Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What is 'payatrader' on card statement?

This isn't the first time I've posted a blog as the result of trying to figure out what a payment is on my credit card or bank statement (remember Abbey DMO?).  It's now a well-established fact that sometimes the name shown on a statement for a purchase may bear little resemblance (if any) to the name of the business you have purchased from. The most extreme example I know of was Anglia Railways, when I bought tickets from the ticket office in Ipswich the payment would show up on my statement as 'Norwich  Sports Ltd'.

So what is payatrader?

A few days ago I bought something from a small local shop and had a chat with the business-owner about the neat little credit card machine they had.  This little payment system didn't have a printer, instead it was fitted with a sim card and when customers requested a receipt it arrives via SMS on their cellphone.  'Payatrader' is the facilitator of this system, you can find out more about them HERE... You might recognise the look of the card reader.

So if you've seen Payatrader on your statement think back, have you recently bought something at a trade show or craft fayre?  Or have you bought something from a small independent store?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Are Amazon Kindle books too expensive?

There's a theory going around that Amazon are aware that they might be seen as selling 'thin air' in their Kindle store, which is something you and I both know isn't true.  Art isn't worthless; if someone has created something new using their talents (learned, developed or nature-given) then it has a financial value.  This fact is the reason so many musicians get tense if you ask them why they don't give their music away for free.  One does not need to hold something weighty and physical in order to have made a valid purchase.  If my mechanic fixes my car without needing parts or the purchase of tools I still pay him.  I don't know when we became so convinced that we need to be given something tangible in order to feel like a satisfactory financial transaction has taken place.

Amazon do not allow publishers and authors to set very low prices on their Kindle books, this is probably because they are attempting to maintain a perceived value on Kindle books.  As soon as something is given away for free it is considered worthless, and 'cheap' is just one step away from free.

Some Kindle books do seem a little expensive but the larger the publishing house is the more mouths they have to feed, which is why the Kindle Marketplace appears to be so beneficial to small publishers.  It's not in Amazon's interests for our work to become worthless.

What is the 'race to the bottom' in retail?

When I had a record shop we paid around £8 wholesale for most CDs, as did all other retailers. After a couple of years we noticed some online sellers were quite dramatically lowering their prices, they would make a make a smaller profit on CDs in order to sell higher numbers of CDs. It worked for a while, then other sellers on Amazon wanted to use the same method to shift units, but they needed an advantage over merchants who were already shifting twice the units by undercutting the established market.

What advantage could new Amazon sellers give themselves over the established sellers?  The words on the listings were largely out of their control, and postage prices were set by Amazon.  So the only advantage they could give themselves was price; if they undercut their competitors by just a few pennies then they would win the business, albeit at the loss of a bit of money per-unit.

Amazon, Ebay and the Web at large are very large marketplaces.  Many people want to sell online, and these many people all need an advantage.  For 99% of sellers the only advantage they can give themselves is to ensure their prices are lower than those of their competitors.  Their competitors then retaliate by lowering their own prices, so their 'peer' sellers can only maintain their advantage by dropping their prices lower than those of their competitors.

This process gathers pace until product is sold at a loss.  So we find a situation whereby merchants are selling their product at such low prices they're actually making a loss.  So do they stop there?  No.  There are enough sellers wishing to get a foothold in a pressured market that they will sell at a considerable loss in a frantic attempt to get established.  Huge numbers of these sellers find the situation unsustainable and go out of business.  But as mentioned earlier the Internet is all about huge numbers, so for every ten thousand sellers who go bust selling at a lot there will be twenty thousand joining the game. So where does it end?

We closed our shop the day we saw product we were paying our £8 for on sale for 25p a unit on Amazon Marketplace.

This is the race to the bottom.

Friday, November 29, 2013

It all started when I heard 'Then' by The Charlatans.

This is a column originally published by Lights Go Out zine.

When I was a teenager I was all about the fey breathy vocals, silly wide trousers and jangly indistinct guitars of what was then know as 'indie' (but has long since become 'mainy').  Oh how I mocked the dumb thunky musical nothingness of Heavy Metal.  All that hair?  No thanks, I wanted, well, 'all that hair' of Madchester bands.

Being into indie music in the nineties was like being a part of a mass many-headed dictatorship, a collective fascism where you weren't allowed to like any band unless a set number of your mates had already agreed that the hair was big enough, the beats were dancy enough and most importantly that the group in question hadn't enjoyed any significant commercial success.

We were happy enough.  We knew where we were, which is more than most teens can say about anything. We were yet to experience the touch of a loving woman, but we felt sure that playing in bands that mimicked our baggy heroes would solve that issue. Actually my first proper snog came from a groupie - the only time in history a lass has chosen the bassist of a band as the object of her affections, despite the singer and guitarist both clearly being very available indeed.  But that's a story for another time, possibly a time in the past.  I'm quite repetitive in my ramblings.

A few things happened that shook my belief in slouchy backbeats and riffs clearly nicked from 60s psychedelic bands. The first event was the other three members of my band being bright and intelligent enough to go to university. I lumbered into a pre-nursing course at the local college, and more importantly accidentally fell into a punk rock band.  This is significant because if at the time I thought metal was dumb I thought punk was amoebic.  Then a very nice (and often very drunk) lad called Jonny on the college bus gave me a mix tape that opened with 'Suspect Device' by Stiff Little Fingers.  My world changed that very second.    "I want to be in a band that makes music like that" slurred Jonny. " So do I," I replied, while trying to discourage Jonny's friend Barry from setting fire to my trousers. If 'Then' made me want to play music 'Suspect Device' made me want to be a part of music.

Taking a zine moment
while setting up my old shop.
A few years later I discovered that punk was not what I thought it was at all, this happened when a mate in a fellow band called 'Wolfe Retard' (possibly not the name on his birth certificate) told me some overweight bloke called Mike had given him a few boxes of unsold compilation CDs from his DIY record label.  'Cute' thought I (in an uncharacteristically patronising moment) and politely accepted copies of Fat Wreck volumes 3 to 7. My world changed again.

Punk wasn't leather jackets and gobbing; it was dudes like me singing about things that really mattered. Playing the songs with punch, passion and zero pretension.

Years of playing in crap venues to confused regulars passed. I slept in vans, on cigarette pocked carpets and I made some of the best friends I've ever had. I opened a record shop with one of these friends and I was exposed to many divergent types of music that I had never previously heard and I learned a ton of good music that I had never even considered listening to.  And that's when the heavy metal happened.

I heard the epic sweeping majesty of Red Sparrowes and Isis, the cascading sonic waterfall of tracks like 'March into the sea' by P E L I C A N and the tight canter of The Sword. Heavy Metal wasn't all leather jackets and bad body odour; it was brilliantly intelligent arrangement and the sometimes glacial grinding power of bands like Sunn O))).

There's a wealth of astonishing heavy metal in this world, if you just clear your mind of preconceptions you might find you really love it

I still love 'Then'.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Very simple ginger beer recipe

If your bottle swells like this then release the
gas by unscrewing the cap very very slowly!
I've been making ginger beer to this recipe very regularly indeed since it was passed to me by Roki from These Are End Times.  There are plenty of complicated ways to make ginger beer but this method is so simple you might find yourself making it as often as I do.  This is the perfect method for anyone who is new to homebrew and fancies trying their hand at homemade beer without investing in any equipment.

Ginger beer ingredients

  • 1.5 tablespoons(ish) of grated root ginger
  • 1 lemon(ish)
  • 1 tablespoon(ish) honey
  • 250g(ish) of sugar
  • Pinch of yeast
  • Tap water
  • 1 empty two litre pop bottle

Any old brewing yeast will do, but I quite like the champagne yeast that Brewer's Barn in Ipswich sells.  They also sell a brilliant all-round good yeast, lookie...  One of those standard yeast pots will contain enough yeast for about 200 brews!

How to make simple ginger beer

  1. Get all the ingredients and shove them in a bottle, top up using tap water and leave about 5cm at the top of the bottle. 
  2. Put the bottle somewhere reasonably warm (not your airing cupboard)
  3. Seven to ten days later drink the ginger beer.

Okay that might be a little simplistic, but it's quite close to the truth.  I've tried making ginger beer to this recipe by just guessing at the measurements for the ingredients and it has still turned out just fine!  You'll need to make this beer in a gas-capable bottle, but that just means a pop bottle.  If you don't want to bother buying any homebrew steriliser buy a bottle of supermarket economy range sparkling water, empty it down the sink and use the bottle, as long as your house is reasonably clean you can be fairly sure no nasty bacteria will get in to make your ginger beer taste horrible.

It's not a bad idea to transfer the ginger beer into a new bottle once it has stopped fermenting (when it stops letting off tons of gas).  But that's only if you plan to store it, I wouldn't bother personally.  My belly is custom made for storing ginger beer.

You MUST either poke a tiny vent hole in the lid of your bottle or carefully unscrew the cap to release the gas at least a couple of times a day otherwise your bottle might explode.  I tend to poke a hole in the bottle lid with a skewer then stretch a balloon over the cap.  This lets the gas out and looks funny.

The longer you leave this ginger beer before drinking it the stronger it seems to get, so don't down a pint before heading out for a drive.  This ginger beer is quite boozy!

Any questions?  Use the comments boxes below and I'll try and answer them.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

GETTING IT - out now on Amazon!

My first full-length novel is now available in the Amazon Kindle store.  'Getting it' was written a couple of years ago but as I own the rights I decided to get it re-published in order to give myself and my writing a good kick up the bum.  I'm 90% through the first draft of a new novel that I hope to complete early next year.  If you've read my short stories or any of the columns I've written for various zines over the years then hopefully you'll get a chuckle out of 'Getting it'.

The story's central character is someone who has bought into the ideas of enlightened modern living little too enthusiastically and has dedicated his life to bettering the lives of his friends.  His friends aren't feeling the benefit.  Even although the main female lead is a lass who grew up on in the Australian outback I've had to convince several friends that they don't star in this story.  This novel is a romance at heart, but the sort of slightly mussed up romance that Nick Hornby, Mike Gayle or Matt Dunn might write.

You can buy the book for searching for it on your Kindle, or by visiting your 'local' Amazon store using the appropriate link below.  Getting reviews on Amazon is crucial to authors, so once you have read the book (or if you have read in the past) before I'd REALLY appreciate a review, especially on Amazon.com

Ta stars!

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Now you can 'like' me on Facebook. What an age we live in.

I now have an author page on Facebook and Good Reads.  I've also made a bit of an effort with my author page on Amazon.

Go nuts with the clicks people.  If you want to I guess.  This might not be the most peppy blog post you read today, but in my defence I do have a lurgy-enabled ball of snot the size of a puppy's head lodged in my chest.

Author pages:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ipswich bike thieves - read this or die.

To the thieves who just stole the lights from my bike there's something you need to know about the contents of the saddle bag you also stole.

The bag is worth a tenner new, that bag has been through two winters. It is far from new. 

The rear light was part of a set from a 99p shop. 

The puncture repair kit cost 99p and needs refilling with everything. The tyre levers are lethal, if you aren't careful they become sprung- loaded eye-gougers with the slightest amount of beefy use.

The inner two inner-tubes cost £1.98 each. They ain't great but they should get you home. Not sure how well they'll work on your Sports Direct BSO.

The multi-spanner thing in the bag is terrible. It came with a Raliegh MTB I bought when I was 14. If you get any use out of it you must have greater mechanical sympathy than I do. 

Those two silver canisters in the saddle bag might look like the nitrous-oxide 'laughing gas' you do with your mates but they are in fact Co2.  Huff them and you will die. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The right shorts for lunch - my new book of short stories

Following on from the surprising reception my first Kindle book 'A multi-story tale of NCP Car Park hell' enjoyed I have brought together and published a collection of my short stories.

The right shorts for lunch is a collection of 26 short stories, most of which were originally published for Sticky Distro in Australia.  For this Kindle edition I have added more stories including a few tales written quite recently.

If you like snappy short-fiction with a lift (or a twist) in the tail and you're a fan of slightly irreverent humour then hopefully you'll enjoy this collection.  There is no one common theme running through the stories because I treated the creation of these tales as an experiment in mucking about with genres, but as with a lot of my fiction writing you will find a sprinkling of humour and romance throughout.

Click the link below to grab the book, or search your local Amazon website for 'The right shorts for lunch' and the book should pop up at the top of the results.


P.S Huge thanks to Steve Larder for the brilliant illustration on the cover.

Friday, October 25, 2013

In writing small surprises are to be savoured

I have just been forwarded this email by a friend.  It pleased me and amused me greatly.

I should probably hurry up and publish my next Kindle book, which will be a collection of short stories and flash fiction.  In the meantime feel free to buy the NCP tale by clicking the graphic below:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ipswich gardener - available now!

Does anyone in the Ipswich / Woodbridge area need a gardener?  Due to her biggest client selling up and moving on my wife has spare time in her working week.  She is a qualified and very experienced horticulturalist.

At this time of year clients are turning their thoughts to the plans they have for their gardens (especially with regards to planting plans).  Would you like to breath new life into your garden?

My wife is also an experienced vegetable grower (having been head gardener at an organic vegetable garden) and is keen to help people who are excited about growing their own food.

She works along the A12 corridor between Ipswich and Aldeburgh.

You can call Emma direct on 07790 843 152 or find out more via her website at http://www.gardencaretakers.co.uk/

Monday, October 14, 2013

[ARCHIVE] A few things.

This post is an archive of a page from an old website.  I didn't want to lose it but I didn't know where else to put it!
I’ve been a published writer for a fair old length of time now and I honestly can’t remember all the things I’ve done over the years, so this list is by no means exhaustive, and is certainly not up to date.  I’ve probably missed out a fair few bits that I’ve done that I’m really proud of.  I’ll make you a deal; if I remember any of them I promise I’ll add them right away.  Bits and bobs like reviews I’ve written probably won’t be posted here.
Strategic Risk Magazine
Event photographs
October 2010
Alt Sounds
Interview with Red Sparowes
From Plymouth to Obama
Travel/ Gonzo book
Completed autumn-2009
Alt Sounds
Column/ Article
Schmap – Boston Guide
Photo used in guide
Short story
Bring Back Her Head
Photos for promo/ album artwork
Dangers Close
Photos for album artwork
Red Flag 77
Promo photos for feature in Big Cheese magazine
Mild Peril
Red Flag 77
Loads of photos used on artwork for ‘Rotten on the Inside’ album
BBC Suffolk
Live Music Review
Event Photographs
Guitar World
Live photo of the band ‘Saviours’
BBC Suffolk
Live music review
Event photographs
BBC Suffolk
Live music review
BBC SuffolkMusic festival photos
Criminal (band) 
Publicity shots
Yaller Skunk Theatre Company
Travelog Photography
May 2007
Ipswich24 Magazine
Monthly column
April 2007 to present
BBC Suffolk
Live music review
BBC Suffolk
Live music review
BBC Suffolk
Live music review
Real Overdose Zine
Various contributions
2001 – 2003
Monthly Column
2000 to present

My rim has been compromised

This morning I had one of those rides where I was sure the effort I was having to make felt a little tougher than usual.  Admittedly I'd gone out on a whim having only eaten a banana and I knew that my legs would be a little tired from the forty miles I cycled through a monsoon yesterday.  But still, this morning's ride felt too much like hard graft, even when I was trying to take it easy.

When I put my bike (Mr Blue Bike, a Ribble Audax frame with mongrel groupset) on the work stand to 'Mickle' (clean and lube) the chain I noticed that the rear wheel was sticking against one side of the rear brakes.  They are the sort of brakes that mount to the frame via a single bolt (do all brake systems mount that way?) so I figured the brake mount needed tightening.

Then I gave the wheel a spin and it appeared buckled.  The wheels are Mavic MA3 rims laced to Shimano Ultegra hubs and as far as I know are pretty solid.  I didn't mind if they did turn out to be buckled; they've had a hard time of it over the last few weeks and truth be told I quite like truing wheels (here's how it's done).

So I started giving the wheels a really good clean then noticed something I've not seen before:


Mind you, I've done 1,910.2 miles on these wheels (according to Strava) and the whole bike was second hand when I bought it so I don't really consider that it owes me anything.  The only question now is do I replace the entire wheel or just the rims and spokes?  How many miles can one expect to get from an Ultegra hub?

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

How to roast cashew nuts the really easy way.

Cashew nut roasting sounds like a task fraught with complexities, but it doesn't have to be so. I regularly roast cashew nuts because I love the opportunity to tinker with different flavourings. Sure enought there are plenty of flavoured nuts for sale in the supermarkets but there's not much variety, there's much too much salt and the flavours tend to be a wildly dialled up versions that bear little resemblence to food that humans eat.

In order to roast your own cashew nuts you will need just three things: unsalted unroasted cashew nuts (we buy them in bulk from Suma), a shallow baking tray and an oven.  Pre-heat your oven to about 180oC, spread your cashews across the tray and then sling said tray in aforementioned oven. When the nuts start to turn slightly brown take them of the oven. DONE. Simple hey?

It's worth noting that you have to watch the nuts very closely as they go from lightly brown to burnt and buggered in the blink of an eye. Roasting a tray of cashews usually only takes about five minutes. You don't need to add oil as the nuts themselves are pretty choc full of their own oil (you can hear the nut oil 'fizzing' when you liberate the nuts from the oven).

Flavoring your home-roasted cashew nuts.
Here's where the fun begins. As long as your nuts are reasonably oily it's very easy to add flavouring as whatever powder mix you coat them with sticks to their oil. I tend to add plenty of finely ground salt and a mixture of things from the spice rack to a Tupperware container, add the still hot nuts, seal the lid and give the whole shebang a good shake. My cats are wary of this phase but my toddler loves it. 

If your nuts are a little dry when they come out of the oven gently drizzle a very small amount of ground  nut oil over them before adding them to your 'flavour tub'.  

Recently I have been coating my roasted cashews in various curry powders purchased from my local international food store.  The nuts in the picture that accompanies this recipie are madras nuts. 

My favorite coating is Jalfriezi, which consists of one tablespoon of ground coriander, one tablespoon of ground turmeric and two of cumin. I then salt to taste. Good noms. 

I'd love to hear what coatings you come up with, please share your concoctions in the comments section below. 

Saturday, October 05, 2013

A multi-story tale of NCP Car Park hell (short story) [Kindle Edition]

My first release in the Amazon Kindle book store is OUT NOW and it's as short story!  There are more releases planned over the coming months culminating in a re-release of a romance novel from a couple of years ago, and then *gasp* a NEW NOVEL!

A multi-story tale of NCP Car Park hell

The (true) story of what happened to a numpty who got trapped inside a NCP car park in South London. Contains concrete, failed vandalism, twisted logic, first world problems, a fox and explicit scenes of idiocy. Based in Catford but contains no cats.

To download the book click the Amazon advert below:

Friday, October 04, 2013

Top Ten lyrics by The Replacements

Originally published in Beat Motel zine issue #1 many, many years ago.

The Replacements Lyrics are some of the best lyrics I have ever heard. They appeal to me because above all they have a great humour to them, in an almost English way though a lot of the lyrics seem quite tinged with sadness. In fact in most Replacements songs there seems to be quite a depressive undercurrent. By their own admission the Replacements described themselves as 'alcoholics in check shirts'.

I only got into The Replacements in the last few years (starting around 2001) so I never had the pleasure of seeing them while they were still an active band. This has given them an almost instantly legendary status in my mind, I did originally assume the only information I can gather about them had been exaggerated to make it sound better, but unlike many of their contemporaries the stories are true! I won't go into any of them here but if you ever have the joy to meet other Replacements fans you can talk the night away exchanging tales you have heard about this fantastic band. Another reason I think I didn't find out about them for years is that over here in the UK they never really broke through like they did in the USA. As I mentioned earlier the lyrics are one of the great strong arms of this band,

Paul Westerberg employs several tricks the most common of which is slightly changing a commonly known phase, hell they even did that with the title of an album! I've chosen the lyrics below party because they are the ones freshest in my mind at the moment and because they are a nice mix of clever, funny and poignant. My top ten are only my current favourites, it changes daily!

Andrew Culture...
1. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting drunk
(Asking me lies)

2. How old am I? Let's count the rings around my eyes
(I will dare)

3. Ashtray floor, dirty clothes and filthy jokes
(Can t hardly wait)

4. I hate music, it's got too many notes
(I hate music)

5. Feelin' good from the pills we took, oh baby don't give me that look
(Talent Show)

6. Put the party on the mirror
(Colour me impressed)

7. Get this over with, I tee off in an hour
(Tommy gets his tonsils out)

8. Gary's got a soft-on
(Gary's got a boner)

9. Jesus rides beside me, he never buys any smokes (can't hardly wait)

10.Eight dollars and fifteen cents, I bought a headache
(I bought a headache)

I also asked a couple of members of LoveJunk for lists:

Mickey LoveFlagRist...
1. God, what a mess, on the ladder of success Where you take one step and miss the whole first rung
(Bastards Of Young)

2. The ones who love us best are the ones we'll lay to rest
And visit their graves on holidays at best The ones who love us least are the ones we'll die to please If it's any consolation, I don't begin to understand them
(Bastards Of Young)

3. And even if you're in the arms of someone's baby now I drink a great big whiskey to you anyway
(Here Comes A Regular)

4. I'll write you a letter tomorrow Tonight I can't hold a pen
(Can t Hardly Wait)

5. I hate music Sometimes I don't I hate music It's got too many notes
(I Hate Music)

6. Hey, Merle, I was wonderin'... if ya had any 'ludes on ya?
(Dope Smokin Moron)

7. Well, I walked out of work And I was tired as hell Another day's come and gone and oh well Somewhere there's a drink with my name on it
(If Only You Were Lonely)

8. How do you say I miss you to An answering machine?
How do you say good night to An answering machine?
How do you say I'm lonely to An answering machine?
(Answering Machine)

9. Twenty push-ups this morning,
that was half my goal Tonight I'll be doin' pull-ups On the toilet bowl
(If Only You Were Lonely)

10. Pretty girl keep growin' up, playin' make-up, wearin' guitar Growin' old in a bar, ya grow old in a bar
(Left Of The Dial)

Tard (Wolfie)
1. I hate music, sometimes I don't, I hate music, it s got too many notes.
Tommy says so, so, so, so what?
(I Hate Music)

2. Big town's got its losers, small town s got
its vices,
A handful of friends, one
needs a match and one
needs some ice
(Answering Machine)

3. Yeah, I know I look like hell,
But I m smoking and I m drinking and I m feeling swell
(Favorite Thing)

4. I can live without your touch,
But I'll die within your reach
(Within Your Reach)

5. A person can work up a mean mean thirst,
After a hard day of nothing much at all
(Here Comes A Regular)

6. If you were a pill I d take a handful at my will,
And I d knock you back with something sweet and strong

7. If being afraid is a crime we hang side by side,
At the swingin' party down the line
(Swingin' Party)

8. Ain't lost yet so I gotta be a winner,
Fingernails and cigarettes a lousy dinner
( I Will Dare)

9. First thing we do when we finally pull up,
Is get shit-faced drunk and try to sober up
(Treatment Bound)

10.Six o clock, batten the hatches,
We got cigarettes but we ain't got no matches
(More Cigarettes)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Beat Motel zine cover art gallery

Beat Motel was a zine that I published for a number of years and I was always quite proud of the fact I made a real effort with the cover art.  Well to be honest I figured out from the off that there are far more talented artists in the world than I, so here's a little gallery of all ten covers with credits given to the artists who created them.

by Jim of Horrorview

This cover was by a kid called Davey I met at a gig, I lost touch years ago (get in touch for a credit Davey!)

Art by Leif, currently of The Blackout Bombs

I took this photo, so I guess I get credit!

Art by Graham Mann, currently of The Fisticuffs, formerly of ZEEB?

Art by Jen of Cutting Clouds

Art by Fazu

Art by a chap called Danny from Indonesia, I can't remember the rest of his name!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Shoving a borrowed MTB up muddy rocky slopes.

Nearly 2000ft of climbing on a 14 mile ride. Mercy.

I now consider that I have NEVER done mountain biking before today. The ascents were brutal, so much tougher than road biking and the descents were frankly terrifying. The bike was remarkable, I was using a single finger on the hydraulic brakes which were astonishing and I was slamming into rocks that I would have assumed would destroy the bike and it safely carried me over them. It took a lot of nerve to follow the instructions I was given to just relax and let the bike follow the path it wants to, especially when the bike chooses to aim at a huge boulder. 

I have never come off a bike so much in a single ride ever before, I also had my first clipless moment, into a hillside of ferns. I appreciated the rest. I managed to stack the bike on a fast descent, I think I hit a large flat (wet) boulder while leaning into a corner.  The first hint something had gone wrong was when I noted that I was running down a rocky hillside minus a bike.  I had to climb back up the hill about thirty metres to retrieve the bike. I heard it CLANK on  a big boulder and it landed on the transmission side, the bike I was lent was worth about £2500. I was sure it would be destroyed. It was fine. Amazing. 

Mountain biking is like parenting a toddler - long periods of brutal grinding hard work interspersed with brief moments of sheer terror, with a guarantee that you will often get wet and covered in brown stuff. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My first ride in the Lake District and the damage done.

Well here's the ride I did yesterday http://www.strava.com/activities/82896536

I used my geared bike and when we were going up hills the easiest gear was nowhere near low enough! Everyone else was spinning but I was having to shove so hard my front wheel was lifting up. The we'd hit a descent and at first I thought it would be a chance to rest, till I looked down at my GPS and realised I was going over 50 mph!  My poor old Ribble Audax frame was terrifying and I've never pulled the brakes so hard and for so long in all my life, I swear I could smell them. 

Then there was the weather, there was ALL the weather. Some hills were like fighting my way up a mountain stream in a monsoon hurricane.   I couldn't enjoy those descents because it was raining so hard I could barely see, even under the trees. The roads were also covered with slippy leaves. 

Honest to Jebus it was like this was the first time I had ever ridden a bicycle. There should be one Strava for Southerners and one for northerners. 

We accidentally became part of the Tour of Britain peloton at one point - cars was hooting at us and I turned round and saw it was the Garmin Sharp team car with about ten riders behind it!

At the end of it all the forty miles we did took a bigger toll than any 100+ miles I've ever done in Suffolk. But we did find a put that did three pints of strong local ale for just £4.50!

Now I understand why compact chain sets exist. 

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

WP-Property sidebar below content - how to fix

I've been working with the excellent WP-Property plugin for a client and have been really impressed with the free features that come with the plugin and consider the few premium addons that we needed to purchase really good value for the price that was paid.  BUT there was a problem - no matter what theme I used, and no matter how much I hacked at the CSS and plugin template pages (in my child-theme) I just could not make the standard Wordpress side bar appear on the right hand side of the content where it was supposed to.

Wordpress sidebar appearing below the content on the wp-property property listing pages.

This problem was only happening on the pages used to list the details of individual properties; I didn't notice it happening anywhere else.  On all other pages on the property website I was working on showed the sidebar where it should be: beside the content.  One the property detail pages the sidebar was appearing below the content and the part of the layout where the sidebar should be was just a big white space.  I was stuck.  I called in the services of a CSS guru who tried many things and resorted to saying bad words out loud to the pages of code we were looking at.  Then we fixed it very easily; here's how.

How to fix the sidebar being displayed below the content in the wp-property Wordpress plugin:

  1. Copy the file property.php from wp-content/plugins/wp-property/templates and save it to the root folder of your child theme.  If you don't have a child theme then make a copy of template.php and then hack at the file in-situ.  I would recommend creating a child theme first, here's how...
  2. At the bottom of your new copy of property.php add two DIV close tags (highlighted below) just above the property type sidebar code.

So how did we find this fix?  We decided to run the (live) page we were having trouble with through the W3C code validator and found that it failed.  Adding the two DIV close tags fixed the validation errors and put the sidebar where it should be - on the side of the content.

I am a little disappointed that a great plugin like wp-property would appear to have a rudimentary code error like this, but hey, pobody's nerfect.

Monday, September 02, 2013

My office before and after becoming a parent

I was going to write an epic post as an introduction to these 'before and after' photos of my home office, but I think that the viewer can draw his own conclusions.  However, I genuinely don't think my standard of work has suffered, in fact I think when it comes to my web guy / Wordpress work I'm more inspired and driven than ever before!

Before parenthood
The influence of parenthood on ones home office

Saturday, August 24, 2013

My Wordpress skills.


I have been working with agencies and businesses for about fifteen years and have been working to SEO principles since the last century (wow it was easy back then!).

As a long-term freelancer I appreciate that I make my clients' lives easier by working fast and with the minimum of fuss.

I also provide a service for keeping Wordpress sites secure, backed up and free of spam.  This includes making sure all plugins and core code is bang up to date. I consider it all part of the service. 

I've usually charge by the hour because my clients tend to be quite surprised when they see just how much I can achieve in a short amount of time. I've built entire Wordpress sites in less than two hours!

I am also a published writer and photographer, so I really can offer you a very holistic approach to managing your website

Lets talk!

Get in touch through the contact page on this blog or via my main website at www.andrewlaws.com

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bye bye Dura Ace

When I bought my first (and still current) road bike I knew that it had enjoyed a rather 'lively' existance before becoming a part of my modest stable. It had Dura Ace durrelier and front crankset and Ultegra brifters and front changer, and there's no way that kind of kit would be within my budget if it wasn't nearing the end of the gracefully elegant shiny phase of its existence. Part of the reason I got such a good price was that there was a noticeable ker-grun-chunk in the drive chain somewhere. The silvery cap on one of the shifters was missing long before I became custodian of this fine machine, and I gaffa-taped down the other silvery cap to stop it rattling. 

I sort of got used to the various noises of mechanical discourtesy the gentlest of bimbles would audibly reveal from my beloved machine. If other riders asked what all the noises were I told them it was my knees. 

Things came to a head during this year's Dunwhich Dynamo when I found I couldn't use the biggest three cogs on the rear cassette without the drive chain slipping like a Grifter in 'slip gear' and making a sound like a rusty chainsaw with engine trouble cutting through an antique mantrap (complete with antique man). Folk laughed sheepishly as they hurtled past me up modest hills and I feared for my chum plums every time I rose from my saddle. 

I took the bike in for a bit of a tickle from my friendly local bike doctor and he confirmed what I already feared - the cassette, chain and front cranks had less life in them than a mortuary waiting room after lights out. There's simply no way I could keep up with the financial pace of Dura Ace so all the knackered parts were replace with bits from the spares box (including a steel crank!), but the Dura Ace crank arms remain. 

So now my bike may be a little uglier, and a little heavier, but my god is it silent!  I LOVE it!  It really is like having a new bike! Smoooooth!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Junk Culture tour diary - three days eight idiots - Day 3

Swindon - Megabowl
Sunday 21st March 2004
Best of Enemies
Second In Line
Junk Culture

As if we weren't dubious enough about playing in a bowling alley our doubts were confirmed when we were informed that tonight had been relabelled as a battle of the bands contest. We kill time by making the most of the free bowling on offer and I win my first ever game of anything, twice!

Jon attempts to exact revenge on Stuart by gassing half the room, sadly the only effect this has is to put me off my packed lunch, revenge will be mine in the car though, there's a storm brewing,,, Who says lunchtime drinking is bad!

We play pretty well but none of us are taking it seriously and for some reason I spend the gap between each song laughing like a maniac. We weren't much more sensible when we were playing, with backing vocals being sung into disused cymbal stands and overly long stadium rock endings to all our songs. The compere had the most horrified look on his face that I think I've ever seen. After watching Second In Line with yet another bassist having a go we only hang around long enough to watch Stuart get electrocuted on an arcade machine before heading off assuming that Best of Enemies will win on account of the fact that they all have matching black haircuts or something. Nothing personal against them though.

After a brief kick about in the car park and a grazed knee we head back home to Ipswich feeling more than a little sad that this was our last wee tour with Kate. We also realised that we had slipped down the bill over the three days from headline on Friday to going on first in Swindon!

Bedtime - 1.30am
Chief Farter - Andrew (hurrah!)

Junk Culture tour diary - three days eight idiots - Day 2

Newbury - Waterside Youth Centre
Saturday 20th March 2004
Second In Line
Junk Culture
The Griswalds
Sidewalk Riot

It's always a pleasure to bump into the cheery Griswalds folk, and today is no exception. We find ourselves is a pretty bloody great venue with what is probably the biggest stage we have ever played on. Kids were waiting outside in the cold and had turned up earlier in the day to buy advance tickets for the show, this is looking good. We spend most of our waiting time constantly going outside for a smoke (the venue was no-smoking) and wondering if we'll remember any of our songs tonight. We had a brief moment of stardom when a photographer from the local rag turned up to take our photo. Paul from Second In Line accuses me of pulling a scary faces, everyone finds the idea of me looking scary hilarious. 

The Griswalds are bloody great tonight, it's just a shame that most of the kids are outside smoking sneaky tabs and sucking down strong cider.

We loaded up with Pro-Plus and take to the stage with no idea of how well we are going to play, just because we were as loose as a wino's bowels last night doesn't mean that we have actually practised or anything. A couple of songs into the set and everyone is active, excited and playing the same songs as each other at the same time! Kate is really on fire tonight and bouncing round the stage like a girl possessed. As we came to the end of our last song I amble over to Kate and give her a friendly nudge, she retaliates so fast it catches me totally off guard and quite frankly she kicked my ass. As I lay defeated and trapped by Kate's guitar strap I can hear the kids screaming at us as her guitar continues to wail like a penguin on a rocket sled. I also wonder if I will get my head kicked in by the bouncers for picking on a girl! Jon heard some kids refer to Kate as 'the girl with the feedback'.

Before we know what's happening Second in Line have taken to the stage with a bassist who apparently hasn't played for them for years and just happened to be at the show and fancied giving it a go! This is pretty typical of the whole Second In Line experience. The kids in Newbury are insane, smashing each other about the place and running round like little cider fuelled Tasmanian devils. We were also introduced to the delights of the 'wall of death', where two lines of nutters face each other then play a sort of hardcore British bulldog. The thing that made it really interesting was the kid that joined the throng by ollying in on his skateboard! 

Far from it being Second In Line's responsibility to try and stop this sort of behaviour they invited the skater kid on stage to jump over his mates who were laying on the floor in front. To everyone's amazement he did it! By the end of the night we all agreed that this was one of the most amazing shows we have ever seen and wandered off into the Newbury night in search of lardy food goods.

Bedtime - 3.30am
Chief Snorer - Stuart
Chief Farter - Stuart

Junk Culture tour diary - three days eight idiots

I realise this post will be of very marginal interest, but I just stumbled across a tour diary I wrote during the last few dates that my old band Junk Culture played.

Kidderminster - Sutton Arms
Friday 19th March 2004
Junk Culture
Weak 13
Second in Line

Before I start I should explain that this was supposed to be day three of a six date tour but due to idiots we lost the first three dates of the tour. We got off to a fairly usual start, the Red Flag van that we usually borrow died just before we were due to pick it up, Jonny had lost his hi-hats and
one of us had the shits. The shits coupled with my need to stop for a piss every 30 miles made for a truly great four hours in the car! Sadly Stuart's arse was on top form as well. He used to use being vegetarian as an excuse for his foul guts but now that the band is mostly veggie the smells can only be a result of some sort of organic rotting bowel dwelling demon. We call him legion for his smells are many. As we had to take a car instead of the van conditions could best be described as tight and lumpy.

As we arrived at the Sutton Arms in Kidderminster the rumbling sound of metal emanated from the place, fortunately we just a couple of free cds this was soon replaced by a night of Immortal Alice on the PA! The venue was very much a Phoenix Nights affair, with a small stage at the front and long rows of tables with bench seats either side. The guy that put us on was Kriss from Girls Love Ponies, this man was so much like an English version of Jim from Immortal Alice it was creepy, in fact I kept calling him Jim by accident!

First up were Second in Line who despite missing a member tonight were more tight and rocking than we've ever seen before. Sadly I managed to destroy this when they forced me up on stage to play a dodgy cover of Ice Ice Baby. I'm even surprised with myself that I manage to arse up a song that only has two notes! While we wait for anarcho hip-hop metal coolsters Weak 13 Stu and I retired to the saloon bar to gawp at the locals and chat up the barmaid.

Whilst we soaked up the delightful local dialect I was challenged to play a huge bugle type thing that was hanging up behind the bar. I obliged but as I prepared to blow like I'd never blown before I didn't notice that I had held the business end up to ear of the pissed up old dude I was stood next too. One good blast and he was soon reeling back with a shocked look on his face and busy fingers trying to switch off his hearing aids. I was worried about the management being pissed off with me until the landlord tried to climb over the bar to shove a paintbrush handle up the deafened punter's arse! The landlady bought a tee shirt and we're booked to return in September so I guess the management must have liked our own unique brand of crowd control!

By the time we had returned to the live room and wedged ourselves back behind the corner table that we had claimed as 'camp JC' Weak 13 were in full effect. They were what could best be described as angry with beats. Quite good fun to watch as well, the angry girl singer took off with her wireless mic and marched down the top of the centre row of tables that ran down the room, only occasionally slipping on beer mats! Kriss was walking beside her with raised arms, I guess to catch her in case she fell but it looked to the untrained eye like he was just a huge fan trying to get closer to the action! Just a week earlier Weak 13 had all their merch stolen, so if someone tries to sell you Weak 13 merch and they don't have half their hair shaved off or don't look like Anarcho punx then report it!

Now the time had finally come for our first ever live show with stand-in guitarist Kate. Kate has only been with us for three weeks and used to play in the Ipswich band Violent Playground. Back in Ipswich Kate has a reputation for on stage violence, towards other band members, instruments and pretty much anything else within five metres of her when the set finishes playing and needs some way of burning off the excess energy so I join her on stage with slight trepidation. One pack of Pro-Plus and 30 minutes later we were done.

For some reason we seemed to forget how any of our songs went, but it was kinda fun anyway. I got away without being beaten up by Kate tonight; all she did was throw her guitar across the room when we finished.

Cementing our opinion of him as being one of the best promoters ever Kriss grabbed our merch at the end of the night and went round badgering the punters to buy something, excellent!

We packed up to the ambient sounds of yoofs doing wheelies around the car park on shopping scooters and hurtled off down the road following the Second in Line lot back to Newbury.

We swapped CB radios before leaving and made good use of the airwaves by creatively swearing at each other for the couple of hours back to our home for the weekend. We only stopped once for Stuart's bowels, only to have him defile three of the cubicles at the service station. While we were waiting we found what must have been the easiest arcade game ever and all walked away with armful of Sesame street toys. Paul from Second in Line was good enough to put us up for weekend and Stuart repaid the kindness by waiting till everyone had gone to bed before parking his breakfast.

Bedtime - 4.30am
Chief Snorer - Jon
Chief Farter - Stuart

Go to day two...

Friday, August 09, 2013

How to stop getting punctures on your bike

Punctures were starting to take the enjoyment out of my cycling until I found out how to stop getting punctures.  I had a job on an industrial estate and had to cycle past a windscreen repair place that always had a skip full of glass outside; I hated cycling past that skip and hearing the hisssssss of a new puncture.  The roads and cycle paths between my house and work seemed littered with thousands of puncture hazards.  At worst I was getting five punctures a week - I was getting a puncture nearly 50% of the time I rode my bike!  I'd had enough.  Then a friend gave me the answer.

Prevent punctures on your bike.

The answer is a tyre, a tyre called a Schwalbe Marathon Plus.  These tyres are 'armoured' with a thick layer of kevlar protection, and as soon as I fitted these tyres the punctures stopped.  Well they almost stopped, I still get the occasional puncture, but now if I do get a puncture it's a massive nail or something that would stop anything, rather then punctures being caused by EVERYTHING I RIDE OVER.