Sunday, 22 December 2013

Strictly…. keep me away from the remote control.

For the last 3 months, my good lady and I have enjoyed a particular routine each weekend. Before you get any sordid ideas, read on. On Saturday and Sunday evenings, we have enjoyed watching Strictly Come Dancing, compliments of the BBC. Like most of these type of shows, it begins with a bit of a laugh as some of the so-called celebs prove that they can do for dancing what the male host does for comedy. But as the weeks rolled on and the obvious also-rans were eliminated, the remaining contestants have produced some amazing dancing and provided awesome entertainment. It has become our way of life over the past 13 or so weeks. Saturday:- the big show. Sunday:- the elimination. Fabulous and riveting viewing - especially when accompanied by a glass of wine…………or two…………or three (if you like that sort of escapism). Last night however was the final. Sadly this also coincided with a Christmas concert for which we had tickets. No problem I hear you cry. Use the remote and set the TV to record the final. I agree. I had the same thought process. I even checked the daily listing the see what time the programme started. I then pressed "record" and left technology to wave its magic wand. May I add here that the Christmas concert was fabulous. The small church in Dordrecht where it was set, was stunning. The acoustics were amazing, The Rotterdam Opera Choir - fantastic. Even the wine at the interval was first class. Needless to say, by the time we got home it was well after midnight and we were already three sheets to the wind, but decided that despite the late hour we would watch the final of "Strictly" rather than risk having the surprise spoiled before we got a chance to watch the recording. By now, most of you will probably have guessed at what happened next. Well you are wrong. Do you really think I am that stupid that I recorded the wrong channel? We duly sat in the living room, had another glass of wine and watched a 90 minute programme in a little over an hour. (we like to skip though the banal comments and attempts at comedy by the male host). Unfortunately, the end of 90 minutes was not the end of the show, just the end of the first part. It was followed by another programme about some ancient civilisation before "Strictly" resumed, with the four initial finalists reduced to three. What I had failed to appreciate was the final being in two parts and so only recorded the first part; much to our consternation. By the time we finished the first part, it was almost 2am and we had to "google" the winner to satisfy our curiosity. Unfortunately "I-player" doesn't work abroad, so we can only hope some kind soul posts "part 2" on youtube so we can see the finale we worked up to so conscientiously. Keep the remote away from me!!!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Radio joke

A long time ago there used to be a radio show in Scotland on a Sunday presented by ( I think) Andy Cameron. I can't recall which station it was, but some of you might remember the banal nature of the jokes he encouraged children to phone in with. He always liked beating the kids to the punch line 'cos invariably he (and all the rest of us) had heard the jokes before.
That was until one Sunday when a young lad fae Forfar phoned in. The conversation went vaguely like this.
Boy: Andy I've got a joke for you.
Andy: go on then.
Boy: what vegetable makes your eyes water?
Andy: that's easy. It's an onion.
Boy: no it's a turnip.
Andy: turnips don't make your eyes water. (He falls right into the trap here)
Boy: you've obviously never been hit in the baa's wi a neep.
- Cue instant music to hide Andy's loss of the plot, the hilarity in the studio and the laughter around our house. Even after the music finished, Andy couldn't speak properly. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

Return of the sidecar?

No, not sidecar racing. No, not as a motorcycle combination. Yes, I've just spotted a guy cycling through The Hague with a sidecar on his bicycle. In the sidecar...........  his dog - resplendent in its ref scarf and matching harness to stop it jumping/falling out. Maybe he reckons he's going to start a fashion. I seriously doubt it though!!! 

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Bright idea - not

Who the hell said it would be a good idea? A quick trip to Skye between nightshift and back shift......
In those days, nightshift finished at 07:00 on a Tuesday morning and late shift started at 15:00 on a Thursday. Yes, you're right. Not a long break by anyone's standards and even less if you have to sleep until lunchtime on the Tuesday, then exist in a zombie like state until the following morning when the body clock resets itself. 
No matter how many years you work a shift like that, it doesn't get any easier. So with that in mind, we decided (with unusual and commendable wisdom), that our bike run wouldn't start until early Wednesday morning. The only problem was the intended destination. Skye.
Roll on Wednesday morning and we met early doors and headed off into the wilderness, taking in every conceivable good biking route in the way. Great, fabulous, magical. Only it was cold, miserable, wet as a big bag of wet things and we had intended camping in the open. 
By the time we crossed the bridge and onto Skye it was already getting dark and all we could think about was finding a camping spot. "Let's head up to Sligachan" someone said. "At least there's a pub and food there. Next stop Sligachan. No arguments, no complaints. 
In what seemed like a hurricane, we pitched the tents on what must have been a bit if waste ground, about as level as a page 3 model's chest, and headed into the pub. I should explain here that JT and I were both pipe smokers back then and enjoyed a particularly pleasant tasting and sweet smelling cherry tobacco. The only problem was the locals, who were convinced we had something other than genuine tobacco. After a few beers and a skinful of food,  it was time for a night's relax and an early rise. Well that was the intention, but Hobbsie had other ideas including a pannier full of beer for the camp site. Camp site - that was a laugh.
Next morning we were up, packed and ready to roll by 7am, figuring that would give us time to get back to Dundee, home, showered, shaved and shampoo'd before back shift at 3 o'clock.
The only problem was the lack of fuel. We knew we wouldn't get far before having to fill up and we doubted we would make it to Fort William on vapour. The problem was the Skye petrol station didn't open until 8am. Bugger.
Double bugger, it started to hose with rain as we waited. Little did we know  that would be the forecast for the day.
By the time we filled up and crossed the bridge to the mainland, it was about 09:00. Only 6hours until work.  
A trip through Glen Coe is fabulous even in hellish weather, but with a time limit, it became a frantic dash on empty stomachs and full tanks. After an hour or two we had no alternative but to stop and take a comfort break, eat some food, and seek some shelter. Let me publically apologise here to the cafe owner for committing chemical atrocities in their toilet.
Suitably filled with hot soup, we had to brave the elements again and with great reluctance, fought through the battering rain. If you are a non biker, you will not appreciate the pain and discomfort in your hands when they set solid around the handlebars like a living rigor mortise. It's a hell on earth, especially when you can't afford the time to stop and warm your hands on the exhaust pipes. 
Pain, discomfort and misery lasted until we made it back to Dundee. As I stood in the shower at home, I thought my nightmare was over. 
By about 30 seconds, I made it into work on time suitably showered, shaved, booted and suited. JT was there too, looking like he too had just arrived. Thankfully our shift started slowly, but in a fit of spite, it turned around and bit us in the ass. It soon turned out to be a shift from hell with call after call - on an evening we wanted nothing more than an easy shift. By piece time, I could hardly keep my eyes open. Fatigue engulfed us both to the point of illness. By half past nine, I was counting the minutes until nightshift took over. I've never felt to tired in my life. By the time I got home after work I slumped into bed, forewent the obligatory nightcap and slept like a baby long after I should have but needed so badly. A bike trip to Skye anyone? - Not between nightshift and back shift. It's crazy.

Mistakes in the dark

I was once told of a military training excercise that went wrong - in a funny way (if you have my sense of humour). No-one but my friend's ego and pride was injured.

A good friend of mine was an army reservist, having served his country as a regular in various theatres around the world. As a (perceived) expert in all things explosive, he was tasked with providing a nighttime (dark o'clock) excercise to show some young recruits what they might face from a non military enemy - in the form of the good old fashioned Molotov cocktail, or petrol bomb as it was more commonly known. 
Now the old fashioned cocktail (for those of you unaware of these things) comprised a bottle of petrol stuffed with a fuel soaked rag which was then lit and thrown. Naturally, the impact would smash the bottle, releasing the fuel an causing it to be ignited by the burning rag. The danger to the user however included the prospect of burning fuel pouring down your arm as you tried to throw the bottle, and the enemy seeing the burning bottle mid flight and thus gauging your position.
Modern versions, and the one our intrepid "expert" would utilise would eliminate these pitfalls by using a sealed glass bottle of fuel and a bag of chemicals taped to it. The general idea being that when the bottle beaks, it also bursts the bag and the reaction of the two parts mixing together would ignite the fuel. Sounds like simple chemistry. And it is......
Being a safety conscious sort if guy, my pal (who will remain anonymous) arrived at the training base with the bottles of fuel stored in crates within the boot of the car; whilst the bags of chemical powder were safely inside the car to avoid ignition in the event of accidental contact between the two. 
Having gathered the troops together and made their way to the allocated training zone, he explained the origins of the Molotov cocktail and the dangers as detailed above. 
With swift dexterity, he taped a bag to a bottle and in the darkness, launched it at the nearby target building. Woosh. A huge fireball erupted, much to the glee of the troops who were all in awe and all wanted to have a go. Each was duly given a bottle, a bag and some electrical tap to attach them with. Carefully they all followed their instructions to the letter and one after the other, threw the combination at the target building with great enthusiasm. All, to a man, hit the target and two dozen explosive fireballs later, the exercise was complete. After a bit if fire extinguishment my friend explained that since the base would be used for other training excercises, they had all better sweep up the broken glass and make the area safe. 
However, during the clea-up, it quickly became apparent that there had been a mix up in the dark and that they had targeted the wrong building, completely melting a field telephone exchange. 
Apparently it took quite a bit if explaining and a severe talking to by the senior officer before my pal was allowed away with his new recruits.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Londonium or bust

Friday 8th November, and I've been to London today to collect a new car for work. 

- Up early to get to the train station in time. Good. 
- Caught the train to the airport, a journey that was normal and uneventful. Good.
- Schiphol passport check - not so good. 
The self service system for those lucky enough to have recently renewed or replaced their passports with a modern biometric one worked quickly for them. 
- The priority check worked quickly for those with a privileged lifestyle. 
- Did the pleb channel run quickly? No. 
How come the remainder of us are treated to a much higher degree of suspicion and scrutinised for longer, resulting in long slow queues which generate irate flyers all of whom would rather be fawning over the duty free? 

The flight was a bit of fun though with some bumps and drops as we made our final approach. And how I thought this was going to be MY final approach. Jings, crivens and help ma boab. Well we landed....... within sight of the runway....... (slight exaggeration) much to the consternation of the grumpy steward who must have got out the wrong side of his (or somebody else's) bed. When we came to a halt, I kept looking out of the window to see if I could spot the pearly gates, so convinced was I that we hadn't actually made it.
That touchdown was more spectacular than anything the NFL can muster and worthy of a collection for the driver. I use that term advisedly 'cos I have reservations about calling him or her a pilot. 

It was then Gatwick's turn to provide us plebs with a long queue for passport check. Question: Why can't the guy at Schiphol phone through everyone's details to the guy at Gatwick and save us all a lot of hassle?? Just how many passports are going to expire during the flight? Maybe they should only check those with babies born during the flight 'cos clearly through no fault of its own the baby will be trying to enter the country without a passport. The rest of us already have one thank you very much.

The Gatwick Express is a great idea and reasonably priced for a quick run into London but if I may offer a suggestion to them it would be this:- it might just be helpful to identify the first class coaches - perhaps with a big "1" or the word "First". When the tannoy  announcement was made informing us all that no supplement is payable on board and fines will be issued to those sitting in 1st class without the appropriate ticket, there was a lot of panic-stricken travellers suddenly looking around for any indication as to whether we were in 1st or 2nd class. (and  none to be seen). It quickly became apparent that I was indeed ensconced in the plush class and mass passenger evacuation quickly followed the first person being checked and issued with a fine for only having a 2nd class ticket. So cattle class it was to London Victoria where I have my inevitable fall out with the tube system. You see, on underground there is a presumption that you know where your tube ultimately goes to, even if you are only going a few stops. I know it's really the only way to do it, and for locals or regular travellers that's fine. But for non Londoners like me, using a particular route for the first time, I don't know whether I've been drilled, bored or countersunk.
On the upside, reading a British newspaper on the tube was a novelty; so much so I nearly missed the station where I changed underground lines from Victoria line to Picadilly line and on to Arnos Green.

Stepping out of the station, I asked the first person I saw if they could direct me to the garage. Bemusement reigned supreme but an effort was made, contemplations followed and a change of both heart and direction resulted in an admission that he had no idea. The next person was definitively unsure. That's a helpful combination - NOT.  I thanked him and, with relief to be free of that buffoon, asked another. All in, I asked 5 different people for directions and 5 different routes were proffered. Confidence and positivity was not in abundance.  However, 3 of them aimed me generally in the same direction so I figured I'd head that way and ask someone else further down the road. Result. I found a postman. Who better to ask? He knew exactly where the garage was and even described the gas tank that I knew was nearby. Great. Only he directed me back from whence I came and away from my initial route. Have faith Gordon...... Be positive........ Rewarded......... 
The garage was duly located and a great welcome received. Naturally they were expecting me, had the car ready and quality coffee. (For those of you that know me from old, I've not given up tea, but have become a bit of a coffee covert.  Strong, black, sweet and hot). I digress.
Handover complete without a hitch, I set the Sat Nav for Harwich and looked out for a Tesco enroute. I had forgotten about the Sat Nav voice. When in town, the directions are precise and accurate. I had a good chuckle however when I got into the motorway and she told me to "stay on this road for a long time". Are we talking more than a mile or perhaps an hour? It tickled me.
As an aside, my better half and I need to cut the umbilical cord of dependency and stop relying on favourite British treats like Coleman's mustard, Tetley tea bags, salad cream and Imperial Leather. It's not as if there aren't alternatives in The Netherlands, but old habits ....... and all that.
A smooth drive up to Tesco listening to radio 2 - a first for a long time - then stocked up on lots of goodies including Lambs rum, Branston pickle, pork pies 
and real Scottish cheddar cheese. The downside - I'm £411 worse off. On the upside, I can feel a cheese and pickle toastie coming on for lunch tomorrow, when I get home.
Tesco 1 - Gordon 0. 
No change there then. 

The rain hit with a vengeance on the way to Harwich. Other than for the ferry, don't go there. I spent about 40 minutes driving around and other than a chip shop and a pizza takeaway there are no decent eateries. Back to the ferry terminal and the Brewers Fayre for dinner. I recommend the sausage and mash with caramelised red onions and a thick rich gravy. Simple, but tasty. 

I've made it. It was worth the long wait before they started boarding, but I am impressed. The cabin is ideal and the bar has a smokers lounge. How frightfully civilised. No more going outside to the cold and wet for half a smoke - the other half being forgone to return to the warmth of the bar. Despite still berthed in Harwich (it doesn't sail for another hour), I can't help thinking that I shouldn't have started reading that book about a survivor from the Costa Concordia. Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean the bastards aren't out there, trying to get me! I also can't stop looking at the weather, which is miserable. Not surprisingly, I've come to the conclusion that even Oban is a better class of cold and wet. 
Currently I am enjoying getting on the outside if a rather nice drop of the black stuff. Shame I've got to drive first thing in the morning. I'm quite in the Friday mood for a few. Still, there's always tomorrow - in the comfort of my own home, in the company of my lovely lady and augmented by some Stilton on oatcakes from Tesco.
All credit to the skipper of the ferry. I didn't feel or hear it move off and slept peacefully all night until the wake up announcement at 06:30 telling me that breakfast was being served. At 08:00 I disembarked and by 08:45 was safely home with the need to find storage space for £411 worth of grocery shopping. A very brief, interesting, enjoyable and worthwhile trip back to Blighty.

Some may say that since I've started blogging I've become somewhat of a grumpy old man. Nonsense. 
I was a grumpy old man long before I started blogging. When you turn 40, (okay, that wasn't today or yesterday) something triggers in your psyche that gives you a different outlook and the need to vocalise your observations. Trust me, I'm a fully qualified grump. Haha

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Nightshift planning

For those of you who have read my previous posts you are forgiven for thinking that nightshift traffic police have nothing to do. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some nights we were run ragged, with no meal break and barely time to attend to nature's callings. If you were lucky. 
However there were exceptions and it was during these rare lulls that we hatched plans for future bike trips/holidays and schemes to wreak havok and hilarity on our esteemed colleagues on other shifts. 
To the uninitiated, we kept a log of all activity, from minor calls to RTC's to meal breaks to general patrols. These logs also detailed the start and finish mileage of the car which then enabled the eagle eyed gaffers to check when patrols had been out working or sitting in the office for whatever reason. Believe me when I say there are legitimate reasons not to be out and about, such as report writing etc.
One (rarely) quiet night - and I have to say  with genuine intent to go out, we became embroiled in planning routes for a forethcoming bike trip across Europe. Needless to say that time disappeared quicker than a junkies giro and before we knew it, piece time (meal break) had come and gone. Not even Mr Hungry and his good friend Mr Glutony could prise us from our undertaking. What is it they say about time flying when you are having fun? 
The moment of realisation eventually came, closely followed by the thought that we needed to apply a little creative writing to the log and some miles to the car, just to play catch up. 
I managed the former with ease whilst, with similar aptitude, Jim manoeuvred the car with great rapidity to Friarton Bridge and back to add a low but believable mileage to the log. 
Next morning, the early shift gaffer - a man of questionable physical fitness and permenant diet - "signed off" the log which eventually passed into the great reams of confidential waste paper which regularly exited our office a lot faster than we did that night. Thanks for reminding me Jim.