Tuesday, 28 April 2009

"Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?"

It seems that real life and fantasy are getting a bit blurred lately. Regular readers may recall that I had a bit of bother with the Land Rover (aka 'The Tractor') a couple of weeks ago and I'm afraid it's still broken. This is deeply irritating, as it's only six months out of warranty and yet it appears to have nadgered a fuel pump due to leaking diesel injector seals. This would be bad enough, but there's also something peculiar going on, that prevents the engine starting with any kind of reliability.

This lack of reliability seems to have rubbed off on my Fantasy Formula One Grand Prix team.

One of the blokes at work runs a Fantasy Formula One League every year, and I took part for the first time last year. At the start of the season you have to pick two mini-teams. Each mini-team has two main drivers and a reserve driver. Each driver has a cash value, and you are limited to a total budget of forty million pounds to pay for all six drivers. Because you cannot afford to fill your team with all the 'top' drivers, you're forced to buy in some of the less obvious candidates for the winners podium.
Points are awarded to drivers based on the finishing positions for each race. It makes the races more fun to watch, because you end up supporting people you normally wouldn't have any interest in.
Last year was pretty good, and my team finished the season in a respectable position, somewhere in the top ten.

This year has not gone so well however, with some of my drivers barely capable of finding their way to the race-track, let alone the finishing line.
Of the twenty cars to start the Bahrain Grand Prix last weekend only the one driven by Nakajima failed to finish. Yes, you've guessed it. He's in my team.
To make matters even worse, Blight-of-my-life negotiated a deal with with one of my workmates who has no interest in motor racing, and he agreed to 'front' a team for her. Her team is doing considerably better than mine and I'm sorry to say that her attempt at sympathy ("Oh dear, perhaps you won't be bottom of the league after the next race") would have been more convincing if she hadn't been smirking quite so much.

I don't know if there is some mysterious link between my Fantasy Formula One team's fortunes and the health of The Tractor, but if there is, I really hope that Messrs Alonso, Bourdais, Barrichello, Kubica, Nakajima and Beumi get their act together soon.

Monday, 20 April 2009

I don't do gardening

I'd better apologise in advance for this, but I expect there'll be quite a bit of garden related nonsense here for a while. You'll note that I don't actually call it "gardening", but this is because I don't do gardening; plants and green leafy stuff are things that grow in spite of my intervention, rather than because of it. The real gardening is done by Blight-of-my-life, which suits both of us and also gives the plants a fighting chance of survival. The only time that I get involved in garden-stuff is when it veers off into the realms of Civil Engineering; sheds, patios, fences... and greenhouses.

I suppose I only have myself to blame for this. I worked in the building industry some years ago (decades ago, actually) and although there is no way that I'd want to make a living like that anymore, I get quite a kick out of making a nice job of something that other, less experienced/foolhardy people, would have done by a professional.
Just don't expect me to do it without grumbling.

A couple of years ago, we decided that the garden needed a serious overhaul. We replaced some horrible wibbly-wobbly paving slabs with a new patio, put up a new wooden shed, modified the existing brick shed to cope with new recycling bins, replaced some fencing and moved the existing greenhouse. As usual, it all took much longer than planned, but eventually the effort paid off. The garden was no longer an embarrassment and by the end of the summer, the greenhouse was stuffed with yummy tomatoes.

Of course then Blight decided that the greenhouse wasn't big enough.

"I quite fancy growing melons this year, as well as tomatoes. Do you think we could fit another greenhouse next to this one?"
"What did you say?"
"Nothing dear..."
"It can be my birthday present"
This is a sneaky shot, for which I have no legitimate defense. After all, what kind of miserable sod would begrudge his partner a birthday present she genuinely wants, rather than the speculative purchases that most blokes resort to. (Did someone mention 'Ann Summers' by any chance?)
"I was growling", I reply with surprising honesty
"Because I'm thinking of all the digging and concrete and piles of soil and other stuff that we'll have to do if we get another greenhouse."
"It won't be that bad, will it?..."

Well, as I mentioned a couple of posts ago, the greenhouse has arrived. There's a long, thin cardboard box, a kit of parts for the base and a load of panes of glass. Before I can put all this lot together, however, I have to clear an area of turf, then dig out and concrete the foundations.
This on its own should be no cause for alarm; after all, I've done it all before with the existing greenhouse... Come to think about it, I've done it twice with the existing greenhouse. No, the bonus challenge this time, is that there's an old and sickly section of privet hedge intruding into the space where the new greenhouse needs to go. The only practical solution is to dig it out and replace it with some new fencing.

...and I've got to get it finished before the tomato plants have got too big.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

If only...

I've just finished re-watching the TV series 'Firefly', on DVD.

If you enjoy Science Fiction, and you've never come across this gem, beg, borrow or buy it NOW! It is a genuine lost masterpiece. It was the series that Joss Whedon created after he'd finished 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', and concerns the crew of 'Serenity', a Firefly class spaceship.

The series is beautifully made with a core cast of genuinely interesting characters, in a future where humans terraformed and colonized the planets and moons of an unspecified volume of space. Life in the colonies is pretty basic and is essentially a sort of futuristic Wild West, with any and all the technology that would be available by then. In a typical frontier spaceport you could expect to see horse-drawn carts alongside hovercars and shops selling spacesuits and stetsons. Unlike the 'Star Trek' universe, not everything is shiny and new, with most things looking pretty well-used. Also, unlike 'Star Trek', there are no aliens.

Sadly, the FOX Network weren't bright enough to let Whedon and his team deliver the programs as they were originally conceived, and they insisted on broadcasting episodes out of order. They were apparently scared stiff that if they didn't put loads of action in the first programs, people wouldn't bother to watch, regardless of the fact that nobody would know who the characters were, because the introductory episode hadn't been shown. After mucking about with the episode order, and moving some episodes aside to fit in sporting fixtures, FOX decided that the ratings weren't good enough, and cancelled the show after just 11 episodes had been transmitted.

Luckily, an extremely loyal and active fan-base lobbied for a DVD release, and when it duly appeared it included all the episodes in the correct order, as well as another three that had not been televised and a bunch of DVD commentaries and extras as well.
This DVD sold like crazy, and the popularity was so convincing that Whedon was able to get a green light from Universal Pictures to produce a full length feature film, 'Serenity', for cinema release.
It was some consolation

There is a story that after the TV executives first saw the pilot episode of Star Trek,
one of them said, "It's pretty good... but you've gotta get rid of the guy with the ears."
Fortunately for 'Star Trek', this suggestion was ignored.

If only similar sense had prevailed in the board-rooms at FOX, when 'Firefly' was created.

Monday, 13 April 2009

"Party on Dudes..."

Well that was fun.

The long-anticipated party was successfully thrown last Friday and Blight-of-my-life's birthday has been well and truly celebrated.

Family and friends made their way to Happy Valley from all over the place. There were friends from hundreds of miles away and from just across the street. There were faces that we hadn't seen for thirty years and others that we see nearly every day. Altogether it was a splendid mix of folk who all seemed utterly committed to having a good time and, as far as I could tell, they achieved that admirably.

We are extremely fortunate to have so many good friends who not only came along, but also put in a loads of effort before, during and after the event to make the whole thing work. In fact, we had more offers of assistance than we could sensibly accept, so for everyone who helped or offered to help ...."Thank you all"

There were a couple of hiccups, however.

The delivery of the new greenhouse which we had expected in about five weeks time, was rescheduled at 24 hours notice, so it was delivered during the morning of the party (in between collecting the glasses we had on loan from Sainsburys and collecting the keys for the hall where the party was to be held) This was a hell of a lot less problematic than the second snag though.

A couple of hours after the party had finished, at about two o'clock in the morning, everyone had gone home and we'd swept the floors and mopped the toilets. Blight and I had loaded all the dirty glasses, empty bottles, cans and other debris into the back of The Tractor and we were ready to head home to bed. We clambered in, I turned the key, the starter motor whirred....
and whirred...
and whirred...

It wouldn't start
"Oh great," I said, trying the starter again.
Same lack of success.
We tried some low-level swearing, but that didn't work either.
After several more abortive attempts, we were just about resigned to abandoning the traitorous vehicle in the car park, walking home and dealing with the problem after a few hours sleep.
"Let's give it one more try"


"Let's just get home then, it sounds alright now"

So it got us home OK, but it has stubbornly refused to start since then.
After several hours of speculative prodding, I've still got no idea what's wrong, so I'll have to speak to our local Land Rover wizards after the Bank Holiday.