Our TV aerial: The conclusion

I know that you have all been waiting with bated breath to hear the outcome of the missing TV signal, here in Beetley. (Go on, admit it, you have!)

So, if only for my electronic diary, and even if nobody else ever reads it, this is what happened.

The aerial man came at around 2 pm, as arranged. He brought with him an impressively large shiny new pole, and some fresh cable too. We both examined the loft space, and soon found the interior connection that he had to drill through to. Using a drill as long as my arm, he went into the outer wall with ease, until he struck some wood from the inner roof fixings. Undeterred, he carried on, moving the aerial a good ten feet to the west, away from the encroaching tree branches. I made him a cup of tea, and we had a chat. It turned out that he was originally from a part of south-east London that I knew well. In fact, I used to live there at one time. We swapped stories as he had his tea, and then he got back to work. I was reassured, as he had been installing TV equipment since 1966, so knew his stuff.

The exterior aerial looked good on its shiny new post. He bolted it firmly into place, then ran the cable into the hole he had drilled through into the loft. Although it turned out that he had also drilled through a wooden joist, that was not an issue. It was soon connected, and his meter showed that it had a good signal too. We went back to the living room, and re-tuned the digital receiver. Not all of the TV channels appeared, and some that did were breaking up. What could be the problem?

There was some head-scratching, but he was onto a solution. Perhaps it was the socket where the cable ran from the wall into the PVR? That was duly changed, and we did another re-tune. A little better, but still missing some ten of the possible eighty-eight channels. (Most of which we never watch, by the way.) After the previous one was removed, it was decided that it was indeed very old, possibly a 1989 vintage. It was a little faulty on inspection, in that the pin on the co-axial cable was a little corroded, and slightly bent.

I wondered if such a minor aberration could cause so many problems, and I was assured that it could.

With the new socket placed on the wall, we attempted another re-tune, the third in less than two hours. He looked happy, I told him that I was guarded, and a little pessimistic. Still quite a few channels missing, we discovered. His last resort was to change the cable running between the wall socket and the PVR. He went out to his van to get one, and by now he had been here for almost two hours. The small white cable was put in place, and we attempted the fourth re-tune of the afternoon.

Success! All the channels were back, and lacking any interference. I had to ask. Could it just have been the small wire that connected the PVR to the wall socket, all along? Perhaps it was the outdated socket, replaced with a new one? Did we even need to move the aerial in the first place? The man shrugged. It could have been all or any of those issues. At least we had removed the aerial from intrusion by the tree, and had a new socket, and new cabling too. As far as he was concerned, it was job done.

I thanked him, and paid him. He asked for no more than his estimate, despite the extra time taken, the new socket, and additional cables. I was happy too. He was obviously a good tradesman; conscientious, and determined to leave me satisfied. We could do with more like him, and I assured him of our positive recommendation to anyone needing his services.

I hurried inside, to check the TV listings magazine. Wimbledon Tennis, Euro Football, and many programmes cancelled because of these sporting events. I have seen all the films on offer, and many of the other shows were repeats.

I had to conclude that there wasn’t much to watch tonight. Hey-ho.

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The TV saga, continued

I posted about aerial reception problems recently. Today, I had to arrange for someone to come out and sort out the problem.

The first contact number answered. He was a ‘busy man’, he told me. Too busy to come and look at the problem. Instead, he would quote a price then and there, based on the problem that had I diagnosed over the ‘phone. Of course, I am not a TV aerial expert, otherwise I would not be calling him in the first place. He was busy, he told me once again. If I didn’t accept his quote now, I might wait for two weeks. If I did agree, he could do the job tomorrow, strangely enough. He had a ‘window on Tuesday’, apparently.

I called someone else.

The someone else came round fifteen minutes later. He agreed that it might not be a big job, but checked my signal with a meter in front of me, and found it lacking. After looking at the problem, he agreed to try moving the aerial, and replacing the cable. That might work, it might not. But he was a nice guy, customer focused, and offering a free estimate in his own time. The final price was around half of the first quote, which was for a job unseen.

So he is coming tomorrow. He will try his best, by doing what he agreed was the best option for a first attempt. That’s my kind of customer service. Even if I cannot see any TV tonight, I might get some tomorrow.

If not, then I can at least be sure that I haven’t been ripped off.

When The Fates conspire…

I wrote yesterday about being covered in rashes and bites. On top of that, the hay fever season is especially bad this year, and I am streaming from the eyes and nose. Add to this a heavy summer cold and cough, and the recent spell of nice weather has become increasingly difficult to enjoy.

So, to cheer us up, and for a change on a Saturday evening, we decided to go to the nearby Thai restaurant, where we always enjoy good food, and a pleasant night out. We had to book an early reservation, as they were unusually busy. It is within walking distance, and this is one of the added attractions, not having to drive there. However, the uncomfortable humid weather brought heavy skies, and the promise of rain. By the time we had to leave, at 6.15 pm, Julie decided not to risk any thunderstorms, and said she would drive us there in her car. Light rain on the way confirmed her fears, and by the time we arrived, it was raining a lot heavier.

The food was excellent, the staff as friendly as ever, and we were glad to have made the effort to get out of the house, and enjoy the change. By 8.40 pm, we were back at home relaxing, and watching a film on TV. At around 10.30, we were startled by the doorbell ringing. Beetley is a very quiet place, dark and sleepy by this time. Someone calling at that hour is not only unusual, it is almost unheard of. I went out, and saw two people with torches on the driveway. As I got closer, I realised that they were police officers. One of them shone his torch across the road outside. “Could that be your car?” He asked. I was shocked to see Julie’s car up against the wall of the house opposite. I replied, “Hang on, I will go and get my wife.”

We went over to the house of the neighbour across the road. Our car had rolled off the driveway, sedately crossed the street, then continued across his front lawn, before falling into the gap by his side entrance. The back of the car was hard against his brickwork, and the rear wheels suspended in space, jammed by some half-logs that surround his grass. It was too dark to do anything about it, and the police made some cursory checks before leaving, happy to conclude that it was no more than a simple vehicular mishap. Our neighbour wasn’t even at home. He had checked his security cameras remotely, seen a car against his back gate, and presumed that a burglary was in progress. He had called the police from where he was, almost 100 miles away, and they had responded expecting to find suspects at the scene.

This morning, we can see it all in better light. The wheels are stuck fast, his newly-landscaped lawn and log border have been slightly disturbed, and there is some damage to the rear of Julie’s car, as well as to the underside. The insurance company are recovering the vehicle to be repaired locally. They will supply a replacement car for one week too. When our neighbour arrives back today, we will give him the details, so that he can claim for repairs to his property. No harm done, nobody injured, more inconvenience and embarrassment than drama. Things that can be fixed, and only a small amount to pay.

If only we had stayed at home…

Glum and Glummer

(Checking through my blog, I see that I published an almost identical post around the same time in 2015. Perhaps I should have expected this.)

Tomorrow is the first of June. Flaming June, herald of the long summer to come. Lazy days spent in the garden, or exploring the countryside. Long evenings of warmth and relaxation in the open air.

Well, maybe somewhere. But not here.

Our version of this idyllic scene is to be experiencing some of the worst weather we have seen this year. Woken up in the early hours by gale-force winds driving torrential rain against the house, it took a very long time to get back to sleep. Twigs and small branches clattered to the ground, unlocked gates were slamming in nearby houses, and the constant howl of the wind sounded like something from a Norse legend.

As a consequence, I slept late. After emerging into the gloom that is passing for daylight, I was dismayed to discover a leak in the kitchen roof, dripping a small amount of water onto the floor. This is coming from where the extended section meets the main wall of the house. It was all redone not that long ago, so hopefully the guarantee will still be in effect. That won’t cover the inconvenience though, not to mention the plummeting of my mood at the same time.

I need to get up there and inspect the damage, before I contact the roofing company. Trouble is, I am reluctant to do so in the continuing high winds and heavy rain, especially adding vertigo into the mix. I will have to hope for a let-up in the weather later today, before attempting that.

After a couple of re-posts, followed by three fiction pieces, I am once again back to reporting the weather. What a joyful life I lead. I have already had enough of 2016. I would like to fast-forward to 2017 immediately, and see what that has to offer.

Ironing

This another re-post from 2012. I wonder if you have ever seen another blog post about steam-generator irons? I doubt it.

This may seem a strange subject for a blog post. Especially from the blog of a 60 year old man with no connection to the Electrical Industry, or to retailers of electrical products. However, I felt an overwhelming need to share a top tip that may well change your life. (At least the ironing part of your life, anyway).

Like most men born in the 1950s, I really didn’t know what an iron was for, other than it was a thing that women used to make your clothes look smarter, it got hot, and had to be used on a board. At first my Mum, and later my Wife, would spend some time somewhere with this appliance, and smartly pressed shirts would appear in my wardrobe, as if by magic.

This all changed for me, sometime in 1985. My wife and I were splitting up. It suddenly dawned on me that at the age of 33, I did not know how to use an iron, or how to iron a shirt. I had to ask my departing wife to show me all the basics of ironing. I would probably have just taken all the stuff that needed ironing to my Mum, but she lived too far away. By that time, we had a steam iron. It was reminiscent of a cruise ship in miniature, and had a small reservoir at the front, that had to be filled with de-ionised water. Once the necessary heat level had been achieved, steam could be deployed, to assist with the removal of creases. The thing was heavy, unwieldy, and the steam seemed to run out after two items had been pressed. Still, it was state-of-the-art at the time, so I bought something similar, for use in my new bachelor home.

Fifteen years later, I had learned to hate ironing. The replacement for that first steam iron looked and felt exactly the same. I kept forgetting to buy distilled water, and the tap water was so hard that the limescale kept clogging up the vents. I had to set aside one day each month for the great chore of ironing, as I hated it so much, I could not bear to do a little every day. I would get the water, put on some music, prepare the hangers, and crack on with at least 30 shirts, and all the other stuff needed for that month. This would take about 6 hours, constantly re-filling the pathetic reservoir, and making sure that the iron did not get so hot, that it scorched the garments.

In 1998, I saw an advertisement for something called a ‘Steam Generator Iron’, manufactured by Tefal. This seemed to be a tiny iron, resting on a large plastic base, connected by a hose that looked like it meant business. It stated that it held enough water for a full load of ironing, used ordinary tap water, and could iron both sides of something at once. It seemed too good to be true. Also, it cost almost £100, a lot of money for an iron, when you consider that the best conventional equivalent was well under £40 at the time. I decided to try it anyway. As an ironing-hater of the first degree, I would probably have paid twice that, if the claims could be guaranteed.

I bought one the next day. It was indeed resting on its large water tank. This meant that I eventually had to purchase a longer, sturdier ironing board too. Once fired up, I hesitatingly began to iron a shirt. Revelation! The super-lightweight iron felt like it weighed a tenth of its predecessor. The constant blast of steam glided over the material, all creases banished in seconds. I turned the sleeve over, only to find it was already done. It had ironed both sides at once, as claimed. I next tried screwed up denim jeans. It was as if the iron laughed at the challenge, again dealing with both sides adequately. Soon, I was racing through half a dozen shirts in 15 minutes. Even after a full couple of hours of ironing, there was still water in the tank, so steam available. I had finally done it. I had run out of things to iron before my iron ran out of steam. I was a born-again ironer, an ironing evangelist, a convert to the way of the Steam Generator. I would almost, though not quite, iron for pleasure.

I started telling everyone I could about steam generator irons. Though my own was a Tefal, all the companies were jumping on the bandwagon. I made a handful of happy converts, even though they balked at the price.

When that original purchase finally expired, (It still worked, but the steam cord became frayed and dangerous to use.) I did not hesitate to go straight out and get the latest generation, then costing a shade under £200. It is angular, has a coloured plastic water reservoir, a new gizmo that unscrewed from the side and removed the limescale. It looks the business, though in truth, is no better than my trusty original machine. The main improvement is in the actual iron handset. New technology coating on the iron plate, lighter build, better steam control, all mean that it is faster and better than ever. Alright, it does cost a lot of money. I have seen washing machines and other large white goods for a lot less. Look at it this way. Let’s say it lasts for 10 years. That is a yearly cost of just under £20, a weekly cost of 38p. That small amount of money will literally improve your life, now isn’t that worth it?

If you are asking yourself why someone like me, with nothing to gain, would be sitting in a room in rain-swept Norfolk, on a miserable Sunday in August, writing about something as mundane as ironing, then get a steam generator iron. (Any make, doesn’t have to be a Tefal but get a good one, pay as much as you can afford) You will realise what all the fuss is about.

My DVD Films: Another random selection

After the first post in this series was well-received, I thought that I would quickly do a second. Not only do I enjoy recapping the films I have seen, it is also nice to think about them, when it has been some time since they were watched. Let me know if you want me to keep going though, as it could become a very long series. Once again, I chose a shelf, and slipped six films from the top of a stack. here’s what came out.

1) The Raid (2011)

Despite having a lot of foreign films in my collection, this is the only one from Indonesia. (Original language, English subtitles.) The tagline for the film reads, ’20 Elite Cops, 30 Floors Of Hell.’ This should give you some idea of what to expect, and it delivers. This is a rollicking roller-coaster of a film, (critics love that description) with a huge cast, an enormous amount of shooting and killing, and some first rate martial arts combat too. After a brief build up, it continues at a frantic pace until almost everyone has been killed. I needed a rest after watching this, it wore me out.
The plot is nothing special. The SWAT team are sent in to root out drug dealers and gangsters occupying a deserted tower block in the city. But they have an informer in their midst, and the criminals have been alerted to the raid. The police walk into an ambush, and have to fight for their lives, with no sign of any help arriving.
This is a great foreign film, that bars no holds, and pulls no punches. I loved it.

2) Ride With The Devil (1999)

Ang Lee’s award winning film set during the American Civil War is a must-see, for any fans of the genre. It is one of my favourite modern films, but I confess to being very interested in that war. I have reviewed it previously on my blog. Here is that review.

‘This 1999 film, directed by Ang Lee, eschews the huge battles and massed ranks of the more conventional Civil War films, to concentrate on an isolated aspect of the conflict. Missouri, in America’s mid-west, was a state divided against itself, as neighbours and former friends chose sides at the outbreak of hostilities. Here, there were no rules, no uniforms, and no mercy shown to the enemy. Armed bands of irregulars roamed the state, and crossed into Kansas, to pursue the causes of the sides that they had picked. The story concentrates on a band of Confederate sympathisers, and their exploits during a relatively short period. Historical accuracy is flawless, and period feel is so good, it often seems like a documentary that could have been made at the time, if such technology had existed then. The action, when it comes, is a series of frantic engagements, and uneven fire fights, though a lot of time is spent sitting out the weather, and avoiding capture. The main set piece of the film, a depiction of the real-life raid on the town of Lawrence, in Kansas, with the massacre that follows, is well portrayed, and convincing enough. Where the film scores is in how it handles the quiet moments, and the human impact of the war. Excellent performances, including an exceptional Tobey Maguire, lift this film far above what you might expect. This is not just for the Civil War enthusiast, as it works for lovers of film everywhere.’
Enough said.

3) Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001)

This is film from Canada, set in an Inukitut (Inuit) community, and entirely in their language. (Original language, English subtitles.) This film is worth watching for the cinematography and scenery alone. Critics at the time called it ‘Visually stunning.’ And it is. But it is also an insight into the Inuit community, and their legends and traditions, one of which is told in this story. The legend of Atanarjuat is the tale of evil, magic, and shamans. Two brothers try to overcome this this blight on their people, but one is killed, and the fast runner must complete the quest.
This film is just amazing, and will stay long in your memory. It is unlike anything else I have seen, except perhaps the pseudo-documentary ‘Nanook Of The North.’ (1922) And it will give you an glimpse into the rich culture of these people into the bargain.

4) Valhalla Rising (2009)

Another unusual film, this time with established credentials, and some familiar faces. Directed by Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn (‘Drive’,’Bronson’) and starring another Dane, Mads Mikkelsen. But it is not a foreign language film, and it is set in an unspecified Norse location, though filmed in Scotland, with a predominantly British cast. It is hard to properly review this film with limited space, but I will try to give some idea of it. it is told in six chapters.
It is 1000AD, and One Eye (Mikkelsen) is a fierce fighter, held captive by a local chieftain. He makes him fight to settle disputes with other clans and enemies. He escapes, accompanied by the young boy who is tasked with looking after him. One Eye has visions, and can see his own fate. Perhaps he is a mystical being? We can make up our own minds.

He comes across a group of Christian warriors, who are seeking a route to the Crusades. They decide to throw in with this strange pair, and events take strange turns as they set out on their voyage to find the Holy Land. Their navigation is unsuccessful, and they return to the river, arriving at a moody, mystical place. After being attacked by unseen enemies, and drinking a brew of hallucinogenic herbs, the group fragments, with some losing their minds. Much of this film is reminiscent of ‘Aguirre, Wrath of God’, with its fruitless quest, and magical landscapes. Something different, for those who think that they have seen everything.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

A psychological thriller that is all the more disturbing as it is set inside a family group. This film got high praise from the critics on release, and I can only agree with them. I have already given it a very short review on my blog, in 2013. Since then, many of you will no doubt have seen it. Here is that review.
‘I will not add plot spoilers, or go into too much detail about events, as this should help you come fresh to the viewing. Dealing with a particularly difficult and disturbing subject, the 2011 film, ‘We need to talk about Kevin’, is a rare thing; an American film with the feel of European cinema. The performances by all the cast are excellent, with the English actress Tilda Swinton, outstanding in the lead role, of Kevin’s mother. This is not a comfortable, or feel-good film, so don’t expect to laugh, or for that matter cry. It is an experience to be had, at the hands of talented director and writer, Lynne Ramsay, and like nothing you will have ever seen before. If you are at all serious about film and cinema, I urge you to see this superb film.’
I still feel much the same about it now.

Arn: The Knight Templar (2007)

More Crusaders, this time in a full-blown epic. A big-budget Swedish film, the DVD copy is an edit of two films made as part of a trilogy, drawn from the books by Jan Guillou. This film has no less than five languages in it, including English. As a result, there are subtitles, then no subtitles, as and when necessary. The film starts with the young Arn at home in 12th century Sweden. He is part of a large and powerful family that are at war with another faction, for the control of the crown. After the King is killed, Arn is compelled to give twenty years of service as a penance, and he travels to Jerusalem, to become a Crusader.
Once in the Holy land, Arn gets involved in adventures and combat, and even manages to save the life of the Christians’ enemy, Saladin. The film has some good authentic touches, as well as some entertaining set piece battles. If you can forgive the odd liberty with historical facts, (and I can) this is an enjoyable epic film, made in the old way, and no less entertaining for that. The cast contains a few familiar faces, including Stellan Skarsgard and Simon Callow, but most of the Scandinavian stars will not be familiar to us. In my book, this helps to make it work.

Another six films for you to think about, if you haven’t seen them of course. A more mixed bag on this occasion, and despite two films featuring Crusaders, there should be something in here for everyone.

My DVD Films: A random selection

A while ago, I finished sorting out the small spare room we call ‘The Office.’ Julie bought some nice units, with bookshelves above and cupboards below. I began to unpack some of the boxes that have sat in the garage, untouched for over three years. One of the shelving units was to be for the DVD films in my collection. I started to open the boxes, stacking the films horizontally, with the titles showing. I did it this way, as I could get more on each shelf.

I soon filled the available space. On the smaller shelf, they are stacked sixteen high, and three deep. There are nine stacks. The next biggest shelf has only four rows of films, arranged twenty high. The largest shelf allows them to be stacked twenty-five high, and again there are nine rows. Jotting the total on the back of an envelope, I arrive at 449. I have about twenty films out on loan to friends and family, so let’s say a conservative estimate of 465.

This doesn’t include the box sets. There are about fifteen of those, including some never opened. It also doesn’t allow for any more that are still to be discovered, as there are more boxes in the garage. On the top shelf, alongside some non DVD items, are the films I have yet to watch. Still in their plastic wrappers, they are gifts, unseen bargains, and some region 1 films awaiting a suitable DVD player, or the chance of finding the one I used to have before we moved here. Total, 48.
So, that comes to 513, and that’s just the ones that are in this room, that I actually know about.

I thought that it might be interesting, at least to me, to take the first six films from the first stack, on the second shelf. A completely random selection, as they are in no order, whatsoever. Some people are very good at arranging DVD films and music CDs. Some do it by genre, some by title, alphabetically. I like to be surprised. This makes it hard to find a particular film though, as I have to break down every stack to search for it. This is time consuming, but reveals some exciting discoveries, and fond memories of films loved, or otherwise. The six films I took down to write about in this post are indicative of the eclectic mix of titles that I have collected over the years. I don’t have space for a full review of each, but here’s the list, in the order as they came off the shelf, with a brief outline. You can easily look up any that interest you.

1) Nil By Mouth (1997)
This is an uncompromising British film, set in the part of south London where I originally came from. It is a tale of domestic violence, drug use, dysfunctional families, and no happy endings. Not for the faint-hearted, it features a magnificent performance from Kathy Burke as the abused wife, and the familiar hard-man persona of Ray Winstone, as her abuser. It was written and directed by Gary Oldman, and also stars his actress sister, Laila Morse. Burke won best actress at Cannes for her role, and if you can stomach the violence and swearing, you will see why.

2) Black Hawk Down (2001)
Ridley Scott’s film of the ‘Battle of Mogadishu’ needs little introduction. It is on TV almost every night, and I cannot think of anyone I know who hasn’t seen it. If you haven’t, it is a relentless tale of fighting between American special forces and local militia groups, during a real event that took place in Somalia, in 1993. It is devoid of political correctness, and looks at events primarily from the point of view of US soldiers and helicopter pilots. There is a stellar cast, including Ewan McGregor, Josh Hartnett, Sam Shepard, Tom Sizemore, and Eric Bana. It is more or less two hours and twenty minutes of constant battle, with little in between to slow down the action. As a war film, it is pretty damn good.

3) The Disappearance Of Alice Creed (2009)

Another British film, this time about a kidnapping. It has a cast of just three, with Gemma Arterton as Alice, and Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston as the kidnappers. Mainly set in a small flat, and mostly in just two rooms, it puts the claustrophobic set to good use. The kidnappers met in prison, where they became lovers, and hatched an intricate plot to kidnap the daughter of a rich man. But one of them is also the former boyfriend of Alice, so they must keep their identities secret. There is an unpleasant scene, where the girl is stripped and photographed, (but not molested) and some violence later in the story. I won’t betray the ending, but it is enough to say that things rarely turn out too well in films of this type. It is actually quite good, and the excellent cast keep the tension going.

4) American Gangster (2007)

Another film produced and directed by Ridley Scott, and it shows. This is the based-on-truth tale of a successful drug dealer and gangster, Frank Lucas, (Denzel Washington) and the detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) who investigates his activities, forming something of a bond with him. This is a top-notch film in every way, with great performances by the cast, especially Washington, who are all never less than believable. The filming in New York feels authentic, and the different time periods are all perfectly recreated. No complaints from me.

5) This Is England (2006)

A British film, written and directed by the brilliant Shane Meadows. It is set in 1983, and follows a group of skinheads going about their everyday lives, in and around a depressing housing estate. The disparate group are brought together by their love of West Indian music, and the undercurrent of racism prevalent in disaffected white youth at the time. The small group disagree about politics, and with one faction shying away from mindless violence, they eventually split up. It doesn’t sound like much does it? But it is. It is simply marvellous, with terrific performances from Stephen Graham, Vicky McClure, and Joseph Gilgun in the leads. It spawned an equally good, if not better, TV drama of the same name that is soon to have its third series.

6) The Host (2006)

This is a film from South Korea, (original language, with subtitles) about the arrival of a sea monster in Seoul, the capital city. The monster has been created by the dumping of chemical waste into a river, and it grows to an enormous size, and can move very fast too. As a an added horror, the monster carries a deadly virus, which can affect anyone who comes into contact with it. The monster takes a girl hostage, storing her in a tunnel, and the film becomes a quest to find her, often with amusing consequences. It has the lot; spooky scientists, quarantines, viruses, a monster swallowing people, and unlikely heroes trying to get the girl back. Great fun, for two hours.

So there you have it. A snapshot of years spent collecting and watching films on DVD. I enjoyed this excursion onto my shelves, and may well do it again.