31 March 2011 (Thursday) - This n That

Having got myself a telescope I was seriously considering taking myself (and a contingent) off to the Kelling Heath Star Party this year. Billed as one of the “must-do” events for the amateur star-gazer I saw this as my opportunity to learn from the experts. After all I’ve got the telescope and all the kit. And I’m no stranger to camping.
The only problem is that the thing started today. I’ve missed it. I didn’t know it was on.
This would seem to be one of the themes which run through my life. There are so many events that I would like to have done: the only problem being I didn’t find out about them until after the event.
Still, I’ve found out there’s a Sparks convention in Brighton on the evening of the kite festival in May. I’m not missing this one. I wonder if anyone will go with me…?

I received a message through Facebook today asking me to support the work of the Church of Jesus. Their mission is to “help those who need God's work both abandoned and abused children, abandoned and abused elders, indigenous men and women, Battered Women. Us through their contributions to support those in need, working with all they need from their collaboration through PAYPAL
I *really* don’t understand. If their God is as all-powerful as they claim it is, then it doesn’t need my financial help to improve the lot of the disadvantaged. So their God must want the disadvantaged to suffer (for no adequately explored reason). Furthermore should I offer any financial help to these people, then I would be going against their God’s holy plan for the universe, and thereby risking hell fire for myself.
On the other hand if their God really needs my financial input to help these people, then it can’t be that all-powerful, and certainly isn’t worth my while wasting time sucking up to it.
The bottom line is that I’m not going to send them any money since, for all that helping the needy is a very worthwhile cause, some of the cash will obviously get siphoned off to finance the religious crackpots.
I think I’ll stick to charity without religion.

30 March 2011 (Wednesday) - Pulling a Sickie

Yesterday I said “As the day and evening wore on, so my eye has become progressively more painful. We’ll see what it’s like in the morning….” I woke this morning unable to open it: it was gunged shut. So I thought I’d take the day as a sick day. After all, it would only be my fourth sickie in five years. I know of people who’ve had more than ten times that amount of sick leave in only one year.

I had this theory that my eye was (relatively) fine until the doctor in A&E gave me the cream for it yesterday: I wondered if maybe I was allergic to what I’d been given. So I decided I’d go see my doctor today - whether they liked it or not.
I’ve mentioned in the past about how my G.P. surgery doesn’t like patients coming along, and how they flatly refuse to give appointments. Today was rather typical of my experiences with them.

I arrived at the surgery at 7.30am to find no one there but the builders, so I took a seat and waited for the surgery staff to arrive. In the meantime the builders regaled me with horror tales of the things they’d seen in that surgery, and how I was lucky the place hadn’t fallen down on me. It would seem that builders are neither subject to the Hippocratic Oath nor proud of their workmanship.
The receptionist arrived at 7.50, and I tried to see if I could get an appointment. She snarled that the surgery didn’t open until 8am, so I sat and waited. And so did she. Exactly as the second hand of the clock got to 8am she asked if she could help me. I said I’d like an appointment. She asked if 11.50am would do. I asked if there was anything earlier. She said there were only emergency appointments available. I said I thought I qualified as an emergency, and showed her my eye. She grudgingly offered me a 9.30am appointment, whilst muttering to herself about it. I suggested that I might go home and come back at 9.30am, but was told that if I left the building they would cancel my appointment.
So I then sat and watched a succession of other people who wandered in, asked for an emergency appointment, and got seen before me. I consoled myself by trying to read my book. This wasn’t easy: firstly I couldn’t really see it, and secondly the “council harridan” was rather off-putting. This fellow patient, clearly a delightful denizen of Stanhope, was constantly shrieking at its daughter; said offspring having apparently stolen all of the family allowance to buy someone else a Mothers Day present. From what I could work out the child had stolen all the cash from its mother’s purse to buy a friend’s mother a gift on the understanding that when the friend’s mother got her child allowance, that cash would stolen to refund the original theft. What charming people one meets these days (!)

I eventually got in to see the doctor at 10am, and she concurred with my diagnosis. I probably was allergic to the cream I got yesterday, and she prescribed me some new stuff.
Whilst I was in with the doctor I took the opportunity to show her my back. I’m sure it’s nothing serious, but anyone who’s spent time with me will probably have commented that I often rub my back up against door frames and walls. It constantly itches, and I’ve been trying (off and on) for over a year to get it seen by my G.P., but have been unable to get an appointment. I apologised to the doc about having two maladies for her: I said I’d seen the sign at the reception desk saying I could only have one disease at a time, but I asked if she would make an exception. The doc seemed quite understanding, and said it’s just dry skin. I should get more cream for it.

On the way out I read a letter on the wall from the surgery’s patient’s forum. My first thought was that they were a self appointed bunch of do-gooders. But on further reading it seems they are a self appointed bunch of self-servers. I got the distinct impression that being on that committee gave you a far better chance of getting an appointment at the surgery.
I’ve mentioned in the past that I want to change my G.P. The problem is that no surgery will take me when I am mid-complaint. And when I’m otherwise well, I don’t think about going to the quack. I must remember to do something about changing my doctor in a week or so….

29 March 2011 (Tuesday) - Subconjunctival haemorrhage

Can I start off today by correcting an error on my part. On Sunday I mentioned that “Daddies Little Angel TMcaught twenty fish. She actually caught twenty-one. I’m told that my mentioning the twenty-first fish is important.

My Boy had his outpatient's appointment at the hospital today. We've finally been told the extent of the damage to his foot - four broken bones, two of which have now pretty much healed up. He's happy about that. And whilst he was originally rather miffed that he had to miss a holiday in Spain with his mates at the coastal resort of “Ells Bells”, he's now happy that he'd not missed anything on that holiday. Having decided to go off season when it's cheap, the lads have found out that they have all gone whilst everything and everywhere is closed. Ells Bells is shut. The lads hired a car and drove to the Costa Packet to find that shut too.

After his his outpatient's appointment he needed a lift home from the hospital, so on the way home we stopped off for McDinner. They now do a caramel McMilkshake which was very nice. Whilst scoffing he commented on my eye being rather bloodshot. It had felt a tad sore that morning, and it was getting worse. Having dropped him off I phoned my useless doctor who flatly refused to give me an appointment, so I went up to A&E (which is one of the perks of working in a hospital). I was seen by the triage nurse who took my blood pressure (134/88 - not bad) and she arranged for me to see the doctor right away, I have a subconjunctival haemorrhage, which is posh for a bloodshot eye. The nice doctor in A&E said it will (hopefully) get better in a few days, and in the meantime I've some antibiotic cream for it.

As the day and evening wore on, so my eye has become progressively more painful. We’ll see what it’s like in the morning….

28 March 2011 (Monday) - Piers Sellers

One of the advantages of having Sky Plus is that I can record telly programmes and watch them when I want, and can fast-forward through the adverts. So an hour's program will only take forty minutes of my time. I watched the first episode of the new season of "V" this morning (minus adverts). It follows on from the last season, most of which I've forgotten, which was a nuisance.

But the show was quite watchable, with only one problem. One thing I hate in TV is when they make up the science in an attempt to inject some realism into the program. A character in the show had a certain blood test done during a medical crisis. Without going into details, what she had done was akin to having a car's tyre pressures checked when the engine is on fire. Utterly irrelevant, and simply does not and would not happen. For me it made a nonsense of what was otherwise a very good show.

After a dull day at work I followed the outer space theme. I drove five of us to be part of the astro club’s contingent at Cranbrook School. Kent-born British astronaut Piers Sellers was giving a talk at his old alma mater, and we’d secured tickets for the evening. I would have found a lecture on the life and work of an astronaut fascinating, but to have the talk given by an astronaut who’s been to the International Space Station three times was a once in a lifetime treat.  And Piers was a very down-to-earth guy, openly admitting he was the world’s oldest active astronaut. His talk was really interesting, with snippets of first hand experience. For example the food on the ISS is very variable. The US astronauts’ food isn’t very good compared to what the ESA sends up. But NASA has Starbucks coffee, and so there’s apparently quite a bit of bartering of food and coffee in orbit.
And there was a very lively question and answer session too, touching on such diverse subjects as the mechanics of having a poo in zero-G, eating M&Ms in orbit, and possible future missions to Mars.
After the talk the audience were invited to the school’s telescope, which is shared with the local astronomical society C.A.D.S.A.S. On realising we were members of the Ashford astro club, the C.A.D.S.A.S. people shook our hands, and were so friendly and welcoming, and renewed our standing invitation to observe with them whenever we like.

All things considered we had a wonderful night out. I’d certainly go again if ever the chance arose…

27 March 2011 (Sunday) - Fishing

Last night I was asked to a friend’s belated St Patrick’s Day party. There was also a works do I could have gone to, and every Saturday I have a standing invitation to a regular film night at a friend’s house. I went to none of these. I was boring and I stayed in and had an early night – even though I’d spent a large part of the afternoon asleep on the sofa, I was worn out. But was still wide awake at 9am this morning.
I have a theory that I would do far better actually having two sleeps a day, each of about four hours, rather than trying to have one big sleep of eight hours like everyone else.

I looked at the lawn this morning and thought about mowing it. Mind you, I only thought about it. Had I not wasted an hour or so earlier by mucking about on my work-related web projects I would have had time to do the lawn. I decided it would still be there late and left it to carry on growing.
And then the door bell rang. Next door (the ones we get on with) were having a dilemma: they’d had a parcel delivered, but it wasn’t for them. Did we know anyone locally named “Mannning”? ‘er indoors TM  did, and directed the nice lady from next door to a house down the road, with the advice that the house she wanted used to be painted green. That was helpful, and after a minute or so, ‘er indoors TM  realised what she’d said. I did laugh.

I could have gone to the arky-ologee club’s dig today. ‘er indoors TM did. I left her to it, and once “Daddies Little Angel TMand the Rear Admiral arrived, we went fishing. The plan was to go to the pond at Coldblow, but “Daddies Little Angel TMwanted to see Pork Chop and the other lambs, so we went to the Batfarm instead. Whilst Batty and “Daddies Little Angel TMdid ovine activities (look it up!), me and the Rear Admiral set up fishing. There are those who say that fishing is a dull pursuit. At 2.30pm this afternoon I would have agreed with them. After an hour and a half without a single bite, we gave up, packed up, and set off home. Seeing it would be on our way home (if we went home by a very stupid route) we thought we’d have half an hour’s fishing at Coldblow.
We should have gone there first. “Daddies Little Angel TMhad a fish within thirty seconds of casting out. I had two in the next minute. And so it went on – loads of fish. “Daddies Little Angel TMended up with twenty, I had thirty-five. And even the Rear Admiral caught something. Whilst at Coldblow we were joined by a fellow blogger who had never been fishing before in her life. We kitted her out with a rod, and she hooked the biggest fish I’ve ever seen at Coldblow. The carp she had on was enormous – certainly bigger than any Koi I’ve got in my pond. Unfortunately it got away, but this wasn’t a bad fish to have as the first fish she’d ever hooked.
Another piscatorial first happened today. Both the Rear Admiral and I caught the same fish. At the same time! The one fish had both our hooks in its gob when go collectively caught it. I’ve never heard of this before, and certainly never seen it.

We’d arrived at Coldblow at 3pm and had planned to be there for half an hour. Eventually falling temperatures and fading light forced us to pack up at 7pm. It was surprising just how cold it got in a very short space of time. But it was a very good first fishing expedition of the year. Mind you, there is a minor hiccup we discovered today. Over the winter a farmer has fenced off half the pond. The entire southern half is now utterly inaccessible. I shall have words with those to whom I pay money so’s I can fish that pond….

26 March 2011 (Saturday) - Gardening, Cheating

Up before 7am this morning, and over brekkie I checked out my blog list. As well as writing this drivel every day, I read over thirty other blogs written by family and friends. Not everyone blogs daily, but most people write something twice a week, and I find it a good way to keep in touch. I was amazed to find from one of these blogs that one of my mates is a budding gardener. I can’t see the attraction myself. I detest gardening. In all honesty, unless you are prepared to spend a lot of time in the garden on a very regular basis, gardening is a *total* waste of time. I've blogged in the past when I’ve helped people reclaim their jungle-like gardens before. We'd spend all day hacking back the overgrowth, only to find that a month later the garden looked as bad as it ever was.
A garden looks OK *if* you've time to spend on it. And that's some time every single day, without fail. Otherwise it reverts to jungle. If anyone has a garden, I have two suggestions as to what might be done with it. Either one can remove all the flower beds and replace them with shingled areas (like my garden), then all it needs is the lawn mowing once a week, and raking the rubbish out of the shingle every so often.
Or one can spend an hour (at least) every day fighting the second law of thermodynamics. Which is fine if you like that sort of thing.
Science tells us that gardening is an ultimately futile pastime.....

To work this morning. Having done weekend and night work on a regular basis for twenty-odd years I gave up the night work a few years ago, and am trying to cut back on the weekend overtime too. I detest working at the weekends. However it was payday two days ago, and whilst there is still some money left, there’s not as much as I’d like. I have two alternatives: spend less or earn more. So overtime it is.

Another way of improving my finances is to do other people’s homework for them. It may come as a surprise to many of my loyal readers, but in my more lucid moments I’m a genius. I have degrees in mathematics and haematology, and post-graduate qualifications in teaching. It turns out that I can use my expertise in my free time. I’ve found a website which caters for people who urgently need an original piece of academic work to be produced in a hurry. I could do that.

This website stresses that they are not in the business of helping students cheat, but rather they provide model answers to essay questions. Their specialty is providing model answers in a hurry.  And they offer a premium service whereby they try to provide these “model answers” within a day or so, so that the cheating student has the essay in time for when it’s due to be handed in.
I’ve produced proper “model answers” before, but in the past I’ve had weeks and months to provide them, because that’s how universities operate. It’s been my experience over the years that the only people who have such short deadlines to produce essay answers are the students. But the website stresses that they aren’t in the business of allowing students to cheat on their homework by charging them over one hundred quid to have an expert write the essay for them. So, with a clear conscience I might just sign up with homework-blagger.com.

If I catch any of my students using this website I might just be able to have them sacked. Or am I being hopelessly naive …?

25 March 2011 (Friday) - Astro Club

Before work I had a look at the pond – it’s now clearing rather impressively. It’s got a little way to go, but it must be clear as the fish can see me and are asking for food. But I think it’s still a little bit too cold for them to be eating yet. Even if “My Boy TMhas been feeding them dog biscuits. He thinks I don’t know – but leaving the packet of dog biscuits by the pond was rather a giveaway.

Work was better than usual. Yesterday I had a student assessed: today I had another done. And again he was successful. We were both pleased. That’s now twenty students I’ve taken from starting as a trainee to becoming state registered.

And so to the astro club. As always I was early at astro club and got the chairs set out. I put out enough seating for seventy people, and it wasn’t enough. I think we had about eighty to ninety people along tonight. Hopefully I didn’t put anyone off this evening, but I’ve taken a more grasping approach to the money as I greet people when they first arrive at the hall. It would seem that there’s been some abuse of my good-naturedly allowing people to come to a couple of meetings for free.
From now on everyone pays up: either the annual membership fee or a couple of quid for the evening. And from next month I’ll be asking to see membership cards too (!) I told everyone this as they came in: no one commented adversely and a dozen people joined or renewed their membership, so I can’t have upset too many people.

Talking of money, the club has spent money on a sexy webcam. Personally  I have reservations about the thing as I’m not sure that it runs on any Windows system more recent than XP, but I’m probably still sulking over my own recent webcam-related problems.

We’ll also (hopefully) be taking part in International Observe the Moon Night in October. I was instructed to come up with the details, and I failed miserably: I’ll present something next month, once we’ve got a definite hall booking confirmed.
I’ve been pushing for the club to have T-shirts, hoodies and fleeces bearing the club logo. The only problem is that the current logo doesn’t lend itself to sewn designs, so tonight we launched a logo competition. Needless to say, I’ve got one in mind, but seeing how I came up with it, I might be biased. But once we have our design I know of a kiting friend who can produce clothing at a reasonable rate.

Tonight’s talk was “killer asteroids” – one such wiped out the dinosaurs sixty five million years ago. What would happen if something similar were to happen again? Tonight’s talk was brilliant: the kids were all involved in making craters with plasticine and Martian cocoa, the video clips and special effects were mild-blowing, and the whole thing was informative and fun. I did my usual thing with the raffle, raking in a respectable profit for the club.

Tonight marked the club’s fourth anniversary, and saw our one hundredth member. We must be doing something right…

24 March 2011 (Thursday) - Reflections, Tattoos

Yesterday I received a comment about a blog entry from last year in which I was rather critical of the arky-ologee club. This made me think. For all that I come over as an ignorant ranting old git, I’m a reflective ignorant ranting old git. Having been the boss for nine years at work, when I asked for a voluntary grade reduction, I vowed that I would not undermine my successor. If I’m not happy with the arky-ologee club, then I’ve got the option to stand for committee membership and do something practical (rather than whinging). I wondered if maybe I should go back and amend what I’d written.

But then I thought again. Sometimes I often ridicule people at the arky-ologee club when they are scrubbling in the dirt for broken bits of manky pots. I flippantly remark that if those broken bits of manky pots were worth keeping, they wouldn’t have been thrown away (or have been broken) in the first place. And to counter the argument that by investigating these broken bits of manky pots we can form a picture of what people were doing all those years ago, I’d reply that if our ancestors were doing anything worthwhile, they would have written a diary (like I do).
But am I being *that* flippant? My blog is history as *I* record it. In the future I will look back and see that on 23 March 2011 I had a bad day at work. And that last September I went to an archaeological dig and got bored.
Astute readers will get more insight on me than on what I’ve written about. And so after careful thought, I’m not editing it after the event. Heaven forbid I should appear to be anything other than an ignorant ranting old git.

And so to work where my colleague had a phone call: a family disaster. Her son had left his best school shoes on the bus. Exactly how one leaves one’s shoes on the bus is anyone’s guess, but this lad managed it. There was major consternation as these shoes were relatively new and cost nearly fifty quid. I decided I had enough worries of my own without needing the troubles of other people’s barefoot children, so I left them both to it.

We had an inspector in at work today. Over the years I’ve had lots of inspectors to check that my trainees are of sufficient standard to become state registered. Today was a first – we had a specialist portfolio registration inspection. Today was the culmination of four years hard work on the part of my student, and was probably as nerve wracking for me as it was for her. After a three hour assessment we were told she’d passed. Realistically I knew she’d pass (with flying colours), but I always worry when my people are assessed.
To celebrate we went to McDonalds for some scoff. After all, it’s only down the road from work. And as “My Boy TMonce commented, I’m surprised we don’t go there more often.

Talking of “My Boy TM ”, I came home this evening to find him at a loose end. Did I want him to do that touch-up job I’d mentioned a while ago? On my right arm is a tattoo of a little gnome sitting on a mushroom smoking a fag. I can’t remember when I had the tattoo done: it must have been some time in the very early 1990s. “My Boy TMcan’t remember it not being there, and as a small boy he always liked the gnome. Over the years the tattoo had faded: so much so that the thing was pretty much unrecognisable. Not any more – it’s had a refurbishment.
It looks much better now. But it did hurt. I think that as time goes by, so my tolerance of the pain of tattooing is going down and down. Realistically I can’t really cope with more than three quarters of an hour’s tattooing before I need to stop. Which is a problem as professional tattooists charge by the hour.
Having a tattoo artist for a son makes tattoos an affordable option.

23 March 2011 (Wednesday) - Stuff

On Monday night a gaggle of us went out telescoping and following on from my success with the telescope two weeks ago I thought I’d try some astro-photography. In theory it’s quite simple – stick a webcam in the telescope eyepiece, video something astronomical for a few minutes, use the software to sort the video into a picture. Bish-Bosh-Sorted!
In practice it’s not so simple. Getting the telescope’s tripod to be level takes some doing. Getting the spotter scope lined up isn’t easy. Puzzling out the “Go-To” computer is a mission in itself, and then finding a suitable target which is relatively high in the sky and not subject to light pollution takes a knowledge of stellar cartography which (frankly) I don’t have (yet). And it’s only after you’ve mastered all of these not inconsiderable problems that you can actually stick your webcam in place and start videoing.
And then you’ll find a myriad of other obstacles. What gain settings should you use for the camera? What light intensity should you use? And bear in mind that all of this is being done in a field in the dark with limited battery power.
After a couple of hours of what I can only describe as “farting about in the dark” on Monday night I eventually got an image of the moon on the laptop screen. And in retrospect, that’s where I went wrong. Having got an image I started the videoing program going, then I messed about to improve the focus and then I fiddled about centring the image. Flushed with success I saved the file, then put all the imaging technology away and just enjoyed looking down the telescope for the rest of the evening with the plan to do something with the video image later. “Later” being this morning.

But this morning when I tried to make something from my video stream of the moon, the poor software had a hissy fit. Because during the video stream I’d been messing about with the focus and moving the camera, the software didn’t have a decent stable image to have a go at.
But it’s all a learning experience. Next time I’ll get all the fiddling about done first and then do the videoing afterwards. To be fair, I’ve been warned that I won’t get immediate success and that it’s going to take some time to develop some expertise at astro-photography. Patience, patience….

Another task requiring patience is getting my pond water to clear. On Saturday I said that if the pond wasn’t clear by mid-week I’d again muck out the filter. I had no choice about the mucking out – the filter has cleared so much gunge from the pond that this morning the poor thing was blocked and was leaking. Whilst I was mucking it out I saw the bag containing all the old filter gubbins I’d replaced last Saturday. I’d forgotten about that lot – the plan was that I would have taken them to the tip last Sunday. I took them this morning instead: I’ve never seen the tip so busy. It was heaving and people were queuing to get in.
It was also heaving with people in Sainsburys. Loads of people, none of whom seemed to have any urgency with getting a move on, quite content to be bumbling about. I could do that, and will do in years to come. When I am retired I will make a point of getting in the way of everyone and anyone who seems to be in a hurry. It will be good for their blood pressure.

22 March 2011 (Tuesday) - Human Rights

I had an interesting discussion on Facebook Squabble (otherwise know as “chat”). A young lad of my acquaintance decided that the world would be a better place if “we” (presumably the United Kingdom’s armed forces) didn’t get involved with the ongoing civil war in Libya: his reasoning being that our lifestyles are fine and dandy, why should we get involved in somebody else’s problems. I suggested that he might like to pull up his drawbridge, shout "screw you, I'm all right" out of his window, close his eyes, put his fingers in your ears and hum loudly until it all went away.

Someone I’ve never actually met who was involved in the “discussion” gave a rather ill-informed rant about how “we” only ever get involved with wars in which oil is involved. After several comments, each more bigoted than the last, he utterly failed to understand the geopolitical consequences of the Falklands War of 1982. Instead he dismissed the matter with the comment “I don't really know..” 
A young friend of mine came on-line and gave a very good defence of western (UK and US) foreign policy citing the need to defend the human rights of the oppressed. Which is a good and laudable idea. Or is it? This got me thinking. What exactly are my “human rights”?

There’s no easy and concise definition (that I can find) of what my “rights” are, but Wikipedia has lots of woolly-minded blather on the subject. It didn’t take long for me to find out that I’m not sure that I agree with the internationally accepted concepts of human rights.
It seems that I, together with all of humanity, do have the right to believe in whatever crackpot superstition I choose. Surely that’s nonsense. Surely people have the right to an education to develop the intelligence to allow them freedom from ill-informed religious brainwashing? (Didn’t I do that rant yesterday?)
It turns out that people do have a right to an education to develop the intelligence to allow them freedom from ill-informed religious brainwashing. But having that education forced upon someone ipso facto contravenes that person’s inalienable human right of a person to peacefully follow their own interests (article 26).

Also taxing people in order for a country to have an infrastructure (such as schools and hospitals) also contravenes the inalienable human right of a person to do whatever they please with no thought for anyone else.
At this point I felt myself getting angry. I didn’t bother reading up any more about “Human Rights”. I’ve read enough. What is wrong with the concept of “human rights” (and society in general) is that everyone has “human rights” and no one has “human responsibilities”…

Meanwhile last night I went out telescoping. Not so much a successful night as a fun night. I got today’s photo by sticking my camera-phone over the eyepiece of the telescope and hoping for the best. I did have a go with the web-cam, but that will require image processing. I’ll do that over the next few days….

21 March 2011 (Monday) - "A" Week

The "A" might stand for "atheist" or  "Apathetic Agnostic". Either would fit the bill. 'A' Week is not about being disrespectful to religion or people who have religious views, it's about quietly showing that there are more people than may be realised who are 'Good without God' and who don't need religion to influence their lives. Personally I feel it’s a wonderful idea, with the reservation that (in my opinion) it doesn’t go far enough and it shouldn’t be afraid to rattle one or two cages.
Over the last few years quite a few of my blog entries have had something of an anti-religion theme about them. And seeing how it’s now “A” week, this is probably the best time of all for me to have a really good rant about religion and get it all out of my system….

Let me start off by explaining why I seem to have a personal visceral dislike to organised religion.
Once upon a time I was a very religious person - I was actually a Steward in the Methodist Church until I saw the darkness (!). But did I believe in all the church taught? I can remember at the time telling a friend that I “wanted to believe”. The fact of the matter is that I was in the Boys Brigade as a child and as a young man. For over ten years I was in an environment where organised religion was a very big part of my daily life. Constantly being exposed to the religious teachings meant that I rather accepted them as one accepts most things in life to which one is constantly exposed.
When I left home I sought out another Methodist church, because I was a Methodist, and that’s what we did. And I was a member of St Andrews Methodist Church in Folkestone for nearly two years. During this time I wasn’t anywhere near as wrapped up with religion as I had been; in Hastings there was something church-related at least four days every week. In Folkestone there was just the Sunday service, and occasionally something mid week. In retrospect my faith was failing, but we kept going to St Andrews because the congregation there were welcoming and friendly to people who were strangers in a strange town.

We moved to Ashford in 1986, where there aren’t (traditional) Methodist churches. Instead we went to the local Baptist church. After all, we knew people there from our old Boys Brigade contacts. After four months at the South Ashford Baptist Church I realised that only two people at that church had actually spoken to us. And it was about that time when I actually had a religious revelation.
I finally realised that for many years I’d been going to church for social reasons: because all my friends went to church, and my entire social life was church-based. Now I was at a church which wasn’t so friendly I realised that I didn’t really believe anything that the Church was preaching. I actually thought it was a well-meaning but utterly inconsistent and contradictory load of hot air. But I was scared by the fact that I thought that way. It was quite a while before I admitted to myself that instead of believing what my church said, I was desperately hoping that it was all true, because the alternative was rather frightening. Terrifying in fact.

Having had my “Road to Damascus” moment I packed up going to church, and I rather left the whole concept of religion alone for many years I eventually stumbled upon a bunch of people (on-line) who rather shared the views of religion that I had formed after years of reflection. I am now an ordained minister in the Church of the Apathetic Agnostic. “We don’t know and we don’t care”. And I’ve grown stronger in that (lack of) faith ever since – it is my belief that there may be a God who created the world, or there may not be: I don’t know. But I do believe that *if* there is such a God, then it is pretty obvious that said God is rather apathetic to his creations. And consequently is not worthy of the praise that conventional religions would heap on that deity (given half a chance.) And it’s no secret that I am now at the point where I find myself appearing to be very vocally anti-religion.
But on reflection I *really* I don’t think I am anti-religion. I’m anti “people who consider themselves to be religious but don’t actually know what they are talking about”.
If people want to believe in something then that’s fine with me…  Let me qualify that. If people want to believe in something then they need to actually read up on their belief, research it and understand it. What boils my piss (to coin a phrase) is people who announce that they are a member of any religion (including my own), but do not actually have any idea whatsoever about what that religion teaches. For example as a scout leader I was once harangued for religious intolerance. I wouldn’t let a young Muslim lad have bacon for breakfast. His father was furious with me, only to apologise a week later once he’d actually found out that he wasn’t supposed to eat bacon.

Or take Catholic people. Before I run down the entire concept of Catholicism, to be fair I feel I should point out that I have met a lot of Catholics who have studied the tenets of their faith in detail, and do understand what they are talking about. However, I have also met many other people whose church attendance is minimal to zero, but they proudly and vocally announce they are Catholic. Amongst their number are people who are variously disapprove of abortion, Harry Potter, eating fish, television in general, the British Monarchy, co-educational schools… the list of things they’d like banned is endless.
And these people are against these things because they “are Catholic”. In some cases their personal beliefs are in line with official Catholic doctrine, in others they are not. Rarely are their opinions reasonably thought out. But so often I have seen people aggressively defend their standpoint by shouting “because I’m Catholic” (as if that proves anything.)

Or take the British population – according to Wikipedia, over seventy per cent of the British population claim to be Christian. According to the BBC only about fourteen per cent of the British population actually go to church with any regularity (more than once a month). Now it says in the Bible that Christians need to go to Church regularly (look it up!). So we have some fifty six per cent of the UK population (that’s over twenty five million people!) who are purporting to be a member of a religion but not following what it teaches.

And what *really* boils my piss is the role that religion plays in public life. When my children were younger I can remember much of the social life of the primary school being run by the local vicar. And everyone was happy with that state of affairs. I can remember my children coming home brainwashed by the church youth groups they’d been to.
Or take BBC Radio Four. Whenever there is a moral debate (and they often have those), one of the speakers is usually a Christian minister. Why? - For no other reason than that morality is seen to be the property of the Christian church. How did we as a nation manage to confuse morality with religion?

So… (having taken a deep breath and calmed down somewhat) to summarise this rant:
I feel justified in speaking knowledgeably about a range of subjects (human physiology, snake keeping, mathematics, malaria, astronomy, warp drive theory, home brewing… to name but a few) because I’ve spent years studying these subjects. Conversely I don’t know the first thing about a far wider range of subjects (fine art, geology, high finance, banking, law, poetry, cookery, football, electronics…..) because I haven’t studied them at all, and so wouldn’t want to offer an opinion on them.
So there you go – if I seem to be anti-religion in my rantings, actually I’m not. It’s just that I actually know a thing or two about the subject matter. I’m anti- the people who vociferously offer opinions on a subject, but don’t actually have the first clue what they are talking about.

And on that note I’d like to wish all my loyal readers all the best over the forthcoming “A” week… And remember that you can be 'Good without God' and you don't need religion to make you a better person. A garden can be pretty without having fairies at the bottom of it. And certainly tonight’s night sky which I admired at an impromptu star party wasn’t “God’s Heaven”.

I suspect that those who do need invisible friends from which to gain an outdated morality might feel obliged to disagree though. I wonder if they could conduct a coherent discussion on the matter …

20 March 2011 (Sunday) - Not Much, Really...

With the pond clearing (albeit very slowly) and spring coming (albeit very slowly), it won’t be long before the Koi are hungry. So I set off to get some food for them. In the past I’ve always gone to Swallow Aquatics in Tenterden for fish, and to World of Water in Rolvenden for everything else. I’ve now added a third Koi shop to my list. I get Koi food from Green World Garden Centre. It’s a little further (twice the distance) than World of Water, but I can get 10kg of Koi food from Green World for fourteen quid. A comparable amount of fish food from the other two shops is over eighty quid. And that is allowing for the store’s already having knocked thirty quid off the original price of the expensive stuff.
I found the place easily enough and had a minor episode when attempting to pay for the fish food. But once the nice lady put my credit card into the machine the right way up, all was well. I got chatting with the nice man about replacing my pond filter box: he advised I got a pressure filter which is effectively self cleaning. I would bury it by the pond and wouldn’t have to lug the thing up the garden any more when I needed to clean it. The trouble is that he wanted over four hundred quid for one. I told him I’d think about it.

I started to make my way home the scenic route cross-country via the country lanes with the vague plan to call in at Grafty Green garden centre, and I amazed myself by actually finding the place. They were selling a macaw at less than half the price that Bybrook Barn were selling one at. On the other hand their garden statuary was triple the price of Whelan’s. It pays to shop around.
They also had some reptiles – a few weeks ago me and “Daddies Little Angel TMdid a grand tour of Kent looking at reptile shops. I never thought to have a look in Grafty for them. But they didn’t have much.

Whilst in the area I popped up to Lenham Court – the arky-ologee club were excavating the garden and I thought I’d show my face since I was passing. I was offered the opportunity to dig, but (quite frankly) doing “digging arky-ologee” has no interest for me at all. It gives me backache, and I honestly can’t tell the difference between valuable artefact and broken bits of manky boulders. I’d far rather sit back and let someone who knows what they are talking about tell me what they found on their digs.
I had a look in their holes, feigned suitable interest and left them to it.  With ‘er indoors TM constructively employed scrubbling about in the dirt for the afternoon, I came home and dozed in front of DVDs for the afternoon. A tough life, but someone’s got to do it…

19 March 2011 (Saturday) - Parents and Tree-Huggers

Finding myself absolutely stumped for what to get my dad for his birthday (last January), I suggested that when the weather improved I took him and mum out for a pub lunch somewhere. I’d arranged to do that meal today, and as luck would have it, the weather was perfect. I had several pubs in mind in the Hastings area, but then on reflection all of the pubs I know in that part of the world are in the town, none are readily accessible by car, and I don’t really know what the food is like in any of them. So I took a chance and booked a table at the closest country pub to my mum’s house.
We picked up mum and dad as planned, and soon we were at the Three Oaks Hotel. We’d arranged for the fruits of my loin to be waiting for us there (with their chauffer) since that would make a nice surprise for dad. And it did.

I can remember the last time I went to the Three Oaks Hotel: it was before “My Boy TMwas born. The place has changed somewhat over the years: changed for the better. There was an excellent ale selection, the food was wonderful (very good, loads of it and reasonably priced!) and the landlord was really friendly and attentive. I was rather greedy and had three courses: the tomato soup was tasty, the Cajun chicken was probably the best I’ve ever had, and despite feeling oh-so-full, I forced down the banoffee roulade. It was too good not to!
We got chatting with the landlord – the train service to Three Oaks is now much better than what it once was, so a walk around this part of the world featuring a return to this pub is definitely going to be planned over the summer.

We said our goodbyes to mum & dad, and then drove home, breaking our journey in Icklesham to have a look-see in the Queen’s Head. Seeing how the train service along the Brede Valley is now improved, this is another pub that may well be on a forthcoming walk.

And so home, and with an hour or so to spare I co-opted the Rear Admiral’s assistance to help me muck out the fish pond filter. In previous muck-outs I’ve actually cleaned all the innards of the filter. Today I merely upended the filter’s contents into a dustbin and replaced them with all new gubbins. I’d planned to go shopping for all new filter gubbins tomorrow, but having found all that I needed was already in the shed, I made the most of the good weather this afternoon. I’m hoping that this new gubbins will make a noticeable difference to the clarity of the pond within a few days. If there’s no change by mid-week, I’ll again clean out the filter and then consider flocculation (!)

We all sat down and watched a bit of telly, and then we had what promised to be one of life’s tedious ordeals. With a really clear sky and a very bright moon I had planned to go telescoping. But I’d forgotten I’d promised to go to the Friends of Kings Wood’s quiz. I suppose that as a paid-up Friend of King’s Wood myself I really should support these events. But I think I summed up the mood of the majority of our team when I suggested our team be named “Not Tree Huggers”. I was frowned at, and so the team name was dutifully changed to more accurately reflect the team: “Not Tree Huggers featuring Tina”.
But I was wrong - the quiz turned out to be quite fun, at one point we were running in a respectable third place. It was a shame that the final round (leaf recognition) played to the strengths of the tree-hugging fraternity and comprehensively put us in last place. But we did get a decent haul from the raffle.
The Friends of King’s Wood aren’t a bad bunch really: we’ve been asked to sit on their committee as they are short of members. It’s probably a tad early for us to get quite that involved with them just yet. At the moment I like just being a rank-and-file member. I tend to get too involved with committees and the organisation of clubs. But then, that’s the kind of guy I am…

18 March 2011 (Friday) - A Bit Dull...

Insomnia is something I’ve whinged about from time to time. Because I get it from time to time. Take today for example. I was wide awake at 2.30am, and lay awake until finally getting up at 6am. At 7am I was fast asleep in front of the telly and was woken to go to work, where I fell asleep in the rest room.

Work was dull. I skived out of a meeting, and read an email from my professional body. It too was rather dull, but it mentioned The Hidden Science Map: a map to tempt all scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians out of hiding to reveal how much science is out there in the UK.
I’ve signed up to the thing, but I don’t really know why, other than I do that sort of thing.
Talking of signing up for things, I’ve also signed up to Valued Opinions. A colleague recommended it, saying that he lies in the surveys he does for them and he gets free Amazon vouchers. I’ve asked for Tesco vouchers, and I’ll see what they ask before I decide to blatantly blag it. After all, if they are going to pay me, I’ll at least give them my honest opinion: it’s never been something I’ve tried to hide…

The original plan for the day had me chauffeuring girls here, there and thither, but such plans rarely reach fruition. I came home to find girls being coloured in, so I fell asleep again for an hour or so before delivering tattooed girl to Folkestone. A quick cuppa, home again and it was 9pm. Where had the day gone? A quick bit of tea, and then I sorted out the anti-virus on my new laptop. The thing came with one month’s free anti-virus, then it wanted me to pay for it. Stuff that. I uninstalled and replaced it with a free anti-virus.

All things considered, today was a tad dull…

17 March 2011 (Thursday) - St Patrick's Day

Today is St Patrick’s day. As the sales of Guinness soar, spare a thought for the triumph of successful marketing. Have you ever actually tried Guinness? It’s not bad. However it’s not that good either when compared to similar beers that are available.
Readily available in most supermarkets are stout and porter from the Mean Time brewery: if you’ve never tried them, give them a go. Sainsbury’s also sell Marston’s Oyster Stout and London Porter. And everywhere sells Hobgoblin these days. All of which are far superior to Guinness.
Getting a tad more specialised, most off licences and the shops of local vineyards will have a good selection of dark ales.  Gadds brewery make “Dogbolter” – black and as thick as treacle. The Whitstable brewery make a very good stout. For my loyal readers in Sussex the Dark Star brewery make an excellent Imperial Stout, Harvey’s Old Ale is a storming drop, and if you are ever in Hastings Old Town, find a pub called the FILO and have a pint of “Cardinal” – traditional Sussex porter.
Good dark beers aren’t restricted to Kent and Sussex – more and more pubs these days have Ansell’s Mild at the bar. If you see it – give it a go. Or any other mild or brown ale. Or even (to keep my father-in-law sweet) a tin of Mackeson is better than a pint of Guinness.

So many beers readily available, but the one which in my honest opinion (and so many other people’s opinions too) is at the bottom of the list actually outsells all the rest.
Successful marketing, or apathetic purchasing? When you’re buying a round at the bar, what do your mates ask for? How many (like me) actually take the trouble to see what the beer selection is? So many just ask for “a pint”, don’t care what they are given in the first instance, and then stick to lager for the rest of their lives because they’ve once had a pint they didn’t like. It’s akin to never eating crisps again because you don’t like salt and vinegar flavour.
Perhaps I’d better re-join the Campaign for Real Ale….

Meanwhile, here’s a sobering thought. Just imagine that the ongoing problems with the Fukushima nuclear power stations to be happening at the nearest nuclear power station to me (at Dungeness). Should that ever happen, then on the Japanese government’s advice I would not be setting foot outside my house. For safety reasons I would have to stay indoors.
And were it the American government giving the orders and applying their regulations in such a hypothetical catastrophe at Dungeness, then I would have already been forcibly evacuated from my house. This has got me thinking.
My first idea was that should this ever happen, then I’d just go and doss down on my mother’s sofa, but on reflection that idea would be a non-starter – my mother would also have been evacuated. And so would everyone within fifty miles of Dungeness, which is pretty much the entire counties of Kent and East Sussex. So much for my plans to turn up (with a hopeful expression on my face) in Peacehaven or Brighton. Should Dungeness power station have gone west, then my friends in Peacehaven and Brighton would also be looking for lodgings. Along with (just over) two and a quarter million other people.

However I have a fall back position. Beckenham would seem to be about twelve kilometres outside the exclusion zone. So I should like to take this opportunity to be the first to claim dibs on Terry & Irene’s garage should the worst happen.

I’m not being (excessively) flippant or facetious here. As a teenager the world was a scary place. The threat of nuclear war was ever present, and I was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I spent hours folding up leaflets to post through letterboxes to warm the public about the threat of radioactive attack.
And having done these calculations has brought back the memories of exactly how dangerous this uranium stuff is. If only there was a better way to generate the amount of power that we as a civilisation are using….

16 March 2011 (Wednesday) - Stuff

To Asda, for my salad for lunch. Somehow or other the self-service till only charged me half the price I should have paid for the salad. I wasn’t complaining.
I’m not sure that having a salad for lunch is actually helping in making me a healthier person or not. I’ve been having weekly weigh-ins since Xmas, and my weight has been all over the place, with no regard for what I’ve actually eaten. In this last week, with no pub trips or fry-ups, I’ve put on two pounds. What’s that all about?

Whilst on the way to work I got some petrol. I have noticed that I seem to be getting through the stuff at quite a rate these last few months. My car is due for a service soon. That might help fuel economy. Something else which might also help is tyre pressure. The Internet says the tyre pressures on my car should be thirty-two. (Thirty-two somethings, I’m not quite sure what). So whilst I was at the petrol station I thought I’d use the free air. Free air is now twenty pence a squirt (!), and I found that three of the tyres on my car were in the range of twenty-eight to thirty, so I gave them some air. However one of them was only at twelve wotsits. I’m sure that’s not good, so I’ve pumped it up, and shall see how it holds up.

Work was exciting for once – we had a “brown alert”: somewhat akin to “red alerts” (made famous by Captain Kirk), but with more of a need for replacement underwear. But such is life in a busy hospital. Hours of tedious boredom interspersed by moments of sheer panic.
And then I came home to check the pond. I’d turned on the pond filter at the weekend, and whilst the pond is clearing, it’s got a long way to go. So far it has only reached “murky”. I need to clean out the filter in the next day or so. Perhaps not so much clean out as throw out the filter mediums and replace them with the new ones I’ve got ready in the shed.

I then fiddled about on-line. It’s two days since our phone line switched from BT to Orange, and the promised increased speed hasn’t materialised. Despite the line’s being rated at up to a squillion quadrillobytes, under the old BT regime, it never seemed to get much above a speed of about 2.3 Mb. And now under the new lot it seems to be much the same. Oh well, at least it’s not worse. I just hope that their promises of it being cheaper turn out to be more reliable…

15 March 2011 (Tuesday) - A Rant. (Sorry!)

Whilst my heart goes out to the thousands of people whose lives have been devastated in Japan, I shall vent my spleen at their nuclear power industry. The Japanese nuclear power stations were built on the understanding that they would be working for many years in a part of the world which is no stranger to earthquakes. Now it would seem that they weren’t up to the job. And not only have these broken power stations sprayed radioactive contamination everywhere, they have given ammunition to the loony-lefty-ban-the-bomb-let’s-all-go-hug-a-tree brigade.
After all, as the entire world clamours for more and more electricity (whilst desperately attempting to reduce the environmental damage wreaked by centuries of reckless burning of fossil fuels) is there any practical alternative to nuclear power?  Clearly there is not. Therefore nuclear power needs to be made safe, which demonstrably it is not.

Somewhat closer to home are the “reforms” planned for the NHS. Having worked for the NHS since 1981 I’ve seen reforms come, and I’ve seen reforms go. And on serious reflection I don’t think any of them have actually enabled me to provide a better service to those who use my skills (either directly or indirectly). I’m quite sure that all the “reforms” I’ve seen are merely cost-cutting exercises which (when successful) have worked because they coincided with the changes in the technology which was available to me.
This latest batch of “reforms” is so obviously a silly political stunt. *If* the Con-servatives agree to electoral reform, then the dribbling democraps will agree to health care reform. Silly political posturing, whilst people lay in A&E departments with broken bones. The nation’s health care is too important to be entrusted to politicians.

And so to work, where today I did my mandatory e-learning on "Diversity in the Workplace".
Apparently it's illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of their race, gender, what they want to have sex with, or whether they want to dress up as a woman (especially if they are not one).
 Or is it.....? Apparently (under the same anti-discriminatory legislation) there are ways around this.
If you believe in magical pixies and invisible friends, then if the voices in your head tell you to treat women as scum, and to beat and imprison homosexuals, then it's fine to do so.

I would say that I find it odd that anti-discrimination legislation on the grounds of crackpot religions trumps sensible and reasonable anti-discrimination legislation. But doing so is discriminatory…

14 March 2011 (Monday) - Letters and Emails

I seem to have formed a habit of leaving my letters and emails and general household admin chores to pile up until I am on a late shift, and then dealing with all of it at once. Not having done a late shift for a week or so meant I had quite a stack of letters to go through this morning.

Brighton Kite Fliers had written to me to say that their AGM is coming up in a couple of week’s time. I won’t be going – the meeting is on Mother’s Day, and I would probably be dead as ice cubes were I to go off to a kiting meeting on that date.
Whilst I’m on the subject of kites, I’ve had a message from the Kent Kite Fliers about this year’s kite festivals at Teston. They say both are still going ahead, but “there is some pressure on the Country Parks to make a profit or at the very least break even in regard to any costs for any event held. ….KCC have told the rangers at Teston they must seek a charge from the campers at Teston kite events of at least £10 per pitch for the week-end….”. Personally I think that’s quite reasonable. (Provided other campers don’t go and hide in their tents when the rent man comes calling and expect me to stump up… again…)

The water bill for the next year has arrived. Or that is half the water bill has arrived. South East Water have told me how much they will take from me for the delivery of water. Someone else will be in touch about taking it away once I’m done with it.
The leccie people have changed the date on which they plan to take the direct debit each month. It’s interesting how they will charge me if I want to change the date I pay them, but they don’t offer me anything at all when they want to change that date. In a separate letter they apologised that they will be increasing their prices once the current price freeze ends. Dur!!! Isn’t that what happens at the end of a price freeze?
Mind you, my council tax bill would seem to be exactly the same for the coming year as it was for the previous one. Thank the lord for small mercies.

I received my petrol money from the laboratory inspection I did a couple of weeks ago. I must admit that having been doing these inspections for several years, they’ve certainly got more efficient with refunding my expenses.
There was some post for the scout group and for the astro club. I must take those letters to where they belong.

I saved the largest letter until last – our census return. To save farting about, I chose to fill the thing in on-line. Perhaps I’m just getting old and racist, but my piss boiled when I saw that it’s possible to complete the census in any one of fifty six languages, including twelve languages of which I had never heard. Who actually does speak Yoruba or Igbo? I honestly think that anyone who can’t complete the UK census in the language of the UK (English, just to be clear!) is a prime candidate for deportation. (Sorry!)
Anyway…. bearing in mind that it’s the government who is asking for the census data, they have asked some rather stupid questions. Obviously they know where we live –they’d sent the letter to that address. Obviously they know where we all work – they get our income tax from our employers. Obviously they know our marital states, our nationalities and what passports we hold from various government records. I concede that they wouldn’t know about any house guests I may have on a given date, but surely that is a rather trivial bit of information? Who on Earth cares about that?
And as for religious convictions; that question is optional and is a joke. The vast majority of people will claim to be “Christian” without actually understanding what it means to be a Christian. One or two say they are “Jedi” thinking they are being either clever or nonconformist. And now I hear that there is a move afoot to use this question to protest to the Government about fuel prices.
 In short the census was a waste of my time. I have heard on the radio that the whole concept of a national census has already been abandoned as the information is already available. Let’s hope this is true: the Government has wasted half an hour of my time on this one.

And then I had another waste of my time. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, one of the endowment policies to pay off my mortgage has matured. The company with whom I have that policy will not speak to me about that policy because the mortgage company has declared an interest in it. They will only deal with the mortgage company and suggested I got on to them. So I *again* phoned the mortgage company and spoke to Isobel. She was very helpful, but now claimed that the mortgage company have absolutely no record of the endowment policy. As I started crying she said she’d get on to their admin department and phone me back later. An hour later the admin department phoned me back, and on hearing that the mortgage dated back some twenty-plus years they announced they’d have to have a look in their store room, and would write to me within ten working days….