katie is seven (I think), but her talk was excellent. I learned something. Twice each year the sun lines up with household satellite dishes, and using the Sky Plus box’s diagnostics you can see how the signal to noise ratio changes for fifteen minutes as the sun comes across.

There was then a five minute interlude on the so-called “Goldilocks Zone” – with extra solar planets being found so rapidly, science is now looking for planets in the “Goldilocks Zone” – that area round a star where a planet will be neither too cold or too warm to support life. The hypothesis was ventured that life is so tenacious that it can occur pretty much anywhere, and various “extremophile” animals were quoted as examples. It was suggested that the idea of a “Goldilocks Zone” is perhaps wrong. There then followed a discussion on the issue. I agreed with some of the ideas being proposed, and not with others. Realistically until the concept of “life” can be defined to the agreement of all, such discussions will be somewhat open-ended.

The main talk of the evening was something that (in all honesty) I didn’t think was going to interest me. But in the event, “The Trials and Tribulations of an Amateur Astronomer” was a fascinating insight into the speaker’s hobby and life.

We then had the raffle – arguably the best part of the evening. Most people seem to join in when I get hawking the thing, and we took over thirty quid for the club. I’m always pleased with the success of the raffle and constellation game. A silly bit of fun pays to keep the club going. And then with raffle hawked and coffee drunk we went outside for some stargazing. The night was very clear, and we saw Andromeda, the nebula in Orion, and Jupiter’s moons.  We even used the club’s very own wobblyprop to hold the binoculars still. I spent a little while watching Stevey take a photo of the moon, which is today’s photo. And then I spent some time watching the club’s resident expert on astro-photography photographing the Orion nebula. I’m feeling the urge to have a go at astro-photographing stuff myself. If only it wasn’t so cold!!

As the evening went on, I was approached by a couple of people who wondered if I would go back to scouting. It would seem that the leader of a local cub pack is giving up, and a leader is needed. Would I take up the reins once again? For a moment I was tempted. But realistically I’m not keen. I originally went along because the local group needed help, and my son was a cub in that pack. I originally went along with my eight year old. He’s now twenty three. I was a leader there for thirteen years. I’ve done my bit….

25 November 2010 (Thursday) - PCs, Rants....

With “My Boy TMaway for the night and me being on a late start today, I was looking forward to a lie-in. So today would be the day that next door’s dogs started screaming at 6am.

And then the post arrived. Waitrose have sent us an Xmas card with a money off voucher. If I spend forty quid with them, they will give me a fiver off the bill. That’s nice. If I use the voucher and spend forty quid with them, then they will be only “rather more” expensive than Tesco.

I then had a go on-line for a bit. My poor old PC is seriously struggling. The anti virus updater was having “General Errors”. After a bit (a lot) of fiddling around I eventually uninstalled the anti-virus and the re-installed it. I would like to say “successfully re-installed it”, but that would be tempting fate. Let’s just say that the thing managed to update itself, which it hadn’t before, and I’m hoping for the best. Mind you, it still sounds like a helicopter trying to lift an extremely heavy load.

To work, so as it was on my way I stopped off at Comet and PC world to look at their new computers. A few months ago I was keen on the idea of a “micro” computer: a tablet or a laptop. Having tried the Internet on my phone and found it to be impractical, I think I am looking to replace my PC on a “like for like” basis with another deskyop style PC.
The problem is that when I got my current PC four years ago, it was the cat’s cock as far as PCs go. And in the intervening four years I’ve rather lost the language of PCs. Looking at what was on the shelves in the shop, the specifications of the various machines might as well have been written in Greek for all the sense they made to me.

And for the second day running I found myself in agreement with the government. As I drove home this evening there was an article on Radio Four about how the government have decided to put a cap on how much housing benefit people can claim. The radio program featured an interview with Manni. Manni is twenty eight years old, has six children and rents a five bedroomed house in central London. I dread to think what the cost of renting such a house would be. But because Manni would seem to have breeding as his priority (rather than being able to support the fruits of his loin), he only has to pay sixteen per cent of the cost of renting his house. Tax payers stump up the rest.
The radio program then went on to interview a local community leader where Manni lives. Abraham Pinter (who runs many nearby schools) said how the government’s plans to restrict the amount of housing benefit people can claim will force people out of areas where housing costs are high. People will have to move away to areas where housing is affordable.
He wasn’t keen on the possibility of this because if this happened he wouldn’t be able to see so much of his grandchildren. I could understand that, and I sympathised. Until the interviewer asked Abraham how many grandchildren he had. Go on – guess. I nearly crashed my car when I heard. This bloke has twenty eight grandchildren. Twenty eight !!!

The entire radio program can be downloaded and listened to as a podcast here. Please could someone listen to it and explain to me how it can be fair that as a taxpayer I subsidise everyone else to breed like rabbits, whist having made a conscious decision myself to only have two children because (much as I wanted more children) I knew that I couldn’t afford a third.

And having had a rant, I’ll end on a lighter note. Over on Twitter there is another tweeter. He has yet to do his first tweet (or “twit” as he prefers to call it), but I’m reliably informed he’s enjoying the whole “twitting experience”. Why not send him a “twit”?...

24 November 2010 (Wednesday) - A Roman Villa

Up with the lark, remarkably chipper bearing in mind the amount of stout that I saw off last night. I watched another episode of Star Trek: Enterprise and then spent five minutes scraping the ice off my car. The bloke from next door happened to walk past whilst I was de-icing, and he made great show of lighting a cigarette so that he wouldn’t see me. Mind you, I made a point of scraping the other side of the car as he walked by. It’s been seven years since the solicitor’s letters, and relations are still far from cordial.

There was an interesting article on the radio today about the place of sport in schools. Again I find myself in the embarrassing position of agreeing with the government. They want to do away with money specifically earmarked for school sports, and let individual schools decide where to spend the cash. I’d go further. I’d do away with sport in schools (in its current format) altogether. Instead let “sport” be something that kids formally study. They can do this over the course of one year. The schools could invite experts and/or local sports teams, and the kids might have a go at badminton, lacrosse, basketball, hockey, karate, archery, all sorts of sports. All the children would get to learn about the sport and all would get a go. Rather than the traditional way of only encouraging the half-dozen who excel at sport. And then all the kids would have an idea about a whole range of sports, and may be more inclined to pursue something they otherwise might not have.
I have some small experience of this – for my third year at secondary school there was no P.E. teacher available for our forty minute P.E. lesson. So the biology teacher stepped in. In his past he had played for the England volleyball team. He taught us volleyball; he taught it as he would teach an academic subject, and everyone got something from it. Which is totally at odds with most school sporting activities where the small talented minority shine and the majority can get knotted as far as the school is concerned.

Home for a bit of tea and then the doorbell rang. Chip was there saying something about “Bonus knockers” (!), and then we were off to the arky-ologee club. We started with mild consternation in that the club has been infiltrated by metal-detectorists. Last month a couple of blokes turned up and said that they were into arky-ologee and they owned metal detectors.
Apparently (in arky-ological circles) metal-detectorists are akin to Satan. They would seem to infiltrate arky-ologee clubs to suss out where to go detectoring and then get rich on their profits. Now I think that his conspiracy is somewhat over-exaggerated. Firstly because I can’t see anyone getting rich on the dull bits of broken pot that our bunch finds. And secondly if any malignant metal-detectorists were to attempt to infiltrate the club, I doubt they’d be dumb enough to admit to being a malignant metal-detectorist in the first place.
Tonight’s talk was surprisingly interesting. It was about the Roman villa on the east cliff at Folkestone. Did you know there was a Roman villa there? No? Neither did I. I’ve actually walked over the top of it a few times over the last few years. I shall have to go back with my dowsing rods and see if I can find it.
And following my suggestion of how successful the constellation game is at the astro club, something similar was tried tonight as a fundraiser. Rather than selling constellations, they sold names of towns of historical interest. I asked for a rude sounding one. The chap selling the thing was bemused by that. He had no idea what a rude town sounded like. I went for “Ribchester” because (as I explained) it’s got rib and chest in it, and that’s where you find tits. The logic was unassailable because I won the tenner.
Same time next month….

23. November 2010 (Tuesday) - Home Brew(s)

I was up at 6am this morning, and watching Star Trek on telly. Star Trek: Enterprise isn’t really that bad.

To work, which was the same as ever, and then home again. With a dozen shirts ironed and the tribes gathered I formally announced the opening of the first batch of home brew. “Stout Fellow” turned out reasonably well, all things considered. Certainly better than first attempts at other hobbies have gone in the past.  I’d made twenty pints of the stuff, and this evening we probably shifted half of that lot.
I have mentioned that the second batch is under way. All that lot needs is a name. A couple of possibilities come to mind.

And so to bed. It will be interesting to see how my head is in the morning after five pints of home brew…

22 November 2010 (Monday) - Frustrating

A colleague was off to a meeting. It turned out that she’s a school governor, and there was a meeting at the school to go over the details of the second round of redundancies being made at that school. Apparently it was going to be terrible and heartbreaking (I imagine it would be!), but there was nothing anyone could do about it. I naively suggested that there might be something she could do; namely not vote for the redundancies. But that wasn’t possible. You weren’t allowed to be a governor unless you voted for what “they” wanted to do. I asked who “they” were, but was met with a confused stare. “They” would seem to be the people who run the school. I thought that was the governors…?

One of the chaps at work was relating his worries; his girlfriend wants them to get engaged. This couple have been together for ten years, have bought a house together, have had two children together, but he absolutely refuses to get engaged to the girl. What’s that all about?

And then on the way home I heard something on the radio which put my sad life into perspective. Wei Jinpeng was until recently a fisherman on the Yellow River. He’s given up fishing. Instead he retrieves human corpses from the river and then sells them to the grieving relatives who come looking for the bodies of their missing loved ones. Charging three hundred pounds a time, and retrieving about a hundred bodies a year, he’s found something rather more lucrative than fishing.
The radio article was rather vague on the details of how there comes to be so many corpses floating down the Yellow river. Probably just as well…

21 November 2010 (Sunday) - Lamberhurst Xmas Fayre

Once again an early start. ‘er indoors TM  had arranged to flog candles to an unsuspecting public at the Lamberhurst Village Xmas Fayre, And I’d arranged to go along for want of anything better to do.
We arrived to find consternation. It turned out that Virginia wasn’t able to be there today, and so the organisers were in uproar. It would seem that Virginia was the only person who could do the washing up. The entire catering department of the event was on hold, pending cancellation until a decision could be made. I’ve no idea what that decision was, or what they did, but tea and coffee were available. Either Virginia eventually turned up, or they saved the dirties for her.

George” showed us where we could set up our stall. We were squeezed in between someone selling really hideous tat on one side, and a fit bird flogging silver jewellery on the other. The tat was truly awful. It was home made papier mache vases and jugs (starting at fiufteen quid each). The only conceivable use these might have would be that when the charity collectors call, you might have something that you can give away. The fit bird had jewellery for sale which wasn’t too shabby, but she wasn’t giving it away. Mind you, no one was giving anything away. There was some woman knocking out stuff from “My Secret Kitchen” – the ingredients to make (most of) a loaf of bread cost a tenner. Another stall was flogging home made linen hobby horses for twenty quid. And there were some truly terrible floral arrangements to be had for thirty quid.

And again this place summed up what is wrong with the entire concept of running a stall at a village fete. The idea is to get cash from the general public. But the general public don’t come to these things to spend money. The general public (by and large) stay at home. Those that do venture to a show such as today’s come along, grumble how much it all costs, and then go home again.
Most (all) of the punters who were parting with their hard-earned cash today were spending it on stalls run by their friends; having arranged in advance to come along to support their friends’ stall(s). I couldn’t work that one out at all. If you’re going to be selling to your mates, why bother paying for a stall in a draughty village hall? Why not just invite your mates round and flog your stuff to them from the comfort of your own living room?

It was very obvious that those stalls making money were those run by people who had got all their mates to come along. Every sale made on any stall was accompanied by a ten minute chat about old times and mutual friends and relatives. Those of us (and there were quite a few of us) who had travelled a long distance didn’t get a sniff.
The only good thing that could be said about the day was that when the raffle was drawn, I won the Xmas cake.

We packed up and on the way home we stopped at Biddenden Vineyard where I got a tray of Blues. If my home-made Stout fails, I’ll have a back-up plan for Xmas day. And then to Lidls. Lidls were knocking out bottles of MasterBrew at a pound each. It’s not my favourite beer, but I’ve had much worse in my time.

And then home where I’ve now got the next batch of stout on the go. Five gallons of the stuff. It is just sitting in a huge bucket in my back room at the moment. I hope it will turn out OK…

20 November 2010 (Saturday) - Beer and Cakes

“My Boy TM was doing overtime this morning. I expect most of my loyal readers heard him getting up quietly at 6am, then silently coming downstairs before making his breakfast (as quietly as a mouse). I breathed a sigh of relief as he finally thundered out of the house at 6.30am.

To work – I too was doing overtime, and after a (thankfully) quiet morning and a quick sandwich I popped round to the home brew shop. They were having a demonstration of how to brew and bottle and generally “make the stuff”. I thought I’d better put all my beer-making on hold until I’d seen today’s demo, and I got there with quarter of an hour to spare, just in case there were loads of people. In the event there was a rather disappointing turn out. There were a pair of mates, one of whom had bought the other a beer-making kit last Xmas and they thought they’d better use the thing. There were a pair of hippies, one of whom claimed to make marmalade beer, and there was a rather quiet chap who seemed to be a friend of the bloke giving the demonstration.
The chap giving the demonstration was very good; knowledgeable but without being condescending in any way. He showed us how to sterilise all the gear and make up a kit of beer. Then we had a “Blue Peter” moment when he produced a barrel of beer he’d made earlier; two weeks earlier. That brew was ready to be bottled, and he showed us how to bottle the stuff. This bit was very “hands on” and I got to have a go. He also showed us (me) the ins and outs of keeping beer in pressure barrels, which I found useful, and a bit of a though-provoker.
I’d been told that the session would probably last for about half an hour: it actually went on for an hour and a half. It was really good. Everyone joined in and chatted, the chap running the show involved everyone, I learned loads. I’ve decided against my original idea of brewing beer in recycled saline boxes. Since they were offering 10% off of purchases for people who’d been to the demonstration I got a fermenter and a pressure barrel.
I also got a complimentary bottle of the beer we bottled this afternoon as well, which (I thought) was a nice touch.

The only reservation I had about the demonstration at the home brew shop was the turn out. I was there because I’m keen on my new-found hobby. I got the impression that the hippies and the friend of the demonstrator were also keen beer brewers. But I don’t think that that the two mates were really going to spend a lot in the brew shop. And in retrospect it was somewhat disconcerting that during the course of the demonstration, not a single customer called in. It has to be said that the shop is more than a little off the beaten track. I hope they stay in business, but they can’t really be described as doing a roaring trade.

And then to Furley Park Primary School. It’s as well that I checked the directions for the place before I set off. I knew where this school was: I’ve known for years. Or so I thought. I actually knew where Wyvern school was. Furley Park is on the other side of town.
Friends were organising an Xmas fete to raise funds for their scout group, and ‘er indoors TM was running a candle-flogging stall. I thought I’d wander along to add my (im)moral support. If nothing else, fetes are good places to get cake which is both cheap and of good quality.

The fete was running from 4-7pm. My initial reaction was that that was an odd time to have a fete, but then none of the fetes I’d been involved with when I was a scout leader had been especially lucrative. Perhaps the 1st Park Farm scout group knew something I didn’t. I arrived to find the fete pretty much set up. In fact all that was missing were punters. There seemed to be quite a few people milling round, but most of them seemed to be like me – “hangers-on” of the various stalls. Of the few customers we had, few were remarkable. There was a rather aggressive looking lady who refused to part with any money on any stall because “it would be a waste of money as I don’t live in Ashford” (!) I laughed as her child started eating the make-up products on the Body Shop stall. And there was a visiting child who was a dead ringer for Draco Malfoy (of Harry Potter fame). Unfortunately Furley Park school isn’t ideally placed to pick up passing trade, and it’s probably fair to say that the fete was never really busy at any point.
There was a respectable turn-out from the astro club, and I had a good chat with friends. I had a go on the badge making stall, and then I made myself rather ill from eating too many cakes. And then with someone else calling the raffle (makes a change!) we packed up early and came home.
Was the event profitable for the scouts? I don’t know. Talking to stallholders I got the impression the thing wasn’t a washout. I hope they made enough. If anyone deserves cash, it’s the scout association.

And then home. I’ve got my fermenter filled with sterilising solution ready for tomorrow (when I intend to get my beer for Xmas started). And I’ve lifted my barrel of stout into position for dispensing. The formal launch of the produce of “The Manky Brewery” will be on Tuesday evening, but I have to admit I’ve had a crafty sip of the stuff.
I’m reasonably impressed. I’ve tasted worse…

19 November 2010 (Friday) - Perrins and Windsors

I don’t watch much telly these days. Instead I prefer to find out what other people have watched. And then on other people’s recommendations I beg, borrow or steal entire seasons of shows on DVD. Thereby watching the entire lot in one go, and missing out all the dull adverts. The drawback with this scheme is that one is rather dependent on other people actually telling me what’s on the telly.
Zaphod Beeblebrox once said “See what you miss if you don't stay alert”. Clearly I’ve not been alert. Did you know they’ve re-made Reggie Perrin? Yes? So did everyone else except me. And to add insult to injury I’ve been watching the originals on UK Gold at silly o’clock in the morning recently.
As for the remake, I’ve only seen a couple of episodes so far (on the BBC i-player), but I like what I’ve seen. Martin Clunes makes a good Reggie, and it’s got the bloke from “Game On” as C.J., and (in an improvement on the original) Reggie has a fit bird to fantasize over.
I shall add this program to my “want list” for Xmas…

Also on my “want list” for Xmas is (realistically) a new PC. My current one is now four years old, and is beginning to creak. It keeps freezing and it currently sounds like a helicopter trying to take off. I can’t help but wonder what’s hot and what’s not in the world of new desktop PCs. Any advice from loyal readers would be welcomed.

And amid the excitement of Prince William’s forthcoming nuptials, Prince Charles has intimated that when he becomes King he would like his wife to be crowned Queen. Even though he’d bowed to perceived public pressure in the past and said she’d be a Princess Consort.
It strikes me that this move signifies either one of two things. Either Charles won’t become King at all and when the time comes he will pass the monarchy on to William, making a show of taking offence rather like Edward VIII did when he couldn’t have Mrs Simpson as Queen.
Or finally the general public have finally realised that “Diana Queen of Hearts” wasn’t quite the saint that the press had painted her to be.
Either way, the royals are back in the news with a minimum of republican furore being stirred up. Which is a good thing...

18 November 2010 (Thursday) - This and That...

This morning I received a very complimentary comment on yesterday’s blog post. “Good work! Your post is an excellent example of why I keep comming back to read your excellent quality content that is forever updated. Thank you! armani watches for men”. And the chap then went on to add a link to a web site where he is selling watches. They could be good watches; they could be rubbish. I neither know nor care. All I know is that I’m not going to advertise his tat for him.
You’d think he’d get the message; after all he’s posted the same comment (complete with spelling mistake) to several of my blog posts over the last week and followed each one up with a link to websites selling either watches or handbags.
It’s a shame that the software doesn’t seem to have a “report spammer” option. Oh well, if the nuisance posts continue I’ll just tweak up the settings on exactly who can make comments. Or specifically who can’t.

From email to snail mail. My post piles up so quickly. And it’s mostly all rubbish. I’m sure I don’t ask for these people to write to me,
Two magazines from the scout association. It’s now over two years since I packed up with the cubs, and still they send me their literature.
A letter about an ISA. I’ve absolutely no idea what that is all about, but it says about large sums of money. I shall keep that letter. The mortgage endowment is finishing within the next year, and far from being the moneyspinner that our financial advisor (father in law!) claimed it would be, it’s actually been money down the toilet. This ISA might help cover the shortfall.
BT again offered me their Broadband cheaply and Aviva again offered to insure my motorbike (eight years after I last rode one). WyeVale wrote to apologize to me that I’ve not spent enough with them recently (i.e. anything at all) to warrant getting any money-off vouchers this quarter. Bovvered?
The mobile phone people wrote to confirm the agreement under which I’ve got my new mobile with them. Apparently part of the package is something called “top shelf”. No one mentioned that before. “Top shelf” sounds a bit dubious. Free smut? I phoned them up to find out about this. Apparently I can use my phone to download filth. That’s nice (!)
Regular readers based in the UK may recall a news article about British Gas putting up their gas prices. The power company have written to me with the payment plan for the next year. Based on my usage over the last year, next year my gas bill is being reduced by thirteen quid each month. That’s a result. And when you consider my new boiler which (from what I’ve heard) has halved other people’s gas usage, I might be looking to get even more savings.
I found an envelope full of screen protectors for my new phone. I’d bought them on eBay and forgotten all about them.
And I found an invitation to take part in the KM charity walk which took place on Sunday June 13 this year. I couldn’t have gone anyway (I was in Teston), but where had that letter been all these months?

I was on a late start this morning, so with the house to myself I watched a DVD. A couple of weeks ago I went to the CEX shop in town and bought some DVDs. One of them was the first season of “Gavin and Stacey”. Over the last few months various people had commented that they thought I’d like it - I can’t believe I’d never seen it before. I finished watching the DVD today. It was brilliant. I actually blubbed when they got married. I think I might just put the complete DVD set onto my Xmas list. You never know your luck.

And then I had what I can only describe as a “Brown Trousers” moment. Having watched all the devastation in Cornwall caused by the recent flooding I got a text alert on my mobile. It was an automated notification from the government’s flood warning system. I’ve never had one of those before. But twenty years ago the Stour did burst its banks and there are pictures on the Internet of floods in my road. Once my heart stopped pounding I actually opened the text message. Expecting the worst, I was so relieved to see that they were merely telling me that they were updating their website.

And I’ll end with a little bit of politics. In my thirty years in the NHS I’ve seen some changes. The way the NHS is run changes all the time. The latest plan is to re-organise so that the entire NHS is commanded by the GPs. But this isn’t a new idea - am I the only one who can remember that this has already been tried. Does the phrase “GP Fundholders” ring any bells?
Did it work when it was introduced in 1991?
I don’t know. It’s been shown that there was absolutely no evidence as to whether it might have worked or not. Instead the decisions to implement the scheme and the decision (under a different government seven years later) to abolish it were taken purely on political and ideological grounds.
It’s rather strange that if I want to make the slightest change to how I perform my professional duties I have to fulfil a myriad of regulations to prove beyond any doubt that the proposed change is for the better. If researchers have ideas for new treatments, these must be radically tested to destruction before they can even reach the clinical trials stage. But the entire structure of the NHS can be reformed on the whim of current political opinion with no evidence whatsoever as to whether or not the idea is good, bad or just plain stupid…

How many other decisions in government are made this way? How are the police, the armed forces, schools, the nation’s transport infrastructure organised? Are they subject to sensible management? Are they run on sound financial principals? Or are they run at the whim of political ideology too…?

17 November 2010 (Wednesday) - Religion

Today I renewed my ordination. For those of my loyal readers who were unaware of the fact, I am an ordained minister of religion, and I am entitled to use the title “Reverend”.
I have actually been able to do this for some time. The other day I realised I’d not heard from my Church for a while. It turned out they’d had a major I.T. failure and lost all the clergy’s details. But now I’ve re-registered, I am raring to once again take up my ministry.

As a minister of the Universal Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic, I am available to do pretty much everything and anything that your average vicar gets called on to do. I have formal guidelines on a wide range of duties I might perform, including visiting the sick and housebound, conducting weddings and civil partnership celebrations, ceremonies for the naming of children, funerals, the saying of grace before a meal, and even on taking confessions. 
In short, I can do anything your average vicar, priest, rabbi or any religious leader can do, but without “the God bit” thrown in. (Mind you, we don’t do circumcisions on minors!)

There are those who say that the entire concept of Apathetic Agnosticism is silly. To which I would answer by quoting the three main tenets of my faith:
  1. The existence of a Supreme Being is unknown and unknowable.
  2. If there is a Supreme Being, then that being appears to act as if apathetic to events in our universe.
  3. We are apathetic to the existence or non-existence of a Supreme Being.
(However, our apathy to the question of God's existence does not necessarily mean we are apathetic about promoting agnosticism.)

I would suggest that most of my critics couldn’t express their religious views so succinctly. And I would also ask that if this is a ridiculous viewpoint, then how would one describe the banning of pigs from kiddies farmyard toy sets for fear of offending the religious…?

16 November 2010 (Tuesday) - In The Future

One of our trainees was griping today about how she’d suffered as a child. She wasn’t allowed a mobile phone until she was fourteen years old. How things have changed…

When I was a lad we didn’t have mobile phones. In fact most people didn’t even have a phone in the house. And those that did had a phone with a dial on the thing. Not buttons, but a dial. Not that the dial actually did anything. Hastings was one of the last places in England to get STD (Standard Trunk Dialling!) and so when we picked up the phone we waited for the operator to come on the line and ask us for the number we wanted. If we wanted to phone outside the Hastings area we would tell the operator, hang up and wait for her to phone us back. If we wanted to speak to relatives in South London, it could take up to quarter of an hour to connect us.
Today everyone has a mobile phone in their pocket. A device which is a phone, a camera, a satellite navigation system and a games console all in one. And less than a quarter of the size of the phone which I had as a child.

For many of us the TV programs we watched as children were in black and white – colour telly was for the elite. Breakfast television programmes did not exist. We had three channels of TV. Schools programmes ran in the morning; there were kids programmes, the news and Crown Court at mid day, then the telly closed down for the afternoon. It came back at 4pm, and closed down (playing the National Anthem) round about midnight.
Today we have a thousand channels of 24/7 drivel. All available in most homes on High Definition screens and in Dolby surround sound too.

And calculators. My first calculator cost my father a week’s wages. Kids today don’t have calculators as such. They use the calculator function on their mobile phones, which are far superior to what I had in the mid-1970s.
And the Internet – a world of information at my fingertips. I have instant contact with friends all over the world. Teenage boys will never need to attempt to illegally buy or steal jazz mags because of the smut on the Internet.

The world today isn’t at all what I imagined when I was young. Technologically we are (in many ways) streets ahead of where we thought we’d be. Look at the science fiction of the time. I’ve recently been re-reading sci-fi from the fifties and sixties. The novels of Asimov and Clarke now seem rather outdated. Or look at Captain Kirk’s communicator. A rather pathetic device compared to my Nokia N8.

As a teenager I was so impressed with having a colour telly and a calculator. And I had several friends who were jealous of me because of that. And now I look back in a rather condescending sort of way. I wonder what my blog entry in November 2050 will make of today’s technology….

But then again, look at what we haven’t achieved. As a child I watched the moon landings. I remember the Apollo 13 disaster: I was there. And it was common knowledge that men would be walking on Mars by the mid 1980s. Didn’t happen. It doesn’t look like humanity will even have the ability to get back to the moon for at least another ten years (at the soonest). I’m sadly coming to the conclusion that I will not live long enough to see people land on Mars.
Matter transportation, “beaming up”  and warp drive remain still theoretically impossible.
Or look at Star Trek again. And the 2001 books and films.  For all the computing power that is now so readily available, HAL 9000 and Daystrom’s M5 are still in the realms of fantasy.

Perhaps my blog in forty years time might tell a different tale…?

And in closing, this video seemed somewhat appropriate for an aging Sparks fan….

15 November 2010 (Monday) - The Legal System

To Tesco to get lunch. On my receipt I saw that they asked me “How did we do?” and they asked me to tell them about my shopping trip. Well, since they asked, I posted on their feedback form:

I wasn’t happy when I arrived at the store – I had to navigate my car through the trolleys that were strewn around the car park. In years gone by I would have been met by a smiling member of staff. Today I was met with a surly grunt from a surly grunt who was openly watching me to check I didn’t steal anything. The staff filling the shelves made it crystal clear that I was in their way. And when I came to use the self-service tills I had my goods snatched from my hands by a member of staff who clearly didn’t’ think I was using the checkout fast enough. Even though no one else was queuing. “How did we do?”: 0/10. Must try harder.
I also feel that I should point out that I’ve been to this store many times over the last few years, and today was typical of my experiences.

They did ask for my ClubCard number – I might get some free tokens off of them for my troubles. We shall see.

On my way home I was listening to the Justice Secretary on the radio. He was outlining the government’s plans to shake up the legal aid system. The tax payer will no longer have to foot the bill for legal squabbles arising from relationship break-ups, school admissions and expulsions quibbles, and clinical negligence. Apparently these can mostly be dealt with outside of the court system, and if they can’t then the public are referred to the “no win – no fee” scheme. The Justice Secretary said "it cannot be right that the taxpayer is footing the bill for unnecessary court cases which would never have even reached the courtroom door, were it not for the fact that somebody else was paying". He went on to say that the government is unhappy with the fact that we have a very litigious society, and that the government isn’t going to subsidise it any more.
That is twice in less than seven days that I have found myself agreeing with the government. Perhaps I’m sickening for something…  However….

I might invite my loyal readers to consider the point of view that rather than subsidising a very expensive process, the government might like to address the question of why is it that only the extremely rich can afford to use the justice system…?

14 November 2010 (Sunday) - Remembrance Day

I woke up feeling somewhat under the weather today. I know I shouldn’t drink to excess. But I do. That’s the kind of guy I am. Perhaps (in future) I might lay off the port somewhat?

Today was (in a very small way) one of life’s milestones: over time I’ve developed something of a routine to my life. Certain annual events are great fun and so I make a point of putting them into my calendar – kite festivals and beer festivals spring to mind. And from October to November it’s the bonfire season. I love the torchlight parades and fireworks. And I especially like the bit where we get to meet up with friends and family who we rarely see because we all live so far apart. And now with Rye Bonfire Parade but a happy memory and my hangover fading, this year’s bonfire season is over.

I rather wasted the day today – we had vague plans to go for a walk round the Brabourne estate and look for deer. But the rain didn’t stop, and so I alternated between sleeping in front of the telly and sleeping in front of playing NeverWinter Nights.

In previous years after the Rye Bonfire Parade I have dragged my carcass (and my hangover) to the Gardens of Remembrance to be with the cubs and scouts for the Remembrance service.
When I have been to remembrance services in the past there has been representation from pretty much the entire town. Wreaths were laid by all armed forces, scouting, guides, all three cadet forces, St John's, the council, the police, fire brigade, ambulance brigade, chamber of commerce, rotary club... anyone who wanted to take part would seem to be welcome. Whilst standing there shivering I would look at all the old servicemen with their medals. We would remember those who weren’t there. And I would reflect on the fact that I’ve never been in the armed forces. It’s because of what the old soldiers did in the past that I have never had to be.

Or that is I would try to reflect. But I never felt comfortable at those services. Whilst I am in no way whatsoever undermining the idea of remembrance services, it annoys me that they have been hijacked by organised religion; specifically the Christian Church. Am I alone in seeing the Church as being hypocritical here?
I can’t (in all conscience) go to a service in which I (and everyone else) intend to remember the sacrifices of heroes, but instead we are forced to put up with a vicar contradicting himself whilst spouting religious gibbering. Gibbering to which (quite frankly) the vast majority of the audience are not listening and do not believe.

Why can’t the local remembrance service be lead by the Mayor or by some other local dignitary? Or better still a retired soldier who knows what he’s talking about?