Thursday, 24 September 2009

Winning At Any Cost?


This story illustrates that if the rewards are high enough then the unscrupulous will stop at nothing to attain them; in last year’s Singapore Grand Prix the Renault of Nelson Piquet Jr crashed on lap 47 out of 61 forcing the safety car to be deployed.

His team mate Fernando Alonso in what had proved to be an uncompetitive car all season had pitted for fuel and fresh tyres two laps earlier. This left the rest of the front of the field needing to stop for fuel and tyres but not Alonso who went on to win the race.

The crash happened on a part of the track where there were no cranes available to remove the car, it also occurred at a time when Renault were thinking of withdrawing from F1 due to the costs and lack of success.

A month after he was sacked by the team in August of this year Piquet revealed that he had been instructed to crash by the team principal Flavio Briatore and the chief of engineering Pat Symonds.

Last Wednesday it was announced that they had left the team and that Renault would not be fighting the allegations of race fixing. On Monday Renault received a 2 year suspended ban from F1 so if they do no more wrong then they are home free. Not so Briatore who has been banned indefinitely and this will apply to any F1 team or drive associated with him.

The danger that this pair not only put their own driver in but also everyone else on the track at the time was immense but they calculated that the rewards were worth the risk – cannot help but think that some time in a Singapore jail would be a more fitting punishment.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Fall Of Toledo – 1085


This was without question the most significant event of medieval times for the development of science, mathematics, astronomy and medicine in Western Europe. The city in Spain had been ruled by Muslims for over 350 years and scholars had flocked there from all over Islam and a very large library of works covering all these and other subjects had been established.

Fortunately for us the leader of the occupying Christian forces did not go on the rampage burning all of these books – which notably contained translations from Greek into Arabic of parts of the writings of Aristotle.

Islamic scholars had taken the words of the Qu'ran on observation, reason and contemplation to their hearts and starting from the Greek texts made great advances in the sciences from the 7th century onwards. As an example there were discourses written which put forward the ideas of a heliocentric solar system and the elliptical orbits of the planets in the 11th century – 600 years later Galileo was convicted by the Catholic Church of heresy for advancing the same ideas.

To put this in context, at that time my ancestors might have bathed once a year, put disease down to God's wrath and popular learning was actively discouraged outside of religious centres as it could lead to heresy.

All of these views were the exact opposite of the beliefs in the Islamic world.

In the years the Christian occupation of the city scholars from all across Western Europe travelled there and started translating these works from Arabic into Latin. Without this leg up it is very doubtful

The golden age of Islamic scientific expansion started in the 8th century and lasted for 600 years until the rise of certain clerical factions resulted in a terminal decline. Sadly this has been the fate of science at the hands of more than one religion – if empirical evidence contradicts religious scriptures then those responsible for that evidence must be heretics or infidels.

In these times it is good to be reminded of the debt we owe to those early enlightened Islamic scholars, makes a pleasant change from reading about extremist Jihadis.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Rodrigo Y Gabriela – 11:11

This week saw the return of my favourite Mexicans with a new cd 11:11 – which is comprised of eleven new compositions inspired by eleven of their favourite artistes. It was released on Monday and has been in pretty constant play since then after I got a copy on that day – and as a bonus it includes a DVD with footage of them rehearsing the songs and an interview.

I cannot recommend this highly enough, here is the opening track inspired by Carlos Santana.



They are touring all over the globe, check out their web site and follow the link to their MySpace page where the tour dates are listed - catch them if you can, you will not be disappointed.

Monday, 7 September 2009

News

The good people of Samoa are switching to drive on the correct side of the road today (IE the left) in a move designed to allow for the import of cars from New Zealand and Japan making it cheaper to get around.

Scientists had revealed that the Andromeda galaxy has consumed smaller galaxies as it continues to expand and that one day it will collide with our galaxy.

Meanwhile in Papua New Guinea a multi national scientific expedition has discovered a new species of “giant” rat – weighing in at 1.5 Kg they are about the size of a cat. They found another 39 new species including a fanged frog – just when you thought that things could not possibly get more weird this year.

The UK’s smallest cinema (capacity of two) has been opened in Shetland to critical acclaim – it used to be a bus shelter.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Florence And The Machine

Been a wee bit distracted over the last three weeks working on a job application, unusually for the 21st century this had to be completed in black ink and block capitals. Finally got it done on Tuesday and it arrived at it’s destination on Wednesday 2 days before the closing date – it will be a good gig to get and is more of a technical role than my current job has been.

Comes at a good time as after 2 stays of execution the current gig comes to and end this Wednesday when I have to use up my remaining one week of annual leave.

In the meantime, here is a great live performance from young Florence with a track from her debut album Lungs – which has been on steady play on the sound system at DBA cottages since it’s release in early July.



As a bonus here is another one Dog Days Are Over – and all best wishes to her for Tuesday night when her album is one of the 12 contenders for the Mercury Music Prize.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Beer 122 – Wylam’s Rocket


Returned from Newcastle last night after delivering 3 and a half days training to the team there who are taking over the work I have been doing this year. When I arrived on Sunday night this bottle of beer was in my room with a “with compliments” tag around it.

Had not come across the brewery before and some googling revealed that they only started up in 2000 in Northumberland.

It was a fine tasting drop, hoppy with a grand bitter taste – slipped down really well on Monday night as a restorative after a days worth of talking – and at 5% abv no slouch in the alcohol stakes.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Quad Amplifiers


Should have written this yesterday but have been too “busy” listening to them to write about them.

I bought this pair in 1983 using some of my tax free earnings from my year in the deserts of Kuwait in '82; a friend had owned the previous models for over eight years and I had always liked their neutral sound.

These went very well with my Celestion Ditton 442 speakers and were a good match with my Linn turntable, the other design feature that I really approved of was their design which lends itself to very easy servicing. The input channels on the pre-amp are like PC expansion cards and the power amp was designed with maintenance in mind.

They went u/s while I was living in Scotland a couple of years ago and I had kept putting off getting them repaired but while I am on a couple of weeks leave I decided to get them fixed. Rang up the service centre in Huntingdon (where they were made) and was told that for a £20 fee on top they could do a same day service and that they opened at 07:30.

I arrived and booked them in at 08:20 and they said that they would give me a call when they were ready to collect, drove into town and mooched around finding a good looking old church (St Marys if the street name reflected the church) and a pub that served a really good pint of Youngs bitter at lunchtime.



Got a call at 13:20 that they were good to go and I was back home by 15:30 and they were powered up 10 mins later sounding really sweet.

I paid around £520 for them in '83 which is around £2,000 to £2,500 in todays terms – chicken feed compared with what the nephews have spent on amplification in the last 10 to 15 years. They have always blamed my system for “inspiring” them to go out and spend shed loads of cash to get the best sound that they could find – I have always maintained that I was not striving for perfection, just a sound quality that I liked and suited the variety of sounds that get played.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

MP3 Player


Last week I took delivery of a 8Gb Zen Creative which my friend D had kindly preloaded with 92 albums for me from his collection and having put on 16 myself I still have 2Gb left and if I really wanted loads more I could add an 8GB SD memory card.

This was purchased to supply some sounds in my “farmers” car via a Sony cassette adaptor that D no longer needs. Today it came into its own as I had a 200 mile round trip to perform to get my 25+ years old pre-amp and power amp serviced.

Selected one of the playlists I had created and thoroughly enjoyed the sounds of Jimi Hendrix (Electric Ladyland), Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Live Rust), Radiohead (OK Computer) and Lou Reed (New York).

Trip was successful and the amps sound even better than I remembered, but more on that tomorrow.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Jeff Beck at the Royal Albert Hall

Had a phone call from the finest guitar player that I know personally on Thursday night asking if I would be interested in going to see Jeff Beck on Saturday night as he had a spare ticket. Are bears Catholic etc?

Transport in from West London was a nightmare as the tube line was shut for engineering works but we caught a cab and made it there with plenty of time to spare. It was his first time at the venue and he was impressed by the building and view from the bar, I had been there once before in '83 and had seen Jeff on that night as well along with a very interesting line up which will make another post.

It was very hot and humid inside but once the music started we forgot all about that, damn fine gig from a group of very fine musicians and the bass player deserves a special mention Tal Wilkenfeld who is only 23 but you would never guess that from her playing.

The show passed by very quickly and all too soon came to an end and when they came back for the encore they were joined by Dave Gilmour; some cove in the audience sitting much closer caught it on video.



We came out into the cool of the evening and after a restoring pint of Fullers London Pride set off on the long trek home, caught a bus to Hammersmith and found that the tube was still out. Missed a replacement bus service by 20 seconds and so ended up on the last bus to Ealing with a bunch of other people.

A big hello to the 3 “happy” and loquacious drunks who were sitting behind the 2 happy Scotsmen – you provided an amusing backdrop to the seemingly interminable bus journey around West London tube stations. Reached his place around 01:00 and then sat up for another 2 hours chatting and viewing part of his guitar collection.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

BMW 325i


Last Sunday morning D arrived at my place not long after nine and we set off to drive round the M25 for the second time in 2 days and had a pretty uneventful trip to Orpington – no aircraft to see apart from the usual commercial stuff. With wallet in hand this time he completed the deal and prepared to head off in his second hand Mazda 6 (complete with climate control and an mp3 jack on the sound system).

Meanwhile I was preparing for a trip down memory lane as I had not driven a 325 for 15 years; I bought one of the first ones imported into the UK back in '85 kitted out to my specification with metallic dark green paint and the optional ABS system. This was one fine car to drive with it's gorgeous 6 cylinder 2.5 litre engine delivering the power to the rear wheels as the gods of motoring intended all good handling cars to do.

Over the next nine years we clocked up 145,000 miles and I had a lot of fun driving it, especially on the roads in the Highlands but not in the winter – it was a pig to drive in snow unless the boot was packed with heavy stuff.

One Sunday morning in July '94 I got up came down the stairs and opened the kitchen curtains at the back of my house and there was an empty space where my car should have been resting. Never saw it again and in December of that year I acquired a two year old “farmer's car” that has been my ride since then.

First thing that struck me leaving the garage was how weird the accelerator felt as it is a full size one hinged on the floor, after stalling it on the first attempt to leave I slowly readjusted. The trip back went well initially until we hit a jam one junction before we were due to leave the M25 and were stuck for 20 minutes; at least I had D's mp3 player hooked up to his sound system via a device inserted into the cassette player.

It was only when I hit the last 5 miles of B roads that I was able to open her up and have a play – creating a large gap to the car in front before flooring it in 3rd and listening to the engine sing as the revs passed the 4000 mark.

Still a pretty looking car even after 20 years but underneath the skin there is over £1,000 worth of welding to be done to get it through it's MOT next month so sadly she has to go – brought a huge grin to may face though.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

News

Wallabies high on opium poppies make crop circles in Tasmania – you learn something every day, Australia makes half of the world's legal opium came as news to me.

This is bizarre, turns out that if you drink 4 to 10 litres of cola per day then you can paralyse your lungs – I would have thought that obesity would have done for your long before that; or maybe it was diet cola?

The aptly named French rugby union player Mathieu Bastareaud (pronounced Bastard?) claimed that his facial injuries had been caused by 4 or 5 men beating him up at the end of a night out in Wellington New Zealand. Now, there are some parts of the UK where this could be believed but New Zealand – WTF?

After being shown cctv footage of him returning safely to his hotel he came clean and admitted that he had drunk too much and fell over in his hotel room; Bastareaud added “that he had not wanted to upset his family, who are deeply religious”.

Three wolf T shirt sales soar at Amazon following a joke review.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Bunny Wailer 101 – Blackheart Man

Well summer has finally arrived and in this house that means that it is time for even more reggae music than is usual; back when they were known as just The Wailers the vocal harmonies of Bunny, Peter Tosh and Bob were pretty amazing and still make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and bring a smile to my face.

They split in 1974 to pursue solo careers and Bunny is the only one still living, a deeply spiritual man his lyrics often reflect that and he has written and produced some great songs. Have been lucky enough to see him play live on a few occasions and have never been let down; so for the next few weeks I will be posting a Bunny Wailer track once a week.

We start with the title track from the album of the same name, and here is a link to his MySpace page..

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Lancaster Bomber & Friends

Yesterday lunch time I had to take a trip round the M25 with my friend D to collect his “new” car from a place 55 miles away, the journey passed without incident until we came off the motorway to head to the town where the garage was located. We were listening to Spirit on his MP3 player but had the sunroof open and suddenly heard a mighty roar of engines, looked up and saw what D claimed was the only Lancaster aircraft still flying passing low over us.

It was followed by a Spitfire and then a Hurricane both impressive aircraft to see up close and personal; Biggin Hill airfield was around 10 miles West of us so we guessed the the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight must have been putting on a display from there.

Got home and ran a search for some footage to share, unfortunately the best looking one comes with a sound track, all very inspiring but as a self confessed petrol head I would rather have had the noise of the engines as the sound track. This clip claims that there are 2 of these fine aircraft still flying, whatever.



Arrived at the garage not long after and D discovered that he had left his wallet behind when he had changed out of the shorts he had been wearing while gardening and had no means of paying the £6,000 balance on the car. The air in the car on the return journey was turning pretty blue until we spotted another large aircraft flying low above us, it was a Vulcan bomber but that is a tale for another day.

So later on today we have to make the journey again, this time with his wallet – doubt if we will be lucky enough to see so many find old aircraft on our travels.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Beer 121 – Black Sheep's Riggwelter


According to the label Riggwelter means a sheep that is on it's back and cannot get up without help, and I think that if you overdid it on this stuff it could have a similar effect on a human.

Another fine ale from one of my favourite breweries this one is a dark red in colour (though the pic does not really show it) and has a strong malt taste to it, an abv of 5.7% means that it should be consumed with care if you don't want to end up like a Riggwelter!

Leonard Cohen

The man is one fine poet and at the age of 74 is still one kick ass performer, saw a recording of this gig a couple of weeks ago and was blown away. Some great musicians and backing vocalists made for an hour of very interesting listening and viewing, but do not take my word for it see and hear for yourselves:



Check out this version of Democracy and if you are not in the UK try clicking on the link to the LeonardCohen posted video of Hallelujah that is on that YouTube page. It does not work here but is worth spending the time to catch it.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Times = Scum

Following a hearing in the High Court a serving police detective from Lancashire has had his identity revealed and has been disciplined by his force.

Nightjack's writing was always worth a read and while I never linked to him I was always a regular visitor via my blog pal Noddy's place (who has not posted for a month – should we be concerned about him?).

What “service” was served by revealing Nightjack's identity? Certainly not the public interest that the judge claimed; I have been reading police blogs for some time now and they have given me (an ordinary member of the public) an insight into the astonishing amount of bullshit landed on them from the government via their SMTs.

It amazes me that front line officers ever find the time to catch criminals what with all the form filling and box ticking that they are supposed to perform. Nightjack's only mistake was to put up a link on his site which allowed the Time's journalist to identify him – so my message for other police bloggers out there is to be extra careful about any external links you have on your blogs.

As for the Times, well the post title sums up my feelings on the matter – their actions have done nothing for the public interest, have almost certainly damaged the career of a police officer who genuinely cared about the kind of service the public were actually receiving and have confirmed my thoughts on the lazy and sensationalist nature of dead tree journalism.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Travelling Day

Making the long trip back down South today, the week has fair flashed by but I had a grand time catching up with friends and family and feel that my batteries have been well recharged.

Here are some more pics that I took the other day of my favourite river (Spey) and in the distance the Cairngorms – now if I could just find a job up here I would be moving back in a flash.



Here is the bridge that I took the photos from earlier in the week:



This one is what used to be a skating pond when I was a young loon, back then it would freeze over every winter and was pretty safe to skate on. It was also used for curling matches which somehow always involved the consumption of large amounts of whiskey by the players.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Bottled Water – WTF?

Thanks to Skippy who passed on the following to D who then passed it on to me; have never bought into this bottled water “scam” and although my reasoning was not green based but down to my natural Scottish tightness about how I spend my cash it would appear that I have been very green.

Have not checked the figures out but they are pretty scary, 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce the plastic required for the current demand for bottled water. Check it out for yourself:



The only ray of hope on the horizon was news earlier in the year that a firm in Oregon has worked out how to transform plastic into crude oil.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Hills



Currently enjoying a weeks leave in the Highlands, weather has been amazing (24C) until yesterday when the temperature dropped by 10 degrees but as yet no rain. Been visiting my mother in the nursing home and she is looking very well, her memory is completely shot to ribbons but on my visits so far she has been lucid and able to following my rambling conversations.

Had to drop my car at the garage this morning to get my brake pads replaced, they used to be in the town but have now moved across the river Spey.

Took these photos from the bridge as I was walking back.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Roxy Music

Was over at a friend's place on Saturday and we were listening to a compilation of tracks from '73; there were many good tunes on there but the stand out track of the night for me was Street Life by Roxy Music.

They burst onto the UK musical scene in '72 and achieved a fair degree of success but their legacy is the influence that their unique musical style had on bands who came after them. With Bryan Ferry on vocals and writing most of the songs they had a natural leader, but the other musicians more than matched his talents; Phil Manzanera on guitar, Andy Makay on oboes and saxaphone, Paul Thompson on drums and the legendary Brian Eno on synthesiser and knob twiddling.

A pretty interesting dress sense as you might expect from an “Art College” band, here they are playing their first single.



Here is a more experimental piece (also from the first album) Ladytron.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Island Records


This year marks the 50th birthday of Island Records, set up and run as an independent label by Chris Blackwell for the first 30 years it introduced a wide variety of Jamaican acts to the UK audience.

Jimmy Cliff, The Wailers, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, Sly & Robbie, Third World, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Toots & The Maytals to name but a few.

The label also had a roster of UK rock acts that can only be described as eclectic; from Traffic, King Crimson, Spencer Davies Group, Roxy Music, Mott The Hoople, Free, Jethro Tull, Kevin Ayers, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and U2 make for an interesting line up.

On the acoustic side there were Fairport Convention, The Chieftains, John Martyn, Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake and Cat Stevens.

Makes for pretty impressive reading – and listening – and I probably own more records from this label than any other.

This link is to an audio slide show with some of the music and brief interviews – this is one birthday that is well worth celebrating.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Operation Chastise

Yesterday marked the 66th anniversary of this wartime bombing raid which is better known by the title of the film that was made about it in the fifties – The Dam Busters. I had never made the connection myself but Stephen Fry informed us that the Death Star bombing sequence in Star Wars is practically a remake of the bombing runs from this film.

The movie did a pretty good job of telling the tale of this raid outlining some of the technical problems which had to be overcome but at the time it was made some of the details were still not in the public domain due to the Official Secrets Act.

You can read a detailed description of the operation at this site.

Heard the great Stephen Fry on the radio a couple of weeks ago and he has been commissioned to write the script for a remake of the film which is being produced by Peter Jackson. He made a really good point when he said that people were concerned that the film would contain present day references to feelings that were not appropriate 66 years ago.

He had met the commander of the raids lover who told him that while they were training they would go out for long drives, park up and that he would sob for ages behind the steering wheel while she stroked his hair.

However the thing which will give the makers the most angst is what to do about the commander's dogs name (which was used as the call sign for the successful demolition of the first dam) – while acceptable all those years ago it is now deemed to be beyond the pale for white folks to use the “N” word now.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Pigs Having It Rough

As if the swine flu thing was not enough the papers over here have been filled with stories of “snouts in the trough” as the full extent of the double standards of Members of Parliament's allowances/expenses system have been revealed over the last couple of weeks.

Not only are these people paid what any normal person would consider a pretty fine salary this gets topped up by tax free expense payments that add up (on average) to £144,000 per year.

The key word here is tax free – unlike every other tax payer in the country who would be liable to pay tax these scumbags pay no tax on their “allowances” and get very creative with the definition of their main home.

Under the “rules” they are entitled to relief if they have to pay for a second home to live in while attending parliament (and it is not just mortgage, council tax and utilities – they can claim £400 per month for food for fecks sake) and they bend the rules to line their trouser pockets.

Let's take Hazel Blears as an example, she was claiming a second home allowance for a flat in London and then shortly before selling it nominated it as her main residence. This meant that she was not liable to the 40% capital gains tax on the £45,000 that she made when selling it - “I acted within the rules” was her initial response but she has since written a cheque for £13,332 to the Inland Revenue.

Now 40% of 45,000 works out at £18,000 so what is going on here?

Her initial response has been typical of all those outed by the Daily Telegraph for things as diverse as having the moat cleaned, repairing water pipes under the tennis court, replacing toilet seats, bath plugs, televisions, helipad maintenance, swimming pool maintenance and repairs, £115 plus VAT for the replacement of 25 light bulbs (WTF?) the list is endless.

The only good thing to come out of this affair is the genuine level of anger being felt across the country at the shenanigans of MPs from all parties

There is only one answer to this and that is for all MPs to live in a single apartment block in central London supplied and maintained by the civil service. Any additional expense claims to be transparent (put them online) and audited by an independent group of auditors and any transgressions to be prosecuted under the laws which apply to everyone else living and working here.

For some classic mealy mouthed “explaining” watch this clip from last week's Question Time.

Meanwhile pigs get a bad press when the reality is that they are highly intelligent animals who by coincidence happen to taste fantastic when the various cuts they provide are prepared and cooked – I am now off for a bacon sandwich and a vat of coffee to take away the taste of corruption from my mouth.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Ian Dury & The Blockheads

Despite suffering from polio in his school years Ian Dury overcame this and managed to carve out a niche for himself and his band during the late seventies. He was one of the finest English song lyricists of his generation (and I am in good company here as this view is endorsed by Suggs of Madness) where his wicked sense of humour came in handy; it also helped that the Blockheads were a bunch of great musicians best experienced live which I was lucky enough to do on a couple of occassions.

He passed in 2000 but his songs remain to be enjoyed today.





To close here is the number he wrote for his musical hero while growing up Sweet Gene Vincent.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Interesting Video

A good friend sent me the link to this video and it makes for a thought provoking watch – helped along by a Fat Boy Slim track as the background music.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Car Park Shuffle

Every week day morning (during term time) at around 07:30 the car park at small town station becomes a hive of activity with cars entering to drop off their school kids. Most of them appear to feel that making their children walk more than 10 feet to the platform to be cruel and unusual treatment and stop in the first third of the small car park to unload their passenger(s).

This results in a “waltz” like shuffle as cars attempt to get into a parking space while others are trying to leave the car park or get into it – have yet to witness a collision but have seen some near misses; after 5 minutes all the kids have been deposited and an air of tranquillity falls over the car park.

All in all it makes for an entertaining start to my day and I did find myself missing the spectacle during the Easter break – not so the loudly chattering children on the train, though truth be told they were pretty quiet by their standards last week.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Madness

My liking for Jamaican music has been well documented and I have always found the ska style to be very uplifting so it should come as no surprise that I have always had a soft spot for Madness – any band naming themselves after a Prince Buster track have a head start on touching my musical side.

Was pleased to catch them on Friday night playing this new number:



Their early videos always appeared to mix their witty humour with the lyrics to their songs.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Extreme Sheep LED Art

A very good friend sent my this via email and I just had to post it as it cracked me up and deserves to be seen by the widest possible audience.

It represents the most creative result that I have ever seen anyone deliver with a flock of sheep, some sheep dogs and a few shepherds.

Friday, 17 April 2009

News

The Force is strong with Strathclyde Police, wonder how the neds are going to feel about that – makes me wonder how many my pal Noddy has to work with in Toy Toon.

Pirate Bay founders jailed shock – never used it myself but then I am paranoid about peer to peer file sharing; on the other hand Hairy Nephew is a big fan and swears by it as a good place to find movies and tv.

Meanwhile on an internal Quantas flight in Oz 4 baby pythons escape from the cargo hold – not having much luck recently are Quantas; and was there not a dodgy movie a couple of years back called Snakes On A Plane?

Have a great weekend - I know that I will!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Back From The West


Drove down on Friday afternoon and it was busy on the M4 and while the traffic might have been slow in a couple of places, at least it was moving and by coming on and leaving at the right junctions based on road reports managed to avoid major snarl ups. Arrived to find Hairy Nephew and Father Ted having just completed their task for the day – namely removing shrubbery beds and replacing with turf and removing moss infected grass to replace with seeds later.



Weather had been a steady drizzle for them all day which is perfect for laying down of turf, the sky cleared as the sun was going down so I was able to take the snap of the pretty colours. We had a fine meal and caught up on each others news since our last meeting - not much cider consumed on our side of the table but the red wine was flowing freely.

The wee man went to bed at the usual time and after only a couple of bouts of wailing dropped off for the night – was a bit noisy first thing but managed to get back to sleep pretty easily.

Eldest Niece and FT and Lewis had to leave at lunchtime which they did after we all sat out in bright sunshine at the local caff and ate a large breakfast and admired 3 owls which they had there. Followed by a visit to Thatchers for us furreners to resupply on good cider and then it was time to say goodbye.

As we had to visit Wells to pick up some Chorizo sausage for a soup (well more of a broth) for dinner on Saturday night I finally got to have a pint of draught Hoegaarden in The Wokey Hole Inn – closest I had ever reached before was turning up one Sunday afternoon when it was shut. Almost worth the wait – but the soup was stunning with a fresh crusty loaf when we had it later and if you get out your magnifying glass then you can recreate it for yourself.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Thank Feck Easter Has Arrived

I have been pretty lucky in my working life in IT to have never had to deal with a live financial system, systems software and a variety of “interesting” applications but never finance. This year that changed and since Thursday of last week I have been extracting data from the database, sticking it in spreadsheets to pass on to the “people” in finance after checking by the relevant application area managers.

You might think that after at least 10 years the process would have been automated so that you enter a couple of dates once and everything happened; not so, it involved entering dates 16 times and then running 4 or 8 menu options for the 52 application areas.

Then I had to try to get my brain around what the data was supposed to mean and that gave me a great urge to lie down under my desk until it was all over. Still at 15:30 I had completed the task and an hour later was heading to the station to find that the train showing 10 mins earlier as on time had been cancelled; cue crowded train and the icing on top was a couple of wailing small children sitting across the aisle.



The glass of cold Guinness at my side is an earned reward for another long day, 2 days to veg in the hoose and then a trip to Somerset to visit Hairy Nephew and Irish lass and drink some (well probably a lot) cider. Eldest Niece and Father Ted will be there along with little Lewis so a grand old time will be had.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Beer 120 – Fuller's Old Winter Ale


Picked this up in the supermarket yesterday morning after I had been thinking of nights spent quaffing Brakspear's Old of a Winter's night. To be honest I was disappointed, this stuff cannot compare to my memories of the taste old Old; that was a black brew heavy on the malt but not too sweet for my palate.

Fuller's offering is a dark brown and while heavy on the malt is sweeter on the tongue (although not to the point of rendering it undrinkable for me), 5.3% abv gives it a respectable kick but Fuller's produce much better beers than this (ESB or Pride) so I felt a wee bit let down – did not stop me finishing it mind you.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Euchre

As I was contemplating the beer I am planning to drink later on today thoughts turned to Winter's nights spent playing this simple trick based card game in front of log fires in a number of different Brakspear's tied house. Once late Autumn arrived their seasonal Old Ale would appear on draught, a very dark malty sweeter tasting beer than their other offerings; it's arrival heralded the coming of Winter.

It is played from Australia to the US using a variety of rules but the lineage of our variation migrated from Cornwall with the arrival of a long time friend from Exeter to the leafy West Berkshire area. This is very similar to the Mid West variation with two major differences.

Instead of 24 cards we use the 2 of Spades (Benny) as the top trump (plus 9 to Ace of all suits), if the dealer turns it over on top of the pack then the dealer has to call trumps blind and then discard one card. The other difference being that we play to 15 points using the 7 & 8 cards to count the score.

Became a great spectator sport if we were out in a group of six or seven (the ale might have been a factor here) and it was usually fun watching others trying to figure out the rules from adjoining tables.

With the 2nd and 3rd top trumps changing to the Jack of the suit of the trumps and the Jack of the same colour (referred to as the Right and the Left) on each call it could be tricky to work out what game we were playing. This was enhanced by the fast pace of play, I can remember always hitting a long streak of no calls deal at one or more points in an evening; and there would always be someone who would hit a solid seam of Benny, Right Left hands resulting in hands ending with the winning cards being thrown face up on the table.

Still play it a few times a year though these days it is more likely to be around a kitchen table after a meal than in a pub.

Monday, 30 March 2009

The Wire – On BBC2 All Week

I have posted about this great TV series before and have nothing but praise for it's gritty depiction of modern urban life in the US.

Tonight the BBC start showing Season One on BBC2 at 23:20 and then every week day night at the same time.

If you have not caught it on satellite or DVD, tune in or set your recorder – if you enjoy intelligent writing, great acting and TV that forces you to concentrate all the time while not assuming that you have the IQ of a flea then you will not be disappointed.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Newcastle



Monday found me travelling by train from local big city to Newcastle Upon Tyne, one of my favourite cities in the UK. This is a work trip as it was considered more cost effective for me to travel North than have the 5 others on the course head South.

Journey was enlivened on the tube by an encounter with 4 Italian lassies who were very stereotypical; lots of volume, exaggerated hand gestures and one of them even exclaimed “Mama Mia” - luckily the carriage did no burst into spontaneous singing of the Abba song.

Hotel is fine (carefully selected as being the only one in the area with smoking bedrooms), there was almost a cluster fuck at reception when he offered me a non smoking room. Fortunately I had rung central booking the day after the reservation had been made and confirmed that a smoking room had been allocated for me.

Only hassle is that internet access from the bedroom or wi-fi comes in very expensive; £15 for 24 hours, £3 for 15 mins or £8 for an hour; I did find a pub nearby with free wi-fi but the one time I tried it there I was in the wrong part and could not get a signal.

Still I do have a view of the river and the Tyne bridge from my bedroom window, tried taking some photos through the glass but they did not come out too well.

Very pleasant 25 min walk to the office on a footpath next to the river made for a good start and end to the day – stopping at the pub on the way back for a great pint of ale and a smoke in the patio area at the front looking across the river. You can see my hotel between the 2nd and 3rd pillars of the High Bridge in this picture taken outside the pub, it also gives a feel for how steep the path up to the hotel was as the High Bridge comes in at the same level but I crossed at river level and then had to trek up the hill.



Learned a lot on the course and was impressed by my colleagues mental agility as we romped through what used to be a 3 and a half day syllabus in 2 and a half days; we then cherry picked 5 modules from another course to complete the day. Went out for a few beers and a fine Italian meal on Wednesday night with my new friends and ended the night in a bar which had this amazing stained glass object in the ceiling.



The strange looking building behind the Tyne Bridge is the Sage Gateshead which opened in 2004 and is a venue for all types of musical styles and workshops; not sure that I like the look of it but it sure stands out proudly by the river.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

News

The ISS has finally after 10 years reached it's maximum power capacity with the unfurling of the last set of solar panels, should make the big bird even easier to spot in the night sky.

Our one day cricket world champions are to be congratulated, pity it is not the full time professional men's side but the part time ladies team. While the men's side have been traversing the globe all winter in search of a win; finally getting one on Friday but only because the other team's management could not get the complicated formula for adjusting the winning total right – have these people never hear of spreadsheets?

Meanwhile in Cardiff the Irish rugby union team made history by achieving the grand slam – victory in all 5 matches of the six nations tournament – for the first time in 61 years.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Banks

Thursday lunchtime I amble out of the office and pop in to a branch of my bank to hand over a cheque for £1,000 from my current account to pay my credit card bill – this is with the same bank. I am told by the young lady behind the counter that as they do not have my signature on file do I have any form of ID on me, passport or driving license? As we do not live in a police state – well not just yet but the government keep trying to nudge us in that direction – my answer is no.

WTF, it is my money going from one account to another at the same bank. Things go downhill from here, after checking with her manager she starts asking me security questions and I fail at the first fence – date of birth? Well that is not what they have on record for me I am told, now when using telephone banking over the last couple of years it has never been a problem.

The whole thing took around 15 minutes and left me feeling like a petty criminal – those fecking banks lose billions of pounds through management incompetence and treat long standing customers in a pretty shabby way.

Unless I receive an explanation and apology I will be taking my business elsewhere (already have a current account with a building society) – not closing the account though, just leaving it with £2.50 in it. That way it will cost them to administer it each year, posting out statements etc – and I will get the satisfaction of sticking it to them!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Zappa

Hard to believe that I have been posting now for 18 months and I have never put one up on Frank Zappa; erudite, eccentric, humorous, opponent of censorship and organised religions, fantastic guitar player, great songwriter and all round good guy.

You can tell that I am a huge fan, but enough of my ramblings the following paragraph is a quote from an interview he did back in '68 and the video following it shows that he came “close” to his ideal.

The instrumentation of the ideal Mothers rock and roll band is two piccolos, two flutes, two bass flutes, two oboes, English horn, three bassoons, a contrabassoon, four clarinets (with the fourth player doubling on alto clarinet), bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass saxophones, four trumpets, four French horns, three trombones, one bass trombone, one tuba, one contrabass tuba, two harps, two keyboard men playing piano, electric piano, electric harpsichord, electric clavichord, Hammond organ, celeste, and piano bass, ten first violins, ten second violins, eight violas, six cellos, four string bass, four percussionists playing twelve timpani, chimes, gongs, field drums, bass drums, snare drums, woodblocks lion's roar, vibes, xylophone and marimba three electric guitars, one electric 12-string guitar, electric bass and electric bass guitar and two drummers at sets, plus vocalists who play tambourines. And I won't be happy until I have it. I think people are entitled to hear that kind of music live. Kids would go to concerts if they could hear music that knocked them out. If the concert halls would change to a more modern programming, they would find the place crawling with kids. Something like this won't happen overnight and I know it. But I've studied my audiences carefully enough to see that we're making some headway in that direction. Many people sit and listen to us because they pretend they can't dance to our music. That's total bull. I'm nearly an epileptic and I can make it. Those people don't sit because they enjoy the music. They're just waiting to find out if they like the music. It doesn't sound like what they've been used to hearing. They want to get their ears accustomed to it. It's not "psychedelic." I asked a nightclub owner what psychedelic music was. "It's loud out-of-tune crazy music," he told me, "You can't understand it." Our music is fairly logical.



And as a bonus here is a live version of Cosmik Debris from '73 which is double the length of the studio version at 8 minutes.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Landslip

Saturday morning we went for a walk down the hill to the beach at Charmouth, the sun was trying to break through the clouds with some degree of success – although it had been shining brightly when we left. So much so that Ginge decided to take in some rays on the neighbours shed roof after wolfing down his breakfast.



The coast line around here has seen some pretty heavy losses due to land slips over the last ten years, when my friends first moved down here they were able to walk straight across here on the coastal path.



The mud at the bottom of the fall is very treacherous and my friend who volunteers for the local coast guard has had to help pull out several unwary visitors.



The landslip photos were taken from the top of this small rise.



After that it was time to head back to the house, which is outside the village and around 95m above sea level – steep walk up the village street but luckily there is a pub half way up and after a couple of restorative pints of the local brew (Palmers) we were able to complete the “ascent”.

Thanks to D for supplying photos 3 & 4.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Before & After

Have never been a big U2 fan but they have produced some nifty tunes over the years, watched a documentary about them last week which while focusing on the making of the new album also covered their back story.

Which leads us neatly to the two videos posted here, the first one is possibly their first tv appearance = good to see that Bonio's dodgy dress sense was apparent even from a young age. The second is the same song performed in what looks like the San Siro football stadium in Milan, a more polished performance but then that is hardly surprising after all those years of practice.





Off to Dorset in an hour, laptop is coming along so might post over the weekend.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Beer 119 – Young's – Special London Ale


Many years ago I came down South from the hills after graduating ro start work in the wonderfuel world of IT, I was a confirmed draught Guinness drinker and had not had a beer for several years. I had never tasted real ale before that time, my elder bro' introduced me to this fine brew and I have never looked back.

Still enjoy a good pint of the black stuff but great ales are easier to find down here. This is bottle conditioned for “a fresher taste” (according to the label) and has a light malty flavour without much hop taste coming through and could be described as an IPA; comes in at a stonking 6.4% abv and can sneak up on you as it is very easy to drink.

An American guy I was working with bought some shares in the brewery – not as an investment but to attend the Annual General Meeting which was followed by a drink as much as you like for free session at the brewery.

Monday, 2 March 2009

New Sidebar Link

Have been reading this young lady's blog for a while now and have always found good writing up there, especially enjoy her “Starship Tales “ posts; thought that it was about time I put up a link to Roberta X.

Another one of my links had not posted anything since July last year and I was starting to become concerned that she had been pushed from her blog perch by an over intrusive management. However she has returned and is in fine form; so to read some well written vitriolic rants about the crap that nurses in the NHS have to put up with from their management head on over to Nurse Anne's place.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

News & Olds

Highland council has reduced the number of snow blowers that it uses down to 5 from high of 19, and decreased the amount of rock salt that they use due to the warmer winters they have had recently. Bet they wished that they had them a couple of weeks ago when they had 3 feet of snow in two days.

Numpty is one of my favourite words and one that I frequently find a use for, turns out that I am not alone as a poll of my fellow countrymen in 2007 found it to be the favourite word of us Scots.

Talking of words scientists in Reading have been carry out research on the way words evolve in Indo European languages over time and believe that they have discovered the oldest words in the English language; I, we, two and three date back tens of thousands of years. Interesting stuff and you can read the whole story here.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Scrambled Eggs

Turns out that I have been doing all the wrong things when cooking scrambled eggs over the years; whisking before adding to the pan, seasoning before applying heat and keeping them on the heat all the time.

What can I say, it is the way my mother always made them so I did not know any better; I came across Gordon Ramsay's take on scrambled eggs last year and have since tried it out and am now a convert. I like some smoked salmon or grated strong cheddar added to them rather than chives and a good thick slice of granary bread for the toast.

Not down with the vine tomatoes or mushrooms either – breakfast is a time for some fine pork products, like some Gloucester Old Spot bacon and sausages for example.

Beer 118 – Theakston's – Old Peculier


The bottom line on the label says it all “The Legend” - when I first had some on draught back in the seventies it appeared as a guest beer for a few weeks in one of our favourite pubs. There are some legendary tales from my friends of their experiences after a night on the Old Peculier – the classic being 2 guys walking home after a session and falling into hedges (note plural) before eventually reaching their destination.

Very dark in colour the most pronounced taste is of malt, but despite it's respectable 5.6% abv it is wonderfully easy to drink – which explains a lot of those tales.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Elizabethan Naval Warfare

Watched an interesting documentary last night about the recovery of two cannon from an Elizabethan warship off the coast of Alderney, archaeology at sea is much trickier and much more dangerous than when done on land – a diver died in the course of this dig. In her father's reign (Henry VIII) a warship would have had cannon of different sizes which could make reloading a problem as you would have to find the correct sized cannon ball to be able to load it.

The point of the dig was to demonstrate that this ship was carrying cannon of a uniform size by raising two to compare with one recovered earlier from the sands below, all of the shot recovered from the site had been of a single size.

This was achieved and marks the start of using a naval ship as a gun platform much earlier than historian believed previously and led to a change in tactics away from boarding towards coordinated firing of cannon in a broadside.

They also recovered a musket and a steel breastplate while excavating the cannon and carried out an interesting experiment using a replica of the musket and a piece of steel of the same thickness as the breastplate. They fired a round from a modern 1911 pistol at the steel which made a noticeable dent but did not penetrate, the musket ball on the other hand went straight through.

Even having watched this I think that I would prefer the ease of use of the 1911 to the complicated reloading of the musket if I ever found myself in a gun fight - not that we have many of these round here.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Arithmetic 101

This post is about the laziness of journalists and how basic arithmetic skills have gone AWOL in the 21st Century – it is brought to you by the ever informative site Bad Science where the ability to perform some simple sums remains in place.

Some of you may have read this story which was splashed all over our meejah outlets this week, with the headline “British forces in Afghanistan seize £50m of heroin and kill 20 Taliban”.

So far so good, but let us take a look at the MOD press release where the figure of £50 million heroin is first used and read on more carefully than all of the UK press. The army seized 1,260 Kg of opium which if processed could make around 130 Kg of pure heroin which (if sold in Afghanistan) would fetch around $250,000.

Not quite £50 million is it? Ben then goes on to calculate that if you took the street price in the UK and were cutting the heroin down to 30% of pure you might end up with a figure of £20 million – but Johnny Taliban is not running a major retail operation across the UK.

All pretty simple straightforward calculations that you would like to think our journalists would have performed after reading all of the press release. Alas this was not the case, the £50 million figure crops up in the 2nd paragraph of the press release and everyone ran with that.

It all goes to prove that you cannot believe the figures that you read in the media when their source is a government press release; and that you cannot rely on the media to read the press release and then carry out some basic calculations to verify any figures claimed in there.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Half Term

This week has been half term in these parts when all the school children get a week off and there are ups and downs. For a start the roads are quieter in the mornings and afternoons as no school runs are being done – according to my driving friends.

For me there have been ups and downs, on the plus side my second favourite train to catch in the morning to local big city has not had to carry it's usual infestation of school kids. Well if you count the 15 to 20 who get on at my station and get off at the next one to be replaced by a similar number heading for the next and last stop as an infestation.

This makes the train much less noisy and crowded and lets me get into a zen like trance to prepare myself for the rigours of the working day.

The down side is that the streets of local big city are much more crowded with children of a lunch time and the late afternoon trains have been busier as well. It would appear that the “attractions” of local big city attract the kids like a candle attracts moths.

All comes to an end on Monday so I think that I will prepare by catching my most favourite train tomorrow morning, means that I have to leave the house 20 minutes earlier but it has the double advantage of no kids in term time and it tends to arrive on time or earlier. The second favourite has only arrived on time once in all the times that I have used it.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

News

Well who would have thought it, grizzly bears do not like getting their ears wet and will play “football” with dead fish in rivers to kick them into the shallows to keep them dry.

Our galaxy has “billions of Earths” - hope that they are not all fecked up as our one appears to be these days.

Gerry Rafferty is not missing – not sure that this strictly qualifies as news but at least it puts the rumours to rest.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Beer 117 – Fuller's – ESB


This is another old favourite of mine and was my bitter of choice for a number of years when I was younger. It has won the World champion bitter award twice and numerous other awards for the reason that it is a very fine beer.

The taste is a balance between the strong malt flavour offset by the bitterness of the hops and it slides easily over the tongue, comes in at a brain damaging 5.9% abv and is dangerously deceptive. It does not taste like a strong beer and if you are not careful with the pace of the first 2 or 3 pints then you can find your evening coming to an early end due to “user incapacity”.

Oh, and ESB is Extra Special Bitter – a name that this one certainly deserves.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Observations On City Life

It has to be 13 years since I last worked in the centre of Local
Big City and while some things are unchanged there are a fair few
noticeable differences to be observed while feeding my nicotine habit

  • The numbers of police on the streets appears to have
    increased dramatically – hang on, they are not “real
    police”* - they are PCSOs; a “great” government
    invention to allay public fears on crime by putting more bodies on
    the street to create the illusion of greater police numbers.

  • Every second person now seems to be talking on their mobile
    phone while walking around, I am amazed that I do not see more
    pedestrian collisions on a daily basis.

  • If not on a phone then a large number of them have an mp3
    player plugged into their ears.

  • People talking in foreign languages (Eastern European,
    African, Far Eastern, Middle Eastern etc) to others or on phones are
    much more prevalent than before – nowhere close to being a
    sizeable proportion, just more than I remember overhearing in the
    past.

  • There are greater numbers of mobility/disability buggies
    roaming the streets – are more people disabled now than 12
    years ago?

  • Greater use is being made of the city bus services, on some
    stretches of narrow pavements walking past a bus stop is now a major
    obstacle course.

  • Urban cyclists are a law unto themselves and I have witnessed
    several near misses with pedestrians in the last few weeks.

  • A number of banks have closed premises and nearly every one
    has been turned into a bar/pub.

  • Smokers are now no longer allowed to indulge their habit
    indoors and can be seen huddling together for warmth outside almost
    every office/pub/shop – looking a wee bit like emperor
    penguins.

    * As used on The Wire
  • Friday, 13 February 2009

    Mike Bones

    Saw this guy on tv a couple of weeks ago and really liked the sound, turns out he is a well respected session guitarist called Mike Strallow. Found out they were playing a pub in local Big City on a Saturday night not long after and I had planned to go but as I had not shaken off a cold decided against it – and have regretted it ever since.

    Introduced as a hot guitarist and they played this number which I really enjoyed – but there is not much guitar soloing going on in What I Have Left:



    They then played Give Up On Guitars, which does have a neat guitar break in it – and the more I listen the more I regret not taking the chance to see him/them in a small venue up close and personal.

    Thursday, 12 February 2009

    Snow!

    Was talking to a relative who moved back to my home town a couple of years ago and they had some real snow last week. 18" fell overnight last Thursday, then another 18" on Friday night followed by a few more inches on Saturday, now that is what I call proper winter weather.

    The "icing" on the cake came on Sunday night when the temperature dropped to -17C overnight and then on Tuesday it struggled to get past -10C during the day.

    I did ask for some photos of what real snow looks like to post here but my relative is digitally challenged to put it mildly, so unless Big Sis (who was visiting on Saturday) comes through with some we will just have to use our imaginations.

    UPDATED I was wrong to criticise, these photos were taken today and were waiting for me on my return from work.


    Sunday, 8 February 2009

    Jodrell Bank


    I have had an interest in science and space exploration since I was a wee loon growing up in the Highlands, one of the thinks which sparked this was seeing images of the then largest moveable radio telescope on the planet at Jodrell Bank. At 250 feet in diameter it is a most impressive piece of kit and has been helping to increase our knowledge of the universe since it opened in 1957.

    Was dismayed to learn that in March last year the government body responsible for it's funding were going to slash it's budget putting the site at risk. This was deeply frustrating as the scientists were within a year of completing the upgrade to the network which connects it to 6 other radio telescopes across England. This work, replacing microwave transmission links between the sites with fibre optic links will increase the sensitivity of the array by 30 times and is due to finish later on this year.

    It was saved by a public campaign that was so heated it forced the government body to change their minds in July, and rightly so as when e-Merlin comes on line the array will be able to process in one day what it currently takes 3 years to collect!

    This is very important, for as the late Douglas Adams wrote:

    "Space is big - really big - you just won't believe how vastly, hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. You may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space."

    Saturday, 7 February 2009

    Beer 116 – Hook Norton's – Old Hooky


    Now this was a real treat to find on the shelf in the supermarket today, it has to be around 30 years since I last tasted this fine ale; although I did drink a lot of that week in Oxfordshire. We were on holiday on a canal boat heading from Oxford to Banbury and Hook Norton owned most of the pubs by the canal.

    Cannot recommend such trips highly enough, you potter along at 2mph until lunchtime when you stop at a pub for a few before carrying on until late afternoon when you tie up at a pub for the night!

    What I did not know was that the brewery are still using a 25hp steam engine purchased in 1899 as part of the brewing process – purchased for the sum of £175 that makes it a really great investment in the company's future by the family that started and still owns the business.

    Old Hooky is a classic English ale and tastes just as fine out of the bottle as it did from the tap, slightly sweet tasting with a wonderful balance between the taste of the malt and hops used to produce it. It comes in at a healthy 4.6% abv and having finished this one I was left wanting more, an excellent beer from a fine family owned brewery and well worth your support if you can find it.

    I am amazed that we managed to down 3 or 4 of a lunchtime and never once crashed the barge – still we were a lot younger then and drinking a lot more on a daily basis than nowadays.

    Wednesday, 4 February 2009

    Terry Pratchett - Living with Alzheimer's

    There is a documentary on BBC2 tonight at 21:00 (part 1 of 2) where the great Discworld author talks about talks of his experience of a rare form of Alzheimer's. "I was enraged," he says about being diagnosed. "I wanted to make Alzheimer's sorry it had caught me." The programme follows him living with the variant of the disease called Posterior Cortical Atrophy and his efforts to help find a cure by donating a chunk of his wealth.

    I am sure that it will be informative and amusing at the same time, this is a subject close to my heart and it will be good to hear his thoughts on the disease.

    Should be available to watch for one week on the BBC web site (UK readers only) and might event make it to BBC Worldwide.

    Monday, 2 February 2009

    Snow


    Woke up this morning to find that just over 2” of the white stuff had fallen overnight to provide a seasonal blanket for everything. Now in the Highlands at this time of year such a fall would pass without comment and the roads would have been cleared before most people had to go out in the morning.

    However down in the deep South of England this is being described as the heaviest fall for 18 years and it has caused chaos on the roads, at airports (all BA flights out of Heathrow cancelled until 17:00) and to train services. I decided that catching the 08:44 train to local big city might get me around the problem but I was dead wrong.

    After trudging to the station (a pleasant 1 mile walk) I arrived to be told that there would be no trains going my way for at least an hour so I tramped back to DBA cottages, made another cafetiere of coffee and hunkered down in front of the gas fire.

    Within 10 mins the train information web site had returned from it's early morning crash and I could see that the 09:44 service was running but 28 minutes late. According to the site it turned up 40 mins late, rather than face the hordes on the 10:44 one I decided to monitor it's progress and if it was running on time go for the one an hour later – only problem with this plan was the web site crashing again.

    When it returned after a 15 minute delay that train had gone from the listings so I was good to go on the 11:44 – which turned up 20 minutes late, but at least it turned up.

    No snow forecast for tonight but what remains is due to freeze overnight so the pavements should be good and slippy tomorrow morning

    Sunday, 1 February 2009

    Locusts and Other News

    Scientists in the UK and Australia have discovered the reason for locusts swarming, it turns out that locusts are by nature solitary creatures but if food runs short they start to gather together. This causes an increase in their Serotonin levels which in addition to causing physical changes turns them into aggressive swarm mode.

    The scientists are hoping that now they understand the cause they may be able to stop swarms if they can find some way of depressing the Serotonin levels in the future.

    Amazon's profits rose by 9% in the last 3 months of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007 - if like me you are no fan of the crowded shopping experience then this will come as no surprise. Good prices and the most stress free shopping I have ever performed make them the first stop retailer for a lot of people – also great to read some cheering economic news for a change.

    Friday, 30 January 2009

    John Martyn - RIP

    I have posted on this fine guitarist and songwriter before and was very sad to learn this morning that he passed away yesterday. I was lucky enough to catch him live a few times and while he could have off nights when he had consumed too much alcohol or drugs when he was on form he was in a class of his own.

    Here he is playing electric and once again backed by Danny Thompson (ex Pentangle) with a fine version of Sweet Little Mystery,



    Feels like there has been a rash of deaths among people I have admired a lot recently – here's hoping the trend stops here.So for one last time here is playing Johnny Too Bad, farewell John, gone but never forgotten.

    Sunday, 25 January 2009

    Another Not Live Scandal?

    Following on from last years Olympics opening where it was revealed that the young girl was miming as the actual girl singer had been deemed to be not cute enough to represent China we get another.

    Turns out that the classical music quartet playing at the 44th President's Inauguration on Tuesday were not amplified and that a recording made a couple of days before was used. The reasoning being that because of the cold instruments could go out of tune or strings break.

    All very reasonable, but it appears that they were playing just not being amplified – so what I would like to know is were they using cheap replicas of their instruments to protect them from damage or the real deals?

    Saturday, 24 January 2009

    Happy 25th Macintosh

    It was 25 years ago today that Apple released the first Macintosh on sale to the public and in terms of human interaction with computers it was a big leap forward with it's Graphical User Interface, mouse and one 3.5” floppy drive. Note for younger readers, back in those days a PC might come with a 10Mb hard drive if you had the funds or more likely a pair of 5.25” floppy drives where the disks were floppy!

    At that time on a PC everything was driven from a Command Line Interface where the user had to know the name of the program that they wanted to run and any parameters that it required. It would take Microsoft another 6 years before they could produce a usable version of Windows in 3.x, however the first truly stable version of the operating system was Windows 2000 Professional which I used for 5 years without once experiencing the “Blue Screen of Death”.

    Back in '84 I bought an Apricot F1 which came with a GUI, trackball mouse and 2 3.5” floppy disk drives, a cutting edge product for the time from a UK company. For that reason the Apple never really crossed my event horizon and to this day I have never had to use one, I know people who swear by them but Apple's closed system approach has always raised my hackles – see especially the iphone.

    It would be curmudgeonly however not to offer Apple congratulations on sparking the revolution in consumer human/computer interaction that has brought us to where we are today. While I am happiest in front of a UNIX command prompt it is not the place for the average computer user who just wants to use them to perform other tasks.

    Sunday, 18 January 2009

    Performance Poets 3 – Benjamin Zephaniah

    There are some people who confound the conventional wisdom that your school years prepare you for life and Benjamin Zephaniah is one of those people. A dyslexic, he left school at the age of 13 unable to read or write but even at that age he was writing and performing poetry.

    His first poetry book was published in 1980 and he has written 10 others as well as seven novels and some plays, on top of all that he has also released several albums and recorded most recently with The Imagined Village. His style (unsurprisingly for someone of West Indian origins) is that of a dub poet and I never tire of listening to his rhythmical rhymings:



    Here is a longer one Rong Radio.