In which we consider ugly cars.

The aesthetics of cars are obviously intensely subjective. What I think looks great may turn your stomach. I remember being very impressed by the looks of the Allegro when it first came out (I was only five). I also liked – and still quite like- the whale-shark looks of the original Fiat Multipla, which regularly appears on ‘ugliest cars ever’ lists.

However I’d like to focus on two cars which are -shall we say- very, very hard to defend from an image point of view, and examine why they are so bloody awful.

We’re going to start with The Toyota Corolla E110, sold in the uk between about 1995 and 2003. This thing.

I think we can agree that the looks are unconventional. But as this is my blog I’m going to say it’s fucking horrible. But hey, lots of ghastly cars have rolled off production lines through the years. What’s interesting about this one is the way the advertising tried to convince us that it was actually gorgeous.

The second car, bang up to date and a long way off in cost terms, is the Bentley Bentayga. Ignore, if you can, the stupid name. Just look at it. If you can.

This car isn’t merely ugly. This car fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. Then landed on a trampoline which catapulted it back up into the ugly tree, hitting every branch again on the way up. Then gravity took over and it fell down again, colliding with every branch a third time. Then it landed in a box of frogs who immediately threw it out for spoiling their image.

It’s ugly, is what I’m saying.

And yet some people take it further:

For all the abject hideousness of the front end, the rear is just depressingly dull. I suspect the designer realised what he’d done and committed suicide, leaving his apprentice to finish the job and thereby save the company by collecting the fee. Either that or he knew the board would be so stunned by the front that he could stick any old crap on the back with no real problems.

About the only nice thing one can say about it is that it’s nicer than the concept.

Sort of how a broken arm is nicer than a broken leg. I.E. still bloody awful.

Now, the Bentayga is a properly expensive car. It starts at well over £100,000 and the model tested on The Grand Tour cost around a quarter of a million – as much as a four-bedroom house. It was pointed out on the show that the Jaguar F-Pace being tested alongside the Bentley cost less than the options fitted to the latter.

So why is it so horrid? I have a theory.

Humans are social animals. So we want other people to like us. So whenever we can, we buy cars to impress others in one way or another. In the case of the Bentayga this works in reverse. It says “I am so rich that I have bought this repulsive car to show you that don’t give a toss whether you like me or not, because I don’t have to. ”

Does that make it the ultimate road-going status symbol?

In which we express reservations about the functioning of the democratic process.

How politics works
The ship of state is just that. It’s a ship. But it’s got no permanent crew, so the passengers choose who gets to go into the cabin and steer it for a while.

The Ship Of State, here represented by the SS Penile Insecurity.
The Ship Of State, here represented by the SS Penile Insecurity.

The candidates for this aren’t allowed to have any practice at steering a ship before they start; they aren’t even allowed into the cabin to see what the real state of the ship is. But the passengers don’t really care how good they are. Instead, the candidates make lots of promises about what direction they’d steer the ship in if they had the chance. The ones who make the most passengers think they’d do a good job (from that individual passenger’s point of view) get elected.

For some reason, the job of crew is a very attractive one to some people, so there’s massive competition for the job. This means that anyone who wants to get to the top has to be very, very good at working the system to get them to the top. Note – that system has nothing to do with actually being able to run the ship.

They then get to go into the cabin, and only then do they find out where the ship actually is and where it’s going.

The next problem is that the ship is a massive cruise liner but only has the power and steering system of a Thames ferry.

or maybe this.
or maybe this.

So the actual ability of the new crew to influence the direction of the ship is minimal. If there’s a flat calm sea with good visibility, no wind, and no other ships wanting to go where you want to go then there’s just a chance the ship will move some of the way that the crew said they’d move it – always assuming they stick to their plans and don’t change their mind when they get their hands on the controls.

Bearing in mind that they have to make lots of promises to get there in the first place, the chance of them sticking to all of them is vanishingly small.

The sea is rarely, if ever, calm.

Cynical about politics yet?

In which we consider matters calendrical

(this post was originally a note on Facebook but I prefer it here…)

Why we have Leap Years
In the (faintest of faint) hopes of explaining what leap years are and why we have them, here’s a quick guide:

We have SIDEREAL DAYS which are 23.93447 hours long – which is the time it takes for the Earth to rotate relative to the stars.

Then there’s the TROPICAL day which is the old faithful 24-hour day, how long it takes the Earth to rotate once relative to the sun.

Now the TROPICAL YEAR is how long it takes between one midwinter solstice and the next (or midsummer for that matter) which is 365.24219 days long. Sure enough the SIDEREAL YEAR – the time it takes the Earth to go around the sun once – is 20.4 minutes longer than that..

If that wasn’t enough we also have LUNATIONS, also known as the SYNODIC LUNAR MONTH, which is the length of time between New Moons, which is 29.53059 days, and the SIDEREAL LUNAR MONTH, which is the length of time it takes the Moon to return to a particular point in the sky – that’s 27.32166 days.

Everyone with me so far? Good, because the next bit gets complicated.

Sidereal vs Synodic months. Keep up.
Sidereal vs Synodic months. Keep up.

You can measure a year any way you want, because you’re guaranteed to be wrong.

Civilisations have done it in many ways:

ANCIENT CHINA: Used a 13-month, 384-day Lunar calendar until 1800BC, then switched to one based around 235 lunations in 19 years, which is pretty accurate. The current system sees the New Year start on the second New Moon after the winter solstice, and has twelve months of 29 or 30 days. Every second or third year a leap MONTH is added to keep in line with the solar calendar.

ANCIENT INDIA: The Mahabarata speaks of a year of 12 months of 30 days, with an extra month added every five years. That works out to a 366-day year (it would have been more accurate if they’d made the leap month 26 or 27 days).

SUMER: a lunar year of 12 lunations by 4000 BC. By 3000 BC they’d switched to a solar calendar of 12 30-day months, giving a 360-day year (incidentally this is why we still divide a circle into 360 degrees).

BABYLON: 2000 BC, another lunar calendar of 12 months alternating between 29 and 30 days each. To handle the inaccuracies, different cities would chuck in an odd leap month here and there wherever they felt like it. This didn’t really work too well, so by 500 BC they had a system of 12 years of 12 months followed by seven years of 13 months.

Egyptian calendar
Egyptian calendar

EGYPT: The year started on the day that Sirius rose at the same time as the sun (Heliacal rising) and was 12 months of 30 days, with five days added on at the end (we could learn from that IMO, especially if they were just taken as holiday…)

ANCIENT GREECE: Much like the Egyptian except that they dropped in a leap month every now and then.

GAULISH DRUIDS: A lunar year of 12 29- or 30-day months, with an extra month inserted every two and a half years.

ANCIENT ROME: Ten months of 30 or 31 days for a 304-day year, plus 61 days outside the calendar. Note that under this system the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months were called just that, but of course in Latin this is Septem, Octo, Novem and Decem (see any connection?). In 713BC they changed things around, making all the months 29 days, creating January and February at 29 and 28 days respectively. Every other year they shortened February to 23 or 24 days and dropped in an extra 27-day month.

JULIAN CALENDAR: This was created in 46 BC on the orders of the emperor of the same name (good name, I always thought) – and was 365 days, 12 months, with one leap day every four years on the end of February. All well and good except that it falls behind the solar year by 11 minutes a year.

GREGORIAN CALENDAR: By 1582 this was a problem so Pope Gregory XIIIth deleted ten days (5th-14th October 1582 – good for trivia, that one) and declared that every four hundred years the leap day that was due that day would be dropped. That’s why the year 2000 wasn’t a leap year.

Even so, we’re still not perfect: the current arrangement loses a day every 3200 years.

Genuine masochists may like to go on to ponder the Mayan calendar, which accurately based itself around sun, moon AND the movements of the seven visible planets.

In which we go dowsing

On Tuesday of this week I went dowsing at the Rollright Stones.

Let me clarify that:  I went for a brief introductory course in dowsing.  It’s something that’s interested me for some time.  It fits into my ‘more things in Heaven and Earth’ philosophy so I wanted to try it first hand.

I made the surprising discovery that it’s bollocks.

No, that’s unfair. I’m writing this when I should probably be in bed, so it’s not going to get a fair hearing.  I’ll continue after a bit more sleep.

In which we resolve all questions of religion, The Supreme Being and that stuff

Randall and Kevin talking about the Supreme Being
“You mean… God?” “Well, we didn’t know him that well; we only worked for him.”

So, does God exist?

I don’t know.  And I will fight to preserve my agnosticism to my last breath.  I know, it’s a hard battle cry to get behind:  (“I’m not suuuurrrreee…….!”), but bear with me.

This agnosticism is logically-arrived at and to me is the only intellectually-honest position I can possibly adopt.  Let me explain:

I consider myself a scientist by training and inclination.  I studied science throughout my education, and I understand what is scientifically verifiable, and what isn’t.  I also understand the shortcomings in the scientific method and the scientific culture.  More of that another time.  Basically, what I’m saying is, I know what constitutes proof and what doesn’t.

There is no scientific evidence for the existence of God.  But I remain open to the possibility of another organising principle in the universe, which we have yet to discover.  I get this from studying phi, the Golden Section, and the ubiquity of its appearance in nature doesn’t seem to have any scientific reason.  So maybe there’s another system out there which we don’t understand.  And perhaps we never will:


…or, to put it another way, there’s no rule to say that the universe has to be explicable to humans.

So the lack of scientific evidence doesn’t rule out God.  How about the whole ‘bad things happening’ excuse?  How can God exist with all the suffering going on?

IF we conceive of God as an entity capable of creating the entire universe through an act of will, THEN the nature of that entity is clearly very far removed from anything a human mind can conceive, much less relate to; and THUS such an entity will have thought processes, motives and an inner life which are similarly inconceivable.

So what we see as ‘bad things’ might not actually be the same to God.  That doesn’t mean that God is evil;  it just means that if he/she/it exists, his/her/its motivations aren’t necessarily understandable by us.

As an example, imagine an endangered animal which is part of a captive breeding programme and gets released into the wild.  To the animal, it goes from being protected, fed, and generally having a great life, to a terrifying fight for survival.  From the animal’s point of view that’s terrible, but from the point of view of the survival of species it’s a big success.  The animal can’t be expected to understand that.

So don’t think that bad things prevent us from believing in the existence of God.

Finally, all religious tracts were written by humans, whatever their authors may say on the matter, and reflect their authors’ own situations, prejudices and requirements.  So nothing that has ever been written on the subject of God can be trusted (especially that twat St Anselm.  Don’t get me started on him…)

A twat who wrote specious arguments for the existence of God. And needs a shave.

Including this, by the way.

So the scientific arguments against god don’t stack up, the moral arguments against god don’t stand up, and the religious arguments in favour of god don’t stand up.  Under these conditions, how can we be anything other than agnostic?

In which we consider “The Run Of The Downs”


THE WEALD is good, the Downs are best—
I’ll give you the run of ’em, East to West.
Beachy Head and Winddoor Hill,
They were once and they are still.
Firle, Mount Caburn and Mount Harry 5
Go back as far as sums ’ll carry.
Ditchling Beacon and Chanctonbury Ring,
They have looked on many a thing,
And what those two have missed between ’em,
I reckon Truleigh Hill has seen ’em.
Highden, Bignor and Duncton Down
Knew Old England before the Crown.
Linch Down, Treyford and Sunwood
Knew Old England before the Flood;
And when you end on the Hampshire side
Butser’s old as Time and Tide.
The Downs are sheep, the Weald is corn,
You be glad you are Sussex born!

When I was much younger, I loved the Sussex Downs, despite not spending that much time on them.  Most of my exposure to them was in the form of views from the car when we travelled from our home in Southampton to visit my sister Sarah in Bexhill or my stepfather’s mother Beryl in Eastbourne.  That said, we did occasionally visit Butser Hill, the tallest and westernmost of the Downs, and I was very fond of that.

In my way I formed a plan to walk the South Downs Way, and – as was my approach to most problems of this sort – bought a book on the subject.

Like most of my teenage ambitions, this never came to fruition, and in all honesty was as much an excuse to compile lists of equipment (from the ‘Survival Aids’ catalogue) as an action plan.

A couple of years ago I came across this poem.  I’ve always been fond of Kipling but his output was so prodigious that it’s easy to miss one or two.  What really hit me was the last line, inasmuch as I was born in Horsham.  I dragged my old plans out of the dingy cupboard and reassembled them in a slightly new form.

The new form was to walk each of these hills, either singly or in groups, and ideally to do it in company.  The original plan was that at least some of these would be walked with my sister, but her death earlier this year has long since put paid to that idea.  Nevertheless, I still plan to do it and the progress will be chronicled here.  Watch this space.