Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Care Label

 One day last week I was walking dogs with my friend and chatting. We were discussing how both of us will often start a little project without first putting on dirty enough clothes. You start doing something in the garden or the garage and it gets more involved than you thought, before you know it you're clarted up with mud or brake dust or caulk or whatever.

As soon as we were home we pulled his chainsaw out from the shed-of-difficult-to-store-objects. One of the things that was in the way was a couple of tins of creosote. One of them was leaking and creosote got smeared up the front of the cashmere pullover I was wearing. Damn.

Richard "foreshadowing" B

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

And We All Shine On

 I've said before that I like Englishness and the national psyche, but there is one area where it runs against our own best interests. In queueing traffic where two lanes need to merge into one nobody wants to be seen to be jumping the queue and moral busybodies will police that behaviour. This means that over time the merge point migrates backwards until you have everybody treating a section of dual carriageway as though there were only one lane because of politeness. There was a time when large sections of the A38 were being resurfaced and it gridlocked because of overly polite merge discipline. It was cured (or considerably alleviated) by signs that said "QUEUE IN BOTH LANES. MERGE IN TURN".

On Saturday I found myself in one of these areas of road which I was legally allowed to drive down, but which social norms forbade. Since once owning a large, slow and comfortable car I've got quite good at not hurrying on the road. In this particular instance it was reinforced by the fact that my car is completely gutless, that petrol is hard to come by and so I was conserving it and that there was a cardboard cup full of a soft drink wedged into the centre console.

A car to my left loudly and harshly matched my speed and position so that I couldn't merge into the left lane either in front of or behind him. Little did he know I would never have pressed the brakes that harshly. I found my way into the left hand lane a couple of spots ahead of him.

It must have upset the other driver because when we got to the next bit of dual carriageway he overtook my very aggressively and pulled in very close in front of me. The next car to overtake me was a police car with lights and sirens and that pulled in very close in front of me too. The police car then stopped the aggressive driver. I overtook both and I went slowly on my way.

I don't know, but I assume the aggressive driver was wanted for some other reason. I don't think the police saw him policing my merge discipline, and I don't think his retaliatory overtake would have got him pulled over. I can't however help feeling a warm sense of vindication.

Richard "Instant karma's gonna get you" B

Monday, 27 September 2021

Day Off

 I've had a week's holiday and I think it's clear that my idea of a really good day off is quite different to most people's. The best day of my holiday was when my friend and I worked on an old lawnmower that he has acquired. It's a lovely Qualcast Commodore from the 1960s. It has a 4 stroke 75cc Suffolk engine. There's a magneto ignition system with points, an updraught carburettor with a separate slow running circuit, two clutches (one for the cylinder one for propulsion), and an engine governor (that still works). The fasteners are mainly A/F but the bigger and more structural ones are still Whitworth.

When we began it was completely lifeless, but it wasn't seized and it had some compression. There was no spark, but as soon as we had built a flywheel puller and cleaned the points that was cured. From then on it was plain sailing. New fuel, new spark plug, press the tickler until there was fuel dripping out of it, 4 pulls fully choked, one pull with the choke wide open and it fired and ran. By the end of the day we were cutting the grass with it!

Richard "Lionel Richie and the ..." B

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Pedal Box

 I'm the proud owner of a Fiat Panda and I don't like it. Among other things, the pedal box is awful. The throttle pedal is so high that: 1) If you clumsily mash your foot onto the pedals you hit the throttle at the same time as the brake - which can't be safe. 2) It strains my ankle. 3) It makes it quite impossible to practice my heel and toe. I think it was a pretty crappy conversion to right hand drive. They didn't move the brake master cylinder so there is a horrible linkage that goes all the was across the car. The throttle pedal goes down onto the inside of the wheel well, on the other side of the car there would be much more room for it.

I spent this weekend doing what I could to make the car more comfortable to drive.

I thought these pedal extensions were going to be curved. I guess I'll have to do that myself.

I don't have a slip rolls or a bender so I'll have to make something to form it around

I don't have a bandsaw, and I seemingly don't have any blades this long for the jigsaw. Don't mind me, I'll just spend forty minutes making a rip cut through about six square inches of tropical hardwood with a fucking coping saw.


(Behind) Original flavour throttle pedal. (Front) New and improved low profile throttle pedal.



It is now much more comfortable to drive and you can heel and toe.

Richard "I hate it slightly less now" B

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Is it a Car? Is it a Van? Is it a Pile of Shit?

 Too many people think that their cars are - and ever will be - just as they are sitting on the driveway. I prefer to see them as a collection of parts, some harder to remove than others, some more essential than others.

My sportscar for example has a luggage rack that can be fitted or removed as the need arises. It also has a windscreen and wipers, but if the weather is good and you want better straight line speed, they can be removed. I have recently put some effort into making it easier to deal with the electrical connections when you take the windscreen on and off.

I am now also the _proud_ owner of a Fiat Panda. While it is eminently suitable for driving my elderly mother around in it hasn't got enough interior space to either take a p.a. to a gig or take a broken up shed to the tip. In order to reconfigure it as a goods vehicle I have got pretty good at taking the seats out (except the driver's seat - that's on the minimum equipment list) and I am currently making a ply liner for the area where the rear seat usually goes.

Richard "Jury Rigged Van" B

Monday, 23 August 2021

White Knight

 This weekend I was an incompetent white knight to a couple of strangers.

I was walking in the rain on a mission to towers-of-hanoi my car back to my house when I came across a couple of young women with a broken down car/van/people-carrier thing. One of them was talking earnestly on the phone, the other told me that the battery was flat and that they needed to bump start it. It couldn't have been easier, the vehicle was pointing down hill and there was just about enough room to get it out of its space (if you were strong). As neither of them were confident to start it I jumped in and did it for them. I then did an inexpert three point turn to bring the vehicle back to them and STALLED IT while it was pointing up hill. I'm glad to say that it JUST started on the starter motor, but I lost my nerve. I left it running, not really parked, and not that close to where they were standing, wished them good luck and walked quickly away – to pick up a vehicle that I had left somewhere the previous day when I used it to get somewhere to go drinking.

Richard "Is a long way from home" B

Wildlife 2

 The local wildlife are still trying to confuse and humiliate me. On Sunday morning I was on my doorstep smoking a cigarette and a squirrel ran past me into my house. I quickly put the cigarette out to go and usher it away.

I'm usually delighted that house martins nest near my house, but when I went back outside to clear up the smoking detritus one of them shat in my hair.

Richard "It's good luck" B

Friday, 6 August 2021

Grab Defeat from the Jaws of Defeat

 I'm very pleased that house martins visit the area where I live each summer. There's very little that you can do to encourage these birds (other than not knocking their nests down) because the only thing that they'll eat is live flying insects that they catch. They spend absolutely all day flying around hunting insects.

Last week I rescued a daddy longlegs from my bedroom. I don't know how it had got in there, but it was too stupid to get out. It was flying clumsily about, bumping in to things and couldn't understand that I had opened the window for it to leave. After chasing it and wafting it around with a piece of paper I eventually managed to get it to fly out of the window. The rescue was less successful than I hoped, within a second of it getting outside a house martin flew vertically downward at enormous speed and ate it.

Richard "Bird Feeder" B

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Quiz 3

 Last week I hosted the final canteen quiz before the end of lockdown. These are the questions that I asked:

General Knowledge

1) Who is the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

2) What was the name of the popular 2020 video game in which players guide jellybean like characters through obstacle courses?

3) What sport is played at Lord's (London)?

4) What colour is a raw lobster?

5) Who became the world's richest man in January 2021

Famous Albums (name the band or artist)

1) Kind of Blue

2) London Calling

3) 21

4) Electric Ladyland

4a) Electric Landlady (1/2 point)

5) Bridge over Troubled Water

5a) Trouble over Bridgewater (1/2 point)

TXT ABBRV (what do these text abbreviations mean?)

1) LOL

2) BRB


4) SMH

5) WFH

Explain a Film Plot Badly (name the film)

1) Terrorists, robbers and a jealous husband ruin an office Christmas party.

2) Telephone repairman makes a sculpture out of mashed potato and leaves his wife and kids.

3) Andy is a disgraced banker and geology enthusiast who provides tax advice to prison guards before retiring to Mexico.

4) Thirteen year old boy involved in sexual relationship with mature woman after visit to the fun fair.

5) Rebellious princess provides the nephew of a murdered farmer with the weapons and intelligence to attack a military base.

All Must Have Prizes (In what field are these prizes awarded?)

1) Fields Medal

2) Booker Prize

3) Turner prize

4) Ansari X prize

5) The Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement

U.S. Cartoon Families (give the family name or the name of the show)

1) Peter and Lois, their children Chris, Meg and Stewie

2) Fred and Wilma and their daughter Pebbles

3) Hank and Peggy, their son Bobby, and Peggy's niece Luanne

4) Matriarch Malory, her son Stirling his wife Lana and their daughter Abbiejean

5) Homer and Marge and their children Bart, Lisa, and Maggie

Units of Measurement (what is measured in these units?)

1) scoville units

2) denier

3) hands

4) millibars

5) decibels

What the F do these people do?

1) farrier

2) furrier

3) flautist

4) florist

5) Philatelist

You know the rules

1) What does Godwin's Law tell us about discussions and comment sections on the internet?

2) What does Dilbert's law tell us about the career progression of the least effective workers?

3) What does Rule 34 of the internet tell us about what exists online.

4) What does Muphry's law (also called Bell's first law of usenet) tell us about criticising grammar, spelling or language online?

5) What does the Streisand Effect tell us about attempting to suppress or remove information from the internet?

Old Jokes Home (all the answers are a first name)

1) What do you call a woman who gets thrown into the sea by a fisherman?

2) What do you call a man walking though dry leaves?

3) What do you call a tall man standing at the edge of the sea?

4) What do you call a man that comes through the letterbox?

5) What does a woman with one leg longer than the other call herself?

Richard "first big weekend of the summer" B

General Knowledge
1) Rishi Sunak
2) Fall Guys
3) Cricket
4) Blue (or green or grey or brown)
5) Elon Musk

Famous Albums (name the band or artist)
1) Miles Davis
2) The Clash
3) Adele
4) The Jimi Hendrix Experience
4a) Kirsty McColl
5) Simon and Garfunkel
5a) Half Man Half Biscuit

TXT ABBRV (what do these text abbreviations mean?)
1) Laugh Out Loud
2) Be Right Back
3) As Far As I Know
4) Shaking My Head
5) Working From Home

Explain a Film Plot Badly (name the film)
1) Die Hard
2) Close Encounters of the Third Kind
3) The Shawshank Redemption
4) Big
5) Star Wars (A New Hope)

All Must Have Prizes (In what field are these prizes awarded?)
1) Maths
2) Literature
3) Art
4) Space Flight
5) Excellence

U.S. Cartoon Families (give the family name or the name of the show)
1) Griffin – Family Guy
2) Flintstone – The Flintstones
3) Hill – King of the Hill
4) Archer
5) Simpson – The Simpsons

Units of Measurement (what is measured in these units?)
1) chilli peppers (heat of)
2) tights (thickness of fibre)
3) horse (height of)
4) atmospheric pressure
5) sound level

What the F do these people do?
1) Makes Horseshoes
2) Makes furs (coats hats etc.)
3) Plays the flute
4) Sells flowers
5) Collects stamps

You know the rules
1) The longer they go on, the more likely they are to mention Hitler or the Nazis.
2) They end up where they can do the least damage, which is in management.
3) If you can think of it there is porn of it – no exceptions.
4) You’re almost certain to make a spelling/grammar error in your correction.
5) It draws attention to the information.

Old Jokes Home (all the answers are a first name)
1) Anette
2) Russel
3) Cliff (also accept Piers)
4) Bill
5) Eileen

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Brake Fluid Level Switch

 The brake fluid cap on my Caterham leaks. I have spent a good bit of my free time this week completely over-engineering the replacement. It's easy enough to go and buy a genuine Girling cap and I have every faith that it will seal tight, but it doesn't have a fluid level switch for the warning light. I also bought a very high quality float switch from Compbrake Motorsport. Then I just had to work out how I could fit the switch to the cap and connect it to the car in such a way that you could unscrew it without tangling up the wires.


Roughed out.

Close enough to final size

Marked out a rectangular hole

Cut the hole

Bent up

It's a mounting bracket for a very high quality, waterproof, quick release two pin plug.

Drilled the cap

Drilled a new breather in the cap

New float switch

Electrical connectors for the float switch

Float switch is now inside the reservoir, the plug and socket is mounted on the firewall.

Richard "overspecified" B

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

It Didn't Come Home

 I'm proud to be English, and I love Englishness: Not making a fuss. Talking about the weather. Stoically accepting misfortune. Understatement and bathos. Politeness, honour and decency. Recognising and using an umbrella stand in a foreign restaurant as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Sarcasm. Not running in the street. Never raising your hand so high that your elbow is above the level of your shoulder while waiting at the bar. Queueing. Apologising and so forth.

While England yet again didn't win the European football championships I've never been so proud of our football performance. From the end of the semi-final to the beginning of the final the entire national discourse was about a questionable refereeing decision that went in our favour. Every player, pundit, commentator and fan was wrestling with, justifying or rationalising the possibility that we might have accidentally cheated. We beat the Italians in an honesty competition but not in the football.

Richard "Seeing Piccadilly, Fanny Smith and Willy, Being rather silly, And porridge oats" B

Wednesday, 7 July 2021


 A couple of weeks ago I was insulted in a poetic and brilliant way by one of my friends. We were watching a music quiz on tv, where you had to quickly identify the title and artist of a song that they were playing. We all knew that the song was by Madness. I said that the title was "Embarrassment" but my friend shouted out "You're an Embarrassment". It turned out that I was right and he was wrong. He turned to look at me and said "no, I was just telling you that you're an embarrassment".

Richard "popmaster" B

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Stupid Wildlife

 Years ago one of my brothers spent some time living in rural France. A neighbour had a goat on a chain in his garden and when the goat would tangle itself up in the chain my brother would untangle it. It was apparently funny and charming to see my brother tenderly freeing the animal while berating it for its stupidity. The anti-caprine tirade was delivered in sweary English so the goat never understood a word of it.

On Sunday I found myself in a similar situation when I wasted hours trying to free a juvenile blackbird from my garage. I was furious with it and its stupidity, but I still wanted it to be reunited with its mother. My garage has a pitch roof. The bird hopped in through the door and was then scared when it saw me working at the vice. It's tree instincts kicked in and it went up into the rafters and wouldn't come down. My first attempt was to let its mother lure it out, she had a treat in her beak and was calling encouragingly, but it didn't work and she gave up after about an hour. I failed to trap it in a duvet cover, and I failed to frighten it towards the door. I spent another hour harassing it with a stick so that it could only rest on the lower level beams within sight of the door. It still didn't really work but the mother came back into the garage. With her calling it from below and my stick threatening it from above it did eventually leave. Team work!

Richard "Bird Brain" B

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

The parable of the silent electric milkfloat.

I work in software, and one of the things that I designed and wrote gets a lot of fault reports and feature requests. It's too slow, it doesn't do what we want, it set the database on fire, these results don't make any sense, etc. I won't bore you with the details of the software, instead imagine that I had designed a vehicle. I designed a very specialised vehicle that was quiet enough not to wake people up when it drove past their houses in the night, that ran on electricity, and that could carry a good number of milk bottles.

The problem with my creation was that it started getting used. It was easy to understand, it shipped as standard with our product offering and my friend did an excellent job on the manual. All the fault reports I get involve people using it for things that I never foresaw or intended. There are silent-electric-milkfloat race series, silent-electric-milkfloat taxi services, fleets of them getting used for heavy haulage, people commute in them, people are building cranes and ambulances out of them.

I'm sure there's a profound lesson about specialisation, generalisation and availability here, but I haven't quite learned it yet.

Richard "There's nothing like the right tool for the job" B

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Diagnostic Specialist

 In the same way that it's impossible to see through someone else's eyes, you can't experience someone else's taste buds. Even so I think that mine might be more sensitive than average. One of my school friends has become a very good amateur brewer and a few years ago he sent me a bottle of beer and asked me what I thought of it. I drank it carefully and emailed him my observations. Apparently I got a lot of things about his brewing process right. His message came back saying that he thought I might be one of those "supertasters" and that I should maybe change careers to wine tasting or perfumery.

At the weekend I correctly diagnosed a fault with a car by smell while driving past it at 50mph.

I was at a track day and a guy who I'm friendly with had broken down at the side of the track. We were red flagged and sent back to the paddock where we all started speculating as to what might have gone wrong with his car. I had noticed the unmistakable smell of hypoid gear oil and the smell of burning and smoke – but the car wasn't on fire and it looked undamaged. I theorised that he'd lost the oil out of his differential and that it had come into contact with the hot exhaust.

When he'd jacked the car it became clear that the differential case was cracked and that there was oil everywhere – including on the exhaust pipe.

Richard "Don't see no lights a-flashin', plays by sense of smell" B

Wednesday, 2 June 2021


 This weekend I burned all the hair off one of my arms. I've seen people on youtube launching lemonade bottles by setting fire to an explosive mixture of alcohol vapour or propane. I had an empty plastic milk bottle and I own a propane blowtorch so I thought I would have a go at it myself. I am however an idiot. I assumed that it was a type of rocket and that as the exhaust shot out of the bottle conservation of momentum would shoot the bottle in the other direction. If I'd thought of some rough numbers I'd have seen that that couldn't possibly be the case. What does a plastic bottle weigh? 25g? 50g? What does a litre of air/propane weigh? Not much more than 1g. What's the specific impulse of gaseous propane? I don't know but it's going to be tiny. What's the nozzle efficiency of an open plastic bottle? Again I don't know but there is no nozzle. You'd have more chance of a stream of gas moving that bottle if you had an asthmatic child blow at it through a straw.

So what happened is that after a few attempts I got an explosive mixture of gas into the bottle and set light to it. The bottle stayed resolutely still and a brief plume of flame leaped from the open end and ran up my arm. It didn't hurt, the skin is slightly red in one place, but every hair was singed and curled up like a pig's tail.

The actual demonstrations that I had seen are a type of mortar where a "launcher" fits snuggly into the mouth of the bottle.

Richard "Don't try this at home" B

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Take a Compliment

 This story takes place in the before times, when I would commute to an office and I would talk to my colleagues face to face.

One of my colleagues hates mawkish sentimentality and enforced jollity as much as I do. They found out that this poster of compliments was being displayed in the girls' toilets.

We took it upon ourselves to remake the poster with backhanded compliments and had the doctored version hung in place of the original. These were the "compliments" on our version:

"You're brave to wear that"
"It's the thought that counts"
"I can't tell you how great you are"
"I'm surprised you did so well"
"You look really pretty with makeup"
"You're trying your best"
"You look great for your age"
"You're impossible to underestimate"
"You make people laugh"

The part of the story where I'm both ashamed of my deceit and proud of my quick thinking an deceit was a few days later when one of the women I work with showed me the doctored poster and asked me, quite harshly, if I had anything to do with it. I looked at it closely, just about kept a straight face and said "That's like hand drawn lettering. I'd be looking for someone with Photoshop skills and someone that can go in the girls' toilet" I then stared pointedly out of my office towards the woman who runs all our graphic design projects. I don't know if she got into trouble. Sorry Sarah.

Richard "not quite a liar" B

Monday, 17 May 2021


 There's a great car personality called Ed Bolian. I've read one of his books, but he also tells great stories on Youtube. He talks about buying a wrecked Lamborghini from a prostitute. He offered her $30,000 but she was holding out for $75,000. Ed says that "Kimmy was a shrewd negotiator, so we ended up slap bang in the middle at $30,000".

Last week I negotiated my new salary and I was even less shrewd than Kimmy. I didn't know my current salary so I started out by demanding a small pay cut in exchange for a load of extra responsibilities and expectations. I'm glad to say that my boss was honest and generous and the negotiation was postponed until we both understood what I was getting paid. I'm less proud to say that the Financial Director had to explain my payslip to me and that "Gross" doesn't mean what I though it meant - if you make voluntary contributions into a pension.

Richard "Proper Preparation" B

Friday, 14 May 2021

Hair Cut!

 My father looked like a mad scientist. He had big glasses, a pronounced widow's peak, and a shock of crazy white hair brushed backwards. To be fair he also worked in a laboratory at the polytechnic, would sometimes wear a lab coat, and did exciting experiments and demonstrations.

For the last 20-something years I have worn my hair close cropped. It's a style which my barber supported because it hides how much of my hair is grey, and she knows how unskilled and careless I am when it comes to personal grooming. Over the course of three national lockdowns my hair has grown to the point that I had to comb it back to keep it out of my eyes. It was very messy, but the style (very similar to my father's) actually seemed to suit me.

I was nervous to try to explain to my barber that I didn't want her to cut all my hair off, and that I actually wished to embrace the "crazy professor" look. It was unnecessary. When she eventually recognised me she said "Ha! You look like Doc Brown... It suits you". And all I had to say way "just neaten it up".

Richard "Where we're going we don't need roads" B

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Driving Test

 When I was preparing for my driving test my brother helped me with my knowledge of the highway code. I remember him asking me the meaning of various road signs. We didn't have flash cards so he would describe the road signs to me and ask me what they meant. To this day I particularly remember two of these questions, the first for the beautiful description of the road sign, the second for how useful the information is.

"Red triangle..."
"it's a hazard I have to be aware of"
"...containing an upside down tuning fork"
"What?... tuning fork?.... End of dual carriageway!"

"Displayed on the back of a car. Outline of a fish."
"I don't know."
"It means the vehicle will be slowly and inexpertly driven."

Richard "Passed 2nd Time" B

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

It's Like Rain...

 It is traditional that when you have a flat tyre in your car, that it be raining, that you're somewhere inconvenient and have somewhere else to be, that you're wearing clean clothes, and that the boot is absolutely full of luggage that has to be piled in the street before you can get to the spare wheel.

Last week I had a flat tyre in my boring estate car. It's a heavy car to jack with the crappy scissor jack, It's only got a space-saver spare tyre and that was half flat, and not one of the miserable bastards who drove past stopped to help.

[raining] it wasn't raining, but there was sand and sheep shit everywhere to spoil my cargo.

[somewhere inconvenient] I was in the middle of Dartmoor.

[have somewhere else to be] I was eager to get home because I had a friend coming round to visit.

[you're wearing clean clothes] I had had a haircut that same afternoon. I really fancy my barber so I always try to look as little like a vagrant as I can when I visit her. I was wearing my best and cleanest combination of casual clothes, but I did have some workshop gloves with me.

[the boot is absolutely full of luggage]. Irony of ironies - I was on my way home from a tyre garage! In the boot I had 4 wheels with tyres fitted and another 2 spare tyres. None of which fitted my estate car.

Richard "Somebody Call Alanis Morisette" B

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Do you know who I am?

 My mother is elderly, forgetful and easily confused. Last week she got a phone call from her friend Margaret to say that her husband had died. This week she got a call from (a different) Margaret to thank her for the bereavement card, but to let her know that her husband was in fact alive and well!

Richard "Wrong Peggy" B

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

It's Dead Jim

 A couple of years ago I killed a deer with a heavy motorbike. It was an accident and it was pretty frightening and upsetting (even more so for the deer than for me) but one of my friends can still find it funny from one particular point of view.

It was dark and raining. I was approaching a roundabout in the left lane of a dual carriageway. In a parking place on the left there were a few cars, parked badly, flashing their hazard lights and there were a people milling around. I didn't know what they were looking at or what they were doing, but I felt the effect of a strong "somebody else's problem" field. I thought "whatever that is I'll give it a wide berth". I changed lanes to the right and then instantly hit the deer which was sitting bloody and crumpled in the road.

My friend likes the story of the person who accidentally hit a deer with their car but didn't kill it, standing distressed in the rain wondering what to do. Along comes a motorbike which swerves towards it, finishes it off and doesn't even stop. When I had regained the balance and control of the bike I had already joined the roundabout and I was swept away by the flow of traffic.

Richard "Venison" B

Monday, 12 April 2021

Easter Eggs

 This Easter I did a lot of technical cooking. Nobody gave me a chocolate egg, but I am being given a lot of hens eggs, so I decided I would like to be able to make an old fashioned egg custard. The temperatures, timings and techniques are quite critical but I'm happy with what I can now produce. Sadly the recipe I'm experimenting with is for Crème Caramel so I also need to be able to make caramel. The caramel is even more sensitive than the custard. You only need to make the slightest mistake and it's too pale, too dark, too runny, stuck in the pan, burned, or crystalized. At the moment I can make a pretty good Crème Suspension of Sugar Precipitate.

Richard "Happy Zombie Jesus Day!" B

Tuesday, 30 March 2021


 I recently completed the UK census form and there were two question missing that I think should have been included. Firstly "Do you like the ewoks?" A much smaller survey suggests that there's a positive correlation between the answer to that question and date of birth. I believe that the line crosses from dislike, through indifference to like some time in the mid 70s.

The other question is "which shop sells the best pasties?".

When I was a child the answer was clearly Ivor Dewdney. It was a difficult an eye opening day in the early noughties when I had to admit that Oggy Oggy was better. It happened so slowly that I never noticed that Ivor Dewdney pasties had got soggy, greasy and insipid, and I would never have changed my allegiance. I was in the city centre having lunch with a girl I had just stated going out with and she went to the "wrong" pasty shop as though it were the most natural thing in the world - and she turned out to be right.

An even worse experience for pasties than choosing the wrong shop is to move away from Plymouth. My oldest friend studied in the East Midlands and told me about his delight (followed by horror) when he found a bakery selling "pasties" which turned out to be shortcrust monstrosities, crimped along the top and containing mince and carrots! He now lives in the South East and while you can buy a pasty there they're neither good, ubiquitous or convenient and they're priced as though they're an exotic luxury from a far-off land.

Richard "maybe it was a cocktail pasty from a giant's buffet" B

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Washer Bottle Slime

 This week I want to talk about an affliction that nobody ever mentions. I don't know if it's because it's so rare or so shameful, but other than myself, I only know a couple of people who have suffered with "washer bottle slime". The windscreen washer jets in your car deteriorate and then eventually fail, and when you find the blockage it's a mass of sludgy slime in the washer bottle.

I first came across this problem in my mum's Ford Fiesta Mk3. The slime was blue/green in colour and we assumed it was caused by an incompatibility between detergent based screenwash and alcohol based winter screenwash. Just recently I had to take the washer bottle out of my Hyundai i40 for the same reason. It was blocked with grey/green slime and I did start to wonder if it was alive. I once bought a Landrover Discovery and one of the conditions of sale was that the washer bottle be disinfected. The screen wash jets produced such an unpleasant smell that there was a serious disincentive to using them.

Richard "screenwash" B

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Fuel hose

 When I watched the Netflix documentary "Black Fish" I was darkly amused to find out just how naughty a disgruntled killer whale can be - it will bite and drown its keepers.

The family lawnmower turned just as malevolent last week when it tried to set me on fire. It leaked a good quantity of petrol onto the bottom of my jeans, but thankfully it didn't manage to set light to it. I barely remember it, but I think the fuel cock was replaced in the 80s. The replacement either came from the chandlers or my dad's stock of parts. Either way it has a bore and a flow rate more suited to an ocean-going vessel and I think it's made of bronze. The spigot is stubby, larger than 5/16 and doesn't have a lead or ring-barbs. The original carburettor had a 5/16 spigot and an integral filter gauze. You could just make the connection with a length of 5/16 fuel hose if you warmed it up and stretched it over the fuel cock. I changed the carburettor last year and the new one has a 6mm spigot pointing in the wrong direction and no filter. Last year I used a length of rubber hose, some elbows and an inline filter from a Chinese dirt bike. This year the hose had got so brittle that it leaked around every joint and spilled a load of petrol onto my trousers.

This lawnmower has become a superstition to me and a labour of love so I have spent a good bit of time, effort and money on the fuel feed system. There's now a short length of 5/16 hose going into a nylon 8mm->6mm reducing elbow, then a length of genuine tygon 1/4 hose, then a low displacement filter with a sintered brass ball mesh, then another length of tygon, then another elbow then tygon into the carb. The whole thing doesn't hold much more than a teaspoon of fuel and it's all bone dry on the outside.

Richard "no smoking" B

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Hyundai i40 washer bottle removal

 The washer bottle is accessed from the RHS front wheel well. You need to jack the car and take the wheel off.

The wheel arch liner liner is held on by expanding plastic clips.You do not need to take the whole liner out. I just took out the clips from the front half and bent it out of the way.

There's a guy who keeps showing up on the forums saying that this job is better tackled from the top by taking the headlight out. Having found the fasteners, I'm pretty sure he's wrong.

 There is 1 large phillips screw and two 10mm hex screws. The front 10mm screw is a twin to the one shown in the photo. You will need a small ratchet to get to it and you will need the patience of a saint to thread it in when you put it all back together.

The pump will pull out of the bottle if you push the clip up out of the way. You will get wet as all the screenwash drains out of the bottle. There is an electrical connector (not shown) on the bottom of the bottle for the level sensor. I didn't take the pump out of the car because the hoses were old and brittle and I didn't want to damage them. The wiring and the hoses clip to the side of the bottle (on the right of the photo). The wiring also clips to the top of the bottle in 2 places. It took some deft work with as long screwdriver to free it.

The pump has as filter gauze in its inlet. You can prise this out of the pump with a knife or a thin screwdriver.

Richard "Haynes" B

Wednesday, 10 March 2021


 Contains distasteful imagery and bodily functions. You should probably stop reading now.

Last week I had a luxurious night of sleep. I turned the mattress, I made the bed with freshly ironed linen, and I wore brand new pyjamas (button up jacket with a club collar and patch pocket, straight leg trousers with elasticated waist and one button fly).

In the morning I had great difficult in the lavatory. My arse had become impossible to wipe. The paper kept coming back torn or crumpled, there was an unpleasant stickiness, and I was making slow progress on cleanliness. Had I somehow sat in treacle without knowing it? Had a hive of bees moved in to my lower digestive tract and started producing honey up there? Was I going to stand up with the job half done and go and get a mirror on a stick? Give up and step into the shower?

I persevered and eventually discovered that a sticky label about flame retardant quality, presumably from my pyjamas, had got stuck to the crack of my arse.

Richard "now wash your hands" B

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Jigsaw Puzzle

I have been doing a jigsaw puzzle. It's a picture of a nebula in deep space taken by the Hubble space telescope. About a quarter of the pieces are either pitch black or very dark grey. I have had to set up a lighting rig and use magnifiers to help determine if pieces are in the right place. I have also been trying to speed up my progress by using information theory and statistics.

To find a piece that fits as quickly as possible you need to reduce the set of contenders as much as you can. Ordinarily you'd look for something "roughly the right colour" but that didn't help me at all. To start with I divided the pieces into 4 hash buckets: 1 head; 2 heads on an axis; 2 heads on adjacent sides; 3 heads. Interestingly there were no pieces with 0 or 4 heads. I soon noticed that the pieces were wider than they were tall and I divided the hash buckets even further: 1 head on a vertical axis; 1 head on a horizontal axis; 2 heads on the vertical; 2 heads on the horizontal; 2 adjacent heads on an L bend; 2 adjacent heads on a J bend; 3 heads vertical; 3 heads horizontal. In some cases this narrowed down the set of pieces which might fit to a few dozen or a mere handful.

I also noticed that the cleave lines generally alternated whether the heads went left or right (up/down for horizontal cleave lines) and nowhere on the part of the puzzle I had completed were there more than 2 adjacent heads in the same direction. This meant that in could make much better guesses about what shaped piece I was looking for and in some places I knew for sure what all 4 sides would look like even though I only had 2 to work from.

I'm always disappointed and cross when a database says "fuck it, I'll just compare every single combination of rows and see which ones match (it would probably phrase it as ->  Nested Loop  (cost=388.64..105744.98 rows=6645 width=13) (actual time=0.341..27.475 rows=5000 loops=4) ) but in many places in my jigsaw I did resign myself to trying every single piece that was left to see what would fit.

Richard "Cinderella" B

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Oh Captain My Captain

Star Trek Discovery season 3 was mediocre. It was nowhere near as good as its proponents would have me believe and nowhere near as bad as the youtube commenteriat told me. It did ask an interesting question: If you were a Starfleet captain what would you say to give the go-ahead to a bold plan? There have been various iconic examples over the years. "Warp 9 Mr. Sulu", "Engage!" "Make it so".

I don't mind my entertainment breaking the fourth wall. Deadpool turning to camera and narrating is great. In Archer one of the characters "hears" the tense soundtrack and says "don't worry it's not diegetic". In discussing iconic lines for the new captain Discovery sort of damaged and spoiled the wall without daring to actually break it – it was terrible.

I discussed various possibilities that I could use in the captains chair: "Hold on to your hats", "Buckle up", "He we go!". The one that seemed to fit my personality best (proper and slightly ineffectual) was "shall we?" with a palm up hand forward gesture.

A couple of weeks later I needed a lift to the garage to drop off a broken down car. With no irony and without remembering the conversation about Star Trek I said "shall we?" to invite my friend to leave the house and unlock his car.

Richard "punch it Chewie" B

Thursday, 18 February 2021


 Last week I had my sports car MOT'd. While my car is a "luxurious" version with a cabin heater and a fan, it can't use that to demist the windscreen (because the windscreen is well in front of the rear edge of the scuttle). On the way to the MOT station it was cold and wet so I used the heated windscreen. It was partially effective but also smelled like an electrical fire. I don't know if the MOT station ran the heated screen - I don't think they need to test it, but when I drove home it was completely ineffective and the car stank of burning plastic.

I ended up fixing one of the electrical circuits straight after my car has passed its MOT. The crimp on a spade connector had developed on ohm or two of resistance and was stealing half the power (and heating effect) from the windscreen.

Richard "after the event" B

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Stop Thief!

 Last week I was accused of theft and then tax fraud. When I serviced my sports car I bought some genuine Ford parts. It was difficult because I'm not a garage, because we're in lockdown and because something went wrong with the payment. I managed to order the parts and pay over the phone and then collect them from outside the depot.

A couple of weeks later the manager of the parts supply place was chasing me relentlessly on the phone, and when I talked to him he accused me (none too politely) of having not paid for the parts. Apparently his banking system had flagged up the purchase as suspicious and he was in trouble. I found my credit card receipt and convinced him that I had actually paid and he eventually found my payment on his system. It turns out that they had only charged me for the parts and had forgotten to add on the VAT. This discovery didn't really fix anything because his accounts still didn't line up and the transaction was still suspicious. It was 100% their fault, but I eventually had to pay the colossal £5.60 discrepancy that had triggered the whole investigation. It was a waste of everyone's time.

Richard "I din do nuffin" B

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Short Squeeze

 Every other video on youtube at the moment seems to be explaining the "short squeeze" or "short covering rally" that's happening to GameStop shares.

Imagine it was last April and I didn't have any loo roll. I could have borrowed 4 rolls from one of my well provisioned friends and promised to give him back 5 rolls in May. As it happens It would have been no problem to buy him his 5 rolls in May. Now imagine someone with a better knowledge of paper goods made the same deal and borrowed 4 rolls in April to give back 5 rolls in May. He could have sold them at the height of the panic for, say, £20 and bought the 5 rolls in May for less than £2. He would keep the £18 difference. This is called short selling.

A load of big hedge funds have large short positions on GameStop. The good weirdos of reddit noticed this and all started buying stock and promising to keep hold of it. When it was time for the hedge funds to give back the stock that they'd borrowed there wasn't any for sale and the price skyrocketed.

There are two misinformed comments that I keep seeing:

Firstly – "They were shorting more than 100% of the stock. It shouldn't be allowed". Nonsense! And if you ever find out how few pound coins there are in bank vaults compared with how many pounds people think they have in their accounts you'll lose your mind. Imagine that Ace Plant Hire rent a mini-digger to Bagshot Garden Machinery for 6 months. Bagshot Garden Machinery rent the mini-digger to Charlie for a long weekend. While it's in Charlie's garden both Bagshot Garden Machinery and Ace Plant Hire are owed a mini-digger but there's only one mini-digger to pay them both back with. It's the exact same situation.

Secondly "Short selling is immoral. It shouldn't be allowed". Nonsense! It allows people with good information to force capital to move to more productive enterprises and pays them for their trouble. If a short seller is right, then they destroy the value locked up in some over-valued enterprise and their assets get redeployed to something better. It means we don't have to wait for the buggy-whip factory to slowly go bust before we can tear it down and put up a factory that makes something people actually want (like electric cars or a smug sense of self-satisfaction). We are all (on aggregate) better off as a result.

Richard "to the moon" B

Tuesday, 2 February 2021


 The human brain is a huge pattern matching machine that also modifies itself. We are adapted to learn and we find ourselves drawn to sources of new information. This means that we can find situations or stories compelling when we don't fully understand what we're experiencing. As a tiny example look at how many stories start in the middle of the action and we don't find out what's really going on until later, or how many catchy songs have difficult to understand words.

I used to drive to guitar lessons on a Saturday morning and I would listen to the radio on the way home. I used to love it if I heard the proposed answers to the "agony aunt" feature without having heard the original problem. "Go round there with a bottle of wine and say you're not sorry". The magic and the mystery disappeared as soon as the presenter reiterated the problem for the late-comers like me.

I now work from home and out of my bedroom/office window I'm watching another soap opera that I don't understand. The people who's house backs on to mine often spend a lot of time staring out of their upstairs window into their back garden. They also sometime throw a bunch of keys from the window to someone in the garden, and they enter or leave the house through the back garden. My best guess is that it's something to do with keeping isolated in lockdown and that part of the household doesn't go downstairs or use the front door, but I can't really work it out.

Richard "I can't wait for the big reveal" B

Wednesday, 20 January 2021


 I recently serviced my sports car. It uses a very particular (and somewhat historic) grade of oil: 5W30 fully synthetic ACEA grade A5/B5. It's not wildly expensive, but it's hard to find. It burns through oil quite quickly if you substitute the more modern and easy to find C3 grade. I thought that I would save future-me some money and some trouble by buying a 20l barrel of the stuff. I tried to decant 5l into an old oil can and failed. The barrel is unwieldy and quite heavy, and it's mouth is large. When I tipped it over I got one large "glug". Most of it missed the funnel, and I got so much on my jeans that it soaked through to the long underwear that I was wearing.

I went out and bough the cheapest and crappiest pump to fit in the top of the barrel, which will be amortised over the next 5 old changes. The next oil change will be easy but I haven't saved myself a penny.

Yes, I should have tried to syphon it out with a clean length of hosepipe. I didn't have anything suitable.

Richard "oily long johns" B

Monday, 11 January 2021

Port Tongs

 My port tongs are finished.

I agree that I could have done a better job on the profile of the handles, but I have no suitable power tools. It was done with a hacksaw and a bastard file. Any further improvements would require hours of filing.

The welding was done quickly and inexpensively by the wonderful Chris Millar and sons Ltd. They said that if I were happy with their work I should recommend them. I do. To help you remember the name I'll leave this here: "Chris Millar - No! - We will not let you go (let him go). Chris Millar - will not let you go (let him go)".

It's hard to test the tongs and practice because each attempt involves a bottle of port that's good enough to have a thick walled neck and a driven cork.

These two videos show my partially successful first test

Richard "Colin Furzehatt" B

Monday, 4 January 2021

Brave New World (TV series review)

 This weekend I re-read "Brave New World" for the second or third time. I had recently watched the TV adaptation and I wanted to see how they compared. I first read the book as a schoolchild and saw it as a science fictions story full off incredible inventions and a different way of life. I read it later as a kind of companion to "1984" - here's one dystopian vision of the future, here's another. This time I think the book is about society, firstly how to control or engineer it, and more importantly about being excluded from it.

I seldom complain that an author expects too much of his reader, but in this case I felt a bit out of my depth. John the savage was taught to read, but the only things he had to read were what his mother could write, her employee handbook, and the complete works of Shakespear. His dialogue borrows heavily from Shakespear quotations, but as I don't know most of them I felt I was missing out. The four words "told by an idiot" did tip me off that he was quoting, but it also made me realise how few of the quotations I was probably spotting.

The TV adaptation did a fantastic job of bringing the world to life. Lenina, the fertilizing room, New London, ubiquitous helicopter travel, everything was better visualised than in my own mind. They made some changes to the world, but I didn’t mind them. The savages were white-trash Americans rather than American Indians. The world controller was a woman. A load of racial stuff had been removed.

Unfortunately the story had been butchered. They had added a load of unnecessary action and adventure to rescuing John the savage from the reservation. They had overcomplicated the riot. Instead of the rather dry discussion about keeping society in order, failed self rule, and sending free-thinkers to islands, they have added a load of pointless and confusing artificial intelligence and simulation theory elements.

My view is that the series was ruined, but that if it was about half as long and had just followed the source material it would have been a masterpiece.

Richard "The anime got ahead of the manga" B