I believe I can fly

Some years ago, when I was cruelly thrown onto the scrapheap of the unemployed with no more compensation than a shitload of cash and a healthy pension; I decided I would learn to fly. The cash and pension would not support a Cessna, so I decided to go for the cheapest form of aerial transport, the Paramotor.

To fly a paramotor, you strap a derivative of a motor cycle engine to your back, to which is attached a propeller. Then, dragging a parasailing wing behind you, you run along the ground with motor assistance until lift off is acquired; and then you fly!

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Seemed like a sport for me, and there was school near Pattaya run by a fresh faced young lad called George; so I signed up.

First we had to learn how to launch the sail into the air, a prerequisite before you do the running across the field with an engine on your back routine. This launching process turned out to be harder than it looked. Pull back on the lines and then hold the wing stable before landing it in a controlled manner. Yeah, right.

I sucked at this when I first tried. I also sucked at it the second time, and for a couple of weeks after that. Plus, it was hard work pulling this sail with a mind of its own into the air, and then laying it out neatly again after I had deposited it as a tangled heap in a bush. I almost gave up, but the dream of being birdman kept me going. Finally, I was deemed proficient at launching the wing, time for the motor.

The paramotor power unit comprises an engine, a barely functioning exhaust, a propeller and a fuel tank, all approximately held together in a metal frame. About 30 kg all up; and all you have to do is strap it to your back, apply revs, and run across a field, after having deployed your recently acquired sail launching skills.

First of all we learned how to start the engine. Then we learned how to stop it. Then we learned how to position ourselves to put the power unit on our back. Then we learned how to stand up.

It was at this point that I was reminded of a hernia operation I had had some years before.

I had gone to the company doctor with a suspicious lump in my groin. “Just a hernia” he announced cheerfully, look I have one too!” He lifted his shirt and alarmingly unzipped his trousers to reveal an alarmingly large lump. “Never bothered to get it fixed”. This statement could be applied to a whole range of other ailments which burdened him, along with obesity and borderline alcoholism. He served less as a doctor and more as a warning to others. But we loved him anyway. His monthly health reports to the management team were the only bright spot in an otherwise turgid two hours during which I usually amused myself by playing electronic battleships with the drilling manager, until the MD caught us and suggested we were not being very managerial. But games were suspended when the doctor gave his report, for he invariably eschewed doctor/patient privilege and detailed the more juicy medical conditions he had encountered during the past month. An update on Khun Somchai’s genital warts was far more interesting than the latest seismic survey report; at least to me.

I decided to have my hernia fixed and was directed to an obviously gay surgeon who spent more time than I considered necessary weighing up my gonads before undertaking a passable and very expensive repair to my lower regions; a repair that was to cause me no trouble until I tried to stand up with a paramotor on my back.

“Ouch!”

George suggested I tried walking across the field with the equivalent of the weight of luggage my wife would like to take on holiday.

“Ouch! Ouch!”

George suggested I tried running across the field.

“Ouch! Stop!”

And that, gentle reader, was the end of my dream of flight.

A shame, and there was some nostalgia when we chanced upon some paramotor pilots this weekend. A Japanese gentleman was the most active:

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Note the shape of the propeller:
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There was also a trike; a viable alternative if you can’t carry the load, but more expensive and harder to launch.

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It was good to see them in action; but on reflection I am glad I did not get into the hobby. A couple of people were flying, the rest were just dicking around with sails or machinery. And I wouldn’t enjoy it for the same reason I wouldn’t enjoy kite surfing: too much fucking string*.

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Maybe in the next life I will play electronic battleships less, work harder, and get a Cessna. But for this life I will remain grounded.

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*Actual technical description may be different.

March 13th, 2017|4 Comments

Coasting

Some four years ago I proclaimed my love for the roller coaster theme park game “Roller Coaster Tycoon”. I now wish to proclaim my undying affection for its spiritual successor: Planet Coaster.

It’s twelve years since the last Roller Coaster Tycoon (number 3); but the ten million copies sold convinced the developer that an updated version would be welcomed, and indeed it is.

The mechanics are similar. In career mode you start with a park that looks as attractive as a typical Thai funfair, and you must turn it into something profitable and beautiful. This can take many hours per scenario; partly because there is much to do, and partly because you waste a load of time just looking around your creation, amazed at the amount of detail they have built into the simulator. You can zoom out and look at everything operating, or zoom in and check the thoughts of any one of your visitors. Build a coaster and take a ride on it. Cycle through the night and watch your park’s light shows. It’s a visual feast, even on my ancient machine.

You can purchase complete rides and attractions, or build your own coaster. Working in 3D space to do this is a bit fiddly, especially as you can bend components into any shape you wish and end up with a ride you can only reasonably title “The Intestines”. Having spent an hour or so building your coaster, you test it to discover the levels of excitement, fear and nausea it creates. Extreme readings can mean that nobody will pay to ride; slightly excessive readings means you will need to hire an additional cleaner to mop up the post ride vomit (the vomiter thinks “Pavement pizza!”). Once you have a working coaster, enhance it with a selection of accessories. Soak your riders with water, envelope them in smoke or flames, shower them with confetti. Pick your means of assault and then set triggers so they occur just as the ride cars arrive. I can happily spend three hours or more building a single coaster; because I am weird.

Apart from the rides, you can fill your park with foliage, statues (some animated), kiosks, seats, pathways; you can even construct buildings if you have the time. You must hire staff to clean and maintain the park, and all retail outlets will also be staffed with people you are responsible for. Keep an eye on them, because if they don’t get regular training and pay increases they will quit; ungrateful bastards.

After the career mode has worn you down with the need to start again with fresh challenge after you have just built perfection; you can try Sandbox mode which gives you a large piece of empty land, unlimited funds and all construction options available. Build whatever you like! Or try the challenge mode where you start from nothing and have to meet set criteria.

Planet Coaster is charming, relaxing, challenging and very satisfying when your park is running smoothly. It’s eighteen years since I played the first Roller Coaster Tycoon; so glad to have the latest iteration sitting on my hard drive.

For reasons I won’t bother you with, I am unable to screen print when running Windows 10 on my Mac. So here are some screen shots from other players:

March 11th, 2017|0 Comments

Delayed spermware

I have only had one problem with my lovely new E-M1 II, and that has been the occasional unreadable file, or a file with colours smeared across it. Only happened from the high speed UHC-II card slot, and only happened occasionally. I was not the only one to have this problem and we hoped for a spermware* fix from Olympus.

*For new readers, my wife once referred to firmware as spermware, a slip too good not to use for ever.

I first had the problem on a hot afternoon at Jim Thompson’s farm; and then no problems at all for many weeks, such that I pretty much forgot about it. Then, on the first day of a polo event, I stood in the very hot sun for a couple of hours and when I returned home I had about 5% failed images; not good at all. So the next day I wrote JPEG files to the second card as well as RAW to the fast card. I also turned off the camera when the pack went to the other end of the field and didn’t cradle it in my hands all the time. Result: 100% clean images, so maybe heat exacerbates the problem.

Still, with another event the following week, something had to be done. I was using a Sandisk 64GB which apparently gives more problems than the 32GB version; so at some expense I ordered 2 x 32GB cards from AVcamera. One hour after a placed the order, Olympus duly released a firmware update that purports to solve the problem. Well done Olympus, but if only you had announced it a couple of hours earlier….

I now have more UHC-II cards than I need…

March 6th, 2017|0 Comments

Under the neck

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March 6th, 2017|3 Comments

Blood and teeth

It’s check-up time and we head first to the dentist. I love my dentist; she sings while she works and I know from experience that she will never hurt me. However, when she announces I need three fillings, but will not need an anaesthetic, I get that feeling you get in your stomach when you walk into a room and find a trio of heavily armed samurai: fear. Of course I had no need to worry, two of the fillings were just little patches from destruction I had wrought due to over-enthusiastic brushing, and the third was so small it needed minimal drilling. And she sung some lovely songs.

Having avoided the needle at the dentist, it was off to the lab for the annual test where half my bodyweight in blood was extracted. Picked up the results later in the day and it was as I had suspected: cholesterol and Triglycerides up, HDL down; all still within acceptable limits, but not the very good result of a year ago. Of course I blamed she who must be obeyed.

My previous extra-healthy diet has gradually been replaced by my wife’s cooking. Sometimes she produces a meal like this:

Seared tuna with caviar, accompanied by avocado salad. Delicious and healthy. But sometimes pasta or rice are involved and although she aims for healthy food, he excellent cooking means I have been inclined to over-indulge; “is there any more?”

Something has to be done to reverse my downward spiral.

Last week, Imperial College London released the results of a wide-ranging study into nutrition and concluded that eating the recommended 5 portions (400 grams) a day of fruit and vegetables will indeed improve your life, but that 10 a day is even better.

Eating up to 800g of fruit and vegetables – equivalent to 10 portions and double the recommended amount in the UK – was associated with a 24% reduced risk of heart disease, a 33% reduced risk of stroke, a 28% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a 13% reduced risk of total cancer, and a 31% reduction in premature deaths.

Cue the usual ribald comments, “the only fruit I get is the pineapple on top of a pizza, hahahaha”. Try laughing when you lie in a hospital bed with assorted tubes sticking out of your body as you breath your last at an early age, you stupid wanker.

Put shit into your body and you are statistically more likely to succumb to a chronic disease and/or reduce your life expectancy. Eat well, and your life expectancy increases and you will feel better. It’s so fucking obvious. If you had a nice car, would you put dubious fuel, and oil you found in a can in a puddle, into it? No you bloody well wouldn’t; so why feed the machine which is your body with crap?

Big pharma doesn’t push the ‘eat well’ message of course; they want you to get sick so you can consume the medicine and pills that bring them profits, rather than managing your nutrition and not getting sick in the first place. But a cruise of the wide wide world of web will soon convince you that you can dramatically reduce your risk of all chronic illness by eating well, although of course there are varying opinions as to what is the best food. We all die of something, but personally I would like to reduce the risks and stay around as long as possible.

With the Imperial College report in mind, I have returned to my favourite main meal, what Gordon Ramsey would call “A fucking big salad”. 800 grams you say? I laugh at 800 grams, this baby was 1100 grams of goodness:

Almonds, apples, cucumber, carrots, tomatoes, greens, peppers, cheese and some other stuff I have forgotten. Then the magic ingredient, a frozen lemon grated over the top to give the whole a tangy freshness and bite. Bloody wonderful, and good twenty minutes to chomp my way through it. Digests easily of course, compared to meat. Try eating a 1 kilo steak and see what happens….

But Spike, man can’t live on salad alone! Indeed he can’t, which is why for lunch I had this:

Blueberries, Longan and four bananas, with yoghurt and the magic extras of oats (for chewy interest) and peanut butter (for extra flavour bite). Damn fine!

Top off the above with a breakfast of home made yoghurt (no sugar) berries and oats and I reckon I will live forever.

Or until I get run over by a bus.

March 3rd, 2017|5 Comments

Up in the air

More polo, and the E-M1 II continues to impress, with 18 frames a second guaranteeing plenty of no hooves on the ground shots. Like these:

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March 1st, 2017|2 Comments

Storks can’t operate toasters

Last year we made a trip to Bangkok to see Jimmy Carr, yesterday we made the journey to see my favourite comedian, Eddie Izzard.

He’s currently on a worldwide tour covering so far 38 countries and he announces new dates via Twitter. When Bangkok was announced, I went straight to the booking site. With Jimmy Carr it is best to sit well back to avoid being picked on, but for Eddie I blagged seats in the middle of the front row.

He kicked off with a piece about human sacrifice, before launching into a potted history of England between the Manga Carta and Charles I. Religion, Julius Caesar, Hitler, and the inability of storks to operate toasters all got a mention as one anecdote flowed into another. It was intelligent, creative and had me crying with laughter. She who must be obeyed did her best to keep up, but his speed and reference material caught her out occasionally.

A great show and, unlike Jimmy Carr, I didn’t feel the need for a shower to wash off the filth afterwards. Another thing ticked off the bucket list.

March 1st, 2017|3 Comments

Hub of whores

The Daily Mirror. When it comes to the UK gutter press, it is right down there in the sewers. So no surprise they should knock out an article, short on facts and long on sensationalism, claiming that Pattaya is the sex capital of the world.

Thailand has made many proclamations over the years that its going to be the hub of something; proclamations that rarely come to fruition; so here was a chance to cash in and publicise what appeared to be a ready made winner.

“Welcome to the hub of whores!” could be splashed over banners, with a background of busty young ladies who had recently been splashed over. “The pinnacle of prostitution!”. “A tower of tits!”.

Sadly and predictably, this was not the official response. Everyone from the PM down rushed in to deny or to assign blame; a similar response to that given to a report this week that Bangkok was the traffic jam capital of the world. Instead of announcing “the hub of gridlock” (not an easy sell I will admit), the chaos was blamed upon Bangkokians becoming more affluent and therefore buying more cars, and not at all the responsibility of a government that is meant to plan for such things.

Anyway, back to bar girls. As you would expect, the Mirror article overstated the case, suggesting that one in four of the population are prostitutes and that all of the million visitors a year come merely to hand over cash to ladies of the night. Obvious bollocks.

The Chinese come here in busloads, and other than being led by a little flag down Walking Street, their faces lined with a mixture of boredom and amazement, they are not porno punters. Ditto the Russian families, ditto a whole load of other people who visit here and live here and who never consider paying to insert their genitals where others having recently been. But of course there is prostitution, on the street and in the bars. There are publicly flaunted areas for foreigners and more discrete areas for Thais. And if you think Pattaya has a claim to be a hub, go to Bangkok and have a chat to a Thai guy in the know, there has always been a massive sex industry for Thai men, dwarfing anything catering for foreigners.

“But Spike”, I hear you ask in your simple, trusting, way; “surely prostitution is illegal in Thailand?” Indeed it is gentle reader. “So why don’t the authorities stop it”, you ask innocently. Because the very people who are meant to stop it are involved in it in some way. Allegedly. Prostitution is allowed to flourish because it is highly profitable. Of course that is not the official view.

The PM assured us that prostitution is illegal and that prostitutes are of course arrested, so there is no problem. He also chastised the Thai Media for believing something published by foreigners. Next up was the Pattaya police chief who insisted people come to Pattaya for “nature”, and continued the “blame someone else” theme by stating that any naughty action was the fault of British businessmen who came to Pattaya and set up brothels. Anyway, don’t worry, because he was going to crack down really hard on the little prostitution that could be found. True to his word, twenty alleged hookers (out of a Mirror estimate of 27,000) were rounded up and given a swift talking to before being let out on the streets again. These “crackdowns” have happened before and surprisingly make no difference to the volume of ladies strutting their stuff on Beach Road.

I have lived here for more than ten years, and other than the occasional trip down Walking Street (with a camera, not a Durex), the very obvious sex industry is of no interest to me. I like Pattaya because it there is a huge choice of restaurants and shopping, I am close to the beach for windsurfing, the surrounding area is pleasant, and there are regular events to enjoy as befits a tourist destination. I lived in Bangkok for five years, but the pollution and traffic were not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. I like Chang Mai, but the seasonal smog would destroy my already shattered lungs, and I would die of boredom in Nakhon Nowhere. So Pattaya it will remain for the foreseeable future; even if it is the Hub of Whores™.

February 26th, 2017|0 Comments

Six Baaaaas

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February 20th, 2017|3 Comments

Faces of Burapa

I have been attending the Burapa Bike Week (actually the Burapa Bike One And a Half Days) for a few years and have accumulated, as you might expect, a collection of bike photos. This year I decided to only shoot people, because bikers are at least as interesting as the bikes they ride.

The Thais seemed to enjoy the event more than the farangs, many of whom were just concentrating on looking tough. Didn’t scare me. Much.

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E-M1 II with Nocticron at F1.2

February 19th, 2017|1 Comment