Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Snot

Fergus has a cold. This isn't really news, as he usually has some sort of low level sniffling going on, but the one he's got at the moment is a really stinker. Kate keeps getting snail-trails on the shoulder of her cardigan from cuddling him. The washing machine is working overtime (and leaking, but that's a different story).

Last night (or rather, at 02.51 this morning) Fergus was very much away and coughing. At this point we took the nuclear option of bringing him into our bed, something we haven't ever done before. And there was a moment, just a moment, when I was with my beloved, both of us cuddling this wheezing little snot-ball off to sleep, there was a moment when I realised I was the happiest I had ever been, ever.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A thing I learned today

The phrase 'steel guitar' may mean a number of different things. Today I saw a pedal steel guitar for the first time. I was surprised, as it doesn't look much like a guitar. But it turns out that there are many different ways of playing 'steel guitar' and many different objects, of varying degrees of guitarishness,

That is all.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Previously...

18 December 2003

OK, this is an experiment. Maybe it will give people (friends, one would hope) an insight into what the hell I am up to, most notably in the field of Chemistry which causes me to do odd things and go to odd places.

I have a job. Not a proper one, as my mum would say, but nonetheless a real, pay you money to work here, kind of job. Huzzah. Until (and probably beyond) March 2006 I shall be looking for the OH radical all over the place. "How?", I hear you ask. Simple. I shall be responsible for the maintenance, operation and upgrade of the FAGE instrument, which uses LIF to detect OH concentrations. Which is what I was doing (kinda) in the lab in Philadelphia, but in future I shall be driving round in a truck and taking measurements in the field. Why? Well, chemically OH is very important in the atmosphere, primarily because it is responsible for breaking down pollutants via

R-H + OH -> H2O + R.

where R can be more or less anything, but in particular tends to be some hydrocarbon (i.e. natural gas, petrol, benzene, dioxins [OK, not a hydrocarbon], nitric acid [not a hydrocarbon either], HFCs and other organic pollutants). R. then reacts with other things (primarily oxygen) and ends up being broken down into mostly CO2 and H2O. This tends to be a good thing. Clearly the amount of reaction occurring depends on the amount of OH present, which is why we want to measure it.

OK, that is what I will be doing in Leeds, and around the country (maybe even the world).

Lets see how long this journal lasts, shall we?

Friday, 7 October 2011

Can you tell your left from your right? Part V of V

The Chinaman

So, we come to the end of our journey with the ball that inspired it. And this final article throws up a number of questions. What is a 'Chinaman'? Who bowls it? Why are are you telling me this?

(A Chinaman isn't this, but that is very funny, and cricket related, so you should take a look.)

'Puss' Achong was a West Indian bowler of Chinese extraction whose unremarkable career would have passed without much comment, were it not for the fact that one day he threw in an unexpected delivery to English batsman (and here I confess to resorting to Wikipedia) Walter Robins. Robins was expecting SLA (which was Achong's stock delivery) but Achong (who must have been practised this sly delivery in the nets) bowled one out of the back of his hand, in the same manner as a leg spin bowler. Since he was a left-arm bowler, the ball turned in the opposite direction to the leg break, clean bowling a flummoxed Robins. Legend suggests that looking back at his shattered stumps he uttered the immortal phrase, "Fancy being out to a bloody Chinaman!" And the sobriquet stuck.

And in essence, that's it. The Chinaman is the mirror image of the leg break. It's left arm wrist spin and it turns from off to leg, rather than leg to off (like a conventional leg break).

So who bowls it? Well, the answer is, not many people. Like Achong, Johnny Wardle (yet another brilliant Yorkshire bowler) was an SLA who opted to throw in the occasional Chinaman to bewitch his opponent. But Wardle's Test career was nothing like Achong's. Indeed, it was nothing short of brilliant. It is still a mystery to me how such a talented bowler could only have played only 28 Tests (even he was up against Laker and Lock for a spot in the team) but in those 28 he took 102 wickets at an average of only 20.39 runs per wicket. That's better than Laker, Murali, Warne and, pretty much, everyone. Wardle has a decent claim to being the best post-war spinner though SLA (and yet another Yorkshireman!) Bobby Peel's 101 wickets at 16.98 will take some beating!

In more recent times, Paul Adams (whose bowling action has been likened to a 'frog in a blender') and Brad Hogg have had modest success bowling Chinaman. (Here's are great video of Hogg bowling, which includes 'conventional' Chinaman, more than one wrong 'un (googly - note how the batsmen often fail to spot, or 'pick' the googly) and flipper). Brilliant one day batsman Michael Bevan was known to toss in the occasional over of Chinaman (men?).

Why so few? Well, like leg spin, Chinaman is hard to master. Of course, It's useful to have a googly (and despite unpopular misconception, a Chinaman's googly is called just that - a 'googly'. The Chinaman is the stock ball - the mirror image of a leg break) but the disadvantage of a stock ball that breaks towards the (right handed) batsman appears to have led the majority of left-arm spinners to opt for orthodox SLA, rather than wrist spin.

I can think of one other Chinaman bowler. And fittingly for the last word in this article and this entire series, he was the greatest cricket player of all time. Originally picked primarily as an SLA bowler, he developed into one of the greatest batsmen the world had ever seen, a top notch fielder, a left arm fast bowler of prodigious talent, and he developed a Chinaman as well. He was the great Sir Garry Sobers, and as Garry Sobers cannot be surpassed as a cricketer, it is here that we end this series.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Can you tell your left from your right? Part IV of V

Leg spin

If you want to understand leg spin, you can do worse things than buy the excellent album 'The Duckworth Lewis Method' by the band of the same name. 'Jiggery Pokery' is one of the few cricket songs I'm aware of (indeed, aside from 'Dreadlock Holiday' by 10CC and the rest of the songs on the DLM album, I can't think of any) and the only one that sets to music 'The Ball of the Century'. But more on this later.

Leg spin is a type of wrist spin. Rather than bowling the ball out of the front of the hand, imparting spin by a rapid twist of the wrist and fingers, wrist spin is delivered from the back of the hand, with the rotation of the wrist and shoulder imparting spin on the ball. Try it with a tennis or ping pong ball. Hold the ball between your fingers, palm facing in the direction you want the ball to travel. Then twist wrist rapidly and as you do so flip the fingers forward, so that the ball shoots out of the back of your hand. It probably won't go where you expected it to, but if you do it right the motion of the wrist should impact spin on the ball. And, hopefully, you won't strain anything.

So here's Terry Jenner, the mentor of a certain great legspinner, explaining how it works.

There are three big advantages to leg spin. First, the stock ball (that is the ordinary leg spin ball, the one the bowler bowls most often) turns from leg to off (the opposite way to the stock ball of the off spinner), which means it is spinning away from a right-handed batsman (in the same way as an SLA). Second, if you do it right, wrist spin imparts more spin on the ball than finger spin. So you can get more turn. (It also imparts more strain on the body - more than one leggie has had to have shoulder surgery). And third, by varying the position of the wrist at the point of delivery, it's possible to bowl a googly.

Bosanquet was an Englishman, and it's entirely possible that no Englishman, not even Grace, had more of an impact on cricket. For 'Bosie' invented the googly. He invented it experimenting with a ping-pong ball. And then he transferred it to the cricket pitch. Suddenly it was possible for a spinner to bowl a ball that turned the 'other' way. For a right-arm wrist spinner (leg spinner) this meant the ball would turn from off to leg, rather than leg to off. And if the batsman wasn't expecting the googly, he was going to end up looking like an awful chump.

Leg spin was big between the wars, when players like Faulkner, Grimmett and O'Reilly mastered Bosie's googly and tormented (mainly English) batsmen. For some reason, probably because despite all the advantages of leg spin it has one major disadvantage - it's so damm difficult to master - leg spin fell out of fashion. There is nothing worse (for a fielding captain) than a bowler bowling poor legspin. Ian Salisbury demonstrated this once or twice.

But Abdur Qadir revitalised the art in the 80s, and then Shane Warne burst onto the scene. People who'd never watched cricket in their lives would have been aware of Warne. He was the biggest thing to hit Ashes cricket since Botham. And what an arrival.

I mean, watch that again. The ball lands a long way outside leg stump and hits off! It hits off! Gatting plays a perfect forward defensive to a leg break and is clean bowled. Incredible. No wonder they call it the 'ball of the century'. It was the first ball Warne had ever bowled in Test cricket in England. That ball, and Warne's absolute mastery of the art, cast such a spell over England batsmen that for years after, even when they couldn't lose, they did.

In the end Warne ended up with 708 Test wickets. Murali got 800 (his 800th was the last wicket to fall in his last ever Test - some timing!). The debate about who was the greater bowler of the two rumbles on, but it's hard to argue with the assertion that those two were the best of all time. Then again, maybe Bill O'Reilly would have taken 800 wickets if he'd got the chance to play 145 Tests!

Final word on the subject of leg spin goes to Terry Jenner, who helped Warne develop into the bowler he became. Here Jenner explains the five different balls(!) that made up Warne's armoury.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Can you tell your left from your right? Part III of V

Slow left arm

Cricket is many many things but it isn't sexy. Well, not unless you count Botham trying, and failing, to get his leg-over. And of all the things in cricket that aren't sexy, the term 'slow left arm' is perhaps the drabbest. Even 'rain stopped play' conjures images of a mass exodus to the bar.

And yet, and yet. Slow left arm isn't boring. Or doesn't have to be. Some of the greatest bowlers ever to have played the game bowled SLA. Wilfred Rhodes took over 4200 First Class wickets bowling left-arm spin. These days 50 wickets in a First Class season is considered an excellent achievement, which suggests that a decent bowler would have to hold down a spot in country cricket for 80 years or so to match Rhodes' tally. Clearly, it's a record that will never be broken. And after Rhodes (for both England and Yorkshire) came Hedley Verity. If Bradman was the greatest batsman of all time (and he was) then Verity, who Bradman rated as the best he had ever faced, the only bowler that Bradman felt he had never entirely sussed, might have some claim to be the best bowler ever, certainly the best of his generation. Killed in WWII, the history of the 'Invincible' Australian tour of 1948 might have been different if Verity had still been around.

The physics of it is simple enough. Your left hand is a non-superimposable mirror image of your right. Therefore if you bowl finger spin, in exactly the same way as you bowl off spin, but with your left hand, the ball will rotate in the opposite direction when it leaves your hand, and when it pitches it will spin the other way. And for some reason, this style of bowling is known as slow left arm orthodox. Or SLA for short.

This method of attack is considered to have more potential than off spin as, to a right-handed batsman the ball is now turning away from him (from leg to off). As the ball spins away he may mis-control his shot and end up stumped or caught. Despite the fact that there have been very few left-arm fast bowlers of note over the last few decades (Vaas, Zaheer and Ilott are the only ones who spring immediately to mind) there have been stacks and stacks of slow lefties, probably because they were coach to bowl that way and exploit the (perceived) weakness of right-handed batsmen to the ball turning away.

Worthy of particular comment are Monty Panesar, who broke through into the England side recently but has now fallen away somewhat, the great 'Deadly' Derek Underwood, who is up there with Laker and Verity as the greatest ever English spinner, and Bishan Bedi.

In many teams, the spin bowler is there as a fall back. Defence to the fast-bowlers offence. A guy the captain can turn to when he wants to give his quicks a break, or stem the flow of runs from a batsman making hay. Many SLAs bowl (or are told to bowl) a negative, containing line. "Just don't get hit" seems to be the refrain. Panesar seemed to be suffering from a lack of variety and invention which eventually led to him being dropped by England. But in India spinners have always been seen as wicket takers, and none were more so than Bedi. The reaction of most spinners to being hit to the boundary is to bowl the next ball quicker, and fuller. A fast defensive dart unlikely to get a wicket, but are harder to hit for four. Bedi would bowl slower, loopier, shorter. Taunting and teasing the batsman. "Go on. Try that again!", his bowling said. It must have worked. Bedi took over 250 Test wickets at an average of less than 30.

And so, to the King of Spain. Never the most threatening of bowlers, the sight of him bowling a negative line (basically landing the ball outside leg-stump every time, making it very difficult for the batsman to score any runs, but also virtually impossible for Giles to take a wicket) to contain the great Sachin Tendulkar was not something that would set any pulses racing. But in 2005, in Old Trafford, he produced a classic example of SLA bowling (pay close attention to the commentary by Richie) to dismiss Damien Martyn. The remarkable thing here is that Martyn tries to defend the ball in exactly the right way (we will see another example of this later) and is completely flummoxed when it hits his off-stump. What a ball!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Can you tell your left from your right? Part II of V

Off spin

Off spin is bowled by a right-handed bowler, holding the ball between index, middle and ring finger, with the wrist rotated (rapidly) clockwise at the point of delivery. Spin is imparted by the fingers, which is why this type of delivery is known as 'finger spin'. I've also heard finger spin (bowled from either hand) described as orthodox, which I assume is because finger spin was the first type of spin bowling discovered.

Off spin causes the ball (from the bowler's perspective) to spin from left to right upon bouncing (pitching). From a right-handed batsman's perspective, the ball spins from the side of the wicket his bat is held towards (the offside) towards his legs. In cricket parlance, off spin (to a right-handed batsman) spins from off to leg.

It tends to be easier for a batsman to play a ball that is spinning in to him rather than away from him. I guess this is because it is easier to play with the bat close to the body than play away from the body, upsetting your balance. For whatever reason, playing off spin is considered easier (at least if you bat right-handed, as the majority of players do), and therefore off spin is somewhat dull and unfancied. There have been few really successful offspinners in the last 50 years. True, the most successful spinner of all time, Muttiah Muralitharan, who only retired last year, was an offspinner. But Murali possessed extraordinary physical attributes (something to do with hyper-flexible joints) that enabled him to impart tremendous spin in both directions. Orthodox he was not. Your averagely flexible offspinner hasn't had much of a chance. That said, there have been a few very successful post-war off-spinners, of whom Lance Gibbs, Hugh Tayfield and Saqlain Mushtaq spring to mind.

Saqlain is of critical importance, as he is credited with inventing the doosra. Before Saqlain it was widely reckoned that an off-spinner could make the ball turn from off to leg, or make it go straight (the 'arm ball') and through subtle variations in flight, spin and pace vary the trajectory of the ball such that the batsman never quite knew what it would do, but is was impossible for an off spinner to make the ball spin from leg to off. Then Saqlain started bowling the doosra (literally 'the other one') and the world of the offspinner changed for good.

The doosra is controversial because a) no Englishman (or Australian) has yet managed to bowl it properly and b) many believe it is not possible to deliver a doosra without 'chucking', that is bowling with a bent elbow that straightens as you release the ball. Chucking is big no-no, but is hard to spot when a chap is bowling 50mph plus.

Let us put the doosra controversy to one side, and anchor ourselves firmly in the present day. For, after what seems like forever*, England have unearthed an off spin bowler of genuine, match-winning, Aussie-snaring, talent. Graeme Swann. Enough words, here he is delivering the classic off spin ball to dismiss one of the greatest batsmen of modern times. You won't see a better example of off spin than that.

Tomorrow - More finger spin! Left-handed!!

* whereas it has only been half a century, since the great, perhaps greatest off-spinner of all time, the only man to take 19 wickets in a single Test match, played his last Test in 1959

Monday, 3 October 2011

Can you tell your left from your right? Part I of V

Inspired by a posting that was made elsewhere I thought it time to go back to basics. It amazes me that there are still people out there to whom phrases like 'finger-spin', 'didn't pick the googly' and 'pitched outside leg' mean nothing. That some of these people live in Test cricket playing nations is nothing short of scandalous.

So. Spin bowling.

Hold your hand (either one will do) palm up in front of you. You can rotate your wrist (I hope) in two directions, clockwise and anticlockwise. If you were to throw a ping pong ball at a table, while rapidly rotating your wrist, you would impact spin on the ball, and when it hit the table, it would deviate from straight. (This is no idle experiment - Bosie invented the googly while doing this exact thing, but more on this in Part IV). If you were to rotate your wrist in the opposite direction while releasing the ball, if would spin in the opposite direction (in theory). Given that you can twist your wrist either clockwise or anticlockwise, and that you can bowl, in theory, with either your left or right hand, I hope you can believe me when I say that there are 4 different ways of bowling 'spin'.

(I ask for Iverson and Mendis to excuse me. I'm not going to get into the Carom ball)

Sadly, I'm not going to teach you how to bowl. If you want to do that you really need to consult someone who can actually play cricket. All I can promise is that by the end of this little series of articles you will understand the differences between off-spin, slow-left arm, leg-spin and chinaman, hopefully illustrated by videos of some all time greats, and the King of Spain.

Tomorrow (ish). Part II - Off-spin!

Friday, 30 September 2011

Real Life. Ish.

It's just about possible that someone reads this blog to find out what I am up to. Seems rather unlikely but not outside the bounds of possibility.

So, Kate, Fergus and I are living on Columbia Road in Shoreditch. It's a great spot, offering easy access to the Flower Market, Brick Lane, Broadway Market & London Field (inc. lido), Kingsland Road (yum yum Viet Grill yum yum), Hoxton Square (including The White Cube) and the city.

I am working at DECC, in a vaguely scienceish role. I no longer travel the world and engage in fruitless negotiations. At work I am particularly interested how the electricity system fits together, and how it will fit together in future. Precisely what will the mix of carbon capture (if any), nuclear (if any) and renewables be, how will it all be balanced, will electricity storage (how do you do this at scale - we don't know) play a role, what will that role be, and how will smart meters, smart grid and, well, a smart system work? And what should government be doing (both in terms of innovation support, and policy) to make it happen.

It's one thing to come up with a successful pathway using the 2050 calculator (and you really should do this), it's quite another to make that pathway happen. Particular as you don't know what technologies will be available and what they will cost in 2020, let alone 2050. The answer probably is not to build very large amounts of wind power as this might turn out to be a very expensive and unreliable way of decarbonising the electricity sector. On the other hand, if wind becomes significantly cheaper, and a reliable (and cheap) way of dealing with times when the wind doesn't blow (or blows less than needed) then wind could produce a very large fraction of the UK's electricity demand. Indeed, if you are pretty bullish you can find a route to zero-carbon electricity in the UK that relies almost entirely on wind and foregoes the need to build any nuclear or carbon capture (CCS) plant. However, the question remains (and here you have to read the small print - If there are five cold, almost windless, winter days in 2050, then up to 56 GW of backup generation capacity will be required to ensure that electricity is always available. ) - how do you back it up?

There are no simple answers to these questions. Or if there are, I'm not aware of them.

So that's me.

Kate is working for an NGO that blackmails big companies into reporting their GHG emissions.

Fergus is one (and 6 days), in a nursery 3 days a week, is growing rapidly and is beginning to talk. He can say "yum yum", "bye bye", "no" and "daddy" though his pronunciation is a little off. And he refuses to address Kate as anything other than "daddy". He does this deliberately and then laughs when we try to correct him.

You are welcome to visit. We have 5 kinds of tea in the house and a new coffee machine.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Second story

It had taken Gordon a long time to realise the voices were in his head, and not part of some public address system. At first it had been the Tube trains.

"The next station is Old Street. Change at Old Street for Moorfields Eye Hospital."
"This is Canary Wharf. Change here for Docklands Light Railway. This train terminates at Canning Town"
"Stand clear of the doors"

Then it was the buses. He'd assumed this was part of some TfL technology upgrade.

"172 to Brockley Rise"
"Newling Estate. Change here for London Overground Services"

It was all slightly irritating, but Gordon rationalised it. "Probably for the benefit of blind people", he thought to himself, "And tourists."

But eventually things began to get a bit odd. He'd first noticed it when he was cycling along Clerkenwell Road.

"This is the Fryers Delight. Change here for fish and chips."
"Farringdon Road. No right turn."

Before long he'd get an announcement every time he entered the newsagent, alerting him to the presence of newspapers and pints of milk. After spending a few days glancing furiously around for hidden loudspeakers, he'd come to the conclusion that he needed serious medical help. Thankfully, while not too keen on the Doctor's surgery and sitting around in a waiting room with people who smelled slightly of wee, Gordon wasn't the type to avoid the Doc altogether. If there was something wrong (and voices in your head saying "Next stop the sandwich shop" definitely counted as "something wrong") he would head, trepidatiously, to the surgery.

The Doctor was sanguine. "Probably nothing to worry about." He didn't prescribe anything. "Just so long as the voices don't tell you anything ... upsetting."

Gordon was slightly confused. "Upsetting?"

"Violent, I should say. I mean, voices in your head telling you to 'Alight here for Buckingham Palace' are one thing. Voices telling you to kill everyone are quite another thing"

Gordon was relived. "Oh, they never say anything like that."

"Well", said the Doctor, "I wouldn't worry too much about it then."

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The great British Novella



So, I dug out the old notebooks. "There's bound to be something there the public want", I though to myself, "Probably enough for a novella or maybe even a collection of witty short stories".

Alas, no. It took my some time to decipher the contents, as my handwriting has, over the last decade or so, began to resemble something that pre-dates Linear A but I appear to have unearthed the following


  • A 'to-do' list from when I worked at the University of Leeds. I note th
    at most of the things to-do were not crossed out, suggesting that they in fact weren't
  • A short PERL script called "Sub random_link"
  • A long list of bands and singles. Not sure what the purpose of this was. Probably bored in a lecture
  • A large number of unfinished letters, most of which were due to be transcribed to email but never made it
  • A sudoku
  • Some fantasy cricket teams (what sort of person creates these, and what sort of person admits to this on his own blog?)
  • Matt black finish on cell lids
  • Details of the time and location of appointments from the horrible, horrible time when I was flat-hunting in London and had to meet with people who then judged whether they wanted to live with me or not

Also an airship

and a house

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

So, er

Hi

It's been a while. To be honest, Kate and I have been completely preoccupied with Fergus. He's got to a stage where he's so engaging and, well, just lovely (I know, but sometimes I lack the words to express things) that posting on the blog or writing emails (my correspondence levels have dropped to zero) just seems rather unexciting.

And meanwhile, the world is ending.

Kate has been worried about this for a long time. There have probably been 10,001 blog posts on the subject already, and she has probably read them all. Me, I'm new to the subject. I knew it was bubbling along in the background, but since I didn't understand it I assumed that it didn't concern me (a very odd logical position, but probably a default human reaction to big things we can't control, like climate change...)

Anyway, Greece may or may not go pop. But whatever happens, it seems to me that humble Civil Servants like me are pissing in the wind. While we pontificate about decarbonising the UK, and global, economy, a massive financial tsunami (this is not 'literally a financial tsunami' - I heard someone, on the 'Today' Programme no less, claim that hydroelectricity 'literally spins water into money' which sounds like alchemy to me, but I digress) is about to engulf, well, you get the point.

Basically, I think within a year or so we're going to look back and wonder what on earth we thought we were doing.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Are you English?

If not, this may be inexplicable. (Warning - this is about cricket)

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Monday, 11 April 2011

Paranoia

Thanks to htfb for drawing our attention to the Tinfoil Hat Song.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Story

Molton Cross Services on the A1(M) are the remotest in the country. Thousands of cars and hundreds of lorries pass every day, with a good many stopping off for coffee or toilet, but the phrase "middle of nowhere" could have been coined to describe Molton Cross. The nearest major settlement to 'the Westies', as they called themselves, was Worksop, some 20 miles away. Doncaster was closer, only 15 miles from the East side, but inaccessible to the Westies, unless they wanted to take a 30 mile round trip via Junction 34.

There wasn't even a place called Molton Cross. Perhaps a farm had stood here some time ago, from which the name was taken. Nobody recalled, and Norman Vesper, the designer wasn't telling. He died in 1981.

Vesper's Art Deco Design had won several awards at the time - a time when one could win awards for designing service stations, municipal buildings and public conveniences - but was now sadly decayed and tatty looking. Molton Cross was definitely a service station for the old-fashioned, or unaware. The bright lights of Barchley (21 miles south) or Doncaster Pew (27 north), with fast-food outlets, slot machines and Cosa Nostra coffee, drew in far more punters. At Molton it was mainly truck drivers, cardigan wearers and families that simply had to stop because Tommy had just puked and Gilly wouldn't stop screaming.

Doug heaved the bag of Lo-Cost frozen chips onto the counter and carefully poured a good portion of the contents into the fryer basket. Things began to pick up from around midday, but he reckoned the ten till eight shift was the best one to be on. Breakfast was always a nightmare, and the sort of person who stopped off at Molton Cross after nine at night was a bit ... weird. Lunch and dinner could be busy, especially on Bank Holidays, but where otherwise easy enough.

You had to have a car for this job. All the Westies drove to work, seeing as there was barely a house or caravan within walking distance of the place (the MotoLodge didn't count - no one spent more than one night there. One night was enough for a lifetime) and they are lived West of the M1. Westies had always lived West, it was part of the folklore of the place. No one knew why, but they'd never employed anyone from the other side. Most were from around Worksop, but there were a few from even as far away as the outskirts of Rotherham. But not a single employee came (or admitted to coming) from Retford, Doncaster or Bawtry. That was just the way things were.

Doug often spent his coffee breaks sipping from his flask (that was the first thing you learnt - you might sell the stuff, but don't get into the habit of using. As true for Molton coffee as for Horse) gazing Eastward. His thoughts, in idle times (and there were plenty of those, particularly on winter weekdays), were often drawn Eastward. He'd never been there. Never would do. It would be an odd thing for a bloke who worked in a Motorway Service Station to take a trip to look at another Motorway Service Station, and Doug wasn't odd. He had a slightly unhealthy passion for Airfix models, but otherwise, well, as sound as a pound. That was Doug.

But where they like him? Sue thought this was a silly question to think up. "It's just a Service Station, Doug. Just like this one.". She'd tease him. "There's probably a little chap called Doug, looking after the chips, over there". He hated that. "Little chap".

Francis was a deep thinker. Or what passed for a deep thinker on the staff. He'd been at Molton (so he said) since it opened (which didn't seem possible, but no one challenged him on the point). "You can't trust 'em". "Who?". "Easties".

Doug wasn't sure what to think. He'd been to Germany once, and seen these castles, facing each other. The tour guide had told had been built by two warring brothers. Doug had shivered when he'd heard that. It sounded eirily familiar.

Nigel, the hated Supervisor, interupted his thinking. "Break's over, Doug. It's Friday, and you know what that means...". "Oh great", thought Doug, "stale cod".

On the other side of the motorway, in the kitchen, Douglas stood brooding, sharpening a vegetable knife. Waiting.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Down in the valley

Staithes is pretty steep. Tiny cottages perched on either side of the ravine carved by Staithes Beck. Friday was remarkable, as we awoke to find fog so thick one side of the harbour was not visible from the other. Yet up top (where most Staithes residents actually live, in more spacious and more modern dwellings) the fog had burnt off by 10. Imagine trying to sail through that before GPS. Terrifying.

It's a brilliant part of Yorkshire, which is, in my humble, the most brilliant part of England. From the slight eeriness of Whitby (even more so on Thursday when the Goths started to arrive) to the magnificent coastline and massive cliffs, the rugged splendour (I risk turning into a travel writer at this point) of the moors and the gentle beauty (gentle?) of the Esk Valley, it's all utterly marvelous.

And then there's the Museum of Victorian Science. Which defies description, and is utterly unmissable.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Monday, 14 February 2011

Nonce sense

Hello

Sorry. Been preoccupied. In the meantime this is good. Or alright, at least.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Friday, 28 January 2011

Better late than never

So, was 35 t'other day. Clearly not cool.

Have just discovered Kanye West, thanks to Kate. So def. not cool at all. Would have been cool in about 2003. But anyway, on 23rd Nov 2009 I wrote some stuff about albums. Well, clearly I missed The College Dropout

Wow. Quite incredible. Buy it.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Hopes and dreams

(Warning - Contains nothing but comments on parenthood. Very dull indeed.)

(Warning - All children are different. If you have/are planning to have a child, none of this may be remotely relevant. But it may still be dull)

So, if you've ever had to conceal yourself from a Raston Warrior Robot, you'll know how hard it is to stay perfectly still for what seems like a very lobg time, terrified that the slightest movement will cause catastrophe. Such is trying to get Fergus to sleep.

Getting Fergus to sleep is pretty much our sole obssession these days. Indeed, I'm not looking forward to going back to work tomorrow as this involves getting up too early, trying not to wake Fergus, going to work, possibly working, coming home to a frazzled Kate, saying hello to Kate, saying hello to Fergus, feeding Fergus, bathing Fergus and then trying to get him to go to sleep.

The saying hello bit and the bathing bit are good fun, but don't last all that long before the going to sleep bit begins. Which is where trouble starts.

Fergus really doesn't like going to sleep. He likes sleeping. He's been known to sleep for 7 hours without waking. He'll usually give you at least 3, and in the middle of the night he'll usually drop off immediately after a feed. But in the daytime, when he's meant to be napping for at least 4 hours, and in the evening, when he's meant to go down at some early hour, he has a pathalogical aversion to dropping off. Even the slightest suggestion that you intend to do a bit of gentle rocking and shssshing is met with a tantrum, and if you place him in his crib before he's totally, absolutely and completely asleep, he gets very cross indeed. And even if you do succeed in getting him down, there's a fair chance that he'll wake up an hour later and get very cross indeed.

I'd never imagined that being the parent of a baby could be so full on. For Kate, it's basically a 24 hour minus whatever he sleeps job. Of course, she gets less sleep than him, because she has to get him to sleep, and make sure he's really asleep before putting him down. This can take an hour. In the daytime, she has the time to take a shower and sometimes eat breakfast before he needs to be played with, taken out for walks (the only way he manages to nap in the day), fed, changed, taken for another walk, then played with until dad gets home. For me, work is a break, and I don't have to get up in the night (well, most nights I don't) but the hours between getting home and going to sleep are probably 75% trying to get Fergus to sleep.

Not that either of us regret having him, as he's bubbly, engaging and friendly (when not tired). But it's harder work than either of us had ever imagined.

At some point, I guess, he'll get used to going to sleep on his own. At which point I'll be able to go down the pub again!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

More photos

Happy New Year one and all.

The boy is taking up quite a bit of our time at present (and The Ashes are taking up the rest of mine), so to keep you occupied, here are some very cute pictures.