Old Timmy’s Almanac 2019

After my 100% non-success rate last year, I’ve wiped the Christmas pudding from my crystal ball again in the hope that this time it will be different. Let us, in the words of Her Majesty, practice goodwill to all in 2019 and keep our fingers firmly crossed. Old Timmy’s Almanac is your essential guide to the new year once more.

January

Ignoring the Queen’s Christmas message, Prime Minister Theresa May has all MPs who oppose her EU withdrawal bill (the best possible deal ever, trust me, I have an honest face™) locked up in the Tower of London. The bill passes by 3 votes to nil, with the support of former Lib Dem MP Stephen Lloyd. The third vote in favour is that of Jeremy Corbyn, who insists that he is still playing the long game.

February

Jacob Rees-Mogg organises a daring escape attempt from the Tower of London, supported by his ERG chums. Climbing onto the wall above the Traitor’s Gate, he persuades them that half a dozen British ravens will fly them all to safety in an empty Fortnum and Mason hamper. As they all get in, the ravens decide that it’s probably best to vacate the tower and leave the country to its fate.

March

In the manner that has been typical of her premiership, Theresa May forgets to get royal assent for her EU withdrawal bill. The UK crashes out of the EU at 11pm on the 29th. Big Ben bongs once and then collapses into the Thames in embarrassment.

April

Jeremy Corbyn joins the Conservatives saying that he misses being in a mad Bolshevik party. Corbyn supporters on twitter tell Conservatives that don’t like this move to go and join the Labour Party, socialist s*** that they obviously are.

May

Derby County fail to be promoted to the Premier League yet again.

June

In an attempt to deal with increasing shortages of everything, Chris Grayling awards transportation contracts to an air freight company with no aeroplanes, a haulage company with no trucks, and a ferry operator with no ships. (Not the last one, that’s far too improbable. Perhaps a train operator with no trains? Ed.)

Brexit air freight
Brexit air freight

July

Using a little known parliamentary tactic, Jacob Rees-Mogg seizes control of the government. Theresa May heaves a huge sigh of relief as she is sent to the tower. His first act as prime minister is to introduce tax relief for families employing more than three nannies and to declare Latin the official language of parliament.

August

Jacob Rees-Mogg is ousted through a no-confidence vote of Conservative MPs. Parliament votes for a six month recess. The country immediately starts to recover a little from the privations of Brexit. Supermarket shelves are now stocked with exciting new British foods, but strictly rationed by a beta app which only works on Blackberry handsets. Government Digital Services (GDS) promise to release a beta for the Nokia 3310 soon.

September

Frank Lampard is sacked as Derby County manager. In a surprise move, Mel Morris appoints Jacob Rees-Mogg in his place. Nottingham Forest supporters rejoice, until Theresa May is appointed their manager the following day. In an unprecedented show of unity, Derby and Forest fans threaten to blockade the A52 until both are removed.

October

Rees-Mogg and May are sacked. Derby fans cheer the reappointment of Billy Davies as their manager, while Nottingham Forest fans are overcome with joy at the return of Steve McLaren.

November

Formula E remains almost watchable. The World Feed commentator now understands what a yellow flag is for. However, he has to consult his co-commentator as to the meaning of the “lovely black and white square patterned one”.

December

Professional MasterChef is won by George, a sous-chef at the Spoon and Gammon. His main course of rat three ways (carpaccio, sous-vide and boiled) with flowers that might not be too poisonous and a mud jus is praised by the judges. As the credits roll, we learn that William Sitwell, food critic and former Waitrose Food magazine editor, is finally out of hospital after an unfortunate incident with a turnip during knockout week.

Terminus

One of my Christmas Day highlights (*) was seeing John Schlesinger’s film Terminus for the first time in many years. A 33 minute short produced by British Transport Films, it documents a day at Waterloo Station in 1961. I remember being forced to watch and write about the film on a number of occasions at school. Making comparisons between the hive of bees at the start of the film and the people rushing around the station was an obvious one, even for a bored teenager.

Terminus felt it belonged to a bygone era when I first watched it, although only 16 years would have elapsed since it had been made. The railways of today seem much closer to those of 1977, even if the internet has superseded telephone timetable enquiries. After all, I still sometimes travel to London on a 1970s InterCity 125.

There’s a short clip of the film below featuring a disturbing (but staged) incident of a lost child. The full film is available for free on the BFI Player.

 

(*) Talking Pictures TV showed the film yesterday, but I didn’t watch it until this morning.

Transplant +98: The beast is soundly asleep and snoring

After a rather sleepless night, there was excellent news from the hospital this morning. I have almost normal blood again and there was no evidence of lymphoma on my PET/CT scan. In January I will start on maintenance rituximab injections, every two months for three years.

Next step - rituximab maintenance chemotherapy for 3 years and a return to being a productive member of society.
Next step – rituximab maintenance for 3 years and a return to being a productive member of society.

It’s not beaten, because MCL never is. However, the beast is soundly asleep and snoring ™ (*) which means I can return to being a productive member of society. I’m starting to feel good about myself again.

Thank you all for your support during 2018. And if you have any spare cash after Christmas, I’m certain that Lymphoma Action could make good use of it.

I am not defined by my scars, but by my incredible ability to heal

 

(*) Thanks Gail!

Transplant +97: Nervous times

In January, when I knew that chemotherapy for my lymphoma was certain, I wrote the beast is awake. Tomorrow I meet with my consultant to review the results from my recent PET/CT scan and blood tests.

I’m feeling rather nervous, but hoping that I can declare that the beast is asleep. A move to the final box on this sheet would be very welcome news.

MCL front line treatment pathway
MCL front line treatment pathway. Spot the typos!

I certainly feel good in myself, but I have the ‘relapse pathway’ printed out and ready, just in case. I’m hopeful that I won’t need to use it for a long time.

Formula E is now almost watchable

I saw the first Formula E race of the 2018/19 season last weekend. I’ve watched parts of races in previous seasons, but it’s always felt unwatchable due to the limitations of the cars. The new Gen2 cars are a significant advance on the original ones as the battery life is sufficient to last the whole race (45 minutes, plus a lap). No more mid-race car changes. The cars are also significantly faster, with a claimed top speed of 174mph.

Embed from Getty Images

Close racing is more likely than in Formula 1 as the cars are largely standard. However, as far as I can work out, the powertrains and software aren’t, leaving room for innovation. One innovation I’d love to see is a change to the noise that the cars make. They sound dreadful – like a drill with the wrong bit working its way through plastic. I assume that the annoying lift music used during replays is the broadcaster’s attempt to mask the sound.

Even with the new cars it’s a complicated and frustrating formula to watch. One gimmick – the so-called fan boost – gives a few seconds of additional power to five drivers. The fortunate five are selected by the viewers and to my mind this has no place in competitive motor sport. However, fan boost didn’t seem to give much advantage to the lucky drivers. F1 exile and fan boost beneficiary Stoffel Vandoorne demonstrated that he didn’t need a McLaren to run around at the back of the pack. Felipa Massa also suffered two retrospective penalties for using it incorrectly.

Other penalties (drive throughs – but not always) for technical infringements concerning energy use during the race were liberally applied and poorly explained to the viewer. There’s no question that these penalties affected the result of the race in Ad Diriyah, won eventually by Antonio Da Costa.

The other main gimmick – the attack zone – is better thought out and is a genuine test of a driver’s racecraft. By going off-line at one part of the track, the maximum power of the car is increased for four minutes. Drivers must go through the attack zone twice in a race, so timing is everything. One driver managed to lose a place while trying (but failing) to go through the zone; another activated it at the start of a safety car period.

Eurosport’s race presentation (using the FIAs world feed) was mostly dire, with the honourable exception of Dario Franchitti’s contributions. His co-commentator was generally poor. At one point he even seemed confused as to whether cars could pass each other under a yellow flag. Cameras often failed to follow the action and cut away just when something interesting was happening. The less said about Vernon Kay the better, but your mileage may vary I suppose.

The next race is on January 12th in Marrakesh. On balance I shall give Formula E another chance.

A hostage to fortune

I’m not necessarily known for the accuracy of my predictions. But having watched the coverage from Downing Street this morning while trying not to utter too many expletives, here’s my latest hostage to fortune.

I expect Theresa May to win the confidence vote tonight, with around 75-80 of her colleagues voting against her.

Not that it changes anything if she does win. It is all a self-indulgent side-show while the country burns – taking Derby with it. I hope that every member of the Conservative party is feeling a deep sense of shame.

The spectre of a “May’s Deal” or “No Deal” referendum

After this afternoon’s debacle in the Commons, I’m certain that the Prime Minister is trying to run the clock down towards March 29th 2019 so that MPs will have to eventually vote for her deal or risk crashing out of the EU with no deal at all. At the same time I think she’s trying to engineer a personal backstop of a new referendum, should her continuing attempts to blackmail MPs not work. However, I’m convinced that should a Theresa May inspired referendum happen, it would be of the ludicrously high-stakes “my deal or crash out with no deal” kind.

I don’t know how I’d vote in such a referendum. Actively voting for “no deal” is easy to rule out. I want politicians to stop wasting time on Europe, and focus on mending the rifts in our society, tackling poverty and promoting opportunity for all. I’d quite like my cancer drugs, food and power supplies to carry on uninterrupted next year. I want my 33+ years of pension savings to be worth something in retirement.

But to willingly vote for her xenophobic deal which ends free movement and reduces the life chances of everyone in the UK? I think – maybe – I’d prefer to spoil my ballot paper. I can’t decide at the moment if that would be the principled thing to do – or merely stupid. It’s a decision I never want to be forced to make.

A year ago (almost to the day) I wrote:

Kicking the can down the road
The Brexit can is still being kicked. We are all in it together. It’s about to go over the cliff edge with us to our collective doom.

Unless, of course, sane MPs on all sides of the house show some backbone and start to work together. They need either to cancel Brexit by withdrawing our article 50 notification, or ask the electorate to take that decision for them.

As we’re a parliamentary democracy, the first course of action should be the preferred one.

Cine film of grasstrack motorcycle racing, Hopwell Hall, 1951

I recently found a couple of Pathescope films shot by my father in the early 1950s. The more interesting one is of grasstrack motorcycle racing in September 1951.

Pathescope is a 9.5mm cine film format with the sprocket hole in the centre. It was introduced in 1922 and was most popular with amateur film-makers in France and the UK. Pathescope Limited was the subject of a workers’ buyout in 1959, but went bankrupt in 1960. In a precursor to the VHS/Betamax wars of the 1980s, an arguably superior format fell to the greater marketing muscle of Kodak and the far wider range of suppliers supporting the 8mm standard. The very late introduction of Pathescope colour film also didn’t help.

When I had the film digitised (+) I thought the location may have been Kirkby Mallory in Leicestershire. In 1951 Kirkby Hall was still standing, but only just (it was demolished in 1952), after wartime use by the military. The British Championships were held there on 2nd September, and this film was processed on the 25th. Grasstrack racing was held at Kirkby Mallory up until 1956. It ended when a tarmac circuit – Mallory Park – was laid for the princely sum of £50,000.

However, a closer examination of the film plus a glance through his 1951 diary instead confirms the location as Hopwell Hall (-), near Ockbrook. The racing took place on Sunday 23rd September. There’s a couple of seconds of my grandfather midway through the film, which was an unexpected bonus.

Grasstrack racing at Hopwell Hall 1951
Grasstrack motorcycle racing at Hopwell Hall, September 23rd 1951. The hall was damaged by fire a few years later and subsequently rebuilt.

(+) By the excellent TVV Productions in Newcastle.

(-) Hopwell Hall was a Special School run by Nottinghamshire County Council (in Derbyshire) from the 1920s up until the 1980s/90s. In the 1950s, motorcycle racing took place in the surrounding parklands. It was converted into a £6m, 10 bedroom house in the late 1990s and has been privately owned since.

Chester in 1952 vs 2018

I spent the last weekend in Chester with friends. On Saturday morning we walked around the city and retook a series of six photographs that my father shot in 1952. Five of the locations were straightforward to find. The sixth location remains somewhat of a mystery (at least to me.) I’m hoping to be back in January for the Division of Occupational Psychology conference, so I shall take another look then.

River Dee, 1952River Dee, 2018

The River Dee from the Old Dee Bridge.

Queen's Park Suspension Bridge 1952 Queen's Park Suspension Bridge 2018

Queen’s Park suspension bridge.

Chester Rows 1952Chester Rows 2018

View from Chester Rows – The Grotto Hotel and Barlow’s in 1952. Tessuti designer clothing and a branch of Sta Travel in 2018.

Richard Grosvenor 1952Richard Grosvenor 2018

The statue of Richard Grosvenor, Second Marquess of Westminster, Grosvenor Park. The 1952 photograph is looking towards the park, but the picture I took on Saturday is 180 90 degrees out. (The original 1952 image was reversed – thanks for spotting it Jon!) It does however have a bonus pigeon.

St John the Baptist's Church 1952St John the Baptist's Church 2018

A view of St John the Baptist’s Church through the ruins.

St John's Ruins 1952St Johns Ruins 2018

The mystery photograph. It’s clearly a view taken in the ruins of St John’s, but I’ve either taken mine from the wrong spot or part of the ruins have been demolished since 1952. I can’t find any record of ruins being demolished (and the site is Grade I listed!) so it’s probably the wrong spot. However, the arch and steps on the left hand side of the 2018 photograph do seem to match those of the 1952 image. If you can help with the identification, please leave me a comment!

Update 4th December 2018: Mystery solved – the 1952 image (like that of the statue) was also reversed. If I retake the photograph from the plinth in the bottom right of the 2018 image, I’m pretty sure that this is still the view today.

St John's Ruins 1952

WordPress 5.0 – “Take no small slips”

Like many others, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of WordPress 5.0 and its new Gutenberg editor. The project, however, appears to have run into problems. The release date has been moved twice – it currently sits as “TBD”.

WordPress 5.0 Release Schedule
WordPress 5.0 Release Schedule

I’m hoping that the people running the project have read “The Mythical Man Month“. To get the release back on track, Brooks recommends:

  • “Take no small slips … allow enough time in the new schedule to ensure that the work can be carefully and thoroughly done, and that rescheduling will not have to be done again.”
  • “Trim the task … In practice this tends to happen anyway … only alternatives are to trim it formally and carefully, to reschedule, or to watch the task get silently trimmed by hasty design and incomplete testing.” (No-one in their right mind would want the last type of trimming to take place).
  • To not add more people into an already late project. “Brooks’ Law: Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”

I’m looking forward to seeing WordPress 5.0 in the wild, but I’m happy to wait. In the words written on the menu of the Antoine restaurant in New Orleans:

Good cooking takes time. If you are made to wait, it is to serve you better, and to please you.