Monday 17 December 2012

Character Flaw

youtube

See me and a friend of mine trying to be funny at the office telent show.

blog

I have only the most hazy recollection of what happened at the Christmas party, so instead of a blog, this week I present to you a photo study of one of my character flaws. In my defence these pictures span more than fifteen years, one of them is faked, and one of them is Eddie Jordan pretending to be me.




Richard "eyeline" B

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Nativity

This weekend I put up Christmas decorations and fairy lights. I was reminded of a funny conversation when my dad was still alive, and of how fragile and selective human memory can be. "When the children were little we used to go to a donkey festival in Modbury" said my dad. Nobody else in the family remembered a donkey festival, or believed that such a thing ever happened, but the old man was pretty definite. It was in a little pub, there was beer and mulled wine, and there was a stable at the back with a real live donkey that the children could pet. My sister eventually worked out what he was talking about which was a Christmas festival with a Nativity scene. He'd remembered the pub, the booze, the donkey, and the children but ignored Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and all the Christmas trappings and religious sentiment.

Richard "donkey-fest'71" B

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Trap

The offside rule was added to football to discourage a boring pattern of play where a striker would wait at the opposition's goalmouth and his teammates would lob long balls forwards to him. The offside rule introduced a whole new pattern of play called the offside trap whereby a defender could linger at the back and lure the opposing striker forwards, the defender could then charge forward and invalidate a pass forward to the striker.

My band have accidentally introduced a kind of "Indie-Rock trap" into our shows. The last couple of times we have played have been at a wedding and a dinner dance. Both functions had a huge range of ages in the audience and were slightly formal. We have started putting a clump of 60s songs early in the show which the older guests can enjoy. The older people are much less self concious about dancing, and they don't wait to see if they recognise the song, they just start swaying about as soon as they hear the beat.

At both of the last couple of shows we have moved away from the 60s stuff with a Kasabian song from the mid noughties called L.S.F. The song starts with drums, and although it's a fairly contemporary drum'n'bass type beat, the old folk just start swaying away, hoping that they'll recognise the tune when it starts. When the bassline starts the younger people know exactly what we're playing and get up and dance. The manners of the old folk however are so good that they don't dare leave the floor untill after the song has finished and you get this wonderful scene with younger drunker people dancing energetically and posing amongst uncomfortable looking pairs of old folk.

At the dinner dance the Lord Mayor of Saltash and the (supprisingly hot) mayoress got up and danced (still wearing their chains of office), but sadly we couldn't lure them into the Inde-Rock Trap.

Richard "running in" B

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Floods

Last week I went to Surrey to pick up my new motorbike. I went on Wednesday and rode it back on Thursday morning so that I could get to an important rehearsal on Thursday night.

My plan was simple:

  • 10:50 bus to the city centre
  • Walk to Plymouth Railway Station
  • 12:01 Train for Paddington
  • Change at Reading
  • Arrive at North Camp 15:30 and pick up the bike
  • Ride to Guildford town centre and do a little shopping (toothbrush heads, shaving soap, sci-fi books)
  • Arrive at my friend's house at 17:30 and stay the night.
Unfortunately on Wednesday most of Devon and Somerset were underwater and my itinerary changed:
  • Heavily delayed 09:50 bus to the city centre (it left at 10:50 but got in much earlier than I expected)
  • Walk to Plymouth Railway Station
  • Overpriced coffee and croissant to waste some time
  • 12:01 Train for Paddington
  • Train terminates at Exeter
  • Replacement bus to Taunton (no trains were leaving Taunton in either direction)
  • Wait in a queue for an hour and a half
  • Replacement bus to Bristol (took over two hours because of rush hour traffic)
  • 18:30 Train for Paddington
  • Change at Reading
  • Arrive at Guildford 21:14 where I would stay the night.
The toothbrush, soap and books I could live without, but the revised itinerary didn't involve picking up the motorbike which was a bit of a problem. Despite how long it took, the journey was fine. I got talking to a lovely woman from Torbay and a London cabby and we had a really good time. There were something like 200 people stranded at Taunton with us, out of all of them only two made a scene, and they were what spoiled our journey. It didn't seem to matter whether you shouted at the train staff or not, they could neither magic up any more busses, nor make the flood waters subside.

I picked up the bike the next day and drove it back through the worst storms we've had since 1988. It turned out that the bike needed to be treated very gently during the running in period so my journey back wasn't just cold wet and frightening, it was also very very slow.

The rehearsal that I simply couldn't miss was also flooded off.

Richard "best laid travel plans of mice and men" B

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Motorbike

Unless you have some interest in motorbikes you can safely stop reading at this point.

Over the weekend I spent a fortune on a brand new Yamaha TMax. It's interesting for several reasons:

  • It's a step-thru with a 500cc engine.
  • It's a parallel twin with a 360degree crank (like an old British bike).
  • The cylinders are canted so far forwards that they are practically horizontal.
  • It's got dry sump lubrication.
  • It's got a reciprocating balance weight to counteract the vibration from the pistons. (It runs in a 'cylinder' 180degrees away from the combustion cylinders)
  • There's room for the balance weight because it doesn't have a proper gearbox.
  • It's got Vee-belt continuously variable transmission.
  • It's got a multi-plate wet clutch (like a real motorbike) but it's automatic and centrifugally operated.
  • The final drive chain runs in a sealed oil bath.
  • It's got what they call an oversize water jacket to reduce noise and vibration (and decrease performance).
  • It's big, super comfortable and really easy to ride (despite weighing nearly 200kg)
  • My friends are already calling it a "T-k-maxx".
Richard "moped" B

Monday 12 November 2012

Herding Cats

I play in a band, but It's not "my band" and I'm not the band-leader, however I do have a roll which is something like band secretary or chief logistics officer. It seems to be my responsibility to try to make sure that the right people and the right gear arrive at our rehearsals and shows at the right time. It's like herding cats. Extremely musical and good fun cats whom I adore, but cats nonetheless. Bad tempered egotistical cats who don't all have their own car. Cats with long term health problems who don't read all their emails and texts. Cats who's wives need to use their car, or cats with plenty of spare room in their car but who want to look their best so will actually be at the hairdresser for a cut-and-colour.

It won't surprise me in the least if the sailing club Christmas party insist that the band has to bring a hungry wolf, a live goat, and a sack of cabbages across a river, and we can only borrow a boat that's big enough for one item of cargo at a time.

Richard "Good show though" B

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Rabbits

One of the best games for the Nintendo wii console was "Rayman Raving Rabbits". It had hundreds of funny mini-games, the enemy characters were all cute bunnies, the graphic design and music were excellent, it was good fun to play, and it didn't take itself at all seriously. The name is not to be confused with "Rampant Rabbits" which are a (popular? ubiquitous? prized?) line of vibrators. How I, and my male friends, know that name is too smutty and embarrassing for this blog, but some of us still hesitate to ask the question "What did you get for Christmas?"

Some years ago I spent a Friday night at one of my female colleague's house. She was single at the time, but it was a completely platonic visit. A fact which I struggled to convince my friends, particularly when I misspoke during their questioning "So you're telling me that you went to Sexy-Redacted's house by yourself and you didn't try it on with her?" "Absolutely it was completely innocent." "Really? what did you do then?" "I went there by bus, we ate an Indian takeaway, drank a couple of bottle of wine, played Rampant Rabbits, and I got a cab home."

Richard "Katzenklappe" B

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Always Read the Question

I won a medal at the weekend. It was for the third round in a four round pub quiz in which I did very badly. The pub quiz wasn't public, it had been written specially to celebrate my oldest and closest friend's 40th birthday and I did spectacularly badly in the 80's TV and 80's/90's music rounds. I certainly didn't remember the Blue Moon Detective Agency, nor pilot Stringfellow Hawke, nor the planet Thundera. Neither did I know the first band on MTV unplugged, or whose live album was called Under a Blood Red Sky. Perversely I was excluded from the fourth round about golden era Neighbours. The third round of the quiz was questions about the birthday celebrant, and while I expected to do well I didn't expect to win. Question 4 was a complicated two part question "Where and Why did Redacted buy Bermuda shorts from a roadside shorts-vendor?". The man who's birthday it was drunkenly forgot to answer the second part of the question and I beat him in a quiz about himself. The best question of the round was "What was the correct name of the game that Redacted and Richard used to play as children which was misunderheard as "Mind the Farlornes"?

Richard "Mindless Violence" B

Tuesday 23 October 2012

American English

It's very easy to think that Americans speak an archaic and faulty dialect of English, specially with words like "broil" and "gotten". A couple of my least favourite examples are "get" to mean "have" (can I get two coffees? No. I'm the waitress, I'll go and get them, you can have them when I bring them to you.) and "orient" as a verb. The Orient means China and the far east. Which direction something is pointing is its orientation. When you work out where you are and what you're looking at you orientate yourself, if you orient yourself, it would seem to mean that you went to China of your own accord. Believe it or not this comes up a lot in computer programming.

It wasn't until I was talking to an American recently that I realised that British English is littered with equally ludicrous phraseology. Think for a moment about your swimming costume. It doesn't sound at all silly does it? Until you think about the word costume. It means something that you dress up in to pretend to be something else. An actor's costume is what he wears to pretend to be (say) Hamlet. A Halloween costume presents you as a monster, zombie, witch, or whatever, when you're not one. You could only wear a bee keeping costume if you weren't already an apiarist, otherwise it would be your bee keeping suit. When an American hears "swimming costume" they think "swimming disguise" and then wonder what the hell you're going to be dressed as, an alligator? A shark? Michael Phelps?

To get the same mental effect imagine that I called the dirty clothes that I wear to do painting my "painting costume". That's right I was dressed as Rembrandt when I put a coat of emulsion on the walls of the lounge.

Richard "Two countries separated by a common language" B

Thursday 18 October 2012

Hobbyzone Champ

Showing Off
Look at the band I'm in playing a blues song with Troy Tate very very well!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Agu8MFe4BGI

Looking a fool
I recently bought a radio controlled model plane called a Hobbyzone Champ. It was £70 which seems to make it either a rather expensive toy, or a very cheep model. It's actually somewhere in between. In the box you get everything you need - the plane with radio reciever and motor, a flight battery, a battery charger, and a radio transmitter. On the day I bought it I had the box at home by 10:00 and was in the park flying it at 10:30. The plane is small and light (less than 18" wingspan and 1.5oz) so it needs a calm day or a sports hall. It's designed for beginners and it's easy to fly. It has large dihedral so it always wants to keep it's wings level. It has large tail surfaces so it always points in the direction of travel. The propellor has a large component of downthrust so the throttle barely affects pitch. At full throttle the plane climbs gently, at low throttle it glides back down. With one exception the flight characteritics are completely benign, reactions to control inputs are gently and predictable. The stall is obvious and recovers automatically. The glide angle is impressive and with no control inputs it always ends up the right way up. The only problem is that when you apply rudder the plane drops its nose. If you keep the rudder applied for any length of time you end up in a spiral dive. It's actually hard to make a smooth 180degree turn.

It was flat calm on Sunday morning and I took my Champ out to practice touch and go landings. Predictably I got it stuck in the top of a tree in the local park and had to climb up and shake it loose. I have done something similar many times and I would have felt completely comfortable had I been in my early teens and wearing scruffy clothes. In fact I'm pushing 40 and I was wearing a smart black wool overcoat, pristine jeans (I tend to do laundry on a Saturday) and handmade leather boots. I think I felt most self concious when one of the dog walkers came and asked me what I was doing.

Richard "wrong age wrong clothes" B

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Drum Fill

As well as playing all the right notes (I couldn't even do that much at the weekend) at the right times and the right volume, a really skilled musician can put emotion into the noise that their instrument makes. I didn't realise it at the time, but last week I think I heard the best bit of drum playing that I have ever, or will ever hear. The band I play in has recently taken on a new and enormously skilled drummer. I had a very minor disagreement with him about when a particular drum fill is played in a song called "Feeling Good". To make matters worse I was right, and I texted him the next day before dawn to tell him so. At the next rehearsal we played the song and he played the drum fill where I thought it should have been. He played it correctly and accurately, but also very sarcastically. We both agreed that we could really hear the sarcasm. There are lots of directions that you see on musical scores like "con amore" and "con fuoco", but neither of us have heard of "con sarcasmo".

Richard "not eating my hat" B

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Rough Pub

Over the weekend I helped out an Oasis tribute band at their equivalent of the Altamont Speedway Free Festival. In 1969 The Rolling Stones organised and headlined a free festival at the Altamont Speedway. Hell's Angels were there, and may or may not have been paid to provide security. The Festival became so violent that The Grateful Dead didn't even turn up to play. Sadly, during the Stone's performance one of the crowd was stabbed to death by one of the Hell's Angels. To be fair he had just pulled a gun.

Ours was a gig in a pub on Greenbank. It's used by the Aquila (bike gang) and they unofficially provide security. The pub became violent to the extent that I was frightened for my physical safety, and our equipment. One fight between two women ejected itself amid a hysterical cloud of accusations about who had slapped whom and in response to what. A very brief scuffle between two of the bikers seemed to end amicably, but with blood running from one of their heads. Towards the end of the show some drunken idiot tried to get on stage and grab a microphone. When he eventually succeeded the band pulled silent and said it was the end of the show. The bikers encouraged the band to carry on, and took the idiot outside and beat him to a bloody pulp. It makes the Cherry Tree look positively refined.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Troy Tate

Last week my band went out for a drink with the new drummer. He asked us how come we know, and play with, somebody that used to be a famous professional guitarist.

We explained how one Friday night the boy singer, his wife, and another friend of mine visited my girlfriend and me for a curry. That my girlfriend was a primary school teacher, and how she told us a story about her day. She told us that the guy who came in occasionally to teach the children Spanish and guitar brought his daughter to school that day, and how the daughter had told one of the teachers a secret. The secret was that her dad used to be famous, he'd been on Top of the Pops, and had played to millions of people. In the 80's he'd been in a band called "The Teardrop Explodes" and his surname was Tate. We explained how the singer and my friend worked at the same call centre, how close it was to the primary school, and that they remembered one of the employees who was about the right age, sex and had the right surname to have been this star in the 80s. How my friend knew the rotas and rang the call centre and asked for the duty manager (who that night was a pre-operative transsexual). How he told the duty manager to go to xxxxxxx Tate's desk and ask him "Did you used to play guitar in The Teardrop Explodes?". How he then said down the phone "It doesn't matter if it doesn't make sense, just go and ask him." and how my friend eventually told us that he was at his desk, sheepishly nodding his head.

Our new drummer said that he didn't know which was the least likely bit of the whole ludicrous story, that this old rock star works in a call centre, that the duty manager was a tranny, that they all work at the same place, that the old rock star had said yes, or that Richard had a girlfriend.

Richard "Story within a Story" B

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Watch What You Eat

There was a time, I think it was the late pleistocene, when I lived with a woman. She was interested in knitting and spinning, and one night when I was watching the tv she was busy turning a raw fleece into knitting wool. Amongst the fibres she found an intact dead beetle, and when she showed it to me I accidentally ate it. It's not as unlikely as it sounds, I had been eating very dark bitter chocolate with crunchy little cocoa nibs. After I'd finished I swept up the dropped shards and crumbs of chocolate and threw them into my mouth. It was only when my girlfriend asked for her beetle back that I realised it must have been amongst the "chocolate".

I did exactly the same thing, but much worse, over the weekend. For breakfast on Sunday I treated myself to croissants and fresh coffee. The Croissants were so moreish that I swept up all the crumbs and flakes from the dining table and threw them into my mouth. I was sitting at the same place where I had rolled and smoked a cigarette the previous night, and the last mouthful of breakfast contained both ash and dried up tobacco. It wasn't excellent.

Richard "Broken Alarm Clock" B

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Relax

The weekend before last was very tiring, I worked last week, and then I stayed up late on Friday doing a show. To compensate I had all of Saturday afternoon and evening to myself. I had a bath in the middle of the afternoon, read, watched TV, ate a Chinese takeaway by myself and went to bed before 10:30. It was luxury. Marred by the creeping realization that I may be the most boring man alive. When I was little I wanted to be an astronaut and a pilot, later I wanted to invent computers, and later still I wanted to be a rock star. On Saturday I had time and money to spend on myself, but my dreams have shrunk to the point where they don't even involve loose cars and fast women, seemingly what I'm interested in is profligate use of the hot water and not cooking my own evening meal.

Richard "Steve Davis" B

Monday 3 September 2012

Interred

This weekend we buried my dad's ashes in the family plot in the Rosary Cemetery in Norwich. It was a sad and beautiful day, but not without some funny moments. The ceremony was conducted by a Church of England Canon, and that meant I could get a very old joke out of retirement for the day: "He's been fired!"

One of the tributes came from a woman who was a typist in the 60s and had typed up one of my dad's cruising logs. Copy typing is a boring job, and boat logs aren't much more than a list of positions, distances and brief comments about sea, weather, vessel and crew. However she described this particular job as an exciting page-turner. I haven't read it, but I'd like to think it's a kind of predecessor to this bolingblog. If I ever find it I hope to publish it on the internet as "bolinglog".

There was another story about one of my dad's genuine log entries, from a different boat and a different decade. It said "Collected inflatable rubber dinghy from Mr. Reid. Rather old and flabby".

Richard "old jokes home" B

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Farewell

Drummers spend years learning a skill called independence. This doesn't mean learning to live away from their mums, or making their own decisions; it means being able to do different things and play different rhythms with each of their (usually) four limbs.

The drummer that I have been playing with for the last six years played his last show with the band this weekend. It was emotional and poorly attended. Over all this time, and during every song that we have played he has been the model of friendly dependability. I have many fond memories of him, and his playing will be sorely missed. However, the best demonstration of his skill came nowhere near a drum kit, it was when I handed him a mug of tea and a slice of cake. I offered them to him at the same time, the wrong way around. With fluid and instinctive motion he crossed his hands (right over left), grabbed the tea and the cake simultaneously, and brought the cake up to his mouth in his left hand without spilling the tea.

Richard "Goodbye" B

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Lost Property

The drum kits usually used in modern music tend to have five drums and a few cymbals. You sit behind the bass drum and play it with a beater operated by your right foot. The snare drum is between your knees, and your left foot opens and closes a pair of mechanically operated cymbals. A rack on top of the bass drum holds two tom-toms and a larger tom-tom is placed on the floor to your right. Cymbals hang from stands with increasing proliferation wherever there is room, bells, woodblocks and other effects are attached to the drums and stands like mirrors to a mod's Lambretta.

When a drummer is short of money/time/energy/room-in-the-car/space-on-stage then the number of cymbals is the first thing to be reduced, the first drum to be sacrificed is the second rack tom-tom. In fact a good number of indie drummers usually play with one rack tom and put their ride cymbal in the space left above the bass drum.

My band recently took on a new drummer, and I have been lending him parts of my drum kit to rehearse with. Last week I got home from the practice room and I didn't have all of the drums. I rang the drummer hoping that he had carried one up to his flat by accident. He hadn't. I then had him walk down to the street to see if we'd left it in the gutter when he got his gear out of the car. We Hadn't. I then drove back to the musicians' cooperative where we'd rehearsed. It wasn't their either.

I was furious that I'd lost a drum, but at least it was the second rack tom, and as such was pretty optional. As I drove back from the practice room for a second time, without my drum, I was considering how unlikely it was that I'd lost the only drum that we could easily live without. Somewhere on the journey I remembered that the drummer had said, several weeks previously, that he only needed one rack tom, and that I'd put the other one away safely in my loft.

Richard "forgetful" B

Monday 13 August 2012

Holiday

I've been on holiday for a couple of weeks driving around the country. I visited all kinds of places friends, family, private gardens, building sites, and aircraft museums, but the most interesting visit was three nights in the 1970's.

I stayed with my brother and his wife at her mother's house. It's a perfectly preserved time capsule of furniture and decorations from about 40 years ago. Among the exhibits, some of my favourites were:
  • A kitchen with a chocolate brown electric cooker, and a serving hatch into the dining room.
  • A mains powered kitchen clock.
  • An electric whisk so heavy and powerful you could kill a man with it.
  • Glass corn cob dishes with matching forks.
  • Small cut-glass dessert bowls from which we ate yet-to-be-invented Mint Vienetta.
  • A wood effect Cathode Ray Tube television with a bulging 4:3 screen.
  • A criss-cross knick knack shelf.
  • A white melamine dressing table with brass drawer handles.
  • Loud floral curtains.
  • Blown vinyl wallpaper.
  • A ding-dong doorbell with chimes as long as organ pipes.
  • Glass fronted wood veneer cabinets.
  • An asymmetric York-stone fireplace with a brass chimney hood.
  • An entertainment centre that plays records and cassettes.
  • Spider plants.
  • Artex.
  • Carpets with a repeating brown blotch pattern.
  • A floral three piece suite surrounding an imitation sheepskin rug.
  • Pink velvet curtains.
  • A cloth lampshade with string fringes.
  • Interior secondary glazing.
  • A bathroom with matching beige bath, toilet, and basin, and maroon wall-to-wall carpet, and a moulded plastic medicine cabinet.
Richard "time machine" B

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Don't be afraid of me

I was brought up in a household with good grammar, and so choosing the right word usually comes naturally to me. The problem is that I read and listen much more than I write and speak, so having good grammar is a disadvantage, it just makes it confusing listening to other people.

Recently I have noticed a steep rise in the number of people, particularly politicians, using "myself" when they mean "me" or "I". It's not a matter of style or expressiveness, it's simply wrong. I'm given to understand that there is some reluctance to use "me" because it sounds informal. Picking "myself" as an alternative is like going to Buckingham Palace and not being sure whether to say "Your Highness" or "Your Majesty" and picking "Liz" instead.

The word "myself" only has two uses in the whole of the English language and one of them is obscure. You use it when you're the person doing something, and you're the person that you're doing it to. "I saw myself in the mirror." "I was shaving myself." etc. I'm sure we can all think of a dirty example of something that you do to yourself by yourself. In that case too "myself" would be right.

The only other time that you ever use "myself" is when you want to emphasise "I". "I myself witnessed a murder." "I painted them myself." If you're using "myself" like that, you can take it out of the sentence and it makes no difference to the meaning, only the feel.

Does it matter? No not usually, everybody will understand what you mean, but there are a couple of cases when it might. If you're writing something formal to someone with good grammar you not only look like an idiot, but you look like you're trying too hard. If you're writing something casual to someone with good grammar, they will find it impossible to read quickly, they will stumble over the "myself" and then check the whole sentence again to make sure that you aren't already in it, and then curse their outdated usage of the language before carrying on.

Richard "me myself and I" B

Monday 16 July 2012

Rooms

A group of people can develop their own system of names for things surprisingly quickly. When somebody coins an apposite and funny name for something it often sticks. At the weekend I did a little bit of gardening for my mum, I trimmed The Willy-cat Memorial Bay Tree. Anybody but my family would probably just call it "the bay tree", but it was planted next to the grave of our dear and long serving cat.

My home life is perfectly moral, but when you stand at the top my stairs the doors open into what my friends would call the Bathroom, my Bedroom, the Porn Cupboard (which contains no pornography), and the Sex Room (which to the best of my knowledge nobody has had sex in for many years).

I bought my house when it was just a muddy plot on a building site, and I had to read the plans to see what I was getting. The two bedrooms were shown separated by a large cupboard that opens onto the landing. I asked my friend what he thought it was for, other than acoustic isolation, and he joking said that if I kept pornography in it, then houseguests could borrow it without the embarrassment of having to rifle through my wardrobe. That joke was over 14 years ago, and the place where I keep my hoover and ironing board still resolutely refuses to be called anything other than the Porn Cupboard.

I live alone in a house with a double and a single bedroom. I moved into the single room when I split up with a girlfriend, and stayed there when she moved out. There was a lot of discussion about what I should do with the double bedroom that was lying fallow. I said that I would leave it as a bedroom for guests, and use it myself in the unlikely event that I should bring a woman home. From then on it has been called the Sex Room. As I have so seldom used it for that purpose, it's more and more being called the Theoretical Sex Room, and once, during a bout of bad pronunciation the Theatrical Sex Room. I actually store sound equipment and laundry in there.

Richard "nomenclature" B

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Birthday

This year I had two birthdays, the first one was rubbish. On Thursday I worked late, then my motorbike threw it's chain off and I spent most of the rest of the day getting home and then fixing it. I also got a CD that I have no interest in listening to and a personalised birthday card that calls me a cunt (I was delighted with the CD and card).

On Friday I was taken out for lunch, I had a luxurious restful afternoon, and then we went to the pub. It was just like old times, except that:

  • In the old days going to the pub on Friday was the default schedule rather than a special treat.
  • Going out drinking wasn't very expensive.
  • Every pub on Mutley Plane would have been full.
  • we'd have arranged where and when to meet well in advance, nobody would have had a hand held radio telephone with which to confirm or modify the arrangements.
  • The pubs would have had that wonderful tobacco and stale beer smell.
  • Had we been laughing about someone with an upper class accent ordering a pint of Australian lager, and then desperately trying to remember what E. M. Forster wrote, nobody could have googled it. Moreover google wasn't a word we knew, specially not as a verb.
  • The jukebox could never have had THAT many songs on it.
The unquenchable thirst, the drunken story telling, and the music over-appreciation however seem to be timeless.

Richard "Reminiscence isn't what it used to be" B

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Don't Start a Band

Lots of people aspire to play in a band, I already do and I know exactly what it's like. There are several elements of it that I was never expecting and that I hate:

  • The lifting and carrying. I take about 200kg of gear to every show that we play, it has to be carried into the van, from the van to the stage, from the stage back to the van and from the van back to the house.
  • The sweat. I usually come off stage running with sweat. In the early days I used to wear nice clothes to make a good impression. Now I wear clothes that I don't mind getting ruined.
  • The practice. Playing the guitar at home is now just another chore like washing up and ironing. If I've got time to sit down with a guitar, then I'll either do exercises to keep the speed and strength in my fingers, or I'll play songs that I have to learn or practice. I never sit down and play for the pleasure of it.
  • The adrenaline. Imagine that you get home by 1.00 in the morning (which is a nice early night), after all the excitement and exercise you don't stand a chance of getting to sleep for at least another hour or two (I watch documentaries on BBC4 and drink).
  • The risk. Yes playing to a dancefloor full of people enjoying themselves is a wonderful experience. Getting up and playing badly, playing to an empty room, or playing to people who don't want to listen is horrific, and you have to keep smiling and playing for a couple of hours.
  • The drunken cocks in the crowd. There's usually someone who want to grab a mic, or an instrument, or who thinks it will somehow improve the show if they get on stage. Invariably they're wrong.
  • The "experts". Very often you'll be accosted by someone after the show who will tell you in great detail how much better he could have played/sung/engineered/lit the evening. They almost always start with the words "I'm in a band" and the best reply at that point, to take the wind out of their sails is "Where were you playing tonight?"
  • The money. Yes I get paid more than I spend on diesel and guitar strings. But when you take into account all the gear that we've all had to buy, we're losing money hand over fist.
  • The complete lack of glamour and luxury. Even if it looks great from the front, everywhere I've ever played has been a shithole.
That's not to mention the time spent on logistics, hawking for gigs, and negotiating with venues; or how badly most of the venues and clients treat working musicians. It's just really really hard work.

It's also the most fun I've ever had, it's the best thing in my life, and I love it. Not just the music and the excitement, but the camaraderie, friendship, support and esprit-de-corps.

Richard "that which we obtain too cheaply we esteem too lightly" B

Tuesday 26 June 2012

X is a dish best served Y

Revenge is a dish best served cold

When I was a child I spent a lot of time at one of my friend's houses playing computer games and we would also periodically tease his younger brother, another keen gamer. My friend now lives in America and is consequently watching the European Championships a day late. Shortly after England won the group and went through to the quarter finals we received this email from his younger brother.

SUBJECT: LeChucks Revenge
England 1 - Ukraine 0 (Rooney scores with header from cross). Top of the table.

22 years ago, Mr Adam Redacted and Mr Richard Redacted decided to tell me the end of 'Monkey Island 2'.

Today, I get my revenge on one of you. Adam enjoy the US 6:30pm PST England replay game at the George & Dragon Inn in full knowledge of the end result.

Richard you will be next.

How much wood can a wood chuck chuck........

Redacted
 

Curry is a dish best served racist

Last week I went to a conference in London and we went out for a curry in the evening. We looked at two Indian restaurants, and when we went into one of them the proprietor told us that we'd made the right choice. With admirable casual racism he told us that the food here was really authentic, we shouldn't go to the other place because it's run by Bangladeshis.

Dessert is a dish best served in bulk

At the conference lunch was served from many small stands spread throughout the venue, there was some queuing, but it was pretty well organised and the food was good. After my pulled-pork, rice, and veg I walked back to the auditorium and passed a huge table full of crèmes brullee, I helped myself to one and it was delicious. It was quite small so I ate a second, this one was even better because it had a strawberry in the bottom. Nobody else seemed interested in them so I quickly ate a third before the lecture. On my was back to the auditorium I passed several other stalls stocked with smaller numbers of the same dessert, each stall was manned, each had a large queue, and the desserts were clearly being given out one at a time. In retrospect I think I was actually grazing at a staging area that the catering staff were using to distribute the food through the venue.

 
Richard "food, racism and revenge" B

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Energy

[contains rather more scientific discussion than humour]

It strikes me that apart from an algebraic solution to the second velociraptors question the most pressing problem for the scientists of our generation is bulk energy storage. We are going to end up harvesting energy from the sun, wind, tides, and controlled nuclear reactions, but we don't know where to keep it. For the national grid it's quite easy, you just pump water up hill on sunny/windy/tidy/fissiony days and let it come back down (through a turbine) when you want to make some electricity.

It's much harder for automotive transport, and quite frankly batteries are so poor in terms of energy density, mass, cost, and longevity compared with fossil fuels that it's laughable. I once asked a friend of mine who has much more chemistry than me, and a background in automotive engineering "If we had huge amounts of hydroelectricity, could we crack water and atmospheric C02 and synthesize liquid hydrocarbons?" I've never really understood his answer which was "Let's have lunch first shall we?"

My new idea is that cars should burn aluminium. You might think that aluminium doesn't burn, and it certainly doesn't if you just hold a fag lighter up to a bit of kitchen foil, but as a fine powder at a high enough temperature it's incredibly energetic. There's a thing called the thermite reaction, and the most exciting example is a solid rocket propellant called ALICE, it's simply aluminium powder and water ice. It burns hot enough to crack the water and the aluminium steals the oxygen from the hydrogen.

I see a future where we buy sacks of aluminium powder at the garage, and empty our exhaust hoppers into a pit of aluminium oxide which gets sent back to the refinery for the energy intensive process of turning it back into metallic aluminium.

Richard "I don't know enough chemistry to know why this wont work" B

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Class Warfare

Sometimes it's hard to know where I fit into the class system. By some measures I'm working class: I go out to work every day to pay my own bills. I swear freely and expressively, and I like pubs and beer. I might equally be upper class: My surname is ancient, regal, and all over Shakespeare. I use the verb "take" rather than "subscribe" when talking about newspapers, and I wear handmade leather boots.

The truth however is much less interesting. I was at the Cherry Tree this weekend [note1], and the singer in the band told a story about a rowdy member of the audience pushing his mic. It hit him in the face and he cut the inside of his mouth against his teeth. When I was little something similar happened to me. I used to take clarinet lessons and when I was practicing somebody pushed the end [note 2] of the clarinet so that the mouthpiece hit me in the teeth. There can surely be no more middle class an injury than nearly having your front teeth knocked out with your own clarinet.

[note1: This time nobody recognised me, threatened me, or called me a cunt.]

[note2: Yes that would be the bell end. Stop sniggering at the back.]

Richard "I know my place" B

Wednesday 6 June 2012

JFK's (2)

Last week I talked about drinking at rock night in JFK's when I was in my early 20s. Amongst the crowd of black clad misfits, there were a few regulars who stood out. I remember the woman who took our coats as very good looking in a thin and pointy, and nearly old enough to be our mum kind of way. There was another woman who always wore a white petticoat and precious little else. There was a bloke who wore a leather coat so long that it trailed around behind him like some kind of goth wedding dress. My favourite was a man on the dancefloor who played air-guitar as though he was wringing out a wet dishcloth.

I used to go with my girlfriend, we both used to wear our normal clothes, but hers were anything but normal. She used to go about her daily life as "lamb dressed up as mutton", and she would generally go to the rock club wearing a tweed skirt, high collared blouse, twin-set and pearls, or a vintage terylene day-dress which glowed brighter than the sun under the fluorescent lights.

When I was in my early thirties I went to the same club with a different girlfriend who was several years my junior. It turned out that as a teenager she had been going to the same club, lying to the door staff about her age, not going to the bar, and having sex in the toilets. She remembered the woman in the cloak room, the white petticoat, the long black leather coat and the air guitarist. To my horror she also remembered "supergran" with her white dress, and her weird looking boyfriend in his ben sherman shirts and stone washed jeans - in a rock club.

Richard "reminiscence isn't what it used to be" B

Tuesday 29 May 2012

JFK's (1)

In my early twenties I would sometimes go to a nightclub called JFK's on a Friday. Friday night was rock misfits' night and the whole place was a sea of black. Black denim, black leather, black lace, black suede, black cotton, black lycra, black hair(frequently), black eye makeup(more often than not).

Amongst incomplete memories that precede terrible hangovers, some of my fondest are from JFK's.

  • The first aider dressing a wound on my hand and telling me that the only reason it was bleeding so profusely was that I'd been drinking. "That makes sense" I said "alcohol is an anti-coagulant". She replied "I wouldn't know about that love, but it thins the blood".
  • A very attractive young woman walking past my friend and I, and once she was gone, my friend conspiratorially (and yet proudly) telling me "I caught scabies off her".
  • A female friend of mine falling down drunk so suddenly that it looked either as though she'd been shot my some unseen marksman, or she was a tree that had just been felled for her valuable timber.
I went to JFK's for the last time on my 29th birthday. I went again for the very last time after a drunken works night out in my early 30's, and I went again, for what really must be the very very last time by accident, a couple of weeks ago. I was far too old, and it isn't the same, not everybody was wearing black, I only recognized about half of the songs and none of the people, and it hasn't even been called JFK's for over a decade.

Richard "Too old. Too old to begin the training" B

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Rough Pub

[contains strong language and mild peril]

I don't know why The Cherry Tree has such a bad reputation. When my band played there on Boxing Day a couple of years ago there were only six separate fights. I was there a couple of weeks ago and got talking to a charming couple. The woman told me about how she'd met her husband there exactly a year ago, and how their 11 week old daughter[note 1] was the most beautiful thing in the world. She wondered if it was my band that played on that magical night last year.

Next I got talking to her husband who started to gently push me around and shouted into my face "Were you trying it on with my misses? Because I'll knock your fucking head off." I told him what we'd been talking about, and that I didn't know if my band was there exactly a year ago. His reply has stuck with all of us as it was so poetically concise and expressive. "It wasn't you. I recognize you, you're a cunt."

The situation wouldn't have had to be much more threatening before I'd have panicked and done something stupid or embarrassing, but I was surrounded by my band, the soundman, and a couple of pretty formidable women. I assumed that had a punch been thrown I would have been protected and he'd have been restrained. Talking to a couple of them afterwards they said that they were frightened, and they weren't sure that they'd have been able to help. One of them even said he thought he'd have run away.

[note 1: If you can't be bothered doing the sums, she must have left about a demure 6 weeks between meeting him and falling pregnant by him]

Richard "Your overconfidence is your weakness. Your faith in your friends is yours." B

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Optics

When a ray of light travels from one medium to another the beam is bent, and some of the light is reflected back by the surface. As the angle of the beam changes, more and more light is reflected back until an angle where none of the light makes it thought the surface.

These bits of basic optics tend not to have much effect on people's everyday lives. If you're an angler you probably know that the fish can only see out of the water above them, and that you can hide from them below a sort of shiny horizon. If you drive, then you most likely have a little toggle on the bottom of the rear view mirror which changes its angle. When you flick the toggle you start to use the front face of the glass as the reflecting surface, rather than the mirrored back.

For me, a poor grasp of optics had a much more immediate and humiliating effect. Last week I was walking past a large inner-city housing development when one of my friends told me that I had curry on my face. I took my (large, foppish) handkerchief from my pocket, moistened its corner, pursed my lips and leant towards what I thought was a reflective surface. It turned out that it was in fact a window, and that I was staring into somebody's living room. It contained furniture, decorations, and a young woman behind an ironing board staring back at me in horror and disbelief.

Richard "Total Internal Reflection" B

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Birmingham

This weekend I went to Birmingham to help a band. I did some driving, carried some gear, but for most of the weekend I was a very expensive spare-gooseberry. There was a young and fresh-faced support band "Nerve Centre" playing their own material who were quite interesting. Unfortunately their front-man lost the ability to sing into the front of his microphone as soon as the song required any tricky guitar playing. They finished on a very good (and to my mind surprisingly clean) punk song called "List of things (I'd do to Kim Kardashian before I'd follow her on twitter)". They also did a brilliant hard-rock version of "Fight for your right to party". If they had learned it that weekend as a tribute to M.C. A's death, then it was absolutely spectacular.

There's a couple of incidents and snippets of conversation that will stay with me:

  • The six of us were given three twin rooms, and it seemed so likely that one of the musicians was going to want to entertain a female member of the audience in his room that nobody wanted to share with him. We found the bar's stock of drinking straws and cut one of them down. The bass player literally drew the short straw to figuratively draw the short straw and share a room with the band's boy-slut.
  •  In a tribute to health and safety concerns, we decided that it would be my job to clamber up on a wobbly drum stool and take down the backdrop because I'd drunk 6 or 7 pints by then, and everybody else was virtually sober.
  •  When I was talking too loudly in public about what I'd seen for sale in a supermarket, the guitarist quietly saying to me "Richard, can you just stop shouting 'cock-ring' ?"
  •  The drunk and opinionated singer listening to the DJ and furiously telling me "THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE FOR NOT OWNING 'OGDEN'S NUT GONE FLAKE'".
Richard "Roadie" B

Tuesday 1 May 2012

The Medium is the Message

Communications and media students, and prissy know-it-alls often triumphantly say "The medium IS the message". Sun Microsystems built their advertising identity on this nonsensical phrase during the dot com boom. You can tell it's nonsense because the medium and the message are distinct, they even have different names to make it easier to tell that they're not the same thing.

Having said all that, I have to admit that there was an occasion at the weekend where the message had hidden components that weren't evident in the words of the message. I was on a boys only drinking expedition, and one of the participants had had to leave his 12 year old daughter at home by herself so that he could join us for a quick pint. "It's OK" he said, "She's very sensible for her age, and we've got neighbours who are.... next door." Neighbours are always next door, the sentence by itself is pleonastic and redundant, but we all understood (after we'd finished laughing at him) that the neighbours were helpful, trustworthy, and at home.

It reminds me of a question that a friend of a friend once asked. We were discussing dimly remembered childrens' TV, and "Sooty and Sweep" in particular. She asked "Was Matthew Corbet one of the two Ronnies?"

Richard "Persistent heavy showers" B

Tuesday 24 April 2012

The Big Bang Theory

There has been quite a lot of talk recently about the similarities between myself and the Sheldon character on "The Big Bang Theory". This week I asked my oldest and closest friend if he really thought we were alike and he said "some weeks I can't remember if I've talked to you on the phone or if I've seen a new 'Big Bang' episode on E4".

Childhood: Sheldon was bullied and ostracized as a child. I was bullied and ostracised as a child.

College: Sheldon graduated summa cum laude, I graduated first in my department. Sheldon has a PhD and I don't.

Appearance: Sheldon is tall, gangly, and slightly effeminate. I'm tall, gangly, and slightly effeminate.

Caffeine: Sheldon is intolerant to caffeine and never drinks coffee. I'm intolerant to caffeine and drink only the tiniest amounts of tea and coffee.

Shower curtain: Sheldon's shower curtain displays the Periodic Table of Elements, my shower curtain displays the Periodic Table of Elements.

Routine: Sheldon lives by a strict routine, he plays Halo on a Thursday, and does laundry on a Saturday. Other than doing my washing on a Saturday I'm completely different, I have Sci-Fi club on Wednesday, band practice on Thursday, and I do my ironing on Sunday.

OCD: Sheldon has to perform certain actions in certain ways, particularly knocking on doors and sitting on his couch. My OCD is much more mild, although I can't sleep on a Sunday night unless I've finished my ironing and had a bath, and I start all phone conversations with my friends with the words "%s it's Richard[note1]"

[note1] Yes I'm showing my age using %s as a string token. Sir, my first software job was programming in C, very similar to your vaporators in most respects.

Patronizing: Sheldon tries to educate his friends during every day conversation, but he comes across as superior and annoying. The first time my favourite ex-girlfriend split up with me, it was precisely because I was "superior and annoying".

Vocabulary: Sheldon uses technical, obscure, or archaic words to express himself. My natural phraseology is commensurately sesquipedalian.[note2]

[note 2] Last week for example I said "pro-bono" when everyone would have understood "for free", and "overcoat" when everyone else would have said "jacket".

Science Fiction: Sheldon watches a lot of science fiction, takes it seriously, and analyses the science being it. I watch and read a lot of science fiction, I take it seriously, and I particularly like "Hard Sci-Fi" where all the physics of the fictional universe matches our own. Moreover I have also already quoted Star Wars' C3P0 in this article.

Sexuality: Sheldon is completely asexual and hates being touched. I have had a handful of failed relationships and have now completely given up on them.

Transport: Sheldon can't drive, favours public transport, and enjoys train travel. I can drive and I like riding motorbikes.

Chemicals: Sheldon has a favourite amino acid, I don't, that would be ridiculous. Although I realised when I was trying to memorize the lanthanides off the shower curtain that I do have favourites[note 3].

[note 3]Lanthanum, obviously; Cerium, the oxide of which is used as a polish, and shares its name with a horse that won me £10 in a sweepstake; and Neodymium because of the magnets and loudspeakers.

As you can see, we're completely different people: I haven't got a PhD, I once had a girlfriend, and I don't like trains.

 

Richard "Dr Sheldon Cooper" B

Wednesday 18 April 2012

No, she went of her own accord


There is a particular type of joke that my brother (and by association I) collect. The archetype is:

  • "My wife went to the Caribbean" "Jamaica?" "No, she went of her own accord." 
Over the years we have heard or come up with:

  • "My wife hurt her foot climbing a volcano" "Krakatoa?" "No she twisted her ankle"
  • "I got a new dog" "Whippet?" "No I bought it"
  • "I got a job in a bowling alley" "ten pin?" "No it's full time"
  • "I got one of those heavy German cakes for Christmas" "Stollen?" "No I think it was paid for."
A couple of weeks ago when we were at the Royal Academy of music hearing his daughter's band compete he came up with a brand new example:
  • "I spent a fortune on a piano" "Was it a grand?" "No it's an upright"
My favourite subversion of the genre is still:
  • "My wife went to the Bahamas" "Jamaica?" "No, the Bahamas, like I said."

Richard "cannon and ball" B

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Always Read the Question

When I first ate at ubiquitous Portuguese-themed chicken restaurant Nandos, the waitress handed me a large piece of card and said "This is a list of the food that we sell, read it and decide what you'd like to eat...." I thought at the time that it was completely superfluous advice, but this weekend I wished that I'd taken it to heart.

I had a house guest over the Easter break, and I very rudely stood her up to go and work for a band on Thursday night. However I did get paid enough to take both of us for an evening meal at Hugh Fearnley-Duckingstool's River Cottage Canteen. The meal was completely fantastic except I accidentally ordered something that I didn't like. I was hoping for some quality seafood, but I was also intrigued by the built-in pizza oven clearly visible from the dining room. As I read the menu I stopped at "Wood baked megrim sole...." which clearly ticked both the seafood and the pizza-oven boxes. The rest of the description said "...in anchovy butter". I don't like anchovies, and I don't like very fishy fish. The megrim is a big meaty white flatfish and it was cooked perfectly, but thanks to the anchovies the whole dinner was fisher than the fishiest of fish suppers[note1].

[note1] "a trout's tuppence" apparently.

Richard "Artist Security" B

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Disappointment

This weekend I went to Guildford and London, and I heard my niece perform at the Royal Academy of Music where her band won a gold award. My whole family was there, and my mum got all the way to Marylebone and back by herself, and successfully made a call on a mobile phone. However the weekend wasn't without its disappointments:


  • The National Concert Band Festival was a complete shambles, and there wasn't enough room for everybody to hear the bands or the adjudications.
  • Aberdeen Grammar Concert Band didn't do well enough to enter the competition to perform at the Olympic ceremonies.
  • 48 hours spent waiting with bated breath for a reply from the hot chorister whom I've been out with a couple of times.
  • I was booked into the wrong hotel, miles from the venue and the rest of my family.
  • I wasn't even booked into the wrong hotel.
  • Staying in a hotel less salubrious than a prison ship.
  • That my room was neither quiet, comfortable, nor dark.
  • Breakfast.
  • Engineering works between Waterloo and Guildford.
  • That the chorister wasn't interested in me after all.

Richard "No, it made me want to drown things" B

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Silence

My band played on Saturday, amongst the required pub-rock standards we try to play one or two tunes with some genuine interest. To make up for the Chelsea Daggers, Sweet Home Alabamas and Sex on Fires of the evening, we played a Primal Scream song called "I'm losing more than I'll ever have" which I firmly believe is the most beautiful song ever written[note1]. Bizarrely I didn't spot how wonderful it is until I'd been playing it weekly for a couple of months. The song starts as a ballad with a single guitar and male voice, and by the end has another guitar, drums, bass, brass section, and backing vocals. You'll know the final section because it was remixed to become "Loaded"[note2]

During the song I get five bars of glory. When it's just the male voice and gentle guitar I play really loud distorted stab chords in an odd syncopated rhythm. It's completely unexpected at that point in the song, shocking and exciting at the same time. Those few seconds are often genuinely the high point of my week.

On Saturday during the song I steadied my nerves, counted myself in, fingered the chord, and hit the strings hard and sharp. To my surprise and massive disappointment it came out as complete silence. I then had a verse and chorus in which to do some very rapid faultfinding before the song, and my evening were completely ruined. It was better the second time around.

[Note1] If I were the woman scorned for whom it was written, I'd have forgiven him.

[Note2] Yes you do remember "Loaded", you heard it all the time in the early 90's, it starts with a sample that goes "Just what is it that you want to do?...."

Richard "fan of the soprano soloist" B

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Boredom

My life is too full. What with work, social occasions, guitar practice, rehearsals, shows, elderly parent(s), and housework I barely get a minute to myself. It is several years since I knew the cloying embrace of boredom. This weekend I was bored. I didn't work on Friday afternoon and didn't go out on a planned date on Friday night. By tea time on Saturday there wasn't a single thing left in the house that I could iron or wash-up and I'd watched two feature films. I'm half way through a novel that I'm not enjoying, there wasn't a single thing worth watching on tv, I'd had a bath and a stroll, and I couldn't have had another cup of tea [note1] if my life depended on it. I eventually did something else that I haven't done for years. Sit down and listen to music by myself for the sheer pleasure of it. It was good.

[note1 For "cup of tea" read "students' ovaltine", "nescafe handshake" or "blowjob off emu"]

Richard "the hot chorister had a headache" B

Friday 16 March 2012

Jump the shark

The proud era of the date report is over.

I apologise to my regular readers and the fans of my date reports, but they have to stop. I'm going out on a first date tonight, and I want to be able to try to enjoy myself and to pay attention to what she says, rather than trying to compose a funny blog article in my head. First date reports have got me into trouble in the past. Date Report 2 became a photocopier and fax-machine phenomenon and very nearly made its way back to the woman's mother before we'd even been on a second date. I have never even been allowed to publish Date Report 3 or 6.

We all wish that there had only been one 'Matrix' film, that they'd never made the fourth series of 'Coupling', and that George Lucas had given up after either 'Empire Strikes Back' or 'Return of the Jedi'. Rather than spoil the legacy of the extant date reports with a deteriorating series of shabby copies, we'll end it on a high. Date Report 8 is the best yet. Rather than pining for more of the same, let's promote it to "Best Ever".

Date Report 1
Date Report 2
Date Report 3 - Unpublished
Date Report 4
Date Report 5
Date Report 6 - Unpublished
Date Report 7
Date Report 8

Richard "wish me luck" B

Don't Read This

This blog post is highly offensive. Stop reading now.

Orifice Capacity Scale:
  • Paper Cut
  • Mole's Eye
  • Mouse's Ear
  • E Minor 7
  • E Minor
  • A Major
  • E 7 Sharp 9
  • Clown's Pocket
  • Wizzard's Sleve
  • Hippo's Yawn
  • Ripped Out Fireplace
Richard "pc" B

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Instruction Manual

Congratulations on taking ownership of your new worn-out and modified Atco cylinder lawn mower. A few decades spent familiarising yourself with the operation and maintenance of the machine will pay dividends in the coming months.

The machine is fitted with a seriously worn Briggs&Stratton Villiers F6 two stroke engine which should have been thrown away in the 1970s. It will provide rattly and unreliable power to both the cutting blades and the roller.





  1. Charge the battery.
    The magneto failed in the early 2000s and was replaced by a lead-acid battery and a dc coil. There is no charging system fitted to the mower. Connect the battery to the charger and turn the charger on at the mains. You will notice an old light bulb soldered precariously into the charging circuit. This provides both a visual indication that the battery is being charged, and some degree of current limiting.
  2. Mix the fuel
    The annotations of the correct fuel mixture have been illegible for many years, instead use the black mark on the greasy polythene jug (supplied with the mower) to measure the petrol. Use the scratch on the side of the 35mm film canister (supplied with the mower) to measure 2-stroke oil.
  3. Fill the fuel tank
  4. Food the carburettor
    Open the fuel tap. Depress the float valve override until fuel drips out of either the venturi or the float chamber. If fuel does not drip out, proceed to the section "Rebuild the carburettor"
  5. Prime the engine
    Ensure that the ignition switch is OFF. Set the throttle to 75%. Fully close the choke. Briskly pull the starting handle twice. The kick start wore out in the 1980s and was replaced by a large pulley and a length of sturdy cord.
  6. Start the engine
    Turn the ignition switch to ON. Set the throttle to 25%. Open the choke a crack. Briskly pull the starting handle twice. In the unlikely event that the engine fires you should instantly start operating the choke and throttle such that the engine neither stalls nor floods. If the engine is now running proceed to the section "Cutting the grass"
  7. Rebuild the carburettor
    The machine is mainly assembled with whitworth fasteners, except for the ones which wore out in the 1970s and 1980s which were replaced with A/F fasteners. Fasteners replaced in the last 20 years are mainly metric. The kit of tools (supplied with the mower) contains both pre-war and post-war whitworth spanners so their markings don't correspond with the fastener dimensions.
    You should usually only need to bebuild the carburettor once or twice for each lawn that you mow.
    Disconnect the fuel hose from the float chamber. Withdraw the carburettor from the crankcase spigot. The carburettor body is deformed and the spigot is corroded so it is very difficult to remove the carburettor. Remove the float chamber. The set screw which holds the main jet in place has stripped so the main jet should now have fallen out. clear the main jet, reseat the needle in the float valve, clean the float chamber and reassemble the carburettor.
  8. Cut the grass
    The clutch lining is absolutely irreplaceable so operate the clutch as little as possible. In particular you may not open the clutch to turn corners or to turn around at the end of a run. The tick-over adjustment is broken, instead simply try not to close the throttle so far that the engine stops. Open the throttle a little to increase engine revs and close the clutch. Cut the grass. Close the fuel tap approximately two minutes before you finish cutting the grass so that the float chamber is empty. Turn off the ignition.
  9. Clean
    Use the toothbrush and broken china teacup of oil (supplied with the mower) to lubricate the cutting blades.

Below is a list of common faults, their causes and cures:

SympomsPossible causeRemedial action
Fast tickover, low power partially blocked main jet Rebuild the carburettor
Poor starting, runs badly partially blocked main jet Rebuild the carburettor
" partially blocked float valve Rebuild the carburettor
" partially blocked fuel filter Rebuild the carburettor
" dirty spark plug Clean spark plug
" poor seal at spark plug Re-seat spark plug
" accumulation of oil in crankcase Drain crankcase
" poor seal at crankcase drain Re-seat crankcase drain
Does not start too numerous to list Diagnose and rectify
Not interested in lawnmower preservation ? ?

Richard "text flirting with a hot chorister" B

Tuesday 6 March 2012

How am I coping?

Almost a decade ago I used to go out with a very nice young woman, beautiful, cheerful, friendly, fun, incongruously large breasts. Every month she would visit a theme park that I didn't understand, and spend a couple of days riding a terrifying emotional roller-coaster. Within seconds she would plunge from glee to misery, in moments she could travel from callous to tender, talkative to taciturn, argumentative to loving.

My dad died a couple of weeks ago and we had the funeral on Friday. People ask me how I'm doing, and the only honest answer I can really give is "up and down", I have a much better understanding of Redacted's roller-coaster. I was really proud during the service, and very very sad to see the hearse driving away with the coffin. At the wake I found myself surrounded by friends, family and pasties with a cold beer in my hand. When I caught myself enjoying it I felt quite guilty.

On Saturday night I played in my band in front of a lot of my family and friends, and I played well. I was really full of joy, and the audience drank and danced. It was a bizarre, yet strangely fitting end to a very poignant weekend.

Richard "up and down" B

Thursday 1 March 2012

Eulogy - drb

J.A.H. Redacted
February 22 1920 February 18 2012
My Dad was a very modest man. He never took credit for the great things he was responsible for. When something worked out well as a result of his meticulous planning or skill, he preferred to give the credit to fate and say that we had been lucky.
A man of very simple pleasures, he enjoyed listening to Jazz music, the occasional glass of wine, a really hot curry and a cigar at Christmas. His real loves were his family and his boats.
Hard work, honesty and integrity were very important to him, not only did he live by these values, but expected it of those around him. Always an early riser, if anyone appeared for breakfast after 8 o’clock they were dismissed as having “missed the best part of the day”.
He was very intelligent and knowledgably and would amaze me at his breadth of understanding of an enormous range of subjects, from classical music, to ancient history, to foreign languages, to wine making, it seemed there was nothing he didn’t have some understanding of. In contrast, Dad was also very practical and enjoyed working with his hands, tinkering with electronics and his boats. Not many people would happily disassemble an expensive Swiss watch confident they could put it back together.
Dad was a very resourceful and determined man almost to the point of stubborn. If he could not mend something with what he had at hand, then it was either impossible to repair or so inferior that he would make something better himself. We used to joke that it only took one Redacted to change a light bulb, but the rest of the family to try and mend the broken one.
His preferred medium was the back of an envelope. Whether it was drawing a circuit diagram, designing a self-steering gear or writing a shopping list, if it couldn't be contained in the limited area of 3”x 8”, it was too complicated.
He was born in 1920 on the Isle of Wight in the Solent, the salt air and maritime environment must have got into his blood at an early age as boats and the sea were to become a huge part of his life. His father, John Redacted, died when he was 8 and he moved to Eastbourne on the Sussex coast with his mother, Mable. Dad went to school in Hasting’s making the 14 mile trip along the south coast by bicycle. At 16 he took his school certificate and started at Hartley-Turners as an apprentice working in the very early days of high quality sound reproduction, what would eventually be known as Hi-Fi. It was at about this time that he gained his HAM radio license; we think he was the youngest in the UK.
He served his country during the Second World War, joining the Royal Air force at age 19 and due to his previous experience with electronics and radio he was immediately selected to work in the ground breaking and top secret RADAR technology that was so vital during the conflict. His training manuals were kept and are now in the RAF museum. Throughout the war, his work was absolutely cutting edge and he traveled across the UK, Europe and after liberation India, by this time promoted to Flight Lieutenant.

In 1946 he left the RAF and returned to live with his Mum in Richmond, South London where he kept his first yacht Cathrine and embarked on his first continental cruise to Holland. By now he had met Noel Bevan to become a lifelong friend and who he would later sail with in the Fasnet race, beating the MP Ted Heath.

In 1950, after a few years dedicated to sailing and HAM radio, He started work at HJ Leak, renowned for the latest technology in amplifiers and public address systems where he met Ted and Alma Ashley who also became lifelong friends.

He returned to sailing full time in 1953, Cathrine was sold and Dad bought Monie (Virtue # 3) a true ocean going yacht designed by the famous Laurent Giles. He joined the Cruising Association to use their library for navigation information and taught himself astro navigation, he was now confidant enough to sail single-handed from the Hamble to Gibraltar. He advertised in the Times newspaper for a sailing companion for the return voyage Dick Tizzard a Cambridge professor responded and they became close friends and later business partners.

He thought he had better go back to work and in 1955 and joined Electronic Instruments as an engineer involved in a huge range of process monitoring and control from cigarette manufacture to letter sorting. Dad made a significant improvement in the design of one piece of equipment and registered a patent for a measurement pump still used in and hospitals today.

It was around this time that my Mum “breezed in” to his life at Electronic Instruments and in 1959 they went on their first date to a promenade concert to see the Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony. They were married in 1960 and with total predictability he planned a sailing holiday in Monie for the honeymoon. The weather was very bad and they arrived in The Channel Islands in a thunder storm so severe it made the papers. During his time with Electronic Instruments he traveled all over the world, but with enough time at home to start a family.

In 1961 he replied to a job advert for Griffin and George. He was attracted to Plymouth for the ease of keeping a boat and going sailing, but it was rumored, to get away from his mother in law. He was given the job and in 1962 sailed from Portsmouth to Plymouth to start work.

Following the closure of the Griffon &George factory in 1964, Dick. Tizzard and Dad took the opportunity to set up Plymouth Sound Yacht Services in Turnchaple just as sailing became increasingly popular. However, the demands of his young family by this time Mary, John and I, the need for a larger house and nearby schools made him decide to sell his beloved Monie and move to Furzehatt Road in 1966 where he would spend the next 46 years.

After 5 years of running the boat yard, he decided that his hobby was not a good occupation and he sold it as a successful business. He took a job with the Plymouth Gas Processing Plant in Oreston This gave Dad more time to spend with his family and the opportunity to have a boat again. He found Bathilda a Norwegian 18’ open motor boat in a state of disrepair in Stonehouse creek. After restoring the boat it was used for many family outings and Dad gave up weekends to serve as Plym Yacht club’s rescue boat.

With a ready-made crew, in the early 70’s Dad bought “Wandering Star” a 26' steel yacht that over the next 10 years was to cruise hundreds of miles around the Devon and Cornwall coast and be the source of many happy family holidays to the Channel Islands and Brittany. He was by now working for Plymouth Polytechnic helping students with their project work, well beyond his role of a lab technician. And, to the surprise of all of us, and the delight of my Dad, Richard was born.

In March of 1982, Dad had a heart attack and decided to retire. He kept himself busy with a huge range of projects, including designing and building plywood pram dinghies for friends and those lucky enough to get on the list. With his children moved away he replaced Wandering Star with an 18’ Plymouth Pilot, “Mimosa” and would use this boat to cruise the inland waterways of France. The peace of the canals and rural France appealed to him as did the 35 franc 3 course dinners.
John, my father, Dad, “the Old Man” was a quiet and often private person. He was very modest about all these achievements and his humility is probably the characteristic that describes him most completely and the one that I will remember him for.
Aren't we lucky?

Monday 27 February 2012

Eulogy - rjb

My Dad was clever.
    He invented things so novel and useful that they got patented. He helped me with my studies all the way through school and university, and I still used to ring him up and ask for help when I started going to work. He built his first radio transmitters when he was a child.

My Dad was good with words.
    When I asked him how digital frequency counters worked, he said "very well" rather than explaining their principle of operation. He described catheterization as "a monstrous indignity". He was quicker and easier to ask than Google when you couldn't think of a word. When he noticed that "text" had become a verb he naturally included "Thou texteth" in the conjugation. I once heard him call somebody "a baboon" and "sir" in the same sentence. Without fail he was clear and precise in speech, he once left an answering machine message for me at a friend's house. It started "This is John Redacted with a message for Richard Redacted his son message follows:"

My Dad was practical and resourceful.
    There was almost nothing that he couldn't make or mend, from bicycles, lawn-mowers, and out-board motors, to amplifiers and oscilloscopes, from childrens' toys to furniture and boats. After my brothers had destroyed a small petrol lawn mower (which had already been scrapped) to make a powered go-kart, he turned it back into a lawn-mower, and it's still cutting the grass more than 30 years later. He made sailing and rowing dinghies in his garage. When you worked with him, you never went out to buy specialist tools or parts, everything was repaired, adapted, re-purposed, or fabricated.

My Dad understood risk.
    He once left my 10 year old brother in charge of a small lead smelter, but he never let me cycle at night without lights. He crossed the channel to France several times in an 18 foot open boat. He encouraged his children to ride motorbikes. He once sent me to the top of his house on an aluminium ladder which had a home-made 3 metre extension G-clamped to the legs. We did all kinds of exciting and adventurous things and nobody was killed or injured, there were only a handful of broken bones. Looking back I think that he understood our capabilities and trusted us. He would never put us in harm's way, but neither was he paralysed by fear for us.

My Dad was wise.
    In my life I have only had to make a handful of heart-wrenchingly, future-splittingly difficult decisions, but the ones I did with his help were easier and better. His advice was straightforward and mainly boiled down to: Don't do anything rash, weigh up the pros and cons, sleep on it, don't be dishonest.

My Dad is dead and gone forever.
    And the world is a sadder and a duller place because of it, but his values are alive. My brothers and sister are like me, and we behave as he taught us. Between us we're clever, eloquent, practical, adventurous and wise. For example I make and mend all kinds of things for all kinds of people. I'm never wasteful and will always try to mend or re-use something broken before I buy a new one - just like my dad.

Richard "will" B

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Rock Stars

I've spent a lot of time on the roads in the last couple of days, and it seems that a disproportionate number of road haulage companies are run by old rock stars. I guess that after Fleetwood Mac and after the bad trip in Berlin, Peter Green moved away from guitar playing and into temperature controlled distribution.

I always think of Peter Frampton as a guitarist, but maybe he runs a road transport business too.

I couldn't tell you who was in Sparks but seemingly they've stayed together through the move from music into road transport.

Nigel Tuffnel of Spinal Tap didn't start working on the T-Shirt stall or in a hat shop, there's now a huge fleet of vans branded "Big Green Parcel Machine" run by Tuffnels.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if I found out that Eddie Stobart used to play bass with Black Sabbath, or Norbert Dentressangle was the front man for Golden Earring.

Richard "Paul Simon makes curtains and blinds now" B

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Predestination

If a group of men are talking, and any proportion of them are around my own age, then when somebody mentions the actress Jenny Agutter, the conversation is guaranteed to follow a pre-defined route. As sure as eggs is eggs, as sure as night follows day, as sure as black follows pink, follows blue, the next 3 topics will be: "The Railway Children", "An American Werewolf in London" (which frightened us), and "Walkabout" in which she briefly appeared completely naked.

My favourite example of this was about ten years ago when I was first meeting a new girlfriend's parents. My girlfriend and her mum were at the bar gossiping and I had to try to make conversation with Disco Mike [note 1,2]. We got onto the subject of films, directors, John Landis, American Werewolf, Jenny Agutter, Railway Children, American Werewolf's sex scene, and we were just discussing seeing her naked in Walkabout when his wife and my girlfriend came back to the table. I never really got on with her mum, but her dad became my greatest ally, and a great proponent of the fated reconciliation.

I was on a men only drinking expedition on Friday when somebody mentioned Jenny Agutter, but another one of the drinkers had met her, and he took the conversation on a wholly unexpected detour through bicycle clips, wicker baskets, autographs and the nature of fame, before eventually getting back onto familiar ground with the American Werewolf sex scene and undressing in Walkabout.

[Note 1

He was married in the 70's and in his wedding photos he looks exactly like the Simpson's Disco Stu.]
[Note 2
No he didn't have glass platform shoes containing live goldfish.]

Richard "OMD is not an expression of disbelief" B

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Starter Motor

My apologies to my readers who aren't interested in motorcycle maintenance, but that is what I spent the majority of the weekend doing.

Starting my bike has been intermittent, the solenoid goes, but about half the time the starter motor doesn't turn. At the end of last week I convinced myself that the problem was with the battery. On every other Japanese bike I've worked on the battery is under the front of the saddle and the back of the fuel tank. I took the saddle and tank off and couldn't find the battery, it was hiding behind one of the side fairings. I bought and fitted a brand new battery, and the starting was just as bad as before. Plymouth Battery Centre were fantastic, they weren't expensive, they put the acid in it for me (I don't like doing that) and then took the battery back and gave me a full refund when it turned out that I didn't need it.

Over the weekend I took the starter motor out. Usually as you stand of the nearside of the bike, you're looking at the back of the starter motor, and it pulls out towards you. Not on this bike, it's nose is towards you, and you have to push it away to disengage it. There's a cover over the nose of the starter that looks like it will house the mounting bolts. It doesn't, it simply pours about a teacup of engine oil into your lap when you remove it.

Anyway, the terminals on the starter were rusty, and the innards were gummed up with dust, and having cleaned and lubricated everything, the bike seems to be starting reliably.

What have I learned?

  • Plymouth Battery Centre are fantastic
  • There's nothing wrong with my battery
  • You have to take the carburettor off before you can with withdraw the starter motor.
  • It's a 3 hour job to refit the starter motor
  • The starter motor drive runs in oil, and there's an oil seal inside the starter.
  • My bikes been off the road twice in a month, and both faults were caused by corrosion.
Richard "Polish My Commutator" B

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Bump Start

Nothing that I thought was funny happened this weekend, but I suspect that several hundred shoppers feel differently. On Sunday I stopped at Morrison's in Plymstock to buy a couple of things. When I got back to my bike the starter motor wouldn't run. There simply isn't a downhill from there. It's literally (and littorally) astride Pomphlet Creek, so it's at sea-level. I had to push the bike faster and faster across the car park until I was running, then leap onto it, then get it into 2nd (don't ask), and then let the clutch out with a bang. As if that procedure isn't difficult enough:

  • I was wearing big cumbersome boots, warm jacket, and thick gloves.
  • The car park was full and busy.
  • I had to avoid trolleys, cars, dithering old folk, and babies in pushchairs.
  • The car park is slightly corrugated, so there are several areas which are gently uphill.
I did get home, but I had built up a good sweat and a noble thirst before I did so.

Richard "No Kick Start" B