A penny worth of preaching

Whenever I visit Mum, she makes sure I go home with a suitcase full of clean clothes. This, understandably, makes it very easy when get home. I unpack and just put everything away.

So the mountain of laundry waiting for me last week had very little of my stuff in it. Not that I’m pointing any fingers or anything.

I made a start on the foothills yesterday and the excavation continued today. And while washing machines have made our lives so much better in terms of time saved, there’s still the time consuming tasks of putting it away afterwards. Mind you, the drawers were nicely empty so room wasn’t an issue.

Apart from the eternal washing cycles, I spent most of the day cleaning up. I realised how much better it is when I keep on top of the housework by maintaining my personal Schedule of Works. This schedule has been seriously disrupted by Christmas and going to Queensland which means the works are more labour intensive than usual.

Though, truth be told, I’d rather not write about housework. I do wonder, however, how the Iron Age Britons managed with dirt floors and thatched roundhouses. Ignoring laundry (I assume the only time their ‘clothes’ were washed was when it rained or they went fishing) and washing up (obviously they hadn’t heard of washing up liquid), their houses would have still managed to collect an awful lot of dust each day, particularly when their floors were dirt. And spider webs. Did they get rid of the spider webs?

No, rather than housework, I’d like to share a little news item I came across last Friday when I was researching propellers. It’s okay to keep reading, this has nothing to do with ships or ship propulsion.

Back in the year 1900 in Uttica, New York, the local priest was a bit put out by his parishioners putting only pennies in the collection plate. Clearly he believed that charity had a price and it was a lot higher than one penny. Apparently one Sunday after mass, he had to count 900 of them! This was clearly too much so he decided to do something about it.

The Reverend Thomas J. Ducey, for that was his name, had an inventive bent. He took the collection bowl and fitted a contraption to it which would count each donation as it was collected. While I haven’t been able to find any details of this amazing invention, it was apparently operated by the usher, in the manner of a cash register, as each parishioner deposited his or her hard earned cash. I can only assume that this amount was then either sneered at by the usher (and anyone near enough to see what it was) or praised for the generosity of its giver.

I’m not sure what Jesus would have thought of this but Thomas was adamant in his opinion that if you went to church you should pay a decent price for it. In his sermon he declared:

The putting of pennies in the collection plate is an insult to the church. Don’t put any more. No one can truly believe in the presence of Christ in the church and give a penny for the support of His religion. It’s a mockery of religion.

Strong words indeed! Clearly aimed at shaming his congregation…though there’s no indication whether it worked or whether they just stopped coming to church until they’d saved enough money to attend.

What a funny old world we live in. Imagine being told there was a minimum amount to your charity. Or, maybe, it was actually an early 20th century form of Trip Advisor. Perhaps the congregation was giving what they figured the service was worth. Maybe the Reverend Thomas J. Ducey was a rubbish preacher and only worth a penny anyway.

King of the park

Last Friday, Emma decided to give Sue an awful fright.

While they were walking in the park with the rest of Sue’s pack of dogs, they came across an awful old man with his two black Scottie dogs. It sounded as if these dog had been trained to attack dogs bigger than them because they set upon Sue’s bigger charges without any provocation.

Day-z, as usual, just hung back and stayed next to Sue as she wrestled with the nasty pair. Emma, on the other hand, decided to run away. Sue had her hands full of snarling dogs – the awful old man did nothing – and she didn’t see our delightful little bundle of cuteness, take off. By the time the fracas had died down, Emma was nowhere to be seen.

Sue searched the park, frantic. She searched again, this time with her kids. They couldn’t find her anywhere. Then Sue’s phone rang.

Sue puts collars on her charges with her on phone number on them. As she’s said to me, there’d be no point ringing me if one of them managed to get themselves lost. This proves what a brilliant idea it is.

Someone had found Emma up on Folly Hill. This is a long way from where they were walking. Still, she was perfectly alright and the person said they’d meet Sue at the Farnham Cricket Club ground. According to Sue, when the car pulled up, there was Emma, happily sitting n the front seat as if butter wouldn’t melt in her hairy mouth. So, disaster averted.

(I keep hearing how people detest the use of ‘so’ at the beginning of a sentence. I know I do it a lot. Frankly, I blame Kurt Vonnegut, the first person I remember reading, who did it. The thing is, it may be grammatically incorrect, but I use it to punctuate the end or the beginning of a summation. It implies a pause slightly longer than the comma that should follow it. It’s not necessary, it’s not correct but I like it. So, there!)

Emma went off on her Milo and Otis adventure last Friday and I was a bit wary this afternoon when we went for a walk around the park. I needn’t have worried. While Day-z walked next to me the whole time, (apart from the occasional random sniff at something interesting), Emma would run ahead of us, no further than about 20 feet, then run back.

She was her usual cheerful self whenever we met other dogs and at her stand-off best whenever males bent down to pat her. She’s generally a friendly little dog but, for reasons locked forever inside her head, she doesn’t take to men very well (apart from me, anyway).

And then we met Leonard.

I’ve written about Leonard before. He’s a huge white dog. So white he looks like a ghost dog from some frontier western movie about Indian tribes. And when I say ‘huge’, he’s about the size of a Shetland pony. He is the King of the Park.

Given his formidable size and ethereal appearance, he is a benevolent ruler. A long time ago, Carmen and Day-z realised his status and every time they saw him, they’d give him a wide berth with nary a glance. When we ran into him today, Day-z did her usual ignoring while Emma, not yet versed in the Courtly Rules, went up and wagged herself at him. I’m surprised he could see her so far below his giant head but he managed to look her in the eye with a curiosity reserved for royalty.

Eventually, Emma walked away, not quite sure if she should bark or curtsey and we continued on our way.

By the way, the big white dog’s name is actually NOT Leonard. When I first saw him and his owners, I mistakenly thought that’s what they were calling him. Still, I like the sound of King Leonard of Farnham Park so King Leonard he will stay…in my blog, at least.



As part of our bank account, we get free AA roadside and home start assistance. This latter is very important.

It’s a bit rich that a car owner can join the AA (or any other roadside, fix-your-car company) but be excluded from having someone start your car if it’s within a mile of your house. Clearly this was a genius idea from someone wanting to make money for someone else. I can just hear the discussion…

Executive: We need to make more money. Does anyone have any ideas?
Marketing: How about we stop helping people if their car won’t start at home.
Executive: I like your thinking but, how exactly can we enforce that?
Marketing: Easy! We introduce a two tier system. The general protection covers the driver if they break down at least a mile from home. This can cost the same as our present all inclusive rate. We can perhaps throw in a few free things that make it look like the users are getting something valuable for nothing. Sparkplug replacement or 5% off a new battery or water top up…the sort of things we get from commercial salespeople trying to sell us stuff.
Executive: All good so far. Go on.
Marketing: We then introduce a second level of protection which protects the driver if their car won’t start at home. Naturally, we’d charge extra for this.
Executive: We could call it the Rip-off Rate!
Marketing: (after a bit of polite laughter) Actually, we’ve already barnstormed the idea -
Executive: Barnstormed?
Marketing: Yes, we were at the country retreat. Anyway, following a bit of flag raising we think we’ve come up with a brilliant identifier for this new rate. To be honest, we’re a bit proud of it.
Executive: You have me very excited about now!
Marketing: (clearing throat dramatically) We think it should be called Homestart.
Executive: (after a reverent pause) That, my friend, is pure genius.

I had no idea this thing existed before reading our policy this morning. It’s incredible how the every day user is abused for the sake of profit. It’s like the olive guy who came up with amazing cost savings by taking one olive out of each bottle and selling it at the same price.

Still, we had Homestart so we had no problem calling them out to fix Sidney.

Mirinda rang and was told they would arrive in about 90 minutes – actually the guy turned up a lot earlier – so we settled down to lunch and one of the final episodes of Homeland series 3.

The mechanic, after he arrived, had a bit of a fiddle about and quickly determined it was the battery. Flat and dead, it was. He took it out and sold us a new one and Sidney started straight away with her usual reliability.

He asked Mirinda how old it was (the battery, not Sidney) and she said she had no idea but was fairly certain it had never been changed since we bought the car. This is true. Sidney has had the same battery for almost 13 years. I didn’t think this was so amazing but the mechanic was astounded. The new battery, by comparison, has a guarantee lasting only four years.

He took the old battery away with him and I think it was to put in the Museum of Ridiculously Long Lasting Power Sources.

We then dragged Emma into the car (Day-z never needs urging of any kind) and took off for Frensham for a lovely, if somewhat muddy, walk around the pond.

Wheels not turning

Mirinda had guitar this morning. While I was up the shops, she packed her guitar and collected together her music. She even had her coffee loyalty card ready. She packed Sidney and sat down behind the wheel. She turned the key. And nothing happened.

Last week she sent me a text saying that Sidney wasn’t starting. She reckoned it was the starter motor (as if she’d know what that was) or frozen oil. The thing is, even though she’s haunted, Sidney has never had a problem starting. She can sit in the drive for weeks on end with nothing happening and then, with one twist of the key, she bursts into reliable action. Not starting sounded a bit terminal.

We’ve been talking about getting a new car for a while now (don’t tell Sidney) and this seemed to be telling us it was time to get serious.

Apart from missing guitar, Sidney’s lack of motor skills also meant we couldn’t take the dogs to Hankley (or Frensham) so they had to be content with a walk in the park. Of course they didn’t see this as much of a hardship, particularly Emma who isn’t that keen on the car. Have I mentioned she vomits? Almost everytime we drive anywhere for a walk, she throws up whatever is in her stomach. It’s incredible how much can fit in it. And it always smells of biscuits mixed with bile. This is not pleasant.

Mirinda spent a lot of the afternoon looking at possible contenders for new car material. We’ve quite fancied the VW EOS with it’s beautiful convertible steel roof which, apart from that mechnical delight, will fit in the drive. This is the problem with buying a new car. Our drive is quite narrow and is foreshortened by the front extension the previous owners had added. Sidney fits perfectly. The EOS is a bit longer and slightly wider but will still fit. A Rolls Royce would not fit.

After long discussion and searching of forum reviews, she turned away from the sports cars and we’ll probably get a new Mini Cooper. It’s reliable, apparently ‘fun’ to drive and it will easily fit in the drive.

It’s a bit odd having car discussions in our house given I have no interest in cars, know very little about them and Mirinda is almost as bad.

Full steam ahead

Late last year, Nick at Work had organised for Howard (another volunteer) and me to have a tour around the bits that make the big Manchester Mill engine work in the Science Museum. This is the big red one that I’ve included in the blog before. Sadly, I had to miss the tour because it was scheduled for just after I left for Queensland.

Last week, Nick at Work emailled me to say that the tour had had to be cancelled and was no rescheduled for today. He wondered whether I was still coming into work and, if so, if I’d still like to go on the tour. What a very silly question.

So, bright and early, I was up and out of the house, having woken Mirinda with a cup of tea, and off to the station. Jetlag had to take a backseat to the promise of a steam display but, even so, I was wide awake at 4am. Disgruntled, I went downstairs and made myself a coffee, laying on the long lounge with the radio on. Next thing I knew was my alarm going off at 6:30am. Needless to say, my coffee was stone cold.

My trip into London was delightfully cold under bright blue skies. I also stayed awake all the way in – very rare.

The biggest surprise of the day was finding Kevin at his desk when I arrived at work. He usually has Fridays off and I sit at his desk. There was no explanation and I was sat at another desk that has been recently vacated by Susanne who replaced Lucy. As it turns out, it’s a better desk without Kevin’s ‘stuff’ everywhere.

Then, at 10:30, Nick stood up and announced we were off on our tour.

In the catacombs that run infinitely beneath the Science Museum, we met up with John, the museum’s steam engineer. He’s exactly what you’d expect in a steam engineer. I was surprised that he didn’t have a big rusty wrench in his back pocket to go with the perfect amount of grease and oil on his well worn white jacket.

John took us outside to see the boiler first. We were very surprised at the size. I was expecting some huge, ancient, burbling thing but, instead, it was quite small and very quiet. In fact, the only real noise (not including escaping steam) came from the little electric motor which runs coolant around the boiler coils.

John then told us an interesting story about the little boiler.

Back in 1950 the fourth Royal Navy ship to be called Ark Royal was launched. It was an aircraft carrier. While building her, the boilers came off the production line (eventually there were eight in total) and the first and second were installed in her boiler room. The third one ended up at the Science Museum and is now used to power up the Manchester Mill engine. I don’t know why.

So, we asked questions and were amazed at the correct times before John took us to an old lift shaft where the water comes in before going to the boiler and where the excess water goes out of the museum after running around the undergound network of pipes. We had to go down a very steep, vertical metal ladder to see the outlet tank before heading back into the underground network of tunnels to follow the pipework.

Following pipes around could be extremely boring but, when you have an excellent tour guide like John, it suddenly becomes alive and vivid. Even more amazing was the small power box he showed us. Inside this box are two motherboards. They control the Bolton and Watt engine. Given the engine was built in the late 18th century, it’s brilliant to think it is now controlled by a computer board. I reckon Matthew Boulton would be well impressed.

But, back to the Manchester Mill engine.

We stepped through a final door and, suddenly, the big red engine was in front of us. Steam was escaping from various valves and a crowd was gathering, excitement growing at the prospect of the engine moving. John told his young apprentice to open the valves and get it going. It eventually rumbled into action and the big wheel turned. John continued with his tour, telling us what was happening as it did. It was beautiful.

Steaming away

The rest of the day was full of the usual research (mostly to do with various propellers) before I left for home, a wife and two very excited puppies.

In the sky

And so my long wait at Brisbane airport started. My flight wasn’t due to leave until 00:50 this morning but the last bus to the airport arrived at 9:30pm yesterday. Not that I minded because it meant arriving at Heathrow at a reasonable hour.

I feel like I know Brisbane airport quite well these days, having spent half a lifetime there, waiting for planes. Of course, it would have been ideal had I been bumped up to Business Class because I could have spent the waiting time in the lounge. But I wasn’t. So I didn’t. I had a latte and read a lot instead. Oh, and I managed to catch up with the Archers, having downloaded two Omnibus editions from Mum’s.

The plane was not full, by any stretch of the imagination. In Premium Economy we all had rows to ourselves. My couple of forays into cattle class showed a lot more passengers lowing and bleating in the back while Business wasn’t even half full. This was repeated when we changed planes at Hong Kong but even more so. It meant a very comfortable trip on both legs, on both my legs.

It seems the right time to say how much I enjoyed the flights with Cathay Pacific. The food, the service, the plane…one of my best journeys. I can fully recomend them for travel care and courtesy. In fact, the only real hiccough of the whole trip home was at Hong Kong.

I had only a short walk to my gate (this does not happen very often) for my final flight with 90 minutes break. Just enough time to go across to Gate 40 for a Starbucks (it’s a bit indicative that I actually know where Starbucks is at Hong Kong airport) then settle down at gate 60 to wait and read.

The announcements at Hong Kong leave a lot to be desired and, clearly realising this, the various airline staff tend to make up novel ways of telling passengers what’s going on. So, it was no surprise that a staff member suddenly appeared, walking around the waiting passengers with a handwritten sign declaring that the gate had been changed. We all moved. It was no big hassle because the new gate was just across the way.

Resettled, I returned to my book for a bit. Then, as if mocking us, another airline representative suddenly appeared, all smiles and walking around with another handwritten sign telling us that the gate had been changed again. As before, this wasn’t very far, though some of my fellow passengers were far from happy with this new move.

As I sat down in my new seat, I noticed that the departure time had changed. For reasons never explained to us, the flight had been delayed by half an hour.

As dramas go, this wasn’t one. The moves weren’t a hassle and the delay wasn’t very big. Even so, a few passengers were quite irate and there were raised voices at the newest gate. I just shrugged but then I didn’t have a connecting flight.

I managed to catch a few hours sleep on the final leg and, finally (12 hours is a long time on a plane) landed in London a mere half hour late.

Back at Mum’s. I’d texted Carole (our taxi driver) asking if she could meet my plane and take me home. Usually I get the coach and train but I wasn’t sure how my foot would feel about that so I took the soft option. And there was my driver (not Carole this time), happily waiting for me. While there was a bit of traffic on the M25, we made pretty good time and I was soon home. It felt very good. Particularly the heated tiles in the extension, given I’d been wearing thongs since Brisbane.

After a shower and a change of clothes, I was feeling a bit more human. Then Mirinda came home and, in greeting, told me I looked like shit. Suddenly the premise fell away from my face and I collapsed into bed. It was, after all, a very long day by anyone’s reckoning.

Final day

And so…my last full day in Queensland.

When I went for my usual latte, I was surprised that the women who seems to run the place actually remembered me. For most of my visit, they haven’t had any hazelnut syrup so I’ve been forced into having vanilla instead. Then, this morning, when I ordered vanilla, she suddenly threw her arms up and said she had some hazelnut.

Surprised, I cheered and thanked her. I then told her it was my last day. Her face changed from smile to vague disappointment. She asked where I was off to. I told her London and she shivered, saying I’ll miss the heat of Queensland. I laughed ironically.

Mum and I went to Sunland to pick up some things she’d had on order and she bought me a t-shirt (and a top for herself) as well as some last minute shopping.

At about 4:30, Denise turned up straight from work followed by Tracey and Bob. Mum was making dinner for us all and Tracey insisted on the three of us posing for a new photograph to match the one from about ten years ago taken at Basildon. She reckoned we’d aged a bit. I claimed, apart from my Ecuadorian hat, I didn’t look any different…except I was sober, of course.

We had a lovely dinner with chips oven cooked in mum’s space age, NASA designed oven chip tray. Denise and I rather enjoyed this hi-tech bit of kitchenware.

Finally, we found ourselves waiting outside for my coach pickup to the airport. Tearful hugs, kisses and farewells and I was welcomed into the air conditioned comfort of the bus and we drove away.

I’m going to miss staying with Mum; it’s been a lovely two weeks. I’m not going to miss the incessant heat!