coffee and spaghetti

the inimitable Michael Marshall Smith’s latest blog post is jolly entertaining

How the Spaghetti Murders Started

On a slightly-related note, I opened a pack of Tesco ground coffee yesterday morning.

No, really, I did. Life is just that exciting round here.

I noticed on the side of the packet a photograph of a large, friendly pile of the aforementioned coffee nestled artfully in a hessian sack, with a spoon sticking out of it.

Under which was the text ‘serving suggestion’

Now, call me an old traditionalist if you will, but I would wager that 99.999% of coffee drinkers in the known universe would prefer their coffee served in a mug, having been steeped in hot (but not boiling) water first. And not, as Tesco would suggest, in a sack, hessian or otherwise.

books of 2009: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch

Second of the ‘Gentleman Bastard’ series, following up from the brilliant The Lies of Locke Lamora. My friend at work bought it and loaned it to me to read first (nice chap).

In Red Seas, Locke and Jean end up having various piratical adventures on the high seas. Generous dollops of treason, double-crossing, triple-crossing, sneaky high jinks, cunning escapes and thrilling cons. Reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean series in places. Huge amounts of fun trying to work out how on earth the author will manage to get our heroes out of this and that.

Republic of Thieves is out in March 2010, according to Amazon. Whatever you do, don’t read the Amazon page until you’ve read this book first! Major spoilers etc.

If you’ve read both, you might be interested to know that Scott has posted up the prologue to book #3 on his website…

Is it next year yet? 🙂 I really want to re-read them both again, right now.

Added to amazon wishlist for future christmas pressies. 🙂


*taps microphone*
Is this thing on?

I was making my way to the car park a while ago, headphones on, enjoying the rush of people around me as the Scissor Sisters played tunes in my head.

I love the feeling of having a personal soundtrack to what I’m doing. It allows you to feel disconnected, yet still *there*, if you get my drift.

Everybody wants the same thing
No trading places on the chain gang
It doesn’t matter how you swing it
Everybody wants the same thing

So, there I am, heading over the bridge when I notice the guy in front of me. Youngish, smartly dressed. Staggering. He falls to the left, corrects, straightens, keeps going and staggers to the right. Rinse and repeat. He almost collides with half a dozen people while I gradually catch up with him. He seems quite jolly though – I can hear him talking away to himself and anyone who’ll listen.

When the hammer comes down it never makes no sense
Chaos is not a virtue, paranoia loads the bases

Not that anyone will. Who’d talk to a staggering, crazy drunk dude on a cold dark night such as this?

I bide my time, gauging the flow of people, waiting for the moment when I can step up my pace and slip past him on the narrow pavement. Cars whiz by, inches from the side of the road, cutting off the option of using that as a space. Ah well, there’s no great rush.

What is it that you want?
What is it that you give?
Where do you plan on finding it?
How do you want to live?

There. A gap. I increase my stride, timing my move to his stagger. He goes left, I pause, he goes right, I go past.

We’re now a hundred yards further on. I sense a presence behind me. A staggering presence, moving erratically. I tune out the words to the song and realise that he’s talking to me. A hand catches the arm of my coat and I remove the headphones, tinny voices spilling out into the cold night.

“Mate,” he says, eyes wide. “I have a question.”

“Yeah?” I reply. Sharp, huh?

“Mate,” he repeats, gesturing at the stream of traffic and people as his stagger comes to a halt.

“Why? Why is Leeds… mechanical?”

This last word is spat out, loaded with venom and bile. His eyes dance in the sodium glare of the streetlights.

“No idea mate, ” I offer. Weak, but true.

He drops to his knees, arms raised to the heavens, face turned to the sky. “WHY? Someone must know! Someone *must* know!”

I shrug. The only possible answer to such a question. Whatever this guy is on, he’s flying. Good luck with your quest, mate. I hope you find an answer.

Love is what I want
Love is what I give
Right here’s where I’m finding it
That’s how I’m gonna live…

lyrics courtesy (and copyright, no doubt) The Scissor Sisters, Everybody Wants The Same Thing, from their album, Ta Dah!

inner strength

Ah, dear reader, welcome back. I know that I’ve been remiss in updating the blog recently, but I promise to write more often in future.


Let me take you on a journey through time and space, back some twenty-odd years (and trust me, some of those years were very odd), and about 80 miles north from my current location…

Are we sitting comfortably? I’d get a coffee or something, as this is pretty long.


Then I’ll begin…

Hereby hangs a tale of shameless self-aggrandisement. We journey to 1986. Durham university. Young dakegra has been chosen, though he knows not why, to take part in an inter-schools technology conference, called Input ’86. Schools from around the North East send promising young things to the conference, to learn Stuff and do Exciting Things.

We’re split into teams of four, and given Tasks. First task is to build a machine which will transport a can of Coke (or generic soft drink of choice) down a ramp, into a swimming pool, across said pool and up a ramp on the other side. Without sinking, falling apart or tipping over. Much in the style of The Great Egg Race. The great Heinz Wolff himself is in attendance, of course, though there is no sign of the lovely Lesley Judd.

Our team spends several hours constructing their device, only for it to fall apart, tip over and sink, approximately halfway across the pool. Kind of embarrassing, really.

Our heads hung in shame, we retreat to lick our wounds. The next task is given.

We are to construct a tower, from assorted pieces of metal. This tower must not exceed one metre in height, and must be capable of supporting a weight of 50kg. We cackle with glee, and start drawing plans of a *really* short tower, say about an inch high, made of solid metal. Our hopes are crushed however, when we are told that the rules had been hastily amended, as everyone had the same idea.

New rule: The tower must not be less than 75cm in height.


So, we begin our plan. We devise a tower *exactly* 75cm tall. With legs just slightly off vertical, for balance. Comprising of lots of triangles, as triangles are Strong. We reinforce the top of our tower with lots of metal, as this is where the weight will go. We strengthen the base, as this is where a lot of the outward force will go.

At the very last minute, we add a band around the centre of the tower, to try and hold it together, as the legs would otherwise buckle.

Our tower is a flimsy little thing. Four legs, where they should be. Rivets cover every joint. Surely not up to the task in hand.

Time’s up. Testing begins. There are about ten teams, and the winner will be the one whose tower holds the most weight. Our team is last in the list, adding to the tension.

Each tower is tested at various loads up to 50kg. The first tower passes. Their team heaves a sigh of relief. More weight is added, and it quickly buckles under the stress. Pretty good.

Towers come and go. Each passes the 50kg mark easily. Some crack early, some last slightly longer. Towers of various shapes and sizes are put under the test rig and, eventually, destroyed.

Time for the penultimate tower. The record at this point is around the 200kg mark. Pretty impressive.

Tower 9 is loaded up.
150kg. Pass.
175kg. Pass.
200kg. Pass.
250kg, 275kg, 300kg. Pass. Pass. Pass.

325kg. Pass. The uni guys are nervous, the test rig can only exert a load of 350kg. Students mill around, looking for the weaknesses.


One joint finally collapses under the strain. Legs skew and buckle, and Tower 9 is crushed.

Time for Tower 10. Our tower. Our little bit of metal, against The Rig.

50kg. Pass. A sigh of relief. Imagine the embarrassment if this had failed as spectacularly as the coke-carrying machine.

We make it to 200kg, and it’s looking good. 250kg. 300kg. Our team looks nervous, apprehensive. Beads of sweat appear on furrowed brows. Could we match the 350kg? We’re in comfortable 2nd place already.



Solid. Absolutely rock solid. We’ve won! We’ve beaten the rest.

Cheers and pats on the back, grins all round. We’re presented with a souvenir pen of some description, to mark the achievement.

A couple of weeks later, I’m back at school. The teacher comes into the lesson, and hands me an envelope. It’s from Durham uni. They decided to set up a stronger test rig, to see what our tower could take.

It finally *started* to go at 682kg, nearly doubling Tower 9’s record. Our tower weighed in at less than a kilo, the lightest of the ten.

My point? I don’t really have one. This is a story that has made me smile with a fierce kind of pride since that day back nearly 20 years ago. I just wanted to share it with you.

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