I had driven out to Aldermaston today to collect a painted panel. It was urgent, the job had to be despatched today (so it would still arrive in “October”) and at the last moment I found the panel had been stripped of paint when it had been modified. So I had driven it to the painters a couple of days ago, pushed it through their letter box (it was after hours) and was back to collect it, package it and send it with the rest of the order. Grateful thanks to Shaun for the quick turn-around during a busy end-of-month.

However, I turned up a little early – for a change, no hold-ups on the M4. On the way in I noviced a sign about beer being for sale in an adjoining unit, so while I was waiting I went over.

It turned out it was the Wild Weather Ale microbrewery. And a most fascinating half hour with a guide (no name…sorry), who provided samples of their beer from one of the most unusual set of taps I’d ever seen.


He explained their philosophy, their methods, the different beers. Some brewed with Chocolate (not chocolate malt), some with Earl Gray Tea – I don’t like the tea, the bergamont is too heavy (I prefer Lady Gray Tea, which is Orange and Lemon), but in the beer, very acceptible – and a very distinctive one made with Peaches. Stouts, other styles are also brewed, and some sampled. Others just used different hops sourced from around the world. I was only taking a couple of sips, but was notibly feeling the effect of booze by the end.

Another factor was that some of their “barrels” are dual skinned. The beer is inside a (mylar, I imagine) bag, and the gas to pressurise the beer for the taps outside. This means no gas in contact with the beer, so it lasts a long time after it is tapped. I suppose someone took the winebag concept and added the second stage, but a brilliant idea. And in use with the taps, so that they were not wasting gallons of beer in providing samples. But there were a large number of more traditional barrels in the unit.

I purchased a couple of bottles of a number of different brews that I had sipped, for further study, you understand, although one beer (10% ABV) was a wallet scorching £5 per 330ml bottle. One for Halloween Night, methinks, and one for another time.

On the start of my return journey, I stopped at a local Budgen’s supermarket in the village of Mortimer. Mainly just for a drink and perhaps a snack. I was stunned. The variety, the range, a butcher’s desk, frozen speciality foods (& microwave), wines from Laithwaites (a specialty wine club), beers from brewers I knew but never seen that particular one before… I purchased tonight’s dinner being a specialist fish company cook-chill meal plus frozen (defrosted) potato dauphinouse. I had never expected to purchase such stuff in a franchise that in the past had been just another corner shop to use if desperate. To put it mildly, I was impressed. And they were doing community stuff, with some walk being organised, and a manequin of some woman in the window – must be someone significant as people were taking photos of her through the window with their children in front. The woman in front of me at the check-out was talking to her children in a language I didn’t recognise, but given what they were buying, she wasn’t the cleaning lady.

It was like stumbling into an idealised version of the village shop in The Archers. As it was end of the school day there were childern with mothers, children too old to be with mothers all over the place, and I overheard part of a discussion with the butcher about deboning some kind of joint of meat.

I wonder what the property prices are around there?…

when the world remembers you exist, and why haven’t you done job x or y yet? This year, today was the day.

The first was a customer wanting a job two days early. Now he had ordered months in advance, and we were ready to ship for the day requested. But I’ve so much on at present that bringing forward is actually very tricky.

Then another one wanted news on an order, which I could not give him – my colleague on vacation is responsible for that, and then another one came forward asking about an old order, and if it were not made, could he change it?

I keep an electronic log book, and record every interaction – it proves very helpful. And I keep the emails, but they don’t always hold the whole story, and in any case sometimes difficult to search.There have been work days where not one entry has been made, and I’d hazard that this year has had by far the most of such days.

All this isn’t helped by the utter exhaustion I have felt this year. I really can spend all morning in bed. A few years ago, I’d be up before dawn midsummer walking by the banks of the Thames. There are previous blog enteries here to show that. Now, it’s as much as I can do to get up at all.

And I think it is my exhaustion which lies behind the trap described above, that is people leaping on me for not being ready etc regarding work.

And then I have the car to work on – feeling exhausted before I start. Currently waiting for a part from MB that was hiding in an unheard of MB dealership in Germany to be shipped to me.

Week three car repairs

August 8, 2015

Since I took my car to my friends’, there has been a lot of real work (i.e. my job) to deal with, meaning I’ve only had two Saturdays so far. But today was aborted early as there was something clearly wrong. When a new (brake) disc was put on the car, and the bolts tightened up, you could no longer spin the wheel. Subsequent to this, I have checked, and they are the right parts, and fit another car, so why the problem I don’t know. Shims appear to be the only answer.

But I am finding this more and more often, that is parts that just are rubbish – and these are supplied directly from Mercedes-Benz. One brand new (front brake) disk sheered at a flange causing the disc to fall off – at least I got that replaced Free-of-Charge. The metal exposed around the flange was very crystalline. Also the flange was too thin, say compared to the disk I was taking off.

Next week I should have more spare time. Everyone wants the car back on the road asap, which means getting it past the MOT test. Apart from the brakes, there are three other jobs I am aware of, but at least job 1 is under control, job two is possible, job 3 is the one I’m not confident about yet.

Car loaded up, ready to go

Car loaded up, ready to go

I have had a car on SORN (Statutary Off Road Notification) for a few months. Although on a shared driveway, it didn’t block it. But I couldn’t do work on the car without moving it to block the driveway, potentially for a week, which was not acceptible.

But the neighbour is about to have major building works done. I agreed to move the car. Another neighbour offered, but then withdrew his offer on a flimsy excuse. Then came the Ultimatum. Move the car, and it mustn’t return. So clearly some bullying had been going on. I’m looking forward to the revenge, of sticking the car back there, but taxed and MOT’ed (it’s always been insured), but this time due to lack of roadside space. Who is he to tell me to scrap a car (or anything else)?

Apart from removing neighbour from my christmas card list, I had to act. Fortunately through a network, I found an understanding car fanatic (who I already knew in a friendly way) who had spare concrete space and willing to let me use it. He apologised it wasn’t under cover (as if mine were!). Only I had to get the car there, with no MOT or tax, and it was 25 miles. Only one solution, a car transporter.

There are websites where you can plug in details, and see if any “passing trade” will offer. I did get a couple of offers at price x, but none responded when I tried to contact them to take it up. The other option was to hire. And I found a place that would hire. Price 1.6x. But it was the only viable option, so I walked to the depot (I didn’t know where I would park my car had I driven). I rather think he didn’t expect me to take him up on the offer. As I arrived, some kid came storming into the office shouting, all sorts of things. It seems he was so late in returning a car, he still hadn’t. And there was a lost key. So he was going on the attack as his defence. After half an hour, the owner was able to come back to me. I pointed out I had not heard one apology in the whole guy’s rant.

The deal signed, the owner showed me, and let me run the slide/tilt mechanism of these car transporters. As my car runs, there was no need to use the hoist. Then a quick trip just to help me get used to it, and it was mine for a few hours. A Mercedes-Benz Actio 7.5ton lorry with modified bodywork.

The first trip was interesting through the centre of Tescoville, with roadworks and narrow lanes because of road works. This being the largest thing I have ever driven, including a 16 seat mini-bus while at Uni.

So I got close to base, but found a level road with suitable space for the transporter to park (I was told makes loading so much easier on the level). Then I fetched the car (I was prepared to drive half a mile, but not 25 miles on main roads etc), and doing as I had been taught, loaded her up. It was quite fun. And I put the restraints around the two opposing wheels. (Photo). Then off we went.

I had to choose the route carefully, both for my unfamiliarity with the lorry, and speedbumps. I found that first gear was unnecessary (it was also difficult to select), just like a Ford, in fact. I drove on A roads to my friend’s place, partly as it would be slower (but I realised, many more potholes!). But I soon realised I was rather enjoying the whole adventure.

I mean, I had been in these trucks before, when a car had broken down, and I had to be rescued, but this time I was doing it all for and by myself. Having offloaded the car at my friend’s place, and a few minutes chat, it was return to base. For they may need it for the Friday night rescue service.

Because the current Tescoville roadworks closes the main A road through town every night, I decided to take the motorway, and then back down to the A road the far side of the roadworks. With no car on the back, I was able to take the old girl to her speed restricted limit of 56mph. I was having fun!

Just before I returned, I added fuel, at a rate I calculated plus a little bit more (and I was about right, it was just a little more), and dropped the lorry off at the depot, whose gates had been left open for me. So I phoned the owner, to say lorry returned, keys through the door, and if it wasn’t so expensive I’d do it again!

Mind you, 1.9x (with fuel etc) the poorer.

Note added later.

I didn’t mention, but the last time I had driven a manual gearbox vehicle was three years ago. So I was pleased how easy I found the gearbox (other than 1st gear, which I soon found wasn’t needed on the level) and clutch control was still pretty good. The one stall I made wasn’t clutch, it was the operation of the handbrake, being slower to come off than the level suggested.

A few quick ones.

July 14, 2015

I’ve often started writing an entry, but never completed it, or it was too short. But then I came across a blog where the author had the same issue, but he just tagged two or three random ones together to make an entry. So why not? And the blog title – taken from a Wodehouse book of short stories.

Holiday Jam. (A timely entry)

This was a specific brew, made from fruits from the garden of my childhood (and present) home, before we went on holiday to SE Devon. Principally it was made of Loganberries, but would include, from over the years, Rhubarb, Gooseberries, Redcurrants, Strawberries, possibly an Apple (Discovery) and maybe others. Sour cherries (Morello) probably were not included, as I think it would have been too early for them. But the vital point was that it was made in mid July, too early for most fruit, and I stress, just from the garden – well, not the sugar.

Usually we managed to make 3 or 4 pots of the jam, a couple of days before we set off.

In the early years, brother and I would be in blankets at 05:00 in the back seats of Mini (the original 1959 type), our “toys” in the side pockets and meals in bags/boxes between us, everything from 06:30 coffee in flasks to mid afternoon tea. Without motorways, that is how long it took, especially trying to avoid traffic black-spots.

The Holiday Jam would be first opened on the Sunday morning, the first morning in whatever caravan we were in, served with toast. From Monday onwards, there was the possibility of cooked Mackeral with toast, caught from a village improbably called Beer, where traders hired out inboard motor boats for tourists to go line fishing.

It was my experience of making this jam that meant that when I had a chance to make some raspberry jam a few years ago (as recorded in this blog), I was able to do it successfully without the paraphernalia apparently needed for modern jam making.

Yet another musical physicist
These days, I’m essentially an engineer in my day-to-day life, but I have a background and some training – sadly ill-used – in music. It has lead to some odd situations, as if odd situations don’t hunt me down.

This time I was invited back to a friend’s place in the Uni Hall of Residence after an evening at the bar. I don’t recall quite how we got to this situation, but the coffee and brandy were flowing, and he must have known my background to some extent. So he put on a record, and challenged me to name the composer. It wasn’t easy, I didn’t know the work, but eventually I decided it was essentially Handel, but with a more recent spin, to use the current terminology. Arranged Elgar, I suggested?

As it turned out, I was absolutely correct. “I’m impressed” my friend said, clearly was. He didn’t realise that the science departments were able to raise string quartets, bands, and in one case a science facilty small orchestra. Though things are bad if I end up in the first Violins.

There have been few musicians interested in science, but on one occasion I took a couple through a tour of my department, which impressed them. Especially the X-ray diffraction, which I had painfully learnt how to orientate metal crystals by reading the X-ray photos – so was able to bore on with impressive bluffing.

Imperial 66
I have it on good authority that people now blog from their mobile phones. I struggle to imagine how they manage on such a tiny keyboard. I grew up on real type-writers, such as the Imperial 66. Indeed, while at Uni, there were plus points for type-written reports as opposed to hand-written.

I well remember the night I put aside to type my first (typed) report. The Imperial 66 I purchased for £45 (how expensive!), was set up, me thinking it would take me literally all-night. Despite the mistakes, with tipp-ex paper to hide some of them, it was 03:00 by the time I finished, and gladly sank into bed.

I still have it, and although the usage has decreased, it is still in weekly use. Perhaps 15 years ago one woman, seeing my typed airwaybill said “that’s an old-fashioned type-face”. I was surprised as she was quite young. Only last month did typing waybills finally fall off its rota, serial numbers on thin metalised labels are the last remaining redoubt.

Rhododendron Ponticum

May 22, 2015

(Stock photo from Google)

(Stock photo from Google)

The hills are alive with the purple of this Rhododendron. When my favoured route to Tescoville used to run through Slough, this time of year one really was driving through groves of this stuff, purple on both sides of the road. My favoured route has changed, and while it’s not quite as common, it’s still very notible.

Favoured route here means a route to take when the M25 is completely clogged up, which is most weekday evenings.

A couple of years or so ago, at this time of the year, a group of us went to a car breaker based in Yorkshire. One of the group looked up at the hills and admired the colour of the Heather – so I had to correct him in that the colour now was Rhododendrum runaways, Heather didn’t come out until August. For reasons of my father being a Beekeeper, and one year I helped out in a general treck taking the bees up to the Heather moors (in the late 1980s), I knew the Heather starts in August. Bees are taken there partly as the main crop in the South of England has ended, and partly because Heather Honey is widely praised. It also has some interesting physical properties – it is thixotropic, for a start. Hum, interesting rare word used in English containing the letter “x”…I digress.

It is amazing just how invasive plants have come to dominate some areas. (This is also true for insects and even some Deer species). Red Valarian is a pest in Tescoville, as indeed is Japanese Knotweed, I remember seeing it in the town centre in the 1970s, and it was a pest then!. Fortunately the latter is nowhere near anywhere of my responsibility, though there are enough other pests to keep me occupied. I did try and kill off a clump when I rented a house in Cambridge, but wasn’t there long enough to know whether I’d even killed off the lot in the garden let alone everywhere else in the area. Rhododendron is a pest in the woodland in the greater Tescoville area, but also all around the country.

Waitrose Pigeons

May 21, 2015


In another of my awful photos to be blogged is this one, taken earlier this evening. My better camera phone is the older mobile, which runs out of power very quickly, and indeed had run out of power, so I had to resort to the newer, but not so good one. I had popped into a local supermarket (being en-route home), to get something to eat for tonight. As I was leaving towards the car park, I had heard some odd tweets (the bird song kind). As I walked out of the automatic door, it was even more noticable. Looking up, I found a pigeon’s nest above the door, with one or two youngers with an adult. So I tried to take a photo (the nest is top right). I didn’t use flash as that might have scared the birds (even if people consider them close to vermin).

Oddly enough, no-one else who walked past me in the five minutes I was there – I also was using my mobile to try and check to see if an eagerly awaited email had arrived, which proved to be quite a task – no-one else noticed, or at least showed any interest at all to the tweets of the chicks, The adult was keeping quiet, and probably trying to keep the chicks quiet as well. It noticed me, which was one reason I did not use the flash on the camera phone.

These pigeons are the common variety, that have been at home in the suburbs and cities for decades if not hundreds of years. It is a different species to the Wood Pigeons which now are conquering the suburbs . Also, the Wood Pigeons still seem to maintain their distinctive plummage, whereas the Common Pigeons are far scruffier, probably akin to their many more generations living in cities.

An Embarrassment

May 16, 2015

At the moment, I have more than once source of embarrassment – apart from my spelling that is. (I had to check the spelling of the title, and it was wrong for the usual reasons my spelling is wrong – a wrong vowel, and didn’t double one of the constenants. But I’ll discuss the current worse one.

I have an invitation to a 3 day symposium to honour my former supervisor’s 70th Birthday. It’s in the summer. I have seen the speaker list, and it is packed with people I knew well while I was studying. They are all now high-flyers in their field. I’ve not seen the list of attendees, but guess that’ll be packed with many more. Now there is more than one reason I strongly hesitate to even acknowledge the emails. What is worse, as I’m invited, I don’t need to pay the symposium fees (other than a Dinner). I cannot even plead poverty!

Firstly, I’d fall asleep in the lectures. I would do that when I was an undergraduate, so add thirty odd years, and I’ll be out like a light in seconds. And unlike my undergrad days, I probably won’t understand a word that was said, and thus trying to make notes (the only way I kept awake) more than pointless.

Secondly, I’m now just a dowdy manufacturer, who has supplied equipment to a few of them. If I showed up, they’d think I was there to try and flog tackle. I could not make any useful contrubution to the symposium.

Thirdly, a few of those who might attend are no longer friends of mine – that is to say some I’d like to throttle, some I’d just prefer we never met again.

What is worse is that I’ve kept in contact with said supervisor, helped him and his group out on various occasions, such as supplying goods at cost price (in the forelorn hope of future orders), and including a recent one involving a third party company, whom we would not supply as we doubted we’d ever be paid (that condition still exists). But by our friendship etc, a solution was arrived at, and they got their equipment that otherwise they would have lost their deposit over.

So I’ll be damned if I go, and damned if I don’t. Wonderful.

As has been my want in the past few years, during the summer time regime (the clocks an hour forward), I take a walk at my favourate countryside spot every Saturday evening. Frequently that means no-one else around, and that’s how I like it. I noticed last Saturday that some of the early purple orchids are already showing (their blotchy leaves are very distinctive), but in other places where they have been plentiful in the past few years, nothing. A few wild strawberries in bloom. Cowslips just starting to fade (no primroses at this site for some reason, but massive clumps of cowslips)

Primula Veris

Back at the house I inherited, when I last lived there, we only got to see Swifts at an Aunt’s house (very close to the favourate countryside spot), but these days they are in the skys above the house. So what with the Robins and Blackbirds singing on and off from 5am to now (21:15), the wood pigeons and collared doves, Red Kites all singing away (plus many others on occasion), the soundscape is much more varied – but plus emergency services sirens, reversing lorry warnings, footballs hitting my cars – in a rather more built up surburbia than this identical spot 25 years ago.

Meanwhile in the garden is my “Red Cowslip”.


It’s been here for at least 20 years, sometimes I dig up one of the daughters to try and propagate it, but haven’t really succeed with that, being in the lawn it sometimes gets cut down. A few years ago it was a sizeable clump, but it’s currently down to these two plants.

The local wildlife.

April 19, 2015

Having taken possession of the house I grew up in, and there is a lot to do. But it has struck me how the local wildlife has changed.

Thirty or fourty years ago, there were house sparrows and starlings, with the “cheep” of the former being very loud in the summer, and the mimicry of the starlings sometimes causing confusion – immitating car alarms, telephone rings etc. Along with these were blackbirds, robins and the occasional finch.

These days the bird population is completely different. The blackbirds and robins are still around, and the occasional sparrow, but now it’s wood pigeons and collared doves that make all the noise. Magpies, chaffinches and wrens are also seen and heard, and there were blue tits but I’ve not seen one this year so far.

While wheeling above them all are the red kites. A few days ago there must have been twenty or more red kites trying to get something from a garden – diving down, swooping back up – it was quite a sight. But if I got too close, in order to try and take a photo, they stopped what they were doing, and moved away – only to return once I had gone.

Some of the twenty or more Red Kites performing aerobatics or perhaps trying to pick up some food...

Some of the twenty or more Red Kites performing aerobatics or perhaps trying to pick up some food…

I know that these are little better than silouettes, and I’ve had to crop the image quite a lot to not upset bad neighbour, but you can see one Red Kite diving down. I never saw any of them actually pick anything up, and it was the second time in three days I saw them doing these aerobatics above the same garden.

Interestingly, other wildlife seems quite unperturbed

A wood pigeon on the roof apex, apparently unconcerned at the aerobatics of the Red Kites around it.

A wood pigeon on the roof apex, apparently unconcerned at the aerobatics of the Red Kites around it.

A couple of years ago I was almost hit by a couple of red kites, one chasing the other, I was amazed that they’d get so close to a human – literally inches away from me, a spectacular piece of flying. The same day I saw what I discovered to be a moth fly into the garden, hover (like a hummingbird) by a flower, and then fly off again.

Other wildlife has changed. There were and are foxes, hedgehogs, but rats are more noticable these days – there is some scrub land, apparently belonging to no-one – at the end of the garden, so no surprise where the rats probably reside.. There is the odd squirrel. Even at night things have changed, as I’ve heard owls and seen bats these days, I never remember seeing them here before. One of the local cats – no one really knows which family it resides with – managed to catch (probably) a rat recently – it was night, but I was awake, and I heard its triumphant cry.

As far as plants are concerned, the pests include some kind of (wild) geranium, a monster form of hairy bitter cress, the ash and sycamores (the original trees probably were planted, their seedlings a constant menace), but bad neighbour had an pyramidal orchid growing in their unmown front lawn. I felt guilty in pointing it out, as the next day they just mowed the strip of lawn with that poor orchid in. There are the garden escapees, thankfully the nearest Japanese knotweed is about half a mile away at present, but several other plant thugs are present.