Friday, August 31, 2007

This I Have Done My Route

Whilst walking Amy this morning I had an idea for a new game for the popular radio programme "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue". They already have a game called "One Song To The Tune Of Another" where the panelists are required to sing the words of one song to the tune of another. My idea is "One Song To The Tune Of The Same Song, After A Little Machine Translation". Here is an example. Take a well known popular classic like Frank Sinatra's My Way. You know the one : And now, the end is near; And so I face the final curtain. My friend, Ill say it clear, Ill state my case, of which I'm certain. Ive lived a life that's full. Ive traveled each and every highway; And more, much more than this, I did it my way. Feed these lyrics into an on-line machine translation system. In this example I have asked the service to translate the above verse from English into Russian. Then feed the Russian version into a similar service and get it translated from Russian in Spanish. Then take the resulting concoction and get it translated from Spanish into English. Then, sing the resulting words to the tune of My Way. Here are the words you would be dealing with : And now, the end - a series; And this way I am before the final curtain. My friend, say Villain that this is cleaned, Exhibit villain the reasons, that true I am. I've of the veins for the life that's complete. From the willows he was travelling round each one and every highway; And it is bigger, much more than this, This I have done my route. It works quite well after a couple of beers. Try it.

Where The Lower Case Goes Can The Upper Be Far Behind

Dear Aunty Doris, I have a problem that I am too embarrassed to talk about. A problem which is causing me sleepless nights and is challenging the very foundations upon which my life has been built. It revolves around a fear which is almost too horrible to give voice to. Over the years I have resigned myself to the fact that life is little more than a conveyor belt of worries. If I close my eyes I can conjure most of them up right now, like a contestant on some devilish Generation Game for obsessive worriers : my hair is falling out, I will get fatter and fatter until I burst, my computer will get a terminal virus, I have arrived at the airport check-in without my passport. But the latest worry overshadows such trivial cares. You see, Aunty Doris, I think I am becoming a conservative. If you are still there and haven't run away in shock and disgust, let me immediately point out the lower case "c" in the last sentence. But - and this is an even more terrifying thought - where the lower case goes the upper case can't be too far behind. Evidence, I hear you shouting, what evidence do I have of this alarming trend? Maybe it is just one of those twisted fantasies like imagining that you have out-of-control nasal hair (don't you have such fantasies, oh well, it takes all types as they say in Todmorden). Well there is evidence a-plenty Aunty Doris, evidence enough to thrill a chamber full of judges. You see, I have become a creature of habit who dislikes change. There, I have said it. The truth is out. I became aware of this new me on my recent holiday. Each evening after the show in the theatre, I would lead my companions on a headlong rush along the decks of the boat to secure our favourite table in our favourite bar. After everyone else had gone to bed I would head to another bar to enjoy a cigar, sitting at the same table every night drinking a glass of the same malt. Back home, I get grumpy when my routine is disturbed. The other day when Amy and I were enjoying our morning walk I became furious when I discovered that workmen had blocked off part of the path we normally follow. It necessitated a detour of about 17 yards. I spent the rest of the walk composing a letter to the Telegraph. I had the time to compose the letter because that morning the usual Guardian Newsdesk podcast had not appeared in a downloadable form on their website. Furious of Fixby penned another e-mail to the Guardian editor expressing the outrage I felt at having my ordered life disorganised. I mean, Aunty Doris, what is the world coming to. Today it is missing podcasts or dug-up paths and tomorrow it is skinheads running their fraternity rings down the paintwork of your newly cleaned car. Why can't people just leave my little world alone. I am a rock, I am an island. It wasn't like this when I was young. What is the world coming to. ...... Dear Aunty Doris, do I need help.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The 100 P Challenge Gets Underway

The moon was in somewhere or other and the sun was in the ascendant so today seemed like as good a day as any to start my new project - the 100 P Challenge (you may recall that the idea is to drink 100 pints in 100 different pubs for no other reason than it sounds like a good way of passing the time). The problem was, where to start? I am saving my local for number 100 and I wanted to start with somewhere that would establish a certain standard. I therefore headed off to the Shibden Mill Inn which is about three or four miles away from where I live.
It turned out to be an inspired choice - everything you could possibly ask from a pub. As the pictures shows, it benefits from a truly wonderful location. It is old, it still retains much of the interior fittings and wood panels, and a feeling of calm restfulness seems to seep out of the old oak beams. In keeping with the terms of the challenge, I had a pint of Moorhouses Best Bitter which was superb : when beer tastes like this who could possibly ever think of drinking lager. I will put together a brief report and add it to my website where the developing results of the challenge can be viewed.
Whilst enjoying my pint I couldn't help but remember the last time I had been to the pub. It must be about five years ago when, very briefly, I became involved with a Liverpool based firm of urban regeneration consultants. They held regular "away-days" for all the staff and in my honour they decided to hold such a day on my side of the Pennines. They therefore booked the Shibden Mill Inn for the day. I remember little other than the topic for the day was "our vision and values". It provided a perfect example of how a perfect venue can be ruined by the need to talk nonsense. The firm didn't survive long after I joined it - it might have been my impact upon its corporate ethos or its lack of vision that brought about its downfall. Since then I have been involved in endless hours of stale debate on vision and values for the various organisations I have been part of. And I cannot recall one good idea, one positive thought, one exciting development or one sensible suggestion coming out of any of it.
That day five years ago we would have all been better just sitting back and enjoying an excellent pint of well kept beer.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Projects, Projects, Projests

Back from holiday (two weeks at high sea plus a bonus week back on land) and I am full of projects. These silly little projects give structure and form to what could easily become the nebulous existence of the prematurely retired. And anyway, I have always been a project-person. I can't look at a tree without wanting to categorise the most common tree shapes, I can't eat a bag of crisps without an accompanying deep desire to write a short treatise on the history of potato crisp making in the UK (Did you know that Henry Walker, who was by trade a pork butcher, only went into crisp manufacturing when wartime rationing meant that he sold out of his allocation of pork by 9.30am each morning?).

Blue-tacked to the underside of my desk is a list of my current projects (I don't want people seeing this, they might get to thinking that I was a little strange or even a little sad). There at the top of the page are the three great on-going projects : Fat Dog To The Big Apple (Amy and I are just starting the second leg of our epic journey and heading north from San Francisco); the Daily Photo Blog (a mixture of new and old photographs from my collection); and, of course, News From Nowhere.

Since returning from holiday, two new projects have been added to the main section of the list, and one has been pencilled-in within the "under review" section of the list (note how even the list of projects has itself become a project). The first of the new additions is an old idea of mine which I have never quite got around to completing. With the working title "Typically Yorkshire" it attempts to answer the question "what is a typical Yorkshire scene?" by making use of geographical co-ordinates and random number generators. It might make an interesting little article, and if not it will provide me with a little diversion from filling and re-filling the dishwasher. I will report on my progress from time to time, at the moment let me simply say that the random number generator has decided that the first place I investigate is a field just south of the hamlet of Nunburnholme Wold, a few miles east of Pocklington.

The second new project is a refinement of an idea that I wrote about before going on holiday - the 100p challenge. In order to give some meaning to my life I have decided to drink 100 pints of beer in 100 different pubs during the next year (let me stress that is 1 pint in each of 100 pubs not 100 x 100). I see this challenge as being in the great tradition of people who have attempted to scale the highest mountain on each continent, or walk 10,000 steps each day, or ski down every rabbit hole in Central America, or whatever. I might seek out sponsors (they could have badges saying "I bought Alan a pint in one of 100 pubs") or I might steal a beer-map as a souvenir from each of the 100 pubs. "Where is the challenge in this task?" some doubters may cynically ask. Sadly, the challenge is still finding 100 pubs still open.

The pencilled-in addition to the "under review" section is my planned magnum opus "Great Manhole Covers Of The World : An Illustrated Encyclopedia". The only thing which stops me going ahead with this is the fear that it might appear somewhat eccentric. I must continue to try to fight against this fear, as I believe that it could represent my most realistic claim to lasting fame. With this fight in mind let me close today with a splendid example I captured during my recent visit to the Canary Islands. Take in its fine cast-iron beauty and ask yourself, what's so eccentric about that?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Conversion Diagram

Our boat's conversion is now complete!! Even the battery charge meter works at last....

And we've done enough trips to know the boat really works just as if it had conventional drive (bit more powerful, actually).... but almost totally silent running electric (except for water noises,) and only a slight hum if the generator is on. Which it only has to be about a third of the time (to be basically fully charged by the end of the day) on the canal or going downstream on the river.... upstream, needs to be on most of the time...

But the other day we were on the river which was still on code yellow - very strong current for boating. Absolutely no problem, plenty of vibration free power. (Going downstream, whey-hey, white water rafting for narrowboats. Sort-of. I would have been nervous using the old diesel, our new drive, not at all.)

So it was time to write my article for Waterways World... after a sleepless night my brain at last got around to thinking of a way to write it, not too detailed, but not missing any essential points.... and I thought it would be good to include a diagram of how essential units are arranged at the stern of the boat.

All the material has gone off to WWW... and they had said they'd be very interested previously so I hope and assume it will be published, eventually - I've yet to hear for sure or when.

But they say they redraw diagrams to their in-house style.....

So it seems my fine artwork, as above, will not appear. Owing a lot to Arthur Ransome, I suspect. I felt it should have a more public airing than just to Jane and the back-room artist at WWW. It pleases me. It's also nearly correct. (It's a sort-of vertical section through the rear of the boat.)

If only the weather would clear, we might actually get a trip on the boat one day, again. In the meantime we took a ton of old computers and printers and enormous collapsed cardboard boxes and expanded polysterene to the tip today... so we actually have a spare room again.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Five Go Mad : Day 7

Saturday the Something of August Gran Canaria The five are all suffering from too much sun. They talk about rain like old people talking about the summers of their youth. They cover themselves in layers of clothes to protect themselves from the relentless heat. They are driven to walk for long hours in air-conditioned shopping centres. Alexander - no doubt affected by too much sun - has developed an uncontrollable desire for shirts and he buys them in great numbers. His father is driven to drink. Issy and Elaine continue to shop, and shop, and shop. Harry is carrying out an inspection of the Spanish Police Department. They have grown used to the life and the life has grown used to them. Each evening in the Raffles Bar after the concert ends, the waiters have two cocktails of the day, a pint of Newcastle Brown and a pint of Best Bitter waiting for them. It's a hard life but the five are bearing up well.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Five Go Mad : Day 5

La Palma, Canary Islands Ahoy shipmates. The five continue to have a wonderful time although the endless round of five-course meals, cocktails, and spectacular shows is all becoming a little ordinary now. They have taken to the life of international maritime playboys (and girls) like fish to floodwater. I and E are conducting a detailed survey of shops in the various Atlantic islands and have taken to their task with an impressive enthusiasm. When not shopping they go to on-board lectures of precious stones. H continues to patrol the boat to ensure that things go smoothly. He was barred from the Gym the other day for being overdressed and is thoroughly searched every time he comes back on board. X divides his time between sculpting his hair and dancing the night away in the host of on-board nightclubs. And your respectful correspondent, A, reads, drinks a variety of malts, and each day smokes a very large cigar. Ah bliss.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Five Go Mad : Day 2

Somewhere in the Bay of Biscay : Monday 15.30 The boat is going up and down slightly more than one would reasonably expect in the twenty first century, but nevertheless the sun is shining and the five are having a spiffing time. Of the five, two are currently attending a talk on diamonds, one is jogging around the deck, one is up to no good with a load of other teenagers, and one is sending this dispatch. Tonight is the Captain's Welcome Aboard Party so all the finery will be on display. Ahoy shipmates.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Five Go Mad On The Canary Islands

As many of my friends already know, I am about to set off on holiday. On Sunday, my wife, my son and myself, along with our good friends Harry and Elaine, set sail on the good ship Aurora bound for Madeira, the Canary Islands, Lisbon and Spain. Can I therefore take this opportunity to thank all my friends for the many e-mails they have sent me over the last few days. E-mails. drawing my attention to the fires in the Canary Islands, the outbreak of legionella on cruise ships, heavy snowfall in Madeira, street crime in Lisbon, and the dangers of plague and piracy in Vigo. It is such a comfort to know one has such good friends watching out for your safety and happiness.

For those who wish to follow our progress through the Atlantic Islands over the next couple of weeks, please take a look at the Aurora webcam. I had intended to host a special holiday blog (Five Go Mad On The Canary Islands) but I decided that holidays are for changes and therefore I will try and stay away from the on-board computer room. Just in case I cannot resist the temptation I will post messages to the NfN blog.

So boo-hoo to the lot of you. I hope it rains back here in the UK. I'm heading for the sun.

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...