The Blog of Zak Spade

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  Sand and Heads
Monday 28 February, 2022

There is a conflict taking place that threatens to go global. Actually, at the time of writing this blog entry, it has already.

While the physical aspect is geographically localised, the measures being taken against the country seen as the aggressor are certainly global in nature.

This isn’t a blog about what is going on. There are already thousands of them out there. Why would I want to become one in the crowd?

Instead, I want to admire the daffodils popping up in the bright sunshine. But I can’t.

The blue sky is a sight to behold. But I can’t.

Signs of spring are all about to be enjoyed. But I can’t.

The sound of increased birdsong is a joy to hear. But I can’t.

My head is too far down in the sand to hear or see anything...

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  Safety First
Thursday 24 February, 2022

It astounds me that there are still people who use their hand-held mobile phones in cars despite the current sanctions available.

The law seems pretty clear, or at least to me and anyone who can read. It seems to only be those who reckon they will get away with flouting the rules who end up getting caught.

Or is it?

It’s illegal to hold a phone or sat nav while driving or riding a motorcycle. You must have hands-free access, such as:
- a Bluetooth headset
- voice command
- a dashboard holder or mat
- a windscreen mount
- a built-in sat nav
- The device must not block your view of the road and traffic ahead.

Yes, very clear.

The next bit seems to be not-so-obvious to many:
You must stay in full control of your vehicle at all times. The police can stop you if they think you’re not in control because you’re distracted and you can be prosecuted.

Basically, even if you follow the law as most people understand it, you can still be prosecuted if the argument you had over a hands-free phone with your ex-spouse has upset you and you are deemed to have been distracted by it. And who could argue?

The next bit seems to cause confusion:
The law still applies to you if you’re:
- stopped at traffic lights
- queuing in traffic
- supervising a learner driver

The first two points seem to be okay in that if you are behind the wheel and in charge of vehicle, then how can it not apply? But supervising a learner? Well, thinking about it, you can’t really be supervising anyone or anything if you are deep in conversation, holding a mobile phone to your ear.

And here is the real aspect which seems to befuddle some of the lesser-brained who clog up our streets:
When you can use a hand-held phone
You can use a hand-held phone if:
- you’re safely parked

Stopped in the middle of traffic with hazard warning lights flashing is not an example of being safely parked. Not even if in a large 4x4 with airbags. No, Mr burgundy 4x4 driver, you are merely breaking the law while also being a dangerous obstruction to the traffic which is trying to use the roads that you seem to think you own...

Just saying

   
  Winds of Change
Monday 21 February, 2022

There have been some nasty storms about this last week, and stories of roofs being damaged, fences blown down, falling trees and deaths.

Newspapers have seemingly been falling over themselves to carry the fastest wind speed on their front pages. It started out with reported wind speeds before gravitating towards projections ahead of quoting theoretical figures which didn’t even apply to the British Isles. This meant one newspaper screaming about 120mph winds on a front page spread that looked as if it were reporting an actual wind speed experienced in the south of UK.

There is nothing as good as a bit of scaremongering to keep sales buoyant.

I’m not claiming that there have been no storms. No, I’m more indignant over the manner in which the media have hysterically claimed that the country was doomed to be blown apart by high winds and death dealing weather.

My part of the country was issued a Red Warning which indicated that winds would be strong enough to cause damage and possible loss of life. The following day I needed to make a forty mile drive to a nearby county which was subject to the same Red Warning, in order to attend an event.

On the day of the forecast storms in my area, a chair fell over in my garden. That was it. There was the occasional strong gust of wind, but at no point did I feel the need to hold onto my hat when I ventured out.

During my journey the following day into the bowels of destruction which had been predicted and reported in the nearby county, I witnessed the odd traffic cone being out of place during the whole of the trip. No sign of the mayhem ‘promised’ by the headlines and features proclaiming death and devastation. Not a single wrecked car on its roof.

It would be stupid to try and claim that the whole thing was nothing. There will be plenty of people who have suffered from the storms and gales. However, there will be far more who spent the day fearing that they would be picking up debris that was formerly their prized belongings. They won’t have enjoyed the loss of sleep caused by the drive of the media and others to scare some loyalty into their audience.

   
  The Hole
Tuesday 16 February, 2022

The 90 mile drive home from the breeder was an easy time for all of us. Our freshly acquired pair of eight-week-old beagle pups had settled within five minutes of starting their first ever car journey. The uneventful nature of the trip home was a stress-free start which boded well for the future.

The brothers, from the same litter were Darwin (for Charles Darwin: he of the voyage upon the ship, Beagle) and Franklin (after Rosalind Franklin: known for her X-ray diffraction images of DNA which led to Crick and Watson's 1953 hypothesis regarding the Double Helix structure of DNA).

Once the initial jabs were out of the way we took Darwin and Franklin out on walks. We frequently met other dogs and their owners. Other dog owners either commented that they were gorgeous, or that as brothers from the same litter, they were a handful.

We always smiled because we were proud that they were such handsome examples of their breed, and we knew that they were in fact quite easy to manage as they seemed to be preoccupied with chewing each other as opposed to our furniture and shoes etc.

Barely had two weeks passed when things changed.

It began with Darwin pawing at the grass next to whatever chew toy he had in the garden. This action became one of digging holes, as if those chews or toys were destined to be buried.

It was a form of behaviour that Franklin readily adopted. However, neither puppy seemed to get the idea that holes dug were to be refilled in any manner – whether by chews, food, toys or the earth dug out to create the hole in the first place.

Suddenly our lives had been added to. No longer was it all about feeding, toilet-training, feeding, cleaning up after accidents, and more feeding. No, we discovered the delights of following the pups about the garden refilling holes they had dug then abandoned. Neither of us was sure how to stop the digging in what was a previously level garden.

A feeling crept into our minds that keeping pet moles would have made more sense.

It was something that we had half anticipated in any case, so it wasn’t something we viewed dimly. The act of refilling the holes was considered to be one of those things that comes with the joy of owning puppies.

However, it became a problem when one particular spot in the garden came in for an elevated level of hole-digging attention from the Brothers Beagle. They seemed to become possessed with an urge to dig as if their very lives depended upon reaching Australia, or discovering oil.

Naturally, scowling at the brothers had no effect. Severely wagged fingers were licked. Gruff voices issuing stern warnings were met by brief pauses before continued digging. Treat-training one brother seemed to be an invitation to the other to reopen excavations at what had become known as, The Hole.

As puppies, they were subject to easy distraction – we labelled it, Shiny Object Syndrome. Therefore, it was reasoned, the mere act of refilling the hole and placing something on top of the fresh surface would suffice to discourage attention being paid to the spot and provide a reason to move on elsewhere. However, there was the question of what to use. We didn’t want to place a sheet of wood or similar over the affected ground. We wanted a non-chewable and immoveable object.

Given the size of the Brothers Beagle, a house brick was deemed suitable for the purpose. It didn’t cover the area affected but would constitute a strange object that would get in the way of future digs. The house brick was to become that Shiny Object and it was intended and anticipated that it would divert beagle puppy paws away from the area.

We considered this to be a clever solution that didn’t have either of us incurring deeply wrinkled foreheads, straining our voices, or risking spraining our wagging fingers. In fact, we prided ourselves on our ingenuity in the face of such doggedness on the part of the Brothers Beagle.

Indeed, the first time they encountered the house brick it seemed that victory was assured. There was a combination of whining, crouching and yelping which was followed by apparent disregard of the location known as, The Hole. We were going to sleep easy in our beds that night knowing that our combined intellect had defeated two 11-week-old puppies. Oh yes, we were very pleased to have won.

The next morning we found out how they had responded to our ‘solution’ once we had stopped observing them. It was early and the Brothers Beagle had been let out into the garden while their first feed of the day was being prepared. It was then, through the kitchen window, the absence of the house brick was noted.

It was more important to get the morning feed over with before further investigation, but when the spot was properly examined, we were unable to believe our eyes: the house brick had been partially buried.

We considered the cost of a house brick to be a small price to pay for teaching them to bury things as opposed to just digging holes needlessly. As it happened, it seemed to exorcise the urge within them to dig relentlessly.

Neither of us ever considered a house brick to be a training aid. It just goes to show that owning puppies can be full of surprises.

   
  The Chicken
Monday 15 February, 2022

Why did the chicken cross the road?

It may have been something to do with needing to see someone, or something, of great importance. She wasn’t sure but was certain it would come to her, eventually.

Whatever the reason, she was determined to make the journey from the relative safety of the kerb at which presently stood and over to the other side of the road. The only problem apparent to her was the speeding vehicles on the way.

Every time she stepped off the kerb and onto the road surface she would receive a loud blast from a car horn and she would return to the grassy verge upon which she had been stood for ages.

Her manner suggested a chicken that was anything but the animal whose name was spoken when someone was looking to emphasis the chaotic nature of a happenstance.

Regardless, she was determined to get across to the other side. To that end she watched the moving objects very carefully and slowly formulated a plan.

At last she knew what she needed to do. Unfortunately those who guided the vehicles along the road were not party to the mind of the chicken. All they saw was a bird about to make a life-threatening dash into the speeding traffic.

Again, the moment she stepped off the kerb she was subjected to screaming reports from horns. However, she continued on her way; all the while keeping a very wary eye on the approach of the huge objects.

Being a chicken, she was unprepared for the reactions of the drivers as she made her way out into the stream of vehicles. As the deadly boxes approached they swerved and veered; making it much harder for her to time her walk across the road. Her plan needed rethinking. Had they remained at a constant speed and steady path, she would have made the crossing in two stages incorporating a pause at the white lines which she had noted as a safe haven along the way.

Unfortunately the pattern of movement had altered and she headed back to the kerb; hopping back up onto the verge and her starting point. For a moment she stood and contemplated her next move in light of the unexpected development.

Now that she was again out of the road she noticed that the speeding vehicles returned to their continued headlong rush to wherever the road took them without any apparent deviation from a straight line. It seemed almost unbelievable to her that they were seeking to take action to avoid her. She was a tiny thing compared to them and she was certain that a coming together between them would be much worse for her than for any of the wheeled contrivances. Regardless, it definitely altered when she moved out into it. What she needed to do was reformulate her plan so as to allow for the actions of others who, through good intentions, made her attempted road crossing more perilous.

Then it came to her.

If she were to crouch down as if sitting on her nest, then she would be low enough for each vehicle to pass safely over her. All she needed to do was avoid the wheels, and she knew she was capable of doing that. She felt that if she moved and stopped in a regular manner, those driving the vehicles might still swerve, but they would only do so a little to convince themselves that they had cleverly avoided the hapless chicken.

Yes, the best approach was to have the drivers think they were taking action while it was she who had the plan.

Once again she stepped down from the kerb and ventured forth upon her journey to a renewed cacophony of toots and blaring horns. However, she strode into the middle of the lane and squatted; all the while carefully watching approaching vehicles.

She allowed a couple of vehicles to pass over her head before deciding that the time was right for a quick dash to the centre of the road where the unbroken pair of white lines offered her sanctuary.

However, with her respite came the dawning of a realisation that things were different than before and not anticipated in her original planning: the vehicles were now coming from the opposite direction!

She watched for a while before coming to the conclusion that maybe she ought to return to where her journey originated. Then she could consider this new information and incorporate it into her planning for her next attempt.

She turned about and prepared to make her way back only to discover that now all the vehicles in the lane she had crossed were now travelling in the opposite direction as well.

This was not good. She had started with a thoughtfully considered plan and now she found herself having to improvise. There were likely to be additional dangers as part of this change in events. She again turned in the direction of her intended final destination as it occurred to her that if the traffic flow had twice reversed, then maybe the final lane would now be travelling in the direction she first experienced.

Sadly it was not so. Everything was still the opposite way around to her earlier expectations of the movement of the traffic. She was trapped half way between her starting and finishing points. There seemed to be no other choice: carry on as before but turn everything about in her head so as to account for the direction change.

As it happened, the remaining lane was negotiated without mishap. As she stood on the seemingly identical grass covered strip of land bordering the road, she wondered why she had endured such a trial. Whatever the reason, it had slipped her mind, but she was here now, and safe.

Why did the chicken cross the road? Just to get to the other side, it appears.

   
  Show Babes
Friday 11 February, 2022

The motorcycle show had grandiose stands with shiny and expensive gods of the road on display. Sponsors’ wishing to sway the purchasing decisions of the mainly male attendees used copious numbers of beautiful young women wearing Lycra bearing the sponsor’s name while making it very clear the wearer was female.

This was the early 80s and it was the way things were done back in the days of, “Men are men and women are for men,” however wrong it may have been.

I was with a pal who was leaving a trail like a garden slug. His tongue was dragging along the ground as we walked past the many women clad in second skins.

We were both armed with cameras. Mine was being pointed at two wheeled beauties. His was to be found shaking in his hands whenever a scrap of colourful tight clothing full of nubile woman came close.

Our aims conflicted, so we agreed to part for the morning and meet up again at lunchtime.

While eating, we swapped notes. I looked at my memo pad and told my friend of all the wondrous machinery my camera had captured. At that point he started to dribble as he told of all the sponsored ‘totty’ (his words, not mine) of which he had taken photographs. Then he moaned that it was just about impossible to engage any of them in conversation. In my mind I had a vision of him engaging his camera towards them in a manner reminiscent of a Labrador retriever favouring a visitor’s leg.

His tongue was once again lolling about and drool was already running down his chin as we prepared for another tour about the great halls of the show. Unable to bear it, I suggested that we again part and meet little later at an agreed exit.

The lack of anything fast enough to tempt me to commit vast sums of money to in order to potentially shorten my life had me waiting early by the exit earlier selected. I stood there alone as if suffering from a socially embarrassing medical condition.

Anticipating my friend’s arrival, I idly glanced at two young women clad in the tight outfits favoured by the major promoter of the motorcycle show.

One spoke to the other and pointed at me, leaving me wondering whether I had done something wrong or had an errant cheeseburger hanging from a nostril.

Then the pair made their way directly toward me, ignoring the obviously lecherous looks from those they passed.

I quickly prepared my camera so as to ask someone to take a photo of me with them. I imagined the look on the face of my friend when I showed him the photograph when it came back from the chemist.

When they reached me, the taller of the two women, opened her mouth to speak. Her lips glistened as they parted to reveal glacier white teeth which drew my attention away from her legs which were as long as a wait in a doctor’s surgery.

My fingers fumbled with the controls on the top of my camera.

“s’cuse us, mate. Yer dunt ‘ave ver correct time, does yer?”

My camera stayed down as I said, “Coming up to three.”

“Fanks, mate,” said the voice on stilts and the pair turned and walked away leaving me shocked by the disparity between sight and sound.

“Crikey, I would have paid money for that,” said my pal when he arrived seconds later, having seen, but not heard, the exchange.

My money stayed in the bank.

   
  Charging by the Hour
Thursday 10 February, 2022

A few days back, I had need for my car. Heavy parcels needed to be dropped into a collection point and I had to then pick up some cardboard boxes to facilitate packing further items.

There was also a need for me to post some small parcels at my local sub post office, to which I would normally walk. However, I decided to include it in my run out in the car.

Upon exiting the development where I live, signs told me that the road into town was closed except for access. I figured that heading back would allow me access to the sub post office after my quarter mile trip away from town to the drop-off point.

Ho-hum...

Back I went. Road closed. Completely shut. Access? To where?

The sub post office was a little way past the closure and for a brief moment I considered heading home and merely walking there as usual. Unfortunately, those empty cardboard boxes needed picking up and my car was still required.

I turned about and headed in the opposite direction to which I wanted to go. Despite the sub post office being a few hundred yards down the road, I ended up having to drive nearly five miles to get there. Tiny bumpy lanes through twee villages had to be negotiated because the powers-that-be still fail to understand the impact on a market town of fully closing roads.

Driving from the sub post office to the location where the boxes were available was easy. I was already on the correct side of the yet-to-start roadworks, but getting back home required me to drive around the town through villages along unclassified roads.

What should have been a twenty minute exercise became a ninety minute hole in my day.

The road remained closed for three solid days. On the fourth day the barriers were taken down. However, the nearby roundabout remained closed to traffic trying to head out of town for no reason that I could fathom, other than someone had forgotten to take the cones away...

I had cause to walk past the roadworks while they were in progress. The work area where the digging took place was half the carriageway. There was no need to close the road. In the past, such works have been managed by traffic lights. However, not this time. Some bright spark had decided that three days of road closure was worth the pain.

It was suggested to me that contractors should be charged per hour for road closures. It would place greater priority on keeping roads open. To that fine idea I would add that appropriate signage should be a legal requirement and that it also be charged an hourly rate while it is used – including the time after the roadworks are completed, during which it is merely left to mislead motorists.

Did I mention that when the road was finally opened, the road signs indicating the closure were left up and buses and learner school HGVs were turning about and heading back the way they came because the signs were basically misleading?

   
  Greeks Bearing Gifts
Monday 7 February, 2022

The pain I experienced through accepting and completing a challenge to write blogs utilising titles using letters of the alphabet, has finally ended. However, along the way I have received much by way of comment and suggestions.

A popular point raised was that I had not clarified which alphabet I was using. As the person who originally suggested it was a speaker of English, I had plumped for the only alphabet with which I am fully familiar: the Latin-based English alphabet. Being English it gave me twenty-six blogs to write.

Had I been French, then I would still be using a Latin alphabet, but one with arguably more than twenty-six letters – although two of them (w and k) are rarely used in French. Some fourteen letters can be modified through the addition of diacritics (acute and grave accents, circumflex, diaeresis or the cedilla). Those of a picky nature might therefore suggest that an alphabet of forty letters exists for the French.

Being German I would ‘only’ have thirty, if the three umlauted letters of a, o and u are counted, along with the increasingly uncommon eszett (ß).

The Poles are graced with thirty-two letters, but three of them (q, v and x) are not used in any native Polish words.

However, I am none of the above.

Next came a suggestion that I use an alphabet based upon Cyrillic script, such as Russian (thirty-two characters), or Bulgarian (thirty characters). They are meaningless to me and I have little doubt that they are equally so to many who read my blogs.

Finally it was suggested that I use the Greek alphabet. Its advantage is that it only has twenty-four letters. In addition, some are used in the English language to denote properties, quantities, or are used as linguistic placeholders.

A reduced set along with a very slight degree of familiarity made it seem a great idea. Unfortunately the phrase, beware of Greeks bearing gifts, came to my mind and I took fright.

Consequently I am now returning to the usual unstructured drivel that makes up my blog entries.

   
  Z
Tuesday 1 February, 2022

Zed or Zee? I suppose it depends on whether you live in the UK, US or on Mars.

The French film, Z (1969), is about a military and government cover up over the murder of a prominent Greek politician. A tenacious magistrate is determined to uncover the truth and expose the lie that he died in a car crash.

Mind you, such trivia, or the question over pronunciation, has been shoved aside by the need to know that 90 or 5A means ‘Z’ and 122 or 7A means ‘z’ – ASCII is much more important than knowing stuff...