Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Doing the numbers

Having plenty of time on my hands during this morning's voyage of discovery that was the morning commute, I finished the crosswords in both the newspapers on the way in to work (I had to pick up a book to read on the way back).

Doing one of the crosswords it occurred to me that I'm probably going to be of the last generation that would understand the significance of a rod, pole or perch. When I was a tiny tot we all had little red exercise books which had a couple of hundred little boxes on the back cover, each one containing a table of relationships between different suites of avoirdupois and sundry other Imperial measurement units, starting with the nursery slopes:

16 drachms = 1 ounce
16 oz. = 1 pound
14 lb = 1 stone
8 st. = 1 hundredweight
20 cwt. = 1 ton

and then moving right along to scruples, firkins, ells, rods, poles, perches, pennyweights and fathoms. Heady stuff.

I reckon that the move to metrication has made it more difficult for the children of today to get to grips with mathematics away from the calculator, till and spreadsheet. If everything's in base ten then there's no opportunity to practice simple calculations in everyday life. So it becomes trickier to make sure you're getting the right change when you're down the shops doing your messages.

And we miss out on the sheer versaitilty of base twelve. Ah well...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Critical moments in history

shin-kickers Not for the first time I wonder how history would have been changed had Adolf Hitler not lost the Saddleworth Open Shin-kicking Final in 1919.

Outfoxed by Robin Catbush, the wily Morpeth Maestro, he turned his back on the game and took up politics because the boots were a better quality. Would the world have been a better place had he been not so embittered?

Friday, July 25, 2008

A failure in the teamwork

For the fourth year running I'm growing some peppers on the living room windowsill, in between the succulents and the banana plant. Last year I got a decent little crop of Alma Paprika peppers and some small Chocolate Bells. The habaneros started off well but got chewed to bits before the fruits set properly. The culprit turned out to be a big green caterpillar that I only discovered after the deed was done.

There was some stiff talking afterwards. Part of the deal is that the spiders have pretty much the run of the house so long as they don't spin webs across doorways; don't using me as a jumping-off post when they're playing tig late at night when I'm watching the telly; and earn their keep by catching and eating the undesirable elements like midges, mozzies and bluebottles. I explained that as far as I'm concerned any caterpiggle scoffing the houseplants automatically qualified as an undesirable element that should be dealt with with extreme prejudice.

The message obviously hasn't got through. One of the bell peppers is being scoffed. To make matters worse, it is surrounded by a huge web spun by one of the larger female house spiders, who sits there mockingly as I try to find the perpetrator. Lazy devil. I mean, you'd think that if you lived by drinking the liquified innards of flies and woodlice then a big, easy-to-catch bag of protein would be a Godsend. But no, not a bit of it.

I know what this is about. Somebody is sulking because I ran the vacuum cleaner round the living room last Easter.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Unremitting awfulness

Another utterly awful working week and it's only Monday.

The usual commuter travails got me into work (there's no point in going into these: if you do public transport you'll know all about them from your own experience; if you don't you wouldn't believe me). A narrative elsewhere hints at some of the awfulnesses of the workplace. Seriously dehydrated I do the commute back home, the delays making it all the worse (no namby-pamby coffee shop facilities at Helminthdale Central).

I picked up a drink as I crossed Manchester city centre. Has it occurred to you just how difficult it is to find any cold drink on sale that doesn't include Aspartame? I can't stand the taste of Aspartame. In the end I gave up and picked up a bottle of Oasis, which boasted that it's full of natural juices. Yeeurgh! What's the point of putting sugar and Aspartame in a drink?

I got home, only to find that seeing as it's the first day in ten without rain the bloke two doors down had decided to set fire of a lot of damp shrubbery in his garden. And there, waiting on the doormat, was a letter from the NHS asking if I fancied putting myself in for vivisection in the name of science.

I gave up hard drink for this.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Strangers on a train

I've been quite rude about Virgin Trains in the past and I've every expectation that I'll have reason to be in the future but I will admit that their customer care training for on-train staff must be pretty good. A colleague recently spent a few days in London and on the way back up to civilisation the train hit an obstacle on the track and very nearly derailed. In the event, nobody was hurt but the damage to the track and the overhead electric cables was such that it took a couple of hours for the emergency team to safely clear the debris and then get a new engine coupled to the train so that it could be pulled to Watford Station. Bad news all round, and not anything I'd wish on anybody. Luckily, the good old British pluck and stiff upper lip of some of the passengers made things oh so worse. This is some of what the train staff had to deal with...

"Why are they letting all those trains on those other tracks pass us? They should wait their turn instead of passing us. What are you doing about it? Why don't you stop one of them so that we can get off this one and join that one?"

Skipping the whole question of "what makes you think they're going your way?" this idiot, who insisted that he knew all about how railways work and the procedures the staff should be taking and obviously aren't, was talking out of his arse. I don't know if you've ever had to leave a train outside a station. I have, and it's a fair drop. So what this guy was proposing was that the guard should walk over three electrified railway tracks, flag down a passing train by waving his hankie, then one hundred and something passengers would jump off the injured train, walk across said tracks to the new train, do the five foot climb with no handholds to get on board and then said train would take a detour to get them to their destination, much to the glee of the original passengers who were going someplace a hundred miles distant. I can't see why the guard didn't jump at the idea.

Across the aisle from my colleague was a chap in a wheelchair. The train staff were very concerned about his well-being. When the offer of cold refreshments were being made to passengers they became very worried. Every option they suggested wasn't appropriate because of one or other dietary problem. They went back to the galley to see if anything else was available but even then nothing could be found that suited. They became very worried that this gentleman was going to have problems because of this, especially after he told them for the fourth time that he had to be very careful about the frequency of his meals so as to regulate his blood sugar in accordance with his medication. He also became very agitated because he was being met at his destination and he needed to contact the person involved to say that he was going to be late. The guard offered to 'phone the person for him but he couldn't remember the number. Eventually, running out of options, the staff moved on to see what they could do elsewhere after promising to check up on him as soon as possible to see if they could be of any practical help. About two minutes later he sighed, took an enormous lunch box out of his satchel and tucked in. Five minutes later he was on his mobile 'phone telling his friend that the train was going to be late and that the staff were useless.

It's people like that who put disability rights back a hundred years.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Izzy wizzy let's get busy!

Elsewhere in the blogosphere I said that I really should hunt down a copy of Sooty, Sweep and the magnificent Harry Corbett's "Kitchen capers" sketch from the black and white days of children's television. I have a bad copy somewhere on a battered old VHS tape in the "study," but being without videotape facilities at the moment (a longer story than you want) there's no point in starting an excavation.

Today's initial forays have been unsuccessful, but I have found a clip from Danny Baker's TV Heroes programme on Harry Corbett, including some tantalising fragments from the sketch.

I'm with Danny Baker with his assessment of Harry Corbett. The man really had a quiet, unassuming genius: this interplay between one man and his hand is something a method actor would cry for.


I am indebted to No Good Boyo for electing me Executive Director (non-voting) of the Knights of the Stained Beermats Ltd. pending psychologists' reports. I'm been waiting very many years for suitable appointment to a position of irresponsibility.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cautionary tale

A fair cop!

Life's like that sometimes.

Looking in the crystal

In one of my other blogs I've recently described one of the horrors of middle-age: being in a pub full of other middle-aged idiots. To my mind, there are only three types of pubs:

  • Wine bars
  • Dives
  • Old men's pubs

In so far as I have any great affinity with pubs (having been teetoal for a long, long time, God help me) I always feel the most comfortable in old men's pubs, and did all the more back when I was a drinker. These days, it's an opportunity to people-watch in one of the last strongholds of the good old-fashioned barmpot. For those of you with no experience of this environment, No Good Boyo presents us with a lovingly-rendered picture of one of the species.

The world is not so bad a place when there are still snug bars filled with men wafting the froth off their ale with their caps.

Friday, July 04, 2008


I've never understood this: people who get to the top of an escalator and stop and stand and stare. Dead ahead, usually at a wall or a mannequin. Or blankly into space.

I could understand it if they stopped to look at a direction sign or similar, though I reserve my right to be irritated by them, but some idiot stood standing staring into space is not what you want to be stepping out to when it's your turn to get to the top of the escalator. There were six of us behind one such idiot this afternoon, all trying to look like we were just about to reach the top step.

In the end an old lady prodded his hamstring with her shopping trolley and we all sidled through the gap before he could reposition himself.