Beware

If you mention the word ‘geothermal’, the carbon capture police create and publish a webpage that tracks your blog statistics. If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see that the page even decides whether you’re an activist or not and measures the ‘tone’ (mine is 0.45%). You will also see that it has linked me to two individuals, Leifur Ericsson and Hallgrimur Petersson. In turn, the site has created pages for both of them and links to the countries with which they are associated.

Leifur was the first European to reach North America, some 500 years before Columnbus. He immediately set about campaigning against carbon capture. Hallgrimur wrote anti-environmental poetry between 1614 and 1674 in Iceland.

With any luck, this post will have raised my ‘tone’ and made me into an activist.

Road Test

I picked up my new car last night. It was sad to see the Audi go but I’m looking forward to having new adventures in the Freelander.

I only drove it for a short time last night – I picked Rufus up for our lads night in and took him home – 30 minutes at the most. Even a short detour to add some driving minutes wasn’t enough. So this morning, early, we set off for Cefn Bryn and a walk in the pre-dawn gloom. The car was covered in frost, but after two minutes of faffing (trying to set the Bluetooth reciever for the phone) the windscreen was clear and we set off.

It’s great. My 7 year old’s excitement was justified. It handled differently to the Audi – as you might expect, as the Audi was a sport model. But it was firm and positive on the road, not bouncy like a tall vehicle can be. The driving position is nice and high giving a great all round view. Rufus seemed comfy in the back – another important element as he’ll be in it a lot I expect.

On Cefn Bryn, I even took it off road. Well, slightly off road, on to the car park where other people take their normal cars. Still, it was off the road and that qualifies in my mind.

We wandered off towards Penmaen along the ridge, the moon shining brightly and Jupiter and some of the brighter stars shing in the sky. All the while we were watching the sky lighten in the east as the sun neared the horizon. It was cold but not excessively so, and Rufus was happy that there were a lot of new smells to investigate. A lot of sheep and horses were nearby.

By the time we reached the high point, the deep red top edge of the sun had just popped into view and I stopped for a few minutes to watch it climb above the sea. Then it was time to turn around and head back to the car. By now a chill wind had risen blowing out to see and I was heading into it. Over Broadpool, a low ribbon of mist hung, making drivers on the nearby road turn their headlights on.

We drove home through the mist and, taking a short cut through a small village, we hit large patches of ice on the road. It gave me a chance to legitimately change the terrain response control to the slippery conditions settings. I’d like to describe the instant change in handling and grip, but to be honest, I didn’t notice anything. After a small adventure in the petrol station, where I misjudged the size of the car and had to reverse twice to get to the pump (in my defence, it was a very tight turn), we got back safely.

I’m a happy 7 year old!

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New Car Pt 3: The headlong rush

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!

One minute I’m being all sensible and looking at my future, and the savings I’ll need, and the emergency fund for the unexpected, then I just happen to catch a hint of a glimpse of the car dealer’s website and there it is. It wasn’t there on Thursday, but it was there on Friday at lunchtime. Portent number one.

I happened to be going in the direction of the dealer after work anyway (no, really) so I decided to call in. On the way, I only seemed to see the same model vehicle on the road. Portent number two.

At the dealer’s, it turned out that the vehicle had just come in that morning, and they had just updated the website at lunchtime (portent number three) and the salesman hadn’t even seen the car. I took a quick look, had an attack of the tingles and booked a test drive for the following day.

On Saturday, full of suppressed excitement (I’m too old to get all childishly giggly and restless and obsessed – ahem) I took it out for a run and immediately knew it was the car for me. I played the negotiation game with the salesman but it was a pleasure as we were on the same wavelength and very soon we had a mutually agreeable cost to change. I have to say that it was a smooth process thanks to the people at Stratstone in Swansea. It was certainly the best car buying experience I’ve gone through.

I pick the car up at the end of the month. I can’t wait. I’m 7 and it’s going to be Christmas Eve for the next two weeks!

Freelander

My Freelander (picture by Stratstone Swansea). I hope they remember the number plates.

New Car pt 2:

If you read my earlier post, you might be wondering what car has caught my eye and will, hopefully, scratch the itch. Or you’ve stumbled on this because of the clever keywording and taging I’ve done and you thought it was a blog about deforestation in Bolivia. Or scantily clad women.

No such luck, I’m afraid. I’ve never been to Bolivia and I’ve never seen a scantily clad woman (ahem). My next car will almost certainly be …

… expensive. They always are. I start off with the perfectly logical and emotionless attitude that it’s only a metal box with some wheels and a lot of plastic and it’s only function is to transport me from A to B. Then, there is a period of revelation and enlightnement, usually when I’m thumbing through motoring magazines or jealously gazing at my friend’s car. I begin to realise that it’s more than an inanimate object. All my cars to date have had stories and memories attached to them; good and bad. And they have all called in to various places (C, D, E, F etc) on the way between A and B, as I believe in adventures and exploration.

I spend a lot of time in my car, so it has to be a pleasant place to be. It has to be comfortable, secure and I have to have a really good radio. It has to be a pleasure to drive over long and short distances. ‘m not particularly fussy over colour, as long as it isn’t a silly colour (like the pale pnk muscle car I saw the other day leaving work) or white.

Suddeny the cost starts rising. But I don’t drink or smoke and I usually like the simple things so this is one of my indulgences. I tend to plan in advance for the next car, so the money is saved up over a few years.

So here we are. The money is being gathered into a central pot as we speak. All those copper coins I’ve saved up over the years are being counted and carted off to the bank. My lottery winnings have been deployed.

It merely remains to finalise the choice of vehicle, which will come from a shortlist of two ot three. And you’ll be surprised to learn that they are all…

New Car pt1: The little itch

I’ve had ten cars in my motoring career.  Over the last few weeks it has become clear that it’s time for number 11.

It always works the same way. I say I’m happy with the current car and I mean it. Then the tiniest of little itches begins and grows and before long I’m ‘just curious’ about a change of motor. Even then, it’s not a foregone conclusion. But there comes a point where I ‘just happen’ to check the value of my car and nonchalantly check the prices of vehicles that have caught my eye. Then I find that I have to see how much I need to save up to be able to afford buy them.

At that point, I’m caught in a whirlpool of desire and doubt and a frisson of excitement. And I’m not ashamed of that. There are few pleasures in life, and for me the process of car hunting is one.

Everything then seems to rush headlong down a steep slope. See advert, visit dealer, test drive, play the game of price negotiation, experience a moment of doubt. And then I find myself at that point at which money changes hands and keys are exchanged.

Immediately afterwards, I suffer a nagging doubt and for a while (usually a few hours) I wonder what I’ve done. Then the moment is gone and I’m happy again…

… until the merest hint of a possibility of a tiny little itch starts again.

Of course, the point of this particular post is that I’ve had the itch again. In fact, it’s gone a bit further than that and I’m now at the stage where I know what my car is worth and I’ve narrowed my choice of new vehicle down to a couple of candidates. And they are… ahhh, but you’ll have to tune in to the next installment to find out.

A difficult gig

We played in a holiday village pub on the coast as a four piece last night.  Great venue, lost of people there. But it was a difficut one for all of us because a great friend and long time member of the band, Neil, wasn’t with us.

Neil passed away on Wednesday.

When I played regularly in The Insiders, Neil and I would almost always travel to gigs together. His car swallowed all our gear with room to spare but if he wanted more than the odd pint at the gig, I’d take my car and the squeeze to get all the kit in was more of a challenge. We’d have lively conversations about new songs to play or the latest guitar he’d bought or his experiences while he was in the RAF.

At the gig, we’d alternate between playing bass and guitar for a half. Neil was an excellent guitarist and he had a really clean sound on his Telecaster which would cut through the combined noise of Stuey and me. He’d played in bands for a large part of his life and this experience showed in his attitude and playing skill.  He showed me a much quicker and more accurate way of tuning the guitar and he set up a couple of my guitars for me – a job that not only needs skill but patience too.

Neil and I would usually stand to the right of the drums and he would stand to my right. In small venues, we’d share a microphone. If I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be playing, I’d look over and get a good idea from Neil. We’d both moan at Stuey to turn down, with little prospect of any results. Instead, we’d share a joke and have a laugh, sing the (somewhat risque) wrong lyrics to ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and try and out do each other on guitar riffs to ‘Summertime Blues’.

I have many happy memories of Neil, which is how we should remember our friends and loved ones. Some are hard to share because they depend on the moment, others raise a smile when I tell them. I can picture the moment we started playing in a social club and I turned to my right to see Neil facing away from the audience. He’d spotted an old age pensioner dressed in an outrageously tight pink plastic dress dancing with an short old bloke in a terrible wig. Neil was laughing so much he couldn’t really play properly and had to look away. In the end, we all had to avert our gaze and we chuckled for most of the night. Another time, he turned up for a gig in front of the Mayor of Swansea slightly worse for drink after having spent the day watching Wales beat England at rugby. He grinned all night, but he was still the best musician on stage. When I think of Neil now, I think of that grin and that he was always smiling on stage.

Before the first half of last night’s gig, we didn’t really say much. I certainly felt subdued and I think Stuey and the others did too. We played the songs and when it came to ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, I deliberately looked over to my right where Neil should have been. There was a big gap that we couldn’t fill but I sang his words and they made me smile again.

During the break, Stuey and I talked about playing a song for Neil. In the second half, Stuey introduced ‘Hey Jude’ as a song for a friend who couldn’t be with us. It’s a great song but this added something to it and the lump in my throat came very soon after we started playing. The tears came during the chorus part at the end (as they are again now, as I type this). It was a good version, worthy of his memory and, as Neil would have pointed out, we played it loud enough for him to hear wherever he is now.

We went down well at the pub. We had a guest singer who did a great version of ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’. Surpassing the usual situation where Stuey tells me that we’re playing a song I’ve never played before, last night we played a song and I still don’t know what it was. I couldn’t hear Stuey from my place on the other side of the drums and before I knew it, I was busking along to the song, trying to make out what chords Stuey was playing whilst being blinded by the flashing stage lights. It wouldn’t be the same without the adventures and challenges Stuey sets.

When I started loading the car up at the end of the night, I found that some joker (not the original word I used) had prised the mirror out of the housing on the driver’s side of my car. It went back but I haven’t been able to check it properly yet.

It was a lonely drive home

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Gardening

I am not a gardener. I don’t know anything about gardening. Gardening to me is cutting back the green stuff until you can see through it to the other green stuff. Gardening is hard work. Particularly when I’m trying to identify the green stuff that might produce colourful flowers that I can photograph, or that might attract insects and butterflies to the end of my macro lens. I have books on green things, books on flying things and books on both, but still the back garden is full of green stuff that all looks the same.

Yesterday I did the first cut of the front lawn. Lawn is a term used merely so that you know what green stuff I’m cutting. My front garden is an adventure playground for cats. I cut the grass merely so that I can see the cats. Today was the first cut for the back garden. Notice I don’t even bother with ‘lawn’ to describe the back garden. If the front garden is an adventure playground, then the back garden is a full on Royal Marines assault course.

I take no pleasure from gardening (as you may have gathered). Gardening hurts. As I type this, a thorn has punctured my left forefinger and it is bleeding. Yesterday, I managed to drive a larger thorn into the index finger of my right hand, which I had to dig out by rooting around with a suitably sterilised pin. It is still painful, especially when I type. (That is the level of dedication I bring to this blog). My back hurts from strimming. My side hurts from various activities to do with strimming. I have scratches and scrapes. My glasses are covered in bits of grass and other green stuff thrown up by the strimmer. I dare not look at my hair as it is probably the refuge for living things disturbed by the strimmer.

I have an apple tree. It actually produces apples which I share with my friends. I used to have a lot of blackberry bushes but I went to war on all things thorny last year and after an intense and by no means one sided campaign, I have reduced them to a mere blemish against the backdrop of green stuff. There’s a tree at the top of the garden that my dad rescued from a ruined farmhouse as a sapling. The farmhouse once belonged to relatives of my mum. The tree, now more than 30 years old, is magnificent and reminds me of my dad. And it’s not green, so that’s okay.

At the top of the garden is a thick growth of bamboo. I like it (it’s only green at the top)  but I have no idea where it comes from. Next door used to keep birds so it could be from the seed (although the birds were kept in an aviary). I have a suspicion that some Japanese soldiers are hiding in there, not realising that the war is over.

I have the occasional special visitor in my garden. A pair of blackbirds return each year to see what I have left them to nest in. I make a point of stopping all major restructuring work when they arrive. I have had foxes several times, including one that decided to sleep under a bush at the top of the garden and another that had a look in at me through the garden window. That was wonderful to see. I had a hedgehog turn up one evening as I was looking through the telescope. It stopped long enough to let me take its portrait and to feed it some dog food (I checked in the internet and that’s what was recommended). So the garden isn’t all bad.

I have followed a friend’s advice and covered a particularly difficult patch of the garden with old carpet and sheets of wood in an attempt to smother the weeds and brambles that grow there. It’s been on for a couple of months now and the brambles have finally stopped struggling. The odd one still manages to poke it’s head between gaps, but they are swiftly taken care of. It’s unsightly, but I’m thinking for the long term. Besides, it makes a change from the endless green

So that, then, is my garden. A challenging, ever changing, green place.

 

 

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The continuing saga of the bathroom of lost dreams

When I started work on the bathroom (see DIM post) I thought it would be all over in a week. Shortly after the new fittings were fitted, I thought it might take a month as the walls were in pretty rubbish condition. But it’s been about 5 months now and through no fault of anyone else, I haven’t moved on.There have been weekends away and holidays and stuff and a hundred other excuses that don’t stand the test of time.

My bathroom without the carpet fitted

Bathroom without carpet

I was getting fed up of the multitude of carpets on the floor that needed cleaning and rearranging so I decided to fit a temporary carpet while waiting to make my mind up about what to put there permanently. Getting those curves right was fun.

Cutting the carpet

Cutting the carpet

 

This is a risk, of course, because the carpet may look good and then I’ll decide I don’t need to do anything else. But the walls still look awful so there is still hope.

My bathroom with carpet fitted

Bathroom with carpet

Now all I need is tiles or boards, or maybe a plaster skim. If I stuck posters up as a temporary measure…

 

Peers

I started writing the ‘Heroes’ blog with the intention of including a bit about one’s peers. It didn’t fit so this is a separate blog uploaded at the same time.

We grow up in a bubble of time. As we move along, everything moves with us. Time is the same for everyone (no arguments about relativity and the astronauts in the International Space Station, please).  In my bubble, there are all the things that have come along for the ride. Friends, family, people, places, bands, beliefs, environment, culture, values.  They’re all familiar and safe and secure and as a result, we are too. Because they’re with us all the time we don’t see them change and we begin to take them for granted.

Then suddenly, the things in the bubble start to change. Places in the bubble are knocked down or modified beyond all recognition. Values change, people change as if they’ve dropped out of the bubble and are tumbling further and further behind as they are no longer dragged along with it. As the bubble represents our security and foundation, it can be disturbing, confusing and even scary. It’s a reminder that we, too, are changing from other’s viewpoint bubbles.

Think of a film or TV programme from your childhood. I’m thinking of Thunderbirds – the original TV series. I remember watching that when I was 5. That’s fortymumble years ago. It was the best TV programme ever, exciting, cool, lots of explosions. When I watched it again a few years ago, I saw it in the same way as my parents would have – it was a bunch of puppets, some models of machines and buildings and some fireworks for explosions. I was genuinely disappointed.

The people in the bands I used to watch on stage are now eligible for bus passes and recently some of them have died. Great swathes of my home town have been ‘improved’ to the point where they are no longer recognisable from only a few years ago. The things that were important to me when I was 20 are trivial now. Computers have changed, TV’s are flat. I can’t open the bonnet of my car and fix the engine any more. Friends move on, change or die.

I’m not complaining about progress. Changes happens (though not always for the best despite what you might be told by the person selling you the change – and if they tell you that all change is to be welcomed and those not embracing it are negative or cynical, without giving a good reason for change, then laugh at them). But it sometimes sneaks up on you and the adjustment required can be difficult.  Especially when it involves one of your peers.

 

EDIT 4 August: The ECO Pressed logo has appeared at the bottom of this post. I know nothing about this organisation and so do not necessarily agree with it or what it stands for. This is not an ‘eco’ post.

IT is nothing to be scared of.

Many years ago, in a different life, I used to train people on IT software packages. Word processors, spreadsheets, presentations, internet browsers and email software were all part of my curriculum. I enjoyed the job, particularly when people who came in to the classroom nervous and afraid of the computer would leave with a new found confidence. It made me feel good to think I’d made a difference to these people and given them some skills they could use in the workplace and at home.

But I was always curious about why people were afraid or nervous. Although I can’t say I grew up with computers (my school started offering IT ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels in my final year there, too late for me to enrol) I embraced the opportunities they offered.  When I was unleashed on a PC in work (the first one I’d seen) I made a point of learning the new software by playing around with it, pushing buttons and seeing what they would do. After all, I’m an activist, so it’s how I learn best.

Because I was prepared to push a new button, try something different or experiment with settings, I became the IT ‘expert’ in the office. I didn’t know much more than the people I worked with, but I didn’t give up so easily. For my efforts I was placed, against my will, on a new software project because I was the IT ‘expert’ (a monumental episode of misunderstanding). My first meeting was three hours of almost indecipherable IT speak. The others present were IT professionals – real experts – and I had no right being in the meeting.  Within a few weeks I had managed to get transferred onto a thread of the project that involved skills transfers and the development of the user interface. Much more suited to my strengths.

I ended up in the training branch where I continued to encounter people who were reluctant to use PCs. Some had a genuine fear, others didn’t want to learn. I was happy to help the former. The latter proved hard to manage.

It is now 2011, a date that wouldn’t look out of pace in a science fiction story, and yet there are still people of my generation for whom the computer is a source of trepidation, fear and loathing. Everyone I work with and the huge majority of those who work in this organisation have to use PCs as part of their daily work, and yet that lack of knowledge and the unwillingness to learn for themselves hinders them and is the source of much frustration. If the same attitude was applied to driving or cooking or any other everyday activity, there would be a deafening outcry. But it seems it is okay to hate computers.

On the other side of the argument, technology that has been created and developed to make life easier seems instead to make life harder. Today I have lost access to most of the files I use on a daily basis. The servers are slow, as they have been for the last few months. Some of the software I use on a regular basis has an overly difficult user interface. There is no information about how and when these things will be resolved. There is some question as to whether it’s the technology or the people running the technology that are at fault. Despite all these setbacks, I don’t hate the technology and although it frustrates me sometimes, I don’t fear it.

After all, I know where the off switch is.