Watching a train crash

A blog is an intensely personal form of communication. It is, for the writer, an immediate and occasionally quite intimate outlet for the thoughts, feelings and emotions that is coursing through your veins. But writing a blog is also an incredibly public process. I have no control over who reads this or any other post. Furthermore, I have no control over who copies, archives or otherwise keeps a record of what I said, even if I have since deleted the post. Of course, I would like to think that anyone keeping a copy will delete any record they have when I delete my version, but I am not so naive to assume that is so.

Although most bloggers realise this, sometimes emotion overtakes us and we allow ourselves to vent without thought of the consequences. I read several blogs and most of them are well thought out and the author will be able to look back at the post in years to come with no fear or recriminations. But just occasionally, even smart people will forget; one blog I read has been describing what appears to be somewhat of an emotional breakdown of an otherwise perfectly healthy woman.

I know neither the blog author nor her friend and the first posts in the series, whilst slightly uncomfortable reading, were acceptable. The recent posts have made me genuinely fear for the friend- for her mental and even her physical well being. The feeling of impotence as I watch this train crash be described over a number of days is extremely unpleasant. Compounding the problem is that I have neither the skills nor the ability to do anything for these people. I don’t wish to be a ‘white knight’ riding in on a charger (though there are other scenarios in life where that image might be fun) but that doesn’t ease the feeling. I don’t know how that story will end, I fear that the answer is ‘not well’, and I am even afraid to look at the blog again. It feels like watching a train crash-you can’t take your eyes off it, no matter how much you want to.

The other example has less actual danger but highlights the danger of venting without thought of the recriminations. As anyone who knows me will tell I am not particularly politically correct. I tend to say what I think and frequently damn the consequences. However, I do try to care how I say things and I try to always include the requisite amount of etiquette in anything I write, say or do. OK, less on the say, but certainly when it comes to the written word I try to take care. So when I come across professional people who either publish very pointed blogs or send curt, incomplete and brusque e-mails; well I generally cringe inside. And the real problem is that by the time I get to read the words they have already been read by the intended recipient. So there is very little I can do can to prevent the damage- it is already there. In this situation the train has already crashed- all I do is to try some form of clean-up.

So with these examples out there in the blogosphere (or the world of internal e-mails) I hope I don’t ever offend anyone by the contents of this blog. If I do feel I am saying something negative I will endeavour to hide or disguise the person concerned so much that they are unaware of the point I am making. Conversely, if I am complimenting someone I will generally let them know directly (especially if I know the person). I feel I owe this to whoever I am communicating with, whether I know them or not, whatever personal feelings I may have or whatever medium I am using. Perhaps I should remind others of this, but I fear that the advice would not be taken well (but that may be due to the aforementioned lack of political correctness and subtlety in my communcation of the message)

Alternative Dating in the 21st Century

After the title of the previous post I was going to call this ‘Dishonest Dating in the 21st Century’ but that is not the case as I actually believe that there is more dishonesty on traditional dating sites. However, as one of the few honest men on the internet and whilst I was being singularly unsuccessful in my attempts at ‘Honest  Dating’ on I ventured onto a few other sites. Some were similar to mysinglefriend, some were a little more specialised and one, well one is still giving me nightmares.

The intention of many dating sites is to set people with life partners, soul mates or other long-term relationships. But some sites appear to focus on a more short term, immediate form of gratification. Suddenly the internet acronyms and abbreviations you have learnt elsewhere (e.g. LOL for ‘Laugh out Loud’ and not as I first thought ‘Lots of Love’- that misunderstanding nearly resulted in a truly embarressing moment) don’t work any more: Now you need to know NSA (‘No strings attached’), FWB (‘Friends With Benefits’) and many more. For the single man looking for uncommitted, passionate sex these sites would seem to be heaven. Except…..

Apparently there are lots of people out there willing to pretend to be something they are not in order to get hold of some of your money, there are people who judge their worth by the number of friends in their network (they remind me of the PUA’s from The Game) and there are people who are just plain weird. So instead of a paradise of likeminded souls you find yourself searching through profile after profile of bizarre characters. Even worse, as a single guy you are competing with a lot of other single guys. At one point I saw a man berating the lack of replies he was getting from women he was contacting. I, on the other hand, was experienced and was able to help this poor soul. What he had clearly not done was look at the statistics available on the site:

Single men looking for a woman: 1,543,867
Single women looking for a man: 95,235

Now I am pretty good at competing, but even I have to admit that greater than 15 men: 1 woman ratio is not the sort of numbers you want to see (as a comparison, mysinglefriend had 2:3 ratio of men to women i.e. more women than men on the site). In fact, the odds are so heavily stacked against you that you could even conclude that the whole site is simply a money generating exercise that preys on single men. When you consider that a good number of the ‘female’ profiles are actually men pretending to be women (yes, it does exist) or ‘honeypots’ who are there to attract more men the ratio becomes even worse. So, if you see an advert promising ‘Sex tonight in your town’ and you believe them… well you should probably also reply to some of the e-mails that will transfer money to your account from a west African country. Yes, hard as it may be to believe, the adverts lie.

And here is where life takes one its fantastic twists: Just as I was getting totally disillusioned with all forms of contact via the internet a curve came in from left field, took me quite by surprise and made me smile. But that is story best told to no-one more than the people involved…

Honest Dating in the 21st Century

There are more dating and relationship sites on the internet than any sane man would wish to count. Some of them are ‘good’, some are focussed on a particular niche in the whole panorama that is men and women trying to find that special someone for whatever they need and some web sites, well some web sites are just downright scary (and I have been in some really, genuinely frightening situations in my life, but trust me, I’d rather face that loaded and angry AK-47 again that go back to 1 particular web site)

Which web site you use to find your partner of choice depends on what you are looking for: As I started into it, I wanted a ‘normal’, ‘proper’ (‘dull’?) relationship with a woman. And so I chose a fairly normal site: A friend of mine wrote my profile and duly posted it on my behalf. And I sat back waiting for the hot dates to come flooding in…..

Yeah, that wasn’t gonna happen, now was it. So I started to send messages to women who appeared to meet my criteria. The first few messages were like entries on this blog- a bit wordy at times, occasionally making a good point but (I like to think) an overall reflection of my character. Except that I wasn’t getting any responses and each message was taking ages to compose. Then one of the women to whom I had written to replied to me: She politely rejected me (she was a bit out of my league anyway, but you always shoot high at first) and then went on to say that my message was far too long and I should read the help files on the web site. What? There is a help section? Damn, I should probably read that- and read it I did where it pointed out what I was doing wrong:

Point 1. When you first make contact, the message needs to be no more than a couple of paragraphs.

This makes sense as, speaking from personal experience, the chances are, that your ideal woman (or man) is going to take one look at you and go “Oh no. Nope, not a chance.” Or words to that effect. So there is no point in putting in your life history.

So I shortened my opening gambit. Which was a good job because….

Point 2. If you aren’t getting anyone checking you out then the web site advises that you send 10 messages a day to 10 different women

I guess they had to make it clear about sending the messages to different women because 10 messages a day to the same woman is probably grounds for a restraining order. But the vaguely stalkerish element to this approach notwithstanding, this is where I started to have a little issue with the internet dating scene. The very nature of sending this number of messages means that you are going to get multiple replies. I didn’t send anything like that number (don’t worry the stats will be produced later) but even so my ‘moral code’ was stretched as I found myself conducting fairly flirtatious conversations with multiple women. Sure it did wonders for the self esteem, but I worried (though it must be said, not much) that I was just playing and dabbling rather than making a commitment. In the past I had always focussed my entire attention on a single woman (though that may explain my lack of success) but now I was flitting from woman to woman: Some were replying to the first message, some were replying lots and lots and the prospects looked good and every now and then there was a series of messages that I just knew were going nowhere, but it seemed harmless to continue the electronic conversation. I am not at all proud of my behaviour during this period of internet dating but the facts are what they are.

Point 3. There is an accepted rate at which messages sent on a dating site should switch from (hopefully) funny, to mildly flirtatious and then on to wherever you wish to take it. My personal experience was that light flirting should begin almost straight away but full on comments should be saved for message 3-4. Converting that into something a little more steamy depends on the number of additional phone calls, SMS messages and the way in which the first flirts are received.

Point 4. Once you have established this rapport the ‘standard’ dating scene of coffee/ lunch for a first date (or a walk around an art gallery/ country park) then a follow up for dinner (or a movie/ theatre trip) kicks in. However, these dates are very different from those where you truly have only met the other person once or twice. The nature of the communication via the dating site frequently means that may have disclosed far more about you than in a normal dating situation because you will have sent several possibly long messages and frequently conducted long (long!) phone calls. In my experience when you meet someone in the ‘real’ world you won’t have discussed deep emotional aspects of your life by the end of the 2nd date.

Or maybe you will have, what I do know is that the insecurity engendered by meeting someone through a dating site can mean that there is a level of mistrust that can kill a relationship before it starts.

I understand that people may mistrust the system and no-one has any reason to place any explicit in trust in someone you meet through the internet, but equally there should be no reason to mistrust someone. And here is the real challenge for men who try to date: There are an awful lot of men who lying, deceitful, shallow and downright despicable scuzz buckets. And far too many of them are out there trying to pick up women. What this does is that the few honest ones (and I am not even sure I am totally honest) are tarred with the same brush. When it comes to dating on the internet, as a gender, men are not to be trusted and extensive checks need to be made before embarking on any sort of relationship. I have generally told potential dates about this blog and those that have read it sometimes start to feel more comfortable with me- I don’t have anything to hide, I don’t think I am (too) scary and what you see is pretty much what you get.

But I am clearly in the minority in this situation. It’s actually a minor miracle I managed to find anyone willing to take a chance on me. To those women who were brave enough to have a drink with me, I say thank you. To anyone else, well clearly this wordy, geeky, frisbee playing dual nationality man is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I am OK with that. What I still struggle with was the overlap of women. The only way to prevent this is to fully exhaust each possible relationship before starting on another. But that takes time and the word exhaust is perfectly apt: Dating via the internet is a tiring activity- and the fact that there is a level of duplicity stretched this man’s moral code and honesty streak to its limits

The Game, Facebook and Reluctant Learners

The more perceptive readers of this blog will have noticed a lack of posting since I stated that I was about to dive headlong into the crazy, mazy world of internet dating. Well, the two things are not just coincidental- because it takes a lot of time to play the game that is Dating via the Internet. However, I think I have managed to come to some conclusions about this particular method of attempting to find a life partner, a date or even a casual relation. And being the sort of chap I am, I just have to tell someone all that I have learned.

Before plunging into the story of my time on various websites (or ‘Disasters in Dating’ as it is known to various people) I need to go back in time and describe the experience I had of reading a book called ‘The Game’: It is an expose of the sub-culture of men who are ‘Pick Up Artists’ (or PUAs as you just knew they would call themselves). These men frequently judge their worth in life by the number of telephone numbers they can collect in an evening out. The more successful then judge themselves by the number (or sometimes the quality) of women that they have sex with. I was given this book and told to read it- which I duly did. The book was a fairly popular and on the New York Times bestseller list, but as I read I was revulsed by the way these men had broken down meeting, conversing and even bedding women into a process. And worse than that, it was a process that other men could pay to learn. It honestly made my skin crawl to read this and I felt embarressed and ashamed of my gender and the way it would manipulate people simply to get a phone number, steal a kiss or even get laid.

However, at least according to the book, many of these men were now much more successful with women and I was resolutely single. But I refused to try to learn the techniques as they were often, quite frankly, mean. Then a few weeks ago I was using Facebook and one of the adverts promised to explain the ’10 Most Common Mistakes that Men Make with Women’ (and who says that Facebook can’t target an audience with its ads!). Well, I was at home and had no fear of the consequences of clicking on a link, so I followed the hyperlink. I read through the list of 10 mistakes and they seemed to make sense- in fact I could see that I had made some of the mistakes. Wow, this seemed like the magic potion I needed to successful with the opposite, so I read who had written these 10 magic commandments. And somewhere, in the back of my mind a neuron fired and said “Hang on, you recognise that name” But where had I come across this all knowing author?

Yup, he was one the characters in The Game. Obviously I wasn’t going to subscribe to the website, after all, he and his like were the anti-Christ (and I don’t even believe in God). But now that I have been through the whole dating thing- I might grudgingly admit (though only on a bad day) that he and the other truly repulsive characters of The Game may have had a point after all. But that point is going to have to wait for another post

Nine Words Women Use

OK, this is a cop out and should really just be posted to my jokes section, but as someone once said “Good writers borrow from other good writers. Great writers just steal outright”. I could try to come up with some socio-economic, gender neutral polictically correct stuff for this, but nah, it’s just a decent joke.

Nine Words Women Use

  1. Fine: This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.
  2. Five Minutes: If she is getting dressed, this means a half an hour. Five minutes is only five minutes if you have just been given five more minutes to watch the game before helping around the house.
  3. Nothing: This is the calm before the storm. This means something, and you should be on your toes. Arguments that begin with nothing usually end in fine.
  4. Go Ahead: This is a dare, not permission. Don’t Do It!
  5. Loud Sigh: This is actually a word, but is a non-verbal statement often misunderstood by men. A loud sigh means she thinks you are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing here and arguing with you about nothing. (Refer back to # 3 for the meaning of nothing.)
  6. That’s Okay: This is one of the most dangerous statements a women can make to a man. That’s okay means she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.
  7. Thanks: A woman is thanking you, do not question, or faint. Just say you’re welcome. (I want to add in a clause here – This is true, unless she says ‘Thanks a lot’ – that is PURE sarcasm and she is not thanking you at all. DO NOT say ‘you’re welcome’. That will bring on a ‘whatever’).
  8. Whatever: Is a woman’s way of saying F— YOU!
  9. Don’t worry about it, I got it: Another dangerous statement, meaning this is something that a woman has told a man to do several times, but is now doing it herself. This will later result in a man asking ‘What’s wrong?’ For the woman’s response refer to # 3.

* Send this to the men you know, to warn them about arguments they can
avoid if they remember the terminology.

Good, bad and indifferent photographs

When a photograph you is going to be one of the first things that someone sees and therefore learns about you, don’t you think it would be a good idea to get a good picture taken? Or even some advice on which photograph you should use?

Only, in this wonderful world of internet dating that single face photograph is likely to make or break the decision on whether or not someone finds you attractive. When we were in High School the same thing happened- except then it was a pimple or zit on your nose. Now it is a badly lit or poorly framed shot. I am not going to name or shame the profiles that I have seen nor do I know how many potential friends have rejected me because of what I look like but I hope that my picture at least gives a measure of truth and not only reflects what I look like but is a half decent photograph too.

And the mind-blowing thing is that there are many, many photographers out there who can take a truly stunning photograph. And in these days of fully automatic everything even my 3 year old has been able to take a half decent shot of me. As evidence of how a photo can be wonderful, Heather Armstrong at has this photo of a bad hair day

Bad Hair, Great Photo

Now it may be a bad hair day (according to the blog post it caused her 5 year old daughter to yell “You look crazy” but IMHO it is undeniably a good photo. For the full size photo (and with the proper accreditation please go to

Admittedly Heather makes a living out of taking photographs so she should be good at it, and lord knows how many shots she had to take to get that one, but even an amateur snapper can get it almost right- witness the changed photo on the About page of this blog (the reason for ‘almost right’ is entirely due to the model having a goofy face and eyes that aren’t quite the same size). And that shot was one of the pictures that didn’t make it to my profile page on the dating site.

Almost anyone can learn to take a decent photograph, and the equipment is making it easier and easier to get it half way right- I guess I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to make a good first impression when it is quite likely going to be the only chance you get.

About a blog: How to increase your hits

In the scale of navel gazing this has got to be right up there, but over the past few days I have been thinking about this blog and what I have found out over the past 15 months. So I am now going to create a blog post all about creating blog posts.

When I started to write this blog I had no clear idea what I wanted to make it into. I saw it as a forum for mainly technical items that would be a work in progress before uploading to a permanent location on another site. I also realised that there is an example of the type of entry I wished to create: It shouldn’t be a random comment on something I have seen or read, but rather should contain some original thought and try to reach a logical and sensible conclusion. As I thought about more and more I realised that I was, in a very small way, creating my version of Alistair Cooke’s venerable and much missed ‘Letter from America’

Of course the original intention of a technical forum was now pushed to the back and I posted on the vagiaries of the world. And as I posted I monitored the hits and watched what people were reading. Here is what I have learnt:

  1. Most recommendations say that you need to create decent sized postings to keep people coming back. This appears to be true
  2. You will create many, many postings but most visitors will only read 1 or 2 really popular posts. And you probably won’t know which post that will be until after the stats come in
  3. Almost no-one clicks on the hyperlinks in a post (even when you completely expose the URL)
  4. If you really want to increase your traffic then create a post with certain key words in it

This last point requires some explanation. In April 2008 I created a post that attempted to discuss the nature of art, photography and whether a photograph on a magazine cover should be an accurate representation of the image recorded by the camera. All heady stuff, except it was inspired by a TV show called ‘Dawn Gets Naked’ and considered the examples of photo manipulation performed on Faith Hill and Kate Winslet on the cover of Redbook and GQ.

So, at various points in the post there are the words “naked”, “Kate Winslet” and “Faith Hill”. Oh boy, do I get a lot of hits on that post. And I am guessing, but it is only a guess, that most people who have typed ‘faith hill naked’ into Google were not expecting to read a blog posting that discusses the evolution of painting techniques and creating accurate oil colours to depict an english monarch from 900 years ago.

My only hope is that a small number of people who arrive at the site looking for Kate or Faith read the article and stay for the thought and comment. Although, saying that, do I really want someone interested in naked pictures of Kate reading this? Well that is the beauty and terror of a blog- you have no idea who the vast majority of readers are. So welcome, one and all: Batblog is still here and still growing. I’ll keep posting, I hope you keep reading

When did walking become a Driving Offence?

As part of moving house I had to update the address on my driving licence. And the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency kindly sent me a new licence and some information about my licence including a section describing the penalty point codes that I will accrue if I commit an offence. Most of these point codes are exactly what you expect, apart from this one

Code Accident Offence Penalty Points
DR60 Failure to provide a specimen for analysis in circumstances other than driving or attempting to drive 10 points

If I read this correctly then I am extremely worried. Imagine the following scenario: I decide, as an adult that I wish to go out and drink a vast quantity of alcohol. I am a sensible (?) and law abiding citizen so I decide not to take my car with me and so after consuming said vast quantity of alcohol I am staggering home. At which point a policeman stops me and wishes to breathalyze me. As I have done nothing illegal I refuse to provide the sample.

According to the information above I will now accrue 10 points on my driving licence as I “failed to provide a specimen”.  I was nowhere near my car so I am clearly “in circumstances other than driving or attempting to drive”. In fact I had conciously decided to not drive my car and yet I am still have the potential to be penalised.

Surely I have got this wrong?

The Difference is Day and Night

The nature of modern living means that we are frequently forced to do the same task over and over  again. One of the great things about the world is the way things subtlety and imperceptibly change but ultimately thoses changes are quite significant. So although we are doing the same thing as we did yesterday the experience is wholly different.

I recently had to drive from the UK to the Netherlands. I had made the same journey about a year ago when I moved into my apartment there, and now it was time to move out. Of course, there is often more excitement about moving into somewhere new than moving out of it; and in my case this was more so given that the apartment I lived in for a year was in the heart of old town Delft, overlooking a canal and quite simply stunning. I had decided that I wanted to live there, not because it made any financial sense, but because I needed to feel as though I had a ‘home’ whilst I was away at work. In this respect it ultimately performed magnificently, although there was a period when I was sleeping on the floor and had nowhere to sit down that I doubted the sanity of the decision.

And so, unlike a year ago when the world seemed full of promise and the excitement of living in a a fantastic apartment, it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I drove across southern England, northern France and Belgium. I had the added disadvantage of the fact that last year I made the journey is a really rather spangly car, whilst this year the journey was in that ultimate ‘white van man’ vehicle; a Ford Transit. But with all of these differences what really hit me about the two journeys, and how one was so much more pleasant than the other was the time of day I drove.

Last year I left my house early in the morning, drove off into the rising sunlight and cruised through France and Belgium around lunch time. It was glorious- my car seemed to hug the road and although I got lost around Antwerp (thank heavens for Sat Nav this year) and got stuck in traffic jams on the way back, the whole trip  (there and back again) was a fantastic journey. Although I wouldn’t want to do it every week I was quite happy to do it again.

This year I left my house in drizzling rain as dusk fell: The rest of the journey was to be in the dark. Due to my usual combination of appalling planning and preparation I was forced to eat at a typically grim motorway service station before, just like last year, tunnelling under the English Channel and emerging into France. And as I emerged the fog came down. I had never used a sat nav in 3D mode to guide me along a road and tell me when to turn, but I did that night; I spent as much time looking at the road layout on the screen as I did looking out the window. Obviously from the fact that I am writing this I didn’t crash and die, but I would not recommend it as a sensible way to drive. Somewhat effective in fog, but not sensible.

Later the fog lifted and the sat nav managed to take me the right way around Antwerp. As it was now well after midnight the roads were clear and the driving was easy, but it just wasn’t pleasant. It was functional, it was necessary but it was not enjoyable.

And it was only slightly different on the way back; I managed to leave earlier in the day so I was able to drive in that beautiful half light that occurs as the sun slowly sets out of a clear sky. I have heard that film directors call that time of day the ‘magical time’ because people have been working all day and are a little prone to mistakes- it makes for wonderful film-making and I think it is probably my favourite time of the day. It was certainly more pleasant than the five hour drive that I still had to do after darkness had fallen.

And it was at this moment that I realised that it wasn’t the car/ van difference that was critical to the experience, nor was it moving in or out of the apartment: The difference in the experience was almost entirely due to the fact that one journey was in daylight and the other in darkness.

I have had this experience once before: I was working on a seismic crew in southern England and we worked from 7am to 5pm, 7 days a week all winter. This meant that, wherever we were staying, we would leave it before the sun came up and come home after the sun had set. Apparently we were living in holiday homes that people would pay good money to come and stay in, but to me the houses were cold, unpleasant and nothing that I would want to visit ever again. Until one day I had to go back to the house where we were staying at lunch time. Instead of the usual dark, gloomy driveway suddenly I saw a beautiful garden, with an orchard behind it and in the distance a view across the rolling southern hills that was quite stunning. Had I never gone back to that house in the daylight, it would have remained a grim, foreboding place. Instead, although much of my time there was indeed grim I was able to see it in a far happier light.

And so it was with the drive to and from the Netherlands; had I only made that journey in the dark I would have resented the time it took, despised the inefficiencies of the route and disliked the whole experience. Because I had done it in daylight I can recognise the pleasure that driving across a continent can bring, the feeling of elation as a car powers along a road and the ultimate joy of seeing the world around us.

Keeping Fit

I have a passionate dislike of gyms and fitness centres in general. But put me on a field, a pool or a court and tell me to run around after a ball, a disc or a shuttle and I will keep going all day. Which tends to result in a mismatch between my aspiration to play and the actual fitness level I possess.

As often as possible I try to simply incorporate a better lifestyle; so I walk or cycle to work (not across the ocean, obviously, that would just be silly) whatever the weather and use the stairs instead of an elevator for anything up to 5 storeys etc etc. But there is also nothing like a little incentive to make you more enthusiastic about actually doing something about it, and the Fitness Challenge is really good for that.

The premise is simple: In each 24 hour period starting at midnight you have to do 100 situps and 20 pressups (pushups). You get 1 day off a week and just keep going as long as possible. It is great and I have attempted to convince many people to get involved. Sure, normally I have had more than a couple of beers when I try to convince them so I may not be the most persuasive advocate at the time; hence this approach.

Oh, and the final cool thing about it: You are doing a ‘worthy’ thing and most of the $15 it costs to join goes to charity. Well there is nothing like a little cash involvement to keep you  committed. Anway, sign up for it by sending an e-mail to and tell Fred that you know me.