Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Personal gods

I had an email from a friend today who read my last posting. He agreed with most of it, but added that most of us have other Gods apart from “the” god (the one who doesn’t exist).

Back in my more gullible “born again” Christian days, we did recognise these other Gods. The chief “gods” were money, food and self. Because these gods were not the true god who we worshipped, we called them false gods. In fact, they are not false at all, and very real.

We have all seen the damage being caused by the worship of money and the current despair that is bringing upon the world. By the way, many people seem to think that the Bible says “money is the root of all evil”. Actually it doesn’t. What it actually says is that “THE LOVE of money is the root of all evil”. This puts a completely different slant on things. Money itself is neutral; it can neither be good or evil. Its how we use it that is the problem, as well as what our attitude is towards it. Are you using money to fund gun running to terrorist groups, or making donations to your local children’s hospice? You get my drift............ It also becomes a problem when we forget that money is actually a means to an end, and not the end in itself. Even so, people can be forgiven for hording their filthy lucre in the present crisis.

We see the results all around us of the “sin” of gluttony. Everywhere you look, you see people impersonating hippos. It’s just too easy to put on loads of weight and become a walking marshmallow with all the cheap, but very tasty, junk food which is all around. Obesity is one of the biggest killers at work in the west today, and kills far more people than, road accidents, wars, acts of terrorism etc…..It also seems so wrong to be switching on the television and seeing so many programmes devoted to food while there are so many people dying of starvation in the world. When I was a child at school, fat kids got made fun of. I guess the reason was because they were relatively rare as compared to today, and so really stood out. The really fat ones which I remember are now dead. Also, while it is no doubt a good thing to work out at the Gym, if we are going to keep in shape then we must eat sensibly. We are all on a diet; it’s just that rather a lot of us are on the wrong diet. Its also an interesting fact that in order to burn off one ounce of fat, you have to, on average, walk 16 miles, so don’t kid yourself that exercise is the whole answer because it isn’t.

Finally there’s self. Just plain selfishness. We can be selfish in many ways, some obvious, and some not so obvious. I am not really bothered about the selfishness which wants to improve one’s lot in life. We all have to have a degree of selfishness in order to survive; otherwise everyone just walks all over us. The kind of selfishness which I find so heinous is the kind where other people are just not considered. Where people call “a spade a spade” without any regard for the feelings of others. Probably the most extreme example of selfishness in living memory was exemplified in the life of the Chinese Leader, Mao Tse-tung. In order to achieve his own selfish ambitions he caused the deaths of some 75 million of his own countrymen, not to mention personally congratulating Pol Pot after the "Year Zero" killing fields massacres and enslaving a whole nation. Indeed, Mao's personal philosophy was that no one else outside of the self matters. For anyone interested in the life of this tyrant, I recommend Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's book "Mao the Unknown Story" published by Jonathan Cape. In fact, just about all forms of criminal activity spring from selfishness of one kind or another. We all, whether we like it or not, have a duty of care to those around us. It starts in our own immediate families and then spreads outwards to the rest of society – and the world. Am I my brother’s keeper???? – Yes you are, and your sisters' as well.

Go in peace.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Talkin New Year Gloomsday Blues

This coming year will see many changes in all our lives, even if it’s the unfulfilled longing for Pick and Mix. One change which will come will be more postings on this blog. I am going to be franker, bolder, hopefully funnier, and I will not be dictated to by others what I can and what I cannot write. Whatever appears on this blog will stay, and I will not change a word. For those who have ears, let them hear.

Well, here we go again, and like last year, I cannot help but feel despair for this rotton overcrowded planet upon which we all scrape our existence. Already we hear of a massacre in the Middle East, and we have had our collective share of religious fanatics heaping their suffering and misery onto innocent people in the name of a God which if it did exist would be thoroughly evil. Who needs a devil when we’ve got God?? When did you last hear of an atheist suicide bomber? Hopefully this coming year might see more people waking up to the truth of the inspired writings of people like Professor Richard Dawkins et al. There can only be any real prospect of peace on this world when people grow up and throw off the shackles of religious superstition and irrational fear and start living by the rules of common decency which is innate in all of us, though suffocated by unreason in many.

Yesterday I was talking to my niece who informed me she had to be out of bed by 4.00 this morning. The reason?............she works in a clothing store in London which opened at 5.00 this morning for its Winter Sale. Also, she informed me there were people queuing on the pavement all night in the freezing cold awaiting this great event. What the hell is the matter with people in this country to make them act in such an insane manner? Are people really so materialistic? Didn’t they get enough for Christmas? Obviously not. Greed and materialism are rife, and has gotten us into this current economic mess. You cannot have unlimited growth because it will destroy civilisation. We can still have advances in technology, and better standards of living, but it needs to be more modest and in step with what the natural resources of this planet can afford us. Of course, there are far too many people in the world and little prospect of doing more than a token amount to raise the standards and prospects of the majority who are poor. Even so, we can all help by being that little bit more generous to others less fortunate. While it is true that charity starts at home, it is supposed to get beyond the front door!

I know it’s a kid’s film, but I watched the Disney Pixar animated film “Wall-E” on Christmas Day, a present. I thought it had a very serious point. Here was this robot, going about an uninhabitable Earth clearing up all the rubbish left by humankind who had all fled to live an idle pointless existence on a vast spaceship where their every need was catered for by robots. What struck me was that this was a look into a future where economic growth and the human population have expanded unchecked. It doesn’t take a brain scientist to work out what may befall us in the not too distant future if we don’t start living more simply, making do with the things we do have which fulfil our needs (not greeds), stop endlessly pining over getting the next big thing, and stop having so many children. If you want to see a nightmarish extreme example of what can happen when there are too many people and too few resources to support them in any decent fashion, take a close up look at Manila in the Phillipines where people are routinely dying in the streets and trying to sell their babies. To get an idea of the scale of the problem, take a look at it on Google Earth – it’s shocking. Of course, Roman Catholicism doesn’t help with its evil teachings against contraception. Maybe the Pope should go and live in a tin shack amongst these poor people. Even so, reason and common sense are the enemies of religion which is driven by dogma and blind fear, so I don’t suppose his mind would be changed. Oh, here I go again!!!! Sorry, but religion is a deadly disease of the mind and the sooner people wake up to this the better.

So, did you get anything good for Christmas then?? I did, and pleasingly, all the presents we gave out were well received and we didn’t seem to have made any bad choices. Even better, everything worked so we will not be queuing to exchange or return any faulty goods. I wish I could say that Christmas was a happy occasion for all my family, but sadly one of our members became severely ill and spent Christmas Day in Hospital, but is thankfully now making a good recovery.

I know this posting is laden with loads of doom and gloom, but I do actually have real hopes for things to be better this year. On a personal level, I have much I want to achieve, and I aim to travel to places I have never been before. I hope to take many wonderful photographs and make new friends and acquaintances. The exciting thing about New Year is that it’s a chance for a fresh start. In a sense, we could say this every day, though with New Year there is a much greater psychological imperative at work.

Finally, I wish a very happy and prosperous New Year to all my readers.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Man Cold

As I write I am feeling like a piece of crap. No...........I don't want a piece of crap, I feel like I am a piece of crap. Its all my fault. I have tempted the Gods – or fate, depending on your viewpoint. It happened like this:

On Monday evening I was sat in the sauna of my leisure club. I was having a good sweat. A really good sweat. I enjoy having a good sweat. Sitting in a sauna having a good sweat is one of the ecstatic delights I look forward to at the end of the day, especially if the day is a Monday. I don't like Mondays. Monday Monday, can't trust that day.

So, to recap – I don't like Mondays apart from that part of a Monday where I am sat having a good sweat in a very hot sauna. I hope this is clear, I can't make it any clearer. If its not clear, then I can arrange therapy.

Anyway, there I was sat feeling at peace with the world and wondering how the poor people are getting on (I've nothing against poor people, you understand, I just don't have an appetite to join them. As Woody Allen once put it, - “Given the choice between wealth or poverty I would always choose wealth, if only for financial reasons”). I couldn't put it clearer than that if I tried. You try if you want to, but I'm not for trying – though some might think I am trying. The old ones are the best!

I am feeling delirious.

Suddenly the door swung open and in walked some bloke, my only co-sweater. As we sat and perspired in unison, I decided to enter into conversation, with him rather than myself, lest he thought me mad. I mentioned to him that since I have been using the sauna, I have hardly ever had a cold, and what colds have threatened, have been very short lived.

I am not superstitious, but nevertheless I felt the urge to touch lots of wood. This was not difficult as I was reclining on a wooden slatted bench. My sweaty companion replied that my statement was very dangerous, that I should not say things like that, and I was tempting fate. He was right.

That night, I retired to bed feeling happy and relaxed. I awoke in the early hours of the morning feeling somewhat odd, with a rough feeling developing in my throat, a slight shiveryness pervading my body and the words “Oh bugger” being repeated over and over again in my mind.

Yesterday I went to work feeling somewhat frayed at the edges and not in the best of moods. Perhaps I should have stayed away, but as one who others look to for an example I felt I owed it to them to set the example of perseverance against all odds. On the other hand, there is always the danger of sharing my infection with my colleagues, so its a bit of an awkward tightrope to walk. However, on the basis that the air is already no doubt laden with all these bugs, I didn't really think my presence would really makes much difference, so long as I didn't walk around sneezing over everybody.

Today I returned to work again, heavily dosed up on Max Strength kill everything fluid. Now, if it actually did do the job as it says on the pack, then given how I have been feeling today, I can only assume that I should be dead.

You will, no doubt, have realised by now, that I am suffering from that most common and deadly disease of all - a Man Cold. There is no ailment on this planet which causes as much misery as this most horrible of diseases. As I sit here suffering, my cheeks are burning (the ones on my face), my nose (dose) is running, my head feels heavy, my throat is getting steadily rougher, my eyes feel sore and tired and sinking into their sockets. In short, I am descending into the knacker's yard. Even worse than all this, there is some serious TV drama being played out in front of me and I have not only lost the plot, I never had it in the first place. I might make it through the night. We'll see what effect another shot of Max Strength killing fluid will do.

I'm going to bed. I might be gone some time.

Please feel sorry for me.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Interstellar Consciousness

In 1969 I laid on my back on the ground and stared up at the stars. I was on the Island of Gan in the Maldive Islands. It was late at night. The sky was clear and the stars sparkled like glistening jewels with the band of the Milky Way dividing the firmament. I was not drunk, but I was more alive, and more conscious than ever.

As I lay, I kept as still as I possibly could and just stared upward, blocking out anything on the fringes of my vision which might distract from the heavenly view. Presently, I began to lose all sensation of the ground underneath me. I felt as if I was floating in space with nothing but the boundless oceans of light years separating me from a billion worlds.

In amongst these worlds, there are, no doubt, planets not so divorced from our own, harbouring life. Of course, the chances of the life forms resembling Terran forms is extremely remote, as our own experience of life on Earth demonstrates the infinity of shape and form and intricacy of what natural selection creates.

Staring straight up I could see towards the heart of the Milky Way, our spiral Galaxy of which we are such a minute speck that if we disappeared the universe would not notice. The interstellar dust clouds block out the view of the actual centre, as much of what is out there is hidden from the unaided gaze. In the centre of the Galaxy is a black hole swallowing up time and space, only to disgorge it again in a kind of plasma at some point billions of years hence. The powers that rule the universe are so great that we could be wiped out in an instant, in the blinking of an eye.

And then, you turn yours eyes from the stars and back onto the home planet. The planet we are systematically destroying. The life forms we are wiping out. The misery and oppression our own species inflicts upon itself. Yet, there will come a time when the universe will swallow us up, and it will be as if we were never here. We are not important. We only think we are. We have yet to grow up.

Reaching out into space and being at one with the cosmos is the ultimate reality check. That is where we will eventually find ourself and the meaning of existance.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Shed building for beginners

“Did you get it up at the weekend?” Asked my work colleague.

“Yes” I replied proudly, feeling very pleased with my erection. We were, of course, talking about my new shed.

Now, I have to admit that when it comes to almost any do-it-yourself type project, I am a walking disaster. If there is a wrong way to put things together, you can be sure that I will find it. Indeed, only a year or so ago, I fitted some coat hooks to the wall of our utility room at a cost of around £200. I managed to drill through some live electric wires and nearly destroyed the water boiler in the process. I recently fitted a security lock to a door. It all works OK, the only trouble being its back to front. My wife bought me an assemble it yourself robot one Christmas. I managed to put it together, except that it runs backwards instead of forwards. You can therefore imagine my dismay when my wife insisted we really had to have a new shed. I agreed that, yes, we really did need one. What I didn't need was all the aggravation of putting it together.

Anyway, following visits to local garden centres it became clear if we bought it from any of them we would need to re-mortgage the house. There was only one solution, and that was a trip to Wilkinsons. Peering through the catalogue, we picked out a classic 8 feet by 6 feet wooden shed with a double door. Having dutifully handed over the £200 plus £20 for delivery, we got on with the rest of our lives in anticipation of it's delivery.

A week or so later, it duly arrived in all all its disassembled glory. It was all propped up against the wall at the side of my house, so I moved it onto the patio under the gazebo to shelter it from the rain. My wife was worried about it getting wet. Of course, once it was erected it wouldn't get wet any more! We covered it over with plastic sheeting for good measure, and there it lay for the following week through torrential rain and high winds which destroyed the cover of the gazebo.

Finally, the weekend and good weather converged and there was no time to waste but to get on and build it. We got up early. We pulled back the covers and there it all was in a big shambolic pile, laughing at me and cocking a snoot at how useless I am. I sat weeping and wailing in despair. I would far rather have been looking at books in W H Smith, or CDs and DVDs in Zavvi. I decided to pull myself together.

Right!” I said, I'll go and get the hammer and screw driver and get started”. My wife nearly wet herself in hysterical laughter, rubbing in even further my DIY ineptness. She then reminded me that we had to do the very thing which a man never does, and that is check and count all the pieces. Fighting back my desire to start bashing nails with abandon – or even with the hammer, we checked everything, down to the last nail. It was all there. A miracle. Time to really start the building.

After diligently studying the plans, it became apparent that hammering was not the primary means of holding it together, but screws. Of course, I should have twigged the clue when we were checking all the components – there were far more screws than nails. It was clear that we had some very serious screwing ahead of us. In fact, I don't believe my wife and I have ever screwed so much in one day – it was a screwing marathon, a veritable “screwathon!”

After screwing the floor to the base formers, I left my wife screwing the hinges to the doors, while I took a load of waste to the recycling centre. Unfortunately, while I was away, the hinges found themselves being attached in the wrong positions – too close together instead of at the top and bottom of each door - where they should have been. I decided it would be best if I corrected the mistake, so sending my wife off on a wifely chore, I made my hands and wrists ache with intense screwing.

My wife had already assembled the windows, earlier, just like on Blue Peter, and it was now clear we needed to get it up.

After laying the base on the patio and propping it up with brick supports where it overhung onto the lawn or where the patio itself dipped, we started to get the side in position. This again, involved a lot of manoeuvring and screwing as well as a certain amount of banging. Next, we got the roof on. It was now getting late in the day and we were both shagged out. There's only so much banging and screwing you can take in a day, but at least we got it up.

The next morning was an early start. We had to get laid the roof covering. After cutting it into strips, we draped it over and got banging again tacking it into position. Our shed was now complete, but for the weather proofing which I accomplished the following weekend following a trip to the garden centre. We are now a two shed couple, another step up the social ladder!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Money Money Money

As I lazily reclined following a languid session in the sauna at my leisure club the other night, I indolently grabbed from the adjacent lounger the tossed aside financial pages from some paper of a more intellectual standing than “The Star” to update myself a little in the world of finance. Of course, I have a big interest in this sort of thing as one does have to consider one's interests in one's off shore investments, one's formula-1 racing team and the upkeep of one's castles and estates in the Highlands of Scotland.

Of course, like most people who haven't been living on the planet Zarg on the outer fringes of the Zirgon Cluster for the last few months, I do nurture a slight concern about the complete disaster the financial criminals of this evil world have wrought upon us. I do not need to go over the causes of it all, ramble on about sub prime mortgages etc., etc., as I suspect that you, my readers, are well informed anyway. However, I will say a few things which help to illuminate, to me at least, what the problem actually is.

Many years ago I went away on a two week professional selling course. One of the fundamental lessons we were taught was that until something is sold, nothing happens. Or, to put it more succinctly, until something is PAID FOR............nothing happens. It therefore follows that if you set about selling goods and services to people who haven't actually got the money to pay for them, and never will have the money to pay for them, then the end result can only be disaster which then ripples outwards spreading negative knock-on affects in all directions due to the interconnectedness of the economy. This is so basic, and yet it appears to be lost upon the very people we, and the world depend for our survival.

Back in the late 1980's when house prices were rocketing, many of my work mates were jumping on the property band wagon like a bunch of greed crazed demented lemmings. They seemed to be more interested in how the value was going up, than what houses are really about – having somewhere to live.

“My house is making money faster than I am earning it” bragged a colleague. What he didn't have the brains to understand was that the value of anything is purely notional, and based upon what people are prepared to pay for it. He seemed to think the value would just keep going up indefinitely, as if there would be a steadily swelling stream of multi-millionaires, and eventually billionaires, and then trillionaires queuing up behind each other to buy the one bedroom flats at the bottom of the market, without which there would be no property market at all. After not very long when the market collapsed as it so obviously would, my bragging friend became my crying friend as he found himself in a desperate plight straining under the weight of negative equity. I had little sympathy, because there is no such thing as a free lunch and anyone who thinks there is deludes himself.

The nub of all this is that for any economy to work, there have to be tangible products for people to buy - and who can afford them. Unless these products are realistically priced, the illusion of the stable economy will be short lived. Take the example of the pyramid system. This was a scheme people of low intelligence bought into thinking they would become rich when there wasn't actually a product to be sold. On the other hand, we have multi level marketing (MML) businesses which many mistake for pyramid systems. The similarity is superficial. This is because in MML businesses, there is actually a product underpinning it, so if people are prepared to work at it, then there is a reasonable chance a decent amount of stable income can be achieved for a large number of people. Of course, not all MML businesses are the same, and some should be avoided like the plague (did I say Amway???).

It is now time to return to the financial pages I browsed on my lounger. What took my attention was that it was about the banking system. However, it was not about any old banking system, it was about the Islamic banking system. Now, before anyone thinks this offering is about to turn religious, fret not because it isn't. It is, however about morals nonetheless.

From the Islamic viewpoint, the Western banking system is immoral and corrupt. It is based upon greed and make believe values which exist in the wild imaginations of the greedy, but not in anything tangible giving it stability. Okay, I know I am being incredibly simplistic here and I realise things are a good deal more complex, but the fact is that the Islamic Banking world has barely been scratched by the credit crunch and the attendant financial melt down. The reason for this is that Islamic banking is founded upon ethical principles underpinned by tangible assets, rather than much of the notional make believe which has got us into the mess we find ourselves. I had a conversation about this with a friend recently and he commented that an Islamic bank account might not return as high a level of interest. This might be the case, or it might not, but surely it is better to have a stable economy with lower returns than one which gives you a high return one moment, and destroys your investments and pension funds the next. I am not suggesting we all rush out and open an Islamic bank account, though it might not be a bad idea, but it would appear that our banking system needs to be overhauled and based upon ethical values and tangible assets if we are not to find ourselves falling into the same mess in the future.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Woolworths

I find it a great shame that Woolworths has gone into receivership. I am probably partly to blame because I can't honestly remember the last time I bought anything there. Of late, I have found Woolworths stores to be a bit like glorified rummage (or jumble) sales. That may sound a tad unkind, and I suppose it is. I think over the decades Woolworth lost its way. Whereas other stores evolved and changed with the times (remember when Dixons was a photographic shop?), Woolworths just carried on in the same old way and got swamped by the competition. How often do you find yourself thinking “Wow, I simply must go to Woolworths and see what's new”. No, you don't. When I think of Woolworths now I think of Pick and Mix and CDs I can buy for cheaper elsewhere. It wasn't always like that.

When I was a toddler in a pushchair, there was a gap in the row of shops at the local shopping centre. The gap comprised of a small grassed area, which I suppose was a field!!! One day, builders arrived and worked on it. A few months later, our brand spanking new Woolworths was finished and there was great excitement in the town while we waited for the first day of opening. There was no self-service then, but lots of counters with uniformed girls behind them waiting to serve you.

Amongst my school mates, Woolworths became the shop of choice for nicking things. I never stooped to this low level myself, but did get thrown out one day for letting off a stink bomb near the toy counter. Talking of bombs, cap bombs were another favourite item I would buy in Woolworths.

The toy counter was, to me, a joy to behold. One of my favourite toys at the time, was a red plastic rubber band powered aircraft kit. They never seemed to last long though; I was always crashing them. I remember the counter right at the end of the shop which was full of different types of torches and every kind of battery. Batteries at the time, didn't last long, and we were always warming them by the fire to squeeze an extra bit of life out of them. No trip to the shops was complete without popping into Woolies.

Today, if I go to Woolworths, it is only when I am at a very loose end that I go in to take a look. The shop today, is a bit of an anachronism, an institution from the past which seems a little out of place and somewhat quaint on the modern high street. Even so, if it disappears, I guess I shall miss it because it is one more link with my youth vanishing into oblivion.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Film Review - Quantum of Solace

This afternoon I went to my local picture house to catch up on James Bond's latest exploits.

Quantum of Solace has been criticised in two areas. One is that it is so fast moving that it is difficult to keep up with. The second is that it lacks humour.

First off, I liked the fast action, although I could have done with longer intervals between each transition, it was blindingly fast. I did discover that if you just relaxed your mind, stared at the screen, didn't think about it, and just let it all wash over you, then I found it easier to follow. I had a little extra difficulty earlier on in the film because despite the fast action and the loudness of the sound-track, I fell asleep several times. This was probably because I was tired out from putting together the tall-boy cabinets I bought at Ikea !

Secondly, it did lack humour. Even so, the very lack of humour actually seemed to make it more humorous. I found bits to laugh at, but then maybe I'm just a bit weird. Some of the action sequences, well actually - most of the action sequences - were so outrageous and downright impossible that I found it funny - it made me smile. He should have been wiped out a hundred times over, but that is one of the great joys about Bond films - they are escapist fantasy.

Overall, I thought the film was brilliant and it will probably find its way into my DVD collection. Go see it.

Ikea

Today, I undertook the ultimate shopping experience with my wife. It had to be with my wife, because a trip to Ikea is something a man never undertakes by himself, but only as a result of the cudgelling of a shopping crazed spouse. I have been building up to this for the last week. A few days ago, my wife, in idle conversation mentioned the word “Ikea”. This is a word, a name, an experience I had been trying to forget. I have been in receipt of psychiatric counselling since my last visit. I would suffer from nightmares, night terrors in fact, and wake up in a cold sweat and screaming “Where's the exit – where's the exit” as I was convinced I was trapped in a world filled with hordes of the undead, green skinned and fowl smelling rotting flesh, forever following an endless succession of arrows marked on the floor, and never, ever being able to break free into the outside world and freedom. Yesterday, almost inexplicably, my wife received in the mail a £10 Ikea shopping voucher. This was almost unreal. Sensing the unseen powers of the universe at work, and my wife exclaiming that we are obviously meant to go, I resigned myself to the inevitability of today's expedition.

Now, as soon as the word “Ikea” is voiced, I know it is only a matter of time before I will be going back, inexorably drawn by its siren calling and the lure of Swedish Swedishness. And I have to admit, I have been pretty much sucked in. In my study, or computer room as I sometimes call it, I have three Ikea bookcases, all black, with white “doily” patterns on them. They look really garish and everyone hates them - except me. The walls are painted blood red, which blends well with the red table lamp which I bought for a song at Ikea. As you can tell, I am a real style guru.

I first came across Ikea some 28 years ago when I was living in Germany. It was this big blue building I would drive past on my way from M├Ânchengladbach to D├╝sseldorf. I never went into it, and the innards remained a mystery to me for years, until we came across it again in England. Then we had our first visit.

What makes Ikea so different from every other shop is that it is laid out in a totally different way to every other shop. It has a beginning and an end, a start and a finish. Once inside, you reach the starting line at the top of the escalator, and then work your way around the course, following the arrows on the floor, until you emerge, hopefully (if you work for Ikea), laden down with a vast mass and array of goods you never knew you wanted or needed. The course you follow is a long one – a bit of a marathon in fact. Its a bit like trekking up a mountain. When you think you have reached the top, there is always something beyond, and so you stagger on, never quiet sure where you are and when the end will be reached. Along the way, you will pass myriad examples of every type of household item you could ever want – or never want, and many of them at extremely low prices. It really is a case of “stack-em high and sell-em cheap.” Another thing about Ikea is that it is impossible to have a quick visit. Every trip to Ikea is a major event, and conscious of the hours and hours customers spend in the always overcrowded store, they have a large restaurant to feed the starving masses before they are once again ejected into the never regions of the beyond, well, the car park, anyway.

And so it was that I have now found myself the proud owner of a set of eight coat hangers I didn't know we wanted, a set of 6 wine glasses I didn't know we wanted, a load of golden Christmas baubles I didn't know we wanted, and two tall-boy multi-shelved cabinets my wife has been telling me we do want. Of course, they are flat pack – what else? And of course, we will be spending a good proportion of tomorrow banging and screwing the things together before they are proudly placed into position in our porch where they will be used as posh shoe-racks in place of the course, ugly, lude rack occupying the space at the moment, and due to be re-employed in the depths of the garage, out of sight from those who might frown upon their banality.

One has to maintain one's standards – even if they are cheap and Swedish.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cambridge Con


As I was sat eating my lunch the other day, I heard the letter box cover go thwump! At this point I decided to forgive the postman because I was convinced he was deliberately keeping my mail back as it seemed somewhat late in arriving. Despite my initial arousal, I decided to finish eating first before investigating the postman's offering given that man shall not live by mail alone, but by every ham and tomato sandwich which issues from the kitchen.

Anyway, I discovered three letters poking through the letter box. One was from the County Council about the proposed A14 (killer road) re-routing improvement. This seems to have been talked about, debated and protested against for about the last two hundred years. I'm sure I'll be six foot under by the time they actually get around to building it. While we are on the subject, a word to the nimbys in the local villages. “No new A14 in our village” their placards proclaimed. Actually, its not routed through any village at all, but half a mile up the road. As one who lives a lot closer to the A14, it really is no big deal, and certainly nothing to complain about. And don't worry about your property values (the issue which is usually at the back of most rural protests), I doubt they'll be affected. Anyway, the credit crunch has already done much more demolition in that area than any nearly half mile distant road building scheme. If you want to continue protesting, then I am sure that you will have the sympathy of all the relatives and loved ones of all those who have been killed and injured over the years on this horrible road.

Another of the letters was addressed to my eldest son. He's out of the country so I'll be keeping it for him.

The third envelope was addressed to me, and me alone. This one looked a bit special. Good quality, pre-printed with gold embossed letters on it. With a feeling of mounting curiosity I ripped the envelope open and pulled out the letter.

“Response Necessary by 21st November 2008” was the bold proclamation at the head of the letter. Well, that gives me a lot of time, given that it was already the 17th. I also spotted that the letter was dated 1st November. Gosh, the mail really is slow these days. Must be clogged up with Christmas cards. The letter was from a company called “Cambridge Who's Who.” It began:
“You were recently proposed as a biographical candidate to represent Cambridgeshire in the 2008/2009 on-line Cambridge Who's Who Registry among Executives and Professionals."

 How wonderful. How great. How the hell do they think I qualify for such epic heights which I would have thought was strictly reserved for the captains of industry, the Lord Farquehars, the old Etonians, and Grandees of the Tory Party??? Surely not me, a fair to middling manager of no significant merit or social standing? What possible claim could I have to this hallowed territory? Have they read my blog? Do they consider me a literary giant along with the likes of Dickens and Salman Rushdie?? One final question – who the hell proposed me?? I decided to do some delving. It didn't take long.................

The “Cambridge” Who's Who is nothing to do with Cambridge as in Cambridgeshire. Its more to do with Cambridge in the USA. Its also more to do with a scam which is exactly what it is. Although it costs nothing to register your details with them, you are very soon contacted for a telephone interview for your biographical details where you are also very quickly put under pressure to part with vast sums of money. Naturally, as its such a fantastic privilege to be listed on this esteemed database, you would naturally be only too happy to part with hundreds of pounds for the privilege of owning a hard copy, or ensuring you remain on it for years to come. I decided to take a look at some of the members (suckers??) on the database. They were nothing special. They were so unspecial that there was no real reason why anyone, let alone a sharp suited executive would want to head hunt anyone from this list. I would suspect that the only people who actually look at the list are the same people who are on it. To be honest, they'd probably do better and find out more about people by looking on Face book. Needless to say, I will not be ingratiating myself to this bunch of con merchants.

Actually, it has given me an idea. It goes like this. Send me a load of details about yourself and a cheque for £500 and I will publish it on this blog. There – who said brilliant opportunities never come your way?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sugar is sweet, but not for me.

Following my recent blood tests, I recently returned to the doctor to be told the results. Whenever I have had any kind of tests in the past the outcome has always been clear, with no problems emerging. This time however, I could feel it in my water that it would be different. Why had they requested a second test? I asked myself. If you are anything like me you always think the worst. So, in the back of my mind I had some horrible incurable disease, and the future, if I had a future, was bleak.

I sat in the waiting room cacking myself. My wife was with me to give me reassurance. I was glad of her presence. I needed the loo. I don't like going to the loo while waiting to be called into the doctor's surgery, because I just know that the moment I drop my pants and sit down, that is the moment I will be called. And guess what? - that was the moment I was called. On this occasion I simply had to go – probably nerves, so the doctor had to be entertained by my wife before I appeared – feeling flushed!

He explained to me that there were problems with my results. I could feel myself about to be immersed in a serious situation. He told me I was folic acid deficient. Was I pregnant? I wondered, but didn't ask. Could this have anything to do with the tingling in my legs, I asked. “Possibly” was the non-committal reply. He then went on to tell me that my sugar levels were raised, and my blood pressure a little high. Does this mean I am diabetic? I asked. “Yes” he replied. I have Type 2 Diabetes.

A few days later an envelope appeared through my door enclosing a letter from the doctor telling me I had an appointment to see the nurse for instruction on how to manage my Diabetes. This was good. I was being looked after.

The nurse asked me about my diet. I proudly announced that I had made some changes and cut down drastically on my sugar, was drinking more water and eating more fruit and vegetables. Also, I was only having half a teaspoon of sugar on my breakfast cereal. She wasn't having that. All the sugar had to go, and that was half a teaspoon of sugar too much.

I have a sweet tooth. I like sweet things. I like sugar. I don't like artificial sweeteners. I have now cut out even the half teaspoonful of the thing I love. Better that than have my leg drop off! I am growing to love bitterness. Tea without sugar was anathema. It is now the norm. I will have to lump it.

I had my youngest son and his girl friend visit during the week. She is a dietician. We discussed my Diabetes. She told me it was a progressive disease and would definitely get worse as I grew older.

Nothing like the truth, I suppose!

Actually, since I gave up sugar I have felt a lot better in myself. I have also felt more energised. The other night at the gym, I really let rip on the running machine – I hadn't felt this good in ages. I am also not waking up in the night feeling short of breath and having to take great gulps of air to avoid the sensation of drowning. You are what you eat. I am eating healthy so I am healthy and will be healthy. That's positive thinking. My blood Group is B Positive. I will B positive. I will live my blood group.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Supernatural?

Although I am very pessimistic about the existence of the supernatural, I have to admit that there are some things which make me wonder. Being a bit of a doubting Thomas, unless I experience something weird myself, I tend to suspend belief when confronted by the accounts related by others, particularly where people are claiming to have been abducted by aliens.

Whilst I am not aware myself of ever being abducted by aliens, (though who knows what happens between falling asleep at night and waking up the next morning – wooooh spooky), I have had some pretty strange experiences – which I am about to relate.

Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I was cycling home late at night after visiting a friend who lived in Hadley Wood. The sky was very clear, and the stars shone like diamonds. Being a bit of a stargazer, I stopped, partly to take a break, and partly to look at the stars and Milky Way. I spotted a bright point of light moving rapidly across the sky. It seemed to be following a bit of a wobbly path. Suddenly, it changed direction, accelerated and disappeared. I have to say that I have seen many phenomena in the sky, but this is one I’ve never found a good explanation for. Whatever it was, I do not believe it was little green men. I have seen many shooting stars, satellites, and even the odd fireball, but nothing quite like this.

When I was even younger, I went up to bed one night and was soon beating a hasty retreat again down the stairs in fright. As I approached the bedroom and looked in through the open doorway, I saw a kind of apparition which seemed to float across the room and disappeared behind the wardrobe. My mother said that it was probably the spirit of my Grandmother who had died some years earlier.

However, the above two accounts pale into insignificance against this next event.

A few years ago while I was away on a course, I was staying by myself in a hotel. One night I dreamed that I was with my mother, and together we were looking through a photograph album I had never seen before. The dream was very vivid and clear in my mind when I awoke. The spooky bit is this: the pages of the album were full of photographs of Sir Winston Churchill. After I awoke, I switched on the television and watch the news. One of the news items was that a photo album had just been discovered which belonged to Sir Winston Churchill, full of previously unseen images from his life. I am not making this up. I had not heard anything of this before the dream, and the coincidence was just unreal.

There have been many instances, particularly with my wife, when we have both said the very thing which the other was about to say despite the fact that it was in no way related to the conversation previous, and there was no reason why we should be thinking the same thing at the same time. I believe there is a name for these types of coincidences, and that is synchronicity.

There have been other events I could relate, but the point is that there are things which you just cannot, or have very great difficulty in explaining. I believe there are rational explanations for most unusual things we experience, but there is still the odd thing which makes one pause and wonder………

Saturday, November 01, 2008

In praise of our troops

I am very proud of our armed forces. As far as I am concerned, they are amongst the best - if not THE best in the world.
I spent many years of my life in the armed forces. I suppose in a way I was fortunate in that the whole period of my service was a time of relative peace in contrast to the deployments and conflicts of today.
I was very moved watching the "X-Factor" last Saturday with the performance of the contestants "Help for Heroes" recording. Buy it.
There has been a lot of publicity and media coverage of our troops in Afghanistan. This is right and proper - for some time this conflict was called The Forgotten War because all the attention was on Iraq. Our troops have performed with the kind of courage and commitment - in all conflicts - which is beyond criticism, awe inspiring and demanding of our total admiration and pride.
The 9th November is Remembrance Sunday. Buy a Help for Heroes wristband. Buy a poppy. Get out there and support our servicemen. They give so much, and sacrifice more than any of us will ever know. They stand between freedom and tyranny on our behalf. When you see them on parade - be proud!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blogging and me

Why do I blog? A good question and one which is now somewhat timely and demanding an answer. Read on…………..

I started this blog because I have always wanted to write; it helps to fulfil a creative instinct within me. As the blog description states, it is meant to be a blog about anything I think might be interesting, amusing or even a bit controversial. It is not, and was never meant to be an on line diary of my activities, although many incidents and events in my life inevitably provide the inspiration for many of the postings.

I have made some changes and deletions because some misunderstandings have occurred amongst some of my readers, and it is not in my nature to deliberately cause offence either knowingly or unwittingly. Should anyone who reads, or has read this blog think that any of my comments have been specifically aimed at them, they are almost certainly wrong. Much of what I write is "tongue in cheek" and should not be taken too seriously. I try to write in an amusing entertaining way and I have had many extremely good reviews, even to the extent as to comment (more than once) that I should write a book. Indeed, it has even come to my attention that someone has actually made a hard copy of this blog and shared it with others for their delectation. Perhaps the next stage might be Hodder & Stoughton, you never know.

Joking aside, it ought to be reasonably clear where I am being serious and where I am not. "The Justice of God" is deadly serious and I mean every word and would not change a single letter. Where I am being flippant, that is more for amusement, though that might be lost on some. Those who know me well, will know that in real life I am well meaning, honest, hard working, friendly, humorous, and generally try and do my best in whatever I undertake. I am also human, and like everyone else, have my faults. This blog is no exception. I appreciate comments, so if you feel I have touched a nerve or want to bring something to my attention, click on “comments” and the floor is yours. I will publish them so long as they are not obscene or offensive.

Moving swiftly on, I want to say a little more about what makes me blog. A lot of it is frustration with the unfairness and stupidity we find all around us. Yes, there is much that is good and commendable in the world, but there is an awful lot which is not. I worry particularly about the way that religion distorts people’s view of life and their relations with others – particularly those who do not share their faith. Unless as a race, humanity can free itself from the mental straight jacket of religion, then the future for our children may well be too terrible to contemplate.

It’s not all doom and gloom. There are, nevertheless, those hysterically funny moments which should be written about to bring a laugh or a smile. There are the amazing experiences and the places and people you encounter on your travels. There is a whole universe of interesting and exciting things to write about, so I have no excuse for dull or boring prose.

Another function of blog writing is catharsis. Sometimes there are things you just have got to get out of your system, and you don’t mind who knows about it. Anyone can read this blog, and it serves its purpose with every “hit”. Please keep reading, and I’ll keep blogging.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ooh Nurse

I have got a new hobby. It's going to the doctors while trying to convince myself that I am not actually dying, though inwardly I suspect I am.

It all started like this:

A few years ago I took part in a 46 mile walk around part of Cambridgeshire. When I finished the walk - though by this time "walk" was the wrong word, it was more staggering towards oblivion; I noticed one of my toes was sticking through a hole, which had developed in one of my socks. When I took my boot off, there was no hole - it just felt like it.

The imaginary hole never went away, in fact the odd feeling of semi - numbness tingling yet still feeling started to spread, first to one toe and then them all, taking over both my feet, and now working up my legs. I saw a doctor some years ago and mentioned this to him, to be told it was probably a symptom of the sciatica, a complaint that pre-dated the walk.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I decided enough was enough, so I went to see the doctor. He was very good, very understanding, checked this and that and everything seemed to be okay. Nevertheless, bothered by the "spreading" syndrome (who wouldn't be?) he sent me for a blood test.

"Are you at all queasy?" asked the nurse before sticking the very long needle into my vein.
"No, not at all" I replied, "you're not going to kill me are you?" I replied with a laugh but not quite a thigh slap.
"Well, I don't aim to kill you" she replied while I mused that hopefully her aim was good.

In went the needle as I watched it sink into my vein feeling a sharp stab and a kind of ache. She then sucked up a number of blood samples to test for every disease known to man, telling me that one of the samples would have to go to Addenbrookes. Wow - Addenbrookes, must be serious after all. I counted it a real honour that a sample of my humble lowly blood should be deemed worthy of the attentions of such a learned and esteemed establishment. It was clear that I was definitely more than just a "take an aspirin and lie down for a while" type of patient.

I awaited the results. The days rolled by. Suddenly, amid a whole load of junk mail lying on my doormat I espied a HAND-WRITTEN white envelope addressed to me!

Instinctively I knew the situation was serious. Only junk mailers send me type written letters. I cautiously opened the envelope. My worst fears were realized - I was called back for yet another blood test. "Can you tell me why?" I asked the receptionist as I made the appointment, conscious of the fact that really only the doctor (who of course would not be available right at that very moment) should answer such questions. She repeated this to me, as you would expect while taking a quick peak at my notes and informing me that one of my readings was outside the normal limit, and they just wanted to do a second check to make sure.

That was it. I now knew it was serious. Thoughts started going through my head. Should I check the policies? Should I start putting my affairs in order? Should I start eating Mars Bars again?

This morning, I turned up for blood test number two. I waited in the waiting room where people were waiting playing a waiting game. My waiting game was "Sudoku" on my Nintendo DS, the ideal friend in a waiting room while waiting.

"Stephen McAdam" the nurse called out, and I rapidly saved my game and made like a sick man into the nurse's lair. Actually, she was very nice, as was the other one last time.

She did a blood pressure test. It was high.

"Are you on blood pressure tablets?" she asked, before trying twice more, finishing with an old fashioned sphygnamometer before confirming that, yes, there was no mistake, my blood pressure really is high.

"But I go to the Gym three times a week" I protested.

"Don't worry, just coming here can put your blood pressure up" she replied, and I commented that it might have been something to do with the Sudoku…………
She plunged another needle into my hapless vein and the dark red blood rapidly flowed forth.

My next appointment is next Friday.

The jury is out…………

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bad Shopping

I was out on the town the other day and something close to miraculous happened. I walked past a book shop without going in. Now what’s miraculous about that? I hear you ask. Well, it’s like this: I am a terminal book addict. I’ve joined book clubs, left them and later rejoined again - just to get the special 500 top sellers for a penny each and you only have to buy 30 books a week for the next twenty years. Yeah, I’m exaggerating – but you get the drift. So why did I walk past the book shop, when I had plenty of browsing time on my hands? The reason is that the penny has finally dropped that I cannot possibly read all the books my habit has already amassed on my creaking bookshelves. I’ve got loads of wonderful books, but I probably won’t live long enough to read them all. I DID buy a book on Amazon a couple of weeks ago (for a fraction of the shop cost), but I can easily justify that one. Its “The Lore of the Land”, a reference book on English folklore by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson. I had two reasons for buying it. One was to do with finding out interesting facts about places before I visit them. Why visit them? – to take photographs which might be sold to a publisher. The other reason was because it has, on page 65, a photograph of “Jeremiah’s Tea House” at Little Abington. I took this photograph and it was my very first photo sale to a publisher, so I thought it would be nice to have the book. The rest, I’m not bothered about, but there’s always got to be a first.

I have become a very bad shopper. I am bad because I hardly buy anything. Because of this, unless it’s very expensive, I can afford to buy pretty much anything I see in the shops I might desire. However, I am constantly having an internal battle as to whether I can really justify spending the money. I don’t just say to myself “that’s too expensive” because I pass up practically all the cheap things as well. I think a lot of it is that I have really become a bit bored with the consumerist pressure to constantly go out and spend money on things I don’t really need, and NEED is really the operative word. I love photography. I do not own the very latest equipment, but it does the job. Yes, I will eventually buy a new camera one day, but as long as my equipment gives me the results I need, then I am a lost cause as far as the camera shops are concerned. I am bored with all the magazines available. I hardly ever buy a magazine at all these days because most of the ones I’ve got I rarely find the time to sit down and read anyway. And as for photography magazines, my knowledge of the subject is so vast they could hardly teach me anything! You see a photomag screaming out about how to do outdoor photography. Well, here’s how you do it: You pick up your camera, step outside your front door and start taking photos. Easy, Eh??

Another thing – you see all these special offers – SAVE this much, no! – SAVE that much. No!! The way to save is not to buy the bloody whatever in the first place. If you are really honest with yourself and analysed all the stuff you buy over a month, let’s say, I bet a lot of the stuff, for many people, wasn’t really necessary. No, the best way to save money is not to spend it. That way, when you DO treat yourself and buy something, it becomes that bit more special and you begin to appreciate things that bit more. I suppose, what I am driving at here is my disdain for this consumer led society we live in, where someone is trying to entice you to buy something at every turn. Buy this, buy that – no – stop – don’t buy anything.

Oh woe – this is not good though. If everyone was like me, all the shops would go out of business. All the breweries would have to close (I drink very little, just the odd binge once in a blue moon). This is the contradictory world we live in. We all want to earn money. To get money we work. The money is generated through sales – of various sorts. If nothing is sold, nothing happens. So, in order for society to thrive, we all need to spend, spend, spend and then there will be lots of jobs for everyone. So, if you are unemployed and reading this, I apologise. It’s probably people like me who are to blame for putting you out of work. Not only am I a bad shopper, I’m also a bad credit card user. You see the credit card people don’t want me to pay off all my debt so they can charge me interest. I don’t play their game – I pay it all off every month, I don’t pay interest. But what I DO do is build up my loyalty points and every now again, I can go out and treat myself – or get the groceries, for free. How bad is that?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Car Stuff


Today I went to the garage to have a repair done to my car. The passenger’s side front door needed a new central locking lock thingy. It didn’t cost me anything as its still under guarantee. When you blipped it to unlock the doors there was a rather alarming graunching sound, although apart from that everything worked fine. Our car is a Kia. We had a Subaru Turbo Forester a few months ago, but when I discovered it was going to cost me a thousand pounds just to get a new exhaust, not including the new clutch it needed - amongst other things, it was clear it had to go. The Kia Carens was the much more affordable replacement.

Now, if you know anything about cars, you will know that in terms of performance the Subaru wins hands down. I could hold my own quite comfortably with BMW drivers who, as everyone knows believe they have the right to overtake everything on the road and sit glued to your tail flashing their lights until you get out the way. Now I couldn’t care less.

The Kia is much more a pipe and slippers car. However, as I possess neither a pipe or slippers, this is irrelevant. Actually, contrary to what I’ve read about the Kia, it does actually have quite a turn of accelaration when I floor it, although I’m past caring about racing other motorists. I don’t care if a Trabant overtakes me. I don’t wear a baseball hat, but I do play loud pounding music - when my wife isn’t with me. However, I do have a bit of an issue with the TV advert for Kia. “Designed to change your mind” says the slogan. Designed to change your mind about what? Designed to change your mind from thinking Kias are underpowered, unreliable cheap and nasty crap cars? Is that what its trying to change your mind about? Probably. Until I was pushed to getting one, that was pretty much my view of Kia cars. I am of course a complete snob in most things. Now I am a Kia snob. They must be brilliant cars otherwise my very discerning wife and I wouldn’t own one.

Time for bed - G’night, Sleep tight, D’nay let the doggies bite.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A visit to the Dentist

A few days ago I went to the dentist. I had to. I had no choice at all. I was in pain. Actually, that’s wrong - I was in agony. The top right hand molar, second from the end was giving me so much pain that I couldn’t concentrate on anything. Eating was a nightmare. I was also grumpy, though trying not to be. I was living on pain killers. I had so many pain killers that my kidneys went into overtime mode. I kept waking up in the middle of the night absolutely busting for a pee. After so many pees, I must have been getting dehydrated as my urine changed in colour to a not-quite-right orangeade .

Now the particular tooth in question was one I could live without. After all, I still had my upper right end molar, and my lower right end molar was still intact, so chewing and grinding or even gnashing would still be within my dental capabilities. Also, I just knew that this would be no simple filling job, but a root canal job. Root canal jobs, as we all know mean only two things. The first is no immediate relief from the pain. The second is several trips back to the dentist and a sudden emptying of the bank account. There was only one thing for it. No beating about the bush. No messing. No hesitation. It had to come out.

After the obligatory questions such as “are you sure you want me to take it out”, and “are you really sure you want it out”, and “you could have root canal treatment and keep the tooth” - the dentist finally conceded that in the “to extract or not to extract” department, I was the boss.

I settled back into the chair, relaxing in its warm embrace. The dentist’s mouth lamp stared at me like some bug eyed creature from a science fiction movie.

The dentist decided to take an x-ray before beginning the extraction. He showed me the resulting image and there it was - two long roots projecting deep into the gum.

I felt a deep sense of joy as the needle penetrated my gum - several times. It didn’t matter that it hurt. It didn’t matter that my gums swelled up with the sheer volume of the anaesthetic which was being pumped in. What mattered was that this bloody tooth which was causing me so much agony was about to meet its maker - but not without a fight, as I was about to find out!

After the standard wait of about five minutes for my mouth to “numb up”, the stage was finally set for the dentist to pick up the extraction forceps and pull the critter out.

Now at this point I should say that my expectation was that this would be a very quick affair and that I should be out the door after a total of about 15 minutes. My appointment was for 9 ‘o clock and I had a work planning meeting to attend which started at 10’ o clock. No problem.

The dentist grabbed my tooth and began to yank it about from side to side, and front to back to compress the bone in which the tooth was set and create an enlarged cavity thus loosening the tooth for the final pull of extraction. The “final pull of extraction” began. He pulled. He yanked. He pulled again. He pulled hard. He pulled really hard. I pulled back in a vain effort to assist. The first attempt a failure he picked up a levering implement and poked it down the cavity beside the tooth and began to lever away. Back to the forceps, he resumed the pulling and yanking once again.

At around this point, the realization set in with me that this was one tooth which was not going to budge. Although the anaesthetic worked well, I could still detect pressure and the feeling I was getting was that the roots of the tooth were firmly welded into the bone. It felt as if it was necessary for my whole bottom jaw to be pulled out if the tooth was going to be budged. In fact, all sorts of gory visions started to flood my mind, and it was clear that as extractions went, I was in for the long haul - or should I say pull. The dentist, whilst doing a very good job of keeping cool and concealing any emotions of panic, kept assuring me that everything was okay, and asking if I was alright. Of course I was all right, in a near death experience sort of way.

Just to reassure me further and put me more at ease he told me that his next move was to drill vertically through the tooth to cut it in half and take it out one root at a time. He then proceeded to drill. And drill. And drill. At this point I realised the anaesthetic was starting to wear off - I had been in the chair for three days now - and suddenly I felt the drill searing into the nerve. My hand shot up and I began to make a combination of bovine lowing and velociraptor screeching noises. Thankfully, he stopped the drilling and injected yet more anaesthetic into my already swollen gum which was gradually performing an imitation of the Hindenburg airship and taking up most of the remaining space in my mouth.

After a further 5 minutes of “numbing up” time, the yanking was resumed - to no avail. It was now time to bring in the heavy artillery.

The door opened and in walked the receptionist. I could tell the situation was getting serious. She positioned herself behind me and put both hands around my head to steady me for the final “push”- well, pull really. He pulled. Nothing happened. He pulled harder. Nothing happened. He pulled astonishingly hard. Something snapped and the vibration rattled through my skull. Part of the tooth had come away, but both the roots were still firmly implanted. He switched to instruments with hooks and levers and much pulling, pushing and levering ensued. I could taste blood.

Suddenly, I felt a root come out with a sudden snap. “Yes”! the dental nurse cried out with an air of triumph. The root was placed into the tray. The dentist resumed with more pulling, pushing and levering. I could feel an increase of blood in my mouth and the whole of the right side of my face was starting to throb. There was a further snapping sound as more tooth broke away.

At this point the dentist decided enough was enough. I could have told him that myself but for the mouth full of blood. I had a good rinse and was given a gauze pad to bite on and a bill for £65. I was told the other root was still in my jaw and I should leave it a couple of weeks before deciding whether to come back again. I was advised that if I did, it might be a hospital job. I was starting to feel as if I belonged in hospital anyway.

I dragged myself out to the reception where a girl was sat in the waiting area awaiting her appointment. She went white on seeing me as I seemed unable to stop saliva mixed with blood dribbling from my mouth and dropping to the floor. Her mother cooed reassurance into her ear. I dribbled more gore onto the floor. “Don’t worry about that” said the receptionist, and proceeded to clean up my mess. I paid my bill. The receptionist advised me not to go to work, but to go to bed instead. I didn’t argue and complied in full.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Change and feeling

I feel the urge to write, though I'm not sure what. I feel as if my life is taking a radical change in direction, and things will never be the same again. There are so many things I want to do with my life, and I am more and more conscious of how rapidly life is passing me by. My creative instincts are taking over, and I feel the need to create much because it is a part of what makes us human.

I have a great need of beauty. music, countryside, landscape. That's probably why I love photography so much. Its a chance to capture beauty, and preserve it to ponder over later, and for future generations. The power of music and wonderful images together can stir the soul, inspire, and even change lives. I feel my life being changed..irrevocably. I am changing, growing older, moving on, dying, transforming, loving........and feeling sadness.

I guess I'm feeling somewhat doleful, or even maudlin. I have a warm glow of anticipation, and yet a sadness that the things and people I love in life are changing and disappearing. Its important to hang onto the things and people who you love. Its important to use your creative talents to good effect,. Its important to be truthful and keep a sense of proportion and humour. Its also important to realise that no matter how bad life might seem at the moment, it will change - but not always for the better. Even so, I cope.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Royal Visit



This morning when I awoke, I wished my wife a happy birthday, and before she could get out of bed I lavished lots of really nice presents on her. I don’t do this sort of thing every morning, only on those which happen to be her birthday, otherwise she’d get very confused – you understand.

After I had walked the dog and my wife had spring cleaned the whole house, practiced her Kung Fu and said goodbye to the milkman, we jumped into the car and set off to Sandringham House to see Liz and Phil. We arrived to find that Liz and Phil must have got wind of our surprise visit, and decided to surprise us themselves by not being there!

I have driven through, around and by Sandringham many times in the past, but never actually stopped to get out and see how the other side live. As my wife and I are manic photographers and we had both taken the day off work to have a birthday day out, Sandringham seemed an obvious choice, as well as a place where people of our refined breeding and high standing in society would feel naturally at home.

After parking the car – a Kia Carens – (I believe the Queen is thinking of getting one herself soon), the first port of call was the bog. My wife reported to the throne room, while I made my way to the House of Lords – where all the big knobs hang out. Feeling suitably relieved and flushed, we made a bee line to the hise ………….errrr………I mean the house. Before entering in, we amused ourselves frolicking in the gardens and wondering at the fat golden statue of the Buddha, and seeing how many ways we could photograph Old Father Time – his statue, that is.

The SS Guard at the entrance to the house ordered us to put our cameras away, or at least switch them off, as well as our mobile phones. He assured us that if we didn’t we would not be shot, but did not tell us what fate would really befall us if we disobeyed.

The house was full, as you would expect, of very old and highly ornate furniture. It was clear the Queen doesn’t go to Ikea. As well as all the other paraphernalia, there were lots of weapons – guns, swords, spears, knives etc. It was apparent that the house had a dark side apart from making money from the visiting peasants, and that was killing poor, unsuspecting animals. One of the attendants assured me that the Royals would be up before Christmas to bag a few more. Great fun for them, though their prey might see it differently.

I took a close look, donning my reading glasses, at a shell from the Boer War which had been adapted and transformed into a clock, which stood pointing proudly to the ceiling. The attendant leaned over to me and said that it was actually an unexploded shell, and implied it could still explode. I suggested it was just biding its time, awaiting the right moment…………

Being a bit of a bookworm, I paid particular interest to the very sumptuous ancient books adorning the shelves of the glass fronted book cabinets. There were amongst others, history books, political books, and books of speeches by people now made obscure by the mists of antiquity.

“I wonder if they ever open any of the books and actually read them”, an old man asked rhetorically. I commented to my wife that maybe the Queen was a member of the “Folio Society” – but maybe not.

Leaving the house behind, we continued our wonderings around the grounds, taking in the museum while we were at it.

I have got to say that the gardens are absolutely beautiful, amongst the most lovely gardens I have ever visited anywhere in the world. It was a real pleasure walking by the lake and smelling the aromas from all the flowers which were everywhere.

We did laugh at one point – oh how we laughed – when we came across an old dear having a conversation on her mobile phone. She was speaking very loudly, so we couldn’t miss her. What made us titter was just how sickeningly posh she was verbeaging across the network. “Yes” was replaced by “yaah” – she wasn’t German. Maybe she was affected by where she was. Maybe that once she got outside of the wire, she would revert to a more “Gore blimey guvner” sort of way……or maybe not.

We concluded our exploration of the estate in visiting the Church – you know, the one the Royals are always seen on the telly walking into on Christmas Day. It’s called the Church of St Mary Magdalene. To look at from the outside it looks like a perfectly ordinary Parish Church. However, once you step inside you are confronted by one of the most beautiful and ornate alters I have seen in such a church. Clearly, the Royal connection has benefitted it well.

It cost us £9 each to visit the Royal Estate, and in my opinion it was worth every penny.
We polished off what had been a perfect day with a large soft ice cream cornet each, and a plate of fish and chips at a restaurant in Hunstanton. The sun shone all day, and set - surrounded by a pink horizon.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ten Ton Run


A long time ago on an air base far far away…………………

I was working as an RAF Photographer. By “photographer” I mean a REAL photographer – not an Air Photographer. Air Photographers (Air Photographic Operators and Photographic Processing Analysts) didn’t take photographs, and they didn’t fly either. Ground Photographers (“Photo-Gs” – of which I was one) did both. Now there’s an irony!

The air base was RAF Tengah on the beautiful island of Singapore. There were a number of flying squadrons on the base. The only one worth talking about as far as I am concerned is 74 “Tiger” Squadron. The reason for my enthusiasm is that the Squadron flew Lightnings, and Lightnings, my friend, are the most exciting arse-kicking aircraft the RAF has ever flown. It was a high speed screaming interceptor. Carrying Red Top missiles, it could launch very rapidly, accelerate like a bat out of hell, gaining altitude with its tail in reheat like some space bound rocket, shoot the enemy plane out of the sky and land before you had the chance to fry an egg! Ok, I know – I’m exaggerating – forget the egg frying; I really meant make beans on toast.

Another reason for my enthusiasm was that I was given a flight in a Lightning.

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When I first arrived at Tengah, I was billeted in a barrack block close to the end (or was it the beginning?) of the runway. Very often, the Squadron would fly early morning sorties. Early in this case meaning before I considered it time to get out of bed. The aircraft would position themselves on the apron at the end (or was it the beginning?) of the runway and run-up their engines. The sound was deafening. The whole block would shake and vibrate and I would descend under the bed cloths with my fingers in my ears. Finally, they would take the brakes off, and with an even more deafening roar, storm up into the sky. Wonderful.

During my tour of duty, I was called upon to take many photographs for the Squadron, mainly for public relations purposes, while others were taken for engineering maintenance use. One task I was called upon to undertake was to photograph the wreckage and aftermath of a Lightning crash within minutes of the event. This was very sad and traumatic indeed. The pilot, who was a family man, ejected too late and was tragically killed as a result. Even so, he was a hero because he steered the aircraft away from the most populated area to spare the lives of those below. In doing so, he lost his own.

Over time, I built up a special relationship with the Squadron, and any request or opportunity to take photographs for the Squadron I treated with relish. It appeared that the feeling was mutual, as the Squadron decided to treat me to a flight in the “T-Bird” Lightning. (T = trainer, thus it had two seats). This was not to be just any old flight, but a “ten-ton” run (i.e. flying at or above 1000 mph).

I duly showed up first thing in the morning for my pre-flight training and briefing. This was not too arduous as I was assured by the pilot that he would not be pulling too many “Gs.” Even so, I did get a little edgy because he kept talking about WHEN we eject. I questioned him on this and he replied that they always take it that they might have to eject at any time, so it was the best attitude of mind to adopt for such an eventuality. Feeling a little comforted, though not entirely, I was finally kitted up and found myself walking out to the aircraft looking for all the world like something out of “Top Gun.”

I have flown many times in my life, but I have never experienced the sheer acceleration of take-off as I did in the Lightning. It was awesome, and we weren’t even in reheat. The aircraft soared into the sky as I watched the airfield rapidly recede with the roar of the engine behind me. The pilot informed me once we were over Johor Bahru that we were going to climb to operating altitude. We went to reheat. I felt a sudden kick of acceleration while the pilot sat the plane on its tail and we roared at a steep angle to 36,000 feet. Because the cockpit canopy was clear over my head as well as to the forward and sides, I could see the sky darkening as we rapidly climbed into the heavens. I had always wanted to go into space, and unless I can buy a ticket from Mr Branson, this was most likely the closest I will ever get to the experience. We made our way up the west coast of Malaya (as was) and then the pilot gently turned the aircraft around to face south. We began our “ten ton run.”

The pilot radioed the air controllers that we were coming in “fast” – an understatement. I watched the Mach Meter, the instrument which told us how fast we were going in relation to the speed of sound. We went through Mach-1 breaking the sound barrier. The aircraft seemed to give the slightest of shudders – (or was it me shuddering with excitement?) – and all was calm. It was eerily quiet, with very little sensation of speed. The Mach Meter settled on a final speed of Mach 1.58 – that’ll do me Brian!

The pilot then offered me control of the aircraft. This was necessary if I was to qualify for membership of the Ten Ton Club – you had to actually be flying the plane yourself. I carefully grabbed the joystick with my feet gently resting on the rudder pedals. “You have control” said the pilot.

“I have control” I confirmed.

For the next couple of minutes or so I endeavoured to keep the plane straight and level. At this speed, you didn’t want to make any sudden manoeuvres – “fly by wire” was still some way in the future. Presently, the pilot, probably not wanting to push his luck any further, resumed control of the aircraft.

“I have control” he said.

“You have control”, I confirmed, letting go of the joystick.

He explained to me that we would have to lose speed quickly. To achieve this, he took the plane into an “upwards dive”, levelling out at 42,000 feet – nearly in orbit! He then made a series of manoeuvres and finally lined us up with the runway beginning a steep decent towards Tengah.

“You are slightly high on your glide path, adjust our rate of descent.” I heard over the radio. I assumed this was the air controllers out on the hill at Bukit Gombak talking us down. As the airfield loomed larger, the pilot decided to push his luck again, and invited me to pull the black and yellow striped handle to release the drag-chute. This was a special parachute which deployed from the back of the plane once you had touched down to assist in getting the aircraft’s speed down to the point where it could be safely taxied back to the dispersal.

“Whatever you do – DON’T pull it until I say” he instructed. Even with my limited knowledge of aviation skills, the dangers were not lost on me if I should pull it before we had actually touched down!

It has been said that landing a Lightning is more a controlled crash than a normal landing. The end of the runway came up to meet us at frightening speed, and then I was aware of the sudden jolt and screech of tyres on tarmac as we made contact with terra firma.

“NOW!” came the instruction through my head set. I snapped the handle back obediently, and breathed a sigh of relief as I felt the additional negative acceleration induced by the drag-chute.

Some years later, the flight now a distant memory, I photographed a Conversion course group for Phantom pilots who were converting to flying the Tornado.

After the shoot, as I started to walk away, a voice called out to me. I swung around, and there was the pilot who took me up all those years ago. It was wonderful to meet him again, and chat over happy times. In Singapore, he was a young Flying Officer. He was now a Squadron leader.

The Lightning was a wonderful aircraft. I mourn its’ passing.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Whoops!!!

Many years ago when I was a young airman in Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force, I found myself serving as a photographer at RAF Tengah in Singapore.

One day we had a visit from an Air Marshal. An Air Marshal is an officer of “Air Rank” You can always tell officers of Air Rank because they have the word “Air” at the start of their rank title, a slight give away. In addition, they have lots of “scrambled egg” on the peaks of their hats. They also get paid a hell of a lot more money than most people – consequently they tend to smile a lot, especially when visiting the bank. On this particular occasion I was tasked to take publicity photographs of one such esteemed guest.

At the time, I used a Rolleiflex T twin lens reflex camera. Sometimes I would use my own camera which was a Mamiyaflex C3. The RAF hadn’t discovered colour photography at the time, so my camera was loaded with Kodak Tri-X Pan black and white film. The great thing about this film was that it didn’t matter how badly you cocked up on the exposure, you always seemed to get a good print come what may.

My modus operandi for photographing such visits was to follow the visitor and his entourage fairly closely behind with my camera and flash (Mecablitz 502) raised close to my eye with my finger twitching lightly on the button ready to fire off a shot the moment anything which looked remotely like a half decent picture presented itself in the viewfinder. If I saw they were heading into a certain room I might leap ahead and get a “head on” as they came in the door. This was also a good position to be in if the visitor was glad-handing the incumbent peasant workers, because the alternative was a wonderful photograph of people’s backs. Such shots might be useful today for the highly pretentious “art-house” (fart-house) fine art market, but not good enough for the “Tengah Times” or the RAF News.

The visiting group walked into a hanger. I seem to remember it was the hanger of 74 “Tiger” Squadron, which flew Lightnings, the most fantastic aircraft ever. I am a little biased towards Lightnings because I had a flight in one – but that’s another story. Anyway, I was not terribly familiar with the various rooms hugging the walls of the hanger, so I followed on, taking photographs until I had fired off the twelfth shot on the roll, which meant it was time to pause, and change the film. Keeping an eye on the visiting group and their escorting officers, I noticed they disappeared into a side-room just across the hanger. Hurrying to catch up, I made my way to the doorway with my camera up to my eye ready to take the next picture. I entered the room. In from of me I was confronted by the sight of the Air Marshal et al, relieving themselves at the urinal!

“I don’t think we’ll bother with any photographs in here, photographer” said the Air Marshal somewhat startled.

Maybe he thought I was taking the piss. Even so, I was certainly not pulling his plonker!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Photo Tips - Getting in Close






Before writing this article, I thought I would “Google” the word “Macro” to see what definitions came up. As well as being a small “linking program” for use in developing computer applications (like “Visual Basic” usage in building “Access” databases), it also has a meaning when applied to photography. The most straight forward definition I found was:

“The ability of a lens to focus just inches away from an object or subject so as to produce big close-ups, sometimes even larger-than-life size.”

When I did my photography training, I was taught that in order for an image to be formed on the film the same size as the original subject, the lens has to be racked out to a distance of twice its focal length from the film plane. Provided the subject was also at the same distance in front of the lens, then the subject would be in focus. To get in even closer, then the lens has to be racked out even further. This is actually a very basic description of the mechanism behind macro photography, and if I were to be really pedantic I would also have to take into account the position of the optical centre of the lens, and where exposure is concerned, the Inverse Square Law! But enough of all this technical stuff lest you think I am just trying to impress you with the amazing depth of my knowledge.

Most good cameras these days will have a macro function, so you don’t have to worry about the technicalities touched on above. Even so, you do have to be a little more careful than when taking normal snapshots if you are going to get a good result. If you examine your camera (or even read the manual – but let’s not get carried away), you should find a switch on the barrel of the lens (usually on SLRs), or an icon on the back of the camera (a side on representation of a flower on my Canon) which when activated, brings into play the macro function. Assuming you have selected the macro mode for your particular type of camera, you need to carefully get in close to the subject. I say “carefully” because there are limits, as with everything, within which you will get a sharp result in the macro mode, and you may need to experiment a bit to see what works best. Also, when you are up very close to your subject, if you are shooting hand-held, then the smallest movement of the camera will be magnified, increasing the likelihood of getting movement blur on the photograph. If you must shoot hand held, then make sure you use a fast shutter speed. This will probably mean opening up a couple of stops on the aperture or setting the sensitivity to a higher ISO. Of course, you can only set the ISO if you are shooting digital. If you still use film, then you may need to load a 400 ISO film. Ideally, to be sure of avoiding camera shake, use a tripod.

Both the photographs featured were shot hand held. The shot of the snail was taken in rather subdued light in my front garden, and the insects on the flower shot was taken in very bright lighting conditions while on holiday in Greece, earlier this year. In neither case was I particularly looking to take a macro shot, the opportunities just presented themselves.

The great thing about macro, is that it enables you to view things in much finer detail, to enter an unfamiliar world where rich pickings may be found for the enquiring mind. Don’t just take my word for it, try it for yourself.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Arrogant Christians

This morning I awoke to my alarm going off. I hate alarms – especially shrill ones. It is therefore fortunate that my alarm is not shrill, but rather dulcet. I don’t need a shrill alarm because I am a fairly light sleeper, so it doesn’t take a lot to awaken me.

When I wake up on Sunday mornings, I like to lie in bed for about twenty minutes before getting up and facing the world. Anything longer and I start to feel that my life is being wasted. It’s an odd thing, but it really is the case that the older you get, the quicker time seems to pass you by. It was explained to me once that the reason for this perception is that the longer you have lived, then the shorter any period of time you are currently experiencing is in relation to the total of the time elapsed in your life to that point. I am sure this is as clear as horse muck, but if you think about it I am sure you will get the picture.

Anyway, as I lay in my bed I switched the radio on (digital – not your old fashioned namby pamby analogue) and found myself listening to an interview of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s wife for the obligatory newsy religious affairs programs so beloved of the BBC on Sunday mornings. What really struck me about the woman was just how incredibly annoying she was. She sounded extremely posh, which I suppose is no sin, but she came across – to me at least – as really arrogant. If I had been the interviewer I think I would have been extremely tempted to ask her if she was actually a Christian, as her husband supposedly is.

I hate arrogance, especially when it proceeds from the mouths of people who should know better. When I was in the Royal Air Force, I used to be a keen Christian. Any regular (or even not so regular) readers of my blog will know that I am now a very keen atheist, so I have changed quite radically over the years. I attended regular Bible studies and on occasions even led them. Our little fellowship comprised of service people and civilians of all ranks and socio economic categories. We were proud of the fact that, in line with New Testament teaching, there were no class barriers between us. Even so, you always get one who has to be different from everyone else who should know better. The one of which I speak in this context was an army chaplain. There were two chaplains shepherding the flock of our Church, one air force, and the other army.

My job throughout my time in the RAF was a photographer. At this time, I was stationed at RAF Rheindahlen in Germany as a NATO public information photographer. I was tasked to photograph a “National Reception” at the Officers’’ Mess where the local, and not so local great and good were invited to shake hands with the base big cheeses, quaff the wines, scoff the cheese and generally have a jolly good time. I was stood, doing my thing taking my usual artfully crafted photographs of the esteemed guests as they shook hands with this General, or that Air Marshal. I was tapped upon the shoulder by a lady from the fellowship. She was married to a Flight Lieutenant. She said how pleased she was to see me and, it being a quiet moment in the proceedings, we engaged in conversation. Suddenly, the Army Chaplain appeared on the scene, butting in on our conversation.

“Why are you talking to the Corporal” said the chaplain. Incredulous, my friend replied, “This is Steve, you know him – he’s part of our fellowship”.
“Well you know you should be talking to the guests and not to the Other Ranks" (a term I hate). Gobsmacked, my friend replied, “Really Chaplain, what kind of a Christian are you?”
Pointing at his rank badge on his uniform – “A Colonel Christian” he replied, and then stomped off into the melee.

I wonder what rank Jesus was?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Walking the West Highland Way - Episode 5 : What the Devil????????

Leaving the King’s House, we continued along the old narrow military road while heavy threatening clouds hung overhead, like banners around the tops of the neighbouring mountains, obscuring any views of their peaks.

My brother and nephew had taken the option of having their rucksacks sent on ahead to the hostel in Kinlochleven, our next resting place. My son and I carried our full rucksacks. Knowing my luck, if I had entrusted it to a company as my brother and nephew had done, that would probably be the last I would see of it.

Anyway, on this part of the walk we had to negotiate an upward gradient called “The Devil’s Staircase”. This apparently scary name held no fears for me, as it clearly couldn’t really be the Devil’s staircase as I do not believe in such medieval entities as devils, demons, angels, goblins, fairies, elves, trolls…………I think you get the picture. Also, I didn’t believe that it could be that torturous a climb as I had taken a look on the map and it was clear that I had been up far steeper hills than this before. Also, I know of at least one person who is much less fit than myself, and managed to get over it, so I just knew it wouldn’t live up to it’s name. I was right. When we finally came upon it, I knew I had definitely made the right decision in hanging on to my rucksack. Ascending the scary “staircase” was a walk in the park. We passed quite a number of fellow walkers, many of whom had just stopped to admire the view.

Once over the “staircase” it was pretty plain sailing down into Kinlochleven. Then my mobile phone rang. It was my wife. She was staying at her sister’s while I was on my adventure and she rang to ask how I was getting on and to wish me well. I really appreciated the call, even though I was coping well with the walk, despite the still intense pain from my horsefly bite, I was nevertheless really tired and looking forward to the finish the following day when we were due to arrive in Fort William. So, hearing my dear wife raised my spirits. I was alone at this point. I had stopped to take a solitary pee, and when I finished and got walking again, my comrades had disappeared ahead, not to be seen again by me until my arrival in Kinlochleven. What the Hell! I was past caring. I decided I would walk slowly, deliberately with indolent ease. There was no rush. Why rush? I wasn’t for rushing.

Presently, I caught sight of a corner of Kinlochleven, in the far distance, and a long way below me. From a purely psychological point of view, this was good. Even though I still had a few miles still to go, the fact that I could see where I was headed made me put a spring in my step. Even so, I had to ensure that my step was not too springy, as the going got very steep – downwards. Any undue stepping springiness at this point was liable to send me falling arse over head, so I held back, leaned back and took very careful, deliberate and decidedly unspringy steps. Anyone who has done any hill walking will know that walking on a stony, rocky track down a steep incline is far harder and more painful than going up. Well, it was painful alright, to the point that I was swearing under my breath for quite a prolonged period. When anybody passed me, I kept the swearing in my head, rather than verbalise it, not wanting to cause offence to anyone, given how easily people are offended these days………if you believe the media.

The phone rang again. It was my son. He had arrived at the hostel and was wondering what was keeping me. I was reassured by the thought that at least one of our group was thinking of me! He asked me what I saw looking around me. I told him what I saw looking around me. It was pipes. Big pipes – lots of pipes. They were water carrying pipes, and ran down the steep slope of the hill. My son was glad I could see the pipes because it meant he was able to tell me I was nearly there! Wonderful – my body screamed out for rest as the soles of my feet felt like they were disintegrating from under me. The stones under my boot soles were starting to feel like they might penetrate through into my feet.

Continuing down, I finally set eyes upon the turbine sheds at the bottom where the electricity was generated. A few hundred yards after leaving the track and setting foot on flat and level concrete at the bottom, I spotted the hostel ahead and off to my right.

The room was small. Very small. And spartan. But then, what do you expect for £15? It was a place to crash out and rest our heads, so it served its purpose. It was also the last stopping point along the way before reaching the relative luxury of the Fort William Premier Inn on the morrow.

The day was about to take on an ironic twist. This was the first occasion where we had arrived at our destination with a decent amount of time before bedibyes to take a stroll around and have a look around. We set out for the local shop for some emergency rations. It was a case of shop or starve. We got nearly to the shop, and it poured down with rain. Damn! Typical. The story of my life.. Soddit.

My brother's rucksack never turned up, but my nephew's was delivered as expected. Fraught words followed down the phone between my brother and the rucksack courier company. Words like “silly cow” or such like ensued in an attempt to lay the blame on the lady in reception at the Kings House who had labelled up the rucksack. However, my brother had carried the rucksack from the reception to the pick up area after it had been labelled. Most people at this stage check the address on the label................ Anyway, the rucksack got duly delivered and he breathed easily again. I was past caring, though somewhat bemused.

The evening came and we settled down to an awkward nights sleep, in closer proximity to each other than we would have liked. There was to be no escape from anyone's snoring tonight. I don't remember hearing any. I must have slept like a brick. It had escaped our notice that we had no bed linen, only rough blankets........... No one was caring. Until the morning.