Saturday, 31 July 2010

Another way to confuse chuggers

I'm not a great fan of "chuggers". Although they almost always make extraordinary efforts to be polite and cheerful, there is something rather unpleasant about being waylaid by an earnest young person clutching a clip-board, who tries to engage you in a conversation as a prelude to signing up to donate to their good cause.

It is not a job that I would want to do.
I'm sure that spending the day being ignored, avoided or abused must be a soul destroying experience. Not only are these people less welcome on a busy shopping street than that bloke miming getting out of a glass box, but they have to wear a hideous tabard as well.
I don't like what they have to do for a living but I have some sympathy for their situation, so I don't consider it fair to be rude or unpleasant if I get tagged

There are much better ways of making an encounter with a charity mugger a joyful experience, as I discovered yesterday afternoon.

I was strolling along one of the busier pedestrianised streets of Macclesfield.
I had just been to the library and as I had forgotten to take a bag with me, I had an armful of books.
I spotted the chuggers in the distance and as I got closer, it occurred to me that the largest book that I was carrying was a similar size to the clip-boards that the sales team were armed with.
I had an idea.

One of the team was right in front of me, but instead of veering away and using traditional evasive tactics, I caught his eye and headed straight towards him.
Before he had a chance to open his mouth, I stepped up and said,
"Hi.", then pointing at the book I was carrying, said "would you like to buy this?"
He hesitated, taken off-guard.
"Er... No. No thanks."
"OK. Sorry to have bothered you."
I nodded farewell and before he had a chance to work out what had gone wrong, I walked on.

Sometimes it's the little things that make life worth living.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

I write like...

One of the good folk who follow this blog (thanks again, Mean Queen) was very complimentary about my writing style recently, so when East of North drew my attention to the "I Write Like" site, I thought I'd see what it came up with.

"I Write Like" is a site which claims to determine which author's style your own writing most resembles. All you have to do is cut and paste a chunk of text into the space provided, then click on the "Analyze" button for it to give you its verdict.

"Jolly good," I thought, "I'll try my most recent blog post and see what it makes of that."
As you can imagine, I was really pleased to discover that I write like Douglas Adams.

I write like
Douglas Adams
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Naturally, I wondered if it would give the same answer for other samples from the blog so I submitted another post for scrutiny.
This time I was likened to James Joyce.
"James Joyce! Blimey, how cool is that!", I thought.

Then it all went downhill.

A couple more posts were offered up for analysis and to my dismay they revealed that their style matched that of Dan Brown.
My dreams of being a literary giant were well and truly punctured.

Then, just for a laugh, I analyzed a business document that I had written and the result was...

Let me put it this way. If you were a manager and received a document that had been written in the style of the man described by Stephen King as "the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.", how do you think you would react?

Yes, I write like H. P. Lovecraft.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Rarer than a Solar Eclipse

I quite often have to remind people that I am not an astronomer.
This is probably a less familiar disclaimer than "I am not a lawyer..." or "I am not a doctor...", but it is something that I need to say every so often, because there is a reasonable expectation that somebody who sits at the controls of the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank must be an astronomer.
It may surprise you, but employing an astronomer as a Controller to operate the Lovell Radio Telescope has traditionally been discouraged.
The reasoning behind this seemingly bizarre policy, is that you want the people who are operating the telescope to be focussed on the wellbeing of the instrument rather than the research that is being carried out.
For example. Someone who is keen to complete a particular astronomical observation might be reluctant to stop observing even though the strength of the wind has risen to a point where the structure could suffer irreperable damage.

In spite of not being an astronomer I do need to know some astronomy and so I have to refer to "The Astronomical Almanac". This is published each year and contains a vast array of data concerning the behaviour of the Sun, Moon, the Planets and Pluto, as well as coordinates of many different types of stars and galaxies.
Amongst the phenomena that are listed are any eclipses of the Sun or Moon and where they can be observed on the Earth's surface. I used to think that solar eclipses were pretty unusual but since I started working as a Telescope Controller, I've discovered that they happen comparatively often. Two years ago there were two total eclipses of the Sun, last year there was one, and if you were on The Cook Islands, Polynesia or the southern tip of South America just over a week ago you would have been ideally place to experience the phenomenon.

Something that is far rarer than an eclipse is getting all six Telescope Controllers together at the same time. For safe operation of our telescopes it is essential that there is always a Controller on duty, for every hour of every day of the year. This, of course means that on any day, three Controllers will be covering the eight hour shifts while the remaining three will be on rest days or on leave.

In the ten years that I've been doing the job I had never seen more than four Controllers in the same room at the same time, but last Thursday we finally managed to get the full set.

...and here's the proof.

They said it couldn't be done... 

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The family curse

Yes. I can reveal that our family is beset by a dreadful curse.

We seem powerless to resist the siren call of the bass guitar.

OK, it can't compete with the Hound of the Baskervilles, but there is something vaguely unsettling about the way it follows us.
It shows no respect for either age or gender and it can strike without warning at any time.

The first victim was the elder of my two brothers. He played bass in a group in Worcestershire around the end of the 1960s. As far as I can remember, they stuck together for a couple of years playing functions and some local clubs, although I never saw them play. I do remember the guitar he had though, a rather pleasing Hofner Blonde semi-acoustic.

It was several years after my brother had stopped playing that I fell under the spell. A friend of mine decided that a smart way to supplement our meagre wages would be to form a dance band. As we were living near Torquay at the time, he reckoned it would be a doddle to get some gigs during the tourist season. I had played acoustic guitar in folk clubs for several years, but I'd never considered playing in a band before, so I was quite surprised when he suggested that I join him. I probably could have resisted if he hadn't said the one thing guaranteed to sucker me in.
"You'd look great playing bass", he said, and I fell for it.

At the end of that summer, the band broke up and we went our separate ways. I moved to Cheshire and although I kept the Fender Jazz copy that had served me so well, it was exiled to the loft.
It seemed that I had shaken off the curse.

Then another member of the family was ensnared. This time it was the daughter of my other brother. The curse had somehow skipped a generation, missing him but catching my niece instead.
To make matters worse, at around this time I was lured out of retirement by a work-mate who was learning to play the guitar and needed someone to play with. I retrieved my bass from the loft and discovered how much I'd missed playing it. I began practicing again. I bought a Rickenbacker 4003. I was invited to join a band. We played a few gigs. We split up. I joined another band...

...and we're still gigging.

A few of days ago, it was my eldest brother's birthday, so I 'phoned him for a bit of a chat.
It turns out that he's just got hold of another bass guitar and has started playing again.
After all these years of lying dormant, the curse has re-awakened and caught up with him.
He's just turned sixty-nine.

Happy Birthday mate!