Blogathon 16/20: Trapped!

Storm Dave (whatever) together with Nottinghamshire County Council have been conspiring.

You see, the lane that runs through it is the only road into/out of the village.

So when Nottinghamshire County Council decided to close the road so they can resurface (read: scrape the old surface off, lay new surface, paint new white lines etc), they cunningly decided to do the northern end of the lane first, and the southern end of the lane last.

That’s clever, yes?

That means that the people affected by this work can just use the end that isn’t being worked on, yes?

No.

And it’s a very hard no.

Storm Dave (whatever) has thrown so much water down, that the end of the lane that isn’t being worked on right now is closed. Due to flooding.

And it’s serious flooding.

It’s ‘evacuate your homes and camp out in the leisure centre’ kind of flooding.

Fortunately we’re not affected by this because our little bit of the village is about 150′ above the flooding, on a little hill.

Now I’m not saying that the lane shouldn’t be resurfaced because it should. It has so many huge potholes it’s a serious hazard to all kinds of traffic.

The lane has suffered from decades of neglect and from years of unsatisfactory repairs by ‘surface dressing’ (each attempt at ‘surface dressing’ having failed to cure the problem which, of course, was a lack of proper resurfacing in the first place).

And I’m not saying that giving people an alternate in/out route while the surface is being properly fixed is a bad thing, because, obviously, people shouldn’t be left marooned in their homes due to roadworks.

What I am wondering, though, is why it seems to be beyond the wit and wisdom of man (or Nottinghamshire County Council in this instance) to split the work across the north/south lanes of the road?

You know, do the entire east side first, thereby allowing traffic to use the west lane for north/south ingress/egress (traffic-light controlled, obviously).

And then, when that’s finished, do the opposite side, and control ingress/egress through the same temporary traffic-light system.

Because that way you automatically build contingency into your roadworks.

And Robert’s your Mother’s brother.

Except he isn’t. Not in Nottinghamshire County Council, it would seem.

Anyway, the bit down the bottom end of the village with the serious flooding?

There are several houses down there still empty from the last lot of flooding.

It’s a proper low-lying bit of countryside.

And the local authority wants to build up to 2,000 new homes down there.

So that’s OK then.

Blogathon 15/20: What’s in a name?

After Storm Ciabatta (whatever) a few days ago, I find that today we are deep into Storm Dave (whatever).

I quite like the alphabetical storm-naming convention, but I think The Powers That Be could do with looking at where they choose their names from.

I mean, Ciabatta and Dave aren’t names that convey meaning or menace, are they?

Ciabatta, that’s a lump of bread, yes? And Dave, that’s a TV station dedicated to showing Red Dwarf, yes?

So instead of the next one being Storm Ectoplasm, or Storm Eggplant, or Storm Earwig, TPTB should choose something with an air of menace, to convey to the Great British People that Storms Are Very Dangerous.

As alternatives to the soft, namby-pamby names that have been used so far this year, I would like to offer Storm Executioner, or Storm Eliminator, or Storm EffortlesslyKillsEverythingInItsPath.

Names like these should stop things like this happening, yes?

Blogathon 14/20: VD

Today is one of those very special days.

If it wasn’t for days like this the entire greeting card and florist industry would collapse

Yes, it is Valentine’s Day (or VD for short).

In the Customer Service Centre (the building that the many, many teams of customer support operators work), messages of affection were delivered by one of the staff dressed like cupid.

Some messages were signed, some were anonymous.

Awwww…

They used to do that at school too; a whole internal post system suddenly popped up to convey messages between pupils who, ordinarily, would avoid speaking to each other.

Or so I liked to think.

Pauses for thought.

In these days of social media, I’m a bit surprised at the Cupid service in the CSC.

I would have thought most people would give someone a poke on FB or somesuch.

Blogathon 13/20: Sex Education

Netflix is streaming a multi-season programme called Sex Education.

The programme revolves around a magnificently socially awkward high school student and, erm, sex.

Not so much his, as that of almost everyone else around him.

I have enjoyed S1, and despite a couple of flat-spots, I enjoyed S2 too.

It’s a bit of an odd show. It ‘feels’ not British (though it unquestionably is); there’s just something about the High School that is a touch… transatlantic.

I enjoy the characters (Maeve is a delightfully rebellious personality), and I love the stunning locations (largely shot in the Wye valley, and it’s good to revisit, through the lens, places I frequented when I was much younger).

I also enjoy the way the show broaches sex, sexuality, and sexual behaviour. It tackles all of these things in a matter-of-fact, non-preachy way.

But the single thing I enjoy most about it (apart from the locations – so good to see Tintern and Llandogo looking so pretty!) is the way pupil relationships at school are portrayed.

And when I say ‘relationships’, I mean that in the broadest sense of the word.

Even if someone isn’t in your crowd/gang/clique, that someone is known. And is spoken to (even if slightly disparagingly).

S/he is an actual person.

I like this because when I was at secondary school (we didn’t call it High School back then) that isn’t what happened.

We might have known the names of fellow pupils from registration, but we didn’t know them well enough to speak to.

Or maybe it wasn’t even ‘well enough’, we just didn’t want to speak to them because they were unknown?

Whatever the rationale was, we just didn’t have the same kind of ‘soft’ relationship that the pupils in Sex Education do.

I really hope the programme is accurate in this one aspect more than all of the others.

It would be good to know that today’s teens are being more adult towards each other than we managed to achieve.

Blogathon 12/20: Pregnant bitches and the mutt’s nuts

Robyn has had her first ‘season’ (bless).

Apart from this being an indicator that our little girl is growing up, it was also a sign that she wasn’t very happy.

She had a tough time of it, and was very uncomfortable for several weeks.

So we discussed her situation (the family – Robyn isn’t much of one for discussions. Cuddles and hugs, yes. Discussions, not so much) and decided to get her ‘done’.

The veterinary surgeon we are registered with does a simple laparoscopic operation, rather than the more drastic ‘cut ’em open, take bits out and stitch ’em up again’ procedure.

We like this school of thought.

So a few weeks ago we trundled off to the vet for a pre-op inspection and guess what? Robyn is having a phantom pregnancy.

She can’t have the operation while her body thinks she’s pregnant, so we set it back a month.

The trouble is that young Chewie’s reproductive urges are starting to wake up.

So there’s a very real chance that Robyn could get actually pregnant, instead of phantomly pregnant. Or pregnant with phantoms. Or whatever.

So we booked Chewie in to get ‘done’ (which actually means ‘castrated’), to stop Robyn getting cheggers preggers.

And then I foolishly started reading up on dog castration. The final straw was an article in/on Psychology Today (Neutering Causes Behaviour Problems in Male Dogs)

To cut a long story short, we have discussed Chewie’s castration and decided that it’s not what we want for young Chewie, even though it would be a desirable contraceptive/preventative measure.

This means that we’re winging it for now, and hoping that Chewie and Robyn stay platonic friends, until we can get Robyn done.

And hopefully that will happen before she has her next season.

Blogathon 11/20: Not my BBC

The television world has changed so much in just my lifetime.

We’ve gone from two black and white TV stations on 405 lines, that began broadcasting at 4pm, barely gave an hour of children’s programming a day, and shut down at 11pm every night, and now have access to several hundred 24/7 broadcast TV stations (several in HD), and a handful of full-time streaming services.

Whether the quality of the programming is better or not… well, that’s a point based largely on public taste.

Perhaps we were less choosy in past days? And now, with so much multiple choice we’ve come to demand more high quality of what we like.

And because we have so much choice, we also choose from where we want to consume our high quality what we like.

And that’s the point: fro where we consume our television entertainment.

As a family, we don’t watch BBC TV.

Also, we don’t listen to BBC Radio.

And yet opting out of the BBC tax (aka licence fee) is more difficult than a very difficult thing.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about whether the BBC should be funded by subscription.

Certainly the technology exists to make BBC TV a pay-per-view service.

But would that be a good move?

What about my comment above, about the viewer demanding more high quality of what they like?

I mean, if Mrs Brown’s Boys can be voted Best Comedy at the NTAs, would a BBC TV subscription service be a fast journey to the bottom of the Sea of Taste?

Does having a BBC tax licence fee protect the quality of BBCs programming?

It has strongly been argued that the quality of BBC News needs improving – a view with which I would agree.

Indeed, the very poor quality of the BBCs news and current affairs output is yet another reason why I no longer use the BBCs services.

But aside from its dire output in news and current affairs, what has the BBC ever done for us?

Well, in years gone by BBC Comedy gave us Dave Allen – a show which would be unlikely to make it to air in these sensitive times.

And Monty Python of course – a show which would definitely not make it to air these days.

And Flowery Twats Fawlty Towers – see above about not making it to air.

I could go on, but the qualitative examples of past BBC comedy have been set here, and the bar is very, very high.

These days BBC Comedy gives us Miranda (not a comedy), and Frankie Boyle’s New World Order (not a comedy), and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Car Crash Roadshow (not a comedy).

Maybe I’ve got that wrong, perhaps I’m being a bit down on the BBCs comedic output.

Perhaps, in thirty years, consumers will look back fondly on episodes of Miranda and chuckle with mirth.

Alright, I concede that’s an unlikely event, but just for the sake of balance let’s leave that view in there.

And under the current affairs banner, the BBC used to have Panorama when it was a crusading firebrand of investigative journalism.

These days we have (and I can’t quite believe I’m saying this) Question Time.

In short, I don’t know whether a shift to subscription would be a good thing or a bad thing – either for the BBC or for the BBCs viewers.

Only posterity can judge that.

I do know that our household could save £154.50/year, and we wouldn’t miss the products or services that not paying that tax would take away from us, not miss them one bit.

Blogathon 10/20: Not getting to work (or home again)

The city of Nottingham has the River Trent (plus a couple of carnals canals) running through it.

It’s no Venice, but the Trent is very deep, fast-running, and very wide; it does give Nottingham a bit of character.

At the moment it’s a bit of character a lot of people could do without.

There are three bridges that span the Trent; one pretty far out of town, well to the West, another in the opposite direction, to the East. And there’s Clifton Bridge that is the middle bridge across the river.

The trouble is the Clifton Bridge spectacularly failed some safety checks last week, so northbound traffic is reduced to one lane. Southbound traffic has to find a different route across the Trent.

And that has meant that getting in to work in the mornings has taken up to two hours (instead of 20 minutes).

Getting home in the evenings has taken up to fourteen weeks (instead of 20 minutes).

Well, not really with the fourteen weeks; it has just seemed like it.

Apparently it’s too expensive to put another bridge over the Trent, so there’s that.

Blogathon 09/20: A hell of a blowjob!

Storm Ciabatta (whatever) is in full effect although I only know this because I took my earbuds out and looked through the patio doors.

When I walked the dogs at 6am it was just blowing, but now it’s hammering down sideways with all the aggression of an angry weather deity who hasn’t had his traditional bacon sandwich for breakfast.

One of the local FB ‘spotted’ groups has a photograph of a tent that someone found in their garden.

I don’t think there was anyone in it when it landed, Wizard of Oz style.

The 10yo is playing Fortnite which involves speaking monosyllabic words into her gamer headset whilst apparently shooting holes in the ground and beating up a jeep with a big axe.

Oh well.

Meanwhile, I have been editing.

After a significant amount of thought I have decided to change the direction that novel #2 was going in.

So I’m on a mass edit and a major rewrite, having decided to drop a character and structurally alter elements of (but not the whole) plot.

The novel has been out for consultation with various reader-types, and I have just started the submission process of talking to Literary Agents.

This rewrite doesn’t materially affect the book, but I think it will help make the story tighter, reduce the dialogue, and sharpen the overall focus.

Plus, reading the novel from the very beginning again has given me the opportunity to scrutinise every word for editability.

I’ll have to get it over to my editor soon though, before she starts sending me angry emails again.

The interesting thing is on this read-back, edit, and rewrite, is that the dialogue in my head says this isn’t a book; it reads like a film script.

Blogathon 08/20: An old boiler

One Wednesday evening, a few weeks ago, our hot water decided to buck the trend and do cold.

And only cold.

Round about the same moment our central heating decided to become central cooling.

And then it went central cold.

Unfortunately that was in the middle of one of the January’s bloody-hell-it’s-really-cold spells.

I looked at the boiler but all I saw was some red lights and an error code.

A quick google of the error code told me the boiler was super hot, massively out of temperature range, and helpfully informed me of a couple of reset tricks.

I did the reset tricks and gazed lovingly at the boiler as it burst back in to life gave me the same errors.

One phone call and an emergency plumber who knew less than the square root of naff all later, and I called it a night on the bad boiler front.

The next morning I got a very reliable, local plumber out.

He didn’t try to sell me a new pump, like the emergency plumber.

He explained that if you listened, you could hear the pump actually working.

The heat exchanger has gone, he said. I could probably order a new one, but parts for these old boilers are increasingly difficult to find, he added.

I asked how old the boiler was and he helpfully rang the manufacturer, read them the serial number and I clearly heard the manufacturer say that boiler came off the production line 21 years ago.

Rather than try and get a new part I asked the chap to sort out and fit a new boiler.

For almost a week (remember it was a cold spell when all this was going on?) we kept the log burner going; stacked it up with coal at night and during the working day, and fed it logs in the late afternoons and evenings.

Hot water was provided by Sam who boiled kettles and pans.

And then, a week to the day later, we had hot water and central heating once more.

Truthfully, it wasn’t really a hardship, doing without hot water and central heating.

The log burner kept most of the house above freezing (it throws out a lot of heat). And water heated on the hob kept us clean.

The dogs missed their weekly bath for a week and a half though. That was very noticeable; they are both extremely powerful mud magnets.

But when they’re freshly bathed they’re fragrant in a whole different way.

Freshly cleaned up mud magnets

Blogathon 07/20: Bad doggy parents

Dog-ownership is a lot like parenting.

No, it is, really!

Dogs need to be taught what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviour, just like children.

Dogs need to be rewarded for their good behaviour, just like children.

And dogs need some form of punishment/chastisement when they have behaved badly (just like children – although I would suggest that sending your dog to bed without Netflix might not have quite the impact that you should be considering for your errant offspring).

But the serious point is that without rules, and without a set of parameters that define good and bad, dogs – like children – will grow up not knowing right from wrong.

Did I say dogs are like children?

Well, add in the obvious: dog owners are like parents.

If the dog-owner (or the parent) doesn’t consistently apply the rules of wrong with the rewards of right, then sooner or later everyone who comes in to contact with the dog (or the child) is going to have a tough time.

So, these are basic rules and we can all agree them and that they are sensible, yes?

Good, and now to the point.

A near-neighbour has a dog that barks at anything it sees outside the front window of their house.

The logical, sensible solution to the problem would be to restrict the dog from the front of the house, yes?

It’s a smallish dog, the size of a large terrier or similar, so it’s not going to bound, kangaroo-like, over a stairgate-type thing.

But what the owners did last summer was to install sub-sonic cat-scaring devices in their front garden.

The theory is that these devices, triggered by motion, emit a sound only cats can hear. This sound will keep cats from the front of their house, their dog will not bark, and they will be (actual quote) ‘responsible neighbours’.

Except (at the risk of repeating myself), their dog barks at anything it sees outside the front window of their house. Anything.

This includes people walking to and fro on the pavement, because the dog has a grand view of all that stuff.

Needless to say, the sub-sonic cat-scaring devices turned out to be a waste of money because the dog continues to bark at everything it sees.

And it’s not a playful little bark either. It’s threatening.

On walks through the local fields we (our dogs and I) have encountered the near-neighbour and their dog.

None of these encounters have ever ended well.

Their dog has gone for ours. Every. Single. Time.

‘He’s only playing,’ the near-neighbours said on several occasions, as their hyper-aggressive, snarling, barking, teeth-barred dog pulled at his lead in a serious attempt to dismember either or both of our spaniels.

So we took a course of avoiding action.

Whenever we spotted them on the grassy horizon, we would change course keeping the best part of a quarter mile between their dog and ours.

Unfortunately on Monday evening I couldn’t take avoiding action.

We were halfway down the local jitty when I saw the near-neighbour and their dog approaching.

I stopped, shortened their leads so our dogs were effectively on four-inch hobbles, positioned the dogs between the fence and me and shielded them behind my legs.

The near-neighbour approached, slowed, and allowed his dog to sniff forward towards Chewie’s nose a few inches away. Robyn cowered behind my legs, Chewie has the recklessness of youth on his side.

The near-neighbour’s dog began its hyper-aggressive, snarling, teeth-barring, growling as usual.

I was about to ask him to get better control of his dog and to walk on, when his dog lunged forward and bit me.

I was shocked.

The anger set in much later, but right then I was shocked.

I told him I could have his dog destroyed under the Dangerous Dogs Act (fact).

I said his dog needed serious help (fact).

He said they had taken him places for behavioural help/training.

I had no words left.

I limped around the corner with our two dogs, sat down on a bench, rolled my trousers up and inspected the damage: a small hole in my trouser leg, and a bleeding hole in my shin.

I don’t think I could ever report anyone’s animal, or have it put down, but what’s left for their aggressive dog?

Certainly it needs to be protectively muzzled whenever it leaves their house.

There are schoolchildren who walk dogs in our little village.

Do I owe them a duty of care by reporting this incident?

I think I do, but where do things go once I start that ball rolling?

Similarly, how would I feel if the near-neighbour’s dog attacked a child – or attacked anybody?

I don’t doubt that my injury was caused because by accident; caused just because their dog was going for one of my dogs, but my legs were in the way, but that’s not the point.

What if someone else does get injured?

It’s a moral minefield, and I’m uncomfortable sitting in the middle of it.