Sunday, March 20, 2011

Schiste Happens - again

I seem to have been completely overtaken by this anti shale gas campaign, so I will cutting down on the posts for a while.  But the Schiste Happens web site is quite fast moving and bits of it are not unlike the Chicken Ranch blog, so pop over and have a look.

Monday, March 14, 2011

More Schiste Happens

No blog for a few days due to frenetic stirring activity and web site building.

So, where were we?

Ah yes, shale gas (gaz de schiste). Rhymes with 'pissed'.

Seems that Sarko (aka Shorty, Sharky) his ministers and minions along with the gas companies have pulled a real flanker and slipped a 'prospect for gas, and sod the damage' law past the entire French population.
So we are telling him this is not cricket.

And guess what? Le Prez is coming to Lauzerte tomorrow (Tues 15th March).

The plan was to have a ville mort (a dead town, no one around, no one coming to wave flags, say 'Hi! M. Prez', no one going shopping or standing in the street chatting, or carrying baguettes under arms) This will not look great for the Short One on TV and in the press.

And it seems 'they' are helping us. Rumour has it that Le Rozzers are closing the town. No one on the route from helipad to the meeting venue is allowed out of their houses... and that means most of the town, except for the beautiful medieval old town at the very top of the hill and that is dead most of the time anyway (another story for later).

Check out the news page for more unsubstantiated nonsense.

And remember, all this could be coming to a field near YOU very soon.

If you live near Blackpool it already has.

Blue Sky Thinking

Most posts in this blog start with a photograph (I don't mean it comes first, I mean I took the photo and thought ahhh....). This is no different, except I do not remember taking it.

I think the camera was set to 'continuous while shutter pressed' and I forgot to let go and caught a bit of the sky. The camera has tried to make sense of it and over exposed it resulting in a washed out palour.

It was bluer than that in real life. This is what it looked like when taking the previous picture of these two golden boys.

It is a Memorial to The Great War (1914 - 1918) WWII (1939 - 1945) and the North African Campaign (1952-1962) and takes centre stage in a small village.

They lost 24 men in the 14-18 war but are more reticent with numbers for the other two conflicts.

Fade out to ELO's Mr Blue Sky (please turn me over...)

Monday, March 7, 2011


I have always liked fixing things. There is something satisfying about making a broken thing into a working thing. Of course some of it is economical - or tight fisted depending on your point of view - but I have always thought of it as just bloody sensible. 

As a young person I would prepare for a future of fixing things by taking apart things that worked perfectly well. This activity would, more often than not, render them not-working. And being a newcomer to the ‘fixing things’ business, they seldom became working things again. I remember taking an alarm clock to pieces and, unable to re-assemble it, put all the pieces in a goldfish bowl and called it art. This was the start of a long relationship with what has become the ‘art of the available’ – but more of that later no doubt.

One of the up-sides of the world going to hell in a handcart is the new respect for recycling and the obscenity of built-in obsolescence. It has given my satisfaction in fixing an object of very little worth a new moral underpinning.

There are certain things I have found indispensible in my desire to be able to overcome the tricks played by the Break-Down Fairy. Depending on where I am they may include a kit of hand tools, power tools, a range of vices clamps and holding things, and materials to replace a bit which is not the shape it should be. For really weired bits I have a box of strange shaped things labelled ‘weird shit’. [He does. Ed.]

When I started driving I would always have a socket set, a box of assorted tools, ramps, jump leads, a Mole grip, a hammer, a tin of Plus Gas (think WD 40) etc. - and a wire coat hanger in the boot. 

The real dilemma though is what to take when space is limited, for instance when you don’t have a car, or  when you are flying and have serious weight restriction to take into account (the anvil’s out then…). 

When I did more touring than I do now, most of the work stuff would be in the truck, so I had a small bag in the cab containing gaffa tape, a Mole grip, some black pepper and English mustard (food needs fixing as well) - and a wire coathanger.

When I stayed in a lot more hotels than I do now, back in the days of analogue TVs I always had a set of small plastic ‘twiddlers’ which could be used to re-tune TV sets which the previous guest had always managed to shag up, a corkscrew - and a wire coathanger (you may see a pattern developing here).

Now I no longer do the sort of work I used to, I hope I can rely on others to provide the necessary tools and gaffa tape when I am at work, I usually eat at better places where the food is not (usually) in need of the mustard and pepper treatment to make it bearable. But the one thing I try to take with me is a wire coathanger (OK, you were ahead of me on that one). 

The selection of hangers in our local supermarket.
Top left is a plastic coated wire hanger and is the closest
one can get to a real wire coathanger these days - bah!
One thing they are particulary good at is being emergency replacement aerials. Most of my early cars had extendable aerials whhich would sooner or late break off. The twisted bit just below the hook of a wire coathanger fits snuggly on the hole and will withstand the tremendous speeds of youth. My first few cars could get up to 60 miles an hour and most had coathanger aerials at some time. I remember seeing one on someone else’s car which had been bent into the shape of a full-figured girl. I cannot find a picture of sexist-hanger-aerial-art on the Interweb just now, maybe later, meanwhile here are some I have found.

Wire hangers  are not only brilliant as aerials. They will hold things together, keep things apart, reach things dropped down the back of a safe (or other immovable object) break into a locked car etc. etc.

They can even be used to hang your washing in the fresh breeze at the window or over the heater in hotels. Most hotels have taken to providing those two part coathangers that can only really hang on the slidey things on the rail in the wardrobe [Syntax collapse - Ed.] [Can't be arsed. PJ] and are sod all use as aerials.  We have several bits doing important but forgotten jobs around the house and I used one as an envelope-related graphic device on the souvenir programme Tricia and I produced after our wedding.

There was a time when I was blessed by the Wire Coat Hanger Fairy - a distant and altogether more benign relative of the Broken-Down Fairy. In the event that, for example my exhaust had fallen off, I would only have to walk a few yards up the road and I would find a hanger left  for me by the WCH Fairy. Nice as this was I can’t help feeling that it would have been better had I been blessed by the Exhaust Pipe Not Falling Off In The First Place Fairy (or the Car That Doesn’t Break Down Fairy but this manifestation of the supernatural became extinct before the advent of the car – but I digress).

It would be fair to say that the wire coat hanger has been a strong and lasting influence on many aspects of my life. 

So, imagine the  rush of nostalgic emotion and the flood of adolescent imagery that struck me when, on the way back from a cement-buying spree in Montauban, I pulled up behind this truck:

I was hooked. I had to find out if this was the motherload, or just some garnish on a load of old Renaults. I just had to discover the destiny of this jamboree-bag of hangers. I considered various options. Maybe 10,000 unemployed youths would be paid to sort them into bundles of 10 as part of some bizarre Euro work creation programme and then sold to raise funds for Sarkozy's holiday fund. Or maybe they were destined for Emmaus where there are polytunnels filled with bins full of the most awful acrylic knitwear which would not be much improved by hanging up, but would be easier to sort through were you so minded. And Moissac, which is just down the road, has three of these worthy charitable establishments. 

Or maybe they were on the way to an artist's studio.

The mind was awash with possibilities.

But it seemed more likely that they were heading for  scrap. I could not resist the temptation and followed the truck, complete with trailer and half a ton of white cement.

Loading up with Ciment Blanc €10.90 a bag from Brico Depot.
(Which incidentally is owned by Kingfisher who also own B&Q)
And sure enough after a mile or so we turned up at a scrap metal yard. I was determined to get a look into the trailer and a better picture.

I really wanted this to be 44 cubic metres of hangers.

So I followed the truck through the gate adorned with notices announcing something to the effect that I should not enter, and parked up.

In the centre of the yard was ‘The Hill’. (I did not manage to get a good picture of The Hill - maybe later)

The Hill was the only high point for seeing into the container which was rapidly disappearing into the nether regions of metal world.

From the other side of the yard a Liebherr with a four jaw claw lumbered across toward me.  


The Jaw is like the grabby thing at the funfair that promises to deliver teddies, watches  and rolled up tenners to bloody idiots. Thing is, it looks like Larry Grayson’s left hand and could not pick up a ball of magnetic wire wool covered in Evo Stik ®™ in zero gravity.  Unlike its smaller carnival-cousin, this one had the jaws set at a business-like angle and I had no doubt that it would  make short work of unloading  coat hangers.

The Hill is behind the big yellow Liebherr thing.
The hanger truck is on the left reversinginto metal world.
The French can be very officious. [Something of an understatement. Ed.] An Englishman wandering into Metal World with a camera is on page one of Interdit  – Le Journal Francaise de Chose Interdit Absolutement  [Forbidden - The French Journal of Absolutely Forbidden Things. Ed.].

It is just below asking them to work through lunch. 

Fortunately the trailer on the back of the car was interpreted as ‘serious’ or 'offical' or 'appropriate' and I was not stopped at the gate. Once in and parked up, I slipped into my high visibilty jacket which is the perfect way of disappearing in this sort of establishment.

Armed with my cloak of invisibility and camera I strolled up The Hill as if I owned it, grabbed the picture...

There may be a Renault Nasty underneath this lot,
but I personally I think this is Zero Zero (pure hanger).
...narrowly avoided the crane with the grabby thing on the way down, and before they knew what was going on, was off up the road in a cloud of cement dust.

Somewhere in all the ‘Ninja Dump Raider’ nonsense I had neglected to fully absorb the coathanger wiredness of the situation. 

Maybe I'll go back and see if I can find their last rusting place.  I will let you know…

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Schiste Happens

Want to save money on your gas bill? Well, now you can with extraction of gas from shale (le schiste).

It's brilliant, not only do we get to bury loads if noxius chemicals deep underground, but we get free gas as a by-product. Seems that pumping poison into the ground and fracking* the shale releases the natural gas that is trapped in it.

* Still from Josh Fox's explanation of 'Fracking'
And it's local, we have it just up the road in the Lot.

What's even better is that if you get your domestic water from a well or source you may find that you can set fire to it. Imagine that, free gas, and a great saving on pipework.

Bloody marvellous.

Editor's note:
For full instructions on how you can take advantage of this offer and all the fringe benefits see Gasland The Movie by Josh Fox:

Alternatively, if you are not convinced (oh! slithy cynic), join the party poopers...

... a branch may well open up near you soon.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Temporary Disruption to Service

I am finally spending some time at home which has given me the opportunity to tear my hair out setting up my new laptop. I now have two laptops, with some of my stuff on one and some on the other. Natch it always seems that the stuff I want at any given time is on the other machine.

Last time I changed computers it took me about a week to get it set up. This time, not only am I trying to install my (very old) favourite 32 bit applications on the new version of Windows, but it is 64 bit which should make it better and faster and easier but actually makes it difficult and flaky (but it does run more quickly - just).

I did seriously consider getting a Mac, but I did the sums on the cost of replacing the seven applications I use most frequently (email, word processor, spreadsheet, contact/diary, drawing, photo, website management). Then I added in the utilities and gadgets and decided not to.

And it is not just the cost of buying the programmes, there is the process of learning how they work. I have used some of my applications for around two decades. I could not describe where the controls are, or the menus or what features they have. I just sit down and am drawn towards certain parts of the programme and find myself driving the things on auto. Learning to use a new programme would not only mean learning HOW to do things, but it would involve consciously recognising WHAT I am doing.

Think about an application you use regularly. Try describing how to use it to someone else, even for relatively simple operations. It's not easy.

So here I am a sad Windows junkie, hooked on a second rate apology for an operating system and a bizarre mix of programmes produced by the inspired, the inept and the insane. And I am likely to be so for the rest of my life... but wait, is that Linux on the horizon...?

Watch this space...