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Category Archives: Informative

Getting to the bottom of things!

In accordance with the advice given in the “Writing for Fun and Profit” book that I borrowed from Cambridge Library back in 1989 and read during boring lunch breaks there, I still try to write AT LEAST 250 words per day on any subject I can think of.  Obviously, with this blog, I don’t stick religiously to that target but since what I do produce normally varies between 600 and 1600 words I think my “writing muscles” are in fairly good condition.

That thing about “any subject I can think of” does cause problems sometimes but since I always have a notebook with me I can make notes on anything that happens to me, however unpleasant.

Which leads me to today’s tale – which is all true, is on a subject perhaps not normally discussed but which may be of some use to readers (male or female) who haven’t experienced this yet.

About three months ago I was sent one of those letters, apparently sent to all men of my age group, from the NHS Bowel Cancer screening Service inviting me to send them a selection of what I shall politely call “poo samples”!

Not, I am pleased to say, the “poo in this bottle” type of sample that used to be required by my old employer, Solway Foods, before you could return to work following any kind of intestinal outrage – but rather a selection of “smears” sealed up in a foil-lined envelope and posted to the testing laboratory.

Can I just say that to my rebellious spirit there is something satisfying about the idea of putting faecal matter in the post – it’s just a shame, I think, that there is not a way of copying other people in, email style! I can think of quite a few people whose faces I would love to watch when they opened THAT little present at the breakfast table!

Anyway, about two weeks after committing my prime samples to the post, I received a letter suggesting that the tiniest trace of blood in some of them meant that I might benefit from a joyful little procedure known as a Colonoscopy to be conducted at Peterborough District Hospital.

“Oh dear”, I naturally said on learning of this, “that’ll be a pain in the arse!”

So, to cut a long story short, my appointment was made for Thursday 10th August and the preparation began on Monday 7thAugust.

Preparation?

Think about it! They are going to look at your insides with a camera on a wire so they are going to want to be able to SEE and that means clearing out as much as possible of what would normally be occupying that space. Look, I’m trying to be as delicate as I can about this – OK?

Therefore, on Monday evening I had to swallow 5 massive Senna tablets, which, fortunately had no immediate effect! Same again on Tuesday but accompanied by a low residue diet (steamed fish and boiled rice) and still with no effect.

Wednesday – the day before my “procedure”- began with a soft-boiled egg on toast at 7am followed by nothing but water and, at noon and 6pm, sachets of a laxative called Citramax (a vile frothing potion like something out of a Hogwarts’ cauldron)! This definitely did work – to an extent I would not have believed possible – and very, very quickly! I think Donald Trump should be dumping that stuff in North Korea’s water supply – if that doesn’t scare the sh*t out of them nothing will! Actually, perhaps putting some in Donald Trump’s water supply might be more fun – he has more to clear out being “full of it” most of the time!

On Thursday Faith dropped me off at the hospital, famished from having had nothing but liquids since Wednesday’s breakfast and a full half hour before my 9.30 appointment. People kept rushing out of my way mistaking, I think, the noises of my stomach for me snarling at them like some sort of psychopath!

At the due time I was seen by a nursing sister who asked me all sorts of questions such as “Do you wear dentures?” prompting the somewhat predictable response of, “Why? How far up is this tube going?”

I was then taken to a changing room with lockers to change into one of those embarrassing back-fastening hospital gowns and a pair of “modesty shorts” – large “one-size-falls-off-all” paper trousers with a similar open back arrangement!  These I covered with my own dressing gown and was taken to another waiting area from where, a mere hour and a quarter later I was escorted into the Colonoscopy room.

There I was made to lay on my side facing away from the rather uncommunicative Consultant operating “the equipment” but able to converse pleasantly with the little far-eastern nurse who was there to put my mind at rest and answer any questions I might have.

“When” I asked, “is he going to… <squidge> WHOA!!”

I looked round at the Consultant in some surprise and remarked “Easy Tiger! Shouldn’t you at least buy me a drink first?” He just smiled slightly and got on with the job!

I should say that at no point did I actually see the “cable” in use – I can only surmise that given its capabilities it must have been enormous! It had a full colour camera (enabling me to watch its progress on either of two massive computer monitors), a light, a nozzle to inject water, another nozzle to inject air (to assist in getting around tight corners) and a third to suction out said water and air to avoid embarrassment later. It also possessed a wire cutting loop to remove suspect polyps, something to store these in for later analysis and whatever it needed for steering. For all I know it may also have had windscreen wipers and a thing for getting stones out of horses hooves!

I soon forgot about any discomfort as I became fascinated by the view on the screen. My large intestine was, I have to say, gleaming – that frothing, lemon flavoured gunk from yesterday had certainly sent me clean round the bend! It was absolutely enthralling and I admired the skill with which my silent friend used the wire loop to lop off a couple of little (and not remotely dangerous looking) polyps on the way. Indeed, I was almost disappointed when he reached his ultimate destination, my Appendix at the entrance to the much longer Small Intestine, and had to reverse the 5 feet or so back. This took just as long as the outward journey as he didn’t want to miss anything but nothing else was spotted (although I think I caught a glimpse of a tiny submarine at one point) and we were soon back at the “terminus”. The process was ended a lot less abruptly than it began.

This was followed by a few minutes in a Recovery Room where a Nurse ensured I was OK and gave me a print out of the preliminary results including 3 small still photos taken on the camera’s voyage of discovery. I was a little disappointed when she told me I could not purchase a DVD of the camera footage! I said that I thought the NHS was possibly missing an easy fund raiser there – I would have happily paid £15 for that, to help keep the service running and I’m sure others would too!

After that it was back to the locker room to change back into normal clothes and across the corridor to another waiting area where they gave me a cup of coffee and a Salmon and Cucumber sandwich (to make up for having starved me for about 30 hours). I was also able to phone Faith to come and get me. That sandwich did not touch the sides!

Now I await the results (in a couple of weeks) of the analysis of those two tiny polyps, and in two years’ time the test people will request more poo samples and it could all start again. Still, better safe than sorry!

My previous praise for those on the front line of NHS services documented here: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2017/02/11 remains unabated. All those involved performed efficiently and professionally and I had no complaints whatsoever. One of the nurses even rang me the next day to check that I had experienced no overnight issues arising from their work.

I particularly commend the skill of the man who did the “driving”. I imagine that he goes home and decorates his hall, stairs and landing – through the letterbox!

The only thing left for me to do now is to try to source some of that Citramax powder stuff – for recreational use only you understand – not for spiking other people’s drinks. Honest!

Alfie

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Posted by on August 16, 2017 in Informative

 

The Day the Music died!

Here is another “Anniversary” piece on a subject that was mentioned briefly in the last one and which I have touched upon several times, particularly in the early days of this blog. (Try selecting April 2009 in the pull-down Archive menu on the right of this page)

Pirate Radio!

In April 1964, when I was coming up on the grand old age of 11 ¼, my father referred me to an article in The Times which he thought would interest me. It concerned test transmissions being made for a proposed Pop music Radio station broadcasting from a ship anchored in the North Sea just outside British Territorial Waters.

As I usually find it necessary to explain at this point when telling this story, we did not take The Times because we were in any way “posh” or upper class – Dad worked at a Solicitors office and they paid for him to have it in order to provide him with access to the Law Reports that the other papers didn’t bother with! I hope that’s clear!

Anyway…

Back in April 1964 I immediately tuned my little Benkson Transistor Radio to the indicated frequency and while I don’t now remember what I listened to I am pleased to say that I was with Radio Caroline  (for it was she) from Day One.

When the “proper” transmissions commenced a little while later I was there listening and from that point onwards (with four small exceptions) the staid and somewhat stuffy BBC was dropped from the listening habits of our house.

Oh, all right then! The four were:

  • Pick of the Pops – the Sunday afternoon chart show and one of the few modern music shows outside school hours.
  • The Test Match Cricket commentary.
  • The breakfast time news-based “Today” programme which Dad felt was essential listening each day.
  • “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again” – which I listened to in my room and then passed the best jokes onto the rest of my school class.

Even my Mum who has never been called an “innovator” (if we hadn’t moved to a brand new house in early 1964 which had a kitchen with space and power for a fridge and a washer/dryer  I think she’d still be utilising a bucket of cold water and a mangle) gave up “Housewife’s Choice” for the much more lively Radio Caroline equivalent! I think she may have switched later to “Wonderful Radio London” but I stayed with the original!

So why were Caroline and the following flood of offshore broadcasters called “Pirate Radio” stations?

Well, to the government it was quite simply because they were BAD (like pirates)!  And they were bad because said government had absolutely NO control over them and no government likes that!

Remember, we were less than 20 years from the end of WW2, in the midst of the “Cold War” and the paranoia inherent in national governments of all political colours meant that the idea of someone sitting just off your coast TALKING to your people, uncontrolled by you, was not to be borne!

Never mind that “Radio Moscow” and “Voice of America” were doing the same thing with decidedly biased  (if opposing) agendas – they belonged to countries bigger than us and so could not be bullied! Easier to attack a much softer target.

The stations concerned (I was going to say “ships” but some were on old rusting, defensive sea forts of WW2 vintage) were not political propaganda machines; they were simply playing music for what, today, would be called “the youth market” – music it would have been hard to hear anywhere else.

The choices were the very limited and controlled BBC pop output and Radio Luxembourg, 300+ miles away, unable to keep its signal strength (which was limited by post-war peace treaties) up for more than 2 minutes at a time for UK listeners! Radio Luxembourg also had its playlist under the strict control of a few large Record Companies who actually bought broadcasting time in order to be able to play their (and only their) “product”.

At that time, the technology to enable listeners easily to record what they were hearing was not readily available and this resulted in them going out and buying records, many from small, new companies – only a complete cynic would dare to suggest that the aforementioned Large Record Companies might put pressure on our Lords & Masters to try to stop this obviously iniquitous state of affairs.

That same cynic might also suggest that said Lords & Masters did not see any harm in giving in to such pressure on the grounds that most of these many millions of (mostly) youthful listeners were under voting age and held opinions that could, therefore, be completely discounted.

If you watch Richard Curtis’s film “The Boat That Rocked” and ignore the more obvious musical anachronisms you may pick up a pretty good impression of the brightness and happiness that these nasty, evil Pirates brought into young lives trying to get by in what otherwise seemed a grey and stuffy world run by grey and stuffy politicians.

And for 3 years the Golden Age continued until the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 came into Law at midnight on August 14th 1967 and anyone still transmitting after that time was instantly a criminal!

I often have trouble with our system of “democracy” and one of the biggest issues I have with it is that our elected representatives get themselves elected on the basis of their publicly announced proposed policies. I have a problem, therefore if I like, say, the Education policy of one party and the Economic policy of another – because you have no option but to choose one total package and therefore have to know what you might be letting yourself in for!

And because of that it really should be that ONLY legislation specifically proposed in the manifesto can be passed without the need to go back to the public for clearance.

So that I would not be entirely writing this piece on the basis of the emotions of a 14 year old boy I decided to look up a couple of things:

  • The Election Manifesto of the Labour Party (who won with a landslide majority) for the General Election of 31st March 1966 – the only such election during the lifetime of most of the Radio stations we’re talking about here.
  • The script of the Queen’s Speech given on the resumption of Parliament in April 1966.

See if you can guess how many times a proposed Bill for outlawing offshore radio stations was mentioned in those two documents!

CLUE: “Less than one”!!

Given that it is reckoned that,  at the height of their popularity, 25 million Britons listened to offshore pop music radio stations daily, can anyone tell me how the government thought it had any kind of mandate from the British public to do away with it – especially as it hadn’t dared to propose it prior to attempting re-election!

Nevertheless they did it and, what’s more, they did it under the leadership of Harold Wilson, a man who was never happier than when being photographed with Pop music icons of the era, many of whom owed their star status to….. you guessed it!  Even a politically naive 14 year old could see that as blatant hypocrisy and I’ve never forgotten it or forgiven it!

Meanwhile back at my personal recollections, I attended my first ever week under canvas with the 3rd Ipswich Boys Brigade starting on Saturday 12th August 1967. This wasn’t one of our more distant ventures – we were in a field just outside Hadleigh, a small market town about 10 miles from Ipswich and the signal strength of transmissions from the North Sea was undiminished.

On the Monday afternoon, most of the other stations having already departed, my friends and I listened to the final broadcast of “Radio London” which terminated its service at 3p.m. This left us 9 hours to see if Caroline would honour its stated intention of remaining on air and becoming, effectively, a true Pirate!

If you weren’t there at that time or (and I can’t understand this at all) weren’t interested in music it is difficult to explain that this was a BIG DEAL! We had been taught that we had to obey the law but here was the law proclaiming that something we all loved was WRONG when, quite plainly it wasn’t.

Tucked up in my sleeping bag I had my radio with me and tuned in as always to Radio Caroline as midnight approached. We were supposed to be quiet after lights out but I could hear the same music emanating from the other tents nearby. Then at the stroke of midnight Johnnie Walker made the continuation announcement, played “We Shall Overcome” and emotionally described the hundreds of car headlights flashing their support out to see from the Essex Coast. I wish I could have been there taking part in that display of affection but I was still 3 years away from even my little Honda 90 let alone a car! We did all cheer, though!

Radio Caroline did indeed continue for a few more years but the point of this article is to post something relevant at EXACTLY (or as near as I can get to it) one second before midnight on August 14th 2017 as a gesture of thanks to all the DJs and crews of those ships for the part they played in shaping my life.

And to thank them for teaching me at an early age to never, ever trust your government – even if you voted them in. They do not, in fact, know better than you -though you would be hard pushed to make any politician believe that!

Alfie

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2017 in Informative

 

Unpublished Symphonies – Part 1

A few years ago when I was working as an I.T. Helpdesk Analyst on a fairly long-term contract, the Company decided that the staff should have access to an Intranet Page in order to share interesting stories, ask questions of other departments and that sort of thing. Departments such as Information Technology and Human Resources were also asked to provide interesting articles.

This blog was in full swing at the time meaning that my “writing muscles” were fully flexed and raring to go, so I decided to make some useful contributions to submit to my Manager, who had been given the job of coordinating and editing anything submitted by our team. I must admit that I wasn’t expecting the response I received!

“Are you mad?” he exclaimed. “If we go explaining to our computer users how to do this stuff themselves, half of us will be out of a job!”

Plainly he wasn’t at all interested in said users bettering themselves in any way – in which respect he was not at all like me. My personal philosophy with regard to computer usage has always been to ensure that people know as much about their operation as they are capable of knowing. It is for that reason that I spend my Tuesdays at Peterborough Library voluntarily teaching the “incomputerate”.

The two such articles that I penned for that abortive series of helpful articles remained filed and unloved on my USB memory stick until I decided to resurrect them here. The second part will follow shortly.

I hope it is of some help to you in either home or work computer use.

***

The view from the Service Desk – #1 – On and off and on again!

The title of this article is (as anyone over a certain age will know) from the 1988 song “Burning Bridges” by Status Quo and should give you a bit of a clue as to what it will be about.  It is my custom when writing my own blog posts to utilise appropriate song lyrics in this way when possible.

Thanks to the cult TV comedy “The IT Crowd”, the question “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” has entered popular culture in what, from the point of view of Computer Helpdesk Staff across the country, could be seen as an unhelpful fashion.

Why so?

Well, for one thing, WE know that in some instances YOU are waiting for US to say it and are anticipating having a bit of a giggle at having made us ask!   And, when you think about it, there are not many other ways you can word it!

On many, many occasions during my more than 15 years in IT Support I have asked “The Question” only for the following exchange to take place:

Caller (in a fed up voice): “Oh, they told me you’d ask me to do that!”

Me: “So, have you done so?”

Caller: “Uhh, No.”

Me (thinking to myself): “Well if you KNEW you were going to be asked………!”

Me (aloud): “OK, would you mind doing it for me now, please?”

Those conversations have taken place with employees of many companies but I thought that you might like to know exactly why your IT Service Desk asks you either to log out and back in again or, on occasion, requires you to shut the PC down completely and restart it.

The short answer to that is, quite simply, that in about 95% of the situations where we make the request…. IT WORKS!  This means that if you take the lesson in the conversation above to heart and try restarting the computer before calling the Helpdesk – you may not have to.

I think of PCs as something like cars; most of the time you just push the button (or turn the key) and away you go with no problems!

At other times you start up your car (or Computer) and nothing happens at all! When that happens you call the AA\RAC\Green Flag\local garage (or Helpdesk) and an engineer is sent out.

And then, in between those two extremes, there is the occasion when you have something bad in your petrol and while the vehicle starts, it splutters and does not run smoothly or well until you start it up again and give it a good burst of throttle to clear it. It is the PC equivalent of this “Grit in the carburettor” problem that prompts most of the calls that are fixed by a restart.  Some tiny process or other (and there are hundreds such small processes kicking off each time you start the PC up) gets skipped during the PC start-up but runs perfectly at the second attempt – that is to say after TURNING IT OFF AND ON AGAIN!

So now you know why we ask and I hope it no longer seems like a silly question.

[Alfie’s real name]

Service Desk Analyst

***

Alfie

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2017 in Informative

 

May the Froth be with you!

By the title of this you may, quite rightly, assume that I have found something else to foam, rabidly, at the mouth about!

As those of my readership who have known me for a long time (and there are, rather surprisingly, an increasing number of people to whom that description applies) will know or remember, playing with words was “the thing” of my school class.

The sub-group of that class that avidly followed the BBC Radio show “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again!” (ISIRTA) was particularly addicted to puns (one of my former classmates recently referred to us as “Punslingers” and I approve of that) and played happily at twisting words and meanings to comic effect.

I have, often to the despair of colleagues, friends or family, continued to work on what I consider to be a highly intellectual form of humour even though this occasionally results in the joke being killed for me by having to explain it to my audience!

If you aren’t familiar with my particular kind of wordplay I have done a couple of “good ones” here: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2010/05/04 and https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2010/06/08 . I have also written about ISIRTA in several other places – read and enjoy!

So, having established my credentials as something of a master of puns I found listening to the radio this morning somewhat painful!

This was because, however many others have to be explained to them, there is ONE pun that nearly everyone “gets”. It arises from the salutation often used in the “Star Wars” movie franchise “May the Force be with you” and sometime after its’ first utterance in 1977 somebody inevitably noticed the similarity between the first three words and the date “May the Fourth”.

“Yes”, I thought when I first heard it, “that’s a good one” but being a DATE it came around every year and each time a few more people noticed it and found it funny to the point we are at now where it is actually being called “Star Wars Day”. Today’s Radio 2 Breakfast Show was largely given over to children playing the movie theme live on air using a variety of instruments.

A joke, especially a pun, that is repeated too often (and once a year, every year will certainly do it for me!) rapidly ceases to be funny and when it then turns into a “DAY” that has no other connection with a movie than a mis-quote that happens to sound like a date, things have gone a bit too far.

I know that some of you are thinking I am being unnecessarily grumpy about this and setting out to spoil a bit of harmless fun and I would tend to agree with you but for one thing:

When I was a teenager there were not many things that impinged on my little world enough to annoy me: the threat of worldwide nuclear destruction was always there but during my school years I was mostly incensed by the unwanted Government interference in Offshore “Pirate” Radio.

After school but still in my teens, however, I became extremely worried at the United States’ Government’s attitude to protestors about the Vietnam War.

And I wonder, as another 4th May goes by, whether I am being paranoid or unduly cynical in suggesting that said US Government welcomes or encourages the invention of “Star Wars Day” as a way of making the world forget the unarmed protesting students shot at and killed by the National Guard at Kent State University in Ohio on that very date in 1970!

The message I got from that episode was that however enlightened a democracy you may live in, if you disagree with the government strongly enough they do have the power to kill you – and if you fight back YOU are apparently the one breaking the law!

Well, I have never been an American Citizen (I would probably have been killed or injured in Vietnam if I had been), never went to any university and if making us forget is the intention – it isn’t working on ME!

Just thought you should know.

Alfie

 

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2017 in Informative

 

It’s not Rocket science!

The Chinese are credited with inventing gunpowder – as they invented so many other things such as Chinese Takeaways, Chinese Laundries, Chinese New Year, Chinese Burns etcetera!

If you look up “Things invented by the Chinese” in Google you will find an article by the ever-reliable Wikipedia which lists the “big four” Chinese inventions as:

Paper

The (navigational) Compass

Gunpowder (including fireworks and rockets)

Printing

I presume that Printing was last on the list because there was no point in inventing it before you had paper to print on!

I also imagine a day in Chinese history when some Emperor or other decided “At last! Now we can do this!” then took his army, used his lovely new printed paper maps and compasses to find his enemies and blew them to bits with gunpowder-powered rockets!

It may not have happened like that but it’s a nice thought!

Rather surprisingly, and despite the technology being there, using rockets as a weapon of war did not really “take off” (sorry!) for many centuries while their gunpowder power source WAS utilised to lob various projectiles at enemy armies and civilians in European wars from about the 14th Century onwards.

Weapons where the gunpowder propellant actually accompanied the projectile on its journey did not begin to be used by the British Army until after various Indian armies used them against the forces of the British East India Company in the late 1700s – after which unpleasant experience Colonel Sir William Congreve (1772 – 1828) was appointed to conduct Research & Development on rocket artillery at Woolwich Arsenal.

The resulting product was tested by the Royal Navy (setting fire to Boulogne and Copenhagen), used in a fictional Peninsular War battle in Portugal (“Sharpe’s Enemy” by Bernard Cornwall), and used for real against France in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813.

Congreve’s rockets were also (and I am indebted to Bernard Cornwall for this information which was given in the Appendix of the above mentioned novel) used against the United States of America during the war of 1812-14, specifically during the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. This action is commemorated in the lines in the anthem “The Star Spangled Banner” which in its first verse has “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there”.

Over the intervening years, and particularly during the 20th Century, gunpowder has been replaced as a rocket propellant by more efficient chemical reactions increasing the range, and power of these weapons leading to the V2 rockets used against London in World War 2.

Every rocket variant up to and including Vergeltungswaffen Zwei (Vengeance weapon 2) had the same problem – their effectiveness was limited to the accuracy with which they could be AIMED!

This became a difficulty when the speed and manoeuvrability of targets such as aircraft increased to the point where they were able to dodge or outrun things fired directly at them. What was needed was something that could (either internally or externally) be GUIDED.

As early as 1945, when it was thought that Japan would have to be conquered island by island and ship by ship, the USA was trying out radio-controlled, explosive filled “drone” aircraft with primitive TV cameras in the nose to aid the operator. The Japanese, of course used similar explosive-filled aircraft but left the pilots in to aim the plane at U.S. battleships and carriers!

Other much bigger bangs probably slowed that line of research and it is only comparatively recently that such aircraft for reconnaissance and attack have come back into fashion again.

Meanwhile, control by fine wire for ground to ground usage, heat-seeking technology for ground to air or air to air combat and in-built programmable computers with terrain mapping software (as in Cruise missiles) have now given us “smart” guided rockets that can almost 100% guarantee hitting whatever they are either aimed at or are simply told to hit!

As I said earlier the replacement of gunpowder as a propellant vastly improved the range of rockets and this led most importantly to the Human Race getting into space – probably the only way we can ever guarantee our Single-planet species’ survival!

It is my belief that any number of bad things can and probably will happen to us if we continue as we are with all our eggs in one planetary basket and feel deeply that we as a world should be turning all our scientific, technological and industrial ingenuity towards getting “out there” en masse rather than messing about fighting each other over minor trivia like religion, economics and politics.

Of course, our manned efforts to the Moon fizzled out, after only six landings, in 1972 once enough had been done to honour the memory of the late President Kennedy who had initiated the Apollo programme. It was apparently more important to fund the disaster that was the Vietnam War than to continue an actual Human advance!

This post was actually started in about August 2016 and I’m sure you’re wondering where I am going with it.

Well, so am I!

When I picked it up recently (1st February 2017) in my “unfinished” folder I could not, for the life of me, remember what had inspired it. Then I found, in one of my notebooks a couple of apparently random sentences which bought back my chain of thought.

This enabled me to resume the narrative 5 paragraphs ago where I turned it towards space travel and the old Apollo flights. I was heading specifically towards what I saw as the pivotal mission, the one that went wrong, Apollo 13 and its effect on the public will to advance interplanetary travel.

It has long been known that following the relatively routine and uneventful landings and safe returns of Apollos 11 and 12 the American public were becoming bored with space. It took the explosion in the oxygen tank of “Odyssey”, the Apollo 13 Command/Service module and the following life or death struggle to get home to reawaken interest in a further 4 missions.

I wonder how things would have gone if mission Commander Jim Lovell and his crew had not made it back. There are basically two possibilities: firstly that the US manned space programme would have shut down completely with no further moon landings and no ventures outward of any sort for many years. The second alternative (and the one I think is less likely) is that the Americans, inspired by the sacrifice of that crew would have seen the great glory to be had and run with space exploration to the point where we would already now have permanent colonies on the Moon and Mars.

Alas we can never know.

Permit me now to explain the convoluted thought process that brought me here.

Last summer my wife arranged for us to meet up with an old friend of ours in our former home village of Histon, near Cambridge. She was to drive over in the morning and do some shopping with our friend while I, still experimenting with my over 60s bus pass, agreed to join them via that mode of transport after my volunteer session at Peterborough Library finished.

The specific bus that I had to get runs by road from Peterborough to St. Ives then moves onto a special track that was once a railway line for the rest of the trip to Cambridge. There are a number of routes through and around Cambridge indicated by letters of the alphabet but only the “B” route goes to and from Peterborough. The whole thing from St. Ives to Cambridge is known locally as the “guided bus”.

Do you see yet how I got from that trip to the article above?

Well, the note that I found in my little book as mentioned above read as follows:

“Guided Bus -> guided missile.

St. Ives to Cambridge Bus ‘B’ -> Main Bus B.”

Perhaps it will clarify it still further if I remind you that “Main Bus B” was the name of the major electrical conduit in Apollo 13 that blew out when the oxygen tank exploded in the service module and lost them most of their power.

And that’s all it took to set me off.

So, having shared that meaningful insight into my thought processes, do you feel that you understand me and my mental workings a little better?

No. Neither do I.

Alfie

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2017 in Informative

 

Can I ride your Magic Bus?

When I started school in the late 1950s I walked there with my mother and she came and got me at the end of the day – a walk of about a mile each way (two miles each trip for her). That was in all weathers with no picking up by car options available – we didn’t HAVE a car then and mum wouldn’t have been able to drive it if we had! I seem to remember that I did sometimes “cheat” by standing on the back axle of the pushchair (aka “buggy” these days) with my little sister in it. Nevertheless I bet I still walked a good deal further than most of today’s little porkers do!

There was a bus that ran from the end of our street and if you got off at the bottom end of Station Street the school could be reached by a long uphill trek that was probably equivalent to half of the normal walk home. This meant that in bad weather you’d get just as wet going back down that hill and waiting for the bus as you would walking the whole way, so it wasn’t worth the bother.

I seem to recall that after mum stopped taking me I always got the bus to school and always walked home. I don’t recall whether she gave me bus fare for both trips – if she did it would have been a pocket money enhancing scam netting me a whole tenpence a week! That’s ten OLD pence, of course, of which there were twelve to a shilling (which became equal to five NEW pence in the 1971 decimalisation). It doesn’t sound a lot but would have bought me three extra Wagon Wheels or Jamboree Bags a week and you will have to ask your parents or grandparents if you don’t know what THEY were!

We moved house in January 1964 during my last year at that school but as the Eleven Plus examinations (which decided whether or not you were Grammar School material and which were taken in several parts) did not finish until just before Easter it was considered best for me to do them in familiar surroundings. Thus I gained my first experience of commuting as it required a bus into town and another out in a different direction each way to get from new house to old school and back.

What I am getting at here is that from my earliest days of travelling unaccompanied I have used public transport – particularly buses.

After that Junior School experience my use of Ipswich Borough Transport waned for a while – dad getting a car and me then getting first a bicycle then a motorbike meant I had no real use of the bus network for quite a few years.

During the period from October 1975 to January 1979 my friends and I did utilise the buses again as part of our Saturday night wanderings that I documented here: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2009/10/05/ . You will have to get through the initial waffle first but it DOES get to the real story eventually!

At the end of that period I sold the house, moved back with my parents for a few months and bought another motorbike. And it wasn’t until I sold THAT in summer 1982 that I used buses again – for my daily commute from Long Stratton to Norwich (previously mentioned here: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2011/09/ ) which takes us to the move to Chelmsford in April 1983 by which time I had learned to drive a car.

For the next five years I walked or cycled anywhere that we didn’t drive to – until May 1988 and the move to Cambridge.

Cambridge has a dreadful congestion problem and high parking charges (it’s probably down to all those wealthy University students) so whenever we didn’t have anything bulky to buy that necessitated using the car, we would drive one village over (from Histon to Milton) and get the “Park and Ride” bus to the city centre.

Cambridge and its populace are unique! They have the only transport system I know of where you can sit back, listen in and LEARN STUFF! In other cities you may worry about getting mugged but on the Cambus network your only concern is whether you are justified in interrupting the conversation you are eavesdropping on for an explanation of some obscure philosophical or scientific point!

A friend of mine once wrote something in the East Anglian Mensa newsletter (which he was editing at the time) about the French philosopher Albert Camus. I replied stating that Cambridge was such an intellectual city that they named their CAMBUS transport system after him. Sometimes my devastating wit surprises even me!

For the last 23 years (i.e. from December 1993) we have lived on the southwestern fringes of Peterborough. Our area is served by a “Citi-bus” route to the city centre but it follows such a torturous path through nearby estates and “townships” that it takes nigh on 40 minutes to get to the central bus station no more than 4 miles away!

Indeed, if Faith should ever need to take public transport to work for any reason it could (allowing for missed connections) take over 90 minutes to get there  – a five mile, ten minute car drive away.

So you may well guess that over that 23 year period I haven’t made much use of buses in Peterborough.

Until now, that is!

And the reason for that situation changing is simple. I discovered that, almost 3 years after the date that I considered I was contractually entitled to it, I was entitled to a free bus pass for use on all and any local bus services in the UK.

Thus, every time I now need to go into Peterborough by myself I save £2 or £3 on car parking. I can also, if I get any spare time, ride the bus routes of this city (after 9.30 a.m.) just for the hell of it at no cost whatsoever!

Unfortunately, thanks to the duplicitous Weasels in parliament (and I sincerely apologise to any real Weasels reading this for maligning them in this way) Faith, who turned 60 last year and has worked all her life on the understanding that 60 was the age at which it would all happen, now has to wait until age 66 before either the State Pension or her Bus Pass become available!

So, unless I shell out for a one day “mega-rider” ticket for her, I have to explore on my own – which isn’t so much fun!

Still, my weekly trips to my volunteer job at the Library and my regular appointment at the Job Centre enable me to observe city life and think on the motto of the now-defunct “News of the World”:

“All human life is here”.

Alfie.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2016 in Informative, Ipswich

 

We few, we happy few……

Pay attention children – it’s time for a little history – in a manner of speaking!

Twenty-five whole years ago this week I was attending my last ever fortnight long course with the now long defunct Tax Department of Barclays Bank Trust Company. It was called the “Senior Taxation Course” and was unique amongst all the courses I attended with them in that in that it imparted absolutely no technical taxation learning at all!

It was assumed by that stage in our careers that those attending it either knew everything there was to know about UK income tax or, at least, were competent enough to know how to find it out for ourselves.  So this course was designed to equip us for approaching management levels and contained items to give us skills in negotiation and conflict resolution, introduced us to the wonders of something called Transactional Analysis (Google it! I’m not even going to TRY to explain it) and finally,  attempted to impart to us what these days would be called “Presentation Skills”.

It was the latter part that filled all eight of us attending the course with dread!

We had been told well in advance to prepare a 15 minute presentation on a subject of our own choice using any current display technology (e.g. overhead projector slides, flipchart sheets  and most emphatically NOT Microsoft PowerPoint – Microsoft itself had barely been invented in 1987, let alone any MS Office applications!).

That was bad enough, especially for someone with my dread of public speaking, but we were told on arrival that we had most of the two weeks to apply what we had learned to polish up our performance which would be given on the second Thursday and VIDEOED  for later analysis and criticism by the rest of the class! Horror!

Fortunately, and typically, being a bunch of blokes in their 30s or 40s who had been through the Barclaytrust Tax course system we did not waste our evenings on anything as unimportant as updating our presentations – not when there was the cheap bar at the Parkway Hotel (the Barclays “staff residence” that we were billeted in) to frequent and the current crop of young trainee Personal Bankers to take an entirely academic interest in!

For information this batch of petite young ladies had, for reasons of their own which we did not attempt to explore, all decided to wear whilst off duty t-shirts advertising Jaffa Oranges and bearing the slogan “Small ones are more juicy”!

I think that I did have a go at some small revisions to my talk during the “half time” weekend although not to the content given that the subject was historical in nature and the outcome remained the same whatever I might have learned about how to present it.

After taking into account the date I had decided to enlighten my audience as to the causes, course and outcome of…… The Battle of Agincourt which took place between the English/Welsh army of King Henry V and the vastly larger French army on 25th October 1415. And which, of course, we won against all odds.

Obviously, to prevent my audience from dropping off during this exciting illustrated account of a glorious moment in our history I needed some sort of “twist” to the performance. I eventually decided to do the whole thing in character – as King Henry. I manufactured a crown from cardboard covered in tinfoil and used similar materials for a sword to use as a pointer to my wonderful, colourful flip chart drawings. For obvious reasons there are no recordings of KHV’s voice in existence so I decided to model THAT on the much more recognisable deep, fruity tones Sir Winston Churchill.

I began by reciting a big chunk of Shakespeare’s version of Henry’s pre-battle speech, thus:

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

I have to say that learning that verse verbatim was the hardest piece of memorising I had been required to do since school when “Max the Molester” our English master made us learn by heart Mark Anthony’s funeral oration for Julius Caesar  from the eponymous work also by the aforementioned Mr Shakespeare.

Needless to say, despite my considerable fear at having to stand up and deliver it, my entire account of the battle was well received by my colleagues (as, indeed, were all of theirs by the rest of us)! Well, they didn’t seriously think we were going to turn in critical fury on people we’d been drinking with for the last two weeks, did they?

I do wonder, however, what happened to those highly embarrassing but valuable video tapes. I will be driving the bloke who was in charge of that course down to Cardiff for our annual fishing match in a couple of week’s time – I’ll be sure to ask him!

Anyway, as you’ve probably realised, my purpose in writing all this is to point out that today is the 597th Anniversary  of the Battle of Agincourt and I feel that I would be most remiss if I didn’t  include the often overlooked  opening lines of Henry’s speech which I take as an instruction to remember it:

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;

So – Happy Saint Crispin’s day everyone and if the government ever wants to create a new Bank Holiday between August and Christmas…………

Alfie

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in Informative