Going for Bronze

The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme may have changed since I got my award, but in those far-off days gaining an award boiled down to:

  • Being proficient at a skill, and
  • Being proficient at an activity

For my Bronze Award my skill was technical and practical proficiency of at least one musical instrument. Easy.

My activity was orienteering (this being a jolly combination of map-reading, camping, cooking, and showing care and consideration for the wildlife in the countryside). Also easy.

I was about 14 when Mr Hamer approached me and asked if I’d like to take part in the scheme.

He didn’t explain the benefits too well, but, in retrospect, it is fairly clear that he had identified me as something of a wild child, and felt the scheme might benefit a young soul in need of some structure.

I flew through the technical and practical proficiency elements of my skill challenge, and over the next couple of weeks a few basic outdoorsy items were procured from Millets for my activity.

My orienteering team-mates were two other lads from school. Both quieter than me, the kind of people who wouldn’t readily volunteer for too many things.

Again, in retrospect, perhaps Mr Hamer felt they needed bringing out of their shell. Not something that could be said about me at that time.

The Friday morning arrived (this was a Good Thing about the scheme – a whole day out of school!), my orienteering colleagues and I reported, in our civvies and with our packed rucksacks, to Mr Hamer.

He ran us through his checklist one more time and then gave us a map and a bunch of map references with times against each.

The plan was that we would arrive, on time, at each map reference where Mr Hamer may (or may not) be waiting to mark our progress and check on our welfare.

The three of us went off to a table in the hall and with all the right tools we worked out the most logical route to each checkpoint.

I saw two things quite early on in the route planning stage.

The first thing we all noticed was that the timings were tight; and we would have to maintain a fast pace in order to hit every map reference on time.

The second thing that (only) I noticed was that most of Mr Hamer’s route ran straight through the 10sq miles of countryside that I lived in, and knew intimately.

I quickly redesigned the route into an illogical pattern that made use of every shortcut I knew.

So, for example, the first checkpoint was in Llanfoist. The second was in Penpergwm, a long way south east of the first and, very importantly, on the wrong side of the river.

So the only way to the second checkpoint would be to retrace our steps back into Abergavenny, cross the river on one of the road bridges, and then follow the country lane south-east to Penpergwm.

Except I knew a better route.

Similarly, the third checkpoint was back on the other side of the river, at Llanvair Cross, and the only logical way to get there was to trudge a lot of road miles to cross by the roadbridge.

And the fourth (and final checkpoint for day one) was a continuation from the third, a field in Nant-y-Derry where we were supposed to camp for the night.

Well with our redesigned route, we made all of our checkpoints on time. We even had enough intelligence to wait around the corner (snoozing in a field) until five minutes before we were due, and then speed-walking up to our rendezvous points, looking like we’d worked hard.

Reader, we hadn’t worked hard at all.

Instead of heading away from the Llanfoist checkpoint and going back into Abergaveny, I directed our little troupe through the back lane into Llanellen, then onto another back lane towards Llanover.

But you’re thinking that we’re on the wrong side of the river, and you’d be right.

However, opposite Llanover church, a few miles down that second lane, is a private footbridge across the river, for the use of fishermen only (it’s part of the Fisherman’s Cottage, which is rented out to anglers). You can clearly see the bridge here:

We quietly legged it across that footbridge and through the fields to our first checkpoint.

After making sure we weren’t footsore or too weary, Mr Hamer got in to his Rover 80 (P4) and we pretended to make the correct tracks.

When we were sure the coast was clear we walked down through the village of The Bryn and up the embankment onto the railway line.

The railway line (it really sees very little use) took us almost directly to Llanvair Cross, where we had a good long nap in one of the fields, and then arrived at our checkpoint looking like we’d earned some kind of reward.

When Mr Hamer’s car had disappeared into the afternoon sun, we legged it back on to the railway and, much quicker than walking the lanes, soon arrived at the field which was to be our night-stop.

We got our tents up, unrolled our sleeping bags and waited for our night-time visit.

When he’d gone, I took the lads to the back door of the Foxhunter Inn where we bought a flagon of cider and a couple of bottles of ale. We went back to our tents and got tipsy

The next morning, we cleared the debris from the night before and cooked sausage and bacon sandwiches. Mr Hamer joined us for breakfast.

We had just two checkpoints the next day, which we made in good time thanks to the generosity of a couple of motorists on the A4042 and the use of my right thumb.

I don’t feel that we cheated. No, I really don’t.

We used our ingenuity. The rules never said we had to travel by any proscribed route, just that we had to arrive at each checkpoint on time. Which we plainly achieved.

However, you should look at my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze award in this way: This exercise taught me a great deal about achieving the objective, using ingenuity, thinking outside the box, and keeping within a simple set of rules.

When I was undergoing my basic military training two years later, the section I was in charge of won our Survival Training by a significant margin, through using similar techniques. That was a great week and the celebrations went on for days.

A year later, the Flight I led won an Evade and Capture exercise against a bunch of Paras. We were equally cunning that week. Our CO gave us all a 72-hour pass for exemplary conduct.

So you see, I have fond thoughts of my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze award.

And of Mr Hamer.

Unpopular opinion

The start of every year is the start of a new decade. We’re just not counting from zero, but that doesn’t make the count any more or less of a decade. A decade is still ten years, it doesn’t matter where you count from.

Setting this one obvious point aside for a moment, here’s some more…

The whole New Year thing is fixated on the passing of time. Is it a healthy fixation?

New Year Resolutions also, in a slightly oblique way, mark the passing of time in a not good way.

They mark our aspirations for the next 12 months (and, likely, they highlight our past failures).

There’s been some decade-related action on the Twitter.

It has been interesting to see people Tweet photos taken 10-years apart. Some surprising in either direction, others not so much.

A lot can happen in the space of ten years.

I made a list of significant events, and had to go back and edit in a very significant event I really shouldn’t have forgotten.

Ten years ago my screen time involved the same TV series that I’m re-watching again.

But the really important thing is that ten years ago I was a very different person.

I think I’m a better person for the passing of time. And I’m the only person qualified to give me an opinion on that, so it must be true.

Insane in the membrane

Here’a an interesting list of reasons for committal to an insane asylum (except we don’t call them that any more) from 1864 – 1889.

I offer this list with no comment:




It is 04.30 on Easter Sunday and Dandy and I are downstairs.

I’m not too sure why Dandy is (unless it’s because of his FOMO), but I am here because I have a cold.

It’s not manflu, it’s just a cold.

But the associated nasal flow means being horizontal right now is not exactly a great idea.

So I’m up.

With a bogroll on one side, and a loudly purring catten on the other.

*honks nose into strip of bogroll*

*Dandy looks unamused but continues​ to purr*

I’m thinking of playing with a new tech project.

Taking an old but reasonable spec laptop, wiping it, installing Linux, putting some Office-y apps on, and using that as my main home computer.

Pretty straightforward, except I can’t decide which flavour of Linux to go for.

The host operating systems in the datacentre, after a couple of shots of prototyping and a massive flirtation with Centos, were built with Debian.

KX Studio looks very interesting, but as you might guess from the name, it was developed for a different purpose, and not as an Office platform. Maybe KX Studio is a different project for the future?

Elementary Loki looks extremely slick, modern and, built on Ubuntu, LTS is not going to be an issue.

Or there’s the openSUSE operating system, which has everything I would need (but it looks just a bit dated).

There are many things to mull and consider, but it’s going to be an interesting little project.

Meanwhile I still have a cold, and Dandy has gone outside to stretch his legs, or whatever it is that young cattens do at this time of the morning.

Getting very wet

If you go to Holme Pierrepont, on the outskirts of Nottingham, you will probably find yourself ambling across the landscaped grounds of the National Watersports Centre.

National Watersports Centre

National Watersports Centre

Here you’ll find large expanses of calm water, where you can hire a canoe (or a kayak), and paddle about a bit.

NWSC Kayak

NWSC Kayak

Or if you fancy something a little quicker, and you want to have a crack at sailoring, you could soon get on with one of these.

NWSC Dinghy

NWSC Dinghy

And if you wanted something even more reckless you could try this.

NWSC barrels

NWSC barrels

Or this.

NWSC towski

NWSC towski

Or if you’re a total nutter, you could try what I caught this load of people doing on Sunday.

NWSC white water rafting

NWSC white water rafting

NWSC white water rafting

NWSC white water rafting

NWSC white water rafting

NWSC white water rafting

NWSC white water rafting

NWSC white water rafting

NWSC white water rafting

NWSC white water rafting

NWSC white water rafting

NWSC white water rafting


Oh, I went to a pub for lunch.

Then went to the RSPCA animal rescue centre and almost burst in to tears and tried to come home with all of the animals.

Failed, obv.

Then I took the ZX10R out to finish scrubbing off its tyres.


It’s simples, simples

Look, it really is very, very simple:

  • It’s ‘there’ or it’s ‘their’
  • It’s ‘we’re’ or it’s ‘were’
  • It’s ‘it’s’ or it’s ‘its’

My 16yo daughter knows the rules behind each of these alternatives (and their correct uses), and she lives in a country where English is not the first language.

Why are some people who were born, and educated, in the UK, incapable of following some simple grammatical rules?

Are these people stupid?

Or are these people lazy?

The answer must, surely, be one of these?

I know people who are diagnosed with dyslexia, who get these simple rules right.

Let’s not look for excuses, let’s look for answers.

Why are some people incapable of speaking (and using) their language correctly?

Is that too much to expect?

That the people who were born and educated here would be able to speak and use their home language correctly?

Is it?

Sex – out of this world!

While you and I fall in to bed at night, and have our deep, dreamless sleeps (and occasional excellent hugs), Stephany Cohen is beamed aboard alien spaceships and has sex with members of various alien races.

I show the clip of her interview, on BBC1s This Morning, without further comment:

Stupid surveys

I do online surveys for OnePoll.

The thing is, when analysing any survey response, the quality of the response is only as good as the question and answer options that the respondent has been given.

This morning’s survey – which goes by the snappy title of JM PL 0603 VK – asked, at question 17:

Do you regularly buy shallots?

My – correct – response was ‘No’ (because I don’t ‘regularly’ buy shallots. In fact I can’t remember the last time I bought shallots, but it certainly hasn’t been for a year or two).

Question 18 (if one had answered ‘No’ to the previous ‘Do you regularly buy shallots?’ question) was:

‘If no, is it because…?

  • I don’t know which dishes to put them in

  • They are too expensive

  • They take too long to prepare

  • I don’t know why you would use them instead of an onion

  • I don’t know where to buy them

  • I don’t know how to prepare them

Actually, none of the above. I don’t buy shallots regularly because I have no call to buy shallots regularly.

But the poorly thought-out logic is that people don’t buy shallots for one of these reasons – and one of these reasons only – and only offers the respondent one of the above *mandatory* responses.

So, in order to complete the survey, I had to give a completely bogus response.

I do hope OnePoll don’t undertake surveys on behalf of the government or any political parties!