Don’t Forget your Towel

July 26th, 2012

Along with Purple Fred (Whom I Love Very Much), I was lucky enough to be able to see “The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy Radio Show, Live‘ the other night.

What an amazing evening of comedy this was: featuring almost all of the original 1970s radio cast, and with Hugh Dennis as the Voice of the Book, it romped through the Hitch Hikers story at high speed. Of course they couldn’t cover the whole radio series in an evening, but even the bits they’d had to cut were made an excuse for a joke. A live band on stage produced the music, and a (sadly uncredited) puppeteer brought a life-sized Marvin to life. The inevitable bloopers of live theatre were expertly exploited by the cast for full comedy value, with special mention going to the antics of the NutriMatic drinks synthesiser.

Many of the audience had come appropriately dressed, with many dressing gowns and towels in evidence; with even more imagination the guy in front of us had come as Slartibartfast (and boy, did my spell check have fun with that!).

The show ended with a solo rendition by Marvin of his own special song, followed by a finale of which the highlight was the cast inviting applause for a projected image of Douglas Adams, which brought a standing ovation, not to mention a lump to the throat. All in all, a top quality evening of entertainment, thanks to Lord DSP, (he really is a lord, you know), the workmate of PF(WILVM), who thought of us when he had a couple of spare tickets.

A New Flame

July 15th, 2012

(Simply Red, 1989)

The Olympic flame came to Southampton on Saturday.

Now my general feeling about the Olympics is pretty well known – I don’t like the fact that London residents and businesses have been made to pay for it, yet received no preferential ticket allocations; I don’t like the fact that little or no advantage in ticket allocation was given to grass roots supporters of the sports in question; I don’t like the arrogant way that London businesses will only be allowed to receive deliveries between 11 PM and 6 AM, to keep the roads clear of commercial vehicles so the “Games Family” can speed unhindered between sites; most of all, I don’t like the fact that London’s commuters are being told to plan alternative ways of getting to work, because public transport is going to be jammed solid with those games tourists who are not part of the Games Family, and therefore don’t qualify for chauffer driven limos and sepcial traffic lanes.

All that said – and to clarify doubts that someone raised as a result of a Facebook post I made t’other day – I hope the Games are a rousing success: I hope London shows off its best face, that the Underground and Bus networks get people where they’re going without problems, that all the spectators, volunteers and competitors have a great time. I truly do hope all these things – it’s just that experience – together with the stories that have appeared in the press over the last few days – makes me think that at least the middle of those hopes – on which the other two largely depend – is unlikely to be realised.

Anyway, the flame came to Southampton, and Purple Fred (Whom I Love Very Much), Mini Fred, another friend of ours, and I, all went to see it. It has to be said that the adults in the party weren’t keen – I know it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but so was the Black Death and I’m quite glad I missed that – but we went anyway. Even though it rained all afternoon, I was sure we’d need to get there early or we wouldn’t find a parking space. And Yes, PF(WILVM), I freely admit I was wrong about that. Still, it would be worth turning up early, as Southampton’s Guildhall Square, that magnificent public open space in the town centre, had been turned into the “Olympic Activity Village” to entertain the crowds. Here’s a picture of the Olympic Activity Village in the Guildhall Square:

The Olympic Inactivity Village

We spent three minutes in the Olympic Inactivity Village, but only because that’s how long it took to walk from one side to the other, stopping to take a picture on the way. We found ourselves a good spot to see the flame in the rain, and awaited developments. The crowd were all getting into the spirit of things, even the non-human ones:

Dog with flags

Then three sponsors vehicles came round the corner, handing out freebies (we didn’t get any): The crowd surged forward, leaving just enough space for the flame carrier and his escorts to come through, and the flame carrier came and went. This picture was provided by PF(WILVM), as at the key moment of flame-passingness, the person next to me leaned forwards and blocked my view:

The torch bearer passes by, version 1

From the place we’d chosen, we knew we could easily get to another bit of the route before the torch did, so we headed off through the parks for another go – more in the hope of being more successful at getting freebies than having a better view. More by luck than planning, however, we’d chosen a spot where the flame passed from one torch bearer to another, so it went a bit slower, and we’d also chosen a spot that the flame had to pass twice: As it had been through once, most of the crowds had pushed off to the pub, so we had a much better view:

The torch bearer passes by, version 2

The Police people were friendly – we were also at the changeover spot for the escort teams, and a couple of the motorbike cops were posing for photos with the kids in the crowd, and we have to admit we were all glad we went.

And then we went home to change into dry clothes and warm up.


July 3rd, 2012

M’colleague Bellend has been complaining that there’s been no bloggy goodness for a while…so, given that a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a mega-entry to catch up…what we did at the weekend:

We saw some very regal swans…

And cute cygnets

And a proud duck.

We saw some excellent views (while geocaching, needless to say)

And I got a new Facebook profile picture, courtesy of the photographic skills of m’lovely Purple Fred (whom I love very much!)

Capital Idea

June 2nd, 2012

I have a brilliant idea. I think I should maybe patent it.

Passing through my least favourite railway station earlier this week, I was offered a free walking map of London – the idea is to get people walking and reduce reliance on the public transport, and in the words of the map-giving-away person, “get ready for the games”. Transport for London have already accepted they don’t have the capacity for all the games spectators AND all the normal London people going to work, so they’re doing everything they can to ease the process.

I have an idea to help London Underground prepare for the games which may be even better: As anyone who travels by public transport regularly in London knows, the cheapest way to get around is with an Oyster card, a pre-loaded charge card with which you swipe on to a bus, or into and out of the Underground. The system keeps a record of the use of the cards, which is handy if you use one for work travel as you can get a printout from the internet and whack it in with your dodgy exes claim.

So, my master plan for the Olympic Summer is this: during the period when public transport is expected to he disrupted by Games crowds (which seems to start a month before the opening ceremony and finish two weeks after the paralympics), between seven and nine in the morning, and five and seven in the afternoon, you won’t be able to enter an Underground station except by using an Oyster card that has at least 100 journeys in the previous six months. That averages to just under four a week, which would easily cover London’s workforce, and make sure that most people can still get to work without much trouble.

Of course my plan isn’t perfect – it does nothing to help anyone who starts and finishes work outside the normal rush hour times, nor does it help anyone who hasn’t been working in London for very long. But it’s a start, and it’s a lot better than what we have now.


May 27th, 2012

No sooner do I produce a blog about why I didn’t vote on BGT, than I’m now whacking one out about voting on Eurovision.

For my readers across t’pond who may not have experienced this annual phenomenon, it’s a song contest where the nations of Europe (and nowadays the former Soviet Union states, plus a few hangers-on) compete to produce the tackiest song: the “top” 26, as voted for in an excruciating series of semi-finals, get to occupy four and a half hours of prime time television across the continent, and then all nations (including those that didn’t make it to the final) take part in an arcane voting process where the more political nations vote for their friends and a few vote for what they thought was the best song. Although this year had an interesting twist – the national broadcaster of the winning nation has to pay to host next year’s spectacular, so in the current austere times there were a few nations doing their best NOT to win.

Anyway, this year’s feast of tat included Jedward singing for Ireland, Englebert Humperdinck for the United Kingdom, camp acts from a dozen nations (nothing wrong with camp, it’s a Eurovision standard), and some singing grannies from Russia who sang “Everybody dance, it’s a party for everyone” while baking buns on stage, and who, if they won, were going to give the prize money to save their church.

The maddest dance act of the night (and really the only dance act that lived up to the Eurovision norm) came from Moldova, and the campest was a Village People-esque group of Turkish sailors in capes.

Anyway, we couldn’t decide who to vote for, so as there were three of us – and it was only fifteen pees a go – we had three votes, one each for the grannies – because we thought they were fun; Moldova – because we wanted to see that dance act one more time, and Turkey – for more or less the same reason. In the end it didn’t make much difference, but it was exciting for a while!

And for no better reason than I can, here are those Moldovans…

The Grannies (not sure why, but the audio on this clip makes them sound a lot worse than they did on the night)…

And the Turks.

Dog Blog

May 15th, 2012

Unless you’ve been living down a hole in the ground – or restricting yourself to quality TV and ignoring all news sources – you must have noticed by now that Britain’s Got Talent (except for grammar, it would seem) has been won by a performing dog.

I’ve nothing against performing pooches as such – they offer better entertainment than impressionists or televised snooker, although only just – but Saturday night’s final of the series had at least three acts that would’ve been more worthy winners. In fact, only the uncoordinated gyrations of dance troupe NuSkool deserved the title less.

The unexpected result of Pudsey Pooch’s victory over acts that were clearly more talented and more entertaining is that I feel a bit guilty: I’ve never voted in BGT or any of its clones, but I have an uncomfortable feeling that Welsh choir Only Boys Aloud and opera singers Jonathan and Charlotte would have had a huge following among people just like me, who sat through the final just to see the two “class acts”, but would never have considered swelling Simon Cowell’s bank account by phoning in to vote. And in just the same way that sensible voters staying away led to the BNP getting seats in Europe, so our inaction has led to the two best acts to come out of the whole history of BGT taking second and third places to a dancing dog.

In a comment on someone else’s Facebook post on Sunday morning I said “The really scary thing is that the same people who vote on BGT are allowed to vote in elections”, but I really think the guilty ones here aren’t the BGT voters, it’s those of us who didn’t vote. And there’s a moral there for future political elections.

St Pancras

May 12th, 2012

I mentioned in a recent post on The Facebook, “I truly loathe St Pancras railway station”

I know St Panc is a Marmite thing – you either love or hate it – and I suppose it all depends on what you look for in a railway station. When I pass through, I’m not looking for a ten-course fine dining experience or the chance to buy French groceries, and I’m certainly not in the market for tacky souvenirs of a tacky sports event that hasn’t happened yet, and I (and most Londoners) will be keeping clear of when it does.

When I’m on a railway station, the most I want to buy is a bacon roll and maybe a newspaper – but what I really want, and would gladly sacrifice the chance to buy anything for, is to be able to get from the station entrance (and in London, the Underground terminal) to the train as quickly as possible, with the minimum fuss. Whoever designed the refurbished StP was so fixated on making it a major experience that the only way to fit in all the shops and overpriced eateries was to put the platforms so far from the station access that by the time you get on the train, you’ve already walked halfway to where you were going.

Incidentally, you can get a decent bacon roll at St Panc, from the Camden Food Company by the upstairs platforms. Just don’t be in a hurry.

If the designers of this commuters’ nightmare want some ideas for what a railway station eatery should look like, they need to go back in time and visit Kings Cross before the recent “improvements”. They’ll find a lovely old inn called the Duke of Wellington, with reasonably priced food and free wi-fi…all gone now, of course, in the need for modernisation.

But my favourite railway station food place is the sushi bar at Paddington. Not for the food, although I do like sushi, but for the statue of Paddington Bear in the middle. Of course the fact that the statue is also a virtual geocache helps!

Loose End, and a Problem

May 8th, 2012

One loose end that I forgot to mention after our Florrie Holly…and a valuable lesson for anyone coming home from temperatures in the high eighties…is that arriving at Gatwick at half past six on a Saturday morning in April, dressed in only T-shirt and shorts, probably isn’t a good idea.

That totally aside, I’ve spent the bank holiday weekend at the ancestral home of the family of Purple Fred (whom I love very much). Soon after we arrived, we were scanning the local paper for exciting “What’s On” items, and as well as a murder mystery play showing at a local theatre, we spotted an ad for the local MP’s constituency surgery. “Come and meet your local MP”, it announced, “and discuss your problems with him”. Now I don’t know what your instinctive reaction is, to an invitation like that, but I’ve always wanted to go along to one, and when he asks me what’s troubling me, say something like “My car misfires at about fifteen hundred revs, but when I take it to the garage they can’t find anything wrong”.

On this occasion we didn’t go to the MP’s surgery, but we did go to the theatre, where the murder mystery was jolly entertaining, and PF(WILVM) guessed the right murderer but the wrong reason, and I guessed the wrong murderer but the right reason – so neither of us won the bottle of wine. And then PF(WILVM) engaged the playwright in conversation, and came away with a catalogue of his plays available for other companies to perform.

The rest of the weekend was pretty good, too.

Oh, and if anyone has any ideas about my misfire I’d be pleased to hear them. It’s a Jeep diesel engine in pretty good nick, and the misfire around fifteen hundred is intermittent, and goes away completely above eighteen hundred revs.


April 30th, 2012

Just for m’lady Trouty (see her comment on Saturday’s blog), here’s a picture of a manatee…


This one was having a doze in the manatee viewing area at Homasassa Springs State Park – we went there for lunch on the day we did the swimming with manatees experience. This was the best view of a manatee we had all day, as the water where we were swimming with them was so muddy, all we really saw was shapes moving in the water.

At least, they told us it was mud in the water – Purple Fred (Whom I Love Very Much) reckoned we were swimming in manatee poo, and I don’t really have any evidence to say she’s wrong.


April 28th, 2012

Gosh, it’s been a while since I last blogged, hasn’t it? Still, I’ve got a good excuse…here’s a clue:

Gottle at Cinderella’s Castle

Yes, we’ve been to Orlando to visit theme parks! That’s me in the silly hat, by the way. We had a fabby time, and visited all the main attractions, as well as taking a drive across to the East coast for the Kennedy Space Centre (clicky the piccy for bigness)…

Space shuttle Discovery

…and to the West coast (of Florida) to swim with manatees, have an airboat ride and wrestle with fierce wild creatures…

Paul, ‘gator wrestling

…(I know what this looks like but I’m not really strangling it…that was how the handler told us to hold them). We also visited Gatorland, which the guidebook described as a good way to spend the morning, if you’ve got an afternoon flight. We’d have happily spent all day there, especially as there were not only alligators…


…and white alligators…


… but also turtles,


…baby birds of extreme cuteness…


…and even what my ornithologist friend Mark the Buddhist would’ve called “Little Brown Jobs” (and no, that isn’t a euphemism for manatee poo, although we saw plenty of that as well)


Of coure we also did all of the theme parks, and my favourites were Epcot (for the sciency stuff), Animal Kingdom (for the safari ride, which I could’ve spent the whole day going round and round), and Disney Hollywood, especially for the stunt show


We stayed at the Lake Buena Vista Resort and Spa hotel, which we selected for no better reason than that it has a pirate ship in the swimming pool, and contrary to what we later read on Trip Advisor, we really couldn’t fault it.

American food needs a mention…although to be fair these comments obviously only really apply to public eateries available in the Orlando area and not to the whole of the USA)…it’s a carnivore’s dream, although I was a bit upset when Purple Fred (Whom I Love Very Much) told me up front that I wasn’t allowed barbecue ribs three times a day for the whole fortnight…she knows me so well…so I had to vary the menu a bit. For the Vegetarian In You Life (Whom I Love Very Much) it was a bit of a nightmare, and she was in danger of surviving the whole fifteen days on Caesar Salad and cheesy chips, until we discovered that Frankie Finlays Authentic Irish Theme Pub (which was about as Irish as the Statue of Liberty, but there y’go) did a Portobello Burger which she liked – basically a beefburger but with a giant portobello mushroom instead of the meat.

Oh yeah, and I got four caches while we were there. I wasn’t trying very hard.

So there we are…I may not blog so often these days, but when I do, it’s a good one.

Oh, and hello to my work colleagues Bellend and Dumbass, who discovered this blog by some means while I was away!

Sad Hair

March 26th, 2012

I washed my hair last night.

You might wonder why I bother to mention that, since I could wash each individual hair in less time than it has taken me to type this so far, but stick with me – there’s something coming to earn this story the “Weird Stuff I Noticed” tag. It took me a while to find the shampoo, since Purple Fred (Whom I Love Very Much) subscribes to the girlie philosophy of “You can’t have too many bottles of stuff in the bathroom” – added to which, we’ve got a lot of bottles of conditioner which we bought without reading the label carefully enough, in the mistaken belief it was shampoo.

So having found a bottle that I thought might be shampoo, I was reading the label carefully to make sure it was (it was), when I spotted, under the word “Shampoo”, the strapline “Ideal for hair that’s dry, appears damaged, or is just a bit unhappy”.

A bit unhappy? Why would hair – even the most badly treated hair – be a bit unhappy? It doesn’t have to work for a living, it doesn’t even have to wake up in the morning if it doesn’t want to – it certainly doesn’t have to get out of bed, more and more of mine stays on the pillow every day. And given how long it is since I last saw the main part of my hair, I think it’s probably sunning itself on a caribbean beach somewhere, from where it hasn’t even sent me a postcard.

And on that subject, by the time you read this, I suspect I’ll be living the high life on a management training course in Milton Keynes. Don’t be too jealous.


March 20th, 2012

Last night’s journey home from work didn’t go as well as it might.

Now let me say at the outset that I’m not over-dramatising here – I know that for all that I was forty minutes late home, someone has died, and their family and friends, a train driver and all the witnesses had a much worse evening than I did. And I know that whem a tragedy happens on the rail line, trains have to be disrupted while certain things get done.

It’s the information I get annoyed about: People have complained that there wasn’t any information about what was going on, where really the reverse is true – there was too much information, on the platform boards, on the concourse displays, on the official South West Trains Twitter feed and on the website. All of it contradictory and all of it bearing no resemblance to what was actually happening.

I got to Waterloo to be told the Southampton train (or more precisely the Weymouth train, which goes through Southampton) was at platform fourteen – so I went there, to find a crowd waiting to board the train who’d been told it was going to Reading. It didn’t matter, the train was locked down with no crew anywhere in sight, so wherever it was meant to be going, it wasn’t going anywhere.

Then someone had a phone call from someone at home, who’d seen on the website that the previous Weymouth train, which should have already left, was still on platform seven, so we all scrummed down and beetled across to there. Well the train was still there right enough, but so full of people that you couldn’t have squeezed a chocolate swiss roll (or other confectionery of your choice) on board, never mind another person. They must have been taking it in turns to breathe on there, and I wasn’t getting involved with that.

So we charged back to the tunnel again, this time in response to a tannoy announcement that there was a Basingstoke train on platform nine, and that would at least get me partly home and there’s a better selection of trains from Basingstoke. And sure enough there was a train, and there was plenty of space – in fact it was only half full – because the guard had shut and locked the doors, and didn’t open them again before the train left five minutes later.

Then exactly the same thing happened with another Basingstoke train, this time from platform eleven after another dash through the tunnel between platforms.

Then there was a call for a train to Southampton from platform eight: I was one of the lucky ones who made it there before the doors were shut, and as the train pulled out we were told that this had been going to be the Southampton train, but for technical reasons it was going to terminate at Basingstoke, Arrrgh…still, at least I was moving in the right direction.

And then I got to Basingstoke, and after running between platforms one and four three times (because that was what the announcements led me to do, not for fun or anything), I got on a train home which wasn’t run by South West Trains, so went very smoothly.

The thing is, the only sensible explanation for all that confusion – and I use the word “sensible” loosely – is that the person deciding what information goes out to the waiting passengers isn’t the same person who decides which trains will go where – and they aren’t talking to each other. Not only that, but the Twitter feed, website and station information boards are all run by different people as well.

I’m not sure if this is most like Schroedinger or Einstein, but it seems the only way to really know where a train is going is to get on it and go there. I’m sure it didn’t ought to be like that.

Four Words

March 16th, 2012

I mentioned that I’d been reading Tom Reynolds’ book, along with my general preference to avoid blogging work-related stuff.

Something I can share with you – which I’m astonished Reynolds doesn’t mention – is the power of a simple four word phrase to irritate public sector workers.

Actually, there’s two of them – four word phrases, that is, not public sector workers, although I’m sure Call Me Dave has a target date by when that will also be true. The phrases are, “I know my rights” and “I pay your wages”: the first of those is obviously a Key Performance Indicator for every “English as a second language” school in London, as we frequently hear it from people who then insist we rustle up an interpreter (at fifty squid an hour, paid for by the taxpayer) as their English is too poor to explain their fantastically-complicated problem to us (and of course I’m already contravening their yoomin rights by not understanding their language). Nine times out of ten, the problem will turn out to be completely outside our remit, and all we can do is send them off to some other agency to repeat the process.

Actually, that’s often true of the fluent English speakers as well.

The second of those phrases (check back two paragraphs, just before the mini-rant) is most often heard, completely without irony, from people who’ve never done a day’s work, and therefore never paid a penny in income tax, in their lives.

There’s a third phrase, used by one particular frequent flyer, which is guaranteed to wind my mate Brian up no end: this guy prefaces each of his demands for sepcial treatment with “We the people insist…”. He’s never specified what marks him out as one of The People, and Brian as NOT one of The People, but whatever it is, he’s pretty fixated on it.

Whatever he – and spouters of the other wind-up magic words – mean by it, it seems to be symptomatic of a feeling that’s becoming pretty widespread, if my extensive research (the comments from the ranting idiots who respond to stories on the Echo website) are accurate: a feeling that the working population is divided into two groups: the private sector, with their Victorian working conditions, poor salaries, lack of job security and enforced flexibility of contract, and the public sector with their massive salaries, gold-plated pensions, total security of employment, early retirement, and contracts that tie down job descriptions to within an inch of their lives.

While I’d be the last to deny that private sector working conditions are pretty grim at the moment, things are no better for public servants. I’m paid significantly less than I could earn in the private sector (if there were any private sector jobs going in my speciality) and I haven’t had a pay rise for three years, in spite of increased responsibilities in that time. My team is two people down because of redundancies, and is picking up more work because of redundancies in teams around us. My pension looks pretty rosy, at least compared to the state pension, but only because I’ve contributed heavily to a private scheme for years. I get fairly decent amount of holiday – or at least I would, if I had time to take it. I’ll be carrying the maximum-permitted number of days over at the year end, because I haven’t had time to take them. I actually had to cancel a booked holiday so another member of my team could get married in half term week – his fiancee’s a teacher and couldn’t have time off anywhen else, and there isn’t enough flexibility to allow us both to be off at the same time, even though if you looked at our contracts you’d think there was no overlap in what we do.

Please understand I’m not telling you this to make you think I’m anything sepcial, quite the opposite: my working conditions are no different to ninety-nine percent of public sector workers.

I was employed – and technically still am – as a Health and Safety sepcialist, but an expectation of flexibility and a desire to stay employed means that I’m expected to do more and more little “odd jobs” on the side. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve –

  • Investigated a suspicious package which our mailroom team thought might be a hostile device. It turned out to be a broken washing machine part that one of our regular contributors thought we should see.
  • Scrambled around on my hands and knees making secure a broken security gate. I wouldn’t have been allowed to go home and leave it insecure.
  • Explained to a colleague that the reason he hasn’t got his new ID card yet is that he refused to supply a photograph, or to attend to have one taken.
  • Explained to another colleague that the reason it isn’t warm enough to sit in the office in shirtssleeves might be connected to the snow in the ground outside (his response was“it’s all right for you, you’ve got a pullover on”)
  • Spent 45 minutes trying to explain to a member of the public that turning up without an appointment, at five o’clock and without an apparent reason means he’s not going to get to see our Chief Executive. And that swearing at me and offering to sort me out outside doesn’t help his case. And for the record, he was wrong – I’ve seen my parents’ wedding photos.

All grist to the mill of the average public sector worker.

Book, and Other Thoughts

March 13th, 2012

I’m currently reading More Blood, More Sweat and Another Cup of Tea by Tom Reynolds.

It’s the second volume of the book version of Reynolds’ blog, about his daily life as a paramedic with the London Ambulance Service. I haven’t read volume one, but volume two is available on Kindle whereas volume one isn’t. Go figure.

Anyway, it’s a pretty good read, in a lightweight, not too taxing on the brain kind of way. The chapters are bite-sized so it’s pretty easy to dip in and out, although it’s interesting enough that I keep thinking “One more chapter when really I should be going and doing something else.

It reminds me that before we were restructured I used to get a lot of face time with members of the public, and some of the issues they came to us with would have made pretty interesting bloggage. Unfortunately there was never any way to retain enough detail to keep the story interesting without breaching confidentiality – Reynolds doesn’t have that problem as he sees enough people with similar problems that individuals couldn’t identify themselves. Also, I try hard to anonymise my stories so that anyone who didn’t know where I work couldn’t work it out from these jottings, partly because my employer doesn’t want to be linked to the opinions I express here sometimes, but mainly because I don’t want the public I meet at work to be able to Google my name and the name of my employer, and get links telling them which town I live in, which train I get home and what my hobbies are – i.e. everything they could learn about me here.

So that’s why I continue to visit “little northern towns” and buy my lunch at Mungo’s. Meanwhile for those who meet me face to face, I’m sure I’ve still got plenty of tales you haven’t heard yet.

Belsize Park, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Tuna Fish

March 10th, 2012

There was an interesting piece on the BBC news website the other day about new research into earworms.

These, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, are those annoying tunes that get stuck in your head and go round for ages. The research looked at what causes them to embed themselves, and what triggers them. It could be hearing a bit of the tune, of course, or a sight or smell, most commonly associated with the first time you heard the tune. On which subject, I have what might be called a reverse earworm – or maybe,
rather grossly, a noseworm – as every time I hear Crosby, Stills & Nash singing Marrakesh Express, I can smell microwave tuna pasta bake. Don’t ask.

My most common earworm trigger is the phrase “Belsize Park”, which always starts Marillion’s Kayleigh running in my head.

Do you remember, barefoot on the lawn with shooting stars
Do you remember, loving on the floor in Belsize Park

As I see maps of the London Underground quite a lot, I’m exposed to the words “Belsize Park” more than you might think – it’s an area of London with a station on the Northern line. I even tried going up there one morning before work (and doing a cache there, naturally) in an attempt to root the worm out, but it didn’t work.

It’s lucky I like Marillion really, although I prefer Lavender to Kayleigh. At least it isn’t Marrakesh Express.

Can anyone smell tuna?

Lord Preserve Me from GTDs

February 18th, 2012

I have once again been on a grand tour of our Northern regional offices.

While of course I’d rather be at home with my beloved Purple Fred (whom I love very much), these trips can be a pretty good way to earn a living. As well as seeing a new work location, in a place that by definition is going to be nicer than London (simply by not being London), there is a touch of luxury in hotel life. Someone else cooks you your dinner and washes up afterwards and if you’re careful not to blow the expenses allowance they’ll bring you a beer as well. And then the same thing (without the beer) happens at breakfast time as well!

The other downside (as well as being away from PF(WILVM)) is that being public sector and looking to make the most efficient use of public money, we generally have to do these trips by public transport – which invariably brings us into contact with what I call “the Gobby Taxi Driver”.

What makes these people think that just because I’m paying them to drive me somewhere, I want to have a conversation with them? I wouldn’t mind quite so much if it wasn’t always the same conversation:

GTD: “Nice hotel, yeah?”
Me: “Yeah, it’s OK.”

GTD: “How much do they charge there?” (Translation: How much can I screw you for on the taxi fare?”)
Me: “Don’t really know – the company books it centrally and I know they get a huge discount” (Actually I do know – regardless of how nice the hotel is, Government contract rate is sixty quid B&B per person per night)

GTD “What sort of work do you do?”

This is the killer – if I tell them what I really do, I’ll get a rant that’ll last the rest of the journey about how Health and Safety is a waste of time, all common sense, killing the country etc. OK, I’ve heard it all before and it’s water off a duck’s back to me, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to volunteer to hear it again. And if I tell them who I work for, that brings its own tale of woe.

While I’d really like to tell the guy to mind his own business and concentrate on driving, I do still need him to get me where I’m going without driving round the block 89 times to rack up the bill – or as one driver did to me, taking me to the wrong railway station (and I hadn’t even upset him – he was just daft). So I let my creative juices run – in the past I’ve been:

  1. A fire safety adviser – for some reason this doesn’t attract the same unpleasant response as general Health and Safety
  2. A personal safety trainer – I teach people who have to work in nasty areas how to avoid getting mugged or stabbed
  3. An electrical safety inspector – I don’t use this one any more as I’ve had too many grisly descriptions of people the GTD knows who’ve been electrocuted
  4. An asbestos consultant – sadly nearly everybody knows somebody who’s been affected by asbestos so I never get the mickey taken when I use this one
  5. An accident investigator – GTDs understand that ‘cos most of them have had to give statements to road traffic accident investigators at some time.

The funny thing is that all of these are more or less true, I’ve done all of them at some time in my current job. But listing each one individually seems to be more socially acceptable (to GTDs) than all together!


February 6th, 2012

I’ve had an email from Joe Kent.

No, I’d never heard of him either, but it seems like he’s a researcher on the BBC TV programme “Inside Out”. He’s read my blog on the subject of travelling to work during the London Olympics, and wants to talk to me about it. It raises the interesting point of why people I don’t know at the BBC are reading my blog – I suspect my Facebook buddy Chris, who’s a producer with BBC News, might just be the link there, but it would be lovely to think that somewhere in the bowels of the BBC News department, there’s a team of specialists dedicated to scouring GottleBlog for newsworthy items.

I haven’t responded yet, although by the time this blog goes live, I will have done. But never fear, dear readers – I shall be following the media-savvy advice of Purple Fred (Whom I Love Very Much), who suggested ”Whatever you do, don’t give them anything they can edit to make you look like a ranting idiot”.

Ranting idiot? Moi?

Sense of Direction

January 9th, 2012

According to this news story, our hard-pressed gubmint is to hold a summit to stamp out the vile curse of drivers being led astray by their in-car satnavs.

Now as many of you will know, I’ve been using GPS since before TomTom style devices were invented, and then TomTom since its first inception – when it was only available as software for a laptop or PDA, and the current standalone units were just a twinkle in a developer’s wallet. So I think I can claim to have the benefit of considerable experience when I offer the following technique which, if used by all drivers, would mean that satnav was never again blamed for lorries getting wedged under clearly signposted low bridges, or cars driving down rivers instead of roads. It’s a simple to use two-step system:

1) Your car, van or lorry is fitted with a big window, just in front of the steering wheel. Look through it.

In a perfect world, I could stop there and call this a one-step system. Ah well…

2) Your head is conveniently fitted with a device called a brain. Use it.

OK, accuse me of sarcasm if you like, but it isn’t difficult: if the bridge in front of you is signposted as two inches lower than your lorry, your satnav can’t change the fact that you ain’t going to get through. A satnav is just a tool, and isn’t to blame for driver stupidity, any more than my hammer is to blame if I hit my thumb.

There we are, call-me-Dave. Maybe you can cancel your satnav summit now and focus on fixing the economy. Although to judge from some of the words of wisdom emerging from politicians of all parties recently, lost motorists aren’t the only ones lacking direction.

Save a Life

January 5th, 2012

Having blogged twice already this year, I didn’t have much to add…but then I came across this. Soccer hard man-turned-film-actor Vinnie Jones is fronting the British Heart Foundation’s latest life saving campaign.

Research has shown that the main thing preventing less experienced people (by which I mean anyone except medical professionals) from attempting resuscitation on unconscious cardiac patients revolves around the mouth-to-mouth part: it’s clearly yucky and unpleasant, there’s a perceived (although largely non-existant) risk of cross-infection, and a fear of the consequences of getting it wrong – although frankly if a patient needs resuscitation, quite how things could be made much worse escapes me. There’s a lot of urban myth about people being sued after unsuccessful attempts to give first aid, although it’s never really happened in the UK and the rumours seem mainly to be attempts to sell personal liability insurance to first aiders.

Anyway, the Resuscitation Council have been promoting for some time, the fact that “compression only” resus is almost as effective as full resus, and certainly better than nothing, and that’s what this new campaign is promoting: compression-only resus moved partly-oxygenated blood around the body and certainly gets enough oxygen to the vital parts to keep the patient alive until paramedics arrive.

So if you’re not resus-trained – or even if you are – check out that link and see the instructional video that goes with it. You might save a life one day.

Happier New Year

January 3rd, 2012

Purple Fred (whom I love very much) was quite right to comment that yesterday’s post was unnecessarily negative, especially when it could’ve been a review of all the excellent stuff that happened in 2011. So in no particular order…

  • We cruised the western Mediterranean aboard the good ship Azura, during which we visited three countries I’d never been to before (and one I had), and generally had a brilliant time.
  • PF (wilvm) directed her first play at a major theatre, which was well received by the audience and reviewers (and sold out on the last night)…
  • …and for which she’s been nominated for an award.
  • We had three good trips away in the caravan, including the long bank holiday weekend with our drama friends from the Maskers.
  • We went to Tenerife where we celebrated PF(wilvm)’s birthday, went up a volcano, saw amazing scenery, visited the best wildlife park I’ve seen, and only just missed BananaWorld.
  • We had a good number of days out and weekends away, in the process discovering a new B&B where I think we may become regulars.

So yes, loads of good things happened in 2011, and I’m sure 2012 holds much to look forward to – including some things that are already booked!

Oh, and Gumby-stats to date: Age of year: Three days. Good friends’ birthdays forgotten: One. Sorry Sally-J :-(

Happy New Year!

January 2nd, 2012

Oh dear. It looks like another month has gone by with no bloggage.

It’s a shame I’ve been so lax, because there’s been loads to write about. I could’ve told you about a fabby day at the theatre with Purple Fred (whom I love very much) and MiniFred (who is still slightly shorter than me so I can still use that nickname for him). We went to see “Peter Pan” in the non-pantomime version and had a super afternoon.

Or if I was in ranty mood I could’ve gone on a bit about how the Raynet event on the first weekend in December was cancelled – and looks as if it’ll never happen again. The organising committee had some problems – not of their own making, if what I’ve heard is true – and they couldn’t be resolved in time for the event to happen, and may not be resolvable at all. But there’s no point ranting about that, is there?

Of course, all else failing I could’ve had another moan about the Olympics – I had to complete a survey recently about what I’m doing to ease my journey to work during the Olympics-related disruption in the Summer. My answer was basically nothing – the Olympics people should be minimising the disruption of their event on everyone else, it shouldn’t be for us to deal with the problems caused by their sports day. Of course they won’t – Lord Coe and his Olympic hangers-on don’t see the residents and workers of London as anything other than taxpayers who can’t refuse to fund the obscene over-budget cost of their event.

But instead, I’ll just say that I plan to blog a lot more in 2012. I wonder how long it’ll last? Oh, and by the way, I’ve just approved three comments that had somehow got tied up in the spam filter – apologies to Fluffy, Stu and Susan B, but your comments are now there!

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, and wish you a peaceful and prosperous 2012. God bless one and all.