Friday, March 25, 2016


Morning coffee with the pet

This reminds me of Annie:

Saturday, March 19, 2016

From O. Reader


I am writing this while we are on holiday, or as most readers here might term it, vacation - two whole weeks, when our daughter and son in law care for my mother, and we can get away.

But nothing seems to go completely smoothly in Occasional-land. For a start, as soon as we reached our destination my laptop sort of half turned up its toes and refused to accept the existence of the internet. Now I have had this machine for nearly eight years, one of the first with Vista, and it has been hammered during that time. Four of the letter keys have completely worn away, making it impossible for most others to use it. The battery has died, and to get the official version to replace it will cost more than a decent netbook. Yes - IT IS TIME.

But that didn’t help me on this trip. So I have been reduced to using a Mickey Mouse tablet. Mrs O uses her tablet all the time, but mine was kept mainly for videos. Well, forced into it, I have learned a lot. I trained as a touch typist a million years ago, with a view to getting part-time work to support myself while working for a charity. I was a lad of 16 at the time, in a class full of girls, which was rather nice really. The result was that I can think of a word or sentence, and it is already there on the page. Great! But a tablet! Here I was, pecking away like a demented chicken at keys with fat fingers - I’d mislaid the stylus of course - at about five words a minute - misspelling something chronic. It sort of reminded me vaguely of someone else. So the massive emails I usually send to less than long-suffering correspondents were reduced to an impersonation of Twitter. Which probably was an improvement, but changing the habits of a lifetime was hard. I come from the penny a line school. That was the name for journalists of yesterday who were paid by the line, so it paid to be as verbose as possible. Their motto was always to use two words when even one was superfluous.

So, now I am back (even if momentarily) on a conventional keyboard - our hols. What a dispiriting title. It reminds one of all those times when people invited you round to show you their holiday movies. Even though 8mm film was quite expensive, people used to shoot reels of out of focus movies of families embarrassing themselves. And when video came in and the cost of cameras came down it was even worse.

But - you don’t have to read this do you! You can skip it and read posts about dragons and young pixies and stuff instead.

We went to North Wales, because Mrs O wanted to learn to swim. Properly. There was this course she’d wanted to do for about ten years. The hotel supplied the pool, instruction every morning, while Occasional could crash out in the bedroom and curse at both his laptop and tablet. It worked. She learned. She is ecstatic. She wants me to join her in the pool every day. I am NOT ecstatic.

But every afternoon we did the tourist bit. We visited the Roman town of Chester, and what a well kept place it is. The main streets - dating back to Victorian times - have two tiers of shops, one above the other - all kept in pristine condition. And a canal. Belonging to a canal trust back home, I am a sucker for canals. We will go back again. And we went to Liverpool, and behaving like real tourists, saw the Beatles experience. Quite nicely done, and the reconstruction of the Cavern reminded me of places I used to visit in another life when in London.

The only problem with visiting Liverpool was the toll system for the tunnels under the Mersey. Back in Wales, I am used to traveling over the two Severn Bridges to reach England - where you either have a tag on your vehicle, or someone swipes your card or gives you old-fashioned change at the booth. Here, they wanted the exact money and they wanted it thrown into a strange kind of bucket. Mrs O hastily counted out the fee - unfortunately all in very small change - as we queued and I threw it into the bucket - and missed. Don’t ask me how I missed. Mrs O is still asking me, but I don’t know. But I was out of the car grovelling on the ground trying to retrieve the small coins, while juggernauts with impatient drivers leaned on their horns behind me. Mrs O says I should stay calm and not get flustered. Flustered? Moi? It is easier said than done. I REALLY felt like a tourist.

The only other mishap (well, so far) was when we first got to North Wales. The day before we left we’d both visited the dentist and were given a clean bill of health. But my dentist - my daughter’s age - gave me a little lecture and suggested I might like to retire my trusty toothbrush. Mrs O has used a rechargeable thing for years, but I have resisted. So - I succumbed. How do you use this thing? Well (said in a world-weary patient voice with only a trace of a sigh) you put the toothpaste on the little brush - see? - And then you press the button. Simple. I have been told that the ring of toothpaste on my sweater will wash out, but there is still some concern about the hotel wallpaper.

Our second week we travelled to the Holiday Village of Centerparcs, and here to-night - oh joy, oh rapture - the internet has come back, even if only temporarily. So I am bashing this out before it all goes pear shaped again. And I am hoping to catch up on all the research I promised to do for various ones last week.

As usual, I expect we’re going to need a holiday/vacation to get over this one

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

From Harry

Gun Culture

A lot of people around the world don’t understand American gun culture. I thought I did when I was a teen, but it was a simpler time. I grew up in the rural countryside of Eastern Virginia. Hunting was, and still is, a big part of country living. Our dad took my brother and I hunting for dove, quail, and squirrel in the autumn. He gave us matching 20 gauge shotguns to use and, most importantly, he taught us how to handle a gun safely.

There were other guns in the house. Dad had a .22 caliber rifle and pistol. I love that pistol, a Colt Woodsman. It’s a collector’s item today. My brother has it. I remember buying my first rifle from Sears and Roebuck. I was 14 or 15. Yes, things were different then. In those days a kid could walk into a hardware store and buy a box of bullets and go home and plink at tin cans to his heart’s content.

For many, many years after I got married my guns stayed locked up in a gun cabinet. Just because you are a gun owner, doesn’t mean you must play with them everyday. The only thing I shot for a long time was a snake that made the mistake of entering our yard. Once I retired from teaching things changed. Well actually things had been changing around the country and the world for quite awhile. Columbine, 9/11, the Virginia Tech shootings, the DC sniper, and Sandy Hook were events that affected us at school.

On 9/11 word of the events in NYC reached school by late-arriving students. Rumors spread from classroom to classroom. I personally don’t believe in hiding the truth from children. I let my students watch events unfold on TV until the principal made an announcement-ordering teachers to keep the TVs off. Years later I was monitoring a class of online high school students when the Virginia Tech shootings took place. Using their cellphones to text and email their friends, the students in my classroom accounted for all of the Tech students who had graduated from our school. Technology at it’s best.

The DC snipers scared the heck out of all of us. The two snipers were targeting schools, gas stations, bus stops, and parking lots where they could pick a random target. They traveled south of Washington to Ashland, Virginia (only 40 miles away) to shoot a restaurant patron and to leave a note saying they would target a Richmond area school. We closed schools for two days while local police forces beefed up security for the communities. I was never so relieved as I was when the snipers were captured.

It was at that time our schools started implementing lock-down drills. It became just another drill at first, like the annual tornado drill, but that changed again after Sandy Hook. That scared a lot more people who realized that schools are soft targets for mad men. Now every school I go to requires a visitor to be buzzed in through a locked door to the office. It’s not a perfect system, but it will slow someone down.

Anyhow I admit I let the growing paranoia get to me and did what many Americans have done. I bought a pistol and applied for a concealed carry permit. I did a little more. I bought another shotgun and a couple more rifles, partially out of a desire to be prepared and partially because I have and always will like guns.

My feelings about guns are conflicted at times. It bothers me that it’s too easy for kids to get their hands on unsecured firearms with tragic effects. It bothers me that guns sold on my state end up in the hands of criminals in other states like New York. It bothers me that the NRA has a lock on too many politicians who will not pass any reasonable laws to prevent guns from getting into the hands of people who are dishonest or mentally unstable. A majority of Americans (67%) want universal background checks for whenever someone buys a gun. I have gone through the process multiple times now. It’s no big deal.

Education is important too. If you own a gun you need to know how to handle it properly. I think my father taught me well, but I still took a gun safety course when I applied for my concealed carry permit (CCP). I could have gotten the requirement waived because I was a military veteran, but I wanted the refresher. CCP holders and hunters have to take safety courses, but there is no requirement that anyone who buys a gun have any training. I think children should be taught gun safety at some point. Teaching gun safety can be done in schools without guns actually being brought into the schools. Little Johnny might not accidentally shoot his little sister if he understands that you should ALWAYS treat a gun as if it is loaded. Of course Little Johnny might not accidentally shoot his sister if mom and day kept their guns secured at home in a gun safe or use trigger locks.

There is no one solution to our gun problem. Some of the gun laws we have are not enforced, partly because the legislatures in some states don’t fund police departments and other agencies well enough for them to do their jobs. There are too many people on the streets that are not getting the mental health services they need, but can easily get a gun even if they are a few cards short of a full deck. That is a health care problem that needs to be fixed. People (mostly men) who are guilty of domestic abuse should lose the right to gun ownership until it can be shown that they are no longer a threat to their families.

Guns need to be safer too. Most of mine are locked up. One of my pistols has a built-in gunlock. Without the key it makes a nice paperweight. I need a larger gun safe too. Just because I know (well, I think I do) how to handle a gun safely, I don’t want someone else to use my guns carelessly.

What this country needs is for common sense and reason to prevail. Unfortunately that is in short supply at the moment. I don’t know how events will eventually play out over the issue of gun control, but until then I’ll keep my powder dry