Monday, 30 November 2015

The 42 Days of Christmas Plumbing


It's bloody Cyber Monday now!

TV is riddled with Christmas adverts and Christmas themed films; during our Sunday walk we noticed several houses having already erected their fake Christmas trees; the Sunday supplements are littered with Christmas food ideas. When, I ask myself, is the song 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' going to be rewritten as 'The Forty-two Days of Christmas'? I'm fully expecting to see a Christmas Bruce Lee film retitled 'The Way of the Pudding'.

Talking of plum pudding, spotted an advert on TV the other day for an outfit called Victorian Plumbing. Not a name I'd choose myself - it conjures up images of lead piping, cesspits and antiquated sanitary arrangements. Their marketing department needs putting against a wall and shooting. All this Christmas business when it's still November is obviously making me channel my inner fascist. Might go and get a copy of the Daily Mail...

Overheard while Hay is giving the Chairman a hug:

Hay: "Oooh, I just caught a whiff of my old uncle Pops about you!"

Chairman: "Did he smell of stale urine and Germolene too then?"

Hay: "No - styptic pencil, Lifebuoy Soap and pigeon lofts."




Sunday, 29 November 2015

Overheard at the Surgery


The Chairman is getting his annual flu jab at the surgery. After administering the jab, the nurse asks:

Nurse: "Do you have any problems balancing - do you fall over?"

Chairman: "No."

Nurse: "Memory problems?"

Chairman: "No."

When leaving the car park:

Hay: "Where are the car keys?"

Chairman: "How would I know?"

Hay: "Because I gave them to you not 5 minutes ago!"


Saturday, 28 November 2015

Overheard Sham


Overheard during the news:

Hay: "Is Hilary Benn still an MP? You don't hear much of him."

Chairman: "Why shouldn't he be? Just because his father was high profile, it doesn't mean to say he has to be; my old man was a nice bloke, it doesn't follow that I'm necessarily a nice bloke."

Hay: "Very true."

Apparently, last week the head of the BBC rejected calls to drop the use of the term ‘Islamic State’ in reports and using 'Daesh' instead, saying that the BBC must be fair to Isis in its coverage of the terrorist group. 

Fair? Give me strength - the BBC's policy of presenting all sides with 'fairness' has meant every crack-pot notion from the MMR scare to lemon juice cures cancer gets the air of publicity and legitimacy. What happened to common sense? There are times when bias is actually necessary, and those times are when facts are questioned.

Daesh stands for Dawlat al-Islamiyah f'al-Iraq wa al-Sham - their own name for themselves. Perhaps we should just call them Sham.


Friday, 27 November 2015

Eye of God Drone - The Verdict


DRONE GEEK ALERT!

Got the replacement bits for the Eye of God drone the day before yesterday and had another go at flying it. Here's my pre-Christmas verdict:

Nice to look at and a reasonable price, but some very basic design flaws; 

1. The landing skids are black and just four sticks - this means they are extremely difficult to find if they drop off (which they do at every conceivable opportunity), especially if they stick into soft ground and become detached. They should be a different colour (as should the underside of the unit) and made into two pairs with runners, rather than four individual sticks. I painted mine red after spending more time hunting for detached skids than flying the unit. 

2. If you switch off the control the rotors keep turning for at least 4 seconds, resulting in numerous fly-aways if radio contact is lost. I lost mine for 24 hours on the 2nd test flight. Managed to locate it at dusk as the LEDs were still flashing weakly. 

3. Range is reasonably good - further than my Syma X5C. 

4. Insufficient charging cables - you can only charge one battery at a time. Of the two USB cables supplied, one was faulty and didn't charge the screen and camera. Also everything that needs charging has a different connection - bad design - they should all have the same connector. Also, the two chargers supplied work in opposite ways; on one the LED lights up when the battery is charged, on the other it goes out when the battery is charged - illogical. 

5. On my  unit the FPV screen was installed upside down. Easy enough to rectify, but not what you'd expect from Quality Control. 

6. One Key Return is pretty basic, but what you'd expect when you realise the drone doesn't have GPS. If you change the orientation in flight, it won't return to you - it just flies backward from the orientation it's in. 

7. Camera is narrow lens, making FPV very difficult. Its main use is finding the damned thing after a fly-away - you at least have an idea where it is - like this from yesterday.



8. The LEDs on the unit are so bright that you can't see the on-off switches on the unit or the camera properly. They don't need to be so powerful, but I guess it's good for night flying. It could, however, be my early-stage cataracts that are diffusing the LEDs and blinding me.

9. The instruction manual is almost completely unintelligible (Chinese and English, with the English being very, very badly translated - probably by a computer). No instructions for One Key Return, or several other key features. 

10. Be careful when removing the rotors - there's a washer that falls out and you could lose it easily. Also, the rotor is held on by a grub screw in the side of the shaft (rather than through the top), which has to be seated exactly, but blind, as you can't see the hole in the shaft when the rotor goes over it and there's a lot of vertical play. Took me 10 minutes to get it back on. 

11. Be careful when removing a motor - don't take it out if you just want to inspect it, as the process needs a good tug, which is enough to part the wires. Use pliers on the body of the motor, if you can, rather than pulling on the thin wires. 

12. The motors are remarkably fragile and in just 3 days I managed to trash 2, simply by the rotor being stopped by an object (the Syma's motors are much more robust). Fitting the rotor guards is a MUST if you don't want to damage the motors on the first flight.

13. Because the charge point on the camera is so tiny, it's very easy to insert the charge connector upside down, which will kill the battery, and the battery is not removable unless you open the camera and unsolder it. 

14. Every attachment has such a flimsy connection to the main unit that the whole thing just falls apart on anything other than a perfect landing - the battery case, the skids, the rotor guards, etc. Some parts simply fall off with no encouragement.

15. Flying the beast is almost impossible. The speed in each direction is dramatically different and losing control is very simple. Same goes for up and down - up is bloody fast, whereas it can be difficult to get the damned thing to land. Nowhere near as controllable as the Syma X5C, which I can just chuck around in the sky with abandon.

All-in-all it seems a bit rushed in order to get it to market before Christmas. I would not give this to a small child as a present - it would be the quickest was to lose £70. Definitely a Dad Toy.

One tip - write your mobile phone number on it in marker pen before you first fly it, as I guarantee you'll end up with a fly-away. 

Another tip is to buy a couple of spare batteries for the drone itself and the screen. You might also want to buy a spare camera battery in case of failure, but you'll need to do some soldering to remove the old one and replace it. 

Good customer service though - they have been most helpful in ironing out some issues and sending me parts that were faulty. The main problem is the shipping delay due to the manufacturer being in China. No doubt someone will start stocking them here - and hopefully with the issues ironed out.


Thursday, 26 November 2015

High Castle Tenancy Scam for Birds


Idly looking into the middle distance of the garden yesterday I spotted a green woodpecker, a chaffinch, a wren, a robin, a fieldfare and the ever-present gaggle of magpies, jackdaws and blackbirds. We have quite a diversity of wild birds here.

Following my plan to move into consultancy, I have received two phone calls within two days from some scam outfit wanting to assist me with regards to the change of tenancy on my business premises, specifically with the electricity supply. The fact I work from home and have lived here for 3 years seems to be lost on them. These people obviously trawl Linked-In for new business pages and then target the owners with offers of unnecessary help, for which they charge a fortune.

Despite it being notoriously difficult to unsubscribe from, Hay has persuaded me to sign up for Amazon Prime for the trial 30 days. I was swung by the availability of Doc Martin, which I only discovered for the first time (purely by accident) a week ago on ITV3. We're now busy going through all the series (currently halfway through Series 2). It's not at all what I imagined it to be and I find it very amusing. Hay loves it as she spends most of the time doing diagnoses of the cast's illnesses (with a 100% hit rate so far). Hay's desire to subscribe was based on the availability of 'The Man in The High Castle' by Philip K. Dick, who wrote 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - aka Blade Runner, although I'm starting to lose interest, as the characters are gross caricatures.


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Kitty Stardom


I simply can't understand why yesterday's video of Kitty didn't go viral. What more do you have to do other than just videoing your cat?

Seems we're less likely now to be threatened by ISIS than by being threatened by a nuke from Putin. It seems his strategy of feigning an alliance with the West and then purposely goading the most volatile member of NATO (and one that should never have been a member anyway) is working. The seeds of dissent having been sown, the possible expulsion of Turkey from NATO as a consequence looks to be on the cards. Scrap Trident? I don't think so!


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Kitty Pudding Action Video


Given all the cat Tweets in Belgium, I thought I'd offer up an action video of Kitty:


OK, not much action going on today.

Boffins have managed to quantum entangle particles at room temperature. It's about time they focused on something more impressive, like cooking a Christmas pudding or turkey at room temperature.


Monday, 23 November 2015

Say a Little Prayer


Digital Cinema Media has refused to screen an advert featuring the Lord's Prayer. The reason given was that DCM thought it has the potential to upset some cinemagoers of a different faith, or no faith at all, and because of that they have a blanket policy of showing no religious adverts. In that way they are treating all faiths the same and not discriminating. The Church is a bit upset.
  1. The advert was to be shown before the new Star Wars film, which itself is a film about the Jedi religion! Double standards?
  2. The advert in question is for prayer - surely that would bring the church into conflict with the Advertising Standards Authority? Imagine if everyone started advertising woo-woo!
  3. Had the advert been on behalf of Islam, then I'm certain there would have been uproar (probably from the Christian element).
  4. It could set off an advertising war between faiths with the result that we are all bombarded with proselytising religious adverts before watching a film at the cinema or even while watching TV. With the amount of Christian, quasi-religious advertising blatantly masquerading as consumerism on TV at the moment, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was Christmas or something!
  5. I think the Church has basically misunderstands the power of advertising. The purpose of an advert is to keep your product to the forefront of the mind of the target, who is already in a frame of mind to purchase a product you're advertising. The advert merely guides them to you product, rather than that of a competitor. Somehow I don't think people shop for religions in the way they do for cereal. There again, perhaps they do.
I think DCM have taken the right decision - just don't show any woo-woo cult adverts. The intellect can be a wonderful barrier to woo-woo and advertising.




May the Force be with you...


Sunday, 22 November 2015

Failed Videos


Well, today's offering was going to be a montage of drone videos of sunrise over a frosty Chipping Sodbury, but the video failed to record this morning when I went for the Sunday papers.

Instead, here's Chipping Sodbury on a wet morning last week from opposite ends.



Saturday, 21 November 2015

Eqaulity


While reading the book 'Trains and Buttered Toast', a collection of John Betjaman's BBC radio broadcasts, I came across a snippet about equality, which he defined not as some Utopian, Marxist ideal where all are forced to be equal and dumbed down in everything, but equality of opportunity - what you do or don't make of the equality of opportunity is down to you.

Yesterday a friend sent me this YouTube clip, which is worth watching and says it all:



Friday, 20 November 2015

Classical Shorts


The yellow rose in our garden is still producing flowers, the crocosmia I planted in September for next year are coming up, and I'm STILL in shorts. It may all change next week though.

Classical Gas. I love it, but am I the only person who thinks it was completely ruined by the horns in the middle, which gave it a hideously kitsch quality? The start is sublime; when the orchestra comes in it sends a tingle through me; when the trombones come in it's ruined and I want to switch off. It does recover, but the damage has been done.




Thursday, 19 November 2015

Faux Outrage


A comparison of two cartoons was made in the Independent. One from Nazi era Germany and the other a recent one from the Daily Mail:



I don't have to tell you which is which. However, the knee-jerkers were out in force calling for the condemnation of the Daily Mail. Much as I detest the Daily Mail, I see no problem with their cartoon - the differences between the two are stark. The only similarity is the theme of migrants and the use of rats, but the rats are being used for entirely different purposes.

Rather than seeing what's actually present in the DM cartoon, those condemning it are seeing only what they want to see so they can huff and puff with self-righteous indignation.  Their brains are firmly tuned in one direction only; to see racism in everything.

In the Nazi cartoon the borders are closed; in the DM cartoon the border is open. In the Nazi cartoon the migrants (Jews) are rats; in the DM cartoon the migrants are infiltrated by rats - the reference obviously being to terrorists, and after the Paris attack no-one can now deny that the terrorists are using the migrant/refugee path to gain re-entry. The only things missing from the DM cartoon are the suicide vests and Kalashnikovs, which the rats should be carrying. I'll grant one of the migrants is carrying what appears to be a Kalashnikov, but look at his headgear - he's an Afghan, and virtually all tribal men in Afghanistan own a rifle (did you know that in a effort to stem gun culture, the Afghan government has banned toy guns?). One is even a plutocrat, by the looks of it.

In these days of Tweets and sound bites we appear to have lost the ability to critically analyse anything in a focused manner and have the attention span of a gnat. The knee-jerk rules!

Regardless of the intent of the cartoon, is it any less offensive than the Charlie Hebdo cartoons?


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Sinister, Gung-Ho Battery Cyber-Attack


Bomb the hell out of ISIS, and what then? A Caliphate, by definition, depends on territory for legitimacy in the eyes of recruits. Boots on the ground are needed to recover territory, but what happens to the PoWs? Normally they'd just go home after a war, but what do you do with tens of thousands of stateless fanatics who can't go home and won't give up; put them in Guantanamo Bay, give them to Assad and turn a blind eye? Who gets the territory, Assad, the rebels? These are questions that need asking before we go all gung-ho. It's called setting a strategic objective and is something governments, spouting rhetoric in the rush for votes, are poor at doing.

Yesterday Hay and I were chuckling over the throw-away comment we heard in a Welsh country pub during our canal holiday. It's worth repeating - imagine a pub pundit holding court and saying to his mate, in a pronounced Welsh accent; "All these suicide bombers - I'd cut their bloody hands off. They wouldn't do it again!"

All this talk of ISIS launching cyber-attacks. Could be just the boost employment needs - get rid of all on-line services; banks, supermarkets, etc. have to start employing more people; a return to beer mat tax disks that are a visible reminder of when to renew them; cheques get lost in the post; the pace of life slows down again. Heaven!

I have two batteries for my e-cig. At any one time one of them is on charge. Yesterday I had occasion to top up with e-fluid (a strange name for a physical liquid you put into these devices; by rights it should only exist in the ether, but there you go). I uncoupled the inhaler from the battery, topped it up - and promptly forgot where I'd placed the battery. Now I always get slightly panicked when I can't find my 'dummy', but I calmly went over to my spare battery and used that. While screwing the inhaler into the spare battery I found myself muttering (somewhat gleefully); "That'll teach you to go and get lost!"

I noticed that the Duke of Cambridge is left handed when he was shown signing some book of condolence on the news last night. He had that awkward left-handed style that looks like a crab signing its signature. Can we allow a left-hander to be our king? Too sinister for words!

Thomas Knackerlaquer, the BBC weatherman, was spot on last night with storm Barney. Still can't help feeling they need to choose more dangerous sounding names for these wrecking storms.


Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Laksa Radicalised Cat Bouncer


I've seen quite a few Facebook posts complaining that while people here are quite prepared to overlay their Facebook profiles with Tricolores, no-one superimposed their photos with the Kenyan flag after many people died in a terrorist attack there earlier in the year.

The explanation is quite simple - most of us here know some French people; very few of us know a Kenyan. Our reactions are defined by our social circles and the impact on those social circles - something that happens in my immediate family is of far greater importance to me than something that happens to someone else's family; my extended family is more important to me than an unrelated family; ad infinitum. A perfectly natural and human reaction - the closer the epicentre, the greater the empathy; the further away, the more the empathy is diluted. We are, after all, a tribal species. I feel no guilt over it. In any case, who I empathise with is my business.

It would be an interesting social experiment to see how many Kenyan Facebook profiles are overlaid with the Tricolore. Very few, I'd wager. I suspect the motivation of the comments concerning this issue have more than a whiff of sanctimoniousness at their root. Well, either that or just trolling.

It's that time of year again - performance reviews. I've already warned Hay she's about to get her 360 degree review. She warned me she'd organise a new job for me - bouncer at an old people's home.

If you win the Postcode Lottery, do you have to share your winnings with the half dozen or so houses sharing your postcode?

We were watching one of Jamie Oliver's 15 minute meals on TV on Sunday afternoon - Thai chicken laksa. It may well have taken 15 minutes to prepare, but the shopping trip must have taken an hour and just getting the ingredients assembled must have taken another 25. You'd get Waitrose Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (a new syndrome in the DSM) just finding the ingredients.

We think the neighbour's cats, which we call Blackberry and Orange (not their real names - although what's a real cat name? I doubt they call each other by name), have become radicalised. They believe they're part of the Catiphate, as they recognise no boundaries and walk into our house like they own it. Kitty is rather nonplussed about their presence, seeing it as an incursion on her domain - she's obviously a cat that is 100% for democracy and want's tighter border controls. Whether migrants, refugees or just plain invaders, she has no truck with Blackberry and Orange.


Monday, 16 November 2015

Apologetics


In response to yesterday's post, a friend put the following image on my Facebook page, and I saw it again later in the day (in a different guise) on another friend's page:


The intent is to portray Islam as a religion of peace - would that it was. However, having read the Quran from cover to cover (and it's even more turgid and infinitely repetitive than the Bible), I smelled the faint whiff of apologetics and cherry-picking, although not with that intent in mind on the part of those who posted it.

You can find references aplenty, but here's what WikiIslam has to say about the quote:

QUOTE:

This verse cannot be found in any printed copy of the Qur'an, regardless of whether or not it is in the original Arabic or in one of its many English translations. The reason for this is simple: the verse in question does not exist.

What is actually presented by apologists is a distorted, out-of-context and misleading paraphrasing of the following verse: 

On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person - unless it be in retaliation for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew all mankind: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all humanity.

Its Context:

This verse is written in past tense (Ordained, not Ordain) and clearly does not apply to Muslims but to "the Children of Israel" i.e. the Jews who, according to Islam, received an earlier set of scriptures. In fact, it is mistakenly referencing a rabbinical commentary found in the Talmud as if it were the words of Allah.

Also, when the clause which allows killing is reinserted and the passage is read in context with the following two verses directed at Muslims (notice the reference to Allah's messenger and the switch to present tense), what first appeared on the surface to be a peaceful message, is in actual fact a warning to non-believers:

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter; Except for those who repent before they fall into your power: in that case, know that Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.


Conclusion:

In this instance, as in many others, it is the apologists, not the skeptics, who are misinterpreting verses and quoting them out of context. A simple reading of the verse and those that surround it makes this clear. In the Islamic world, those who propagate their non-Islamic faiths or publicly criticize Islam are often harassed, imprisoned and even executed by their communities or their governments, under laws against "spreading disorder [mischief] through the land" and apostasy. 

If verse 5:32 means what some apologists claim it to mean, why are they so reluctant to quote the verse accurately rather than presenting a misleading paraphrasing of what they wished the verse had said? 

Furthermore, why are moderates unable to silence fellow Muslims on an intellectual level by using that very verse? They are unable to because their claim is false, and (as proven by the actions of many) anyone who is familiar with the Qur'an already knows this.


I make no comment but merely present the facts in context, and context is all as far as the fundamentalist fanatic is concerned, as that governs his or her actions.


Sunday, 15 November 2015

Denying The Premise


People are getting on their high horses about Muslims in the wake of the Paris atrocities and tarring all Muslims with the same brush.

Let's get it straight - ISIS is comprised almost exclusively of those who have embraced a fundamentalist mindset. Not all Muslims, in fact not even a large minority are of a fundamentalist mindset. Those fleeing Muslim countries are escaping the very people who are committing the same atrocities within their own countries. Yes, when people start to migrate, for whatever reason, there will be fifth columnists within their ranks. That's a problem, but not a reason to shut the door on genuine refugees. It's a failure of the sorting procedure. Whether genuine refugees should be allowed to stay permanently is another question.

You simply can't argue with a fundamentalist, whether that's a Muslim fundamentalist, Jewsish or a Christian one from a religious perspective (they are all hateful bigots). They know their religious texts better than you and can point to every word that supports their argument - you just have to listen to Anjem Choudury to understand that; his arguments are a tour de force of infallible logic.

The classic trap is to start the argument on the believer's terms by saying; "OK, so if we accept this is the word of God...," which is the absolute 'argument from authority', and then proceed to point out where the antagonist's arguments fall down from within that predetermined perspective - that of the believer and his or her texts. That sets you on a path that's a hiding to nothing, as for every word you point out as advocating love and peace, they will point to ten that point in the opposite direction. Religious texts in the Abrahamic tradition are littered with atrocities performed by early adherents, as the religions were forged in wars against the unbelievers and spread by war.

However, for the fundamentalist's argument to hold any validity you must first accept the premise - that of their religious text being the immutable word of God, rather than the confused, subconscious ramblings of some self-righteous, self-appointed prophet with a Messiah complex. Deny that premise and the whole edifice crumbles. Ergo, you cannot argue with a fundamentalist at all if you are a believer - you're simply setting yourself up by walking into a trap. Moderate Islam, like moderate Christianity, while practiced by the vast majority, is a wishy-washy, de facto heresy, and that's what arms the fundamentalist.


Saturday, 14 November 2015

Homeopathic Carcass Says it All


Overheard:

Hay: "Can you nip over to my dad's and ask him for that chicken carcass he has in the freezer as I'm making soup today?"

1 minute later.

Chairman:"Brian, I've come for your carcass."

Hay's Dad: "A bit premature, aren't you?

I was listening to an item on Today on Radio 4 yesterday morning about the use of NHS money on homeopathic treatments. The advocate for homeopathy stated that three of four research papers had concluded than homeopathy was not a placebo, including a recent paper by the prestigious Robertson Institute in Glasgow. I took the trouble to look up the Robertson Institute paper and here's the conclusion:

Conclusions 
Medicines prescribed in individualised homeopathy may have small, specific treatment effects. Findings are consistent with sub-group data available in a previous ‘global’ systematic review. The low or unclear overall quality of the evidence prompts caution in interpreting the findings. New high-quality RCT research is necessary to enable more decisive interpretation.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, although he could have been being economical with the truth by obliquely inferring that the Robertson Institute's paper was the one of the four that did not support his position. Seems you can make any old statement on radio these days, claim it as irrefutable fact and get away with it without being challenged. 

Here is the most popular story from the BBC website yesterday. Says it all, really - what a shallow nation we are:


However, the stories have changed somewhat dramatically overnight! My guess is that, in a knee-jerk (but totally understandable) reaction, all European borders will be closed forthwith to any refugees/migrants, or whatever you want to call them.

A quick peek at some of the varied skies round here over the last week:






Friday, 13 November 2015

Cheesy NHS Ladies


I'm always amazed that the CEO of the NHS is the boss of what must be one of the world's largest companies (the 5th largest employer in the world), yet if asked to name him, most people (me included) don't have a clue.

When buying supermarket Stilton cheese I have a habit of unwrapping it and leaving it in a spare Long Clawson Stilton jar, out of the fridge, until it 'matures', i.e. partially decomposes and goes creamy (supermarket Stilton is usually inedible on the day of purchase). It usually takes 3 or 4 days, but that time has been increasing and it now takes a week or more. Not sure if it's something to do with the cheese or the weather.

Opened Wikipedia yesterday and spotted this - Harris' List of Covent Garden Ladies. Published from 1757 to 1795, it an annual directory of prostitutes then working in Georgian London. A small, attractive pocketbook, it was printed and published in Covent Garden, and sold for two shillings and sixpence. A contemporary report of 1791 estimates its circulation at about 8,000 copies annually.


Thursday, 12 November 2015

Who Wears Short Shorts?


I may set a record this year; I'm still wearing shorts in and around the house. Just to prove it, here's another drone flying video - throwing it around a bit this time now I'm more experienced, and in a relatively high cross-wind.



This isn't the Eye of God drone, as I'm waiting for some new motors and replacement camera from China.

Took it to the village football field at the weekend to determine if organising a Village Drone Race for the Queen's birthday next year is feasible, the idea being to stand at one end, fly the drones through the goalposts at the other end and then return. However, the distance is too great to know when the drone has gone through the goalposts, added to which the distance may be just too far for unmodified drones. The solution is to stand at the centreline and have two marshals to stand at each goalpost and signal when you've scored a goal, controlling it from the centreline all the time. Drone football?


Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Archibald Ormsby-Gore - Storm Olympian!


Ref the Russian doping scandal. If you have a reputation for being totally ruthless and unscrupulous and base your entire raison d'ĂȘtre on that portrayal, then protestations of the fabrication of the report into Russian doping of Olympians are so much fluff in the wind. The words petard, Putin, hoisted and own come to mind.

I'm currently reading "Trains and Buttered Toast", an  anthology of broadcasts from the 1930s & 40s by Sir John Betjeman. I spotted it in our local tea shop and asked Chris, the proprietor, if I could borrow it, to which he kindly assented.

Betjeman had a teddy-bear called Archibald Ormsby-Gore, which was apparently the model for Sebastian Flyte's teddy-bear, Aloysius, in Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited". Archie was Betjeman's lifelong companion, along with a stuffed elephant called Jumbo. Both were clutched in his arms on his death in 1984.




Betjeman's family was originally of Dutch extraction and added an extra 'n' to the name during the 4th Anglo-Dutch War (1780~1784) to sound less Dutch, but then dropped it during WWI to avoid sounding German.

The Met Office has started to name storms. Storm Abigail is set to batter Scotland, but when you name a storm you make it sound all kind of cuddly. There's also the fact that battered things in Scotland evoke battered Mars Bars, which pose no threat, except possibly of a coronary.


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Poppy Fascism


I don't wear a poppy and can't remember having worn one for decades. No doubt the poppy fascists will target me - they're a new variety of self-righteous, holier-than-thou person who abuses you for not wearing a poppy.

It's not from some deeply held political or moral stance, I simply don't like wearing things on my lapels. It doesn't stop me from giving donations though, I just don't take the proffered poppy. It's a bit like The Big Issue - I give the money but don't take the magazine.

The Royal British Legion is causing a bit of a kerfuffle with members of my old school's Old Boys' Club, the great majority of whom, like myself, are ex Merchant Navy officers with a few veterans of WWII. Apparently (and I'm not 100% certain of the facts) they have stopped the MN being represented by veterans on the Remembrance Parade at the Cenotaph, which has been a tradition going on for donkey's years. They say the parade is now solely for serving members of the armed forces and not veterans, yet they allow the Chelsea Pensioners to parade. Causing a bugger of a stink.

Did you know that the Merchant Navy had the highest casualty (or rather death) rate of any service in WWII? They lost 25% of their members. OK, not the highest number in terms of personnel, but certainly the highest percentage.

My old man was torpedoed off the cost of West Africa while returning from the Dutch East Indies at the outbreak of WWII. He was picked up by a BP tanked and taken to Liverpool where he met my mother during a visit to Southport. He always said (tongue firmly in cheek) that he'd never forgiven Hitler for that...


On Sunday while walking back from Chipping Sodbury, we passed one of the local pubs on the High Street where people were preparing for the annual Remembrance Parade. A young chap, probably in his early 30s, was stood outside the pub in civvies displaying a chestful of medals on his sportsjacket. I went over to him and shook his hand, much to his amazement. I regret I didn't stop and chat to him about where he won them.


Monday, 9 November 2015

Overheard Cutlery


Overheard on our Sunday morning walk:

Chairman: "Has it ever crossed you mind that I may occasionally be wrong?"

Hay: "Incessantly."

Chairman: "That's strange, because it's never crossed my mind at all."


Saw a rather nice set of classic EPNS cutlery in the charity shop in Saturday for a fiver and I was tempted. They were very, very badly tarnished, but looking at them I was convinced they would come up beautifully using the old caterer's trick of washing soda, salt, aluminium foil and boiling water - and I was right.



It's amazing what people chuck away.


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Austerity Christmas


In preparation for the impending redundancy I've minimised all outgoings.

  • Mortgage term extended to 5 years from 2.5 with resulting payments halved to £860.
  • Pension payments reduced from a veritable £560 flood to a £20 trickle.
  • No going out to eat every Friday night - £60 to £80  a week saved.
  • Use only two of the three cars and SORN the 3rd one when the road tax is due (my beloved old Merc), and if push comes to shove, selling it.
With all those little adjustments I reckon we can last till July before I run dry, although I'm certain it won't be that long before I get employment of some description. Even then we have some savings that would last us another 6 months.

Next October, when the lease on the cabin expires, we could feasibly kick the boys out of the cabin, move into it, and then rent the house out to defray mortgage costs, so all in all we're not exactly staring penury in the face.

The really annoying thing is having to push the mortgage settlement date out by two and a half years - we really wanted to get that paid off ASAP so we didn't owe anyone anything. The mortgage is our only debt, as we have no truck with credit cards. I can understand how people fall into the trap of building up unsustainable debt, but using expensive credit cards at usurious rates is just foolhardy.


Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Great British Holidaymaker


The great British holidaymaker never ceases to amaze me. Seeing them complain on the news last night, either they're the bravest souls on Earth for actually wanting to risk travelling back from Sharm el-Sheikh in a plane that may have a bomb planted within it, or just a bunch of whining idiots who don't appreciate that cancelling flights until what is essentially 3rd world security is beefed up is in their own best interests. Can't help thinking the latter is more likely these days.

What happened to the famous British stoicism, the Dunkirk Spirit? - which really means lurching from one disaster to another with no appreciable loss of enthusiasm. There again, what exactly is it to be British? Merely trying to define Britishness is unBritish in itself, especially when the English, Welsh, Northern Irish and Scots are all so different to begin with.

Take buying a round in the pub. For the English, anyone who doesn't buy a round when in a group drinking situation is treated as if he or she were a child molester. Not so in Scotland, where it's (allegedly) a source of national pride for a Scotsman to be parsimonious. 

Take Europe. The English, despite all geographic evidence to the contrary, view it as a totally different continent, whereas the Scots seem to embrace it wholeheartedly and invariably in collaboration with the French against the English.

Even within England there are differences. A northerner will talk to anyone and be totally at ease, whereas if you talk to someone on a London tube you're obviously deranged and fit to be sectioned.

One curious thing about the British is that we must be the only people on Earth who view the ostentatious display of our flag (royal and sporting events excluded) with a deep and uneasy suspicion reserved usually for displays of the Nazi flag.

My definition of the British - four nations that vehemently hated each other, who were thrust together in a mutually antagonistic and fraught political relationship that has been breaking up almost since its inception, many of whom think, illogically and against all evidence to the contrary, that it will miraculously work on a pan-European scale. 

A Scotsman, an Englishman, a Welshman and an Irishman went into...... Oh, never mind....



Friday, 6 November 2015

Firework Compost in Sharm


If you ask me, a quick solution to the stranded British passengers and their baggage in Sharm is to bus them all to Tel Aviv and book them flights on El-Al. There's no airport or airline in the world with better security, and I speak from personal experience.

Hay's sister rearranged the sodden bonfire at the back of our house yesterday and come 6pm it was lit for the local kids, with the aid of a few gallons of petrol. It took a while to get going, but finally it started to burn vigorously. Being the curmudgeons we are, we didn't venture outside. When one of the kids came to ask whether we were coming out, I said we are Catholic and hence offended by Guy Fawkes' Night. Not sure they understood what I was on about - they've probably never heard of Guy Fawkes.

I did try to get a few aerial shots with the drone of fireworks around the area, but as soon as the drone took off the displays stopped for a few minutes, so no luck. Will try again on Saturday evening.

Quick update on the composting loo in the cabin. It's been fully operational now for a full month with 3 blokes using it during the days. No smell, no problems and all is sweetness and light. Here's a shot of what it looks like in the business end.


Nothing nasty at all. On this basis it looks like it will need emptying of compost only once a quarter, which is extremely good going.


Thursday, 5 November 2015

Windscale Christmas Dummy Drones


Overheard while watching a program about the 1957 Windscale incident:

Jim Al-Khalili: "These filters saved the North West from a terrible fate."

Hay: "No they didn't!"

About a month ago I posted some good ideas for a Christmas tree made from a dummy. Given Hay has a dummy she uses as a clothes horse, we were going to make one for this year's festivities, albeit they may be a bit muted. Well, Hay was in the High Street yesterday and spotted this in a local charity shop she frequents:


We've been beaten too it, and it's not even Guy Fawkes' yet (OK, it is today).

Saw an article on The One Show last night about the police's increasing use of drones. I want to join the police! They're not using them to track thieves or monitor crowds - they're playing with them as toys. Believe me, they're addictive!

The village is holding a party for the Queen's 90th next year and as part of the festivities I suggested a drone racing contest. After my experiences to date I think we're best off forgetting the idea - too many will get lost. Thinking of buying your kid a drone for Christmas? Make sure it's a cheap one and be prepared to lose it somewhere far away and inaccessible. Activity No.1 - write your mobile phone number on it.


Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The Road to Retirement


Well, I drove into London yesterday for my redundancy "consultation meeting" with the CFO, who had flown in from Tel Aviv specifically for the purpose, and it was all very amicable. My employment will be terminated at the end of December with a tacit understanding that I will continue to work with the company, but not as as salaried employee. They even offered me an ex-gratia payment of a month's salary as a parting gift, which was totally unexpected and not included in the original notification letter or my contract. Can't say fairer than that.

If all goes to plan I'll end up working part-time for two companies on commission, one with a small retainer, both Israeli. That will allow me to keep my head above water, as well as allowing a foray into the world of consulting in the twilight years leading to retirement. With the right breaks I could easily end up earning more than I do as a salaried employee with my present company.


Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Fine Words Butter No Electrics


Another image from our usual weekend walks into Chipping Sodbury:


One of our neighbours in Old Sodbury is a retired electrical contractor. He has an office on the High Street in Chipping Sodbury, and if you peer into the window it's like a snapshot of the 1950s. It's a veritable museum of antiquated electrical items. Even the computers are from the 1980s.

We were watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall waging a war on waste on TV last night. His target for last night's program was parsnips and the tremendous waste caused by supermarkets buying only the most beautiful ones from producers.

His aim is to get supermarkets to relax their overly stringent quality rules and allow the knobbly, less attractive produce to be sold. However, if you start monkeying around with the supply and demand curves there's going to be blood on the carpet at some stage. A sudden and massive oversupply - which is what would happen - will have a dramatic impact on prices and a lot of people are going to lose their livelihoods, I wonder if he's really studied the consequences.

Off to my pre-redundancy "consultation meeting" this morning in London. I have a few proposals to put to the company which may produce a partial result and end up with me working part-time, leaving me free to do some consulting.


Monday, 2 November 2015

Trick or Treat Remembrance Drones


The Eye of God FPV drone arrived on Saturday. Lost it on the 2nd flight but, luckily and against all odds, I spotted it still flashing weakly on the railway line when it went dark and managed to retrieve it with the aid of a RailTrack guy working on the electrification of the line yesterday afternoon.



It seems all of these drones are subject to what's termed fly-away, which means that when radio contact with the controller is lost, instead of immediately falling from the sky, the device's rotors keep spinning for anywhere from 4 to 6 seconds, meaning it can go scooting off a fair old distance.

It's got several bad design features, the major one being the landing skids are stick-shaped and black, meaning that on a heavy landing they dig into the earth and are almost impossible to find if they come off (which they regularly do). Range is pretty limited too, and it's almost impossible to fly FPV. The thing had been assembled in such a hurry that the FPV screen had been installed upside down. Needs a major redesign, if you ask me, or was hurried into production for Christmas.

If these are indeed to be the toy of choice this Christmas, then a lot of money is going to be lost - at least I have the benefit of open fields surrounding the house, whereas in most circumstances these things are going to be lost over a myriad neighbouring properties. 

Spotted this stenciled on a house Banksy-style during our morning walk into Chipping Sodbury yesterday:


Unusual, but poignant for the time of year, but I couldn't help thinking whether we're likely to start seeing red hands stenciled on buildings.

On Saturday night the parade of kids going house-to-house Trick or Treating was reduced to just two kids and their mother. Don't know about you, but I don't really like this American fad. Next we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving in our slavish desire to emulate the Americans.  The Guardian sums it up nicely (click to enlarge):



Sunday, 1 November 2015

North / South Culinary Divide at Tesco


Hay is of the opinion she's discovered a hitherto unknown sign of the traditional north-south divide. She asked me to make her a sandwich and I asked what she wanted on it. She said that a person from the north says 'on', whereas a southerner will ask what someone wants 'in' a sandwich.

My position is that you don't exactly fill a sandwich the way, for example, you would fill a pitta. You first put the filling on one layer of bread or toast before adding the layer that turns an open sandwich into a traditional English sandwich. In this respect, asking what one wants on a sandwich is the more logical approach.

None of this is really relevant for a nation that considers fish and chips the height of culinary excellence and vaunts the health giving benefits of that arteriosclerotic concoction know as the Full English.

We were in Tesco yesterday morning and some of the staff were hideously disfigured with cuts, abrasions and black eyes. Their clothes were ripped and bloodstained. Shame on Tesco for making their staff work when they obviously need an ambulance and taking to hospital.