The most realistic story ever told.

Quality Whisky Content – please give generously

It’s fair to say that the Internet’s full of people who want you to hear what they have to say about whisky.  I can’t always say I find them interesting.

13417398_269515983438925_7110735978184751972_nHOWEVER… back in January a fella appeared on my Facebook feed courtesy of another whiskychum’s posting, with what sounded an interesting challenge.  Ben Bowers has set himself the task of sampling and reviewing 366 whiskies in a year and tying it all up under the fairly neat label of A Dram A Day.

The goal of this escapade is that it’s a fundraising challenge, with him aiming to raise £5000 for the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund though getting people to sponsor him for publishing 10-15 minute videos every day of the whiskies he’s tasting.

I’ve got to say – I really like his style.  Ben generally seems to be a bloke who does his research (although occasionally loses the bit of paper that tells him what the samples he’s been sent are) and he’s tasting these drams sight-unseen, so the reaction you’re seeing is pretty real.  A good example of this is his tasting of Haig Club: a whisky which I maintain is targeted for a particular audience and purpose, but which Ben I think fairly provides an honest response to.

You’ve got to admire him sticking with it – often these sorts of things sink without trace 20 or so posts in. However as I write this he’s well over half way and almost at #210.  I’m enjoying the way that they’re clearly shot at night time in hushed tones so he doesn’t wake his wife up, although periodically he ventures outside of the kitchen into other rooms – so it’s sort of like a really protracted tour of a house somewhere in the North of England.  With many, many drinks breaks.

Earlier in the challenge he was courting donations of whiskies (I sent a few across – including the Berry Brothers & Rudd Glen Mhor that he seemed to quite enjoy) however now he’s got all he needs so it’s just a case of making it through to Burns Night 2017!

I’d urge anyone reading this who’s interested in whisky to have a look at a few of these and perhaps make your way through a few.  Having previously worked at The Whisky Shop in York Ben has quite a good vocabulary while at the same time speaking very approachably.  And perhaps if you’d like to say thanks for the research and effort by flinging his Justgiving page a few quid then I’m sure that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Mum’s Trip

In July 2015 my Mum was scheduled to fly over from Adelaide and stay with us here in Bristol for a couple of months, because it’s nice to get away – especially in winter.

bathroom3In May 2015 one morning I woke up and immediately knew something was wrong, and confirmed my suspicion by discovering that Liz had slipped over whilst clambering into our rather perilous bathtub/shower arrangement, whacking her head on the side of the tub and installing what can only be described as a Mighty Bruise on the inside of one of her thighs.  Which none of you will have seen.  Once concussion had been ruled out, we quickly surmised that this arrangement would not be suitable for Mum’s visit, and so our up-til-now hypothetical schedule of works was accelerated sharply and our bathroom – at vast expense – was duly gutted and remodelled with a rather splendid walk-in shower which we’re absurdly happy with, and which we were happy to report via telephone dispatches was now ready for guests to enjoy.

2 days before Mum’s departure flight I got a Facebook message from a mate of mine who lives across the road saying that I’d probably better get in contact.  It transpired that Mum was walking into the house with the shopping, and – despite having repeatedly safely negotiated the front step without incident for the last 40 years or so – on this occasion managed to trip over and break her right shoulder.

Needless to say, the UK visit was off in favour of some time in hospital.  The story which follows was actually quite a protracted one, and not mine to tell – sufficed to say that Mum managed to at least not spend much of the winter at her house, instead alternating between hospital, her friend’s house, hospital again, a recuperation ward, a rehab centre, and finally 6 months later following a second operation and a fairly sizeable painkiller prescription – back home again.

We’re happily relieved to report that she’s more or less back to normal life in Adelaide now – albeit requiring a little extra assistance on some tasks while she gains mobility in her arm again.

And we got a nice new bathroom out of it.


And the *excellent* news is that in 2016 – almost a year after the intended timeframe – we were delighted to receive Mum into our home to visit us for 4 weeks.  Not quite as long as we’d planned initially, but it was wonderful to have her live with us and we managed to sneak in a few adventures while she was here…

But I’ve a feeling that’s a story for another time.

That infernal goddamn machine

Haven’t blogged in a while but I enjoyed writing about that black metal gig, and realised that I’m never so happy as when I’m sarcastically complaining about something – so I thought I’d take a moment and recognise the contribution to my life of a very special contraption.

20160317_182043At work we have what most people would describe as a vending machine.

I’m trying to work out whether it’s part of an experimental psychological study by the University of Bristol, or some sort of employee health & wellbeing programme by our company.

The key feature of a vending machine – indeed its very reason for being – is to accept money from the user and accordingly dispense the snacks selected.  This machine does neither of those things.

This sort of scene is not uncommon.

This sort of scene is not uncommon.

For starters, it doesn’t like 10p coins.  It completely rejects shiny 10p coins, and with some convincing you can get it to accept a knackered old one.  It seems like a minor quibble, but the machine more or less perpetually has the “Use Exact Amount” message showing.  Given the price range of most of the items is between 60p and 80p your options for both using exact change and not using 10p coins are somewhat spartan.

Not that the Use Exact Amount message is authoritative – in dire need of a sugar & caffiene hit and armed only with a £2 coin I managed to somehow get both a Coke and £1.40 in change out of it once.  Once.  I think I must’ve taken it by surprise.

Normally of course you get your coins back once you’ve reached the point of admitting that  there are no multiples of 20 that will make 70, and having spent time inside the refrigerated machine (because it’s important to have chilled crisps and museli bars) you’ll at least wind up with a small pocket full of COLD HARD CAAAAAAAASH…

More common though is the mechanised coin-eating cockup which results in this sort of thing:


(where the screw has become wedged under the coke can, so it turns without dispensing and you’ve got to go and tell reception that your money’s been eaten) or this:


(where the bag of crisps gets jammed above the dispense mechanism because it’s the wrong shape – despite being the best-selling crisp flavour in the damn machine – and you’ve got to go and tell reception that your money’s been eaten)

Total jamming isn’t the most common outcome though – it’s usually a case of “suspenseful hanging” as in the picture above.  The usual solution to this is to engage in enthusiastic rocking or shaking of the machine until it freed your quarry.  Too much of this started causing damage to the floor, so work had a piece of checkerplate fitted underneath the machine.


It just seems like the wrong solution to the problem to me.  You know – instead of protecting the floor so it doesn’t get damaged by people rocking the machine, how about, oh, let’s say… GET A FUCKING MACHINE THAT WORKS PROPERLY AND DOESN’T HAVE TO BE ROCKED OR SHAKEN?!

The other outcome of the rocking sometimes is that “bonus items” drop out of the machine, so instead of the bag of crisps you wanted you wind up with a Galaxy bar and a Snickers.

I’m led to believe that I’m not the first person to complain about it, and indeed my attempt at direct contact with the person responsible was met with stony resilience.  Perhaps I should take a different tack and ask whether the company has applied for a gaming licence, given the variable payouts this machine gives.  Might prove a worthwhile gamble…

It can’t realistically be a health initiative now I think of it – even dissuading/depriving the staff of sugary/salty snacks is vastly outweighed by the increase in blood pressure that accompanies any interaction with this godforsaken thing.

Yeah, I got nothing else on this.  Cheers.

Like Jurassic Park, but with instruments

Simon said “Do you fancy coming to the Deafheaven gig on March 13th?”.

Rather than bothering to look up Deafheaven videos or even the Wikipedia page to find out what sort of band they are, I’ve signed up enthusiastically on the spot.

It transpires that Black Metal isn’t really my thing.  How to describe this to someone who wasn’t there…

The 3 chaps with guitars appeared to be playing each other 2-bar snippets of their favourite songs, really fast, and all at once.

The fellow at the front seemed to be practicing his dinosaur impression.

The bloke at the back was making it his business to ensure that nobody got a wink of sleep by playing his drums as loud as was humanly possible.

As I stood there my eyes drifted over to the row of posters above the bar for various acts which had performed at Bristol’s rock institution The Fleece over the years.  And I couldn’t help thinking, “I wish it were 21 years ago”.


“I’d much rather be watching Muse than standing here listening to this shit”.

Still, worth a go I suppose.  And, it’ll learn me to do my homework in future.

The media roll-call of 2015

In break with last year’s effort, I thought maybe February would be a good time to go through the process of my annual Film, Book and TV roundup.

Initially aiming to get this written up in January, I found myself thinking “But, who cares?”. And then remembering the reason I started all this blogging malarkey was really for my own benefit – so in order that I’ve got something to reminisce on at some point, lets press on.


Last year I set myself a challenge to read more than 5 books, given how pitiful my reading effort was in in 2014.  I’m baffled to say that for someone who loves reading and has quite a bountiful To Read shelf, I failed in my challenge.  Substantially.  According to the list, I read 3 books last year (4, if you count the Maureen Lipman biography I carried around with me for 6 months for no tangible gain).  So, 3, really.

  • Steve Jobs (Walt Isaacson) – The famously voluminous and uncompassionate biography.  Brilliant as Jobs may have been, it really painted him as a massive deluded asshole.  It’s kind of a shame to read really.  I know the trend is all for warts & all portrayals and getting to the real heart of the person.  And yeah, Jobs made a couple of incredibly well-timed lucky calls.  But reading the stuff about his crazy perfectionism, tantrums, and vanity project factories…  one can’t help but wonder how he didn’t get the shit kicked out of him years ago.  Well written, but jeeeeeeezus.
  • So, Anyway (John Cleese) – THIS BOOK WAS MAGNIFICENT.  An autobiography written in Cleese’s speaking meter: so much so that if you know his cadences well enough you can imagine it as an audiobook.  And don’t think that didn’t cause some sniggering on the train periodically.  Totally excellent.  I think I’ll read it again, as a matter of fact.  Has snippets of sketch material among it too, such as this bit (about 35:07 in) from Cleese’s book tour:
  • The Wood Fire Handbook (Vincent Thurkettle) – having become the owner of a working wood-burning stove it seemed sensible to do some research into best practice for using it.  Sadly I think the best thing this book could contribute would be a way of starting the thing off.  I like the chap’s name (I’ll bet he says “WASSAIL! Well met, stout fellow!” a lot), but in an age where we can buy pre-cut kiln-dried hardwood online and have it delivered it seems that much of the information in this book is on the redundant side.  Oh god, and his website‘s got Comic Sans on it.


Didn’t really keep close track on this stuff, either.  Having moved into a new home in January and then spent most of our spare cash doing it up or fixing it we spent a lot more time staring at the gogglebox than we previously have, to which end I kept forgetting to take notes of what I was looking at.  However here’s the few that did garner a scribble.

  • Snowpiercer  – dystopian future story about a socially-stratified train (plebs at the back, rich ppl at the front) that hurtles around the world at terrifying speeds.  Mainly predictable tropes but this is all about the execution, which is great.  And there’s an awesome axe fight in it. 👍
  • Thunderball – mid-60s Bond film which seemed to feature a lot of snorkelling.  I think I fell asleep in it.
  • The Drop – Slow paced film with James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy.  Seemed like the arty “payback” film for Hardy playing Bane.  👎
  • Before I Go To Sleep – Nicole Kidman’s Groundhog Day.  Thriller that gets a bit creepy but worth staying awake for. 👍
  • The Look of Love – Seems my fascination for biographies has moved into film, which in this case was essentially Alan Partridge being Soho club-guru Paul Raymond.  By which I mean it felt like Steve Coogan going into autopilot. 👎
  • Behind The Candelabra – Biopic of Liberace starring Michael Douglas, which again is time I could’ve spent doing something else.  Perhaps I was tired of uncomplimentary biography by this point (having waded through the Jobs book already). 👎
  • Taken 3 – Liam Neeson and his disaster prone family on another outing where he’s singled out and a lot of people get beaten up and/or killed.
  • Exodus: Gods and Kings – The Ten Commandments reboot but without any of the redeeming features that will see it repeated on TV for years and years to come.  I feel like I’m missing the point with a lot of these, but just being “spectacular” doesn’t really do much for me.  Although I liked Snowpiercer, so , go figure.  This film is a biblical epic which feels like it’s actually 2000 years long. 👎👎
  • I Know That Voice – documentary about voice actors put together by John DiMaggio (aka Bender from Futurama) showing a glimpse into a fascinating world.  Also, features loads of very famous voices and there’s a huge giggle factor in seeing the voices come out of a 3-dimensional face rather than the usual 2D source. 👍
  • Jurassic World – rehash of the 90s franchise where they get the band back together, but man messes with nature (err?) in genetically modifying a dinosaur to please the crowds, and combine this with a series of cost-cutting measures imposed on science by the corporate reality, and you end up with lots of opportunities for serious people saying “This is the ONE THING we didn’t want to have happen”.  Still sorta fun though.  And no Jeff Goldblum, so that sucks. 👍
  • The Scandalous Lady W – incredibly raunchy period piece.  Sort of Game of Thrones meets Jane Austen, in what’s basically a vehicle for Natalie Dormer to get BBC viewers all hot & bothered.
  • The 33 – probably shouldn’t count this given how far we got into it.  Borderline insufferable during the setup, because the screenwriters heavyhandedly telegraphed pretty much every element of every character’s motivation/fear (“Just one more trip down the mine before I retire”, etc.).  Somewhat insensitively all I could think of was the joke, “How do you rescue 33 Chilean miners?” / “Juan by Juan”. 👎
  • Mad Max Fury Road – fired up immediately after The 33, and could not have been a more stark counterpoint.  This is a film which doesn’t bother trying to explain anything about the world in which it’s set (which is pretty frigging harsh, surreal, and non-intuitive from an audient’s perspective).  It just gets on with it and drags you along at high speed.  It’s over the top, spectacular, and brilliant. 👍 👍
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens – of course I went to see this in the cinema (twice).  There’s no point going into lengthy writeups about this as it’s all been observed already, however my brief summary is that I broadly enjoyed it (moreso than the prequels, less than the originals).  I was VERY impressed that the main characters straight out of the gate were not white males.  I realise there was plenty of squandered followup opportunities, and also that if you look into it for any length of time there’s substantial plot holes and/or shortfall.  This film did definitely cement Lucas’s place as the Artist (just a rough patch in the 90s) – the original voice among all imitators.  👍
  • The Maze Runner – promising Hunger Games/ Lord of the Flies style film which put me right on the cranky foot when they brazenly abandoned story time and opted for declaring a sequel AND a second sequel right at the first real call of junglers. 👍
  • Spectre – I don’t claim to be a huge Bond fan, but thinking back I believe I’ve seen all of the Daniel Craig ones in the cinema.  This one was a bit wandery but had some really nice set pieces.  Overall it lacked a bit of internal consistency/logic which I found distracting.  But then it’s worth remembering that it’s only a bloody film.
  • Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – Don’t watch this within a month of a Bond film, I guess is the lesson here.  It really felt like the MI franchise – which started as exagerrated action/thriller – realised that the space was too crowded and was done better by others and so transformed into pantomime/farce.  👎
  • Ant Man – possibly the most enjoyable Marvel film so far although I can never really get on with that bloke who’s in it.  Y’know, the boring one with black hair who isn’t Vince Vaughn.  That guy. 👍
  • Birdman – not so much of the superhero, but a very interesting and unusual film, with Michael Keaton getting out his proper acting chops.  What a dude. 👍👍
  • PITCH PERFECT 2 – this film is utterly ridiculous, and brilliant. And we’ve watched it about 14 times. Kind of like Glee meets Best In Show, but without nearly as many mawkish emosh cliches as Glee and the arrangements/choreography tend to the silly rather than pandering.  The absolute highlight of it for me is Birgitte Hjort Sorenson playing the leader of the German a capella group Das Sound Machine.  So many lines in this film!  And disturbingly catchy tunes.  And MASHUPS! Argh.  What’s not to love? 👍👍

Although after all that it’s probably relevant that the very finest film I saw all years was this masterwork in which ham goes up an escalator.


In addition to switching from a Serviio media server setup in the old flat over to a Plex setup plugged into a Roku 3 to ensmarten somewhat elderly telly, we now also have a fair selection of streaming options available to us, which has meant digging right in on the TV series (or what USED to be called “box sets”, back when you needed physical media for this sort of carryon).

  • The Wire Seasons 2, 3, 4 and 5 -a real catch up on a bygone classic, and what a masterpiece.  David Simon’s increasingly bleak delve into the coexisting drug and police cultures in Baltimore, with each season told through the eyes of a different sector of society. How I didn’t get around to finishing this years ago I’ve no idea, but it’s brilliant. 👍👍👍
  • Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – Denis Leary vehicle about a has-been/never-was’s rock band, revitalised by his it-girl daughter’s singing. 👍
  • Silicon Valley S1 & 2 – brilliantly observed sitcom focussed around tech startups with quirky characters and some really good stuff.  Cruelly funny in parts, and it’s got RUSS HANNEMANN!  What a guy. 👍👍
  • Game of Thrones Season 5 – well, we were never gonna NOT watch it, right?  Another great season although I kinda felt that the last 3 episodes were gratuitous, and broke from otherwise solid storytelling throughout the rest of the whole series.  Some very memorable moments, and it’ll be very interesting to see where Weiss and Benioff take this. 👍👍
  • Between – I only included this because we got 5 episodes in before this one revealed itself to be a humungous polished turd of a show. Normally you can tell within one episode (or, in the case of Marco Polo, 8 minutes).  Between was about a US town stricken with some virus that kills everyone over the age of 22. Who cares how it finished. 👎
  • Fortitude – very interesting drama set in Greenland with some really good acting and a compelling mystery plot weave. Haven’t actually finished it yet but it’s worth a look at, though it’s not quite the Nordic Noir that I was hoping for or expecting. 👍👍
  • House of Cards Season 3 another seemingly safe TV bet, although it was pretty hard to believe Machievellian puppet master Francis Underwood’s transformation from cool & collected chief whip into trapped idiot President. We’re really hoping that the season 3 arc was pitched for dramatic contrast and that it hasn’t gone from being must-watch tv over to post-Sopranos character-centric tedium. 👍
  • Aquarius – David Duchovny stars as an authoritarian Vietnam vet cop in this piece centred around Charles Manson and cop/community tensions of the time. Duchovny’s character still channels a lot of Hank Moody, though confusingly right wing at times. 👍
  • 1864 – epic-scale Danish series centred around the Second Danish-Prussian war in Schleswig, following a girl’s diary from the time and seeing cross-timeline weaving.  A bit self-indulgent in parts, it’s still a solid watch and has a few faces from the Scandi TV rollcall (Soren Malling, Pilou Asbaek, Sidse Babette Knudsen). Kind of like a period Band of Brothers where everyone’s from Copenhagen. 👍
  • Breaking Bad seasons 1, 2 and 3 – I must be the last person in the English-speaking world to have not grappled with this one yet, but I managed to knock over the first 3 seasons of this story of the high school chemistry teacher who turns drug supplier to pay for his cancer treatment and support his family.  I’ve been warned that it gets darker and bleaker as it goes and I think I’ve just started to see signs of this.  I love the moral ambiguity, and its characters are mostly fairly strong and possible to empathise with because you can see how they’re acting the way they do in order to make the best of their situations.  Really looking forward to finishing this off in 2016. 👍👍
  • Grace and Frankie – interesting dramedy centering around the wives (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) of a pair of lawyers (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) who realise that after years of working as law partners that they’re in love and move in together.  Grace and Frankie are totally opposite kinds of people but have nowhere else to go so both live in their shared beach house.  It’s mostly harmless fun and not too mawkish but it’s yet another show where the protagonists all come from wealthy backgrounds and it’s assumed that everyone’s got enough money to do whatever they want.👍
  • Last Week Tonight – probably should’ve mentioned this last year, although it’s not the same as the others.  Last Week Tonight is a weekly political/news satire show helmed by John Oliver, one half of the team from my favourite comedy podcast. Each week he points his beady little eyes at some aspect of life or politics in America and reframes the argument with the aim of highlighting and/or exposing how ludicrous/bad/extreme/nonsensical the situation is, and it’s absolutely brilliant.  For a comic who didn’t get nearly the recognition he deserved over here (prior to his stint on The Daily Show there’s barely a whisper of him on The Guardian website, but now people breathlessly paraphrase his episodes), he’s really making the most/best of the opportunity and exposure he’s got in the US, and it’s all just excellent.👍👍👍👍
  • Schitt’s Creek – Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara bring back their Christopher Guest-style improv relationship in this decent sitcom about an urbane family of former billionaires forced to move to a town which Levy’s character (Johnny Rose) bought as a joke.  👍
  • X Company – atypical WW2 special ops taskforce who are paired with an unusual field agent with perfect memory and unique personality aspects.  It’s compelling enough to keep clicking through new episodes. 👍

So that list didn’t include the substantial number of shows we never made it past episode 2 of (or, typically, episode 1 of*).  There’s loads of new content being pushed out over the internet every day, and as a side note it’s totally feasible not to need a TV licence any more!  About the only thing that holds us back from is watching Saturday Kitchen.  But given we can hook up the iPlayer through the Roku and watch it on Sunday it’s hardly the end of the world.

That’ll do for now.  I wonder if I should start including lists of podcasts** as well, now that I’ve gotten THAT sorted out too?
* or, more typically, minute 10 of episode 1 of

** the Featured Image for this post, by the way, was based on my plan to look through my Facebook pictures and pick out the first one that had me holding/reading a book or in proximity to a TV.  And there weren’t any.  At all.  So wearing headphones was the closest thing to media consumption I could find.  So I guess I’ve GOT to summarise the damn podcasts next time, eh?

So the thing is, we’ve been really busy!

2015 has been interesting for me – it felt like I didn’t have much at all in the way of spare time or spare money with which to do stuff.  That’s not to say that we didn’t have any fun, but the time really rocketed past & seemed to be just, well, full.

About this time last year we moved into our lovely new house.  We’ve been pretty busy making changes to it and eradicating the beigeness that was here when we arrived.  As we approached the end of our first year here I thought it might be nice to take some comparison photos, and now perusing them I think it’s more apparent where a large wedge of that spare time went.

Hopefully the before/after overlay tool thingy here works – if you drag the handle to the right you should see the “before” shot, and dragging it left swaps to “after”.  You’re mildly intelligent – you should be able to figure it out (assuming it’s working). Continue reading

On the 1st day of Awesome the whisky fairy gave to meeee….

It makes sense, doesn’t it – sending an advent calendar to an atheist who has a famously shady grip on time…

But if there’s one way to ensure that THIS little black duck knows exactly what day it is during the month of December then Drinks By The Dram have come up with the perfect tool – the Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar (2015 version)! They sent me one for having been a particularly good boy this year (I assume that’s the reason…), and since it arrived the main challenge has been not breaking into it already.

Friends of mine have gotten this year’s calendar already and being mad whisky nuts they’ve already pitched into it to sample/review the lovely drams (DVDBloke Jon has plumped for the Armagnac version, in his typically contrarian way)- however I’ve had to manfully restrain myself in the spirit of doing the advent thing “properly” this year. Although I won’t pretend that curiosity hasn’t tried to get the better of me.

We know from the published information that this year’s calendar contains, among other things, a dram of The World’s Best Blended Whisky (decided at the 2014 World Whiskies Awards), “an award-winning Japanese whisky”, and a 50 year old whisky from an unnamed distillery. But do you tear through and liberate all 24 drams at once, or enjoy the surprise day by day? Or, try to use gnarly brain magic to try to foresee what’s in there?


In a sense it’s a bit like having a tiny Christmas surprise each day – except that there’s no risk of getting a pair of socks or a new tie, because you know it’s gonna be WHISKY! Unless of course you’re not a whisky fan – in which case you can punt for one of the other MANY varieties of calendar that those geniuses at Maverick Drinks have put together… there’s also a gin one, a vodka one, rum, cognac, armagnac, mezcal, bourbon, absinthe, and if the standard whisky version isn’t promising enough but whisky’s definitely your thing there’s also the Premium Whisky Calendar, and for those who REALLY deserve a treat every day for a month (and have £999 to spare) there’s the Old and Rare calendar.

And for absolute total perverts they’ve also got a Naga Chili Vodka Escalation Calendar.  As if weaning yourself daily upwards in 10,000 Scoville increments on insanely hot vodka was some sort of festive treat.

One beautiful aspect of this calendar though is that it doesn’t have to be used at Christmas – you could spraypaint the whole thing black and save it til January!

Or put it in a lead-lined box so that people definitely absolutely couldn’t cheat a sneaky peak at upcoming whiskies by using x-ray vision.  Just sayin’.

dbtd_ac2There’s 13 varieties of these things, so the absolute grandslam surprise gift for the person in your life who loves flavour experiences would be to buy one of each of these awesome calendars and spread them out across the whole year to give a consistent source of tasting joy.  Plus one real arsehole of a month where they had to drink Naga Chili Vodka.

Anyway – it’s such a groovy, benevolent, thoughtful and awesome gift that it seemed silly not to tell everyone about it.

Edit: Argh! This is what happens when you publish a post at 2am!  I forgot one of the coolest things…  Supposing you knew someone you loved SO much you wanted to give them a calendar filled only with samples of Speyburn and Fettercairn* (a kind of Good versus Evil theme), then YOU CAN DO THAT TOO BY DESIGNING YOUR OWN ADVENT CALENDAR!

  • full disclosure: when I tried doing this to prove it could be done my list only could have 6 Speyburns and 17 Fettercairns, so it’s not the totally balanced fight of Good & Evil that I make it out to be. Plus there’s one space left over so you could pop a 250,000 Scovile Naga Chilli Vodka dram in there to REALLY piss them off.

It all seems so obvious, until you ask someone.

I’ve got something of a fixation with plumbing interfaces.

Growing up I became fairly accustomed to the standard arrangement of hot/cold shower and bath taps, or in the case of the 2nd bathroom at Mum & Dad’s place, an extra knob to open the channel to the shower head or from the tap spout.  Intuitive, sensible, logical.

Moving to the UK I was exposed to a variety of other possibilities, and then upon my various travels around Europe I’ve often considered putting together a photographic essay on different ways people have to control the flow of warm water – and generally it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on.

But there’s another plumbing interface which has confused me for a while, and it turns out to be not so obvious.

My first recollection of a dual-flush cistern featured a control surface that looked something like this:

dual_flushFairly straightforward stuff, nothing complex there.  The visual indicators on the buttons tell you pretty much exactly what’s going on.

Where it gets more complex – as I learned during a quick straw poll last night – is setups like this:


I showed this picture to the other people I was having dinner with, and they all looked at me oddly.  Unanimously their faces (and for the most part, voices) said “What part of this isn’t completely obvious?!”.  And then proceeded to all contradict each other.

The permutations as I see it are:

  1. The size of the button correlates to the volume of the flush, so the smaller button represents the half-flush / water saving option.
  2. The button is sized proportionally to how often it’s likely to be used.  So generally as reducing water use is seen to be popular/desireable, so the half-flush would get a much larger button and provide the user more opportunity to select that option – with a smaller button available for the rarer instances where full-flush is required.

Option 2 sounds a bit like overthinking, however it’s borne out in practice by interfaces such as this:


Customarily in this case pushing the smaller button will take the larger button down with it, thus representing the full flush even better.  So safe in this knowledge, we’re suddenly presented with this:


The addition of a number 1 and 2 on this does NOTHING to improve clarity.

And what this is supposed to mean is anyone’s frigging guess.

impulse imperial button.jpg.opt418x313o0,0s418x313

And then there’s whatever happens in Japan.


Maybe it’s just different in Australia because water’s scarcer than platinum, so there’s an ingrained cultural bias towards using less of it wherever the opportunity arises.

So, does anyone have a canonical answer?

There is a third possibility which occurred to me this afternoon –

  • The flushes bear no resemblence to the size of the button and are purely based on how the installer felt like rigging them up.

Pillockry and privacy

I left my phone on the bus yesterday.

Generally I’ve done pretty well at not losing phones or other tech gadgets compared to many of my contemporaries, but even as a once off* I still felt pretty bloody silly about it.  Not LEAST because as someone who supposedly “knows what they’re doing where tech is concerned” I hadn’t set up and phone location or remote retrieval tools.

So I remembered reading about the Google Location Services metadata collection, within the scope of Senator Scott Ludlam of the Australian Green Party’s discussions surrounding metadata retention and its potential for abuse.  As part of its ongoing mission to provide you with better information about your journey times and preferred routes, any smartphone with a google account connected to it and with Location Services active will ping back your position about every 40 seconds.  You can therefore see your travels for the day by visiting http://maps.google.com/locationhistory – the info is protected within your google account, but it can be a little shocking to know that this is being collected.  Ludlam particularly talked about how without proper legal protection citizens’ location data could potentially be used to enforce speeding tickets, or for people to be able to cross-reference with phone call logs and find out where you were when you called particular numbers.  It’s all a bit “The Wire” in that sense.

So anyway, visiting the page I saw that my location for the day – or at least that of my phone – looked like this:

File 12-06-2015 00 48 03

The graph at the bottom shows displacement from starting location, so you could see me get the bus to work, then the bus turned around & went back along the route, all the way to the end, around a triangle bit, then back again.  So about 11am whoever had found my phone obviously got off the bus and then went and sat down.

Phoning the Lost Property office, they said that they were located in Bath and that lost phones usually didn’t get to them til the following day or so, when their agent goes around all the bus depots and collects the lost property.  I said I’d noticed the phone had stopped just off Easton Road and she said “Oh that’ll be our Lawrence Hill depot most likely – if you can get there before 8pm you might be able to pick it up!”.

Meanwhile in a parallel action I’d tried subscribing to the well-known adage “If you want a response from a British company, give their customer service department a swerve and try getting to them via social media”- the theory being that customer services are inevitably bogged down my months of complaints, but social media is very much in the public eye, so they tend to have cheap or free labour keeping tabs on what people are saying and doing whatthey can to give responsive and reputation-salvaging help. Sometimes.

In this case I tweeted FirstBus that I’d left my phone on the bus but the lost property office didn’t open til 11, so what would they recommend.  I had a response within 20 minutes asking if I stillhad my bus ticket (which I did – they tend to live in my pockets til I get home, mainly out of laziness).

It transpires that though a ticket is an antiquated, or in fact, outmoded piece of transactional flotsam in this case it also contained some key information for reuniting me with my lost phone.  Rather than “I got on the number 7 at about 8:15?”, I was able to use the ticket data:

It contains the bus ID, the Driver ID, and exact time information which presumably you can correlate with the driver that’s brought your stuff in!

I tweeted back that I had the ticket and sent over the relevant bits of info, excited that technology had prevailed and I’d stumbled on a rare example of a functioning methodology.

As it happened, after I sent the tweet off with my data I never heard anything back from First Bus for the rest of the afternoon.  So my “impressed customer” rating swung briefly from somewhere near zero (default state for any bus company in Bristol, I’m afraid to say), up to Very Impressed Indeed, and then back to zero again when I realised that their responsiveness was an unexpected token outlier rather than an indicator of capability and customer focus.

I basically bowled in to the depot 10 minutes before it closed and said “I left a phone on the bus this morning”.  The guy asked if I could describe it, so I gave a fairly generic description, then he came out with my phone & handed it over – no details taken, or asking to see my ticket, or anything.

So, I’m very happy to be reunited with my phone.  I remain underwhelmed by First Bus – for a different reason than usual.  I feel like I’ve learned a few things, and I don’t know whether I’ll disable Location Services or not.  Supposing it hadn’t been the driver that found it, but someone else picking it up and taking it off into the wild yonder – would I have felt compelled to try to track them down before my battery ran out, or just consign it to the dustbin of history and enter into a probably fruitless insurance claim?  Who knows…

I still feel like a bit of a git for leaving my phone on the bus though.  And First Bus can still fuck off.

* OK, so there was that one time in a cab in Frankfurt about 8 years ago.

Whisky Nerds and their terrifying birds

For some reason whisky folks pop up from time to time in photos engaged in practices relating to Falconry (& associated disciplines).  It seemed silly not to gather them in an album.

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