Tuesday 14 May 2024


 At the weekend I made several chainsaw mistakes. Not the types of mistakes that put your limbs in danger, but that type that spoil your day and hit you in the wallet. As well as a sweet little baby chainsaw I own a big hedge trimmer and I had agreed to help trim a hedge for a friend of mine's parents. Mistake number 1: I didn't go and look at the job before agreeing to do it. It sounded like I was just going to have to give an ornamental box hedge a haircut, but it turned out to be much more than that. Mistake number 2: I put my chainsaw in the back of the car, thinking that I might have to cut one or two bigger stems with it, but I didn’t bring the tools that go with it. I wore chainsaw trousers, sturdy boots, long sleeves, ear protection and eye protection. Mistake number 3: I didn't take a sunhat.

Giving the box hedge a haircut was simplicity itself. However there was an overgrown hedge on the other side of the garden made of leylandii, bamboo, and bramble. It was all too sturdy for the trimmer and the whole job had to be done with the chainsaw. Somewhere in the middle of the hedge was an iron post that I ran my chainsaw into and blunted it. Mistake number 4: It seemed to still be cutting, so instead of driving home and getting the sharpening kit I carried on. I overheated the bar and the chain jammed up. Mistake number 5: Even after seeing the householder's tools I still didn't drive home and get proper tools. I stripped the bar and the chain off it with inferior spanners that didn't quite fit.

When we had "finished" we discovered that the householders were in fact responsible for both sides of the leylandii hedge, and we had to go on a long steep walk to find the overgrown footpath at the side of their house, and start the whole job again.

They did give me £20 for the petrol, bar oil and my tea, and a VERY nice bottle of gin.

Richard "HS-45" B

Wednesday 8 May 2024

Heavy Metals

 Over the weekend I did the first trackday of the year in my Caterham. It was quite a big deal for me because it's the first time the car has been used hard since my friends and I had then engine out to change the clutch. We've also rebuilt the cooling system and some of the rear suspension. It all worked like a charm.

Unfortunately during the day a badly maintained Radical sprayed my car with oil. It didn't seem to cause any problems and we wiped the worst of it off. The next day I washed the paintwork, but when I checked over the car the front brakes seem to have been badly contaminated. There was a greasy, rusty residue on the inside of the disks and the pads seemed oddly "crumbly" when I tried to clean them. All of which is to say that I needed to buy a new set of front brake pads.

Environmentalists and bureaucrats can spoil all kinds of thinks that I like. We can't have proper solder any more, so all our appliances go wrong and get thrown away. We can't have low temperature silver-solder any more, we can't have real creosote, naptha, absinthe, and codeine is always cut with something.

Over the years I have discovered my favourite brake friction material. It's made by Mintex, it offers excellent braking and thermal performance on a car as light as mine, it doesn't produce a huge amount of dust or chew up the disks too badly, and it offers a good balance of cost and longevity. Although it is a bit squeaky. Back in the day it used to meet the basic European standards. For the last couple of years it's been marked "Not for Road Use". Now it's no longer available and has been replaced by a less poisonous, less polluting compound. I can only image it'll be inferior.

Richard "Farewell Mintex M1144" B

Outdated Cultural References

 My new favourite thing to spot is outdated cultural references. I introduced one of my friends to the pastime when she was visiting Plymouth. While I explained it we were driving past a carpet cleaning business called Captain Rugwash. Within a few seconds she'd also mentioned how much she liked a restaurant called Veggie Perrins.

Captain Pugwash was made from 1982 to 1984

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin was made from 1976 to 1982

Richard "Sunshine Desserts" B

Tuesday 23 April 2024

People in Glass Houses

I live in a bungalow with a lot of windows and a conservatory. I'm also a cheapskate so I'm set on cleaning my own windows, rather than paying someone to do it. The caretaker at work has 30 years of window cleaning experience and he graciously agreed to give me a squeegee lesson. I'm starting to pick it up. There's a skill to it, and a sense of achievement when you start getting it right.

The two most valuable insights he gave me were: 1) Don't make too good a job of your own windows – your neighbours will ask you to do theirs. 2) Don't step backwards to admire your work – if you're up a ladder.

Richard "Ettore Steccone" B

Bush Bush Bush

 At the weekend I helped a friend of mine with some gardening. He had dug up a bush that he wanted to move, but it was too awkward and heavy to carry. Neither of us owns a wheelbarrow, but I am reasonably strong, and I was wearing dirty clothes. I thought that if we could get it up on to one of my shoulders I could walk round to the back garden with it. I was right about being just able to move it, I was wrong about the clothes that I was wearing. My dirty gardening jumper is quite loose at the neck and a lot of soil from the root ball went down my collar. I had forgotten that I was also wearing a fine lambswool vest which is now heavily soiled. Worse the vest funnelled quite a lot of earth into my trousers and pants. I had to shower and change all my clothes as soon as I got home. There was mud all over me, and I left a trail of mud wherever I took off a garment.

Richard "Beast of Burden" B

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Cocktail Club

 My favourite cocktail is the French 75. It's gin, syrup and lemon juice shaken hard and then double strained into a glass and topped up with Champagne.

The most luxurious gin I've ever drunk is called Roku and it's Japanese - not to my eyes a nation famed for their gin making heritage.

A friend of mine recently turned 50 and I bought her a luxurious bottle of Bollinger Champagne. I chose it not because I know anything about high end Champagne, but for brand recognition - basically because that's what they used to drink in Absolutely Fabulous.

I engraved "50" in the bottle with a cheap diamond burr and a high speed drill. Sadly it was an awkward process and I don't have a steady hand so it looks rather childish.

I was very nervous putting a bottle of Champagne that I couldn't afford to smash into the big vice to engrave it.

I'm very glad to say that I was invited to drink the highest specification French 75s that the world has probably every known.

They were delicious.

Richard "don't think about the price" B

Wednesday 3 April 2024

The First Rule of Nerd Club

 If you're trying to pluck up the nerve to ask a woman on a date, the standard advice is that "the worst that can happen is she says 'no'". This is clearly untrue. She might have later handed a loaded gun to Alex Baldwin who shot and killed a cinematographer, you might then be called as a witness at her trial. You would then have to answer questions before god, a judge, a jury, lawyers, the entire gawping general public at home, and the woman you asked out (looking quite delightful in her best "don't send me to prison" dress) about your advances towards her, about whether you hoped to pursue a sexual relationship, about how she ghosted you, and about whether you pestered her.

Worse, you might not have had any idea about how much cocaine she owned or used, and your presence at the trial turned out to be completely pointless.

My own experience is nowhere near as humiliating, but I should by now be old enough to know that nothing good comes from trying to impress people. I heard that one of the organisers at my nerds' social club was single, and I'm quite taken with her. In trying to make a good impression on her I agreed to deliver a short technical lecture at nerd-club. Some time between agreeing to do the lecture and actually doing so I got the opportunity to talk to her privately. She had no interest in going on a date with me, but I still had to do the lecture.

Richard "every girl's crazy about a TED talk man" B

Friday 22 March 2024

Weekend Getaway

 I've recently come back from a weekend getaway in Norfolk. As well as socialising, eating, drinking, and looking after the family plot in the cemetery, it was mainly a residential safety course.

I got a demonstration of skid control and recovery. This was performed unexpectedly on a patch of diesel on the Norwich Distributor Road in an unloaded Toyota Hi-Lux which was in rear wheel drive.

I got a lesson in chainsaw practice and safety during which we felled and logged a tree.

I got a lesson in how to use lockwire. My final project was judged by a licenced aircraft engineer and was at a standard that would have been certified as safe for flight.

Richard "Tourist Information" B

Monday 4 March 2024

City Break

 A couple of weeks ago I hosted my brother and one of his friends on their "gents city-break in Plymouth". We ate pasties and drank Plymouth gin. We maintained a length of my ancient Devon hedge. We observed bleak grey seascapes in heavy drizzle, we looked at moorland from indoors, we saw the ugly brutal architecture of the city centre in cold heavy rain, and we saw the inside of several (warm, dry) pubs.

I was reminded of a conversation that one of my colleagues had. "Isn't Plymouth beautiful?" "Yes, when you've got your back to it".

He's absolutely right, it's surrounded by moorland, rolling Devon hills and wooded valleys, cliffs, islands, estuaries, lighthouses, and harbours. But the city itself isn't much to look at.

Richard "Tourist Information" B


 For the latter decades of my curatorship of the family lawnmower I had a very nice fuel mixing bottle, but I gave it away with the mower. Now I am a chainsaw owner I need the same thing again, but they're all trash. The top on the one I bought leaks terribly and I have been unable to fix it. Literally every other mixing bottle (except the expensive Stihl one) is the exact same moulding, and I can only assume is equally badly made.

Fine. I'll do it myself.

All I need is a clear bottle with a good screw cap, and a narrow neck, so that the measurements are somewhat accurate. I finished a bottle of rum and bought a measuring cylinder and I've now marked the empty bottle at 700ml and 714ml so that I can mix up a batch of 50:1 two stroke fuel.

Yes, since I own a measuring cylinder I did calibrate all the measuring jugs in my kitchen, wouldn't you

Richard "Lambs Navy Petrol" B

I Bet You

 I've got involved in a massively convoluted and expensive wager. One of my team can't drive and is starting to find it mildly inconvenient. I have previously wondered aloud whether I'm good enough at circuit driving that I could get a race licence. So we've challenged each other, who can get their respective licence first.

I will keep my readership informed of any important updates in this wager.

My rival has edged ahead as she's already applied for a provisional licence, while I still haven't actually ordered my Go Racing Pack from UK Motorsport. The bit I'm most worried about is what car I'm going to be in and which circuit I'm going to be at when I take the test. As far as I can tell the only hard and fast requirements for the car are that it has a passenger seat and an H pattern gearbox. Whether the driving school will accept my kit car, which has both of those, and which I'm confident driving, is another matter. Hiring cars at racing circuits is spendy.

Richard "Phileas Fogg" B

Fault Report

 Once, back in the old days I was adding a new feature to a ferry company's online booking system and I got the best fault report I've every received. I had added the feature to be able to take a bicycle on your crossing, and I'd done it exactly how they'd asked me to. However they had certain business rules at their end that I didn't know about. A bicycle is a type of vehicle and it makes its crossing on the car deck. When you book a vehicle their system might know exactly how much space it takes on the car deck, but if they've never heard of it before they assume that its 1.9m high and 5m long.

In reality bicycles are lashed to the handrail at the end of the car deck and take up approximately no space, however the booking system was assuming that they would take up 5m of space in an area that had a ceiling at least 1.9m high. You only had to book a few bicycles on a crossing and the car deck would be noticeably sparse, and vans would get turned away because the "wouldn't fit".

I was rung up by one of the people from the ferry company's computer centre. A woman with whom I had a friendly but professional relationship, and whom I had most certainly never heard swear.

"Richard" she said "bicycles are fucking massive this year".

Richard "lead passenger" B

Thursday 8 February 2024

Henry Porter and the Wizard's Rock

 I don't know very much about the Harry Potter cannon (I'll be Link if you are Gannon) but there are a couple of things I'd like to share with you.

Firstly: In the same way that adding "in bed" to the end of a fortune cookie message often makes it funnier, the title of pretty much every scientific paper is improved by adding "Harry Potter and the".
Harry Potter and the Structure of Deoxyribonucleic Acid
Harry Potter and the Computability of Numbers
Harry Potter and the Unskilled and Unaware of it: How Difficulties in Recognizing one's own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments

Secondly: The sorting hat.

If I remember correctly each of the children are sorted in to one of a few houses when they start their magical studies. To start with this seems like a wonderful and fantastical invention by the author, but it happens in real life too. It doesn't happen to absolutely everybody, it's more men than women, and it happens at a later age, but it's the same. Something intrinsic about your character identifies you with your house. There's some degree of family lineage which might affect which house you're in. Each house has its own culture and heritage. Once you're part of a house, you can never possibly change.

I know you're sceptical, and you can't remember being sorted, but you will when you see the names of the houses:

De Walt. Makita. Ryobi. Bosch. Milwaukee.

Richard "De Walt" B

Tuesday 16 January 2024

Problem Neighbour

 I have been burning hedge trimmings in a garden incinerator. I thought it was too difficult to light and burned too slowly so I modified it. There's now a hairdryer blowing fresh air in to the bottom like a blast furnace. This is what it looks like in oepration.

It was a qualified success, but I had to turn the hairdryer off shortly after this photo was taken because the incinerator was glowing red.

Richard "Max Power" B

Tuesday 9 January 2024

Cheese plane

 I have a couple of unusual phobias. Door handles and cheesegraters. These aren't crippling anxiety inducing phobias, I'm just slightly more wary of these things than most people. They're not irrational either, I nearly broke my wrist when it got stuck behind a door handle, and I once cut then ends of my fingers on the grater while grating cheese.

One of my brothers used to live in the Netherlands and gave me a cheese slicer from there (he either thought I would find it interesting, or that it would be a safe alternative to a box grater). It's a bit like a smoothing plane, but the sole is short and wide, and the tote is before the throat (like a German plane). I have found this contraption singularly useless. The cheese crumbles rather than slices, and it binds up on the sole.

At the weekend I had a bona fide Dutchman in the house, and by coincidence the cheeseboard I put on the table included gouda – which is a Dutch cheese. "What you need is a cheese slicer" he said and I was able to find the one which has been cluttering up my kitchen drawers for the last 15 years. On the hard, solid and slightly waxy gouda the slicer worked like a charm – effortlessly producing thin uniform slices of cheese. I now think it's rather excellent, but not compatible with cheddar.

Richard "Grchghouda" B

The Bleaken

 In the run up to Christmas I was disappointed to see how many people in the shops were in a bad mood. Everybody is trying to live up to an impossible ideal of Christmas day and it causes a lot of stress. I've since been told that this is very common and that if you work in retail you're most likely to get shouted at or mistreated in the run up to Christmas.

I have to admit that I must have been one of those disgruntled shoppers because I started to find myself very critical of the rest of the general public with their miserable faces and short tempers.

On Christmas day itself I was walking to the pub with my sister and her husband and we were discussing Christmas stress and people being in a bad mood. A young woman stamped her way from her car to the front door and shouted "HOW THE F!*£ IS IT MY PROBLEM THAT..." and then slammed the door behind herself. I've thought about it many times, and I'd love to know what problem she'd got caught up in. I think it would be rude to go to a stranger's house and ask then if they could remember what they were arguing about on Christmas day.

Richard "that the mince pies are made with suet" B