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Woe No More
Monday 30 December, 2019

I learnt a lesson: leave things to the professionals.

The bathroom leak has been fixed and all is well with the cistern. No drama, no fuss, no bother. I had spent two weeks agonising over the issue before today. I mentally prepared myself for all manner of destruction in the quest for the required access. The method of construction by the previous house owner seemed to be that of a monkey with brain damage. That was something the plumber seemed to agree with, although he did add that it isn’t uncommon to see such methods used.

One cut, one panel removed, one worktop to replace using a method that allows for future access.

So simple, I’m left wondering why I didn’t bite the bullet and just call a plumber at the start!

Bathroom Woes
Saturday 28 December, 2019

It was just over a week back that I spotted a small amount of water on the floor beside the toilet bowl while addressing a faulty ballcock in the cistern.

No, the water was just water, in case anyone wondered.

The ballcock requires renewal as it sometimes doesn’t sealing and the cistern tries to overfill, with the excess being dumped in the toilet in a steady, but annoyingly loud, trickle. Access is going to require pretty major surgery due to the cowboy manner of the original installation. However, having temporarily stopped the cistern being filled nonstop through flushing it until it worked properly, I settled for laying down tissue to try and identify whether a leak existed. Whatever might be happening looked to be slight and could wait until the New Year had started – I hoped.

The tissue test seemed to prove my fears: we did have a leak, but from where? It was seeping from the rear of the toilet and after using a mirror and a torch, I suspected the waste pipe joint where it exited the toilet. Tissue testing also revealed that the seepage I had noticed had probably not been happening for very long as the regularity of mopping up was enough to tell me it wasn’t a mere weep. So a plumber was sought.

The plumber arrived and looked at the pipe work. To gain access was going to require wrecking the units. Who tiles over removable panels in a manner that requires the removal of the wall tiles behind the unit? The previous homeowner, it seems.

The plumber reached down and had a fiddle with the flexible waste pipe and came to the same conclusion as me: water was getting past the rubber seal about the exit stub from the toilet. Was it possible I could cope and contain the seeping water until next week after Christmas? If so he could address the dodgy cistern at the same time.

Given how he intended to fix everything (a judicious cut with a specialist saw to remove a panel rather than wrecking the whole thing), and my assessment that I could manage to successfully contain the weep with tissue paper until his return, I agreed.

Christmas passed pleasantly and, equally pleasantly, I noticed the leak was no more. After a few renewals of tissue, everything remained dry. I figured that when he had stuck his arm down behind the unit, blindly, he had managed to wedge the pipe on a little more firmly. Whatever, that bathroom was out of commission until the job could be done properly. Thank goodness for ensuite bathrooms!

Then this morning I glanced into the bathroom as I made my way towards the stairs. The tissue laid about the toilet was soaked. A quick inspection resulted in my collecting up masses of sodden tissue and the first dry covering I laid became wet through within moments. The leak was clearly back, but now it had developed serious attitude.

I spent the next hour mopping up and trying to determine why the leak had returned. The bathroom had been unused since the plumber’s visit. The only times I had ventured in there since his inspection was when I was required to lay fresh, dry tissue, and that had ceased shortly after he had gone.

The cistern hadn’t been isolated. So my first thought was that maybe it was quietly overflowing into the toilet. There was no visible sign, so I took a dry tissue and wiped it about the whole bowl. It was bone dry. The water source wasn’t from the cistern and through the toilet. However, if the waste pipe was the culprit, then a water source had to exist as the toilet hadn’t been flushed since.

I decided to try the same trick with a fumble of the waste pipe where it met the back of the toilet. Maybe I’d get lucky, but equally I feared I may not. If I made the leak worse, then without access to the location I was facing a leak through the floor and ceiling and onto the new sofa below. As I toyed with the idea, I pondered on where the source lay. I just couldn’t see it being ‘downstream’ of the toilet. It seemed unimaginable that waste water was coming up the waste pipe. Could a partial blockage be the cause? If so, then surely any water pooled in a pipe would be exhausted eventually. That would explain the leak appearing to vanish, but wouldn’t account for its enthusiastic return.

After a fiddle I prepared myself for a period of mopping up due to the water already leaked making its way out from under the unit. What I hadn’t expected was an increase!

There was a panicked attempt to reach an emergency plumber. The plumber I had booked for this coming Monday wasn’t contactable. I still couldn’t see where the water was coming from, but I was now forced to renew the tissue paper every fifteen minutes. Sure, I could keep on top of things until Monday, but that would require the purchase of a dozen more rolls of kitchen paper and my staying awake through Saturday and Sunday night. Having discounted the possibility that water had been backing up from the sewer waste piping, an increase in water had not been expected!

Although I was almost certain that water wasn’t making its way through the toilet from the cistern, I reckoned on removing any possibility by isolating it and flushing it dry. This I did. It was so nice to flush it but not hear it filling. Maybe an odd reaction after a flush, but this was fast becoming an odd, but desperate situation.

It was then, as I had been fiddling with a screwdriver and a torch in the cramped space to reach the isolation screw, I spotted the sparkle of a water droplet on top of the flexible waste pipe behind the toilet.

That was a game changer.

I checked the main flush pipe from the cistern to the top of the rear of the toilet and my hand came back into sight, wet. A further check with bits of dry tissue revealed that water had been coming down the pipe and dripping onto the flexible waste pipe. Think of one of those hoses people stick out of their kitchen windows when using a tumble dryer. The folds are very capable of holding water and like a window pane covered in condensation, eventually all that water is released upon being disturbed and it dumps the lot and a pool forms on the window ledge.

Cistern empty; toilet flush feed pipe dry and no longer leaking; supply of fresh and dry tissue at the ready – I waited. The next thirty minutes was spent swapping out wet tissue with dry as whatever invisible pool of water was exhausted.

No apparent leak now. No bathroom usage either. However, all is well and awaiting the attention of a plumber who understands the vagaries of water.

Sometimes the obvious is so obvious it is discounted.

Dimensions
Sunday 22 December, 2019

It’s Friday. An email received from Hermes (Hermes Parcelnet Ltd) at 9:40 this morning told me they would be delivering a much anticipated parcel between four and six o’clock later in the day.

It was handy knowing this. The day was wet and rainy. The forecast promised much more of the same but I wanted to head out to run a few errands. Knowing I could get things done earlier in the day was good. So, at 11:45 I headed out of my house with my wife and daughter. I expected to be home again no later than half-past-two and so I figured that being in for the rest of the day would mean my parcel would be received.

Having dropped my wife and daughter off I was then free to post a couple of small parcels at my local post office. It made a change to my walking there from home. Ironically, given I had my car with me, although the sky was black and threatening, the rain had ceased.

At 12:11 an email arrived on my mobile phone telling me that Hermes had delivered my parcel. Blast! Never mind, the email did say the delivery was successful, so the eagerly awaited parcel would be ready with a neighbour, or similar, when I eventually got home. Then I read on...

Your parcel has been delivered at 12:10 by your local courier and was signed for at the delivery address.

That worried me. I was in a queue to the post office counter having dropped the only other human occupants of my household off five minutes earlier. I was confused how anyone could have signed for the package as none of my dogs can hold a pen (or stylus). Also, when out of the house I close them away out the back so they don’t bark whenever someone walks past the front. They can’t open the internal door, let alone the front door. Perhaps I had slipped into another dimension as I waited to get to the head of the queue.

As I walked from the post office back to my car, I pondered over how things had panned out. Was the email just something sent as a result of the van driver having checked the wrong box on his PDA signing device?

I looked at the gloomy sky and thanked my lucky stars that my next errand would also be done by car as I feared what seemed about to be unleashed upon the ground by the clouds above.

Eventually I had all my chores done and I returned to collect my wife and daughter. We then headed back home. I smiled at the fact that despite the evil intent above, no rain had fallen – knowing in my heart that had I been walking, the story would have been very different. Upon my approach to my driveway, I saw the parcel on my doorstep. It was clearly marked as a Christmas delivery and the label had Hermes in large letters writ upon it. The parcel was 90x70x30 centimetres in size and made from cardboard. It was far too big to be hidden in a wheelie bin. I knew the item inside to also be within a cardboard box. Amazingly it hadn’t rained in the two-and-a-bit hours since the email told me it had been ‘delivered’ and a signature obtained for it.

Oh, and my front door has no awning over it – if you call and wait for a reply, you get rained upon.

So while I am pleased that the rain held off long enough so as to not write-off something destined to be a Christmas present to someone, I am less pleased to understand that someone claimed they had me sign and take the parcel.

I will be taking this one up with Hermes and the company I bought from.

Sorry, I Couldn't See You, Mate
Tuesday 17 December, 2019

It’s wet and raining. The length of the walk to the post office is more than I’d like, but unless I develop mystical powers, the rain will not be mysteriously diverted about me to leave me untouched by the weather.

I remember days gone by when I rode a motorcycle. I covered a huge mileage annually and it hardly seemed to make any difference whether it was raining or not. A journey of over 130 miles was just a journey. The rain was just the rain. The start would become the end, regardless.

However, I recall passing my driving test and supplementing my transport with a car. Within weeks I found that when it rained, the twenty seconds walk to where my car was parked across the road from where I lived was much too far and the experience of having to suffer the rain was dreadful.

You would think I would be worse these days now I haven’t been on a motorcycle for over ten years, but the increase of car use, combined with the intrinsic failings of where I now live: an old market town unable to cope with more than half-a-dozen cars at a time, means I tend to eschew driving places locally.

Back to my trip to the post office.

On the way there I spied a car parked on the road into the housing estate. Clearly its owner was perturbed by the falling rain to such a degree that they felt an urgent need to park as close as possible to the house they were visiting, even if that meant parking on the exit to a blind bend into the estate. My thoughts as I passed the vehicle were along the lines of, Oh dear me, what a pitifully poor place to park, or something like that.

Coming back home the car was still there, but with a minor modification. The debris next to the damaged rear quarter matched the broken tail lights and featured bits from whatever had nudged it, but the broken glass back from the stupidly parked car mystified me until I spoke to a chap walking a dog. He told me he had earlier witnessed a car come around the corner and brake sharply as a small delivery van was driving out of the estate. A second car following the first hadn’t expected it to stop on the bend and the second driver hadn’t managed to avoid a collision. Said prang pushed the first car into the ignorantly parked car.

You would think that if people park inconsiderately then if down to their laziness it might be because they are selfish. However, were that the case then maybe they’d have thought more about the welfare of their own vehicle as opposed to that of others, and therefore wouldn’t have placed their pride and joy in the path of possible damage.

Or might they have once ridden a motorcycle and become morbidly averse to the rain?

Aftermath
Saturday 14 December, 2019

A couple of days ago there was a General Election in the UK. I doubt anyone missed it. Talk before it was all Brexit. Leading up to it was all about whether the result would reflect opinion on Brexit rather than anything else.

Was it a good result? Well, that depends on what you value.

The 2015 General Election saw the Tories win enough seats to form a proper majority government with 330 of them on the back of 36.9% of the popular vote. Interestingly, that majority government gained just 25% of the votes available and it ought to be enough to make anyone smile when the winners announced they had received a Mandate from the People, with just 25% of the People having voted for them...

In 2017, the then Tory leader managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by winning 13 fewer seats than her predecessor two years earlier. The turnout was greater, and she secured 42.4% of the popular vote – a 5.5% increase – but managed to realise 13 fewer seats.

Then came the exciting event a couple of days back. The latest leader of the Tories saw the party’s popular vote rise a fraction to 43.6% but that increase of 1.2% equated to an extra 48 seats over that won in 2017!

Meanwhile the LibDems, as the fourth biggest party standing in the 2019 General Election experienced the largest increase of that four – and increase of the popular vote of 4.2% – and ended up with one less seat than the 2017 General Election.

Was it a good result? Well, that depends on whether you think the present electoral system actually reflects what the Public (you) is thinking or supporting...

Facebook - A Leaving Statement
Wednesday 11 December, 2019

Some of the people I know on Facebook may be aware I was first introduced to it as a tool to confirm IDs during the course of my work in a security role. As a consequence I didn’t hold it in high regard with respect to personal use. However, the course of my life changed and I found myself in a community which positively begged me to maintain an account so as to stay part of the events which surrounded my then employment.

As my life and circumstances changed, so has my dependence upon access to Facebook. For a while I have retained an account for increasingly irrelevant reasons. However, in keeping with my IT background, I have always been incensed by seeing inaccurate information being peddled about, quoted, Shared and promoted electronically. Some of the time it is malicious, but in the main it is innocent and bereft of fact-checking and I find myself always having to fight the urge to correct the Posts, Comments or Replies.

Believe me when I say THAT is hard work.

While I have been in IT, and related employment, I have been aware of how misinformation has been part of the Internet. Social media provided it with a platform of perfection to which the Internet could only aspire.

For a time I have considered withdrawing from Facebook and all forms of social media. During the farce that has been Brexit I watched as people trumpeted ‘facts’ that were nothing but utter dross, on both sides, that wouldn’t have seen the light of day has someone taken 30 seconds to check what they were promoting.

While Posting stuff doesn’t adversely affect my writing (it keeps my fingers dancing over the keyboard), I find the time lost looking things up, and the pain of having to dredge up the truth and corrections (even if I manage to resist the urge to correct/refute them online) a great drain on my time and resources. So even just maintaining a ‘watching brief’ would cause me angst as I read stuff that is just plain wrong.

Opinion I can take. It can be identical to mine, or diametrically or radically opposing views. I’m good with that, but lies dressed up as facts just do my head in. Especially when I see them repeated by people I know who are unaware that while the thrust of what they are Sharing may be correct or valid, the underlying information or data is just made-up to support that opinion.

I have been wavering. However, the run up to the UK General Election has been peppered with lies upon lies, many outrageous in the extreme, and most of the time they have been repeated and promoted by people I know because they either didn’t take the time to check, or if they did check, they hit unlucky and checked a source that was merely repeating the original lie. There is no point in my quoting examples as I have no desire to enter into discussion over the veracity or otherwise of each point.

So I’m off.

That said, I have no desire to lose touch with those I know, so I’m not going to terminate my account, yet. I will be ‘doing the rounds’ and sending Private Messages asking whether the recipient wishes to exchange email addresses. Email used to be my main communication method and it still would be if Facebook wasn’t such a strong fall-back for many with regards to communications in the Modern Age.

Mirrors
Tuesday 10 December, 2019

Anyone remember what was termed mirror writing as a kid? Leonardo da Vinci wrote most of his personal notes in mirror writing so as to obfuscate his observations in progress lest he be usurped by a rival thinker. We see examples in our adult lives when an ambulance comes up behind us with its siren blaring. The word ambulance is emblazoned across its bonnet in reverse so it can be read in your rearview mirror.

(What do you mean, you never use it?)

Mirror writing, or anything with a mirror quality, is usually the reversal of what exists before the mirror.

We have a General Election coming up. I think this one deserves a name other than the 2019 General Election. I propose calling it the Mirror General Election of 2019.

Why? Well – and please forgive me if I am mistaken – but usually one will vote for who it is believed will offer things wanted by the voter. To a degree, all promises and pledges are to be taken with a dollop of salt. However, this time around, things seem to have shifted significantly along the Salt Continuum.

For many it seems to no longer be a matter of merely voting for what one wishes but for who is the least distrusted. They all lie, it is claimed, and it has been for a very long time. Usually the lies are discounted (there’s that use of salt), but when many (Most? All?) of the Big Players resort to lies about the opposition to the degree that they appear to be masking their own outrageous behaviour and policies, then it strikes me that we have entered the Mirror World where everything is in reverse.

If one looks into the life of Leonardo da Vinci then it becomes clear that he was an odd character. That he was a genius is clear to many. He was an oddball though. However, it is looking increasingly likely that if he were alive today he’d be a better use of a vote...

Walking and Talking
Sunday 8 December, 2019

Out on a trek to the local post office took me down a straight residential road. Ahead of me, about halfway along to the end, a woman was pushing a baby buggy. She was walking quite slowly and I figured that I’d catch up with her before she reached the end. So slow was her pace I wondered whether I was going to be hit by an alcoholic haze when I caught and passed her.

Watching her as I got nearer her veering from grass verges to front garden lawns had me think I might be right about the alcohol. In fact, so erratic was her passage along the footpath, I wondered how I was going to get past her when the moment arrived.

As I closed in upon her I noticed that she was just using the one hand to propel the buggy. Having just the one hand on the handlebar across the top meant she was continually having to correct the direction of the small-wheeled vehicle as it followed the dips and irregularities of the pathway. With just one hand to both push and steer meant it took her back and forth across the way with the grass on either side seeming to act like those rumble strips found along major roads and junctions. Course corrections were abrupt and sparked by the transgressions from the smooth surface to the rough green borders on each side.

For a moment I felt a pang of guilt as it crossed my mind that perhaps she only had the one arm and she was doing the best she could manage. However, it passed when I heard her talking and realised her other hand was tucked into her hair by her ear as she jabbered into a mobile phone.

As I approached I chose a side on which to pass. Unfortunately she chose that precise moment to make a mid-course correction without prompting from any vegetation. We nearly collided. The child never noticed but the buggy driver did; first letting whoever was on the other end of her conversation know she was speaking to someone before apologising to me for nearly taking me out via my ankles.

I hope she doesn’t drive a car.

Success!
Friday 6 December, 2019

Sometimes success means different things to different people. I’m pretty sure that the success I have experienced this morning is going to have some people shaking their heads.

Last week I discovered that a virtualisation package I once used many years back when it was available to me in an IT environment and quite costly, has been released as a free-to-individual application.

And?

Well, having discovered that a tool I once used has become available to me at no cost, as opposed to more than £400, I thought I’d give it a try. Goodness, it is so much better than I remember, and it is far superior to the application I have been using up until now.

The real test was going to be the replication of functions I perform using the current tool. This morning I configured a pair of virtual machines so they were capable of doing everything I needed. This they managed, and so much better. For instance: this Blog of Zakspade entry was written and uploaded via one of the machines created and the fact you are reading it means that everything worked as intended.

That’s what I call success, but I’m willing to accept that others might see things differently...

Blocked!
Wednesday 4 December, 2019

My introduction to the world of Facebook was through working in an IT security role. I found it a useful tool to help confirm the identities of users on a particular Internet connection, along with being able to pinpoint specific content so as to further identify who was using any particular network session.

One might think I would swear off Facebook after seeing its impact, but no, I did not. For personal reasons I maintained a personal account just so as to be available to a particular person for a short period afterwards, but then it faded from my life. Then a career and life change took me to a new town and into a school environment. I found myself within a community of parents of the kids at the school, and people I came into contact with where I was now living. Many were avid users of Facebook and I found myself being drawn back so as to maintain a view of events amongst those who were now playing a major part in my life.

And so I embraced Facebook.

Not 100%, you understand. I use my real name but that is the only personal data attached to that account. My avatar is something I once took a photograph of at an airshow. The date-of-birth I supplied makes me 119 years old. And I’m not Welsh, American, French, or Chinese as they are details I vary every once and a while. If everyone on Facebook falsified the data they supply Facebook then it couldn’t be sold on or ‘accidently’ leaked. But then, not everyone has used Facebook as a tool in investigations that cost people their jobs and livelihoods and, on occasions, led to police prosecutions.

These days I dip in and out of various Groups on Facebook. Some are quite funny. Others are great sources of information or opinion. Many, if not most, are entertaining. I can usually ignore bad language although in some groups where some Members are known to me face-to-face it can be a little grating. However, it is when someone misses the point of a Group’s existence and launches personal attacks against other Members that I really take umbrage. And when my name is mentioned; I am addressed directly; or referred to, and my intelligence, education, understanding, or general character is attacked, then I pull the plug and take my leave without any theatre or leaving statements.

Why? Well, for the same reason I wouldn’t want to be a Member of a Devil worshipers Group and find myself being flamed for Commenting differently to some within. The biggest pain is being labelled bigot by a bigot, or someone who goes out of their way to head off debate by preloading their Posts with something like: if you disagree with this Post (as I see it in an overly simplified form) then you are one of the idiots responsible for the ills of the world and are a low-life and bottom-feeder.

In one Group, a few of the Members are known to me outside of Facebook. I disagree with many of the Members and I agree with many of them. Some make no sense to me and some are outrageously funny (well, they make me laugh). The Group is generally friendly, entertaining and respectful of all Members. However, amongst its Members is one who joined and at the start they peppered their Posts with expletives. They also took every Comment or Reply as some sort of personal attack and would come back with real personal attacks against whoever had dared to present an alternative perspective.

Complaints were made. Eventually they toned down their language, but not without stating a couple of times that they would be leaving the Group. Unfortunately they reneged on their statement like the best politicians out there and they remained a Member. Gone was the potty-mouth approach and in came Posts that dared anyone to disagree. Anyone foolish enough to see that the overly simple point being made had other facets and Replied accordingly were crudely, robustly and abusively disparaged.

I really don’t want to leave that Group but finally after a Comment I left on a another Member’s Post, the person with the mistaken belief that the Group is a ‘causes Group’ leapt in with their own take on the situation and again came straight out with their charge that stupidity was my greatest asset. Enough was enough, I decided, so I Blocked that person.

Now, one might think that is the end of it, but it goes deeper than that. Threads are at risk of becoming nonsensical should that Blocked Member be part of an exchange. Think of it as hearing someone speaking on their mobile phone: you hear and understand them but have no idea what the other person is saying and so cannot do anything but try and deduce what is being discussed.

A Group in which potential entertaining, thought-provoking, or educational Threads no longer have any meaning is a Group that no longer holds enough value to make it worth me wishing to remain a Member. Unlike the person I eventually Blocked, I have not threatened to leave, nor will I. If I do begin to see worthlessness in Posts through their becoming ‘bitty’ then I will leave, but be assured, I never huff and puff and then not leave.

It’s a pity, because of the Groups I have interacted with down the years since my entanglement in Facebook, that particular Group has been my favourite by a big margin. Still, whatever happens and however it all turns out, I no longer need to concern myself with whether or not today will bring the idiot bigot out in that one person who feels it acceptable to aim their bile at me.

Speakerphone 2
Sunday 1 December, 2019

I wasn’t overly surprised to check my email this morning and see a couple of messages regarding something I had previously posted to my blog. However, I was surprised to see that both referred to the same piece – Speakerphone from yesterday.

A follow-up was considered.

During the day, each time I checked my email, another missive regarding the same piece would appear in my Inbox. By the evening I had receive seven comments, all from different addresses, but all remarking upon the same aspect. So I decided to not wait any longer and here is my follow-up...

On the plus side, she didn’t use a single expletive my daughter doesn’t know.

I believe in never letting my daughter flounder over not knowing something. So she does know an awful lot of swear-words and terms, but that doesn’t mean she uses them or even feels that she wants to use them. If she asks, I tell her. It’s nothing more than that.

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Speakerphone
Saturday 30 November, 2019

Unusually for me I was out in my car the other day. The weather was rather inclement and I had agreed to collect my daughter so she might avoid being rained upon during a thirty-minute walk home.

It made sense for me to get into town ahead of her being ready because of the traffic. As a result I had about half-an-hour to wait in a car park. I waited in a corner and started to watch an episode of South Park on my smartphone.

As the time of her arrival approached I took more notice of the path leading towards the corner in which I was located. A young couple entered on foot. They were both about 19, I supposed. He was tall and nondescript and she was blonde and extremely attractive. In fact the first thing that struck me was that she was way above his apparent ability to attract a girlfriend. The next thing I noticed as they walked with their arms linked was that she was on a phone.

And talking into it loudly.

She wasn’t shouting, nor did she seem angry. It didn’t even seem as if she were compensating for a bad line. She was just loud. Which was a pity.

There was no obvious way to tell whether she was talking to a male or a female. However, it was plain that she was discussing the suitability of some chap for a female friend. She made it quite plain that she thought he wasn’t good for her friend and she emphasised her point by using a stream of expletives and then peppering her whole issuance with them as she and her beau ambled across the car park.

All very loudly.

I cringed. I’m not averse to using somewhat fruity language as and when I feel it relevant, or I have dropped something big and heavy on my foot, but never in a loud voice in a public place.

On the plus side, she didn’t use a single expletive my daughter doesn’t know. On the plus plus side, my daughter doesn’t use a single one of the expletives – in public or at home.

A Durable Box
Thursday 28 November, 2019

I am just one person. My choice to avoid driving when it is possible to walk would be more effective if I were one person amongst many doing the same thing.

My walk to town took me to a shop. We have shops in our town centre. I like it because I can buy things there. Those shops are in my little market town which has Fairtrade status.

Unfortunately that status led me to believe that the traders were somehow more attuned to the world in general. What I saw today told me different.

If you use a desktop stapler you will need to buy staples. If you look around you will commonly see them in quantities of 5,000. If you find yourself in the particular shop I was in today you would be able to buy a box of staples. A box containing 5,000 staples. If you had long enough you could count them without opening the box because it was see-through.

See-through? But wouldn’t that mean that it would have to be made from plastic, or glass?

Well, it wasn’t glass. I’m still reeling over having seen a box of staples made from clear plastic. With all that is taking place in this country and around the world, I would have expected to have seen paper replacing plastic, not the other way around.

I live in a Fairtrade town but it seems that it doesn’t mean local traders are being fair to the world.

Schadenfreude Mishap
Tuesday 26 November, 2019

Schadenfreude is the act of being amused at the misfortune of others. While it might feel good, I suspect that it might come with payback.

I had been following a lorry through rush hour traffic. The driver was clearly lost, drunk or stupid. When the road was clogged he drove like a maniac, when it was open, he slowed down and barely reached 15mph in 30mph zones. He slowly approached traffic lights that released traffic out of town. As he neared them they went from green through amber and changed to red before his cab crossed the line.

As a 'good boy' I stopped on the red that he had ignored. I then watched him clip a traffic island about 50 yards further on as he drove out of town. A smile broke out on my face as I imagined him trying to explain to his employer how the marks on his vehicle came to be.

When the light eventually went green I followed in his direction, although he was long gone. What I didn't realise was that his clipping the island had tore out a kerbstone. Guess who followed and saw it near the middle of the lane but didn't quite manage to miss it?

There was a HUGE thump. Within seconds I was driving a car making a bad noise. I pulled off the road onto the grassy verge and got out to have a quick look. It was dark and rush hour, so I was not well placed to examine it. As the tyre was inflated I got back in and drove another 100 yards to a side road to have a proper look without fear of being run down.

Parked and now secure I once again got out and checked the damage. Both wheel trims on the offside were junk; the front especially so. In addition, the front tyre had now half deflated, within a mere two minutes and 100 yards. Out came my torch. What I now saw was a wrecked wheel. I had nearly missed the kerbstone and had bent the wheel rim in by about two inches. I was amazed the tyre hadn’t instantly lost all air. In addition the tyre seems unharmed. Looking at the rear wheel, although the trim is toast, the rim seems untouched. Oh how I had clearly ALMOST missed the kerbstone.

Instead of checking for debris left by a moron driving a lorry, I had relaxed and indulged in that schadenfreude and managed to wreck a wheel, possibly a tyre, totalled a pair of wheel trims, and wasted time changing a wheel in the dark and drizzle.

Lesson learnt.

Anti-Proof
Sunday 24 November, 2019

With it being a Sunday, there was no trip to be made to my local post office. However, fresh air is always to be welcomed, and so it was that I was out taking it in a manner so as to provide fortitude and bolster my constitution.

That’s just a way of saying that I was walking somewhere.

It is often claimed that certain driver-types can be identified by the vehicles they choose to drive. As a pedestrian walking alongside some pretty busy roads, I tend to get both the time and the opportunity to study road users and analyse them with regards to their alleged propensity towards adherence to any particular trait expected of them due to their chosen vehicular transport.

That’s just a way to say that I watch the passing traffic.

My walk took me towards a busy mini-roundabout. A BMW passed me heading towards the roundabout, its right indicator flashing and disproving the claim that BMW drivers never indicate. I watched as it slowed to negotiate the white painted hump serving the busy confluence of roads. Still indicating right, it took the left exit off the roundabout.

At least the BMW driver indicated.

Messing About
Friday 22 November, 2019

At the beginning of the week I planned to walk into town to attend to something. I checked the weather in order to be sure that I wouldn’t need to use the car. A negligible chance of rain. A walk it was going to be.

On Wednesday I checked again. It was about the same over the period of the task and the walk into town and back home. There was maybe a slightly increased chance of rain, but it wasn’t anything to be bothered by. So walking into town on Friday afternoon was going ahead.

Yesterday – the day before my intended trek into town – I again checked and once again it was much the same story as previously. If anything, there was a miniscule reduction in the likelihood of my being rained upon.

I woke on Friday morning. There were things to prepare for the afternoon. I looked outside and watched the heavy rain. I hadn’t checked how the morning was going to be because I wasn’t intending to be out until later in the day, so it was neither expected nor unexpected. However, I figured that if I checked the forecast right now I would at least be able to gauge how accurate it was by relating what I was seeing to what it was presently claiming.

What I was being told wasn’t good news. The forecast of the last week had changed quite dramatically and I was very probably either going to get wet or need to take the car. As I have to take some paperwork with me, the car is looking as if it is going to be pressed into service. With it being a Friday afternoon, it has to be the worst time to use a car in my town, but unless I wrap myself and the precious papers in plastic, the car it will have to be. However, I thought I would keep an eye on things because if they felt the need to change the forecast so drastically and abruptly, then maybe it might turn out better in the afternoon after all?

Come midday and I made the final check before having to commit to a method of making my way into town. My hope is that things will improve. Instead I see that while all week I have expected to be able to walk, now it is almost a certainty that I will be rained on, and quite heavily.

I used to have a better idea of what to expect in the ‘old days’ when the weather forecasts carried those maps with isobars and wind directions instead of the stupid dumbing down symbols. Nowadays the ‘experts’ no longer allow the people affected by the weather any chance of trying to determine for themselves what the outcome may be. I suppose that is a little like Global Warming. Like the heavy rain falling at I write this, I can see it is happening, but the reason is because – who says why?

High Jinks
Wednesday 20 November, 2019

Driving home the other evening I was subjected to one of those clowns who thinks a safe distance between them and the vehicle in front is less than a car length.

In town they were ‘up my chuff’ as the colloquial term goes. I can see how the slower speeds maintained in a built up area can fool someone into closing up on the vehicle in front, but when I entered a 60MPH zone, the distance behind me was maintained.

Many years ago I was driving along a dual carriageway during daylight and the car behind had two people in the front chatting away to each other. In fact, neither spent much time looking ahead, instead preferring to face the person to whom they were speaking. Not a good thing for whoever is supposed to be in control of the car, but that’s what I was seeing in my rear-view mirror.

I really don’t hold with this brake checking thing. If I apply my brakes it is because I wish to slow down or stop. It isn’t because I feel the need to make a statement. However, something had to be done, so I slowed gently in order to encourage them to overtake. They could then be on their way and not cause me to fear they were going to be so inattentive as to eventually end up parking in my car’s boot.

Having slowed enough, I dropped a gear. After slowing a little more, I changed down once more. In my mirror the two people in the car behind me were still oblivious to me in front of them and the now much reduced speed. It was only when I was crawling along in first gear that the driver frowned at me and appeared to say something to their passenger beside them. From the look on their face, and the gestures they made toward me, they seemed annoyed, but at least they overtook and I was able to relax and get on with driving rather than worrying about whether the fool was going to pile into me.

Clearly, going slow isn’t a successful way to rid oneself of a moron following too closely.

However, afterwards I discovered that if a little jink with the steering is made – especially in bad weather – then the vehicle behind generally drops back. I supposed that they possibly think the road surface is slippery and they wish to avoid whatever I have been affected by, but I don’t really know.

Back to the other night. As it was late, I slowed to about 25MPH and meandered gently so as to give the impression that I was either distracted by something in my car, or drunk. Sure enough, the car behind me dropped back. The driver possibly went home and told their spouse, dog or Facebook Friends that they were following a drunk home that night, but it matters not to me. They dropped back and their number plate was once again visible to me.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it was possible to drive without having to play games in order to ensure not having to suffer those who really haven’t a clue on how to conduct themselves on the road?

Simply the Best
Monday 18 November, 2019

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a General Election coming up. It is to be held on Thursday 12 December, if you were not aware of the date.

So, what happens now? Will politicians stand on street corners and proclaim how the UK will prosper under the political regime they will install and we will all be happy? Or will they read out prepared statements that will indicate to the Electorate what to expect should any particular party form the next government?

So far the signs are not good.

Instead of learning about what each party stands for, I seem to only know that all the party leaders are to be avoided. For instance, the Tory leader is a liar; that of Labour supports terrorists; the LibDems are led by someone who is adhering to their own interests above those of the nation; and the other parties are all run by maniacs who are so ideologically driven, they are blind to the realities of life.

The above can’t all be true, can it?

The Jackson Phenomenon
Saturday 16 November, 2019

Is it just me? Am I alone in noticing? Or could it be that everyone knows, except me?

I fear mentioning my observation, my question; that by doing so I worry that I might invite ridicule and derision; that my status and reputation amongst those in polite society will be adversely affected, and I will be tossed aside, languishing in the proverbial gutter.

That downfall might even result in my eventual descent to the gutter in reality.

Here I go – the query on my mind is coming, if I manage to conjure up enough bravery; and I can summon the courage to speak the words in my mind.

Has anyone...? No, I can’t. But I must! If I don’t I will be forever left wondering whether I was on to something.

Has anyone ever noticed, ...? Gah!

Deep breaths.

Has anyone ever noticed . . . how you never see God or the Devil in the same room together? It almost seems as if they are the same person wearing different clothes.

Now I suppose I will be damned. Damned to, to somewhere. Such is my embarrassment, anywhere would do...

Road Works
Wednesday 13 November, 2019

Oh the irony!

The road on which my favourite sub post office is sited has been the subject of a ‘rolling road works’ for some time now. They started at the end farthest from town, digging a trench in roughly 150 metre lengths. At each end they used traffic lights to control the passage of traffic past their working area. Once they lay whatever they are laying, and refilled and resurfaced the infill, they move the whole section of barriers and traffic lights along the road towards town.

They have done quite well, it must be said, but the fact remains that road users are still held up and at busy periods it leads to a great deal of disruption. That said, the road surface left after they have moved on to the next stretch is well finished. So they are certainly not shoddy workers.

Now they are nearing the end of their project. The area along which they are working is now the narrowest part of the road, quite near the entry into town. The earth they dig out has to be carried by a dumper to the other end of the road as it heads out of town. There isn’t the room to pile it by the roadside. When it comes to infilling, the dumper has to carry some of it back.

Imagine my grin yesterday when I saw that halfway along the road, situated about midway between where they are working and their ‘base’ at the top of the road, a fresh road works has sprung up. The new band of brothers seem to have arrived to dig up the footpath next to the road so as to fix a water leak and appears to have nothing to do with the contractors down the road.

Why was I grinning? Well, on its journey from the established project along the road to their holding point for soil and equipment, the dumper was forced to stop and wait in a long queue of vehicles caught by the traffic lights erected by the more recent road working team. The driver suffered the pain of having to wait then fail to get to the lights before they returned to red, requiring it to then wait again.

But my grin was bigger after I had posted my parcels. On my walk back home I saw the dumper heading back towards the main road works. It was again required to stop in a long line of traffic, and again missed the green light!

I’m obviously a bad person because I found the whole thing quite amusing.

Discs
Monday 11 November, 2019

Over a period of many years I have amassed a collection of titles and utilities for PCs. Some are old, very old.

I occasionally run old operating systems upon ancient/virtual hardware because I sometimes offer data recovery – sometimes just a simple transfer from redundant media – such as copying data from 5.25” floppy diskettes.

Unfortunately said packages reside on a variety of hard drives dotted about the place. For over ten years I have neglected to keep them in order. I have promised that ‘one day’ I will burn the lot to optical discs.

I recently had a need to use some ‘interesting’ tools that Microsoft doesn’t like. I tried to take one off a networked hard drive and my Microsoft Windows 10 laptop promptly told me that I had tried to access malicious or unwanted software. It denied me access, and then promptly deleted the required software.

Fortunately, along with my chaotic manner of applications storage, I have multiple copies lying about on various drives – only some are connected to my network. So I knew where another copy was lurking, but I now knew that I had to take care. Without hacking, a modern Windows defence system cannot easily be turned off.

I can create rules and suchlike, but it is a case of losing stuff I don’t expect to find on any given volume. So after my little ‘dispute’ with Windows, I set about burning all my software onto DVDs. Most of it was done via a burner attached to a Windows 10 machine, but the really interesting stuff had to be done via an old XP machine which I was able to run as a standalone without any antivirus protection so as to ensure the images were as I intended and not as Microsoft wished.

Two brands of disc were to hand: TDK and Verbatim. Instead of it being that ‘one day’ it became a couple of weeks. Now it is easier to find what I want without having to work to a hazy deadline set by the eventual discovery of the required software. Additionally, Microsoft (nor anyone else) can impose their idea upon me of what is safe and what isn’t, along with deletion of said ‘dangerous’ software.

All was going well but the TDK discs were failing at a rate of one in every three burn attempts. Meanwhile the Verbatim discs all behaved themselves, except one, which failed because the burning machine failed.

This morning I had a need to re-burn a disc because I had missed off an application However, I couldn’t read the disc! It was a TDK disc and I ended up having to recover the data! The disc had verified after being burned, so I had thought it was okay. I checked all the TDK discs and every one of them was difficult to read or required data recovery. All except one disc which was a total loss. Luckily I had backed up all the images up as ISO files on a remote drive, so I was able to access that instead. When I checked my burn logs I discovered that the failed DVD was burned only two days ago!

I am now in the process of re-burning the TDK discs to Verbatim discs because they have proven to be much more reliable and trustworthy than the TDK efforts. All that time wasted, but at least I have learnt never to buy TDK discs in the future.

Footnote:
Apparently TDK stopped making blank DVDs back in 2006. So I’ve either had mine a long time or I bought old stock. Whichever matters not as I’ll never be buying them again. Had I checked before starting then I would have discovered that Verbatim have a seriously good name for archival grade discs.

Ear Buds
Saturday 9 November, 2019

Once again I was on my trek towards the local post office. As I walked along the quiet estate road toward the main drag into town, I heard the thumping of loud music being played with the bass turned up high.

Ahead of me was a car approaching. As it neared the volume grew louder. I wondered how anyone could drive a car with such loud music deafening them.

The car and I arrived at the same junction together and I was treated to a clear view of the driver as he turned into the road I was about to cross. Not only that, but due to his driver’s window being fully down I was subjected to the full volume and force of his chosen melody. My glasses were but a few decibels from vibrating in sympathy with the deep bass sounds attempting to shake his car apart.

I really do marvel at how anyone can claim to be fully in control of a vehicle while being subjected to such sonic abuse and distraction, but as he floored it and sped away up the otherwise quiet road, I saw something that went some way towards explaining how some people might be capable.

He wore ear buds that probably served to deaden the noise and were likely plugged into an iPod, or similar, and playing whale song.

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Time Pit
Saturday 5 October, 2019

In the early summer of 2006 I bought a 1977 Honda CB550. It featured a horrendous paint job and it had odd wheels, but the seller was the bike’s original owner. It was a runner and roadworthy, and I figured there was enough there to make a very interesting project.

Over the next year it proved to be a nightmare. The front wheel was 18” instead of the correct 19” (which explained the twitchiness over white lines at an indicated 60MPH and that 60MPH coming up when friends riding with me were only seeing about 50MPH. It turned out to be an aftermarket alloy wheel for a CB400/4 – which was a bit of a pain, but not as much as when I realised that the brake disc on the 400 uses four bolts and that of the CB550 uses six. Taking the wheel out and removing the cosmetic chrome cover revealed a honeycomb of holes bored through the alloy hub and I decided to bin the wheel straightway.

However, I sourced new parts. One item was a brand new shiny front mudguard (or front fender, according to the official parts catalogue). As things turned out, I offloaded the motorcycle in 2010 and was left with a few things I had bought that never made it onto the machine.

A root about my garage uncovered the mudguard. I unwrapped it from the plastic and it was as bright and shiny as the day it was bought. Having looked at the price they fetch these days, I decided it was going on eBay.

I took some decent photographs of it in good light and gave it a visual once-over to be sure. It was then that I noticed that a bolt holding the rear stay in place had no nut or split washer! I took it out of the plastic wrapping and searched for it within without any success.

After thirty minutes digging about in the shed, I found a nut and split washer of the correct size, although fitting it meant a clearly odd nut compared to the other three. As it was on the underside, it would never be seen, but knowing it was there was causing me pain.

It was now time to wrap it back in the protective cover and list the item. As I did so, there was a metallic clattering. There, at the bottom, was the original nut and split washer. Obviously they had been caught in a fold in the plastic when I looked before.

A wasted thirty minutes and a heart damaged when I thought the original thick-chromed nut was missing. The euphoria of its rediscovery didn’t make up for it, but the elation is longer lasting. . .

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Power
Monday 1 July, 2019

I accessed an old email address this morning. It has received a series of emails. All quote a password to an account and the threat to 'expose' me.

Said exposure was to let the world know that I look at and search for porn. Not only that but they had gained control of my computer and had used my webcam to film me during an indecent act.

At first I was puzzled. Yes, the password looked familiar, but I couldn't place it. Them after spending a bit of time searching, I found it.

Up until 2010 I worked for a large corporation in Internet security. My job was to identify Internet activity of employees that was in direct contravention of company policies. To that end I accessed many shady sites from behind a very serious firewalled proxy server. I also generated a multitude of accounts to allow me to log into various 'dubious' websites in my chasing down of the activities of those I had identified.

Said password is for one of those accounts!

So I had a dig around. There was no webcam on the PC I used at work, and I never used the account outside that office, so the claim that video footage (of any sort) had been collected from my PC was complete tosh!

As that password was only ever used for that old account to access a particular website – and has not been used since 2010 – it is clearly a scammer using data purchased from a data breach.

So, a basic data breach and a scammer issuing threats and attempting blackmail on the back of it. I suppose they are banking on the fact that if they issue a whole wedge of such emails with real passwords, someone will have engaged in one/some/all of the activities they claim. Then they will have found a victim who will be eager to pay them in Bitcoins as they demand.

I’m quite well organised with things of an IT-related nature and I am easily able to pin down exact dates (and even times) of password usage, or accounts generation/termination, and so it is easy for me to identify the scammer for what they are.

Unfortunately, while I am able to track back to when said password was last used, it is most certainly not the norm for most Internet/computer users. The extortion emails all carried the same threat/offer: Pay me in Bitcoins (with details of how to do it) or I go public with the info I gathered – a mixture of some very specific details married to vague allusions – the sort of thing a fortune-teller at a fair might come out with.

Most worryingly – for the unwary – they were well written, in good English, and with a highly cogent plausibility about them. However, the power of knowing everything they claimed was bunkum was so nice!

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It Was a Tents Time
Thursday 13 June, 2019

The other day I was required to walk into town to send a parcel via the Post Office. I checked the weather forecast and rain was expected all day. In fact, there didn’t seem to be a ‘good’ time to go as it was going to be wet no matter what time I chose.

Out came my rain cape. On it went, along with a baseball cap within the hood so as to keep the worst off my spectacles.

The good thing about my rain cape is that I can go out wearing a t-shirt; stay dry; but remain cool (although outside was wet and raining – it wasn’t cold). I set off and was happy knowing I was going arrive at the Post Office, both dry and not sweaty. I had my small parcel weighed; paid the postage fee; and left to set off home.

Not a drop of rain fell during my walk home. There I was – swathed by water repellent material that made me look like a tent flapping about in a stiff breeze – and yet there was no water to repel.

Still, it caused raised eyebrows and smiles among those I passed as I trudged home.

Sewing Guide
Sunday 2 June, 2019

Oh, the power of Facebook!

Having spotted a Post about sewing advice, I realised that a piece recently written for a magazine would surely be well received by those who seek such enlightenment.

That someone commented upon the Post with the observation that it must have been written by a man was the final impetus.


Phil O'Hara

- o - O - o -

From time-to-time, one of my socks will develop a hole. Naturally, these days it is far easier to take the view that it has died and needs to be replaced by a new sock. However, the environmentally aware person I have become will set about darning them so that they last much longer than expected. This avoids them ending up as part of landfill too soon.

Of course, I have had to develop a whole new range of skills. The hardest one, at my age, seems to be ‘threading the needle.’ The little opening at one end of the sewing stick seems far too small, in my opinion, but I always persevere and win most times.

Then there is the actual darning. The idea is to push the needle thing into the material, and through it, and back out again, many times until the unwanted hole is smaller, or gone.

It might be worth pointing out, at this juncture, that wherever a repair is made, there is a loss of elasticity. Consequently, if a hole appears in a location subject to a large amount of flexing and stretching, then repairs may only last a short time, or even not be possible. So if looking for an excuse to not darn your socks, that little gem might assuage any feelings of guilt that may briefly wash over you.

However, if you decide to push on and mend the faulty sock, then you will need to apply a mix of commonsense and ability in order to successfully return your socks to their drawer as useful pieces of footwear apparel.

You can study the problem a while, or stab blindly at the material in the hope that it all works out, but neither approach tends to be overly helpful. So I thought that I would offer some words of advice that have come to me through experience, as a man, of how to proceed and succeed.

All you need do is concentrate and look for signs of blood.

That’s it.

Assuming you have won the Battle of Threading, you need to stick the needle into the sock in the region of the tear or hole. If there is blood and pain, then withdraw the needle and move your finger aside under the material. If there is blood but no pain, then again withdraw the needle and ask anyone sitting near you to move further away.

If you discover that no matter how much care you apply, there is always blood and pain, then it may be that the hole is simply too big to repair.

It is pretty simple once you master those basics.

With a little practise you will find that it eventually takes less time to darn a sock than it does to get the car out of the garage, drive to the next town, wander aimlessly through the shops, and then return with a new pack of socks.

Never let it be said that men don’t share domestic chores advice!

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Good and Bad
Thursday 30 May, 2019

Originally written for a radio show and adhering to a loose ‘On This Day’ format, I decided I liked it enough to post up on my Blog as well.

The glorious sunshine as I sit by the canal writing this has nothing to do with my decision. Nor the ducks wandering past.

I’m just glad its not raining. . .


Phil O'Hara

- o - O - o -

We tend to think of terrorist bombings as being a thing of today. However, many will readily recall the terrorist bombings linked to the Irish Question – in Ireland, Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.

But even then, it goes back further.

On 2 June 1919, eight bombs went off simultaneously in eight cities across the United States. They were part of an anarchist movement driven by Luigi Galleani who heralded from Italy and arrived in the US in 1901.

A couple of months previously, around 36 letter bombs had been addressed to prominent members of the business and political communities as part of the attack upon democracy by removing those who operated it – or as Galleani saw it: the removal of oppressors and tyrants.

Galleani was deported from the US later in the same month as the city bombings – along with eight of his followers. No evidence linked him, or those specific eight followers, directly to either the letter or city bombings, but Galleani was identified as a resident alien who advocated the violent overthrow of the authorities.

Compare that to the months and years of legal wrangling that surround terrorist activities these days.

The world has moved on and become a more civilised place.

And better?

And to lighten the mood. . .
Also on 2 June, but this time in 1924, again in the US, President Calvin Coolidge signed into force The Indian Citizenship Act. As crazy as it might sound, native Americans (termed ‘Indians’ in the Act), were excluded from citizenship despite the 14th Amendment to the US constitution in 1868 stating that all persons, born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, were to be declared citizens.

It was interpreted as excluding ‘Indians’ and things stayed that way until the introduction of that 1924 Act.

Remember what I said about the world moving on and becoming a better place?

Perhaps it has.

Summer Blues?
Thursday 16 May, 2019

The weather is nice. That’s good, isn’t it?

Darwin, my beagle, loves it. He likes to sit out in the garden and sunbathe. He is a slave to the garden.

Unfortunately, we are not yet enjoying the real summer. That means that late in the afternoon, even if the sun is still shining, a nip in the air can be felt. Given that Darwin is a dog who ignores rain, hail, wind and anything else he cannot eat, he doesn’t find it a problem.

However, I do.

So the back door ends up having to be closed once the air temperature dips. When he spots that he has been ‘shut out’ from the house, he wants to be back inside in case food might be offered and he would miss it. Once back inside he has a sniff about before sitting on the mat by the back door so as to indicate that he ‘needs’ to go back out into the garden.

Out he goes and he settles in his chosen spot. I close the door. He gets up and walks back and waits for me to open it once again.

Repeat until fed up.

However summer-like the weather is at the moment – it isn’t summer!

PINs
Saturday 4 May, 2019

This Posting to my Blog is unusual in that it is made ahead of publication.

Local newspaper under the name, Jago Phillips, who is a UFO-nut, conspiracy theorist, and general all-round advocate for Them and Us.


Jago Phillips

- o - O - o -

I don’t use plastic these days, preferring to use cash whenever possible. Even then I have reservations because THEY can lift finger prints and DNA from banknotes and coinage, meaning. THEY have no need to worry if I am wearing my tinfoil-lined baseball cap to avoid being tracked.

Having your money passing through a system that logs each and every transaction, merely results in THEM having a very clear picture of where you have been; what you have bought; and allows them to form a picture of what you may be doing, or planning. For instance, if you buy cream for haemorrhoids, THEY come to the conclusion that you are suffering from haemorrhoids, whereas the truth may be that you are using it to remove wrinkles from under your eyes.

That’s the problem with a society that has so many invasive and inter-connected data systems: lots of information, but someone still has to decide what it all means.

It isn’t just the movement of money that can be tracked by card usage. Given that a computer chip might be just over an inch square and contain over three BILLION transistors, it ought to be obvious that the little chip on that plastic card contains all sorts of fancy gadgetry that allows THEM to keep an eye on your every movement and thought.

Don’t believe me? Check and see for yourself the next time you use your card. Place it in the card reader, or if you are feeling particularly reckless, wave it about in the air nearby. Then enter your PIN; the PIN that you are told to keep secret; the PIN you must shield from prying eyes in case they belong to someone who intends to steal your money, your identity, and your life.

Almost immediately, the card reader will indicate that the PIN entered is correct (or wrong, if you were concentrating too hard). How does it do that? Easy, the PIN is stored on your card and the card reader does what the name suggests: it reads the data on your card.

Yes, there is data on your card. There is data stored on that little plastic thing that you go out of your way to keep safe; the card you treat with care; the card you love, while it collects data on you so it can dish the dirt on you later.

Bank cards might be great for scraping frost off car windscreens, but they are seriously bad at keeping mum.

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When is a Lie not a Lie?
Monday 22 April, 2019

The simple answer appears to be, ‘When it is an omission.’

That said, if I drive 220 miles to view a property, I wouldn’t take kindly to discovering something that would have saved me wasting my time enjoying the sights of the road works along the way.

Apparently, ‘To the rear of the property is a lovely enclosed garden which is not overlooked,’ is okay – even if the reason is because the M65 runs there.

Said estate agent would have been the recipient of a huge degree of verbal from me had I not looked on Google and spotted it and discounted the property before travelling up to see it.

Wine
Friday 20 April, 2019

The sun was shining as I sat down to find something to upload to my Blog, and it reminded me of the time I cycled to Trier, Germany. In turn, it reminded me of a magazine article I wrote that mentioned it, published August 2016, 25 years after the trip that eventually took me onto Poland.

Two-and-a-half years later, and that Weingut is still operating.

And I am still unable to determine where they sell their wines in the UK.

But I still own that same bicycle. . .


Phil O'Hara

- o - O - o -

Many moons ago I was made redundant. I suppose my employer going into receivership had more to do with it than any choices and feelings they might have had regarding my competency.

Although there had been rumours amongst the staff at the time, no one anticipated that they might suddenly be stuck at home having to watch daytime TV at short notice; i.e. none. However, it happened and I was at a loose end.

Economically the country, at the time, was suffering. I was unemployed and likely to stay that way for a while. As I could not find work in Blighty, I decided to get on my bike and try my luck in Europe.

I secured a quality bicycle from a friend who spent a huge sum on its purchase before he lost interest after being caught in a rain shower the first time he had a ride out on it.

My plan was to cycle to Trier, Germany – a place I had visited in my youth. From there I would head down the Mosel Valley, seeking employment on the grape harvest. I figured that cycling from the UK might give me an edge over others hoping to be employed. What I had not reckoned on was the number of migrant Polish workers that had flooded Germany that year prior to Polish European Council membership (a step towards joining the EU). I was in serious danger of becoming just as redundant in Germany as I had been in Milton Keynes.

Due to my plan consisting of not knowing where I might end up once I had earned money to pay for onward travel, I had secured a second passport in case I found myself needing to visit countries that took a dim view of entry visas from certain other countries. When I produced my Irish passport, the German running the Weingut figured I was effectively a Pole speaking a different language.

In the eyes of the Germans at that time, the Irish and Poles were viewed similarly: harder-working, and more tolerant of low pay than a Brit. It was classic stereotyping, but it got me work, so why argue?

I worked in a team consisting of five Poles and one Irishman. I also got to sample the wine from the harvest the year before. That sampling consisted of the consumption of a great many bottles stored in the basement in warehouse trolleys.

This brings me to why I am writing about the escapade: I own a bottle of the wine made from the grapes I helped to harvest that year. It is probably is not drinkable as it has remained unopened for over 25 years. However, I really want to buy a bottle or three to experience what they are producing today.

Unfortunately I cannot find anywhere within the Milton Keynes area that sells wine from that particular Weingut. I checked online and their German/English website informs me they are still trading, but try as I might, I cannot determine where they sell their wine these days.

I’ve still got that bicycle, so. . .

Pink Pig Photography and the Scammer
Monday 8 April, 2019

On Friday 5 April, I received the following email from ‘Cynthia Lee.’ All inbound emails are reproduced as received, regarding grammar and punctuation, but the italics are mine for clarity:

Dear Director,
This matter is concening the registration of your company name "pinkpigphotography", please check it earnestly.

We are an Official registrar. A few days ago, Our center received an application from Hanzhou TOP Co.,Ltd and they apply to register "pinkpigphotography" as their brand name and some top-level domain names. Please confirm if you have approved their application.Please reply me an e-mail.Thank you.

Best Regards,
Cynthia Lee

Executive Manager
Address:[REDACTED BY ME], China
Tel: [REDACTED BY ME]
Fax:[REDACTED BY ME]

A little digging revealed that this particular approach wasn’t new, and so I replied later in the evening, intending to have a little ‘fun’ with Cynthia:

Dear Cynthia,

We use the name Pink Pig Photography, and have done so for many years.

If any use of the name causes conflict or confusion, we will object and take the required legal action. Be advised that our legal costs WILL be repaid, and there will be the usual losses to your client because of operating costs incurred through having to re-brand again once we have taken you through the international courts.

...and the company you represent is correctly spelt:
Hangzhou TOP Co.,Ltd (you left out the letter 'g')

But thank you for bringing this matter to my attention, Pan Xiaohong of Shanghai.

Regards,
[REDACTED BY ME]

Pan Xiaohong of Shanghai is someone who carried out this exact scam back in 2009, and so I thought that was where I was headed with this thing. The ‘name dropping’ and pointing out the misspelling of 'Hangzhou' was intended to give them a little shake.

However, as I have found with scam-artists, they either descend into threats and abuse when it is clear you have rumbled their little venture, or they try to front the thing out and never drop the pretence.

So it came as little surprise when I received the following email the next day:

Dear Sir,
Thanks for your response.As soon as receiving the application of Hanzhou TOP Co.,Ltd, we checked and found "pinkpigphotography" is your company name. We are concerned that your company name might be affected negatively by their application, this is why we informed you, But now Hanzhou TOP Co.,Ltd wanted to apply for other domain names and Brand Name you have not registered in China yet. following Brand Name and domain names are applied for by Hanzhou TOP Co.,Ltd:
Brand Name:
pinkpigphotography
Domain Names:
pinkpigphotography.asia
pinkpigphotography.net
pinkpigphotography.co
pinkpigphotography.info
pinkpigphotography.cn
pinkpigphotography.com.cn
pinkpigphotography.hk
pinkpigphotography.com.hk
pinkpigphotography.tw
pinkpigphotography.in
At present,the domain names registration are open in the world.Hanzhou TOP Co.,Ltd also has the right to apply for the available domain names. For this reason Hanzhou TOP Co.,Ltd is also an licit applicant and we have no right to reject them. Your company only own the preferential right to register these names.
At present, we haven't passed their application, we need your opinion. If your company consider these names of importance to your company's business or interest, I suggest that your company register these names first so as to avoid confusion or speculation. And here we can send you the registration process and application form.Of course, each company has their own idea. If you don't want to protect your intellectual property rights, then my suggestion is your company give up these names so that we can finish registering for them as per our duty. Please give me your company's decision as soon as possible in order to handle this issue better.

Best Regards,

Cynthia Lee
Executive Manager
Address:[REDACTED BY ME], China
Tel:[REDACTED BY ME]
Fax:[REDACTED BY ME]
Website: [REDACTED BY ME]

I noted that this time they included their website address at the bottom. At first I took no notice and merely responded later in the day with this:

WITHOUT PREJUDICE

Hello,

Please be advised that we have sought legal advice on this matter and that you should take special note of this communication, AND supply the requested information WITHOUT UNDUE DELAY.

Having sought the counsel of ICANN and the Internet Ratification Scheme (IRS) (signed up to by the United States of America, and a number of trading bodies such as the EU, Arab League, South Asian Regional Trade Union Council, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and the UN) - we are safe in the knowledge that this communication is enough to act as an official Notice that you CANNOT assist the party seeking to register any trademark or web domain that seeks to weaken or dilute that of Pink Pig Photography.

In order that there be no misunderstanding, you are REQUIRED to now submit your preferred address for submission of a Cease and Desist Notice that forms part of an Instruction for you to comply as per the laws of ALL nations signed up to one, or multiple bodies, that are signatories to the IRS Agreement.

Please further note that failure to supply this information - or refuse to reply - will open you to legal action and sanctions that WILL be backed by any/all national governments that are signatories to the IRS Agreement.

Once you have supplied the information requested (as per the requirements of paragraph 3 of the sub-section headed 'International and Across Border trades') you are REQUIRED to inform your client of the correct position. Failure to do so will render your company liable for ALL costs pursuant to any and all legal redress required.

We suggest that you take legal advice over this matter because your original communication has now made you liable for any transgression of the law, and IRS Agreement, should the client pursue any actions that open them to criminal proceedings - WHETHER YOU ARE INVOLVED IN THE ACTION, OR NOT.

We look forward to receiving your FULL details in a timely manner (indicated as being within 48 hours - given the speed of your reply to our last email).

An injunction against you and your client WILL be instigated after 72 hours, and YOUR COMPANY will be liable to ALL costs unwittingly incurred by your client.

Regards,
[NAME REDACTED BY ME]
CEO/COO
Pink Pig Photography

If you haven’t already noticed, I made up the IRS Agreement. I settled in for a fun time and fully intended to string this clown along for a while. Then, on Sunday, this came:

we'll protect your company name

Best Regards,

Cynthia Lee
Executive Manager
Address:[REDACTED BY ME], China
Tel:[REDACTED BY ME]
Fax:[REDACTED BY ME]
Website: [REDACTED BY ME]

Yes, they used a huge font. I still didn’t bother to check the website and compare it to the email address being used by this extortionist. Therefore my reply later the same day was, perhaps, too much:

WITHOUT PREJUDICE

Hello Cynthia Lee,

A telex exchange between Hanzhou TOP Co.,Ltd and ourselves, Pink Pig Photography, indicates that you are mistaken in your understanding of their intentions.

We have provided them with your details and their lawyers will be in touch in due course because you exposed them to legal proceedings that will be quite costly (as per the ICANN and IRS Agreements).

As our legal advisors are satisfied that you have mislead and misrepresented the intentions of Hanzhou TOP Co.,Ltd., you have been reported to ICANN as well.

All communications to date have been retained and offered to ICANN so as to further their investigations into your fraudulent business practice, and they are also available to Hanzhou TOP Co.,Ltd.

No more communications from you will be responded to (other than an apology), but ALL will be passed to ICANN and Hanzhou TOP Co.,Ltd.

Kind regards,
[NAME REDACTED BY ME]
Pink Pig Photography

It was after sending it that I did a more in-depth check and discovered that I was in communication with a real Internet Registrar based in China!

During my time in IT I was aware of the practise of certain Registrars based in the UK, Europe and the US, of approaching companies and trying to sell them international variations of the domain name they already possessed.

Although it was legal, it was considered to be an extremely underhand way to conduct business. From what I had initially found, I had mistakenly thought this was merely a scammer copying the con. The reality was that Chinese Internet Registrars haven’t yet been vilified in the same manner as UK/European/US Registrars.

Had I realised right at the start then I would not have been quite so ‘heavy’ with my emails, because the next email received Monday morning ended my enjoyment:

We have caceled Hanzhou TOP Co.,Ltd application

Best Regards,

Cynthia Lee
Executive Manager

Naturally there was no application. The company they selected is based in Manchester (I checked) and the PARENT company is in China. However, they wouldn’t have bothered to check anything because all they were interested in was trying to inject a degree of levity into their claim of an interest by a third party.

The unfortunate aspect is that the fun stopped just as I was about to become ‘creative’ over the whole thing. . .

Safety iz Uz
Thursday 4 April, 2019

I was out doing that strange thing with my feet (walking) and I passed a children’s play area.

Things have changed since my day. When I was a kid, if you fell off a swing, you broke a leg, ankle or arm, and when the swing came back your way, it took a slice out of your face as well. We were a tough breed back then.

These days a rubber-like tarmac surface is laid about each piece of play equipment. I suppose the idea is that if a child launches themselves at the ground, they will bounce and suffer no harm.

Laudable.

So, back to the play area I was walking past, why was the soft surface about five centimetres above the surrounding grass, and edged with a three centimetre concrete kerb? A child hitting that with their head won’t be asking what’s for tea.

Back to Top

Well. Thanks for Asking
Friday 29 March, 2019

Well, that was a surprise. And, as it happens, he is well.

I received an email this morning from someone who has not only read some of my Blog entries, but took the time to dig as deep as Miniature Attack Dog? (Thursday 30 November, 2017 – see November, 2017 Archive).

Finn – the ‘miniature attack dog’ – is doing fine and has not suffered as a result of his experience in the garden that dark night. He may have been a little overwrought due to the ten days of fireworks going off, seemingly at random, earlier in the month.

Some 16 months on, he is more a ‘rub-my-tummy’ dog, but thanks for asking.

Honda 500/4: The Masochist's Tale
Sunday 24 March, 2019

Written in early 1991 and published that summer. The bike in question came my way during 1981/1982. The non-PC language and attitude came with my youth and the target publication.


Phil Kelly

I was riding about on a Yamaha XJ900 in 1991 and I was acutely aware of just how poor a handler the Honda had been compared to just about anything available at the time of writing.

- o - O - o -

It was black. It had four cylinders, ugly ape-hangers, a lovely sound from the Motad 4 into 1 and a year’s MoT.

Also the night was dark and disguised the fact that the paintwork did a fair imitation of my neighbour’s garden path. Crazed? Charles Manson looked tame compared to this DIY paint job!

The bike, an L-reg Honda CB500/4, had been newly acquired by a friend of mine – we’ll call him John Smith – who stated that he’d bought it for £180 with 22 thousand miles on the clock. I made an offer. No, the bike was not for resale. As a result I was rather put out when I saw a stranger sat astride the bike in town one night later that week.

I pulled up alongside the bike and rider and struck up a conversation. When he told me that he had owned the bike for two years I then launched into a good-citizen-nabs-bike-thief-red-handed attack.

‘Is that what John told you then?’ was the reply from my would-be citizens arrestee.

The facts were that the real owner – the person currently sat astride the thing – had sold the bike to John for £200. Seeing as John was a longstanding friend he accepted £100 cash and a £100 cheque. The cheque bounced and the bike was reclaimed.

I made an acceptable cash offer. Off we went to the owner’s abode so I could check details (he showed me the paperwork regarding the abortive deal with John) and the bike was mine. It was also still unchecked in daylight.

Of course, you realise by now that John Smith wasn’t my friend’s real name. I don’t have a bank balance up to paying the going rates for libel nowadays. John was a bit of a Walter Mitty. It taught me that you have to check all the details when buying a bike even from a ‘friend’. What if I’d bought the Honda from him and the original owner had tried to reclaim it?

Off came the ape-hangers and on went a pair of handlebars from a Kawasaki KH250. This gave me a bike that would run at 80mph all day with a riding position to match.

The rear shocks were Koni Dial-a-Rusts, er, Dial-a-Rides. The black painted springs had become unpainted rusty-coloured springs. They worked fine though. In fact they were probably the sole reason that the Honda gave me the impression that it was the best handling bike I had ever owned up to that time. The comparison, however, was against a number of Honda 125s, a seedy CD175 and a KH400 which was still in the garage. OK, so I was naïve!

The handling, on reflection now I have owned bikes ranging from Honda’s lowly MT5 to the blistering Kawasaki GPZ900R, was dead. The steering was heavy giving little or no feedback. The feel through the seat of one’s pants was non-existent.

To someone new to non-learner bikes all this translates to a secure feeling leading to angles of lean that have to be seen to be believed on a bike of this era. The truth of the matter is that the bike is on the limit and is about to dump the pilot on his ear without warning.

Let me illustrate the point. I was telling a couple of friends, one a Ducati Pantah rider, that I could circumnavigate a local roundabout, that served the local bypass, at a constant 60mph. The Pantah rider found this as believable as a Honda press release stating that they had beaten the CBX550 cam chain problems, or that VF750S camshafts were in future to be made of proper steel instead of balsa wood.

Needless to say I found myself leading the Pantah around the aforementioned donut to prove the point. I didn’t want to as the rear Avon was now of a square section through wear. This meant power through the bends was needed to stop the wobbles. I couldn’t back out and was pleased with the result of 65mph, according to the Honda’s clock.

Back to base Commander, mission completed.

During the debriefing Mr Pantah admitted that he couldn’t keep up as he felt his tyres were on their limit. The Pantah rider further admitted that I had impressed him with my balls-out two wheel drift technique. Er. . . drifting? Me? Swoon!

This is what taught me the difference between good handling, with feedback (know your limits and see them coming etc.), and dead handling, with zero feedback (what limits? Oops. Bye bye skin, hello gravel rash). When you’re cut off from the real world then any dickhead can go (too) fast. Ask any Volvo owner. . .

Watch the centre stand on left handers though – when it digs in it’s more effective than a JCB.

Tyres didn’t last too badly but the rears lose their tread in the centre only it seems. This leads to a wobble at 80-85mph. I clocked a lightly tuned and speedometerless RD250E at 90mph (15mph before the Honda’s top indicated speed) whilst I was flat on my tank with my backside over the pillion position to stop the wobble. Back at the pub, this led to the claim from the RD rider that he had ‘held his own against a bike twice his size.’ I wonder how many other bikes he ruined with his proven ‘tuning’ methods.

The tacho didn’t work. I had put this down to a broken cable. Instead it turned it to be part of the rocker cover broken off where it holds the cable end in place. Strange what one notices in daylight. It is a problem I’ve seen on other bikes since. It didn’t leak so it was left and the bike was ridden by ear, so to speak. This led to a problem that can be encountered by riders new to UJMs.

A few days into ownership of the Black Pig, as the Honda was affectionately dubbed, I was out riding with a chum on his Kawasaki Z650. Open road loomed ahead. Off he went. Off I went. The only trouble was that his bike had more ‘went’ than mine. The Black Pig was caned and responded by misfiring at high revs. As the bike was to be day to day transport, I left well alone as it otherwise ran fine. Mind you, every time that I wanted some fun the misfire returned to end it all, much like a woman’s headache.

The day came when I decided to fix the tacho. A bodge repair enabled the instrument to show me where the misfire occurred the next time I was out chasing the Z650. I was hanging on to 4th gear when it came back. I glanced at the tacho and decided to change up. How does 12,000rpm sound to you? Keeping the needle out of the red bit on the tacho stopped the misfire.

It brought home to me how easy it is to over rev a UJM, compared to 4-stroke singles and twins, or 2-stroke triples. Make sure the tacho works on any UJM you buy; especially if you haven’t owned one before.

Regarding maintenance – the 500/4 should be a doddle to look after. I emphasise the word ‘should’. All the right bits are in the right places. However there is a problem with the bits that hold those bits in the places that they should be.

Nuts!

And bolts for that matter. Every service item (assuming you are looking at a standard bike) is easy to get at but the nuts and bolts all seem to be made of that strange Japanese alloy known as Monkey Metal (85% aluminium, 5% zinc and 10% monkey shit).

My brake caliper started to seize on. I decided to remove it from the bike to clean it and inspect it. This, I decided, would be a good idea so I could replace the brake fluid and remove the mudguard to rustproof the underside all at the same time.

When one of the calliper mounting bolts broke off I was so surprised at the lack of effort that I checked for signs that it had been broken before and glued back in. No such signs existed. To drill out the remains of the bolt meant that the mudguard had to come off. This exercise left the remains of a further three bolts within the alloy sliders. After the second mishap the WD40 came out but to no avail. After the third breakage, applied heat seemed to be the answer. I got the feeling that this only made it easier to break the bloody things. Believe me, the remains were bitches to get out.

The whole thing went back together. New fluid was added and the system bled. Or that was the intention. Instead, the bleed nipple broke off! That was the hardest one to rectify.

My father, who seems to understand these things, informed me at the time that the differing alloys used for bolts, nuts and fittings react badly to one another in some mystical electrical way that only the Japanese understand. It seems to me that if they had built their fighters during the Second World War the same way they would have saved the Americans the bother of shooting them down. It may also have saved them from The Bomb.

The same applies to the big hex-headed caps over the tappets. They round off even if you use the right sized spanner. I even had one break leaving the threaded part intact. It was removed with a hammer and punch, although by this time I felt a chain saw would have been preferable. Not for the bike you understand but for my own satisfaction.

Being a Honda, frequent oil changes are a must I’ve been told. I can’t say I’ve even had a bike give up through oil neglect though. Mind you I’ve never neglected oil changes as I’m not into destruction testing to find out whether this advice is correct or not. Either way, the aftermarket exhaust (tell me, anyone out there got one with standard pipes?) fitted will most likely foul the oil filter. Even if it doesn’t you may still need to remove it to get good access to the tiny retaining bolt. This is essential as it is just looking for an excuse to round off.

I’ve never found oil consumption a problem unless thrashed. This was true of the second 500/4 I was later to own along with the Monkey Metal problem.

Even crude carb balancing can be done without special tools. Remove the airbox (the hard bit) then adjust all the slides so that they lift at the same time on the linkage. Use your fingers down the throats of the carbs. Don’t laugh! This method is good enough to remove most of the clutch rattles etc. usually due to out of balance carbs.

Check for leaks around the cam cover. Retaining bolts do get glued back in after breaking. The trouble is that the rockers are held in the cover and their operation tends to want to force it up and off the head thus allowing leaks to occur more readily.

Electrics can be a problem in the wet. The Black Pig was capable of being a 500/4, a 375/3, a 250 twin or even on occasions a 125 single! Spraying lots of sealant up under the tank affected a cure. Don’t forget the outer HT leads unless you like high voltage jolts whilst wearing baggy, wet over trousers.

Having compared the 500/4 to Honda’s 400/4 I can’t see why the 400 commands so much attention. The handling isn’t much better, the engine is gutless (the 500/4 engine feels like a Harley when compared to the 400), the 400 feels more strained at high cruising speeds, is thirstier, slower. . . The list is endless. That should provoke a large mailbag!

Watch for rust under the petrol tank; also the mudguards as this can mean MoT failure, especially on the back where the rear light is mounted. Invest in a good stud extraction kit. Watch for botched electrics as the loom around the headstock gives problems, as on many older bikes, but with the wires a bit short and hard to deal with, thus leading to some fine, and no so fine, bodges.

The Black Pig finally had to go when it blew its head gasket. It started as an oil weep. It led on to bad starting. It became audible when revved up. It got to the stage where only bumping it stood any chance of starting it (hard when faced with bumping nearly 500lbs of recalcitrant Monkey Metal into life). I avoided taking it apart to fix because to do the job properly would involve undoing too many monkey nuts and bolts. In the end I sold it as it was.

Did I mention the cylinder head bolt held in with Red Hematite?

Across Berlin
Thursday 21 March, 2019

I wrote a number of versions of this piece. It was originally much longer, and when I wished to target a travel magazine I found it needed to be shorter – much shorter.

So, from Across Berlin1288 (published in 2011) came Across Berlin440 which was published later that same year.

The version that appears up here was published in 2014, at exactly 500 words.

Then in 2016 a fresh opportunity came up when I was asked to write an amusing tale for another travel magazine, and Across Berlin831 was born.

All were published under the title Across Berlin.


Phil J Wilkinson

- o - O - o -

Not long after the Berlin Wall came down I decided on a cycle ride to Turkey from Milton Keynes. The reasoning possibly involved beer.

The planning undertaken was minimal, although I did take maps. However, I was sure my nose was good enough to give me the direction I needed.

Finding myself in Berlin, on the way, I decided to take a train to Poland for a break.

A super-flexible, cavalier approach to planning and my poor language skills led to me being in Berlin at Schöneberg instead of Schöneweide, with only an hour to make the journey across Berlin before my train departed.

The difference in the two place names didn’t register while grabbing a bite to eat instead of making my way to the train station in good time. To me, a ‘Schöne’ was a ‘Schöne.’

I arrived at the small Schöneberg S-Bahn station and was unable to find the main terminal from where to catch my train to Poland. I asked a few Germans who all thought I was mad. Who in their right mind would think that trains left Schöneberg to go anywhere outside Berlin?

A German, understanding I was in trouble pointed out my error. He realised I was in danger of not making Schöneweide in time. He tried to give me directions; suggesting an appropriate route to take. Unfortunately there was a lack of communication between us due to the fact that I didn’t understand his German.

I hadn’t managed to secure his name, yet my new German friend was going to lead me across Berlin from Schöneberg to Schöneweide!

I had no money on me other than Sterling which had been recovered along with my travel documents after I had left my belongings on a park bench after my arrival in Berlin the day before. My faith in help for travellers was high.

Having previously walked and cycled everywhere, I didn’t understand the train ticket systems. I need not have worried as my German friend did all the purchasing – with his own money – taking four different trains on our rush across Berlin. This was akin to guiding a stranger from Bletchley to Newport Pagnell and then on to Wolverton, while paying for all the buses used on the way.

On the final train leg to Schöneweide I tried to make my benefactor take Sterling for the tickets he had paid for. I assumed the looks received from other passengers were down to the nature of the German being spoken by the two of us.

Eventually the reason I was unable to understand his spoken German finally dawned on me: he was drunk! Schöneweide was only a couple of stops away and my guide got off.

I see from the Berlin S-Bahn/U-Bahn map in front of me as I write this, the journey is simply two overland S-Bahn trains, with a single change at Friedrichstrasse.

Although the event failed to turn my hair grey, the intervening years have come managed quite well...

Bricks
Saturday 16 March, 2019

This was written for a writing competition, Christmas 2012. All we were given was the title, Bricks, and a 1,000 length word limit. My entry was 363 words.

It didn’t fare well. I tried too hard. No one got it.

However, just after the competition I added the final line that appears in the version that follows. Had I done so before submission, then it probably would have made more sense.

I have plans for it.


Phil J Wilkinson

- o - O - o -

Yesterday some friends and I were involved in a train crash. To be more exact, we took part in the rescue of a sheep from the wreck.

Oh, don’t misunderstand me, it wasn’t just a sheep; there were others on that train. No, the sheep in question was the nearest placed to me, and the cow, dog, horse, chicken and dolphin were nearer to my colleagues.

I’m not sure why the dolphin was on the train.

Upon our arrival the train looked like a wreck that had never been a train in the first place. We helped the giant squirrels round up the occupants released from the chaos and we transported them all back to the farm.

I’m not sure why the dolphin lived on a farm.

Once we arrived the animals disembarked. The sheep went to the sheep pen, the cow went off to read a book, the dog had some dinner and the chicken rode the horse to go off and look for some help to fix the train. The dolphin flew across to the farmhouse to let the farmer know they were back and safe.

I’m not sure how the dolphin could fly.

The sheep got lonely because no one came to the sheep pen to speak to her. In order to attract some attention, the sheep started barking and performing loop-the-loops above the farm.

The cow ignored the sheep and carried on reading. The dog looked up then returned its attention to its dinner. The giant squirrels went over to the stables for a rest now it was empty and the horse and chicken were gone. The dolphin discussed with the farmer what to feed the giant squirrels.

I’m not sure why the dolphin was so concerned about the giant squirrels.

My friends and I sat assembled in the farmyard. What with all the activity of the farm animals and the dolphin, we became redundant.

Suddenly a spaceship landed and the chicken returned on the horse. They all got on board the spaceship and flew off together with the dolphin at the controls.

I didn’t know dolphins could pilot spaceships.

But that was yesterday.

Today we are a boat; such is the life of a building brick!

The Nightmare Bike Buy
Thursday 7 March, 2019

Written 1989, and published 1990. The magazine didn’t use my title; instead going with Nightmare Buy. Worse, they didn’t use the name I wanted it to appear under (read it and you’ll see why I wanted to use a nom de plume).


Philip O'Hara

By the time I bought the bike written about in this article, I had developed a passion for large engined motorcycles. In particular, I had an almost irrational love of air-cooled, across-the-frame, four cylinder, one litre Kawasaki machines.

Apparently, in this instance, the process of buying a motorcycle involved the use of blinkers. This posting is exactly as this piece was published.

The scary thing about this particular article is that ALL the material facts are true and unembellished. Yes, it was as bad and as frightening as described. Actually, it was worse as my life savings of the time were at stake. . .

I have never seen any vehicle quite as dodgy as this one since. It would be difficult recreate an evil monster like this again and I pray it was a one-off. . .

- o - O - o -

It was a cold and wet miserable Saturday afternoon. It had been raining that morning when he withdrew £1,000 cash from his building society account. He had waited the four days they had insisted on and had grown impatient. Armed with this and a further £200, plus a determination not to return home empty handed, he set out to search the relatively local dealers for a bike more able to send him into an ecstatic state from the raw power than his 200cc hack.

I had the job of piloting the hack back if we were lucky enough to come across a suitable mount. Luton was attained and the search began. The first two dealers visited contained either over-priced rubbish or over-priced exotica. The third contained much the same but in the far corner lurked what looked like a Z1000ST liveried as a green Lawson Replica. The dealer said they had just taken it in part ex and the price would be £1,350 after it had been through their workshop.

It had a 510 Roadrunner rear tyre, H-rated on a 130mph bike, but he seemed blind to the implications of this. It was a sign of things to come. The dealer wouldn’t come down below£1,300 so we left to look elsewhere – most of the dealers we tried must have just given up work as estate agents so inaccurate were the descriptions in their MCN ads.

After several hours of fruitless searching, when we were both absolutely drenched, and after a well knackered VF750 was tried (the last straw), it was back to Luton.

After much hustling the dealer finally agreed to let the bike go for £1,200 provided that he took it as it was, without either a guarantee or MOT. At the nearest petrol station, he blipped the engine and the throttle cable snapped. Recourse to the toolbox fixed it up so there was a quarter turn available, enough for a heady 50mph. The trip home was otherwise without trauma, the nightmare then began.

The weather improved, so the next day the new owner started to clean it up. He found that the front discs were plain when they should have been drilled and that the front wheel didn’t really fit in the front forks properly. It had felt okay only because it had been bolted together with huge force. Would the MoT tester notice when bolted back together?

Then, it was decided to remove the rear shocks to clean up the springs. On one side the shock was held on by a single nut; the other stripped and whacked on with a large hammer. But that was nothing, the other shock had two stripped threads and gasket sealant had been used to hold the nuts in place. Upon polishing the engine cases it was discovered that the CDI pick-up cover had a hole the size of a 2p piece and the alternator cover had a securing screw missing; a fact that was to cause major horrors later on.

The following weekend the bike was sent for MoT. On the way to the testing station the owner noticed that the front wheel was buckled! A quick U-turn followed – the centrestand removed and the bike once again ridden to its MoT. The tester noted that the pilot light was missing as the unit had been replaced by a car headlamp, and the front brake light switch wasn’t there and that it needed a centrestand fitted so he could test the wheels. . .

The brake switch proved a bitch to fix as the casing was broken – a bodge eventually sufficed. The shock nuts were super-glued in place. A different MoT station was tried and it passed, although the tester did mention the missing pilot light, along the lines that one was fitted when he tested it...

It soon became apparent the bike was losing or burning a lot of oil. One night the bike was left on its sidestand in the garage instead of the mainstand. A puddle of oil was the result. Investigation revealed that oil was coming out of the alternator cover where the bolt was missing.

On inserting a suitable screw it was found that the thread appeared to be stripped. It was worse: the lug on the main engine casing was missing. Worse still, on closer examination an area was found to be filled with car body filler and painted over. Two more lugs holding the crankcases together were missing as a result. As the engine featured a roller-bearing crank, running oil pressure was low, so little leaked when running, but when the oil level rose above the ‘repair,’ then it just oozed out.

A decision was made to cover up and sell, claiming ignorance. He had to, he had bought a dog and the barking was keeping him awake at night. The filler was painted over and a little dust added to subdue its freshness. The oil wiped off easily, all he had to do was not to use the sidestand any more. An ad was placed in the press at £1,300 – not too cheap, so as to avoid suspicion. The owner was really willing to go down to £1,000 just to get shot of it.

One phone call resulted. The punter turned up, seemed not to have ridden anything bigger than 100cc and was given a quick thrash around on the pillion. He wanted it – it did look damn good on first glance. He had been very lucky to get rid of it so easily, all the faults bar the shock absorber mounts should have been spotted by the wary, and indeed, he would have normally seen them easily; but, as they say, love is blind and in that respect bikes aren’t that much different to women.

The dealer, it must be said, may not have known the bike’s true condition. It’s possible that in the rush to off-load yet another highly priced megabike, the Zed wasn’t examined properly when taken in as part-exchange. After all, it looked mint at first and ran like a dream. The dealer had been saved a lot of trouble, though whether he knew or not was not certain.

Just remember, don’t go by appearances, check everything you can and take along a friend who doesn’t like the type of bike you are seeking to buy, so as to inject a little objectivity into the process. You have been warned.

Police Need to Look at the Job
they are Doing
Saturday 3 March, 2019

Written February 2017, and published that same month in my local newspaper.

My contribution, under that name, has the same formula: take a notable story from the previous week’s edition and run with it as a sort of Commentary Piece.


Phil Wilkinson

The title is never mine when my material is used in my local newspaper. My title was merely the date of the edition it was written for, and not as clever as the one devised by the editor.

- o - O - o -

It is interesting how many people claim the cutbacks and austerity measures have no direct affect upon them.

Our local police refuse to examine CCTV footage to catch a criminal who threatens the people and property of Leighton Buzzard on the grounds that they cannot justify the cost. Inadequate funding seems to be an acceptable reason for the police not to do the job everyone thought they were supposed to be doing.

According to the police, it was a ‘low level’ crime, thereby ‘proving’ that they are right to shirk their responsibility to the public. Sadly, that ‘low level’ offender might be the person who slashes your tyres next week.

Or kicks your dog.

Austerity: the practise of cutting funding in an effort to satisfy accountants without regarding those who are directly affected.

Some still claim that it doesn’t affect them because they do not visit the town centre, or whatever. It might be worth them remembering that when caught one mph over the speed limit by a camera and prosecuted because issuing tickets goes towards making up the funding shortfall. As budgets tighten; trigger points are reduced if they increase income.

Of course, in this case, there is a simple solution: have the victim look through the CCTV footage to pin down the incident and present the police with a five minute window. Unfortunately, the owner of the CCTV images would then be breaking the Data Protection Act by allowing a third party without legal authority, access to the recorded images. But laws that are in conflict are just our government’s way to lighten our days.

As time goes on, there will be those who will suggest that doing the job for the police is the way forward. In fact, some might make the case that we dispense with police forces all together, saving their cost to the Taxpayer.

Cue vigilante groups parading up and down our high street. I just hope they don’t accidentally break any shop front windows as they wave their pitchforks about.

Back to Top

...as a Post?
Thursday 28 February, 2019

Obviously not.

Faced with an irate client, the Brown & Merry head office, Rightmove, Zoopla, and the possibility that I might end up sat in their office having a very loud (not shouting) conversation within earshot of anyone who walked in the front door of their branch, the manager has actually listened.

Last night he listened. He hadn’t been apprised of the full picture. All he knew was what his staff had told him. And it seems that that staff hadn’t conveyed the degree of dissatisfaction that existed.

Whether it was an attempt to cover up what was plainly an unacceptable situation or a straightforward miscommunication of events – I cannot say, nor will I speculate.

However, once he had gone away and investigated and, presumably, asked questions of his staff based upon what was said to him, and evidenced in that letter, he came back and agreed to take down the Listings (done, thank you), and he waived the 28 days Notice – he terminated the Agreement with immediate effect, and that was in writing.

The branch was not totally deaf as a post – the branch manager certainly wasn’t.

Deaf...
Wednesday 27 February, 2019

Brown and Merry, Leighton Buzzard. Not an estate agent to deal with, it appears.

On Saturday 23 February 2019, I handed a letter to the Residential Sales Valuer who signed us up in the first place. He opened the envelope and then read the letter as I stood there. The contents of the letter appear below (my italics to keep it distinct):

This letter is the required 28 days Notice to end any and all Agreements between [my wife and I] of the above address [contained in the letterhead], and Sequence (trading as Brown & Merry).

During this period, you are forbidden to display any marketing, or conduct any negotiation regarding the property which has effectively been withdrawn from sale.

He and I discussed the implementation of the letter contents. In addition I told him that if he and/or Sequence wish to hold me to the 28 days Notice period, rather than allow both sides to 'cut their losses,' then I would spend those 28 days making sure that I would dissuade as many prospective clients as possible.

I also let him know I was aware that just two lost clients was over £8,000 in lost trade, adding that if I didn't hear anything by Tuesday, I would assume that the 28 days is being enforced and I would act accordingly.

Our break from Brown and Merry, Leighton Buzzard was due to the inability of the agency to accept, or act on instructions; or have the politeness to return calls after a reply was promised. Basically their approach to communication shook our confidence in their ability to market our property properly.

The Notice was given THREE days after a Listing was supposed to Go Live, but over two weeks after the Agreement was signed. The Listing had gone online a week early (which rightly annoyed the estate agent engaged at that time), and only came down after a phone call from me. Then it went back up a day after the ‘Go Live’ date (which was very clearly known as it was in writing).

As of Tuesday evening (yesterday), nothing was heard from Brown and Merry.

And to rub salt into the wounds, as of Wednesday afternoon, our property is STILL Listed on Rightmove, Zoopla, and their own website. I rang Sequence head office (owner of Brown and Merry, and located in the same building as Connells head office) and asked them to have the Leighton Buzzard branch act on the letter because the reason we gave them Notice was precisely because of their inability to co-operate/take instructions, and as I had no wish to talk to a 'brick wall,' would they be so kind as to communicate our instruction?

There was no need to perform an identity check, or the veracity of that instruction – all that was needed was for the branch to be reminded to look at the letter already in their possession. It would be pleasing if the Listings were taken down, if only because the details are wrong and misleading (another reason for leaving them).

Two hours later, the Listings are still up. It seems the head office can’t get them to comply either. My wife just phoned the branch and spoke to the same person I handed the letter to last Saturday. She asked for the listings to be taken down. He assured her they would. She added, ‘With immediate effect.’ He agreed it would be so.

Investigation reveals that a Listing on Rightmove can be taken down (made invisible) within 10 seconds.

Brown and Merry, Leighton Buzzard – an estate agency to avoid, methinks.

Help
Sunday 24 February, 2019

I think many have read, or been told, that moving is one of Life’s more stressful moments. Depending on the source, it is above, or below, or in the region of divorce, marriage, or becoming a parent. Estate agents are there to help us who wish to sell our properties and move on to pastures afresh.

Interesting use of the word, help I hear some of you mutter. And indeed, I can’t disagree.

One particular estate agent in the area in which my wife and I are looking, engages in a practise that I personally find abhorrent: they list properties that are either, Sold Subject to Contract, or Under Offer as being freely on the market. Their name? Keenans Estate Agents.

But don’t they all do that?

Well, I can’t say for sure, but estate agents sometimes appear a little tardy in changing the description of the properties they are offering. The reason is that anyone contacting them to enquire about a particular property can be steered towards an alternative. It is no different to a shop displaying goods in their windows and when potential customers walk in, members of staff tell them that the items are not available, and offer them an alternative.

Consumer laws exist to protect the Public from that sort of thing but, sadly, it doesn’t apply to estate agents.

Unfortunately I haven’t kept a full log of the antics of this particular estate agency chain because it was a while before I realised that I wasn’t just unlucky to be showing interest in something that was sold just as I enquired. After an exchange over a particular property, caused by my being annoyed to again have missed something, I received an email from them that explained the following:

We do regularly update the marketing on our website alongside the other portals that we use including Rightmove and Zoopla. However, we only mark the properties as 'sold' once the survey is back and both parties are committed to proceed, this way anybody who enquires whilst the property is showing as available can have their details added to the file in the case the sale falls through.
[my italics]

I can see how that works, but if buyers take over six weeks to arrange a survey, then I think I would be telling them to go away and bother someone else. In addition, said estate agents (Keenans – remember?) seem to be unaware that a survey, result or undertaking, is not a binding commitment in any form whatsoever. As the law stands at present in England, a buyer can pull out up to the point of Exchange of Contracts, without penalty.

The matter was taken up with Rightmove and The Property Ombudsman. The former doesn’t (at the moment) have any T&Cs that the estate agent has breached because, as Rightmove explained to me, they have never experienced such behaviour with an estate agent, and nor had they anticipated it because it is a poor practise only likely to annoy potential customers.

Agreed, but only if it is spotted – and I spotted it. Keenans estate agents even outlined it in writing to me. Result!

While it may not breach any of the T&Cs in place at Rightmove, they have agreed that said estate agents (Keenans) are guilty under the 2013 Act of misdescribing properties through wilfully mislabelling their status to the market.

I am watching to see what happens next...

Z200: My Story of Ownership
Monday 18 February, 2019

Written in 1988 (gosh, over 30 years ago!) and published in a motorcycle magazine in 1989, 30 years ago this month, under the title, Z200 Education.


Philip O'Hara

It was the first piece I ever wrote and submitted for publication, but because of a lack of understanding over lead-in times, and the like, a long delay hearing back had me rewrite it in first person from the motorcycle’s point of view. That went into print in a different magazine just ahead of this version as, Kawasaki Z200: An Autobiography.

It creaks; it groans; it grates, but it was The First.

- o - O - o -

Now, I’m the sort of motorcyclist that likes to ride nice bikes, but even superbike riders fall on hard times – I was wiped out by a drunk driver and left desperate for transport to commute to work.

Enter the Z200. It wasn’t quite that easy. In fact, I was so fed up with old hacks at inflated prices that by the time I saw the Z200 I took in the nice condition and elderly owner and bought it without a close inspection.

Well, it only cost £110 and had a new MOT, but the forks were as pitted as the average spotty 15 year-old because the crafty bugger had turned the stanchions around in the yokes.

Silly me.

The chain sounded a bit dry even though it was well oiled and it could be pulled right off the sprocket. Amazing what you can do when you remove a few links. The rear tyre was a square section Avon Speedmaster.

Despite all this, the first three months were trouble-free. Then the bike sounded throaty. It looked like, ‘bye-bye exhaust,’ until a friend came to the rescue with some welding equipment and a steady hand. Apparently, all Z200s rot behind the rear mounting plate. This is almost impossible to weld and you need to fabricate small plates to turn the mounting plate into a box, thereby caging in those nasty hydrocarbons.

Unique to my bike, as far as I can gather, the Z200 slips out of fourth gear when held on to up hills, or two-up. Getting around this problem involves accepting a top speed of 50-55mph two-up, into headwinds, or up slopes. No real problem.

The summer of ’87 wasn’t noted for its drought conditions and on a few occasions the Z had to carry rider and pillion (25 stone) on 80-100 mile trips in downpours in search of a ‘proper’ bike.

Only once did the bike let us down. On the motorway there was a ticking sound from the rear and I edged over to the hard shoulder, whereupon the sound ceased. However, as soon as I began to accelerate back onto the main carriageway, the noise would return.

I pulled onto the hard shoulder we got off the bike. We couldn’t see anything obviously wrong with it, so I put it on the centre stand and ran it up through the gears. And upon engaging top gear, the chain shot off the back. Well, I hadn’t actually replaced the chain and examination revealed broken side-plates.

Z200s are easy to push.

Vibration isn’t intrusive but it does eat headlamp bulbs. They only seem to last 1,500-2,000 miles. The rear Skidmaster has covered 11,000 miles under my hand and had travelled done 2,000-3,000 miles when I bought the bike. The tyre’s left on because, amazingly, it doesn’t upset the handling too much! The original Jap front tyre was thrown away at 19,000 miles when it started to rot. The front brake is a cable operated disc and only squeals the front tyre under extreme madman type braking over fields of mice. Pads therefore last a long time.

Neither front nor rear suspension has much damping left, and I’ve fitted gaiters on the front forks to keep what little oil remains off the front tyre. Despite this, the chosen line usually remains the chosen line. The bike feels quite sure-footed and you can annoy riders on much larger and more expensive bikes.

A break in the wiring loom at the headstock caused a few curses to fill the air, resulting in no lights. The points wore sufficiently by 17,500 miles to cause a misfire, however, a strip down enabled me to grind the faces flat and they were finally replaced at 20,000 miles for £3.

General maintenance is easy enough as long as you can undo the screws that hold on the various covers. The timing is set by on-the-road experimentation: set points gap, leaving cover off; ride bike up slight gradient, changing up at 5,000rpm until top gear; select braking point; note revs in top gear at this point. Alter timing slightly each time until maximum speed is achieved. Strangely, this doesn’t match up with the timing marks when using a strobe (Editorial note: – engines produce more power the more advanced the timing, the hotter the engine gets thus the more likely a holed piston!)

Kawasaki claim 18hp and contemporary magazines quote 14hp at the back wheel. Those same mags managed a true 80mph out of the little OHC single, so it’s powerful enough to keep all those restricted 125s in their proper place.

My misfortune at being skint at a time when I needed a cheap mode of transport opened my eyes to a solid, dependable little mount. I’ve proved to myself that you don’t have to think big to have fun on motorcycles, but it didn’t stop me buying a Yamaha YPVS.

On that Editorial note: the timing according to the marks was RETARDED and not advanced. However, when I wrote the piece, I never made that clear. A lesson learnt.

Box
Saturday 16 February, 2019

With a big rugger footing-the-ball event currently taking place, now is the time to post this.

It was written in 2002 and appeared in print in an anthology, 2005 as the, The Box.


PJ O'Hara

- o - O - o -

Today I’m going to leave you,
When I go visit mum and dad,
Believe me when I say I love you,
Despite my feeling sad,
Rest assured I’ll miss you,
But for you the time will fly,
I will come back soon to you,
In time to see the final try.

Tomorrow's Child
Thursday 14 February, 2019

My last Blog entry threatened a longer piece of poetry, and here it is!

It doesn’t seem to read silently very well, but works more as a piece of ‘performance poetry’ – but as I can’t claim to be a poet, I’ll not pass judgement.

Originally written in 1993, it was 2002 before I let anyone see or hear it. It found itself being ‘performed’ at a variety of groups before being sold for publication in an anthology of poems in 2005.


PJ O'Hara

- o - O - o -

You relaxed this evening; you enjoyed your meal,
You had no idea, how later, he’d feel,
You ate your fare, and smiled a lot,
And by the end, you felt you’d known him from year dot.

He escorted you home, to keep you safe,
He was strong and handsome; you, a waif,
From the dangers in the shadows he’d offered his protection,
But as you walked, you noticed his body’s perfection.

You asked him in to say, ‘thank you’ and, ‘goodnight’,
Not to kiss him and to give him a bite,
But all that wine had gone to your head,
Generating within you a determination for bed.

With this in mind, you led him there,
By seductively twirling strands of your hair,
But once you’d arrived, he’d taken charge,
Then you noticed, not his eyes, becoming large.

By now you had taken fright,
But he saw this not as you hoped he might,
For he thought you were excited; eager and willing;
A circumstance, he found quite thrilling.

From that moment you lost control,
The wine having robbed you of your soul,
You tried your best to sound like you meant ‘NO!’
But to his ears it was just, ‘OH!’

Panicking now, thinking as he started,
You wished, tonight, with a kiss you had parted,
For, of the evils in shadows, you had no real fear,
Except of his actions, after too much beer!

As he got firmly set in his stride,
You started to cry for providing this ride;
Yes, you were aware that your body had no barrier,
Against those tadpoles that could result in your dad saying, ‘Marry her!’

And, how do I know what you did tonight,
When what you did was private; out of sight?
And have you noticed my tone; not chiding but mild?
Of course not, for I am your unplanned, Tomorrow’s Child.

Hairy Fingers
Tuesday 12 February, 2019

Although I tell people that I publish articles, essays and general prose, I tend to forget to say I write poetry from time to time as well.

My inspiration was the sight of a hirsute friend of mine trying to feed his son in a high chair. The efforts the little chap made to evade the spoon had to be seen to be believed.

Not the longest piece I've written, but I've more and longer to come...

Hairy Fingers was written in 2002 and was published in a book of poetry in 2003.


PJ O'Hara

- o - O - o -

Hairy fingers feeding me,
They wonder why I cry,
I often throw my food about,
Every time they try.

What Makes a Classic Motorcycle?
Sunday 10 February, 2019

Back in the day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth’s surface, I used to write mainly for motorcycle magazines. This article came about after a friend commented upon having read a book seemingly written by someone who had swallowed a dictionary.

As we were in the pub, an alcohol-linked idea came to me and the result was, What Makes a Classic Motorcycle? The by-line came about because an author called Salman Rushdie wrote a novel called The Satanic Verses. He and his publicist over-egged it and upset religious fundamentalists who made threats against his life. He made a mint from the book, but it cost the Taxpayer millions of pounds for the security the state generously provided, while their sales lined his pockets.

Long story, short: I chose to write under the name, Simon Rusty.


Simon Rusty

* The (what? Ed) only appeared when published at the end of October 1990, and isn’t me.

- o - O - o -

What makes a classic motorcycle? What is it that makes perfectly sane, normal people go out and buy a motorcycle – wreck or otherwise – purely on the strength of what it is, rather than what it can do, or how well it can (or can’t) do it?

An answer can be found in any place that motorcyclists gather to worship in the presence of that great mentor, nay, god – that omnipotent being – Alcohol!

(Amen!)

Many a night has seen the same answer given to the faithful: a classic motorcycle possesses character.

But should we take Alcohol’s answer at face value or should we delve deeper into the word itself to see if there is a hidden message? Indeed I feel we should, even if it means that the less enlightened amongst us, who feel we should practise Alcoholism with a closed mind, leap up at our throats to chide us for our blasphemy. Surely it is the more open minded amongst us, not the bigots, who will ultimately further the teachings of the Great Alcohol.

(Hallelujah!)

But I digress. Let us look closer at the word character, for this is the specific word offered as explanation to our question. I am indebted to the 1949 edition of the Browne & Nolan Dictionary for the following definition of the word character. This obscure edition was procured with the intention of thwarting those with a propensity toward querulous etymological argument.

Character. (ka-). Noun. What does this tell us? Not a lot, other than it is a noun and that the pronunciation of the ch is not as in the word chair but as in c in the word cat. But lo! There is more, and lest I am accused of prolixity, I shall progress.

Messers Browne & Nolan continue thus, a letter, sign or any distinctive mark. Hmm, does this mean that all motorcycles are classics? After all, Hondas bear a distinctive pair of wings on the flanks of some of their machines’ petrol tanks, as Yamaha do with their tuning fork motif. Is the FS1E moped really a classic? I saw a Honda H100 parked in the street the other day with a dent in its tank. A distinctive mark wouldn’t you say? Was that particular Honda a classic motorcycle? Wait! Listen to what Messers Browne & Nolan have written in addition to what has already been quoted before you make a judgement.

An essential feature, continues the definition, thus reinforcing the incongruous conclusion already arrived at, being that all motorcycles are classics. This, through logical, inexpugnable (what? Ed)* argument, reasons that since all motorcycles require wheels (an essential feature, although I am willing to admit that there might be a few of you out there who disagree), it follows that all motorcycles, with wheels at least, are classics.

So far, it is hard to escape the fact that maybe the great Alcohol, (praish be hish name), doesn’t agree with the ideas of some of the faithful who would have it written that some bikes are more classic that others. Indeed, it seems inescapable, other than to the pachyderms amongst us, the idea that Alcohol’s teachings (wisdom aninlightomunt innis wurds) are directed at the fact that all motorcycles are equal, and therefore equally classic. It must be pellucid to the open-minded follower that this is so.

Let us escape from this tedious tautology and continue with the definition, nature, the innate (inborn) or essential qualities of a thing. This goes totally against what we have been led to believe makes a classic bike. Surely some of today’s classics contain no inborn qualities worth mentioning! The total of qualities making up an individuality, seems to suggest that classics, by the convention applied by collectors to these beasts, should be rogues. Is there a suggestion, perhaps, that all motorcycles are unreliable rogues through equality, as by definition so far, all motorcycles are classics.

Moral qualities; the reputation of possessing them. Certainly, it is a belief that certain British bikes are classics. Is this because they have no morals when deciding to break down at the most inopportune moment? Some British bikes definitely have a reputation for this quality and I can only suppose that this is why the label of classic has been applied. Obviously, Alcohol (his spirit ish evryrare) is wiser than we think or can even start to imagine.

A person noted for eccentricity. If one can modify this to: a thing noted for eccentricity, then certainly a lot of the bikes regarded to be classics fit the bill. Indeed, quite a few lemons fit this criteria too.

Now let us reflect upon what has been said upon the definition of character. To say that a bike possesses character is to say that it has a name, mark or logo of a distinctive nature upon it belonging, possibly a manufacturer’s badge or an overly close passing of an errant Volvo. The classic motorcycle will have wheels. It will be unreliable and/or have a habit of being unpredictable in its nature. It should be known by all that the bike possesses these strange qualities. It should be an eccentric curiosity.

So it would seem that, according to the elucidatory teachings of Alcohol (may he f’ever bring shweetnesh shof breath), that to be seen to be riding around on a classic machine is to be seen riding an unreliable heap of junk with wheels and the guilty manufacturer’s name on the tank.

It is with great sagacity that I have decided to make this know to the faithful. I feel qualified to do so as I consider myself to be close to the great Alcohol. Indeed, you may consider me to be one of his greatest disciples – an Alcoholic under the influence of his Master – hic – cheers!

Darwin and Smoking
Friday 8 February, 2019

Darwin’s piece appeared in my local paper in June 2016.


Darwin Beagle

He isn’t old enough to remember the smoking beagle laboratories back in 1975. Naturally, I am not old enough either (ahem!), but I read more than he does – that’s how I know.

Yee-es.

- o - O - o -

Apparently, I’m not good on a lead.

Not exactly sure what that means, but what I do know is that whenever I am in town and attached by a line to my owner, he tends to keep tugging me. He reckons it wouldn’t be the problem it is if it wasn’t for the narrow paths alongside some of the roads running through Leighton Buzzard.

Personally I don’t have a problem with narrow pathways as it means that anyone coming the other way is forced to come close enough to me to be licked and slobbered over, except ... my owner reins me in close and keeps me to the far side and away from whoever is coming our way.

I guess it isn’t all bad as when we get home my owner gives me treats for not jumping on people or pulling him into the road.

Most times when we walk through town, people stop and talk to my owner in order to admire and make a fuss of me. Sometimes my admirers are smokers. I know this because I am a beagle. We are known for our acute sense of smell in addition to our incredible good looks and intelligence.

It doesn’t bother me when a smoker scratches me behind the ear because it saves me having to roll in anything I find in the park and so saves my owner yelling at me.

Good times.

However, my owner, being much taller than I am, has him complaining to me about the fad smokers seem to have for walking along with their lit cigarettes held at thigh height and away from their body. I reckon they think it stops their arms smelling of cigarette smoke, but my nose knows different.

Why is being taller than me a problem?

Well, I walk under held out cigarettes while my owner has to dodge around them when we come across a walking smoker on a narrow footpath.

Frankly, I think he worries too much. It doesn’t bother me, although the chap whose cigarette ash fell off onto the top of my head while he and my owner talked, really ought to have given me a tasty treat by way of an apology.

The Plan
Wednesday 6 February, 2019

The telecoms company, TalkTalk, created an account in my mother’s name in error. They assured everyone that this was impossible.

After many communications, TalkTalk understood that my mother didn’t want their service, they ended it – and charged her an Early Termination Fee.

And so began the fun of taking TalkTalk to a tribunal so as to stop them bullying and harassing my mother. Their threats and demands for payment were becoming a joke – but markedly less so when they continued during the appeal process – which, according to the Regulator meant they were in breach of their legal obligations.

TalkTalk proved throughout the process that they had a very limited grasp of the truth – something very clearly illustrated by my being party to their defence documents which were totally at odds with their own words held by me in the very large file of correspondence I kept during their concerted period of dishonesty.

For instance, this was in their defence lodged with CISAS 07/12/2018:
Mrs Xxxx’s service was activated on 30/04/18 at her new address.

And this if an extract from a TalkTalk letter dated 17/07/2018 in which a TalkTalk Customer Relations operative (Zakithi Kweyama) claims my mother was trying to evade payment by feigning ignorance:
Looking into your account, the call usage on the account confirm that calls from the landline number xxxxxx 19/04/2018 - 20/04/2018. This state that you were aware of the account being active with us.

The grammar is precisely as it appeared in the letter and isn’t merely a transcription error on my part as it was copied to be displayed up here.

My mother moved into the property Friday 20/04/2018.

In the end, the case against them was proven, and they were ordered to do a number of things – one of them was to write a letter of apology to my mother. This they did after the deadline had passed and I had lodged a Non-compliance Notice against them.

Even then, TalkTalk managed to demonstrate their inability to adhere to anything like the truth. They apologised for not carrying out my mother’s order properly. That wasn’t the issue and the ruling against them very clearly stated that TalkTalk had created an account that was not ordered and not required, in error.

On top of that they have kept the £12.71 they stole from my mother when they took payment for the bogus account. The option presented to her is to take the matter to the Small Claims Court. The whole thing would probably end up costing TalkTalk somewhere in the region of £200 just to refund the money they owed to my mother. However, there is an alternative.

Instead of claiming the money back my mother will let them keep it in return for our telling as many people as possible what TalkTalk did to her. TalkTalk manage a profit of about 9.25% on turnover, before taxes and write-downs etc. With a £25 monthly package and an 18 month tie-in, that means an expected £41.63 per contract/customer. If, between us, we actively dissuade ten people from taking up with TalkTalk, then it comes to over £400. I intend to log the amount as it increases and communicate it to TalkTalk along the way.

That’s the plan.

Archie and Water
Friday 1 February, 2019

The question that arose was: Why should Darwin Beagle – a mere dog – be thought of as a wordsmith, when I – a cat – can do better?

And so, back in 2016 Archie Cat ended up writing for my local newspaper.

In November 2018, this appeared as, We cats are not afraid of water!


Archie Cat

- o - O - o -

It is one of those Great Truths that cats either don’t like water, or are afraid of it. The real truth is that it depends on circumstances.

If someone picks me up and drops me off the roof of a house into a small puddle then I will be decidedly unhappy. My guess is that the same would be true for all cats – dogs as well, I’d wager. When it is raining and I am outside, I will shelter from it and normally can be found under a parked car, or in a doorway.

It is usually a question of comfort.

There is another reason I seek to avoid becoming wet, and it is nothing to do with being afraid. Have you seen the mess made by water on a well groomed fur coat? Why on earth would I want to be seen all wet and bedraggled? The image we cats have is that of well coiffed, refined beings, with impeccable taste and style.

That’s the image. The reality is that we are well coiffed, refined beings, with impeccable taste and style.

Add water to just about anything and the result tends to be messy, although one possible exception is that of fish. They look so tasty and inviting as they glide through water. Just the thought of one effortlessly swimming along make me think of extending my claws so that I may... No, not fish. I’m not talking about fish. I’m beyond fish. I’m bigger than mere fish. I am a superior form of life, with better coiffed fur.

And fish don’t have fur. That’s how much lower down the ladder of life they are than us cats.

Water is otherwise my friend. If I am thirsty, I will drink it. In fact, the dogs in my house always allow me to drink their water. That said, if I had thumbs, I wouldn’t bother with tap water. I would only drink the finest mineral water: an expensive brand that reflects my status. I feel sure that the human who thinks of herself as being my owner would be happy to buy me as many bottles as I desire.

I wouldn’t let the dogs near it. They don’t have the same level of refinement that I do; consequently they wouldn’t be able to appreciate it.

If the leaders of this country were to see sense they would give us cats more freedom and rights. We would have The Vote and be in receipt of bottled water for life. And, due to the tiny shortcoming of having no opposable digits, humans would be assigned to each of us to open our bottles.

The fact is that cats embrace water. Not literally, you understand, unless it was frozen, and then we wouldn’t try because it would be too cold. But water is a good thing – as long as we are not suffering because of it.

So, as you can see, we neither dislike nor fear water.

Back to Top

Great Idea
Wednesday 30 January, 2019

This saw print in June 2016. Previously Tina Beloveth Powerful (a real name, I kid you not), a Nigerian living in Milton Keynes, had set up a university called, Havard School in 2013 (note the missing ‘r’) and was sued by American university Harvard who considered her enterprise a little bit cheeky.

She was found guilty of fraud and false advertising in July 2015 after maintaining that her university (operated out of a flat in Oldbrook, Milton Keynes) was real and had accreditations that no one else knew about. During her trial she tried to convince the prosecution that they were wrong and that the money she took in tuition and course fees was for a real thing. Then, when convicted, she left the country before sentencing, claiming that the British legal system had ‘expunged’ the case against her. That was news to the British legal system, the police, and just about anyone who wasn’t a liar, as she had been labelled by the court.

So, with tongue firmly in cheek, I set about seeing if such a fraudulent and daft idea could gain traction. It didn’t. It hasn’t since. And I haven’t bothered to change my name to anything silly.


PJ Wilkinson

- o - O - o -

I recently had a great idea. True, I don’t generally get great ideas, but because of that, I have decided to share my great idea with the people of Milton Keynes.

Naturally, I am going to involve everyone who lives in the area and give all the opportunity to engage with, and support my great idea.

And my great idea is... (drum roll, please) ...a university for Milton Keynes!

Yes, yes, yes, I know; we already have the Open University based here, and University Campus Milton Keynes (part of University Bedfordshire). However, I’m thinking of us having our very own university that isn’t part of someone else’s great idea.

Just imagine the facilities and level of outstanding education we could provide. Aspiring astronauts could attend and be taught a degree in spatial awareness through their commute from their student digs to the campus via roundabout after roundabout after roundabout.

As there is a fantastic shopping centre at the heart of Milton Keynes, I see an opportunity to offer a PhD in retail. Researchers could attend centre:mk and write about their experiences. Their findings would become part of their final dissertation. And they would probably own some great clothes!

My great idea would bring those who live in Milton Keynes together in a project to provide an establishment that would have the potential to add to the greatness of our nation. Those who go through the doors of the PJW University of Milton Keynes would come out greatly enlightened, as well as thousands of pounds lighter.

Unfortunately, the name doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue – despite the coolness of the ‘PJW’ at the start. So how about ‘CamBrit University of Milton Keynes’, or ‘OxFit University of Milton Keynes’?

I pledge to all of you who donate money towards this great idea of mine, that I will stick around long enough to see Oxford and/or Cambridge universities have their solicitors write to me demanding a name change. In addition, I will remain in Milton Keynes long enough to be convicted of whatever wrong-doing I might – in my opinion – be falsely accused. After the English law system erroneously determines my guilt, I will go and live somewhere else before anyone can settle on what my punishment ought to be. It goes without saying: If those who were to find me guilty had been educated properly through my great idea, then I wouldn’t be found guilty.

Meanwhile, the people of Milton Keynes would be known the world over for having a renowned (or infamous) educational establishment that is second to none. Naturally if I am tracked down and incarcerated, I will then be able to add a first class library to the list of facilities offered to those paying exorbitant fees. The prison library can be cited as a detailed source of all that is important to fending off the ravages of the world after leaving education.

Milton Keynes will make that list of top universities.

Well, it will make someone’s list...

Divide
Saturday 26 January, 2019

Does anyone remember the HS2 argument? Divide was published in Northampton in June 2016.


PJ Wilkinson

In 2010 the initial cost projection for HS2 was £32.7bn. By June 2013 government figures placed the projected cost at £42.6bn, and that was the figure this 2016 piece used. I also made mention of the Institute of Economic Affairs' suggestion that it would be £80bn by the time it is completed.

Just after Divide was written in 2016, the budget was again revised – this time to £55bn. By that time it was creeping towards that £80bn figure. In June 2018, a report produced for the government once again revised the budget – to £80bn – and included the news that the project had cost £4.1bn before a sod had been turned.

Depending on the source and one’s definition of the word ‘completion’ – HS2 should be finished by 2030, by which time the cost may well come out at over £126bn, based upon simple maths projecting the cost rising in line with estimates issued between 2010 and 2018.

Capacity is claimed to be 85m passengers a year. At nearly £75 per ticket, the cost can be repaid in 20 years – assuming no interest or operating charges are included...

- o - O - o -

There has been lots of talk surrounding the HS2 project these last few years. Much has been written and said on the subject. However, insightful discussion on the possible impact on Northampton seems rare.

There are aspects to consider with respect to Northampton. One argument of HS2 detractors is that there is no benefit to towns and cities in the north, thereby exacerbating the ‘north-south divide’. With the coming of HS2, Northampton might wish to seriously consider a name change to distance itself from the division issue. The ‘north’ in Northampton may indicate we are taking sides in the matter. Our name may become attached to claims regarding the perceived divide and its increase in magnitude, or otherwise.

It has crossed my mind that Northampton Borough Council should spend vast amounts of money seeking the opinion of all those who live in the area. If there is found to be enough support for a name change, then more money could be spent asking the simple question: what name?

Northampton is one of the largest towns in the UK with a population somewhere over 220,000 souls. There may well be a great number of suggestions made to the council.

To handle the volume of submissions, a special commission could be set up. Yet more financial resources could be given to the cause. I am prepared to head this commission for an obscenely huge remuneration package.

Altogether, I estimate the total cost of the consultation would come to a paltry £25 million. Barely 10% of that would go on paying my fee. A great opportunity for Northampton to avoid having its name dragged into the HS2 debate.

Not bad really, given the likely cost of HS2. The current Government budget estimate is £42.6 BILLION. That £25 million is less than 0.0006% of the official estimated cost of HS2.

Just think, a brand-new catchy name could bring great wealth to Northampton. Naturally, the local sports teams would have to rename as well. That would mean a little spent on trifling things like letterheads and stuff, but no big deal. And definitely small change if one compares it to the £80 billion the Institute of Economic Affairs suggests the total cost HS2 might come to in the end.

All good stuff, really.

If enough are in favour, we might like to look to Milton Keynes. What they did was to name the town after a tiny little village buried within its boundaries. I’m not going to be drawn on which village or area might be considered. My impartiality is paramount if I am to successfully discharge my role as chair of the naming commission. I want to justify my reward for tireless devotion to a very difficult job. It will not be easy getting through what I hope will be a well provided expenses account.

In addition, the proposed route runs far to the south-east of Silverstone. So the sound of the trains won’t disturb the sleep of the citizens of Northampton.

HS2? No worries.

Words are important
Thursday 24 January, 2019

May 2016 saw this appear in my local newspaper. I was finding the comment upon a leading story from the previous week provided easy and obvious topics.


Phil Wilkinson

- o - O - o -

Ah, what a difference a word can make. A ‘thanks’ might generate happiness, while a ‘so?’ could reduce the recipient to a weeping wreck.

It all depends on context and definition, according to the user of said word or words.

The wind turbine at Double Arches quarry near Heath and Reach has been fixed after being out of operation due to either generator issues or the proportions of the turbine having a detrimental effect upon movement and vibration.

Whatever the reason, something was up with the thing.

I see a second turbine is in the wind (groan) and that the proposer of the plan stated, ‘Following the successful commissioning of the first turbine, the company wish to complete its original vision and develop the second, final wind turbine.’

Can anyone see where the missing word ought to be in that statement? No doubt if it had been issued by one of the young children being subjected to the popular SATs throughout the country, then it would have included the word ‘ultimately’ just before the word ‘successful.’

Of course, that now opens the debate on the definition of ‘successful’ as used in the statement. For instance, who considers its usage correct? Those who claim that their right to watch Britain’s Got Talent has been negatively affected, might query its meaning, or perhaps suggest that the company’s definition of the word is different to their own.

That said, if one is looking at whether more money need be spent paying people to crawl over, in and around the structure to get the thing up and running as originally envisaged – then I suppose ‘successful’ is the correct word.

What worries me is that no one has considered the plight of the wind turbine. When working, it sits there spinning for all its worth. Come rain or sun, it just does its thing. No one talks to it. No one comes and keeps it company. It is alone.

Not if the people who omitted that word have anything to do with it! It will gain a friend who will keep it company and cheer it up no end.

Darwin and Numbers
Tuesday 22 January, 2019

This appeared in a local newspaper during May 2016 as; I am not just a number!


Darwin Beagle

- o - O - o -

It was my birthday the weekend before last. I told all my friends that I was six years old.

I was wrong. My owner sat me down to a gravy bone treat, and told me that I am actually five years old.

From my perspective, I saw no difference. All I could see was the treat he held in his hand. In fact, I can see it now in my mind’s eye. And a jolly nice treat it was. Yummy!

To me, age is just a number. While I might be a smart beagle, I’m not a mathematician. I can roll over, sit, lie down and all that sort of thing upon command, but numbers are not something I really bother over.

For instance, I understand that the population of Leighton Buzzard is somewhere between 36,000 and 39,000. The exact number seems to depend on boundaries, hat sizes, or something else involving numbers that I don’t understand. However, whatever the number, I do know that it only takes one person to offer me a treat.

During the weekend of my recent birthday, the temperature reached 25 degrees Celsius in my garden. Or, I am told, it was the high 70s Fahrenheit. More numbers for me to ignore. Regardless of what reached where, and how many; I lay beside my kennel in the sunshine.

Was I stretched out for an hour? Could it have been two or three? Maybe it was more? Do I care? Not really, all I know is that it was long enough for me to rest and prepare myself for my evening meal.

Does my owner give me 50, 100, or 150 grams of feed at mealtimes? No idea, but whatever it is, it is not enough! Apparently the recent PCC election turnout was 23.1% – up more than 5% on last time. I’m not sure what that means, but it didn’t result in my getting any extra food.

Ah, but numbers ARE important when it comes to treats. However, said numbers are best kept simple. I propose that humans adopt my counting system. It consists of two numbers called, ‘enough’ and ‘not enough.’

For instance: counting doggie biscuits, using my system, reveals if there are ‘enough’ or ‘not enough’ – and in my experience, there is never enough.

It Could Have Been the
Start of Something
Sunday 20 January, 2019

I am a member of a writer’s group. One evening we produced written work up to 150 words long with the title, It Could Have Been the Start of Something.

The idea was that we could share our results and issue and receive critique based upon all having started from the same point.

It was a fun evening. Maybe not a great literary piece, but at least I hit the 150 limit exactly...

- o - O - o -

Sweating as I strain using my wrong hand to access the screw head, I hear some music start downstairs.

I stop for a second and listen. Nothing.

Returning to the screw I again catch a note or two, but can't be sure it isn't out the back.

Again, I break off from trying to turn a somewhat inaccessible screw in order to make out what is playing.

And once again there is nothing.

Back to avoiding cramp in my hand while tightly gripping a screwdriver.

There! I definitely heard something!

I sit up perfectly still as I try to identify the piece of music. It seemed to come out front this time.

Nothing. But I wonder what it was as it seemed familiar.

I go downstairs for some water and a break. I walk into the kitchen and I see the washing machine cycle has ended, as has the beeping...

Addition:
You can make contact with the group via Contact me

Sport
Friday 18 January, 2019

Sport was published in a Northampton magazine, May 2016.


Phil J Wilkinson

What I know about sport I can write on the back of a stamp – a very small stamp.

Still, I can spell the word, so that’s a start...

- o - O - o -

Northampton and sport. The two seem to go together like peanut butter and jam: sometimes brilliant but sometimes not in the minds of many.

Sport brings to mind rugby, cricket and football – all played at national levels as well as local leagues. Additionally, golf, canoeing, swimming and many other sports are catered for at a high level.

Des O’Connor once played for Northampton Town FC, but not the first team. However, without speaking to the great man himself, the dates and precise details seem destined to become forever fogged by the passage of time.

However, the word ‘sport’ in the context of Northampton also brings to mind Australians.

The greeting, ‘G’day, sport!’ can be heard in the town centre every day I walk by the old railway station that closed down along with the line that runs through the town in 1957.

When I see that the Grand Junction mine closed down in 1938, it makes me question what it means to Northampton as the Grand Junction run no closer than about four miles from the town centre.

Then I realise I am confusing the Grand Junction canal (part of the Grand Union canal) with the Grand Junction mine from where lead ore was obtained. The problem I now have is that I cannot pin down exactly where the mine was located. Nor am I aware of Northampton, or Northamptonshire, as being known for lead production. So I dig deeper (cue the groans) and look for a Northampton where lead ore was mined.

And I find it. There is a delightful little town in the Mid West region of Western Australia with a population of 868 souls, as reported by the Australian 2011 census. Their Northampton is one of the oldest towns in Western Australia, having been declared a townsite in 1864. Our Northampton was granted its town charter by King Richard I in 1189 with its first mayor being appointed by King John in 1215. So ours can claim seniority, although the weather isn’t so barbeque-friendly.

My confusion brings me back to the word ‘sport’ other than in the sense used by our antipodean friends. If we take it to mean something likely to involve a league table of some sort then we can look at the Top 50 Areas with the Best Quality of Life in the UK, as published by the Daily Mail in 2014. It tells me that South Northamptonshire is 7th. As Northampton is in the southern half of the county, I think it qualifies.

Trawling through the school and college performance tables from the Department of Education, I see Northampton is home to the 96th best performing school in the country regarding A-level results.

I’m still looking for a Number One.

Northampton Town FC is at the top of League Two, and very comfortably so. If they gain promotion to League One, I’m going to suppose their average attendance is going to rocket to well over six times the population of Northampton in Australia...

Seriously, Lloyds?
Wednesday 16 January, 2019

It has to be said that my experience inside a branch of Lloyds Bank wasn’t very fruitful this morning. I had recently discovered that a joint savings account with my ex-wife still existed and had my name attached to it.

Given her grasp on reality and the lies she told a social worker (in writing), along with her threat to the effect that she would make sure I regretted divorcing her; I really do not want any contact with the woman.

Lloyds advised that her signature was required to close the account. That wasn’t going to happen. Being in the position of having an ex who cannot be reasoned with, cannot be trusted, and who will take the opportunity to stick a knife in again, twisting for all they are worth, cannot be something that the banks never encountered. My ex-wife can’t be the only bitter and twisted person out there. However, they insisted it was the only way.

My feared scenario is her refusal to sign documents, claiming that when we parted I took thousands of Pounds from the account, thereby stealing it from her. As it happens, that is precisely what occurred – but the other way around. I was working in IT at the time as a consultant and storing my very handsome remuneration in that account. When we parted, it vanished. Without irrefutable proof indicating which of us withdrew it, it never formed part of the divorce settlement. It was around £18k-£24k, but without raising a civil case, there was no real way to chase it down – so I cut my losses.

And now I am here in 2019 and with access to that account I had forgotten about, with its balance of one single, solitary penny. I am guessing that she is unaware of the account’s existence. However, if she is reminded of it, there is no knowing how she will seek to turn the situation to her perceived advantage.

Instead I switched request to just the removal of my name from the account. I was happy to give that penny to her. No, Lloyds Bank required her to sign a form to have my name taken off the account.

When it became clear that Lloyds Bank seemed unable to deal with a situation that surely mustn’t be a one-off, I informed them that if I couldn’t escape that account, then I would close my current and savings accounts with them. Sure, it would still leave that joint account, but at least I would have left a ‘paper trail’ indicating my intention to not engage in anything that she might later claim to me attempting to masquerade as her.

That might sound like a crazy charge, but it is nothing compared to what she has already claimed.

Still Lloyds said there was nothing they could do, so I set about closing my accounts. Then Lloyds refused to close my accounts without my providing ID! They had made phone calls and examined accounts as part of dealing with a customer (me) sat in their branch, but when it came to taking the instruction to close my accounts they miraculously dragged up a reason to not do so.

Back in the 1990s a Continuous Authority was erroneously attached to my debit card (not account – that would have been easy to sort). Lloyds then refused to cancel it. The company deducting money from me refused to stop on the grounds that I wasn’t the person who set up the debit. Er . . .

My solution was to take my account elsewhere and the bank I engaged cancelled that Continuous Authority upon receipt of a written instruction from me – something Lloyds Bank said wasn’t possible.

I should have realised that Lloyds Bank haven’t changed since then and still are as awkward as possible. Unfortunately for Lloyds Bank, I will ensure this fiasco costs them far more than it will ever cost me . . .

Busy
Monday 14 January, 2019

Some things never go away. Busy was published in a Milton Keynes magazine in May 2016. The event related within actually took place about nine years earlier. At the time of writing, sometime in 2015, I was living in a small market town nearby and glad to be free of the madness on the roads.


Phil J Wilkinson

That was then, and here is now. That small market town has grown and is still growing, and it has inherited that madness, but with a twist: because it is still relatively small, much of its traffic issues are dependent upon conditions everywhere except the town itself.

I would time my journeys to avoid the congestion were it not for the fact that it is seemingly random these days . . .

- o - O - o -

I don’t cover each and every mile of road in Milton Keynes. If I were a commercial driver then I might – but I’m not and so I don’t.

So I drive from place to place in order to get from place to place. Er . . .

As a consequence, I live in a bubble that allows me only limited vision of things as go about my business of not driving for a living.

All of the above is just a long-winded way to say that I am not familiar with the traffic patterns throughout the area.

So, when I found myself needing to drive from Bletchley to Bedford the other day, around 5:30 pm, I encountered a great degree of extremely heavy traffic on my way to the motorway, with the stretch to Bedford yet to cover.

I was surprised at just how busy the roads were along the way at the time chosen for me to make the journey. In fact I was flabbergasted. As the late Frankie Howerd once said, ‘My flabber has never been so ghasted! Oo-er, missus!’

By the time I had passed a couple of housing developments I resigned myself to being much later than originally intended.

However, until I reached the area of the motorway I had no real idea just how late I was going to be on this occasion. I’m not sure I have ever seen so many drivers all trying to get some place or other in my life.

It took me nearly as long to get across the motorway and into Bedfordshire as it did to get from Bletchley in the first place. Then there was the long, oh-so-tortuously-slow line of cars, vans and lorries heading out along the A509 and the A422 thereafter.

The incredibly long and never ending line of traffic ahead and behind made me ask myself just how anyone could drive this route every day. Whatever magnificent quality it took, I wasn’t in possession of it. So decided to fall back on my knowledge of the small lanes and roads that ran in the general direction I needed in order to get to my destination.

My lack of familiarity wasn’t limited just to the pattern and density of the traffic. It had been a very long time since I rode a motorcycle for the sake of it, up and down the byways and highways running through village after village in the area. Long story, short: I became lost.

There came a point when I decided to give up with being clever and aimed at rejoining the A422 and trudge along with everyone else; arriving whenever the snake of slow-moving traffic allowed. That was Plan B after the failure of Plan A. Unfortunately; upon meeting a main road I spotted a signpost that told me I had managed to drive closer to Milton Keynes during my attempt to circumvent the slow moving queue. I was back at the A509 after managing to pass Moulsoe in the dark.

I don’t drive for a living. Perhaps there is a reason.

Darwin and Writing
Saturday 12 January, 2019

I am a member of a writing group based in Leighton Buzzard. We all have various passions and skills and we love to hear from other writers – or would-be writers – who may wish to be part of what we do.

To that end, the pieces that appear in our local newspaper carry contact details – as referred to in the sample below which was published as You can join my group, Tuesday 26 April 2016.


Darwin Beagle

Although Darwin is older and a little wiser these days, we still can’t stop him eating the chocolate biscuits at meetings, and so we are unable to accommodate him, but everyone else is welcome!

- o - O - o -

Like my owner, I am keen on writing. Unlike my owner, I also like to roll on dead worms and other stuff I find while we are out on a walk.

That said, I suppose I cannot say for sure that he doesn’t do the same, but I haven’t seen him do it. If he does, then perhaps it is when I’m off chasing a ball he has thrown.

Anyway, back to the writing thing.

I see many things on my walkies in and around the Leighton Buzzard area. I get a different view of things than others because I’m so much closer to the ground than them. Having never met another dog that can write, I can safely say I am peerless – unless you count toddlers. It is possible that some of them can group letters into things known as words and put them down on paper into lines that form sentences. I’m not sure.

However, what I am sure of is that the Little People that I meet have thumbs. I know this because whenever my owner and I come across one, he sits me down and lets them play with my ears. As their hands reach for me, I see their thumbs sticking out next to their fingers.

It’s not that I envy them in any way. No, writing does not require thumbs although fingers are handy (groan). But try opening a laptop cover without fingers or thumbs. It isn’t easy. That is why I consider my writing to be a collaborative effort between me and my owner: he provides the equipment and presents it in a manner I can use, while I supply the words.

Perhaps I should give him more credit. He doesn’t just open the lid – he stops me eating it.

What I wrote at the start was a little misleading through being incomplete: I like to write and eat. In fact, eating is probably my all-time favourite thing. As well as sleeping, then I can dream about eating.

I can’t attend any of the Leighton Buzzard Writers' Group meetings at the library (see details below) because no one wants to spend the evening watching me eating all the biscuits. However, anyone who wants to write and meet like-minded people is welcome to attend – even if I am not there to have my ears stroked.

Addition:
You can make contact with the group via Contact me

Fire Works
Tuesday 8 January, 2019

I enjoy reading short stories. Seemingly I can’t write them. The piece that follows was something I wrote as a competition entry. Verbally I was given a title of  Fireworks, a 1,000 word limit, and a deadline of the end of January for submissions, with the winner to be announced in April 2016.

January of 2016 was a busy time for me, so I only managed to sit down and write my entry on the night before the deadline. However, I churned out 917 words and formatted and submitted the whole thing as per the competition rules.

Having never seen the title written I decided to be ‘clever’ and think outside the box of normality. Unfortunately more effort went into being ‘clever’ than the writing because in April I was to discover that my effort wasn’t a winner. It wasn’t even placed. Not a mention.


Phil J Wilkinson

- o - O - o -

The garage alongside the house was well equipped with tools. The walls and ceiling were white and the floor a shiny and easy to clean grey. Tools and equipment were all stowed either on the walls, shelves or obviously allotted homes.

Two men were studying the workbench, or rather something gripped in the jaws of the vice attached to it.

Other than music coming from the radio playing hits of the day, there was nothing but a thoughtful silence.

‘Try getting that wrench on the nut again and let me have a twist,’ said the younger man.

‘Sure, I’ll do that and you can use your young muscles to twist it nice and hard and break the stud good and proper,’ sighed the older man, ‘As a father, I ought to know that no matter what I say, my son will always know better.’

The radio once again resumed its role of being the only noise in the garage.

‘Well, the releasing oil should have worked by now, let’s try again,’ the son said as he moved as if ready to take over and wield the wrench once again.

‘The oil went on last night and if it hasn’t worked by now then it isn’t going to work at all.’

‘But surely the more time it has had, the better it works?’

‘To a degree that is true, but there comes a point when it is obvious to anyone with half a brain that nothing is happening after a while.’

Once again the radio took over the job of filling the garage with sound.

‘Of course you must now realise that if you did what I suggested in the first place then your exhaust stud would have been ready to reinsert in the cylinder head last night,’ said the father as he stood back and folded his arms.

‘No, you don’t realise, this Japanese engineering doesn’t take kindly to being treated roughly. What you wanted to do falls into the category of engineering abuse.’

‘Says the young upstart.’

‘Says the owner of the exhaust stud who wants to avoid having to add to his woes.’

Two mugs stood at the end of the workbench and the father picked one up. As he raised it to his lips his son said, ‘How about if we tap it gently as we try to turn the nut?’

The older man pulled a face and winced, as he took a sip from the mug.

‘Cold?’

‘So you can get some things right, I see,’ came the response as the father replaced the mug next to its twin on the bench.

‘Ha, bloody, ha!’

‘But seriously, we have to give it go, surely?’

‘I told you, I don’t want to damage it.’

‘Look, you were happy to just stick a wrench on it and twist hard enough to break the thing, so why not try it my way? If it fails as you fear then you go out and buy another stud.’

‘That motorcycle went out of production over 40 years ago. That exhaust stud is an odd thread size and it will probably cost me an arm and a leg to get one made up special.’

‘And if you snapped it in two, then that would be different?’

The son stared at his father before a smile appeared on his face.

‘I knew I hadn’t brought a fool into the world,’ said the father, ‘So we try it my way then?’

‘Okay, we’ll give your way a go.’

The father walked across to a shelf unit adorned with various tools and objects; many of which appeared to defy any explanation as to their use.

‘Now then, found it, but where are the bloody matches?’ he said out loud to himself, then addressing his son, ‘And turn the radio off. I want to listen to the stud while we work.’

‘You are kidding me, right?’

‘Radio!’ he barked.

The younger man walked across to the radio and switched it off, shaking his head and smiling as he did so.

There was a hiss followed by a ‘whump’ as the light in the garage was supplemented by a flame seeming to come from the older man’s hand.

‘Years ago this would have been a blowlamp needing to be prepared before use. Nowadays, a throwaway can and a box of matches means once the idea takes hold, we can get on.’ He looked at his son and added, ‘Yes, we can crack on before you change your bloody mind.’

He walked to the vice on the bench and played the flame of the gas fired blowtorch over the nut that had caused so much recent grief. After less than a minute he placed the canister down by the mugs and turned a knurled knob at the top and the dagger of heat coming from the nozzle shrank then vanished.

The wrench was fitted to the nut and the older man leant over the vice as if listening to the exhaust stud as he gently applied pressure. There was a small click and a small release of breath from the father.

‘What’s happened?’ asked the son, having heard the same click, ‘Have you broken it?’

The father straightened and held the wrench toward his son. It held the nut in its jaws. The son’s eyes darted to the vice and saw the exhaust stud securely clamped and unharmed.

‘Bloody hell, it worked!’ said the son.

His father smiled and said, ‘I told you, fire works.’

Salt
Saturday 5 January, 2019

This is all true. I had it published in a Northampton magazine in April 2016. It tells of something that took place around 1983. The stint in London was about 1981.


Phil J Wilkinson

I feel sure that such things, as I witnessed in London, do not happen these days; the reason being there are no longer enough police officers available to play such games.

- o - O - o -

Many moons ago, there was a road running into Northampton known as London Road. Actually, it is still there, still known as London Road; attracting the label A508.

Back in the day, said road was a wide 40mph tract that took one towards the town centre from the motorway, via the A45. Naturally no one took any heed of the 40mph speed limit and the width promoted speeds somewhat in excess of that proscribed.

The fact that drivers had just come off the A45, and possible the motorway before that, meant that 40mph seemed so slow.

Nowadays it is a 30mph road that has been narrowed by arranging parking down one side. Traffic lights act as breaks, thus stopping the free flow of traffic down the hill into Northampton.

Before the road was remodelled, the only option available was to stick a policeman partway down the road and arm him with a hand-held speed gun, popularly known back then as a hairdryer.

Occasionally I would trundle into Northampton along that road doing no more than 39mph on my 135mph capable motorcycle. As a responsible motorcyclist, I refrained from waving at the nice officer decked out in Northamptonshire’s finest Day-Glo as I whispered past.

One day I was told of a poor chap who had been clocked by a hairdryer-wielding officer of the law. Apparently he ignored the Summons (this was in the days before fixed penalty tickets) and was banned. My friend was outraged as he related the tale of woe. It was said that the fellow motorcyclist was picked out and victimised because there was a stream of other vehicles of which he was the only motorcycle. The gentleman by the roadside targeted him and ignored their presence.

A short while before then, I had done a stint as a motorcycle despatch rider in London. Until then I took stories of police entrapment of road users with a very large pinch of salt. That was until the day I was travelling around the Aldwych and I nearly fell victim to a set up practised by two policemen. One stood with his back to a pedestrian crossing and the other kept watch on approaching vehicles. Upon a signal from the observing officer, the other, previously stood with his back to the crossing, smartly turned and marched out onto the black and white stripes.

My motorcycle of the time had superb brakes and I was hyper-vigilant as I was new to London riding. I stopped cleanly without crossing the line. The look that officer gave me as he walked slowly across the road in front of me caused me to swear off generously proportioned pinches of salt.

So when I listened to the story of the poor fellow who had been booked for speeding and then banned due to being ‘fitted up,’ I became hopping mad and was ready to organise a protest march, or something similar.

Then the figures were spoken: 110mph in a 40 zone.

I went back on the salt.

Changes
Thursday 3 January, 2019

This piece, Changes, was published in April 2016 in a Milton Keynes publication.


Phil J Wilkinson

Anyone who knows me these days might find it hard to believe that an intended trip of 30 yards to put my motorcycle away for the night wasn’t unknown to become an 80 mile jaunt across the county.

In modern parlance the price of petrol back then was around 28p per litre.

- o - O - o -

There was a time, long distant, when I knew every road and lane in Milton Keynes.

To avoid confusion: I wasn’t a taxi driver; however I did ride a motorcycle. Otherwise I resorted to pedal power. I enjoyed each so much; I would ride just for the sake of it, and tended to cover many miles as a consequence. If a lane existed, I either cycled or rode my motorcycle along it.

Nowadays, with age having crept up on me and the price of petrol being at a level that precludes engine propelled meandering; I tend to only travel along roads in order for me to get from A to B in an efficient manner. Gone are the days when I would merrily follow a side road merely because it looked interesting.

When I come across heavy or stationary traffic, a detour seems in order. My desire has always been to slip through whatever networks of little used roads present themselves as an alternative to being stuck in a column of vehicles going nowhere particularly quickly. I absolutely cannot abide sitting in a car doing nothing. This is especially true when it is traffic not flowing according to the expectation raised by the much vaunted grid road system of Milton Keynes.

Great changes have taken place in the time during which I have not maintained my intimate familiarity with the roads and byways we enjoy. A clue to just how my own age features in this experience is the fact that David Bowie’s 1971 song, Changes is currently running through my head as I write this.

Bowie first performed at what was then known as the Milton Keynes Bowl in 1983. I had been intending to ride up Watling Street during one of his gigs but spotting the traffic control ahead, decided to nip through a nearby estate to shortcut the square formed by the grid road system. Simple and straightforward to do, and all without it wasting my time trying to work out where I was best headed to find my way.

Fast forward to 2016 and this time I am in a car. Far in the distance I could see congestion at the roundabout to which we were headed. The flashing blue lights suggested an accident. So I directed the driver to turn into the estate prior to the blockage.

What followed was much fruitless driving about as we tried to find our way through and out the other side. Eventually we gave up, heading back to where we had first entered. We decided to bite that particular bullet and crawl up to, and through, the usually fast flowing junction. Except the tailback from the incident now stretched back to the entrance to the housing estate, and guess what? Yes, there was a great deal of fun and joy caused by trying to rejoin the very slowly moving line of vehicles headed towards the promise of onward freedom from vehicular restraint.

Oh for certain, time has wrought changes.

Darwin and Roads
Tuesday 1 January, 2019

This appeared in my local newspaper Tuesday 29 March, 2016. Easter Sunday in 2016 was two days earlier, 27 March.


Darwin Beagle

A bit of context helps – as do chicken-flavoured treats for Darwin.

- o - O - o -

I like wide open spaces and undergrowth equally. That's not to say the routes between them, when I am tethered to my owner by a lead, are not of interest to me.

While bushes require me to sniff out possible food or friends; tarmac paths are covered with smells indicating people having walked by in the recent past while eating or carrying food.

In addition, when walking or dragging my owner alongside a busy road, there are so many people about who can admire me, or feed me – I'm easy either way.

What I don't like is when I am led down a busy road during what my owner calls the Rush Hour. That is a time when everyone seems to be in a hurry to get somewhere and ignore me in the process. That really isn't a good thing for them when in the presence of such a magnificent beagle such as myself, but I suppose they don't appreciate just what they are missing by not admiring me.

A few mornings back, I watched a group of school kids trying to cross a road that was full of fast moving vehicles. Each was driven by a human who never gave me a second look. I guess they were watching where they were going.

The children were also ignoring me. They were probably distracted by the flow of traffic stopping them getting across the road to school.

Then it happened. One of the boys stepped out into the road right in front of a van and the driver came to a sudden and ungainly halt with the boy stood frozen in front of it.

No harm done, the boy looked about him and because the lorry coming the other way had also stopped, he and his friends continued across the road.

At first I thought the boy might have been marvelling at me instead of concentrating on where he was going. Then it dawned on me that he had not even glanced in my direction, before, during or after the incident and I thought he maybe had something else on his mind.

Then it struck me – of course! He was obviously looking forward eating his Easter eggs and the thought of such deliciousness had blinded him to the world around him.

Then I understood.

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