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Found 84 results

  1. caldrail

    Living With Audiences

    Fame! 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. Audience Waiting 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.
  2. 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.
  3. caldrail

    Just Like Us

    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? Music 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? Connected 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?
  4. caldrail

    Just Me And The Night

    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? Stacey 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.
  5. caldrail

    Oh Yes, It Will Be Mine

    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.
  6. caldrail

    Doris, Dunces, and Dubious Practice

    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.
  7. caldrail

    Almost Nothing

    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.
  8. caldrail

    Getting Mobile This Christmas

    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.
  9. caldrail

    The Popular Choice

    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.
  10. caldrail

    Playing The Game

    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.
  11. caldrail

    Cold, Gold, And Bold

    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.
  12. caldrail

    Up There

    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.
  13. caldrail

    Yes But Seriously...

    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.
  14. caldrail

    Working And Not Working

    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.
  15. caldrail

    Let The World Whizz By

    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.
  16. caldrail

    Lovely Island

    One of the great truths of Britain is that for every run of good weather, you pay for it by rainy days to come. Right now the weather is prone to heavy showers. Typically I got dampened by drizzle as I arrived at the library, only to see sunny skies out of the window as I'm typing this. I'm not tempting fate by declaring when I want to go home. The other day I was watching the birds in the park. The feathered ones I mean. Their antics are fascinating, especially when one gets cross with another. They don't just spar and conclude it like mammals, birds really do bear a grudge and once they don't like somebody, the aggressor keeps attacking the victim incessantly until it goes away. Or until an RAF Typhoon fighter screams across the park overhead. What a racket. But then he was shifting, using that surplus of power for airspeed, going about his potentially dangerous business. I didn't think of it any further, other than he blasted across Swindon at more or less the same altitude that civilian light aircraft often do. Come to think of it - there weren't any light aeroplanes about. Perhaps the Typhoon had chased them away? Then I spotted the unmistakeable presence of foreign airmen trying to understand the British cabbie as they flagged down a taxi. Not in ordinary or dress uniform either, but in their flying gear no less. Hmmm... I surmise, Dr Watson, that an air show is taking place within driving distance. I further deduce that since RIAT takes place at nearby Fairford Air Base around this time of year, that the town is strangely packed out with shoppers, and the roads jammed with endless queues of cars, that they are about to take part in Britain's premier airshow. But you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to work that one out. Life In The fast Lane Although I'm not a Formula One fan, I did watch the British Grand prix this weekend. It started under a cloud, literally, with one of those heavy showers. This made for some dramatic racing. The drivers must have been all too aware how easy it was to lose control of their powerful lightweight machines, not known for being easy to drive at the best of times, and you could see real seat of the pants driving going on as cars wobbled and slid all over the place. I though F1 was boring? This was good viewing. Here's the funny thing though. The danger hotted up as the sun came out and the track began to dry. With grip returning, drivers were pushing their cars harder right up until they strayed into a puddle and whoops - there goes another rubber tired car, sliding spectacularly for hundreds of yards, unstoppable in true Hollywood fashion by any of the run-offs or gravel traps. I saw formula one cars doing four wheel drifts as they coped with unexpected issues in the bends. You don't see that every week, not in a sport that relies on downforce and grip. The speed of pit stops was stunning. The last time I took any serious notice of F1 racing crews took six or seven seconds to change tires. These guys were doing it in half that. I watched spellbound as Verstappen overtook his rival on the outside, earning a 'fastest lap' in the process. Woah - that was racing, full on. But as the water evaporated the average speeds of all the cars lifted and the race turned into the usual high speed traffic jam. Yawn. Oh well done Hamilton. Nice victory. I fancy a spot of lunch. Time to raid the fridge. So there you have it. To rescue Formula One from the dullness of anonymous insectoid machines buzzing around the track in an endless technological blur, hold the races in Britain. Forget all those exotic foreign locales with guaranteed sunshine and yachts in the harbour. Bring it back home to Britain where the weather can turn a certain result into a jaw dropping spectacular. Or at least until technology eventually finds a gizmo to cope with British weather once and for all. TV program Of The Week I nominate Love Island. Get a bunch of working class hunks and babes and watch them compete for lurve. Or not, if you have the gumption to change channels before you get sucked into this pointless farrago. The television announcer breathlessly sets the scene for us, musing over whether one guy or another will get a certain girl. Oh how the tension builds. Truth is, the entire rationale appears to be that we watch a bunch of nobodies trying to be somebody by shagging anybody in front of everybody. Truly missable.
  17. caldrail

    Almost There

    In the last few weeks I've rediscovered a television series from the sixties. The Saint were the adventures of gentleman adventurer Simon Templar, played by Roger Moore, a sort of poor man's James Bond without the gadgets and evil villains taking over the world. Moore plays the part with his usual bond-esque humour but it is hard to imagine a real life counterpart so genteel and light hearted. In his world, just like Bond, he's infamous and known to everyone yet can wander around incognito until the he gets betrayed by a twist in the plot. The thing is, like most sixties television in Britain, production values were very low scale. You can see that corridor is a painted backdrop. That car chase across Germany looks more like Essex. The train carriage is a simple sound stage set. Paris no more than a backdrop of Notre Dame. But you don't mind that, because again, like most sixties television, these programs tell stories. The adventures might be contrived, predictable, sometimes even completely implausible, but unlike modern series the episodes don't rely on emotional wrangling or deep significance. It's actually fun to watch, a guaranteed gritty fistfight in every episode, and the sixties cut scenes and cars add period flavour. Of course, when Ian Ogilvy took over in the seventies, changing the charismatic Volvo P1800 sports car for a lumbering Jaguar XJS, the mood had changed. Gentleman adventurers were a thing of the past, aside from James Bond. American imports introduced us to the Ford Torino of Starsky & Hutch, Kojak and his lollipops, and in Britain, series like The Professionals had opted for a more down to earth and working class feel. The Seventies - when Britain joined Europe and the Old World finally withered away. Hmmm... We've just decided to leave Europe. I wonder.... Pole To Port Stanley The Douglas DC6 is a pleasing shape in the air, a fifties four engine propliner descending from that old warhorse, the Dakota. In the night sky a few miles south of the Falklands, the Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp engines, each capable of 2400 horsepower, droned on. Below us, hazy patches of sea mist lit by the moon. A few whisps of cumulus drifted by. Above, the stars, strangely static despite our two hundred mile an hour cruise. Most of the passengers would be dozing off by now, too tired by the white knuckle ride on takeofff and the subsequent journey across the South Atlantic to stay awake, too distracted by the vibrating rumble and the stale interior to sleep well. Finally, the radio messages became more frequent, and the command comes through to descend and head for the approach to Port Stanley. In real life my hand would have spread across four chunky levers, but with a couple of keypresses, the angry noise reduces to a quiet grumble, and the plane starts to lose altitude. But of course this isn't real. Finally with some time to relax and forget the busy schedule of the past year, it was time to break out the flight simulator. I'd been watching Pole To Pole, a travel documentary by Michael Palin, and fancied a go at flying down there. My first attempt was hopelessly inept. I ought to have known better, given my real life pilot training, but I took off without planning and quickly found the cold air causing engine failure after take off, made worse by the prospect of ending up in the icy waters of the polar seas. Not good. Okay. Lets think about this. The gravel runway in the simulator at the end of a rocky archipelago was too short for the heavily laden DC6 so I prepared every trick I could think of, and took a lot longer to warm the engines, running them up to power much more gently. Without that two hundred foot cliff off the end of the runway all would have been another disaster, and the random weather I took off in was appalling. All that had been coped with. There was the runway lights at Port Stanley. Realism? Well, Microsoft might claim its as good as it gets, but I certainly wasn't. Might have to practice a bit more before I get that phone call from a desperate airline. Crisis Ot The Week This star prize has to go to Brexit. it must have been obvious there was a chance the British public would choose to go, and everyone quickly forgot that until we kick off Article 50, nothing changes, and even then, there's still a two year negotiation period. Come on Simon Templar. Shoot the bad guys, kiss the girl, and put Britain back on course. At the moment you're a lot more real than some of our overpaid politicians.
  18. caldrail

    Going Wild

    Right now the wildlife in my home town is on full throttle. Most of the older foxes I got to know and name have disappeared, replaced by lots of young striplings who are busy learning the art of surviving in Swindon now that mum has kicked them out of the nest. Along one street in particular, you often see rubbish in those blue polythene bags the Council supply left out for collection but in a few instances, ripped open and the contents spilled across the pavement. I suppose for the most part residents blame the very same foxes I see every night, as well as the ones you hear shrieking in the distance. But they might be wrong. In fact I know they are. I often see a badger on this one street in the early hours of the morning, waddling around at a brisk pace. Normally he sees me coming and scarpers. Once I surprised him in one of those tiny front yards you see in Edwardian brick terraces. Again, it made a quick escape. The other night I was heading the same way. There he was, snuffling at a bag of rubbish, a silhouette in the lamplight but unmistakeable. It didn't matter to me. I had other places to go, and so continued along the pavement, wondering when the badger would notice. he didn't. Tucking into someone's discarded takeaway, he was lapping up every morsel and enjoying his free meal to the max. So engrossed he was that I walked right up to him, stunned he could be so careless. There he was, right at my feet, a wild badger doing badger things. The moment had to pass because I needed to carry onward, so I tapped the ground and quietly said hello. Immediately the badger realised something was not quite right. He tensed. Then, with a careful sideways glance, he realised the danger, and immediately fled under a nearby car. I went my way, he went his. Life goes on. Oh No You Don't I live in what must be described a noisy part of town. Drunkards and partygoers often stroll past the house. In the quiet hours of the morning, they sometimes pay rather too much attention to my home than I would like. Last night I kept hearing noises that made me suspicious, as far as you can be when you're half asleep. Upon investigation I saw nothing untoward. However, later that same night, I heard the sound of a few miscreants being herded into a police van and driven off. Whatever they were getting up to, it ain't happening now. Scramble of the Week At the local park it's usual to see a swan or two on the lake. On one particular morning there were five, lazily drifting around the surface of the water aimlessly as they do. Now once in the past I witnessed an angry swan cross that lake semi-airborne, heading right for me. It was a fairly intimidating sight. But for some reason these five swans decided it was time for a squadron scramble. All of them hurtled across the lake, their wings audibly beating, stretching forward and really going for it together. Erm.... At the last minute they realised the Luftwaffe were not bombing Swindon and gave up their race across the lake, settling down into the water again with a noisy bow wave. Oh good. But that was definitely an experience.
  19. caldrail

    Dark Omens And Obstructions

    Some say... He's stuck in an ailing BBC motoring show. Some say.... He might soon have a new master. Poor old Stig. I've watched a couple of the new Top Gear episodes and I have to say it's a bit painful to watch. It's like the old Top Gear but without the same camaraderie or intelligent comment. Me no likee. Can the show be rescued from the evil clutches of the mad radio presenting tyrant? Well, rumours suggest an F1 star is being lined up, and has already pleased fans with his approach. Poor old Stig. Being ruled by someone who can drive a car.... Black Cats Crossing My path Can't remember whether it's lucky or unlucky, but black cats have featured in superstition for a very long time. Personally I haven't noticed any correlation between the proximity of feline mammals and events within my life, but then I suppose I'm not that superstitious. The other night however was noteworthy. I was walking along a main road adjacent to a trading estate, which for those unacquainted with British life is an area of small industrial or business units. The nearest was about eighteen to twenty feet high. I saw a falling object, hitting the ground with almost no noise, a black flash. It was a cat, emaciated to a degree I've never seen before, almost like an animal composed of black pipe cleaners, which had apparently jumped off the roof in a desperate move to avoid death by starvation. How the heck did it get up there? Clearly an omen. Never live on a roof, my friend. The Gods have spoken! More Bad Dreams I have two strange dreams to report. The first was a night time foray with me at the wheel of a car, heading into a rainy old Victorian terrace street, only to encounter trees lying in the road and a car that refused to obey the laws of physics by neatly skidding into position in a side street without obeying a single control input from me. A message that I'm not in control of my life. Good grief, I didn't need a dream to tell me that. The second was more interesting. I was at the wheel of a van minibus, filled with arguing migrant workers from some obscure poverty stricken part of the world. So I drove off, and followed the road into an area that seemed to be fenced off. Quite soon I found the road blocked. Oh pooh. So I turned around, and found my starting point blocked off too. No matter. using the van as a sort of low speed battering ram I pushed through the temporary fencing, whereupon hordes of nearby policemen descended on me and demanded to know what I thought I was doing disobeying road signs and breaking through their palisades. Fill in this form? Summons? Oh pooh. Still, at least it was only a dream, one I have no wish to live out. A clear warning from the spirit world to drive with due care and attention even though I don't drive and haven't for some years. Still, warnings are warnings. Loyalty Card Of The Week One of my local fast food outlets has for some time issued me with a loyalty card. Pay more than five pounds and I get a stamp. Five stamps and I get a free meal. it's been a good deal for me, I have to say. Only the other day the proprietor refused to stamp it because... erm.... Well he's from a racial minority and when upset his English is difficult to follow. So now I can only have my loyalty card stamped if I spend more than five pounds on meals numbered one to eight. I think that's what he said. But it says if I spend more than five pounds I get a stamp. He reluctantly stamped it, quote, for the last time, unquote. I see..... So what have falling black cats, fallen trees, and obstructions on her majesty's highways got to do with problems in paying for food? This omen business is hard.
  20. caldrail

    Things That Go In The Night

    The agency had booked me for a very early start at a warehouse an hours walk away. At that time of night the streets of Swindon are usually empty, perhaps just an occaisional drunken bellow from some unseen club-goer bumping into pavements, or more usually, a passing car taking less inebriated club-goers home. And so it was quiet. All of a sudden a white BMW blasted past me, almost out of nowhere. I have no idea what speed the driver was doing but it was seriously over the top. It was so fast, the engine so aggressively snarling, that the effect was startling. it actually felt like violence. I've never experienced that sensation before, and I'm well acquainted with fast cars. Later on I passed an industrial estate and experienced a bright flash. What the....? My first impression was that someone had taken a [photo in the night, but there was no-one about. How odd. No matter. Anyway I arrived at work and being sociable I began chatting to my boss about idiot BMW drivers attempting to break the land speed record in town streets. He interrupted me as I began and said "You're going to tell me about a bright light?" No I wasn't, but it turned out that his colleague had seen it too. The whole sky lit up for a moment./ Some of my fellow workers saw it as well, one describing it as 'Seriously weird'.. As we worked through the small hours of the morning there were some news report over the radio - always impossible to hear properly when lorries are reversing in and out of the premises and sweaty blokes pushing parcels of all sorts here and there. Eventually we found out that it was an atmospheric disturbance and nothing to worry about. Not the North Koreans then. Oh good. Foxenders Almost every night there's been life's little dramas played out among the fox population. Urban foxes are pests, certainly, but I can't help watching their activities with some casual interest. They all have names now. Ferdinand, the big male, is unusual in that he just isn't fazed by human beings - I've walked past him within feet before now.. He's potentially dangerous. Having kept a low profile since Christmas I had thought he was dead and gone, but no, I spotted him, glaring at me in the dark as he always does. Only the other night I incurred his displeasure by disturbing him as he was getting it orn with his chosen vixen, who ran off when I strode into view. Ferdinand stayed put and glared at me. Fuzzy always retreats in the direction of his set when he gets disturbed. He was injured and limping not so long ago - I haven't seen him since. Ferkles simply moves on and knows that once he's inside another persons garden, pursuit is unlikely. Flakey is well funny. Always going into a panic when disturbed and never knowing which way to turn. Then there's Frodo, with his distinctive black ring on his tail and a penchant for disappearing much sooner than most foxes who see you coming. Lately Frodo has found himself a girlfriend and he's become positively careless. You can actually see a dazed grin on his face. Bless. I have heard it said that foxes kill and eat cats. I don't believe that, or at least, consider it unusual. Reason being of course is that I see foxes and cats co-existing quite comfortably. The other night I disturbed one fox - Ferkles I think - and as it ran off to a safe distance it passed a cat sat on the pavement. The cat simply watched it run past and didn't stir. Didn't even tense up nervously like cats do if they perceive danger. A cat who knows foxes won't bother him.
  21. I'm getting fed up of being labelled. Categorised. And mostly in some derogatory fashion. So I've decided to issue a public statement. Am I gay? No. Absolutely not. Never was, never will be. If two blokes want to go off together and do whatever two blokes do to each other, fine, get on with it - Just don't bother me with it. I know quite a few people will have heard otherwise and find that hard to believe - some will refuse to believe it because it makes them look like fools or bigots - but that's the way it is. All my sexual partners were female. I'm single due to circumstance, not preferences. Am I a Conshy? No. Absolutely not. Never was, never will be. For the uninitiated a 'Conshy' is slang for "Concientious Objector", or someone who refuses military service out of some moral, political, or religious objection. I would point out that I tried to join the RAF twice in my younger days. The first time I was turned away because "There are no vacancies". The second time I was told I couldn't hear properly. It is true that my rejection eventually came as a relief. My teenage urge to serve my country had wilted with experience of the Air Training Corps and an increasing desire to forge my own path rather than follw my fathers footsteps. As it happened, by my twenties I wanted to be a musician, a path I followed for many years. But despite these meanderings through life, I have had no issues with military service from any concientious grounds. Am I Trying To Live On Benefits? No. Absolutely not. Never was and never will be. Truth is, I've been told in a letter from more than a year ago that I'm no longer eligible. So I couldn't even if I wanted to. As it happens, I like my creature comforts and that requires I pay for them, thus I want a profitable living even if no-one particularly wants to provide me with one. A shame really, because I come well qualified, capable, reliable, adaptable, and put up with no end of personal discomfort to turn up on time every day I'm required to earn my keep. Finally.... There you go. My statement is complete. I'll swear to these facts in a court of law or on anything sacred because they're true. I know they are. No-one can take that away from me, however hard they try.
  22. caldrail

    Feed the World

    I saw a report on BBC News recently about how the western nations are going to have to set aside their usual taste for meat dinners and instead gorge themselves on insect protein, because the insects are cheaper and require far less land to produce in quantity. The problem is that the worlds population is growing. And that is why eating insects instead of meat isn't a solution to the problem of starvation - it's merely feeding the problem. You see, the natural limit of human population has always been around two billion. Whether it was war, disease, diet, natural disaster, or whatever, our global population never really challenged this number even when civilisation was invented. Unfortunately we're now getting better at avoiding death, so now the populations of the world are getting bigger, especially in those regions who had previously seen childbirth as a lottery where having more kids was an investment in the future. The thing is, if struggling populations are fed and cared for, they breed. That's simply how humans behave, just like almost every other species of life on the planet. All we're doing with these humanitarian initiatives to rid the world of hunger is creating a bigger problem in the future, when the system really cannot meet demands. But there's another problem. As in nature, if an enviroment cannot support the species, they die off. It's horrible and I wouldn't wish that on anyone, but aren't we going to have to face that unpalatable choice sooner or later? Can the West allow a few to starve to prevent far more from starvation when the bubble bursts? It isn't an easy choice, although many will prefer to follow thewir social instincts and try to assist. But then, aren't we guilty of ignoring the future threat because we see a different problem in our own time? Politicians like to say they're building futures for us. They aren't. Maybe loading the dice for another generation, or more likely, lubricating their own careers and prosperity. But of course when this bubble bursts we'll probably all be dead and gone. So why should we care? Quote of the Week The President of the USA has said that the recent UN Global Warming deal is the 'best way to save the planet'. No, it isn't, because the planet isn't in any danger whatsoever. What is threatened is a change to the enviroment we don't like, can't cope with, or spoils our safe little vision of daily routine. Human beings have been extremely lucky since the last glaciation - our global climate has been quite stable for 8000 years. But now it's all going horribly wrong. The reason isn't industry - nature can pollute the enviroment far worse than human efforts - but our growing population. There are too many of us now and that's what is driving the scale of damage our species is doing to its own interests, though I agree a great many other species aren't particularly wel suited to the world we're creating. So now we're doing a deal to control the worst of it. As if. Since when has humanity ever been compleltely succesful at controlling the world around them? Truth is, the climate is going change no matter what these politicians agree to. So deal with it.
  23. caldrail

    Smoke And No Fire

    The big deal this week was the fire alarm at work. Like all other businesses large enough to have fire wardens we regularly have fire drills, but nobody expected the alarm to go off fifteen minutes before the end of shift. Even after hearing the noise I still didn't realise a real fire alarm was happening , right there, right then. Finally somebody remembered that a fire alarm sounded like that and we were supposed to exit the premises by the nearest convenient exit. So we did. It wasn't too cold, but none too warm either. We spread out across the car park aimlessly before the management began herding us in a quiet corner, and just in time, because the fire engine turned up, blue lights flashing. Looks like a real fire then. Rumours were spreading. Something had burst into flames. A few firemen loked busy but there wasn't any smoke or signs of heroic fire fighting. Everything seemed quite calm and businesslike. Then a second fire engine turned up. Oh hello... Is this a serious fire? Rumours began to spread again. Apparently a forklift battery charger had ignited itself. By now the more curious of us were brandishing mobile phones with the vain hope of videoing the end of the warehouse in glorious high definition. Now a third fire engine turned up. Only this one stopped at the entrance to the car park and then reversed away. "Put that fag out!" Yelled a manager. For the unenlightened, 'fag' is British slang for a cigarette. A startled warehouseman did his best to look innocent. "I'll see you tomorrow" The manager warned. And then, a fourth fire engine turned up. It didn't even stop, turning around to go home disappointed that the building wasn't burning to the ground, or more likely, that the naughty warehouseman had put his cigarette out as ordered. The 'All Clear' was given so we went home. Didn't even miss the bus. The Importance Of Doing Nothing Of late I've been pretty busy at work collecting wooden pallets and related tasks. It gets a bit physical, even on the days when I can get a powered pallet truck to use, which isn't so easy because another section tends to nab one sooner than me. One of their team doesn't like doing manual labour. On one day the manager told me pallets were an emergency because no-one had left any from the previous shift. I was lucky to get a truck that day, but as compensation for the forthcoming 'headless chicken' duty, I was to be given the help of Hamster (not related to a certain Top Gear presenter). There's a number of youngsters in the warehouse who form a social clique all of their own. Basically they do all the things the managers don't want them to, but because there are two senior youngsters, Baby Face and Hamster, they pretty much get away with their shenanigans. I was just preparing to shuttle lots of pallets in 'rush hour' when I spotted Hamster walking past. Usually he drives a powered truck of a different type, and seeing him walk is a rare event. I asked him where he intended starting pallet collection, only to be told that he didn't have a truck. I see. Well, how about grabbing a hand truck and manually stacking pallets so I could wheel them to their destination? He walked away. Hamster doesn't do manual work. His job is to look important driving pallet trucks. Oh, and laugh at Baby Face's jokes. Very important duty onbviously. It Happened Again Apparently there was a solar eclipse last friday. I wouldn't know. Partly because the sky was cloudy, partly because I live too far south, partly because I had dozed off watching a dull episode of Star Trek, and partly because I seem fated never to see a real astronomical event ever. Almost time to go back to work. Welcome to my life. Cigarette Of The Week At last the working day has come to an end and warehousemen in various stages of tiredness and disgruntlement amble up the road to catch the bus. Many of us face very long walks home if we miss the last one. One of my colleagues has become quite popular with the managers, mostly because he comes across like Paddington Bear with a midlands accent. He's not as cute and cuddly as the managers think but since when did a manager ever assess someone correctly? Anyway, once at the bus stop Bear felt the need for a smoke before the bus arrived. Suddenly there was a desperate need for a lighter, because he didn't have one, neither did I, nor anyone else, so he took to waylaying colleagues on bicycles as they rode by. Finally he managed to get one to stop and help him out. Just as he was about to take that first puff on the wretched cigarette a passing lorry blew it out. His midland accent remained, but where was the Paddington Bear demeanour all of a sudden?
  24. caldrail

    Two Bars And Other Tales

    Caldrail's blog is missing. Or at least the last weeks entry is. Well, no, not really, I just forgot to write one. So I apologise for the tension this had caused around the world as people bite their nails hopin g my next entry will magically appear. David Cameron and Ed Milliband exchanged insults in an angry row. Three schoolgrils gave up and went to Syria. Even Jeremy Clarkson punched his producer over an argument about it and caused the BBC a multi million pound commercial loss. Sorry about that. Lucky for me I'm not actually responsible isn't it? As it happens I've also been leaving my emails untounched for a couple of weeks. Although I've been employed for three months now the many and various agencies are still sending job laerts regularly. Last week I got a phone call from an agency asking if I wanted to do two weeks labour in a role in which my certification has lapsed, that I have no qualification for, and is in the next county. No. Not really. And do they expect me to be available the next morning? Perhaps they ought to read my CV properly. I was trained for a decade to write one after all. Out! With most of my time devoted either to sleeping, shopping, or working, I've had little time to wander around my usual haunts. I popped into the local aprk on my way to the library this morning and yes, the birds are still fighting. One goose has clearly become unpopular, with the others evicting it very loudly. Know how you fell buddy. It's like my last claims advisor. She trampled me into the dust, squished my indentity, and then began trying to recreate me as an embodiement of a figment of her imagination. Turning me into someone I don't know, don't understand, or even like. And I was supposed to get a job while I was trapped in psychological quicksand? Ridiculous. Like all women, she believed she could change me. Only this time she had the authority to do it. Get On With It! Lately I've been doing less floor sweeping and more pallet collection at work. Not sure which is the most tiring. Sweeping the floors involves walking all day and constant bending down to pick up rubbish. Pallet collection requires guiding an electric truck around everyone elses in tight spaces with the clock ticking, lifting one pallet after another onto a pile for the lads to use on the container bay, and some of those pallets are seriously heavy without any load on them. The warehouse boss was wandering around the other day, as he often does, and stopped by a bunch of guys who were doing the sweeping job I used to do alone while I got on with the pallets. "You've all done very weell" He told them, to my utter chagrin, since they amble about and haven't been doing the job for longer than a week or two. "Credit where credit is due". Really? Hello, Mr Boss, I'm over here.... No? Typical. But it isn't all mindless tedium and hard work. The last time I got a pallet truck out I noticed the meter was quite low, only three bars out of thirty, and it looked unlikely the truck would survive the whole shift without the battery going flat. Those vehicles are at a premium. It's a wonder fights don't break out over who gets to drive one. Then I noticed another truck out in the warehouse with twenty bars. Some of the lads thought I was trying to do something sneaky, but no, I did speak to the colleague whose truck it was and we agreed under the circumstances that a swap was okay. Shortly after I had to take a toilet break. It happens, even to the best of us, and certainly to those of us with fifty year old bladders and energy drink habits. When I came out, my truck meter said two bars. What the...?!!!!! As it happened I didn't run of electricity. Pallets were delivered all day, I became tired and broken by the end of the shift, and the managers were happy. Two bars on my wagon, and ah'm still rollin' along.... Language Of The Week Definitely Polish. With so many eastern europeans in the warehouse it's difficult to avoid hearing it, a strange arcane tongue impossible to understand, and I suspect those pesky poles know it. So I'm making an effort to learn a litle Polish. As it happens some of the lads are delighted, and take great pleasure in pointing out that my pronounciation is hopelessly wrong. But I'm getting there... One word at a time... do widzenia!
  25. caldrail

    Every Day At Work

    Every day at work begins with a team briefiing. Slowly at first, then in a great rush as the canteen empties, the shift personnel gather at the allotted place to discover who is on the premises, who is doing what for the next eight hours, and what will happen if certain lazy activities continue. The manager calls for silence so he can call the register. After a five second wait he calls again with a stern stare at the knot of youngsters who don't understand what 'quiet please' means. Eventually the buzz of conversation subsides to whispers and the register is called. "Gary?" The manager spoke aloud without looking up from his list. With no answer, he calls again, this time looking around in case Gary is either too busy whispering to his mates or has failed utterly to comprehend that he has to acknowledge his presence. In this case I did the decent thing and reminded him that Gary was on holiday. The manager sighed as he realised his list of work allocation was completely ruined. He had no choice but to note down the lack of Gary's in the warehouse and submit to my superior know;ledge of who was standing around in plain sight. Sometimes we have to confirm that the person is on the premises for them. There's always one or two who aren't where they're supposed to be. Punkman, our resident refugee from society, made a joke of it a few days ago. After each name he said "Yeah, he's here". Yet when his own name was called he stayed silent, failing utterly to remember that he was supposed to answer. So I said aloud "Yeah, he's here". It's as well Punkman has a sense of humour. On the day the manager decided that Punkman was to be in charge of a team he muttered "Let the facism begin...". Talking About Fascism Islamic State are back in the news again with a trip down to the local museum where objects of antiquity are being smashed with sledgehammers as 'false idols'. Fundamentalists do seem amenable to this sort of behaviour - the Taliban dynamited antiquities and vandals in Egypt swept through a museum in Cairo not so long ago. Quite apart from the loss of pricelss articles of regional interest, is Islamic State so feeble that relics whose religious significance vanished hundreds if not thousands of years ago is somehow some kind of threat to their ugly regime? I suppose that's an obvious thing to ask. It does strike me however that the non-entities who smashed statues energetically really wouldn't know a false idol if they saw one. That is after all why they've been sucked into a religious movement and told what to do. They simply obey because they don't know any better. News that Islamic State is opening schools in Syria doesn't fill me with optimism either. Talk about the blind leading the blind. Working In The Jungle The big rumour at work right now is the impending fashion choices being made for teams. Already the quality control people sport a snazzy purple high-vis. What amuses people is the assertion that those of us on the hygiene team will be allocated pink high-vis vests. Hard Hat refuses to believe this slight on his honour, manhood, self respect, his very identity, can possibly be true. Funnily enough, those of us on the bottom rank of warehouse status often find ways to gauge each other. I for instance got quite a boost when I was trained up on pallet trucks. Earlier this week a team leader started approaching me with news that complaints had been made against me. No-one had said anything to me of course, but that wasn't the point. Eventually the leader in question ordered me off the truck despite my tantrums and logical arguments, but no matter, my line manager supported me. That's how hard work affects your status. There's always a testing period between the envious and the grateful. On some days I have no choice but to get a pump truck, a sort of parcel trolley you push, pull, and swear at, and do the same job without the assistance of electrical power. It's called manual work. It's also considered by many the sign of a lowly person who does not have the influence to be authorised to drive trucks. "You got a license for that?" One wag called from the gloom of a container being unloaded, when he saw me hauling a pump truck across the warehouse floor. Funny. No matter. Give it a day or two and I'll be whizzing around on a powered truck again instead of heaving boxes out of a container. At least until those pesky pink high-vis vests get issued, at which point no-one will have any sympathy. Day Of The Week That's enough about work. Today is Sunday and there's a clear blue sky out there..... Erm.... Bye.
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