Sunday, 1 October 2017

Drugs

There are places in the ground

Where drugs can be found

So stoners with drills

Leave potholes to fills.

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Wednesday, 13 September 2017

once upon a time

I was riding down West Vale on my way home on my bike. Probably from the centre of my home town to where I lived, a couple of miles away. Nothing special. Just riding home late one night when I was in my early twenties or possibly late teens.

I rode past a group of young guys on the corner of a street. I glanced at them. They looked at me.

I somehow knew instantly that this visual interchange meant something. They meant me harm.

I pushed the pedals hard and got out of there. A moment later I heard the motorbike engines start, and I upped my pace still further. Instead of riding home, I went a different way, and rode into a cul-de-cac, and hid between two houses. I was working as a postman in that area at the time, and I knew the place like the back of my hand.

The bikes went the way I should have gone, then doubled back, and did the next most straightforward way. Then one of them came down the cul de sac, turned around and went back out again. The rider didn't see me, pressed up against a dark wall, and after the sound of the bikes receded, I rode home via a couple of back alleys.

I'd done nothing to antagonise them, yet if they'd found me, they'd have beaten the shit out of me, for no reason, although I'm sure they'd have found some justification if pressed to do so.

It wasn't the first time or the last, so please forgive me for any misanthropy.

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Saturday, 19 August 2017

A change of pace.

I took two time lapse videos. One from a window at the caravan, the other from the window of the new flat.

video 

video
















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Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Mazlow's heirarchy of needs and the coming shitstorm

Mazlow's heirarchy is what Douglas Adams simplified into the states of Survival, Enquiry and sophistication. - How can I eat? Why do I eat? Where should we have lunch?

It's a triangle, that is divided into layers. At the base are the essentials without which we'd quickly die. Air, Water, Food, Shelter, etc. At the top is the freedom to become, whatever that may be.

The base is the most important bit. None of the layers above have any value if you have no air to breathe or water to drink.

So, you have no food, and no means of getting any. Game over.

You have food, but you're sat in the middle of a minefield and the food is thrown to you from outside, by fickle and sadistic providers. You can eke out a precarious existance for a while, but your long term chances look pretty slim, and your quality of life is, bluntly, shite.

You have food. You're in the minefield, but the people throwing it in love and honour you. You're still up the creek, but isn't this a little bit better?

You're in the minefield because although you'd rather not be there, it's your job to be there. It's a job that holds prestige in your society. That's why the people are throwing food to you. They think you're the dogs bollocks. You're still in the minefield, but you have a full belly, and you feel pretty damn good about yourself.,

You defuse some of the mines, and leave the minefield and get to somewhere with infinite food and zero mines. Hoorah!!!

In the last few hundred years, we've grown and grown and grown and grown and grown. I could go on. For an increasing number of people, if not an increasing proportion of people, their physiological needs have been met. In spades. Ditto our material comforts. Where do widescreen tellies and the ability to talk instantly to someone 10 miles away fit in to this? To put it another way, can people who only just have enough to make it out of the bottom two tiers find love, esteem and self actualisation. To me it's pretty obvious that they can. I think it's true also that safety is not essential. It's a sliding scale. The safer you are the more likely you are to survive, but as long as you're alive, you too can find love happiness and some sort of inner peace or whatever.

When I first thought about it, I reckoned that as we hit the buffers, things would go from the top down. I now think it's exactly the opposite. It's the bread and butter stuff we need to be concerned about. If we have that, the rest will surely follow.

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Friday, 4 August 2017

6996

Everything was fresh. I had most of the rights conferred upon me by age, but few responsibilities. It was also probably the most fucked up part of my life.

I'm talking about that brief window between perhaps 18 and 25. I was born at the end of 1967, so that's the years between about 1986 and 1993.

What do we have there then?

Well, Rave, Grunge, Trance, Chill Out, etc. Hedonistic, drug fuelled, idealistic, naive, subversive.

Politically, there was a lot happening. I entered these years hard on the heels of CND's boom in the early '80's and the Miner's Strike. this overlapped with the rise of the Radical Left in Inner Cities across England, particularly in London and Liverpool. Then there were a whole host of other things. most notably the huge pre-internet social organisation that was the anti-poll tax movement. I suppose most people just think of the riots now, but what I remember is the posters in the windows, and the work those radical lefties were doing to provide a focus and an organisation for the discontent.

It struck me today that what I lived throught was effectively another Summer of Love. Except it went on a bit longer before it dissolved. At the time, I didn't really see it that way.

Perhaps people of every age feel this way. They could point to their own signposts from a few years either side and make pretty much the same post.

I think that in a few years, people in that roughly 18-25 window will be looking back on/getting into the stuff between Thomson Twins and Blair in pretty much the same way that I used to listen to Sergeant Pepper and Songs from a Room.

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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Green light

Right. we're offski then. It all went through.

Got the caravan until november, but will have the keys to the flat from next week.

So moving will be gradual. bits and bobs. Those close to us are rallying round to help.

I think and hope it's all going to be ok. It's certainly a relief to Bren.

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Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Abbrev.

Things tend to get abbrevved. The world Trade Centre attacks on 11th September 2001 got abbrevved into 9/11. See also WTC 7.

Standard Oil became S.O. (Esso) The group of affluent nations becomes G8 or whatever number is included at that particular table. Brexit Grexit Mexit. (If Mexico decides to leave something)

So old Trumpy. The 45th President. How can he be abbrevved?

How about...





Wait for it...




P45.


I thank yew.

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Monday, 31 July 2017

Moving on...

Suddenly we're moving. Almost certainly to a large top floor flat in New Brighton.

A lack of space has been a perennial problem with living here. We came from a large house to a 38 x12 foot single story box, and had to either ditch, store or cram in all the stuff we've accumulated over the years.

But recently, the site owners have become annoyingly enthusuastic about enforcing petty rules, and our stay here was only ever meant to be a stopgap. We worked out that if we stayed here for about 5 years, the money we spent would be equal or greater than the money we'd have spent on rent.

The reason we had to move out was that we'd fallen further and further into debt, and we'd just ran out of room. Too many instructors chasing the work, and I didn't have the website bringing pupils in at the time. A huge global financial crash didn't help either.  Then things changed. My business took off, and suddenly we were living somewhere very cheap, but I was bringing in a lot more money. So we suddenly had a bit of disposable income. We didn't manage to accrue a lot of savings, but we were able to live without the stress and pressure of wondering how the fuck we could make ends meet.

Moving will mean we have a lot less spare money to spend on going out for something to eat, or getting that thing off ebay or amazon or whatever real shop we went to, and we will no longer have any outside space. But I will have less of a commute, we will have a lot more room, and we're closer to Bren's immediate family.

Bren spent a lot of time looking at what was available, and we ended up going to see about 8 different properties. We could have got a big flat in Birkenhead for £425/month, because it's quite a scuzzy area. Bren vetoed that. So it came down to two, both in New Brighton. She preferred the other, but we compromised on the big top floor space.

It's all happening very quickly, and we're having to look at our contract with the site.

The bastards have us over a barrel. We might not get anything for the van, not after all their fees have been taken into account.

Ah well. Life is change. Unlike before, we just about have the means to deal with this, even if we end up giving our caravan to the site owners.

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Thursday, 20 July 2017

Like rats deserting a sinking ship...

If you're a rat that happens to be reading this, and especially if you happen to be on a foundering vessel, I say go for it. Desert it. It's almost certainly the right thing to do.

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Thursday, 29 June 2017

Uncladding

Big horrible fire.  Corner cutting by cash constrained council. Lowest bids for the lowest strata. A tragedy waiting to happen. People told to stay in their flats. Rules now amended to "Don't stay in your flat if flames are coming in through the windows."

The dalek daleked, while Corbyn empathised with the residents.

Dalek as verb? I dalek. He daleks. We dalek. Daleking daleks dalek with a daleker. Verbing weirds language.

Flags at half mast. H.M.Govt pledges aid. Not everyone is mollified.

Kneejerk response. Get out and stay out! These things could go up at any moment! Examining cladding goes viral. First London, then Britain, then the whole damn world. The things are everywhere. Consternation reigns!

And that's more or less where we're up to so far. As the days and weeks go by, this will become yesterday's news (although the building itself will loom, stark and frightening, in the view of hundreds of thousands daily). I watched how the rightward end of the bits of the internet that I frequent decried left leaning posters for making political capital out of a tragedy, while some at least of the left did exactly that.

And quite right too. This tragedy happened as much because people weren't listened to as because of the combustible cladding. Can I cynically suggest that part of the reason the focus on the cladding has been so prevalent over the last few days or so is precisely because it draws attention away from the fact that people had voiced their concerns for several years prior to the fire but were not heard?

So it seems to me that if there was any time they would be listened to, it would be now. Instead, the message is being diluted. More and more noise is being added to the signal. Some deliberate, some just the inevitable passage of time and new events.

So get the cherry pickers and scaffolding out and remove the hazard. ASAP. It doesn't matter if they look a bit shabby for a while.

Ideally, leave people in their homes while you do it.

But also, please, change the culture that allows residents voices (and the voices of a thousand other tragedies*) to be rendered silent.

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Saturday, 10 June 2017

Hate? My Arse!*

The forces of Good almost prevailed. The dalek and her minions were zapped by Red Krytptonite, and although they survived, they're looking a bit unsteady on their feet. Think of the cartoon boxing match, where the underdog has somehow landed an uppercut fair and square on his opponent's chin, who, rocking and reeling, with tweety birds circling his head,  can now be sent crashing to earth by the merest flick of the little guy's pinky.

So it's not going to last for very long. We will be back to the polls in weeks, perhaps months.  If May is deemed too toxic, we might get an interim of BoJo. Won't that be fun?

The momentum is with not just Labour, but with the progressive left generally. If there was another election on Monday, I reckon Labour would win it, or at least would become the largest party. People have seen enough to shake off their cynicism and lethargy and Corbyn cannot now be discounted as not having the credibility to do the job. The media's relentless hatchet job was too much, and people couldn't reconcile the narrative (terrorist loving commie clown) with the impression they got for themselves. They switched off.  The louder the media screamed, the more the attack ads attacked, the less people were able to accept it. Labour meanwhile did almost no badmouthing.  This, I think, as much as anything, earned the respect of the undecided.

With the media discredited in the public mind, and the possiblility of change visible, a quick second election could see Labour with an overall majority.

I think too, that one area where they would gain a lot of seats is Scotland. I reckon a good deal of the support garnered by the SNP is not all that bothered by independence per se, but is looking for some alternative to the grey right wing consensus that has gripped these isles for so long.

 So if there is another election soon, much of the SNP's support will move to Labour, particularly in urban areas, and especially if the Scottish Labour Party mirrors the British party and moves leftwards.

Here's another thought.

Corbyn/Labour are moving the Overton window. What is seen as sane and common sense is slightly different to what it was a month or a year ago.

*anag.

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A

A crowded place, a loud voice

shouts "GIVE US AN 'A'"

and instead of "A", you get...



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Friday, 9 June 2017

Hell, Yeah!

Another seat or two would have really put the cat among the pigeons.

I wonder what difference the shenanigans in Manchester and London made?

Still a huge swing to Labour. I hope the Left of the party can use this as a platform to make changes. Certainly, Corbyn has come out of this extremely well, and this will have taken the wind from his detractors sails.

May is forming a coalition with the DUP. I wonder what they will want in return?

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SNP

I can imagine a situation where Labour can form a majority coalition, with the help of Nationalists and Greens (and possibly LibDems)

SNP want independence, but without SNP MP's Labour would lose the gig.

Labour just won a seat from the SNP. For many, voting SNP was a vote for change, and because they've been a lot more radical than the Labour Party, from Kinnock through to Milliband. Still 90% of the results to come in, but I expect to see more of the same. The media pitched it as a vote about independence, and predicted/nudged that this was all about SNP Vs Conservative but I think it's more subtle than that. People have been pissed off now for decades about the pile of half arsed donkey cack that the Labour Party had become. When Labour shows signs of behaving like something other than a centre right party, hundreds of thousands of people who've had so real choice for a generation got right behind them.

I think the SNP would be happy to work with Labour, and to even postpone a referendum if an islandwide progressive alliance could be made to work.

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UKIP

I did mean to post this a while back, but never got round to it, but it comes as no surprise that they appear to be turning into a tiny little party.

What are they for? I mean, they've had their apotheosis. We're out of Europe, for better or worse, and their reason for being has been nullified. A zombie party dissolving back into nothing.

Looks like they might just become independent of Scotland, too. Perhaps even Northern Ireland. We live on the edge of tumultuous times.

Might as well ditch Wales while they're at it. Then reductio ad absurdum until each UKIP voter becomes somehow independent of the state, then of individual limbs until just their soul is left, quivering and impotent in the face of a growing realisation that their promised land was no different to that they'd left.

Labour doing well so far (after 6 results in!)

That unelectable hippy isn't doing too badly.

By the way, the lazy liberal characterisation of UKIP supporters as swivel eyed bigots glossed over another reason. People wanted to shake shit up. They wanted change. I don't think they were sure exactly what change they wanted, but they weren't happy with the way things had been going.

I'm glad that just as UKIP have subsided, so have the barbs I see on facebook and elsewhere. To get people to move, you have to give them space to move into. Just yelling at them will just get people's backs up.

So most of the swing is coming from UKIP (and The Greens, who I suspect have all seen an opportunity in Corbyn and pushed their votes over to Labour En Masse.) and yes, 60% of it is going to the Tories, but the rest is going to Labour. What are these racist bigots doing voting for an energised, more left wing and radical Labour Party?

I expect them to get the message and formally disband after this. They're yesterday's news.

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Monday, 5 June 2017

Terrorists

The terrorists want May to win.

I predict another attack the day before the election.

When they can just get hold of a vehicle and some knives, there's really not much we can do to stop them.

I still stand a far greater chance of being killed in a car crash tomorrow than I have of being murdered by terrorists of any stripe.

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Monday, 29 May 2017

undiscovery

Discoverers find things. If that thing is a new thing, it doesn't have a name. Therefore it has to be named, often with several names.

I asked in my last post what word described the text between two commas.

Well I looked online, and I asked around in places where my question would be answered by someone with an answer, and, so far at least, the consensus seems to be that there is no word to describe it.

That last sentence was almost all between commas.

So it may be that I've discovered not a thing, but an absence where a thing could be.

Vacuums are universally abhorred. This Thing demands a name, like Penicillin or Australia.

I've been thinking of a few.

A senticle is probably the best thing I've thought of.

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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

mic

I got a microphone for christmas. It has languished in its' box until this evening. I'd asked for it, expecting something fairly run of the mill. One step up from the things you can get to do karaoke games on the playstation.

Instead I got a big box with an assortment of shiny and professional looking bits and pieces inside. It has a stand that clamps onto a desk. The stand itself is all springs and cantilevers and lockable pivots so that it can be moved around from an anchored base. The microphone itself certainly looks good, in its electric blue anodised casing, and it has a foam cover that slips over the head of the mike like a Buck house guards hat. It has an attachable pop filter (so that your "p"s don't become "P"s.

Oooo!

So I've put it all together, and hooked it up to first my computer, then to my effects pedal. 

Nothing. Not a peep of my voice could I hear in my headphones, when I said the obligatory "tap... tap... 1... 2... 1... 2... Hello...? Is this thing on...?

 I opened it all up, to see if it needed a battery. Nope. No where for a battery to go. I looked closely for an on/off switch. Nope. Just silence. Eventually, I dug out the instructions. They turn out to be a masterpiece of broken English.

It starts out promisingly enough. "BROADCASTING AND RECORDING MICROPHONE" is splashed, full width across the top of the instruction sheet.

But then it goes on, "This is a professional condenser microphone," All just spiffing. Concise and coherent.

The sentence continues, "which adopts the exacting complete electronic circuit control and gold-plate diaphram capsule,the microphone with a good cardioids pickup pattern," I ran through this sentence several times, (Question... If the things between full stops is a sentence, is there a word for the thing that lies between two commas?) and sort of got the gist. It's gone all long winded and is trying to blind me with jargon. It goes on through several more commas, extolling the virtues of this microphone using idiosynchratic terms and erratic syntax. No help troubleshooting there, but after detailing the specs of the mic, it gives the following handy hints under the heading, "Usage:"

1.Turn on your amplifier or mixing board and set the volume control to minimum position. To connect the phantom power to the microphone turning on the phantom switch, accomodate the volume control from low to high so obtained effect to your moderate level for protected the sauna from pounding.

And apart from a few tips about avoiding feedback and the advisability of not dropping it or immersing it in water that's all I have. Probably best if I don't go anywhere near a sauna with it then.

There's a sort of volume/on-off switch thing with a usb connector at one end. When connected to my new pc,  pressing the buttons causes a little dialogue box to open up and give the volume level or if it's been muted. Connecting it to my old pac, it can be switched on, but it doesn't display anything. XP is probably too far back for it to work properly.

Still no output though, no matter what permutation of pathways I try.

Ah well. Bored with it now and want to do something more interesting. I'm doing some interesting stuff. I can now multi-track in a limited way. I can play and record at the same time. I can even play several wave files at once, and record onto another at the same time, but  there's no "play all" command, so synchronising drums, guitar, etc would be almost impossible to do perfectly. But I can record one thing, play it back, and play or sing over what's being played, and record the mix onto another wave file. Rinse and repeat until you reach the desired level of complexity.


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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

E I E I E I O... Up the Football Here We Go...

Football is weird.

I mean, I can't think of any other business that attracts the same emotional resonances.

Imagine, (To the tune of "Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go") Vodaphone, Vodaphone Vodaphone. Or "Oh Barclays bank, Is wonderful"

Yet football clubs are businesses. At the top level, they're pretty big companies. Lower down, not so much.

But, as Hillsborough shows, they're much more than that. They're also an expression of local pride and identity. Odd really, given that only the fan base is local. Generally the players, and owners are not.

And again at the top level, ordinary folks are having to fork out huge sums of money to get to see their team.

The product itself is an unscripted drama. Nothing is certain before the match kicks off, and watchers can be treated to rare displays of incredible skill. Or not.

When I was a kid, I occasionally used to go and stand on The Kop, struggling for a view, and getting shoved around all over the place by the surging sea of humanity watching the all conquering Liverpool team of the late 1970's strut their stuff. Rivers of piss down the back steps as most generally got oiled up at the local pubs before kick off.

In my late teens, or early twenties, I started going to watch my local team, Tranmere Rovers. My first match was against Crewe Alexandra. Both teams needed a draw to get promotion from the old 4th division, and incredibly, that's what happened. Almost 15,000 people went to see it. I thought it would be like that every week.

Of course, it wasn't. Generally gates of around 4-5,000 were the norm in those days, and I'd stand on the terraces, in hailstorms and frigid downpours to watch  Johnny King's Super White Army take on the likes of Rochdale, and  Mansfield Town. Or Aston Villa, Tottenham and Liverpool. They were easy times to be a supporter. The club was on the up, and until the wave broke, just short of the Premier League, they held their own against far bigger clubs.

Since then though, they've been hard going, and despite the occasional bright spot, the trend was relentlessly downwards.

Still, having reached the bottom of the football league, and beyond, Tranmere have found themselves the biggest fish is a small pond. With a change of ownership, an injection of funds, and the appointment of a manager who seems to know what he's doing, they've had a change of fortune. You can feel it. This season, they accumulated 95 points, but this wasn't enough thanks to a Lincoln City side that just never stopped winning.

So it was the play-offs for us.

See the "Us" there? Listen to any football phone in, and you'll here the same pronouns. "We.", "Us.", "Them."

But to say "So it was the play-offs for Tranmere" seems somehow wrong. Emotionless.

Anyway, "We" duly trounced Aldershot Town, 3-0 in the first leg, away from home. I went to watch the second leg at Prenton Park and watched, along with over 10,000 other souls, as a tight and sometimes nervy match finished 2-2. The outcome was probably never really in doubt, but if Aldershot had managed to turn their 2-1 lead into 3-1, there might have been a lot of hard bitten fingernails. I went on my own. Well, my mum and sister went along, but the part of the ground they'd got tickets for had individual seats, so if I'd got a ticket for the same part of the ground, I wouldn't have been with them anyway, so I went behind the goal, where I've always gone. It's a social event, and without being with anyone I knew, I felt a little bit disconnected.

I watched Tranmere play at Wembley 4 times back in the early 90's. Twice in the Leyland Daf Cup, and Twice in the third division (as was) play-off finals. The first year, they won the cup but lost the play off, the second year, they lost the cup but got promoted.

And now they're back. And I'm going, along with Dave and Trev. Heading down in the car on Saturday to stay at Dave's mate, Rick's flat in Bracknell, where we will be dissolute, then off on public transport to London to meet Dave's brother, Andy, and on to the national stadium.

In some ways, I'm glad they never made it to the top. The further up you go, the more corporate it becomes. but it promises to be a good weekend.


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Saturday, 1 April 2017

Disconnect

What's the worst thing in your living memory?

9-11? 3-4,000 people died horribly.

The boxing day tsunami of 2004? about a quarter of a million people were killed.

Perhaps you're an older reader? You might remember the second world war? Well that was pretty bad. Over 60 million people - about 3% of the global human population. At the time this was about 2.3 billion people.

Well they're all chickenfeed compared to what lies in our immediate future.

See, the carrying capacity of the pre-industrial world was around 1 billion people. It was "a world without reserves" to quote Bill Bryson.  Over the next few decades, we will enter a post industrial age. But there are seven billion of us now, and the number is still growing, despite the best attempts of terrorists and erratic drivers.

It seems to me that the task facing us is to manage the decline of human population in as humane and smooth a way possible.

Looked at this way, the most momentous of current events seem oddly trivial. Trump? Brexit? Terrorist bloke killing 5 in London? The latest Iphone?

It's weird.  I feel like I'm inside a rather depressing bubble watching an utterly unaware world outside that's got not the slightest inkling about what's going to happen. Knowledge is power. Ignorance is bliss. Take your pick.

I became a step-grandad for the second time today. I wonder what sort of world my new born grand-daughter will grow into?


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Thursday, 16 March 2017

Stealthy alien invasion!

Story idea:

Venus is inhabited by clever and sneaky aliens who have been watching us for a long time. Being both clever and sneaky, they've managed to hide their presence from us.

They've had their eyes on our planet, so like their own, for a long time, but the climate is far too cold for them. So they've been nudging us along, giving us gifts of technological ideas (telepathically) knowing full well that we won't have the common sense to use the gifts wisely.

Terraforming (venuforming?) our planet by proxy by encouraging us to cause runaway global warming. Once we're all dead, they'll move in and get some extra lebensraum.

Nah. Could never work. Could it?

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Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Blogroll addition...

Welcome, the acerbic writings of James Howard Kunstler.

I'm currently about a third of the way through an audio version of his latest book, Too Much Magic Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation (Unabridged).

Well worth a read/listen in my opinion. He's not someone to cloak his disdain in polite dissemblage. What he has to say is probably familiar ground for most readers of this blog.

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Friday, 10 March 2017

The land of everything there ever was...

Well, that's the internet, isn't it?

Once upon a time, if you wanted to find something out, you'd have to search for it, or work it out for yourself. Now, if you want to know how many cows there were in France in 1937, you just have to google for a few minutes, and the answer will be there somewhere.


But there's one thing I've never been able to find, that I'd really like to see again. So this is an appeal. Any suggestions would be welcome.

I'm looking for an animated film. I watched it, very late at night, on UK television, back in the early 1990's, although it could have been made a little earlier. It was in colour, and I think was made by a producer from Eastern Europe.

The storyline is ultimately noir. Evil wins.

The plot hangs on two characters. Good, and evil. Good is an artist, that wishes to make a pleasant, colourful, happy line of events. Evil is a skeletal, (hooded?) monochrome figure that constantly attempts to thwart the happy, colourful, good storyteller. Evil's efforts are overcome by the creative and happy ideas of Good, until finally, Evil cuts the line.

I have no clue beyond watching it, a quarter of a century ago, almost certainly while pissed and stoned.

Still, I'd love to see it again, if anyone out there has any ideas. If you do find it, it's well worth a watch.

Happy hunting.

A couple of bits that I vaguely remember...

Good creates something bright and beautiful. Bad drops a grey boulder on it. Good makes the boulder bloom in bright and beautiful flowers. Unremittingly happy, he is. Good is an avatar of the story's Author.

The end comes when evil manages to procure a big pair of shears or scissors, and after gaining access to the Author's castle (breaking the barrier between creator and created), snips the story line, preventing the author from writing new ways for good to prevail.

The author sits in a garret. He has a long thin nose, with a dewdrop on the end of it. His stone walled room is lit by candles.  He writes, with a quill, and what he writes is enacted in the world he creates.

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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

No pressure...

This is a post about the business of driving instruction.

There's been a bit of coverage lately about what's been termed "the gig economy"

If you delivered mail, like I used to do 25 years ago, you were an employee. You got paid, minus tax, and were entitled to certain rights, along with your obligations. We've moved increasingly towards a way of doing things where people are self employed. They contract to work, generally get paid a higher rate, but are responsible for their own tax, and don't get such things as sick pay or holiday pay.

It's nothing new. It's just been vastly extended over the last decade or so. If you were a small businessman, such as a roofer or a taxi driver, it's generally been that way for a long time.

And so it is with driving instructors. There are companies out there that will employ qualified instructors, and give them a wage, buut for the vast majority, they're working for themselves, and are expected to sort out their own tax and all the other gubbins you have to deal with as a self employed practitioner of your skills.

Getting work can be difficult, particularly at first. You advertise, or you pay the owner of a school to provide you with clients.

We're all prostitutes really, except we don't have to suck cock every day. We're friendly, often with people that we would not, in the ordinary course of events, choose to be friendly with, for money.

Helen, who's been paying me a nominal franchise fee for a good few months now, has got a full diary. She's now got people paying up front for blocks of lessons. Yet she's got a ticking time bomb in her life.

When working on a trainee license, you are confronted with 2 seperate limits. One is a limit on the number of times you can attempt to do your teaching test. (3 times). The other is a time limit. You must complete your training within two years of passing the first of the three tests you are required to sit. There is some leeway. If you've booked a teaching test before they time limit, but the test date lies beyond the time limit, it will be honoured. The entitlement to teach, on a trainee license lapses upon the expiry of the time limit though, regardless of anything else.

Helen's time limit expires in April. She has her first attempt at her final exam in early March. She's taken close to £1000 in up front payment for lessons over the last week or two.

She's stressing about this, although she's also done the sensible thing and banked the money, so that if she doesn't get through the test, she can pay back anything she's unable to honour.

I also think that the fact that people have chosen to give her hundreds of pounds up front says something about where she's got to as an instructor.

One thing I've wanted to do for a while has been to get her sitting in on a lesson with an absolute beginner. I'd managed to organise something a couple of weeks back, but unfortunately, she was ill, and couldn't make the session. Today though, I managed to get this to happen. I think she'll get a lot from it. Not just in terms of how to do a beginner lesson, but in terms of how to structure and pace things.

Being able to do the job, and getting through the teaching test are not one and the same, There are some potentially excellent instructors that, because of nerves or whatever, never manage to clear the hurdle. There are a whole lot of shit instructors out there that ticked the boxes and got through.

Still, having a good solid grounding in the real life nitty gritty job is going to give you a better chance of getting through.

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Sunday, 12 February 2017

Driving School Vlog...?

One of my pupils waxed enthusiastic about doing videos.

Done properly, he said, it could bring a lot of business my way, and also make me money via youtube advertising revenue.

This particular blog, my own personal public outlook carries no advertising. If you're geting advertising when you come here, you should check your phone/tablet/computer for malware.

Stuff related to my work though is a different matter. It's my livelihood after all, and since the purpose of life, in this world we live in, is to make money, I don't have a problem with making money from any blogs or websites that are about my professional role.

You'll notice on my blogroll, the blog, howtofailyourdrivingtest. I've actually got a couple of pupils from this site over the years, and it does carry advertising. I could go and find precise figures about when I started it, and how much it's earned me, but precision is not important here. Suffice to say, the blog has been open for a few years, and has not yet generated enough revenue to trigger a payment from google.

That said though, I've done little to either keep the blog updated, or to promote it in any way. It has some potential I guess, but what I have in mind for it doesn't really sit well with the blogger format. I'd like it to be a page showing a DL25 driving test report sheet, and when people click on the various marking boxes, they would then go to an entry with a case study examining how the fault was generated, but as with so many things right now, finding the time/energy/motivation is difficult. The whole exercise is rather dry. Still, it does appear to be about the only thing relating to driving tests coming from that particular direction. I'm vaguely reminded of Monty Python's "How Not to be Seen" sketch, or Channel 4's "Pot Night" section on how not to grow cannabis.





 The internet of course is awash with videos of driving lessons, but I'd like to do things slightly differently. Getting things wrong on purpose. Trying stuff out in a way that those other vids don't. Knowing how to stall, for example, can lead to working out how to make it not stall.

I have cameras. I have my phone, my ipad, an old digital compact that can shoot video, a dashcam that has cameras for both front and rear. I don't have a clear idea about such things as what software to use to splice/embed/add soundtracks etc. I'd need a way of being able to drive and talk, while having cameras pointing in a useful direction and doing things like zoom and pan andwhat have you. Perhaps an assistant could help? Glamorous or otherwise. I also have a youtube account as part of the google account that is also this blogger account. If it were for my driving school, then it would make sense to set up a new account devoted to it. One that would link to my website, and to my facebook business page.

Truth is, I'm tired. I'm never home. Doing something fun and different like this might be a useful diversion as much as a potential source of income/new pupils. Even more new pupils would mean I could go on to fill the diary of another instructor.

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Tuesday, 7 February 2017

A type...

A couple of months ago, I came across a type.

The type was a literary construct called a Mary Sue.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue

A mary Sue is an unfeasibly perfect fictional character, usually the protagonist, that is so impossibly perfect that the author's task of providing them of finding a way out of whatever hole they found themselves in is made utterly straightforward. I found the idea after trying to re-read (via audiobook) something that I enjoyed as a teenager. In this case, a character called Stile, from a series of novels by Piers Anthony.

But I've found another type, and I don't have a Name for it.

This type is a scary bastard, that despite their scariness is utterly ineffectual.

My first identification of the type was Iain M Banks's character, "The Serotine" It appears in his novel, Feersum Endjinn, and despite ratchetting dramatic tension, it is repeatedly hapless. A punchbag whos repeated defeats allow the hero of the tale to prevail. In Banks' case it's a disembodied flayed head that shrieks unnervingly but is avoided and eventually rendered imobile and helpless, to the amusement of those it had formerly terrorised.

Star Wars' Stormtroopers also fit this mould. Scary, authoritarian figures that couldn't hit a cows arse with a banjo.



https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/69/0b/e1/690be137bb6c2858b955b4589e10cfda.jpg


See also, JRR Tolkien's Nazgul. Undoubtedly scary. Manage to wound Frodo, but kill nobody, and their biggest and scariest is offed (by a girl) just as they're at their most scariest before they all get shunted off into oblivion by the dissolution of their boss.

Deaths by Dwarf - At least 31
Deaths by Elf - one less
Deaths by men, lots
Deaths by Nazgul - 0.5.

Well one of them might have killed a horse that them rolled over and killed a man. So let's give him some credit.
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Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Political Compass says...

I've been meaning to write something about recent political upheavals, but this sort of sums it up.

https://www.politicalcompass.org/counterpoint-20161110

Reflections on the US Presidential Election Result

The US election result was less a victory for sexism and racism than the defeat of Wall Street’s globalisation project — the one percent who benefit from arms contracts and free trade deals. Clearly large numbers of Americans, uncomfortable with the personality of Trump, nevertheless quietly voted for him and confounded the pollsters. It was a remarkable backlash against the political establishment, weary of vacuous promises of hope, and impatient for actual change.

Trump, more than any other incoming President in living memory, owes little to anyone. He was the outsider who won not because of the Republican Party, but in spite of it. He will not come to grips with the urgent issue of climate change. Neither will he do anything to reverse the country’s moral and intellectual decline.

The Democratic Party has only itself to blame. Middle and lower class anger towards the Washington establishment was all too evident. Poll after poll during the primaries indicated that Sanders — their own anti-establishment figure — had a far better chance of beating Trump. Thanks to Wikileaks, we now know of the party’s manipulation of its primaries. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Hillary would receive the nomination. The candidate of the military industrial complex and international finance capital was entitled to it.

In Political Compass terms, the US has finished up with a socially reactionary anti-establishment president. It might well have had a socially progressive anti-establishment one. The inescapable conclusion is that the Democratic Party hierarchy preferred Clinton to lose than Sanders to win.


In the wound-licking to come, might the party move closer to its pre-Clinton, pre-globalisation Keynsian past? Might it perhaps campaign for electoral reform and address undemocratic absurdities like the electoral college? Might it even recognise that, in the interest of a fully functioning democracy, the smaller parties must also be heard? It’s doubtful that one in ten-thousand Americans has heard of Jill Stein, not to mention her substantially fresh take on so many issues.


Trump is an old-fashioned isolationist and protectionist. As alarming as the thought of his impulsive finger on the nuclear button may be, he will diffuse the escalating tensions with Russia, and the attempts to portray Putin as the new Saddam. he will also hopefully fulfil his promise to tear up the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which many nations are being dragged into. Far from being merely about free trade, the TPPA gives corporations unprecedented and dangerous engagement in many aspects of governance.

Most importantly, Trump’s every move will be analysed and criticised not only by the Democrats, but also by large chunks of his own party. This is a healthier situation than during the previous eight years, when a Democratic president delivered a largely Republican programme while his party remained shamefully silent. A socially reactionary and highly unpredictable new president gratefully inherits the Obama administration’s provisions for illegal detentions without charges, domestic spying of citizens and extrajudicial assassinations — precedents that would be damned as quasi-fascist if Trump had initiated them.
We’re all in for an interesting — and bumpy — ride.
As to the UK? I was an activist back in the 80's and early 90's, when the Labour Party, ditched it's principles, and expelled its radicals to gain the power that came with appealing to the middle classes. I left in apathy and disgust. The emergence of Jeremy Corbyn re-energised me to some extent.

Well, Momentum seems to have lost a lot of its momentum. The grassroots movement that brought Corbyn to the fore is being thwarted at every turn by the mainstream Labour Party. My own local party remains suspended, and can only meet informally, under the banner of "Trades Union Public Meeting" or similar. There's a lot of anger towards Angela Eagle, and I think it's clear that given the opportunity, most constituency members would choose to replace her.

Google "Lol Duffy" if you'd like a bit of historical context.

So just as Sanders was baulked, and a potential progressive outlet was denied to people's anger and disillusiuonment, leading to them seeking other avenues, so it's likely that if a move to the left is blocked in the UK, working class voters will turn to UKIP.
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Sunday, 22 January 2017

Tax

I'm preparing my accounts as I will have to submit my tax return for 2015-2016 before the end of this month.

It's a chore every year. Although I try to keep my pricing structure as straightforward as I can, there's enough variation that I have to go through each page of my diary and put numbers to times. This time around it's made slightly more complicated by the instructor training.

What was the exact date I raised my prices? Dunno exactly, although there are clues, such as when someone pays for a block of lessons, it's noted in my diary. When it went from "paid £220 for 11 hours" to "paid £240 for 11 hours" the change must have occurred around then. I keep people on at the rate they were paying when they started, so in any particular day, I can have pupils paying several different rates. Looking back at stuff in my diary 18 monhs ago, it's sometimes a struggle to recall exactly how much people have paid.

So there's going to be a bit of arbitaryness in the figures. I'm not trying to massage the numbers downwards, and it will be there or thereabouts. I'm thinking of it in the following way...

If I bought some sand from a sand merchant, I might order a hundredweight of it, or a tonne, or whatever. I would not order 1,098,239,028,493,892 grains of sand. Nor would I be particularly bothered if, having ordered 1 tonne of it, I actually got 999.78 kilogrammes. Nor would the sand seller be too concerned if I actually got 1001.48 kilogrammes.

One instructor I know proudly boasts that he's never paid a penny in tax since he started. He's busy, but he never pays a penny in tax. The same guy loudly complains on facebook about how the government should do more to look after old people and ex servicemen.

Prick.

Anyway, blogging as displacement activity. Back to the grindstone.

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Friday, 20 January 2017

Speech to text...

My phone allows me to speak text messages, converting them into sms. It's especially handy in the car as I can do it all completely hands free without taking my eyes off the road.

But it's not always completely accurate, and if words outside the standard English lexicon are used, it just makes it's best guess.

Anyway, here's what it makes of "Jabberwocky".

"Twice brilliant and the slightly toes did guy and Gimble in the way all Mimsy were the borrowed groves and ammo maths out grade."


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Sunday, 8 January 2017

Instructor training update

I've been pretty quiet on the subject for the last few months. It's generally easier to talk about the successes than the failures I suppose, and it's been a mixed bag to say the least.

My first trainee was someone that I should never have taken on. Hindsight is 20-20 of course but I've been learning as I go along myself, and at the beginning, when the phone first rang, I was keen to get started, any way I could.

That unfortunate saga now seems to be drawing to an entirely predictable close. This particular trainee has now pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation (he marketed himself as a fully qualified instructor with a 100% passrate, when he was not and he hadn't.) By offering lessons at fire sale prices, he got a lot of work, and following his arrest was unable to continue what he was doing, or pay back the money that people had paid him up front. I saw him a couple of months back, doing instructor training with another local company, having passed the first two parts of his qualifying exams again. Just the once. I suspect that after a couple of sessions with him, they did what I should have done, and dropped him like a hot potato. The upshot now is that he will have a criminal record, and will not be able to send off a clean criminal records check to the Driving Standards agency, should he have a mind to apply again. I hope they go easy on him. There was nothing malicious in what he was doing. He's just a bumbling idiot trying to make his way through life, and at least part of his plight was down to decisions that I made.

The other two were far more promising. First Steve, and then Helen signed up with me. Steve already had a long career in driving, Helen, not so much. Both needed to be taught to drive in a certain way, in order both to be able to pass the advanced driving test, and to have a clear idea of what they were supposed to be teaching. Steve passed easily first time, Helen, after a stumble on the parallel park on her first attempt got through on her second attempt.

Driving schools can take on no more trainees than they have fully qualified instructors, and with me being a one man band, that meant I could only take on one of them on a trainee license. Helen had asked me for this space not long after starting with me, and so Steve went off to another school to work on a provisional license. They got him to do some training with their preferred trainer, and shortly afterwards, he stopped attending sessions with me.

Helen suggests that the school he's now working for insisted that he take the training that they wanted him to take, but I think that's being charitable. He'd plateaued in his learning, had started to become a bit demoralised, and I think he saw more hope in this new route than by staying with me. He's now failed twice at his teaching test. His third and final attempt (you only get three goes at it before you have to start all over again) is in a couple of months. I wish him well.

So that left just Helen. She got off to a much slower start, but for the last few months we've been doing intensive one to one work, and she's really starting to get her act together. This is not just down to her. After losing Steve, I realised that I was going to have to up my game, and I've put a lot of work in from my side too. There's more structure to what I'm doing now. Rather than just winging it, I've read up and studied a lot more. And it seems to be bearing fruit.

Today, Helen put in work on a phase one briefing that would have got her a comfortable pass. The skills she's using can be transferred, at least to some extent, to any of the phase one briefings she has to be able to do. There is work to do still on the phase two stuff, but I reckon, if she manages to keep the nerves at bay, that she could well pass on her first attempt. Between now and March, when she has her first attempt, we should make progress there too. She suggested today that the typical session structure of the first half being taken up with phase one stuff, followed by a break, then another session doing phase two stuff be done the other way around. We're doing that phase one bit (where there's a lot of sitting in the car talking about stuff) in daylight, and the phase two stuff (which is far more about doing stuff on the move) in the dark. She can't see what I'm doing with my feet, or whether I'm checking my mirrors, etc, so this makes a lot of sense. Do the sitting in the car talking stuff when it doesn't matter that it's dark. As the weeks go by of course, the sun will go down later (hooray!) and this will become less of an issue.

After that? Well now there are two cars running about the streets of Wirral with Paul Sharp School of Motoring signs on them, and once (if) Helen becomes fully qualified, I could go on to traini other instructors, this time with a bit more experience and method under my belt.



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Sunday, 1 January 2017

2017

It was 2017. Zip Razweg zipped his laser rifle into the holster on his silver lycra bodysuit and floated down to the kitchen with his rocket boots at minimum power.

"If you've scorched the carpet again, you'll be sorry" said his wife, looking up from what she was doing, feeding nutro-pax into the transmogrifier. She pressed a button, and the machine made high pitched sprinkly noises and multicoloured panels of lights flashed pointlessly.

"Why don't you just use the stairs like everyone else? It's not like you couldn't do with the exercise."

Zip looked down at himself. The lycra stretched tight over his moobs and belly. He frowned thoughtfully. Then the transmogrifier buzzed and a slot opened in it's side, from which a tray emerged bearing a cornflake tablet and a tube of full english breakfast.

As a concession to his wife, he only ate half the tablet. He stepped into the health cubicle and pressed the weight lever.

"You weigh 4 stones and 7 pounds" said a metallic voice.

"4 stones and 7 pounds" Zip told his wife, pleased.

"We're on The Moon, you stupid sod" she replied. You're really a lardarse"

_______________________________________________________________________

So what of me?

Well I've just weighed myself at 14 stones and 4 pounds.About the same as last year then.

I intend to avoid alcohol completely this year, although if I can get hold of some less calorific intoxicants, that might be nice. Might help with the music for one thing.

A few months ago, I got hold of a good sized chunk of resin. Unusual these days where it all seems to be green, but I always preferred solid. Less intense as a rule, and tends to go much further.

I found myself analysing what was happening, and found that it followed an entirely predictable sequence of phases. These are: Euphoria - Paranoia - Lethargy. There used to be a lot more euphoria. Now there's a lot more of the other two, and any attempt to increase the euphoria by upping the dose just makes the paranoia worse. So It's not something I'd want to do all the time any more.