31 October 2010 (Sunday) - Fungarses

Two weeks ago I mentioned that I’d been having problems with my PC in that it wasn’t running as fast as it used to. I’d done some tweaking over the last week or so, but not achieved an awful lot in improving the performance. So this morning I had a rummage around to see what processes the PC was running which might be slowing it down.
There were two processes which related to my Lexmark printer, each of which were running in the background. I wouldn’t mind, but I’ve not had a Lexmark printer for a couple of years. They got the chop. Similarly there were quite a few processes running which were to do with how I connect my Nokia phone to my PC. I’ve not had a Nokia phone for over a year. Those processes got the heave-ho as well.
I then updated my version of C-Cleaner and ran it. It found thousands of temporary files which are now no longer there. I checked the registry integrity, even though I had no idea what that was all about. It found seven problems, and I told it to fix them.
I also reactivated Windows Defender. Having been told by absolutely everyone (only a few months ago) that Windows Defender was Satan incarnate, now it would seem that the general opinion is that Windows Defender is a combination of the A-Team, International Rescue, the Good Fairy and SPECTRUM.
Let’s hope what I’ve done has done some good. Mind you, it has to be said that there’s no noticeable improvement so far.

Regular readers of this drivel may recall an entry from April 10 of this year when I discovered a list of all sorts of organised events which were planned to take place in Kings Wood. Today we went up to the “Fungi Foray”, which had been billed as a walk round the woods to see what things of mycological interest we might come across.
We arrived (in the rain) to find normal people swarming. If it were not for the fact that I recognised some friends who were on the committee of this bunch I would have gone straight home again. But Gaynor and Mick (and their kids) are good fun, and despite my better judgement I joined the Friends of Kings Wood for a year. And then on with the business of the day.
The Friends of Kings Wood had obtained the services of a tame mycologist for the morning, and this chap chatted for a bit, then led us into a field. We had five minutes looking for funguses, and then he chatted for an hour about what we’d found. I can imagine the reaction of my loyal readers on reading this – listening to some professor droning on about funguses for an hour (in the rain)…  But this tame professor was wonderful; he really brought the subject to life. He told us what toadstools you can eat. He told us what mushrooms will kill you if you eat them. He told us what ones will send you as high as a kite. He told us what ones he’d eaten and enjoyed. And what ones he’d eaten and been either sick or stoned on. And he did it in such a wonderful and interesting way that we didn’t realise that we’d spent an hour (in the rain) listening to a professor lecturing about funguses.

Professor then got strict with us. He’d come along to lead a walk round the woods, and in over an hour we’d only walked twenty yards. So he insisted that we actually did some walking. We walked for just less than five minutes when he found the really pretty red toadstool pictured above. Then we all stopped again and as the rain stopped and the day cheered up, the chap again chatted about all the funguses we’d found. And you’d be amazed how many funguses you can find in a wood when you actually look. There were puffballs which puffed out clouds of smoke, toadstools which were completely amethyst in colour and are quite edible (and are fun in a salad – watch other people’s reaction!). There were mushrooms the size of a human hair (if you looked close enough), and even toadstools that tasted exactly how old books smell (I tried them).
I was really impressed. Despite the preponderance of normal people I’m quite looking forward to the next event at Kings Wood.

And then home via Tescos. In a break with tradition we didn’t go via Lidls. And once the shopping was done I did something I rarely do – I watched the telly. During the week I saw that an old classic was on the TCM movie channel, so I recorded it, and I spent the afternoon watching “Bridge over the River Kwai”, and didn’t fall asleep once.

After a smashing bit of tea and with ‘er indoors TM  gone bowling I got ready for the onslaught of Trick-or-Treat- ers. I *love* Trick-or-Treat- ers. As a child we never really celebrated Halloween, but I did “penny for the Guy” and carol singing, and I loved doing them. There are those who disapprove because of all sorts of valid reasons. And no matter how valid anyone’s reason for disapproving, I still love the whole idea of trick or treat, penny for the Guy and carol singing. And anyone who doesn’t is a “sour-puss-grumpy-face TM”. Unless (of course) the little bleeders have recently set light to your dustbin as some sort of a “trick”. In that case, a degree of reticence is permissible. It’s only a shame (as my son once said) that there is no legitimate way to extort money from the public with menaces between the months of January and late October.
As it happened we only got one lot of Trick-or-Treat- ers, but they were rather scary. And what was even scarier was that they were under the supervision of an ex-cub who was now bigger than I am…

30 October 2010 (Saturday) - Shadoxhurst Bonfire

For a change I wasn’t working this morning. Since I can get paid overtime, I’m doing quite a few Saturday mornings at the moment. Whilst watching telly over brekkie I saw my mother’s home town was on the telly. Hastings would seem to have recovered from having the pier burn down, and is hosting the world crazy golf competition.

Despite the morning’s torrential rain, the weather forecast was predicting sunshine for today, so after I wasted a bit of time on my work-related blog we set off to the arky-ologee club’s dig. I really should have learned from my experiences at arky-ologee club last Wednesday.

We arrived at Kent Manor to find three volunteers and some holes in the lawn. It turned out that the Lady of the Manor suspected her house had historical significance, and so she’d instructed the Lord of the Manor to get some of the lower orders to dig some holes in her garden to find out what the historical significance of her house was. So we scrubbled about in Trench One for a while. Some other sucker had dug out enough top soil to expose some rubble, and it was our task to dig away in one corner to see what was under the rubble. As it happened, under the rubble there was more rubble.
I soon lost interest, and whilst Mossop got handy with a wheelbarrow I rolled over and had a kip for an hour or so. When I woke up it would seem I had missed the excitement. ‘er indoors TM  had found a post hole. Or so she claimed. She’d found some underground wood. I could hardly contain my indifference at this news, and I went back to kip for another half an hour or so.

Home, and then on to Shadoxhurst bonfire. I like Shadoxhurst bonfire, especially because of the fun fair that the place has. Within minutes of arriving I had an inflatable plastic sword and two teddy bears (as well as the obligatory flashing rabbit ears). Beers and burgers were swilled by all, and we watched the bonfire, and the fireworks. Nowhere near as large or as impressive as the corporate displays we’d seen at Eastbourne of Hastings, but every bit as much fun. The only fly in the ointment was that the battery in my flashing rabbit ears gave up after only an hour or so…

29 October 2010 (Friday) - Astro Club

And so to the astro club. Tonight was the Annual General Meeting, and because it was, the entire committee stood down to be re-elected. For appearance’s sake, with the committee stood down, I got to be Acting Chairman for the purposes of re-electing the chairman. I told the club that they were in trouble now that I was in charge, and I couldn’t nominate the old Chairman quickly enough. He was immediately seconded and unanimously re-elected. My tenure as Acting Chairman lasted for about two minutes, but in all honesty it was an important two minutes. It would have been just as easy for the Chairman to have done the election, but having had me come up and take over, if only for two minutes, made sure that everything was done properly. The election of the rest of the committee shortly followed, and the entire AGM was over within twelve minutes. We then moved on to the main speaker. Tonight’s talk was by a chap who’s been art the club almost as long as I have, and there’s not many have been there that long.

In retrospect I feel somewhat cheated. The talk was entitled “Faith or Science. Or both”, and was billed as a Christian’s way of reconciling current scientific thinking with established theological opinion. The talk started very well as the speaker reviewed (and dismissed) various definitions of the term “Faith”. He then explained that a “Faith” had five pillars on which it was supported, and without those five pillars it would fail. Everyone was amazed to find the first pillar was “Reason”. It was a shame that this wasn’t elaborated on, but such is life. The second pillar was “Experience”, and I suppose it should be so. The third pillar was “Tradition”, but for some reason the speaker made a good job of ridiculing the whole concept of religious tradition. The fourth pillar was “Bible”, and that was presented as though it was self-evident. The fifth pillar was where the rot set in to the argument.

Revelation” was the fifth pillar. “Revelation” being the Almighty communicating directly with humanity, either as a whole, or on an individualistic basis. Apparently since there were no witnesses around before the first man was created, any information about such a time before the first man must clearly be directly imparted from the deity. This stood to “Reason” (!)
The speaker then went on to say that the earliest Bible stories are often in line with the teachings of various other ancient cultures and therefore must be true. Somehow the fact that the earliest Bible stories are also often at odds with the teachings of various other ancient cultures also proved that the Bible must be true as well. One lives and learns…

The chap then went on to explore the scientific method; in which an idea is formulated, tested, and if found to be wrong is then abandoned. Apparently scientists don’t always follow the scientific method, and he quoted the case of Professor Fred Hoyle, who clung to the steady-state theory of creation long after the evidence for a “big bang” seemed to be overwhelming. Somehow the fact that one Professor held on to his pet theory for a few years conclusively disproved the entire concept of “scientific method”.
Professor Hoyle was wrong. Big deal! Over history, lots of scientists have been wrong. That’s how it works. It was a shame that this line of reasoning was concluded at this point. At no stage did we dare to attempt to apply any scientific reasoning or testing to the religious ideas.

We then had a slight interlude in which we were played a segment of an episode of Star Trek in which Lt Cdr Data broke the Prime Directive. We saw an interesting moral dilemma, and it was suggested that God doesn’t intervene in human affairs more often as He is bound by the Prime Directive as well.
For no adequately explored reason, this view is utterly consistent with God’s supposed intervention in the believers’ daily rounds (see pillar of belief #2 - “Experience”)

Then I got really confused. There is an old adage that if an infinite number of immortal monkeys played with an infinite number of typewriters, then eventually one of them would come up with the complete works of Shakespeare. They probably would, I suppose. But the given scenario is clearly artificial and nonsensical. Somehow that strengthened the position of “Faith” whilst undermining that of “Science”. I would dearly love to explain how that worked, but I’m afraid the logic escaped me.

We then turned our attention to an old chestnut – the Anthropic Principle. Basically this argument is that if the speed of light were only slightly a little bit different, and if the force of gravity were only a tiddly bit different (and so on for every physical characteristic, and force that there is) then the universe wouldn’t be here, or if it were then it would be utterly inimical to life. Therefore God made the universe perfectly for us to live in.
Personally I subscribe to the converse of this argument - it could be that life (and we) exist *because* the various physical constants of the universe are how they are.
This isn’t a point that anyone can answer convincingly either way, and rather than giving credence to either side of the “Faith vs Science” debate, it just muddies the (already murky) waters and would probably have best been left alone.

At this point the lights were raised and a polite round of applause went round the hall. On the one hand I salute the speaker for daring to take on such a controversial subject. On the other hand I’m rather disappointed that he didn’t do his homework. In my more lucid moments I am a Chartered Scientist, and I have a degree in mathematics so perhaps I have an unfair advantage. But the talk was given to an astronomy club in which the audience wasn’t by any means uneducated. And I honestly believe I could have done a better job of defending his religion than he did of attacking (my) science.
If he truly wanted to rubbish science he could have mentioned some really weird science. For example the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in which it’s impossible to know both the position and momentum of a subatomic particle. Or better still he could have cited Godel’s theorems which basically state that any kind of attempt to explain the universe is doomed to failure.

My feeling was that the talk was given at what I might unkindly describe as a rather basic level. The speaker did tend to subscribe to the view that science is only an idea, and did push that concept; somehow implying that because science was only an idea, somehow that made his religious views more plausible.
But rubbishing science is easy. I do it all the time (I’m allowed to; he’s not!). However having dismissed science doesn’t automatically prove the existence of the rubbisher’s chosen deity, does it?

After an hour of this, hawking the raffle came as a blessed relief….

28 October 2010 (Thursday) - Other People's Misfortunes

Imagine the scene – you’ve gone out on the razzle in Folkestone, and you’ve carefully checked the times of the last train home. You arrive at the railway station fifteen minutes before the second-to-last train is due to leave, and find the station is in darkness, and all the doors are locked, leaving you with no option but to walk home from Folkestone. What would you do?
Me – I laughed like a drain when I heard. But then I would do – it wasn’t me who was trying to get on the train. However, were it me wanting the train, I imagine I would have been metaphorically (if not literally) spitting bullets.

On further research it turned out that the people who gave the train times weren’t wrong. There was a train from Folkestone to Dover that left Folkestone at ten to midnight. But all that these people are responsible for is train times. There was a train leaving Folkestone at the time that they said.
Whilst they were sad to hear that no one was able to get into the station to get on to the train, (and also that presumably people getting off of the train would have been equally stuffed), station management isn’t their problem.
After a lot of mucking about, contact was eventually made with the company that runs the railway stations. They were oblivious to the fact that the station was closed.

Personally I can’t help but wonder if the station was actually open, but my colleague was too “refreshed” to open the door, and so he decided that the door was locked. But whatever the outcome, after a night on the lash he staggered home from Folkestone to Dover. I’ve done that walk once – it takes some doing.

There is nothing as amusing as other people’s misfortunes….

27 October 2010 (Wednesday) - Arky-ologee Club

Up at the crack of dawn, and on with ironing shirts. Dull, but I might as well iron shirts as lie in bed wide awake. And if I’m going to watch telly, there are a lot less adverts on the UK Gold channel between 6am and 7am.

To work which wasn’t as dull as usual. Most Wednesdays feature a lunchtime talk, lecture or seminar to break up the week. Today was my turn, and I spoke on the subject of anaemia. Trying to cover the subject in twenty minutes was rather ambitious, and I over-ran slightly.

As I was getting into my car I noticed one of the more junior staff walking across the car park with her boyf (youf speek, innit!). Arm in arm, and obviously loved-up. In years gone by I would have been immediately on the phone to spread the gossip and to encourage others to point and laugh. But I’m not going to blab; I think it’s quite sweet.

And so to arky-ologee club. Tonight we had a very informative lecture on the history of the local hamlet of Dungey-on-the-Wold. I know it was an informative lecture because the speaker told me so. The only thing about Dungey-on-the-Wold of which we can be reliably certain is that it possesses a Riddler well. We were told that this water feature was once an iron age dew pond, but I know a Riddler well when I see one.
I must admit that I am rather vague about the other archaeological features of Dungey-on-the-Wold. For all that Mossop enthused about how interesting and exciting their finds were; from what I could establish during the bits of the talk for which I was awake, they hadn’t actually identified anything. There was a lot of flint, and they had a vague idea that their artefacts were from somewhere between the iron ages and the medieval periods. So they’d narrowed it down to a period of about a thousand years.
They had also found a dice which got them all very excited, but it turned out it wasn’t medieval at all, but was from a 1950s version of Ker-plunk. And they had a map with some lines on it.

I wonder what next month’s talk will be about…?

26 October 2010 (Tuesday) - Stuff

I see that a father and son have managed perhaps the most extreme aerial photography ever. I once got some half-way decent photos from a camera on a kite, but getting a camera nineteen miles up using home-made tackle was quite impressive. I’m tempted to see if some of my more technically minded readers fancy helping me to have a go. I wonder how high we could get?

‘er indoors TM  performed an equally impressive bit of DIY today, restoring full power to the chodbin. I say “full power” – the flush circuit could do with being cranked up somewhat. But having spent the last six months using buckets of water to flush the toilet, I’m grateful for any progress on the kharsi front.

Mind you, she wasn’t so successful with her new DVD recorder. I came home from work this evening to find her wrestling with the thing. It refuses to format DVD-R minus to Beta-Max standard (or some such other technobabble). She’s eventually got it doing something which she is claiming to be a result. Me – I’m not getting involved.
Chris came round with a Blue-Ray player, and then installed it under the telly. Apparently it’s for our Tuesday evening video evenings (video!) since much of the stuff we watch is now on Blue-Ray.
Glenn came round and showed off his scars. I think he might have shown off more, but his mummy was watching. Which was probably for the best.

And ‘er indoors TM found a picture of my Lewis from way back when. For those of my loyal readers who never met him, Lewis is the long one in the picture. And if anyone ever claims they don’t like snakes, spend five minutes with an adult Burmese python, and you’ll love them. The chap in the photo was a friend from way back when as well.
Both Bob and Lewis are sadly no longer with us. I miss both of them….

25 October 2010 (Monday) - This and That..

Last Wednesday I mucked out my letters rack. This morning the thing was full again. Including a letter from the DVLA containing my road tax disc. I ordered it on-line on Wednesday and the thing must have come with the post either on Friday or Saturday. I’m impressed with that.

I see from the news that my mother is about to get some new neighbours. In order to help the poorer families in London, the Government is to pack them off to poorer parts of the country. Apparently this had two advantages. Firstly the poorer families won’t feel out of place if they are lumped in with the lower orders of other towns. And secondly they won’t be lowering house prices for those who feel the need for a little exclusivity. I *thought* the Prime Minister was keen on fairness for all?
Such slum clearances have been done before – and anyone who lives near me can tell you what a roaring success Stanhope has been (not!). If anyone could be bothered to look back through Parliament’s records, Hansard (from over fifty years ago) records what a failure the entire concept of “London overspill towns” was.
For all that history can be dull, if we don’t learn from it, we just keep on making the same mistakes….

In closing I’m going to be somewhat depressing. I met some old colleagues today. I hadn’t seen them for fourteen years, since they moved to Swansea. They were back in the area because one of our old bosses is very ill, and they were visiting. I deliberately haven’t visited because I know how ill this chap is.
Once a very well regarded and respected member of the hospital staff, following a major stroke the chap is now bedridden and (from all reports) is utterly oblivious to the world around him, is incapable of speech or movement, and has very little chance of ever improving. I haven’t visited the chap because I know that he wouldn’t want me seeing him in that state.
And I wouldn’t want anyone to see me in such a state either. Should the worst happen, please take this blog entry as written instructions to pull my plug.
(Normal service and knob jokes will resume as soon as possible…)

In the meantime, have you heard about the bird….?

24 October 2010 (Sunday) - Chestnuts

For once I lay in my pit until after 10am. That doesn’t happen very often. By the time I’d finally gotten up and had some brekkie it was after mid day. So that the day wouldn’t be entirely wasted, ‘er indoors TM had this idea that we might go chestnut-ing. Apparently there were chestnut trees at Molash. So we drove to Molash; I slept most of the way there. On arrival at the village I was asked to take over navigating, and to lead us to the woods. Why did she ask me? What do I know? I hadn’t spent the morning asking everyone where the chestnuts were (!) As luck would have it, I caught sight of a gaggle of normal people brandishing maps and walking sticks, so I suggested we parked up and walked off in the direction from where they’d appeared.
In an amazing triumph of pot luck over common sense within minutes we found ourselves in the north end of Kings Wood, and soon we found chestnut trees. I had a moment’s qualm about collecting chestnuts – was it alright to collect chestnuts? As it happened there were plenty of windfall chestnuts lying around, so I don’t think that anyone could have been that fussed about wanting them. We soon gathered a bagful, and then wandered round the woods. There were several normal people who politely nodded, and then there were the dog walkers. Frantically blowing whistles and screaming at the dogs, whilst the dogs just did whatever they wanted.
It’s been said that I don’t like dogs. That’s not quite fair. I like dogs in the same way that I like mad axe murderers. Both are fine all the time they are under control. Sadly (in my experience) you rarely see either under control. Fortunately they (the dogs, not the mad axe murderers) were going the other way from us, so we didn’t have to put up with their noise or their covering us in mud for long.

With chestnuts collected we walked a circular route round the woods, and eventually found ourselves back at the car. Being Sunday, a trip to Lidls was obligatory. For all that money is tight, I spent a bit on beer. Lidls were knocking out Shepherd Neame’s current seasonal ale “Tapping the Admiral” at a pound a bottle, so I bought a gallon. This is an ale I’ve never tried before, and is brewed to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October). I also got another gallon of a different ale they were also knocking out at a pound a bottle. Another Shepherd Neame seasonal: “Dragonfire”. I know this beer – it’s brewed in honour of St George’s Day (23 April). Yes – I know. The question of why they were touting an April beer in October did occur to me as well.

And then home, where I dozed in front of the telly whilst watching “The Great Escape”. A rather inappropriately named film, as most of the cast ended up getting caught. In fact everyone except James Coburn got caught, as I remarked to my father in law, who’d come on a flying visit.

After a super bit of Sunday roast I went back to NeverWinter, where I am currently in a dungeon, in the nip, in trouble…

23 October 2010 (Saturday) - Alpacas

I woke in the night to the sound of heavy rain on the bedroom window. I had a wry smile at the thought of my friends who were camping at the Star Party in Cranbrook. And I rolled over and went back to sleep. Camping in the rain is all very well, provided someone else is doing it.

To work, which was frustrating, but was soon over and done with. The weather had been rather rough earlier, but by mid day it was quite bright so after a quick sandwich we met up with an old pal, and then we set off. Having missed the open day at the Alpaca farm whilst “doing ducks” a few weeks ago, we’d been invited to a private showing. Finding the Alpaca farm took some doing, but eventually we got there, and we spent a pleasant hour or so actually in the paddocks with the Alpacas, chatting with the Alpaca-herds.

Alpacas are basically a smaller version of Llamas, and once they’ve got used to you, they are quite inquisitive beasts. And they are pretty. We met loads of Alpacas, including “Alice” and “Geoffrey”, and learned loads about these wonderful animals.
Did you know that Alpaca poo is (apparently) corrosive stuff, and kills off the grass very quickly? And that it doesn’t smell? And that it is a very good fertiliser? Apparently the Alpaca-herds gather up the Alpaca poo with a “poo-ver” and pass on bags of dung to the locals. An arrangement which makes everyone (including the Alpacas) very happy. One lives and learns(!)

The Alpacas weren’t quite brave enough to let us stroke them, but I got down to their level and a couple came up to me and rubbed noses. One even managed to steam my specs up, which was a result.

And then the rain came back. Torrentially, and with some hail mixed in for good measure. So we retreated to the Alpaca-Barn. Gotham City has Bat-Caves; Kent has an Alpaca-Barn. We chatted in the barn for an hour or so before setting off homewards; via Smarden for coffee and cakes.

On the way home we also popped back to Bybrook barn. Yesterday I mentioned I’d given the fish tank an overhaul. Although all the fish survived, the light system didn’t, so I had to get a replacement.
On reflection the thing I don’t like most about the pet shop at Bybrook Barn is the aggressive, rude, overweight, “delightful lady” who is so often behind the till. She was there today, and with surly one-word answers she eventually supplied me with what I needed. Once home, installing the new light took ten minutes, and then after a decent bit of scran, it was off to NeverWinter for the evening….

22 October 2010 (Friday) - Fish Tanks and Astronomy

I thought I’d take a day off work today. Mainly because not many other people were off, and if I don’t use my holiday, I lose it.
The plan for the day was fish tank maintenance. Keeping fish is a (relatively) low maintenance hobby, but occasionally you have to do something. Our fish tank was originally bought as a (second hand) gift for “My Boy TM over ten years ago. When he decided he’d had enough of fish, he passed the tank back to his old man. Over the last weeks and months (and years) the fish tank has grown more and more grungy, and so today I decided to pop the fish into a bucket, empty the tank completely, give it a scrub, reorganise the shelves behind it, and rebuild the whole lot a bit tidier than it once was. In theory it sounded a straightforward thing to do. The bits and bobs came out of the tank easily enough. Catching the fish was slightly more tricky, but “Daddies Little Angel TMsoon caught the more elusive tiddlers.

The worst part of the job was scrubbing out the gravel. When we first got the tank it came with gravel. We never cleaned the stuff at the time of purchase, and since we’ve had the tank we’ve never cleaned the stuff. I got the gravel out of the tank and into a bucket, and the idea was that I’d fill the bucket with water, swill it all about a bit and after three of four changes of water the gravel would be as clean as if it were new. After twenty changes of water, the water was still black and thick with over ten years of various fishy gunges. I eventually got the water running clear, but it took some doing. But then, that was the whole reason why I was cleaning out the fish tank.
Time for reassembly. Everything went back together fairly easily. I had a plan to use some of the slate chippings I’d popped around the garden water features as a decoration in the fish tank. I couldn’t find the chippings. I wonder what I’ve done with them? And there was a dodgy five minutes when I was reconnecting the electricals: I managed to drop the plug for the heater into the fish tank. I didn’t swear much. But I took it apart, dried it out with a tea towel, and all was fine.
When we started there was a shelf on the wall just above the fish tank. I even managed to move the shelf up a bit and get another shelf in as well. There is now a minor dilemma in that the new shelves are closer together than the old ones were, and some of ‘er indoors TM ‘s dragons now are too tall for the shelves. But there are shorter dragons on taller shelves elsewhere. She can play moving dragons about later. She’ll enjoy that.

I had expected to spend most of the day on this job – in the end it only took a couple of hours, and so after sleeping in front of the telly for a while I decided that the fish tank needed more Neons. You can never have too many Neons. Bearing in mind how hopeless Bybrook Barn’s pet shop had been a few days ago, I thought I’d try the shop round the corner from me. So I walked into Pets at Home and went up to the counter where the nice lady was having a conversation with her friend. And I waited. And waited. And eventually gave up waiting and walked out. Having collected “Daddies Little Angel TMfrom college we both went back to Bybrook Barn who were very helpful (this time).
We had a mooch round and got the Neons, and a Siamese fighting fish. They are all called Dave.

And as I close this evening, spare a thought for those members of the Astronomy club who’ve gone off to the club’s first Astro Camp. In conjunction with the Cranbrook astronomy club, they’ve gone off to spend the entire night (up till tomorrow morning) star gazing.
On hearing about this Star Party, my initial reaction was to laugh at the idea. Star gazing at a kite festival or at the Batfarm is fun. Especially just after a gutful of ale, and just before falling asleep. But spending all night doing proper astronomy, and actually doing it properly as well, didn’t really appeal to me. But then I thought that I really shouldn’t run the idea down until I’d tried it. So I buttered up ‘er indoors TM and we set off to Cranbrook to see what was happening.
As it happened, not very much. The sky was rather overcast, and and when the clouds did break, the light of the full moon drowned out pretty much all of the sky. But we got to see the moon, and the moons of Jupiter. There were those doing it through telescopes. The Cranbrook people had got a huge telescope rigged up to a TV projector, and I sat inside with them watching stuff on the screen. And as it clouded over, we were able to use the technology to look at pictures they’d obtained previously. In my book that’s a resounding victory for the armchair astronomy brigade (!)
But it was cold and I have got to be up relatively early for work tomorrow, so we came home. I shall look forward to next week’s astro club meeting where they can tell me what happened after we left. And they can tell me in the comfort of a warm village hall…

21 October 2010 (Thursday) - Little Bit of Politics

Earlier in the week I mentioned about the noticeable signs of winter. Today we had the first frost of the year. And when I wandered down the garden at 10.30am the ice in the water features was still half an inch thick. I’m taking that as God’s way of telling me to put the Koi to bed for the winter. They won’t like it, but there it is.

Yesterday the Government (I never voted for them!) announced their spending cuts. I actually listened to the announcements as they were made live on the radio. When the Chancellor was speaking he kept saying what he was doing and what he was planning and where he was going to spend more money. At the time he didn’t actually say very much at all about where the cuts would fall.
It’s interesting that he slagged off the previous Government quite comprehensively, and laid the blame for our financial mess firmly on their doorstep. Especially interesting seeing how when all this financial disaster first kicked off, his party were (at the time) broadly supportive of the previous government’s fiscal plans.

Today’s news is full of financial doom and gloom, but then (let’s be honest) we all expected it to be. But (to be very selfish) what difference will it make to me? My pension contributions are going up and retirement will come later than I’d planned. And I’ll pay more tax, but then, won’t we all.

On a broader scale there will be fewer coppers on the beat, but then we never see any Old Bill on the beat anyway, and from bitter experience they don’t actually do much for anyone, do they? And what few remaining coppers there are will (presumably) be busy chasing the villains who aren’t going to be in prison, as the Ministry of Justice is facing cuts too.
Perhaps (seeing how the Government wants a smaller public sector and loves private enterprise) we could set up our own vigilante mobs to deliver justice as we ourselves see fit?

The cost of higher education is to go through the roof. So much for plans to have an educated population – who needs an education anyway? Rail fares are to go up and the BBC is to face massive cuts. So much for their financial independence.

It’s interesting that the Navy will still be allowed to have its two new aircraft carriers at a cost of a squillion pounds each. They will have no aircraft to carry, and the Navy will have no other ships at all, But HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Queen Elizabeth will be built.
And talking of senior Royals, the Civil List has got the chop. For all that I am an ardent Royalist, whilst Her Majesty is currently comfortable, I wonder how the Monarchy will cope in the future?

I’m told it’s necessary as the country is in debt. To whom are we in debt? Can’t we tell them to get stuffed? And whilst all this goes on, as a nation we can still afford to pay soccer players a million pounds a week wages… Am I missing something..?

20 October 2010 (Wednesday) - Still Skint

A late start gave me time to spend going through the morning’s post. Worryingly, I had a letter from work. I immediately suspected the worst. Why were they writing to me? It turned out that they weren’t happy with a claim I’d made for legitimate travel expenses a couple of months ago. According to their records they had several vehicle registration plate numbers against which I could claim expenses, but they didn’t have my current car as one of them. Odd then that they’ve paid other expense claims I’ve made for that car.
Talking of expenses, on September 6, I travelled to the University in London. Today they reimbursed my train fare. I could have done with that money ages ago.

And there was a letter from the garage. Having sold me a new car less than six months ago they wondered if I’d like to trade it in already. And whilst I’m on the subject of my car, I had a reminder about the road tax being due. Once upon a time I had money put aside to pay the road tax. I’ve bought six months worth. It was cheaper than a years worth, and now the road tax will be due at the same time as the M.O.T. I’ve put it on my credit card. The bill normally goes up to the 17th of each month, so hopefully I won’t have to actually pay this road tax for another month.

The power company wrote to me – they were putting up the prices of both leccie and gas. No surprises there. And I got a letter from the dentist. I pay into a monthly insurance policy with them, and once I’ve paid that, all the actual dental work is free. If you have good teeth, this can work out rather expensive. Me – I’m convinced I’m quids in with the deal. Mind you they are putting the monthly fee up in January. It’s going up by 4%, which I suppose is (just about) in line with the rate of inflation.

And a letter from the bank. What with all my money worries at the moment I’ve been swapping money from one account to another to tide me over. I have various accounts, most with overdraft facilities. When I first approached the bank about the forthcoming boiler expenses they wanted to double my overdraft limits. I said that wasn’t necessary. And it wouldn’t have been necessary. For all that money was tight, I knew what I was doing. Unfortunately the bank didn’t, and for no adequately explored reason they transferred nearly two hundred pounds from one of my accounts to another. They’d written to me apologizing that they were unable to agree to an informal overdraft request. Even though they’d offered one. But because they chose to do this transfer I went seriously overdrawn.
I phoned the bank and spoke to Shoba whose grasp of English was somewhat worse than my grasp of Urdu.
Once I’m straight I would like to pack up with them. Does anyone at Lloyds, Barclays or the NatWest speak English, and does anyone know if they are about to go bust…?

19 October 2010 (Tuesday) - Swans, Calendars, Stufff

Last week I mentioned (indirectly) that it’s probably going to be a harsh winter as the yetis are coming down the mountains. Yesterday I noticed ice on my car. Today the Siberian swans have arrived to spend the winter in England. Whilst they do this every year, they have never before arrived so early. When we have the worst winter ever, just remember that you read all about it here first….

I received a text message this morning. An interesting fact – this month (October 2010) has five Fridays, five Saturdays and five Sundays. Over the last few days I have had umpteen text messages to tell me that this only ever happens once every 823 years.
Rubbish!! This happened in 1998 and 2004, and will again happen in 2021, 2027 and 2032. In fact it will happen whenever October 1 falls on a Friday which (allowing for leap years) will happen at least once every fourteen years. Surely this is obvious…?

Something which happens every year is the Glastonbury music festival – or that is every year so far. Next year it might not. The reason – the 2012 Olympic Games have got dibs on all the nation’s portaloos. One wonders why they consider cancellation rather than re-scheduling for another date earlier or later than the Games.

And here’s a moral dilemma. For a lot of my readership, we just take it as read that if the worst happens, we are looked after by the state. Health care, police protection, and a fire service.
Not all of the world has this. In some parts of the world the services of the local fire brigade aren’t part of the council tax, and if you want to be able to call on the services of the firemen you pay an annual fee.
The Cranick family of Obion County, Tennessee live in such a part of the world. This year they forgot to pay their annual subs, and when their house went up in flames the local fire brigade came out to extinguish the flames next door, but let their house burn down.
If you were the fire chief, what would you have done…?

18 October 2010 (Monday) - Dull

It’s officially winter. Why do I say that? This morning, for the first time this year, I had to scrape ice off of my car windscreen.

And so to work. I got assigned to where I could listen to the radio. There was a wonderful moral discussion which lasted for an hour. The topics under consideration ranged from abortion to euthanasia, and from, the concept of a just war to assisted suicides. The panel consisted of a prominent theologian, a lay member of the Synod of the Church of England, a religious crackpot and an atheist. As you might expect, the panel had a range of opinions. One of the panel arrived at his opinions through a long process of considered thought. The other three either parroted the official opinion of their religion; an opinion mostly established by people now long since dead. Or they had voices in their heads telling them what to say. Interestingly the only consensus that the panel ever arrived at was that the atheist was wrong to think for himself.

Yesterday I mentioned that I’d bought the wrong bulb for the fish tank. I went back to the shop to exchange it. They quite happily refunded my money, and then got rather sniffy when I tried to buy the right bulb. What was wrong with the one I’d brought back? I suppose I should be pleased that I’d not made an elementary mistake, and that even the professionals couldn’t tell the two light bulbs apart….

And on a more exciting note the battery in my watch went flat. I can distinctly remember buying the watch on the morning of June 2 2009. I know the date because I bought the watch for ten quid, then I went to a funeral. The watch has lasted for a year and a half. Is that good? I really don’t know. A new battery would probably cost as much as a new watch, and since I didn’t like having a watch with hands but preferred a digital one, perhaps this was God’s way of telling me to get a new watch. So I went to Argos and got a cheapo one. I fully intended to make do without for a while, but I didn’t realise how much I checked the time until I didn’t have a watch.

Dull, so dull…..

17 October 2010 (Sunday) - PC Problems

As I booted up my PC this morning I got a notification that I could upgrade my anti-virus software for free. That was nice, so I did. Once it had finished installing itself, the thing then ran a PC analyser which told me I had 622 registry errors, 17,878 junk file, 26 broken shortcuts and my disk was 13% fragmented. The whole lot warranted a yellow alert and the opportunity to buy some PC fixing software.
I wasn’t overly fussed, but I had it on good authority that fixing said problems would improve the function of my PC. And there’s no denying that the computer doesn’t go like it used to. So I scanned for (and deleted) temporary files, which got my junk files count down to 1111. I then ran the windows defragmenter, which didn’t seem to do very much but make a lot of noise. That part has now got a green status light, so I suppose it must have done something.
It was suggested that I got (and ran) CCleaner; a free program which would fix the other problems. I downloaded it, ran it and all it did was try to speed up the PC by suggesting I delete all the things I actually use the PC for. I then tried its registry cleanup facility. I now have 621 registry errors. It fixed one error, but it did give me three more broken shortcuts. I decided to quit whilst I was ahead.

I popped round to Chip’s new flat – he’d asked if I could help lug a bed up two flights of stairs. I was game for it – it’s all exercise. One of these days I’m going to go up those stairs empty-handed.
I came home and ironed seven shirts whilst watching a couple of instalments of “Man vs Food”. After some food of my own, we popped out for some shopping.

First of all to “Hopeless“. There’s not many furniture shops that do  fireworks, but we’ve been invited to a fireworks party in a few weeks time, and for all that I’m skint it’s been my experience that when buying fireworks you should get them when you see them. If you wait till payday, then the shops will have sold out. I bought a “Sky Assortment” bag of twenty rockets, featuring rockets named “Moon”, Mars”, “Sun” and “Jupiter”. I thought that would be rather appropriate.
We didn’t do our usual Sunday trip to Lidl. Instead we went to Farm Foods; a rather dismal place with all of the inherent pikey-ness of Lidls, but with no tat to brighten an otherwise dull shopping experience.

And then we called in at Bybrook Barn garden centre where we got a replacement bulb for the fish tank. As it happens we got the wrong replacement bulb for the fish tank. I shall have to take it back in the week. I’m just dreading going back. Whilst buying the (wrong) bulb I queued for the best part of half an hour whist two dur-brained twits behind the counter struggled (and failed) to work the till. They were trying to operate the till as a double act, and clearly neither had the faintest idea about how to work the thing. Heaven only knows how they will cope with exchanging an item.
Whilst we were there we had a mosey round the Xmas tat – Bybrook barn have got all their Xmas tat out. I made me feel quite Xmassy. I’m looking forward to Xmas this year. For the last heaven knows how many years we’ve spent every Xmas day driving from one set of family and friends to another. This year we’re not. I’ve got the whole Xmas week off work this year. Whilst we’ve plans to visit people and to go out to places with friends and family during that week, for once my Xmas day is going to be spent on my bum, scoffing and guzzling in front of my telly.

And then home again, and to NeverWinter where I found myself in a cave with an umber hulk. Which wasn’t a good place to be…