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.

Feb 27 2014

Waiting

trackYesterday was a day of frustration.

Yesterday was the day I started on the install phase of the current project that I’m working on.

All the kit, from several different companies, was being sent to site by several different couriers.

I arrived on site at 8:30 along with the rest of the team.  We did a quick recce to familiarise ourselves with what needed doing and then we waited for the kit to arrive.

We waited.

Then we waited a bit more.

At 11 o’clock, a huge 17 tonne lorry turned up with the first delivery. Even though we’d specified to the courier that a Luton box van would be the most sensible vehicle to use and certainly nothing bigger  than a 7.5 tonne should attempt it, this 17 tonner trundled it’s way along the narrow track the led to the site. That’s the track in the picture above. There is nowhere to turn round a vehicle that big and so, the driver then had to reverse it the half a mile back up the track, negotiating an S bend as he did so.  I offered to see him back, but he said he’d be fine.  And he was.  Took him a while, but he did it.  Amazing.  Jeez, I’d have struggled to reverse my car up there!

Unfortunately, the bits he delivered weren’t anything we could be getting on with and so we waited around a bit more.

At midday, a van pulled up with some cable on it and then half an hour later another van with some ironwork.  At last, something we could actually get on with.

We put the ironwork up, which took about an hour and then we waited for the next delivery.

About 2pm, a small truck turned up and unloaded a load of equipment for us. Marvellous. If only we had some racks to fit it all in to.

And so we waited for the racks.

And we waited.

By 4.30 we’d decided that the racks were obviously not coming.  I phoned the boss to explain. She wasn’t happy and got straight onto the courier firm. She phoned me back ten minutes later. “It’s on its way. Should be with you by 5.15″, she said.

And so we waited another three-quarters of an hour.

5.15 came and went.

So did 5.20.

As did 5.25.

By 5.30 I’d had enough. It was almost dark and we were freezing cold. I phoned the boss again and told her we’d had enough and were going home. She agreed and phoned the courier to tell them it wasn’t good enough and that she wanted the racks delivered the following day on a pre-10am delivery.

They arrived this morning… at about 10:15.

Close enough.

So, there you have it: first day on the new job and I reckon about 20% of it was spent actually working, the rest was just standing around with our hands in our pockets and drinking tea.

Reminds me of when I used to work for BT.

 

Feb 26 2014

i DID it!

DesertIslandDiscsFor a few years now, I’ve often thought about doing a Desert Islands Discs post – most especially during the past couple of Februarys.  But I’ve found it pretty difficult to do.

So, this year I have made a concerted effort and I have given it lots of thought over the past several weeks and I think I’ve managed to come up with a list that – should Kirsty Young send me an invite – I’m reasonably happy to go with.

My musical tastes vary a lot, depending on what sort of mood I’m in and sometimes I have gone for weeks without listening to a single tune, happy just to immerse myself into the weird and, sometimes, wonderful world of talk radio and podcasts.

But, if I did find myself marooned on a desert island, having only had seconds to grab eight pieces of music before the ferry sank to the bottom of the English Channel, then I think I’d be reasonably happy with this selection.

1. The Planet Suite by Holst.  Well, I don’t think – under the rules – I’d be allowed to take the entire suite, so I’ll settle for one piece: the ever popular Jupiter.  This is a piece of music that always raises my spirits; a joyful piece that I’ll often play in the car when I’m stuck in a traffic jam and if I were on a desert island, I’m sure it would help to lift me out of the doldrums.

2. Thin Line Between Love And Hate by The Pretenders.  The first time I heard this, I fell in love with Chrissie Hynde’s voice and went straight out and bought the album. I’d never done that before and I’m not I’ve done it since. A beautiful song that I can listen to again and again.

3. Who Are You by The Who. It was around 1978 when I heard this played on the radio. I was in my first job from school: repairing electronic calculators. Yes, back then, the humble pocket calculator was expensive enough that people would send them in for repair when they broke. And I can remember sitting at my workbench, working away, thinking “Wow! This is fantastic!”  My long-term love affair with the band started at that point.

4. Fly me To The Moon by Julie London.  I don’t know why, but this is one of my all-time favourites. And you’ll note that it’s not the famous version by Frank Sinatra. The song has been covered by many and I don’t know where or when Julie London’s version first entered my consciousness, but it’s been stuck there ever since. I have this on CD at home, as an MP3 on my portable wireless device and also in the car.  Never leave home without it.

5. Kashmir by Bond.  Although I don’t like all their stuff, I’m quite partial to a bit of Led Zeppelin. One of my favourite Zepp tracks is the iconic Kashmir. This has been covered by many a band but, when I heard the version by the classical girl group, Bond, I knew that was the one for me. I think it actually sounds better without the lyrics.

6. Rendezvous II by Jean Michel Jarre.  Unlike most of his compatriots, this Frenchman could do no wrong in my eyes. I used to be a huge fan and owned many of his albums.  I chose this particular track, because I went to see him when he did his concert in the Docklands, back in the late eighties. Despite the appalling weather, I was absolutely entranced by the spectacle of the music and the lights and the lasers and the fireworks. And when the choir kicked in halfway through the track, all the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I had the nearest thing I could ever have to – what I can only imagine would be – a religious experience.

7. I Think I’m Paranoid by Garbage. Shirley Manson and her band were big in the late nineties and I was such a fan I bought their CD. They released plenty of singles that I liked, but Paranoid was a real favourite and there’s a reason for that. But I can’t tell you. Sorry.

8. Symphony 7 #2 by Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven is, without a doubt, my most favouritist of all composers and choosing just one piece from his huge canon is almost impossible.  But the piece I’ve opted for is the second movement from his seventh symphony – possibly my favourite out of the nine he did. Except for the third symphony, because that’s my favourite too. And the sixth. And we can’t forget the fifth, of course. Hey, they’re all good. But this particular piece haunts me; gets deep inside my brain and sticks there whenever I hear it. And I don’t mind that, because it’s wonderful.

There, I’ve done it: eight pieces of music  to keep me company whilst I whittle a raft out of coconut leaves and discarded plastic polypins. As I said, this time next year – or even next month – my preferences could well have changed, but for now, I think I’d be happy to be marooned with that lot.

Feb 25 2014

HDMI

hdmi cableWe bought Amelia a new telly the other day. Having picked the one we wanted, from Curry’s, I then had to get an assistant to get one for me.

I grabbed the attention of a spotty faced youth and explained what I wanted. He had an absolutely enormous yellow-headed spot on his forehead that looked like it was ready to blow at any time. He was also a bit of a cocky know-it-all, but all the time I was talking to him, I was struggling to take my eyes off the Mount Vesuvius just above his right eye.

He nipped out the back and returned a minute later with a my telly under his arm.  ”Fuck me”, I thought, “they’ve actually got one in stock. How rare.”

As we walked toward the tills, he asked me what the TV would be used for and I explained it was for my daughter, so that she could watch some telly on Freeview, but that she would also be using it with her Xbox. “Ahh”, said the acne covered herbert, “you’ll be needing an HDMI cable then. It’ll give you a much better picture.”

“Good point”, I agreed.

As it was, we just happened to be passing a stand that was festooned  with various cables and connectors. We stopped in front of it and I picked up the cheapest HDMI cable there  - about 7 quid, I think it was.  Spotty pointed to a branded cable that was about 30 pounds. “This is a better one”, he said. “It’ll give you better picture and sound quality than that one.”

I took the cable from the stand and looked at it. Sure enough, the blurb on the packaging purported that it would do just that.

“That’s a load of rubbish”, I said.”It’s a digital signal. The only way this cheaper cable could provide a worse picture than that one would, would be if it was so bad that the picture actually started to break up or not actually be there at all. In which case, this cheaper cable wouldn’t be fit for purpose and you shouldn’t be selling it.”

There was a short pause. “OK, the cheaper one it is”, he said, taking the cable from me and continuing toward the tills. He seemed to have the hump with me a bit and I’m wondering whether he was on some sort of commission to sell that particular cable.

Moral of the story? Don’t be duped by the great HDMI scam, people. If you have two pieces of equipment that need connecting via a HDMI cable, then nine times out of ten, a cheaper cable will suffice, especially if it’s only a short one of 1.5m or so. Longer cables will have more loss, so if you need one, it’s probably worth spending a little bit more money and getting a decent one.

HDMI has several different revisions, the latest being 1.4a, which should work with just about anything you want to connect it to.  Look on Amazon: their cheapest 1.4a cable is less than a fiver and has hundreds of satisfied users.

Don’t spend more than you need to.

Oh, and the cheap cable that I bought? It’s plugged in between Amelia’s new telly and her Xbox and it works absolutely fine.

Just as it should.

Feb 24 2014

Lego

legomovieIt’s been a fairly busy weekend… not that I’ve done a great deal, but it has flown by nonetheless.

We had surprise family visitors last Wednesday afternoon and Josh – 8 year-old cousin to Amelia and Harry – was having such a great time playing with the kids he asked if he could stay to tea.

And so he did. And that then became a sleepover.

For three nights.

To be fair, he wasn’t a problem at all, but I found it difficult catering for and trying to amuse three kids instead of the usual two.

When I took him home on Saturday afternoon, his mum reciprocated by taking my two off my hands for several hours.  After having three of them running round the house, it was really nice to have some quiet time for a bit.

And then young Mr Jones turned up on his big, yellow motorcycle and we took tea and chatted for a bit… which was most pleasant. Being a bit of a computer whizz, I asked him about my email problem. He took a look and declared it to be worse than I’d originally thought, but he also made a few suggestions, so hopefully…

That evening – still child-free – the current Mrs Masher and I took a stroll up to our local and enjoyed a very palatable meal. It was a really nice – and very rare – treat for the two of us to spend some quality time together.

On Sunday, we took the kids to the pictures to see The Lego Movie. It was a very funny film with lots of the humour going over the kids’ heads, as usual. It was also very well done. But most of all, it was a HUGE advert for Lego.

That last point was made even more obvious as we walked back through town and we walked past a toy shop who’s window was stacked to the brim with all the paraphernalia and boxes of bricks for much of what we’d seen in the film. Harry just stopped and stared at the window, his mouth wide open.

I can see that seeing that film is going to cost us a bloody fortune in the long run.

Feb 23 2014

Having a pony

horseandcartWe were sitting watching telly when Harry jumped up and went to leave the room. “Where’re you off to?” I asked.

“The toilet,” he said, matter-of-factly, “I need a number one.”

He needed a wee.

Now, I understand why kids refer to taking a dump as having a number two: it’s a polite way of saying “I’m going for a shit”, and I’d be upset if he said that.  But I don’t understand this number one business.

OK, they’re euphemisms that are used to describe our toiletry functions and are mainly used by – and for – children, but why number one and two?

I’m guessing that number two came about first, as taking a crap is the… er, less delightful of the two.

But where did that actual phrase come from… number two?

I’m guessing that it’s simply because it rhymes. Rhyming slang is oft used to disguise an ill-mannered phrase.

Doing a poo – Number Two!

It’s obvious! So, surely – based on that logic – taking a piss shouldn’t be a number one.

Having a wee – Number Three!

And I’ve explained this logic to Harry, but he won’t have it, because he – and all the other kids at school – already refer to it as a number one.

And I think that’s a bit Anne Frank.

 

Feb 22 2014

So

so“So, what we found when we looked at how sodium atoms realign…”

“So, the first thing we did was to…”

“So, several members of the band decided that we should…”

I don’t know if you’ve noticed  - but I have – there seems to be a trend at the moment for people to start their sentences with the word “so”.  Mainly, in answer to a question:

“How did you know that you’d actually found the elusive Higgs Boson particle?”

“So, we analysed all the data coming from the…”

And I’m finding it really annoying.

But, it’s not just in response to questions; I hear a lot of TV and radio broadcasters use it when they pose their questions or statements:

“So, Lewis, at what point did you realise you’d won the race?”

“So, Ant and Dec win the “Best Geordie Couple” prize for the fifth year in a row”

So, so, so.

I’m not finding it as annoying as “Can I get…”, at least, not yet, but it probably won’t be long.

So, what do you think?

 

Feb 21 2014

I’m a dirty spammer

Spam email… and you should hate me for it.

But please don’t.

Y’see, it appears my email address has been spoofed. Some naughty sod is using it in the From: field of a load of spam that he is sending out.

I say ‘he’, but it could well be a ‘she’… or even an ‘it’. Either way, they are a bit of a git.

I’ve enabled SPF and DKIM on my email server thing, but it’s a case of shutting the stable door a bit too late, I think. I don’t know if SPF and DKIM would do any good anyway… cos I don’t know what they are to tell the truth.

But, it appears that lots of people that I don’t know are getting spam mails with my address on them.

So, they probably think that I’m the one who is a bit of a git.

But I’m not: my email address has been stolen and is being used for nefarious purposes.

And there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

 

Oh, and today’s Fun Fact: The Statue of Liberty wears size 879 shoes!

Feb 20 2014

Bloody hell

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs you are probably both aware, I have been a blood donor for a long time.

My last donation was at the beginning of December, last year. About a week after donating, I received a letter asking if I could go back and give another sample, as there was some anomaly with my last donation.

Hmmm… slightly worrying.

I duly made an appointment to go down to the donor centre, but, due to work commitments and holidays, I didn’t manage get down there till the week after Christmas.

The nurse took two test tubes of blood and said I shouldn’t worry, as it was probably just a cock up on the sample front.

But, I did worry. Because I’m a worrier.

Just into the new year and I received another letter from the National Blood Service, which said I had an abnormal Hct level and I should visit my doctor. Meantime, the letter went on, I wasn’t allowed to give blood for twelve months.

Hmm… a bit worrying, that.

And so, I made an appointment to see my doctor and managed to see him straightaway.

I showed him the letter. He read it and turned to his computer. Then he explained that an “abnormal Hct level” could mean anything and as the blood test had been done at the donor labs and not the local hospital, he had no record of the results. He didn’t know if it was abnormally high or abnormally low.  Anyway, he said, I shouldn’t worry about it.

But I was worried and I told him so. If there’s no reason to worry, why have I been banned from giving blood for a year?

He hummed acquiescently and agreed that I should probably have another blood test. I could have it at the hospital where there is always a huge queue that takes several hours to be dealt with, or, I could have the surgery nurse do it and it would take just ten minutes.  I opted for the latter, obviously.

When I tried to make an appointment for the nurse, it turned out she was only available on a Friday. That suited me fine.

On the Friday I went and gave my sample.  Just over a week later, I got a letter with the blue NHS logo on the front. I opened it warily.

It explained that I needed to go for another blood test; a fasting glucose one.

Of course, the first thing I did was look on t’internet. A fasting glucose test, I learnt, was used to diagnose several different disorders, but the one word that jumped out at me was Diabetes.

OK, now I really WAS getting worried.

I made an appointment and went to see the nurse.” It’ll take about a week to get the results”, she said.

A week passed and I received a phone call. It was the nurse again. “Can you come and give another sample? Apparently that one was no good.”

No good?  No good! What did she mean “No good”?

I went down to the surgery yet again. By now, the hypochondriac in me was running at full steam ahead. I was convinced that I must have diabetes.

“It’ll take about a week to get the results”, she told me again, needlessly. “I don’t know why they branded the last sample as being no good. But I wouldn’t worry.”

No, you wouldn’t, would you? But I am!

And so, I’ve been eagerly reading reports and articles about diabetes. There is no cure, but there are several things that can be done to mitigate its debilitating progress and so I’ve already started on one of them.

Then yesterday, I realised that it had been well over two weeks since I’d given the last sample.  No news is good news, I suppose. But then, what if there was something wrong and the doctor HAD written to me, but the letter had fallen foul of the Royal Mail?

And so, today, I rang the surgery, only to be told that the doctor had looked at my results and had declared that – after all that – there was nothing wrong with me.

All that worry… for nothing.

I’m wondering if I should ask for a second opinion.

 

Feb 19 2014

Tech s’port

geekA short while ago, I bought an external hard drive for use as a backup device.

A Western Digital “My Passport Ultra”

Apart from the name, I liked everything about this drive: speed; software; looks; size and price.

In fact, I liked it so much that, yesterday, I decided to get another one, and as PC World were doing them at the same price as Amazon, I decided to get it from there.

This particular drive is available in several colours, and so I opted for a red one this time, to differentiate it from my earlier purchase.

Whilst the assistant went off to get one from “out the back”, I found myself glancing over a different Western Digital drive – an earlier model.  I’d looked at this previously, but had discounted it as the Ultra had better software, offering auto backup and it had cloud backup facilities, along with hardware encryption. Anyway, it was only a few quid more.

“Can I help you, sir?” said a young chap sidling up to me, resplendent in the PC World livery of purple and yellow.  His name badge had the moniker “Alec” printed on it in faded black lettering.

I decided to play dumb – not too difficult a task. “Er, yes”, I said, “I was wondering what the difference is between these two drives. They look almost exactly the same, but the Ultra is a bit dearer.”

“They’re exactly the same”, he said, “The only difference is that you can get the Ultra in different colours.”

“Oh”, I said, “Is that all ? That’s a bit daft, isn’t it?” At that point, the other assistant returned with my red Ultra and beckoned me to follow her to the till. Alec saw what she was carrying.

“If you want to change that for this cheaper model, it’s not a problem”, he said.

“No thanks”, I said, as I headed toward the checkout, ” I like red. And besides I want to try the software and cloud backup facilities on this one.”

As I stood at the till, I turned back to see Alec with a hard drive box in each hand, earnestly studying the difference between the two.

Perhaps when next I visit, he’ll be wearing a name badge that says “Smarter Alec”.

 

Feb 18 2014

Win win

Well, it’s Mrs Masher’s birthday today.

I played safe and got her a voucher for NEXT. Can’t go far wrong there.

And tonight, I took her out for a meal, which she thoroughly enjoyed. Hey, hang the diet for one day!

And I bought her some car mats.

For her car.

Because she needed some.

And I just happened to be in Halfords perusing the socket sets.

So, all in all, a success I feel.  She’s happy because she gets to go shopping. Again.

And I’m happy because I bought her something practical that she actually needs.

 

Feb 17 2014

Out of my comfort zone

This week, I am mostly being a planner.

The job that I am currently doing for the BBC has been delayed slightly and so the boss asked if I would go down to Winnersh this week and assist with a different project.

The team I am helping are in the planning department and so I am having to learn how to drive GIS, which is basically a computer driven mapping system.

And it’s hard. I’ve never worked with anything like this before and it has quite a steep learning curve.

But, I’m getting the hang of it.

I think.

As an engineer, I – like most other engineers – continually moan about the information that is supplied to us from various planning departments. It usually has inconsistencies and inaccuracies and will occasionally bear no resemblance at all to whatever it is we are trying to put together.  I’ve often said that it would benefit everyone greatly, if the planners were made to spend a week helping the engineers.

They would see the problems that we have first hand and would bear them in mind when they produce their next job pack. This would result in better plans and drawings and instructions and materials ordered.

Spending a week as a planner (OK, it’s my first day), I can see how it might also benefit if it was tried the other way round. Engineers would better understand the issues and the limitations that the planners have to work with and would perhaps not be so quick to criticise.

As the saying goes: Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.

Because then, you’ll be a mile away.

And you’ll have his shoes.

Oh, and my journey to Winnersh was a delight this morning: The M25 is a completely different beast when the kids are off school!

Feb 16 2014

All shopped out

i-really-hate-shoppingIt’s the current Mrs Masher’s birthday in a couple of days and so, as she wasn’t overly enthused by the Screwfix voucher I gave her last year, I agreed that we’d go out today and she could choose,

Unsurprisingly, she didn’t want to look in Screwfix, despite them having a whole new range of stuff.

B&Q was also out of the question, apparently, as was Homebase, despite them having a sale on some of their power tools.

We ended up in the new retail park in Milton Keynes.  Marks & Spencer; NEXT; BHS; Primark. She was loving it… as was Amelia. Harry and I dragged our feet, following them in and out of the shops.

We went in all the shops. Some of them more than once. We went into NEXT twice and M&S three times!

Two hours we spent there, in and out the shops; up and down the escalators and yet we came home empty handed.

Well, not quite. Harry got some new tee-shirts and Amelia now has enough socks to last her a lifetime… well, till next month probably, the way she goes through them.

But Mrs M ended up with nothing. “They haven’t got anything”.

Apparently.

It’s her birthday in two days and that socket set that I saw on sale in Halfords, is looking mighty tempting.

Feb 15 2014

I got a house point!

IMG_2640Sticking with the school theme…

Amelia came up to me in the week as I was sitting in the shack. “I wanna build something”, she said.

“Like what?”, I asked.

“I dunno”, she said, “You’re the creative one. You’re always building stuff. Can’t you think of something for me to build?”

Me? Creative?

“No. I’ll help you, but if you want to build something, you have to come up with your own idea.”

She went off in a huff and I continued soldering a new backup battery into my old handheld radio in the hope it would now start to remember it’s channel plan (it didn’t, but that’s another story).

Five minutes later she returned. “Yesterday we  were learning about circuits in class…” and she went on to tell me – in great detail, as she always does – that they had made a circuit with a battery and a switch and a bulb.  I got her to draw the circuit out for me, to make sure she had remembered it.

Satisfied that she had, I suggested she could build something along similar lines, but a little more involved.

And so, I spent the next few hours putting something together that was reusable and that she could then practice building simple circuits on (picture above), and then I showed her how to do it.

She cocked it all up at first, but after a couple of attempts – OK, about 20 – she got there and managed to wire up something that flashed a different colour LED when the corresponding button is pressed.

Excited, she took it to school yesterday and showed her teacher, who then suggested she should show it to the Headmaster.

He was most impressed and awarded her the “Head Teacher’s Award” – just a sticker, basically, but she is well chuffed and now wants to go on and build lots more things… things that are well beyond her capability.

We’ll take it one tiny step at a time, I think.

Feb 14 2014

Every day is a school day

I was working from home today.
No, I was. I was actually working. I get the chance to do that sometimes.

It was also an opportunity for me to go into class with Harry.

The school often has mornings where the parents are invited – nay, encouraged to come in to spend some time seeing how the kids are doing and what they are learning and as I’ve been working away so much I’ve never really had the opportunity to do so. So, today, I took an hour out (forty minutes, actually) and spent some time in class. Just me and two other parents.

But I learnt stuff.

I learnt about 2A sentences: “He was a tall, awkward man who wore faded, brown jacket…”  This is where the kids are shown that using two consecutive adjectives before a noun, gives a better description of the character.

I also learnt about 3…ed sentences: “Scared, worried, disturbed, the children ran away as fast as they could.” Using three words in a row, ending in ‘ed’, gives a strong sense of the emotional state of the character(s).

Teacher asked us all (parents and pupils) to write some example. I found the first quite easy to do, but I struggled a bit with the second. Two ‘ed’ words are plenty, I reckon!

But I learnt something else too:

“Harry’s teacher was a tall, attractive lady with a strong, commanding voice. Impressed, stimulated and aroused, I left the school with a smile on my face (see what I did there?).

Oh, and I nearly forgot that today is Fun Fact Friday. So, here is Fun Fact Friday’s Fun Fact:

If you have a pizza with a radius of  Z  and a thickness of  A  then you can calculate it’s volume with the formula:

π z² a or if we simplify: PI x Z x Z x A

Cool, eh?

Feb 13 2014

Ahoy hoy

Why don’t people just say “Hello” anymore?

Nowadays, a basic greeting, even in passing, has to be along the lines of:

“Hi”

“Hi  there. You alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine thanks.  You alright?”

“Yeah, I’m OK.”

“Good. See you later.”

“Yeah, see you later”

In fact, that very conversation takes place every time I take the kids to school and I hurry past one of the parents that I know, as I am going into the school and she is coming out.  By the time we have finished exchanging greetings, we are almost out of earshot of each other and we are having to shout!

And, does she really care if I’m “alright”?

If – when she asked – I answered in the negative and stopped her in her tracks and poured out my woes and worries, would they fall on sympathetic ears?

Would she really be bothered that already that morning I had stubbed my toe on the end of the bed as I got up; run out of Sugar Puffs for the kid’s breakfasts and had had to leg it up the corner shop to buy an overly expensive but inferior brand of said cereal and, as a direct result, had not had time to perform a proper bowel movement?

No, I doubt she would. Because she – like me –  is in a bloody hurry, because, having dropped the kids off at school, we now have to fight our way through rush hour traffic to get to work.

OK, I know it’s said out of politeness, but wouldn’t it be easier if she just said “Hello”?

Feb 12 2014

Sartorial elegance

PBI’m not one for dressing up. Never have been, really.

I don’t mind – on the odd occasion – squeezing myself into a suit… y’know, for weddings and stuff, but generally, no.

And I’ve never been one for designer clothes. The labels mean little to me.  Kids today seem to spend a fortune on their clothes and I can’t really understand it. And, I can’t help feeling they are being ripped off.

I was at a family function t’other day and my sister pointed out that her youngest son (18) was wearing a shirt that cost £80. That’s right: eighty quid!  It was a nice shirt and he looked very smart in it, but… eighty quid? Really? He could have got a nice one from BHS for half that!

I remember, as a kid and even as a teenager, at birthdays and Christmas, if I was given an item of clothing as a gift, I was sorely disappointed. I would have been much happier with a gift voucher from Tandy.  Really I would.

Even today though, I have to pretend to be pleased when the current Mrs M buys me a new polo shirt, or whatever, when in reality, I’m not overly fussed about it. Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful, just not excited about it.

But, it’s just as well that she does buy clothes for me, because I can’t be bothered. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I bought myself a polo shirt. Or a tee shirt.

Or any shirt, for that matter.

And – of course – I have my favourites. I have a wardrobe that is full to the brim with clothes, but I tend to wear the same ones all the time. As long as they don’t have holes in, I’ll get my money’s worth out of them.

This particular point was brought home a couple of weeks back. It was Harry’s birthday and Amelia asked if she could see some photos of him from when he was a baby. We sat down at the computer and I showed her his very first photo: me holding him when he was just an hour old.

She giggled and then pointed at the screen. “You’re wearing the same polo shirt in the photo as what you have on today!”, she laughed.

And, indeed, I was.

Harry has just turned nine… but he still isn’t as old as my summer collection.

Feb 11 2014

Electrickery

electrickeryOver the last few weeks, our lights at home have been flickering.

Not all the time, just intermittently, and I’ve struggled to find the cause.

Then, last night, they started flickering quite badly – to the point where Amelia came running downstairs convinced that we were haunted. Mrs M was cooking dinner on the recently installed hob and so we wondered if that could be the cause. It certainly seemed to be as the hob itself then started to powering itself on and off rapidly, in time with the lights.

I turned it off at the isolator switch and all seemed OK.  ”I’ll have a look at it tomorrow after work… in the daylight”, I said to Mrs Masher.

This morning, as I was dressing, I noticed the lights start to flicker again. Mrs M was making breakfast and was using the kettle and the microwave. Hmmm…

We switched it all off and the lights steadied. I was just about to switch on the kettle to see if it did it again when the boiler kicked in.

Everything went haywire: The lights were flashing on off like we were in a disco; the boiler was coming on and going off; the oven and fridge started beeping, the answerphone came on… and went off… and came on…

We switched the boiler off and everything went back to normal. “I’ll look at it when I get home”, I said, “In fact, I’ll probably get dad round.”

Six hours later, I was just leaving Reigate (having had THE worst of journeys to get there) when Mrs M rang me. “I’ve just got home and the whole house is dead. Nothing’s working and it’s bloody freezing in here!”

“I’ll be as quick as I can”, I said.  And I was: the journey home was a doddle. I picked up dad on the way – having been an electrician for fifty years or more, he would probably have more of an idea than I would.

After a bit of poking, prodding and head scratching around the consumer unit, he went outside to the meter, which is housed in a box on the porch wall. He pushed and pulled at the cables there and one of them came out in his hand. “There’s your problem”, he said. “You need to call the Electricity Board.  Or I could do it, if you want.”

“What’s the difference?”, I asked.

“Well, the board will take several hours to come here and fix it. It’ll take me five minutes, but I will need to break this seal… which they probably won’t be happy about”.

“I thought about it for a few seconds, but before I could say anything: “Fuck it”, said dad, “Let’s just do it”.

He broke the seal, removed the header fuse and opened the cover to reveal the terminals. The screws that should have been holding in our errant cable were loose. Not just a little bit loose, but completely undone loose. If they were anymore loose, they would have fallen out. It was obvious, that when the electricity board had fitted our new meter when we moved in seventeen years ago, whoever had done it had forgotten to tighten the screws.  It’s a wonder that we hadn’t had this issue before.

The cable was black from where it had been sparking and arcing. My personal electrician put it back and made sure the screws were tight, then he checked all the others to be sure.

Loose or bad connections are the most common cause of household electrical fires.

Overall, I think we’ve been quite lucky.

 

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