Saturday, June 30, 2007

Smoked out

Thank goodness the smoking ban is almost upon us. This is the best bit of legislation we've had in this country for ages. As you may have guessed, I don't smoke. That has not always been the case. However, as an ex and now non-smoker, I find smoking more repulsive than ever. My mother was a heavy smoker. She stopped several years ago because if she'd carried on it would have killed her. She can hardly breathe now. Just getting up from a chair makes her more out of breath than I get after running several miles. My father-in-law was a heavy smoker. He died of lung cancer in a follow-through from throat cancer. As an ex-smoker, I know how compulsive and addictive it can be. Because of this, I cannot blame people who find it hard to give up, although in my own case I managed to stop by simply not buying any more. Society is very contradictory in its approach to smoking. I walked into my local Tesco's today to see prominently displayed on the counter packs of giving up smoking kits - which was good. The only trouble was that cigarettes were being sold from the shelves behind. So what's your message Tesco's? - do you want people to stop or not!! Seems a bit like the Salvation Army selling beer to me. I travel to Scotland two or three times a year. Since they've had the smoking ban, going into a busy pub has been a much more pleasurable experience, to say nothing of not leaving with my clothes stinking of smoke any more. I have a bee in my bonnet about people who smoke in cars. I find it utterly ridiculous that I could be fined for eating an apple or taking a drink while I am driving, but it is perfectly OK to drive around with a red hot tipped tube in your hand venting smoke all over the car. If you accidentally drop it you could easily have a panic situation and loose control of the car, let alone the distraction of lighting up while you are supposed to be concentrating on your driving. The law is an ass! Another concern is the increase in the number of butts we are likley to find littering our streets as everyone who wants to smoke will have to go outside. Of course, they won't use the bins. Smokers don't because they don't see dropping a tab end on the street and stepping on it as littering - which, of course, it is. I hate litter. I love Singapore, however. My wife and I had a holiday in Singapore three years ago. It was so clean. There were very strict anti littering laws as well as anti smoking laws (not to mention anti-chewing gum laws!) which were all rigorously enforced. Harsh punishment awaits anyone who litters or smokes in the wrong place in Singapore. This country, by comparison, is a filthy tip and it makes me sick. We need much tougher laws and more rigorous law enforcement to purify our society. I am sick of politically correct do-gooders who think we should treat everyone with kid gloves and try and understand the criminals. What the criminals need to understand is that we as a society have had enough and want to see these scum bags locked up for a term which means what it says - no early release. Perhaps its also time we brought back the death penalty, especially where terrorism is concerned. There - see what you've done! I started talking about smoking and ended up with the death sentence. Come to think of it, aren't smokers sentencing themselves to death anyway???

Friday, June 29, 2007

Hunger pangs

I'm feeling hungry, and its coming up to lunch time. The problem I'm having is deciding what to eat. If I go straight home, (I'm on a work break at ther moment) I'll probably end up having beans on toast with a couple of poached eggs on top. On the other hand, my body is screaming at me to go by the chip shop and have large cod and chips - oink, oink! My wife thinks I am a pig - or at least thats what she tells me. I've got a slightly podgy belly. I say slightly because of the enormous man - mountains I see walking about - and I am NOTHING like that. In fact, unless you saw me in my underpants (which you ain't going to) you might not even suspect I had a podgy belly - the outer apparel hides it well. Even so, I am concerned about my weight, body morphology and diet. However, everything in moderation seems a good get out clause. But hang on - everything in moderation - does that include heroin or bing drinking? Can you be a moderate bing drinker? Gosh, life is complicated. Of course, another worry is that I might have my fish and chips and then tonight my wife will decide we should have fish and chips for tea, and then its not in moderation any more. To make matters worse, she'll probably ask me what I had for lunch, and me not being able to tell a lie will have to tell her. Then we won't be able to have fish and chips because I've already been a pig and had it! I think I can see the direction I am heading. Beans on toast with two poached eggs it is!!

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Professor James Lovelock, inventor of the Gaia Hypothesis said that it is too late to stop global warming; too much damage has already been done. We might turn off a few lights and reduce our "carbon footprint" a little over the next couple of decades or so, but whatever is planned now is nowhere near enough. And nor can it be enough, because, I repeat, it is too late. We are in a state where we know we have a terminal disease for which there is no cure, all we can do is try to slow down its progress. But in the end, and there will be an end, the disease will have its way. This is really dark and morbid stuff, but I am afraid it is reality. Its no good trying to bury your head in the sand and hope it will go away - it won't. When you consider that China, the most populous country in the world, is opening on average two new coal fired power stations every single week, it makes a complete mockery when we as individuals might try to "do our bit" to save the planet. Also, we cannot save the planet. The planet itself is not at risk. When people talk about saving the planet, what they really mean is saving our living environment we need for our survival. The planet will continue, and so will life upon it, with us or without us, it doesn't need us - it is indifferent to us. The floods we are having at the moment are as nothing compared with what is to come. Even in these relatively early stages of global warming, we are seeing unprecedented extreme weather conditions - every year. These conditions will get more extreme year on year. You ain't seen nothing yet. In the end, nature will have the last laugh. The best thing we as a species can do is get real, and face up to it. Don't blame the authorities when your house gets flooded or your reservoir dries up. No one is perfect. It is not their fault. If mankind is contributing to global warming and climate change, its the fault of all of us. We are just too greedy. We are selfish. We invade each other's countries to take their land and resources - particularly oil. We rob and kill each other for each other's possessions. We live in a materialistic age where the demands of the business profit motive brainwashes us all into being consumers - materialistic devourers of the earth's resources. We are all to blame, and should not be surprised when the earth bites back.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wet Weekend in Singapore

I am very fortunate in that I live in a low rainfall part of the country - Cambridgeshire. I am also fortunate that my house is in a part of town which is safe from flooding. The news reports of the past couple of days featuring the terrible floods (terrible by British standards, though not so by Bangladeshi) further help to emphasize how lucky I am. We have a river, the Ouse, and it floods quite frequently. Thankfully, there are ample flood meadows for it to expand into where I live, but in other areas close by, like St Ives and Earith, flooding can be severe.
When I was a young airman serving a "torturous" two year tour in Singapore, I experienced my first real flood. We had a party one night (must have been Friday - we weren't at work for the next couple of days) in town at "The Dutch Club". I still have a photograph of myself at this party wearing a cream jacket and looking like I was "one over the eight". When we went to the party, everything was normal. Then it started to rain. We partied on, but the rain got steadily heavier, and then torrential - and didn't stop for several hours. When we tried to leave the club in the early hours of the morning, we didn't step down into the street as the street was now a river. The RAF sent out trucks to rescue us, as that was the only way any of us were going to get anywhere, unless we took up residence at the Dutch Club - or swam. I decided to take up a friend's offer of going back with him and his wife to their flat, rather than returning to my barrack room. As we slowly made our way along the river-road peering out of the back of the truck, I was amused to see an old man walking along up to his waist in water and holding an umbrella over his head!
My weekend at my friend's flat was, needless to say a lot more enjoyable, and comfortable than if I'd gone back to barracks. There was no chance of him being flooded out, as he lived in a 15th storey flat in an 18 storey tower. Thankfully, the flood drainage ditches did their job, and soon the floods turned to wet roads which steamed in the hot sun. It was time to go. I got a pick-up taxi back to camp, grateful for my friend's hospitality.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Running pains

Last night I went to the gym. I try to go three times a week. If you're up to date on my previous posts, you will know that I go running. My eldest son urged me some time ago that purely running - to train for running - was not the best way to train for running. I needed to be more holistic. I needed to develop my whole body and not just the bit that does the running. I was a bit dubious about this at first. I've never fancied "pumping iron". The most pumping I'd done was inflating the tyres on my push bike. Anyway, my wife and I finally joined a gym and the rest is history. Back to last night. I am on a mission. My mission is to try and run the "Henlow-10", a ten mile road race I am aiming to run this November, in 70 minutes or less. For someone like me, that is a tall order, as I've never been anywhere near that good. Even so, despite my increasing great age and other hindrances, I'm determined to run my guts out and give it a try.

Central to my training efforts is the treadmill. A lot of people don't like the treadmill because they find it boring, and let's face it - you don't go anywhere! I am of a different mentality. I positively love the treadmill. I love the treadmill because it is so controllable and you can see how fast you are going and how far you have run at any point. You can even check your heart rate - and watch TV as you plod along on its never-ending belt. When I started my current training regime, I started off relatively slowly, and gradually ratcheted up the speed on each successive work out. I do all this of course, as part of a complete work out which includes pumping iron. I have now reached a seminal point in my speed increases as I am really starting to feel the strain. I see how far I can run in 20 minutes. This is followed by a 5 minute warm-down. A lady was running on the machine next to me last night. She was disturbed, because I was struggling to maintain a steady speed of around 14 kilometers per hour. I started to really pant and groan, as well as moan. My breathing was extremely laboured and I was suffering. Even so, I was enjoying it. I like the pain of a challenge. As John Major (a former prime minister - remember him?) once said, "No pain - no gain." When I was sat in the steam room this same lady was also sat there near me. She commented that she thought I was going to collapse. I explained that if I had died, I would have done so doing something I enjoy. I told her I'd like to die with my running shoes on. She didn't think this was a good idea. I later told her that my wife wouldn't be bothered so long as she got the insurance money. My wife and I are a rare breed of long term happily married couples. We can have a morbid laugh together. We can also have a dark laugh together. We have a cunning plan to shoot each other if we get into a really bad state of knackeredness!. I guess we'd better stick with the gym. I don't like guns anyway!

Friday, June 22, 2007


As I was driving home today, I passed a local church (for local people) with a big banner outside proclaiming FESTIVAL OF PRAYER.

Now, I did wonder where all the hot air was coming from...........

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Jolly Jaunt

It's Summer again and time to don the old walking boots! On Saturday just gone, myself, my brother and my eldest son set out for a 46 mile walk around 4 of the wartime (WWII that is) Pathfinder airfields in Cambridgeshire. This is an annual endurance walk organised by the RAF to commemorate the Pathfinder Squadrons who had to circle over the targets in Germany, dropping flairs to illuminate the target for the main bomber force. These airmen are absolute heroes. For the last decade or so I have met some of the survivors at their annual reunion. They risked so much in such terrifying circumstances, the mind doesn't even begin to comprehend. Many thousands of these brave men lost their lives in order to secure victory over the Nazis. It is right and fitting that their memory should be commemorated by this walk. The walk is a painful and punishing affair. It is designed to test a person's resolve and will power. I have completed this walk on 3 separate occasions and can speak from my own experience of just what a challenge it is, and if you are the sort of person who likes to be tested in this way, then I recommend it.

We set out at 4.35 am on what promised to be a really pleasant morning as far as the weather was concerned. Then, black clouds started to appear on the horizon. As they drew nearer , streamers of falling rain were apparent, so we knew we were in for a soaking. I put on my waterproof top. My brother wore his for some of the time, but after a spell of sunshine without it on, he got soaked from head to foot in a sudden downpour. Thunder rumbled around us. Our feet got very wet. This meant our socks lost their springiness, and this probably had a lot to do with the blisters my son developed. What started out as a happy, jaunty walk, gradually deteriorated into a painful slog across boggy countryside from one heavy shower to the next. The weather forecast I checked "on line" the day before said "Light rain" - yeah, right!! Even so, undeterred we plodded on, only stopping in one pub for a coffee and the chance to dry a little. At around 17 miles into it we were pleased that we were feeling pretty good, as this augured well for our forthcoming attack on the West Highland Way next month. However, after about 20 miles, we really started to feel the strain. At around this point, you have used up most of your blood sugars and you start to burn into your body's energy reserves - fat. We struggled on for a total of 33 miles until we reached the fifth checkpoint at Bluntisham, where we were apologetically told by one of the organisers that we were not being allowed to continue and were to be taken back in the comfort of the minibus. The reason for this terrible blow was because it was now getting late in the day and the amount of time and weather conditions made it an unwise option to continue. For that reason the option was denied us. What a tragedy. My son really wanted to hobble on despite the excruciating pain of his expanding blisters. Myself and my brother were also gutted at not being able to continue despite feeling utterly exhausted and near to collapsing. What a shame!!! Next year maybe - maybe not!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Thought for the Day

As today is Sunday and "The Lord's Day", I thought I would preach a little sermon. I've had plenty of practice at it - I used to be a lay preacher. Here is my Thought for the Day:
None of us asked to be born. We had no choice in the matter. Now that we are here, we are told that we are born sinners and need deliverance otherwise we will spend an eternity in hell. Now that's very fair isn't it? The blood-thirsty God who we are told created us had his own Son tortured, mutilated and killed for our salvation. (This god is, of course, an ideal model of fatherhood). Unless you believe this and accept this executed (but now miraculously arisen son) into your life you will die in your sins and go to hell. Doesn't that make you feel good? Thankfully, its all a work of fiction, like all other religions, and obviously untrue. So relax, enjoy your life, do good unto others, do no evil - not for god's sake (he doesn't exist), but because common sense and common decency says its right. If you make the odd honest mistake, don't feel guilty about it, and whatever you do, don't listen to or take advice from those who do so from a religious position. Be true to yourself. You now have the secret of a happy and constructive life. Go in peace........

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Life under Nylon

Take me for a trip upon your magic swirling ship

All my senses have been stripped......

Mr Tambourine Man was and still is one of my most favourite songs. It had special significance for me back in the late 60's when I did free fall parachuting in Malaysia. Its lyrics and melody as performed by The Byrds pretty much summed up the way I felt about leaping into space, with nothing to grip onto.... Some people thought I was stupid jumping out of "a perfectly serviceable aeroplane". What they didn't understand was that there is far more to knowing you are alive than just being safe, comfortable and boring. Taking that leap into the void did more for my confidence as an individual than probably anything else I have ever done. I had been attending the parachute club for several weeks, going to classes, learning the theory, learning to pack 'chutes, all the safety checks, practicing steering, landing and emergency techniques from a rig hanging from a tree, and doing parachute landing falls (PLFs). At weekends I would go "up country" with the club to Kluang and assist as a ground crew helper, always thinking it would be a while yet before it would be my turn. Then one day the chief instructor pointed his finger at me and said "you haven't jumped yet - get packed, you're on the next lift". Suddenly play time was over, it was finally for real. In those days we packed our own 'chutes, none of this namby pamby sissy woofter stuff of today where everything is done for you apart from having your arse wiped. No! In those days men were men and women were also men. Obviously, we did get an experienced packer to check it as well, and we did do final "buddy" checks before getting into the plane.
We had a great sense of camaraderie then. I will always have fond memories of one of my friends asking his nervous mate as he clambered into the plane, "can I have your boots when you spear in???" Ah, those were the days!
On my way up to 2800 ft for my first jump, I suddenly had a bout of religion and found myself saying the Lord's Prayer to myself. Thankfully, I'm over it now and if you hear me praying again it will only be under hypnosis! We used to launch ourselves from a Cessna 172. The door was taken off (before the plane took off!) and you would climb out onto the undercarriage step and lean forward holding the wing strut and stare at the horizon though the throttled back propeller. On the command "jump" from the jump master you would launch yourself backwards and assume the "stable spread" position and wait for the parachute to open - if you were on a static line which you were if you were just starting. You would still go through the motions of counting and pretending to pull the rip cord in preparation for real free fall, which usually came after anywhere between 3 to 5 jumps. Anyway, when I felt the jerk of the parachute opening over me for the first time, I just hung up there for the first few seconds in an intense state of ecstatic elation. However, there was one small problem left to overcome, and that was to steer myself towards the target cross laid out on the airfield, and try not to land in power line, trees, roofs of buildings etc. You see, the parachute might be open - but you can still die if you get it wrong!!! At about 400 ft up, the ground seems to start to rush at you. Funnily enough, this sensation is called "ground-rush". You are coming down at about 15 miles per hour vertically, and you have to take into account the wind speed as well. Get it wrong, and landing can be very painful and messy. Anyway, back to 400 ft. At this height you were supposed to steer into wind - which I duly did. This slowed you down. As your feet were about to touch the ground, you would pull down hard on both steering toggles and this would slow you down still further, giving you a soft landing. In my case even though I did all of this, and did the parachute landing fall, I was a bit tense and felt after I hit the deck as if I had jarred every bone in my body. But I didn't care. It was wonderful. It was amazing. I could have been sat in a pub. I could have been at the cinema. I could have been watching television. I could have been reading a book. But no - I wasn't doing any of these things. I was soaring with the eagles. I was looking down on everyone else. I had the wind in my face and nylon above my head. I was REALLY ALIVE!!! I went on to do a few more static line jumps and then progressed onto free-fall. I had now joined a special group of people. We knew what life on the edge was. We knew the thrill of having absolute control over your own destiny. We knew the true meaning of "there's no going back......"