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Colin's Rants

A few personal thoughts on the nature of the world around us . . .


The future’s bright. The verdure’s orange.

What is it with people and growing green things? You’d have thought that when Spring rolls around after a drab winter and we’re all fagged out by the interminable shades of grey, that with the sight of green things growing - whether they be wild flowers and hedgerow plants, or larger bushes burgeoning with buds - we’d all heave a sigh of relief and bask in the glory of wild plants a-growing.

Yet for the sad and fixated many, the first day of Spring seems to be a signal, not for the Groundhog to stick his little pouch-cheeked Bill Murray-like face out of the ground somewhere in Punxsutawney PA, and say, Yup, that’s it folks, Spring is here, but to wince and reflexively reach for the Glyphosate and the spray gun.

Everywhere the demented kit themselves out with bondage-themed garb, strap on their appurtenances, and start mixing up concoctions of agent orange in their endless quest to drench the impudent green plants - how dare they grow!! - with whatever is the latest cocktail of choice in the world of the eco-destructor.

After all, we can’t have wild green things actually being allowed to proliferate at roadsides and in verges, they might get ideas above their station and fight back by producing flowers, seeds and fruit, and feeding those benighted butterflies and bothersome birds. Much better eradicate the wild and growing and replace it with a wonderful vista of dead, brown and shrivelled desert. That’ll teach them.

Mind and close that Diana!

You know that hovering you do where you open our office door and lean in to suggest that you really don’t want to disturb us but will just stand chatting with us half-in/half-out of the doorway with your hand on the door handle so as not to intrude? (It’s a bit like that funny little hop-and-skip you give when you cross the road in front of traffic to suggest that you are hurrying but aren’t actually crossing any quicker)

Here’s the thing - it doesn’t work. We’re either just as . .

  1. disturbed or
  2. pleased to see you as if you actually come in and close the door behind you.

What it does do very well on a cold day is let all of our expensively-produced heat, which keeps us snug and cosy as we labour at our screens, vanish out the open door forever.

Whilst it’s nice to share the good things in life, we’re a selfish bunch and prefer knowing our office is 80 warmer rather than the rest of the planet .0000000000010 hotter.

So . .


Thank you.

Blow Jobs are for Suckers

It's that time of year again. The evenings are drawing in, the sky has that roseate blush so redolent of the dying of the year, and the air has that pleasing and invigorating nip to it that makes walking outdoors such a seasonal pleasure. And the ground is beginning to be covered by the bounty of myriad tree species - yellow, gold, russet, orange, scarlet, brown, umber, chocolate and dark brown - autumn leaves in all their magical hues.

It's time for the plonkers to be outdoors for their annual blow jobs.

Since time immemorial, the task of sweeping up leaves has been the very quintessence of pointless and endless petty toil, in comparison with which, Sisyphus pushing his boulder perpetually up hill seems a trivial labour.

Perhaps no task in history has baulked effort so exhaustingly and been such a waste of time. However hard you work at it the leaves keep falling and building up in drifts, and just as you've very nearly and at long last cleared the bit of ground you're working on, the trees mockingly drop another few bags-full. So you rake them up again. And again. And again.

Digging holes, doing the washing up, or listening to Johann Lamont at First Minister's Question Time are tiresome and energy draining tasks, to be sure, but raking leaves has always been the absolute apogee of pointless, endless work.

Humanity has tried hard through the eons, but we've never been able to dream up a more time-sapping or interminable chore. Not even talking to a bank's call-centre has been able to surpass this task for eating, digesting and regurgitating wasted lifetimes. If Tibetan monks had raked leaves instead of gravel, they'd have jacked it in and been off to Torremolinos on an 18-30 holiday before you could say "A pint? That's very nearly an armful!''. It's been the pinnacle of wasted human effort. Until now.

Yes, folks, we've finally been able to improve on it, and make it not just worse, but infinitely worse, through the invention of the leaf blower.

One day a particularly evil-minded inventor sat down and thought "what wonderful pointless, expensive but lust-inducing device shall I create today?".  It had to be something different. Something that people would look at and think 'Yes, that's shiny and techno, and makes a kind of kooky sense. I'll have one'. Something so appealing but essentially appalling that people would buy it in droves, use it once or twice, and then dump in their garden shed beside their step exerciser, pasta machine and George Foreman Grill. There's a sucker born every minute, and so the leaf blower was born.

A rake makes some kind of sense. You push the pole out, the tines dig into a swathe of leaves, and you drag it towards you. Repeat the task a few times and you've got a nice neat pile for packing into black plastic bags for casual fly-tipping, or more sensibly for putting on the compost (what's with this burning leaves nonsense, by the way? You clear the ground of leaves to make it tidy, then fill your air you breathe with dirt to get rid of them?). But it's just not good enough for your gardening technophile. It's too simple, too unexciting, too physical, too . . manual.

What modern gardeners want is some whizzy gadget which will give the illusion of taking the physical work out of the process without actually doing so. Instead of the apparently too fatiguing process of raking, how much easier to be the horticultural equivalent of the couch potato and let a nice rasping little 2-stroke engine do all the work for you? The only problem being, of course, that not only is it no less tiring to use, but instead of gathering leaves together into discrete piles, it blows them all back up into the air and scatters them across the area you've just cleared. All the while spouting noxious, smelly exhaust, rending the air for hundreds of yards around with its nasty barking cry, and bathing its user in a sweat of furious, frustrated desperation.

It's now clear what Shakespeare was referring to in King Lear, when he wrote ..

"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Leafblower!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout cruel gases
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing 2-stroke fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-leaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick garden tools o’ the world!

He was clearly furious with his leaf blower, knew that blow jobs are for suckers, and he'd much rather be a rake any day.


Sports Exhausts - why they really blow, or Yes, I do drive a Vauxhall Corsa and I do have an enormous arsehole.

Like many communities around the globe, our wee home town’s early Friday and Saturday mornings are a-throb with the booming cry of adolescent car drivers’ chariots of choice. Vauxhall Corsa, Citroen Saxo, Renault Clio, even the odd (very odd) Fiat, each is kitted out with a great gaping hole of an exhaust - the go-faster-stripes of the new millenium. Little hatchbacks in endless thundering convoy drive round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round the town's three main streets to no obvious purpose other than disturbing the repose of old farts like me.

What’s particularly odd is the almost magical delusions that sports exhausts seem to engender in the hormone-rushed brains of the car’s teenage drivers. To most idle spectators it’s pretty obvious that the rather sad little hatchback before them is really just a pretty standard people box on wheels equipped with extra big arseholes - one at the back and one driving.

To the spotty driver, though, this simple and comparatively cheap addition to the combustion engine transforms their little family hatch into some kind of post-apocolyptic battle-wagon, and themselves into a great tattooed, hirsute, leather-clad, sweaty, road warrior, in comparison with which Mad Max looks positively effeminate. A particularly odd delusion when, as happens so often these these days, it strikes the girl racers as well as the boys. Hirsute and heroic isn’t really the new black, girls.

Fortunately, reality strikes, as it always does, within a few years. The battle-wagon remains the same, though now the scars and scrapes on the doors and wings are real rather than imagined. But a toddler has now appeared in the back seat, a ‘babe on board’ sign in the rear window, a cuddly toy on the dashboard, and a significant (m)other in the passenger seat. The driver too has changed. The truculence and posturing remain, but more in desperation than conviction. Vin Diesel is a meringue to my breeze block, they project, but then do as they are told, shut up, and get on with the shopping.

Ah well, there’s always next summer and the new generation of the hormonally challenged . . .



Bl**dy DVD Players!

Technology is an amazing thing, and the DVD disc and player a fine demonstration of where it can go right, and so dreadfully wrong, at the same time.

Bloody DVD PlayersIn principle the DVD player is a huge advance over clunky, fragile VHS systems, and beats it in every meaningful way. Or does it? As the price for getting the benefits we unfortunately have to put up with a mountain of incompatibilities and user-unfriendliness, victims of exploitative marketing and cynical design, and wracked with frustration even before we can begin enjoying our entertainment.

DVDs and their players seem to be ‘designed’, if that’s the word, to make it as difficult and frustrating as possible to enjoy a film or TV series.

Firstly, the disc box is covered with cellophane so tightly wrapped and carefully sealed that you can’t get the stuff off.  We can put a man on the moon, build Guantanamo, burn holes in the ozone, or seal that plonker David Blaine in an ice block for a month, but can we yet design an easy opening system for cellophane wrapping? Not a chance (and don't even get me started on McVities Chocolate Digestive wrappers). There are probably more injuries caused in the UK by the cellophane packaging wrap-rage than by power saws, microwaves and Créme Brulée burners combined,  though, oddly, you never hear about wrapping companies, saw makers, oven makers or pretentious TV cooks being sued.

Then there’s the bifurcated nipple in the middle of the DVD case which holds the disc in place. This clamps the disc so firmly that Andre the Giant (may his mighty bones rest in peace), would herniate just trying to pop the bloody thing off. The only way that seems to work is to fold the whole box across your knee until the disc snaps off, spins across the room like a shining plate of razor wire, slicing through Aunt Anna’s rubber plant and neatly shaving Geordie the collie dog’s eyebrows, before embedding itself inches deep into the hardwood panelling.

Then there’s the curséd disc itself. If you’re very unlucky, or you’ve got the extra-extended version of the guaranteed-100% editor’s cut of The Return of the King, some smart-arse at the film company has decided that they’ll squeeze even more onto the disc by making it double sided. Give the man a jammy dodger!. Great idea, except where do you put the information about what’s actually on the disc? They put it around the middle in text so small and illegible that a magnifying glass, and the sort of concentration normally reserved for the Private Eye classifieds in the cludgy, is needed to read it.

Then there’s the DVD player itself. Forty years of crappy Hi-Fis must surely have convinced designers that grey buttons on a black background are not a good idea. But, oh no. In the end, the only way to find out which is the eject button is to prod them all, as the bishop said to the choir boy. By this time a breather is needed, and a cup of tea and a fig roll or Tunnock’s Teacake very welcome.

Then, once you’ve actually got the disc into the machine, there’s the bloody film maker’s copyright messages and logos. There’s no way to skip this stuff, so even if you’re watching the film for the 5th time you still have to sit through it again. And again. And again.  I know that the US government has, post Iraq, conveniently redefined what torture is, but isn’t there something in the Geneva Convention about repetitive brainwashing of this kind? Why do we put up with this? If this was a car, and each time you got in it played a 30 second Ford or Volvo jingle before you were allowed to drive wouldn’t you be at the door of the factory next day with a flame-thrower and a pair of brass knuckles?

Then there’s the navigation system and the tenuous connection between this tortuous facility and the micro-buttoned remote control. This appears to be suffering from button dysentery, such is the monstrous flood of ever more buttons squeezing out of these devices.

And the screen designer has so little consideration for the actual end-users, many of whom are getting older and turning grey visibly under the stress, that she makes the icons on screen tiny, fuzzy and unrecognisable, and trying to move the almost imperceptible highlight around the screen from option to option would try the patience of a saint, and the dexterity of Erno Rubik.

By the time the film is running you’re so jittery from all of the caffeine in the tea that you’ve drunk, and in such desperate need of the cludgy that you hit the pause button on your remote . . . only to eject the disc by mistake and lose your place and know you’re going to have to start aaaaaaaaaall over again.

My rose-tinted memories of VHS tapes are that you slotted the tape in, wound at double-speed through the logos and other marketing crap, and were enjoying your film in under a minute. So, yes, the quality wasn’t great, and the tapes wore out, but at least you didn’t feel as though you were being gang-banged by the film companies, their designers, and a team of marketing executives desperate to justify their exorbitant wages. And you could watch the film in peace without that horrible sensation of your life flashing by in a remote-control-buttoned blur.


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