Monday 30 December 2019

Alternative History

Science fiction often gets dangerously close to being philosophy. When you make a decision does the world in which you made the other choice exist in any real sense? Is "now" the trunk of a tree of myriad branching possibilities? If not, then why do anything - the whole history of the universe is a predetermined train ride with only one set of rails. If not, how do we get to the other universes?

This cartoon from 2018 explains it very nicely:

My favourite treatment (until recently) is in one of the Alastair Reynolds books. A scientist working on time travel is injured in a laboratory accident. His colleague isn't just vaporised, but his entire history is erased. He never existed, except in the scientist's memories. The scientist is driven mad by living in a universe where nobody remembers his friend and his life left no physical evidence. He eventually finds suitable grandparents who _could_ have produced him.

On Boxing Day I got a Christmas card from a closely related alternative reality!

It was delivered by hand from the family across the road and it was addressed to "Richard, Marie, Charlie and Evie". I'm single and live alone, but in the reality that the card came from I'm married and have children. The design of the card itself gives no clue about the differences between our universes, and the printing company exists in both. I'd say that the fact it was delivered on Boxing Day indicates that when the Catholic church invented leap years to stop Easter marching off towards midsummer they came up with a slightly different algorithm - be honest, you never really understood whether 2000 was supposed to be a leap year or not.

Hot Marie used to often come to my band's shows and I've been to her house a couple of times. In this universe she never seemed interested in me, but given the chance I would definitely have married her, and I would have taken every opportunity to try to impregnate her.

The most inexplicable thing about the other universe is that my oldest son is called Charles. I would have expected it would be John, like my father and his first son. Marie probably chose it, or I already had a nephew called John.

Or maybe the chap two doors down with the girlfriend and two children is also called Richard.

Richard "I'm in the wrong universe. Let me get off." B

Saturday 21 December 2019

The Rise of Skywalker Review

Don't read this article if you're going to go and see The Rise of Skywalker and you expect to get some enjoyment from it.

I was disappointed. I had been hoping that this film was going to be so bad that we could all laugh about the whole Disney trilogy. Frankly I wanted it to be so bad that Kathleen Kennedy and Jar Jar Abrams would have got laughed out of the room if they'd offered to help with the school play. I wanted The Room in a galaxy far far away  - oh hi Mark. I wanted The Rise of Skywalker to make The Fantom Menace look like Citizen fucking Kane. Instead, the film, I'm sad to say is solidly mediocre.

It looks great, the music is fine, the acting's fine - the emperor is wonderful, the plot is tedious and hectic at the same time and the characterisation is wafer thin. The main story, as best I can remember is: Go to location 1, get McGuffin 1 and escape from the minor baddie. Go to location 2, use McGuffin 1 to get McGuffin 2&3 and escape from the minor baddie. Remember that you can't trust a ginger. Use McGuffin 3 to get to location 3, get McGuffin 4 and escape from the minor baddie. Lose McGuffin 4, find McGuffin 4 and use it to get to the final location and the final boss.

There's very little threat or tension. Just about everybody has impenetrable plot-armour, or a fairy-god-deus-ex-machina-mother. Chewbacca is captured and we see the spaceship he's on destroyed, but then he turns out to be alive on another one. The final McGuffin is destroyed, but we had another one in the glove box all along. Mary-Sue is beaten in a lightsabre fight, but at the critical moment her opponent is force-distracted. Everyone is captured and then easily rescued, the rebel's are hopelessly outnumbered and them massively reinforced. The minor antagonist is thrown down a cliff and then climbs back up. The protagonist is killed and then restored.

My favourite thing about the film, unless I've misunderstood the ending, is that the dark side wins and the memory of Luke Skywalker is ground into humiliated dust. The resurrected Palpatine wants Mary-Sue (his own granddaughter) to kill him so that he and his ghost buddies can share her body. She's tricked into doing it in self defence in the final fight and by the end of the film she's taken the Skywalker lightsabres (yes there's two of them - don't ask), the Skywalker moisture farm and the Skywalker name for the Palpatines.

I for one welcome our new Sith Skywalker overlords.

Richard "dew. it!" B

Wednesday 18 December 2019


As well as the trees, fairy lights and tinsel; my colleagues have taken to decorating their offices for Christmas. We have a fireplace scene, a winter wonderland, and a gingerbread house. My team is less inclined to frivolity, but this year we made a nativity. It started off a very basic stable made out of with some bits of board that used to support a heavy monitor and some teddy bears that one of my colleagues has on her desk. The bears (Mary and Joseph) have been dressed. The stable has been thatched. The baby Jesus (a knitted penguin) has been wrapped in swaddling clothes and lain in an authentic manger made out of budgie ladders and ice lolly sticks. The three wise men are represented by small rubber ducks, and their crowns have been made with incredible accuracy out of post-it notes and sellotape. The Archangel Gabriel is played by a souvenir vulture from Death Valley. (He won that part mainly by virtue of actually having wings). The most meticulous part is the gold frankincense and myrrh made out of fragments of tinsel and biscuit crumbs.

Over the weekend there was a catastrophic stable collapse! The thatch got everywhere, the ducks had their crowns blown clean off, and the virgin Mary was found trapped in the wreckage.

Richard "Bah Humbug" B

Monday 9 December 2019


I remember that as a child the worst Christmas present was socks and pants. My view has changed now that I'm older, I'm in charge of my own wardrobe and I hate going shopping.

However, don't buy me socks. I think one of the most luxurious things you can do is to throw away all your socks and buy a whole drawer full of all new all matching socks. Then you never get a worn out sock out of the draw, and you never have to spend any time looking for pairs. If one goes missing it doesn't matter, it's bereft mate can pair with any of its brethren.

Richard "Captain Frivolance" B

Monday 2 December 2019

Say What?

I work in a highly technical field, and I'm surrounded by clever detail orientated people (nerds). Lots of them, at least lots of the ones I'm friendly with also still have a pathetically childish sense of humour. I was being shown some WW2 aircraft models by one of my friends and I said "That's the biggest pitot tube I've ever seen". He winked and said "why thankyou".

If you're the captain of an aeroplane and you wish to give control to the other pilot you say "You have control" but you do not relinquish control until they acknowledge it with "I have control". Friends of mine have recently had a baby and they use the same system to make it clear who has responsibility for her.

Decades ago I had a bathykolpian girlfriend. Don't worry about looking that word up if you don't know it, it means she looked like a dead heat in a zeppelin race. Don't worry if you're American, I've had a team of linguists working on that phrase, the best they've given me is "Two way tie in a blimp race". I still sometimes have to accept mickey taking over a telephone call I had with her. I was in my office and all my colleagues could hear my side of the conversation. I used to lend her a classic/elderly car and she used to drive it like she'd just stolen it. She rang me up, somewhat upset, and said that it was on fire. "Well don't tell me, call the fire brigade".  "Either it is or it isn't. Is there smoke and flame coming out of it?" "Where's it coming out from"  "a lot?" "So if you see flames coming out of it ring the fire brigade straight away". I then had to ask my boss if I could go home for a couple of hours.

It wasn't on fire, she'd boiled it and blown the head gasket, she was blinded and frightened by smoke and steam. I wish that the right answer had been "pull the red T handle that says FIRE and run away" but it wasn't that type of car.

Richard "sesquipedalian" B

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Wet Weekend

This weekend I went to a track day at Castle Combe. It was wet all day and there were a lot of stoppages and a lot of queueng up.

The most interesting car I saw was a modern Renault Alpine. In the flesh they're quite pretty, and it was quick. The owner said that its basically a Megane Sport going in reverse. It's rear wheel drive with the engine in front of the axle. I'd quite fancy one if they weren't so damned expensive.

One of my friends is a great car enthusiast and has quite a collection of cars. So few of them run, or are in one piece that he spends most of his time and effort on towing vehicles and trailers. When he goes to a track day he wanders around the paddock admiring the trailers and towing hitches. I texted him from Castle Combe to tell him about the 3 axle fully enclosed Brian James Race Transporter that I saw being towed by a Landrover Discovery 3. He didn't even ask what cars were inside it.

My favourite comment of the day came from someone I met in the paddock. We were examining the damaged wreckage of a Clio that had ploughed into the tyre wall at Tower on a very wet track: "I'm not going to tell him how to drive, but his car's all smashed up and he's got semi-slicks on it and his wets are still on the trailer."

Richard "covered wagon" B

Thursday 21 November 2019

Film Review Review

This week I have been down a YouTube rabbit hole of amateur film reviews. I cannot recommend the channel "Critical Drinker" enough. He's a professional writer and incredibly knowledgeable on story telling and character development. He does good reviews of films - generally films that he hates. He sets himself apart from his competition by having a broad Scots accent and by getting drunk before he records his script. It's delivered in an angry slurring drawl.

I've also read some brilliant things in the various comments sections.

"This plot has more holes than Blackburn Lancashire."

"St. Greta Thunberg saying 'Hhow Dhare You! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood' – that's how we feel about The Last Jedi."

The best question that someone posed about the upcoming Star Wars film, and the end of the Skywalker story arc: "Is Luke going to get his power converters?"

My new favourite conspiracy theory is about the film Alien: "Jonesy and the xenomorph are working together"

Richard "wake up sheeple" B

Thursday 14 November 2019


In a classic episode of The Simpsons, when arguing against blocking all sunlight from the town, Smithers said "owls will deafen us with their incessant hooting". I laughed at the time, but not now. An owl has taken up residence near to where I live and he spends an enormous amount of time hooting, antisocially loudly, when I'm trying to go to sleep.

One of my friends had a similar but even worse problem when an owl texted him many times at random intervals throughout  the night. He has a parcel of land (the friend, not the owl) and he put up cctv cameras after some suspicious activity there. They're triggered by movement and alert him through his phone any time they see something happen on his land. Including when an owl flaps past.

Richard "smug looking feathery bastards!" B

Tuesday 5 November 2019


My brother (the pirate, not the oil baron) is seemingly preparing for the fall of civilization and has organised his house such that you burn wood to heat domestic hot water and central heating circulating water. One of the thermostatic valves in the system failed and he's waiting for a replacement. The valve is designed to fail "safe" and while that means that you don't overheat anything and burn the house down you haven't got any heating or hot water. He modified the failed valve to lock it in a moderately dangerous position.

I'm in the opposite situation. All the upstairs radiators in my house have thermostatic radiator valves and the one in the spare room is worn out. I leave it on the "frost protect" setting which should keep the room above 5 degrees C. This valve has failed in the "decadent" mode and whenever I switch the heating on it brings the spare room up to an extravagantly warm temperature. That's my gas bill it's wasting!

Meanwhile my sister has turned fried breakfasts into an impossible palaver. She correctly pointed out that you enjoy a greasy spoon breakfast most when you're both hungry and slightly hungover. Going out to breakfast now requires at least 14 hours of preparation. Let's say you're meeting for breakfast at 8.00AM. You have to be having your evening meal by 18.00 the day before so that you're hungry enough to appreciate it and then you have to go to the pub and drink a carefully calibrated quantity of booze so that you're muddle-headed enough to need and love your breakfast, but not so much that you're not well enough to eat it.

Richard "5 pints, 8 hours sleep, bacon egg and toast please" B

Tuesday 29 October 2019


In my motorbike mechanic's shop he's displaying, as a museum piece, the engine out of a 1940's Villiers motorised bicycle. I told him how similar it was to the engine in my family's lawn mower (some of the parts are identical) and about how I had recently replaced the carburettor. He objected that I couldn't possibly be cutting the grass with a 40's lawnmower and he's right, that would be ridiculous, it's from the 1950's.

There then followed a long tract of good-natured piss-taking from both the proprietor and another customer about how it's time I bought a new lawnmower, and about how tight my family must be. They ended up saying that my grand children will be wearing hand-me-down clothes and mowing my grave with the same mower.

BUT THE JOKE'S ON THEM: That'll never happen, I'm a weird childless loner who'll probably never get married.

Richard "careful, not tight" B

Sunday 20 October 2019

Extinction Rebellion

It should be clear that most of XR's activists are "useful idiots". I don't use this term to mean that they are mentally subnormal, but in the sense of propagandizing for a cause without fully comprehending its goals. We know know that the higher ups get paid (although it's not exactly clear by whom), we know that they have sprung from virtually nowhere in a matter of months, and we know that they have no problem with massive hypocrisy - causing massive queues of idling traffic to reduce CO2 emissions, flying across the Atlantic to reduce aviation, etc.

In terms of public policy to reduce emissions we have roughly four options. Option Zero is to do nothing - keep burning fossil fuels and eventually their scarcity will make nuclear and renewable energy economically competitive. This option doesn't get much support.

Option Four is for governments to take direct control of industry and travel and to implement low carbon policies. Planned economies do not work, and you always end up with everybody starving and a bloody revolution.

When anybody with any economic knowledge looks at this problem they come up with Option One. A blanket carbon tax. We've currently got all these lovely cars, aeroplanes, combine harvesters, power grids, roads, etc. It would be stupid/suicide to just throw them away, we need to get every last drop of use out of them while still encouraging the switch to clean energy. You put a little tax on the sale of anything that pollutes and you're done. Over the years inventors will find bigger profits in using fossil fuels more efficiently and in replacing fossil fuels. Consumers will choose low CO2 lives simply on price.

Option Two is something similar to the "Cap and Trade" or "Emissions Trading". This type of scheme had some considerable success in the American coal industry and it's currently going on in the European Union. Government issues quantitative permits to pollute to players in the industry. The quantity of permissible pollution reduces over time. The polluters can buy or sell their allocation, so the invisible hand of the market finds a price for pollution. When the price of pollution is too high for a dirty operation to make a profit, it goes bust, or it retrofits with clean technology.

So we find ourselves in a weird paradox. In Option One, the government gets all the money, but the consumers and the businesses get all the choices. In Option Two, the government grants itself massive new powers, but the trading and the profit is in private hands.

To make big money in a new market you need to invest early, and you need the market to be large and active. It's all very well cornering the market in frozen concentrated orange juice but there's no real money there - at least compared to global energy production. When you find out that the Rothchild's banking empire and some of the big energy companies are heavily invested in C.A.T markets it should become clear that they now very much favour Option Two over Option One.

Extinction Rebellion is just the publicity wing of big investors who need Option Two to happen (the more aggressively the better) rather than Option One.

I heard two different XR protesters asked about a carbon tax and they gave eerily similar answers - as though they'd been drilled in the most convincing counter arguments - What good does a big pile of money do to fight against climate change?

It's a good answer (actually a question) and tricky to refute, but if there were a big pile of money, that would mean two things: a) nobody had changed their behaviour, b) everyone had been able to pay more tax all along and hadn't spent the surplus on nice things.


Richard "Sod Off Swampy" B

Monday 14 October 2019


In the coming weeks I might share my wild and unsubstantiated theories about the Extinction Rebellion. As background it's important that you understand what it means to corner a market: Imagine that it's a hot summer and your soft drinks factory desperately needs 10 tonnes of frozen-concentrated-orange juice. You haven't got much money so you borrow the juice. The chap that lends it to you (let's call him Shylock) wants 11 tonnes back on Halloween. You're confident that you'll have made plenty of money by then, so you can buy Shylock his juice. You sell plenty of fizzy drinks over the summer, make plenty of money, and go out to buy the 11 tonnes of juice that you need for Shylock. Nobody has any to sell except Shylock, or if they do it's wildly over-priced and you lose all your money again paying back your debt. How did it happen? Shylock knew that you were about to go out buying orange juice for him, so went out first and bought IT ALL. He had cornered the market in frozen concentrated orange juice.

Richard "collusion hypothesist" B

Can I speak to you in my office?

At the weekend I heard a fantastic story about one of my friend's jobs. It was all about a problem employee, annual leave, a professional conduct enquiry and the disciplinary process. I'm not at liberty to share the story, but this was my favourite line: "And so now it sounds like I've got a grudge against her – because I have".

Richard "I'm sure he'll be exonerated" B

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Health and Saftely

The past is a foreign country - they do things differently there. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I wouldn't believe this used to happen: As a child in the late 70s and early 80s you might be sent to the local petrol station (for there was such a thing then) to use the paraffin dispenser. It was completely unattended, worked by clockwork and was available after the forecourt and kiosk was closed. You put in (I think) a couple of ten pence pieces and half a gallon of paraffin would issue from a tattered flexible hose. Paraffin is highly flammable and rank poison, yet there were no safety measures. It was your responsibility to make sure that your container was big enough, and that the hose was placed correctly, and that you didn't get covered in the stuff.

It strikes me now, that you'd have needed only a rag, a box of matches and two weeks' pocket money and you could have destroyed an entire petrol station, but what I really remember is just how heavy half a gallon of paraffin in an old oil can was.

Richard "Esso sherry glasses, National Fuels Smurfs" B

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Hard Border

People sometimes say that they would rather buy experiences than things, and while they do take up less space, I'm not sure that memories last as well as they might. In the late 90's I went on a boozy long weekend in Dublin and I can barely remember anything about it. What I do remember is the security checks at Bristol airport before the flight out. I didn't have a lot of money so my motorcycling jacket, my casual jacket and my warm jacket were the same garment. I got patted down and the guard found something in my inside jacket pocket. "What's in your pocket" he asked. I said "I don't know" and reached in to my pocket, to my surprise (as much as theirs) I pulled out something long and slender with a menacing metallic glint. "Oh it's my..." Before I could finish the sentence one of the guards had grabbed me harshly abound the wrists, the other had drawn a gun, trained it on me and knelt down on one knee. "...tyre pressure gauge".

Richard "did you pack your bags yourself" B

Thursday 26 September 2019

Roaring 40s

Among other things I did on my holiday, I sat with my brother in the cemetery where my father's ashes are buried - after we'd run a loud strimmer and disturbed the Sunday morning mourners for quarter of an hour.

"Do you still use any of the old man's phrases?" asked my brother. He still often says "goose driver" instead of "screwdriver". The only phrase that I could think of that I still use is "get home cold, wet and frightened" which used to generally be about sailing adventures. The thing is that I drove to Norfolk for my holiday and I did get home cold, wet and frightened.

The journey home took over 8 hours and was marred by extremely heavy rain, heavy traffic, poor visibility, and a long delay on the A303. While my car does have a hood and sidescreens, it's not particularly waterproof. By the end of the journey the inside of the windscreen was as wet as the outside and there was half an inch of water sloshing around my feet. The rain gets through the scuttle and drips on your legs, and the spray gets up between the sill and the sidescreen and drenches your arm.

I had also worn the tires to within microns of the legal limit, so as soon as I hit a deep puddle I skated across it, on at least three occasions I was not in control of the vehicle, and I found myself going pretty much sideways leaving a roundabout.

Richard "IP22" B

Tuesday 17 September 2019


I love how much of the English language is transmitted through context and implication, rather than through the actual words. "Can drink" for example might mean "is at least eighteen years of age", "has finished a course of antibiotics", "isn't in charge of a motor vehicle" or "has a high tolerance for alcohol".

My mother says that her cat talks to her, but I'm pretty sure that all the information is got from context. The things that her cat has apparently told her are "I'm stuck up a tree" , "I'm hungry", "I'm on the wrong side of this closed door" and "wake up! It's breakfast time"

Richard "can't drink" B

Wednesday 11 September 2019


I've just come back from a fantastic track day at Pembrey and there were two useful learning experiences.

I got straight out of a passenger ride in a racing car (GT5 spec Ginetta G40) and into a passenger ride in my own sports car. The difference between a racing car and a sports car becomes abundantly clear. Mine felt like a Rolls Royce with it's easy ingress/egress, comfortable seats, smooth ride, good ventilation, quiet engine and transmission, abundant leg room, gentle gear changes and sedate pace. Ordinarily it feels harsh, loud, cramped and fast.

My guest was an experienced driver, but new to my car and that circuit. At one time he seemed to have lost the ability to turn the car to the right. We went out, spun off a right hand corner, came back in, went out spun it on a different right hand corner came back in. I though he was being clumsy, he thought he had lost his touch. It took us a long time to realise that the problem was related to the oil spill that I had driven though on the previous session. Our left rear tyre (only) was contaminated even though we could see no indication of it. It took a long time to get it warm and scrubbed in again.

Richard "clown car" B

Wednesday 4 September 2019


At the weekend I serviced a Renault Clio 197 and I made a terrible mistake. I put a drip tray under it, undid the sump plug and let the oil drain out. There wasn't very much oil and it was surprisingly clean. It later became clear that I had actually drained the gearbox oil! As luck would have it we were thinking about changing the gearbox oil too and we had oil and a drain plug washer in stock. What it did mean in that we couldn't move the car until we had located the filler cap. We used the internet, an endoscope and a mirror on a stick before we found it. You have to take the wheel off before you can see it.

Richard "Quick Fit" B

Tuesday 27 August 2019


One of the things that I love about the English language is how seeming gibberish can make sense to certain people if they have the right background and context. My friend once told me that she had "aeroplaned the boiler to 7" and it made sense. I lived with her in a golden age of easy to operate central heating boilers. The main control on mine was a slider that selected the function, if you went on holiday you slid the main control to a little picture of an aeroplane. We called that "aeroplaning the boiler". She now has a smart thermostat and the best you can do if you don't want heating but don't want anything to freeze is to set a low minimum temperature – in her case 7 degrees C.

I was playing a board game in which you had to get your teammate to say a certain word without mentioning it or any closely related words. I knew a scene in The Simpsons that he liked that mentioned the particular word. I just said "Nice name. Thanks I got it off a ..." and he correctly replied "hairdryer". Our opponents thought there was some kind of cheating or witchcraft at play.

At the weekend I wanted an ultrasonic cleaning bath, but I don't have one, so I had to make do with  a Lucky Lizard Super Fog. Years ago I was at a zoo and one of the lizard enclosures had a little machine for generating fog. It was made by "Lucky Lizard" brand and called a "Super Fog". It's a device that uses an ultrasonic emitter to excite tiny droplets on the surface of a bowl of water. I don't know what they're really called but I call them a Luck Lizard Super Fog even if they're a cheap Chinese off-brand copy.

Richard "Max Power" B

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Part Numbers

The horrible mix of units on tyre sizes has always bothered me. Your tyres have three numbers on them, and unless you're driving a racing car or a mini metro, one of them is in mm, one is scalar and one is in inches.

I've recently been dealing with spark plugs and they're even worse. The motor mower that I curate last had a new spark plug about 30 years ago. By pretending that it was for an old British outboard motor I was able to buy a spark plug that fits. By correlating the box that it came in with the NGK charts I have been able to identify a plug which is still manufactured, will fit, and should run at the right temperature.

This damned plug has a 18mm by 1.5mm thread on it AND a 13/16 Imperial hex!

A spark plug that is running too cool doesn't burn off the carbon from the insulator. A spark plug that is running too hot cracks the porcelain. Different plugs absorb more or less heat from the combustion gasses and throw away more or less heat to the cylinder head. The nomenclature and numbering system for these thermal properties is ridiculous:

A "hot" plug doesn't have much cooling, is in a "low" heat range and has a low number in the NGK system.
A "cold" plug has lots of cooling, is in a "high" heat range and has a high number.

To clarify:
Lawnmower - hot - 1,2,3
Racecar - cold - 9,10,11

Richard "simplicity itself" B

Tuesday 13 August 2019

Storm Damage

"Plumbing's just Lego innit? Water Lego" – Super Hans. If that's true then guttering must be Water Duplo, and it was still nearly beyond me.

We had violent storms at the weekend and the guttering downpipe on the front of my house was damaged. The pipe comes down the front of the house vertically and there's about a 150mm horizontal offset to where it enters the drain (vertically) made out of two 120 degree elbows. On Saturday morning the downpipe was still screwed to the house but various elbows and joiners were in a pile. I tried many times but I couldn't make the pile of parts back into something that connected the downpipe to the drain. It eventually dawned on me that one piece must have blown away. It would seem to have been about 30mm of downpipe to make the two elbows fit together.

Downpipe is sold in length of 2500mm, so I now have around 2470mm in stock ready for the next 82 times this happens.

Richard "I'll put that back in the garage for the next 20 years" B

Monday 5 August 2019


I have been judged and I have been found wanting.

Wedding invitations come in different grades. Are you there all day or only in the evening? Are you allowed to bring an arbitrary plus one? One specific guest? Nobody?

Years ago I got a very low grade of wedding invite: My girlfriend and I were expected to turn up at a church at coffee time and watch the couple get married, then bugger off for the afternoon while the high grade guests ate, drank and listened to speeches, and then we were expected to make our own way to the other venue for the evening do (at which we had to buy our own drinks).

I was at another wedding recently, and my invitation didn't include a plus one. I'm single so I can only assume that the bride and groom have taken a dislike to my hypothetical girlfriend.

I'm going to a wedding next spring and while I haven't received the invite in the post yet, I'm told that "attendance is mandatory".

At the weekend my character was judged even more harshly. I bought breakfast and two cups of tea in a café and while we ate in, the tea was served in paper cups. Other diners were drinking from china mugs. My friend went back by himself and bought a second cup of tea and the woman behind the counter stared into his soul for a few seconds and said "If I give you a mug YOU WILL bring it back, won't you?" and served his tea in china. I clearly look like I'm not to be trusted with the good crockery.

The embarrassing part is that she was right. Later in the same weekend I was at a different café where you pay a 20p deposit on the mug that your drink is served in, and I still forgot to take them back to the counter.

Richard "Church Wadding" B

Tuesday 23 July 2019


I have come across some great phrases recently. One of my friends teaches at a primary school in a nice part of Surrey. Her class were generally five year olds when the parents of the next year's intake visited the school. The children are nosy and craned their next to observe the strangers. "Miss, Miss" one of them said to the teacher "my cleaner's here". The child is five, and it's not even his mum's cleaner, by my cleaner! Of course that means it's a shit school if you have to share it with the children of the help.

A large piece of graffiti on a motorway bridge that my brother saw: "Boris is a coked up pervert."

All the emojis have a name as well as a Unicode value. One of my friends has a habit of including emojis in his contact names. At the weekend he said to his telephone "Hey Siri, call Richard Bo---------ke". His phone replied "Calling Richard Bo-------ke man-vampire with a light skin tone".

Driving on a race circuit is a daunting experience, doubly so if you are in an unfamiliar car, and even worse if it's a car you can't afford to crash. A friend of a friend was in exactly that position, sitting in my car, crash helmet on, engine running and about to make his way to the assembly area. He's quite pale, and he's not a physically intimidating man. He took a couple of deep breaths to calm himself and said "I am a strong independent black woman. I can do this".

Richard "and so is James Bond" B

Sunday 14 July 2019

Wax for Car Wheels

I'm not one of those car washing enthusiasts, but I thought it might be instructive to share my experiences here.

My wheels get absolutely filthy with brake dust and they're quite hard to clean. After some research I bought a bottle of "Wonder Wheels Colour Active" and a bottle of "Collinite 845 insulator wax" and I'm very impressed with both.

Wonder Wheels is for cleaning. It comes in a spray bottle, it smells disgusting, it clings to the wheels and it washes off with water. It turns the iron from the brake discs into something bright red and water soluble (don't look at me if you've got carbon ceramic discs or sintered aluminium), it removes the pad dust too. It doesn't remove anything greasy so you might still need to get the shampoo out too.

Before (right) and During (left):

You can buy Wonder Wheels at Halfords, but if you can tolerate the indignity of going to Wilkinsons you can but it at half the price.

The Collinite on the other hand really costs, with delivery it was £30 for an American pint of the stuff (almost half a litre). It supposedly leaves a hard glossy layer which can withstand high temperatures. I found it easy to use and it leaves a very high gloss finish. My other set of wheels that aren't covered in stone chips and weight adhesive gleam like fine jewellery.

I've been to a track day since so the brakes have been smoking hot several times and the wheels are covered in dust. It pains me to admit it but the wax really works, you can just wipe the grime away with a cloth. Look at the finger marks in this photo!

Richard "14 inch minilite" B

Wednesday 10 July 2019

Diggerland Devon Review

At the weekend I went to Diggerland and I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I suspect it would have been less fun if the weather was bad or the queues were long. I drove a skid-steer loader and a little dumper truck, both were severely speed limited and had the bucket controls locked off. I drove a full-sized wheeled excavator (but wasn't allowed to change out of first gear). I failed a dexterity challenge in a small excavator (which had the track controls locked off). I moved large buckets of earth around in another excavator that had the track controls locked off. I tried to stack some old tires using a tele-handler. I was lifted towards the sky in a large cherry picker and spun around in the bucket of another excavator until I felt quite sick.

The speed and throw limiters were so harsh than none of it felt quite dangerous enough, but the training I was given in each machine was so cursory and the supervision so light that it also didn't feel safe enough.

The weirdest bit of the park was the post-apocalyptic dodgems. I've seen old fairground rides before, but this was like something out of a horror film. The floor and the ceiling were heavily corroded, the entire structure (which clearly used to be mobile) looked dangerously unsound and whatever the floor stands on has collapsed in places. The façade which should have been shiny and illuminated was dirty, broken and covered with cobwebs. Half of the cars were broken and they were being used to fence off the large dead spots where cars couldn't run. One of the cars was retired while we were using it, it was producing large smoky arcs and showers of white-hot metal.

It was great!

Richard "buckets of fun" B

Tuesday 2 July 2019

Track Days Roundup

I've been on a couple of track days since I last mentioned them here, so I'll just give a quick summary of the least boring bits.

At Donnington Park we had a few hours of dry weather, followed by a short period of rain, followed by a tropical storm. In the 1970s your mum would hand a cloth around the car as soon as it rained so that the passengers could wipe the mist off the inside of the windows. My car misted up very badly and the experience was similar. If you got into top gear on a straight and had a couple of seconds before the next braking point you could just about wipe some of the windscreen and the drivers side window. The racing cars on the circuit didn't have front lights and my rear visibility was so badly compromised that it seemed rather too dangerous to be fun.

I took a complete novice out on circuit for the first time at Pembrey, and drove what I thought was a nice couple of demonstration laps. Early braking points, straight line braking only, no heel-and-toe. I then handed the car over to him and told him to do the same thing. He got the car up to about 100mph and then made a really limp attempt to scrub off speed while we hurtled towards a 2nd gear hairpin. At about 50mph he hauled the wheel over and sent us into a violent pirouette. To be fair he did get the clutch down and put on the brakes smartly and by the end of the day he was a solidly mediocre driver.

I offered to take him out again, but apparently being driven by me when I'm not driving the school line is violent and frightening.

I was frightened at one point. A slower car pulled over to the right to let us past and while we were two abreast we came across a stationary smoking car that was smashed into the Armco.

And my replacement radiator has already failed.

Richard "bad instructor" B

Tuesday 25 June 2019


I have never and will never understand fashion. My sister is older than me and I can remember her complaining bitterly on the three or four occasions that wedge heels came back in to fashion after she'd thrown hers away. In the late 90s (I think) I was a great enthusiast when every young woman started to wear a choker instead of a necklace. What I don't know is how every single one of them got a memo on exactly the same day to tell them to switch back to necklaces.

It was hot and sunny at the weekend when I went out for breakfast with friends, and the tourists are out in force. You will not believe which awful fashion from ten years ago has cropped up again! And not just in Plymouth, it's seemingly a worldwide phenomenon.

Richard "behind the times" B

Sunday 16 June 2019

I'm Better Than You

While we're a pair-bonded social species we still compete and organise ourselves into social hierarchies. We play competitive sports, watch televised singing contests and secretly judge our friends. I once got involved in a drunken "who's more upper class" competition and just recently one of my friends wanted a rematch on exactly that topic as he now has gout.

While I've never topped a squash ladder, lived in conspicuous opulence or stacked the skulls of my vanquished enemies there are two aspects of life where I'm pretty sure that I'm top of the tree. My vomit bucket is better than yours and my 6mm allen key is longer.

My vomit bucket is Dartington crystal and stylus engraved with my initials. It's heavy and stable, easy to wash up, has a wide mouth and is deep enough that there is virtually no splatter. It might have been sold as an ice-bucket for Champagne, but they clearly don't know what or how I drink.

My car recently got filled with water (in truth it wasn't even ankle deep) and I had to service the seat runners. It's impossible to get to both ends of the bolts that holds the seat in so I made this allen key extension.

notice the paunch in the bottom left of this photo - I need to eat less.

I've seen Ed China tackle the same problem by tack-welding the bolts to the seat runners but I can't weld and I don't want to give them any more excuse to rust. I've also heard rumours about a technique that involves having a friend inside the car while you're underneath with the spanner - but that doesn't sound practical.

Richard "call it a draw?" B

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Party Weirdo

What do you call a scouser in a suit? - The accused.
In Leicester what do you call a smartly dressed woman from Nottingham? - The accused.

I've just come back from a lovely long weekend in Leicester, although it did include a hangover commensurate with coming home from a night of heavy drinking and being left unattended with three barrels of delicious beer.

When we were drinking in a nice little place (clean modern decor, modern cloudy craft beer with too much hops, organic carbon neutral ethically sourced scotch eggs etc.) we were approached by a smartly dressed woman who asked if she could sit and talk to us, she said that she'd had a hell of a day in court and wanted to have a drink. I assumed that she was a lawyer or a judge and that she would regale us with stories about the inner workings of the legal system and so I invited her to join us.

It very quickly became clear that she was very drunk and quite unhinged. What we learned was that Leicester's shit, it's all shit, court is shit and that it's all shit. She said that I looked overly gay, that one of my friends looked like a fucking copper and that the other looked like a tudor - and he wasn't even wearing his frock-coat and ruff collar! It turns out that she was only in there because she'd been thrown out of Wetherspoons!

We're a very democratic group and the two of us that wanted to leave got our way, while the one of us that wanted to buy tequila and see just how bizarre the evening could get was outvoted.

We had to go back to the same place later and retrieve a coat that we'd forgotten. Carol QC was still there but she was now asleep and we got the coat very carefully without waking her.

Richard "Steve Naive" B

Monday 3 June 2019

Pet Wraith

A few months ago my sister rescued a mistreated black and white cat from a junkie with mental problems. This isn't the first time she's done exactly this (same junkie – different black and white cat). She left the cat in our mum's care at our mum's house. Mum forgot that she was looking after a cat, left the back door open and the cat promptly escaped ( the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government she survives as...)

However, after about a fortnight of putting up posters, searching gardens and garages, leaving food outside and general searching something strange started to happen. My mum would hear movement in the middle of the night things would get moved about in the kitchen - a chicken bone was stripped and left on the floor. My sister, the cleaner and I all searched the house scrupulously for a cat (or as I suspected rats) and found nothing. I didn't know anyone who could lend me a trap camera, but we started leaving out cat food and a litter tray. The signs were that a completely invisible cat was living with my mum and that it only materialised late at night when the house was dark and quiet.

Over the months the cat has become less scared and there have been fleeting sightings of it. It will even sometimes approach my mum in the night, but it can vanish into thin air at will.

At the weekend we made a breakthrough. The cat likes to hide in cupboards, and the airing cupboard ceiling has a whole in it where there used to be water pipes. The cat can clamber into the loft from the airing cupboard and it lives up there undisturbed and undetectable.

Richard "Ghost Dreamies" B

Tuesday 28 May 2019

A Bitter Heart that Bides it's Time and Bites

Contains Spoilers. Stop reading now if you haven't finished playing "The Secret of Monkey Island" or you haven't finished watching "Game of Thrones".

In 1990 or 1991 my friend and I deliberately spoiled the end of a computer game for his (annoying) younger brother. The Secret of Monkey Island was a funny and compelling adventure game. The main twist is that it's not actually set in the piracy era Caribbean but in a theme park. We told him that and I think we might also have told him how to solve the final couple of puzzles. He swore revenge on us and promised that he'd ruin something dear to us.

During some football tournament that my friend was watching a day behind real-time in Seattle he got a spoiler email from his younger brother with the final scoreline and a description of the critical goal. The match was ruined.

Last week the final episode of Game of Thrones was broadcast late Sunday night. I tend to watch it on a Wednesday. On the Tuesday morning there was an email waiting for me from the younger brother. The subject line was about the lottery syndicate and I opened the email to read these seven brilliantly chosen words.

John Snow kills Daenerys, Bran becomes king.

It's concise enough that you read the whole thing before you can flinch away. It's almost every important plot point from the conclusion of around 70 hours of television.

Richard "Revenge is a dish best served very cold indeed" B

Sunday 19 May 2019

Lawnmower Preservation

The elderly lawnmower at my mum's house is getting harder and harder to use. Every aspect of the carburettor is worn out and it is always either too lean or too rich. My brother correctly suggested that I should replace it. After a bit of searching I found a cheap Chinese carb that would fit and that was for a 2-stroke engine. 3 weeks and £18 later it had been shipped from Shenzhen and I started fitting it. Other than being smaller and less well made it is virtually identical to the old British made one from the 50's. The layout and operating principle is identical and all the controls are the same. It has to be a direct copy. It's now 2019 and this new carb has a tickler for God's sake. I can't believe that anyone who isn't me, an OAP or a vintage motorcycle enthusiast knows what that is, let alone how or when to use it.


And new.

Surprise surprise! The throttle cable doesn't fit and I had to make a new nipple.

It works after a fashion but it is running very rich. I often have to clean and dry the plug to start it.

It's sooty and oily after I cut the grass.

This is what the main jet looks like and I now have a selection of sizes on order from the scooter racing people.

Now I just need to find out where the local garden machinery dynamometer is...

Richard "trial and error stoichiometry" B

Tuesday 14 May 2019

Track Day Review: Bedford Autodrome

This week I had my first visit to Bedford Autodrome with Javeline Trackdays and we used the "GT" circuit.

In some ways it's the best circuit I've been to, but it also has serious drawbacks.

It advertises itself as the safest circuit in the UK and I bet it is. It's on a huge flat plane of grassland and there is literally nothing to hit. The track is smooth and wide and has many concrete runoffs. If you do leave the track you just slide safely to a halt on the miles and miles of grass. This means that there's also nothing to see. There are no undulations and no landmarks so it is very easy to become disorientated. It's a long circuit with a lot of corners and I found it difficult to learn. It was probably lunchtime before I was confident about what gear I wanted for each corner before I got there.

You get to do a lot of driving. The circuit is over 4 miles long so they let 40 cars out at a time. Moreover there are so many crossways and access roads that they can often recover a car under yellow flags. (They call this a live-snatch). We didn't have a single red flag the whole time I was there.

Overtaking is easy. There are lots of wide straights so it's easy to let faster cars past.

These last two points mean that you burn a lot of fuel. I've got a frugal naturally aspirated 1600cc engine, I didn't spend that much time on track and I burned about 45l. Fuel is available on site but it's quite pricey.

The cafe is excellent and large - but nowhere near the pit lane.

The problem with Bedford - in my view - is parking. There simply isn't a paddock. There's one car park for trailers and towing vehicles. Another which counts as the assembly area but which is a long way from the track and only just has enough room for all the track cars. There are a few garages on the pitlane and if you have one of those you're laughing. There is barely enough room on the pitlane to park all the track cars so you're not allowed to stake out a spot and leave your tools and spares there. By the end of the day it looked like a refugee camp where everyone had piled bags and toolboxes outside the pit lane cafe or against someone else's garage.

Richard "travel guide" B

Track Day Photos

Last week my track day was cancelled. By way of apology the organiser gave me a free ticket to go to Bedford Autodrome.

This was the view from my hotel room window. I was delighted with it because I could check whether or not my car had been stolen.

A lot of fast cars in a very crowded pit lane. The Suzuki Swift counts as a fast car when it's driven by the guy that teaches racing drivers.

Someone took me for a ride in a Radical. I no longer want a car with aerodynamic downforce. It made me feel slightly sick and I'd never have the nerve to brake that late.

Snell certified sun hat with forward head restraints.

I picked up quite a few insects.

Clean enough to put away. I'll wash it properly when I've got seven or eight hours to spare.

Richard "photojournalist" B

Wednesday 8 May 2019

Supercar Experience

Yesterday I went on a trackday. For various logistical reasons my friend met me there in a small boring hatchback. It made the whole experience thoroughly luxurious. I had my whole passenger footwell and seat for my luggage and I even had room for a change of shoes! We had somewhere dry and secure to put all our gear and effects and I didn't have to spend a load of time lying on the cold tarmac rigging/removing the luggage rack.

The problem with the day, however, was that the circuit had double booked and our track day was cancelled - after we got to the circuit. Instead we walked the perimeter of the circuit, watched the supercar experience day and went to a motor museum (and a McDonalds).

A supercar experience day looks like it would be thoroughly disappointing. They do have the use of the conference centre (rather than the cafe) and all the cars are clean and shiny. Your day seems to consist of a load of queuing followed by driving a very expensive car at a snail's pace four times around Castle Combe with an instructor by your side. The activity is so tame that nobody wears crash helmets, there are no marshals on the track, and we saw the farmer drive his tractor to the field in the middle of the circuit while the circuit was live. In the 90s two chicanes were added to Castle Combe to reduce the speeds at the dangerous corners. Yesterday two more were added with traffic cones to make sure that any remaining excitement was drained from the day.

I didn't have a stop watch, but with my wrist watch I timed somebody in an Ariel Atom do a lap at an average speed of just over 50mph! (amateurs are around 80mph, world record 130mph)

Richard "full refund" B

Monday 29 April 2019

Chinese Tools

It is possible that I have over-reacted. The weather equipment on my car is held on with press-studs and they keep falling off. I've got a little punch to peen them over, but it always goes crooked.
I bought this inferior Chinese arbor press for pocket money. It's trash.. My favourite thing about it is that the bolts proudly say "4.8" on them - this means they're about as stretchy as inferior steel and about as strong as good quality chocolate.

No, I don't own an optical centre-punch, why do you ask?


Boring - like this blog.

Here's the punch in the press.

And here's the hood refurbishment.

Richard "over-engineered" B

Tuesday 23 April 2019

A Rose By Any Other Name

In computer programming it is generally acknowledged that the two hardest problems are cache invalidation, coming up with named for things, and off-by-one errors. It seems that naming is also a challenge when it comes to having children.

I went out with a girl who had the same name as her mum. When she was born she was so poorly that she was expected to die immediately. They wanted to christen her before they cracked her ribcage open and started experimental surgery so they needed a name. In a very stressful and rushed situation her dad had to come up with a name. He just said the name of the first person he saw - his wife.

When I was born my brothers and sister petitioned my mum to have me given a space-aged name. I should have been Hieronymus-Astroflash. I'm glad to say that my father vetoed that and named me himself.

Someone made a mistake registering the birth of a woman I work with. Her middle name should have been Louise, but it was misspelled and her birth certificate said Loise.

I also work with a Dutchman who, frankly, could have made a better job of anglicising his name. To English speakers it sounds like a girl's name and a lot of his telephone conversations start with something like "No that's me. No I'm a bloke. Yeah it's a foreign name."

I know of a boy who, at primary school though his name was pronounced "scene" but it was spelled "Sean". And I've heard exactly the same story of a girl who thought her name was "Why-ve-knee" (Yvonne).

One of my friends has just had a baby daughter and called her Selene. According to his brother he initially thought it was an alternative spelling of Celine. I hope that pronunciation won't last. If you're not sure how to say it, it's from Greek. Think Selenium or Penelope, Persephone, Calliope, Ariadne...

Richard "I'll have to stick to naming functions, variables and parameters" B

Monday 15 April 2019

Album Cover

At the weekend I went for drinks with a chap whom, as a boy I would bully - I had full authority to do so as a friend of his older brother. He vowed revenge on the both of us for spoiling the end of The Secret of Monkey Island and, after 25 years his brother received his retaliation while I'm still waiting.

We were bemoaning his brother's bewildering success: Moved to America, made a fortune at Microsoft, ran his own business, won an Emmy, beautiful house, married, started a family, etc. None of his employment however was as impressive to us as when, as a teenager, he would fold cardboard boxes for a tomato farm. With the single-minded zeal that only a teenage boy without a girlfriend can muster he turned box folding into a type of martial art (he got paid by the box) and spent every spare hour earning. He was saving up for a new stereo with a CD player and a graphic equalizer, and very nice it was too.

His brother and I then spent a happy few minutes criticising his early CD collection. Too much Madonna, too much U2, the motion picture soundtrack from that weird camp Michael Keaton Batman film for god's sake, seemingly everything that REM committed to perforated aluminium.

There was one album that he owned, that I wanted to make fun of, but I couldn't remember who recorded it. It was self-indulgent adult-orientated-shite, it was for old people when we were still young and energetic, it had a picture of a car on the front, it had something to do with hotels... Google eventually jogged my memory and it was Chris Rea's Auberge. To my shame it has a picture of MY car on the front. Exactly the same car that I have today, same make and model, same colour, same colour grille, same headlamps, same headlamp stanchions, same rollover bar, same stoneguards. Dammit!

Richard "He can pretty much play the guitar" B

Wednesday 10 April 2019


Last week I went to Castle Combe for my first track-day of the year. The car, my guest and I all came home in one piece and we had a great time. We both had a "moment" on the track. With one exception my car has benign and well balanced handling characteristics – unless you push it too far and then it will make a concerted effort to kill you. It's foible is lift-off oversteer. You're going fast around a corner and wish to reduce your speed slightly, you instinctively take your foot off the throttle and that loads the rear tyres more heavily, they lose traction and the car drift sideways (or spins if you don’t make a correction).


I was in the car while my guest was driving around Tower corner. It became apparent that we were going too fast and were heading off the track rather than around the corner. He lifted off and the car started to drift dangerously sideways. It felt like an age (probably less than half a second) before he remembered what to do, put his foot back on the gas and made a slow and untidy exit from the corner.

My moment simply involved entering Bobbies chicane too fast. Instead of running into the tyre wall on the second apex I pressed the middle pedal (too) firmly and slowed to a crawl in a straight line amid a cloud of tyre smoke and noise.

One of the joys of the track day is looking around the paddock at all the different vehicles, like bird watching or train spotting. You normally see a shower of MX5's, Lotus Elises and Renault Sport hatchbacks, Monday was no different. You also normally see an obscure single seater that spends the whole day in the paddock up on ramps with a laptop hanging out of the engine cover - Sadly I didn't see one of those but there were two really interesting vehicles:

An unrestored 1976 Porsche 911 racecar. It was beautiful, tiny, and showing its age. The owner said it was worth about £250,000 and would be worth a significant sum once it was road-legal and tidied up. I admired his nerve in taking it on a track with inexperienced drivers like me to give it a shakedown.

An old articulated lorry. I've seen those before, but this one had an amazing system of gantries and contained six race prepared MX5's, an enormous amount of spare parts and tools, and a small workshop.

Richard "It's normally a Radical" B

Wednesday 3 April 2019

It Wasn't Me

There are two forms of excuse which seem ubiquitous: "We didn't expect that to happen" and "It was somebody else's fault". My favourite examples are "There were complex socio-economic factors at work and nobody could have predicted every outcome" and "Some older boys made us do it." It turns out that there's one more universal excuse.

When I was in Texas we went to see a Led Zeppelin tribute band called Von Hindenburg in a little venue. They were the support band and we only had to make a little donation to see them. They were great. After they finished we carried on drinking and didn't leave. We expected to be thrown out, or to be asked to pay the full admission price to see the headline act (An 80's themed covers band called Molly and the Ringwalds). When we were discussing whether we had been grandfathered in, and what was going to happed both my brother and his daughter told me that all we had to say was "We're in the mellophone section."

My niece studied at LSU in Baton Rouge and would regularly watch the college football team. On game days the campus buildings are closed to the public (thousands of drunk football fans) but my brother and my niece were able to get past the security and into the music department (where they had no right to be) with those five words. "We're in the mellophone section"

Richard "Go Tigers" B

Monday 25 March 2019


My father often used to say "There's nothing like the right tool for the job, and this is nothing like the right tool for the job."

One of my projects over the weekend was to make a bit of hardware for a drum kit. The top upright on the cymbal stands is a 12mm round bar. The rack-mount tambourine is designed to fit on a hexagonal bar. I had to manufacture the adapter.

What I wanted was a hex collet block, and a small milling machine with a vice dead square on the table. What I actually had has a vice, some files, and a ruler.

If you take a vernier gauge to what I produced it's embarrassingly inaccurate, but it looks good enough, and it works.

Richard "tool" B


I've just come back from a week visiting family in Texas. I was struck by (amongst many other things) how fragile human memory is.

My brother picked me up from the airport in a car identical in every way to the one he had last time, except for the colour of the paint. It was of course the same car and it's never been resprayed except in my flawed recollection.

After drinks, for our entertainment, my brother and his wife would sometimes two-step lovingly around the kitchen or demonstrate self-defence scenarios. My sister-in-law has recently taken a self defence class, and while I believe the class was taught sober, the techniques were demonstrated drunk. One morning she complained that she had bent her finger in her sleep. "Do you think" I asked "maybe it was when you hit him in the face?" Both of their faces lit up with the recollection of an event that had slipped their minds. During a self defence demo a downwards angled blow landed not on his chest and shoulder, but across his ear, cheek and jaw.

I played the part of the mugger while my sister-in-law was using the oven as an imaginary ATM. I thought that I had control of my victim for several seconds, I had hold of both of her wrists and had an arm tightly about her waist. She escaped my grip so effectively and lunged for me so fiercely that I couldn't help but swear and flinch away.

Richard "assailant" B

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Played:2 Won:1 Lost:1

An update in the story of me disagreeing with the man form Caterham about my cooling system fault: He was right. I was wrong. My home made pressure tester wasn't man enough to show the fault and the critical tool turned out to be a mirror on a stick. I'm now having a replacement radiator built at considerable expense.

I have a history of disagreeing with or disregarding conventional wisdom. On one occasion I was at a barbeque ("grill" for my American readers (for my English readers "barbeque" means the anaerobic smoking/baking over geological timescales of cuts of meat that are too heavy to lift)) and somehow found myself doing all the cooking. There were various chunks of meat and vegetables that were supposed to be laced onto skewers and cooked. It struck me as self-evident that the different things needed different cooking times so I put all the mushrooms (for example) onto mushroom-only skewers and all the chicken onto chicken-only skewers, etc. I de-skewered the various (correctly cooked) chunks before they were served.

There was a lot of chat about whether what I had done was stupid or genius, weird or very very weird indeed. My oldest friend was also there and I remember him saying something along the lines of "This is no surprise. Literally everyone in the world knows how to make kebabs on a barbeque. Of course Richard would turn up and think 'I know a better way'."

Richard "new radiator" B

Sunday 24 February 2019


This is another instalment in the series of me profoundly disagreeing with trained professionals in areas where I have no experience.

At the beginning of the year I got talking to a rowdy bunch of rough blokes at a burger van. I was introduced to the theory (with which I have no reason to disagree) that one of the main differences between married and single men is that married men don't have motorbikes and car parts indoors. Its easy to think that married men are too polite to take oily vehicles into the house but perhaps it's the other way around. Maybe the sort of men who would rebuild an engine on the dining table don't find themselves with the opportunity to propose.

Last weekend the man from Caterham told me that my radiator core was weeping. I can see the coolant residue on the fins but I think it's coming out where the top hose joins the inlet. I work with an ex marine architect and he taught me the groundbreaking theory that water doesn't tend to run uphill. As I can see coolant residue above the core I'm pretty confident that that's not where it's coming out.

He also told me that I can make my own pressure testing rig at home, and he was right.
This is a bicycle inner tube fitted over the inlet and outlet and some old heater hose to support the pressure. It works well up to about 10psi.

I then dropped the whole thing into the bath and looked for bubbles. Don't worry, I washed the worst of the dead flies and the grime off (from the bath) before I started.

It's probably a good thing that I live alone, but I'm now confident that the radiator itself is intact.
Richard "top hose" B

Wednesday 20 February 2019


Picture this if you can: Me, wearing tartan pyjamas, racing driver shoes and with my moustache elaborately waxed clambering up to the outside of the kitchen window with a bottle of olive oil and a screwdriver in my hand. How did I get into this situation? Like any avoidable disaster it's a tall stack of unfortunate decisions that all seemed right at the time, but that add up badly.

I was visiting my friends in Wimbledon at the weekend and they asked me to bring tools so that I could change a window handle for them. I was introduced to my DIY challenge in the washing-up aftermath of our breakfast and it looked like a very simple job. I hadn't dressed because I was still planning to shower. I had already tamed my moustache because I didn't want to eat too much of it with my breakfast. I realised that I needed to get to the outside of the window to change the handle and the patio was cold so I pulled on the most convenient pair of shoes. They were the ones I had taken off when I arrived at the house and as my car has a very narrow pedal box they were driving shoes. It's a house of millennials so there was no lubricant in stock to free off the sticky latch mechanism so I Improvised with olive oil.

And all of a sudden they're laughing at the spectacle I'm making.

Richard "dashing" B

Tuesday 12 February 2019


The problems that beset my life seem weirder and rarer than those that normal people have. At the moment, for example, my kitchen floor is covered with molybdenum disulphide.

What's that? Very slippery and seemingly completely waterproof.

Why? Well not on purpose obviously, I put newspaper down, but it gets everywhere.

How? My sportscar has seats that you can slide fore and aft, the squab bears directly on the cockpit floor. Over the year they have picked up grit and marred the floor and the squab. When I was cleaning and proofing the leather I thought it was a good idea to sand the bottom of the squabs flat and lubricate them with "dry moly". It was cold raining and windy outside so I did it in the kitchen and now stepping in there is like stepping onto an ice rink.

Richard "low μ" B

Tuesday 5 February 2019


For the last couple of weeks I have been living in a cold house with occasional tepid running water. This week I finally had my boiler replaced. As I was standing in my kitchen watching the plumber he asked me what I did for a living. "Computer Programmer". Long awkward silence. "I'm a heating engineer" he said eventually as he drained my heating system and took my boiler off the wall. No Shit!

My house has a combi boiler so as well as heating water for the radiators it heats water for the hot taps on demand.  When you turn on a tap it senses the flow, lights the burner and heats the water that is heading to the tap. My last combi boiler had a preheat function so that heat exchanger was always hot and you got hot water at the taps more quickly. I'm careful with my money, I live alone and I don't use that much hot water so it would infuriate me that the boiler would burn gas every hour or so just to keep the hot water ready. You could turn the preheat function off, but then I would waste a load of (metered) water between turning the tap on and it running hot.

For nearly a decade I have wanted the combi boiler to have an external input that switches between eco and preheat.

My first job was designing consumer electronics and I worked closely with the software engineers on user-interface. I've spent over 20 years as a software engineer and, although I am not one, I have worked with technical authors who had to describe what I have made to the general public. I am spectacularly well placed to be able to read the user manual and the electrical section of the installation manual for a new combi boiler.

I was delighted to read that my new combi boiler has an electrical input to control the preheat function, and display modes to show you what state it is in. I asked the plumber about fitting an external timeswitch to control preheat and he said "it doesn't work like that." I showed him the page in the manual and he insisted "it doesn’t work like that" I showed him the page in the electrical interface manual and he said "That's just because it's the same circuit board as the system (non-combi) boiler."

As soon as he left I tool the boiler apart and ran some dangerous tests connecting live mains to the various inputs. I was right, he was wrong, and I now have timer controlled hot water preheat. Woohoo!

Richard "This is my manor" B

Thursday 31 January 2019

I Can't Get Down

Nothing funny or interesting happened to me this week, but I did hear a great story. I had read about a woman who got stuck in a tree while trying to rescue her cat (which was stuck in the same tree). Apparently our fire brigade is so stretched and so risk-averse that they won't get cats out of trees anymore but they will rescue cat owners.

My mum's friend spent a good amount of time in Sweden and told us about a challenge that their fire brigade often face. Elk like apples and will search out the trees or break into orchards. A hungry elk can also clamber up an apple tree in search of food! Moreover the windfall apples are often starting to ferment and the elk have a low tolerance for alcohol. One of the courses that the Swedish fire brigade run for their recruits is how to rescue a drunken elk out of a tree.  Judging by the amount of elk meat that gets served the woman telling the story did wonder if the elk are "rescued" with a captive-bolt gun and a hacksaw.

Richard "call the elk brigade" B

Monday 28 January 2019

Supply and Demand

If it weren't for double standards I wouldn't have any standards.

In most economic matters I'm very pro free market and competition. Let the consumers decide how they wish to prioritise their desires and let the invisible hand balance supply and demand. I find it trivially easy to understand how rent controls destroy accommodation in a city. When the tickets for a concert sell out in a single day and then turn up on ebay at twice the price it strikes me that the tickets were too few or too cheap and that the touts are doing a valuable service. I'd rather pay an entry fee to walk on Dartmoor than fund all of the national parks through my taxes and I think parking should be paid for by the hour and roads by the mile.

But god damn isn't it unfair when rich people have taken a liking to something you want and pushed the prices out of your reach!

It's the time of year that I'm planning and booking track days. I have a friend in the South East whom I like to drive with (I trust him with my life, my car, and to a lesser extent my expensive tyres and friction materials) and he can easily put me. The nearest circuit to his house is Thruxton but I don't like it (too fast, too frightening, nowhere to overtake, doesn't suit my underpowered car). I searched outwards in a spiral from where he lives and found the perfect track day. It's less than an hour away, it's a lovely circuit, it's a full day, open pit lane and novices allowed. The problem is it's at Brands Hatch and because of its name and its proximity to London its full of millionaires and their supercars and I can't afford to go.

Travelodge in Bedford here we come!

Richard "Rand" B