Tags: ramblings

Keep Those Wagons... Walking?

There was a feature on the BBC News a few days ago-

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-europe-45062301/theo-jansen-creates-wind-powered-strandbeests-that-can-walk

My first impression was "This man is mad!", the second was "Those things are beautiful!". Take a look here for more-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LewVEF2B_pM

They're fantastic. And made from plastic tubing and cable ties, even NASA has taken notice and is considering them for planetary exploration on Venus. Others have been inspired by his example, this one is pure CGI alas, but it is true to the mechanics involved and so utterly captivating-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2A5IThdmRs8

They've even got a LEGO version like this post-apocalypse beach hut-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5E-VyQOfNM

I do have a fascination with wind wagons 'cos of Paul Kidd's "Red Sails in the Sunset" Gamma World novel, but I never considered WALKING ones.

Clearly I should...

Catching Up...

Been a while since I was on here, things to do, life being busy...

It's been hot. Stupid hot. At least no-one can complain we haven't had a summer, but there comes a limit. The grass went brown and tinder dry, we've had numerous grass fires on the golf course here at Woodford Green (maybe a careless cigarette, possibly some delinquent goit thinking "Dur, this is fun!"). The Wife and I were at the Father-in-law's for a BBQ on the edge of Leytonstone when the Wanstead Flats went up. Huge pall of smoke, fire engines everywhere.

Our little flat, being north facing and with the rest of the building wrapped around it, has stayed cool for the most part, but even so we were eventually forced to break out the fan to get the air moving during the nights. Likewise the museum where I work in London is in a huge lump of a building that takes a long time to heat up, unfortunately we reached that limit some time ago and, like a storage heater, it is now radiating that heat into its interior. The tube, the Central Line in particular has been a choice slice of hell, both The Wife and I take water bottles with us and quite often the've been emptied before we get in in the morning. On the way back we refill before we leave work and I am fortunate enough to have a chilled water dispenser at the museum which, together with a metal water bottle, means I can hold it to the side of my neck and get some relief that way.

The hot weather has broken now thank smeg. We've a had a few days of good persistant rain, a few storms rumbling over. The air is fresher, everything is dampened down nicely, much to the relief of the local fire brigade and the local ducks on the pond, which was drying up. In fact somebody, I suspect the aforementioned fire brigade, actually filled the pond up at one point, so good for them. It'll get back to sunny weather for a while now, but not the excessive temperatures of before.

We have also had a holiday! Been to Gibraltar thanks to the fact that The Wife has an uncle who not only has a large aprtment there but also a house in Spain. So he and his family headed off there and we got the apartment for several days. I liked Gibraltar, it has its own identity and is quite confident (and fiercely protective) about it. Ex-pat areas of Spain are too self-consciously trying to be British, with nothing but bad traditional british pubs everywhere, but Gibraltar is a huge melting pot of everything and revels in it. There are traditional pubs, yes (in one of which I had the best full English breakfast I've had for a long time), but we have tapas bars, Indian/Japanese fusion restaurants, Italian pizza places, Argentinian steakhouses Mexican grills, the works. It's packed with history too, the military presence has shrunk down to little more than an observation and listening post but it's been such a huge part of the place's existence that it's shaped almost everything on it. We went up the rock, saw the monkeys, went to the gun emplacements, the caves (unexpectedly spectacular), the Moorish castle. we took a boat trip and saw dolphins, visited the churches and little museums, walked down the high street (with it's Marks and Spencers and Debenhams). Used the pool in the apartment complex we were staying at (one of the best ones in Gib) once or twice but I spent most evenings on the balcony with a beer or a jug or sangria, watching the sun set behind the Spanish mountains across the bay and seeing the lights come on and flares start to glow in the huge refinery the Spanish have (with some spite aforethought apprently) plonked right on the coast there. Doesn't bother a Swansea boy though, what with the Baglan refinery being over the other side of Swansea Bay I felt right at home, look you.

We even wandered across the runway and into the little town on the other side of the border. And I do mean wander across, it's the only runway I know with a level crossing over it. Since it's built on the isthmus that connects Gibraltar to the mainland (with a fair bit of relaimed land extending it) the only routes over have to cross it. So every so often the warning lights flash, the barriers come down, a plane lands of takes off, the barriers go up and off we go again. Customs were a doddle, slap your passport on the reader, an automated camera zips down and takes a look at you, decides you're ok and the gate opens. The only guy in the cubicle there didn't even bother to look up. The town is actually very nice, lots of pedestrianised streets, some lovely bars and eateries, market stalls, the odd fort (destroyed by the British ages ago naturally). Dunno how Brexit is going to affect all this but seeing how both sides rely so much on Spanish people working in Gibraltar I imagine something will get sorted out very quickly.

So I can recommend Gibraltar, we were there nine days or so and still didn't see or do everything (even with it only being six square miles or something). Lots of places we wanted to explore but didn't get around to. The only downside to the whole holiday was that on coming back it actually felt hotter in the UK than it had been over there! Which felt wrong. Oh well.

We'll Meet Again...

I did not know that Dame Vera Lynn was still alive! She's 101!!! Mind you if she died now there'd be the biggest funeral procession since Churchill.

The Wife is reading "Keep The Aspidistra Flying" you see. Which led to discussion of Aspidistras and then Googling. Hence Gracie Field's "The Biggest Aspidistra in the World", wartime singing stars, which led on to Vera Lynn.

Confession here, I didn't realise George Orwell wrote "Aspidistra". I am a dreadful human being, clearly.

Still, YouTube has provided Gracie and Vera, which we have listened to. "The Biggest Aspidistra in the World", "Bluebirds" and, of course, "We'll Meet Again".

It's... powerful, even now, the hope it embodies.

I hope that day is a long time in coming but, when it does, I'll join that procession.

Spring has FINALLY Sprung...

The long grey winter suddenly gave way with a spell of unexpectedly hot weather and Spring erupted like it it was trying to catch up for lost time. Which it was I suppose. Trees sprang into life like green fireworks, the grass and banks were dotted with flowers. The birds suddenly caught on and the dawn chorus ramped up the volume somewhat considerably. There was one bird that I didn't recognise by from the song, and I heard it clearly enough 'cos the little bugger was seemingly perched on the fence right outside the bedroom window. One Saturday morning I sat out the back with a pair of binoculars and hunted for the noisy beast. Eventually heard, then saw it and with the aid of a identification guide identified it as a Blackcap. The book has a block on the side which can play the various songs and alarm calls of the various birds within, so I proceeded to drive it slightly neurotic by playing it's own song back at it until it was perched on the roof above me wondering where it's rival was.

Turned cooler again for a bit after that but now the warm weather has returned. We managed to take a long walk and miss most of the Royal Wedding. Don't get me wrong, I hope it all went well and I wish them every happiness, but The Wife and I both objected to having it rammed down our throats all day. Also the sycophantic toadying displayed by some of the royal stalkers was frankly enough to make you vomit. So we took a long walk in nearby Knighton Woods.

Attempted to go to the pub on the way home, but the first was decked out in Union Jacks and had a street party going on outside. "Sod that", we thought, and proceeded to the next and smaller pub which we thought would be better.

It wasn't. They even had a bouncy castle. So we went "Double sod it", popped into the shops for a couple of cans of lager and went home. That evening we walked over to our local curry house, The Chutney, and had a very nice meal.

The warm weather is still going strong thankfully. Got an evening walk around the lake in the park next to the house yesterday. The swans are sitting on cygnets, geese have goslings (and are steering well clear of the male swan who does not like them anywhere near) and there are several nests of coots with baby cootlings. Not many ducklings however, not been a good year for them again, saw a few on the ponds in Knighton Woods, but that's it at the moment. Did also see a female Blackcap, so that male in our back garden is not completely wasting his time it seems. Last weekend they had a Spring Fete in the park with Vikings. Why Vikings? I have no idea, they did it last year so it seems to be somewhat traditional in these parts. And these are not just occasional re-enactors, these are full on Viking lifestylers who do this as much as possible. In conversation with some of them they actually turned out be Polish Vikings, almost as good as proper Scandinavian ones but a lot cheaper I'd imagine.

This evening we even grabbed an ice cream cone each from the van outside Woodford station as we passed. The first ice cream cone of 2018, an occasional indulgence, one which I used to have when I was in Wiltshire, walking home to Potterne from Devizes, get a cone from the van by the village shop at the top of the hill and then wander into churchyard to eat it while enjoying the view out over the vale beyond.

Relaxing on the back step after we got in I could see the swifts wheeling overhead. They're not calling, not yet, but they're here. Winter is over, finally properly over.

Spring Is In The Air...

Not quite fully on the ground yet, but definitely in the air, there was a day last week when I caught it, the soft touch of a warmer breeze, a smell of pale, fresh green. You can see it here and there, buds swelling on the trees and bushes, a scattering of flowers cautiously sticking their heads out, the faint fuzz of new leaves on the hawthorn, hear it in the growing dawn chorus. The Vernal Equinox was last week (or as The Wife and I occasionally call it, the Venereal Equinox, well, there's a lot of shagging going on out there at the moment) and I for one am very glad to see it.

Late winter this year has been a hard one, what with storms and "Beast from the East", the mass of cold air that swept over from Russia (I blame Putin), spring has been a long time in coming. Some people have amusingly described winter this year as someone you're having a big row with who storms out of the room, then storms back in yelling "And another thing...!"

We've still got a way to go yet, there's one more "mini-beast" sweeping in from the continent that'll hit us over Easter, with quite a bit of snow forecast in some few places, but I think... no, I feel that we're firmly on the way now. The clocks change this weekend to what is optimistically called "British Summer Time". Ha ha. A week or so of darker mornings, but longer evenings, maybe get a few after-dinner walks in around the local park, perhaps even on the gold course across the road if it's dry and we can avoid the golfers (it's Corporation of London land, part of Epping Forest basically, so there are walking rights).

Spring has not exactly sprung, but it's refusing to be kept down.

That'll do for now.

The London Round...

Took a walk today at lunchtime, did my usual round and then broadened it, did a few more bookshops, a few more specialist shops, got me all nostalgic...

I remember when coming to London was an adventure, something special, especially if I was on my own. I'd arrive at Paddington, down the Circle Line to Notting Hill Gate, along the Central Line to Tottenham Court Road and out. There was Forbidden Planet in New Oxford Street. I even visited it once in Denmark Street and it left there in 1978! Never got to Dark They Were, And Golden Eyed, that closed up in 1981, my boss once went there, but he's a few years older. Anyway, in that area was Gosh Comics, Playin' Games and Beatties model shop.

There was always a homeless woman near Forbidden Planet, close cropped hair and long brown overcoat, never begged, never asked for money and at some point she just wasn't there any more. Known a few other people who noticed her there. Wonder who she was, what her story told.

Anyway, then down to Charing Cross Road and the bookshops, Orc's Nest and Comics Showcase and lunch at the Pizza Hut at Cambridge Circus. Then down Shaftesbury Avenue. There was the Vintage Magazine Store nearby and a shop up a side street that specialised in soundtracks, then Tower Records at the end in Piccadilly. Then Victoria to catch a train to Croydon to meet my brother, a curry at the Sheesh Mahal and stay over at his flat for the night. The next day would be museums, always museums, the Science and Geology Museums at Kensington and, best of all, the Natural History Museum, my Cathedral, my spiritual home If I was ever to have one.

So much has changed...

Gosh is now over in Soho, Forbidden Planet is in Shaftesbury Avenue. Comics Showcase is gone, Beatties became Model-zone for a while and now that's gone. Playin' Games is gone (thank smeg for Orc's Nest and Leisure Games up in Finchley, nobody is shifting THEM). A lot of bookshops have gone, Tower Records have gone (the Virgin Megastore on the corner of Tottenham Court, Charing Cross and Oxford Street replaced it for a while but that's gone too, Fopp is pretty good though). The Vintage Magazine shop is still there but that soundtrack store is gone, Tower Records is gone. Cinema Store appeared and is now gone (owing a lot of people money I gather). Pity, liked that shop.

Even the Sheesh Mahal changed to the "Bharat Bhavan", and my Brother is now out near Oxford in Thame!

Times change. Things move on. Can't stop it, just gotta go with the flow.

Strange though to walk through those streets and think what was there 20, 30 years ago. What has gone, what has survived and what has replaced them. Fewer specialist shops now, suppose with the internet and all that was inevitable, but still a few diehards hanging on in there.

At least the museums are still there, went to the Nat Hist last weekend, took in the "Venom" exhibition and very good it was too. Got a Blue Whale in the central hall now instead of that plaster-cast Diplodocus, but it's still the Natural History Museum and I still love it.

Wonder what the next 20 to 30 years will bring.

We'll just have to wait and see.

History...

The Wife is at an away day for her work, I have the house to myself for a bit. Done the washing up, hoovered, got one load of washing done and drying and got the second in the machine. For lunch I treated myself to a favourite, Boursin herb and garlic cheese, freshly cooked part-bake bread, chorizo, grapes and a bottle of red plonk, all while watching Tron.

1982. 35 years ago that came out. History now. The Wife and I are suckers for a bit of history, love watching documentaries. Thank Smeg for BBC 4 and the Yesterday Channel. The latter is what the History Channel was supposed to be before it decided to appeal solely to the "Alien Nazi Conspiracy" crowd. They had a 1975 "Two Ronnies" programme on there the other day, great stuff. BBC 4 have been showing "A House Through Time" a life story of a house in Liverpool from the late 19th Century all the way up to the present day. The last one was fascinating because this was when I was born, would be growing up. The Thatcher years, the Toxteth Riots, the AIDS epidemic (I remember the public service announcements with the big slab of stone). All the stuff I saw on the TV news but didn't really understand at the time. BBC 4 then showed a "Top of the Pops" from 1985. Oh gosh the hair! The 80s hair! And there was George Michael and Wham! Poor George.

I have that book off my Brother I mentioned now, "Inventions That Changed The World", also 1982, Reader's Digest. Wonderful stuff. The 80s seemed limitless somehow, troubled but the start of a brave new world, so many exciting things starting to happen, so many new possibilities on the horizon.

And look at us now, Brexit, Trump, cat memes and the French rioting over discount Nutella. I mean, for pity sake, you'd think they have more class! A duel fought over a particularly exquisite truffle perhaps, but a punch up over a cut-price jar of chocolate and hazelnut spread?

Merde...

Other News...

My finger is still improving. It'll take until the end of the month for near-full operation to be regained, it's still sore in places and there is a definite kink in it now, but every day or so I notice an improvement.

Was over in Salisbury earlier in the month, visiting the Terry Pratchett exhibition in the Museum there. It was busy, a queue out the door, across the museum courtyard and out into the Cathedral Square, good thing we booked in advance.

It was a good exhibition, seen a lot in there already but the recreation of Terry's office was good (noticed the Brewer's Millennium Edition on his desk (Terry did the preface, I have an autographed copy). The section on his illness was, as expected, quite hard to read without a lump coming to the throat. A few words in the text were highlighted by being in outline, if you joined them together they spelled "embuggerance", a nice touch.

It seemed that all the people in there were people we knew, t-shirts, hats, scarves, general geekery. We didn't of course, but they were the sort of people we might have known. It was very easy to start chatting with them, often mistook someone for someone we knew (as did others towards us). Afterwards we headed down to Wincanton, stayed over in the Travel Lodge, met up with a load of friends at the newly refurbished (but not overly so) Bear Inn. A good little break all in all.

PS- Oh yes, I got my Star Frontiers hardback rules reprints today, they are GORGEOUS.

So, Here We Are at 2018...

The Wife and I had a quiet one, a very nice meal at The Chutney, our local Indian (I am really starting to like paneer, the Indian cooking cheese) then an evening cuddled up on the sofa watching "Wallace and Grommit- Curse of the Were-Rabbit", something of a tradition for us, alas for Peter Sallis, who died earlier in 2017. Didn't even bother staying up for midnight (although the fireworks woke me briefly).

Going to have an equally quiet day, bit of cleaning up, the Xmas decorations and tree are already down and packed away, but there's some dusting and hoovering to do, the last bit of new present stowage, get a walk in, grab a few things for dinner tonight (roast pork chops with roasted sweet potatoes and onions, some carrots and some other green veg, all in a tasty gravy made from juices left in the roasting tray) and get things for lunch tomorrow.

Yes, back at work for both of us. The Wife is quite keen to get on with things at here new job now. I should have a few things waiting for me, I mentioned I was getting "The Loop" RPG, well I've assembled quite a selection now from disparate sources, the main game from Shop on the Borderlands (with complimentary pdf which I already have), the GM Screen and Dice are waiting for me at Orc's Nest, I've got the "Our Friends the Machines" supplement pdf already from DrivethruRPG/RPGNow but I ordered the hardcopy directly from Modiphius and that should be there too by now (I normally send deliveries to the work address, it's safer). Do like the Norfolk Broads setting for The Loop in the new supplement, the advantage being that if strange radiations warp and mutate the locals, nobody would notice. "Normal for Norfolk" indeed, although I will continue to work on my "The Line" setting for South Wales.

Hopefully there should also be the present I was going to get my brother for Christmas, the Terran Trade Authority "Spacewrecks" book. He had the "Spacecraft 2000-2100" book in his youth and has been collecting the others in the series, although this one had always eluded him. I picked it up from an American seller via Alibris, the seller dispatched it to the Alibris sorting facility and it was supposed to be with me by the 15th of December, but hadn't arrived by the last day at work. If it's not there when I get back I'll have to give them a poke and see what's happened, get a refund if nothing else.

See the books are now also a setting for the Savage Worlds RPG, recently released and available via Drivethru.

http://www.rpgnow.com/product/182836/Terran-Trade-Authority-The-Proxima-War

What goes around comes around. Wonder what else the new year will bring. Hope it's a decent one for you lot anyway.

PS- The Spacewrecks book did arrive, as did The Loop. The supplement should arrive in the next couple of days. Will look forward to looking through it.

Also I just cooked (and ate some of) a bloody good chilli. Used peppers to bulk it out, dash of Worcestershire sauce, bit of Marmite in the stock. With wholegrain rice and a sprinking of grated mature farmhouse chedder on top. Plenty left to have with baked potatoes another day and possibly even a third serving for The Wife and I (which we'll probably freeze and which will taste even better for it).

Yum. Will have a tot of the Antiguan rum now I do believe.