Yearly Archives of: 2002


Joy to The World, My Laptop Is Dead


Marvelous. Just a couple of days after I was saying how great it was to have a laptop and be able to use it anywhere I wanted, it’s decided to die a horrible death on me. It would be working fine and then the screen would get covered with horizontal lines and it would lock up. They’re the sort of lines that make you think “I might as well switch it off, there’s no way it’s going to sort itself out”. Luckily it’s still 3 weeks within the warranty period so I’ve sent it off to be repaired (how much do you want to bet that it works fine for them?). I also backed everything up to my home desktop PC so nothing has been lost and the old cries of “Oh my god! I forgot to back up my photos!” will not be heard from me.

Still, what it means is that I’ll not be doing any updates over the Christmas period as I’ll be in Scotland with my family nowhere near my PC. That’s a good thing. It’s been a long year for me and I could use the rest. My brain has already started to wind down and my work has also gone downhill over the last few days (luckily I’m not the only one). I just need some time away from a computer screen and I can come back re-invigorated. I’ll take my camera so I can record anything interesting that happens and will report back when I return to my spiritual home of Yorkshire.

My main plan over Christmas is to catch up with a few people who live up north but try very hard to avoid anybody else. My brother was out back home the other night and saw some people he knew from school and as he said “the last thing I wanted to do was spend the next hour explaining what I’d been doing over the last ten years” so he kept his head down. And that’s my sentiment. Another reason I don’t use friends reunited, if I wanted to stay in touch with you I would have – and vice-versa.

Luckily though I’ve done all my Christmas shopping already. This time last year I was frantically buying last-minute presents for everybody but due to constant nagging from my girlfriend I finished buying stuff last week (not like in November as most women do). So all that remains is for me to do a half day of work on Tuesday. Go down to the pub at lunchtime with my colleagues. Have some lunch and some alcohol (only a pint mind). Drive home to pick up all the presents and all the kit I need (sad though you may find it, I’ll be going out for a run on Christmas day as I always do). Then I’ll put the guinea pig in the car and drive home to Scotland. Into the unknown.

So have a great Christmas. And if I don’t speak to you before, have a kick-ass New Year (I’m booked into my local Indian restaurant for a curry on New Year’s Eve, so it should be a great night). Take care and see ya…


What Happened To The Glory Days?


When I started to earn money out of writing software (I’d been writing code ever since I was a kid and got my first computer, some Aquarius or whatever it was) it was great. We were in the middle of the dot-com boom and everything was in abundance. The salaries seemed astronomical. Being a geek meant being in demand. The world was my oyster.

When I went to job interviews it wasn’t a case of trying to impress them, I was more interested in them trying to persuade me to come and work for them. Recruitment agents would constantly be trying to persuade me to go to interviews and wouldn’t easily take no for an answer. I felt as an employee that my employer had to make the effort to keep me and to that end companies would buy table football, pool tables and other recreational items to provide a fun working environment. I could go into pay negotiations knowing that I could walk out the door at any time and get another, higher paying job elsewhere in a matter of days.

I didn’t do this though because I lived for the software. I loved working the long hours transfixed to a monitor. The sense of achievement solving a software engineering problem, writing tight, efficient code or writing a piece of user interface that was so simple that a user has no idea of the complexity underneath is what keeps me in this business today. And the sense of seeing a piece of software being used successfully by a customer that you wrote makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I was quite happy working in a team of high calibre professionals that I could both learn from and impart knowledge to. Everything was great.

But it all had to end. And it did. I decided to switch companies just as things went downhill and as the work dried up and friends started to get made redundant I realised that it was all over. I eventually moved back to my current company and a couple of rounds of redundancies happened just before and just after my return. It was sobering and something I’d never considered before. I worked at a University before the boom (not the real world) so for as long as I’d worked in the industry there had always been 10 jobs for every developer – it was all I’d ever known. Things have settled down a bit but as another friend has just been made redundant it makes me think.

I’d felt invincible and secure before. I could demand whatever I wanted and it felt like I was doing my employer a favour by working for them. I admit it, I was an arrogant tosser. It was mostly as a result of being young and wet behind the ears, but it was also as a result of the software business seeming to be this new unbeatable monster. Now the threat of redundancy is quite real and no matter how hard you try and how good you are, it can still get you. There are still jobs out there but not as many as there used to be, and not as well paid as they used to be.

I’ve been lucky though and am happy working where I am, doing things I find interesting and challenging, working with good people (albeit fewer people than there used to be). I no longer feel that the world owes me a living and, having been around the block a bit and lost a lot of the arrogance (I hope), I’m a much better professional as a result. But I don’t feel so safe any more. That doesn’t bother me particularly, it’s a fact of life now that this is a volatile industry and the glory days are gone. But it does make me wonder what I’ll be doing in 10-20 years time (assuming I’ve not been killed in a parachuting accident or something by then).

A lot of top-class developers are still out there who have been out of work for a long time and it’s saddening. I can only hope that the industry as a whole reflects the cyclical nature of the electronics industry and picks up again soon. I doubt there’ll be the heady heights of 2000 again but I guess it was fun while it lasted. And I’ll always have the memories of playing table football at lunchtimes and moaning about how we deserved more because we were so good and the management were so bad. Maybe that was always the problem…


The Story So Far


It’s the run up to Christmas and I’m not really doing much with myself. It’s cold, miserable and dark outside, and, as you probably guessed from my recent historical rantings, I don’t have many exciting adventures to enthrall you with (just wait until the New Year). So I thought I’d follow Derren’s lead and do some statistical analysis of John’s Adventures. You may differ but I find it quite surprising and interesting.

  • First up, I’ve written 84 articles (including this one) since I started the site on February 8th 2002.
  • Those articles contain a total of 54,589 words.
  • I’ve put 82 photos on the site.
  • It takes me an average of 25 minutes to write an article.
  • I think of an average of 4 article topics per day (although I forget them within an 1 hour).
  • I check the hit count of my site approximately 15 times a day.
  • I get around 170 visitors per day (not including me).
  • The most common search to get to my site are “do not stand at my grave and weep”.
  • Only 1 article I wrote gives me a lump in my throat when I read it again.
  • A total of 322 comments have been made on all my articles.
  • Around 1 time per week I’m telling a friend a story of what I’ve been up to and they say “I already know, I read it on your website”.
  • I’ve written 5 backend articles that have probably generated more interest than the rest of the site put together.
  • The articles I think are good never get any comments and the ones I think are ropey get the most feedback.
  • I wonder approximately 2 times per week what kind of person readers who’ve never met me think I am and if it’s bears much resemblance to the real me.
  • I think about how great CityDesk (my content management tool) is about 15 times a week.

Still, you know what they say: “Statistics show that statistics don’t mean shit”. And don’t panic, I’ll be doing lots over the Christmas period and New Year, so I promise I’ll have more interesting things to write about!


Tram Track Tastic


My first real memory of going to the dentist was as a young lad having an impression made of my teeth. They got these large metal denture-shaped things, put some kind of Plasticine material in them and stuffed them unceremoniously into my mouth. I’d have to sit there for an eternity while the plastic set, drooling endlessly, then they would remove them and the next time I’d come in there would be a plaster-of-Paris mould of my teeth. Another early memory was the dentist about to clean my teeth with a power-drill brush asking me which flavour of paste I’d like. I knew that it wasn’t anything like the toothpaste at home and no matter which flavour I chose it would taste absolutely terrible and I’d want to be sick immediately. Lovely.

My parents were lucky, they managed to get my brother and myself to be patients at our local Dental Hospital. This meant free, top-class treatment and the occasional group of students watching while the dentist did the work. We went there for years and got to know one senior dentist in particular, a Mr. Erskine. At first he seemed like a scary bloke with a beard and a harsh way with words. But as we grew older and got to know him we realised that he was the perfect gentleman with excellent manners and a great sense of humour. Except when there were students around where he would change into being more of a Gestapo-style character (which was why we’d originally thought he was intimidating). We always found this schizophrenia highly amusing.

I remember the day that he suggested I was going to need to wear braces. I’d had overcrowding in my mouth and had previously had four adult teeth removed (I’ve still got them somewhere, maybe I’ll post a picture). Everything was going fine but my teeth were growing in a bit squint and now was the time to sort it out. So we agreed that I would have the dreaded “Tram Tracks” fitted and a week later they were.

Tram tracks (not the medical term I’m sure) are the type of brace where a small metal piece is glued to each tooth and then a wire is fed around the upper and lower teeth and they are gradually all pulled into line. It’s a slow process and requires you to have them for months and months. I don’t know if the technology has improved any since my day, but it was hell for me. I’d have to go in periodically and have the wire replaced and each time it’d be tighter and I’d spend the next few days in pain while my teeth started to feel the strain. Then that would be replaced with slightly less pain and then a bit less than that. Once I was almost used to it, I’d have to go in and have the wire replaced and on it would go.

Eventually it came to the point where I was happy with the alignment of my teeth, they were good enough. Actually, scratch that, it’s a lie. Eventually it came to a point where I couldn’t take any more – I’d had enough and I wanted the bloody things off. They used to cut up the insides of my mouth like eating broken glass and I’d had probably a year of constant pain nagging away at me. So we agreed that I’d have them removed (my teeth were in a good enough state anyway). But my adventure wasn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.

You see, having the tram tracks removed meant that my teeth would start to move back to their old positions requiring me to have to wear plates for a while. No, not dinner plates, these are plastic things with a single wire that you wear on the roof of your mouth and at the bottom in front of your tongue. They tend to make you speak with a lisp and make eating a nightmare (for the record, I just took the damn things off when I ate). However, they reduced the amount of movement from my teeth and were nowhere near as bad as the tram tracks. I gradually phased out wearing the plates until my teeth stayed where they were and are still there today. Not perfect but good enough for me.

I don’t know why I dreamed about the braces the other night (hence this article) but I’m glad I had them, even though they caused me a lot of grief at the time. And Mr. Erskine, thanks for sorting out my teeth. Prior to my having some adult teeth removed he assured me that in the long term it was for the best and he was confident that my mouth would turn out all right. He was right and I am eating a mince pie right now just to prove it.

I was never scared of going to the dentist despite having a total of nine teeth removed under local anaesthetic and having a filling without any anaesthetic at all (my request, I just wanted a reminder of why I should take care of my teeth – the pain is seeringly sharp, by they way and I can well understand why torturers do it people). However, I can’t say that this feeling was extended to hospitals – only in the past few years have I managed to get to grips with them, but that’s another story…


Saturday Night At The Casino


A friend decided to celebrate his, and his girlfriend’s birthday (one day after the other) by going out in the city of Leeds and finishing up at the casino. He invited me and my girlfriend along with half a dozen others and hired a minibus to take us in and out (a stretch limo would have been too cheesy for my tastes anyway).

So we met up at 7pm and about half an hour later were on our way to Leeds in possibly the oldest minibus in service in Britain (it looked completely out of place in this century and we were putting bets on whether we’d actually get there or not – and if we’d ever see the driver again for the return leg). After a lifetime of being battered all over the place (including overshooting the exit of a roundabout) we arrived in the city centre and made our way to a pub.

We visited a few pubs and I re-acquainted myself with having to shout at the top of my voice to simply have a conversation with someone over the deafeningly loud music being played in each place and feeling old looking at all the students out on the town who looked sooooo young. In fact, so out of practise am I that my back was aching from all the standing around (although I like to think it was as a result of all the weight training I’ve been doing – sounds much more macho). Last orders came and went then we got a couple of taxis to the casino and arrived by about midnight.

After signing in and standing in front of a video camera with live feed on a tv and saying “do I really look like that?” over and over, we entered the arena. I went to Las Vegas a couple of years ago and I was delighted to discover that this casino didn’t have a million slot machines going “ka-ching ka-ching ka-ching” constantly (I can still hear them in my nightmares sometimes). Instead there was a floor (to use the parlance, a pit) with a collection of card tables and loads of roulette tables. However, first things first, there was a restaurant and bar upstairs that my girlfriend and I decided to visit before anything else. Naturally, with it being about 12.30am we had full fry-ups (bacon, eggs, sausage and tomatoes) and it was fantastic.

Then we sat for a while watching the mayhem below us. And it was very interesting. We were watching a roulette table in particular and trying to figure out what the hell was going on and how the croupier managed to keep track of things. In the end, it’s pretty straightforward and everybody plays with a different colour of chips. But the guy’s hands never stopped moving. Everybody places their chips on the numbers they’re interested on, then the ball lands on a number, then the chips are cleared, save the ones on the number and the winnings dished out to the winner(s). The winner(s) then bet all their chips on a variety of numbers again, the losers either leave or hand over some more money for more chips and proceed to put them all over the table. And the whole thing would repeat. Again and again and again.

And the more we watched the table, the less it looked like a bunch of people gambling and the more it looked like a machine where the people were the cogs that kept the machine running. It’s like when you go shopping in a supermarket and go to the checkout. While you’re loading your shopping into bags after the cashier swipes them across a barcode reader you’re working fast to pack and are concentrating on what you’re doing – it all seeming rather frantic. But when you pay and walk away from the tills and look back, you’ll notice that again the whole picture is a machine and the cashiers and shoppers are doing the same thing over and over again so that it seems automatic.

I didn’t do any gambling and preferred to watch others lose all their money (as many did). But what was clear to me is that gambling isn’t about making money, it’s about losing it. The only thing that I know for sure about casinos is that the house always wins, and everybody else knows this. So why bother? Because it’s playing the game that’s fun. Sure, you lose in the end, but every time you win a bit back it feels like a victory and you want to up the ante. Just like living life!

Next time though I’m going to hit the blackjack tables. I can play the game and as long as I stick within a sensible budget I should be all right. I’ll need my girlfriend there though as she has all the monetary sense in our relationship – being a Yorkshire lass.


The Way Christmas Should Be


Christmas is just around the corner and this time of year always makes me think of Christmas days when I was a kid. I don’t know exactly when I’d start to think about Christmas, but I’m pretty sure it was when my brother and I would get advent calendars. They would be made out of cardboard, there’d be a nativity scene on the front and 24 ‘doors’, each one hiding a chocolate. We’d get one each that we’d pin on the wall in our dining room and every morning from the 1st to the 24th of December we were allowed to open one of the doors and each the chocolate behind.

The next sign would be when my father would come back with a Christmas tree. This was always a big event and my brother and I would want to help in the decoration of said evergreen. Once that was done and the lights were on the tree became a play-thing for me. I’d spend hours every night with my Star Wars figures imagining space battles around the lights and the characters fighting to escape from the fearsome, evil, giant deadly tree! I can still think back and find myself totally engrossed in the warm glow of the tree in the corner of our dining room, sitting on the floor with the darkness of night outside and the white snow showing up the shape of the garden under a clear, moonlit sky. I’d be all warm and safe inside looking forward to Christmas eve.

From the tree going up to Christmas eve seemed to take an eternity. We’d hardly seem to make any progress through the advent calendar and the magic day would never get any closer. Presents would start to turn up in the mail posted from friends and relatives and we’d have a running competition about who had the most / largest / heaviest / softest presents and if we could guess what they were (we never got it right but years later my mother confessed that sometimes the curiosity would get the better of her and she’d open one or two and have a peek before carefully re-sealing them). Eventually we’d break up from school and the holidays would begin. And after a lifetime it would be Christmas eve.

We’d know Santa Claus would be coming and to say that we were all excited would be an understatement on the scale of saying “the universe – it’s a fair size isn’t it?”. We’d get some cookies and a drink (I don’t remember if it was tea, coffee or hot chocolate – probably the latter) and leave them out for Santa as he went on his way. We’d then hang up our stockings to be filled with presents. We’d be tucked up in bed watching the clock, wanting it to be morning and / or catch a glimpse of Santa. Of course we never would and we’d have the joy of waking up in the morning with stockings full of carefully wrapped presents, more presents on the floor at the bottom of our beds, and the hot beverage drunk and a bite taken out of the cookies.

Opening the presents would be like hungry Piranhas devouring a cow as we wanted to know what we’d got and start playing with whatever we had. Then we’d go downstairs to the tree and finally find out what all those presents that were sent to us actually were. The funny thing is that I can hardly remember any of the presents we got over all those years, but I can still remember the wonder and joy as if it were yesterday and I was 4’6″ again.

As I got older the presents would take on less significance, but it was a holiday and I’d get to spend it with my family. We’d watch a Bond film on TV while my mother would cook her speciality turkey and stuffing along with one of the soups we loved (I must get the recipes and post them). We’d probably have an argument or two and somebody (usually me) would end up “ruining Christmas” and stomping off upstairs. All would be forgiven later though, thankfully. When I left home it was a time when I’d come back and it would just be the four of us getting together. We’d talk about the years gone by and just be together.

Now, Christmas no longer holds so much meaning for me I’m afraid. To be honest it’s going to be damn hard for me as it’ll be my first Christmas without my mother. I don’t know how it’s going to be, but writing this and thinking about this time 20 years ago saddens me greatly. I just don’t know. I guess the next time Christmas will matter to me is when I have my own children. And in true John’s Adventures form I’m going to end on a positive note.

I can now see the whole affair from a parent’s point of view. My girlfriend’s nephew is 5 now and I’ll be spending a bit of time with him (not just him I might add – I’m only just learning the trade of “being good with kids”) over Christmas and can be a part of making it a special time with him. Just like my parents. Hey, Star Wars toys are back in vogue again and I know it’s the quantity, not necessarily the quality of presents that matter – it’s the fun of opening them and playing with them. So this year I’m going to make an effort and get him loads of cool things. Last year you couldn’t fit all his presents in one car and I thought it was ridiculous and that he was truly being spoilt. But now I understand. So this time he’s going to get even more.

If he wakes up on Christmas morning and feels half the excitement I did 23 years ago then I know for a fact that in 2025 he’ll smile when he thinks back and he too will be able to pass the magic of Christmas on to the next generation. And that makes me smile.


Flossed In Paradise

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Last night my girlfriend and I did something we’ve wanted to do for ages. Drive a stolen Ferrari around the Yorkshire Dales at high speed? Go to the finest restaurant in town and buy the most expensive food and wolf the lot down? Walk around the local village counting the number of people who watch TV with the lights off? Get drunk and then go clubbing? No, it was far more mundane than that.

Occam’s razor states that the simplest course of action is always the right one, and I’ve borrowed it to mean that the simplest pleasures are always the best (still waters run deep, etc.). In fact my girlfriend and I spent the evening apart, in our own houses, doing our own things. And it was fan-tastic. It turns out that we all need our own space from time to time and neither of us has really had space lately. The problem is that we both live in small, one-bedroom houses and with my brother living in mine then I’m a visitor there and a visitor at my girlfriends (which isn’t really large enough for two). So I get no time to myself – everybody else gets stuck with me. She gets a bit of time when I’m at mine but that is only temporary until I come around. It’s been a tough two months.

But my brother’s decided to have a “holiday” from my excessive nagging leaving me and my good lady to be able to live on our own again. And it’s wonderful. Just being able to sit in my house, do nothing, nobody’s there but me, and just relax is great. I guess I never realised how much I needed my space until I didn’t have it and then got it back again.

So I came home, put some washing on, spent about an hour doing some cleaning (I will never understand how showers get so dirty – I mean you clean yourself in one and wash all the dirt away…), then sat down and started to unwind. I cracked open one of the bottles of expensive red wine that I brought back from Burgundy and started on that. My girlfriend dropped by for a glass and then went home to some pottering around of her own. I had some food and sat down to watch my namesake (different spelling) in Terminator 2 and loved every minute of it of the solace. I can’t stress that enough.

I’m not saying my girlfriend and I want to live as hermits, but I will say that it’s nice to have some space and time to yourself now and then. The thing you never understand until you actually live on your own (it’s not the same if you flat-share and they’re out for the night) is how wonderful it is to have your own place. It’s a home and a refuge. As for tonight, maybe we’ll go down the Ferrari route this time…


See, I Can Be Selfish Too!


I admit it. I’m not perfect. And last night I proved it with a short but undeniable act of selfishness. I’m not sure what prompted me to do it (although I suspect it’s the devil inside me) but it was funny all the same. Okay, here’s what happened.

Myself, my girlfriend and my brother decided to go and see the new James Bond film (more on that later). I needed to go via a cash machine to get some money to pay to get into the cinema (as you do). I drove along the high-street in my little village and there’s a cash machine on the left hand side. Normally I drive to a junction at the end of the street, turn around and park with all the other cars on the opposite side from the machine. But this time I decided, for no particular reason, to just park on the double-yellow lines in front of the machine. That meant that only one lane was negotiable by cars so people on one side would have to queue. No problem I thought. It’s a quiet road, there’s almost never any traffic, and I’ll only be a minute anyway.

As soon as I stepped out of the car a line of traffic appeared in both directions, one queue building up behind my car. When the people eventually had a clear road and could pass (after perhaps 30 seconds of waiting) one of the guys tooted his horn. Then another and another. One even shouted “get a license while you’re at it!”, which I would normally have returned with “fuck you” (people are really tough inside a car but few people will have a go with a 6’1″ shaven headed monster when it comes down to it – a fact I rely upon) but I found the comment quite funny and laughed instead.

So, a total of about 90 seconds has elapsed and I’ve got the money in my wallet and sprint back to the car. Another guy toots his horn and stares at me as he passes. I naturally respond with a bit of “bring it on” body language. I get back into the car and my brother is laughing and my girlfriend is trying to hide herself away in the back seat, clearly embarrassed by my thoughtless actions. And guess what. There was no traffic again. Not a thing, just as it was when I stepped out of the car.

We drove off and went to see the Bond film, which was great by the way. I was expecting a lot of product placement and it to be terrible (the Times gave it one star) but I really enjoyed it. While I preferred it when Bond wore a Rolex Submariner to an Omega Seamaster, I still thought it was class. You know what you’re going to get with a Bond film and I’d honestly say that it’s the best of the modern films.

So, if you were one of the people who got stuck behind my blue Citroen Saxo Vtr last night, I apologise. It was a moment of madness and quite out of character. However, you really need to calm down. Being stuck behind a selfish driver’s car for 30 seconds shouldn’t result in you losing your cool and getting tense. I’m not happy about people who can’t stay calm under pressure being behind the wheel of a vehicle that can move at 100mph and cause a lot of damage. Okay?


Fight, Fright, Flight or Delight


One of the things I used to wonder about when I was younger was how I’d react to a fight situation. I did a bit of boxing and karate as a youngster so I theoretically knew how to handle myself. But what about the real thing? If a couple of tough guys started making trouble what would I do? Would I just stand there and freeze? Turn and run away like Carl Lewis? Or stand my ground and make mincemeat out of these punks like Chuck Norris? It was a pointless thing to think about but people’s reaction to unexpected events is an interesting one. (For the record, when I got older I learned that the best approach is to run away rather than give a Bruce Lee style beating to somebody).

The answer is that you don’t know how you’ll react to a given situation until you encounter it. The exception is if you have training, such as military, that conditions you to stay alert in such situations and not “stick to the program”. It turns out that most people freeze and resort to the fright response. It all comes down to the fact that most people follow scripts in their lives. This can be clearly illustrated by an example.

A few years ago in the US, a large fire broke out in a shopping mall. Quite a lot of people died, but investigators couldn’t understand why. There were plenty of fire exits and plenty of warnings before the fire raged out of control. Further study showed why so many died needlessly. A large concentration of the bodies were found in a restaurant. When the fire had spread the staff ran, but a number of customers stayed and continued to stay while the flames licked around them. Get this: they were waiting to pay for their food. It’s all about scripts.

When you walk into a coffee shop you expect to get a table, have an order taken, drink your tall cafe latte, pay the bill and walk out. You assume that everybody else will follow the script and you don’t give it a second thought. In fact a great deal of social interactions like that are learned and then subsequently followed to the letter. But when somebody changes the script or you encounter something completely unexpected, quite often people’s brains just switch off and a vacant look glazes over their eyes.

Douglas Adams (author of “The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy”) once mentioned a SEP field. It was a way of hiding something from people by making it “Somebody Else’s Problem”. The example was the appearance of a large spaceship at a cricket match, which nobody noticed because it was painted bright pink. The idea of a pink spaceship landing at a cricket match was so preposterous that nobody would believe it and therefore nobody saw it. In a sci-fi kind of way, that’s exactly what happens in real life.

Just a few miles from my house a man was beaten to death on a busy road in the early evening a year or so ago. The fight will have been witnessed by perhaps 100 people driving past. But did anybody stop? No. Street muggings happen all the time and people don’t intervene. Maybe it’s self preservation, not wanting to be one of those have-a-go-heroes that end up dead. I can accept that, if five shaven headed muscle-bound monsters are beating up somebody I wouldn’t expect someone to step in, roll up their sleeves and go to work on them. That’s suicide. But unnecessary inaction happens on a much lower level than fights and muggings.

For instance, when I was in an Amsterdam nightclub, one of the guys collapsed down the stairs. Myself and two others sprang to our feet to assist (one was in such a state that he needed to sit down himself) but not everybody reacted. No disrespect to them, but that’s what most people do, and it’s a human condition. I remember one time in Dundee seeing a guy wandering around, clearly disoriented and with a large gash on his head that had been bleeding profusely. But he might as well have been wearing Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility. People were just turning a blind eye and pretending not to notice. Road traffic accidents are the same, most people will just drive on by, slow down to have a good look, and assume the somebody else will call the police or try to help. Hey, maybe it’s a fear of getting involved in an unsavoury circumstance.

Well, I just want to say for the record that I do react. And I don’t freeze. Maybe it was having a father in the army or climbing in the dangerous mountains of Scotland, but I’ve been quite pleased to see how I react to unexpected situations. I’m lucky in that I stay calm under stressful situations and manage to think rationally, which has come in handy a few times. And I’ll tell you one thing, if I’m in a restaurant and it’s burning down, I’ll not be looking around for a waiter to pay the bill, I’ll be getting the hell out of dodge.