Monday, 30 September 2013

Wild in Wales? Not sayin’

On reflection, I don’t think I should tell you too much about that balmy summer evening in the tiny Welsh seaside village of ■■■■■■■■ back in 1993.  We were young (I was only 51) and foolish, and indiscretions were all too easy.
So, I’m not going to write about the note that was left on the cottage door (“Where are you, you bastards?  We’re THIRSTY!!!”), or the rushed curry and the leap over the wall to the pub next door, or the intense conversation, some while later, possibly concerning the disjunction between divergent views (one English, one Welsh) of contemporary Welsh art which narrowly evaded damage to both artists and artworks.  Nor am I going to write about a brief decamp by a few parties to the (closed) restaurant across the road, for music, dancing, wine from the cellar and nearly forcible separation of inappropriate pairings; nor the bemused expression on the face of the bartender back in the pub when asked, at half-one, whether they were still serving; nor about the difficulty, sometimes, to tell the difference, by sight, between whisky and brandy, and the consequences.  Especially, I’m keeping quiet about the insistence, in the face of adamant dissuasion, by one party at about three that it was perfectly all right to drive the mile back up to their caravan because “I drive best when I’m drunk; besides, I really enjoy it.”
Finally, I’d better not mention the cliff walk next morning, and how one party was unable to partake for, let’s say, annular reasons, whilst another mistook a low-flying coastguard biplane for a high-flying eagle.

No, best draw a veil over all that.  Apologies to those readers who were anticipating something salacious.  You had to be there.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

A week not in Chicago.

Bee is off tomorrow to Chicago for a week, with her best friend.  I’m anticipating some exciting reports about the waterfront, South Side blues, a trip out to the prairie and up the Sears Tower, and much more, but I won’t be getting these until she returns.  In the meantime, I’ve resolved to blog every day, to keep me out of mischief.  Or get me into it.  Or something.  Tomorrow’s will be about a ludicrous night in north-west Pembrokeshire, in 1993.  Or something.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Do the math…

Do the math… please, government, before you embark on this HS2 project.  Otherwise, in twenty or thirty years’ time it will come back to haunt you, or your descendants.   I won’t be around, nor will my own descendants (I don’t have any), but I promise this will happen.  There are two things you need to do, or have done, before you irrevocably turn on the green light.
The first is called a cost-benefit analysis.  There are two parts to this, which I’ll call tangible and intangible.   The tangible ones are those directly related to the project, to which you are sure you can subsequently ascribe monetary values.  What you do is divide a piece of paper down the middle, with a line.  On the left, you list the costs of the project, on the right, the benefits.  Obviously, at this stage these aren’t quantified, nor should they be.  The point is to make sure you’ve covered everything, every quantifiable cost and benefit, and that you will later be able to put a monetary value on it which you’ll be able to substantiate’: otherwise, it’s intangible.
Intangible costs and benefits are those you recognise you won’t be able to monetise, but which nevertheless have to be factored into the broad picture.  They’re the ‘what if’, ‘blue sky’, ‘OSINTOT’ factors.   Hint – if you’re using bullet or numbered lists, always leave an empty one at the bottom, there’s bound to be something else no-one had thought of.

Once you’ve done all that, then you can plug in some numbers.  This means putting monetary values on all the tangibles and, if you choose (and in this case you should), the intangibles too.  All these numbers, of course, have to be properly assessed, peer reviewed, and consensually accepted.  And then you can run what’s called a discounted cash flow calculation.  Here's how it works, but don’t worry – there won’t be a test at the end of this post.  Basically, what a DCF does is demonstrate, given the best estimates of all the variables, when this project is likely to go into profit.  It takes into account, crucially, the opportunity cost of the bottom-line option, which is always ‘don’t do it.’

Being an optimist, I assume the government (or whoever’s really in charge) has done all the above.  Well, you’d have to be really stupid not to, wouldn’t you?  So why don’t they just publish the results?

Oh.  I see.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Big Apple

1 lb 6 oz to be exact.  I'm so Proud!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Unlikely but true (#s 1 & 2)

I’ve had several events matching the description in the title recently, but I can’t remember them all, so here are just a couple.

1.      I make a certain 30 mile journey, from L & A’s to my home, via dropping off K, most Tuesday mornings.  I’ve been doing this for a few years, so I know the details of the trip quite well.  In particular, for the purposes of this post, that there are exactly seventeen sets of traffic lights along the way.  Many of these are components of fairly complicated junctions and roundabouts.  (By the way, what’s with this craze for putting traffic lights around roundabouts?  The whole point of a roundabout is to avoid the need for traffic lights, isn’t it?)  
Anyway, this (last?) Tuesday, I went through all seventeen sets of lights on green.  All seventeen, green.  This has never happened before, and never will again.  It’s a logistical impossibility.  I’m elated.  Or was.

2.      Today, the tree fellers came to chop down the half-dead pigeon toilet.  No, I’m not going to explain, except to say it’s the toilet that was half dead, not the pigeons.  They (the tree people, not the pigeons (although they can be too)) were very efficient.  I love watching those huge Magimix wood-chewing things. 

When they’d finished, the boss feller knocked at the door.  “Do you want to pay?”  He asked.  I toyed with the question for a moment, then said: “Um, yes.  Cash?”

Here’s the unusual bit.  “I’d rather have a cheque.”

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Which weekend was that?

If I say “this weekend”, I might be referring to the one just past, or the one just coming.  Usually you’ll be able to tell from the context, especially the tense of the surrounding sentence.  But it’s inherently ambiguous.

Now, if I say “last weekend”, the ambiguity thickens.  If I were to say, for example, “I went to Abergavenny last weekend”, apart from this being a lie, you’d be unsure which weekend I was referring to.  Your interpretation might be swayed by the day on which I made the assertion: if today were Monday the 16th, you might suppose I was referring to Saturday and Sunday the 7th and 8th *; but if I said it on Friday the 20th, I might easily be talking about the 14th and 15th.  (It’d still be a lie, but that’s not the point.)

“Next weekend” is even worse, because it’s about the future, and any inherent uncertainty could result in missed appointments, communication breakdowns, acrimony and tears.  The same ground rules as for “last” probably help; but they don’t cover Wednesday.  “I’ll see you in Abergavenny next weekend”, spoken over the phone even on a Thursday, could have repercussions way beyond the “oh well…”.  Wellington texts Napoleon:  “Wen U sed CU nxt wkend, Waterloo, I thought ment…” **  You get the picture.

So far, I don’t remember this amphibology placing me in any life-changing situations, maybe because if it’s that important, I’ll probably be specific about the actual dates.  I’ll be in Abergavenny on the 20th.  (That’s a lie too, by the way.)  Mainly, I just wanted to type the words ‘Abergavenny’ and ‘amphibology’, and see those dinky little superscripts popping up on the dates.

* A calendar might be helpful at this point

**Thanks to Bee for that one.



Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Five Things I Knew a Bit About but Didn’t Understand*

These are drawn, very loosely, from a rather marvellous book by Simon Flynn called ‘The Science Magpie’ (Icon Books Ltd, 2013).  The title tells you all you need to know about it.

1.      You believe your weight to be 8st 9oz, or in my case, 12st 3oz, right?  Wrong.  That’s your mass.  Your weight (which is measured in Newtons) will depend on where you are.  It’s a relationship between your mass and the strength of gravity, which varies from place to place.  To test this, go to the Moon.

2.      Water boils at 1000C, doesn’t it?  Well, it might do where you are, near sea level; but at the top of Mount Everest it’s just 680C.  No wonder it took them so long to get up there – couldn’t get a decent cup of tea.

3.      Heaven may be hotter than Hell, or not, depending on how you interpret the Bible and apply the relevant measurements.

4.      Guess what the most important equation was in the history of humankind?  That’s right: ‘1 + 1 = 2’.

5.      I still don’t know what ‘electrical charge’ is.

* I’m not saying I now do, completely, but it’s been fun confirming my ignorance.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Caravan Diaries (organised chaos*)

We were a bit late starting, so got to Newport just at the time that the robots who control the variable speed limits were changing shift.  The traffic was light, but we were told to keep to 40 as there were queues.  I was about to make a clever-clogs remark about this when we hit (not literally!) the back of a queue.  I decided that this was an example of what I dubbed ‘reverse effect syndrome’ – the speed limit causes the tailback; or to generalise, cures cause diseases.  This insight was met with a “hmm”, or possibly “hmmph”; but as the speed limit disappeared, so did the queue.

As a result, we were a bit late arriving.  It was dark, we were hungry and thirsty, but first I had to fill the water tank.  This usually simple procedure wasn’t.  I won’t go into details, because they’re embarrassing, but it concerns the hose, my inability to find the end of it, and, to generalise again, the need to guard against the outcomes of switching too quickly from one mode of thinking (driving fast – requires quick reactions and no interpretation) to the opposite one.  By the time I’d failed to solve my self-created problem, it was nearly ten o’clock.  Fortunately the gin bottle doesn’t have a ‘use by’ timestamp.


Saturday morning, after we’d resolved the hose crisis, and I’d reflected on how a stupid false assumption (which you may not even realise you’ve made) can lead to massive unforeseen consequences, we decided to go to Tenby.  I’ve been there so often I know it by heart, but Bee hadn’t been for years.  As we approached the town walls, we’d noticed signs saying ‘IRON MAN, ROAD CLOSED, 8 SEPT 9.30 am-5.50pm’.  Then there was a police roadblock, where a very polite smiling PC helped me do a U turn and go back the way we’d come.  So we went to Manorbier instead, had a lovely walk on the beach, and headed back to the van.  Seeing more and more of those signs. 
I wasn’t unduly worried, until I noticed one on the road along the seafront, which is the only way out of the caravan site.  We’d been planning a leisurely breakfast, perhaps a wander on the beach, head home about eleven.

Luckily, we bumped into a caravan neighbour, who explained that it meant what it said: get on this road before half-nine, or you’ll be stuck here watching cyclists whizz by until half-five.  “Will you be staying to watch it?” she asked.  Apparently (I found out later) Iron Man Races are massive long distance triathlon events (promoted, incidentally, by a rather shady profit-making organisation with, it would seem, the power to close down half a county).  So we rethought our plans and were on the road by nine this morning.


Just after Bristol, the car issued a warning: ‘ENGINE FAILURE: DRIVE MODERATELY.’  This being a German car, I guessed that meant ‘don’t exceed 120 mph’, but I was more moderate than that.  I’ve had this happen before.  I’ll sort it out tomorrow.


* Prominent in my oxymoron collection, but I rarely experience a whole weekend of it.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Tiny Tom?

This blog doesn't do smut, or not often, so I toyed with several titles for this post before settling on the above.  Feel free to suggest alternatives.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Dylan does it again!

He's a bottomless pit!

Like the rest of the universe, I was utterly perplexed by 'Self Portrait' when it cam out in 1970.  (Mind you, I was pretty well pretty perplexed by pretty much everything, that year.)  So I was seriously perplexed by this new double album, 'Another Self Portrait'.  If the original was so awful ('what is this shit?' is the famous review by Greil Marcus), how much worse can the out-takes be?  So I bought it today, just to find out.
I've only listened once  to disc 1, a mere seventeen tracks, but I can report as follows - it's bloody marvellous!  Why he didn't release this stuff back then, nobody can guess, except the Bobster.  And as always, he's not telling.

Monday, 2 September 2013

In praise of 112

In case you didn’t know, that’s the number to call if the emergency doesn’t quite warrant a 999, or if you’re not sure.  The reason I now know this can be summed up in three words: anxiety, panic, farce.

Around midday today, Bee phoned me to share a problem regarding her broadband, which was that, after moving house, it didn’t exist.

What should have happened was that, once her physical line proved to be working, she’d call her ISP, who would then get her logical broadband connection switched across.  So that’s what she did.  It took a while, but eventually it transpired that, instead of doing this, BT (for it is they) had cancelled the link.  In other words, a request to provide a new service had been interpreted as a request to cancel any service.  Easy mistake, happens all the time doesn’t it?

Even more interestingly (and I know you’re now glued to the screen; bear with me, it gets better), it proved impossible to reverse this wee error (i.e. doing the opposite of what you’ve been asked to do).  Literally,  physically impossible.  So BT cannot, it seems, correct their own F*ups. 

The only solution, it turned out, was to set up a new ISP contract.  This obviously required some research, which nowadays can only really be done online, which … you get the picture.  So she phoned me for help. 

I had nothing better to do, and I actually thrive on an interesting research project, so I got stuck in and after a couple of hours identified what I felt was the best fit to her needs.  So I phoned back to pass this on. 

No answer.

We now move from anxiety into panic

Bee lives on her own, though we’re very close and share everything.  But we’re 25 miles apart.  She’d told me that she’d be spending the afternoon painting her study, but would have the phone by her side. 

After the first couple of tries, I started to worry a bit.  After three hours, I started to panic.  She wasn’t answering her mobile either.  What should I do?  I imagined all sorts of things.  Has she fallen off the ladder?  (Possible.)  Has she had a heart attack?  (Unlikely, but not impossible.)  She definitely won’t have gone out without telling me.  Should I drive up there?  (I almost had my shoes on at 6.30.)  Then I thought “this feels like an emergency.”  So I looked it up and called 112.

The police, to whom I was immediately put through, picked up on my concerns at once.  After taking the basic details, the first thing they said to me was “an officer is on the way up there now.”  There were loads of supplementary questions, but that at least took the wind out of my panic sails.

Here comes the farce bit.

Thirty minutes later, the phone rang.  It was Bee.  She’d been anxious because I hadn’t called back with the broadband info, then the police person knocked at the door.  Turns out that, in spreading the dustsheets for the decorating, she’d accidentally dislodged the phone connection.  The police person was very nice about it.

I said: “Can I call you back in five?  I want to pour myself a very large gin and tonic.” 

Which is what happened.