A few nights ago I was walking home late at night along one of the main roads leading into the town centre. In the wee small hours you rarely see pedestrians, and the only movement is the odd hot hatch or police car. The amber street lights might be effective in lighting the dual carriageway but the grass verges are obscured in shadows and gloom. Okay, I do see urban foxes around there quite often, but on this night all was quiet. Hello, what's that in the grass? A plastic bag? The shredded remnants of a plastic crate? No... That's something else... Woah!
A deer was lying among the uncut grass tufts. British deer are usually small, apart from those grand Scottish beasts, and usually very shy of us humans. This just lay there unconcerned. I stood watching it, little more than seven feet away, and it looked back at me. How odd! I shifted my weight and said hello, the deer moved a foreleg to enable a quick getaway, but it still didn't seem overly disturbed. A passing car gave a sudden stamp on the throttle - the deer reacted with something like the usual alertness, but it stayed put. I slowly walked around until I was squatting three feet away from this deer. Amazing. One of those strange unexpected meetings with nature. Look after yourself mate.
Not far from there the week after I was again walking home on the same route, albeit not so near the town centre. Across the main road I saw an animal rush from one side to the other whilst traffic was non-existent. A cat? No, legs are too short. Oh heck - it's a black rat, and not exactly small either. What a beast! I've only seen two other black rats in Swindon, one dead, the other lurking around the back yard at home. Most rats we get in Swindon - a town somewhat notorious for its rat population - are the ordinary but unwanted brown variety. Can't say I was thrilled to see the rat however. So pleased I didn't encounter it up close.
You heard It Here
it's been great recently to see the planets in the night sky. Venus was especially bright.... heck that was close. An electric car swished by with barely a sound. It's getting really dangerous to be a pedestrian these days. Human eyesight isn't totally reliable to keep you from harm, and the days of noisy exhausts are numbered. Gazing up at the heavens isn't quite so safe anymore.
All Corona'd Out
The endless discussion in the evening news about the Coronavirus epidemic is getting wearisome. Funnily enough, a colleague at work had asked me how I felt about it. Restrictions on life are nothing new to me so I suppose I just take lockdowns, tiers, and self isolation as they come. But it saddens me that our lives are now so dominated that the daily news broadcasts have become the Coronavirus Show. Oh yes. I forgot that unnecessary war in the Caucasus. Or that Europe hasn't persuaded Britain to maintain the economic status quo. Or that Trump wants another term of office to prove how fantastic he is now that he has survived the disease he once scoffed at.
Hello World, my old friend, I've come to talk to you again.
I write this not from the Library (who stubbornly refuse to open despite everybody else trying to restore some normailty to their lives) but a pokey little internet cafe which I might have to frequent more often. But it means I can say hello to the survivors of our post apocalyptic world, assuming I'm not being over optimistic.
A Floating Map
A visit some while ago to my local park was a peaceful scene. Nobody about at all, given Swindon was in lockdown back then. Out on the lake, I spotted a mass of algae on the water, shaped remarkably like England, Wales, and Scotland. The resemblance was uncanny. Right. That's it. Anecdote over. That didn't hurt did it?
Bye For Now
Haven't got time to do a proper blog entry but memoirs of my covid experience will follow eventually. Why not? The BBC have been broadcasting everybodies elses. And on the subject of the BBC, yes, the exam result fiasco is a mess. We got that. It isn't news any more. Move on. Please.
Hi there. It’s been a while since I last posted on this blog so I thought I’d let the world know I’m not a statistic. Just an hour or two ago I noticed my everyday supplies of daily essentials was running a little low. Nothing for it but to risk a journey to the local supermarket. What could possibly go wrong?
As soon as I approached I saw a car park full of vehicles manoevering for entrance, space, and exit. Shoppers playing dodgems with trolleys packed with everything they never needed before but might during our current Coronavirus emergency. Inside it was as bad, with crowds of agitated shoppers queuing for space in the queues or perhaps that last morsel still on the shelf. Stand aside old lady, that packet of barbeque pork make-your-own –casserole is mine! Or at least it will be in the event I actually get close to a till.
An old gentleman waddled at a ridiculous pace, reaching between queues to grab whatever caught his eye. One gets the impression he hasn’t moved that fast since Hitler’s goons were shooting at him. Another mature gent turned to someone he knew and said “How did we ever cope in the war?”
We had rationing books back then.
Time On My Hands
I’ve been sent home. My employer can’t give me anything to do because the company we supply has sent everyone home because everyone is quarantined at home in China and not producing stuff we need to supply our manufacturing customer. At least I’m still on full pay. I can afford the stuff that isn’t on the shelves because some old lady grabbed it first. And now I have the time to wrestle her for it too.
Numpties of the Week
This coveted award goes not to the shoppers of rainy old Swindon, but the media companies telling us about Coronavirus, especially the BBC, whose obsessional focus on single issues has turned a matter of concern into the fall of civilisation as we know it. Hang on… No. I’ve changed my mind. The award goes to American citizens who, faced with panic buying and shortages of goods in stores, have taken to queuing up outside gun stores instead. Trump, you have made America great.
Almost Christmas. I say that with a distinct sense of freedom and joy, not because it’s the festive season – Bah! Humbug! I say this because this year fate has spared me the usual barrage of Christmas songs. You know the ones I mean. All those songs that radio stations, supermarkets, and those not blessed with a sense of music play at this time every year ad nauseum. Hardly heard any of them this time around. Makes you feel good to be alive.
A Noble Deed
It’s going to be ten years since I became Lord Rail. All in all, it hasn’t impacted much on events, other than making a few people rather critical of me, including a couple of claims advisors, one of whom actually swore at me in public when I politely made him aware of my new found status. Another claims advisor attempted to crush my title out of significance with rather less rude language. They both failed. What next for the Caldrail autobiography? What can I do to offend conformity, advance the cause of individualistic idiocy, and generally make life a bit more interesting than visiting supermarkets at Christmas? Hmmm… Let me think….
May I introduce you to Ronald? He’s a robin, the red breasted variety (although they do seem a bit orange rather than actually red), and has taken up residence at my workplace. Haven’t a clue what he finds to eat, probably subsisting on leftover sweeties when things are quiet. No food on the shop floor please… Okay, the boss is gone. But this is a bumper time for Ronald, because rules go out the door at Christmas as the boss brings in boxes of chocolates to reward us for a year of dedicated hard work and constant gripes. Seeing as this was the festive season, I suggested the company adopt Ronald as a mascot. I have no idea what Ronald thinks of this honour. He flew away.
How Not To Get Home
My last shift before xmas is done! Yahoo! Can’t be bothered to walk home in the rain so I opt for a bus. As much as I detest buses, even I have to confess they do come in handy occaisionally, like going home after the last shift before xmas. You could tell it was the festive season. Whilst I normaly have to wait ages for a bus to arrive, I had no sooner gotten to the bus stop when my ride arrived. I’ve long since learned to take my backpack off before getting on, but this not being a patient driver, I stepped aboard, pad the fare, got the ticket, and found myself entangled in the straps as I struggled manfully to fit into the seats. Slipping on the wet floor, cursing at the lack of movement, the bus accelerating and braking like an entry at Le Mans, boy oh boy, that was a test of manhood. I;m pleased to say no-one made any sarky comment at all. They must have seen me struggle before. What? Last Christmas? Oh heck, please let this not become an annual ritual….
Mammalian Connection of the Week
A little while ago I finished a late shift and as I often do, I stopped at a lonely bus stop to rest for ten minutes before walking four miles home. The bus schedule finished hours ago you see. So I was there, guzzling my energy drink which I keep handy for such occaisions, when movement down on the pavement caught my eye. A fox!
Not really that unusual, certainly not in that area with plenty of supermarket refuse bins to forage for food. This one hadn’t seen me, trotting happily along the pavement, looking in good health and really picture postcard perfect condition. Then it noticed my surprise.
When you surprise a fox like that, some scarper immediately. Others freeze until they decide to scarper. This one froze. But it was odd. I was looking straight into that foxes eyes and expected the usual look of startled horror at encountering a shabby tired out human being. I saw something else. Although alert and poised to move as instinct demanded, for just a brief moment it looked as the fox was wondering if it could approach in a friendly manner. Scrounger behaviour rather than genuine friendliness, I’ve seen squirrels adopt the same begging action, but the sensation of empathy however misinterpreted is genuinely a deeply rewarding experience.
Instinct got the better of it and the fox scarpered. Happy Christmas, Mr Fox.
I wonder what qualifications are required to become a bus driver? Not that I'm especially interested myself, it's just that I witnessed two drivers changing shift discussing Schrodinger's Cat, a piece of scientific philosophy used to illustrate quantum uncertainty. Good grief. What next? A law demanding drivers must have a Master's Degree in Quantum Mechanics just to drive a new-fangled electric vehicle? One wonders how the future government of Britain is going to make that happen. Half the kids I witness in my area learn to read and write Grafftti rather than English.
I speak with some experience on this. There's a bunch of young lads utterly and wrongly convinced I'm gay. That's bad enough, but they insist on letting me know they think so. Worse still, a hard core of them are hell bent on coercing me into admitting it. The other night, on my way home through a side street in the early hours of the morning, the driver of a car wound his window down and asked "Queer yet?".
Well, these attempts at bullying have been going on for some time. A few have already fallen foul of anti-social legislation courtesy of the Police. One wonders what life is like at school these days. Bullying went on in my day, just like it always does, but this intense psychological intimidation is well beyond anything I experienced as a child and points clearly to a complete failure of modern education practice as much as what passes as parental upbringing these days.
At the bus station, I waited for passengers to disembark as usual. A toddler, no more than four years old, came off the bus commenting on a small item with an habitual expletive which was shocking to hear from someone so young. I looked at his mother who gave a resigned expression. Well, there's a young man destined for a loud but undistinguished future. Rather like a bunch of lads believing their opinions matter. Will they ever learn?
And Now For Something Completely Different
There's been a change of strategy from these lads lately. Having failed to convert me to the condemning world of homosexuality, they now want to portray me as a shoplifter. They even claim they've seen me in the act. "You just wait" I hear. "You'll be sorry" from others. Well, I do have to point out that coercion, abuse, and false accusation could land you with a hefty punishment in court, and as far as I can see, all you're going to do is prove my innocence. Please carry on.
Bird Of The Week
Lately I've heard the sound of an owl from the countryside around my place of work as I leave at the end of a night shift. It's rare to hear one, never mind see one. But the other night I saw it, startled by the approach of a car and flying ahead of the equally startled driver. What a size! I didn't know owls got that big in Britain! Be afraid, mice. Be very afraid.
October 31st has come and gone and still Parliament has obstructed the determined efforts of the government to realise the decision made in a referendum more than three years ago. I'm saddened that so many now blame our bus loving Prime Minister for failing to reach the conclusion, but isn't that a little dishonest? I mean, the reason he failed is parliamentary subterfuge. Politics some might call it, but I wonder how many people listening to accusations of our Prime Minister's supposed dishonesty are aware of how much dishonesty is being blatantly pushed in front of the public by his opposition leaders?
Parliament claims to speak for democracy. No it doesn't. Parliament be damned.
I'm gonna live forever
I'm gonna learn how to fly
Those of us scarred and traumatised by the 1980's will no doubt recognise lyrics from that song belonging to a television series which I'm pleased to say I managed to avoid entirely. But what is fame? A reputation? A state of being? A mysterious blessing from fate? Curiously enough, people generally either see it with some degree of religious awe or an excuse for utter contempt.
I made the mistake once of describing myself on my CV as 'known worldwide' for one thing or another. At the time I considered that appropriate given the attention I was getting on the internet, though to be truthful I never counted thousands of followers on social websites. I naively thought it would add some colour to my dreary collection of dead end jobs and idle interludes. To my suprise the manager of a certain catering company, interviewing me for some worthless office job, asked "So you think you're famous?"
Erm... What? No, I don't think I'm famous.
"It says here," He said, looking at my CV before him, "that you're known around the world.".
Oh good grief. Well I explained that fame was a measure of attention people paid to you, that it was not an on/off switch, more like shades of grey. I did not use the word 'famous'. If I thought I was, I would've described myself as such.
"To me this says you're famous" He snarled, holding up his copy of my CV and pointing at it like it was evidence of criminal behaviour. No point being reasonable with this sort of attitude, so I quite correctly told him my name was mentioned in print and that was good enough for me. I didn't get the job.
I did learn to fly eventually. Still working on living forever though experience suggests I might struggle with that one.
Audience With King George
I seem to be getting into the habit of an annual visit to STEAM, Swindon's modest railway museum. It's not a bad experience, and the dummies in period costume are disturbingly real at first glance. A young mother just ahead of me was fooled, she suddenly realised that the old lady sat at a typewriter behind a desk wasn't quite as alive as she thought. I always enjoy that open door to a small office where the manager is telling his employee that if he's late for work once more there'll be a parting of the ways.
I like the way the museum starts with this administration background, moves on to stores, then trades, then a diorama of wartime steam engine manufacture with two female mechanics chatting, until finally you wander into a large space with just Caerphilly Castle on her own, a full on express steam locomotive from those glorious days of God's Wonderful Railway. Looking a little shabby these days, but still a powerful exhibit.
Secretly though I have another engine to visit. The first GWR King class, No.6000 George V. Not because I especially like that class of engine, or I admire the technical excellence, or respect the history of that particular locomotive, but because as a little boy I briefly stood on the footplate when it had stopped at Swindon station.
George had been retired from mainline service long before. On one particular day though, a special train was due to pull into town and my mother took me and a friend along to see it. By sheer chance, I happened to be standing by the cab when a kindly engine driver kidnapped me to experience that forbidden metal cavern where the crew drove this engine for real. I remember the darkness with the firebox closed, the patina of grime, and a few burnished copper pipes. Truth was, I felt a little intimidated, and didn't have the questions the proud crew were hoping to answer. So they kindly returned me to freedom.
Of course George is now somewhat cleaner in the cab, bereft of any coal or water in her tender, her firebox cold and empty. Machines are always female, whatever the name. It's hard to describe how I feel when I pause at the top of the steps to look around the empty cab. Part of me is pleased to be there. Nostalgia for that brief insight into a lost era, sensing that attachment to a piece of history, a complex and powerful machine, built by craftsmen in days gone by.
All the same I cannot help feel sad the engine no longer steams, no longer moves. All that noise and motion of George in her heyday gone, possibly forever. Like visiting a disabled relative stifled by the regime of an old people's home, it's time to move on, so I pat the side of the cab wall. Great to see you again George.
Back in those heady days of the eighties, my main concern was striving for fame, to live forever, to learn how to... Well, you know the score. It was a time when music stores were commonplace, where you purchase all manner of instruments, gizmos, and accessories to help you on your way to rock stardom.
When did I last play a drumkit in public? Must be more than twenty years now. You would think it would be all forgotten, but a reputation is a hard thing to suppress, whether justified or not, and let's be honest, I've never shied away from reminding peple that I used to be a working musician.
I passed a bunch of lads lurking in an alleyway between shops on the high street. I heard them point me out, debate the merits of asking me to fill the vacant spot in their band, until one bright spark observed that I was almost old enough for a bus pass, that irrevocable indicator of old age and disqualilication for entry into rock stardom. My music career died long ago, but it seems fate just won't let me me forget it.
Audience of the Week
The pubs have closed for the night. So gangs of revellers tramp up and down the road outside on their way to a nightclub or maybe just struggling to get home without falling over. Most laugh, shout, or throw punches at each other. Some however continue to make appraisals of me as they pass. Scorn, anger, and amusement. So it seems everyone has an opinion about me, good or bad. Just the price of fame I guess.
The weather forecast had already warned us of storms crossing Britain late into the night. As luck would have it, I was on a late shift, and that meant walking home during the period when I was most likely to be drenched in minutes or used by nature to light the vicinity when hit by lightning. There was every risk of both, and to be honest, I’ve always had a policy of avoiding such weather conditions by the clever use of indoors. Not last night then.
One colleague at work told me that storms were already crossing France and would be here in two hours. Really? That would require winds in excess of gale force. There was barely a breeze and whilst thirty odd degrees centigrade isn’t hot by some standards around the globe, for Britain it was sweltering. In any case the winds weren’t from France, but the Atlantic southwest, as usual. Damp air then. Perfect for the odd electrical storm. I have to say working to very high targets in that sort of humid temperature was not for the faint hearted. By the close of shift, I was, as they say, ker-nackered.
So. Time to go home. Almost as soon as I left the premises the display started. Around the sky flickers of light went off almost continuously, an extraordinary sight and one I found quite weird given not a rumble of thunder could be heard. I could see the mass of storm cells encroaching on Swindon. Sooner or later the rain would start. I wonder? Could I make it to the McDonalds outlet about halfway home without incurring a sudden outbreak of dampness? It worked. I made it to the rest stop barely seconds before the first cloudburst opened up. Perfect. Fast food, dry shelter, and bewildered staff to impress with my knowledge of storms.
“Ahh” Said one McDonald droid, “it’s stopped. I can go home now.”
You think? I’m staying here for another hour yet. He chuckled and headed for the door only to be greeted with a huge fork of lightning over the area. Your move mate.
Whilst I was walking to McDonalds I spotted a fox on the other side of the road. Normally at that distance they either don’t care, or find a more discreet place to be. This one simply hunkered down. I know mate, it is warm isn’t it?
Howls Of Badgers
Badgers are the quietest of animals. They snuffle around, usually looking happy as Larry, but a week or two ago I encountered one on a footpath going home. Badgers aren’t the most alert of creatures. I’ve often walked very close to them before they realised I was there, but always they scarper, and scarper quickly they can. This one saw me coming and hooted very loudly. Wow. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard a badger. A born sergeant major that one.
On the outskirts of an industrial estate I saw movement on the road, again lat at night. This was a black beetle, alarmingly huge. Two or three inches long, much larger than anything I’ve seen plodding around British countryside. This one was not only large, but fast too, scurrying around like demon possessed. A foreign import off a lorry? We don’t usually get beetles like that outside of zoos.
Boris Of The Week
This week’s star prize goes to our new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who takes over from Theresa May today. There’s a sort of inevitable aspect to his new found glory. Can he sort out the mess and get a deal on Brexit past the hordes of British MP’s determined to frustrate the British public’s decision to leave Europe? The battlefield is the same as it’s been for three years and cost May her job. Who knows, perhaps the outsize beetle was an omen. Perhaps the gods welcomed Boris with a spectacular lightning display. Somehow I doubt he got rained on last night.
The other day I strolled into a music store in my home town, thinking of upgrading some recording equipment. It’s been a while since I took music seriously and having been unemployed for the better part of a decade, I could hardly afford to. But, with money in my pocket, time to splash out and get ready to impose my music upon the unsuspecting world.
“They don’t make those any more” Said GK, someone who has sold me all sorts of instruments and gizmo’s for the last thirty years. After a short converstation, it was clear that music was not the hobby it had once been. I looked blankly at him for a moment and in that moment of awakening I said “Heck, I’m getting old….”
GK couldn’t stop laughing. But I’m beginning to realise what a fantastic period of history I lived through as a young man. The days when you could walk into a computer or music dealership and buy just about anything are gone. The world has changed, and not for the better.
Changing the Country
The hullabaloo over Brexit continues with continued calls for a second referendum. Really? Didn’t anyone realise it was going to be difficult? Fact is, we had a vote, we voted to leave, that’s it – it’s going to happen. As much as EU strategy is to have our legs wobble at the sheer scale of our endeavour and ask to come back with our tail between our legs, Britain is made of stronger stuff. Or at least, some of us are, given how much whinging the remainers are making.
But what do I hear from Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party leader? Renationalise everything. His radical new plan to save Britain is more or less to recreate the seventies when left wing politics still had some clout in this country. I well remember the seventies, and it wasn’t a high point in British history. Terrorism, strikes, the Three Day Working Week with the family sat around of an evening by candlelight, rubbish bags piling up on the streets. If there was any solid reason for keeping Corbyn out of power, it’s the 1970’s.
Change of the Week
There I was, walking home after a late shift in the wee small hours, when I spotted a fox. No, two foxes. No, three foxes. That’s a little unusual. But what startled me was that one of those foxes actually growled at me. Foxes don’t do that. They just silently retreat or flee. Not this scruffy young fox, as it turned to face me once it through the gates of the local park. Bared teeth is alarming in a dog. But a fox? Disturbing.
A fine day with a deep blue sky and some fleecy high level cloud. Great when you have time on your hands but having to trudge four miles to work is a rather wearing prospect. Needless to say, I was sweating. As I strode along the old canal footpath I could see a bunch of workmen ahead. Like all British workmen you spot in the wild, they were not working. They sat idly in the shade, observing my approach and long experience told me I was going to receive a comment or two. It's the British way.
"He should be just like us" Said one of them, clearly not impressed with my individualism or perceived character. One of his colleagues agreed. Really? Just like you lot? The thought occurred to me as to what the world would be like if everyone conformed to their working class normality. No music, no radio, no television, no pubs or clubs, no films to dazzle us with special effects, no computer games to waste our spare time, and no-one to make the booze they might well be waiting to consume on the weekend. Nothing to look forward to but the opportunity to pass comment on passers-by. What kind of world is that to be proud of?
Nature always finds strength in diversity. With good reason. I like my individuality and why on earth would I want to be merely one of a crowd of layabouts, anonymous, ordinary, just another non-entity the world is full of. Ah, some might say, and some do, but I failed. Yes. Correct. My plans for super-duper-stardom in my youngers days quickly got dashed on the rocks of reality. But hey, I tried. That makes me an also-ran, not a spectator. Which would you rather be?
I saw a review in my local paper for a Judas Priest album. I've never really been a fan of their music but I respect their ability and longevity. Thus when I read the gushing praise I thought it might be worth catching up with where they are now. So I purchased their latest offering and lo and behold, it was as you might expect. Well performed, excellent production, a work by a band who know what they're doing. Then having finished listening, it occurred to me that I hadn't remembered any of the songs. It was nothing but an album of heavy metal wallpaper, making all the right sounds, doing all the right moves, but a production line of riffs and beats that pretty much failed to engage with my love of tracks that stand out for indefinable reasons. Sadly I doubt I'll feel the need to play it again.
Compare that to another performer, Florence and the Machine. I was unaware of their existence until they featured in a televised event on the Beeb. I was impressed by the female vocalist's energy, her willingness to reach out to her fans (quite literally, it caused a near panic among the security crew), and the songs were interesting, varied, and I imagine for some, about relevant subjects. Buy her latest album? Oh yes, and I wasn't disappointed. Three tracks stood out, Ship To Wreck, What Kind of Man, and Queen of Peace. I still hum those tracks to myself regularly. That's success in music as I see it. Sorry Mr Halford, I know you're delivering what your fans want, but it's just a day job for you, isn't it?
I stopped at a Subway earlier for a quick snack and sat as I often do facing the outside world so I can watch people going about their irrelevant business outside. It struck me that everyone, literally everyone, in my field of view of the busy Saturday morning high street was staring down at a device in the palm of their hand. I suppose it's a sort of security blanket, making them feel that they're part of a group, that they're in on what is going on around the world, even if it amounts to videos of people falling over or endless sequences of pets caught mimicking humanity against their will. A whole crowd of spectators, going around spectating, because it seems they have nothing else in their lives. "Your phone is rubbish" one work colleague once mentioned when I checked my device for the unrealistic prospect of having received contact from the outside world. Yeah? Really? So what?
It was bound to end in tears. A movement of cold air from Siberia plus an Atlantic storm coming up from the Bay of Biscay. Swindon rarely gets any snow despite being inland. Usually the worse areas are the eastern half of England, Scotland, and Ireland This time Swindon would not escape. To be fair, we were on the edge of amber weather warnings and didn't get hit as hard as some parts of the country, but up to foot of snow in Swindon is almost a natural disaster of memorable proportions.
It was fun watching the foreigners at work. They were transfixed by the heavy snow flurries, constantly wandering to the nearest door to gaze at the unaccustomed weather. You would think the Poles were used to cold weather and the odd snowdrift, but they too shivered in the bitter English wind and moaned about the snow, though one or two snowballs were smuggled into the warehouse for special targets. A lady from Columbia simply had to take photographs. Lads from Goa stared at the unfamiliar sight of whiteness and suffered from the cold, which at around minus five centigrade was something a great deal less than the tropical sun of their homeland. In fact, on Friday morning I phoned the hotline to see whether the shift was going ahead. Nope. Cancelled due to inclement weather.
So was my water supply at home. Oh great. I know. I'll phone the landlord. Sorry, he said, there's nothing he can do. Oh great. I know, I'll phone a plumber. Sorry, the receptionist said, there's nothing they can do. Frozen pipes you see. Yeah, I think I get the message. So I trudged back and forth buying bottled water and anyone who has been in that situation quickly learns how much water the average person gets through.
The water came back on by itself. That was a little odd given the temperatures hadn't risen, but hey, let's not complain. Later last night the valve in my toilet cistern decided the new water supply was too much and popped open, releasing water all over the floor. I was lucky to hear the noise, and realised there was a problem. Water was spreading around the bathroom and probably downstairs too. An emergency! This is a job for.. erm... me. I don't know anything about plumbing.
Quick, shut the water off. The inside tap was jammed solid. Quick, shut the water off on the outside tap. jammed solid. When you're in danger, when you need help, you need the Plumber - if you can find him. I phoned a series of numbers with 'Please hold' or simply no answer. Saturday night you see. Emergency call outs and 24hr service don't count for a lot when they want time off to socialise. Eventually I got through to one. My toilet is flooding the house. "Sorry Love," The lady answered, "But I've got nothing before Tuesday". What?!!! Your advert is in front of me. It says you deal with emergencies. "Yes, but we can't deal with it before Tuesday,.Sorry". Eventually I found a plumber willing to come out and assist. Only problem was he insisted on cash and probably wasn't keen to get his hands dirty with his domestic routine upset. Eventually I put the phone down on him. As luck would have it, the lady downstairs had called the landlord and of course chivalry won out over being capable. Toilet restored to working order. Panic over. The world is returning to sanity.
From The Land Of Snow
I watched as Putin gave his 'state of the nation' speech. He really is an old fashioned dictator, isn't he? The west was to blame, and Russia would not be pushed around, so here's the list of new weapon systems we're putting together to push the west around. With a belligerent President Trump - who will no doubt be keen to earn his wings by ordering a war somewhere or other as democratic leaders often do, and not just the American ones, it does not bode well. NATO troops already stationed in the Baltic states to ward off potential Russian expansion and the evening news talking about a new Cold War. Oh great. Well at least our Prime Minister, Theresa May, is upbeat about Brexit. Good. At least then we won't have to deploy long range smart cruise missiles to get a few concessions in negotiations with the EU team.
Many years ago I wrote a piece on the internet about my departure from a company's employment in scathing terms. Back then I wrote how the place would close and the site redeveloped. It has been announced that such will come to pass, my prophecy having been proven correct.
Working there in the good ol days was a different experience than you normally get in warehouses today. There were no agencies involved in finding jobs there, a family atmosphere, and good rates of pay. The rot set in when the influx of young lads and the retirement of older women made the atmosphere much more like a school playground. The change from old fashioned hierarchy to modern style office class system reduced peoples motivations to work toward a career and a future in the company, making careers a lottery rather than the result of hard work and merit. Finally, the older hands were gotten rid of by hook or by crook, seen as obstructive and stuck in their ways. Truth is, they knew their jobs whereas the new generation of workers, managers or labourers, did not.
New ideas haven't helped. Placing the management of warehouse production in the hands of a sub-contractor has done no good. The idea was to let a specialist handle it instead of the hamfisted efforts of what amounted to amateur managemnt, but profit proved hard to achieve. So the company has finally decided that it's time to give up, uproot, amd start again elsewhere. Good luck.
It was great to see W back at work. I wasn't on the premises when it happened but he'd been crushed by a forklift truck whose driver (the very same driver who nearly knocked me flying once before) hadn't been too observant. Luckily his injuries weren't too serious and now he's fit to resume duties again. Is it just me or has W grown up a little? His experience seems to have done him a favour.
Not So Welcome
A politician claims that older people voting for Brexit have 'shafted the young generation wholesale'. What a load of nonsense. Far too many young people are lazy, indifferent, and assume that the world owes them a living. That's the sort of world that being a member of the EU has encouraged. If forcing the younger population to work toward an independent Britain they can be proud of is shafting them, then shaft away.
Some might see this as hypocrisy given I spent the better part of the last decade as unemployed. I would point out that I was not given the choice, and ultimately, I was thrown to the wolves by the Job Centre who see stopping peoples money as a positive move. That was despite making nearly ten times the quantifiable effort to find emloyment than I was officially expected to achieve. So I got shafted. And as the spokeman for the Job Centre proclaimed in a television interview, I too found paid work within six months. Not the success story that the Job Centre wanted to advertise me as, but one of those who got off their bottoms and went to work when the opportunity presented itself. Why should ex-EU Britain be any different?
Not Welcome At All
The EU were clear that Britain would not be punished for choosing to leave the Union. They are keen to avoid giving Britain favourable terms to prevent encouraging other members to opt out, and indeed, there are sentiments of that sort evident in France, Greece, Holland, Italy, Spain, and probably other countries. Nonetheless the EU are demanding a high price for leaving, a 'divorce bill' they're insisting on. Since Britain used to be one of the major contributing nations within the EU, the proposed bill can hardly be seen as simply a necessary legal payment but rather an attempt to squeeze whatever they can at the last moment, a feature of EU administration that has been clear for a very long time and one of the reasons people have become dissatisfied with EU membership.
The other reasons are the covert suppression of national identity and the influx of migrants assisted by the open border policies of the EU. Why are we so suprised that this is happening? The Roman Empire went through a similar process, becoming larger, bureaucratic, corrupt, facing ever increasing immigration and political uncertainty, not to mention rebellions and at least one break-away empire (that included the British Isles curiously enough). If ever there was a reason to see the value of history, current events are proving it like nothing else, especially since the EU exists to recreate the Roman Empire in a parallel sense. Gildas, a sixth century monk, described Britain as an island 'Rich in usurpers'. He wasn't wrong.
Unwelcome Weather Of The Week
Saturday overtime. Mandatory. Grumble as I might I had no choice but to turn up to work. The weather was supposed to be about sunshine and showers but toward the end of the shift all hell broke loose. I have never seen hail like that in England before. Neither had the Goans, who raced to the door to experience the sort of weather that probably doesn't happen in India. It doesn't normally happen in England but we didn't let on. Although the hail was not as fierce as some countries in the world expect, for England, it was pretty impressive.
As I type this blog entry it's nearly half past four in the morning. The blackness of the night is giving way to that pale blue twilight before dawn, the amber street lights still shining . It's too warm to sleep anyway. With the window open, I can hear birdsong outside in the street.
Birdsong? There used to be a time when you never heard birds until the sun was up. These days I hear them chirping all night and I find it very hard to get used to it. A couple of weeks ago there was one night when the birds stayed silent - why I have no idea - and that was the comfortable familiar silence I remember from my younger days. Not even a speeding hatchback bobbing up and down to the beat of overlarge sub-woofers in the boot. Not even a distant singing contest from a drunken rabble. Not even the relentless giggles and shrieks of girls in a wobbling contest on their high heels. Nope, it's peaceful out there. I like that. A new day is coming my way.
Coming for someone else too, as the first of the morning commute drives past my home. When the day progresses the noise will increase, not just because of the traffic jams of an urban main road, but the volume level of car stereos rising in direct proportion to summer sunshine. So many people adopting stereotypes and lifestyles mapped out by... ahhh... Come to think of it, who exactly dictates how we live?
A colleague at work is one of those men who finds it impossible to live without a partner. It's as if blokes like him struggle to feel comfortable without a woman to define their manhood. Personally I don't suffer from that malaise. To be with someone merely for appearances, or because of some lack of identity, or an addiction to social behaviour? No, my life is not defined by who I'm with, even though a great many people in my home town seem to feel it should be and voice their disapproval regularly. Pfah. None of their business, and as for their opinons... Erm... Who are they, exactly?
But my colleague needs his fix. Quite why I don't know, he has a catalogue of spectacular failures, a divorcee with restraining orders against him, children he cannot contact, the loss of property and even a roof over his head, plus the bitter memories of a prison sentence he doesn't feel he deserved.
For a while he was feeling enthusiastic about Stacey, an American woman who claimed she was a US Army sergeant in Iraq (despite using a British phone number). Eventually her demands for cash and expensive presents overcame his desire to pair off. Now Stacey wants the latest Samsung smartphone worth a whopping five hundred pounds for her birthday. Money to pay for her mothers hospital bills. Money to pay for this, pay for that. Tell her where to go, I advise him, she's just a con merchant. He knows, he agrees, but he cannot let go of a contact, even if it is only a facebook friend.
Luckily now he's dscovered another facebook friend to occupy his need to fill a void in his life, this time a lady in far away Indonesia. I rib him about her, enquiring whether he's jetting off to see her on the weekend. Actually it came as quite a shock to me to discover he really was planning to travel there. The red tape involved prevented his departure at short notice, and to be fair, the crash of British Airway's computer systems this week would have stopped him anyway. I hope he's made a good choice this time, and I wish him well in is search for completeness.
It does beg the question though – how can people regard facebook contacts as actual friends? They’re just not. Claiming you have thousands of friends online is an exercise of ego and folly, for at best, the vast majority are only ever going to be fair weather friends, and for practical purposes, hardly any of them will ever meet you face to face. Human social dynamics mean that almost everyone will only have less than ten genuine friends at any time, and more than a hundred is unmanageable for us.
Add to that the anonymity that the internet allows. Partly out of a need for security, it must be said, but I’ve seen all sorts of inflated claims by individuals seeking more respect than they deserve. Or for that matter, more money.
Screenie Of The Week
Doesn't that look a bit like a Lancaster bomber without gun turrets? It should do. This is the Avro Lancastrian, the civilian cargo plane version of Britain's most famous WW2 bomber. Cold, draughty, noisy, no creature comforts except a flask of tea passed around, all rattling rivets and vibrating aluminium panels. But on the plus side, long range and good lifting ability, albeit not exactly convenient to load. Carrying around nine to thirteen passengers, that's a lot of aeroplane for so few people on board, with four gas guzzling Merlin engines pumping out a total of 6500hp at full chat.
We're used to thinking of military flying when talking about WW2, but the Lancastrian began its career in 1943, flying between Britain and Canada, and the similarly derived (but much more suitable) Avro York starting its transport life the year after.
Pictured here turning onto the approach for Sonderborg, Denmark, my approach was spoilt by a light aeroplane on finals at the same time. In real life, I would have gotten a serious telling off for puting her down against explicit orders to 'go around', but hey, I'm tired and I want to go to bed. Time then to snooze and dream of aeroplanes past. Or whatever subconcoius chaos that goes through my head.. Right now I notice the blueness has gone, the street lights have switched off, and the passing of cars and motorbikes is stepping up in frequency. Dayligjht has arrived.
Happy birthday Stacey. Sorry your present hasn't arrived, but I guess someone else will send you something expensive.
Some of my work colleagues are not too impressed with me right now. Pfah. As if I care. The reason is that one of the youngsters is having his birthday celebration today and I have no intention of turning up. Truth is he's always kept me at arms length as it were, and never really conversed with me. No problem, but his big party is therefore of no importance to me whatsoever. Another colleague attempted to persuade me to turn up during the queue for the end of day attendance scan - I told him I was indifferent and why, right in front of the whole shift. I certainly don't mind carousing but as an afterthought? No, I don't need popularity like youngsters do, and I don't need to get drunk just to have a good time.
Get A New One
Once in a while the top boss in a huge multi-national corporation will pop in and look around. As you might expect, when there's a threat of someone important wandering around the workplace, managers suddenly get very insistent on tidiness and activity. If you work for a Japanese company as I do, the issue is worse, because they have all sorts of expectations. Even if you work in a warehouse full of dust producing cardboard packaging and oil soaked parts, workers must be clean and spotless. I discovered this on my way back from break as a pair of managers assessed everyone passing by for adherence to uniform code. I failed because my hi-vis was a little dust and oil marked by lots of activity (I'm not the cleanest worker in the world as I prefer to get things done). Okay, I admit it, it was no longer a bright yellow but instead had become a sort of faded cammo pattern of dull green and grey. The subordinate team leader demanded my attention and quietly told me to get a new hi-vis. That's an order. Yes sir.
The New One Doesn't Work
That new tyrannosaurus of a cardboard baler is proving a problem child. We're all shaking our heads and muttering "I told them so" as the machine fails to work reliably straight from the installation. It is a big issue of course. The amount of cardboard we go through is vast - one of the mechanics working on the new machine could not believe how much cardboard our company has to deal with, a feature of having to deal with bulk supplies of auto parts that must be delivered in pristine condition, and whilst he spoke, the yard outside was filling up with temporary bins full of the stuff. They even called overtime specifically to help clear it. Now parts of the machine have failed and must go back to Germany to be redesigned and manufactured.
You know, for months I was essentially the only associate working on cardboard waste within the warehouse, dealing with smaller boxes whilst the bigger external machines took care of larger packages. Now they have a regular crowd of workers trying to cope with the load and regularly get swamped. One of my colleagues said that things were easier when I was baling. Feels nice to be wanted doesn't it? Sigh. Oh well, the next order has been passed to me and packages full of auto parts must be decanted into stillages for the production line. So that's another load of oil soaked impact bars then. I can see why my colleagues want to get drunk.
Screenie of the Week
It's a long bank holiday this easter so a spot of virtual flying is called for. I just love those big propliners and cargo planes, this one - a Douglas C124 from the Cold War era is no exception, seen here flying important cargo and probably a few sailors on a free ticket from a naval base in the Puget Sound to Alameda in sunny California. Enjoy the pic...
Drunk in charge of that wonderful machine? That's just criminal. I had a lovely evening - instead of loud crowd noise, thudding metronome beats in the background, and all the hot sweaty jostling for another drink, all I heard was the mighty rumble of four large capacity radial aero-engines. Heaven. Oh all right, I admit it, I also indulged myself with a spot of heavy metal guitar. Hell too
Well, the holiday isn't over, and I have more time to wander around the supermarket to find something different and interesting.... Aha... That bottle of White Rum looks good....
Money is a funny thing. Some people are almost supernaturally capable of accruing it, others simply take what others earn without permission, and most of us get by with what we can get. How we spend our cash is another matter. Younger people tend to be hedonistic - there's a young lad at work who has spent his entire monthly pay cheque in two days each and every time. To be fair, he doesn't moan about the hassles of having no money like some do, but all the same time, he desperately needs some financial advice and discipline. On the other end of the scale is one guy I often talk to who wanted to propose to his girlfriend. So he went out and bought an engagement ring. Nine pounds? Don't be silly. Ninety points? Not good enough. Nine hundred pounds? Doesn't make that big statement. No, he squandered his savings, nine thousand pounds, on the ring. Happily she said yes. Given how depressed he gets by the end of a working shift maybe that's just as well.
I must confess I do sometimes spend on impulse. The other day I wandered past the local pawnbroker and thought that since I had some time on my hands, why not have a browse? It's sometimes interesting what people will sell. I went over to the line of guitars hanging on the wall. One stood out immediately, a gothic metal style electric guitar with a huge price tag. I looked closer. Floyd Rose tremolo, Seymour Duncan pickups, 24 frets with gothic inlays, full locking, and a feel of quality. Oh yes. It will be mine. Right now, hey, Mr Manager, I want this.....
So I have ownership of an upmarket electric guitar retailing at nearly a thousand pounds, though I got it considerably cheaper as secondhand.. At first it was horrendous to play because the action (the height of strings above the fretboard) was ridiculous. Too high and the fingers have to make clumsy, slow, and overlong movements. Too low and you get fret buzz and a nasty truncated sound. But adjust it correctly and.... Please excuse me while an adult male goes glassy eyed and rather excited by a smooth and heavyweight distorted guitar sound. Money can be so useful sometimes.
Oh No, Not Scotland Again...
That detestable Sturgeon woman just won't shut up. She and other Scottish Nationalists are spouting their demands for another referendum on independence. This time we had Alex Salmond, the politician who failed last time to persuade the Scots to leave the United Kingdom, claiming that the British government cannot ignore democracy. Excuse me? I seem to remember the Scots have had a referendum on independence and chose to remain within the United Kingdom. Sorry Mr Salmond, but you cannot ignore democracy. Worse still the Nationalists seem to believe that if you don't like the result of a referendum then vote again until you do. What's democratic about that?
But where is Scotland going to get the money from? North Sea oil and gas revenues having vanished, the only option is to stay in the EU. Which they cannot do as part of the UK since Brexit is now enabled by parliamentary law and signed off by the Queen. As an independent country? What they don't seem to realise is that as a new country, even if they get independence before Brexit is finalised, they still have to apply for EU membership, require full consent of current members, and won't have the financial perks hard won by British politicians over the years.
A colleague at work suggested the English should have a referendum to decide whether we want the Scots with us or not. I'm starting to agree with him. Get rid of those moaning minnies up north and forget them. Close the border and deport all those terrible Scottish people in our midst. I'm not the only one who has noticed that the Scots up north are the nicest people in the world whilst those living in England are just the rear end of human society, a comedian said exactly that on television. I don't really want to wish the Scottish any hardship but I confess I would take great pleasure in watching Scotland stumble.
Doris has been across England. It just isn't English to have storms and gale force gusts blasted the country, and someone really ought to do something about this freak weather. I mean, really.... But it happened. So I trudged four miles to work in a sort of unsteady zig-zag pattern depending on which way the wind was blowing. Luckily the rain held off. It was damp, a sort of fine spray, but no deluge made my life even more miserable than having to brave the elements each working day and endure the long hours of labour.
Feed Me Our new big waster crusher is installed. It cost a vast sum of money - modesty and company privacy prevents me from mentioning the enormous wad of cash the installation has demanded.
Over the last few months I've been getting familiar with each small baler and it's foibles. Reliable Olive, bad tempered Barney, lazy old Bob, neglected Nessie, and all the others. The engineer in charge of the new baler inadvertently called it 'Doris', and that is the name by which it shall be called. Doris it is. Now Doris is not a small machine. It's a veritable T Rex of a baler, permanently open mouthed and a 'feed me' expression it's sheet steel face. But times move on, I'm being put back on general duties, and Doris will have new keepers to tend to it's voracious appetite. Good.
Boys Will Be Boys The high winds caused other problems for us, not least blowing rubbish down storage racking aisles that imposed obstacles for our long suffering forklift trucks. The answer that the managers conjured was to move an industrial 40ft skip inside the warehouse instead of leaving it out in the yard, so filling it could be done with doors closed. That would be fine, but one young colleague of mine, a former retail manager with a penchant for treating the workplace like an adventure playground, found organising the push as a great chance to climb, point, shout, and generally play at being important.
The thing is I watched horrified as he rode the huge skip on top of a ladder whilst the forklift lifted, bumped, and edged the container forwards. That was visibly risky, and as soon as he was separate from everyone else, I headed over to remind him of Health & Safety in the Workplace. You see, in Britain this much hated concern has a very real relevance. If I see someone doing something dangerous and don't report or take action upon it, then any accident is just as much my own fault. That's enshrined in law.
LP was not interested in my advice. "Yeah well you keep your opinions to yourself. You're not a manager." He told me firmly over his shoulder. Perhaps, but in view of his disrespect and blatent disregard for his own well-being, I had a word with a team leader who had a word with him.
Of course that has now soured the relationship. We used to converse and joke together but frankly someone who once worked as a manger and keeps going on about becoming one again really ought to know better. He doesn't. His understanding of industrial practises are woeful, his attitude increasingly self important as managers come to rely on his organisational flair. Nonetheless, just as he reminded me, he isn't a manger either. And lately he's been given some very hard lessons on activity within the workplace, responsibility, and the prerogatives of status. Silly boy. But life is a learning process and hopefully for him, a safer one.
Holiday Procedure of the Week This most coveted award must go to the agency I work for. I discovered a few days ago that if I don't book all my outstanding holiday by March 31st, I lose them, and the pay that goes with it. Oh great. Three Bank Holidays and a Spring Shutdown with no holiday allowance left afterward? Worst still, they gave me conflicting instructions on how to book a holiday. So as in most cases of these kinds, my internal emotional thermometer went straight to boiling point and angry phone calls were followed by visits of the agency rep to put me straight. A peace treaty concluded, I was told that my outstanding entitlement - which has to be calculated at Head Office - will be passed on to me by the end of the week. No, the end of the next week. No, the Wednesday after that. What a farce. Holiday request pending.
Good grief. It's nearly half way through February and my poor deprived readers have had no news and whinges from me since the festive season. Fear not, brave public, you are not forgotten. At no cost to the country's economy and tattered finances, without the need for UN convoys and airlifts, without the need for drone and bombing attacks to clear obstructions, I bring the latest, and I mean late, news from the Rushey Platt Villa.
[bSnowfall [/b] There I was, knee deep in cardboard boxes, stuffing them into a crushing machine while fending off colleagues who saw my job as an easier option than theirs, when I spotted it. Snow? Was that snow falling outside? Of course I couldn't miss the opportunity to head over to the door of the warehouse and have a looksee. It was. Nothing special or disastrous, just a few flurries of wintery weather to please the British heart after our lacklustre Christmas.
"What is that stuff coming out of the sky?" Asked a forklifter. He really didn't know. That was the first time he had ever witnessed snow in his life, and in his far off homeland in sub-tropical Goa, snow just does not happen. Another Goan was nervous, not really understanding what snow was, and worried about possible side effects. One the other hand, one Polish girl prayed the snow would get heavier so she could build a snowman like she did back home. Well, despite the repeated warnings on weather reports, the snow flurries across England were fairly feeble and here in rainy old Swindon we got almost nothing.
Fighting Hunger There are times we think our employer gives us almost nothing. Oh sure we get paid, but there's an insidious lack of morale as the targets we have to meet only get higher with fewer resources to achieve them. Maybe I'm whinging a little. After all, the company did pay for a Christmas dinner and a week or two ago we got a free fish and chips. Yummy. I notice the bottles of tomato ketchup and mayonnaise left on the tables afterward quickly started evaporating.
President Of The Week Who else but Donald Trump? Clearly expecting to rule by decree and change the face of the Earth with clicks of his fingers and swipes of his expensive pens, he has run straight into a lesson on co-operation mounted by the judiciary branch of American government, one we never normally hear anything about in Britain. The funny things was that I debated with a colleague at work about whether Trump would get a lesson, but I confess I thought it was going to be from the security services, not the judges. So his executive order to ban travel from suspicious states achieves almost nothing. Thus he threatens to make another.
How the Russians must be laughing. All that effort to rig the electoral system, all those spies wandering around taking photographs and exchanging envelopes of secret information, all those bugs and whistleblowers and Wikileaks.... All the Russians have to do is follow Trump on Twitter.
I have a strange feeling it might be nearly Christmas again. My suspicions were raised when my local supermarket began playing the very same Christmas hits - you know the ones, I won't traumatise you with their memory. The next clue was the presence of a brass band playing .. well... Christmassy tunes. One of them was out of tune. I know this because I happen to be a musician. The final clue in this insidious seasonal plot was the strange pleasantness exhibited by the managers at work. It's a strange experience to have the top boss of the site demanding to know whether I wanted parsnips for my Christmas lunch.
The bad side of things is that I sustained an injury at work. One of those stupid ones too. Normally I do pay attention to health and safety in the workplace, especially since I went on a course and got a neat if somewhat useless certificate to prove it, but on this occaision, working under pressure and getting a little complacent, I reached inside the baling machine to remove some pesky excess cardboard and forgot to support my weight. So my foot slipped on the ledge I was using and my ribs connected rather sharply with the edge of the hatch. The machine won.
Nothing broken - I think - but I've been on pain killers and lying in bed is excruciatingly uncomfortable. But never fear, Captain Compactor is still here, fighting for tidiness, cleanliness, and the chance to survive a Christmas lunch.
Addiction, Blindness, & Other Issues Every break from work we assemble in the canteen or outside in the designated smoking area. In the canteen, discussion soon ebbs away as mobile devices begin to dominate peoples attention. This happened the other day while I was sat at the table, both my colleagues fixated by small electronic boxes and not responding to my attempts to converse. Jeez... I had no idea Roman history was that dull... Anyway I began to advise one colleague who was busy playing a game, furiously tapping his thumbs on various virtual buttons and staring at the screen wide eyed.
You know, I said, computer gaming isn't good for you. It can cause difficulties with social interaction, repetitive strain injuries, eyesight degradation, and psychological addiction.
"Huh?" He said after a pause lasting several minutes. He had won. He showed me the 'victory' screen, and stared at me with a happy gaze of someone who has battled demons, robots, falling shapes, strange bouncy balls, and survived. Happiness at work? I hope the boss doesn't see that.
"Just like you and your flight simulators then?" Said another colleague. Yes I suppose so. Oh, there goes the buzzer. Back to work fellas....
Christmas Lunch Of The Year The confirmation of my fears that Christmas was back again came with the company seasonal lunch. It was an odd affair, with a senior Japanese delegate expecting all sorts of party atmosphere and getting a load of people staring at mobile devices in a desperate bid to escape reality. One colleague refused to pull his Christmas cracker on the grounds that it was silly. So I pulled it for him, gave him the enclosed joke, and handed him the plastic moustache that came as the gift. Oh how we laughed.
Of course it wasn't all bad. Parsnips aside, the lunch was reasonable quality and given the normal diet of stale baguettes, curries, sandwiches, and crisps, it made a welcome relief especially because we didn't have to pay for it. But the best thing was seeing one of the admin ladies in tight jeans and high boots. Good grief. I had no idea the workplace was so exciting.
Caldrail's Inevitable Xmas Message Have fun. No really. Stop shooting each other, arguing with your partner, swimming the cold Mediterranean, debating the oncoming disaster of Donald Trump, and just have fun, so the BBC News doesn't have to be so endlessly morbid. Or if smiling is too hard, buy each other mobile devices so you're too busy saving civilisation to argue. Have a great Christmas and New Year.
Another local newsletter fell through my letter box the other day. It seems our fair town of Swindon wants to change, wants to progress, wants to become a cultural vanguard. Yeah? Really? The civic leaders and planners trumpeted that line thirty years ago, which shows how little vanguarding they managed to achieve.
One of their former pet projects, the 'circus tent' market hall, is to be demolished which has alarmed local traders who can't afford the high street premises. The planners haven't said so, but clearly that building wasn't the success they dreamed of. Worse is yet to come. Finally approving a plan to restore the old Victorian era Locarno building, currently a burned out shell, what do I see? Restaurants. Lots of restaurants. Swindon was once known for having the greatest concentration of drinking dens in one square mile, now it wants to be known as the place where you stuff yourself silly. As if it has escaped the attention of planners that many of our local restaurant premises are vacant or closed for business. But it seems you can't have culture without places to consume expensive gourmet food.
Hmmm... But most of those premises aren't open commercially....
A Bird In The Rafters At work I left the rest area and headed back toward the warehouse floor, a daily ritual that one must complete with strict adherence to the timetable or suffer the wrath of management. On this particular day I met a guy by the forklift garage, holding an extensible plastic rod that was wobbling right up the top of our modern tin shack. A bird was trying to nest in the steel beam rafters. Not the usual pigeon - those birds seem to nest anywhere and don't much care who walks underneath - but a large heron, a bird more accustomed to natural waterside surroundings. I watched as it got fed up of being prodded and effortlessly winged its way to another perch, where it would await another prodding. Lovely bird, but it can't stay in the warehouse.
I wonder why it came inside? To find a safe nesting spot? Seeking a warmer nesting spot? Or perhaps it was looking for a restaurant?
Working With Machines One job I regularly undertake is compacting cardboard and plastic rubbish in hydraulic baling machines. They're powerful beasties, crushing the waste with 3,000lbs/sq in (Hey, imperial measurements buddy - we're talking Brexit here). The amount of packaging used by car parts suppliers is enormous and you would expect it to be, since each article has to arrive at the production line absolutely spotless and perfect. The only problem is of course that I have to let the other two shifts use 'my' machines when I'm not there, and what a mess they make. Wires not properly installed making it difficult to extract the finished bale, or more usually, simply over-filling the machine until it isn't possible to bale it at all. Oh no. They've done it again. So I have to open the doors and let the rubbish cascade out onto the floor and repack it properly. And stop well meaning colleagues from trying to stop the rubbish coming out. Life is full of action and adventure in waste management.
The managers of course know the problem exists. They would do - I've told them - but nothing seems to improve. Oh well. At least there's been no weekend working for me to put right. One of the welding robots stopped working and its replacement caught fire. Technology is great isn't it?
Election Ploy Of The Week Okay, against all odds, Donald Trump won enough Electoral College votes and that makes him President-Elect. But what do I hear? One party in America has decided the voting system has been hacked, and wants a recount. If enough states do that, and it only needs one or two, Hilary Clinton is technically the winner. Imagine that? Of course if Donald gets trumped at the last call - can they do that in America? - Clinton would likely be the least popular president ever. Now there's an achievement.
Just the other day I wandered through town in that aimless state of uncontrolled free time that sometimes happens between shifts at the car factory. Ooh look, a book store, let's have a browse and see if there's anything worth reading or better yet purchasing with my new found affluence. So I wandered in and headed for the 'scifi/fantasy' section as it was the nearest section I had any interest in reading. Almost immediately I spotted it. the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set.
Good grief, I remember the Basic Rules from when I was a teenager back in the seventies. Oh what fun we had. gathering around a table pretending to be heroic fighters, rascally thieves, clever wizards, or insidious clerics. Or for that matter, pretending we knew anything about medieval society, Arthurian mythos, or that we'd actually read Lord of the Rings. No matter, the Dungeonmaster would hide his papers behind a cardboard screen and describe the world we were about to set forth into and play merry adventure.
D&D always came back to haunt me. For a while in my thirties I ran a game world for a bunch of players. Some might snigger or shake their head, but it was fun, social, and the added maturity of the players resulted in a much more rewarding experience in my opinion. It does occur to me that there must be plenty out there who don't know what a tabletop RPG is all about. I did think computer gaming had all but destroyed the hobby - what a surprise to see the box on the shelf of my local bookstore.
Nostalgia is a compulsive beast. My mind goes back to those starting games and so often they began with that first old door in some neglected or forgotten crypt. Listen at the door? An odd sound, like a rasping noise, intermittent but quite audible. Aha, so you try to pick the lock do you thief? Yer can't, 'cos the door ain't locked. Duh!
Armed to the teeth with blades and spells, ready for anything, eager to find what was the other side, they ask what's inside. In the centre of the dark chamber is a table and chair. A goblin is sat face down, holding a bottle, snoring as he sleeps off his ill gotten drink. The fact the poor little green creature was incapable of defending himself or that he would know where the treasure was mattered not one jot. The players would burst through the door and in a mad frenzy of rolling twenty sided dice the creature is dispatched to the grave. Then the ritual of searching the body. When they discover all he had was a pair of used underpants the players got annoyed, having risked their lives for so little gain. That's okay. Two levels down in a room far more secure is something they won't be so brave against. Heh heh heh.... Such fun.
Reality Check Of the Week With my nostalgia trip over it was time to head into work and resume my quest for a comfortable life. Yesterday I had a bit of a problem. Recently I've been handling packing waste on four baling machines, half the section in total, and believe me, I get swamped out with mountains of cardboard and plastic regularly. On this particular day two of the machines went out of action. Oh no!
So I improvised, swapping full and empty waste cages, heading outside into the cold where the big industrial balers were to make sure the cages were emptied, and after a shift long physical exercise regime like that, I was broken. I had, by my own initiative, kept our section from complaints of senior managers for leaving the section looking like a rubbish tip. And no-one thanked me. Nor did I find any treasure. Worst of all, I earned no experience points to advance my 'Level'. Pfah. This real world stuff sucks big time.
The weather is getting colder. The words of wisdom issued by weather girls on television isn't necessary for me to know that, With doors open to the elements the ambient warmth is quickly defeated by draughts or breezes that penetrate. One young lady from Poland is suffering from the decline in British weather. It's laughable, it really is, because in her country the winters can be way more severe, yet she stands shivering in the same ambient warmth that we Britons take for granted in the workplace. And that's after the company issued everyone with bulky winter jackets. Forklifters are wandering around in garments that would protect them from the Atlantic swell, one increasingly resembling a WW1 air ace, and layers of clothing like hoodies are much in evidence. Yet although the outside gets very cold at night now, the inside temperature is much the same as it has been for the past month. One colleague who works on waste is now spending much more time indoors. I asked him about that. He said it was because the next shift was coming in and making his job difficult. Yeah. Right.
My Phone Company Two weeks ago I discovered my mobile phone was blocked. Apparently I needed a PUK code to get it working again. As you might expect, security issues mean that you can only get PUK's from your mobile provider, as I quickly discovered. I tried to use their website but my account number wasn't accepted. Oh great. So I looked through my statement and found the hel mail address. Which they don't recognise any more. You have to use the website. Which I cannot use because they gave me an account number lost in the files marked 'Miscellaneous'.
Does this company want my business? Do they want any business at all? yes, Virgin Mobile, I'm talking about you, and your lack of customer service. Your loss I guess.
Driver of the Week This much admired accolade goes to the moslem lady I saw the other day. Right now one major road junction in town is being upgraded with work expected to last until January and big delays advised by electric signs. Motorists for the most part are taking it all in their stride, queuing up responsibly and patiently, but this lady? Apparently she'd taken the wrong exit, but instead of finding a more suitable turning place she decided that continuing was not a good thing and proceeded to cut across the unsurfaced road marked off by road cones. her car wobbled over the rough terrain, confused motorists unsure of what she was up to, and with complete determination she turned onto the opposite lane and squeezed into traffic. And not a single horn was blasted in her direction. Keeping Allah a bit busy there, I suspect.
Yesterday marks the point at which I truly became a rock star. Not because of millions of pounds in the bank, wild celeb parties in exotic locations, records in the charts, or thousands upon thousands of doting fans - nope, none of those which I freely admit aren't exactly part of my life experience - it's because yesterday I got recognised by a newer generation for my music. You have to ask how they stumbled across it, I mean, I was never a big draw back then, something like twenty five years ago, or since, and record sales were not making any impression on the public even in the days when we went out gigging to sell them. But they were, a group of kids who weren't even born when I gave up performing publicly, exercising their right to poor scorn upon my musical efforts. Hey, that's fame, you don't get the praise without the criticism.
What shall I do with me new found fame, I wonder? I know, I'll tell more people about it. I think that's what you're supposed to do.... Can't remember....
Big Bad And Bursting In I don't relish the chances of those Russians stationed on the far northern island of Svalbard right now. It seems that hungry polar bears, denied their natural habitat of pack ice, have done what bears end up doing everywhere else in the world and have started persuading the human beings nearby to stump a choice meal or two. The Russians are besieged in a none too friendly situation, and worse still, the young polar bears are learning that humans are weedy creatures who have lots of food to steal. A sleigh dog or too has already been eaten.
I remember not too long ago a documentary about putting animals back in the wild. There are benefits to letting carnivores loose - it restores a natural balance and eventually leads to a more fertile and varied environment. Except bears. Put bears back in the wild and the first thing they do, not knowing where to find food, is to seek out human settlements where they almost instinctively know they can scavenge from. Like they do anyway.
I wish those Russians on Svalbard well and hope they don't run out of flare cartridges too soon.
Trip Home OF The Week It's a long walk home from work, so imagine my despair when the storm started an hour before I finished in the afternoon. It really did lash down intermittently. It was well humid too, almost tropical, and although not so hot as holiday destinations it was still well warm for a British September.
Some of the lads in the changing room exchanged a few wry jokes about me having to walk in the torrential rain. Oh how they laughed, but as usual, I had come prepared. Not only that, I knew full well that the storms were in a line passing over the factory. A little south, where I was headed, it was bright and sunny. So not only did I manage to walk home, I didn't get soaked either. Result.
Just one small point though.... Usually a colleague stops to offer a lift in his snazzy non-Honda. On that particular day, he drove right past me. Okay. I can deal with that.
I see another high ranking terrorist received a visit from a US drone. Well Mr Al Ad... Erm... Al Adn.... Well whatever your name was, I doubt you'll be missed. Oh. You weren't.
Personally I don't really like assassination as a tool of global politics, but in all seriousness, I just cannot find myself criticising America for it if extremist hatemongers get a taste of their own medicine.
Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch There's more and more nationalities that I'm stumbling across at work. South Africa, Colombia, and Nepal. All working in Swindon? Amazing what a global car manufacturer can do for a town. Except train their employees. I've been there two weeks and still haven't received 'full training'. How hard can this job be?
Too hard for one lad. he had that aura of mischief about him. I never spoke to him much, partly because his vocabulary was limited to several phrases, partly because it was impossible to feel safe in his presence. Whilst the boss was wandering the shop floor he observed this one particular individual outside, throwing cardboard boxes backward over his head into a baler machine. Come with me young man! And that was the last we saw of him. Turns out he was also enjoying a wizard wheeze throwing on the handbrakes of passing forklift trucks. We were lucky something didn't blow up. Instead, the boss did.
A Little Red Faced When Facebook wanted to launch their own satellite costing millions who did they turn to? NASA? Russian Space Agency? India or China? Nope. They went to Spacex, creators of the worlds first re-usable launch rocket, or at least, re-usable when they can land it without the thing exploding. So having successfully landed their creation, they perch the Facebook satellite on top, refill the tanks, and light the fuse... KABOOOM!!!!
You really have to admire the Spacex sales team.
Product Placement Of The Week Buy a Honda.
There you go. My first ever product endorsement now that I'm sort of sponsored by them. Americans have no excuse because some of the cars we're building are heading their way. That means that some of you will be purchasing automobiles that have my DNA on them. Now before I get letters from US lawyers demanding compensation for some horrific accident (or even just parking in the wrong place), I would point out that I did report an error in one part the other day. Potentially I saved the company millions in product recalls, or who knows, even lives. Didn't even get a thank you. Hmmpf.
Things just get more and more awkward every day. It really doesn't feel like I'm in control of my life any more, and to be honest, there's every reason to believe someone is interfering in my business as no opportunity to disrupt my income is being missed. Well, for the time being, I'm back in the saddle, working at the Honda car plant. Don't get me wrong - this is not my dream job in any way whatsoever, but it will pay the bills for a while.
My colleagues, many of whom are being taken on at the same time as me, come from a wide variety of countries. There are of course the ubiquitous Poles, as well as Hungarians, czechs, Goans and other assorted Indians, Italians, Egyptians, and at least one American appeared on the radar today. Two of my female colleagues wanted to know who he was, and with typical working class forthrightness demanded "'Oo are you then?". It turned out it was the Vice President of Honda USA on a visit. Result.
On the negative side the 'full training given' turns out to be rather less full and more sporadic. I even had to walk away from one trainer I was assigned to because he admitted he didn't know what he was doing. The trouble, so the agency informs us, is that Honda don't normally take on so many temps in one go. There's certainly demand for them - I've had a total of five agencies trying to hire me for the same job. I know, the scheme to earn five times as much has occurred to me, but I tried that once before in another warehouse - it doesn't work.
Also Not Working My grand plan to learn some Polish has hit the rocks. Not through want of effort, it's just that the Poles shorten their vowels so much that their language is almost impossible for us lazy English speakers to get right. I've had one young Polish lady reduced to hysterics by my continued efforts to say "teabreak" in Polish. The word is said something like p'sher'va, but as easy as it looks, she just giggles and says it again in clipped Polish preciseness.
Vending Machine Of The Week The works canteen has a row of typical vending machines for snacks and drinks. They do work, as it happens, as anything not working is not the Japanese way. So, having no cash to spend, I decide a cup of free cold water would do. Number eighty.... Aha... I now have to chose whether I want Strong, Normal, or Weak water. Really?
My trials are nothing compared to one colleague, FJ, who is the only temporary worker to receive full training, knows everything, and thus is respected and consulted by all despite this being his first job and only present for a week so far. He's even decided to go on the night shift to get away from all the fame and fortune. His choice of breaktime tipple was Beef Soup. Strong, naturally, as he always chooses Strong. Big mistake, FJ. When it says Strong, it means it. Now he buys cans of fizzy drinks and looks forward to his girlfriends curries to get through the day, and breaks out in a sweat whenever Beef Soup is mentioned. Personally, I 'll stick to water. It doesn't seem to make any difference which strength I choose.
The last two weeks have been physically demanding if not quite strenuous. I've been working for a private military company, one of the commercial enterprises that service the needs of modern armed forces under contract. Although strictly speaking that makes me a mercenary, I was not dealing with arms in any way, just the logistical side of army business. Finally, with the schedule successfully completed, we were allowed out of work an hour early.
A different mood had swept across the town of Swindon. I'm not sure why. I passed the beer garden of a popular drinking den on my way home, and unusually, it was full of families enjoying the afternoon. Maybe it was the weather? The sun was hot and the breeze delightfully cool. Or maybe it was just that Friday feeling? At any rate, I felt the need to just chill out, relax, and enjoy the very same afternoon. I sampled the new blackberries growing out of the hedgerow beside the road. I'm not the only one to do so of course, you find individuals occaisionally collecting berries, but a berries in the mouth as I pass by is a welcome relief on warm days. Most are young and a bit sharp, but after a while you get used to finding the larger, more mature berries, and they taste just great. They weren't enough however. I needed to stop and let the world whizz by.
I found my spot at Summer Gardens. To tell the truth, it isn't exactly a garden at all, just a large patch of grass hidden between residential and business areas. It is however wonderfully sheltered. Beneath one of the oak trees I sat down, listening to that wonderful sound of wind in the leaves. I'm not really into that 'communing with nature' thing, but this once, it felt right to do so. It isn't the sort of place you see wildlife in daylight hours - too many smelly human beings - but I did spot a white butterfly moving randomly a little way off. A white one, not the dirty grey modern variety. It occurred to me how few butterflies there are now. In my childhood, you'd see loads of them, everywhere,.
The outside world still intruded. Barely audible was a passing police car, then a fire engine. A lorry bleeped as it reversed into the business unit behind me. Cars passed by the multi-story parking lot the other end of the Gardens. None of it really bothered me. Eventually I needed to be somewhere else, so I gathered myself together and hobbled away on stiff legs. That's the price you pay for inactivity, but this once, I really didn't mind.
Another day, another job interview, and another bag full of documentation and proof of who I am, what I was, and why I think I could be. For a moment my trusty old CAA pilots license passed through my hand. I hadn't seen it for some time as no-one had ever asked to view it, and as for flying, I haven't been at the controls of an aeroplane since 2002, which at my age means to exercise the full privileges of licensing means another round of costly dual instruction and expensive medicals. Not really a practical lifestyle choice at the moment, not with my career wading through the mud.
I happen to be one of the last Britons on the old UK CAA lifetime PPL's. These days a pilot can either get a UK recreational license, restricted to British airspace, or the full European JAA five year license. I wonder what will happen now that Britain has voted for Brexit?
Those were the days. I would come out of work early on a Friday afternoon, glance up at the sly as I walk across the car park, and decide whether to pop down to the airfield. Looks like a lovely day. Let's go!
After an hours blast across southern England in my trusty old Toyota sports car I arrive at the field. There's no fuss or nonsense getting in, and I park up to visit the flying club office, where I ask about availability (always a formality, they had enough aeroplanes to go around) and sign out my choice of aircraft. Then it's up to the tower to look through the NOTAMS (Notices To Airmen) to make sure I don't do something stupid, ignorant, or just plain illegal.. Check the weather report. All looks good.
Today I'll be flying one of the Piper Tomahawks parked out on the grass. The PA38 is not exactly exotic, just a simple two seat American trainer, and good enough for an hours flying to keep my hours up. The metal airframe is hot to the touch under the summer sunshine, even with white paint, and the moment I open the cabin door I feel the heat inside - it's like a cooker in there. So, leaving the cockpit to ventilate and hopefully cool down a tad, I leave the door open, stow my bag, and wander around on my preflight check. You really need to do these habitually. You cannot assume an airframe is ready and safe to fly.
After testing this and pushing that, I conclude this aeroplane is okay to fly. The cockpit is still uncomfortably hot, but I expected that, and put up with it. A few more checks, then the business of starting up can begin. These aircraft are not sophisticated. Their design, both airframe and engine, dates from 1930's technology and that means I have to do some jiggery-pokery with the plumbing to persuade that lumpy four cylinder engine to turn. Not like a car at all. Even with an electrical starter like this installation, there still needs to be a number of controls set just right. I push the primer pump a couple of times, set the mixture, set the throttle, shout "Clear prop!" to prevent anyone lurking under my Tomahawk from being minced by the propeller, and try the starter.
The engine doesn't like being woken up. It turns over with a click and whirr, the innards doing everything except firing. Woah! There it goes, bursting into noisy life. Immediately I reset the throttle, check the readings on the instruments, and prepare for movement. Call the tower and tell what I intend to do today. They reply with the usual terse permissions and advice, so now it's just me, releasing the brakes and letting the Tomahawk trundle forward. On the grass it waddles and rocks about, so go careful, because if that propeller hits the ground my flight is over before it begins.
Now I arrive at the end of the runway. A last minute check that the controls are working as expected, that the engine temperatures and pressures are within safe limits, and run the power up briefly so I know the engine is working properly. I have to know that - take off is the most dangerous part of the flight, the moment when the engine is under the greatest strain and the aeroplane at the slowest speed. One last call to the tower and they confirm the runway is mine.
Lining up on the runway is quite an experience, no matter how many times I do it. The width of the tarmac, the knowledge of what the strip is for, and the anticipation of a sudden burst of speed and power to get this aeroplane into the air. With everything ready to go there's no more delay. The throttle lever is pushed steadily forward, the engine bellows loudly, and the little Piper starts to accelerate. Unlike a Cessna which almost flies itself, the Tomahawk is a reluctant flyer and needs persuasion to lift off. A pull on the yoke at around 50 knots and with a slight unsteadiness, I start to leave the world behind me.
For a short while I'm in a tiny little world of my own, a metal can suspended half a mile in the air, growling loudly around the sky. Occaisionally a voice over the radio interrupts, sometimes quick orderly exchanges with air traffic control, or simply someone else talking on the same frequency that doesn't involve me at all.
As usual, the air is a little hazy, and although I steer clear of the white cumulus tufts as the law and commonsense dictates, I can't really see that far, just a dozen miles or so, and the various thermals and gusts of wind make the aeroplane wobble and jolt. I see another light aircraft flying a little way off. A military helicopter blasts past below at an impressive speed. A couple of gliders in the distance wheel about looking for the same thermals I'm trying to avoid. Maybe you might spot a car on a road down there. For the most part, my little world is a solitary place, the world outside strangely empty and silent.
Sooner or later I either run short of fuel or money, so the flight has to end, thus I head back to the airfield and call them to announce my imminent arrival. They reply with instructions on which approach to use, and it's up to me to guide my aeroplane correctly. The runway looks ridiculously small from there. Getting down accurately is a skill that requires practice, one I enjoy completing successfully, and it is a necessary part of flying. What goes up must come down.
I adjust the power to my rate of descent. I adjust the aeroplanes attitude to control my speed. A little counter-intuitive perhaps, but that's how flying works, and I've done it often enough not to have to think about it. With a few more adjustments the aeroplane settles into an approach I'm happy with. The runway gets larger, and closes on me ever quicker. Start to ease off the speed and descent, trying to judge it so the aeroplane is hardly descending when... There's a hesitant whine from the stall warner. A quick screech and bump as the tires touch the tarmac. All power is off and I'm down, keen to get off the runway and open the cockpit before it starts cooking me.
Finally I arrive at the parking place. On with the brake, shut of the fuel and electrics, letting the engine stop itself, and finally, a chance to get that door open and breathe fresh air. My ears are buzzing in the odd silence that follows a flight. There's a stiffness in the legs after having to push rudder pedals for the last hour. All I do now is finish off putting everything back where it belongs and close the door behind me, then back to the office to sign off the airframe. That was a good flight. I enjoyed that.