Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why I am not a Physicist

Some old archive in my memory has just been jiggled open while I was listening to a programme on Radio 4.

I spend a large part of my, admittedly far too limited, reading time buried deep inside books about science. I'm quite eclectic in my tastes, quantum mechanics, relativity, particle physics, neuroscience, evolution, astronomy, psychology and so on - from parallel universes to the Large Hadron Collider.

In typical Radio 4 style the programme announcer said, "And now on Radio 4, Off the Page in which Dominic Arkwright and his guests look at the sentence "I don't know" and ask why it is so hard to say for many people and whether that is a good thing" - I mean, come on, is that brilliant or what? In the course of it one of the panellists mentioned how boring physics had been for her at school until one teacher stated that is it the not knowing which drives science on - the concept of I-don't-know-so-let's-find-out.

This turned out to be the password to my memory archive. I have often told the story about how I went from an o-level grade 5 to a grade 2 in the space of one year (fortunately my o-level year). The school used to try and arrange it that classes would have the same teacher for each subject for the three years up to o-level to ensure continuity. For physics we had Mr Scarface... ah, sorry, Mr Jarvis, who did, however, have a pretty prominent scar on his not very pretty face.
His "method" of teaching:

1. Fill three blackboards with text and diagrams before the kids came into the class
2. When the kids came in and sat down, tell them to copy down everything on the board
3. After about ten minutes ask if everyone is finished with the first blackboard and, if so, fill it up with more text and diagrams for copying down
4. Repeat step 3 with the other two blackboards until the double lesson (double!!, lesson!!!) was over
5. Set "learning the notes" as a homework task.

It was basically two double periods a week in how to cope with acute writer's cramp and schoolboy boredom. At the end of the first year of this I had eight physics exercise books full, after the second year, fifteen, after the end-of-summer-term exam, a 5 and a "doesn't seem to be applying himself" comment on my report.

By a stroke of great and liberating fortune and by what must have been a totally insane selection committee, Scarface was chosen to go on a year's teacher exchange with an American school. In his place came Mr Neubaum.

Well, to spoil what could have been a neat balance in my story, we didn't get the American teacher - it was considered too great a risk to give an o-level year class to him, being fresh from the States an'all, so we got Mr Panton who taught... well, I don't really know what he taught - all sorts basically. He would kind of pop up all over the place on the timetable; history, maths, physics, geography - he played basketball (which to us, in Liverpool in the seventies, was like an alien sports form) and he was the head of the school's Philosophy Society.

So, first lesson, three terms before our o-levels, we all sit, quills sharpened - ok, it wasn't that long ago - pens poised, the blackboards bare except for the powdery white residue of some sloppy board wiping by the class before and Mr Panton sitting quite casually on the front desk.

"Is the Earth flat or round?"

Silence for a good few moments.

"Erm, round, sir."

"How do you know?"

Quite a bit more silence, some consternation, a few sidelong glances at fellow class members - is he nuts?

"Erm, saw pictures on the tele, sir."

"Fakes! What if they're all fakes? How do you know the Earth is round, we'd fall off if it was round?"

First glimmerings of realising what he was on about.

Anyway, three terms of Mr Panton's physics, just about three-quarters of an exercise book with notes and a 2 in o-level physics.

What I realised today was the rest of the story. We didn't have a Mr Panton in chemistry or biology. Far from it in fact. In chemistry after a first introductory lesson, which turned out to be no more than an explosive sales pitch, we just ploughed a dull furrow through chemical symbols, valencies and properties of chemical compounds and fucking Bunsen burners and failed experiments and the write-up homework assignments which inevitably followed - "when we added magnesium to the copper compound mixture not a fucking thing happened".

Biology was the dictation equivalent of Scarface's "method". We would frantically copy down texts which the incredibly boring "Old Sprog" would read out to us, helpfully stopping after a sentence like, "the equivalent of the larynx in humans is known as the syrinx in birds" to spell "birds" for us, "B-I-R-D-S".

Now, just thinking about those two subjects and two teachers, I can feel my enthusiasm for science grow grey and dull.

Oh yeah, o-level chemistry - 6 (=scraped pass, 7 is fail); o-level biology - didn't even take it!

And don't get me started on MATHS!!

And yet at home I was, even as a kid, fascinated by science. I had all kinds of electronic kits and astronomy books...

The Radio 4 panel posed the question, "maybe it would be better at school and in other walks of life if people could just say 'I don't know'". For example if a politician could say, we don't know if these ideas will improve things so we'll do a pilot scheme and try them out.

Maybe it would be better, I don't know.

Saturday, July 03, 2010


Christopher Hitchins, a man I admire greatly, has been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. He is undergoing chemo-therapy but the prognosis for this particular type of cancer is not good.

Christopher Hitchins is a courageous. honest and exceptionally erudite individual; he writes in Vanity Fair - in fact he writes extremely well in Vanity Fair, has had several books published, notably 'God is Not Great', and is a powerful, persuasive and very witty speaker. His arguments are backed up with facts, evidence and a wealth of learning and whether you agree or disagree with the particlar point he might be making, he always provides you with something of substance to chew on.

Here is one of my favourite bits of Hitchins in action.

As you will have noticed, Christopher Hitchins also happens to be an outspoken atheist. Unlike for many other people, he was not a catalyst for me in this process - I had already reached the conclusion myself by the age of 13 or 14 that there almost certainly were no gods or goddesses running and ruling our universe, but Hitchins' honest appraisal of common conceptions has often opened up new perspectives for me and put some flesh on many of my inchoate thoughts and ideas.

So, Christopher Hitchins is an atheist and has been diagnosed with a pretty nasty kind of cancer.

The forums on the Internet have been filling up with comments and messages from the religous and non-religious with much compassion and sympathy, but sadly, and chillingly predictably, there have also been many comments from the religious which range from a kind of sugar-coated arrogance to the downright callous and inhuman. Comments I have read from Christians and Moslems and their kind move from pious, ill-concealed gleeful squeakings such as, "now the god Christopher Hitchins denies will welcome him into his arms", to the more callous arrogance of "let the god Christopher Hitchins denies now punish his pride", and the positively inhuman, "may his soul burn in eternity in the fires of hell along with all the other non-believers".

What a strange take these religious commentators have on their religions of peace and their gods of love.

(Edit: here is a good example of one of those categories above which I found on Pharyngula.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Back Home Tomorrow?

Supporting England is a pain! A 100% PAIN!!

Normally last night I would have been able to sit back and enjoy watching the abject Frogs get ushered out of the World Cup via the back door ...but the problem is that in a few hours the Hingerland doughnuts may also suffer a similar ignominious fate. This has severely dampened any upbubbling of Schadenfreude in my savage, neolithic, red-in-tooth-and-claw football supporter's breast.

What a drag!!

Anyway, England has up to now been totally clueless since the friendlies just before the WC. Earlier on, in the qualifiers, Capello had managed to get the lads to realise that the other players on the pitch in the same coloured shirts were the ones to pass to and that that rectangular thing with the net was wot yuz kick de ball into.

Suddenly they seem to have turned into something like those table football figures which just kick out in whatever direction they are facing if you bang them on the head. They are suffering from a strange form collective football amnesia; they seem to run out onto the pitch and look around in shock, "where are we?? Wots all dat green stuff on the floor? Wots dat round fing?"

Copious beer will be required for viewing today! (And deep down inside we just know that they are going to cock it up...arghhhhh!!)

Otherwise this World Cup has simply failed to ignite, in my opinion anyway, and I think the main reason for this is this incredibly irritating, hornet-noise producing, screaming fit-inducing vuvuzela. What kind of a loony invented that or came up with the idea of taking them into football stadiums.

The basic problem is that being a loud monotone it removes all the excitement from the football which you normally get from hearing the oohs and ahhs from the crowd. Basically it's the equivalent of watching the footy with the sound turned down...there are no highs or lows...just this awful depressing droning. Consequently I am finding it difficult to get involved in the games - definitely no FIFA fever.

So, just over 2 hours until the torture begins . . .

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Here We Go Again . . .

After a wonderful and relaxing interlude following Spain in the 2008 European Championship (due to Steve McClueless's Hingerland team not qualifying), when for the first time I saw how it might be to support an international team which could really play, it was back to workhouse bread and gruel yesterday.

England's opening game in the 2010 Word Cup against former colony USA.

Ho hum.

England start the game like Dervishes at a mad pace and within 5 minutes have scored an excellent goal. Amidst the cheering I heard myself saying, "too early, too early".

And indeed, Ferrari England turned into British Leyland Hingerland and clocked off for the rest of the first half. The USA, a solid and well-organised, motivated bunch, obligingly took over the game and deserved their equaliser. I will draw a veil of silence and sympathy over the details of their goal (except for mentioning that excuse number 1 from my previous post was indeed wheeled out to explain what had happened).

At least you know at half time our chaps are going to be faced with a wild Italian who is going to give them the bollocchio assoluto fortissimo they richly deserve and not some Steve McClownSchool touchy-feely false-grin palliative teleteubby hugginess. Capello must have done his Italian nutto at them, as they came out in the second half ablaze once again. But there was one big problem ...we had been mind-gamed by those pesky Americans who, although relatively new to football, know a thing or ten about the psychology of sport.

They had roundly announced in the media that they would try to provoke Rooney (our rather-too-provokable, fly-off-the-handle Shrek lookalike) with the intention of getting him red-carded. They then denied this of course, but proceeded in the game to police Rooney robustly. This meant that Rooney, who must have had the litany "don't get provoked" hammered into him in the previous days, couldn't summon the little bit of rage he would have needed to break free for fear of releasing the lot of rage and going over the top. A clever ruse by our upstart cousins from across the pond.

And so Hingerland clocked off once again around the 80 minute mark and settled - shamefully in my opinion - for a draw and a point.

On the positive side, the ITV 'experts' reminded us that England had drawn the first game in 1966 and in whatever year we got to the semi-final and so, therefore, England are going to win the World Cup!

Monday, June 07, 2010

World Cup Approaches

Maybe it's me, or maybe the build up's been low key - but the FIFA fever hasn't kicked in yet. Hmm, right now I just feel "World Cup, World Schmup".

Maybe I'm still disillusioned with Hingerland cos they failed to get into the European Championships in 2008. On the other handI have to admit I really enjoyed it as I was supporting Spain and it was amazing to support a team which played great football ...and actually won the bloody thing!

So, maybe it's because Hingerland did qualify...

The last couple of friendlies we played against Mexico and Japan were quite tremendously underwhelming - after a pretty good qualifying peformance the team seems to be reverting to the traditional "rabbit-headlight, what's-that-round-bouncy-thing, who-are those-guys-with-the-same-shirt-as-me mode" just in time for the finals.

In fact so far the most interesting thing has been the excuses which are being honed and polished by the commentators from Sky, BBC, ITV, etc, to explain any up and coming dismal games - some old excuses and some new ones:

1. The ball. Yes, the ball!!! They've gone and changed it so it performs perfectly and will benefit all the skillful players!!! Noooooooooooooooooooooooo....

2. The heat. Yes, the heat!!! It must be such a standard excuse that the 'experts' haven't yet noticed that it's winter in South Africa. Nooooooooooooooooooooooo...

3. The altitude. Yes, the altitude!!! The stadiums have all been built on hills!!!! Nooooooooooooo...

4. The homesickness. Yes, the homesickness!!! Some of these players have .. children, young children, and these players have been away from them for, oh, 3 days so far!!!! Noooooooooooooohoooooohoooooo...

Funny how the excuses apply exclusively the the English players ...anyway, we will be able to see if any of these excuses qualify for the semis or even the final.

So, this is the start of my coverage for 2010 - if you want to stroll along memory lane and read my coverage of 2006 then have a look here and then scroll to the posts from the end of May 2006...

Oh, and finally, for now, it is good to see on the BBC that the rules for the penalty shoot-outs have been amended. The penalty taker will not be able to do any feinting at the end of his run-up to fool the goalkeeper - and, so that English fans won't have to do any fainting, England players will now be allowed to take each penalty 3 times...

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Eurovision Pong Contest

...yes, yes, ok...I know it's my own fault...yes, I know ...I KNO-HOOOW...

I know, I know, I KNOW...!

Yes, I watched it, and yes, I know... IT IS MY OWN FAULT!!

I blinked ...I looked away...for a fraction of a second my guard was down and suddenly I was infected... infected by the bug here in Deepest Bavaria and in Germany generally ...the enthusiasm bug... Eurovision enthusiasm bug, let's just call it "Lena-and-Olaf-itis!

Long, long, LONG ago I vowed never to watch - or rather listen - to a Eurovision Pong Contest again. Ok, as a kid I was fascinated by Kathy Kirby's shiny lips as she belted out "I Belong" (only click on that link if you have extremely strong nerves) and thrilled to (I have to say the somewhat niffy-looking) Sandy Shaw's awful off-key rendition of "Puppet on a String" (see note in previous brackets) which actually WON!

My regard for the EPC started to go down rapidly in the following years when I started to realise how political the voting was (...frerm ze franch chury: Le Royaume-Uni ...ner pwans) and then started to realise (with a shock at my former cloth-earedness) how f***ing AWFUL the songs were...

Well, anyway, this year Germany had a song about cheering up a depressed Scandinavian - "Laugh Olaf" and I was swept along by the tide... so I watched... (yes, I KNOW!!!!)

Here's a look at the "songs"...

Cyprus: Going back to the roots - song in English, sung by some Welshman...
Ukraine: A young lass awfully upset about a massage...
Spain: Cods(how-could-a-country-choose-this)wallop about a circus...
Greece: Opa! Greek songwriting talents matching their economic abilities...
France: Allez, Allez, Ulay, Ulay, Oh-ee-oh-ee-oh... (written by a mobile phone)...
Iceland: Song sung by a volcano in human form...
UK: Josh's "That Sounds Good to Me" which obviously didn't sound good to anyone else...
Denmark: An unhealthy Police/ABBA hybrid...
Turkey: My Robot Has Sawn His Arm Off...
Russia: Band transported by a timewarp from 1972
Portugal: Mariah Carey for the destitute and a songwriter who went for lunch in the middle of the chorus...
Neverheardofthecountryania: Groan Groan, My Donkey has Colitis...


Germany: Cheer Up Olaf by pretty girl hopping spastically about the stage...

How could I fail to be hooked..?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Have You Ordered Yours Yet?

It's finally arrived, the product everyone has been waiting for over the last year, kept under wraps in the strictest security – Apple's latest breakthrough ...the iPud.

I was at the unveiling on Sunday and I managed t get my hands on one of the very first iPuds and I have to say I fell in love with it straight away. It's cool, it's stylish and it's tasty – and it's full of giga-bites.

You're all set to go in a jiffy ...just get it out of its pastry case and you're ready to iPud. For use when you're out and about there's a touch surface. Just touch the surface of your iPud with your finger ...put your finger in your mouth and your mouth if full of iPud! For more serious work you can also use Spoons. The iPud doesn't come with its own Spoon which I find a shame but the great thing is you can use pretty well any size of spoon from any provider and they are all compatible. They have completely done away with the mouse because it kept falling into the iPud and making a huge mess.

The response of the iPud is smooth and quick; compared to some of the other products on the market that's no trifling matter.
You can even have your MicroSoft cake and eat it too as Apple have made the iPud totally compatible with Windows. Just open the window and the glass doesn't get in the way any more.

Many experts scoffed when they first heard about the iPud ...well, now they well get their just desserts because the iPud is simply incr-edible.

Now I just can't wait for the release in the next months of the companion Apple iPie...yummy!

(Some of the iPud prototypes were stolen at the release ceremony but the thieves were caught and are now being held in custardy.)

Neutron note: apologies in advance for this nonsense - it was the product of a sleepless night at the weekend!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Well-hung Parliament

Aye, so none of the parties are going to get an absolute majority after the General Election in the UK.

So now all the weasly politicians come out from under their stones and start going back on all the nasty things they said about their opponents and all the strong promises they trumpeted before the election so that they can maybe just manage to cobble together some squalid deal after the election.

Same old story.

It would be nice though to keep a tally of how many times these two-faced smooth-talkers will use the expression "in the national interest" over the next few days.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

Quite Simply...

...cos I love this picture!

(Edit: Anji in the comments is right - should have said where this is! Just put "Formby Point" into Google Earth or Maps)
Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 09, 2010

In Nomine Humanitatis

I have been trying to avoid commenting on the stomach-churning revelations about child rape which have been oozing out all over Ireland, Germany and many other countries of the Holy Roman Empire.

Like many people I suppose I have been waiting for the top knobs (oh sorry) in the Roman Catholic Church to come out and make some kind of statement which is not just an incredibly insensitive attempt to suggest the Church is the victim - yes, victim - of some crazed media campaign or put the blame on the parents for taking so long to complain about what some horrific anti-example of moral virtue (i.e. a priest) did to their vulnerable children or blame celibacy or argue that this is simply homosexual abuse because some of the children were over 12 or simply muddy the waters by saying child rape happens in other organisations too, so it's ok or that the children were asking for it anyway, etc, etc.

So when I saw a comment on the Pharyngula website which had in quotation marks:

"Members of my church have abused their positions and perpetrated abhorrent, abusive crimes against young persons in my church's name. There is no way to excuse this, and these priests should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and excommunicated from the church. The church does not condone this behavior."

I thought - as you are probably also thinking, "WOW! Who was decent, brave and honest enough to come out and say that?? Where's the link to the article???"

Well, the comment simply continued:

Would that be so hard for anyone to say? Anyone? Donohue? Benedict? Nobody?

Silly me...

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Happy Διονύσια τὰ Μεγάλα!

It's the Great Dionysia, so nip down to ancient Athens (you will need to borrow the new Doctor's Tardis for this), catch a tragedy by Aeschylos or Euripides and a comedy from Aristophanes and then fill your wine-skins and go on a drunken revel.

Saturday, April 03, 2010


...hey the Doctor is back! Doctor? Doctor who? Doctor Who!

Just seen the newly regenerated Doctor (having been there from the very start with Doctor no.1) and I have to looks good. I can well imagine there will be a few episodes which will have to be watched from behind the couch.Link

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


You know how there are some mornings when you are glad to hear the alarm go off so that you can finally stop your desperate attempts to get to sleep...?

Do the birds of the air have the same problems sleeping? Do they tuck their heads under their wings and then metaphorically toss and turn all night, wondering where the next worm is going to come from?

When rosy-fingered dawn stains the eastern sky do they think, "oh bugger, more bloody tweeting - bloody dawn chorus..."?

Ho hum.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Belated Happy Paddy's Day Wishes

I will assume you all realised it was St Patrick's Day (patron saint of Irish pub owners) yesterday.

This is how I celebrated it:

05.30 - yes, a.m. - alarm rings. I creak out of bed, mumbling foul curses under my breath.

05.45 - 06.15 - slumped over coffee and muesli, peering bleary-eyed at the laptop.

06.30 - drive to a company whose engineers insist that 07.30 is a great time for an English lesson (they all get up at ridiculous times like 4 in the morning which they see as a badge of honour instead of what it really is - total insanity!)

07.30 - first student arrives, followed swiftly by the rest. I "teach" them.

08.30 - drive back home to pick up TM and take her to work.

11.00 - back in aforementioned company doing some translation before "teaching" the next group.

13.00 - feeling totally knackered, eyes starting to droop catastrophically. I discover I have nodded off in the middle of scrolling a page of text.

14.00 - a student arrives, followed swiftly etc etc. They tell me about the engines they are working on... this induces in me rolly-eye syndrome.

15.30 - they leave, more translation.

17.00 - pick up TM and drive home.

18.00 - jump on my bike an cycle into Munich for the sound check.

18.30 - arrive at Kilians Irish Pub; it's totally packed with drunken, dancing, shouting Irish and other assorted nationalities.

18.45 - abandon attempts to do sound check, the public is just too loud.

18.50 - EAT for the first time since the long digested muesli!

20.00 - 01.15 diddly -for example - plus copious amounts of excruciating feedback thanks to abandoned soundcheck.

01.30 - fight my way through admiring fans to the back of pub where I have an urgent appointment with an Augustiner.

01.36 - that magnificent and incomparable first Schluck - glug glug. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...

01.40 - 03.30 - get better acquainted with the finer points of this wonderful beer. During this time I got talking to an American marine on the next table - they can be scary people. This guy had been in Afghanistan and Iraq. He made a machine gun shooting gesture and said "ah shucks, we only do it for the paycheck". At that moment my daughter came in and started telling us about one of the guys at the pub who is on holiday - in Vietnam. I did a throat cut gesture to stop her, I leaned over to her and rolling my eyes in the direction of the marine said "don't mention Vietnam - I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it".

03.45ish - pub closes and ejects the stunned and dazed leftover rabble into the sweet fresh air in Frauenplatz.

03.55ish - I climb onto my bike and cycle home with a noticeable touch of the slalom.

04.30 - home. Quick cuppa and...

04.50 - bed.

Didn't quite manage the full 24 hours but it was a brave attempt.

Sunday, March 07, 2010


I met someone from Siberia yesterday (more about that later) - I don't know if there's a connection but look at this temperature:

That's here in Deepest Bavaria, by the way. There's snow outside too...

(UPDATE: This morning it's -16°C. I may have to write in and complain.)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

O2 and Hot Air

Having spent hours on the O2 website trying and failing miserably to work out which tariff would be the best for me and what it would cost, how many free minutes here and smses there and so on and so forth, I decided to pop into the local O2 shop instead and see if a human could enlighten me.

I put my faithful old mobile down on the counter and said I wanted a new tariff.

The human didn't reply - he was too busy staring in wonder or perhaps disbelief at my mobile (ok, it was disbelief). Yes, it is old and yes, you can't see the numbers any more and yes I do need a fair amount of guesswork when I am writing an sms (I find it's best not to look or even think about where the letters may be - my fingers seem to know by themselves, if I don't interfere).

Rousing himself, the human asked me what tariff I had at the moment.

I said, "O2 Select".

If he thought that my mobile had been one of a pair which had been invited on board the ark, he clearly felt that my tariff extended back to one Planck length after the Big Bang.

It seems that O2 Select is ancient, it predates O2 even.

Anyway, I now have no basic monthly fee and only pay for the calls I make. Walking back through the pale March sunshine I was looking at how many people were carrying on conversations on their mobile phones. How many of these conversations were really necessary and how many consisted of people basically just telling each other where they were at that moment and when they would be somewhere else?

I remember as a kid hearing some cynic say that one day they will charge us for the air that we breathe and although we haven't yet got to that point, they do seem at least to have found a way to charge us for our hot air.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Value for Money

I think I may have mentioned a few times in the course of this blog that I am proud of my children... inordinately proud... perhaps even unhealthily proud...

Be that as it may, I am rather proud of Nick, Bid, Jimmy and William.

Anyway, this evening it was Biddy's turn. She had a vernissage at Movimento a private culture centre in the heart of Munich, within the context of a classical concert put on by some old friends of the family. Her artwork provided the visual backdrop for the evening.

Unfortunately, being in total "d'oh" daddy mode, I completely forgot to get out the camera I had deliberately taken along and consequently have no photos of her work to show. But it was dead good!

On drunken evening last year, while I was out and about with the Irish folk band I play in, Paul (who also has 4 kids) and I worked out how much it costs to have, and bring up a child. It turned out to be some horrendously large amount... BUT - and here I hope that all parents agree with me - it's worth every bleeding penny.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Radio Stars

So, for those of you who missed it, here is that previously mentioned interview.

Bayern 1 talks to The BOTTLES

Should you have problems understanding it, don't adjust your sets - it may be because it's in German!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

On't Radio Tomorrow Actually...

(...see below)

The interview will be on tomorrow, Sunday at 13.15 (CET) here:

Friday, February 19, 2010

On't Radio

It's a busy old life.

I have to go off in a mo for an interview on Bavarian radio (Bayern 1) - they are having a competition to find the best Beatles tribute/cover band in Bavaria and as one of my bands - The BOTTLES - is that very thing we have entered!

The radio station phoned yesterday and said they loved the mp3, could we go in for an interview... so, in a while we will be fighting through the screaming fans in front of the Bayerische Rundfunk Building in downtown Munich - then off for a pint afterwards I think...

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Snowflake Terrorist Attack on Airport

This and 75 similarly disguised terrorists attacked Manchester Airport yesterday causing planes to be grounded, diverted and finally closing down the airport completely. NeutronNews was our on the spot eye-witness:
“I saw the terrorists parachuting down at Manchester's Ringway Airport... they immediately took up strategic positions on the runways and brought traffic to a standstill. Make no mistake – these were professionals.”

I left Liverpool at 2 to catch my EasyJet flight from Manchester to Munich at 5. Boarding card already printed out – no rush, no stress. Drove gently along the M57, M62, M6, M56 through air which contained about 1 snowflake per cubic metre. Arrived at 3, dropped off the rented car and went to return the key.

“I hope you get off the ground before they close the airport!” said the rep at the Sixt counter. I thought she was joking.

I went through passport control, was NOT selected for body-scanning (maybe they thought so much body would overheat the scanner), so consequently suffered the boots off, belt off, trouser clutching hopping and hobbling and went through to the departure lounge.

At around 4.30 Manchester Airport was “snow-closed” due to the aforementioned band of snowflakes. Now, I think EasyJet is fine if you just book your ticket online, print your own boarding card, catch the plane and get off at your destination. The problem is when something goes wrong. Then they start to operate their zero-information-shoulder-shrug policy. It becomes Don'tAskMeasyJet.

There was an announcement that the airport had been snow-closed but on the monitor my flight was still “boarding in 45 minutes”, then “boarding in 30 min”, “15 min”, “5 min”. Suddenly at half four the monitor said, “next information at 17.00”. Ten minutes later it said, “next information at 18.00”. Then at 17.00 there was an announcement over the tannoy... “passengers for EasyJet flight xxx to Munich, please proceed to gate 50. This is the final call”!!

General panic naturally ensued and in minutes there was a crowd of people milling around gate 50.

“Passengers for EasyJet flight xxx to Munich please proceed to gate 55. This is the final call.”
Imagine if the Olympic 200 metres had 150 runners all of whom had to wear winter style clothes, hats and gloves and had to carry or pull rucksacks and cases and who had to run along a track full of obstacles like asymmetrically laid out seating, random passengers guarding suitcases and push-chairs. Bang! And off they go... clatter, clatter, elbow, elbow, stumble, stumble.

Bugger that! I strolled to gate 55 to find (as experience had shown me) everyone who had pushed past now waiting there instead of where they had been waiting before. Smugity smug.

It was nice to feel smug again as I had been feeling less than smug before due to the sweatshirt jacket I was wearing (and which is my favourite and which I wear all the time). It's dark blue and has the logo MÜNCHEN in big white letters over the chest. I like it, it looks good... but in this particular situation, waiting for a plane to that very same München, it did make me feel like some mentally challenged doughnut who needed to have his destination stamped on his clothes in case he forgot where he was bound – duuh.

Anyway, a rumour, started by the EasyJet staff using telepathy, got whispered around that the incoming flight had started its approach 5 minutes after the airport had been closed and had been diverted. We would be transferred to the airport where our plane had landed and then fly to Munich.

So, come on, name that airport! Yes, you got it in one.

Next, smoke signals from the EasyJet staff informed us that the coach which was to take us to the airport was delayed on the motorway due to the “snow”. Finally we were Ouija-boarded that the coach had arrived.

And at 8, six hours after I had left, I was back in Liverpool, yes indeed, our plane had been diverted to Liverpool Airport. Nice to be back.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Search Me..

In the news today they revealed that Manchester Airport has installed 2 new body scanners for security. Not satisfied with making you remove your belts, boots and other paraphernalia, they will now select passengers at random for a full body scan - and anyone who refuses will not be allowed to fly.

I don't mind the belt and boot stuff - it's just such a bugger putting everything back on again whilst trying to grab your bags and move all your luggage and clothes and shoes out of the way of the next hopping, hobbling passengers. My right boot is a particular nuisance - every time I struggle to pull it on, I find myself singing that chorus of Lonnie Donegan's song "My Old Man's a Dustman" referring to his dad's old boots, "he's got such a job to pull them up that he calls them daisy roots", so there I am hopping, hobbling, trying to put my belt on before my trousers fall down, trying to carry my bag and jacket while tugging on my right boot and getting pushed over by the less boot-pulling-on-challenged passengers and singing to myself that bloody song...

Now, I actually started writing this post to complain and ask you in an ironic, eye-rolling way if you wanted to bet who would get "randomly selected" at Manchester Airport when I fly on Wednesday, but having thought about the boot problem I think I might just volunteer for a body scan. As they have 2 of them, they should just about be able to fit me in...

(What? Put on avoirdupois? Moi????)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Low Spirits

Is this SAD or what...? Click here for the rest ...

Spring Squallifications

Amidst the squally showers and blinding winter sun, I thought I had spotted something momentous in the garden (actually, the neighbour's garden). Is it me or are there little pink buds on these branches above the greenhouse?

Surely spring has not yet sprung?

Out of bleary eyes I saw pinkish sort of things from the window and had a look with a little telescope (yeah, seriously), it's just too squally and cold to go out and have a look.

Anyhow, "squally" is my word of the week. It's pure Radio 4 Shipping Forecast - and you know how I love Radio 4. Hearing words like that restores my faith in the English people's ability to speak their language. This faith has been shaken a couple of times in the last few days by a plethora of "sikthes" - one of my pet hates - and was almost demolished completely when I heard an interview with the headmaster of a public school talking about quotas for university places and how any system of quotas could be demotivationising. I wish people wouldn't do that. Given that I listen mostly when I am driving, it could have a highly destabilisationising effect on my driving and could lead to me destructionising the car and maybe even decapitationising any passing pedestrianationers.

Squally showers, squally showers, squally showers... ah, that's better.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This REALLY Sucks...

This is Darth Vader's hoover...

It is really rather good - it makes a StarWars sort of sound too as it whines and dines on the dirt.

The dust cap is nicely booby-trapped so that when you click on the button to open it and try to lift the flap off at the top, you discover that the flap is actually at the bottom and all the gunge inside has now fallen out onto your foot!

Unless, of course, you have some Yedi foreknowledge and empty it outside in the blustery wind - in this case the gunge gets blown all over you.

In the review I read one person complained that it didn't work very well - I find that totally undustified.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Happy Birthday Jimmy!

Another of my children puts childish and teenagerish things behind him and turns overnight into an adult. This picture is from 17 and a half years ago and I don't think he can still pick his nose with his toe!
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cooler than Cool

There's a handy little feature on the Ubuntu desktop which tells you what the local weather is like. It saves looking out of the window.

Right now though it is telling me that it is -10°c (= some bloody cold temperature in Fahrenheit) outside but the 11.1 km/hour wind from the east makes it feel like -15.6°C (= an even bloody colder temperature in Fahrenheit). That's not so cool... or rather it's too cool. Cooler than cool... f***in' freezin'.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Rather Cool

I know my fellow Angles and Saxons are freezing, getting snowed into pubs, suffering delays in travel, etc, etc due to the couple of inches of snow that have fallen over there but it has provided us with a most tremendous satellite picture of a snow-bound GB which is breathtaking!

Walking on frozen clouds...

(Thanks to Phil Plait for spotting it)

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010


I have mentioned elsewhere (here and here) that I don't do New Year's Resolutions as a result of being far too irresolute but this could almost be regarded as resolutionary. I ordered this sort of desk-chest-of-drawers thing hoping that it would help me reduce the chaos which is my 'office'. It came just before Xmas and I was going to enlist Biddy to help me assemble it, knowing that her calm patience would be needed as normally putting these things together drives me bonkers.

Unfortunately, this was not to be, mainly because I completely forgot about it all over the holidays.

They look so neat and tidy in the box, these things ... but then you slit open the flap and out comes ... chaos. This is the part I hate - all these bits of wood and packaging and screws and strange plastic nobbly things strewn around in irreducible complexity and a page or two of badly printed instructions which seem to bear no relation to the contents of the box. At this point I get a hopeless sinking feeling in my stomach and usually go and make coffee or get a beer, depending on the time of day, with images in my head of Homer Simpson building his Bar-B-Q.

However, this was not an IKEA chaos (I ordered the 'thing' from the very prompt and reliable Office Discount who deliver the next day and give you four weeks to pay and don't even get nasty when you forget to pay which I invariably do). So without too much shouting and swearing, assembling and disassembling because the bits are back to front, futile searching for missing screws and shouting and swearing, I ended up with this! Order from chaos.

Now I just have to decide which pieces of chaos to fill the drawers with...

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