Monday, 18 October 2010

BT: Not Very Brave

I am not much of a rider, in spite of having lessons all through the school holidays of my childhood. It was the jodhpurs that put me off. They were the old fashioned type made of non-stretch cavalry twill that ballooned at the hip, and getting them off was hell. And while hacking out was fun, schooling, with all that 'Round the World', figures of eight and such like was really, really tedious.

I've only had one fall, when a cousin in Essex took me out for a gallop on a hunter. I lost the stirrups and came off, but landed on my feet and wound up running alongside hanging onto the reins (it was drummed in from an early age; "If you come off, never let go"). As falls go it was probably quite elegant, but it wasn't the competently casual look I'd been aiming for.

The last time I rode with any serious intent was when I was first dating the SS; I got run away with, but managed to remember one was meant to turn the thing, and that worked. I suppose I must have passed whatever test as a potential life partner she was putting me through.

There have been a few pony trekking outings since in the Highlands. On the last occasion we came down a slope so steep that the rear of my mount was more or less sitting on the ground, and I found my feet doing the sort of bent-kneed walking that children do in pedal cars. That time the SS and K so liked one of the Highland ponies that they bought it, which raised a few logistical problems, as we were returning on the sleeper.

Another piece of equestrian lore I was regaled with is that one should always try and stop a loose horse. The favoured technique is to stand in front of it as it careers towards you, and stretch out one's arms. Needless to say, when this has happened at point-to-points, I find a compelling reason for setting off in the opposite direction. While doing this once, I was put to shame by my 70 year old mother who stood her ground doing the heroic arm thing.

What all this is leading to is yesterday afternoon, when the SS received a call about an escaped horse. I don't know why they called her, but she went down and recognised the escapee as a stallion belonging to a neighbour. The beast had been trying to get to a mare, and was some way from home (the mare was a grey pony; apparently they use grey mares to get stallions in the mood at stud, which suggests gentlemen horses prefer petite blondes).

The stallion was very steamed up and overexcited, but with help they managed to get a halter onto it and walk it home. Since then we've been shown this video of the same horse, before it came here. It provides a clue as to how he got out of his field...and also as to why I prefer to leave catching horses to other, braver folk (sorry about the music; it's French).

Friday, 1 October 2010

A Summer Sabbatical

BT been a bit distracted.

There's been a bit of this:

Butter wouldn't melt? Don't be deceived; she's the hound from hell. Escapologist, sadist, roller in and eater of the unspeakable. Chews cookbooks for breakfast and consumes fingers as a sign of affection.

A lot of this:

Bob's first car isn't the little runabout I'd anticipated. I can't tell you the hours we've spent under it. We can now change a gearbox with our eyes closed, and putting in a replacement engine (off eBay) was so far out of my comfort zone it might as well have been brain-surgery. What I don't know about bodywork would fit on a postage stamp. Some good father-son bonding in there somewhere, though.

Some of this:

One perfect day Bob and I paddled a couple of miles to get here - mostly in circles. The bay may have a proper name, but it's always been 'Houpadout Bay' to my family, ever since, on some picnic expedition in the 1930s, a visiting aunt exclaimed, "Hope I don't fall in".

And plenty of this:

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Worth the Ride

K's latest song. I'm proud of this daughter of mine.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

I Wish We Hadn’t Let That Goal In...

Last week I was paddling across Loch Etive with my son, under the soaring bulk of Ben Cruachan. It occurred to me that at 3,694 from sea level, the height of the mountain was over a thousand feet less than the depth of the sea bed in the Gulf of Mexico. We had arrived a few days before via a hundred mile detour, while engineers struggled to recover a railway carriage which was perched 40 foot above the road, after it had derailed at the foot of Cruachan. It brought home the magnitude of the task of capping the current oil spill, and the sheer, irritating, negative pointlessness of the current American diatribe of invective against ‘British Petroleum,’ and by implication, all things British, as Satans of the western world.

In March 1967 the Torrey Canyon, a tanker carrying 120,000 tons of crude oil, ran aground on the Seven Stones Reef off Cornwall and the Scilly Isles. The Torrey Canyon was a US built ship owned and operated by a subsidiary of the Union Oil Company of California. The Captain, Pastrengo Rugiati, who was held responsible for the navigational error which caused the disaster, was an Italian recruited by Consulich, agents for Union Oil.

The Royal Navy were working at the scene within four hours. 42 ships were deployed to spray over 10,000 tons of dispersants. Efforts to use foam booms to contain the oil were of limited success due to their fragility in high seas. In an attempt to sink the ship and burn off and break up the oil, the RAF and Royal Navy dropped 62,000lbs of bombs, 5,200 gallons of petrol, 11 rockets and large quantities of napalm onto the ship.

Bombing eventually sunk the ship and the oil slick was finally dispersed by favourable weather. By then tens of thousands of seabirds had been killed, together with huge numbers of marine organisms including all fish within a 75 mile radius. The resultant oil release coated miles of Cornish beach in brown sludge, in what was then the world’s worst environmental disaster. The slick stretched along hundreds of kilometres of the south coast of Britain and Normandy, killing most of the marine life it touched and blighting the areas for over a decade after. When I was living and working in Cornwall six years later, football-sized lumps of crude oil were still sweeping ashore from the wreck.

Mistakes were made in this first oil disaster. A lot of technological lessons were learned, and maritime law was changed. But one thing stands out to me; a national government which put blame on the back-burner and focussed its immediate resources on tackling the problem.

Today BP chief executive Tony Hayward is receiving further vilification for spending a day with his son sailing at Cowes this weekend. Not adroit of him, although I doubt the man has seen much of his family in the last few weeks. Mind you, I see that President Barack ‘the buck stops here’ Obama was pictured in the Chicago Sun Times sporting a White Sox hat and drinking beer whilst enjoying a White Sox game at the Nationals last Friday. Of course, as Obama is reported to have made clear, “I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw”.

Following its merger with Amoco (Standard Oil of Indiana) BP has as many (give or take one percentage point) American as British shareholders. The American designed Deepwater Horizon rig is owned by Transocean, essentially an American company (it originated in Birmingham Alabama, but relocated to Switzerland two years ago for tax reasons). It was operating in American waters, extracting American oil, under American licence and American supervision and regulations. According to the Wall Street Journal, one possible key suspect in the loss of the rig is flaws in the cementing process which plugged holes in the pipeline seal. That work was the responsibility of Halliburton - the world's second largest oilfield services corporation, with its headquarters in Houston, Texas.

We won’t know for some time whether the blame for this disaster lies with an American-owned company, a multi-national company with substantial American ownership, or simply the risks associated with cutting-edge technology. However, if the Deepwater Horizon disaster causes the United States to reassess its addiction to fossil fuels and finally brings it, kicking and screaming, from cavalier denial into line with the rest of the western world’s efforts to address the causes of global warming, it may turn out to have been a blessing in disguise.

Meanwhile, I detect a quietly spiralling back-lash of anti American resentment building in this country. We all feel powerless, but as our pension funds dwindle and news reports on the continuing spill vie with the latest deaths of British soldiers in Afghanistan, in what some perceive to be the latest of a series of American oil-inspired wars in the Middle East, the ‘Special Relationship’ begins increasingly to look like a rather one-sided and insubstantial political convenience. Those mid term congressional elections have a lot to answer for.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Exploding Head Syndrome

One has these conversations after a couple of gins. You know the ones; when you discover you're not the only person who knows how many panes of glass there are over the door of No.10, Downing Street; who stumbles on a paving stone and then looks around to see if anyone was watching; or who has met Tom Baker in a filling station.

K and I were having one of these last night, and I mentioned what I'd never admitted to before; that sometimes, just as I was dropping off to sleep, I'd experience a sound like a pistol shot inside my head.

Her eyes lit up with recognition (and I sensed, relief), because she'd had that too. It sent me Googling, and it turns out, according to Wikipedia and other sources, that we've both had 'Exploding Head Syndrome'.

Good name. Nobody knows what it is or what causes it and there are no known side effects, but we are not alone. Apparently it coincides with stress (which probably explains why I haven't had it since I started my gap decade). Some people get voices or bells, but mostly it's like a gun or a bomb going off...except you know it's in one's head, not outside.

I'm intrigued at how this is going to look on my CV. "Known Medical Conditions: Exploding Head Syndrome." I've a feeling that this may not be a major plus, but like any child of the 60s, I'll wear it with pride.

Which reminds me, dear blog friends. I just don't seem to be posting as much at the moment and, loyal though you all are, I really don't deserve to be on your side bar. I'm not going to stop, and do please call in from time to time, but I seem to have temporarily lost my regular blogging mojo, so I really don't merit a mention at the moment, and I won't be in the least offended if you remove me pro tempore.

Besides, it mightn't look good, to be flagging someone with Exploding Head Syndrome.

Friday, 12 February 2010

The Sound of Tomtoms

K passed her test recently, and we set off on Tuesday to collect her 'new' car from my sister in Wedmore. The idea was that we would return in convoy, me hunched in the passenger seat with my fingers crossed, navigating K; the Social Secretary following behind. Expecting that we would separate en route (one way or another), she borrowed a TomTom navigator.

Being an old school cartophile/mapini (lover of maps) I've disdained these things, so the journey down to Somerset became a war of wills. I admit the irritatingly know-all TomTom rattled me, especially on the motorways. On the smaller roads it became a bit hyperactive, getting over-excited miles ahead about junctions where we just had to go straight on anyway, and imperiously demanding that we turn left at sharp bends where there was no other way to go. By the time we arrived, having bred successfully (in the past, not on the M4), I had begun to feel redundant. Navigation was about the only remaining thing I'd been useful for.

An evening in the pub and a takeaway curry were probably not the best preparation for the journey home. Not wanting to rouse the household by fetching a glass of water meant that I kept waking up with the sensation that someone had sneaked up and welded my tongue to my palate with a glue gun. When we departed next morning I left my dressing-gown behind; not a tragedy except it was an old one of the SS's, with pink ribbons below the bust. I may not own up to it.

Coming home, on the outskirts of Frome the TomTom and the SS over-rode my intention of turning right by way of flashing headlights and wild gesticulation, and we became lost. The TomTom lost its head completely, bleating about recalculating. Later, when we began ignoring the motorways for the A303 and A25, it became petulant and complained about losing its satellite. Haha, TT nil, BT one. And it can't mow a lawn.

The SS wants one anyway. Says it doesn't snore.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Paperchase Sucks?

Paperchase describes itself as "the undisputed retail brand leader in design led and innovative stationery in the UK". Any Twitterers may already have learnt of this company's alleged (and I for one am convinced) unscrupulous and unrepentant plagiarism of an indie artist's work, for incorporation in its products.

Hidden Eloise is an independent artist whose work appears to have been stolen by Paperchase. A former employee of the company has said that the company's design team has a long history of ripping artists off in this way. Unfortunately, unless you have a corporate bank balance, the courts provide no answer.

Here, perhaps, is another opportunity for users of the Web to flex their muscles and shame the company into a more moral code of conduct. I've emailed Paperchase here to say what I think, anyway.

Monday, 8 February 2010

A Glimpse of the Future?

I don't know what made me dream last night. For some of it I was back at Lily Farm. There were some trespassers, and an unpleasant spell scrambling up rocks to escape a flooded river. I'll spare you most of it, because other people's dreams are very boring. But the end seemed worryingly plausible.

I was being led by a nurse into what I knew to be some sort of mental institution. Coming to some double doors there was a woman cleaner coming the other way, and I stepped back to let her through. Someone behind remarked, "Would you believe that?"

It got me thinking, and I asked the nurse, "When I'm away, do I attack people or expose myself or do anything unpleasant like that?"

She replied, "No. You're just a bit out of it." Another nurse added, "Yesterday you called a ladder a rabbit."

I replied wittily, "Those rabbits can be damn slippery," and everyone laughed.

If this was really a peep into the future, I'm slightly reassured that I may be more or less behaving myself, even if I am with the fairies. And that I might have the odd cogent moment.

Albeit with the emphasis on odd.