Friday, 26 November 2010

"Shackleton's Voyage"

Following the comment from Anonymous on yesterday's post, I thought I'd draw your attention to a rather interesting re-telling of story of The Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition  and of Ernest Shackleton's remarkable achievement.

"Eureka" were not a band that I'd come across before, but Amazon suggested that their CD, "Shackleton's Voyage" was something I might consider worth buying. I listened to the short samples of each of the tracks and was impressed enough by what I heard to order it.

If you are totally averse to Prog Rock or the very idea of a "Concept Album", you may well be strongly inclined to dismiss this piece, but as far as these sort of compositions go, I reckon that it is almost too accessible. If I was forced to compare it with any other album, I'd say that some of it was reminiscent of early Mike Oldfield. There are a few short spoken passages which may remind you of "War of the Worlds" and there is a particularly celtic feel to some sections.

I had a quick trawl through YouTube and found several clips from the album, so here is "Going Home". 

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Let's try not to get caught out...

Back in the early days of this blog, I posted about a particularly memorable occasion, when Blight-of-my-life and I were stranded by snow, on the edge of Dartmoor. As the weather forecast is threatening us with the first snowfall of this winter, it's time to check that my Emergency Kit is all packed and ready for any journeys in bad weather.

Now I don't want to give the impression that I'm some kind of survivalist or apocalypse-watcher, but just taking the trouble to carry a few extra things in your vehicle can make a major impact on your comfort and wellbeing if you are unlucky enough to get caught out by freak weather or some other transport disfunction.

The occasions when I have been least well prepared for being stranded have always been when it was cold, so here's what I try to ensure that I've got with me when I'm driving during the winter.

Extra Clothing: The Land Rover heater is notoriously feeble, so I tend to wrap up warm for normal driving, let alone when conditions are at their worst. To supplement this, I carry a spare long-sleeved thermal vest and thermal "long-johns", woolly hat, gloves, spare fleece and a water-proof cagoul. Another wonderful bit of cold weather clothing are salopettes. I wouldn't normally have bought these, as I don't ski, but I picked up a pair of these quilted over-trousers from a charity shop for a couple of quid.

Footwear: The sort of shoes that are comfortable or practical for driving may not be awfully good for trudging about in snow, so I keep my walking boots in the vehicle. If you can find space for a decent pair of wellington boots, they 're also handy if your journey is disrupted by flood water.

Nesting Material: A lot of drivers keep a car-rug or blanket in their vehicle, but I prefer to carry a sleeping bag. If you can't get home and have to sleep in the car or camped on some good samaritan's floor, a decent sleeping bag can make life much more bearable.

Food & Drink: Although it is recommended that you should keep a few energy snacks in your vehicle; dried fruit, nuts or similar, I usually don't carry these. The thing that will really cheer you up if you're stranded in the cold and/or darkness, is a hot drink. Just the act of brewing up will raise your morale, so I carry a small camping stove, methylated spirit fuel and matches. I keep a few tea-bags in a zip-loc bag, a sachet of instant hot-chocolate drink and I also try to pack a tin of soup.
Whatever you choose to drink, don't forget to take something to drink out of and keep a plastic bottle of fresh water in the car; (It's difficult to make tea without water)

Warning: It's a very bad idea to use a camping stove inside a vehicle. They are intended for outdoor use only. If the possibility of accidentally setting fire to your car isn't enough to discourage you, bear in mind that your stove will produce carbon monoxide and this can kill you.

Other Stuff: Rules for what you must carry in your vehicle vary from country to country, but even if it isn't compulsory for you to carry a First Aid Kit, a decent flashlight, a tow rope and a high visibility jacket, all of these are worth considering.

And finally...
Don't forget to keep some toilet paper in your vehicle, sealed in a polythene bag to keep it dry. If you ever need this and you haven't got any, you are heading for misery.
I'll not elaborate, just trust me on this.


Thursday, 18 November 2010

An apology to neighbours and fellow road-users

Yes folks, it was me... and I'm very sorry.

Driving home on Tuesday evening, I made a bit of a tactical error. I had reckoned that I would have sufficient fuel to get from work to the local Tesco filling station, where I could make use of a "5p Off, per litre" voucher when I filled up with diesel. As you will no doubt have realized, this was wrong. Like an idiot, I chose to not only ignore that little orange fuel light on the dashboard, but I also decided that the increasingly insistent whine from the rear of the vehicle, as the fuel pump struggled to slurp up the dregs in the fuel tank, wasn't a sign of impending trouble.

About half a mile short of the filling station, the inevitable happened. Without a single warning splutter, the engine simply stopped... just as I arrived at a roundabout, in the middle of Macclesfield in evening rush-hour traffic.
Fortunately, once I'd switched on the hazard warning lights, I was able get out and direct the traffic around my stricken vehicle. With the traffic moving (comparatively) freely again, I dug out the 5 litre can of diesel that I carry, and poured the contents into the tank.

Those of you who are familiar with diesel engines will know that putting fuel in isn't normally all that is required to get the motor going again if it has run out. A tedious operation, known as "bleeding", is usually called for. The fuel feed lines to the engine are progressively uncoupled, then fuel is pumped through from the tank until air has been purged from the system and fuel is flowing freely. It's a fiddly and filthy operation, even under the best conditions, so I was very relieved when, after giving the starter motor a serious work-out, the engine burst into life.

So everything was fine again. All I had to do was drive the remaining half mile to Tesco, fill the tank and then trundle home.
That's when the burglar alarm decided to kick off.

I'd just got rolling and had merged into the traffic flow when the piercing, 120 decibel siren began screeching from the engine compartment and my hazard warning lights began pulsing like a demented disco. As I was under the illusion that the burglar alarm system had been disabled some while ago, I was rather surprised at its sudden, miraculous resurrection. I was also wishing that I had kept the little radio transponder that controls the alarm on my key ring, instead of consigning it to the bottom of a drawer in the sideboard at home.
I was forced to drive the final few miles home, accompanied by a ghastly, pulsating din, a frantic lightshow and the puzzled looks of everybody within ear-shot.
I could almost read their lips as I passed. "What does that twat in the Land Rover think he's doing..?"

So, once again. I apologise.
Furthermore, I promise to not to allow myself to run out of fuel and cause traffic mayhem in Macclesfield, and I promise to sort out the burglar alarm system on my vehicle.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Normal service will be resumed, as soon as...

In the words of the song, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone"

We're suffering from the sudden absence of internet at Cyber Mansions at the moment and it is surprising just how irksome this is. Luckily, I still have access to the web at work, but domestically, we have been hurled back in time to the 1990's. The level of inconvenience varies and is wildly subjective. Blight-of-my-life is probably most put out at being forced to start watching weather forecasts on the TV instead of getting up-to-the-minute local forecasts from the Met Office, whereas I find the severing of contact with "Steam", where I have saved positions in a number of games, pretty annoying.

The cause of our exile from the cyberspace is "Mr Belkin", the wireless modem/router. ...and before you ask, Yes, I have tried turning it off and back on again. The computer can see that it is connected to an unidentified network, but no amount of instruction manual driven behaviour has any effect.
It is bereft of life... an ex-router.

To compound the misery, the offending unit is the heart of our domestic Wi-Fi network, so this has curtailed games of "Carcassonne", which I have been playing on my iPod, against a mate of mine in London. I've also had to reorganise our printer, which would normally be networked wirelessly, so that it is temporarily shackled to the PC with a USB cable.

The one good thing about the demise of Mr Belkin is that it has forced me to make a decision to change over to Virgin Media. I'd been seriously considering changing from our current set-up of BT 'phone line and Orange ISP, but the usual, "Well, it's OK, so why bother changing?" kind of mind-set had prevented any decisive action.

So, now we wait for Sir Richard Branson's elves to come and reconnect us with the internet by the magic of optical fibre...

Friday, 5 November 2010

Sculpture: What's that all about...?

It's often tempting to dismiss contemporary art as self-indulgent nonsense. Sometimes it seems that all that an artist has to do, is cobble together a collection of odds and ends, stick it on a plinth and then give it a pretentious name. They then just sit back and wait for some gullible sap to pay them a ludicrous sum of money for it.

In spite of the feeling that in some cases this may well be true, I actually quite enjoy seeing contemporary art.
Even if I can't shake off the suspicion that the artist is just taking the piss, sometimes the thing that they have created can be so visually arresting, beautiful or downright unsettling, that I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Actually getting a really close look at a piece often reveals a level of care and detail that isn't obvious from a first impression. Yes, I enjoy looking at some of this stuff.

A couple of weeks ago, Blight-of-my-life and I went to Chatsworth House, to the fifth annual "Beyond Limits" exhibition of sculpture. From mid September to the end of October, Sothebys put a selection of sculptures on display in the grounds of this stately home, so for the price of entry to the gardens you can wander around and see some outstanding bits of art in beatiful surroundings. Seeing the works set against the background of the autumn countryside was a particular treat. It didn't do any harm that we picked a brilliantly clear day either.

Here are a just a few of the pieces.

"Leftover" : By Zadok Ben-David

 "Butterflies" : By Manolo Valdes

"Eve" : By Richard Hudson

If you fancy a look at some of the others, the site is well worth a visit..

Oh, and by the way...
...if you think that  this splendid chunk of bronze looks familiar, then I'm afraid you may be as sad a case as I am.

"Cubo 1" : By Arnaldo Pomodoro

Borg Cube from Star Trek: "Resistance is futile..."