Friday, 25 December 2009

Pope on a rope

Merry Christmas, all.

I see today, that on one of the major events of the Christian calendar, that the Catholic church has pulled off the marketing achievement of the year. A woman jumps off a fence, misses the Pope, the Pope only hits the deck because a bodyguard jumps on him, and they've got the news headlines on Christmas day to the detriment of every other religion, particularly Anglicans.

I wonder if they've employed Simon Cowell?

Monday, 14 December 2009

Offended? Really?

Another story from the BBC website. This time, someone has been offended by a card in Tesco. What was so bad about it? I quote; "...a lot of my friends and other people I know, we are absolutely disgusted", so you can see it must have been incredibly offensive. In fact, Tesco's are removing the greetings card from the shelves.

Was it Racist? No.

Was it sexist? No.

Again, a quote; "The card shows a child with ginger hair sitting on the lap of Santa Claus, and the words: 'Santa loves all kids. Even ginger ones.' "

Now, I tread carefully. My wife has red hair. Red hair is fine. I personally wouldn't wind anyone up about it, and I know for a fact she gets irritated by people calling her ginger. Not offended, just irritated. It's not funny.

That's how I look at this card. Not funny. But offensive? Seriously? I saw a card with a fat Father Christmas stuck in the chimney, well surely that's offensive to fat people?

Again, quoting the touchy lady who complained. "If the card had been about an overweight child then the shop would have been shut down, and so would the people who made the card."

No it wouldn't. Unless the subject matter was illegal. So, my suggestion would be to get over it, and find something important to worry about. Like Afghanistan. Or cancer. Or poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, child abuse, men who beat up their wives (and vice-versa), crime in deprived areas, or one of the other million things that actually matter in the world. Because compared to those things, a card with a gentle dig at ginger-haired kids is easily ignored.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

"... smoke it out then 'it it over the 'ead with a spade"

Here's an interesting picture, I took today whilst walking near where I live. I don't think it's particularly gruesome, but I can see some people wouldn't like this much.

I thought it important to show it though. I've never seen anything like it in my entire life.
A pile of dead moles is certainly not something you'll ever see outside BHS in Hull city centre, that's for sure.
I reckon there are three ways you can look at this.
1. You can be utterly disgusted with the disregard for the lives of animals, and complain loudly about the welfare of innocent creatures being slaughtered in this way.
2. You can accept that moles are a nuisance to farmers because they ruin meadowland with their molehills, hence reducing the amount of grass available to feed their stock during the winter months, and putting their livelihoods at some risk of being financially affected. They are stacked up for future use elsewhere, possibly falconry, or such like.
3. You can suppose that country folk are barking mad, and no other sane person in the entire world would even consider stacking up dead moles on a fencepost next to a public right of way, in this manner.
I fall somewhere between 2 and 3, although sympathise with 1 a little bit. If you stacked up dead rats in this way outside Tesco, there'd be complaints for sure.
I'll be off out again tomorrow, and I'm hoping to find some tap-dancing red squirrels. You'll be the first to know if I spot any.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Swindon - twinned with Disneyland

image: The Guardian

Sounds like a joke, but evidently it's true, according to this BBC report. Swindon? Disneyland? No doubt the Swindon schoolchildren are all gagging for the exchange visit.

I've been to Swindon. I spent a week there on a work training course, and remember very little of it, asides from a few snippets.

The magic roundabout. Yes, we've all heard of it, the locals love it but to a visitor, it's scary as hell. I don't ever want to repeat the experience of driving round/across it. Perhaps the thrill-seekers would get as big a kick out of driving around it, as they would on any Disneyland white-knuckle ride.

The dodgiest nightclub I ever visited. Oh yes. Dodgier than Hull's former Tower nightclub. Even dodgier, I'd guess, than Hull's former "Henry's" nightclub... or maybe not. Still, though, very dodgy. Can't remember it's name. It was split in two, had the stickiest carpets in nightclub history, and drinks were included in the entry fee hence it was rammed. Although dodgy, still a good night, if I remember, although for some reason I decided to wander back to the hotel, on my own, in a town I was unfamiliar with, and at one point had to run. Fast. The clue was, the guy shouting abuse had ripped his shirt off and thrown it on the floor. Not sure what I'd done, but I certainly didn't plan a civilised discussion over tea and biscuits.

erm... that 's it. Actually, after a full week, the only other thing I remember about Swindon was the hotel, which was very nice. So there you go. Swindon, home of bad roundabouts, bad nightclubs and bad, scary people. There's a strapline for the Wiltshire tourist board.

There's one thing I do know, though. I don't want to go to Disneyland, and I'm certainly not keen on a trip back to Swindon. Hence, they probably deserve to be twinned!

Monday, 30 November 2009

Street-Porter watch

In my quest to ensure Janet Street-Porter contributes to the local community, I've spotted this.

She's at the school motivating the kids. She's been entering animals into the show. I've seen her at a couple of local events this year. She's even been on Gordon Ramsay's show, plugging our dale.

Oh yes. Street-Porter is a fully-fledged local. Probably gets more involved in local events than I do, but then I've got no money and can't afford to get involved with bugger-all at the moment, which is a bit sad.

If I spot her again, be sure I'll keep you informed!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

"The 'Dick Turpin' savings bank"

The banks appear to have won the great bank charges debate, thanks to a high court ruling that basically says the OFT aren't allowed to rule on whether charges are fair or not.

There are two points of view about bank account charges. The first is from the point of view of people who are careful with their cash, never go overdrawn, and aren't subject to charges. They argue that if, as banks claim, the charges they levy on unauthorised overdrafts and the like allow them to continue to offer free bank accounts, then why should they have to start paying a monthly fee on their account? Which is true, I guess.

The other view is, that in today's modern age, it costs next to nothing if the bank has to refuse a payment. They don't even send letters anymore, if you have a paperless account. In my experience, the people who are regularly running up charges on their accounts are either bad at finances, which is their hard luck, or more likely the low paid, who are only permanently running up charges because it's the charges themselves that are putting them in the red. If you are having financial difficulty, it seems a bit unfair that you are subsidising people who can easily afford to pay their way in life, by luck or judgement. Anyone can fall on hard times in the future, and we'll see if some of the smug 'well don't go overdrawn then' smart-alecs are so clever if their financial circumstances change. City centres the country over are populated with Big Issue sellers who probably didn't expect to be in a position of homelessness.

Here's a couple of examples. 3 years ago, I bought a telly over a 2 year loan, but accidentally gave the d/d details for a savings account with no money in it. That's my fault. The bank charged me because they refused to pay the bill, because there was no money in the account, and no overdraft facility. They took the charge from the very same account, making it overdrawn and incurring a charge for an unauthorised overdraft. The company taking the money charged me for the rejected payment, and because the d/d was set for the payment due date, they charged me again for being behind with my payments. That one error cost me £130 in charges, for a £40 payment, one charge being for something the bank did but wouldn't let me do, and one because there was no leeway on payment dates. Which I think is unfair. There's no way the cost to the banks was anywhere near that amount.

3 months ago, a payment took our joint account over it's limit. We were charged for this. The bank also rejected two direct debit payments, one of which was for £8. Total charges; £105. We put money into the account to cover being overdrawn - we'd already worked out we needed more money that month, but because the bank couldn't be bothered putting a letter in the post we thought we'd put the money in on time. We hadn't, and next month the exact same thing happened. Ironically, the only reason we went over our limit again, was because of the £105 charge. So, going £50 over the overdraft limit will probably end up costing us the thick end of £300.

I don't think that's fair. I accept it's my fault, but for one small error I'm penalised beyond my means - we haven't go £300 to spare. Especially when I know that the cost to the bank was limited. The bank, incidentally, has changed the charges on it's account to much less, as have others, and I suspect they didn't expect to win today's ruling. They did, and can now continue to take our money at will. And although I'm no socialist, the poor subsidising the better off is wrong.

The one thing it has done is make me more determined to end my reliance on banks, so today is the first day of my 5-year plan to pay off everything I owe. Then I can tell the banks to shove it.

Incidentally, I work for a bank. I like my salary, so will say no more than refer you to the famous words of Mark Twain;

"A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain."

Friday, 13 November 2009

another b%**!y birthday

image: creative paper

I turned 37 on monday, as anyone on Facebook will know, and a week later I've not come to terms with it yet.

Which is odd. Some one once told me that if you got up this morning, it's already a good day, and he was right. So I got older, but that's to be celebrated.

Except that, as you know, I'm stuck in the past. My life ain't great at present, and every time I look at methods to improve this, people invariably require money to assist in getting out of the great rut I've lodged myself firmly into. So it's only to be expected, then, that I look to happier times, and happier birthdays.

Hm. Happier birthdays? I've been recapping some of the birthdays I've had in the past, and some have definitely being better than others. 18, I spent with family having a pub meal, which was pleasant if not exciting. 21, the family came round again, and everyone had a jolly time, I believe. 19, I vaguely remember the drunken, and exceptionally embarrassing (and ultimately, unsuccessful - unsurprisingly, really; I'm amazed I escaped without a slap, or twenty) attempts of making 'friends' with a work colleague. Oooooooh lordy, that still makes me shiver.

13, now that was a laugh. Bonfire night with some kids from school, highlights being 'Briggsy' stepping backwards onto a rocket and watching the sellotape-repaired projectile almost blow up next door's house, and the unintended (and deeply upsetting) destruction of my collection of painted Airfix WW2 fighter planes, in 1:72 scale. The day culminating in a gunfight with various toy guns, firing projectiles of disk/sucker dart variety.

17 was the first birthday I don't particularly recall getting excited about. I remember getting up, and not being fussed, getting ready and going out without any real celebration or inclination to do so. At all. Ironically, my 17th birthday was also the day the Berlin wall came down, so perhaps it's not surprising the entire day paled into insignificance.

30, I spent a weekend in a B&B in Wharfedale, which was fantastic, so much so we went back for my wife's 30th. Hers was more memorable, due to the whole of the dales being flooded; we almost didn't make it back to the b&b, but it sticks in the brain and provided some good pictures.
22. The university had organised buses to London, at £4 a head, so we could all attend a student march. So we went to London, and ignored the march to have a day in the capital. For £4. Most enjoyable.

And that's it. No other birthdays stick in the head, or stand out, sadly. Which suggests I'm either boring, or don't do anything exciting anymore, or both. Someone else once told me (a French teacher, as I recall) that life is like a bar of Galaxy. 8 chunks, 10 years a chunk, and that's it. Well, I'm 3 years off my 4th chunk, so I'd better start getting ready for 40!

Anyway. To end the week, and try and cheer me up a bit (!) here's a video. The obvious one would be Stevie Wonder singing his birthday greetings to Nelson Mandela, but that's boring and obvious and I'd much rather be reminded of Clare Grogan in her prime, so enjoy, courtesy of Youtube.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

ho ho chuffin' ho

I went into a famous catalogue-shopping establishment (let's call it 'argoose') last week. End of October, and they were playing christmas tunes over the tannoy. It's started, then, the countdown to christmas.

I used to love the festive season. As a kid, it's great. It's your one chance to own a decent telly/stereo/computer. When I was 7, we all had to write letters to Santa at school. I asked for a torch, and a 'Race & Chase' slot-racing-budget-Scalextric thing. Remarkably, that's what I got, so credit to the school for organising that one! Thing is, it was exciting. Even when I got older, Christmas was still a laugh.

Then I started work. My first job was for Gateway supermarkets, in November 1988. Christmas was hard work, but a laugh. The tannoy music was cheesy, but Christmas started properly in December, and in the years after, the money I earnt in this job paid for some fantastic nights out over Christmas. Christmas Eve to me was a better night than New Year, because it wasn't as busy and everyone was up for a laugh. Even the year I was spectacularly ill on sweet cider whilst in fancy dress was a laugh.

Then something changed. I continued to work in supermarkets, for Kwik-Save and then Iceland. Back in 1988, Christmas Eve had a pattern, the morning was mad-busy with people buying fresh produce, and the afternoon went quiet as people went home to prepare for the next day. We'd all go home by 4pm.

The rot started at Kwik Save. Firstly, they opened Sundays. Then, they opened late nights until 10pm - an utter waste of time, and on the council estate I worked on, it was a serious security risk as well. That was followed by a mandate that at close of business Christmas Eve, we all had to stay late to get the shop ready for re-opening, and that took away the one perk of retail. We'd worked like idiots for a week so we could relax on Christmas Eve, but now we were being told that we had to stay late, whilst I suspect the head office and board of directors were all down the pub.

Something else changed. Christmas started in August, not December or even late-November. By December 24th, we'd had 4 months of it. In addition, customers changed. Christmas Eve became busy all day. Customers started buying more and more junk they didn't need. In reality, the shops are shut for one day, but it became really obvious that as a retailer, my job was to take as much money from the customer as possible, whether they had it or not.

And that killed it for me. Not just the 4 months of festive season, but the realisation that there really isn't any purpose to Christmas anymore, other than to spend money on crap. Crap that in reality, on boxing day will probably be half price. Crap that is readily available throughout the year, but we've been programmed to buy it in December.

People hear this, and then tell me 'Ah, but it's for families'. Hmm. It's the perfect time of the year for people to be made to feel inadequate that their family isn't perfect, particularly those who've lost relatives. You get cards from people who you've not seen for ten years, and cards from people at work you see every day, for God sake. TV is full of trash, even more so than usual, and the Queen gets to patronise her long-suffering subjects.

So, if I appear grumpy over Christmas, I apologise, but truthfully it has no meaning to me anymore, other than to sit in front of the telly enjoying some time off work with a fridge full of beer, Which I think is a bit sad. I doubt Santa will be bringing me a torch this year!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

I've stopped wanting to ride my bicycle

Well, I did it. I went out on the bike. 8 miles into Pateley, and 8 miles back.

10 years ago I'd have ripped up the road. It'd have taken an hour at most. Bradley Wiggins, Lance Armstrong, Graham Obree, they'd have been left in my wake as I flew through the roads of Upper Nidderdale at phenomenal speed, arcing through the corners, stood on the pedals up the hills.

Back in the real world, 40 minutes there and 50 minutes back is what it actually took. Every single muscle in my body is now screaming at me to go to bed until tomorrow morning. Muscles I had genuinely forgotten I had. Legs. Arms. Back. Even my stomach is complaining.

I'm actually quite depressed at how unfit I've become in a year and a half, and I'm clearly going to have to do something about this. 8 miles a night for the next week at least.

But not tomorrow. Looks like the bus again, for a week or so at least!

Friday, 16 October 2009

I want to ride my bicycle

I've spent the afternoon making my bicycle roadworthy again. To be fair, it only took some work on the brakes, but it's now in fine fettle and raring to go. Unlike it's owner. I'm 36, and my fitness is the lowest it's ever been. I actually ran the cycle down our lane (approx. 500 yards), went back up the hill, and wondered whether or not I should ring NHS Direct for advice such was the burning in my chest. Had I have made the call, they'd never have got a coherent word out of me.

Consequently, I need to start using the thing again. Long gone are the days when I would randomly go on a 90-mile round trip to Scarborough for a day out, on the racing cycle I put together myself - the picture at the top is that very bike, in fact, before I was dumb enough to put it on eBay. I can still tell you the brand name of every part of that bike down to the number of teeth on the chainwheel/rear cluster, and regret selling it still.

And then I remember why I sold it, because it had 14 gears, all in the high range. It was like owning a Ferrari, lovely but not practical for nipping to the local supermarket. It went like stink off a stinky stick, but relied on the rider to be fit and agile, something which I'm not anymore. Hence, I got a new one with more suitable gearing a few years back, which needed repairing today to make it roadworthy again, and now it's done I've no excuse not to get fit again.

Restoring my rapidly-flagging fitness is only a secondary reason for this sudden re-interest in cycling. The prime reason for doing this is because I've no money, and at £80 a month I could save a fair bit by forgetting the bus and cycling the 16.6 miles between Harrogate and Leeds. Each way. I've done a regular commute that was 10 miles each way before. I also regularly cycled to meet a train at Selby on a 6 speed folder, which was 8 miles. So I'm confident I can do it - if I stay fit enough. Watching cyclists fly past our stationary bus in the regular morning traffic-jams in Leeds is also providing inspiration.

I've mentioned this to Mrs B. The conversation goes "I'm going to cycle to work." "No you're not". End of conversation. Ultimately, Mrs B thinks I'm going to be squashed by a car/bus/truck/JCB (delete as applicable), but I genuinely don't believe it's any more dangerous than crossing the road. My moped is far, far scarier to ride, and at the pace I used to cycle at it's probably not much quicker in it's current, speed-restricted, state. The highlight of my youth was overtaking old, flagging (usually Tomos - brand, ie rubbish) mopeds. Hilarious fun, watching said-moped riders face as some upstart on a Raleigh Pursuit flew past, pedalling flat out, laughing uncontrollably as sweat poured from his brow.

Anyway. I have a day off work next Wednesday, and will go for a trial run then. My bus ticket runs out Tuesday, so either I renew it on the way home or go for it.

Friday, 9 October 2009

10 BORDER 0 : PAPER 0 : INK 7: CLS

I'm about to go off on a huge nostalgia trip, for which I'm not even going to apologise. But if all this reminiscing about the past winds you up, you'll hate what's coming.

Still here? Excellent. Take a look at the picture above.

They're both mine, I rediscovered them during a recent clearout. For those who don't know, the one at the top is a Spectrum+ 48K. Below it is a ZX81. Somewhere in the garage, I have an original Spectrum, complete with rubber keys.

The ZX81 is older, but I guess the Spectrum is the most important of the two to myself. It started life as a rubber-keyed 16K model, was upgraded to 48K, and had the improved keyboard added later still. It had 8 colours (16 colours technically - light and dark shades of each!), which improved on the ZX81 which was black and white, low resolution, 1K memory, and no lower case characters. Plug the Spectrum into the TV now, and it still fires up the start screen, although the keyboard refuses to accept any input which I reckon is because the Kempston joystick interface was faulty and killed the rest of the computer. (The ZX81 works, but you need a particular type of old TV with manual tuning, and the wind needs to be blowing from the north-east at exactly 14.3 MPH. Its temperamental, to say the least!)

Possibly, none of the above paragraph made any sense to you. It made no sense at work on Wednesday, when I was trying to explain what this machine was, to no avail until someone piped up 'It was an old games console'.

Which I guess it was, kind-of. If that's what you wanted it to be. But it was more than that. It was programmable, and it let you write your own games if you had the time and patience. With the right adaptor, it let you write letters and print them out. Clive Sinclair, who owned the company that invented and sold these computers once claimed that the ZX81 could run a nuclear power station. Doubtful - the add-on memory module reset by moving it, so one knock and we would be clearing up nuclear fallout for decades.

The thing is, during the 1980's you had two options in life. People wax lyrical about 1980's music, but between 1983-1989, I can't really place many songs. That's because instead of visiting school disco's, I was sat in my bedroom, destroying my eyesight on a black and white telly, writing pointless programs - or even worse, copying them line for line from magazines. Copying computer programs was long-winded, laborious, but when the program failed to work you could learn an awful lot about programming by trying to de-bug your 6 hours worth of typing.

When I did my A-level in computing, I had to adapt to other programming languages. But, this was stupidly easy for me because I already knew the basics. Later during my HND, I picked up Pascal programming far easier than about 50% of my year, because I'd already learnt most of the techniques. Still now, I can implement IF..THEN..ELSE statements in Excel spreadsheets. So, during the 80's when everyone bought their kids computers without having a clue what they did, or why, under the pretext that 'it'll help with their homework', I guess it really did help with mine. It probably help me avoid a lot of homework too, I 'lost' an awfully large number of books at school due to homework not being done, because I'd been up until 2am attempting to get Bilbo Baggins out of the Goblin's dungeon.

Of course, with modern PC's and Internet access, computers really do help with homework. Computers are now a tool, and pretty much anyone can use one because you don't normally need to write your own program. It also helps that computers generally work together - it's a choice of Windows/Linux PC, or Apple. In 1982 when the Spectrum was born, there were numerous computers, and none of them were compatible with each other. BBC. Oric-1. Dragon 32. Commodore 64. Jupiter Ace. Even computers made by the same manufacturer were incompatible. The two computers above had similarities, but just because Sinclair made them doesn't mean the older programs worked on the new computer!

These computers were all but dead by the 1990's, and the replacement Amiga's/Atari ST's that replaced them where far, far more advanced and useful, setting the platform for today's modern computers. I moved to an Amiga because my friends had them, as I got a Spectrum because most of the people my dad worked with had them - attitudes to pirated software were lax compared to today.

Anyway. Enough reminiscing, but if you've never seen this, I guarantee it'll bring back a flood of memories for any other saddo's like me. Granted it's been around for ages, but I still like it. And if you want to relive your Spectrum experience, well there are a load of emulators here.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

A grand day out

It's nice to type up a blog entry about something I actually enjoyed, rather than the usually whinging that seems to have become a habit of mine recently, but yesterday I had a day out with Mrs B at the annual Nidderdale Agricultural Society show. And, I have to say, it was a bloomin' good day out.

Last year, the 2008 show (held in Pateley Bridge) was my first ever visit to an agricultural show. The Nidderdale show is held 8 miles down the road from where I live, so is quite an important event in my hamlet and around the local area. In fact, the Nidderdale show attracts entries from all over the country, in part because it's the last show of the year, and therefore the last opportunity to display your animals before they go away for the winter. It's also a good excuse to get together with like-minded people, and discuss farming matters. I enjoyed it as a day out, but some of these people I suspect rarely meet anyone on a day-to-day basis, and the show is a real chance to get together that rarely happens in the hill farming communities.

I went to the Great Yorkshire Show earlier in the year, but didn't really enjoy it, mainly because it was so big. There didn't feel like any local input, there wasn't anything there I could properly relate to. That's not true of the Nidderdale show. It's like a very big, very well organised village fete. I got the tickets from the farmer 3 doors away, who helped organise it. The bloke from down the road was stewarding the sheep. The lady next door had entered about a million things into the handicrafts section, and from last years successes, she probably expected some decent prize money as well!

Anyway. The only disappointment of the day was the non-attendance of the 'White Helmets' Motorcycle Display team due to swine flu, although the chap who replaced them was pretty impressive - jumping off ramps on a quad bike isn't something I would recommend you try! The animals were all turned out exceptionally well, and there was a particularly good turnout in the sheep classes as you'd expect in a predominantly sheep-farming area! The food tents were OK, but a few more wouldn't go amiss - an opportunity to promote local produce was probably missed here. And of course, there were some unfeasably large vegetables winning prizes in the food tent.

You may also remember this post, suggesting Janet Street-Porter got off her butt and offered more support, after her measly £5 donation last year. Well, I'm pleased to report, having perused the 2009 catalogue, that she entered chickens and pigs into the various categories. I've no idea whether she won, or indeed if she was there, but a large pat-on-the-back is required. I entered nothing this year, to my disgrace, although I've earmarked the categories which will receive my patronage this time. You should come along and see them for yourself!

Nb. I'm not sure how many prizes my neighbour won, however I can confirm at least, that she won in one out of the four flower arranging categories AND took the prize for the best display in all four categories. Pretty impressive, I'd say!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Jings, Crivvens, Help ma' Boab

Now, here's a photograph that speaks a thousand words. It might look like an innocent holiday snap to you, but believe me, the look of joy on my face is genuine.

Regular visitors to Scotland on the A1 may recognise it. It's the 'Welcome to England' sign on the south-bound carriageway, and when the picture was taken in 2001 it made the pitiful brown sign welcoming you to Scotland on the other side of the road look embarrassing. They get a boring sign, we get a layby and custom-built stone sign. The most amusing thing about the 'Scotland Welcomes You' sign across the road is that, truthfully, it didn't welcome me one little bit. Long before Scottish Parliaments, but after Braveheart the movie, Scotland extended an icy-cold stare in place of a handshake. I couldn't wait to leave.

I'll give you some Beetwaste - Scotland background. There are 3 reasons I had a downer on Scotland. I went on a family holiday to Edinburgh which, despite the good company, was crap. It rained. All the time. There was nothing much to do for a teenage boy with an interest in railways that he'd yet to grow out of. Edinburgh in the rain is a black, dull, miserable place, even in festival week. Oh yes, it was dire. My only other visit was a day out to Dumfries, the Queen of the South. Oh dear, what a dreary place. The riverbank was being rebuilt, and we only went because Mrs Beetwaste (despite some tenuous Scottish lineage) had never actually visited the country. There is a third reason I don't like Scotland, but that's for another day!

So, in 2001, we took a decision to visit the place properly, and vowed to have an open mind. 2001 was the year of the foot and mouth outbreak, and our usual holiday destination was limited because all the footpaths were closed to walkers. Scotland didn't have this restriction, at the not in the Highlands. So, tent packed into the 1988 Toyota Corolla, off we went.

Plan A was to camp in Edinburgh, and we took the back road, the A68, a very scenic route. It was very nice. In Edinburgh, the campsite appeared to be shut, so we consulted our 'Good Campsite Guide 2001' and headed off to Galashiels, to a recommended site. It wasn't so much a campsite, as a refugee facility that seemed to be housing victims of the Galashiels earthquake. We left fearing for our lives (seriously!), and found a layby. Our first night was spent scrunched into a camping-equipment rammed car, in a layby near a not-very-pleasant Scottish border town. Not a great introduction to Caledonia.

So, next morning, about 4am-ish, cramp in legs, unwashed, after a toilet stop in the bushes near the layby, we set off again. Now, Edinburgh at 5am in the sun is a revelation, a glorious city - if you ever go, get up early before the traffic and tourists ruin it. The two Forth bridges were an impressive site. Breakfast at McDonalds, drive on to a campsite on a disused railway platform near Crianlarich (we would have stopped at Ardlui, a favourite haunt of my parent-in-laws, but it appeared very unfriendly, plus the campsite-to-toiletblock walk crossed the main road to the Highlands, which seemed dangerous). That campsite was very nice, and looking on Google, it seems that we stayed at the Glen Dochart caravan park. Ironically, the site owner was English!

The week had highs and lows. The highlight was the Pitlochry fish ladder and dam, well worth a trip. But my biggest problem was the locals. With the notable exception of a garage in Stirling who fixed my car for the cost of parts and were very friendly, most of the other places I visited clearly wanted me to go back home.

The first time it happened, I thought it was just me - remember I'd vowed to go with an open mind. We bought chips in Fort William (now there's an overrated destination, don't waste your time or money visiting unless you have to!) The woman behind the counter was chatting to everyone in front of us, and some were clearly tourists. It got to our turn, and she clammed up the moment I opened my mouth, and managed the impressive feat of serving me using only the basic essential words, before continuing to the chap behind us as she was before. Couldn't have been more unfriendly if I'd been wearing a 'Robert the Bruce was a t**t' t-shirt.

Then, a toilet stop in the Glencoe visitors centre. Oh, that was a pleasure. The toilets are actually inside the centre, therefore you have to pay to go in for a pee. So whilst in there we had a look around. It had cost us a quid! The 'highlight' was a video about what utter bastards the English landowners were, casting poor Scottish women and children into the snow during their eviction. Ok, the land clearances were not our finest moment as a nation, but it's not my fault! The over-dramatisation of this event again, made me feel about as welcome as a dog in a cat convention.

The moment when I accepted that it wasn't just my prejudice, and I genuinely wasn't welcome, was at a place called Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond (again, vastly over-rated as a beauty spot, Loch Tay near Dundee is far, far more scenic and unspoilt). Luss is the place were 'Take the High Road' was filmed, the well-known Scottish soap featuring Mrs Mack. I purchased an ice-cream from a girl who displayed the exact same traits as the Fort William chip-shop owner, only it was multiplied by a million, ie. a 'Give me your money and sod off back south' attitude. No such worries about the bus load of American tourists, who were welcomed with open arms by a piper.

And that was it. Tartan, bagpipes, tins of shortbread with pictures of Rabbie Burns on them. It fitted every stereotype, but instead of being proud and patriotic it came across as 'We don't want to be like you, and all our problems are your fault'. So we went home.

Well that's not true, we only went 'home' in the sense of heading back to Yorkshire. Our trip home went via a petrol station to dispose of our useless Scottish bank notes (the guy's face when I gave him an English £10 note was priceless, you'd have thought I'd handed over a handful of rabbit droppings!) It also took us through Glasgow, which we passed through with doors locked. What a truly awful city. Nasty, dirty, unpleasant place, like every sink estate in Britain concentrated into one place.

We headed off to Arncliffe in Littondale. The campsite had 2 tents in it, including us, and the bloke in there was over the moon to see us. You see, they'd had a shocking year, because the news was full of how bad foot and mouth was, how everything was shut, and how you should keep away. In fact, only the paths were shut. The tourist places were crying out for people, because they'd finally realised how important visitors were. Wherever they were from.

The rest of the week was great. The weather was rubbish, obviously - it was a camping holiday. But the people were great, the views were great, the attractions were great. We were home. And we were welcome. In fact, we still are, most of the time! If you have a better experience of Scotland, I'm pleased, but I still thinks it's a shame that my view of a glorious, scenic, nation has been jaundiced by the chippy attitude of the locals. And, Edinburgh is the rain is still rubbish!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Suits you, Plato

I try not to earwig other peoples conversations on my daily bus trip to Leeds, but over the last few days a couple of kids have had discussions which I find it difficult to get my head around.

First, I heard these two older adolescents discussing a suit. One had 3, apparently, on the advice of his mother.

The next day, it turns out that 2 of these suits are awaiting completion at the tailor.

This is odd, because I've only ever had 3 suits. One I got married in, one was from Grattan, and the third was an oddly striped item from Southwells on Anlaby Road, Hull - it was cheap, but I didn't pay for it. These two kids were both wearing tailored suits to wear to school. Leeds Grammar, as it turns out.

This morning's chat involved maths. The conversation revolved around whether Maths was a language, and culminated in a discussion about the views of Plato on this subject.

Now, when I went to school, I certainly didn't wear a suit, in fact f I'd have turned up at Wolfreton in one - and Wolfreton is one of Hull/East Riding's better comprehensives - I'd have certainly arrived home in attire resembling rags and a level of street-cred lower that it already was. I could easily bamboozle people with discussions about palaeontology, but never actually discussed the works of philosophers, and certainly not on the bus. Being able to pronounce 'Archaeopteryx' already labelled me a bit of a geek anyway. More likely, the discussion would be about the state of the cheddar butteries in the canteen, or who'd been seeing/beaten up by who.

Private schools appear to have a different agenda to the bog-standard comprehensive I went to. My cousin went to a private school. He flunked his GCSE's, retook most of them at my 6th form, and preferred his time in the state sector primarily because they actually called him by his first name. However, he carried himself very differently to the people I knew, and was certainly more confident than I ever will be. Maybe the private education gives you life advantages, or maybe it's just that people in private education have better advantage anyway. Certainly they have more money, judging by the procession of top-of-the-range 4-wheel drive vehicles that delay our progress in the morning, delivering Jeremy Whittington-Smythe to his day of Latin lessons.

I remain open minded about private education. But if I had kids, there's no way they'd get away with discussing Plato on the bus. That's just not right!

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Wedding night-do hell

I was 'lucky' enough to accompany Mrs Beetwaste to a wedding do last night, a work colleague she knows got married.

Now, anyone who has ever known me well over the last few years knows what I think of weddings. Generally, I've never been to one I enjoyed. In fact, I have a habit of avoiding them at all costs. Once, I asked my work to ensure my shift was essential, in order that I didn't have to attend a family event. Truly awful days. I particularly object to spending the day pretending to look like I'm enjoying myself.

A wedding is nothing to do with me, of course. No doubt your wedding was great, if you've had one. But there are various shades of wedding. There's ours, which involved 5 people all day and involved as few traditional elements as possible. There are the ones that try to be a bit different, and good luck to those people. But every now and again, a wedding crops up which is labelled as 'traditional', and believe me, the do I went to last night ticked every box for a traditional wedding.

Bride in flowing white dress - tick.
First dance by bride/groom - tick.
Throwing bouquet - tick.
Small children playing with balloons and falling asleep - tick.
Bored looking old people - tick.
Cackling girls dressed like slappers, dragging bored boyfriends around - tick.
Crap DJ - tick tick tick!

Everything I dislike, wrapped up in shiny paper, tied in a bow and presented with a big fanfare and a giant banner. And as for the DJ. Oh lordy. There are good DJ's. There are bad DJ's. And, there are wedding DJ's. who sandwich "Breathe Slow" by Alesha Dixon between "Warriors' Dance" by the Prodigy and "Human" by the Killers . And if you must have an ultra violet light, don't wear a white shirt because you look a bit silly.

I'm sure the bride had a great day. Flowing dress aside, she was properly the centre of attention, looked fantastic, and the best quote I heard was "Her face hurts because she's not stopped smiling all day". That's how it should be.

But my word, I hated it! I won't be upset if you don't invite me to yours. In fact, make a point of telling me you aren't and I'll like you more for your honesty!

Friday, 7 August 2009

This goes on in the 21st Century

I'm keen on keeping this blog neutral. I believe people can make their own minds up about things, and what I write here is my personal opinion. But I'm making no apologies for being a bit partisan on this one, because it's got me riled.

I don't profess to be a dog lover. I find dogs similar to children, in that they demand constant attention, can't be left on their own for long and require cleaning up after themselves all the time. Maybe your dog is different, but I tend to find it's the general theme. And like children, I can generally tolerate other peoples dogs for short periods of time, as long as they go away again quite quickly.

Well maybe I'm being a bit harsh! But dogs do require looking after. It's part of the deal when you get the dog. You feed it, walk it, keep it healthy, and give it fuss and attention. If you do this, your dog will be a loyal companion for life. By and large, I expect most people do this. Unfortunately, it's not always the case, and as such organisations like the RSPCA will always be around until people accept that mistreating your pet is unacceptable.

I don't believe you can separate child abuse from animal abuse. I'd suspect that people who mistreat animals are of the same mindset of child abusers (and it appears others think the same). Children have no voice other than their parents. Animals have no voice either. In fact, children have a chance of growing up and gaining a voice, which can deal with the issues in later life, whereby animals never do. It's utterly unacceptable in both cases. I suspect animal abuse probably offends me more, personally, because I have no children, and people I know who have children all, quite rightly, become very 'child-first'.

Therefore, when I saw this report on Sky News on Tuesday night, you can only imagine how disgusted I was. I genuinely cannot believe that in 2009, there are fully licensed puppy farms, keeping intelligent creatures in small pens, permanently indoors, never seeing daylight. Never seeing any light it would appear, as the lights were off and there were no windows in the large shed the dogs were in. Some dogs hiding in the corner. Some dogs pacing through boredom. Some animals with puppies, one of which appeared lifeless. Fully licensed by the local authority. It's actually not illegal to do this.

The puppies at least get a fighting chance of eventually having some quality of life, unlike the mothers' who are allowed to do nothing more than breed continuously. That's assuming that the puppies don't have any physical or psychological problems. The report spoke to people whose dogs became ill, and didn't last 4 months. The dogs from these farms are sent to pet shops, who charge ridiculous amounts of money for these animals. The report featured a particular store, 'Dogs 4 Us' with branches in Leeds and Manchester, though I expect there are similar stores throughout the country. I would guess that Sky News took an interest in these stores because they have pictures up of the famous people they've supplied, including Wayne Rooney.

Well, I believe that dogs aren't like a tin of beans from Asda, and pet shops aren't the place to buy them. I reckon pet shops should sell pet accessories, and leave the pets to registered breeders, who can vet the buyers for suitability to own a dog and show you the mother and puppies together, so you know they've had some sort of quality of life. I'm sure that in the 21st century, puppy farms should be closed down, in the same way that supermarkets stock eggs from caged hens less and less, as people's awareness of how animals are treated changes over time.

The RSPCA agree. I don't always see eye to eye with them, but when they campaign properly then they deserve our support - have a look here. I suggest you let your MP know. Most importantly, if you're wanting a dog then avoid the pet shop and follow the guidelines, because your dog is likely to have problems if it's from the wrong place. And finally, if you are considering buying a dog, don't go to a crummy little pet shop. I wonder if these dog warehouses walk the animals daily? Give them attention? It's like a dog zoo.

Zoos. There's another story entirely, and I'll save that one for another day I think!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

"I'm still waiting for permission for a poo"

You may remember this previous blog, in which I had a letter telling me the blindingly obvious, my water supply is going to kill me and Mrs. Beetwaste if we drink it untreated. Basically, the council had deemed it necessary to test the water, and inform us it was rubbish and they'll be testing it again soon.

Well, they've been back. We got a letter from Harrogate council. The envelope was addressed to 'The occupier', so someone must've had a word that some people have moved house. Mind you, when I opened the letter it was addressed to the chap down the road. It also stated that they'd been back on 14th June, which is strange because it's actually July.

Anyway, our water is still more toxic than the Sellafield waste outlet, and due to some 1991 'Not drinking really bad, poisonous water act", we have to have a treatment system fitted. We have to inform them when it's done, and they will come and test the water from our own house tap. No doubt we'll have to pay for having the water tested, even though they've been twice and not tested my house supply yet, just the supply from further up the road. They've even provided a nice list of people who can fit the system.

Well, here's the deal. I've already got a system fitted, that is meant to kill off 99.99% of bugs. No-one has actually asked me if I already have this thing fitted yet, they've just assumed I'm stupid. So, there's absolutely no chance whatsoever that I'll be getting in touch with them, especially seeing as they've not even managed to get my name and address details right yet. I'm waiting for the letter telling me that if I don't fit this thing, I'll have to go to court and get fined squillions of pounds for not having done it.

Is there any aspect of daily life that these idiots aren't involved in? GO AWAY. FIND SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO DO. Perhaps I should send an e-mail, saying only that sentence. And, I'll sign it 'The Occupier' as that's what they think my name is!

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Janet Street-Porter is tight

She is! Titter ye not, madam, obviously I mean in a financial sense. I got information through the post yesterday regarding the Nidderdale Show in September, and listed in there is a list of donations from last year. I was in there - we bought our tickets off the local farmer, £21 inc. parking. Most people are donating between £20 and £50. Janet Street Porter - who lives nearby in Upper Nidderdale - £5 donation. £5! Wouldn't buy you a hot-dog.

I don't know. Big celebrities eh! Although to be fair, I can't see her entering the WI Jam-making competition.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

National(ised) Express.

National Express' East Coast rail franchise has been taken back into public ownership.

National Express took over the old GNER franchise in 2007, to provide the rail services on the East Coast route. This includes Leeds, Hull, York, Newcastle - it's quite important. Now, GNER were actually providing a decent service, but the parent company ran out of cash. So up popped National Express. A company renowned for its excellent road-going coach service, but with limited rail experience - if you want to see what passengers think of their East Anglia franchise, look here. It's not nice reading.

I've used NXEC services, although infrequently. When I was finishing work at 7.30, there was a Trans-Pennine Express service from Leeds at 19:38, but the next one was not until 20:05. However, if I got the NXEC service which left 2 minutes later, I could change at Doncaster and still get home earlier than if I waited around in Leeds station for an hour and a half. To be fair, the trains weren't bad. Clean. Quiet. Loads of luggage space. At least, the electric trains to Kings Cross were, I have heard some bad stories of the old diesel services being poor.

But, the ones I went on were generally only 20% full. And no-one ever, ever, checked my ticket. I guess the guard just couldn't be bothered walking down 8 carriages of people to do this. Perhaps this explains why the service isn't making any money. Or, maybe it's because (and I've just checked this on the NXEC website) the cost of a return to London from Leeds, is between £84 and £223 (ouch!), if you don't book ahead. I could drive a car full of people there myself for about £50. I know, I've done it!

The other reason they are probably doing so badly is legacy services. For example. In the bad old days, there was one direct service from Hull to London in the morning, and one return service in the evening. Hull Trains changed all that by putting on a decent, regular, reliable service, which all but made the old NXEC trains redundant. Another example, in Harrogate I can get an NXEC train to London direct. But there isn't a service that goes all the way back. At all. So if I'm going to London, I might as well change at Leeds. If NXEC were allowed to scrap these types of service, and concentrate on providing a regular service between London and Leeds/Edinburgh, they'd save a fortune and allow other operators to take over these routes, operators who can, and do, make money on them and run them properly.

Now personally, I'd wouldn't have privatised the rail industry. I believe public transport is the responsibility of Government, as part of a national strategy that includes roads, rail, canals, planes, buses and the like. I believe that's the only way we can we sort out the awful mess that our transport network is in. But that's not going to happen. So, my suggestion would be plan B, which is to allow First Group to take over, as they have already tried to do. The reason being, First Group run the Hull Trains franchise, which I've used and is pretty good. They also run the Trans-Pennine Express franchise. Which I regularly used between Selby and Leeds. And, which was pretty good. So they've got the experience, and the services are good. They also own large chunks of the network anyway, including the west coast routes, which would reduce the confusing array of companies all wanting to transport me on the railways when actually, I just want to get from A to B.

We'll see. In the meantime, I'll take the bus.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Another column about Jacko

(image: Daily Mail)

Well, in case you haven't noticed by the wall-to-wall media coverage, the alleged 'king of pop' is dead. It would be very, very easy to write a blog entry today which put the boot in, but I wasn't brought up to speak ill of the dead, so I won't.

Fact is, I'm no Jackson fan. I own none of his records, have never wanted to buy any. His earlier work is excellent, but just not my taste. His later stuff is garbage, and no doubt we'll see plenty of Jarvis Cocker's Brit-award 'moment'. Quite justified, really. The guy was acting like Jesus! Then there were the legal matters, trials, and allegations. Again, the guy was cleared of all wrongdoing, but that mud properly stuck.

But I'm a charitable person, occasionally. Jackson's legacy in the pop music business is without question, and the tributes from leading musicians & artists back this up. There's no doubt that Jackson's childhood was crazy, and there's no surprise he grew up with serious emotional problems, all well documented elsewhere. I'd also suggest that his life wasn't his. I actually wonder if he really wanted to do the 50 shows at the O2 arena, or more likely he had very little choice? People have said on TV this morning that he was quite a sharp, astute character, but when millions of pounds are involved I would suggest he wasn't quite so in control.

Anyway, the press have now dictated we go into national mourning, but that won't be happening in our house because I'm just not that into his music. His crazy fans will all be over-reacting for a week or two, and I'm sure there'll be litigation and legal actions appearing in the next few weeks, months, years. It would appear his life is incredibly complex, and unravelling it could be messy.

Let the media circus begin. And, I guess, RIP Jacko.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Can't we be friends?

I see the new fixture lists are out, for the football season. Excellent. Hull City's first match, Chelsea. Man Utd on boxing day.

I'm glad. Honestly. Well ok, I'm not too fussed. Football interests me to the extent that I love to see City doing well, and I was as happy as anyone when they avoided relegation last year. But to claim I'm their number one fan is a lie.

My mother was brought up on Hessle Road in Hull, and her house was about 30 seconds walk away from the Boulevard, which any sports fan will know is the former home of Hull FC, the super-league club to the west of Hull. So, that's what I was brought up with, and that's what gets me going. Sure, I've been to Boothferry Park, and had a great time. I saw Dean Windass put the Tigers in the lead against Bradford, before getting sent off. I experienced Duane Darby scoring a last-minute equaliser against Whitby Town in an FA cup game - 8:4 final score. I even endured 90 minutes of misery at Huddersfield Town's old Leeds Road ground, in a 3-0 defeat. Yes, those games live long in the memory.

But for me, it was all about the black and whites. Greg Mackey's bomb in the 1991 Premiership semi-final that led to the winning try. Cardiff 2005. The old threepenny stand, and being told by the tannoy-bloke not to jump around in it because it might collapse. Getting threatened with eviction at Featherstone, for flicking the V's at the home fans (who were doing far worse to me!) The advertising hoardings at Keighley giving way, resulting in 1 broken leg and a week of - undeserved - negative press. The goalposts coming down at Huddersfield, and the sickening trip home knowing what the rugby league world would be saying, and the chief executive standing amongst the away fans at Warrington in the very next game, to prove a point that he was on our side and a few morons wouldn't result in him letting down the majority of decent sports fans.

Because that's what sport is about. Not just the results, but the experience, good and bad. Sure, I was happy the day Hull City won at Wembley, but I'll bet the people who were there, and have been there for many years, were in another place that day. The nervous night before, the trip down, the game, the journey home, the open-top bus, the pub on the night. It's all part of being a fan. I've never experienced that with City. I've been there with Hull FC.

Ultimately, though, just because I'm not the Tigers' Number one fan, doesn't mean to say I can't wish them well. We share the same ground, we come from the same city, but for heavens sake we are different sports. Hull KR play the same game as FC, and there's no way I could ever wish them well, but that's an obvious rivalry. Hull City are different. So I despair when I read comments on the Hull Daily Mail website, like;

  • I agree Rugby Supporter, Why do we have to put with this dribble of a head chaser game!!!
  • Rovers, Fan

"These eggchasers dont like football and Hull City getting any headlines do they? Makes a change from rugby league players appearing at court though you must admit."

This dumb little war has been going on for years, and is worse since we both moved to the new ground. And I'm not going to take sides, because frankly, both football and rugby fans are as bad as each other. It's truly pathetic. Obviously, football gets bigger crowds. Obviously, some people prefer rugby. Makes no odds to me. I just can't get my head around why people can't follow both games if they want.

So, for the record. Good luck to the Tigers next season, and for crying out loud FC, sort your sorry backsides out - I'm sick of losing every week!!!!!!!

Friday, 12 June 2009

"Dear sir, I'm writing for permission to have a poo..."

The picture above is a bacteria - a coliform, apparently. And our water supply is rammed full of them.

Not your water supply, I'd guess. If your water comes from the local water company, it'll have been filtered, treated, scrubbed, and cleaned to within an inch of it's life. That's why you pay the water company for something that's free. No, just our water supply.

That's because our water comes from a tank at the top of the hill. The stream that runs past our house fills the tank, and the water comes to our village. There are 5 houses connected to this supply. The water board could supply us direct, but then they'd charge £5,000 a house to connect us, and frankly they can take a running jump.

So, this water comes into my house, goes through 3 filters which kill these little beggars (and remove any lumps of peat from the water - oh yes, when it rains our supply is a lovely dark brown colour) and then we don't drink it. The emphasis on the word 'don't'. We boil it, wash in it, wash pots in it, but there's no way in a million years I'm drinking brown water that comes from fields full of sheep crap. The ablutions of our farm animals, incidentally, are the source of these beggars.

And, I can even tell you how many of these critters are in our water. On 9th June, there were over 201/100ml of water, of which 74/100ml were faecal coliforms. I know this because on that date, Harrogate Council sent an environmental bloke round to test the water coming from an outside tap on the side of a house up the lane.

Oh yes. Despite the fact that we are all perfectly aware of the water quality, a man from the council has decided that we are too dim to work out that brown unfiltered water is a bit manky., and has sent us a letter telling us why it's full of bugs, when they are doing a second test, and what to do. Apparently we should boil the water in the meantime. Durr. Two of the houses are lived in by families who have farming pedigree going back hundreds of years, in the Nidd valley. I don't think they really need a patronising letter from the council telling them the bleeding obvious now, do they?

Best thing is, they didn't even send me the letter. Even though I pay them a 4-figure sum in council tax every year, the 5 letters were all sent to old names. My letter is addressed to the woman who moved next door. The bloke next door passed away last year. The third house along got a letter to a bloke who moved out 5 years ago. So, I would have known nothing about the imminent health risk if my neighbour hadn't come round and pointed out that this statement of the obvious is probably going to cost £15, at least. And as yet, I've no idea what will happen if the water fails it's July test.

I'll keep you posted!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Nul points

It's Eurovision again. I love it. It's camper than Butlins, and replacing Wogan with Graham Norton doesn't help matters, but every year I sit down with Mrs. Beetwaste, a fridge full of beer and enough snacks to feed a third-world country, and watch the lot. It's fantastic. No doubt you've noticed it's on. Haven't you?

You should have. The BBC this year has plugged it to death. It's a bit of a new start for it. After the last few years of dross and underachievement, we've pulled out all the stops. Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber wrote our song. The singer (Jade - that's her at the top with A L-W) seems to have a half-decent pair of lungs on her, and can actually sing. We've been doing the rounds as well, so it would seem; apparently, we've already toured the song around large parts of Europe, so we should be well practised.

We've no chance of victory, though. As much as I hate to say it. I'll be over the moon if we win, but we won't. Partly because the political voting will ensure certain defeat - although the juries are back this year, and the public vote only counts for 50% of each countries mark, which might even things up a bit.

No. We won't win because, although we've made an effort this year, our song ain't the best. The best song is this one. Denmark. It's performed by a bloke who sounds like Ronan Keating. The guy looks a bit like Ronan Keating (Maybe). The song sounds like Ronan wrote it. Ah, well actually, he kind of did. And he did a great job of it. It should win, and that'll make up for the sad and - this year at least - undeserved, exit of Ireland, yet again, at the semi-final stage.

Ah yes, the semi finals. If you didn't see them, well they were a disappointment to say the least. Belarus should have breezed through semi-final one, but alas, white suits and big hair weren't enough for the viewers, who preferred the dirge served up by Bosnia-Herzegovina. And, semi final 2 was truly, truly awful.

...with the notable exception of the Ukrainian entry. Hamster wheels, semi-dressed centurians, and most importantly, a singer who obviously just lost her job at Spearmint Rhino. Denmark should win, but as a seasoned Eurovision viewer I'd put my money on this one. It's got everything a Eurovision song should have, and the Eastern Europeans will love it.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Where there's blame, theres an unsolicited phone call

I've not written a blog entry for some time, and today I've done two. But I've had a couple of phone calls today that've really got my goat.

The background. Our car insurance renews imminently, so I've been on to shop around, as you do. I always, always take care to make sure that the box that says "Don't call me, don't pass my details on, don't waste your phone call on me because I'm not bothered," is marked as "No don't ring me thanks". And I have an interest in doing this; I work for an insurance company and have done my time on the outbound phones, so I have first-hand experience of dealing with people who don't want a call.

Yet there's always one that gets through the net. Normally the call goes "Hi Mr/Mrs Beetwaste, I see you had a quote, do you want it," that sort of thing. I can cope with this. Usually it's "No thankyou," and I'll be polite. But the call wasn't about that.

At 11.30 this morning, the phone rang. I ignored it and dialled 1471, got a Manchester number, and rang it back. It was a company wanting to discuss our car insurance claim. Now, the only claim we've made recently is for a new windscreen, so my initial reaction, naturally, was for the safety of Mrs. Beetwaste, who is in the car today. Then I calmed down, typed the phone number into Google, and discovered that, as I suspected, it was just some idiot wanting to sell us something. Clearly, the money-supermoron websites are now selling on the details of all the claims we've made. So the call was actually to discuss a no-win-no-fee case, for a claim that involved no-one else and is irrelevant to these companies. They have their details totally wrong, and in the process have caused me some concern.

Personally I think this is disgraceful. It's beyond a simple marketing call, because if the wrong person answered then I believe someone could get seriously worried about this. More importantly, the only companies who should have any interest in this, are the insurance companies themselves, when they are calculating my premium. If I want to make a claim, I have ample opportunity to call the ambulance chasers myself. Sadly, these calls clearly work, because if they didn't then there's no way they bother making them. I know that for a fact, because my outbound telesales department shut, because it wasn't working anymore.

Anyway, a lady rang back this evening. I tried not to be rude, but firstly, the automatic dialling system that made the call took 7 seconds to find an agent available to speak to me, which riles me anyway. She then asked for Mrs Beetwaste, but pronounced her name wrong - our real name has 3 letters in it. It's not hard to get right! Finally, she wouldn't tell me what the call was about - no doubt this will be for data protection purposes which I fully appreciate and understand, but the car insurance is in both names, ergo she can speak to either of us. Luckily I'd already done some research and knew exactly what the call was for, so politely suggested she doesn't waste another call.

Hopefully she got the hint, and now I'm going to complain to the relevant consumer groups, like the grumpy old man that I am nowadays.

"I an't got ner patties"

Something very odd happened recently, and it caught me by surprise. I actually, albeit briefly, felt homesick for Hull. Quite unexpectedly.

I'm not quite sure what brought it on. The Hull-Hull KR derby was on telly over the easter weekend, and maybe I missed being around that buzz it always creates. It might have been visiting the local chippy in Pateley and having fish yet again, because they don't sell patties outside of a 5 mile radius of Hull. (God, I miss Patties. I'd drive 150 miles each way for a pattie fix.) Possibly, it was seeing the Humber Bridge on Sky Sports News, whilst they were previewing Hull City's imminent defeat by Middlesbrough. It might have been a combination of all those things. All I know is, for the first time in nearly two years since I properly left the city, and my job there, I actually wanted to go 'home'.

I use the word 'Home' reservedly. Hull is my birthplace (ok let's be pedantic, North Ferriby - it says Elloughton on my passport and I'm sticking to it). It's where I was brought up. Went to school, and university. Had my first pint. It's where I first fell in love -and got dumped. It's where I met my wife. Started work. Think of any major event in your life, and I did it in Hull. It shaped my entire early-to-recent life.

Yet I never felt totally at home there. Never settled. In the thirteen-plus years I've been with Mrs. Beetwaste, we've lived in seven houses, and there's been something wrong with every one of them that's made us decide to move on. Finally, we've moved to Nidderdale (no, not Sutton Park, the real Nidderdale in North Yorkshire) and it's great. It's lambing time. Every other field is full of sheep and lambs, and we can see them out of our window. We made a home in our favourite part of the world where we've been coming on holiday for years, and it's just fantastic. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

Until the other day. As I say, it caught me quite by surprise. I was sat at work, waiting for yet another call about home insurance, and got to thinking about Hull. Walking along the Victoria pier, and gazing across (in the words of Larkin) 'where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet' . Wandering down Whitefriargate (when it had shops). Sitting in Queens Gardens on a Saturday afternoon, eating a Fletchers sausage roll. Indeed, revisiting Queens Gardens on a Saturday night, for other reasons I won't discuss here!

And I guess that's when I snapped out of it. Fletcher's has gone now, and the Hull I remember is promptly disappearing as well. I had some pretty bad experiences in Hull, but I suppose you only remember the good things, and that's not a bad thing at all. I've moved on, and I'm glad I did, because even at 36 I still have some ambition left - which after 34 years was never coming to fruition in Hull. Leeds is a dump, a hole, a dirty, God-forsaken place, but work-wise there are far more opportunities than Hull ever offered. (I wouldn't actually live in Leeds, though. Not a chance.)

I think that the familiarity, the nostalgia, was what made me homesick. If I wanted to buy something, I'd know exactly where to go in Hull. Tyres? Londesborough street. Car parts? Waterloo. Haircut in Harrogate? errrrrrrr pass. It's going to take a very long time to become familiar with this area, and I've come to realise it'll take years, not months. That's what I miss. Not the city. And, that's what hit home recently.

Hull, I salute you, but I've got to go - for now. Just, please, export patties. Pateley Bridge needs them.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Trains? Stick 'em.

Now then. The picture above is of a British Rail class 142. Known as a Pacer. Train-spotters call them 'Nodding Donkeys'. By the way, for the record, I've not been a train-spotter for over 20 years now.

I have, however, been a rail commuter. And as such, I've travelled on an awful lot of trains. Class 170 Turbostars, as used on the trans-pennine routes to Hull. Hull Trains Pioneer class trains. Inter-City 125's. Class 158 Super-Sprinters. Some are better than others. But, in the world league of crap trains, the 142-class Railbus is, was, and always has been, by far the worst train ever to appear on the rail network.

Why are they so bad? Ok. They aren't really a train. To make one, you need a chassis, with an engine hanging underneath them. To save money, don't bother with the traditional method of fixing wheels onto a train, which is to fix the wheels on to a seperate 'bogey' and fasten them to the chassis. Instead, you stick a wheel on each corner. Then, you basically take a bus body and bolt it on to the chassis. Put together, a cab at each end, and Voila, one class 142 railbus.

The result is a bouncy ride, that risks inducing travel-sickness on every journey. Uncomfortable seats, with next to no leg room and no luggage space to speak of. Doors that rattle and let the wind in. Assuming you do reach 70 miles an hour (they aren't fast), the draught ensures sub-zero temperatures on every journey. And, if your train is more than 2 carriages long, you can't walk the length of the train because there is no connecting door.

The advantage, as you can guess, is that they are cheap. And in 1985-87, when most of the trains on the railway were 30-40 year old museum pieces, they probably looked like a good option. But in 2009, these things are over 20 years old, and the world is a different place. Train fares are higher than they've ever been, and safety standards have changed - in 1999, an accident in Winsford where an express train hit a (fortunately empty) class 142, proved the inherent dangers in bolting the body to the chassis - the body was sheared straight off. (link)

In North Yorkshire, these things are used on the Harrogate line from Leeds, along with some equally elderly Sprinters. This is a very busy commuter route, particularly between Leeds and Horsforth. The Skipton and Ilkley lines got electric cables and some very nice electric commuter trains. Clean. Reliable. Regular. On the Harrogate line, we get to use these deathtraps, with 20 years of accumulated dirt and grime. It's not unusual for these trains to leave people behind at Burley Park station because the train is so jammed full.

And that brings me to the whole point of this rant. Last night, I found myself sat on one of these things for an hour and a half, because it broke down. Two pairs fastened together, one of which had a brake problem. Not that the brakes weren't working, in fact quite the opposite, on one of the units the brakes applied and wouldn't go off again. I left work at 5, and got home at nearly nine o'clock. Considering that these things are so badly cleaned, it would seem that they are maintained to a similar low standard. If this was a one off, I'd tolerate it. But on the rare occasions I use the train, at least 3 out of the last 5 return journeys I've taken have had some sort of problem.

Bearing in mind that a season ticket is £123/month, I reckon that this is pretty poor, and it really shouldn't be so bad. Trains run to a set timetable, so as long as they are serviced properly they should be perfect. I like trains, they are quick, and unlike buses, they don't sit in traffic jams and don't stop every 500 yards to let people on and off. I would rather use the train.

But the alternative to this pile of old rubbish is the number 36 bus. For a start, it goes to Ripon, which the railway doesn't do anymore since Dr Beeching shut what would probably be a very healthy commuter line. In addition, the no. 36 bus is usually clean (trains take note), has leather seats upstairs, is regular (if a bus breaks down, it's 10 minutes to the next one, at peak time). And as importantly as all this, it's only £78 a month. £45 less than the train, for a better service. The £78 ticket, incidentally, lets you use any 'Harrogate and District' bus, any where, at any time, for no extra cost. The train ticket restricts you to Harrogate to Leeds.

Bit of a no-brainer, really. Guess how I'm getting to work tomorrow. At least, until the trains get some money spent on them. As that's not been the case for the last 40 years (excluding the wasted projects), I'm not holding my breath waiting.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Oh no, I forgot to tape 'Crown Court'

I've just been revisiting my 34th birthday prezzie from Mrs. Beetwaste. It was a copy of the Yorkshire Post. "Yeah, great, cheapskate" I hear you say. Well, not so cheap. It's an original copy of the paper from 9th November 1972, the day I was inflicted on the planet. How these people manage to get hold of a 34 (now 36) year old newspaper, Lord knows. It's even in immaculate condition.

So, every now and again, it re-appears from it's gift-wrapped box. For myself, stuck in the past, it's compulsive reading. And, not for the stories. No no no, they're all the same as today - murder, rape, unions kicking off, businesses doing well/failing. Leeds United into the last 8 of the cup-winners-cup - well ok then, some things are very different. No, it's the more mundane stuff.

Take the TV page, for example. If I remember correctly, I entered the world in a maternity ward in North Ferriby at about 7am, just in time to watch.. well, actually, nothing. TV started at 9.30am, and on the 2 main channels it was schools programmes all morning. Picture Box. Stop, Look, Listen. How we used to live - ah, happy days.

By the way, BBC2 kicks of at 11.00 with Play School, and then shuts down again at 11.25 until 6.00. Don't bother looking for Channel 4. It's not there.Or Channel 5. In 1972, you are living in a world of only 3 channels, of which one is only working in the evening, and the others are serving up 'Boomph with Becker' (????!), Crown Court (legendary TV), General Hospital. Farmhouse Kitchen! Yorkshire TV for Yorkshire folk, before Michael Grade finished it off for good.

And, then there's the adverts. A gift-pack of wine for £5.00, including a bottle of 1966 vintage champagne. North Sea Ferries - only going to Rotterdam, the service to Zeebrugge hasn't started yet. Bill Cosby and Robert Culp star in 'Hickey & Boggs' (rated AA) at the Odeon in Leeds. Has anyone seen this film , or remember it? What is 'AA' rated?

There's almost 4 pages of jobs - all surprisingly familiar. Sales, retail, social worker (£1,530 to £2,232/year). And then, the classifieds. "Modern, well maintained Detached house with many extras including double glazing and central heating. Badger Hill, York. Offers around £12,500." Twelve and a half grand for a detached house! There's an 18th century house in Thorner near Leeds for £15,500.

Ansaphone to rent, £1.60/week. It's a world where you rent an answering machine! Fancy a car? F-reg Lotus Europa. £800. Nice. Vauxhall Viva. Datsun 240Z. Sunbeam Rapier. We had all those when I was a kid, or at least, a derivative of them.I miss the old days, I really do. Apart, obviously, from Leeds United winning things - that's for the better, I reckon.

By the way, the weather? Rain. Sums up my life in one word, that does.

Friday, 6 March 2009


The car just passed it's MOT. Joy. And it passed it with flying colours. No more than a light bulb and headlight adjustment required.

This is something of a miracle. Our trusty 5 year old Yaris has done nearly 80,000 hard miles. It's got a scratch on the left caused by scraping a wall, a huge patch-up job on the right-side wing where I ran it over a cattle grid, and only 2 days ago I damaged the bumper by driving into the garage door frame. It's had to sit in traffic jams into Hull, it's done 600 miles a week on the A1, and nowadays it's little 1 litre engine has to cope with big hills and country lanes. It's had, and continues to have, a hard life.

Mrs. Beetwaste is also a happy bunny, mainly because my lack of finances means that the cost of this MOT was down to her, so it's only cost about 50 quid. Furthermore, had the car failed catastrophically,then we would have had quite a problem. Living in the back of beyond means we rely on the car more than most. There's no bus service here (except for the tourists on a Sunday). The train station shut in about 1930. The cost of a taxi would just about bankrupt everyone except Roman Abramovich. It would have meant the pair of us travelling to work and back on my moped, and as much as the hairdryer-powered scooter is a fabulous little thing, I'd rather use the car when it's -4 degrees outside.

So, if we've learnt anything then firstly, I need to look after the car better and secondly, I need to start saving up for next years MOT, now. Can anyone lend me a fiver? Anyone?

Friday, 27 February 2009

The First Post

It's the first post. I've tried this sort of stuff before and failed miserably, so lets give it another go. When I think of something to write, then I'll go for it.

In the meantime, remember that cheese is rarely better than a life-preserver when you are drowning.