Friday, September 29, 2006


Well, we made it here. It took far longer than we anticipated for a variety of reasons, not least because I am once again enjoying minor celebrity status in the Irish Republic.

Dedicated readers may remember this and how I came to set it up. A few days before we left I was contacted by a freelance journo in Ireland to see whether I had any news regarding the petition. Dutifully, I forgot about it. We were, after all, very busy. The morning we were due to leave I answered a call from a researcher: would I like to be on the wireless again? Errmm...No thanks, not at the moment because we're in the middle of packing, arguing and making phone calls to parents and Sharon's medical supplies company and all that. Can we do it Friday? OK. Then I logged on and found an email from a radio producer wanting comments. Grr...Not that I'm averse to wanting to spout on the airwaves, it's a giant buzz after all but the timing could have been a lot better.

We finally got away 4 hours later than we intended. Then the comedy started. Halfway down the M6 my mobile rang. Sharon took the call (because I'm very good and don't use the phone when I'm driving and I can't fathom the handsfree bit) and it was Dave, the producer who'd emailed me. Ack! He wants me on in the evening, after 10.30 on a chat show with Rory's brother on as well. OK. I told him to call me about 8.30 when I knew we'd be at Sharon's Mum's dropping Paul off and putting a new telly in, so we could set it up then - if we got away by 9 we could be at my Mum's by 10.30. Sorted. Why all this interest all of a sudden? Apparently Olivia Kelleher, the freelance, had written a short article anyway and syndicated it to the Irish nationals, so my name was all over the place. Despite it being the day the Bertie Aherne bung thing blew up, the story was still worth a few minutes airtime.

Dave phoned me back at 8.30 to say he'd text me 10 minutes before the interview so if I was driving, I could pull over. This I would have preferred because my Mum's phone is rubbish and there's next to no O2 mobile signal there. So we dawdled down to Ashford then pulled over into a business park around 10.25 to await the call. We waited. And waited a bit more. I went for a wee, on the premise that my forced inconvenience would generate the call. Wrong. Then I said I wasn't waiting any longer because it was now 11pm and I had originally told my parents we were going to be there early. A mile short, at Homelands, Ashford Town FC's ground, we pulled over again as it was the last place with a decent signal. 10 minutes later Dave called and apologised. Could we do it tomorrow?

We settled in and Wednesday we introduced the dog to the joys of living in the country. The country to her now consists entirely of being chased by my nephews and preventing them from extricating the tennis ball from her mouth. And rolling in fox shit. This is incredible fun. She peaked early though and when we tried the same game on Thursday, she was completely exhausted and could barely manage a trot. She has now discovered the woods opposite. This is even more fun because there's both fox shit and mud. She hasn't quite worked out the horses yet. She occasionally forgets and follows a scent into the paddock only to look up at Max's rather large and smiley head gazing down at her benignly at which point she realises that that's one immense dog thing and makes a rapid exit. Even Chalky, a tiny Shetland, is a huge threat not to be messed with. Poppy is part Jack Russell and they're actually good round horses so expect some progress on this front. The worst thing about having her with us is that we have to have the back door shut to prevent her wanderlust from taking over and it's a constant 30 degrees in the kitchen because of the AGA. It's not one of your North London trendy mock-rustic oil, gas or electric fired ones; it's an original butch hairy-arsed coal-fired one and the best part of 60 years old. OK, it's fossil fuel but we've got two orchards - is that a balance? It does good toast.

I sat around Wednesday evening waiting for Dave to call. He did and yet again apologised. Once again the item had been bumped and it would now definitely be Thursday night at 9.30. It's no wonder journalists have managed to land themselves with a collective bad name. Thursday arrived and finally I did the interview. It was short and sweet but the great thing was they managed to get Donal, Rory's brother on afterwards and he said he had no objection to the petition. The irony was, this was being treated as a new story but I'd already featured on the same station, on the breakfast show a couple of months earlier. In acute contrast to the Red FM organisational swamp, the next day's efforts on 103 FM were far more professional. 5 minutes before the scheduled airing at 11.15 am I got a call, hung on for some ads and then went straight into a proper and respectful interview, which went excellently. I've got a recording of it and as soon as S can be arsed it'll be on my website. I didn't stutter this time. Podcasts? This is the real deal!

More tales tomorrow, including a picture of my groin and some acute PC World woe.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


A new experience tomorrow. My Mum and Dad have been happily wed (still to each other) for several days short of 50 years so to celebrate this momentous feat of endurance on Mum's part Dad, ever thrifty, has dipped into his saltings and is treating them both to a month long trip to the antipodes. They arrive at Uluru on their anniversary on 6th October, which I think is pretty cool, before doing Brisbane and then New Zealand.

Anyhow, they've both taken leave of their senses because they've only gone and left us in charge of the country estate for a month. Tomorrow we load up the Renault again and it's off to Kent. It'll be the longest I've stayed back at the place I grew up in since 1979. Once we've organised a router of sorts I'll report in. Until then, au revoir.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


I don't care what you say, only women could do this.

The leader of the opposition faction in this house, along with her personal private secretary, has been visiting in Salford, approx 35 miles north of here. Shortly before 5 I received a text to say she was on her way back. Just after Corrie started at 7.30 I texted back to enquire just where she'd got to. The reply said that they'd be late as they were in Birmingham. Birmingham is a further 50 miles south of here. Hmm. Let's just run through this again: Salford, M6 J21a; Crewe M6 J16; Stafford J14; Cannock J12; Walsall J10 Birmingham M6 J9 onwards.

The reason? "We ended up talking too much".

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Where the Hell is Roger?

I am in the course of reading Mr Chris Donald's autobiography, Rude Kids. Chris Donald, for our foreign friends, is the founder of Viz, a comic for grown-ups (and students, on whom I believe it to be wasted). It's a bit rude, as is the book in parts.

I was entertained by his recounting of a tale concerning the late great Peter Cook, Mr Donald's greatest comic hero. During the 90s some low budget animations were made of a couple of the strips at the behest of John Brown the publisher, namely Billy the Fish and much to Donald's chagrin, his pride and joy Roger Mellie, the Man on the Telly. Again for the unititiated or colonial, Roger Mellie is a complete grotesque, the most profane and misogynistic gentleman alive and a television presenter to boot. An utter delight in other words. Chris Donald was unsure until he found that Peter Cook had been hired to give voice to Mellie. One would have thought this to have been a most apt choice as Pete was not a stranger to the scatological. Many will remember the three Derek and Clive albums he made with Dudley Moore as being the highpoints of English sweary comedy.

Everything went very well. Except, that is, for the rather unusual fact that the great Peter Cook, arguably our greatest comic genius, was totally incapable of saying the word "twat", preferring instead to pronounce it "twot" like someone forced to repeat it against their will in front of a disapproving relative. He had to be repeatedly coached in the correct form by the upstart humourists.

It must be the only sweary word in the English language capable of being mispronounced and that rather defeats the object, surely?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Not again.

The latest in the ongoing series of pronouncements from the current incumbent of the Richard Desmond Chair of Startlingly Obvious Prophesy, University of Wem.

As you may well be aware, the spiritual leader of one quarter of the world's people has just pissed off another quarter of the world's people by being somewhat ill-advised in his choice of words yesterday. I am indebted yet again to my friends at "The Scotsman" newspaper for providing me with the following set of quotes:

Pope, quoting a conversation between the 14th C Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and a Persian on the truths of Islam: "The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war. He said, I quote, ‘Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached’.”

Oh dear. Let's paraphrase that a bit. The Pope is reiterating an 800 year old quote that says the only difference between Islam and Christianity is that its followers are allowed to go out and smack people about a bit to get their message across. Not like in the Crusades then.

That's bad enough but then the paper goes on to quote Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the chief cleric of New Delhi’s Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque, who urged Muslims to “respond in a manner which forces the Pope to apologise”.

If he means send him a few emails or write to the sodding Telegraph, why doesn't he say it? Don't go and prove him right.

I am in despair.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Why am I sitting here writing this with my feet up on the coffee table? Because ten minutes ago I felt something. Something near my kneecap, under my jeans. Something moving. I shook my leg. Then I stood up and shook my leg and was in the process of shaking my leg and undoing my trousers when S points and says "There he goes, under the bookcase". I thought I remained remarkably calm, considering.

About the size of a 10p apparently. Or an orange, depending on who's telling.

The Doctor and Pauline's Speed Shop

So, what did I learn last Friday?

First off, avoid Loughborough town centre. The A6 runs through it but they're digging it up and as I didn't know I could have taken the by-pass through the university campus, I was stuck in the traffic for an hour. Apart from the road works, it's not a town centre designed for traffic, with too many right turns. Hint to Loughborough town planners and the DoT, rename the by-pass the A6, it would be so much easier. Good job I left over three hours to get there because I used them all. I did have time to go to Subway for a sandwich and a cuppa beforehand. Good job too as the "refreshments" consisted of water and machine tea and coffee. Not even an Abernethy biscuit.

The venue for the Speed Awareness Workshop is in the most inaccessible part of Leicester from a driver's point of view. I think this is part of the punishment. It's next to the Holiday Inn and and NCP car park and these are the only three buildings in St Nicholas' Circle, a dreadful roundabout/junction affair. I'm not sure of the rationale behind that but considering over 50% of the "delegates" to these schemes are out of town, an office with some dedicated parking and more easily found, preferably near the railway station and with better disabled access would have been far preferable and probably put us in a more amenable mood.

There were 20 other miscreants taking part. Most of us were from out of the county hence the late start time. Apparently this course is solely for those caught doing 36 mph and 37 mph in 30 mph zones. Leicestershire's cameras trigger at 36 mph so we are not considered serious transgressors. Anyone caught over that speed isn't given the option of doing the speed workshop.

There were two "tutors". Malc, an advanced driving instructor and tutor for the emergency services, who bore an uncanny likeness to the third Doctor. And Lyn, a recalcitrant ex-speeder, whose vague resemblance to Royston Vasey's pen loving Restart Officer was strengthened by the presence in class of Matt, our very own Mickey Michaels.

We were all given sticky labels with our names on and were sat down in a small room, arced around a screen and Powerpoint projector. In time honoured fashion we then had to introduce ourselves although there was a twist to the introductions. As The Doctor pointed to you and spoke your name, you were invited to state how fast you were going when caught; where you were caught and whether or not you thought the speed limit in force there was suitable. Matt enthusiastically overstepped the mark here by immediately offering some homespun advice for ensuring one doesn't speed in cars that don't belong to you, which was, "never go out of third". Remind me never to borrow a Maserati or, for that matter, an automatic. Matt would later be truly astounded that Transit vans were capable of speeds in excess of 50mph. It was heartening to see that out of the 21 of us we were all caught at only about 5 different venues. This makes the instructors' jobs easier in that they are able to talk knowledgeably about these traps and also they are able to fit their examples to known locations. And no, I didn't see a 30 sign because there wasn't one there. Vindicated? Read on.

There was some background information and some dispelling of myths and rumour. They aren't called speed cameras anymore, they are called "Safety Cameras". Most are operated under county safety camera partnerships (Leicester's website isn't working so I've pointed you at the Kent one which is quite informative). The Partnerships usually comprise the Dept for Transport, local councils, NHS and local police forces and their mission is simply to try and get us to drive more safely.

Regardless of the tutors' re-statement of the official line, I do actually find it difficult to wholly subscribe to the notion that there is some kind of conspiracy surrounding the siting of speed cameras to generate maximum revenue. For this to happen there must be tacit acknowledgement by the detractors that there is a problem with speeding at that site. If there wasn't, why put a revenue generator there? There would be no revenue in the town centre with all those lights slowing the traffic down, eh? They are sited at places with a proven history of accidents over a certain time, not just speeding. Remember the old accident blackspot signs? Many of these have probably now been replaced with a camera. They do generate a vast income, which is used to run the schemes with the balance being sent to the exchequer, but that's hardly their fault, especially when you consider the partnerships are falling over themselves to notify everyone where the camera sites are. There are maps readily available with the permanent and mobile sites marked on them and mobile sites are published in the local press and on websites every week. All sites are signed well in advance. Failure to spot one is tantamount to driving without due care and attention or admitting you weren't paying attention - by implication you must have missed a sign or not noticed the brightly painted box or van on the side of the road. Believe me, it's embarrassing to admit in front of your peers that you didn't notice one. Admittedly there are local problems with overgrown hedges and branches obscuring some signs and other road furniture even obscuring cameras but, and it's a big but, it's actually no excuse. Why? Wait a moment.

Out of the 21 of us there were probably only two stock excuses as to why we were speeding. We weren't local and we didn't see a speed limit sign. We assumed the speed limit was higher. I held my hand up to that last one. I was on a dual carriageway, and having driven on very few indeed wth a 30mph limit, wasn't even in the mindset to think about it. I was genuinely lost and was looking for a turning. Had I been driving along it normally I would still have got caught because I was ignorant of the law. How many of you are, too?

What's the national speed limit for a single carriageway? 60mph. Correct. Unless? Unless what? Unless it's in a built up area or there are signs saying otherwise. Same applies for a dual carriageway. The speed limit for a dual carriageway in a built up area is 30mph. And how do you know it's a built up area? Street lamps, placed less than 200 yards apart, you dil, or didn't you read your highway code? We don't need a big sign to tell us, the presence of lamps should be enough, why would they be there unless there wasn't some kind of hazard? Now stop asking stupid questions. If the speed limit is greater than 30mph there will be repeater signs affixed to the lamposts notifying you. If you can't see any, don't assume or look for one while hurtling along, just slow down to 30. It really is that simple. If you get caught, it's your fault. This site is very good.

I tested it on the way back and they were right. I was on the A50, a dual carriageway to motorway standard, if not class. Much of it is unlit until one reaches junctions or roundabouts. As soon as the lamps started appearing, confirmation roundels appeared on them, either bearing the national speed limit sign or a slower one. There really is no excuse for not knowing.

This does not excuse the fact that some speed limits are plainly ill-advised. Trying to slow to 30 from 60 or 70 on a dual carriageway is much harder than entering onto one and not accelerating past that speed, so there are improvements that can be made with signage and maybe more appropriate limits. It does not excuse the fact that there are still no safety cameras along several stretches of road local to me that are amongst the worst in the country. I did venture a comment about the totla cnut. This was met with sighs. "Yes, yes. Let off by a judge, they said. The police wanted to throw the book at him and had already done so. Unfortunately with the police, they hadn't quite got their own systems properly in place hence the judge's decision. We get police drivers sent to us all the time, they're the quietest ones in here". By the way, 159 mph is 71 m/s. That means he would have hit the hazard that suddenly appeared 100 yards in front of him before he could have avoided it. Anyway, the avoiding action probably would have resulted in him barrel rolling. That's why F1 drivers don't take chicanes at 180mph in cars designed to be driven at 210 on purpose built tracks without badgers or rabbits running across them.

A couple of folk have ventured comments on being caught in unmanned roadworks at night driving in excess of the posted speed limit. Unless you were the first vehicle through after all the cones had been neatly planted and the road cleared, how can you guarantee that the lorry in front of you hasn't clipped a cone? Or the twat in front thrown a can out of his window or broken down? Or even if the roadworks really are unmanned? In a situation where avoiding a hazard is nigh on impossible, they do try and make it easier for the driver by at least slowing him or her down. It's only a matter of a couple of minutes at the end of the day, why worry? It's only your impatience letting you down.

The estimated direct financial cost of dealing with a fatality on the roads is around £1.5 million. It's not about money but about the extent of the effect one person's ill-considered action can have. Money's just the easiest way to quantify it. I don't really give a toss whether people want to take their cars out to Mallory Park and kill themelves there; I wouldn't want to remove people's freedom to do what they want in the right place at the right time. I just don't want their actions hurting me when I never asked to be involved and that is ultimately what the course was about. Consideration.

I didn't feel preached at, patronised or mocked. All of us were experienced drivers who got caught slightly over the limit and needed a jab in the ribs to make sure we at least realised what we'd done. I'm pretty certain we all came out thinking differently and in that respect I'm glad I opted for it.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Sharon wishes it to be known that she has moved. Blogger has it in for her so she has refused to play. Instead she is now found here and also here. Go and re-acquaint.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


On Friday I have to go to Leicester again. Back on a quiet Sunday evening last May I was photographed at just after 8pm in the act of being a wanton threat to life and limb along the bit of dualled A594 that goes by the name of Tigers Way (The Tigers in question being the familiar name of a society of 'sportsmen' known occasionally to fire the loins of a future relative of mine). In lieu of having 3 points added to my driving licence, I have been invited to attend a "Speed Awareness" course organised by the Leicester Constabulary.

I very much doubt I shall be given the opportunity to argue and pontificate on the dangers of ill-advised speed limits and the proliferation of cynically sited cameras to enforce them. I suspect I will not be given the chance to suggest that one spends so much time looking for speed cameras in unfamiliar areas that warning signs and potential hazards are overlooked. I doubt also that I shall have the chance to say that there is a an occasional temporary speed camera 3/4 of a mile from my house, at the bottom of a slope in a 30 mph limit yet there is never one on the blind bend a further half mile away where 4 people were killed as a result of speeding a year ago. Nor are there any on the A534 or A530 in the vicinity of Crewe, two of the most dangerous roads in the country and ones constantly being cleared of floral tributes. Don't even start me on those. Will I even get the chance to say that had a badger run out 50 yards in front of me at the speed I was clocked at, the badger, myself and, I would hope, other road users would have survived. I wonder what would have happened had the same thing happened to this totla cnut. Maybe I should offer the same excuse that I was "familiarising myself with the vehicle".

I would like to suggest to whoever designs these things that the name of the course be changed to a "hazard perception" course. I am fully aware of speed when I am driving as I am not allowed behind the wheel of a car unless all my critical faculties are functioning correctly. There are certain physical laws of nature that describe the effects of a transfer of momentum. I can never remember them precisely but I have seen them in action before, most noticeably on the drunk who walked out in front of my car (being driven at sub 30mph) 16 years ago. My offence this time was doing 37mph on an empty dual carriageway that had a speed limit of 30mph. Now pardon me for being a trifle cynical but if a low speed limit is going to be enforced on a road subconsciously associated with faster moving traffic, why not make the signs a little more noticeable?

I will inform you later this week of any new things regarding speed of which I have been hitherto unaware.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Buy things quickly!

Yes, I know I live in the frozen north and everyone's miserable as sin because we're all on the scrounge and everyone has scabies and Wales is only 25 miles away but hey, cheer up everybody, Christmas is only just round the corner. Only another 114 days to go so hurry, don't miss it. Just in case you forget, the totla cnuts at The Peacock Hotel in Nantwich have erected a reminder for you. You stupid, stupid people. One day a year. Get a life, please.

If anyone's interested, my birthday is on December 30th. I'll be 46.

And their fish was underdone.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


My friend Jed has been trying not to make matters worse as usual. This time he appears to have surpassd himself and done things I am in awe of. Making matters better for just $7 an hour after tax? People, go and admire the things he does. The Jeds of this world make it good for the rest of us and don't get the thanks they deserve.

His exploits caused me to recall an act of derring-do by my old boss. This may well be an apocryphal story but in an attempt to confirm yay or nay, I am including his real and genuine name should he or his children undertake a vanity search on Google fr. In any event I would love to meet him again because he was an absolute diamond geezer, even for a Frenchman.

I used to "work" (note to self - check definition of that) for the French oil major TOTAL. We were actually a small subsidiary company (with more personnel than our parent) set up to build this, the Alwyn North production platform, right out in the very middle of the North Sea (nearest post office: Bergen). We ended up building more things but none quite so exotic. Lucien Lallier was the second MD of the company and was an absolutely charming man. Universally popular, with dead good English and a great sense of humour, he was the perfect boss. He was a bit nervous though and to control his nerves he drank coffee, lots of it. In fact, if he didn't get his caffeine hit he would shake a bit, something he actually demonstrated to me in the kitchen once as I was loading up the coffee machine ("wan extra for me, Reeshar' "). He'd been on an outward-bound weekend; one of those team-building things management loved to send you on in the 80s. Don't think he particularly like it. Poor bloke. His other weakness was heights, which he didn't like at all and I think he may have been subjected to some abseiling over the weekend. No wonder he was still shaking.

Go back and have a look at that picture again. There are two platforms there, NAA the drilling and accommodation platform is the one at the front. It's connected by a 90 metre bridge to NAB, the process and export platform at the back. Each of those platforms is around the size of modest football pitch and sit about 50 metres above sea level so they can withstand a 100 year wave. They are effin' huge bits of engineering. See that flare boom at the back, the big angled structure sticking out from NAB with the flames coming out the top? It's in excess of 90 metres long and is about 300' above sea level at the tip. When the field was inaugurated in 1987, it is said that the personnel on board, by way of celebration, made Lucien climb out to the end of the boom. Evil, evil buggers.

Friday, September 01, 2006

More stickiness

The Duck's latest tale of woe has reminded me of an incident that took place back in the heady days of 2002.

I had moved out of the family home and was living in a pokey flat in Crayford, Kent. Just by the River Cray it was. Sort of. There was another block in front and a smouldering Cavalier to negotiate first. It was all I could afford. Nice neighbours though. My electricity was on a payment key and the only place to recharge it was the local newsagent, I hardly went in otherwise. This particular day Sharon was visiting and as it was decent weather we went out for a walk. Passing the papershop I said I'd better nip in to put a tenner on the key. Somebody else, wearing a crash helmet, followed us in. While Mr Patel was about his business with the key there was an almighty crash of falling print from behind us. S and I spun round to see Mr Crash Helmet man, lid obviously worn in a vainglorious attempt to disguise himself, clutching what he had hitherto assumed to be the coming (sic) evening's diversion but also standing, quietly whimpering, in the centre of a mound of Messrs Sullivan and Desmond's latest entertainment titles.

A tsunami of schadenfreude swept over us as we maximised the poor bloke's woe by not taking the easy route out of the shop and going around the other side of the central display. Instead we picked our way gingerly between Asian Babes, Big Ones and Shaven Havens. "Oops." I think I said, "You're on your own, mate"