Monday, 29 December 2014

How to let someone down gently?

Today, an enquiry came through to my inbox from my website.

The enquirer wanted help with driving instructor training. I gave him a call, and quickly, some little alarm bells started ringing.

A monotone voice, a long winded attention to unimportant details, and a certain social ineptness, and total unawareness of that ineptness.

This person had been ditched by his previous trainer, because he phoned them on Christmas day to ask them a question. The trainer was not at all impressed by this, and told him in no uncertain terms where to stick his question, and any further training. This, my enquirer thought, was completely out of order.

Still, I have a two hour session with this person on Sunday, and will do my best to offer insights, advice, and to make him better at what he does.

When I eventually managed to get off the phone, I did a google search for him, and found that he's famous in a way. He did one of those so monumentally awful X factor appearences that the judges put him through to the next round so that they could take the piss out of him twice.

I suspect this person may have an autistic spectrum disorder, and that no matter how much work is put in, and how much money he spends, he's not going to be able to get through the tests, and quite rightly too.

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Friday, 26 December 2014

To the lighthouse

The new year is almost here, and I plan to use the remaining time as a period of deliberate hedonism and excess. Expect some garbled posts both here and in other forums.

For on January the 1st, I intend to institute, implement and instill a few big changes.

1. I can no longer buy alcohol. This is not to say I cannot drink alcohol, but if I want to drink it, other people will have to give it to me, or I will have to make my own.

I have 25 litres of home brew on the go right now, and it should be ready for about the first week in february, although I might start on some of it before it's ready. As one demijohn empties, I will refill it with sugar, water, yeast and flavouring, but I shall endeavour not to buy any more demijohns either.

2. I will make my way from here to Leasowe Lighthouse, without the aid of an internal combustion engine, 5 days in every week, regardless of weather. Jogging there and back would be best, but if I walk or cycle, that also qualifies, at least at first. I'm rather heavy right now. I've measured it on google earth, and it's almost exactly one mile there and one mile back. Not a massive ask, two miles a day. If I'd proposed a more distant target, I'd be less likely to stick to achieving it. Even now, I wonder if I can stay motivated.

3. By the combination of the above, I hope and plan to be two stones lighter come the end of 2015.

The current batch of home brews is an experiment.

1. Using marmite and 2 kilograms of sugar, twice the recommended amount, I'm hoping to make a sort of sherry. Thick, sweet and strong.

2. I'm using just a pound of sugar instead of a kilo. This in in conjunction with fruitjuice, which of course already contains sugar. One of these uses 100% fruitjuice. The other, due to a lack of attention to detail when buying the juice, is reconstituted and contains just 20%.

3. I poured a tin of treacle into a demijohn, and added yeast and water, just to see what would happen. It took a week to get started, but it's bubbling away quite happily now. I haven't got a clue what it will taste like when it's finished.

4. A "normal" brew, with 5 litres of fruitjuice, and 1 kilo of sugar.

The energy of the sugar is not really expended in the reaction that turns it into alcohol. If it were, my demijohns would heat up. So drinking 5 litres of my normal brew is equivalent to eating a kilogram of sugar in calorific terms.

It's been a while since I weighed myself, but after todays blowout, I imagine I've crossed the 15 stone threshold. I will weigh myself at the new year, and record a sporadic diary entry here on how things are going.

And that's all for now.

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Sunday, 2 November 2014

Send rainbows, the greys are winning!...

Ello there!

I've just been looking backwards at the Head Heritage discussion board history.

Can't be arsed checking when I first started to contribute, but I'd imagine it's around 2000/2001.

But even going back perhaps 6 years or so, the vibe is radical, intelligent, and a long way from the mainstream.

Now it's meh.


and it's not the right wing trolls that took it there.

It's the great mass of well meaning liberals. 

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Saturday, 1 November 2014

Pretty ugly

It's ok to tell my clients that I think they're ugly.

Because that's funny.

It's not ok to tell my clients that I think they're pretty/handsome

Because that's creepy.

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Monday, 13 October 2014

Lazy bones

I like my job. I enjoy driving. I enjoy teaching. I've been doing the job long enough to know what works, but I'm forever trying to develop and evolve what I do. I enjoy doing that too!

After years of struggle, I eventually got a break, and am now in a stable position. My diary is consistently full. The enquiries continue to come in, and I have the skills, experience, and bedside manner to keep the vast majority of new business well beyond the loss leading first lesson. Without spending a penny on advertising, my business has taken off in the last couple of years, and I'm in as good a position as I possibly could be as a sole trader. I could capitalise a litle further by increasing my lesson price - balancing price of supply with demand in accord with the standard economic model.

It would be relatively easy from here to increase that demand. Here are some reasons why...

  • I've just got a DS3 Dsport as a tuition vehicle. It's almost certainly the poshest learner car on the Wirral right now. The DS3 is now a popular choice of vehicle for driving instructors (I was one of the first around here to teach in one, and it definately generated some business for me) but the Dsport pushes things a little further, both in terms of performance and style. As far as I know, I'm the only instructor in this area teaching in one. There are other instructors teaching in premium cars, but most of them have had these cars for several years. Right now that gives me an advantage.
  • I have a good name in the industry, and few enemies. What I do doesn't always work with people, and I have made mistakes. But I've always tried my best, and when things haven't gone right, I've gone out of my way to try to make amends. What has sometimes cost me in time or money has generated a degree of goodwill, or at least a lack of active animosity.
  • There are several methods of obtaining work, with little cost, that I don't really utilise. In particular, facebook, if I took the time to use it effectively, could generate a lot of new business for my school. In addition, I could incentivise word of mouth by offering free lessons to existing pupils if they generated work for me. This is something I've done in the past that I don't do at the moment. I do get a substantial percentage of my work from recommendations, but if I needed to, I could increase the volume at the cost of time, and a bit of fuel.
  • I could of course spend money of advertising. When I first tried to generate work for myself, I would use paid advertising in the local free press. This coincided with the rise of the internet, and was not good value for money, but I'm a little more savvy these days
I've been toying with the idea of expanding for a good few months now. Although I enjoy the front line, chalk face experience, I'm working long hours and I must admit, I'd quite like to take things a little easier, if I could do so without sacrificing the income.

I could certainly fill the diary of an additional instructor within weeks, without breaking sweat, and by exploiting some of the unused methods detailed above, I could probably go further.

The prospect of doing so though, scares the shit out of me.

The mathematics of the benefits of franchising for me are a little complicated. On the face of it, if I charge £22 per lesson, and an instructor gives me, say, £100 a week to provide them with the means to earn a living, then I can spend about 4.5 hours less a week teaching without losing any income. But that takes no account of my overheads, and they are a fluid thing. I don't get £22 per hour. I get that minus what it costs to do my job - mainly car, fuel and insurance. I could with a little work, go through my diary, and work out exactly how many hours I work, and relate it to my income. Indeed I should, if I'm going to do this, but if another instructor gives me that £100, I don't have to spend any more on car fuel or insurance. So really, it equates to more like perhaps 7-8 hours per week. This has to be set against a degree of responsibility. A weight upon my shoulders. I've been on the other side of this equation, and have often got the thin end of things. I don't want to treat others this way.

Socially/Interpersonally, I'd be setting myself up as a sort of employer. In a sense that's not really the case. Another instructor would be giving me money to provide a service to them - They're paying me, but psychologically, they'd be working under my banner, and that's just the way things seem to go. In addition, I'd want anyone who worked with me to take something of the way I do things into how they do the job. It's my name and reputation afterall.

I've now spent almost a decade trying to make people do things the way I want them to do it, in exchange for money, but it's still a little uncomfortable to think of doing what I do with learners, on a similar but undeniably different basis, with instructors.

I think I may have found a way of doing it though, if I choose to do so.

There's an instructor I know and like, who I haven't seen around for a few months. I looked online for him, and found a facebook page that hasn't been updated for a while, and a link to a dead webpage.

The internet has an inertia to it. It contains links to the dead websites and contact details of instructors who no longer do the job. Some of these ex-instructors will have dropped by the wayside because they weren't up to the job, and no effort at further training on my part would make them into what I'd want them to be. Some though, like me a year or two back, are perfectly competent, but just didn't have the breaks to survive. We're all self employed. This industry is a Randian paradise.

A carefully crafted letter to some of those people could possibly lead to me expanding my business in a way that benefitted them, without treading on anybody's toes.

There is of course, more to it than this. Contracts would have to be devised. Solicitors would have to be paid. A lot of thought and effort would be needed on my part for this to happen in a way that didn't lead to problems downstream.

But wouldn't it be nice to capitalise on what I've achieved, and not have to work quite so hard?

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Wednesday, 8 October 2014


Posting while drunk, huh? Often I am. While sober, I don't have much to say for myself. I often find, when reading back what I've written, that the spelling is impeccable, the grammar is ok, and the overall coherence is sometimes questionable.

It's rare that I unpublish anything I've blogged, although I quite often don't publish something I've written, or I fail to finish something I've started to write. Reading it back sober the next morning, I am no longer happy with it and it languishes unfinished, and eventually gets forgotten about. Going through my post list, I find many unpublished drafts, often trying to say the same things time after time, but always failing to do so in a way that I am happy with.

But usually, if I've actually hit the "publish" button, it stands, as a record of what and where I am. If it's crap, well, that's ok. It's as much part of me as the polished stuff, and why blog if not to try to project something of yourself?

I did though, unpublish  my most recent post, which was written while I was drunk, and mainly concerned a teaching method I'm pleased with, and which, on sober reading, was particularly incoherent.

While on a lesson, the other day, the word "bricolletage" popped into my head.

"Bricolletage" I said to my pupil.

"What?" he replied?

"I don't know. The word just popped into my head."

We googled it and drew a blank. Google suggested some place names, and the word "Bricolage", which I think is what I really meant to think. What I'd thought of was a portmanteau of "Bricolage" and "Decolletage"

Male pupil, by the way.

I know what decolletage means. I didn't consciously know what bricolage means.

Here's what it means, according to the internet...


[bree-kuh-lahzh, brik-uh-]
noun, plural bricolages [bree-kuh-lah-zhiz, ‐lahzh] (Show IPA), bricolage.
a construction made of whatever materials are at hand; something created from a variety of available things.
(in literature) a piece created from diverse resources.
(in art) a piece of makeshift handiwork.
the use of multiple, diverse research methods.
 So for this to pop into my head was a happy accident. Bricolage plays a big part in what I do.
The pieces I draw from are often little set pieces that I've developed over time, but I'm forever incorporating new methods, and developing and modifying old ones. Sometimes things don't work, and I discard or change them. Sometimes things work with a particular pupil, but not with another. It's almost always ok to break the fourth wall, and to share what I'm doing with my pupil, not as a driving technique, but as what I'm trying to achieve as a teacher.
It's an approach that has taken me a long way beyond the basics that I was taught, although those core skills also have to be in there. 

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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

What I've been doing for the last week or so...

It's been a strange and difficult few weeks. It's hard to know what to write.

We buried Mike. We've just come back from a brief holiday in North Wales. Life goes on.

On a personal level, that was notable for a couple of things. Finally getting to the top of the Glyderau, and swimming in the sea in Abersoch.

I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to personal discomfort, but it was a beautiful warm late summer afternoon, and after paddling about for a bit, I stripped down to my undies (we just went out and had no intention of getting more than our feet wet) and and I gradually went all the way in. The shoulders were the hardest bit but once in, it was almost pleasantly warm, at least in patches. The temperature was in no way uniform. There were swathes of cold and warm all moiling and mixing. There were fishes too. Thousands of little pipe nosed things that shoaled and darted around me. Bren took a few photographs but without a polarising filter, they didn't show much.

Last time I swam in the sea was in Cornwall about 12 years ago, and by the time I'd managed to pluck up the courage to go in, it was time to get out. Minor bucket list thing ticked off I suppose.

I went part way up Glyder Fach (or fawr - they're part of the same mass really) a couple of years ago with Bren. In retrospect, big kudos to her for getting as far as she did. It's a long steep ascent for those of us who's idea of mountaineering is a gentle ramble up Moel Famau. We got to the top of the first bit, Llyn Y Cwn, but found there was further to go. It was getting a bit late, so rather than push on, we turned back.

This time though, I set out with Alex, my stepson (and all round active bloke) and we got right to the top. What had seemed like a short further climb to the summit from Llyn Y Cwn turned out to be a long and steep scramble of several hundred more vertical metres. The cloud base was a long way beneath us, and visibility was appalling. At times it was far less than 100 metres. The high Glyderau massif is an incredibly rugged place. Glacial action from the end of the last ice age left it a fractured and almost pathless wilderness. There are low cairns spaced every so often. By going from one cairn to the next, right at the limit of visibility, we were able to make progress along the top, but all too frequently, the line would end, leaving us lost. And we did indeed become lost.

This is not a good place to be stumbling around in the dark. There are sheer and vertiginous cliffs, and it would be inky black once the daylight had gone, even if the moon managed to penetrate the fog. Eventually we heard voices, and made for them. A group of well organised walkers had a good idea of where they were going, and did enough for us to find our way down, although they had their own agenda to follow.

 An autostitch pano. Click image for bigger pic.

 At Idwal Youth Hostal. Raring to go!

  The three images above were shot on the banks of Lake Idwal, at the bottom of it all. Well paved and relatively flat. Already the fog is thick.

The word, "Glyderau" comes from the Welsh, meaning "Pile of stones".

 We'd hoped to get to Castell Y Gwynt (the castle of winds) and the famous Cantilever Stone. In the event, we found neither, although the whole damn place looked like Castell Y Gwynt, and the picture below shows the closest we got to finding the Cantilever Stone...

 Murphy's Law dictated that as we made our way back down, the clouds would clear.

This is what I look like when I'm totally shagged out.

In the end we spent 8 hours dealing with slippery rocks, steep uphill scrambles (my lungs and muscles complained) and rocky steep downhill plods (my knees and ankles bore the brunt) I'd had little choice but to keep pushing and pushing, long after I'd had enough, and when I got back to the car, I cried real tears. Just a little. I did on the way out too, when REM's "Everybody Hurts" came on the car stereo.

Which brings me to the third bit of this post: Mike's funeral.

It took several weeks for the coroner to carry out the inquest and release Mike's body.

The cause of death was compression of the arteries in the neck, due to hanging. The toxicology results aren't with us yet, but I'd expect them to show significant levels of alcohol in the bloodstream. I'd be surprised but not flabbergasted if there was anything else.

So Mike would have lost consciousness quite quickly then, as the blood supply to his brain was cut off, rather than over several minutes through asphyxiation, as I'd assumed. I hope so anyway.

Mike's partner, Jenny wanted a woodland burial. The most local site is in Frankby but it's right next to a proper graveyard, and she didn't want to see a load of old stones. We found another site in South Wirral, close to the start of the Manchester Ship Canal, and right on the final approach path for Speke Airport. Truly a place of quiet reflection and meditation!

Bren was the main organiser in it all, and it was a memorable and special ceremony for us all. We'd expected optimistically for around 100 people to attend, but in the event, there were far more than that. Perhaps 150 or more. The bulk of the service was in the main building. Bren spoke at some length about Mike, and introduced a number of other people, who'd chosen to say something. Bren also spoke about how suicide is the biggest killer of men aged under 50 in the UK. That's something I didn't know before.

Alex had wanted to pay his respects to his brother by being a pallbearer. This is something I'd also wanted to do. The funeral directors were happy to oblige, and organised us carefully. Six of us, Me, Alex, Pete (Mike and Alex's Dad), Peter (Mike's half Brother), Pidge (Mike's best mate and partner in crime) and one other who I can't remember carried the coffin in and out of the building, then it was put into the hearse, and driven up to the plot. We didn't linger long by the graveside. Jenny has been to his grave since. We haven't yet. At some point, a tree will be planted, and as the site matures, it will change from being wildflower meadow to woodland. My Mum and Sister represented my side of the family. Both would now like to be buried there.

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Sunday, 31 August 2014


person = person.

person + drug = different person

there was a time a few years ago when Mike lived at home with us.

Every so often, we would get a midnight phonecall. A drunken Mike had got into some kind of scrape. Tried to jump off a building, or had the crap beaten out of him/beaten the crap out of someone. He's done himself real harm before today, and there were times where his rampages put us in danger too. But somehow, he'd got through and once sober, was back to his usual self.

I understand the compulsion to do self destructive shit. It's a behaviour I've engaged in many times.

Mike had problems for years. He longed for a normal life. The whole family/home/job deal. Eventually he got something like it, living with Jenny, and having a child, Zach. Yet it couldn't banish the demons.

On Friday night, Mike had been out with Jenny for a birthday party. He'd been drinking spirits. He left early.

Some time later, Jenny came home to find him hanging from the bannister. She cut him down and phoned 999. Mike wasn't breathing. The emergency people talked her through how to do CPR, and the police and paramedics arrived. They continued to work on Mike as they took him to hospital, and there the work continued for about an hour before finally, Mike was pronounced dead.

I'd like to think he didn't really mean it. Maybe he thought Jenny would be back sooner, or that he'd be able to get out of what he got into. I know he wouldn't have done it if he'd been sober.

I went out to my monthly backgammon meeting on Friday night. I'd been up since 7 that morning, so I was very tired when I got home from Liverpool. Bren was watching Suburgatory on the telly. I went into my cave and went on the internet. About midnight, the phone rang. It was my other step-son, Alex. We knew straight away that it would be something to do with Mike. I must confess, my initial thought was "For fuck's sake, Mike. What now?" Alex couldn't tell us much more than that Mike had been taken to Arrowe Park hospital. I would have gone with Bren, but I should have been working early next morning, so Bren went on her own. She even took a book with her, expecting it to be the usual long wait in A and E while they patched him up.

I stayed up for half an hour or so, then went to bed. Lying there, somehow I had a sense of foreboding but eventually I slept. I was woken by Bren about 3 in the morning. She didn't beat around the bush.

"Mike's dead." She said. "He hung himself."

Dark dark dark. I sent texts to the pupils I was supposed to teach yesterday, cancelling. We cried. We slept. A little. I was shaking with shock. Bren was in a strange place. Too numb to feel anything at all.

We woke early to find nothing had changed. It wasn't going to go away.

We went for a walk along the shore while we were killing time. I looked out at the wide expanses of sea and sky. There were black clouds over New Brighton.

Bren's daughter, Lisa, had been staying in Liverpool, and we had no way of seeing her. We knew she was coming home the next morning and wanted to tell her face to face, rather than by phone, and Bren was scared that someone would post something on facebook. So we went for a walk, then headed to the house in Wallasey.

Lisa hadn't heard. Bren told her. More fucked up despair and disbelief.

A lot of people knew by then, but nobody had said anything on social media until either his girlfriend, Jenny, or Bren had said something publicly.

Bren said goodbye to him on facebook this morning and finally had a good cry. A premonition to doing it for real when he has his funeral.

As far as that's concerned, we don't know anything about that just yet. Until the coroner releases the body, we can't make any arrangements.

Right now, the initial raw grief and shock have subsided a little. It will take a long time before things get back to any kind of normal though. It takes very little to make the tears flow.

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Saturday, 30 August 2014


My Stepson killed himself last night.                                                                                      
There's a big hole that I keep falling into.                                                                               
my poor poor bren. nobody should have to bury their child                                                   

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Breaking Bad

I rarely watch the telly. My habit is to disappear into my cave and surf the net.

This is not a good way of spending time with the most important person (apart from me!) in my life.

A lot of people who's opinions I respect have been bigging up Breaking Bad.

So, to kill two birds with one stone, a couple of weeks ago, I signed up for the month free trial of Netflix.

Bren and I watched the movie, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I read the book years ago, and really enjoyed it. I saw the movie when it first came out, at a movie theatre that's now been turned into a block of flats. The audience was full of ageing hippies. The film adaptation was incredibly faithful to the book. The script was lifted almost verbatim from the text of the book. Yet somehow, apart from brief moments, such as the "If you look, with the right kind of eyes, you can almost see where the wave broke" bit, the collateral damage caused by the reckless hedonism of the protagonists left me troubled.

Johnny Depp's character was obviously aware of this, particularly in the cafe scene where his sidekick had opened old wounds in the life of the woman serving them with his hunting knife.

I've often hurt others because of my selfishness, but deliberate cruelty just isn't part of who I am, or ever want to be.

Anyway, netflix languished on my playstation, unwatched, until tonight.

Instead of disappearing into my room, I put on Episode one, Season one of Breaking Bad. That's really why I signed up for netflix in the first place.

So, first impressions?

Well, why on earth did the emergency vehicles have their sirens blaring in the middle of nowhere? In the UK, they use them to alert traffic on busy roads, not as a matter of routine. Perhaps it's different in the US?

The programme had a lovely mix of believability and drama. I quickly gained empathy with Walter White. There was humour too.

Without ever watching any of it before, I'd heard enough about it to be familiar with the basic premise, but had no idea about the specifics.

So far so good, anyway. I'm looking forward to watching as much of it as I can before the free month expires.

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Actually, on second drinking, that mead is pretty disgusting. Most of my brews are. I really should invest in some brewers yeast.

Anyway, there's a lot of volcanic and tectonic activity going on in Iceland right now. There frequently is, but it's in the news at the moment, and that got me thinking.

If a major geological event were to occur, on the South coast of Iceland, which generated a sizeable tsunami, where would it hit hardest?

Well, presumably the Faroe Islands would get the first impact, followed by the North West coast of Scotland, and then the North coast of Ireland before the surge was funnelled through the narrow bit between Northern Ireland and the Mull of Kintyre, before spreading out into the Irish Sea, (possibly causing carnage on the Isle of Man, and then on to the North Wales coast, and Liverpool Bay.


Well, I've checked the location of the Bardarbunga volcano on Google Earth, and it's pretty much in the centre of Iceland, but if the Hvannadalshnúkur volcano was to go in a big way, then I might just be in trouble.

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Sunday, 24 August 2014


I laid down a batch of mead a couple of months back. Two 5 litre demijohns.

Very simple. Put honey, yeast and water into demijohn and wait.

The first demijohn's contents weren't anything special. I suspect I should have taken more care about sterilising my kit. Just had my first glass of the second demijohn now, and it's proper mead. It's alcoholic, tastes like honey, and is cloyingly sweet. I added some pure lemon juice to my second glass, and it's now quite suppable.

One of my better brews in fact.

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Tuesday, 19 August 2014



adjective: moribund
(of a person) at the point of death.
"on examination she was moribund and dehydrated"
synonyms:dying, expiring, on one's deathbed, near death, near the end, at death's door, breathing one's last, fading/sinking fast, not long for this world, failing rapidly, on one's last legs, in extremis;
informalwith one foot in the grave
"the patient was moribund"
antonyms:thriving, recovering
(of a thing) in terminal decline; lacking vitality or vigour.
"the moribund commercial property market"
synonyms:declining, in decline, on the decline, waning, dying, stagnating, stagnant, decaying, crumbling, atrophying, obsolescent, on its last legs;
informalon the way out
"the country's moribund shipbuilding industry"

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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

bad day at the office

well how do you do?

I had an early start today. Up with the lark for an 8:20 test (she failed)

trouble was, I couldn't sleep last night, so I got 2 hours sleep.

should have been two tests today, but we somehow got the wrong test centre. It was partly my pupil's fault because I'd asked him several times if he was sure the test was in Wallasey, and I asked him to dig out the email, but it never happened. Still, ultimately it's my responsibility to get him to the right place on time. result being that I'm hundreds of pounds out of pocket. In future I will be writing the venue into my diary along with the date and time.

But at least we're alive. As we came to the brow of this hill, on this bend...

some knobhead in a silver Mercedez came around the other way, on the wrong side of the road, at about 50 miles an hour, closely followed by another shitforbrains in a black BMW. I heard his tyres screech as he swerved to avoid us. We had no time to react at all, and if he had hit us, he's have hospitalised the lot of us, at least.

Anyway, we got to the test centre to find the unpleasant news that we were in the wrong place, and drove home. My next pupil wasn't in.

I cancelled the last one. Sometimes £20 is just not worth the bother.

I'm thinking of buying a dashcam.

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Friday, 18 July 2014

Just done my tax

In 2013/14, my best ever year, I earned about 77% of the average UK salary.

It should be said, that my living costs are relatively low. I have no dependent children. I live in very small accommodation that is cheap to  heat and light. I have generally simple needs. Ditto Bren. And I suspect that the average salary on Merseyside is rather less than the national average.

It looks so far as if 2014/15 will be more of the same. I wonder how long it will last?

Just done what I needed to do to renew my badge too. Busy day off! It should come through just in time for there to be no break between its arrival my previous license to teach expiring.

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Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Weather in Hoylake

Interested in what the weather is like in Hoylake?

Well, just turn on your telly from Thursday onwards. BBC1 and 2 have live, real time coverage this week, for several hours each day. Overcast skies. Drizzle. Sunny periods. They're all there, interspersed with shots of some blokes smacking little white balls around.

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Friday, 11 July 2014

How not to teach

Been to a bit of a shindig recently.

Every year, my parents, and other close relatives rent a rambling old farmhouse near a place called Chwylog, in North Wales. We went there last Thursday afternoon, stayed Thursday and Friday nights, then left on Saturday morning.

There were ten of us in total; my Mum and Dad, my Auntie and Uncle, my Sister and Brother-in-law, their two small children, and Bren and Myself. The full day we spent there was pretty dismal. A low blanket of nimbostratus  made it all both dull and wet pretty much all day.

This day, we awoke a little later than most of the others. Sounds drifted up from downstairs. My Sister was going into town (Criccieth or Porthmadog) on her own to get some time away from the children and to do some shopping. Soon after she'd gone, the older of her two children, a bright, clever, self-contained 4 year old bundle of boundless energy, had accidentally wet herself.

Then we heard it. From the lips of my Mum came the words, "Your Mummy has gone because you wet yourself". Followed closely by "Mummy doesn't love you because you wet yourself".

Bren's eyes were wide. So were mine. I'm still at a loss to explain how these words made me feel.

We got up, dressed, and went straight out. Once out of the door, Bren was in floods of tears. I was angry. We very nearly just went home. Instead we went into Criccieth, and took a walk along the beach.

I wonder if she used to say such things to me or my sister? Or is this something to do with people becoming more reactionary as they get older? For that's what it is. Stimulus. Response. Reactionary. Punishing the mistake. Certainly I remember my Dad behaving this way on many occasions, but my Mum?

I'm thinking of incorporating this approach into what I do.

"Your Mummy doesn't love you any more because you stalled at that roundabout."

"You will get home from your lesson today to find your husband has left you, and all because you bumped into the kerb when doing that parallel park."

Learners don't make mistakes on purpose. Neither do 4 year old girls. Both are trying very hard to please, at least most of the time. Understanding this, though, is not always easy.

Later on, when we got back from our walk, we had the house to ourselves, pretty much. We went for a swim in the pool. We were to go out for a meal later, all except the children and my sister and Bro-in-law. Bren and I offered to stay at the farmhouse and look after them.

After watching me playing with the children in the afternoon, my sister agreed to this, and so it was arranged that everyone but Myself, Bren and the two children would toddle off to Weatherspoons in Porthmadog. I had a look through the cupboards to see what I could make us for our tea. I dug out eggs, onions, spuds, cheese, and a tin of beans. Omelette chips and beans a-go-go! I asked my auntie where the cooking oil was.

She bustled into the kitchen and showed me the bottle, hidden in plain view on a work surface. Then she showed me how to open the microwave, how to chop an onion, how to fry the onion, how to open a tin of beans.

"Do you realise you've just told a grown adult how to open a microwave?" I thought of asking. Instead, I kept my mouth shut, and let her do half of the work of cooking tea for Bren and myself.

Once again,  as a teacher, my approach is very different.

If I meet someone for the first time, I ask questions, and ask them to do some basic things before I start actually doing any teaching. To take someone who can already drive, and talk them through how to put their seatbelt on is both pointless and demeaning.

I don't think we will go next year.

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Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Music II

"Sound card aready in use by another application"

Aye. And there's the rub.

You see, I managed to get the modern creative soundcard (an Xfi something or other) to play stuff. I found the lead that connected it to my speakers. I installed all the music software that came with the MIDI controller. This time around, I read the instructions, and did things in a different order. And so I have a much bigger range of sounds available to the guitar than I did last time, although there is a huge bank of sounds called Sample Tank that I have not yet managed to integrate.

I can play my guitar using the midi pickup. I cannot play it and record what I am playing, which means I cannot multitrack. I just can't record, full stop. It may be that I could connect the guitar to the microphone socket and record from there, but that's not what I'm after here. It seems the soundcard is not full duplex. Full duplex and half duplex are the difference between a dual carriageway and a single track road.

I installed all the software onto the Windows 8 partition. The first option I have is to make a hardware change. Remove the soundcard, plug the speakers into the onboard sound connections, and see if that will allow me to play and record simultaneously.

If that doesn't take me forward, the next thing to try is to use the windows 7 partition, and make a hardware change - unplug the Xfi soundcard, plug in the audigy 2 card, which should be full duplex, but which will only work on windows 7, and not on windows 8; make sure I have sound output to the speakers, and if so, reinstall the software onto the windows 7 partition.

If that too fails to take me to where I want to be, then we're looking at shelling out on another sound card. If so, it should have full duplex, and some form of hard wired ASIO capability. Whether some PCI internal card or an external USB card doesn't matter too much.

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Sunday, 29 June 2014


A couple of months ago, I bought a midi guitar controller. Since then, I've hardly been able to do anything with it. This is partly because I'm not sure how to get things set up, and partly because there are conflicts and incompatibilities between my hardware, my software and my firmware.

Time was, a decade or so ago, I had all day, every day to keep on messing around and trying things until I found a way of achieving what I wanted. These days I have other demands on my time.

Still, today I am not working, and I am trying to put in some kind of concerted effort to make this happen.

Here's the plan...

1. Back up what's on my hard drives onto an external drive.

2. Work out exactly what I have, what's compatible with what, and what possible combination of sound cards, and operating systems will allow me to do what I want to do.

3. Plug in the correct bits and install what I need.

That's the plan. It will be interspersed with displacement activities.

I am currently backing up two SSD drives, just in case. The first one is a 120Gb drive with windows 8 and a lot of documents and programs and what have you on it. It took hours to transfer everything over. The SSD drive is fast. The external spinny disk drive, connecting through a USB port isn't. I suppose in a few years I will be able to get hold of a big external SSD drive for peanuts. The other SSD drive is a 250Gb drive, with Windows 7 on it, but not much else. I don't suppose there's much point in saving all that, but just in case there's something saved on there that I don't want to lose, I am shoving it all over anyway. This bit shouldn't take too long. I also have an internal hard drive that my system is not currently seeing. Once I have completed saving the 250Gb disk's contents, I will be physically disconnecting it from my system and trying to make it show up. Then I will back that up too. I think it's about 400Gb, or was that 750Gb? I don't recall.

I want to format the 250Gb SSD, and partition it, and install at least 2 different operating systems onto it - Windows 7 ans Windows 8. I might even put XP on there, as it is certainly the best option for one of the sound cards I have. Linux too? Not sure there's much point seeing as I have legit copies of windows, but we'll see. I'm sure I have a 64 bit ubuntu knocking around somewhere.

13 minutes to go on the backup. Banana in disk drive error.

I have onboard sound, but I also have 3 different sound cards. One is a soundblaster 5.1 something that's installed in my machine. The others are a 1024 live platinum and an audigy 2 platinum. Both have external breakout boxes. Both are pretty old, especially the 1024 live. There may be a windows 7 driver available for one of them, particularly the Audigy. Neither is compatible with windows 8.

40 minutes to go on the backup...

It's even possible I suppose to put more than one soundcard into the PC, if there are enough PCI slots. If only one was enabled for any particular operating system, it might not cause too many conflicts. - 1024 Live to be associated with an XP boot up, Audigy with windows 7. Something like that maybe. I would have to physically move jackplugs from one place to another. If my room was tidier this would be much easier.

4. Tidy up in here!

or better still,

1. Tidy up in here!

10 minutes to go on the backup.

This is a fast system, but one thing it does lack is power leads for SATA drives. There are 6 SATA ports on the motherboard, but only two power cables. I've got three SATA drives connected by using a splitter.

28 minutes to go on the backup. Time for coffee and a cigarette I reckon.


Backup finished on both SSD drives. What next? Can I format and partition the 250Gb drive while running an OS from the other drive? That means it's prepared as a dual boot system if I can. Here goes...

I can format it from here, but not partition it. So let's leave that for now.


Took the SSD drives out and tried to boot from the HD drive. I found there was no power going to it. I've plugged it in, and I've found that it's a 320Gb disk with an uncorrupted Windows 7 installation. I'm typing this from that configuration. I might need the help of a gynaecologist to get the drive connected to it's power supply at the back of the case, if I want to leave to two extension cables free for the two SSD drives. This operating system though, is up and running ok. I think I will just leave it as is, rather than backing it up and formatting it. I can dual boot the 256Gb drive with XP and Win 8.



Strangely, the act of connecting the windows 8 SSD caused my PC to stop seeing the HD with Win 7 on it. I disconnected the SSD but had to go looking for the HD in BIOS. Now the OS is being flagged up as counterfeit. That's probably fair enough, as I bought this computer as a standalone. Coming with windows 7 pre-installed was just a bonus that I never really took advantage of anyway.


Well, tidying up really was needed. I couldn't find the disk that made my wireless card work until I'd turned this room upside down. I've taken the  opportunity to sort things out and clear my desk a bit.

XP didn't work. It just generated a BSOD when I tried to install it. I suspect it just can't work out the modern hardware it's being asked to install itself to. So I reformatted the 255Gb SSD and I've put my paid for copy of Windows 7 on it. Now to put Win 8 on the other partition. And I haven't even started with the sound card side of things yet! Everything takes so long. It's not like I've been spending a lot of time farting around (apart from blogging this as I go)

Anyway, it looks like the old 1024 live card is not going to be an option. I will shove the audigy in it and see if I can find a driver that will make it work with windows 7. Then I just have to reinstall and work out how to use all the music software that came with the midi pickup. I don't think this will be finished today somehow.


Windows 8 now installed. I have a dual boot system, and the computer asks me which I want to use when I switch on. Exactly as planned. Putting both operating systems on different partitions of the same drive worked fine. Putting different operating systems onto different drives never seemed to really work properly. Now for the sound card, I guess. I suppose I could use the one that's in it already, but the audigy has a nice chunky black box that comes out and sits on top, where you can do extra things with it, so I will try that first.


No sound from the Audigy card. I managed to find a driver, and windows reckoned it was outputting something, but I could hear nothing, either through the speakers, or through the headphones, regardless of whether I plugged into the back of the PC or into the headphone socket on the breakout box. Now trying the card I already had in here...


Got sound through the headphones using onboard connection but not through speakers. Dodgy audio lead I reckon. Now got to try to find the 5.1 leads that came with the speakers.


Enough. Headphones will have to do. Too late for speakers now anyway, and that side of things really doesn't matter.

I have to install a big convoluted suite of interconnected software, and make it work. Not now. I am busy with work over the next few days and then will be going off to spend a few days in a farmhouse in Wales with my folks. I could use the time to get this sorted out, if they don't think I'm being too anti-social.

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Thursday, 12 June 2014

What's your beef? Spill the beans!

Bovril is a town in Argentina. Fray Bentos is a town in Uruguay. Quorn is a village in England.

In Bovril you can find geoglyphs spelling out a Pythonesque word

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Friday, 30 May 2014

more on more on that

turns out that Bren asked our son to take us off the register, since we were now paying council tax here. my dudgeon is now somewhat lower.

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more on that...

Today we found a letter from our son to the council. It clearly included us as members of the household. It was dated November 9th 2013.

Right now, I feel like being an aggressive bastard, and demanding that the council provide evidence to substantiate what they've said in their correspondence.

Could it be that it was actually them that removed us from the electoral register? If we asked the electoral commission to provide what they have, using FOI if necessary, would that show anything?

Now wouldn't that be news?

 Also, are we being investigated? If so, how would they ascertain how much time we spend in the caravan? How much taxpayers money are they spending to do so?

Right now, we just don't know enough. What I do know is that the council are consistently misrepresenting our position. Rather than acquiesce, as is no doubt their intention, I feel we should go on the offensive.

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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Why I didn't vote...

Dear reader, if you're expecting some kind of "To hell with the lot of them" rant, then you're wide of the mark. I'd take the time to spoil my paper, even if I didn't vote for the least available evil.

I couldn't vote. I'm not on the electoral register. Until a few days ago, I was unaware of this state of affairs.

The story starts some time ago. For a long time, we'd been struggling to make ends meet, and fell further and further into debt. In desperation, Bren rented a space, and opened a shop. It was not a success, despite her putting in a superhuman effort, and it ultimately turned a bad situation into an untenable one. We lost our home.

Making the best of a bad lot, we sold our house to our Son, my Stepson. This gave him a foot on the housing ladder, and then some. The house was worth a lot more than he bought it from us for. He got a mortgage for £15,000 more than he gave to us. That allowed him to make good the damage caused by the passage of years, that we couldn't afford to fix. It allowed us to clear our debts. There was enough left over for us to buy a caravan.

Thing is though, we're on dodgy ground here. We cannot legally live in it. It's technically holiday accommodation, and if we were to live in it in any official capacity, we'd be contravening both planning regulations and the contract we'd signed with the caravan site.

This shouldn't have been a problem. Although we'd sold the house to our Son, we would officially still live there. It's a big old house, and there's room enough. With the change of ownership, came a change in who was responsible for paying the council tax for the property. Unfortunately, when the council contacted him about this, our Son inexplicably told them that we'd moved out. The local council then contacted us to demand council tax for our caravan.

For a while we paid it, but then the caravan site management made it clear to us that we're not allowed to live on site, and that we should not be doing so. So we cancelled our direct debit and told the council that we thought they were mistaken in asking us for council tax.

Their response has been aggressive. To them, we're just trying to worm out of paying our dues. To us, we face eviction and homelessness.

To begin with, they asked us to provide some evidence that we were living in our Son's house, such as a driving license. We sent off a scan. They then moved the goalposts, thanking us for providing a correspondence address, and asking us for further evidence, and asking why our Son had asked for us to be removed from the electoral register at his address. Our Son has no recollection of doing so, but cannot be sure. Neither can we. Yet the fact remains, we were removed from the electoral register. When I responded specifically from me, they sent a letter to our Son, telling him I'd responded from both of us. When my wife had been careful not to state at any point that we no lived at the caravan, they have insisted that she asserted that she did live there.

Lying twats.

About 12 years ago, I lived in a council flat. I met my wife. I spent more and more time living with her. I didn't bother telling the Council. Then one day a letter came through her door, addressed to me, from them. They had taken the time to have me followed, so as to find out where I was spending my time. Presumably they've already done so with us now.

Just to reiterate... We can afford right now to pay the £100/month the council are asking for. That's not the issue. If we could be certain that in doing so we would not be incriminating ourselves, it would not be a problem. It would be annoying, certainly, since they don't provide us with the services we'd recieved if we lived in some hose or flat, such as refuse collection, and also since some of the site fees we pay go to the site owners business rates.

To pay the council would be to say we lived here, which means we might no longer be able to.

Catch 22.

So we're urgently seeking advice, either from something like the Citizens Advice Bureau, or a legal professional.

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Saturday, 17 May 2014

I've lost count of the number of times I've tried to write this post.

I am a hypocrite. Let's start there.

I've been aware of a very simple and obvious truth for a decade now, mainly due to being in contact with some intelligent and well informed people on Julian Cope's website.

Most of my blogroll is links to people on the green and red end of things. In particular, John Michael Greer and Richard Heinberg are well known figures in the Peak Oil arena, but see also Grufty Jim's blog, The Quiet Road. It was Jim that put me onto all this stuff in the first place.

That simple truth is that if you have a finite, non-renewable resource, and you use some of it up, there will be less of it. When you eat your cake, you no longer have it.

I've read up on this stuff fairly extensively over the last few years, and I have a good idea of the issues. I'm not going to try to explain Peak Oil in too much detail here, but here's a simple primer.

Fossil fuels are supplies of stored energy that formed over tens of millions of years. Humankind started to utilise first coal, then later, oil and gas over the last 200 years or so. They have powered an unprecedented revolution that has radically changed our way of life in just about every aspect. From our early days of extracting coal to generate steam, our use of them has risen exponentially, doubling, and redoubling time and again. This is not a sustainable situation. No matter how vast the stored deposits are, at some point, they are going to run out. Peak oil though, is not the point at which the oil runs out. It's the point at which we can't produce it any faster.

Individual oil wells tend to have a predictable life cycle. The output follows a bell shaped curve. Not much at first, then lots, then a gradual decline to almost nothing. The same curve also applies to oil fields, and to The Whole Damn World.

The first person to see that this would happen, and in happening, cause the shit to hit the fan was a petrogeologist called M King Hubbert. When applied to oil, the bell shaped curve is called the Hubbert Curve. The top of the curve is called the Hubbert Peak. Hubbert analysed the patterns of discovery and extraction of oil, and predicted that US domestic oil production would peak in around 1970. He was more or less correct, and the decline caused a serious energy crisis back in the 1970's. The US responded by importing more oil from outside it's borders. Since the turn of the 21st century, a growing number of people have pointed out that the world too has a point where things will peak and start to decline. From what I've read, world production  of conventional supplies peaked a few years ago, and is now in a plateau phase. Overall production of all sources is still rising slowly, but this is due to the utilisation of non-conventional sources such as tar sands and oil shales.

Ultimately, the energy required to extract usable hydrocarbons has to be deducted from the energy gained from burning them. This is a figure known as EROEI. Energy Return On Energy Invested. Nothing really comes close to the EREOI of sweet light crude. At some point, when so much energy is required to find and extract oil that it is no greater than the energy extracted from it, it becomes effectively useless as an energy source. And that's the way things are going. With fracking, with deep sea extraction, with heating and pulverising shale, a lot more energy is required to obtain a barrel of oil than with a pressurised oil well in an accessible area.

Why does this matter? Well it means far more than being more expensive to fill your car's tank with fuel. The human population has swelled to over 7 billion, mainly on the strength of the mechanisation (oil) of agriculture, and modern chemical NPK fertilisers (obtained through the Haber Bosch process - basically processing natural gas)

Further, the moral advances of the last couple of centuries, such as the abolition of slavery and equal rights for Women are not really due to morality at all. They're due to economics. Slavery ended when it became cheaper to use fossil fuel powered machinery to do the work than it was to use slaves. Without that, the Wilberforces of the world would be pissing in the wind.

On a more abstract level, order requires energy. Try not expending any energy on keeping your home clean and tidy, and see how long it takes before chaos starts to creep in. Our highly structured and regulated societies are only possible because of the energy surplus afforded by our use of fossil fuels.

When I first started to find out about this, my reaction was pretty typical. An assumption that some form of alternative would be found. As Heinberg points out,

"Peak Oil will be a fundamental cultural watershed, at least as important as the industrial revolution or the development of agriculture. Yet few mainstream commentators see it that way. They discuss the likelihood of energy price spikes and try to calculate how much economic havoc will result from them. Always the solution is technology: solar or wind and maybe a bit of hydrogen for green-tinged idealists; nuclear, tar sands, methane hydrates, and coal-to-liquids for hard-headed, pro-growth economists and engineers; Tesla free-energy magnetic generators for the gullible fringe dwellers."
But it seems like no matter how hard you look, there is no alternative that has the same versatility and energy density of oil.

Once the supply of this stuff starts to diminish, our entire political, economic, and cultural system, which is based upon permanent growth, will falter.

This will happen. Is happening. Started happening when the first coal was mined and the first well was drilled. I've known it would happen for a decade, and you can't realise something like that without it having a profound effect on your worldview.

Ten years ago, I'd say I was a Utopian Socialist. What I've found is that neither Capitalism or Socialism really addresses what amounts to a de-industrial revolution. They're really about how the surplus is divvied up. Socialism is materialistic too. Many of the left wing people I've spoken to about this are as much in denial as  those on the right. Yet Keynesian economics gets no further on this than Monetarist economics.

Some system of zero growth economic system will no doubt evolve from necessity over the forthcoming decades, one that perhaps owes little to either Karl Marx or Adam Smith. Socialism does not in itself require Growth.

But how to get from here to there?

Like I said, I'm a hypocrite. This is a pointer to how hard it will be to make societal change to fit rapidly changing circumstances. Nobody votes for austerity. Just ask Jimmy Carter. If someone like me insists upon doing the job I do, despite knowing what I know, it's unreasonable to suppose that anyone else will seek to face up to what lies ahead without really being forced to do so, either by the simple geological realities, or by some kind of political action, which isn't going to happen here any time soon.

It's difficult to think of a role that is better suited to making matters worse than that of Driving Instructor. Not only am I doing 30,000 miles a year, but I'm responsible for putting perhaps 30-50 more drivers on the road each year. Lets say I've helped 300 people to pass their tests in the 9 years I've been doing this job. If each of them does just 10,000 miles per annum, then I've played my part in causing the consumption of a quantity of fuel sufficient to get a car to travel 3 million miles.

Clearly, I should stop doing this, but I'm not going to do so.

There's no point. I'd just be tilting at windmills. I'm not idealistic enough to take the lead, and to do so would anyway make no difference to the bigger picture. I suspect that in the next few years, economic realities will start to make the ability to drive a less attractive proposition, and many instructors will fall by the wayside. To do what I wonder?

This is of course something I should be giving some thought to. My main marketable skill is that of a teacher. I'm teaching a non-academic skill, but I suppose with some retraining, I could apply the same skillset to something other than driving. My other main skill is that I'm a highly skilled driver. This is less useful. In a world where fuel is a serious cost, demand for professional drivers will be much lower.

To repeat myself though, if I'm not prepared to change my ways, despite being aware of the issues, it can hardly be any surprise that nobody else is either. I have been an armchair warrior for this cause in recent years, trying to raise awareness of the issue from the comfort of my fossil fuel heated room, through the medium of the fossil fueled internet, using a computer that was made from metal and plastic, and shipped half way around the world.

I will though, vote for any party that promises to take action to redesign our society along sustainable lines. Can't see too many other people doing so though. Much easier to blame the immigrants.

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