November 28, 2017

Horse 2345 - It Is Impossible To Undermine An England Fan's Pessimism

Almost as soon as the First Test in Brisbane had ended, the Tweets and messages on forums ribbing me began. This is absolutely normal. One of the things about being an England fan is that whenever England inevitably fail at what ever sport they happen to be playing at this time, I also become the target of many put downs. The brilliant thing about sport is that under the veil of context, you can wish all kinds of horrorshows on people in the safe knowledge that it really doesn't matter at all. Much to the confusion of Australia fans though is that they actually can not invent a put down so withering that it has very much of an effect. This piece explains why.

The big difference between the vast majority of England and Australia fans though, is that England fans go into a thing with the expectation that they will lose. As sure as God made little apples, as sure as the sun sets in the west, as sure as the Pope poops in the woods, and as sure as the bear is a Catholic, England will lose at every single sport that they've invented. I remember when England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and looking around as England fans just stood around stunned because having won a thing, they didn't know what to do.
1-0 down in an Ashes series sounds​ to an Australian fan as cause for much gloating but if you are an England fan who is expecting a 5-0 whitewash from the outset, then you're already so far dug in with the expectation of losing that the only way to dig after that is upwards. The truth in the First Test is that once you remove the 141 by Steve Smith, then what you're left with are two mediocre sides with not much more than the width of a playing card to separate them.

England, being one of four unfriendly brothers, living on a teeny little sceptred island, set as the jewel in the sea, which nature built for herself, was once the centre of the world's biggest empire (unless you are the Mongols), and for the last hundred and fifty years or so, has slowly seen that disappear into the dust of history. This little nation of administrators did what they did best, even when having fun, and apart from America who invents sports that nobody else particularly wants to play, it was the English who set about codifying the rules of every sport... and then promptly set about losing them.
The oldest sporting trophy, The Hundred Guineas Cup, promptly left upon the waves and was carried by the boat "America", to the New York Yacht Club in 1851, wherein it was renamed the America's Cup and wouldn't leave the NYYC for 132 years. The England-Australia cricket began in 1877 and​ also started with an England loss by 45 runs. The sport which you'd think England should consistently win, football, has England not joining FIFA until 1950, and then being beaten 1-0 by an amateur United States team and being thumped 7-1 by the "Magic Magyars" of Hungary four years later.
When England do manage to win a thing, its usually quite a lot naff. All of the gold medals that England took in the 2012 London Olympics were in sports where the competitors were sitting down. Lewis Hamilton who is the current Formula One World Champion, has also won a thing while sitting down and that's compounded by the fact that he did so in a Mercedes-Benz which is a German car.
The little urn which hold the Ashes, are marked with a little notice which says "to the death of English cricket"; so England losing one match, set against the background of decades upon decades of sporting defeat, is of not much concern.

The whole outlook of Australian fans though is entirely different. Having won the Cricket World Cup, the Rugby League World Cup, the Rugby World Cup, the Asian Football Cup, the Netball World Cup and probably world cups in sports that nobody has heard about, Australian fans go into everything with the expectation that Australia will win. Of course that instantly turns to bile when Australia actually lose and the media invariably goes into a cycle of self flagellation.
Since Australia has no national story of birth which was conceived in revolution, the Australian national myth must forever reinvent itself on the sporting field as kind of a de facto substitute for an origin story. Unlike England whose national story contains being invaded by Saxons, Vikings and Normans under William the Conqueror, Australia's national story includes Fanny Durack, Evonne Goolagong, Don Bradman and Phar Lap who wasn't even Australian (and was a horse).

So bring on the taunts about how bad England is. Go on. Point and laugh if you think it will help. From where I'm standing, expecting a 5-0 drubbing as per always, when anything good happens, it's a sweet bonus.

November 24, 2017

Horse 2344 - The Ashes Is Too Hard To Predict

In the age before climate change finally renders life on Earth unsustainable, the whole notion of the seasons ebbing and changing is fast becoming a nonsense. At least in Australia, the summer is officially defined as beginning on December 1st and ending on February 31st, thus allowing for the fact that the arbitrary overlay of the calendar is equally variable and also a nonsense. When coupled with the fact that the summer doesn't line up with the already arbitrary overlay of the calendar and falls in two calendar years, the playing of cricket in an Australian summer is just the overlay of a nonsensical game, over the top of two other nonsenses.
In my mind, summer in Australia begins at precisely 10:30am Queensland time (because Queensland sensibly doesn't use Daylight Savings Time; which is yet another nonsense), when the first ball of the First Test is bowled. That means that in my arbitrary nonsensical scheme of things, the summer started yesterday when the first ball of the first over of the First Test was bowled. Welcome to the summer.

I would have said that the first day's play was likely to be an indication of the relative strengths of the two teams this summer.
Australia can not rely on the assumption that they are the best team in the world and that everyone else is just grist for the cricketing mill, because recent evidence would suggest that they have difficulty finding their way out of a wet paper bag, with holes cut in the side and with neon signs pointing the way out. (By the way, have you tried to get a paper bag fitted for neon signs? I tried and found it very difficult to find someone who would operate in a workplace that small.)
England on the other hand, always operate on the assumption that they are terrible. We always remember Our Lady Jenny Bull Of The Perpetual Assumption Of Rubbishness (amen), and that England being crap at cricket is just one in the long line of being crap at every sport including football, rugby, running, swimming, netball, hockey and losing an empire. The only sport which England seems to excel at is motor racing and Lewis Hamilton has proven that by becoming Formula One World Champion again, but even that falls on the predicate that he is driving a Silver Arrow which has been engineered by Germans.

The first day of this summer defied expectations by providing us with precisely zero information about the two teams in this Ashes series. Both team's recent form is like looking into a bag of Scrabble tiles and expecting to find "quixotic" but only finding "ham". When the rain came, the score was England on 110-1 after Cook fell cheaply and that should have given Australia cause to drive their Size 9 Dunlop Challenger gumboot firmly into the neck of England but they simply failed to do so. Every single one of Australia's supposed front line attack bowlers, failed to show any kind of intent at all and what the Courier-Mail had crowed as the "Gabbatoir" was more like the "Gabba Bottom Paddock" as both the Australian bowlers and fielders wandered around like Brown's Cows (The "Gabba Bottom Paddock" wouldn't have sold very many newspapers, I fear).
England on the other hand also failed to show any intent, as Cook fell for 2, Stoneman 53, Vince 83, and Root was trapped in front for an LBW on 15, and the day's play ended on an acceptable yet boring 196-4. The biggest highlight of the day happened when Australia took the new ball in the 81st over and Moeen Ali complained that the light was failing. The next over, Starc claimed that he'd managed to trap Dawid Malan leg before wicket but when it was referred to the third umpire who also couldn't see the ball in the dim light, Umpire Aleem Dar finally agreed with Ali's complaint.

Let's assume for a second that England manages to lose all six remaining wickets in the first over today (because as an England fan, finding new and impressive ways to be rubbish is par for the course. If a 1983 Ford Granada were to suddenly fall out of the sky and take out an English batsman's wicket, that wouldn't be anything particularly out of the ordinary). All out for 196 wouldn't be all that bad on this pitch. Dare I say it, it might be even defendable.
I would expect that given a new day and six wickets in hand, 196 runs already on the board is a pretty handy thing to have. Trying to guess any kind of outcome either for this match or indeed the rest of the series, is again like looking into that Scrabble bag of destiny and pulling out the word "pots", or is it "post", or is it "tops", or is it "stop", who knows? It certainly isn't "quixotic" because that would be as pointless as tilting at windmills, with a cricket bat, while riding on the roof of a 1983 Ford Granada falling out of the sky. It's just another layer of nonsense being laid down. Welcome to summer.

November 23, 2017

Horse 2343 - Suicide Isn't Painless: It's Inconvenient

As far as I'm aware, Sydney is the only city in the world with a fleet of double decker suburban rail cars; let alone double decker suburban rail cars that go underground. The majority of the City Circle dates from 1926; with services going across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, and the City Circle passing through Circular Quay in the 1950's after Premier Joseph Cahill decided to permanently foul up Sydney's infrastructure by ripping out the trams.
As such, Sydney's suburban trains are capable of carrying up to 2000 people, as opposed to the 900 that the trains on the London Underground can carry. Unlike the London Underground which has had a very long history of improvement (in a lot of cases belatedly), Sydney's underground stations remain mostly the same at platform level as the day that they were opened. Both at Town Hall and Wynyard Stations you can still see the now 90 year old wooden beams which make up the station ceilings, as well as the massive steel beams which hold the stations together. What we don't have in Sydney that I think that the network is desperately crying out for, is anti-suicide pits at least and platform length barriers at best.

The worst trip that I have ever been on, when I was on a northbound train going into Town Hall once, when suddenly the lights went out and those of us standing in the vestibule area near the doors, were thrown violently into the wall of the driver's cab. From the other side of the wall, I could hear frantic yelling as the driver was making his opinion known by use of very Saxon four letter expletives and I also heard that dreaded phrase of "one under".
I don't know what the statistics are for people being hit by a train in Sydney is like but if it's anything like London, then most people who die by being struck by a train are willing participants in the deadly game. Practically none of them are pushed but there are a few accidents.

I can not possibly understand the kind of angst and chaos that must pass through someone's mind to make them decide that taking one's own life is either desirable or acceptable and so I shan't comment on that but I do know that by changing the infrastructure just a little bit, them many lives can be saved.

My proposal would be to have a ditch cut between the two rails as they pass through the underground stations in Sydney. I don't know how deep the anti-suicide pits in London are but I do know that if built in Sydney, that they would be more effective because unlike the London Underground, Sydney's trains are powered by an overhead source of electricity and so there is no third rail between the tracks.
The point of the anti-suicide pits is that when you do have someone​ go under a train, they will fall between the two tracks and into the pit, while the train passes safely overhead. In the London Underground's​ experience, the the number of people who later report that they changed their mind as a result of being saved by the anti-suicide pits is significant enough to justify the almost minimal expense. The amount of bother caused by someone going under a train and the chaos and trauma it causes, is something which should be prevented.

The other more expensive thing that I would like to see in Sydney are platform length barriers installed. The concept is ridiculously simple. You have a series of glass or Perspex barriers down the full length of the platform, with doors that only open when there is a train stopped at the station. Everyone is familiar with the idea as this is how elevator doors should work: the doors on the elevator should only open when there is a car present. Although it is harder to synchronise when you have a train which weighs many tonnes, various underground railway networks like the London Underground, Paris Metro and the Rome Metro have already figured it out. Since Sydney's trains are now almost exclusively eight cars long and with sixteen sets of doors on one side, the set of design requirements are already known. The only challenge would be if there are the older style of V Set trains where the doors are closer to the ends of the cars but they tend not to travel down the underground portion of the network all that often. Really the only stations which would derive the most benefit from platform length barriers would be Wynyard and Town Hall as they experience the highest volume of peak passenger traffic.

Call me callous if you like but I think that I'd prefer the inconvenience caused by retrieving a person who is alive and at the bottom of an anti-suicide pit than the larger inconvenience caused by retrieving a person who is dead and has been pulverised for many meters at the bottom of a train tunnel. I think I'd prefer the inconvenience caused by being forced to stand behind a barrier and being fenced in like sheep, rather than having someone accidentally spill into the path of a moving train.
I realise that the death rate of the population is 100% but I'd rather have people die of old age in the palliative care ward of a hospital, than in front of the 05:47 train to Penrith and inconvenience several thousand people.

Anti-Suicide Pits and Platform Length Barriers... and Bring Back The Roundels Please

November 21, 2017

Horse 2342 - A 39 Year Old Man Walks Into A Toy Shop But Is Perplexed And Perturbed By What He Finds Lurking Inside

At the weekend, Mrs Rollo drove down the motorway to a toy shop, to do some Christmas shopping for our nephew who was born this year. Not having any children of our own, I haven't had much of a need to venture into a toy shop in a very long time, save for looking at board games. I certainly haven't needed to look at toys for very young children ever before and to be honest, I'm quite daunted by the process.
Driving down the motorway is perfectly fine and indeed a joy but going to a shop which I feel like an impostor and a great git, is decidedly unpleasant. This is yet another aspect of life which I feel like an anachronism. I'm sure that I was built for the late Victorian era but for some hitherto unknown reason, was placed in the late twentieth and early twenty first century. To wit:
When I was a wee lad, toys for very small children were either things that they could bite and things that they could hurl across the room violently. This usually meant that very small children had things like teddy bears, teething rings, wooden blocks and things like stacking cups.
Now I completely understand that in the twenty first century that everything will be branded to the eyeballs, and that children's toys are on the whole more colourful than the rest of the world but I did not expect to see what I saw at the weekend.

The first thing that I definitely did not expect to see was the unbelievable amount of things that make noise and have coloured lights. Even as long as twenty years ago, child psychologists were starting to make the connection between flashing and coloured lights and the onset of ADHD in those children who have a predisposition. Of course it would be completely hypocritical of me and very much remiss for me not to see the tremendous irony of my tapping away on a tablet computer to write this but the point remains that simply by walking about and seeing all the things on sale, I probably ended up with both ADHD and diabetes just by looking at them. One can not walk around and not witness the impossible visual saccharin that was going on, and I would not be surprised if the World Health Organisation classified all toy shops in first world countries as public health emergencies.

The next thing that I noticed was the sheer volume of brands and things with either television or film tie ins. I can only assume that Dora the Explorer has finished exploring because she was long gone, but in her place was a myriad of small animals that had television shows on either Nick Jr or CBeebies according to the packaging. I have no idea what The Paw Patrol is, nor what that show with the kid and his small pig was. I have a vague idea of what Iggle Piggle and In The Night Garden is but I am completely lost for words at describinyg what the heck that green dinosaur thing was.
Disney have apparently rebooted The Lion King with something called The Lion Guard, and I'm still unhappy to report that the ubiquity that is Frozen, still hurtles along like an out of control juggernaut.
There also seems to be something of a renaissance for reboots from the 1980s with My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake making a return to the toy shelves. I shudder to think that when 1990s echo nostalgia hits, that there's going to be an echo of the Tellytubbies and a whole new generation will be weirded out by a creepy looking baby staring out of the sun. Where's Skeletor when you need him?

As I walked around more, I was shocked to discover that you can buy a pushchair for carrying around your sprogs at a price which is more than a second hand car. To put on that in perspective, that means that if you parked your Commodore out in the car park, you could double its value by putting a pram in the boot. You could buy two kids bicycles, lash them together with some children's furniture and effectively build your own four seat pedal car and still have at least $500 change from the price of one of these pushchairs.
It makes perfect sense that a toy shop should carry baby clothes but I don't understand why there is some kind of excessive need to make children's wear deliberately obnoxious. I saw slogans on some baby clothes which would not have been acceptable on a big person's t-shirt; so I don't understand why they were magically acceptable on a small child, except to think that maybe it's all right because they can't read?

I was heartened to see that the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe is still in the stores, as is the obligatory aisle of vomit inducing pinkness which is in every toy store; where Barbie is still reigning as queen. I was also impressed that the toy doll aisle now includes dolls of colour, instead of just some weird leftover notion of the White Australia policy. The perennial heroes of Batman and Darth Vader are still in the toy store and it looks like Pikachu has joined the firmament of eternal merchandise. You can still buy everyone's favourite argument inducing holiday board game Monopoly and being summer in Australia, the whole front half of the store was devoted to inflatable everything. If you want a giant inflatable strip of bacon, there was one there for you to buy.

I'm kind of glad that I don't have to walk into a toy store all that often. In my ill-thought out opinion and entirely ungrounded in fact or research, the best toys ever are still soft toys which kids give personalities to, things like lego which build their imaginations and minds, cars and trucks for playing outside in the dirt, and balls which are for kicking and throwing and running around with.
I'm pretty sure that I would have preferred the days when everything was made of wood and when the paint was made with lead. Give a child a heap of blocks, a shovel and a bucket and tell them to play outside.

November 20, 2017

Horse 2341 - Honda Needs To Go To Le Mans Or Go Home

Last week, Honda made the official statement that their engines are "decent enough to compete in Formula One" and that they "are happy with the progress shown so far". I don't know if Honda are necessarily the most objective of observers here and I would rather take the opinion of McLaren driver Fernando Alonso who has frequently described the Honda engines in the back of his car by the use of four letter expletives.

Honda's engines in Formula One have been nothing short of abysmal. They've been hopelessly underpowered and unreliable and Fernando Alonso wishing Toro Rosso all the best of luck for the 2018 season, has the ring of someone wishing a Merry Christmas to a turkey. It's little wonder that Carlos Sainz Jr jumped ship this year because if a Honda powered Toto Rosso manages to win even so much as a single point next year, I will be surprised.

In the case of Honda, they arrived at the current set of rules late. In the the two seasons thanks they've been running the turbocharged hybrid cars, they've always been quite a bit down on performance. The main problems that Formula One presents are that there are neither enough days of testing permitted in a year; nor is there enough leeway to improve an engine if it turns out to be a monumental dud which Honda's current engine and drivetrain are. The way that the rules are currently set up, if you have an engine which is good, then that advantage is more or less permanently locked in; hence the reason why Mercedes Benz have been so dominant for so long.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else at Honda, then I would seriously consider not scaling back the engine program but expanding it to run at the toughest laboratory in the world, the Le Mans 24 Hour race.
Honda is already building the engines and so as far as that side of the equation goes, that's covered. Honda also builds cars for the Super GT series in Japan in the GT 500 class, with their NSX Concept-GT. As someone who has been enjoying the Super GT series, it seems logical to me that if Honda wants to improve the reliability of the engines, then they should run them in a theatre where they will keep on running until they fail.

This road has already been travelled down before. In the late 1970s when Renault's famous 'Yellow Teapot' earned its nickname because it kept on blowing itself to pieces in a great cloud of​ steam, Renault doubled down on their efforts and built the Renault Alpine 442. It would eventually go on to win Le Mans and in the process, they nearly became the first company to win the Formula One Driver's Championship with turbocharged engines in 1983 but were beaten to the post by BMW. Renault's Formula One effort never really took off until they found the limits of turbocharger technology by finding an even tougher laboratory to run in.

My solution would be for Honda to build a variant of their Formula One engine and put it in either the LMP1 or LMP2 class at Le Mans, or at least run it in a GT3 car in the Spa 24 Hour race and see where the engine breaks and more importantly why. Running an engine for 24 hours is basically the equivalent of running 12 Grands Prix back to back and although there might be a step down in the peak performance demanded from the engine, that's kind of counterbalanced by the sheer scale of the undertaking.

Mind you, the other option for Honda could be to just admit that this particular iteration of their Formula One program is a disaster and they should consider just leaving Formula One again. McLaren's​ patience has been tested and broken and they will be running Renault powerplants in 2018, and I very much doubt whether Toro Rosso will be all that much of a benefit to Honda; in the same way that Honda definitely has not been a benefit to McLaren.

November 15, 2017

Horse 2340 - Delete Everything - NaNoWriMo 2017


With one press of the delete key, I destroyed fifteen days worth of words. With one single strike, the story of two brothers and two sisters, which amounted to a tad over 27,000 words, has been sent to the great Memory Hole. It was surprisingly easy.

November is NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. That sounds daunting but it only works out to be 1667 words a day and given that I write blog posts that are longer than that, what would seem like a Herculean task, is actually not all that difficult. The thing that I have learnt after doing several of these over the years though is that although volume isn't a problem, the frustration when you know that you have something which you ultimately don't like, is immense.

50,000 words is sufficiently short enough for me to write four chapters which all follow a pretty standard sort of basic template. There's a problem, two complications and the resolution which contains either two or three loose enda which may or may not be tied up by the end. There's a definite beat to it and it's simple enough that I don't need to expend that much brain power to work it out. In that respect, writing a novel is like solving a self imposed puzzle where the solution is unknown but logical.
This year though, I've reached the half way point and have decided that I just don't care how the story ends, I don't particularly care about the characters even though they are products of my own imagination and those things added together have meant that I don't really care about ending the novel. To press the delete key on this occasion and to have all of the the words simply disappear forever is of no great loss to me.

It has however given me an interesting thought though. I wonder what great novels never existed because the author couldn't be bothered any more. Maybe if I had been someone like Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Arthur Conan Doyle or JK Rowling, where my livelihood depended on producing work, then maybe I might have seen ​the necessity of ploughing through because that would mean that I get to eat (seriously, if you read through The Pickwick Papers you get the distinct impression that Dickens was just putting words together for the sake of collecting cheques from his publishers) but because I am an amateur who has never even seen enough money to buy a cup of coffee, then the only thing that I've missed out on is perhaps a few sleeps on the train, if that.

I think that one of the reasons why I like to write so much is that I think that I have a fairly methodical internal monologue. I can put that to use for me by sticking keyboard at the end of my fingers and then watch as words flow out (but not like endless rain into a paper cup because that's an inherently idiotic idea - at some point really early on, you're going to fill up the paper cup). I also just like the way that words fit together. We probably have only a small number of words in everyday usage but we're always finding ways to make them express new ideas, or the same boring ideas in new ways. I'm sure that if I was a native Mandarin speaker, I'd find joy in the rising and falling of tone and intonation; if I was a native Italian speaker, I'd find joy in the inherent rhythm of the language; if I was a native Hindi speaker, I'd find joy in the way that it wants to tumble with pitch. Because I am either blessed or cursed with English as my native tongue, then the way that it sounds and its Meyer are both known to me, and so that we internal monologue sounds far nicer than on any occasion that I open my mouth to speak.

When you throw all of that at a story, you get something which begins to take on its own kind of life. I had a fairly good idea of how this year's novel would sound if it was read and​ getting half way through it, was enough to convince me that it wasn't worth the effort. If I had borrowed it from the library, I would have thought that it was well written but I still would have returned it before finishing it because I would have been bored by it. If you have a story which is so boring that you can't be bothered to finish writing, then you surely can not expect anyone else to bother with it either.

15 days, 27294 words, no point. This novel did not live long in the memory and so the only verdict was death by delete key. Delete.