Saturday, 31 July 2010

To B or not to B

s a driving instructor,

it's appropriate that I've arrived at a kind of crossroads in my life.

As a driver, I'd deal with such things as crossroads in good time and be prepared for whatever was there well in advance. If only things were that simple. In fact I procrastinated, and did almost nothing, until inertia chose my route for me.

Still a choice, I suppose, choosing to do nothing, but it did limit my options.

Every 4 years, us instructors have to give the government £300 for the priviledge of doing our jobs. My license expires today, and a new one had to be arranged if I was to continue teaching.

At the same time, my car lease was due to expire in a few weeks. If I chose to teach, I'd be locking myself into a 2 year lease on a dual controlled car.

So, these things together meant that if I'd wanted to go in a different direction, this was probably the time to do it.

And I have considered doing that. Being a driving instructor has not been that rewarding financially. The job, like almost any job, has become mundane. The benefits of not having to do a 9-5 shift with a boss telling me what to wear and how to act have to be set against the effort and responsibility of doing it all for myself. As Bren said when she hoovered carpets in our local bowling alley, you turn up, you do what you're paid to do, and you go home. Easy.

I did enquire about becoming a driving examiner. They are civil servants. They work for the Driving Standards Agency. It seemed like a logical progression, but they're not taking on new examiners right now. My name is on file, they say.

But that's all I did, and so in due course, I did what I needed to do, and I'm now set to be an instructor for the next couple of years at least. I'm now licensed until the end of July 2014, and I've got a shiny new Ford Fiesta sitting outside.

There are worse jobs. I've had some of them.

This, by the way, is my hundredth post of 2010. I hope that somewhere in there I've had something to say.

And I've almost completed my Google Earth alphabet (upper case) too.


But now, basically I'm bogged down betwixt and between a bevvy of beautiful B's.

It's a bugger of a burden to bear.

Do I brighten things with this beauty from Ulan Bator?

Or do I bat that into oblivion, and base it upon this, between Biggleswade and Baldock?


Both are abstract, but they are each recognisably B's, at least to an extent that I'm happy with. I know I'm going to use one or the other. So now seems a good time to recap on my methodology.

It would have been fairly easy to just find shapes, or even real letters that I found. But I set myself some rules, some of which I've occasionally bent or broken (are you listening, Q?)

They are:
  • I can't use real letters, such as those painted on airport runways. That also rules out things like the letters from the famous "HOLLYWOOD" sign.

  • The letter has to be both whole and constrained. For example, if I found a particularly bendy bit of road, I couldn't use it as an S or a N, because the road would continue beyond the letter.
  • Less of a rule, and more of a convention, I have to try to make each letter come from different places and different... well... things I suppose. So if I found the letters Z, F, W, L and P in the bunkers of a golf course, I would try to use just one of them, especially if they were all from the same golf course.
The boundary line making the Mongolian B continues away somewhere else, making it something other than a B. So I'm going to have to choose the British B, because the shores of the lake form a boundary consistent with rule 2. And besides, it's between Baldock and Biggleswade, on the border of Bedfordshire.


Saturday, 24 July 2010

Nettle grasping on the sly

I hate cauliflower. Really, really hate the stuff. It makes me gag and heave. I once bought breaded veggies as a pub meal, and took a big bite of what I imagined would be a breaded mushroom, only to find it was an evil white floret.

I very nearly threw up, and the rest of the meal went untouched.

But, you see, part of the reason I didn't get on too well with my dad, is because he was determined that I should eat the stuff. As an adult, it was his decision, and he wasn't going to take any lip from me.

A power struggle between a grown man and a child.

We spent one deeply unpleasant evening, with him forcing me to stay at the table until I'd eaten some. (My Mum had gone out, or this would not have happened) And he browbeat and bullied me until I had eaten some.

Amazingly, I didn't suddenly find that I actually loved the stuff, and that I wanted to give him a big hug for helping me see the light.

Another time, he asked me to close my eyes and open my mouth. All in fun this one, rather than a serious attempt to win a battle of wills. I did as I was asked, and he put a bit of cold cauliflower into my mouth.

On both occasions, he got his way. I ate something that he wanted me to eat, despite not wanting to eat it myself.

Of course, there is a price to pay. I liked and trusted him less after such incidents.

Perhaps he thought it a price worth paying. More likely, he didn't have the faintest idea about how these things work. To him, I was just being disobedient.

All in the past now. I still won't eat the stuff. Perhaps there is some baggage attached to it that might not have been there had things gone otherwise. Doesn't matter. Plenty more foodstuffs to eat.

See, if you're going to fight something that's within you, then you have to fight it yourself. An alcoholic will only look for help when ready, and any attempt to force someone who doesn't want to stop is pretty much pissing in the wind.

Addictions and phobias (I suppose a partially psychological aversion to a foodstuff could fit into the category of phobia) are the same in this respect, as far as I can make out. Even extreme techniques of dealing with phobias (I'm thinking of "flooding" in particular here) rely on discussion and informed consent between therapist and phobic.

A few days ago, I managed to confront my fear of nettles enough to touch one while wearing a thick pair of gloves.

Then a couple of days ago, I went for a walk along a bridleway in South Wirral with Bren. We got so far, but the further we went, the track became narrower and more overgrown. With big tall nettles swaying in the breeze all around me, I became increasingly nervous, and we had to turn back.

One step at a time.

Today, Bren asked me to smell some leaves, so I obligingly rubbed them and sniffed my fingers. The leaves were shaped a bit like nettle leaves. They were dead-nettle leaves, and they don't sting, but I'm still less than comfortable about touching them. But someone I trust had given me reason to think they must be something else, so when I smelled my fingers to find no unusual scent, and to be told moments later that I'd just rubbed the leaf of a member of the nettle family between my fingers, my response was immediate and frank. I told her to fuck off, and I went back inside.

She was immediately sorry. She hadn't done it to upset me. I told her never to do that again.

But just for the record, since I know she does read what I have to say here from time to time, I'd like her to understand why I responded in the way I did.

Bren, please. If I were to hand you a piece of paper that was covered underneath, with bits of sticky labels, and then pointed out that you were handling sticky labels, you wouldn't thank me for helping you confront your fears. You'd think I was acting like a twat .

I'm not upset or angry, but this has been on my mind ever since it happened, and I realised the connection between what had happened in the past. Thought it was worth writing about.

That's all.

Well, almost all. More memories.

I have two cousins who, when they were children, hated icecream. I was a couple of years older, and had found out that you can taste less if you hold your nose. Their parents, my auntie and uncle were forcing them to eat the ice-cream, and I shared what I'd learned.

The response from Auntie Elaine and Uncle Rob?

"Stop messing around and eat it properly".

I was baffled and angry. Why would they do this? It made no sense at all They wanted their children to do something they didn't want to do. I'd found a way for them to do so, but they really just wanted their children to submit and suffer.

It took a while longer to actually work it out.

No reason except Authority. It's what people with power do to people with none. I see it everywhere. And it starts young. How else would we learn to do it to our children?

The Whole Damn Universe

(click here for an interactive presentation)

It's extremely reminiscent of the famous "powers of ten" short film that does essentially the same thing.

Actually, the powers of ten thing begins in a park near a baseball stadium in Toronto, Canada. Or is that Ontario? I reckon a little bit of sherlocking will yield a picture of the same area, 40 years after the film was made.

Well, OK. First thing I found was that my memory is defective. It's actually Chicago, and the stadium is soldiers field.

Trees have now grown, or have been planted where before there was only grass, and a some roads and paths have moved or been built.

50 seconds into the video, you can see a big road to the left, and yachts to the right. Towards the top right corner, a bit of quayside just out squarely, and that's still there, although the road has changed substantially. Also, the bit of road/path that curves around in the top right corner is still there to this day, although it's grown a parallel twin or something.

Here's a still from the film.

And here's how it looks in Google Earth today.

And narrowing this down was extremely easy. A minute in, and it was obvious that the atarting point was at the bottom of Lake Michigan. If my geographic general knowledge had been less attuned, I would surely have recognised the continent of North America, and then been able to zoom in, as the film zoomed out. Shooting fish in a barrel. Hitting cows ass with banjo. Etc.

There's nothing directly marking the spot where the film was centred, but either deliberately or serendipitously, there is a sculpture park nearby, with representations of planets and meteors. You can see a bit of it in the bottom left corner of the google earth image.

Thursday, 22 July 2010


Someone recommended a free autostitching application.

I used some of my pictures from Christmas in Wales to try it out.

Here's the result.

It was dead easy to use. Click on the picture to see it full size in all it's glory.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Grasping the nettle

Yup. It's a nettle.

Urtica Dioica. It's actually related to the cannabis plant, and if you look at how they grow, you'll see the same growth pattern of two north-south leaves, a bit of stem, two east-west leaves, repeat until fully grown...

I've had a phobia of the things since as long as I can remember. Presumably I got stung when I was little or something. I don't remember any particular incident that caused it, although I do remember early incidents of beig terrified by them.

I climbed through a hole in a fence and climbed partway up a railway embankment, but when I turned back, I found that I'd actually crawled under a looping nettle, and I couldn't get back until some kind soul held it back for me.

I also remember plucking up the courage to touch one. I was about 7 or 8 years old, it seemed to take many many minutes before I managed to quickly touch a very small one with my finger. But I did it. I was so proud of myself. And it didn't even sting me. A couple of days later, I went up Moel Famau with my family and found a big clump of nettles. "Look at this!" I said, and stuck my knee into them. They stung me to buggery. Back to square one.

There are worse things to have a phobia of. They stay in one place, unlike spiders, and living in a town, it's rare that I have to come into anything like close proximity to them. Still, it's had an impact over the years. When I was a child, other children could always generate an extreme response, by picking them and waving them at me. Little fucking shits. I've broken world records scrambling over garden fences to get away from them. I'm highly attuned to their presence, (nettles, not children) and can spot one even when mixed with other foliage. It's extremely rare that I get stung. Last time I did was in the grounds of a derelict house in Ireland, when I was hitching. Big bugger too. I brushed against it in the twilight. I had a bit of a panic attack as a result.

I suppose all phobias are limiting to some degree. It limits my freedom of choice and action. If you have a phobia, of pretty much anything, you know where I'm coming from. If you have no phobias at all, you'd struggle to understand, just as I struggle to understand how anyone can be scared of clowns or sticky labels.

The allotment, of course, has plenty of nettles. They're mainly on the margins, up the top by the compost heaps, but they sprout in the potato beds, and in the unworked bits of the plot. I have to get Bren to deal with them.

Today, I donned a pair of sturdy rubber gardening gloves, and although I didn't actually manage to grasp one, I did manage to touch one. I managed to do this several times. It made me shudder, and I couldn't keep my finger there for too long, but this is the first time I have tried to confront my fear for over 3 decades. I will try to go a bit further next time, maybe.

Saturday, 17 July 2010


My family are cool!

This is my stepson, Mike.

My stepdaugter, Lisa, listens to The Clash and Captain Beefheart. And my other Stepson, Alex, has just got a degree in quantity surveying. I'm proud of them all!

Good times :)

Sunday, 11 July 2010

So where have I been?

Not posted for a few weeks, and I'm not even going to say I'm sorry.

Been to Wales with Dave, who was up for a few days. We got rat-arsed watching the world cup at an Anglesey campsite. Could have gone for something really bleak, but played it safe and went to a proper campsite. I got to drive Dave's car, a 1.8VTEC Honda Civic. And very nice it was too.

My own car is turning into a bag of crap. It smokes when you start it up. The aircon doesn't work properly. I feel like Hunter S Thompson after he trashed the cadillac, but the car has done over 70,000 miles now, and it does get treated badly.

What else? Well been failing to do things that really really need to be done.

And have been spending time doing things that don't need doing at all.

I applied to the DSA about becoming a driving examiner, but they're not taking anyone on at the moment. Given the current waiting lists, you'd think they'd be crying out for them, but no. they've kept my details on file. (Want to make the roads safer? Make everyone retake their test every 10 years. Just a thought. Might blog about it in more detail sometime.)

So I need to sort out re-registration as an ADI. I need to do my tax return. I need to decide what to do once the lease runs out on my current car in about 6 weeks, and I need to book some tests for people. All these things need to happen yesterday, and torn between them, I do none of them.

I did open my drawer in the living room today. The registration form should be in there. Perhaps tomorrow I will take it out of the drawer and put it on the sofa, or the mantlepiece.

Anything else? Well as a result of meeting Ray tonight, I've also re-established contact with another blast from the past. A guy called Steve Wood, who is now a nurse in Liverpool. Last time I saw him he was a sort of teddy boy.

The allottment continues to provide ever increasing amounts of tasty and nutricious food. Bren picked 5lbs of strawberries the other day, and made more jam than you could shake a shitty stick at. Also getting raspberries, redcurrants, various salad leaves, peas, potatoes, sweet peas, and tomatoes. We've hardly done any shopping for weeks.

Mind you, there's bugger all to eat, apart from jam, raspberries, redcurrants, various salad leaves, peas, potatoes, sweet peas, and tomatoes.

The shed got broken into last night. Since it wan't locked (no point when they are prepared to rip the roof off to get in) breaking in consisted of of moving a board and opening the door. The scumfucks that did it appear to have nicked one small hand tool. Silly buggers.

Also been arguing on the internet. This time about the role of the police. People seem to find it difficult to seperate the role from the person, so when they do bad things because of their role maintaining the status quo, it's taken as an attack on the very existence of any kind of police force. I found an excellent article about it by Merrick Godhaven right here.

And since this post is a series of disconnected things, I shall finish with a random image from google earth. Yes it's time to SPIN THE GLOBE!

It's a mountain in Mongolia! Where the kids all dress in black. The capital of Mongolia is Ulan Bator. The houses all seem to have little white rotundas in the gardens. Why???

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Old stories told new

Tonight I went to see a stage version of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This was written at the dawn of the 20th century, and has been a massively influential story in many ways.

Angela Eagle was there tonight. That's how left wing she is :o)

It's difficult for a 2 hour play to do justice to such a novel, and I think certain important parts, though included, could have done with a bit more - particularly Barrington's Great Oration.

But the abridgers did a good job overall. The great money trick was particularly well done.

Bugger me though, it was hot in there.

Also, met someone before the play started that I haven't seen since my mid twenties. A guy called Ray McHale, someone who has spent his whole life fighting to make the world a better place. He must be getting on towards 50 now, but he's still out there, selling red bannered newspapers. Got to respect that. He was someone I admired then, and it was good to see he hasn't dropped the baton. He recognised me, which was nice, and after a few seconds, I was able to put a name to his face too. I knew him through the Labour Party Young Socialists/Militant back in the mid 80's, where he hosted meetings with his wife, Carol.

I asked him how she was.

"She died, about 10 years ago, of an asthma attack. She was only 46"

Old news, but new to me, and it's actually had an impact. I remember her as a pretty, demure, friendly, and committed lady. 46 is too young.

Anyway, Me and Ray are both on facebook. I've sent a friend request. I hope we stay in touch.