Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Of Mice and Men

Dear Reader,

In 1786, the Scottish poet Robert Burns inadvertently disturbed a mouse nest whilst ploughing a field. The poem To a Mouse, followed as an apology to the uprooted mice. A necessary excerpt follows (with translations):

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren't alone] 
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry] 

Perhaps not the most promising start to a post I know, bear with me.

In 2012, I was summoned in no uncertain terms by the Dear Lady Wife from my upstairs position on the computer. When I say "in no uncertain terms" it was quite clear from the volume and repetition of the high pitched screech emanating from downstairs that I must come immediately.

I arrive in the kitchen, where the youngest of our cat brood, Randall, is sitting, smug, cheeks stuffed, like a hamster. There is a thin grey thing sticking out of his mouth. He then spat out the contents of his mouth, which transpired to be a field mouse covered in cat saliva. This post is an apology to that saliva covered field mouse.

The determination is real, the mouse tail isn't.
If I could do puffed cheeks I would.
Episodes involving field mice happen. One does what one can. Attempt to quarantine the cats, then capture the mouse and finally return the mouse to the wild. This is not always straightforward.

This occasion was particularly convoluted, some bullet points will be introduced:
  • Discover Randall in kitchen, mouse in mouth
  • Pick up determined Randall (see above) who is rigid, like a plank and then fights like a banshee
  • Eventually, Randall exhales mouse from mouth
  • Saliva covered mouse does not run away, instead sits between Randall and another resident cat, Pippy, blinking
  • I attempt mouse rescue
  • Randall, sensing what is coming, stores the mouse in his mouth again
  • I pick up Randall, who is stiff as a board, screaming instructions at Dear Lady Wife which amount to "bring me a glass"
At this point I have to drop out of the bullet points to make an observation. Cats are stronger than you think. Randall is not one for being picked up, or cuddled. He will tolerate about four seconds and then will start to squirm until you put him down. He squirms this time, but it is with the strength of ten Randalls, I place him on the floor, for fear of hurting him and the mouse is ejected again. Back to the bullets...
  • Quarantine cats
  • Find the mouse, which proves to be fruitless. I didn't see which direction it headed as I was too busy dealing with the banshee Randall cat. At this point there are choices, either give up and let the mouse meets it fate (the outcome of this can be very smelly) as our furred friends may or may not finish the job, or, release the hounds (cats) in the hope that they will find him/her before I do (highly likely)
  • Release cats
  • Wait
  • Wait some more
Whilst the waiting is going on a picture needs to be painted, regarding the behavior of our three cats in this situation. They begin alert, sniffing and searching, through many objects. Having exhausted the obvious possibilities (slippers, boxes) they revert to a state of mild disinterest, feigning sleep, whilst always pointed in the direction of where they think the prey might be. Are they trying to fool the mouse?

Guys, stay focused, it must be behind the radiator.
Two of my cats were on guard duty when this photo was taken so we had to use stunt doubles. Guard duty is not an exaggeration... if the prey does not emerge immediately (within ten minutes) they take turns observing the perimeter, whilst the others go and eat, stare at fish, sleep, lick bottoms etc.

Guard duty was being held around the base of the TV cabinet, designed (it seemed) for field mice in a bind. Too small a space for a cat paw but just the right height for a field mouse. As it got later in the evening I realised I would have to come up with another plan, as the cats would wait all night if necessary. I know this to be true as a mouse once hid in the vacuum cleaner, which I subsequently released. The cats chose to ignore the fact that I had released the mouse and stared at the vacuum cleaner for three days. They are determined little kitties.

More bullets...

  • Quarantine cats
  • Find object that will fit under TV cabinet that is long enough to poke out the other side. This proved to be a squashed roll of wrapping paper
  • Insert object under TV cabinet and fish around until the mouse emerges
  • Mouse emerges
  • Attempt to capture mouse in glass
  • Mouse goes back under TV cabinet
  • Insert object under TV cabinet and fish around until the mouse emerges etc
  • Repeat until bored
  • Eventually, out of sympathy, the mouse wanders into my clumsy trap

Once ensconced in the glass, the mouse is transported to the garden and released, out of sight of the cats, who, released from quarantine are staring at the TV cabinet again.

Three days later, the cats are released from their hypnosis, (might have been the Jeremy Kyle re-runs) and return to their normal lives.

On the fourth day, this happens...

Yeah, I did it again. You are getting real good with Photoshop.
And the whole mad saga begins again.

To complete my apology to mouse-kind I leave you with my favorite mouse-related quote from the legendary Les Dawson...

I can always tell when the mother in law's coming to stay; the mice throw themselves on the traps. 

More soon Dear Reader,


Tuesday, 16 October 2012


Dear Reader,

Whilst munching through a pack of crisps the other day, something odd and unexpected happened. I bit down and encountered something rather more solid than crisp, which I was expecting to basically melt in the mouth. This object did not melt in the mouth, nor did it disintegrate after vigorous chewing. This object was solid. I was excited, had the crisp manufacturer left in the packet something that I could later sue them for?

The object, a little smaller than a fingernail, pointed at one end and thickening towards what I called the base, slightly off-white in colour and quite shiny might have been an artefact from another planet...

It looked like this.
...except it wasn't. At this point, to my horror, I realised that a crown on one of my teeth had vacated my mouth via the most obvious exit and was embedded in my crisps. Upon inspection, there was a gaping hole at the front of my mouth, which had a metal peg sticking out. Not the most attractive look. This could only mean one thing, I would have to go to the dentist.

I work with computers, if I was old enough I might have worked with this a long time ago:

Loving the valves and capacitors, where is the keyboard?
Things have changed:

Loving the blue, still can't find the keyboard though.
This has all happened in a short space of time, approximately seventy years. Let us do this again with dentists tools, some 19th century examples:

Old school.
And spin forward to today:

New school.
There is a problem here. I am pleased that the hammer-like object is no longer a part of the dentist arsenal, but aside from that, things maybe shinier, but they are basically the same. I am told that the "science" of dentistry began in 7000BC, at which point I am sure all that was available was hammers and chisels. Science, indeed.

There is a ton of nuclear-powered equipment driving around Mars at the moment looking for signs of live on the Red Planet, that is science. Accelerating sub-atomic particles to close to the speed of light to simulate conditions that occurred within seconds of the Big Bang, that is science. Reaching for a drill and some pliers to provide dental treatment is a bad mix of medieval torture and DIY. It needs to stop.

There is another issue as well. Nasal hair.

OK, not the prettiest but I have seen much worse.
Given the dentist is quite often looming over the patient / victim one gets a fairly extensive view of his or her nasal hair. Is it too much to be asked that it is trimmed from time to time?

One last thing. I am about halfway through some remedial work to fix the gaping hole left by my vacating crown. This involves taking moulds, much drilling, needles, pliers and all sorts of other nastiness. It also involves colour matching.

Why on earth does it take so long to match the colour of my teeth to one of the stock colours available? How many stock colours can there be? This always leads to a protracted debate between the dentist and dental nurse, with probably a second dentist popping in as well. This conversation happens directly above my prone self whilst I quietly choke to death on my own blood, spittle and the irritating hoover thing that is constantly sucking away at my cheek.

This is all too much. I am going to start hanging around dentists's conventions with a nasal hair trimmer and one of those colour charts you get at a DIY shop when you are buying paint. We know how many shades of grey there are, I wonder how many shades of tooth? As many as fifty?

More soon Dear Reader


Saturday, 15 September 2012

Cricket, Curry and the Crackheads

Dear Reader,

Recently, myself and a couple of compatriots decided to travel to Nottingham (UK) to watch some cricket. These compatriots were not the recently discussed Twinnies, they would never be seen at a cricket match. Actually, that is not strictly true, if I sold the concept of a cricket match as an afternoon in the sun with unlimited access to reasonable wine they might come, as long as I didn't mention the word cricket. Back to the plot, such as it is.

This is not a cricket blog and it is also not a photography blog, so let's start with the cricket. We, (England) lost. We had already achieved a cricketing objective, to win on this day would have been ruthless, a trait that, well, just isn't cricket.

Onto photography. I have a camera that has switches and settings and lenses, none of which I understand. It also has a mode labelled P, which I presume stands for Philistine, designed for the likes of me. This setting, which I never venture from, except by accident, allows me to take acceptable photos. Occasionally, entirely by accident, I manage to capture an image that might be better than acceptable, well, to me, anyway.

During the day, image too bright, typical me photo.
Same(ish) shot in the evening, actually looks OK, fluke, pure fluke.
Not only is it by chance, it is under the influence of alcohol. I was unaffected by the demon drink when I took the first one. Enough about photography, I have already written more about it than I can claim to understand. I nearly bought Photography for Dummies, but realised it was too high-brow. So, to the pulsating plot again.

Having observed the cricket, our next task is to return to our hotel to freshen / sober up before the evening festivities begin. Our transition to Trent Bridge just involved a taxi, our return journey would not be so straight-forward. There was walking, there was wailing, there were hills, curses and threats of imminent death to anyone who asked "are we nearly there yet?" 1.4 miles later we are back at the hotel.

Suitably refreshed, we venture out into the night. A bar we passed with a piano had attracted out attention. We entered and ordered drinks. I am fan of a decent gin and tonic, but had never been served one of these.

The vegetable matter in the glass is cucumber. This may sound odd, it did to me, but try it, you won't regret it. Chewing all those cucumber slices gave us an appetite, so, regrettably, we returned to the night. A curry was required, and the options were few, well, one in fact.

So good they named it once.
We sat, pleased to see we were not the only people dining, a first big tick for the establishment. It was at this point that the big ticks sort of ran dry. Drinks were requested, and duly delivered. Then we came to order, which was a rather unusual experience. Having recently returned from a foreign clime, I was used to having to point at menus to get someone to understand what I desired. 

I was a little surprised to go through the same process with an extremely pleasant English girl who understood my sounds perfectly but had clearly never been to an Indian restaurant in her life. I was (for a change) pronouncing things perfectly, but she had no way of mapping this to the words on the menu as she had never heard most of them spoken. Apparently, I was speaking in a foreign language, which threw me a little. Eventually, some food arrived, which looked at least a little bit like what we asked for, complete with Pilau rice (delightfully pronounced pillow rice by our waitress). Thence to bed.

The following morning, I awake, intending to drive from Nottingham to a business meeting. This didn't turn out as planned. Approaching the car I note something odd. All of the detritus that normally resides in the passenger foot-well of my car (sandwich wrappers, empty water bottles etc) has mysteriously found its way onto the passenger seat. Has there been a hurricane, no, my car has been broken into, passenger window smashed and that side of the car generally examined for booty.

On the upside, there was no booty of any value. Also, I didn't have to make the business meeting. Most importantly, I got to meet representatives of Nottinghamshire Police Force. Minutes after reporting the offence they arrived in a nice squad car. Two strapping members of the force emerged and began to examine the area. 

Conversation ensues. Whenever faced with authority, no matter how innocent the encounter, my mind attempts to get me in trouble, constantly responding inappropriately during conversation. These responses fight with the correct responses, in short I have to concentrate. The conversation, along with the suppressed comebacks follow:

Policeman 1 (P1) stepping out of the patrol car: So, you have been broken into?
Evil me whose voice must be suppressed: Ah, so you listened to the radio in your car then?
Me, smiling sweetly: Indeed I have.
Policeman 2 (P2) also stepping out from the patrol car: Where did they get in?
Evil me whose voice must be suppressed: Perhaps you might want to deploy all those years of police training and work this one out for yourself.
Me, smiling sweetly: passenger front window, they smashed it and then rooted around in that part of the car.
P1, waving a torch with some importance: they were looking for whatever attaches to the sucker mount on your windscreen.
Me: Oh.
P2: You should never leave anything of any value visible.
Evil me whose voice must be suppressed: The sucker mount cost me 0.99, it is of no value.
Me: Nothing of any value was visible, there was nothing of any value in the car, that statement actually includes the car.
P1, noting I have left the area untouched: We can't do forensics, as there is no blood.
Evil me whose voice must be suppressed: You want blood, I can give you blood.
Me: That's a shame.
P2: We will get them though, it's the Crackheads.
Evil me whose voice must be suppressed: Would this be the Crackheads of 24 Acacia Avenue? In which case go and arrest them.
Me: Oh.
P1: When we do get them, they will get a good kicking.
Evil me whose voice must be suppressed: Oh, yippee.
Me: Oh.

With this they return to their car and drive off. I make a number of phone calls regarding insurance and replacement of glass and then go to the nearest pub. On my return I realise that my parking ticket has expired. I approach the machine which states quite clearly that once a ticket has been paid for, I have 15 minutes to exit the car park. I have been messing around for three hours. Hmmm.

I then do something I have never done before, which is press the button on the ticket machine which puts you through to a human. Astonishingly, someone answers straight-away, maybe no-one ever presses this button. I explain the situation, at this point the conversation continued as below:

Car Park Ticket Machine: You should have informed somebody.
Me: I did inform somebody. I informed several somebodies. I informed the police, my insurance company the company who is replacing the glass, my employers and my Dear Lady Wife. Did I miss somebody?
Car Park Ticket Machine: Yes, you should have informed us.
Me: Oh really, would that have helped?
Car Park Ticket Machine: No, but if you are going to need a new ticket issued you are going to need to contact us.
Me: I'm sorry, I have not had my car broken into in a car park before. I was not aware this was standard practice. I have added you to the list of people I must contact in the event of this occurring again.
Car Park Ticket Machine (sighing): Press the lost ticket button, use that ticket to exit the car park.

This exchange puts me in a much better mood. I leave the City of Nottingham to get my glass replaced,  which occurs without incident.

More soon Dear Reader, xxx.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Postcards from Tenerife - Twinnies and a Car Journey

Dear Reader,

In my last post, I began my experience of being with the Twinnies, AKA Dear Lady Wife and Colleague, in a foreign land. We flew, we arrived and we hired a car. At the end of the last post we had acquired a hire car and began our journey. In short, we had to get from the hire car depot to the motorway, facing in the right direction, drive for about an hour and a bit, and then follow a map scribbled on a piece of paper. Like all good pirate maps, our destination was marked with an X.

Sounds simple enough, but, we have no SatNav, we have a map which has no detail, we have in the car two of the most incompetent people in the world when it comes to navigation and me. Things didn't start well.

Our not particularly glamorous car rental garage, which is a cross between the warehouse where everyone dies in Reservoir Dogs and the dispatch area from cult 70's comedy Taxi, provided us with some instructions for our escape / car rental. "Leff, leff, leff again, straight, head to airport and then keep on going," I was reliably informed by our rental person.

Everyone dies, my Ford focus is just out of shot to the left.

Leff? Leff? Leff again? 
Having departed we go leff, leff, then leff again. In short order we are on a dirt road with vultures circling and coyotes looking eager, this is not the plan. I backtrack, eventually we return to where we started.

The Twinnies, (one in the front, one in the back), find all this highly amusing, this is like some big adventure. After all, once this little issue is solved we will be there in no time. At this point I feel like Thelma and Louises' driver.

Having tried leff, leff and leff for the second time my only choices are leff or straight on. I didn't choose this the first time as arrows make it quite clear that the only way to turn is right. Not wanting to revise the expectations of vulture dinner-time unfairly I plump for right. Shortly we are forced leff and see signs for the motorway. Could this small but obvious flaw in the instructions not have been made clear from the start? A mere thirty minutes after picking up the car we have made the one kilometre transition to the motorway.

Now, it should all be plain sailing and for a while, it is. A wrinkle occurs about forty minutes in, I am not sure what happens, but we are not on a motorway any more but find ourselves plunging into a city called Santa Cruz. Whilst pleading with the now sleepy and slightly grumpy Twinnies to look at maps and provide advice, I plunge on through the city, reasoning that we will pick up the motorway on the other side.

I have since discovered there is no motorway on the other side of Santa Cruz. There is, however an extremely long and windy mountain hugging road which leads to the middle of nowhere (Tenerife, Northern tip). This discovery took approximately forty-five minutes. Another forty-five minutes later I discover  that the extremely long and mountain hugging road looks very similar going the other way. On the upside, there is a traffic lane between me and the sea, several hundred feet below.

Below is a map with some lines drawn on it. The red line indicates where we should have gone, the blue squiggles are an artists impression of the way we actually went.

Back on track, uneventful motorway follows, we eventually reach a signpost which points to the region where our villa is located. Neither Twinny can make sense of the map. I pull off at the first exit and demand to see it. I note a number at the bottom which appears to indicate a junction number, not far from where we are. Shortly after this we arrive at our villa, a mere three and a half hours after picking up the hire car.

They say practice makes perfect. When it comes to car journeys in foreign climes with Twinnies, I can attest to the truth of this saying. The return journey to the car rental desk / warehouse took a mere one hour and seven minutes.

More soon Dear Reader 


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Postcards from Tenerife - Easyjet and the Twinnies

Dear Reader,

I find myself travelling again. Regrettably, I find myself once again on my least favourite orange coloured airline. I have spoken about these chaps before here, today they have some new surprises for me.
Today we have a new part to play, yay!
First we have to get to the airport. It is an early flight, the thought of which makes me shudder. The blow has been softened a little by spending the previous night in a hotel approximately four centimetres from the check-in desk. This does not prevent us having to get up three hours before we went to sleep so we are in time for our flight.
Having awoken, early and angry, we arrive at check-in to find our dear orange friends have requisitioned an entire hall of check-in desks for us to queue in, how thoughtful. What a shame they hadn't manned any of them. Given we were queueing within fifteen minutes of check-in opening I was somewhat disappointed to be dragged out of line when it became clear we would miss our flight if we stayed in the queue.

Dragged out and checked-in, we advance through security at high-speed. At this point we are united as a group, my good self, the Dear Lady Wife and her Twinny. 

I should break at this point and explain the Twinny. Twinny is a female colleague of the Dear Lady Wife and they share enough attributes to make the word Twinny seem appropriate. A  list of shared attributes follows:
  • Shopping - preferably by mail order
  • Lack of organisation
  • Love of wine
  • Love of animals (every single one, but especially cats and donkeys)
  • Ability to wail at the slightest inconvenience
  • Ability to meltdown at a slightly larger inconvenience
  • Inability to make decisions.
I share most of these attributes so we get on well. For the journey we require magazines, speakers and something from the chemist. I do the speakers, DLW does the magazines and the Twinny does the chemist. We vow to meet somewhere. This doesn't happen. Last call for the flight is announced. I rendezvous with DLW, but no sign of the Twinny.

We run for the gate, making it with approximately three minutes to spare. Twinny, however has not arrived. We phone, she is still in the chemist haggling over the price of some unguent. Then her name comes over the tannoy... "RUN" we say. Having finalised her transaction, along with three or four others, she deigns to run. Having stood on the transfer bus for ten minutes, we see her appear at check-in. Astonishingly, she is only second to last. United again, we advance to the plane.

There were two special moments on the plane; for once I don`t just mean take off and landing. Our orange friends had gone above and beyond the call of duty. First, we ordered food, which in itself was not special. What was special was one of the food items. It was so special I had to capture a shot of the packaging.

WTF is this?
I have never heard the words meat, festival, arctic, bread and wedge used in the same sentence before, but there they were. I attempted to imagine what combination of ingredients could encompass such a grand and wordy title, I came up short. How many ingredients are required for a meat festival? Two of them, apparently. 

This astonishing artefact was in fact a lifeless chicken, ham and cheese sandwich in pitta bread with some leaves. Hardy a festival, but definitely a wedge. Below is the item in all it's glory. You will note a bite has been taken out of it. There were no more bites to follow.

Come to the Meat Festival...
Our second special moment came when the orange flight attendant attempted to sell some of their on-board wares. During his little speech he referred to page 494 of his brochure and announced the following... "We have a number of Loreal products at excellent duty free prices, and I know we have some Loreal fans on the plane today...". "HOW?" I couldn`t stop myself from asking out loud. Do you stop them in the check-in area, on the way to the flight? Do you suck out their minds when they check-in on-line in an attempt to get their buying preferences? I didn't get a suitable answer.

Eventually, we land and collect our belongings with surprisingly little hassle. I have a piece of paper which is our hire car voucher. It says that we should pick up our car from the Orinoco desk or something similar. The desk in question does not exist. After much wandering up and down the terminal looking lost, we locate someone who explains that Orinoco have a person who occasionally appears in the airport, waving a board. The Twinnies look less than impressed. As promised, the person eventually arrives. At this point, we are escorted to a mini-van, which may, or may not, take us to the fabled hire desk. We may be kidnapped; if only I was friends with Liam Neeson.

We arrive at what can only be described as an underground garage, located some distance from the airport. The possibility of kidnap looms larger. There is a desk, of sorts. Driving licenses are perused, papers signed and we are away in a car, on the wrong side of the road with no clue as to where we are going. Sat-Nav is neither an option on the car or as a stand-alone add-on. We are given a mysterious piece of paper with lines and pictures on it and ushered on our way. Apparently this is a map, I have heard of these but didn't think people still used them.

Thus ends the first part of our little adventure.

More soon Dear Reader.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Time Team - Why I Have to Watch it Alone

Dear Reader, 

There are some TV programs I am allowed to watch with the Dear Lady Wife, Time Team, Channel 4's attempt to sex up archaeology, is not one of them.

For those who are unaware, Time Team is without doubt a television program with admirable ambitions. Take a supremely un-sexy subject like archaeology and make it peak time viewing. This is achieved by taking a minor celebrity in the form of Tony Robinson (Baldric from Blackadder), and placing him with a bunch of British archaeologists.

A typical episode of Time Team might go like this:

Tony (on TV): Here we are in the village of Sumwhereoreuvver, Somerset, which boasts a cider that makes you go blind and an excellent Alcohol Rehab centre. It is also home to one of the best Guide Dog training centres in the country. (Insert number here) years ago it used to be home to a cottage industry of UFO spotters, half-blind cider blenders and a trainee magician's school.

Tony:  We are looking for evidence of the trainee magician's school which should be located in a field not far from here. We shall have access to this field for precisely two days. Should we find evidence of this academy or some of its artefacts we shall be very happy. We might even try some of that cider. To begin this search we need to take to the sky.

Here we are, now where's that bloody cider?
At this point the program moves to the helicopter, in which one of the archaeologists is sat with a screen in his lap. The helicopter is equipped with what I shall (probably incorrectly) term modern technology, the results of which he is now analysing. It is quite loud in the helicopter, hence the capital letters.


Tony: That's great, helicopter with technology man, is that where we should dig?


Tony: Is that where we should dig?




Digging, well, this is a different sort of digging. This is not like digging in the garden, this is not like digging around in your pocket for loose change, this is archaeology. Although Wikipedia disagrees with me, I am pretty sure that the word archaeology is derived from Latin. In Latin it meant dig slowly, so slowly that you'll not get the Olive tree planted before nightfall, even if you started at 7 in the morning.

With only two days of access to the site, the diggers are digging slower than a trade union of moles striking for better working conditions. As if they weren't busy / slow enough, they keep on getting interrupted by the presenters. Conversations like this abound...

Tony (sporting positive beaming smile): So what have we discovered today.
Digger (sporting manic depression like a comfort blanket): We haven't discovered anything.  have discovered a hole in my waterproofs. Amazingly, although it is just a small hole, it has let in enough mud and water to cover every inch of my body in a cold and grimy film. Next question?
Tony (beam still in place): Lets move to Lucy in the newly excavated trench. What have we here?

Before Lucy responds, (and she will), I want to talk about the word trench and the images it conjures. I think of trench warfare. Those trenches were generally deeper than the height of the average human. They were also populated by humans who wore helmets, for protection from shrapnel, bullets and other lethal objects in the air.

Lucy is also in a trench. She also has protective headgear. The "trench" in question is six inches deep. I have watched enough episodes of Time Team to be sure they have never been threatened by bullets or shrapnel, so, why the headgear? This is one of the reasons the Dear Lady Wife won't watch Time Team with me, I can't keep quiet about the helmets. Back to Lucy...

Stop! Some of those people aren't wearing protective headgear!
Lucy (trying to ignore the condescending tone of Tony's voice): We have a thing, which we are quite excited about.
Tony (beam moving to full beam): Oh really, that is excellent news.
Lucy (gesturing toward a tent): It is in here.
Tony (full beam unwavering): Oh good, lets have a look shall we.
Lucy (waving an expansive hand over a number of white plastic trays, each containing individually labelled things which look like stuff you would throw out of the earth when weeding the garden): So...
Tony: Wow, you have been busy!
Lucy: What this? No, that's all stuff you would throw out of the earth when weeding the garden, but we did find this...
Tony (beam finding a new level of intensity): Wow, what is it?
Lucy (holding an object in her hand which appears to be a twig with a broken end. It is engraved with swirls and has some hair in it): Surprisingly astute question. We don't know, which is what makes it interesting. It is surprisingly strong and when we scanned it with xrays it appears the hair runs all the way through it.
Tony: Do we know how old it is?
Lucy (gestures with her twig hand towards a computer, which bizarrely has a live toad sitting on top of the monitor. There is a smell of sulphur in the air as well): Actually, no. Normally we would carbon date the object using the equipment delivered to us. When we found this thing that is not a twig we unwrapped the box with the machine in it, the machine was not there. There was just a basket of kittens, which was lovely, but no good for carbon dating. They had a faint aroma of sulphur about them as well. It was all rather odd.

Carbon dating has moved on a little since my day.
Tony: So when will we know how old it is.
Lucy: We are expecting a delivery later today, which should be the machine that ended up being a basket of kittens. Then we can scan the twiggy thing that is not a twig and all will be well.

Then Tony is off to what I can only describe as the reconstruction tent. Whenever a minute fragment of something is discovered, which isn't obviously mud, small change or a mummified condom, then it is scrubbed to within an inch of it's life and brought here. "With the aid of computers" the object is brought to life. When I say brought to life, what I really mean is plugged into some graphic designers wet dream of what a vase might look like in 900BC with one tiny piece missing, the piece that has been dug out of the ground.

This is akin to wandering around your house and finding a piece of a jigsaw puzzle on the floor. From the evidence of this puzzle piece and nothing else you deduce that it has to belong to a three thousand piece jigsaw showing RMS Titanic at sea approaching it's rendezvous with an over-sized ice cube. Yet all you have is one featureless blue piece. Another reason why I watch Time Team in a separate room. We should however, return to Tony, as the reconstruction tent is about to tell us something important, no doubt "with the aid of computers."

Shortly this will be an object of some importance.

Tony: Greg, what have you got for me today?
Greg (grinning the grin that can be achieved only by the Cheshire cat or by a graphic designer in a post wet dream fugue): Well, I took Lucy's artefact and guess what? If you imagine that what we have is the shaft, then, taking the swirled markings along the stem, added to the hair running down the middle, what you have is a wand.

In slow motion the wand appears on the screen. Greg looks smug.

Tony: So, what we have is a magical wand, which it seems unlikely has arrived here by chance, so we must be close to some trainee magicians. Great work Greg, another fine piece of detective work.

Now we have a bunch of dots which indicate the existence of a bunch of dots, according to Chopper Dave (for want of a better name), a twig that is not a twig, according to Lucy, who is desperately trying to off-load seven kittens (with basket) to anyone who will have them and a wand created by Greg "with the aid of computers."

This information is evaluated in the pub. "But where is the Magicians School?" asks Tony. Everyone has a theory on this, the left side of trench D3, at the bottom of field F1, or perhaps in the toilet (everyone laughs). This is ironic, as two hours and three ciders lately, Tony asks "But where is the toilet?" No amount of helicopters, kittens posing as carbon-dating devices or "computers" could answer that.

For legal reasons I cannot disclose any of the details of Tony's time at the local rehab centre, which is a blessed relief as I know nothing about it and would have to make it up. Tony will be back, as will Time Team; I will be watching it alone again which is probably good news for the Dear Lady Wife.

More soon Dear Reader.


Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Shhh! It's the Olympics Opening Ceremony

Dear Reader,

Last week myself and the Dear Lady Wife were invited to the Olympic opening ceremony. Actually, that is not completely accurate; we were invited to a pub/bar which showed the opening ceremony on a big screen and we had a reserved table. Come Friday (yesterday as I write this) we were very excited indeed, as it appears was most of rest of the nation.

The World gets a Summer Olympics opening ceremony once every four years, no matter where you are, geographically. To have one in your own country is something special. This was, without doubt going to be an occasion, up there with the Jubilee, a Royal Wedding, a soap opera wedding where nobody dies, an egg with two yolks, you get the idea.

The last time this happened was 1948...
The city that housed the venue for our evening out was eerily quiet. There was a good reason for this, (apparently everyone watched it on the telly.) We arrive at the pub/bar. It also is quiet, but not ghostly quiet, just quieter than normal. Every table is occupied, all attention focused on the big screen. There is not however the normal nine-deep throng trying to get god-awful cocktails at the bar. This is all fine, I will not have to fight when it is my turn to order some god-awful cocktail from the bar.

Two of my five a day!
I join my compatriots and purchase my first god-awful cocktail. It is at this point I realise something is wrong.  There is an irritating buzzing sound, right on the edge of the audible range which won't stop. Am I getting tinnitus? Combined with this observation is another (they're coming thick and fast, must be the god-awful cocktail), I can not only clearly hear the conversations of my compatriots, I can join in without screaming.

The god-awful cocktail and my brain work together to make the connection. The barely audible buzzing isn't tinnitus, it is the speaker system. The reason I can hear every conversation is because there is nothing competing. The reason every face in this bar is looking so intently at the screen is because they are trying to learn how to lip-read (in itself not easy after a god-awful cocktail or three), they are trying to lip-read without any lips as a point of reference. They are trying to lip-read the commentary.

I am a little annoyed. This venue and table was booked in good faith, it was booked because of the big screen. I do not believe there was explicit mention of sound being provided, but this is sort of implied. We live in the 21st Century and the Olympic opening ceremony is not a silent movie. If it was I would have requested the sub-titles to be in bold and perhaps a larger font, but we have moved on a bit. Ah, digressing, sorry.

I discuss this with the early arivals, they say they have asked and nothing appears to have changed. I scratch my chin whilst formulating a plan. I will not harass passing waiting people who are delivering food, I will accost a man or woman bearing the badge of responsibility. The badge shall be engraved in gold and shall be inscribed with the following... Manager.

This proves to be slightly more difficult and certainly a little more painful than I had anticipated. The bar is ill-lit for this sort of pursuit, which means I have to stare at the chests of numerous staff members before I find the one called Manager. Peering myopically at bar people's chests can produce mixed results. Having been called a perve, told to piss off, provided an explanation of working hours, (I only do that on Tuesdays... which confused me a little as it was clearly a Friday and she was working,) I eventually found the manager.

Having accosted the gentleman, I felt we should have a little chat, the good new was I didn't need to shout. It sort of went like this.

Manager: How can I help you?
Me: Well, I can't help thinking that you should turn up the Olympic opening ceremony just a tiny amount. It is after all a celebration of many things, but I suspect the silent movie industry was not high on their agenda.
Manager: (appraising me with a glare), You're not the first person to ask, but we can't turn it up.
Me: (reverting to playground argument mode) Why?
Manager: This is as far as it goes.
Me: Really? Are you sure? Have you actually tried? I came here a few months ago and my ears bled, partly because the music was terrible, but also because the music was quite loud. I didn't imagine it. I have fantasies, they involve cats, there were no cats in this bar, this is how I know it was real. (I use the cat thing to confuse authority).
Manager: We wouldn't want to upset our other punters.
Me: (Being quite close to the front, I look behind me, moving my arm out in a sweeping gesture, so as to encompass those sitting at the tables, rapt, they do not notice me, I would be a distraction to their new discipline, commentary reading. One enterprising couple in their twenties have found ear-trumpets from somewhere). This lot you mean? (I am perhaps not doing justice to my gesture).
Manager: No, there are people outside as well.
Me: (Sensing my pray is on the verge of defeat). The outside people? One, they cannot see the screen and two, THEY CANNOT SEE THE SCREEN. What does it matter what comes out of the speakers. Also, they are mostly smokers, so they don't count and will probably lose the right to vote shortly. (I don't mention  at this point that I am about to have a cigarette, I have him where I want him).
Manager: Anyhow, this conversation is pointless, the amplifier only goes up to 10.
Me: Is it on 10? Are you sure it does not have an 11? (Spinal Tap references may not help at this point, but you have to try).

These ones go to eleven...

Manager: (has wandered off) ...

Either the god-awful cocktails helped or my hearing got better. Maybe my race-memory kicked in and I became a pre-historic hunter, stalking an Olympic opening ceremony sound-track for hours on end. It seemed to get slightly louder, but not enough to inject a proper atmosphere into the occasion. The rest of the bar was so busy commentary-reading they were no help.

As if our cordial hosts could not do enough to please, they managed to switch off Paul McCartney five minutes before the official end of the broadcast. 

If using the Olympics as a cunning ploy to get people into your bar and then ripping off every person that attended was an Olympic demonstration sport, we may have been congratulating this entrant and celebrating TeamGB's first Gold medal. Sadly, it was a ploy, but not a demonstration sport.

I watched it all the next day from the comfort of my own hangover, when I am at my most critical. It was hard to find much wrong with the whole affair. I hoped you enjoyed it too, Dear Reader. I will be back soon, when the sport stops, or I can't take any more.


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Postcards From Marbella Part 2 - Flying

Dear Reader, 

The last time I shared, I and the Dear Lady Wife were beginning the process of flying off to Marbella for a wedding. We had booked the tickets and accommodation. This was an epic journey in itself, but there is much more to come.

I have previously posted  about the joys of the DLW's preparation for a night out. Now we have to consider the much more exotic beast which is the DLW's preparation for a holiday. To prepare for a night out there is a list of things which need to be done, as below:
  • Nails - potentially
  • Hair - obligatory
  • Waxing or shaving - the mere thought makes me shudder so I will not dwell
  • Shopping, online - a whole host of objects are required that bizarrely the Dear Lady Wife appears not to be in possession of...
  • Clothes
  • Handbag
  • Shoes
  • Make-up
  • Hair products
  • Moisturisers, balms, ointments and other unguents to be applied to face, hands, skin etc.
To prepare for a holiday, some mathematical constants need to be applied to the list above and some new items will need to be added. The constants that can be applied to a given item in the above list are [Days Away] and [Panic Factor]. Note that [Panic Factor] is always a variable.
  • Nails - absolutely
  • Hair - obligatory
  • Waxing or shaving - the mere thought makes me shudder so I will not dwell, this is now obligatory
  • Shopping, online - a whole host of objects are required that bizarrely the Dear Lady Wife appears not to be in possession of * [Days Away] * [Panic Factor]
  • Clothes * [Days Away] * [Panic Factor]
  • Handbag * [Days Away] * [Panic Factor]
  • Shoes * [Days Away] * [Panic Factor]
  • Make-up * [Days Away]
  • Hair products  * [Days Away]
  • Moisturisers, balms, ointments and other unguents to be applied to face, hands, skin etc  * [Days Away]
  • Plugs for foreign destination. Just in case, it is necessary to bring every foreign plug for every foreign destination we have ever visited just in case our European hotel is having its electricity piped in from Thailand, or San Francisco, you never know, right?
  • Plasters and tissues, always plasters, always tissues. 
  • Something to repel mosquitoes, regardless of where we are going.
  • Jabs, there must be jabs.
There will also be a fake tanning session, as  previously posted  much to my chagrin. On this occasion we are visiting a sunny country, which means there will be an interesting metamorphis of the DLWs skin color. She will arrive faux brown, get lighter as it washes off, before catching up with where she started from with real tan. The irony of this is never lost on me. 

Then there is packing. I am not responsible for this, I am just the cup that receives DLW's frustration. My cup doth runneth over. I do have a purpose though, I am the finder, the fetcher and the carrier. Once this is all done we rush, hotfoot to the airport. It should be noted, for accuracy, that neither my feet, or the DLW's feet actually get hot on the way to the airport, making the word hotfoot in the previous sentence seem rather unnecessary. Has anybody literally run hotfoot anywhere? Never mind.

So to the terminal, at an airport that is occupied, neigh dominated, by a budget airline who shall remain nameless.

Damn spellchecker.
We breeze through check in, glide through security and are ensconced in our seats comfy and warm, a mere ten minutes after entering the terminal. The flight takes off immediately and we are are whisked to our destination. Then, I woke up, screaming, because the nirvana of air travel had so cruelly been plucked from my grasp. 

Let's try again, tearing apart the last paragraph activity, by painful activity.

Breeze Through Check In
This should be the easiest bit, to be fair it actually is. It still isn't as smooth as it should be though. I present my email confirmation on a piece of paper as requested. A lady of indeterminate age (due to exaggerated make-up and botox) regards with me a fixed and startled expression (which I hope is because of the botox, not my appearence.) "Is there just one of you flying today?" She demands without a single facial movement. "Erm, no, two." I respond, weakly, gesturing at the now fuming DLW and cases clearly belonging to two people. Some huffing and swearing follows, eventually a new question emerges. "Are there two of you flying today?" No shit Sherlock, I mutter under my breath, but the bags are eventually checked in.

There will be questions. Pay attention.
Glide Through Security
Perhaps this was a definition of the word glide I wasn't previously aware of. This definition involved scuttling, shuffling, some more scuttling and some more shuffling. A little shimmy and some swaying. All this over a period of about thirty minutes. Eventually there was some undressing and some awkward silences. Finally we were through security.

Shuffle, scuttle, perhaps a sashay, if you're feeling brave.
Ensconced In Our Seats - Part 1
This is actually the best bit. Having escaped security with out clothes (if not our dignity) intact we are in the shopping heaven that is the airport. There will be no ensconcing, but there will be shopping. The finest available provider of books and literature will furnish the DLW with Heat magazine and a bottle of water. The finest chemist will furnish us with extra plasters and mosquito repellent (you can't be too sure). An electrical outlet will look bemused as the the DLW explains her destination, along with her existing collection of travel plugs and demands variants, just in case.

Ensconced In Our Seats - Part 2
Now we must make our way to the gate. Our flight is boarding immediately (allegedly.) Upon arrival at the said gate it appears boarding means sitting in four extremely uncomfortable chairs which have been taken, or standing around. In the blink of an eye executed by an eyelid welded open by a crowbar traversing an eyeball covered in molasses things start to occur. More botox and exaggerated make-up (and that is just the boys) appear at some door. The smell of orange is cloying. Could we perhaps re-convene at another departure gate in a different postcode, suggests an orange, apparently the airplane driver got lost. We all tramp to our new departure gate.

There is a concept called speedy boarding touted by our flight operator who shall remain nameless. I am not sure who this applies to and neither does anyone else. When the gate eventually opens, boarding is the usual undignified fight for survival that typifies most budget airlines.

The Flight Takes Off Immediately
No, it doesn't. An eternity passes, then we start to move. Not at any great speed. The pilot must be getting paid by the hour, so insists on inching down the runway and most off rural Hertfordshire at approximately four miles an hour. Maybe he is lost as well. Another three eternities pass, finally the proverbial pedal is applied to the proverbial metal and we are off.

This has taken a while Dear Reader, I am sure you are breathless from the excitement, as am I.

More soon xxx

Monday, 16 July 2012

Postcards From Marbella Part 1 - Getting There

Dear Reader, 

A combination of sporting events, weddings and lofty goals have recently kept me quiet. When I say quiet, what I mean to say is I have been recovering from hangovers in darkened rooms for what seems like weeks.

Time to emerge, blinking into the sunlight, like a mole who set his alarm wrong, or an underground traveller on a sunny day.

Oooh, it's a bit bright out here!

Let's begin with the wedding... it is no ordinary wedding, as if there is such a thing. The thing that makes this special (apart from the people, obviously) is the venue. Not the church itself (although it was pretty damn spectacular) but the location. It is in Marbella, Spain.

Marbella, from this point forward shall be referred to as Marbs, not because I am a lazy but because the Dear Lady Wife has just learnt the cast of her favourite program are filming there. They refer to it as Marbs, so Marbs it is. Who am I to argue with the collective intellect that is the cast of The Only Way Is Essex?

The location implies an extended wedding agenda, including pre-meet, wedding and post party. Basically a wedding over three days, which is fine. It also means travel, my least favourite form of travel, the foreign variety.

To get to this wedding I, and the DLW have to to get on a plane which will whisk us to our destination. This should be the easy bit, however before this can happen we have to book flights, we have to book hotels and then we have to prepare.

To avoid total meltdown due to stress we split into two teams, I get flights, DLW gets accommodation. I do well, within one hour of starting the process, I have narrowed down the list of possibilities from many to some. To the untrained eye, this might not seem like a lot of progress, but trust me it is. I have eliminated all return flight options due to either the departure or return time being unacceptable. I have booked the outbound flight and I am working on the return.

This is not me, but the smoke is pretty accurate.

Having used the word meltdown in the previous paragraph, it can be assumed that I find this sort of thing stressful. I hate filling out forms; when it comes to searching for a flight, let alone booking one, there are many forms. If I actually book a flight, there are many more. To deal with this stress a bottle of wine may have been opened, followed by another. I am not certain how many, but this information has been verified and logged by UN trained observers. 

There is a point in time when you should stop trying to make purchases on the internet under the influence of wine. UN trained observers should step in. They should say something UN trained observer like. "Son, you've booked enough flights for one night. Come back tomorrow." Or something similar. They didn't, so I made a mistake.

I was searching for a one way flight from Marbs back to the UK, I made the mistake of attempting to do this through the providers website. If I searched for flights returning on the Saturday, then a red line of text would appear saying, we haven't got anything on the date specified but here is a totally unrelated flight to a different destination a year later which you might be interested in. OK, you have an eccentric search engine. If I wanted a flight in 2014 from Dubrovnik I probably would have asked for it, but no matter, you have alerted me to this in big red letters.

Dubrovnik, looks lovely, should go, but I need to be in Marbs.
I actually wanted to return on the Sunday so I changed the search criteria. Do you know what that nasty website did? It suggested a random flight, without the warning message. In a frenzy of excitement I booked it. It was not until I printed the confirmation email, having handed over a large amount of cash I realised that I and the DLW would be flying from Dubrovnik at some point in 2014.

This, to the untrained eye, may make me appear to be a complete idiot. This is why you should not book flights under the influence of wine. Booking flights is like operating heavy machinery, dangerous if you are using medication.

So, I need to cancel. Which means I need to speak to a human, and the human operated telephone service closed for the evening 30 minutes ago. I have failed in my task and I must reconvene the following day.

This experience deserves a post all its own. It has a working title Would I rather stick cocktail sticks in my eye or cancel a flight with a budget airline I booked whilst tipsy the night before.... Discuss. Like I said, its just a working title.

Suffice to say, the cancellation was agreed, an appropriate flight was purchased, we are on our way.

This feels like a lot of words already Dear Reader. This is going to be an epic with a number of parts.

More soon xxx

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Cottage Pie, Thermodynamics and Saving The World.

Dear Reader,

The title is an interesting proposition, let me explain. This is just about the most interesting thing I have ever posted. I could of course, wax lyrical, at great length about the history of the Cottage Pie but I won't. Suffice to say the Cottage Pie is very British fare so some explanation may be required.

Cottage Pie, simply put, is beef mince, mixed with some veg and topped with mashed potato. Finish with some leeks and cheese if you are feeling adventurous and then pop in the oven for about three months at gas mark something or other. If you hadn't already gathered this is not a cooking blog. Cottage Pie has a cousin called Shepherd's Pie. It is basically the same as Cottage Pie except you use lamb instead of beef. The naming of Shepherd's Pie makes perfect sense. After all, sheep are looked after by shepherds. Cows, it would appear, are looked after by cottages. This can't be right. 

It transpires, as a result of a short search on Wikipedia, rather boringly, that cows weren't looked after by cottages. It would appear that Cottage Pie came first, because it was cheap and ideal for people cottaging, sorry, I meant people living in cottages.

I am somewhat scandalised by the fact that there is only one Wikipedia entry for Cottage Pie and none for Shepherd's Pie. This is an omission bigger than a very large omission. I really should move on to the point of all this.

Before I do though, some words regarding ramekins. A ramekin is a small, individual portion sized pot. It also has some interesting thermodynamic properties, which I will explain.

The humble ramekin, in it's restive state.
There is a convention around the serving temperature of food. It can be stated in simple terms. If it does not cause third-degree burns to the interior of the mouth then it is edible. This sounds quite simple. Cottage Pie in ramekins does not believe in simple. The Cottage Pie in ramekins is a DLW idea. "We can make a bunch of it and then freeze it into individual portions". On the face of it, this sounds bonny. When the individually wrapped portions are placed in the freezer the idea continues to sound bonny. This is all just a little too bonny.

Time to spoil this all too bonny scene. Today I shall be dining on Cottage Pie, (suitably defrosted, two months at room temperature) with some veg and gravy. It shall be an individual sized portion in a ramekin. After de-frosting it shall be heated at gas mark something for 2.3 days and then it shall be ready. It is served on a plate with some veg, with some gravy is in a separate receptacle.

There seems to be a nefarious heat emanating from the ramekin/Cottage Pie. Should white ceramic pottery glow red? Why is the veg, artistically arranged in the near vicinity of the ramekin, behaving as if it has been exposed to some extreme heat? Why does my pot of gravy look scared? 

Being the curious sort I begin, by piercing the outer shell of the pie. My fork, having penetrated the potato/cheese/leek crust of the pie disappears in a puff of smoke into the pie below. Was it melting? I appropriate more cutlery and some gloves. It seems sensible to turn out the contents of the ramekin onto the plate and dispense it. Fire and brimstone erupt, steam hisses from the deep. My plate starts to glow. I become a little worried that the plate may give way, followed by the table, then the floor, closely followed by the ceiling of the floor below. This is starting to feel like the forensic examination in Alien when they realise the bad guy bleeds acid.

In desperation I throw gravy at the assemblage. There is much hissing, but the temperature seems to recede a little, the ramekin is now a darkened, bubbling brown instead of the fiery red. I have never used gravy as a fire extinguisher before but I can attest to it's ability. Eventually, I eat, it's a little scalding but has returned to a temperature that is acceptable to a human.

So, it seems that a ramekin, when filled with Cottage Pie could, perhaps be an alternative form of energy. After all, it seems, on the miniature scale at least to be able to provide the energy of a thousand suns. It is clean energy. It is sustainable and controllable, as long as a suitable sized pot of gravy is near to hand. Enough of this wind farm and solar panel nonsense, let every household in the land tap into the energy grid, let ramekin producers everywhere be prepared for a surge in demand, let every country and every family have sustainable energy from their own oven. I may have solved global warming. Bad news for the cows and the sheep though, unless we can come up with a veggie version.

Miniature reactors, lamb.
Miniature reactors, beef, spot the difference.
Together, the humble oven and ramekins can change the world, forever.

More soon dear reader 


Monday, 11 June 2012

Another Award, YAY!

Dear Reader,

Many moons ago, when the Earth was young, (well, actually it was the end of March), I got an award!


Many thanks to gossip_grl @ ~*~Whatever~*~..., who is probably wondering why it has taken me so long to get round to accepting.

So, it was nearly April which was a bit of busy time due to the A-Z Challenge. Once that was over I had a little sleep, then it was June. This defence may sound a little leaky, but given the weather in the UK at the moment this is almost fitting.

Here are the instructions for the lucky recipients:

1. Nominate 15 fellow blogger's for the Versatile Blogger Award.

2. In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.

3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.

4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.

5. In the same post, include this set of rules.

6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

As a recipient here are the fifteen in no particular order...

One must not forget the award itself...

Seven random things about me:

1. I like cats. The more the merrier. Currently three reside in our abode. They are called Leo, Pippy and Randall. Randall is a breed, as opposed to the moggies I have grown up with. He is a Scottish Fold with anger management problems
2. I was born in the 60's (just). Man walked on the moon two days after I was born
3. I spent a small amount of time in my formative years as a music journalist for a sadly departed magazine
4. I have fish (of the tropical variety). The cats would like them for breakfast. I have explained on numerous occasions why this is not possible. They keep asking though, every day
5. My middle name is Charles
6. I once wore an "only gay in the village costume" in public
7. I have a certificate that says I attended a street party for the Queen's Silver Jubilee (1977).

So, to the nominees, enjoy. As for me, I think I need a lie down.

More soon Dear Reader