Monday, 23 December 2013

The Run Up To Christmas List-o-Fives

Well it's nearly that time of year and Santa has come early to our house - or at least to a member of our household.

That is to say that one of our presents this year was a box of goodies that we cleared out to make space on the floor - only for Giles to decide that the box was a fantastic new place to sit.

And so it is that several days later the empty, decorated box is still in the centre of our floor - only now it is slightly more of an obstacle because of the semi-resident cat.

So whilst Giles prepares himself for Christmas how are the rest of the Pixie Clan getting ourselves in the mood for some Chrimbo Cheer whilst working ever-so-hard (honest) in our jobs in the run up to some much needed time off?

Well, as the long suffering readers of this blog will know I am rather fond of creating List-o-Fives (none of which ever add up to only five) and so here's a list of things that we often share to get us in the mood:  

Christmas Televisual Feasts (available on "terrestrial" TV - ie non-subscription channels): 

#1: Doctor Who (Christmas Day)
Back in the 1960s a single episode of Dr Who aired on Christmas Day.  It was, for the officianadoes out there, a middle episode of The Dalek Masterplan (13 episodes long) called "The Feast Of Stephen" - it was the last time the show would air on Christmas Day for 40 years.  However, ever since the re-boot of the show about 7-8 years ago it has been an annual thing.  This year sees the final story of current incumbent in the title role Matt Smith running around yelling a lot and waving a sonic screwdriver at anything and everything - threatening to assemble ad-hoc furniture at every turn (presumably).  The last few have been a bit disappointing so I am hoping for a return to form this year as we see the arrival of Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor...

#2: The Sound Of Music
Some time in the 1980s they passed the Von Trapp Law meaning that it was illegal for The Sound Of Music to be left out of the Christmas schedule from thereon - or so it feels as every yuletide the screens fill with what feels like six hours of tap-dancing nazis.  After all: what could be more festive?  The way that most people watch this film is in bits -the first hour one year, the last hour another year and the twelve hours in between in odd bits whilst avoiding the Queen's Speech.  Very few people watch it in a single sitting unless they are really, really bored.

#3: Cassablanca
Don't ask me why this is part of the festive programming but as with Sound Of Music it is now on every year.  A fascinating fact is that Ronald Regan was, at one point, in line for the role of Rick so we must be eternally greatful that they elected him President instead...err.....

#4: Father Ted Christmas Special
The hapless residents of Craggy Island get lost in Habit-hat (a specialist shop for Priests...) and narrowly avert a scandal thanks to the quick thinking of Ted: who is awarded a Golden Cleric award as a result.  Father Ted was a fantastically daft and funny sit-com, cut short too soon by the death of it's star. 

#5: Blackadder's Christmas Carol
Ebeneezer Blackadder, the white sheep of the dastardly family, is visited by the spirit of Christmas who inadvertently shows him how much better off he'd be if he were evil.  Blackadder is still one of my favourite all time sit-coms and this subversive version of Charles Dickens is amongst the best on offer.

#6: It's A Wonderful Life
So it turns out that my mother has never seen It's A Wonderful Life and, when i described it to her, she said "well that doesn't sound much fun" (or words to that effect).  She is, of course, wrong - the film is rather odd because it's mostly slightly depressing until the uplifting bit where if you don't cry then, quite frankly, you have no soul.  James Stewart is, as always, a joy to watch - but be warned: if I find out that if you watched the colourized version instead of the original black and white i shall be severely disappointed with you to say the least.

#7: The Box Of Delights
A children's TV series that first ran in the early 1980s about a magic box, an incredibly posh young boy and a ripping adventure yarn that could only ever be written in England.  True some of the special effects were naff even then but it still has a certain sense of magic.  The best way to watch this is episodically so that the final episode falls on Christmas Eve (which is when it is based to happen)

Some other films for your consideration:
The Wizard Of Oz (Herself insists its on at Christmas - not aware of it myself but it wouldn't surprise me in the least)
Scrooged/The Muppett Christmas Carol - one or the other of these is always on and both are worth your time

Merry Christmas to all bloggers

Saturday, 23 November 2013

An Unsung Hero: Terrance Dicks (Dr Who 50th Anniversary Post)

I've been thinking a lot over the last week how best to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of science-fiction phenomenon Doctor Who.

It's hard to believe that fifty years ago this weekend William Hartnell first appeared on screen in the TARDIS, the programme delayed in transmission by the incoming news of John F Kennedy's assasination and I doubt that anyone involved in that first story could have had any idea that it would still be going half a century later.

I only really started watching in the late seventies when the great almighty Tom Baker was Doctor - and in his portrayal I found a character that would be my hero for all the years to come: strong, corageous, vulnerable, always a pacifist and with a great sense of wonder at the world.  Tom would always enter a room as if it were the most fantastic place he had ever been to and his childish joy was infectious.

But every bit as much as I loved the TV series I was even more hooked on the novelisations.  Back in the days before home video recorders (or when they were too expensive for most people to own) reading the adaptations of the old stories whether borrowed from the library (I think my first novelisation was Meglos, with a picture of Tom Baker covered in cactus thorns on the front), found at a seaside shop, in WH Smiths or, later on, at a second-hand book shop where I spent all of my meagre weekly income they were a window to a world of imagination where anything was possible.

So on the anniversary of the first broadcast of what is now a TV icon I would like to celebrate Terrance Dicks.  Dicks was script editor from Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor), Jon Pertwee (3rd) and into the early 4th (Tom Baker) and would continue to write occasional scripts into the Peter Davison era (5th)

However it was in the 70s that Target Books first acquired the rights to novelize old stories and it was to Dicks that they first turned when individual writers were not interested in amending their scripts for the meagre salary on offer.  This meant that Dicks would eventually write about 70% of the books published during that period.

The books had a strict remit: no more than 120 pages per book: meaning that Dicks was forced to take stories that had been padded out into ten episodes and strip them down to the bone, so that you got all of the story, all of the action and none of the boring bits.  This made the books tremendously exciting to read for a young boy and lead to a lifelong love of reading, as well as influencing my own writing style.

So whilst there are many names that contributed to the longevity of the show it is to Terrance Dicks that I give thanks.  Long may his contribution be remembered and celebrated: and long may young people across the world be encouraged to read and to find doing so as genuinely exciting as I did. 

Monday, 11 November 2013


We weren't initially sure about adopting Willow.  Not that we didn't want her: I think we both fell for her charms the first time she wandered into the house and ran past us, we just weren't sure that she would settle somewhere new.

She was so nervous around people, running for cover if you approached, complaining loudly if you picked her up: so when we first agreed to adopt both her and Charlie we took him in first and waited for him to settle in...and waited...and waited.  

The truth was, however, that he just wasn't happy without her and so we opened the door and let her in.  For about the first half hour she stood and miowed at the door asking to go out and then, without any further complaint, came and sat next to me on the chair, asking to have her belly rubbed.

From then on she became famous for her loud demands for fuss and attention, poking her nose into my food, even starring on many of my conference calls for work where the inevitable question "Have you got a baby there?" would be met with my, "No, that's just Willow"
Willowpuss had a very distinctive method of going down stairs, two paws at a time in a bunny like lollop which always  caused her bell to jingle as she went.  On a hard surface her constant tap-tap-tap was like a woman walking in stilettoes and she had to fight Charlie for food: choosing to pick and return later.

When Charlie died in 2010 she took it as a signal to take over the rest of the house and would come and join us on the bed, or sometimes be found hiding under the covers looking for warmth.  She was much more of an indoors cat, being somewhat elderly, but on a good summer's day she would venture out into the back garden and sit in the sun by the shed or, in the winter, she would be found in her bed by the radiator.

When Giles first arrived she was not overly impressed, and objected several times by weeing on the bed until we were left with no laundry other than a sleeping bag to huddle under and she finally realized that he was staying.  On the whole they got along after that, although Giles would sometimes chase her around the house and she rarely came onto the bed again after he made it one of his places.

Miss Willow had been having kidney problems for about three years: had been on special food, when we could keep it away from Mr Giles and, more recently, on nightly pills for her blood pressure and kidneys: but other than that her health had mostly been good until this last five or six days when it became obvious that she was not eating properly.  She even turned her nose up at cheese, when she had previously been famous for hearing a slice of cheese being cut from forty paces.  Also she was spending a lot more time sitting on laps, something which had always been a rarity.  She even sat on Herself's lap, which was almost unheard of.

Finally it became obvious that she was losing weight and having some trouble climbing onto the sofa.  Then on Sunday, yesterday, she was struggling to walk in a straight line and this morning it was clear that she had been distressed and over-preening herself.

We took her to the vets first thing, realizing it would be cruel to make her suffer any longer, holding her and stroking her until it was over.  Herself and I stood in the car park afterwards, holding each other in the rain.

Goodbye sweet Willow puss, we love you x

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Combat Rock

Oxford Street is never quiet.  Even at 8pm when most high streets would be closing, the barriers coming down whilst tired shop assistants trudge towards a distant bus, it is frenetic: the coffee bars showing no sign of bringing in their seats for the night, the loud music still blaring from the speakers of the fashion establishments.

At lunch time it is worse: the crowds closing in on the pavement, making it impossible to move without playing a never ending chess game of manoeuvre, take and retreat to reach your destination.  

I only have about half an hour so I'm moving fast and trying to think ten steps ahead as I cross the road, turning right into the edge of Soho.  Immediately it's a different world.  The paint on the buildings seems more worn, the streets narrower and the tone of the shops changes from chain store to struggling business.  As I pass the travel agents, the hairdressers and the eateries here I feel sure that if I were to step inside and ask the right questions I would be directed towards the Ladies Of Negotiable Virtue waiting on the upper floors to deal with my enquiries (1)

Just down the road is the shop I'm looking for.  Apparently it was once a hang out for the disassociated youth but now it looks like it is mostly between jobs: taking whatever temporary trade comes its way.  I step inside and am pleased to see that there are others present and that they are more genteel than perhaps I was expecting.  On the left as I enter is the inevitable Over Priced Merchandise store with an array of T-shirts, mugs, albums and other purchasable paraphernalia whilst at the back I can see some evidence of what is to come in the shape of two elderly, battered and yet still inviting electric guitars.

Behind the counter where the shop assistants stand is a flight of stairs heading down below the ground and again I can hear murmured conversation from beneath.  There is a good crowd down here too despite the fact that the exhibition has been open for more than a week: mostly people who are a) slightly older than me and b) in my youth I would have steered clear of.

There's a coffin like container against the far wall, in which lies the shattered remains of a bass guitar that was smashed into three large pieces by its owner, generating one of the most iconic rock images of all time (see above), to the right there is a wall of perspex and through the letters of the name of the band I can see the other items on display.  Some are more interesting than others: the gold disks for instance are perhaps inevitable,  but the hand written set lists, type writer containing lyric sheets and even a chord diagram drawn by one of the members hints at much more.  Scattered in between the rare 7" singles are jackets and boiler suits worn by the band and just the occasional hint of the wider scene that they were a part of.

The only shame is that I have so little time and before I've really had a chance to look around I have to be going: heading back up to the ground floor where I take a brief second to wonder whether spending £20 on a Punk Rock T-shirt is a sensible decision for a Man Of My Advancing Years (yes, I decide, it is) and head out.

Across the road I catch a glimpse of an independent record shop called Sister Ray, which tells me all I need to know about the establishment (2) and I take a brief look inside: sure enough it is a dimly lit rabbit warren filled with nervous looking men in long jackets spending their days looking in vein for an original pressing of some deleted Frank Zappa album.  I know I will have to come again.

(1) I think Ladies Of Negotiable Virtue is a much nicer phrase than Prostitute don't you?  Plus it also sounds like a good name for a band.
(2) Sister Ray - a Velvet Underground/Lou Reed tracks

NB: For all those not familiar with the British punk rock scene of the 1970s let me bring you up to speed by telling you that The Clash (whose pop up exhibition this post is about) were probably one of the most important and influential.  If you don't believe me watch the below

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Barry (With Apologies To Leonard Cohen)

Barry takes you down
To his place above the chip shop
You can hear the trucks go by
You can smell potatoes frying
And you know that he’s half crazy
And you’d really like to leave now
But he feeds you bread and marmite
That came all the way from Tesco’s
And he shows you his apartment
And it really is quite grotty
And just when you mean to tell him
That you’ve got to catch the late bus
He offers you some biscuits
That have chocolate on one side
That just seem so very tempting

And you want to call a taxi
When he tells you all the time
He’s been wearing womens’ undies
Now you’ll never wipe that image from your mind

Barry used to be a sailor
At the local water centre
And he used to own a speedboat
That he won on some old game show
But when he knew for certain
He was moving to the chip shop
He swapped it for a Rover
Which came all the way from Luton
And he gets out some more biscuits
With some jam in and rice paper
And he’s got a stamp collection
That could clearly last for hours

And there’s no sign of that taxi
And you’ve lost track of the time
And you’re thinking of those knickers
Yes you know you’ll never get them off your mind

Now Barry takes your hand
And he leads you to the chip shop
But the food is far too greasy
And your ulcer is complaining
And he really is depressing
As he talks of stamp collections
But he gets out some more biscuits
And this time they’re digestives
And you start to feel quite guilty
That you find him oh so dreary
He is leaning out for love
And will be that way forever
So you eat another biscuit

And you finally hear that taxi
And he chases you outside
Still wearing women’s knickers
And that image never fades within your mind

By the way - my blog is only allowing me to create posts in HTML - does anyone have any ideas what i can do about this?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

It Must Be Thursday: Sleeping On The Job

“Sleep, those little slices of death: how I loathe them” I can’t say that I entirely agree with the above quote from the Godfather of Horror Edgar Rice Burroughs, I mean – who doesn’t like a nice kip? But then Burroughs was an odd man, always banging on about scary birds squawking “nevermore” and dying in circumstances that could barely have been more mysterious if Scooby Doo and the gang had been investigating them. But if there’s one thing that I DO hate about sleep it’s the way it tries to creep up on you at inappropriate times. As far as I’m concerned sleep should come a) when you have put your head on the pillow at night or b) when I call upon it to do so – IE when trying to sleep on the train in the morning. I do so envy those people who can fall instantly and on demand into a deep sleep when on the move – myself I find myself jerking endlessly awake at the merest movement of the track, with my head lolling forward or my neck twisted at an angle that should only be possible for owls or at the endless loud clanking of the doors of the train. As I have previously mentioned: public transport seems to be deliberately designed to make the action of sleep impossible. Bus windows vibrate whenever the vehicle draws to a halt, train window ledges are too narrow to perch an elbow and there was, believe it or not, talk of transmitting adverts through the windows of trains that would be amplified by the bones in your head when you leaned on it But the type of sleep that I have no time for is the one that comes in the mid afternoon when your head starts nodding as your brain decides it wants to switch off. Sometimes there is just no fighting it and the only option is to sink down into your chair and let your eyes close, but at others it is a constant battle not to be overcome. Every time this happens to me Herself always says “why don’t you just go and lie down for a while” and the answer is actually very simple. What I hate isn’t so much the fact of falling asleep during the day, although it is a classic sign that I am Getting Older – what I hate is the way I feel afterwards. Every time this happens to me I wake up feeling sick to the stomach, my head full of shadows that take at least 20 minutes to clear. A Hot Beverage (being British this has to be Tea) will sometimes help, but mostly there is nothing to do but ride the wave and try to come out the other side with your shower cap still firmly in place (so to speak) It makes me dread the day when I am truly old and have nothing to do but sit in a chair and snooze in between being patronised by people - although given this possible future I might have no choice but to become a Rambler or, even worse, a Morris Dancer in my dotage (old age is the right time for growing scraggly beards and dancing around a maypole bashing sticks together and waving handkerchiefs in the air) So if anyone has a good tip to avoid falling asleep during the day, or even for waking up without feeling like one has been dragged through a cess pit – please do let me know PS - my apologies for the formatting of this post: i seem to be having account problems

Thursday, 18 July 2013

It Must Be Thursday: A Review of Some Things

The ongoing saga of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting.
Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 
After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?

Cast your minds back a while to my most recent film review will remember that I promised to bring you my thoughts on Man Of Steel which I had every intention of getting to see whilst it was on the big screen

Sadly time and tide have defeated me and I just haven't had the time to get to the flicks and now it seems to have finished.

My life has been rather hectic as of late: spent travelling, working, travelling and then recovering with hectic weekends trying to squeeze some free moments into - hence my current absence from blogland, which i hope to solve once i get a computer that i can use on the move

So instead of the aforementioned review of MoS I will attempt to bring you some other reviews.  There might be five of them but then again probably not.

#1: Bruce Springsteen Live (Concert)
A couple of years ago I made the decision not to go and see Brucie when he toured with his Seeger Sessions band firstly because I hadn't heard the album and knew that he was mostly doing songs from that period and secondly because I wanted to see him with the full E Street Band.  This, having heard the live album of the tour, was a mistake as the tour was definately unmissable - only I did.

So when The Boss announced a gig in my hometown with the full E Street ensembe I knew that I had to go regardless of the extremely steep charge of the ticket

It was a day where the weather was busy ominizing: dark clouds scudding across the sky and threatening to let loose their heavy load - indeed as we walked down towards the open air arena it was already trying to rain.  Fortunately it held off and even threatened to clear entirely.

On this particular tour, The Wrecking Ball tour, the evening is divided almost equally into three: the first hour is a combination of a set list and a requests section, with Bruce picking signs requesting specific songs from the audience and showing them to the band - which they then proceeded to play.  The second hour was an album from start to finish (we got Born To Run) and then finally a third hour of mainly greatest hits

Having just looked up Mr Springsteen on wikipedia I find that he is only a few years younger than my dad and should probably be requesting his free bus pass - and yet where many older rockers seem to be going through the motions of a pre-ordained "this is the bit where i pick someone out of the audience" ritual (U2 and The Rolling Stones I'm looking at you) Brucie managed to make all the improvised bits look, well...improvised.

I'm a big Bruce Springsteen fan and consider the man to be a poet so am naturally biased, but Argent (who went with me as more of a Springsteen virgin) was suitably impressed and remarked both on the tightness of the band, the energy and the accessibility of the music.

True - with it being a stadium gig the sound quality wasn't great, but if you get a chance to see the man in action then you really should take it whilst you can.

#2: Bruce Springsteen: Tunnel Of Love (album)
Whilst on the subject of Brucie I've been enjoying something of a Springsteen-a-thon on my way home recently, listening to each studio album in chronological order until I have reached this mid 80s effort which was the first Springsteen album I ever heard, but equally had not heard again since.

I was lent it by a friend just shortly after it came out and can remember not being that impressed and I have to say that time and a revisit have done little to change that opinion.  The problem is that for some reason at this point in his career he decided to ditch his trademark sound of guitars, gutsy saxophones and working man lyrics and go for an almost entirely keyboard led album that reeks of the sort of over production that makes the 80s infamous.  The best song of the album is Brilliant Disguise, but the work as a whole lacks soul and depth and is a million miles behind any of his high water marks.

Still, and possibly inevitably, whenever i think of Springsteen it is always the cover of this album, with him leaning on the bonnet of a white cadillac resplendent in suit and bootlace tie, that comes to mind.

#3: Much Ado About Nothing (film)
What do you do when you've just finished the biggest blockbuster special effects movie of your career and have two weeks off before you start making the TV series?  Well, if you're creative genius Joss Whedon then the answer is that you call up all your friends and say "Hey, come round to my house and we'll make Shakespeare with the iambic pentameters and everything"

The result is a black and white, slightly out of time rendition of one of The Bard's better known comedies in which any fan of Whedon's work won't be able to resist pointing at the screen and saying "Eh, isn't that whats-his-name from Buffy/Firefly"

As with all my reviews I shall try not to give any spoilers away other than to say that after 5 minutes or so you get used to the dialogue and find yourself immersed in an entirely believable and slightly claustrophobic world.  Top plaudits should go to Nathan Fillion who steals every scene he appears in as well as to the two main leads of Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof who hold the piece together extremely well.

The only negative i can find is the two perplexing flashback sequences, which at least on first viewing leave you wondering exactly when they are happening and what they are supposed to signify.

#4: The 100 Most Pointless Things In The World (book)
I feel sad for those of you in other countries that have never had the joy of watching the TV game show "Pointless"

The formula is this: comedian Alexander Armstrong (and why is it, btw, that game show hosts are always comedians here?) and all round clever person Richard Osman invite four teams of two to answer questions on a number of topics - with the twist that they must find the answer that the least people thought of, thus showing that they know something more than the average Joe Public whilst aiming to score the lowest of the contestants or achieve finding something that no one else knew - ie a "pointless" answer

It is arguably the Blockbusters of the 2010s - IE a game show at approx 5pm that has gathered a cult following and deservedly so

So when I saw the book on sale during a low moment at the train station I picked up a copy expecting good things - however, it was not what I had hoped for.

What I had hoped was that I would find some of the topics that people had known the least about listed inside accompanied by an interesting, but ultimately useless, fact about said thing.  Instead it was a list of 100 things that Alexander and Richard found irritating or pointless that, whilst amusing in its own right, was ever so slightly pointless (to coin a phrase)

#5: The 3G Apple I-phone
One of the things that came with my new job, along with endless commuting, was a works i-phone. 

I've never owned anything by Apple before unless you count a couple of cans of Strongbow (cider) and a few Beatles albums...(yeah, ok, you got me - both different kinds of apple) - largely because I don't use my phone anywhere near enough to justify the exorbitent monthly charge of having any i-gadgets

The main reason I have it is to call/receive calls from people who I am working with and to receive emails on the move thus making me a "modern and dynamic employee" and as far as it goes the i-phone is perfectly fine.  It has a much longer battery life than most phones i've used, possibly due to the 1-D graphics and seems to be of comparable quality to other phones and has even led to me listening to podcasts for the first time

But the one area where it annoys the hell out of me is the amount of things that need to be done in co-ordination with other i-gadgets.

Take, for instance, putting a favourite song as a ringtone.  Now this is something that i expect to be able to do as a standard thing on my phone - with my personal phone I can go onto any tune-purchasing website, download the song to my phone, stick it in a certain folder and then set it as a ringtone - done in two seconds without any fuss.  With the i-phone i can still download, albiet grudgingly, from any site i want - but i then need to get a ring-tone converter from i-tunes, chose which 30 seconds of the song i want to set, go home to my PC and log into i-tunes, connect my phone to my PC and somehow (i still haven't figured this bit out yet) co-ordinate the i-tunes on my computer with my phone and ONLY THEN somehow magically get a small fragment of said song set as my ringtone.  Call that technology on the move?  I don't.

#6: The Chap Who Delivers The Metro Newspaper To The Train Station (usually about 2 minutes after I've crossed to the other side)
Aah The Metro - a kind of smorgasbord of news that no one else could be bothered to print, available in train stations and busses across the land for free and then, shortly afterwards, abandoned on seats and floors for people to trip over.  Full of worryingly adult content for something that is readily available to be picked up by any given five-year-old travelling on public transport and an endless source of unintentional humour

About twice a week the aforementioned Chap manages to deliver the magazine before I cross over, meaning that I can flick through the pages just quick enough to a) catch my train and b) avoid losing too many IQ points and his method of delivery is to screech to a halt at the station, climb out with two big bundles in hand and throw them with abandon at the locked door of the station master not even pausing to remove the two strips that keep them bundled together.

This has been causing me endless frustration as it meant that I had to prize out my copy from underneath the straps, often ruffling or even tearing it (both of which stress me for reasons I can't quite explain) until this morning when - late as ever - I watched from the other side of the tracks as another passenger inadvertantly showed me how to remove the straps without a pocket knife or the necessessity of losing fingertips.

Still, come on mate - would it really hurt you to put them down carefully and remove the strap?  Probably yes...

Thursday, 27 June 2013

It Must Be Thursday: Five Useless Things About Trains

The ongoing saga of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting.
Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 
After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?

Well folks, I'm still without a computer to call my own and as there haven't exactly been people banging down my door saying "Hey Pixie, where are your posts" I've been taking a break until such time as a good idea popped around to my door, let itself in and made me a nice refreshing cup of tea.

My life over the past couple of weeks has mostly involved travelling on trains which has inspired me to create one of my much sought after list of fives that never add up to five.  This time its things on trains that annoy, frustrate, or are down right pointless

#1 Train Announcements
Don't get me wrong here, having an announcement - automated or not - at every station is generally a Good Idea.  What I object to is the train guard coming onto the tannoy five seconds later and telling you what Automated Lady told you five seconds ago, then the Automated Lady coming on again to tell you once more incase you were too stupid to get it the first two times

Enough with the announcements already - once when we are about to leave and once when we are about to arrive is enough.

Although, to be fair, the train announcer who announced the following probably deserves some kind of prize:
"Ladies and gentlemen we would like to apologize for the fact that it's Monday morning.  The problem has been reported to management and we expect it to be resolved in about four and a half hours"

#2  Trying To Sleep
It can't be done.  Firstly because of the endless announcements which seem to be specifically timed to shout at you over the tannoy just as you are dozing off and secondly because of the seats. The train seats are specifically designed so that there is no way to put your head back without suffering some spinal injury, that the wall is too far away to support your head at an angle without the same result and that the window ledge is too thin to rest your arm on to support your head.  Plus if you DO decide to place your bag on your lap, rest your shoulder on the contents and your face on the palm of your hand (resulting in a suspicious looking red mark on your face) you risk the ever-embarrassing headbutt as you nod off into the person sitting next to you

#3 Ticket Booking Sites
If you were too look on the train website you could be easily convinced that every day for the past couple of weeks I have been breaking the laws of physics and performing an impossible journey - BECAUSE NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU LOOK THEY DON'T TELL YOU ABOUT IT.

Usually you will find that the website tells you one, or maybe two, routes which they consider to be the fastest.  They won't necessarily be the most economic or the best one for you and the only way to find these out is via a series of trial and investigations that would leave Sherlock Holmes whimpering in a corner.  Plus the savings are mostly imaginary or only available if you can afford to buy the £12,000,000 ticket that works out a whole 50p cheaper

#4 Too Many First Class Carriages 
Anyone who has ever travelled on a high speed train in England will know the pain of standing in a train corridor for an hour because there are no seats, or be familiar with the smell of wet armpit on the subway.  But what is particularly galling is that all of the people standing could easily sit in relative comfort (well, as comfortable as train seats can be) if they just took one, just ONE, of the totally empty first class compartments and replaced it with another second class one.  Yes, I know that they charge twice as much for the privilege of having half a train to yourself - but simple maths alone should tell you that a full carriage will still earn you more than an empty one at twice the price.

#5 Train Station Prices
There are few places less lovely than a train station forecourt.  They are full of the noise of endless announcements and the smell of desperate people ready to jump over each other to grab one quarter of a seat should the arrivals board ever prove to have more than a passing resemblance to reality.  So what else can they do to make you miserable and take even more money from you: yes, that's right, allow a chain store to move in and sell you expensive chocolate, coffee, cold pastries and wetsuits (if anyone can explain to me why motorway service stations 400 miles away from the nearest puddle and train stations have suddenly started selling scuba gear please let me know)

Of course the smart person walks around the corner to the kiosk outside where everything is priced as per usual, but then rail executives know all too well that a person in a train station is a Person On The Edge, and therefore gullible

#6 Annoying Kids Making Endless Beep Beep Noises with the latest Gadget-o-thon
Don't think I really need  to argue this one very hard, other than to say that I was once an extremely annoying child - and to anyone who met me on what were the permanently broken down trains of my youth when I used to carry my magic tricks around everywhere - I am deeply, deeply sorry.

However, that does NOT excuse the kids that sit with their Nintendo DeeplyStressing machine turned to full volume

Anything I missed, please let me know

Thursday, 6 June 2013

It Must Be Thursday: The High Street We Deserve?

The ongoing saga of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting.
Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 
After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?

I can just about remember shops that specialized.  Little corner shops that would order you something in if they didn't have it, sweet shops that would weigh out a pound of gobstoppers, little electric shops where a chap in a brown overcoat would locate some solder and a 9" screwdriver from a dusty shelf.  Butchers and Bakers who would cut your meat or wrap your loaf of brown bread for you while you waited

There was even a greengrocers shop at the end of the road, next to the hairdresser who looked like Benny Hill.

Now, of course, we live in a fast paced world where we don't seem to have the time or patience to go to specialist shops - we want everything under one roof and we want it cheap and thus the supermarkets are doing a much better job of taking over the high streets than any invading army ever did.

Not that small shops don't exist - they are still out there, but in my view they are missing a trick by failing to offer the personal service that is missing in a big sell-it-all shop.

For instance - at the moment I am looking for a tablet computer, as I will shortly be without the laptop that I have been using to write these blogs with - something that I can use on the move for reading, something that can be used with a keyboard so I can write and something that can store and allow me to play with music apps - but getting clear advice on which one is the one for me is a pain.

Lets take an imaginary shop and call them: PC Supermarket - this is a shop that sells TVs, laptops, fridges, printers, ink cartridges, stereos - but inevitably the staff, as a result, are mostly focused on sales and don't actually know a great deal more about it than you do

So surely there is a gap in the market for the small specialist shop that only sells laptops and tablets where you can go and get proper, informed, advice.  You'd think so, wouldn't you - but the few that I have tried so far are no better than the corporate giants

It's like earlier this year I was looking for some new music equipment - a home recording box to replace my old and battered tape system - but when I went into the local music shop the response was "none of us really do any home recording"

Not the most helpful response and not one designed to inspire confidence in the idea of future custom at that venue

Maybe this is a British thing, but my general experience of small shops is that they are generally run by people who seem to show nothing but disdain for their customers - especially in the face of a question , people who despite living what is presumably their dream job of owning a company that reflects a life-long passion seem to be longing for death and will only grudgingly take your money.  Musicians are particularly bad for this as the moment that you walk into their private guitar show room they stare at you like you are from another planet.

So come on guys - given the opportunity I'd much rather support the small businessman and would cheerfully take my hard earned money to a place that I can rely on - just give me some proper help when I need it

(NB: in the interrim period whilst I obtain a new machine there may be a break from blogging - please bear with me and normal service will be resumed as soon as possible)

Thursday, 30 May 2013

It Must Be Thursday: Health & Safety Gone Mad

The ongoing saga of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting.
Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 
After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?

Ever fancied throwing yourself down an extremely steep hill in a frantic and pointless attempt to catch a runaway cheese?

Well, despite my addiction to cheese, neither have I.

My addiction is near legendary in our house and Herself lives in constant fear that I will notice there is no cheese in the house and, in a state of panic, either strip naked and run down the street yelling that the end is nigh or else turn to a slightly less addictive substance - such as crack cocaine

Fortunately neither of these things has happened so far, but for those of you who do enjoy the prospect of endangering life and limb there is the annual Cheese rolling event in Gloucestershire

Every year since time immemorial (which was, apparently, the very precise date of 6 July 1189 - although in reality the cheese rolling hasn't been going on THAT long) someone throws a truckle of cheese down Cooper's Hill and hundreds of people throw themselves down afterwards - often resulting in flying head over heels and broken limbs.

Like many traditions in England it's hard to say exactly why they started doing this in the first place, but like so many daft things we now do it because (drum roll please) IT'S TRADITIONAL

That is until 2013 when, after 25 years of supplying the cheese to the event, local Police turned up to cheesemaker Diana Smart's house and warned her that should anyone be injured, maimed or killed in the event then she could be liable for any claims of compensation.

Now the first thing you need to know about Diana Smart is that she is an elderly lady, in her mid to late 80s - so I guess you can imagine how she must have felt when the Police turned up unannounced and issued dire warnings.  The second thing you need to know is that the Smart family do not organize the event - they merely supply the cheese.

As it happens the Smarts were so worried about the warning that they withdrew their involvement, forcing event organizers to supply a fake cheese (not actually the first time that this has been done, as during the rationing of WW2 a wooden replacement was used)

But two things occur to me.

Firstly - if I were a judge in a case for compensation and I heard that injuries were sustained "running headlong down a steep hill after a rolling cheese" I think my response would be "Well, you brought it on yourself then, didn't you"

Secondly - I recently put myself in for a charity run and had to sign forms in triplicate saying that if I died mid-route then I couldn't hold the organizers responsible (from what I understood from the form this extended to "even if we happen to run you over in a support truck" - which I guess gives them something to do if they get bored with marshalling) - so why can't the cheese rolling event get the contestants to do the same?

But what saddens me the most is that we now seem to live in a society where we are constantly told that we are entitled to compensation for everything that could possibly happen - every time I turn on the TV I see an advert for AmbulanceChasers4U telling me that if I fall over at work, drop boiling hot soup on my shirt, get hit by another driver or am involved in a freak yodeling accident (more common than you might think) than I can sue, sue, sue until my name is changed, by deed poll, to Sue.

I'm sure that there are instances where someone is injured through neglect and due compensation so that they can continue to live to a good standard, but I am concerned that what it leaves us with is a society where everyone is looking to assign blame and far too many companies are looking to make a nice profit into the bargain

And as for the cheese rolling - well, even though it seems like insanity to me I hope it continues without litigation and that a real truckle can be found for future events.

Oh...and when you're finished with it - just clean it up and post it to me would you?  Cheers.

(NB: For anyone wondering about the image - it's the Don't Sue People Panda)

Thursday, 23 May 2013

It Must Be Thursday: Infrequent And Pointless Film Reviewing

The ongoing saga of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting.
Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 
After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?
Well, as you probably know by now I am an occasional visitor to the cinema: in fact last year we had a two-for-the-price-of-one ticket for our local Art House cinema, which meant that once a month myself and Herself found ourselves staring in bemusement at a series of Hungarian animations about people being chased by buildings...well, not quite: but we did get to see some films that wouldn't have graced the screens of a multiplex - some of which were very good, some...erm...weren't.

However this year we had no such luxury and, as a result, have seen a lot less movies: in fact I can only think of three that I've seen at the cinema this year - one of which, shockingly, was at the Multiplex...

#1: A Liar's Biography
Many, many years ago there was a man who was persistently interrupted from his training as a Doctor by the lure of writing and acting.  Having succeeded in being a founder member of one of the all time most influential comedy troupes he then decided that being permanently drunk and partying was much more fun.
This then was the semi-true story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman - one half of the team behind The Parrot Sketch.  Based on his autobiography of the same name the film was animated by six different animation companies and used the voices of Chapman (recorded reading his autobiography prior to his death) and four of the other living Pythons (with only Eric Idle abstaining)
Now I have to start by admitting that I started with this film based on a false assumption: I was sure that I had heard that Chapman's biography was full of apocryphal stories of things he didn't do - like be the first man to climb Mount Everest - and it wasn't that at all.
There was lots of sex of all variations and flavours, parties, drinking, flashbacks to a surreal childhood and switches in animation style.  For me it was this change of style that worked the best in the film, reflecting the madcap style of the original TV series - but it was, at the same time, quite disorienting.
At the end of the day the film was not funny, or clever, enough to qualify as true Monty Python but it did succeed in getting Herself to describe it as "the weirdest thing I've ever seen" - in short then: only a film for a die hard Python fan

#2: Les Miserables
Ever read a novel by Victor Hugo?  Don't - I read The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and the best word I can think of to describe it is "Impenetrable".  Four hundred pages of incomprehensibility it must have taken some really twisted genius at Disney to look at that book and think "what this really needs is animation and some cheery songs"

However - onto Les Mis and immediately anyone who has been following my blog in any way whatsoever will know that if there's anything that I hate more than Rugby, Football and Jazz it's musicals - as a story telling genre I find them hard to bear at best and padded out with 3-4 hummable tunes at worst.

There are, of course, exceptions - Baz Lurhman's "Moulin Rouge" was genius and I would recommend Return To The Forbidden Planet for its cheese value, but those dreadful ones where they get lots of ABBA or Spice Girl songs and attempt to tell a larger story with them and pretty much anything by Andrew Lloyd-Webber are, in my humble opinion, best avoided.

But Les Mis does actually have some pretty good tunes and the thing that appealed to me about this film was the approach to getting those songs onto the screen.  Whereas in most movies of musicals the songs are recorded months in advance, meaning that actors had already made their acting choices before meeting their fellow cast, the cast of this one had an earpiece in so they could hear an off-stage piano and react live to what was happening.

This, for me, was the big success of the film as everything felt much grittier and more realistic.  True you could argue that Russell Crow and Hugh Jackman are not the greatest vocalists in the world, but their voices more than suited the story and I was surprised to find that Sacha Baron Cohen (a person I've never had any time for in the past) was stealing the show as the tavern owner

As with anything written by Hugo this is grim writ on a big scale - but the film still managed to stir the emotions - definitely worth a look - even if you hate musicals

3: Star Trek: Into Darkness
There was a brief  battle of wills between myself and the local multiplex over this one, as I wanted to go and see it - but at the same time I was determined to stick to my policy of avoiding 3-D films for as long as I am still able to do so.  Finally the cinema did announce some 2D showings - but I suspect this will soon be a thing of the past if the attendance (admittedly at a mid-week screening) was anything to go by

So - Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the gang are back for another of JJ ABrahams's re-boots of the Trek series and this time Chris Pine (previously, for me at least, one of the weaker points of the first one) seemed to be stepping more comfortably into the huge shoes (although hopefully not huge ego) of Shatner

Supported by a strong cast, some excellent visuals, something approaching a coherent plot and an old and deadly enemy this gave me the vague hope that if the current rumours that JJ Abrahams is really attached to the next Star Wars film then it might not be as gratuitously awful as the prequels

I won't say anything more about the plot other than that central villain Bennedict Cumberbatch is a name to be reckoned with, in more ways than one, and probably made the right decision when he turned down the TV role of Doctor Who a few years back

There's some nice nods back to previous stories throughout, although the appearance of Leonard Nimoy as Old Spock is so pointless that I feel secure in telling you that he's in it because it in no way, shape or form spoils anything that happens in the movie.

I'm still not sure where I stand on the new emotional Spock, but after the truly dire Next Generation movies its nice to see Star Trek looking fresh and having something to say for itself - definitely watch this if you are a Sci-Fi fan, or even just like action films as you will still get something from it regardless.

NEXT UP: Man Of Steel - inspired rebooting or pointless sequel spinner?

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Haunting Of The Old Lighthouse


Is it a ghost or just the caretaker
that lurks in the corner and jumps out to scareya?
From the ole shut down lighthouse on Albany Bay
Where the kids and their pet mutt are well on their way

 From the ole shut down lighthouse the Mystery Machine
Which Fred, Velma, Scooby and Shaggy have seen
In a darkened old building way off of the grid
Seeking the treasure that ole Bluebeard hid

Though he tries hard to chase them they manage to stop
All the plans and the traps and the haunting he's got
And he would have got away with his desperate bids
If it hadn't been for them darn pesky kids

Thursday, 16 May 2013

It Must Be Thursday: The Total Perspective Vortex In Practice

 The ongoing saga of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting.

Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 
After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?


There's always that temptation to believe that we are the exact centre of the universe, isn't there?

When you think about it being human is a weird thing - we live in a world entirely of our own making, where we can never have any perception of how the others around us see and experience things and, in fact, as far as we know other people could be little more than robots that go back into their boxes for storage when we are not there.  How much better the world might be then if we could only see and experience things that others do - maybe then we'd be more tolerant.

Anyway: have you ever found yourself in a situation, maybe at work or in some social group, perhaps at your local church or speakers club, where you find yourself becoming the "reliable one": the one that everyone turns to in order to get something done, feeling under more and more pressure to be there and unable to turn away feeling that if you step down then no one will offer themselves to take your place?

Or perhaps you've known someone at work who either you or they were convinced without whom the whole thing would fall apart?  Someone who marched into the manager's office believing themselves indispensable and demanding more salary, only to walk out again without a job?

Well: I'm going to let you into a little secret and that is that one of the hardest lessons in life is that no one, and I do mean no one, is indespensible

In one of the Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy Douglas Adams talked about a machine called the Total Perspective Vortex into which subjects would be put so they could finally see their place in the universe - the effect of which was insanity or death.  Sometimes working for a big company can be like that too - you can feel like a grain of sand on a never ending beach.

But here's the thing: it's ok to be dispensable.  It's perfectly fine to let go and to walk away.  The weight of the world does not sit on your shoulders and nor should it have to.

If you want to take on more responsibilities at work, at leisure or at home then do so - but you should never feel that you HAVE to do so and nor should you feel under pressure to keep on doing something when those around you just shrug their shoulders and say "ah but you do it so well" - because ultimately the world will keep on turning and there will always be someone, somewhere who can do it too.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

It Must Be Thursday: The Age Of The Train?

The ongoing saga of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting.
Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 
After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?

PIXIE: Hi yes, I'm trying to make an inquiry about season tickets

Incomprehensible Member Of Staff (IMOS): Yerrs, where were you heading

PIXIE: From my home to Central Smokey.

IMOS: Ah yes, you can buy two tickets from there, Ticket A the £Modestly rip-off price or Ticket D the £Extremely rip-off price

PIXIE: It's actually the two prices inbetween I'm trying to find out about - my search result on your site came up with Ticket B: £100 more than the Modest rip-off and Ticket C: £100 more again, but still less than the £extreme rip-off

IMOS: Ah yes, but Ticket B requires that your journey goes through or changes at Timbuktoo, whilst Ticket C requires that you go through change at Outer Mongolia

PIXIE: Well, yes - but that's what i'm trying to work out you see - because I was hoping that you could define "goes through" for me.

IMOS: Your train has to go through there

PIXIE: Yeeeees.....but here's the thing - There are two routes that I can see from my house - the Extremely Slow Train Company (ESTC) or the NeverHadSex Company (guessing that readers will probably work out who this company is).  Now ESTC takes about 2hrs to get to Central Smokey, but if I change at my nearest city for NHSC then i can get there in just over 1hr.  So: the NHSC route takes it THROUGH Timbuktoo, but it doesn't stop there - does that count

IMOS: Your train has to go through the station for the ticket to be valid

PIXIE (Slightly frazzled now): Yes, but can you define "goes through" - the train DOES "go through" the station - it just does so at 100 mph - does the train have to stop there, even if i remain on the train, for it to count as going through?


PIXIE: No it doesn't?

IMOS: Yes, it does

PIXIE: So it does, or it doesn't?

IMOS: The train has to go through the station for the ticket to be valid

PIXIE: OK let me try a different tack then.  Ticket price A only allows me to go on ESTC routes and nothing else - therefore it is the cheapest price yes?


PIXIE: Great, finally some clarity.  B-UT Ticket Price B allows me to get on any train SO LONG AS it goes via Timbuktoo - whatever that actually means - right?

IMOS: Right

PIXIE: AAAH, but you see - the only train that will go through my local stops and stop at Timbuktoo is the ESTC, and the only connection i can get from there to Central Smokey is also run by ESTC - so what you're effectively telling me then is that I'm paying an extra £100 for the privilege of catching exactly the same train, yes?

IMOS: The train has to go through the station for the ticket to be valid

PIXIE: You know, i used to have a toy talking robot dog as a kid that had more stock phrases than you do.  OK - so ticket price C means I have to go via Outer Mongolia, but that otherwise I can catch any train yes?


PIXIE: But the problem here is that the only train to Outer Mongolia won't get me to Central Smokey till nearly midday and has to change at three other locations - so now you're expecting me to pay £200 extra for an even more useless ticket?

IMOS:  The £extreme rip-off train ticket does allow you to catch any train

PIXIE: Yes, but that's over £300 more per month than the ESTC for what, with changes in service, is effectively a 15 minute time difference in journey per day.  Which is why I'm trying to get you to define "goes through" for me.  If it means "must stop at" then it should say "must stop at" so that people with second languages can clearly understand what is being said.  Buuut - if it means "goes through" - IE merely has to pass through the station but doesn't actually have to stop whilst in the process of doing so - then I can have the option of switching to the NHSC service and save myself some time - so please, for the love of God, can you just tell me does the phrase on your website "must go through" translate as "must stop at" or not???

IMOS: The train has to go through the station for the ticket to be valid

Cue sounds of muttered, but still copious, swearing and the sound of a disconnect

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

It Must Be Thursday: Hot With A Hint Of Frostbite

The ongoing saga of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting.
Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 
After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?
It's the first day of May and the sun is out.  Both cats are in the garden enjoying the sun.

The sun is drying the washing on the line and summer is wearing her skirt and showing her legs for the first time this year.

And me: sitting in the front room, working from home: the room that never gets any sun and, as such, is a good 10 degrees colder than the rest of the planet

Sitting with heater plugged in , with a jumper on and a hot drink in my hand to stave off the shivers

Roll on summer.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

It Must Be Thursday: Peaks And Troughs List O Fives

The ongoing saga of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting.
Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 
After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?

 Any one who has ever held a job for any length of time will know the gut-wrenching feeling of depression that comes with looking at your watch and knowing that there are still three hours until hometime.

Sure: there are days when our jobs whiz along like the proverbial bullet from a gun, but then there are the days when no one else is about, the systems are slow and you have that thing that you are doing in the evening and the day just can't go fast enough.

Much like the above picture of a bra in the road (or possibly two eggs on toast) there are peaks and troughs in a day.  For instance: it seems impossible to get from 2pm to 5pm and then finally once you get to 3 or 4pm you get into the downhill section where you can take your weary feet off the pedals and allow gravity to do the work as you slide down the bannister of your office stairs and leap like a gazelle into your waiting car.

So for old time's sake and because its been a while - here's a list of 5 things you can do to pass the time

#1: Tea Tennis
Find an unsuspecting member of staff - someone who will sometimes say yes to a proffered cup of tea, but will sometimes say no. Then, and without telling them what you are doing, take it in turns to offer a lovely brew.  If they say yes then you score a point, if they say no then your opponent scores the point - NB: this game only works until the victim realizes what you are up to at which point (assuming you haven't finished a match) whoever is in the lead wins

#2: Radio Bingo
If you are allowed to have a radio on in your office tune it to a local radio station.  Local radio stations, at least in the UK, seem to come off a production line and are identical.  The set up is: A male (main) presenter who is about 5% as funny as he thinks he is, accompanied by a female (support) presenter who is 95% more intelligent than she pretends to be on air (but has to play the idiot for the job)

The play lists of these stations vary little from day to day - so the trick is to write a list of artists that you think will be played on a specific day - and the first to tick them all off wins

#3: Imaginary Shot Drinking
I don't drink alcohol very often - I've had a bottle of wine open for nearly two months now and its not finished yet and I certainly wouldn't advocate drinking at work, but I have a colleague who has a habit of saying the same phrase quite frequently and so I recently tried to imagine downing a shot every time they used the verbal crutch.  Just as well I didn't do it for real as I would have been inebriated in under ten minutes and dead within twenty

#4: Lunctime Walk Bingo
I actually went as far as to create some rules for this one before realizing that I see the same things far too often.  For instance:
* a single abandoned shopping trolley would gain 5 points because just seeing one alone is so rare, whereas for every additional trolley you see would cost you a point
* A freshly broken window would get you a point, but you can only count it again if it hasn't been mended after 3 months
* A speeding car that fails to indicate would be minus points as its so frequent

#5: Scanning Cricket
A bit out of date this one as scanning documents is so rare now - the rules were that you gained runs until the scanner malfunctioned and then were "out" - you could probably devise a modern equivalent that counts emails with attachments against without

#6: Word Of The Day
This one is courtesy of Argent who was once challenged to try and get the phrase/word "Babycakes" into a meeting with a client.  The rules, then, are clear - pick an obscure or made up word and challenge your fellow workers to work it into a conversation or meeting without anyone questioning it.

The prize in each of the above is a cup of lovely tea (or possibly coffee if you're that way inclined)

Thursday, 18 April 2013

It Must Be Thursday: Mother Of Invention

The ongoing saga of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting.
Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 
After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?

It's easy to laugh about the mistakes of the past isn't it?  We look back at the surgeons who snubbed the idea of germs, the explorers who expected to fall off the edge of the world and anyone who ever thought Frankie Goes To Hollywood were a good band - but often its only with hindsight that we realize how little we knew

Take Thomas Midgley Jr.  A worker at General Motors who was one of the key figures looking at creating a solution for the knocking of engines in cars and came up with tetraethyllead (leaded petrol) 

Of course the difference in his case was that it seems from the wikipedia entry that General Motors knew full well the impact of lead in petrol: their factory workers experienced hallucinations, depression and a high suicide rate - none of which stopped Midgley from pouring the petrol on his arm at a press conference and inhaling it to prove there would be no ill effects (he had to have 12 months medical treatment as a result, which didn't make the papers)

Despite the closure of the factory amongst health concerns leaded petrol continued to be sold until just before the end of the 20th century, polluting the streets and causing unknown levels of illness and damage and Midgley kept his job, moving to the fridgidare section of the company

It was here that he worked on and helped develop Freons - the first of the CFCs.  

Apparently not content with polluting the streets he had inadvertantly helped destroy the ozone layer and added towards global warming.

But hang on a minute before you condem him - as i said at the start: we don't always know when we're wrong.  

How many of today's must-have gadgets and ways of life may in time prove to be harmful?  There has long been some feeling that mobile phones and power lines can be bad for the health - what if one day we discover that we have, all along, been destroying the planet?

The one thing we can say about today is that we now know beyond any reasonable doubt that the earth has finite resources and that at the rate we are using them we will surely exhaust them sooner rather than later: and yet how many of us would go without our gadgets?  Even if we would - with third world countries rapidly coming on line is there anything we can realistically do?

Over the course of his career Midgley was granted over 100 patents - does that mitigate for the harm of a few?  The harm that CFCs were doing was not discovered until decades after his death

His story does not end well, I'm afraid - in later life Thomas Midgley suffered from poliomyelitis and struggled to move around.  He actually went so far as to invent an intricate system of pulleys and wires to get him out of bed - which he got trapped in and strangled to death

Now that really is an example of an invention gone wrong