Friday, February 29, 2008

Old Bag

The first time I encountered Margaret Thatcher was in her guise as the Grocer's minister for education, 35 years ago. She snatched my school milk and it's been the longest period of sustained hatred for any individual I've ever undertaken. In fact, I don't actually hate anyone else. There are people I don't care to meet anymore and sometimes I have short periods of displeasure with others but it's not out and out hate. I would willingly take a hatchet to the tyres of most 4 x 4s but I'd let them off if that woman was walking past at the time. I don't believe I'm alone.

Even though she's not been PM far longer than she ever was, it seems that despite earthy denials to the contrary by any politician wielding any form of power whatsoever, her legacy still has functioning organs. The latest evidence for this comes from that slack-jawed, ineffectual and hopeless excuse for a premier currently occupying No 10 (and folk have the temerity to deride John Major. At least you could laugh at him and he liked warm beer). Unable to actually take the lead in anything and despite virtually every other government on the planet undertaking some form of sanction against the blessed things, our glorious leader has said he'll stamp his foot noisily and whine unless shops do something about it themselves. Cue them making it into some kind of competition then.

Personally, I'm just as on the fence as usual. Tesco uses thin biodegradable ones that fall apart in your car boot after 6 months meaning you either have to throw them away or plug in the vacuum cleaner to clean the mess up. Recently we found a 29 year old Tesco one here in the loft (its contents gave its age away), as good as the day it was made. Crap in a landfill and great for strangling wildlife in the woods with despite having impeccable re-use credentials. Paper bags are shite and cost more, energy wise, to produce and transport in bulk than plastic ones. Besides, they're made from trees which just means somebody will flatten the Congo in order to grow the right kind. I've constantly asked at the library for their macrobiotic jute ones but they've never got any in and I've driven all over the place just looking for suitable alternatives. I don't know what to do. It's because we're incapable of making these difficult lifestyle choices ourselves that we need guidance and strong leadership, Gordon. It's what we didn't elect you for.



Mike Smith
1943 - 2008

Keyboards and Voice of the Dave Clark 5.

Probably not Glad All Over

Monday, February 25, 2008

All Kinds of Everything

Ireland have chosen Dustin the Turkey as their Eurovision entry. Dustin the Turkey is a well-known children's TV star in Ireland. And a glove puppet.

Little excuse is ever needed to re-show Ireland's greatest ever Eurovision entry but that's as good as any.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Please Read.

I've not done this before but I'm on the knock: I want someone helped out. I've just been reading the blog of somebody by the name of Andy Ward. A while back Andy was diagnosed with chronic leukaemia. He's only 41 and that's criminally young for such stuff, especially when he seems like such a decent chap. Nobody likes to wish pain and suffering on anyone but I can think of some far more deserving candidates for it than a young family man with half his life in front of him.

Andy has decided to raise money for Leukaemia research and a couple of other associated charities and in September, along with a couple of friends, will be driving his beloved 21 year-old VW Scirocco to Morocco and back in under a fortnight. OK, it doesn't seem like much but it's a bit of a trek for a near vintage motor, 3 up and towing a trailer. France and Spain should be OK but it could all fall apart in Morocco because they drive like mentals. I haven't a clue how far he intends to go once he gets there but going by the few taxi rides we had in Marrakech last year he'll need a good lay down once he's finished. If the Scirocco survives unscathed it'll be a miracle: the last VW I saw there had just had its bumper ripped off by the horse taxi we were in. (Andy, I hope you're not being put off).

Leukaemia Research is one of the few charities I'll always give something to. One of my grandmas had it and I've known a few people over the years who've lost relatives to it. It can be beaten with luck and a decent following wind but as ever, only with continued research and buckets of money. If you're unable to help financially - and as is usual there is no obligation - it would be nice to spread the word through a little bit of viral linkage to those who can. Andy bemoans the fact that he's not had many comments on the blog yet so it would be nice to see that change as well.

His blog is here:

Scirocco 2 Morocco

Do have a look.

That is all.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Shameless self promotion

For those with an interest in such things, I have begun another blog. The more astute of you may have noticed the title lurking in my profile for a few weeks but I've finally got round to writing something in it.

When I first started messing about on teh internets almost a decade ago I began writing about a certain leisure pursuit, namely the drinking of beer. These articles were generally well received and it was hinted at least three times over the past 5 years or so that I should do more of them. This relentless pressure has finally broken me so here we are.

It must be said right now that while enthusiastic, I am not a very copious drinker of said product. I certainly do not drink to the extent that I carelessly invite the attentions of officers of the law by baring the toilet bits of my body or yelling incoherent instructions at them. My body is not geared up for much more than about 4 pints of the stuff, it never has been. I have tested this several times over the years so have come to the conclusion that I'll always be the loser when it comes to buying rounds. My head certainly is not capable of dealing with excess and as I slide gracefully towards 50, my ability to recover from even a modest evening out is becoming exceedingly dire. In my early 20s I even thought I had an allergy towards beer as I would find myself calling for Bert after consuming just a couple of pints, although this may have had something to do with my local at the time only selling the appalling Whitbread range of mass produced chemical junk including the dreadful Trophy and the just as awful Best (remember this?)

With this firmly in mind my drinking nowadays is confined to leisurely supping or the occasional bottle or two in the evening and I like to appreciate a drink for its taste rather than the speed with which it's going to turn me into an arse.

Anyway, you'll find it here:

Just Another One Then

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wight out

It's been a quite unusual year and the old cliché about a roller-coaster ride couldn't be more apt. The latest chapter ended last Friday.

When I came back down to Kent in July last year I immediately signed up with some agencies so I could do a bit of temporary work with a view to saving up so I could move back to Crewe. Within a few days I was working for a very pleasant local company doing some quite mundane stuff about their yard. Cleaning and fixing stuff basically and I found it enjoyable. No responsibilities and that lasted for about nine weeks. A few days after that one finished and I was back in harness, working in a warehouse that supplied some of the country's biggest fast food chains. I was booking goods in and making sure it ended up on the racking. That was the end of September. It was meant to last a few weeks while a permanent replacement was found but 21 weeks later and I was still there. It's been nothing if not illuminating; it is not your average company.

Last week I decided I'd had enough and told them that this would be my last week. I could have stayed, they need me and goodness knows I need the money but there was a tremendous culture of distrust building and an astounding level of incompetence from top to bottom. Amazing for a company that's been running for around a century. Only a handful of people seemed to know what they were doing and I was fed up with being called "babe" one minute and made to feel I was incapable of breathing instinctively the next. For instance, on my last day there I was asked to look for something for the pickers, something I'd personally booked in and put on the shelf two days previously. When I looked for it, it was there, exactly where I'd left it. My boss was asked a further four times about the same thing and in the end and extremely frustrated, he summoned the whole warehouse and showed them where it was. Despite that, I still felt we were being blamed for other people's sheer inadequacy. It's been like that ever since I began there. Believe it or not, every single worker, bar one, in that place is English so I don't want to hear any more excuses about Eastern European workers being hopeless. I no longer wanted to be part of that culture; it was, as they say, doing my head in. Besides, call it a resolution if you want but I vowed to myself at the start of the year that I wasn't to go back on any decisions made throughout the year and a couple of weeks ago I'd decided one afternoon after I'd left early through feeling ill, that it was time to go.

So, out of work again. I've got plenty of stuff to be getting on with, a couple of new directions to walk along and for the next few days, an empty house as my parents have decided to take a few days away on the Isle of Wight. It's been a few years since they last went there on holiday, although I do remember a day trip on a hovercraft across the Solent to Cowes in 1966. I did have a holiday there with some friends from school in 1978. Some gurls went too, one of which was meant to be my yet un-encountered future ex-wife, but she cried off meaning our eventual first meeting would have to wait another 6 months. I didn't fancy any of the others and anyway, Dave's Mum also went as chaperone. I remember we walked to Ventnor a lot, I did most of the cooking, Bob slept most of the time and we all clubbed together to buy Jamie a pint of Stella on his 17th birthday. 48p that was. Or was it 49p? I seem to recall there being some bickering about who would have to stump up the extra penny, my memory's not what it used to be. I also remember Jamie and I having a huge bust-up after his dad drove to collect him from the station, a distance of about 600 yards. It remains to this day, the only time I've ever fallen out with a friend. We made up.

Dad thought he had a map of the island somewhere and indeed he did. I found it in grandma's old bureau in my room, an old cloth Bartholemew dated 1935 or thereabouts (VS, that's the map, not my room). Dad was happy though, he went on Google Earth and reckoned it hadn't changed much, save for a bridge across the Medina somewhere. And that Sandown was appreciably bigger now than it was on the map. Neither of them good enough reasons to necessitate splashing out his hard-earned on a new map.

Elsewhere, I have been honoured with some respected visitors. One was seeking "Scunthorpe Travelodge Cleaner" and out of 93 matches I appear to offer most satisfaction. I would dearly love to know why. The other two, and this is a huge mystery to me, featured a lot of cyrillic lettering and a picture of Frederick Sewards Trueman, backlinked to Fearing this to be Cricinfo employing hordes of cheap Russians to investigate who's stealing their bandwidth, I'm off to remove said link and replace it with a stolen image of t' greatest. Ah'll sithee.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

On anger management.

Scaryduck's recent mention of his encounter with one of Dorset's finest brings to mind one of my favourite exchange of views with a professional denizen of the road.

It was towards the end of my six years of punishment working as a toll booth operator at the world's finest tolled river crossing and pub quiz question* (occasional visitor to these pages, Andy, is still in harness there. Unusually, he still has several brain cells left and functioning. Andy, hello and kung hei fat choy). I was shortly going to be leaving the crossing and emigrating oop north so was in that state of mind whereby I didn't really give a toss but, to be fair, despite my usual placid demeanour it wasn't unknown for me to become slightly impatient with the occasional threat to the gene pool that appeared from time to time. There was a rumour about that we were allowed to use whatever force was deemed to be reasonable if threatened or attacked and that the police would turn a blind eye as the universal excuse could be used, this being that we could maim and kill because we were protecting our takings. Needless to say, very few operators could be bothered as it was easier to slide the window shut, lock the back door and turn your radio up if things got a bit lary.

In the road surface is an electromagnetic loop that counts wheel passes and thus, the back of the vehicle thereby cancelling the previous transaction, resetting the computer and bringing the barrier down. The operator can over-ride or "gate" but this is only used in exceptional circumstances such as a vehicle on blues or a very long wheelbase or rigid towing-bar, both of which could fool the system into thinking the vehicle's gone, bringing the barrier down on the passing vehicle. Some unscrupulous drivers would attempt to tailgate the previous vehicle but this required extremely good timing. Get it wrong or come up against a particularly alert operator who could usually tell what was about to happen and would ask the paying driver to drive away very slowly, and you'd look very foolish. Especially as an operator having to get out of his booth to replace the barrier was usually very upset at being disturbed from his reverie.

Anybody who uses tolls will be familiar with tags. These are screen mounted transponders that operate the barrier automatically as you approach. What drivers don't appreciate is that the operator needs to tell the computer what kind of vehicle is approaching so that the correct amount can be deducted from their account. Depending on the speed of the operator and providing the tag was mounted in the correct place so it could be seen by the readers, a driver with the correct tag would sail through completely unhindered. However as criminality is endemic in Essex, it wasn't unknown for small commercial operators from Basildon or Romford to put a car tag in a van, thinking they could get away with paying the cheaper toll. We'd done our best to mention in the terms and conditions of use that this wasn't de rigeur and actually constituted fraud but as everyone knows, much of the population of Essex thrives solely on urban myth and and the oral tradition, as reading is for poofters. What fun we could have.

There was one particularly obnoxious truck driver who thought that having a tag in his cab made him lord and master of all tarmac. He was in a perpetual hurry and his favourite trick was to tailgate the car in front and expect the barrier to stay up for him. Instead, he was forever having the barrier crash into his screen because we never had enough time to classify him. In short, he was a complete and utter tosser. Not only that, he was blessed with an incredibly short temper and delighted in screaming at us. We could have made his life hell had he given us time to do it but he was doing a pretty good job himself anyway.

One day I was working south plaza, off the bridge into Kent. I was in the middle of the plaza, around lane 20, traditionally one of the busiest for commercials. A little old lady had pulled in and as she paid she asked me a question. I couldn't hear her so I leaned out. I still couldn't hear her so I got out and bent down to hear her ask for directions. I was vaguely aware of a lorry behind but no problem, he could wait, this would take seconds. As I bent forward the full blast of multiple air horns rent the air apart around us. And again. I don't know if you've stood in front of a set of air horns as they've gone off but it's not at all pleasant. And neither was I now. I looked up and recognised the driver immediately. Realising my chance to exact some kind of revenge, I excused myself, strolled purposefully up to the truck, hauled myself up via his mirror and yelled something mildly admonitory at him**, went back, gave my directions and sent the lady on her way. By now the truck had hauled itself right up behind the car so the inevitable happened. He took the barrier off and, laughingly managed to stall his wagon. I got out to retrieve the barrier and take the driver's tag so I could show it to the reader pads, as he'd already passed them. This was a quick-fix we used and 99.999% of drivers accepted that they'd made a mistake, not us, and were soon on their way into the glory that is North Kent. Not this one though, he had a point to prove and was determined to carry it through.

"I'm going to flipping*** put you on your back, you four-eyed jerk***" he said all angrily like. And loudly. His threat was not without a hint of hubris as this time, he'd met his nemesis.

"Come on then," I invited even louder, and beckoned him down. "Flipping*** try it." I had seen exactly what was likely to happen, shit for brains in his cab, hadn't, the scent of blood clouding his already under-taxed senses. But by this time I couldn't have cared, as I was wielding the barrier, an exquisitely balanced eight foot length of padded carbon fibre pole with a 10lb lump of aluminium on the end, like a baseball bat and felt pretty safe. The driver's door clicked open and there was a satisfying yell: "You kaaaaahhhhnnntt" and an even more satisfying crunch as his door hit an obstacle; an obstacle I'd already seen, hence my upbeat confidence. Nowadays I do believe the pad readers are mounted in the overhead canopy, back then they were on a pole; a pole of between 8 and 10 feet in height and the pad readers were about the size of dinner plates. Park next to one in your Scania and you can try as hard as you like, you won't get your door open. And what's more, you'll damage the pads and I've got your index number. He drove away, shouting. Oh how I LOLed.

*The pub quiz question: "What is the country's longest peripheral motorway?"


Wrong! I think it's the M60 around Manchester. The M25 doesn't go all the way round London, it has a beginning and end. The bit across the river between Dartford and Thurrock is called the A282. I know because I worked in the middle of it.

**Included several swears.

***Coronation St style stunt swearing used here. The much ruder and more full-blooded Anglo-Saxon alternatives were originally used.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Grand Pricks

It is heartening to see that bigotry in foreign countries has the same illiterate traditions as here.

Has anyone pointed out to them that Lewis Hamilton's "familly" very probably contains more than one black member so quite what their point was is difficult to appreciate.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


I am falling apart.

I have had a headache for the past month. When I was in Manchester two weeks ago I was having a drink of chocolate in my luxury hotel room and a small piece of tooth about the size of a pinhead fell out (my tooth, not something from the chocolate). I now have toothache the like of which I have never experienced before. I am also developing the cough that my Dad's had for the last month and to top it all, I wish I hadn't left my expensive but ever-so slightly too strong prescription glasses in Marrakech last year because my arms no longer extend far enough. My head feels like it's being taken apart by Blaster Bates. Each and every day.

I am a fully paid up member of the National Health Service, have been since before I was born. I could go to the doctor here but because I never intended to leave Crewe for ever, I'm still registered there. All surgeries are linked by computer so what's the problem with going to any old doctor? No, I have to fill in forms and wait for days. Meanwhile I die of brain worms. Likewise the dentist. We are exhorted almost from birth to look after our teeth, and I always have, but even though I don't fear the dentist one jot, I've not really been able to afford to go for the past year or so because while it is deemed perfectly fair to treat any old disease for free, teeth have to be paid for, even on the NHS. And the rates the NHS pay dentists barely cover their costs anyway so most of them can't be arsed with doing NHS work. There are 15 dentist practices in this area yet only one is taking on new patients and nobody knows which one it is. I couldn't afford it anyway. I'm stuffed. Any dentists out there? Please? Doesn't matter where you are.