Years ago I travelled regularly, and sometimes it felt interminably, between Hampshire and Cornwall. Like a rail-bound Flying Dutchman, doomed to travel eternally.
One of the biggest tribulations was the way the buffet car would often be part of the train, but not open. This led to frantic raids at some of the longer stops, into the station buffet and back out again before the train left. This was when having just the rucksack paid off, because you could take it with you 'just in case'.
A fond memory is a day, just past Exeter, when a clearly hungover Scot who had been rampaging up and down the train for a while, flung himself down in an empty seat and went to sleep. I wondered if he was dead, his face was so red.
When the guard asked for his ticket the Scot came back to life. He totally ignored the request and started to interrogate the guard. Having worked with Scots I knew what he was saying, but the guard clearly wasn't getting it.
"Does this train have a drinking carriage?
According to the timetable it did, but in reality it was closed.
"A what carriage, Sir?
"A drinking carriage." Enunciated slowly and carefully, as if talking to an idiot. "Where a man can buy a wee drink."
Eventually, after some hilarious mime, the guard got the message. "The buffet car is unstaffed, Sir. But there will be a trolley service with tea, coffee, and sandwiches, in about quarter of an hour."
"Will they be selling those expensive wee bottles of spirts?"
"I can't say, Sir. And now, can I see your ticket please."
The ticket was promptly whisked from a pocket.
"Where is the next stop? I need to get off and wait for the next train that has a proper drinking carriage."
About fifteen minutes later he decanted himself onto a platform. slumped against a wall, and passed from our lives. I hope the poor man found his 'drinking carriage'. The label has stuck in our family.
They say 'never bring a knife to a gunfight'. But my moderator's little black dagger has just neatly excised fifty seven spam posts about firearms and ammunition.
Fifty seven largely similar posts from some spammer called Daniel, who flooded all the boards with adverts to buy guns and ammunition. Loadsa Links ;-)
Some very strange English which suggested a translation programme had been used, and one repeated paragraph, turning up in most of the posts, which really had nothing to do with the subject matter ;-)
I quote, for your amusement...
Routinely Questioned Questions Which Glock design must I obtain? Query: How can I stop my toothpaste from foaming? Crafting Points: - If you wish to end your toothpaste from foaming, stir it very well right before utilizing it. - Really don't use a toothbrush with a lot of force; gentler strokes are far better. - Avoid utilizing extreme amounts of toothpaste; only use a pea-sized sum. - If you continue to encounter excessive foam, swap to another toothpaste or rinse your mouth with water immediately after brushing.
Which Colt 1911 is your best option for your day-to-day have gun?
My internet was down for a few hours, so I took the opportunity to unplug everything, open up the 'dark tower' and give it a damned good clean. I usually do this twice a year, once just before Christmas and once in June.
This year, for various reasons, the June clean up didn't happen.
Here is the 'sweater of death' which had accumulated on the ventilation intake. The various fans, etc, weren't too bad, but I cleaned them as well seeing as I as already in there. (Left click to enlarge.)
Being relatively lightly stressed - compared to a 'balls out' gaming machine - Marie-6 runs fairly cool anyway, even during a heatwave. It used to get furred up far faster and more thoroughly when the tower was sat on the floor instead of a foot above the ground on a box.
At quarter to eleven this evening I had a phonecall from someone asking if they could borrow my spare freezer, and if so could they come and pick it up in fifteen minutes or so.
This was a family emergency, so the answer was '"No problem."
I even had time to plug it in and make sure it was still working. It was.
But it struck me as a strange and teasing opening line for a story. Just tweak the time a little because midnight sounds more portentous than eleven.
It was nearly midnight when Simon phoned and asked to borrow my spare freezer...
Is he a serial killer with a slowly thawing corpse in his own failed freezer?
Or a friend/family with a freshly killed spouse/mistress he wants to chill until he can dispose of her properly.
And why does he seem so sure the other person has a spare freezer, up for grabs at short notice.
Serial killers with a collection of frozen 'trophies' must live in dread of power-cuts. Do they have a back-up generator, like one of those quiet little Honda suitcase things, and a spare can of petrol?
It always bothered me - slightly, not to the point of being kept awake - that the paper tray on my printer was exposed. I didn't want dust and debris accumulating on the top sheet and then being drawn into the works when I printed something.
Worse still was the thought of something potentially printer breaking, such as a paper clip or similar. I've resurrected a few printers which have eaten pens and suchlike. Some more successfully than others.
For years I've just had a folded sheet of paper keeping the stuff out. But I've always had this idea, waiting for a suitable sized off cut to play with. What I wanted was something to keep the paper covered, with no risk of being pulled inside, and which would also offer a little shelf.
Today I finished the job. Three short lengths of wood glued together and left clamped up yesterday and left overnight until they had set properly. (Many quick 'bodges' fail because of insufficient time for the glue to set.)
In the absence of a nice bit of thin plywood I glued and stapled a piece of really stiff card on the top. Then gave it a coat of black acrylic paint to make it match the printer.
I don't plan to put much on there, but the stapler, and my little foam block for exercising and loosening arthritic fingers when they start to seize up, have earned the right to sit there in easy reach.
I went 'foraging' today with my eldest and my Grandaughter, to collect apples for jam-making and fruit crumbles, etc.
I'd cobbled up a rough and ready apple picker from an old plastic bottle, and a seven and half foot quarterstaff. It was a bit wobbly and cumbersome, but it worked. The soft rattle as the first apple fell neatly into the lower part of the bottle was very satisfying.
I recalled a couple of lines from an old hymn we used to sing at school. The bit about 'to ploughshares beat the sword, to pruning hook the spear'. A quarterstaff isn't a spear, but it's certainly not a peaceful implement.
At the end here's a picture of the old man proving that it works. Left click to enlarge.)
Then we let Alma having a crack at it. She managed to pick a few, but the weight of the staff was a bit of a handful for her at at full stretch.
So we worked as a team on some of the lower apples. But still ones which we couldn't have reached without the tool.
The container could hold three decent sized apples, but by then the weight was really working the leverage against us. Two was more realistic. A lightweight telescoping pole would have made it much easier.
The 'grabber' on the end was a 2 litre plastic drink bottle, screwed to the end of the staff, with a cut out-out big enough to capture the apple, and a stalk-cutting 'Vee' at the top. Next year's effort will be more substantial, but lighter to use, and hopefully several feel longer.
This year's haul was about half a rucksack full of decent sized apples, without any traces of rot or insect/bird damage. We checked out a few other trees but their fruit had either already 'gone past itself' or was damaged in other ways.
Next year we'll also take a second pole with a simple hook on the end, probably just a taped on bit shaped from a metal coat-hanger, to pull and hold aside branches which get in the way of the picking tool.
We got a few strange looks from passing pedestrians and motorists. One apple rolled into the road and a smiling lady driver stopped, creating a several car tailback, so I could pick it up safely before it got squashed.
Once it was retrieved I gave her my full sweeping Baron Sable 'arena bow', and saw her face redden behind the windscreen. Once a showman, always a showman. It surfaces at the most unexpected of times ;-)
It was a fine little foraging trip, about a mile and a half in total according to my step counter, but I was glad to get back into the relative cool of my bungalow.
Please note I don't have the Internet Of Things. I don't have to worry about my microwave talking to my fridge and conspiring to make hoax calls to my mobile phone.
But today I had several mysterious instances of my doorbell ringing, just once rather the allegedly 'musical peal' it was set for when I moved in. I have no idea if it can be changed to different tunes. I just inherited it and saw no need to mess with it. As far as I know it's the original one, installed when the bungalow was built about eleven years ago. My neighbour's bells sound the same - on both sides - so this is a reasonable assumption.
Plus the ringer bit is high up on the wall of my hallway, snug against the ceiling, and has no obvious way into it anyway. It's mains powered, and as such has its own little trip switch about halfway along the row of about eighteen individual trips.
Today's journey into acoustic hell began with what I initially thought was an unusual humming noise from my computer tower. My computer is generally rather quiet, although the fan has been more active during the current heatwave.
But this was a deeper hum or perhaps a buzz An unpleasant noise which set my teeth on edge.
Then the doorbell rang and when I came back to my computer, having found nobody there, the buzz had stopped.
I did a restart, and ran a few checks. It seemed that each time the computer made a beep, to tell me it had finished whatever it was doing, the doorbell rang as well.
I did wonder for a while if the newly installed 'smart meters' were forming an unholy electronic alliance with the computer ;-)
But during a foray to the kitchen I had another phantom ring from the door and noticed the buzz was even louder in the hallway and I soon narrowed it down to the ringer unit on the wall. I reached up and touched it, gingerly, and could feel the buzz though the plastic.
I turned it off at the trip switch and it stopped instantly. Turned it back on and the buzz returned
By now I was putting two and two together, and realising the 'buzz' sounded like the rattlesnake 'relay chatter' we sometimes got on bakery machines when the switch gear was dodgy and starting to burn out.
I turned it off again, and re-ran the checks on the computer, which just gave the appropriate little beeps. That was okay then.
Thinking back this may well explain the mystery humming noise I've heard some nights over the last few months. Loud enough to be mildly annoying through a closed door, but not enough to roll out of bed and investigate.
I turned it back on for a while, to confirm my diagnosis and was rewarded with a few more phantom rings, after which I flipped the trip switch again and it has been blissfully quiet since.
After half an hour 'on hold', being tortured by a crap piece of 'music' which is surely designed to make you hang up, I finally managed to report the problem to the Housing Association, and it's booked in for repair. On September 27th.
If I'd really been in need of it, say for a carer or doctor visiting regularly, it would have probably been switched today. But although I'm officially 'vulnerable' because of my age I'm not 'medically vulnerable'.
For the next six weeks or so I'm relying on callers actually reading my notice and knocking on the door as if they mean it. Family usually phone first anyway, to make sure I'll be there.
It will be interesting later tonight to see if the night-time 'hum' has gone away.
Just the right size to add an extra pull-out/tuck away shelf to my desk to hold my scanner. And a strip of wood to make two runners. Until now it's sat in a corner, awkward to reach and a pain to set up and put away again each time.
Strange looking thing. I tried to 'blag' one from Staples many years ago for a month's trial so I could write a review for PCW Plus magazine, but the manager there didn't want to co-operate. He was polite enough about it, but it was a definite no.
I'm trying it out as I type this and I'm not totally convinced by it. But I'll give it a decent trial and see how it works out. Alma will be fascinated by it, whatever I decide.
It may just be that it suited a half-Chinese lady, (the seller), with a cute little bum, but simply doesn't fit a five-ten English body, even if I do have short legs. There's scope for a little tweaking though.
The theory is sound. Chiropractors suggest they shouldn't be used for more than a couple of hours at a stretch, but if you have one of these and an ordinary office chair you can swap around. The trick will be to get them at about the same height, to maintain the comfortable and familiar typing position.
I can always sell it on again if it doesn't work out ;-)
We shall see ;-)
I nearly got a free one a few weeks ago, which put the idea back into my head. It was sat outside a local house with a 'free to a good home' label. But I was on my way to catch a bus, and when I came back up from town it was gone. That one would have needed re-upholstering if I took to it, but it would have been good enough for 'proof of concept.
Like a dutiful dad I carefully wash and store all my jam jars, not of all of which originally contained jam. Some had pickles or honey, or whatever.
I tuck them away in a crate for when my daughters phone up and ask, "Dad, I don't suppose you have any clean jam jars around?" I can usually give them the lids as well, apart from a few which get sidelined for other little jobs around the house.
I have a similar crate full of plastic containers or bottles for Alma's 'Junk Play' projects, or sometimes my own schemes. Plus a few tin cans of unusual size.
But once the crates are full I throw things out, or ask around for other recipients. There's a limit to how much space I'll willingly give up. I've not intention of starting a third crate because there's no cupboard space for it
During lockdown I gave away several carrier bags full of jars to a jam-making lady I've never seen. She collected them from my doorstep, like a thief in the night. Although I said they were 'free to a good home' it wouldn't have hurt her to drop off a jar of jam as a little thankyou ;-( My girls always do.
Despite writing almost exclusively on my keyboard nowadays I do like having a good pen around. I've tried all sorts over the years, but many of them aren't reliable.
One of the best was a Papermate ballpoint. But around the time I bought my twelfth refill I found I'd worn through the barrel where it rested against the 'scribe's bump' on my finger. I bought another, but it was lost or stolen early on.
I was taken by the adverts for the Fisher Space Pen, but jibbed at the price at the time.
Well, I finally bought one, for the best part of thirty quid and here's a review, in which I test some of the claims they make.
I don't get paid for this, I'm just sharing my impressions.
Fun with a new pen
I bought myself a Fisher Space Pen, as used by Astronauts.
These come in several varieties. Some of which are insanely expensive and rather flamboyant . All come with the pressurised ballpoint cartridge, guaranteed to work properly under extreme conditions, such as zero gravity or underwater, and over a ludicrously wide temperature range.
I bought the bullet pen, in matte black. It's a delightful little thing, and little is the word. When closed it's a bit under four inches long, which feels small. But once you stick the cap on the back end it's perfectly balanced and sits in your hand with a reassuringly solid feel. It comes with a 'lifetime guarantee', which will still only be 29 years for me if I live to be 100.
This pen is beautifully engineered, with an under-stated elegance which is a major part of the appeal to me. I can see no reason - apart from loss - why it won't be around for my girls to argue or negotiate over as part of their inheritance.
We did, of course, have to test some of its claims to fame.
My granddaughter and I soaked a sheet of paper, smoothed it out on the work top, and yes, it writes on wet paper. Over the years this would have been really useful on my various soggy 'reporter's notebooks'. If you press hard enough to break through the paper all bets are off.
We soaked a sheet of printer paper and pressed it down on the bottom of the sink, then filled the sink with water. Yes, it writes underwater.
They claim it writes at any angle, unlike most ballpoint pens which tend to stop when you are writing on a sheet of paper held against a wall. I held a sheet of paper on a clipboard and my granddaughter wrote on it from underneath, arms well above her head.
It writes on polymer paper, like the new 'plastic' banknotes, and on every kind of plastic bag we could readily lay our hands on for our brief tests.
It even wrote on a kitchen sponge, and has failed to wash off despite much use afterwards.
Just for the sheer exuberant hell of it I signed a few biscuits which were out on the side, which my granddaughter then ate, 'just because she could'.
In more pragmatic everyday tests the short length of the closed pen means it will sit snugly across the bottom of most shirt or trouser pockets, and not wriggle out and away as longer pens often do. This is a useful trait as modern pockets tend to be cut increasingly shallow, compared to those of my childhood. (There is a reason I like army surplus clothing with capacious pockets.)
The clip seems very secure. Certainly locks tight against cotton and denim. Not tested against slippery nylon or silk.
I am currently fighting the temptation to deliberately put it through the washing machine on a hot wash, which the specifications suggest it should survive with no damage and no ink leakage. The only reason I haven't so far is because, with its low 'pocket profile', this is probably going to happen anyway, sooner rather than later.
Finally, for those who know what a kubotan is, both smoothly rounded ends of the capped pen would work if 'misused' in this way. Or as a massage tool for unlocking cramped muscles, if you know where to poke without doing further damage.
PS: Once the backroom boys sort out the current inability to post pictures I'll show you what it looks like.
I buy thick sliced bacon, from a proper butcher, not the supermarket stuff which is sliced so thinly it could almost qualify as Kosher. One slice of this makes a decent lunch with a homemade half baton, and splash of appropriate sauce, or even naked. Good tasty bacon doesn't need to be slathered in sauce.
In the current heat wave firing up the frying pan or the electric skillet can feel a step to far and encourage someone living alone to not bother at all.
Following a you-tube tip I've found I can quickly zap this thicker bacon on a plate with a couple of layers of kitchen roll underneath it and another on top. These absorb the fat and splatter very nicely.
NB: I use decent thick kitchen roll. The ultra cheap 'budget' stuff sticks to the bacon and you either lose a meal, or end up eating the paper as well. Neither outcome is what you were looking for.
In my 900 watt microwave a single slice cooks nicely with one minute and fifteen seconds on full power. One minute and thirty makes it start to shrink and go crispy if that's how you like your bacon.
Adjust timing if you have a lower-powered microwave oven. After the first minute I suggest checking at fifteen second intervals, until you know what works for you, and keep in mind that micro-waved food carries on cooking for a minute after the power is off.
In my machine two slices take about two minutes. I've never tried to do more.
The tissues can be used to wipe off the cooking plate, so very little fat gets into your washing bowl or dishwasher.
PROBLEM RESOLVED: My thanks to those who gave feedback.
Please will any of you who are interested in such things either attempt to see any previous pictures you may have posted, or attempt to post a new one. Even if you just do it as test and then delete it straight away.
If a few of you confirm it's a universal problem, and not just something at my end, I'll raise the issue with Karl. Probably a spin-off from the recent loss of service for a few hours.
I'll be off-line for a few hours mid afternoon (UK time) but will dive back into this mystery when I arrive home with my new glasses, and rucksack full of shopping :-)
I shall call him Jack, although I have a feeling it's probably female. In which case it's Jacqueline I haven't looked that closely yet and quite possibly never will.
My neighbour knocked on the door and seemed rather amused that I was swanning around almost naked to cope with the heat. After I'd made myself a bit more respectable I opened the door and found she had a lovely little brown wild mouse in a plastic box.
She'd rescued it from her cats, who had it cornered and were batting it around between them. Doing what cats do.
She grabbed it and the mouse bit her. So she quickly slipped it into a plastic sandwich box and then held the lid on but with one corner up so air could get in. She said it was moving badly, which it was at that point.
"Could you put it behind your shed, seeing as my cats don't seem to go into your garden. Or kill it painlessly, if you know how. I just can't do it."
I told her I'd put it in a cardboard box, with plenty of air holes, and a little bit of food. "We'll give it some peace and quiet for a few hours, see if it starts looking more lively. Then if not I'll do the necessary. But we'll give it a chance."
In the time it took to find and perforate a suitable box it was already moving much better. The box is outdoors, where I can see it, and if it looks much better when Alma gets here we may take it down and release it in the woodland. Plenty of perils there as well, but a better chance of escaping.
It's current home is a laser toner cartridge box. Big enough to let it move around, but small enough to feel like a secure hiding place for a bit of recovery time. I'm hoping it's more frightened than damaged
We shall see how it goes. Alma will want to keep it as a pet, but that's not going to happen. I have a deep-rooted aversion to caging 'wild things'. My Ex would say she understands why ;-)