Friday, August 31, 2018

Plane Crazy

I recently discovered that every issue of the old 'Meccano Magazine' is currently available online, with every page lovingly scanned into the database.  Naturally, I've ended up spending a lot of time browsing these magazines which, at the height of their popularity, covered not just Meccano, but every type of miniature modelling.  I've been particularly fascinated by the adverts for long since defunct products.  They include products which, nowadays, it would be unthinkable to advertise to children, (air pistols and rifles come to mind).  Perhaps my favourite ads are for the 'Wen Mac' control line model planes.  I mean, just look at the above example (from 1963), they look bloody brilliant!

Not only do they have real motors, rather than the elastic band powered propellers of the balsa wood model planes I remember, but some of them drop bombs, or fire rockets!  Jesus!  I would have loved to have gotten my hands on something like that when I was a kid!  The damage I could have done!  The neighbours I could have terrorised!  Sadly, they seem to have stopped being imported into the UK somewhen in the late sixties, although later adverts show the importers, Keil Kraft, produced their own, similar, models, most notably a Hurricane, for several years.  These, however, didn't fire missiles or drop bombs. 

I've had a look on eBay to see if I could find any second hand examples for sale in the UK, with no luck.  Which is a pity.  That said, I'm not sure I would buy one now.  For one thing, my usual excuses for such purposes, my two eldest great nieces (the things I've supposedly bought for them, in order to have a chance of playing with myself) are currently living in the US.  Without my usual co-conspirators, (who I, apparently, shouldn't be encouraging anyway - they're disruptive enough without my help),  I'm not sure it would be as much fun.  Nonetheless, it is fun to idly dream about misusing one of these models...

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

What is Drill?

The question of the moment seems to be: what is 'Drill Rap'?  I keep hearing about it in the media, usually in the context of the various stabbings and shootings which have been afflicting London this year.  In fact, if I am to believe the press, this so called 'Drill Rap' is in fact responsible for all this violence.  Just like video games, video nasties and horror comics used to be, presumably.  To return to the point, just what is this musical genre (or sub genre really, if it is a form of rap) which can apparently move young people to extreme violence?  My first thought is that it perhaps involves people rapping to the sound of electric drills rather than a beat.  Maybe they also do some dance moves involving electric drills.  Cordless ones, obviously.  I'd imagine it would be some variation on the 'robot', with each dancer holding a drill in each hand and going through some DIY moves - miming putting up a set of shelves, perhaps, or maybe assembling a kitchen unit.  Who knows, they might also involve other power tools in their performance: sanders, jigsaws and electric screwdrivers.  Indeed, their whole stage act could involve them actually assembling a fitted kitchen through the medium of dance.  But I can't really see how this form of 'Drill Rap' would incite violence.

Mind you, I'm probably wrong and 'Drill Rap' doesn't actually involve power tools.  It more likely has to do with 'Drill' in the military sense.  I'd like to think that it all revolved around rappers dressing in archaic military uniforms and barking out their rap in the manner of drill sergeants. All the while dancing en masse like soldiers on parade at a military tattoo.  You know the sort of thing - all 'about turns', twirling batons and 'eyes right'.  Instead of a beat, they'll be rapping to a military band - all drums and bugles.  Maybe they even do rifle drills.  Now, that could be the source of the alleged 'Drill Rap' violence - all that emphasis on militarism and guns.  Could it be that the violence is the result of rivalries between competing 'Drill Rap' gangs - or 'regiments' as they undoubtedly like to call themselves.  Yes, that's probably it.  It would explain everything.  Obviously, I know that I could just go online and watch some of these 'notorious' (according to the press) 'Drill Rap' videos.  But that would just shatter my illusions - no way could any of them be as enjoyable as my imaginings.  Besides, let's face it, like most of the people in the media who bang on endlessly about 'Drill Rap' and 'Youth Culture', I'm just too old for all that shit.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

You Only Bull Shit Twice

To return, briefly, to the non-story that is Danny Boyle not directing the next Bond movie, (a non story which seemingly obsessed the media last week, but now seems forgotten), when I was ranting about it the other day, I concluded that maybe if those writing the articles had actually seen any of the films, they might not have been writing such utter bollocks.  Well, it seems that I should have added that they needed to have read the books as well.  Let me explain.  The most recent version of the story claims that Boyle quit because of Eon Productions' 'ludicrous' plans to 'kill' 007 at the end of the film and have him 'regenerate' like Dr Who in the next movie.  (It's fascinating that this idea is now being attributed to the producers when earlier press stories had claimed that it was Boyle who wanted to do this and the producers who balked at the idea).  Now, bear in mind that this story originated with the Sun, which means that it is probably completely made up, but it could have some credence, in that it is a garbled version of something that anybody who either seen the Bond movies or read the Ian Fleming originals would undoubtedly be familiar with.

First up, let's get this 'regeneration' idea out of the way: if you've seen the films (indeed, seen any long-running series of films) then you'll be familiar with the convention that, over time, the lead actor is replaced by a younger model, but the character remains the same.  It's not 'regeneration', it is recasting, a common practice in film production.  As for Bond being 'killed', well, we have to go back to the Ian Fleming novels, most specifically You Only Live Twice.  If you've only seen the film version, then you won't know what I'm talking about, as said movie adaptation junked just about everything from the source novel beyond the title, locations and some of the character names.  The book is far darker, chronicling Bond's descent into depression following the murder of his wife at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (something which happens in both book and film adaptations of this novel), and culminates with an injured 007 suffering from amnesia and presumed dead by MI6.  The next (and, as it happens, last) Bond novel, The Man With the Golden Gun (the film version of which bears just about no resemblance to the book beyond the title and titular villain), opens with a Bond arriving back at MI6 headquarters and attempting to assassinate M.  It transpires that, in his amnesiac state, he had been captured and brainwashed by the Soviets.  After being 'de-programmed' by MI6, Bond is sent against Scaramanga as a test to see whether he is fit to retain his Double O status.

Now, I'm assuming, if there is any truth in this current news story, then it stems from Eon considering utilising these sequences (which haven't been used in any Bond film to date, although large parts of the plot of the literary Golden Gun were recycled for Licence to Kill) to end Daniel Craig's time as Bond and usher in a new actor.  The opening of Man With the Golden Gun wouldn't just be an excellent way to introduce a new actor to the role, but it would also make a fantastic pre-title sequence.  Moreover, ending the next film with Bond MIA would provide a cliffhanger with which to entice audiences into watching the next movie in the sequence.  But, as I said, bearing in mind thesource, it is probably all balls.  Nevertheless, if the kind of people who write this trash actually read books, then they might at least have been able to write a more interesting article.

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Monday, August 27, 2018

Lazy Long Weekend

So, what exciting things did I do this Bank Holiday weekend?  Surprisingly little, in fact.  As I'm already on an extended break from work, (no, that isn't a euphemism for being unemployed, I'm using up leave I couldn't take while I was sick earlier this year), I haven't felt the need to maximise having an extra long weekend by packing in as much activity as possible.  On the contrary, I've been pretty idle - having a holiday from my holiday, in effect, as last week's walking on beaches, through forests and over hill forts was pretty damned exhausting.  One thing I did achieve over the weekend was to put together the chassis for another model railway locomotive from bits I'd bought over the past few years.  It entailed getting my soldering iron out for the first time in years to reassemble the pick ups.  I also found a working X04 motor in my spares box and this is now powering the chassis, which runs surprisingly well.  The body which this chassis will go under needs some minor modifications and painting, while the tender needs its side sheeting cutting down before being painted and lined, (both are unpainted spares sold off by Hornby when their Margate factory closed some years ago, when they moved production to China).  I'm hoping to get most of this work done over the next couple of weeks.  My other main locomotive projects are more long term and I've been getting frustrated at their relative lack of progress, so I decided to switch my attention to this new project which should be far more straightforward to complete.

Model railways aside, I've managed finally to sit down and start watching some of the many films I've recorded over the past few weeks.  If for no other reason than to clear space on my recorder's hard drive for more recordings,  (Talking Pictures TV are having something of a purple patch at the moment, with a number of movies which haven't seen the light of day for years turning up n their schedules).  So, I've been getting the more mainstream stuff I've recorded out of the way over the weekend.  Consequently, I've confirmed that the second of the new Star Trek films is every bit as bad as the first, its makers seemingly believing that if you throw in some snatches of dialogue and the odd character from the original, you can disguise the fact these films are really generic science fiction action films using the brand primarily for marketing purposes.  I'm not saying that Into Darkness was badly made - indeed, in parts it was reasonably entertaining - but it simply wasn't Star Trek.  Attempting to rework the plot of the real Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was especially ill advised, highlighting the new film's maker's lack of a grasp of what the original series was about.  Indeed, every reference made to the original series and films felt like a check list being ticked off, ('OK, we've mentioned the Prime Directive - we've only nine more original series references to make to establish our authenticity as a Star Trek movie').  The Southern Star, one of those late sixties international co-productions, whilst equally being an assemblage of marketable components, (Ursula Andress, brief nudity of aforementioned Andress, exotic African locations, token second rank Hollywood star in the shape of George Segal, then contemporary anti-racism sub-text anachronistically inserted into a period narrative, Matt Monro theme song), was, on the whole, rather better put together.  I hadn't seen The Southern Star in an age and I'd forgotten that Orson Welles was even in the film.  Not his greatest performance, but nonetheless hugely enjoyable, (especially his wandering 'English' accent).

So, that was my Bank Holiday weekend.  It's back to the serious business of being on holiday for me tomorrow.


Friday, August 24, 2018

Random Observations on a Friday

Some random observations on a Friday evening.  After a week off of work, it has become clear that the job is definitely not good for my health.  Even taking nine pills a day to manage my various (work related) medical conditions obviously can't obviate all of the problems being caused by work.  Something evidenced by the fact that, in spite of still taking four metformin tablets a day, my stomach has significantly settled down this week. Indicating that all the stress and anxiety I experience in the workplace are as much to blame for my, often violent, stomach upsets as my medication.  I've also slept better and experienced far less fatigue this week.  I think that my body is definitely trying to tell me something.  Thankfully, I've still got a couple of weeks of this leave period to go. 

I was shocked and saddened to learn this week that Keith Brown, author of the 'Giallo Fever' website had died.  In fact, as it turned out, he'd died at the end of 2016.  I suppose the fact that the site hadn't been updated since 2016 should have been a clue, but he was never the most prolific or regular of posters.  That said, what he did post was always thought provoking and well worth reading.  I learned a lot about Giallo movies at his site.  Not that he confined himself to just this genre, with posts covering a whole slew of cinematic genres and approaches to film criticism.  It's one of the vagaries of the online world that we never quite know the status of the author of any blog or site we visit: just because there hasn't been a recent update doesn't necessarily mean that it has been abandoned - I've known sites where there are sometimes years between posts.  On the other hand it might mean, as in this case, that something has happened to the author.  While many sites with deceased authors will vanish once the web hosts stop being paid, those hosted on platforms like Blogger, as is 'Giallo Fever', the site will stay up indefinitely, conferring a kind of immortality to their creators.  While sad to hear of his passing, it's comforting to think that we can continue to enjoy Keith Brown's excellent work posthumously.

I learned of another online death this week: Laurence Hogg apparently passed away in June.  I knew him through his website, which sold a range of transfers for restoring Wrenn and Hornby Dublo locomotives.  They represented remarkably good value for money - up to three locomotives could be restored using a single sheet.  I'd been interested in obtaining one of two sheets he had produced for the Dublo West Country, (which included decals for three alternative names and numbers), two of which I'm currently working on.  One is being completely repainted, so will require full lining, the other will be renamed and numbered.  Hogg's transfers would have simplified these processes significantly.  With his death, however, his website has vanished and I'm going to have to resort to the more expensive expedients of etched brass nameplates and separate sets of Pressfix number and lining sheets.  The availability of the name plates are going to dictate the locomotives' new identities: I've found a supplier with a limited range of reasonably cheap nameplates for rebuilt West Countrys - I've just got to try and buy them before something happens to him...


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Bondage Crisis?

I think I preferred the 'silly season' when it was all stories about UFOs, poltergeists and the Loch Ness monster.  Nowadays, most tabloids seem to print that sort of stuff all year round and the 'quality' press would never touch it with a barge pole.  Which means that, right now, the press are desperate to fill their pages with just about any old tat dressed up as a 'real' new story.  Hence, in today's Guardian we get served a ridiculous and poorly researched piece on how the Bond franchise is in 'crisis' because Danny Boyle has stepped down as director with only months to go before shooting is set to commence on the next film.  Apparently, this could delay production and release dates and even result in Daniel Craig leaving the series.  All utter nonsense with no evidence to back up these claims.  For one thing, it overestimates the importance of a director to the success of commercial films, particularly big budget behemoths like Bond movies.  Many films have suffered enforced directorial changes whilst actually in production, yet have not suffered at the box office, (The Wizard of Oz springs to mind - accredited to Victor Fleming, two or three other directors also worked on it, most notably King Vidor who shot the black and white sequences topping and tailing the film).  Previous Bond movies have also gone into production with incomplete scripts (Tomorrow Never Dies and Quantum of Solace, for example) yet have still performed at he box office.

But, of course, this is different somehow.  Apparently the Danny Boyle script was just too topical for a Bond movie, the writer of the article claims, leading to 'artistic differences' with Eon Productions.  Which seems unlikely, as, since the latter few Roger Moore films, the Bond movies have increasingly drawn upon current events to inspire their scripts, in order to keep them feeling relevant to contemporary audiences.  This is another case, I suspect, of my pet hate - people who write about films they haven't actually seen.  Besides, if Eon really didn't like the script Boyle wanted to direct from, they've supposedly already got another complete script, written before Boyle came on board, to fall back on.  But, as if this concoction of supposition, half truths and basic ignorance wsn't enough, later on in the same edition of The Guardian we had another opinion piece on Bond, this time telling us (again) that the franchise was played out and simply couldn't be modernised.  Which, again, shows a willful ignorance of the series as a whole.  The producers have proven surprisingly adept at subtly adapting the character, subject matter and style of the movies in order to ensure that they chime with contemporary audiences, successfully seeing off would be rivals into the bargain.  Again, try watching the bloody films before you try commenting on them.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Alpaca Conspiracy

What's with all the llamas all of a sudden?  Or maybe they are alpacas, I can't tell the difference and frankly don't care, they're all the same to me: hump-less camels, the lot of them.  To return to the point, the bloody things seem to be everywhere all of a sudden: if it isn't the J2O adverts then its that one for the online casino.  (Have you noticed how they've changed the voice of the latter?  He used to sound a bit like Piers Morgan, but they obviously realised that the majority of the UK TV audience think he's a loathsome arsehole, so the voice has been changed to something the focus groups have undoubtedly deemed more acceptable and less offensive to huge swathes of humanity).   On top of the TV adverts, I've now noticed that the window of my local Tiger store (or is it Flying Tiger these days?) is chock full of llama themed and shaped novelty items.  What is going on?  What is this new found obsession with llamas (or alpacas)?  The bloody things are getting everywhere.  The other day I saw a local news story where the owners of an alpaca centre were complaining that a forthcoming bicycle race was likely to disrupt their trade.  An alpaca centre, for God's sake!  Apparently people pay them to take walks with the bloody things!

I honestly don't see the attraction.  Then, I've never really seen the attraction of horses - nervous, not overly bright and lots of big teeth - but they seem very popular, with people paying good money to ride the damn things, so I shouldn't really be surprised that people would pay money to walk with alpacas.  Personally, I find that I can happily take walks without the aid of an alpaca, llama or any similar animal.  Especially a camel.  The fact that they are related to the latter probably lies behind my dislike of llamas and alpacas.  Camel are notoriously evil bastards: stubborn, uncooperative and with a nasty habit of spitting.  Especially at people.  I have no idea whether llamas or alpacas spit, but I have no intention of getting close enough to either to find out.  But to get back to the original point - why are the damned things suddenly so popular?  Has the Llama/Alpaca Marketing Board been working overtime persuading online casinos and alcopop manufacturers that these animals are more suitable representatives for their products than, say, donkeys or snow leopards?  Are they running some kind of campaign to popularise these species and persuade everyone they are the ideal household pets?  Will there be a series of children's books featuring a cute llama (or alpaca) hero, which will have Britain's kiddies clamouring for their own pet llama (or alpaca)?  Who knows.  Stranger things have happened.


Monday, August 20, 2018

Holiday Time

So, I'm finally on my holidays.  I suppose, technically, I've been on holiday since I finished work on Friday, but to me the weekend is always the weekend, regardless of whether I'm on holiday or not: it exists as an entity in its own right, separate from what goes on during the week.  Except when it's a Bank Holiday weekend, of course, when it most definitely is a holiday.   But to return to the point, I counted today as being, officially, the start of my Summer holidays and it got off to the worst possible start, with me oversleeping badly, only awoken by the postman knocking on the front door, trying to deliver a parcel.  (It was a Wrenn rolling chassis I'd bought on eBay to repair one of my locomotives, arriving far earlier than I expected).  Which meant that I started out for the beach hours later than I had intended and, what with traffic, road works and the like, meant that I didn't arrive there until late afternoon.  But I got there and allowed myself to be soothed by the sound of the sea crashing on the shore, which is the important thing.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'd spent most of last week thinking about being on that beach, so it was a relief to finally be there.

But the thing is, there's this smell.  I can't really describe it, yet wherever I go, I can smell it.  Which implies that it is me.  Except that I bathe regularly and, what with all the hot weather we've been having, I'm pretty much smothered in deodorant.  Besides, it just doesn't smell like me, (or my deodorant), and I've certainly had no complaints from those I've been in close contact with of late.  Then I remembered that, as a result of my long absence from work earlier this year, due to illness, my sense of smell had started to come back.  Due to the fact that, for the past too many years I've had to enter some pretty disgusting premises for work related purposes, I'd simply stopped smelling some things.  I'm not sure whether the sensitivity of my sense of smell had deteriorated or whether, subconsciously, I had learned to block out certain ranges of smells, but there were a lot of odours that simply no longer registered with me.  So, it occurred to me, with my sense of smell restored, perhaps what I've been smelling is the smell of Summer.  A smell that, for the past God knows how many years, I've been blocking out.  Well, that's what I'm telling myself, at least.


Friday, August 17, 2018

Criminal Reinvention

I'm still hung up on this idea that you can 'reinvent' yourself, somehow completely transforming your life through some fundamental change in job or lifestyle.  It occurred to me that one way I could do this would be to write a best-selling novel.  Or even just a moderately selling one.  I could always try writing one of those crime novels featuring a quirky detective who investigates mysteries linked to their particular field of expertise.  You know the sort of thing I mean - the same idea also used to be popular as the basis for popular TV series: Lovejoy - the antiques detective, Pie in the Sky - the fat culinary detective, Rosemary and Thyme - the gardening detectives.  There are countless others. Back in the day, I had a notion to try and sell a series concept for 'The Snooker Playing Detective' to the BBC, as it seemed to be only niche sleuth they didn't already have.  But I digress.  Coming back to the subject of literary specialist detectives, I've recently finished reading the third and latest installment of Andrew Cartmel's ongoing 'Vinyl Detective' series, for which I have a soft spot.  There are the very epitome of the specialist detective, featuring mysteries centered around the world of rare vinyl records.

Perhaps, I mused, these could form the template for my own attempt to reinvent myself as a purveyor of such specialised crime novels.  Maybe I could come up with a detective who specialises in some area of esoteric knowledge of which I have some expertise.  Now, I don't know anything about record collecting and that niche has already been more than adequately filled, but I do know quite a bit about old model railways and toy trains.  Could that be the key to a successful series of crime novels: the 'Toy Train Detective'?  We could follow him as he attends toy train fairs in search vintage rolling stock, becoming, along the way, embroiled in model railway-related mysteries.  The problem is, of course, that there are very few items of vintage toy train stock which are really valuable enough to inspire crimes.  Certainly, I couldn't see anybody committing murder through the desire to possess a mint condition pre war Bassett-Lowke 'Flying Scotsman'.  I also can't think of any models produced in such small numbers that they now hold mythical status - not to the extent that someone would hire an expert 'Toy Train Detective' to track one down.  So, that's another idea for 'reinventing' myself out of the window.


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Planning for the Near Future

I was going to start by saying that I take back everything I was saying the other day about the referee who was dragging their feet in actually coming up with a reference for my teaching application.  They actually came up with it, allowing me to finally get the application off.  However, it had been so badly delayed (by nearly three weeks) while I waited for the reference that my first choices for training programmes were no longer available as they had filled all their available places.  Which has left me with a third choice I'm not really enthusiastic about and a fourth that I had to scrabble around feverishly to find, there are so few places left, which I'm positively unenthusiastic about.  It's put a real downer on the whole business.  I'm clearly not going to get anywhere via this route now.  I was actually left in two minds as to whether I should even bother sending my revised application off, but I'd already put so much effort into it that I didn't want to feel that I'd completely wasted my time.  Where this leaves me with regard to my attempts to 'reinvent' myself, I really don't know.  There are other potential routes to take - I do already hold a PGCE after all - which I'll start exploring next week, when I have more time.

The reason I'll have more time is because once I'm finished tomorrow, I'm taking an extended break from work, using up some of that leave I couldn't take when I was ill earlier this year.  I won't be back in the office until September.  If, indeed, I bother going back.  If I enjoy myself enough, my break could easily become permanent.  And enjoying myself is what I intend doing.  For the past week I seem to have been doing nothing but thinking about my favourite beaches which I intend visiting over the next few weeks. The idea of not being at anyone's beck and call, not having to deal with insanely aggressive idiots full of incoherent rage and not having to endure the sheer soul sapping boredom of work is just so appealing.  Hopefully, I'll also find the time to get back into my podcasting groove - as Google seems to have, for the time being, pretty much destroyed traffic to my web sites, I might as well turn my creative activities elsewhere.  As, these days, my podcasts all appear on somebody else's site, I don't have to worry about stuff like traffic - I can just focus on recording, editing and posting them.  Actually, I've already been limbering up in this regard - I've just recorded a new edition of 'Schlock Express', which you can find over at The Overnightscape Underground right now.  This one covers some Italian schlock classics.  I'm hoping to put together a few more of these in the coming weeks ('Schlock Express' episodes are relatively straightforward to record), as well as some more episodes of the 'DS' podcast.  I'm hoping to experiment somewhat with the format of the latter.  So, there you have it, future plans laid out at last.  Well, near future plans, at least.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Reinvention Game

The question is, just how does one go about 'reinventing' oneself?  It's a term you hear all the time, more often than not bandied about with regard to disgraced celebrities who have made some sort of comeback, or bankrupt former millionaires who have managed to set up some new business venture.  But what about us ordinary people, stuck in unfulfilling, hateful jobs or brought low by circumstances beyond our control?  How do we break way from these constraints and 'reinvent' ourselves as someone more successful enjoying a more fulfilling life?  How do we go about somehow erasing our pasts, or at least those parts of our past history which always seem to be dragging us down?  After all, whether we like it or not, we find ourselves, all too frequently, being defined in the eyes of others by what we have done for a living and what mistakes we have made, rather than by who we are and our more positive qualities.  Obviously, the question of reinvention is currently of great interest to me, as I contemplate finally walking away from my train wreck of a job, simply walking into another such soul destroying form of employment simply isn't an option.  But I feel so tainted by by the negative perceptions of my current job that I sincerely fear that, regardless of my academic qualifications and previous experience, I'll be judged solely on this lousy job.  There's also the matter of my health issues earlier this year and the fact that I strongly suspect that my current employers will try to provide me with the most negative reference they can get away with, (because they are bastards).

So, how can I 'reinvent' myself and thereby miraculously sidestep all of these problems?  Well, I tried doing an internet search on the subject, (not using Google, obviously), and browsed some of the results.  None of them were terribly helpful: they were all the usual self help management consultant mumbo jumbo about how you have to 'visualise' your desired future life in order to achieve it, (shades of Noel Edmonds and 'Cosmic Ordering').  It's all the usual 'inspirational' cobblers you all too often get served up on daytime TV by people trying to reinvent themselves as 'lifestyle gurus'.  None of it actually gave any practical, tangible, advice on the mechanics of personal reinvention for the average person.  But they all seem to agree that 'letting go' of the things holding you back is the starting point.  Well, no shit Sherlock.  But 'letting go' of the past, as they so glibly advise, is actually nigh on impossible.  Unless you fake your own death and create a new identity, that is.  Which, I suppose, is an option.  Many, many years ago, I used to make a daily journey which involved changing trains at Bristol Templemeades station. There were mornings, as I awaited my (usually late) connection, I used to fantasise about getting on another train headed for some destination like Derby or Stockport, where nobody knew me and I could start again, unfettered by my past.  Not quite as drastic as faking one's own death, I know, but the sentiment was much the same.

Of course, to a certain extent, I have already reinvented myself in that I have an online persona and career pretty much separate from my real world life and job.   Indeed, in some quarters of the web I'm known as 'that bloke who seems to watch an unhealthy number of obscure low rent movies'.  For a time, when satire wasn't being labelled as fake news  and being driven off of the web, in some circles I was known as a low rent satirist.  The trouble is that I've never found a way of making money out of any of these online activities of mine.  They are generally far too esoteric for that.  Besides, any web-based activity is these days far too dependent upon the whims of Google when it comes to people actually being able to find and access it.

I've always got my unused teaching qualification to fall back on - but that route is fraught with problems.  These days, just having a PGCE isn't enough, you need Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) as well.  I've been trying to get some additional training to gain QTS, but my efforts have been sabotaged by the refusal of one of my references to actually come up with a reference. (UCAS won't accept the application form until the references are supplied).  Despite having agreed to give me a reference and having told UCAS that he would, it has now been nearly three weeks and despite e-mails and personal requests, he keeps prevaricating.  He's always going to have it done by 'the end of the week', but it never is.  It has become quite clear that he has no intention of doing it.  In which case, why did he ever say that he would?  It is hugely frustrating as not only is the deadline for applications fast approaching, but available places on courses are rapidly being filled.  He doesn't seem to grasp that he is fucking with my future.  I'm now left desperately scrabbling around, trying to find another reference.  The trouble is that I'm not allowed to use anyboby who would be classified as 'family' or 'friends' and I know very few people outside of those categories (especially at work) who I trust, (I've been proven wrong once already, after all).

So, where does that leave me in the 'reinvention' stakes?  Realistically, I'm back to Plan A: just walk away from where I am now and take my chances.  I have no mortgage, no dependents and I've sufficient money in the bank to live on for the foreseeable future.  Obviously, in the longer term, I need to secure some form of income so as not to deplete my savings too much.  I can always claim my work pension early from next year (at a reduced rate, naturally).  It wouldn't be enough to live on, but it would reduce the draw down on my savings.  I could sell my house and down size to free up funds or, alternatively, I could look into releasing some of the equity from the house in order to access more funds.  Perhaps my youngest nephew has the right approach - he's a qualified mechanic, but only works when he needs money.  He seems happy enough and is doing OK.  Maybe I can figure out how to do something similar with my qualifications.  Perhaps that's the key to reinventing myself - going from nine-to-fiver to jobbing part-timer.


Monday, August 13, 2018

Outmoded Sexual References

I was watching an old episode of Minder the other night and was struck by announcement which preceded it: "This programme contains outmoded sexual references which some viewers might find offensive".  Now, bearing in mind that the episode in question was from 1980, I wouldhave been more surprised if it didn't contain 'outmoded sexual references'.  But apparently these days people need to be warned that the past was different from the present.  Most episodes of Minder feature copious references to 'birds' and rampant objectification of women.  Perhaps not surprisingly, bearing in mind his profession, a remarkable number of Terry's girlfriends are strippers.  But clearly what had alarmed ITV 4 sufficiently about this particular episodeto the extent that it felt a warning was warranted before it was screened in the early hours of the morning, was that it involved Terry having to mind a gay antiques dealer.  Now, the sexual stereotyping was hardly subtle - Terry describes the dealer as being a 'raving iron', not that he has anything against 'irons', mind, he just doesn't want to live with one as it might affect his reputation as a ladies man - but it wasn't the worst instance of homophobia in past popular culture I've seen.  Sure, all the usual gags involving Terry's discomfort at being caught naked in bed by his charge but, to be fair, the gay character is played relatively straight, so to speak.  There's none of the high camp, mincing walks and flamboyant dressing you'd usually get from gay characters around this period.  He certainly wasn't portrayed as a close cousin to Mr Humphries from Are You Being Served?, for instance.

All of which brings us to my main point - the apparent inability of many people (especially in the media) nowadays to be able to grasp the fundamental fact that the past is different to the present, that ideas, attitudes and opinions change over time.  I'd like to believe that they evolve, which implies progression, but the fact is that they simply change.  Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.  One of the prime examples of this failure to comprehend the nature of time, (and one of my pet hates, into the bargain), are those TV shows with the premise of: 'Wasn't TV horrible in the past?'  You know the ones I mean - they are full of micro celeb millenial types looking aghast at the terrible racism and sexism on display in the carefully chosen clips of seventies TV programmes they've just been shown.  I really don't know why they are so shocked that nearly fifty years ago people had different, frequently less enlightened (by our standards) views on issues like race, feminism, sexual orientation and the like and that these attitudes were reflected in the popular culture of the era.  They seem quite incapable of grasping the fact that these things change over time.  When Dave Lee Travis was in court accused of variously groping and molesting several female co-workers in his Radio One days, (although acquitted of most of the charges, he was found guilty of at least one instance), his entire defence should have consisted of screenings of seventies sitcoms and Carry On films.

While in no way condoning sexual harassment in the workplace or anywhere else, the fact is that this sort of behaviour was regularly presented to men of the era as being the norm.  Indeed, in the vernacular of the time, if you didn't slap a bird's arse in the office at least once a week, then you must be a 'raving iron'.  It's easy for us now to look back on the seventies and eighties are realise just how wrong sexual and racial attitudes were then, but at the time both sexual harassment and racism were being presented as 'harmless fun', (just watch an episode of Love Thy Neighbour for an example of the latter). But it is pointless being 'shocked' by the popular culture of the era.  We can't change the past.  I'm not really sure that putting warnings in front of these programmes serves any purpose - surely as soon as someone starts watching them it should become obvious that the programmes is from another era and can't really be judged by contemporary standards.  They stand as useful reminders of how far we've come since they were made, as well as capturing a snap shot of a world gone by.  Not necessarily a 'better' world (as those nostalgic for the 'good old days' would have you believe), just a different world.


Friday, August 10, 2018

Give Me a Sign...

It's extraordinary how often we make appeals to higher forces, imploring them to give us some kind of guidance on difficult issues.  It doesn't matter whether we are believers or not, we still find ourselves saying something along the lines of 'Lord, give me a sign'.  Of course, what we're really saying is that we find ourselves facing a dilemma where we can't make up our minds what to do - all of the available options seem to be present difficulties, so want some external supernatural force to make the decision for us.  That way, if it all goes wrong, we can't hold ourselves responsible - 'it's not my fault if God gave me the wrong sign, or he gave me the right one, but I misinterpreted it: he should have made himself clearer'.  This way we can obviate ourselves of responsibility for the situations we find ourselves in, even though, in reality, they are of our own making.  Personally, I pride myself on being a man of reason.  A man who eschews all the mystical nonsense of religions and the mumbo jumbo of whatever the latest spiritual or pseudo scientific fads are.  Yet, I still find myself looking for 'signs' to guide me through my increasing bouts of indecisiveness.

This week I've had received a couple of significant signs.  The obvious one is Google's site-killing algorithm changes which have decimated web traffic to huge numbers of sites (including here and The Sleaze).  Perhaps it is a sign that I should finally just give up on all this nonsense and spend my time more productively.  It isn't as if part of me hasn't been looking for an excuse to scale back my web activities for several years now - here's the perfect opportunity.  The trouble is that I'm not a quitter.  I hate just giving up on things. Besides, web traffic today was marginally better.  I'll probably update The Sleaze less, though.  I've found coming up with nw stories increasingly difficult over the past couple of years and the current schedule can be both punishing and time consuming.  Most importantly, it doesn't seem to translate into traffic, no matter how good or topical the stories are.

The other 'sign' I received concerned work.  I can't go into details, but suffice to say that earlier this week I had one of those experiences when the contempt in which you are held by some of your colleagues is exposed.  This contempt being the result of one's refusal to cut corners and bend rules to satisfy the ego of a colleague who is on some kind of personal crusade.  The long and the short of it is that because I wouldn't bend the rules and my own manager backed me up, someone in the office, with no authority at all, went behind my back and got another colleague to do the rule bending in question, then, basically, verbally abused me over the phone when I told them they were wrong.  For once in my life, I kept my temper and referred the whole matter back to my manager, who, understandably, isn't at all happy about it all.  The point, of course, is that this 'sign' is simply another indication that my continuing much longer in this job is utterly pointless.  As it is, I've simply been playing for time since I returned after my illness, as I've tried to clarify in my mind what my next step should be.  Quite obviously, I'm not going to have any clarity of vision until I'm free from this shitty job and the arseholes I have to work with.  It's just a matter of timing now.


Thursday, August 09, 2018

All Over?

I really don't know why I'm writing this: nobody is going to read it.  To be accurate, nobody can read it.  Why?  Well, because thanks to yet another Google algorithm update rolled out over the past week, my traffic has been entirely wiped out. Both here and at The Sleaze.  When I say 'wiped out', I mean that it has been reduced to single figures.  For the past week visitor numbers have been dropping like a stone, but today they are practically zero.  Which is both ridiculous and heartbreaking - a lot of effort goes into my sites and to see them arbitrarily destroyed by Google in this way is more than I can bear.  I say 'ridiculous' because, until this update, we'd been doing OK.  Not great, but OK, with a modest increase in traffic month on month for the year.  Sure, it was still nothing compared to a few years ago, before Google decided that it was going to start abusing its position of virtual search monopoly to manipulate search results to favour its own interests. 

I'm not alone in suffering this catastrophic loss of traffic: countless sites have, apparently, seen their traffic (and revenues in many cases) vanish overnight.  I thought that things were bad back in February of last year, when Google shut off another traffic source by kicking satire sites off of Google News without warning (because satire sites are 'fake news', obviously, and we all hate that), then stopped indexing new pages.  This is much, much worse.  It isn't that my pages aren't being indexed this time, it is that Google has chosen to bury them so deep in the search results that nobody can find them.  As a most of my non-search sources of traffic (links from other sites) have suffered a similar fate, it means, in effect, that they have blocked any source of visitors for large swathes of the web.  Google seems hell bent on destroying as much of the web as we know it as they can, as quickly as they can. I think that it has been an intense source of irritation to them that small independent sites like mine have hung on over the years and refused to shut up shop and leave the web free for Google and the other big players to make money.  The fact that they are even prepared to trash their own properties like Blogger in this update, shows how determined they are to kill off smaller sites once and for all. 

But, like I said, nobody is going to read this.  I've managed to find ways to keep my sites alive in the face of previous assaults by Google, but this time, I really can't see a way ahead.  They've blocked all of my existing options for generating traffic.  And don't anybody suggest social media.  The idea hat it generates traffic is utter bollocks.  I know.  Today, for instance, the latest story from The Sleaze was posted to our Facebook page.  Last time I looked, it had accumulated over 700 views, but not one of those people looking at the post bothered to click through to the full story on the site, so we got no benefit from this 'traffic'.  That's the trouble with social media: it tends to be a 'walled garden' from which they don't want you to stray.  So, I have no idea where we go from here.  I don't see the point in spending time creating and posting content if its potential audience is prevented from seeing it.  I suppose that, if nothing else, I'll continue to post about my restoration of that model railway locomotive I'm in the middle of, even if nobody sees it. 

Apart from that, I really don't know.  But before I go, on the off chance that somebody stumbles across this, I would urge everyone to simply stop using Google for search.  Not just out of spite, but because you might be surprised to find that other search engines often (not always, but often) return better results for most search terms.  When I say better, I mean more relevant to your search query.  Refreshingly, they don't waste time trying to second guess what you actually meant to search for, or screening the results for alleged spam, (although, ironically, they are far freer from spam sites than Google's, despite the latter always claiming that its unending algorithm updates are intended to eliminate the scourge of search spam).  You will also find that you don't have to scroll through endless ads to reach the actual results.  So, go on, give it a go, try Bing, Startpage, Duck Duck Go, anything but Google.  Trust me, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the results.  Oh, and before I forget: Google, just fuck off.


Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The Missing Boa Constrictor

That boa constrictor pictured eating a pigeon in Leytonstone, East London the other day - why didn't someone beat it to death with a stick?  After all, it was clearly some sort of illegal immigrant - the last time I checked, boa constrictors are not native to the UK - and was busy killing a true blue British pigeon.  I mean, despite often being dismissed as 'flying vermin', there is no doubt that the common or garden pigeon is something of a British icon. After all, what do you think of when you think of Trafalgar Square (apart from Nelson's Column, the lions, the fountains, etc)?  Yes, that's right: hordes of pigeons.  Birds so hated that people flock there to feed the feathered bastards.  Yet, despite the love clearly felt for the British pigeon, did anyone try to aid the one that was getting eaten by a snake?  A foreign snake at that.  A snake that was undoubtedly here illegally.  Where are those gangs of racist EDL thugs when you need them, eh? (Probably attacking socialist bookshops, an incident you might not know about if you rely upon the right wing press and BBC for your news, outlets which seemed more interested in alleged 'left wing thugs' vandalising millionaire tosspot Jacob Rees-Mogg's property).  I suppose that if it had been a Black Mambo, they might have been more interested in beating its head in.  They are probably too ill educated to know that boa constrictors aren't native to these shores. 

But the matter of what we accept as indigenous wildlife and which we reject as 'immigrants' is an interesting one.  Take squirrels, for instance.  Fuelled by biased media reporting, the British public likes to bill and coo over the red squirrel, on the basis that it is 'indigenous' to Britain, while demonising the dominant grey squirrel as a horrible foreign scourge.  It's something I've never understood.  The fact is that I've never seen a red squirrel in the wild - not many people have.  I've grown up only knowing the grey squirrel and have never understood the hatred directed toward it.  It is portrayed as this terrible interloper which has violently usurped the poor red squirrel.  The reality, of course, is that the ascendancy of the grey squirrel is natural selection in action.  The grey squirrel has become dominant in the UK because it is more adaptable, ore versatile and smarter than its red cousin.  The idea that the red somehow has a 'right' to live here because it has 'always; lived in the UK is sentimental nonsense.  It simply isn't how nature works.  An acquaintance once tried to justify their veneration of the red squirrel by dismissing the grey squirrel as 'having come here on a boat'.  In point of fact, as I was forced to point out to them, so did my ancestors (On a Viking longship and/or the Saxon equivalent thereof) - and theirs, probably - displacing the indigenous Britons.

But back to that boa constrictor business, not only did nobody save that pigeon, but the bloody snake was rewarded by being taken away to some animal sanctuary, or other.  Bloody typical of the way these illegal immigrants get preferential treatment, eh?  I bet that it claimed it was an asylum seeker, fleeing from oppression in its homeland.  Bastard.  (I can't help but feel that this whole incident was inspired by an episode of 'The Goon Show' from around 1958, entitled 'The Missing Boa Constrictor'. Spike Milligan was truly ahead of his time).


Monday, August 06, 2018

Special Delivery

So, the question that's been perplexing me all weekend is this - just how does Amazon fit into the alleged drone attack on Venezuela's President Maduro?  I mean, is it all part of this drone delivery system they keep banging on about?  Is it a special service for Central and South American customers, where bombs can be delivered to any address they nominate?  Or, can you actually buy the bomb via the local Amazon website and select to have it delivered by drone?  (Traditional postal methods are presumably still available, but the standard service can take up to ten days for delivery, so you have to be careful about how you set the timer).  I was also left wondering how the fact that the bombs missed their intended target might affect Amazon's return and refunds policy - after all, if the miss was due to the drone's inadequacies, then surely Amazon, as the operator, are liable?  Can the would be assassins get their money back, or a re-run at no extra cost?  It would seem only fair.

But what if the drone delivered a bomb to the wrong address?  Judging by my own experience of Amazon delivering other people's stuff to my house, if there's no one in, (or they can't be bothered knocking on the door), they won't come back and collect the offending items.  Instead, they'll tell you to dispose of them as you will and simply send another delivery to the right address.  Which, with this new drone bombing service, means that you could find yourself having to deal with an unexploded bomb on your doorstep (or wherever else they left it).  OK, you could do as I did with all that crap that was wrongly left on my doorstep and dump it in the nearest municipal waste bin.  Obviously, that would mean risking moving the bomb, not to mention the possibility of some council refuse worker being blown to bits when they try to empty the bin.  Some of Amazon's other suggestions as to how to dispose of wrongly delivered shit are equally impractical: I somehow can't see any of my local charities accepting an unexploded bomb as a donation.  All of which, of course, brings us back to the drone attack on President Maduro - how do we know that he was the intended victim and that the bombs weren't delivered to the wrong address by mistake?


Friday, August 03, 2018

Full Steam Ahead

Remember this?  I wouldn't blame if you didn't.  It's been over a year since I carried out any significant work on this project.  To recap, this is the Wrenn Rebuilt West Country I got cheaply on eBay, on account of the fact that it had been poorly repainted into an entirely fictitious blue livery.  I made a start stripping the paint from the chassis and wheels, but it then all got overtaken by events: illness, other projects, work etc.  Well, I decided that it was about time I returned to it and, as you can see, I've now made a start on stripping the body of the locomotive.

Interestingly, the first application of stripper has actually revealed some of the original paint and lining on the boiler.  Obviously, this will go as well after the second application of stripper.  But it does give me something to match against when I come to repaint, (the shade of 'Standard Green' Wrenn used on its locos varied over time, so the finish on my other Wrenn West Country - which dates from a much later production run - isn't necessarily a good indication of the original finish on this one).  Anyway, it's progress, of sorts.  Give it another six months and I might have applied that second treatment of stripper...


Thursday, August 02, 2018

Conspiracy of Nothing

It must be the silly season - This Morning was giving air time to one of those nutters who believe the moon landings were faked.  Apparently they presented it as a 'debate' between the loon in question and a scientist, but the fact is that there is no debate to be had on the subject: it happened.  There is physical evidence that it happened.  Many of the people who walked on the moon are still alive to bear witness to these events.  I know, I know - it's all a conspiracy designed to deceive the masses.  Quite why 'they' would want to do this is always left a little vague.  The thing which bothers me most, though, is the fact that if we are to accept at face value all the various conspiracy theories out there, then none of the major historical events most people accept as fact ever happened.  Which means that human history has been entirely uneventful: nothing at all has ever happened.  Even if they:they did happen, it wasn't the way you've been brainwashed into believing they happened.  World War Two, for instance: the Nazis were really the good guys and the allies the villains.  Yep, that's right, the Nazis were just trying to protect us from those evil Jews and their banking conspiracies (not to mention the peadophilia).  But because the Allies won, history was rewritten - we're actually the bad guys.  (Trust me, there are people out there who actually believe this shit).

But it isn't just the major events of world history which have been faked.  Oh no, just about every news item you see on your TV  or read about in the papers is a fake.  And I mean every item.  The Grenfell fire - a fake.  The London Bridge terror attacks - faked.  The whole novichock business in Salisbury - faked.   High profile missing children cases - faked.  Even that air crash at the Shoreham Air Show a couple of years ago - a fake.  None of it is real.  At least, not according to the conspiracy nutters.  There's one individual in particular, (I'm not going to give him more publicity by naming him or linking to his site), who seizes upon every news story and proceed to 'prove' at length - in barely coherent posts - how it was all faked using 'crisis actors' and special effects.  If we're to believe him, literally nothing at all is happening in the world.  Nothing real, at least.  Quite what the purpose of all this fakery is left vague.  Maybe I'm missing something, but I really don't see the point of governments conspiring to pretend that things are happening which aren't.  Especially when these things always seem to be tragic accidents or natural disasters.  Obviously the Jews are behind it all.  They're trying to distract us all from, well, something.  After, nothing real is going on.  Perhaps it is the fact that nothing at all is happening - that's what they are trying to distract us from.  Like I said, it's silly season.

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