Saturday, 31 January 2009

Off to see mother in Southport, so an early post.

It’s a fact of life that when you require urgent information for a customer quote, every bugger you need to contact is at lunch. What’s this fascination people have with their one hour lunch break? The damned thing is inviolate! The attitude is: ‘Bugger the customer, I have to have my organic goat’s cheese (RCPCA monitored and Welfare Standard), roquet and lo-cal Paul Newman vinaigrette dressing on granary - and no-one is going to stop me, even if they pay my salary.’ Not being considered adult, we sales people have to used the Admin Dept. as intermediaries when contacting suppliers, so the problem is compounded by the fact that our suppliers are based on the continent, so if you need some info it dries up at 11am (when the continentals have their beer and sausages) and doesn’t start again till 1pm (when our lot come back from Tesco).

I’m still reeling from the fact that I’ve been told that my sales team has to increase sales by 10% this year. This is despite the obvious fact (which seems to have escaped the directors’ notice) that we’re part of the manufacturing sector and we’re in the largest recession since Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay organised the retreat from Dunkirk. I wouldn’t like to be in their shoes at the end of the year when they’ve informed the shareholders that we are targeting 2008 revenues +10% and end up bringing in 2008 revenues – 25%. These people need a truth serum and a heavy dose of reality. I guess the words ‘profit warning’ aren’t in their lexicon. Makes you wonder how they got to the top.

Had a brilliant idea while listening to Last Words on Radio 4 – a programme that celebrates the recently dead and reasonably renowned. I learned that Wally Stott, a renowned musical arranger, had a sex change and became Angela Moreley, a renowned musical arranger, and died aged 84. Now women tend to live 10-20% longer than men, so how about men, once they’ve passed the age of reproduction, undergoing a sex change? Not only will men (or women, as they will then be) live longer, but they’ll get along better with their wives as they can share the housework, exchange clothes and swap make-up tips.

Another Devon/Cornwall resident has been found guilty of attempting to blow up innocent people. The southwest seems to be a Mecca (if you’ll pardon the expression) for fundamentalist nutters of every hue.

Hay and I were watching a programme about how a bunch of villagers in Bengal were training feral dogs to protect them from tiger attacks. Hay mentioned how impressive it was that the dogs had been trained to such a high standard. I responded that dogs were man’s best friend and they were the first thing we domesticated after women.

Here are some real-man product adverts that a friend in Birkenhead sent me - they're quite amusing:

Friday, 30 January 2009

Following thousands of complaints the new Cornish Unitary Authority, which is due to take office in April, has decided to ditch plans to introduce a new logo. Complainants said it looked like Don King’s hair.

Apparently it would have cost in the region of nearly £500k to place images of Don King’s hair on vans, stationery, uniforms and websites, although estimates were later lowered to £65k. Bit of a difference – perhaps they drew the line at emblazoning it across the Cornish Reichstag Building and wearing it on armbands. I wonder how much Don King was going to charge for the use of his trade mark? If you ask me, it looks vaguely Aboriginal – the logo that is, not Don King.

This is the old Cornish crest.

I can’t for the life of me see the relevance to Cornwall of one of the Village People or Darth Vader captured in an unguarded moment with his visor lowered. The upturned inflatable dinghy that they’re hanging on to is quite apt, however.

In The People’s Republic of Birmingham councillors have decided to ban possessive apostrophes from street name signs. In light of illiteracy rates I’m not sure of the wisdom of this. The reason given is saving money, but does saving on apostrophes actually produce much of a saving, especially when you consider the effort involved in removing them in the first place. In fact, what with satnavs I’d posit that road names are now redundant and postcodes rule, so how about getting rid of them completely? Can’t remember when I last used a street name to get somewhere. How about dropping possessives completely? St Paul’s St, for example, could become St Paul St. Think of all those saved Ss – they could be saved up and used by a consultant to produce a new logo for Brum comprised completely of Ss. Didn’t someone else do that some 70 years ago?

The French have been engaging in their national recreational activity of striking. I head some of the complaints on the radio last night; rising unemployment, rising prices, salaries staying the same. Welcome to the real world! What effect striking is going to have when we’re in the midst of a global economic crisis is beyond me. Ask any of the strikers what the solution is and they simply don’t know, but they do know that it ain’t what Sarkozy is doing. To quote Greg Lake, C’est la vie. Any offers of solutions from readers in France?

I was listening to Farming Today on the way into work and heard that the organic bubble might have been pricked at last. Organic farmers are struggling to sell their highly priced produce in today’s economic climate and a bit of realpolitik is entering the farming community. Farmers are apparently queuing up to revert to non-organic status, but doing it in such a manner as to easily revert back to organic at some later stage. Consumers simply refuse to pay the extra it costs to produce organic food, seeing it as an unnecessary luxury better suited to more affluent times.

Getting some hits from rather disconcerting Google searches, such as;

  • ‘can bailiff bring locksmith on 1st call for speeding fine’ and
  • ‘alternative therapies for depression blogspot’, not to mention
  • ‘going to sleep permanently’ and
  • ‘wedding dresses from durban-yellow & caramel colour’.

How the hell that last one managed to alight on my blog is a mystery, although I can quite understand criminals, depressives and suicides reading my posts.

What attracts you to this site? I'm interested to know.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Thursday 29/01/09

Utterly convinced that yesterday was Feb 28th, I wound my watch forward 3 days yesterday afternoon. Once I’d realised it was still January I naturally had to get it back to 3 days ago (if you get my drift), but of course the date thingy will only wind forward. It took me 15 minutes to reach the 29th.

Had bloods done at the doctor yesterday for cholesterol and any tell-tale signs of something not being quite right in the prostate area (it’s amazing how many people I hear calling it a prostrate). Hopefully the results will be back in time for my next appointment to have the BP checked again. I posess a home BP monitor and have been consistently high since last week. Hay’s convinced I’m over-dosing on nicotine from the e-cigar as, due to being inoffensive and capable of being ‘smoked’ anywhere, it’s permanently in my gob. I think she may have a point, in which case I’m going to have to go for the low nicotine e-liquid. Wish I’d realised that before ordering 2 new bottles of e-liquid. Thought I’d have a go at the banana flavour this time. Woe is me!

Following on from yesterday’s post about Nazi council leaders and combining it with the above subject of doctors; Brazilian scientists have rejected claims that the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, or The White Angel (a.k.a. The Angel of Death), was responsible for creating a tribe of twins in the small town of Linha São Pedro near the border with Argentina. An Argentine historian claims that Mengele made regular trips to Linha São Pedro during the 1960s while hiding from Mossad. Linha São Pedro is filled with people of German decent, many of whom are of distinct Aryan appearance. Since the 60s the birth rate of twins has been spiralling - there are 22 pairs of twins (10% of the population), of which half are identical. Mengele, as many will know, was fascinated by twins and conducted many of his experiments on them.

On the subject of scientists; I’m always suspicious of those scientists who maintain that their belief in their religion does not conflict with their belief in science. I would only agree if their belief was solely in a god, but not if they adhered to any world religion with their panoply of gratuitous contraventions of the laws of physics, man-gods, walking dead, flying carpets, burning shrubbery, aliens with wings and all the other excrescences tacked on by man. If these scientists were questioned, I would wager that their espoused religions would be a Woolies Pick ‘n’ Mix comprising the more rational bits of all religions – which are few and far between anyway – mingled with a bit of home-spun philosophy derived from quantum mechanics.

The scientific community in the UK is currently involved in a massive government-led public engagement exercise to more fully encourage the hoi polloi in understanding science. The aim is to recruit the scientists of the future at secondary school level and persuade A level candidates to follow a science path at university. However, the public perception of science isn’t done any favours by the red tops when you read stories that start, “Boffins say….” And then go on to totally misrepresent a scientific paper by making ludicrous claims that there’s a pill you can take to cure cancer or that Barak Obama has been cloned. The kind of activities planned are wall-to-wall TV science programmes, science fairs and public debates.

I just hope it gets better than this, which is from a government website (look at the YouTube video down the page). The guy is meant to be explaining the science behind an electric motor (as evidenced by his final comment), which he singularly fails to do; he merely shows you how to construct one in the manner of Valerie Singleton and her infamous sticky backed plastic and washing-up liquid bottles. There’s not a single word on what actually makes it work.

Earlier yesterday there was another video on how to create oxygen and hydrogen with water and a battery. Hay told me it had to be taken off as they’d failed to mention that your average kid could blow him or herself to kingdom-come unless the experiment was performed in the middle of a field in a force 12 well away from any source of ignition.

Going back (stream of consciousness style) to my visit to the doctor yesterday; while sat waiting for my appointment I happened to espy a copy of the RNLI magazine, ‘The Lifeboat’, among the usual copies of Feng-Shui Today, Ideal Tee-Pee, Women’s Monthly, Druid Times, Composting Toilet World, etc. Casting a professional maritime eye over said publication I alighted on an article about some Anthony Gormley sculptures which, following a tour of Europe, have found a permanent home on Crosby beach (being just up the road from my old hometown). These sculptures comprise people standing on the sands and are covered by the tide several times a day. Now in my opinion this is a somewhat irresponsible installation (as I believe these things are called), as if I were on the beach at sunset and saw what I thought were several people silhouetted against the sun and standing waist deep in water on a rising tide, I’d be tempted to call the coastguard under the impression they were a bunch of Chinese cockle-pickers engaged in a spot of drowning.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Wednesday 28/01/09

Shock horror! I woke up this morning and didn’t have a single overnight e-mail from my boss. There are usually 3 or 4, sent anywhere between 7pm and 10pm. I suspect he’s perhaps doing a grand tour of our offices around the country (about time) and doesn’t have internet access.

It’s a sad day when a politician can no longer compare a rival to the 20th century’s most notorious propagandist. Jim Harker, head of Northamptonshire County Council, compared, John McGhee, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, to Joseph Goebbels, the famous WWII Labour council leader, in a letter to a newspaper and is now under investigation by the Standards Board. What a load of PC bollocks! The comparison was not based on John McGhee’s record on anti-semitism, but his use of propaganda. Harker's letter: "Councillor McGhee seems to have taken a leaf out of Joseph Goebbels's book by thinking that if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."

Druids have called for a three-year-old child, whose remains were found in a Neolithic stone circle some 80 years ago, to be reburied at Avebury out of respect. Archaeologists insist the skeleton - currently on display at the Alexander Keiller museum - should be kept available for research and testing. Rollo Maughfling, the archdruid of Stonehenge and Glastonbury and part-time tree, said: "Beyond all the other philosophical, scientific and religious arguments, in the end it comes down to something called common human decency." Fellow pagan, winner of the All England Silly Name Competition and off-the-hook realist, Arthur Pendragon added: "These are human remains - you wouldn't dig your grandmother up from a churchyard." No – but if it was your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother, you probably would.

The World's Shortest Fairy Tale with a happy ending:

Once upon a time, a chap asked a girl, 'Will you marry me?' The girl said, 'NO!' And the chap lived happily ever after and rode motorcycles and went fishing and played golf a lot and drank beer and scotch and left the toilet seat up and farted whenever he wanted.


A couple of questions:

Alan Sugar and Sid James. Twins?

Why is it that whenever younger men start to lose their hair, rather than accepting it they immediately resort to shaving their heads and looking 20 years older - and distinctly simian?

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Tuesday 27/01/09

Prostate cancer is meant to be the most common form of cancer among men. It has received enormous attention from the media of late to the extent that men over 50 live in mortal fear of it. The fact that as I entered my 50s I started to get up half a dozen times in the night to have a pee worried me to the extent I asked my doctor for a prostate check last week, just as a precaution.

Hay, who understands these things from a bio-chemical perspective, tells me that the actuality is very different from perception, as the chance of dying of prostate cancer, even if you have it, is phenomenally low. This is because one will rarely get prostate cancer before the age of 60 combined with the fact it is one of the slowest growing cancers. Believe it or not, the average age at diagnosis is 70 with the consequence that you’ll probably die of something totally unrelated before the cancer could feasibly get to the stage of having a chance of carrying you off.

On Saturday Hay and I had dinner at the Alba restaurant in St Ives (on the corner opposite the lifeboat station). I know nouvelle cuisine portions are the butt of many a joke, but the size of this soup portion is ridiculous.

To be honest, we were given a free ‘taster’ while waiting for the starter – it being a rather delicious mushroom soup. I’m not going to way lyrical about the Alba due to time constraints; suffice it to say the food is extremely good and reasonably priced and I would recommend it to anyone with a hundred quid to spare for a well presented three course meal for two with wine (lots of it), 4 coffees and 4 liqueurs (including the tip). We had the special set menu at £16.50 per person, but you have to be there before 6:45pm to take advantage of it.

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but Hay is one of those rare individuals who can look in a fridge and make a mouth-watering meal from the most incongruous list of ingredients. She maintains that if you have an understanding of chemistry then you’re a natural cook. I’ve set her a challenge to make a meal from a bag of ingredients I bring home. Readers’ suggestions as to ingredients are welcome, but they must be sensible – even Hay cannot make a meal from a lump of coal (I think).

The reactionary forces of Creationism received a setback last week. 15 members of the Texas State Board of Education elected to get rid of wording which invited teachers and students to debate "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. In practice, this was used as a pretext to attack evolution in lessons and textbooks by inventing completely bogus weaknesses.

If you’re interested in looking at bogus Creationist claims then you should have a read of this.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Monday 26/01/09

This weekend I was overcome by a desire to buy and wear a balaclava. Worryingly, the desire seemed entirely rational. Have I reached that milestone in life that eventually comes to us all when practicality takes precedence over style?

Boris Johnson is lobbying for an airport way out in the Thames estuary comprising a couple of floating islands. Passengers would be ferried in by rail links. Given the distance, you could just as well put the new London airport in Lincolnshire. I have a better idea; get UK bound air passengers to fly into Paris and then put them on the Eurostar to London. That would offload all noise pollution and CO2 problems associated with another airport to the French.

Here’s some useful information that I was unaware of until Saturday. Take a look at your driving licence (the plastic variety) and note item 4b. That’s the date by which it needs to be renewed. I, like almost everyone else, was under the assumption that the new driving licences lasted for the rest of your life. The first batch are coming up for renewal this year and it’s going to cost about £17 odd to renew them.

I was watching my eldest son playing football on Sunday. There was the poor old coach trying to impose a strategy and tactics on a bunch of 10 year-old school kids while a gaggle of ‘competitive dads’ were shouting contradictory instructions at their progeny. Half time was funny; in the old days the oranges would be brought out, but these days is seems that Jaffa oranges have been replaced by Jaffa Cakes.

We stayed in St Ives, Cornwall, for the weekend and it’s an immutable law of commerce that any surfing Mecca (which St Ives happens to be) has a Fat Willy’s surf shop outlet. However, I remember some years ago that the first ever Fat Willy’s shop I saw was in my adopted hometown of Southport, which is about as far from a surfing paradise as you could imagine. The standing joke in Southport is that it’s such a long time since the tide came in that there’s an oil painting of it in the local museum. The other one is that there’s so little water that the Coastguard is on camels.

Charles Saatchi is meant to be in discussion with the BBC about an art X-Factor programme. This is the man who perpetrated the Great Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin Art Swindle on an unsuspecting art market. Mind you, the art market deserved it and all power to Hirst and Emin for having made a bundle from their stuff. However, once your pension fund starts investing in ‘art’ it goes beyond a joke. I dread to think what an Art X-Factor will produce. Will it attract arty types as the voting public, or will it be the same semi-illiterate, gum-chewing couch-potatoes as watch the normal X-Factor? Can’t really see Saatchi’s purpose behind such a programme, as there’s a dichotomy between what the voting public considers art and what buyers of art (i.e. the rich) actually purchase. Would a collector (i.e. Saatchi himself) buy something voted for by a Saturday evening TV audience in the hope of making a killing? I suspect not, as it would not be what critics or art collectors would consider to be great art. Saatchi, like Simon Cowell, will undoubtedly be in it for the money – but where’s the money in popular art? I guess Saatchi may invest in printing thousands of ‘limited editions’ to sell to the public at £15 a throw so as to make it affordable to the masses and make a killing in that manner.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Friday 23/01/09

Let me put the Evil Eye on you!

Not pretty, is it?

Went to the doctor yesterday for blood pressure, cholesterol and a quick check on the prostate. BP was 150/102, but that might have been due to an e-cigar blowback earlier in the day and me copping a gobful of nicotine solution. Damned stuff goes straight through your mucous membranes and into the blood, phenomenally raising the BP in the process. The doc said to come back in a week when I’ve scraped myself off the ceiling and she’ll check it again. Cholesterol couldn’t be done as I hadn’t fasted, so another trip next week.

I was persuaded to re-open my Facebook account on Wednesday. I’m not too sure of the wisdom of this action. The damned system seems so anarchic and not at all well organised or intuitive. I added my niece as a friend and was horrified to discover she has 442 Facebook friends. I don’t think I’ve ever SEEN 442 people (outside of a football stadium), let alone made that many friends. I fear the Facebook account will be closing down soon. Can’t really see any point to it – if anyone wants to find me they can look me up on Linked In or search the net with my name. I’m not exactly The Invisible Man.

The security system on Facebook comprises images of words that are slightly mangled. There’s a facility to change the words if you can’t make them out, which in my case means I’m hitting the “try other words” button about ten times before I can make anything intelligible from the images. Am I alone in suspecting the security system is dyslexic? Oh, it can’t be – there is no such thing as dysolixa.

I managed to land on the profiles of a few old friends and discovered the photo below. It’s my school Bantams XV from 1969 or ’71. Yours truly is seated on the bench at the extreme right. The little chap sitting cross-legged on the floor on the left now goes under the name of Sir Clive Woodward.

Sir David Tang, the entrepreneur responsible for the Shanghai Tang restaurants (yes – I’ve never heard of him or his restaurants either), has stated that pessimism is the most serious cause of the global depression. You don’t say! Does this chap have a degree in the bleeding obvious? However, the whole thing wasn’t kicked off by pessimism; the root cause was rapacious bankers and greedy borrowers losing shed-loads of dosh. Once that news had circulated, THEN everyone got pessimistic.

Microsoft is making 5,000 redundant. I just hope it’s the buggers who write the XP code that ensures my laptop crashs every few weeks.

I was looking at the Feedjit map of people looking at the blog and noticed that while I have a good following in most of the country, there’s a dearth of readers in Wales. Do they have the interweb in Wales? In fact, do they have people in Wales?

What is it about women that makes them predisposed toward pink? You’d think it was genetic. It’s a question I pondered last night and decided to see if there was a scientific study somewhere on the net. Hey presto – they are genetically predisposed.

Glad to see the tourists in Guantanamo Bay are to be released. Perhaps now they’ll be able to get back to waterboarding in peace.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Thursday 22/01/09

Now that everyone is getting out of sterling and the Old Sodbury groat is undergoing inflation of Zimbabwean magnitude (it’s now 6 trillion Old Sodbury groats to one Malmesbury zloty), we’ve decided to introduce a barter system of exchange within the family kampong – we’re now paying Caravan for his eggs with chicken & ham pies. Clive, one of our engineers at work, hails from the Brum area and regularly goes back there to see his family, bringing back with him boxes of the most delicious award-winning chicken & ham and pork pies I’ve ever tasted from a local butcher’s chain. Virtually everyone at work puts in an order for them. Yesterday I brought back 2 chicken and ham pies and a pork pie. Given Hay still owed Caravan for last week’s eggs she decided to offer him a chicken & ham pie in recompense. We’ve have yet to determine the exact exchange rate, but yesterday’s spot market produced one pie for a half dozen eggs, which I think is a bit steep, although a few potatoes were thrown in. The problem is that since the run on sterling, everyone is short-selling potatoes and converting them to pumpkins gilts at the Interbank rate.

Glad to see that the atheist bus campaign has been passed by the Advertising Standards Agency. The next step is to push the boundaries even further with a satanic bus campaign.

Well, Obama has had his first full day as President. Now that the race barrier has fallen I wonder how long it will be before the US is ready to vote for its first atheist President. I guess that will be a long time coming, although Jefferson and Washington were deists (rather than theists), meaning they believed in a ‘Supreme Architect’ but eschewed prophesy, miracles, revelation, the divinity of Jesus and scripture. Deists believed God existed, but not that he interfered in human matters or arbitrarily suspended the laws of physics in answer to prayer. Deism began with the Age of Reason (i.e. doubt) and was the first step on the road to pandeism, agnosticism and atheism. Deism declined mainly due to increased doubt about the first cause argument and the argument from design, for which we can mainly thank Hume and Darwin.

Thank God (in a manner of speaking) that the planned House of Commons vote on preventing the public disclosure of MP’s expenses has been dropped after opposition parties refused to back the government.

The jobless total now stands at a midge’s nudger under 2 million. My heart goes out to those who have been made redundant. I’ve been there twice and I can attest to the fact that it can destroy your confidence and ruin your relationships. Depression sets in and you wonder whether you’ll ever get a job again – and when you do the chances are that you’ll be earning much less than you were previously, especially if you’re fast approaching (or over) 50. My advice is to switch your mortgage to interest-only and get any job you can. Running up a small debt because you can’t pay all your bills is better than running up a massive one because you’re too proud to take on work at less than your market worth. It’s called minimising your losses. I confidently predict the NHS being swamped by people suffering anxiety and depression.

Heard about the new NHS Charter? It sets out the standard of treatment you can expect, as well as your responsibilities as a patient. Basically, unless you’re fit as a fiddle in the first place (in which case you shouldn’t need a doctor) you may just as well bugger off as they won’t treat you.

I currently look like an enraged bull. A blood vessel in the white of my left eye exploded on Tuesday evening leaving me with one almost totally red eye. Haven’t a clue what caused it and it’s just as well I have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon. It could feasibly be something to do with my blood pressure, although Hay measured it on Tuesday evening and it was registering 140/90, which while admittedly high is not abnormally high for me. You will note I have changed the image at the top of the blog accordingly. These things apparently disappear in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime the white of the eye changes from red to brown to yellow to cream before finally turning back white.

Another observation about the house that was highlighted in Tuesday’s Grand Designs TV programme: the couple who owned the house had decided to build it ‘organically’. By that I mean they didn’t have a set plan and simply dreamt up ideas as they went along. When Hay and I heard this we both looked at each other and shook our heads in disbelief as this is a sure recipe for disaster if you’re trying to stick to a budget. As it transpired, the resulting design worked extremely well, but as expected the build cost went through the roof. Excluding the land, it started at £150k and climbed to over £200k. If you don’t have good idea of a plan then you can’t estimate the cost, so the original estimate carried less weight than a feather cup.

Hay called Alex (our architect) and told him about the programme and how the owners hired the hippy wife of the architect to meditate on the design. He said he was willing to send his wife round to meditate in our field if we want, but he’d have to charge us.

Another mistake with the house was that all the plumbing and electrics were installed at the second fix rather than as part of the first fix. That meant that much of the plumbing had to be bodged by trying to shoe-horn it into the available space.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Wednesday 21/01/09

Another funny from my misogynist friend north of the border:

Secrets of a Good Marriage:

1. It is important to find a woman that cooks and cleans.

2. It is important to find a woman that makes good money.

3. It is important to find a woman that likes to have sex.

4. It is important that these three women never meet.

That reminds me of the old seafarer’s drinking toast; here’s to wives, lovers and girlfriends – may they never meet.

Wedding lists. Presumptuous constructs of a consumerist society, or useful systems that save time, effort and waste? Being lazy, I lean lightly toward the latter – Hay firmly toward the former. Wedding lists for people who have been living together as a couple for a number of years are definitely presumptuous. We were looking at a John Lewis wedding list last night on behalf of the Caravans, who have some friends whose kids are getting married. Nothing on the list is under 50 quid, which is not exactly fair on a couple of pensioners.

We were watching an episode of Grand Designs last night and realised, to our horror, that we haven’t considered the feng-shui of the new house. We could be building it on the dragon’s eye or, heaven forbid, in his lower colon. We’ve not even meditated on the interior yet. That could produce bad karma.

No, I haven’t gone loopy - I was being ironic.

Yesterday’s post on alternative therapies resulted in a flurry of comments which led me to promote doubt as the foundation of science. Doubt is not only crucial to science, but politics, ethics, law and philosophy. Blind faith, while being the friend of religion, Bob Seidermann and alternative therapists (and producing some remarkable healing cures through the power of placebo and the ability of the mind to heal a number of ailments) is nevertheless an enemy of rational thought and social progress. Just think of the atrocities that have been accomplished because people or communities had blind faith in a person.

Having said that I have to admit that some remarkable achievements have also been achieved due to faith (not be confused with persistence), but exactly what these achievements are escapes me at present.

Children have faith in their parents, but part of growing up and maturing is realising that your parents are not infallible and you can’t actually rely on them. It comes as a bit of a shock, but we all get over it and then assume unshakeable faith that we (rather than our parents) have all the right answers. It’s called being a teenager. It’s also called being over 50, or am I confusing that with just being curmudgeonly?

While religious people are said to have unshakeable faith, they also doubt. Their doubt results in doctrinal schisms and the proliferation of a myriad sects. The ability (and the drive) to doubt is what makes us human. To lose the ability to doubt turns us into automatons capable of being manipulated by the unscrupulous.

Given the choice, I’d rather doubt. I have no doubt that god gave us the ability to doubt so we didn’t have to believe in him.

Talking of doubt, I tend (like everyone else, except politicians) to doubt politicians. Tomorrow they are to vote on whether their expense accounts are to be free from public scrutiny. I urge you to read this and register your vote for democracy, freedom of information and accountability.

Connecting politicians and doubt, I can’t help feeling that the level of expectation being heaped on President Obama’s shoulders is overwhelming and probably more a result of America’s great relief at having rid itself of Bush. I haven’t seen this much expectation since the Summer of Love, when I was hunting around for some of this free love stuff myself. However, expectation is a long way from confidence. Expectation has first to be translated into tangible action that will produce confidence. The problem with confidence in markets is that it relies on the bold taking the first step, and the bold can be reckless.

Obama’s speech was good, but about 10 minutes too long for me. Do you think there’s room on Mount Rushmore for Obama?

Here’s a very amusing video of some lucky breaks - and very narrow escapes. They get better as the video progresses. Love the getaway-car scene.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Tuesday 20/01/09

Another quote, but I can’t remember who said it: It’s no more possible to believe to order as it is to love to order. I’m probably also paraphrasing. It was said in relation to belief in a deity.

Had to re-register for my surgery’s on-line repeat prescription service again last night – for the 5th time. Forgot the damned password and there’s no reminder thingy that e-mails it to you. Given I only order a repeat prescription once every couple of months and that you have to accept the password they give you (invariably something like Xcg67M7), it’s hardly surprising you forget the damned thing.

Gaza is a smoking ruin, 50,000 Palestinians are homeless, half a million are without water, 1,300 are dead (versus 14 Israelis) and yet Hamas’ Ismail Haniya said Israel had "failed to achieve its goals" and Hamas claims a "great victory" over Israel”. In a speech broadcast on Hamas TV he said, "God has granted us a great victory, not for one faction, or party, or area, but for our entire people." If that’s victory I wouldn’t like to see what the consequences of losing are. I’ve never heard such hubris since Chamberlain proclaimed peace in our time or George Best said he’d never touch another drop (American readers can replace that last one with General John Sedgwick when he uttered, “Nonsense, they couldn't hit an elephant at this distance,” before being killed by a bullet in his left eye).

Another Hamas chap - obviously on day-release from the same lunatic asylum as Haniya - said, “"We hereby stress that our rockets are being developed and are piling up, and that the enemy will receive more rockets and, God willing, our rockets will hit more targets." If that’s the attitude of Hamas, then no-one can blame Israel for finishing the job on the first Hamas calling-card landing on Israeli soil. As for hoping god will direct rockets toward civilian targets, ain’t that just a teensy bit in contravention of the kind of things god stands for? I could be wrong, as many a right-wing, ultra-religious nutter has called on god to smite the hell out of the innocent and Hamas is renowned for an approach to killing that could be described as indiscriminate.

If you’re thinking of redecorating your Palestinian ruin this year, the latest ‘in’ colour is Cosmic Latte (see below). This is the name that was given in 2002 to the average colour of all the light in the universe. Big Bang Buff was one of the names proposed, but Cosmic Latte won the day among the scientific community. It doesn’t really matter what you call it, there’s still no escaping the fact that the universe is basically beige.

Apparently one in five people use complimentary medicine. Maggie Dunn, the co-chairman of the new Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), has promised to get tough with the complimentary therapy industry and drive out cowboy therapists. The new Council will judge whether practitioners operate a professional and safe business, meaning therapists will have to show they have the right training and experience, abide by a code of conduct and ensure they have insurance in place. The Council will not rule on the efficacy of therapies. I suppose they couldn’t do that as any such judgement would have to include a decision on the efficacy of prayer - and there would be too much of an outcry from the Church.

Talking of prayers, Ken Clarke has been dragged out of his coffin to add some semblance of hope to the Conservative front benches. I have to admit to liking the guy and the Conservatives could do much worse than elect him as their leader – such as allowing Cameroon to stay in place.

A friend sent me these viral marketing images yesterday. They’re quite amusing, but not at all representative of the fair sex. They’re meant to represent the thought processes before going out for a drink (the 2nd one is a bit hard to see at this resolution).

Monday, 19 January 2009

Monday 19/01/09

The Caravans bought Hay a quarter load of logs for her birthday; however, she was disappointed they weren’t individually wrapped.

Seems my idea for an automated birthday card system has already been thought of and is up and running as Oh well, back to the drawing board, but I’m certain focussing on things to help the absentminded or lazy is where the money lies.

You know these bollocky detox fads that go around at this time of year but don’t have an ounce of science behind them? Well I’ve just thought of a new detox regime for the lazy – Aquapuncture. Just drill a hole in your bellybutton and insert a hosepipe on full blast.

Here’s something to think about. Ever had an itch on your back and had someone scratch it for you? Have you noticed, and why is it, that the second the itch is scratched it instantly starts to creep around your back and migrate? What starts out as an itch of less than 1cm square ends up with you chasing it all over your back (and sometimes down your arms) to the extent that you end up scratching about half a square metre.

Found an excellent quote by Steve Jobs, Apple’s founder. In a speech at Stanford University in 2005 he said: “Nobody wants to die. Even people who want to go to Heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share.”

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Sunday 18/01/09

Hay’s birthday today. Went out for a meal with the rest of the family to The Dog for Birthday Eve. It’s back to work though for Birthday Boxing Day.

Here’s us at The Dog.

I’m terrible at remembering to send anniversary or birthday cards to family members. It usually results in me being ostracised for a few months by the offended relative.

How about this for another Chairman Bill bright idea or the absent minded? An on-line facility whereby you simultaneously select cards for various family members, enter various personalised messages and addresses, and then (most importantly) enter the date on which you want them posted. Hey presto - you don’t have to think about birthday, anniversary or Christmas cards again for the rest of the year. Come next year you just change the card and message – if you can be bothered. It could also be enhanced by having a selection of imitation handwriting scripts to choose from so as to make it look handwritten.

Bit of a bugger though if one of your relatives pegs it and you forget to cancel the auto-birthday card. I know there are services out there that will send a birthday card for you, but I’ll bet they don’t postpone posting till a chosen date.

Had a panic attack earlier – I’d been engrossed in trying to re-establish an internet connection as the wireless extender wasn’t having any of it. Hay in the meantime had risen, dressed and put the week’s washing on in the Folly (we use the Caravan’s washing machine). After finally having managed to resolve the connectivity issue I went to get dressed and discovered that my valet had forgotten to select and lay out my clothes.

Hay functions as my personal dresser and always puts out the next day’s clothes for me before going to bed. It saves me having to make irrelevant decisions and Hay having to be seen out with someone who has the dress sense of Krusty The Clown (she’s never quite recovered from the time I attended a friend’s funeral in those yellow and red boots, baggy trousers and orange fright-wig).

Talking of clothes; pet hate - fly buttons on jeans instead of a zip. Yes, I know buttons are more reliable, but when was the last time you had a failure on one of those industrial-strength zips they put on jeans? They’re a retro design feature that serve no discernable purpose other than to make having a pee a pain in the bum. Zips were a major advance in clothes fastenings and took decades to evolve before being popularised in fashion by Schiaparelli - and so what to Messrs Levi and Wrangler do? They put bloody buttons back on their jeans! The only possible advantage of buttons is that you eliminate the possibility of trapping the end of your willy in the zip teeth, but since having eschewed going commando some 30 years ago, that danger is well past for me.

The news wires seem to be filled with stories of complaints about members of the Big Brother House intimidating each other and Ofcom investigating the matter. I though the whole purpose of the show was to watch a group of dysfunctional people screwing up, intimidating each other and breaking down, thus providing entertainment to the type of people who enjoy watching car crashes. I sometimes wonder if the complaints don’t actually emanate from the programme producers, just to create PR and column-inches to raise the profile of their shows. It’s a general rule that people who see intimidation taking place in the street or on the train or the London Tube don’t do a bloody thing about it – so why would anyone bother to report intimidation on a bloody TV show, which is obviously staged for effect?

We were leafing through one of Jamie Oliver’s cookery books yesterday (Jamie is Hay’s favourite cook due to him understanding food– not overly fussy and based on good ingredients). Hay was reading the recipes, whereas I was more interested in the pictures. I wanted her to skip over the pages containing lots of green things, preferring the meaty pages. She suggested I should write my own recipe book, however, it would be quite short. She said it could basically be summed up in one sentence: “Buy a block of chocolate and eat it!” I keep promising to buy her a slow cooker, but she says she already has one – me.

An 81-year-old woman has died after she was hurt in a mugging in north-west London, in which a bag containing an umbrella and extension lead, but no money, was stolen. She fell when the suspect grabbed her handbag, suffering injuries to her head and the left side of her body and died in hospital eight hours later. Police have launched a murder inquiry.

Now I would imagine than the mugger had no intention whatsoever of killing this old lady and is in all probability a drug addict engaging in petty crime to satiate his habit. If caught, he’s now likely to go away for a very long time as a murderer, although I’d call it a case of manslaughter. I’d be interested to see what he’s charged with. If drugs were legalised then this kind of senseless crime ceases overnight.

In another incident a 78-year-old man from Accrington collapsed and died from a heart attack after being taken to a cash machine by a bailiff to pay a £60 speeding fine. He had been released from hospital a fortnight before following a heart attack in October. His son said: "We made countless phone calls and sent numerous letters to the court to tell them about dad's stay in hospital. The bailiff called at his house and said he had to make a payment, otherwise they would bring a delivery van and locksmith. He said they would get into the property and take goods and there was nothing he could do about it. My father then agreed to be driven to get some cash. I believe he was put under duress. We just want some answers as to why the bailiffs were called in."

Now from the son’s statement it’s obvious that he must have spoken with his father just before he was driven to the cash machine. If he was so worried about his father’s health, then why the hell didn’t he simply offer to come round and pay the fine himself? Seems like a case of slopey shoulders to me and the sensing of a possible claim for compensation.

Hay has the annoying habit of asking me the names of groups whose music is being played on Radio 2. There was something playing yesterday which I guessed was sung by the Undertones, although I didn’t say the Undertones – I said, “The band with the ugly Irish singer who sang Teenage Kicks and went on to win the EuroVision Song Contest for Ireland,” which apparently was factually incorrect on a number of levels. It turned out to be Turning Japanese by the Vapours, who I don’t know from a Honda Civic. She then asked me whether I had spent most of the 80s with my head up my arse and accused me of being an old bloke. She can be so cruel.

I got my own back by asking her what the following meant. “Pribram and Bohm posit a model of cognitive function as being guided by a matrix of neurological wave interference patterns situated temporally between holographic Gestalt perception and discrete, affective, quantum vectors derived from reward anticipation potentials.” Her scientific judgement was that it’s a load of bollocks. I got it from here. A Mars Bar for anyone who can translate it into English.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Saturday 17/01/09

Had an accident yesterday with the new e-cigar I took delivery of. I had it in my back pocket and suddenly it felt as if one of my arse cheeks was on fire. I pulled out the e-cigar to discover the damned thing was going thermonuclear. I then pulled out the battery but had to drop it as it was too hot to handle. For some inexplicable reason it had shorted out inside the e-cigar and being of a phenomenally higher mAh than a standard AAA battery it had nearly melted. Obviously the battery is fried.

Remember the: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life," advert on buses? Well there’s a new story about some Christian bus driver in Southampton has refused to drive a bus with the advert emblazoned on its side. I don’t know why people keep referring to the ad as an atheist ad when it’s clearly worded in agnostic terms. I wonder whether he thinks the bus will be struck by lightning? It’s strange, but it’s always the religious right who turn nasty when someone questions their beliefs. All aboard! Ding-ding!

Deists continually seek an answer to the question ‘why are we here?’ I think I have an answer – we have evolved to fill a vacant ecological niche and provide balance to Gaia. That and to consume.

Once again I reiterate how much I hate my job. My background is in senior marketing roles, but I’m currently (and reluctantly) trapped in sales management. To successfully engage in sales you have to be borderline dysfunctional; you have to learn (or choose) to ignore the signs of deep discomfort in your prospects and obvious fact fact he or she simply doesn’t want to waste time with you and be pressurised into buying your tawdry wares. I’m the kind of person who, when the prospect says no, assumes he actually means no and doesn’t turn into the kind of sociopath who calls you on the phone selling worthless timeshares and parcels of land that has absolutely no hope of being granted planning permission and won’t take no for an answer. That’s why I prefer marketing – you simply pull out all the stops in letting your prospects know in clear and concise language a) what you have to offer, b) the benefits of your products and c) how to contact you – then you simply wait for them to come to you while ensuring that the process of buying is as anxiety and hassle-free as possible and a positive joy. If you do your marketing effectively there’s no real need for a sales force, just order takers. Of course, the company I work for doesn’t do any marketing at all – they don’t believe in it (or even understand it).

Having been there, I can attest to the fact that many parts of India have massive problems with stray dogs. The main problem is that they cause road accidents and have a very high risk of carrying rabies; in fact India has the highest incidence of rabies related deaths in the world. Renowned intellect, some-time porn star and dog lover, Pamela Anderson, has written to the public authorities in Mumbai and suggested that there should be a mass sterilisation programme for the strays as a more humane alternative to them being destroyed. That still doesn’t address the problem of them causing RTAs and being able to give someone a nasty dose of rabies. Pammy said: "It is well established that killing stray dogs is not a permanent solution to controlling their populations." Sorry – have I missed something here? What bit of 1 – 1 = 0 doesn’t she understand? What bloody planet is the woman living on? Unless they’re reproducing at a faster rate than they’re being topped, topping them directly affects population size, as well as their ability to breed. Not only that, it stops them contracting rabies and running in front of cars. I suspect Pam is blissfully and totally unhindered by any semblance of logical though processes. She must have two brains and sport them on her chest.

I’ll probably have the doggy-woggy brigade on my case now. I once ate dog in South Korea. Didn’t know what it was till my hosts told after the meal. With the stuff they cook meat in there you wouldn’t know if you were eating dog or a dishcloth. It’s apparently been illegal to cook dog since the 80s, but restaurateurs frequently ignore the legislation. Before you die you should make the effort to visit a Korean restaurant and eat kimchi, which is fermented cabbage. I love the stuff, but it’s an acquired taste. I once had the misfortune of being trapped in a lift in Busan with half a dozen Korean gentlemen – Koreans eat vast quantities of garlic and the stench is hideous. They don’t just breathe it out, they sweat it out.

A butcher from Barking who sings while chopping his meat in his shop in the mornings has had four charges of breaching noise abatement orders dropped by the local council. The council asked him to soundproof his premises – he informed them that the premises are in fact owned by the council and it was therefore the council’s responsibility. Nice one Mr Butcher from Barking.

The other day there was a news report about a toy remote controlled plane landing in the grounds of Wakefield jail – probably on a drug delivery run. In an idle moment, while waiting for the kettle to boil, I leafed through our storesman’s Daily Star and saw that it had been reported in that august publication as a UFO.

Remember the wind turbine UFO story from last week? Managers of the wind farm in question have restricted access before UFOlogists make the area a mess and trash any evidence. Nick Pope, a UFO ‘expert’ (i.e. someone who is divorced from reality), told a newspaper: "There may be something they don't want people to see." Explanations have been given, such as a secret military aircraft hitting the turbine during a test flight or a turbine blade simply falling off and damaging the other one in the process. Mr Pope said: "If a stealth aircraft struck the turbine, it may be made of some material which is itself top secret." He added: "My view is something big must have hit the wind turbine to cause that damage and it appears in this case that the UFO witnesses are very respectable, and clearly not people who are making this up." I can say the same about people who have religious experiences and claim to have spoken with god. Bloody twonker! The words Occam’s Razor come to mind. It’s been proven time and time again by psychologists (and the courts) that eyewitness testimony is one of the least reliable form of evidence as, for a whole variety of reasons, people love to make things up and interpret events according to preconceived notions and cultural relativism.

Last night Hay gave me what she thought was a memory stick and asked me to see if there was anything on it. I inserted it into my laptop and in self-installed, but didn’t register as a memory location. I thought it might be a dongle and told her it looked a bit like my dongle. She looked surprised and said my dongle was far more attractive, and much bigger.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Friday 16/01/09

A 3rd runway is to be built a Heathrow and the village of Sipson is to be razed. Campaigners from the quaint country village of Sipson, resplendent in their chocolate-box 15th century, Grade I listed, half-timbered cottages are up in arms. They complain that they have lived there all their lives and will now have to move. If you look at Sipson on Google Maps or Live Search (those links are to actual views) you’ll see that on the one side is the M4, on the other is one of Heathrow’s runways and the busy A4 and on the 3rd is the Heathrow spur road. The M25 ain’t that far away on the 4th side.

The reason people have lived there all their lives is because no bugger would be so completely devoid of intelligence as to buy their bloody houses. I’d have thought it a mercy that someone is putting a compulsory purchase order on the place. The whole village can’t be worth more than a couple of hundred quid and I’m surprised it wasn’t buried under concrete 20 years ago. I’ll bet a pound to a pinch of poo that for every campaigner against the 3rd runway there are 10 residents rubbing their hands and thinking, “Thank God for that – at least I’m now guaranteed some money for a house I could never sell and can finally move somewhere decent – like The Bullring in Birmingham.”

Here are some photos of Sipson residents. Number 7 looks as if he needs carting off to sheltered accommodation before he electrocutes himself or sets the place on fire through overloading his electricity supply. Number 14’s house surely contravenes local planning regulations?

An iconic character from the ‘60s has died – Patrick McGoohan, aka Danger man and The Prisoner. You ponder your own mortality when each month alerts you yet another boyhood icon kicking the bucket. You start off thinking these people immortal and the last thing you want to know is that they’ve died. Perhaps obituaries and death announcements for film stars should be banned.

Kate Winslet has been nominated for a couple of BAFTAs. I predict we’re going to have to put up with a brace of embarrassing over-the-top thank you speeches.

I recently asked my solicitor how the financial downturn would affect her business and she told me that when times are tough there’s no money for divorce lawyers and couples tend to stay together, thus lawyers engaged in divorce work see business decline quite sharply. However, government statistics say that lack of money and having to tighten belts during a recession results in squabbles over finances and consequently higher divorce rates. I’m not sure who to believe. Perhaps more people simply split during hard times and leave the legal stuff till the end of a recessionary period.

The reason I’m so interested in the divorce statistics is that a likely market for my boat is husbands who have left the matrimonial home and are about to proceed down the divorce route. After all, it’s what persuaded me to buy a boat in the first place. The benefits were enormous in that for substantially less outlay than a house or flat I had the equivalent of a luxury 2 bedroom apartment that I could move to virtually anywhere in the country along the river/canal network (or by lorry) and also use for my holidays – not that I ever did. Also, given boats have intrinsic value and is not linked to sub-prime mortgages or over-inflated house prices. Boats tend to retain their value. Living on a boat is also cool and gives you a totally different perspective on life. Due to the lack of storage space you tend to become much less attached to objects and hence less materialistic. Owning and living in a boat is the perfect antidote to affluenza and the hedonistic lifestyle of a social security scrounger. There’s a lot of getting back to nature and living off-grid about living on a boat. Christ – why did I ever move into a caravan?

Given my blogging life began as an e-Bay advert to sell the boat, I suppose I should focus a bit more on trying to get it sold so we can progress the house build. If anyone’s interested, then give me a shout.

If there’s one thing I regret about my time living on the boat and that was not installing a wood or anthracite stove when I moved in. Whilst central heating is comfortable and clean, marine diesel boilers do tend to be a bit temperamental (especially when you need a spare part at Christmas) and comparatively expensive to run. Having no moving parts (except for the door), a wood/anthracite stove is so much more reliable.

This brings me on to power cuts. Last week I mentioned something about them becoming more prevalent in the future as sources of fossil fuels become scarce; however, I didn’t think it would be this soon. The company I work for has some 17 offices around the country and during the last week we’ve experienced prolonged mains power cuts in Southampton, Fraserburgh, Lowestoft and now Hull. I wonder what’s causing it.

Not many will be interested in this, but scientists have discovered that we could possibly be living in a hologram. That still doesn’t explain tartan though.

Hay was watching Animal Rescue of TV last night (she must be an archetypal Volvo driver) and we spotted Michaela Strachan. She’s a dead ringer for Hay and could be her twin.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Thursday 15/01/09

Welcome to the voice of rational insanity. Sometimes I don’t know why I bother doing this – I get a good number of hits, but very few comments. Perhaps there’s simply too much stuff here.

Getting some interesting, yet sporadic hits from Latvia again. Probably the ex’s family as the search is on my name and I don’t know too many people in Latvia. I hear there have been riots In Riga over accusations of financial mismanagement on the part of the government. I hope the ex’s parents don’t get caught up in any of the violence.

Here’s a solution to the Euro Greens wanting a ban on all pesticides – genetic modification! Vegetables that is, not the Euro Greens – although the latter wouldn’t be such a bad idea (they could be modified to grow brains). What could be a more elegant solution than GM? However, the Luddites in the green camp are against that too and won’t be happy till we’re all riding horses, wading knee-deep in cow and horse shit and eating pest-infested, putrid and misshapen food. There is the argument that reverting back to pre-industrial farming methods will result in higher levels of employment within farming, but the downsides are those of higher food prices, extinction of any export markets and mass unemployment when cheaper food is imported from abroad by the supermarkets. To avoid those consequences would require protectionist measures of draconian magnitude (and secession from the EU). In fact we’d have to fence ourselves off completely from the rest of the world and become totally self-sufficient in everything – even footballers and NHS staff!

Talking of greens, and blues and whites – in fact every coloured wire under the sun. Why is it that the last item to be replaced in a wiring circuit is always the one found to be the cause of the problem - especially when you’ve gone to the expense of replacing everything else? If you don’t believe me try fixing a faulty Christmas tree light.

A while ago the heater motor on the Volvo packed up on settings 1,2 and 3, but was OK on max – not exactly a fault you want in mid winter, especially when the motor is additionally screeching like Kate Bush and threatening to disintegrate. Last time this happened it was a Kate Bush CD someone had left on the CD player. The previous time to that it was a relay heater motor switch. Anyway, I decided to replace the motor with a 2nd hand unit from a breaker’s (£30). While it cured the Kate Bush issue it didn’t solve the control problem. I then replaced the relay with a new item (£5) – still no joy. I finally tracked it down to a temperature fuse on the resistor pack. Shorted it out with a length of wire and a couple of clips and it works perfectly. A new resistor pack is £40 plus VAT; a 2nd hand one from a breaker is still £29. Managed to source a new temperature fuse from Maplin’s for 60p (plus £3 p&p). Not sure why I’m telling you this, as the chance of anyone a) having a Volvo, and b) having a heater motor failure is quite remote; however, you never know. Remember though; on hearing strange noises always check the CD player for Kate Bush CDs before attempting any dismantling or expenditure.

Why is it that Volvo drivers have such a bad name? Besides the Merc they are virtually the only car you have a good chance of taking for it’s 200,000 mile service. I simply love parking my completely rust-free, 14 year-old Volvo 850 GLT Estate next to a 10 year old wrecked rot-box of a Vauxhall / Ford / Peugeot / etc. I also love telling people how I’ve had well over 100k miles of relatively trouble-free motoring and how I can fit the entire stock of the local B&Q in my boot. Best car I’ve ever had! According to consumer research, Volvo drivers can be categorised as follows:

Feel society is less well-ordered than in the past. On the lookout for bargains.
Reads: Daily Mail
Watches: Holby City, Animal Hospital
Hobbies: Bingo, bridge
Health: Trusts doctors and does not drink heavily

Except for the second sentence, nothing could be further from the truth. We’re more regulated than we’ve ever been, I wouldn’t read the Daily Mail if you paid me (except to gather fodder for the blog), only watch Holby City because Hay does, don’t and didn’t watch Animal Hospital, consider both bridge and bingo to be games for old ladies, don’t trust doctors all that well (unless they qualified over 25 years ago) and drink like a fish.

To other matters European. My surname, as many of you will have gathered, is Van Bergen and I was born in the Netherlands to a Dutch father and English mother. When transliterated the name means ‘from mountains’, without the definite article ‘the’. As well as being grammatically incorrect, there are no mountains of note in the Netherlands, the country being renowned for being as flat as four day old beer. That points to the name actually meaning ‘from Bergen’ the Norwegian city, which makes far more sense. To a degree that clicks with my family’s maritime heritage, it being eminently possible that we were Baltic or Nordic Traders from Norway at some time in the distant past. Now, as it happens there exists a Bergen tartan that is worn by the Bergen Pipeband and Bergen Scottish Society in Norway, which is astonishing. I know of at least one of my readers who will find that interesting, as he’s a bagpipe player. Mind you, I wouldn’t pay 20 quid for a tie that looks like it belongs to a person about to undergo a fashion make-over. As far as I’m concerned, tartan should only be displayed at Christmas – and even then only if you really can’t afford a Christmas tree.

Another bit of useless information. Dutch protocol dictates that when used in conjunction with a forename, any name with ‘van’ in it assumes the lowercase v. When the surname is used on its own it assumes a capital V. So while my surname is Van Bergen, my full name is Philip van Bergen. Not many people of Dutch origin are aware of that and maintain a capitalised V in all circumstances, especially Americans.

Here’s a handy little utility if you’re interested in finding out about the distribution of your surname around the world. The traditional urban English surname of Khan, for example, predominates in a crescent shape comprising Yorkshire, Lancashire, the Midlands and the Southeast. It’s rather disturbing that a surname which came over in 1066 and reputedly spread throughout England does not show up in any of the searches – that surname being The-Conqueror. I do believe that the first The-Conqueror started the trend for double-barrelled surnames, although others suggest it was an earlier name, The-Great, which has also disappeared with time. Alfred The-Great was apparently the first British holder of that surname, but many think it is a corruption of The-Grate, as he had some issues surrounding cakes and fires. As every schoolboy (and girl) student of textbooks on the French language knows, the surname ‘The-Great’ in fact migrated to France, where the exploits of a certain M. Le Grand have become legendary, along with those of his colleague M. Le Brun.

I believe William The-Conqueror was also known as William The-Bastard – but not to his face. However, I can find no remaining trace of ‘The-Bastards’ in the UK, although there are a great number of ‘Bastards’ in France (check it out if you don’t believe me).

My own surname seems to have followed me from the Northwest to the Southeast and then the Southwest. However, neither I nor my immediate family are responsible for popularising the name in the east or west Midlands. Strangely enough, when receiving a quote for car insurance I was once confused with another Van Bergen who drove a Porche. He was certainly not from the 1960 wave of invasion.

Here’s an amusing legal story that had me in stitches. A District Judge who was appearing as a solicitor to represent a family member told an usher to 'fuck off' and called the CPS lawyer 'a fuckwit'.

An MP has caused controversy by stating that disloxia is a moth and a faction. Hay has always believed it to be thus (and I tend to agree), as it’s far easier to ascribe your child’s inability to read to a syndrome than admitting he or she has a literacy problem, as the latter reflects badly on the parent while the formed does not. Learning ability is a spectrum and the distribution will follow a normal distribution curve; many will find learning simple, some will find it hard, a few will find it impossible.

Another politician, Baroness Vadera, has been lambasted by the Do Nothing But Complain Party (aka Conservatives) about the use of the words ‘a few green shoots’ in relation to the economy. Just the usual playing at politics by Cameron’s Complacency Party and when you listen to the entire interview it’s just a storm in a teacup (and I was a life-long Conservative voter).

There’s a lot of publicity for a film called Frost/Nixon, which recounts the events surrounding an interview of Nixon by David Frost in ‘77. The blurb says the interview changed the rules of journalism and portrays the events in the film as a crucial turning point. Buggered if I recollect it! As far as I was aware Frost has always been renowned as a most accommodating interviewer, allowing the interviewee to virtually say what he or she wants and to plug whatever book he or she happens to have recently written. People queue up to have Frost interview them as he’s a pussycat and doesn’t give them a hard time.

Last night Hay and I were reminiscing about certain highlights of our time together. I remembered the day she first met my mother – it was the day we had her carted off to the mental health unit at the local hospital in Southport; mother that is, not Hay. Not exactly the best circumstances in which to meet your partner’s mother.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Wednesday 14/01/09

Now Prince Big Ears is getting it in the neck for calling an old Asian pal of his ‘Sooty’. The gang of lads I used to knock around with used to call one of our crowd Black Mac because his family hailed from Barbados and his surname was McAlister. Another of our coloured brethren, whose provenance none of us actually ascertained, was nicknamed Savage. It was several years before I realised this was a nickname and not his surname and came as a bit of a shock. It was totally good humoured and taken as such by the boys concerned – or else we wouldn’t have done it. These boys were integral to and leading lights of our group, not merely outsiders tagging along hoping for recognition and therefore willing to tolerate racism. As long as there’s no malice intended and no hurt felt, there’s no problem with nicknames.

While I try to be as green as reasonably possible without going over the top by wearing free-range clothes spun from organic tofu and sporting open-toed sandals, I’m seriously starting to doubt the motives of the organic ‘movement’. MEPs have voted to restrict the use of 22 commonly used pesticides on the basis of ‘perceived hazard’ (i.e. total bollocks akin to the stuff that started the MMR scare and resulted in a measles epidemic) and not sound scientific evidence. Even Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, said the regulations could hit agricultural production in the UK without producing a single shred of recognisable benefit to human health. It’s possible that up to a quarter of produce could be lost, including the total carrot yield, 20% of cereal production and a good proportion of our Murphies.

It’s damnably difficult finding out exactly what the list contains, but I have discovered that triazole is one of the chemicals in question. It’s used as a fungicide and also happens to be an endocrine disruptor; however, as with almost everything, the toxicity is dose-related. If you’re going to ban triazole, there’s an argument that says most household cleaning products (bleaches, disinfectants, biocides, soap powders, etc.) should also be banned. Anyone remember the Irish potato famine? That was caused by potato blight, which triazole combats. Common or garden salt, if consumed in sufficient quantities (like the quantities found in pre-processed food), will kill you; most cooking oils are carcinogenic when heated – should these substances also be banned? Dose is what’s important and where the focus should be, not scare-mongering on the part of the green lobby, many of whom seem to pursue the organic agenda with the fervour and dogma of a religion. If I didn’t know better I’d be tempted to think that the green lobby was trying (by fair means or foul) to level the playing field with the non-organic fraternity.

Pete Goss, the yachtsman, has left Simonstown in South Africa en route to Australia on the last leg of a voyage commemorating a trip by a group of Cornishmen who went from Newlyn to Australia some 150 years ago in a Cornish Lugger. I had the good fortune to listen to Pete give an after-dinner speech some 8 or 9 years ago where he regaled us with his exploits during the ‘96/’97 Global Vendee race. He rescued fellow yachtsman Raphael Dinelli and had to perform surgery on himself with a pen-knife with the aid of a surgeon at the other end of a radio link. He’s a mesmerising and entertaining speaker and the man is a natural-born adventurer. I have a great deal of respect for him. Pete epitomises the perfect example of a role model for kids.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Tuesday 13/01/09

IT Guy took some 4 hours to rebuild my laptop yesterday. I’m certain this was a false economy as given his salary (consultant) it would be cheaper to simply throw it away and give me a new one, recycling the old one to some 3rd world kid who aspires to becoming a hacker.

Hay took delivery of a dry log maker yesterday - not the type that has you making papier-mâché bricks and laying them in the sun to dry like Sumerian mud village makers. It cost £18 while using less than £0.18 of raw materials and perhaps another £0.25 of manufacturing capacity. The company making them is Logmaker. According to the blurb the ‘compact’ logs will burn between 10 minutes and half an hour. Now I can believe that logs made of pure wood may well burn for slightly longer than 10 minutes, but even a solid wooden log ain’t going to last half an hour, so how a Christmas cracker made of loosely crumpled newspaper is going to last more than a few seconds is a total mystery to me and is stretching the bounds of credulity a little far.

The test log we made last night disappeared in about a picosecond and produced the thermal output of a damp Swan Vesta. The whole thing provides about as much value for money as a sub-prime mortgage! Hay, however, refuses to give in and is planning on using sawdust, teabags and other household detritus in her log-making escapades. Personally I think this device merely provides a means of disposing of waste paper in a non-green manner – far better to recycle it. However, if you have a few bob to spare sink it into this company as the profit margin is verging on criminal.

A bunch of Kiwis (is that a racist term?) have claimed a new world record for the most number of people ironing under water at the same time. Now as I understand it, and speaking as one of those rare individuals who actually find ironing cathartic, ironing is the action of smoothing material with heat such that wrinkles are eliminated. Call me stupid or call me old fashioned, but it’s not possible to plug in an iron under water (salt water and electrickery don’t mix) and therefore this record is a) inaccurate and b) plain daft.

Managed to knacker the e-cigar atomiser yesterday. I was idly tapping it on my desk, quite gently, and it must have broken something. Luckily I had a spare with me but it also doesn’t function at 100% capacity. I’ve ordered a new atomiser for £16,95 plus p&p, however, the e-ciggy company has the annoying habit of not despatching goods for at least 24 hours. These damned things are ever so sensitive to knocks.

Prince Harry is in trouble again. Spot the odd one out:
  • Waziristan – Waziri
  • Kurdestan – Kurd
  • Turkey – Turk
  • Saudi Arabia – Saudi
  • Afghanistan – Afghani
  • Uzbekistan – Uzbeki
  • Kazakhstan – Khazak
  • Pakistan – Paki
  • Britain - Brit

Yes, you guessed it - Britain is not in the middle east. However, there’s also another odd one out – Paki, which is considered a racial slur. What makes it racist? I think we must all agree that only the person at the receiving end of the term determines whether it’s racist or not, and even then, only if there’s a general consensus among the others in the group at which it is targeted. The word Paki gathered its negative connotation when it got suffixed by the word ‘bashing’ by skinheads in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Abdul Rahim, who runs Star Crescent Clothing in Peterborough, sells T shirts emblazoned with the logo Pak1. He admits the logo could look like a racial slur, but maintains that Pakistanis should take back the meaning of the word and wear the clothing with pride. What a refreshing attitude – reclaim the word, use it with pride and it no longer has the power to hurt, while simultaneously making those who use it as a racist slur look anachronistic. There is opposition though, and it seems to come from those who wish to remain victims by being reactive.

I guess Pakistanis (and Asians in general) could lessen the obvious differences between themselves and the indigenous population by Anglicising their names in the manner the Jews changed their names when they migrated to various European countries or adding a European forename to their names like the migrant Chinese. Abdul Rahim, for example, could become Adam Raymond. My parents did it for me, changing my given name of Philip to Philip and my surname of van Bergen to van Bergen. The secret lies in the pronunciation – if my surname were to be pronounced in the Dutch manner you’d end up gobbing on whoever you’re talking to.

Now to return to Prince Harry and his unfortunate gaffe at calling someone a Paki. He’s an army officer, went to a public school, is a member of the Royal family and has Prince Philip (he who is renowned for the royal gaffe) as his dad. Using my rationale from yesterday, the poor bugger didn’t have a chance.

Land of Leather has gone into administration. I should imagine style gurus and interior decorators all over the country are breathing a sigh of relief.

I was going to write about something else, but I’m damned if I can remember what it was. Annoys the hell out of me when that happens.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Monday 12/01/09

The following statistics were gleaned for the radio and/or weekend newspapers. They could be apocryphal.

Apparently 1 in 4 households in the UK now has a copy of Mamma Mia! This is interpreted as the critics being wrong; I think it’s more of an indictment of a quarter of the British public’s execrable taste.

A report into social mobility states that as many as 9 out of 10 senior army officers went to public school. Hardly bloody surprising! It’s only those who have been psychologically traumatised by the public school system (or life in the Royal Family) that could put up with the life of an army officer.

In a recent interview for an engineering degree course at Cambridge, 5 out of 6 applicants could not perform the simple mental calculation of 2 to the power 10. A class of 24 16 year-olds were asked the same question and only one boy could provide the answer; this one pupil was considered ‘unusually bright’. It’s sad when being able to do 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 confers gifted status on you. That must mean that every pupil in my primary school was a genius. However, is it perhaps the result of the fact that calculators have now replaced a focus on mental arithmetic? If so, I wonder what has replaced mental arithmetic in the syllabus.

A sub-postmaster’s son was shot and killed in a post-office raid last week. Headline news yesterday on the BBC News website was that his fiancée’s life is now ‘destroyed’. While it is undoubtedly tragic that this chap was shot and killed, is it really newsworthy that his fiancée’s life is destroyed? Is it also newsworthy that prayers are to be said for his family? The BBC might just as well start reporting the life stories of everyone killed in Gaza over the last few weeks. The BBC’s reputation for objective news reporting is coming increasingly into question when so much subjectivity and sentimentality is being displayed. Even the police are getting in on the act by releasing the fiancée’s statement, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the task of finding the perpetrators and everything to do with functioning as the family’s PR agents.

Last week I bemoaned the proliferation of Amercian-English being used by native English speakers. Today there’s a BBC news story entitled ‘Court to rule on Zuma graft case’. Has Jacob Zuma been caught illegally performing some bud grafting by the Capetown Horticultural Society?

Hardly got any sleep last night what with the prostate and the rain hammering down on the roof of the caravan. While walking along a rain sodden pavement it struck me that shoe manufacturers have not as yet solved the problem of rainwater from the soles of you shoes flicking up over the toes and soaking the uppers when walking. Perhaps the toecaps should be facilitated with miniature mudflaps.

Been fighting with a virus infestation on the laptop for the last few weeks. I’m finally getting it wiped and rebuilt this morning, so I have quite a bit of data back-up up to do before the techie arrives.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Sunday 11/01/09

I made a slight error yesterday when I stated that ‘Bible = Truth because Bible = Truth’ has no more validity than ‘2+2=Test Match Special because 2+2=Test Match Special’. We all know that Test Match Special = Excruciating Boredom + I’d Rather Watch Paint Dry.

Just heard some corkers about the agnostic bus advert on a semi-religious programme on Radio 2. If I had the time I’d transcribe them.

Took delivery of the half load of logs yesterday. ‘Half a load’ is a filled builder’s bag – the raffia type you see sand and gravel in at builders’ supplies. I spent the afternoon splitting our share into suitable chunks for the wood burner. While the logs are seasoned, they still need a good bit of drying out. We’ve started using them already and I can safely say that the burn is much slower and more even than with sawn timber. On the basis of last night I’d estimate that we should burn around a standard TESCO shopping basket of logs per evening. Watch this space for updates on burn rate.

The chap who delivered them did so from the Badminton Estate, just up the road. When Caravan asked him if he was busy he said he couldn’t keep up with demand, which doesn’t bode well for price stability. May have to invest in log futures, or possibly do some hedging. The price of a ‘load’ has already gone up to £80 from £60 last summer. However, looking at prices on the web it seems our supplier charges half the price of commercial suppliers. We could make some money simply by selling them on at a 50% margin.

Wood burners are no longer a design statement, but an economic necessity. Regulars may remember that back in 2007, just before I moved from the boat to the caravan, I managed to obtain a very large Freecycled cast iron log burner with a back boiler – a real beauty of a beast. It had been used to provide central heating to a 3 bed house just outside of Reading. That’s going to come in extremely handy when the house is finished.

I’m thinking of diverting the flu and making a smokehouse to smoke some herrings.

While I’m in advice mode, if you’re in need to car spares, you could do much worse than look at carsparefinder. I’ve used it several times over the last few years to source 2nd hand bits. Yesterday I managed to find a 2nd hand heater for the Volvo for £35, including delivery and 90 days’ warranty. A new one comes in at several hundred quid.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Saturday 10/01/09

Aptly named vocal fundamentalist Christian group, Christian Voice, has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about a bus advertising campaign that states: 'There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life'. The National Director of Christian Voice, Stephen Green, maintains the ad breaks the ASA code on substantiation and truthfulness (I wonder if the code covers transubstantiation?). If substantiation is a valid criterion, then how does Carlsberg substantiate the truth of their advert: ‘Carlsberg, probably the best lager in the world’?

Now as far as I’m concerned there probably isn’t a god. I say probably because while emotionally I’m atheist, I’m agnostic from the intellectual perspective, as it’s logically impossible to prove something doesn’t exist – well not unless you’re omniscient, in which case you ARE god and you’re on a hiding to nothing if you’re trying to disprove your own existence.

Given it’s impossible to prove something doesn’t exist, the ad creators should first get the theists to prove that god does exist. Only when they see the proofs of god’s existence should they set about disproving these proofs, be that on the basis of probability or logic. Until then it’s possible to say that the existence of god is as relevant as the existence of the Spaghetti Monster or the unicorn.

The theists should therefore be encouraged to more fully describe god’s attributes; unfortunately any description of god instantly collapses through its own internal inconsistencies. On this basis any atheist therefore has a very strong case for suggesting, on the balance of probabilities, that theism is false. The clever theists will then come up with their standard get-out clause; god is ineffable. The even cleverer atheist will then point to the Bible and say, “Well, he’s described in there.” Game, set and congregation.

Of course another tack is to question how anyone can know that god is ineffable.

Green is not worried about atheists reporting Christian adverts to the ASA as he maintains that most Christian advertising starts by saying, ‘The Bible says …….’. That’s where the problem starts – a justification through the Bible is a synthetic argument as it contains no external reference against which it can be judged true. We’ve all heard the argument that so-and-so is true because the Bible says so. Then when asked how they know the Bible is true, the answer is that, “God wrote it.” The next logical question is how do we know god wrote it, to which the standard answer is, “Because the Bible says so.” A fully circular argument.

The fact that the Bible is littered with internal inconsistencies and palpable falsehoods illustrates that the proposition ‘the Bible is true because the Bible says it’s is true’ is false on the grounds of observable fact and faulty logic (the premise and the conclusion being self-referential). ‘Bible = Truth because Bible = Truth’ has no more validity than ‘2+2=Test Match Special because 2+2=Test Match Special’.

I’d have thought Christain Voice would have more self-important and holier-than-thou matters to attend to than reporting an agnostic ad to the ASA, wasting the ASA’s time and giving us all a chance to have a good giggle at their moral indignation and outrage. If you look at their website you’ll see they’re already far too busy spreading their particularly hideous brand of bigotry.

Here’s something I heard playing in a deli of all places in Malmesbury last weekend. It rather took my fancy.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Friday 09/01/09

The water pipes finally unfroze at about 2pm yesterday afternoon.

Some of my fan base – well, Mike G to be precise –expressed concern over the use of a Calor gas fire in the caravan. Fear not Mike; it’s a built-in gas fire with a flue, not a stand-alone kiddie-killer on castors. It’s basically no different from a normal gas fire in a house, except it runs from our Calor bottles outside. Until we installed the wood burner it was our standard form of heating for the last 18 months.

Mike went on to lament the amount of condensation produced by those mobile gas heaters. Any combustion produces water vapour in vast quantities – so much so that it’s a bloody wonder fire brigades don’t fight fire with fire, if you get my meaning (and puts a new slant on the expression). The beauty of wood burners is that you shut the door and any water vapour goes straight up the flue. What you’re actually heating is the cast iron, which then produces radiant heat without the water.

Talking of flues, Hay has been off work since Wednesday with a very bad cold. Given she’s been off work she’s had to keep the wood burner fully fired, resulting in a substantial depletion of our wood stocks. Supplies can just about be eked out for another day or two and hence we have agreed to share an order of half a load of logs with Caravan. A load is apparently the standard measure for logs, but I’m buggered if I know exactly how much a load is. You could equally say half a furlong or three trills of logs and I still wouldn’t know how much we were getting till it arrived. What it will mean is a lot of chopping to get the logs down to a size we can push into the wood burner’s door, which is only about 4” x 3”.

Hay spotted an ad on TV last night for one of those devices that makes logs out of old newspaper. She’s decided to get one and give it a try, but I’m not exactly looking forward to making Papier-mâché bricks – all the paper has to be ripped up first and soaked in water. Given the entire neighbourhood puts their recycling bins outside of the Folly (Caravan’s place) for collection by the bin men, we should be able to avail ourselves of a plentiful supply of free paper and cardboard.

Back to the matter of heat and power generation and living off-grid. Ecobogman left me a message on the ChatBox gizmo about something called CHP technology – or Combined Heat and Power. It seems to be an interesting concept and the best combination would seem to be a wood fired biomass heating system and an LPG fired CHP system for both heating and power. The biomass system could be fed by coppiced birch and willow grown in the field and hence be virtually free to run, while the CHP system would provide emergency backup to power outages and possibly cheaper electricity than from the grid, depending on the price of LPG and the amortisation of the capital cost. Further enhancements would come from solar panels and a geothermal exchange system for free domestic hot water.

It’s certainly worth further investigation, but it’s damnably difficult to find prices without some bugger wanting to harangue you for half a day. The main drawback I can envisage is the need for another building the same size as Badger’s End to house all the equipment. I just wish there was a system that ran on the almost inexhaustible supply of The Watchtower magazines that the Johova’s Witnesses keep popping in our litter box (no, that wasn’t a typo). Aha – the first guest publication for the log maker!

Heard about the UFO flying into a wind turbine? I’m a bit sceptical myself. I simply can’t imagine a vastly superior extra-terrestrial intelligence flying across several billion light-years of space only to end up having an RTA with a bloody wind farm in Lincolnshire. Perhaps it was a faulty satnav that led it the wrong way up a one-way wormhole. If it was a UFO (and perversely, until identified it must remain a UFO by definition) it could have been driven by Ronaldo.

From March all Internet Service Providers will, by law, have to keep information about every e-mail sent or received in the UK for a year. A bit of a Liberty if you ask me. The Home Office maintains it’s necessary for anti-terror inquiries, but all terrorists have to do to avoid detection is to start sending letters in the post, which makes the legislation slightly laughable. Apparently only the details of the sender, recipient and header need to be kept and not the e-mail content – which in effect makes it the same as a mobile phone call record. However, you don’t get that much spam with mobile phones.

On January the 1st a new law came into effect in Nigeria forcing motorcyclists to wear crash helmets. Since then, police have arrested scores of motorcyclists with dried fruit shells, paint pots or pieces of rubber tyre tied to their heads, as they attempt to circumvent the new law.

I’ve always been amazed at the mish-mash of laws in the US concerning motorcycle helmet laws. In some states wearing a helmet is mandatory, in others it’s not, in yet more it’s a compromise. Here’s a summary. I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would not want to wear one.

As a kid of 16 I kept a Lambretta 125 in the woods behind my school in Anglesey to use at weekends. Bloody thing was a death-trap. I bought it from another boy for £30 and rode it all the way back home to Southport on my last day of school. The Easy Rider film had caught everyone’s imagination and I tarted up the scooter and my helmet in Capt. America colours. My parents managed to persuade me to swap it for a rather beautiful Lambretta SX 225 in Arctic White and English Electric Blue purchased from another friend whose dad owned the local scooter emporium where we all hung out on a Saturday morning. It had a souped up engine, lots of mirrors and the standard bubble windscreen. Fastest scooter in Southport. I eventually parted company with it on a bend, obliquely resulting in me meeting the 1st ex wife.

I’m rambling – time to call it a week. I’ve still not had any offers from anyone to be a guest blogger.