Thursday, 18 March 2010

Goodbye 'Stealthy Ninja'

Yesterday, a small group of us from work, went to the funeral of Rob Kemp, who worked here at Jodrell Bank as a security guard.

Of the people who have patrolled this site over the years, Rob was one of the few who actively enjoyed the amount of walking it entailed.
Having to make several circuits of the site during a shift gave him ample opportunity to observe all the wildlife that we have here. He said that being able to keep tabs on the rabbits, stoats, buzzards, owls and peregrine falcons, made every day less like work and more like a nature ramble.

Rob's sudden and untimely death came as a great shock to all of us who worked alongside him, but our deepest sympathies are with his partner and his family.

Robert Kemp: 1960 to 2010

Thursday, 11 March 2010

If Michael Schumacher isn't retiring, neither am I

After the utterly dismal performance by my Fantasy Formula One Team last year, you might have expected that I'd have given up in disgust and retired from the cut and thrust of motor sport.

I suppose it could have been worse...

Well actually it couldn't.

Yes, I came last.

The early season misfortunes were not, as I had hoped, "a blip".
The failure of my racing drivers to achieve anything better than mediocrity sent the team slithering remorselessly down the leaderboard, like a car on slick tyres aquaplaning in a rainstorm.
OK, I picked the team, so I'm not entirely blameless, but my failure is mostly one of misplaced confidence in the abilities of my drivers.
Buemi was next to useless, whilst Nakajima and Bourdais were so lack-lustre that they failed to impress anybody enough to get re-hired for the new season. The only consistently good performance came from Barrichello, but as I had underestimated the quality of the Brawn car that he was to drive, I'd picked him as a reserve driver, so I rarely benefitted from the points he scored. 

This year will be different.

This year I'm pinning my F1 hopes on Hamilton, Trulli, Sutil, Kobayashi, Kubica and Glock.
I reckon that with these guys I can reasonably to expect to do better than last year, but more importantly, I hope to do better than Blight-of-my-life.
Our Fantasy League is run by one of the guys at work, so it is supposed to be for Jodrell Bank staff only, but Blight has once again negotiated a deal with one of my work colleagues who has no interest in motor racing, where he is fronting a team of drivers that she has selected.
Last year she finished around halfway down the rankings, so she is hoping to do better this year and rather keen to finish well ahead of me again.

The first race of the season is on Sunday, in Bahrain.

"Gentlemen...! Start your engines!"

Stirling Moss

Monday, 8 March 2010


I decided that as the local model railway society were having their annual exhibition at the weekend, I'd go along and get a bit if inspiration for my own railway modelling activities.

It never ceases to amaze me how much care and attention to detail people will lavish on their layouts, so a couple of hours wandering around the various stands was well worth it.

There were some excellent examples of layouts in various scales from 'O' to 'N' modelled on prototypes from most eras of rail development, run with studied concentration by individuals or, on the more extensive set-ups, by teams of dedicated operators.

Hopefully, these pictures will give you some idea of the workmanship on show.







I particularly liked this small scene of industrial confusion.
It must have been based on a true story...

Friday, 5 March 2010

Nostalgia: It's not what it used to be...

I've had my first "Verbal Warning" that I'm subjecting the good folk of the blogosphere to an overdose of nostalgia.

She was about half way through the reminiscences about my late lamented Austin A40, when Blight-of-my-life enquired,
"Why do so many of your blog posts start with the words 'I remember when...' and  'back in the seventies...' eh?"

She has a point.
I always knew that there was a risk of this happening, but I thought it was a temptation that I'd be able to control. It appears that I was wrong.
It's starting to sound like I don't actually exist in the present, so I need to get a grip and be a bit more "now".

So here's the pledge.

"I will not refer to the 1970s or use the phrase 'I remember when' (or anything similarly nostalgic) for at least six months"

This will probably be tougher than I expect.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Dick Francis: Thank you.

There was a time when just about the only books that I read were Science Fiction with a smattering of Fantasy and the odd thriller. Then, one day shortly after Blight-of-my-life and I had moved in together, I happened to pick up a battered paperback by Dick Francis. Blight had read quite a few of his books, but I  had always been put off by the idea that, although these were thrillers, they were "all about horse racing". There was nothing else in the house that I'd either not read at all or fancied re-reading, so I thought I'd give it a try.

It was a revelation.

Certainly the story was set in the world of Horse Racing; the hero owned several race horses. And yet there was so much more to the tale and it was so deftly plotted that background never got in the way of a first class tale.

I went on to read many more of his books over the years and he has seldom let me down. His books draw you in and are pretty hard to put down. In fact, if I pick one up, even if I've read it several times before, I'll still read it yet again.

When I heard that Dick Francis had died, last month, I thought it would be a fitting tribute to enjoy one of his books again. After a quick search along the shelves in the spare room, I found that same battered copy of "High Stakes" that I'd first read over twenty years ago.

I've just finished it, and it is still a cracking good read.

Monday, 1 March 2010

That Jack Kerouac has a lot to answer for

The demise of Blight-of-my-life's Vauxhall Corsa has thrust us into looking for a replacement car.

For many people, the prospect of going shopping for a car will be a source of joy and excitement. We are less enthusiastic. It's just like most other shopping; time consuming and irritating, but with the added bitterness of being expensive.
Furthermore, it all seems to be a much more long-winded exercise nowadays too. All the trawling through magazines, brochures and websites, then traipsing round various dealerships asking the same set of questions and getting the same sorts of answers from the weary looking sales people.
Perhaps things used to be simpler back in the 1970s.  I can remember when... first car had finally gone for scrap.
I was working as a self employed steel-fixer and living back with my parents. Money was pretty tight. I was earning a reasonable wage, but I had no savings whatsoever, so my search for a replacement car was severely constrained by my budget. In those days, the concept of readily available credit was unheard of. Unless you were prepared to tie yourself down to a 3 year "Hire Purchase" agreement, you didn't buy something unless you could pay for it there and then.

I went through the local newspaper and optimistically circled a few adverts, then walked to the nearest 'phone box to see if any of them sounded like they'd be worth seeing. The short list got a bit shorter and I arranged to see the likeliest candidates.
After a couple of false starts, including a decrepit Volkswagen covered in chicken droppings in a farmer's barn, I ended up, on a sunny Saturday morning, at a small garage where there were two cars that I could afford. I dismissed one as too shabby even for my limited resources and had a test drive in the other. It was OK. I paid the man £125, he gave me a receipt, the log book and the keys and I drove it away. I was the proud owner of a 1964 Austin A40.

On the way home, I called in at a local broker and a got an insurance cover-note. Then I went around to see my friend Ian and show off the new wheels.

Ian had been one of my best mates since we'd been at school. We had both underachieved companionably for several years. He had been one of the first of my friends to pass his driving test and thanks to his Dad, who somewhat rashly allowed Ian to borrow his Riley Elf, our horizons had expanded. Visits to friends or concerts in Birmingham had become that bit easier.

Ian was suitably impressed.

"Let's go and see Julie", he suggested.
"Yeah. Great idea...", I had a sudden thought, "Hang on, she's not at her folks anymore. Where's she living now?"
"Blimey, that's more than a hundred miles away."
"You could treat it as a proving run... You can see if everything works properly."
I was still a bit dubious.
Then he said, "She's having a party tonight..."
That did it.
We bundled Ian's travelling bag into the back, nipped back to my house for my stuff and we were off.
It was the first of many trips up the M6 in that car and it set the standard. We were barely at Birmingham before a hole opened up in the exhaust system that threatened to gas us, as the fumes found their way through the not entirely complete floor. We bought an exhaust bandage, mended the leak and continued. Another thirty miles and the exhaust was beginning to sound a bit throaty again. We bought some Gun-Gum and plugged up a fresh hole that had appeared in the silencer. We carried on until the first repair gave up the ghost somewhere near Manchester. More exhaust bandage was wound around the exhaust pipe, but this time we reinforced the repair by wrapping a butchered Coca-Cola tin around it too.

That got us to Liverpool.

The return trip on the following day was mostly uneventful until, thirty miles from home, with a tortured graunching sound, the horribly abused exhaust pipe broke in half and sagged feebly onto the tarmac. It was probably the extra weight of all that exhaust bandage, repair putty and soft drink cans that did it.
As I surveyed the damage from my, by now increasingly familiar position under the car, it was clear that the exhaust was wrecked, but if we removed the broken section completely, the noise would attract the interest of every police officer in the West Midlands. A final heroic repair was accomplished by removing the metal rod that normally supports the bonnet when you need to check the engine, and using it as a splint for the fractured pipe.
When I got home, my Dad came outside to cast a parental eye over the Austin.
"How was the trip?", he asked.
"Not too bad. Why?"
"I just thought the exhaust sounds a bit rough..."