Apr 2010
Girls are evil

I have a nemesis…

I drove to work today in “little car” – our small hot-hatch. I drove the back roads to work and enjoyed myself immensely. Nothing desperately illegal, just enthusiastic driving.

Most of the way I had a little dark blue Ford Fiesta keeping perfect distance from me. When I overtook, it did. When I took the racing line, it did. When I clipped the apex, it did. When I dipped down onto the A14, it did. When I made a sprint past a lorry, it did. When I came back up the slip road, it did.

The lights turned red ahead of us. There are three lanes – two to turn left and one to go right. Lane 1 is taken. I stop on the line in lane 2. The Fiesta stops on the line in lane three.

I glance to the right and the driver who’s been playing road games with me is a beautiful lass in her early twenties, who smiles and gives me a thank you nod.

I nod back, and look back towards the lights.

A few moments later, she briefly beeps her horn. I look towards her. She smiles at me and winks. Then accelerates past the light as it turns green, cuts across, and goes left down ‘my’ lane.

They’re evil, I tell you…

Obviously, this is a work of fiction. I’d never do anything like that…

So, I’ve largely recovered from the flight, and I have an OU textbook to avoid. What better time to start the holiday memories…?

We flew out from Birmingham International on Saturday night. We landed in Dubai Sunday morning, and took off two hours later for Brisbane. An hour layover and we’re on again, this time to Auckland. It’s nearly 30 hours later, we’ve had about 4 hours sleep and it’s now lunchtime Monday. The brain is no longer working.

Auckland Airport is a marvellous thing. Sure, Dubai terminal 3 is a magnificent structural phenomenon, with walls of glass and two Oases, but Auckland is full of Kiwis. Somehow it’s completely alien and completely at home. I mean, we step off the plane straight into an immigration queue – but it’s efficient. It’s like the twilight zone.

The various officials are happy too. Back in Australia the security staff all looked like they’d had exceptionally bad news and were waiting to take it out on someone (and later on in Birmingham we’d walk into a world full of automatons) but here the immigration guys joked with us about what we were doing. The biosecurity lass was even cooler – we ticked just about all the red boxes we could find on the biosecurity form (food, plant matter, hiking boots, animal contact, living on a farm, smuggling wood, liking Marmite) and she cheerfully worked down the list before telling us that we could go on our way. Read the rest of this entry »

Did I say that I was going away? Well I did. And I came back.

I’ve just spent the last two weeks upside down in the wonderful world that is New Zealand.

Stories, pictures and other excitement will happen in the next couple of weeks but I’m currently shattered and surviving on sugar and chocolate, so here’s a quick rundown…

The great bits

  • The countryside is incredible and changes round every corner
  • The roads are fantastic and virtually empty
  • Everything is dirt cheap compared to the UK (our most expensive night – in an antique filled half a house – was £90)
  • The people are ridiculously relaxed and friendly
  • OMG cute girls

The less great bits

  • The hire car was a gutless automatic Mondeo that took 2 seconds to change gear and convinced me overtaking was better left for other people.
  • Random Americanizations. Like eggplant and pants. But not courgettes, which confused the feck out of me.
  • That sun is hot…
  • Erm… nothing else. If I’m picky, I’d say that the roads are too long and there aren’t enough long boring bits, but that’s like saying that a theme park has too many rollercoasters and not enough park benches.

I was thinking about how adults say things they don’t mean, and how they confuse little kids…

Many moons ago, when I was about five or six years old (beds were made with sheets and blankets; my grandmother still had all her marbles; and the Model T was still in production) my grandmother came up to tuck me in to bed.

As part of the tucking in process, she pulled the blankets up said “you’ll catch your death if you don’t have your shoulders covered”.

I spent the next few years terrified to go to sleep, certain in the knowledge that I’d die if my ‘soldjers’ weren’t always covered…

Dec 2009

since, once again, people have complained about not being able to find my Amazon wishlist, it’s here

Dec 2009
All change…

It was only a matter of time.

Back on 18th November, my grandmother died – less than 10 months after my grandfather. I’m not the oldest member of our branch of this rather depressing little tree.

There’s my wife and me (who aren’t planning on having kids), my brother is rapidly approaching 30 and yet to settle. Both our parents were single children – mum through adoption. It’s hardly a thicket we’re discussing here.

Going back up the family name, my grandfather’s only brother died during WWII without having kids, and I think their father was the only boy in the family. Our little branch of a relatively rare surname (50 entries in the UK phonebooks) look like it lies just on our shoulders.

Our plans have to change too… there’s no way I can afford to take on the half million pound house that I grew up in, so it’s getting sold off.

One way or another, everything has changed in the last fortnight…

It’s strange to think, but Jean and I have been married 6 years today. And we’ve been together 10. That’s a third of our lives, near as damnit (I’m 32, she’s 28).

Today was a good day.

The cats levered us out of bed just before lunch, demands for breakfast merging with demands for the lunchtime meal that they never get.

For lunch we went off to the incredible King William pub in Heydon. It’s a pub embedded firmly in the past (even it’s website is lingering in the mid 90s). It’s exactly as it was when I first went there 15 years ago – the gloom in the in entrance hall, the beams threatening to brain me, the horse brasses on every wall, the hanging tables and the huge fireplace. The menu is the same too…

I know how dull it is to listen to someone else’s food choices, but this was beyond all descriptions… Beef sashimi with chilli jam; local sausages with bubble and squeak; and a jaffa cake bread and butter pudding. I’ve possibly never eaten any better.

Bread and butter pudding is traditionally a thick stodgy mess or carbs and fat. This horrifically rich sounding version was actually the lightest bread and butter pudding I’ve ever had, almost having the texture of a light but rich moist cake.

And by god, it’s perfect weather for a pint of Adnam’s Bitter to go with it all.

Then over to Wood Green at Heydon to be tempted by cats looking for a home. I can’t say enough good things about Wood Green – they’re everything that the RSPCA should be, but aren’t. They ignore the politics that the RSPCA has embraced, and instead dedicate their time to looking after animals. They went even higher in my estimation when I discovered that they never put down an animal just because they can’t rehome it. They have one pair there who have lived with them for over seven years. They got our yearly anniversary gift this year…

Then, this evening, we travelled in to Cambridge to watch “Cloudy with a chance of meatballs” – a truly wonderful film – and to eat ice cream for dinner.

Who needs to be a grown up…?

Sep 2009
15 Books – a meme

So… Liam passed a meme my way (via Facebook)…

“Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes”

Well, that’s not going to happen. Partly because I’m a rebel who breaks the rules for the shear damned hell of it, and partly because I’m lying in bed typing thing into my PDA. 60wpm this is not…

  1. Mort – Terry Pratchett.
    I think that this was pretty much my first wander off into the fantasy side of SciFi/Fantasy. Before that I’d tended to read ST:TNG books and bad James Bond clones. I really identified with Mort, despite the fact the only thing we had in common was our gender.
  2. The BFG – Roald Dahl
    I was about 9 when my grandfather announced that I could either have £1 a week pocket money or a paperback book once a fortnight. Some basic maths proved that £4.99 was more than £2, so I started collecting books. The BFG was the first purchase and possibly my favourite. It rapidly became my favoured ‘bath book’. As the steam and occasional dunkings took their toll, the pages eventually crinkled and fell out like square popadoms… It didn’t matter – I’d memorised the book by then.
  3. Freelance Photography – John Morrison
    Yeah… This will be the time i convinced my parents to buy me pornography. We went to Galloway & Porter one day and I found this book. Inside was a picture of some side-boob poking out of a catsuit and a photo of a nude woman in the middle distance of a landscape. Like I said, pornography. At some point I actually read it and started thinking about photographs instead of album snaps.
    I’ve just found the book on the shelves in the study. The nude figure is all of 3/4″ tall and the catsuit is significantly less revealing than an old episode of Dukes of Hazard…
  4. Engineering Electromagnetism – Badden Fuller
    This is possibly the most boring book written by the worst lecturer I ever had. This was a man who could put a room full of caffeine fuelled students to sleep in minutes. To make it worse, he loved his (by then out of print) book and had us mark important passages in highlighter. I quickly realised that if you could borrow someone else’s book, you didn’t need to go. So I didn’t. In fact, I forgot about his class until 2 days before the exam. Thankfully his exams were as predictable as his lectures. I memorised 2 past papers and walked a 2.1 grade in the exam. I still don’t know any electromag.
    Rather worryingly, it would appear that the book is back in print. My heart goes out to the new generation of engineering students…
  5. An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: (or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge) – John O’Farrell
    I’m re-reading this book at the moment. It’s pretty much the antidote to school history lessons. Just now I’ve been reading about how Pitt was responsible in part for the French Revolution by beating the French in the Americas, and how the main purpose of the Declaration of Independence wasn’t freedom itself, but to get the French involved – a tax squabble was boring. Civil war, however? That they could get behind.
  6. LogoLounge2
    This list isn’t going the same way as Liam’s. I’m not sure why, because I do read a lot of fiction. Maybe it’s because I tend to read to unwind and end up reading fluff. Anyway, I bought this because it was cheap and had lots of logos I thought I could steal. As it happened it got me thinking about shapes and colours instead.
  7. Death: The High Cost of Living – Neil Gaiman
    Once again, I spent some time wandering aimlessly round Waterstones while my parents were looking for something or other deeply boring. I discovered a ‘comic’. Except it didn’t involve wizzo pranks and fart jokes. It was a rather cute looking interpretation of Death. I was embarrassed to be seen reading a ‘comic’ so stuffed it back on the shelf as soon as my parents reappeared. It took me another ten years to work out what it was… by which time I’d demolished a stack of Gaiman and Moore creations. I still think Death is cute.
  8. the Dexter books – Jeff Lindsey
    Another recent discovery, I’ve taken to this character incredibly. The cold detachment from the rest of humanity makes Dexter a wonderful subject of fiction. Lindsay has a knack of writing uncensored thought processes that you find yourself agreeing with so frequently you start wondering if you could be a killer too. Or is that just me? Oh pipe down and hand me that Sabatier.
  9. Austin Allegro – Haynes Publishing
    Yes, it’s a bit of a left turn down Vaytay Eff Strasse, but I loved that book. Which was handy considering how often I used it. Haynes manuals are a wonderful world where every car can be fixed by a man with a screwdriver and a beard. A world where every nut comes undone and any issue can be fixed with WD-40 and a mug of PGTips. You could guess that I like the books. My first one taught me that cars aren’t magic boxes full of petrol eating pixies. It was also responsible for the dashboard falling off at 85mph. It was just like ‘Back to the Future’ but with cheaper special effects…
  10. Classic Cuban Cuisine – Andy Gravette
    I bought this book just before we went to Cuba for our honeymoon. I’m told (by Cubans and Mexicans) that it is more Mexican than Cuban, but I love this little book. It’s full of chillies, rum and typographical mistakes (don’t add 2 tablespoons of Tabasco to that dish – it will hurt). It’s full of memories & expectations. One day I’ll eat my way through the entire book.
  11. A Year in the Merde – Stephen Clarke
    Okay… The general premise is that a Londoner gets snapped up by a French company that wants to create an English tea-shop. What happens next is a random collection of clichés and smart observations of French life. Interestingly, a lot of ex-pats in France hate this book while a lot of the French seem to love it. It’s a strange world.
  12. A Year in Provence / Toujours Provence – Peter Mayle
    Despite looking like a cheat, this isn’t actually an attempt to put two books in one slot. No, it’s actually an admission that I don’t remember where the first book ends. The exact opposite of Merde Actually, the Provence books were wonderful escapism. Every year my parents took us down to the south of France for two weeks. Then we spent another 50 weeks staring at rain. This book and its watercolours were a wonderful antidote…
  13. A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English – Shappi Khorsandi
    This book is a very strange read for me. Shappi was born just three years before me. While I was living in a town just north of London, she was living in the middle of London. My father was a second rate surveyor. Hers was barred from Iran due to his satiristic writings. The things she writes about are so familiar and yet so completely alien…
  14. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind – Chuck Barris
    This is another book that I love for it’s memories as much as for the book itself. I read this laying on the beach in Cuba, gently burning in a wonderfully relaxing 38c. Hot sun but wonderful cool, topped up with an endless supply of Mojitos. It’s burnt into my head because I was halfway through before I realised Barris claims responsibility for killing at least one of Fidel’s revolutionary buddies. That’ll be when I realised that maybe I shouldn’t leave all my books in the resort library…
  15. As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade – Mark Thomas
    If you don’t already know Mark Thomas, well… erm… 1, 2, 3.

My spam seems to have taken a new twist…

How are you? Thanks for your fine letter! I with the big impatience waited your letter.

I have not enough time to have on-line dialogue on a site of acquaintances. Well let’s begin ours e-mail acquaintance?!!! As you already know, that my name Tasha.

But it not my real name, it my nickname on the Internet. Certainly, I love more, When me name Tasha because so I name close people.
I want, that in your following letter you have sent the photo.

Agree, what it is more interesting to communicate and receive a photo?

Will be Remarkably to have your photo on my computer, and to look at you More often. I will wait with great impatience, in your following letter of a photo!

It is a pity, but I really have few photo on my computer. I will try
To thicket to please to you with new photos. Well? I send you with my letter one photo.

Inform me necessarily comment. Do not hesitate, because I love compliments!!! I am assured, that I wish to learn you better! I will tell to you not much about me. I do not go in for sports At leisure, because it is my second work. Certainly, I love sports and itself very much
The sports person. At leisure I like to walk in park, for me time is not important Year and weather. I think, that employment this very good and useful to health. You like to do it?

Sometimes it is necessary to have a rest from dirty city air and to leave on the nature!

Sometimes when it turns out, I happen on picnics to my girlfriends on the nature.

I love animals. Especially I love cats and dogs.

I have 3 dogs who live on my summer residence. You love cats? Right now on mine Knees my cat Markiz sits, and helps me to write you the letter:)) It will be good, if you Tell to me more about your hobby? You like to read books? You prefer what literature?

I love detectives and books about psychology. Well, I think, that I will stop to write this letter.

I think, that next time I will tell to you more about my family and about why I search Relations on the Internet! It will be interesting to you to learn it? If it is interesting That I will necessarily tell to you it.

Please reply only to my personal e-mail: [removed]

I hope, what it was interesting to you with me?
I wish the good and sated day!

Jun 2009
Outdoor office

I’ve been thinking about having an ‘outdoor office’ at the new house, by running an armoured power run up the fence to the top of the garden.

Maybe this isn’t the best idea after all…

Add some wood to make a rain shelter for it, and you’ve got a power station out in your garden for £80. Or I could buy £100 of armoured cable and pretend I’d got an electrician to install it. Even if we ignore the geekiness, I think we all know which one is more likely…

Jun 2009
Stopped clock

You know how “a stopped clock is right twice a day”?

Yeah, well, it doesn’t work for a Rugby Clock with a sniff of power left in it.

The clock in the study here doesn’t have enough power left to drive the second hand, but every now and then it manages to store up enough power to get a signal from Rugby and tries to correct itself. Except it runs out of power before it gets there…

Jun 2009

Just in case you were thinking how incredibly sane I am, I thought I’d let you in on a secret – I never learnt the alphabet in English.

I learnt to read at a very early age, I read well above my years throughout school, I read widely and enthusiastically for pleasure. But I still recite the alphabet in Franglais…

Sing along with me…

Ay, bee, sea, dee, ee, ef, gee,
aitch, eye, jay, kay, elle, em, en,
oh, peh, coo, ehr, es, tay, oo,
vey, dou-bleh vay, ix, ‘e grek, zed.


Jun 2009

Traditionally, car manufacturers lie about their fuel economy. Kindof. They tune their cars so that they perform better in the economy tests rather than better in real world situations. This means that no-one ever manages to get the economy claimed.

Except that we run a Skoda Octavia which gets 33.5mpg compared to the 34mpg that it should get. And our little Toyota Corolla gets between 38mpg(for me) and 41mpg(for GB) compared to the 38mpg that it should get.

Now, remember that GB is a relatively slow driver, who takes her time, changes gear at (too) low revs and is generally a rather nice person. And I’m not. I tend to attack the road rather vindictively and carry lots of speed through junctions so that my insane fuel sapping acceleration is as limited as possible.

So… can I please have my Skoda Octavia vRS diesel now? 0-60 just as quickly as my tank, but faster round the twisty bits and (allegedly) capable of 49mpg?

Jun 2009

Jun 2009
Wing Chun

Wing Chun is practised globally, in over 64 countries. It is the world’s most popular form of Southern Kung Fu. It has been taught and integrated into the training programs of hundreds of military and law enforcement agencies such as the US Navy Seals, FBI, CIA, French RAID and German SEK units [wiki]

Fuck, I ache…

Jun 2009
Petty Politics

So, it’s 2 days until the polls open for the European Elections, which means it’s time for me to finally look into the different parties. We’ll ignore the major parties because they’re all too involved in fighting one another to have anything interesting in their policies…

Animals Count – A single issue party in the proper sense of the term. Basically: stop being mean to animals you horrible human; subsidies for livestock should be crops instead; complete ban on all trapping, hunting, shooting, etc for recreation (presumably including pheasant shoots and fishing); a ban on keeping as a pet anything they don’t consider to be a pet.

British National Party – The BNP always worry me. Their website is a masterpiece of spin and phrasing that makes then look incredibly realistic and sane. Then you get to talk to one of them and the world does a quick 180. The general line seems to be: “keep Britain for the British. See those Poles and those Muslims? It’s their fault. Seal the borders, let in only those we like the look of, and then make them speak the Queen’s English and only use money with her head on it. Farking Foreigners.” It’s very easy to make most of those comments look quite sane. It’s even easier to turn them into racism… That said, the BNP has a place in politics, and banning them (as has been done in recent times) is dangerous. Once you ban one political group you don’t like, it becomes much easier to ban the next one…

Christian Party – Now these guys are clever… “Put your X by the cross.” That must have been a hell of a marketing meeting. By and large, they seem to just be interested in making us all behave like good ‘Christian’ types, and ask that all of Europe acknowledges that Europe is what it is today because of Christianity. Sadly, the same could be said about Hilter and the Black Death. However, buried deep in their site we discover that they are 100% against any form of euthanasia, IVF, or surrogacy, and are probably (but not explicitly) against abortion.

English Democratic Party – End to all political correctness (no, really, they actually say that on their site); withdrawal from the EU (probably ‘cold Turkey’, ahaha…); an English regional parliament; and the right to celebrate St George’s day. Quite simply really. They hardly seem insane at all. But then nor do the BNP if all you do is read their site…

Jury Team – Now this is a tricky one… they want more transparency in expenses; a 5 year maximum term for MEPs; and a referendum whenever 5% of the EU want one. How you know 5% want a referendum without having a referendum, isn’t clear. The problem is that that’s where their policies end. They boast that their MEPs will vote as they see fit instead of voting on party lines…

NO2EU – Basically, get out of Europe and give more power to the trade unions. Someone should have told their slogan writer that having “no to racism and fascism” jars with using the slogan “it’s a black and white issue”…

Libertas.EU – These guys get a prize for choosing a name already claimed by a company who sell lesbian literature, forcing them onto a .EU domain name. They make up for this by failing to have any readily found policies on their website. Unless you count this… “We want to end the corruption, stop the waste, put democracy at the heart of Europe and return control to the member nations. We don’t want Britain to be consumed by a bureaucratic European superstate, we want the UK to be a leader in a free, democratic, efficient European Union that only tackles those things that are best done at an international level. ” Well that answers that then…

United Kingdom First – These guys don’t even manage to get themselves on the first page of the results for ‘United Kingdom First’. Smaller government; get out of Europe; no concessions to Sharia law; lower taxes; and strict rules on immigration. That sounds familiar…

UKIP – Get out of Europe; referendum on Lisbon; and strict rules on immigration.

Once you’ve got rid of that little gaggle of weirdos and nutters, you’re left with Labour (aka, New Labour); Socialist Labour Party (aka, Old Labour); Conservatives; LibDems and the Greens.

Two hours researching different parties and I’m still no closer to knowing who I’ll vote for…

May 2009
End of a life

I feel like such a complete and utter bastard.

I have a fish tank in my living room. It’s not small (180l / 40ImpGallons / 50USGallons ). It’s full of mollys, platys, plecos, tetras and shrimp. There’s a good number of plants and there are many more platys and mollys than there were because they keep shagging.

Except there’s now one less platy than before.

I knew that one of my mollys had a touch of fungus on one of his eyes, so I went out an bought myself a little 20l tank to use as a quarantine tank while I treat him. Fishing him out, I realised that one of my pregnant platys had little flecks of white on her sides and she wasn’t swimming right. Too many fish and too many hiding places I hadn’t noticed how bad it was.

7 hours later and its obvious that she’s not getting better. Worse than that, she’s now pointing downwards and showing no interest in swimming.

I should have been able to do the right thing. I should have been able to take a little sharp knife and knick the back of her neck. Instead, all I could do is fish her out and watch her suffocate in the open air.

I feel so empty.

What a wonderful Saturday…

During one of our health kicks, we bought a collection of recipe books focusing on Mediterranean cookery. One of them is the enticingly named “Greek Vegan Cookbook”. Sadly, it’s not about cooking Greek vegans.

At some point, the book made it upstairs and hid itself under the bed. Presumably someone, consciously or not, decided to hide it.

Buffy made her opinion known much more clearly.

Placed delicately on top of the cookbook this morning was a freshly slaughtered blackbird…

May 2009

Don’t worry… I wouldn’t dare call this a recipe…

I got bored at the weekend and made some muesli. 7 1/5kg (16lbs) of the stuff.

Oat flakes, wheat flakes, barley flakes, malted wheat flakes, bran flakes, crimson raisins, apricot, papaya, corn flakes and crunchy nutty things…