31 January 2011 (Monday) - Stupid People



I am often amazed by the general public’s ability to take stark nonsense as incontrovertible fact. Take for example the anti-government Facebook group “ConDem-nation”. A recent post there sounds eminently reasonable: “A 1% Tax on all Banking Profits would clear the national Debt Immediately without a single tax on the public having to be raised”. On reading that I found myself fired with righteous indignation. Why should those fat-cat bankers be allowed to get away with it? And then I actually gave the matter some thought and two minutes on-line research.
With a national debt currently of the order of one thousand billion pounds (according to the Internet), the implication is that last year banks in the UK made a profit of over one hundred thousand billion pounds. However the “real” fact is that they didn’t make anything like this amount. HSBC’s profit was just under two billion pounds. Even taxing one hundred percent of their profit wouldn’t come close to what is needed. In fact it would only raise less than 0.002% of the required amount of money. And HSBC are one of the more profitable banks.

Another so-called “fact” about government policy is given by the informal blog of the Trade Union Congress. Apparently the government believes that as it cuts back on a lot of social programs, then the voluntary sector will step in. But apparently “the evidence is mounting that state provision is the enabler of voluntary action, not a barrier.
Again, anyone reading that paragraph would also be fired with righteous indignation. And from my experience that statement may well be true for crackpot minority lefty so-called charities.
But for proper volunteering… take for example the local scout hut roof. When I was involved with the local scouts (for thirteen years) we needed money to repair the leaking roof. But we got nothing for that knacked roof through official channels. However it was intimated if we were more politically correct then money would be forthcoming. How does one make a scout group more politically correct? It’s open to absolutely anyone who wants to join. Perhaps we didn’t have the correct quota of African-American disabled lesbian non-male children? But whatever the reason, the funding of a scout group is utterly independent of government policy. With zero support currently being given, how can the government’s policy do any harm?
Or take the “shortage” of volunteers in hospitals. As vital services are cut back, economies can be made in all sorts of areas. Because those who run hospitals know that every hospital has a League of Fiends who will step into the breach. Go into any hospital in the country – where once you would see nurses and secretarial types in outpatient clinics, nowadays it will be an unpaid volunteer.

Clearly the Internet is full of gibberish, but twits still post this stuff on-line, and other twits without the powers of rational thought lap it up. And these twits are allowed to vote, and to be on juries, and to have children….

30 January 2011 (Sunday) - Here and There



I am often amazed by the criminal element in society. Thuggery and violence must be condemned, but I must admit to a sneaking admiration for bare faced cheek. A few years ago a friend who worked at a London hospital told me how a TV was stolen from a staff rest room in a secure area. The thief just walked up to a locked door and banged on it. When a member of the staff came to answer the door, the thief calmly announced he’d come to service the TV in the rest room, and asked directions. He got himself taken to the rest room, where he picked up the telly and carried it out. Just as he was about to leave the building another member of staff got suspicious and asked for some identification. At this point the chap dropped the telly and ran.
Something similar is going on over at Amazon. You can get the details here: in a nutshell what’s happened is that if you call up books written by one Peter Michelsen, you’ll see the chap has written a lot of books, and is selling his wares. However if you look closely at the books he’s selling, you’ll see he’s not actually the author. He’s blagged loads of people’s work. Take for example this book. You can clearly see the author’s name is not Peter Michelsen. And if you click here you can get the book for free.
I must admit I’m not at all impressed that a good friend is having his work blatantly stolen for profit. And the chap perpetrating this scam isn’t overly bright – after all he’s not even changed the authors’ names on the pictures of the books he’s lifted.
But whilst I think that what he’s done is theft, is wrong, and must be punished, I’m afraid that a part of me can’t help admiring his nerve in doing what he’s done. I'd never dare try something like that.

This entire episode has made me think though. Some of the pictures on this blog are blatantly blagged from elsewhere on the Internet. In my defence I’m not making money from anyone else’s efforts. And quite often when I do blag someone else’s pictures I do spend quite a bit of time adjusting and re-colouring them.
Take for example today’s picture. One is the original, lifted from the web page at http://bio150.chass.utoronto.ca/oif/app-cite.html, one is the same picture after I spent ten minutes tweaking it. Am I wrong to be doing this?

Meanwhile back in my world, with brekkie scoffed, once “Daddies Little Angel TMand her chauffer had arrived we set off on the day’s mission. First of all to the International Hotel where the Invicta Arachnid club were having a show. Breeders and spider enthusiasts were selling  spiders and all the kit you’d need to keep one.
Whilst I had no plans whatsoever to buy any spiders, it was something that doesn’t happen very often, so we thought we’d give it a go. As did half the population of Kent, judging by the crowds in the place. But we got to see mantises, stick insects, scorpions, and some HUGE spiders. And I met up with an old friend from the days of the snake club. There was one very nice terrarium for sale – complete with tarantula the whole lot was up for sale at twenty quid. Had I not spent a squillion quid yesterday on my new telescope I would probably have bought that spider.

And then onwards. To the Isle of Sheppey and Whelan’s. I’ve waxed loquacious about Whelans in the past. Today they let me down. I was hoping to get some flat paving slabs I could lay down in the back garden to make a flat area for my telescope (when it arrives). But they don’t do paving slabs. They did do a very nice garden table with a chess board marked on it though…
Whilst we were in the area the Rear Admiral wanted to make a visit to Eastchurch for sentimental reasons. The soppy old thing (!) Whilst he revisited old haunts I realised I was getting peckish. I must admit that I’m not very familiar with the Sheppey area, so I downloaded the McDonalds Locator app for my phone. It downloaded, but didn’t work. But we found some McDinner easily enough. A quarter-pounder with cheese, some fries and a toffee sundae (all washed down with a banana shake) made for an excellent, if unconventional, Sunday lunch.

Our next stop was Herne Common (as opposed to “Bay”) where we mooched around the camping shop and the Rear Admiral got a camping chair. Or he claims it’s a camping chair. It looks like a “camp” chair to me, but what do I know?
Almost next door to the camping shop is Vanishing World, probably the best pet shop for miles around. We looked at the fish and fluffies, and I got very gooey over the snakes. And the chap showed us the Leopard Geckoes. I have never seen such a selection of Leopard Geckoes: I had no idea they came in so many colours and patterns. And they were offering a bargain whereby you could get a vivarium and all the kit and one Leopard Gecko all for £135. This was something else that had I not spent a squillion quid yesterday on my new telescope I would probably have bought.

Home, where we sampled my latest batch of home-brew beer. It’s only been in the barrel for a day, so it was probably rather early to be trying the stuff, but it’s got promise.
And then the parrot threw up. I’ve heard of the expression “sick as a parrot” – now I’ve seen it. It’s my opinion that she drank too much tea. I never see her at her water bowls, but she does like a cup of tea. I’m hoping it's nothing serious and that she just had too much tea this afternoon – after all what she honked was all fluid, and she seems as perky as ever.
But I'm worrying that I shall be nailing her corpse to the perch tomorrow.

Oh – and “Daddies Little Angel TM’s cat now has a blog….

29 January 2011 (Saturday) - Stuff



I checked the news over some brekkie. Today’s news (for a change) brought a smile to my face. Shaun the Sheep is going to star in a movie. I couldn’t believe it’s now sixteen years since Shaun first appeared on our TV screens.
I then set off to work for a few hours. I’ve been doing a lot of extra Saturday mornings lately, and although the money is nice, I am fed up with working every Saturday. But the time passed, and soon enough I came home. With a few minutes to spare, I installed the ultra sonic rat deterrent. Over last summer all the neighbours have claimed to have seen rats in the gardens. I haven’t, but I think I heard something scurrying inside the bathroom ceiling the other day, so I’ve got an ultrasonic wotsit. It might deter rats, it might not. Time will tell.

Last night at the astro club we had a telescope workshop. My plan was to chat to the telescope experts to find out what one would be best for me. In practice this turned out to be somewhat impractical, as all of the experts were busy with the normal people. So I arranged with Luigi to visit his shop this afternoon to have a chat. The sat-nav got us to within a hundred yards of the place, and then left us to our own devices. We found the place easily enough, but when we were searching for the place, it seemed like ages. We had a good chat, and I ordered a sexy telescope with go-to function and go-faster stripes. It should arrive mid-week.
Since we were in the area we then popped up to Camping International. They were having a sale. Last year I saw a tent there I liked, and on June 19 I wrote “Today there was a bargain in which I got the tent, a really thick groundsheet, a carpet and a door mat all at a super-bargain price. And then they offered 10% off of the super-bargain price, so I felt I had to take them up on the offer”. Today they were selling the same bargain one hundred pounds cheaper than I paid for it last year. Oh, how I smiled.

I slept all the way home, and then decanted the latest batch of beer into the barrel. “Pickled Parrot” is another dark beer – I was hoping for something like a porter, and although it’s still rather young, it’s not a bad drop.
‘er indoors TM  ordered a Domino’s pizza for tea – she’d won a competition and a free pizza was the prize. Very tasty, and it turned out that the parrot likes pizza crusts. The parrot doesn’t like anything that all the books say that parrots like. Apples, grapes, all kinds of fruit just get spat across the room in contempt. But she likes chips and pizza. Rather like me, I suppose.

And as ‘er indoors TM  went out to a friend’s party, I spent the evening dozing in front of the telly. Tonight I had the offer of a party, or going to the cinema, but I chose to spend the time dozing. Probably better to doze at home than in company…

28 January 2011 (Friday) - Astro Club



A week ago I mentioned that our soon to be maturing mortgage endowment was still in er indoors TM’s maiden name. I sent the company a letter explaining what had happened (we’d got married!), and at not inconsiderable expense I sent them a duplicate of the marriage certificate. They returned that certificate on Wednesday, and then today I got a letter from them. They found it somewhat odd that I should be trying to change the name of one of the beneficiaries of the policy only a few weeks before the policy was due to pay out. And so they were writing to me to tell me that they were about to implement various identity verification procedures to ensure that Ms Gardner wasn’t being diddled.
So I phoned them to see what was going on. Before they would discuss the matter I had to answer various security checks, one of which was about the bank account from which the policy payments had been made. I told them that I thought it was rather odd that they were disputing er indoors TM ‘s married name, bearing in mind that name was on the bank account which has been making the payments for this policy for the last twenty-odd years.
There was an embarrassed cough from the other end of the phone line. They hadn’t thought about that.

Being the last Friday of the month, tonight was astro club. Following on from the success of Stargazing Live earlier in the month, tonight was a busy night. As always I arrived promptly, and helped set up. Seeing as we were having a telescope workshop we thought we’d need space for the scopes. So we put out sixty five chairs and left a space for scopes at the back of the hall. I meeted and greeted so many people, and in the end we needed to fill much of the area we’d earmarked for telescopes with more seating.
We started the evening with an introduction to what’s new in the world of astronomy. And then we had the results of the membership survey: we’d asked the membership what they liked about the club, and what we could improve. About half the membership returned their survey forms, and on the whole they are happy with what’s going on. Which is good. By now everyone had arrived and was settled down (apart from the dozen for whom there weren’t enough chairs) and I counted eighty five people in the hall.
Then we moved on to the main part of the evening – an introduction to telescopes – from what the beginner wants through to more advanced astro-photography scopes, ending up with some rather expensive kit indeed. I learned loads, and then I hawked the raffle. It always amazes me how much money the raffle and the constellation game brings in. I shout and holler at people to hand over their money, and in ten minutes we’ve covered the cost of the hall hire and heating, and made a little profit for the club too.

And then we had a telescope workshop in earnest. About a dozen scopes were set up in the hall; some working, some not so. While some club members who actually know about telescopes held impromptu tutorials, I wandered round offering to collimate telescopes. I’ve learned how to do this: to collimate a telescope one shines a laser pointer into the scope, and then one sucks air in through one’s teeth whilst shaking one’s head in the manner of a tradesman who’s about to charge you an arm and a leg for five minutes’ work.
Since the sky was completely overcast we couldn’t do the planned telescope session outside, so instead we projected the night sky from a laptop, and had a talk on the features of interest in the winter sky. And rather than clearing the chairs away, I got to supervise volunteers who put the chairs away for me. Sterling fellows!

In the last two blog entries I’ve been very scathing about the arky-ologee club. It could lean an awful lot from the astro club…

27 January 2011 (Thursday) - Crackpots



Yesterday I had a rant about how rubbish the arky-ologee club was. I’d actually forgotten that at some time over the last few months I’d mentioned to a colleague that I went to the club, and she expressed some interest. She went to yesterday’s meeting, and today I found myself in the impossible position of apologizing for the club’s piss-poor performance last night.

Following on from a comment I read on Facebook last night, I turned on the i-player and watched an episode of “Horizon.  It would seem that there is a growing disillusionment with the entire concept of “Science” The program featured people from all walks of life who seemed not to believe what the scientific pundits were claiming. Global warming, the HIV virus, the safety of genetically modified food all came under attack, disbelief and scorn. The presenter was asking why science isn’t convincing the public any more.
In the past I’ve often commented that the future never turned out quite how I expected. As a child I saw the moon landings. I’ve seen computers grow from multi-million pound things being the size of a house to cheap things you carry round in your pocket. I’ve seen the amount of TV channels I can get grow from three to a thousand. I’ve seen the excavation of a railway tunnel under the English Channel. I live in an amazingly technological and scientific age. So why is it that the vast majority of humanity is still in thrall to quack medicine and crackpot religions? Seemingly intelligent people in the twenty first century still believe in snake oils and pyramid power.
I have a theory why this might be the case.

Science doesn’t actually know everything. Science is all about trying to explain what’s going on. Take for example the complement system. Complement is a series of chemicals in the mammalian body which are (in broadest terms) involved in defending the body from germs. A textbook on complement from thirty years ago would be three feet thick because back then it was thought that complement did absolutely everything (including making the tea!) Twenty five years ago the textbook got a bit thinner as it was discovered that complement did not actually make the tea. And so, as more was discovered, so the textbook got thinner. Today there’s still a lot not known about complement, but we know more than we did.
Or consider haemophilia A. We know that people with this condition have excessive bruising and they have greatly reduced levels of clotting factor eight in their blood. And we know exactly how all the clotting factors interact to make blood clot. But theory tells us that clotting factor eight isn’t actually that important in the process. The experience of someone with haemophilia A tells a very different story. Again science has a lot to learn.

But human nature doesn’t like the scientific method. Admitting ignorance in the first place, and then admitting that what was once thought to be true is in fact wrong doesn’t sit well with many people. Most people prefer good hard incontrovertible facts. Even if they are being told something which is wrong, people prefer to be told something decisive than the vague wooliness which is often the best that science can come up with.

Take for example Radio Four – seen by many as the Voice of Reason in the UK. At 7.45am (ish) every morning there is a “Thought for the Day” delivered by various theologians. I defy anyone who considers themselves to be a rational person to listen to what the speaker has to say without laughing out loud at the gaping inconsistencies in their logic. Logic and thought doesn’t come into what they are saying. They are presenting stark nonsense as a fact.
But facts are what the public want, regardless of their actual veracity. The public doesn’t want to think, they want to be told. And being told firmly is what they want to hear. Which explains the success of religions (and charismatic politicians…. but that’s one for another time)…..

Having ranted all that, I feel I should point out that my ability to detect archaeological artefacts by dowsing is a valid detection method, and is in no way crackpottery…

26 January 2011 (Wednesday) - This n That



The parrot’s been here for three weeks now, and what can I say? Well, actually I can say quite a lot as my loyal readers have found out over the years. But on the subject of the parrot I must admit that having been offered the option to take her on permanently, I have pretty much decided against doing so. It wouldn’t be fair on the parrot as she wants so much attention, and I don’t have the time to spend fussing her. And those who would be more inclined to spend time with the parrot find that they get bitten for their efforts. Because she wants me and (seemingly) no one else is good enough. Also I don’t have the patience with her when it’s time for her to get back in her cage, her noise is really beginning to get on my wick (!) and I didn’t realise what a messy animal she is.
Originally the plan was for “My Boy TMto be much more involved with the parrot, but his contribution hasn’t lived up to expectations. Having said that, the parrot has learned a new phrase – “f*!king bird!!” uttered in a fair imitation of  “My Boy TM‘s voice. Talking of “My Boy TM ”, he’s had a new tattoo. I quite like the lips, and may well have them done myself. He assures me he can do such a tattoo on me – it’s just a case of deciding where on my anatomy to have them engraved.

I was on an early start at work today, which meant for an early finish. Which was for the best – I’d burst the gusset out of my troosers, and needed to get more. Asda had none in my size, and it’s been my experience that smart trousers from Tesco’s cost a fiver and look like they cost a fiver. So I popped round to Matalans. I eventually found a pair, but I had to search for them. It has to be said that (like Asda) they don’t seem to cater to the more rotund physique. I suppose this could be God’s way of telling me to get back on that diet, but there are a lot of people bigger than me out there in this world. Where do they get their troosers?

Being the last Wednesday of the month we set off to arky-ologee club. Tonight was billed as “Members Talks”; the idea being that club members gave short talks on various subjects. The evening started well with young Anthony giving a talk on his trip to Iron Bridge in Shropshire. Young Anthony is the club’s youngest member. The second youngest member is probably thirty years older than young Anthony, so the lad must be praised for his courage in standing up and speaking. The lad did really well - far better than the adults managed.
Frank and some unspecified “wotsisname” had both offered to talk, but neither showed up. And “Re-enactment Andrew” had forgotten he’d said he’d do (or have) a turn, but offered to nip back home to get some props.
So as a space-filler whilst we waited for “Re-enactment Andrew” to come back, the club chairwoman read bits from this month’s “Arky-ologee Gazette”. As I recall it was some old drivel about some Roman artefact. I was dozing quite a bit; it was dire. It was then followed by an impromptu five minutes from our resident Riddler. Mossop droned on about the historical changes to the parish boundaries in some villages of which I have never heard and about which I don’t care.
Just as I was giving up the will to live, “Re-enactment Andrew” returned with his props, and he waxed loquacious on his hobby. Some people collect stamps, others spend hours looking at the stars through telescopes. Some walk or cycle. “Re-enactment Andrew” gets together with a gaggle of like minded people who all pretend they are still fighting the battle of Waterloo. He brought along his footsoldier uniform which was (apparently) an accurate recreation of a uniform of the time.
These long winter evenings just fly by……

25 January 2011 (Tuesday) - Breeding, Rating...



I have been accused of being very anti-government in my rantings lately. So to give a rounded view on our leaders, I shall agree with them for a change. Today's radio had a shocking expose on the Government’s schemes to put a cap on family credit. At the moment the more children you have, the more benefits you get. Clearly breeding can become a lucrative profession. The government has decided to put a stop to this: people who choose to breed like rabbits will not be subsidized by the tax payer to do so. And rightly so (!)
This morning’s radio show featured a looney-leftie-feminist type from a body called Family Action who seemed to think that the Government shouldn’t interfere with people’s rights to breed like rabbits. One wonders how such seemingly well-meaning bodies such as Family Action get sidelined by these crackpot ideas.

And talking of crackpot ideas, over the weekend I ordered some insoles for my shoes from eBay. A silly little thing that cost me a couple of quid. Today I got an email from the seller who asked if as well as giving her good feedback, would I also give her five stars on her seller ratings. She tried to claim that if I didn’t then I personally would be responsible for her falling sales and presumable for her having to sell her children for medical experiments to make ends meet. I was left feeling that I wanted to give her a bad rating purely for her cheek in asking for a good rating before she’d actually delivered the goods. So much for the eBay feedback and rating system having any merit.
This episode reminded me of the many failings of the pub reviewing websites which I frequent. Take for example a pub within half an hour’s drive of my house. I’ve never been to the Unicorn Inn in Canterbury. I want to go there, purely because over the last few months this place has remained in the top thirty pubs on the website of Beer in the Evening. This is a pub-reviewing website which boasts having had eight hundred new members in the last month, and which clearly receives hundreds of pub reviews every day. But the system it operates is hopelessly flawed; otherwise how else might the Unicorn Inn in Canterbury get into the top thirty. The place has only been reviewed eight times in the last year, and two of those reviews were rather uncomplimentary.

Having shown the failings of rating service providers via internet websites, it’s strange then that the Government has announced its plans to remove it’s backing to the way hotel stars are issued in favour of having some sort of on-line popularity contest…

24 January 2011 (Monday) - Tree Hugging



Yesterday I mentioned about going for a walk. One of my favourite places to walk (but it’s too muddy at this time of year) is our very own Kings Wood. It’s ironic that within a couple of months of my joining the Friends of Kings Wood, the place’s future is looking very uncertain  Basically the major party in our coalition government has plans to sell off great chunks of the publicly owned woodlands in Britain.

Perhaps I am wrong to use the phrase “sell off” – the correct terminology used by our leaders was “consulting on new ownership options", but I’m afraid that I’m old enough to remember a previous government which was completely Con-servative. Back in the day British Telecom (among *lots* of other companies) was publicly owned – like the NHS and the schools, and the air we breathe it belonged to everyone. But the government sold British Telecom. It was very cleverly done: everyone had the option to buy shares, but of course only those rich enough could afford to, and there weren’t that many shares to be bought. So the whole thing was hyped up, and those that could afford the shares bought them. Those that wanted shares but found there was none left offered to buy shares from those that had some. And so they bought the shares at vastly inflated prices. Such was the demand that I knew of people who spent £250 on BT shares one day and received back £500 from selling their investment the next day.
That’s one hundred per cent profit. It’s called capitalism, and it is one way to run a country. I am reliably informed from people whose opinions I value that it is a very effective way to run a country. And having seen both Con-servative and Labour governments I find that I must concede that the capitalistic way does seem to run an efficient country.
A morally bankrupt one, maybe, but what do I know? In the meantime, I see that a lot of celebrities have joined the campaign to save Britain’s woodlands. Any tired old lefties amongst my loyal readership can save the trees by signing the on-line petition here. After all, (to quote an Old Native American proverb) "Only when the last tree is cut; only when the last river is polluted; only when the last fish is caught; only then will they realize that you cannot eat money"
Mind you, on reflection I’m left wondering if I might be smiling more on the concept of rampant capitalism had my own endowment investments not gone quite so belly-up.

Regular readers of this drivel may recall that over the Xmas period I was struggling to make a working PC out of the leftover fragments from previous PC maintenance sessions. I’ve now got a working PC cobbled together from the one that “Daddies Little Angel TMused to use. It’s nothing special, but with the installation of a network card I can back up my photographs to it. It never fails to amaze me how much the technology moves on. A digital photo from 1998 takes up 54Kb disc space. They aren’t the sharpest photos in the world, but they don’t take up much space. Photographs taken yesterday on my new phone take up 1.8Mb each. That’s over one old floppy disk’s worth. Yesterday’s album of photographs taken on my jaunt to Herne Bay takes up more disk space than all of my photos from the year 2001. My archive of photos going back to 1998 takes up just over 10Gb disk space. That’s loads!!  And it transpires that I’ve only got two 20Gb drives in the backup PC. Bearing in mind there’s some stuff on the PC we want to leave in place, backing up my photos will take up more than half my available space. And also bearing in mind file sizes of today’s photos, this backup PC will only be good for one more year’s photos. Sometime in January 2012 I will be needing to put a much larger hard drive into the backup device.

And in closing, regular readers may recall that I am on a diet. Following last week’s successful gain of one pound, it has to be said that I didn’t really bother with the diet last week. KFC, trifle, fry-up, pub lunch and a couple of pints all went down well. This morning at the grand weigh-in I found I’ve lost three pounds. What’s that all about?

23 January 2011 (Sunday) - Herne Bay


We’d planned an early start, so ‘er indoors TM set her alarm. When it went off (making noises and flashing lights) I watched her snore through the thing’s efforts, and left her snoring for a few more minutes before kicking her awake.
Next doors dogs were staging a riot (as usual), and as I shaved I could hear what I could only describe as “World War III” as the dogs all chased each other round the garden. Mind you, it did strike me as odd that the people next door waited until all the snarling and barking had finished before they went into the garden to shout at the dogs. But I suppose excessive noise early on a Sunday morning is never a bad thing.

The birthday boy arrived on time, and having collected the Chip, we set off for McBreakfast. In the past I’ve been a great fan of McBreakfast, but I’ve not had it for ages. Since I’ve been away they’ve stopped doing McFruit Toast, which is a shame (if you like McFruit Toast), but a sausage and egg McMuffin slipped down nicely.
With brekkie scoffed, we set off for a walk. Whitstable has always been a popular place to wander along the prom. We were there two weeks ago and noticed something in the distance out at sea, so today we went to Herne Bay to investigate this nautical oddity. What we could see a fortnight ago was the remains of Herne Bay pier: all that remains these days is the old landing stage where steamers used to moor. This thing is over a kilometre from the shore – you can just make it out in today’s piccie – it’s on the horizon behind us. The actual pier connecting the landing stage to the sea front collapsed during storms thirty years ago. It was (in it’s time) one of the longest piers in the country.

And then we had a mooch along the prom, which was far better than the one at Whitstable. The prom at Whitstable is a good place to walk, but there is very little there – endless beach huts and a little cafĂ© after a mile or so. The town doesn’t actually have a sea front: the town is inland. Herne Bay does have one – there are amusements and cafes and pubs and ice cream shops all the way along the sea front. I can imagine over the summer the place being rather busy, but today being cold kept the tourists away. Four of us wandered from the remains of the pier almost as far as Tankerton and then came back again along the top of the hill. Herne Bay is a good place to go for a walk – even if it is somewhat overloaded with dog turds.
And once back to Herne Bay we popped into the local Wetherspoons for a spot of lunch. It is fashionable for those who think they know about pubs to look down their noses at Wetherspoons pubs. But I’m not complaining. They were doing a full roast dinner with a pint of ale (and it was an excellent ale selection) for six quid. So good that having scoffed dinner I had another pint of the Red Castle Cream for dessert.
And then onwards – there was more to investigate. Specifically an ice cream parlour near where we’d parked. I was told it was too cold for ice cream. I disagreed, and whilst everyone else had coffee and hot chocolate, I had a toffee ice cream sundae. The ice cream parlour is another place that is crying out to be re-visited: they do cod and chips for seven quid, and if there are three of you in your party, they give you a free bottle of plonk.

Once it warms up a bit we shall go back. There are several plans afoot: parking at Whitstable and walking to Herne Bay for cod & chips, and then walking back again. Parking at Herne Bay and walking up to Reculver to the pub and back again.
And roller-blading along the prom is another idea that’s been suggested. I shall watch that one from the pub window…

22 January 2011 (Saturday) - Aladdin


Yesterday I complained about anti-Muslim bias in our society. Today I might run the risk of fanning the flames of that bias, but a small minority of Muslims do very little (if anything) to help themselves. Take today’s news in which a young Muslim lady (one of the stars of the Harry Potter films) found herself fearing for her life. She was attacked and savagely beaten by her own brother because his anti-non-Muslim prejudices made him unhappy about her choice of friends. This story will go down well in the right wing newspapers…

Yesterday I also touched on my mortgage problems. But I’m not the only one with money worries. Spare a thought for the poor boating fraternity. Back in the day, when multi-millionaires wanted a bigger luxury yacht it was easy to sell your smaller one to an up and coming wannabe millionaire. (Bear in mind here that a “smaller yacht” can comfortably accommodate more people than my house can!)
But nowadays up and coming wannabe millionaires aren’t so common, and those that can be found don’t seem to want yachts. So those who’ve upgraded to bigger yachts whilst fully expecting to sell their smaller ones have found themselves stuck with smaller yachts that they can’t sell. And because they can’t sell them, they are still liable for the ongoing running and mooring costs of said vessel. Running costs which can come to over a million quid each year.
It’s a tough life having more money than sense…

To work, which was hard work, and then home. Martin was waiting for me: not his idea. He’d bought a new bike (still boxed) and was carrying the box full of bike parts home. Heaven knows how I’d manage to lug the thing ten yards: he’d lugged it half a mile, and would have lugged it all the way to his house had “Daddies Little Angel TM not caught him and insisted he waited for me to take the thing in my car.
With bike delivered we collected Sofia, then had a quick shopping trip. Totally by chance we again met Martin in town, and he persuaded us to pop into the Gorge for the all-day breakfast. We then did shopping, and I again couldn’t find anything at all in WH Smiths on which to squander my voucher. And then home, where I found another blog to add to my reading list. That’s now three of the family blogging.

And then we set off to Maidstone. The tribes gathered in the Druid’s Arms and after a quick pint of “Rockin Rudolph” ten of us made our way across the road to the Hazlitt theatre in Maidstone where the Stage Theatre Society were doing a stage performance of the Disney version of Aladdin. The oldest member of the cast was nineteen years old, and the show was wonderful. I was entranced for the entire time. I don’t go to the theatre anywhere near enough. Theatre is something else to add to my “must-do” list.

And at the risk of sounding like a penny-pinching old miser…. I bought a round of four drinks in the Druids Arms. I went halves on a round of five drinks at the theatre, so I know how much money was spent. For the cost of those six and a half pints of beer and two Malibu & coke I could brew five gallons of beer at home….

21 January 2011 (Friday) - Assorted Stuff


The news had something of interest today. The TV channel “Dave” is making a new series of the cult sci-fi comedy “Red Dwarf”. There were a special three episodes of the show made over Easter in 2009 – I use the word “special” inappropriately because those episodes weren’t special. They were rather mediocre actually. I watched those new episodes on April 13th 2009, and at the time I commented “…and I was vaguely disappointed. I can’t help but think that over eight seasons, the whole premise of the show had been done to death. Last night’s special was obviously just trying to milk more money out of a tired formula. …. “Red Dwarf – Back To Earth” was OK, but I’d seen it all before. There was nothing new or original about the thing - it was just yet another tired re-make. It speaks volumes that the second episode on Saturday got less than half the viewing figures that the first episode on Friday got.
Don’t get me wrong – I liked Red Dwarf when it first came out – and the first few seasons were good. But there are only so many jokes you can get from any formula before it becomes tired. And to be blunt, Red Dwarf was milked dry about three seasons before the BBC realised that.
But the show is coming back next year. I’m hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

And the news had something which made me think. Baroness Warsi is concerned that anti-Muslim feeling is rife in the UK. I must admit that when I hear the word “Muslim” I can’t help having a sinking feeling and wondering “now what are they up to?”. But why do I feel like that? On reflection, all the Muslims I’ve ever met have all been decent and good people. Some of my students at work were (and are) Muslims and I’ll not hear a word against them. So why do I feel so negative to Muslims in general? I’ve given the matter some thought, and I blame the BBC. After all the BBC is the source of most of my news, and there’s usually one article a day painting Muslims in a bad light. I’m afraid that years of listening to the Beeb might have affected my judgement.

Somewhere else where my judgement may be awry is in my location. Specifically in that I was playing with the sat-nav on my mobile phone the other day, and posted my address up on Facebook.  Several good friends have suggested that it was a daft thing to do; friends whose opinions I value.
So I’ve been thinking about this. Is where I live such a secret? I played around on the net. I found my address listed on several web sites including lookuppeople.co.uk, 192.com and the electoral register within a couple of minutes (admittedly the electoral register cost me a few pence). So my address is a matter of public record. But that proves nothing – I suppose my name appears on those searches because somewhere along the line I ticked (or did not tick) a box to allow this to happen.
The initial point remains valid. Should I be wary about revealing where I live? I can see that for some professionals (teachers, policeman, etc) this might be advisable. I suppose that if I were to use the feature on the sat-nav regularly then some pattern might emerge – and I can also see that advertising when I’m not home might be daft, being an open invitation to burglary. But then what with two adult children (and their associated entourages) coming and going, the house is rarely (if ever) empty for any length of time.
Am I being daft in pinging where I am to the world? I don’t really know. So I shall err on the side of caution and remove the Facebook post and not do so again (very often!)

Being on another late start gave me time to worry over mortgage paperwork. Yesterday I spoke with someone at the building society. As the day wore on, I didn’t think that he’d told me the right information, so I got out all the records I could find. The chap I’d spoken to yesterday had overlooked we’d added ten thousand pounds onto our mortgage when we moved house in 1991. So we are going to be rather further in the red than we thought. Or we would have been, left to our original advice. Thanks to our own disaster limitation policy taken out a few years back we will be in the black; just not quite as much as I would have liked.

To any of my loyal readers who are considering taking out a mortgage, please learn from my mistake and don’t get an endowment one. Far from being the nice little earner that was promised, it only managed to cover about 80% of the minimum we expected from it…

20 January 2011 (Thursday) - Phone Calls and Letters


Over the last few days I might have given the impression that I’ve fallen out with the parrot. The parrot certainly redeemed herself last night – she climbed off her cage and marched across the floor to me. I put my hand on the floor by her, and she carried on marching up my arm. I felt quite flattered that I was allowed to hold her; the only drawback was that she wouldn’t hold on very tight, and she nearly fell off a few times. But that was last night…

Regular readers of this drivel may recall that we’ve lost our marriage certificate, and on Monday I ordered a copy. The copy cost me over twenty three quid, and it’s arrived. As I showed ‘er indoors TM the copy, so she showed me the original which she’d found. Oh, how we laughed.
As I was on a late start I took the opportunity to see what other post I had waiting for my attention. I had the bill for this last month’s mobile phone use, which is substantially less than the bill for the old phone used to be. I took part in a customer survey for Asda. They wanted to know my shopping preferences on a wide range of items. Which struck me as odd – surely they could work that out from my credit card transactions with them. After all, Tesco’s seem to do so when they send my vouchers for money off the things I regularly buy from them.

Axa Sun Life Services had written to us telling us our policy was due to mature in less than a month. I phoned them - in the first instance I needed to know exactly what policy was maturing. It turned out it was one of the endowments for the mortgage. This presented a problem – all the paperwork was made out to pay off the Portman building society. They were taken over by the Nationwide some time ago. And all the paperwork included the name of a Ms Gardner. ‘er indoors TM  hasn’t been that for twenty four years.
The chap at Axa was helpful. The endowment we took out isn’t going to pay off the mortgage; it’s going to be a couple of thousand pounds short. Not as bad as it might have been really, but at the time we were led to believe it would pay off the mortgage and we’d have several thousand pounds cash in our hands. I might just have a quiet word with the chap who sold me the endowment and see if I can’t shame him into covering the shortfall out of his own pocket – after all it was my own father in law. Failing that, I’ll have to resort to the policy we took out ten years ago to make up the difference.
The chap at Axa did tell me to contact the building society to be sure that all would be well at their end. So I phoned the Nationwide building society who assured me all would be well. I need to write back to Axa Sun Life – I’ll do that tomorrow – if my printer works. I am reliably informed that it doesn’t any more. And to add insult to injury, the nice chap at Axa Sun Life said he didn’t need to see the copy of our marriage certificate. I’d only got the thing for him (!)

Canada Life wrote to me to tell me that the payments on ‘er indoors TM pension were going up. And Aspinalls wrote to me – I donate monthly to their zoos. They’d sent me a money off voucher in November which I opened today. I have a couple of weeks to use it. I bet I don’t…

Yesterday I mentioned that I phoned English Heritage to complain about their website. A very contrite sounding lady phoned me today to apologize for their failings. She offered no excuses, but openly admitted they’d stuffed up. Apparently they had some big revamp to their website last year which had stuffed up some of the dates. I took the opportunity to point out that for a lot of their venues in Kent and Sussex, their websites only have opening times for last year. She again apologised and said she’d look into it, but asked me to be patient. Apparently their web team usually make a big effort to update everything in April. I tried to suggest that having a web team meant that surely they could sort it out today, but she wasn’t having any of it.

And the just as I was about to leave for work, Eon phoned wanting to save me money on my gas and leccie bill. They got quite snotty when I told them I wasn’t interested. On the one hand I suppose that the bloke phoning me up is only doing his job. On the other hand I have specifically told BT that I don’t want people phoning me up trying to sell me things.

To work via Sainsbury’s Being on a late I thought they might have got round to putting out their salad bar. They had – it was nice (as far as salad goes!) And while I was in the area I filled my car with petrol at their filling station. I shall go there more often. I usually go to the Tesco ones, where the petrol pumps are much closer together. You can drive through the Sainsbury’s filling station without worrying that you’re going to scrape up against other cars.

Work was much the same as ever, and then home. I wasted about half an hour trying to find somewhere within half a mile of my house where I could park. The roads were all parked solid – eventually I saw a car pull out and I had his space.
And then I came home and went mad. Last night the parrot got back into my good graces. This evening every time I tried to speak she screamed as loud as she could. I gave up trying to have a conversation. And trying to watch the telly became a rather futile exercise too.
I may mellow overnight, but my plan for tomorrow is to take the parrot back to her owners before I wring her neck…

19 January 2011 (Wednesday) - Not Happy


The morning sky as seen from the hospital car park was beautiful this morning. I often wish that I had another job. I have no idea what I would like to be or do, but I do know that I would like a job which would allow me to be outside more often.
Talking of work; today was a bad day. I could go into great length about it. It would probably be wrong of me to do so, and on reflection I’ve decided I won’t. But I’d just ask my loyal readers a totally hypothetical question: How would you manage to work with someone who makes no secret of their contempt for all of their colleagues?

Regular readers of this drivel may recall I’m not overly impressed with English Heritage. Their website claimed Lullingstone Roman Villa was open on the Monday after the New Year. It wasn’t. Their website also claimed there was a falconry display at Battle Abbey last weekend. There wasn’t. I phoned their head office today and spoke with a very disinterested receptionist. She claimed she’d put me through to the I.T. department, but she cut me off. So I phoned back and got the phone number of the I.T. people and phoned them directly. I explained that I’d had two wasted journeys because of their website, and that much of the details on their website refer to last year’s events. The receptionist there said she’d get back to me. Or to be more specific, her words were that she’s get back to me, her tone was that I should get knotted.

And then home. I had hoped to go to the cinema this evening. There are a couple of films I’d like to see – “The King’s Speech” and “The Green Hornet” are both showing locally. There are two showings of each film this evening – one starting around 6pm, which is just a little too early. And one starting shortly after 9pm, which for a two-hour film is just a little too late. So we watched a film of Spike Milligan’s autobiography. Or we tried to. The cinema might cost more, and the films might be at awkward times, but they don’t have a parrot shouting obscenities when you’re trying to watch the film…

18 January 2011 (Tuesday) - Scams and Parrots


This morning I received perhaps the lamest scam email I have ever had. The spelling and grammar give it away from the start, and I *love* the name of the so-called director of the Debt Management office - Mr Abraham Nwankwo:


FORCE HEAD QUARTERS
LOUIS EDET HOUSE
SHEHU SHAGARI WAY
P.M.B 266ABUJA, NIGERIA
EMAIL : info@nigeriapolice.org

MOTTO : TO SERVE AND PROTECT WITH INTEGRITY
FROM THE DESK OF AFIZ RINGIM
NSPECTOR GENERAL OF POLICE
FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA
CABLEGRAM: NPFIGMOK
TELEPHONE :+234-816-094-7765

Attn: Honorable Beneficiary,

A REPORT ON YOUR DEALING WITH IMPOSTORS VIA THE INTERNET.

I received a report from the EFCC and the American embassy here in Nigeria concerning your dealings with some impostors who have been contact with you and extorting or trying to extort money from you using the names of cream of the Nigerian society. I am very sorry for any inconvenience that these may have caused you and would like to use these medium to assure you that your fund will be released to you. The EFCC made me to understand that you have been very co-operative, they forwarded to me the e-mails that you sent to them and i must tell you at this point that you should have reported the issue to the Nigeria police before you started complying to the impostors. Be rest assured that We are on top of the situation and those involved in this act will be brought to justice.

Your fund will be released to you via the Debt Management Office of Nigeria (DMO). Mr. Abraham Nwankwo is the present director of the DMO. You would be directed to the DMO for proper verification and clearance as soon as you respond to this email.

Please get back to me with the bellow personal information for verification
purpose:

Full Name................................
Country of Origin....................
Country of residence.............
Age .........................................
Occupation............................
Marital Status.......................
Present contact address........
Direct Telephone number.................
Scanned copy of drivers license...........
Scanned copy of work Id..................

As soon as i receive the above information from you, you will be directed to the DMO director for the release of your fund. Note that the total sum of $8million will be released to you as soon as we make our verification that you are who you say you are and that the information which you gave us is correct.

Yours in service,
Afiz Ringim,
Inspector General Of Police.

For more, contact Abraham Nwankwo via email 
(abrahamnwankwo@consultant.com)


These people really must think I’m stupid. But I suppose enough stupid people fall for the scam to make it worth their while trying it on in the first place.

Meanwhile the parrot’s now been here a fortnight. For the first few days it was fun. After a week I’d rather taken to her, but could see (with my sensible head on) that having her permanently wouldn’t really work. And now after two weeks….
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve always wanted a parrot. I am *so* grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to borrow one, rather than having spent out over a thousand pounds on bird and assorted accessories. There’s no denying we all had a good laugh this evening when the parrot climbed off of her cage, marched across to ‘er indoors TM ‘s dinner plate and started helping herself to chips. But on the other hand…

It would be an exaggeration to say that I’m ready to wring the thing’s neck, but she’s messy, noisy, attention-seeking, destructive and craps willy-nilly. Take this evening for example – I gave her a piece of apple to try. She bit lumps off, and threw them across the room in all directions. Added to that whilst she doesn’t actively attack the rest of the family, she doesn’t like them, and she will bite if anyone but me goes near her. Last week she drew blood from “Daddies Little Angel TMAnd she’s not gentle with me when I stroke her. She demands that I fuss her, and when I do she tries to nip. Not nastily, but she is definitely trying to nip.
I’ve not been bitten (yet) but she’ll hold my hand in her beak like she holds the bars of her cage, and then tries to climb about using my hand (held in her beak) for leverage. She’s also very keen to nip at my shirts and to chew my watch. She flatly refuses to go back into her cage at bed-time; ‘er indoors TM has chased the bird round the living room at 1am (for over half an hour) on more than one occasion.
And the noise: the chattering and jabbering is amusing, but the screeches and the shrieks and the machine-gun sound are just far too loud.

I have mentioned before that I am not an animal person. What was once amusing has become an annoyance. These two months can’t pass quick enough.


17 January 2011 (Monday) - Stuff



To work where we had the grand podge-a-thon weigh in. After two weeks of dieting, I’ve gained a pound in weight. As well as dieting, I really need to exercise more, but my great scheme to get more exercise by walking to work has hit a snag – it’s been raining in the morning every day for the last two weeks. Oh well…

Work was the same as ever - we’ve not yet been revolutionised. The Prime Minister has today announced how he’s bringing in a new scheme whereby the running of the health service will be turned over to the GPs. I’ve mentioned before that this idea has been tried before (and abandoned) with no lessons having been learned from the exercise. In theory it’s a good idea. GPs get to choose where the money goes in the health service, what treatments will be available, and where. In practice it will be a return to a post-code lottery of health care in which the average man on the street will have to hope that he gets ill with the same thing as everyone else locally has got. With restricted finances, and the shots being called by those with vested interests in curing their specific cohort of patients (as opposed to humanity at large) money will be spent on the maladies of the local majority. Which means that if you go down with Chediak-Higashi syndrome or some other such obscure disease, you’d better piss off and see what BUPA has to offer. Which would be a shame.

Whilst we’re on the subject of expensive health care issues, here’s a questionnaire you might care to complete. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority are wrestling with some ethical dilemmas and want the public’s input. At the moment sperm and egg donors give their seed for free. In the future they may be paid for such contributions. Is that right? I don’t know, but I can’t help but feel that if the reason for paying people is because of a perceived lack of donors, then rather than paying donors, actually advertising for some might be a good plan. I’ve never seen any adverts asking for a bottle of “Badger’s Best” (!)

Mind you, expecting common sense from officialdom is being somewhat hopeful. For a series of reasons which will (probably) appear in future blog entries, I need our marriage certificate. The problem is that sometime over the last twenty four (and a bit) years we’ve lost the thing. It’s possible to obtain copies, and I wasted half an hour with Caroline at the Department for Administrative Affairs trying to get a copy. Oh, this girl was thick. She took down all the details, read them all back to me, and had the lot wrong. So we did it again. And again. She had about a dozen particulars to take down, and it took half an hour. I wonder if I’ll ever get the copy of that certificate…?

16 January 2011 (Sunday) - Battle Abbey


It has to be said that I have been wondering if the neighbours can hear the parrot. However I was woken by the neighbour’s alarm at 6.30am this morning. I drifted back to sleep only to be woken again by the noise of their dogs shortly before 7am. And usually on a Sunday the other side’s continual piano playing sets the first lot’s dogs off barking shortly after 8am. So bearing in mind that the parrot didn’t really make any noises at all until 9am today, I’m not really that worried that she’s being a nuisance to others. A nuisance to us maybe… but that’s another story. But it was as well that we were up and about – the postman rang the doorbell at daybreak. He had a parcel and told us they had a backlog to clear. On a Sunday!

I then spent a while on eBay looking at hoodies. I’m rather conscious that I only wear one hoodie – I’m sure everyone has seen my “Grumpy” hoodie. I like it because it has a full zip front. I have plenty of other hoodies, but none with zip fronts. For some inexplicable reason I would seem to be the only person who wants a hoodie with a zipped front.
I scoured eBay and couldn’t find hardly any, and those I could find, I didn’t like.

Somme relatively recent blog entries have recounted the fact that I’ve made a shrewd investment in joining English Heritage (!) The plan for today was to use our membership of said august body to enjoy the falconry display they had advertised to be taking place at Battle Abbey during the day. So we set off, this time using my sat-nav for real. Yesterday, doing the thing for fun was entertaining: it seemed to work. Today the thing was rubbish; wanting to send us down the narrowest farm drives, and estimating it would take over seven hours to drive thirty miles. Furthermore it had stopped warning us of upcoming junctions: only telling us where to go once we were just past the junction. After twenty five miles of this stupidity I realised I had it set to “walking” mode. Fortunately for my nerves “driving” mode worked fine, and we found Battle Abbey with no problems.

We soon met up with the Brighton contingent, and then we had what I can only describe as “Lullingstone flashbacks”. Two weeks ago we all drove for miles to meet up at Lullingstone Roman villa. Advertised as being open on the English Heritage website, we found the place closed. Today we arrived at Battle Abbey to see the falconry display advertised only this morning on the English Heritage website, only to find it had been cancelled a month ago.
There are two schools of thought about websites. One theory is that they are a useful way to convey information to the general public, and therefore should be dynamic things which are regularly updated. The other theory is that you have a website to quieten those who like that sort of thing, and having set it up you ignore it, because you had no idea what it was all about in the first place.
English Heritage clearly subscribe to the second theory. This annoys me – if they aren’t going to bother maintaining their website, they should shut it down. Better no information than wrong information.

But with our English Heritage membership we got free admission to the abbey and the grounds, so we had a mooch round. It was all rather scenic, and nowhere near as cold as on our last visit of two years ago. We had a good look round, climbed several staircases that we probably weren’t supposed to, nearly upset the normal people a couple of times, and then it was time for scoff.
Thanks to the wonderful bit of technology that is my mobile phone I’d managed to look up the phone number of my favourite pub in Battle, and to book us a table for lunch. The food was excellent – and loads of it, but I was disappointed by the ale selection. On my last visit in December 2008 they had five ales on. Today they only had two – and the selection was rather disappointing: Harvey’s and London Pride. But we were going for a meal, not a booze up. We enjoyed ourselves, and after we’d scoffed we had a wander round Battle before wending our way home.

Once home I took all the astro club stuff back to Jason, and then got the next batch of home brew started. This one should (hopefully) be a dark(ish) best bitter and should be ready to drink in the first week in February. All it needs is a silly name…