Thursday 31 December 2015

Language Barrier

George Bernard Shaw once said: 'England and America are two countries divided by a common language'.

I've lived in America for 14 years and with some common sense, imagination and watching Dukes of Hazard as a teenager, have rarely had a problem figuring out what people are trying to say or making myself understood. Yes, you have to pronounce water as if it is spelt with a "d" and avoid saying garage unless you want to spend the next 15 minutes repeating it while people giggle, but on the whole it's not a problem.

This New Years eve it all came crashing down and it became apparent that not only was I in a foreign country, I couldn't understand the language. My wife had asked my to prepare a recipe which she had helpfully printed from the internet, it may have well have been in French for all the help it was. It started like this:

"A cheesy scalloped cabbage and ham casserole. Great for potlucks."

My initial thoughts were something like a seafood and vegetable stew, but why is there a random chance element? Further reading revealed it was actually a baked dish with cheese on top, nothing to do with casserole and there were no scallops, in fact no mollusks at all.

I started researching and discovered that "casserole" has a totally different meaning and now means baking something in the oven with cheese on top (I thought we already had a word for that?) although the dictionary definition is exactly the same as the English one "stew cooked in a pot". And "scalloped" apparently refers to "scalloped potatoes" which again means cooked with cheese on top although originally referred to the fact the potatoes were sliced so the edged appeared scalloped or curved , but now has been corrupted and refers to anything baked with cheese on top.

So, what we are actually trying to cook is baked ham and cabbage with cheese, baked in the oven with cheese on top, not a medley of gulf coast seafood, spring vegetables and prosciutto served au-gratin. Disappointing to say the least.

Oh, and a potluck is actually a social gathering where each guest brings something to eat, so the menu is "pot luck". At least it doesn't mean baked with cheese on top, like everything else.

Happy New Year

Doug "baked with cheese on top" B

Tuesday 29 December 2015

It's Not Terrible

I’ve seen the new "Star Wars" film, and it was pretty good. I'm not going to give away any plot points, but I am going to mention what characters are in it. Stop reading now…

… If you didn't want to know that an older Han Solo and Princess Leia make an appearance.

I'm a big fan of the original trilogy and my worst fear was that the new one would start with the Disney logo, and that it would go downhill from there. It didn't, I enjoyed almost every moment of it.

So much of it is to please the people my age who loved "A New Hope" and the story is so similar that it feels almost like a remake.

In-atmosphere ship battles are the way forward, you get condensation trails and scenery to give the impression of speed.

A couple of things that my friends said:
"Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were on screen together for about a  minute and a half and they did a  better job of being in love than Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman did in all those hours."

"You'd have to ask Leia if Han shot first."

Richard "Fan-service" B

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Bah Humblog

file under: impotent whining

I love Christmas – hanging around eating and drinking with friends and family, open fires, nuts, carols, satsumas, turkey sandwiches with mayonnaise and a hangover, new toys, watching the Queen and a James Bond film… There are many aspects of the preparatory period that I dislike, I'm rubbish at buying presents and I find writing cards a chore. One of my friends makes it even worse by consistently giving me both clothing that fits and suits me and cards with sincere touching messages. The bastard – how can I compete with that?

Two things have brought me pre-Christmas festive cheer this year. One of my colleagues has organised a collection of Christmas presents for the homeless. It seems that they have fairly modest tastes in gifts that they would like to receive, and I imaging them being genuinely appreciative. I have really enjoyed buying presents for homeless strangers.

A friend of mine was shopping in Poundland and overheard the most excellent exchange that really cuts to the heart of gift giving culture. "Mummy, what is a stocking filler?" "It's crap".

Richard "you haven't brought me a gift, you've left me with an obligation" B

Tuesday 8 December 2015


file under: impotent whining

I was at a concert on Friday night, I'm no shortarse, and all I could see for most of the night was mobile phones and hats. Young fashionable people: take your hats off in the auditorium, it's not cold, and the people behind you might want to see the fucking stage. If you think that a woolly hat is an expression of your individuality think again. It's the same expression of the same individuality as thousands of your carbon copy compatriots.

And another thing.

People who think you know some maths: Stop saying things like "Of course half of schools perform below the average" unless you understand the difference between the median, mean, and mode, or you know for sure that it's a symmetric distribution. Do you really think that only half of people have an above average number of arms?

And while we're at it.

Stop sending me a maths problem about three brothers at a restaurant where the change and the tip don't add up. It's not a maths problem, it's clever word-play. There is no revelation, and it's a chore working through the arithmetic with you.

And now I've started.

Vinegar before salt. That way the salt sticks to every chip, rather than running through and forming an aceto-sodium slurry at the bottom of the pile.

It’s Frankenstein’s MONSTER. Frankenstein was the good-looking successful urbane doctor.

People with colds: Blow your nose and stop sniffing. We don't want to listen to you playing a breath by breath game of keepy-up with a pool of mucous.

Bloggers with a tiny readership: If something annoys you, do something about it at the time, rather than publishing directionless passive aggressive rants about your personal betes noires.

Richard "calm down" B

Wednesday 2 December 2015


file under: engineering boasting

When I was little, and my parents would read to me from picture books, I was always amused by a badly organised anthropomorphic bear who never mended his roof. When it was sunny the roof didn't need mending, when it was raining it was too wet to mend. This year I nearly became that bear.

I run my motorbike all through winter, and I try to preserve it as best I can by cleaning it and daubing the suspension and running gear with anti corrosion formula. The weather has been mild and they haven't been using salt on the roads, so I never winterised the bike. Unfortunately winter beat me to the punch this year and it was too wet and windy to properly clean the bike this weekend. I also accidentally pushed the bike off its stand and did more damage to my garage shelving, my leg, and the bike's windscreen mount that I could ever hope to prevent with some expensive pink jollop.

Richard "Scarry" B

Tuesday 24 November 2015


file under: wtf

This year I am resurrecting my favourite sporting competition: Who can put on (or lose) the most (or least) weight over the Christmas period.

Have you ever been to one of those weddings or funerals with a full-day agenda, and at every turn somebody is offering you a glass of champagne, an aperitif, or a cold bottle of beer? It can be a real challenge not to get completely ruined. December has a similar feel to it: it becomes increasingly difficult not to consume huge quantities of mince pies, fruitcake, nuts, fruit, chocolate, turkey, cheese, steamed pudding, champagne, beer, wine, sherry, brandy, eggnog, sickly liqueurs, picked onions, crisps and a partridge in a pear tree.

This year I will embrace them all. In the interests of sportsmanship, in the run up to December I will re-enforce my "no cakes on Wednesday" rule, won't use up the surplus cream on my breakfast cereal, will try to smoke a little more, and will do a couple of 24 hour fasts. After the weigh in I'm stopping smoking and fasting and will eat everything that I'm offered without guilt or hesitation.

Richard "game on" B

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Track Day

file under: engineering boasting

In the 70s imported motorcycles were invariably fitted with very hard, very cheap, very long-lasting tyres made by Chang Shin. If he valued his life the first thing that the owner would do was to put on a proper set of Avon or Dunlop tyres. I don't know if it's common parlance, but among my brothers "Chang Shin Suicide Tyre" is code for any hard and slippery rubber.

This weekend I was taken on a track day at Castle Combe by my friend in his Mazda RX8. Castle Combe is a difficult and dangerous circuit, 30% of all UK motorsport accidents happen on one particular corner there. It rained hard all day, and unbeknown to us, his car was fitted with chang-shin-suicide-tyres. It was good fun and very instructive and I think we were close to the ragged edge much more of the time than all the people who turned up with really fast cars and good tyres. The only things that we went past were the MGB, the Morris Minor, the Subaru that lost its exhaust pipe, the Clio that popped its oil cooler, the BMW that smashed into the tyre wall and oddly the Noble (probably being operated at that moment by the owner's granny).

The trick to circuit driving seems to be to do everything at a leisurely pace. Don't brake too early, don't turn in too early, don't apex too early, don't put all the power down too early, and when you're going sideways, don't panic too early.

Richard "Avon Roadrunner" B

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Slowly Slowly.

file under: impotent whining

There's a geological phenomenon called "lift and creep". Imagine a single piece of dust half way up a hillside. When the sun warms the hill it expands and pushes the speck of dust outwards (away from the centre of the hill). If, when the hill shrinks back, the dust were to lose its grip and fall it would end up fractionally below where it started. Even in the absence of wind and running water, over geological timescales, sediment and soil flows slowly downhill.

That's the speed that the traffic moves on the East side of Plymouth now that they're knocking down the Haye Road bridge and have traffic lights at the Deep Lane junction.

Richard "Chaddlewood to Deep Lane via Sparkwell, Venton, Lee Mill, and Smithaleigh" B

Tuesday 3 November 2015

New Shoes

file under: impotent whining

This weekend I have been more impressed by insects than the employees of a shoe shop. I looked at what my mason bees have produced and they've been brilliant. The original 24 cocoons have produced 75 new cocoons and some excellent defence measures. Every tube that they laid eggs in had a fake, unprovisioned cell at the end to deter intruders. In the few instances where a cell had been parasitised they bees had detected it and had left a large empty space and walled the maggots inside.

Feckless-youth-number-1 at Jones Bootmaker sold me a mismatched "pair" of boots. When I got home I realised that the box contained a left size 9 and a right size 10. I rang them and it took them an hour to find the pair to my left boot. I was a 15 mile round trip away and without my motorbike, the store manager had to ring the area manager before he could agree to pay for my parking and diesel when I came in to swap right boots. (they refused to deliver it). When I got back to the shop the manager wasn't present and feckless-youth-number-2 took an age to find my other boot. He then didn't know anything about my refund and said he would get in to trouble if he took money out of the till. When I told him that I would write him a receipt, and that he'd be in considerably more trouble if he didn't get my money the story changed to his not being able to open the till. Nearly-competent-youth-number-3 attempted to take my refund out of his own pocket, but didn't have enough change.

Richard "9.5 F on Loake last 026" B

Tuesday 27 October 2015

That'll do.

file under: uncategorized

I've always rather liked sheepdogs and once spent a great day at an amateur sheepdog trials (in some cases both the dogs and the handlers were amateurish and one unfortunate pair accidentally chased the sheep into the car park ).

One works day out we were lent the use of a sheepdog and a flock of ducks. We learned that the three basic commands are "lie down" "come by"(clockwise) and "away now"(anticlockwise). It was hard for me to issue these commands because the dog had been trained by a man with a gruff Yorkshire accent.

This week I saw a very Plymouthian man training a border collie (as a pet rather than a working dog). I despair that he ever lends the dog to someone, because one of the commands will be impossible to guess. He was using "Sit" "Lie Down" "Fetch" and "Come over'ere mate"

Richard "one man and his blog" B

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Vintage Food

file under: embarrassing social situations

This weekend I visited my sister and a couple of things in her kitchen were a little out of date. I'm glad to say though, that she had thrown away the old packet of suet.

I lived with her for a year in the early 90s when I was a student. I remember a conversation about the graphic design of a packet of Sainsbury's beef suet. It was done in cream and blue, and the Sainsbury's typeface looked "old-timey". To start with we thought that it was a special design to compliment the old-ladyish nature of cooking with suet. On closer examination it turned out that it had gone out of date in 1978 and had been sculling around in her kitchen for at least 13 years.

Richard "when I accidentally poisoned her husband the culprit pickle was only two years out of date" B

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Drop the Shoulder

file under: embarrassing social situations

When I play frisbee with my friend and his daughter, she inevitably gets marginalised in the game and I end up as one of two grown men playing with a child's toy while its owner watches.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was walking to the local shops something similar happened with a couple of strangers. A man (probably in his 30s) was walking to the shops with his young son (probably less than 5). The man was kicking a football accurately and sympathetically to his son who would try, clumsily, to kick it back.

I'm no expert in football, but in a monkey-see-monkey-do way I have learned to use some of the jargon. On one occasion the son lost control of the ball and it came in my general direction. I jogged over and knocked it back to the father who had excellent ball control. With one touch he put it back at his son's feet and shouted - ostensibly to his son who had no idea what he meant – "knock it on, let's see if he's got pace". I collected it again and while I kicked the ball back to the father I shouted – again aimed at the son, but really to amuse the father – "run off the ball, build triangles".

The son didn't get many touches for the rest of the short walk to the co-op.

Richard "show him the nutmeg" B

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Low µ Little Suckers

file under: embarrassing social situations

This weekend I went to Thruxton for a skid pan training day. It was hard work and much more difficult than I expected, specially in the front wheel drive car. All that's left of my irony detector is a smoking crater after - on a day devoted to losing and gaining traction on low grip surfaces - I slipped down a muddy bank and cut my hand.

Richard "a little too ironic - yeah I really do think" B

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Are you dancing?

file under: embarrassing social situations

One morning last week, when I arrived at work, one of the women was outside the building smoking a cigarette. A loud motorbike, earplugs, and crash helmet meant that I couldn't hear what she was saying, but she was gesticulating wildly above her head. It looked like she was telling a story about being a rugby referee and emphatically awarding a try, or bringing a jetliner up to its stand, or being a victorious Mexican desperado and firing a brace of revolvers into the air, or being taken hostage at gunpoint, or maybe that time she climbed into the exoskeleton loader to fight the alien queen.

I sarcastically asked her if she was showing off her dance moves. She laughed and smiled.

I wear a heavy leather jacket with very tight cuffs. I have discovered that the easiest way to take it off is to vigorously waggle my arms until the cuffs slide over my hands. I probably look a little bit like a penguin would if it had got something sticky and distasteful on its flippers.

It was at exactly this moment that the woman walked past. She said "nice moves" and clearly didn't mean it.

Richard "Got the moves like Pingu" B

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Chin Up Fatty

file under: uncategorized

This weekend I visited my friend and old bandmate in the deep south (of London).

I haven't seen him since spring so I had to tell him about splitting up with "Wonkyeye". Living on the same continent would have necessarily involved our getting married and I wasn't confident enough in our long term prospects to commit to it. I thought it was kinder to call the whole thing off earlier rather than later. I've been pretty miserable about it, she's been absolutely distraught.

My friend offered me two pieces of advice which individually are pretty meaningless, but in concert seem to become sage and helpful.

"Just because you thought it was the right thing to do, doesn't mean that it isn't sad."
"Just because it's sad, doesn't mean you’ve done the wrong thing."

Richard "sage and onion" B

Wednesday 16 September 2015


file under: Embarrassing Social Situations

Despite having a physique akin to a stick insect I think I need to lose a little bit of weight. I ordered a pair of leather trousers for motorcycling and although they were fine in the leg and the waist, they were too tight in the seat. I sent them back and the company sent me their most suitable replacement pair which I could sit in comfortably, but which are now loose around the waist. They might as well have sent me an affidavit saying "you sir, have a fat arse, and we don't make a pair of trousers to accommodate it".

More recently I went zip wiring. As well as strapped them unsympathetically into a plum-crushing safety harness they weigh each of their guests and shout the numbers for all to hear. My weight has been stable for the past 20 years, but I’m now suddenly 4kg heavier.

I have removed cream cakes from my regular Wednesday night entertainments schedule, but other than that I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Regular exercise? Drink less? They don’t sound very realistic.

Richard "Middle Aged Low Calorie Spread" B

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Start at the Back

file under: Engineering boasting

When my dad was alive, there were a couple of jokes that he always made. If he ever saw anybody laying turf, or if it came up in conversation he would shout "Green side up!". Similarly if he saw someone painting a floor he would shout "Start at the back!".

The weekend before last I either painted a garage floor or played the worst game of Towers of Hannoi ever. I thought that I had taken everything that I needed out of the garage, I mixed up the paint, and I did start at the back, painting with a roller on a long handle. When I had done about a third of the garage and I couldn’t possibly stop, the roller broke. The first thing that was the wrong side of a large area of wet paint was the rubbish bin to throw away the broken roller. I did have a spare roller with me but it turned out not to fit on the extension handle. All the tools, screws, tape and everything useful was now inaccessible. I just avoided having to do the whole job on my hands and knees by sacrificing a garden rake and quickly whittling its handle down with a penknife to form a temporary extension handle.

While the paint was drying I tried to mow the lawn. I had brought the mower, the fuel, the oil, the mixing bottle and the battery booster with me. Of course the main jet was blocked and the whitworth spanners were on the other side of an acreage of wet paint.

Richard “RIP Rico” B

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Hobby Rotation

(file under: Musical boasting)

For the past few years I have been the permanent soundman for an Oasis tribute. I still get on with them just fine, but because <reasons> I have given it up. This weekend I did my final two shows with them. I'm not going to miss the late nights, the hanging around, or the heavy lifting. Nor hearing the same songs, week-in week-out, in the same order with the same limited dynamics and wavering tempos. I'll be glad to see the back of the troublemaking drunken wankers and the self-appointed experts in the crowd.

I'm certainly going to miss the pocket money that it brought in, and the little adventures we had together.

To my surprise I think the thing I'm going to miss most of all is the lads in the band. Before their last song, on my last show they thanked me seriously and sincerely for my hard work, skill, and support. Not only did the whole audience applaud me, but the band stood on stage and clapped for me.

I don't think I have every felt so moved and appreciated in my life.

Richard "Thankyougoodnight!" B

Tuesday 25 August 2015

What's the capital of Peru?

file under: Embarrassing social situations

Last week I did a pub quiz with my niece. There were loads of questions that we couldn't answer but two that seemed particularly difficult.

We didn't recognise the road sign for "Migratory Toad Crossing". Moreover I didn't know that there was a road sign for Migratory Toad Crossing, and it wasn't shown in my 1994 highway code when I got home.

More confusing was the question "What is the opposite of Stockholm Syndrome?" We both knew that Stockholm Syndrome is where you get kidnapped and end up liking it. The opposite would seem to be "not liking getting kidnapped" and there isn't a specific word for that. "Being normal?" "Sanity?" "a healthy sense of fear?".

Stockholm Syndrome is where the captive develops an affection for their captor. Lima syndrome is where the captor develops an affection for the captive and treats them very well or releases them. It's got nothing to do with growing a long furry tail and living in Madagascar.

Richard "anti-Patty Hearst" B

Tuesday 18 August 2015

You're Fired

file under: Musical boasting

I'm not expecting that much sympathy from my readers, but this weekend I discovered the most hideously annoying situation. To feel my pain you'd have to be exactly the same combination of busy lazy comfortable OCD luddite that I am.

My CDs are kept, as God intended, in alphabetical order by band/artist. The order is simplicity itself: the word "The" is ignored from the beginning of band names. If I recognise the artist name as a first name and surname, then it is sorted by surname so "Patti Smith" is under "SM". Word boundaries come before "A" so "Red Hot Chilli Peppers" comes before "Redding". Soundtracks, compilations and mashups with no clear band/artist are in an imaginary letter after "Z". Within a band/artist they are sorted by my best (uninformed) guess of chronological order.

I don't own any CDs where both the composer and the orchestra are pertinent. I don't own any CDs by "The The" and I don't own any CDs by that band whose name was just a squiggle.

On Saturday night I discovered that my cleaner has been putting CDs away in the wrong place. I don't just mean "Physical Graffiti" before "Four", I mean any-fucking-where at all she can find a fucking space. The bitch! It took me a very long time to find the album that I was looking for, and I spent over an hour putting it right on Sunday.

Richard "Furious" B

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Baking Bad?

Never thought a bath tub full of blood and body parts would be so tasty!

Valley of the shadow of death

file under: Embarrassing social situations

My mum asked me if I had made financial arrangements for my funeral (like my sister has). I haven't made explicit arrangements, but when I took out a mortgage I was obliged to buy life insurance. When I'm dead there’ll be £100,000 sculling around in my estate so the executor should easily be able to afford to bury or cremate me.

"But that'll only pay out if you die." Said my mum – quite rightly. I politely explained that I had no intention of having an expensive funeral while I was still alive.

One weekend (back when I lived with a woman) her parents came to visit and we went to a restaurant to celebrate her mother's birthday. I asked whether I should put on a suit and discovered that her dad doesn't like suits, and only owns one which he calls his "funeral suit".  Thinking that I was being flattering and charming I said that he was rather young to have that picked out already. It turns out it was the suit that he wears to OTHER PEOPLE’s funerals.

Richard "The deceased was a keen welder – we'd like to put his favourite oxygen and acetylene cylinders in the casket for the cremation." B

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Summer Holidays

file under: Childish wordplay

It's decades since I've been in full time education and I don't have children. All that the six weeks between late July and early September mean to me is the time when my teacher friends make social calls and go on holidays. As such we're now calling it "teacher-season".

One of the things I did this weekend was to trim a bush. When I was a teenager my mum kept a big muscular tomcat called Willy and she planted a bay seedling next to his grave after he died. The Willy-cat-memorial-bay-tree is now over eight feet tall and trained into a globe shape.

Whatever smutty jokes you're busy making (willy pussy-cat bush etc), they're probably not as good as the ones that the woman whom I used to carshare with was subjected to. She got a letter from Plymouth City Council telling her that it was time to trim her bush! Apparently it was overgrown and extended so far past her "boundary" that it interfered with sight-lines at the junction, and as such constituted a danger to road-users.

Richard "she got rid of the whole thing" B

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Out damned spot

file under: Embarrassing courtship situations

A couple of weeks ago I went to a restaurant for a birthday party. I talked to a very handsome woman whom I'd never met before (she was such a screaming janner that in a short conversation about parking meters she used the phrases "geddon" and "proper job" without a hint of irony). Emboldened by rough red wine I asked her if she had a boyfriend and she said she was "pretty much seeing someone". Very shortly after I happened to see myself in a mirror and discovered that I had a huge and disgusting spot above my right eye. It was like a horizontal Vesuvius gouting bloody pus lava into my eyebrow.

I can't help but wonder whether, if my skin had been clear and healthy she might have been "pretty much single".

Richard "sebaceous cyst" B

Tuesday 21 July 2015


file under: Engineering Boasting

My Saturday didn't live up to its billing. It was supposed to incorporate "sports car repair" and "putting on a rock concert". My friend and I thought that the ineffective handbrake and grinding noise from his back brakes would be fixed by just changing the pads. We were wrong - one of the calipers has seized. After a couple of hours of taking things apart and then putting them back together the car was just as broken as it had been and I was miserable and my clothes were soaked in brake fluid.

Like in so many depressing dramas I took a long shower thinking that it was all my fault, and that I'd never feel clean again.

My part in putting on a rock concert is mainly lifting, carrying, and driving. I did however enjoy my interaction with one of the women in the audience who was clearly very familiar with bands. In a room full of about 200 people drinking, dancing, and watching the band plus barstaff and security she singled me out (dressed all in black and standing next to a stack of sound equipment looking bored) as the person most likely to have a tube of superglue. She didn't bother speaking to my face, she went directly to shouting into my ear, her conversation was clear, concise and conducted mainly in mime. The heel had broken off her boot and she wanted something to fix it. Not only did I effect a workable temporary repair with gaffer tape, but while I was at her feet holding her ankle like a demented pantomime-horse farrier I managed to avoid looking up her dress.

It was too noisy for her to thank me, instead she gave me a kiss. After that she reminded me very strongly of my ex-girlfriend who used to wear rose-scented tinted lip gloss. Mmmmmonmouthshire.

Richard "Douse yourself only in DOT4 brake fluid from a sealed container" B

Tuesday 14 July 2015


file under: Embarrassing social situations

A couple of weeks ago I was on a family holiday in Falmouth. We saw a ridiculously pretentious and sesquipedalian menu and in parody/tribute we came up with a dish called "A traditional Cornish medley of steak and root vegetables served en croute". I was so pleased with that description that I texted it to a friend of mine who is a pasty enthusiast and who dislikes showy menus.

She instantly texted back this enigmatic reply: "Monmouthshire!"

Fifteen minutes later, when she'd stopped giggling, she explained that autocorrect had rather mangled the sentiment "Mmmmm!"

In other news I hurt a pretty young woman. I rolled a heavy case of cables over her toes. I feel terrible and I apologised profusely, but in my defence – who the fuck wears flip-flops to a rock show?

Richard "Monmouthshire, Herefordshire, Mornington Crescent" B

Tuesday 7 July 2015

midlife crisis-mobile

file under: Engineering boasting

About a month ago I was walking past a children's playpark that had a fantastic slide. I'd have liked to go down it, but I had neither the nerve nor the energy to scale the fence. It was at that moment that the creeping realisation that I'm never going to be young again started to dawn (Also I split up with my girlfriend).

I used to joke about what form my midlife crisis would take because I already rode powerful motorbikes and played guitar in a rock band. It turns out to have been as clichéd and predictable as any. This weekend I ordered a fast uncomfortable car that I don't need. The only thing that marks me out from the crowd of disaffected forty-somethings is that I'll be assembling the car myself.

Buying a new Caterham Seven is a charming experience. The salesman was knowledgeable, helpful and attentive and applied no pressure. The test drive made me grin like a fool. One of my friends bought new base model Ford KA and was disappointed that it didn't come with central locking. At Caterham roof, doors, windscreen, paint and having the car assembled are all optional extras. I'm six foot tall and had to pay a £400 surcharge to have the floors lowered by 50mm so that I fit inside it. I wouldn't have had to be much bigger around the middle and they'd have politely led me to the other side of the showroom for the "widebody" models which are larger, heavier, and more expensive again.

The most English thing is that I haven't actually bought a car. I haven't even bought the kit of parts to make a car. I've bought a slot on the queue to have the kit of parts that make a car manufactured.

Richard "Roll on January" B

Tuesday 30 June 2015

cackling hags club

file under: Embarrassing social situations

I like women and I dislike sweeping generalisations about large segments of the population, but even so I find that groups of women have a tendency to cackle and to be loud and shrill.

The place where I work has many internal fire doors that are closed automatically by strong springs. We're not allowed to wedge them open, but the doors being closed is so annoying that some of the doors have been fitted with a device that defeats the closer. The door-close-defeat fails safe so the door is allowed to close if it runs out of batteries, or it hasn't got a good grip on the floor. They also let the door close if they hear the sound of a fire alarm.

Last week I was in the kitchen at work talking to a couple of the women (my nemesis and one of her minions), we got into a conversation about whether it is ever possible to look stylish while smoking in the bath. Their laughter was so loud and piercing that the fire door mistook it for the fire alarm and quietly swung closed. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Richard "shhh" B

Tuesday 23 June 2015


file under: Engineering boasting

My dad was a very practical man. When he ran a boatyard he was often called upon to provide very high quality paint and varnish finishes. His touchstone was that you should be able to read your wristwatch in fresh paintwork. This week I painted a panelled door (repeat after me: "edges, mouldings, panels, short rails, muntins, log rails"). I'm pretty pleased with the finish that I achieved. Rather less proud that there are now painty fingerprints on my laptop because I had to look up the technique half way through the job. I'm really embarrassed that the next day when I looked at my work again I had missed an entire panel. I had gone round it very neatly, painted the mouldings nicely and just forgotten to paint the big flat bit in the middle.

This week I was also deeply emasculated by a Citroen C1, a young woman with a flat tyre, and the mechanic who lives across the road. The woman asked me to help her change a wheel, and I had no difficulty loosening the bolts, jacking the car, or removing the bolts. The wheel was so tight and rusted to the hub that I couldn't pull it off. I even tried putting a pad of wood behind the rim and hitting it with a heavy hammer. I eventually gave up and asked the professional to help us. He used the same hammer, the same piece of wood, and a very similar technique and removed it without difficulty. While this was going on the owner of the car was (good naturedly) taunting me about not being strong enough. She did buy me some beer the next day to say thankyou.

Richard "The watch I wear when I paint is 4 inches across and has 1000 candlepower markers" B

Tuesday 16 June 2015


file under: Embarrassing social situations

One of my regular readers told me that every single article I've written for this blog falls into one of four categories: "Embarrassing courtship situations", "Embarrassing social situations", "Engineering boasting", and "Musical boasting". He only wants to read the first two.

Last week I met three experts.

When one of my friend's cars wouldn't start the man who lives opposite came out of his house to help. He started the conversation with the words "Crank sensor". He had correctly diagnosed the fault without even leaving his kitchen, and I appreciate how helpful and direct he was. However I hope that stating the root cause of the problem I'm having doesn't catch on as a way of starting conversations. I'd much prefer things like "Hello" and "Are you looking for anything in particular?" to "Socially awkward" and "No sense of style".

The second "expert" owns a house on my street. It is identical to mine and has had a For Sale sign outside it for the last few weeks. When I saw him I asked him if he'd sold it, and how much for. He gave me a wildly inflated estimate of its value and then explained that it was the fault of the estate agent and nothing to do with the asking price that meant he didn't get a single enquiry in six weeks. His understanding of the housing market is different to mine.

The third expert has a god given gift, and years of practice, in making fun of me. I have been decorating one of my bedrooms and when he came to my house on Saturday evening I said "Let me show you what I've spent all day doing." As quick as a flash he said "I don’t want to watch you doing that."

Richard "unplug it and plug it in again" B

Tuesday 9 June 2015


Like everybody else who has curated my late father's lawnmower, the time came for me to build it a new exhaust pipe. Tradition plays as much part in the process as good engineering. Since the late 70s the exhaust pipes have been made from paint tins and wire wool wadding. You cut a hole in the bottom of the tin to match the manifold and bolt it in place. You drill holes in the lid for the gas to escape and push it into place after the tin has been fitted.

The "silencer" is poorly supported and the standard failure mode is work hardening and tearing of the paint tin near to the manifold. My father made the last "silencer" in the early 2000s and supported it by screwing it to the first stage baffle inside the tin. It has lasted more than a decade, but when this one gave up the ghost it also destroyed the first stage baffle.

Before making the new "silencer" I silver soldered the baffle back together. It's now something akin to precious-metal-crochet and the mower is probably worth stealing because of the large silver content in the exhaust system. I also added the oak block supporting the tin and the big jubilee clip.

Richard "power band" B

Tuesday 2 June 2015

£500 per tonne

This weekend I did a tiny bit of life-laundry and got rid of a load of old clothes. I took them to the place that buys unwanted clothes for 50p per kilo. At that price I assumed that they would take any old junk, in fact as they buy by weight I assumed that they were going to sort and shred the fabric and sell the fibre to spinning mills, and so I put in an old bedsheet too.

The proprietor was a Polish gent operating from the back of a shipping container. Firstly he questioned me aggressively about whether they were my clothes to sell, and whether I knew what was in the bag. He then emptied the bag and rejected every single item. "Torn. Worn out. Dirty. No good. Torn. No good, Not clothes. No good. Dirty..."

I'd like to say that I've never been so insulted in my life, but sadly that would be a lie. It was definitely the most embarrassing attempt (and failure) to earn £3 that I've ever made.

Richard "Most stylish person at the table" B

Tuesday 26 May 2015


The twinning process between the city of Plymouth and the whole of the United States continues apace. Last week, after reading an internet article about the UK, Wonkyeye asked me the unlikely question "What does WKD Blue taste of?" Describing a flavour is almost impossible but I think I captured the essence of the drink when I said "Low rent nightclubs and regret".

This weekend I was at the council tip and a totter helped us to unload the car, he was charming, polite, and had a strong and pleasing American accent. He sounded a little bit like Cletus the Slack Jawed Yokel from The Simpsons but with a more sing-song lilt. I'm no expert in identifying American accents, but his put me in mind of somewhere more troubled by alligators than hipsters, and rife with Christianity.

I asked him where he was from and he told me "I'm a yank". In fact he said something more like "Ahm are yeyank". To start with I thought that that was hopelessly unspecific, a bit like me telling people that I'm from The Northern Hemisphere, but it makes perfect sense. He works in a customer facing role amongst the people of Southwest Devon – the slack jawed yokels of the UK – and he has a strong and distinctive accent. He probably has to answer the same question ten times an hour for his whole working life. This is how I imagine the conversation used to go until he got bored of the middle bit:

"You talk funny, where you from then?"
"I'm from Shreveport."
"Eh? Where?"
"That's in Louisiana ma'am."
"Eh? Where?"
"U.S of A".
"Oh. You’re a yank".

Richard "American Totter" B

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Circle of Life


At the end of last week the blues guitarist B.B. King died. I am fortunate to count among my friends a guy who was a professional guitarist for most of his career and who was famous in the 80s. I sent him a text on Friday morning to let him know that B.B. King was dead. His reply was better than any obituary I could try to write:

"Oh that's very sad – he talked to me after a gig when I was 15 or 16 – he was a really kind and nice man – fucking good guitarist!"


On Saturday night I was at a birthday party for this blog's longest serving and most loyal reader. I met her more than 15 years ago when she used to go out with one of my friends, and I first met her family at one of her earlier birthday parties. That party started off with a boozy lunch in a pub with a very good kitchen. Her boyfriend and I put away a considerable quantity of beer. My recollection of the rest of that afternoon is hazy but I awoke in the evening in her parents' kitchen with my head slumped onto the table and found that a birthday tea with cakes, sandwiches, and sausage rolls was being served around me. Bizarrely I made a pretty good impression on her family.

Richard "It's probably because I didn’t say anything" B

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Album Review

"The Race forSpace" by Public Service Broadcasting 

Some scenarios play themselves out time and time again in my life: Inanimate objects waiting until I need them before they break. The endless cycle of wanting something, getting something and then wanting something else. The feeling that you are just about to crest a hill and the realisation that there was a little bit more hill hidden over the horizon (this happens in my work, in my playing, in every new skill that I try to master, as well as in walking up hill).

Even more frequent and unavoidable (and this is a story as old as time and as ubiquitous as death) is hearing a couple of good songs on the radio and then not liking the album.

Public Service Broadcasting is a two-piece London band where neither member can sing. They play drums and electric guitar (or banjo or just about anything with strings) and use samples from public information films, propaganda and old radio programmes as well as all kinds of electronic sounds.

The album "Race for Space" tells the story of the space race in the 50s and 60s using samples from JFK's "we choose to go to the moon", contemporary radio broadcasts, NASA radio traffic, and control room recordings. It sounds great, all the samples are interesting and some of it is genuinely moving. The musicianship, particularly the drumming, is wonderful. The recording of the drum kit is flawless - it actually sounds like a drum kit being played well in a fairly open room. The two singles "Gagarin" and "Go" are spectacular. Genuinely good songs with compelling riffs and beats, inventive, interesting and different. I thought I had stumbled onto this decade's Kasabian and awaited the album with rapt anticipation. The singles are only two "rock" songs on the album, the rest is ambient or atmospheric. Perhaps the other songs are just as excellent and I don't have the right education, background or pharmaceuticals to appreciate them. What I can say is that they hold very little interest for me, and it isn't my new favourite album.

Richard "Gambaccini" B

Tuesday 5 May 2015


I've just come back from the states, and while I may be getting better at the language, I'm still struggling to understand them and to make myself understood. While fashioning a rudimentary dessert above an open fire they seemed to be talking about "gram crackers". I assumed that these were a biscuit made from gram-flour. No. There is an entire class of biscuit called "Grahams".

And Americans can't pronounce the name Graham.

While there is weak and insipid beer available through much of the USA, in the pacific northwest it is mostly delicious and really strong. The weakest IPA I could find was 6%. After I'd learned that it was easy to buy a full sized pint by asking for a "twenty" I kept accidentally drinking too much and either making a fool of myself or feeling unwell. One afternoon I thought that the remedy was to order a shandy. Unfortunately that drink is unknown in the states. I explained that it was half beer and half lemonade. Sadly they made lemonade from scratch with lemon juice and zest, soda water, and sugar. The resulting drink was uniquely unpleasant, the head in particular was bright yellow and covered with zest. The waitress asked me how it was, and I hope that the correct translation of "absolutely disgusting" is "not quite what I was hoping for".

Richard "a pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter" B

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Speaking in code

I used to play in a function band. We were all good, but I particularly rated our girl singer. When the band acrimoniously split up I asked her to consider me as a guitar player in whatever her next band turned out to be. "I'm never singing in another fucking band after this" she said and I thought that she meant she would never be singing in another (fucking) band after this (one). What she actually meant was "I'm pissed off and tired and I want to go home". It's easy to confuse those two. She was actually a bit annoyed when I started putting another band together and she wasn't the first singer that I approached.

Last weekend it was my girlfriend's birthday. She said that after the food she wanted to go to a dive bar for karaoke. She found somewhere that was only a short bus ride away, and that had karaoke. It was loud, grubby and dingy. The floors were sticky, the patrons were unwelcoming and exceptionally drunk, and there was a genuine air of menace and impending violence. I felt uniquely out of place because I can't sing, or fight, and I was wearing a three piece suit and talking with a ridiculous foreign accent.

Strangely she was disappointed with the place. Apparently, when she'd said "dive bar" she meant "not unwelcomingly-high-class".

Richard "The Slaughtered Lamb" B

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Coming Soon

The first part of this story happened in the days before smart phones and cheap digital cameras, so you'll have to take me at my word. In my local pub there used to be a sign on the INSIDE of the fire door that said "Anybody seen using this door as an exit will be asked to leave."

I never had the nerve to make a theatrical departure through the fire door to find out if I was asked to come back in to the pub, so that they could then ask me to leave again.

For about the last month I have been enjoying this truism, which somebody has gone to the trouble of printing and displaying:

They're much more excited about the day before the day before St George's day than I am.

Richard "sign o' the times" B

Tuesday 14 April 2015


This weekend I went on a brewery tour and drinking expedition. People often tell a story, don't get as much laughter as they hoped, and then say "you had to be there". In the case of the walk between the brewery and the pub you really had to be there. Something very funny was either said, or happened, and we're pretty sure that it would have made a perfect instalment of this blog. Unfortunately we've all completely forgotten what it was.

[stop reading now if you have delicate sensibilities. The next section involves rude words]

During our visit to the brewery there was great confusion between the words "sparge" "spurge" and "spooge". The first is a brewing term to do with spraying liquid over something. The second is a type of plant. The third is apparently a dirty word, again relating to spraying (small quantities of) liquid.

One of my friends suffered an acute giggling fit when the tour guide said that they would spray sparge all over the mixture of barley and liquor. After the tour he was trying to convince me that it really was a rude word and I ended up saying that I had spurge (euphorbia) all over my garden. He laughed so hard that be briefly lost the ability to breathe.

Richard "vase varse vawse" B

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Book Review


A few months ago I had the misfortune to read the play "Arcadia" by Tom Stoppard. It's among the worst things I've read, and by far the most pretentious pile of wank that I've ever cast my eyes across.

It wasn't written to entertain the poor souls who paid money to go and see it, I think it was for the critics, the other playwrights, and the fawning sycophants. There isn't a page of it that isn't spoiled by his own smug self satisfaction. Stoppard does have a reasonable vocabulary and turn of phrase. He rams that down our throats at every turn, the schoolmaster in particular is so busy spouting pithy speeches that he never says anything believable.

The play is set in two timeframes, the early 1800s and the early 1990s. All the scenes take place in the same room of the same country house no matter when they are set. To start with, this contrivance seems like a shameless display of his abilities. When you realise that the play is about time and history, it becomes garish and heavy handed.

(Like everybody else who turned on Horizon or read a popular science article in the 90s) Stoppard has gained a rudimentary grasp of entropy. The entire play is his attempt to teach us that disorder increases and that time seems to flow in one direction. We have to sit through a rehash of all the popular examples from that era that display a chronological asymmetry: Stirring milk into coffee and then stirring backwards, discovering a book left in a library, population cycles, death, many more. They even magic up a fucking steam engine at one point!

I read a lot of hard sci-fi, and I have no problem with getting a science lesson mixed into my entertainment. Unfortunately in Arcadia the entertainment was missing. The characters seem like mindless pawns put in place to either parrot carefully crafted lines or do juvenile science demonstrations. The most compelling and believable character is the tortoise, and even he is on a table at one point.

There is no story. There was almost a subplot, something to do with a duel that didn't happen and escaping on a tea clipper (maybe, I forget), but it all happens unseen, and is revealed slowly through dialogue about rediscovered evidence.

For a play that is half set 200 years ago, it has aged surprisingly badly. The science is embarrassingly dated, the youngsters having a party are worse. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was a rare first edition where the stage directions specify baggy jeans, white Adidas, and a twist of cheap speed, and where they are all talking about The Criminal Justice Act and The Hacienda.

My favourite review of Arcadia came from Tom Stoppard's niece who was being interviewed about her diaries. She said that she'd sat through the whole thing in The Almeida and her lasting impression was that in the same amount of time she could have flown economy to New York. It would have been more comfortable and more rewarding. If you're thinking about reading it, I urge you instead to squeeze lemon juice into your eyes, and then read the Wikipedia article on The Arrow of Time. It'll be easier, less painful, and you'll learn more.

When I finish a brilliant book I find myself missing the world that it conjures up. When I finish a good one I often think about the stories and characters. A bad book doesn't leave much impression on my mind. Arcadia was the first time that I have closed the back cover and wanted to punch the author squarely in the face.

Richard "twiglets make me violent" B

Tuesday 31 March 2015


In "Stranger in a Strange Land" Heinlein talks about a Rodin sculpture called "The Fallen Caryatid Carrying her Stone". One of the female characters says that when she first saw it she thought it was horrid, but over time she came to the conclusion that it was the most beautiful thing she had set eyes on.

I'm not suggesting that my work is of the same quality as one of Rodin's best sculptures, but something I’ve been working on recently has the same combination of horror and beauty.

you can safely skip the rest of this article if you’re not a computer programmer

If you are writing a programming language, you tend to have three distinct pieces: A lexer, which splits the source code into tokens, a parser which takes the stream of tokens and forms an abstract syntax tree, and something that walks the tree and produces object code.

I'm working on a JSONRPC web service and one of its parameters is an arbitrary Boolean predicate. I couldn't be bothered with the lexer and parser and just typed an AST in JSON to get me started. As the project has progressed, instead of defining a syntax and writing the lexer and parser, my boss and I have realised that the AST is as good a syntax as any, and the caller can pass one to us. Eg.


Richard "Reverse Martian Notation" B

Tuesday 24 March 2015


I don't remember doing it, but I have signed up to the most fantastic service with the electricity company. A week or two before they send me a new bill, they warn me that it is coming by breaking the door off the meter box.

It's an excellent idea because as well as being forewarned that an electricity bill is on its way I get to spend an entire afternoon devising ever more elaborate ways to fix the door onto the increasingly fragile and broken cabinet.

This time I drilled my way in from the top and bottom and put solid brass rods through the middle of what's left of the hinge. Next time I will rivet parliament hinges onto the outside of the door and the cabinet. The time after that I intend to reinforce the jamb with oak and use coach bolts to fix on gate tee hinges. After that I imagine I'll have to move house because the man from the electricity board will probably be using explosives to make sure that I can't close the meter box.

Richard "the next door neighbour just uses gaffa tape" B

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Chain Letter

I have got involved in the weirdest and slowest chain letter that I've ever heard of.

Domestic cats are either very generous or very stupid. A nursing mother will feed and clean any kittens that she finds in her nest, it doesn't matter if they are her's or not. Honey bees are just as compliant, if you can pick up a whole swarm, including the queen, and stuff it into a skep or hive, then as long as the front door is about the right size, then the colony happily decides that that is its new address.

Red mason bees are even easier to transplant. They emerge from cocoons in spring, and they decide, understandably, that wherever they emerged is where they should live. As such you can buy them by mail order and set up a colony wherever you like. Better yet, they look for holes to lay eggs in, and they are easily convinced that rolled up paper tubes are exactly the right place.

A friend of mine multiplied her initial stock of bees about tenfold in two years, and has sent me some of this year's cocoons. If they do well, then in a year or two I will be looking for friends to take a load of bee-seeds off my hands.

Richard "exponential growth" B

Friday 13 March 2015

Clarkson Gate

It appears that the UK press have "wet their pants" about Jeremy Clarkson telling an employee of the BBC to fuck off. Not only is this not news it totally misses the real issue of hotel service quality. Apparently Jeremy Clarkson had a hissy fit when he found out the hotel kitchen was closed and he would not be served a steak as promised. To me this is completely acceptable; If members of the entertainment industry were fired every time they had a temper tantrum because one of their trivial whims was not fulfilled, there would be no prima-donnas or rock stars and Hollywood would have been out of business 100 years ago. "Sorry Mr. Richards your 10 grams of cocaine, bath tub full of champagne and hookers isn't available because all the roadies have gone home".

What needs to be addressed is why a simple dinner request could not be delivered, seriously do British hotels not have room service? Even the crappiest hotel chains in most parts of the world can rustle up something to eat 24 hours a day. It almost sounds like a reenactment of the classic Fawlty Towers episode where an American tourist is shocked to find that nothing he expect to find in any normal hotel is available. He can't get orange juice, a Waldorf salad or as sounds to be pretty common in rural hotels in the UK, a cooked meal after 9pm. But the difference between real life and 1970's TV is that in Fawlty Towers the guest gets his dinner after having a melt down and threatening the hotel manager. Jeremy Clarkson is obviously a relic of a different era where people drove jags and got what they wanted if they shouted loud enough. The only thing that hasn't changed is how shit hotels are in England.
Doug "What do you expect to see from a Torquay window? Sydney Opera House? Hanging gardens of Babylon? Herds of wilderbeast?" B.

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Band of Brothers

You'd have thought that the Scott brothers would have done more to help their little brother with his acting work. Ridley directed loads of really important films including Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator. Tony made Top Gun (which everybody loves and I can't stand), True Romance (Which I love and most people can't stand), Crimson Tide and several others. Terry was in most of the Carry On films, Terry and June, and was the voice of Penfold in Dangermouse.

You'd think they'd have been able to get their youngest brother Barry a better on screen debut than advertising kitchen cleaner and that they'd have coached him on his acting so that he didn't just bellow his own name into the camera.

Richard "what do you mean they're not all brothers?" B

Tuesday 3 March 2015

And I’ve been drinking Italian coffee since before it was cool

Last week the internet pissed its knickers about the colours in a terrible photograph of a blue and black bodycon[1] dress. The photo is so washed out that only about one third of people can tell what colour it's supposed to be. Randall Munroe has illustrated the white balance illusion beautifully.

At risk of sounding all hipster, I have been worrying about white balance illusions for well over thirty years. When I was six or seven we had a family holiday to the Isle of Wight. The bathroom where we were staying had very shiny black tiles. When you looked at one you could see the colours of your reflection perfectly, but you could also see that the tile was black. Nobody on the holiday could adequately explain how.

If you're not worried enough about the shaky nature of colour perception, let me ask you this: How do you know that mirrors are silver? Go and look at one, it's the colour of your face and whatever you're standing in front of.

[1] I assumed that "Bodycon" was a maker's name, but it's actually a type of dress. I would make sense if it stood for "Body Contour" but it's apparently "Body Confidence". Given that it means tight and clingy "Body Conscious" is probably more accurate.

Richard "I burned my mouth" B

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Highway Code

Far far too often you will see someone on a roundabout indicating right while they leave the roundabout (to the left). Normally I will avoid them and make the wanker sign. This week I saw exactly the same behaviour, but it was one of the women I work with driving the car. I seethed gently for the rest of my commute and steeled myself to confront her about her terrible driving when we got to work.

I'm glad I spotted that when we got to work she was in her other car and wearing a different dress. It turns out that I'm cross with a complete stranger who's about at tall as one of the managers, has similar hair, and the same colour car. The bitch!

Richard "Paragraph 186" B

Monday 16 February 2015

I should be an MP

As the candidate for the Traditional Pie Party, can you tell us what you stand for and against?

  • I'm for pies that have a pasty case and a top crust. I’m against those things that masquerade as pies, but which are actually a shallow bowl of stew with a pastry hat.

Why should people vote for you?

  • If the people send me to parliament, then I would work tirelessly to defend the interests of all my constituents, particularly those who want traditional pies with a pastry case and a top crust.

But isn't this a pointless single issue campaign?

  • Not at all. The job of a member of parliament is to represent his constituents, and that is what I would do, no matter who they are or what they believe. Whether they prefer shortcrust or puff pasty, watercrust or ruff-puff. Be they vegetarian or meat eating, whether they love or loathe kidneys in a steak pie.

What is your stance on Europe?

  • I believe that the Euro-zone as it currently exists cannot endure. It is a full currency union, but with different countries maintaining their own central banks, their own interest rate policies, and their own taxation schemes. I believe that the currency is doomed in the long term unless it is underpinned by the cohesive force of a comprehensive and sturdy, yet light, pastry case.

Do you see UKIP as a credible alternative vote?

  • I know for a fact that Mr Farage is a man who likes his ale. I see no reason why that shouldn't extend to a steak and ale pie. With further negotiations, I think it is realistic to expect him to be in favour of a steak and ale pie with a crust and lid.

Where do you stand on the recent revelations about tax avoidance and tax evasion?

  • These are two very separate matters. Tax evasion is simply criminality and needs to be dealt with in court. Tax avoidance is playing the system to your best advantage. The fact that tax avoidance schemes exists tells us nothing so much as the parlous state of our tax laws. I am a member of the tax payers alliance which campaigns for simpler and fairer taxes. I were elected I would order a root and branch review of the various tax rates and tax exemptions. The review would start with the issue closest to my constituents hearts: VAT on hot baked goods, aka "The Pasty Tax".

What would you do about the violent attacks by religious extremists?

  • I think it is too easy to get caught up in discussions of ideology and motivation. The simple fact remains that murder is illegal, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice, removed from society, and kept between four delicious pasty walls, to stew in their own rich juices, until rehabilitation is possible.

Should there be limits to freedom of speech?

  • This is contentious issue, but there are already limits to free speech, relating to, for example, incitement to riot, and promoting hatred. I would introduce further kerbs, so that restauraters could no longer legally describe a bowl of stew with a pastry crouton as a fucking "pie".

Richard "Screaming Lord" B

Wednesday 11 February 2015


I have been in America three times in the last year, and although I'm not a fan of all their cooking, I'm very impressed by their breakfasts.  My favourite is waffles with bacon and maple syrup. I have bought myself a cheap waffle iron and set about learning to make waffles. The waffle recipe is challenging because the batter has to double its size and cook in about 5 minutes. Half of the recipes include huge amounts of baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, or tartar and their flavour suffers as a result. The better recipes use yeast, so there's slightly more to do than would be ideal between getting up and eating breakfast. This is the recipe that I've had best results with, and that I'm sticking with:

½ sachet yeast (3.5g)
Dessert spoon warm water
4.5oz plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 egg
½ pint butter milk [1][2]
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Wake the yeast up in the water with a pinch of the sugar. Leave it standing for at least five minutes.
Sieve the flour and powders into a bowl, add the sugar, make a well in the centre.
Slowly add the egg and butter milk stirring continually to make a thin batter.
Stir in the yeast.
Stir in the oil.[3]
Leave the mixture to stand for 10 minutes so that the yeast latches onto the starches in the flour.

Preheat the iron and add a few drops of oil.
Half fill the iron with batter. Close, swirl, and turn over so that the whole iron is coated with batter.
Cook for 5 minutes on a medium heat, turning regularly.

[1 The co-op doesn’t sell butter milk so I use a mixture of milk and soured cream]
[2 For my American readers, ½ pint is 10 fl. Oz.]
[3 The oil is less prone to separate out if you add it last.]

Richard "American Breakfast – stay away from me. American Breakfast – mama let me be." B

Tuesday 3 February 2015

General Election

I normally try to write something light-hearted for my blog, but just this once I'm going to stray into politics:

There has been a lot of talk about there being fewer than 100 days until the general election and about whether the younger voters should even bother. My belief is that we should all, to a man, go to the polling station and spoil our ballot papers. Our votes WILL be counted, and there can be no talk of voter-apathy if we get a huge turn out of people, like me, who believe that the best candidates that the political parties have to offer just aren’t good enough.

I have no problem with parliamentary democracy, and I'm proud to live under one. I'd just rather not be governed by one filled almost entirely with self-serving, populist, centrist idiots. Here is a brief round-up of a few of my favourite reasons, since I left college, to believe that the entire political caste is incompetent:

  • We've had a government who sold off the radio frequency spectrum (you only get one of those), paid off all the debts, and then announced the end of boom-and-bust economics.
  • We've had a government who dismissed their advisor on drugs policy because he had the temerity to suggest examining cost and outcomes of the current policy. The bastard!
  • We've had a government who decided that we needed to sell some of our gold and buy foreign currency. They then made such a bad job of it that you can see exactly when it happened on any graph of gold prices, from a long way away, if you squint.
  • We've had a government which noticed that the (approx) 10% of school leavers who went to university ended up as the most economically productive members of society and decided that we could make the whole country richer if we sent 50% of people to university. In the process they have destroyed free higher education and de-valued British degrees. It was exactly the same logic which would notice that pregnant people are predominantly women, and then deciding that the way to increase the number of women in the boardroom would be to inseminate 50% of company directors. [note 1]
  • Expenses.
  • The standard of debate in the house of commons.

Richard "don’t waste your vote – spoil your vote" B

[note 1 If you want to know why it looks so much like going to university raises your wages in later life, it's probably because deciding to go away to university at the end of school used to be a good proxy for being bright and hard-working. In combination those factors have a positive predictive effect on your earning potential.]

Tuesday 27 January 2015


One of the skills that you develop as a computer programmer is to read meaning into terse and complicated one-word names. If we saw something called "lastinlist" we'd know that it was the last something in some list. More usually we'd write the name as "lastInList" to make the words easier to separate.

There used to be a bowling alley in Plympton called the "Superbowl". Unfortunately their signage had an outsized "O" and with finger holes. This meant that I could never read the name or think of the place as anything other than the "Superb Owl". I passed a building in Portsmouth called the "Bowlplex". I suppose it could have been a place containing multiple bowling lanes, but it seems much more likely that the "b" tells us it's a Boolean variable indicating the truth or falsity of the proposition "owlplex". I assume that an owl-plex is distinguished from a simple owl in that it can represent multiple owls. The UK owl-plex probably aggregates little, long-eared, short-eared, tawny and screech.

Since I have been going out with a woman in Seattle I have adopted the Seattle Seahawks as "my" American Throwball team. They are going to the Superb Owl, and this weekend is Superb Owl Sunday!

Richard "camelCase" B

Tuesday 20 January 2015


I've been in Seattle for the last week and a half, and I've been somewhat drawn into the fever surrounding their American Throwball team. We settled on "Throwball" because "football" is such a loaded and ambiguous term when talking to an Englishman.

I watched one of the games on the TV In a bar with my friends. Other than the number of advert breaks, the experience seemed perfectly familiar. Americans watch the game at the stadium – obviously, but they also make a completely foreign arrangement. They call it "tailgating" but that's really just a fancy word for getting drunk in the car park. They will arrive at a large nearby parking lot (car park) before the game and set up grills (barbeques), music and beer.

I watched the game that put the Seattle Seahawks into the Superbowl in a very odd way. I watched two quarters (the first half) on a TV in an airport terminal. During the second half the score was occasionally relayed to the passengers on a British Airways flight by the captain over the intercom. It was a nail biting game, but robbed of some of its dramatic impact.

Richard "Go Hawks" B

Saturday 17 January 2015

When in Rome

Both "The Last Samurai" and "Dances with Wolves" tell the story of a white boy, transplanted into an ethnographically foreign culture, and becoming more skilled and more integrated than the locals.

I'm on holiday in America at the moment and the same thing hasn't happened to me.

I think I've got the skill of eating an American breakfast down to a tee. I can leave a low denomination note for someone who has poured me a drink, and I used the phrase "Costco gas station" successfully in conversation, but there are many skills that I don't think I'll ever master:

  • Not flinching at the price of basic groceries like bread and fruit.
  • Adding up the price of items you wish to buy and then multiplying by 1.095 to get the final price.
  • Handling money. All the notes are the same size and colour, the 5c is silver and BIGGER than the 10c FFS.
  • The bizarre and arbitrary "waste some clean water" phase of washing up that occurs between washing and drying
When in Rome, if the Romans are doing it all wrong, then educate them.

Richard "Objectionable Foreigner" B

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

Did you have a nice relaxed Sunday morning? Good. I didn't. On Saturday night I broke a loud speaker stand. On Sunday morning when I should have been sleeping in late and putting a suit on for my mum's birthday lunch, I was heavily involved with a light engineering project that didn't interest me.

One of my loud speaker stands:

We've broken this:


Hot hot hot:

I give the braise 6 out of 10 plus a bonus point for not destroying the threads inside the nut:

What's the tapping size for M6? This looks close enough:

Tap tap tap:

This is what I made:

This is where I'm going to stick it:

Richard "most boring episode of MacGyver ever" B

Thursday 1 January 2015

Happy New Year

I wish you all the best for 2015.

2014 has been excellent for me. I've been abroad twice, I met a woman, and my acoustic guitar playing has improved noticeably.

The last few days of the year, however, have been dominated by anger at ovenware.

This happens all too often, I ordered pie and chips in a pub, and was instead served a shallow casserole wearing a pastry hat. That's not a pie, a pie has a top crust and a bottom crust, and the gravy is rich and thick from the pastry it has dissolved.

As well as the great pie fraud, I'm furious that cookware is regressing to ironage and stoneage technology

I'm not a great fan of Le Creuset ovenware, it's too heavy and too expensive for practical use, but it is very sturdy. The sheer price of it has lead the pretentious and the fashion concious to associate it with fine dining, and they will happily put a bright orange stove-enamelled cast-iron pot on their otherwise luxurious table. The garish iron peddlers have smelled the money and now sell little items intended for the table. The least practical and most offensive is a heart shaped ramekin. A cast iron, non-circular ramekin FFS.

Worse still: I'm indifferent to a lamb casserole, but if you want to make one, that's fine with me. If you want to use Moroccan spices, be my guest. You can't seriously convince me that it tastes better, or is somehow enhanced for having been cooked in an earthenware dish with a conical chimney stack. Or that bringing its giant scalding chimney to the table is a good idea.

Richard "Rage Against the Tagine" B