Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Tales from the Middle. No 1 in an occasional series

Fed up with moaning at people on the telephone this morning and also with the tone of my recent posts (whingeing, moaning and far too much cheap bar-room philosophy) I thought I ought to do something lighthearted. Let me scratch my memory and see what comes out from under the scab.

Dave has recently stopped playing cricket. This is a tragic to-do and one I feel sympathetic towards. I gave up playing at the end of the 1996 season when I was a comely and athletic 35 years old. I didn't give up voluntarily, cricket deserted me; I took a job that only gave me one weekend a month entirely free and I didn't want to run the risk that that would be the weekend I would be dropped and only being available for 4 or 5 games a season, one of which I would miss through holidays anyway, meant it just wasn't a worker. Bummer. All things must pass, as they say (well, George Harrison did, I don't know about anyone else).

The gear's still upstairs in my bag, ready. Ready for what, I don't know. I live 200 miles away from my last team's ground and I don't even know if they're extant. They were called Stanstead, named after Stanstead Rd in Catford, part of the South Circular, and had been around for 60 years or so. In fact they underwent some turmoil in that last season and I ended up having to use the London A to Z to find our ground every week. It used to be at Shooter's Hill on the Old Askean's RFC ground but it moved to Chislehurst and it felt all wrong. Dave will probably identify with that scenario. I put all the kit on a while back, the stuff that still fitted me, at least. If I wore it now I would look like a prehistoric animal as I no longer own anything visible that is modern (or indeed fits me). The boots are 20 years old, the flannels are white cotton, not the cream polyester tracksuit bottoms they use now and I used to wear laundered and ironed white cotton shirts. The pads are canvas and cane (with velcro, not buckles - I got that far) and the bat's 30 years old now so I don't think it will survive another season. It's a collector's piece; an original Gray Nicolls GN 100 with the single scoop bought from Wrights in Ashford. Barely used.

I started playing village cricket in 1975 when I was 14. The club was called Warehorne and we played in a sheep field belonging to Charles, the local squire who lived in the Georgian pile opposite. The ground was of good size but the square was offset so that if the wicket was pitched to one side it made a very short leg-side boundary on one side of around 40 yards. Otherwise, the setting couldn't have been more idyllic and you'd half expect Alan Bates and Julie Christie to cavort across it at any moment. There were two pubs in Warehorne: The Woolpack in the village and The World's Wonder towards Kenardington. We used neither, as nobody actually lived in the village itself except Nigel, who lived next door to the ground. Well, he lived in the farm next door but actually the house was half a mile away. No, we drank here, The Duke's Head in Hamstreet. I was an average looking 14 year old in 1975 which meant I looked 12. I had no trouble getting served.

Preparation of the ground for the weekend's home game involved everyone. I used to get the frame out of the old pill box that was our equipment store and lavatory (ladies AND gents - just), mix up the white lime and mark the creases out after someone else had mown the square. It was a labour of love and were it not for the fact that a drainage pipe ran diagonally across the square, we would have had some good strips. In practice, they could be lethal and balls could rise nastily off a length or shoot along at ankle height.

The outfield was just a mown field. As I've already mentioned, it was a sheepfield for the rest of the year and the place was overrun with rabbits in the summer and they caused much damage. Quite often, Nigel would arrive for practice carrying a 12 bore and a couple of brace of bunnies culled from the adjoining field, strung over his shoulder. You can invariably tell a cricketer who has been blooded in real rural cricket because his reactions are different. They don't attack a ball in the field with the same blind faith as those brought up on nancy-boy rolled and crew-cut league grounds. Instead, holding back slightly in order to see which way the bugger would bounce, then holding your arms up in resignation as the thing careened off at right angles was more the order of the day. You were rarely chastised for those fielding errors because we all suffered them sooner or later but you were expected to make up with it by having a sharp pair of hands for anything in the air. Even now, rarely do I drop anything thrown to me.

Responsiblity for mowing the outfield was Robin's. Robin was an uncomplicated, ruddy-cheeked horny-handed son of toil. Hobnails, chewing on a straw and trousers with string round the knees would have suited him down to the ground. All in strict contrast to his brother, who was known to be a bit of a character, both by the locals and the local constabulary. Robin (or Dobbin, everyone had a nickname) was country through and through (he was also our party line on the phone, which meant we had to push a button every time we wanted to make a call to bag the line. This I would often do before checking the line to see if anyone was on it. Sorry.) and ran his own smallholding. Every Thursday he would fetch Charles' tractor, hitch it up to the gang mowers and hack around the outfield, unhitch and take the tractor back.

This one particular week Dobbin was in a panic. He couldn't get the tractor and the outfield needed a haircut as it had been raining and was quite long. What to do? He looked around and saw no solution to the dilemma. Then he looked at his car. It had a tow bar, it'll do; it had to. Now the fundamental difference between a tractor and a car, even in those less refined 70s, is that while on paper the car, in this case an Escort Mexico (or a standard made to look like a Mexico), may well have more available horsepower than the tractor but what a tractor sacrifices in speed it gains in torque. Pulling a set of ploughs through clay is hard work for a car engine, clutch and gearbox but not for a tractor's drive train. The same can be said for pulling over half a ton of whirring gang mowers through inch high damp grass. Dobbin hitched up the gang to his pride and joy and set off. Or rather his wheels spun. No chance of a push old fruit, you're on your own. It started moving and gained speed. No problem yet and Dob spun round at a fair old lick. After a couple of minutes the inevitable happened and the smoke started. The Escort's clutch was beginning to pass out under the strain. Undeterred, Dobbin kept on in ever decreasing circles and we kept on watching. The whole ground was soon swathed in an acrid white spiral shaped fog. From the air it must have seemed like a satellite picture of a developing hurricane, Hurricane Dobbin. The noise was unbearable too, screaming and whining interspersed with the odd grinding noise as friction plates were worn down to the backing.I distinctly remember someone saying that the gearbox was glowing red hot but I think that may have been an exaggeration. I would imagine the less combustible parts of the clutch must have been close to melting point though when he finally stopped after about ten minutes. He was completely non-plussed by it all when he got out of the car, saying it didn't matter he'd just put another one on. We had an outfield.

Dobbin would soon give me the scariest car ride of my life. But that's another day.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Whinge, moan, gripe.

Our present government is, so I understand through various initiatives made public through the media, committed to alleviating the burden on the earth's resources and thereby stalling the onset of global warming. Yeah, right on.

Let's get one thing straight first. Global warming is going to happen whether we like it or not. It's happened hundreds of times over the last 3 or 4 billion years but we're so self-important we think we have some kind of hold over nature this time. Nature doesn't really give a flying one what we, Greenpeace, Prince Charles, Guardian readers or the Georges Bush and Monbiot think; she's a cruel and unforgiving mistress with permanent PMT. Huge seismic and volcanic events that do more physical damage to the planet in a few hours than we can manage in hundreds of millenia, are way beyond our control, so I think a little perspective is called for. The last ice-age ended, so were told, 10000 or so years ago. No it didn't, the current wave of global warming started back then and the ice cap is still retreating as a result. Greenland is still in the ice age - it's covered in Rising sea levels are an inevitability so let's get used to thinking that the last couple of thousand years of our civilisation is disposable; nature thinks we are, why argue when she holds all the cards?

But there's no need to speed up the inevitable, is there. We can spin out our resources in a sensible manner and maybe earn a few years parole from Mother Nature for good behaviour. Let's start with a couple of easy things, shall we? I would love to see legislation aimed at all electronics companies (yes, a law, from a well intentioned nannying state) that insists on standby functions on all new electrical appliances turning themselves off after 30 minutes of inactivity. It's fairly common knowledge now that an average TV uses up to 40% of its normal power consumption on standby but it's also fairly well understood that the average human is a lazy bastard who'd rather press a red button than actually get up off its rear end and do something for the common good.

The other state sanctioned piece of idiocy I've not yet fathomed is the opening up of mail delivery services to competition. Stepdaughter had some concert tickets delivered this week. They arrived by a special courier who was driving a van and I had to sign for them. That's a van to deliver a single envelope. Repeat: the courier drove his van onto this estate of 100 houses, delivered one envelope and drove off it again without making any further deliveries. And he'll have to come back again soon as the order wasn't complete. The Royal Mail has offered this service for years, on its regular delivery runs using postmen riding energy efficient bicycles. It's called recorded delivery. Yet folk whinged at Royal Mail boss Adam Crozier when he cut the second delivery because he cited it was an unjustified waste of resources for little benefit and his company was now being forced to "compete". By a "socialist" government!! Roll on global warming, I'm off to the highlands while London gets flooded.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?

The Scotsman has come to my rescue again with this.

The poor bird was poisoned to 'protect grouse'. Now, I may be remarkably dense at times but I thought the grouse's primary function was to remain largely unprotected, especially in a one sided fight with a group of bankers on team-building exercises or an ex-footballer wielding an over and under Purdey. What the gamekeeper really meant to say of course was that he was protecting his livelihood and his employer's investment. Somehow I cannot see him doing a HAL 9000 and sticking arsenic in the single malt come the Glorious 12th just so the wee birdies can have the run of the moor.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Choo choo

I've just read this article on the site.

I think some leaping up and down in mild relief is called for, don't you think? I know one 33 mile reinstated railway branch-line doesn't exactly signal the end of the motor car's primacy in getting from A to B but it's certainly sending the I just hope it gets managed properly and isn't shut down after two years because nobody uses it.

If railway and bus travel is made attractive enough, it will get used. This actually means that it needs to go where it's needed, when it's needed and be affordable. Oddly enough, here in Crewe - a town built solely to service the railways (although tellingly it's the headquarters of Focus Do-It-All and several other edge of town retailers), one can't actually get to the station by public transport within a decent time unless one lives within walking distance. And that kind of defeats the object. We live on a major artery through town. There is a bus stop about 100 yards away but to get to the railway station about a mile and a half away we have to catch two buses and go via the town centre (the railway station isn't in the town centre for some reason but the bus station is). It can take two hours to get there on a Sunday I've heard. It's far quicker to walk but much quicker to drive, especially as one can leave your car in the big car park next to the Alex for £2 a day if you get there before 8 am.

Likewise I have never understood the mentality behind premium pricing i.e. that if something is made deliberately expensive, it has to be somehow better and worth buying as much as a bargain is. That's just for footballers' wives, non? Ryanair seem to be doing well enough (although if they paid their staff a living wage and actually landed in the right country they probably wouldn't be) so the concept pioneered by Jack Cohen of Tesco, that of pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap, can actually work outside of product retail.

It sickened me that when I was lucky enough to travel down to London earlier in the year using Virgin's First Class, it was largely empty while many in standard had actually paid 5 times as much as me because I'd been able to book two weeks in advance. If I were to turn up on spec at Crewe station tomorrow and wanted a return to London it would actually be cheaper to drive. In fact, I could drive there and back twice for the money in our diesel and despite the green lobby's entreaties and with the best will in the world, my pocket can't afford my conscience. That's pay over a ton to stand next to someone who's paid less than a score because they were able to book in advance. I'd have to stand for the pleasure too, as I've just checked and I can't actually reserve a ticket for tomorrow. Something very wrong there. A couple of years ago I had to travel to London at short notice but it was over £100 for a day return so I ended up driving to Epping and getting the tube to Chancery Lane. Mental (and for a 15 minute preliminary divorce hearing that could have been done on the 'phone. Don't even start me).

The range of Virgin West Coast fares is bewildering and has created much resentment among passengers. I can't even get a cheap day return to Warrington, despite it being only 35 miles away down the main line that runs past this here kitchen window yet I can get one to London 200 miles away. Well, I can get a day return but it won't be cheap. I can't blame Branson for having a go and at least he's put his money where his mouth is and his Pendolino trains are quite smart but it shouldn't be this way. I do hope the Borders railway pays its way but unless there's a degree of altruism or inspired commercialism involved (or heaven forbid it should be taken into public ownership and run for the benefit of the people by a benevolent government), then it'll be back to the 4x4s.

Sorry, I've been eating cheese again.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I've got a dongle and I'm gonna use it

Earlier this year I upgraded my mobile telephone to this one. It's a fine looking piece of kit and does lots of things I don't understand. I have really only used telephones until now to talk through and to send the odd text message so being able to remotely control the space shuttle or access the internet isn't of much use to me, even if I'd had the use of a screen barely more than an inch square that is of such stupendous quality it makes our telly look crap (which it is).

What was attractive to me at the time was that the beast came with a data cable through which I could download the photographs taken using its pretty high quality camera to my computer. Usually one has to buy these at exorbitant cost, rendering the camera an unnecessary extra, as it was on my last phone. I am warming to the idea of the telephone with camera/vice-versa as there have been myriad times I've wished to take a hurried snap of something transient but been prevented from doing so either by batteries running out or leaving the damn thing at home. Which is what we did at the weekend.

We had booked a night in a hotel in Llandudno with a view to driving round the pretty bits of north Wales the next day. Halfway there we realised we'd left the camera at home but I said it was OK as I had my telephone (what a bizarre conversation to have envisaged several years ago). The only problem here was that I had tried to connect the thing to my PC via the data cable not a few days before but none of the drivers supplied by the mad doctors of Samsung appeared to work. Windows XP kept threatening me with death each time I inserted the disk and even the ones I downloaded from the Samsung site were useless. Then I had an idea. The telephone is Bluetooth enabled so I could send pictures via that to my PC instead. My PC isn't Bluetooth enabled though: I would need a dongle. This is basically a Bluetooth aerial on a USB connector and costs a couple of quid so before we left I ordered one for our return. It came this morning and as you can see I am now playing like a child instead of working. I would like to reassure readers that the wind caused the curious billowing effect with my shirt. Oh yes.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Anniversary (clichéd viewpoints ahead warning)

I missed an important milestone on Sunday. It was actually two anniversaries rolled into one because I very much doubt one would exist without the other. 3 years ago on Sunday Sharon re-emerged from an extended stay in hospital following a horribly life-threatening episode involving the removal of her small intestine and a large chunk of her large one. Some inspired emergency surgery had saved her life but it also altered the rest of it completely.

While she was languishing in her hospital bed I had earmarked the day of her return to civilisation as the one on which I would give up smoking. I was true to my word and stubbed out the last one with a small celebratory flourish in the early afternoon. I had had a good career as a smoker and bar a 5 day break in the early 80s and a 363 day one a few years back, I'd managed the controlled destruction of my body for roughly 26 years. That would have meant breathing in the fumes from something approaching a quarter of a million fags in that time.

Did I enjoy it? Yes; I loved smoking, it was immense fun. What I hated though was the fact that I became progressively less fit and that my muscles would throb with pain after exertion as my blood was attempting to course through increasingly sclerotic vessels. This is what did for Sharon's guts as her superior mesenteric artery suffered a spectacular blockage causing her insides to die and rot. Believe me when I say that childbirth is a breeze compared to the pain of your guts turning gangrenous. Having to feed intravenously every day isn't a life-enhancing experience either.

I am justifiably proud and not a little smug about having given up for 3 years and it angers me immensely when folk whinge on about their rights being eroded by a nannying government. One of the more noticeable benefits of giving up is a heightened sense of smell. This is a pleasant sensation when it involves rediscovering the scent of flowers, baby skin or summer rain on a hot pavement but it's a distinctly unpleasant experience to be in the vicinity of someone who has just smoked a Marlboro Light. These are quite possibly the most revolting smelling tobacco product ever devised and make one's breath smell of dogshit. I'm not kidding.

I needn't go on, so I won't.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


I am pleased to report that nothing of any apocalyptic nature happened yesterday. I wasn't expecting anything anyway, to be honest and it would have been a crying shame to have wasted the first hot day of the summer being basted by imps from Hades. I did watch the bulk of "Kelly's Heroes" again and was largely disappointed because I remember watching it while at secondary school a generation and a half ago and being awed by Donald Sutherland's masterfully comic performance. On last night's evidence this appeared to consist of going "Baaaybeee". How impressionable we were. His "Huuuurghhhhhhhhhhh" in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" had more dramatic presence, dont you think?

Something a little unusual did happen the day before though. 3 years ago Sharon spent a long time in hospital being very ill, as one tends to do. While in there she was befriended by one of the volunteers, a charming old chap in his mid-80s called Bill who used to push the tea trolley around. She couldn't drink or eat and she was extremely depressed because she'd just had her intestines removed (don't smoke, kids). Yet, every day he used to go and sit with her and chat, keeping her company and cheering her up immensely. If truth be told, he was a little bit of an old roué, deliberately seeking out and making the most of the company of women half his age. He missed his recently departed wife of 60 odd years and I think his "ladies" and his flirting with them kept him young. He became a friend of the family and in September 2004 he even invited us to stay in his sheltered housing for a couple of days, treating us to a night at the theatre in Altrincham (Kafka's Dick, which he didn't really understand!) and a couple of very nice meals. He drove us everywhere in his brand new Micra, of which he was inordinately proud, although I suspect it wasn't quite racy enough for him really (he was no slouch at the lights). He was a perfect host and he revelled in it, too. He was occasionally an inpatient in our local hospital himself even though he was nearer to others; this was at the insistence of one of the specialists there, partly we suspected because he was so highly thought of there this was the ward's way of repaying its gratitude for all the work he'd put in towards patient morale.

Monday morning I awoke after having a dream conversation with Bill. In the dream he was called Alan but I knew who it was really. He was calling me to tell me he was ready to be picked up from hospital. This happened in real life once because Bill had mistakenly given the ward our number as first contacts and they called us to arrange his lift home. We didn't even know he was in at the time so it was a double surprise and in the dream I told him again that we didn't know he was in hospital and that next time could he warn us! In real life, we were due to visit the hospital anyway later that day as our neighbour, and one of Sharon's oldest friends, is in there. As she was on the same ward as Sharon and Bill were on, I thought I would ask after him. I found a familiar nurse who knew Sharon from 3 years back and she told me that sadly Bill had passed way the previous November and we got upset.

Maybe my dream was my subconscious suspecting the worst, or even the inevitable, but I'm of fanciful bent on occasion and sometimes favour the metaphysical explanation. Was the dream planted by forces unknown or was it the result of eating that large slice of Zimbabwean cheddar the night before? We had suspected the worst as we never received a Christmas card last year but there is a terrible thing that stops one from finding out these things on one's own initiative for fear of discovering bad news and as a whole, we prefer to be told bad news than discover it ourselves on the off-chance. Bill kept an address book by the phone on his tallboy and I know we were in it because I'd made sure, so we were more than a little upset that his relatives had not had the common sense to contact everyone in there. It doesn't take much, does it.

Friday, June 02, 2006

An Apology.

My good friend Mr Scurra has been having problems with things this man has made. I do believe that this is not an uncommon phenomenon. This prompted me to have a look at my own pages on this site via the peculiar cracked window that is Internet Explorer.

To all of you good people who have not had the good sense to ditch Internet Explorer in favour of something that works well and doesn't flood your screen with unintelligible rubbish every time you start your PC up, I send a hearty apology. The Food Of Goats as rendered in IE is quite frankly, a bucket of fertiliser

I apologise for all those times I have mentioned my sidebar being over to the right, there --->. In IE it's down there, to the south-east, somewhere near Tonbridge. It also looks largely like the letters bag in Scrabble. I honestly didn't know. Tough though because there isn't much I can do about it

I realise that to my devoted readers this won't matter because it's the lush content they're after. However, I'm guilty of wanting to be a bit of a dumb blonde as far as looks go so I picked a template that appeared halfway decent and have tried to dress it up nicely to pull the punters in, rather akin to getting the female half of the relationship to stop traffic when you've run out of petrol on the A40 Witney by-pass while you hide behind a bush (yes, I know it's a bit Benny Hill but it worked). In IE it looks as though there's already been an accident.

Most of these pages are in Blogger. Blogger are owned by Google and they espouse open source stuff wholeheartedly. Mozilla Firefox is open source, meaning it's been designed by its users for its users. You don't have to use the stuff that comes with the PC. Not everything Microsoft sell is rubbish but IE is. I will be installing a link to Firefox shortly er...over there ---> somewhere. Or down there underneath. I suggest you go and investigate.

Other news:
My Dad had an operation on his hand yesterday and will be leaving hospital this afternoon. Thank you for all the kind comments and best wishes sent by other means.