Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

August 18, 2017
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 46-60

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 46-60Here’s my next instalment of answers to Richard Herring’s 500 emergency questions.. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

46. Have you ever had the opportunity to assassinate a public figure?

No. I think this question works better when interviewing celebrities, who encounter public figures more often.

47. Does sex with a robot count as cheating on your partner?

Yes, if your partner doesn’t consent. If it’s an open relationship, then that’s fine.

48. Have you ever put your genitals in or near the mouth of a dead animal?

Ah, the ‘David Cameron question’. But no, I have not done so.

49. Which is worse: bestiality or necrophilia?

Bestiality. A corpse is dead and won’t experience anything; an animal would experience something and is unlikely to have consented.

50. What crimes have you got away with?

I may have downloaded some songs from Napster back in the day.

51. Have you ever flown a kite?

Yes. I actually made a kite at secondary school for textiles.

52. What is the worst emergency you’ve ever been involved in?

I had to phone an ambulance when a friend I was walking with got hit by a car. This was back in 2008, I think.

53. What song would you like to replace the national anthem?

‘Gold’ by Spandou Ballet.

54. If you could travel back in time to compare any food of today with an equivalent of the past, what time and which food?

I would compare Party Rings with the 1980s. I’m sure they tasted better when I was younger.

55. If you had to go on a week’s holiday with a Spitting Image puppet, which would you choose?

Michael Palin, because he’s interesting and because his puppet was voiced by Chris Barrie, aka Rimmer from Red Dwarf.

56. Sport is intrinsically stupid. Discuss.

I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as stupid. If you play sport and it makes you happy, then please do so. It just doesn’t interest me – I’m not terribly competitive.

57. Is sex with a ghost cheating?

I think I’d answer the same as I did to question 47 – it’s a matter of consent with your partner.

58. Why do elephants have such low rates of cancer? 5% vs 25% of humans.

There’s a good BBC News article on the subject. Essentially, elephants seem to have evolved better cancer defences, but there are also environmental factors at play. Humans do things that increase our risk of developing cancer.

59. Can you name another animal which is cancer resistant?

The naked mole rat is the most well-known one, although they’re not completely resistant to cancer.

60. Should penis transplants ever be allowed? What are the possible terrifying consequences of such a procedure in your opinion?

Yes. I’m a registered organ donor and am in favour of an opt-out system for organ donations, rather than opt-in. I’m happy for my dead body to be stripped for useful parts and given to people who need them – otherwise, I’ll just be worm food. And yes, I would be okay if someone ended up with my penis.

I think my only concern would be that it wouldn’t be as sensitive once transplanted. I’m not a surgeon and have only a rudimentary understanding of human biology, but it may not be possible to connect up all of the nerves correctly.

August 12, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Wakefield Kirkgate railway station

Wakefield Kirkgate

Last weekend, I briefly called in at Wakefield Kirkgate railway station, the smaller of Wakefield’s two stations. It’s been a few years since I’ve been there – the last time was in 2011. Back then, it had been given the dubious honour of being named ‘Britain’s worst railway station’ by the former transport minister Lord Adonis. And it was an assessment that I agreed with at the time.

Here’s what I said:

“[…]those buildings that are still standing are boarded up, it’s dirty, there’s no staff around, there’s paint peeling off the walls and just looks generally dilapidated. Not a nice welcome to the city.”

How did Wakefield Kirkgate get so bad?

Kirkgate is the smaller of Wakefield’s two stations – the other is Wakefield Westgate. Westgate is on the East Coast Main Line, and is served by regular inter-city services between London and Leeds, plus cross-country services. Westgate, until a few years ago, was only served by local services. It’s also more distant from the city centre.

Progressive cutbacks saw Kirkgate’s ticket office closed, and eventually there would be no staff permanently based there. The station once had an overall roof over the tracks and platforms; this was dismantled some years ago. Its status as a local station for local people meant that it wasn’t a priority for maintenance.

What changed?

The past ten years have seen an increase in services at Kirkgate, probably because there isn’t much spare capacity at Westgate. Despite being the quieter of the two stations, Kirkgate has three platforms, whereas Kirkgate has just two – and they’re on the busy East Coast Main Line.

Northern introduced a new hourly Leeds-Sheffield-Nottingham service via Kirkgate (one of its ‘intercity’ services), and more recently Grand Central introduced its Bradford-London service. More trains now call at Wakefield Kirkgate, and they serve a greater range of destinations, including London.

There’s also the Hepworth Wakefield – an award-winning art gallery that opened nearby in 2011. Kirkgate is around the corner, and so this is the closest station, increasing the number of people using it.

With more people using Kirkgate, something had to be done.

Six years later

I made a return visit to the Hepworth with Lizzie, and so we popped into Kirkgate to see what had changed. A significant amount of money has been spent to improve the facilities at Kirkgate and it shows.

Firstly, the station is no longer in a state of disrepair – no more boarded up windows. The subway has been refurbished, with art panels and speakers playing a brass bend rendition of Jerusalem. There’s a new glass canopy on platform 1, and electronic displays showing train departure information. This is a particularly welcome improvement; with three platforms, it’s not always obvious which one to use for your train.

The buildings have been brought back into use. There’s now a café, and even a First Class lounge run by Grand Central. The rest of the building is rented out as business units and I noticed that one was being used as a photography studio.

The area outside the station has been improved, with ramps and improved paving. Sadly, The Wakefield Arms, a former pub opposite the station, is still derelict and not a great welcoming sight for those alighting.

Officially, the station is still un-staffed, as there’s no ticket office. Despite the sign above the main entrance asking passengers to buy their tickets from the guard on the train, there is now a ticket machine on platform 1. Alas, it wasn’t working when I visited. Revenue protection staff were there when I visited (Saturday lunchtime) and could sell tickets before travelling, so whilst there isn’t a permanent presence, it’s an improvement.

It’s also worth mentioning that Westgate has also seen improvements. A new entrance was built there recently, tying in with the wider regeneration of the rest of the city.

August 11, 2017
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 31-45

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 31-45. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

31. Which celebrity would you like to stroke your hair as you die?

Jennifer Lawrence. I think she’d be compassionate but would keep my spirits up.

32. Do you have a favourite towel? What is your best story about it?

No, not really. I do prefer to use bath sheets than regular bath towels as they’re bigger.

33. What is your most mundane encounter with a celebrity?

Richard Whiteley walked past me on a train from London to Leeds once, looking a bit confused.

34. How sensitive are your nipples?

Very sensitive.

35. Who would win in a fight, CJ from Eggheads or Jeremy Corbyn?

I don’t watch Eggheads so my opinion on this is entirely based on what I know from listening to Richard Herring. In which case, I’d go for CJ – I wouldn’t expect Jeremy Corbyn to push someone into a canal.

36. What really killed the dinosaurs?

Lee Harvey Oswald.

37. Would you rather date a man who was a six foot tall penis or a man who instead of having a penis had a tiny man?

This is a common question from RHLSTP.

I would probably go for the man who had a tiny man – would be extra company. However, if the tiny man turned out to be horrible then I might re-consider.

38. King Herod never killed any children. Discuss.

My knowledge of that area of history is lacking and so I can’t really comment.

39. Have you ever come up with an idea for conceptual or performance art that you think is better than any of the guff that gets nominated for the Turner Prize?

I once thought that King Edward Street in Leeds should have a massive potato installed on it.

40. Are you ever mistaken for a celebrity?

Haha. No. Never.

41. Do you have any good ideas for terrorist atrocities?

Not really, although I once had a nightmare about watching the building where I worked being blown up by a terrorist bomb – I think because we’d been evacuated.

42. Who would be your Desert Island Dicks? That is, which eight Richards would you take with you to a desert island? You get Richard Herring as your Shakespeare Richard.

Since this can also include people who are deceased:

  • My grandfather, who I never met
  • Richard Bacon
  • Richard Osman
  • Richard Whiteley
  • Rich Hall
  • Richard O’Brien
  • 2 of my friends who are called Richard.

43. If I got turned into a turkey right now, what would you do?

I would be rather concerned, and worried that I would be next.

44. Why can’t everyone be babies?

Babies are very dependent; I don’t think humanity would last long if we were all babies.

45. If Alan Sugar asked you to name his autobiography, what would you call it?

The Amstrad Apprentice.

August 10, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Ponderosa Farm & Rural Therapeutic Centre

Iguana at Ponderosa Farm

Until recently, if someone had told me that there was a zoo in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, I wouldn’t have believed them. But there is, and it’s called Ponderosa Farm & Rural Therapeutic Centre.

It turns out that I’ve walked past it before. Back in 2009, I walked the Spen Valley Greenway, but the section south of Heckmondwike had been closed by Yorkshire Water. They were installing a new sewage pipeline, and had signposted a diversion. It just so turns out that this went straight past Ponderosa without me realising what it was.

I took Lizzie with me to visit on Saturday – Christine was working. It’s not very big, but it’s also quite cheap – £5 for adults.

I’d been a little hesitant to visit having read the reviews on TripAdvisor. I’d probably rate it three out of five, and I agree with some of the points made in the negative reviews. Namely, it’s rather run-down in places, and the animals have smaller enclosures than in some newer zoos. The lemur enclosure in particular was full of nettles, and some of the vivariums holding the lizards didn’t look very sturdy.

Asian small-clawed otter
It’s also not a great zoo for photographers. Most enclosures are behind mesh that obscures the animals, unless you get very close up to the bars. This isn’t so good when taking photos of animals that are right up to the bars themselves, like this Asian small-clawed otter. The Yorkshire Wildlife Park is much better for wildlife photography, but it is also much newer.

Ponderosa is, however, a very good place to bring kids. There are several playgrounds, and when I went (which was a warm August weekend afternoon) there was a bouncy castle. The far end of the site has a huge sandpit as well. Its outdoor nature means that it’s only really suitable for good weather, but we could have probably spent far longer here.

There were some animals there that I haven’t seen before – the tri-coloured squirrel, for example.

Tri-coloured squirrel

Ponderosa clearly needs investment, and underlines why I have issues with local authorities (who often lack the relevant expertise) issuing zoo licenses. In my mind, licenses should be issued by a central government agency, possibly attached to DEFRA, that also carries out inspections. It’s also why I don’t plan to visit South Lakes Zoo any time soon.

That being said, I think we will go back to Ponderosa. Lizzie had a good time, it’s not far from us, and it’s cheap. Plus, Christine hasn’t been yet.

August 9, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Rose-tinted teeth

I’ve previously written about the work that I’ve had done on my teeth. This blog post from 2014 goes into detail, but in essence, I spent 7 years wearing some kind of device to straighten my teeth.

The worst period was when I was 15. The teeth in my top jaw stuck out far more than they should have done, so after having some removed to make way, I needed to wear a fixed brace to pull them back into my mouth. In addition, I had to wear headgear at night. This consisted of a metal frame that clipped onto my braces, and cloth straps that went over the top and around the back of my head.

If you’re having trouble imagining what this looks like, have a look at some of the photos on Wikipedia. None of these were quite the same as the one I wore, but it’ll give you an idea. Suffice to say, I found it difficult to sleep on my side whilst wearing it.

I was fortunate that I was given the choice to wear headgear. I could have decided not to, but my orthodontist recommended that I should do; wearing headgear would produce a better result, and it would only be for a few months. Which it was. And, as a 15 year old, I was deeply uncool; there was no risk of headgear turning off a potential partner.

With hindsight, I made the right choice. My teeth are still quite straight, even though it’s been 12 years since I wore any kind of corrective device, and they don’t stick out.

My only regret is that I don’t have any photos of me wearing the headgear. I can understand why – at the time, I was embarrassed to wear it, and relieved that I only had to do so at night. But it would be good to look back at that episode of my life. The decision I made at the time has meant that I have much better teeth in adulthood, even if it was not a pleasant experience.

August 4, 2017
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 16-30

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 16-30. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

16. Would you rather have a hand made out of suncream or an armpit that dispensed ham?

This is the inverse of question 2, and on this occasion, I’d choose the armpit that dispensed ham. I’d be concerned that a hand made out of suncream would be about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

17. If you could choose one thing for your armpit to dispense, what would that thing be?

Diet cola. Would save me a lot of money.

18. Have you ever put anything up your urethra?

Not that I can remember.

19. What is the meaning of life?

Forty-two.

Or, for a more interesting answer: make the world better than it would’ve been had you not been around, like making people happy or contributing to society.

20. What is the chemical composition of a carrot?

I didn’t study chemistry after GCSE so I’m not really qualified to answer this. But I have colleagues who could stick one in a spectroscopy machine and let you know.

21. Would you rather be a cow or a badger?

A badger. Cows are big and largely docile, whereas badgers get to go out and dance in fields with mushrooms and snakes.

22. Have you ever seen a famous TV animal in real life?

No. The only famous things I’ve seen are people and inanimate objects.

23. Have you ever tried to communicate with the dead?

No, although at school we did a week-long video project where we had a ouija board. It wasn’t very good.

24. If you had to marry a Muppet – if you had to – which Muppet would you marry?

Beeker is my favourite Muppet, but I think Kermit has better long-term partner prospects.

25. Have you ever had a near death experience?

No. I’m quite risk averse.

26. Are you a ghost?

I don’t think so, but who really knows? I may have died years ago, and this is all some kind of afterlife.

27. What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?

You’ll need to buy the book to read Richard’s explanation.

I’m not sure, but it sounds like the premise of the 1999 Graham Linehan sitcom Hippies.

28. Would you rather have a tit that dispenses talcum powder or a finger that can travel through time What would you do with such a power?

I think the time travelling finger would be cool, not at least because I don’t personally use talcum powder. I think it would be good to have a peek at how places looked in the past, or to try to see places how I remember them when I was younger.

29. If you got on Dragon’s Den, what product would you pitch?

At some point, I’d like to make a wall-mounted tablet that has a home screen with an overview of today’s calendar events, reminders, weather, train times etc. It would be great to glance shortly before leaving for work, and could be a good way of sharing important notes with other members of the household. I could probably knock something up with a Raspberry Pi and/or a cheap tablet, but it would be good to develop an app or a piece of hardware that could be easily wall-mounted.

30. What’s the worst experience you’ve ever had in a hotel?

I blogged about it! It was in late 2011 at a Travelodge in Manchester. I’ve since stayed at other Travelodges and had better experiences, so it needs to be read in the context of it happening many several years ago.

August 3, 2017
by Neil Turner
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A year on

Lizzie and Christine at the Square Chapel in Halifax

We’re a year on from an upheaval in our lives. At the end of July, Christine returned to work after seven months of maternity leave. Lizzie went into childcare on weekdays, although just for four days a week at first due to capacity issues. And on the 1st August, I started a new job.

Putting Lizzie into full-time childcare wasn’t an easy decision; she probably spends more time awake with her childminders than she does with Christine or I. And childcare is currently our single biggest monthly expense – more than our mortgage repayments.

But the cost was less than the pay cut that either of us would have needed to take to go part-time to look after her. I had considered trying to condense my hours into four days rather than five, but this would mean barely seeing Lizzie and Christine on those days, and being one of the first to arrive and last to leave at work. I doubt I would’ve been as productive, and the nature of my work means that it’s better for me to be in every day for a shorter period than fewer long periods.

I think Lizzie has benefited as well. After all, we’re essentially paying an expert to look after her during the day, and she’s getting to spend more time with other children, which she wouldn’t be able to at home. Unless we decide to have more children (we’re not 100% sure, and certainly not within the next 12 months), Lizzie won’t have any brothers or sisters at home to play with. Her development accelerated when she started going to the childminders; this may have been coincidental but I think it has helped.

The new job has worked out well for me. I’m part of a larger and more varied team and doing a more stimulating and enjoyable job. Furthermore, had I stayed in my previous role, I would’ve faced more uncertainty (which I anticipated) and a likely pay cut (which I didn’t). Hindsight reinforces the decision I made a year ago.

July 30, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Cannon Hall

Cannon Hall

Yesterday, I wrote about Cannon Hall Farm. The farm gets its name from Cannon Hall, a country house on the same site, which is now open to the public as a museum.

Whereas the farm is privately-owned, Cannon Hall is now run by Barnsley Council as the home for its collections. Inside, you can find out about Moorcroft Pottery, which is still going today, along with the history of the hall. Several of the rooms have been decked out with their original Georgian furnishings.

Cannon Hall is a popular wedding venue, and this is reflected in its current special exhibition, Tales of the Wedding Dress. You can see the wedding dresses worn by several famous actresses in major films, such as those worn by Keira Knightly in Pride and Prejudice, or Jenna Coleman in Victoria. There are also several dresses made in Barnsley, and the stories of the brides who wore them. These range from the very recent to earlier twentieth century examples. This exhibition runs until the 3rd September, so you have just over a month to visit it.

Outside the hall are some extensive public gardens. We didn’t have time to look at these unfortunately, but what we could see looked nice. Although it’s in the Barnsley metropolitan district, the countryside in this area is actually very picturesque.

We didn’t plan to visit Cannon Hall but it was a nice brief diversion. If you’re visiting the farm next door, it may be worth setting aside up to an hour to visit the museum as well. Entry is free, although you will need to pay to park in the farm’s car park.

July 29, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Cannon Hall Farm

Goat and llama at Cannon Hall Farm

Following last month’s visit to Thornton Hall Farm, we took Lizzie to Cannon Hall Farm a couple of weeks ago. It’s another farm park, but on a much bigger scale.

This was actually our second visit; our first was in September last year, when Lizzie was 9 months old. I seem to remember her being asleep for a lot of it. This time, she was awake the whole time, and seemed to really enjoy herself.

The main attractions are the barns where the farm animals live. The barns are designed for visitors, with raised viewing platforms at the back. The first four barns are for the pigs, several of which had piglets; then there are cow barns, and a rare breeds barn with a wide variety of animals. These include goats, donkeys, llamas, alpacas and rare breed pigs. To access these barns, you pass through a small animals shed, and there are regular rabbit and guinea pig handling sessions.

The farm is also home to some meerkats – not typical farm animals, but popular with visitors. Elsewhere, there’s a roundhouse with some more animals, and sheep and ferret racing events.

What makes the farm a great place for families is the soft play barn. It’s huge – one of the biggest I’ve seen, with an extensive area for the under 4s. There’s a large café attached, with some of the produce coming from the farm. You can sip prosecco whilst your kids throw themselves down a giant slide, should you wish to. Bigger kids can also play in the outdoor play areas.

Childrens’ parties are big business for Cannon Hall Farm, and there are several bookable party rooms. If we lived more locally, we’d probably consider it for one of Lizzie’s birthdays.

Outside the main entrance (and therefore open to the public without paying for entry) is a restaurant called The Black Bull. Again, some of the food comes from the farm, and it’s good quality food at a reasonable price. There’s quite a big farm shop too, although it’s focused on the higher end of the market – you wouldn’t want to do your weekly shop here, unless you have a very high disposable income.

We all had a very good day out at Cannon Hall Farm. The entry price is reasonable, and although there is a £3 charge for parking, you get this back provided you spend £10 or more at one of the restaurants on the site. It’s around 10 minutes drive off the M1, to the west of Barnsley. It’s worth watching out for special events, which take place regularly throughout the year.