Tuesday 28 May 2013

Phone Number

Sometimes my life is completely bewildering. Like a badly written novel it’s impossible to guess the motivations of the characters, and there’s no resolution or denouement.

On Saturday night I was the soundman and roadie for an Oasis tribute. After the show when I was carrying gear back to the van a young woman beckoned me over. In this situation people normally tell me how excellent the show was, how terrible the show was, how sexy the drummer is (and does he have a girlfriend), or ask when the band are playing next. In this case she pressed a screwed up receipt into my hand and disappeared.

When I unfolded it the receipt had a phone number scrawled on it in (I think) eyebrow pencil. The singer asked if she was good looking (she was), the bass player assumed that the number was for me and asked if she was holding a white stick (she wasn’t). I thought that the number was probably intended for one of the band, but it wasn’t clear which.

As we finished loading the van we spotted the woman outside the pub waiting for a taxi. I asked her if she was OK (she was a bit cold) and if the phone number was for me. She made a noncommittal grunt and walked back to one of the male smokers and started holding his hand. Shortly afterwards they got in a cab together looking for all the world like husband and wife.

Richard "homewrecker" B

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Book Review

Do not read Connie Willis if you're English.

As a science fiction reader I was excited to read "Doomsday Book" which has won both the Hugo and the Nebula prizes. It's one of a set of stories about time travelling historians from Oxford Colleges. It's set in the 2050s and the 1300s. I can't really object that it's written in American, and I can usually translate into English very quickly. The first problem is that American language and behaviours are forced onto the Oxford characters. They talk about, for example, having gotten a fix, wearing a muffler, running a few blocks, or standing at a chalkboard. Worse they are rude to a passer by when he bumps into them, and sit down at a table when they first walk into a pub. The gushingly complimentary foreword told us that the historic sections of the novel are full of inaccuracies, but that they would spoil the book only if we read like a pedant. As I know little about the 1300s I could escape into those sections, but as I know how to speak and live in England, my suspension of disbelief was revoked every couple of pages during the futuristic sections. There might as well have been a warning at the top of every other page saying "DON'T GET DRAWN INTO THE STORY, YOU ARE READING A BADLY RESEARCHED NOVEL". I was also infuriated by basic physical mistakes, she thinks, for example, that water evaporates more readily than alcohol, and that snow melts off roads of its own accord. It seems to me like a matter of common courtesy that a science fiction author should know more physics than me, or at least have the book read by someone who does.

My real objection is that it was written for an American reading level. There were no interesting words in the whole thing, except perhaps "extant" to go with "existing" and "existent". One of the characters was a 12-year-old boy who had a distinctive and quite realistic vocabulary. Unfortunately his great aunt had to bring it up just before he was introduced into the story. It felt like she'd turned to the camera and said "YOU'LL BE ABLE TO RECOGNISE MY NEPHEW'S DIALOG FROM NOW ON". The author beat us over the head with some supposed link between bellringing and perseverance so often that it was a relief rather than a surprise when a character needed to struggle to ring a bell. The plot twist was an unsatisfying deus ex machina which basically said "We had a spare time machine all along and you can go and rescue the historians as soon as you feel well enough". However as the book was about pre-destination and faith in times of pestilence, I'm not sure whether this was a stroke of brilliance or just lazy plotting.

The book wasn't so bad that I didn't read it, the characters and the story telling were good enough that I wanted to find out what happened. She's got an interesting and new idea about time travel and its paradoxes. There was a brilliant set of parallels between a future 'flu pandemic and the black death[Note1], and some interesting study of religion, faith, and the way that language changes. The best bit for me was a bible reading which went "Around then the politicos dumped a tax hike on the ratepayers..." when we'd recognise it as "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed..." and the characters from the 1300s heard it only in Latin. Sadly she went to great lengths to make it obvious for the idiots in the audience what she was showing us linguistic change.

For me, this one book has devalued the biggest two prizes in science fiction.

[Note1: Including a strangely heartwarming section where Americans were shot on sight.]

Richard "TLS" B

Sunday 19 May 2013

Citroen Nemo blower motor

The cabin heater blower failed in my Citroen Nemo, and the internet failed to tell me how to fix it. This is what I learned. It will also apply to Peugeot Bipper and Fiat Fiorino. It only applies to the Right-Hand-Drive models (i.e. we drive on the left in England). I have no idea where it's hidden on LHD models.

The blower fan is located behind the glove box.

The glove box and its lid come out of the dash board in one unit.

All but one of the screws to take the glove out are quite easy to find.

Open the glove box, there are 3 self tapping screws with torx25 heads along the top. There are another 2 holding the wire lid-catch in place. There is a much larger bolt with an Allen key head  right in the middle of the glove box.

Close the glove box and get down in the passenger footwell. There are another 4 torx self tappers holding the bottom edge of the glove box. I bet you can only see 3 of them. The last one is hidden by a flimsy shroud.

  1. The first job is to remove the flimsy shroud. It's a thin horizontal bit of plastic just above the passenger's feet. It's held in by two plastic plugs. On my car the shroud is black and the plugs are white so they're quite easy to find. The plugs will lever out if you can get a tool under the head. Be gentle, you need to keep them.
  2. Remove all the torx self tappers: 3 from the top edge, 2 from the wire lid catch, 4 from the bottom edge. (Thanks Carol)
  3. Remove the large bolt from the middle of the glove box.
  4. Wrestle, pry, and jiggle the complete glove box and lid from the car. 
The blower, including the fan and motor are in a large white nylon cylinder that looks a bit like a bucket. I'm sorry I didn't take a photo, but I don't own a digital camera. Play with the heater controls, It's quite entertaining to see what they do.

The motor and fan can be dropped off the bottom of the white bucket without taking any more of the dashboard out. There is however one piece of ducting in the way. It's the bit that channels air from the centre console to the passenger's feet.

  1. Locate the bit of ducting that I'm talking about. It's just under the white plastic bucket (the blower fan housing if you prefer).
  2. Remove the 1 screw that fixes the end of the ducting to the blower fan housing.
  3. Twist and pull on the ducting for several minutes until you convince yourself that it can't be removed. It will then mysteriously become very simple to remove. Try to remember how it came out, you've got to put it back in later. 

The motor and fan are held onto the bottom of the fan housing by 3 screws with 5.5mm hex heads. There's not a lot of room, but you can see them if you lie in the footwell.

  1. Remove the 3 screws that hold the fan and the housing together.
  2. Pull firmly on the motor to disengage it from the fan housing.
  3. Unclip the electrical wires that connect into the motor.
You should now have the fan, the motor, and the lower half of the fan housing in your hand. You can now take them to the bench and discover that the motor cannot be disassembled, and that there are very few serviceable components. In my case I'm hopeful, but not confident, that I've fixed the motor. I think the problem was that the brushes were gummed up in their guides. You could alwasy go to Citroen and buy a new one.

Richard "Haynes" B

Tuesday 14 May 2013


Two weekends ago I was at a wedding. The reception was excellent, the venue, the food, the speeches, the guests and the booze were all really good fun. Three bits of conversation have stayed with me.
  1. The groom had promised that he'd try to work a "that's what your mum said" type of joke into his speech. He started off by saying that he wasn't very good at speeches, so it would be short and cheesey, he then left a short pause, looked at me, and said "eh Rich?". During the pause there was a completely tacit "a bit like your cock".
  2. In my band the phrase "I recognise you, you're a c**t" has become a set expression. We got the phrase from a man who was trying to start a fight. He spat it into my face while he was pushing me around a pub. At the wedding reception I got talking to a very beautiful blonde woman, we got on well and bizarrely, as I've never met her before, she's the reason that I smoke a particular cigarette. My bass player had been drinking and become the worst wingman in the world. When the beautiful woman said that she didn't recognise him he chimed in with "I recognise you, you're a ****". To be fair she wasn't offended, but even I thought that the language was inappropriate.
  3. The groom's brother's speech contained the best constructed and best camouflaged dirty joke I've ever heard. I can't remember it word for word, but the essence of it was: "It's traditional for me to embarrass Jxxxx, and one of the things he used to do was play "Football Manager". For those of you that don't know, it's a computer game where you pretend to manage a football team. He must have played it a lot because one time when I went round there he was playing football manager in the year 2041. So I was glad when he met Jxxx and he could stop spending all that time by himself with the laptop."

Richard "speech" B

Tuesday 7 May 2013


Many years ago my girlfriend and I were invited to a wedding. Our friend Claire was marrying into a religious family and the service said that there were three parties in the marriage, Claire, Ben, and God. I remember my dad saying "I bet God doesn't get up early to make tea very often". At that wedding his side of the church was completely packed, and ours was sparse. When we realised that we'd been invited to the service but not the reception we were slightly hurt. We were just "church-wadding" to even up the sizes of the two halves of the audience.

This weekend I went to a fantastic wedding, and there were roughly even numbers of people on both sides. Having said that the bride and her family are committed Catholics, the groom's side of the church, where I was sitting, was generally less religious. They were better at the Simon-Says elements of the service than us, for example they all knew when to cross themselves and stand up or sit down. They were much better at the call and response praying (when the priest says "lord in your mercy" say "hear our prayer") and the woman who did the reading before mine knew when and where to bow. They've also got a different version the Lord's prayer to confuse those of us that were brought up in CofE Schools and families.

While we were waiting for the bride I managed to (very quietly) tell a deeply sexist joke that starts "why do woman get married in white?" I was sitting next to a couple of woman who often sing in choirs and they managed to make a dirty joke out of the second verse of "Morning has Broken" (...the first grass...sweetness of the wet garden...). When the priest said that we would say together the prayer that Jesus taught us I couldn't help but say "I didn't know Jesus had a tortoise[note1]".

[note 1: taught us/tortoise joke stolen from Milton Jones]

I'll probably write about the reception next week, one of the speeches contained the best constructed dirty joke I've ever heard, and a smoking hot smoking blonde woman explained to me the bewildering popularity of the band Coldplay shortly before one of my friends accidentally called her a c**t to her face.

Richard "It's traditional..... all kitchen appliances are white" B