All Posts Filed in ‘Rant


The State Of The British Economy


An oft-noted observation people like myself make when they spend time in the USA is the myopic nature of the news on TV. A 30 minute news show will typically have about 12 minutes of national news from around the US, 5 minutes of local news, 2 minutes of weather, 47 minutes of adverts and 13 seconds of ‘world’ news detailing the world outside the US borders. Okay, those numbers don’t quite add up but you get my point – very little of ‘interest’ happens outside the US. You can watch BBC World instead but that seems to show you world news for everywhere except the UK.

However the current economic crisis affecting the UK (and rest of the world of course) is completely taking over the news coverage, particularly of the BBC, and it’s non-stop and as though there’s nothing else happening in the world. Or at least that’s how it feels.

They’re tracking every single layoff in every geographic region of the UK, tracking companies that might be laying people off soon, interviewing people about how worried they are about their jobs, how they’re coping with being laid off, how getting laid off was the worst thing to happen to them, how getting laid off was the best thing to happen to them, how the banks are in trouble, how the shops in the high street are going under, how the pound is incredibly weak, how car manufacturing is in trouble, how us tax payers are bailing out the banks, and on and on and on. I’m getting recession overload and if another Labour politician comes on and starts deflecting questions about how it’s not their fault and that it’s a “global problem” I think I’ll scream. But personally I take everything I see on the news with a pinch of salt now.

The pound falling against the dollar

You see, I heard a very interesting interview on the radio with an American economist who was asked the simple question: “Why is the pound so weak against the dollar?”. His answer surprised the presenters to such an extent that they were lost for words.

He said that investing in UK government bonds is considered just as risky as investing in the Royal Bank of Scotland – a bank that was in such a bad state that it had to be bailed out by the government in December. UK government bonds are supposed to be rock-solid, safe investments that you can depend upon. To compare them to a British bank run into the ground by greedy men in suits doesn’t say a lot for the opinion of the outside world on the UK government. He also went on to say that outside the UK there’s a real belief that the UK government itself could go bankrupt. Since our current Prime Minister was the Chancellor for 10 years and used to exclaim that “the days of boom and bust are over”, it’s particularly ironic that he was in fact setting himself up for a fall. Instead of saving in the good times, the government appears to have spent like billionaire bankers and left the economy in such a fragile state that the credit crunch could well finish us. And yet until then I’d never heard this point of view – a point of view originating outside the UK – mentioned.

A lost lambI know that “no news is good news” and ultimately they’re trying to get as high ratings as possible, but the 24 hour news culture and US-style approach to sensationalist, on-demand, instant-coverage, soundbite-based reporting just makes me want to switch off. Whatever happened to one or two news shows a night where there was actual analysis of what was happening instead of a constant drone of uninformed, knee-jerk, twitter-style noise? All noise does is confuse people and if you need people to act sensibly and behave in a way that might help a country out of recession the last thing you need is more confusion. Individually people are pretty smart but collectively they tend to act like sheep, and sheep confuse easily. Baaaaa! 😉


SnagIt 9 Or How To Take A Step Backwards In Usability


I’ve been an avid user of SnagIt for a few years now. It’s a great tool for taking screenshots of things and adding boxes, arrows and a variety of effects to explain something. It’s fantastic for putting together documentation or explaining to someone how to use a piece of software. You click a button and it captures either a window or you can draw a box around what you’re interested in. You can then annotate it all you want and save it in the format of your choice. It’s quick, simple and powerful. Well, that is until SnagIt 9.

First of all, let’s look at SnagIt 8:

SnagIt 8

SnagIt 8 is simple. The tools you need are on the left, such as boxes, arrows, highlighter, text and so forth. The image you’ve captured is in the middle and all effects are on the right such as resizing the image, adding a drop shadow, a torn effect (which is what I’ve used), adding a caption and so on. I frequently capture an image, draw some boxes, arrows and text on it, then add an edge effect – usually that torn paper one – then resize it and save it. Since everything is in one place it takes the minimal number of mouse clicks, all the tools such as the arrow tool remember the settings I’d used before (such as the colour, thickness and depth of shadow) so once I’ve used SnagIt one time it’ll remember everything from then on. Simple.

Now let’s look at SnagIt 9:

SnagIt 9

The first thing to note is that it uses the fancy new Ribbon control that was introduced by Microsoft in Office 2007 (it’s the strip at the top of the dialog labelled Draw, Image, Hotspots, Tags, etc. and when you click on one it reveals a bunch of related controls). When Microsoft introduced the ribbon a lot of people complained – people hate change after all. However Microsoft put a great deal of effort into deciding what controls to put on which section of the ribbon so that commonly used controls lived next to each other and were easy to discover. After struggling with it for a bit myself I have to admit that Office is far better for the new ribbon. Sadly I can’t say the same about SnagIt.

While the ribbon looks sexy in SnagIt, it’s pretty clear that not a great deal of thought went into deciding what goes where. OK, there may have been a lot of thought about it, but unlike the Office team TechSmith didn’t have the usability statistics to see how people actually use the product. And in a straw poll of one person (me) I have to say that SnagIt 9 has actually made my life harder and as a result I’ve rolled back to version 8 – the first time I’ve ever preferred an older product over a new one.

Take my standard workflow. I’ll capture an image, draw some boxes and arrows, resize it, add a torn edge effect and save. In SnagIt 8 I’d do the following (and I’m assuming I’ve run through the process previously and SnagIt has saved my preferences):

  1. Capture the image
  2. Click the ‘box’ tool and draw a box
  3. Click the ‘arrow’ tool and draw an arrow
  4. Click the ‘Resize Image’ button on the right and choose the size
  5. Click the ‘Edge Effects’ button then choose ‘Torn Edge’
  6. Save image

In SnagIt 9, things are no longer as simple. Now I have to do the following (and note that I’m assuming I’ve run through the process before so SnagIt should really remember my presets like SnagIt 8 does):

  1. Far too many steps to change the shadow settingCapture the image (same as before)
  2. Click the ‘Draw’ tab
  3. Click the ‘box’ button and find that it’s chosen the default one and not the one I want so I have to…
  4. Click the drop-down next to the styles to find one I’ve saved before in ‘Quick Styles’ noting that after a reboot my quick style has disappeared so I have to…
  5. Use the default box and draw it, then click the ‘Outline’ button and choose the red colour I prefer to the default dark red (note that red isn’t in any of the presets)
  6. Next click Effects > Shadow > More Shadows so that I can change the default shadow (note that in SnagIt 8 I’d do this once only and it would be remembered for ever more)
  7. Click the arrow next to ‘Styles’ to add the current style to ‘Quick Styles’ knowing it’ll be forgotten later
  8. Now to draw the arrow I’ll have to go back to point 3, but click the arrow instead of the box button – sigh
  9. Ok, time to resize the image, that means clicking the ‘Image’ tab
  10. Click Resize > Resize image – pretty much the same as SnagIt 8
  11. Now to add the edge effect, as usual it’s forgotten my quick style so I click Edges > Torn Edges and set the values I want (click ‘Add to Quick Styles’ and hope it’s there next time)
  12. Save image

Ok, I admit that if they manage to fix the fact that the quick styles keep being lost (and kept in view every time) it’ll make things slightly better, but nevertheless for my workflow – which is nothing special – it would mean a lot of flitting between the ‘Draw’ and ‘Image’ tabs and indeed that’s been the frustration. I love the fact that SnagIt 8 has all the tools you need in one place – changing tabs is like walking into another room and it just slows me down. It’s a real shame as SnagIt 9 has a lot of other cool features like being able to do multiple captures in a row and having a library recording all the snapshots you’ve taken. I gave it a few months to see if I liked it but when I happened to use SnagIt 8 on one of my machines it reminded me how much better it was so I rolled back.

I can see why as a software vendor you’d see the Microsoft Office ribbon and want to put it in your application – if nothing else it looks cool – but it’s easy to forget that the ribbon was designed to handle software containing hundreds of functions such as Word and was laid out with a great deal of care and thought. And while it works well in Word it’s not necessarily of benefit to applications with a couple of dozen functions. In the case of SnagIt it takes a light, quick and simple application and makes it just that little bit less light, quick and simple – which for me has always been its defining strength.

If you don’t take a lot of captures or are happy with all the defaults, then SnagIt 9 may be fine for you. But I’m a bit particular and fussy, so all that new GUI just gets in my way and means I’m better sticking with SnagIt 8. Bah humbug!


How To Make A Surprise Really Surprising


So it was my 34th birthday on Tuesday and I’m a bit old to throw lavish parties and expect fabulous presents. These days I like to have a low-key day, not “celebrate” as such, but just do the sort of things I like doing normally. We went to see The Dark Knight on Saturday at the local cinema but foolishly underestimated how popular it still was – we couldn’t get in! Instead we saw Wall-E (which I actually wanted to see anyway) and it was fantastic (including a couple of noticeable references to the classic Silent Running in there which it owes a lot to). It’s amazing how Pixar manage to get you so emotionally attached to something that has no facial features at all! But that still left The Dark Knight to see…

So we looked at our diaries (well, metaphorically speaking as I’ve never been any good at keeping a diary up to date) and decided that we might as well go on Tuesday night, which also happened to be my birthday. Seemed like a nice way to “celebrate” and sounded good to me. Whenever friends asked me what I was doing on my birthday I’d say “it’s great, we’re going to see The Dark Knight and I can’t wait!”. Until my birthday comes along and my good lady returns home from work with a surprise…

We’re not going to see The Dark Knight at all! We’re going out for a special meal at our local Aagrah curry house with our friends Ben and Anna – it had been planned for weeks! Now normally if that was sprung on me I’d have been immediately thrilled and punching the air (well, probably not punching the air per se, but metaphorically punching the air). Except it was a double surprise. On the one hand I was going out for a delicious meal, but on the other I’d spent the day looking forward to seeing the film, made sure I’d eaten throughout the day as I knew we weren’t going to have a big meal (since we were off to the cinema) and now I wasn’t. Of course if you’d given me a choice of seeing the film or having a meal with my friends I’d have taken the meal every time!

But my first question to my good lady was: “why did you tell me we were going to the cinema? Why didn’t you just not say anything?”. If it was the other way round and I was planning the surprise I’d have made sure that she didn’t make plans (maybe hinting that we were doing something) or just not mentioned anything at all – perhaps said I was having my legs done on Tuesday night so not to go and book cinema tickets (well, that’s what she’d have said, I’d have probably said I was doing a power workout or something more manly).

It turns out that she’s a terrible liar, no doubt as a result of her being such a fair and honest person whereas I’m an excellent liar and, eh, also a fair and honest person (I wouldn’t lie to you!). So I’ve explained to her for future reference that the key to success in fabricating a lie or keeping something from someone is to not compound it by adding another lie on top. For one thing that just makes it more difficult to remember but for another it just makes things more complicated. Sometimes the best way to lie is to just say nothing at all.

And for the record it was a delicious meal and I enjoyed it far more than I would have done had I gone to the cinema. We’re going to see the film on Saturday and this time I’ll be booking the tickets, just to make sure. Oh yes, and I’m an ungrateful git. But you probably worked that out already! 🙂


You Can Take Your iPod Touch v2.0 Software And Shovel It


Maybe I’ve been spoiled over the years by free software updates on the various iPods I’ve owned but when Apple charged £12.99 for their ‘January Software Update’ on my iPod Touch I was a bit ticked off. Since it included a few new applications I paid the money and subsequently haven’t used any of them at all – a stock ticker, note taker, email client, weather app and mapping application turned out to be completely useless to me as I use my iTouch for playing music 99.9% of the time. Don’t get me wrong though, I still love my iTouch as much as I did when I wrote this article saying how much I loved it.

There’s been a lot of furore over the new App Store where you can actually buy 3rd party applications for your iPhone and iTouch so I thought I’d go and have a look. I’m sure there are some fun games and other interesting things there, but when I plugged in my iTouch I was presented with the following message:

A message about the iTouch v2 software update

So if I want to even try out some of the free applications I actually have to purchase new software do I? And I’ll bet that if someone buys a brand new iTouch today they’ll get the 2.0 software included for free, just like those bought after the January software update I mentioned above did. No thanks Apple.

Out of curiosity I clicked the ‘Learn More’ button to see how much they were trying to squeeze out of us iTouch and iPhone owners but smiled when I was presented with the following:

The iTunes store is unavailable - what a shame!

Mwa ha ha – serves them right! I’m certain Apple will make a fortune from the myriad applications on the App Store that they’ll be getting a cut of the sale prices from, but it just seems a bit avaricious to me to charge for the software update to run them. So on general principle I won’t be upgrading my iTouch to the 2.0 software and as a result I won’t be trying out any of the no doubt wonderfully pointless applications. Sorry John, but sometimes I have to draw the line somewhere, even with Apple!


As Fast As My Imagination Isn’t Fast Enough Damnit!


Picture this scene. My good lady is looking on the Dell website speccing out a new laptop. She’s not the most technically savvy person on the planet so isn’t exactly sure of what options she should and shouldn’t choose.

Like most non-technical people she gets bored of reading technical talk within about 30 seconds. So after a couple of minutes she says the following in a monotone, bored voice, almost sighing as she did: “Dual processor processes power as fast as your imagination… Do I want that?”.

Some marketing BS courtesy of Dell

A slogan like that is supposed to be said in a triumphant, confident way, and definitely in bold like Buzz Lightyear saying: “To Infinity And Beyond!”. I’m sure the copywriter who wrote the line about dual processors imagined people reading it and saying “Wow! I want one of them!”. But of course the reality is that most people won’t understand what a dual processor does and if it being “as fast as your imagination” actually matters on not.

A techie like me just ignores it as meaningless marketing spiel (I don’t know which part of their statement to correct first) but I’m sure many people like my good lady just get confused and turned off to technology even more. So much for being consumer focused.


The Difficulties Of Finding Good People


My company has been looking for the past while to hire someone with very strong software development skills using Microsoft ASP.NET with C#, SQL Server and a host of the usual 3 letter acronyms (which I won’t bore you with). It’s pretty much the standard skill-set of any current developer that works on the Microsoft platform building web applications – so nothing out of the ordinary.

In addition to these skills we’re after someone who can not only sit in a corner and write code, but can go in front of business people (i.e. non-technical types) and gather requirements, spec out a piece of work, build it, deal with customer changes and ship it to end users. Someone who can work on their own and as part of a team as the projects dictate, has no ego and is just a normal person at the end of the day. We’re pretty much looking for someone like me or Ian. Writing a blog or being obsessed with your hair is not a requirement! 😉

Now that said, what we’re really after is someone who’s smart and gets the job done. We’d far rather hire someone who has less experience in our toolset but is smart enough to pick it up than someone with loads of experience but isn’t very bright. As a further twist, I along with my boss have been doing the interviewing! Although I’ve not interviewed everybody, thank goodness.

The thing I’ve found amazing about the experience is that we’ve been taking the absolute best CVs that have come in, throwing loads of others out. We’ve been in the software game for long enough to know what we’re looking for and time after time we read a CV and think “hey, this person looks great, with their experience they could be the one”. We bring them in and time and time again they bear absolutely no resemblance to the person on their CV.

We split the interview into 3 parts.

  1. A light-hearted overview of the company, the department, the development team.
  2. We ask them about their experience, some of the projects they’ve worked on and more importantly what their thought process was about decisions they’ve made and how they approached any problems they came across. We’re just trying to stimulate a conversation to see how their mind works and if they’d be a good fit for the team (no prima donnas please).
  3. A short technical test (which I wrote).

A rabbit in a hatIt’s the last part that’s surprised me the most. Since it’s an interview situation, you’re under a lot more pressure than in a normal day so there’s no point making that worse with an extremely complicated trick problem. The test is in fact very easy. You get to sit down with Visual Studio 2005 to write a single method for an already-existing console application. You’ve got a spec telling you exactly what it needs to do and some helper classes and methods to provide you with what you need. In essence you need to match all orders for a given customer and the code is already there to return all the customers and all the orders for a given customer. It should take no more than 10-15 minutes and when I wrote it some of us thought it was so easy that it would be a waste of time.

Even under the pressure of an interview situation anybody who can actually write code should be able to waltz through it. Since you have full access to the documentation and internet in the test, even if you don’t know C# but can write any sort of code, you can probably work it out!

We leave them to have a read of the spec and come back to answer any questions they might have. Then we give them 10-20 minutes and see how they’ve done. It’s not a black-and-white right-or-wrong test as it’s really just to see if they can actually write code and if it doesn’t work first time (none of the code I ever write does) then can they debug it and work out what’s wrong, with some help from us if need be. You wouldn’t hire a magician without watching them do a few tricks would you? There are lots of opportunities to ask what-if questions just like you’d do in the real world and rather than a “test” we look at it as a way of having a discussion.

But what’s left me utterly beside myself is that virtually all the people we’ve interviewed that consider themselves to be very strong developers have done absolutely terribly at the test! It beggars belief that people who can’t even compare a string to another string should be writing software for a living – comparing strings is one of the most basic things you can do in software. It’s like a plumber not knowing how to turn off the hot water supply. Some of the interviewees have 15 years development experience with CVs that look far better than mine and talk the talk, but have clearly managed to survive using the drag-and-drop method of writing software without ever understanding what they’re actually doing. No hire.

A lovely chrome piece of pipingNow I know we’re not going to attract the creme de la creme to work on a hill above Halifax in Yorkshire even if we do score 8/12 on the Joel Test (which isn’t too bad – and we’d have 11/12 if it weren’t for some of our management). And I know that most decent people aren’t looking for jobs because their employers realise how important they are and pay them so much money that they’d never leave (heh heh, yeah right). But we’re surely not being unrealistic to think we could find some people who can actually write software and communicate with other human beings.

One thing about the technical test we’ve found is that it hasn’t made us change our opinions about a candidate. If they were doing badly and did well on the test we’ve still said ‘no’ and if they’ve done well everywhere but the test we don’t rule them out. By having a chat with someone for an hour we reckon we can pretty much tell if they’re a good fit or not even without testing their coding so for now we’re going to move the test into the second interview stage (which is usually just a formality and chance to meet the director and more senior people than us) and use it as final confirmation rather than wasting half an hour with someone now that we already know we’d not hire.

Fortunately the last time we hired someone we found a guy who really blew us away. I was starting to lose hope that decent people existed but then in walked my future colleague who was clearly a really nice guy, intelligent, sharp, on the same wavelength as my boss and I and of course he flew through the technical test in record time!

But until we get lucky enough that another superstar walks through the door we’re wasting a hell of a lot of time interviewing people who we can tell within 20 minutes aren’t going to cut it – but because we’re nice people we don’t say “Stop! There’s no point carrying on – get out!”, we give people every opportunity to show us what they’ve got. It’s hard work and I’m glad I don’t have to do it all the time. I’m almost inclined to take the advice I read somewhere about recruiting and throw half the CVs in the bin because you wouldn’t want to hire someone who’s unlucky! 😉


Once They’ve Got Your Name They’ve Got You


As I’ve written about in detail before I applied to become a Royal Marine Officer when I was younger, cockier, fitter and had better knees. I came within a cat’s whisker of making it and if I’d been even cockier I’d have passed first time. At the time I was particularly proud to pass the Officer selection course which consisted of all sorts of fun activities like press-ups, running with a telegraph pole slung over your shoulder for hours, being dragged through underwater tunnels and discussing politics and world affairs. But when I eventually failed to get in I was really gutted, although looking back it was the best thing that happened to me as it made me realise nothing is mine by right, I have to work for it. Plus now that I’m in my 30’s all that getting shot at in Afghanistan sounds less than the fun I thought it would be in my early 20’s.

A letter I received from the MODAnyway, I digress. This morning a letter turned up from none other than the Ministry Of Defence. It had been sent to my father’s address and he passed it on to me. You may or may not have heard that just the other week a laptop was stolen containing the personal details of some 600,000 people including such things as names, addresses, passport details, national insurance numbers and so on. The BBC wrote about it here. There’s been a spate of missing government laptops being stolen along with CDs containing details of all UK benefits claimants going missing. I always shake my head at the incompetence of the people who lose these things, don’t properly secure data or are so stupid as to send unencrypted CDs through the post!

However according to the letter I received from the MOD, my details were on the laptop that was stolen! Ten years ago I applied to join the Royal Marines and they still have my personal data lying around on someone’s laptop sitting in the back of their car. Idiots!

The letter reassures me that while my passport details, National Insurance number, driver license details, family details, doctors address and National Health Service number might be included in the stolen information, I can rest easy knowing that my bank details were not. Nice! So more than enough information to steal my identity, set up a bank account in my name, create some loans and not repay them, but at least they can’t get at my current account…

Fortunately the passport details they have are no longer valid, my address has changed, as has my doctor. But that’s about it. We don’t think twice before handing over our personal details to various institutions but we never consider the fact that our details might be hanging around in their systems 10 or 20 years later just waiting to be stolen. Having worked in the IT industry for many years I can testify to the incompetence of the vast majority of the people in it and therefore don’t hold out much hope that this sort of problem’s going to go away.


Yorkshire Folk Do Like Their Food


I’ve never really been that into food. Sure, the sort high quality food you can get in a swanky restaurant or hotel definitely gets me interested – such as a trip to my local Aagrah curry house. But things like going to a carvery, or eating pie and peas, or fish and chips or any of that sort of thing doesn’t enthuse me at all. They’re bland, average, uninteresting meals that I consider fuel rather than any kind of interesting eating experience and you’d never catch me fantasising about pouring gravy on a Cumberland sausage and mash. This attitude didn’t prepare me well for when I moved to Yorkshire however…

When I was originally courting my good lady we’d go out for meals with her parents or her family and the thing I noticed was that they talked about food all the time. We’d be eating a meal and they’d be discussing the next meal they were going to eat in intimate detail. I thought maybe it was just them but every Yorkshireman (and Yorkshirewoman for that matter) seems to be exactly the same. A conversation about a recent holiday in the sun can go along the following lines (you may find it easier to read the conversation aloud as I’ve tried to use the correct regional dialect where appropriate):

ME: “I say, how was the holiday? Did you get some jolly good sunshine?”.

THEM: “Oooooo. We ad a raaaa’t good taaam. The food were raaaa’t luvly. On the first naaat they ad plates of sausages as far as the eye could see. And buckets o’ gravy. And the potatoes – eeeeee. They had roast, boiled, jacket and loads of others I’d n’er seen before. Then we had a full English the next morning and the bacon were to die for! And then we went out for lunch at an all-you-can-eat carvery and……..”

ME (CUTTING IN): “Goodness me old bean, that sounds interesting! So did you go to <Insert Landmark Here>? I hear it’s one of the 7 wonders of the world and is quite a sight!”.

THEM: “Ye, it were alright. But on t’way back to t’hotel we saw a raaa’t good English pub in t’middle of <Insert Foreign Country Here> and we ordered scampi and chips and it were bloody luvly, joust laak home…….”

By this point my mind would have wandered off somewhere while they spent the next 10 minutes telling me about every piece of food they’d eaten without actually telling me a thing about the holiday.

I was brought up talking about pretty much everything except food when at the dinner table. Such topics could include any of the of the following:

  • How our respective days went
  • Some interesting piece of gossip or news
  • My brother and I winding my dad up
  • Being shouted at by my dad about our table manners
  • A frosty silence
  • My brother and I winding up my dad some more

But sitting talking, obsessing, fantasising about food would definitely not be one of them. Food just isn’t that interesting! I initially found it a culture shock sitting eating food and everybody talking about nothing but food.

However over time I’ve managed to adopt a strategy that allows me to blend in as though I were a Yorkshireman myself (albeit with a very un-Yorkshire accent). Instead of talking about blandiose food (note: I’m pretty sure I invented the word blandiose many years ago but I note that someone else thought of it too) I try to steer the conversation to food of a higher quality and reminisce about fine meals I’ve had in some lovely restaurants. Unfortunately the experience has slowly changed me and I now find myself eating out with friends who’re not from Yorkshire and having to stop myself talking about food!

You know what they say, “when in Rome….”. And I hear the food’s raaa’t luvly too! 😉


Happy New Year 2008!

Leave a reply

Some New Year Cheer For YouAs a Scotsman you’d expect me to get really excited around New Year’s Eve – what with our national obsession with Hogmanay (as we like to call it) – but you’d be quite wrong.

Every New Year’s Eve I’d be standing up toasting a drink to the bells ringing in the new year, shaking guy’s hands, kissing girl’s cheeks while saying “Happy New Year!”. I’d be singing along to Auld Lang Syne with everybody else but inside I’d be thinking “what’s the point of all this? it’s just another day”. I’ve never been one to come up with New Year’s resolutions either (although maybe I should) since I don’t see the need to wait until the next January 1st to change the error of my ways – why not start right now?

Anyway, far from being a miserable git on New Year’s Eve bemoaning the whole thing I look at it as a chance to go out and socialise with friends, have a nice time and a lie in the following morning. And that’s precisely what I did last night and this morning and had a great time! Oh, and I refrained from singing Auld Lang Syne – it just doesn’t sound right when sung by people with a Yorkshire accent! 😉

As for New Year’s resolutions (which I said I didn’t do)… How about: “I will try and cut down on the number of cans of Irn Bru I drink”? That reminds me, I’m thirsty!


Some People Deserve What They Get


Picture this. Myself and a couple of friends are hiking up a 3000ft mountain in the Lake District. It's raining. I don't mean it's just a shower, I mean it's torrentially raining. It has been all morning. We're all wearing full waterproofs and we're still soaked. Visibility (since we're in the middle of a cloud) is down to around 20m, maybe less. It's windy, which when combined with the rain could make it a cold day indeed. Without the waterproofs we'd have never even set off from the car.

We were several miles from the start, several miles from anywhere in fact. I was leading at this point and out from the mist ahead a bedraggled woman appeared. She was looking at her feet, her long hair was soaking wet and as she got closer I realised that she was wearing a fleece, a pair of jeans, some not-very-solid shoes and a very miserable expression on her face. She was followed by 3 guys in their late teens who were similarly under-dressed in jeans, sweaters and trainers. One of them was actually carrying a bag but I imagine nothing useful was contained within it (probably some cans of Special Brew).

When they passed us my friends and I stopped and exchanged incredulous glances. The kids we had just seen were a complete bunch of idiots. All it would take was one of them going over an ankle and within a short period of time they'd have hypothermia and then be in real trouble. I can't imagine what possessed them to hike up a mountain in such terrible conditions so ill-prepared. It's not as if it was a nice morning where it looked like it was going to clear up – the day started grim and it was always going to stay grim. Not one of them had a waterproof jacket and it was a fine line they were treading.

Whenever I read about people getting stuck on mountains who had no right being there I feel like their miserable situation served them right (of course plenty of experienced people get caught out but that's a different thing altogether). These idiots then put others at risk who have to go and rescue them. It makes my blood boil.

The kids we saw no doubt got back in one piece but it wouldn't have taken much for them to have been in real trouble and I wouldn't have had the slightest bit of sympathy for them. At least the miserable day they had should have put them off for life and that's a good thing. Mountains should be treated with respect and are not the place for the unprepared.