Wednesday, 16 April 2014

What could possibly go wrong?

When I was a kid, I had a bit of a thing about old, WW2 military equipment, and my brother acquired an old Mills hand grenade for me.

I eventually swapped it for something worth about 0.5 pence in today's money, and I have been kicking myself ever since.

This is why I bought another old grenade today, when I saw it in a friend's shop. I don't really want one, it's just that I programmed myself to find them attractive when I was about 10 years old.

I saw it yesterday when I walked into the empty shop, quite close to some 17th century carved wood panels which I think I might also buy. It was sitting on a shelf in the half dark, but - like I said - I am programmed to find them attractive.

I picked it up and noticed that the spring-held handle and firing-pin were missing, so I gingerly unscrewed the base plug to see what I could see. It came away quite easily, and there was no fuse and detonator to worry about - I would have had 4 seconds to get rid of it if I had seen a wisp of smoke.

Over 70 million of these things were made between 1915 and 1972, so it is quite surprising that this was only one of a few intact ones I have come upon since the early 1960s.

I heard a noise in the back of the shop, so I put the bomb on the desk and walked to the end of a dim corridor to find a half-open door. I shouted, "COOEY!", and the woman who was in the small room let out an ear-splitting scream. She had not heard me come in five minutes previously, and so she frightened me as much as I frightened her.

When we had calmed down, I said I would leave a note for the antique dealer, then I took one last look at the grenade and left.

This morning I went back to the shop and took away the grenade. Once at my workshop, I thought I would take a little peek inside the explosive compartment, just in case.

When these bombes were made, the explosive was poured into a small hole in the top side and left to set. The fuses and detonators were always stored in a different box, for obvious reasons. The hole is filled with a small, threaded plug with a screw slot in it, but - try as I might - I could not shift it. Somebody has obviously tried to unscrew it in the past, and - ominously - they were also unsuccessful.

I unscrewed the base again and gave the inside a little sniff. The smell was very strange, and not what you would think a rusty bit of old cast-iron should smell like, so I was dutifully suspicious. I screwed the base plug back in and looked up the ingredients used to make a Mills Bomb on the net.

Well, it is basically TNT with some more volatile additives, plus wax to make it pour easily and set into a nice lump inside the shrapnel casing. Nowhere did it tell me how this mix is affected by age, nor did it tell me if it becomes unstable through sweating and liable to go off on impact, rather than with a detonator as it would have when new. Better get inside it, I thought, and if I find anything, I will harmlessly steam it out.

In any event, with all these question marks, I was not going to bring it home to our compact but adorable city apartment for H.I. to admire, without the questions being answered.

So I have left it in the workshop with the screw thread soaking in some WD 40, in the hope that it will be free enough to unscrew in the morning.

If this fails, I have ruled out heating the casing of the bomb with a flame to make it expand from the plug a little, and the only option I will have left is the use of an impact-screw-driver.

The way you use an impact screw-driver is to place the end in the slot, then hit it very hard with a steel hammer.

I am writing this post tonight just in case I am unable to write it tomorrow. The worst scenario is that I may be forced to get a voice recognition system instead of the keyboard for want of hands.

The best scenario is that I may never blog again, for want of breath.

Wish me luck!

What can you get for one pound these days?

That brand-new, multi-bedroomed, Palladian-style mansion you can see on the horizon, was built by a very rich man, with no expense spared on detail.

It distantly dominates the skyline of the small village from where I took the photo yesterday, but it is difficult to tell that from this image. There were a few opponents to the location, but he managed to get it squeezed through the normally stringent planning procedures in this area somehow.

How did he make his money? Simples.

Bristol City Council sold him acres upon acres of old industrial wasteland near Avonmouth - for £1.

Without doing anything at all to the vast expanse of hard-standing, he quickly let it out to companies who import cars through the Avonmouth docks, and now the whole estate is covered in an ever-changing multitude of brand new cars awaiting delivery to various dealers around the country, each one clocking up a weekly rental fee of quite a bit more than £1.

I wish I had thought of that. I could even have afforded to buy the site if it was £10,000 and not just one.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Time Machine

I have been being attacked by Picassa recently, who I stupidly signed-up to because an idiot friend who has Parkinson's Disease told me I should.

I have been ignoring the regular reminders from Google/Picassa to download something which makes their job of ripping-off my photos all the more easy, and then I found - as I was downloading these pics above and below - that they were punishing me by making it next to impossible.

So I looked into how to delete Picassa altogether from this machine, and Google told me that if I really wanted to do this, then I had better watch out, because they might erase all my photos from years ago at the same time, and the fault would be entirely mine. Cunts.

Then I remembered that I have been backing-up absolutely everything on this computer with a Seagate external hard-drive, so I unplugged the modem and - hey presto - I could easily download photos again. Cunts.

So I downloaded a lot of photos in seconds, then plugged in the external hard-drive, just in case Picassa was going to punish me further.

Then I brought up 'Time Machine' which magically takes you through deep space (including shifting stars at warp-factor 15, or whatever protects you from sunburn out there) on a tour of every bloody image you have ever put on the photo section, and I knew it was now safe to tell Picassa to fuck off.

If anyone wipes my internal hard-drive now, I just plug in this little gadget, and hit 'restore', then everything is back to normal.

These phone-sized things start at £50, which is next to nothing for storing more GBs than this machine is capable of without extra memory, so it is money well worth spending.

Below is an amazing 17th century building in Bathampton which I took today (the photo, not the building).

Power to the people.


I have only visited Norfolk once, but I loved it. The rest of this post is going to be written for the 'benefit' of anyone who has never visited it - and that covers an awful lot of people - but bear in mind that I am no expert on the place, so treat it as you might read the first impressions of a foreigner in a foreign land.

The reason why so few people - relatively speaking - have been to Norfolk, is because there is no through-traffic to speak of. There is one (ok, one and a half) road in, and you have to use the same road to get out of it. You get to Cromer on the North coast, then you turn around and go back down again.

Norfolk (with a little help from Suffolk) forms the bootylicious arse of England - the bit which sticks out rudely into the North Sea, right the face of the Low Countries. It is - effectively - a larger equivalent of an ox-bow lake, with almost three sides of it surrounded by water.

Driving through its country lanes is like going back to 1950s England, with old, cast-iron, black and white signs at the sides of the roads, pointing to the next village. As soon as you get out of Norwich, you enter my Surrey childhood.

Because of the two cul-de-sacs of the A140 and the A148, Norfolk has the reputation for having more people who are directly related to each other than any other part of Britain of the same size.

On the other side of the Forest of Dean, the river Severn forms a very similar - but much smaller - shape to Norfolk, and the water-locked villagers around Arlingham usually have at least two relations living within a few miles of them, usually with a different surname to their own. Funnily enough, the Forest of Dean - a short ferry trip away if they had not done away with the ferry - has the same reputation, but that's more to do with the impenetrability of the woods than its shape.

Norfolk was the favourite retreat of the Queen Mother, but since she kicked the bucket the place has fallen out of favour with the younger generation, who like to be within easy reach of a motorway and have been solely responsible for the ludicrous price of property around the Tetbury area.

When I visited Norfolk it was Christmas time, and on Boxing Day I was invited for drinks at the houses of three elderly residents, each of whom had a photo of themselves standing in the same room next to the Queen Mother, usually on a baby-grand piano. I was actually invited to tea with the Queen Mother, who was going to visit my elderly host a week after I was due to leave the area.

Norfolk is so cosy. If I had nothing better to do, I would quite like to go and live there, but - as they say - you should never go back, and making a one-way trip up a cul-de-sac is one of the scariest things you can do.

I thought I would highlight the picture above of the next Queen, laughing her tits off at really bad, Australian art.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Happy birthday, Mr Shakespeare

Only in Italy (rolls eyes).

H.I. and me having been-catching up on the Italian TV series, 'Inspector Luca' the last couple of days. Anyone watched it?

I like it, but the format is the same with each episode - Luca in trouble. Luca encouraged to investigate murder by friends or political associates of murderer. Luca manages to shag the best-looking woman in each episode, no matter how badly he has been beaten up. What a man, but I suppose it must take his mind off things.

I particularly like the appearance of British soldiers who speak English without sub-titles, and speak it with a strong Italian accent. I love seeing how us Brits are portrayed by Johnny Foreigner, and am surprised to see that we are hardly ever treated with the disrespect that we usually deserve - or maybe it's because they wanted to sell the series to the BBC? Everyone seems to leave it to us to slag off ourselves. I think it is called, 'self deprecation', a trait that we are very proud of, being a non flag-waving nation.

Soon it will be St George's day, when the only English flags which are waved, flutter above the turrets of rural, medieval churches, when it is also Shakespeare's birthday. It is also dangerously close to Hitler's birthday, which makes the hi-jacking of the red cross on a white background by neo-nazis a little more meaningful.

Another trait we have is not liking 'making a fuss', so we let the fascists wave the flag if they jolly-well want to. Time has a way of sorting everything out, and if there is a fly in your soup, then just treat it as a little extra protein.

I get the impression that everyone of every colour and political persuasion waves the Stars and Stripes over there, so if a bunch of nazis use it as a back-drop to a K.K.K. meeting, then the impact is softened by the fact that the pinko liberals do the same thing.

In a way, we don't need to celebrate the birthday of William Shakespeare, because his well-known phrases or sayings permeate almost every conversation held in today's English - it is amazing how many of these he has coined which are still in common usage.

During the late 1960s, subversive Brits flew the Union Jack (correct name, 'Union Flag' - the 'Jack' was only raised on ships) constantly, but with a forced sense of irony.

People like Bruce Lacey and The Bonzo Dog Doodah Band always had it up somewhere, and usually had some bloke in Victorian or Edwardian costume riding a Penny-Farthing, or singing through a loud-hailer funnel. I used to find the competition for who was the most eccentric embarrassing, and still do.

These people are now pillars of the community, and despise most of the creative stuff which comes from the generation below them, or they simply don't understand it. Same old, etc.

The other myth which us Brits love to perpetuate is that we have a unique sense of humour. We don't. We don't even have a unique language to tell the jokes, and I get fed up with every Brit who perpetuates the other myth that all Germans lack a sense of humour altogether. It is amazing how long the effects of a well-run propaganda machine last into the future. We are now on the fifth or sixth generation of that one.

The humourlessness of Germans or the absence of irony in North Americans is nothing when compared to the propaganda put out by the invading Romans though.

2000 years later, most of us still believe that we were all a bunch of savages before they arrived, whereas the reverse is true, especially on the Saturday-night streets of every town in the country.

English humour is very good, but always weary. Australian humour is razor-sharp and usually lethal. American humour is highly observant, and always fresh - and that's just the English language.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

In death, as in life

I had (another) strange dream the night before last.

In it, a largish, black kitten was sitting on my lap, purring, when I decided it was time for dinner. So I ate it.

I don't remember how I killed it and ate it, but it was a very clean sort of process which left left no mess at all, and I must have eaten all of it because there was no fur or feet and claws left behind, nor any blood-stains on my trousers, which I had been using as a TV dinner table. It was a bit like a box of Kentucky fried chicken, but without the grease - not that I have ever eaten a KFC.

After the meal, I felt the need for company, so I reached down and picked up another, identical black kitten and put it on my lap.

Sensing what had just happened to it's brother, it struggled and squirmed to get away from me but I held it down firmly on my knees as it tried to claw me and get away to safety. I was not going to let it go.

After a very short period of time, it seemed to forget the possible danger, and it settled down and began to purr as I slowly released my grip and stroked it.

As it lay there in comfortable contentment, I began to start thinking about our curious relationship with animals - one minute like-companions and the next a food-source. I seriously contemplated becoming a vegetarian, but then I woke up.

Last night, I had another one of my recurring dreams where I am lost in a foreign city, trying to find my way back to a hotel. Usually, H.I. is at the hotel waiting for me, but in this one she was with me, also trying to find our way back.

Two old friends - a husband and wife - were also with us. These two friends both died a few years ago of cancer within about a year of each other, but they still visit me - or I them - in dreams.

The husband - in life - just loved dressing-up in outlandish costumes, so it was not unusual that in this dream he had acquired the costume of a bishop for me, so I could attend a funeral with them somewhere else in the city as some sort of joke.

Now I am awake, I know that this was a Pope's costume and not a bishop's, and in the dream I had left the white skull-cap and cape back in the hotel, having tried on the rest of it to show them how I looked. I thought I made a good Pope, and so did they, but I had to get the rest of the outfit from the hotel quickly as the hour of the funeral was fast approaching.

At the husband's real funeral (he and I had attended the wife's with everyone else - including the two children) he had played one last dressing-up joke as he lay there in his coffin.

At Haycombe cemetery chapel where he was cremated, right alongside the area where the coffins are placed for the service, there is a large, grilled vent in the floor through which a powerful but silent fan blows an up-draught of air between the congregation and the deceased, for reasons we will not go into.

The vicar - who I came to be on first-name terms with - approached the coffin and begun the service. He was dressed in a huge, white cotton vestment of the sort that choir-boys always wear.

He began by saying that it was Jay's last wish for him to conduct the service whilst standing directly over the air-vent, and then he moved into that position.

Immediately, the white vestment inflated into a huge balloon-shaped, spherical night-shirt, as wide as he was tall, and it stayed like that for the rest of the service.

I have never attended a funeral where the whole of the congregation has been helpless with laughter as the vicar intones sombre observations about life and death before, and for that little touch of genuine consideration for the feelings of others, I am truly grateful to Jay.

Here is the Google Street photo of the vicar eyeing up the girlies, just for Rachel:

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Not just a pretty face

After a almost a year of trading, I have finally got around to attaching an avatar image to my contributions to an online forum which discusses the day-to-day issues concerning the running of our local pub which - as you may know - is currently owned by 536 people, the most famous of whom is Robert Plant.

Someone whinged that he didn't know what any of the Board members looked like, and a couple of them obligingly put up a photo of themselves, so he knew who he was slagging off or praising in equal measure.

After about eight months, I have come to the conclusion that nobody hardly ever looks at it anyway (is that a double negative?) and became bored with the whole thing. It seems that it's just me and about five of the Board (I think there are twelve in total), plus one 'interesting' looking bloke with a flower-pot on his head, drinking a mug of tea. I have already fulfilled my duties as the Linda Snell of Walcot Street, and now I can relax and try to enjoy myself. It's not as if I have any ambition to stand for the Board at the first AGM, so I have nothing to lose.

So, first things first - choose an avatar image. I rather liked the one above, as it reflects the single-minded dedication and particular (or peculiar) intelligence that all of us blog and forum dwellers possess in abundance.

As soon as I had successfully attached it to every post I had ever put up, I began to think it was a bit too American (note T-shirt beneath shirt) and anyone who didn't already know me might have a bit of difficulty associating my rants with the subject, so I tried to replace it with this one:

Now come on, admit it. Father Jack suits me so much better than the geek above, and even if you have never met me or seen my photo, I would be instantly recognisable just through the content of my late-night contributions.

Try as I might (and did) to completely replace the avatar, you now have two images to choose from, depending on how and where you first enter into the site. This will probably completely defeat the purpose of having any image at all, and it would probably have been less confusing if I had stuck to the grey, Disney silhouette like everyone else.

I have often thought of using this as an avatar photo, but decided it might be too much for any children who accidentally stumbled on the site.

It is a dummy or mannequin that has been standing outside a sea-themed bar in Bremerhaven for years and in all weathers, to attract customers. I was sad to see that the owners had given it a make-over when I last visited, maybe because they finally realised that it was attracting the wrong sort of customers.

Now - completely off-topic, if that is possible - I have just stumbled upon the book-cover I designed for my children's ghost story, 'The Haunted Toilet'', and I thought I would show you:

The image was created using an amalgam of a wooden toilet seat on sale in a reclamation yard, and the illustration from a Japanese horror story.

I quite like it, but it would probably contravene a load of copyright laws, so when the time comes I will just have to find my own young girl to photograph in a nightdress through a toilet seat, looking scary.

It might take some explaining to the parents, mind you.