Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Hovercraft is Full of Eels

One of my browser home pages at the moment is the WikiTravel Romanian Phrasebook. I'm trying to expand the smattering of Romanian I can currently speak. Why, you might ask is someone like me trying to learn Romanian, or perhaps you've already guessed. Yes, a woman is involved; but that's actually not the point of the post.

I'm always surprised by the selection of phrases they consider worthy of translating in phrasebooks and therefore, by extension, what they assume it is likely you will ask in some parts of the world. There are no real surprises in the Romanian guide, the usual stalwarts such as...

Does the room come with bedsheets?
Exista in camere aşternuturi?

I haven't done anything wrong.

N-am facut nimic rău

When tired of trying to get my Western European tongue around Romanian pronounciation I sometimes mooch off to another WikiTravel page and reassure myself I do have an aptitude for languages by looking at a language I do know a little of. Today I went to the French phrasebook. Pretty high up on the list of phrases deemed useful on a trip to France is the valuable....

Do you think I'm a whore?
Vous me prenez pour une prostituée?

The other page I always enjoy is the Omniglot page which has kindly translated the phrase "My hovercraft is full of eels" into all the languages you might possibly hope for. So, here with go with

Romanian

Vehicolul meu pe pernă de aer e plin cu ţipari

French
Mon aéroglisseur est plein d'anguilles

...and especially for my favourite regular reader Saby, Malaysian
Hoverkraf saya penuh dengan belut

Friday, December 19, 2008

Jesus' Blood....

Take four minutes out of your life and tell me what you think of this. It's a recording of a homeless man improvising a simple hymn with the addition of Tom Waits towards the end.

I'm not religious, if anything I'm actively irreligious but I'm pretty sure it would be a less powerful piece if it didn't have a religious angle.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lost Opportunities

I've always carried a torch for The Beatles even though a few of my friends are horrified by this. Their usual reasoning for why they don't like The Beatles however is usually because of the poor quality of their work after they split up. This, I always say, is a little unfair but, if you were to judge The Beatles back catalogue by the quality of what they have done as solo artists then I'd have to say my friends are right. The Beatles, as individuals, have not served themselves well by continuing to perform. They really should have split up and shut up and their reputations would have remained secure.

Inexplicably, Paul McCartney continues to be revered as a god; every utterance he makes or note he performs is analysed for its genius but has consistently found to be sadly lacking in any substance at all. Let's face it, he hasn't really made a decent record since about 1970. So, with the possible exception of George Harrison and his album All Things Must Pass it's hard to find anything of merit. John Lennon went down the peace and politics route and made some inexcusable rubbish. Ringo? When John Lennon was asked by a reporter if he thought that Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world, he replied: 'He's not even the best drummer in The Beatles' . Within the band, that was usually agreed to be McCartney.

But, in their solo work there is still one track I can go back to. Unfortunately, I don't even like the whole track. And the bit I really like about this track is bizarrely faded out, just as it sounds like it's setting off to be something remarkably good - another parlous lack of judgement on the part of Paul. So here it is - Take It Away by Paul McCartney and Wings. Drag yourself through the nonsensical lyrics of the first three minutes and twenty seconds and then just enjoy the wonderful voices harmonising in the background, be lifted as the stunning horn section kicks in....and then curse violently as the damn thing is faded out just as it seems to be getting started.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Would You Like Anything Else Sir?

Because of a recent burst of business travel I thought I'd sign up for a few hotel and airline reward programs. I've always been too lazy to do this in the past but this time I thought "Why not?"

I've just received my introductory pack from Hilton Hotels and I know they like to pander to one's every whim but I never expected this to be available when I pick up the phone in my room and dial zero.

OK, I guess this is what they mean.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Another Reason to Love India

I've said it before (obviously not here, or I would be repeating myself), and I'll say it again, one of the best reasons for coming to India is frankly, just to stare longingly at the women. They are, without question, the best looking in the the world, and that is by a considerable distance.

You think all the best looking women are saved for the movies? Nooooo sirreee, there's an Olympic standard, Bollywood honey on every street corner, in every shop, riding side-saddle on the back of a motorbike, or at every other desk in the office - they are everywhere. They're even on construction sites! Not only are they beautiful, (it's those deep dark eyes and that long black hair that does it for me) but they are engaging, smart and utterly charming.

And there's something about the way they move. I don't know if they're taught by their mothers to walk in a certain way, or whether wearing a sari requires them to walk in a certain way, but they just seem to have an innate grace and poise and a deeply sexy way of just walking across a room.

OK, I'm off for a cold shower - this is all a bit much for me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why I Love India

By all reasoning I should hate India. It's noisy, chaotic, overwhelming, sometimes rather smelly, and at other times delightfully fragant, mildly distressing in parts, and mostly beyond any sort of rational analysis. It's all the things I seek to keep out of my life when I'm in the UK. But I can stand and watch Indians going about their life and never fail to be gripped by the drama that appears to be constantly unfolding before me of which I can make almost no sense at all.

I cannot work out when people stop working. Business and chaos appear to continue operating side-by-side for all hours of the day and night. Time is an abstract concept. Nothing appears easy if you ask for it, but somehow it always gets done. All tasks when initially broached are met with bewilderment and requires much discussion with a variety of passers-by until a level of understanding is reached at which point the job in hand is dealt with exactly as you might expect it - it just seems to be a requirement that everybody has a lengthy discussion about it first.

I know Hyderabad is not exactly a tourist hotspot and so I tend to stick out among the crowd. I tend to attract attention simply by being a European - this is Schrodinger's Cat incarnate isn't it? - the concept that you cannot observe an event simply because by your own presence you are actually influencing that event.

I'm going to elaborate on this further when I am at more awake and a little less time-confused. But I still love it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Coincidences

So, I guess this is pretty small beer in the bizarre world of coincidences that we inhabit but here goes.

I and a colleague have been staying in a hotel in Hyderabad for the last week. This weekend is our first free time so we booked ourselves on the budget city tour - a nine hour day on a perfectly serviceable but quaintly battered bus, trundling around the sights of Hyderabad. Our fellow passengers were almost all Indians, apart from a couple of other European looking characters and inevitably we got to chatting after a while.

It turns out, one of our fellow European types was actually called Roxana, an Argentinian, currently working in Chile, but over in India for a few weeks working with some colleagues. Who do you work for we asked? Her employers, were, she said, Company B. Now coincidentally, Company B were the subject of a hostile takeover by my employers, Company A some time ago. I mentioned that I worked for Company A, as despite the hostility of the takeover, I've never encountered any real resentment between employees of the erstwhile, separate companies.

Roxana mentioned she'd spent the week working in Hitec City which is the new area of Hyderabad that has sprung up in recent years to service the IT requirements of large organisations such as Company A and Company B. It transpired that we had also been working in the same floor of the same building for the whole of last week. It also transpired that she knew the only three people I know in the Chile office. I only know them because I met them last month when I was in the US and they were attending the training course that I and my aforementioned colleague were running in Florida and Colorado.

So there you go - that's my little coincidence of the day.

And another thing, she's staying in a hotel only 100m from the one we're staying in.....but ours is much nicer.

Friday, November 07, 2008

I'm Off (again)

OK, I'm off to Hyderabad for two weeks, staying in what looks like a thoroughly swanky hotel.

Do you think they'll give me an upgrade because it's my birthday? I'm feeling a bit hard done by - as I'm travelling against the clock, so to speak, I will lose five and a half hours of the day meaning my birthday will only be eighteen and a half hours long. Is there somewhere you can apply to have these lost hours reimbursed if they happen on significant dates?

Arsebooks

Patient: Doctor doctor, I've got a book stuck up my arse.
Doctor: Hardback?
Patient: Yes.
Doctor: Well, just wait six months and it'll come out as a paperback.

I thank you.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Tea

Picture the scene; you're sitting at work, it's early evening, the rain is lashing down outside, the wind whistling past, but you're warm, you've just got to finish reading this report and then you're off home for the evening. The ceiling strip lights have been been turned down low but you have your desk lamp on so you create one of those warm glowing pools of light, a small homely oasis amongst the ranks of darkened cubicles around you. Only a few more pages to go - it's not a bad office, all things considered.

You reach to your side, without looking up from the report, to pick up that refreshing mug of tea you made earlier; lifting it to your lips, you draw a healthy draught into your mouth. You recoil in shock, and spit the tea instantly straight back into the mug and do that thing that dogs do when they've got something nasty in their mouth, shaking your head from side to side, your tongue pushed out and spitting simultaneously. Yes, you've guessed it - the tea was COLD. There are few tastes more shocking or repellent to the British palate than cold tea. You wouldn't so much as bat an eyelid if the vicar, or perhaps your maiden aunt, reacted in exactly the same way if they accidentally ingested this wretched abomination of a fluid. It's just what we, the British, do, when presented with this particular flavour.

So, I was intrigued to find during my trip to the US last month that the drink of choice in US business circles, when alcohol is not really an option, is iced tea. This is often brought to the restaurant table in giant pitchers, served in pint glasses and enticingly infused with slices of lemon and sprigs of mint. In the first week I eschewed the iced tea, and instead would ask for mineral water, not really being a soda / pop drinker. Mineral or bottled water however, is often not supplied in American restaurants, they don't seem to get much call for it. After a week of asking for water and often then having to explain exactly what I wanted and then invariably having to settle for American tap water - which is like drinking swimming pool dregs - I decided to try the iced tea.

I'm sure I've had iced tea the past, and although I didn't have any particular memories of it, I didn't remember it as being especially unpleasant. Not like root beer for example. I was happy to give it another go. It would probably be pretty tasteless, just a hint of tea, a light citrus / minty top note flavour, chilled and refreshing. My glass was expertly poured from the pitcher by the waitress, the ice cubes and amber fluid glopping and plocking into the glass with a pleasing sound. It looked pretty good on the table before me. I lifted it to my lips, and, it being a hot Florida day and we'd just walked across the car park, I took a big gulp into my mouth. The shock hit me instantly, I had just taken into my mouth about a quarter of a pint of the fluid no native-born Englishman can abide - it tasted exactly like COLD TEA. Not just weak cold tea though. This was proper, full-on, strong, well stewed cold tea. It was a bitter, unsubtle, spine-shudderingly, tongue-curlingly nasty taste. The option to spit it out, which I so nearly did, would I fear, have been inexcusable in my immediate company. I forced myself to swallow it, without breathing through my nose which fortunately dulls the tastebuds but it was still hard to swallow. I quickly placed the glass down in front of me.

After the initial shock had subsided, I looked around at my fellow diners who were happily necking this hideous infusion with apparent glee. The taste was slow to disappear. It lingered unpleasantly on the palate and the back of the throat; in fact, it acted in exactly the same way as you would expect if you had just drunk a mouthful of cold tea. Some things, I will never understand. I asked the waitress for a nice glass of iced swimming pool dregs instead - to take the taste away.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hocus Pocus

OK, so if you think today's music isn't 'out there' enough you're probably right. You need to go back thirty five years and check this out. Be patient - it takes off at about one minute in. This might be part of an ongoing series reminding people that the 1970s really had something to offer. You wouldn't get your boy bands trying anything like this today. They wouldn't even get close. I love it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Musical Meme

I haven't posted in a while because I haven't anything useful to say so it's time for one of those stupid memes to pad out the flat spots in your blog. I got this one here.

Answer each question using the song titles of ONE band or singer. I choose the mighty Tom Waits.

1. Are you male or female? Gin Soaked Boy

2. Describe yourself. Just Another Sucker on the Vine

3. What do people feel when they’re around you? Tango Till They're Sore

4. How would you describe your previous relationship? Bad Liver and a Broken Heart

5. Describe your current relationship. Step Right Up

6. Where would you want to be now? Johnsburg, Illinois

7. How do you feel about love? Clap Hands

8. What’s your life like? Anywhere I Lay My Head

9. What would you ask for if you had only one wish? The One That Got Away

10. Say something wise. The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bish Bash Bosh.....Job Done

I need a new passport. There's been much in the press in recent years regarding turmoil and delays at the passport office. I wasn't expecting an easy ride. Three weeks ago I had my business trip to India confirmed in seven week's time. I would also need a business visa but this would not be issued on a passport with less than six months to run - as was my case. However, in a week I was off to the US for two weeks for which I would need my current passport and on my return that would leave me only four weeks to get a new passport and a business visa as well. Optimistically, these would each take a minimum of two weeks each and could not be worked on concurrently.

It was with some trepidation I logged on to the Passport Office website to establish how to get through the system quickly. The normal method, by post, looked decidedly risky. Apply, and I might get my new passport in about two weeks but the website was keen to point out I shouldn't make any travel plans based on that estimate. The next option was to apply in person at The Passport Office and I should see my new passport in about a week. This looked reasonable.

Historically, a trip to the passport office to fast-track an application meant turning up as early as possible in the morning and waiting all day to be seen. The website said I must 'phone to make an appointment which I might get in a week's time. I 'phoned and talked to a nice chap who rather startled me by offering me an appointment at 7:45 the following morning. Even that was too soon for me, I didn't even have my new photos done. I settled on 11:45 instead and legged it to the Post Office to get an application form. The local photo developing shop did me some decent passport photos straight away (no smiling or showing of teeth permitted) for £5.99 and I took the application form home to peruse the requirements.

The form was a doddle. Name, address, date of birth, barely anything else was needed. As I was applying in person, I didn't even need to find somebody important to sign the back of the photos to say the gloomy, non-smiling baldy in the picture really was me. I also needed to take two other forms of ID with an address on and my current passport.

I arrived at The Passport Office this morning at 11:25, early, as advised, to get through security. A jolly man at the x-ray machine was cracking jokes but despatching people briskly through the process at an un-airport-like rate of knots. I went to the second floor with my numbered ticket. "Oh shit" I thought, this isn't an appointment, it's just a numbered ticket system meaning I'll be there for hours. I got to the second floor and the numbers board suggested I had about fifty people ahead of me in the queue. I congratulated myself on having brought a book to read while I was waiting. Five minutes later the board jumped forty numbers in one go and suddenly I was third in the queue. A few moments later and my number was called and I was off to my designated counter.

The application form had warned me I was to expect a thirty minute interview in which I would be asked testing and difficult questions to prove my identity, provenance and integrity. Identity theft is a big talking point at the moment however I was intrigued and rather looking forward to some testing good cop / bad cop interview process during which I would be grilled under a spotlight and found wanting when I could not name my third cousin's pet rabbit or something.

A spectacularly bored looking lady sat ominously behind the counter. She briefly lifted her eyes to greet me.
"Hi!" I said enthusiastically - having been in the US for the last two weeks I'd got into the habit of being nice to strangers which is not really in the British nature. Bad move I thought, false jollity with government officials is usually treated with the greatest of suspicion. I handed over the application form, passport and photos. I expected her to fix me with a steely glaze and then to get out her jeweller's eyepiece to study my documents closely for the slightest anomaly which would allow my application to be rejected. Still not a single word - except for my embarrassing and rather over-effusive "Hi!" - had been exchanged. I placed my additional forms of ID on the counter half-expecting these to be rejected as unsuitable for no good reason other than the historical determination of government departments to find fault in such things. I think she may have briefly acknowledged their existence but certainly didn't pull them over to her side of the counter to check them. Still not a word. She filled in a couple of forms, stuck on a barcode, put it all in an envelope and mumbled something to me.
"Sorry, I didn't quite catch that" I said.
"Your passport will be with you within a week" she repeated, still staring downwards at her desk.
"Take this form to the cashier" she added, handing over a slip of paper with a sum of money written on it.

I went to the deserted cashier's desk queue, paid up with my debit card and headed for the exit. I was in and out of the place in less than fifteen minutes and blinking like a startled mole in the pre-noonday sunshine. I still can't quite believe it. I'll let you know when my new passport arrives.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

And Repeat.....

Well, a missed connection in Atlanta resulting in a six hour delay gave me a departure from London Gatwick but a return to London Heathrow. A defective plane, a staff shortage at immigration, a suicide on the Heathrow Express and a stabbing in Finsbury Park further thwarted my journey home. The result was a 22 hour trip to get from towering but cloudy Colorado Springs to lo-altitude but sunny N6. An unwise attempt at a siesta when I finally got through my front door has left me dazed and confused.

I now have four weeks to trim down my physique after fifteen arduous days of American cuisine, get a new passport, obtain a business visa and repeat the whole exercise but this time in Hyderabad, India. Nice biryanis I'm told.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Colorado Springs - Day 2 - Part 2

There are several ways to get to the top of Pike's Peak. There's the 13 mile hike along Barr's Trail which would be fun but I didn't bring the right kit to go hiking and I foolishly decided to break in a new pair of shoes while here (see earlier post) and they have ripped my heels to shreds (woe is me etc.) You can drive up there which is OK I guess but somehow misses the point as it will be an interesting drive but you won't really be able to appreciate the scenery getting there, or you can let the train take the strain. We decided to take the train.

The Pike's Peak Cog Railway, since it goes straight up the side of a mountain, is obviously not your normal railway. It's a little two carriage, diesel powered train that locks into a third cogged rail and simply drags itself up the mountain. The station is located in the small town of Manitou Springs, a few miles from Colorado Springs. On they way up you get a live running commentary from a local guide pointing out the physical and natural changes as you ascend from 6,500 ft. to over 14,000 ft.

The mountain is simply beautiful. My lame prose won't do it justice but the ascent from warm sunny blue skies in Manitou Springs through lush forest, boulder strewn canyons, scree slopes, up past the tree line and out into the barren, snow-capped cold mountain summit air was stunning. With autumn just arriving the trees were turning a million shades of green and brown. A light breeze wafted through the trees and leaves fluttered down in the sunlight. The excellent commentary pointed out natural formations, the different types of flora and fauna along the way along with a history of the railway and its developments and various attempts to colonise the mountain.

At the top is the inevitable gift shop and restaurant which I'm sure takes advantage of the light headed oxygen starved ground dwellers but the prices were reasonable and merchandise not tacky. The view of almost 200 miles across into neighbouring states (Kansas we were told) was huge in every sense of the word. A three hour round trip with 45 minutes at the summit will be the best $30 you ever spend.

In the afternoon went to The Garden of the Gods. A local park just outside Manitou Springs. The word 'park' doesn't really do it justice; it's more like a geology reserve. Outstanding sandstone outcrops, boulders and formations. It sort of reminded me of Monument Valley on a small scale, the kind of scenery thay used as a backdrop for 50's Westerns. Worth a visit - and free to boot!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Colorado Springs - Day 2

7.30am and I've just been outside for five minutes. The air is cool, crisp and clear. The mountain backdrop to Colorado Springs is arrayed before me like an Ansel Adams photograph. The landscape here is much more natural. There's almost an alpine feel to the architecture - houses are built on the contours of the land, as opposed to being on land that has been bulldozed and manicured. This place gets a lot of snow in the winter and the houses have a chalet style to them I had not expected

The hotel in Orlando was businesslike and functional and had everything you need. The hotel in Colorado Springs is a much more laid back affair. It seems to be staffed by teenagers in jeans and t-shirts who seem to have just wandered in to do a bit of work. They still supply everything you need but in a much more relaxed atmosphere.....and they have marmalade. Bliss.

Off to Pike's Peak.

Colorado

Phase two of my fortnight in the US and I find myself in Colorado Springs. Arrived early afternoon, it's now late evening. First impressions are it's much more my kind of place. After the slick commercialism of Orlando, Colorado Springs is a much more relaxed place. People you meet are still charming, polite and helpful but in a much more laid back manner. The smiles are more genuine, the people more normal, the weather more European.

Flew from Atlanta across a cloudless sky, a clear view from 35,000 feet down to an endless patchwork of fields. My colleague managed this snap from the plane which will give you an idea but doesn't give justice to the size or relentless continuity of the agriculture. I vaguely recall us doing a term in secondary school geography that discussed the midwest and the breadbasket of America and here it was writ large.

Scored an upgrade on my hire car and am happily driving round in a chunky 4x4 Ford Escape. The lady on the GPS system is keeping me on the right side of the road.

Colorado Springs is a manageable city. Tiny compared to the endless sprawl of Orlando and set against the stunning backdrop of the Rocky Mountain which tower over the city I think I'll enjoy my week here.

Tomorrow we ascend Pike's Peak and visit The Garden of the Gods. I thought the Americans only had one God but apparently more are acceptable here.

I'm retiring now as I'm so veh veh tired. I have to find three Chileans in the morning.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Fruitcake in 510

Men just can't help acting on impulse...or so says the old TV commercial. As I was packing for the US on Friday evening, I impulsively grabbed a bottle of sun cream and threw it in my bag. I might need that I thought, even though I'm working and am only likely to see the sun between walking from the taxi to the office and vice versa but when in The Sunshine State one must always be prepared.

I arrived late on Saturday evening, unpacked my luggage and found the aforementioned bottle of sun cream had ruptured and disgorged its comments over most of my underwear (socks and undies), a brand new sweater (very lightweight and specially purchased in the unlikely evening of a less than balmy evening) and my lovely old (non digital) Nikon SLR camera.

Much cussing ensued as I picked through the creamy mess of my carefully packed baggage. I knew immediately I could not just put the soiled garments in a laundry bag and leave them to be collected by the hotel staff. Some poor unfortunate soul toiling in the bowels of the hotel would receive the bag, plunge their hand in to remove the garments and be greeted with a gooey mess. I suspect hotel cleaning staff are hardened individuals and have seen pretty much everything but I still didn't want them to extrapolate wildly and draw some bizarre but wholly wrong conclusions over the contents of my laundry.

First I tried to wipe off the excess cream with a few tissues I had also packed. Useless. I then resorted to large amounts of toilet paper which cleared up most of the excess but in the end I was simply left with a large amount of toilet paper covered with a slimy creamy substance and still had a lot of gooey clothing. Much toilet flushing ensued to dispose of the toilet paper as I couldn't really just leave this sort of suspicious looking material in the bin.

I still didn't feel able to stuff the clothes into a laundry bag as it was still pretty messy. I then tried washing off the remaining excess sun cream under the shower. A hopeless failure. As the sun cream was waterproof and I had no detergent, this now meant that not only was my clothing still slimy but it was now also soaking wet.

I wrung out the items as best I could, draped them over a few hangers on the shower rail in the bathroom and then tried to dry them off with the hair dryer. The hair dryer was bolted to the wall and didn't really reach as far as the shower so I had to hold up each item by hand and try to dry them one by one. I gave up after a while.

OK, the maid would be here the next morning. What would she make of the new hotel guest who had only arrived the night before and now had a large amount of wet clothing hanging in the bathroom with suspicious white slimy patches all over it? I might as well just kill myself now in embarrasment. The suicide would hopefully generate more column inches in the press than idle speculation about the state of the suicidee's clothing I thought to myself. I went to bed and had a sleepless night - quite impressive considering it was now 5am in my own personal body clock.

The Florida morning arrived, dazzlingly bright and I still had a bathroom full of ugly wet clothes. I went to breakfast and related the whole sorry tale to my colleague who chuckled politely at my dilemma. This was worse than the time I left bloodstains all over the hotel bedsheets in Romania (ask me about that sometime), he was kind enough to remind me.

After breakfast I returned to my room, still unable to decide how I would disguise my predicament and get my clothing into a fit state to hand over to the hotel to be washed. I turned the corner just in time to see the maid exiting my room and about to close the door behind her. She looked up to see me approaching. Our eyes met. At this point, fear and embarrassment almost overcame me and I considered launching myself over the parapet and plunging five floors down into the hotel atrium. I just about managed to resist the temptation and kept walking. She smiled sweetly at me, but we both knew, behind the smile she was mentally assessing just exactly what kind of a weirdo I was. But she was a real pro. She held the smile, paused and kept the door open for me. I went in. No words were exchanged. The door closed beind me.

She had taken all the clammy clothes down and rehung them much more tidily and in such as way as they would not drip onto the towel I had left on the floor to catch the excess drippage. She had perfectly remade the bed that the previous night I had tossed and turned in so restlessly. The rest of the room had also been tidied immaculately. Hotel staff really have seen everything and I suspect it takes a lot more than my little disaster to shock them. I would barely merit a mention to colleagues during her coffee break other than for her to advise them that there's a potential fruitcake in 510.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm Off

OK, I'm off to the US for two weeks on business. Don't all rush in and comment at once. Yeah...as if.

Things You Might Like to Know

I'm currently reading Things I Didn't Know, a memoir by Robert Hughes. I first came across him when he made a TV series called Australia: Beyond the Fatal Shore. He came across as an educated, rather curmudgeonly type, perhaps a little irritated by the world in which he found himself; very perceptive, extremely dry, but always interesting. As a younger man he notoriously had fallen out of love with his home country of Australia and generally that makes for a bad documentary but this wasn't, and I like Australia so it wasn't that he was just confirming any previously held views I might have. Being very nearly killed in a massive car crash in Western Australia shortly after starting to make the series and then vindictively prosecuted by a malicious judicial service certainly wouldn't have encouraged him to mellow his views.

This lead me to find his book The Fatal Shore which is a book I've read probably three times now. It's pretty much agreed to be one, if not the, definitive book on the convict settlement of Australia. If that sounds like a bleak or dry subject, then I encourage you to nip down to your local bookstore, pick up a copy and read the first few paragraphs of any chapter and you'll walk out of the shop with it. It's visceral, gripping, and immaculately researched and written.

Strangely, for me anyway, is that what he's really known for is being an art critic. Now I can mooch around a gallery if the mood takes me but I'm certainly no follower of the art scene, nor could I name another art critic* and so the three pieces of work I've encountered of his are unrelated to what he's best known for.

Anyway, it was with particular pleasure that I stumbled across an opinion piece by him this week discussing the prices gained at auction for some works by the British shock/schlock artist Damien Hirst. He pretty much nails what the average person I suspect tends to think of modern art. Robert Hughes is considered old school in art criticism but I would guess it still hits home in the art community where an outsider's opinion might have been more easily dismissed. I particularly liked his comment about Charles Saatchi "...that untiring patron of the briefly new."

* I just thought of one - Brian Sewell.

Shrinkage

After twenty five years of knowing I take a size 10 in footwear, yesterday I bought a pair of size 9's because the 10's felt too big.

Does this mean other parts of me are also shrinking?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Surf's Up!

I'm in Croyde in North Devon for a long weekend. It's fantastic. No time to blog.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On Debate

I'm growing increasingly cynical at the quality of debate offered by the braodcast media. TV and radio now seem to think the best way to present a difference of opinion is to find two people whose views are at absolute extreme ends of the spectrum and set them up against each other. Of course all they do is rant uncontrollably at each other, neither individual remotely interested in conceding the other has anything the slightest bit valid to say and ultimately the debate achieves nothing. This is presented to us, the viewer, as serious debate.

Of course it is anything but that. At the extreme ends of any subject you only get the intractable minority who are not interested in the point of view of anybody but themself. There may be a huge and moderate middle ground of people who are interested in solving their particular problem, who might be interested in seeing the other side of the argument, and who might consider a bit of give and take is a worthwhile price to pay to achieve something. The problem is that whilst this may actually achieve something it usually doesn't make for good television and we all know that good television makes for good ratings.

Reality and daytime TV have of course been exploiting the above technique for what seems like ages. They love a good scrap. And when the fight starts they can step in and sanctimoniously announce that they never condone violence or abuse whilst in fact they've set the whole thing up and have achieved just what they wanted. It's a ratings winner!

Allowing this confrontational technique to debate real issues is a slippery slope. It devalues sensible debate that tries to achieve solutions and encourages the belief that all opinion has to polarised and extreme but ultimately achieves nothing.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Issues

I've always been, to say the least, unsympathetic to people with issues. We all know them - if it wasn't for some minor and probably non-existent parental slight they received twenty years ago their life would have been so much different. Or the ones who would be out there running marathons if it weren't for the debilitating physical or psychological condition that has blighted them for years yet the entire medical profession seems unable to diagnose. You just want to grab these people by the lapels - or somewhere rather more direct if they have no lapels - and tell them to bloody well just get on with it and stop moaning. If they invested as much time and effort into actually trying to achieve their goal as they invest in complaining about what holds them back they'd be surprised by what they could achieve. Of course I don't confront them. They're people I have to be cordial to such as work colleagues, or friends of friends, or people who are perhaps only passing acquaintances whom I may never see again, so frankly what's the point?

I of course, have no issues. I am baggage free, completely attuned to my own strengths and limitations. Whatever's wrong in my life might have been caused by somebody else, or may be an inevitability of my genes, or might even, perish the thought, be something I've brought upon myself, but there's no point in labouring over it. Adversaries are unlikely to come back and undo their wrongs. My genes aren't going to fix themselves and magically undo the few petty ailments that irritate me. And if I've screwed things up myself, then I've only got myself to blame.

Of course, none of that's true. We all carry around a head chock-full of self-doubt. It's what defines us. The best we can hope to do is mitigate its day-to-day effects, try not to burden others with our problems and get on with the matter in hand. Except of course, we don't. In our self-indulgent, self-regarding society we're all encouraged to articulate our problems. We're all expected to be in touch with our emotions and foibles. Confront your inner demons they say, and you will find enlightenment and ultimate peace.

But I have something. Something I still can't cope with and haven't been able to cope with for the past twenty years. I think of it daily, maybe even hourly. It makes me cringe with embarrassment at times. It stops me attending certain social events where I think it may be too conspicuous to nonchalantly imagine people aren't slack-jawed in horror at it. It makes me act ridiculously in certain company. And you know what it is? I'll tell you......I'm bald. "Oh for chrissakes grow up!" I hear you cry. Well it's just not that easy.

I've just never come to terms with it. It makes me feel prematurely old. I simply do not believe women who occasionally tell me it's actually quite sexy. How could it be? It's horrible. I feel I always stand out in a crowd because of it. My bald head is a point of reference, like a roundabout. I imagine people saying to each other in the pub"Yeah mate, the loos are over there on the left, just behind that bald bloke." I hate people standing behind me because I'm convinced they're staring at my bald pate and my silly hairline. Even those 'guess your age' games you occasionally end up in; I'm usually guessed as being at least five years younger than I really am, but I know the score, you always guess someone's age and then deduct five years to avoid offence so that's no comfort. I'm convinced people pity me - much more so when I was a younger man definitely, but now they just consider I'm unfortunate. If I'm on a first date, even if the conversation is flowing, I'm sure the woman is thinking to herself "Can I really date a baldy? What will my friends think?" I'm sure people think I'm genetically below par because of it.

Sure it has its upsides. I can wash (what's left of) my hair every day and it's dry and perfectly positioned five seconds after I exit the shower. I never have to worry about how it's styled - there is only one style. I wake up in the morning and my hair is exactly how I left it the night before. I never have to scratch around in the plughole and drag out those horrible congealed lumps of hair and other crap that accumulates. I never have to discuss with my barber how this week I'd like to look like George Clooney, and a few months later, well this time I'll have a Johnny Depp. I never need to be worried about the job he does - he always does exactly the same job, every two weeks, in five minutes flat - and even then he's taking his time. But all that is to do with ease of maintenance and has nothing to do with aesthetics.

So what to do? As soon as I know it was going, I started cutting it short lest anyone suspect I was in the slightest way bothered by its disappearance. First rule - NEVER try to disguise it. That would be the worst thing to do. Combover? No thanks, you're fooling no-one with that. Wig? Oh don't be ridiculous. Transplants? And end up looking like Elton John? Gimme a break. Hats? Well they have a practical use - they keep my bleedin' head warm don't they! That's why I don't wear them in the Summer or indoors. So yes, I have one hat, which I use when it's cold and only when absolutely required - it's not a disguise!

This has been quite cathartic. I think I've just come to terms with my condition....well, maybe just for the next hour or so.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seasick Steve

Well if you're painfully cool and up to speed with things then you'll know all about Seasick Steve. If you're like me and just stumble across stuff then he's probably, so far, passed you by. He's just won a breakthrough artist of the year award - he's alleged to be in his seventies

This particular clip is him and his three string guitar* and the Mississippi drum machine**. There is so much sound in this from just one bloke, a bust up old guitar and a big boot.

He's playing the Albert Hall, London in October, a bloody big venue. Apparently it sold out in a trice. I can only console myself I won't be able to go because I'll be in the US. Check out some of his other clips in YouTube - they're all just as good.

* called Trance Wonder
** an old cigar box with a bit of carpet on it.

Monday, September 01, 2008

How Geek Am I?

Only 46%? I guess that's cos I don't watch a lot of sci-fi TV and don't use a Mac.

46% Geek

Created by OnePlusYou - Free Dating Site

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wiff Waff is Coming Home

The Duke of Wellington is often quoted as saying that "The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton." What is less well known, is the history of Wiff Waff and how the world was colonised through the medium of the dining table. I'll leave it to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and Old Etonian to explain (1m 28s).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On Education

"I never learnt anything useful at school that helped me at work - I don't really see the point of it." You hear people say this a lot. I suspect they're a vociferous minority but it is, nonetheless, a fairly constant refrain. I've heard it from people of my own generation, I've heard it from my parent's generation, and you hear it from kids today just coming out of the education system. So, even though I've not experienced any education outside of my own, you can sort of make it a sweeping truism that this statement has run through the generations.

I don't actually buy in to this view myself. I can remember things I learnt at school, and whilst I may not apply them much directly to my work, I certainly remember them and I use them in many other situations. Studying Shakespeare taught me not to be intimidated by something I did not instantly understand. It taught me an appreciation, albeit perhaps not a love for literature, and that with a certain amount of perseverance, if you encounter initial confusion stick at it and it might sometimes develop into ultimate enlightenment. It also helped, that once you understood it, you realised he was a helluva a storyteller as well. The maths I did - in pre-calculator days - gave me a certain agility for mental arithmetic - not just the dartboard variety - that I still use on a daily basic. History and geography gave me a perspective on the world today and an appreciation of my surroundings. Physics and chemistry taught me you can reduce complex ideas and concepts to very fundamental levels and apply them to things you see happening every day. And the French (and a dose of German) I learnt taught me not only how to get by in a French restaurant, but also the similarities between languages, meaning you could make an educated guess at words in lots of other languages and have a fair stab at knowing what they meant.

But all these things I learnt (one of which was never to start a sentence with "But" or "And") can often described as fairly soft skills. They're pretty abstract although I would also say, pretty useful. School didn't teach me how to process insurance claims which is what I did for a while. It didn't help me diagnose (and sometimes fix) faults in cars which is another stalled career move. And it didn't help me a jot in IT which what I do now. A potential career in the computer industry was barely conceived, let alone taught, back in the 70s when I was at school.

We've just had the annual TV event of witnessing 16 and 18 year-olds joyously jumping up and down (always in groups of three, usually two white girls and one other girl of an ethnic background I notice) celebrating their record-breaking GCSE or 'A' Level results. This is usually played off with somebody from the CBI saying kids coming out of the system have never been more poorly educated in the basic skills. Is it true? I don't know. Are exams getting easier and the ability to pass them almost a formality for the averagely intelligent? Probably.

We now hear schools teach increasingly abstract subjects. Environmentalism, shot through the prism of Al Gore, is now on the curriculum. Citizenship is a subject that can be learnt and studied. Personal finance lessons. The latest thing I heard is schools are going to indoctrinate us white folks about the collective guilt we must feel for slavery.

What I'm sort of getting at here is what does education, certainly up to the end of secondary school, really prepare you for? It still doesn't teach you to dig holes in the ground and fix broken pipes for the gas board. It doesn't teach you how to speculate on futures in The City. It doesn't teach you how to sell used cars. Basic education is still a fairly abstract concept that's tied up not only in what you learn, but also how you learn it and who you learn it from and it should also imbue in you a desire to learn more.

I was going to finish this piece of flim by speculating that schools were no longer places of education but were merely holding pens where increasingly semi-feral and spoilt children could be kept whilst their parents went out to work. I wanted to say it's where teachers plough through an increasingly bizarre and silly subject list. Damn me though, I think I've talked myself out of it. Sure you can make snap judgements based on what you see in the press about where our schools are going but I think the only thing I can conclude is that all basic education is mostly abstract. It was, and it still is. It happened to us and it's still happening now. It's not meant to prepare you for work. What you end up doing at work is too big a subject to learn. Even further education doesn't really prepare you for work. It just teaches you to go beyond the stage of absorbing facts, and starts encouraging you to move them around a bit, and then perhaps drawing your own conclusions. It's only a start.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pool Britannia

Well, that seems conclusive enough.

Rowing, cycling, dinghy racing. I think we can safely conclude that Britain leads the world in sports performed while sitting on your backside.

I think we can also agree it affirms our fondness for watersports.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Message and the Medium

No, I'm not about to go on about Marshall McLuhan and his famous phrase. This is about more prosaic matters. It's about our increasing obsession with how things are delivered as opposed to what is actually being delivered. We're a society increasingly in awe of the medium when we should be looking more at the message. An obsession with style over substance.

Mundane products in fancy packaging, a bit of slick advertising and we're sold. M & S food advertising.....geez, can nobody make a salad these days? Do we really need a multi-national to employ an army of people in some warehouse up north to put together about fifty pence worth of basic ingredients, stick it in a bag, drive it half way across the country and tell us it'll make us sophisticated if we pay £4.99 for it. Yes we do. All they do is employ some breathless chick to ooh and aah over it in a TV ad and it's an M & S cash cow for the next six months.

Do we really want slick politicians who will tell us what we think we want to hear, deliver something completely different and then tell us, if we listened to what they originally said (more like take a jeweller's fucking eyepiece to the tiny nuances of what they said is more accurate) then we would realise what we have is exactly what they suggested. We've only just got rid of ten years of Blair - a man with apparently endless reserves of meaningless cliches - got Brown, whose smile looks like he's trying to pass a particularly prickly sea urchin - and want to replace him with another Blair - yes, the truly insubstantial, insincere but competently gurning Milliband.

An endless stream of TV programmes allegedly designed to unearth new talent, which are nothing but voyeuristic freak-shows to humiliate the naive and deluded non-talent that it mostly presents. Oh and they generate bucketloads of cash through manipulative presentation for either the producers who get money from the inevitable phone in, or the judges who exclusively handle the briefly lucrative career of the hapless winner.

It's relentless. We're increasingly unable to distinguish talent from celebrity, knowledge from wisdom, style from substance, wit from vulgarity, science from religion and I suspect, eventually, our wife from a hat.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Rising From The Descent

My recent blog post on sitcoms with the theme of A Descent Into Madness has been bugging me. Or more specifically, one particular sitcom I put on the list. It is still definitely about madness but it turns the genre quite brilliantly on its head. It is of course The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

Consider the evidence (I've always wanted to say that). Reggie Perrin is not mad but has strong Walter Mitty characteristics and yearns to escape his humdrum existence. He is unfortunately surrounded by mad people who vex him at every turn. Brother-in-law Jimmy is convinced communists and fifth columnists are lurking in every wardrobe waiting to take over the country. CJ, his boss, is utterly unaware of what is going on around him yet his pomposity convinces him he's the most influential man in the room. Doc Morrisey is the incompetent and paranoid company doctor. Tom, the son-in-law, combines delusional eccentricity whilst also being crushingly dull. Finally, there is Reggie's wife Elizabeth, who actually isn't quite mad, but has a mischevious desire to surprise people with moments of exquisite strangeness.

Reggie has to put up with all this, finally deciding the only way to survive these people is to pretend to be mad himself. This begins by faking his own death and then attending his funeral disguised as someone else. Realising he misses his wife terribly, he continues to adopt a series of disguises in order to continue seeing her. She of course recognises it is him immediately but doesn't tell him because he seems to so much enjoy being somebody else. Finally they remarry, him still believing she believes he is someone else. Eventually, he is so much re-immersed back into his old life, albeit as a different person, he realises he is pretty much back where he started. Brilliant.

Reggie then returns to being Reggie and decides one last throw is needed to escape the boredom. He open a shop called Grot selling things he is sure nobody will want to buy, convinced that failure is now his only means of escape. It is a massive success despite Reggie's best efforts to fill the shops with increasingly useless products. People snap them up as interesting novelties. Reggie, still determined to destroy the business which is now thriving, employs all the mad people in roles to which they are utterly unsuited, but within the culture of Grot, they of course thrive.

Of my original list, The Fall and Rise of Reginald (Iolanthe) Perrin is one of my favourites. For a sitcom, it manages to explore some very dark ideas. I haven't seen a complete episode in 20 years but I've just had a quick recap via a few YouTube excerpts and it is as brilliant now as it was 20 years ago.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

On Global Warming.....

A wonderful comment on the always entertaining The Devil's Kitchen blog by the anonymous oscar

"My local council has jumped on this green bollox like a rat up a drain pipe.
The list of what you put in the fortnightly collected recycling bin grows ever longer and more ridiculous. Surely it won't be long before they make you shit in it."

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Descending Into Madness

I recall reading a while ago that almost all the great situation comedies had a single and almost unique defining characteristic. A bold claim but I sort of half-heartedly started watching out for it. The basic premise is that they portray a descent into madness. The central character, usually male, usually middle aged, is going quietly - or loudly - mad. He is usually convinced he is but a small island of sanity surrounded by an ocean of fools, incapable of seeing his brilliance. The reality is usually exactly the opposite, and therein lies the comedy.

Sounds implausible doesn't it.....so here we go with a top ten list - in no particular order - of descents into madness as portrayed in sitcom form - apologies for the mostly anglocentric nature of this list....

  • Dad's Army
  • Fawlty Towers
  • The Office
  • I'm Alan Partridge
  • Bilko
  • Frasier
  • Father Ted
  • The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • Steptoe and Son

There are more when you start thinking about it. Blackadder, Porridge, Rising Damp, Seinfeld, Phoenix Nights. Some are better than others. There is the execrable One Foot in the Grave which is pretty piss-poor if you ask me, but it definitely fits the formula.

Any more....?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mono Meme


A meme, courtesy of "the b". I think the idea is to only have one word answers. so, here we go...

1. Your cell phone? Underused

2. Your significant other? Non-existent
3. Your hair? Gone
4. Your mother? Belligerent
5. Your father? Dead*
6. Your favourite thing? Life
7. Your dream last night? Physical
8. The room you're in? Untidy
9. Your fear? Terracotta
10. What you're not? Buff
11. The last thing you did before logging on? TV
12. Where did you grow up? Yorkshire
13. Favourite drink? G & T
14. What are you wearing? Shorts
15. Your TV? Muted
16. Your pet? History
17. Your computer? Overused
18. Favourite place? Motorcycle
19. Your mood right now? Mellow
20. Missing someone? Sadly, no
21. Something you're not wearing? Socks
22. Love someone? No
23. Your favorite color? Black
24. Kids? Unlikely
25. Your life? RFI **

* This is genuinely one of the few facts I know about him. The answer is not meant in a callous manner.
** Room for improvement.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Books

I'm in a small book group. There are five of us. We've been doing it for longer than I care to remember and certainly since before it suddenly became fashionable, and then, a year or two later, unfashionable. I got involved because I thought I should try and read some fiction. Up until the book group started I'd never really bothered with fiction as I've always believed fact is far more interesting. The truth is often so unbelievable that most writers couldn't even make it up for fear of ridicule. But I was prepared to accept I might have been missing something so I really should try.

I've always read the book on offer. We run a strict rotation policy regarding who chooses the book. We meet on a Sunday evening every six to eight weeks so it's not a burden or particularly time consuming and shouldn't interfere with whatever else one might like to read. I tend to buy the book as soon as possible after it's nominated, start reading it, and if I like it, will read it at my normal pace. If I don't like it, I'll put the book to one side, read something more interesting and then a week before the meeting I just cram the book.

I'm not going to go into detail but there have been books I've liked and books I've disliked. There have been books I've raced through, and there have been books that I can honestly say all the words in the book passed under my eyes but I failed to absorb anything from the experience.

This month though, is a first. The chosen book is War Music by Christopher Logue. It's his account of the first three volumes of Homer's Iliad. Apparently it's taken him years. I 'phoned my friend David this evening to say that although it's my turn to next host the book group I have no intention of doing so as I am unable to continue reading this book. Not only that, but I feel so strongly against it I don't even want to talk about it. I don't want to waste any more time on it, nor do I wish to enter into conversation with other people who might have liked it who will try and convince me I'm wrong. I simply don't want to hear a justification ever for its bloody existence.

This is one of those books I find utterly pointless. I guess the intention is to bring Homer's Iliad to a contemporary audience. It's unreadable. It's dreadful. Full of clunking contemporary imagery, wilfully irritating punctuation, invented words. It would be easier to learn Ancient Greek or whatever language Homer wrote in than try and drag myself through this turgid, clunking nonsense. No book has irritated me so much that I feel there is absolutely no point in me attending the meeting because I can think of absolutely nothing I can say in its favour. Absolutely nothing. I would just get angrier and angrier (and I'm not really an angry person) to the point where little flecks of foam are appearing at the side of my mouth, and I'd still know I'm only getting warmed up about why I hate this book so much. People would see a side of me that they would not believe existed, and in fact I didn't know existed either. I'm angry now and have to stop. It has upset me that I hate it so much and I consider hate to be an overused word these days which should be used as sparingly as possible.

"Cuntstruck Agamemnon", "Please do not fart. You are a powerful man." "Down the eye-hole of his own knob." Oh just fuck off up your own bloody knob you silly man.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Holidays

Ten giveaway signs that you've been on an activity holiday....

  • A big pile of dirty washing
  • Legs like pit props, buns of steel*
  • Seriously chapped lips from six days in the sun and the wind
  • A letter from the car hire company saying you've been caught in a speed trap
  • No guilt about sitting at home all day on Sunday reading newspapers and watching crap telly
  • Beer? No thanks
  • Sleep deprivation
  • You've almost forgotten what you do for a living
  • People call you "redneck"
  • No money in the bank

Anything I've forgotten?

* Re. #2 - I lied - my buns of steel days are probably behind me (like my buns).

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Graham Hill

There was an excellent documentary on BBC4 last night about Graham Hill. He's a vaguely distant but still evocative memory from my childhood and, as with most programmes like this, it was an opportunity to fill in the gaps about what I knew about him already, as well as to wallow in a bit of nostalgia.

He was, on evidence, a natural raconteur and wit, able to be self deprecating and extremely funny whilst also being very perceptive. There was one piece that particularly struck me. He was standing in front of an audience, about to deliver an after dinner speech, and simply opened with the following statement (sorry not an exact quote, but close enough). Imagine it being spoken in the accent of a raffish Englishman with a slightly upper-class accent to gain the full effect...
"Well, the idea is that I stand up here and bang on for a few minutes and then you can ask me a few questions. Don't worry if you can't think of any questions because I've got some pretty interesting ones I could ask myself, most of which I don't know the answer to."

The above quote particularly struck with me as a wonderful expression of self-awareness, put incredibly succinctly as well as humourously. He articulated so simply what we should all do now and again. An ability perhaps to get yourself into perspective, all the more interesting from a man who lived in the rarified atmosphere of super-celebrity in which F1 racing drivers existed.

A lot of the documentary tried to understand what motivated him, where he found his apparently innate driving skill, why he continued to race after he and his car were no longer competitive and why he continued to race after an horrific injury in which he almost lost both his legs. He was it seems something of an everyman, a doting father but probably philandering husband (very much implied anyway), an extremely difficult man to work for, yet admired immensely by those who worked for him, and a determined competitor, always going for the win.

The programme also touched on the camaraderie of racing drivers in his day (the 1960s) and how they were all, in general, respecting of each others skills. They were an elite club who enjoyed each others company and competed on the track but were also friends off it. They also died with alarmingly regularity which I think accounts for the bond that existed between them. In Hill's time, the approximate chance of an F1 driver who raced for five years being killed in a crash were two out of three. Perhaps a shared gallows humour was what united them, but discussion of death was probably not something they talked about much, if at all.

I rather get the feeling, although he may have had the self awareness to realise he had some inherent driving forces, he couldn't bring himself to analyse or confront them. An understanding that, although for the time being they helped him to achieve success, statistically speaking, they were more than likely to kill him. He survived through good fortune, the programme showed the good drivers died, as well as the less talented ones.

He survived his incredibly dangerous racing career and retired from the sport perhaps a few years later than he should have, and - for some reason I want to use the word "ironically" here, although I know it's wrong - died in a light aircraft crash a few years later.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

How to Remove and Charge the Battery on a Honda ST1300A (Pan European)

You know, there are not enough blog posts out there explaining how to do simple practical stuff so here is my attempt to redress the balance.

I am currently troubled by the battery on my bike going flat. I park the bike up and, until recently, if I left it more than a week the battery would be flat. Lately it's been lasting even less time before going flat. This problem started over a year ago and the battery was replaced and it seemed to get better briefly - the battery that was in there before really was knackered - but now the problems have returned. I can't believe this battery is shot after little over a year. Steve the Bike, who does my servicing, says he can't detect a drain while the battery is on the bike. This is the 2002 model which had an uprated alternator fitted in later models (thanks Freddy) so I suspect the charging circuit on this model was questionable but it certainly shouldn't be this bad. The investigation continues.

Anyway, here we go with an illustrated guide to removing the battery on a 2002 Honda St1300A, and putting it on charge.

You will need....a Honda ST1300A....like this one, it's mine you know. Park it on the side or centre stand giving yourself a little bit of room to work on the offside (that's the right side if you're sitting on the bike). The nearside is the left hand side; as an aide-memoire, I always remember the nearside is the side nearest the kerb.
















You will also need some tools. However expensive your vehicle is, all manufacturers will always economise in one place and that is the toolkit. The most expensive vehicle you can buy will only ever have the most rudimentary and shoddy toolkit - only good in an absolute crisis. Buy your own if you plan to do even the smallest amount of home maintenance. I have this handy little set of JCB tools which include a socket set and allen keys (also known as hexagon keys). I got them in Robert Dyas a few years ago. God bless Robert Dyas - one of those shops you can always kill thirty minutes in looking at loads of useful things like tools, gadgets, novel electrical appliances, bottles of strange chemicals and all sorts of stuff. It has that wonderful, heady aroma of Men Enjoying Themselves.
















Now to the process itself. First, using the ignition key, unlock the seat/pannier locks on either side of the rear seat section.
















Next, push down on the little brass coloured seat release lever under the offside seat/pannier lock and, keeping it pushed down lift off the rear seat section.



After removing the rear seat section, lift away the forward seat section. This may need a firm tug as it is clipped into position.



Remove the near side rear pannier by grasping the handle and lifting it up and outwards.



Next, using a 5mm allen key, remove the side panel by unscrewing the 3 bolts holding it in place.



The battery terminals are now visible. Using a 10mm socket, undo the right hand battery terminal - that's the negative one. There's a small retaining nut under each bolt, make sure it doesn't fall out (this can happen very easily without you noticing) or you can't reconnect the battery later.



Lift off the relay unit which is snapped into place on top of the battery cover.



Remove the battery cover which is snapped into position at the top rear of the battery.



Using the 10mm socket again, unscrew the battery clamp which is held with a single bolt above the centre of the battery.



Lift off the battery clamp.



Using the 10mm socket again (this is turning out to be a wise purchase), unscrew the positive battery terminal.



Now you can just lift out the battery. It's a sealed battery so can happily be tipped over at an angle of 45 degrees without risk of spilling nasty battery acid over yourself.



Your bike now looks kind of naked but you do feel rather clever because you've done all this dismantling in the space of only three or four minutes. Carefully put to one side all the bits you've removed (I put them in the back of the garage) putting the six bolts in a sensible place where you can find them again. Put the bike back in the garage and take the battery to its designated place of charging - that's my living room. I guess it's a good thing I'm single (woe, woe and thrice woe) as women tend to consider motorcycle parts in the living room a Bad Thing.



Connect your battery to the charger. I have an Optimate III charger which I bought a few years ago. The battery will take between one and 12 hours to charge depending on how flat it is.

Nick likes to...

Here's a silly little meme picked up from Rob at Eine Kleine Nichtmusik.

The basic idea is, you type into Google "[insert your name here] likes to" and see what the first ten hits reckon you like.


1. Nick likes to do puzzles, play with balloons, work on the computer, and ride his bike...innocent enough, I can live with that.

2. Nick Likes To Be Backdoored...I like to think all my doors are open, except possibly that one.

3. Nick likes to eat microwave Buritos...surely that would make them rather soggy, and aren't there two "r's" in burrito?

4. Nick likes to mix it up in the community with his live shots around the seven county metro area during his weathercasts..."mix it up", "live shots"? I think this particular Nick is the butt of some particularly cruel jokes in the office that he doesn't understand and sadly thinks everybody loves him.

5. Nick likes to play with his own fingers...I hate my hands, they look enormous in photographs and I prefer to keep them out of shot.

6. Nick likes to let off steam on his motorbike...now we're talking. See previous / future posts.

7. Nick likes to be Lashed by trannies 40 times...see answer #2.

8. Nick likes to study hard...sometimes, but if I have, it's never helped me in any subsequent exams.

9. Nick likes to find all my ex-girlfriends on the internet and then pretend he's me...a gentleman who behaves like this deserves to be thrashed on the steps of his club.

10. Nick likes to ensure that all the people involved are on the same page...I've chaired meetings and tried this methodology briefly but never found it achieves much.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I'll Try Again.....Next Year *weeps*

Madonna - "innovative", "orignal" blah blah blah.....

Didn't she "shock the world" with her conical brassiere in about 1990 yet The RAH Band were doing it back in 1985?



Please, just don't ask me how I came to be watching this particular video but surely....a missed classic....well isn't it?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

You've Got It Wrong Again Gordon

So, bloody-nosed from their drubbing in the local council and London Mayoral elections last week, we've witnessed a steady procession of cabinet ministers promising they will, from now on, take opinion on board and will "listen and learn" before making future pronouncements and decisions.

Quelle surprise that today, after receiving a report from an advisory body they probably created, New Labour decided to completely ignore the recommendation to leave cannabis as a Category C drug and switched it back to a Category B. Nice to know they've now started to listen - well, just not quite yet though.

I don't really care what category cannabis is in. I'd just like it to be in the right category, presuming that's where it actually belongs. I would assume if there is an expensive advisory body set up to review this category then the government would actually listen to what they say but apparently not. Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary said other opinions from people such as the police and education services had to be taken into account and the advisory body was speaking only from a medical point of view. But on Radio 4 this evening, a former member of the body said that other opinions (such as police and education) were, as a matter of course, taken into account and that their report reflected these varying views.

So, there we have it. The government hasn't bothered to "listen and learn" less than a week after promising they would. They had already decided what they were going to do before the advisers even opened up the custard creams and sat down to pontificate. The government even said they were more concerned about sending out "a message" and they believed a re-categorisation was the way to do this, rather than just reading the report they so assiduously commissioned. Another bit of gesture policy-making they imagine is made on what they hope is public opinion (something they have been shown in the last week to be hopelessly out of touch with) and what really happened, as with the abolition of the ten pence tax rate, is because Gordon says so....and that's all the debate that is apparently really needed. End of "discussion".

Monday, April 28, 2008

Noroc and Salaam Alekum

I've spent two out of the last three weeks out of the country. Fortunately, I get occasional bursts of travel as part of my work so three weeks ago I had 5 days in Romania and I spent last week in Egypt.

Romania, or more specifically in my case, Bucharest, is a great place to visit. My colleagues in the Bucharest office are without doubt the most hospitable and fun people in the whole organisation. There were also four colleagues visiting from the Paris office. They are also exceptional fun so we had a great week. I counted the stamps in my passport and this was my seventh trip to Bucharest and I hope there are lots more.

Whenever you mention you have visited Romania you get one of two reactions. People start (trying to) make clumsy jokes about Dracula or they mention gipsys. I've even seen colleagues on their first visit there try these sorts of comments as some sort of icebreaker with the Romanians. They are usually answered politely with a courteous smile or occasionally a suggestion that perhaps these are not the sole characteristics that define their country and its people. I love going there and would recommend it to anyone. Can't wait to go again. Fantastic climate, fantastic people.

Egypt is a tougher nut to crack. Egyptians seem rather more cautious on first meeting and one gets the impression they expect a Western visitor has arrived with a lot of preconceptions about them, mostly negative for some reason. In my experience, after three visits, that's not the case. I encourage colleagues to go there because Cairo is so different to any city we're normally accustomed to. It's a frantic, sprawling and often bewildering place but utterly safe, certainly no more dangerous than some parts of London at the wrong time of day or night. Revisit cars you only dimly recall from your childhood by hopping into a local taxi - agree the price first though, none have a working meter. In the tourist spots you will be hassled to buy stuff, especially in areas like Khan El Khallili (the massive market) or around the Pyramids, but respond in a friendly manner and you soon realise they have a fantastic sense of humour. Yes, they want you to buy something but they're smart enough to realise they are probably the fiftieth person in the last hour that's asked you the same question and they have to survive on their wit and charm to keep your interest. The people in the office open up pretty quickly as well and any suggestion of initial mutual distrust is soon gone. Try to speak a few words of Arabic - it's a real icebreaker as you try to pronounce a simple phrase which to a Westerner simply sounds like you're trying to cough up your breakfast.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Final Kitchen Blogpost

OK, it's finally over. Electrician #3 returned today to fix the light he broke on the last visit. He'd drilled through a cable that wasn't supposed to be there. This has left me with two rather ugly holes in the living room ceiling and a hole gouged in the wall which is tactically obscured by a Mark Rothko print - No. 10, 1950 - if you're interested.

I've managed to play with all my new appliances. The AEG washing machine appears to wash clothes quietly and efficiently. The mini Bosch dishwasher is a hoot. The Neff oven, hob and grill all appear to work exactly to requirements - but getting used to
those will take a little time.

My concerns over choice of tiles (I have no design or colour co-ordination skills) have been vindicated by various compliments from the neighbours and the granite still looks utterly, utterly beautiful.

So below are a few before, during, and after pictures.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mortality

Within the last few hours I've heard my next door neighbour has died and a very good friend for the last 25 years has had a heart attack.

Phillip, my neighbour, was a compact jolly man. He was getting old but I regularly saw him on the stairs as he jogged up and down the three flights to take the rubbish out. I always joked he could get up the stairs faster than me. He always wore immaculate white trainers and had a witty comment about something in the news or some recent local event. His health started to deteriorate very quickly a few years ago and one night I had a knock on the door from his distraught wife as Phillip had fallen and couldn't get up. I went in to their flat and manhandled him, as only an amateur can, back up onto the bed. A few days later he went into long term care and that was the last I saw of him although I often asked his wife Betty how he was as she went every day to visit him and spend the day with him. He died earlier this week and was buried on Thursday.

I've known my friend Colin, for over 25 years. We were flatmates in a terrible houseshare in Forest Hill. Everyone in the house got on fine, comrades in adversity really, as the landlord was a tedious little prat. The kind that leaves notes about the place while you're out.
We've all been friends ever since. He was running for a train on Thursday evening and suddenly collapsed. Next he knew he was in St. Thomas' Hospital being told he'd just had a heart attack. He called me from there a few hours ago. The prognosis sounds good. He had two blocked arteries which have been probed and have been deemed repairable without any invasive surgery needed. He has to take it easy for a while. We celebrated his 50th birthday only a few weeks ago. He's always been active, is definitely not overweight and is only a moderate drinker and never a smoker.

It's only times like this you start to think about how many people you know have actually died and the numbers get pretty frightening. My mum is one of three sisters. They all married. Of those three couples, one sister and all the husbands have died. Of the four who died, my father was the only one who got past 60.

My mother fortunately is still in robust health and shows no sign of fading at 70. That's probably got a lot to do with her lifestyle. Once she got rid of me and my brother she decided to keep horses instead of kids and has had, at any one time, between two and five horses on the go, so to speak. She's always done all the mucking out, grooming and all that stuff herself, as well as towing them around in horse boxes to go eventing. She can still chuck a 25kg sack of pony nuts further than I would care to try or bundle half a ton of recalcitrant horse flesh through the stables and out into the field for the day. Perhaps I should find myself a hobby like that or take up munro bagging or something as apart form the gym a couple of times a week my lifestyle is pretty sedentary.