Random musings from Bracknell

I’ve been a regular visitor to Bracknell for twenty years. It’s the town in Berkshire whose 1960s centre was so unloved that it was recently demolished so that it could be rebuilt in 21st century … splendour. The town’s fascinating subway murals celebrate buildings and employers that are no more.

3M Building - Bracknell Subway Mural
A mural in a Bracknell subway celebrating the 3M building, now demolished.

The drive between Derby and Bracknell gives me plenty of time to chew things over, not necessarily Bracknell related. These were some of the random thoughts that occurred to me during last week’s driving.

Will Dr Phillip Lee, Conservative MP for Bracknell, join the Liberal Democrats?

I don’t think that he will. But I can see him resigning the whip to sit as an independent MP of one flavour or another. However, my political predictions are usually rubbish, so nothing would surprise me. I’d be certainly be happy if he did join the party though. His pro-business credentials would certainly sit better with us than in the current anti-business Tory party.

What’s the point of the A308(M)?

At 0.6 miles in length, this is the country’s shortest signed motorway. The queue to get off it is sometimes 0.6 miles long too. The A308(M) wasn’t always like this, as Pathetic Motorways explains.

Why do supersized versions of small cars look so ugly?

There are some great small car designs. The original Fiat 500 is beautiful. The current Fiat 500 although larger, still looks cute, especially in yellow. A Pikachu of a car. But the Fiat 500X? My goodness it’s ugly. Lovely to be driven around in certainly, but that’s because you can’t see the outside at the same time. As ugly as a Raichu – the ‘evolved’ version of a Pikachu.

What would the 15 year old me make of the 55 year old me?

I think he’d be happy that I managed to turn my hobby of tinkering with electronics into a 30+ year career in the software industry. After all, writing software and getting paid for doing it is fun. Helping to explain the benefits of software to others, while still being paid, is even more fun.

Which songs make me smile unexpectedly?

This one did. It brought back some pleasant memories of Easter 1980, before the grind of sitting O Levels began.

The Death of Grass: Brexit preppers

I’m annoyed (*) to report that I’ve now felt driven to start my own no deal Brexit stockpile. I don’t trust the government, nor at least two-thirds of Derby’s MPs (one Conservative, one Labour, both appalling), to act in our best interests. I hope that this post looks silly – really silly – very soon, but I’m too uncomfortable to do nothing before March 29th. Most people who answered my poll a couple of weeks ago – on Twitter and on Facebook – were thinking about stockpiling as well. There seems to be an increasing number of Brexit preppers around.

I’ve decided not to take my stockpiling to the extremes that some preppers have. I’m not stockpiling camping gas and bottled water for example. If the lights go out, the gas goes off and water supplies fail, then there’ll be rather more to worry about. It would take “Death of Grass” style preparations to properly address such a possibility. My brother isn’t a Yorkshire farmer with a stockade and machine gun, so I’m already at a disadvantage over the characters in John Christopher’s novel.

Back cover of "The death of grass" by John Christopher
This 1956 book obviously wasn’t written about Brexit, but … “The fearful national policies and immediate personal dangers which confront them are horrifying in their impact”

Instead, I’m targeting non-perishable and long shelf life goods, and aiming for 4-6 week’s supply by the time Brexit day arrives. I realise that I’m fortunate to be able to do this and others won’t be. If I’d been having my stem cell transplant around this time it wouldn’t have been possible.

My list currently has the following items on it. They’re mostly things I’d buy anyway (with a couple of exceptions), so I guess I could justify it as forward buying, but it’s not. I’d usually want to outsource stock rotation to the experts in the supermarket …

Non-perishables

  • Toilet paper, washing machine tablets, dishwasher tablets, razor blades, soap, other detergents and cleaners, deodorant, toothpaste, over the counter medicines

Tinned food

  • Fish: Tuna, crab (not a fish, obviously), sardines, salmon, mackerel, pilchards
  • Meat: Cured chicken (I’m hoping that this tastes better than it sounds), tinned meat and tinned pies
  • Vegetables: Potatoes, carrots, sweetcorn, peas, chopped tomatoes, red kidney beans (UK grown fresh vegetables are in short supply in April and May)
  • Fruit: Grapefruit segments, pineapple, apple, berries
  • Convenience: Baked beans, spaghetti hoops, soup

Jars and bottles

  • Olives, salmon, crab and beef paste, mustard, oils, ketchup, Worcester sauce, vinegar, anchovies, pickled beetroot, honey, passata

Dried food

  • Pasta, rice, porridge oats, sugar, tea, coffee, gravy granules, stock cubes, milk powder, cornflakes, weetabix, nuts

Garden seeds

  • Salad leaves, runner beans, broad beans, tomatoes etc.

Liquid sustenance

  • Long-life orange juice, diet cola, beer, wine

While a calamitous no deal Brexit remains a possibility I shall keep on adding to my stocks. Once it’s clear that particular threat has gone away (and I hope that it does), then I will donate any surplus I have to a local food bank.

If you still think this is all a little extreme, even confident Tory Brexiter MPs seem to be stockpiling in the name of “preparedness”. I guess the snowdrifts must be really something to behold in Berwick if they last throughout the summer.

(*) “Annoyed” is typical British understatement, but I try to keep the language on here to PG levels.

Personal Brexit stockpiling

Are you stockpiling medicines, food or other items ahead of Brexit for personal use in the event of a catastrophe? Or do you have confidence in the government to make sure that life carries on as normal after March 29th? Votes and thoughts welcome – either on the twitter poll while it’s still open or in the comments below.

Bulb Energy: Impressive customer service

I had this email from Bulb Energy today. Impressive stuff – particularly as I’d rung off before the call had been answered. As it happened, I’d found the answer I needed on their website while I was waiting. Such a different experience to the unlamented Iresa Energy, who were nothing but trouble in the year we were with them. Fortunately I’d managed to switch from Iresa to Bulb a few weeks before they went under.

Bulb £10 credit email

 

If you’d like to switch to Bulb, using this link will get you a £50 credit towards your energy bill. Full disclosure – if you use it and switch, I’ll also get a £50 credit.

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)

Wallpaper stripping: messages from another century

A time capsule from 1999, found as I was stripping the wallpaper from my old room at my parent’s house. The discovery of these messages from 18 years ago affected me more than it probably should have done. Emily is still at school – it’s just that it’s bigger and she’s not a student! Jessica is still lovely, obviously. Steve is no longer at Acordis (but then again, no-one is).

Finally, Dad put the wallpaper up so well it’s been a real so and so to remove. Good job!

Emily is still at school
Emily still at school
Jessica still lovely
Jessica still lovely
Steve still at Acordis
Steve still at Acordis
RH did the work Nov. 1999
RH did the work Nov. 1999

Caterham 7 ownership – 3 months in

Towards the end of August, I realised a long-held ambition of becoming a Caterham 7 owner. Six months earlier, I’d walked into the Bookatrack dealership at Donington Park, specified a yellow 270S (series V, as I’m too big to fit comfortably in an S3), paid my deposit and walked away, hoping to forget all about it until I’d safely completed my MSc. I couldn’t, naturally. Time that I should have devoted to my research was spent clearing out the garage and building a shed.

By the time I take the 7 back for its 3 month checkup this weekend, I will have covered a little over 600 miles, mostly on short trips in and around Derbyshire. It will then stay tucked up in its hutch over the winter as I’m led to believe that road salt and aluminium don’t mix all that well. I’ll be counting the days off on the calendar until it’s safe to emerge again.

After I’d ordered the car, I decided to splash out on a personalised registration for it. This is something I’ve always sworn that I’d never do, primarily because people who buy them and then deliberately misrepresent the mark are one of my pet hates. But, in for a penny, in for a pound I suppose. The C7 part of the registration chose itself, but the letters – GNU – go back to my very first car. A yellow Skoda S110L.

GNU 706N
Gnu I

I’m hoping that the colour will be the only thing they share, as gnu I was temperamental, to say the least. I remember the pain of the breakdowns (usually in really inconvenient places, like the hard shoulder of the M1 at 1am or in the middle of the Severn Bridge), the first time someone ran into me and the police coming to see me when something unsavoury had been stuck onto his rear window. But I also remember him with a great deal of affection – something I’ve not really felt about a car until gnu II arrived.

Gnu II has so far proved to be reliable, even if I’ve been slow in learning to use a clutch properly again, causing much hilarity at traffic lights. The lack of driver aids and the occasional feeling of being ever so slightly out of control at times definitely adds to the fun – and reminds me, in a good way, of gnu I. Anyway, I’m sure you’re more likely to be interested in pictures of gnu II than gnu I, so here are some from our recent adventures

Gnu II - Ashbourne, November 2016
On the road between Leek and Ashbourne last weekend
At Mercia Marina
At Mercia Marina
Looking through the windscreen (complete with dead fly) over Kedleston Hall's parkland
Looking through the windscreen (complete with dead fly) over Kedleston Hall’s parkland

Gnu II has been a great introduction to Caterham 7 ownership. I grin stupidly every time I get behind the wheel and start him up. I’m looking forward to continuing our adventures in 2017 – which will hopefully include the North Coast 500.

My favourite possessions: a cereal bowl and mug

I can be a grumpy so and so. I can be even grumpier than usual in the mornings. The phrase “not a morning person” could have been invented with me in mind. I get particularly grumpy if two of my favourite possessions – an old cereal bowl and much newer Eeyore mug – aren’t available for my use. There’s a picture of these possessions below so that you can admire their awesomeness.

Favourite possessions - a cereal bowl and Eeyore mugThe cereal bowl is the last remaining of six identical ones that Jane and I acquired when we were married in nineteen eighty ei-was it really that long ago? It’s the ideal shape for a bowl of cornflakes. It’s not so deep that you accidentally overfill it with milk, making them go all soggy (I hate soggy cereal, apart from Weetabix, which I like to think of as a type of nourishing grey soup). It’s not so shallow that you end up with dry ones cutting your mouth to shreds. It’s perfect. It’s mine (if that’s all right with everyone else in my house of course). I would hate for it to be broken, but I expect that in an emergency I might just be able to pick one up from a well-known online auction site.

Then there’s my Eeyore mug. That’s wonderful too, as it takes about a gallon of coffee to fill it (I exaggerate, but only a little) and I need all of that stimulation in a morning to make me feel half human and perhaps a little less grumpy.

Mel, our esteemed editor-in-chief over at Post40Bloggers, has observed that “you take your life in your hands for instance if you use [his] special cereal bowl and/or his Eeyore mug“.

I hope you now all understand why.

 

This post was inspired by the 90th Post40Bloggers writing prompt to write about something that you are attached to, and the gin and tonic consumed at our recent editorial meeting.

Caterham highs and lymphoma lows

I’ve had a strange week. Last Friday started well enough. I went over to the Caterham dealer at Donnington Park and test drove a 270 SV. I was grinning like an idiot all the way around the route. It was definitely the most enjoyable road car that I’ve ever driven. I was hooked. I sat down in the showroom. I drank coffee. I ignored the nagging voice in my head that was telling me a car price list with paint, windscreen, doors and assembly on it as optional extras can’t possibly be a good thing. I ordered one. My flexible friend has never had to be quite so flexible.

For the avoidance of doubt, I feel that I ought to add that I’ve bought a full-sized Caterham 7, not the toy version illustrated above. Although it looks very cool too. My car will be a similar colour though, once the optional paint has been applied of course. Fortunately “Brum” (as my newly ordered car has already been named by my beauty blogger daughter) won’t be arriving until I’ve just about finished my MSc, so it won’t be distracting me from the many hours of transcription and analysis I need to do for my dissertation, not to mention writing it all up between now and mid-September. The other good thing that’s happened this week was getting a good mark on my final module assignment, so if I’m not motivated to finish the MSc now I suppose I never will be.

However, the lymphoma beast seems to be rearing its ugly little head. I’ve never felt so physically tired as I have done this past week and the enlarged lymph nodes in my neck are throbbing constantly. Unusually for me I felt so out of sorts this morning that I decided to work from home. It’s probably a good thing that I did as I needed to sleep for a little while this afternoon to get through the day. Blergh.

I make that two highs to one low this week (even if the lymphoma low has hung around since Sunday), so I’m still winning on points.