Thursday, 23 April 2009

Age related ramblings

I'm sitting at home writing this up, at the moment I'm 49 and I'll be off to work in about 20 minutes but when I come home tomorrow I'll be 50 and then the next day I'll be 50 and a bit which means that I've past the halfway mark to 100.

I really haven't got a clue how I've got here with most of my bits still present, the hair is still there it just doesn't all reach the top of my head anymore. The last year seems to have flown by and looking back with one very notable exception I don't seem to have achieved much. So I'm making a new years resolution (well technically from tomorrow it's a new year for me).

What I'm going to do is write down a list of things that I want to do, places I want to go, people I want to visit and I'm going to start doing them. Barclay James Harvest once sang that life is for living and living is free, well the first bit is right anyway and it's time to make up for those lost years when I achieved bugger all except for some material stuff.

I want to see stuff that inspires me now, I want to feel things and see places that so far I've only seen in pictures. Some of this stuff is on my doorstep and I've made a little bit of a start,.

This year, I want to see the top of Ben Nevis and Snowdon, I want to walk to the top of Pistyll Rhaeadr in Wales, go on a steam train from Fort William to Mallaig across the viaduct in the Harry Potter films, see some dolphins in the wild , stand in the phone box that was in Local Hero and watch the sun set on the white sands in Arisaig (the beach that was used for local hero).
A week in the sun later in the year doing bugger all would be nice too but we'll see how things go.
So that's it, time to get my shoes on and spend another 10 hours sorting out technical issues as they say in CB land, I'll catch you on the flip flop.
This here is Major Tom saying 10 10 till we do it again.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Computers and did Raymond Baxter lie to us

I'm not going to say much here except that the progress of technology over the years has been amazing. 

But if you look back at things like Tomorrows World the amount of stuff that they got totally wrong is incredible, really.

The stuff that I don't remember being mentioned is the amount of power available in a home computer, the fact that I can now carry round a device with which I can send emails, receive voice and video calls, browse the Internet (no mention of this either), use it to find out where I am with incredible accuracy and tell me how to get where I want to go, play games and use to detect Cylons.

What we were supposed to have had according to the TV included a base on The Moon and on Mars, flying cars, personal jetpacks, 3D TV (could make The Adult Channel interesting), robots doing the housework and a lot more leisure time.

The leisure time is happening at the moment I suppose, it's termed unemployment in this part of the world.

Anyway, enough rambling, I've got some adverts to show you from the 1980s.

Can't wait to get my own jetpack.







Saturday, 28 February 2009

Memories of the Bont

Pontarddulais is the name of a small town in South Wales famous for a few things including a male voice choir that played on a Roger Waters album, riots which destroyed Toll Gates and introducing Welsh lessons back into schools.

The riots were carried out by men wearing their wives clothes and were led by a fella called Rebecca.  This is the place where I spent a large formative part of my life and probably explains my current mental state.

The spelling has changed as it used to be Pontardulais when I lived there but apparently it was spelt incorrectly for many years, the name is translated into English as follows.

Pont = Bridge, Ar = On, Du Dark and Lais is the name of the river.

Since I left the place a lot of changes have taken place, Domachi's has gone, the Dulais Glen has gone, the SWEB showroom is now a charity shop but two of the most important parts of the Bont are still there. These small parts influenced me in my early years and of course I'm talking about Elias the TV shop and Noakes the bakers.

These bastions of life in the small town are still there and the pasties are as good as ever. I will make another pilgrimage there soon and on the way will purchase a tin jug, this tin jug will be taken to the shop and I will once again sample the strange delights of a Noakes' faggot in strange watery gravy. Of course, anyone in the US reading this may get the wrong idea

The Bont was a wonderful place to grow up in, I used to walk home from my grandmothers in the dark as a young lad with no worries and my mother seemed to know everybody. You got coal from Tom the coal, meat from Harold the Butcher, hair cutting was carried about in a small shed by the side of the river by a man who didn't actually style hair but sort of attacked it and hopefully you came away with your ears still intact.

Spot Office is still there and still sells a strange variety of goods, I'm sure some of the stuff on the shelves was there when I was young. And on a Saturday evening we used to go to Mary Billy Phils (I think) and purchase a selection of sweets to munch on while watching TV.

In later years I frequented a pub called the Dulais Glen, this was run by an effeminate chap called Mike the Dill (short for Dulais). He never opened in time and very rarely shut on time and I can recall going into the pub in the daylight and coming out again in the daylight, these were not necessarily the same day or even the next day.

The pub was a meeting point for many of us and occasionally visited by the wonderful Dai Flwsh. Dai was our local tramp, his real name was Idris and he was named Dai Flwsh as he used to clean the toilets somewhere. He had more or less given up on life and meandered around the town making a nuisance of himself, peeing in the middle of the road and refusing to leave shops until he got fed.

One of the signs of modernisation in the Bont occured when a chinese restaraunt opened up. At that time, my sole exposure to chinese food was courtesy of packs of Vesta Chown Mein. So shortly after the opening, I went in and ordered my meal. What I got bore as much resemblance to the Vesta meal as a Bugatti Veron to a model T Ford, the only similarity was that you had to use a fork to eat it.

One other characters whose name I will not mention also used to work as a part time fireman. The old fire station used to be on the main road next to Ralph's DIY shop and when the alarm went off we used to rush down to watch the site of the old red fire engine rushing off to put out a fire. The afore mentioned character decided that the fire men needed more pratice and used to light his own fires so that they were called out more frequently. One side effect to this is that he got paid more and eventually was detained at her majesty's pleasure.

Visiting the Bont these days is a strange experience as the place is still recognisable but has changed in so many ways. Going past the house where I was brought up or my grandmothers without being able to go in and visit just doesn't seem right.

In many ways I would like to move back there again, I suppose it's the old comfortable slipper thing really but life there wouldn't be the same again.

Friday, 27 February 2009

The Llew and the Japanese Pirhouette

And now as the mists over the veil of time opens and the older synapses fire up, the name John Llewellyn, the Llew or as he was known in the early days of UK CB the Smiler slowly fights its way to the surface.

A cruel twist of fate happened to John as he was born with no common sense gland. He was to Road Safety what Enola Gay was to Hiroshima. His first vehicle was a black Morris Traveller with air horns fitted under the bonnet. If you're reading this in the colonies, the bonnet is the proper term for the front bit of the car where the engine goes.

Just under 6 hours after passing his driving test, while travelling at a speed of about 30 MPH on the approach to a bend he decided to change gear. He looked down at the gear-stick to try and work out which way to point it and collided with a lamp post putting most of the street lights out.

Just outside the Bont there was an establishment that we locals called a nightclub, it was more like a large front room with a big stereo system and a bar to be honest and John used to visit this regularly. One night on his way back home, he entered a 90 degree bend at a speed somewhat in excess of the capabilities of the vehicle, turned the steering wheel to the right and the Morris at this point lost cohesion with the road surface and went straight through the hedge.

The following day the vehicle was towed back home and a new radiator fitted and it was as good as it could be. Undeterred, he attempted the same corner the following week at similar speed with similar results. Again a new radiator was fitted and the car assumed it's position as the feared dreadnought of the Bont.

Amazingly, the sequence of events was repeated again the following week and I had the pleasure of helping get the car back home with John. We stopped on the Fforest hill at Ray the Sprays establishment which was located about half a mile from the twin peaks of Kilimanjaro or Carol John as she was more commonly known. John had decided to bring his nephew with him and we left him in my car for a few minutes as we spoke to Ray in case he hurt himself in the spray shop.

We explained to Ray that we couldn't stop for long due to the occupant of the car. At that point a blood curdling scream came from outside. We ran out to see what had happened, there was a large blister on the lads finger and after he stopped crying he told us that he had pushed a button on the dashboard (the cigarette lighter). It had popped out and he removed it and saw a lovely red glow which he decided to probe with his finger.

Some time later the Morris gave up totally despite our best attempts at making it Llew proof and he assumed control of his brothers Datsun 160.

One cold icy December night, John was following another friend called Phil or the Cobra down the main road of Hendy at about 80 MPH and about 2 inches from the bumper of Phil's renault 5. As I said above, it was Icey and cars were parked outside peoples houses on both sides of the road.

As a jolly jape, Phil touched his brake pedal to make the lights flash on and John with lightning swift  reactions of a drugged armadillo stood on the break pedal. It was at this point that the Datsun started to spin on its axis while travelling downhill between lines of parked cars. Somehow, he missed everyone and eventually came to a stop.

For some reason, John started to visit Bournemouth with another friend, the other chap had not passed his driving test and one night he managed to talk John into allowing him to drive the car. If memory serves me correctly, John was over the limit and so was the other fella. Travelling along the roads of Bournemouth somewhat in excess of the speed limit, they soon attracted the attention of the local constabulary and blue flashing lights were noticed in the mirror of the Datsun.

John suddenly realised that he was the only one in the car with  licence, both him and the driver were slightly drunk and he came up with an idea. He would change seats with the driver without stopping so that he could only be done for the offence of drunk driving. Unfortunately for John, the changeover was only partly accomplished with John under the other chap sitting astride the front seats with his hands on the steering wheel while the other controlled the pedals when the police pulled along side.

Needless to say, John was banned from driving for quite some time.

The veils are closing again now, when they re-open I will write some more.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Eric Tha Half A Bee

Monty Python's Flying Ccircus produced a sketch called Eric the Half a Bee, it revolved around a character who tried to get a licence for his pet cat Eric, his pet fish Eric and so forth and culminated in a song called Eric the Half a Bee.

So for some unknown reason a small bunch of slightly insane boys from the Bont started calling each other Eric. For instance, I would go round to see Eric (Chris Downing) and he'd say I'll meet you at Eric's in half an hour". We would then both arrive at Dai Bones house. Similarly, we would arrange a meeting at Eric's and arrive quite happily at Phil's.

Then one fateful day I knocked at Dai Bone's house, his mother answered and told me he had going round to Eric's. "Oh, I've just passed Chris's house on the way here" I said. "No he's at Eric's" she said and I replied "you mean Phil's". "No he's popped round to see a friend of his from work, his real name is Eric".

It felt as though the bottom had fallen out of my world, the fact that a real Eric had turned up made the sky darken and the ground trembled at the thought of what was to come. I said goodbye to Dai's mother and went home, I played some Hawkwind and tried to unravel this cruel twist of fate.

Many years have passed since that time, the name Eric brings a tingling to the hairs on the back of my neck but that may just be nits.

It's a shame really that we have all gone out own way, Chris still lives in the Bont and runs his own company. Dai lives in Swindon and still works for Busby despite a period of work in Saudi Arabia, not got a clue about Phil or the legend that was John Llewellyn or the others that used to make up our happy gang.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Walking in Memphis

Sometime during my second marriage things started to go wrong. I don't know what really happened, I was trying to keep things together as I had been made redundant and my new job was with a salary of just over half of my previous one. I eventually managed to sort things out even got some spare cash together to be able to send my wife to Canada to visit her aunty, well that's what she told me anyway.

So off she went and while she was away I thought that as she was an Elvis fan, we had been together for quite a while in the February of the following year and we had been through a crap couple of months that I would organise a trip for the 2 of us to Memphis. I purchased the tickets for the plane and Gracelands booked the hotel and paid for it all.

I was pleasantly surprised sometime later to find that she had gone to see her Aunty but instead had gone to see a Canadian chap she mad met on the Internet. Christmas went and I thought I would try and make a go of things and asked her if she still wanted to go. She declined and I found myself with tickets which I could not get a refund on and I could not get the name changed either, so off I went to Memphis via Chicago and St Louis.

I arrived early in the morning at Manchester Airport, parked the car and made my way with my luggage and a small camera bag to the terminal. Checking in was fun with the normal questions: 
Did I pack the bags myself? 
Do I have anything that could be used as a weapon? 
To which I replied “I could clout someone round the head with my camera but that's about it”. Eventually I boarded the plane in a window seat and did the normal touristy things by taking pictures of the top of the clouds, the wings and then fell asleep for a while.
First stop was Chicago with about 5 minutes to get to the other side of the airport and catch my connection, however first off was fingerprint time and time to get my jacket and camera bag x-rayed again, then it was on to catch a smaller plane to St Louis. 

After a little wait I eventually walked out onto the runway and up some steps onto a small propeller driven plane which took me to Memphis. There was a strange vibration from the windows which stopped when I put my head against it, slightly worrying but we made it there with no problems.

All the flights were with American Airlines and they couldn't have been more helpful. 

Eventually I landed at Memphis and caught a taxi to my hotel and fell into a deep sleep.
I awoke the next day, had some breakfast and it was then that I noticed a network card in the pocket of my coat. This piece of electronic equipment had gone through several x-ray machines and security checks. To be on the safe side I placed it in the bin and then caught an early taxi to Gracelands to avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, I arrived about an hour before the doors opened but eventually got my entrance to the house and waited to be called as the trip to the house was on a small bus.

I'm not an Elvis fan myself, but the house was quite amazing and also appeared quite dated inside. Nobody was allowed upstairs and no reason given, maybe Elvis is still wandering around up there. A comment by an American tourist about all the shag on the walls in the jungle room made me chuckle.

After a tour of the house, I had a chance to walk around the rest of the place which included his cars and his 2 jets. I then dined in the cafe and decided that the hotel was close enough to walk back to so off I set.

It didn't take too long and I felt a bit tired by this time so settled down for a rest, by about 15.00 I was feeling restless and decided to find out where the nearest shopping mall was. 

The hotel kindly organise a taxi for me and I was dropped off in what I was assured was the best on in the neighbourhood. I walked in and soon noticed that I was probably the only white face in the building, had a walk around and saw nothing of interest. So I decided that I would walk back towards my hotel and visit another mall that I passed on my way.
My trusty trainers by this time which had been with me for a number of years gave up and I found a shoe shop, purchased some replacements and carried on with my walk. The other shopping mall was worse than the previous and I gave up and got back to the hotel. 

Near to the hotel was a small restaurant and I decided to visit this after having a shower.
Suitably cleaned, I put my coat on, walked to the restaurant and found it closed for renovation and so it was back to the hotel and I got some food delivered. I settled down to watch TV for the night but the selection of material available was awful and I gave up and went to bed.

The following day I rose early, looked at my map of Memphis town centre and booked a taxi. I asked him to drop me off on the corner of particular street as I had decided to visit the Mississippi and take some pictures, I left the car and set off for the river.

About half an hour later, I noticed the neighbourhood deteriorating, I got some funny looks from people who must have though that I was incredibly hard to walk through those streets with a camera bag over my shoulder. My thoughts were mainly, “Oh Shit, Oh Shit, Oh Shit, I'm going to die” and I kept hearing the words of “Walking in Memphis” in my head.

Sometime later, I looked up in the sky and noticed a plane descending in the sky, it was travelling from left to right and I suddenly realised that if I was walking towards the river, the plane should be travelling the other way.

What a silly billy I am”, I said to myself and then I noticed that sign that every weary traveller recognises, the big M of a McDonalds. In I went, had a drink and something to eat and set off the way I had come, back through the dodgy areas trying to pretend that I was unafraid of anything. 

As I got back into Memphis town centre, I thought I would buy a newspaper or something. However, the shops were still shut even though it was gone 10.00 in the morning, but never mind, I had found the mighty Mississippi.

It was hard to describe the sight that met my eyes but I'll try. Imagine it's a bright sunny day and you are standing on the banks of the river Mersey with the Runcorn bridge to your right, well it was a bit like that only muddier.

I took some pictures and went back into the town and found a coffee shop. I treated myself to several cups, a cake and a delightful iced coffee and then booked a taxi back to the hotel. I sat down and just relaxed, I had done a fair bit of walking and was buggered if I was going to do any more that day. I ordered some food, sat back and watched Walker Texas Ranger and Monk on the TV and then fell asleep.

The following day I woke and packed up all my stuff as I was due to go home, I asked the receptionist if they could get me a taxi and was told that "Quantanette" would drive me back in the hotel minibus, I checked in at the airport and then had a walk around for an hour or so until my flight was ready to board. 

The plane landed at St Louis and I caught the connection to Chicago, this time I had plenty of time to spare and had a walk around the airport.

The toilets were incredibly clean and I decided that a number 2 was in order, the seat was covered with a film of plastic, I looked to see of there was some way of replacing this as I didn't really fancy sitting on a polythene bag that someone else had used and it was then that I also noticed there was no handle to flush the toilets. I did however, notice 2 sort of sensor thingies on the wall. I waved my hand in front of one and the toilet flushed, the second one slid the plastic bag round till a new piece was in place. This was absolutely marvellous and I played with it for hours.

Eventually, I used the toilet for what it was made for, finished the paper work and went to wash my hands. This was also a marvel for a self confessed geek as the taps turned on automatically when you approached the basin and soap was also dispensed automatically. Then it was time for a coffee and a wait.

I eventually boarded the plane for the return journey, it was dark by this time and as I settled into my seat and the plane took off, the in-flight entertainment was started with an interview with Jamie (I sold my soul to Sainsburys, pukka, pukka) Oliver.

My torture was short lived and eventually Oliver was replaced by Sky Captain and the something or other of tomorrow which was not a bad bit of entertainment. Breakfast followed and by this time it was getting lighter, we approached Manchester Airport and on glancing out of the window I noticed Winter Hill below me and of course did the touristy thing with the camera and then did the same with the Runcorn Bridge.

Landing was easy getting out of the airport was harder as there appeared to be only one person to let the passengers through. Then it was back to the car, drive home and have a sleep before going back to work the following day.

Would I go again? Yes, Memphis was interesting and of course there are other things to see including the Jack Daniels distillery. I would however, stay in a hotel nearer the town centre. And as I said before, American Airlines were very friendly and helpful and drinks were plentiful even on the small propeller driven plane.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Motoring with the Llew

During my youth in the Bont, we had an interesting selection of cars, I had a Hillman Avenger, Dai Bone had an Austin Allegro estate, Steve Davies had a Mark 1 Ford Escort, Phil had a Renault 5, and John Llewellyn had a Morris Traveller in black.

John had not long passed his test and managed to put out every street light by his house within a few hours of getting his driving licence. There was a period when he once put the Morris through the same section of hedgerow 3 times in as many weeks due to some overly optimistic cornering.

This time we were going somewhere in Steve's Escort, I can't remember where or why but it involved driving up some of the back roads outside of the Bont, John was going to follow on later that night. As we travelled along the road, we felt the handling of the car go a bit funny. We stopped and one of the tyres was flat. "No problem" we said to Steve," just get the jack out"."Ah" he said, "the jack is back at the house". We then suggested that we lift the car and he could put the new wheel on. The only really problem with this idea was that the spare wheel happened to be by the side of the jack at home.

Oh well never mind, we can stay in the car till John turns up and then go home which is what we did.

As the sun rose some 8 hours later to a glorious morning, we heard the sound of the Morris coming towards us. We removed the wheel from the car, put it in the Morris and set off for a tyre repair place. John decided to take a short cut and on the section of road he used there was a hump back bridge. I should point out that I was sitting in the rear of the car and the seats were folded down.

There were no health and safety wombles in those days and the long sharp bits of metal that were used to hold the seats in place just stuck out with no protective cover on them.

We hit the bridge at about Warp 3 and became airborne, at about this time the back doors of the car flew open and I was floating about a foot above the floor of the car. The car returned to earth and thankfully one of the sharp bits of metal sunk itself into my back and stopped me flying out of the back door. The Morris shot under a bridge with airhorns playing Lilly Marlene and John swung the car round for another go at the bridge.

For some reason I had the urge to commit an act of violence upon him, but as I was currently writhing around in agony in the rear of a Morris Traveller whose back doors were open I decided it was best not too.

  ThankfullyJohn decided not to attempt to leap the bridge again, we got the tyre repaired and made our way home.

There are many more tales to tell of the Llew as he was called and how he eventually managed to get a driving ban. These will be the subject of a future ramble.

Friday, 13 February 2009

The Technology Ramble

These days we tend to take technology pretty much for granted. We think nothing of being able to pick up a small object, type some numbers into it and then being able to speak to someone the other side of the world as clear as if they were in the next room. I work in a technology company and find myself equally guilty of this.The other day I was thinking back to when I were a lad and I realised how much things have changed.

Let me tell you what I mean, I was born in 1959, 2 years before Yuri Gargarin became the first astronaut or cosmonaut as he was called then. Our TV which was a large box with loads of valves (no transistors) came with BBC on it. The resolution was 405 lines and some of these were not visible so the picture was probably made up of about 395 lines or thereabouts. If you sat too close you could see the gaps between the lines as the cathode ray beam scanned across the phosphor layer the other side of the big lump of glass in front of you.

To combat this, some manufacturers fitted a switch to the back of the TV, this was called a Spot Wobbler and did what it says. It basically made the scanning beam wobble up and down and filled the gaps in.

Then ITV launched and the TV had some extra coils fitted to the tuner so we could pick this channel up. In South Wales we had TWW at the time (The West and Wales I believe). Music came on a 7inch or a 12 inch bit of plastic with a groove on either side and what was effectively a pin rested in the groove and wobbled about with the shape of the groove.

At the other end of a sort of lever assembly there was a bit of pietzo electric crystal and the wobbles created by the pin generated a small voltage. The crystal idea is similar to the thing that produces a spark in a cigarette lighter. If you were really posh, you had a magnet on the end of the lever which wobbled around inside a coil and produced a similar result to the crystal, only better.

Our portable radio took 2 batteries, one to provide the voltage for the heaters in the valves and a higher voltage one to make the rest of the radio work. Then we got a transistor radio which was about the size of a small brick and only needed one battery thanks to it's germanium transistors. The record player or Gramaphone was a huge thing that took 2 people to carry and you could place up to 7 records on top of each other so that when the first one finished playing, the next one would come smashing down on top of it and the pickup arm would descend and start playing again.

In 1967, the BBC closed down it's existing radio stations and re-opened the next day with Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4. Radio 1 opened up with a track called Theme One, then Tony Blackburn introduced Flowers In The Rain by The Move. We had exciting things like the Hit Parade on a Sunday and Terry Wogan helped us fight the flab in the afternoon.

I think it was 1969 when BBC2 opened up and we had to get a new TV and a new aerial to receive this channel. This used 625 lines to produce it's picture and the difference in quality was remarkable. The other thing that was different was the fact that it used a thing called negative modulation to produce it's signal.

Let me explain that last bit.

With 405 lines as the picture got brighter the level of the signal increased as the picture got darker the level of the signal decreased. Nothing really wrong with that except that most cars produced a lot of electrical interference which the TV thought was a high signal and displayed as a series of white dots on the screen. With 625 lines they used negative modulation, this meant that as the picture got brighter, the signal reduced and interference appeared as black dots which were not so noticeable. The other advantage was that pictures normally contain a lot of brightness, so with negative modulation when the screen was completely white, hardly any signal was coming out of the transmitter reducing it's energy consumption.

Around about this time, Britain and France made a passenger plane that could fly twice as fast as the speed of sound and then some fella called Neil Armstrong walked on the moon followed by Buzz Aldrin. Michael Collins went as far as the moon but stayed in orbit and seems to have been forgotten about.

All this happened and yet when we turned on our TV, because it still used valves you had to wait about 3 minutes or so while the heaters warmed the cathodes up enough to get the electrons moving up through the vacuum to the end and eventually we got a picture complete with sound.

Then the boffins worked out how to include a colour signal in the same space that used a black and white signal. They discovered that there were gaps in the signal and slotted the colour information in these gaps. So you would think that for backward compatibility they would broadcast a black and white signal and a red green and blue signal.

These boys are cleverer than that, they added a bit of the green signal to the the red and blue signal and then subtracted the black and white signal away from the red and blue signal and chucked all this stuff down at you. The TV then put it all back together again with the help of some resistors and an oscillator locked to a signal of 4.3361875 megahertz.

The US of course had colour TV earlier than the UK using a system called NTSC. The disadvantage with this was that if the signal bounced off something or got delayed the colour would change slightly. This is why it was called Never Twice the Same Colour. Us sensible people used a system called PAL or Phase Alternation by Line. Basically the first picture is chucked out one way up and the next is chucked out upside down. Any delays in the signal didn't change the colour, it just reduced it a bit.

The other thing about this TV signal is that the picture is not transmitted as a straight 625 lines and the lines slope slightly. What happens is that line 1 is sent out followed by line 3 then 5 etc and when it gets to the bottom, the dot flies back to the top and starts at line 2 and fills the gaps in. Now if line 1 starts at the top left and slopes slightly as it goes over to the right, then line 2 starts in the middle at the top of the screen and you get an annoying flicker at the top and bottom of the screen at 25 times a second.

How do you get round this I hear you ask? Inside the TV there is a thing called a  height control, you twidde this so that the flickering bits are off the top of the tube. You do miss a little bit of picture but not much. The clever TV people thought that there are unsused lines here, maybe we can encode some information into them and TeleText was born.

The next thing that happened was they worked out how to put all this information onto a bit of tape. Done the conventional way as in a normal audio cassette, the tape would have to fly past the heads at a very high speed and to get about an hours worth of TV programme you would need reels the size of dustbin lids. So instead of keeping the heads stationary, they stuck them on a disc and made the disc spin round as the tape went past. This means that the information on the tape is recorded as a series of diagonal strips instead of a line. Of course the head spinning round had to be synchronised to the tape or the picture would break up into a series of lines and they did this in the Philips N1500, the first domestic video recorder by using the mains.

These huge bsasts even had a timer on them which was like an analogue alarm clock and you moved the hands to set the start time. Then out came VHS and the superior Betamax, JVC managed to get Thorn EMI to use their recorders and as they owned Radio Rentals, DER Rumbelows and several other large retail companies VHS became the dominant force. Philips fought back with the N1700 and then the vastly superior V2000 system which enabled you to have a cassette that you could turn over and record on the other side and was the first system that didn't have a tracking control. The heads in the V2000 were mounted on a crystal that bent when you applied an electric current to it so the machine adjusted the heads itself for the best picture quality.

But it was VHS that won that battle in the end, mainly due to the fact that the main rental companies stocked their machines.

Then a man by the name of Clive Sinclair brought out a small home computer called the ZX80, followed by the ZX81, the latter could be bought ready made or in kit form and sported a 1Mhz 8 bit processor with 1kB of RAM. Data and programmes could be stored on a cassette if you were lucky and you could always add a 16k wobbly RAM pack. And things progressed, from the Vic 20 to Commodore 64, ZX81 to the Spectrum, Acorn Electron, BBC Models A & B, Amiga, Atari ST, Dragon 32 and 64 and many others until today the power available in a PDA today, is vastly superior to that used by NASA to make the calculations that put Neil Armstrong on the moon and brought him back again.

The Interweb thingy lets you send messages, pictures, video audio and other things across the world and you can even do that from your mobile phone. My first hard drive was 10Mb and used to take my operating system, applications, some games and my data and the lights in the street dimmed when you turned the computer on and the hard drive got up to speed.

Now I have more capacity in my phone, which can apart from being used to talk to people, play music and videos, play games, do video calling, send emails,  browse the interweb and pickup signals from satellites that pass overhead to work out where I am and tell me where I want to go. And I can even have the voice of KITT from Knight Rider give me the instructions.

But not everything has moved forward, we no longer send men to the moon, we no longer have a supersonic passenger plane, no one has come up with a design that can beat the Harrier Jump Jet. Your car still uses the same suck, squeeze, bang blow system that has been round since the 19th century and its energy is produced by a series of explosions inside a big lump of metal. Our electricity is still produced by either by burning lumps of wood that were squashed millions of years ago or by burning oil or gas and of course by a controlled nuclear explosion in a reactor.

Where are the safe nuclear fusion reactors, the cars that could run on water that were shown on Tomorrows World, teleport devices, wrist watches that let you carry out video calls and more importantly the personal Jet Pack.

The amazing thing is that I was brought into the world before ITV and have kept up with all these technological advances and have an idea of how they work and what to do if they go wrong (mild panic normally, followed by stronger panic, followed by abject terror and the Team America secret signal) and as part of my job I am expected to convey a sense of knowledge and authority to the mere mortals that call on us for help.

But ask me to do the ironing or use the washing machine and I'm buggered

That's enough for now

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Lobster Pot, The Dulais Glen and The Farmers Field

Maybe it's something to do with my age as these days my brain decides to go off on a journey on it's own when I relax control over it. I regularly find my mind wandering back to the days of my youth and remembering some quite inconsequential things that have been said or done.

One such event  happened when I had spent several hours in my local the Dulais Glen with a friend by the name of Huw Powell. Sadly the pub is long gone but its memory still lingers in my mind even though it is somewhat hazy at times.

Huw and myself came out of the pub and wandered up the main road of the Bont, there was not much traffic in those days as the recently opened M4 had taken a lot of vehicles away. We eventually made it up to Franks chippy and ordered a bag of chips each. As the road was quiet we decided to sit down on the edge of the kerb to consume the aforementioned chips.

Strange things happen to your co-ordination when you have consumed excessive amounts of alcohol and things that normally could be accomplished with ease can prove to be difficult if not impossible.

Take sitting down on the floor with a carton of chips in one hand. Normally, your arm will move automatically to keep the carton on a level keel. But when in a state of drunkenness, the arm tends to maintain it's position with respect to the rest of the body. This means that when you lower yourself fairly quickly to the floor in a sitting position, whatever is in your hand gets catapulted over your shoulder.

This is basically what happened to me and I ended up on the pavement with an empty carton of chips in one hand, Huw beside himself with laughter and me wondering what bugger had nicked my chips.

My one consolation to this is that sometime later, I remember him wading up the Loughor river with a cheap bottle of sherry held to his lips. The bottle was half empty at this point and he fell over and went head first into the river. Upon emerging, he found that the bottle had miraculously managed to refill itself, and he carried on drinking even though the taste of the sherry had changed somewhat by this time.

And then there was Blackpool, myself Huw, Abdrew Dyer and Wyn Richards had driven up there for the weekend to see a car show. We parked up and decided to sample the night life and eventually started to get very drunk. Eventually some girls from Middlesbrough sat by us, they told us they were nurses and we were quite honest and advised them we were fighter pilots etc. However we were far too naive to realise that they were interested in other things and to be honest we were so drunk that the other things were probably impossible.

We left the pub and meandered to the fun fair where I managed to lose my camera, I then climbed on the roller coaster and went round on this for an hour or so. I eventually staggered off and set about finding my friends. We eventually retired to the car park and spent the night sleeping in the car. The following morning we arose and cleaned up in the local toilets, we  bought some milk from a passing milk man and made our way to the show.

The show was quite enjoyable and we eventually made our way back home with no pictures. One of our party, I won't mention who, had become infatuated with one of the Middlesbrough girls, so much that he eventually made his way up there, knocked at the door and was greeted by a large gorilla who happened to be her boyfriend.


And then there was the time that myself, Greg Davies and his brother Stephen, Dai Bone, Keith Ivy and possibly a few others decided to drive out in the middle of nowhere to park in a farmers field and watch a film on my black and white ITT KB portable TV. At the time I had a hand painted black Vauxhall Viva (see car stuff for more information). I foolishly let someone drive my car round the field and all I remember seeing was one of our party clinging onto the roof for dear life while the driver tried to throw him off.

Eventually we tired of these antics and made our way back to civilisation only to be stopped at the gates of the field by the farmer and a policeman. We all got out of our cars and the policeman asked us what we were doing up here. Greg helpfully answered "everybody has to be somewhere". I was then asked why there was a dent in the roof of my car, there was a loud bang as someone smacked the roof from the inside and shouted out "what dent". By this time I was resigned to being taken into custody, but I explained to the police that we had come up to the field to sit down and watch TV, showed him the portable on the back seat and he let us go.

Many other things happened over the years and these will be the subject of another ramble sometime.