Shoestring reloaded

Watching television programmes remembered from my childhood can sometimes be a dispiriting experience. ITV3’s endless repeats of On the Buses is a reminder that terrible sitcoms were made long before Mrs Brown’s Boys. Many 1970s drama serials really haven’t stood the test of time either. The Persuaders is cringe-making, sexist tosh. The Professionals seems rather more amateurish than professional. Even Blake’s 7, which I watched religiously through the static on an expiring black and white television, is mostly unwatchable.

However, some real gems were made. Which brings me to Shoestring. I suspect that this series was largely responsible for my later desire to become a radio presenter, a fantasy that I was able to inflict on my university friends courtesy of W963. I recently bought the newly-released 21 episode DVD and book. I’m pleased to report that it’s been an entirely positive experience rediscovering the series. Even though I’d bought the first 11 episodes some years ago on an earlier DVD release, Andrew Pixley’s book alone is almost worth the £40 outlay.

170 pages long, it consists of an in-depth history of the series, plus an episode by episode guide to the cast, music, script quirks, shooting locations … everything you could possibly want to know. The front cover (pictured) is a pastiche of an actual Radio Times cover from October 1980.

Shoestring cover

As I’ve watched the DVD, I’ve inevitably found myself gasping at how much the world has changed since 1979/80 when the programmes were made. For example, all cars seemed to be incredibly badly made. I wince every time someone closes a door as it seems certain that such a rash act will bend the chassis. Computers (such as the CEGB‘s filmed for the Utmost Good Faith episode) had punched cards for input, filled whole air-conditioned rooms, but had less computing power than the Raspberry Pi I’m writing this blog post on.

However, it’s the final episode – The Dangerous Game – which confirms to me that Shoestring really was from an era that is long gone. In it we see:

  • Eddie having a conversation outside a Berni Inn.
  • Re-usable paper Christmas decorations and fake spray-on snow in shop windows.
  • A cafe with a green “We Accept Luncheon Vouchers” sticker in the window.
  • A local radio station that was genuinely local, with a substantial staff of telephonists, DJs and its own newsroom.
  • A dangerous electrical toy race track, shown (in three separate scenes) as requiring a three-pin plug to be wired up before it could be used.
  • A holiday cottage that needed ten pence coins to feed the electricity meter.

The plot turns on the last two points. Because of this, it’s a story that couldn’t be told the same way in 2017. So I’m stopping now to set myself up a Shoestring playlist on my cloud-based, wireless music centre that came with a moulded three-pin plug. Sadly, I won’t be needing any punched cards.


Inspired by the Post40Bloggers writing prompt #38 – The Good Old Days.

Why I love being in the bottom 10 percent

I went for a PET/CT scan a few days ago to see how my lymphoma was progressing. I’m used to the process now, as it’s the fourth time I’ve had one since my diagnosis in 2014.

After I’d checked in and the formalities were over, I was given an injection of a radiotracer. This contains glucose, and as cancerous cells use sugar more quickly than normal cells the radiotracer concentrates in them, enabling the scanner to detect abnormalities. The scan takes place an hour after the injection and I enjoy saying that being scanned is like being on a slowly moving photocopier.

PET/CT scanners work by detecting the radiotracer at multiple levels (slices) through the body, which are then combined into a false colour 3D image. Affected lymph nodes show up in a lurid green colour. It looks a little bit like the colour of Spiderman’s blood.

Afterwards, you remain slightly radioactive for a few hours. I was glad that I didn’t turn into Spiderman (I hate heights), but I was disappointed that the process didn’t confer me with crime-fighting superpowers.

Embed from Getty Images

Today was results day. The scan showed that while the disease has progressed over the last year – more lymph nodes in my neck are abnormal and the ones that were already affected have become larger – everything else is remaining stable enough for me to stay on watch and wait until the New Year at the very least. Which is excellent news.

My consultant tells me that I’m in the bottom 10 percent when it comes to progression speed for MCL.

I’ve spent my whole life trying to be in the top 10 percent of things – and preferably, as Brian Clough once put it, being in the top 1.

But for MCL I’ll happily make an exception. I’ve never been so pleased to be told that I’m in the bottom 10 percent for anything.

Gnu gets a rear light upgrade

With the light getting gloomier as winter draws in, my decision to fit a pair of LED rear light clusters to the Seven looks like it was an excellent idea. The ones I’ve bought are from Just Add Lightness. I pre-ordered them in mid-September and they arrived, very well packaged in reams of bubble wrap, earlier on this week.

LED lights

The lights with all of the bubble wrap removed. The standard factory supplied flasher relay on a 2016 270 doesn’t work with these lights.

Even with my (very limited) mechanical skills, removing the existing light clusters and fitting the new ones took me just over an hour. Most of that time was spent fiddling with the plug and grommet (removing the old one and then fitting the new) in the narrow gap between the side of the car and the fuel tank. The rest of the procedure was simple, as even I can manage to use a screwdriver.

Half fitted

Half fitted

Left vs Right

Left side with the original incandescent bulbs; right hand side with LEDs. The tail light and brake light (not lit in this picture) are noticeably brighter


The finished job

While I was doing the work, I also figured out how the wiring works for a high level brake light. I’ve decided that will be my next upgrade.

Update 11/11/2017 – egg on face time.

I am (or rather, was) a software engineer. I know that you should always test for every possible combination you can think of before you say that something definitely works. I found out today that I hadn’t done my testing very well! Sadly, the standard flasher unit fitted to the 270 doesn’t work well with these indicators – unless you happen to have the hazards on – which is how I’d done my testing yesterday. I realised this as soon as I first indicated to turn right this afternoon.

Quickly heading back to my garage, the WIPAC flasher unit that I’d ordered as a precaution at the same time as the lights didn’t fix the problem. In fact it was worse, as the indicators didn’t work at all rather than simply flashing at a comically high-speed. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the current Caterham owners’ manual doesn’t tell you where this relay is located on the 270 (although I did eventually manage to find it in the fuse box – it’s the bottom of four relays in there).

I’ve now ordered the RDX relay instead (after a trip to the local motor spares emporium failed to turn up anything that might work) and so have my fingers crossed that it will sort the issue.

Update 14/11/2017 – sorted!

The RDX relay did the trick. Thank you to Just Add Lightness for the very prompt processing of this order. It means Gnu and I will be back on the road again this weekend, weather permitting.

RDX relay

The RDX relay in situ – fourth and last relay down from the top in the 270’s fuse box

Ask the government to re-open the Dubs scheme

In an idle moment this evening I was browsing through the forgotten petitions on the last few pages of the parliamentary site. In among all of the authoritarian, dangerous, nationalist and sundry other nonsense (for example, “Make people pass a politics test before they can vote”, “Ban cyclists from the road and allow them on the pavement” and “Make Northumberland Scottish land”) I came across a remarkably well drafted petition with (at the time of writing) only 28 signatures.

Re-open the DUbs scheme petitionThis petition seems worthwhile signing to me and I hope that it reaches the first page very soon.

The author of the petition is a Tim Farron. I think I may have heard this name somewhere before …

Cine film of Riber Castle and Zoo, August 1969

As a follow-up to my last post, here’s a cine film taken by my father of a family visit to Riber Zoo on 30th August 1969. The castle building appears to be in a state of complete ruin – very different to how it appears now. By today’s standards, the zoo seems rather too cramped for the animals. The safety precautions for visitors also seemed lax, as evidenced by my brother sat on one of the enclosure walls at about 25 seconds in. There’s also a makeshift “These animals are very dangerous” sign 72 seconds in. However, the only thing I really remember about this visit was the unpleasant smell of the place.

Riber Zoo August 1969 from Tim Holyoake on Vimeo.

The visit took place as we were caravanning nearby at the Derbyshire Caravan Club’s Bank Holiday rally. Here’s the information sheet from the event. This has survived because my father kept a detailed log book of all of the caravan outings we had as a family between 1967 and 1976.

Derbyshire Caravan Club Rally - Information Sheet - Bank Holiday 1969

And finally, no log book entry would be complete without his own notes. I especially like the note of the routes taken to and from the rally. There’s also a very short cine clip of the hot air balloon seen at Crich in the archive.

Diary entry September 1969

Riber Castle, Derbyshire

The view from Lickpenny Lane, Ashover this morning. Riber Castle is visible just above the driver’s side front wheel. I remember it as a regular school and cub-scout trip destination in the 1970s. In those days, the ruins of John Smedley’s former home was home to a rather depressing zoo. The zoo closed at the turn of the millennium. More recently, Riber Castle has been the subject of a long running redevelopment project to convert it into apartments.

The view towards Riber Castle and the Heights of Abraham

Father of the bride – my speech

Saturday 7th October was an amazing day.

wedding order of service

As is traditional, I delivered the fourth best speech of the day. Here’s (approximately) what I said.

Marriages, like births, signal new beginnings.

When Emily was born, one of my most vivid memories (apart from being useless in the delivery room) was collecting her and Jane from the hospital, driving them home, and wondering how good at parenting we were going to be. It felt a little overwhelming.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry too much, because despite my many shortcomings as a parent, Emily and I were both fortunate to have Jane in charge.

Today is another new beginning. I hope that Emily and Ben aren’t feeling too overwhelmed by it all!

I’m proud to call Emily my daughter. She has many, many excellent qualities.

One of these is her geekiness. Her love of science fiction, her Tardis themed 21st birthday cake and of all things Buffy for example. Her plays “wot she wrote” about being marooned in space, the perils of social media and her latest play, coming to a theatre near you soon, about the computing pioneer Ada Lovelace.

And even, yes even, Pokemon. (sigh) She shares this “interest” with Ben of course. I trust that this is a good thing? I still remember taking Emily and her sister to watch “Pokemon the Movie” at the cinema some years ago. It’s a morning of my life that I’ll *never* get back.

But I think the quality that stands out for me most is her determination. It was evident at an early age – her catchphrase as a small child was, of course, “My do it!”

This determination stayed with her throughout school, university and continues to serve her well today. Emily is not afraid to challenge the status quo and call things out when they’re wrong or an injustice is being committed. I hope that she continues to do this – it’s an incredible strength.

And what can I say about Ben?

Well, it’s been a genuine privilege to get to know him. Especially over this summer, when he lodged with us for a couple of months – while he was claiming to be a time-travelling gardener at Chatsworth House, no less. I understand that he was able to offer some good advice to the Duke and Duchess, even if the location of our lawnmower remained a permanent mystery to him throughout his stay.

Seriously though, it was good to have you staying with us and both Jane and I know that you and Emily will continue to make a great team together. We’ll both be there to offer our love and support along the way.

Thank you all for coming to take part in this special day.

I’d like to especially thank everyone who has helped to make this day possible and for your individual contributions of time and resources. It’s been great to meet your family and friends, Ben, as well as catching up with ours. It genuinely means a lot to Jane and me to see everyone here.

I have one duty left to perform. If you could all please stand for the toast …

Emily and Ben, I wish you both health and happiness for the future.

My toast is “To the Bride and Groom”.

Emily and Ben

Emily and Ben (Image by Lucy James Photography)

It’s Lymphatic Cancer Awareness Week 2017

This week (11-17 September 2017) is Lymphatic Cancer Awareness Week – and there’s lots you can do to get involved. In the UK, someone is diagnosed with lymphoma every 28 minutes. It’s the fifth most common cancer type, but one of the least well understood. The graphic shows five common symptoms of lymphoma. If you are worried, please make an appointment to talk to your doctor. I’m glad that I did three years ago and happy to still be here to ask others to do the same if they feel at all concerned.

Lymphatic Cancer Awareness Week 2017

Five common symptoms of Lymphoma

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