Tough Call

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Life can be tough and unforgiving. Moments come along which demand hard decisions. I have just had a 'moment.' One when I have had to strip emotion and irrational thinking out of the process and do the right thing. We all face such calls but knowing it is a common experience makes it no easier on the soul or the conscience. 

There is a time when young sparky things grow and mature into older girls with their creaks, strange noises and need for constant attention. They, in fact, reach a point where they go beyond economic sustainability. That is, they cost more to maintain than the value they give. Saying goodbye is hard though. So many good times, so many memories, so many shared experiences. Going for a younger model is not a decision taken lightly, by anyone, but sometimes you know it is the right thing to do. 

A fond farewell then to HG55 WWV. I've never owned a car for so long or done so much with one. 205,000 miles and a huge chunk of shared family time. Who could forget the glorious fishing road trips, the hundreds and hundreds of school runs on Sunday nights, the hell that was the Paris ring road, the voice from the back seat on the M 25 saying, "Dad, there's a policeman driving up beside you and he's waving at you." The truth is, I'm saying goodbye to a big part of our little lives and that kind of hits home. 

I was actually going to authorise the service work until the nice gentleman from probably the best Land Rover specialists in the south called me and said, "I'm so sorry Mr Crumble, in my haste I embarrassingly neglected to forward page 2." Page 2 wasn't good. The first of sixteen items was "Front suspension lower arms worn; £795.52." Cumulatively, the decision was made for me, no matter how much I railed against the injustice of engineering wear and tear. 

So, for the first time in probably twenty-two years, I am without a Land Rover Discovery, having owned several. With the replacement cost knocking on the door of £70k for the new model, (with bits), it may be some time before I have another. The other old girl is though, hanging on. Not so easily replaced.                                             

Just A Phone Call?

You may have already seen the Google AI Assistant clip of Google CEO Sundar Pichai explaining Google Duplex in which a programme calls a hairdressing salon and books an appointment.  Very clever it is too and one can immediately envision some useful applications. There will be unintended consequences, not least of which will be people talking and connecting less, other than digitally.

Atlas; Boston Dynamic’s robot is turning into a right old show-off

You may also have seen the clip from Boston Dynamics of their latest clever robot doing things which look less and less robotic.

It is when your imagination fuses Google AI and the BD robot together that you think, “what if?” (and not in a good way). Throw in quantum computing into the mix and the 'they can do what?' curve steepens.

 The only way those two will talk to each other is if they happen to meet over Tinder

The only way those two will talk to each other is if they happen to meet over Tinder

The generally accepted estimate that 25% of all white collar jobs will be replaced by AI or robotics by 2030 looks out of court to me. It is not even in the right postcode. Manual low skilled and skilled jobs will also be decimated. This will create social tension with a declining percentage of the populace enjoying a greater share of wealth. Voters will be bought off for perhaps ten years with the widespread introduction of minimum living allowances which hitherto have been unthinkable for politicians. That will only delay the "villagers with their pitchforks," moment. Our direction of travel has implications for all parts of our lives and society has yet to engage directly with the downside rather than just the upside to accelerating advances in technology. 

I don't see myself as a Luddite. I can see terrific benefits which technology will bring, especially in medicine, materials and levelling the playing field for developing nations. Yet a big part of me yearns for much that we have already lost. I am also nervous about unrestrained and rapid change, sometimes profoundly so. 

Nemesis

 How difficult can it be?

How difficult can it be?

A common refrain heard from friends, garage mechanics and even AA Patrolmen is, "Cars these days are so complicated, so electronic; they aren't designed for the ordinary man to do maintenance." So they are. And I am not one of the few who would dabble under the bonnet 'these days.' The problem is, I am not so great at old-fashioned, simple mechanical engines either. Never have been. After my Royal Artillery Young Officers Course at Larkhill they sent us to the Cavalry headquarters at Bovington in Dorset to do a Driving and Maintenance Course. In theory, if we didn't know how vehicles should be maintained, how could we inspect them in our regiments and keep required standards? The first lesson on the course was about nuts and bolts. Our instructor lost me at, 'Mornin' Gents.' I should have paid attention. I didn't. Big mistake. Had I applied myself then I might not have spent the whole afternoon today trying to figure out why my 2 stroke petrol engine strimmer would not start.

 The only success of the afternoon was cleaning a rusty bolt with WD 40. 

The only success of the afternoon was cleaning a rusty bolt with WD 40. 

Oh, and I tried. How I tried. I drained the fuel, drained the fuel pipes, cleaned the spark plug, cleaned the carburettor, cleaned the air filter, cleaned the fuel filter; all to no avail. I know friends who strip down entire engines and rebuild them. I know one fellow who rebuilds classic cars and even another who went racing around Monza this weekend. Yet I can't get a bloody garden strimmer to spark into life. The casual reader would be mistaken in believing I am overcome with deep feelings of inadequacy. I am not. For I see a challenge before me. Next weekend I will strip that wretched thing back to the bare metal and rebuild it from scratch. The easy way out in our disposable society would be to bin it and buy another. We don't do easy here and I may have an edge.... I didn't test the electrical circuit today. There is always one more thing to try...... before I call that guy who rebuilds E-Types.   

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Staring defeat in the face I retired to the kitchen in search of a sundowner pick-me-up. Morale plummeted when, after a frantic search, I concluded that we were out of gin. 'I know,' I thought, 'lets have a cocktail; I'll make a margarita.' Good plan except the lonely lime left standing would not cover it. I'm a resourceful cove though and am happy to share my new discovery; the Lemon & Basil Margarita. I prefer it with crushed ice but feel free to experiment. It has brought rather an uplift to an otherwise dispiriting afternoon. It remains to be seen if the garden strimmer or the margarita will prove to be my nemesis.

Weekend Gremlins

‘Floor of Doom’

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Dedicated reelers have been spinning themselves and their partners with joyful abandon at the Royal Caledonian Ball since 1848. The Royal Cal is the first of the big reeling balls and the most prominent. It has been cancelled in the past only because of war, (Boer War and the World Wars) and after the death of King Edward VII. With over 700 guests it is an immense party with tiara's and sashes 'encouraged.' Children may observe the set reels from the balcony with their nannies, 'in uniform.' Tickets are consistently in high demand and are priced at a premium to benefit a range of charities which the ball has supported since its inception. 

With a sense of bewildered astonishment the gathered guests at this years ball on Friday witnessed large cracks emerging in the vast dance floor after merely two dances. Who know's? Perhaps the reeling community is tainted with the Obesity Crisis. Perhaps it was a floor designed for floppy disco dancing rather than 700 reelers galloping round the room like the Scots Greys charging the French guns at Waterloo. The cause was irrelevant to those present as dancing was suspended and despite the best attempts of those present will not happen again in the Grosvenor Ballroom until next years ball.  

The committee have announced they will give refunds. Refunds are unlikely to be taken up by most given the altruistic nature of the event. Physiotherapists across the land are facing the unavoidable reduction in post-event injuries and physical complaints with fair-minded stoicism. 

 

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The next day over 82,000 serving and retired soldiers and sailors gathered with family members amongst them at Twickenham for the annual Army v Navy rugby match. It is the largest amateur rugby game in the world and the one which records the biggest beer consumption in the Twickenham area of any event. Few of the attendees at the previous night's ball would have been at both events. The game was going swimmingly until at 15 minutes, a sailor got himself sent off. This undermined the Navy's hope's of winning. Despite this, they played well with 14 men. How much closer might the 22-14 score have been had they been at full strength? 

The crowd enjoyed the game and the day out in the sunshine right until the 60 minute mark when a power problem caused the scoreboard and big screens to go blank. So did the tills in the bars. When the tills stopped working so did the beer pumps. Having the beer stop flowing with 82,000 thirsty serving and retired servicemen could be described as sub-optimal. Others might say calamitous. A body of opinion exists which advocates that the rugby only serves to impede a good days drinking with old mates. For this cadre, the beer tap debacle brought their fun to a shuddering halt. For the majority though, it was a blip in a good day out and saved many a few bob given most servicemen have an aversion to paying £5.50 for a pint at Twickenham and do so only reluctantly.

Two sets of gremlins over the weekend then at two very differnet events. Could be an interesting summer.

Two Sides of The Coin

"98% of people don't understand this" Matthew McConaughey's Motivational Speech.

I am not usually one for motivational videos. Most are promulgated by ego driven self promoters who make motivational videos because they have failed at everything else. At best, they give us some strands of optimism to cling to or reassurance that we are doing some of the right things, whatever they are. At worst, they are deeply condescending and irritating. Occasionally, there are some points that give us pause for reflection which is never a bad thing.

Here then are two, both very different. One from Matthew McConaughey which is typically American in being serious and sincere; the other from Australian Tim Minchin which is witty and irreverent. Reflect at your leisure.

Journal

It was a curiously melancholic week leaving much to reflect on. The passing of Professor Stephen Hawking attracted the kind of attention that such a full life deserved but one which will only be seen in it’s true perspective with the passage of time, and how appropriate is that. When I heard the news I resolved to write a blog post about him which would have been wholly inappropriate coming from someone who barely scraped a ‘C’ pass in physics O-Level and who hardly understood anything in A Brief History of Time except the punctuation. I was anyway only going to highlight three points. That Professor Hawking proved to us all that even the most catastrophic physical disability need be no reason to  dim the lights on the human spirit and soul, that he opened the door to science for many, many school students across the world bringing vision and excitement to the most complex of theories and of course, that it is rare for any generation to live with one of the ‘Greats,’ among us. Fortunately for my readers, my friend Ilyas Khan, who is chairman of the Stephen Hawking Foundation, gave an appropriately eloquent and loving tribute to the man in a BBC television interview. It is well worth watching.

 Ronnie 'Annie' Oakley on the left; NI

Ronnie 'Annie' Oakley on the left; NI

On Thursday I learned that a very old friend and mentor from my days as a young soldier and junior NCO in the RHF was moving from hospital to a hospice. We haven’t seen each other for half a lifetime but an exchange of texts, (he was unable to talk), brought many happy memories back. Happy, incidentally, is a relative term. In this case we’re talking about a shared brew in a downpour, which only served to wash away some of the week long oil and mud encrusted grime on the North German plain, a quick joke at the gates before a patrol in Armagh or our epic double act at the Battalion Christmas Concert in Hemer in 1979. It should have won a BAFTA but the judges didn’t much get round the lively regimental cabaret scene that was BAOR.

 Andrew White

Andrew White

Friday and a drive down to Cirencester to attend a memorial service for another Army chum who sadly died last month after fighting a bastard brain tumour over the past two years. He saw it off for much longer than was expected but that rather summed up his go-forward never-look-back approach to life. Tenacious, bordering on obstinate, he was never going to detune his approach to the world because of some irritable health issue. The memorial service was genuinely thoughtful and therefore memorable. There were a few tears, many more light hearted moments with some moments of quiet reflection on the passing of a strong personality. His three children spoke wonderfully well. They were warm, engaging and witty. As I listened I thought, ‘Andrew, that’s your legacy right there.’ Afterward, as we chatted over drinks, I heard voices and saw faces together I haven’t seen for 20 or 30 years. At one point I closed my eyes and thought, ‘this could so easily be then not now.’ Overall, I think I rather prefer memorial services to funerals when the grief is simply too raw to engage with the family on any level. I would prefer of course, not to go to any, as would we all. I have already lost more of my Army contemporaries than is fair or reasonable. 

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Saturday saw a really rather chilly and wintry trip to Twickenham, the best part of which was the apres’ in the car park before the match. A memorial service for English rugby might be an appropriate next step but as a friend said, ‘it’s a good thing it’s only a game.’ Having deluded ourselves over the past twelve months that the dark days of 2015 were far behind us this Six Nations has been an absolute shocker. While the rest have swiftly caught up with England our team have gone into reverse. Whatever the coaches and players say our boys simply looked knackered. They lacked a yard of pace, any fizz or imagination. It is an uncomfortable truth for the RFU that in pursuit of greater revenue they, and Premiership rugby, are driving English players into the ground. Players need some down-time. What made the game more unpalatable was the £130 that my ticket cost. Thats £1.62 per minute of play and on the basis of what I watched on Saturday has no justification. Obviously, I got to sit just a few seats away from the noisiest and most animated Irishman in the ground but I can live with that. They earned their moment. I was left pondering on the way home though the wisdom of taking Mrs Flashbang to Twickenham in the snow for a birthday treat. For the same money we could have enjoyed the 8 course tasting menu with wine at our local Michelin starred restaurant. Life is all about choices.

Joy

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In common with most, I have enjoyed seeing pictures and reading about the adventures and interesting journeys and holidays of friends over the past couple of months. The pictures, video links and stories have poured in from all over the world. You know what I mean. While I celebrate and enjoy such tales I have enjoyed no such adventures and was beginning to feel a wee bit left out so I seized the moment over the Bank Holiday Weekend and declared it Crumble Time. I went then, without any hesitation or debate, all the way to Whitsbury in the New Forest and then Churt in Surrey.

Now, to some global travellers, Whitsbury and Churt may not seem very adventurous. They aren't. Here though is the thing. 

My kind hosts in the New Forest threw just a fabulous evening party which had the magnetic appeal of being characterised with a guest list full of old Army chums and others, who I had not met before, but all of whom were interesting people doing interesting things. Equally, my very kind hosts the next day, in Churt, threw a super lunchtime party which was joyful in that it transcended the generations. While I met many old friends, I also met new folk both old and young. Chatting with some of the newly qualified doctors at the party confirmed a consistent theme in my experience and on this blog. Disregard everything you hear about this generation which is disparaging. They are smarter, more worldly and more interesting than ever we fossils were. I rejoice in that. We can celebrate that whatever else we mucked up we got one thing right. Obviously, they don't know everything.... as one old boss once said to me.... 'I taught you everything you know.... but not everything I know.'

The takeaway here, for me at least, was a reminder that it isn't what you do or where you do it; it's who you do it with which remains etched on the memory.

How special indeed are friends?

 

 

 

 

 

Highs & Lows

Special, it was all a bit special.

That was a weekend of mixed emotions.

The Lions series ended yesterday leaving many of us with something of a forlorn and empty outlook on life. As one friend said as we watched the post match interviews, ‘what am I going to do now?’ It has been a fantastic six weeks of exhilarating, tense and good-to-watch rugby played by some of the Jedi Masters of the sport. As a shop window for sport in general and rugby in particular, nothing else comes close. The very idea of throwing together a squad from four nations and with only a few days training, packing them off to play the world champions in a three match series on the other side of the earth sound like Mission Impossible from the get-go. Many thought it would be. Perhaps they didn’t give enough credit to Warren Gatland’s mystical ways with coaching, or the manner in which players grow six inches when they put on that red shirt but the thrilling series that we have just enjoyed will live very long indeed in the memory. The downside of the hard fought drawn series is of course that there are some big and useful takeaways for the All Blacks in terms of their preparatory work for the World Cup in two years time from the perspective of competing against the Northern Hemisphere teams who have measurably improved since 2015.

There has though been some critical background noise about Lion’s tours, mostly coming from English clubs. The sounding off is less about the efficacy of the Lions from a sporting perspective but more a cynical and manipulative attempt to grab more money from the funds that the Lion’s tours generate. They can mostly bugger off. They have no support from rugby supporters of any hue and precious little from players, for whom being a Lion is a crowning sporting achievement beyond pounds, pence, PR and advertising. If the English clubs, and World Rugby for that matter, want to take us on then they are welcome to try. They will be disabused of their greedy and selfish motives pretty damm quickly. 

 If those two had been around there would have no need for Hadrian to build a wall.

If those two had been around there would have no need for Hadrian to build a wall.

 

 

The rest of the weekend has been a bit hum-drum, mostly spent staring into the black rugby void with a bit of Test cricket on the box to jolly things along. With Mrs Flashbang away cycling Hadrian’s Wall and the kids all off doing what grown up kids do, it has also been a self-catering event. Yet again I met my nemesis and my nemesis yet again won. I hate dish-washers. There must be a smart engineer somewhere who can design a dishwasher that is easy to use, easy to load with controls that have some logic to them and one that doesn’t turn what’s left of our wedding presents into crystal dust. Having made a best-efforts go at loading the wretched thing I get to play hide-and -seek with wherever she’s hidden the little bloody washy things that go in the little slot. I gave up, emptied the machine and washed everything by hand which I much prefer to do anyway. I’ll master it one day though….. I will.

 Bastard dog

Bastard dog

 Happier days

Happier days

We end the weekend however with a bit of trauma. Actually, quite a lot of trauma. I loved my  Costa del Mar sunglasses. I really did. They have been everywhere with me for the best part of fifteen years. I’ve travelled with them, fished, driven, danced, watched cricket, barbecued, walked, worked, sailed, slept………….. everything. Just a moments inattention and they’ve been trashed. I swear I will swing for that bloody dog. I am not usually one for getting attached to, ‘stuff,’ but I’m genuinely a bit upset about my Costa’s. They’ve become part of me. Or they were. I think they are the best sunnies in the world. I don’t suppose they could be repaired? In the darkness, there is always light. I’ll be on the phone to Florida first thing; right about the same time I'll be registering my interest for the next Lions tour in South Africa in four years time..... 8,000 folk already have!