29 April 2011 (Friday) - What Bank Holiday...?

On the eve of the Millennium (December 31, 1999) my employers had been formally warned about an event that was taking place on Dover’s White Cliffs. One hundred thousand people were expected to descend on the White Cliffs that evening to see in the New Year and the new Millennium.  And it is a statistical certainty that given one hundred thousand people, there will be a certain number of them having strokes, heart attacks, and the like. To say nothing of the fact that with that many people travelling to and from the area, the amount of people injured in traffic accidents will escalate rapidly. Consequently staff would be required to be available in a hospital to deal with such clearly predictable emergencies. And so whilst the world partied on the evening of December 31 1999, I was at work. Bored senseless. The predicted hundred thousand people never came to Dover’s White Cliffs; the actual number was somewhat less. Twelve, to be precise. That’s not twelve thousand, that’s just twelve (!) -  The police went and counted them. But I didn’t mind giving up my evening: it really goes with the territory when one works in a hospital.
Today was much the same. With the rest of the world enjoying an extra Bank Holiday, I got to miss the champagne breakfasts and Royal Wedding parties that I had hoped to be at. Instead I had a very quiet day at work, with the promise of a day off at some other time of my own choosing.

Seeing how it was the last Friday of the month, it was astro club. Despite there being a Royal Wedding today, and a lot of people having cried off because of the wedding, we still had over sixty people along tonight. I’ve been given a name badge to wear. It’s probably a good idea – I seem to have set myself up as the face of the club when people arrive, and so having a name badge goes well with that role. Mind you, setting myself up in that position isn’t without problems. One of our newer members sought me out tonight to ask my advice on his problematical Barlow. His F-stop and 3.4 wasn’t what he was hoping and he wondered if he would have been better off with a 2.5 but with a x2 as well. Fortunately it was at that point that Stevey wandered into the hall, and I immediately introduced Stevey as being a professor of optics, and left them both to it.

Tonight’s talk was on the history of manned space exploration. Given by someone who was both enthusiastic and knowledgeable on the subject, the talk was one of the best we’ve had. I was amazed to find that when the speaker finished, he’d spoken for nearly an hour and a half.
After I’d hawked the raffle we had a tour around the Spring sky. There was something in that talk that piqued my interest – the great cluster in Hercules is probably the brightest cluster in the northern hemisphere. But its designation is M13 (also designated NGC 6205, depending on your choice of catalogue). I wonder how those numbers are assigned…?

28 April 2011 (Thursday) - Dull

Yesterday I mentioned about plans for our mosaic which will be made from old plates, tiles, chinaware and crockery, and put out a request for old plates and the like. Today a box of broken plates arrived from Glynis. Cheers Glynis (!)
If anyone else has any unwanted crockery do let me know. Otherwise I might just come round and help myself…..

What with tomorrow being a bank holiday for most of the country (but not me!), it didn’t suit that many people to be ill today, and so work was rather quiet. In fact the highlight of the day was determining who was the better looking out of Kate Middleton and Leslie Crowther. Surprisingly (or not) Leslie Crowther won with two thirds of the votes cast. This was promptly followed by a competition in which contestants were asked to name their sexiest top ten US presidents. There seemed to be a consensus of opinion for Ulysses S Grant being #1, and Grover Cleveland being #2, but the next eight positions never got decided: there was no agreement whatsoever (other than that there was a wide regard for James Buchanan’s haircut).

Fortunately having had an early start meant for an early finish, and so I came home to set about the ironing. During the course of my marathon ironing session everyone who generates ironing for me came and went, and after two hours I gave up. There’s still some (lots) to do – it will still be there in the morning.
Seeing how I was left “Home Alone” this evening I sulked for a bit, and then decided to treat myself to fish and chips. Half way to the chip shop there is a Chinese take-away, so I changed my mind and had Chinese. I wish I’d kept going and had fish.

Some days are just so dull……

27 April 2011 (Wednesday) - This n That

Before work this morning I went to Sainsbury’s to get some lunch. I’ve mentioned before that Tesco’s staff don’t like shoppers in their way in the mornings: Sainsbury’s staff would seem to be the same. It was made quite clear that I was in their way, even though the shop had (supposedly) been open for an hour and a half already.

Yesterday I mentioned about possible ground works in the garden. Today I phoned around to price up a pre-purchased tile mosaic for the garden. No one seemed to do one small enough for what I want, so I decided just to refurbish the decking. In the meantime “Daddies Little Angel TM(being of an artistic bent) has designed a mosaic for us.
I was in a quandary – I really like the idea of a hand-made mosaic, but the area for the mosaic/decking is somewhere that we spread out deck chairs and the like. A really nice hand made mosaic might get spoiled if it were there. So I’ve decided we’ll repair the decking that’s already there, and install the mosaic as a feature in it’s own right elsewhere in the garden. I’m quite looking forward to it. I even had a planning meeting with the chief architect (“Daddies Little Angel TM) in B&Q this evening.
In the meantime I’m reliably informed that the mosaic will be made from old plates, tiles, chinaware and crockery. So if any of my loyal readers have any old plates and stuff you don’t want, please let me know.

And so home to find my credit card bill waiting for me. Normally I can account for every penny on that bill. Today there I found that ‘er indoors TM had squandered forty three quid of my hard-earned cash in Tesco on March 27. I wonder what that was all about?
I also had an email from my Internet provider to tell me that they were making improvements on my broadband speed. Since I packed up with BT and got my land-line from my internet provider I’ve noticed that my broadband speed has slowed. Apparently it’s going to speed up over the next few days. We shall see. Still, I shouldn’t complain. The land-line bill is cheaper than it used to be. Having said that, I’ve half a mind to do away with the land line altogether. After all, in the twenty-first century who uses a land line to make a phone call anyway? (Apart from my mother!)
And another email gave me the option to insure my Kindle against rock and tempest, fire and foe. I can get three year’s cover for ten quid per year. On the other hand I could just look after it, as I expect it’s covered on the household insurance anyway.

Being the last Wednesday of the month, it was arky-ologee club. Sometimes good, often dull, at least once a year there is a talk worth going to, and that was tonight’s.  One of the club members is a wonderful speaker; having given talks before on the indiscretions of Admiral Nelson, the porking history of King William IV, and the entire sordid stories of the uncles of Queen Victoria.
Tonight she told of the craze that swept American society from (about) 1890 to 1910. During that time over four hundred American debutantes married English aristocrats; bringing with them a minimum of several million dollars in cash. And having married, a lot of them then promptly got divorced and then set up with another milord….

26 April 2011 (Tuesday) - Slow Worms

Following on from yesterday’s little ramble, we’ve decided we’ll go up Sugar Loaf Hill when the God-Botherers are somewhere else. Possibly we might be so adventurous as to follow the hills from Capel all the way to Newington where there’s a little railway museum & tea rooms. If any of my loyal readers would like to come along on the ramble, drop me a line (or leave a comment) and we’ll find a date over the summer…
Talking of dates for the summer, I had an interesting conversation today with a chap who finished work last Thursday afternoon, and then did precious little other than wait to go back to work today. For him the last four days holiday were effectively wasted. He did absolutely nothing but stare at a TV screen (that didn’t interest him in the slightest) for four days. This chap commented about what an eventful Easter break I’d had. He seemed rather jealous. I had an eventful Easter break because that’s the kind of guy I am, and I couldn’t imagine sitting about doing nothing.
But if any of my loyal readers find themselves at a loose end, check out the “Dates for the Diary” page of this blog: there’s plenty of stuff I’ve got planned for the summer. Come along and join in (!)
(I’ve been criticised in the past for advertising when my house is going to be empty – it’s apparently an advert for burglars. However I don’t advertise when my house is going to be empty. I advertise when I’m not going to be in it. And when I’m not in it, “My Boy TM ” takes full advantage. I pity the burglar who disturbs him!!)

I came home from work this evening to find a message on Facebook – a friend who lives just round the corner had found some strange beasts in her garden: she and the children were rather scared. The photo she’d put on Facebook was the smaller photo above – mummy and daddy slow worm (who obviously loved each other very much) were doing what is best not mentioned in polite company.
Before we ransacked our garden to make the pond and gravelled areas we used to have lots of slow worms. All the building work we did scared them away. I’d like to re-populate our garden with slow worms, and I offered to re-house the ones in her garden for her.
Within five minutes I was in her back garden with a box. Needless to say, when you are looking for slow worms, they are nowhere to be found. We searched for ten minutes and gave up; I left her with the box and a firm reassurance that they won’t bite (they won’t!), and that when they turn up, if she boxes them, I’ll very happily re-home them. And then I came home and had a look round my own back garden for slow worms. And I found the bigger one pictured above.

If any of my loyal readers are unsure, slow worms aren’t worms at all – they are a form of lizard. They are really good for the garden; eating bugs and slugs. If you find them, they are best left alone, but if your kids don’t like them or if your cats and dogs keep eating them, your local reptile rescue people will lend a hand. As will I. Some people like cats and dogs. Me – I go for things with scales. I honestly think slow worms are some of the most beautiful animals on the planet.

In other news “My Boy TMhas had the thumbs-up from the hospital about his broken foot and he’s now to try to use it as much as possible, and “Daddies Little Angel TMwould seem to have given her new cat (Princess) an identity crisis by giving him a rather unsuitable name….

25 April 2011 (Easter Monday) - Caesar's Camp

I had the chance of a lie-in today, but I don’t really do lie-ins. It’s a waste of valuable life. And talking of wasting valuable life, I got up and spent an hour or so pootling around the garden. With the lawn mowed I then topped up the water level in the pond, and then vaguely pondered plans for the garden.
I want a couple more statues, so a trip to Whelan’s is in the offing. And I need to replace the broken decking area: possibly with a large mosaic. Having said that, my gusher fountain pongs a bit. I might open it up and have it as a “secondary pond”, fed from a stream from the main pond. The stream would go through the area where the broken decking is, so that would solve the need to replace the decking.
However, much as I like that idea, my provisional cost estimate comes in at about a thousand pounds, so maybe I won’t do that after all. I can do a large mosaic for a couple of hundred quid: I might just settle for that.

To Folkestone for a picnic. As you drive down the motorway to Folkestone, on your left you’ll see a range of very high hills. I first noticed them when I moved house to live in Folkestone in September 1984. At the time I thought that there would be spectacular views from up there. I lived in Folkestone for two years; at the bottom of those hills, looking up.
We moved away in 1986, but at various times over the last twenty five years I’ve been back to Folkestone so many times, and I’ve been all over the Folkestone area, looking up at those hills, thinking what wonderful views I could see from the top of them.
Today I finally went up one of those hills and we had a picnic at the top. And I was right – the view was superb. I had no idea how spread out Folkestone is. Or just how huge the channel tunnel marshalling yards are. Or how steep the slope is on which the white horse is carved.

We picnic-ed on Caesar’s Camp. I was tempted to go up Sugar Loaf hill as well, but where we were we had the hill to ourselves. On Sugar Loaf hill we could loads of people bustling about. Seeing as it was Easter, the Righteous were carrying huge wooden crosses up to the top of that hill. Not wanting to get embroiled with them, we went back to Folkestone where I got to meet a new cat: a particularly soppy animal (!)
And once I and the cat had enjoyed our little nap we came home where I cleaned out the pond’s fish poo filter. I’d noticed the pond water wasn’t as clean as it might be. So I thought that I’d rather clean the filter when I had some spare time, rather than waiting for it to block up when I might have better things to do with my time (other than being elbow-deep in carp poo)….

24 April 2011 (Sunday) - Smarden Duck Race

Easter Sunday winds me up. I’ve blogged before that for all that the Church of England may claim that they have followers, the amount of people who call themselves Christians *and* actually understand what they claim to believe is vanishingly small. So why is it that today pretty much the entire country has been ordered to close up shop? Why should my life be put on hold for the crackpot superstitions of a very small minority?
My cousin in Hastings has the right idea. They are opening their shop regardless of what the superstitious crackpots say. And good for her (!) Talking of crackpots, I just *love* the internet. Having exposed a crackpot scam for what it is, the website eHow then goes on to carry adverts for the crackpot product it’s just debunked.

But even if the righteous have managed to close the world for one day, *my* world kept on going. Once the Rear Admiral had finished smashing beer bottles in the front garden (woops!) we set off to Smarden where the tribes were gathering. A dozen of us met up at the Bat-Farm and wandered into the village. Some wandered more easily than others depending on whether they got stuck (like ‘er indoors TM did) whilst attempting to cross the stile.
Once in the village we bought our plastic ducks and duck squawkers, and after a crafty pint we wandered up to the river to cheer our ducks on. The idea was that we all bought a numbered plastic duck and dropped them into a dustbin. The race officials then emptied the entire bin full of plastic ducks into the river, and the first one to be washed down the river to the finish line would be the winner. Last year the race was quite a lively affair as there’d been a lot of rain and the river was flowing fast. This year the water was barely moving. Eventually we got a winner, but the race wasn’t as thrilling as it might have been.

Having found the race was won by the village butcher and the “super-duck” category was won by one of the race officials we declared “Shenanigans”. We then gathered together as many of our party as we could find. As always whenever we go anywhere mob-handed, trying to round everyone up to move en-masse is somewhat akin to trying to herd cats. After ten minutes of wondering where everyone had got to, I herded myself, the Rear Admiral and the Bat to the pub, and hoped that everyone else would know where to find me. I was right – they did.

Whilst the girls admired the art in the village gallery, the lads admired the beer in the pub’s beer garden, and then with everyone together we made our way back to the farm for a barby.
Sitting in the sunshine with friends, reminiscing about what we’d done in the past, enjoying what was happening at the time, and planning for what might be in the future.
And once we’d eaten far too much we had a wander to meet the cows and sheep. “Daddies Little Angel TMtells me it is better to be licked by a sheep than by a cow. One lives and learns.
It was a really good day in the sunshine – must do it again soon !

23 April 2011 (Saturday) - Busy Day

“My Boy TMcame home last night at 4am. Having turned on every light in the house, he then went to bed “quietly”. It annoys me that during the daytime he really does creep around the house with ninja-like stealth, but at 4am he can be heard three counties away. But I was awake anyway – it was too hot to sleep last night.

Before work I did some shopping – to B&Q to get some light bulbs. As I paid for my purchases I explained to the bloke at the till that I wasn’t stealing a light bulb and a light bulb box: those were the broken ones I’d brought along so I knew what replacement ones to buy. The chap on the till smiled, and said that he wished more people did that. Apparently with dozens of styles, shapes, sizes and wattages of light bulbs, most people just turn up and ask for a light bulb. And seem shocked to find that they come in more than just one sort.

And so to work. According to the rota, since the start of last September I should have worked seven Saturday mornings; I’ve worked over double that. But I really shouldn’t grumble. It’s the opportunity for overtime which pays for the Kindle (did I mention I’ve got a Kindle?). Normally Saturday morning working goes one of two ways – we are either hellishly busy or we are not. Today was a "not" day, which was probably for the best as I was feeling somewhat under the weather. Can’t think why(!)
Work passed quickly, and soon I was home, and then Chip arrived to drive us down to Folkestone. I’d been looking forward to an afternoon with friends for ages, and I’m sorry to say that I spent most of the time asleep. It bothers me that I waste so much time at night wide awake, and then spend more time during the day fast asleep.

It would have been good to have stayed longer, but littluns have a routine to keep to, and so we came home where I carried on dozing on the sofa until Doctor Who came on. Over on another blog I follow they voiced the opinion that it was the negative reaction of the fan base that caused the powers that be to pull the plugs on Stargate and Star Trek: Enterprise. Bearing in mind that there may well be an element of truth in that, I’ll gloss over tonight’s Doctor Who episode with the observation that I’m hoping that this series is just being a bit slow to get going.
We then watched a movie – “Hot Tub Time Machine” was quite fun, and I stayed awake through  the whole thing so it must have been good. And then ‘er indoors TM remembered that the 1066 Rockitmen were playing in Woodchurch. I see so little of my mate Rick (their guitarist) that we popped down for half an hour to watch them and to see Rick. We met his new ladyfriend. She was a tad tiddly, told us her age, and apologised for being fourteen years younger than him. Bearing in mind I have a degree in mathematics I soon deduced that either she was too tiddly to do the sums, or someone’s been telling porkies….

22 April 2011 (Good Friday) - Chambers Beer Festival

Having had four consecutive good night’s sleep I was overdue a bout of insomnia. But not too much of one. “My Boy TMcame home “quietly” at 2am, and now with a broken leg in a cast, his “stealth skills” have exceeded the expectations of even his staunchest critics. However it only took him ten minutes to clump, crash and bash his way to bed, and I was soon asleep again.

Over breakfast I realised we had some post. On a Bank Holiday too(!) It was an election leaflet from the dribbling democraps. On reflection it’s amazing how much the result of last year’s election has affected me. Politically I suppose I am a life-long Labour supporter who has tactically voted against the Con-Servatives in favour of the dribblers for the last twenty years. And so when the dribblers abandoned all principles last May, I’ve taken that betrayal somewhat personally.
I actually laughed out loud at the local dribbling democrap’s election slogan: “no politician – just a fellow citizen”. If he’s truly “no politician” he should stand for election as an independent candidate. The leaflet included the candidate’s address, and I actually found myself considering sending him a turd through the post as a political statement.
I *really* need to let this issue go….

It’s traditional on Good Friday to go to Chambers Bar in Folkestone for the beer festival, and after a full English breakfast at the Gorge we bought our train tickets. The station staff never volunteer information about the bargains they have available, but will tell you if you ask. Since there were four of us needing tickets I asked for a group discount; and what would have cost us £6.20 each only cost £3.15.
Brian and Lisa joined us on the train with seconds to spare, and once we met up with the Folkestone contingent nine of us formed a queue at Chambers Bar, where the ales were quite good. I tasted one or two, and made notes:

  • Goff’s Jouster:  “ooooooh! 3/5”
  • Dale’s Golden Daffodil: “Yus – 3/5”
  • Wychwood Hot Chocolate – “Woof! – 4/5”
  • Ilkley’s Black: “Tastes of bacon – 3/5”
  • Keltek’s Golden Lance: “Session beer – 3/5”
  • Bateman’s Willy’s Crown Jewels: “tastes of arse – 1/5”
  • Hopback’s Crop Circle: “wheaty – 3/5”
  • Titanic’s White Star: “mmmmmm -! 3/5”
  • Hopdaemon’s Green Demon: “oh go on then - 3/5”
  • Gadd’s Dogbolter: “oooh ya f*ck*r!! – 4/5”
  • Cottage’s Vantage: “no, not really – 2/5”
We all enjoyed the first pint or so – that was common knowledge, but at the afternoon wore on, what was once common knowledge became something of a schecret (which is a feature at this sort of event); especially once the Bat had taken a large mouthful and the fruitiness had worn off. Or so I discerned from my tasting notes. There was also talk of producing cocktails from the strawberry flavoured Fruli beer: child-friendly snakebite was mentioned, as was the possibility of the creation of the potentially dubious website ratemyunderpants.com.
As the afternoon wore on so more and more friends joined us, and we then moved down to the courtyard at Pullman’s wine bar where a pint of Gadd’s Number Five slipped down nicely whilst we discussed the various merits of the young lady with (and I quote verbatim) “legs all the way up to it’s bum and jubblies like barrage balloons”. (Sometimes it pays to take notes)

The plan originally called for us to be taking the 5pm train home. We eventually got the 7.30pm one. But bearing in mind the disastrous state I’ve been in after some Good Friday beer festivals, I think I came home in rather a good condition.
Having said our goodbyes we decided not to cook this evening, and instead we had KFC whilst er indoors TM laughed at classic episodes of Star Trek….

21 April 2011 (Thursday) - Stuff

Being on a late start I had some time to go through my post which has piled up during the week. There wasn’t very much of it today.
The cover for my Kindle has arrived. The official ones from Amazon are thirty quid each. I got something from eBay for a fiver. And it’s pink! My tax disc has arrived, as has my bank statement (skint!). I also had the car insurance renewal documents. I just filed them. ‘er indoors TM  does all the insurance shopping and haggling; I just pay for it.

There was a letter from the Open University telling me that they are reducing the frequency of the magazines and newsletters they send out. That’s probably for the best – I graduated from the OU in 1995, and in the last sixteen years I’ve not really been interested in what they are doing. From my time in the OU I can recall there being a very active student union comprised of a very small number of people doing every OU course that existed because the OU was their social life. The OUSA ( or “oh you silly arse” as we came to call it) is probably a very well meaning body, but I wasn’t interested in it when I was an undergraduate with them, and now sixteen years later I really have no interest in it at all. I wish they’d stop sending me bumf through the post – I never asked them to do so in the first place.

To town, and as I was early I shopped around for shirts. Marks & Spencer, Top Shop, Littlewoods, Burtons all sell shirts. All at about four times the price that I can buy them in Tesco.
And so to the optician. Back when I was a lad you sat down and read from a chart. Now it’s all high-tech gizmos, optical pressure measurements and reds and greens. My distance vision is much the same as it ever was (i.e. not good), but it would seem there’s been rather a change in my close-up visual acuity. Which would explain why I can’t see to tie my fishing hooks. New specs have been ordered (as have the free prescription sunglasses). They should be with me in a couple of weeks’ time.

And then to work. A chap with whom I’ve worked since 1984 retired today. We were both at the hospital shortly after the place was built, Tim was at my wedding, we had children within months of each other (twice), but since he’s a little older than me, he got to retire first. Work will seem odd without him being there…..

20 April 2011 (Wednesday) - The Future...?

Today’s lunchtime seminar at work was on the latest Government’s initiative “Modernising Scientific Careers”. This is something with which I’ve been trying to get to grips for some time. The talk went on for the best part of three quarters of an hour, and in retrospect I can’t honestly say that I’m any the wiser.
But from what I can discern (and I could have this wrong), apparently there is a need to standardise scientific training in the health care professions and this will take place in conjunction with a rather radical overhaul of the jobs that we do in the laboratory. Historically we’ve (effectively) had four tiers of staff in the average path lab.

  • Workers who do all the mundane donkey-work (where I started!)
  • Technical bods who do the scientific stuff that needs a bit of understanding (like me!)
  • Managerial types who run the show (like I used to be!)
  • Consultant-clinical types who liaise with the doctors (like I chose NOT to be).
This is all to change. Effectively the managerial types will be out on their ears, and with the advent of modern robotic blood testing technology there will a major expansion of the role of the worker grades at the expense of the technical bods (like me!)
Those technical bods remaining (like me!) will in future be greatly reduced in numbers and will be trained alongside medics at a small number of nationally recognised institutions and will operate in a far more patient centred manner.
Or that’s the theory. And it has to be said that this is a theory with a lot of unanswered questions. Exactly what was wrong with the current condition of the workplace was never made clear. Who (exactly and specifically) will run these labs of the future? How exactly does a blood-tester work in a far more patient-centred manner? How do we encourage these clinical-scientists of the future to relocate to district general hospitals when we currently struggle to recruit staff at the equivalent pay bands? What would I personally do in this lab of the future?

What will actually happen in practice is anyone’s guess. My personal (and rather cynical) view is that it will go one of two ways.
Either the whole thing will be abandoned in favour of another crackpot scheme hatched by a different politician to the one who thought this one up.
Or it will take so long to implement that I will be safely retired before the consequences of the change affect me personally.

And so, after a rather stressy day at work I came home to find the postman had tried to deliver a parcel and had given up. So I had to go collect my package. As always I parked half a mile from the collection office, paid the obligatory 80p to park, and hiked off to get my delivery. As usual the delivery staff were at their most obnoxious. They made a point of demanding to see multiple identifications from the chap in front of me, presumably because he wasn’t brandishing any. But when I tried to show them my passport to prove my bona fide, they rudely dismissed it.
As I walked back through the car park, a mad woman started regaling me the tale of all the money she’d put into the car park’s ticket machine. I nodded politely – it took a few moments for me to realise she was expecting me to do something about it. After she’d ranted at me and then apologised to me, it turned out she thought I was some sort of official because I was wearing a tie. She rather hinted that if I was going to go around wearing a tie, then I should expect this sort of misunderstanding.

And so home again to unwrap my parcel – my Kindle has arrived! Having ordered it through my Amazon account it came pre-programmed with all my details, and it’s great. I’ve already downloaded four books onto it; three of which were free.
On reflection I can’t help but think that the joy of e-books will be the ease of purchasing them. Using the Kindle’s own software and 3G wotsit I can order a book and be reading it less than a minute later. There will be no mucking about going up to town and mingling with the Great Unwashed (bless them!), or having to go to the post office to collect parcels.

Something else abut the Kindle which is frankly amazing is its storage capacity. I have eight book shelves at home. All are overflowing with books. I’ve taken one shelf at random – it has seventy six books on it. Which (in theory) means I must have about six hundred books. Actually it would be quite a bit less, as many of my books are hardbacks, and take up a lot of space. But even taking six hundred as a reasonable estimate, my Kindle can hold five times that amount of books, and it is smaller than the average paperback.
I just need to find some way of storing the DVDs in such a space-saving way….

19 April 2011 (Tuesday) - Stuff

Today at work we got the scales out and had a weigh in. For all that we’ve (effectively) packed up dieting, we still have the weekly go on the scales. I’ve put on a pound over that last week. Bearing in mind I’ve eaten out three times in a week, this can’t really be much of a surprise

There was an interesting article on the radio today – bearing in mind I cycle from time to time, it was asked how can we make our roads safer for cyclists?
Department for Transport figures showed 2,700 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on Britain's roads in the year ending June 2010, which was a lot more than  the previous twelve months. There was also concern expressed about the amount of incidents involving HGVs and bikes. Getting squished off a juggernaut is a scary prospect – which is why all the cycle routes I plan are (as far as possible) away from main roads.
Interestingly, like the most recent fruit of my loin, the minister for cycling refuses to wear a cycling helmet…..

Over the last few days I’ve mentioned about getting a Kindle. I can see so many advantages: it stores so many books inside itself and I have run out of space to store books. Many of the books in my paperback collection are falling apart and I can replace (some of) them cheaper with electronic versions. I can buy all sorts of books I would never have bought before – the Kindle store has tons of stuff I like the look of, much of it is free, and some of the expensive stuff only costs seventy pence.
Today I had an email from Amazon – did I want to buy a Kindle? I *know* I’ve still to pay the credit card bill for all the work I’ve had done to the car. And I know I’ve got to buy new specs. But I’m a very “immediate” sort of guy. My Kindle should be here by the end of the week, as should the sexy cover for it that I’ve ordered off of eBay.

18 April 2011 (Monday) - Alternative Medicine

I’m going to rant today. I was going to apologize for doing so, but on reflection I will instead ask that the next time any of my loyal readers are feeling ill and avail themselves of any of the wonders of today’s medical wonders, then they might spare a thought for this rant…..

I’ve been having an argument with a Facebook friend of someone whose opinion I value…. My mother once told me it was bad form to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed man. If only crackpots came with labels: they can sometimes appear so reasonable.
Alternative medicine….. What can I say……? How on Earth does crackpot quackery keep going in the twenty-first century? I can't understand how intelligent people are against modern therapeutic drugs which are tried, tested and understood, but prefer crackpot remedies which are based on nothing but hearsay, old wives tales and commercially vested interests.

What these crackpots fail to realise is that both “herbal” and “proper” medicines work because of active ingredients. There is something in both which has a medicinal property. In “proper” medicine that active ingredient is investigated, isolated, and therapeutic dosages determined by proper controlled experimental trials.
In “herbal” medicines it is found that (for example) eating turnips has once cured piles. However that is all that is determined. No one knows how or why it works, or gives any thought to the fact that (whilst curing your piles) eating turnips might give you guts ache as well. And herbalists tend to gloss over the fact that the amount of pile-curing ability varies terrifically from one turnip to the next. One turnip will cure whereas a field of different turnips might just achieve mild relief at best.

For an example of this, take the old wives tale that if you get stung by a stinging nettle, rubbing the wound with a dock leaf gives pain relief. I’ve tried this many times. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Depending on the individual dock leaf. Much the same is true of a cure for jellyfish stings. Dousing the wound in urine sometimes eases the pain. But only sometimes, depending on exactly what the person producing the urine has been eating and drinking recently.
Or take malaria. For years those suffering from malaria found the symptoms were alleviated by having a gin & tonic. Sometimes alleviated better than others, depending on the brand of the tonic water used.
Or from a non-medical viewpoint I might suggest the reader go to Hastings Old Town High Street. There’s a pub there called the FILO. Have a pint of the home made ginger beer. It’s made on the premises; each batch to the same recipe. And then go back and repeat this a month later. You’ll find that the strength of the ginger taste varies dramatically from batch to batch. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable; other times it’s overpowering. Why is this? – It’s because they are chucking in a measured lump of ginger root each time, but not measuring the active ginger taste. (I know this because I’ve watched it happen!)

In all these cases (and in thousands of others) the old wives tale has a nugget of truth in it. What modern medicine does is to investigate these tales; find out exactly what the active ingredient is that is causing the medical effect, and then produces that element as a modern drug.
The clever bit lies in finding out and *proving* the active ingredient. This is where the entire concept of clinical trials comes into play. Regular readers may recall I had a burst blood vessel in my eye a few weeks ago. It’s now better. Using the “herbalist’s argument” I might claim this as a resounding success for the application of excessive amounts of ale. But I won’t because we know from experience that it would have got better anyway.
This is the problem with many illnesses. Lots of them get better anyway. I once read the biography of a general practitioner who felt that ninety per cent of his patients would recover from their maladies regardless of any cures he might have offered. Also, a lot of illness is psychosomatic – “in the head”. I once took a blood sample from a little old lady with a persistent sore throat. She walked into the clinic looking like death warmed up. I stuck a needle in her arm and drew some blood, and she visibly recovered. Medically it was a nonsense, but the blood drawing cured her. She’d decided that the cure she needed was a blood test, and it worked.
Clinical trials are designed to get round these effects. They take a thousand (or more) people with piles. Five hundred are given blue pills containing turnip extract. Five hundred are given blue smarties. And no one (including those giving the pills) knows which is turnip and which is smartie. The recovery rates are compared and if the drug works (without too many side effects) then it becomes readily available.

This has been going on for years. It’s called “modern medicine”. It’s a multi-billion pound industry. There’s money in making new drugs, so research is fierce. The crackpot fringe claim that the pharmaceutical industry actively clamps down on the herbal remedies. This is not the case at all – it’s the investigation of these herbal remedies that keeps the pharmaceutical industry going.
(And as an aside, compare the price of herbal remedies to the prescription charge too….)

I could be wrong, but with the intensity of research, there can’t be many herbal cures left that haven’t been scientifically investigated. Apart from the crackpots who refuse to allow their so called cures to undergo rigorous investigation. And most of those who tout these crackpot cures these days (and there’s a lot of touting going on) refuse to allow any trials of their so-called cures.

So the next time you have a headache and you are offered a lump of tree bark to suck on, it may well cure your headache. But you’d be far better off having an aspirin that was made from that tree bark.
Remember this quackery is not so much “alternative medicine” as “an alternative to medicine”…

17 April 2011 (Sunday) - Fishing

I woke this morning having had something of a revelation. I really enjoyed going out for a curry with friends last night. In a novel break with tradition I drove there, and when I drive, I don’t drink. At all! Not even a half of shandy. I was on diet coke last night – it’s the way I am. Usually when I’m socialising I drink like a fish, but if I’m the driver, I won’t touch a drop.
Normally when I go for a curry, it’s after a heavy drinking session, and it usually shows. I vaguely demand popadoms, smear spicy stuff over them, then I ask for a vindaloo, and it all becomes rather vague until I’m farting flames the next morning. But I have a clear memory of last night, and now I know what goes on in a curry house. The spicy jollop I like is called “lime pickle”; the nan breads are nothing like the ones that come from Asda – they had a filling. And there were some interesting-looking desserts too.
I’m going to do the driving for more curry evenings.

I wasn’t up *too* early today, and I spent a little time on my websites of advice for my students. I say “a little time” – it was an hour. Whilst it’s entirely work-related, it’s something I don’t get time for at work, for which I don’t have the technology at work, and… I know, maybe I shouldn’t do work stuff at home. But these websites have become something of a personal hobby. Over on another blog I’ve posted a map I obtained from the blog software. My work-related websites are getting readers across the world, and I’ve actually got to the point where professional work-related websites are quoting some of my articles. I’m just hoping that my little hobby will somehow get me onto the lecture-circuit-gravy-train.

I then found that both lenses of my specs are scratched. There are great gouges in each lens, as though a stone has chipped them. I have absolutely no idea how that happened, but I do know that any hopes I had of buying a Kindle in the near future have gone west. Oh well – such is life. I was due for an eye test in the autumn anyway. And I’ve not been happy with the varifocal bit for a long time. So I looked up the optician’s phone number on-line and was amazed to find that they were open today – on a Sunday. I’ve booked an appointment for Thursday.

And so to the day’s business: fishing. I’d mentioned to a friend at work that I was part of a syndicate that had obtained fishing rights to a local pond, and so the two of us set off for an afternoon’s fishing. We arrived at the pond to find something quite unusual: someone else was fishing there. No one else is ever there when I go to that pond: that’s the attraction of the place. But we made polite conversation with the normal people who were there. They seemed nice enough. On my last two visits to the pond, half of it had been fenced off. Today the fence was gone, so we set up where once there was a fence and we started fishing. Within minutes the normal people had gone. Perhaps we scared them away?
The fishing was slow, but I eventually caught a rudd. Only a small one, but a fish nonetheless. After an hour or so more intrepid haddock-hunters arrived, as did a fellow Blogger, and the friend who organised the use of the pond in the first place. This was the largest group we’ve had at the pond (apart from the clean-up crew last year) and we had a great time. The fishing was rather slow, we lost count of all the tackle we lost in the trees, I got more sheep poo on me and my gear than I have in the entire rest of my life, but it was a fun day out. And Richard (who fishes for large carp) caught a fish. I caught twelve, but mine were all tiddlers. His carp weighed eight pounds. Which proves that there are big fish in that pond…

16 April 2011 (Saturday) - Beer, Curry

In theory I am required to work one Saturday morning every month. In practice it seems that there is only one Saturday morning each month when I *don’t* work. Last September I needed to scrape up more cash to pay for the replacement boiler. Working on Saturday mornings isn’t popular at work, even though it’s paid at time and a half, and a lot of my colleagues were happy to give me their shifts. They got a weekend off work; I (eventually) got my boiler paid for. Everyone was happy. However, somehow or other, people have since come to think that I like working Saturday mornings, and somehow feel insulted when I’m not keen to do their Saturday shift. So again I found myself up early for work today.  
Still, if nothing else it will offset the credit card bill – which will be high this month with car servicing, MOT and road tax to be paid for.
I was particularly miffed to be working this morning as today I had the chance to have gone foraging with the tree huggers. Mind you, I suspect that I’m not in the tree huggers’ good books. Having gone to their quiz as part of a team named “Not Tree Huggers”, they’ve since sent ‘er indoors TM her membership card, but haven’t sent me mine.

Work was work, and on the way home I stopped off at the home-brew shop. I love that shop: always a friendly welcome, with chat and helpful advice. With Brighton Kite Festival only six weeks away I thought that the time was ripe to get five gallons of beer ready for that event. Five gallons sounds a lot, but we’ll be partying on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. And on the average evening I myself will sink over a gallon of ale. With ‘er indoors TM shifting about half that amount, five gallons doesn’t leave much beer in case of emergencies. I might just take a few bottles of beer along as well (just in case).
If any of my loyal readers are thinking about going to Brighton Kite Festival (and I can thoroughly recommend doing so), now’s the time to get your home-brew on the go for the evenings’ festivities.
Also on the way home I went back to the fishing tackle shop. Yesterday I forgot to get any bait. Whilst there I picked up a rod holdall. Already at a seriously silly discount (reduced from about fifty quid, it was up for sale at twelve quid), they then only wanted six quid for it when I came to pay for it. That was a result, and it will give the Rear Admiral somewhere to stick his tackle.

Talking of tackle, over the last week I’ve grumbled that I can’t find quill floats anywhere, and that I was going to have a go at making some. I tried to do so today, but gave up. The first attempt was an abject failure. The problem is that I start off with a feather, but I only want the quill part of it. Once I’ve cut off all the feathery bits, there’s not much left. But never mind: all I need are bigger feathers. Magpie’s bum feathers aren’t quite big enough. I just need to accost a goose or a swan. I suspect that will be easier said than done.

And this evening we celebrated a friend’s birthday. Drinks in The Pheasant followed by a curry, and then back home for a game or two of Uno. It was a really good evening – I’d forgotten all about Uno…

15 April 2011 (Friday) - Good News

In a novel break with tradition I didn’t wake until 5.30am this morning. For me, that’s quite good going. As I left for work this morning I had flashbacks of yesterday. The people over the road were again loading up their van, and I got to Asda to find that the self-service checkout that broke on me yesterday was still kaput.

After an average day at work I popped into the fishing tackle shop. Yesterday after work I went to Invicta Angling, where I stood for quarter of an hour waiting for the chap behind the counter to stop gossiping with his cronies before I gave up and walked out. Today I went to Ashford Angling where they couldn’t have been more helpful. A shame that they didn’t have any quill floats, but I've been shopping elsewhere and I now have all the ingredients to make some of my own....

And so home, where ‘er indoors TM was busy on the PS2. Over this last week she’s become addicted to a game: “Banania: The lying old witch in the wardrobe”. When I first saw that game I realised how similar it appeared to NeverWinter Nights, and I warned her how addictive those games are, but it’s now too late.
Whilst she was saving Banania from marauding ogres I checked my post. My fishing license has arrived. Slower and more expensive than last time, but it’s arrived, nonetheless. Something else which has arrived is the reminder that my car’s road tax is due. Bearing in mind the comments I received about a blog entry from a few years ago when I wasted time in the post office, I got my tax disc on-line. It took me less than a minute, and was painless apart from the cost.
Interestingly the DVLA, like “The Great Fishing Licence Swindle”, charge slightly over the odds as opposed to what the Post Office charge when you buy the thing directly. But the DVLA don’t charge if you use a debit card (as opposed to a credit card). Back in the days when I got interest on my current account I would not use a debit card. But now I don’t get interest, my debit and credit cards are to all intents and purposes identical, so I was charged nothing.
My water bill has arrived too – or to be precise the other half of my water bill. I pay one bunch to deliver water to the house, and another bunch to remove the water when I’m done with it. Getting shot of the water with which I am finished will cost me two hundred quid for the next year.

And I’ll end today with some good news.
Regular readers may recall a blog entry in January 2009 when I ranted about the shambolic travesty that we jokingly call British justice. Regular readers may also recall descriptions of my ten separate trips to HMP Slade. Whilst I was only too happy to go visiting, it’s no secret that a custodial sentence was given where a finger-wagging and the words “tsk, tsk” would have been more than adequate. And the unnecessary waste of the ten afternoons of my time was nothing compared to the waste of a year of the time of “someone else”.
And just when we thought all this nastiness was behind us, more charges were trumped up and the innocent once more terrorised. I never blogged about this up till now, but let’s just say that if someone were to phone the police and make the blackest allegations about you (whilst keeping a straight face) it’s amazing how your life can be ruined, whilst the police never think to question the motives of those making the accusations.

But today we’ve been told that all these trumped up charges have been dropped. I’m sure that those of my loyal readers who know what I’m talking about will be pleased. And to those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, just drop me a line and I’ll fill in all the details…

14 April 2011 (Thursday) - Curry Night

Something odd is going on over the road. Every morning at about 7.15am a van pulls up outside my house, and a little fat bloke runs to and fro across the road, taking large cardboard boxes from the house over the road which he loads into his van. As he runs to and fro, a little fat lady stands on the doorstep of the house, checking things off on her clipboard.
This morning I tried to see what was going on without appearing to be obviously nosey, but I couldn’t. The parcels that come out of the house over the road don’t seem to be addressed, or have any labelling at all. I wonder what they are, and what’s going on.

I then popped into Asda to get some lunch. As always I used the self-service checkouts. All was fine until I tried to weigh my banana. And then in a very loud voice the self-service checkout started repeatedly announcing that it was having a code five situation. Immediately I was surrounded by seemingly hundreds of Asda employees, all excitedly whispering about the code five situation. None of them actually doing anything to help, but all seemingly very excited about the whole thing. One of them suggested that we needed Tony, and within seconds Tony arrived to deal with the code five situation. I asked Tony if I could help by using one of the other self-service checkouts. Tony readily agreed to my suggestion and I managed to buy my dinner without incident.
As I left the shop Tony (and his audience) had the broken checkout machine in pieces across the floor, with one of the pieces still loudly broadcasting that there was a code five situation in progress.
I can’t wait till tomorrow to see if the problem has been resolved.

To work, where I did my bit, and then home again. Seeing how it was a Thursday, we set off to the County hotel. Thursday is curry night – a decent curry, pudding, two pints of ale and change out of a tenner.
Nine of us met up for a scoff. This may well become a regular event…..

13 April 2011 (Wednesday) - Stuff

When I was a child the world seemed such a (potentially) wonderful place – with smallpox and so many other diseases eradicated and men on the moon, there was nothing humanity couldn’t do. Since then we’ve all got mobile phones in our pockets; devices with more computing power than the vessels that (forty years ago) carried men to the moon.

But now I despair. Where we once had the potential to actually have a world worth having, we have barbarism. Under the guise of religion, but barbarism nonetheless.
Of all the things I expected of the world when I was younger, the last thing I expected was a world still in the thrall of outdated medieval morality.

As a child I looked forward to moonbases and men on Mars. Now I honestly live in fear of a civil war in which decent citizens will be defeated by a crackpot fringe still in thrall to a (frankly) ridiculous religious belief.

12 April 2011 (Tuesday) - Stuff

Bearing in mind what a lovely clear evening we had on Sunday, the plan for yesterday evening was to get the telescope out and have a go at photographing the moon. A shame the sky was all clouded over. And then it rained. But to be fair, I was warned when I got my scope that clear nights are (relatively) few and far between. In the meantime there are always other hobbies. Such as fishing.
When I was a lad I would use a quill float. Made from birds’ feathers (traditionally geese) these floats were really good. Far better than the plastic rubbish that is touted out these days. But no one sells quill floats these days. There are one or two second hand ones available on eBay, but they are obviously second hand.
As “My Boy TMonce told his teacher, if you want a job done, do it yourself. Making a quill float can’t be that hard: all I need is some fuse wire, varnish and enamel paint. Oh – and some quills. I have most of the ingredients, but if any of my loyal readers should find any bird’s feathers lying around (ideally about six to eight inches long), please pick them up for me. Or pull them from the bum of a passing bird (if you’re feeling brave enough…)

I emptied my locker at work today – it was absolutely full up with books. I have a small locker which fills up with books so quickly. And my house is much the same. For all that I like a book – it’s feel and it’s smell, I have no room for any more.
I’m beginning to think “Kindle”: with a storage capacity of three and a half thousand books, are they the future of books, or are they just today’s Betamax?
Would I be better off getting a NetBook? I don’t really know.

Yesterday I mentioned "The Great Fishing License Swindle": the bank phoned me back today. Whilst they admitted that I had (probably) been conned into buying a fishing licence for fourteen quid over the going rate, I paid that money of my own free will. As far as they were concerned it was akin to buying a telly in Argos only to find it cheaper in Comet. They were very apologetic and very polite, but "caveat emptor", to coin a phrase (for those of my loyal readers who, like me, have an "O" level in Latin).
However on the plus side it transpired that in the work's Grand National sweepstake, I'd backed the horse that came in fourth. Which netted me a fiver. So offsetting this against my pound stake and the fourteen quid I lost in "The Great Fishing License Swindle", I'm only ten pounds down the pan.

11 April 2011 (Monday) - Money

I think that between Saturday’s sleeping at the fishing pond and yesterday’s working in the garden I must have caught the sun. I felt my face glowing all day today. Being “follicularly challenged”, if the weather is to continue like this I must remember to have a bandana to tie round my head just in case – I don’t want sunstroke.

The news wound me up today. In the past I’ve blogged about the obvious solution to the UK’s crippling debt crisis. The answer is patently obvious. Simply don’t pay it. Find whoever it is that we as a nation (supposedly) owe over a squilion pounds to, and tell them to get bent. Job done.
In today’s news I heard that the Icelandic people have done exactly that. When their bank went belly-up, European investors lost four billion Euros. The Icelandics have now said that the investors can go whistle – they ain’t paying up. I don’t blame them, and must admit to a sneaking admiration of them.
Interestingly the Government is looking at reforming the UK banking system so that those who make a career out of high finance and living fast at other people’s expense can still go bankrupt without taking us decent hard-working people with them. It’s not quite the final collapse of the capitalist system. But it speaks volumes that the Government has seen that allowing people to play fast and loose with millions of pounds of investors money is a recipe for disaster.

On Saturday I mentioned (ranted) about how much it costs to buy a fishing licence. I must apologize to HM Government. The price of a rod licence has not gone up at all in the last year. What has happened is that I got conned. Not quite knowing the exact website for renewing my rod licence, I had a quick search on Google and I came up with http://www.fishingrodlicence.com/. I naievely thought that they sold fishing licences. They don’t.
What they do is (and I quote from their website) “…will check over your application, ensuring there are no errors (for example forename switched with surname, lack of capitalisation in your name, and any obvious spelling errors). We charge a small fee for this on top of the Rod Licence Fee levied by the Environmental Agency. If you do not need your application checking in this way you will save a small amount of money by applying directly with the Rod Licence Issuing Body.
I suppose when compared to what the Icelandics are doing, fourteen quid isn’t much at all. And to be honest I’m not going to go broke either for the sake of fourteen quid. But in my opinion the thing is a con. I feel I’ve been swindled out of fourteen quid. And I’ve told my bank, who say they agree with me. They are getting on to their fraud department who will phone me back tomorrow.

Meanwhile several miles away, next door’s mog is making advances at “Daddies Little Angel TM‘s mog. Shocking….

10 April 2011 (Sunday) - This n That

Yesterday whilst on the way to the Mr Teeth extravaganza I saw signs advertising that Lenham market was on today. Billed as one of the leading country markets in Mid Kent it is a shining example of why one should never believe what one reads on the internet. With half a dozen stalls selling plants, and another half a dozen stalls selling overpriced home made rubbish, it was a total waste of my morning. I rather resented it, as we’d decided to go to the market rather than to go kiting at Streatham.  In retrospect I wish we’d gone kiting.
We came home though Charing to have a look-see. The village was strewn with bunting: obviously there is some local cause for celebration. Possibly they were rejoicing for Mr Teeth’s recent visit to the area.

Once home I mowed the lawn, and then had a review of work that needs doing in the garden. I have mentioned before about the joys of a low maintenance garden, but “low maintenance” isn’t “zero maintenance”. Jobs I could do today were emptying the compost bin and fixing the washing line. The compost bin was full, so I took it to the tip to empty it. I got within two streets of the tip and saw how the traffic was queued back from the tip. So I parked my car and carried the compost bin to the tip. I was just about to empty the compost into the skip when a jobsworth in a yellow hi-vis vest came running over to me. There was (apparently) no way on God’s green earth that I could empty my bin into his skip. Why not? Because I’d carried it in. All offerings for the council’s recycling and municipal tipping must be driven in.
It was a hot day, my compost bin was heavy, and I’d carried it from two streets away to have some stupid twit quoting rules for the sake of trying to make himself look important. I didn’t actually lose my temper, but I told jobsworth that there was similarly no way on God’s green earth that I would lug the compost back to my car. It could go into the skip or across the floor. Either would suit me. As jobsworth pondered this, my hand “slipped” and all my compost fell into his skip. Woops!
I went off, assuring him that next time I’d drive in.

I had a plan to restock on fishing tackle, but both the town’s tackle shops were closed. So I went to B&Q for a replacement washing line; the last one snapped last year. Replacing washing line is a simple enough job: it just entails mucking about up a ladder. And with the washing line replaced, that was my garden jobs done for the day. I had bought a piece of batten with which to repair the broken fence panel, but the fence is bent and warped, and the batten is straight. I don’t think I’ve any alternative but to replace the entire fence panel. Or let next door replace it: after all it’s his fence. I then fed the Koi and counted the sturgeons. Both accounted for. So far this year I’ve only seen one sturgeon at a time, but today I saw them both. Having started off the same size, one is now twice the size of the other.

And then I pondered what else needs doing in the garden. There’s an area of decking near the pond that has seen better days. It needs to come out, but I’m not sure what to replace it with. The easy and cheap option would be loads of shingle, but it would be nice to replace the decking. I’ll have a look round the garden centres and see if I can’t get some cheap decking. And then see if I can’t get the fruits of my loin to lay the stuff….