Archive for Other Stuff

Resuming in 3, 2, 1…

I’d not posted for a while, not least because the blog went toes-up after updating WordPress to 4.2.2 – one of the plug-ins was incompatible and brought the whole house of cards down. Having been a bit busy with other stuff, my attention was diverted somewhat, and it took a while to get around to sorting it out.

Nonetheless, here it is, back in all its tawdry glory.

Consumerism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

So, I buy a new webcam to use with Skype on my office Windows 8.1 desktop PC. Does it work? Don’t be silly… Clueless Advent support tell me that it’s not designed to work with Win 8, just XP, 2000, Vista, 7. I have to tell them that the product packaging states otherwise. It works fine on Win 7, but only the mic works on 8.1. No suggestions on how to resolve the problem, apart from a full Windows refresh. For a 12-quid webcam, with no guarantee of success? I don’t think so...

Meanwhile, I ordered a sparkly new smart TV, to be delivered today. Curry’s online order tracking facility tells me last night that it will be delivered today, between 3.30pm and 7.30pm. Does it turn up, after I organise half a day to ensure that I’m here to receive it? You must be joking… Do they call me to say that it isn’t coming? Are you kidding? Does their tracking facility offer any explanation, or even a revised guess at another date? No – in fact, it states that the order’s status has been reset to “in progress”.

Must be some new meaning of the word progress that I wasn’t previously aware of…

MEANWHILE – I have a Russell Hobbs iron that is subject to a product recall, because it’s among a range of models that is prone to spontaneously combusting (as featured on the BBC’s Watchdog program). They promise to provide a replacement, free of charge, and have the old one collected. I reported my piece of crap to them on 23 December. Three phone calls in the intervening period and a wild goose chase to a dead phone number later, I still have no replacement, and am using something that may scar me for life. Each time I ring them, it’s as if they’ve never heard of me.

Welcome to the UK.

UPDATE: The TV didn’t get delivered because it was on the wrong size van, apparently. Whut? Now having to wait until next Tuesday. They only book half-day slots, so I’ll be playing the dog-walk roulette. You just KNOW they’ll deliver while Leo and I are out enjoying the 75mph gusts on the prom.

Christmas? To Room 101 with it!

I hope that most people who know me generally wouldn’t consider me to be a Grinch-like character. But there is one aspect of me that is certainly up there with The Big G.

I just don’t like Christmas.

There, I’ve said it.

The fact is that I would dearly love to opt out of the whole charade, but I simply don’t know how to, without upsetting at least a few people. Christmas, it seems, isn’t optional.

I have no problem with the “peace on Earth, and goodwill to all men (and, of course, women and children of both genders)” aspect. In fact, it’s a principle that I try to live by all year round – I don’t save it up until December.

It’s the compulsory jollity that gets me down. I don’t want to dress in stupid clothes and drink myself senseless, thanks. I really don’t need to stuff myself full of the kind of foods that, in sufficient quantities, could induce a heart attack that would fell a hippo (tasty though they may be, brussels sprouts excepted).

I can do without the stress of choosing and buying crap gifts that the recipient neither wants or needs. Sending greetings cards by the dozen to people I wouldn’t know if they attacked me in the street seems utterly pointless. If we have any kind of relationship, let’s write in April or July, just because. But how do you stop without offending people? (Perhaps they want to stop too, but don’t know how to without offending me? Hint – Just stop, I won’t be offended, just delighted, I promise.)

Of course, the whole shebang has no relevance to me from a religious perspective, since I’m a foaming-at-the-mouth atheist who seriously doubts the existence of the messiah whose birth we’re supposed to be celebrating. It’s as relevant to me as Ramadan. Quite apart from which, many of the things that we have come to accept as symbolic of this Christian event are pagan in origin. In fact, the religious bit of it has become such a minor part of it, that I’m sure many people don’t even know about it these days.

As if this lot isn’t enough, it all starts earlier and earlier, usually some time in November or even October, and is pushed down your throat pretty constantly thereafter. By the time the actual day arrives, it’s a huge anti-climax, and I for one am heartily sick of the whole thing by then. And it’s all to do with making you spend yourself silly. The idea that I’m being emotionally hoodwinked into impoverishing myself for the likes of Amazon’s bottom line kind of irks me, you know?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to cancel Christmas. If you enjoy it, go ahead – knock yourself out. I’m quite happy to bemusedly watch it go by from afar, and otherwise have nothing whatsoever to do with it. But that’s almost impossible. There seems to be a cultural obligation to take part in the charade, or be marked as a sort of pariah.

One day, I’ll make the break completely. I don’t know how, or when, but I’m determined to do it.

(I quite like the idea of a winter family gathering, as they used to have before Christmas go really going, with a good meal and conviviality, without all of the above nonsense. Perhaps I can persuade those whom I hold near and dear to go along with this idea…)

My new career in the Leisure Industry

Since my last entry, waaaaay back in June (where did THAT time go???), I have embarked on a new venture, and jolly good fun it is proving to be, too.

I had major surgery done on my house back in April, completely re-modelling the existing bathroom, and adding a new en-suite facility to the guest room. At the time, there was no intention to extend these facilities to anyone other than our occasional friends-and-families visitors. However, AirBnB was brought to my attention as something I might try, to help fill my daily void and, potentially to recoup some of my outlay on the alterations.

I’d never heard of AirBnB before, and if you haven’t, I suggest you give it a serious looking at as a much cheaper and more interesting form of accommodation for travelers.

To summarise, it is a web-based way of letting out spare rooms for financial reward. You can be as basic or extravagant in your facilities as you like, and as long as you are honest and open about your offering, then your guests can expect an experience that’s always going to be more interesting and personal than, say, Travelodge.

I started letting the guest room out at the end of July, making my entry on the AirBnB site live at about 4pm on a Sunday afternoon. I thought that I’d be doing well if I got any sort of response within, say, a month. Eight hours later, I got my first enquiry, and it’s been pretty busy ever since. I’ve had a steady stream of visitors from a wide variety of age-groups and countries – Canada, Australia, USA, Malaysia, China, Singapore, Italy, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Romania and even some from the UK. Bookings have slackened a little since November; that’s to be expected in the winter, I guess, but I already have several bookings for next year, so it promises to be busy again.

The most surprising and satisfying thing is that everyone, without exception, has been really pleasant, and it’s been a genuine pleasure sharing our home with them. Some are more private than others, preferring to spend their time in their room, or watching a movie in the conservatory, but others are happy to share the lounge with us, have a drink and a chat, and to just chill. We’ve learned a lot that way – not just about the individuals, but about their homes and their ways of life.

We’ve seen the other side of the coin, too, and have used AirBnB as guests three times so far. The three stays have been very different, but have each been extremely pleasant and so much more enjoyable than the Travelodge way of doing things. We’re so sold on it that we have future trips to Scotland and Canada all booked up with AirBnB.

So, if you have spare accommodation capacity – ANY spare capacity at all – I can recommend giving AirBnB a go **. You can do as much or as little of it as you want, even offer the most modest of facilities and people will come. You’ll meet some fascinating folk along the way, and make a few bob too.

What’s not to like?

** Unless you live in or very near to Llanfairfechan. Then, of course, you’d hate it. (And I’m not just saying that because I don’t want the competition. No, really.)

If you want to have a gander at my  humble offering, take a peek here…

What It Is To Be British

The Times, Monday 10 June 2014

The Times, Monday 10 June 2014

Two days ago, on Tuesday 10 June 2014, The Times published a picture of the late Rik Mayall, who had died the day before, as his probably best known comedy characterisation, Rick from the 1980s sitcom, “The Young Ones”. Alongside the photo was a report about the Education Secretary, Michael Gove’s pronouncement that, in the wake of accusations of hard-line Muslim infiltration of schools in Birmingham, all schools will be expected to teach children what it is to be British.

The juxtaposition of Mayall’s spotty nerd image and the idea of this as a defining image of Britishness was not lost on me. Whether it was deliberate or not can only be guessed at, but it set me thinking nonetheless.

What is “Britishness”. In a country with as culturally diverse a population as Great Britain, is it possible to define it in any meaningful way? I strongly suspect that it’s one of those things that the more you try to define it, the harder it gets.

The different characteristics of the people of Kent, for example, and the Orkney Islands as indigenous British people makes it impossible, surely? The class divisions in Great Britain only serve to make the task more difficult. How could a stereotypical picture of Britishness include everyone, equally? Add the different ethnic groups that are already well established here, and the problem is magnified further.

Is it even desirable to try to define it? Defining something like Britishness is bound to create narrow stereotypes, elitism, and exclusivity. Those who don’t quite meet the stated requirements are marginalised, and are likely to react negatively. What’s to be gained? Very little, with so much to be lost.

The people to whom such a definition would most appeal, I suspect, are those that harbour resentment of anyone whose ethnic origins lie outside of our borders, however long they, or their families, have been here, or what contribution they make to the British cultural melting pot. I posted the picture above on my Facebook page, and the first comment it elicited was: “They have to decide whether they are British or Muslims, they can’t be BOTH…. If they decide the latter, then deport them to Muslim Land even if they are born here….. Britain is for the British ONLY !”. It’s the sort of attitudes to being part of the European community that enabled UKIP to succeed so dramatically in the recent European elections. Local islands for local people.

I won’t be tempted to fall into the trap of trying to define Britishness. Rather, I would hope that values such as kindness, tolerance, generosity, loyalty, courage, open-mindedness and dignity are taught by example in our schools, our homes, our workplaces and our sports arenas, without an adding a narrow label that is inward-looking, is part of a narrow curriculum, and fosters xenophobic attitudes. If others look at us from abroad and choose to associate those attributes with the population of these islands, and typical of British people, then I will be happy with that.

On Dancing and Stilton

v. dance, danced, danc·ing, danc·es

v.intr.
1. To move rhythmically usually to music, using prescribed or improvised steps and gestures.
2.
a. To leap or skip about excitedly.
b. To appear to flash or twinkle: eyes that danced with merriment.
c. Informal To appear to skip about; vacillate: danced around the issue.
3. To bob up and down.

v.tr.
1. To engage in or perform (a dance).
2. To cause to dance.
3. To bring to a particular state or condition by dancing: My partner danced me to exhaustion.

n.
1. A series of motions and steps, usually performed to music.
2. The art of dancing: studied dance in college.
3. A party or gathering of people for dancing; a ball.
4. One round or turn of dancing: May I have this dance?
5. A musical or rhythmical piece composed or played for dancing.
6. The act or an instance of dancing.

[Middle English dauncen, from Old French danser, perhaps of Germanic origin.]

One of my long-standing personal maxims is “Can’t dance, won’t dance”. I never was much good in the wiggling-to-music department, but if anything my prowess on the dance floor is diminishing, if that were possible, with age.

I have a different view of other people’s appearance when dancing in comparison with my own. Virtually everyone else appears graceful and co-ordinated, even when doing what is now popularly referred to as “dad-dancing”, at weddings and other such gatherings (although I’ve yet to witness it at a funeral…) The problem is that when I attempt it, I feel awkward and horribly out of kilter, and judging by some people’s reactions (including open laughter), I’m not wrong.

Some people have a natural fluidity of movement and exuberance of spirit that enables them to fling themselves around with abandon, and yet maintain an air of dignity. Not me. Even my most reserved shuffling about looks like a one-legged penguin on anti-depressants.

I envy such people, but at the Great British Folk Festival this weekend, at Butlin’s in Skegness, I felt I’d found my soul-mate. It was a gentleman of slightly fewer years than me, but who looked equally ill at ease when dragged up to “dance” by the woman he was accompanying. My heart bled for the poor guy, who was limited to a kind of bobbing up and down, completely out of time with the music, arms semi-raised in a cross between disco and boxing, that bore as little resemblance to dancing as my own pathetic threshings. He looked every bit as comfortable and at home on a dance floor as I do. I could have hugged him. An entrant for “Strictly Come Twitching” if ever there was.

Thank you, sir. I no longer feel quite so alone in this world.

On Stilton

I’m usually quite keen to experience new foods, or variations on old favourites. Being something of a fan-boy for cheese in general, and a cheese on toast (the luncheon of champions) aficionado, I thought I’d give Stilton on toast a try, for two reasons: a) I’d never tried it before, and b) more significantly, it was the only cheese available in my fridge when lunch time swung around.

My verdict? – Don’t bother.

Strangely, it doesn’t melt quite the same as a nice Cheddar, Red Leicester or even a crumbly Lancashire or Cheshire. It’s possibly due to the mouldy bits, but it just doesn’t quite hack it in the melting department. The flavour isn’t really good for cheese on toast, either. It’s just, I don’t know, wrong.

So – there’s today’s top food tip.

Be glad that I do it so you don’t have to. No, you don’t have to thank me.

Into the fray…

Welcome to my blog site, and thanks for stopping by.

I’ll be posting all sorts of stuff here, so be warned – it may appear a little random.

Sorry about that, but if it’s not to your taste, please just pass me by. Otherwise, I hope you’ll find something of value here, and please – do engage with comments.