Brrrrring! Brrrrring!

I know, I’m not fooling anyone. My phone doesn’t make that sound and hasn’t for years. But it did signal to me, sonically, that someone wished to speak to me. I picked up the receiver. The line was totally silent for about a second, and then developed that almost inaudible hiss, that sort of embossed silence which signifies an active call.


The voice was faintly accented and seemed strangely unsure of itself, as if the caller wasn’t really comfortable using the telephone. It only seemed friendly to be a little more positive and welcoming in my reply.

“Oh, hello!!!”

The caller was obviously settling in; their reply was a lot more self-assured. “Can I speak to whoever is responsible for your gas bill?”

“Well, I don’t know. That’s actually quite a difficult question, isn’t it? I mean – who is really responsible for my gas bill? The major component is probably the heating and we all benefit from that so I don’t think it would really be fair to single one person as being responsible.”

“Do you pay the gas bill?”

“Oh, good heavens, no. I haven’t paid a gas bill in years. It’s all done automatically by direct debit. You see, their computer talks to my bank’s computer and they sort it out between them. I don’t get involved. Saves me loads of time. Don’t you have that with your bank? You really should try it, it’s wonderful. It would make paying your gas bill so much more convenient. Hang on and I’ll get you my bank’s contact details – perhaps you could move your account. It’s much easier than it used to be. I’ll be back in a second!”

But when I got back, they’d rung off.

Perhaps they don’t have gas.

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Odd power of Daenerys Targaryen

I’ve been watching Game of Thrones and I’ve  spotted something a little strange about this woman. Perhaps an ability which will enable George to complete his massive sequence. We know she isn’t “normal’. At the end of series one, she – well, you know what she did. And survived.
At the end of series two, she – again, if you’ve seen you know and if you haven’t you probably don’t want to know just yet. I did wonder if she had a special power of Can’t Be Hurt In A Cliff Hanger. But there’s more. She has an ability I’ve never seen in any book or film before.

She can read the subtitles.

Yes, I know they’re not in her world. And yes, I know, if they were visible, they’d be backwards. But she can read them. When she arrives are Qarth she is told – in Dithraki – that this is Qarth (pronounced Karth) and we see the explanation translated into English. She then exclaims that she has never heard of Qarth – but she pronounces it “Kwarth” and is corrected. Why? The name she heard was “Karth”. The only reason she could have for the mispronunciation is if she saw it written down – on our subtitles.This is a rare and special power. I look forward to see how it helps her in her quest in a future episode.

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Dr Whom?

There has been a lot of speculation on the interwebs that the new Doctor might be – gasp! – a woman. And there has been a lot of speculation about just who it might be. But I really don’t think so. People keep saying “It’s never been a woman before! Must happen soon!” It’s true that it has never been a woman before, but it’s never been a Dalek before either, and I’m not holding my breath for that.

I’ve been watching Dr Who since it was first broadcast. I remember the revelation of the first regeneration. I remember when the Time Lords chose the third Doctor’s form for him so we discovered it wasn’t predetermined. I’ve seen the Master return in many forms (though I don’t think we ever saw him regenerate). I saw Romana choose her form. But in all those regenerations (eleven by the Doctor, one by Romana, eight-ish by the Master), not one has involved a change of gender.

Twenty same-gender regenerations in a row. So I really don’t think it’s going to happen. If it’s random, we’ve just seen a 2 to the power of 20 lucky streak which is roughly…

Oooh. Roughly a million to one.

You don’t think…

“Hello? Ladbrokes? I’d like to place a bet. What odds are you offering on Joanna Lumley as the next Doctor? No, I don’t have inside inform- Why? What have you heard?”

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I pity the fool…

…in airport security who xrays my suitcase tonight.


“Geoff? Have a look here.”


“This shoe. It looks like it’s got an auctioneers gavel, some vampire teeth, a 9mm shell casing and a tiny rubber duck in it.”

“Is that the flight going to the Dutch Discworld Convention?”

“Yes,  why?”

“Let it through. He’s harmless and we’ve found it’s much quicker just to let him fly than to go through the explanation. ”








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The chances of anything coming from Mars…

…are a million to one, he said. But still they come!

Or so Jeff Wayne would have had us believe. But I’m not so sure. I think the Martians were the fall guys, either taking orders from a much more sinister alien race, or possibly not ever being there at all – after all, inside a fighting machine, who can tell a Martian from some other creature?

It always struck me as odd how the amazing journey of the Martians across millions of miles of implacable void – a journey that must have taken weeks, if not months – seemed to be let down by their ramshackle technology. At Horsell Common, we are told “Next morning, a crowd gathered on the Common, hypnotized by the unscrewing of the cylinder. Two feet of shining screw projected when, suddenly, the lid fell off!” Fell off? FELL OFF? They build space ships where the door opens by falling off? It doesn’t seem quite right somehow.

And the ending – the mighty Martians with their heat rays and black smoke and tripod walkers and space freighters haven’t heard of bacteria. They can conquer space, but they haven’t invented the alcohol-gel hand-wipe.  (Or tentacle wipe, I suppose.)

But I think I understand why, now. I believe everything we saw and heard was orchestrated by someone else. Another race we do know about. A race not renowned for high quality engineering which nonetheless has space travel. A race whose motives has always been obscure to me.
Where’s my proof? On the same Jeff Wayne recording I mentioned at the start. Get your copy – put on “Dead London” (disc 2 of the CD version) and listen at four minutes and eight seconds in. Did you hear that? Did you? DID YOU HEAR IT? THAT’S not a Martian. That’s a CLANGER. And it’s not the only one. The more you listen, the more you’ll hear them. They were there all along. Behind the scenes. Watching. Waiting. Manipulating the poor deluded Martians to do their fighting for them.
Now you know the secret, they’ll be coming for you. I’m heading to my secure bunker, where they’ll never find me. And I’m taking lots of soup.
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Sam Vimes would have approved

I left the office for lunch a few minutes later than usual yesterday. Unfortunately, this put me on the wrong side of the 12 o’clock lecture turnout, and the cafe was full of students. Even if I had queued, they’d have eaten all the good sandiches by the time I got to the chill cabinet anyway, so I was forced – really, I had no option – to go to the pub.

My local watering hole is usually quiet at lunchtime and offers a fairly standard range of pub grub. I opted for a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Sadly, they were out of tomato. Would I like an egg instead? I thought that, on the whole, yes, I would. Botanists will try to tell you a tomato isn’t a vegetable, so substituing another non-vegetable for it seem quite reasonable.

A few minutes later, the barman was back. With tears in his eyes, he broke the news to me that they had also run out of lettuce and could I possibly consider accepting a sausage instead? I couldn’t bear to see the poor fellow so disconsolate and so I agreed that, yes, again I would accept a substitute.

And so it was that I was presented with a bacon, sausage and egg sandwich, with brown sauce. The bread was firm, the bacon tasty and the egg and sausage were cooked to perfection.

Best. BLT. Ever.

(And it did have a few slices of onion and pepper on the side. They’ve got vitamins in, right?)

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Hi, honey, I’m home!

No, no honey. I have bought a beehive, but it’s not for honey bees. I’d love to have a hive but I don’t really have anywhere to put one, or the time to look after a swarm. Even just finding names for them all would be an insurmountable effort.

But I do like bees.

So I bought one of these. It’s a solitary bee hive. I hadn’t actually seen one before I ordered so I was expecting it to be really, really small, but as you can see it’s about 6 inches across and houses 24 solitary – I suppose semi-solitary – bees.

I’ve mounted it in the garden, facing roughly south as suggested. Actually, they suggested south-south-east which a) is remarkably specific and b) would have required the doing of carpentry, so south is what they got. The instructions say the bees move in in February or March, so I’ve put a note in my diary to stick a card in the newsagent’s window – “To let: high rise apartment in delightful spot. Excellent access to hedges, flowerbeds and other local amenities. Would suit solitary bee or recently divorced drone. No pets.”

I’ll keep you posted.

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A Small Rant

It may come as a surprise to you that the happy-go-lucky person you know as Asof has some pet peeves. But I do. I think I have a fine breeding colony, which include “People who talk about themselves in the third person” and “Hypocrites”, as it happens, but let us pass over those for the moment.

I went to see my GP the other day – it’s flu season and the University has been invaded by thousands of potentially plague-carrying freshers. My GP – like most GPs I know – likes his gadgets and his information technology. The surgery recently acquired a new logging system. In the dark old days, when I got there I’d go to reception and tell the receptionist I’d arrived (in case she hadn’t noticed me loitering in front of her desk) and she’d tell me where to wait. But that was Ye Olden Tymes, back in the Second Millennium.

Now there is the Screen On The Wall.

Just opposite the door, on the wall is, as I suspect you may have guessed, a touch-sensitive display screen. It asks for your gender, and then your date of birth. From this, it works out who you are, and who you’ve come to see then asks you to confirm that it has got it right. It comes across as faintly needy, a bit like a very poor conjurer “Is this your card?” but I can cope with that.

It’s the bit which come next which causes my hackles to rise.

It displays a button. And invites me to press it. On the button it says…


No. No! No, no, no, no, no, no, no!

“To arrive” is an intransitive verb, like “to die” or “to sleep”. It doesn’t take a subject. Tonight, I will sleep. One day, I shall die. Perhaps I may even arrive at the pearly gates, but you cannot sleep me, you cannot die me and you certainly cannot arrive me.

“Nice to see you again, Asof – in for your flu jab?”
“That would be nice – and could you check my blood pressure too?”

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They’re grrrrreeeeattttttttt!

At it was a special day, for breakfast I treated myself to fusion cookery at its finest:

Well, typical age for eaters of each cereal is 5, and I'm 55 so it's OK.
“Coco Pop and Rice Krispie
Live together in perfect harmony
Side by side in my cereal bowl,
Oh gods, why can’t we?”

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[brring] [brrrring]

Who am I kidding? Our phone hasn’t made a [brrring] sound in decades. However. Have you heard of the Telephone Preference Service? It’s a scheme run in the UK  by the Direct Marketing Association on behalf of Ofcom which says, in essence, that if you sign up to its service, businesses can’t make calls to you without your express permission. Companies you deal with can contact you (so it was OK for Unviolated Entertainment to call me as they did recently) but no ‘cold calls’ sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? Surely there’s a catch?

Of course there’s a catch. Or at least a loophole. The TPS only applies to calls originating in the UK. Lots of companies have overseas call centres (which may well by why I had trouble understanding ‘Julian’ when he rang from Unviolated Entertainment) and even those which don’t are starting to use companies based abroad to make the calls for them.

So what to do?

You can hang up. You can be rude. (Some say you shouldn’t be offensive to the person who makes the calls as it’s not their fault they have to make a living this way. Some say you shouldn’t be offensive to the person who makes the calls because they’ll call you back at 3am every day for a month.)

At ASOF Towers we feel the only way companies will stop making these calls is not if enough people ask. Not if we try to change the laws. Not if we keep shouting impotently down the phone. We think they’ll only stop making the calls if they become economically unviable.

ASOF Towers is doing it’s part. You can too.

Firstly (and most easily) never, ever, buy anything from a cold caller. And don’t take part in surveys either. Completing a survey keeps you on the line, improving their chance of making a sale, and your personal survey data has value to the company. Or if you do take part, you might like to consider that were you to, say, give a lot of incorrect answers, the degradation in data quality might have an effect on the company.

Secondly, you must make the call as expensive to them as possible – and time equals money, so make the call as long as possible. Of course, you’re spending your time but I think it’s a good investment and if I’m not busy I’ll usually give it a try. And if I’m giving them my time, I think it’s reasonable to have some fun in return…

It can be difficult until you get used to it, but there are a few simple techniques you can use which are effective and enjoyable. For example the I’ve Got A Bad Line ploy. Ask them to repeat everything. And I mean everything. As many times as you can. My record is seven repeats of the name of the person calling. (It was Ethel, since you ask.)

Or see how many song titles you can work into your response. Or try to start each sentence with successive letters of the alphabet.

Or my current favourite, the Mirror Security Manouvre.

“Hello, Dr. Asof, I’m calling from Blackbeard Finance and I would like to talk to you about life insurance.” (I don’t recognise the company name, so I’m immediately suspicious.)
‘Life Insurance? Do I have a policy with your company?’
“We provide life insurance to people like you all over the world.” (Avoiding direct questions is common among cold callers. Now I’m very suspicious. After a few more questions I’m sure and – it’s showtime!)
‘Just give me a moment and I’ll bring up your account details on the computer. What was the name of the company again?’
“Blackbeard Finance.” (Yes, I did ask them to repeat it. Several times.)
“B.L.A.C.K.B.E.A. – ah yes, here you are. Right. OK, now before I can discuss my account with you, I’ll need to take you through security. Can you tell me the third and fifth characters of your password?”
‘I’m sorry?’
“The third and fifth characters of your password.”
‘I don’t know any password.’
“It’s probably your mother’s maiden name.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know.”
“It’s a tragedy, but without your password I can’t go any further. I can transfer you to our security help line if you like – they can take some personal details and reset your password.”
‘But we’re not allowed to give out personal details!’
“Never mind. If you write to the contact address on our website, explaining the situation, I’m sure they’ll be able to sort you out and you can call me back then. Thank you for calling! Goodbye.”

Like the sound of the TPS even allowing for its shortcomings? If you live in the UK, you can sign up here.


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