1 March 2011 (Tuesday) - Missing the Parrot
With the parrot having been taken back by her owners, the house seems very lonely and empty and quiet. There’s no denying that I got quite attached to the parrot very early in her stay. And there’s also no denying that me and the parrot had squabbles from time to time. But in the fifty-six days we had her, I got used to having her about.
I could put up with the amount of space her cage took up. We could have moved furniture about to have made more space. I said that it wouldn’t be fair to have her when we are away so often, but I could have made arrangements for parrot care whilst I was off on long weekends and holidays. I quite enjoyed her chatterings, for all that I grumbled about them. She would worry me when she would attempt to fly across the room, but she never hurt herself or anything she landed on. I was rather concerned by the fact that I was the only person who could handle her. But it wasn’t that much of a problem – she could be chivvied about with newspapers and with “Duckie” if we needed to move her.
Mind you I didn’t like the screaming and shrieking noises that she would make. Several times over the last couple of weeks I had to abandon trying to watch films and DVDs when the parrot simply wouldn’t shut up. I’d always thought I wanted a parrot. I’m glad I got to have a go with a parrot – in the end the noise outweighed everything else and I found out that I really didn’t want one.
Or so I thought until it was time to say goodbye yesterday. I didn’t blub much – only for most of the morning. And then a bit more in the afternoon when I was told she was gone, and that her owners had sold her to someone else. And then some more in the evening when I came home to an empty house.
Which was really daft of me. We knew when we took the parrot on that it was only temporary, it was only going to be till the end of February, and that I shouldn’t have got so attached to her.
Fortunately she’s been sold to the original owners’ sister. I’ve asked if I can visit from time to time…
2 March 2011 (Wednesday) – Stuff
I heard on the news today that a Cornish pasty can only be called a Cornish pasty if it is made in Cornwall and is crimped along the side. A Cornish baker is facing litigation because her family has traditionally made Cornish pasties for generations: pasties crimped along the top. She is now under fire from theCornish
who have fought for years to make side-crimping legally enforceable, and have taken issue with her top crimping. The baker has a choice: she can either side-crimp, or stop referring to her products as “Cornish pasties”. However she refuses either option, and challenges the might of the law to do its worst.
I was glad I wasn’t in at work today. There were interviews taking place for a newly created post. Several people at work fancied that post and had applied for it, including the person who was working last night. During her night shift she posted on Facebook a dozen times overnight. Her prospective boss (who was on the interview panel) is on her Facebook friends list and would have seen what she was doing last night.
Rather than going to work today, I went to another hospital to assess one of their trainees. I always say that I know when I arrive whether the trainee is going to pass with flying colours, and today I knew we had a good ‘un. Anyone who’s ever visited a hospital knows how bad parking can be. Today’s trainee had reserved me a parking space, so he was off to a flying start. Not even the bracket fungi and toadstools on the inside windowsills, or the ivy coming in through the holes in the ceiling could put me off. The boy did good. (And they are moving to new premises in a month’s time anyway!)
I could have gone to work after the assessment. But instead I went home to write it all up. After all, I’m assessing in works time: I should do the associated paperwork in work’s time too. I can never understand why assessors who assess my trainees then go back to their places of work for the afternoon – it takes me a couple of hours to both do justice to the trainee when I produce my report and then to write the day up for my own C.P.D. purposes.
“My Boy TM ” then got out the needles and made a start on my next tattoo. It wasn’t my idea, but he wants to practice shading. If he can’t practise on his old man, who can he practice on? And whilst I’m on the subject of the fruits of my loin, “Daddies Little Angel TM has a provisional acceptance at university. Anyone who knows her academic history will realise just how pleased and proud I am about this. I doubt this will come cheap, but she’ll just have to get a job…
I had a phone call last night from a very surly-sounding Geordie who told me that since my home insurance didn’t cover electrical and plumbing and the boiler, he’d got an insurance policy all set up for me. All that remained to be done was for me to pay for it.
I asked which company he was from: he pretended not to hear me, and went on to ask about how I wanted to make the payments. I wasn’t having any of that, mainly because only the other day I set up all that insurance. So I stopped him in his tracks, and asked him which company he was from. I made it clear that I would have nothing more to do with him until I knew who I was dealing with. He grudgingly admitted he was from a company called “HomeFix Contracts Limited”, and then tried to continue with his set patter. I stopped him again and demanded to know why he thought I was uninsured. He insisted that I was uninsured because it said so on his home owner database. When I asked for details of this “home owner database” he said he could not discuss it or where he’d got it from because that was confidential information. When I insisted he told me more, he hung up.
I phoned HomeFix Contracts Limited on the number they quote on their website. The phone rang and rang, eventually going to an answer-phone. So I tried again, and again. On the fourth attempt the same very surly-sounding Geordie answered with a disinterested “yes?” I asked if I was speaking to HomeFix Contracts Limited. He said “might be – who’s asking?”
Obviously I was getting nowhere, so this morning I thought I’d ring this company during office hours and speak to someone who might be in a managerial position: after all, if they do have my details on some “home owner database” then according to the Data Protection Act they are obliged to tell me exactly what details they have on file. I tried them at various intervals during the day. Again the phone would ring, eventually going to an answer-phone. On the umpteenth attempt the phone was answered by the surly-sounding Geordie I’d had yesterday: “Hullo – what is it?”.
I also had several wasted phone calls to Ashford Borough Council. The word on the street is that the hairdresser’s shop up the road is to become a kebab shop, and that they have applied for permission to remain open until 4am on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I was not impressed when I heard this, and so I phoned the council to find out how one went about complaining.
And then to the astro club committee meeting. Whilst I’m not technically a committee member, I’m always at the club, very prominent and in the public’s eye, so I thought I’d trot along to the committee meeting this evening. After all, they could always tell me to shove off, or pretend they weren’t in.
Last week I cleaned out the fish pond filter with a view to opening the pond up again soon as it was so mild. This morning I found myself scraping ice off of the car. What a difference from last week.
And so to work, which had all the makings of an average day. Just after lunch my phone rang. “My Boy TM ”was on his way to A&E – he’d had an accident at work. One of the advantages of working in a hospital is that when family and friends are taken ill, I’m already on site.
I went upstairs and found him in a wheelchair in the A&E waiting area waiting to be seen. He had a mate with him, so he had company. There wasn’t much I could do, so I left him there with instructions to let me know when there were any developments.
I phoned ‘er indoors TM who (like me) realised that there wasn’t much she could achieve by clucking over him. I phoned “Daddies Little Angel TM ” who sounded as though she’d burst into tears at the news. Funny how for a pair who fought like cat and dog for years, they now seem to get on so well. “Daddies Little AngelTM ” announced she was coming up to the hospital to take charge.
After a couple of hours had passed and I’d heard nothing, I went back to A&E to see what was going on. I found “My Boy TM ” lying face down on a bench in “Minor Injuries”. He was being ferociously guarded by“Daddies Little Angel TM ”, who told me there were two fractures in his foot. The lad was obviously in pain, and he told me he’d been offered no pain relief. I queried this with a passing doctor who replied with a stream of gibberish. I don’t know what language he spoke – it wasn’t English. I turned to the nurse at this doctor’s side who translated that pain relief had been offered, but “My Boy TM ” hadn’t wanted it. I asked if they had actually looked at him – obviously he was in great pain. As a sop to me they offered him an ibuprofen tablet, with the proviso that plastering the broken foot would be delayed by half an hour whilst the tablet took effect.
The nurse made no secret of her hostility toward me. Presumably up till now she’d had a broken lad who was not going to complain, and his obviously distraught sister; neither of whom knew hospital procedures. Faced with someone who knew something about medical matters wasn’t something that she liked. She very rudely announced that because the injured person was of age she would only speak with him. She didn’t actually say “F*?! off fatso”, but that was clearly her attitude to me.
Understandably “My Boy TM ” wanted to get home, and he told them to proceed with the plastering without giving him the ibuprofen tablet. I said nothing, but remembered that I’ve been up to the same A&E department with back pains in the past year and been given morphine injections for the pain. I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t give him a similar jab.
I did a couple of hours’ overtime, and then came home. The original plan for tonight was to be going to Folkestone to see the ELO Experience at the Leas Cliff Hall. Unfortunately having found myself rather strapped for cash lately, we decided not to go to this event. Last year when we saw this band in Tenterden the tickets were twelve quid each. Tonight they were twenty four quid each. That’s serious inflation…
Last night I did a couple of hours’ overtime. And since the opportunity was there, I was doing more overtime this morning. I don’t like working Saturday mornings, but sometimes needs must. The plan for the day was originally to be working in the morning, and drinking in the afternoon. My new favourite pub (Queens Head in Rye) was running a beer festival today. But on reflection it’s something of a false economy to run myself ragged doing all the overtime, just to tiddle it all up a wall. So the beer festival was given a miss, which was probably for the best.
I sat and watched telly with “My Boy TM ” for a bit. He’d recorded all sorts of stuff from the comedy channel, and we both slept through it whist ‘er indoors TM cooked a spot of scran. Suitably fed, we left “hopalong” asleep in front of the telly and went to visit the Folkstonians. A quick cuppa, and we went for a walk. To the Guildhall for a pint of “Hello Sailor”, and then on to Chambers for a pint of “Kentish Reserve”. So much for economising.
Home for tea, and I got the hair drier out. “Hopalong” had got his plaster cast wet, and so I dried it out for him. And then in a novel break with tradition rather than staying in and enjoying the peace and quiet, I went along to the traditional Saturday film night. I’ve not been to Chris’s for the Saturday night film for ages; mainly because I fall asleep. Tonight we watched “Galaxy Quest” and “Lost in Space”. Excellent films, and I stayed awake for them both.
And then I was up rather late. “Hopalong” was out with his mates, and I’d told him to let me know if he wanted a lift anywhere. Eventually shortly after midnight he texted to say he would spend the night at a mate’s house. Which is less wear and tear on the car, I suppose. Talking of which, I had a letter about that today.
When I bought my car last year it came with a year’s warranty. That year is now (almost) up. I now have the option to extend that warranty for another year. I can either make a one-off payment of £420, or I can make ten monthly payments of forty two pounds. Or I can hope that since the car has done less than twenty five thousand miles it’s probably not going to fail me catastrophically just yet. If I took that policy out, I would be spending over forty quid a month in the hope that the car would fail in the next calendar year. Perhaps if I put twenty quid a month aside in my own bank account I’d have a reserve if the car did go west, and if it didn’t, at the end of the year I’d still have something.
Yesterday I mentioned that I was up till all hours waiting to hear from “Hopalong”, who was out with his mates. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t wake up till 11am this morning. I don’t mind a bit of a lay in, but by the time I’d had some brekkie, half of a precious weekend day was wasted.
I had a quick root-around on Facebook for a while. Once a really good social networking site, these days it seems to be little more than somewhere to lay the groundwork for the next day’s sick leave, judging by the amount of on-line whinging that seems to be rife there.
Interestingly I saw that quite a few of my real life friends who aren’t on my Facebook list are on my glove puppet’s Facebook list. What’s that all about? Mind you, I hear that same glove puppet has had a sex-change. And has made a new video to celebrate….
And so to Hythe to meet up with the Romney Marsh Countryside Project. We went out for a walk with these people last year on an organised walk to the sound mirrors, and on seeing they were organising a stroll along the canal today, we thought we’d join in. Bearing in mind there were nearly two hundred people on the last walk we did with these people, we were rather disappointed to find there were only fifteen of us today. In fact our party of five made up a third of the total.
But we had a good time. The leader was friendly and helpful: he organised us along the canal. He stopped us at points of interest, he told us what birds were making the various chirpings we could hear, and he filled in all sorts of snippets of local history along the way.
It was a good walk, but it was a bit cold. It was good thinking on the part of the organisers to finish at a café so’s we could get a warming cuppa. Mind you, I couldn’t believe my eyes at the end. Every event or activity like this always has at least one misfit along. Our misfit was a particularly unfortunate-looking chap whose beard simply did not fit his face. After an hour and a half’s walk, misfit went back to his car and let his wife out. Wifey then accompanied misfit to the café for a cuppa. She’d just sat in the car (waiting for the walk to finish) for ninety minutes.
It never fails to amaze me that everyone with whom I associate in any way whatsoever assumes that I will avidly watch any telly program which is in any way connected with a hobby or interest of mine. Whenever there is anything on the telly about real ale, pythons, scouting, archaeology, astronomy, hiking, cycling, kite-flying, Anthea Turner, or anything remotely interesting, I am expected to have seen the program. And when I admit that haven’t watched the show, I am met with amazement and disbelief. Usually I am assured I have missed the best program in the history of television.
But there is a reason that I don’t watch TV programs about real ale, pythons, scouting, archaeology, astronomy, hiking, cycling, kite-flying, Anthea Turner, or anything remotely interesting. The reason being that having a hobby means I know something about the subject. TV programs are (on the whole) made to be light entertainment for the “Great Unwashed” who aren’t expected to know anything at all about the TV program’s subject matter.
But this evening was the launch of the BBC’s “Wonders of the Universe”, and being unable to face going through the tedious explanation (at least a dozen times) of why I didn’t see the show, I thought I’d watch the program. For once I would give a TV show a chance before dismissing it out of hand.
If nothing else, I proved myself right. Perhaps I’m spoiled by being a member of an excellent astronomy club. But I’m used to having a monthly detailed lecture on things astronomical; usually state-of-the-art information and often at degree level. Tonight’s “Wonders of the Universe” might have been better titled “Woo – aren’t spacey things pretty?” The show *could* have been good: it didn’t need to be dumbed down like it was.
The first forty minutes of the show could have been conveyed concisely in ninety seconds. I didn’t watch the last twenty minutes. Instead I went on-line to the death clock which told me that I’ve got just under twenty eight years left on this Earth. Those twenty eight years are precious: too precious to waste on rubbish TV shows aimed at the masses.
On Friday I scraped ice off the car before going to work. I did so again today. Work was dull, but was livened up by news from home. “Daddies Little Angel TM ” has had more university offers. And then I had a text from Stevey. The weather forecast was for a clear night – did I fancy a spot of telescoping this evening?
Stevey had also put a message on the astro club’s Facebook page, and straight after work, me Stevey and the Rear Admiral set up on the East Cliff at Folkestone, just above the Warren. Whilst it wasn’t the best place for practical astronomy that I’ve been to, it was far from the worst. Once our scopes were all set, we turned them onto the crescent moon which was clearly visible over the rooftops. Really pretty. I then turned the scope to the nebula in Orion’s belt, and amazed myself that I managed to find it.
Steve & Andy arrived and set up scope, as did Jason, and Stevey had a go at my scope’s “Go-To” function. With a little help from the Rear Admiral he puzzled out how to work it. It’s (relatively) simple: you set the telescope up so’s it’s level – it comes with a spirit level – and you tell it where in the world you are, and what the time and date is. You then point it at two stars, and tell it what the stars are. Ideally the two stars should be on opposite sides of the sky. And then that’s it. You then tell it what you want to look at, and the telescope then points itself at our chosen target, and tracks it as it slowly moves across the sky.
We had a look at the crab nebula, the Pleiades, various Messier objects, and at the evening was drawing on we turned our attention to Saturn. The Rear Admiral found Saturn by use of skill and expertise with his scope. I used the “Go-To” function. It was easier.
I’m reliably informed that the list of objects we saw was (with varying degrees of success) M66, M65, M67, M48, M50, M93, NGC2362, M41, M3, M13, M42 (the great nebula in Orion), M33, M1 (Crab Nebula) M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) M44, NGC2903, Saturn and the beautiful waxing crescent moon with earth shine. It was a shame I’ve got to be up for work tomorrow morning – I could have stayed out much longer, but it was getting cold.
I was really pleased with my new telescope. This was the first time I’d used the thing properly. I would have been happy just being able to look at things though it. Having the “Go-To” function up and running was a definite bonus.
The next time the weather’s looking good we’ll put another message on the astro club’s Facebook page and see what response we get. I’ve half a mind to put together a two-minute presentation for the next meeting of the astro club showing what we did tonight to see if we can’t drum up support for future impromptu stargazing sessions…
Following on from the success of yesterday evening’s stargazing, I’m quite keen to do something similar again. However… one of my failings is always to see the negative, and whilst I really enjoyed last night, car parking at the East Cliff was somewhat limited. Whilst I’d very happily go back to the East Cliff (and probably will in the near future), I’ve found myself wondering about where else we might stargaze. Ideally we’d like somewhere which is:
There is a car park above Wye at the Devil’s Kneading Trough which may well be a good spot to go telescoping at, and a colleague thinks he knows of a sports field in Brabourne which might be good. There’s also the village green at Woodchurch.
At first sight this might seem a trivial and somewhat pedantic point, but let me ask a theoretical (so far) question: Should someone who has come to such an observing night go arse over tit in the dark and injure themselves, then what?
As far as I am concerned, that would be their own stupid fault. Certainly with the gang of mates who were along last night, that would have been the attitude of all present. However if there is the possibility of claiming that going arse over tit happened at a formal club activity, then there is the whole sordid question of claiming off of the club’s insurance, having risk assessments, rules and regulations….
I know of other societies which in the past have had problems arising from bunches of members thinking they were operating under the auspices of a club when in fact it was arguable that they were not. I’d like to thrash this problem out before it actually becomes a problem. I’ll email the committee (if they don’t comment on this post first!)
Meanwhile did you know that today is "International Women's Day"? No? Neither did I. Apparently it's a major day of global celebration of women. Originally a leftie political event in the former Eastern European communist countries, the day has now mostly lost its political flavour, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love for women in a way somewhat similar to a mixture of Mother's Day and St Valentine's Day. Yuk!!
Mind you, in some parts of the world, Wikipedia tells me that the original political and human rights theme designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.
I see Prince Andrew has had his name splashed all over the news. He's allegedly been up to all sorts of nonsense with topless models whilst conspiring with Kazak billionaires and Saudi princes whilst living high on the hog at public expense.
Whilst we're running down the House of York, I also see that the princesses Beatrice and Eugenie are being slated for going out drinking and dancing with their mates until 3am. It's truly shocking - after all, how other kids of that age go out on the razz till all hours?
It rather annoys me when the newspapers pick on the Royalty. The media bang the drum with rabble-rousing about how these parasites are living high on the hog at public expense. But the same media gloss over the actual truth of how the Royal Family is actually funded these days.
The problem is that the Royals are an easy target: it's very easy to stir up indignation and republican fervour in the "Great Unwashed". And the "Great Unwashed" never realise that by falling for all the lies and innuendo they are merely funding the newspapers who are growing rich on their ignorance.
Meanwhile closer to home my phone hasn't stopped ringing. Firstly from some woman who demanded I told her how much money I pay each month for my leccie and gas, and to whom I pay it. And then some snotty bloke demanding to know when the service agreement on my SkyPlus box expired.
I see the Con-servatives have announced that the country cannot afford the public sector pensions. From a purely personal point of view, I can’t help but think that in my situation the Government has left it thirty years too late to tell me this. And what do the mean by “they” can’t afford it? I’m the one who’s been paying for it.
The Government can kiss my furry yellow ass on this one (!) After all, you don’t pay for a round the world cruise only to be given a weekend in Bognor because the travel agent says he couldn’t afford what you paid for.
This evening we went round to Chip’s for a spot of tea, and then on (as part of the arky-ologee club’s rent-a –mob) to an evening staged by the Heaths Countryside Corridor. This lot are an odd-looking bunch who have acquired the land that the Highways Authority didn’t want when they built the M20. Tonight was supposed to be about the archaeology of the area. My hopes weren’t high, but I had nothing else planned - Thursdays can be dull.
The host for the evening was a strange looking cove. My immediate thought was that this individual had recently had gender reassignment surgery: said surgery having been performed by a surgeon who had no idea neither what he was starting with, nor what he was aiming for, and had merely done the best he could under less than ideal circumstances.
The first speaker of the evening droned on about a Victorian ice house. I slept through this. It was tedious. The next speaker was the biddy who runs the arky-ologee club we go to. Not bothering with slides or any illustration for her talk whatsoever, she just rambled incoherently for twenty minutes. She made great show of saying that there were ten members of her arky-ologee club along. I could only count three (including me). Perhaps she was trying to big herself up in case it came to a fight?
The indeterminate host then gave a ten minute talk on exactly what the Heaths Countryside Corridor was all about. From what I can work out, it’s a four mile long footpath, the only saving grace of which is that it has a pub at both ends.
By this stage my nerves could take no more. The host for the evening announced that they were going to adjourn for a cup of tea, and then run their A.G.M. I announced that if any of the assembled “normal people” came near me, I would bite them. So Chip, ‘er indoors TM and me went off to the Red Lion for a crafty half….
Ursuline college was holding a careers fest today, and I was there to run a stall extolling the merits of a career pathological. Much as I (occasionally) moan about it, it’s not a bad old job, really. The idea was I would set up a microscope with some slides, some Petri dishes, some grouped bloods and a tapeworm in a jar (yuk!). The kids would then come round, look at my exhibits and talk to me about working in a path lab. The students would also have the chance to talk to a lady from the NatWest bank, a policeman, a magistrate, some soldiers, some builders, some civil servants from the European Commission, and people from half a dozen different colleges. On reflection I would love to have had such a careers opportunity when I was younger.
In retrospect I was treating the event as a bit of a jolly, a morning off work, and a bit of a skive. The twelve year olds (who came round first) had the same idea about the event, and weren’t really interested. But as the morning went on, the children coming round were older and older, and towards the end of the morning I had several kids who were quite interested in what I was showing, and several who asked about how one goes about becoming a biomedical scientist.
Mind you, there were several not-so-gifted children. At least twenty of them, on hearing that the slide under the microscope was showing cancerous cells, asked if they could catch cancer by eating the microscope. A particularly geeky-looking child accused me of bringing MRSA infection to his school. Another child asked me all sorts of questions about the navy, having mistaken my employer (NHS) for the prefix of the ship on which his cousin served (HMS Ark Royal).
But perhaps the sweetest child of the day was a small quiet girl who politely asked me if I could answer her question; but warned me her question wasn’t about blood. I said I’d have a go. The poor child was interested in emigrating to Australia, and wanted to know what job she should do. I suggested she contacted the Australian Embassy. In a very small voice she asked what the Australian Embassy was. The poor child had no idea what an embassy was - she hadn’t been told the first thing about emigration. I suggested she looked up “Australia House” on the internet: they would have all the answers to her questions. Her face lit up – no one (up till now) had been bothered to help her in the slightest. So I suppose my morning wasn’t entirely wasted.
However the highlight of the day was when the school’s biology teacher got wind that I was there, and came to find me. She liked my microscope, was fascinated with the tapeworm, and hung on my every word about leukaemia and blood groups.
We never had biology teachers like her when I was at school. Much as I liked old Mr Reeve, he never wore stockings like those. I’d swap him for her at the drop of a hat. She could teach me biology any day (woof!)
After a spot of lunch I then drove up to the Margate hospital. It had been alleged that my malarial identification skills were not what they might have been. I am still of two minds about this allegation, but having been offered an hour or so’s tutorial with an expert, I thought I’d take up the offer. I don’t claim to be the world’s foremost authority on creatures of the genus Plasmodium, and any chance to learn more is always good.
I was presented with six cases of malaria which had been prepared for me. I was to perform a species identification on each slide. I got five right and one wrong. So seeing the idea of the session was for me to learn, I held my hand up, admitted I was (probably) wrong, and asked if I could have another go at the one I’d (supposedly) got wrong. I also asked if the expert could watch what I was doing, listen to my reasoning, and explain where I was (arguably) going wrong. So we revisted the case I’d (allegedly) got wrong. We both agreed with my initial observation that the infected cells were round, large and not ragged as would fit a case of Plasmodium vivax (which was what I said it was originally). We also both agreed that the infected cells were not elongated, small or ragged as would be expected in a case of Plasmodium ovale (which was the answer the expert was expecting). The expert looked at me, looked down the microscope, looked at his crib sheet, and went red. And then changed my score from 5-1 to 6-0, whilst muttering about having words with the operative who had prepared these slides.
Engaging “smug mode” I drove home. With the troops rallied we all descended on “chez Chip” for a game of cards. An hour or so of “Texas hold ‘em”, followed by an hour or so of “Omaha hold ‘em”. And again I engaged “smug mode” with a straight flush that literally could not be beaten. It makes a change for me to win at cards. Usually I’m rubbish at it…
I was again working overtime this morning. I’m getting a bit fed up with working most weekends, but the money comes in useful. I came home shortly after mid day to find ‘er indoors TM in the throes of housework, so I felt duty-bound to join in somehow.
So I had a pootle about the garden. It’s now mid-March, so I turned on the pond filter, and the thing spouted water out of everywhere except the nozzles from which water should come out. I turned it off, took it apart, got stagnant water everywhere, reassembled it and found the leaks were even worse. I then shouted swear words at it, not because that would achieve anything, but because doing so is rather expected on occasions such as this.
I recalled my blog entry from Feb 22nd when I was at the pond shop looking at new pond filters and I wrote “The current one will (hopefully) do for this year”. Perhaps I’d spoken too soon? But before driving down to World of Water in Rolvenden for a new filter I decided to have one last go at the existing one. I eventually managed to stop the leaks. It’s fixed for now, but it remains to be seen for how long it will hold. I can’t really complain about the thing – it’s been in use for four days longer than the astronomy club has been going (a diary is a wonderfully useful thing sometimes!) But it will need replacing at some stage soon.
I then gave the lawn it’s first mowing of the year. Extracting the lawn mower and strimmer from the shed took some doing – they were buried under “My Boy TM ”’s fishing gear. But I mustn’t grumble – with his broken foot he can’t really do anything about the house.
For all that I shall now be mowing the lawn on a weekly basis, and pootling about the garden, I absolutely loathe and detest gardening. It is an ultimately fruitless fight against the second law of thermodynamics (did I mention I'm a Chartered Scientist?) No matter what you do in the garden, and how hard you do it, a week later the garden will look as bad as it did a week ago. I honestly believe gardening is a pastime for people who have yet to discover the concept of "hobbies”.
Talking of gardens, for want of anything better to do this afternoon, we had a look round the new garden centre that’s opened. “Dobbies” had all the standard garden centre tat that all garden centres had, and quite a lot more besides, including a very good ale selection (!) The place was really crowded. I heard that Bybrook Barn garden centre wasn’t happy at the prospect of Dobbies opening up. I can see why.
As McDonalds was over the road we had a quick bit of pudding before coming home where I had a bit of a snooze until ‘er indoors TM set off for the Saturday night film-a-thon. I went along last week: this week I stayed at home with “My Boy TM ”and we watched the sort of (non-mucky!) films that his mother wouldn’t like. After two hours of World War One violence I ran him round the road to his friend’s house. I had a plan to get my telescope out, but it was raining hard. NeverWinter, here I come…
Last Sunday I stayed in my pit until far too late. I wasn’t going to waste today in the same way. Having been woken by ‘er indoors TM ‘s “trumpet voluntary” I was up and about by 9am. I spent a little while working on my presentation on comets for the astro club. I’m not due to speak until October, but I have this idea that should a decent comet appear in the next few months, then I would be ready and it might be nice to be able to present a topical lecture.
I then collected “My Boy TM ” and we went round to Ashford market. He wanted some bits and pieces, and I always like a look round the market, for all that they are selling rubbish. Ashford market these days is rather disappointing. There are half a dozen stalls selling fishing gear, one stall selling out of date crisps and cakes, and loads of people running boot fair stalls full of rubbish fit for the tip. But it makes for an interesting morning out.
Home to collect my wellies, and then on to the BatFarm. I spent an entertaining five minutes playing with my new best friend “Pork Chop”. I’m reliably informed that it is not a good idea to give names to very young lambs because they have a habit of not surviving, but he’s now two days old. Surely that’s old enough for a name?
We then went to the pond near where we have BatCamp and launched the refurbished mallard house. I could see quite a few carp in there. Bearing in mind all the fish that are in there are from when I stocked the pond with tiddlers in August 2007, they’ve grown massively in the last three years.
From there we made our way to the largest pond where we were going to clean out the duck house. We could clearly see ducks nesting in that duck house, so we thought it best not to disturb them. Instead we went up to the diving pond to clean that duck house, only to find that it was full of ducklings. Bearing in mind I have yet to see a single deciduous tree with any leaves on at all so far this spring, the ducks seem to have nested early this year. (And the Egyptian running ducks have grown too – they are double the size they were when we launched their duck house last September.)
We then went indoors for a cuppa, and then had a smashing bit of Sunday lunch. Very tasty. After lunch there were farm chores to be done which weren’t for the faint-hearted, so we took that as a sensible point at which to say our goodbyes. I slept most of the way home, and then slept most of the rest of the day on the sofa.
I seem to have formed a habit of leaving my letters and emails and general household admin chores to pile up until I am on a late shift, and then dealing with all of it at once. Not having done a late shift for a week or so meant I had quite a stack of letters to go through this morning.
Brighton Kite Fliers had written to me to say that their AGM is coming up in a couple of week’s time. I won’t be going – the meeting is on Mother’s Day, and I would probably be dead as ice cubes were I to go off to a kiting meeting on that date.
Whilst I’m on the subject of kites, I’ve had a message from the Kent Kite Fliers about this year’s kite festivals at Teston. They say both are still going ahead, but “there is some pressure on the Country Parks to make a profit or at the very least break even in regard to any costs for any event held. ….KCC have told the rangers at Teston they must seek a charge from the campers at Teston kite events of at least £10 per pitch for the week-end….”. Personally I think that’s quite reasonable. (Provided other campers don’t go and hide in their tents when the rent man comes calling and expect me to stump up… again…)
The water bill for the next year has arrived. Or that is half the water bill has arrived. South East Water have told me how much they will take from me for the delivery of water. Someone else will be in touch about taking it away once I’m done with it.
The leccie people have changed the date on which they plan to take the direct debit each month. It’s interesting how they will charge me if I want to change the date I pay them, but they don’t offer me anything at all when they want to change that date. In a separate letter they apologised that they will be increasing their prices once the current price freeze ends. Dur!!! Isn’t that what happens at the end of a price freeze?
I received my petrol money from the laboratory inspection I did a couple of weeks ago. I must admit that having been doing these inspections for several years, they’ve certainly got more efficient with refunding my expenses.
I saved the largest letter until last – our census return. To save farting about, I chose to fill the thing in on-line. Perhaps I’m just getting old and racist, but my piss boiled when I saw that it’s possible to complete the census in any one of fifty six languages, including twelve languages of which I had never heard. Who actually does speak Yoruba or Igbo? I honestly think that anyone who can’t complete the UK census in the language of the UK (English, just to be clear!) is a prime candidate for deportation. (Sorry!)
Anyway…. bearing in mind that it’s the government who is asking for the census data, they have asked some rather stupid questions. Obviously they know where we live –they’d sent the letter to that address. Obviously they know where we all work – they get our income tax from our employers. Obviously they know our marital states, our nationalities and what passports we hold from various government records. I concede that they wouldn’t know about any house guests I may have on a given date, but surely that is a rather trivial bit of information? Who on Earth cares about that?
And as for religious convictions; that question is optional and is a joke. The vast majority of people will claim to be “Christian” without actually understanding what it means to be a Christian. One or two say they are “Jedi” thinking they are being either clever or nonconformist. And now I hear that there is a move afoot to use this question to protest to the Government about fuel prices.
In short the census was a waste of my time. I have heard on the radio that the whole concept of a national census has already been abandoned as the information is already available. Let’s hope this is true: the Government has wasted half an hour of my time on this one.
And then I had another waste of my time. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, one of the endowment policies to pay off my mortgage has matured. The company with whom I have that policy will not speak to me about that policy because the mortgage company has declared an interest in it. They will only deal with the mortgage company and suggested I got on to them. So I *again* phoned the mortgage company and spoke to Isobel. She was very helpful, but now claimed that the mortgage company have absolutely no record of the endowment policy. As I started crying she said she’d get on to their admin department and phone me back later. An hour later the admin department phoned me back, and on hearing that the mortgage dated back some twenty-plus years they announced they’d have to have a look in their store room, and would write to me within ten working days….
Whilst my heart goes out to the thousands of people whose lives have been devastated in Japan, I shall vent my spleen at their nuclear power industry. The Japanese nuclear power stations were built on the understanding that they would be working for many years in a part of the world which is no stranger to earthquakes. Now it would seem that they weren’t up to the job. And not only have these broken power stations sprayed radioactive contamination everywhere, they have given ammunition to the loony-lefty-ban-the-bomb-let’s-all-go-hug-a-tree brigade.
After all, as the entire world clamours for more and more electricity (whilst desperately attempting to reduce the environmental damage wreaked by centuries of reckless burning of fossil fuels) is there any practical alternative to nuclear power? Clearly there is not. Therefore nuclear power needs to be made safe, which demonstrably it is not.
Somewhat closer to home are the “reforms” planned for the NHS. Having worked for the NHS since 1981 I’ve seen reforms come, and I’ve seen reforms go. And on serious reflection I don’t think any of them have actually enabled me to provide a better service to those who use my skills (either directly or indirectly). I’m quite sure that all the “reforms” I’ve seen are merely cost-cutting exercises which (when successful) have worked because they coincided with the changes in the technology which was available to me.
This latest batch of “reforms” is so obviously a silly political stunt. *If* the Con-servatives agree to electoral reform, then the dribbling democraps will agree to health care reform. Silly political posturing, whilst people lay in A&E departments with broken bones. The nation’s health care is too important to be entrusted to politicians.
Apparently it's illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of their race, gender, what they want to have sex with, or whether they want to dress up as a woman (especially if they are not one).
I would say that I find it odd that anti-discrimination legislation on the grounds of crackpot religions trumps sensible and reasonable anti-discrimination legislation. But doing so is discriminatory…
I’m not sure that having a salad for lunch is actually helping in making me a healthier person or not. I’ve been having weekly weigh-ins since Xmas, and my weight has been all over the place, with no regard for what I’ve actually eaten. In this last week, with no pub trips or fry-ups, I’ve put on two pounds. What’s that all about?
Whilst on the way to work I got some petrol. I have noticed that I seem to be getting through the stuff at quite a rate these last few months. My car is due for a service soon. That might help fuel economy. Something else which might also help is tyre pressure. The Internet says the tyre pressures on my car should be thirty-two. (Thirty-two somethings, I’m not quite sure what). So whilst I was at the petrol station I thought I’d use the free air. Free air is now twenty pence a squirt (!), and I found that three of the tyres on my car were in the range of twenty-eight to thirty, so I gave them some air. However one of them was only at twelve wotsits. I’m sure that’s not good, so I’ve pumped it up, and shall see how it holds up.
Work was exciting for once – we had a “brown alert”: somewhat akin to “red alerts” (made famous by Captain Kirk), but with more of a need for replacement underwear. But such is life in a busy hospital. Hours of tedious boredom interspersed by moments of sheer panic.
And then I came home to check the pond. I’d turned on the pond filter at the weekend, and whilst the pond is clearing, it’s got a long way to go. So far it has only reached “murky”. I need to clean out the filter in the next day or so. Perhaps not so much clean out as throw out the filter mediums and replace them with the new ones I’ve got ready in the shed.
I then fiddled about on-line. It’s two days since our phone line switched from BT to Orange, and the promised increased speed hasn’t materialised. Despite the line’s being rated at up to a squillion quadrillobytes, under the old BT regime, it never seemed to get much above a speed of about 2.3 Mb. And now under the new lot it seems to be much the same. Oh well, at least it’s not worse. I just hope that their promises of it being cheaper turn out to be more reliable…
Today is St Patrick’s day. As the sales of Guinness soar, spare a thought for the triumph of successful marketing. Have you ever actually tried Guinness? It’s not bad. However it’s not that good either when compared to similar beers that are available.
Readily available in most supermarkets are stout and porter from the Mean Time brewery: if you’ve never tried them, give them a go. Sainsbury’s also sell Marston’s Oyster Stout and London Porter. And everywhere sells Hobgoblin these days. All of which are far superior to Guinness.
Getting a tad more specialised, most off licences and the shops of local vineyards will have a good selection of dark ales. Gadds brewery make “Dogbolter” – black and as thick as treacle. The Whitstable brewery make a very good stout. For my loyal readers in Sussex the Dark Star brewery make an excellent Imperial Stout, Harvey’s Old Ale is a storming drop, and if you are ever in Hastings Old Town, find a pub called the FILO and have a pint of “Cardinal” – traditional Sussex porter.
Good dark beers aren’t restricted to Kent and Sussex – more and more pubs these days have Ansell’s Mild at the bar. If you see it – give it a go. Or any other mild or brown ale. Or even (to keep my father-in-law sweet) a tin of Mackeson is better than a pint of Guinness.
Successful marketing, or apathetic purchasing? When you’re buying a round at the bar, what do your mates ask for? How many (like me) actually take the trouble to see what the beer selection is? So many just ask for “a pint”, don’t care what they are given in the first instance, and then stick to lager for the rest of their lives because they’ve once had a pint they didn’t like. It’s akin to never eating crisps again because you don’t like salt and vinegar flavour.
Meanwhile, here’s a sobering thought. Just imagine that the ongoing problems with the Fukushima nuclear power stations to be happening at the nearest nuclear power station to me (at Dungeness). Should that ever happen, then on the Japanese government’s advice I would not be setting foot outside my house. For safety reasons I would have to stay indoors.
And were it the American government giving the orders and applying their regulations in such a hypothetical catastrophe at Dungeness, then I would have already been forcibly evacuated from my house. This has got me thinking.
My first idea was that should this ever happen, then I’d just go and doss down on my mother’s sofa, but on reflection that idea would be a non-starter – my mother would also have been evacuated. And so would everyone within fifty miles of Dungeness, which is pretty much the entire counties of Kent and East Sussex. So much for my plans to turn up (with a hopeful expression on my face) in Peacehaven orBrighton. Should Dungeness power station have gone west, then my friends in Peacehaven and Brightonwould also be looking for lodgings. Along with (just over) two and a quarter million other people.
However I have a fall back position. Beckenham would seem to be about twelve kilometres outside the exclusion zone. So I should like to take this opportunity to be the first to claim dibs on Terry & Irene’s garage should the worst happen.
I’m not being (excessively) flippant or facetious here. As a teenager the world was a scary place. The threat of nuclear war was ever present, and I was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I spent hours folding up leaflets to post through letterboxes to warm the public about the threat of radioactive attack.
And having done these calculations has brought back the memories of exactly how dangerous this uranium stuff is. If only there was a better way to generate the amount of power that we as a civilisation are using….
Insomnia is something I’ve whinged about from time to time. Because I get it from time to time. Take today for example. I was wide awake at 2.30am, and lay awake until finally getting up at 6am. At 7am I was fast asleep in front of the telly and was woken to go to work, where I fell asleep in the rest room.
Work was dull. I skived out of a meeting, and read an email from my professional body. It too was rather dull, but it mentioned The Hidden Science Map: a map to tempt all scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians out of hiding to reveal how much science is out there in the UK.
The original plan for the day had me chauffeuring girls here, there and thither, but such plans rarely reach fruition. I came home to find girls being coloured in, so I fell asleep again for an hour or so before delivering tattooed girl to Folkestone. A quick cuppa, home again and it was 9pm. Where had the day gone? A quick bit of tea, and then I sorted out the anti-virus on my new laptop. The thing came with one month’s free anti-virus, then it wanted me to pay for it. Stuff that. I uninstalled and replaced it with a free anti-virus.
Finding myself absolutely stumped for what to get my dad for his birthday (last January), I suggested that when the weather improved I took him and mum out for a pub lunch somewhere. I’d arranged to do that meal today, and as luck would have it, the weather was perfect. I had several pubs in mind in the Hastingsarea, but then on reflection all of the pubs I know in that part of the world are in the town, none are readily accessible by car, and I don’t really know what the food is like in any of them. So I took a chance and booked a table at the closest country pub to my mum’s house.
We picked up mum and dad as planned, and soon we were at the Three Oaks Hotel. We’d arranged for the fruits of my loin to be waiting for us there (with their chauffer) since that would make a nice surprise for dad. And it did.
I can remember the last time I went to the Three Oaks Hotel: it was before “My Boy TM ” was born. The place has changed somewhat over the years: changed for the better. There was an excellent ale selection, the food was wonderful (very good, loads of it and reasonably priced!) and the landlord was really friendly and attentive. I was rather greedy and had three courses: the tomato soup was tasty, the Cajun chicken was probably the best I’ve ever had, and despite feeling oh-so-full, I forced down the banoffee roulade. It was too good not to!
We got chatting with the landlord – the train service to Three Oaks is now much better than what it once was, so a walk around this part of the world featuring a return to this pub is definitely going to be planned over the summer.
We said our goodbyes to mum & dad, and then drove home, breaking our journey in Icklesham to have a look-see in the Queen’s Head. Seeing how the train service along the Brede Valley is now improved, this is another pub that may well be on a forthcoming walk.
And so home, and with an hour or so to spare I co-opted the Rear Admiral’s assistance to help me muck out the fish pond filter. In previous muck-outs I’ve actually cleaned all the innards of the filter. Today I merely upended the filter’s contents into a dustbin and replaced them with all new gubbins. I’d planned to go shopping for all new filter gubbins tomorrow, but having found all that I needed was already in the shed, I made the most of the good weather this afternoon. I’m hoping that this new gubbins will make a noticeable difference to the clarity of the pond within a few days. If there’s no change by mid-week, I’ll again clean out the filter and then consider flocculation (!)
We all sat down and watched a bit of telly, and then we had what promised to be one of life’s tedious ordeals. With a really clear sky and a very bright moon I had planned to go telescoping. But I’d forgotten I’d promised to go to the Friends of Kings Wood’s quiz. I suppose that as a paid-up Friend of King’s Wood myself I really should support these events. But I think I summed up the mood of the majority of our team when I suggested our team be named “Not Tree Huggers”. I was frowned at, and so the team name was dutifully changed to more accurately reflect the team: “Not Tree Huggers featuring Tina”.
But I was wrong - the quiz turned out to be quite fun, at one point we were running in a respectable third place. It was a shame that the final round (leaf recognition) played to the strengths of the tree-hugging fraternity and comprehensively put us in last place. But we did get a decent haul from the raffle.
The Friends of King’s Wood aren’t a bad bunch really: we’ve been asked to sit on their committee as they are short of members. It’s probably a tad early for us to get quite that involved with them just yet. At the moment I like just being a rank-and-file member. I tend to get too involved with committees and the organisation of clubs. But then, that’s the kind of guy I am…
With the pond clearing (albeit very slowly) and spring coming (albeit very slowly), it won’t be long before the Koi are hungry. So I set off to get some food for them. In the past I’ve always gone to Swallow Aquatics in Tenterden for fish, and to World of Water in Rolvenden for everything else. I’ve now added a third Koi shop to my list. I get Koi food from Green World Garden Centre. It’s a little further (twice the distance) than World of Water, but I can get 10kg of Koi food from Green World for fourteen quid. A comparable amount of fish food from the other two shops is over eighty quid. And that is allowing for the store’s already having knocked thirty quid off the original price of the expensive stuff.
I found the place easily enough and had a minor episode when attempting to pay for the fish food. But once the nice lady put my credit card into the machine the right way up, all was well. I got chatting with the nice man about replacing my pond filter box: he advised I got a pressure filter which is effectively self cleaning. I would bury it by the pond and wouldn’t have to lug the thing up the garden any more when I needed to clean it. The trouble is that he wanted over four hundred quid for one. I told him I’d think about it.
I started to make my way home the scenic route cross-country via the country lanes with the vague plan to call in at Grafty Green garden centre, and I amazed myself by actually finding the place. They were selling a macaw at less than half the price that Bybrook Barn were selling one at. On the other hand their garden statuary was triple the price of Whelan’s. It pays to shop around.
They also had some reptiles – a few weeks ago me and “Daddies Little Angel TM ” did a grand tour of Kentlooking at reptile shops. I never thought to have a look in Grafty for them. But they didn’t have much.
Whilst in the area I popped up to Lenham Court – the arky-ologee club were excavating the garden and I thought I’d show my face since I was passing. I was offered the opportunity to dig, but (quite frankly) doing “digging arky-ologee” has no interest for me at all. It gives me backache, and I honestly can’t tell the difference between valuable artefact and broken bits of manky boulders. I’d far rather sit back and let someone who knows what they are talking about tell me what they found on their digs.
I had a look in their holes, feigned suitable interest and left them to it. With ‘er indoors TM constructively employed scrubbling about in the dirt for the afternoon, I came home and dozed in front of DVDs for the afternoon. A tough life, but someone’s got to do it…
The "A" might stand for "atheist" or "Apathetic Agnostic". Either would fit the bill. 'A' Week is not about being disrespectful to religion or people who have religious views, it's about quietly showing that there are more people than may be realised who are 'Good without God' and who don't need religion to influence their lives. Personally I feel it’s a wonderful idea, with the reservation that (in my opinion) it doesn’t go far enough and it shouldn’t be afraid to rattle one or two cages.
Over the last few years quite a few of my blog entries have had something of an anti-religion theme about them. And seeing how it’s now “A” week, this is probably the best time of all for me to have a really good rant about religion and get it all out of my system….
Once upon a time I was a very religious person - I was actually a Steward in the Methodist Church until I saw the darkness (!). But did I believe in all the church taught? I can remember at the time telling a friend that I “wanted to believe”. The fact of the matter is that I was in the Boys Brigade as a child and as a young man. For over ten years I was in an environment where organised religion was a very big part of my daily life. Constantly being exposed to the religious teachings meant that I rather accepted them as one accepts most things in life to which one is constantly exposed.
When I left home I sought out another Methodist church, because I was a Methodist, and that’s what we did. And I was a member of St Andrews Methodist Church in Folkestone for nearly two years. During this time I wasn’t anywhere near as wrapped up with religion as I had been; in Hastings there was something church-related at least four days every week. In Folkestone there was just the Sunday service, and occasionally something mid week. In retrospect my faith was failing, but we kept going to St Andrewsbecause the congregation there were welcoming and friendly to people who were strangers in a strange town.
We moved to Ashford in 1986, where there aren’t (traditional) Methodist churches. Instead we went to the local Baptist church. After all, we knew people there from our old Boys Brigade contacts. After four months at the South Ashford Baptist Church I realised that only two people at that church had actually spoken to us. And it was about that time when I actually had a religious revelation.
I finally realised that for many years I’d been going to church for social reasons: because all my friends went to church, and my entire social life was church-based. Now I was at a church which wasn’t so friendly I realised that I didn’t really believe anything that the Church was preaching. I actually thought it was a well-meaning but utterly inconsistent and contradictory load of hot air. But I was scared by the fact that I thought that way. It was quite a while before I admitted to myself that instead of believing what my church said, I was desperately hoping that it was all true, because the alternative was rather frightening. Terrifying in fact.
Having had my “Road to Damascus” moment I packed up going to church, and I rather left the whole concept of religion alone for many years I eventually stumbled upon a bunch of people (on-line) who rather shared the views of religion that I had formed after years of reflection. I am now an ordained minister in the Church of the Apathetic Agnostic. “We don’t know and we don’t care”. And I’ve grown stronger in that (lack of) faith ever since – it is my belief that there may be a God who created the world, or there may not be: I don’t know. But I do believe that *if* there is such a God, then it is pretty obvious that said God is rather apathetic to his creations. And consequently is not worthy of the praise that conventional religions would heap on that deity (given half a chance.) And it’s no secret that I am now at the point where I find myself appearing to be very vocally anti-religion.
If people want to believe in something then that’s fine with me… Let me qualify that. If people want to believe in something then they need to actually read up on their belief, research it and understand it. What boils my piss (to coin a phrase) is people who announce that they are a member of any religion (including my own), but do not actually have any idea whatsoever about what that religion teaches. For example as a scout leader I was once harangued for religious intolerance. I wouldn’t let a young Muslim lad have bacon for breakfast. His father was furious with me, only to apologise a week later once he’d actually found out that he wasn’t supposed to eat bacon.
Or take Catholic people. Before I run down the entire concept of Catholicism, to be fair I feel I should point out that I have met a lot of Catholics who have studied the tenets of their faith in detail, and do understand what they are talking about. However, I have also met many other people whose church attendance is minimal to zero, but they proudly and vocally announce they are Catholic. Amongst their number are people who are variously disapprove of abortion, Harry Potter, eating fish, television in general, the British Monarchy, co-educational schools… the list of things they’d like banned is endless.
And these people are against these things because they “are Catholic”. In some cases their personal beliefs are in line with official Catholic doctrine, in others they are not. Rarely are their opinions reasonably thought out. But so often I have seen people aggressively defend their standpoint by shouting “because I’m Catholic” (as if that proves anything.)
Or take the British population – according to Wikipedia, over seventy per cent of the British population claim to be Christian. According to the BBC only about fourteen per cent of the British population actually go to church with any regularity (more than once a month). Now it says in the Bible that Christians need to go to Church regularly (look it up!). So we have some fifty six per cent of the UK population (that’s over twenty five million people!) who are purporting to be a member of a religion but not following what it teaches.
And what *really* boils my piss is the role that religion plays in public life. When my children were younger I can remember much of the social life of the primary school being run by the local vicar. And everyone was happy with that state of affairs. I can remember my children coming home brainwashed by the church youth groups they’d been to.
Or take BBC Radio Four. Whenever there is a moral debate (and they often have those), one of the speakers is usually a Christian minister. Why? - For no other reason than that morality is seen to be the property of the Christian church. How did we as a nation manage to confuse morality with religion?
I feel justified in speaking knowledgeably about a range of subjects (human physiology, snake keeping, mathematics, malaria, astronomy, warp drive theory, home brewing… to name but a few) because I’ve spent years studying these subjects. Conversely I don’t know the first thing about a far wider range of subjects (fine art, geology, high finance, banking, law, poetry, cookery, football, electronics…..) because I haven’t studied them at all, and so wouldn’t want to offer an opinion on them.
So there you go – if I seem to be anti-religion in my rantings, actually I’m not. It’s just that I actually know a thing or two about the subject matter. I’m anti- the people who vociferously offer opinions on a subject, but don’t actually have the first clue what they are talking about.
And on that note I’d like to wish all my loyal readers all the best over the forthcoming “A” week… And remember that you can be 'Good without God' and you don't need religion to make you a better person. A garden can be pretty without having fairies at the bottom of it. And certainly tonight’s night sky which I admired at an impromptu star party wasn’t “God’s Heaven”.
I had an interesting discussion on Facebook Squabble (otherwise know as “chat”). A young lad of my acquaintance decided that the world would be a better place if “we” (presumably the United Kingdom’s armed forces) didn’t get involved with the ongoing civil war in Libya: his reasoning being that our lifestyles are fine and dandy, why should we get involved in somebody else’s problems. I suggested that he might like to pull up his drawbridge, shout "screw you, I'm all right" out of his window, close his eyes, put his fingers in your ears and hum loudly until it all went away.
Someone I’ve never actually met who was involved in the “discussion” gave a rather ill-informed rant about how “we” only ever get involved with wars in which oil is involved. After several comments, each more bigoted than the last, he utterly failed to understand the geopolitical consequences of the Falklands War of 1982. Instead he dismissed the matter with the comment “I don't really know..”
A young friend of mine came on-line and gave a very good defence of western (UK and US) foreign policy citing the need to defend the human rights of the oppressed. Which is a good and laudable idea. Or is it? This got me thinking. What exactly are my “human rights”?
There’s no easy and concise definition (that I can find) of what my “rights” are, but Wikipedia has lots ofwoolly-minded blather on the subject. It didn’t take long for me to find out that I’m not sure that I agree with the internationally accepted concepts of human rights.
It seems that I, together with all of humanity, do have the right to believe in whatever crackpot superstition I choose. Surely that’s nonsense. Surely people have the right to an education to develop the intelligence to allow them freedom from ill-informed religious brainwashing? (Didn’t I do that rant yesterday?)
It turns out that people do have a right to an education to develop the intelligence to allow them freedom from ill-informed religious brainwashing. But having that education forced upon someone ipso factocontravenes that person’s inalienable human right of a person to peacefully follow their own interests (article 26).
Also taxing people in order for a country to have an infrastructure (such as schools and hospitals) also contravenes the inalienable human right of a person to do whatever they please with no thought for anyone else.
At this point I felt myself getting angry. I didn’t bother reading up any more about “Human Rights”. I’ve read enough. What is wrong with the concept of “human rights” (and society in general) is that everyone has “human rights” and no one has “human responsibilities”…
Meanwhile last night I went out telescoping. Not so much a successful night as a fun night. I got today’s photo by sticking my camera-phone over the eyepiece of the telescope and hoping for the best. I did have a go with the web-cam, but that will require image processing. I’ll do that over the next few days….
On Monday night a gaggle of us went out telescoping and following on from my success with the telescope two weeks ago I thought I’d try some astro-photography. In theory it’s quite simple – stick a webcam in the telescope eyepiece, video something astronomical for a few minutes, use the software to sort the video into a picture. Bish-Bosh-Sorted!
In practice it’s not so simple. Getting the telescope’s tripod to be level takes some doing. Getting the spotter scope lined up isn’t easy. Puzzling out the “Go-To” computer is a mission in itself, and then finding a suitable target which is relatively high in the sky and not subject to light pollution takes a knowledge of stellar cartography which (frankly) I don’t have (yet). And it’s only after you’ve mastered all of these not inconsiderable problems that you can actually stick your webcam in place and start videoing.
And then you’ll find a myriad of other obstacles. What gain settings should you use for the camera? What light intensity should you use? And bear in mind that all of this is being done in a field in the dark with limited battery power.
After a couple of hours of what I can only describe as “farting about in the dark” on Monday night I eventually got an image of the moon on the laptop screen. And in retrospect, that’s where I went wrong. Having got an image I started the videoing program going, then I messed about to improve the focus and then I fiddled about centring the image. Flushed with success I saved the file, then put all the imaging technology away and just enjoyed looking down the telescope for the rest of the evening with the plan to do something with the video image later. “Later” being this morning.
But this morning when I tried to make something from my video stream of the moon, the poor software had a hissy fit. Because during the video stream I’d been messing about with the focus and moving the camera, the software didn’t have a decent stable image to have a go at.
But it’s all a learning experience. Next time I’ll get all the fiddling about done first and then do the videoing afterwards. To be fair, I’ve been warned that I won’t get immediate success and that it’s going to take some time to develop some expertise at astro-photography. Patience, patience….
Another task requiring patience is getting my pond water to clear. On Saturday I said that if the pond wasn’t clear by mid-week I’d again muck out the filter. I had no choice about the mucking out – the filter has cleared so much gunge from the pond that this morning the poor thing was blocked and was leaking. Whilst I was mucking it out I saw the bag containing all the old filter gubbins I’d replaced last Saturday. I’d forgotten about that lot – the plan was that I would have taken them to the tip last Sunday. I took them this morning instead: I’ve never seen the tip so busy. It was heaving and people were queuing to get in.
It was also heaving with people in Sainsburys. Loads of people, none of whom seemed to have any urgency with getting a move on, quite content to be bumbling about. I could do that, and will do in years to come. When I am retired I will make a point of getting in the way of everyone and anyone who seems to be in a hurry. It will be good for their blood pressure.
Yesterday I received a comment about a blog entry from last year in which I was rather critical of the arky-ologee club. This made me think. For all that I come over as an ignorant ranting old git, I’m a reflective ignorant ranting old git. Having been the boss for nine years at work, when I asked for a voluntary grade reduction, I vowed that I would not undermine my successor. If I’m not happy with the arky-ologee club, then I’ve got the option to stand for committee membership and do something practical (rather than whinging). I wondered if maybe I should go back and amend what I’d written.
But then I thought again. Sometimes I often ridicule people at the arky-ologee club when they are scrubbling in the dirt for broken bits of manky pots. I flippantly remark that if those broken bits of manky pots were worth keeping, they wouldn’t have been thrown away (or have been broken) in the first place. And to counter the argument that by investigating these broken bits of manky pots we can form a picture of what people were doing all those years ago, I’d reply that if our ancestors were doing anything worthwhile, they would have written a diary (like I do).
But am I being *that* flippant? My blog is history as *I* record it. In the future I will look back and see that on 23 March 2011 I had a bad day at work. And that last September I went to an archaeological dig and got bored.
Astute readers will get more insight on me than on what I’ve written about. And so after careful thought, I’m not editing it after the event. Heaven forbid I should appear to be anything other than an ignorant ranting old git.
And so to work where my colleague had a phone call: a family disaster. Her son had left his best school shoes on the bus. Exactly how one leaves one’s shoes on the bus is anyone’s guess, but this lad managed it. There was major consternation as these shoes were relatively new and cost nearly fifty quid. I decided I had enough worries of my own without needing the troubles of other people’s barefoot children, so I left them both to it.
We had an inspector in at work today. Over the years I’ve had lots of inspectors to check that my trainees are of sufficient standard to become state registered. Today was a first – we had a specialist portfolio registration inspection. Today was the culmination of four years hard work on the part of my student, and was probably as nerve wracking for me as it was for her. After a three hour assessment we were told she’d passed. Realistically I knew she’d pass (with flying colours), but I always worry when my people are assessed.
Talking of “My Boy TM ”, I came home this evening to find him at a loose end. Did I want him to do that touch-up job I’d mentioned a while ago? On my right arm is a tattoo of a little gnome sitting on a mushroom smoking a fag. I can’t remember when I had the tattoo done: it must have been some time in the very early 1990s. “My Boy TM ” can’t remember it not being there, and as a small boy he always liked the gnome. Over the years the tattoo had faded: so much so that the thing was pretty much unrecognisable. Not any more – it’s had a refurbishment.
It looks much better now. But it did hurt. I think that as time goes by, so my tolerance of the pain of tattooing is going down and down. Realistically I can’t really cope with more than three quarters of an hour’s tattooing before I need to stop. Which is a problem as professional tattooists charge by the hour.
Before work I had a look at the pond – it’s now clearing rather impressively. It’s got a little way to go, but it must be clear as the fish can see me and are asking for food. But I think it’s still a little bit too cold for them to be eating yet. Even if “My Boy TM ” has been feeding them dog biscuits. He thinks I don’t know – but leaving the packet of dog biscuits by the pond was rather a giveaway.
Work was better than usual. Yesterday I had a student assessed: today I had another done. And again he was successful. We were both pleased. That’s now twenty students I’ve taken from starting as a trainee to becoming state registered.
And so to the astro club. As always I was early at astro club and got the chairs set out. I put out enough seating for seventy people, and it wasn’t enough. I think we had about eighty to ninety people along tonight. Hopefully I didn’t put anyone off this evening, but I’ve taken a more grasping approach to the money as I greet people when they first arrive at the hall. It would seem that there’s been some abuse of my good-naturedly allowing people to come to a couple of meetings for free.
From now on everyone pays up: either the annual membership fee or a couple of quid for the evening. And from next month I’ll be asking to see membership cards too (!) I told everyone this as they came in: no one commented adversely and a dozen people joined or renewed their membership, so I can’t have upset too many people.
Talking of money, the club has spent money on a sexy webcam. Personally I have reservations about the thing as I’m not sure that it runs on any Windows system more recent than XP, but I’m probably still sulking over my own recent webcam-related problems.
We’ll also (hopefully) be taking part in International Observe the Moon Night in October. I was instructed to come up with the details, and I failed miserably: I’ll present something next month, once we’ve got a definite hall booking confirmed.
I’ve been pushing for the club to have T-shirts, hoodies and fleeces bearing the club logo. The only problem is that the current logo doesn’t lend itself to sewn designs, so tonight we launched a logo competition. Needless to say, I’ve got one in mind, but seeing how I came up with it, I might be biased. But once we have our design I know of a kiting friend who can produce clothing at a reasonable rate.
Tonight’s talk was “killer asteroids” – one such wiped out the dinosaurs sixty five million years ago. What would happen if something similar were to happen again? Tonight’s talk was brilliant: the kids were all involved in making craters with plasticine and Martian cocoa, the video clips and special effects were mild-blowing, and the whole thing was informative and fun. I did my usual thing with the raffle, raking in a respectable profit for the club.
Up before 7am this morning, and over brekkie I checked out my blog list. As well as writing this drivel every day, I read over thirty other blogs written by family and friends. Not everyone blogs daily, but most people write something twice a week, and I find it a good way to keep in touch. I was amazed to find from one of these blogs that one of my mates is a budding gardener. I can’t see the attraction myself. I detest gardening. In all honesty, unless you are prepared to spend a lot of time in the garden on a very regular basis, gardening is a *total* waste of time. I've blogged in the past when I’ve helped people reclaim their jungle-like gardens before. We'd spend all day hacking back the overgrowth, only to find that a month later the garden looked as bad as it ever was.
A garden looks OK *if* you've time to spend on it. And that's some time every single day, without fail. Otherwise it reverts to jungle. If anyone has a garden, I have two suggestions as to what might be done with it. Either one can remove all the flower beds and replace them with shingled areas (like my garden), then all it needs is the lawn mowing once a week, and raking the rubbish out of the shingle every so often.
To work this morning. Having done weekend and night work on a regular basis for twenty-odd years I gave up the night work a few years ago, and am trying to cut back on the weekend overtime too. I detest working at the weekends. However it was payday two days ago, and whilst there is still some money left, there’s not as much as I’d like. I have two alternatives: spend less or earn more. So overtime it is.
Another way of improving my finances is to do other people’s homework for them. It may come as a surprise to many of my loyal readers, but in my more lucid moments I’m a genius. I have degrees in mathematics and haematology, and post-graduate qualifications in teaching. It turns out that I can use my expertise in my free time. I’ve found a website which caters for people who urgently need an original piece of academic work to be produced in a hurry. I could do that.
This website stresses that they are not in the business of helping students cheat, but rather they provide model answers to essay questions. Their specialty is providing model answers in a hurry. And they offer a premium service whereby they try to provide these “model answers” within a day or so, so that the cheating student has the essay in time for when it’s due to be handed in.
I’ve produced proper “model answers” before, but in the past I’ve had weeks and months to provide them, because that’s how universities operate. It’s been my experience over the years that the only people who have such short deadlines to produce essay answers are the students. But the website stresses that they aren’t in the business of allowing students to cheat on their homework by charging them over one hundred quid to have an expert write the essay for them. So, with a clear conscience I might just sign up withhomework-blagger.com.
Last night I was asked to a friend’s belated St Patrick’s Day party. There was also a works do I could have gone to, and every Saturday I have a standing invitation to a regular film night at a friend’s house. I went to none of these. I was boring and I stayed in and had an early night – even though I’d spent a large part of the afternoon asleep on the sofa, I was worn out. But was still wide awake at 9am this morning.
I looked at the lawn this morning and thought about mowing it. Mind you, I only thought about it. Had I not wasted an hour or so earlier by mucking about on my work-related web projects I would have had time to do the lawn. I decided it would still be there late and left it to carry on growing.
And then the door bell rang. Next door (the ones we get on with) were having a dilemma: they’d had a parcel delivered, but it wasn’t for them. Did we know anyone locally named “Mannning”? ‘er indoors TM did, and directed the nice lady from next door to a house down the road, with the advice that the house she wanted used to be painted green. That was helpful, and after a minute or so, ‘er indoors TM realised what she’d said. I did laugh.
I could have gone to the arky-ologee club’s dig today. ‘er indoors TM did. I left her to it, and once “Daddies Little Angel TM ” and the Rear Admiral arrived, we went fishing. The plan was to go to the pond at Coldblow, but “Daddies Little Angel TM ” wanted to see Pork Chop and the other lambs, so we went to the Batfarm instead. Whilst Batty and “Daddies Little Angel TM ” did ovine activities (look it up!), me and the Rear Admiral set up fishing. There are those who say that fishing is a dull pursuit. At 2.30pm this afternoon I would have agreed with them. After an hour and a half without a single bite, we gave up, packed up, and set off home. Seeing it would be on our way home (if we went home by a very stupid route) we thought we’d have half an hour’s fishing at Coldblow.
We should have gone there first. “Daddies Little Angel TM ” had a fish within thirty seconds of casting out. I had two in the next minute. And so it went on – loads of fish. “Daddies Little Angel TM ” ended up with twenty, I had thirty-five. And even the Rear Admiral caught something. Whilst at Coldblow we were joined by a fellow blogger who had never been fishing before in her life. We kitted her out with a rod, and she hooked the biggest fish I’ve ever seen at Coldblow. The carp she had on was enormous – certainly bigger than any Koi I’ve got in my pond. Unfortunately it got away, but this wasn’t a bad fish to have as the first fish she’d ever hooked.
Another piscatorial first happened today. Both the Rear Admiral and I caught the same fish. At the same time! The one fish had both our hooks in its gob when go collectively caught it. I’ve never heard of this before, and certainly never seen it.
We’d arrived at Coldblow at 3pm and had planned to be there for half an hour. Eventually falling temperatures and fading light forced us to pack up at 7pm. It was surprising just how cold it got in a very short space of time. But it was a very good first fishing expedition of the year. Mind you, there is a minor hiccup we discovered today. Over the winter a farmer has fenced off half the pond. The entire southern half is now utterly inaccessible. I shall have words with those to whom I pay money so’s I can fish that pond….
But the show was quite watchable, with only one problem. One thing I hate in TV is when they make up the science in an attempt to inject some realism into the program. A character in the show had a certain blood test done during a medical crisis. Without going into details, what she had done was akin to having a car's tyre pressures checked when the engine is on fire. Utterly irrelevant, and simply does not and would not happen. For me it made a nonsense of what was otherwise a very good show.
After a dull day at work I followed the outer space theme. I drove five of us to be part of the astro club’s contingent at Cranbrook School. Kent-born British astronaut Piers Sellers was giving a talk at his old alma mater, and we’d secured tickets for the evening. I would have found a lecture on the life and work of an astronaut fascinating, but to have the talk given by an astronaut who’s been to the International Space Station three times was a once in a lifetime treat. And Piers was a very down-to-earth guy, openly admitting he was the world’s oldest active astronaut. His talk was really interesting, with snippets of first hand experience. For example the food on the ISS is very variable. The US astronauts’ food isn’t very good compared to what the ESA sends up. But NASA has Starbucks coffee, and so there’s apparently quite a bit of bartering of food and coffee in orbit.
After the talk the audience were invited to the school’s telescope, which is shared with the local astronomical society C.A.D.S.A.S. On realising we were members of the Ashford astro club, the C.A.D.S.A.S. people shook our hands, and were so friendly and welcoming, and renewed our standing invitation to observe with them whenever we like.
Can I start off today by correcting an error on my part. On Sunday I mentioned that “Daddies Little AngelTM ” caught twenty fish. She actually caught twenty-one. I’m told that my mentioning the twenty-first fish is important.
My Boy had his outpatient's appointment at the hospital today. We've finally been told the extent of the damage to his foot - four broken bones, two of which have now pretty much healed up. He's happy about that. And whilst he was originally rather miffed that he had to miss a holiday in Spain with his mates at the coastal resort of “Ells Bells”, he's now happy that he'd not missed anything on that holiday. Having decided to go off season when it's cheap, the lads have found out that they have all gone whilst everything and everywhere is closed. Ells Bells is shut. The lads hired a car and drove to the Costa Packet to find that shut too.
After his his outpatient's appointment he needed a lift home from the hospital, so on the way home we stopped off for McDinner. They now do a caramel McMilkshake which was very nice. Whilst scoffing he commented on my eye being rather bloodshot. It had felt a tad sore that morning, and it was getting worse. Having dropped him off I phoned my useless doctor who flatly refused to give me an appointment, so I went up to A&E (which is one of the perks of working in a hospital). I was seen by the triage nurse who took my blood pressure (134/88 - not bad) and she arranged for me to see the doctor right away, I have asubconjunctival haemorrhage, which is posh for a bloodshot eye. The nice doctor in A&E said it will (hopefully) get better in a few days, and in the meantime I've some antibiotic cream for it.
Yesterday I said “As the day and evening wore on, so my eye has become progressively more painful. We’ll see what it’s like in the morning….” I woke this morning unable to open it: it was gunged shut. So I thought I’d take the day as a sick day. After all, it would only be my fourth sickie in five years. I know of people who’ve had more than ten times that amount of sick leave in only one year.
I had this theory that my eye was (relatively) fine until the doctor in A&E gave me the cream for it yesterday: I wondered if maybe I was allergic to what I’d been given. So I decided I’d go see my doctor today - whether they liked it or not.
I arrived at the surgery at 7.30am to find no one there but the builders, so I took a seat and waited for the surgery staff to arrive. In the meantime the builders regaled me with horror tales of the things they’d seen in that surgery, and how I was lucky the place hadn’t fallen down on me. It would seem that builders are neither subject to the Hippocratic Oath nor proud of their workmanship.
The receptionist arrived at 7.50, and I tried to see if I could get an appointment. She snarled that the surgery didn’t open until 8am, so I sat and waited. And so did she. Exactly as the second hand of the clock got to 8am she asked if she could help me. I said I’d like an appointment. She asked if 11.50am would do. I asked if there was anything earlier. She said there were only emergency appointments available. I said I thought I qualified as an emergency, and showed her my eye. She grudgingly offered me a 9.30am appointment, whilst muttering to herself about it. I suggested that I might go home and come back at 9.30am, but was told that if I left the building they would cancel my appointment.
So I then sat and watched a succession of other people who wandered in, asked for an emergency appointment, and got seen before me. I consoled myself by trying to read my book. This wasn’t easy: firstly I couldn’t really see it, and secondly the “council harridan” was rather off-putting. This fellow patient, clearly a delightful denizen of Stanhope, was constantly shrieking at its daughter; said offspring having apparently stolen all of the family allowance to buy someone else a Mothers Day present. From what I could work out the child had stolen all the cash from its mother’s purse to buy a friend’s mother a gift on the understanding that when the friend’s mother got her child allowance, that cash would stolen to refund the original theft. What charming people one meets these days (!)
Whilst I was in with the doctor I took the opportunity to show her my back. I’m sure it’s nothing serious, but anyone who’s spent time with me will probably have commented that I often rub my back up against door frames and walls. It constantly itches, and I’ve been trying (off and on) for over a year to get it seen by my G.P., but have been unable to get an appointment. I apologised to the doc about having two maladies for her: I said I’d seen the sign at the reception desk saying I could only have one disease at a time, but I asked if she would make an exception. The doc seemed quite understanding, and said it’s just dry skin. I should get more cream for it.
On the way out I read a letter on the wall from the surgery’s patient’s forum. My first thought was that they were a self appointed bunch of do-gooders. But on further reading it seems they are a self appointed bunch of self-servers. I got the distinct impression that being on that committee gave you a far better chance of getting an appointment at the surgery.
I’ve mentioned in the past that I want to change my G.P. The problem is that no surgery will take me when I am mid-complaint. And when I’m otherwise well, I don’t think about going to the quack. I must remember to do something about changing my doctor in a week or so….
Having got myself a telescope I was seriously considering taking myself (and a contingent) off to theKelling Heath Star Party this year. Billed as one of the “must-do” events for the amateur star-gazer I saw this as my opportunity to learn from the experts. After all I’ve got the telescope and all the kit. And I’m no stranger to camping.
I received a message through Facebook today asking me to support the work of the Church of Jesus. Their mission is to “help those who need God's work both abandoned and abused children, abandoned and abused elders, indigenous men and women, Battered Women. Us through their contributions to support those in need, working with all they need from their collaboration through PAYPAL”
I *really* don’t understand. If their God is as all-powerful as they claim it is, then it doesn’t need my financial help to improve the lot of the disadvantaged. So their God must want the disadvantaged to suffer (for no adequately explored reason). Furthermore should I offer any financial help to these people, then I would be going against their God’s holy plan for the universe, and thereby risking hell fire for myself.
The bottom line is that I’m not going to send them any money since, for all that helping the needy is a very worthwhile cause, some of the cash will obviously get siphoned off to finance the religious crackpots.