The Blog of Zakspade

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  Darwin and Plastic
Thursday 27 December, 2018

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February 2016

Darwin Beagle

Another piece published March 2016, this time in my local newspaper. This one carried the title, Plastic is so fantastic.

- o - O - o -

To some, mentioning my love of plastic might conjure up images of me trying to buy something from a market trader without having cash on me.

It is a silly idea as there are many reasons why I wouldn’t be in such a position: one would be the fact that I am not old enough to be issued a credit card or similar; another major point would be that plastic only interests me if it promises food.

Yes, my being drawn to plastic is to do with the fact that the sound of it generally means that something edible is either being unwrapped or prepared.

That said, my nose is quite keen when it comes to sniffing out food. It is so sensitive that sometimes it merely finds old plastic that has been used at some time in the past to carry something divine.

Finding old plastic food wrappings is a disappointing adventure for me. The aroma of promise is dashed in the end by the realisation that whatever was within was long ago eaten by someone – or something.

It wouldn’t bother me except my owner tends to shout LEAVE if I uncover plastic in the bushes. He seems to think that I will eat plastic containers or bags because I have sniffed them. What does he think I am? Some sort of animal?

I have no idea whether Leighton Buzzard is better or worse than anywhere else in respect to plastic waste littering hedgerows as I have never lived Anywhere Else, or indeed any other place. However, there is enough to be found to have me sniffing about looking for tasty morsels amongst the piles driven into corners and hedge bases by the winds we have experienced these last few weeks.

At home, I can hear the rustle of a plastic wrapper coming off food over the sound of the TV on full volume. Not even a low-flying helicopter is enough to cover up the noise – even if it rattles the windows. I turn up wherever the sound comes from and sit at the feet of the person responsible. I give a dose of Brown Eyes and it always results in a smile, even if no actual food.

However, plastic in bushes? I’m fed up being shouted at.

Wednesday 26 December, 2018

Phil J Wilkinson

This piece was also published March 2016 – this time in a Milton Keynes magazine.

A bit of a cheat because the incident – although real – took place about eleven years previous to my writing it, and nearly twelve before the date of publication.

- o - O - o -

I had spent a number of years away from motorcycling on the roads of Milton Keynes – a place with wide, straight roads and roundabouts mainly devoid of traffic lights; an infrastructure seemingly designed to hasten the progress of large capacity motorcycles.

In a car one sometimes listens to the radio or music. On a motorcycle, usually the only onboard vehicle entertainment is what is going on between one’s ears.

When travelling from home in the north of Milton Keynes to my parents in the south, for my amusement I would aim to cover the six miles without once having to place a foot down due to having come to a halt for any reason.

This was achieved by very carefully watching the traffic as it approached roundabouts and junctions. I would adjust my speed to allow me to slot into traffic without being required to stop for others in my chosen path.

The advanced motorists brigade will no doubt you it is the correct way to drive, and I’m not going to argue. However, it takes a little bit more to fine tune a journey on two wheels so to require zero stops along the way rather than merely reducing their number.

Then a twelve year, non-motorcycling gap came along; after which I took delivery of a new motorcycle. I reacquainted myself with the art of manoeuvring a heavy two-wheeled lump of metal and plastic about the place during journeys on quiet roads. It really, truly felt like I had never been off a motorcycle.

One day I set out to cover those same six miles to my parents’ home and I was forced to stop at each and every roundabout on the way down to Bletchley. The journey seemed to take a very long time as a result.

It was after a number of similar trips on that same route that it struck me that although I felt as comfortable and able as before my hiatus, maybe my competence was not as I had reckoned it to be. The final straw came when I travelled the route one Sunday morning and I still ended up coming to a halt at the entry to many roundabouts. My roadcraft clearly seemed to have suffered badly enough to be concerned.

To allay my wife’s fears I booked myself onto a couple of motorcycling courses to ensure I was capable and safe, as opposed to an old person set to become part of a national statistic. At the end of both courses the instructors told me that I was good to go and should have no worries or concerns over my ability to safely navigate the roads aboard a motorcycle.


However, the journey to Bletchley still contained stops despite my straining to avoid them. What could have changed?

Then it dawned on me that it was the traffic density – the volume of vehicles on our roads had gone up dramatically, therefore leaving fewer gaps to be exploited.

Now that I think of it, those previously wide straight roads now seem narrow clogged arteries. It’s funny what time and age brings.

Thursday 20 December, 2018

Phil J Wilkinson

Published March 2016 in a Northampton magazine, quite a way on from the last appearance by Matt Smith as The Doctor on BBC's Doctor Who, (December 2013). However, I felt it was recent enough to warrant dropping his name into the piece.

- o - O - o -

Fame and attention is welcomed by some. For proof, one need only sit through a few minutes of Jeremy Kyle, Big Brother, or I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! It raises the question: Is it earned?

I can see chairs and tables flying through the air as heated discussions turn into arguments and fights between fans and detractors. Having stirred the pot, I will sit on the proverbial fence and watch - occasionally ducking to avoid hurled objects that may form part of any dialogue between disagreeing parties.

Northampton has many claims to fame - some go back further than others. For instance: Despite possessing what was an occasional royal residence - Northampton Castle - the place took the side of the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. Town cobblers supplied a large amount of the footwear used by the Roundheads.

Nowadays some describe Northampton as the shoe capital of the world. Back then it was merely a craft viewed quite dimly by the returned royalty when looking at how it represented Northampton’s contribution to the Parliamentarian cause. Northampton and its castle didn’t come out of it too well because Charles II ordered that the town’s wall, and much of the castle, be demolished.

A couple of claims to fame there: Being known for the production of footwear, and picking the wrong side in the Civil War.

Northampton Castle was King John’s favourite castle, it is said. Certainly he thought enough of the place to move his royal treasury to the castle in 1205. In modern times the remains left by Charles II, which survived the Northampton Fire of 1675, were sold off to a railway company which then levelled the site and built a railway station on it.

Could that be why Northampton failed to gain royal backing for its application for city status in 2000?

Now, I’m not saying the royal family hold grudges, nor am I going to suggest that making shoes for the side that ultimately loses is the cause of Northampton remaining a town. No, that would be silly. However, wouldn’t it be nice to have a famous ex-pupil of Northampton School for Boys return as the character he played on a well-known television series, and travel back in time to the 1600s so he can try to convince the townsfolk back then to hold off on the supply of shoes and support to Cromwell’s army?

I wonder if the BBC let Matt Smith keep a TARDIS when he left the role of Doctor Who? As someone born and educated in Northampton surely he would consider lending a hand? As a reward he could be granted the freedom of the CITY of Northampton and granted shoes for life.

Of course, that all supposes two things: Matt Smith (the eleventh Doctor) likes the idea of free shoes for life, and the TARDIS is a real thing. I’m going to stick my neck out here and propose that one of those suppositions might be unlikely as I understand he isn’t keen on shoes.

Tuesday 18 December, 2018

For a short while I self hosted this Blog. However, maintaining a server 24/7 was a bind under domestic circumstances, so I gave it over to and concentrated upon filling it with content.

Then became as part of their ‘upgrade’ and things went wrong.

Everyone was denied access to the hosted content. It was a file permissions issue, and I was prepared to reset them via ftp, but Easily had also managed to deny me, the account holder, access as well . . .

However, once I told them I was taking the hosting elsewhere and wanted to know the best person to speak to in order to have a part refund of the unused hosting period; they sorted it – despite having ignored all my emails on the subject up to that point.

Unfortunately they have deleted all other registered domain redirection and configuration in the process of sorting the issue.

Looks like I’m going to be off to arrange a reliable hosting service in the New Year!

  Darwin and Modelling
Sunday 9 December, 2018

Darwin Beagle

I checked my email on a Friday morning and read that a contributor to a space in the local newspaper had gone ‘silent’ on the editor. I dashed off a reply at 9 am assuring him that copy would definitely be with him before the deadline, and I set about writing a Darwin piece.

At 9:57 am I emailed him Darwin and Modelling and it appeared in the paper the following Tuesday 16 February 2016 as I need a little respect.

It was certainly a rush job, but I hope it doesn’t show.

- o - O - o -

Life has been rather interesting of late. I’ve become a model!

No, I have not been strutting up and down catwalks – I can’t balance on the top of the garden fence. My owner has been setting up a photography business that concentrates on – amongst other things – pet portraits.

Of course, to establish a decent portfolio, he had me sit in his studio for photographs. Naturally I had no intention of sitting still as there were way too many interesting things to sniff and examine. One never knows where a tasty morsel might be hiding.

However, once he had me in his photographic domain, he was no longer my owner but some chap with a large black object that he carried about him which was decidedly not edible. So he set about having me do his bidding – which was to sit still while some very bright lights flashed, instead of me looking for food.

How did he do that, I hear you ask?

Oh dear, I still feel embarrassed to have been so easily tricked into doing what doesn’t come naturally to me. He held up treats while I looked adoringly into his camera-thing. Occasionally his assistant would cause me to turn my head in a quizzical manner to look at where the sound of a tambourine came from.

Every time I intended to set off on an exploration of my surroundings, he would catch my attention by flourishing a cuddly pink pig about. All thoughts of examining the foot of the studio lights for dropped food would leave my head at the sight of the pink pig dancing on top of the strange device he was attempting to hide behind.

Were it not for the fact that I was eventually allowed the delicacies he had been waving about, I would have felt bad about having been manipulated. I’m a pedigree beagle with a very long line of pure beagle behind me. I’m not some beagle wannabe who dresses up and pretends. In the dog world I am royalty, of a sort. I demand respect for my breed.

Sorry, the bright lights and anticipated fame seems to have gone to my head. All I really want from life is to eat, sniff and be merry.

  Darwin and Friends
Saturday 8 December, 2018

Darwin Beagle

Beagles are an amazing breed of dog. If you poke most dogs with a stick long enough, they will eventually bite the stick. Except a beagle – it will walk away.

The case of a county show with a display ring featuring a pack of beagles used for drag hunting is real. I was amazed and impressed, although Darwin’s demeanour should have prepared me.

This piece was published locally Tuesday 2nd February, 2016 as, No need to be afraid.

- o - O - o -

As a breed, we beagles are a friendly lot. We don’t hold grudges and we like everyone and everything.

The last couple of county shows my owner attended featured a demonstration ring with a beagle pack and the organisers asked parents if they wanted to pass their little ones over the barriers to come and meet the hounds.

A sight to behold: a pack of beagles swamped by a tide of small children.

The beagles either showed interest in the children if they thought food was forthcoming from them, or they dedicated their noses to interesting smells in the enclosure.

We beagles are a bit like that.

On the whole, Leighton Buzzard is a friendly place. I certainly think it is a welcoming area. That said, my views appear to be at odds with the actions of my owner at times. Many a time, when I see him talk to someone I rush toward them to say hello as well; only for him to shoo me off!

He tells me that it is because, ‘Not everyone is a dog-person.’

Well I already know that. Can you imagine people walking about with four legs? How would they sit on a bus? Or drive a car? I sometimes wonder if my owner is totally together upstairs.

On the odd occasion, he goes into greater detail and explains to me that some people are not comfortable with an unknown dog running at them, and he doesn’t want them to be afraid. Yes, like anyone could be afraid of a beagle.

Owning a beagle and attempting to train it to be fierce like an attack dog would be like trying to use a teaspoon with a hole in it to empty the Pacific Ocean.

I think I get his point. There are probably people out there who really think it possible to empty the Pacific Ocean with just a teaspoon. I may have met one or two over the course of my life. I’m not sure – do they have to wear special coloured coats?

The postman need have no fear. I have never liked the noise he makes when posting a letter through that slot in the front door. That’s one human I will be avoiding: dog-person or otherwise!

Friday 7 December, 2018

Phil J Wilkinson

Stuff written for publication in print magazines will rarely keep the title it was originally given. However, this piece is from a current column that has appeared since May 2010, and retains the titles I assign.

This particular item appeared in the February 2016 edition of the magazine and is reproduced here with minor tweaks to make it read better online.

- o - O - o -

What is the betting that Milton Keynes has its own horseracing course by the end of 2016?

Who will give me odds? Anyone?

I recall, many years back, reading a national motorcycling magazine article about Milton Keynes intending to host a major motorcycle race on its streets. I mentioned it to a work colleague as I thought it quite funny and it had some very convincing mock-up photographs. He told his sister who was a local newspaper journalist and it ran in time for April Fool’s Day that year. There were a number of Milton Keynes residents who were outraged . . .

Who would have bet on that making it into the local paper?

Driving along one of the major routes near centre:mk just the other day, I saw road signs I had never noticed before. They warned of a roundabout up ahead. Said roundabout has been where it is has always been since it was built in the 80s.

It seemed odd to me that someone felt the need to spend public money on erecting a sign warning of something that has been obvious for over 30 years. I supposed that money has to be spent somewhere.

As I approached the roundabout, the damage to the paving blocks running about it was painful to see. A vehicle had quite plainly been piloted up to, and over, the roundabout. I suppose the cost of repairing the roundabout would run to more than the cost of the signs. My travelling companion pointed out that this same roundabout was victim to vehicles smashing in to it on a regular basis.

Judging from the degree of damage, whatever struck the roundabout did so with great force. I thought of the occupants in the vehicle and felt relief that it had not been me.

I would have reckoned that in a place known for having roundabouts, with their tendency not to wander about the place, that people crashing their cars into them would not have been something to bet upon happening – but I would have been wrong.

Then there is the news that the UN is to move their headquarters to Central Milton Keynes in time for summer 2016. That news item caught my eye.

Or at least it would have had I not just made it up.

The thing is this: Had someone asked me to bet on the likelihood of horseracing, crashing into 30 year-old roundabouts, or the UN moving into Milton Keynes, then I would have placed the roundabout crashing thing at the bottom of the pile.

I grant it that the cycleways are too narrow for decent horse races, but horses could probably adjust. The UN might have to downsize a little to ensure they could find offices suitable for their ongoing crusade against wars and suchlike across the world: maybe a lock-up garage on a housing estate somewhere?

But what is this about roundabouts springing up unexpectedly?

Seriously? What are the odds of that?

  All About... WINDOWS
Saturday 1 December, 2018

Professor Jago

This was started out as a piece that saw the light of day back in June, 2016 up here on this blog. Feedback and comment had me investigate using it as the basis for a series.

An approach was made to a magazine and a couple more short pieces titled, All About... written and submitted to support the idea of a regular contribution. It was taken and it now appears monthly.

This version of the blog entry appeared in print December, 2016.

- o - O - o -

Windows are a wonderful thing. In days long ago, people had nothing to do but stare at walls while cows romped across fields outside, and clouds frolicked in the sky. They missed all the interesting things in life.

Nowadays, with the invention of the window, we can all sit at home and look out on the world outside as it passes by. We can enjoy the sights offered by watching cats fall out of trees, cars speeding past our houses, and leaflet deliverers walking across our front gardens.

Yes, the window has brought so much joy to us all by allowing us to connect with the world outside our homes in a way that peasants really couldn’t.

Of course, it was a while before anyone thought to put something in the window frame so as to keep draughts out. The original windows in the average hovel allowed in rain, wind and odd smells from those romping cows. Early entrepreneurs set up businesses selling boards to insert inside early windows in order to cover what were effectively holes in walls, but they merely blocked out all light coming in and didn’t catch on.

As time passed, and manufacturing technology advanced, a miraculous substance known as glass was developed. It was created as part of the space race to allow astronauts to see where they are floating in their big puffy white suits, and to make them air-tight. The technology employed filtered down to the world occupied by the rest of us mere mortals.

Businesses were set up to market this wonderful new product and were known as double-glazing companies. Space technology has given us much more than just non-stick frying pans, ball-point pens, and feather dusters.

However, there are those who do not appreciate the benefits of the wall device known as a window. Instead they sit at a thing called a computer and they miss all the fluffy animals wandering about the place outside their homes. Their heads are turned away from the miracle of windows only to be occupied by Windows.