The Teenage Dilemma

Alcohol. Teenagers crave it, to be socially acceptable and generally fit in. The need to drink will arise in the average respectable East London teenager at about the age of 15/16. Of course, it comes earlier to those confined to tall concrete mass-houses otherwise known as tower blocks, of which there are plenty around here. Almost instantly though, the teenager will encounter a fundamental flaw to their plan, and that’s buying alcohol. The advent of ID checks in all supermarkets mean it’s practically impossible to buy alcohol in a supermarket, where it’s likely to be cheaper. So the choice is left between bringing your parents along to buy it (which is not always permitted), or go to a grim backstreet off-license where the man behind the counter doesn’t care and all of his stock likely came from the modified bathtub in the back room.

To most, those are the options until they turn 18. However, to those minors with a little bit of time on their hands (not an issue for a student in the summer holidays), anyone can buy alcohol from the leading brand supermarkets with no need for ID.

What’s the secret? Make up? Big Shoes? A fake beard?

Disguises aren’t necessary, although you’re welcome to dress up for the mission if it makes you feel more relaxed about it. You need not worry, no laws are broken in following this guide. The trick, simply, is don’t buy alcohol.

But surely that defeats the point?

Not quite. What I mean by ‘don’t buy alcohol’ is don’t buy anything from the beers, wines and spirits aisle(s). You won’t succeed, and attempting to buy it (so bringing it to the checkout) is a criminal offence. In much the same way as asking an unsuspecting adult to buy it for you. What’s perfectly legal, however, is buying something that can become alcoholic but isn’t at the point you buy it.

I don’t follow?

Perhaps a little bit of chemistry is important here, based around yeast. Yes, yeast. The stuff you make bread with, found in the bakery aisle. Not age restricted at all, but when kept in a warm place with sugar (another perfectly legal product to buy underage), it begins to produce alcohol and CO2. The secret, therefore, is home brewing.

That’s a little bit complicated, isn’t it? And surely the government have caught on to it?

Well, it’s not very complicated. Putting yeast and sugar in a bottle with ginger, lemon and honey will, after a few days (or longer if you want it more alcoholic) give you ginger beer, with an average ABV of between 4-9%. Potentially strong stuff, costing less than Tesco Value Lager and I guarantee will taste a million times better. And, as alcohol is only a potential by-product of yeast, they can’t restrict the sale of it, just like they can’t restrict the sale of potatoes, barley and grapes. Ginger beer isn’t the only thing you can make too, it works for lemonade, and pretty much any soft drink (although the taste will vary quite a bit from what you make and it’s sometimes not pleasant). A simple google search will provide you with hundreds of recipes.

All you need is those cheap 2L water bottles (about 15p each), ginger and lemons (about 40p combined), sugar (£1), honey (£1) and yeast (another £1) and you’re good to make about 6-8 litres of cheap, tasty alcohol. Nice.

If you’re wise to the wonders of chemistry and have a few days to wait it’s not at all hard to make your own alcohol regardless of your age, and anything you make yourself is bound to taste better. It’s almost a no-brainer, but obviously a little bit of thought and careful planning is required, as the CO2 build up if left unchecked can cause bottles to explode quite dramatically. Don’t let it put you off though, just open the cap every evening and you’ll soon have a smart solution to the teenage dilemma.


I’ve returned! Sort of.

It’s been nearly a month without anything going on here at the Cavern (!) . Just posting to let you all know I’m not dead and something worthwhile will be on here shortly…

In the meantime, here’s some information on “LifeHacks”. Basically, cool things to do that can make your life so much easier. And it can save other people too. Or just your stuff. Whatever way you look at it, all knowledge is useful. Enjoy.

Don’t you feel better for knowing this?

The System Has Failed…

Today’s Objective: Hypothetically become a 17 year old who passed their driving test two months ago, looking for a small car and some reasonably priced insurance.
(I am a 17 year old, so no issue there. But I can’t drive don’t hold a driving license and I don’t own a car. I was simply rambling around the internet having a look at what’s available in the motoring world.)

Not a particularly difficult endeavour, right? Sure it’s not – it’s just really, really expensive – as you’re about to see.

Step 1: Find a car. This was by far the easiest part of my research. I selected two cars which would be suitable for a new driver (that is; small, economical, cheap) which were found on a particular auction website which has a motoring auction sub-site. The cars were as follows:

The Classic

A very small car, no? It’s a 1984 Austin Mini. As you can see from the image, it’s very cheap. It has a 998cc engine, so not very big. Other than that there’s nothing special about it, it’s a cheap car ideal for someone who wants to get driving cheaply and may or may not be a fan of the original (and best, of course) Italian Job.

The Alternative

Another small car. This is a 1988 Ford Fiesta 1.1L(But you can read that in the picture, right?). It’s also a very cheap, economical car, with a 1,117cc engine. Despite not having quite the style value of the classic mini, it’s still a worthy contender for good first car.

Step 2: Insure the car. This involves trawling price comparison websites where I got quotes for these cars. Most price comparison sites have a function to say that you haven’t bought the car yet, so you can speculatively search for insurance. Nice and simple.

I acquired two quotes for each car: one for how the car would actually be kept (on the street in an East London suburb), and one as an interesting contrast (garaged in a leafy North Somerset town that I know is one of the safest places you’ll ever visit). In all of the cases I was the same person, a 17 year old who has held their standard UK driving license for two months, in full-time education living at home with parents. I was the only driver named on the policy (At a later date I will provide an update with quotes if you employ the popular tactic of fronting, which is putting your parent as the policy holder and you as a named driver. A word of warning though, it is illegal!)

One very interesting thing I noticed is that there are never more than 8 insurance companies willing to insure a 17 year old Londoner, but many more (and well-known) insurers who would insure a 17 year old Somerset resident. The results are below.

For the 1984 mini, in East London, these were my quotes:

Were you startled at these? I was.

Yep, you’re seeing that right. Third Party Only insurance at £8,500 minmum. Very close to 40x the value of the car. If anything I find it depressing.
And here’s the quotes (for the same car and same driver!) if it were kept in a North Somerset garage:


That’s far more reasonable and is the price I would expect to pay given the risk factor of teenagers. Still, it is quite expensive and certainly not a price I’d want to pay, especially since it’s bordering on 10x the value of the car.

Unfortunately the Fiesta has a similar problem.
In East London;

Only one choice? Competition isn't a strongpoint here

Over 1000cc and most insurers are too scared to even go near you. To be fair though, the one quote I was given does include a fair amount of good extras. Not quite worth nearly nine and a half grand though.

For the North Somerset resident, they have another respectable list of choices;

Once again, it’s slightly more than the mini but still quite reasonable and there’s a good choice of respectable insurers on the list. But also, would you really want to pay £2000 for a car worth a quarter of that?

The moral of this post: Unless you’re stupidly rich/don’t live in London, it’s really not worth trying to buy a car at 17 if you’re buying a straight-up single policy. I have yet to explore ways to make it cheaper, so stay tuned.

The Alternative: Buy a bicycle. No, really. For short commutes (<10-15miles) it really does pay off. No Insurance to pay. No Tax to pay. No fuel to pay for (except water and sports drinks). No MOT to worry about. With a decent bike (and a little bit of ever-improving fitness which will naturally come from cycling every day) you can average up to 20mph which is easily faster than the bus and most traffic in London at rush hour anyway. You can filter through all of the traffic so there’s less time waiting in queues. It’s even rather enjoyable.

This is a picture of a bike almost identical to mine which costs the same as the austin mini and is good to go for that price. It’s easily capable of averaging 20-25mph if you’ve got the legs for it. And, because it only weighs 10kg you can easily take it on the train and carry it down stairs. Not something I’d recommend trying in the Mini.

Two wheels are taking over, it’s a wise investment.


Rust in Peace

This afternoon has been spent doing maintenance on the computer systems the cavern comes from, for a fair amount of the day. It’s changed so much from the boring generic Windows 7 layout into something shiny, faster and more sleek. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the initiative to take a screenshot before, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it didn’t look like this a couple of hours earlier. My computer is rather unorthodox (in that it is an actual desktop computer, for those who’ve only seen them in school and have never used anything other than a laptop at home) and that it has two screens which the mouse cursor can happily float between at will. The two screens are different sizes and so require separate wallpapers and are subsequently split into two screenshots, found below.

the right, larger screen

The right, larger screen

The left, smaller screen

Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice is the seemingly large amount of non-wallpaper clutter and a lack of desktop icons. (By the way, the pictures do “click to enlarge” if you’d like to inspect them in greater detail) I like to call the layout Windows 7.5, as it is trying to mimic what Microsoft have said Windows 8 is going to look like when released.

Starting off with the top image, you’ll see it’s filled with loads of orange squares. All of them do something when you roll the mouse over and do something else when you click on them – except the binary clock, which is just a clock. That’s an extremely geeky way of telling the time, but I can tell you that it says the time is 20:51, which should (hopefully) be the time shown in the taskbar on the second image. Nearly all of the tiles contain a description and an icon, and these simply launch the program or folder they describe when clicked on. Rolling over the office icon turns it into a list of Microsoft Office programs to launch with a click. There’s a handy quote at the bottom of the interactive part of the screen, and the multi-function part on the right. This is found below the huge letters saying the day and date, but leaves you guessing at the rest. In the screenshot my chosen RSS feeds are shown. RSS is basically a condensed blog directory for sites you want to stay updated with. (It’s available at the top of this page, if you’re interested 😀 ) The small white squares underneath the text are options to switch to other (sometimes) useful things like a world clock, the weather, system information and the time for those who can’t read binary clocks (I’ll explain them at the end). And that’s pretty much it, a dashboard for all things useful on my PC. The Pirate Bay’s ship is in there casually too.

On the second image, you’ll see the screen is mostly dominated by the melancholic box robot trudging in the rain. But also notice the little black worm in the lower right corner which adds a month to the date with a friendly salutation, and also serves as a time keeper. On the left is a music widget which plugs into my media player of choice, foobar2000 (or F2K for short). I use F2K because it supports iPod which means I don’t have to have iTunes installed (which is a piece of software designed by Satan himself). The widget includes the generic pause/play/skip buttons too for added convenience.

So there you have it: a summary of a couple of hours work this afternoon. If you’d like links to the wallpapers used or Rainmeter (the program used to generate these widgets) then I find Google helps a great deal. I may be willing to help direct you if asked though, I try.

NERDFACTZ2 – Binary Clocks: The aforementioned alternative timepiece is quite an interesting way of telling the time once you know how to use it, and it keeps your brain ticking over too, which is always a plus. Binary clocks are essentially a 4×4  grid (most simply, but they can get more complicated), where the 4 columns represent HH:MM and the 4 rows represent binary numbers 1 (the bottom row), 2, 4 and 8(the top row). See this picture below shamelessly stolen from wikipedia.

Numbers? What numbers!

This picture includes seconds too (for a 6×4 grid), but the idea doesn’t change. For every illuminated light in a column, you add it’s corresponding number to the total for that column’s digit. In this picture, for example, only the light at 1 is lit up in the first column, so 1 is thevalue for HH:MM. In the second column, no lights are lit up so the value for HH:MM is 0. For the third column, the lights at 1 and 2 are lit up, so the value for HH:MM is 3 (2+1). And finally for the fourth column, the lights at 4,2 and 1 are lit up so the value for HH:Mis 7 (4+2+1). Hence, 10:37. I’ll admit, it’s alot more work than necessary to tell the time, but I did find it quite interesting to learn about earlier today.

The last westbound train has gone.

This is not the best thing to hear on a friday night saturday morning. Especially after you’ve walked for 30mins in the rain to get to the station. Of course, if you’re not from London or any other major city you’re probably not familiar with public transport past 11pm, let alone 24hr service. Although it seems Dagenham East lacks this too, eastbound trains were still running at 1:30am, so if you needed the 4 stops east of the station instead of the 55 stops west (I checked that on wikipedia…), you’re fine. For the unlucky westbound travellers, we are now faced with a difficult decision. There is always, as a matter of course in East London, a minicab firm in the station. However, a quote of £10 for the journey home (coupled with my lack of £10) soon killed that idea. Knowing the area well, I knew there was a junction about a mile away where you could catch the night bus. A mile, that’s 25 mins walking in the rain, on top of the walk you’ve already done. Or 10 mins running. And so it was that I ended up running through the rain-sodden streets of East London to the night bus-stop. It’s not any different to the day bus-stop, it’s even in exactly the same place, it’s just darker and more lonely.

Rather luckily, the bus came as soon as I got there (I too, was extremely impressed with this). In much the same way as the bus stops, night buses are not very much different from day buses. They do have an ‘N’ in front of the number, but that’s pretty much it. They are not, as certain films would have you believe, magical triple-decker buses that can bend the laws of physics (or am I missing a silent k?).I haven’t rode the night bus in a very long time, so was a fairly new experience for me.

After you get on and find a seat, you notice in this case that the bus is brand new and shiny with comfortable cushioned seats and no graffiti (the East London equivalent of First Class). You’ll also notice that you’ve joined a sort of silent night bus society. Far from being a mute nocturnal bus spotting group, this society is made so because of the similarities between everyone on the bus. From my experience, I imagine it’s quite rare you’ll find a sober person on the night bus (apart from the driver, hopefully). The night bus is sparsely populated, and everyone who is alcohol-infused will face the confusing and difficult decision as to which seat to sit in (unlike Rebecca Black’s case , there is actually a huge choice of seats). There were what looked like some seriously plastered riders who failed to reach their chosen seat before passing out in the aisle, followed by their friend’s attempts to revive/move them. Everyone else was sitting quietly, in one of 3 positions;

except there were too many seats...

1: Sprawled across 2 seats in an effort to get some sleep, of course with the knowledge that the night bus travels alot further than the day bus and there is a risk you’ll end up in Oxford Circus if you misjudge your sleeping time.
2: With neck muscles unable to support their heads so late at night they are resolved to either leaning against the window for support, on the floor in the aisle because they forgot they weren’t anywhere near the window when they tried to lean against it, or pressing their face into the seat in front.
3: Sitting halfway between the two seats fairly upright staring with utmost concentration at the CCTV monitor and its slow cycle through all of the cameras on the bus, looking tripped out at what’s going on, occasionally looking at the dot-matrix display saying where the next stop will be.

I was a firm number three here, sitting with a blank expression waiting for the time to press the bell.

I know I’ve just explained a completely pointless drunken story to you, but I found it quite an interesting experience that would otherwise be a very dull and boring tale. In fact, it was a very weird experience that I’m very surprised I remember. The moral of the story: God bless TfL.

Profanisaurus Tex(t)

So I found something on the internet today. No, it wasn’t porn. It was, however, quite rude and contains a few bad words. Internet Rule #24 states that “Every repost is always a repost of a repost”, so I have vaguely sourced it in the caption, but I don’t know who originally said it. It’s probably the most honest thing I’ve read in a long, long time, but I’ll leave it down to you guys to decide your own opinions.

Source: Anonymous /b/ user, no.1270365

Now, at first read this might seem like some guy’s attempt to justify his misery, but it’s so much more than that. Everyone can learn something from this. Even if you ignore the part where he spills his life’s woes, this still makes perfect sense and has a powerful message. There isn’t really that much for me to say about it, everything he’s trying to say is made clear just by reading it.

In my opinion, it’s an interesting alternative message to what everyone else says to you. Ignore it or take it to heart, there’s something cool about people who live their life with this sort of attitude. It’s definitely a harsh way of putting it, but if you’re down there’s no better advice to help you. Maybe.

You’re all awesome. Don’t forget it.