Sunday, March 25, 2007

First Ride Of The Year

The Old Bike
Originally uploaded by markhsal.
Yesterday, the weather was superb. The sunshine bright and clear and so I felt the time was right to get the old bike out for its first serious ride of the year.

Of course, the first thing I had to do was fix a puncture (I've now got tyres that are supposed to resist the temptation to deflate!), make a flask of tea and pack my saddle bags. Although the weather was dry and sunny, there was a breeze whipping off the West Pennine moors that had come straight down from the arctic, and of course I was cycling straight into it.

Down to the Leeds Liverpool canal and along the tow path to Red Rock where I can join the old Wigan to Chorley railway track that takes me to Adlington, about five miles up the canal. This bit was really heavy and sticky, and occasionally my route was blocked by fallen trees blown over during the previous autumn's storms. I do love this route because it is so peaceful. No sounds of cars, just the birds making sure I had a tuneful accompaniment along the track.

Eventually, at Adlington, I settled down outside the Bridge Inn and had a couple of mugs of tea and had a long chat with another cyclist who had done the Anglezark reservoir circuit and told me of a little known track around the lake which I must try.

Heading back home was a lot easier as I now had the wind behind me and made really good progress along the canal. At one point, I spotted a moated manor house which I hadn't seen before. Mind you, that wasn't surprising as in the summer it would have been completely hidden by trees and bushes with their full compliment of leaves.

With a pint at my favourite pub, I drifted back home feeling very saddle sore, aching and tired, but definitely happy. Roll on the summer!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

I Hate Cats!

This morning, I came down for breakfast and opened the curtains at the front. A cat was slowly, but deliberately walking across my newly cleared, forked and hoed front garden. It looked up at me and stared at me malevolently, and then proceeded to scrape out a hole to do its business.

Unfortunately, I was dressed in a short dressing-gown and people were walking past, so going outside to chase it off was not an option. Something the cat clearly knew as it squatted down and dropped its parcel. I am convinced that the beast smiled cynically at me.

Makes me start to wonder what goes well with cat! A bit of garlic and olive oil? A touch of fennel?

However, what really makes my blood boil are the bloody owners who quite freely kick their moggy out without a single thought of the damage and mess they make on other people's property. However, if I did anything to their precious cat to dissuade them from my garden, I would be the one in the wrong!

I hate cats and I hate inconsiderate cat owners

Monday, March 19, 2007

What A Difference A Week Makes!

It's taken 2 days to find the strength to write this!

Saturday evening I sat down to watch England play Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in the firm expectation of watching a renewed England side consolidate the march back to the top of world rugby. We were playing a Welsh side that had even lost to Italy! From last week's well constructed win against France, this match should have been a breeze.

Well it would have been if the forwards had bothered to turn up! Last week, they were magnificent, and stopped the French from playing while giving the England backs time to make their moves, but this time? They were all over the place. Hitting mauls and ruck in ones and twos, providing the slowest of balls giving Wales time to prepare their defence. The England back line was under constant pressure, and as a result, mistakes were made that Wales capitalised on. When Mike Catt had to leave the field injured, it left England with the youngest and most inexperienced set of backs we've had for a long time, and would have looked to the forwards to give them some protection and time to play. The problem was, that the forwards seemed to be playing as if they had never met each other before!

It was so depressing!

As a matter of record, France won the 6 Nations Championship by scoring a try in the last seconds of their match against Scotland. That gave them a marginally better points difference to Ireland, who up until that moment, thought they were champions.

Ah well. Next stop the World Cup where no doubt we will probably go out to the American Eagles if we carry on playing the way we are playing at the moment!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Small Light At The End Of The Tunnel?

Every day, by the time my train gets into Manchester, it is jam packed full of commuters, most of whom are squashed together around the door making it difficult, if not impossible, to get off the train at my station. As most of us are fairly regular passengers, we have got to know each other pretty well.

Our main target for animosity are those who play their not-so-personal stereos, followed closely by the mobile phone fanatics. For those of us trying to have a quick pre-work snooze, it has become the impossible dream.

However, things could change. Great news! The government is going to increase the national rolling stock by 10% to ease the overcrowding we presently endure. Fabulous, great, what a marvellous benevolent government we are blessed with. I will have a seat. A chance to not have to stand under someone else's sweaty armpit. A chance to breath.

But wait! What's this?

The government goes onto say that these carriages will be in place by 2014!!!!! Four years before I retire! Seven years from now! And of course, when you factor into that 10% increase in capacity, the fact that the number of passengers on the rail network is annually increasing at 10%, it doesn't look that rosey after all. Of course, most of these carriages will find themselves down in London and the south-east, and me and my mates will continue our joint daily journey through purgatory.

We are about to spend £10 billion on the 2012 Olympics, but can they find the money for a decent rail service? No.

Monday, March 12, 2007

England Beat France (Again)

An eerie piece of magic happened yesterday on a rugby pitch in Twickenham, - just south west of London. England won a rugby match!

Moreover, that match was against this year’s potential world cup finalists, France.

It has to be said that although France did turn up in person, they didn’t in spirit. They looked flat-footed, slow to react and very devoid of ideas. Very much like England did against Ireland two weeks ago! They rarely competed in the loose, and when in possesion, tended to go backwards and sideways. They only had a couple of decent mauls and a lot of their rucks were turned over. One telling statistic that explains this is that England managed to create over 100 phases to 33 by France.

In contrast, with 8 changes of personel, and a new captain, England looked a totally different side to the one that surrended to Ireland at Croke Park. Although at times, England looked ragged and made silly mistakes, that was more than made up by spirit, endeavour and sheer guts. Led by 35 year old Mike Catt, by the time the first half whistle came, England were on the front foot, and although down at the interval by 3 points, looked the far happier side.

The second half saw England, basically set up camp in the French half. On the rare occasion when France did manage to cross the half-way line, the move, more often than not, ended in a turnover, and in seconds they were back in their 22, defending their line.

From what I could see, all the England players put in a performance for the first time in this 6-Nations, - though all made mistakes as well, which a more positive side than France, would have exploited and punished. None-the-less, this was a good positive start to England’s long road to recovery.

As for the other games, in a very close match, Ireland edged out Scotland by 19 points to 18 at Murrayfield to win the Triple Crown while Wales lost to Italy, - Italy’s second win in a row! This was the first time that Italy have managed to win back to back matches and marks a real step up for Italian rugby. Wales were very upset at the end as they felt the referee had misled them out of the chance to win the game, but on balance, Wales didn’t deserve to win.

Next weekend sees the last matches in this year's Six Nations. France take on Scotland in Paris - God help the Scots now; Italy play Ireland in Rome, which has now become a tough one for Ireland and England take on Wales in Cardiff. All I'm looking for now is that England step it up a gear or two and aim for a full 80-minute performance.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Update: Patricia Tabram

Patricia Tabram was saved from a prison sentence for the absolutely shocking crime of keeping 4 cannabis plants in her wardrobe, and utilising the harvest to relieve the symptoms of depression and chronic neck pain. She was ordered to pay £1,000 costs and to do 175 hours Community Service.

Her caring Housing Association has told this 68 year old women that they will throw her out of her home if she continues to self-medicate with cannabis. It is time we came down hard on these mass producers of dangerous drugs, and spend the money prosecuting pensioners rather than on adequate health care and support.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I Want To Be Invited For Dinner

Patricia Tabram, a 68 year old woman who advocates cooking with cannabis is to be sentenced shortly for breaking the terms of a 2005 suspended jail sentence.

In 2005, following a police tip off, this dangerous woman to all mankind was found to be in possession of cannabis plants and drugs worth £850, which she used to make curries, casseroles, biscuits and soups for local people. Clearly this arch-criminal should have been locked up there and then and the key thrown away, but some namby-pamby liberal judge decided that society would not be best served if she went to prison.

However, after another anonymous tip off, the police mounted another raid and found four plants in a wardrobe and powdered cannabis by the cooker. Really, does this woman have no shame!

Apparantly, during this court case, she caused up roar in the court when she claimed that three bags of cannabis she had brought to court had gone missing! These later turned up in her handbag. She claimed they were for use in evidence!

Mrs Tabram says that she uses cannabis to ease her depression and gain relief from numerous aches and pains.
I do wish her well and, before she trots of to do her porridge, she sends me some cookies.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Biofuels - Saviour or Danger

George Bush is about anounce that to combat global warming - something he has denied existed for the past 6 years, is to announce an "Opec for ethanol" and has committed the White House to substitute 20% of its petroleum use with ethanol.

Ethanol is derived from plant extracts, specifically; corn, barley, wheat, sugar cane or beet and burns a lot greener in specially adjusted vehicles. Dr Plinio Mario Nastari, one of Brazil's leading economists and an expert in biofuels, sees a bright future for an energy sector in which his country is the acknowledged world leader: "We are on the brink of a new era, ethanol is changing a lot of things but in a positive sense." Ethanol is the panacea for all the world's oil ills. Wars will stop, the planet will cease to warm up and everyone will love everyone else!

First off, the amount of corn grown to fill one full tank of the average 4X4 would feed a man for a year! Just one tank full.

Once we get our heads around that and multiply the amount of land required to fill that car for a year, and multiply that again by the number of cars on the road and the scale of the enterprise starts to become apparant. I haven't even started to think about trucks, planes, ships or heating, or any other oil use. Clearly there is going to have to be some serious mono-cultural farming just to feed our vehicles, - what price those raw materials if you also want them as food!

However, it gets worse. Clearly the ideal place to farm these crops are where you can get more than 2 harvests a year. They need to be grown in places, or countries, where there is round the year sunshine. Somewhere like the equator. Brazil already has a major ethanol producing industry based on sugar cane. This came about after the oil crisis in 1973 when the dictators decided they no longer wanted to be reliant on foreign oil. In Brazil, some of the plantations are as large as European states, and of course, when the sugar is harvested, it needs to be burnt - how's that for a carbon footprint? Fabio Feldman, a leading Brazilian environmentalist and former member of Congress said; "If you see the size of the plantations in the state of Sao Paolo they are oceans of sugar cane. In order to harvest you must burn the plantations which creates a serious air pollution problem in the city."

In America, the crop of choice would appear to be grain. The American economist Lester R Brown, from the Earth Policy Institute, has said; "The competition for grain between the world's 800 million motorists who want to maintain their mobility and its two billion poorest people who are simply trying to stay alive is emerging as an epic issue."

Finally, however, many biofuel crops, such as corn, are grown with the help of fossil fuels in the form of fertilisers, pesticides and the petrol for farm equipment. One estimate is that corn needs 30 per cent more energy than the finished fuel it produces.

I can see wars ahead, this time fighting over land to grow these crops. Why don't we start to consider how we can change4 our lives, culture and society so that the need for oil and oil substitutes are radically reduced. For me, that is the only long-term solution worth considering.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Lunar Eclipse

Three Moons
Originally uploaded by markhsal.
Last night I spent the latter part of the evening watching the lunar eclipse. It was a cold, crisp, frosty and clear evening - ideal for sky watching.

I was out there with two cameras - one a film camera for those old enough to remember such things, and my digital compact, - a glass of whiskey and the occasional company of my wife.

I really enjoyed watching the shadow slowly creep up the face of the moon - at first making the shadow area black, but later turning a dull bronze. At one point, I thought it would never reach total shadow, the diamond ring effect seemed to go on for ever (I had to force a glass of whiskey down while I waited) but eventually the whole moon turned a deep copper.

It is amazing that even in this sophisticated, high-tech world,I can still be amazed by a simple natural phenomena.