Tuesday, 21 June 2011


Hi there. plumbing fans!

Boy do I have a treat for you. A couple of pictures of some lovely, lovely pipework.

Plumbing, unless you do it regularly, is always a bit of a scary proposition. The potential for catastrophe is quite high, so whenever I set about any project involving a lot of copper tubing and soldering, I get pretty nervous.

At the centre of this project is a great big brass casting which will be hidden behind the bath and shower controls when the job is complete. All the pipe connections on this manifold are for 22mm tubing and as I've hardly ever worked with anything bigger than 15mm, this is rather exciting.

Anyway, after a couple of days of soldering, compression fittings and doubt, I reached the point where I had to turn on the water and see where the leaks were hiding.

Guess what...

No leaks!

So, just for a couple of days, I'm changing my name to Mr Smug.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Slow progress, but progress nonetheless

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the bathroom reconstruction project, so I thought I'd let you know how it's going.

In short, it's going slowly

We started taking it to pieces on 30th April and by the time the plasterers arrived on 10th May, everything that was removable had gone; bath, wash-basin, toilet, airing cupboard, tiles, plaster, floor covering, lighting, the lot.

Here's how it looked at the various stages of dismantling

This is the point immediately prior to two days of plastering action, when we were completely bog-less. The only things that we didn't remove were the hot water tank and the central heating pump.

After the plastering, it looked like this.

Once the plastering was done, I refitted the old lavatory pan, which was a bit of a relief, then put back the old bathtub on temporary, flexible plumbing. Although this isn't awfully elegant and we have to use buckets of water to flush the toilet because there's no cistern, at least we can have a bath and go to lav without having to nip next door.

Everything seemed to be going pretty well.

Then one evening, as Blight-of-my-life was in the bath, she noticed a wet patch on the floor near the hot water tank.
"Have you spilt any water by the tank?"
"Err, I don't think so. Why?"
"I think it may be leaking"
I had a quick look. It was leaking.

It was time to call in the experts. In this case, it was time to call Mr Barnett.
I explained the problem and asked if he could fit a new hot water tank for us. With everything else that would normally be in the bathroom gone, there'd probably never be another time when installing a tank would be so easy.
There was good news and bad news. He said he could do the job, but not until the following Monday. Not only would we have no bathroom, but we'd have no hot water for the best part of a week.

After a couple of days, there was some better news. Mr Barnett was able to do the job three days sooner than he'd expected, so after just four days of kettle washes in the kitchen sink, we had proper hot water again, and I could start building the airing cupboard wall.

And here's where we were a couple of days ago. The stud wall is up and waiting for the shower manifold and associated piping. The ceiling is painted, all the walls have been primed with PVA and a coat of emulsion and the bracing is in place for the new bath.

As you can see, we still have the old bath and flush-by-bucket lavvie.
It's funny how you get used to things.

Monday, 6 June 2011


It's taken me a while to catch up with the film "Inception", but it was certainly worth waiting for.

I'm not going to say anything about the plot, story or characters, because I wouldn't want to spoil what, for me,  was one of the most exciting and engrossing 148 minutes I've enjoyed for some time.

If you want to see what it's about, by all means take a look at the entry for "Inception" on IMDB, where you'll find trailers, cast list and as many spoilers as you want.

Although I enjoyed this film the first time I watched it, I wanted to give it a second viewing to get a better understanding of what it was all about.
Strangely enough, I enjoyed it even more the second time and
I fully expect that a third viewing will be just as rewarding. 

Sweet dreams...

Monday, 30 May 2011

Pick your own "Desert Island Discs"

The BBC radio show "Desert Island Discs" is built on one of the simplest of ideas. If you were marooned on a desert island with just eight pieces of music, which eight pieces would you choose?
Each week, a different guest is asked to make their selection of music and also pick a book and a luxury item to make their exile more bearable. The show, devised by Roy Plomley, was first broadcast in 1942 and is the longest running factual programme in the history of radio.

For a short period, the BBC have given all those of us who are never likely to be invited onto the show, a chance to make our choices. So if you fancy registering your particular desert island listening faves, check out the "Your Desert Island Discs" web-page.

Just for the record, (no pun intended) the songs that I picked are:

"Harry's house/Centerpiece" by Joni Mitchell
I'd have to take something by Joni Mitchell. She was probably the first female singer/songwriter that I picked up on and she will always be the bench-mark. She's written so many outstanding songs over the years that I could have easily used up all eight choices from her back catalogue. This song is a perfect evocation of a particular American lifestyle. It also has the advantage of being two songs in one, so I effectively sneak in an extra choice. Smart, eh?

"One of those days in England (Parts 2 to 10)" by Roy Harper
An anthem of nostalgia for an England that may well have existed and that I can almost remember. I was too young to remember ration books, but I do remember the smell and heat of steam trains and how, if you were lucky, the engine driver would acknowledge with a grin if you'd waved at him.
The song also begins with references to "signing on" at the dole office. That rings a few bells too. 

"He's on the beach" by Kirsty MacColl
This is a song that I could imagine being sung by everyone who isn't on my desert island.
It's also fabulously upbeat. 

"Watcher of the skies" by Genesis
I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard this track. The mellotron introduction was like nothing I'd ever heard before and it made me realise that there was a whole new area of music out there that I could enjoy. A shared appreciation of this type of music led to sharing flats and houses with a whole raft of friends and this song is for them.

"Black light machine" by Frost*
The first time I heard this, I could not believe it. As with the Genesis song, I know exactly where I was for that first time. It had probably been decades since I'd been so joyfully surprised by any piece of music.
Ten minutes of almost perfect "prog" and it also includes my absolute favourite guitar solo.

"You've got a friend" by James Taylor
A song for me to sing along with while I watch the sunset and think about all my friends back in civilization.
"Bring the rain" by Judie Tzuke
Another female singer/songwriter. If there's a British Joni Mitchell, this is her. I've never understood how she failed to get the recognition that she really deserves.
A lovely song.

"Winter wine" by Caravan
This track is taken from "The Land of Grey and Pink", the first album that I bought. That record was played almost to destruction in a flat that I shared with some friends back in the 1970s.
If there's a single lyric from any song that I feel sums up how I'd like to live my life, it's in this song.

Life's too short to be sad, wishing things you'll never have
You're better off not dreaming of the things to come
Dreams are always ending far too soon.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

You find out who your friends are when you've got no toilet

There aren't many scarier DIY jobs than removing a lavatory, especially if it's the only one in the house.
This is a task that I've had to do a couple of times, but this time, as we needed to clear the bathroom of everything that could be removed ready for the plasterers, we knew that there would be no opportunity to refit it for at least two days while they did their stuff.

Luckily for us, our neighbours were kind enough to offer us "unrestricted access to their facilities".
This was a considerable refief, so that's a big "Thank you" to them.

It could have been so much worse...

Friday, 27 May 2011

Plumb Crazy

This is just a quick update for those of you faithful followers who may have thought that I'd moved to Alpha Centauri. Alongside all the normal excuses for not posting; work, gigs, rehearsals and chronic laziness, I've been doing a bit of DIY.

A couple of weeks ago, we started renovating the bathroom. This is a project that we've been contemplating for several years, so I surprised myself by agreeing that we should get the job done this year. Before I knew what was happening, we'd bought a bathroom suite, ordered a load of new tiles and arranged to have the room re-plastered.

As our house only has one bathroom, comprising bath, washbasin and our only lavatory, the logistics of ripping out the old fittings, knocking all the old plaster and tiles off the walls, getting the walls and ceiling re-plastered, re-tiling and installing the new suite was never going to be plain sailing. If nothing else, we knew that we'd be facing at least two days with no operational toilet once the room was stripped clean for plastering, followed by a period with a jury rigged bath on flexible plumbing and a WC that is only flushable with buckets of water.

I probably would never have considered doing this type of job myself if I hadn't installed the old bathroom, nearly thirty years ago. After all, I'm older and wiser now and plumbing technology has moved on, so it should be dead easy now...

Here's how it looked before we started.  

to be continued...

Friday, 6 May 2011

The spirit of "Spinal Tap" is alive and... well

My band, "Nightflight" had a gig last Saturday at one of our more regular haunts, "The Old Ship" in Macclesfield. 

This is a great little boozer. We generally have a good time when we play there, so we're always happy to accept a booking. 

Up until about a year ago, the space available for setting up the equipment was pretty cramped. We had to find a way of shoe-horning four people, a PA system, a bass amp and speakers, a drum kit, a keyboard and sundry microphone stands and foot-pedals into a small alcove surrounded on three sides by bench seating and an upright piano. Playing in tight spaces is difficult enough, but setting up the gear is even worse. Everybody is in each others way and it becomes hard not to have a massive sense of humour failure.

Fortunately, it's much better now. The landlady had all the benches taken out, along with the wretched piano and installed some extra power sockets and a nice new floor. We've got sufficient elbow room to set up the gear without constantly bumping into each other and our performance is less likely to be marred by the guitarist getting  a cymbal stand jabbed up his rectum every time be takes half a pace back from the microphone.

So the gig went pretty well. There were quite a few familiar faces there, so we played the usual mix of classic rock covers and our own original songs and this was very well received. We had a good time. In fact I think I may have been enjoying myself  a bit too much.

A couple of our most loyal fans had come along and as they are keen on our version of "Holding out for a hero", we decided to finish the night with it.
Yes, I know it's completely cheesy and that Bonnie Tyler should never be forgiven for inflicting the song on humanity; but it's fun. There is no way that you can overdo this song. It is an excuse for all manner of over the top power-chord nonsense, monstrous drum rolls and neo-operatic vocal drama.
The fan club was lapping it up, everybody was up and dancing and "Hero" was going down a storm. 
For the big finish guitar solo, Dennis, taking advantage of his wireless guitar rig, set off across the bar into the midst of the dancers, so I decided to join in too. As we shredded away surrounding by the bopping throng, I had a brilliant idea. 
"I'll try that thing they did in the Spinal Tap film, where the guitarist does his solo and leans backwards so far that he ends up lying on his back, still playing."

It started well enough. I went into a sort of limbo posture and dropped down on my knees, then gradually leaned further backwards as I pounded out a thundering bass line to underpin the howling guitar solo. 
Further and further backwards I went until, inevitably I lost my balance. 
My shoulders hit the floor and I continued playing. as I lay on my back surrounded by completely perplexed punters.

Now why I ever thought that this would be a bit of quality showmanship, I have no idea. After all, in "This is Spinal Tap" it didn't exactly end well, but at least they looked the part. Check out the video clip of the trailer at about 2 minutes 30 seconds, and you'll see what I mean.

When I did this, I just ended up looking like some poor old bloke who'd "had a fall".

It was a very long way from rock and roll...

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Silence in the library? I think not.

I had to call in at our local library earlier today. One of the books that I've had on loan was overdue and although normally I could have renewed it online, someone else had reserved it, so I had to return it.

The book in question was "Rough guide to MACS & OS X: 10.6 Snow Leopard". I've recently bought an Apple Mac Book laptop computer, so I needed a bit of guidance and this book has been very helpful. The information is clearly presented and well explained, without being overly chummy and patronizing. If you are a PC user but thinking of getting an Apple computer, I'd happily recommend this book to get you through the early days. 

Nowadays, a visit to the library is just one more of those occasions where I'm forced to acknowledge that I am getting old. They used to say that you knew you were getting old when the policemen started to look younger. I passed that milestone yonks ago; even the librarians are looking younger now, so I wasn't too surprised to find that the chap behind the desk looked barely old enough to have left school.

"Hi" he said
"Hi. I'm sorry, but this one's overdue" I said, placing the book on the counter. "I would have renewed it, but it's been reserved..."
"Ah, sorry about that."
He opened the book and passsed it under the bar-code scanner.
There was a pause, but obviously the scanner had failed to read correctly, as he repeated the process.
He detatched the scanner from its holder and tried again... and again from several different angles and distances.
It was like watching Harry Potter trying to cast a spell with a malfunctioning wand. The scanner just wasn't reading the bar-code.

Eventually, after a few more fruitless passes, he gave up on laser technology and turned to the computer keyboard to type in the book's identity code, long-hand.
When he'd finished, he looked up and said,
"Y'know what the problem is?... It's a book about Apple Macs, and this system is run on a PC..."

I burst out laughing.
You just don't expect stand-up comedy from librarians.
So that would seem to be another compelling reason why we should fight to keep our libraries safe from closure.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

I still love this job

We had some "Good News" at work the other day.
Jodrell Bank Observatory has been selected as the home for the Square Kilometre Array Project Office. The SKA will be the world's largest radio telescope and it will be located in either Australia or South Africa. It is a global effort by astronomers and engineers from many countries, so being chosen as the place where the whole project will be managed is quite a coup.
Inevitably, news like this generates media interest...

I was working a Day Shift on Monday when the 'phone rang.
"Control room?..."
"Oh, hello. This is Kate from the BBC. Could I speak to Professor Simon Garrington?"
"I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I can't transfer you from this 'phone. It's a dedicated line just for the telescope control room. Hold on a moment, let me give you his office number."
I checked the internal directory and gave her the number, she said "Thanks" again, and that was that...
Until I realized that I'd given her the wrong 'phone number.
"Oh great," I thought. "That'll make a good impression. I wonder if I can ring her back with the right number." I quickly called "1471", got her number and gave it a ring.
"Er, hello." I said. "This is the Controller at Jodrell Bank. You called a couple of minutes ago, but I've just realized that I gave you the wrong telephone number. Look, sorry to have messed you about ,but I've got the correct number now, if you still need it."
"That's OK. I'm almost there now. I should be arriving at the Main Building in a couple of minutes."
"Oh. I didn't realize you were en route. If you park right outside the front entrance, I'll buzz you in."

Simon met the lady from the BBC in the foyer, so it was about half an hour later that they both came into the Control Room to do a short TV interview about the SKA news.
"This is Kate Simms, from BBC North West News. And this is Kim our Duty Controller for the day."
As we shook hands I said "I'm afraid we've already spoken. I'm the bloke who gives out duff information and wrong numbers."
Honesty is usually the best policy.

Kate Simms is charming. Considering that she was working to quite a tight schedule, she was impressively down-to-earth.and calm. There was no visible trace of the stress or terseness that occasionally reveals itself when media folk are working to a deadline.
She singlehandedly recorded a short TV interview with Simon at ground level, then she lugged all her camera gear up into the telescope bowl to shoot a second interview, before returning to the Control Room to join the crew who had arrived with a satellite communications truck, to prepare for a live interview which was seamlessly dropped into the lunchtime news.

You've got to say it's a good day at work when, not only do,you get to hear some good news, but you also meet a genuinely charming celebrity.
SKA Image Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions/SKA Program Development Office

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

"The optician will see you now..."

I wear glasses.

I got my first pair, for reading, when I was about twelve years old, was wearing them full time from sometime in the 1980s and now need varifocals to compensate for the deficiencies of genetics and age.

I don't actually like having to wear spectacles, but have got so used to them that even when contact lenses have been suggested as an alternative, I find that I'm reluctant to change. It's as if I feel that my face would be incomplete without them.

It's been a couple of years since my last eye-test, so while I was in town this afternoon, I went into Specsavers to see if they could fit me in. As luck would have it, I only had to wait for two minutes to get an appointment; an all time record for me.

The test confirmed what I'd suspected and I needed a new prescription, so next Wednesday I'll be collecting my new specs.

It worries me that so many people think that they "don't need glasses".
There are thousands of them out there, insisting that they can see perfectly, when the truth is that they really ought to get their eyes checked and get some corrective lenses to see through.
I can understand their reluctance though. It's clear that the percentage of people who wear glasses is far higher than it was when I was a kid, but there's still a sort stigma associated with needing glasses.
Vanity requires that you don't display your imperfections and such an obvious indication that your eyesight is less than perfect, as a pair of glasses, is hard to deny.
This a potentially dangerous vanity, particularly if you drive a car. I've even heard people say that they've got glasses for driving, but they don't wear them because they make them look stupid.
I seems that they'd rather knock some poor sod off his bicycle because they didn't see him, than appear unfashionable.

Having my eyes tested and getting a decent pair of properly prescribed binns isn't going to guarantee that I won't have an accident, but if I do, at least I won't have to spend the rest of my life knowing that I could have done something really simple that could have prevented it happening.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Ask a stupid question...

I've just been doing my "Civic Duty" by filling in the 2011 Census form.

Is it just me, or is Question 19 a bit poorly thought out?

If the answer is "Not at all", how likely is it that I can read and understand the question?

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Talk to the organ grinder, not the monkey

I wouldn't normally post about something that is so far from my personal experience, but the plight of the people in parts of Japan is impossible to ignore.
To experience an earthquake or a tsunami is hard enough for any nation, but to cope with both of these natural disasters and then have to respond to the threat of a meltdown at  a nuclear power plant and the prospect of an uncontrolled release of radiation represents an exceptional challenge.

As if the effects of this compound disaster aren't enough to contend with, the people who are part of the rescue effort, or trying to get things working again, or trying to find missing members of their family, or simply just trying to stay alive also have to put up with the world's media arriving by the planeload, looking for ever more dramatic things to film for the rest of us to watch on our 50 inch plasma TVs.

Every news crew wants an exclusive, so the temptation to squeeze more drama into any report must be hard to resist and it would take a very special kind of news editor to lead with the facts from a well informed source when they have some grim video footage, accompanied by an apocolyptic commentary by "their reporter at the scene of devastation", to open their news bulletin with a doom-laden splash.

Well I don't trust them. I don't believe that  they can bear to let the facts spoil what, to them, is just another story. I particularly don't trust news-mongers to tell us anything reliable if it involves science.
I don't want to get my news from these monkeys.

If, like me, you want to find out what's really going on at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, you might like to take the advice of Charles Stross, and have a look at the International Atomic Energy Agency site. The situation is clearly presented, without any tabloid melodrama, by people who are a whole lot better qualified to explain this complex and continually evolving situation than a bunch of TV journalists who know more about camera angles than containment vessels.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The world is full of nutters... (Thank Heavens)

The technology that delivers the music we listen to has come a long way during my lifetime.
I was reminded just how much things have changed by a recent post on Techno-Billies.

The first record player I can remember was a varnished mahogany box with a handle at the side to wind up the clockwork motor, and louvred vents at the front to control the volume of the sound that was produced by a steel needle as it tracked the groove in a 10 inch disc, spinning at 78 rpm. I can't have been more than four years old, but the memory of The Goons singing "I'm walking backwards for Christmas" is still clear, more than fifty years later.

During the time that has passed, the way we listen to music has changed almost beyond recognition. Now, my entire music collection is available, stored on pocket sized sliver of digital wizardry that barely weighs as much as that single, scratchy recording.

So bearing in mind the compactness of modern audio equipment, the ease with which we can use it and the quality of the sound that it produces, I find it hard to understand just what possessed  Simon Jansen of Auckland, New Zealand to build his "Steampunk Record Player".

Whatever drove him to create this work of whimsy, I salute him.
The Sex Pistols have never sounded better.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Good News From All Over

Once in a while, you hear some good news.
This is particularly pleasing when it comes along against the background of general misery and drabness that seems the default setting for a lot of people at present.

I'm very happy to pass on a couple of bits of news that are, for me at least, cause for celebration.

Oddly enough, I received the second good news bulletin via the bearer of the first bit of good news.
Pretty much on the same day that "Rage Against The Lymphoma" blogged that she has had the final dose of chemotherapy in what has been several months of extreme unpleasantness, she gleefully announced the birth of her sister's baby boy, who just happens to be my newest great-nephew.

So congratulations to Mr and Mrs Realmenwritelongcopy, "Hello" to Jonah William and thanks Rage' for spreading all the good news.
Not a stereotypical stork

Oh yes, I nearly forgot. Jonah weighed 8lb 10oz.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Another five minute job. Yeah, right...

Thanks to the peculiarities of my shift rota, I had a day off work last Thursday and as the weather was so spring-like. I decided that I really couldn't get away with spending all day dossing in the house.
"I know what I'll do", I thought. "I'll have a look at the pressure washer and see if I can sort out that leak that Blight-of-my-life mentioned last week.

The pressure washer spends most of its time at the farm where it has a tough life cleaning up after the horses, so after a leisurely breakfast, I nipped up to the yard to fetch it. Once I'd got it back home, it soon became clear what the problem was. Where the hose pipe that supplies water to the machine is attached, there is a plastic threaded coupling that screws onto the metal inlet pipe. Over time, this plastic coupling has been repeatedly overtightened and the thread has partially stripped. Given the sort of damage that the poor thing had suffered, I wasn't too confident that it would refit securely, but I thought it was worth a try.
After only a short battle, I'd got it all back together and it seemed as if it might work.
I connected a hose pipe  from the garden tap to the repaired coupling and plugged the electrical power cable into a mains socket in the kitchen. I switched on the power, turned on the water and...
...nothing happened.

There was no water coming out of the garden tap.

Once I'd turned off the water at the rising main, it didn't take too long to determine what was wrong.
With the water supply safely cut off, I removed the tap and discovered a displaced rubber seal in the valve which prevents water from the garden hose siphoning back into the supply pipe. It must have been damaged during the ridiculously cold weather we had in December.
I decided that it would be easier to replace the tap, rather than to try and bodge the valve.

While I was picking up a replacement tap at Wickes I decided to also get a replacement for the leaky, in-line stop valve for the pipe that feeds the garden tap, as this may have contributed to the frost failure of the garden tap.

I've never looked up the dictionary definition, but it won't be complete if it doesn't mention hours of frustration, swearing, seeping compression fittings, cursing, skinned knuckles and that insidious feeling that even though you've checked your work for leaks a dozen times, as soon as you turn your back it's going to explode and leave you ankle-deep in misery.

In the end, I think I only had to refit the new garden tap twice and in-line stop valve three times before I was happy that there weren't any leaks from any of the joints. Even so, by the time I'd finished, I'd used up all the available daylight, most of my patience and several dozen metres of PTFE tape.

Having fixed the garden tap, the only task that remained was to test the repair on the pressure washer.
So I plugged the pressure washer in and turned on the power, connected the hose pipe to the garden tap, turned on the tap and switched on the washer.
"It works!", I exclaimed, as water blasted out of the spray nozzle.
"Bollocks!", I cried, as the hose union fell off and water gushed all over my feet.

I guess that this is what artists call "a work in progress"...

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The best car I ever owned

After more than six months of self-imposed exile from the land of "Back-in-the-1970s", I think it's probably safe for me to do another nostalgia post and tell you how I came to buy a luxury saloon car at a far from luxury price and why it changed my life.

By the time my Austin A40 finally became too unroadworthy to struggle through an MOT, I'd been working as a self-employed steelfixer for several months.
Steelfixing is one of the lesser known occupations in the building industry and it involves the assembly and placement of all the steel reinforcing bars that are subsequently covered in concrete, creating the extraordinarily versatile and strong composite material, reinforced concrete.

Most of the building contracts that I was working on were in Stratford upon Avon, some fifteen miles from home, so the demise of my car was a bit of a problem. Getting to work entailed cycling ten miles to my workmate Brian's flat, changing into my working clothes, then travelling to the job in his pickup truck. We'd spend all day grafting away on site and then I'd return home via his flat.
I don't recall how long I managed to keep up this ridiculously energetic regime, but I do know what convinced me that I needed to rethink my travelling arrangements. One morning, the front light on my bicycle unsportingly fell into the front wheel half way to Brian's place. The wheel imploded in a welter of shredded spokes and as the front forks plunged into the tarmac stopping the bike in its tracks, I inevitably continued for a short time until I too plunged into the tarmac.
I went off the idea of cycling to work.
I needed another car.

As often happens, help came from an unexpected quarter.
Brian and I were at work one morning, assembling the column reinforcement for part of what was to become a covered shopping precinct in the centre of Stratford, when we were hailed.
"Oi! Steelfixers! D'you want to buy a car?"
It was one of the labourers. He was a young bloke who had only recently started work at the site, having moved into the area from somewhere in London. As far as I knew, the only car that he owned was an enormous old Rover that he used every day.
"What?... You're not flogging that old Rover are you?"
"Yeah... can't afford to run it. You can have it for fifty quid."
Brian and I both burst out laughing. This was clearly a joke, or possibly some sort of scam. The vehicle he claimed to be selling was about fifteen years old, but when it was brand new it was a top quality luxury saloon. This was the sort of car that the Prime Minister could be seen getting into in Downing Street.
"Fifty quid?" I said, "I don't think so... I'll give you a fiver for it."
He found my offer, shall we say, derisory. I can't remember his exact response, but I know that the second word was "off".
He left us and set off across the site to continue trying to find a buyer.

Brian said, "Y'know, fifty quid's probably a good deal, assuming that it's got an MOT."
"Yeah, but it's a bloody monster. Christ, it's got a three litre engine, it weighs a ton and it must drink petrol like it's going out of fashion. And what's the insurance gonna be for something like that?"
"A nice motor though....", he pondered "Well, it used to be a nice motor."
"For fifty quid there's gotta be something wrong with it. It's probably stolen or something. He's only been here a for week and he's hardly the sort of bloke you'd expect to have a Rover 3 litre."
"Yeah. I s'pose so... Come on, let's finish this and get over to the caff."

We didn't think any more about it. After all, if somebody really did want to risk buying what was bound to be a heap of trouble, they'd be sure to offer more than five pounds. So it was a bit of a surprise when, shortly after lunch, the guy came back and said, "Err, how about six quid?"
"Are you serious?"

He was serious. Which is how I ended up paying six pounds for a two-tone green Rover P5 3 litre

Same make, same model, same colour, but not my Rover, alas.

I gave him the cash. He gave me a receipt, the car keys and all the vehicle documents.
I hadn't even had a proper look at the car, let alone driven it, so the first time I got into the driving seat I was surprised to find that it was an automatic. I'd never driven anything without a manual gearbox before, so my journey home from work that day was something of an education. Just getting to grips with a vehicle that was far larger, heavier and more powerful than anything I'd driven before would have been alarming enough, but the added complication of trying to unlearn all those reflex actions that are a part of driving with a manual gearbox made me wonder whether I'd really made the right decision.
By the time I got home, I was a nervous wreck.

Given this inauspicious introduction to my new vehicle, you may wonder why it became the best car I ever owned.

It was certainly the cheapest car I've ever bought. It was also the most luxurious; well it would have been if it hadn't been fifteen years old and steadily disintegrating. For such a large and apparently unwieldy car, it was beautifully well mannered and even when I made the sort of poor decisions that only a man in his early twenties can think are sensible, it never punished me for my stupidity, steadfastly allowing me to keep control; the stabilty and trustworthiness of its handling saved me from myself several times over. It was the only car that I've ever been able to put into a four-wheel drift without any fear of it going badly wrong. (Yes, that's just the sort of decision I meant)

 I went on some memorable trips in that car with various friends, hurtling up and down the gloriously uncongested motorway network to gigs, to parties, or for weekends away camping. But none of these things are really what made Aunty Rover so important in my life. It's more about the people who I met through owning that particular vehicle.

If I hadn't had such an unfeasibly large car, it's unlikely that I would have been asked by some old school friends to help them collect some musical equipment from London. If I hadn't taken that particular road-trip I doubt whether I would have got to know those friends quite so well and it's even less likely that they would have invited me to share a house with them and join them in their musical enterprise as road manager.
When it was time to move on again, friends I'd made through the band, who lived near Bristol offered me a place to live, sharing their house while I worked as a van driver for a mail order catalogue company.
Six months later, when the company opened a new depot in Devon, I transferred and lived in another shared house, near Newton Abbott. When we had a party, one weekend, various far-flung friends turned up, including a girl who had been to college with one of my housemates.

And that's how I met Blight-of-my-life...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Another way to hear new music

 Although I'm in the middle of writing one post, I've simply got to write a quick one about yet another way to hear music via the web.

If you haven't already come across it, have a look at "Last FM"

You don't have to register or log in, you can simply decide which band or artist you'd like to hear, enter their name and then sit back and listen to a selection of tracks by that artist and others that are of a similar style, presented as a sort of customised radio station. This can be a great way to discover the sort of stuff that you might enjoy but wouldn't normally get a chance to hear.

This week, I have been mostly listening to "Frost* Radio"

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Support your local band

Being in a band is great.

It ensures that you carry on playing an instrument and learning new pieces of music, it forces you out of the house to rehearsals when you might just be tempted to blob in front of the television and it gives you an excuse to go into music shops and try out ridiculously expensive instruments and amplifiers that you have no intention of buying whatsoever.
Whether these were ever the reasons that anybody first decided to join a group I have no idea, but certainly, once you have got past the expectation of chucking in the day job and setting off on a world tour with all the attendant joys of fame, fortune, fornication and freely available recreational pharmaceuticals, it's the small joys of the hopeful, amateur rocker that make it all worthwhile.

My band, "Nightflight", rarely gets to play to huge crowds, typically playing pub gigs, the occasional function or local fetes or festivals.  With the varied mix of solid rock covers, power ballads and original material in our repertoire, we can cater for quite a varied audience and even add customer requested songs to the set if we've had reasonable advanced warning. So far (touch wood) we've never got it hopelessly wrong, so the response is somewhere between favourable and very enthusiastic. this is particularly gratifying when you've played an original song that folks may never have heard before.

One downside to being in a band is that it's often not so easy to get to see other bands play. As I work a rather complicated pattern of shifts for my "day job", it's quite unusual for me to be at a loose end on a Friday or Saturday evening. If I'm not actually at work, my band will probably have a gig shoe-horned into the date that is available. Yesterday evening, however, was one of the rare occasions when Blight-of-my-life and I were able to go out and see some of our friends play for a change, so it was off to "The Navigation Inn" in Macclesfield to see "Amandla".

Three quarters of "Amandla". Sarah must be at the bar...

"Amandla" are a local four-piece band and they have been delivering quality blues and rock to the good folk of East Cheshire for ages. When Blight had what is known as a significant birthday, a couple of years ago,  they played at her party. I've been lucky enough to play alongside two of the guys. Corin has depped for us several times when we've carelessly lost our drummer for one reason or another, and it was Ross (the one with the hat) who invited me to join him when he was putting together a band a few years ago and lured me back into performing.

I'd forgotten just how good they are. They opened the first set with a Pink Floyd medley which began with the introduction from "Shine on you Crazy Diamond". Ross has absolutely nailed the guitar tone for this and when the Corin and Al (bass) joined, nobody in the pub was left with any doubt that they were in for something special.
Since Sarah joined them, "Amandla" have been able to broaden their repertoire to include material which would not otherwise be such a comfortable option. Alanis Morissette's "Ironic", "Call Me" from Blondie and a cracking version of Alannah Myles' "Black Velvet" have all found their places in the set, allowing Ross to concentrate on the bluesier stuff from Buddy Guy and Dr Feelgood.
To top it all off, they finished the night with their Rock Classics medley; fifteen minutes of pure and unadulterated joy. 

So altogether a splendid night out.

If you get the chance to see them, do yourself a favour and grab it with both hands. 

Monday, 24 January 2011

What lies beneath

The last time I mentioned my model railway on this blog, it was a tale of woe about hamfisted drilling and the sudden and unwelcome mutilation of some of the track.

It took me quite a while to work out exactly how to fix this self-inflicted wound, but I did eventually come up with a workable solution and shortly before Christmas, I successfully cut out the mangled section of track, re-attached the upper layer of baseboard and fitted a new section of rail where I plan to construct a girder bridge.
It was a hell of a lot more difficult to repair than it had been to lay the track the first time around, so to prevent another unexpected separation of the upper layer of baseboard, I've added some extra woodon spacer blocks which are screwed, as well as glued in place.

Now, I don't do New Year Resolutions and I'm particularly wary about trying to stick to any hard and fast regime or daily activity. Anybody that follows this blog will already know how erratic and fickle my level of commitment can be, so I have amazed myself by actually doing something on the model railway every day so far this year.

Of course you'll now be expecting it to be almost complete.

Well, it isn't.

However, the good news is that I've fitted all the point motors and finished wiring them up, which was an extremely finicky process. I've also made a start on the operator control panel

Here's a quick peek at what lies beneath the baseboard. A handfull of point motors and a bunch of multicoloured wires.

I guess it may not seem like a lot of progress, but it is a strangely satisfying way to pass the time.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

This is not like watching paint dry...

As some of you were less than overwhelmed by the excitement of watching  snow dribbling out of a radio telescope, I thought you might find this slightly more stimulating.

If you haven't heard of Scottish street trials rider Danny MacAskill before, you may be astonished at not just his skill as a bike rider, but his seeming lack of anything like fear or an appreciation of the possibility that something could go horribly wrong.
You'll probably be unsurprised to learn that he is sometimes known as Danny MegaSkill.

"Remember kids, Don't try this at home..."

Monday, 3 January 2011

Not my turn in the spotlight

This evening, BBC Television will be broadcasting the first of a three night series called "Stargazing Live". These programs will be shown at 8 pm, on BBC2 and will be hosted by Professor Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain, live from Jodrell Bank.

I haven't seen the Control Room in so much turmoil since we had the film crew from "The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy" doing a two day shoot a few years ago. In front of the Control Desk the set design team has built a raised area and a pair of platforms for large, plasma display screens. There are an array of studio lights strung from the ceiling, various microphones in strategic places, lighting control panels, audio mixers and all the miles of cable that go with them.
The rest of the main building is festooned with temporary signs and arrows pointing the way to the Production Office, Makeup, Green Room, Rehearsal Room and Dressing Rooms. Outside the building there's the kind of circus that always accompanies this sort of undertaking.
There's the "Gallery Truck", with an enormous articulated trailer which houses the outside broadcast control room. This appears to be one of those origami vehicles where the walls extend in all directions creating an internal working space that would otherwise be impossible to achieve. It's probably as close as you can get to having an actual TARDIS.
There are lighting trucks, satellite communication vans, catering trucks, a marquee laid out with tables for refreshments, portable toilets, generators, water bowsers, a mobile security post and a bunch of other non-specific vans.

The thing that's difficult to believe is that when I finished my shift yesterday morning, none of this stuff was here. As I walked out of the Control Room, the set designer and his team had just pulled up outside the Main Building.
While I was at home asleep, the place was transformed.

It's just the luck of the draw which of the six controllers gets which shift when this sort of event is on.
I can't decide whether or not to be disappointed that I'm not on-shift for all the fun and games. It's always interesting to be behind the scenes and watch how media stuff works, but it can be quite stressful too. We cannot afford to let the artistic demands of the TV crew influence any operational decisions about the way the telescope is driven. There's always the chance that you'll have to tell the director that he's not going to get his preferred shot of the telescope positioned low to the horizon because the wind is too strong.
As you can imagine, that doesn't go down too well, but it's better than breaking the telescope.

Anyway, if you were hoping to catch a glimpse of me actually working you are going to be out of luck. Your Controller for Monday and Tuesday evening's shows will be Jock, and on Wednesday it will be Andy.

 "We are in control...": Andy and Jock are second and third from the left, respectively.