1 February 2011 (Tuesday) - Indecision
We had the podge-a-thon weigh-in today. Despite my McDonalds last Sunday, over the last week I’ve lost three pounds.
An interesting letter arrived for me at work today. I have to make a decision about my pension. The NHS has changed its pension scheme for those who started after 2008, and those of us who started before that date are being offered the option to transfer to the new scheme. On the one hand the new scheme will offer me a not inconsiderably higher pension. On the other hand I will have to work much longer before I get that pension. It’s always been my intention to retire as early as I possibly can. But will I be able to afford to retire on half pay, as opposed to the offered two-thirds pay if I work longer. Ideally I would like to see how I feel as I approach my sixtieth birthday and decide then, but that would be too simple. I have to make my pension decision in the next month. ‘er indoors TMwants me to work to the bitter end. I want to pack up at the first opportunity. I shall have to do some sums and se how skint I might be in February 2024 on the existing scheme as opposed to how well off I could be in February 2029 on the new scheme. I’ll do those sums later…
Meanwhile it has been said that I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time running down the Government, but today I must react against the news in their defence. The Government today launched a new web site on which you type in your post code and you can find out what manner of villainery has been going on locally.
The web site has started off by giving a load of false information, and then crashed, and the pundits are gloating. Gloating unfairly in my opinion. The false information coming out of this site is only as good as the information going in. If the police reporting the crimes in the first place can’t be bothered to record the information properly, then the information on file is going to be wrong.
Also such a website is going to attract a lot of interest, if only out of morbid curiosity. And when it was first launched amid a fanfare of media coverage, it was receiving over seventy five thousand hits a minute before it finally gave up and crashed. Seventy five thousand hits a minute is quite a lot, really. Once the novelty has worn off, and hits subside to a more reasonable level, and once the police have actually put reliable data into the website would be a better time to condemn the website out of hand.
For myself I'm still undecided about the innovation. One the one hand I'm intrigued to know how rampant crime is along my street. On the other hand I can't find out because I crashed the works PC when I tried to find out…
2 February 2011 (Wednesday) - Letters and emails
I suppose it’s time for a parrot update. In years to come the parrot will be but a distant memory, and if nothing else I can use this diary to remind myself of the fun I had.
All the books about parrot husbandry say that parrots like fresh fruit and vegetables and nuts, and that they should always have fresh water. This is eminently good advice; however I feel I should point out that parrots rarely read the books. Parrots only like fresh fruit and vegetables and nuts because they make for good projectiles to throw across the room. And parrots should always have fresh water because it gives them something in which to poop. For nutrition, parrots like chips, pizza crust and cheese & onion hula-hoops, all washed down with a cup of tea. A full cup of tea which must be guzzled until the parrot is physically sick because no more tea will go in.
The parrot has also become incredibly tame – so tame that she regularly climbs onto my hand and allows me to hold her whilst I fuss her. She tries to bite anyone else who attempts to go near her, but I can do no wrong (so far!) But she is so noisy! I don’t mind the chattering and the jabbering, but it’s the sounds of phones and machine guns and fire alarms and the screaming that are driving me mad.
Being on a late start this morning I went through the post that had piled up over the last few days. Our English Heritage membership cards have arrived, together with a letter asking for me to give English Heritage a cash donation for no adequately explored reason.
Yet another statement for the snake club’s moribund bank account. Surely the bank must realise that with no transactions having taken place on this account for some ten years, the account isn’t being used.
I’ve received my Buildings Regulation Compliance Gas Safety Certificate, which confirms that the boiler which we had fitted complies with the relevant regulations. That’s nice. The thing was installed five months ago, and it’s taken officialdom that long to realise. I suspect this is deliberate on their part. After all I would imagine that unsafe gas boilers would explode fairly promptly after installation, so by leaving it for a few months they will be left with only those worth certifying.
I had a letter from those with whom I insured my motor bike (all those years ago). They were trying to sell me life insurance. For fifteen quid a month they will pay me one hundred thousand pounds should I croak sometime in the next fifteen years. That would be nice – existing life assurance policies could pay my funeral costs, and this policy could pay for my corpse to go on a really good pub crawl. I’m sure ‘er indoors TM would like the bung should I croak, but I don’t intend to pop my clogs just yet. After all, there is a limit to just how much life insurance one needs. And bearing in mind that these policies only pay up if you croak, you lose either way with them.
I had a letter from BT offering me a super-wonderful deal if I were to pack up with my internet provider and to use their broadband internet connection instead. Which was ironic because my internet provider was asking me to pack up using my BT phone line and to use their phone package instead.
And then I had a backlog of emails to go through. I had a rather snotty email fromAshford
. In theory Ashford Freecycle is a good way to get rid of your unwanted stuff to people who might actually want it, or a good way to pick up a bargain from someone else’s unwanted tat. In practice it’s run by some rather arrogant and pedantic people. Every time I’ve ever tried to offer anything to them for free, I’ve had my emails returned with a very rude reply about why my email doesn’t conform to their tedious regulations. And I’ve been getting very pompous emails from them with annoying regularity. They seem to feel that we should be grateful to them for taking the time to make getting rid of your unwanted stuff so difficult. I’ve had enough of them – there are plenty of other free websites on which one can give away and get stuff. So I packed up with Ashford Freecycle last night. They promptly sent an automated email asking why I’d unsubscribed, and so I told them. Rather politely, I thought: “Since you ask, the reason I’ve unsubscribed is that I don’t like the tone of the emails that come through from your list.” One of their moderators replied at silly o’clock this morning. He had a go at me that it was too late for him to give my email serious consideration, and he went on to say that what I’d said to them would be considered after they’d had “a sad family commitment”.
The power company wanted my leccie and gas meter readings. So I read them and typed them into their website. According to their on-line estimates I was well in credit, so I phoned to ask for a refund. The nice lady at the other end of the phone wondered why I’d given them a meter reading. I told her that I’d been prompted to do so by email. She laughed - her reaction led me to believe that emails were done for a bit of a joke, and that no one ever took them seriously. But apparently my giving them a meter reading will prompt a bill, and if I phone on Monday I’ll get a true figure of how much in credit (or debt) I really am. I expect I will have forgotten all about this by Monday…
Yesterday I mentioned that I read my leccie meter. This morning I had an email saying that I’d read the meter wrong. So I read it again and phoned them up. The chap I spoke with seemed rather clueless, and he suggested that the numbers I’d provided were rather high. If today’s readings were correct then the meter reading I’d done for them a few months ago was wrong. Could I perhaps check that meter reading? However, since I was lacking the wherewithal to perform a feat of time travel, that wasn’t going to be an easy task. This foxed the nice man on the phone: presumably he deals with a lot of Time Lords. Having eventually persuaded him that I had no way (practical or even theoretical) of getting to last November, he eventually (and reluctantly) plugged today’s figures into the computer. He grumbled that my next bill might be rather expensive. So much for my getting any refund off of the leccie this month.
I then spent half an hour (or so) on my next presentation for the astro club. Although I’m not due to speak until October, I have this idea that if I get my talk on comets ready early, should we then get a bright comet, I could do it that month and be topical. After all, statistically we get a very bright comet about once every ten years, and it’s been fourteen years since comet Halle-Bopp was a bright object in the winter sky. So we are due for one.
Having said that, as I fast approach my forty-seventh birthday, I’ve only ever seen two comets which were bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. My Grandmother had seen five by the time she was six.
And then it occurred to me that if and when I finally get my sexy new telescope up and running, then it might be nice to have a flat surface on which to stand the thing. We’ve got a patio but it’s rather near the house. I’d like to set the telescope up half way down the garden. But the lawn is somewhat uneven there. I had a plan to lay down some paving slabs to make a flat area. There is a shop nearby which specialises in paving slabs for patios – I’ve driven past it many times when I’ve been off to the tip. So today I popped in for a look and a chat.
Nothing is ever as simple as it might seem. I had this plan to lightly dig over the area where I want to lay the slabs, then lay the slabs, and leave them to settle. The man in the shop was too polite to laugh out loud at my naivety, but I could tell he wasn’t impressed. He was wittering on about sharp sands and base layers and two parts of cement. What started off as a simple little idea was fast becoming a major exercise in civil engineering.
I woke with a start this morning. What I can only describe as the trumpets of hell blasted me from my slumber, and I found myself in a sulphurous murk. In a fit of panic I thought I‘d died and gone to hell. And then I realised it was only my beloved “letting rip”.
Another late start so I spent some more time mucking about on my comet presentation for the astro club. Most, if not all of the information is (probably) all there: I’ve just got to add the silly text effects and one or two trademark knob jokes. I have one minor problem with the presentation though. About a quarter of the way into the thing I have a slide titled “An Aside” which features the relative sizes of the UK and Australia. I have absolutely no idea what that is about, or whatever possessed me to put that slide in. But I can remember spending ages getting that slide together. I wonder what it’s supposed to illustrate. I hope I remember before I give the talk.
The provisional plan for this morning was to be getting to grips with my new telescope: I was expecting it to have been delivered by now. But stocktaking at the suppliers has delayed the delivery. I’m now expecting it early next week. So I spent some time in NeverWinter, where goblins are running riot.
And so to work, where I had a bit of a funny turn. I couldn’t see straight for a few minutes. Whilst working at the computer, everything suddenly appeared somewhat blurred, and I couldn’t really see anything on the screen which was in a font size much smaller than twenty. And I could see wobbly blurry moving things all round the edge of my field of vision. It was odd – I was otherwise well. I wasn’t so much worried as annoyed: I was really angry that I’d shelled out a squillion pounds on a new telescope only to be unable to look down it (!)
I had this plan that if I sat still, the episode might pass. So I did, and it did. I didn’t want to say anything to any of my colleagues, otherwise I would have been packed off to A&E (one of the advantages of working in a hospital) who would send me back again once the turn had passed, and all that would have been achieved would be that I would be an hour behind with my work. In the end, the turn went away after fifteen minutes or so.
I hope it don’t come back. I’m let wondering what it might have been. Realistically it could have been anything of over a hundred things from “one of those things” to a minor stroke. I think it was probably eye strain brought on from being too near the PC monitor, and aggravated because I might need new glasses. I’ll book an eye test to find out.
Home again where I discovered something. Everyone else in the household is having problems with the parrot. All the time she is doing what everyone else wants of her, all is fine. In fact all the time she’s not actively misbehaving, all is fine, However if she wants to go walkabout, or won’t go back into her cage, then persuading her otherwise is difficult. Sometimes she can be chivvied with a newspaper, but more often than not she bites the newspaper in a rather contemptuous manner.
“My Boy TM ” has discovered that the parrot is scared of a yellow duck puppet. Not just scared – terrified. “Duckie” can be used with great effect, but must be used in a controlled way. One needs to steer the parrot as she stampedes away in terror. But it’s more effective than a newspaper. For now…
There are quite a few events in my life that get pencilled into my diary as soon as the event is announced. Dover beer festival is one of them. An early start for once as three of us met up at the Kiln Café for a spot of brekkie. I’ve recently become something of an aficionado of the Full English breakfast and I think that (so far) the Kiln Café does the best one locally. It’s a shame that the place is spoiled by the owner having the children from hell charging round the place.
With brekkie scoffed we were soon on the train to Dover. Collecting the Rear Admiral on the way and meeting Steve at the queue for the festival, we were soon handing over our entrance money. And then the fun started. We paid to get into the place, which was fine. We then had to join a separate queue for glasses and beer tokens. Oh dear!
I realise the chap was a volunteer and was doing the best he could, but he was useless. It was as though every transaction he did was his first. He was dithering, counting out wrong amounts of tokens and generally getting very confused. But to be fair to him, I blame the organisers. Whilst this poor old bloke generally got himself into a pickle with the tokens and the queue grew longer and longer, there were half a dozen other volunteers standing behind the bar waiting to serve the beer. Surely some of them could have helped with glasses and tokens?
Eventually we got glasses and tokens. I had one token too many. Steve had three too many. Dan had already arrived and had found us a table. However in bagging us somewhere to sit he’d gotten himself to the back of the queue for beer tokens.
Eventually we were all seated and drinking. Some old friends from Eurostar walked by and joined us, and with the arrival of Irene and Terry our party was complete. The rules did say that we weren’t supposed to bring food in, but everyone else had, and so we started on our feast and we started on the beers. I used all my tokens:
I told the organisers off. They always have live music on the stage. And it’s rather genteel music. But so quiet that you can hardly hear it. In fact they’d been playing for twenty minutes before anyone realised. I got them to crank up the volume, and we sang along with the hippopotamus song (Mud, mud, glorious mud), and had quite a rousing chorus of Rule Britannia. I really need to learn all the words to that.
But time was pressing on and the tokens were all spent. We could (relatively) easily have bought more tokens, but with the weakest beer at the festival being 5% ABV, and all the weak beers having sold out. We thought we’d best move on.
I’ve slated Blakes of Dover on pub review websites before, but to be fair to the place, it is by far the best real ale pub in Dover. And seeing how quite a few of our party were keen to visit, we thought we’d give it a go. And we were pleasantly surprised. In the past I’ve encountered a very conceited attitude from the bar staff and the locals. There was none of that today, and we struck up a conversation with a pair of blokes from Luxembourg who’d come to Dover for the weekend for the beer festival.
By now we were peckish, and so adjourned for fish and chips. Or so I see from my photos. We must have had chips, but I have absolutely no memory of this. There is a blank between Blakes and waving goodbye to Steve, before we adjourned to the Wetherspoons for a crafty half. The original plan had been to shout at the rugby, but we were far too late for that. And so, after a pint of Wantsum (the Rear Admiral did!) we got the train home.
I awoke feeling somewhat under the weather today. Can’t imagine why. Faced with the prospect of feeling sorry for myself all day, I went through my diary to see what I’ve done in previous years on the day after Dover beer festival. Last year I spent the day painting trellises. The year before I sold a bike on eBay. In 2008 I felt rather sorry for myself, having seriously overindulged. In 2007 I went toHastings to visit family, and in 2006 I was working on my post-graduate certificate. None of those activities really appealed to me today.
Mind you, one comment from my diary struck a chord with me. Two years ago when making plans for that year’s Dover beer festival I wrote “I’m a bit vague as to who is going – I’ve emailed eighteen people and have had three replies.” Yesterday was much the same. During the week I’d emailed over twenty people and got three replies. Usually whenever I go anywhere I tend to go as part of a mob, and yesterday numbers were certainly down on previous years.
Don’t get me wrong - if people have other plans, then that’s fine with me. My concern is that my email list is out of date. I’d hate for people to have missed out because I’ve got the wrong email address for anyone, or because my spam filter is eating emails. During the week I’ve found that I’ve got at least one wrong entry in my electronic address book.
The parrot was particularly noisy today. We cleaned her cage out – she seems to enjoy cage cleaning time – it’s an opportunity for her to chew on the clothing of those clearing up her mess. She then had a flap and (sort of) flew into the hallway. Finding herself lost she allowed ‘er indoors TM to get close, and even went so far as to climb on her hand. There was quite a bit of flapping, and stroking certainly wasn’t going to be allowed. But ‘er indoors TM got to hold the parrot. I’m quite pleased about that – I am so plainly the parrot’s favourite that it’s getting to be rather embarrassing.
Having cleaned her cage out, she then made a right mess. For some reason she tried to have a bath in her water bowl. Water went everywhere. And then the phone rang. Brian lives a couple of hundred yards away, and from his kitchen window he could clearly see a grey parrot on a nearby shed roof. Had our parrot escaped? I had a moment of panic, but the scream of a parrot impersonating a telephone never sounded so reassuring. Our parrot was fine: somebody else’s had escaped. I hope that parrot got retrieved – today was not good weather for a parrot to be loose.
We then went shopping. The obligatory trip to Lidls, and then to the electronics shop Maplins. If and when my sexy new telescope arrives I’m told a power pack is a must. The “go-to” function eats the batteries, and if I’m going to get anywhere with astro-photography, then I will need to power a lap-top too. Apparently electronics shops sell power packs that will keep the thing going for ages. I’ve asked advice for a good power pack, but in the meantime I thought I’d have a look in Maplins. The assistant there had absolutely no idea what the phrase “power pack” meant. I explained in great detail what I had in mind, and he suggested I bought one of their solar panels. I then had to explain to him why I laughed out loud at the idea.
My piss boiled as I read the news this morning. There is a move afoot in Georgia to change some legal terminology. No longer will anyone be a victim of rape. Instead people who’ve been raped will legally be known as the “accuser”. Presumably those who actually did the raping will now be the victim of that accusation?
And so to work? I can’t help but wonder how many of us actually made the effort today. A lot of people didn’t. It would seem that every year more people phone in sick on the first Monday in February than on any other day in the year. So much so that today is actually National Sickie Day. Whether or not people are actually ill, or are just skiving is a matter of conjecture.
But I made it into work, and didn’t have the best of days. But not as bad as a colleague. Whilst sitting having lunch the poor girl started to quiver, and had a full blown epileptic fit in her chair. Not really knowing what to do for the best I grabbed her shoulders and another colleague grabbed her ankles and we laid her down on the floor; the idea being if she was already on the floor she couldn’t fall any further. As she thrashed about I supported her head so she wouldn’t bash it, and after a minute or so the fit subsided. A couple of minutes later she came round with a start, and was rather shocked to find herself on the floor with her head between my knees. (Understandable, really!) We reassured her as best we could and as she got her breath back and recovered from the excitement, so she had a second fit. Taking no chances we packed her off to the accident and emergency department.
After that excitement the podge-a-thon weigh-in came as something of an anticlimax. Bearing in mind that over the last week I’ve had fish and chips, KFC and a beer festival, it’s hardly surprising I’ve put on a few pounds. But I am still slightly less of a porker than when the diet started. I shall continue for a week or so more, but the novelty of diet is fast wearing off.
I hear the astro club now has ninety two members. I have slight reservations about this. Bearing in mind I was there when the club started, and I spent at least a year feeling that the format of the club when it started left much to be desired, I’m really pleased at how well the club has come on. However… ninety two members…. It makes for a very crowded meeting hall, and with that amount of people along it’s very easy for newcomers to be missed as they arrive, not welcomed by anyone, and to have gone home at the end of the evening having had a very lonely experience.
I *know* that this shouldn’t be my concern, and that I’ve been off of the committee for over a year, but I’ve taken it on myself to at least say hello to everyone as they come in, and to try to make sure that people are, if not getting on like a house on fire, at least have someone to talk to. With such a large membership this is tricky.
Talking of things astronomical, today sees the areo-nauts entering the descent module which leaves the mothership to (hopefully) land on the Martian surface. Exciting news indeed – or it would be. If only a manned mission to Mars were actually really in orbit around Mars, and not merely a simulation in a warehousein Moscow.
My blog entry from 22 October 2009 described the Mars 500 mission – a simulation of a mission to Mars designed to see how people would cope being cooped up in a space rocket for five hundred days. When the project was first announced I was keen to volunteer myself. I have a (reasonably) respectable scientific background. However my “generous physique” and my inability to speak Russian counted against me. But there were more than enough applicants for the project to go ahead, and they set (simulated) sail to Mars last June. Today (or probably tomorrow) half the crew lands on a simulated Martian surface. I just hope I live long enough to see the first Martian landings for real.
Meanwhile over on Friends Reunited I’ve found a colour photo from thirty six years ago. Can you tell which one is me? There is also a more recent black and white photo from only thirty three years ago. I’m reliably informed I’m in there somewhere. Whilst I was on Friends Reunited, I spent a few minutes finding out what some of the old schoolmates were up to.
One (with whom I competed for my first job in pathology) is working as an ecologist all over the country. He’s just finished working in Cumbria widening the A74 between Carlisle a Gretna, rescuing snakes and badgers from the paths of bulldozers! The school smartass teaches ambulance driving in Yorkshire. My ex-best mate is a director at Smith-Kline-Beecham. The senior geek is living inPrague where he is working for one of the world’s top banks. Mick is an engineer in Detroit. “Bonehead” works in Hong Kong. And one old mucker is currently living in Dallas (Texas) where he works for Cathay Pacific. He is a pilot flying passenger 747s across the Pacific.
When I left school (all those years ago) at the last grading we had before our “O” levels I ended up second in the class. I was academically streets ahead of all of them. Am I jealous of them now… Could I have done better with my life…
No, not really. It never pays to dwell on what might have been. Because had I become that surgeon or bishop or chief constable, I would most likely not have been at Dover last weekend, or at “Stargazing Live” last month, nor would be going to Brighton in May, or Teston in June…
My sexy new telescope has arrived. There was quite a lot of packaging to dig through, but I think all the bits are there. I now need to smile hopefully at friends who might check the thing is properly collimated (as opposed to shining a laser into it and sucking air in through their teeth like I do). And then I need a clear night to take it outside and have a go at the night sky with it.
I still need to get some accessories – a power pack is a must: I am reliably informed that a set of eight batteries will last about twenty minutes. Battery power will get pricey. I also need a webcam and adaptor, and the lead to connect the telescope to my laptop.
Two days ago I had a rant about how the victims of rape are no longer victims, but accusers. On reflection, when I ranted on Monday I made one rather major assumption – that the victims are actually victims, and not merely “accusers”. I’ve had second thoughts. I feel I really should address both sides of the story on this matter.
There was an incident just up the road from me a few days ago. The street in which my children went to school was closed for a weekend whilst crime scene investigators searched for evidence after a young lady was raped. Or claimed she had been raped. Having found no evidence whatsoever, and the accused having more alibis than sense, the police then asked the young lady in question if she’d really been raped. It turned out she hadn’t at all. She’d had a squabble with her boyfriend who turned out to be the chap she’d accused. In her (presumably) rather simple mind she somehow thought it was perfectly acceptable to punish her boyfriend for daring to disagree with her. The punishment being the accusation of rape.
The consequences of this were endless. What must have gone through her boyfriend’s mind as he sat in the police cells? The closure of Victoria Road cost local businesses thousands of pounds in lost income. And how much police time and money was wasted?
Making false allegations isn’t a new thing. One of my heroes (well, anti-hero really) is Titus Oates. He was a cheeky one as well. Back in the seventeenth century when religion was seen to be important, Catholicism wasn’t seen to be a good thing in England, and Titus didn’t like the left-footers. Anybody squabbling with Titus on religious grounds found themselves accused of all manner of wrongdoing. The bimbo who cried rape just up the road from me was a total novice compared to Titus: he managed to get (at least) fifteen innocent people put to death for crossing him.
Unfounded accusations are rife in our society. Earl Howe has been quoted (in Hansard) as saying “The climate is like that of a witch-hunt in which the voice of reason and all sense of proportion is lost”. And he has a point. I was wrong when I allowed my piss to boil on Monday. Websites have been set up to protect those falsely accused. And is my memory that short? – I had the social workers banging on my front door six years ago when a nutty neighbour made utterly unfounded allegations about me to the social services.
Rather than having a lunch break today, I went shopping. I went to PC World and asked if they had a webcam that had an unscrewable front – ToUcam or something like that, maybe? “Young Spotty” started at me as though I was speaking in Chinese. He referred me to one of the “Tech Guys” who had obviously memorised the manufacturer’s spiel on webcams. He couldn’t answer any questions whatsoever; he just repeated what he’d read (verbatim). I looked around the shop, and having determined that everyone who seemed to be working there was actually on work experience; I gave up and went to Comet.
I couldn’t see any webcams in Comet, but I thought I’d ask. I waited at their counter whilst their staff officiously bustled past me, intent on their own self importance. After fifteen minutes I gave up waiting and walked out. One of the staff, who’d made a point of studiously ignoring me, called to me as I neared the door to ask if he could help. I called back that he’d had his chance and blown it.
GZ computers are usually very helpful, so once back at work I got their phone number and gave them a ring. The phone rang. And rang. I tried phoning several times during the afternoon, but to no avail. So being on an early shift I thought I’d pop into town after work to see what GZ had to offer. They had nothing. Nothing at all. GZ computers have closed down – the shop’s windows are all whitewashed. The staff in the toy shop next door told me they’ve gone bust. That’s a shame – I’ve always had a soft spot for Cheesey Computers - “My Boy TM ” did his work experience there.
The woman in Jessop’s (the camera specialist shop) looked down her nose in a very patronising way when I mentioned webcams. Interestingly I overhead a customer in that shop asking if he was entitled to any sort of discount because he was spending a squillion pounds on camera gear. He was rather rudely reminded by the staff there that they were running a business and not a charity.
To work, where I must have moved awkwardly. My lower back was giving me gyp all day. I wish it wouldn’t. One of my lads managed to get the hiccups – we did laugh, and laughed more as we experimented on various hiccup cures. In the end the cure was showing him some Auer rods. Auer rods are a rather uncommon finding in a very uncommon form of an even more uncommon condition. So as a hiccup cure they are only going to be of limited efficacy.
We then spent a valuable and thoughtful half an hour trying to decide a top ten list of the lamest aliens in sci-fi. E.T. and Wookies featured high on most people’s lists, as did Davros – the creator of the Daleks. If any of my loyal readers would care to make their own top ten lame aliens lists, please feel free. Maybe we could start a Facebook group?
And so home, where I walked in to a ringing phone. Was Mrs Badger in? No she wasn’t. Were there any other adults in the house? In retrospect I suppose that as I stampede towards my forty-seventh birthday I should feel flattered, really. I took the call. It was the power company. Not content at rejecting my leccie meter reading last week, they weren’t happy with my gas meter reading either. Would I resubmit it? I offered better than that – I suggested the nice lady waited on the line whilst I took the phone outside and read the meter to her. She was amazed at this, and within a few seconds I was reading out the numbers. She wasn’t impressed with what I read out, and asked if I would I repeat it. The numbers were strange – they were (pretty much) what I’d entered on-line last week. Could I check them again? So I read them out again. The nice lady was concerned that I’d used a lot of gas since early November. She then commented that it was odd, because a lot of people seemed to have used a lot of gas over the last few months.
With heroic self control I bit my tongue, and thought better of telling her we’ve just had the harshest winter in the history of the universe. But before I hung up there was one point I wanted to raise with them. The gas bill is in my name. We made a point of having it so some time ago. So I queried this. The nice lady agreed that the gas bill was in my name, and went on to deny she’d ever asked to speak to a Mrs Badger.
Mrs Badger eventually came home to find me and the parrot watching Star Trek. So far the parrot hasn’t really taken much notice of the telly, but this evening she seemed entranced by Star Trek. Obviously a parrot of refined tastes….
A restless night – I mentioned yesterday that my back was playing up. It was painful overnight, and I woke at six am and spent over an hour trying to actually lever myself out of my pit. Once up, I wasn’t going to risk getting back into pit so I quietly made some brekkie. One of the (many) disadvantages of having a parrot as a lodger is that one tiptoes around the house in the morning desperately trying not to wake said parrot.
I have mentioned over the last week or so about how I need to power my sexy new telescope. With a set of eight batteries lasting for half an hour (at best), and mains power not being available where I’m going to be astronomising, we set off to the telescope shop for a power pack. I have heard I can get similar things cheaper in Maplins, but last Sunday Maplins had their chance and they blew it. Power packs in Halfords (for starting cars) are huge compared to my one, and although it wasn’t cheap, by the time I’d bought the necessary cables to connect up to my mount, it didn’t cost much more than Halfords.
On the way home ‘er indoors TM suddenly slammed on the brakes: she’d spotted a sign to an aquarium and reptile shop. Did I want to have a look? Anyone who knows me knows I have a soft spot for anything with scales, so we had a look-see. Lost World Reptiles in Sittingbourne is a new shop to me, and they had some really nice iguanas and tortoises. The nice lady showed us the leopard geckoes which all looked well cared for. Admittedly it’s some years since I’ve been active in the reptile hobby but their animals all seemed rather expensive to me. For all that I love them, I’m not going to spend over four hundred pounds on a royal python.
Next door to the reptile shop was an aquarium shop. They had some super fish, and some rather cheap Koi. In a few weeks time when I reactivate the pond for this year, if I need to re-stock I will certainly be going to Sittingbourne for the Koi.
Being in a fish and reptiles frame of mind we came home via Bybrook Barn to have a look-see at their fish. Much the same as ever. And then I saw they had a parrot section: Norwegian Blues (like the parrot who’s currently lodging with us) were up for sale at just under one thousand pounds. I couldn’t believe the price. By the time you’ve bought a half-way decent cage, getting a parrot would cost over fifteen hundred pounds. Fifteen hundred pounds for a very noisy crap generator (!)
Since we were in the area we popped into the American Diner for a fry-up. Very tasty! And then home via Jeys Pets and Exotics where they were selling royal pythons at seventy quid each. There’s no denying I was seriously tempted to get a couple.
Once home I cleaned out the parrot (again) and set about the ironing before falling asleep in front of the Steptoe & Son movie on UK Gold. And then it was round to Matt’s for a game of cards. “Daddies Little Angel TM ” joined us tonight for her first go at Texas Hold ‘Em, and did reasonably well – far better than most newbies. I do like a game of cards – must do it again sometime soon. And this time I’d like a hand of Omaha Hold ‘Em…
Another difficult night. I was fine all the time I wasn’t moving, but any attempt on my part to fidget set off the most intense pain in my lower back. Perhaps losing some weight might help my back: we’ve changed the rules of the podge-a-thon to having a weigh – in on a Friday rather than a Monday, seeing how everyone pigs out at the weekend. On Friday I found out I’d lost four pounds since Monday. Not bad – I just need to keep the weight loss in that direction until my back stops hurting.
The plan for today was to go for a walk around Camber Castle, but a combination of colds, oversleeping and chicken-related calamities put aid to our accompanying rabble. And bearing in mind that it was rather wet underfoot we decided to drive to Rye Harbour and walk along the tarmac path to the river mouth.
A good plan, but we arrived at Rye Harbour to find torrential rain and a hurricane. We tried walking, but after five minutes ‘er indoors TM went base over apex on some seaweed exposed by the tide. So we contented ourselves with looking at the boats moored by the lifeboat station before giving up and going back to the car. When the weather cheers up, Rye Harbour will definitely be somewhere we’ll be going to for a stroll, but not all the time it’s raining.
And then we drove into Rye to buy the makings of Sunday lunch. There is a large Budgen’s supermarket by Rye railway station that we thought we’d go shopping in. We got there at 1pm to find it was closed. How quaint!
With little else to do, we decided to come home the scenic way along the coast. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Kite surfers were braving the monsoon at Camber. We got out of the car and watched them for five minutes. They must have been mad – the wind was strong enough to be blowing me over, and I was standing on the beach. The kite surfers were flying along at a tremendous rate, and there were loads of them too.
But the cold was getting to us, so we set off homewards: via Tesco’s for the ingredients for dinner. There was an entertaining ten minutes spent at the checkout watching a poor mother dealing with her simpleton child. This young chap had decided he wanted to be a pigeon, and rather than using speech was communication in a series of billing and cooing, not unlike the noises made by the parrot (when in a calm mood). Sometimes when I look at other people’s children I realise that mine haven’t turned out that bad,really.
And so home – where UK Gold were repeating the Steptoe and Son film I’d slept through yesterday. So I was able to see what I’d missed, and to be honest I hadn’t missed much. Once awake again we watched something we’d recorded onto the Sky Plus: Alice – a remake of the classic fairy tale on the sci-fi channel. A sign that it was good was that I didn’t doze off…
Being on a late start I checked the news. I *know* it winds me up. But today I had a sense of reassurance. Last week we were told that our place of work is not treating the forthcoming royal wedding day as a bank holiday. Today I found out that we are not alone. Have a look on Google – lots of councils, local authorities, large and small companies are treating the day as business as usual. It’s a disgrace – I was actually planning on having a houseful and staging a party-cum-booze-up whilst watching the wedding on the telly. And now I can’t. So much for patriotism….
And the same will happen next year with the extra bank holiday supposedly promised for the Queen’s diamond jubilee. It’s all very well for the Prime Minister to announce a bank holiday – he’s not the one who has to deliver on his promises.
On Saturday I mentioned that I was in Jey’s Pets where I was particularly taken by the baby royal pythons. Many years ago I bought my first ever royal python. His name was Snoopy, he didn’t feed (like a lot of royals), and he died whilst in the care of a reptile expert friend of mine. I did better with my second royal python. Ken went on to lay eggs (!), and over the years I built up something of an expertise on the subject of pythons, royal and otherwise. Do I miss having a house full of snakes? No. not at all!
Apropos of nothing I had a look at the prices of vivaria on eBay. Specifically small ones. Ones that would house a couple of royal pythons or a couple of leopard geckoes, to pick a couple of reptile species entirely at random.
There are half a dozen such vivs that are up for auction ending during the week. All of which are currently under a tenner, and all offer free postage. I say “free postage” – they are advertised as “buyer collects”, but they are all within an hour’s drive of home. I don’t really want to get any snakes or lizards again, but it doesn’t hurt to have a look to see what’s available. Does it…
And then I played with the blog’s settings. I had a look at the tracking software: it’s amazing how many people all over the world tune in to my drivel on a regular basis. Yesterday sixty different people from all over the world read what I had to say about Rye Harbour – and I have no idea who many of my loyal readers are.
One thing I have noticed is that my blog entry for 9 December 2009 gets a phenomenal amount of hits. It relates the episode when I had a wisdom tooth taken out, and I can’t work out why this blog entry should be so popular. In the last week alone that blog entry has been read by people in Brighton, Sheffield, Birmingham, Germany, India and Finland. I can’t see how that blog entry has anything unique compared to the other 1000+ entries to recommend itself.
I also added two more blogs to my blogroll (the list of blogs with which I keep myself up to date). All (but one) of my favourite blogs are listed in the panel on the right hand side and I’ve set it so’s that the five most recently updated blogs are visible as links. I was amazed to find that I have thirty three blogs on the list of blogs that I follow. Some are updated almost on a daily basis, some haven’t been touched in a year. Some are by very good friends, some are written by people I’ve never met.
My new laptop has arrived. One of the perks of working for the NHS is that after twenty five years service at any one hospital or establishment you are entitled to three hundred pounds worth of stuff from Argos. But (as always) there are catches. It’s not vouchers that you might use as presents for others. And you can’t add money to buy something more expensive. You tell your boss precisely what you want (you quote the Argos catalogue number) and after a week or so you get a voucher for the specific item you’ve asked for.
Three hundred pounds is an odd amount really. It’s over the top for a lot of things I considered asking for (like sat navs and fishing gear), and not really enough for other things (like computers and tellys). And perhaps I’m being ungrateful, but three hundred quid for twenty five years loyal service isn’t really that much – it works out to twenty five pence for every week I’ve worked. ‘er indoors TM got a really good gold watch after ten years at her work. And she received the watch at a presentation when her efforts over the years were appreciated.
I’ve been entitled to get this bung for two years now, and it’s taken me this long to decide on what I wanted. I eventually opted for a laptop with a plan to plug the thing into my sexy new telescope to do some astro-photography.
The voucher arrived with no ceremony by recorded delivery whilst we were out on Saturday, and so yesterday I went to the post office collection point to get it. Then I had to go to Argos to arrange the delivery of the thing. I must admit I wasn’t impressed. Argos could deliver it any day I liked – but it would be delivered between 8am and 6pm. They couldn’t (wouldn’t) be more specific than that, and they wouldn’t phone me half an hour before delivery so’s I could go home to meet them on the doorstep. I do think that having to give up a day to wait for a parcel is unreasonable – there are a lot of delivery companies who can do better. When I got my new phone a few months ago I was given a two-hour period when they would arrive. But “Daddies Little Angel TM ” was home to accept delivery, so all was well.
I’ve got the thing up and running, and like all new computers it needs quite a bit of tweaking. I shall do that another time. The laptop is nothing special when compared to some laptops. The more I.T. proficient among my loyal readers may well be somewhat scathing about the device, and probably rightly so. But it was something for nothing, and all the time it’s able to do what I want from it, I shall be content with it. It comes with a month’s free anti-virus, but after a month I will need to get the latest free AVG.
The main problem I foresee is that it’s running Windows 7, so a lot of my current software won’t run on it. I shall see if I can’t take up the NHS on their cheap Microsoft Office deal, and then start downloading all the astronomical programs for “Project Astro-Photography”…
The first part of my mortgage endowment matured on Monday. I wonder if the building society got their money. I suppose I could ring them up to find out, but on the other hand I’m inclined to let sleeping dogs lie.
I read an interesting statistic – this morning’s post brought a flyer from British Gas claiming that here in theUK a gas boiler breaks down every fifteen seconds. So that’s four every minute – 240 an hour, 5760 every day, and a staggering 2.1 million every year. Now wiki answers told me there are 23.6 million households in the UK. Do all of these have a gas boiler? Probably not, but if they do, from these figures I’d expect a gas boiler to go west after about eleven years use. So seeing our last one lasted for nineteen years, I think we did all right.
British Gas weren’t telling me about boiler breakdowns for fun - they wanted me to insure my boiler with them Unfortunately for them I once had someone on my doorstep trying to sell British Gas to me: the chap was telling blatant lies. I won’t use British Gas on principle now.
However, in the post was some stuff from HomeServe. I’ve got rather confused recently about payments I’ve been making to that company. I’ve got plumbing & drainage insurance with them, but I also found I had a policy to stump up cash should I be hospitalised for any reason. Heaven only knows why I have that policy – after all in my job I get sick pay. I also had various other policies with them for this, that and the other. They suggested I combined the lot into one policy that covers central heating, plumbing, electricals and all manner of household catastrophes for only fifteen quid a month. Probably a tad pricey, but then that’s the gamble you take with insurance. After all, it’s fifteen quid that I know I’m spending rather than waiting for something to break and getting an unexpected bill of thousands of pounds.
I had a letter asking me to vote in the election of governors for the local hospitals governing board. I suppose that if I don’t vote, then I have no right to complain when I don’t like what’s happening. But in the literature I received I was offered a choice of six candidates, all of which were not flattered by their photographs. And all of which spouted the same platitudes in their personal statements. And I can’t help but agree with the sentiments of Douglas Adams when he said that the fact that someone seeks a public office should be a reason against why they should be considered for that office. I can see nothing to choose between the various candidates, and so I shan’t vote for any of them.
The power company wrote to me to tell me they weren’t doing Nectar points any more. That’s no great loss, but it reminded me that a couple of weeks ago I’d given them meter readings and they said that I should get back in touch with them to see if I could get a refund. My leccie account is seventy quid overdrawn, and my gas account isn’t much better. Whilst it’s no immediate cause for concern (the monthly payments will sort it out) they weren’t very inclined to give me a refund. Which was a shame.
Last night we had a bottle of wine with our dinner. And as is our way, when having a bottle of wine, we’ll have some cheese with it. Unfortunately the only cheese we had in the house was left over from Xmas, and was over a month past it’s sell by date. For a few weeks I’ve been wondering what the smell in the fridge was, and now I know. The brie smelt and tasted like stilton. And I didn’t dare try the stilton: that walked to the bin on its own. The cheddar wasn’t too bad though – the parrot liked the cheese biscuits, and she even had a bit of cheddar too.
Despite my innards, listening to the radio on the way to work I realised that today isn’t all doom and gloom. I heard on the radio that the government have abandoned their scheme to get rich from selling off our woodlands. That’s probably for the best.
And then there was an interesting article about the fact that the law is going to be changed to allow same sex marriages to take place in churches. And my piss boiled. Personally I feel that if two men or women want to get married, then as far as I am concerned that is entirely up to them. It is their business and no one else’s. What annoyed me were the crackpot arguments used by the pro- and anti- campaigners. There was some tired old duckie on the radio who tried to take the line that people (like me) have only entered into a “mixed” marriage to spite the gay community. And then there was a religious nut who tried to make out that the sole purpose of getting married was for breeding purposes. Perhaps fertility testing should be a compulsory pre-nuptial prerequisite?
And then after work the tribes gathered. Seventeen of us descended onto the local Wetherspoons for their curry night. Not only was one of our number over from Guernsey, but another was celebrating his fortieth birthday. It was great to meet up en masse, though I suspect the normal people who had been unlucky enough to be in the pub at the same time as us didn’t think so.
We should do it again – the Wetherspoons Thursday deal isn’t bad – a decent curry, dessert, two pints of ale and change from ten quid can’t be bad. Even if Glenn did spend an inordinate amount of time chatting up the drunken Ghurkha…
And then home where “My Boy TM ” was rather chirpy. The parrot’s owners have given him loads of tattoo gear as a thank you for looking after their parrot for the last two months. I would have thought that if his parrot-related efforts warranted what he’s received, then I should be treated to a round the world cruise. But life is not fair.
And not wishing to be left out, the parrot climbed off her cage and walked over to me this evening. I fell for it, hook, line and sinker and picked her up. And as I petted her she bit my finger and crapped on me.
I spent a little while this morning having a look at my sexy new laptop. It seems to work OK, especially now that I’ve sorted out the networking so’s that I can access all the data on my main PC from the sexy new laptop.
I do need to sort out some software issues – specifically it needs Microsoft Office adding, and Paintshop Pro as well. I also need the webcam I ordered off of eBay over a week ago to arrive as well. I also looked at getting a gmail account. Every day I get between five and seven hundred spam emails, and my spam filter is going flat out. So much so that I feel that emails I actually want may well be going in with the rubbish that the spam filter is deleting. Over the next day or so I might be contacting my loyal readership from a new email address, and retiring the old one.
Whilst ‘er indoors TM wandered off for the morning on a mission, I watched “Gavin & Stacey” DVDs. “My Boy TM ” came home whilst I was asleep watching the telly. I think the lad must be sickening for something – he tidied up the parrot’s mess and then cooked me a fried egg sandwich. Good lad.
And once my beloved had returned home we set off to Deal for the afternoon. Terry & Irene were visiting an old friend, and we thought we’d tag along. The Bohemian is the sort of hidden gem that you’d walk straight past without giving it a second glance, unless you knew what was inside. And I’m glad we’ve found it – helpful friendly staff and an excellent ale selection. We paid the parking meter for three hours – we were in the pub for four hours, and then went for a curry.
A rather restless night – popping to the loo far more often that I should in the night. I blame the gallon of ale and the curry I had yesterday. The plan for yesterday was to spend an hour or so in the pub; we ended up being in Deal for about nine hours. It has been said that I do tend to organise my life somewhat, and that’s a fair criticism. So often the best days are those that just “sort of happen”, which is what occurred yesterday. A brill day in Deal with friends old and new. I woke this morning feeling a tad under the weather, but then, such is so often life in my world.
I’ve now subscribed to another blog. So far it does seem that 2011 is fast becoming “The Year of the Blog”; a lot of friends and families have started recording what’s going on in their lives. Being a nosey kind of chap, I for one think it’s great. I wish more people would record what they are up to, if only for my vicarious entertainment.
“My Boy TM ” announced he was off to the market – did I want to go with him? I did: since the market moved half way across the town I rarely go there, and I fancied having a nose around. I also needed to get a gadget to hold my mobile phone in my car for when I’m using it as a Sat-Nav. They were selling those gadgets cheaply so I got one. Whether or not it will do the job remains to be seen. I’ve used Sat-Nav whilst I’ve been driving twice in the past, and both times I found the thing to be a major distraction. But I’ll give it a chance.
And then to Folkestone. Having picked up people along the way, five of us found our way to the Samuel Peto for Sunday lunch. Folkestone is a town in which I love to go drinking: the pubs there are of a particularly high standard. Were I to list my current top ten pubs I suspect half of them would be Folkestone pubs. I’ve not been to the Samuel Peto for some years. How can I describe it? There's two ways of looking at this pub. One can take the traditional method of dismissing it entirely out of hand simply because it's a Wetherspoons. There is a school of thought that anyone who thinks that they know anything about pubs knows that Wetherspoons are totally crap pubs. However one might take the radical step of actually going into the place and trying the food and beer and finding that one might be mistaken in one's preconceptions. I won't say it's the best pub in Folkestone, because it isn't. But it is far from being the worst, and will appear in future pub crawls around Folkestone (and that’s against some pretty stiff competition).
Within minutes of arriving we were sitting up in the balcony area enjoying Hook Norton’s Double Stout, and within minutes of that our dinner had arrived. I won’t pretend it was haute cuisine, but six quid for a decent roast dinner and a pint of very decent stout isn’t to be sniffed at.
Pausing only briefly for two of us to indulge in chocolate pudding and profiteroles, we then wandered down to the harbour to have a look-see. I love Folkestone harbour. We then walked along to the coastal park, the idea being that “Daddies Little Angel TM ” was going to play in the zip-lines. However she didn’t want to get grubby, so we contented ourselves with just enjoying the scenery. We then made our way through the caves and a zig-zagging path up to the Leas, and on to Folkestone’s premier bar. And we were disappointed. Chambers is closed on a Sunday, so instead we adjourned to the Pullman for a pint of pudding. The Pullman is not so much a pub as a rather posh bar, but the prices aren’t those that you’d pay in a posh bar and they had a rather decent ale selection too. I’m reliably informed that I’ve been there before, but I have very little recollection of what happened at last year’s Good Friday beer festival.
In the past I’ve always made a point of doing something special on my birthday. In the last few years I’ve been to the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum, had a tour of the Shepherd Neame Brewery, gone to the London Dungeon, and seen an E.L.O. Experience concert. This year was different. And after having had a rather eventful weekend, I was actually glad to have had a lazy day today.
My mother had arranged to phone me at 9am this morning, so for a laugh I thought I’d be on her doorstep before she made the phone call. I was, and she seemed to like my visit. My Dad was there – he’s usually at his boat on Hastings beach, so it was good to see him too. I had this vague plan to see them on the way to Telescope House, an astronomical shop which has recently opened new premises in the Tonbridge area, but when I phoned the shop, it transpired that they didn’t actually open until next Saturday. So I had a cuppa with Mum & Dad, and came home again.
Given that my idea of visiting the telescope shop had gone west, I was expecting to fall back onto Plan “B” for today. Plan “B” being to make a start in the garden. It’s all got rather overgrown and messy over the winter. So bearing in mind I’m off work this week I had hoped to get the yard swept and cleared of rubbish, the overgrowth from next door trimmed back, the lawn mowed and fences painted. And maybe even one or two runs to the tip with the rubbish. I got as far as removing the bulb from the fish pond filter (it needs changing every year) and hoiking a dead fish from the pond before I realised it was just too cold to be mucking around in the garden.
So I scoffed KFC, watched more Gavin & Stacey DVDs, and exchanged insults with “My Boy TM” whilst I made a lego model. And then I popped into town. I still had a WH Smiths voucher from Xmas, and I had a plan that I might be able to use the voucher to get a bag for my sexy new laptop. I got a good one – reduced from thirty quid to £9.99. Can’t be bad. And then I came home and tried to sleep through “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”. Note I said “tried to sleep” – the parrot’s squawking was somewhat excessive.
First of all to Sittingbourne where there’s a half-way decent pond shop, and a very decent reptile shop.“Daddies Little Angel TM ” was rather taken with the gecko selection, and with the very helpful chap in the shop. They don’t just sell the animals and all the accessories – they put the bits and pieces together for you and check everything is working as well.
Our next port of call was found more through luck than judgement. Being very newly built, the place didn’t appear on my sat-nav’s maps. When we were half way along a country lane the sat-nav announced we’d arrived, and gave up on us. Fortunately we could see the Ark aquatic & reptile centre from where we’d been abandoned. It was OK if you wanted to buy pet food, I suppose. They had some nice animals, but I wasn’t impressed by the staff. Disinterested, and not very knowledgeable.
And then on to pelagic aquatics in Matfield. This was somewhere I’ve never been before, and to be honest it was included in our trip just to break up what would otherwise be a rather long section in our journey. But I’m glad we stopped. The staff were very friendly, and they had some really healthy-looking home-bred geckoes.
We then made our way back to familiar territory. Rolvenden’s World of Water is an old haunt of mine. No reptiles, but I needed to replace the bulb for my pond filter. Whilst I was there I looked at replacing the entire pond filter. The current one will (hopefully) do for this year, but over the last five years it’s rather got somewhat bent out of shape. They’ve got some new-design pond filters which seem to be more manageable. I might get one next year. The nice man in the shop mentioned that they would soon be opening a camping section.
And whilst visiting places we’ve been before, Swallow Aquatics was next. This is a place I’ve raved over in the past. When we first set our pond up, all the kit came from Rolvenden, and all the fish came from Swallow. But over the years their Koi section has gone downhill. And today their reptile section wasn’t what it once was.
We just drove past our last planned stop. The Snake Shed in Bethersden might sell good reptiles. It might be run by very knowledgeable people. I don’t know. However I do know that whenever I go past the place it is closed. No matter what time of day, or what day I go past, it is always closed. Perhaps I’m just unlucky in my timings.
And so home for more KFC, and we settled down to watch “Guest House Paradiso” on the DVD. However the DVD didn’t play, so we made do with Monty Python instead. It passed a pleasant couple of hours before cleaning the parrot out. I’ve scraped parrot poop off of quite a bit of the metalwork now. What a nice way to spend my holiday.
I checked my emails. Yesterday I chivvied up the people from whom I’d ordered my new web-cam as it hadn’t arrived. Today I received an email from them they said “If the address is correct and nothing has arrived yet then please contact your local post/sorting office as its likely to be awaiting collection. We receive lots of items each week returned back because royal mail fail to leave cards when they are unable to deliver.”
Am I being over-sensitive? I felt this was rather curt of them; for all that I moan about Royal mail, I’ve never known them to not leave a delivery note when they’ve been unable to deliver a parcel. I went up to the office to prove that there was no parcel there before getting back to the seller, and would you believe it? – my parcel was sitting there waiting for me.
And I’ll end today’s drivel with a question. Have you ever noticed that traffic wardens these days actually hide and wait for the thirty seconds in which you are making the most trivial parking violations? And how they only ever appear in residential areas after 10pm at night or on Bank Holidays when the traffic isn't at all bad?
With ‘er indoors TM taking a day's holiday we thought we'd do something special with the day. Despite the rain, we thought we'd have a look-see at Wingham Wildlife Park. It was great – pigs and emus and alpacas and all sorts of beasts. We watched penguin feeding time,and even got to feed the meerkats ourselves. Me – I was quite taken with the caimans and the crocodiles. We arrived at mid day, and despite rushing round because of the rain, we were there for two hours. We will certainly go back when the weather is better, and take a picnic.
Personally I would have liked a pub lunch today, but by the time we'd finished at the wildlife park most pubs' kitchens would have closed. But McDinner is always good, and is half the price of a pub dinner.
I then spent some time getting angry with my sexy new laptop. Like any new computer it didn't come ready for me to use. For all that the thing could access the data on my desktop PC upstairs,it didn't have the programs loaded to do anything with those files.
Office programs were a different story – because Microsoft Office came pre-loaded on my old PC. I had no disks for that. So I phoned the I.T. Department at work. At one point they were selling the latest versions of Microsoft office for less than twenty quid. Unfortunately they aren't doing that any more. I checked eBay, and then decided that I didn't want the latest version of Microsoft Office anyway. Hoorah for openoffice.org, or so I thought.
Billed as a free shareware version of Microsoft Office, I found two download sites which, after I'd downloaded 150+Mb then wanted me to text message for a code at a cost of three quid. The third time proved to be lucky. Or free, depending on what one considers to be lucky.
Stellarium was another worry. Really useful shareware that has been used by me and most of the astro club for years set off all sorts of alarms from the antivirus software. Alarms which I ignored. Mind you, the sexy new laptop has only come with one month's antivirus so in three weeks time I shall be going over to AVG which (so far) has been relatively well behaved on my old PC.
And then the fun started. Having waited for over a week to get hold of my webcam, I was rather miffed to find that it didn't simply plug and play. The device manager didn't like it, and flatly refused to find any drivers for it. I had a look on one or two astronomy forums and found that the Toucam Webcams aren't supported by Windows 7. They aren't just "not supported", they don't work in Windows 7 at all.
One chap on one forum did offer a fix in which it was possibly possible to tweak another driver to force it to work. After an hour's getting angry with the thing I re-read the instructions offered by the chap on the astronomy forum. To be fair to him he did say that his fix might not always work.
I suppose the fact that an antique webcam doesn't work in the latest version of Windows isn't really a major issue, but after all is said and done,the only reason I got my sexy new laptop was to use as a webcam eyepiece for my sexy new telescope. I shall phone the nice man in the telescope shop tomorrow and see how much a proper astronomical webcam will cost.
The weather was decent for a change, so I thought I’d do some tidying-up in the garden. First of all I needed to clean out the pond filter. On reflection I should have cleaned this out last October when I closed the pond down for the winter. This morning the filter stunk to high heaven, (and I can still smell the stench of months old fish poo on my hands twelve hours later, despite the use of various soaps, hand washes, creams, and bleach).
With the filter cleaned out I reassembled it and installed the light tube I’d bought on Tuesday. Once the ambient temperature is a little higher I shall reactivate the pump and we’ll see how the fish have done over the winter.
I then had a scurry round and gathered up all the loose tat that was lying around the patio. Where does it all come from? Fragments of several paint brushes, broom handles, broken coat-hangers. All just lying about. So they all got bagged up. Together with loads of cardboard and plastic bottles for recycling, I had more than a car-full for a tip run. So I loaded up the car and then swept front and back gardens before setting off to the tip. “Daddies Little Angel TM ” had announced she was coming to the tip to help, so that made the job much easier. It’s amazing how long it takes to unload the stuff and chuck it in the correct skip. And that’s having bagged it all at home first. We arrived at the tip to find two “delightful people” who had filled their cars to the brim with loose rubbish, and were carrying it to the skips, one piece at a time.
We both then slept through six episodes of “The Young Ones”, waking only to greet the Rear Admiral before dozing off again. For the afternoon, “Daddies Little Angel TM ” suggested we took Fia to the reptile shop in Sittingbourne. Bearing in mind my fun with the astro-webcam yesterday, we went to the pet shop via the telescope shop.
At the telescope shop I probably (definitely) spent far too much money on an astronomical webcam, and then at the reptile shop we played with the geckoes. Since our last visit they’ve got a caiman in the shop. He wasn’t for sale: I chatted with the shop keeper about the caiman. In years gone by I had a plan to keep caimans. It’s probably for the best that that plan never came to fruition.
And so home. Mark from Global Capital phoned. He wanted to check he had my details correct on his mailing list. As it happens he did have them right, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. He went on to say that he would be sending me a free no-obligation magazine outlining all of their financial deals, offers and services. And next week he’s planning to phone back so we could talk through which of his deals we’d like to spend our money on.
Once the girls had set off I plugged in my new vastly overpriced webcam. It didn’t work. Half an hour on-line with the manufacturer’s website gave me the fix, and it seems to be working now. Having the first clear night for weeks, I tried out my sexy new telescope. I had a look at Betelgeuse and the Pleiades, but the spotting scope was off, and the images seemed a bit iffy. I’m hoping that having the thing collimated tomorrow night will make all the difference.
With the ongoing setting up of my sexy new laptop, I felt that whilst I was at it, I'd do a hatchet job on my Facebook account. Yesterday I had nearly two hundred applications on the thing. Now I've got it down to about twenty. I decided that anything I hadn't accessed in the last six months could get the chop.
I also went through my friends list. Some people on my list have only the most tenuous connection to me. I removed the brother of a friend of my nephew (whom I’ve never met), and several people who live half the world away and have only added me to their lists because I occasionally fly a kite. Mind you, I did find myself getting rather keen whilst deleting. I'm not sure I haven't mistakenly chopped out people I actually want to have on my list. If any of my loyal readers find they've been removed from my list, please accept my apologies.
I then loaded up You-Tube and Yahoo. Both opened up and logged me in without me needing to give the passwords. Would the sexy new PC have picked up the passwords from elsewhere on the network? Or did I log in the other day and have since forgotten that I did so?
On the last day of my week’s holiday I went shopping. Lugging my sexy new telescope around in a cardboard box isn't going to be practical, and the manufacturers don’t give away telescope cases for free. I had an idea that the fishing tackle shop might help - they often have second-hand tackle bags, and I got a bag for the tripod for a fiver. B&Q had a box for the telescope, and I found a shop in Challlock that does foam cut to size. None of these carriers I've bodged are perfect, but they are better than the cardboard box I had before.
Home (via McDonalds) where I slept through several episodes of "Gavin and Stacey", and then awoke to find the phone ringing. Ewan from Orange was offering a deal whereby my internet provider will supply both phone and internet services for the price of what I'm spending on just the phone. Effectively I would get the Internet for free. Bargain!! So I immediately squandered this month's saving on a folding garden table for when I'm astro-imaging outside.
I squandered the money at Argos, having used their on-line ordering system. There was a minor hiccup when I got to the store to find that they had no record of my order. And then I realised I’d ordered it at the wrong store. They town centre branch had my reservation, and I’d got to the branch at the Orbital Park. But they had the table I wanted in stock, so all was (eventually) well.
Seeing how it was the last Friday of the month, today was astro club. As usual I made of point of arriving early so’s I could help get the hall ready. After the success of the “Stargazing Live” event and an attendance of over eight people last month, I decided it would pay to be prepared. I put out seventy-five chairs, and not quite all of them got used. But the evening went well – I got to meet and greet loads of people; several people joined and renewed their membership for another year. The introductory talk on solar flares was interesting, and the end talk on the winter/spring sky was excellent. I enjoyed hawking the raffle, and again I made a respectable profit for the club. Not millions, but enough to cover the evening’s running costs. If I can do that every month I feel I’ve done my bit for the club. I also got some of the resident experts to give my telescope the once-over. All seemed well: I just need to use the thing in anger now. Tonight was too cloudy to stargaze.
The main talk of the evening was done by a guest speaker. A chap I’d not seen before. I really don’t want to sound negative, but I’ve spent ages re-writing this, and deleting it, and re-wording it. And (surprisingly) upsetting myself. So I’ll say it as it is. I didn’t like this talk.
Billed as “Pluto - An enigmatic world”, the talk ranged far and wide over all sorts of astronomical subjects. The speaker leapt from solar system formation to extra-solar comets to gas giant migration to tides and ocean formation with (as far as I could make out) very little actual structure to his talk. The structure must have been there: it’s just that I couldn’t follow it. Perhaps I was put off by his lecture technique of stomping all around and up and down the hall, sometimes whispering, sometimes shouting, and seemingly continually going off on tangents. He was clearly very knowledgeable on all sorts of astronomical topics, but at least twice I felt he was touting his personal theories as established facts.
It didn’t help that whereas most lectures are accompanied by slides which illustrate salient points the lecturer is trying to convey, this evening’s slides were (mostly) irrelevant to what the speaker was talking about. In fact he boasted that the slides were deliberately “retro”, but I couldn’t figure out why he’d decided to do this.
On conversations with others it would seem that I was in the minority: most people seemed to have been happy with the presentation. Perhaps I was put off by the fact that the chap was very different to what we’ve had before. I hear he’s being invited back next year. I shall give him another chance. I’m sure that the fault (if any) is entirely mine… but I must admit to being a bit concerned.
I was there when the astro club first started on 26 March 2007. It was rubbish! For over a year the club struggled to get a membership of over ten people. Reading my blogs from that time, I was very negative about the club for over a year. But following the AGM and committee election in June 2008 the club started getting better. And since the astro club moved to Woodchurch in January 2009 it’s gone from strength to strength.
A very restless night – I woke several times convinced I could hear crashing noises. At one point (5.30am) I think it might have been next door’s dogs having a scrap, but I could have been dreaming. I’m sure that I was dreaming about ‘er indoors TM renting out the back bedroom as a delivery suite to itinerant midwives, and I’m hoping that I was dreaming about ‘er indoors TM swapping the parrot for four assorted mangy mutts, all of which were continually biting me on the chuff.
So when finally got up at 7.30am I was feeling less than refreshed. I quickly checked my emails before the Rear Admiral arrived, and then the two of us set off to the Kiln Café for a spot of fry-up. Very nice!
And then to the train station where we met up with Matt. ‘er indoors TM showed up whilst we were queuing for tickets. You have to admire the staff selling tickets. If you ask for four tickets to London on the high-speed train, that’s what they will sell you. If however you ask for four *saver* tickets to London on the high-speed train, that’s what they will sell you at half the price. They are quite happy to give the discount – they just won’t tell you that it exists. You have to ask for it.
Suitable equipped with half price train tickets we made our way to St Pancreas’ (the patron saint of endocrine glands) station where we went for the underground trains. Lacking any instructions, I made my way to the Northern line because that’s the one I go on the most. Matt then asked if I knew where I was going. My answer was “Yes – the Tower of London”. However Matt had asked the wrong question. He should have asked if I was getting the right underground line to the Tower of London. It didn’t take us long to find we needed the Circle line and despite a pair of mating duckies on the train (how sweet!) we were soon at Tower Bridge station. The Rear Admiral had a fag, I had an ice cream, and we made our way to the ticket office.
There’s money to be saved at the Tower of London’s ticket office too. Read the prices carefully. Then read them again. The prices they were quoting included a “voluntary” donation of £1.70. Once you know that you can opt not to pay it. We did exactly that; not because we begrudged the £1.70, but because we thought it a cheek on their part. Also, if you go to the Tower on the train and wave your train tickets at the staff selling tickets to the Tower of London, they give you half price admission if you ask for it. They won’t offer it or suggest it to you, but if you ask for it, they’ll let you have it.
First of all we walked around the walls, and popped into various towers on the way. It was relatively interesting, but every step of the way I could imagine the reaction that the place would have evoked from the most recent fruit of my loin (who had chosen to give the day a miss). She wouldn’t have liked it.
As we walked round, I overheard an interesting conversation between two rather dim Americans. They were studying a diagram of the genealogy of the Royal Family. “Hi-ram” was explaining to “Hoi-but” that the forthcoming Royal Wedding wasn’t a Royal Wedding at all, but a ruse by the Middleton family to usurp the Crown. Having gone into detail in outlining his theory to anyone who could hear, “Hi-ram” then announced that he didn’t understand the rules of succession. That didn’t come as a surprise.
We then joined the queue to see the Crown Jewels. Here we exemplified what being British is all about: queuing in the rain for hours without a word of complaint whilst all sorts of foreigners push in front of you. As the queue slowly moved on we saw no end of signs forbidding photography. Why on Earth could we not take photographs? After all, there are pictures of all the stuff freely available in Google images.
We eventually got to see the crowns and orbs and sceptres and the anointing spoon, and whilst they were impressive, I don’t think they were worth the wait. Whilst going past the Imperial State Crown we were moved along on a travelator. I can’t help but think the Tower should have those everywhere – it would certainly chivvy people along.
We then paused to photograph a raven before vooming round the White tower and the Bloody tower. The Bloody tower was rather disappointing. And then we were peckish, so we left the Tower and walked up the road to the nearest Wetherspoons – the “Liberty Bounds” where we met up with Terry and a pint of porter. We chatted over a dinner of meat pudding and another dark beer, and then I made the mistake of having jam roly-poly for dessert. Oh, I felt stuffed. As we all chatted I dozed a bit.
Seeing how our train tickets were also valid on the buses we took a bus to Covent Garden. I shamelessly played tourist, enjoying all the sights. Once at Covent Garden we said goodbye to Terry, and almost immediately bumped into another pair of friends.
We then went to the “colonial shop”: a wonderful place selling stuff from what was once parts of the British Empire. I very nearly bought a box of Fruit Loops – I remembered those from two Canadian holidays. But at over six quid for a box of cereals, I thought better of the idea. I consoled myself with a rather good seasonal fruits ice-cream from the nearby ice-cream shop. We then mooched round Covent Garden for a while before making our way slowly back to St Pancras. On our way we found a very good model shop, and utterly failed to find the Bree Louise (my current favourite London pub).
I had a quick look in NeverWinter over brekkie – I’ve not been there for a few days and it’s all gone to pot in there. I then set up my telescope in the garden and aligned the spotterscope. The idea is that it’s easier to find things with the spotterscope than the main scope. I got the thing lined up: I just hope it stays aligned after disassembly & reassembly. And once focussed onto a nearby TV aerial I had a go with the imaging software. First of all I made a video of my target object, then used the software to make an image from the video.
I’m not happy with the results, but it strikes me there’s an awful lot of fiddling about to be done to get a half-way decent photograph out of the telescope. Setting up the telescope is a job in itself, as is making sure the thing is pointing in the right direction. And having obtained a video of the target, getting a composite image out of the software is a major undertaking. But I shall persevere with it: possibly some time over the next few weeks I might take the entire setup to the top of a hill somewhere and practice in the daylight.
Whilst in a photographic frame of mind, Chip suggested we went on a photo-reconnaissance of Winchelsea. It’s quite a scenic village, and it lends itself to being photographed. We spent quite a bit of time at the site of the old windmill overlooking the Brede Valley, then we walked pretty much the entire village. There are information points at the north, east, south and west extremities of the parish boundaries, and we found all of them. And having seen the entire village we went into the churchyard to look for Spike Milligan’s grave. Twice before we’ve been to that graveyard on this very quest, and twice before we failed. Chip had the right idea – look for the grave that’s got all the grass trodden down around it. We found the grave in less than a minute, and paid our respects. Did you know it’s now nine years since Spike Milligan died?
We did think about popping into the New Inn for a crafty half before going home: we actually did pop into the New Inn. Four years ago (23 June 2007) I commented that the place seemed to be somewhat chaotic. Today the place seemed to be just as bad. We couldn’t get near the bar because of the hordes of people attempting (and failing) to pay their bills by credit card. The problem being the staff were unable to operate the credit card apparatus. In the twenty-first century this should surely be a straightforward operation?
We had to go through Rye on the way home, so we stopped off at the Queen’s Head for a pint. ‘er indoorsTM went for the organic stout, and Chip & me plumped for the ale from a new brewery which has started up in Bexhill. This is my second or third visit here, and I think it’s probably my favourite pub in Rye. But it has to be said that they did let themselves down a tad today with their live music.
I realise a lot of my loyal readers are musicians, and I realise that my views are (usually) those of a (very vocal) small minority. It’s been said that I dislike live music. That’s not actually the case. What I dislike are musicians who try to compensate for a lack of ability with an increase in volume. Do they not realise that one usually detracts from the music’s quality by increasing the volume? Sitting in the back bar away from the music was pleasant: the music made for a nice background. However in the actual bar the music was little more than a deafening noise.
When I’m on a late start I usually read the news over brekkie. Would you believe that I was there last Saturday for two of today’s top stories? First of all was the tale of the fox that was living on the seventy-second floor of a skyscraper being built. We could clearly see that skyscraper from the Tower of Londontwo days ago. And then there was the tale of breast milk ice cream, made and sold in the shop in Covent Garden where I got my ice cream last Saturday.
In with my thousands of spam emails this morning I had two emails from my internet provider warning me that two of my email accounts are about to be closed because I’ve not logged into them for months. Or so the internet provider says. The fact my PC logs into them every ten minutes is (presumably) neither here nor there.
On reflection I only ever set up those accounts for the free web space the accounts offered, and I’ve since stopped using that web space anyway. I’m pretty sure I’ve never used either email account for years, and both of them are doing nothing but attracting hundreds of spam emails every day. So I shall let those two accounts expire. If anyone has been emailing me with an email address which has includes the phrases “dansden” or “house2” (note the 2 !!) please contact me to get my current email address, as these two are defunct with immediate effect.
I then spent a little while looking at what email accounts I use to log into things like Blogger, Google, eBay, Wikipedia, Filth-R-Us, Twitter and the like. I then removed all references to my second Freeserve account with a view to getting rid of that one as well.
Having changed my various Internet log-ins, this second Freeserve account isn’t quite redundant. There is still 12Mb worth of web-space associated with this account. Currently I use it for photographs from previous Bat-Camps, and one or two other web-based projects. But I’m sure that if I smile sweetly at one of my loyal readers I can grovel up some web space on another server. I’m hoping to do so because if I can, when the time comes I might be able to let my second Freeserve account go as well.
Hopefully this will reduce the amount of spam I’m getting. If it doesn’t then I shall take further steps. It’s interesting that between the two Freeserve accounts I’m keeping, Yahoo, Facebook, Nokia, Google, work and NHS net I’ve already got eight email addresses. The ones with Freeserve attract hundreds of spam emails every day; the others get maybe one spam email a day at most. Perhaps I should discontinue using my Freeserve email accounts altogether.
And so back to work. I always take a week off work over my birthday. Today I realised that I shall only be doing this twelve more times. Is it too soon to be counting down to retirement? I wouldn’t say that I hate my job, but like the young Vogon guard once commented, the hours are good but….
Once at work we got the scales out and had the podge-a-thon weigh-in. Having had a week’s pigging out on curry, Wetherspoons (twice), KFC (twice) and McDonalds (twice) my weight is what it was ten days ago. How does that work?