Oct 25 2014

It’s been quiet around these parts of late

pingdom test vidaDunno what it is about this time of year, but my blogging mojo always seems to take a bit of a knock.

Having said that, there hasn’t been a great deal for me to write about. Not that that has ever stopped me before. Many a time I’ve managed to take the most mundane, un-newsworthy news item and bore the pants off you with it.

And it’s exactly the same today.

Something exciting though: I’ve changed my hosting provider.

OK, it’s probably not very exciting to you, but it is to me.

The mob I have been with for the past three years have been absolutely fine. No problems with them whatsoever.

Until last week, when they sent me a renewal notice.  “How much?!” I yelled at the three-figure sum printed at the bottom of the invoice in an unassuming and very mild-mannered font.

“Oh, and there’s VAT to be added too! Well, I ain’t fucking paying that much!” I said.

“Excuse my French”, I added, to no-one in particular.

And so, I went off in search of another provider. After much Googling and review reading I settled on a British company that had excellent reviews and offered a reasonable package for a very reasonable price.

All the back-end stuff has been completed over the past couple of days – they even did most of that for me as part of the service – and then, last night,  after some extensive testing, I pointed the domain toward their nameservers and went to bed.

I awoke this morning to find that everything seems to have gone swimmingly, with my site(s) and emails all transferring seamlessly onto their servers.

As a bonus, the site seems to load a bit quicker too. Well, it does to me. A possible benefit of being hosted on “cloudservers”, maybe?

Right, now all that’s in place, I’d better get writing again.

 

 

Oct 24 2014

Test

Can you hear me, mother?

Oct 10 2014

Out with the new, in with the old

SDH_structureSo, what’s been happening?

Well, I recently finished the project I was on that had me travelling all over the country… including a week spent on the Isle of Wight and a couple of weeks in Northern Ireland.

In many respects I thoroughly enjoyed it as the type of work I was doing – and the places I was doing it in – interested me greatly. However, the travelling and the long periods away from home weren’t so good.

So, I’m currently relishing a new project that I started on just a couple of weeks ago, which has far more stable hours and – being local – allows me to come home each day. Trust me: a 120 mile round trip to Guildford and back is ‘local’ compared to what I was doing before! Plus, I get to work from home quite a bit, so that’s an added bonus.

But, to do this project, I’ve had to take my RF head off and put my telephony head back on and that particular head hasn’t been used for quite a while. This was made painfully obvious to me this week, as I have been on a vendor specific SDH course and I don’t mind admitting that I found it quite hard going.

This annoyed me as I’ve done all it before and used to know all that stuff… to a degree and, albeit, a long time ago.

But there were flashes of recognition in my addled brain as the course instructor jabbered on about the importance of Path Overhead and the location of the V5 byte. Containers sat within Virtual Containers sat within Tributary Units sat within TUGs and further Virtual Containers; all revealed themselves to me once again, like a set of Russian dolls jumping in and out of each other at the front of my mind, whilst FIFO buffers filled and emptied in the background.

New acronyms – in an industry already littered with them – introduced themselves to the hand-written glossary I had in the back of my notebook, whilst TLAs of old popped into my head to say “Hello, long time no see… remember me?”

Things I thought I’d never touch on again, I’ve… touched on.

Again.

And I’ve enjoyed it. Although it’s old stuff to me, it is so old that it’s almost new again, which is what makes it fun.

I’m hoping I can wear this head for a while longer yet.

Oct 07 2014

Sober October

Failed already.

Oh well, there’s always next year.

Sep 26 2014

I’m fifty-two… so it’s about time

This evening I upgraded my WordPress installation to the latest version: version 4, codenamed Benny.OSIRIS-Rex

But I don’t want to talk about Benny. I came here to tell you about Bennu,

Bennu – or to give it it’s full designation: 101955 Bennu – is an asteroid that is classed as “quite likely to hit the Earth…” at some point.

Maybe.

Before it does that though, scientists want to have a good look at it and plan to send up the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to intercept it and take samples… rather like the ESA-launched Rosetta spacecraft that is currently orbiting asteroid Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

As you well know.

Well, OSIRIS-REx doesn’t launch until 2016 and is currently under construction. But, you – yes, you – can be a part of it. Literally. By going to this website and putting in your details – before the end of the month – you can have your name engraved on a chip carried within the spacecraft. It actually gets engraved on two chips: one that will travel to the asteroid and then return home with the samples and the other which will stay with the orbiter craft and will travel through space, quite possibly, indefinitely.

As you can imagine, I thought this would be pretty cool, having my name travelling through space, and so I went to the website several months back to sign up.

And then something happened. Rather than give my own moniker possible immortallity , I suddenly felt the urge to bestow this privilege to my children.

And so, I registered their names instead of mine and they now both proudly have their certificates laminated and BluTak’d to their bedroom walls. And I’m not (that) jealous.

I feel like I’ve just suddenly grown up.

Sep 13 2014

Portugal – part tres

IMG_2986Saturday
Did bugger all today.
Mrs Masher overdid it in the sun yesterday… as she nearly always does. Consequently, she spent the afternoon fast asleep on the bed with the curtains drawn, whilst me and the kids splashed about in the pool.
Apart from a small disaster where we ran out of money and had to take an emergency trip to the ATM in town, nothing else happened today. So, here’s another pic from yesterday.
Mrs M cooked a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, which we ate on the veranda and then we played cards till bedtime.

 

Sunday
Our last full day. We caught a taxi into town and had lunch at McDonalds. The reason for this was two-fold: firstly, we’d promised the kids and secondly we wanted to make use of the free Wi-Fi.
The queue in McDonalds had to be the biggest queue I’ve stood in just to get junk food. It stretched out of the door! It was probably thirty minutes before we got served, but we luckily managed to get a table to sit at.
Using the Wi-Fi, I located a couple of local geocaches and off we set. IMG_3044_web
The first cache was just off the beach and required me to climb a ten metre tall brick… thing. When I got to the top though, there was no sign of a cache and so we abandoned it. We ventured a further kilometre up the coast and after much searching, we eventually found it. Success! We can go home now.
Tired and dirty, we walked back into Quarteira to find a restaurant. Mrs M fancied a proper Sunday roast and several of them advertised that they did just such a meal. Ultimately, we ended up having something else though, as the restaurant we eventually settled on (Mrs M liked the look of it) didn’t do roasts. It was a good dinner though and we managed to find a taxi rank so that we didn’t have to walk back.
We did have to queue though, for nearly half an hour.

 

IMG_3034_webMonday
It’s been a holiday of queuing and walking and drinking. To be honest, I probably need a bit of a break from the Super Bock. I’ve only had one Bock-less day since we’ve been here, so, some enforced Bock-less-ness will probably do my liver a power of good!

The flight home was a bit bumpy, causing Mrs M to grip the seat like it was a white-knuckle ride, but thankfully we didn’t crash and all die in a fiery hell.

Which is always a good end to a holiday, I think.

 

Sep 06 2014

Portugal – part the second

IMG_2918_webThursday

This holiday must be exhausting: the kids aren’t getting up until 10.

Unlike other hotels that we’ve been to over the years, this one doesn’t seem to have a particularly busy pool, which is great. People don’t seem to turn up until about ten or eleven, so getting a sun lounger isn’t too much of a problem.  However, there is very little shade – provided by just a couple of small palm trees – and these seem to be premium spots. This morning, Mrs Masher decided that she wanted one of those spots and, in a fit of Teutonic-like  arrogance, she went down early and secured two sunbeds by placing her towels on them, before returning to the room for breakfast. I was aghast at such un-British behaviour and watched from the balcony as other guests arrived and looked at the shaded,  towel-covered sunbeds with disdain. It’s obviously not the done thing here and I told Mrs M so. “I don’t give a fuck”, she said. I didn’t argue with her as I was secretly appreciative of being able to have some shade,

In the evening, we couldn’t be bothered to go out to eat, so we had it in the hotel restaurant. It was superb – one of the best steak meals I’ve ever had.  We rounded it off with a couple of beers and a few games of pool.

I lost 2-1

 

IMG_3016_webFriday

We rose a bit earlier this morning and caught a taxi to the AquaPark – about 15 minutes up the road.

It was a great day. Some of the rides were fantastic, but unfortunately they had fantastic queues to match. The best ride was the rollercoaster and I think we must have queued for nearly an hour to go on that one.  But, it was that good, we went on it IMG_3014_webagain later in the day, when the queue wasn’t so bad… only about half an hour! There were several rides I was keen to go on, but queuing in the sun for forty minutes or so at a time, really put me off.

We left there about 6pm, catching a taxi back to the apartment where we quickly changed and then caught another taxi into Quarteira so we could pay a revisit to the Fantasia for dinner. After we’d eaten, we took a walk along the seafront. A large section of it was cordoned off, with tables and chairs inside, all facing a giant TV screen.  Lots of people had gathered around the outside of the fence and were IMG_2995_webcheering or jeering the suited fellow on the telly. I think it was some sort of political rally, but it might well have been the Portuguese version of the X-Factor.

We carried on along the seafront, buying ice-creams for the kids and looking at all the tat on the stalls – Mrs M bought the kids a couple of wristbands that they really wanted, but will probably lose before we get home.

We couldn’t find a taxi, so we ended up walking back. A few games of cards and then bed… absolutely knackered.

Aug 30 2014

Portugal – part1

IMG_2960

Monday
Having decided to travel light, just packing our things into hand luggage bags only, it was a joy to arrive at Faro airport and not have to queue at the carousel for our luggage.  Within minutes of leaving the plane, we were through to Arrivals, where a man was waiting for us, our surname splashed across the little white board he was holding. He led us to his taxi and thirty minutes later we arrived at our apartment.  Half an hour after that, we were sitting by the pool.  Yes, it’s a pain catching those stupidly early flights, but it does have the benefit that you can be poolside by lunchtime!IMG_2922

Tuesday
We spent most of the day round the pool or, in the kids’ case, in it.  Evening time we took a walk into town. We’d spent a good hour perusing a few leaflets that we’d picked up in reception, detailing local bars and restaurants, and we settled on The Green Mango, which had a very good write-up. It was only a half hour walk into Quarteira but when we got there, we then spent another forty minutes, traipsing up and down the beach front, looking for the restaurant. Eventually, we gave up and picked another one – Fantasia.  We ordered our food and then cheekily asked after the elusive Green Mango. “Oh, they shut down a long time ago”.  Oh well.
Unable to find a taxi, we had to walk back to the apartment. The kids were asleep in seconds!

IMG_2934Wednesday
We all rose late, knackered from last night’s walking.  Much of the day was spent lazing around the pool. The kids would happily live in there if they could!
In the evening, we took another walk, this time into the town of Vilamoura, about a mile and a half away.
We marveled at the expensive boats in the marina and the number of Porsches and Ferraris that lined the road. There was money here, alright!  After arguing with the kids about what they wanted to eat, we had dinner in a Pizza Hut and then we set off to find the Mini-Golf. We ALWAYS play mini-golf when we go away. IMG_2944It’s become… a thing and the kids love doing it.  It was a really nice course and we took our time going round it. Amelia then managed to drop her golf club down a drain, so we made a quick exit when we handed everything back at the end of the evening.  It didn’t take long to get back to our apartment, via the fastest, grumpiest taxi driver in Portugal.

Aug 24 2014

Cheese & Onion crisps and Watney’s Red Barrel

Sorry for the lack of posts, but I’ve been away, y’see.

To Portugal.

That’s proper abroad, that is.

Mrs Masher decided that it was time I had a holiday with her and the kids and so, making use of the two free return flights that I won in the school raffle last year, she scouted around and found us a good deal in Quateira, on the Algarve.

I shall post some holiday-type pictures here later of me looking like a bronzed Adonis (as well as having golden brown skin, Adonis was fat and balding, wasn’t he?), but meantime, here is a picture of a board that was placed at the entrance to the pool. It amused me from the outset as I – and many others from what I could see – couldn’t figure out what many of the restrictions were.  Some were obvious, others not so.IMG_3036

Anyway, I’ve looked long and hard and I think I have finally figured them out:

1. All men must be accompanied by very tall ladies

2. No running

3. No playing games and having fun

4. No Scottie dogs

5. No… er, people

6. No sitting down

7. No diving in

8. No getting out

9. No sitting on the steps to the pool

10. No going down the plug hole

11. No drinking allowed

12. No piston engines allowed

Of course, no-one paid any attention these Draconian rules and we flouted them all.

Because we were on holiday.

Aug 09 2014

It’s been a while

typewriterThis humble website – or at least, a much earlier version of it – started way back in the year 2000.

I bought the .co.uk domain name in July of that year, a full six months after the death and destruction promised by Y2K, failed to produce even a damp squib.

Back then, having bought one,  I had no idea of what I actually wanted with a website, and so it became a mish-mash of jokes, stories, photographs and horrible colours that were painful on the eye.

I suppose the transformation to what it is now, started in early 2001 when I wrote my first blog post.  Back then, I didn’t use any proper blogging tools (I think Blogger.com was still in it’s infancy), and mainly wrote all the text in either Frontpage or as straight HTML.

This was all rather cumbersome and time-consuming, and so I revamped the site a short while later  (about 2003, I think), switching to the now very popular Blogger platform.

In late 2006, I sold the domain name to the BBC for a hefty sum and bought the .tv one that I currently use. It seemed appropriate to give the site another revamp and so I then switched to the more versatile – but more work required –  Wordpress platform, with the site going live in November of that year.

And that brings us up to today.

So, what is the actual point of this post?  I hear you ask. Well, I saw this on Troubled Diva’s site the other day and wondered whether I qualified. Unfortunately, I don’t, as most of my archives are MIA, although the waybackmachine does give access to some of my early pages such as this.

But, as far as I’m concerned, this means that I’m up there in the top 20 of the earliest UK bloggers who are still active.

That’s kinda worrying.

Aug 05 2014

Perfect Sunday

I awoke to a bright, sunny, Sunday morning, having slept like a log, catching up on sleep I’d missed whilst working abroad.

The idea of an early morning rideout appealed and I wondered where I could go.

I noticed my phone flashing it’s “Message Waiting” light and checked my messages.  “Fancy a bike ride this morning?”, it said. It was from my mate Dan. It continued: “Few of us going over to Evenley. Nice slow ride out. About 25 miles. Be at mine for 11″

Serendipity.

I was at Dan’s house for 10:55. He wasn’t ready. I should have known.

At 11:30 we set off, picking up his mate Owen on his big GPZ1000 along the way.  Danny led the way, using his “sat-nav” – printed instructions from Google maps sellotaped to his tank.

After about fifty miles, with much traversing of lanes and many u-turns, we eventually found the village of Evenley. With it’s pub next to the village green. And a band playing. And about a hundred motorbikes of various vintages.DSC_6047_800

This was typical of Dan: never gives you all the info. If I’d known what was going to be there, I’d have taken a proper camera. As it was, I had to use my phone.

DSC_6048_800I love seeing the old classic bikes.  The amount of time and the amount of money spent on them, always amazes me, but the end result is usually a thing of beauty. Classic beauty. And some of them are worth a small fortune now. “There goes forty grand’s worth” said Dan, pointing to a beautifully restored Vincent as it chugged it’s way down the road.

DSC_6051_800

One of the stars of the day for me though, was a CX 500. It wasn’t vintage – or even classic in the real term, having made it’s debut 1980 – but it’s owner had looked after it and it was a fine example of Honda’s first V-Twin shaft drive… well, I think it was their first.  More than that though, I used to own one. It still stands as the only bike I’ve ever bought brand new; the only bike where I got to choose what colour I wanted (I went for black) and the only bike on which I’ve actually hit a car (a Reliant Robin… which came off considerably worse!).  It wasn’t the prettiest of bikes, but it went well and was as reliable as fuck. With a set of Krauser panniers fitted and a homemade rack on the back, it did me proud for several years. You don’t see many of them nowadays and standing next to it, chatting amiably with it’s owner as we discussed it’s merits, I was suddenly twenty-one again, riding round France, with my girlfriend and tent on the back.  Happy days.

DSC_6049-BW_800jpgOne by one, the bikes started to disappear, heading home at a top speed of only about forty for some of them.

I finished my beer and hot-dog, then we too headed back.

I got home, sat on the sofa and fell asleep, waking when the smell of a full roast chicken dinner was placed in front of me.

Sundays don’t get much better than this.

Aug 01 2014

Watery Fowls

Fawlty_Towers_castThis week I have been mainly working abroad.

Well, on the Isle of Wight.

Which is abroad… because I had to go on a boat to get there.

I’m glad to be home though, because I need some bloody sleep.

I struggled to book decent, reasonably priced, accommodation as both Premier Inns on the island were fully booked and many of the better-looking hotels were way too expensive for what I wanted. I’m not a fan of B&B’s either – having stayed in some terrible places in the past.  In the end, after much searching on t’internet, we let the office book our hotel.

Possibly not the wisest choice.

My room looked like it had come straight out of the seventies, with chintzy furnishings and flowery bedspreads. There was no shower and the sealant around the bath looked like it had been done by my mate Steve – after several pints of heavy and a spliff on: “Yeah, fuck it, I’ll give it a go!”

The damn seagulls squawked  throughout the night and the racket they made was only surpassed by the (what sounded like) hundreds of youths, pissed out of their heads, shouting and screaming their way down the road after being turfed out of Yates’ at two in the morning.

The view from my room was of the building next door… about 8 feet away. OK, I wasn’t expecting to see the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but even so…

As Frank Sinatra once sang, it’s nice to go travelling, but it’s oh so much nicer to come home.

 

Jul 22 2014

… and now for something completely brilliant

DSC_6001IMG_20140718_201627This weekend saw me at the O2 with my mate Paul, where we went to see Monty Python Live.

‘Twas marvelous and our seats afforded us a great view of the stage, which just made it even more annoying when the batteries in my camera died after only a couple of shots.

On Frank Skinner’s radio show, a couple of weeks back, he said how much he’d enjoyed the live show, having grown up with Python… much like myself. “You know those terrible bores you get in pubs, who can recite every word of the Python sketches?”, he went on, “Well, that was me.”  Listening to that, I realised that I too was one of those terrible bores. In fact, I must still be today, as I can still quote large chunks of various sketches word for word and sing every one of the team’s song lyrics near perfectly.

IMG_20140718_220654But, I’m not alone. The like-minded audience in the O2 whistled and cheered asDSC_6002 each sketch started, knowing
exactly what was about to happen before a word had even been said. We all sang along with each and every song, and we all verbalised every sketch as it played out on the stage.

Some audience members had even dressed specifically for the show, with many wearing knotted hankies and braces a lá T F Gumby (Brain Specialist). There were also a trio of guys looking resplendent in the bright red costumes of the Spanish Inquisition. “I certainly didn’t expect to see them here”, I quipped to Paul, showing absolutely no originality whatsoever.

All in all, a brilliant evening.

Sunday wasn’t quite so brilliant, as I spent much of it up a ladder cleaning out my guttering.

 

Jul 09 2014

A rod for my own back?

excel_fileLast year, the current Mrs Masher was asked at work, to do a stint in the office, covering for the normal admin guy who was going on holiday. Having spent many years in an administrative position, she found it a doddle and took to making a few improvements.

One of the things she found to be most time consuming was the daily rota/sign-on spreadsheet, which had to be manually filled in each day with the names of each employee and their task for the day/week. “I’m sure this can be automated to some degree, but I’m not sure how. Can you have a look?” she asked, handing me a copy of the sheet.

Once she’d explained what she wanted, I set about trying to get the sheet to do what she needed it to. I could sort of see how to do it, but couldn’t quite get it to work. I like to play with Excel, but I’m certainly no expert.

Many nights were spent in my hotel room, reading tutorials and tinkering with the spreadsheet, until eventually, it all came together.

It worked wonderfully and, using a very convoluted formula that I’d never have dreamed I could have written a couple of weeks earlier, it automatically populated the required cells, taking only a fraction of the time it had taken to fill it all in manually.

I was well pleased with my work, as was Mrs M, who said it saved her an immense amount of time each morning.

Over the weeks and months that followed, I would occasionally get calls for help with it, after some formulas had accidentally been deleted or some cells inadvertently overwritten.

I continued to tweak it, adding layers of protection, but still trying to keep it as usable as possible.

A couple of months back, Mrs M told me how the area manager had shown an interest in it whilst he was visiting and I was subsequently asked to make an amended copy for trial in another office.

Tonight I was asked if I could make some extra changes to it as they now want to roll it out nationally.

I’ve spent several hours this evening, amending it to a slightly different format, and I daresay there will be even more hours spent on it in the near future.

Perhaps I should charge a small fee for my work?

Nah. I’m just happy with the satisfaction that I’ll get, knowing that my little spreadsheet is helping you lot get your mail in the mornings.

Jun 22 2014

We’re coming home, we’re coming home

world cup titsWell, our brave boys are out of the World Cup already.  No real shock there, but I’d hoped they’d have lasted a little bit longer than just two games.

As a football pundit,  many people have asked me where I think the English football team has gone wrong.

Personally, I don’t think the team has done anything wrong. These are all talented, skillful young players that have what is needed to win that World Cup. What they are lacking is a sense of self belief. They don’t believe they can win it… so they don’t. And that is our fault, as a nation. We don’t show these guys enough respect. We need to show them that we care and give them that sense of worth that they so desperately need.

Pay them more money.

It’s the only way.  Two hundred thousand pounds a week isn’t enough.  If we start paying them a proper wage, then maybe they will start playing proper footy.

Surely, if we close just a couple of hospitals, that would save us enough money to give these guys the financial boost that they need and deserve.

Anyway, with England out, I’m guessing World Cup Fever will abate somewhat and for weeks, the supermarket shelves will continue to be lined with unsold Brazilian themed Pot Noodles, pizzas and fizzy drinks.  Fast food outlets will still be selling “Carnival” boxes of chicken and chips, long after the whole affair is over and sports shops will be halving the price of their Brazilian themed football kits, in order to try and sell them to a nation that has pretty much lost interest in the whole affair now.

But, in keeping with the whole ‘Everything Brazilian’ thing, Mrs Masher has done her bit.

I shall now be rooting for France, as I drew them in the sweepstake at work. The prize?

A meal for two in a Brazilian themed restaurant.

Jun 19 2014

Job done

DSC_5918Sorry it’s taken a while to write anything here, but work has been pretty manic this week.

Sunday’s ride from London to Brighton proved, once again, to be a most enjoyable event.  Of course, there were times – going up some of them hills – when I was thinking “Fuck this, for a lark. Never again.”  And I was in limp-home mode for the last third of the ride as the hamstring/ligament thing at the back of my right knee started giving me severe jip. That’s the problem with us well-honed athletes: we’re prone to injuries.

But, a bit like childbirth (I’m guessing), once it was all over, it was enjoyable to look back on.

And the family came down to see me cross the finishing line. Which was nice. However, they got delayed on the train and I had to stand and wait around the corner for nearly an hour before getting back on my bike and cycling down Madeira Drive to the finish.  The kids were so keen to see daddy cross the finishing line and I didn’t want to disappoint them.

But then we had something to eat – and a well-earned pint – and we went on all the rides on the pier. Well, Mrs M didn’t, cos she’s a scaredy cat.

I slept VERY well on Sunday night.

 

Jun 14 2014

Almost ready

jellybabiesOverlooked, yet again, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Pah!

Well, it’s nearly tomorrow, which is the day of the big ride.

I THINK I’m about as ready as I can be. Yes, I could have done a bit more prep and yes, I should have done a lot more training but I’m quietly confident that – barring any injuries or mechanical failures – it should be a doddle.  Ahem.

Anyway, I’ve psyched myself up for the Hill of Doom and have decided to hit it as hard as I can; give it my best shot in the lowest gear on my new bike… and then get off and walk!

Now, as an endurance athlete, I’ve had several people ask me recently, which is the best isotonic sports drink to take on the day.

“None”, is my reply. I very much doubt the veracity of the supposed benefits that these so-called energy drinks purport to offer.  In other words, I think they are a load of rubbish.

Water is all you need.  Water and Jelly Babies.

Water will keep you hydrated and the sugar in the Jelly Babies will help keep your energy levels up.  Take a couple of Jelly Babies every half hour as you ride, along with a sip of water.

Or, do as I do, and mix the water and the Jelly Babies together in a blender and inject the resultant mixture straight into the vein, for that instant energy burst.

As usual. the above is best taken with just the tiniest pinch of salt.

Jun 08 2014

Sore

boardman_road_compI was up at the crack of dawn this morning as I wanted to go out and put a few miles in on the bike before the day got too warm. This is a picture of my bike. Well, it’s actually a stock photo. Mine at least has pedals!

I managed 30 miles, which I’m pretty pleased about, having only done a few 8-milers in the past weeks.

My legs ache a bit and my arse certainly aches a bit.

OK, it aches a lot.

Anyway, as this year may well be my last (on the bike ride – I’m not dying (at least, I don’t think so)), I’ve decided to try a little harder than usual on the sponsorship side of things.  I’ve received a couple of cheques and pledges already, but I thought I might as well go the whole hog and put together a JustGiving page.

Should either of you like to help me, you can do so by clicking on this link

Anyone pledging more than 5 pounds will be entered into a prize draw for a holiday and a speedboat. Also, all donators will receive a free kitten in the post, just as soon as I can find some large enough Jiffy bags.

Jun 04 2014

Back in the saddle

l2bfinSo, here we are: June.

Again.

S’funny how it creeps up on you. This particular June has most definitely done that.

Because this year, once again, I have decided to do the London to Brighton Bike Ride, to raise money for the British Heart Foundation.

And I’ve done hardly any training. “It’s not till June”, I kept telling myself, finding almost any excuse not to go out and put put some mileage on the bike: the weather; little jobs around the house; that really important article in Cosmopolitan that I keep meaning to read.

But, now it’s here and I’m completely unprepared. By this time last year, I’d had a couple of twenty milers under my belt. The most I’ve managed so far is… eight. Even though I’ve done that particular route several times, it’s still somewhat short of the 54 that I’ll be doing in less than two weeks time.

However, I’m not too concerned, as I have complete confidence that my legs are up to the job. And though my stamina could be better, I don’t see that as a problem either – after all, it’s not a race and I can stop and get my breath back as often as I wish.

My backside worries me though. I suffered serious saddle soreness last year – possibly through a lack of sanitary towels –  and I really should have spent more time in the saddle this year to prepare my arse for what is to come.

But, I’ve decided that this year will probably be the last time I do it. For a couple of reasons (bum numbness aside).

Firstly, it’s the logistics.  Getting the bike(s) to Clapham Common for the 6am start is hard enough, especially when there is a team of ten. But then there’s the added problem of getting everyone, and all the bikes, back from Brighton. It’s alright for that Bradley Wiggins: he’s got a support team.

Then there’s the cost. In order to overcome the logistics issues above, we have all had to chip in to pay for the hire of a mini-bus and a large transit van. Add on top of the that, the cost of registration and fuel and we are each having to fork out about 80 quid before we’ve even started.

Finally, there’s the thorny issue of sponsorship.  It’s for a good and worthy cause – there’s no doubt about that – but even so, I just hate asking people to sponsor me. I find it embarrassing, asking people for money; simple as that. As such, last year, I had several sponsors, but I put the bulk of the money in myself.

Which is stupid.

But we’ll see how it goes.  Anyway, I’m going to stop typing now and see if I can get a few miles in before lunchtime.

Oh look, what a shame: it’s raining.

Jun 02 2014

I feel the need… the need for speed

3534570446To quote Tom Cruise in Top Gun.

Last week, my Internet Service Provider (hereinafter known as my  ISP), contacted me to offer me the chance to upgrade to their currently highest broadband speed.

Free. Of. Charge.

“Free? Are you sure”, I asked the chap at the end of the phone, “There must be some sort of catch”.

“”Hold on, let me just check… no, there is definitely no charge. We’d just like to offer you this new package as a thank you for being a long term customer and the only catch is that we want you to sign up to a new 12-month contract with us. On top of that, looking at what you are currently paying, this new package works out at about a pound a month cheaper”.

Well, in that case, who am I to argue? I’d had no intention of switching ISP anyway, and so we did the deal on the phone and my shiny new modem arrived on Saturday.

I connected it up and went through the – I have to admit – quick and painless registration procedure on the phone and within ten minutes, I was online again.

Of course, the first thing everyone does in this situation, is a broadband speed test, just to see how close their actual speed is, compared to what the ISP says they should be getting.

Holy uBRs, Batman!

As can be seen in the graphic at the top, it’s pretty bloody whizzy!  And that was on a Saturday afternoon, when contention ratios would be reasonably high. I’ve found I can get slightly faster speeds early in the morning and if I go on the Usenet groups the speed leaps up into the mid 160s. Amazing.

Of course, I don’t quite know what I’m going to do with all this new speed, but with four computers, two laptops, two Xboxes, three tablets and a Netflix subscription, I should hopefully be covered.

However, it turns out that it IS going to cost me extra: my new speedy connection has made me look at the shortcomings of my main PC and I’ve decided that a rebuild is – once again – in order. Not sure what I’m going to do to it yet, but my wishlist has on it: an overclocked six core processor, 8GB of DDR3 and a minimum of 1TB storage, with the OS possibly stored on a Solid State SSD like it is in my Linux machine.

If that doesn’t speed up my emails, nothing will.

May 29 2014

Fone fun

Old Phone IsolatedThe home phone rang Saturday afternoon. The caller display showed “International – Unknown”, so straight away I knew it was going to be something dodgy.

I answered it and was immediately greeted with two seconds of silence, before an Indian voice told me his name was Dilip and he was calling from the Accident Claims line. I was quite pleased, as I haven’t had one of these for quite a while.

Below is a (very much) shortened transcript of our two conversations, which lasted about 45 minutes in total.

Hello, my name is Dilip and I am calling you from the Accident Claims. Our records show that someone on this telephone number has had a vehicle accident in the past three years.

Yes. That was me. I was stationary at a traffic light in town a couple of years ago when a car ran into the back of me.

[Now, that piqued his interest!]

Well, you are entitled to compensation from the other driver. If you will give me a few details, we can process this. What road did this happen on?

It was on George Street. You know that bit at the top, where it goes from three lanes into two, just before the lights? Just there.  I’m confused though: why am I entitled to compensation, when his insurance company has already paid to have my car fixed?

Because you have been inconvenienced. Can I have the vehicle’s licence plate, please?

I wasn’t inconvenienced at all really. They gave me a courtesy car and everything.  I can’t remember what make it was, but it was blue, which is my favourite colour. And I was amazed at how quickly they paid up with no quibbling.

Yes, but you are still entitled to compensation. Can I have the vehicle’s licence plate please?

Surely, you already have that information in your ‘records’?

No, we just have the phone number.

Just this phone number? So, when I had my accident and handed all my details over, all I actually gave them was this ex-directory phone number? I really don’t remember doing that. Not at all. Maybe I was drunk.

Er, yes, maybe. It is my job to get you this compensation money and close this file. Do you have the licence plate number please?

Not on me. It will be in my insurance folder in the filing cabinet. Do you mind waiting a minute whilst I go and get it?

[I put the phone on the desk and went to make a cup of tea. Amazingly, when I came back, he was still there.]

Sorry, I can’t seem to find it. Anyway, I was thinking about it and I’m not really interested.

Why would you not be interested? I can get you up to 2000 pounds compensation.

Two thousand pounds? That’s nothing to me; I’m fabulously wealthy you see.

Everybody needs money, to pay for their mortgage and their bills.

Not me. I’ve got money coming out of my ears.

If you don’t want it, you could give it to somebody else or to charity.

I already donate to charity. Thousands each year.  I’ll probably get a knighthood before long. Tell you what, Dilip, you seem like a nice chap, you have it. Two thousand quid will go a long way in India, I’m sure.

I’m not in India, I’m in Birmingham. And I cannot take…

Yeah right.. [click - I cut him off. A moment later, he rang back. I answered but didn't say anything]

Hello? Hello? Is there anybody there? Hello? [click - I cut him off again. And again he rang back. I did the same again]

Hello? Can you hear me? Hello? [click - I cut him off again, only for him to ring back again a moment later. This time I answered properly]

What happened there, Dilip? We got cut off and I couldn’t hear you. Are you OK? I was getting a bit worried. I was going to call India and ask them to go and check on you.

I’m in Birmingham.

No you’re not, you’re in India. Now, look, you’re quite a persistent little bugger, aren’t you?  But before I give you any of my details, I’d like to check this out with my lawyers and make sure everything is on the straight and narrow. So can you ring me back another time?

[He agreed to do so and - having wasted 30 minutes of his time - I thought that would be the last I'd hear from him.]

[But then he rang back today.]

Hello, this is Dilip from the Accident Claims. I have been trying to call you all week [ I later checked my call logs to see that he had indeed called twice a day, every day, whilst I was at work]

Sorry about that. I was skiing.

Skiing?

Yes, just a few days away in the French Alps. It’s what us rich people do, you know.

Oh. I would like to get this compensation for you so that I can close your file and then you will never receive any more calls from the Accident Claims.

OK. Well, my lawyers said to find out exactly what information you have in this file of yours.

Our records show that in 2012, you had accident in George Street that was no fault of your own.

But that’s just what t I told you on Saturday. Is that all you’ve got?  Doesn’t this file have my name, or my address, or anything useful?

No, that is all we have. It is my job to get the details from you so that we can close the file and get your compensation.

Ahh yes, the compensation. How much are we talking about then?

About two thousand pounds.

Make it ten.

Huh?

I don’t get out of bed for less than ten thousand.

I, er, I don’t think we could get that much. Two thousand is a lot of money.

Not to me it’s not. That’s just small change. I sometimes spend that much on my weekly shop in Sainsbury’s. Did I tell you I was fabulously wealthy?

Yes. Look, if you don’t want the money, you can give it to someone else, but I need to close your file. It is my job and you would be helping me. Also, if you do not claim this compensation then the other driver can make a claim against you.

Whaaat? Now you’re just talking rubbish! How can a driver who has admitted liability and who’s insurance company has already paid out to get my car repaired, then make a claim against me?

No, no, he can. It has happened many times. Leaving your file open will allow him to make a claim against you.

OK Dilip, I’m losing interest now. You’ve tried every tactic you know into trying to scare me into giving you my personal details, but you have obviously run out of ideas.

No I…

Sshh, I haven’t finished. This has been fun but I’m going to admit something to you now. Are you listening?

Yes.

I made it up.

Huh?

I made it up. All of it. I’ve been joshing with you. I never had a car accident. In fact, I don’t even own a car. So your ‘file’ is complete bollocks, isn’t it?

No. Our accident book details that someone with this number… [click - he hung up]

Oh well. I then popped to the shops for half an hour and when I returned, I was annoyed to notice that he had rung again, and I’d missed him. Bugger.

I hope he does ring back sometime, as I do enjoy our little chats.

May 25 2014

Home Alone 4

coffee 2It’s that time of year again, when the current Mrs Masher takes the kids off to french France – along with her best friend and her kid – and I get the house and the TV remote to myself. And it is this:

Fucking great.

I miss them – of course I do – but it’s nice to have a bit of… ‘me’ time.

Usually, I book this week off (and I have done) as it gives me even more ‘me’ time at home, but having just had three weeks at home as there was no work going, I thought it might be somewhat churlish of me to insist on having some annual leave just as a pretty important project kicks off at work. So, I have cancelled my leave and will now be flitting around the country, staying in hotels, instead.

Annoying, but there you go.

Today, I went to Sainsbury’s Café for my Sunday roast dinner… because I know all about fine dining, me.

I had an hour before the Monaco GP started on my freebie satellite system and so was slightly irritated when I saw a queue of five people in front of me.

The woman at the front of the queue had ordered three cappuccino coffees. I watched as the girl behind the counter made each one, one at a time, tamping the coffee down into that thing that looks like a metal tea strainer; brushing the excess away and fitting it into the machine, which then spluttered and slowly spewed coffee and hot milk into the cup. Then she sprinkled it with a light dusting of chocolate powder before moving onto the next one and going through the whole process again.

All this took about four and a half minutes, but seemed an age to an impatient me.  Why can’t people just drink ordinary instant coffee anymore? I know a jar of granulated Maxwell House is an anathema to most Europeans and the Starbucks-loving Yanks, but it’s always been good enough for us Brits. Well, it used to be, but now everyone has to have noncy, overpriced coffee, whenever they get the chance.

Anyway, back in the queue, I was relieved when the woman at the front finally tottered off, cups and saucers rattling on the tray as she went. It was going to be tight, but I should still have time to throw lunch down my neck, grab a couple of bits of shopping and get home in time to catch the start of the race.

“What can I get you, Sir?” the counter girl inquired of the old boy in a flat cap, now stood at the front of the queue.

“Can have two lattes and a cappuccino please.”

Arrggh! I put my tray back and left the queue.

Downstairs – in the shop – I grabbed a roast chicken ready meal, a ready-to-eat bread & butter pudding and a tin of custard. A feast of epicurean proportions as far as my palate is concerned!

Back home, with just ten minutes to spare – and thanks to the modern marvel that is the microwave oven – I had the whole lot cooked and ready to eat as I sat down to enjoy the start of the race.

And I washed it all down with a nice – quick – cup of tea, of course.

May 19 2014

“…and on your left is a field full of nerds”

DDRallyYesterday, I went along with a couple of mates to the annual Amateur Radio Rally, held in May each year up at Stockwood Park.

Being an outdoor event, the number of visitors is generally governed by the weather. Yesterday, the weather was glorious and, as such, the rally had a really good turn out.

For those of you not aware of what an Amateur Radio Rally is: it’s basically just a Car Boot Sale for geeky types. Old radios and not so old radios are on sale and bargains can sometimes be had. Pieces of unwanted test equipment find their way into new homes and hard-to-find electronic components from yesteryear are snapped up by those enthusiasts renovating vintage wireless sets.

And it’s very easy for those of us of a nerdy disposition to get carried away. Items that we’d never wanted, or even considered before, suddenly become very attractive and desirable when plonked on a trestle table with a fifteen-pound price tag.  I find it hard to resist the allure of anything with lots of knobs and dials and LED displays… which is why I have a loft full of junk.

But, I did quite well this year. Mrs M warned me before I left: “I don’t want you coming home with a hundred quid’s worth of tat, again.”

So, I didn’t: I spent just 80 pounds.

And none of it is tat… it’s all good useful stuff.

Or will be at some point.

Possibly.

I just need to get it all up in the loft before she sees it.

May 10 2014

Drip

car washI class myself as a reasonably intelligent man and yet, yesterday, I did this:

I took my car up to the local car wash, as the bastard pigeons have been doing their business all over it again.  They sit in my tree and… well, actually they don’t, as my car isn’t parked quite under the tree. I reckon they must drop their load just as they fly into the tree. Bloody good shots they are too, as most of the shots are spot on target: my car will be covered in the stuff and yet there will be hardly any on the surrounding pavement.

Not sure how to stop them.  A friend has lent me an air rifle and if I get the chance, I’m going to shoot one of the little fuckers and then nail his head to the tree as a warning to other pigeons.

Maybe.

Anyway, I went up to the car wash; not the team of Romanians who do a really good job up at our local Homebase, but the IMO mechanical car wash a couple of miles away. It also does a good job, is a couple of quid cheaper and – more importantly – is much quicker.  It never quite gets the windows properly dry though, so I always take a chamois leather with me to wipe them down afterward.

And now we get to the gist of this slightly embarrassing tale.

A chamois leather needs to be soaked in water and then rung out before it can be used to proper effect, as I’m sure you will know.  I normally ask the chap to dip it in his bucket of water as I pass the money over, but for some reason I forgot and it wasn’t until I was fully immersed within the car wash that I noticed it sitting there on the passenger seat, all hard, dry and crinkly (bit like a girl I went out with once).  Bugger!

Once the car had passed through the soapy, spinning brushes, we passed through the rinse section and I had a bright idea. The water being sprayed at the car didn’t seem too heavy and so I opened my window just enough to get my hand through and I held the leather in the spray.  Suddenly, the water jets upped their game and there was a bit too much water coming in through the small window gap.

So, I had another bright idea: I would do the window up, leaving the chamois leather trapped there and getting a good soaking.

What I completely forgot, was that the electric windows have a safety feature to prevent fingers (and chamois leathers) getting trapped in there.

I pulled the leather in so that there was just a couple of inches inside the car and I pressed the button to raise the window up.  It went up alright, then it hit the leather and went straight into reverse. It was almost fully open before I managed to fumble the switch and close it again.

I was absolutely soaked! The inside of the car was soaked. The seats were soaked. The dashboard was soaked.  The chamois leather was slightly damp.

What an idiot!

I resolved there and then not to tell anyone of how stupid I’d been.

May 03 2014

Blast from the past

Mrs M is busy getting everything ready for her holiday later in the month, and she was complaining that she had nothing to listen to her music on whilst lying around the pool.  Yes, she could load up her phone with the latest “Now that’s What I Call A Loada Crap 206″, but that would mean constantly having to charge it up as, between listening to her music and always playing that bloody Candy Crush game that she’s addicted to, the phone would be in almost constant use.

I thought about buying her an MP3 player, but she’s had several over the years and they always end up either lost or broken. Or both.

And then I hit upon an idea: “How about going retro?”, I ventured, and dashed up into the loft.

Sonywalkman_mz_n510It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for: our old portable Mini Disc players. The last time I remember using Sharp MD-MT20them on holiday was in Brazil in 2001.  I wasn’t sure if they would still work, having sat in a shoe-box doing nothing for the past 13 years.

Sure enough, Mrs M’s Sony refused to play, but my Sharp worked first time.  A little bit of jiggery pokery and I had the Sony working as well (the read head had become a little stiff).

I then decided that I might as well go the whole hog and I went back into the loft, retrieved my MDS-520 and connected it up to the Hi-Fi.

Mrs M then started going through the dozens of Mini Discs that were also in the shoe-box, sorting out her holiday mix tapes (I know they’re discs, but “mix tapes” sounds so much better) and playing them on the 520. It was pretty late last night and the neighbours must have thought we were having a party, as Mrs M cranked the volume up to 11.

She is well happy now, with her old holiday mixes – and I’m sure a couple of new ones will be made up before she goes – all ready to be stashed into the luggage.

Stock Photo

And the MDS-520 will probably stay where it is too, despite its black anodised casing not really fitting in with the walnut of the current Hi-Fi in the lounge. I’d forgotten just how good a format it was and just how fantastic it sounds.

I’ve even found myself, this morning, looking through ebay, with the thought of maybe buying another unit to have in the shack.

It may be a dead format, killed off by the loathesome Apple iPod, but I think Mini Disc is about to have a bit of a revival in the Masher household.

 

May 01 2014

Aaaand… we’re back

DSC_0065 It’s been quiet round here of late.DSC_5859

It gets like that sometimes.

Basically, I couldn’t be bothered.

I get like that sometimes.

Anyway, what’s been happening? Well, work, mainly.

Many of the sites that I’ve been working at over the past few months, have never been modernised since they were built.  Some still have the same fixtures and fittings that they came with back in the sixties and seventies, and I often find myself marveling at old, threadbare chairs that must have seen a myriad of backsides parked upon them in the forty-odd years that they’ve been sitting there, and old fashioned light switches that have never been cleaned, caked with the grime from a multitude of different hands.

The buildings are generally stark and functional, offering little in the way of any comfort.  Most are way off the beaten track, miles from anywhere and anyone and many lack the basic facilities, like toilets and drinking water.

Sometimes, evidence can be seen though, showing that once, this place was alive with men; building and maintaining it before moving on elsewhere: an abandoned kettle surrounded by cups, all with half an inch of mould in the bottom; faded photographs of smiling faces pinned to a decrepit cork board; a pair of old unwanted boots sitting in the corner and a washing up liquid bottle – looking nothing like the modern day version that currently adorns the supermarket shelves – sitting atop a grimy stainless steel sink, its contents now caked into a hardened mass.

Today is my birthday and I’m starting to feel like some of those old buildings: once alive and full of energy, now faded, grimy and with half an inch of mould in my bottom.

Apr 11 2014

TW3

I’ve been at home this week as:

  • a. They had no work for me
  • b. I’ve still got leave to take from last year
  • 3. The kids are off school

As usual, I planned to spend my time wisely, getting several little jobs out of the way.

And, as usual, I’ve failed miserably and have – so far – not managed to tick anything off my list.

Keeping the kids entertained has been the main reason for my failure. That and procrastination.

The problem is, when I have a whole week ahead of me, I always think I have plenty of time and I put things off: “Oh, that won’t take too long, I’ll do it tomorrow”, or  “It’s probably best if I leave that till later in the week and concentrate on finishing that really interesting article in this month’s issue of Cosmopolitan”. And before I know it, I’ve run out of week.

Oh well, there’s always next time.

In other news: Mrs Masher and I bought a new marital bed. Whoo-hoo!  But, getting rid of the old one proved to be a bit of a task.

Our local council have always been pretty good at taking away large items for you. Old fridges; ovens; washing machines; rusty bicycles, all just need to be left outside on collection day – following a quick phone call to the Refuse Collection line –  and they are collected and taken away free of charge.

Or, at least they used to be.

I phoned up to arrange collection of the old bed and mattress and was told that it would now cost me £25.

Twenty-five English pounds!

Sod that!

I dismantled the bed as much as possible and managed to squeeze all the bits into the back of the car and took them up the tidy tip.

fly-tipping

The mattress was next.  Ever try to get a king-size mattress in the back of a family car? It took some doing, I can tell you, but with the aid of some rope and two kids and much huffing and puffing and heaving, we managed to get it in and down to the tip.

But, at twenty-five quid a pop, I’m guessing it probably won’t be long before the verges our local lanes become even more cluttered with household detritus.

Apr 05 2014

I do wonder sometimes…

070316-0339I took a selfie yesterday.

Yeah, I’m up with the modern vernacular.

We are having new ID cards at work, see, and I was asked to provide a passport-type photo of myself.

I took a couple of photos and transferred them to the PC, to be cropped and edited.

It was then that I noticed a big red spot on my nose. I’d felt it earlier in the day, but didn’t realise it was that prominent.  I couldn’t send in a picture of myself looking like that!

And so, vainly, I did a little Photoshopping and edited it out.

Much better.

I was telling the current Mrs Masher about it yesterday evening. She looked carefully at my nose.

“Well, you didn’t do a very good job”, she said, “I can still see it.”

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