30 June 2011 (Thursday) - Stuff

There was an interesting article on the radio today. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, was being interviewed. He's launching a new initiative in London to generally improve the lot of the average Londoner. Millions of pounds of money will be spent to make things better. He specifically mentioned uniformed youth organisations.
Apparently the waiting lists to join scouts in London are really long, and they need more volunteers. Grants will be given to all sorts of organisations including (specifically) scouts. And Boris Johnson hopes these grants he's giving will encourage more of “the hairy-kneed" to volunteer.
I wonder exactly what he means by “the hairy-kneed"? The phrase speaks volumes about the character of the mayor of London. I realise the chap enjoys a reputation of being something of a maverick, but does he honestly think he’s going to attract any volunteers with that attitude?

And after a dull day at work I then came home for some domestic triviality. I put some shirts on to wash whilst I got busy in the garden. The lawn hadn’t been mown for some time, so that passed half an hour. And then I cleaned out the fish poo filter – I hadn’t mucked that out for a month. There’s no denying the pond is somewhat murky at the moment. I suspect that it’s something to do with the cascade arrangement I have between the filter and the pond. I have my eye on a self-cleaning filter arrangement, but that costs several hundred pounds more than I have at the moment.

Whilst cleaning the carp dung from the filter I could hear the washing machine doing my shirts. It was making quite a noise about it. I do hope that washing machine isn’t on the way out. With the brakes on ‘er indoors TM ‘s car needing attention (to say nothing of “operation caravan”), a new washing machine is an expense I can well do without….

29 June 2011 (Wednesday) - Coldrum Longbarrow

After two days of late starts, today I was on an early.

After work we set off to Lenham where we had fish and chips whilst waiting for the arky-ologee club to assemble. Whilst scoffing chips I made an observation: why does Lenham church (a beautiful medieval building) have a satellite dish on the top of the steeple?
Twenty (or so) club members assembled, and we set off in convoy to Trottiscliffe. I am reliably informed that his village’s name is pronounced “Trosley”. Pronounced “Trosley” by whom? People who can’t read, presumably.

Despite our state of the art map indicating our destination was to the left of the church, we turned right and soon found our destination for the evening –Coldrum Longbarrow.
Coldrum Longbarrow is…. well, it’s difficult to describe…. I’m sorry, dear readers. I can’t lie to you. Coldrum Longbarrow is crap. It was probably something worthy of note before the stones all fell over, but now it’s a couple of dozen stones lying at the top of a small hill. I really can’t big it up any more than that.
Having said that, the local hippies obviously like the place – they had tied loads of ribbons to the trees for some strange hippy reason. There’s photos of this tree (and the rest of the evening) here.

For no better reason than to take the rise, I’d brought along my dowsing rods. I say “dowsing rods” – they are actually two lengths of straightened-out coathanger. I stomped about the site dowsing to see what I could find. And, sure enough, the rods crossed right in the very centre of the barrow. On seeing me with my rods one or two proper arky-ologists were politely sceptical, but everyone had a go with the rods, and nearly (but not quite) everyone found whatever it was I’d found in the middle of the barrow.
The trouble with dowsing is that, for all that I can clearly detect stuff with dowsing, I have no idea what I’m actually finding. I can find places where the dowsing rods cross. And this crossing is reproducible: I can get it to happen again and again. But until such time as I can be bothered to dig a hole at these places, I have absolutely no idea what I’m detecting.
Next time I shall take a shovel.

I wonder what the National Trust would say about me digging up a scheduled monument….

28 June 2011 (Tuesday) - Pi (and chips?)

Another morning wasted on the Star Trek Elite Force game – it’s a good game really. Mind you, I didn’t get to play it for as long as I was hoping. I found myself evicted from my own home. “My Boy TMhad an appointment. He had someone coming round for some body art. Described as “some fit bird and her fit mother”; it was quite evident that my presence would queer his pitch.

And so to Tesco in an oven-like car. It’s been hot recently. So much so that I’ve had the air-con running in my car pretty much constantly. I’ve been told by so many people that this is a really expensive thing to do. But is it? I’ve done some finding-out. On average the extra fuel consumption by using air-con is roughly equivalent to the extra fuel needed to carry an extra passenger around. Or equivalent to the reduced fuel economy caused by reducing the car’s aerodynamics by opening a window. Or (over a year) roughly equivalent to the extra fuel needed to carry a car full of unnecessary junk around.
In short, it’s not an expensive thing to do at all.

Mind you, cars still go in the hot weather. Trains don’t. Having been scuppered by leaves on the tracks and the wrong kinds of snow in the past, today’s lame excuse is that the cables that power the trains are suffering from overheating. Thank heavens that trains in my neck of the woods get their leccie from a third rail.

Meanwhile mathematicians are in civil war. Pi-ists and Tau-ists are squabbling as to which mathematical constant should be the most natural to use. Being of a mathematical bent myself, I’ll give a hint here. Tau is lame. Pi kicks ass.

27 June 2011 (Monday) - Dull...

A late start gave me some time to waste this morning, so I had a look round the Internet. With UFOs flying over the BBC and senior politicians being found dead at Glastonbury, there’s not really an awful lot going on in the world today.
Bearing in mind yesterday’s hike I found an interesting article claiming that I’m probably fitter than a lot of people who are half my age. If that’s true, then there are a lot of *very* unfit twenty-somethings about.
And with a couple of hours to kill, I dusted off an old game – Star Trek Elite Force. The game is now ten years old, and the graphics are somewhat dated compared to today’s modern games. But it’s fun, it passes an hour or so, and I like it. Which is probably a good thing.

And then to Tesco. The intention was to buy lunch; I nearly committed murder.
For every one person who was doing shopping properly there were a dozen old ladies blindly blundering about. Crashing into shelves, trolleys, other shoppers, not one was looking where it was going, and not one was actually buying anything. When will these old dodderers realise that Tesco is a shop where you go to buy things, not a park or a drop-in centre where you go to pass the time.

I received a phone call from the treasurer at Woodchurch Memorial Hall today. She’d heard that I’d taken over as treasurer of the astro club. News travels fast (!) Would I like to talk pounds and pence with her? Certainly.
The trouble was that she’d phoned me on my mobile at work, using her husband’s mobile phone. I made a note of all that she said and all of the telephone numbers she mentioned, and I then promptly lost that note. I came home and after a bit of phoning round I managed to get the nice lady’s home phone number. But when I rang, it just went to answer-phone.
I’ll ring her again in the morning…

26 June 2011 (Sunday) - Barham

This morning I effectively received a turd in the post: some coward didn’t like what I’d posted over on another blog. Perhaps the fault is mine: perhaps I sometimes forget the fact that every fascinating illness has an ill person at the end of it. It’s a shame that “Anonymous of Chicago” couldn’t have attempted a reasoned discussion. It amazes me that anyone expects to be taken seriously when they rant anonymously. Still, (to coin a phrase) bovvered? – Not really. This isn’t the first cowardly anonymous rant I’ve received; I doubt it will be the last.

Once we’d got ourselves organised we popped down to Folkestone and having harassed the cats we then went on to Barham. ‘er indoors TM recently bought a set of guided walks round Kent from the AA. A couple of weeks ago we did one such walk round Aldington. The route was very easy to follow, and so we thought we’d try another.
We parked up by Barham Church, and having laughed at its green steeple we set off on the prescribed walk. Down through the village, up a hill, across fields, down lanes. On the way we found a twelve foot high sculpture in some woods, some very interesting lodges, and a golf course. The instructions were (again) spot-on, and we all had a really good couple of hours in the countryside. As always, there are pictures of the day on Facebook.
After a month of rain I’m not complaining, but it was hot today. It was ironic that having spent all afternoon yesterday with a solar telescope and 100% cloud cover, today there wasn’t a cloud in sight.

And then home. I had planned to do the ironing yesterday, but events conspired against me. So after tea I ironed whilst watching telly; “Alien Resurrection”. Over the last month I’ve watched all four of the “Alien” films. This was the first that I didn’t sleep though, but it has to be said that I wasn’t impressed.

25 June 2011 (Saturday) - Astronomy & Cards

I was up relatively early, and over brekkie I looked at the household accounts. I can hardly declare bankruptcy, but there’s no denying that more cash would be good. I’m not entirely sure that I’m not paying too much in mortgage repayments: I shall find out in a month or so when the next part of the mortgage is due for completion. With the mortgage (mostly) paid off a caravan might become a feasible proposition.
Apropos of nothing I came across this web site. I love the bit about “We live in the countryside. Our house dates to around 1570, with 3.5 acres of land. We grow our own vegetables and fruit, and sheep graze our meadow”. The chap who wrote this was someone with whom I went to school. We were in the Boys Brigade together. Best of mates for many years. And now there he is – a company director rolling in cash: with his own wine merchant as well (!). I can’t pretend I’m not jealous.
The only consolation I have is that browsing his web site I found his Amazon wish list, He’s a train spotter. I don’t feel quite such a failure now.

Off to work, and after a relatively dull day I then went on to Furley Park School’s fete. The astro club were running a stall there, and I’d volunteered to help. I arrived late, and found everyone else had done the hard work of setting up, and so whilst we waited for the Great unwashed to descend upon us I sloped off for a hot dog and a plate of curry.
We had several telescopes set up, all focussed on a distant TV ariel, and the idea was that the punters could compare the telescopes. We also had the solar scope to look at the sun: a shame the sun hid behind clouds all day. We also put up a display board of our posters.
It has to be said that the posters aren’t what they might be. For all that they actually look really good, they are now four years old and some of them are rather dated. For example the poster on extra-solar planets is hopelessly out of date. I’ve suggested we might run a competition for the club membership to design various A3 and A4 posters on various topics of their choice to replace what we’ve got.
Getting the public to have a go with telescopes was an idea which worked well – there was a lot of interest from the public about joining the club. Perhaps we might make up some fliers for advertising purposes for future events of this sort?

The time flew by, and all too soon the fete had ended. Once packed away I went home – my plan was to get the ironing done, but my mobile rang. There was a problem at work – could I go in? 
One day I shall elaborate

And then round to Matt’s for a game of cards. An hour or so of Texas Hold’em followed by an hour or so of Omaha Hold’em. “Daddies Little Angel TMwiped the floor with all comers tonight, but there was an amazing five minutes during a game of Omaha when I won with a pair of threes. (Threes!) I do like a game of cards.

On the way home I saw a strange sight – hundreds (probably over a thousand) of people all walking along my road; all wearing the weirdest clothing. They were obviously an organised bunch as there were marshals guiding them as they went. It turns out they were a sponsored walk raising money for a local hospice, which was a relief.
I thought they were a strange religious cult….

24 June 2011 (Friday) - Art & Astronomy

I had an interesting conversation at work today. ne day I shall post what it was about
If only our union wasn’t so useless….

Then to the college - “Daddies Little Angel TMhas some of her work in the end of year art exhibition. Her drawing and montage were really good. As was all of the work on show, to be honest. It was clear that the students had all worked hard, but I can’t pretend to understand modern art. The photograph of Little Red Riding Hood holding hands with the Big Bad Wolf was somewhat surreal. And was made more so by virtue of the fact that both were in the nip. The installation piece of a destroyed painting was clearly interesting, but would not practically fit into anyone’s house as an art work.
And the statue of a big fat woman with an oven for a stomach permanently pissing out green urine was just weird.

And then to astro club. As I was meeting and greeting, something interesting happened. A lady who’d joined a couple of months ago asked whose phone number was on the membership cards. I had no idea, and told her so; with the assurance that I’d find out. The nice lady went on to say that she’s tried phoning the number, and it came up with the number unobtainable tone. After a little asking around it turned out that the number on the membership cards was indeed unobtainable: in fact we had no idea whose number it originally was. Woops!
And then on to the main business of the evening. With over sixty people along we had an update on what’s going on in the world of astronomy. And then the main talk – “Wow Factor Fifty” in which five different people presented ten amazing, strange or just plain weird astronomical facts. With different people speaking I thought it worked very well.
After I’d hawked the raffle we had a Stellarium show of what we might have seen outside had the clouds not been there. Again we had a wonderful astro club – I’m proud to be a part of it….

23 June 2011 (Thursday) - A Day in the Wicked City

“My Boy TMactually did get up quietly for once, and for the third time this week I was woken by my alarm. After a bit of brekkie I set off to the railway station – me and a colleague had business in the wicked city. When I met up with him, my colleague looked somewhat haggard. Apparently his beloved had bought some “sexy kit” and was showing it off in a manner intended to incite his base urges. My colleague was quite impressed with the tightness of the corset which accentuated his beloved’s “lady dumplings”. So impressed that he couldn’t wait to take off said corset, and get down to what I can only describe as “sordid beastliness”. However it transpired that the lady in question had overlooked something rather obvious – to wit to try on the garments before buying them. Instead she spent twenty minutes at home wedging herself into a corset which was clearly far too small.
When my colleague attempted to give vent to his base lusts, he was unable to remove the corset as rolls of back fat obscured access to the zipper. However, the urge was upon him, and with a concerted tug he managed to break the zip fastener, leaving it stuck fast.
And then a combination of breaking the zipper on an expensive corset and being unable to escape from a corset which was far too tight brought on an asthma attack in the lady in question. Having attempted to arouse her lover, she found herself thrashing about on the floor, gasping for air and unable to breathe. Fortunately (or not, depending on your perspective) my colleague had a Stanley knife to hand. I don’t think he actually cut her skin, but he rapidly extracted her from the corset of death. With her chest no longer constricted she could now breathe again, but her new expensive corset was fit for the dustbin.
With all that excitement, a near-death experience and all that money wasted, my colleague then spent the night on the sofa, and is still in the doghouse.
And they say romance is dead.

After waiting for the train to pull off for twenty minutes there was an announcement. The train manager was trying to find a train driver. As soon as one became available we’d be on our way. That filled me with confidence, and after five minutes a big fat man in train driver costume was seen running along the platform. We got going soon after that, and were only five minutes late for our day’s outing.
I say “five minutes late” – we’d been told that the NHS National Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia Screening Programme’s Laboratory Training Day started at 9.30am. Having run from St Pancras to Russell Square we found that registration and coffee was from 9.30am, and lectures started at 10am. I got some coffee, and spent fifteen minutes getting my breath back.

We started with an update on what the programme had been up to for the last year. This lecture was the worst of the day. Lacking any structure, it was not so much a lecture as a disjointed rambling in which the speaker leapt from one topic to the next (and back again) at random, seemingly contradicting herself at regular intervals.
The second talk was more interesting; covering screening programs and the management of risk in haemoglobinopathy screening. It’s actually a fascinating subject; the science behind it is something which I personally find the most interesting part of my job. And there are some serious ethical dilemmas. Thalassaemia major is one of the most serious genetic conditions there is – babies with it can die before birth, and many of those that do survive can only live because of life long blood transfusions. But screening of parents can avoid such children being born. In the UK parents are screened early in pregnancy. In other parts of the world people are screened before conception takes place. In some parts of the world (where marriage is still de rigueur) priests won’t marry unscreened couples. Effectively these people require a licence to breed. There’s a can of worms….

The third lecture was interesting covering serious incidents and lessons learned. Like everything and anything, the screening programme is not perfect, and has had some failures. Lessons have been learned and the service has improved, but what does anyone do when a couple decide to breed, having been told of the risk of conceiving a child who will be born to suffer?
After a tea break was the best part of the day – a lecture from Professor Bain, who is a world-renown expert on the subject of haemoglobinopathies. And then dinner – not too sad, as the first fruit of my loin would remark.
After dinner I slept through a session on data interpretation. I knew the session was going to be bad: over the years I’ve formed a serious distrust of anyone who refers to a blood-testing machine as an ”instrument”. I could feel myself nodding after only a couple of minutes, and was soon sound asleep. I awoke with a start and the thought “F@!! - I’m in a lecture” ran though my mind as the speaker asked “did everyone find that helpful?

After another cuppa the day closed with some fascinating case studies. For all that I find the haemoglobinopathies to be fascinating, they are not common conditions. In fact I often describe then to my students as being as abundant as rocking horse poo. And this last session gave some seriously obscure tales, involving sickle cell trait with a duplicated normal beta gene, and the discovery of the unstable Hb Kingsbury.

All things considered it was a good day out, but I did have a couple of criticisms. The projector screen was too small – I could hardly see the presentations.
And the venue. Has anyone realised that the country is in financal queer street? Surely the Imperial Hotel in Russell Square isn’t the most cost effective place to hold such a meeting. Heaven only knows what the place cost to book, but I did see that the lunchtime menu was seventeen quid a head. With about forty of us on the course, I expect the total cost of the day would have been about a thousand pounds.
Whilst I realise that a London venue is central for all participants, surely there are church halls, scout halls, YMCAs, community centres that could have done the day at a fraction of the cost?

And hen back to Ashford, and to the Wetherspoons. Works curry night: the second in as many months. Wetherspoons do a good curry at a good price. Two beers, curry and extras, and change from a tenner. Can’t be bad…

22 June 2011 (Wednesday) - More Caravan...

I was having a rather disturbing dream last night in which I believed I was trying to sleep underneath a tap dancing school for elephants. A particularly loud crash woke me, and I realised that there were no tap dancing elephants upstairs; merely “My Boy TMquietly getting ready for work. After a little stomping about he came downstairs. It might have been quieter if he just came straight through the ceiling. He then clumped about downstairs for a while before setting off to work; closing the front door behind him so quietly it was probably heard clearly three counties away.

Fortunately being on a late start I got the chance for a bit more kip once he’d set off, and over a bit of brekky I did a bit more finding out about caravans. The obvious first question is to find out whether my car is up to towing a caravan, or do I need to trade it in? It turns out that my car weights (about) 1430 kg and therefore it would be capable of towing a caravan (and associated luggage) of up to 1215 kg.
Needless to say, that figure meant absolutely nothing to me. I have no idea how heavy a caravan might be. So I phoned the nice bloke at Chilham who I saw on Sunday. He was of the opinion that I can tow anything up to a “small-medium” caravan. He went on to add that he caravans regularly and his towing weight is restricted to 1000 kg.

The obvious next step would be to get a tow bar attached. Ironically when I chose my current car I had to decide between the one I got and another which was almost identical. The other car was at the same price, but with slightly more mileage so I went for the one I’ve got. However the other one had a towbar.
I phoned Renault – they could sort me out with a towbar. Together with fitting the thing I would be looking at six hundred pounds. Ouch! ‘er indoors TM had found another company that fitted towbars, so I gave them a ring. It turned out that they were part of Trident Trailers (who are quite well known locally). The nice man there said he could fit a fixed swan neck tow bar and the electrical fittings for three hundred quid. That’s more affordable.

I then had a look at my diary dates. The year has rushed by, and I’ve plans for most of the weekends for the next few months. It occurred to me that we’ve two trips to London planned in the next few weeks (or so) – to see the sci-fi exhibition at the British Library and to see the dinosaur exhibit at the Natural History museum. Bearing in mind the cost of a train ticket to London, it occurred to me that we might make some savings if we combined both of these trips.
Fortunately for us the British Library is almost on top of St Pancreas station (named after the patron saint of abdominal organs!), so having got to London all we’d have to do would be to get to the museum at Kensington and then get back to where we started.
It seems like a good plan….. let’s see how it pans out.

21 June 2011 (Tuesday) - More Stuff

Anyone who's met me socially is always amazed to see my appearance at work. Naturally I am a slob, but I like to think that I brush up well when the occasion demands. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I think that one needs to look the part when one is at work. As a trainee this was drummed into me, and it stuck. Even though nowadays I think I am the only bloke in the department who wears a tie every day. Not even the bosses do any more.

One of my trainees was formally assessed today. As part of the assessment a senior scientist from another hospital (usually some hundred or so miles away) comes to see them. Bearing in mind the gravity of these occasions I like the students to make an effort and try to impress the assessors.
Perhaps I should blame a management ethos which doesn’t take a pride in its appearance, but it bothers me that I have to tell the trainees not to wear shorts or jeans on the special assessment day. And it bothers me even more when they whinge about having to wear a shirt and tie. But for one day they make an effort and turn up looking like they haven't been dragged through a hedge. It's probably to keep me quiet, but they all make the effort. I think they look better turning up at work in a shirt and a tie, even if I am in a minority in thinking so.

It never occurred to me that I would have to remind a student to have a shave and to brush his hair. The chap assessed today's girlfriend is a hairdresser, and I am reliably informed that his coiffure was actually rather splendid. Perhaps I am getting old: to me he looked like a startled hedgehog. I don't think I did much for his confidence by telling him so. But he passed anyway. That’s now twenty one students whose qualification to state registration I’ve overseen. With three more currently in progress I wonder how many more I’ll do before retiring, or somebody else gets given the task.

And then home. A month or so ago I enrolled with a market research company. They periodically solicit my opinion on a range of subjects, and pay me for it. So far I’ve answered questionnaires on supermarkets, mineral water, tea bags, cars, all sorts of things. Each time I do a survey they credit my account with up to a pound. They claimed that when the balance reached ten quid I could claim vouchers. I was rather sceptical, but quite enjoyed the surveys, so I kept doing them. This evening I realised my credit balance with them was £12.50, so I claimed an Amazon voucher to the value of ten quid.
The email with the voucher arrived straight away: I was rather pleased about that, and immediately bought an e-book for my Kindle. And I got charged for it. What an amazing voucher that was! 
Once the red mist and my ranting had subsided I checked my Amazon account. I had no credit balance. I had not credited the voucher to my account. Woops. Having done that obvious thing, my credit balance went up to ten quid. So I bought another e-book and this time I was not charged for it, and I still have a credit balance of over three quid with Amazon.

If any of my loyal readers would like to get paid for doing these surveys, please get in touch. You really do get paid, and I get a bung every time I recommend someone.

20 June 2011 (Monday) - Stuff

I see that on every other PC in the world (other than mine) for the last three weeks there has been some weird sort of video screen appearing after the day’s pictures on my blog entries. ‘er indoors TM pointed this out to me about an hour after bed time last night. It took an age to put the blog right. I have absolutely no idea what that was about, and would be grateful for any comments and suggestions as to where they might have come from.
Interestingly I received an email from my anti-virus scanner telling me that in the last month it has monitored 313 suspicious processes. It didn’t say anything about stopping them; just about monitoring them.

Equally mysterious in todays news was the decision by a rabbinical court in Jerusalem to kill a dog by stoning. Apparently religious crackpots recognised the animal as the reincarnation of someone who’d boiled their piss some twenty years previously.
I’ve mentioned before that the last thing I ever expected from the twenty-first century was the resurgence of crackpot superstitions as a serious political and social power.

And also somewhat topical… A good friend of mine is about (in a few months time) to become a father. When “My Boy TMwas born we were the first people in our social circle to have children, and so it was very much a voyage into the unknown. Which was probably for the best: I seem to delight in regaling prospective parents with horror stories of what to expect from their brats. And I always (only half-jokingly) reassure them with the prospect that in twenty (or so) years time they leave home.
However, “leaving home” is not such an easily definable term as one might think. Take “My Boy TMfor example. For all that he spends his every waking hour at his girl friend’s house; I won’t consider him moved out until I stop doing his laundry for him. Since his return from France on Saturday I’ve seen him for maybe ten minutes in total. And most of that was him running out of the door.
But my laundry bin is now overflowing with his grubby smalls which came back from France with him, and that he wants washed.

19 June 2011 (Sunday) - Slow Worms and Caravans

Having joined the Friends of Kings Wood last year, I’ve since made great show of being a member of the Tree Huggers. And I’m afraid that I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m rather disappointed: there’s not a weirdie-beardie-tree-hugger to be seen. In fact they all seem to be (like most of humanity, really) a rather decent bunch of people. Having said that, I’ve noticed that over the year, the children of the Friends of Kings Wood have taken to calling each other “Tree Huggers” as a form of insult. I can’t help but wonder where they picked that up from.

Today we went on a Reptile Ramble with the Tree Huggers (I shall continue to call them that!). Having met up, we then drove through miles of tracks through Kings Wood to an obscure corner. Having parked up in the obscure corner we then walked along even more obscure paths to find a wonderfully secluded valley. This was perhaps one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen; but the view was marred. There were random bits of corrugated iron here and there, and on closer inspection there were random bits of roofing felt littered about. My immediate reaction was to have a tidy-up, but our guide stopped me.
Our guide was one of the herpetologists from the nearby university, and the corrugated iron and roofing felt were carefully laid out to attract reptiles, and to make it easier to find them. Corrugated iron and roofing felt make warm areas which reptiles like: they formed part of an ongoing survey, and the herpetologists just hated people like me tidying up what looked like litter. Woops!

We were told that four of the UK’s six indigenous species of reptile have been found in this valley, and ten of us spend a couple of hours watching the experts doing their survey. Today we only saw two reptile species: a common lizard that was too fast to be photographed, and about a dozen slow worms. Personally I was hoping that we’d see a snake, but then I would, wouldn’t I?
Our resident expert really brought the subject to life: he was keen and enthusiastic. Amazingly he said that it’s not unusual to find reptiles under the corrugated iron and roofing felt at any time of year. He’d even found adders under them when there was snow on the ground.
And far from being asked not to go back there unsupervised, we were told we were welcome to have a look-see if ever we were passing. But we were told to be sure to report any reptile sightings back to him. I intend to go back in the autumn when the reptiles will be a bit more sluggish.

Rather than going home we then drove on to the motorhome showroom on the Canterbury road. I’m afraid I’m going off the idea of “tent”: “tent” takes hours of setting up, hours of packing away, and can be cold. “Tin tent” might cost a bit more, but will save time and effort, and will effectively lengthen the camping season by a couple of months. Weekends at Sumners Ponds and early and late kite festivals become feasible propositions.
The prices of motorhomes ranged from fifteen thousand pounds up to fifty thousand pounds. I quite liked the look of the ones in the twenty to thirty thousand pound price bracket. We got chatting to the salesman (always a bad thing to do) and it transpires that the road tax and insurance on a motorhome is comparable to that on a car (i.e. affordable). The major problem would be the initial outlay of lots of thousands of pounds for the thing in the first place. We said we’d think about it some more, and made our way home.

On the way home we saw a sign for a new Koi shop, so we thought we’d pop in. The car park was by a second hand caravan showground. One of the caravans caught my eye, so we thought we’d have a look. We got chatting with the salesman. It has to be said that this salesman started at a serious disadvantage – he looked just like Dexter from the BBC series “Survivors. I was honestly scared of him, and I was expecting him to pull out a shotgun at any minute. But the bloke spoke sense.
The sort of motorhome we’ve been looking at will cost about twenty five thousand pounds. Borrowing that amount of money is easy enough, but the repayments would be crippling. We may well inherit that sort of money following the death of parents (to be rather mercenary and heartless), but that money would be far better given to the fruits of my loin for them to get houses. And if we’re camping in a motorhome and we run out of milk, then the entire motorhome has to go shopping.

I can get a second hand caravan for about a tenth of the price of a motorhome, and it wouldn’t cost anything in road tax or insurance. It would have all the mod-cons of a motorhome and the same storage problems and costs. And when camping if we needed to buy anything we could just unhook the car and go off shopping. Admittedly neither of our cars is up to pulling a caravan for any distance, but the ‘er indoors TM –mobile is on its last legs and needs replacing anyway.
I shall think some more about this idea. I’ve asked for advice from friends with caravans and motorhomes. I shall seriously review the situation once the mortgage is paid off in a month or so…

18 June 2011 (Saturday) - Stuff

I wasn’t happy to read this morning’s news about increases to public sector worker’s pension contributions. I’m struggling to find hard figures which will apply to me, but taking as an example some figures quoted for the proposed increase in teacher’s pensions, come the autumn I’m looking to be quite seriously out of pocket. Fortunately my mortgage is paid off in a month or two, so should this hike in pension payments come into force, I won’t actually notice it. What I was paying on mortgage I will now pay in increased pension payments.
The fact that I was looking forward to a tad of financial solvency having paid off my mortgage is clearly neither here nor there.

I must admit I’m a tad hacked off with the whole pension squabbling. Thirty years ago I was sold a pension by the state. We both (me & HM Government) knew it was a long term investment. Over the years I had the option to change it for a private scheme, but we both agreed to keep what I’d bought. And now it’s three-quarters paid off, I can’t help but feel it’s rather late for HM Government to start quibbling about it. The thing was bought and sold in good faith. If it’s now an unaffordable proposition, the government should go kick the ass of the people who’ve caused that, not me.
It’s odd how a free market economy is such a brilliant idea all the time its working….

And it’s also odd how we begrudge the pensions of workers, but happily throw away public money…
Leicester City Council has admitted that it is not ready for an attack by zombies. Some twit wrote to Leicester City Council and asked for details of their plans to combat a possible zombie attack. Normally such idiocy would be treated with the contempt it deserves, but if one asks for such information and quotes the Freedom of Information Act, then public bodies crap themselves in terror and provide whatever trivial information the public demands.
However, for all that this might seem like a frivolous joke, it’s a joke which costs the taxpayer. Freedom of Information requests are dealt with by Information Governance Officers who are paid (about) twenty three quid per hour.
Take our newspapers for example. There was an article on Radio Four today which claimed that the Daily Express runs about ten stories every day based on information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Even if each of the paper’s enquiries only takes half an hour of a single Information Governance Officers’ time, that’s thirty thousand quid a year that newspaper is costing us.

Somewhat closer to home, after a morning at work I had a plan to mow the lawn. It’s not been mowed for some time. But rain stopped play. Having checked blog entries, every Saturday from the end of February till the end of May has been dry. And now we are in what one traditionally considers to be the summer, it rains every weekend. What’s that all about?
Bearing in mind that its three weeks since the lawn was last mowed, I gave it a haircut despite the rain. And I then gave myself a haircut. Spending fifteen quid on a pair of shears about fifteen years ago was one of the best investments I ever made. I then did the ironing – it’s a couple of weeks since I did any of that.

We then made out way to the Trattoria Romano in Bank Street for a friend’s birthday meal. I can’t believe I’ve lived in Ashford for twenty five years and have never been there before – the food was excellent, and with great company we had a wonderful time. And after the meal we went back to Steve & Sarah’s for coffee, lanterns and Uno Extreme.

We came home to find the prod-it-all son has returned from his fishing expedition. He’s caught loads of big fish. He’ll be publishing an album later, but for now he said I could use one photo for today’s blog piccie. I am seriously considering going with him next year….

17 June 2011 (Friday) - Some Ranting

Whilst surfing the web over brekkie this morning something caught my eye. Whilst out and about in California a few days ago, a couple of people saw what they thought was a Bigfoot. They’ve even got some fur from the beast which they intend to subject to DNA analysis.
An interesting article: there may well be Bigfoots in the USA. If there are, then they must be a seriously endangered species. Proving their existence could go a long way to setting up Bigfoot reserves and ensuring their protection.

And then I read the article some more. The bloke who claims to have found the Bigfoot fur runs a website. On this website he posts crackpot gibberish about UFO sightings, ghosts, conspiracy theory nonsense and no end of old tripe.
Why is it that non-loony people rarely report seeing Bigfoots or UFOs or ghosts? Having seen what I think may well have been a ghost myself, I know that my experience doesn’t mesh at all with what the paranormalist crackpots would have us believe.

And then I found that a good friend had posted something onto my Facebook page. The article warned us not to expect to inherit great sums of money from our parents. What with one thing and another the article seemed to think that most people won’t have great heaps of cash to pass on to their descendants when the reaper comes calling.
But realistically are people seriously waiting for their parents to croak in order to maintain financial solvency? I actually laughed out loud when the phrase “needy children” was used to describe the average man in the street. At forty seven (and a third) years old I can hardly be described as a “needy child”.
But apparently one person in ten is depending on an inheritance to pay their pension. Bearing in mind how much cash one gets from the sale of someone’s estate, and also bearing in mind the general cost of living, this one person in ten must either be the offspring of someone very rich or living in cloud cuckoo land.

Talking of cloud cuckoo land, my piss boiled when I read a comment on a good friend’s blog this morning. My friend is not well: she is looking at embarking on another course of therapy which will involve drugs and feeling very sick and nauseous. She is understandably nervous about the prospect, and is wondering if embarking on this would be for the best.
Someone has commented on her blog “…but I do think that we (the patients) have a RIGHT to say what we want, and When we want it, and how we want it. No matter what that IT is.

I *so* disagree with the whole concept of “patient choice”. When a consultant physician (hospital doctor) proposes a course of treatment, it will be the treatment that in their opinion would give the optimum result. Any deviation from that course of treatment will (by definition) give a non-optimal outcome.
Those who advocate “patient choice” are often doing so to people who are ill, and are often a little confused and unsure. And these people find themselves having their confidence in their doctors undermined by those who (while are very well-meaning) have absolutely no medical knowledge or experience whatsoever.

Patient Choice” works well in alternative (crackpot) medicine because alternative (crackpot) medicine is mostly all psychosomatic: it works because one thinks it works and if you feel that snake oil would be better for you than horse dung, then swapping treatment is fine. Neither works anyway.
But in reality, “patient choice” starts and finishes at the point of deciding what treatment to get. It is about deciding whether one is going to take sage and considered medical advice, or whether one is going to drink bleach for medicinal purposes on the advice of some old loony.
It should not be about picking and choosing what parts of proposed treatments one will and will not take, and then afterwards whinging that one is still ill….

I mention drinking bleach because there are those who actually regularly drink bleach for medicinal purposes. I personally think this is crackpot behaviour, bordering on the eccentric, but this really is “patient choice” in action….

16 June 2011 (Thursday) - This n That

Following on from a talk I gave to the astro club last year, the nice people at the South East Kent Astronomical Society have asked me to talk to them. Well, not so much talk to them as give a lecture. I’ve given loads of talks on astronomically-related subjects before, but they have mostly been to my own astro club where they all know me. I’m the amiable harmless bloke on the door who sells raffle tickets (noisily). But SEKAS say on their website “ALL our speakers are distinguished and are worthy of support and should be honoured with a good-sized audience.” I somehow can’t see myself as “distinguished”, but I won’t tell them that. I’ll let them find out the hard way. I’ve got a lecture on comets which I’m preparing for our own astro club. I’ll give them the same talk and see if they like it. After all, the worst that can happen is that they won’t ask me back again.
A late start gave me some time to fiddle around putting the finishing touches to this talk on comets. Having gone through it a few times I can’t help but feel it’s a bit light on knob jokes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for an astronomical lecture.

And so to work. Yesterday I mentioned that a colleague had crashed his bicycle. I saw him in the gents as I came into work. He was dusting himself down as best he could. He had a nasty graze on his arm, and I suggested that (since we work in a hospital anyway) he might pop up to the A&E department and get himself a once-over. He wasn’t too keen on the idea initially, but I insisted. As he went he said that his side did hurt.
This morning we found that he’d got a deflated lung and a broken thumb. It’s made me think twice about getting back on my pedal bike.

After work was committee meeting – the astro club is making plans. Possibly a day out at Herstmonceux Castle, probably something for “Observe the Moon Night”, definitely a new club logo for clothing and merchandising. All sorts of stuff in the pipeline. The club is going from strength to strength.

And in closing, some news from over the Channel. A few days ago I mentioned that “My Boy TMhas gone to France on a fishing trip. The arrangement was that he’d let me know by text whenever he caught a fish worthy of note. He’d not been in touch since Saturday, and I was beginning to worry. Either he’d caught nothing, or he had dropped his phone in the pond. So it was with a sense of relief that I’ve just got a text message from him. He’s now had nine big fish, six of them being over thirty pounds in weight. One of which was his first ever grass carp.
Bearing in mind his definition of “a big fish” starts at over twice the weight of the biggest fish I’ve ever caught, I’m tempted to go with him next year.

15 June 2011 (Wednesday) - A Lunar Eclipse

Back to work after a few days off, and within a few minutes it was as though I had never been away. It’s not that I actively dislike my job: more that I’ve been doing it since September 1981, and I’m so bored with it.
We had the weekly weigh-in; I’ve not lost any weight since last week, nor have I gained any. Which in a non-dieting frame of mind is probably how it should be.  Apart from a colleague crashing his bicycle, the rest of the day was dull, and I came home to sleep in front of my PC for an hour or so.

And then after a cracking bit of scoff we set off to Folkestone. A few weeks ago Stevey organised an astro club event to watch tonight’s eclipse, and the event grew to encompass the South East Kent Astronomical Society as well. About a dozen of us met up near the Martello tower in Folkestone, and we looked at France through binoculars and speculated on the possibility of the eclipsed moon being seen through breaks in the cloud later.
As the cloud thickened and we lost sight of Dover we began to have doubts about the evening, but we got chatting. I was talking to a chap who was telling me of an astronomy festival at Herstmonceux Castle in September. From his description this event seems to be akin to a kite festival, but without drunken teenagers pissing in your mess tent. My personal feeling is that this is something that may well warrant closer examination.

By now the mist was rolling in, and it was no longer possible to see Capel which was only one mile distant, and one or two of the more fair-weather astronomers were beginning to speculate on the possibility of daring to question the wisdom of attempting to see the moon when we couldn’t actually see the end of the street. And there’s no denying that had this event not been run in conjunction with SEKAS but had been run just by the Ashford Astronomical Society, we would all have gone inside and looked at pictures of what an eclipse would look like if there was no clouds.
The mist was rather thick by this point, and it was raining; so much so that my trousers were soaked and my pants were damp. So we decided to give up and try again next time.
Next time being 7pm on Saturday 10 December. See you then…?

14 June 2011 (Tuesday) - Road Trip

I woke feeling rather exhausted after a night of very vivid dreaming. Perhaps I shouldn’t eat Monster Munch just before bed time. Over brekkie I spent a little time looking at some of the blog’s settings including font sizes and the like. I’ve also (hopefully) made the blog appear much better when viewed on mobile devices. Having said that it looks awful on my mobile, but then most stuff does. I think that when I bought my SmartPhone I actually got a DumbPhone. For all that one hears talk of “Android” and “iPhone”, having bought one I’ve never heard any mention of the Nokia N8.
I also updated the “Dates for the Diary” section of the blog – I now have stuff planned for most of the weekends over the summer. This leaves me with precious little time for fishing. Talking of which, if anyone would like to take up membership of a rather exclusive syndicate with rights to fish a private late just outside Ashford (for only twenty quid a year), please let me know.

Having spread the canvas of our mess tent out to dry and having put my tent’s carpet on the washing line I then phoned Kent Police. Whilst on a shopping mission when camping last week, ‘er indoors TM inadvertently parked where she shouldn’t and got a parking ticket from “AM Secure Services Ltd”. I phoned the Old Bill to check the validity of this parking ticket. The Old Bill neither knew nor cared and said to phone Tesco. Tesco didn’t care either. They changed their tune slightly when I told them that I was going to tell the hundreds of people at the kite festival to do their shopping elsewhere. But they still maintained it wasn’t their problem.
So in the end I phoned “AM Secure Services Ltd” themselves and told them I had some land I might like to use as a car park. I asked how they would deal with someone who wouldn’t pay the parking ticket. Eventually they said they would take the person to court, and whether or not the court ruled in favour of the parker or the ticketing company was entirely down to the whim of the presiding judge. I’ve told ‘er indoors TM that if it was me who’d had the ticket I’d let them take me to court.

And seeing as today was booked as holiday I went on a bit of a road trip. First of all to PC World to have a look-see. Since I got the new wireless modem I’ve had far fewer (i.e. hardly any) connection problems. And since I abandoned using Safari as a browser and went to Firefox instead I’ve had far fewer (i.e. hardly any) incidents of the PC freezing up. But it wouldn’t hurt to see how much replacing the PC is going to cost. And I got the answer – about five hundred quid. I then popped into the Home Brew shop to get the makings of some beer for our next trip to Teston. I expect that I shall be there again in August, but there’s no denying that following two wet camps I’m rather having a downer on the idea of camping at the moment.
Mind you not that much of a downer – I then went on to Aldi in Hythe because I’d heard they were selling self-inflating camping mattresses cheaply. They were. I picked one up for twelve quid. It still remains to be seen how much of a bargain it actually was. The last one sprung a rupture last weekend and had lasted about four years. Camping shops are doing them for about twenty five quid, so I would hope that this one will last me at least two seasons.

And then onwards. As I drove through Folkestone I saw the house that we rented for two years (Sept 84 – Apr 86) is currently up for sale. It’s listed as having four bedrooms: it had one when we rented it. I wonder what’s going on there? I’m very tempted to arrange a viewing just to be nosey.
I then popped in to the Battle of Britain museum to use their facilities. Whilst I was there I bought a souvenir bookmark – the shop was closed when I called in last year.
I then went to a car showroom in Capel – the last time I drove past they were selling motorhomes and campervans. They weren’t today. So I kept on going and eventually found the camping shop in Sturry where I had a look-see. The pet shop next door was interesting as always, and the motorhomes round the corner were cheap. Mind you they weren’t unlocked. The bloke there offered to open the one(s) I wanted to look at and stand over me, but I wasn’t keen to have this sort of pressure, so I thanked him and made my way to the motorhome showroom in Canterbury. The chap there was helpful and left me to browse. I might go back there for another look at the weekend.

And so home where I slept through the third “Alien” film. And once I awoke I folded away the last of the camping gear which I’d popped on the line this morning. I was going to then put my tent, the carpet and the mess tent away, but the lock-ups are full to the point of being overflowing already. So I need to strip them all out and re-pack them. That which needs to go away can stay in the shed for the time being: I’ll worry about it later…

Meanwhile if any of my loyal readers think I might be storing any camping gear, tents or chairs for them, could they please retrieve them by the end of the week. There is stuff in there which I know is not mine, and I do not have enough space in the garden lock-ups. That which is still unclaimed on Sunday will be either eBay-ed or taken to the tip (!)

13 June 2011 (Monday) - Bayham Old Abbey

I went to bed last time, listening to the rain in a rather smug sort of way. Camping is all good fun when it’s warm and dry. And you can cope with a degree of cold and wet. And this morning I awoke to find it had rained seriously hard overnight: the water level in my fish pond had gone up a couple of inches. For all that it was mostly dry today, the grass in the garden was still wet at midday. If I had any doubts about the sensibility of packing up camp early yesterday; I’m now convinced we made the right decision.
Talking of decisions, I’ve told my nephew not to bring his idiot friend camping again. Over the years we’ve had no end of kids and teenagers camping with us in various places, and this is the first time there’s ever been a major problem. My immediate reaction yesterday was to ban all under-18s from our mess tent. Which would have been utterly unfair on the vast majority of under-18s because they are (99.9+%) decent well-mannered people.

People like my nephew’s idiot friend annoy me. Not so much because of their behaviour, but because the actions of one idiot spoil everything for everyone else. He made me (nearly) tar everyone of his age with the same brush when I know full well that not all youngsters are like that. And I don’t like that!
Take for example the contingent that “My Boy TMis currently with. A gaggle of them set off to France last Friday for a week’s fishing. They will have a beer or two (like I do), but they will have fun without causing upset. And catch a fish or two along the way. When they go fishing they might not shout “Haddock!” as often as I do, but when they do it will be for a fish worth catching. So far I’m reliably informed that “My Boy TMhas had five fish over twenty pounds in weight, two of them being over thirty pounds.

I woke rather early this morning very conscious of all the wet tents needing drying, and seeing how it wasn’t actually raining at the time I thought I’d get some of the tents on the line. After all, if it should start raining they were already wet. I got my tent’s groundsheet on the washing line…
How easy it is to type that: I wrestled with the thing for forty minutes, covering myself with day-old mud from the groundsheet. And having got it on the line I realised that having fought like that with a groundsheet, there was no way I could do anything else on my own. So I went back to bed. After a bit of a lie-in and a bit of brekkie I enlisted the help of ‘er indoors TM. The groundsheet was dry, but the grass was still very wet, so we got the groundsheet in without letting it get near the ground, which is another thing much easier said than done. And then we pegged out our tent on the washing line and left it for the day.
We mucked and fiddled about for the morning putting the last of the bits and bobs from camping away. And at midday I went out to see our tent. Not quite dry. I then noticed my feet were wet. For all that the rain had stopped, the grass was still sodden. Again feeling vindicated for packing up camp early we decided to do something with the day we had taken off work.

We started with McDinner. There were a whole load of soldiers at McDonalds. Soldiers all have their names emblazoned on their uniform chests. I sniggered at Private Sergeant; I don’t think he saw me. It’s odd; for all that soldiers have guns I felt somehow reassured that there were a gaggle of squaddies in McDonalds.  I know that I would have felt most uncomfortable if there was a similar contingent of police in their place.
And then we went on to Bayham Old Abbey. The official line is that Bayham Old Abbey makes “a fascinating day out on the Kent Sussex border. The impressive ruins include much of the 13th to 15th-century church, the chapter house, and a picturesque 14th-century gatehouse”. My personal view is that it’s not a bad place to waste half an hour purely because I get in free with my English Heritage membership. It’s not worth the fiver (near enough) that the general punter would have to pay.

We came home via the caravan shop in Hurst Green where they had the same chair that he Rear Admiral used this weekend. For ten quid cheaper than he paid for it. I did snigger. And then on to John’s Cross. I wanted one or two camping bits, but we found ourselves spending about an hour looking at the motorhomes. We can’t afford one yet, but one day…..

12 June 2011 (Sunday) - Rained Off

I didn’t sleep very well, and despite a good gutful of ale and port, I only slept for two hours, opening the gate at 6am. I then spent a little while tidying up the wreckage of the previous evening’s drinking session. Being rather “oiled” at the time myself, it never occurred to me to wonder how my nephew’s idiot mates had gotten that oiled as well. I found out as I tidied up. Our half-bottle of Southern Comfort was empty. As was our quarter bottle of vodka. And the full bottle of home made wine the park ranger had given us. And most of the bottles of lager that my brother had brought along. And I’m sure my barrel of home-brew was a lot emptier than how I’d left it.

After brekkie I refilled the water container and gossiped with Simon. And then I had a look at Bryan’ event shelter. For all that I’d spent thirty-plus quid on new gazebos, they weren’t really standing up to the wind and rain that he weekend was throwing at them. And our old folding gazebo has seen better days. A Coleman’s even shelter might just be the ideal solution for a covered area outside our mess tent, or even to replace our mess tent.

Simon then roasted a Camembert for our lunch, and we played Blokus as we listened to the rain of the tent. ‘er indoors TM was about to go shopping for the makings of tea when we stopped and had a think. The weather was awful with no respite forecast. With “Daddies Little Angel TMill and going home with the next transport, were we to stay overnight there would be four of us to take down a wet camp. At that moment there were eleven of us. So we decided to abandon ship. Normally taking down the camp takes most of a morning. With the concerted effort of eleven of us we were packed up and  on the way home in less than two hours.

We’ve still got a wet mess tent and our tent and it’s groundsheet to dry off, but were we to stay we would probably have had that anyway. Much as I enjoy camping, when camping one is seriously at the mercy of the elements, and today (and all this camp really) the elements had not been kind to us. Which was a shame….