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Buying British

union jack

The British are special. The world knows it. In our innermost thoughts we know it. This is the greatest nation on earth.

Tony Blair

I was born in Britain. These days that almost seems like an apology but it isn’t and why should it be. A mixture of biology and geography conspired to dump me screaming into the arms of the waiting midwife and this was all sponsored by the national health long back before we sold it off to dubious private companies whose only interest in health was the health of their bank balances. All this and the signature of a registrar determined that I was British subject. To be honest I’m not unhappy about this. It has its downsides but what in life doesn’t. Notable pluses are the beautiful countryside. Of course we’re not allowed on it as this is a reserved luxury for the dozen or people who own most of it but it is nice to look at. I also like the language. Would our poets and authors have given life to such resplendent works without having such a panoply of descriptive words with which to paint their landscapes of literature. Unhappily our language, like the pellucid waters of the English chalk streams, has been taken over.

The chalk streams we’re once replete with the humble brown trout which cruised the crystal clear waters plucking waterlogged insects from the surface and generally minding its own business. Then along came the rainbow. Imported from across the pond, bigger, brasher and without table manners. It slowly bullied its way in, competed for food rather shared it and decimated our native species with its ungentlemanly behaviour. With the advent of cable and satellite television the English language is suffering the same fate. Squeezing its way down fibre optics and bouncing itself off of satellites high above the atmosphere the American misinterpretation of our mother tongue has infiltrated our homes. Their verbalised nouns, mispronunciation and and a basic inability to speak, or indeed spell, English has masqueraded as mainstream television providing a seemingly unlimited and indeed impressionable supply of children’s programmes. Slowly but surely the young has aped this language mistakenly believing it to be their own and failing to ever know what they’d lost. Fear not though. The brown trout may have conceded their subaqueous world to the garishly coloured young pretender but the war of  the words is far from over, I will expound on this theory at a later date.

So being British at heart what can I do. Football supporters support their chosen team. In fact they pay heavily for the privilege of doing so. They pay massively inflated prices to stand in the wet and cold for ninety minutes. The club takes the money and gives it to largely uneducated men who end up with more money than they have the ability or imagination to waste. They turn up for a few hours training each day, half day on Saturday and get paid more money in a week than a surgeon earns in year. It would be funny if it wasn’t so ridiculous. It’s not even result dependant. I don’t like football so while they’re off supporting football I decided that I would support Britain. I decided that whenever funds were available and the quality acceptable I would patronise British businesses.  I would take a little more time to do a little more research and if I could by from home soil I would. Now I will add a note of caution here. To find items solely made in Britain from home grown materials and workmanship is quite a proposition. Indeed for someone on my modest income it could prove impossible so my criteria was that the company should be British as a base line and anything over that would be a bonus. The results have been surprising. When you dig you’ll be surprised at the choice available to even a modest budget. Clothes haven’t been a problem. Shoes were a bit pricer especially Northampton ones but not impossible. I’ve bought watches, bags, belts, fishing equipment, bikes and cycling equipment, bits for the car, headphones, wine and don’t even start me on gin, the list just goes on. The crazy part is that it wasn’t that difficult.

Wine produced thirty years ago in the UK used to be a source of material for standup comedians and was only reluctantly drunk with by most consumers when faced with little other option. Plagued by inclement weather and an uncomprehending ability to manipulate the science we produced grape derived liquids more at home on your chips than gracing a sophisticated soirée. But in true tradition we laughed at ourselves and all the while our beleaguered vintners were off plundering Johnny Foreigners grape growing store of wisdom and adapting it to our own soggy climate. Now relished by bibulous global wine quaffers from Hampshire to Hong Kong we’ve once again displayed our ability to embrace any challenge and quietly, with gentlemanly modesty, take our place on the worlds podium.

Shoes are a different matter. We’ve thwarted the foreign competition for many years, even century’s. It is quite hard to speak of a gentleman’s footwear without Northampton cropping up in the conversation at some point. Names like Goodyear and Dainite and phrases like welt, last and vamp are not mysterious to an admirer of British footwear. Indeed when you really start to explore the cornucopia of talent residing within our sceptered Isle you’ll be warmed to discover that among the smaller manufacturers lies not just products but enthusiasms. People who care what their customers think and deliver a service to a level that will encourage a return or recommendation of business. As the companies become bigger and become chains there is still still room to place your pound into the pocket of fellow countrymen. With expansion of the company comes the battle to compete with the other high street giants and with this comes certain capitulations. Outsourcing of manufacture and or materials is key to the bigger companies maintaining their hold on the teenage fashion victims with limited funds. We have to remember that the competition abroad will use these cost cutting techniques and in order to stay in the game we reluctantly have to dance with that particular devil too. But it is surprising that of all the big shops and companies that still maintains British roots there are very few Union Jacks (I know before anyone says it) fluttering in their branding and advertising. That would be a flag that I would quite literally be flying from the roof top. I’ve no real insight as to why this is but bizarrely during my research I came to notice that the smaller the company was the more likely they seemed to overtly display their British roots and patriotism as a tool for marketing. Most perplexing.

However we have imperfections.  As with all actions there are a reactions. I’m proud of some but not all our home grown talent in the market place. We have the greedy fat cats who aren’t content to build an empire and prosper. They want to decimate all. These tyrannies have respect for nothing. Their staff have to put up with 0 hour contracts and face bullying over partaking of their most basic human needs. They are timed to use the bathroom, denied meal breaks and harangued over performance and constantly threatened with the sack. The customers are treated with disdain and are provided with shoddy products in warehouse style surroundings which only favours the purveyors parsimony and makes the purchase of anything a tawdry experience for the consumer. I’m not proud of these spivy con men. They are indicative of all that is wrong with our country. As with all bullies they will be hiding from their inadequacies behind the bluster in the hope that they will be feared before anyone realises how small and pathetic they really are. Well we’ve seen through you. You are not what makes this country great. You are not part of an industry that takes pride in its heritage. You all know who you are.

So next time you’re moved to make a purchase of any description, take a little time and do a little  homework and see what your fellow countrymen have to offer. You may pay a little more but quality, longevity and service have always been worth a little extra

We have reserve and we have class. We don’t always do it big, we are not ostentatious. But when we do it, we do it right.

We are Great Britain.

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Dunking Biscuits

biscuits

The cardiologist’s diet: If it tastes good, spit it out.

Author unknown

Writing a blog to many people is a way of absorbing new ideas and thoughts. We can enjoy the exploits in a way which that may encourage us to explore new ideas or challenge ourselves intellectually. This is certainly how I see it. However it shouldn’t all be splitting the atom. Some time it’s the simpler contemplative thoughts and musings that send our neurones of on a cross country run around the grey spongy stuff. This particular post however will do none of that. I have been driven to this by my work colleagues who have almost turned hectoring me about it in to a sport. I refer to the practice of submerging pre baked amalgamations of predominantly flour, sugar and fat into a container of hot, but not exclusively so, liquid in order to somehow improve what the manufacturers have spent years in research and development perfecting. To wit the ‘dunking’ of biscuits.

I don’t fully recall when this subject first raised its head but I remember being shocked at the emotions with which my firm beliefs in this matter roused. Firstly I will say I was in the minority. Obviously I don’t see this a negative after all the value of criticism will depend on the thought processes of the critics, not their number, rank or station. Now I wouldn’t want anyone reading this to think I’m I’m opening a debate as on this matter. I’m the one who is right. Unlike some of my ramblings on this blog this will be short as being right is innate of itself and does not require a lengthy diatribe.

My case is thus. Biscuits are products a that are manufactured as food stuff. The factories where they are produced have strict hygiene regulations to keep their product safe from contamination. They arrive in your supermarket in a germ and moisture free condition. If while unwrapping your newly purchased comestibles you were to find them wet and soggy with spilt tea or coffee you would more than likely be driven to make complaints, write emails and quite rightly demand restitution. However upon unsheathing a pristine packet of sumptuously, crumbly and crisp victuals you proceed to that which you would otherwise decry.

Now before you dunkiees start getting self-righteous and clamour for pseudo evidentiary bolstering by saying that the manufacturers make them for dunking, don’t. The sharp minded businesses pandering to the needs of the western consumerism would sell deep fried dog turds if their advertising teams could work out a sales pitch that they though the public were stupid enough to swallow (sic). The quickie marts that seem to spring up around dense areas of student dwellings can pay testament to the inconceivable amount  instant crap that human beings will stoop to putting in their mouths in the name of parsimony and apathy. Now don’t get me wrong I pride myself on my level mindedness and will accept that people do weird things. The casualty records of hospitals around the world bear testament to the bizarre musicianly that mankind has at one point or another attempted to insert in themselves or willing participants (well willing before the necessary interventions of ever creative medical staff had to be sort). I comment not on such proclivities but this doesn’t make it an acceptable thing for a civilised human being to do. Vacuum cleaners and their accessories are for the removal of household dirt and dust not for the fertile imaginations of naked pleasure seekers. 

However I have to draw a line somewhere and the defining difference between of unclothed pursuers of decadence and the person that drowns his food in his drink in a misguided attempt to enhance its delectability is that the former doesn’t partake of his/her excesses on the table in front of me while I’m enjoying a hot drink and latterly maybe a chocolate Hobnob. 

So you may trot out all the well worn excuses, the unimaginative explanations and the swell of numbers who who degrade themselves in a similar fashion. I’m not impressed. The debate always tends to move in to areas of contention where dunkiees squabble amount themselves about what biscuits you can dunk and which ones you can’t. This is unsurprising. Each person clamouring to hypocritically score victory but in essence if you allow yourself to dunk say a digestive you forfeit the rights to gastronomic opinions. It might be a good idea to keep you away from vacuum cleaners too.

We’re Only Human

 

'It's a postcard from your doctor. He says he'll be right with you.'

Pain is weakness leaving the body

Bruce Gordon

Having had a couple of days off I was perturbed to have spent the second one with palpitations causing my heartbeats to flutter away like untuned vintage car. Despite knocking on the door of fifty I consider myself in good condition. I run five days a week, lift weights three days a week, play racket sports twice a week and have hobbies that can’t be considered sedentary. I am active at work (especially at knocking off time), have a respect for healthy-ish food, don’t smoke have a resting heart rate of fifty. My only excess is alcohol and even that is only just north of government recommendations. So, by and large, the  I consider myself as fairly healthy. You can imagine my angst a while back at discovering that every now and then the old jam tart would go a bit Jack Douglas on me. (Jack Douglas of Carry On film fame who would, without provocation, randomly throw out his limbs in an uncontrollable manner). Happily these episodes would not last long, ten or fifteen minutes or so. However, on this particular occasion it had started its usual fluttering and had continued to do so throughout the day. As I was sitting that evening trying to convince my irksome organ that I wasn’t stressed about its unpredictable shenanigans but secretly feeling quite stressed, my better half returned from the grindstone. This was distinctly advantages in two respects.

  1. She’s a woman, thus always right.
  2. She’s a  senior health care professional which arms her with the political skills to tactfully dispense the sort of advice that middle aged men, and indeed women, don’t want to hear in a way they would be happier hearing it.

The nugget of wisdom that she plonked onto my over already crowded plate was that I should really pop myself along to the local hospital and let them poke and prod me. knowing begrudgingly that there was more than an ember of truth in what she had decreed I reluctantly made a note to self that I would patronise the local walk in centre when I finished work the following day.

I don’t work nine to five. I work shifts. These shifts have no regular pattern with the exception of either be either am or pm. The start and finish times differ every day. Luckily for me the following day I would be finishing at 0840. The disadvantage being that in order to finish early I would need to be rising from my coffin at 0215 for an 0320 start! Still, it would afforded me the time to sort out my faulty ticker and still leave time to crusade through my todo list before it was time to liberate my ten year old daughter from the clutches of academia.

The following morning I pulled up in the car park and made my way to the ticket machine. I consider it the ultimate insult to be in failing health and have to pay for my car to sit there. It’s not that I begrudge paying for it while I receive treatment, it’s that 90 percent of what I’m paying for is wasted on me sitting around waiting. Still, despite the injustices of profiteering off of the backs of unfortunates, I paid up (for an hour) and made my way through the main doors and scanned for signs that would lead me to a receptionist. Eventually my endeavours bore fruit and I arrived at a desk with an uninterested young woman who handed me a clipboard with a form attached to it and instructed me to to complete it and return it to her. I did as requested and she retrieved it from me with a smile which at best said ‘There’s got to be more to life than this’ and at worst said ‘If you’d died before you got here it’d have saved me doing the paperwork’. The waiting room was filled to the tune of three people, obviously still a bit early for the hypochondriacs, munchausens and general malingerers. The malingerers tend to stand out as they are typically the ones popping out for a fag every five minutes. Thinking that it unlikely that I’d have to revisit the ticket machine I camped down and tried to reclaim some of the sleep I’d previously been deprived of that morning.

Three quarters of an hour went by before a nurse poked her head through a set of double doors and in a loud voice mispronounced my name. I followed her along the corridor and into a room that had the appearance of being able to save lives. Pumps, machines, long tubes and things with wires festooned around them. She was polite, friendly and thorough. She checked my details and wired me up to a electrocardiogram. She waited while the machine spewed out a foot and a half of paper, ripped it off and went to seek someone of higher office. Higher office wandered back in with the afore mention piece of paper pointing out blips that had no place being there. She gently explained that owing to more blips that there should be I should attend the local hospital in order to undergo more tests that they, as a walk in centre, were unable to carry out. She explained that an ambulance would take me there as chest issues were considered worthy of such. Now of course I was concerned about my health but the parsimonious side of me was calculating the escalating cost of my car in the car park. Also knowing the answer before I asked it I nevertheless enquired about my return journey as the hospital was a good seven miles away through heavy traffic. I had suspected correctly, the nurse informed me that I’d have to find my own way back. With a child to collect and the costs increasing I elected to drive as the hospital was on my way home so it made sense in more ways than not to do it this way. Well it did to me. The nurse clearly had reservations. She had broken out the frown that she saved especially for people who confess to smoking, drinking and eating fatty foods with additional salt. I twisted uncomfortably in my chair but determined to hold my resolve. Eventually she relented, placed her look back into the ‘frowns various’ compartment of her head for use on another day.  She registered her disapprobation and explained that if I was to take this course of action that I would have to sign a release which I readily agreed to.

With paper work in hand I headed for the second medical establishment of the day. Battling through heavy traffic I pulled into the multi-storey car park and went to investigate the parking costs once again. Pay on the way out. They clearly weren’t missing a trick here. I wandered into the main reception, armed myself with directions and set of in search of the Medical Ambulatory Unit, it was now 1100 and my day was not really going as planned. I’d spent an hour and a half at the walk in centre. Surely I’d have to be looking at the same again at least. Plans for my todo list were looking precarious.

As I walked into the unit I noticed the waiting area once again was low on meat. Of course this means nothing in a health service waiting room. New bodies will arrive, go on in, come out and disappear again while you just sit there twiddling your thumbs gnashing your teeth and trying to make sense of the inequity of it all. I smiled at another ‘I’ve seen it all mate’ receptionist and went to take a seat, choosing as we do not to actually sit next to anyone in case they have something iffy or break protocol and start giving you a run down of their most intimate personal health issues. Again I closed my eyes in an attempt to recharge, ward off potential needys and hopefully make time go faster. It didn’t. After an hour a doctor came and walked me to a chair with a bed beside it and asked me to take a seat. He asked me lots of questions the answers to which I could tell he didn’t like before wiring me up once again to an ECG machine. He compared his foot and a half of paper with that of the nurse seven miles away and frowned. Apparently it was as clean as a whistle. Collecting himself together he proceeded with his next course of action which was divesting me of some blood. I turned away. I don’t like needles. I have no real explanation why though. They hurt but not much, I’ve had worse. People are just strange and that includes me. After draining the contents of half an arm he explained that the results would take an hour to find their way back and that I should take advantage of the hour by having some lunch and wandering back to the department for about 1315. Navigating the labyrinth of corridors eventually led me to the shop located in the main reception area. I purchased myself a Mexican salad that was about as Mexican as fish and chips. It was overly small and overly expensive. I sat and ate it on my own watching my plans for the rest of the day go to shit.

My post prandial return to the MAU saw a new set of conscripts in the waiting area but wearing the same dejected expressions as the previous residents. Once again I found a strategically situated chair and adopted my ‘don’t talk to me’ body language and closed my eyes as an extra layer of protection. I was tired and fed up with looking at weird people and playing guess the malady. Everywhere else time marched on in a uniform fashion. Evolution evolved, people aged, paint dried and time in the MAU defied physics. Then just when I thought time had actually stopped it kick started again. The doctor appeared and asked me follow him into a consulting room. Eagerly brushing the cobwebs from my person I, like an obedient puppy dog, followed on his heals keen for a prognostication and to rid my nostrils of the smell of disinfectant. Once in the room he sat me down made his excuses and, much to my incredulity, retreated once again. I looked at my watch and was horrified to see the time was 1440. I had forty five minutes to be diagnosed, return to the car, stand and stare in disbelief at the parking charge, battle traffic to the school, find a parking space which would be as easy as finding the secret of alchemy and scoop up my daughter who be just itching to point out my time keeping inadequacies. My doctor finally returned plus an extra one who looked less earnest and more experienced. Doc 2 lifted himself up on to the couch opposite me and poured over the first print out. He regurgitated the same questions to which I reiterated the same answers. There was a pause and he seemed to form a conclusion. It was about age, extra beats, beats from the bottom of the heart and about its commonality in the grand scheme of things. He reinforced this by explaining that the blood tests were negative in way that proved his point. Finally he said there would be an ultra sound scan appointment in the post but it wasn’t urgent. With only forty minutes left to go and wondering which part of the schedule home I was going short cut I needed to ask one last question. Which was ‘will I be safe to play badminton tonight.’ Smiling congenially he answered with a resounding ‘of course, playing badminton tonight won’t do you any harm………’

That’s was all I needed to hear. With a brevity which was barely on the fringes of what could be considered polite I professed my thanks, shook their hands and shot off through the corridors in search of the way out. Bursting out through the main entrance and fighting my way through the smog of smokers all huddled together looking sad, sick and miserable I headed for the car park. Knowing time was at a premium. I spent less time than usual staring in disbelief at the parking charge hoping that I’d read it wrong. I joined a queue of like minded car owners all muttering and cursing under their breaths about being financially raped in such an insensitive manner. Finally hitting the road I set about breaking several motoring laws in my bid to make it to the school before the final bell. Due to some luck and and stretching Highway Code interpretations to the point of snapping I was stood waiting when she came out. At last things had turned around. I’d been up for thirteen hours and was nowhere near done yet.

The next couple of hours were a blur of juggling the requirements of the kids. Dropping off, picking up, feeding and eventually ending up at the sports club for my six until eight game of badminton. Badminton is a strange game. It consists solely of volleys and, when played professionally, is considered to be the fastest racket sport in the world. I don’t play professionally but I can play a fair game. I got stuck in, tiredness being replaced with adrenalin, serotonin and all those other feel good hormones. It’s satisfying to hear the thwap of a correctly executed smash or to watch as deftly placed touch sends the shuttle flopping it’s way tantalisingly over the net. Cleverly moving your opponents around the court through skilfully placed shots before delivering the coup de grace. Of course we are all taught  these skills and hone them through constantly playing over a number of years. One of the first things you learn is how to play safe. One of the golden rules, real school boy stuff is never, absolutely never, ever, ever, ever turn and look behind at your team mate as there is a possibility of getting a shuttle in the face. In my case it was my eye. Not the bone that surrounds my eye or my eyebrow or just off my nose. The very centre. Momentarily I was blinded. It bloody hurt and, as I was in motion when this full baseline clearance shot was impeded by my unprofessional arrival, I also started to fall as I’d lost balance, what with all the lights and everything going out. However my other senses didn’t desert me. I ‘felt’ my team mate catch me to protect me from further injury. I ‘heard’ the collective laughter of my friends as I groped around trying to orientate myself once more and I ‘tasted’ lager in the bar after the abandonment of the game with my still sniggering friends. However despite liquid refreshment my eye had developed an opacity that was to my mind concerning. I kept blinking in an effort to restore my previous optical quality but the fog refused to lift. Seconds clumped together to form minutes which in turn clustered together forming an hour. Still the mist persisted. I drove home with my one and a half eyes and flopped down into a chair to contemplate why, having successfully dodged one of dame fortunes bullets I had done so by stepping sideways onto one of her banana skins. Seeing my consternation my good lady enquired as to how my evening went. I explained the events of the evening including fog, humiliation, heckling and theories of karma. She listened carefully. She ignored all the whinging and esoteric theory and, pragmatic as ever,  prognosticated that I should attend casualty. Again. In the same day. Again. I weakly claimed that I was fine which she countered with pure logic, to wit, one malfunctioning eye. She then proceeded to back her argument contacting the afore mentioned casualty department who concurred with her assessment. Knowing I was beaten I collected myself together and accepted her offer of a lift for my third visit of the day to a hospital department. I arrived at A&E and placed my self in the system via a receptionist who viewed me with the same ‘I’ve seen it all’ expression which I had seen twice before that day. Perhaps it was a standard issue expression. Perhaps the facial blandness is part of the induction course for NHS receptionists who are taught to communicate non verbally with a variety facial contortions which include ‘I’ve seen it all’, ‘you must be joking’, ‘don’t even think about it’, and ‘I suppose you think that’s funny’. Processing form in hand I returned to take up residence in one of the waiting room chairs that must have seen every conceivable bodily fluid ejected onto its upholstery at one time or another. Dutifully my driver for the evening smiled me a ‘it’ll be fine’ smile. I replied with my ‘I’ve been awake for 19 hours now, I just want to go to bed but trying to keep a stiff upper lip’ smile and began to take in my surroundings. Traffic was light in the waiting room but it was early yet. Fat people in leggings with food stains down their fronts were draped over some of the chairs ticking the box for that particular stereotype. A bloke in a wheel chair with a nasty looking leg from a bad football tackle. Foreigners talking to a foreign nurse neither of them really understanding each other’s accents. Obviously a crowd of smokers all stood outside the hospital and completely missing the irony. The ubiquitous fat woman sat in her pyjamas presumably not long out of her leggings. The pensioner dressed smart enough for an interview, would never leave the house without a shirt and tie despite the late hour, quietly watching the circus unfolding around him. The crying baby enters stage left which means the only one missing for the full set is the loud drama queen that thinks he’s ten times worse than he is. Another ten minutes fills this void. In he stumbles in shirt undone, loud and dramatic, claiming a heart attack, clutching either his pectoral muscle or his collar bone in an affectations way but way east of his heart. He takes to leaning over the chair backs groaning like a performance for RADA. Until that is he spots the footballer in the wheel chair. It seems that late tackle and dying swan were old school friends so he plonks himself down next to him and they start reminiscing, his dodgy ticker now forgotten. I sit and watch flotsam and jetsam of mankind being swept along on a tide of illness collecting on the hospitals shoreline and long for my bed. I’ve spent long enough in hospital today to last me ten years. Just at the point where I’m seriously considering removing my affected eye with my penknife a nurse comes out and calls my name. Needing to distance myself from now heavily populated waiting area I hasten out in the wake of the nurse. I’m placed in an uncluttered examination area. She asks a series of questions peers at the offending eyeball and finally squirts it with some dye and inspects it via a special magnified scope. All is deemed well and the diagnosis is just superficial bruising and the vision should sort it’s self out in a day or so. We exit through the nearest door, fold ourselves into the car and make good our escape. It was gone midnight when I finally rolled into the bed that my alarm clock unceremoniously ripped me from 21 hours earlier. The moral of this tale? The lesson to take away? The points to ponder? In all honesty I’m not sure but simplistically I’d say hospital parking charges are immoral as they are a tax on the sick. Hospital tests are processed faster now than they’ve ever been. Time in hospital waiting rooms inevitably stands still in defiance of physics. Never look back when playing racket sports and as fragile as we consider parts of our body to be we are generally better built than we think.

Tempus Fugit

Tempus fugit, aeternitas manet. Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero

When we talk about certainty we’re told of only two. Death and taxes. This I refute. Cryogenics can suspend life with the potential to continue it in a time where unimaginable possibilities exist beyond the scope of death. Taxes are only certain for those poor enough not to be able to avoid paying them. However it is, in my opinion and that of a large part of the scientific community, certain that one second will indeed follow the one behind it by one second. These seconds collectively accumulate into minutes, hours, days, weeks and so on, you get the picture. Let’s call it,  as most do, time. It is within the scope of our understanding and purchasing ability to follow this uninterruptible progress by possession of a timepiece. Back in antiquity we had devices reliant on the sun, some on sand and a whole host of other miscellaneous methods devised by budding horologists. But this isn’t a dissertation on the history of time. This is musing on the the relevance and respect for contemporary wrist watches.

I’ve always had a love of wrist watches. As a chap in my early twenties I would always have three or four on the go, regularly switching them around depending on my mood or choice of fashion. Back in the early seventies a new breed in timekeeping was emerging. The arrival of LED (light emitting diode) watches was upon us although their ascendancy was to be brief, disappearing before they really got going. They were to be replaced by the much more visible LCD screens (liquid crystal display). LCD technology was very new and exciting and of course this was reflected in the price. However with such popularity the price was sure to drop. Sure enough technology trickled down and the ordinary man in the street was gifted the opportunity to take advantage of this electronic wizardry. Not long after this the whole Swatch gig of the 1980’s (and still going strong now) took off which I, like so many others since, succumbed to.

These early dalliances with wrist bearing clocks planted seeds which, now that some of my income has become slightly more disposable, have started to germinate. I currently have a modest collection of around twenty and like to claim that I have an interest in watches. As a result I enjoy reading about new developments, marvel at the history, fantasise over whatI’ll never be able to afford, save spare cash for future acquisitions within my budget and cosset and care for the ones I’m already lucky enough to own. I must state here and now that I’m not a watch snob but they do exist and this is sad. It’s sad because being a snob of any kind is a form of myopia and this prevents people from experiencing the many new things which come into existence outside of their view of acceptability. This came up recently in a topic on one of the forums which I regularly look at. A member had asked a perfectly reasonable question about a watch series that had been offered in various combinations of face colour, strap and movement. The bone of contention was the movement. To a certain type of collector choosing a quartz movement was not a option to be considered. A real watch should, it is believed by some, have a beating heart and not a pacemaker. This made me consider my own collection. It was true. Most of my collection had mechanical movements. I had chosen them with this detail being a prerequisite. Why? Because a real watch should  have a mechanical movement just like they always had. But despite my resolve something was fizzing away deep within mental recesses. While reading the exchanges on this particular thread it occurred to me that I knew little about this battery powered upstart which had so blatantly infiltrated the horological world. I knew the Digitals were just circuit boards but I felt sure this wasn’t the case for analogue. In essence I didn’t know. I couldn’t argue what I didn’t understand and I believe the best way to argue anything is to be armed with all the information of both sides so I read. I read about Seiko and the Japanese’s development of a battery powered motor that would keep better time. I read about the Swiss’s response to this new kid on the block with a battery powered motor of their own. On how Swatch had become the Phoenix rising from of ETA’s ashes by manufacturing Swiss Quartz watches in every colour way imaginable. It was the ultimate fashion accessory, functional, colourful and collectable and at a price attractive to the customer. The Quartz motor had made watches something that anyone could own. It fascinated me and humbled me at  the same time to see how sublimely ingenious it was. What finally shredded any lingering doubt I may have had skulking around in my cranial recess was watching a man on YouTube take apart a Maurice Lacroix quartz movement and service it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obHpnKpkCvs&index=5&list=FLC2BInsXx9MLMzEOGBv5RHw&t=208s

Wow. At what point did we become so clever, so superior that we could talk so demeaningly and deridingly about such a clever and intricate piece of engineering. If I lived for a thousand years I could never have conceived of something so clever. I had spent years standing in judgement based on the false premise that the only watches worth coveting should be mechanical and looking down my nose at this supposed poor relation in horology’s history. Well I know when I’m wrong and not too proud to admit it. I accept that there are poor quality quartz movements out there in the same way there are poor quality mechanicals but a quality quartz movement is truly a thing of beauty.

In conclusion I return to my analogy of the beating heart and the pacemaker. Plenty of people have pacemakers fitted, a power source to keep the heart beating. Does this make them less of a person. Do we treat them disdainfully because that fundamental function of that vital organ has been replaced by technology? Do we sneer at their capitulation to modern electronics? Of  course not. Our judgement is based on the very many characteristics that make the whole and the wristwatch that adorns our arm should be no different.

Rodrage

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Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. Buddah

They came. Fishing rods at knock down prices. A fishing publication, now no longer with us, made an offer we couldn’t refuse. £150.00 worth of rod for an amazingly knock down price of  £50.00, plus a couple of tokens from the magazine. With the eagerness of a frenzied shopper on a Christmas bank holiday, I tore off tape and paper in order that I may free my new super-duper, never before used technology, bargain fish seducer. Out it came, glistening with promise, wild with wanton desire and taunting me to go ‘a fishing ‘. I carefully slipped it from its delicate fabric house and held it out just staring at it. Obviously the sniffing came next (surely everybody does this), the bag the rod the cork the wonderful aroma of newness that all purchases have. I trotted quickly out to the garden, lovingly put it together, grasped it by the handle and gave it a bit of a waggle (I was very inexperienced). I’ve always wondered why people do that. The anglers answer to a tyre kicker. Why do we do it? Do we gain some kind of intimate knowledge of the rods action? No. Do we understand more about the intricacies of test curves? No. Do we glean information as to how it will respond with a fish on it? No. But there I was, rod waggling and feeling fabulous. After this aberration passed I slipped her back into her fabric bag and stowed her away with my other equipment where she’d be safe and comfortable with like-minded friends. Telephone in hand I called Rod (real name Nick but affectionately nicknamed Rod Rage for reasons that will become apparent later). He answered the phone and we both started gushing about our new purchases, with lots of ‘oh aren’t they beautiful’ followed by confessions of sniffing and waggling and finally concluding with the organisation of a trip.

It was decided that we would venture out to a well-kept fishery snuggled down in Hampshire’s sleepy Meon Valley. The date was set and we agreed to meet at the fishery. We both arrived in convoy and departed our respective vehicles, both wearing smiles that risked cutting our heads in half. Rods were carefully married together; reels lovingly winched in tight, lines diligently threaded through and all the while we chatted about the leviathans we’d catch with our new seducers of trout to which we had now attached an almost religious zeal. Casting began, fish were seen rising and subsequently cast to, some with magnificence but most not. Touches were felt and eventually I hooked one. The subject was then battled, banked, bashed and bagged, marvellous. The world universe and everything in it was perfect…     .. for some. I choose this moment to wander around the lake and enthuse with Rod (Nick) about the christening of my new rod and regale him with events leading up to and including the afore-mentioned capture. Unfortunately although Rod was figuratively speaking  ‘in the garden’, rosy it wasn’t. A few tangles were evident and expletives were reverberating around the lake. “B…..D Line, B……D  rod, you’re starting to get on my f…..g nerves now”, and variations of these were heard as I got closer to him. “Any thing I can do to help” I ventured. “Yeah stop this B…..D line from f……g tangling” he vociferated in a voice that could crumble granite and sit around chewing on the crunchy bits. I risked hands on intervention, resolved the offending knots and tiptoed away while peace had temporally been restored. Finding myself a quiet spot, well out of the fall out zone, I resumed my ham-fisted casting, like we duffers do, memories of my previous victory urging me on.

With my line out I began a figure of eight retrieve watching my damsel charging through the pellucid waters wiggling its tail seductively hoping to enrage a trout or drive him gastronomic insanity. Rod was in the distance gesticulating wildly and swearing at the trout with such profanities that they were more likely blushing red than rainbow. I was luckily out of earshot. Time went by and my patients were rewarded, fish number two was secured. After disturbing the water where I had just been fishing I elected to investigate the rest of the lake in the hope of finding some rising fish. I slowly wandered round only to see Rod stomping towards me totally preoccupied in his own private seethe, wildlife quickly scurrying away and all plant life in his path wilting and dying as his wrath passed by. He didn’t appear to stopping, going home early I thought. It appeared he had taken his rod down, although from the distance I was away from him it was difficult to see properly.  As fishing’s own Grim Reaper loomed nearer I saw that his rod was not taken apart, but broken. If only that was true. Broken doesn’t even start to cover it. Try massacred, decimated, divested of life and purpose the only inkling of its former persona being the odd piece of cork and the glint of a tip ring sadly brutalised and like the last embers on a fire, winking in a final attempt to glow before dying forever. I meet up with him, “Nick, what happened?” a hint of sadness in my words. He then proceeds to tell me “It just snapped” The tone in his voice something just bellow nuclear. ” Snapped!  Snapped! That’s not snapped. Snapped means broken in half, that’s, that’s, that’s matchwood, it’s been  tormented, savagely beaten and tortured and finally ritualistically murdered, then with the remains of fly line still hanging limply in the rings, paraded around the lake as a warning to other non-compliant fishing equipment.” He claimed he had fallen on it! Presumably before he had time to take the Steam Roller out of his pocket. I left Nick (see what I mean about Rod Rage) to smoulder back to the car where he could dump his £50 kindling and roar off home, swearing at cyclists, waving fists at children and driving the elderly and inexperienced off of the road and into curb-side ditches.

Not all our trips suffer this type of miss fortune, most are peaceful excursions with a few fish taken and sometimes not, either way the sole purpose is enjoyment. Nick seems to rant his way through life and has done in the 14 years I’ve known him (and we wouldn’t change him for the world) but he isn’t what he seems. Life is seldom the superficial farce we see at first glance. In the same way that although on the surface of the lake, it’s blowing crazy ape bonkers, underneath the pellucid surface film, possibly exists the philosophical serenity I seem to search so hard to find.

Rods

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 The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope. 

John Buchan.

My favourite fly rod is one of the original Sportfish delights lovingly fashioned on a Harrison blank. If you’ve never come across this company, look them up at www.harrisonrod.co.uk  While they may not be the Rolls Royce of rods they certainly fill the Volvo/Saab slot i.e. a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s as classy as an embassy ball and as reliable as a bobble hat on a Rambler. But for all this it wasn’t expensive. In fact, I remember thinking at the time that it seemed under priced. Later Sportfish moved to another blank, but having tried the equivalent new comer, well it just wasn’t the same, nice, but not worthy of my devotion.

  The thought occurred to me that does double the money mean double the performance? After reading many reviews and test driving like crazy at the CLA Game Fair I came to the conclusion that, although not an expert, alas I think not. The graph of money versus performance regarding fly rods, possibly all rods, is an exponential curve not linear. In fact this is probably true of most fishing equipment. After all, is a reel costing £500 ten times better than one costing £50? I shouldn’t think so. Just like armies, fly reels tend to be about presentation and looks. When the General is around orders are followed and everything is clean and shiny. But when he’s away, just like a cheap fly reel, the job will still get done. The guns still go bang and the soldiers still attack or defend as necessary it’s just all done with a few more creases and little less brasso.  With my most pragmatic head on I feel compelled to state that this is how I perceive a fly reel. A practical line storage device. It doesn’t have to expensive and beautiful but, like the General, we like things to be aesthetically pleasing. But this is all very sensible and utilitarian and, although thrift is common sensical, I wouldn’t want you to think that I necessarily subscribe to this pecuniary Ebeneezering as, despite these very practical points, penny-pinching can be a bit boring. After all a practical man would go out and buy fish and for those who claim that it’s not just about the fish but the surroundings, well you could buy the fish and go for a walk in the woods. Cheaper than a day ticket. And if can run to the price of a bobble hat and develop a sense of unshakeable self-righteousness the Ramblers would probably want to sign you up too. The point is, financial expedience and aesthetics seldom make good bed partners. Please don’t take my word for this though. Any episode of the Antique Roadshow will illuminate this point. You’ll see a landscape water-colour which exhibits such Eden like beauty that, if God lived on Earth, this would undoubtably be at the top of his bucket list of places to see (yeah I know Gods are supposed to be immortal and omnipresent but they can still be cynical, it’s an uncertain world). Then the ‘expert’ will tell us that although it’s quite sweet it’s only worth about £20 at auction maybe a bit more on Ebay. This will be followed later in the program by a pompous oaf in a Gieves and Hawkes suit that’s almost considered antique itself, offering up some hideous oil painted portrait. He’ll proceed to claim that the afore-mentioned chinless halibut in the frame is a distant ancestor from a part of the family dynasty long since bankrupt. Now you and I wouldn’t hang this ghoul in the attic to scare the mice away. However the ‘expert’ will tell us that despite making the flowers wilt and the dog growl, it’s worth the equivalent of a low mileage second-hand Aston with one careful ecumenical owner. Of course at this point the pseudo plutocrat in the dodgy schmutter usually starts nodding sagely, indicating that he’d always assumed as much but is secretly euphoric as he owes a pile on his Amex card and he speaks to the bailiffs so often they’re on speed dial.

All this out lines is that you pay for what you get but you don’t necessarily get what you pay for. Beginners tend to gravitate towards the more advantageously priced rods which serve their purpose but your level of strength and fitness will dictate how long you’re able to fish. This is because the weight and rigidity will prematurely tire you. Medium range rods are better and usually considerably more forgiving and not necessarily heaps of extra cash. It will be the sort of rod you could buy and eventually struggle for a reason to justify an upgrade as it will just last forever. High end rods are the tools best left in the hands of professionals, the seriously dedicated or the obscenely wealthy. Most of us wouldn’t get the benefit in the same way a poacher wouldn’t get the benefit of a Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle. Then there’s aesthetics. When it comes to aesthetics things aren’t always that simple (ask the man with the water-colour). When it comes to beauty there’s something that’s less tangible. We like some things because they are old (maybe not pensioners, or food found at the back of fridges. Although vastly different, they seem to share a nasally offensive odorous curiosity). Old equipment gives us an ability to imagine their pasts and previous adventures. Contemporary equipment made with traditional skills and materials are alluring, maybe because of the easiness on the eye and the feel of quality. Just being different from the competition is sometimes enough to turn our heads. My Sportfish rod falls into the medium  quality and easiness on the eye bracket. This is compounded by my love of familiarity. I like the comfort of familiar things (my rod, my felt lite hat, my Kelly kettle) because the fact that they are familiar means we’ve been together a long time and probably had lots of good times together. Just the site of these objects will trigger good memories which is a warm comfort on fish less days. Strangely, although I’ve had all but one of my fly reels for years there is, as yet, no real bond formed for reasons which, despite the time I’ve spent ruminating on the matter, still seem to elude me.

So do we need to feel remorse, regret or guilt for these sporting eccentricities and moderate financial excesses? No. Our refusal to part with old and outdated tackle or to seek out long forgotten works of engineering genius should not be used by our non-comprehending nearest and dearest as a means of scorn pouring. While the pragmatists and gear junkies who crave the latest technologically and advanced tools are happily causing needless redundancies throughout their extensive tackle collections and sneering down their polarised £1000+ Oakley C Six sun glasses at our perceived peculiarities, we can be not so much smug but replete at the knowledge that for us, the angler is still very much a part of the process and not just a walking rod rest and equipment holder.