Friday, December 22, 2006

Seas ns greetings...

not a mispritt, a localised lamp failure.
(Shome mishtake, shurely?)

A very merry christmas to both of my readers...

You are here...

In the summer, I grumbled about how our new Town Centre maps were something of a disappointment. You can judge for yourself from this photo.
Rummaging through my disk drive to find it, I came across a photo of another town map, this time from a small fishing village in North Wales. Much more interesting, although it does have the benefit of a harbour and coastal history.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Morley's disappearing angels, now you see them, now you don't...

The three angels in the ceremonial entrance of our Town Hall keep coming and going. Every time I drove or walked past by myself, they were there. Whenever I had company or a camera, they had gone.

Finally, they have been there at the same time as me, David and a Camera. I caught them for posterity below. (The Town Hall staff often store a large chair rack in the porch, presumably depending on how the hall is set out. When they do, they push the angels out of the way and unplug the lights).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The wheels on the bus go round and round...

It is now less than five months until May 3rd, when all of Morley town Council get elected, along with two Leeds City Councillors for Morley North and South. In the mind of the local politician, it is time to get writing, so the local rag letters page is somewhat dominated by posturing, slagging off and counter-accusation.

One issue that occasionally emerges locally is the provision of something called yellow buses for schools, generally aimed at sorting out the congestion at the school gate topping or tailing the day. However, I'm not entirely certain what the point of that is. Yellow buses are an American phenomenon, where kids are bussed in to their school if they live more than a mile or so away. I've experienced yellow buses in Saudi Arabia- where I worked they were reserved for the Contractors whilst the regular staff travelled on Greyhound Coaches- the contrast is the number 213 into town ompared to the National express Coach to London.

However, in any transport system, it is based on a hub and spoke arrangement to where people want to come from (many places) to where they want to go (the common target, the city centre, or in our case, one of many schools). It needs multiple pick-up points and routes to get to the central destination within the desired window and possibly the best way is to live near to where you want to get anyway, or not rely on the taxpayer to fund it should you need to travel further afield.

School buses are nothing new- when I went to senior school I used to recall a number of double-deckers near the school gates, all with their rolling cloth signs turned to "scholars". My occasional visits to nearby High Schools in recent years show that there are a number of coaches at home time, routed to suit demand.

What is so special about painting them yellow? And why do the local Labour party keep banging on about it via the letters page according to some sort of rota? Maybe the current political control of Leeds did away with some school routes which is why the local party wants to make a meal of it. There is always a hidden agenda in local politics...

An early Christmas present...

I used to be an occasional frequenter of a rather good chip shop called Peel Street Fisheries. It was ran by a middle-aged couple and we were on "hello luv" terms, a smile of recognition on the way in and some extra scraps on the product on the way out. Their particular speciality was a Corned-beef Cake, a potato cake made with Argentina's finest. (Yorkshire Fish Cakes tend to be battered layered potato & fish, rather than the breadcrumbed pureed innards from the Supermarket).

Occasionally, I would really push the boat out and have a spam fritter. I am rather fond of them for unknown reasons and the expectation is always better than the outcome!

About a year or so ago, the chip shop changed hands and became a combination Chip shop and Chinese takeaway. This became an opportunity to indulge in another of my irrational food fads, the special curry with fried rice. Their early offerings included a free fortune cookie and they generally include prawn crackers, although they are a little oily to my taste. The staff are very friendly, although I get the impression they don't speak too much English.

I visited on Monday as Karen was working late and included in the meal was a rectangular package that was obviously a Christmas present. On opening it I initially assumed that it was a pair of chopsticks and a reeded place mat, however on unfurling it, David was delighted to find that it was actually a 2007 Calendar which included all of the Chinese New Year definitions. Whilst basically a promotional giveaway, it delighted David who wants to put it on his wall next year.

Another satisfied Customer!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The law is no longer blind...

Have a read of this remarkable piece of law passed in Scotland.

It is particularly aimed at one Company and is a rather disgraceful piece of EU interference which appears to be unjustified and spiteful. The full story is in the online Telegraph here.

Hat tip to Englishman's Castle for the story.

The Government is not your friend, the EU particularly so.

Carols with the Mayor

Today is the Mayor's carol service organised by the Salvation Army. We went to one of these shows a couple of years ago and rather enjoyed it. It was presented theatrically with stage lighting and included some mini performances in amongst the Brass Band music (including a rather unexpected tamborine dance by some of the Salvationesses).

I'm rather fond of Salvationists. They have a very down to earth pragmatic approach to their worship, they get to wear a uniform, they enjoy a good tune and are generally amiable when not selling you the War Cry. One the down side, however, they are evangelical and like all evangelists are looking for an opportunity to lead you astray from the one true path of individualism. They also take the pledge and refrain from lifes little indulgences such as smoking, gambling and the demon drink.

I have it on good authority that fornication is still widely practised, however. Their bodies may be temples to god, although occasionally they let Eros in as does any closely knit community.

Will we be going today? Depends on the family mood- the last show was very long and really should have had an interval!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A little bit of politics...

Both of our likely prospective Labour MPs have come within the radar of Guido Fawkes, the blog of plots, rumours and conspiracy.

Firstly, MP Colin Challen has been accused of telling porkies about his recent bike accident in Trafalgar Square.

Now, Ed Balls has the whiff of Browngate about him with suspicious payments from charities & a rather unflattering picture of what the City really thinks of him.

What a dilemma for the local Labour party, a Watermelon or a Backroom Bruiser?

(Watermelon- green on the outside, red on the inside...)

The winds of change

I visited our local B&Q recently to get a new light switch after one of ours went a bit flaky. When there, I noticed that they are now selling domestic turbines which can be fully fitted for £1,495 including VAT. I took home a leaflet and thought about the economics of doing such a thing. It generates 1kW worth of power whilst the wind is blowing and from this article it can produce up to 2,000 kW/hours of electricity a year. As there are 8,760 hours a year then this suggests a usable wind about 25% of the time. (The rest oof the time, there is insufficient wind or too much and the unit goes into bypass).

As a Kilowatt/hour costs me approximately 10p then I can save a potential £200 a year with a wind turbine and the payback is under 8 years. The safe design life of the device is 10 years, so superficially, it seems viable. However, I strongly suspect that there will be an annual safety inspecion required after year three (at least £40?) and unless electric prices spiral upwards out of control then economics can't justify a purchase. Of course, it doesn't generate any carbon dioxide but what was the environmental cost of manufacture I wonder? The planning application costs certainly tip it over the edge.

There is also the issue of fitting a 1.7m wind turbine onto a modern quasi-semi in a fairly densely packed housing estate. Is the thing going to wail like a banshee and transfer groans and rattles through the brickwork?

It seems that there are 30% grants available that might make it notionally cost-effective, but spending someone else's money doesn't make sense with market forces, the viability still remains suspect.

I await the first turbine application to Morley Town Council Planning Committee with interest!

Christmas Angels- behind bars

I have frequently bemoaned the rather sad Christmas trees outside morley Town Hall. They are a decent size but they are unlit and only the top half is decorated, i.e. above scratter reaching height.

There was a snippet in the local paper a few weeks ago mentioning that the trees were going to be enhanced by one of the High Schools. I've now worked out what they have done, there are three angel type sculptures (from assorted recycled material) placed within the ceremonial entrance of the Town Hall at the top of the colonnade stairs. As it has locked gates at the entrance, it looks like the Angels are banged up in some particularly ornate prison cell!

There are a couple of discharge floodlights there but they aren't on a timeclock, they are lit at the whim of the staff. We passed on Friday at just before 10pm and it was dark within the vestibule so I imagine many passers-by don't even know they are there.

I'd loan you a £5 timeclock fellas, but the Safety Elf would want it PAT tested after a risk assessment on the consequences of plugging it in...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Tis the season to be jolly...

Thursday night, Morley lights were switched on. I was surprised to be interviewed as part of the proceedings, although it was mainly to fill in due to the lateness of some Panto performers. Morley FM's Charlie Keith was Compere, referred to as "Charlie Chuckles from Chorley FM" by Guy from Real Radio!

Friday, we went to see Annie at the Grand. A good show, a bit of a "chick flick" judging by the audience make up, but not one to be talked about for months afterwards, unlike Saturday, when we saw "Little Britain Live" at Manchester Apollo. There were a lot of children there, somewhat inappropriate considering how rude it was.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A kick in the balls...

Our local MP Colin Challen must be alarmed to discover that Ed Balls, the current MP for Normanton, intends to become the next MP for Morley and Outwood, the new seat after forthcoming boundary Commission changes. (It was in the Morley observer & Advertiser today but it is also in the Telegraph Online.).

Now if I was Mr. Challen, I'd be feeling a little uncomfortable. Ed Balls is Gordon Brown's best buddy, whilst Colin Challen is regarded as a sad, anorak wearing, climate-change obsessive greenie fruitloop who drives a sewing machine. (At least, according to Jeremy Clarkson!)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A little bit of politics...

I once came across something called a leftist lexicon not too long ago that gave realistic definitions of big sounding processes & behaviours (the Private Eye does something similar called EUphemisms). The one that particularly stuck in my mind was something to the effect of Consultation: a method of ignoring people while simultaneously patronising them. This immediately sprang to mind when I read the front cover of the Morley obtiser. It seems that the world and his dog want to consult stakeholders about our leisure centre. It was built in a hurry just before the 1974 reorganisation (at thich point the Borough had to hand over everything to Leeds City Council) and popular opinion was that it was built on the cheap. I'd rather think that it was well constructed to a price but has been wantonly neglected in the intervening thirty years despite being extended and with a massive Gym investment. It gets patched up and redecorated but another euphemism for that is known as "turd polishing". The pool was closed for most of the summer holidays to repair the rather dilapidated false ceiling and once it re-opened it didn't look that much different (apart from the wayward metal strips no longer hanging on by friction and rust). It turns out that there are serious concerns about the consequences of draining the pool (involving structural failure, i.e. the side walls end up on the bottom of the pool) so most of the closure time involved a very elaborate scaffolding operation in-situ.

There is potentially PFI money available for a new centre but the building may be entirely rebuilt which would involve extended closure and the "stakeholders" are restless.

Local authorities appear to be particularly bad at running leisure centres and this is probably due to education and social services gobbling up most of the budget so the development plans are more focussed on all of the staff make-work endemic in the public sector rather than catering for what the users want. I don't like PFI deals. Not because I object to the private sector making an homnest buck, more so that it is like buying stuff on the never never with no scope to take the goods back if they aren't up to scratch. Yes sir, I know this Mobile Phone is expensive, but it is very desirable. don't worry about the money, just pay us £5 a week for the rest of your life...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The moon on a stick...

Driving home yesterday, I heard an interesting Vignette on Radio 4 about the strange business of the moon looking much bigger when near the horizon. It was on More or Less and can be heard again about 20 minutes in here (while it lasts). Whilst I listened to a range of theories (& no satisfactory conclusion) the moon hung large in the sky over Morley. Towards the end of the feature, the presenter suggested that we look at the moon upside down between our legs- and to explain that... (The host, Andrew Dilnot, warned us to take care if we tried it at home).

Later that evening, passers by would have been amused by the sight of a thin boy and a fat man looking at the moon by bending down and peering between our legs. Apart from making me slightly dizzy, the elusive big surprise passed me by, and David as well. A t'internet search brought up this which didn't tell me much and left me mostly none the wiser.

Maybe the morley Moon is less subject to misleading perception by us down to earth Yorkshire folk, where we call a spade anything but an earth inverting horticultural implement.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Strange but compelling...

The Theremin is probably one of the strangest musical instruments around and was a mainstay of Music Halls for those who could play it well (who are few and far between).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

At last... it's Mike Elliott!


Mike & I have shared a Pint or two together. He was a regular at the Lindisfarne Christmas shows & I played Mastermind with him once backstage at the Coventry Theatre. We also booked him for an 18 plus ANC (unbenownst to me) & after sharing several beers after his set, he was asked to do an unexpected second half!

He briefly had his own TV show and even released two albums, "Out of the brown" and "At last...".

Last I heard he was a Radio DJ in the north East. The band on this clip is a Lindisfarne pre-reforming. They were called Pakamax, but Mike referred to them on air as the "Dole Wallahs".

Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)

YouTube is a window on the world. Once you wipe off the flies & roadkill, you see some sights.

This song reminds me of seeing "10" in an open air cinema in Saudi Arabia. I probably missed lots of it due to the censor's scissors though.

Song title features in blog post title shock!

I've mentioned this video before...

Possibly one of the greatest funky instrumental breaks ever... 2 minutes 20 seconds onwards. (Longer on the album though).

It is Steely Dan... My old school.

Common as muck...


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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Into the valley...

We've had a couple of days off as it is half term. Yesterday, we went up to Lightwater Valley, near Ripon. It describes itself as the ultimate family day out but what what you get in amongst a couple of gems is a selection of moderately clapped out fairground rides and fast food that arguably contravenes the Trades description Act (as far as the word fast applies).

The oddest ride there is something called Toad Hole which is a sort of watersplash from inside a cave down into a pond below on a rope tethered carriage. It wasn't working yesterday though...

My favourite ride of the day was the Twister, a spinning wild mouse style ride very similar to the one on the end of the South Pier at Blackpool and which was bought new a couple of years back. Their headline ride is called the Ultimate and is a very long coaster that used to be the longest in the world. It looks like a Woodie with two large wooden lift hills but is actually of steel construction. The lift hills are excruciatingly slow, particularly the 2mph chug round the top of the second hill. It then enters a very fast undulating run curving & banking fiercely through trees , swooping through two tunnels and giving you a good bone rattle until eventually sauntering back into the station some seven minutes or so after you set off. Consequently the throughput on the ride is very poor, with only six trains an hour and some of the back seats not available/water ballasted yesterday (apparently due to the lap bars being faulty). The ride didn't open until mid-day (we queued from 11:55 and boarded at 12:28). It had what looked like 40 minute queues every time we walked past the station so we couldn't be bothered to ride a second time. They can run two trains but the crew would have to work twice as hard and why should they bother? They have your gate money already...

They have an in-the-dark coaster called the Sewer Rat that has a particularly well themed entrance route where you walk through sewer pipes and down rusty stairs surrounded by the sound (& sight) of rushing water. The Coaster itself is rather mediocre and would look particularly unimpressive with the lights on in its underground bunker but the inability to tell what is about to happen next does bring the element of surprise when you suddenly find yourself dropping like a stone.

They were promoting a ride called the skyrider as being new for 2006. It is a giant swing ride where the chained seats spin as the central support rises then it swoops as the upper structure tilts and counter-rotates. I'm sure the ride itself isn't new and was there last time we visited. What is new is the theming- it has been painted with musical motifs and the control hut is covered in Feux posters for Rock groups. Previous to this there was another swing ride which was much bigger but somewhat simpler, not having the swoop motion. What it did have, however, was an enormous moon-like structure which counter-rotated so that it looked interesting. It was all painted green and there were a couple of rectangular hatches missing on the surface of the moon to give it that uniquely British look of negligence.

A large yellow swing ride looked interesting- the Eagles's Claw. This was a circle of 24 inward facing seats on the end of a pendulum, a smaller version of Drayton Manor's Maelstrom and apparently an earlier design. Regrettably, I was too big to ride, but David got a go (and didn't like it as he didn't realise why I couldn't).

Is it worth a trip there? Yes, if you don't go with high expectations of it being Disneyland or a major league Uk theme park. Also, be on the lookout for discount vouchers, we managed to get in for £5.95 each with a coupon out of the Manchester Evening News that a Gran had supplied. Don't bother if it is raining though, most of the park is out of doors and the grass was very squelchy. The shops are worth a look at the exit (which can be visited without having to enter the park) and the home made fudge in the courtyard gift shop is sensationally sticky!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Christmas is coming...

You know that Christmas is on the way when the annuals, selection boxes and Terrys Chocolate Oranges start to appear in ASDA. I don't think that they are bringing the season earlier in particular, it is just that since they expanded the store the warehouse ended up correspondingly smaller so we now have visible storage areas in the seasonal aisles. There is about 50 yards worth of Halloween tat which will no doubt disappear very quickly on November 1st, to be replaced by Xmas tat.

The Morley Christmas lights are up but fortunately not yet lit. I imagine that the Council gets Morley out of the way before tackling the much more ambitious Leeds Lights, a sort of mini-blackpool round the City Centre without the smell of candy floss and sick (apart from Giro day, of course).

Top tip for enjoying the Blackpool Illuminations- Park in the South big car park and catch a tram from near the Pleasure Beach or the Sandcastle at about 45 minutes before the published switch-on time. You want to travel to the Cabin, but if you arrive with time to spare get off at Bispham and walk back past the Tableaux to where they start (just slightly after the Cabin.)

The lights will start more-or-less at the appointed time and you will be travelling in the opposite direction to the crowds. Once you have enjoyed all of the tableaux, hop on a near-empty tram and enjoy the lights all the way back to the Pleasure Beach. (The LED sphere light tree on a real tree in the centre of the Gynn Square roundabout is particularly pretty). This has worked on both occasions in recent years, any other deviation from this plan will be somewhat fraught, e.g. driving along the Prom or trying to board a tram anywhere along the route in the first few hours after switch-on.

This year was slightly marred by the double decker tram windows being absolutely filthy and also some Burberry Boy behind us assuming that we all shared his taste in mobile phone music. (It might have sounded fine through a hi-fi rather than a half inch piezo speaker but I still wasn't interested in being subjected to it without discussion). However, the mood was lifted when we saw the Green Machine tableau complete with solar panels and windmill working overtime- a fountain effect at the top right became instantly recognisable as a MacDonalds Golden Arch as it went through the sequence, something the Greenies would have been aghast about had they spotted the symbolism. It wasn't yellow but even david spotted it!

Back to Yorkshire, I have heard that the Morley Switch-on is on November 23rd at 7pm which is a little over four weeks away so that we can start working ourselves up to a frenzy in anticipation. Hopefully Morley FM will be involved again, we understand that our very own Charlie Keith may be hosting it but there are conflicting reports about whether Real radio will be participating again.

Another sign of an impending Christmas- Spam starts to turn up about Santa!

By the way, Morley had another Continental Market at the start of October but I don't think anyone noticed...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

(Lack of) Pleasure Beach

Blackpool Pleasure Beach continues to pull in the crowds but it is now horribly expensive- £29 for a wristband, £72 for a family of three. When we went recently, the Big One was closed (probably due to high winds) and the Spin Doctor & Flying Machines were also posted as out of action, possibly for similar reasons.

The Plesh isn't too big on background maintenance. I don't mean that they compromise safety, only that lots of trivial things often don't work. The noah's Ark walk-through ride has a bit where stepping on a floor area sends a blast of cold air down your neck. This time, however, it was blowing all the time at reduced pressure. A bouncing staircase didn't bounce, an infinity mirror effect was spoiled by a large amount of accumulated grime. Animatronics didn't animate, wooden horses were wrapped in hazard tape, roller coaster seats had sandbags in them. The Valhalla water ride is full of disappointments- effects still there but rarely working. (Talking Norse Head, snow machines, pop-up monster, rotating tunnels, water vortex, gas flame effects, even the flakey lame lightning van der graff generator (which has now been replaced by a rather lame strobe light that flashes in the cage where the generator used to be).

What really takes the pleasure out of the pleasure beach, though, is the creeping health & safety mentality. Rides which spent the first fifty years without any restraints whatsoever have gradually acquired lap bars and now, sadly, seat belts. The rides are perfectly safe if riders hold on and act responsibly. However, due to the risk of people frigging about (standing up, leaning out etc.) the rest of us have to endure being strapped and clamped in to the detriment of the ride experience. The Grand National now has individual seat belts, high seat dividers and clamp-in lap pads that swap the joys of woodie airtime for the unpleasantness of being bashed about whilst clamped with a vice like grip. Even that most gentle of rides the Roller Coaster has a shared seatbelt, although it doesn't impact too much on the ride. The Big Dipper still has its shared lapbars of old but I'll give it another season or two before that too falls to the gods of 'elfansafety.

The other impact of these new safety features, of course, is that it knackers the ride throughput. It takes much longer to check all of the cars on the train and even running two trains, the despatch is worse than what it used to be with one train, or it certainly feels it as your train has to sit there waiting until the old train has arrived back at the station. The Nash doesn't have any blocking areas after despatch, there are only final approach trim brakes and two sets of platform brakes. The Big One gets round this by having intermediate brake zones & being able to stop trains on the lift hill (& of course, starting them again with the pullup chain). The Nash now has modern fin brakes to replace the original wooden side brakes, but even that comes at a price. Our train was definitely winning the race (being several car lengthjs ahead) but as we swept under the final approach bridge and hit the trims, they burned off our excess speed & the other train overtook us and pipped us to the post as their braking wasn't as fierce. Bah, humbug!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Putting on the Ritz

I took a trip over to the Ritz Brighouse on Sunday to attend an Organ Concert. The Ritz is a former Cinema which is now a ballroom. It also stars a large Wurlitzer- a 10 ranker formerly in the Oldham gaumont amongst other places (even as close as Pudsey).

Organ concerts are slightly odd events. They tend to attract the silver haired brigade (who generally remember the organs in their original cinema homes) and all over the Country people go along to hear a number of accomplished players do the rounds. Some of the audience play themselves, some are organ anoraks. Many simply go to enjoy an hour or two of gentle light entertainment and indulge in nostalgia.

Well, now, with the aid of a PC and a simple sound card, you can have your very own Mighty Wurlitzer emulator in your own house. You don't need three phase supplies, several rooms of pipe ranks, electro-mechanics, blowers, toy shelves, percussions and swell shutters. You don't have to store your massive organ console in the conservatory or garage or even excavate a pit lift to make it rise and fall. With Miditzer, you can download a free program and practice till the cows come home without having to worry about the caretaker wanting to lock up or noise complaints from the bowling alley.

Download the software and enjoy yourself. You can fiddle about using your keyboard but to make music properly you really neead a Midi Keyboard, a piano like device you hook up to the PC. The hard bit is in making it sound good like an accomplished player is able to. However, you can have fun with the bird whistles, kettle drums & klaxons. If you download their trial version of the three manual nineteen rank Miditzer, a real monster of an Organ. You even get tuned sleigh bells and a swanee whistle!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Flying the flag

I've put up a link to 18 Doughty Street in the toolbar. It is an interesting new venture which is intended to offer an alternative to the mainstream media, free of the nonsensical shackles of OfCom which say that broadcast news has to be balanced and can't have a point of view. Tell that to the Biased BBC crew...

They launch on October the 10th and I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Morley Literature Festival

Well, it has been and gone and can best be described as a "partial success"- lots of events but not so many bums on seats other than for Gervaise Phinn.

Perhaps people didn't quite grasp what it was all about- someone referred to it as the "Morley Literacy Festival".

Maybe next year, we should concentrate on numeracy and invite Carol Vorderman?

School in Crisis - days 3-5

On Wednesday morning, I noticed on my mobile that I had been left a voice mail the previous evening. I rang in and was stunned to hear that the school was going to remain closed until further notice. Despite the power being back on, the fire alarm remained unserviceable and the batteries had expired on it. The staff were uncomfortable with reopening the school without a fire alarm as they would have to set up fire wardens to patrol the building and it would increase the risk to the children. Karen was extremely unhappy with this and expressed the term "lightweight" several times. After all, every classroom has an exit directly to the outdoors, the fire evacuations happen very quickly and what was wrong with bells & whistles? That got me thinking to my primary in the 60s, I don't recall that having bells, they just used to use the playtime handbell for fire drills. (I once recall traipsing downstairs during a drill to find a chair at the bottom with the word "fire" on it and we all had to go up, across and down the other staircase).

So, Karen managed to organise two days holiday but both of us had meetings on for the Friday. They tried unsuccessfully to go swimming that day but during term time, baths are either closed for school children, or in the case of Wakefield Lightwaves- randomly closed anyway. They resolved that by a trip to Blackpool Sandcastle on the Thursday and they both came back bruised & scraped from the "MasterBlaster", a rather manic roller coaster in rubber rings.

On Thursday afternoon, Karen rang the school and talked to the Head who still didn't know the score abour Friday opening. A new alarm had been fitted but it was incompatible with the detectors so they were still on the case. Karen was very firm about this being very difficult for working parents, especially this time of year when they may be low on remaining holiday. Thursday evening, we rang the school ansafone to be informed that the school was still closed on Friday but for working parents it would be possible to bring their children in on the understanding that they would all be in one part of the school and... (the other Ts & Cs were not passed on as the message cut off abruptly. The school phone system is an odd beast- it answers the line and plays strange ringing noises to your for quite a while before it deigns to answer your call with a greeting. It is possibly something to do with fax detection but it is rather shite at it- most fax detectors do so in a few seconds and many can start to play an announcement whilst listening for fax beeps.

So, we took david in to school on Friday via the normal childcare. However it transpired that a number of parents were told they had to collect their children at lunch time and David told us that there were about 10 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon. We weren't contacted (or didn't appear to be). Could that be down to me being a Governor and Karen standing no nonsense?

He enjoyed himself playing Internet games most of the day and as we had packed him a lunch that morning in case the Kitchen was closed he was told he had to eat it even though other children were fed.

The school re-opened on Monday as normal and there was a very apologetic letter from the acting Head explaining the kerfuffle. There was a training day scheduled for the Friday and they decided to continue with it as it was a Morley Family of Schools joint event- if it had been internal to the school they would have had no hesitation in cancelling it. Of course, teachers are obliged to hold five non-contact days a year so it still would have gone ahead on another occasion.

What surprised us most of all about the whole debacle was that there didn't seem to be any obvious form of crisis management plans in place, either by the school or the local authority. It was also a classic creeping disaster where it always seemed to be close to being resolved and hours turned into days. If the place had burnt down then no doubt the council disaster recovery team dust down their Portakabin contact sheet, or maybe they don't...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

School in crisis - day 2

Tuesday was being held at the Woodlands, a smart hotel on the outskirts of Morley. First, however, I needed to drop David off at his before & after school club (today of which was going to be a during school club as well!)

I went via the school, where we found a small posse of staff outside breaking the bad news to arriving parents. It transpired that when the Head and Deputy arrived late the previous evening (after the meal) the building lights were randomly turning themselves on and off and there were unpleasant sizzling & humming noises coming from the main intake which was in a small building near the boiler house. They called the electricity board who confirmed on inspection that it was a serious fault and they would have to disconnect the school building. Now the school had no power, the phones were off, the batteries for the emergency lights were flat and the only thing that still worked was the fire alarm which fortunately had a 72 hour battery backup. Electricians were expected and hopefully power would be restored later in the day.

At the hotel, we had four candidates to interview. I hadn't been party to the late interview prep the previous week (as I was between Governorships) but it had been decided that the five panel members would each ask two open questions, the candidate would give a brief presentation of the way forward (based on seeing a PANDA analysis the previous day, a document that gives key metrics for school makeup and performance in various ways) and they would be given the opportunity to ask any further questions of provide further info.

As the morning passed, the weather came and went- torrential rain followed by sunny periods. A pink open-topped Volkswagen also arrived with a number of pretty girls in it posing for photos, related to the pretty in pink breast cancer awareness campaign. I had seen the Herby before- the Hotel apparently used it for wedding cars, as did the two Rolls Royces in a car-port outside. Someone also recognised one of the girls- she was the non-fat girl in "Fat friends" who had also been on Corry a while back.

We deliberated the candidates over lunch and gradually came to a concensus- the best man for the job was a woman. We eventually broke up at about 3pm and would be taking our recommendation to the Governors that evenining. When i say we- that excluded myself, as Karen had an event on so I was babysitting. The school confirmed that the power was now back on and that the school would be open again on the Wednesday.

The job being a good 'un, I had a pleasant evening post- David's bedtime unwinding and watching some telly. I was vaguely tempted to ring up a fellow Governor to confirm that our recommendation had been accepted but decided that it could wait...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Kyboard prblems

My ompuer is layng up- as you cn se.

More school i crisi once fixed

Ian

Friday, September 22, 2006

School in crisis- day 1

The above term is apparently the defcon 5 of the educational world- the next one up (or down) from special measures, where Ofsted decide you are in deep do-do. It is also an appropriate term for the results of a disaster due to scope creep, something David's school found itself in this week.

I was in David's school on Monday, in order to assess various people for position of head teacher. Our first day was straight-forward- we watched four assemblies, mingled with the candidates and the staff during a buffet, observed them talking to the school council, assessed a written test and in the evening shared a table with the prospective heads and rhe senior management team.

During the first assembly, the hall lights seemed to be flickering somewhat- it transpired that the school had been the victim of some sort of power surge and several things had packed in, including the photocopier, the burglar alarm and the IT Suite Server. During the course of the day, the burglar alarm bell box went off based on its battery going flat and the main control panel no longer charging it. In the evening, after the meal, it transpired that the boilers were also U/S and that the school had no hot water. I queried the consequences of this, as it struck me that it it would of course mean no heating but also the inability to wash up after lunch, but hardly a showstopper. (Lack of hot water in the toilets wouldn't bother the boy pupils of course). Some members of staff were of the view that the school should close as there was a worry that the surges might re-occur and threaten the safety of the pupils. I argued rather strongly with that- surges were generally either down to lightning or neutral faults and as the school was from the 90s and had regular electrical checks the risk of fire was negligible, that is what safety protection systems were there for. This didn't entirely convince the non-technical in the face of several systems that had failed and my explanation that fuses and circuit breakers were damage limitation rather than total protection went straight over their heads. the decision was made- the school would close to pupils until further notice. Needless to say, this went down like a lead balloon with Mrs. Grey who argued that the staff rarely consider the consequential grief that working parents have to face.

Of course, it also potentially caused two of the interview panel Governors issues with childcare but we both pragmatically pointed out that it shouldn't a major factor in making the decision. So we went to bed having wined and dined looking forward to interviewing the four candidates on the Tuesday, off-site so not influenced by school problems...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Up in the Gods...

We went to see Fiddler on the Roof last night at Wakefield Theatre Royal & Opera House. It is a rather splendid little Matcham Theatre but I have always felt it is not one of his best, mainly for the comparatively coarse fibrous plasterwork.

The show was performed by Wakefield Youth Musical Theatre, an organisation I knew nothing about but would now highly recommend, the performance was absolutely cracking. I also noticed that some of the ensemble hailed from our local Woodkirk High School which has a big reputation for performance art.

Two things detracted from the performance slightly- the noise of the fans in the followspots in the Gallery and the stifling heat up there in the second half. Let us hope their refurbishment includes adequate ventilation.

It is quite comfy up there, the benches having been replaced by fixed seats on every other row, although they are a smidge too upright on the backs. Whilst it is the second circle, it is no higher than many dress circles in later Victorian Houses and other than seeing a bit too much floor, is still a worthwhile seating area in the house.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Cheap CDs

I was muttering the other day about an ASDA CD that was a complete set of cover versions without admitting to the fact at all. Having listened to all five CDs in the car, I've now decided that it is mostly Cak and so I took it back for an exchange. I swapped it for a 100 song 4 CD compilation that definitely is originals. Whilst they said no-one had complained, I noticed that there weren't any of the original series on display. Withdrawn from sale, perhaps?

I mentioned they were ASCAP and wondered why. It turns out that it wasn't ASCAP, it was MCPS, the mechanical copywright protection society that looks after library-style music. I was puzzled as to why i would have mixed them up, then I remembered that I had been involved in an ASCAP awards ceremony many years ago. It took place at the Banqueting House in whitehall, with famous Rubens paintings on the ceiling, which annoyed the Celebs as they had to smoke out in the hallway. I was stationed out there with Dinner Jacket, talkback headphones and access to the House Light Controls so I got to chat with a couple of familiar faces during the evening.

I also got to fix the PA system as well, the techies were all tied up with doing the sound, lighting and audio visual so I sorted out a dodgy speaker cable that had come adrift behind the set. I also noticed that they had cocked up the awards certificates and were just giving people anything with a quick aside that they'd sort it out afterwards. (I remember this was standard stage management for Kenton School prizegiving as well!) The evening finished with an "impromptu" singalong from the famous Lieber & Stoller duo, joined onstage by the likes of Billy Ocean and Phil Collins.

Its a fair cop, Guv'nor

I stood as a Primary School Governor nearly four years ago.

Being a Governor is not quite what anyone expects once the novelty has worn off. We get to make decisions, certainly, but they are ridiculously constrained within the boundaries of Government Policy, conflicting initiatives and rampant political correctness. (Schools don't have Chairmen or Headmasters/Headmistresses any more, they have Chairs and Heads. Sooner or later they will also have a "senior personagement team" as well, consisting of various bits of the body and furniture).

I have put up with it with increased levels of bitter reality & disillusionment tablets but when I'm told we need embrace diversity through inclusivity, respect and vision for the umpteenth time I just want to play buzzword bingo or crawl off and throw up somewhere. I was expecting my term of office to finish gracefully in November but a couple of things derailed that.

Firstly, we adopted a new statement of Governance last year and as part of that, most people had to get re-appointed through the usual channels. Surprisingly enough, it didn't apply to me because I pre-dated the legislation so I automatically carried on my term of office on the new body, or so I thought.

As I work full time, I have never been able to devote too much time to Governorship, the important committees generally meeting during the school day. Also, rather a lot of Governor meetings have tended to clash with my Town Council meetings, particularly due to me being on the planning committeee that meets much more frequently than the others.

Anyway, I wasn't in a position to take part in our Deputy Head appointment last year and didn't expect to take part in the interviews for our new Head. (Our Mr. Summers is moving on to Churwell Primary, a school 50% bigger than David's school with three forms per year.)

However, at the last Governor's meeting in July, it became apparent that one of the Community Governors was at the end of her term of office and as she was a political appointee it was by no means certain that she would be re-appointed, especially as the balance of power in Morley South changed last City Council election day. On this basis, the Chair turned to me and asked me to be on the selection panel as I was the only other Governor that could possibly participate. I agreed, slightly reluctantly as it would require me to use two days of holiday, but nethertheless went along to the first panel meeting just before school broke up.

I then found that the business of continuing my governorship the previous year had a caveat- it was to the end of the term of office, or September 1st 2006, whichever came first. No-one from the Governor unit had actually told anyone this at the time and they had indeed confirmed my office as ending in November at the last meeting.

On this basis, I wouldn't be a Governor on September 1st and would be ineligible to go on the panel, unless I restood unopposed. (If there was another candidate, there would need to be a Parent election which couldn't be completed in time.).

This put me in a bit of a quandry, as I had intended to not restand and persuade Karen to stand instead. Anyway, I agreed to restand and the deadline for nominations was today.

The school rang me up earlier to confirm that I was the only candidate and that I would be taking part in the appointment panel after all, so on Monday and Tuesday, I will be taking part in selecting a new Head Teacher from the five short-listed hopefuls.

As an aside, I was stunned to be told by David earlier in the week that he was not allowed to use any form of shampoo, soap or bodywash in the shower after swimming via school due to "Health & Safety".

Is it healthy or safe to have 30 rinsed but unwashed children in Morley Leisure Centre, I wonder?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years since the devastation...

I don't remember where I was when Kennedy was shot but I'll never forget the day the Twin Towers came down.

Time dulls the senses but these are wounds that will not easily heal.

Take some quiet time, (re-)watch the videos and be introspective for a while.

Who needs this kind of twisted religion?

Never forget...

Too much pressure...

Heritage weekend has just been and gone. As usual, the Town Hall was open for guided tours, this time with performances in the Borough Court by students from Joseph Priestley College.

One change this year- one of the police station cells has traditionally been visited as part of the tour. However, it seems that some IT racks have taken prime position in the untouched cell, so we had to look into the others which have generally been shelved out but retain their toilets.

We also had a trip to the "people's Museum" in manchester, a sort of Socialist Museum housed in a former pumphouse for the Manchester Hydraulic Company. I knew there had been a London one but Manchester having its own 1000psi network with 35 miles of piping in the City Centre was news to me. It continued to run until 1972 and provided power in its time to wind the Town Hall Clock and lift the Opera House Safety Curtain.

How was I aware of the London one? They had a ready-made set of ducts in the Capital for Telecommunications services and Mercury purchased their assets at some stage. Something similar happened in manchester and Cable & Wireless now use the ducting.

1000 pounds per square inch sounds a scary amount of pressure- you could wash away walls with a leak and apparently a burst main squirted higher than the Manchester Exchange. There isn't too much to see of the legacy in the pumphouse now but worth a visit if you are into banners and communist propaganda. One of the six original pumps was saved by the Science Museum and you can see a picture of it here.

The Museum of Transportwas running heritage buses to & from the two venues which is how we latched onto the Pumphouse tour. If you are interested in buses, the transport museum is a must- if you are a normal sort with a slight passing interest it is worth 45 minutes...

I've decided that bus spotters are a bit like train spotters, us men can get obsessive about anything mechanical! (I'm an entertainment technology spotter & proud of it...

Monday, September 04, 2006

The great Rock & Roll swindle

More than a year ago, I commented on being caught out by "Top of the Poppers" albums at ASDA.

This weekend, I noticed some £6 5 volume sets, two for a Tenner. One, celebrating the last 40 years appeared to be genuine original tracks. However, on playing, I discovered they aren't, or at least some of them aren't. I realised by song three, it took the Boss another couple of songs to agree with me.

At first, I thought I'd been suckered by some weasel words that I had missed, but there aren't any on the box or sleeves.

What to do? The happy to help people are keen to satisfy but this is really a problem with their buyers back in Leeds. They might not even realise that the mighty Wal*Mart empire has been suckered.

Getting my money back wouldn't really hit the spot, it is a passable collection but it is also passing off and a lot of these artists wouldn't like the impersonations that frequently sound like them on an off day, with not quite as good instruments and playing.

They say don't look a gift horse in the mouth, but it wasn't a gift so I have a right to be slightly disgruntled.

I wonder if trading standards would be interested, or perhaps ASCAP, whose logo appears on the box as confirming duly licensed?

Come to think of it, why has a European Distributor licensed the music via ASCAP? Is there not a ESCAP?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Him indoors...

Gizmo, our Abyssinian Guinea Pig, now lives inside the house after concerns as to his quality of life in an outside hutch over winter escalated after rather a lot of rain & no chance to put him in his run.

In order to accommodate a decent sized indoor cage (1m x 0.5m x0.47m) we had to make some room and we decided to move a small bookcase and replace with shelves. A look in the Ikea catalogue came up with something that would suit the bill (particularly wide and reasonably deep shelves) but when we went on our Pilgrimage to the nearbyTemple of Swedish Furniture, we were disappointed to find that the particular product was not on show and had disappeared from the catalogue. After looking at most of the displays in the showroom/maze, we eventually found a shelving system in the bedroom area that was passable, if somewhat over the top.

Armed with Ikea pencil, tape measure and store guide/picking list, we duly noted where the components were in the enormous warehouse (it is on the price tickets) and continued around the maze towards the checkouts. The four components we required were located in three seperate aisles and on loading up out trolley, Karen happened to notice that some component parts for the actual system we wanted were on some of the shelves. I had noticed a "where is it" screen near the warehouse entrance so we went back to it and typed in "Journalist". Rather than give us locations, it advised us it was all in the Full serve Warehouse next door. We noted down the parts we wanted and went to the information point. As the one person helping appeared to be dealing with the query from hell, I went and found someone else near the tills at a helpdesk who explained that the info point couldn't actually initiate full serve orders and neither could he. However, he could check stock levels and all of the Journalist range was available apart from one shelf size which wasn't the one we were after. We then had to trudge back into the main showroom area in order to find someone in the correct area to initiate an order. (Fortunately, there is a short-cut from the warehouse to the entrance otherwise it is a mile of contraflow). We then discovered that the one item out of stock was actually the uprights, the helpdesk man had read the screen wrong!

By this time, David was getting a bit fed up and we decided to knock it on the head, pausing only to get one of their legendary last chance Cafe hot dogs that David always asks nicely for when we go to Ikea (The Exit Bistro, they call it). They are very cheap- £1 gets you a large one and a soft drink, free refills and you get to put on your own Ketchup or Mustard.

Interestingly, the main Cafe is now absolutely enormous, easily the size of Morley Town Hall Alexandra Hall. The trouble is, you wouldn't really want to go there just to eat; the Junction 27 area is gridlock city at weekends and just getting parked and though the massive store is stressful at any time of day or evening.

Anyway, we got some traditional wall adjustable shelving from B & Q and after a bit of DIY Gizmo now has a new home, as does the clutter that preceded him.

Monday, August 28, 2006

It isn't just the Flamingoes that are pink...

We went to Flamingoland over Bank Holiday weekend. It has recently been featured on telly as "Theme Park" and we recognised the owner moving round the site (who we briefly spoke to) as well as one of the casual staff, a bloke who was seen at the interview asking if he was able to smoke.

I was intriegued about a new accommodation block that had been shown on the telly, many of the rooms had ill-placed girders getting in the way. I eventually twigged that a former scary walk through that I had never managed to get into had been converted so I guess you take the girders as you find them...

They have a new rollercoaster called Kumani but my sorry saga begins at Velocity, their new for 2005 ride.

It is a launched coaster a bit like Alton Towers' "Rita" but it is themed as Motorbikes. I have been conscious of being a rather snug fit at both Alton Towers and Drayton manor this year- the site of several operators pushing on my restraints to make them click has become all too common. This was repeated on velocity, which is a sit-on pretend motorbike which you pull on the handlebars and a back pad sandwiches you in. They gave me a good squashing on despatch but assured me that I wasn't too big for the ride.

The ride is fairly simple, you coast round to a launch position and the train attaches itself to an aircraft carrier style catapult driven by a substantial steel wire rope, accompanied by bike revving noises. On launch, the catapult rapidly accelerates you up to 67mph and then you disengage, rushing round loops, swirls and bunny hops back to the station some 45 seconds later.

That was when the trouble started. When the train stopped, the mechanism disengaged and everyone got off... except me. Mine didn't release, presumably because I was squashed in without enough play for the ratchet to disengage. All of the platform staff came across and started pushing, pulling and poking in an effort to free me. Crimson with embarassment, Karen led David off the platform to go and look at the ride photo. Meanwhile, several hundred people queueing for the ride were watching with interest. visions of them having to call first the engineering team and then the fire brigade flashed before my eyes. Sooner or later, one of them would reach for the radio and announce a code 42- Ride down, fat bastard stuck on the train, bring goose grease and large spanners.

Then, unexpectedly, there was a soft click and if freed up. I extricated myself from the saddle to a ragged cheer from the onlookers. I gave my audience a swift bow and went down the exit ramp to look at the photo.

Had I been stuck another couple of minutes longer, I no doubt would have been given a round of applause. Thank heavens for one thing- ITV weren't filming that day!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Morley- Cultural Mecca of South Leeds (Late September, good weather applied for)

We are having our very own literary festival next month, over the last weekend of September. Vague details here (no website as yet.)

It is excellent value at £2 entry for the two headline events featuring well-known Tykes Gervaise Phinn & Ian McMillan. What also caught my eye was a fringe event for designing a Morley Town Centre Map. Hmm. I have already spoken of our new map which I regard as rather Cack. Maybe the organisers also know this and hope something better might turn up courtesy Joe public?

The Literary festival looks like a good event, although I can't see it keeping the piss-heads away from the Pubs, luring the Chavs from their sofas or the scratters from their scraps down in't Bottoms.

Why is the event so cheap? Because it is being funded by public money, Leeds Area South are funding it but to what amount I don't know. (I could find out easily enough but can't be Arsed.) MTC are lobbing in a Monkey or two and the Obtiser are involved.

I have to admit to being a bit hypocritical here- I gratefully accepted £11k+ of Area money to get Morley FM off the ground. However, they were going to spend it anyway so it was nice that it went to us rather than Dyslexic Anglican too-tall Windsurfers or whatever PC causes otherwise chase for the wonga up for grabs.

Wouldn't it be nice if they just lets us keep the money in the first place, rather than tax it off us and then give some of it back to whatever trendy bandwagon is flavour of the month?

The trouble is, once it is seen as someone else's money, it doesn't seem to matter any more. No-one treats a Company Car as well as if it actually belonged to them and the higher up one goes, the less painful it gets. We give the EU bucketfuls of money which we gratefully receive back (well some of it) on grandiose projects that if the Council or Government proposed would see them voted out of office and prosecuted for malpractice.

It isn't someone else's money, it is ours. There ain't no UK PLC, Governments don't create wealth, only people and businesses do. All Governments can do is tax it...

These libertarian views explain why fellow Councillors regard me as a loose cannon on Morley Town Council as it goes without saying in the minds of my colleagues that we have to do what is best for other people which also involves spending other people's money. I don't want us to employ more policemen, gardeners, Town Centre Managers and the like, I want us to hold Government to account and put our own precept down as we pay far too much tax already, much of which is wasted. We will inevitably have an admin overhead to exist and I don't mind the Mayor organising civic dos with some cheese & twiglets but I don't regard our role as redistribution of wealth or topping out the shortcomings of Leeds City Council.

In the words of Monty Python, my hovercraft is full of eels.

(I just put that in to finish off the blog entry. Why? Because I can.)

Update: I mistyped Gervaise Phinn, now corrected. I have been told by two people now that he is not as good as his books, so to speak. Indeed, I can remember my Mum saying that about James Herriott whom she saw at a society do (Her Bosses were upper class and she occasionally got invited to dos at Lumley Castle).

A spitting image line just popped into my head, of young David (Steel) addressing his troops before an election, where he had famously told them in 1981 to "go back to your constituencies and prepare for Government". It was parodied as "Go back to your Constituencies and prepare for a bit of a disappointment..."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Back from a break

We've been away in Anglesey for a holiday, an Internet free zone. (Well, the cottage was!)

Returning to Morley, one is struck as to how un-rural it is. Morley celebrates its Industrial Revolution heritage quietly, but everywhere you look, the 19th century remains tell their own story to those who wish to listen.

Some things you can see frequently without looking and occasionally a detail catches the eye. Queen Street is full of quirky victorian frontages and many people don't see Morley Train tunnel carved in the Town Hall entablature until it is pointed out to them.

Something odd struck me today though. Parking in the car park beside Wilkinsons is a bit fiddly as the bays are rather tight. Furthermore, the central block has a large wooden post projecting between the bays and protecting a number of diamond shaped planter areas for trees. Unfortunately, however, the trees are all dead or long gone...

Monday, August 07, 2006

New maps in Morley

A Town Centre map has appeared next to the Town Hall in the space formerly occupied by a large rectangular metal noticeboard on two slightly ornate metal posts (which presumably dates back to the street furniture update of the late 90s when we gained a number of shelters and tall lamp posts with hanging basket hooks all in a victorian style).

I have to say that the map is a bit of a disappointment. No "you are here" key (although anyone not realising they are next to the Town hall who can't see it on the map shouldn't be let out alone anyway), a number of colour snaps of various buildings which don't seem to bear any relationship to the location of the originals, four identical photos of what I call the "clippy mat", our Town crest in an interesting tapestry/shagpile combination produced by one of the local schools. Why four views the same? I can think of three different crests around on plaster, stained glass and terrazo tile.

I have a suspicion that the Town Council had an involvement in these maps but it doesn't look like we proofed them at all as there is at least one typo- "Joseph Priestly College" indeed!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Five hours in Spain

We recently went on a Mini-cruise with the works social club, a trip to Spain and back.
It was on the Pride of Bilbao, a P&O ship that goes from Portsmouth to Bilbao, taking 34 hours or so to get there, but only 28 to return. A trip is three nights on the ship, two there and one back.

Anyone expecting a cruise ship will be in for a shock- it is a car ferry with a few extras (like a swimming pool down in the depths and a dolphin/whale spotting club).

The ship is similar to the ones that go from Hull to Rotterdam and Zeebrugge and I have to say that the North Sea ones are to a better stanard in the fittings and catering. You don't normally see whales off Norfolk though...

We opted for inclusive meals and with hindsight that was a mistake- we were restricted to one particular restaurant in the evenings and it got rather samey. Their indian food selection rotated the meats around the styles and it was inferior to the excellent indonesian curries the North Sea ships lay on. Many of the crew were Spanish, although the blokes on the bridge and in boiler suits (mostly fixing the toilets) were Brits.

The ferry heads along the Channel, then down into the Bay of Biscay. Bay doesn't give you the feel of scale- it isn't like robin Hood's Bay or Whitley Bay, it is more akin to a Gulf, i.e. big where you can't see land...

After dolphin & whale spotting over the deeper bits, it docks at Bilbao, home of the Guggenheim Museum. We wanted to go on a trip to it but they needed 20 to run the coach and couldn't achieve that from the 1,700 or so on board so we had to satisfy ourselves with outside views of this rather stunning building. We were rather surprised that david knew who the architect was- the connection was that he had designed a concert hall for Springfield which was converted into a prison. He particularly liked the floral puppy by the entrance.

We also saw the oldest transporter bridge in the world, although we didn't get a chance to walk over the top like at Middlesborough.

The return journey was much more choppy, although not as bad as my Mum's trip a couple of months beforehand when the ship could have been more aptly titled the Vomiting Venus, a legendary North Sea ferry that plied between Newcastle and Scandinavia, rolling merrily as she went. Pride of Bilbao has stabilisers but they can only reduce the roll, not the occasional lift & slap down that is so disconcerting. (More about stabilisation here).

Getting to Portsmouth is long winded by Coach; it is even more long winded coming back when the door interlock goes wrong & the brakes won't release!

Amusing choice of in-coach movies for the journey:

Going down- Titanic
Coming back- Speed

then after spending two hours at a Services in the northampton area: The Witches (A very wierd & somewhat cak film, we never saw the end of it and don't want to either...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Astroturf

For as many years as I have been reading the Morley Observer & Advertiser (and its previous manifestation as two supposedly independent papers) I have been both amused and vexed by the tactic of shilling, where supporters of political parties write in to praise their own and rubbish the opposition. Indeed, I once wrote a letter to the editor suggesting that letters to the editor include a disclosure statement so that the partisanship was out in the open rather than implied.

This ongoing campaign has had its comic moments, including the time when the Morley Borough Independents decided that some of the MBI bashing was from fictitious names and addresses. Other chuckles come in the form of lucid letters from individuals who struggle to string a sentence together in the flesh, let alone write coherently and cogently with well-phrased arguments.

In recent weeks, however, it has risen to new heights. There has been a long stream of letters in support of newly elected BNP Councillor Chris Beverley and the great things he is apparently achieving in the Ward. This has, of course, got the MBIs in a bit of a tizzy and an attempt by Robert Finnegan to suggest this was all down to shilling spectacularly backfired when it came across as arrogant and sarcastic with the subsequent postbag pointing it out.

Indeed, the BNP are proving to be rather good at this PR business. For a long time, the received wisdom mantra has been that when the BNP get elected they don’t actually get their finger out and do anything. Chris Beverley recently challenged Leeds Councillors to help him out on a clean-up campaign. For the others, this is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario; if they decline, they will be accused of hypocrisy, if they join in they will be accused of consorting with extremists.

I can’t say that I like the BNP but I do believe in freedom of speech, opinion and assembly. The more they express their views, the more apparent how odious some of them are which is a much better approach than simply proscribing views and thoughts. Their website is actually quite interesting and their news items, whilst inevitably partial, expose lots of things that the Government would rather we didn’t know about how they deal with opinions not in the mainstream. For example, did you know that a BNP activist is currently banged up on a trumped up charge after an argument with an Iraqi in a pub? They are positioning it that he is a political prisoner so are making mileage out of it but there is probably more to the story than meets the eye.

I recently read of the term Astroturfing, which is shilling carried to the next level- passing off something inferior as having wide public support by people in the pay of the beneficiaries. It is particularly in use for the battle for the Internet in America but applies just as well to our own Morley letters page.

(Disclosure: Independent Town Councillor, Moderate Libertarian, Heterosexual, Agnostic)

Monday, July 24, 2006

The longest night...

I was staying in a “high dependency unit” bed after grommet surgery as there is a risk that people with obstructive sleep apnea can stop breathing during sleep due to the residual effects of anaesthetic. On this basis, it was felt safer for me to kip in a ward where the nurses would know what to do if I stopped breathing, aided by being hooked up to monitoring technology. (Apparently, they give you a poke!)

I had three electrodes on my chest (two at neck area, one on the side, measuring heart activity and respiration), a sensor on my finger (for pulse and oxygenation), a Blood pressure cuff on my arm (which inflated once an hour or so to measure BP) and a nasal oxygen feed, the sort where a pipe loops over your ears and under your nose, with two small, short pipes up into the nostrils. I was also in a motorised bed with the head angled up somewhat for ease of sitting up in bed. I also had my home CPAP machine available, which I anticipated to be using later on.

Come sleepy time, I attempted to snooze but there were a number of distractions. One of the patients was constantly fiddling with his facemask which would set off alarms. Another patient was good at disconnecting the oxygen which would set off alarms. Patient drips would run out which would set off alarms. Patient responses would drift out of expected limits which would set off alarms. When I say alarms, I don’t mean strident bells or a big claxon that would sound “AWOOGA!”, instead it was an assortment of chimes not unlike that heard on long-haul aeroplanes. Indeed the whole experience was somewhat like a night-time flight with constant activity and noise but without the headsets & seat-back screens.

After a while, I got to recognise what the various chimes meant from what I could see of the screens and what the nurses said. Some were strident & insistent, others more subtle. I noticed that if I turned over in bed, my own box would make a solitary bong not unlike calling an aeroplane stewardess. Sometimes, my BP cuff slipped down my arm and would struggle to take a decent reading- it would try three times and then start to demand attention.

The level of attention that the staff gave to the alarms was enlightening- it varied from immediate concern to distinct indifference. The norm was to initially tune out the noises than pay attention if it persisted for more than 30 seconds or so (and a lot of the alarms cleared up on their own within that time).

A succession of doctors visited the ward, it was obvious that some were liked by the staff and some not!

I found myself drifting off to a fragmented sleep and I cursed not being able to reach the bed controls to make it flat but was too lethargic to ask the nurses. I eventually came to the conclusion that there wasn’t too much risk of me stopping breathing as |I couldn’t manage to get off to a deep sleep anyway.

Eventually, dawn happened and there was enough light for the staff to turn off the dimmed florry lights. The staff change happened again at round about 7ish and I met a third set of nurses. I had bled slightly overnight from my ear and they cleaned me up so that I could face the world. They made me some toast and coffee and after a wash and tinkle I was able to to get dressed and relax in a bedside chair. They offered me paracetamol & ibuprofen but I wasn’t actually in any pain so I declined it. After a while they decided that I would live and discharged me with a follow-up appointment in four months.

Has it helped? I don’t know yet, my ear is still plugged somewhat with dried blood so my high pitch hearing remains mediocre. Grommets cure symptoms, not problems and they didn’t find any underlying problem when they had a shufty in my nasal space with an endoscope. I did come away relieved that I wasn't seriously ill, though!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Theatre of dreams...

So there I am in hospital patient gown, cotton trolleys, stripy dressing gown and Homer slippers (that say mmm... beer... if strategically pressed) sitting in the chair by my hospital bed waiting for surgery. I've been asked very nicely if I'd not actually get in the bed as I won't be sleeping in it that night.

It is now 2pm and I'm 2nd on the list so expect to be on the table at round about 3pm. I have a good book to read and I appear to be surrounded by eccentric old ladies. An orderly tries to give us all a drink, which sends the nurse into a flap as it seems we are all "NIL BY MOUTH" but they don't put up signs any more and the other patients appeared too fruit-loopy to realise it wasn't a good idea.

A hospital orderly arrived at 3pm with a wheelchair but it wasn't for me. He then arrived again at about 3:45pm but it still wasn't for me. The Hospital Chaplin arrived, a lady in her late fifties with a certain manner of one who has given their life to god. We chatted for a couple of minutes but she rapidly realised that I wasn't in need of spiritual guidance and moved on. At the next bed, I overheard her discussing the finer points of where the patient worshipped and they had obviously found common ground.

Finally, at 4:30pm, the porter arrived for me. By this time, I was starving, rather parched and keen to get it over with. There is an interesting hospital ritual where a nurse accompanies patients on the way there and another one on the way back. Whilst there may be clinical reasons, I'm sure a lot of it is reassurance in the spirit of Florence Nightingale. It isn't far from the ward to the Operating theatres and I was delivered into the anaesthetic room of theatre number one. It was long and thin, with a large open sliding door onwards into the operating room itself. Here I was slightly surprised to see an infeasible number of masked staff gathered around the head of someone already on the operating table. Being an ear, nose & throat session, it was inevitable that this was what would be going on, however, they all looked as startled to see me as I did them! The door was quickly closed and I was asked to transfer onto the rather narrow table. I met the anaestetist, the technician and even the surgeon who wandered through to read my notes. I'd never seen him before (depite attending his clinic) and he wasn't the dashing surgeon type, being reminiscent of Walter matthau.

After various checks that i was who they thought I was, I was given a Cannula which I expected to send me off, but was in fact the drip feed device into a vein on the back of my hand. I passed my glasses to the nurse and waited for the inevitable, admiring the Disney characters on the cupboards and the ceiling. I had been intregued about going under, as the two previous times (as a child under dental gas) I can remember by hearing going all zingy and me half-thinking it was the dentist's drill. This time, however, it was simply like drifting off to sleep, by vision blurred, the room went slightly yellowy and my eyes closed.



As far as I recall, I simply dreamed in a normal fashion. After a bit I woke up again and after a moment of disorientation realised I was in the recovery room and the time was 5:30pm. I had a sore throat 9from the ventilator pipe) and a slightly tingly ear (from the use of a speculum to slightly enlarge the ear canal, no, not the sort that ladies are intimately familiar with!).

I came round fairly quickly, and whilst feeling somewhat lethargic, was fully aware of my surroundings. Before long, my bed was trucked off to my new ward, the HDU.

The HDU is about as far from the main block operating theatre as it can be and the linking corridors are rather narrow. However, the porter was a dab hand at driving the glorified pump truck that motorised my bed. No-one could come from HDU so one of the recovery room nurses came with me. The HDU is at the back of the intensive care ward and has four beds as well as a possible fifth in an isolation room (where the nurses went for quiet time). There were already two patients in-situ and a fifth was wheeled in a couple of hours later. The staff of three were kept busy attending to the needy cases but found time to hook me up (three electrodes, nasal oxygen feed and a blood pressure cuff) and find we some food and drinks. My bags & specs eventually turned up, at which point I was able to start reading again.

Karen & David visited and were pleased to see me awake & alert, although David understandably was concerned with the wiring up & the sight of the other patients. They had hoped to bring me an ice cream but all of the catering was shut up for the night.

After using one of those cardboard disposable wee-wee bottles, I was just pouring some water into a glass when the nurse asked me if I wanted alcohol. I said no thanks & she looked a bit puzzled- then she realised that I thought she was going to squirt it in the glass and I realised it was for me to wash my hands!

The shifts overlapped at about 9pm and they spent more than half an hour reviewing the progress of the incumbents. I couldn't hear too well as one of the patients had a very noisy respirator machine but it seemed that I had been only very lightly under and was doing fine.

I kept myself amused reading further and eventually they dimmed the fluorescent lights to make it easier for the patients to sleep. And so began the longest night of my life...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

I've been to Hospital...

The title was the suggestion for a particularly naff bumper sticker by Alexei Sayle in his comedy heyday. Lets face it, no-one wants to go to hospital, even as a visitor. I had been forewarned that my own particular visit could fall victim to bed shortages or more urgent demands but surprisingly enough, I managed to get admitted and my session carried out. Whilst a minor operation, it still involves a trip to the operating theatre which involves putting your life in someone else's hands.

Having an operation under general anaesthetic, it is necessary to fast for a while. The main reason for this is that any reflux (a polite word for sick) that gets into your lungs whilst unconscious can cause big problems, principally pneumonia. having said that, this reference debunks this and also has an excellent pun for a title!

My regime was to be as follows, for my afternoon surgery.

No alcohol for 24 hours. (No big deal, most of my alcohol consumption these days is mostly a glass of port on a Tuesday evening, Tuesday being scales night in the Grey Household.)

A light breakfast before 8am. (A Weetabix and skimmed milk at 07:30, I often don't have a weekday breakfast so that was a treat).

A drink such as a dilute fruit juice before 10:30am. (A glass of water at 10:25 and abstinence from coffee the day before to keep down the cravings).

Don't suck on any mints or chewing gum. (Nope, just my thumb, so to speak!)

Admission at 10:30-11am, ring rirst to ensure bed available. (Because I have obstructive sleep Apnoea I am at slight risk after anaesthetic, so the anaesthetist organised a high dependency unit bed for me. That is a half-way house between a normal ward bed and intensive care. I didn't hear until 11:50 that I was clear to go in).

All conditions being fulfilled, I arrived at the allocated hospital ward (Ward 3, Head and Neck) at round about 12:30. My bed wasn't quite available yet so I was blood pressure checked, met one of the ear, nose and throat doctors for the various questions, met my anaesthetist (not the one I had been expecting), had a felt tip arrow drawn on the side of my head and eventually was taken to my temporary bed. It was now 2pm and I was gowned-up with the familiar device that ties at the back. I was pleased to see that the gown did not provide ready access to the arse area as Billy Connolly put it and indeed the nurse said I could put my trolleys back on if they were 100% cotton. (It seems that Bri Nylon is a fire risk in the Operating Theatre). Wearing my dressing gown and Homer Simpson slippers (one of which said mmm, beer... if you pressed it) I settled down for the wait. I was supposedly second on the list and it started at 2pm so it shouldn't be long...

Monday, July 03, 2006

Tahw a Rissep!

Well, Morley FM has hit the airwaves, but our higher frequency of 94.9 FM doesn't carry as far. It actually does after a fashion, but is competing with strong signals from Radio Lincolnshire on 94.9FM to the South East and Radio Cleveland on 95FM to the North. Karen can pick us up in her office in Wakefield (with aerial positioned just so) and we had a confirmed hearing on Morley Bottoms as well, both firsts. The downer is that before, when the signal fluttered, it just dipped and hissed. Now, it flutters with breakthrough interference, or QRM in Radio Ham circles. My journey to Bradford loses the signal before I even reach junction 27, let alone the hotel at the end of the motorway feeder.

When we were down in the RSL bit (87.7/8/9), we only competed with other stations pushing out 10w or at most 25w signals (in rural areas). Now we are up amongst the big boys, there are hundreds of watts of power competing with our output which wouldn't even light the lamp in your fridge to full brightness.

We could get the mast higher, but it would need money or resources we don't currently have. Even 87.9FM wasn't available, being in use elsewhere nearby for some of our broadcast dates.

Fortunately, the online streaming is OK, although not from the studio. Instead, it is picked up by an old radio receiver in my spare room, fed into an aging laptop, streamed up to the docklands and pushed out to anyone who chooses to listen from our website link.

It strikes me as ironic that the school has a 10 meg connection but it doesn't work properly where we are: it has to go up my ADSL stream. Fortunately, another Member has agreed to lob in for my ISP bill, which will go up at least a Tenner over the next fortnight. (Although usage from Midnight to 8am is free, a time when we are only playing a sustaining service.)

The studio phone still doesn't work, after 9 months of being almost ready. Actually, it works if we plug it in to another bit of the network, but that area is not accessible to us out of hours. Being a Network based phone, we couldn't readily interface it to the studio kit anyway.

A BT line and broadband connection would have solved all of the problems, but the money wasn't available when we needed it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A bit busy this week...

...loads on at work, Morley FM about to go live on Monday & now I have an impending date for my operation .

One of my (2) readers complains I don't post enough. I think of all sorts topics fairly regularly but have to temper the wilder ones so as to not offend my employer (work being the source of many anecdotes in the distant future suitably sanitised and generalised), also preferring to think about things rather than passing an ill-informed opinion on everything I see and hear. See, I'm not a real politician...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

(Never going back to) my old school...

The title is from a Steely Dan track and I visited my first Primary for the first time in 38 years yesterday. I took David along, as I am keen to get him to grasp that we were all kids once. (It was a training day at his school, he wasn't bunking off..)

I had visions of my old school being much bigger that David's. In many ways it was, the classrooms were a more sensible size and it had corridors rather than "open plan" shortcuts. Some things looked disappointingly small though, particularly the stairwells leading to the upper classrooms. The playgrounds were generously sized and the fields delightfully shrubbed.

Schools put up a lot more work on display these days, the foyer was a riot of colour and an extensive display highlighted many productions of the last 30 years or so.

The hall felt about the same size, a smidge smaller than I thought but suitably lofty and well lit with lots of windows. The school is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, only two years older than me and it must have been still rather new when I started.

We didn't see too many kids, they were hard at work in a couple of rooms we passed through although the music room was empty. This was the room where I had hid under the sand pit from Miss Thorpe (the Reception teacher) on my first day after the first few hours proved too much for me. Now it had keyboards and oil drums (of the carnival kind) although we did see a splendid reception area in the other building (which had been some sort of special school in my time).

A very friendly head teacher was very pleased to show us round and happily contrast then and now. One older member of staff was able to mention several teachers that I had forgotten about and we swapped some stories and recollections. I was mildly disappointed that the building was showing its age with talk of partial demolition & replacement within five years. It still had most of its Crittal style metal framed windows and French Window double doors from the sink rooms that linked pairs of downstairs classrooms. (The upstairs rooms had their sinks on the landing).

I had a very happy childhood at Stocksfield Avenue, it was a good school but probably not particularly remarkable.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Sport for all..

There has been a bit of a rumpus in Morley about our rather decrepit leisure centre. It seems we might be able to improve it using private finance initiative money, but the new one won't have as many facilities. (You can read about it here for the next few months, curtesy the Morley Obtiser.)

This reminds me of the PFI hospital kerfuffle, where new hospitals get built but they generally have less beds.

I have no objection to the principle of PFI involving the private sector, I don't regard profit as a dirty word.

What I do object to, however, is the vast sums of money these schemes cost out of our pockets, due to piss-poor planning & stitch-up contracts. An example of the unintended consequences is the imbalance in Morley Primary schools- some are undersubscribed due to a range of factors, including the new PFI one. However, education Leeds cannot rationally close the PFI one no matter how sensible the decision might be as they are obliged to pay the partner to run it for the next couple of decades regardless.

There is also the business of "off the books". It is simply overextending our credit on a ridiculous scale, having to earmark funds over timescales over a long time hoping no-one will miss it. We all remember our first credit card and the seduction of getting things now and paying later. Yes, you can have that Plasma TV today, it'll only cost you £5 a month for the rest of your life...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

A rare sight near Morley...

...the Ikea car park nearly empty on a Saturday afternoon.

Why buy flat pack furniture when there is a match on?

The Grey household remain totally indifferent to the beautiful game, but had we been, we would now be tearing out our hair as the telly is playing up. The picture keeps deciding to bow in at the sides like an hourglass. It isn't terminal yet, but it looks like a new Idiot's lantern is on the horizon.

Meanwhile, Cyman occasionally regales us with song, poetry and mathematics. He appears to have reached the zenith of his evolution although we hold out for another surprise statement.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Monkey business

We try to get David to understand the value of money. He currently gets £4 a week and we encourage him to save for things he would like off his own back. About 2 months ago, he spotted a toy monkey in Morley's Home Bargains that he had seen others with and was keen to own. He managed to save up £12 in the meantime, despite being led astray by tat shops on holiday and the urge to buy stuff that would last 10 minutes before breaking or him losing interest.

Yesterday, I allowed him an advance on next week's money so he could buy the toy monkey for an eye watering £15.99 (reduced from £39.95).

This monkey is called Simon (although it isn't spelt that way) and evolves through stages in the same way as a Tamagochi pet. At first it could only gesture and make monkey noises (mainly to be fed its virtual banana) but it progressed through baby talk to now being fairly coherent. This evening, it surprised us by singing a song about the "monkey in the mirror". What was even more surprising was that whilst talking it had a voice somewhat like Sesame Street's Elmo, but when singing, it was a rich baritone.

It also now puts up a fight when you try to put him to sleep. I suspect Simon has a couple more surprises in store for us...

(By the way, we don't advance David any more than one week's money as we don't want him to see us as a source of easy credit. Perhaps we need to work out a punitive APR.)

Friday, June 02, 2006

back again...

We spent a few days in the Tenby area, totally isolated from all things webby, netty & emaily. We had electricity, water, a fridge and an idiots lantern but were otherwise buffered from the hustle-bustle of life, even turning off the mobiles on occasions. Whilst down there we rode some coasters, went on beaches, wandered amongst dinosaurs, visited amazing mazes and even fed some goats. David got to milk a cow, he described it as "squidgy". On returning to Morley, our next door neighbour told us they spent years and years visiting a caravan park 3 miles down the road from where we were staying.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Joined up Government

I received a phone call from OfCom yesterday, advising me which frequency Morley FM could have next month. (94.9FM, subject to approval). Shortly afterwards, I received an email from OfCom, telling me that no frequencies were available, terribly sorry and all that.

Aaaargh! Left hand, meet right hand; right hand, meet left hand...

Turns out we can have the frequency after all, after I facilitated some joined-up Government. If I'd received the info in the reverse order I would have been a particularly unhappy bunny...

Officialdom- as Bart Simpson would say, it both sucks and blows at the same time!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The value of privacy

ID cards are going to solve everything?

Too many wrongly characterize the debate as "security versus privacy." The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.

From Bruce Schnier's blogpiece with the title above.