Thursday, 30 April 2020

Clean Petrol Futures

Has anyone else finished watching their Nexflix yet?

Dominic Raab, during PMQs, stated yesterday that the artificial December 31st deadline for a Brexit deal has to be met to provide businesses with certainty. I guess that can only be the certainty of a double recession and that, for many, it won't be worth the effort of clawing their way back from the covid experience, so they might as well shut up shop for good within the next couple of months. That's certainly the case for the automotive industry - this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back for the company I work for and I'm already looking for a new job, which is a tad fraught at age 65. Thanks, Boris.

Had a great idea, what with the price of petrol being at its lowest for decades. My local filling station is suffering because there's not much call for fuel at present. So, if I go there and have a word with the manager, I could offer him a much welcome £1,000 in return for £1,000 worth of petrol at today's price, but to call on that option at any time in the future in order to fill up my car. I'd just be storing it at his facility. The problem is that he'd probably charge me storage...

Another item we've started to make ourselves, besides sourdough bread, kefir and yoghurt is cleaning products - specifically washing up liquid, using just a grated soap bar and a dash of washing soda.

I bought some bars of soap at the start of the lockdown and, despite washing our hands many times a day, we're still on our first bar. Unlike liquid soap, bars of soap are practically immortal. The main problem is the lack of suds which, with commercial products, tends to be an indicator of the correct amount. Hay has experimented with different amounts of the homemade stuff, but the same squirt as one would normally give seems to be more than adequate. It is, however, quite gloopy and the consistency of egg whites - pour it out of a jug and the whole lot slimes out like it has a life of its own.

Hay's also going to have a go at washing powder using the same ingredients, but in different quantities Time was when Lux sold soap flakes - remember them? I believe they're still available in some parts of the world, but I haven't seen them in UK shops.

While calling in at our local SPAR for some supplies, I noticed that one of the pubs on the High Street has halfheartedly power washed its pavement frontage.

What makes me conclude it was executed by a bored teenager on work experience?

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Ferry for the Sentinelese

So P and O (can't use ampersand on Blogger) Ferries is under threat of collapse unless the government bails it out to the tune of £150m - despite shareholders in the groups owning the company being about to receive £260m in dividends. Is this yet another case of bailout blackmail? In a capitalist system, a private company sinks or swims by its own actions - it doesn't go to the taxpayer for a bailout, unless it's deemed strategic, which begs the question of why it is in the hands of foreign owners in the first place. That's the Darwinist orthodoxy of the free market that the Tories and the ERG espouse. Share ownership is fast becoming a no-risk proposition and a sure way of making money off the back of the taxpayer.

What with a hard Brexit looming, the UK can ill afford 15% of its trade (that being P and O's share of our trade transportation) being put at risk. Mind you, EU ferry companies will receive a welcome boost, which will have Brexiteers foaming at the mouth. 

I wonder how the uber-optimistit, free market Boris will handle this one. The evidence from the covid experience is demonstrably showing that left-leaning governments have responded to the pandemic much better than right-wing, populist governments, and part of this is because they're not using ill-placed over-optimism in place of action (if only we'd been more optimistic about The Charge of the Light Brigade, or the Gallipoli camaign)....

That said, it remains to be seen what the knock-on human impact of the covid economic impact will be - it's a delicate balance of priorities; people and economy, not either or. However, woe betide any government that obviously puts its party donors way ahead of its electorate.

I wonder whether allowing the idiots who flout the lockdown to go about their business, while the rest of us hunker down, isn't the best, overall option. The idiots can keep the economy running, till they keel over - but they shouldn't be allowed access to the NHS - and the rest of us simply pick up the economy when the idiots have all been decimated. It's a win-win scenario and solves a number of problems simultaneously, not least improving the national IQ.

There is one place where the lockdown is total and has been in operation for hundreds of years. It's North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal. No-one goes there for the simple reason that the indigenous population has a habit of topping anyone who steps on the beach.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

What's in a Name

Boris is one of the few leaders to be known simply by his first name. Can you think of any others? Winston comes to mind, as do Napoleon and Che, although the latter wasn't the leader. Naturally, kings and queens are known by their first names, so they don't count, not that they're politicians anyway. Clowns are also known by their first names, but usually followed by 'The Clown'. Clowns also have a predilection for choosing names ending with the letter o, such as Coco, Bozo and BoJo...

Yesterday Boris maintained that we're 'turning the tide'. All I can say to is Cnut. Sorry, I should have qualified that in case you jumped to the unwarranted conclusion I'm being derogatory about the Dear Leader - what I meant was King Cnut, who attempted to command the tide to turn as a demonstration to his fawning followers that he wasn't all-powerful.

Anyone remember the name Michael Collins? No, I don't mean Michael Collins the Irish revolutionary - I mean the Michael Collins who was the 3rd member of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, but stayed in the command module. Everyone remembers Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, because they got to walk in the moon, but Collins was rather forgotten by history.

As a kid I was fascinated by the Greek myths and read them all. Many of the Greek heroes names have made their way down history and are still used to this day, like Achilles, Adonis, Jason, etc., but there was never, to my knowledge, an ancient Greek hero called Stavros. Many Greek names that are used today only came about with the advent of Christianity, such as the aforementioned Stavros, being based on the Greek word for cross.

Did you know that the study of personal names is called anthroponomastics? No, neither did I.

Names can be important when buying things - if you're buying disk brakes for a bike, you have to distinguish between cable operated disk brakes and hydraulic disk brakes. I was hoping to replace the faulty hydraulic brake on Colin's bike with a similar system but, the ones I got delivered are cable operated - I should have checked. However, I think the cable ones are far superior - no messing about with hydraulic fluid and bleeding them, just a simple cable system.

Experts recommend hydro brakes, believing them to be maintenance-free and more efficient but, as I have seen, they're a damned sight more complex when things do go wrong. Add to that the fact that mechanical disk brakes are cheap, I'd go for mechanical every time.

Ordinary rim brakes have a long braking lever, it being easier to stop a turning wheel the further away from the hub that the braking action is applied. Disk brakes, being much closer to the hub, require more force for the equivalent braking effect. This is compensated for by increasing the swept area of the disk with a large pad. Hydraulic disk brakes have the advantage over cable disk brakes of a lower loss of energy between the lever and the brake due to the hydraulic fluid's incompressibility - cables lose energy by the fact they stretch slightly, and the stretch increases over time, leading to a further loss of efficiency.

As it transpired, I had to cannibalise the rear hydro brake in order to get the cable brake slave cylinder to fit the bike, but it all came good in the end. I may end up replacing the front hydro brake too, for aesthetics and because I have one spare.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Worker Power for Philippa and Hilary.

I'm currently reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and was struck by a couple of paragraphs concerning the annual plagues that used to affect the country on the 16th century, which got me to wondering what the economic consequences were for the really big plagues.

It turned out that successive plagues had a successively lower mortality, starting at between 40% and 60% for the Black Death and finally levelling off at about 10% in the 16th and 17th century. However, the result of such huge early mortalities was that the peasants suddenly found themselves in high demand for labour and underwent a huge increase in their standard of living. 

The reduction in the workforce also kick-started innovations in mechanisation. Guilds started, which protected artisans. Serfdom was all but abolished, as the mortality among the aristocracy was particularly high. Small landholders bought dead landholders' property at knockdown prices and consolidated them. A lot of what was previously productive farm land was turned over to pasture, with the consumption of meat increasing commensurately. A whole, new, middle class was created.

Seems the herd immunity strategy would have given the remaining workers and unions a lot more power in wage negotiations.

I'm finding Hilary Mantel hard going. I keep either falling asleep or thinking; "Get to the bloody point." She does waffle on a bit and gets you involved in some totally irrelevant conversations. I can see her writing working well as drama, where it's edited down and shortened, but the books are heavy work.

Hilary Mantel vs Philippa Gregory? Give me Gregory any time, but I have to admit that Mantel does seem to get more under the skin of the character.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Bleeding Obvious

The first Covid casualty that I knew personally as a work colleague and friend. Andy Fuller, who I worked with at INMARSAT in the late 90s, has dies from the virus. Very sad. I wonder whether a time will come when we all knew someone who was taken by the virus.

Back to bikes:

What a wonderful machine the bicycle is. It surprises me that the ancient Greeks or Romans never came up with the idea. Just imagine if Harold Godwinson had some bikes at his disposal - the journey from Stamford Bridge to Hastings would have taken a fraction of the time, allowed him more preparation to fight William the Bastard and, instead of poncy French names like William, Gilbert and Brian, we'd all have solid, Saxon names like Athelstan and Æthelflæd, with the history of England having been completely different. Hay maintains Harold could still have come a cropper had his cloak or sword gotten caught in his bike spokes.

My armchair-comfort bike seat arrived yesterday. Can't use it on any of the bikes here, as it needs a vertical post, and the seats already on the bikes have their own, integrated posts or the posts have angled bits on them that aren't conducive to adding the armchair.

On Friday I thought I'd bleed the back brake on Colin's DiamondBack bike and duly proceeded to Terry's Cycle Shop. Upon requesting a bleed kit for QUAD QHD-SP disk brakes I was told that, while they have one in the workshop, they're not for retail.

Went to Bike Station, a few yards down the road, and managed to purchase a generic bleed kit with some brake fluid for £37, which I thought a tad steep, but there was no other option without ordering online and waiting God knows how long for delivery.

The QUAD QHD-SP is a strange disk braking system, as there is no bleed valve / nipple on the master cylinder, which caused me some consternation. My friend, Simon, a keen cyclist and Iron Man, put me in contact with one of his friends who has more experience of bleeding brakes. It transpired that the method of bleeding the QUAD QHD-SP is somewhat unorthodox and involves a of spillage. I tried and tried for several hours, before coming to the conclusion that there had to be a blockage somewhere in the piping. Removing the plastic cover from where the pipe entered the master cylinder revealed a very badly rusted joint - so bad that the pipe couldn't be unscrewed from the master cylinder without destroying the screw joint - which I successfully did (destroy it, I mean). So I was left with a totally useless back brake master cylinder.

The QUAD QHD-SP isn't manufactured anymore, so there was no way I could obtain an identical replacement. Decided to look on Facebook Market for a similar replacement for both the front and back brake - for aesthetics - and managed to find a complete set for sale in Kiddermister at the princely sum of £15, which is a steal. Negotiated the contract plus postage and am now waiting for them to be delivered.

Meanwhile, I completely removed the rear brake and we went out for a cycle ride yesterday with me using just the front brake. Hay and I did just short of 19 miles.

On getting home, I was advised by No.1 Son that I should be using the Strava app to monitor my bike rides, rather than Great Britain Topo Maps, which I use for orienteering on walks. Seems to me that Strava is for the competitive bike riders - I'm just interested in my own route, speed and time. Strava users follow each other - I'm not the least bit interested in following someone else's competitive cycling efforts. If I did become competitive, I'd wear my wetsuit, flippers and motorcycle helmet to show just how competitive I can be...

Saturday, 25 April 2020


I've been hearing a lot of talk that the country needs to come together in unity during the covid-19 pandemic. Such talk is aimed at those with a rational basis for their dislikes and have the temerity to criticise the leadership of Boris Johnson - a person who his apologists maintain can't do any wrong, despite decades of documented, hard evidence to the contrary that shows he has been weighed, he has been measured and he has been found wanting.

If one has experience of serving under good leaders, or if one has even a cursory knowledge of the writings of Sun Tzu, Clausewitz or Machiavelli, one realises that good leadership is what produces unity. Unity, in relation to leadership, cannot appear ex nihilo - it requires someone to exhibit the qualities of leadership; unity is contingent on good leadership and flows from it. It's as relevant to human society as it is to the animal kingdom.

Disunity, on the other hand, goes hand-in-hand with a lack in confidence in the leadership, a confused goal or a fundamental disagreement on policy. The demand for unity, where it's evidently absent, is usually a mask to cover ineptitude and similar to the accusations of 'traitor' levied by some at those not showing 100%, total devotion to Brexit, specifically the judiciary. Such calls are an attempt to close down any debate, thereby facilitating that leader with zero scrutiny. That way lies totalitarianism, whether left or right wing. One must therefore enquire into the causes of the absence of unity and address those causes.

Unity does not require that citizens automatically cheerlead a government when the leader is shown to be wanting in trust. Boris and his government may well be the epitome of truthfulness at this time (although that's highly unlikely, as evidenced by the blame game and backtracking that's going on), but he's already tainted by a long history of deception and evading scrutiny, making it extremely difficult for all but his most dedicated sycophants to believe anything emanating from his mouth is anywhere even remotely aligned with truth. Such is the current level of distrust in Johnson that some question whether he actually contracted covid-19 at all. That said, Johnson's greatest threat at present is not from the opposition, but senior Tories and rebels within his own party who are questioning his leadership ability and criticising his complacency.

His supporters, in their hearts, know he's a congenital liar, but they simply can't admit it. Post hoc rationalisations are used to avoid having to change their minds in the glare of inconvenient facts they choose to ignore, precisely because they aligned themselves with a deeply flawed, weak and narcissistic leader who harnessed lies in order to achieve what he persuaded them that they wanted - they have become entwined with his weltanschauung. Consequently the blame for a failure of unity is diverted to those having no rationally based trust in a congenital liar. It's essentially transference.

When government strategy - developed by Dom Cummings, about which there is no secret and which is cheered on by sections of the press in its implacable hostility to taxes - is to dismantle the 'Nanny State', Big Government and the Civil Service, it's not surprising that such government and its departments are in disarray when a crisis necessitating the 'Nanny State', Big Government and trust in the leader hits. Some say that it's no bad thing that the Civil Service is getting a shake up - but now we see the consequences of what happens when there's a culture of fear within it, along with allegations of bullying by ministers. We see what happens when public services, predominantly the NHS, have been starved of funding for a decade. Be careful what you wish for, as it will come back to bite you in the bum in an unexpected manner.

When a leader is known for his or her cavalier attitude to truth, there is no trust or confidence in the leader; where there is no trust in the leader, there is no unity. Unity does not mean unswerving fealty while simultaneously ignoring awkward facts, which is what those demanding unity actually mean by unity. They are demanding a lack of scrutiny and condoning the doctrine of  'the end justifies the means', which was attributed to Machiavelli, although he didn't use those exact words. That doctrine can be used to justify immoral action to attain a moral outcome - but there is a distinct and historic lack of morals or moral goals within the current leadership.

However, there is unity, but not in support of the government. There's an unprecedented and almost unanimous unity in the nation's support for frontline workers; NHS staff, delivery drivers, care workers, the police, the elderly, the poor, those volunteering for vaccine trials, etc. Unity of support lies there because we now see this section of society's true value - it's a unity of values, goals, methods and outcomes, not a mindless, unquestioning unity around a single person of dubious virtue.

Some advice was given to Captain Adye, an officer joining the staff of Lord Raglan (a younger son of the Duke of Beaufort), the terminally incompetent Commander in Chief of the British forces at the Crimea, in order to cover up his incompetence; “Never trouble Lord Raglan more than is absolutely necessary with details, listen carefully to his remarks, try to anticipate his wishes and at all times make as light as possible of difficulties.”

Friday, 24 April 2020

Another Turn of the Wheel

So, because the bike shop is so busy, it will take a week to have mine sorted. The asked the guy running the shop whether business was good. He said it was, but that he was getting a lot of abuse from people who were demanding their bikes be fixed the same day.

Had a go on No.1 Son's black, carbon fibre rocket, but nah - it's not for me. The gears are a nightmare to operate and the seat is as hard as nails. Add to that those dorky pedals that require special cycling shoes and the whole thing becomes unappealing.

Brother-in-law said I could use his bike. Seized brake cable on one brake and the other has snapped. Not a chance.

Our neighbour, Colin, said I could use his bike which is a DiamondBack and looks great. The seat is actually comfortable too, despite being of the razor blade variety.

Colin had paid £400 for it and had used it only a couple of times, since when it's been languishing in his garden for 2 years. Flat tyres, manky as hell, top gear of the x3 didn't go beyond x2 and the back brake was as useless as my bike. On top of that, the brakes are hydraulic, meaning I don't have a clue as to now to adjust them. There's not even a YouTube video showing how to adjust this particular make of brakes.

Cleaned the bike up with some silicone spray. Pumped up the tyres. Got the rear brake working in a manner of speaking. Lubricated the derailleur so it worked. Left the bike for half an hour and returned to find the front tyre flat as a pancake. An inspection of the inner tube highlighted a repair that had failed. Bought a new inner tube for £6 and fitted it in a trice. Had another go at adjusting the rear brake and went for a spin. The rear brake was dragging hideously.

There's no way I can use it for a long ride, as the back wheel simply drags too much, making it a lot of effort no matter the gear ratio selected. No amount of adjustment would free the brake sufficiently without the side effect of rendering it totally useless. Can't take it to the bike shop for servicing, as it would also take a week to be done.

I'm just going to have to wait for my bike to be fixed. I did suggest to Hay that she could use her bike and I'd tag along on the Triumph Daytona. For some reason it didn't go down as well as I thought it would.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Another Cycle

Hay and I have dusted off the bikes and taken to cycling.

Hay's bike is borrowed from her sister and is adequate to the task, despite having sat under a tarp for a few years. Mine was a 2nd hand job bought from a junk shop for No.2 Son, who now has a better model.

The seat on mine is like sitting on a razor, so the first job was to order a far-arse seat resembling an armchair that doesn't split me in half. It's not arriving till Tuesday, so Hay fashioned a jury rigged affair with an old sock and some foam rubber. 

Not the most elegant solution, but it works, if in a rudimentary manner

The back wheel of said contraption is no longer circular and is eccentric, having a slight bulge at one corner (figuratively speaking). It necessitates the spokes being tightened to draw it back into a shape that doesn't have my arse bobbing up and down with every revolution.

The gears require some drastic adjustment to prevent the chain from coming off every mile or so, or the derailleur contraption to click, grind and select a gear at will while I'm riding.

The back brake, no matter how much I tighten the cable, refuses to stop the bike. I make do, therefore, with just the front brake.

Not having any proper cycling gear - full bodystocking, dorky shorts, really expensive cycling hat - I make do with a pair of baggy shorts, a polo shirt, trainers and my rollerblading helmet. Hay is similarly clad and we look like a couple from the 1960s out for a sedate bike ride, although a couple in the 60s wouldn't have been wearing any form of head protection - unless, perhaps, a trilby and a headscarf.

Naturally, I laugh at the lycra-clad fashion victims who race post me on their highly geared, carbon fibre bikes that are as light as a feather and cost thousands of pounds. I am accomplishing exactly the same on a mere fraction of the cost.

Following a gentle test run of some 9 miles on Monday around our walking route, we did a 14 mile circular ride on Wednesday - and I found I really enjoyed it. Far more than walking. For a start, we could take in more places than were inaccessible within the timeframe with walking. When riding a bike you can stop off at all the interesting places and then race through the more boring parts that, on foot, would take 10 times as long to traverse.We refer to the boring bits of walks as doom-walks.

In fact, I like cycling so much that I can easily outpace Hay on a hill, which given my COPD diagnosis is quite a feat. I've been off my COPD meds for nearly a week now and feel much better - and I actually believe I no longer have the condition - it's more like an asthma that's set off by certain chemicals, like the ones you find in Lush shops (I can't go into the places without a respirator). The medication I take is a powder in an inhaler and I'm convinced that the powder makes me produce an excess of mucus, resulting in an almost permanent, very wet cough. Since coming off the meds my cough has almost disappeared.

At one stage on the ride, we came upon a long, straight stretch of road opening up in front of us with a white line down the middle (most of the ride was unpopulated back roads through fields that hardly anyone knows), which resulted in me bellowing out Born to Be Wild at full power.

Our return journey took us down Old Sodbury Hill, a very steep and snaking patch of road that descends an escarpment from the A46 on the Cotswolds high plains into Old Sodbury. I managed to gather sufficient speed to enable me to travel 1.6 miles without a single pedal of the wheels. The eccentric rear wheel made my backside look like a rabbit's running from hounds.

Like Toad of Toad Hall and his motorcar, I'm now addicted to cycling - but on a budget. How long this will last is moot. How the hell we're going to get paddleboarding, kayaking, wind surfing and cycling paraphernalia in and on one car when we go on holiday is a project I'm going to have to work on. Perhaps a small trailer is in order.

Today I'm taking my bike to a local repair shop to have the eccentric wheel, duff brake and idiosyncratic derailleur gearing adjusted. For the duration of the servicing, No.1 Son is lending me his carbon fibre bike that cost him £1,000. I'd better not prang it.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Ploughing One's Own Furrows

So Harry and Meghan have told 4 newspapers that they are severing any contact with them. Can't blame them one bit.

In no way am I a royalist, but I do have respect for the Queen; you can admire the manner in which someone performs their job while simultaneously not having much regard for the business model itself. The monarchy is an anachronism whereby birth gives advantage and privilege and, as such, is the ultimate in nepotism - a feudal relic having little place in the modern world of meritocracy.

Harry and Meghan have done what thousands of Brits do every year and millions have done over the years - move abroad. Many do this for job prospects and plenty of retired people do it to be nearer their children and grandchildren. I wonder whether the Queen or Prince Charles will now move to the Americas. Given their positions within a fixed, archaic firmament, that's a luxury not afforded to them, but you or I could do it at any time - not that Trump's America holds any attractions for me.

Harry's job prospects, as 6th in line to the throne, are severely limited within the feudal system - unless a bit of Kind Hearts and Coronets were to take place. Gone are the days when a princeling from a German line would be asked to become king of a new country. From my perspective, I wish Harry and Meghan well and bear them no malice whatsoever for wanting to escape from the predations of the gutter press and the strictures of an unenviable life in a goldfish bowl. They are, at least, attempting to plough their own furrow.

They are accused by some sections of the press for being self-publicists, but what the press seem incapable of realising is that it's their prurient actions that keep them in the press.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Masked Bat Idiocy

Do you realise that this is probably the first time ever you're able to go into a bank wearing a mask and ask for money?

Saw this meme yesterday, which amused me.

I've seen articles in the Spectator and Telegraph bemoaning citizens' loss of freedoms due to the lockdown and berating the police for ensuring people obey the rules. We're talking about temporary rules that are designed to save people's lives, for God's sake. Rules that protect us from idiots who drive hundreds of miles to 'go for exercise'. Rules that stop people having mass BBQs where the infection can spread.

A salutary lesson can be learned from the 1918 Philadelphia Liberty Loans Parade, where not cancelling a parade during the Spanish Flu epidemic (which actually started in the USA), caused thousands of additional, unnecessary deaths.

These same publications, along with the Daily Mail and the Sun, maintained over the weekend that the Brexit deadline shouldn't be delayed, as if piling needless misery on top of unavoidable misery is good for the country. Essentially, hard Brexit is the ripping up of our largest ever trade deal, with nothing to replace it - someone please tell me how this makes sense? How can that be beneficial, except to the JRMs of this world, who see the ability to buy bankrupt stock at knock down prices and are pushing for a hard Brexit? Incidentally, this includes anyone who has been prudent enough to accumulate a pile of cash, like me. However, it's one thing to accept an opportunity that's presented and another to push for that opportunity with proven lies.

As for trading with the rest of the world (which we already do, if you hadn't heard); a trade deal with China will be off the table, what with sentiment now turning against China for a variety of reasons, and Trump seems set on sacrificing the USA's population in order to get re-elected, not that a word of what this narcissist says can ever be trusted. Have these people not read the government's own Brexit forecasts? Have they not read that 7m jobs could go in the pandemic alone? The one saving grace is that the Brexit misery will just appear as background noise in the greater devastation Covid is placing on people's finances.

This cartoon from the weekend's Observer makes the point succinctly.

You can bet your bottom dollar that the promise of infrastructure programmes Boris used to woo the northern Red Wall away from Labour won't be going ahead now - the very projects Dom Cummings was determined Boris had to follow through on. There simply won't be enough in the kitty after Covid. Making good on his promise to adequately fund the NHS, after years of ravaging it, will be a top priority for Boris in order to keep the hoi polloi quiet - and to prevent him being lynched.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Fixed - Damned if You Do.....

Mower fixed! Garden mown!

The actuator for the clutch was rotationally misaligned by a couple of centimetres, resulting in the clutch being engaged, despite the lever being in the disengaged position.

Complaints are being made that BAME deaths due to the pandemic are not being recorded separately, despite it being recognised than BAMEs are disproportionately hit. If they're not being recorded, then how can the conclusion be reached that BAME deaths are disproportionate? Something's not quite right in the conclusion.

Record the ethnicity of criminals and the authorities are blamed for discrimination, don't record ethnicity in the pandemic and the authorities are once again accused of discrimination. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

There's no denying that BAMEs are highly represented within the NHS and are therefore disproportionately exposed to Covid. Asian people tend to live in larger generational groups, increasing the risk of transmission (which is one of the reasons you won't find many elderly Asian people in care homes - they're looked after by the family). Black people are more likely to feature in the poorer section of the population and, again, be at higher risk as poverty is a key indicator of health. However, the above applies to many white people too - it's simply demographics at work. Work in the NHS on low pay, live in a large generational group in overcrowded conditions and you're likely to increase the risks to yourself and your family - it doesn't matter what ethnicity you are. It's no more surprising than elderly people in care homes or people with a pre-existing health condition featuring high in the death toll. It's not exactly rocket science.

Turning to lockdown shaming; it's being reported by the police that this is being used to settle old scores. I simply can't believe that, but while I'm here I'd like to mention I could have sworn I saw Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Dominic Raab taking long, unnecessary journeys...

Part of me thinks those that flout the rules should just be allowed to get on with it - it'll improve the nation's average IQ. However, they'll also put additional pressure on the NHS, which ain't so good.

Ever noticed how when you go on holiday you fall victim to all manner of ailments for the first week? Since work closed down I've been suffering from sciatica, I developed a torn intercostal in my chest yesterday and I'm developing a nice ulcer on my tongue. While we can seem to hold ailments at bay while at work, the move to sudden relaxation tends to crash the immune system - not that my muscular or sciatic nerve problems are the result of a depressed immune system. Yet it's a well known medical phenomenon that people fall ill at the onset of the longer holiday periods, probably due to the higher levels of anxiety just before the holiday to clear the backlog of work.

On an unrelated issue; a gunman has killed 16 people in Canada. Police are at a loss to determine the motive. I've been reading Jordan Peterson's "12 Rules for Life" over the last few days and the answer lies within in this brilliant book, where Peterson analyses the nihilism prevalent in mass killers. I highly recommend the book, although it has become increasingly difficult to obtain a copy on Amazon.

Peterson posits, quite logically, that to determine the motive behind such people you simply have to ask them - the ones that are apprehended before killing themselves, that is, as most of them do. If they kill themselves, then merely read their manifestos. He maintains these people believe humanity to be a scourge and that the world would be a better place without humans, themselves included, which is the reason they invariably turn their weapons on themselves or invite being shot by the police.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Mower - Day 3

An amusing meme that had me chuckling...

The issue with the mower has been solved.

Remote diagnostics by my brother and a friend (both of the engineering fraternity) deduced that the bendix on the starter motor had stuck.

I removed the engine cover to access the flywheel and starter motor, but the starter was behaving just as it should, except that there wasn't sufficient power to turn the flywheel. While the flywheel could be turned with two hands and a lot of oomph, I couldn't help feeling it should be much looser than that. 

Under instruction of my two engineering mentors, I removed the spark plug. The flywheel still felt stuck. I was then advised to check whether the clutch was engaged - despite the lever being in the disengaged position, if somewhat tight.

I got Hay to attempt a start while I kept an eye on the drive belt at the back of the mower and, sure enough, the engine was trying to drive the rear wheels. I'd obviously misaligned the clutch actuator during the reassembly.

Later today, once the weather has warmed up, the mower will once more be placed on its side (with the fuel switched off this time) and I'll disassemble, adjust and reassemble the gubbins, as we experts call the stuff hanging off the driveshaft.

At least I've found the cause of my erratic night mowing.

A completely molten connector to the headlights. Must have been like that for ages.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

The Saga - Continued

Spent most of the day trying to diagnose the ride-on-mower starting problem during rain shower breaks.

Firstly I tried cranking the flywheel manually to ascertain whether the problem was engine related, but it cranked fine, if a bits stiffly, bearing in mind the compression.

Next I charged the battery to maximum to eliminate that problem, but to no avail. However, I did notice a slight squeal coming from the solenoid and believed that the be the source of the problem. It's located in the most inaccessible place imaginable, but an inspection didn't show any loose wires.

I found a new solenoid on t'internet from Germany for decent money and was about to purchase it when I had a brainwave. The solenoid is nothing more than a switch, so if I shorted the HT terminals and it cranked, then that would show it was indeed the solenoid. Nearly welded a screwdriver to the solenoid terminals in the process, but the result was the same - a starter motor click but no continued cranking. Back to the drawing board.

It could only be one of three things;

  1. A faulty starter motor,
  2. Pulling the drive spindle out to fit the belt round the pulley had jammed something, or
  3. The drive shaft nut had been tightened too much and there was too much resistance for the starter motor to overcome.

Then the rain set in for the day. Job for tomorrow, but if anyone has any bright ideas, they'd be most welcome to air them.

Friday, 17 April 2020

The Saga of Trigger's Ride-on-Mower (Again)

A simple question - is Boris on SSP?

I boarded Trigger's Ride-on-Mower yesterday, intending to give the grass a light crop before the rain starts today. One pass of the area near the house (with grass box on, so as not to infuriate Hay with grass clippings on the patio) and the drive belt gave up the ghost.

I've replaced numerous deck belts over the years - about 1.5 per annum on average - but have never replaced the drive belt and, frankly, wasn't looking forward to having to accomplish the task at some stage. The one that was on it had been on for the 6 years since I bought the mower 2nd hand, and God knows how long prior to that. Probably since new on 2007.

Spent all afternoon disassembling it, reassembling it, disassembling it again (due to me having forgot something) reassembling it, disassembling it again (something was put on back to front). Didn't have any manual or diagrams to go by and it was all by feel and guesswork. There are Youtube videos out there, but none for my specific make and model.

Finally at 6pm I had it all back together. I took another 10 minutes attaching the deck and threading the deck drive belt round all the pulleys.

At 6.10pm I switched her on and turned the ignition. A click of the solenoid, but she wouldn't crank. Obviously I'd disturbed something within the starting circuit. Such a let down.

Oh, well - the work schedule for today is sorted, providing the rain holds off...

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Covid Corvid

An interesting couple of charts showing historic deaths per annum for the UK. (click to enlarge).

The annual changes are not that large and thus being able to analyse a spike for 2020 will be extremely helpful in determining the effect of Covid on the numbers. Naturally, because of the lockdown, adjustments would have to be made for the drop in road deaths.

I think I might start building and selling Corona fallout shelters - like the ones people were building in the 80s at the height of the Cold War. You must still be able to buy houses that had nuclear fallout shelters installed in their gardens.

I'm detecting that people are getting fed up with Covid - the proliferation of funny memes on my WhatsApp have slowed down dramatically recently and I'm now getting the more usual funny, unfunny and totally sick and tasteless stuff that was prevalent before the lockdown.

Changing the subject from Covid to Corvid, while on a walk this week we spotted a crow pestering a raptor, and succeeding. You'd think a raptor could make short shrift of a crow, but apparently not.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Not a Scientist

I'm getting rather fed up of the idiots who, when a lay person comments on an established fact of science, says; "Well, what would so and so know - he/she isn't a scientist." 

You don't have to be a scientist to understand the result of a scientific study; you simply have to be able to have an enquiring mind, be able to read, have the ability to comprehend the results of someone else's research effort, possible spark of genius and hard work in collating data, able to join the dots and finally not be hampered by an overarching ideological barrier. Once something you didn't know previously is explained to you and the evidence is presented, even someone of limited intellect can understand 'the science'. Science is taught in schools, for God's sake.

It has become a lazy way of deflecting or shutting down an argument about something you'd rather not know the answer to (or anyone else, for that matter), as it conflicts with your skewed value hierarchy, and usually in people where truth is nowhere near the top of that hierarchy, but ideology is. A key area where it's prevalent is in Global Warming, where people like Greta Thunberg merely repeat what scientists have concluded.

Well, I stopped wearing the Triumph / Trump hat on walks, but people are still giving me weird looks.

I can't, for the life of me, think why.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

The Triumph of Trump's Fly-Tip Exercise

I'm going to have to stop wearing this on walks.

I keep getting strange looks from the odd person or two we meet en route who think I'm a Trump supporter.

Yesterday we went for a 10 mile walk in the countryside and came across two loads of fly-tipped rubbish, both containing evidence as to the owner of it. Now, no sensible person would fly-tip and leave their identity stamped all over it, leading me to the conclusion that some bugger is operating in the area, offering to relieve homeowners of their rubbish for cash and then dumping it. Both piles were duly reported to the council and I hope the bugger is prosecuted.

If your waste is found dumped, even if someone else has done it, you could be held responsible for the crime, the result of which could be a £50k fine or 5 years prison.

At one point we came across this.

That's some skid mark. Further along the road there were more from the same tyres, but in short bursts approaching a bend. Someone is speeding and not paying attention.

Also came across a newly excavated badger set that had been dug into the bank of a road and under the tarmac.

While the badgers may have a nice, dry roof of tarmac, I just hope it doesn't cave in when a heavy vehicle goes over it; it might prove a danger to both the badgers and the driver of any vehicle that opens a large pothole in the tarmac.

Gyms are maintaining that they are facing going to the wall because landlords aren't giving them rent holidays. I think many of them will face the axe anyway after the lockdown ends, as people come to realise they can exercise quite effectively without having to go anywhere near an expensive gym. I'm seeing all age groups out running, which is bound to have a positive effect on the nation's health.

Did you know that you expend approximately 5 times more energy when walking than cycling the same distance?

Monday, 13 April 2020

Bacterial Growth on Roads

Better keep off the roads today - they'll be clogged with returning holidaymakers.

Talking of pond life, as my regular reader will know (apparently I have two now, or so I'm led to believe), I occasionally make kefir. Yesterday I decided to make its cousin - yoghurt.

Our local SPAR is the only shop where you're not forced to stand in an interminable queue that's at least half a mile in length - there's usually no more than a couple of people lined up on the pavement outside SPAR at the mandatory 2m separation. I bought some strawberry Activia and put one small pot of that in a kilner jar of a litre and a half of full-cream milk, leaving it in a reasonably warm cupboard. However, although the packaging said it was a live yoghurt, I didn't quite believe the marketing hype, as there was no description of the bacteria used. 

In the evening, No.1 Son wanted a lift to restock his supplies at the local Waitrose and, given there wasn't a queue at that time, I accompanied him into the shop and bought a large tub of live yoghurt that stated what cultures it contained - a much better guide of genuineness. I added a good dollop of that to the mix.

Later that evening, I wasn't quite happy with the temperature of the culture - it was a bit too cool - so I moved the Kilner jar to the bathroom and placed it on the towel rail. This resulted in the perfect temperature for the culture to grow (around 30 degrees) and, by yesterday evening I had a large Kilner of delicious, natural yoghurt. The secret is not to culture it too long that it separates - anything from 24 to 36 hours.

If you want a Greek style yoghurt, add either some milk powder or gelatine to aid the thickening.

I learned this method of yoghurt growing from my mum, who hardly ever bought yoghurt from the shops and had a veritable yoghurt farm in her airing cupboard - we brought our love of yoghurt to the UK from Holland when we moved here in the 60s and before it became popular in the UK.

All you need to do is reserve some of the yoghurt you make and use that as a seed culture for your next batch. If you aren't going to make any immediately, just keep it in the fridge to slow down the bacterial growth until such time as you need it. Should you accidentally kill the culture or it goes off, simply buy another small pot of live yoghurt at the supermarket to use as your next seed culture.

I'm thinking of experimenting with kefir as a sourdough starter in my bread baking. I'm interested to see how the resultant bread tastes.

Might give cheese making a go too, if this situation goes on much longer.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Disappearing Dom's Protect & Survive

I was looking up something on Dom Cummings yesterday and was amazed to discover that there's not a single news item about Cummings if you search over the last week. Prior to that you get a plethora of news stories. 

It seems that, since spotted running out of 10 Downing Street, he's gone to ground. Mind you, despite me not being a conspiracy theorist, he does have some geeky, misfit friends who are adept at covering tracks.

Remember Protect and Survive, the 1980s public service film about nuclear war that was narrated by Patrick Allen  (I always confuse Patrick Allen's voice with that of Stanley Baker)? His voice was the epitome of authority and confident command. His voice was used on Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Two Tribes and he was the face of Barratt Homes adverts. He was also noted for his somewhat irreverent voice-overs for E4.

Well, the government should get someone who can impersonate his voice and do telly broadcasts to warn people to stay home. It would resonate more with people of my age than a politician stood behind a lectern.

A useless bit of trivia concerning my constant confusion between Patrick Allen and Stanley Baker - they both appeared in the 1959 film Jest Storm.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

White vs Red Buses

Women prefer white wine and men generally prefer red. Why?

I think it may be to do with the fact white wine smells flowery and doesn't stain when spilled and women hate clothing stains. Men, of the other hand, are known not to be averse to a few stains on their clothing.

Any other theories?

We're continually told that alcohol isn't a solution, but in this case it is, in so many ways.

A medic has warned Boris Johnson of not returning to work too early, as; "He will feel like he's been hit by several buses". Wonder if they're red and have slogans across their sides?

I don't think they need worry; Boris doesn't make a habit of returning to work early.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Covid Stats

Yesterday I saw an article showing the projected deaths from Covid, by country in Europe, as forecast by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, an American research foundation initially seed funded by Bill and Melinda Gates.

Doubt has been cast on the forecast for the UK by Imperial College's Professor Neil Ferguson, who maintains the UK's forecast is actually between 7k and 20k. However, even so, this gives a skewed impression of how countries are coping, as population sizes differ considerably.

I therefore took the above numbers and amortised them over the different populations to derive the chart below - allowing two extra UK columns for the 7k lower (FL) and 20k higher (FH) forecasts of Ferguson.

As can be seen from the orange line, representing deaths as a percentage of overall population, Spain and Italy are forecast to be virtually on level pegging, with France lower and Germany very much lower. Using the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation figures from the upper chart, we're not forecast to do at all well compared to the rest of Europe, but the 20k Ferguson higher figure forecasts us to be in the same area as Italy. The 7k Ferguson lower limit shows us forecast to do much better and slightly better than Germany.

Then there's the metric used by the IHME and Ferguson. One assumes the same  counting methodology is used for each country for the IHME forecast, but there are reports that the UK only uses hospital deaths, excluding care homes, and Ferguson's forecasts are therefore skewed. But then where does the IHME get its UK data from, if not the UK? - I just don't know and the IHME site does not state this.

Germany includes care home deaths, but that may be because their testing regime is far in advance of the UK's. Determining the cause of death of care home residents in the UK is fraught with difficulty, as pneumonia is the old person's friend and bodies are not taken to hospitals for autopsies unless there's suspicion of foul play.

It does, however, go to show that comparing raw death data without the nuance of population size can lead one to false conclusions, as can any comparison without a common framework. Doubtless other factors should be taken into consideration, such as percentage of elderly, etc., but that data is not available.

It's strange how when we're presented with a graph or chart, we're conditioned to believe it without looking at the assumptions behind it, but when the same data is provided as a narrative, we're more likely to question it.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Anxious Bee Contagion Ponds

Hay was sent this interesting recognition chart for bees by the South Glos. Wildlife Trust, of which we are members.

I thought it interesting enough to share. However, don't let it get into the hands of the media, as they'll use it as a coronavirus recognition chart.

Last night we got half way through a 2011 American Netflix film called Contagion. The similarities with the current emergency are startling - originating in China, started in bats (and pigs), pandemic declared, conspiracy theorists spreading misinformation, etc.. The only difference is the in the film virus was more deadly and spread faster.

It's becoming apparent that Covid is a bit more indiscriminate than at first thought. Naturally, it is lethal to the elderly, who have depressed immune systems, but middle-aged and young people suffering from stress or depression also have compromised immune systems and no obvious, underlying medical conditions. Could it be that, in relatively young people, anxiety is a key indicator of how severely one will get the disease? I may have mild COPD, but I have no anxiety about anything at present and am not usually an anxious type of person, so I feel relatively safe from the worst effects. I haven't even had a dose of flu for as long as I can remember.

What with all this spare time, I hear that lots of people are taking the opportunity of creating ponds in their gardens. It would be ironic if the next pandemic is caused by a waterborne virus originating in badly maintained pond water.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

What Day is It?

I'm starting to lose track of what day it is. Hay has trouble being cooped up, but I have no problem with it; I'm happy in my own skin, so long as I have my books. Perfect time to catch up on a bit of reading.

I think that one unintended consequence of this lock-down is the number of companies that come to realise they can trust their workers to work from home, as well as the savings to be made. No expensive office space, no heating bills, no council tax - and fewer car journeys will unclog the roads as well as reduce both pollution and the amount of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere. It might also give a boost to electric cars, as people's journeys will be shorter if they move to home working.

It won't be so good for the oil producing countries, but that's not necessarily a bad thing and could result in less financing of Islamist terrorism. Nor will it do much for office rents, which will plummet. Excess office space could be used to resolve the housing crisis - another plus.

We've decided to go away for Easter - thank God it's a short working week this week (and next).

We thought we'd go for a short holiday to the bottom of the garden. I pity those who always work from home and can't eave the office...

Mrs Trellis of North Wales (my regular reader) will know that I track my electricity usage and solar generation on a daily basis and can thus discern annual fluctuations, which over the last 6 years have shown a gradual increase in average yearly sunshine.

Another indicator I'm starting to consider recording is the day I move from trousers to shorts, which I did yesterday.

No.2 Son, who is currently working in Tesco, is appalled by the number of families that go to shop in Tesco, as if it's a day out, oblivious to the fact they're needlessly exposing their partner and kids to the virus unnecessarily and unwittingly aiding its spread. Idiots. Tesco should allow only single shoppers in the store.

Had our first case in Chipping Sodbury in a new elderly housing complex next to Waitrose. I guess that will mean longer queues at Tesco and Morrison's now.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Recreational Recreations

Following on from our recreation of American Gothic yesterday, some good friends of ours, Simon and Elly, have done similar creations.

I believe the water was freezing in the above recreation and Simon couldn't contain his laughter while taking the shot.

Quite neat, we thought.

Monday, 6 April 2020

Old Sodbury Gothic

As you can tell, I was a bit bored yesterday. I'd been watching back-to-back episodes of Knightfall  (highly recommended) and Hay had been panting her pea crop. I'd been pestering Hay for a couple of days to recreate a famous painting, which seems to be popular with some people during the lock-down, and I thought American Gothic would be perfect as we could use the house as a backdrop.

Actually, I may use this as a Facebook challenge and get a nominated person to recreate a painting themselves. Check if your name appears on the Facebook post of this...

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Double Standards

As my regular reader will know (Mrs Trellis of North Wales), I like to occasionally dive into the quagmire of logical contradictions, hate and intellectual inconsistency of the Leave.EU Facebook page - or what I call Brexit Taliban HQ. - to do battle with the forces of ignorance and misinformation.

A couple of days ago Leave.EU was castigating the EU for not providing aid to Italy. Now tardiness is certainly an accusation that can be upheld, but this was rectified before Leave.EU decided to take a potshot. Programmes is place comprise:

  1. The EU Corona Response Investment Initiative, making €37 billion available for crisis response - healthcare systems, small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), workers and vulnerable parts of EU economies – bolstered by another €28 billion in unallocated EU funds. On a national level, fiscal support measures now account for around 2.2% of EU-27 GDP. For liquidity support, they total 13.7% of EU GDP. 
  2. On health, they are focusing on getting medical equipment to where it is needed most, by procuring it jointly and keeping goods moving freely across the single market - the programme the UK declined to join. They are also financing research to develop a vaccine. 
  3. Also, they correspondingly amended the rules on structural funds so that national governments have flexibility in using them - akin to Rishi Sunak's policies.
  4. The European Central Bank has taken significant action with its announcement of the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme. This temporary asset purchase programme of €750 billion will help to ensure all Member States can benefit from supportive financing conditions that will enable them to absorb the shock.
The next day, Leave.EU praises far right governments in Hungary and Poland and the more centrist government in Czechoslovakia for taking a stand on refugees - refugees that are causing Greece to creak at the seams.

So, on the one hand they vilify the EU for not helping Italy (which has now been sorted on an EU-wide level) while on the other they praise countries for NOT coming to the assistance of a fellow EU member.

I call that intellectual dishonesty and double standards. What would you call it, Mrs Trellis of North Wales? It's what I've come to expect from any organised movement that supports Brexit on behalf of a cabal of wealthy corporate raiders that use prejudice as their prime weapon.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Cromwell's Covid Playbook

The business I work for is not hugely profitable. In fact, it just about covers outgoings and wages, with very little to spare and the MD doesn't even draw a regular salary. It's no surprise then that the shutdown has caused us enormous problems. Even if we were open, the public is simply not interested in buying cars at the present time.

Rather than jumping on the government loan bandwagon, our MD is taking a leaf from the Oliver Cromwell book of strategy - do nothing until forced to by circumstances. Cromwell followed this rule of thumb throughout his life and it served him well. Problems either resolved themselves without his intervention, or opportunities afforded by waiting presented themselves.

Firstly, our MD doesn't want to take out a loan until he knows, within the penny, what the company liabilities are and what the needs are, and that will only become clear with time. Taking out a loan far in excess of requirements is foolish. Also, with each announcement from Rishi Sunak the terms of loans improve - rules and onerous barriers keep dropping on an almost daily basis as issues arise. 

Those that jumped on the bandwagon early are hamstrung by these onerous conditions and are contractually obliged to either monstrous interest rates or having to put personal assets on the line. Our MD's strategy is to not apply until the last possible moment, when he fully expects the terms will be the best available. Not a bad strategy, given the business would not be viable with huge loan or interest payments.

Those of us working for the company who have prudently saved can weather the storm until a loan is secured for the company on terms that ensure the company survival, but those who have lived far beyond their means can't. It is better to have a company with fewer employees than no company at all and you can't save those who have been foolish.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Robber Barons in Hospital

I'd like to make an appeal for a group of people who have been left behind in the support packages already announced for companies, employed people, the self-employed and those on zero hours contracts. I speak, of course, about that much-maligned and marginalised group - burglars.

Now that everyone is self-isolating or working from home, the poor burglars can no longer effect a break-and-entry into empty houses - they simple aren't ever empty and thus they don't have any work. Yes, they could target business premises, but they're far more protected with alarms than the simple household. Please spare a thought for them in their time of hardship...

Given that situations like this always have the potential to descend into civil unrest, I'm thinking of popping down to the Duke of Beaufort's place in Badminton and suggesting he create a local militia force - The Duke of Beaufort's Own Light Horse, or Beaufort's Marauders. There is, of course, the Prince of Wales, just outside Tetbury - he could raise The Prince of Wales' Rough Riders. We should all be looking to local warlords to protect us now, as we did in the distant past. It's about time the aristos started earning their keep...

Following on from the death yesterday of Eddie Large, who caught Covid while in hospital for a heart condition, a close friend of ours had a friend who also contracted Covid while in hospital for a totally unrelated injury and subsequently died. It would seem that hospitals, quite inevitably and sadly, are now the hubs for Covid, as they once were for MRSA, and you're best keeping yourself healthy so as to avoid them like the plague, if you'll forgive the expression. With hundreds of Covid infected patients, it must be almost impossible not to get infected and it's no wonder NHS staff are dropping like flies. We joined the NHS clapping once more last night.

Talking of the Coronavirus, each media outlet is using its own graphic of the virus. How the hell can I be expected to leave the house and recognise a genuine virus when the graphical representations are so varied? Some look like a WWII naval mine and others look like a bloody football. It's like giving WWII RAF pilots a Bourne and Hollingsworth department store catalogue and maintaining it's an enemy aircraft recognition chart..