Saturday, 28 December 2013

Resolutions

I never keep them.

Therfore this year I resolve to get shitfaced lots and lots, eat unhealty shite in unhealthy portions and proportions, and probably to start smoking again.

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Saturday, 21 December 2013

the shame of it...

A  few weeks ago, me and my pupil were driving along merrily, and we encountered a traffic light controlled T junction.

I don't need to go into too much detail here, but we had to stop at a red light. Meanwhile someone in the through traffic went through on an amber light, but couldn't get clear of the junction, and ended up stopped in the middle of things.

I ostentatiously pointed him out to my pupil. He saw me doing it. His response was a study in cringing embarrassment. I actually felt sorry for him. It certainly taught my pupils something, and presumably the embarrassed guy might do things differently next time. Poor sod. We all get it wrong sometimes.

Now, there's a popular internet meme concerning the shaming of dogs.

Dogs, you see, don't share human morals or sensibilities. Not really. We toilet train them by making them embarrassed about shitting on the carpet, but we can't really stop them from being animals.

So how about getting pupils to wear signs saying "I stalled at the B and Q roundabout" with a suitably hangdog expression on their face?

Something for april fools' perhaps...

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Sunday, 15 December 2013

Uruguay and people politics

Someone posted their approval of a Guardian article about Uruguayan president, José Mujica.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/13/uruguay-president-jose-mujica

And I commented that I had misgivings, although I wasn't entirely sure what they were.

Well I've been giving this a bit of thought over the last few days, and have formulated a few ideas.

Firstly, I find Mujica's practicing of what he preaches to be hugely satisfying. That's not where my disquiet lies. I first got involved in radical politics through a group called the LPYS, the youth section of the Labour Party, and through them, the Militant Tendency.

They actaully had the bollocks to stand up for what they believed, you see. They were prepared to go to jail rather than carry out the Government's demands, and their MPs drew only a workers wage. They gave the rest back to the labour movement. Compelling stuff when put next to the spineless careerist moat claiming pricks that today seem ubiquitous in UK politics at least. It's hard to think of a present day equivalent of Dave Nellist or Terry Fields. Having fought so hard, we watched as the Labour Party expelled anyone with any principles to become the other bunch of centre right spineless careerists we get to rule over us every few years. The Liberals, instead of backing the Radicals, aided and abetted the Conservatives.

Again. They almost always do.

So no, it's not Mujica I have any misgivings about. It's the Guardian, or rather what the Guardian represents.

What happens in Uruguay must happen because of it's internal strength, not because it becomes a brief cause celebré for the middle classes of the West.

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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

*cough

I've not been well.

I know! Isn't it? Thanks for your concern!

I've had a chest infection. Still do in fact. And it's been bad enough that if I was a paid employee, I'd have been on the sick for the past week or so. But I'm not. I'm self-employed, so if I don't work I don't get any money. Actually that's not the primary consideration here. If I don't work, I'm letting people down. With three driving tests over the last week or so, I've had little choice but to carry on.

So I've presumably also been a vector for this infection, and others will now be coughing merrily through their mornings because of me. Something to bear in mind next time you go to a fast food restaurant that has it's employees on  self employed or agency contracts.

The cough is finally subsiding, and the cold and flu type symptoms are also past their peak. Meanwhile, I've damaged something inside. Broken a rib? Pulled a muscle? So now when I do cough it's painful. When I can, I drop to my hands and knees, and try to do repeated shallow coughs rather than deep coughs, which hurt more. Sneezes are a bloody nightmare. All in all, I'm feeling rather sorry for myself.

Last night, Bren gave me one of her high strength codeine tablets and I went to bed early. First decent night's sleep I've had for a week. I feel better for it, but it's going to be a few days yet before I'm back to my usual unconvulsed self.

p.s.

one side effect of all this is that my normally rather reedy and high pitched voice has been transformed into something much more bassy.

Gravel! Gravitas!! Growl!!! Grrrrr!!!!

p.p.s.

still off the cigs. Over a week now. No problem.

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Monday, 9 December 2013

This is a man's world

It's no secret that I spend more time than your average 45 year old playing Gran Turismo. Something of a busman's holiday I suppose, but I've been a fan of this series right from the beginning.

The last few incarnations started to include more than just cars and scenery. They started to include first spectators, then drivers and pit crew. On some courses, hundreds, if not thousands of people line the route, and not one of them is female. Every single one of them is male. Gran Turismo 5 has a female pit crew member who claps encouragingly when you pass a license test, but she doesn't even scrawl your time onto a clipboard or anything.

This makes no sense to me. If they're marketing it to as wide an audience as possible, why not include Women? If they're marketing it towards men, why not include Women?

The only explanation I can come up with is some weird safely/morality hybrid.

ie: They know young men play this game. They know that if they include Women, then some of the young men will get off on the images. They don't want to encourage a link between driving and masturbation for health and safety reasons.

Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel...

When I was in my 20's, I used to hitch-hike a fair bit. And just occasionally, I'd get into a car, and it would stink. The driver had been relieving the boredom of a long journey by steering with one hand. Generally pleasant enough people, but I was always glad to get out and have a breath of fresh air.

Anyway, if anyone should have a definitive reason why the makers of Gran Turismo don't want their virtual spectators to have vaginas please do let me know.

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s t o r y t e l l i n g g i a n t



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Friday, 6 December 2013

How we fared in the surge...

Some quite amazing video now from photographer Gav Trafford of what it was like to be at New Brighton yesterday

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

noraddaciggietoday

suppose I must have packed up again then.

edit: 10:15pm, Thursday 5th. Still not had one. Let's see how far I get...

Not particularly well right now. Got a chest infection, so probably not a good idea to be smoking anyway.

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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Masturbation

Hi there, dear Masturbators.

The most visited page of my blog is still my geographic alphabet, as far as I'm aware, but the second most viewed is the three breasted woman.

Recently I blogged a Google Earth image of a penis shaped housing estate, and I noticed that it's rapidly got twice as many views as anything else I posted recently.

People are encountering my site because they are searching for triple breasted women, and massive penises.

Fine by me, but this is not a porn based blog.

Sorry to disappoint you, if you're in any way disappointed.

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The Campaign for Orange Skies

The inevitable and protracted limits to our so far seemingly unstoppable growth are making their presence felt through the abstract of economics. Or if you prefer, the evil Tory cutbacks are having a tangible effect on our local night time environment.

Put simply, our local council have stopped lighting some of our roads, as a means of saving money.

Local Councillor, Leah Fraser (Con) has been inundated with outraged emails decrying the policy. For some of the roads, this policy makes sense. What, after all, is the point of illuminating a deserted industrial estate throughout the hours of darkness? But many of these roads, especially when the evening rush hour occurs in darkness, have become more difficult to negotiate. They're busy. They're pitch black. Drivers are encountering them after driving on well lit urban streets, just as the speed limit goes from 30 to 40, 50, 60, 70. Presumably the Council should close a library or old people's home instead. Or Councillor Leah Fraser should suggest to her parliamentary colleagues that they change their priorities.

Bill Bryson, in his book, "Home" recounts the tale of a Victorian Celebrity having sex on Westminster Bridge in the centre of London, and points out just how dark the pre-industrial world was once the sun had gone down. During the early phase of world war two, no lights were permitted, and crashes caused far more casualties than the Luftwaffe.

Welcome to the future.

Light is a two edged sabre. Without it, crime increases, accidents increase, personal happiness decreases. But light is also a part of the pressure of modern life. Blackbirds sing in the dead of night. Amateur astronomers whinge incessantly. And of course, the likelihood of a zombie apocalypse is brought that much closer.

A reduction in light level is a pain in the arse. Whether driving a car, or reading a book, or darning a sock. It limits our access to visual information. It forces us to slow down. Small wonder that we write irate emails to our politicians and local press.

Necessity being the mother of invention, we've seen big advances in lighting technology over the last decade of so, first with CFC's then with LEDs. My own car has snazzy lights that make us more visible in daylight (when you can see us anyway) I don't know the equations that govern the number of photons reaching the street, and the different methods of producing them. Are LEDs more efficient than sodium vapour? If so, is the capital cost of switching prohibitive? As economies of scale follow the growth in LEDs, would such an equation change over time?

Because of my particular circumstances, between a third and a half of my life is spent travelling along the roads of (mainly) Wirral. On a typical day I work from perhaps 8 in the morning to 7 at night. My hours of work mean I'm making the most of the daytime light at this time of year. My job becomes harder because it it more difficult to see what people are doing (checking mirrors, pressing pedals, etc) This is mitigated by the technology in my car. It has lights that dimly light the footwells. Most cars don't have this. Currently, the light is going by 3.30-4pm, which means a quarter of my working day is done in darkness. If you work in the bowels of an office building from 8-5, you get no daylight apart from what you can snatch at lunch hour. I count my blessings yet again. As far as actually driving on dark roads is concerned, I'm pretty neutral. I teach people how to drive in any situation. If light is needed, I will try to schedule a daytime lesson, or stick to well lit roads where possible. If we have to do dark stuff, there are methods of dealing with it that I need to teach anyway.

This time last year, I lived in a large town. It lay across a mile of open water from a major city. When I went outside it was well lit. The sky was orange. Now I go outside, and when the sky is free of cloud, I see Orion.

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Sunday, 24 November 2013

Sherry?

I made a batch of home brew about 9 months ago I think. Three demijohns.

One of them came with me when we moved to the caravan. The others stayed back in the attic in Wallasey. Today I went and got one of them, and I'm having a couple of glasses tonight.

It's gone sort of thick. Not so much that you could stand a spoon up in it, but it is to my first demijohn as carnation is to milk. Not the easiest thing to drink, but far nicer than, for example, strong cider, and probably up at about 15% alcohol. After one glass I'm already feeling it.

I also bought a load of grapes, and I've started another demijohn, using mashed up grapes, sugar and yeast. Unfortunately, the water from the kettle was too hot, and had turned the plastic demijohn from a rectangular bottle to something else. The bottom, where the cold grape must was is still rectangular, but the top half has shrunk and become somehow cylindrical. It's probably reduced it's capacity from 5 litres to about 4, and I'm hoping it doesn't cause horrible things to leach from the plastic into what I hope will become wine.

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Saturday, 23 November 2013

A virtual 3d person on a virtual 3d lighthouse in a virtual 3d ocean on a virtual 3d planet.

One thing you get on Google Earth is 3d models of various structures.

I'd taken off from a small airport on a French island in the flight simulator, and saw a lighthouse in the distance. I headed for it, and thought it looked familiar. As I got close, I realised why, and I exited the flight sim to take a closer look.

The lighthouse in question is the subject of probably the most famous lighthouse photograph in the history of lighthouse photography.



 I zoomed in on the 3d model, and there, in the doorway, was a little modelled person, complete with blue jacket and red shirt.


 Nice of the model maker to reference the lighthouse keeper in this way, and something I've never seen elsewhere on any other model.

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Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Ikea or Middle Earth

You can just imagine Ikea doing a product line called "Balrog" (Aisle 13) or "Frodo" (available from marketplace) can't you?

I did think about making some sort of quiz, but thankfully, someone saved me the bother.

http://www.sporcle.com/games/SuperBowlXX/ikea-product-or-lord-of-the-rings-character

I got 38 out of 40 with several minutes to spare.

Tolkien Anorak.

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Sunday, 17 November 2013

driving instructor stuff

Some bulletpoints:

  • I've had 8 pupils on test so far this month.
  • The work continues to come in
  • More PIE!
  • Moving off and stopping
8 pupils on test...

"If I'd known what killed him sooner, I could have cured him..."

8 tests in 15 days. That's slightly more than one every two days. Intense! And one of the reasons I've been so busy. People tend to ramp up the lessons in the last few days/weeks before their driving test.

6 of those 8 passed. The national average is just the low side of 50%. This month at least, I'm twice as good as average!

I made a decision a few months ago to start publishing my passrates online.  Rather than hide behind coy phrases about "Very high pasrate" (which I do too) I give a detailed breakdown month by month. This has been immensely useful. I think it comes across as open and honest to anyone who visits my site. It's made me focus on my work, to be able to present, honestly, a good report.

There are finesses. After having announced a mediocre month, I added other posts to push it down the page. It's all archived, and easily accessible, but it would have taken a click of the "older posts" button to find it. At the end of the year, I will be publishing half yearly results to consolidate the monthly posts.

As far as passrates are concerned, I want to continue to improve. Passrates are a useful way of tabulating your effectiveness as an instructor. The examiners have a sort of dual mandate. In some circumstances, they have to mark a particular bit of driving as a serious fault, and therefore a fail. Some examples are not completely stopping at a stop junction, or attempting to turn right from the left hand lane of a T junction, if you're emerging from a one way street. In other circumstances, the examiners have to weigh up not just the fault, but the effect the fault has had on other road users. So for example, a test candidate who stalls and rolls back for a couple of feet at a junction might get a minor fault if there was nobody behind them, and they managed to regain control effectively, but if there happened to be another car behind, that had to stop very suddenly, the same bit of driving would be marked as a serious fault.

And isn't that the point? The reason you passed is because you drove for 40 minutes without being a pain in the arse to anyone.

But that's only part of the story. Most people fail because of nerves. More on all that just a bit later.

Why did the two fail?

The first one gave a couple of clues on the lesson or two before his test. He kerbed the car while turning a few times. This is not a steering fault. It's an observational fault. He was spending too much time looking to see what was coming, and not enough time looking where he was going. Stuff like this takes time to fathom out.  From an instructors point of view, instinct says, "He got the steering wrong. Work on the steering." It takes a while to get beneath the immediate, and we were an hour or so short of the insight and solution. The second was due to a misinterpreted concept. My second could already drive an automatic. It took a while to make the physical transition, which meant we had less time to deal with the intellectual aspects. Again, given a few extra hours, this person would probably have passed.

Hello...?

The day I had those two tests, I also had two new starters. I could go through my records and work out pretty precisely what the proportions are, but my work comes almost exclusively from two sources. Website and word of mouth. Yesterday's new pair were one of each. I'd taught the older sister of one, while the other got in touch through the website. I think overall, it's about 80% website to 20% recommendation. I'd imagine that as time goes by, the ratio will shift more to recommendation. Typically, from this time of year until January, things go a bit flat, but I expect to be busy for the next few weeks at least.

More Pie!

Driving instructor is a role I inhabit. A mask I wear. My pupils are often surprised, when they meet me in a different context, such as in the bread aisle of the supermarket, to find that I'm shy and at a loss for words. Somewhere, in real life, there's a barrier between me and the rest of the world. Yet in my role, I am confident, funny, knowledgeable, empathic, in control. I have fantastic people skills! I relate to people on both an intellectual and an emotional level.

A few months ago, I wrote about the PIE triangle. Really just reinventing the wheel, but it's not something many instructors consider.

I've been exploring the idea and came up with a few further ideas.

First of all, one way of visualising and analysing an error is to consider the Physical, Intellectual and Emotional aspects, and to try to ascribe a value to each. The best way I've found, appropriately enough, is to use a pie chart. What is striking is the almost unvarying response. A very small physical/control element, a rather larger intellectual/understanding that together make up perhaps a third of the pie. The rest is emotional/panic/nerves.



If you ask someone who's driving for the very first time, they tend to give the three elements more or less equal values. They don't have the psycho-motor skills. They don't know what they're supposed to be doing, and they're nervous.

The first of the three to get something like sorted out is always the physical. Driving involves the use of 6 main controls, and getting people to be able to use those controls properly tends to happen fairly quickly, within the first few lessons.

The intellectual side of things is far more complex, and it takes time for the judgement and knowledge to mature.

Finally, people become confident (emotional) because they feel like they know what they are doing (intellectual), and because they have the skill to use the controls to make the car do what they want it to do (physical)

Moving off and stopping

Finally, just a few thoughts on this most basic of procedures...

In their minds eye, when you speak to a learner about moving off and stopping, they picture parking next to the kerb, or moving away from the kerb. This is of course a perfectly valid way of thinking about it, but it plays a far bigger part than even most drivers realise.

I can get someone driving down a road at 30 miles an hour on their first lesson, no problem.  Moving away and stopping effectively takes structure and control. It's what you do at junctions, roundabouts, traffic lights, when encountering an oncoming vehicle when the road is narrowed by parked cars, etc.

So my guideline for whether someone drives on kindergarten roads, or whether they're ready to make the transition to more complex situations is primarily whether they can move away and stop.

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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

I'm sure I deserve it!

Hi there, reader.

I'm writing this on a computer that I've had for a number of years now. When I first got it, it was a pretty good system. It's still a pretty good system even now.

But it's been giving me a bit of jip.

I got an SSD drive for it. I'd intended to use the SSD for my OS and program files, and use a larger capacity IDE HDD for data. And that's where the problems started. Whenever I tried to boot up from the SSD, the computer would run for a few minutes, and then freeze. This made it impossible to put an operating system on it as the install would never complete. I tried putting a linux OS on it instead but got the same issue.

Finally, I spent quite a lot of money on a genuine windows 8 disk, and was sure that this time, it would work.

Nope. Same problem. Get so far then crash. It seemed that the problem lay in the SATA controller, so I bought a SATA/RAID control card. And that didn't fix it either.

My PC is ok when it's got itself up and running, but I want my SSD to work.

So, having tried everything I could think of, to no avail, I had a look on ebay for a fast computer. I found one that has some fantastic stats, and after some hesitation, I've shelled out about five hundred quid for it. It's got an 8 core 4ghz CPU, and a 2Gb graphics card. It comes with 4Gb of DDR3 RAM, which I could upgrade to upto 32Gb, and a 320Gb Hard Drive.

It's a bit of a beast to say the least, at least on paper. I can't actually go get it just yet as the seller is on holiday for a few days, but on Thursday 7th November (which just happens to be my next day off), I will be driving up to Leeds to pick it up.

Something to look forward to. Tomorrow I will be working 9.5 hours paid time. I don't need to feel guilty about reaping the benefits of all this work.

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Monday, 14 October 2013

slowdive

I have put a post on my website suggesting to other instructors that they might want to work with me.

As a method of getting an instructor, this isn't actually very assertive. Still, the message is out there, and if by chance another instructor, (or someone who knows an instructor) who is struggling to make ends meet, stumbles across it, then perhaps they will actually get in touch.

I suspect I might do better asking around at my local test centre.

Edit: A day after posting this, I had a driving test, during which I was speaking to another instructor, and without comitting ourselves, a common interest was expressed.

I was sort of cool, because of duplication. The guy seemed like a nice guy, and we got along fine, but we come from the same area, and teach in identical vehicles, even down to the paintwork.

As a corporate branding exercise, two instructors with identical liveries might be a useful thing, but I think I'm looking for diversity. A Woman. Someone who teaches in an Automatic. Someone from South Wirral. That kind of stuff.

The guy in question though is a bit of a high flyer at another local school. It might be good to have him on board.

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Saturday, 5 October 2013

criminals

Folks,

Before grew into the fine, upstanding degenerate you know and love, I spent some time in a bit of a mess.

Those that know me know the specifics, and will appreciate why I don't go into too much detail here, but suffice to say, the calamitous events of one mad evening were probably only a matter of time.

I was hauled up before the beak. Picked up by the fuzz. I came quietly, and submitted meekly to due process.

I got 80 hours of community service. My penance included washing dishes at an old people's home, removing graffiti, and trimming the hedge of an old lady, who lacked the mobilty or motivation to do so for herself.

I could of course have breached the arrangement, and would eventually have spent time in the clink. As things worked out, I was too messed up to keep my job, despite it being a lenient nationalised institution, and at that point I was on the dole. Either way, I'd have been dependent upon the state for my sustenence.

It took a few years, but eventually, the slide became a climb, and at some point, I went from being a burden on society to a useful contributor.

The reason I turned from a negative to a positive was because of the support of the State. They offered free mental health care, with the help and support of dedicated staff. They provided me with a place to live, and paid my rent, so that while I was vulnerable, I wasn't actually destitute. They provided a ladder for me to climb, when I was ready to climb it.


Thursday, 3 October 2013

It's over!

There's a part of Bristol, close to Filton airport, called Over.


This could make for some interesting conversations with air traffic control.

"What is your location, over"...

"Yes."

or,

"I'm over Over, over"

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Friday, 27 September 2013

The last few weeks...

Before blogging, I never took the time to keep a diary. That's all this is of course, and I'm no Samuel Pepys or Anne Frank.

For the last few days I've been staying in a large, gloomy and smelly madhouse. We're housesitting for someone who has 2 budgies, a finch, a canary, a pigeon, a cat and two dogs. The dogs, fortunately are staying elsewhere. The cat is placid, but it shits and vomits all over the place. None of the animals have been trained against pissing/shitting in the house, and when we first arrived, the smell was appalling. Febreze, and the absence of the dogs has improved matters, but while I normally go barefoot when at home, here I keep my shoes on in every room except our bedroom. Last night I trod in a pile of cat vomit. The girl who normally lives here generally goes barefoot, as she finds her feet easier to clean than her socks, when she steps in something unpleasant. We will be here for a few more days, then we can leave our sampling of her lifestyle, and return to our small, bright, quiet box. When we're quiet and still, the budgies shrill. When we move, the pigeon starts up. The pigeon is an aggressive but charismatic little bugger. The budgies are just plain irritating.

We got a new car. Bren's about to become a grandparent for the first time, and by extension, I am about to become a grandparent too. Step grandparent really, but while I've never really been "dad" to my stepchildren (they were already pretty well grown when I met them) the next generation will never know me as anything other than their grandad. I'm 45. That's the sort of age when you become a grandad I suppose, but blimey! I'm about to be a grandparent. I still feel sort of like an adolescent.

Anyway, we got a new car. Bren's old Suzuki Swift somehow got through last year's MOT without anything worse than a couple of advisaries, but it was clear that to get it through another year would require a lot of money. So we shelled out on a 2004 reg Renault Scenic. A people carrier, with room enough for babies, and their accoutrements. Three days after we bought it, I took it out for the first time, and blew the turbo while accelerating onto the motorway. When you blow a turbo, it sucks all the oil out of the engine, and blows it, in billowing clouds of thick smoke, through the exhaust. I got it home, and Bren is having to kick up a stink to make the dealership we bought it from do what they should do to make things right.

Workwise, my diary continues to be more or less full, six days out of every seven. The enquiries continue to come in, and I'm more and more certain that I will soon have to take on other instructors, as much to reduce my own workload as to make money from franchising. This has not been a good month in terms of test passes and the like. I am making errors, partly because I'm working too hard.

Finally, the allotment. I'm now officially gone from the site, although I've not gone out of my way to return the keys to the gate. It's been a hugely negative thing over the last few months, but while I'm so busy, it's hardly like we need to grow our own food for economic reasons. So it's time I suppose to put it behind me, and leave it to whoever comes after.

And that's me. That's where I am. Living in squalor, and bucking the trend of recession.


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Thursday, 12 September 2013

Parallel pissers

Bren's almost certainly got a gullible idiot hopeful entrepreneur to take over the lease on her shop. This shop is currently costing us around £600 a month, despite it never being a success and standing unoccupied for the last few months. - The landlord gets paid whether it's a goer or not - Bren was locked into a three year contract, but the landlord agreed that if she could find someone to take over the lease, he would release her.

Bren though, was not at all happy to find that the letting agent had already given the keys to the prospective new occupant, even before contracts had been signed.

Meanwhile, I've been down to the allotment this evening to take a look at what the situation was, and to pick up a few things. I have until the 22nd of September to vacate.

I found that my shed had been cleared out, and much of it's contents consigned to a fire. My apple tree has been dug up, and some seemingly petty vandalism has taken place.

I too am not happy.

Some of the things above could only have happened if other people knew I was leaving, and the only person that knew that was the site secretary. So he's consented to this, or at least informed other people that I was leaving. Either way, he's acted in a less than professional manner.

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Saturday, 7 September 2013

uh oh...

Towards the end of today, one of my pupils made a bit of an error. No contact was made with anything, but somehow there was a clunk, and the car suddenly sounded and felt wrong. We were only a few hundred yards away from our destination so we drove on, parked up, and I prepared to drive home.

Before leaving, I did a few visual checks. There were no branches trapped beneath the car or anything, and a look into the engine bay showed nothing amiss. Yet the car is definately behaving in an unsettling way.

I think the gearbox has somehow come a bit loose or something. Being a Saturday evening, there's not much I can do about it beyond cancelling tomorrow's lessons and trying to get a replacement vehicle on Monday.

It means letting several people down unfortunately. Not good.

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Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Growing your own...

Going away gave me time to think.

I've decided not to fight the eviction decision. It's annoying given the money I spent on materials, and the time and effort I put in to getting the plot in order, but I can take many of those materials with me, and the work is now in the past. I'd rather look forward.

What we hope to do is either buy or rent a more local space. We live in a semi rural area, and there are many fields within a stone's throw of where we live now. Without the restrictions imposed by allotment officers, we would be freer and under less pressure to do things in any particular way. We could also construct a large shed on such a plot of land, and this could be used to ease some of the space/storage issues that come from living in a 38 foot long aluminium box.

So I intend to go to the allotment on Wednesday. My day off this week, and salvage what I can. The builders bags, membrane, flexibuckets and decking squares can all come back with me, and some of the things I planted, particularly the lettuces, might just be ready to harvest. It's now been a couple of weeks since I was last there. It will be interesting to see how things look there now.

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Audiobooks

Stories predate books by many thousands of years. Hundreds of thousands I suspect. Written language evolved from spoken language. I don't think it could have really happened the other way around. Before we got around to inventing alphabets and stuff, we had an oral tradition. It was all we had to pass on the wisdom of the past to those that needed the lessons it taught in the present.

Now, I don't know about you, but if someone tells me not to do something, I get a strong urge to go and do it. As a means of passing on information or advice, telling bald facts are not necessarily the best way of going about it. I don't suppose people were that different back then either.

So what better way to keep your children out of the woods? Tell them not to go in the woods? Or tell them some tale that scares the living shit out of them? Most of the fairy tales we're familiar with now were folk tales that were cleaned up by Charles Perrault 400 years or so ago. Those precursors were worse. Far worse.

So both the making of and the listening to of stories is one of the things that makes us humans what we are. If dolphins or chimps do it, we're not in on it. I'd also add that perhaps listening to stories is a little more natural than reading them. We're visual creatures. Our upright posture and binocular vision have been a massively important part of our survival and rise as a species. We couldn't watch out for lions and read a book at the same time. But we could watch for lions and listen to someone telling a story, just as today we can drive while listening to the radio, but we can't drive and read a book. Well, not with the same ease anyway.

Just as at one time, several millenia ago, we found methods of converting that same information into sequences of visual symbols, in the last century or so, we found the means to store audible information, as audble information. From wax disks to ipods; Mary had a little lamb to Gangnam.

The first stories I took in were taken in through my ears. The words came from my Mum's mouth. She read them from the pages of a book. Then, when I learned how to decode the symbols myself, I was able to take the visual information on the pages and convert them into first vocalised then subvocalised sound.

That's what you do when you read, isn't it? The words you read form silent sound shapes in your mind. As you're reading these lines, there's a voice somewhere inside you. Perhaps with a slight scouse accent.

Although I could now read the tales for myself, it was always nice to have someone do it for me. Whether it was Bernard Cribbins on Jackanory, or Mrs Veats in Junior School.  I also devoured children's literature voraciously. After going to bed, I would read. After a while, one or the other of my parents would proclaim lights out, and I would comply until they went back downstairs, at which point I would switch it back on and carry on reading. My dad would open the curtains downstairs and see the light, and would come and take the bulb out. So then I would continue by torchlight, as the theme music to the news at ten wafted up the stairs.

The first audiobook I ever bought was a 12 inch circle of vinyl containing "The Restaurant at the end of the Universe." I bought it from a record shop in Chester, second hand, and would have been in my early to mid teens. Mainly though, in my late teens and early twenties, I read.

Nowadays, I have little time to read, but I spend a lot of time travelling around in the car. Not the sort of situation where I could pull out a novel and read a few paragraphs. I suspect that a snatched sentence taken in at a red traffic light or level crossing would be deeply unsatisfying.

So thank goodness for ears! The soundtrack to my journeys is as likely to be Bill Bryson as The Beatles. Iain Banks rather than Ian McNabb. Since the information is already in audible form, I don't need to decode it, and can concentrate on the story, while simultaneously dealing with the primarily visual task of driving.

 

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Saturday, 24 August 2013

Lost the plot

Today I got a text from Alex. He recieved a letter giving notice to quit the allotment.

What now?

Well I need to think things over, and to discuss stuff with Bren. Time, as ever, will tell.

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Friday, 23 August 2013

The unthinkable happened!

Still no notice to quit, so this evening, I went to the allotment and continued digging for the next lot of big bags. There were weeds and stuff growing in some of the soil I dug up, so I grabbed a handful of them and chucked them into a nearby bucket.

Have you noticed how flexibuckets are suddenly everywhere?

Anyway, I became aware of a slight itchy pain  on my finger. This rapidly became a stinging sensation across the backs of several of my fingers.

Yes! I got stung by a nettle today! It's been a long time since that happened, I can tell you. I got little white lumps where I'd been stung. I had to water the planted up bags, so I dipped a watering can into a nearby metal trough. The cool water instantly soothed my stung fingers. It wasn't actually all that bad, but I still have a phobia of nettles.

What else?

Well I've been working hard on the wording of something I want to add to my business website. As I've said before, I'd like to train other people up to become instructors, who I hope would then franchise with me. Turn some of the overwork into profit as well as charging a tidy sum for the training they recieve. The text is taking a lot of thought and revision. I'd say I'm about half way through. I'm also considering the logistics of taking such a step. The guy that trained me had a team of people all bouncing stuff off each other. Everyone contributed something. It was all based at a McDonalds on a small industrial estate. That gave us both a base, and some useful quiet roads nearby. One of the best places to teach early stage pupils locally is the Croft Ind. Est. in Bromborough. It has a variety of quiet wide roads that present a number of different situations. Junctions, roundabouts, some hills. It's an ideal place to train instructors too. It's located just behind the Croft Retail Park. This includes a McDonald's. Bingo!


The McDonald's is right at the bottom of this picture, towards the left, off Welton Road. I know they're evil and all, but what we'd really be doing is freeloading their parking facilities, and buying the occasional coffee to keep them sweet.

I've sort of started smoking again. That's always a risk when you go down to Dave's! I'll stop again in a few days/weeks/months.

And that's about all for today.

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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Well... I'm back.

Folks, I went down south. It took 5 hours to cover 170 miles because I set the cruise control for about 50-55. Managed 80 miles to the gallon on the trip down.

Arrived Saturday evening. Went home on Sunday afternoon. The bit between arrival and departure?

Well I must admit, I/we didn't get up to much. We spent a long time playing Gran Turismo. We went to watch Wycombe Wanderers play Mansfield Town. We watched a lot of telly. We went out and had lunch in Aylesbury town centre, after which we went to the pub and played pool.

And that's about it. The inertia was fuelled by natural chemicals. Mainly smelly green organic matter, but yes I did smash up some poppy heads and brew them, in a teapot, with some teabags, and yes, I did feel something.

This is all to the good. If it had been mind blowingly powerful, it would not have been an effective way of intervening if Bren has some future migraine that her normal medication can't abate. We couldn't have balanced the risk of bad stuff against the benefits. As it is, we've calibrated it. One head per person does little. Two heads per person does something. We could easily stand three.

Wycombe lost. The last time I went to a football match as a neutral, it was to see Chester City play Bradford. Chester lost too. I'm thinking of hiring myself out to Away teams as a sort of talisman.

The Gran Turismo was interesting. Dave is not a gamer. He struggled immensely at first, but it was fascinating to watch both his personal development, and the techniques that enabled that development. In particular the repitition of particular methods and concepts using the license test part of the game was immensely useful.

Lunch was at a Moroccan restaurant. I forget the name. I had a weird thing called a Tortilla Burger. A veggie burger made from tortillas. It was much nicer than that sounds. Also coffee with cardamon. Small thick black intense. The cardomon wasn't that much to my liking, but I'm glad I gave it a go. Apart from that, we mainly ate pizza.

On the way home I was accosted by an assertive hitch-hiker, with his girlfriend, Pandora. I took them from Stafford to Ellesmere Port. It was good to give something back, given that I've sat in the opposite seat many times.

Since I got back, things have been a little chaotic.

For one thing, I left my diary at Dave's. If there's one thing holding my life together (apart from Bren) it's the fact that I can look at a page of a book, and see everything I need to see in a coherently arranged list. Without it, I've been making mistakes.

Also chaotic is the allotment situation. I've heard nothing, which may be good news. (I haven't had notice to quit) I have to proceed for now on that basis. So no rest for the wicked and all that. It's 230 in the morning and I have a 14 hour working day in front of me, starting at 730. I'd forgotten how busy I'd become. I got a reply from the DSA to an email I'd sent a few weeks ago asking about instructor training. I don't need to be ORDIT registered to train people, unless I want to create something much bigger than I have planned. So really really thinking seriously about training someone or several someone's to work for me.

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Tuesday, 13 August 2013

You load 16 bags, whaddaya get?

The lady from the council was due to inspect my plot today. I had to go to work so if she turned up, I wasn't there to see it.

The bit in front of the plot has been cleared.



The back of the plot has been cleared.





The front of the plot has been cleared.





And some of the things I've planted have already started to grow.





The site secretary clearly thinks I shouldn't be allowed to keep it. He wouldn't look me in the eye today. Fucking Judas.

I'm going away tomorrow for a few days. Presumably there will be notification one way or the other by the time I get back.

If they do kick me off, I will appeal. If that fails, I will be taking all the stuff I bought with me.


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Sunday, 11 August 2013

Carry on Regardless...

In the end, I bought a strimmer. It didn't cost that much more than it would have cost to hire one. My Dad came up from Neston, and we got the rear part of the plot strimmed down.

I'm hoping this means that I can now officially give up the top end of the plot, and that any assessment of the fitness of my plot will be based upon just the bottom end. That too still needs quite a lot of work, but it should be obvious to those with the power to decide on my future that I'm making a real effort.

Will it be enough? Only time will tell.

Today I got another 4 filled bags emplaced. They have nothing planted in them yet. The bags I put down last week have been planted up with peas, lettuce, carrots, rocket, mustard, Pak Choi, and lambs lettuce. Some of these are starting to sprout nicely. The beds are nicely weed free, and the pigeons, which love such things as pea shoots, can't get in because of the netting over the bags.

All good. Here are my latest batch of mobile phone pictures.

 The space for the bags has been dug out, and membrane placed over it.



The bags put in and filled with soil. For now I've covered them with some old plastic bags to help suppress any weed growth while I decide what to put in them.


The site is a haven for wildlife in the middle of Wallasey.  This female blackbird was very tame. It was obviously hoping my labour would unearth a few morsels.


It did. This moth for one.

Once the next 4 bags have been placed, and the next path put down, I will be about 40% through.

But I am generating an unexpected surplus.

Soil that has lain undisturbed for a few years occupies less volume than soil that has been dug. I'm ending up with bags of soil that, having been dug out, have no place to go. So the next block of 8 may not need to be dug out in order to generate the soil they need to be filled. It may be that I can do a block of 4 x 2 with very little digging.

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Friday, 9 August 2013

Uh oh...

Yesterday the site secretary dropped a bombshell. Before I can give up the half plot, I have to get it tidied. And I only have until Tuesday, and my busy work schedule continues unabated. He implied that whatever I do will be seen as too little too late.

I will try anyway. I'm hiring a strimmer, and I will level the tall stuff on the bit I'm supposed to be giving up, but it may not be enough.

Yet I have all these bags, and this approach is both modular and versatile to be applied more or less anywhere. I recently moved to a semi rural area. There are fields and farmland very close to where I live. They are mainly given over to horse grazing. My allotment, since I moved, is about 7 miles away.

My preferred option is to keep my current plot. I've put a lot of work into it, particularly over the last month or so. If I do have to give it up, I'd like to continue growing my own food, and buying or renting a small bit of land nearby.

Something else to consider is motivation. I'm making a living right now. Making ends meet. We don't need to grow our own food to get by, yet I'm persisting in something that's sometimes backbreakingly difficult, in the face of a hostile site administration. Some of this is sheer bloody minded determination not to give up. Some of it is a desire to see a plan through to fruition. When I said in a post the other day that this was my vision, my project, etc, I wasn't kidding.

Still, procuring a small plot close to where I live would involve Bren, who wants nothing to do with the plot anymore. We could spend more time together working such a plot. We would not be proscribed by local rules concerning how we ran our plot, the placement of sheds and greenhouses, etc.





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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Creativity and driving instruction

Most issues people have when learning are repetitive, but pretty regularly things crop up that require a creative solution. It's often something simple and straightforward, but encountering problems and finding solutions to those problems is one of the things that keep my job interesting and rewarding.

What prompted this post was something that happened today. My pupil was struggling generally with driving. A lack of technique and structure was combined with panic and a lack of confidence. The solution to this is generally to give them a structure to follow, then repeat ad nauseum until it goes in.

Here is the structure. It consists of 7 steps. There are reasons for each step to take place in the order that it does, but for now, let's just get the steps written down here. They are:

Mirrors -> Signal -> Position -> Speed -> Look -> Decision -> Gear

We went through this while parked up, then gave it a go on a right hand loop. Nope. Not happening.

We parked up again, and I asked her to recite the steps. She kept stumbling over step three. Mirror. Signal. Decision, she would say, time after time. I realised that the problem didn't have much to do with driving. It had everything to do with language.

So I changed "Decision" to "Decide". It became phonetically much more distinct from "Position", and after a little bit more work, she had the sequence down. Once she had it down as an abstract, she was able to apply it on the road and a big improvement too place.

Y'know what? I love my job for stuff like this.

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umpteenth allotment update...

Onwards and upwards with my vision. My mission. My project.

Today I have weeded the front of the plot.

I have pulled all the tall weeds from the flowery bed bit.

I finished filling the bags that have already been laid down, and I planted Pak Choi and Lamb's Lettuce in the two bags that had not yet been planted out.

Having now laid down two rows, it was necessary to leave a gap, so that I could access the bags easily. This required some thought, and a few decisions had to be made. In the end, I decided to not dig a sunken path, but to leave it at path level. This means less digging, will aid water retention, and helps to support the sides of the bags. The soil at this point will be covered by membrane, and some kind of solid covering.

I went down to B and Q, and weighed up my options. The most durable and weed repellent method would be to lay down paving slabs, but this would mean a lot of work and expense. In the end I compromised and got wooden decking slabs. These have gaps, in which soil will accumulate, so the weeds will grow there, but it is cheaper and far less work. Wooden slabs weighing a couple of kilo each are far more manageable than  concrete slabs weighing perhaps ten times as much.

I've put down a row, just to see how they look, and to give an impression of where I'm going with all this. They're not properly down yet though. To do so will require string and a spirit level and all that kind of stuff.

Here's what it looks like now...


The next step from here is to dig out the potatoes in the bed next to the path, and to dig it down for another 2x4 group of bags.

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Friday, 2 August 2013

Unflagging, am I..

White rabbits.

And return the next day I did.

Shit. I sound like Yoda.

The weather was against me, but I completed the first row, and made tentative inroads on the second. I was soaked to the skin by the time I left, and I didn't get anything like as much as I wanted to get done, done.

And I was back there again this evening. This time, I managed to dig out most of the second row. The bags should be down and filled in the next couple of days, if I get a moment.

When measuring up, I used an organic unit of measurement, the stride. Now that I've completed a row, I can tell you, O suffering reader, that a row of 4 big bags is roughly 5 strides. The entire plot is about 20 strides, or 15 big bags, but there will be gaps. I have to be able to get at each bag, so that means putting pathways between the bags.

What's the optimal arrangement then, in terms of maximum number of bags within set area? Assuming a half big bag/ half metre gap is wide enough...

Here's a U shaped arrangement. It allows me to put in 46 bags.

This arrangement gets me an extra couple of bags, and probably better access too.

But I don't need access right up to the fence. This means I could squeeze in an extra couple on the top edge, since there doesn't need to be any gap. That gets me about 50-51. A square metre of cucumbers. A square metre of potatoes. To help keep the weeding to an absolute minimum, I might pave the gaps with any old paving stuff I can get my hands on.

There is space for a few more down the bottom end, but my feeling is that I want to give that bit of the plot over to more conventional gardening. That bit of the plot has things that grow well beyond a single season, like rhubarb, and some fruit trees and bushes. The big bag approach seems too ephemeral for such permanent fixtures.

I do have some more pictures. Not from today. By the time I'd finished, it was too dark. These are from yesterday.




The pictures don't really give a true impression of just how wet it was. The last pic is the view from the shed. I spent quite a  lot of time in there, waiting for a break in the weather.

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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Over the last two days...

Monday, 29th July 2013:

Well bloody hell. I said in my last post that it would be hard work. It's slow going. Weeding and harvesting are straightforward enough, but digging the beds to about a spades depth and bagging the soil is hard work. In about 3 hours this afternoon, I managed to do perhaps 1% of the digging.

Once all that digging is done, laying membrane, filling bags, and planting stuff in them should be much easier.

I'm wondering about having some kind of allotment party. Anyone that wants to come along and do a bit is welcome to, and I will provide a barbecue and drinks and what have you. Not sure how many people would or could take part, but it might be worth an ask on facebook or something. I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the people who'd be prepared to help.

Tuesday 30th July 2013:

I managed to get a couple of hours in this evening. Yesterday, I tried filling bags directly as I dug soil from the ground, but this is an exasperating experience on your own. The bags flop this way and that, and as much soil tends to end up on the floor as in the bag. I had a large flexible plastic bucket and spading the soil into that was much quicker, and I could then transfer the soil from the bucket into the bags. This though, is extremely inefficient. Kicking sand from beach to beach. The solution was obvious. - Go buy a load of big flexibuckets. I ended up with about 7 or 8 of these buckets, and made much quicker time after getting them. That's about all I need of them. As I dig out a square metre or so, I have space to extend the membrane, and plonk down another big bag, which then gets big buckets chucked into it. Thus freeing the buckets for another load. All these buckets have cost me over £40. The membrane cost about another £40. The builders bags have so far cost about £50 quid or so. For that I've ended up with, I think, 28 or 29 of them. Enough to cover 28 or 29 square Metres of plot. So far that's a total of about £130, but I need a lot more bags yet. Perhaps as many as 100. At an average of even just £1 per bag, that's still another £100. More likely £200 unless I get lucky with freecycle. About £300 to really turn the plot from nothing into something.

I've managed to get a couple of big bags down and filled this evening. Pictures follow...




The bags, being more or less uniform is size and construction, can be modified in standardised ways. Different plants have different needs. It will be simple to construct some kind of cage for things like berries and cherries that the birds like to scoff. Some bamboo poles and a bit of mesh or chickenwire will work. If something needs to climb, constructing a trellis or other support should be simple. Bags that are not being cultivated can be covered over with a lightproof cover to prevent weed growth. One square metre at a time.

I feel pretty good about this. I just know it will work well. I am motivated both to get to the plot, and with a clear plan in place, to word hard when I get there. Tomorrow, my car is in for a service, and I shall spend most of the day there.

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