Saturday, 28 February 2009

Saturday 28/02/09

Remember the glycerine I bought the other day to make up my own cheap vape? Just had a look at the bottle:

  • For sore throats: Adults, the elderly and children: take 1 or 2 x 5ml spoonfuls of liquid. Repeat after 4 hours if required.

  • Side Effects: May cause headache, nausea, vomiting, stomach upset, diarrhoea, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, thirst and mental confusion.

I’m confused.

We went for an Indian meal last night (which may explain the other side effects). The Indians are not exactly noted for their puddings, are they? They all seem to use exactly the same dessert menu exhibiting highly coloured, deeply frozen and unattractive objects that look as if they would be more at home in a plastics catalogue. There’s always that whole orange with something made of ice inside it, which you don’t want to order in case to takes 3 hours to defrost.

Whereas the Indians are noted for developing dishes especially for the English palate (like curried chips and chicken tikka masala, which no self-respecting Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi would go anywhere near), they have singularly missed out on the humble British pudding. You don’t exactly leave an Indian restaurant thinking, “Mmmm – that was a nice jam roly-poly,” or, “That was a delicious suet pudding and syrup that was.” There’s definitely a gap in the market there.

I do so hate restaurants where the lighting is so bad that you have to ask the waiter for a torch in order to see the menu, as I felt like doing last night until forcibly restrained by Hay.

It was on the news this morning that Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant has closed due to 30 cases of food poisoning. Health consultants have been unable to find the source of the poisoning. Hardly bloody surprising – the evidence has been eaten!

Friday, 27 February 2009

Friday 27/02/09

Suffering from writer’s block and a humour bypass today.

If Dr Who can go around averting catastrophes that have already happened, or have yet to happen, then why can’t he go back in time to the constellation of Kasterborous and avert the disaster that led to Gallifrey being destroyed in the first place and him ending up as the last Time Lord?

This next item will be lost on anyone not brought up in the UK in the 60s. Wendy Richard’s death yesterday made me look up Mollie Sugden, who acted next to Richard in ‘Are You Being Served’, and whom I thought dead, but was delighted to find to be still alive at the grand old age of 86. I remember Mollie playing the part of Jimmy Clitheroe’s mum in the 1960s TV show ‘Just Jimmy’, despite this not appearing on Mollie’s Wiki page (will someone kindly make the necessary amendment to Mollie’s page for me?) I delved deeper and looked up Jimmy Clitheroe to discovered he died of what was called an accidental overdose of sleeping tablets while relatives attended the funeral of his mother. That must be the most delicate euphemism for suicide I’ve ever heard.

Again the media is telling us that the nation is overcome with grief at Richards’ death. I don’t think so. I wish the media would not insist on presuming to know the feelings of the nation without the benefit of a poll. What the media is exhibiting – and newspapers in particular – is wishful thinking.

Sir Fred Goodwin, former boss of the failed Royal Bank of Scotland, has rejects calls to give up part of his £16m pension pot. Can’t say I really blame him. If you had a cast-iron legal contract and already had some of your entitlements negotiated down, would you give up your pension? The people to blame are those on the RBS remuneration committee who sanctioned his terms and conditions in the first place, most, if not all of whom have recently been dismissed. Also to blame are the people in the government who negotiated his exit and missed this little item, only to have it come and bite them in the bum afterwards. Seems everyone has had their eyes off the ball.

Some newspapers are calling on the government to simply not pay him, but I’m afraid that will cost even more, as Goodwin has the law on his side. I suppose they could offer him the £16m as shares in RBS, although at the current price that would probably make him the majority shareholder and put him back in charge.

What interests me more is the rate of interest Goodwin will be receiving on his pension pot.

Alan Amos, a former Conservative (and also Labour) politician and now a Worcester councillor, has proposed twinning Worcester with Gaza City. I wonder what the average citizen of Worcester thinks about that. Can’t see many people from Worcester wanting to do exchange holidays in Gaza, although I would imagine quite a few Gazans would jump at the chance of a spell in Worcester. Perhaps Hamas would like to set up a base in Worcester.

I was listening to an interview with James Lovelock, the developer of the Gaia hypothesis, yesterday afternoon. He maintains that due to their sheer size and mass, the seas are the only true indicator of what’s happening in terms of climate change, as they take longer to react to changes and dampen out large fluctuations. He is of the opinion that because global sea levels have increased at twice the rate projected by the IPCC, the situation is much worse than anyone thinks. He posits that rather than spending billions trying to reverse a process that’s already under full steam, we should be more concerned with preparing for and adapting to the inevitable changes that are going to happen. Luckily for those of us who live in the UK, he thinks the UK is going to be one of the world’s lifeboats while vast swathes of continental land masses (USA, Africa, Europe, etc.) will be unable to sustain life due to the flora not being able to cope with the changes.

Have you noticed how technologically advanced air fresheners have become? People spend a bloody fortune to pump chemicals into their houses’ air to make them smell nice. Whatever happened to simply opening the window and admitting the natural stuff?

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Thursday 26/02/09

I don’t wish to sound churlish (yet doubtless will), but 12 die in a plane crash in the Netherlands, 4 Brits die in Afghanistan and yet we get news saturation about Cameron’s son Ivan as if his death was a national disaster and the whole country were in mourning. The Radio 4 PM programme yesterday devoted a full 20 minutes to the story and that was followed up in the national news with a similar percentage coverage. The word ‘perspective’ seems totally lacking in news editors’ lexicons these days. Oh for the days of real news, rather than this sentimental and weepy focus on ‘human interest’ stories which in reality touch and affect no-one except those at their very epicentre.

Why do people feel the need to empathise with those they don’t know and will never meet? Again, I suggest that the TV screen makes us think we intimately know the people who appear on it, when the actuality of the situation is that we really don’t. We, as a nation, are in grave danger of being unable to separate reality from illusion.

Today I am happy – both the upstairs and downstairs light switches at work are down with the landing light on.

Hay and I were discussing the OCD thing last night. She has a problem with jumble and untidiness. I have a habit of taking my socks off a night and throwing them on the floor next to the washing basket; Hay sees this as the equivalent of putting rubbish next to the rubbish bin. Given she tends to keep her work bag (those things made of raffia or wicker and are neither handbags nor shopping bags and peculiar to women – a sort of beach bag) next to the washing basket, there has been the odd occasion when one or t’other sock has accidentally fallen into her bag and she ends up toddling off to work with a dirty sock in the bottom of it, only to be discovered around lunchtime – or possibly before if it’s a particularly nasty one.

I’m trying an experiment. The 30ML bottles of nicotine e-liquid I buy are £19.99 each, which is a tad rapacious for something that’s basically glycerine with a touch of nicotine extract. I’ve therefore bought a 300ML bottle of glycerine from the chemist for £2.79, will thin it out with 100ML of water, and then use it to cut a bottle of industrial-strength nicotine fluid. That should reduce my expenditure from £20 a month to about a fiver every few months. According to a forum dedicated to addicts, glycerine also increases the ‘smoke’ level, to which I can attest.

The forum has inducted me into some innovative (and dare I say subversive) e-nomenclature. Apparently we don’t smoke e-liquid, we ‘vape’ it. I vaped almost pure glycerine last night and due to the vast quantities of ‘smoke’, the sensation was better than the normal stuff with nicotine. Purely psychological, I’m sure. I’m desperate to try out the vape nomenclature on some teenagers – they will be devastated that we oldies have a word with which they are unfamiliar. Mind you, I’m sure the average teenager is totally unhindered by an intimate knowledge of half the words in my vocabulary.

We may have hit on a problem with me vaping though. Hay has a relatively rare condition called Gilbert’s syndrome, which means her liver cannot conjugate bilirubin efficiently. That means she can easily take on the hue of the Simpsons if she doesn’t watch her diet. Now the e-liquid contains small amounts of acetaldehyde, which Gilbert’s Syndrome leaves her body unable to process efficiently. The effect of acetaldehyde build-up is exactly the same as having a hangover. Strangely enough, since I’ve been vaping the e-liquid in the caravan she’s been feeling like she’s been drinking too much, so I may be relegated to vaping outdoors.

Should Hay actually drink a little too much alcohol, rather than having breath like a wrestler’s jock strap the next day, Gilbert’s gives her breath that smells of pear drops. Another side effect of Gilbert’s is that you find it hard to put on weight, meaning you stay slim! Also, those who have it are at low risk of heart disease.

I was going to write something on Sunday about women’s increasing penchant for ridiculously high stilettos after Hay saw some editorial and adverts for these contraptions of death in the colour supplement. I forgot in the end, but a news report and accompanying video of models falling off their heels at a recent clothes show jogged my failing memory. If models, who are used to teetering around on impossibly high heels, are having problems, then it’s all going a bit too far.

Here’s just a small sample of the stuff available today, which not so long ago would only have been found in an S&M catalogue or on the feet of Victoria Beckham and Eddie Izzard. Just look at what he has on his feet in that clip. Obviously be can’t have size 11 plates of meat like mine. Mind you, they do say there’s a relationship between the size of a man’s feet and the size of his shoes… or something like that.

Speaking of Victoria; Vitoria, a Brazilian football club, blamed a fan wearing high heels for trouble on the terraces that caused panic during a derby match at home just a couple of weeks ago. Apparently a female fan who was wearing high heels lost her balance and fell on top of another fan. This then led to a domino effect, a bit like a Mexican wave, but one that ended up with some 50 odd fans being injured and having to be treated in five ambulances by four doctors and eight nurses.

Maria Cerruto, a urologist at the University of Verona, has recently done a study into high heels and discovered that they affect pelvic floor activity in women, reducing pain and improving their health. She hopes to prove that wearing heels during daily activity may reduce the need for pelvic exercises. They also, apparently, spice up your sex life. If you’re a woman or a male shoe fetishist, here’s an article about her study.

Hay is 6 feet tall and when wearing heels towers over me looking like an Amazon (a member of the legendary nation of female warriors in Greek mythology and not an American on-line sales company based in Seattle, Washington, nor indeed an inter-war British car of the same name). Her being slim and having well-shaped legs adds to the effect, although I prefer her in trousers when wearing heels – her that is, not me. When I say her legs are well-shaped, I mean they are perfectly proportioned, not that they look like the inside of a wishing well.

Research by shoe sellers indicates that women start their love affair with heels at age 12 and then migrate (usually to those hideous, lumpy, very flat and invariably grey or blue jobbies you see old ladies walking dogs [like HM the Queen] wearing) at around the age of 63.

However, exactly what is the purpose of stiletto heels? It would appear to me that women like them as they think they make them feel and look sexy. Men like them because they make women look sexy. It’s a win-win scenario all round. Stilettos alter the wearer's posture and gait, flexing the calf muscles and making the bust and buttocks more prominent – which is all very well if you don’t already look like a Hottentot or a Amazonian tribal fertility goddess, but if you do then you’re on a hiding to nothing.

Can the same be said about lingerie? Hay and some colleagues came across this advert and wondered about the psychological profile of the person it was targeting. I was simply mesmerised – or is it all an optical illusion? Is it aimed at women who aspire to looking like that, or men who would dearly love their women to look like that, but are aware that known the laws of physics in general, and gravity in particular, prevent it? The fact that the ad is in the women’s section of the Next catalogue suggests it’s targeted solely at women – but then what kind of women? I throw the floor open to my readership.

Thongs! How the hell do women find them comfortable? The mere thought of wearing one brings tears to any man’s eyes. Hay is mortified and disgusted by the state of my boxers when she washes them; a thong would be simply too much for her to bear. There are occasions when we combine a washing load with one from the Caravans and on such occasions Hay has to ensure it is she who fills the washing machine with the laundry and not her mother (for the uninitiated, the Caravans are Hayley’s parents, who live a near-normal existence in the big house next door to our caravan).

For men beyond a certain age, clothes become practical items and not something one uses to make a statement – and invariably a statement that’s at odds with observed reality. Hay has often asked me why I wear an old dust-sheet, to which the answer is that it’s comfortable and practical. I used to have a fleece that she called my security blanket; it was stained (usually with food and other bodily fluids) and full of holes, but it was comfortable and warm and served its purpose. If she threatened to take it away from me for a wash I’d be overcome with anxiety attacks – just like a child when its security blanket is removed.

We’ve not had much music of late, so it’s time for Chairman’s Choice, which this month is predominantly smooth jazz. Sit back, put a glass of something red in your paw, relax in a bubble bath (if you must and if you’re not reading this in the office), and enjoy:

Nice relaxing stuff – Zen Men
This guy is in the news having written the score for Slum Dog – AR Rahman
An old favourite - Air
Jazz at its best - The Ballistic Brothers
A smidgin of Nitin – Nitin Sawhney
Mood music - Far Away
Do you like Paris? – Chill Out Paris
One of the Chairman’s favourites - FSOL
Sexy & sultry - Lamb
More of the same – Lamb
You have to let this one run to get the groove – Nitin Sawhney
Do you like beaches? - Nookie
Let’s go French again with some more jazz – St Germain
Slow the pace down a bit – St Germain
Just to cheer you up a bit - AWB
Jazz funk – St Germain
What makes you think I like Nitin? – Nitin Sawhney
Driving music - FSOL
OK, let’s slow down a bit again with – Zen Men
And to finish – St Germain

And just because I love it – Type O Negative

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Wednesday 25/02/09

Made another slight change to the banner across the top. It’s caused by the ‘smoke’ from my e-cigar making me blink. I was horrified to discover yesterday that the e-cigarette company is no longer selling the e-cigar, maintaining there’s not much demand for the cigar version. I suspect it’s more to do with the number of returns I’ve had to send them for faulty ones. It’s a bit of a bugger, as I now have to source them from China, along with the special batteries, of which I’m currently in need of a couple. Perhaps I can persuade Hay to get me a supply when she visits China in April. I have a vague suspicion that some government busy-body is going to ban the damned things because they haven’t been tested by some authorised government agency set up to protect us from ourselves. As if I give a toss! If it means it saves me £300 a month in baccy and that I no longer have to use my Ventolin inhaler, then I couldn’t care less. We smokers are use to dicing with death in the pursuit of our vices.

Before anyone asks, yes it really is an image of me in the banner.

Missed commenting about Gail Trimble yesterday. Gail almost single handedly helped the Corpus Christi College team win the 2009 University Challenge title (that’s our version of College Bowl for the Americans amongst you). Now that’s a woman who should be a celebrity and not the dull and inarticulate Jade Goody. What a role model for women! I heartily congratulate her. She should bring out her own perfume; it could be called ‘Callidus’.

Many people (including Hay) detest Jeremy Paxman, University Challenge’s quiz master, for his aggressive interviewing style in his role as a journalist on news programmes. When between jobs I once collected and delivered his car for him, which was being serviced at the local Volvo garage in Reading where I had temporary employment. The bugger never tipped me. I do, however, like his interviewing style, along with that of John Humphrys. The comedian Graeme Garden once said that one way to improve Newsnight’s ratings would be to arm Paxman. I don’t know why he hasn’t brought out his own brand of aftershave – it would have to be called ‘Smug’.

Hay was in a London yesterday and caught sight of a cabbie reading Taxi Today Monthly, which seems a somewhat odd title. Surely Taxi Monthly would suffice, or Taxi This Month? The headline read, ‘Whitcomb Street, the truth!’

For the uninitiated, Whitcomb Street runs north-south between Shaftesbury Ave and Pall Mall and is on the western edge of London’s Chinatown. Wong Kei’s restaurant lies on the left as travelling in a southerly direction, and as any aficionado of London’s Chinese cuisine knows, you go to Wong Kei’s for very low-priced but delicious Chinese grub and to be abused by the staff, who are renowned the world over for their disdain of customers. Go there any Saturday afternoon and the place is a zoo, with waiters shouting at customers to either get on with ordering or get the @*$? Out of the place and make room for more time-conscious punters.

Desperate to know the truth of Whitcomb Street I performed some perfunctory research. The London Taxi Cab PR blog mentions “the farce of Whitcomb Street” in its final paragraph for a posting on the 11th Feb, but that made me none-the-wiser, unless there’s a Brian Rix farce in the process of being staged in the middle of Whitcomb Street, which I would agree would upset black cab drivers a bit.

Of course Alessandro Cagliostro, the 18th century Italian occultist, took apartments in Whitcomb Street when he had to flee France. There may be the remains of some strange inter-dimensional portal to the other world, which makes Whitcomb Street the London equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle, and could feasibly explain the reason why there are so many London cabs around Shaftesbury Ave, but then they inexplicably vanish when you want one to go south of the river after midnight.

I’m surprised that the cabbies’ magazine isn’t full of suggestions as to where Gordon Brown is going wrong with the economy, or what America should do in Iran. Could it be that your very own Chairman Bill is actually a frustrated London cabbie?

Are you OCD? I think I am. You know those light switches that control two lights and have a corresponding switch elsewhere to control the same two lights – for example the light switches controlling your upstairs and downstairs hall lights? How do you feel if one of the switches on a double switch control is in the up position and the other is down, but both lights are off, or both are on? Do you start running up and downstairs fiddling with the light switches to ensure each control has its switches in the same position for the same effect? Got one of these switches at work, and if the upstairs switch is down for on, then I feel uncomfortable if the downstairs one is up. I don’t actually do anything about it, but I do feel a tug from the downstairs switch to go down and harmonise the two. If you’re honest, I’ll bet you do too. The real test is whether you do anything about it.

According to a team at the Balearic University in Palma de Mallorca, a beautiful scene evokes a different response in men's brains than in women's. Photographs of natural and urban scenes were shown to volunteers who were then asked to classify each scene as beautiful or not beautiful whilst having their electrical brain activity measured. Both men and women showed increased activity in the parietal region. While this increase occurred in both hemispheres of the brain in women, it was restricted mainly to the right hemisphere in men. The researchers suggest that in early humans men tended to be hunters and thus developed mental maps based on distance and direction, while women tended to gather plant foods and thus oriented themselves by means of landmarks. This is the reason why men get into so much trouble for not recognising such fundamental landmarks as new hairdos and new clothes on women and why women remember landmarks such as birthdays and anniversaries better than men.

I heard on the news this morning that Tiger Woods is coming back into competition after having been off work for a while with a stress fracture. How the hell do you get a stress fracture when playing an old man’s game, unless you’re breaking golf clubs over your knee or having a Jade & Jack special edition golf club broken over your head?

Remember my post on Tuesday of last week about Pakistan signing a peace deal with a Taliban group that will lead to the enforcement of the Islamic Sharia law in the Swat valley? Well, I’ve done a bit of research into the chap who’s leading the drive – one Maulana Fazlullah. He does have some interesting points to support his enlightened position.

Firstly he seeks the eradication of vices such as music, dancing, TVs, CDs, computers and other video equipments by burning the electronics or the shops in which they are housed. Now I wouldn’t go so far as banning all music, just Country & Western, which is a major blight on western civilisation. If we all had to give up computers, we’d live normal lives again and actually have to meet people, which I consider a healthy thing. Banning dancing would do all men a favour, as we’re renowned for our lack of rhythm when shaking a tail feather – particularly when over 50.

Secondly he has threatened barbers who shaved their customers' beards. Again, as an inveterate beardie, I can relate to that. I’d even go so far as to say that your salary should be linked to the length of your beard.

Thirdly he has warned against girls attending schools and wants the enforcement of a complete ban on female education. Now if we were to introduce this little innovation into western society – especially at the present time – it would mean the freeing up of millions of jobs which would naturally be filled by men, thereby eliminating at a stroke mass unemployment and allowing men to come home to healthy, home-cooked dinners prepared by docile and subservient mem-sahibs.

Fourthly and lastly, he opposed an anti-polio drive in North-West Frontier Province claiming it was a conspiracy of the Jews and Christians to keep Muslims impotent. Well, that’s just paranoia. I’ve never liked polio and thought it was a stupid game played by chinless wonders and cruel to horses. However, I wouldn’t risk being beheaded by opposing him on this. You know what the Indians and Pakistanis are like with their fanaticism for ball games played with a bat – they’re almost as fanatical as the British. Did you know that the Afghans invented the game of polio, so it’s hardly surprising Faslullah is so keen on it?
Stop Press - Wong Kei's lies on the right, not the left.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Tuesday 24/02/09 - Pay Day

Caught the sleeve of ‘The Dressing Gown of Doom’ on a candle last night. It’s now known as ‘The Flaming Dressing Gown of Doom’.

Well, I have not, as yet, received any death threats concerning my thoughts on Ms Jade Goody, or rather Mrs Jade Tweed. Mind you, I like to think my readership is too genteel to consider anything more violent than a mildly disapproving message in the comments section.

Celebrity culture is an intriguing phenomenon. Because of the relentless exposure that Jade receives from the media, combined with the fact she is just ‘ordinary’ and therefore like so many people in the UK, her fans feel they know her with a greater degree of intimacy than they know their own partners or friends. This introduces a positive feedback that reinforces them to become increasingly obsessed with the minutiae of her every move. They live out their lives through her, knowing she will react in the exactly the same manner as they would. The media feeds that desire by ‘bigging her up’, as it sells newsprint and makes them a bundle. I find it totally vacuous, but nonetheless fascinating from a sociological perspective. It’s the same drive that makes millions watch soap operas or read blogs!

I wonder if Mr & Mrs Tweed will do a line of Jade & Jack golf clubs? I can imagine the marketing blurb now; “Great for teaching someone a lesson. Comes with a beautiful Burberry bag. Warning, clubs may contain traces of blood, bone and hair.”

Since lodging the 2nd planning application we’re being inundated with letters from all manner of building contractors begging us to use their services. It’s a pity the boat ain’t sold yet as we’d get a whole skyscraper construction team for a few quid. We were considering using pine for the house frame as a cost saving, but if the recession bites for much longer we’ll be able to buy green oak for next to nothing. When we went to the Herb Farm (our build template) on Saturday to check out some details, I was quite surprised to discover that its build cost was well under £60k, but that’s with no services other than electricity and no partition walls.

Obviously, our barn will not be as cluttered as this.

If you want some loose change, don’t bother going to Lloyd’s Bank. A friend’s wife, who works in a charity shop, popped into her local Lloyds bank on Saturday to change some £20 notes. The bank clerk asked whether she had an account with Lloyd’s, the answer being no as all she wanted was some change. The clerk then informed my friend’s wife that she would have to charge her for the transaction, despite it comprising nothing more complex than exchanging one form of currency for another of exactly the same value. On having the rationale queried the teller became quite aggressive and so my friend’s wife decided to visit to another bank, managing to effect the transaction there with no problem.

I hear the bank chiefs are wanting a 10% pay increase to make up for the loss in bonuses. We really are in an avaricious and materially-obsessed world, aren’t we? Have these people no shame? While not usually a fan of nationalisation, I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that the government should have selected a couple of solvent banks and a British car manufacturer or two (if there are any left) and fully nationalised them, allowing the rest to go to the wall. Our rationalised and nationalised banking and car industries would have emerged as world beaters, especially if the car manufacturer were to be given incentives to develop a range of state-of-the-art eco-friendly cars.

Hay is off to China on business for a week in April. Well, she calls it business, but for me attending a conference is translated as having a bit of a jolly. She is a bit apprehensive about the process of obtaining a visa and was perusing the Chinese Visa Application Service FAQ. One of the questions was, “I wish to organize a small acrobatic troupe to perform in China, what type of visa can I apply for?” Priceless!

She’s meant to be flying to Peking and then going on to Nanking. The original plan was to do the connection by air, but there’s talk of doing it by train (which I believe is a 10 hour journey), necessitating the party travelling with officials to prevent them seeing what they shouldn’t see (execution squads, small troupes of performing acrobats, MSG factories, hordes of old people doing silly exercises in fields, noodle harvesting, etc.). Hay wondered if the officials would use paper bags to place over their heads when entering an area that’s off-limits. She’ll have to be prepared for travelling goat or pig class.

There was an interview on the radio last night with the crew of a frigate on anti-piracy duty in the Indian Ocean. One of the officers was talking about having found a skiff showing signs of recent pirate activity. Hay and I both looked at each other quizzically and chimed in simultaneously with comments about eye patches, parrots, striped T shirts, wooden legs and lots of hook prostheses.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Monday 23/2/09

Class warfare is still alive and well in the UK! I happened upon an advert in the Sunday Times Magazine for Virgin Atlantic’s ‘Premium Economy’ service. Ain’t Premium Economy a bit of an oxymoron? Good God – whatever next? Lower Middle Class Virgin train tickets?

The ad shows three smouldering hostesses in sexy, highly impractical scarlet outfits with purple scarves, resplendent in full war paint and a gash of bright red lipstick. The male flight attendant is in a dark suit with white shirt and purple tie and is very much sidelined in the ad.

While women are manifestly able to wear a veritable rainbow of colours and able, if built like the size 8 models in the ad, to carry off anything from a D&G outfit to a potato sack, the same cannot be said of men. We simply look stupid in purple ties, especially when the shirt collar is a size and a half too large, as it invariably is when worn by anyone under the age of 30 and in an advert. Purple is the colour most associated with ginger people, who seem to have a love affair with it, yet it suits them less than any other colour known to man – or woman. We all surely remember as school kids at the swimming pool seeing the ginger-headed girl in a purple swimming costume.

The ad went on to say that Virgin’s award-winning experience may have something to do with the extra legroom or enjoying a meal served on real crockery. So does that mean that I’m going to have to risk a crazed Taliban coming at me in a threatening manner with a shard of broken plate or one of the stewardess’ rather dangerous looking stilettos?

Just realised I’ve used three expressions for the same job – stewardess, air hostess and flight attendant. I think they are all in the right chronological order too. Is the way the name has changed over the years a sign of the times?

While visiting the boat on Saturday I called in on a good friend of mine, Chris, who is a photographer. He became a friend after I did a website for him about 6 years ago while between jobs. He’s winding down his business because unless you’re called Dominic and look like a 1980s estate agent, no-one is interested in using you for wedding photography, regardless of your skill with a camera. Skill no longer seems to be valued the way it was and to get commissions you have to have done some work for a bloody Coronation Street star or be capable of transforming a fat-armed pig of a bride into Aishwarya Rai in a manner which would have you sued by the Advertising Standards Agency if the images were to be used for marketing purposes.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Sunday 22/02/09

Yesterday I looked out of the caravan window and muttered: “I wonder what the temperature is today?” Hay replied in some quaint measurement called Fahrenheit. For all the knowledge it imparted to me, she might just as well have said: “Three shillings and fourpence ha’penny.” Unless a temperature is given to me in Centigrade I don’t relate to it. Along with feet to metres, the changeover from Fahrenheit to Centigrade was a measurement migration I made with phenomenal success. Fahrenheit has consequently lost all meaning to me, although feet still resonate.

As I remember it, water freezes at +32°F and water boils at +122°F. Where is the sense or logic in that? Apparently only the USA and Belize keep to the Fahrenheit scale of measurement. Ah – the Americans… (stand by, if you’re one of my American readers)…
  • A pint, which is an Imperial measurement (note the word Imperial), is 20 fluid ounces – but not in America, where it’s 16 fluid ounces. In most civilised countries, ‘a pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter’, but in the US they insist that ‘a pint's a pound the world around’. The Americans seem oblivious to the fact that world extends a tad further than from the east coast of the USA to the west coast of the USA.
  • A gallon is the equivalent of 4.5 litres – but not in America, where it’s 3.8 litres. Any why is that? Because America insists on 16 fluid ounces to a pint.
  • Not happy with mangling the entire Imperial liquid measure system by integrating it with the Imperial weight system, the Americans invent the dry gallon, which is 4.4 litres.

Remember the dressing gown I managed to leave at the hotel in Cornwall last weekend - the one Hay bought me for St Valentine’s Day? It arrived in the post yesterday and in the process of opening the package with a pair of scissors, Hay managed to snip off a corner. As a consequence we’ve renamed it “The Dressing Gown of Doom”. It arrived with the postman at 13 furlongs past the half hundredweight.

The government it using its Teflon tactic again. According to Professor Robin Alexander, an eminent professor of education and author of the biggest independent inquiry into primary education in England for 40 years, children in England are getting a primary education that’s too narrow because schools focus too much on maths and English. What’s the government’s response? They call it “insulting to hard working pupils and teachers everywhere and flies in the face of evidence”. Where have I heard that deflective argument before?

The statement on evidence seems itself to “fly in the face” of recent research from Manchester University which suggests that around 51 per cent of teaching time is already devoted purely to English and mathematics as teachers drill young children to pass their SATs tests. Ed Balls, the Education Minister is additionally on record as saying that the British Primary system is not “world class”.

In order to get the opinion it needs, the government is paying for yet another report, and will probably continue paying for more and more reports until such time as one materialises that supports government propaganda, using the principle that he who pays the piper calls the tune. However, my main concern is the increasing use of the tactic of shifting the blame to teachers and students and then trying to defend them by saying they’re insulted. It’s a classic strawman argument and shows how desperate the government is to deflect criticism of its own policies.

Talking of Teflon; Sir Richard Branson is considering buying the Honda Formula 1 racing team. Why is it that everyone likes Richard Branson? His trains run as late as a Puerto Rican Wednesday, yet Branson retains his Teflon image. Is it because he seems honest and is game for a laugh? Is it because he doesn’t take himself too seriously?

Home printers! When is the last time you used your home printer? When I lived on the boat I used mine at least once a week. Since moving to the caravan I haven’t used it in over a year. I do all my printing at work. Is there really a need for a home printer these days? So when was the last time you used yours?

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Saturday 21/02/09

Hey – I’ve had a good idea. Why doesn’t Jade Goody donate the money she’s getting from selling her wedding photos to cervical cancer research, or would that perhaps be a bit too altruistic? It’s not as if she hasn’t got enough money already – more than enough for her kids’ education. Or is there another motive behind this? I always get suspicious when Max Clifford gets involved and portrays vacuous and vulgar people as paragons of virtue. Will there perhaps be a miraculous recovery in the next couple of months? I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

The burning question of the day is where I can purchase Jack and Jade celebration mugs and plates. Answers to the usual address.

Talking of greed, the biggest teachers' union in England and Wales, the NUT, is calling for a 10% pay rise and says the economic downturn should not be an "excuse" for low pay rises.

Government tax receipts are in a downward spiral due to companies not selling much and staff being laid off or made redundant. The car industry, on which hundreds of thousands in the supply market rely, is calling for government aid to keep it afloat. All (except apparently teachers) are worrying about whether they will be able to weather the storm, yet teachers are talking about exorbitant pay rises. I wonder where the NUT suggests the inflation-busting pay increases are going to come from? Nurses? The police? Road sweepers? If teachers are unhappy with their pay, why don’t they do what the rest of us do in similar circumstances – get another better paid one! Or are they saying they are unemployable elsewhere?

Are you capable of making a bio-diesel catalyst? Here’s a link that allows you to mix two chemicals and see if you can create a simple bio-fuel catalyst.

I thought today I’d have a rant about the nuclear debate.

I’m an advocate of mass adoption of nuclear power. Why? Because it’s the only viable solution to the exponential growth in the need for electricity. I also happen to like big bangs.

Oil and gas stocks are fast running out and we have enough for only 20-30 years. Coal is more plentiful, with enough for maybe 290 years but, as with all fossil fuels, coal contributes to climate change and is dirty (if you don’t believe me, just try rubbing a lump of coal in your hands). Whether you believe in anthropogenic climate change or not, there’s no denying that coal pollutes. The World Health Organisation maintains that 3 million people p.a. are killed by outdoor pollution and another 1.6 million from indoor use of solid fuel – nowhere near that many die from nuclear power plant explosions. While research is going on into clean-burn coal, the stocks just aren’t large enough for a long term solution to the 5kW society (5kW being the average person’s continuous power drain, globally, in some 30-50 years time).

Renewables, like wind, solar and wave, are simply incapable of producing the vast amount of power required in the longer term. They will certainly be useful adjuncts, but with current and anticipated levels of efficiency and availability they can supply only a fraction of our needs. The other big drawback is that they are subject to weather conditions – if it’s a calm and cloudy day, you ain’t going to be able to cook your din-dins on the wind / solar powered Barbie without a battery the size of a car. Also, there’s only a finite area on which you can put wind farms and as the prime sites get used up they will have to be placed in less suitable locations – like your back yard – meaning that the law of diminishing returns will kick in. One humungous wind turbine per garden doesn’t bear thinking about, and relying on solar power in the UK is just wishful thinking.

Bio fuels are worse than fossil fuels for causing pollution, and if we want cheap food for the billions of hungry mouths the chavs are busy spewing forth, then any agricultural land is going to HAVE to be devoted to food crops.

There is an argument that nuclear power plants cost much more than conventional power plants. That’s a side issue. Once fossil fuels become fully depleted, then a pint of oil or a lump of coal will be more expensive than a Damien Hirst diamond-encrusted skull. Also, a lot of the cost is as a direct result of delays and law suits instigated by the bloody environmentalists.

How about the danger aspect of nuclear? Well, fission is certainly dangerous, or else we wouldn’t have the words ‘nuclear deterrent’, but nowhere near as dangerous in power production as it was in the 70s and 80s. Modern reactors are much safer and staff have much better training. It was said that the chief engineer of Chernobyl had about the same level of knowledge of nuclear physics as an A level student, which means none – I guess he had a multiple choice exam and relied on a bit of course-work.

How about disposal of nuclear waste? A large nuclear plant produces no more than 2 or 3 cubic metres of waste a year. Compare than with the mountains of waste from a coal-fired plant – both physical slag and gaseous carbon. The length of time nuclear waste has to be stored is controversial because there is a question of whether one should use the original ore or surrounding rock as a safe-level reference. The ding-bat anti-nuclear organisations use potting compost from your back yard as a reference, whereas more sensible people argue that geologically disposed waste can be considered safe once it is no more radioactive than the uranium ore from which it was produced, which is an eminently more sane viewpoint. We don’t create nuclear fuel ex-nihilo.; it’s a product derived from naturally occurring ores. As such it can be neutralised by bulking it out to the same level as when it was mined. Even an A level student should grasp that concept.

However, there’s one big barrier in the way of nuclear power, and that’s the fact that we only have enough fissile material stocks for another 70 or so years, and the Taliban, North Korea and Iran are trying to corner the market for themselves. The solution therefore is nuclear fusion plants. Fusion has a number of advantages:
  • The half-life of the radioisotopes produced by fusion are less than those from fission (around 50 to 100 years, rather than thousands), so that the waste inventory decreases more rapidly.
  • Nuclear fusion is nowhere near as dangerous as fission and has a much reduced capacity for catastrophic accidents.
  • The overlap with nuclear weapons technology is small.
  • Current lithium reserves would last 3000 years, lithium from sea water would last 60 million years, and a more complicated fusion process using only deuterium from sea water would provide enough fuel for 150 billion years – longer than the time to the end of the universe.

The sun is the largest fusion reactor within a few light years of our planet; unfortunately it’s a bit too far away to produce the amount of power we need to sustain our technologically advanced society (just think of the Large Hadron Collider’s electricity bill). We have to recreate lots of mini suns here on earth. Commercially viable fusion power is still a long way off, but if that is our goal, we must first grasp fission in both hands (although not literally, as you’ll die of radiation poisoning) as a stepping stone.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Friday 20/2/09

Phew – never had so many hits in one day. Richard must have invited all his mates over for a look at yesterday’s post.

There’s a BBC headline today saying ‘Agents find billionaire Stanford’. I thought the point was that he isn’t a billionaire.

Talking of money; I’ve come to the conclusion that the best thing Jade Goody can do to ensure her kids become normal, well-adjusted adults with a chance of a decent education is to arrange for them to be adopted into a loving family before she goes. Sod the money, it won’t guarantee anything, except perhaps that they will grow up to be totally spoilt or that there will be a humungous legal battle for who controls it – her husband to be, who by all accounts is somewhat dysfunctional, or the kids’ father, who doesn’t seem to figure anywhere in Goody’s plans, despite being their father, but when did that bother some women? I note Ms Goody is not above trashing the children’s father in the press at every available opportunity. Money causes more problems than it solves, and I guarantee there’s going to be trouble over custody (of the cash) the minute Ms Goody pops her clogs.

On the subject of custody; there’s a rumour going around that Alfie Patten, the 13 year-old father, has been given honorary membership of Fathers-4-Justice as he already has the Spiderman suit.

Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman, has ‘ruled out’ any ambition to replace Gordon Brown as prime minister. On a more worrying front, Gordon Brown has ‘ruled out’ speculation that he could step down to take up a new role as global financial regulator. Guardian columnist, Jackie Ashley, wrote earlier this week that German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was pushing for Brown to leave Downing Street to head a new global financial regulation body. Given the ex bank chiefs were roasted by a Labour politician last week for not having any banking qualifications, putting Brown in as the head of a global regulator without any relevant paper qualifications sounds like hypocrisy.

Back to more mundane issues. Can’t seem to shed my winter plumage. Put on half a stone or more over Christmas and Hay keeps poking me about it. Will have to resume the swimming, or have emergency liposuction. The diuretics the doctor gave me last week seem to be having a slight effect on the BP, but the greatest difference is that I no longer have to take a pee some 4 or 5 times at night. Except for possibly one deballast around 2am, I’m virtually sleeping through the night and waking up refreshed.

Did you know that Queen Victoria, Pope Leo XIII and Pope Saint Pius X were coke-heads? They drank a tonic wine called Vin Mariani, which was a cocaine infused alcoholic precursor of Coca-Cola.

Here are some pictures to make you all go – Ahhhhhh.

We pikeys (the link is for my American readers) call these creatures ‘snacks’.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Thursday 19/02/09

Today’s blog is a tribute to a good friend of mine – a friend I have never met personally, but with whom I share a number of backgrounds; we went to the same school (albeit 7 or so years apart) and both spent a significant period of our lives at sea.

Richard, with whom I first came into contact through a Yahoo e-Group I set up in 2001 for my old school’s Old Boys, occasionally posts on my Blog under the nom-de-guerre of The Irascible Fairy. He has just been told by his oncologist that he is unlikely to celebrate Christmas this year.

Richard was diagnosed with liver cancer in mid 2006. At the time he was scraping a living as a humble ship’s Master on oil rig support vessels in the North Sea; most of us Conway Old Boys ended up with a seagoing career, as defrocked ministers of religion or as habitual criminals. Occasionally one or two would become a World Cup winning England rugby team manager, or an MP (the latter occupation fitting into the habitual criminal category). Ships’ Masters are considered only slightly higher in the social scale than prostitutes and pimps when it comes to the international courts, where they are regularly tried for deliberately dumping oil into the oceans, barging into and destroying obstacles (such as bridges and jetties) or smuggling illicit substances under the noses of the excise men.

Richard understandably decided to retire on medical grounds and make the best of the time remaining to him. He started to live life in the fast lane, partaking of past-times such as high-impact flower arranging, competitive dog walking, combat cake decorating, investigative genealogy, etc. to while away his remaining time. He entered into a civil partnership with his long-term partner, Gavin, and has been subjecting himself to chemo and various other hideous therapies in an effort to squeeze a bit more life from his tortured body. A firm believer in the simple, yet classic bald look favoured by gay men and Eastern European thugs, the chemo had no effect whatsoever on his hairstyle.

When Richard joined the e-Group I had set up, no-one among the 300 odd members (none of which are under 50), was aware he was ‘that way inclined’, as it were, so to speak, to coin a phrase, not to beat about the bush. He eventually ‘came out’ on the e-Group (having already been out for a long time in real life) and managed to get 300 odd bigoted old farts to reassess the way they viewed homosexuality. He basically achieved it by being himself - which led to respect and friendship - so that once he announced his sexuality, anyone who had a problem with it had to also question the respect and friendship that had been built up – which is very hard for anyone to do as you have to question your own judgement. What he showed the homophobes was that gay people are not outrageous caricatures or perverted monsters, but ordinary people like you and I. He then engaged people in debate about homosexuality – not in an in-your-face crusading way, but politely rebutting misconceptions when they arose.

He didn’t succeed in enlightening all of them, but a goodly number now have a more reasoned outlook on personal sexuality thanks to Richard’s efforts at re-educating them. Those few who still remain bigoted at least have a healthy respect for Richard, even if they can now justify their bigotry only through religious dogma and not rational, logical argument.

Some produced the ridiculous clap-trap fallacy you invariably hear being farted from the arses of the religiously blind, namely ‘loving the sinner but hating the sin’. That’s like saying I love you as a person, but hate you for being black, female, or blue-eyed - as if being gay is something you choose after seeing all the available alternatives and not something that’s inherently part of your make-up. I dare say that a small number of the more right-wing suspected that Richard’s cancer was a punishment from God. Richard, needless to say, is atheist – at least he’s holding out and keeping the faith for the present. I keep telling him he should write a blog about his experience of cancer, but he declines.

Here’s to you Richard - let’s hope you see the New Year in, and some beyond!

Richard sent me this link yesterday, which is well worth a read.

So, if you were told tomorrow that you had terminal cancer and had a couple of years left, what would you like to achieve in that time?

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Wednesday 18/02/09

Yesterday’s post on Ronnie Biggs produced a small flurry of responses, mostly from readers across the pond. It seems we’ve come to a position where retribution has become a dirty word. What’s wrong with retribution? If someone pokes you, you poke them back – none of this turn the other cheek stuff. If the lesson isn’t learned, the poke back wasn’t hard enough in the first place and the force should be massively increased on the next transgression. That doesn’t necessarily mean to say the force has to be violent; Mahatma Ghandi used passive resistance very effectively and he didn’t roll over and ask for his tummy to be tickled by the British Raj.

I suppose that could take us, as a next step, into the realm of the death penalty. I have no problem with the death penalty as a penalty for the ultimate transgression; my problem is with the fact that the potential for a miscarriage of justice is simply too great a risk to take. What’s your view?

Talking of death; is it really news that a woman who made a total plonker of herself on a reality TV show, has not one redeeming quality and is dying from cancer is about to get married? Not content with living her life in front of a camera, Jade Goody is now going to make the ultimate reality sacrifice and die in front of the cameras for us. I find it all rather distasteful, but will doubtless be vilified as a heretic for thinking such a thing about someone who has inexplicably become a national treasure, an icon and role model for millions of chavs. No wonder we have so many dysfunctional families.

Pundits are lauding her for ‘doing it for her children’. Does that make her any different from any other parent on the planet? Isn’t that what parents the world over do every day – do the best for their children (well, most of them)? I thought it was a parent’s prime directive until their kids are capable of looking after themselves? Given the men in her lives and that the chap she’s marring is not the children’s father, I wonder if the kids will ever see the money – and more importantly, whether it will do them any good if they do.

Moving on, but taking with us the subject of parents; the Advertising Standards Authority has upheld 552 complaints over billboards featuring the word "sex" in giant lettering. The adverts taken out by the Advanced Medical Institute (AMI) offers treatment to men with sexual problems and says, “"Want longer lasting sex?", with "sex" written in giant red letters. Complainers said they were offensive and unsuitable for public locations and caused embarrassment to parents whose children had questioned them after seeing them.

Why do people get so upset about sex? Why do parents get so embarrassed about talking to their children about sex? Could the British (and American) national prudishness be one of the prime reasons we have such phenomenally high teenage pregnancy rates as compared to the continent? The ads were on billboards in London, a city of some 7 million people. I find it incredulous that 500 odd complaints from a population of 7 million are enough to force a premature withdrawal – if you’ll pardon the expression.

Returning to reality TV; why can’t our politicians behave like this, and this, and this? Now that’s what I really call reality TV – primarily because it is actually real and not contrived.

Celebrity chefs are apparently feeling the pinch and are closing down restaurants as if they were car factories. It’s probably because what with money being tight, punters are getting a bit more discerning and would rather eat a meal actually cooked by a celeb chef than one cooked by an underling at a restaurant the celeb chef probably hasn’t stepped foot in for over a year – especially if they’re paying as if the celeb chef personally cooked it.

Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG, T-Mobile, Orange, 3, AT&T and Vodafone have all backed plans to introduce a universal mobile phone charger. The interface they’ve settled on is the micro-USB. It’s strange they’ve chosen an interface that very few, if any, support today. If I remember correctly, my Motorola (which I gave up on due to its execrable charge retention) is the only one with a micro-USB, so if you have several mobiles (I have 3) you’re going to have to buy new ones to take advantage of the development. Neat ploy – but a move in the right direction at a time when manufacturing is crashing through the floor.

Yesterday I was given instruction in how to operate the new video conferencing system installed in our office. VOOOOOOM - straight over my head. It’s like asking me to programme a new video recorder; not a chance. We have 18 office locations around the UK and only 2 of them have the system - our office and HQ. I somehow think I won’t be using it that much – thank God.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Tuesday 17/02/09

Serious subjects today.

Pakistan has signed a peace deal with a Taliban group that will lead to the enforcement of the Islamic Sharia law in the Swat valley. Chief Minister of North West Frontier Province, Ameer Hussain Hoti, said that the agreement had not been made under pressure from anyone and it was reached after realisation that it was the will of the people.

It seems to me that the ‘will of the people’ was ensured by Taliban-sanctioned beheadings and the destruction of hundreds of schools where girls could get an education.

Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train Robber, should be released from prison to be allowed to "die with dignity", a penal campaigner has said. Biggs's son has also called for his father to be freed. Biggs’ son has called on the Home Office to show compassion. He said: "My father is a very sick man who will be 80 this year. Why don't they just show some compassion and free him so he can be with his family. Why waste taxpayers' money now? My dad isn't a danger to anyone."

Ronnie Biggs has not served his full sentence and has some 20 years left to do. In 2001 Biggs returned to Britain to receive, at tax payer’s expense, medical treatment he could no longer afford in Rio. Biggs has cocked a snook at the British legal system for decades. Biggs’ son does not seem able to weigh Biggs’ remaining threat to society (which is virtually non-existent) against society’s need to extract retribution for crimes committed (which is huge). Using Biggs junior’s logic, any convicted criminal who escapes, decamps to warmer climes and then returns when he is no longer a physical threat and requires medical treatment he can’t afford deserves the right to die with dignity and not be thrown into the clink. Does Biggs deserve to die with dignity? I make no judgement and merely ask the question.

A Royal Navy nuclear submarine was involved in a collision with a French nuclear sub in the middle of the Atlantic. The MoD insisted nuclear security had not been breached. Both the UK and France have insisted there was no danger of a nuclear incident. CND described the reported collision as a nuclear nightmare of the highest order. CND chair Kate Hudson said: "The collision of two submarines, both with nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons onboard, could have released vast amounts of radiation and scattered scores of nuclear warheads across the seabed." The fact is that it didn’t and comments like these are unhelpful, to say the least. If two fully laden tankers collided the potential devastation would be far greater, as oil doesn’t sink.

Nuclear powered vessels have been plying the oceans since the early 60s. The German-built Otto Hahn sailed some 650,000 nautical miles on 126 voyages in 10 years without a technical hitch. She travelled 250k miles on just 22kg of nuclear fuel – and that was not the highly enriched stuff they use today. A nuclear sub can operate for 13 years on the amount of nuclear fuel contained in a waste-paper basket. While there have been no western incidents of nuclear leaks from atomic vessels, the Russians have had some 16, a handful sinking with the complete complement of crew and warheads that still lie today where they sank. They don’t seem to have caused a catastrophe though.

On the other hand, consider all the oil spills that have occurred since the 60s and the devastating effect they had on marine life – not to mention the millions of tonnes of carbon released from conventional marine diesel propulsion. I think CND needs to come up with a scientifically analysed risk assessment before making wild and unsubstantiated claims about the safety of nuclear marine propulsion. The Friends of the Earth are probably on the same side of the fence as CND on this one; they don’t want nuclear propulsion and yet they don’t want fossil fuel propulsion either. It’s all very well nay-saying, but what is their proposed solution? Back to the stone age chaps!

Returning to the submarines in question – the thing about subs is that they need to be designed to be totally silent. Given the foregoing and the fact that they can thus only use very sensitive hydrophones to listen for other craft (unless they want to advertise their positions with sonar), it’s hardly surprising that two submarines in close proximity can collide. If nothing else it shows the bloody things do what it says on the tin!

Here’s an extremely amusing YouTube vid of an interview with Admiral Sir George Parr (John Bird) about HMS Prince of Wales.

Have you noticed how journalists are constantly asking politicians whether they would rule out certain actions and when the politicians, quite justifiably, refuse to rule out anything (based on the simple premise that uncertainty means you have to leave all options open), the item that’s not ruled out becomes, in the eyes of the media, a virtual certainty and transforms into the story of the day. Headline news in 3 different papers - Prime Minister does not rule out a tax rise; Prime Minister does not rule out a tax breaks; Prime Minister does not rule out leaving taxes just where they are for the time being.

Saw an advert on TV last night for a programme about babies. The ad contained a shot of a parent changing a baby’s nappy, however the baby’s bum was fuzzed out. I couldn’t believe it. Of course I forgot that there’s a paedophile around every corner, isn’t there?

Monday, 16 February 2009

Monday 16/02/09

Spring has arrived! Spotted this is Truro yesterday:

A camellia in full bloom.

Not had time to write today, so instead I commend a coupe of items to you.

Firstly I commend this article by James Lovelock. It’s an extremely coherent and forceful argument for the need to embrace nuclear power.

Secondly I commend this Ali G video, which despite me not really liking the Ali G character that much, is nonetheless hilarious.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Sunday 15/02/09

Why don’t chocolate manufacturers produce chocolate hearts that look like the real thing? All lumpy, covered in blue and red arteries and encased in a latticework of fat. All that would be needed is a little vegetable dye. Imaging your Valentine’s reaction on opening one.

Been thinking about Geert Wilders’ desire to have the Qur’an banned. I heard something on the radio yesterday that Khomeini’s fatwā of death against Salman Rudhdie is now 20 years old and has never been rescinded. In fact it was reaffirmed in 2005 by Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While scholars are of the opinion that a fatwā is binding only on its author, I have nevertheless reached the conclusion that any religion having the fatwā of death in its armoury is basically incompatible with western democracy.

I was listening to some farming programme on the radio while driving down to Cornwall yesterday. Did you know that lambs are currently fetching £45 on the market, yet they cost farmers £60 to rear. So if a ewe produces a lamb this spring, the farmer immediately loses himself £15. If he’s really unlucky his ewe might produce two lambs, losing him £30. It’s a sobering thought that a British farmer is financially better off not allowing his sheep to reproduce at all.

I also learned that you can get a stewardship subsidy for having a donkey paddock, without even needing to have a donkey on it. Given we have the field, I think I’ll investigate that little earner in more depth.

Called in at a service station that had Dyson Airblade hand dryers (ref 11th Sept 2008 post), and I have to say I’m very impressed. Less than 10 seconds and your hands are perfectly dry – but much thinner.

All the nation’s favourite busy-bodies – Iain Duncan-Smith, Anne Widdecombe, etc - are up in arms about Alfie Patten becoming a father at the age of 13 and how it’s a symptom of ‘moral anarchy’ and imploding social values across the entire country. For God’s sake – you can’t generalise from an isolated incident. The whole country is not going to hell in a handcart because one kid becomes a father. Teenage pregnancies were de-rigueur less than a century ago, as kids got married virtually the minute they left school at 16 (or earlier). Putting off parenthood till becoming a pensioner is a phenomenon that only started in last 20 years.

Have you noticed how TV channels are playing with our TVs volume levels? The sound is turned up temporarily when the adverts come on, as well as when news programmes give us a reprise of the headlines.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Saturday 14/02/09

Anyone notice the deliberate mistake yesterday? Didn’t have a Friday the 13th. For some inexplicable and subliminal reason I listed it as Friday 12/02/09.

Valentine’s Day! Hay received a bottle of Piper Heidsieck and a card, while I got a dressing gown and a bar of Green & Black’s Maya Gold chocolate, plus an ear-bashing for spending 20 quid on her. Never again! You simply can’t win with women. You’re damned if you don’t and you’re damned if you do - it’s a paradox of life.

Went to the doctor again with the results of my blood pressure log. She put me on a diuretic to help take the BP down a 20 or so points. While waiting to have the prescription made up at the chemist, I espied something on the shelves called a ‘breast inspection glove’. Why the hell would a woman need a glove to inspect her own breasts? Answers on a postcard. Is there a testicular glove?

This Geert Wilders thing is getting a bit out of hand. He wants to ban the Qur’an due to fanatical Islamists taking excerpts from it to justify their terrorist sidelines. Well, on that basis he should also campaign for the Bible to be banned – well, certainly the Old Testament.

If you’re going to campaign for a book to be banned because certain extracts can be used to justify some antisocial act, then you’d have to ban just about every book in existence. Even Rupert The Bear annuals could be considered subversive due to manner in which animals are cruelly dressed up in clothes. Stoats get a very bad press in Wind In The Willows and I’m sure that at this very minute there is a cell of fanatic stoats somewhere in the UK waving copies of WITW above their heads, plotting to hack a badger’s head off and create havoc by blowing themselves up in mole borrows.

When all’s said and done, the Qur’an and the Bible are primarily works of poetic fiction on par with Homer. As such they can be no more legitimately used as justification for extremism than Mein Kampf, The Thoughts of Chairman Mao or the Conservative Party Manifesto.

On the other hand, why are we becoming increasingly offended by everything? There’s no such thing as a right to not be offended.

Professor Adrian Smith, Director General of Science and Research at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, has apologised for criticising the new Diplomas as "schizophrenic" and saying the government should first aim to get GCSEs and A-levels right. He said: "If you ask a lot of scientists, chemists and engineers what turned them on in the first place, I am afraid it was things like making bombs. We need more explosions in schools." Mmm – we’ve obviously got to ban chemistry books, but I do like his sentiments.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Friday 12/02/09

It’s Friday the 13th. Also, if you add the 2 and the 9 from 2009 and add the number of zeros, you also arrive at 13. Spooky (cue the theme to The Twilight Zone)!

The Domino's pizza franchise chain has given the go-ahead for a halal-only outlet in Hall Green, Birmingham, where a large proportion of the population is Muslim. Some customers have claimed the new policy discriminates against non-Muslims.

My first reaction on hearing of the complaints was to think they should get a life – if you want a pizza with pork just go to another outlet. However, on reflection there is an argument that says Domino’s is a recognised brand and with that brand comes a certain expectation of what you can buy there – it’s what branding is all about. To arrive and suddenly discover you can only get halal spicy beef sausage, roast tandoori chicken, halal pepperoni and halal cured turkey detracts from the brand experience and what Domino’s is trying to communicate through its brand strategy.

You should be able to visit any one of the thousands of Domino’s outlets and know exactly what they sell and how awful it is. Fine – have a tasty halal-only variant, but for God’s sake don’t call it Domino’s. It’s like going into a Travel Lodge and discovering your bed is comfy and someone has remembered to restock your tea tray with teabags AND sugar; like discovering that your local metropolitan Post Office doesn’t have a queue that takes 45 minutes to get to the front of; that H Samuel’s sells tasteful jewellery – it’s simply not what you’ve come to expect from the brand. Trust me – I’m a marketing expert.

Yesterday, during a moment of ennui, I continued my skimming of other people’s blogs. Don’t women bloggers twitter? With a few notable exceptions, they twitter on about nothing of any consequence whatsoever, yet receive literally thousands of comments in response telling them how clever, witty and beautiful they are. Their sole contribution to the blogosphere for that day may be a picture of a kid having a crap on a potty, or their dog asleep, yet the response is positively effusive and gushing with praise for its artistic merit. I find it incomprehensible. Women seem intellectually impressed by the most mundane and banal trivia about which they simply feel compelled to post a comment of appreciation and start engaging in mutual back-slapping. Men, on the other hand, rarely say a bloody word, lurk in the background like sullen Neanderthals and give the odd sign of grudging recognition when badgered to within an inch of their lives.

One woman whose blog I alighted on and had a vocabulary substantially greater than the average twitterer, had done a psychological profile of women on the basis of the vast variety of handbags they are able to purchase. I can’t do that for men – we have one kind of wallet, and despite a huge variety of possible colours (black or brown) and a vast diversity of leathers (calf or pig), they basically all look alarmingly identical to the example below. Come on - if you have a wallet that’s substantially different from the template above, own up! When all’s said and done, the standard design serves the purpose of virtually every man on the planet (except possibly the French and the Italians, who sport man-bags); it holds notes, it holds credit cards, it holds photos of your kids and at a push you can put a condom or two in one of the pockets in case you strike lucky. What other function could you possibly want a wallet to perform? Adornment is superfluous as the damned thing is sitting in your hip pocket or inside jacket pocket for 99.9% of the time.

Hay corrected the error in my observation above by pointing out that young surfer dudes and students would not be seen dead with an old bloke leather wallet, preferring instead a multi-coloured, hi-viz Gortex device with zips, Velcro and emblazoned with subversive logos and used to store their plaited wrist bands, ecstasy tabs, 20,000 Turkish Lira note and student railcards.

Tomorrow is St Valentine’s Day. I thought I’d just remind the men among my readership so they can rush out at lunchtime to get a card and avoid the icy stares for the remainder of the weekend. I’m not even going to be around for it – buggering off to Cornwall to see one of my sons at sparrow’s fart tomorrow and won’t be back till Sunday evening. Got the card earlier in the week, but it took me ages to find one under two quid. Will arrange this evening for something vaguely alcoholic and fizzy to be discovered in the fridge on the morrow. Called in on two florists yesterday evening but was horrified at the prices they’re charging - I object to being ripped off just because it’s Valentine’s Day. £50 buys you what on any other day of the week would cost half that, added to which the caravan is so warm with the wood burner that flowers would last a pico-second before wilting. No – a good bottle of fizz is much better value for money and something I know Hay will appreciate more.

St Val seems to be a bit of a strange cove in that no bugger actually knows who he was. The Catholics, who are generally acknowledged as the keepers of the saints, recognised some 11 St Valentines, not one of which seems to have had anything to do with cards, flowers or the 14th of February, but everything to do with gruesome deaths as martyrs. Most of these so-called martyrs were topped for no other reason than the fact they were rabble rousers and thoroughly nasty people who went around telling everyone they were sinners and condemned to hell. Not at all surprising they were martyred.

The Romans had an unusually enlightened view of religion; as long as it didn’t frighten the horses and old ladies or subvert the rule of law, you could believe in whatever deity you wanted to and all religions were tolerated in Rome. Strange then that the Christians had such a bad press; there was obviously a reason for it. Most of the supposed Roman persecution prior to Diocletian’s Great Persecution was a complete myth. Certainly there is no verified account of Christians ever being fed to lions. There was too much of a whiff of sanctimoniousness about them for them to be considered compatible with a lion’s digestive system. Diocletian simply had enough of them and got fed up to the back teeth with their meddling and constant whining about atheist chariot adverts.

Iggy Pop! Insurance advert! The words ‘sold out’ come to mind. He’s the last person I thought I’d ever see in an advert for car insurance. It’s unthinkable and utterly preposterous – a bit like the thought of ……… oh, let’s think of the most improbable things ever – say the image of the chamois-leather-faced, flaxen-haired rock God, Robert Plant, singing a duet with MoR, easy-listening jazz-strumpet, Alison Kraus, or parka wearing uber-mod, Roger Daltry opening a trout farm, or glittery, platform wearing Noddy Holder allowing his voice to be used for the lift announcements at the Walsall New Art Gallery - something that simply could never happen in a month of Sundays.

My God, that was a long sentence.

Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician calling for free speech while simultaneously calling for the banning of the Qur’an. Sounds like a logical paradox. I think we have to realise that in an era when cultures are being thrown together, free speech has to take an equal position with tolerance. However, tolerance should not become the altar on which the right to criticise is sacrificed. There can be no such thing as unfettered free speech. Similarly there should be no such thing as total censorship. However, I see no justification for Zillog (see Wednesday’s post) having Wilders deported. Could it have been due to him wearing clogs and eating lots of cheese.

I’m going to give you a kōan to contemplate:

If you have ice cream I will give you some. If you have no ice cream I will take it away from you.

It’s called the ice cream kōan.

It’s Friday the 13th. Also, if you add the 2 and the 9 from 2009 and add the number of zeros, you also arrive at 13. Spooky (cue the theme to The Twilight Zone)! I’m thinking of giving up blogging and becoming a vegetarian mystic. Comments to the usual address.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Thursday 12/02/09

My elder daughter, who lives in Accrington (Huncoat, to be precise), has announced her intention to marry her new boyfriend in 2011. With well over 2 years to prepare for the wedding, she’s now busy scurrying around and organising everything as if it were happening next weekend – bless her. Her intended sent Hay a text saying she’d be his mother-in-law, which made him as popular with her as Carol Thatcher is at the BBC. He sent me a text the other day spelling my daughter’s surname incorrectly! I suggested they just live together, as she would be giving up a beautiful and exotic foreign surname like Van Bergen for McTavish – a name only found in jokes about Scotland.

Given I’m trying to build a house before I retire, while simultaneously shelling out 20% of my salary in maintenance for my two young boys, my daughter and her intended will have to take on the bulk of the wedding cost (as you’d naturally expect 30-somethings to do anyway), which will mean cutting corners.

I suggested to Hay that we could make it a double celebration by getting married at the same time, thereby saving both couples some money. She alerted me to the fatal drawback that we’d have to get married ‘oop north’ and she wasn’t too enamoured with eating lard butties, black pudding, Wigan kebabs (3 pies on a stick), sad cake (a variety of Chorley cake peculiar to the East Lancs mill towns) and Manchester tart as a wedding feast. It’s also a bit difficult getting hold of white wedding clogs in t’ namby-pamby south - although there is a rumour that there’s a chap in Black Pockrington who does mail-order.

Just a quick aside: Police cordoned off Liverpool City Centre this morning when a suspicious object was discovered in a car. It later turned out to be a tax disc.

Talking of Manchester tart and mothers-in-law, did you realise that Pat Phoenix of Coronation Street fame (Elsie Tanner) was Tony Blair’s mother-in-law for a few days? Tony Booth, Cherie’s father, married Pat just a couple of days before she died of cancer.

It’s amazing how the mind flows and makes connections, ain’t it? Let’s go with the flow and see where on the road to perdition leads.

Pat Phoenix’s original surname name was Pilkington – a name synonymous with St Helens and glass. Pilkington is the UK’s largest manufacturer of glass and has recently developed a self-cleaning glass called Pilkington Activ. Just a bit of useless information, but handy if you’re considering building a house in the near future, as I am.

St Helens brings us to St Helen – a.k.a. St Helena of Constantinople, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine The Great, and probably the cause of him converting to Christianity (but not till he was on his deathbed).

Constantine is one of the most surprising Christian heroes in the entire Christian tradition. He is, first of all, a successful general. He is also the son of a successful general, and at the head of the army of the Western Empire, and he's fighting another successful general, struggling for who is going to be at the top of the heap of the very higher echelons of Roman government.

As an army man, he was undoubtedly a worshiper of Mithras, although it has been suggested his mother was a Christian well before his conversion. What happens is that in 312 AD Constantine has a vision. Luckily for the Church, there's a bishop nearby to interpret what the vision means. Constantine ends not converting, technically, to Christianity, but becoming a patron of one particular branch of the church. It happens to be the branch of the church that has the Old Testament as well as the New Testament as part of its canon, which means that since this branch of Christianity includes the story about historical Israel as part of its own redemptive history, it has an entire language for articulating the relationship of government and piety. It has the model of King David and it has the model of the kings of Israel, and with this governmental model the bishop explains Constantine’s vision. Constantine becomes the embodiment of the righteous King, and once he consolidates his power by conquering, eventually, not only the west, but also the Greek east, where there are many more Christians concentrated in the cities, which are the social power packets of this culture, he is in this amazing position of having a theology of government that he can use to consolidate his own secular power. It worked both ways; the bishops now basically had federal funding to have sponsored committee meetings so they could try to iron out creeds and get everybody to sign up, as heretofore the myriad sects had been engaged in interminable squabbling as to which was orthodox and which heretical.

Despite converting the Roman world to Christianity, Constantine himself remained a pagan until the last few days of his life. Some thought it was to enable him to commit as many sins as possible before having them all expiated on conversion.

That link neatly brings us back to that atheist bus campaign again, which seems to have spawned a plethora of copy-cat ads on behalf of various competing Christian sects and communities. Even the Orthodox crowd are getting in on the act. It won’t be long before some sect pays for an ad saying, ‘There is a God, but only our version of God. The rest are heretics and will burn in Hell forever’. I’m reminded of Jesus’ comparing his followers to a flock of sheep.

It’s a fact that, with the faintly possible exception of the Diocletianic Persecution, Christian sects have probably committed more atrocities against each other than have ever been committed on them by non-Christians; in fact I’d even go so far as saying that throughout history, the followers of the Abrahamic god in totality (including all varieties of Christians, Jews and Moslems) have, in the name of their single deity, shown less tolerance between themselves and committed more atrocities against other Abrahamic sects than has been perpetrated on them by any atheist, agnostic, pagan, Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Shintoist, Druid or vegetarian. Catholic against Protestant, Sunni against Shia, Christian against Jew, Christian against Moslem, Moslem against Jew – the list is endless. Sad, really.

I think the atheists should reply with an advert that says, ‘There definitely is no God, as if there were, this bus would have been lightning bolt fodder by now. QED!’ That should settle the question once and for all – until the bus had an accident, and then the deists will use the old post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

Christian groups have been vociferously complaining that they are indignant, mortified and grossly offended by the suggestion than their imaginary friend (the evidence for whom is no more compelling than that for the Flying Spaghetti Monster) doesn’t, on the balance of probability, exist. My message to them is to either prove conclusively that he does exist, or GET OVER IT AND GROW UP!

Where next? The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

The Flying Spaghetti Monster spawned the Pastafarians, whose tenets hold that there is an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster who created the entire universe after a bout of heavy drinking. Rather than Ten Commandments, they hold sacred the Eight I'd Really Rather You Didn'ts. The Pastafarian conclusion to prayers is the utterance of the word "RAmen", which is a portmanteau of "Amen", the Aramaic declaration of affirmation, and “Ramen”, a type of Japanese noodle. The Pastafarians believe that heaven contains beer volcanoes and a stripper factory. Their version of Hell is similar, except that the beer is stale and the strippers have sexually transmitted diseases.

Hell takes us back full circle to Hay’s apocalyptic and eschatological vision of the north – people in tack suits, eating chips and pies and hanging around boarded-up 1960s shopping centres, where the only shops that are still open are the Pound Shop, a betting shop, a chip shop and a tanning parlour / nail bar.

Before concluding I shall take a slight hellish tangent via Terry Pratchett and Neil Gamen’s hilarious book, Good Omens, which introduces the reader to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; War, Famine, Pollution (Pestilence having retired in 1936 following the discovery of penicillin), and Death. However, they have given up horses in favour of Harley Davidsons, with empty crisp packets materialising in Pollution’s wake.

I guess I’d better end my meanderings there. Perdition calls.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Wednesday 11/02/09

The interweb scammers are really getting desperate now. Here’s a spam I spotted while clearing out my Gmail spam box yesterday.


I have a new email address!
You can now email me at:
- My name is Mr. Ban Ki-Moon Secretary to (UNITED NATIONS) I would advise you to contact Mr. Jim Ovia from Zenith Bank on this E-mail ( Please send him your full name adderss and telephone numbers or call him on +234-8036956989 for your A T M CARD valued $2.2 million offered in your name. as UNITED NATIONS COMPENSATION,YOURS TRUELY.Mr. Ban Ki-Moon


It beggars belief! How could any scammer seriously expect anyone to be so gullible as to believe that the UN Secretary-General could have a name like Ban Ki-Moon? It’s obviously a made-up name. Everyone knows that they select only people with sensible names as Secretaries General of the UN – like Boutros Boutros-Ghali and U Thant.

Had some recruitment franchise operator send me an e-mail yesterday asking if I wanted to be a franchisee recruitment consultant. Here we are in the midst of a recession and the largest number of redundancies since The Flood left no-one except Noah and his sons in gainful employment (and even then on a 2 day week due to the wrong kind of rain), and some idiot has the gall to ask if I want to pay them money to become a recruiter! Mind you, if you want to get in on the ground level, then I suppose now’s the time – providing you can afford to wait a couple of years for the market to pick up. Same with being an estate agent.

The company I work for has recently initiated a cost cutting exercise. For the IT department this has manifested itself as printer settings being such that the default is printing double sided. The objective of saving some trees by using less paper is eminently laudable; however, the Law of Unintended Consequences has resulted in hundreds of people chucking thousands of letters into the recycling bin because they have been inadvertently printed double sided. Unless you’re writing a book, double-sided is a positive nuisance.

UFOlogists have been dealt a bitter blow. Remember the wind turbine I commented on (January 9th), well scientists say it was metal fatigue and not a UFO colliding with it that caused it to fall apart. They would say that though, wouldn’t they? It’s definitely a cover-up. I’m convinced aliens have been operating among us for decades, posing as Labour MPs. It was probably Jacqui Smith (or Zillog as she is known in the Cabinet) who collided with it when returning from her all-expenses-paid 3rd home on Tau Ceti 3.

Did you hear the Treasury Select Committee questioning the chairmen and CEOs of HBOS, RBS, etc? My God, MPs can sound so bloody patronising, supercilious, arrogant, overbearing, conceited, insolent and holier-than-thou, all at the same time! They were asked by one MP whether they had any banking qualifications, which they don’t, but there again do MPs generally have a qualification in politics? Gordon Brown, our leader, has a PhD in history. Alistair Darling, our economist, has a degree in law. John McFall, the chair of the Treasury Select Committee has a degree in chemistry, an MBA and a BA in education. Talk about pot calling kettle non-reflective. I may not be particularly enamoured of bankers at present, but MPs are sure guaranteed to get my back up with their arrogance. I wonder how the members of the Treasury Select Committee voted on MP’s expenses being made more transparent. They probably want them so transparent as to be invisible.

Remember when Dr David Kelly was hung out to dry by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee? I’ve never seen someone shown such disrespect, except by a teenager. The MP who really rattled Kelly, Andrew MacKinlay (an odious little rat), had a lot to answer for, but will never be brought to book. Here’s an extract from his Wiki page: “On 28 June 2008 he was reported by Mail Online to have received a warning from Downing Street after MI5 discovered that he was holding meetings with a suspected Russian spy Alexander Polyakov, officially a counsellor at the Russian Embassy in London; it was also claimed that MacKinlay had been targeted by aides of Russia's richest man, Oleg Deripaska, as a 'stooge' for use in a High Court battle.” His constituency page neglects to mention that, or the Kelly affair.

Did you know that the knife with which David Kelly was meant to have committed suicide had no fingerprints on it?

I’m always interested in seeing the demographics of my readership. Take a look at the Feedjit map and see if you can ID yourself (double click anywhere on the map to zoom in). Until yesterday you could see my friend in Twatt, however he‘s fallen off the database now.