Archive for the ‘Goings on’ category

Switched On

October 12, 2007

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Whenever you watch commercial television, it seems you’re never too far away from some not-very-funny daytime presenters telling you to take the necessary steps to gird yourself against the impending digital revolution.

As you’ll no doubt be aware, the analogue signal is going to be switched off. Just like that. To my mind, it sounds like an act akin to switching off someone’s life support machine. Whump, and they’re gone. The one scrap of comfort is that it’s not happening for a little while, except if you live in Whitehaven, Cumbria (let’s see a show of hands). In Whitehaven, it might have already happened. I would wager that a fair unprepared handful of the Whitehaven population are now wondering why nothing happens when they press their respective On buttons, the poor saps.

Why is this happening? Apparently, it’s because things are going to be digital from now on. In order for the digital signal to have sufficient welly, they have to switch the analogue one off. That’s the long and short of it. This is a weird situation, I think. It’s a bit like someone deciding that oxygen should be removed from the air in order for them to pump something else into it, and that we all need to install synthetic lungs in order to continue existing.

Truth be told, I’m an analogue type of guy struggling to keep abreast in a digital age. But, after a few timely promptings from Mrs H, I realised it was time to get organised in time for The Change.

A Freeview box was an appealing choice, so one sunny afternoon, we acquired one from Curry’s and took it home to make a start on it. Everything was plugged in, but interesting and informative digital programming was far from forthcoming. At some point in the proceedings, I ventured outside and realised that our roof lacks an aerial, and that the cable protruding from our living room wall was simply a dormant piece of Telewest hardware, albeit one which (quite by chance) provided an excellent analogue signal.

After a brief experimentation with an old-style wire loop aerial through which we got one or two channels (which remained on screen only as long as I stood in a very specific spot in the middle of the room) I decided that a second trip to Curry’s might secure us a digital aerial.

Even having acquired and installed one, the much-anticipated torrent of digital goodness remained firmly secured behind some impenetrable technological dam. I made my third pilgrimage to Curry’s in order to return all the hardware in a fit of pique. Actually, I was very polite and sheepish about it.

I have long resisted the option of asking Telewest to provide our telly, since I anticipated inordinate cost, not to mention the social stigma attached to having more than five channels. But with a heavy heart I made the call.

For reasons that were never totally made clear, our cheapest option turned out to be the most abundant. Thus we found ourselves in possession of the mythical, 120-channel ‘XL’ package. We gave it a spin last night, and were most impressed (my own excitement levels were bordering on the inappropriate). Not only can you choose between 120 different programmes currently showing, but you can, at any moment, watch anything that has at any time graced the televisual airwaves. More or less. Imagine my delight to discover that I suddenly had unfettered access to the third series of Father Ted.

So, you’ll understand if the blog is a bit quiet from here on in, although, to be fair, my frequent hiatuses rarely draw much complaint these days. And you’ll also excuse me if I take me leave for the moment: I’m off to watch the latest episode of Dog Borstal, followed by a pentuple bill of Location, Location, Location.

Life on the Royal Road

October 2, 2007

card1.jpgDo you remember that I expressed a recent determination to take up magic? My relative silence on the topic of late might have conveyed the impression that it had fallen, predictably and with an audible clang, by the wayside. Not so, my little chickadees. In fact, such has been my determination of late that the blog has been left behind, rather.

Things are definitely improving. I find myself nicely immersed in an amusing little world at the moment. TalkMagic is one of my favourite websites just now – a place (if we believe what we’re told) for magicians to chat. And chat we do. Or rather, they do, and I listen, piping up only occasionally.

The reason I have not been able to contribute much is that it isn’t always clear what’s being talked about. Magicians have a way of obscuring any reference to their techniques in order that they are impenetrable to the layman (that’s you lot). It makes the discourse look a bit unsalubrious, all this talk about c****** p*** not to mention frequent references to ‘bottom dealing’. But still we persist.

The other day, I was preparing for my viva. That has been and gone, by the way, and I have just received a conveniently itemised list of all the changes I need to make in order that it might one day pass muster. But to return to day of preparation, there was just time (in between frenzied searching for academic references) to perfect the ‘Oil and Water’ routine, a classic of close-up magic re-interpreted by Mr Derren Brown.

When Mrs H came home, I was eager to perform it, and duly arranged the set-up, and performed the first phase. To spare you the detail, the cards were made to rearrange themselves under her hands. Now, we all know Mrs H as a woman of the world, but would she have the emotional resilience to withstand my foolhardy disregard for the physical laws that comprise the very fabric of our reality? I imagined she would probably need a glass of water and a sit down before the performance continued.

I have been chastised in the past for describing Mrs H in terms that incorporate bovine comparisons. Let me be clear: there is nothing derogatory in my use of the term ‘cow-like’ to describe Mrs H’s calm, somewhat bemused demeanour in response to my magical efforts. There would be no need for the smelling salts after all. She had the look of one who thinks they ought to be surprised, but cannot quite fathom why.

‘But you’ve not done anything’, said she.

I explained what I’d done.

‘But I saw you do it’.

She is a sweet thing, really. She’d caught me in a certain sleight of hand, and had presumed that I had deliberately made it detectable as part of the trick. This little foible of Mrs H is, of course, rather endearing, but it makes her a rather unsuitable audient for whom to practise the dark arts.

My struggles continue elsewhere. I’ve been practising a nice card relocation to a couple of my colleagues, and they appeared moderately baffled (although both admitted to seeing the c****** p*** as I did it). A further demonstration involved memorising an entire pack of cards, the response to which was ‘yes, my maths teacher could do that, only quicker’. Curses. Still, I followed it up with a Double Thought Projection (great use of the D/L) with a nifty Do As I Do (which depends on a mere b***** g*****) bringing up the rear.

I won’t bore you with anything more, largely because that’s the lot, to date. I’m delighted to be ambling happily down the Royal Road to thaumaturgy, and will keep you updated as best I can.

Automotive Anxiety

September 23, 2007

 

The other day, Mrs H and I were pootling along in our little car, when the unthinkable happened (or rather, came to our attention). The unthinkable was portended by the ever-observant Mrs H.

‘Why is the car making a funny noise?’

She was right. There was something indefinably funny reaching my ears. Not hilarious, mind, since it required that she (as the passenger) get out to ‘take a look’. Luckily, the problem was immediately apparent. We had a flat tyre.

I’ll let you into a secret. I’ve often wondered what I would do in this situation. I knew that there was a spare in the boot, as well as the requisite tools to substitute it for the deflated one, but somehow, it all seemed beyond me. And it was raining. I convened a pow-wow with Mrs H.

‘You know,’ I said, ‘one shouldn’t really attempt to change a tyre by the side of the road. It isn’t safe’. I’d heard this somewhere, but suspected that it was more applicable on the motorway than a deserted South Gyle byway on a Sunday morning. Thus it was we decided to get the AA to prove themselves deserving of our annual subscription, which (delightfully) they were.

Mrs H graciously volunteered to wait in the car while I walked home. We were only a few minutes away, but naturally she didn’t emphasise this point to the AA man.

Anyway, we were quickly sorted, and the issue arose as to what would need to happen next. The AA man had outlined the necessary steps on a yellow bit of paper: ‘REPLACE PUNCTURED TYRE ASAP’. I got a sinking feeling, knowing that I was, that very afternoon, to deal with crew-cutted chaps with dirty hands. Spiffing.

There has been something quite emasculating about each and every encounter with automotive maintenance, and this was to be no exception. I made an appointment at Kwik-Fit, changed my intellectual, slim-fitting shirt for a tatty, begrimed hoodie, and set off. Once there, and after struggling momentarily with the push-pull arrangement of the entrance door, I minced in.

I was attended by a kindly-enough-looking chap (equipped with the requisite crew cut and dirty hands) and attempted to make my needs clear. I tried to convey the advice of the AA man (that we should have the steering alignment checked) and pretended I knew what that was all about. He seemed to get the hang of it quite quickly, and I was banished to the seating area while they got on with it. I had a sift through the magazines on the table: Prima, Heat and Marie Claire. I averted my eyes from such effeminate pleasures just until their backs were turned, and then got stuck in to a very interesting article called How To Get What You Want By Flirting. I wish I’d taken notes.

In time, my dedicated mechanic returned to tell me that the problem was fully rectified. I piped up cheerfully:

‘And how was that ol’ steering alignment?’

‘It was off by two.’

I wasn’t sure what he meant. Two degrees? Two minutes? Who knew?

‘Ah, that would explain the way the tyres were worn irregularly.’ We got this from the AA man. ‘Did you manage to get it…’ I groped for an appropriate verb. ‘…Recalibrated?’

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure that ‘recalibration’ best described the process of rectifying the ‘off by two’ issue, but it sounded reasonable.

‘Yep. You’re all set now.’

‘Smashing’.

And that was us, I thought. And it was only when I was on the drive home that I realised the indicators were now wonky. The right one wouldn’t stay on, and the left one wouldn’t switch off.

On a brief return to Kwik-Fit, I was told that the problem had only arisen during their machinations only through sheer coincidence, and that they couldn’t fix it anyway. I was left realising that I’d have to go through all this again, with a whole new set of crew-cutted dirty-handers.

What a treat.

Problems With Delivery

September 5, 2007

mobile.jpgNow that Mrs H is carrying a child, thoughts inevitably turn to the various items of equipment that might ensure his or her safe passage through the gauntlet of infancy. Assorted bits and pieces have been acquired in dribs and drabs, to the extent that even a rather premature arrival might stand a fair-to-middling chance of a modestly comfortable existence for their first few weeks.

Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve been picking the bones of the internet bare of infant-relevant bargains, and have been rather pleased with the haul so far. However, the one inevitable bug-bear with this approach is the constant need to deal with delivery companies.

Parcelforce is one such company. Phone them up to arrange a delivery, and you’ll find yourself speaking to a pleasant (but nonetheless utterly synthetic) robot. They have this voice-recognition arrangement set up, whereby you have to try and persuade said robot to comprehend your really-not-very-difficult requirements. It’s a gas. PLEASE STATE YOUR SURNAME. THANK YOU. THAT SOUNDED LIKE MATHESON. IS THAT CORRECT? One could imagine it going on all night.

Business Post is another company with which we have had unavoidable dealings. Having received the slip, I duly phoned to arrange another delivery, but they’d seemingly all gone home for the night. However, I managed to speak to them in the morning, and was told that the parcel was once again winging its way to my unoccupied house. Obligingly, the chap initiated attempt #3 for the following Monday. It never came. I phoned up to be told that yes, I definitely had phoned, and yes, the delivery had been set up as planned but that, no, these tantalising strands had not quite come together in the form of a received parcel. I expressed my mild disapproval, upon which I was told that, actually, the first chap had done me a favour by setting up delivery #3, since most people only get two goes, and no, they would ‘no way’ be able to hold onto it until I was next home for the day. He concluded that I should stop being so lazy and drive out to the depot myself, which I did, via a labyrinthine industrial estate that, incidently, looked like the sort of habitat ideally suited to gangland executions.

To bolster our spirits on the drive home, Mrs H delved into the parcel to experiment with the rather appealing cot mobile within. She demonstrated the pleasing rotational motion of the various fluffy chaps hanging from it, which we thought a baby might find facilitative of restful sleep. What was more disturbing was the plinky-plonky rendition of the “Teddy Bears’ Picnic”: three musical phrases had been selected, seemingly at random, to be played in a loop and at approximately 240bpm. As mobiles go, it’ll probably prove as soothing as a double espresso.

I intend to go at it with a screwdriver as soon as I have a chance. Although, in its present form, it could certainly be put to use in helping us to get up the morning…

Going Under

September 3, 2007

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This post arrives quite late in the day. There are a number of reasons for this, none of which I’ll go into now. Why don’t I just get on with it?

You’ll remember me talking a bit about going to see a stage hypnotist? You’ll also remember (possibly) that I never actually described the show, much to your undoubted frustration. Perhaps I’ll do that bit as a preface to the main meat of this post.

I thought this was a really interesting show. The guy started out with nine volunteers, who were duly hypnotised, and persuaded to do sundry wacky things. As things progressed, a couple of folk were asked to sit down again, presumably because they weren’t ‘getting into it’.

At one point, it was suggested that the volunteers try to hug as many of the audience as possible. A nice idea, I thought, which could superimpose a lovely little ‘feelgood’ layer onto the general bufoonery. I barely expected that, mid-hug with Your Humble Author, one volunteer would perceive herself to be stuck fast.

It was another one of those ‘competing social pressure’ moments. You see, when the hug was initiated, I did the appropriate thing and returned the gesture. But now it appeared that this poor girl was sprawled over yours truly against her better judgement, and I wondered what I should do. Should I just keep on a-hugging? Or just drop my hands back to my sides? A huggee (me) doesn’t want to appear like they are enjoying themselves long after the hugger (them) has ceased to do so, for risk  of appearing like some variety of pervert. Then again, neither does one wish to betray the sense that they are repulsed by physical human contact in general. It’s a poser.

Once the show was over, and gamely clutching my newly-won hypnotherapy weight-loss CD, we ventured outside, exchanged our respective opinions, and parted. But, at that moment, I vowed to return to The Old Scots Club and undergo The Process for myself.

And so, a few days later, and accompanied by my trusty documentarian Colin Eye, I once again took up my seat. This time, I sat in an aisle seat near the front, so that I could hop up onto the stage at a moment’s notice, without the indignity of actually running in public. I noticed a greater-than-average number of unspeakably posh people in the audience, the type for whom I would assume public indignity to be their bread and butter.

When the cry for volunteers went up, I was instantly in a seat centre-stage. It would almost qualify as teleportation, so swift was my transference from one chair to the other. I signed the little slip of paper which absolved the hypnotist of any responsibility in the event of my death (yes, it actually said it) and we were underway. And all the while, the Great Eye was ever watchful.

(Since drafting this post, it has come to my attention that Eye’s got a blog. Check it out here).

He did the normal relaxation procedures, introduced a bit of suggestion, and then came and tapped each person on the head, upon which they were encouraged to ‘go to sleep’, slumped convincingly on the person next to them. My right ear ended up on the (now horizontal) back of my neighbour. I remember thinking that her pulse was going like the clappers.

Before waking us up, we were given a post-hypnotic suggestion to become stuck in our respective positions. Eyes open, wide awake, and it was so. Except it wasn’t really. At least one volunteer pointed this out to the hypnotist, who quickly ejected them from the stage. As for me, I knew I wasn’t really stuck, but didn’t see any point in proving otherwise, so didn’t try to move. I looked at my arm lying on the chair, and felt pretty sure I could move it if I wanted to, but chose not to.

It wasn’t long before the pool of volunteers was whittled down. Soon, there were but four of on the stage. The other three were all girls, each of whom I remember vividly. At some point in the proceedings, it dawned on me that to stand up and say ‘actually, this isn’t really working for me’ would be far more embarrassing than whatever the hypnotist had in mind for me to do. And therein lies the active ingredient, I think. A context is provided in which you can behave more outrageously than normal, but in which people will not think you are an idiot. What people will object to, though, is people not getting ‘stuck in’. They’ve paid for their tickets after, and wish to be entertained.

Prior to the show, I was formulating a strategy with Eye. We said that I should have a secret signal to communicate that I was just playing along. Then we started talking about other things and forgot about it. It was only after I was stood next to him during the show, my right arm inconveniently stuck in the air, that it occurred to me to tip him a wink. But then, I thought, I’d spoil the show for anyone who happened to catch me. So I didn’t.

When the inevitable ‘show-stopper’ came around, it was with a feeling of tired resignation that I munched the onion, pretending it was an apple. Actually, I quite like onions. So much so that, when the true identity of the vegetable was revealed and I was invited to spit it out, I could only confess (a tad sheepishly) that I’d swallowed it. I gave a little pat of the tummy and an ‘mmm’ noise, which was the best I could think of in the circumstances.

And so, when all was said and done, I considered the fact-finding mission an interesting success. I suspect that I was not as ‘into it’ as some of the others, although the hypnotist (if he realised) never let on. I obligingly (and quite literally) danced to his tune for a little while, and then went home. I am left with a feeling that social pressure, rather than some bizarrely altered state of concsiousness is probably at the root of it.

Although, I’d be happy to have another go, just to be sure…

Making the Connection

August 29, 2007

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Our internet connection has been a trifle temperamental of late. This represents an enormous problem for someone so devoted (?) to the task of regular blogging. Understand: our wireless arrangement has always needed the odd bit of focused persuasion to do its job properly, but would usually only require of a frustrated would-be internet user that they right-click on the little network icon in the bottom right, and left-click on ‘repair’. A panacea for all connectivity complaints.

Things took a turn for the worse recently, and it all started with our CD/DVD drive. One day, it decided that it would point-blank refuse to play (or indeed acknowledge) any DVD that wasn’t either Aliens or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This amusingly selective deficiency did not extend to CDs, on which it seemed to have imposed a blanket refusal policy. And so, I gathered my faculties for an expedition to PC World.

For those who have ever actually asked the immortal question ‘where in the world is PC World?’, you’d have no problem spotting the enormous, lilac aberration that represents the Corstorphine branch. It’s only once you’re inside that the real problems begin. The moment I pass through the entrance turnstile, I am confronted with the vivid reality of my technological ignorance. Most of the things in PC World I simply do not understand. This may come as a surprise to some, particularly those who thought my genius extended even unto the realm of computing. To me, a Quick-Start manual reads like quantum physics.

With an affected air of confidence, I strode (via every possible aisle) to the CD/DVD section. On witnessing the myriad choices available, I realised I would need to obtain assistance from one of the pallid youths that represent the PC World staff. This was quite difficult in itself. My first strategy was to stand still, whilst arranging my face into a suitable ‘help me’ expression. Nothing doing. Next, I decided to amble around in the general direction of the lilac-shirted, but whenever I was in speaking distance they seemed to sense that I was about to make demands of them, and would scurry away. Eventually, I homed in on a small group of employees. They duly dispersed at my approach, but I managed to isolate a slower individual from the rest of the pack, and corner them against the printer cartridges.

I escorted this chap back to the CD/DVD section, as I gave him a rundown of my problem. He agreed with my astute diagnosis (“Yep. Sounds like it’s knackered”) before directing me to the most appropriate (i.e. cheapest) replacement drive. Concerned as to how it might be made to function, I piped up with what I hoped was an endearing innocence:

‘I suppose you just plug it in and away you go?’

‘No, no’, said he. ‘This is an internal one. It goes inside the computer. Do you want one that just sits by the side?’

‘Is that better?’ I asked.

‘Not really. More expensive. But you don’t need to take your computer apart to install it, which some people prefer’. He had me pegged, obviously.

That shan’t be a problem’, I blustered. ‘I suppose it’s, um, easy enough?’

‘Yep, it’s a doddle’.

‘When you say a doddle, would I be able to do it?’ I hoped he would read between the lines.

‘It’s like this,’ he said, clearly tiring of my thinly-disguised ineptitude. ‘There’s two wires to plug in at the back. One’s small. One’s big. If you can’t tell them apart, I’d say that a broken CD/DVD drive’s the least of your worries.’

So that was it. I’d been goaded into purchasing something I wasn’t at all sure I’d be able to get working. And in order to look at the instructions, I would need to break open the box and thus render the purchase irrevocable.

A note for would-be computer enthusiasts. There is almost certainly a way of opening up your computer without the aid of a screwdriver and splinters of plastic flying in all directions. I was as surprised as you to discover it after an extremely effortful half-hour. Check your manual for details.

Anyway, I got in, and yes, the two wires were in there, and yes, I could readily distinguish them. I swapped the broken drive for the new one, put everything back together, and booted up. Luckily, Windows is usually clever enough to automatically install the software (some call it a ‘driver’) needed to run whatever bit of new kit you’ve just plugged in. What’s less clever is that it seems to assume all your existing bits of kit can be elbowed out of the way to make room for the newcomer. Thus I discovered that the introduction of the new CD/DVD drive had somehow knocked our internet connection for six. Is there no end to it?

Eventually, it was all made to function again, but I had to carry the whole computer upstairs to the access point (where the internet cable comes into the house) and start from scratch with the ol’ wireless. Everything’s working much better now, though.

A more taxing problem turned out to be the issue of removing a forgetten CD from a broken CD/DVD drive, once the drive is out of your computer and sitting on your kitchen table. Try it for yourself, using only kitchen implements. Sounds easy…

Dental Health Act

August 23, 2007

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This week, I had the dubious pleasure of attending the dentist. This appointment had been made on the back of a quick check-up a couple of weeks back, at which it was decided that certain repairs were necessary in order to maintain my hitherto unsullied state of dental excellence.

I don’t dislike the dentist as much as most people, I would imagine. In some ways, I rather like it. I enjoy the (usually metaphorical) pat on the head for my dental successes. I also relish the playful telling-off for the inordinate delays between checkups and my persistent refusal to use flossing tape between the front incisors.

There’s also quite a pleasant smell in the dentist’s, I feel. You notice it as soon as you step in the front door. It’s an evocative blend of rubber gloves and anxiety-induced sweat. If they bottled it, I would probably buy it.

Anyway, I was shortly ushered into the room to commence my business. I sat while the dentist did a preliminary poke about, and wondered whether she enjoyed staring into people’s gobs all day (some of whom would undoubtedly lack my own indisputable grasp of dental hygiene).

She summarised the restorative steps she intended to take, namely that she would drill a hole in the appropriate tooth (for reasons that were never fully explained) before smearing some synthetic goop over it. It seemed reasonable enough. I got a quick injection in the requisite spot, and we were all set. Just before starting with the oral DIY in earnest, she said ‘just raise your hand if there are any problems’.

What sort of thing did she have in mind? Had she not done everything necessary to forestall any potential mishap? As she bored into my upper-left molar, I kept my attention poised for the first signs of searing, indescribable pain. Which, thankfully, never occurred. I did, however, find myself pondering the fact that actual drilling was taking place in my mouth. That activity which one carries out prior to erecting shelves was currently being carried out within the boundaries of my own body. It’s quite a thought. And a first time, for me.

When she’d done the necessary preparation to apply the sealant, a further thought struck me: that I was being given the very first synthetic addition to the biological equipment I’d been born with. For all intents and purposes, I was now a cyborg. Up until now, I’d usually shunned the idea of having synthetic materials in my mouth. Except perhaps Irn-Bru.

So, I’ve been given a clean bill of health, dentally speaking, and have to wait another year to have another stint in the chair. Perhaps I will, in the intervening period, finally make good on my resolution to take care of my teeth properly. I suspect that future visits to the dentist would be rendered decidedly cheaper, but also less eventful.

Swings and roundabouts…