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.”

Mar 28 2014

… and now for something completely different

Stuck in traffic, on the way home through Milton Keynes t’other day, I decided to take a detour.

Believing that my sense of direction (something that has been proven faulty many, many times) would get me on a better route home, I decided to ignore the advice of my sat-nav bird and I took the third exit at the roundabout instead of the second, which had a trail of red tail lights as far as you could see..

“Go back”, she warned me, “You’re going the wrong way.” I ignored her and carried on.

“Make a u-turn… for chris’sakes, make a fucking u-turn!” I pressed on regardless and before long I had absolutely no idea where I was.

I made a u-turn.

My journey back to the congestion of the A421, took me through a couple of little villages that I’d never heard of, and as I passed through a little place called Gawcott, I spotted an old K6 type telephone box. You don’t see many of them on the streets nowadays, since BT decommissioned most of them.

But, as I drove slowly past this one, I noticed something different about it and just had to stop and take a couple of photos.

It had been turned into the village library.

gawc01

gawc02

gawc03

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a marvelous idea.

Mar 25 2014

Or, maybe I’m just an old fart

TxtI’m currently working in a team with three other blokes. They’re a good bunch and they’re good at what they do.

And they are all – it must be said – much younger than me. Well, a bit. As such, social media plays a large part in their daily lives.

All carry iPhones – phone of choice for the social media ninjas – and all have double-jointed thumbs, allowing them to type at furious speeds.

At lunch time, we sit down to eat our sandwiches. We sit in silence: them with their heads down, eyes glued to their 4.8″ screens, sandwich in one hand and phone in the other, and me, generally watching them with mild amusement.

Hardly a word is said throughout: the only sounds being that of food being munched and the constant pinging and beeping of text alerts and Facebook updates coming in.

Twenty minutes later, we’ll return to work, having not discussed Arsenal’s abysmal performance over the weekend, or the latest episode of Top Gear, or that girl with the huge knockers who walked past earlier… you know, the general blokey chat that used to be the norm before we had these distractions.

It seems to me that, ironically, mobile phones are killing the art of conversation.

Mar 21 2014

Cars

car chaseThis week I have been working in Hannington, which is sort of between Basingstoke and Newbury.  It’s only 80 miles away, so I travel each day rather than stay over.

Yes, only 80 miles, but it still takes me hours to get there each morning (three hours on Monday) because the M25 is a bastard… even at 6:30 in the morning.

And, I stop off at Fleet services on the M3 each day… because I have the bladder of a small boy.

Earlier this week, I couldn’t help but notice as I pulled into Fleet Services car park, that a big chunk of it had been cordoned off and was full of movie industry vehicles. I knew they were movie industry vehicles, because they were big and white and had the words Movie Industry written on them.

The next day, they were still there. Intrigued as to what they were doing, I checked with my local source (the girl on the till at Waitrose). Apparently, they were there to shoot a car chase scene for the BBC TV series Interceptor.

A car chase scene.

In Fleet Services car park.

That’s going to be one to watch out for.

Mar 16 2014

Perchance to dream

homer-sleep1Aye, there’s the rub.

It’s 5.30 on a Sunday morning and I’m sitting here writing a blog post because sleep eludes me.

It’s my own fault.

I set my alarm for 5.50 so that I could watch the first F1 Grand Prix of the season on my free-to-watch satellite system. The alarm went off and I staggered downstairs, put the kettle on and switched on the telly,  turning the sound down to mute the German commentry.

Then I turned on the radio, just in time to hear the presenter say “… and we’ll be back with you in an hour for the start of the race.”

I checked the time and realised that I’d set the alarm a whole hour early.

Numpty.

So, I thought I’d grab another hour’s kip and laid out on the sofa.

Not a chance. Once I’m awake, I’m awake.

That’s why yesterday – and every other Saturday – I was up at 4.30.  The current Mrs Masher does an early shift on a Saturday, see,  and the alarm is set for 04.00.

And as I say, once I’m awake…

Of course, Mrs M doesn’t help matters: if I have to get up at stupid o’clock – as I occasionally do – I will ready myself quietly, getting dressed in the dark and tip-toeing about. Not Mrs M. Once I’ve spent ten minutes nudging her to get up, she will eventually drag herself out of bed, moaning about how tired she is, she’ll have a quick wash and then on goes the hairdryer. Then she’ll come back into the bedroom and turn the lights on so she can see to get dressed… a routine that takes much huffing and puffing and drawer slamming.

I’ll lay there for a bit, and then I’ll get up.

Fortunately, I like the mornings. I’m a morning person. I enjoy catching a sunrise, and, looking out the window, I can see one coming right now.

But, it’s time to get up proper now, because I have a race to catch.

C’mon Jenson!

 

Mar 14 2014

eek!

Last night was one of our BT get-togethers and, as per usual, I caught the free train home.

Alighting at Leagrave, I waved goodbye to Abbo, turned my collar up against the chill night air and set off to walk the remainder of the journey home. If I walk at a brisk pace, I can do it in twenty minutes, but, if I’ve had a few then I tend to walk at a slightly slower pace, adding five mins or so to my journey.

Last night, after four pints of Tuborg, I was in ambling mode and was looking at a half hour walk.  I didn’t mind and, in truth – because I’m tight – I’d rather walk than pay some licenced bandit in a taxi to drive me home.

It was a still night and there was no-one around as I walked along the road. The quiet of the early hours was broken only by the occasional car going past; the sound of the tyres on the road generally being louder than the engine noise.

At one point, two cars went past together, one of them playing very loud music and I tried to guess what was being played from the boom boom that was resonating from it. No chance. It was difficult to hear it anyway over the sound of eight tyres on the noisy tarmac.

As the cars vanished around the corner, the noise of their tyres was replaced with another sound: footsteps.

Quick, running footsteps; very close and approaching me from behind.

They were almost upon me when I  suddenly whirled round to confront whoever it was, that I was sure was about to attack me with a pick-axe handle.

I’m not sure who was more startled: me or the lycra covered jogger in a high-viz vest who was only about two feet from me by now.

“Sorry, mate”, he said, pulling one of the iPod earphones out of his ear as he jogged past me. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”

My heart was probably going faster than his at that point. “That’s alright…”, I said, adding “… you dozy fucker!” once he was safely out of earshot.

Who the bloody hell goes jogging at one in the morning?

Mar 11 2014

Hot, hot, hot

hotradiatorI did it: I got in a professional.

We had a new boiler fitted last year and in order to retain its five-year guarantee we have to have it serviced by a registered heating engineer (plumber).

And so I booked him to come visit on Friday afternoon.

Thursday evening, the boiler started playing up: wouldn’t fire up and heat the water. The fault code on the front panel meant nothing, as we’d managed to lose the handbook when the kitchen got renovated and the contents of the junk drawer amazingly disappeared in a puff of spring cleaning. It was just as well Super Plumber Man was coming the following day.

He arrived on time and I explained the situation to him. He looked at it all and declared the boiler to be fit as a fiddle. “That fault code means there is no water circulating, so your pump has probably gone”.

I thought this unlikely, as I could hear the pump whirring. In fact, everyone could hear the pump whirring: it’s got a lot noisier of late.

SPM looked in the airing cupboard and as soon as he saw the pipework he pointed an accusing finger at a particular joint. “There”, he said, almost Yoda-like, “Blockage in pipe have you. A hundred pounds would I bet on it. Also, your pump’s knackered… ‘ark at those bearings!” He then fetched a magnet and waved it over the pipe, nodding his head, sagely. “Yup, definitely a blockage, I can feel it.”

He apologised that he wouldn’t be able to sort it there and then, but that he would have to come back on Monday. After he’d gone, I grabbed a magnet and ran it over the pipes, just as he had. I couldn’t feel anything: no pulling or tugging; no tingling sensation. Hmmm, was this a bit of plumber’s blarney, I wondered.

Fortunately, the weather was good over the weekend, so we weren’t in need of too much heating and SPM returned yesterday as promised.

He removed the suspect bit of pipe and over the sink he tipped water into it. Nothing came out the far end: it was indeed badly blocked. A bit of poking and prodding with a long screwdiver and suddenly a whole load of cack filled the sink and the water starting running through OK.

Oh, how could I have doubted Super Plumber Man?

He then fitted the new pump – same make as the old one that has lasted us nearly twenty years – and suddenly we had heating.  Boy, did we have heating!  Our radiators have never got so hot, so quick! And even the errant radiator in the downstairs toilet got hot.

On top of all that, SPM charged much less than I thought he would. I actually wanted to pay him more.

It’s hard to find good, trustworthy tradesmen these days, but Super Plumber Man and his Yoda-like abilities is going straight into my personal Trust-a-Trader book.

Mar 06 2014

Rotten Apple

applelogoPeople wot know me, will also know that I’m not a big fan of Apple.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against their products: the iPod; the iPhone; the iPad, they’ve all been superb products that have been game changers in the industry. They’re not for me though, because I don’t have an iLife… I prefer to choose from a range of the latest phones and not just the iPhone 5 or 5s.

Etc.

But, as I say, I have nothing against their products: which all work well and are, undeniably, iconically sexy.

It’s the company itself, I don’t like.  They seem like bully boys and, being as big as they are, they have some clout behind them.  Big? No single company should have more money than the USA, surely (OK, that was true in 2011, I dunno if it’s still the case).

And they take lawsuits out for anything they see as even the most minor of infringements on their copyrights – I fully expect the Apple police to be round shortly, asking me to remove the image at the top of this post.

And they have soooo many patents protecting their ‘intellectual property’ that I’m sure it must be stifling innovation from other companies.

I’m convinced they’re trying to take over the world.

And then I read this article this morning, and it just gave me even more reason to dislike them.

Mar 01 2014

28 days and 32 years

Ham RadioWell, there you have it: 28 days and 28 posts.

There were times when I didn’t think I’d make it and I often struggled  to come up with something worthwhile to write about –  and it showed – but we got there in the end.  And, all in all, it probably wasn’t as difficult as it felt it would be at the start.

I’d like to thank Mr Jones for keeping me company this past month and like to thank you both for reading the drivel wot I write.

But here’s something interesting: yesterday afternoon, as I was seated in front of the PC composing my final post, I had a brief chat with a chap I heard calling out on the radio.

He told me his name was Dick and whilst we chatted, I looked him up on QRZ.com – the radio amateur’s online address book.

His surname looked familiar and I felt I knew him, but I couldn’t quite place when or where.

And then the penny dropped. This was the chap who had actually taught me amateur radio all those years ago!

Back in 1981/82, when I was studying for my RAE by doing a 1-year stint of evening classes at the local college, Dick had been my tutor. And he must have been a good one, because I passed!

I haven’t spoken to him since I got my certificate, 32 years ago, so it’s somewhat apt that the first time we meet again, it’s on the radio.

Feb 28 2014

Johnny one-star

Five starsWhen I buy something – almost anything – either online or at the shops, I always tend do some research first.

And one of the best ways, I have found, is to read the reviews of others who have already bought my intended purchase.  If ninety-nine people out of a hundred have already bought it and are happy with it, then the chances are that I will be too.

But, I’ll always take the time to scroll down and read that one reviewer that has given it only one star. Because that person is usually a complete numpty and his views are laughable.

Amazon is one of the best places for review reading, but I do read others too. Here are a few numpty type examples:

HDMI cable – for an earlier post, I did a little research and read the reviews for several different makes. One make in particular received very good reviews, receiving mainly 5 stars from each reviewer. But one person gave it only 1-star. Why? “It’s a good cable, but it isn’t long enough.” Numpty!  Buy a longer cable! Don’t bad mouth the cable because you chose the wrong length!

Anti-virus software – I was looking at a particular brand of this software (I won’t mention it here) and noticed it had received very good reviews, giving it an average of 4 stars out of 5.  One of the single star ratings said “Don’t buy this software! I installed it and it deleted all my Word documents, including the thesis for my PhD that I’d been working on for the past 6-months.”  Numpty!  First of all, over 600 people have reviewed this software and not one of them has had this problem. Could the problem be elsewhere maybe? Secondly, no need to worry about your thesis: just use the backup copy, you know, the one that you diligently made because This Was Your THESIS!

Sony Blu-Ray Player – Plenty of favourable reviews had me thinking that this was the player for me. Then I read the 1-star review: This particular chap gave it a bad review because the delivery driver had left it on his doorstep and it had then rained and completely soaked the box and the player inside, rendering it useless.  He had then gone onto Amazon’s website and given the Blu-Ray player a 1-star review, as a result.

What. A. Fucking. Numpty.

Older posts «