Wednesday 28 December 2022

Colour Perception

 I'm hoping to sell my house next year, and as such I have made a very gentle start on decorating it. I started with painting the bathroom. When I bought the house all the walls were magnolia coloured. When I put down a cork floor I also painted the walls yellow. The colour I chose was so strong that it was an absolute eyesore, but I didn’t want to try to paint over it with something too different - I'm sure it would have shown through. After a couple of weeks I painted over it with a much more muted pale yellow.

What colour exactly? I can tell you! It's the EXACT same colour as masking tape. I put some around the woodwork that I was painting and it absolutely disappeared into the walls. It honestly looked like the masking tape became transparent when it stuck to the wall.

Richard "pantone" B

Monday 19 December 2022

A Fool and His Money

 I've been saving since 2005 and I have recently inherited some money from my late mother's estate. A few weeks ago I tried and failed to buy a house. I saw a house that I liked and made an offer to the estate agent. Part of my offer was the fact that I was a cash buyer and that I was prepared to move quickly. The estate agent then asked me for "proof of funds". I didn't quite say "How dare you question my integrity? If I say I've got x hundred and y thousand pounds then that's what I've got you cheeky so and so" but I think it might have been strongly implied by the questions I asked and my reluctance to give her all my financial details. Anyway my first offer was rejected and I had to increase the offer to the point that I couldn't actually afford to pay for the house and the stamp duty. None of my protestations about how I was going to prove that I could afford the house went down very will with the estate agent. "My family's got lots of money, I'm sure my brother will lend it to me" and "I've got 200g of fine gold right here, shall I bring it to your office and show it to you?" seemingly aren't as good as what normal people have – which is an email from a mortgage company called "agreement in principle" and/or another house.]

I was up against one other buyer. I don't know how much they offered, but I do know that their offer was "structured very differently" and I know that the seller chose them. I know that the estate agent had to relay my offer to the seller, but she also had to advise them. I can only assume she included the fact that I was an oddball who was very cagey about his savings, couldn't actually afford the place, thought his brother would lend him some unspecified amount of money, and wittered on about gold bars. I'm not surprised that the seller chose the other offer.

 Richard "my word is my bond" B

Thursday 15 December 2022

Scottish Tablet Recipe

 Hxxxxx, please accept this long and complicated email as a kind of Christmas gift. I almost sent you some homemade tablet, but I thought the recipe and the science behind it was a better gift. I'll finish with the recipe, but between now and then will be enough science and sugar-craft theory to be able to follow it. The reason I'm so knowledgeable on this is that I've spent about 18 months (not full time) trying to perfect vegan tablet for your sister - I have failed.

"Give a woman a pound of tablet and she'll eat it for a day. Give her the recipe and she'll never bother to make it until she needs to demonstrate her Scottish heritage."

Good tablet, as I'm sure you know should break like chalk but melt in the mouth. In fact it dissolves in the mouth very readily, but close enough. Tablet is a mixture of sucrose, glucose, fructose and water (also milk fats, solids, lactose, lactic acid etc.) Close to its boiling point it is a smooth viscous liquid and all the sucrose is dissolved. As it cools towards room temperature there is a point at which the liquid is supersaturated with sucrose and it will precipitate out as crystals. If the cooling is gradual and the mixture is agitated the crystals will be very small and will give it the correct chalky or sandy mouthfeel. If it weren't for the milk and the crystal size it's basically the same stuff that they put on top of a Belgian bun.

All of sugarcraft is based on sucrose. In its anhydrous form it's a hard white crystal, but it is highly soluble in water. A molecule of sucrose is actually a molecule of fructose holding hands with a molecule of glucose at an Oxygen atom. With water and heat we can perform hydrolysis to split the two simple sugars apart and give them each an O-H pair to hold hands with. Golden syrup is a sucrose solution that has been partly hydrolysed so that it contains all three sugars. Golden syrup is called "semi invert" because a fully hydrolysed solution would invert the direction that the solution would refract light. Golden syrup has only gone partway.

When you're buying sucrose for sugarcraft it's called "sugar", maybe table sugar, granulated sugar, white sugar, etc. It doesn't matter if it's from cane, beets, or whatever, fairtrade, cruelty free, organic, as long as it's white - it's all sucrose. All the brown sugars have some amount of molasses either added to them, or not refined out. They aren't what you're looking for.

The amount of sucrose that you can dissolve in water is HIGHLY temperature dependent. It's quite easy to make a sugar solution, boil off a little bit of water, cool it slightly, find that the solution is now supersaturated and all the sucrose precipitates out in big ugly crystals. Moreover to get to hydrolysis we have to tiptoe through this supersaturated regime. If we were making caramel or boiled sweets we would either add citric acid to act as a buffer, or start with some extra fructose or glucose in the solution. Fructose and glucose are both HIGHLY soluble in water so once hydrolysis has started the danger of precipitation has passed. If we were making caramel the crystallisation can occur and ruin a batch with just a tiny change in temperature, the presence of any seed crystal, or just looking at it a bit funny. In tablet this isn't ever really a problem.

As we continue to boil our solution water is driven off as steam and water is combined with the sugars through hydrolysis. The amount of water decreases and the proportion of the simple sugars increases. We can measure this proportion in an oddly simple way - just measure the boiling point. It turns out that the boiling point of the mixture is directly controlled by the proportions of the various components. If you turn the heat under the solution down until it's JUST boiling you can measure the boiling point with a sugar thermometer. Various temperatures have names for example 235F is called "Soft Ball Stage" It is named after the sport what happens if you drip the solution which boils at that temperature into cold water.

Strong sugar solutions are viscous and surprisingly insulative so it's hard to measure the boiling point accurately - it's very easy to have the base of the pan much hotter than the boiling point, and it's also easy to measure a cold pocket of the liquid, or to let it come off the boil. The heat has to be low, the liquid has to be JUST boiling, it needs to be stirred, and the thermometer needs to be properly submerged. Then it's very accurate.

The ancients determined the proportions in the solution by dripping the liquid into cold water and observing its physical properties. Traditional Scottish grannies can do it incredibly accurately by observing the colour and viscosity of the liquid. You should buy a sugar thermometer.

Most tablet recipes start with condensed milk to save time and to make it easier to get to hydrolysis. As condensed milk is just boiled milk and sugar, and as the recipe already contains milk and sugar and boiling I have reverse engineered the original recipe that uses fundamental ingredients. If you could find nice fatty milk you could probably do away with the butter too.

Tablet (from fundamentals)
20oz sugar
20oz whole milk (1 UK pint, 1.25 US pints) (I think you might call whole milk “3.5%”)
1.5oz butter

Butter a cake tin or baking tray.

In a heavy pan dissolve the sugar and butter in the milk and bring it to the boil.

Boil without stirring until hydrolysis starts (about 30 mins)

Boil gently and stir constantly to the soft ball stage (about another 30 mins)

Take off the heat and stir constantly until the mixture will only just pour.

Pour and scrape the mixture into the cake tin and press it down. The mixture is VERY hot, don't burn yourself, don't set the kitchen on fire.

Cut the mixture into chunks in the tin after 15 mins

Cool for at least 2 hours.

Monday 5 December 2022

Ruined Garden

 The only difference between a blackberry plant and a bramble is whether it's cultivated. A few years ago I let a couple brambles grow in my garden and trained them up some stakes thinking that I could control them and harvest their delicious fruit. I'm pretty sure that I have failed. I took an early crop of fruit off them this year, but I have just realised that I forgot to pick them a second time (despite bringing a load of apples, to cook them with, home from my late mother's garden just before we sold the house). The berries have all been dropped into my garden and there will now be thousands of seeds getting ready to spring up as brambles and take over my garden next year. I don't think I'll ever win control of the garden back from them.

Richard "Agent Orange" B

Wednesday 30 November 2022

Drive to Wales

 Until this weekend I don't think I've mentioned this quirk about my brain to more than one living soul. It's something like an "eyeworm" and I'll read something that sets off a bit of a song in my head. There's an area of Plymouth called Mainstone and sometimes when I was going up the hill towards work I would see a sign that read "Mainstone Craft Fair". I couldn't help but sing to myself "Like a Mainstone Craft Fair" to the tune of Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell.

At the weekend I heard a segment on the radio with dozens of people suffering from a similar affliction. So even if I'm a weirdo, I'm not completely along.

The best was a man, who drives along the M50 who can't help but sing to himself:
"If you see me walking down the street, and I start to cry each time we meet, Ross-on-Wye"

Richard "Make believe that you don't see the tears, just let me grieve in private 'cause each time I see you I break down and cry… Ross-on-Wye" B

Tuesday 22 November 2022


 Instead of a funny story, I have a miserable and frightening story to relate. Early on Friday morning I was woken by a loud noise in the street. When I went out I found that my car had been vandalised. My boring car, thankfully, not my sports car. A kerbstone had been used to smash the windscreen and it had also scuffed and dented the bonnet.

One of my neighbours captured blurry footage of the incident with her video doorbell, and that gave me an exact timestamp. It showed two youths throwing something at my car and then running away. Another neighbour found footage from his driveway security camera and it shows the youths searching his driveway (presumably for something to throw) then walking on towards my house, then walking away (presumably still searching), then walking back towards my house with a heavy object and then finally running away. The youth who searched his driveway had his hood up and was wearing something over his face. It looks very much like it was a targeted attack.

I know what you're thinking, and I don't know. I can literally think of nothing* that I have done that it will be a reprisal for, or of any ongoing behaviour that someone would wish me to cease. I wish that there had been a note on the kerbstone explaining why they're so pissed off with me.

*Unless being rude to an estate agent or complaining to a woman who jumped the queue in Lidl deserves criminal damage as a reward.

Richard "Ring doorbell" B

Monday 14 November 2022

Is He Being Serious?

 Back in the day one of my college friends sheepishly admitted that she had watched an embarrassingly large amount of "This is Spinal Tap" before realising that it was a joke. The continuity announcer on BBC2 had introduced it as "a groundbreaking rocumentary about one of Britain's loudest bands" and she assumed that she would learn about a band that was new to her.

My sister recently sent me a book that she thought I might be interested in. It looked like it was going to a parody of the new-age hippies. It was called "The Fifth Element" and it's about pyramids, numerology, music theory, crystals, philosophy, geometry and so forth – I assumed that the fifth element was going to be stupidity. It started off strong with an acknowledgements page including a Glastonbury book group and crop circle researchers and that had a spelling mistake and terrible layout. I started reading it and the jokes seemed few and far between and relied on quite a bit of mathematical knowledge. I was an embarrassingly long way in to the book before I realised that it probably wasn't a parody, but I still can’t be quite sure.

Richard "Poe's Law" B

Wednesday 9 November 2022

Quiz - extra round

 Since the lockdowns have finished, so too have the zoom quizzes. There is one round of questions that I have been working on that I haven’t really had chance to play-test, let alone use. They might be too obscure or too cryptic, but I’ll present them here for your interest. Each answer is a short (but complete) sentence or statement, and it’s well known in pop culture (memes, films, tv etc.)

  1. What did your dog step on?
  2. How many lights are there?
  3. What are we going to need?
  4. In what manner are you never going to recover from this?
  5. Are these the droids I’m looking for?

Richard “quizmaster” B

Monday 31 October 2022

White Stripes

 Years ago I had arranged a third date with a woman whom I was VERY keen on. It was to take place at my house and I spent a good number of hours worrying about what might stop her from attending. Did she still want to meet me? Were my directions clear enough? Would her car break down? Would a natural disaster destroy the bridge that she needed to use? Etc. While I was nervously waiting for her I checked that my doorbell still worked, imagining that she might come all the way to my place, press the button, I wouldn’t hear it, and that she’d give up and go home.

I believe that this experience gave me a rare insight into the song “My Doorbell” by The White Stripes which goes “I’m thinking about my doorbell, when ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it?”. A song which I used to be able to play the drum part for – but so can anyone.

Anyway for the second time in the 23 years that I’ve owned the same house and the same doorbell the doorbell went wrong. For the second time in 23 years the batteries are still good and it’s the switch contacts which have deteriorated. I wonder how long these batteries will last, and whether I’ll be cleaning the switch again in 2033?

Richard “ding dong” B

Sunday 9 October 2022

Instruction Manual

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

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

  1. Charge the battery.
    The magneto failed in the early 2000s and was replaced by a lead-acid battery and a dc coil. There is no charging system fitted to the mower. Connect the battery to the charger and turn the charger on at the mains. After several hours the charger will show the green "full" light. The charger is also a battery conditioner so should be left plugged in and turned on indefinitely.
  2. Mix the fuel. Tip petrol and two stroke oil into the mixing bottle to achieve a 25:1 mixture and agitate it to distribute the oil evenly throughout the fuel.
  3. Fill the fuel tank
  4. Food the carburettor
    Open the fuel tap. Depress the tickler (float valve override) twice for one to two seconds.
  5. Start the engine
    The engine runs rich and is liable to flood if it doesn't start quickly. Do not prime the engine and do not turn the ignition off during the process. Turn the ignition switch to ON. Despite what I say in the video, set the throttle to 100% (left). Close the chock fully (up). Briskly pull the starting handle two or three times. When the engine fires it will be trying to flood itself or shake itself to bits, you must act quickly. Open the choke a little and the engine revs should climb dangerously high - counteract this by closing the throttle part way. Continue this process until the engine is running with the choke fully open. Continue closing the throttle little by little until the engine is warm and will tick over with the throttle closed. You have now started the engine. Congratulations.
  6. Cut the grass
    The clutch lining is absolutely irreplaceable so operate the clutch as little as possible. In particular you may not open the clutch to turn corners or to turn around at the end of a run. Open the throttle a little to increase engine revs and close the clutch. Cut the grass. Close the fuel tap. Turn off the ignition.
  7. Clean
    Use the toothbrush and broken china teacup of oil (supplied with the mower) to lubricate the cutting blades.
The machine is mainly assembled with whitworth fasteners, except for the ones which wore out in the 1970s and 1980s which were replaced with A/F fasteners. Fasteners replaced in the last 30 years are mainly metric. There are various lubrication points in the sideplates and hidden under the chain cover. The front roller is missing and broken and has been replaced with pram wheels.

Tuesday 4 October 2022

Caterham Rear Brake Discs

 You have to remember that Caterham don't manufacture many parts. Their cars are made mainly out of bits that they have been buying from other manufacturers for years. The rear brakes are no different. The calliper is off a Ford Sierra, the hubs are seemingly from a racing car, and I've no idea where the discs are from, but they're not expensive.

The disks are bolted on to the back of the hub, but to make everything fit the heads of the bolts have been faced off and are very thin. You can change the discs, but it's tricky, and you might break something. Caterham would rather sell you a hub and a disk together and if you need to get the job finished quickly, or you're rich I would suggest that that's what you buy. If you're in cheapskate club with me, this is the procedure.

The hub nuts are done up tight, and the thread on the nearside is lefthanded. Loosen the hub nuts by half a turn while a friend or a piece of wood firmly presses the brake pedal. Then take the callipers off. Then undo the hub nuts and pull the hubs off the driveshafts.

You will find that there are 4 bolts behind each brake disc holding the disk to the hub. I successfully removed and re-used all 8 of them.

In this picture you can see the tool that I used. It's a single hex 14mm socket that has been ground flat on the end and very carefully deburred.

I applied heat to the bolts to disturb any threadlock and corrosion and I doused them in penetrating fluid and let them soak for 24 hours.

With the hub in a large vice I drove the modified socket onto the bolt heads with a hammer and undid them quite easily with a breaker bar.

Of course the bolt heads aren't really 14mm, so you also need to grind a 9/16 socket down flat to do the up again.

Richard "EBC D198" B

Thursday 29 September 2022

Are You Sure?

 A computer app will often throw up a message that says something like "Are you sure?" and you can click yes or no. I wanted to take some money out of a building society and the "yes" option of "are you sure?" opened up a boring side-quest IRL and the more I think about it the more ridiculous it seems.

Are you sure?
Download this pdf file and take it somewhere with a printing machine. Print the file onto a sheet of paper. Write your name briskly with an ink pen on the paper. Obtain another sheet of paper that has been folded and glued into a very specific shape. Put the first sheet of paper inside the second. Mark the second piece of paper with this exact string of symbols. Obtain a small sticky piece of paper that has a portrait of the last Queen on it. Stick the third piece of paper onto the second. Drop the whole bundle into a giant red cast-iron cupboard that you will find bolted down in the street.

Richard "paperless office" B

Tuesday 20 September 2022


 In the early 90s my father built a very accurate model of the boat that he owned at the time. It was an 18' Plymouth Pilot called Mimosa. The building of the model was significant to me because it divided my life into two parts: The part where I didn’t understand the lines drawing of a hull shape, and the part where I could read them quite easily.

The model has been gathering dust and dirt and pieces have got broken or gone missing since my father's death. I inherited this model as part of my mother's estate and I have been cleaning and restoring it. The boat has a cuddy at the front and there are grab rails on its roof. On the model the clearance between the bottom of the grab rail and the top of the roof is so small that it was very hard to clean. The gap was far too small for a cotton bud, and a bit too small for a pipe cleaner. The answer was a small size interdental brush, but when I was wandering around the house trying to find something to squeeze into this tiny gap I remembered something. The gap on the real boat was also too small! If you walked up the sidedeck and quickly took hold of the grab rail you would skin you knuckles on the top of the cuddy. That's really fantastic model building!

Richard "repair shop" B

Saturday 3 September 2022

Finite State Machine Tokenizers

"If you solve a problem with a regex, now you have two problems"

I have a dream! That one day software developers who have to do string processing will be just as likely to reach for a finite state machine as they are to start writing regular expressions. FSM's are not a magic bullet, but for some problems they're perfect: Easy to write, easy to understand, easy to test.

For the sake of this article, lets say that we want to grab the comments out of a c or java source file. These are the rules:

  • A line comment starts with a double slash and ends at the first newline
  • A block comment starts with slash star and ends at the first star slash
  • A double slash within a string literal does not start a comment
  • Slash star within a string literal does not start a comment
  • A string literal starts with doublequote and ends at the first double quote
  • A string literal does not end at a double quote preceded by a backslash
This is the definition of a FSM tokenizer that grabs the comments. This is not a real format, but I think it might be valid YAML. I also think it could be a fascinating project in java to implement a general purpose FSM tokenizer where the FSM is defined in yaml.

Start in the CODE state and for each character in the string do what your current state tells you, including moving to a new state.



'\n': [endToken, CODE]
?: [appendTheChar, LINECOMMENT]

?: [appendTheChar, BLOCKCOMMENT]

'/': [endToken, CODE]
?: [append:'*', appendTheChar; BLOCKCOMMENT]

'"': CODE
'\\': ESCAPE


Some of you are already familiar with this method of string processing. Some of you think that this type of FSM is better expressed with the characters at the root level. That is, all the state transitions that can be triggered by (say) a slash are grouped together, rather than all the transitions that start in (say) a quoted string being grouped together. "You're wrong and I hate you".

One of my teams has recently started to use the language Kotlin, so over the bank holiday weekend I gave myself a personal coding project: To write a FSM tokenizer in Kotlin and to make it as easy to read as I could. This what I ended up with.

 * base class for Finite State Machine based tokenizers (lexers)
abstract class FSMTokenizer {
    var token = StringBuilder();    // the current token
    var tokens = ArrayList<String>(); // all the tokens

    operator fun plus(c: Char?){    // add a character to the current token

    operator fun plus(s: String){   // add a string to the current token

    fun split() {                   // end one token and start the next
        token = StringBuilder();

    fun tokenize(s: String): List<String> { // feed the characters of a string into a Finite State Machine
        for (c in s) {
        step(null) // the FSM is given a null after the last character - it might have some tidying up to do
        return tokens;    

    abstract fun step(c: Char?)     // deal with one character. You need to implement this yourself

 * tokeniser which grabs only the comments out of a java source file
class FSMComments(): FSMTokenizer() {
    var state: States = States.CODE; // start the machine in the CODE state

    override fun step(c: Char?) = state.step(this, c) // pass this tokenizer into the enum class

    enum class States {                    // FSM model
        fun step(tokens: FSMComments, c: Char?) {
            tokens.state = when(tokens.state) { // our implementation of step() updates the state of the machine
            CODE ->
                when (c) {
                    '/' -> ONESLASH
                    '"' -> INQUOTE
                    else -> CODE
            ONESLASH ->
                when (c) {
                    '/' -> LINECOMMENT
                    '*' -> BLOCKCOMMENT
                    else -> CODE
            LINECOMMENT ->
                when (c) {
                    '\n' -> {tokens.split(); CODE}
                    else -> {tokens+c; LINECOMMENT}
            BLOCKCOMMENT ->
                when (c) {
                    '*' -> BLOCKSTAR
                    else -> {tokens+c; BLOCKCOMMENT}
            BLOCKSTAR ->
                when (c) {
                    '/' -> {tokens.split(); CODE}
                    else -> {tokens+'*'; tokens+c; BLOCKCOMMENT}
            INQUOTE ->
                when (c) {
                    '"' -> CODE
                    '\\' -> ESCAPE
                    else -> INQUOTE
            ESCAPE ->
                when (c) {
                    '"' -> INQUOTE
                    else -> INQUOTE

 * tokeniser which splits a string on commas. It eats leading whitespace and multiple commas
class FSMCommas(): FSMTokenizer() {
    var state: States = States.COMMA;    // start the machine in the COMMA state

    // extra operators can be implemented here

    override fun step(c: Char?) = state.step(this, c)

    enum class States {                    // FSM model
        TEXT, COMMA;
        fun step(tokens: FSMCommas, c: Char?) {
            tokens.state = when(tokens.state) {
            TEXT ->
                when (c) {
                    ',', null -> {tokens.split(); COMMA}
                    else -> {tokens+c; TEXT}
            COMMA ->
                when (c) {
                    ',', ' ', '\t', '\n' -> COMMA
                    else -> {tokens+c; TEXT}

fun main() {
    val helloWorld = """
        /* The code below will print the words Hello World
        to the screen, and it is amazing */
        #include <stdio.h>
        int main() {
            // printf() displays the string inside quotation
            printf("Hello, World!");
            printf("//shhh this isn\"t a comment");
            return 0;
        /* this block comment has a * in it */
    val list = """
            one, two,
            three, four""";
    for (t in FSMCommas().tokenize(list)) {
    for (t in FSMComments().tokenize(helloWorld)) {

Richard "Blogger is rubbish for code samples" B

Monday 22 August 2022


 I grew up in Plymouth so I'm quite used to dealing with seagulls. I have pretty much never had an ice cream, pasty or sandwich stolen by them. The trick to eating outdoors while they are around is quite simple: Either put your back against a wall, or form a small huddle with your friends. You are responsible for looking at one sector of the sky and when one swoops down, try to grab it. They hate that and they invariably leave. I don't know what would happen if you actually managed to grab a seagull, I don’t believe it has ever happened in the history of human civilisation. I assume that it would crash the simulation that we live in and/or the nature of God would be revealed to humanity.

 I don’t know how much the herring gulls have been studying the development of aircraft fighter manoeuvres during world war two – but it's more than I would have guessed. One of the most important tactics is maintaining or evading visual contact, and now they know all about it.

 It was recommended to me that I should try German Donner Kebab and I did so on a very hot and sunny day. While I was eating this kebab in the street in the city centre a large herring gull dived down directly out of the sun (where I couldn't look) and tried to knock the kebab out of my hand. He made contact with me and the kebab but only a tiny amount of salad fell to the floor. Either they're getting better, or I'm getting worse.

 Richard "BFM" B


 I wish I were one of those people who could make a good first impression, but instead I keep displaying the behaviour of an oddball.

I've got some ginger heritage, so I have to be very careful not to get sunburned. I spend most of Saturday standing in bright sunlight in a paddock with no shelter or shade. I'm English so I don't have a separate umbrella and parasol, so I was walking around on one of the hottest days of the year, in a drought, with an umbrella. Worse the handle broke off and the best temporary repair I could make was to stuff a large screwdriver up the broken shaft and use that instead. I think that the first thing everybody I met probably noticed was the broken umbrella grafted on to a screwdriver handle.

Richard "function over form" B

Monday 8 August 2022


 I have recently been shamed by a laundry aid. I own a thing that I call a “socktopus” although I think its real name is an Ikea Pressa. It’s a plastic body with eight legs. The whole thing will dangle from the washing line, and each of the eight legs has two captive clothes pegs on it. I use it to dry socks. I have two feet and I change my socks daily, so if I do my laundry weekly then there are two unused pegs on the socktopus. That extra leg gives me one day of leeway in my laundry schedule. If it takes me more than eight days to get round to doing it, then the socktopus is full. Hanging a few socks on the line with individual wooden pegs feels like a punishment, and I can see the disapproval in the cartoonish painted eyes of the socktopus.

Richard “slovenly” B

Saturday 6 August 2022

Going to Your First Track Day


There is no insurance unless you buy it for yourself. You will have to sign a very comprehensive waiver. It basically means that anything that goes wrong is your problem. If your car is smashed up, or if you're injured or killed you can't blame someone else. If somebody is driving recklessly, you have to avoid them, you can't make any claim against them if they damage your car. 


You have to be fit and well and sober, and you have to be able to see well enough to drive safely. Bring your driving licence. You have to be dressed so that all of your body, arms, legs, and feet are covered. (generally this means you need to bring a long sleeved shirt, you will see some people in a fireproof race suit). Most track days do not lend crash helmets, so you will generally need to bring your own. In a soft top car it needs to be a full face crash helmet. I have only ever seen a crash helmet being inspected once at a track day. It is your responsibility to make sure that your helmet is suitable.

The Day

There will be a large car park called "the paddock", it will open early, generally 7.30am. People will start arriving, picking a place, and getting their vehicle ready. There will be cars that drive in, cars on trailers and possibly cars in lorries. There will be people doing a huge amount of preparation, and other people standing around chatting and smoking. Don't be intimidated, just get your car ready and check it over.
There will be some sort of signing on procedure. Queue up, show your licence, get your wrist band (or however it is done on that day). You will often be asked to display a sticker on your car usually on the windscreen or the offside.
There may be a safety briefing or you might have already done it online. Attend and pay attention. They will explain how they wish you to drive, what the driving rules are, and how they will communicate with you.
Depending on the circuit there may be a static noise test. Queue up in your car. When you are instructed to, pull up to the test station and hold the engine revs at whatever number your are told. You might get a sticker to display, or they may just make notes.
Groups of cars will be taken on sighting laps. This will be a couple of dozen cars following a professional driver around the circuit a couple of times. Queue up wherever they tell you (this will be either the assembly area or the pit lane). Follow the car in front closely and use the same line that they do. The professional at the front knows the lines very well, we're all trying to pass that knowledge to the back of the queue. Sighting laps are also opportunity to look carefully at the circuit and to learn where the marshals will be standing. The next time you enter the circuit you will be at high speed, you are expected to know the corners and the lines and where the marshals are.
Depending on the day, they might release the cars from the sighting laps for a few high speed laps. If they do this you don't have to go. A chequered flag will tell you when it's time to go back to the paddock, but you can always exit the circuit whenever you like.
The day will then turn into "open pit lane". In this regime you queue up to enter the circuit, drive a few laps, and come back to the paddock when you're ready.

The Driving Rules

Track days are strictly non-competitive. No racing and no timing.
Always do what the marshals tell you.
Overtaking is by consent, only on the left (At Castle Coombe it might be only on the right - pay attention at the safety briefing) and only on the straights. When a faster car catches up with you don't panic.  Finish the corner you're working on. Indicate right, move your car clearly to the right and ease up on the throttle so that he slips past you easily. Open the throttle again, cancel the indicators and move back onto the racing line. When you catch up with a slower car follow him closely and stay on the racing line. When he moves over, over take briskly on the left. Be aware that he may not have indicators fitted, or he might be too busy to use them.
Most circuits operate "spin and in". If you lose control of your car then you finish your lap and go back to the paddock, no matter how deftly you rescued yourself.
When you see the chequered flag: finish your lap and go back to the paddock.
When you see the red flag: There is a hazard. Slow down (say 50mph on the straights, easy cornering speeds) finish your lap and go back to the paddock.
When you see a yellow flag: There is a hazard. Slow down. When you see a green flag, or you are passed the hazard speed up again.
When you see a black flag: There is a problem with your car or your driving. Finish your lap and report to the marshals.
Blue flag: You're holding people up, let them overtake.
Red and Yellow: Be aware of slippery surface.


The Driving

On your first track day you will follow the "club line". On the straight before the corner make your way to whichever side the next corner demands. For a right hand corner, you will be all the way over to the left in plenty of time. Do all your braking and gear changes on the straight. You will get to the entry point at the right speed and in the right gear to get round the corner. The only controls you will use during cornering are the wheel and the throttle. Make the initial turn into the corner and then try to balance the turning force and the acceleration so that you come near to the apex of the corner on the inside and exit the corner on the outside. Once you're on the straight you can open the throttle all the way and briskly work your way through the gears. The straights are much less challenging to drive, this is where you should check your mirrors and get a picture of what is going on behind you.

If you are in a powerful car it is very easy to think that there is nobody behind you. There might be someone who is much faster than you over the course of a whole lap, but who isn't as fast as you on the straights. If he catches up with you anywhere, he's faster than you and you should let him past.

Do not feed the steering wheel through your hands. Hold it at 9 and 3. Never let go of 3. Let go of 9 only to make a gear change and then put your hand straight back. You will be able to turn the wheel enough to make all the corners on a racing circuit without letting go, but your hands might be upside down. This is safer, it gives you better control, and it gives you better balance if you get shaken around in the cabin.
If the car loses grip during braking quickly reduce pressure on the pedal and then apply it again more gently.
If the car loses grip in cornering steer into the skid. If the car is rotating to the right steer left. Do not make large changes to the throttle, just ease off gently. If the car started slipping sideways and you quickly took your foot all the way off the throttle you would change the balance of the car and put more stress on the driven tyres and make the skid worse.
If you car slips away from you and you can't rescue it, press the brakes firmly and depress the clutch, like you would in an emergency stop on a driving test. If the car has rotated so far that it's going sideways, you're not going to rescue it. Do an emergency stop before it spins and you wind the engine around backwards.

The Car

You don't need a racing car to go on a track day, but the faster your car is, the easier you'll find it to keep up with the traffic. Don't go in a car that wouldn't get an MOT. The tyres must be good quality, and the same type on all four corners. If you go in the rain, then the tyres must have plenty of tread left. The brake pads must have plenty of material left. If you wouldn't trust the pads to last the next 10k miles on the road, change them before your track day. Change the brake fluid if it's any more than a year old. The brakes will be the hardest worked components and they will get very hot. Old brake fluid absorbs water, water boils, and then you've got squashy gas in your brake lines. Change your brake fluid.

Do not use the handbrake during the day. The brakes will be nearly red hot and the handbrake would clamp the disk and the pads together at that temperature - damaging both,
Your car must be completely empty. Any loose items in the cabin are exceptionally dangerous. No litter, no baby seats, no ornaments, no sat-nav cradle, no air freshener, no shopping bags, nothing.
During the course of the day: Check your tyre pressures, engine oil and fluid levels, and make sure that the wheel nuts are done up tightly.

Richard "you can do it" B

Friday 22 July 2022

Climate Change

 On Monday I took my Caterham to Snetterton circuit. It was the hottest day sin... ever yet the car behaved very well. The coolant and oil were running over 100°C, the track was hot, the air was hot, the sun was very strong but nothing leaked out or went wrong. One of the worst bits was the temperature in the drivers compartment. When Caterham switched over to using Ford engines the exhaust moved over to the driver's side. That means that it's you who gets deafened (not you passenger) and it's you who burns your leg getting out of the car (not your passenger). It also means that the hottest part of the engine bay is right in front of the pedal box. By the afternoon putting your feet on the pedals was like putting your feet into an oven, and both my guest and I damaged our shoes. I melted the rubber sole on mine, and my guest melted the glue that held the sole on!

Richard "warm" B

Tuesday 12 July 2022


 I don’t have a funny or well constructed story from my week off, but I will try to share a very brief incident with you. I just burned the very end of my nose. This was done while trying to light a cigarette. It was a very short cigarette, a very high flame, and a very long nose.


 One time during my career I invented a whole new way to store tree structured data in a relational database. Once I'd "invented" it and understood it I knew enough to research it and find out that it was a well understood technique.

I've recently become mildly obsessed with geodesic domes. How do you make all those triangles link together, but not end up with a flat surface? I decided that the best way to understand it was to build one, but I don't have the maths or the materials to build it from straight edges. What I did was to buy a polystyrene sphere and mark out the triangles of a "2-frequency subdivision of an icosahedron" on its surface. It was a fascinating project and I’ll do it again better and with a higher frequency.

The great thing is that since doing it I have a much better understanding of the construction and I've been able to find and understand articles that explain the theory behind these shapes. They're both simpler and cleverer than I knew, and I still don't have enough maths to calculate the lengths of the edges myself.

Richard "Buckminster Fuller" B

Thursday 23 June 2022

Caterham Track Day Tyres

 These are my thoughts on choosing track day tyres for a Caterham. I have sets of 14" and 15" wheels. I don't know anything about 13" wheels with your low gears and ground clearance, or your tall diffs, or your tall wobbly sidewalls. I also drive my car to track days, so I'm only going to be talking about road-legal tyres.

Toyo R888-R

These are my favourite tyres, as long as there's not a lot of water. They're available in 14" and 15". They're about in the middle of the price range for semi-slicks. They have a very sturdy construction and stiff sidewalls. The grip they provide is excellent and you get quite a lot of use out of them. They're asymmetric so you can't flip them around on the wheel, this does mean that once you have worn out the outside shoulder the whole tyre is used up. The technical documentation for them says that the front suspension should have as much caster as the chassis will support. I think this is to try to get more of the width of the tyre on the ground during cornering. I have done this, but I still always wear them out on the outside.

Nankang NS2-R

These are a cheaper track day tyre. They're available in 14" and 15" They're very sturdy and have stiff sidewalls and you get a lot of wear out of them. They're directional so you can flip them over to even out the wear. I have only got on well with them when the weather is hot, when the circuit is bone dry, and when you've already warmed them up. In the cold they're terrible, and in the wet they're dangerous. What's odd is that people race MX5's on these in all weathers and they get on fine. My guess is that they will come up to temperature OK on a slightly heavier car, but that it's hard to get enough heat into them on a Caterham.

Avon ZZR

I've never used these. I believe that they're the top of the range semi-slick for our cars. I think they're 15" only. They're also too expensive, too hard to come by (I think you have to buy them from BMTR or Caterham), and I'm given to understand that they degrade thermally very quickly.

Avon ZZS

I've never used these. I believe that they're the top of the range all rounder for wet and dry. I think they're 15" only. They're also expensive and they're soft, so you don't get a lot of use out of them.

Uniroyal Roadsport 5

This is what I use in the rain. Only available in 15". The grip is pretty good, and they're pretty forgiving to drive on. They're not a particularly high performance tyre and they have very soft sidewalls. The whole car does feel rather detached and wobbly but you can corner and brake even in standing water.

Avon CR28

Available in 14" and 15". I've never used these because I'd wear out a set just getting to the track, but I believe they're the absolute best for wet conditions. They're a road-legal, soft compound, full-wet motorsport tyre.

Richard "Michelin Man" B

Wednesday 15 June 2022

Quiz 4

 At the weekend I hosted the canteen quiz. It's mostly the same quiz that I did at my niece's wedding. Have a go:

General Knowledge
1) What animal are dogs descended from?
2) What fruit is wine made from?
3) In which town do the Flintstones live?
4) How many games were there in "Squid Game", including the game with the recruiter?
5) How many claws on an ordinary domestic cat?

Music (And The) (give the name of the band leader)
1) And the Pips
2) And the Heartbreakers
3) And the Stooges
4) And the Four Seasons
5) And his Comets

English Kitchen -> American Kitchen (translate to American)
1) Crisps
2) Chips
3) Biscuits
4) Courgette
5) Pudding

Early Work
1) Which guitar god played on “It’s Not Unusual” as a session musician and later co-wrote a song so overbearingly popular that it mustn't be played in guitar shops?
2) Which actor went from playing a hotdog-purchasing condiment snob in a 1987 advert to a lead role in one of the most successful sitcoms ever seven years later?
3) Which film director made both 1981’s “Piranha 2: The Spawning” (tagline: The terror is back...but this time it flies! A new breed of terror!) and the highest-grossing film of all time.
4) Which Booker-winning author came up with the “Naughty, but nice” slogan for cream cakes, then later made headlines by disappeared from public view after an especially bad book review?
5) Which iconic musician, known for his various colourful stage personas, won six Grammy awards in his lifetime. None of which were for his 1967 novelty single, The Laughing Gnome.

Famous Vehicles (give the type of vehicle)
1) Titanic
2) Spirit of St. Louis
3) Flying Scotsman
4) Enola Gay
5) Thrust 2

Explain a Film Plot Badly (name the film)
1) An officer on a space tug saves the ship's cat, but none of the crew, from an aggressive parasite.
2) Plot to assassinate two princesses is foiled by a reindeer, snowman, and ice seller.
3) Schizophrenic man competes with himself for control of a boxing society.
4) A man's car runs out of fuel on his way to disrupt a wedding after he has already slept with the mother of the bride.
5) Local law enforcement and marine biologist disagree on beach safety procedures.

Cryptic Rock

American Kitchen -> English Kitchen (translate to English)
1) Egg Plant
2) Hard Cider
3) Arugula
4) Jello
5) Cilantro

Sibling Rivalry (give the surname)
1) Aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur
2) Novelists Charlotte, Emily, Anne (also Branwell)
3) Musicians Liam and Noel
4) Tennis players Venus and Serena
5) Fairy tale collators Jacob and Wilhelm

Old Jokes Home (fill in the question)
Example: My wife went to the West Indies. _____? No She went of her own accord! Answer: Jamaica?1) My wife went to South Korea to join a band. _____? No they play R&B!
2) My wife's allergic to the sugar in milk. _____? No her feet are fine!
3) I got a job in a bowling alley. _____? No it's full time!
4) One of my wife's sister's children went to the south of France. _____? No it was her nephew!
5) My wife hurt her foot climbing a volcano. _____? No she twisted her ankle!


1) Wolves
2) Grapes
3) Bedrock
4) Seven - recruiter round, red light - green light, honeycomb, tug of war, marbles, glass stepping stones, squid game.
5) 18

1) Gladys Knight
2) Tom Petty
3) Iggy Pop
4) Franky Valley
5) Bill Halley

1) Chips
2) Fries
3) Cookies
4) Zuccini
5) Dessert

1) Jimmy Page
2) Matt LeBlank
3) James Cameron
4) Salman Rushdie
5) David Bowie

1) Ship
2) Plane
3) Train
4) Plane
5) Car

1) Alien
2) Frozen
3) Fight Club
4) The Graduate
5) Jaws

1) True
2) 1964
3) Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson etc. (Name a member of The Band)
4) Yes, moderately
5) Take the Skinheads Bowling (Name a Camper Van Beethoven song)

1) Aubergine
2) Cider
3) Rocket
4) Jelly
5) Coriander

1) Wright
2) Bronte
3) Gallagher
4) Williams
5) Grimm

1) Seoul?
2) Lactose?
3) Ten pin?
4) Nice?
5) Krackatoa?

Friday 10 June 2022

Chequered Flag

 In creative works the more constrained you are, the more inventive and expressive you have to be. For example In a novel the author can witter away for thousands of words to try to get some point across, in a haiku it has to be done in a handful of words. One of the highest forms of art is good-natured mickey taking, and at the weekend I saw someone do it well with only a flag.

I was at a track day on the jubilee weekend. When you're driving on circuit it's loud and you're moving quickly so the only way that the marshals can communicate with you is with flags. I was told that it was a good idea to wave back at a marshal with a flag so that they know you've seen them. On a track day the only meaning that the chequered flag conveys is that the circuit is about to close, they're non-competitive days so you haven't won anything. At the weekend I was the first car to pass one of the chequered flags and as normal I gave the marshal a little thumbs up. In response the marshal started waving the flag in an exaggerated and flamboyant way – as thought I'd just won a career-defining race. I'm pretty sure that the meaning (as well as "please leave the circuit") was "don't look so pleased with yourself, this flag is just a formality".

Richard "Podium" B

Monday 30 May 2022


 I've had an amazing long weekend at a niece's weddings. We were looked after incredibly well in a castle in Scotland and I went there in my silly little sport car.

Can we get Land's End to John O'Groats?
No. We have Land's End to John O'Groats at home
The Land's End to John O'Groats we have at home:

I drove a Caterham from Plymouth to Inverurie, staying overnight at a Premier Inn in Carlisle, and then made the same journey in reverse a couple of days later. My observation of long distance travel in a kit car is that it's actually pretty slow (once you take into account all the stops and rests that you need to take) and that every part of you that interacts with the car ends up hurting. It's so noisy that I was wearing ear defenders. As well as all the discomfort from the cramped and awkward sitting position, my hands and heels hurt from the vibration they were in contact with. It's as if car designers have been right to try to reduce Noise and Vibration Harshness. My observation of waiting around in Carlisle is that it's a bit like waiting in an international departure lounge in an airport. There are a few places to shop or to eat, but they're all a bit crappy, and the normal social rules about when it's too early to have a pint don't seem to apply.

Can we get movie-star wedding?
No. We have movie-star wedding at home.
The movie-star wedding we have at home:

We only had access to the west wing of the picturesque Scottish castle and we weren't allowed on the ramparts. Two dozen of us had to share a single butler and I had to serve myself with the exquisite dinner. There were only two fabulous bands and it wasn't quite dark for our private fireworks display.

Richard "Congratulations" B

Tuesday 17 May 2022

Apple of My Eye

 I never had a Tamagochi, I'm not living in an Asimov story, and I never played The Last of Us, so I don't know what it's like to care for the wellbeing of a bit of software, but I do now feel like I'm bringing up a software child, and trying to shape it into my own image. I want to be able to listen to music in my car, but at the same time I'm a cheapskate. There is an FM radio on my phone but the reception turns out to be terrible. I'm not prepared to buy a subscription to a music streaming service, but I already have Amazon Prime, so I'm trying to enjoy their music service. Without paying for the "Unlimited" version there are two problems: It's full of adverts, and you can't pick what you want to listen to. What you can do is play a "station" and tell it which songs you like (we'll play more like this) and which you dislike (we'll never play this again).

Using just the thumbs up and thumbs down I've been trying to train it to find songs that I like and I now feel invested in the app, and the time and effort I've spent with it. I have no idea what "more like this" actually means from an algorithmic point of view. If I had said I liked "Stairway to Heaven" would it have thought I like Led Zeppelin, 70s rock, and people that can really play the guitar, or would it have signed me up for long, pretentious songs and lyrics with overtones of Tolkein and mysticism. I hope it's building up a database from other people who are playing the same game as me. Having only thumbs up and thumbs down is very constraining. I told it that I don't like Aerosmith "Don't want to miss a thing" but my hand hesitated over the icon. Would it take that to mean I don't like Aerosmith at all? I'd be happy if it played pretty much anything off any of their albums up to and including "Pump".

Richard "AI training" B

Monday 9 May 2022

Listen Up

 In a couple of weeks I'm going to take my silly little sportscar to Aberdeenshire. One of the things that I've been trying to improve in preparation is the acoustic environment, You get a lot of wind and road noise so it's rather tiring to drive. I usually wear ear plugs, but I would rather be able to listen to music. My headphones are Beyerdynamic DT770M (yes, they're related to the legendary DT100). They're designed for monitoring in live sound situations so they're part ear-defenders and part high-fidelity headphones. They should be perfect and when I drove with them it was much less tiring and much less boring.

I have had those headphones for about a decade and never had a problem with them. Rock shows are a harsh physical environment (just look how sturdy all the flight cases are and how heavy all the hardware is). Those headphones have survived scores of shows with me (and the associated loading, unloading and van rides). They failed after less than 500 miles of motorway driving in an open-top car. I broke them open and effected a temporary repair at the motorway services, but I think I'm going to have to buy something more focussed towards driving (or flying).

Richard "Dave Clark" B

Tuesday 3 May 2022

Fine Art

 As a younger man I went out with a fine artist. One of the things I learned from her was that some graphic art wasn't about beauty, but about the story it told or the message it sent.

This isn't a spectacular photograph, and I don't think the story is entirely clear just from looking at it. It's the story of a man who has bought some cheap pithy limes and tried to juice them for making cocktails. He's broken the hinge of his lime press, he doesn't have any 1/8" round bar in stock, but he does fancy another daquiri.

Richard "David Bailey" B

Monday 25 April 2022

Slow Samaritan

 A few weeks ago I was stuck in a very slow traffic jam. A caravan had lost a wheel in a junction controlled by temporary traffic lights. I stopped to offer support, but the man's jack wouldn't fit under the heavily listing caravan. I have a large, low profile jack at home, but I couldn't really bring it back in a car because the entire east side of Plymouth was gridlocked.

This is what "I'm trying to help" looked like:

I went home, took the top-box off my scooter, strapped my trolley jack in its place and set off back to the caravan.

I got there just before the recovery vehicle, but to both our surprises one of the vehicles who had been stuck in the extremely long queue was a mobile mechanic's van. He had jacked the caravan, replaced the wheel, and was sending it on its way just to get it out of his way.

Richard "shouldn't have bothered" B

Thursday 21 April 2022

Back Row

 In an aeroplane it's important how the weight is distributed. If the centre of gravity is in the wrong place the plane will be inefficient, unstable, or dangerous. On small commercial planes it is actually important who sits where. I believe that the airlines prefer not to put their passengers through the indignity of stepping on a scales before they get allocated a seat, but somebody does carefully look them up and down and tries to guess who weighs how much. We now have these wonderful euphemisms for fat and thin: "Allocated a seat below the main spar" and "sitting in the back row".

Richard "She's got a nice empennage" B

Wednesday 6 April 2022

The Alpha and the Omega

 Last week was a time of low-value revelations for me.

I was last week years old when I found out you can put bacon into a cold dry pan and then turn the heat on. The finest and most luxurious portion of the fat melts out (renders) and you cook the bacon in that. Who knew? Apparently everybody but me.

I have known for years that the most dangerous and totalitarian nation states try to take over the place of the family. During the second world war the nazis were fighting for "The Fatherland". After the revolution Russians were expected to think that they were born to "Mother Russia" more than their own parents. Orwell nicely pointed this out in 1984 by calling the surveillance service "Big Brother".

I have hated the BBC for many years. It was in the late 80's or early 90's when my mother and I noticed that the "news" has started to present an opinion instead of just the events. By 2010 they were talking down to me as though I were an idiot, and it was shortly after that that it was plain to see which side of every issue they stood. I haven't paid a TV licence for many years and so I'm not allowed to watch the dross that they produce, or anything which was broadcast live. Call it sticking by my principles, or call it cutting my nose off to spite my face, but I haven't watched British Superbikes or the Touring Cars in many years and I still miss it.

I was last week years old when I realised how sinister it is that its proponents would have British Government's propaganda wing take the roll of "Auntie".

Richard "Always the last to know" B

Location Location Location

 My brother and his workmates were very amused with this message that I sent. It does rather reveal what I think is important.

"I've put an offer in on a workshop in Hooe. 18' x 25', pitch roof, cavity walls, inspection pit, power. It comes with a free, ugly, 3 bed house."

Since then my offer has been accepted, I've got agreement on a mortgage and I've instructed solicitors so it looks like I'll probably be moving house. I now have to go on an economy drive and return to the monthly indignity of paying a mortgage. What do I do? Shop at Aldi instead of Lidl? Clean my shoes with Dom Perignon instead of Cristal? Share the bath water? Buy own-brand car wax? I feel lost.

Richard "Property Magnate" B

Monday 21 March 2022


 Here at the bolingblog we love a scale of gradations like the Beaufort scale. I present our scale for how much tobacco you put into a hand-rolled cigarette.

  • Prison Fag.
  • Remand Prison Fag.
  • Student Fag.
  • International Student Fag.
  • Workman's Fag.
  • Foreman's Fag.
  • Smuggler's Fag.
  • Filipino Smuggler's Fag.
  • Lottery Winner's Fag.
  • Jamie the Socialist Borrowed Someone Else's Tobacco Fag.

 Richard "don't smoke" B

Tuesday 15 March 2022


Tribute to Jeannine Bolingbroke, written by Mary E. Bolingbroke, Read at the Funeral Service on 10 March 2022

Because we tend to view bloodlines as something passed from father to son, grandmothers don't always get the credit they deserve as heads of the family but, to me, my granny was the ultimate Bolingbroke matriarch. She embodied all of the qualities that all of us who she gave life to are praised for: individuality, creativity, practical minds, eccentricity. And she has always expressed so much pride in us.

She wasn't the type of grandmother to declare her love with words in a typical sense, but her expressions of love and gratitude were just as powerful. She made it clear in the photos she chose to hang around the house, the stories she'd tell, the way her eyes smiled into yours, how lucky she always said she was. Her propensity to be brusque was evidence of a sparky, independent soul who wouldn't be tread on. She was soft and tender in her own, Bolingbroke way. 

I'm going to miss my yearly traditions from granny - the first daffodils of the year for my birthday and a card informing me of my age, and whether that age was prime and, if not, which factors it had — but I feel comforted by how unforgettable she is.

Tribute to Jeannine Bolingbroke, written by Douglas Bolingbroke, Read at the Funeral Service on 10 March 2022

"During the civil war" <pause for laughter> "During the civil war" is a phrase that has become immortalized in our family as code for "get to the point!" It came to life during one of my mum's more hilarious and meandering stories that involved 350 years of world history before she finally came to the conclusion. And in many  ways, this highlights some of her most appealing characteristics.

In addition to her intelligence and vast knowledge of a bewildering range of subjects my mum was also one of the most enthusiastic, entertaining and fun-loving people, she had a unique view of things and the ability not to take herself too seriously.

My mum was one of a kind, some would say eccentric but that is a category that misses the point. She was many different things to different people but most of all she was an individual that was full of life and did things her own way.  

• A music lover - playing the piano and singing at any opportunity 

• A care giver most of her life – looking after children, relatives and cats

• An avid reader and book lover - visiting the Plymstock library nearly every week for 50  years 

• A Mathematician – demanding everyone should know their "times tables" and cutting cake in radians 

• An Ecologist 30 years ahead of her time – instrumental in the Plant a tree in ’73 campaign 

• And a feminist who always insisted women should be treated equally – and rode a  motorbike to prove it 

I would like to recount a few more stories about my mum, which I hope go some way to show  what an amazing individual she was and how fondly we remember her 

The Dory 

She would never let anyone put her off from having fun or enjoying herself. When we were small children (guessing late 60's) she planned a trip to Wigan to visit our Aunt and Uncle  who lived in a restored tow path inn. She decided that while we were there it would be great fun to row up and down the canal. Undeterred by any practical restraints or the deafening shouts of naysayers, she had a 12-foot dory shipped in a furniture removal van the 300 miles to Lancashire. Then, ignoring the legal restrictions and risks of drowning small children succeeded in boating on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. I cannot imagine the logistical  nightmares of trying to do that today, let alone 50 years ago 


She was very proud of her achievements and demonstrating her hard-won status as a Bachelor of Science (one of very few women in the 1950's). When I graduated from  university my Mum battled one of the worst winter storms the UK had ever seen so she could attend the ceremony. To my delight she made it in time, but to my absolute horror and embarrassment, she insisted on wearing a cap and gown because she too was a graduate of London University and was going to make sure everyone knew she had a degree. 

Accidental Horticulturist 

To keep herself amused in later years, she took on many different hobbies and attended various classes. She signed up for a horticulture course at a local garden centre. Probably more as a social activity than to improve her excellent gardening skills. It turned out to be a  vocational qualification and every other student either ran or worked at a commercial garden or nursery. She didn't like to admit that she was on the wrong course, so she knuckled  down, studied hard and was awarded a professional horticulture qualification. 

When a tree surgeon came to trim her trees, she laughed at his certification from the Royal Horticulture Society. And dismissed it jauntily "We've all got one of those. I got one by accident!"

Train Seat 

I would like to finish by reading part of a letter my Mum wrote in 1991, which I think really shows what a determined, caring, unusual and wonderful person she was and gives a little insight into her unique way of living in a world that due to her good grace, always helpfully realigned itself for her. 

"I took a chair up to London with me yesterday. John had recovered the seat. John helped me on the train with it. I sat where a disabled person with a wheelchair would have sat, if he had been travelling, and very luckily Mr Bassett was in the same carriage with his wife, on their way to the Albert Hall for their daughters' graduation ceremony, so he helped me off the train. It was platform 1, there was a trolley waiting, and I pushed it up to left luggage and  £1.80 looked after it until midnight tonight. Not bad eh!" 

What of course is missing is why she is taking a chair to London, who the chair was for and what Mr Bassett and the other passengers thought about a lady who had apparently brought  her own seat for the train ride. She was certainly doing something kind and generous for someone, had some fun doing it and didn’t care what anyone else thought.

Tribute to Jeannine Bolingbroke, written by Mary L. Bolingbroke, Read at the Funeral Service on 10 March 2022

My Mum, Jeannine Bolingbroke was born in London on Jan 4th 1936 - and in that moment were pretty much the only two things that she didn't really like about her life - her name Jeannine and her birthday which was so near Christmas that people invariably forgot it. Also her birthday cakes which were invariably a cut priced and re-iced Christmas cake. As Stella just said, she and Mum stayed in London during the war. Many children were being evacuated but Granny decided she didn't want to be separated and anyway they would all be safe in the Anderson shelter in the back garden, except that after a while the children didn't like the damp wormy dark shelter especially at night so instead they all stayed in the old kitchen pantry which was apparently safe because it was below the bathroom and its colossal cast iron bath.

The logic was extraordinary but the family were safe. They grew food in the back garden, had a chicken called trousers and all was as well as it could be. I have often wondered how much those early years influenced Mum's character and zest for life. She was always positive, enthusiastic, vibrant, apparently bomb proof, always assumed that everything would work out for the best which invariably it did and however crazy her logic - like sheltering in a cupboard below a ton of cast iron bath - for Mum there was an internal logic that unfailingly saved the day. Mum went to school where it turned out that she was very good at numbers. She also loved music and music and maths became two of her life long passions. She went to dances in Hammersmith, to concerts at the Royal Albert hall, joined the Sea Rangers went scouting and camping and made friends with people who would become her lifelong companions.

She bought a BSA motorbike went to University and was taught by a young, brilliant Jewish German refugee called Hilda. Even Mum and her teacher stayed in touch right up until 2017 and Hilda's death aged 95. I am awed by the longevity and loyalty of these enduring friendships a testament to Mum's infectious enthusiasm for travelling, visiting and writing cards and letters. All of which brings me to Mum getting a job in Sheen where I believe she had something to do with the preparatory work of laying the transatlantic telephone cable - and of course this is one of the most difficult things about losing Mum. There is only one person I could ask for all these details, and it's her but she is the one person I can't ask. Over the years she has told me everything I need to know to write this piece but I didn't really take it in because I never really imagined that there would be a time when I'd need to know and she wouldn't be there to tell me.

But, what I do know for sure is that she met a man at work called John, older than her, brilliantly clever, funny, loved jazz music and had a boat on the Thames. He invited her sailing, she went, it was a bit too much like the Anderson shelter in that it was cramped and damp but with the added drawback of being unstable and mobile which made her seasick. Again, I am in awe of a woman who resolutely made the best of a bad situation. John and Jeannine married and all his life, as much as Mum found sailing and the sea a discomfort, it was his passion. I think their Honeymoon perhaps became a template for their marriage and illustrates how against the odds, they came to a workable solution to most of their problems. The plan was to sail to the Channel Islands. However there was a huge storm which meant they had to shelter in Poole harbour before crossing the Channel. It turned out the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra were playing that night, Mum wanted to go, Dad sat through it with gritted teeth.

The next day they sailed through the tail end of the storm, this time with Mum's teeth gritted. They were greeted in Jersey by the press. No one could believe that Honeymooners would sail across the Channel in such terrible weather. Their picture was on the front page of the paper the next morning.

A few years later Dad decided that he would like to follow his dreams, leave work, move to the coast and buy a boat yard. Again, I have no idea what Mum thought of this plan. By now she had 2 small children. It was 1962, the coldest Winter on record and John had only just been born. Mum's Mother in Law came to visit the new baby but got snowed into their home for 4 months until Feb. Meanwhile the pipes froze and Mum had to get water from a stand pipe to wash nappies. Perhaps in the light of all that she was happy to move to the warmer climes of Devon. They moved to Plymouth, buying the boat yard in Turnchapel where in 1964 Douglas was born in the upstairs bed room.

Mum delivered the baby whilst Dad was detatching the midwife's car from the back of his crane into which she had driven in her haste to arrive. Unbelievably, given that Mum now had 3 small children living free range on a boat yard with the sea on two sides of the property as well as two sheds full of every kind of childhood hazard you could imagine, we all survived and thrived and I suppose, learnt the same kind of resilience that Mum, by now, had in spades. Because education had been so important to her, in 1965 we moved to Furzehatt Road which become the family home for the rest of her life and meant that we were all close enough to walk to the local schools. Mum worked as a teacher and things ticked along until out of the blue Mum found she was expecting another baby. It was a big gap but after the initial surprise Mum buoyantly rose to the occasion of pregnancy and in July 72 Richard was born taking Mum back to a life of nappies, rusks and nursery schools.

Douglas is going to say more about Mum in some of those later years but right now, it seems fitting to talk about Love - partly because it was the one thing that she never really did talk about and even if she were here for me to ask, she probably still wouldn't. I know this because when I was a child, I was out with her and we overheard a young woman calling "Love you" to her own Mum. "Why don't you ever say anything like that?" I asked Mum, "Because you shouldn't need to say it, love is much bigger than that, it’s not something you call out in the street". But I know she loved the Devon that became her home with its red earth, rolling hills and country lanes full of Spring flowers. I know she loved her long held friendships and I know she loved us because when we were small she said, mathematically "I love you all exactly equally". And I know for certain she loved the sublime internal beauty of numbers and music.

Perhaps, for Mum, love was the ultimate Prime Number, divisible only by perfect Oneness and its own true Self? I'll never know but I know for certain that without her irrepressible love and zest for life, none of us would be quite the people we have become.

Tribute to Jeannine Bolingbroke, written by Anne Reeves of Mortlake, Read at the Funeral Service on 10 March 2022

Whilst I am sorry not to be with you today, my warm thanks go to Mary Eleanor for kindly agreeing to read this.

I do hope that my knowing Jeannine for some 30 plus years in relation to her link with Girlguiding will give you a little flavour of her involvement with Guiding over some 75 plus years.

Jeannine joined Guides in Barnes, South West London, where she was brought up, and the Guide hall she met in is still there and continues to be enjoyed by Rainbows, Brownies, Guides and Rangers.

At the end of the 2nd World War Jeannine was old enough to move to a new unit in Mortlake, close to the end of the Boat Race course, called SRS (Sea Ranger Ship) Vivacious and was soon enjoying all things nautical – rowing, canoeing, and sailing on the Thames at Richmond.

The two Guiders who started it were also keen on camping and the out of doors and as a result the County purchased 25 acres of barren land in Cobham, Surrey, in 1948, which was called "Heyswood" and still called that today. All Guiding people were encouraged to go and help clear the site so it could be used for camping and learning many outdoor skills.

Jeannine was, needless to say, one of the first to volunteer with other Sea Rangers, along with one who in particular (Janet Cox – later Salter) who was to become a life long friend – sadly she died in 2018 – and this friendship resulted in Janet being godmother to Mary.

In 2019 when the campsite celebrated its 70th anniversary Jeannine was one of the first to accept the invitation to come and join some 600 others for the day all the way from Plymouth. How different Jeannine found it – now 2 residential buildings, a large Log Cabin, 2 small cabins and a swimming pool – she was so thrilled and was able to tell so many what it really was like when she first went there in 1949.

SRS Vivacious members over the many years have always met at Mortlake Guide Headquarters for tea on the 1st Sunday in March, the nearest Sunday to Guide Thinking Day on 22nd February, and over the years we always knew Jeannine would be there – until the pandemic when we could not meet. She would travel up from Plymouth the day before and stay at the Union Jack Club, at Waterloo, then have lunch with a Scouter friend – John Ellis – that she had known for some 70 plus years and join us for tea, and return to Plymouth or visit friends in Suffolk. Jeannine had boundless energy!

Wherever she was off to I ensured she left with a goodie bag of food for the journey on a china plate which I knew would be returned without fail the following year. In true Guide and Scout fashion – ensuring she was prepared for anything.

Guiding meant a great deal to Jeannine, along with her many other interests, and she meant so much to all of us that had the pleasure of knowing her over many years. She will be greatly missed by so many of us, but we are all so grateful we had the pleasure of knowing her. 

From all your Guiding friends Jeannine – rest in peace. 

Tribute to Jeannine Bolingbroke, written by David of the Plymouth Athenaeum, Read at the Funeral Service on 10 March 2022

Jeannine joined Plymouth Athenaeum at the beginning of May 2007. She was a keen reader and a fan of books in general, taking on the responsibility of managing the Athenaeum's book exchange and organising and manning the book stall whenever we held a bazaar or jumble sale. She also volunteered to act as the Society's librarian for a year, in its hour of need when the previous librarian retired. Taking her interest further, she became a member of the Pleasure of Books group and gave us her thoughts on and interpretation of The Warden by Anthony Trollope in February 2015.

Jeannine warmed easily to the task of informing her audience, because within two weeks, in March 2015, she gave us a lecture on The History of Geometry, mathematics being another of her loves. A year later, in February 2016, she fascinated us with a lecture entitled Electronic Interfaces from Cat's Whiskers to Chips reflecting on the vast changes in electronics and communications in our lifetimes, and perhaps evoking childhood memories for us of "tweaking the cat's whisker" of the basic radio we had built, in order to improve reception.

Just a couple of months later, in April, Jeannine teased us with her account of Barging around Britain by John Sargeant (yes, the John Sargeant of "Strictly" fame) for the Pleasure of Books. The title was not a reference to his dancing style, I hasten to add, but an account of his voyages along some of Britain's best canals for his ITV series. October 2017 saw Jeannine reviewing The Reich Device by Professor Richard Handy of Plymouth University, who delivered a lecture at the Athenaeum on his work on nanotechnology and his venture into fiction writing with The Reich Device. The enforced closure of the Athenaeum building for eighteen months during the Covid pandemic was a difficult time for its members, as for everybody. We could no longer share so easily our common interests, learning from each other and enjoying each other’s company in person, essential elements of the Society's purpose. Jeannine was very much missed during this time.

I looked up the name Jeannine on the internet and discovered that it is a French name, interpreted from an original Hebrew name meaning "God is gracious". Gracious is certainly appropriate when we think of Jeannine. All of us at the Athenaeum found her courteous, kind, and pleasant. But I think the image of Jeannine that will stay with us longest is her wonderful smile, which lit up the room when she shared with us those things that interested and stimulated her.

She must be smiling upon us now – because the sun has just come out!

Thank you Jeannine.

Letter sent to the surviving family in Tribute to Jeannine Bolingbroke, written by Helen T. 10 March 2022

Dear Mary John Douglas and family,

I was very sad to hear about your Mum. I am not around much in the day being tied into the shop and having to be present legally for a Pharmacy to open has its downsides but as I had been looking out for someone being in, for a few days, it was good to see John and Douglas again after all these years.

I remember your Mum fondly she had a very positive effect on my life, we had many conversations over the dishes and the cleaning, and she was always so interested in everything.

She had a completely different background to mine, and I could see different ways forward as we discussed things, which was an inspiration to me. I was saving to fund the kit I needed for County Netball and preparing to go to university, learning all the skills you do between 14 and 18. Like my Father she liked to ride her bicycle and I have continued to ride until this year. Finally, my knees have given up and I am awaiting some surgery now. I took the same bike I rode up to your home to clean, to London with me and it saved me so much money as well as keep me fit.

I remember your Mum found out that I was learning to drive and offered to help by letting me drive Mary to Dartmoor I think it was an archeological site that was being excavated. It must have been painstaking letting me drive all that way through narrow lanes without a dual control car! It contributed so much to my passing the exam and saved my parents a considerable amount of money, I am sure. I think once there was a little scrape which your Mum just glossed over but for which I have always felt much embarrassed, but also very grateful for.

I am sorry I was not able to attend the church on Thursday and hope that it all went well. It would nice to have a photo if you have one, to remember her, not sure if you have one you could send digitally?

I wish you all peace and comfort in being together and give thanks to God for your Mums life it was lived with an energy and thoughtfulness that spilled over into other people's lives I will miss her.

Best wishes

Helen T