Tuesday, 28 July 2009
I have recently been neglecting this blog a little. There was a little spike at the beginning of this month, then nothing. So I'm writing this to remind you (especially those of you subscribing via RSS) that I still exist.
Hello. I still exist. Tell your friends.
I have things to say. There is the germ of an idea. A potentially Quite Big Thing. But it's a little vague right now. So, and I can't believe I'm about to say this, watch this space.
Thursday, 23 July 2009
I have spent an inordinate amount of time behind the steering wheel of a car, ferrying co-workers and the worldwide stockpile of Haribo Tangfastics across Britain. I waited at the foot of three mountains while the the self-same colleagues climbed them. I helped them transfer onto bikes for the cycling phase. I gave team members my Blogger login so they could update the world on our progress. I sat upright, not sleeping, in a Citroen Grand Picasso overnight in a residential street on the outskirts of Lancaster.
It was not pretty. The inside of the car smelt like Jeffrey Dahmer's fridge by the time we'd finished. It rained so hard we were close to evolving gills. But bloody hell, I enjoyed it. And we appear to have raised a bit of cash for a couple of good causes. Which is officially a Good Thing.
But. I'd made several promises before I left. First, I'd promised that I would not be persuaded by the alleged joys of camping. 1981 was the last time I'd been in a tent. It was a Boys' Brigade camp in Dyffryn, at the height of the Welsh Vowel Famine. After spending a week in a canvas-lined wind tunnel I vowed never to do it again.
But Friday afternoon found me bedding down in a tent at the foot of Scafell Pike in the Lake District. At first, the orange lining of the tent made me feel I was trying to sleep inside an Ommpa Loompa. I was seriously sleep-deprived following the previous Lancastrian night, so I soon overcame my misgivings and grabbed some zeds.
The other broken promise was cycle-related. I'd vowed not to get on a bike. But with a mile or so to go before the finishing line at Ben Nevis, I wanted to (a) finish in style and (b) give the climbers a bit of a head start on the mountain.
I thought it would be easy. I thought it would be a laugh. I completely misjudged the distance, steepness of the incline and my inability to figure out bicycle gears.
This is me pulling into the car park of the Ben Nevis Inn. I'm declaring to the watching audience that I don't know what these poncey cyclists have been bitching about for the last 450 miles. We're all having a jolly good laugh.
What people didn't see was me nearly throwing up at the side of the road a minute earlier. Me getting more than a little worried by the whole affair as a strange warmness enveloped my chest. Me going round the corner of the pub after handing over the bike and sitting down until the lights in my eyes had subsided and I could breathe again.
I think I need to do something about this.
Monday, 13 July 2009
Those of you who were reading this last September may remember that I helped a bunch of friends complete a madcap Lands End to John O'Groats cycling challenge for charity. One end of the country to the other - about 900 miles - in just under 60 hours.
And before you ask, no I wasn't one of the cyclists.
I still look back on the whole thing with affection. It was great fun. Gruelling, sleep-deprived, but great fun, and very worthwhile as we raised £10,000 for charity. So I'm very excited to be doing it again.
This time the team is performing the Three Peaks Challenge - climbing the three highest mountains in Wales, England and Scotland one after the other. Normally this is a 24-hour challenge, which is good going as there's about 450 miles driving to cover between them.
However this time the team is cycling between each mountain. The same people doing the climbing will be riding bikes in a non-stop relay.
And before you ask, no, I won't be one of the cyclists.
As before, my duties involve driving the support vehicle and documenting our progress. This latter task has included (as we're in the 21st century, don'tcha know) a blog.
So, to get a better view (and to see what's been going down over the last few months) pop along to see what we're all about.
So from Thursday I'll be away for a few days. Can't guarantee I'll be liveblogging it, but who knows?
Thursday, 9 July 2009
Those opposed to stem cell research are, well, against it - although in many cases the arguments are expressed in a general Father Ted kind of way. (If I'm honest, I'm only mentioning this because it's a YouTube clip worth watching again. And again.)
But much of the response has been about the likelihood that this development will make all men redundant at some indeterminate point in the future. There has been whining. Quite frankly it's a bit unbecoming.
The most constructive contribution has come from the Times, where there's been a list of 101 continuing uses for a man. I had a look at each and every one. Some didn't apply. Some did, though. Let's look at those I can relate to:
2 Model railways, the running and maintenance of - let me be perfectly clear on this point. I have never owned a model railway. But the oiling of points might well be a perfect way to spend a wet Wednesday evening. Bloody hell, what am I saying?
5 Eating up the elderly tub of coleslaw in the back of the fridge after an evening at the pub - yep, that's one of my tasks. Iron stomach, me. Anyone for a kebab?
6 Opening all those terrifying brown envelopes that the bank will insist on sending - there are certain numbers that haven't been seen since the moonshots. And they all come to our house in window envelopes.
7 Catching spiders - actually, the deal is that I deal with wasps, Katie deals with spiders.
8 Bringing you tea in bed in the mornings - Mon-Fri without fail.
10 Making your limited capacity for grooving look positively Madonna-esque by dancing around you wildly, arms and legs jerking like a demented puppet - guilty as charged. I have all the dancing skills of the Unknown Soldier.
11 Lending you (often without knowing it) a razor - "Have you been planing door frames with this, Katie, it's just taken half my fricking face off..."
12 Parking - Katie is way better at this than me. My car has sensors and it's still squeaky-bum time whenever we're in the supermarket carpark.
23 Using the last drop of milk before, very helpfully, putting the empty carton back in the fridge - the empty carton needs a home, surely?
24 Looking nice in a dinner suit. Every man has an inner James Bond - only my James Bond likes pies.
31 Making the inventor of the electric nose-hair clipper very, very rich - I don't mean to paint such an unpleasant picture. But, you know. When a man gets to a certain age....
39 Making sure that every last pot and pan in the kitchen gets used to its full potential - actually, as I do the washing up chez fatboyfat, Katie gets to use every implement going when she prepares anything.
42 Insisting that only he can be trusted to drive on the right-hand side of the road in a foreign country and then going the wrong way round the roundabout at the exit from the airport, careering into an oncoming Fiat Panda, arguing furiously with the police and ensuring that the first night of your holiday is spent in a Sicilian jail - erm, I don't have a good record here.
49 Eating full-size Mars bars - you mean there are other sizes?
50 Inventing Prog Rock - there is a Holy Trinity and their names are Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
51 Drinking warm fermented hops - cold beer is for Continentals. And people called Darren.
56 Making those trips to Ikea such a stress-free delight - sorry, this is just not happening.
57 Reading, and actually understanding, instruction manuals for small electrical devices - I now know the Korean for 'reset button'.
60 Mixing the perfect gin and tonic - when all else is lost, when civilisation has broken down, when the planet is a dust bowl. There might be Mad Max-style raiding parties for lime slices, but I'll still be constructing a mean G&T.
67 Finishing off that glass of wine you poured an hour ago but never got round to drinking - never going to happen in this household. No way. Katie seeks out wine like a shark picking up fresh blood from miles off.
68 Having more hair on his legs than you - see no. 11 above.
71 Keeping the local Indian takeaway in business - actually that's a joint effort. The proprietor is putting his kids through college thanks to us.
78 Going to the dump - there's something very manly about heaving a sofa into a skip, isn't there?
81 Leaving all the drawers and cupboard doors in the house very slightly open - a light draft is natural, don't you think?
82 Being Father Christmas - guilty.
85 Snoring- it's like someone's making their way though a herd of donkeys. With a chainsaw. Katie's a lucky girl.
97 Presenting Top Gear - I wish.
98 Doing air guitar - I do air drums, actually. My hi-hat is something to behold.
There are some things you just can't do from a test tube.
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
It's probably not a bad thing, given that I spend an inordinate amount of time using the Mother tongue; eight hours a day for The Man and then some more when I get home. However my obsession with correct usage does have its downsides.
Katie once threatened to leave me stranded in the middle of Tesco when I started going on about the 'Ten items or less' sign. Of course, it should read 'Ten items or fewer' (typically, 'less' should be used for a reduction in quality, 'fewer' for a reduction in a quantity) but this isn't an argument that works when your arms are full of lasagna ingredients and you can't find your Clubcard.
Spending any time on Internet forums (and in this context one doesn't have to use the plural 'fora', we're not ancient Romans, for Juno's sake) is a real trial. The next person to use 'should of' when they mean 'should have' is likely to feel the sharp end of my digital tongue. Which isn't a nice image for anyone.
Rebuff, repudiate, rebut, refute or reject? Ooh, that's potentially a nice night in for me. I was nodding along to the radio tonight when someone explained that technically you cannot work your way up to a crescendo (musically a crescendo isn't a peak, it's the building-up bit before the ultimate end - the correct term would be, erm, climax). I'm surprised I'm married, sometimes.
I spend real time agonising over the correct use of 'affect' and 'effect'. And don't get me started on apostrophes (although starting a sentence with a conjunction is alright these days, so long as you're careful).
I once had a conversation - OK, an argument - with an accountant at work who wanted to write a sentence including the phrase "this will reduce it's margin" in a presentation. This is a particular bugbear of mine. I should have had "the possessive form of its has no apostrophe" tattooed across my belly but "Thug Life" was somewhat less painful. He wasn't having any of it. He was determined. I was frustrated. I actually heard myself saying, "Look, Integer Boy, you look after the numbers, I'll deal with the words."
Not a proud moment.
Monday, 6 July 2009
But, strip away all of this ponciness and underneath there is still a bloke. A strange, unformed creature that gets excited about manly things. And who scratches himself inappropriately at times, but that's probably best not shared.
So when I was invited on a sports car driving day on Saturday I got unnecessarily excited, in an 'eight-year-old boy, jumping around and borderline wetting himself' kind of way. It was originally Katie's dad who was slated to do the driving - it was his birthday present from us - but he decided that he didn't want to do it on his own so, with completely false reluctance, I booked in for a session too.
Saturday saw us heading up the M6 to Stafford, explaining to my mother-in-law that we had just entered Staffordshire and the clue was in the name. My father-in-law has a strong streak of punctuality running through him, so we showed up about an hour-and-a-half early. Plenty of time for us to watch sports cars, and for Katie and her mum to lose the will to live.
After a briefing when an instructor told us about breaking points and apexes we were issued with crash helmets - not to provide any protection but merely as a leveller, on the basis that everyone ends up looking like tools:
Like Days of Thunder with a higher cholesterol count.
Then came the 'trying not to crash the sixy grand supercar' bit of the day. Climbing in the car I was met by my instructor, Sian. Petite, blonde and there to deflate the male egos, Sian's job was to tell us rank amateurs how to stop and go.
We waited at the end of one straight for the track to clear. I was muttering the mantra of all men in this situation: please don't stall, please don't stall, please don't stall.
"OK. Well, that seems quite nooooooooorrrrrrmmmmaaaaallllllll....."
The whole world seemed to be playing at 78rpm on my 33rpm record player.
"More power. Go on. Give it some welly."
We were approaching a chicane at ohmygod miles per hour and Sian was exhorting me to accelerate towards what appeared to be an obstacle. I changed gear and the silliness continued. Then with a corner approaching Sian was back on the instructions, "Brake brake brake." So I did.
Christ on a bike. My lungs, seemingly wanting to carry on under the force of inertia, were keen to decorate the dashboard. We zipped around the first corner, taking the rules of physics to one side and giving them a good talking to.
"That was good. Now let's try it a little faster."
Once I'd got over the shock of being instructed, no, ordered, to thrape someone else's fancy car, things started to just get hilarious. All thoughts of Eno and poetry had pretty much disappeared by this point. I'm almost certain Dylan Thomas never wrote about double-declutching.
It was later, while eating a nice steak rarebit and downing my second pint of Fox's Nob, that I realised I was living the Bloke Dream.
I need to get me some power tools.
Friday, 3 July 2009
They'd gone to a local awards ceremony at lunchtime as we were supporting some good causes. By all accounts, everything went very well and there was the succession of suitably inspiring stories about individuals and organisations that had done their bit to improve the life of others.
One recipient had spent a year in Africa, helping set up schools in remote villages. On stage, the Master of Ceremonies addressed him as follows: "Well, you don't look like you've spent a year in Ethiopia."
Ears were already pricking up around the room, by all accounts.
"What do you mean?" asked the award winning educator.
"Well," replied the MC, blissfully unaware of the potential yawning chasm, "you don't look thin enough."
There was a silence. I suspect had tumbleweed been appropriate for an awards ceremony, some would have chosen that moment to blow by. The MC picked up on this but, perhaps missing the point somewhat, only opened his mouth once more to change feet.
"No, sorry, I didn't mean to say you were fat or anything, good heavens! I just thought, what with the drought and everything...."
As if spending a year in a country that has tragically become the watchword for famine would somehow be a fair alternative to the Atkins diet.
At this point a metallic tapping was probably apparent. The noise of a spade hitting bedrock. OK, a virtual spade and imaginary bedrock, but you get the point. I'd have loved to have seen it first hand.
Wednesday, 1 July 2009
42 posts, (well, 43 with this one) and we've passed the halfway point of the year.
Last year I wrote 141 posts over 12 months.
Bloody hell. Whatever a mojo is, I need to find it.