Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Have We Really Sunk So Low?

Here in the UK we have a TV show called The X Factor - find the link yourself, frankly I can't be arsed to do it even this small favour. I'm sure there are similar variants of the same thing on TV all over the world. It purports to give aspiring young talent a chance to make it in the big time by giving them an audition with influential people in the music industry. In reality, it's just a chance for deluded wannabes to be humiliated on national television. It's only a matter of time before this results in some heartbroken youngster committing suicide over the disappointment and embarrassment of being made to look stupid on national TV. Hilarious eh!

The initial audition requires that the young hopeful sing live in front of the judges, unaccompanied by any musical backing. If anything is going to show up a less than perfect singing voice, it's this. But they keep on coming up, and they keep on getting knocked down. It's voyeuristic, manipulative and degrading.

Last week, one of the judges, Cheryl Cole, actually performed herself on the show. This was a performance of her first solo single. As she was a judge, already a very successful singer in a group, and now in the fortunate position of being able to pass judgement on other aspiring young talent, you'd expect her to make an effort and put on a show., What did she do? She mimed along to a backing track of course. The outcome? You'd have thought she'd have been roundly booed for an act of risible hypocrisy. Anything but. Her fellow judges lauded her performance, her bravery and whatever other egregious waffle they could heap upon her.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Vorsprung Durch Technik

Round about this time of year I get a small frisson of excitement mixed with mild trepidation. My car has its annual test (we call it the MoT which stand for Ministry of Transport).

My car is 13 years old, it's done 230,000 miles (that's 370,000 km). It has a few dents and scrapes but I've had this car from new and I know each and every scratch. I didn't personally inflict all the damage - it's been bumped anonymously in various supermarket car parks over the years, or somebody has kindly just inflicted a scratch on it just for fun but the car still runs and carries its scars with pride.

Last Thursday, it passed the test. I once thought of getting rid of it. 100,000 miles seemed a good point but it burst through the 100K barrier without so much as a squeak.

Let's see how far it'll actually go I thought, fully expecting some major problem to inevitably appear. 150,000 miles ticked over and still it kept running. Maybe I can get 200,000 out of it I thought and kept on going. My next target is 250,000. That'll mean it's gone round the world ten times. Watch this space - 250K will roll over sometime in the Spring of 2011.

All hail Herman, the mighty Audi A4. All this time and I don't actually have a nice photo to show you.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


Trying to fix your own plumbing is one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard. In the history of dumb ideas, it’s right up there with trying to cut your own hair. The other evening I tried to fix my own plumbing.

It all began when I had friends over on Sunday night. One of them came back from the bathroom and asked me if I realised one of my radiators was leaking. I checked and they were right. A very slow, but nonetheless visible drip.........drip…........drip from the pipe going into the bathroom radiator. Bollocks! I wedged a few sheets of toilet paper underneath it and left it like that. The next morning the toilet paper had absorbed the night's drippage. It was a tiny leak. No real drama.

But things like this torment me. I imagine I can hear it, like a ticking clock in a silent room can seem almost deafening, I was thinking about this drip….....drip….....drip. By the middle of the week I could bear it no more.

That evening, I stopped off at the DIY store and bought a nice big new adjustable spanner as the one I had was just not quite big enough. This is cool because I like buying tools. Rather cleverly, I also bought a roll of PTFE tape which you wind around the threads of a joint and it helps to make a watertight seal. Clever eh! I was pretty sure I would only need a little turn on the nut with my shiny new spanner and I would tighten the joint and fix the leak but I bought the tape as an added precaution.

First I turned off the boiler and turned off the water supply. I then ran all the taps to take any water out of the system. Then, with my sexy new tool I tightened the lower nut connecting the copper pipe to the radiator valve. No longer was there a drip……….drip………drip. Now I had a drip drip drip drip drip drip. Bollocks again.

I would have to undo the joint, put some PTFE tape around the thread and reconnect the pipe and that would fix the leak. I closed off the radiator valve and undid the nut and pushed the pipe down to move it clear. A jet of water came straight out the pipe and went a full half metre into the air…..FFFFUUUUUUCCCCCCKKKKKK. I shoved the spurting pipe back into position. It was not leaking any more. It was now gently pouring out of the loosened joint. I ran to the kitchen, grabbed any receptacle I could find (a few old pans), ran to the cupboard and grabbed some big towels and went back to my slowly filling bathroom to mop us some of the water. By repeatedly lifting the pipe out of position and catching the spurting water in the pan I managed to perform an improvised draining of my heating system. When each pan was full I put my thumb over the pipe to stop the flow. As the edges of the pipe were razor sharp, I managed to cut my thumb quite impressively.

Finally it was empty. I put some tape around the joint, reconnected it and tightened the nut. Drip drip drip drip drip. On closer inspection it now also appeared to be leaking from the joint above the valve. I would have to fix this as well. With my shiny new spanner, I now undid the upper joint as well. As this was above the radiator valve I had earlier shut off, as soon as I undid this new nut all the water in the radiator also came out. More pans. More improvised draining. I put some more tape around this joint and reconnected it. The drip had stopped. No surprise really because there was no longer any bloody water in the system to drip out.

I tuned on the water supply, turned on the boiler and turned on the taps. I still had water. Phew. I then bled the air out of the radiators to check my handiwork. Drip drip drip drip drip. I checked the boiler and now the digital display was flashing to indicate there was no pressure in the system. Oh for God’s sake! I carefully (yeah right) read the boiler manual which may as well have been written in Chinese for all that I understood in it. So, having started with a small manageable leak, I now had a much less manageable leak, a busted boiler and a gashed thumb. It was also 10pm.

I will continue this later……after I've given myself a cool new haircut.