Saturday, 26 May 2012

Victor Meldrew, eat yer heart out!

I hardly ever work on my days off (we call them 'rest days' in the bus game). I need the break from work, not the pitiful extra money that comes with it (you never seem to get the full whack, the tax man always slices it in threes, and takes two of those bits, leaving you, if you're lucky, with two and a half pence to rub together, the slimy wotsit); occasionally however, I will do one. Mostly, I'll be doing a 'work/rest' as a favour to someone, or to repay a favour owed.

So, there I was yesterday, doing a very rare rest day, to replay a favour to one of the officers at the depot, who got me out of a slightly sticky spot the other week. "No worries", thought I, signing on that afternoon, "It's only a short job, two rounds, and bugger off home again. No trouble." You'd think, after close to 48 years on this mortal coil, that I'd have at least learned not to tempt sodding fate, wouldn't you?

Well, apparently I haven't. Dozy half-witted sorry excuse for... well, the list goes on if I want to berate myself, so I won't bore the crap out of you. Suffice to say the wall here in the study of Chez Moi is a tad dented right at the moment (where'd I put the polyfiller?!)...

Anyhow, being a Friday, and being how it was the extra bus for the school run, I figured that the first round would be the round from hell (which is why I went to permanent lates a few months back, to avoid the little shits), and the second, after my meal relief, would be a doddle.

...OK, the wall in here just got a bit more dented...

The first round went somewhat better than I'd expected. My leader (the 'Leader' is the bus in front; the bus behind is called the 'Follower'. Clever, eh?) caught pretty much every one of the little buggers, the poor sod. Yeah, OK, I was damn near laughing my backside off, as I was enjoying myself with a practically empty bus. It was utter bliss compared to what I'd been expecting!

My meal relief was relaxed; I decided I'd treat myself, and had fish & chips from the chippy across from the bus stand at the eastern end of the route, and very nice it was too.

Round Two (seconds away, ding ding), and I had a slow bus. OK, no real hassle, it was twenty minutes late into the stand, and I got a light run to the next bus station down the route, thus picking up some time, which I slowly lost down the route as the damn bus was so sodding slow when moving off from the halt. Again, this wasn't a real worry for me, as I'd be knocking off in a couple of hours. Or so I thought, anyhow...

The return leg of the round, I was cut short ("Curtailed"), and told to take my bus to the half-way point bus station, to 'sub' (Substitute, or swap) a 'soiled' bus back to the depot. Hmm. More overtime, thought I. Oh well. On getting to the bus station, I saw no soiled bus, so phoned control.

"It's on it's way and should be with you in a few minutes."

"Oh, OK, cool. What's wrong with it?"

"You'll laugh?"

"I will?"

"Some poor woman had a bit of a personal accident over one of the seats. It's a hell of a mess."

I won't go into the full disgusting details, but ladies, please, pack a spare for those times of the month, OK?

Anyhow, after the "Ewwwwwww YEUCH, that's just... foul!" reaction,  I shrugged, went "OK, fair enough, hope the aircon's working" and left it at that, pending his arrival.

Five minutes later, he arrived, and parked his bus behind mine, fully in the road-paint marked 'bus stop cage', and we swapped buses, his soiled one for mine. I dumped my bag in the cab, sat down, and wasn't even halfway done adjusting the seat position (I've got shorter legs than my colleague), when I heard the sudden and loud unmistakable sound of a vehicle collision, and felt a slight jolt. "What the..?!"

On looking out of the window, another bus was now level with me, and looking in the mirror, there was debris all over the road. The other driver was looking very sorry for himself. I did what most other drivers would do in the circumstances. "I don't belieeeeeeeve this!" (doing a VERY good impression of Victor Meldrew, I was later told by one highly amused bystander). I then got out of the bus, and yelled "What the hell've you done to me bus, you idiot?!"

It turns out that he'd tried to thread a 4-inch hawser through a sewing needle.

The bus stop was on a bend in the road, and while the cage was properly marked, it hadn't been updated to when they put the tram tracks in opposite the bus station. As a result, while cars could get through the gap between a bus servicing the stop on the corner of the road, and the separating kerb stones from the tramway, a larger vehicle could not.

Most PSV and LGV drivers would, of course, realise this on approaching that point, and it appears in most Hazard Awareness Notes on the routes that pass through this bus station. Not this guy, though. Either that, or he hadn't read the HAN. And this was the result.

He'd scraped the nearside of his bus, immediately to the aft of his exit doors, on the offside rear corner of my bus, and ripped off my rear offside lighting cluster, which includes the indicator, sidelights, reversing light, and fog light, all of which were now hanging on by their connecting cabling, the rest of the associated fibreglass bodywork now lying in bits alongside my bus in the roadway.

Then, to compound the problem, he'd carried on going, causing a rent in the bodywork on his bus aft of the doors, and scraping the bodywork down to the bare metal all the way aft to his engine compartment. His Depot Governor wasn't going to be too chuffed with him. Mine either, but at least I hadn't parked my bus, or even taken it over on the paperwork, and I was stationary with the service brake (that's the hand brake, to you!) applied when he hit my bus!

Anyhow, to cut a long story short, I contacted my controller to give him the happy news (he wasn't at all happy, strangely), and having calmed down a bit, talked to the other driver (on loan from another depot for the day, it seemed), and we exchanged details. Then the bus station controller, with the help of a network traffic controller (London Buses traffic supervisors, the guys in the red London Buses Incident Response Vans), both of whom who happened to be on-site at the time, helped me shift my now unserviceable bus off the road, and into a spare waiting bay at the side of the bus station, pending my engineers arriving.

In the wait for the engineers, I got chatting to a few other drivers, some from the firm that operated the bus that hit mine; they were all of the amused variety, of course. Goes with the territory: You have a bump, and everyone's a critic! It was all good-natured ribbing though, mostly of the "Enjoy the overtime, mate" kind - my normal response being "Bugger the overtime, there's things I wanted to do tonight, like have a drink or ten!" - and then, of course, there was the Metropolitan police carrier (a minibus, they call them 'carriers'), cruising though the bus station doing a regular evening safety patrol, the driver of which paused on seeing a group of bus drivers by a bent bus, looked at the damage, looked at me, and pulled a horrified face - my reaction?

A massive theatrical Gallic style shrug, and "IT WASN'T ME! HONEST, GUV!"

Cue all of us damn near wetting ourselves on the floor, coppers included!

Anyhow, the engineer eventually arrived, and we took the bus back to the depot (me driving the engineering van), whereupon the paperwork had to be done.

I eventually knocked off somewhere in the region of an hour and forty minutes later than intended, and never did get that drink, either, dammit!

At least the depot officer I was repaying the favour to had the grace to say sorry to me!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Here we ******* go again...

I'm beginning to think that First Great Western have it in for me or something.

Here I am, travelling to see my better half for a nice Bank Holiday Weekend, and I'm getting stuffed again.
Knowing that it's a Bank Holiday weekend, I did, indeed, check to see if I'd need to reserve a seat. No warnings were flagged on the National Rail Enquiries website that I could age, so not unforgivably though there would be no need.

So much for that bloody stupid notion.

EVERY damn seat that I could see was either reserved or occupied by the time I'd made it to the train, scant seconds after it appeared on the departures board. Having been undertaking a massive spring cleaning effort in my second floor flat these last few days (involving so many trips up and down the stairs that I lost count), my legs are NOT up to standing room only on a packed train for up to an hour or more, weighed down my a fully-laden bergen.

So I was understandably livid that no warnings were given by either National Rail Enquiries OR FGW. So I dog-eared the first FGW member of platform staff I could find (the platform gates man, as it happened), and explained both my annoyance and situation to him. He was good enough to listen and comprehend, and pointed me to the Customer Services point. The guy there apologised about the lack of warnings, regretted that he couldn't reserve me a seat, but noted that Carriage 'E' was set aside an a non-reserved carriage on the next available service - some 42 minutes later.

To say that I'm still annoyed is a bit of an understatement. Once I've arrived at my destination, and calmed down a bit, I'll add the rest of this trip log.

A day later...

Just remembered that I never updated this entry, so, I'll let a couple of (suitably edited to remove personal items) texts speak the words...

Right, shatnerspeak time... change of platform... ran, got there... knackered... beyond... words... got one of... the last.. free seats. 19:45 departure. See you... Around nine pm. All my love, XXXXXXX

OK, having sat on by backside on the concourse, back to a kiosk wall, waiting for the next train, I'd hauled my sorry arse off the floor, snatch-and-jerk lifted my bergan to my back, and staggered to the gate, to find the bloody train was now going to be on a different platform when it appeared on the departure board - like half the assembled punters, who all (including me) uttered a rather predicable foul word (remember what I said in an earlier post about appropriate and proper? So much for self control! Oops!), and legged it to platform 10 (had been #4)

After a scrum of us had managed to get through the gates (one of which was blocked by a FGW gateman for some obscure reason), we continued to leg it down the platform, all of us with the same idea about Carriage 'E'. Those with reserved seats ambled on, enjoying the spectacle, and getting underfoot, of course causing more swearing from a goodly number of us unreserved folks (NOT me, this time. I at least try to be a good boy!). Getting onto Carriage 'E', I managed, by dint of good luck, to stow my bergan in the luggage rack, blocking everyone from getting past me (sorry!), and then snagging one of the last seats for my ageing backside (OK, OK, middle-aged then) and weary legs (NOT Sorry!). And thus, with the roar of a massive herd of not-so-little elephants, we'd seized our places on the train, and it got moving, right on time.

Hiya love :-) Well, got a semblance of me sense of humour back, if only because of the poor sod sat next to me, who's snoring louder than the train is! Train also running 5-10 or so mins late from Reading, slow freight train ahead or something. Still hope to be with you before 9pm :-) XXXXXXX

Finally on the second-to-last leg of my journey to see my better half, my mood improved mightily. Well, that and finally completing the last game, to getting a clean 3-star sweep completed on a level of Angry Birds on my phone ("YES!" I hissed, causing the poor bloke next to me to damn near drop his newspaper on the floor in shock! Oops. Sorry!). And along the tracks the train trundled. By the time we passed through West Drayton, he'd folded the paper, and fallen asleep, his head lolling against the window.

By the time we passed through Slough, he was snoring. Loudly. Everyone in earshot was turning around in their seats, or glancing along the carriage if standing, to find out what that noise was that was drowning out the sound of the train. All I could do was shrug my shoulders sheepishly, and point theatrically at the poor sod, eliciting grins of sympathy from some (Thanks!), shrugs from others (Thanks for nothing!) and looks of disbelief from the rest (You think it's loud from over there? I'm getting tinnitus!).

He eventually woke just after Reading, thank the stars, and my ears had regained their normal positioning from where they'd lodged, some six feet inside my skull, by the time we reached Newbury. I said nothing. He most likely knew, or had been told by his own better half, that he snored loudly, and either let if go in one ear and out the other without stopping (The rest of us should be so lucky!), or just didn't believe the Human body could make such a massive noise. Either way, he'd stopped the noise, so commenting on it would have been both insulting and not a little pedantic. So I didn't.

We got into Newbury about five minutes late, and by a miracle of no small proportions, I got the first taxi in the rank, there being no buses to where my better half lives, at that time of night (in the sticks, remember?). A short while later, there I was, being mobbed by the dogs (GAGH! Doggy tongue in the face! YEUCH!), and properly greeted by who the dogs believe is their Human Servant, so all's well that ends well, I guess.

I'm still miffed about the first damn train, though.

And you can bet that I'll be reserving - even when it's not required or necessary - my seat in the future!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Squaddie Stew*

OK, a quick one this (oo-er!)...

I was chatting with the better half earlier via Skype, and it turns out that I am actually expected to cook for us both on Monday, rather than rely on infrequent fridge and snack cupboard raids for sustaining the two of us over the bank holiday weekend.

So I offered up a menu.

  • Breakfast:
    Bacon grill and reconstituted powdered eggs with a slice of white bread and margarine, an oatmeal block, and tea or coffee, NATO standard.
  • Snack lunch:
    Biscuits, Brown, AB, with beef pate spread, and either tea or coffee NATO standard, or powdered isotonic fruit drink.
  • Main meal:
    Squaddie Stew, with tea or coffee, NATO Standard, and mixed fruit Pudding.

Needless to say the menu was shot down in flames before I'd even reached the main meal items. My better half can tell when I'm quoting from a 1980s British Army-issue Ration Pack, but there was a query. "What on Earth is squaddie Stew? Are there real squaddies in it? Do you lop the boots off before you cook them?"

After some evil laughter, and giving points for the misquote from the film "Addams Family Values", I went on to explain what went into the 'stew', which wasn't really a stew, so much as reheated tinned food.

Ration packs, or "Rations, one-man x 24-hours, GS", to give them their full name, were actually rather good kit. They included all manner of stuff to keep a soldier fully fed under operational conditions in the field, and contained tins of food, bars of chocolate, packs of boiled sweets, tea, coffee, biscuits (well, practically hard tack in their case), and so on. The retail cost in todays terms might be as much as fifteen to twenty quid, if bought individually. The Army paid (and still does, a couple of decades later) much less, of course.

The tins usually comprised one tin for breakfast, normally bacon grill or similar, two tins for the main meal, and a dessert tin, such as mixed fruit pudding, fruit in syrup, or something along those lines.

The two tins for Squaddie Stew to be available were minced steak in gravy (with onions), and Mixed Vegetables (in water). the normal way to cook these were to bang a dent in the sides of the tins, and plonk them in a mess tin, which was then filled with water to half-way up the dented tins. you then cooked it over a 'tommy cooker' or "cooker, field, individual, hexamine fuelled, folding, soldiers for the burning of", until the sides of the dented tins popped out again. You then opened them very carefully, considering that the contents were now supernova-hot and under pressure (Boyles law, anyone?)...

Squaddie Stew, on the other hand, was a damn sight easier. You dumped the contents of the tins into the mess tin, sprinkled a sachet of 'Beef Stock drink' (basically a powdered OXO cube in a sachet) over the top of it, and cooked away, stirring as required to prevent burning, and unless you were a complete Muppet, good flavour, consistency, and a satisfying meal - even when it was bucketing down with rain - were pretty-much guaranteed.

There were pros and cons with both methods, of course. The dented tin method meant that you had a clean mess tin at the end of the day, and a quick rinse with cold water sorted out the tin for next time. The Squaddie Stew method resulted in a tin that really needed to be washed and cleaned immediately you finished your meal, which meant that two of you grouped together, one of them cooking the pairs main meals in his mess tin, over his cooker, the other keeping a simmering - or at least very hot - hot mess tin of water on the go, for tea/coffee and washing water.

You also found out who your really good mates were with Squaddie Stew if no-one yelled something like "OI! you greedy gannet!" or suchlike (normally rather foully-worded during the meal!

Anyhow, back to the present, it looks like I'll be doing some other, more civilian menu instead, requiring about ten times the effort, come Monday.

Oh well. It was a nice idea while it lasted!

* No Troops were stewed in the making of this entry!

Sei glücklich - oder sonst!

What's with the title in German, you might ask?

Well, it's a fairly inconsequential thing in the grand scheme of things, I suppose, but I happen to like good movies - or as we call them over here in Great Britain, films.

A Comedy Sci-Fi film that I've been looking forward to seeing for well over nine months now, Iron Sky, is coming to the UK at last. And here's why I'm a tad steamed: I won't be able to see the sodding thing.

Here's the blurb from the ads:
Towards the end of World War II, the Nazi's realise they are the losing side. Retreating to the dark side of the Moon, they have recolonised, trained new troops, and have been waiting 70 years… for revenge!!

Now, fully equipped with space age technology and futuristic weapons, they are returning to wreak havoc and take control. The battle for Earth is gonna get Nazi!
And here's a trailer...

It's already won the Silver Meliés prize and the Audience Award at the Brussels European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation. That takes some doing for an indie movie.

All the reviews of it I've read have been positive.

The fans comments on twitter have been outstanding.

Now, I don't get much time to go to the cinema these days, as I work the permanent late shift rota at work, and have a lot of things to do when I'm not at work, like household chores, seeing my partner, and so on. So, when I do get the chance to go to the cinema, I make sure that I'm going to see a film that I really WANT to see; a special movie, one that I will be almost guaranteed to enjoy.

Well, read all the blurb, the review and hype, I was really looking forward to seeing this film. Then the UK distributor, Revolver, announced that they are going to show it for one day only. A sodding Wednesday. And I'm due to be bloody working that night.

I immediately frothed at the mouth. Were they aus ihrer verdammten Verstand?![1] How could they do this to us?! After all the hype, all the positive word of mouth, all the good things said about this indie, low-budget, comedy sci-fi film, they were planning to put it out on the weakest day of the bloody week, a day when a lot of us are too tired to go out, and those of us who actually WANT to see it can't for various reasons - such as work commitments.And just to add insult to injury, they were only going to show it for one bloody day only?! Große donnernden Götter des Krieges! [2]

So, having taken a deep breath, calmed myself down a tad, and counted to ten, oh, a dozen times or so, I tweeted a query to RevolverUK - and IronSkyUK - asking why the film was being buried on a Wednesday one-day-only release. I'm relieved to say that they replied fairly quickly: it seems that the original date they'd set for the UK release, 20th April - was messed up somehow, and the only slot they could find to replace it was the 28th May, which is a Wednesday. They sounded, reading between the lines, about as peeved as I was. The amusing this is that they're making the best of a bad situation, witness this tweet to me from @IronSkyUK: "It'll be a special screening where we're encouraging fans to come dressed up and make a big night of it." There'll obviously be some rather curious people around those screenings - I'm just sorry I won't be there to see the spectacle!

I'd also love to know what buggered up the original release date, but I reckon that I'll never know the answer to that one, commercial sensitivities and all that rot and nonsense being what it is, but at least I got feedback from them, which is not such a small achievement as you might think - the film houses, studios, and PR types, have long realised the power of word of mouth advertising, and use it more than ever - witness hashtagged tweets, facebook, and so on.

The good news for me - and many others who won't be able to make it to the cinema on the 23rd of May - is that five days later, on 28th May 2012, it's being released on Blu-Ray and DVD!

But I'm still ******** [3] peeved that I can't see it in the bloody cinema!

Iron Sky website
Iron Sky UK on Twitter
Revolver UK on Twitter
Revolver's website (I couldn't get this to open, as it kept timing  out. Hope you have better luck)
BBC - Mark Kermode's film blog: Iron Sky

Why the German? Well, you know, all the best cult movies - I mean films - have the occasional subtitle, so why not this blog entry? ;-)

[title] Be happy - or else!
[1] Out of their damned minds
[2] Great thundering gods of war!
[3] Needs no translation