Thursday, 31 March 2011


So what's going on here then?

Here's a picture of a particular place, in England, taken in the year 2000.

And here's the same place, 5 years later, in 2005.

Where did the village go, and why?

Monday, 28 March 2011


This is my favourite of the 5 or 6 RSAnimate series of animated lectures that I've seen so far.

What brought it to mind was actually the video of the falling sheep.

OK. I didn't shed tears or anything, but I watched the lamb make it's way to the top of the cliff, and felt pretty much exactly as the video suggested I would. I was able to relate to the suffering of a fellow creature.

Then I read the comments attached to the video, and wondered if I was alone in feeling this.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Well, we're back...

It's been ages since we had a holiday. Last time was Christmas 2009, and then I ended up driving to and from home about 4 times because of the logistics of ferrying people to and from the Barn.

This time it was just me and Bren, in a static caravan near Porthmadog.

The weather was perfect. There were hardly any children there (and not that many adults either) so we had the swimming pool almost to ourselves. The light coloured stuff at the top of the picture is sand. The beach was almost on our doorstep, and although we didn't spend a lot of time there, on our second night, with clear skies, we went to the beach where there was hardly any light pollution, and saw stars. Hundreds of them. Maybe more. The beach was almost deserted even during the day. It's unusual in that cars are allowed to drive along it. We went on there in the car very briefly to catch and photograph the sun setting over a castle.

First night was really just a matter of checking in, unpacking, and generally getting ourselves sorted. We went for a walk on the beach as dusk fell, and had a quiet night in.

Back in May 2009, I blogged about wanting to climb Glyder Fawr, Wales' 6th highest mountain, and an incredibly rugged landscape. Unfortunately, 2 days of solid heavy rain put paid to that, but on Tuesday, after a lie-in we drove to Llyn Ogwen and started climbing.

The climb was never dangerous, but it was far more arduous than walking up a well marked path to the summit of Moel Famau. The track was well paved at first, up to Llyn Idwal, but then it became less of a walk and more of a climb. Still safe, in good weather and daylight, but there are dangerous places nearby. Cliffs, loose ground, and fast flowing water. Even sheep can get it wrong here.

Once the sheep disappeared over the edge of the rock, it would have fallen about 450 feet straight down by the way.

We finally got to the top of the Devil's Kitchen at about 4.15 pm, and it became obvious that if we went much further, we'd probably end up trying to get down in the dark so we had our coffee and energy bars, and we turned back.

Absolutely stunningly beautiful place though. It didn't matter that we didn't make it to the very top, although I hope to do so at some point. Just being there was enough.

And I created my best ever image thanks to photo-stitching software.

This is a shrunk version. The original is a little over 12,000 x 4,000 pixels. A 54 megapixel image! Might look good in our hallway. We got back to the site to find the clear skies studded with stars, as I mentioned earlier, and although we were tired, we went to the beach to lie on a sheet and stare at the sky for a while.

As you might expect, we took things much easier on Wednesday. Did no driving. Just did stuff on site. Crazy Golf, Swimming, throwing our money away in the arcades. That sort of thing. The rental of the caravan was a real bargain, but try to do too many camp based activities and you'd find it soon added up to a lot of money.

The next day, we went out to Portmeirion, famously the setting for the TV series, "The Prisoner" but an utterly whimsical architectural mission by a guy called Clough Williams-Ellis, who spent 50 years designing and building a model village that incorporated all sorts of weird and wonderful styles.

That night was our last night, and again, we had a quiet night in. We watched Where the wild things are

Spike Jonze is an excellent director in my opinion.

Anyway, on Friday we dawdled home, via Anglesey (Church Bay) and got lost while trying to avoid roadworks on the A55.

And that was that. Back to work tomorrow.

Monday, 21 March 2011


Off to Porthmadog for a few days. Staying in a caravan. Really just a base. Will be taking the laptop so will have internet access, albeit slow and expensive thanks to a mobile broadband dongle, so will be keeping online life to a minimum. Not a bad thing frankly. Maybe this time, I'll get to climb a Glyder.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Hating the haters

One very minor thing to come from the tragedy that's continuing to develop in Japan has been a youtube video.

In this video, a girl, purporting to be a Christian, explained that having prayed for God to show Himself, the earthquake and Tsunami were Him answering her prayers, and that this "proof" made all the suffering worthwhile.

It seemed plausible enough. Certainly no less odious than the likes of Fred Phelps, for example. My thought was that she was probably mentally ill in some way.

When I started watching, the video had about 80,000 views, and a couple of thousand, overwhelmingly condemnatory comments. By the time the video had ended, two minutes later, youtube informed me that another 2,000 comments had been recieved, and would I kike to read them? And this kept happening. thousands and thousands of people watched this girl, and wanted to tell her what they thought of her.

It turned out to be a hoax of sorts. She'd posted it really just for the reaction, although I doubt if she expected it to go viral in quite the way it did. Some short while after posting her vid, she'd had her address and phone number published online, recieved death threats, and her doorbell was being rung every few minutes by pizza deliverers.

Got to say, on one level posting this inflammatory message was a pretty juvenile thing to do, but as a troll, it worked, Thousands of people had their chains yanked hard enough to send them into a rage. And some of them were enraged enough to threaten to kill her. And it worked because she appeared to fit people's prejudices of what a fundamentalist Christian is and does and thinks.

But what if it hadn't been a hoax? What if this girl was genuinely expressing her beliefs? Would she deserve what she got if she was what she appeared to be - a deluded, obsessed, religious freak with a warped sense of proportion?

I know what I think.

I'm reminded too of the woman who put a cat in a wheelie bin last year. If someone had suggested the punishment for minor acts of animal cruelty should be the death penalty, I'd think they were reactionary idiots. Yet this woman, after acting on an inexplicable whim, also faced death threats. Also had her personal details published online. By people who I'm sure would claim were motivated by concern for a cat.

Actually they're motivated by anger and hatred.

See also the paediatrician who had a mob howling at her door following the Sun's decision to incite and fan that anger and hatred by publishing the details of suspected paedophiles.

Mind you, if a piano were to accidentally fall from the top of a tall building and by a quirk of fate, Glenn Beck were to be walking directly underneath, I'd have to say "God surely works in mysterious ways".

Sunday, 13 March 2011


Just thinking out loud.

We're on the bones of our arses here. All relative of course, when you consider the poor starving wretches of Somalia or Bangladesh, but without doing anything profligate like going on holiday or repairing the roof of our house, we're gradually slipping further and further into debt.

Much of this is down to me. Partly because sloth is the deadly sin I'd associate myself with more than all the others combined. Partly because I don't like confrontation. So when pupils leave, I don't always tell my boss, because he gives me a hard time about it. So I don't have enough work.

And when you need £300 a week just to break even, this can very quickly go tits up.

So here's my thought.

Rent a wreck school of motoring.


Let's face it, most learners will not be driving around in brand new cars when they've passed their tests. They will be buying cheapo old bangers.

So why not teach in one? Make it a selling point? Certainly the question everone asks when they ring up about lessons is "How much do you charge?"

Currently my weekly costs break down as follows:

franchise - £130
car - £85
insurance - £20
fuel - £80

total - £315

These are rough figures. They jumped upward because of the VAT increase. They are climbing steadily because of fuel costs.

But what if I got some cheap pile of cack fromthe bargain basement of my local garage? Annual budget of perhaps £500 a year.

Well that's £10 a week. Add a couple of hundred quid for the cost of fitting dual controls. So that then goes to maybe £15 or £20 a week.

Because the car would be worth less, it would be cheaper to insure. Perhaps £500 a year instead of £900. That's £10 a week.

Fuel costs would probably go up a bit, especially if I got a petrol car rather than a diesel. Let's call it £100 a week.

Finally, if I do this, then I won't have to give all that money to The Man. But I will have to spend something on advertising. Last time round I seriously underestimated the amount I would have ot spend. So let's commit £50 a week to google, newspaper ads, yellow pages, website, whatever.

So what does that add up to?

£180 a week. Rather better than £315.

But that's only part of the story. We also have to live. Pay bills. Keep wolf from door. That kind of stuff. Roughly, we need about £200 a week to do this.

I need to earn £515 a week to get by. How the fuck did that happen? I used to get by on the dole, sort of.

Anyway, where was I ?

Oh yeah. £515.

I get £20 a lesson. That's effectively £20 an hour because I need to get from one lesson to another and I don't have a teleport. So I need to do 26 hours a week.

Of course the big selling point of shithole school of motoring would be that it's cheap.

I'd keep it simple. No frills. No gimmicks. No introductory offers. Just a straightforward flat rate.

Say, £15/hour.

Still got to find that £200 a week to pay the bills. New overheads would be £180 a week.

That's £380 a week. I'd need to do 26 hours a week doing it this way too.

OK well how about £16 an hour? Still well below the current market rate. Well that puts it down a bit. Now got to do 24 hours a week.

So not that much to choose in terms of how hard I'd have to work.

But there's more to it.

You see, I'm not really interested in becoming rich. I can't be arsed. I became an instructor because I wanted to earn enough per hour that I wouldn't have to slog my bollocks off for 40+ hours a week to earn a crust.

Currently, if I have a few bad weeks, I quickly find I'm up shit creek. Of course, if I have a good few weeks, I make a lot of money. But this never happens. Not the way I'm doing things right now.

As an example, let's say I do 15 hours.

Right now that brings in £300, and I fail to cover my overheads (actually I'd probably break even becuase my fuel costs would be down a bit) but I would still have to find £200 to pay the bills.

With rent a wreck, I do the same 15 hours and it brings in £240. But my overheads would be perhaps £130, again shit week = less fuel. Still not earning enough, but only about £90 short instead of £200.

I cannot carry on the way I have been. It's unsustainable. We face losing our home unless something changes. So either I find a way of making a go of this, or I do something else instead.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011


I first got online about 10 years ago. I'd heard of the internet before that. In fact I had a PC for a few years before then (and various spectrums, amigas, electrons, etcgoing right back to the mid 1980's) but had never actually surfed the net until then.

At that point, I was living in a council flat in Moreton. I'd spent a long time on my own, either on the dole or on the sick, and spent a lot of time countering the loneliness and boredom by getting as drunk or as stoned as I could.

And what I did while I was drunk or stoned or both was either to play long winded computer games, like Civilisation, or The Settlers, or I would make music.

The music was something I did for myself. It was a means of internal expression, rather than a way of sharing something inside myself with the world. I never really thought of myself as someone who could perform in public or anything. The music tended to be repetitive. Simple loops that gradually developed without ever departing from a basic chord structure. Thw words I was writing to go with the tunes were self pitying, self absorbed, introverted. I'd be mortified if most of the stuff I did ever got heard by anyone else to be honest.

Still, when I first got online, I used the nickname "paulmakesmusic" extensively on a variety of sites. Later, when I started to get out of the rut I'd trapped myself in, I found I had less of a desire to make music. Partly because it didn't sound so good when I was no longer getting stoned all the time, and partly because I had better things to do than gaze at my own navel and wallow in self pity.

Many of the people reading this blog will know me better as "PMM". Or as Paul of course. As the music became abbreviated, so did the username.

Apparently a lot of people (the majority?) find hearing their own voices played back at them embarrassing, and this is certainly true of me. I've been told by others that I have a lovely voice, but that doesn't change how I feel about it.

But is wasn't all bad. There are some pretty tunes in there. Tonight I found an old CD with a load of stuff on it. The CD isn't in very good nick, so I'm trying to transfer what I can over to my hard drive before I do anything else with it. The CD is causing havoc with my system. Crashing and hanging and what have you. Still I shall perservere.

Some of the files are linked to programs that I don't have installed on my PC. Programs like cakewalk and rebirth and acid loops.

A lot of the files wouldn't really mean anything on their own. I'd generally multitrack stuff, creating individual bits of sound that would then be fitted together, like the pieces of a jigsaw.

What? Like this one you mean?

Yes. Precisely. This one started with a drum machine, and had two layers of acoustic guitar and 4 layers of vocal overlaid onto it. There's a slightly corrupted bit in the middle for some reason. It's OK really. It only catches a middle eight bit, and the best guitar work occurs at the end I think. I suppose the overlaying of a spinning globe was a bit corny, but this is The whole Damn world afterall.

And this one is essentially a midi tune, hence the metronomic drumbeat. I like it. It soars, hence the video.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Birkenhead Boot Boys Bash the Boys in Blue to oBlivion, in B minor

A while a go, I posted a link to a video that made the point that British law stems from mercantile law, and that it's there to represent the interests of the powerful.

All pretty standard left wing stuff, but the speaker in the video, having given all this information, went on to use the information in a way that I found somewhat strange. He went from what seemed to be a Marxist position to a Libertarian position.

As far as I understand it, Anarchists do not believe there should be no laws. Certainly none of the anarchists I know are singing the praises of life in Somalia right now. They believe that most laws are there to control and oppress ordinary people certainly, and would like to see The State take a more benevolant role, and act on behalf of everybody, instead of an elite, but they don't propose that we need to replace it with utter chaos and lawlessness. The abolition of the state is really a far right libertarian view. Certainly, the belief that you shouldn't have to pay tax is pretty antisocial. So as you can imagine, the group that made this video are attracting some pretty unsavoury followers.

The Video was done by a group with the acronym, TPUC. This stands for "The People's United Community" and it was filmed during a conference by a different group called The British Constitution Group.

The British Constitution group organised a protest just down the road from me and attempted to arrest a judge. the person being tried was something to do with UKIP, and this was a bancruptcy hearing.

A blog called Truth, Reason & Liberty has something to say about it.

And the title of this post? Well it's a variation on a song lyric:

Friday, 4 March 2011

Out and about... (slight reprise)

OK. You know the format. I tell you about my bikeride. I show the route on Google Earth, then I set the bit I videoed to music.

This time, instead of heading north, I went the other way. I had no clear objective in mind apart from just following the river southwards. I'd seen a bit of cycleway that ran along the dockside and wanted to give that a go, but in the end I went much further, to Tranmere Oil Terminal. Going south, it wasn't as traffic free as my previous ride had been. There were points where I had to travel along, or next to, some busy roads.

At Tranmere Oil Terminal, it was no longer possible to follow the banks of the river. I'd have had to ride along a 50 mph dual carriageway, or through New Ferry and Rock Ferry (Yes, it's what singer Duffy's album title comes from) Noisy, polluted and more dangerous, (the road, not the duffy album) which ever way I chose, so at that point, I turned around and retraced my steps.

My route took me around the back of Wallasey Town Hall, an impressive enough edifice, especially from the banks of the river, more so than from the road. I suppose they were trying to impress the people across the river, It took me past the ventilation shafts for both Mersey Road Tunnels. The newer, Kingsway tunnel's shafts are a modernist concrete. The older tunnel's brick built shafts are more art deco, as is a lot of it's associated architecture. You can read and see a whole load of stuff about the Queensway tunnel at the excellent CBRD site. This includes a video trip through the tunnel, (not set to music) and a written and photographic history. The Birkenhead shaft kind of reminds me of the Empire State Building.

                                                                                                        (image from here)

My trip also took in Birkenhead Priory, a 12th century monestary, and I think Wirral's oldest surviving structure, the two ferry terminals in Seacombe and Woodside, and the enormous shibuilding hall of Cammel Laird shipyard

I suppose Elvis Costello's "Shipbuilding" would have been an appropriate tune to put the video to, but sadly it's too short.

However, Elvis Costello's excellent "Tokyo Storm Warning" is exactly the required 6 minutes and 24 seconds.

Sadly, as I climbed the hill up from the river back to my street, one of my pedals broke. I won't be doing any more cycling until I've got that sorted.

Once again, this ride took me about 10 or 11 miles. In this case, I gained/lost about 580 feet in altitude along the length of the ride, from a high point of 89 feet above (mean) sea level to 0 feet above sea level. Because I went somewhere and came back by more or less the same route, the elevation profile is almost symmetrical.

Now, here's that nice Mr MacManus with some lovely images of the Liverpool skyline, and Egremont Promenade.

We're only living this instant.

3 months

since i had a cigarette.

Been finding it quite hard over the last few weeks, but managed to be true to myself as a non smoker.

I'm sure I will continue to try to decieve myself that I need nicotine over the next few months. My record is 6 months.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Could Google Earth cause a revolution in Bahrain?

Seems a bit far-fetched doesn't it? Yet an opinion piece in the New York Times suggests exactly this.

Essentially, people crammed into tiny apartments have looked at their country on Google Earth, and seen just how much land is owned and used just by a tiny minority of super wealthy. - Google Earth as a visible manifestation of a social injustice. And they're not happy.

Here's what the article has to say:

While Facebook has gotten all the face time in Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain, don’t forget Google Earth, which began roiling Bahraini politics in 2006. A big issue in Bahrain, particularly among Shiite men who want to get married and build homes, is the unequal distribution of land.

On Nov. 27, 2006, on the eve of parliamentary elections in Bahrain, The Washington Post ran this report from there: “Mahmood, who lives in a house with his parents, four siblings and their children, said he became even more frustrated when he looked up Bahrain on Google Earth and saw vast tracts of empty land, while tens of thousands of mainly poor Shiites were squashed together in small, dense areas. ‘We are 17 people crowded in one small house, like many people in the southern district,’ he said. ‘And you see on Google how many palaces there are and how the al-Khalifas [the Sunni ruling family] have the rest of the country to themselves.’

Bahraini activists have encouraged people to take a look at the country on Google Earth, and they have set up a special user group whose members have access to more than 40 images of royal palaces.”

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Out and about...

That David Byrne. He's an inspiration and no mistake! Two days on the run I've got off my lardy arse and put foot to pedal.

It's something I've been meaning to do for a while. The combination of sedentary job, sedentary lifestyle, poor diet and high alcohol intake means I'm far less fit than I could be. I've put on a lot of weight, and I'm increasingly short of breath.

All part of getting older of course, but I would like to stave off the inevitable for as long as I can.

I've got a lovely bike. It's light. It's a well engineered machine that is easy to ride. It cost my stepson quite a lot of money when he bought it, and he gave it to me for christmas a couple of years ago. Since then it's seldom seen tarmac.

Yet it wasn't always that way. I used to think nothing of cycling 30 or 40 miles in a day. I regularly cycled 20 miles a day, just getting to and from work or college. With a rucksack on my back. In the pissing rain and driving wind. No bother. Not really.

Then I got a car, and from then on I took the path of least resistance. The result is a gut and a pair of inadequate lungs.

Yesterday, instead of jumping in the car, I rode into town on an errand. I only rode perhaps three miles, but it was enough to reconnect me.

I enjoy cycling.

There. I've said it. I do enjoy it. I'm far free-er in space, if not in time. And with a bit of planning I can minimise my interaction with busy roads.

Today I cycled to Moreton. To Leasowe lighthouse to be exact. Then I cycled back home again. The sun was shining. I had my Ipod in my pocket, and a pair of headphones covering my ears. (I wouldn't do this if I was riding on actual roads - hearing is a useful sense to have when you don't have mirrors.)

I also have a little tiny video camera. I taped it to the handlebars, intending to record the journey. Sadly that didn't really happen, but I have managed to capture part of the journey. I've put it to music to emulate the cycleing-with-headphones-on experience, and because I found a song that was the same length as the video, and because I'm learning how to use windows movie maker.

Anyway, here's how it looks in Google Earth...

As you can see, it takes me right along the seafront, mainly well away from traffic. A lovely ride, that covered between 10 and 11 miles, although some parts of my anatomy found it a bit uncomfortable. I'm sure if I do it more, I will toughen up.

And the video? Well that's next. The only connection between the music and the images is that the song was the right length to fit. It's called "Mud and Stars" and it's by Dawn Landes.