October 30, 2009

A capital day

We (me, Julie and Holly) gave ourselves a half-term treat today and went off to London for the day.

The main reason was to do with Holly's art homework, as we decided it was time to go to Tate Britain - generally to see all the free exhibitions, and specifically to see some of their Francis Bacon stuff, which fits in with the topic she is working on: life and death.

We felt a bit diddled by the fact that there is an exhibition called Turner and the Masters on at the moment, which meant that the best Turners were out of bounds to skinflints like us who choose not to pay the £12.50 entry for that, nor the £8 to see the Turner Prize exhibition.

The Bacons are mostly from his early period and therefore what you might call untypical, so were disappointing, but we all liked the paintings by John Singer Sargent and Bridget Riley, surprisingly.

It's amazing how different paintings look 'in the flesh', and this was especially true in the case of these two artitsts - Sargent because of the simplicity of some of the strokes, and Riley because of its precision. Our favourite overall picture also surprised us, and we stood, looking at it, for a long time - mailny because it perfectly fitted Holly's topic. It was Vale of Rest, by Sir John Everett Millais.

So we all enjoyed Tate Britain and its excellent shop - and we saw most of it in the two hours we were there - although none of us felt it has the appeal of Tate Modern, which we visited on our previous visit to London.

After finding a remarkably good value cafe for lunch, we walked past Westminster Abbey and stood outside the Houses of Parliament, before deciding what to do next. Julie and Holly were both keen to visit Harrod's, but first it was my choice, so we went to Shakespeare's Globe.

The guided tour was interesting and well presented but a little short, and did not include anything backstage, which was a real shame. Next time, when we have more time, we are going to go back for a performance, where tickets for standing - surely the only way to make the most of the atmosphere - cost only £5 each.

After the Globe, we duly headed for Harrod's, which I found a bit - well, obscene, really. The displays are really stylish and artistically presented, but mobile phones costing £11,000 and - even worse - milkshakes costing £10.75 hold very little appeal for me at all, and I wasn't sad when we decided we'd seen enough.

Then it was back to pick up the car. Getting into central London is a real pain if you can't afford the train, and the journey now takes ages. We'd discovered parking in Hounslow West Tube station car park (just £2.50 a day and free at weekends) was a good way of doing it, but from there it was 18 stops on the Tube and a change to get to the Tate, which took us more than two and a half hours.

But it quite a successful day, which we ended by saying we should go to London more often. And so we should.

October 25, 2009

Henry the first

We met the newest member of the family today - my great nephew, Henry, the son of my nephew Glyn and his wife Laura.

Henry is nearly two weeks old now, but as he arrived eight weeks earlier than expected, he is still in the special care baby unit at Musgrove Hospital, Taunton. Despite being far too keen to arrive, Henry is doing remarkably well, and has been transferred from an incubator to a 'hot cot', and can do everything for himself that you would expect him to, expect feed (which comes via a tiny tube).

Apart from the fact that he looks tiny - as you might expect - he's just like a full-term baby, and didn't give the impression that the whole ordeal of turning up so early was bothering him in the slightest.

We naturally stood over the cot and cooed a lot, and couldn't help remarking on the fact that while everything else about him is - not surprisingly - babyish, his tiny little hands and microscopic finger nails are just like grown-up hands, only vastly scaled down.

Two philosophical thoughts struck me during the whole experience - how his parents are going to have to summon up reserves of energy that I no longer have, and the fact that two of my four siblings are now grandparents, so it's not so much a case of the march of time as a gallop.

I'm not sure what's worse - the likelihood that I will also become a grandparent before the next decade is over or the fact that I've already had more than four years of having two generations below me in the family tree.

Judging by the anticipation and experience of the new (and newish) grandparents in my level of the family tree, the joys of being one should far outweigh the shock of being reminded how old you are.

Repent, ye sinners

I hear there is a new version of Windows out - Windows7, apparently.

Such events generally pass by Mac users like me, but I couldn't help picking up the vibes from a couple of PC users who have tried it, and I've also had the misfortune of having to do some work on PCs recently, which has reminded me of just how frustrating it can be.

In my experience, the next version of Windows is always going to be the one that irons out the problems and lets users get on with using their PCs without tearing their hair out. No matter how many broken promises they've lived through, Microsoft customers still keep the faith and expect the new one to work properly and efficiently, against all the odds. Which it never does. What's that quote about mad people doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting different results?

I don't want to sound all superior or evangelistic about this, but... well, several times a day I stop what I am doing to congratulate myself on the fact that when it comes to choosing computers, boy did I get it right when I went for Macs instead of PCs.

You only have to listen to what people who worship at the Church of Microsoft say when they are discussing the latest hitches they are trying to sort out. Most of these things would be a mystery to Mac users if they didn't have to listen to PC users bemoaning them.

Start-up time? You mean PCs have to warm up, like an old-fashioned wireless? How quaint.

Problems recognising hardware/software? Let's get this straight: you're saying you have a computer that doesn't know what you've inserted into it? Are you having me on?

Graphics cards? Did I miss your birthday?

Losing settings/preferences? Have you checked down the back of the settee?

Drivers? Is this something to do with cars?

Install/uninstall problems? What is this strange 'uninstall' process you are talking about? Are you confusing it with your washing machine? Do you want me to give you the number of a good plumber?

Problems running iTunes? Funny. I don't have much of a problem on a Mac. Could this be something to do with Windows being the weakest link?

Viruses? I had a nasty virus once, but I went to the doctor's and he gave me some antibiotics. And what's this Norton thing PC users need? Didn't they use to make motorbikes?

Hanging for half a minute or more, waiting for a folder to open? Very clever - it knows when you need a tea break!

Crashing? OK, I admit it. My old Mac used to crash every now and then, but my latest one is over a year old and has never hicupped, let alone crashed.

Start buttons? I wonder if Microsoft are still getting users to click on 'Start' when they want to close Windows down. Who thought that one up?

But I have some good news for PC users because I have found a help site that has the answer to all their problems. You can link to it by clicking here.

October 23, 2009

Making Alfred great

As of earlier this week, I am not just the webmaster of this esteemed organ, but also of the official website of the Alfred Williams Heritage Society, a dead poet's society of which I am Vice-Chair.

The website is, so far, all my own work, although it is designed to be a depository for all kinds of information about this late 19th century/20th century writer, whom most people have never heard of.

Just to recap: Alfred was a self-taught working class hero who wrote some priceless non-fiction books in his spare time (of which he had precious little). They are all about ordinary life in his era, centred on the village of South Marston, where he lived, and Swindon, where he spent much of his working life.

Fortunately, he also happened to be a really readable writer, but the main reason why anybody would want to form a society in his honour, 79 years after his death, is he gives the best possible insight into the times in which he lived (1877-1930). For instance, he was responsible for easily the single most important historical document in Swindon's history - his book, Life in a Railway Factory - which I also think is of national importance for its clear and honest portrayal of working conditions before the First World War.

I think the things he wrote about are important to know, but it was only last Saturday, while poring over some of the Williams-related stuff in Swindon Central Library, that this whole Alfred Williams thing that I've got myself into started to make sense.

There is a book of essays by one of Alfred's lifelong friends, a blind shopkeeper called JB Jones, which starts with something Jones wrote in 1923, when Alfred was still alive, and which was already dealing with the issue of Alfred being a grossly unsung hero. As I read it, I have to admit I got a bit of a tingling in my spine. He wrote:

Some day, pilgrims will wend their way to South Marston, as they do now to Coate*, to see Ranikhet, the home of the Wiltshire writer Alfred Williams. His enthusiastic admirers will raise subscriptions to provide a marble tablet for his house, and a fine tombstone for his grave in the adjoining churchyard. There will be high ceremonial on occasions of reunion, when distinguished speakers will vie with one another in sounding his praises, and extolling his accomplishments. Doubtless his manuscripts will be admitted to a place in the Swindon Town Museum, where posterity will admire his neat hand... Prophets ever will be without honour in their own country... Genuis can only be recognised, like some diseases, by an inquest post mortem.

The putting up of plaques has long been achieved - and doesn't achieve much, if you ask me - but the writer was on to something when he started talking about museums. Part of our plan - and we are putting in a serious bid for Lottery money to do this - is to have a permanent home for some Alfred Williams artefacts that would provide a focus for interest in him and what he had to say.

If I was religious and believed in the afterlife (which I'm not and don't) it would be easy for me to imagine that Alfred is up there, looking down at us, thinking that maybe we can help him achieve the recognition he deserved. I don't think that and I don't want to sound all self-important, but I do believe that batons get passed to people, and for some reason Alfred's baton has been passed to me (us).

Even more worrying is the fact that the other two people who have founded the Alfred Williams Heritage Society - neither of whom I'd met before this year - are obviously eminently suited to carrying batons, and it would be easy to think that fate is playing a hand here. The Chair of the society is Dr John Cullimore, a consultant obstetrician, who is obviously a very smart guy, and the Secretary is Caroline Ockwell, who is one of those insightful people who are also blessed with an amazing gift for organising things and people - even disorganised people like me.

Our problem is: if you mention Alfred Williams even to most Swindonians, their reaction is almost always: "Alfred who?", so we have a huge task in not only making people aware of him, but convincing people that he is worth remembering.

As a measure of our task, I am the father of a 15-year-old girl who is used to my geekish tendencies but still cannot, for the life of her, imagine why anybody in their right mind would be so interested in an almost unknown writer who has been dead for 79 years.

*This is a reference to Richard Jefferies, who lived at Coate, Swindon, and has a museum dedicated to him there. He was a 19th century naturalist and author who is better known than Alfred in literary circles - even though, in my humble opinion, he isn't even in the same league. In fact, I have to say that Jefferies annoys me because one of the main reasons Alfred has never achieved the recognition he deserves is he has always been put in Jefferies' shadow, which I find a grave injustice as I have tried to read Jefferies and found him virtually unreadable.

That's lucky

I don't want to appear slow on the uptake, but I've just discovered a fascinating article by the appropriately named Richard Wiseman on the Daily Telegraph website, which was written way back in 2003.

It's all about luck, which I have been thinking a lot about lately. In fact, I wrote about it in my column in the Swindon Advertiser, when I was banging on about speed cameras, because it is an interesting concept. Basically, people who get caught by speed cameras nearly always think they are unlucky, but the opposite is true. As the lady running the Driveraware course told Julie, people who get caught could hardly be luckier if they won the Lottery.

Why? Because if you habitually drive around in built-up areas at more than 30mph, you're dead lucky that nobody - especially a kid - has ever stepped out in front of you. If they had, they'd be dead and you'd have to look at yourself in the mirror every morning and remember it was your fault. This would ruin your life just as surely as winning £1million on the Lottery would make your day.

Maybe because I live at number 13 and this is the second number 13 that I've owned, I think more about luck than most people, but over the years I've slowly come to realise that I'm pretty lucky. I have had remarkably good health - never broken a bone, never had a general anaesthetic and never spent a single night in a hospital bed. I could also go on about having a fantastic wife, sensible and talented kids, being born into a prosperous country during a time of unprecedented peace, etc.

I also come from a lucky family, as I've discovered in the last few years. During that time, two of my brothers have survived life-saving transplants; a cousin has overcome breast cancer like it was a cold; another cousin who required a life-saving operation was up and over it in a couple of weeks; another cousin who had a heart attack and was thought to have possibly suffered brain damage is now back working as a teacher; a great neice who was born so premature she nearly made the Guinness Book of Records has grown into a perfectly normal four-year-old; and I have a brand new great nephew who was born eight weeks premature and seems to have decided, within the first few days, that all this equipment in the special care baby unit was overdoing it a bit.

The point here is: some people would say that our family has been unlucky to have suffered all these things, while others would keep quiet about it because they don't want to tempt fate. But I don't go for that. In fact, I am beginning to wonder whether there might be something in our genes that makes us indestructible. OK, that's a joke, but a big factor in all of the above people getting over their health problems seems to have been their overall positive approach to it - even the ones who were too young to know and understand the challenges that have been thrown at them.

In the same way, in the last couple of years, Holly (my daughter) has been diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic, which you could say is pretty unlucky, except there are plenty of worse things she could have, and she herself will tell you there are reasons - mainly to do with being able to eat chocolate - why Type 2 diabetes is worse. We've never actually said this to each other, but from day one we have always avoided any thought that being diabetic is unlucky. It is, of course - it's nobody's fault - and she's definitely drawn a short straw, but what good would it do to dwell on it?

Anyway, the Telegraph article deals with the fascinating idea that you can make your own luck, and comes up with some pretty impressive conclusions.

It's a shame it has taken me six years to spot it, but lucky I did.

October 19, 2009

Cyprus bound

You know you're getting old when your son goes off on holiday with his girlfriend (of now over a year) and her parents.

Sean is off, first thing in the morning, with Becca, her brother, mother and stepfather, to Cyprus (lucky devil), and waved goodbye at 8pm, as he is spending the night round their house.

Although he's been away before - on sleepovers, one or two nights with the Cubs/Scouts and school trips - this is the first time he'll be gone for a whole week, so it's a bit of a milestone.

The funny thing is: although he's happy to go away with Becca's parents, he's already made it clear that he is past the age where he wants to go on holiday with us - unless it's an all-expenses-paid return to Florida, which we have tentatively pencilled in for 2011.

October 18, 2009

Big Mack

It's been a long day. I got up early-ish to do some work, then we had to supervise the five giggly girls Holly had had round for a birthday sleepover as they were joined by four others who were invited to a lunchtime tenpin bowling session.

Me and Julie didn't get to play ourselves, but spent two and a half hours killing time, before the invasion of the giggly girls ended in mid-afternoon.

Then me and Sean fitted in an hour of watching our drum teacher, Paul Ashman, and his band (Monkey Dolls) play, before returning home for tea and getting ready to see comedian Lee Mack perform at Swindon Arts Centre.

He's just about to embark on a big UK tour and is playing the Arts Centre twice as part of a warm-up tour, testing out the new material and charging just £10 to see it. He is getting a bit of a reputation as a top comedian, although we know him as the co-writer and co-star of Not Going Out, on TV - which we watched a recording of, last year (although it still hasn't been broadcast).

All four of us went tonight, plus Sean's friend (also called Shaun), even though we weren't quite sure what Holly would make of it. Not only was there all the inevitable swearing but also the prospect that she would hardly get any of the jokes. This is partly because they were adult jokes, which we weren't quite sure how to play, like parents never are. We eventually figured that kids hear much worse at school these days and it's no use trying to shelter them too much, although she was the youngest person in the audience.

But the main problem is that - adult or not - Holly is one of those people who just doesn't get jokes. We nearly always have to explain them to her, even if they're really simple. Sure enough, she hardly seemed to get any of them, so the evening was mostly lost on her, but not us.

I'm no prude, but there seemed an unnecessary reliance on fairly crude innuendo and just-for-the-sake-of-it swearing, but otherwise it was an excellent show. We could hardly recall any of the jokes afterwards, which is nearly always the case when you go to watch comedians, but I do remember there being a lot of good observational humour.

But what's really impressive about Lee Mack is his ad-libbing ability, which proved phenomenal - and often instant. At one stage he was picking on a member of the audience and asked him his occupation, which eventually came back as travel agent. Lee asked him the name of the travel agent, which turned out to be Ambassador Travel - a local independent. Quick as a flash came a reply about that being a really niche market and how he was surprised they could make a living out of it.

I should also mention the support act, another stand-up comedian called George Egg, who had some funny prop gags and a few other daft jokes, and an absolutely amazing trick with a bowling ball inside a suitcase.

October 17, 2009

Me and Rock 'n' Roll Dave

Now here's a funny thing - and an actual true story.

Last Monday morning, before starting work, I was walking through town and a guy who I've never met before calls out to me. "Hi there," he says, along with something like "Here I am."

Even though I'd never met him before, this didn't surprise me as I am often mistaken for my twin brother, so I went over to explain that I wasn't who he thought I was. But it transpired that he didn't think I was my brother, either.

"Oh, I'm sorry," says the man, "I thought you were my housing officer. He looks a bit like you and he carries a bag like the one you're carrying."

So we have a bit of a laugh about this and I eventually go off, saying if I see the man he's waiting for, I'll tell him you're looking for him.

Next day, in a different part of town, we meet again.

"Oh, hello again!" we say to each other, and I ask him if he eventually met his friend. He did, and now he's off to buy something in connection with moving house. Then, when we part, he says something along the line of "Well, see you, Graham." This puzzled me because I couldn't recall giving him my name, the day before, but think nothing of it.

The story moves to tonight, when our band was playing at (of all places) the Swindon Conservative Club. And the first person we meet there when we arrive was the same man I'd bumped into in the street. So that's somebody I've never met before in my life, crossing my path, three times in a week.

It took us quite a while and a bit of head-scratching before we worked out how we knew each other, which included me asking him if he comes from Stratton, as I desperately tried to place him. I thought maybe I'd seen him in Stratton, which is where I was brought up and still live close to.

"Yes, I live in Stratton," he says, "but only this week. I moved there on Tuesday!" Remember: he had told me, in town, that he was moving house that day.

And just in case the story doesn't prove what a small world we live in, it turns out that the bloke is well known to Des, our bass player, who told me he is known as Rock 'n' Roll Dave, and they've known each other for years. In fact, they know each other so well that Des asked Rock 'n' Roll Dave to come up and sing Johnny B Goode with us, which he did.

Before we leave, I nervously ask Rock 'n' Roll Dave if he has any plans for tomorrow, because I really won't know what to think if he has tickets to see Lee Mack at the Arts Centre, where we're heading. Luckily, he's planning a night in.

October 16, 2009

Not aMused

Shame, that. I really tried hard to like the new Muse album, called The Resistance.

Sean is a bit of a fan and is even off to see them live next month, and I've recently come to appreciate that they mean well (as my friend Percy often says about people, although he means it to be derogatory).

What I mean is: they are what I call an honest band, who don't just churn out songs to fit a successful formula, but rather try to do something different and make some kind of musical advancement.

Unfortunately, there is a very thin dividing line between that and sounding pretentious, and the deciding factor about which side of the line you fall on is usually whether you have something genuinely original to offer.

To be honest, I don't think Muse have. The album starts off pretty encouragingly, with two or three good tracks, but soon degenerates into a typical Muse sound, so that most of the songs sound the same, being at the same volume and the same tempo. But I really don't think they wanted it to end up as an album like that.

You can tell they are trying desperately to do something different, but even their best ideas are half-baked. One song sounds so much like Queen that it's difficult to know whether it's a pastiche or a parody or just a plain tribute of some kind. They also came up with the idea of writing a symphony, which doesn't work either - mainly because they weren't happy with putting one symphony on a pop record, nor even two, but include three. It's hard to defend that against accusations of pretentiousness.

The irony is, even the symphonies tend to sound like the majority of the other songs, with a bit of piano thrown in at the start and finish.

It's also disappointing that the general theme of the album seems to be Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, which I found a bit naff, to be quite honest. The rest of us read that book years ago, and there's not much left to say about it, if you ask me.

So, not the best album I've ever heard, but probably one of the most disappointing.

October 14, 2009


Today is Holly's birthday.

Yes, it was 15 years ago tonight when she arrived. In some ways it's like it happened yesterday, but it seems like half a lifetime that she's been a teenager, which is all very confusing for us.

Her birthday brought lots of nice girlie things and loads of money, but the main excitement is over the coming weekend when a handful of giggly girlies are descending on us for a sleepover on Saturday, and we are escorting a whole gaggle of giggly girlies to tenpin bowling on Sunday.

Wish us luck.

October 13, 2009

Great uncle

All of a sudden, I'm a great uncle again (for the third time), thanks to the arrival of Henry David Tennet at 11.43am, the first child for my nephew Glyn and his wife Laura, and the first grandchild for my sister Carol and her husband Dave. Congratulations all round.

It's the last thing I expected to hear today as the baby was due in December, so Henry is eight weeks early, and weighed in at just under 3lb 2oz.

As we all know in our family, 3lb 2oz is positively massive, as one of my other nephews, Stuart (and Mel) has a daughter (Millie) who was half that size, and three months premature. Millie gave the family a few restless (and no doubt sleepless) nights before she turned into a perfectly normal little girl, but Henry has a clean bill of health and already fighting fit, despite his size.

So we are already planning how to get down to Somerset, where they live, to see the new arrival.

October 12, 2009

A night at the pictures

I've been on what is becoming my annual trip to see the work of the Haydon Artists' Society, who are putting on their autumn show.

My brother Ron is a member (and is showing three nice pictures in the show), and I get asked to go along and write something for the Swindon Advertiser, which should appear in there in due course.

A lot of the paintings are to be admired because they are nice pictures, others because they are the result of people having a go, even if they aren't the world's greatest artist. So going to something like this is always interesting, even though it makes me regret that I don't find time to do more drawing.

Out of 163 pictures in the exhibition, there are always going to be some that you wouldn't mind taking home, and one of the things I would be if I ever became rich is a patron of the arts. Other people would spend it on big fat cars or fancy clothes, but I'd go out and buy myself a few paintings - and probably some from exhibitions like this.

Here are a selection of the pictures - some only details - starting with one by my brother Ron:

October 10, 2009

Gordon and me

The news that Gordon Brown has retinal tears is interesting - well, to me anyway.

I had five tears - this is tears as in ripped, not tears as in crocodiles - eighteen months ago, which was pretty traumatic as at one stage I fainted in the eye clinic at the hospital.

Unlike the Prime Minister, I needed laser surgery because the tears were serious enough that they would have led to a detached retina if left unchecked - and detached retinas can lead to blindness.

I only had it in my left eye, but ended up having two separate bouts under the laser. The gory three or four week saga is in the archive starting in March 2008.

Some of the 'floaters' that are a symptom of retinal tears - which is blood, floating around in your eyeball - I can still see, although they are smaller and paler than before. I also still see flashing lights in the corner of my eye - again, dimmer than before - especially when going from light to dark, and I wonder whether these things will ever go away.

The laser surgery wouldn't be nearly as traumatic to a non-squeamish person as it was to me, and I can think of much worse things you could go through, but I still wouldn't want to repeat it.

October 5, 2009

Groundhog Day without The Groundhogs

There was a great two-for-the-price-of-one deal at the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon tonight, and they even threw in a third item for free.

Billed as The Classic Legends of Rock Tour - which was overdoing it just a bit - it was to have featured The Groundhogs, but one of their members suffered a stroke and obviously had to pull out.

As one of my all-time favourite bands, The Strawbs, stepped in as replacements, we therefore had the excellent prospect of them and Focus on the same bill. I've seen both of them, live, in recent times, and have seen The Strawbs on about ten occasions, so knew it was well worth the steep £22 ticket price. Sean is a fan of both too, so he came along with my brother, Brian, and his two brothers-in-law.

On top of this, we also got to see Wishbone Ash, which seemed to make it prog rock heaven for some of the people there, some of whom were mostly interested in seeing The Groundhogs, but had kept their tickets anyway. We quite enjoyed Wishbone Ash, especially as the format of the show - three 45-minute slots - helped us over the undeniable fact that prog rock gets very 'samey' if you listen to it for too long at a stretch.

This even applies to Dutch band Focus, even though they have a totally unique style - mainly thanks to Thijs van Leer, the hairy and overweight leader of the band, who plays a battered old Hammond Organ and flute (sometimes at the same time), yodels and does some of the most impressive do-be-do-be-doing you could ever wish to see. Their classic House of the King (see below) was just eclipsed by their stunning hit, Sylvia, and they sent everybody home happy.

The Strawbs, who were first on, are folk-rock, not prog rock, so didn't quite fit the bill, and some of the prog rock fans didn't seem to know what to make of them. But they sensibly picked some of their more rocking songs, even though they played acoustic guitars. I thought they sounded better than ever, with excellent harmonies, and I could have listened to them all evening.

But it was interesting to hear Wishbone Ash - a band who have made, in their various guises, fifty three albums! - and I'm really glad I didn't miss another opportunity to see the excellent Focus, whom I would recommend to anybody, whether you know their songs or not, because everybody should get to see Thijs van Leer perform, at least once in their lives.

October 4, 2009

That'll teach her

Julie was brought to justice today - for doing 35mph in a 30mph limit.

She was caught on a speed camera, a few weeks ago, while driving through Didcot, but because that's in Thames Valley, she was given the option of going on a Driveraware course, instead of taking three points on her licence.

It still cost over £80, which was more than the fine, and she had to be at Crowthorne, near Reading, by 8am on a Sunday morning to attend the course. I went along too, so we could go for lunch and do some shopping afterwards, and although I couldn't go on the course, I didn't mind the propsect of spending four hours in the car outside, reading my book.

Actually, four hours in a car is probably too long, as you can't read for that long, especially if you've been up before 6am on a Sunday morning. But Julie eventually emerged, along with all the other offenders, saying just how good the course was.

All the people who went into the course thinking they were unlucky (to get caught by the nasty speed cameras, when everybody does 35mph in a 30mph limit) were soon made to understand that, in fact, they'd been lucky. The fact is: 35mph is too fast to drive around in a built-up area, and you're lucky if you find out the truth on a course like this, rather than hitting somebody and seeing what happens. If you hit a pedestrian at 35mph, you'll probably kill them, and if it's a child - almost certainly.

The lady running the course pointed out that suicide is common among people who kill kids in built-up areas, doing what they used to think were low speeds.

Rather than being a telling off session, the course gave people loads of interesting advice about various aspects of driving, and it was pointed out that one of the main reasons people drive too fast around town is they do it in fourth gear. Everybody feels as though they need to be in fourth, so speed up to get to it, although there's no reason why you shouldn't drive around in third, which is more economic, anyway.

One good thing Julie discovered is the police are now targeting people who drive in the middle lane of a motorway without overtaking (hooray), and given them on-the-spot fines. "But surely it's not actually an offence?" I hear you ask. But the lady running the course pointed out that not only is it an offence, but it breaks rule number one of driving in Britain, which is: drive on the left.

All this comes at a time when Swindon Council has abandoned fixed speed cameras - partly for penny pinching reasons, but mainly for political gain, which not only gambles with (children's) lives, but helps to expand the myth that most drivers like to believe (and is ridiculous if you actually think about it): that the cameras are there to make money.

And if you needed a reason not to vote for the Tories, note that they are now saying they want to get rid of all speed cameras. Thanks to misinformation and the Great British public's peculiar gift for confusing hearsay and prejudice with evidence, they've realised scrapping speed cameras is a vote winner - except among those people who understand that deliberately turning your back on something that protects innocent people from death, just to win votes, makes you unfit to be a member of the human race, let alone government.

October 1, 2009

Re Searchers

There was a little treat for this child of the Sixties tonight as The Searchers were in town, at the Swindon Wyvern.

What I've always remembered about seeing them before - at least ten years ago - was how professional they were, and how much they seemed to be enjoying it - even if, by then, they must have played their big hits thousands of times.

Well, they've played them a few thousands times more now, but still manage to give the impression they were enjoying it - and probably were.

If you asked me to write down my favourite acts from the Sixties - can't think that anybody would, but you could - The Searchers probably wouldn't be in the top 20. That's because, unlike the best bands of the era, The Searchers never really progressed, staying as a fairly basic rock 'n' roll band. But I suppose there's not much wrong with that if you can do it as well as they can. So I really enjoyed the show - and would pay to see them again.

This time around I had the added incentive of being able to study the drummer and try to get a few tips - and was quite pleased to find that he hadn't entirely cracked the problem of how to end songs in style.

I went with Dave, from our band, and we also picked up some jokes that we might use in our gigs, as they weren't afraid to poke fun at themselves for being a bit old, especially original member John McNally and near-original Frank Allen.

The embedded YouTube recording, below - of their best song, When You Walk in the Room - is five years old, but pretty much how they looked and sounded today.

The free press

Very interesting news today for anybody who has ever worked in newspapers - the announcement that the London Evening Standard is to become a free paper.

I'm surprised it's taken this long for a big paper to do it as there has been talk for years that that's the way to go, especially for local papers. What most people don't realise is the cover price of local papers is a tiny proportion of the revenue they take from advertising.

The last time I looked at any figures in detail, a few years ago, the sales of the Swindon Advertiser, for instance, barely covered the bill for the newsprint needed to print the Adver and its two sister papers, the Star (free weekly) and Wiltshire Gazette and Herald (paid-for weekly).

So, with local paper sales falling, why not give it away? Especially as you can then tell potential advertisers you are reaching a wider market. OK, that's a bit of an over-simplification, but that's more or less what it boils down to.

The Evening Standard's hand has been forced by papers like the Metro and London Lite, but most local papers are also under pressure from other media and especeially the internet - and probably only have themselves to blame. I've never heard of a single one of them ever really coming to terms with the internet, not knowing whether to embrace it or fight it. Most of them have been gulity of putting their heads in the sand for years.

And just to emphasize this, the report about the Evening Standard mentions the fact that News International (The Sun and The Times) say they are intending to charge surfers to read the news online, which is just about the craziest idea I have heard this year.

I can't speak for everybody, but there is nothing on this earth that would make me pay to read news online when there is so much available (and more reliable) for free, and especially when there is always going to be the BBC providing it for free.