Sunday, 29 March 2015


I hate cars.

Actually, that is a lie.  I like cars.  I like how they can take me from one place to another quickly.  I've slept in cars on a number of occasions (generally at festivals when I can't be bothered with the hassle of taking and erecting a tent), I've owned a car more or less non-stop since I was 19 (which is a long time ago now that I think about it), and I wouldn't be without one.

I love trips on the motorway, and how you can drive for a couple of hours and then take a junction that drops you into a little village hundreds of miles away from where you started.  In some ways the road network shares similarities with the Internet, in that it's all too easy to follow a sign (or click a link?) and end up in Lesser Griplingcoates (or end up on YouTube) enjoying the annual Morris Dancing festivities (watching cat videos).

But today my car went from a moving vehicle to a stationary vehicle.  We were travelling back from a wedding, and about a hundred and twenty miles into the journey, just as we started heading up a large bridge, the car started to make a weird grinding noise.  I tried to get the car up to the top of the bridge so that we could then roll it down the other side (and hopefully off at a junction at the bottom of the bridge), but all I managed was to get it nearly to the top of the bridge before it died.

On the plus side it gave me the opportunity to take this nice photo...

And this photo...

And this photo.  I don't like this one as much as the other two.

Luckily my emergency breakdown cover sorted us out (thanks to the RAC!) but the diagnosis for my Vauxhall Agila (aka Postman Pat van) isn't good, it looks as though the head gasket is gone, and the car really isn't worth the money to repair it, I'm better off spending the money on a replacement car.  Ah well - the Agila served us well for a few years!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Delivery

The other day we had a delivery.

This, by itself, is not particularly unusual, save the fact that we actually were in to receive the delivery, whilst normally what happens is that someone attempts to deliver a parcel when we're not in, and we get one of those cards through the door that says "Sorry, you weren't in, please collect your parcel from your local delivery office, which is two hundred miles away, and is open between the hours of two and three am on a Wednesday. Except for every other Wednesday, when the office is closed for staff training."

But on this most rare of days, we were in, and reached the door before the driver could realise the mistake he had made by knocking, giving us opportunity to answer him.

Surprisingly, the fellow seemed disinterested in the parcel that he was delivering and took great interest in our door.
 "That's temporary glass," he declared of fifty percentage of the glass set within our front door.

I must admit that I've never taken a great deal of interest in the front door, beyond ensuring that the question "does it work" is answered with a yes.  Beyond that, as long as it keeps things out which are supposed to be outside, and generally, and more importantly, keeps things inside that ought to be inside, I've allowed it to go about its business unchallenged (and indeed unmolested).

But I now know that our front door only has leaded stuff with pictures in one half, with the other half being plain, and the plain stuff is apparently termed "temporary glass".

Those are supposed to be flowers in the left hand side.

Your man went on to give me details of a firm that would photograph the glass (the non-temporary half), and copy it.  He led me to understand that the door had a good, thick mullion, which would aid the project no end.

He then went on to advise me that we ought to have toughened glass installed, because people knock on the glass and could break it (there may be other reasons for toughened glass - indeed he looked at our glass and it may be that some of it is toughened, but I was reeling from the unanticipated volume of glass-related information.

I thanked him for these insights, and assumed that, door inspection complete, we would proceed to the parcel delivering part of the visit.

Not yet - it was then pointed out to me that the leaded glass is actually the wrong way out - it apparently has a smooth side and a rough side, and the smooth side should be on the outside so that the elements (aka dirt) won't stick to it - there's no wonder that we have to clean our door so often, it was remarked.  I did think to myself that we had managed not to clean the door for the last five years and so it perhaps even the rough side of the glass had managed to repel dirt well enough.

But, there is a saving grace - at least we don't have stick-on lead.  I got the impression that stick-on lead strips was something punishable by death, if not something more unpleasant.

After all this the chap realised that it was about time to give me a parcel, and ask me to sign for it.  This went flawlessly.

To be fair to the chap it was all very interesting and I do say thank you to the delivery man for being possibly the most interesting courier I have had occasion to meet for many moons.  I think that it should be an essential part of delivery-person training that they should be able to impart fascinating knowledge about an area of life never normally considered by delivery recipients, it makes the exercise much more interesting.

Friday, 20 March 2015

A side-effect of the solar eclipse

Today I put forward a groundbreaking scientific theory.

The major sources of gravity for the Earth (apart from the Earth itself) are:
1 - The moon, and;
2 - The sun.

The sun and the moon are strangely linked (in human imagination) - for example, the moon is about 400 times smaller than the sun, but because it is 400 times nearer, they appear to us to be around the same size.  And they need to appear to us to be around the same size, otherwise you wouldn't get the awesome "diamond ring" eclipse pictures like the below:

By kubotake [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Now, we are all well aware of the effects of the moon on the oceans of the Earth - the gravity from the moon causes tides that occur every day, dragging uncounted tons of water backwards and forwards like a ridiculously over the top bidet.

So today, when the sun and the moon were aligned, did their combined pull of gravity have an unexpected effect on bodies of water on the Earth?

Well, one of my colleagues today mentioned that the water closets at work were unusually active today, and my theory is that, because two-thirds of the typical human body is made up of water, the eclipse caused people to egest.  Indeed, studies have shown that gravity has a very real effect upon gastric emptying.

I look forward to being offered Fellowship of the Royal Society as a result of this amazing discovery.  In the meantime, however, it's back to reading more Bill Bryson.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

What Shall I Write About (Bill Bryson apparently)

I'm sat at my computer.

This isn't an unusual event for a geek like myself.  Off the top of my head I'd guess that I spend something like 19 hours a week on my computer, playing games, checking emails, watching YouTube videos, all that sort of thing.  Indeed, we have the attic designated as a "computer room", with desks, computers, husks of old PCs and stacks of components that would probably be of use to people if only the component managed to make its way from Location A to Location B, be fitted into another PC, drivers installed, system configuration tweaked, component removed again because it wasn't working, component blown on (because nothing makes a piece of computer hardware work like a momentary breeze of lung-processed air and sputum), replaced, new drivers installed, various forums searched via Google, even resorting to trying the Microsoft Windows Diagnostic software (which as far as I can tell does nothing except display various windows on your computer and taking up sufficient time for you to make a cup of tea) until you discover that the component in question is only compatible with Windows 7 service pack 9 (with hotfix KB18947391734810), and not Windows 7 service pack 10 (with hotfix KB18947391734811) and you end up eBaying the thing, selling it for seven quid and spending nine pounds mailing it to the lucky buyer.

I've recently discovered the works of Bill Bryson, a writer and author.  Many people will be well aware of Bill's work, but I hadn't read any of his material until this week.  I was vaguely aware of Bill as a "travel writer", which I must admit had made me exclude him for consideration when purchasing books - travel writing makes me think of something writing about the delights of some sort of Caribbean or South American resort, the sort of place that I am unlikely to ever visit and therefore have little interest in carrying out homework upon.  I live in northern England, where the weather is variable and the language clear and often heated - my desire to experience a place in which these two characteristics are swapped is limited.

However, I do sustain thoughts of visiting North America, and while those thoughts have not as yet formulated themselves into firm plans of any sort, I do enjoy reading about the USA and Canada.  And so, when in Oxfam Books the other day (a brilliant invention where a charity shop gets rid of all of those clothes that generally take up place, and replaces them with shelf after shelf of literature) I looked at the travel books, I decided to pick up "Notes From A Big Country" by Bill Bryson, using the following complex rules of logic:

1 - I had heard of him.

There were several of his books on the shelves, meaning that either he was quite popular and therefore a good writer, or he had a very good PR machine that meant that people bought his books, then realised that they had made a terrible mistake and gave them to Oxfam.  I'm pleased to report that the former reason seems to be the case.

In this book Bill talks about life in America having newly returned to America after many years living in the UK.  I'm not going to talk about the content of the book in detail (I'll let the pleasure of the content stay hidden until you read it) but suffice to say that Bill is very funny, intelligent, and erudite in his writings.

I shall be returning to Oxfam to see which other pieces of his I can pick up.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Four Food Groups

Disclaimer: This post contains a lot of bad advice.  Don't do what this post says.  And if you do, and something bad happens, it's not my fault.

There's a lot of nonsense talked about food.  Don't eat cheese for supper, do eat fish on a Friday, drink in moderation... we're always being told what to do, yet it is questionable how much of this guidance actually works.

For example, let's take the commonly considered advice to "Eat five portions of fruit and veg a day".  Have you ever actually tried to do this?  FIVE portions?  And they don't mean five portions as in five strawberries, or a potato sliced into five chunks, oh no, they mean five lumps of fruit slash vegetable.

To clarify things, I am launching the definitive guide to the four food groups.

Now, to ensure that we're all clear, the four food groups are as follows:
Meat - this is obviously the most important of the food groups, being full of energy providing protein and fat.  This is clear because it tastes the best, and our sense of taste is designed to "like" the things that give us nutrition.  Trust me - I ate shower gel and it wasn't nice.
Bread - bread, whilst not as important as meat, is still useful because you need something to hold the meat and to soak up liquids (more on this later).  Try to imagine eating a pizza without the breaded element.  Think how messy your hands would be.  Not good, is it?
Liquids - liquid is essential for your body to work, it's a bit like oil for your cells.  Different liquids have different benefits, for example water is good for flushing your system out, gravy is like water but carries more nutritional benefits, and beer is a panacea for everything.  Be aware that some foods that may not be considered liquid can fall into this category because they are based on a liquid, for example cheese and ice cream are both based on milk, therefore they are a liquid.
Other - this is the most dangerous category, and is everything else that isn't in the three categories above.

As you can see in the diagram above, meat has the largest segment of the pie (mmm pie).  This signifies that it should form the majority of your diet.  And "Other" forms the smallest segment, because basically if you are eating vegetables, basically it's just roughage, your body is getting no nutritional value from it, you are just putting your digestive system through a lot of strain for no benefit.  Does that sound sensible?

Of course not.

Furthermore, it must be understood that the human body adapts.  Just as someone who runs a lot will probably be able to run quicker and further than someone who doesn't run a lot, someone who eats a lot of meat will gain more benefit from it.  These I have defined as "levels".

As you eat more meat, you "level up" and unlock abilities, as follows:
Level 1 - you are able to eat meat.  Well done.
Level 2 - your capacity for meat increases.
Level 3 - you actively aim to add further meat to your meat (bacon burger anyone?)
Level 4 - you gain the ability to eat raw meat.
Level 5 - you no longer expect the meat to be dead before you eat it.
Level 6 - you are unable to walk past a field with a cow in it without jumping over the hedge, running up to the cow and chewing on a piece of it.
Level 7 - you are essentially a lion.  And who doesn't want to be a lion?!?

I hope this introduction to nutrition is a useful guide for you.  Next week I shall write about bread and how to incorporate steaks into desserts, also known as beefcake.  Thanks for reading.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Travelling Book update - and giveaway!

So, as long-time readers may be aware, back in August 2014 I sent out a pile of "travelling books" - these were blank journals that would go from person to person, with each person writing a little bit about themselves, and when the journal is filled it's to come back to me, and I'll scan it so that everyone can see where it's been. (Check out the website if you'd like to know more)

Anyhow, in each book I put a Twitter hashtag, in the hope that people would tweet about them.  And I got a hit this week - one of the books, which I last saw last summer when I hastily dropped it on a desk in Hull College's library, is on its way to Portland, Oregon - I think that this makes at least four of the books that is going to have visited the US, which is awesome.  The whole idea behind the books was that I wanted to travel, and do all kinds of amazing things, and meet new people blah blah blah - but realistically I can't do that, I have a job, bills, a family, and I wouldn't want to give any of that up (well... maybe the bills I could skip) so the blank journals were a way that I could experience travelling without having to leave my home or do anything too drastic.

I'm toying with the idea of sending a few more books out - I have about four or five journals left over from the original exercise.  If you'd like one, drop me a comment why (awesome responses have a better chance!), and let me know how to get in touch with you... and you might give one!

Um... should I have rules for this giveaway?



To have a chance of getting a free travelling book sent to you for you to write in and then send on, you may abide by the following:

  • Leave a comment on this blog post saying why you want a travelling book, where you live, and anything else that you think might convince me to pick you. Do this by 11:59pm on Friday 20th March 2015, GMT.
  • You agree to have your location (I'm talking about a rough location like New York, US, not your home address or anything silly) mentioned on the Travelling Book Project website
  • My decision is final and may be based on anything including, but not limited to, your name, your comment, your location, my feelings, the time of day, whether I'm tired or not, and hunger. I haven't decided whether its good if you live a long way away of me, because then your book will be all exotic and exciting, or whether its better if you live in the UK because the postage will be cheaper.
  • Multiple comments aren't likely to help you, and probably will make it less likely that I pick you because they annoy me.
  • You don't need to like, share, +1 this post, or anything like that, and doing so won't count as an entry.  But I'm not telling you not to, either.

I look forward to reading your exciting comments!  If you want to find out more about the Travelling Book Project, go to

Thursday, 5 March 2015

World Book Day

It's World Book Day!

World Book Day was designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and is marked in over 100 countries around the globe.

Now in its 18th year, World Book Day aims to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading.  I have always read, and absolutely love reading.  I find it's a great way to relax and unwind, and always have a book to hand - as things stand I have three books on my desk (all sci-fi and fantasy ones) waiting to keep me entertained.

But did you know all the good stuff that comes from reading books? For example...

  • Reading can improve your analytical skills, especially stories like mysteries.
  • It's good for stress, allowing you to switch off and immerse yourself in another universe.
  • It helps you concentrate - you can't read without concentrating on what you're reading!
  • It increases your vocabulary, by exposing you to words that you may not be experienced in the use of.  I remember when studying for my GCSE English my tutor advised me to buy newspapers like the Times to read.
  • It slows down mental decline, by keeping your brain flexible.
  • It can make you more empathic, because you get to understand different characters points of view.
  • And it helps your writing skills - for those interested in writing, either as a hobby or as a career, the more you read, the better you write!

For more World Book Day goodness, head over to

To celebrate further, I made a video about one of the books I love - feel free to watch.

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