Saturday, December 31, 2005

Who ate all the pies?

I did. Not quite sure when but it appears I did. And every single one of them.

Going to a party tonight in a smart house and it struck me yesterday that since I was now working from home I had both stopped wearing suits and stopped having smart clothes supplied by my employers. I knew also that I'd put a few pounds on. The dread shopping expedition beckoned and men aren't good at shopping. As a rule I only wear the lazy man's uniform of jeans and t-shirt so I was struggling to a) find a style and b) remember what size I was. Black is the great stand-in and able to camouflage the ravages of age better than most colours so I had no trouble getting a decent shirt even though it's a little bit gigolo; a little bit "Chico-time."

What on earth went with it? What does a your average middle-aged man about the settee wear when in polite company? I had to settle for the old perennial, black chinos. But the whole world's off partying and they're in short supply and Crewe's a bit of a pit for shopping so I ended up in BHS where they had plenty. I grabbed a couple of pairs of 34" waisted ones, this being the last known distance around my personal equator. Shock and surprise then when they barely went up my legs. 36" were no better. Rather frighteningly, I now measure 38" around the middle. Yesterday I'd said to Sharon that I thought I'd lost a little bit. Now it appears I'm just getting larger in the same proportions. What a cruel evil thing age is.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Getting old

Today is my birthday. Yippee.

In age terms it's not significant at all. You don't find cards for it in Clinton's and nobody will hold a big surprise party for me. I haven't jumped into a new decade or attained pensionable age. I feel just as knackered as I did yesterday yet one place deems me either older and wiser or less significant.

I've just completed the first internet survey where I now tick the 45-54 box instead of the 35-44 one. How many more replies will I now get saying that my "group" doesn't fit their requirements? Internet shorthand for saying start looking into the Saga holidays pal. Bummer, eh?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

I'm Meant to be Working...

For the last hour or so I've been playing with my latest download. I can't see any practical use for it yet but it's pretty cool nevertheless. It's Google Earth and you can get it here. It only works with a fast connection speed and if you've got a Mac you'll have to wait a bit but it's fun fun fun and worth it.

It's a bit like Multimap's aerial photos but more versatile and you don't need to pay extra to zoom right in. It's good over major cities because the resolution is greater meaning you can get some quite decent detail (I'm pretty certain I spotted the ex standing in the garden of the former family seat in SE London for instance) . It's not so hot over rural areas though and I couldn't get a decent picture of Crewe (Why would I want one?).

There are tons of interactive features on it that I haven't tried out yet such as road mapping and layering of different features onto the pictures. But by far the most nerdy features are the ones that allow you to pan and tilt the picture so it appears you're flying along the landscape. OK, so it's no flight sim but it's free. can do the bit in Match of the Day at the start of each match when the camera zooms right down onto a ground! Try it...Zoom right out until you've got just the globe from 39000 miles away and type in Old Trafford to the search box . Slap a pair of big ears on and you're away! Well I was impressed.

The Dangers of Looking Up Yourself

Own up, who doesn't? Do a vanity search on t'internet I mean. Every now and again I can't resist the urge to see where I float around in cyberspace and usually it's the same old tosh that turns up every time.

I'm blessed in that I have a relatively unusual name that I share only with an eminent US lawyer, a retired US Navy Lieutenant Colonel and some dead people, so I'm not hard to find. I usually give up after a few minutes when I've been through the old familiar school guestbooks and miscellaneous forum postings.

I've been on the internet for a meagre 6 years and I've kept a fairly low profile although some of my early appearances are naive in the extreme, even including the odd address (an old one, mind, so no ideas). and there aren't a great deal of entries before you're into the obscure local census entries from Nova Scotia.

This time I was a little bit more persistant and went to the last couple of pages of results and it was surprising and not a little scary. First there was a letter I wrote to The Independent, printed in full and for some bizarre reason appearing on what appeared to be a classical music site. A bit surreal because it was actually a little jokey bit about phonetics in reply to an Australian academic's daft theory on spelling. I never knew if the Indie had a slow day or they were taking the mick but it was good to see it printed with only minimal editing. Why suddenly appear after over 5 years though?

Then, on the final page, was an odd entry and although partly in some Slavic language, sure enough, there was my name next to Sharon's. I couldn't believe it when I clicked on the link and saw the most appalling photograph, taken 18 months ago in a vain effort to promote a website we'd just launched. Sharon had an interesting story that was pertinent to the website and it was taken up by a freelancer and sold to a very prominent women's magazine. The hack's boyfriend was a photographer and he took a few snaps. One was used in the subsequent article and this was the spare. Not only did the article not mention the website once, it was a complete hatchet job and full of utter bollocks. Also, the photo made Sharon look like a drunk 80 year old who'd left her teeth by the bed. Professionals, eh? Only one question though: why syndicate it? Who on earth would want it? Even the tagline to the photo is wrong!

So, vanity search at your peril. Scared the crap out of me, I can tell you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Phone Wisdom

I like this and found it completely by accident while out shopping recently and asked for some advice. Show this one to your micro-skirted mate as she teeters on her 4" heels out of the office for her regular Friday night pole dance round the bus stop sign. Or for that matter your teenage daughter who you've just recovered from the local A & E after having her stomach pumped.

1) Get your mobile

2) Select SMS

3) Turn on T9 Predictive Text

4) Write the words Smirnoff Ice

5) Cringe

If you want to know the answer, email me or post a comment.

Says it all...

I've been amusing myself with a new toy but I suspect it won't be around too long once everyone finds out what you can do with it and a well intentioned DoS gets launched.

It's very simple, I spotted one of those adverts from a web marketing company, one of those with a talking female head and the eyes that watch where you've got your cursor. Next to the head is a text box into which you can type 50 or so characters and a button to make the head say what you've written. The rest writes itself.

OK, I was bored.

Caveat emptor...

Never trust your eyes. We've just done Christmas and now we're having to send most of it back.

The problem is you see, Sharon my lovely significant other, suffers from a medical condition that means she has to spend rather a lot of time stuck to the pump that delivers her nutrition and fluids. Because the apparatus is royal pain in the rump to cart around despite being on wheels, most of this time is spent sat up in bed doing her writing stuff (which she's very good at and it pays for holidays). And as she gets tired very quickly she doesn't go out shopping a lot. The internet is designed for her really, isn't it.

One of the nice things about going shopping in the high street is that you can fondle things (ooeer missus) in Jessops and Dixons and get to ask a barely pubescent assistant questions they haven't a cat in hell's chance of knowing the answer to ( he's 17; if he already knows the maximum shutter speed of every camera in the shop he's a candidate for some serious vitamin deficiencies). One of the nice things about shopping on the internet is that it's cheaper and you can do it in the nude while drinking medium priced Australian chardonnays. Which is definitely frowned upon in the Trafford Centre.

The real downside is that some sites aren't quite what they seem. Take this one, Looks OK to start with but then look closely. The prices - something about them isn't right. We Brits write £350.99, these are £350,99. It's Johnny foreigner at work and indicating his disdain for the poor Anglo Saxons as the villains of Europe in a rather forthright manner. It's a huge site offering gear at very reasonable prices and it has a "presence" in 24 European countries. The big problem with this is that these 24 countries speak 24 languages and Pixmania work out of a big warehouse somewhere on continental Europe. This means that lots and lots of their goods don't come with English instructions and because the Brits are hated throughout Europe they can't be bothered to source English instructions from the suppliers.

Now to be fair they do have a place on the site where you can download a PDF version of the instruction booklets but it's not apparent where it is (I still haven't found it but then I have a notorious habit of describing sites as appallingly designed if I only employ my own crazy logic about how a site should work) and as you're not really expecting to have to do this because the whole world is used to having multi-lingual instruction books where English is deemed to be one of the world's major languages and usually included. It doesn't even mention anywhere in the ordering process that your stepdaughter won't be able to use her hugely expensive SLR style digital camera to take some photos as soon as she takes it out of the box because, although she speaks Norwegian and English, she doesn't speak Italian, French or German so she doesn't know how long to charge the batteries for.

The problem with the downloaded instructions is that whereas the manufacturer's instruction booklet is a decent size and fits in the free camera bag (which they haven't sent either), the download is A4 and fits in nothing your average teenager carries around with her. In fact a sheaf of A4 paper probably constitutes more covering than the average female teenager wears at any given time so would probably be pressed into use should it rain. Better use the laminator Sharon bought me in that case. I won't go as far as saying the site's a travesty but for a company that claims a turnover of almost €250 million, investing in someone with a bit of common sense to design their website shouldn't be a problem.

Now the other culprit. Amazon of all people! Sharon (poor Sharon, she's feeling very inadequate now) bought me a rather nice DAB radio to take with me when I go fishing or walk up mountains or for when I end up sleeping in remote Welsh B & Bs after PMT has kicked me out in a hail of wardrobe contents. It looks like a portable radio, has a handle and the "manufacturer's description" as Amazon calls it, says you can take it into the bathroom with you. Now call me old-fashioned if you will but we are of a certain age and were brought up with all those public information films featuring that mental cat who told you that you don't take things that are connected to the 220 volt mains supply into a room in which the prime activity is getting wet. That's why bathrooms don't have sockets. So she confidently expected it to have a battery compartment. Bugger. Guessed right? Now who's the poor sod who's going to have to go down the post office tomorrow and pay to send his own pressie back?

So you get my drift. Check carefully and do what you'd do in a proper shop and fondle the goods. Except internet fondling involves you typing "blah blah review" into Google (please use some common sense there. Please. If it's a website then substitute the website name for the blahs, know what I mean?) and read what comes back. There are enough anal people out there to want to let you know the ins and outs of everything you can buy so you could be quite busy.

Good luck.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Message from the Editor...

The good people at Bravenet (except "Doug" in support whose blind faith in the ability of computers and software to be totally infallible, despite them being made and programmed by humans, scares me) have supplied me with a little counter in order to make me feel miserable. It does.

Not only does it tick over very slowly it shows me where every one of those clicks comes from and it's disturbing. Very. Most of my hits come via the other half's knitting blog (look to the right for a link) being curious, as they ought to be. Good, and thanks. The remainder worry me intensely because well, I chose a phrase on this blog that I thought would be a thought provoking play on words. I used it in all innocence, completely oblivious to its original meaning. In fact, I didn't realise its original meaning at all until just now and I'm shocked.

Down the bottom of this is an entry entitled "Jungle Bunnies". It's about the popular TV show "I'm a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here" in which nano-celebs are dumped in the jungle and made to fend for themselves in the full glare of 24/7 TV cameras. Like an innocent fluffy wabbit being caught in the headlights - get my drift? Checking my stats it seems that 3 people have surfed onto this blog simply by typing the phrase "Jungle Bunnies" into google. Why? I was aware that the phrase almost certainly had a racist origin but when I thought about it, I didn't know why. I couldn't get the connection between jungles and rabbits and black people. It was certainly a phrase I'd not heard used for years, so I used it. I'm bemused why anyone would want to search on the phrase unless, like I did just now, they'd want to find its origin. Or that they were looking for similar people who used the phrase with its original evil intentions. Angelfire has a glossary of racist terms here and the definition is too alarming for me to repeat out loud.

But I'm not deleting it. No way. If you've searched on the term because you're hoping to find like-minded fellow travellers here's a message to you: I hope that the genetic defects from the years of inbreeding in your pitiful family mean that the virus you caught while pleasuring yourself with your dog is rendered untreatable and that you suffer a long and pain-ridden stumble towards death as your internal organs turn to foul-smelling sludge. Oh, and that you find out your God is black. And a woman.

To all the nice people, Merry Christmas and peace.

Friday, December 23, 2005

You Drive Me Crazy...

I do hope some locals read this. Just to make sure, I'll do this (bear with me please while I insert some gratuitous keywords into the text): Crewe, Cheshire, driving, A500, moron. If they do (indeed, if they can even read at all), I'd love to know the answer to one particular question.

Quite simply, why is it that every time I drive in this area does the car behind me deem it necessary to make a hell-for-leather dash for the 50 yard stretch of open road between my car and the vehicle in front? No discernible advantage is ever gained and I’m never impressed by fast cars doing what they’re meant to do. Is there some kind of kudos to be gained from overtaking a laden diesel Renault Scenic? Do you go back to your chav mates in your local theme pub and tell them over a bottle of overpriced and tasteless horse wee ice-lite that you burnt up some old goat in a MPV? Does it make you feel big? Like a man? Does it make your crotch swell like it does when you look at pictures of ladyboys or when your Mummy used to wash you in the morning? Twice now recently I’ve been overtaken on the offside while turning right, last week late at night on a country road with no waiting area by someone driving so unbelievably fast he had no chance whatsoever to see I’d put my indicator on. How do I know this? Because I saw him round the bend about 200 yards behind me as I commenced my manoeuvre. That’s a safe distance in my book. Obviously he needs the thrill of putting someone else’s life in danger other than his own. Mate, if you’re reading this, try parachuting for thrills. Just let me pack your ‘chute first.

Cheshire is criss-crossed by several of the most dangerous roads in the country. There are more bunches of flowers along the A530 and A534 than in Covent Garden but I’ve never worked out why. These roads are great: they are for the most part well maintained and well marked. There are no more bends in them than any other road in the country and there are no torque-challenging gradients. There’s only one reason there are so many fatalities on them; because they’re driven on by the brain dead. A few months ago there was a multiple fatality accident in Crewe at a supposedly notorious “accident blackspot”. The reasoning for this classification is way beyond me. It’s a visible and well-marked side road junction, on a wide sweeping bend on a slight slope. There’s a large roundabout less than 300 yards away so there’s no reason to speed. The accident site was visited by the local great and good, including Gwyneth Dunwoody, our MP, and there were questions asked. Why? The only reason people died was because somebody wasn’t looking where they were going and driving too fast. Sad to say it, this time a road hazard has been permanently removed.

For close on six years until 2002 I worked at the Dartford Crossing and thought I’d seen just about everything, enough for a separate entry on here anyway. I also learnt to drive in Lewisham, SE London over 20 years ago so city driving has never held any fear for me. Indeed, earlier this month I drove in France for the first time and I can honestly say I was happier driving around Caen on a thunderously wet and frozen December afternoon than I’ve ever been driving along the A530 between Crewe and Nantwich (12 minutes by bus, even quicker if you go through the hedges).

I’ve no objection to speed per se, but try Oulton Park and get a pro to take you round. Preferably until you vomit all over your best Burberry and crap your Calvins.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Well Did You Ever..

It’s been a bit of a noisy week for me for a change and this time it was all my own choice! I feel a bit teenagery again having indulged in the throbbing pagan rhythms yet again on Sunday evening. Twice in one week, what’s to do, eh? Beer was good, too.

This time I packed my overnight bag and was off down to the Leicester Musician pub to see my very good chums Sinnerboy play their last gig of an incredibly busy year. They are the country’s, if not the world’s, premier tribute to the late and very much lamented Irish guitarist, Rory Gallagher. What’s more, they are rapidly garnering the same kind of loyal following that Rory built up during his 30-odd year career. And they’re all bloody nice blokes, just like their hero was. The crowd on Sunday came from as far afield as Liverpool and London, in fact I believe there was even a domiciled Scot amongst us, and this is now pretty much the mix for a Sinnerboy night.

Anyone who ever witnessed Rory playing live will always remember the incredible passion and energy of his playing. He would play all night to the proverbial three men and a dog and eschewed the commercial big-time that would have made him rock royalty able to play a stadium tour a year and forget the originality and the connection with the fans that made him. He had a profound knowledge of the blues and a mastery of nearly all forms of playing it almost certainly unique among his peers; he was equally at home playing the acoustic rag of Blind Blake’s Pistol Slapper Blues as he was the screaming slide of Souped Up Ford.

Barry Barnes and the other two Sinnerboys, bassist Dave Burns and drummer Steve Richardson make no effort at impersonations; the reverence they hold for the music drives the performance and gives them the ability to pull out all the stops every time they play. Such is their mastery over Rory’s music that many people go to see Sinnerboy for the first time and remain first and foremost Sinnerboy fans, only picking up on the originals through the recommendations of those of us who remember Rory live. We’re fans too but we’re also experiencing hearing Rory again vicariously through the band. No it’s not a religion but it’s certainly fast becoming a bit of a hobby.

Only a couple of downsides to the Leicester gig: the Musician is an old pub stuck out on the edge of the town centre right next to the ring road. It’s an industrial area and there are no residential neighbours. So why did the licence only go until 11 and why the enforced drinks break halfway through? We only got around 90 minutes of the band, which for £5 is OK but we know they can double that easily. Shame for the band, the punters and the venue. 2006 can’t come around soon enough. See you there!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

How not to get pictured with a rock icon

Anyone of a certain age and with a love of noisy jungle music will remember The Sensational Alex Harvey Band from the 70s. They had a devoted following and two iconic members in front-man Alex and guitarist Zal Cleminson, he of the Pierrot makeup and multi-coloured jumpsuit. They had two major single hits in Boston Tea Party and Delilah and several big selling albums. Their legendary live shows were mixes of burlesque and heavy rock, the subject matter for their material drawing large on Alex’s colourful past. They even introduced a superhero in Vambo. The band fragmented around 1978 and Alex died in 1982.

Well, SAHB are back touring. Last year they embarked on a farewell tour that was so successful their adoring faithful all but demanded another one. Anyway, Max Maxwell, who had been brought in to fill the vacancy at the front last year deserved another go. I saw them once last year at Crewe’s only proper venue, The Limelight, and had a great time. The band didn’t as they were dead on their feet through flu, but you would never have guessed, such was their professionalism. When the tour dates were announced for this year and Crewe was once more on the list, I was first in the queue for tickets. Well, I was ninth actually but that doesn’t look quite as good. This time I was determined to do the bug-eyed fan thing and pester for autographs and pictures, something I gave up doing well over a quarter of a century ago.

I’d been sent an advance copy of the live album from last year’s tour and this also came with a limited edition DVD, both of which had nicely signable surfaces, so I was set. I’d even got an indelible pen for the job. The gig went off excellently, the band was on top form and I took loads of pictures, as you’re allowed to do nowadays. Try doing that a few years ago without meeting the pavement head on. I’d decided I was determined to get my picture taken with guitarist Zal at the meet and greet afterwards, not least because he’s one of a dwindling handful of my axe heroes who’s actually still alive. And this is where it gets daft.

The first attempt at a picture was hopeless. I gave the camera to a bystander, who Zal had been talking to moments earlier and tried to get the great man’s attention. Several times. Not wishing to appear pushy, I shrugged my shoulders and gave it up as a bad lot and went back to my beer. Spotting an opportunity a few minutes later, I collared another bloke for snapper duties and at last got Zal to myself. Being the showman, he insisted on us puckering up. Now Zal is quite diminutive so he’s straining to meet my 5’11” and I’m wondering why the flash hasn’t gone off. “Nothing’s happening mate”. Bugger, batteries have run out! Luckily I was prepared so I quickly slapped a new pair in and we made faces again. Nothing. “Press it harder” I said. Still nothing. All the time Zal is remaining in position like a true pro. I realised I’d forgotten to set the date so a further delay while I skipped through that bit for my amateur lensman. Now, we pucker up again and anticipating the flash I turn towards the camera as I’m starting to feel not a little embarrassed by pulling faces in such close proximity to another man, regardless of the high regard I hold him in. The result is quite frankly, startling. I look like a fat badger caught in headlights. Zal had been holding that pose for the best part of 2 minutes. What a pro and what a gent.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Where's the Isle of Man?

Viewing the 2006 World Cup draw made yesterday is a quite bizarre experience. First of all, for my American friends, that’s football; the game played with feet and a ball. And the World Cup is not like the World Series you have with your rounders thing, it involves er…the World. You hosted it a few years back, remember? You’re actually playing in this one as well. No, it's not a women's tournament, although that's open to debate.

Back to business. Years ago the competing teams would have reflected the old world order at the time (without the USA because they only ever play games that they can make up as they go along). There would be loads of Iron Curtain countries souped up on steroids; the South American chopping giants such as Argentina and Uruguay and then West Germany, Holland, Italy and inevitably Scotland. England would invariably have forgotten to qualify and the hopes of a nation would rest on the shoulders of the gallant Scots. There would be a single comedy third world team of mildly talented players of indeterminate age who would need the rules explained to them before kick-off but who would then proceed to beat the crap out of the Jocks, sending them home at the end of the first week. Holland or Italy would be the favourites but would get beaten by a late penalty in the final by West Germany or Brazil after leading it for 85 minutes.

Now we’ve got the likes of the mighty Australia, Iran, USA, Japan, Ghana, Tunisia and Angola fighting for the trophy. The break up of Yugoslavia into its constituent streets has provided us with Serbia and Montenegro and Croatia while the former USSR bequeaths us only Ukraine. Former winners France will have to overcome Togo and England will probably need to heavily beat Trinidad and Tobago to go through on goal difference after having Wayne Rooney sent off in the first minute of the first game. Is this really a true test of the overpaid balletic divas of the beautiful game? Where are the Russians? And the East Germans, trained by having live rounds fired at their heels by Stasi operatives? No Columbian fright wigs and idiot goalkeepers playing under death threats issued by Medellin’s finest this year either. I pity the average English punter whose knowledge of geography usually extends to which end of the ground the pie van is.

At least Scotland can rest easy this time round. Failing to qualify has saved them the ignominy of going out after beating Brazil 8-0 and then going down 1-0 to the Ivory Coast.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

An Introduction to Teenager Etiquette Part 1.

I know I know, I should be slightly more tolerant and live and let live but sometimes things need to be said. This one’s for all those out there currently teetering around one third of my age and should be borne in mind for future reference.

It’s minus three outside and I’m curled up under the duvet because I’d been up ‘til the early hours working. This was after I’d been out late at a meeting and then picking you up from your college excursion at 11.30pm and delivering you safely home (OK, I forgot where I was to pick you up but nobody told me. I’m older than you, I make mistakes). I politely asked you to turn your music down at 1.15 am and reminded you that you traditionally have difficulty getting up on Wednesdays for some reason and that wouldn’t it be a good idea to get to bed especially as you were up late the night before. I even got up very early to turn the heating on so you’d have a nice warm house to walk around in as you got ready for college. So, when you wake me at 8.32 am and ask whether you can have a lift in to college “because it’s cold” (because teenage fashion dictates you can’t buy practical clothes?), knowing that I find it very difficult to say no, the correct form of address is not “Richard, can I have a lift in to college?” It’s “Richard, could I possibly have a lift into college please? I’ll have a cup of tea made for you by the time you get up. 2 sugars?”