Sunday, March 30, 2008

Can you see what it is yet?

If this is for real, I promise I'll never eat another elephant.

Pachyderm Picasso.

Oh, and a little bit of old Fry and Laurie showing how wonderful life could be.

And finally, just what is this gentleman about to cook?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Filth (reprise)

Let me just clarify that last post.

Tiscali: service disconnected because of a mix up with payments. Payments sorted and also taken off the premium rate that S has been paying for goodness knows how long and onto the rate offered to everyone else, the ducking leeches. When will the service be reactivated? 5-6 hours. K. 12 hours later no service. 20 hours later no service. Phone them. Lady says check equipment. Problem's your end with your router says the barely comprehensible but very sweet Indian lady. She says they will check the line again and get back. Then S has to go into hospital at short notice so I couldn't give a toss about Tiscali.

Until the next day when I have received a nasty letter from Equita, thick-headed bailiffs to Her Majesty's local councils. (Don't you just love the strapline on their site? "Your Natural Choice" makes them sound like a laxative). 6 years ago when I left Crayford in the London Borough of Bexley to move to Crewe, I must have left a bit of unpaid council tax. I honestly don't know, I have a vague recollection of it but presume that because I'd not heard anything from the council for nigh on 6 years, the matter was resolved. Apparently not. Equita have taken it upon themselves to repeatedly send letters regarding a debt I didn't know still existed to an address I hadn't been living at since last July when S and I separated. Nothing in the interim from Bexley council asking me to get my act together. Oh no. Because if memory serves, Equita also collect Bexley's council tax so they cut out the middle man and send in the bullnecked sovereign ring wielding sub-morons straight away. Sharon's medical condition is such that she'd only managed to forward one of these letters to me, unaware of its contents. I contacted the council who wrote back and told me to contact the bailiffs. I sent them an email before Easter, then Sharon became very ill and I came up to Crewe on Good Friday to help her and also hopefully sort out this new house I'm meant to be moving in to. I was waiting the reply to my email when the internet died.

Yesterday I spoke to another sweet yet heavily accented lady at Tiscali to tell her that I have tried two routers and that neither of them are displaying the ADSL light that would indicate that Tiscali are pumping the usual diet of Albanian granny pr0n and emails containing lists of dental practitioners in Minnesota my way and could she please sort it out. The fact that the equipment here was working perfectly OK until the moment they switched the service off seemed to cut no ice. I stand my ground. I even suggest that maybe there's a fault at the exchange because Tiscali and one of the Crewe exchanges have had "issues" in the past of which we, as innocent customers had fallen foul. The only beneficiaries being wireless router suppliers as desperate punters head off to PC World mistakenly believing they've bought a pile of crap. Remember that one.

The call took twice as long as it ought to have done because apart from the poor lady's accent, she also spoke at 100 mph and at a volume barely discernible to the human ear. I don't know if this is a deliberate ploy on behalf of Tiscali to spin out premium rate calls but when the Indian economic miracle finally takes hold, I do hope that Tata put all its call centres either in Sunderland or Swansea. The poor sods will finally understand, or maybe they won't because that's the point, isn't it. Anyway, she takes my mobile number and promises her supervisor will call back. It doesn't. I go out. I come back 2 hours later, call Tiscali immediately because my mobile has remained oddly silent for the previous four hours and while doing so notice that the ADSL light is working. I have teh internests again without touching anything.

I dive immediately into my inbox and find an email from Equita saying they will write. It is vaguely kind in tone. This is upsetting because I had earlier spoken to two of their operators after receiving a letter yesterday threatening me with jail. The first operator, an utter bitch of a South African woman hung up on me after I started asking questions. I wasn't rude or shouty, just desperate to find a solution. I'd been at the hospital until 1.30 am with a seriously ill partner and I really didn't need it. What I wanted was empathy and understanding. I phoned back and spoke to an equally stubborn male who managed to screw me for money I don't really have by basically threatening me. Oh how they must have laughed at my plight as I told them what I'd just been through. Another punter with a sob story, how quaint. I really hope your guts rot inside you and put your family through five years of agony too. Maybe you'll just be lucky and die in unimaginable pain. Here's a tip for Equita: instead of bullying £150 out of me, sack one of the arseholes who work for you. You'd save far more in the long run.

Doesn't end there. Later yesterday evening I finally receive a call from the Tiscali supervisor telling me he's noticed that the service appears to be running. I tell him yes, it is. It has been for several hours now. He says there appeared to be a fault at the exchange. Ho hum. I tell him that I told them this yesterday and that I wasn't a numpty, I'd been through all this before with Tiscali and that I'd been given the run around. He said he'd look into it.

Here's a hint. When you think about taking up a service with anyone, anywhere, try this test. Call their customer service line a few times. If you ever hear the words "All our representatives are busy at the moment" or variations thereof, forget them. If their service was any good in the first place you'd be able to get through straight away. Think about it.


Friday, March 28, 2008


I don't know if any of you are familiar with the workings of T9 predictive text as used on mobile telephones. It throws up the odd jolly now and again.

Tiscali: Bunch of useless ducking aunts.

Equita "Certificated" bailiffs: Duckess. Aunting coal quaking sipp drinking yankers.

Glad I got that one away.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I Told You So, I Knew It Would...

The picture above was taken about a month ago from the roof of this old house. Dad built a hatch here about 30 years or so ago so he could get out onto the roof from the inside to repair it instead of clambering up the outside. I spent a considerable amount of time up there revising for exams when I was a kid. It was a bit easier then as I was a beanpole, this time I was barely able to squeeze my shoulders through, hence the precarious angle of the photo from holding my arm aloft as high as I could. There isn't a gradient there at all in real life.

If you look mid-right you can see my sister's two idiot horses, Max and Oscar. I haven't ridden since I was a teenager because I've never particularly seen the attraction of it but I know the basics and I could probably do it if pushed. I love the horses though, they're wonderful beasts. We've only had Oscar here for a few years, he was a dressage champion, something you can see in his gait when he trots. He's very well mannered, usually, and he'd been stabled for much of his life before he was given to my sister, I think after his owner sold up and went travelling. He loves the wide open field although he's a bit wheezy now and isn't ridden. Max, the nearest one, with the cropped neck, is a bit special because he's very much a part of the family. He's something like 25 now (Oscar's a bit older) and was born here. His mother, a lovely old Dartmoor called Baby Lou, was grazed in these fields from about 1969. And apart from a few months when she was bought by a neighbour, this was her home until she died a few years ago aged in her late 30s. In the summer, Lou would often lay down and have a midday nap in the middle of the field so I would sometimes grab a book and prop myself up against her belly and have a read while listening to her digestive gurglings. Strangely comforting and I often dozed off only to be woken a short while later by a gigantic fart. Horses are quite bereft of manners. Very bucolic.

Not for long though. This was always going to be a short term fix and my hordes of loyal readers will already know that Sharon and I didn't actually throw everything away when we separated last year. While it's quite obvious to us both that we each have something the other one wants, we don't want to risk going through all this mullarkey again by actually living together. At least not at the moment anyway. The other day I heard that I'm being offered my own little house courtesy of our old housing association. A few bits of paper to sign and send back and it'll be all mine, hopefully in about 6 weeks, maybe even sooner. Crewe doesn't just have golden sunsets, endless beaches and world class cuisine, you know. I'm off up there tomorrow for a few days to reacquaint myself with its charms.

That's not the only bit of good news I had yesterday. I've not had much luck on the work front since I gave up the warehouse in a fit of conscience-driven principle a month ago. I've now got all my security clearances so I'm able to deliver letters in a temporary capacity for the post office in any town of my choosing. In fact, had I not been going to the dentist this morning for pointy things to be ground into the lower pre-molar nerve that's been making my life a misery these last 6 weeks, I would have been doing such in New Romney. They obviously didn't dig too far or investigate this place much in their search to uncover any nefarious past. Had they done so they would have noticed that on more than one occasion I've been very unkind to that nice Mr. Crozier, both on these pages and on the comment threads of any other blog foolish enough to hint at his business acumen with regard to post office closures. You'll be happy to know that he's still very much a totla cnut. That won't change.

And my good fortune didn't end there! Worried about my finances, this morning I logged on to my bank in order to transfer some savings. This was upsetting because this is my moving fund and I didn't want to touch it. Yet there, laying in my No 1 account since yesterday was a modestly substantial amount, just enough to honour my immediate requirements, bearing an unusual reference. Cautiously I phoned the bank: "Yes, Mr S. That's a lovely shiny tax rebate, spend it NOW before the bastards ask for it back." Done!! Things are looking up.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

And Another One...

I was reading down the Wikipedia Scroll of Doom for 2008 earlier, as you do, and got upset. Not over Arthur C. Clarke, Captain Birdseye or even "Hurricane" Smith. They'd all had a decent knock (I didn't realise Hurricane Smith was 85!) so fair play to them. It's when there's so much unfinished business that there's a very real sadness.

Anybody remember the Patrick Swayze film "Roadhouse" from about 1989? The film was pretty average but one performance stood way above that of anyone else. The blind guitarist in the cage may have been miming but he was doing it to his own soundtrack. His name was Jeff Healey and he died of cancer on March 2nd. He was only 41. I don't believe in curses but the rest of the cast of that film must be quaking, considering Patrick Swayze's cancer diagnosis a few weeks ago. I was a fan and I didn't know and I was more than a bit shocked. I went on Youtube, watched a few clips and found I was blubbing like a baby. Yet another performer I'd always promised myself I'd see live but never got round to it.

There are very many good guitarists around but few of them are truly unique or possess a talent to raise them above the journeymen. Jeff Healy was a popular musical polymath. He played that Squier Strat like nobody else, his laptop technique giving him a stretch that no contemporary player could emulate traditionally and as such a definitely recognisable sound. If you play the guitar, you can't take your eyes off that left hand; he was very, very good. He'd been blind since 8 months and he'd said that his distinctive style was because he didn't know any other way to do it, never having seen anyone play before. Despite enjoying a devoted following and critical acclaim for his blues based rock, his true love was jazz and he'd begun a parallel performing career as a jazz trumpeter and guitarist. He was also heavily into the Toronto music scene; someone I knew who was involved in organising one of the big festivals over there said nothing happened in the city without Jeff knowing about it. He hadn't given up on the meat and drink stuff and his final rock album, "Mess of Blues" is shortly to be released. Here's a couple of career clips. The top one isn't his usual band - yes, that's Dr John on piano. Enjoy.

And some trad jazz. Watch him steal the guitar solo:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nature 1 : 0 Man

Just in case you were thinking of planting one of these in your back garden, this happened in Denmark:

And just in case I'm accused of unnecessary scare-mongering, I did some research. Although these are extremely rare occurences it appears there have been two recent failures of the market leader's Vestas turbines in this country, which doesn't exactly thrill me as they become increasingly popular in built up areas. Crewe's Tesco store has a large wind turbine in its carpark and I've seen it spin at an alarming speed on occasion. Doesn't mean that it's going to shred itself of course and I'm all for renewable energy but I just don't like land based turbines. In fact the whole concept of wind turbines is a bit of a pup. Let's face it, they're incredibly ugly in groups on top of a hill and suffer greatly from the fact that at times of maximum generation potential - which would more often than not coincide, especially during the colder months, with maximum demand - they have to be switched off. On a hot day when everyone's using coolers and fans, there's never any bloody wind to drive them, so how efficient can these monsters ever be? The usable energy they generate will probably only cover that used for annual maintenance once that used during manufacture has been covered. And what happens when more efficient replacement generators are available or your turbine breaks down and your windfarm is ten miles out at sea? These things rely on moving parts made by humans and then work under immense loading so they'll inevitably break. When you really think about it, they're really not up to the job, they just look as though they ought to be.

The only reason I can see for having something like this in a built up area is that it's a visible sign that the company's doing something virtuous, nothing more than a sop to the environmental lobby. A bit like when airlines point to someone in a wheelchair and say they do something for the disabled but then won't let you on if you can walk yet have more than 10kg of vital medical supplies, the self-serving bastards. Most of the times I've seen the Tesco one it's been chocked because of strong winds or they didn't need the power and turned off as there's no storage capability. So, largely useless then. I would rather they covered their flat roof in photovoltaic cells instead. It's a technology that's becoming increasingly more efficient with a far wider spectral range being covered than before. It's also maintenance free apart from the odd clean now and again. Granted they're pretty crap in the evenings and at night but they're never going to fail catastrophically or use vast amounts of energy in their manufacture just to be out of commission most of the time. In Spain every new build house or refurb has to to have PV panels by law and of course, it's not about heat, it's daylight and we have a lot of that here in the summer. Yet this talentless load of wastrels we laughingly call a government will probably have a 3 year consultation period and then make it law in time for 2015 claiming that the technology will be better by then.

Oh I don't know. Maybe something of nothing but it scares the crap out me and you won't catch me sideways on to a spinning one ever again. These are better. All serviceable bits on the ground and easy to install by the looks of it, just not as pretty.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Being for the Benefit of Lady M.

Image: borrowed off the web. Someone left it there.

Stop whingeing you ungrateful cow. I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt because he said he loved you but you never got it, did you. You married him but you never understood your husband at all. 35 grand a year for your child, the father of whom is well known for sending his own to state schools and bringing them up without any discernible airs and graces is pretty good going. Good for him and thank heavens for a judge with a bit of common sense. Hopefully she won't be brought up a spoilt rich kid. In fact, Macca's own kids are so "A class", to use your own words, that I can only remember one of their names and that's only because she's well known in her own right. No wonder she didn't get on with you. And as for bailing out your charities - why? They were doing all right before you married him so what responsibility are they of his? Carry on making a fool of yourself and they'll want nothing to do with you anyway. I wouldn't want you as a figureleg. You'll be dining out on this for the rest of your life so get used to just having 24 million quid in the bank more than most people and shut that increasingly ugly face up.

Coda: Someone on a forum pointed out that her settlement works out at around £700 an hour over four years. You are left to draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Not now...

Trying to get my head around some of the crap logic in yesterday's budget. The chancellor, on the wireless and everywhere else, justified the increased taxes on alcoholic drinks and tobacco by saying they would discourage binge drinking and also help people give up smoking. In the same breath he says that these rises have enabled him to fund the increase in cold weather payments for the elderly.

Riiiiiiiight. Run that by me again. You bang taxes up under the smokescreen that it's ostensibly good for us all because people will buy less of the societally* damaging booze and health damaging baccy. But if this works, your income then decreases. So how does a reduced income fund a rise? Errr...No. It doesn't work. In fact, like all politicians, you're a two-faced cnut. You know folk won't give these up so you make a token yet totally ineffectual nod towards social responsibility and make the increases affordable. 11p on fags instead of £1? No, those health platitudes count for nothing, you don't want people to give up but they might just cut down a bit and the 11p covers that. Then you punish poor sods like me, who like the odd pint now and then but are able to get home without getting into a fight or throwing up, by putting 4p on a pint. Kids don't drink Ol' Fester's Bowel Wrench, they like bottles of pretty coloured water containing rubbing alcohol and cans of cheap cider (as long as the name of the cider contains any two of the words "iced", "white", diamond" or "lightning". There's even a cheap one called "Ace", presumably an industry in-joke that has passed the legislators by. Indeed ).

To cap it all, you increase child benefit on the premise that it will help lift more children out of poverty. Noble. Call me cynical but somehow I just can't see the extra couple of quid a week going on fair trade organic lentils when 20 Royals have just gone up by 11p.

Wake me up after the next election.

* I haven't a clue if this is a real word. It should be.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Storm warning

I'm battening down the hatches, putting sandbags around the doors, disconnecting the tv and radio and I'll not read any newspapers or news sites on the Interweb. Somebody email me to let me know when the last whine about global warming causing some pretty routine bad weather, the like of which we've not seen in this country ever at all over the past ooooh, several thousand years, has passed. High winds, bit of rain, bit of damage. Get over it.


Re the post below. Inspired by the collecting litter thing and willing to do my bit, I gathered together two willing slaves, nephews young Luke and younger Adam, several plastic bags and one of those picky claw things. We were aiming at the 150 yards between this house and the crossroads, a stretch of road that has been blighted for many years by those for whom carrying something while not eating or drinking it is a distinct challenge. Half an hour later we'd got 50 yards down the road and got this much. We came back, got some more bags and carried on. After another hour and a brief excursion into the wood after Luke saw some cans there, we'd tripled the amount. There must have been 200 cans, mostly Tango and manky cider and a large horse feed bag of plastic bottles. We gave up on the other rubbish, we couldn't carry it all.

There were a couple of intriguing finds. Three identical small bottles of vodka both in the ditch and the wood. In the wood I can understand, the roadside not. We're not plagued by groups of roaming drunken teenagers so who exactly dumps those? Drivers? Many of the cans of cider were in carrier bags, knotted and thrown into the ditch but nearly always with a Tango can. Is this a new cocktail? There was a brand new aluminium flask, the kind cyclists use, complete with orange juice contents. Some cans were slightly older. The picture below shows Luke retrieving a couple of plastic bags he saw poking out from beneath the leaves. It was another old Tesco bag, two in fact and both in excellent condition. Their contents were something I'd not seen around for some time either. About a dozen Courage Light Ale cans, the black and blue ones if you're familiar. The ring-pull shape made me look for the best-before date: June 1986. I saw a can poking out from the leaves around the base of a tree trunk. A Top Deck Limeade and Lager can, in perfect nick (I preferred the shandy myself - not more than 0.2 percent proof, I seem to remember, used to get one at the Co-Op before getting on the bus home from school. 5p). Must have been about 25 years old. I crushed them all and immediately regretted it because I reckoned I could have got rid of them on Ebay for decent return. I've sold worse, you'd be amazed at what people collect. These monkeys don't realise what they're chucking away half the time.

Wind's getting up.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


I went for a walk in the wood opposite yesterday (that's the wood opposite this house, there isn't one opposite this blog). The ground cover is starting to green up with the brambles creeping through and the bluebell leaves beginning to flourish. As you can see from the picture, the wood anemones are flowering and by next week there should be a few more carpets of these lovely little flowers. As you can also see, there's an unwanted foreign import. These pests have been complementing our local flora since their introduction in Powis Street, Woolwich in October 1974. They joined the earlier American invader who began spreading chicken bones and other rubbish from Preston in 1965.

When KFC opened a branch in Beaver Road, Ashford in the early 70s, everyone thought it was rather fun. Except us. Not because we had anything against the novelty nourishment, we had other concerns. We were about ten minutes away from the "restaurant", just the right amount of time for the passenger in any car heading out of town to have finished his or her "meal". They'd then gather the driver's rubbish together with their own and wing it out of the passenger's window. Our total frontage here is over a quarter of a mile because we're on a crossroads and have a couple of fields and over the years my parents must have picked up tons of American themed shit from their hedgerows and inside the fields. Just last Sunday I picked up a bag containing the rubbish from a Big Mac Meal that had blown right across the bottom orchard and every day there are new Coke cans and plastic bottles dumped. It's never ending. Admittedly, the above picture was contrived but only in that I picked the box up from a couple of yards away and placed it on the anemones. I could easily have picked up a cardboard beaker as well as three plastic bottles and two fag packets, all within a 10 yard radius and 50 yards into the woods. Who took it down there to dump instead of taking it home? This stuff gets everywhere.

Traditional English fast food came wrapped in a couple of sheets of newsprint that could be screwed up and thrown in the bin but even that's changing with thick cardboard or styrofoam boxes being increasingly used. Why? My last paid employment was with a company that supplied some of the largest fast food chains with a lot of their equipment and consumables. Believe me, those boxes and bags take up a great deal of weight and space compared with good old newsprint and it really coloured my attitude towards those places that use them. I don't think many people have a single idea about the amount of waste created by a restaurant meal compared to a home cooked one. And that waste has to get to the restaurant in the first place, don't forget. Paper plates, napkins or cardboard ramekins for your dips originating halfway round the world and then dumped in a hedge after 10 minutes of use is not environmentally friendly by any stretch of the imagination.
Even the dustpans and brushes used in some franchises are flown in from the US in bloody great cardboard boxes because all their restaurants have to conform (and not only US either. There's a well known UK pub chain that uses the same equipment) . I was becoming increasingly annoyed that I was part of that waste cycle and despite the fact that I desperately needed the money, it contributed heavily to my leaving the job because I do actually have certain scruples. That picture above was a case in point: the American chicken chain gets its cleaning products from Belgium. One day we had a pallet delivered on an articulated lorry with two boxes of test strips on, each one smaller than a pack of playing cards. It could have been posted in a jiffy bag or put on one of the other two pallets we had delivered at the same time or even, heaven forfend, sourced from a UK supplier. Before I arrived, apparently one box was delivered in a similar fashion. Arse numbingly stupid. We re-used the pallet but the heat-wrap ended up in landfill. And these companies apparently display an awareness of green issues!

Yes it's nice to eat out or grab a takeaway occasionally but please stop and think sometimes. Say no to extra bags and wrappings if it's totally uneccessary and think twice about using those stupid styrofoam boxes. If cattle, sheep or horses inadvertently eat a piece of discarded foam from a discarded box and it gets stuck, it doesn't show up on x-rays. Better still, just walk out of those establishments that use them. If they ask, tell them why you're not buying anything there. They might change if they feel their profits are at risk. I was sorely tempted to pick up all the McDonalds detritus from our frontage, get a hack from the local paper with a camera and dump it all on the floor of the Ashford restuarant and shout "Yours, you pick it up" but I'm a coward and didn't fancy getting arrested for littering when it wasn't me doing it in the first place.

Towns invariably have street cleaners so if your town is still full of rubbish they're overworked, not lazy. The rubbish shouldn't be there in the first place. Nothing of the sort out here in the sticks. Not many pavements and anyway, it's counterproductive as the council invariably has to employ a lookout to warn of approaching traffic while the other worker scrabbles around in the verge or ditch so you can bet your life the local twat with nothing better to do will start complaining to the local paper about his council tax being wasted. Wouldn't be a problem if the twat had educated his kids properly about dropping litter in the first place of course. I still feel guilty about bits of washed bus ticket falling out of my pocket and will always look for a bin, often to the amused bemusement of onlookers. If I can't find one, it goes home with me (or more accurately, as Sharon will no doubt remind me, it stays in the car until I drive past a recycling centre or remember to empty it).

Let's face it, we're a lazy bunch of sods. Most of us are content to ignore litter because someone's paid to pick it up. Then there are the other annoying bastards who whinge that they don't have to pick it up because they didn't drop it. Oh, please. These are the same idiots who complain that they ought to have their council tax reduced because they don't have any children at school then whine because they can't get a qualified mechanic or a kid who can't add up properly short changes them. They always want something for nothing. What's obvious is that if somebody doesn't pick it up, the countryside just becomes a mess. One person has had enough of waiting for others to do it and decided to start a campaign to get everyone to do it, regardless of whether they've dropped it in the first place. People Clearing Litter it's called and it's the idea of Steve McCormack. He was on the wireless yesterday explaining it to Jeremy Vine. Yes, yes we could just do it ourselves without publicity but would we? We love to be part of the herd and it's that being part of a popular movement that Steve is counting on to drive his initiative forward. If that's what it takes to raise awareness then so be it. It shouldn't be so, of course. We like to think of ourselves as an intelligent species but it's quite obvious that we're not, otherwise we wouldn't live in such a mess. Maybe, just maybe, if someone drops litter and spots a complete stranger picking it up then the shame factor will kick in. We won't really know unless we give it a go. Sharon will tell you about what they do in Norway; I've forgotten what they call it (I asked yesterday but forgot to write it down) but every so often, the local neighbourhood gets together and has a tidy up. Then afterwards they'll all have a barbecue and a bit of fun together. They share the responsibility for their community and thereby keep a community spirit going. Perhaps we could start something similar over here: have a clear up and then barbecue the local drive-thru, just like the French used to do.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Quote of the Week

The ever entertaining Jonathan Meades on "Magnetic North" while in a Lithuanian Restaurant talking about local dishes and eating one:

"I've not eaten bear but I have eaten beaver and I can highly recommend it (eats). Hmm. Not this one though. It was a different kind"

He's a card.