Friday, 31 December 2010

Surrogate Track Suits


There’s something about the Elton John and David Furnish surrogate baby story that I find extremely distasteful.

Perhaps it’s the offensive picture of an elderly, paunchy man with a hair transplant dressed in a track suit – especially when wearing black shoes. Obviously he’s just given up caring how he looks.

There’s another aspect to this that’s disturbing; Sir Elton (at 63) is eminently young enough to be a father, but David (at 48) is obviously too old to be a mother. It just ain’t natural.

Got the 2nd refund from eBay for the other APad I bought but was never dispatched. Not sure how they will get the cash back from the absconding Glaswegian seller, but that’s their problem. The seller had an unblemished 3 year record of voluminous sales of trinkets, but I suspect his recent entry into the APad market was a tad too much for him and he must have had a few recalls. Ended up paying substantially more and obtaining one from Maplins. The lesson about buying electronics via ebay has been well learned.


Thursday, 30 December 2010

A Full Hand of Overheards


Overheard while unwrapping Xmas presents:

Hayley: “I’ve bought you T-shirt. It’s slim-fit, but I can send it back.”

Overheard while unwrapping Xmas presents:

Hayley: “It’s a packet of stem ginger biscuits.”

Chairman: “Yes, but under the right circumstances, they can become any ginger biscuit.”

Hayley: “Ah, by stem ginger they obviously mean undifferentiated ginger.”


Overheard while the Chairman is emptying the ashes from the wood burner:

Chairman: “Have you seen the fire mit?”

Hayley: “You are joking, aren’t you?”

Chairman (after suddenly seeing the glove materialise right in front of his eyes): “It was camouflaged.”

Hayley: “What as? A fire mit?”


Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Psychohistory


A quote from the BBC news website:

“An international group of scientists is aiming to create a simulator that can replicate everything happening on Earth - from global weather patterns and the spread of diseases to international financial transactions or congestion on Milton Keynes' roads…..”

“….It will only be possible by bringing together social scientists and computer scientists and engineers to establish the rules that will define how the simulator operates.”

Well, if it’s going to be realistic, it’s going to have to incorporate a simulation of the simulator itself. Ever read Isaac Azimov’s Foundation trilogy (which later became a series)? A mathematician called Hari Seldon developed a statistically predictive, mathematic modelling technology called psychohistory, which could predict the actions of suitably large populations, such as those on an entire galaxy. However, it would only work without the subject population knowing it was being subject to predictive simulation.

Can’t ever see an earth simulator being of the slightest bit of use, as social science is anything but a science; the very term social scientist is an oxymoron. Furthermore, a computer that could simulate the entire earth would need to be as large as the earth itself to be capable of any meaningfully predictive calculations, and even then the earth is too chaotic and complex to be modelled as small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) will yield widely diverging outcomes, rendering long-term prediction virtually impossible.

I was looking or some cereal for No.1 son the other day and he forced my eye to alight on a box of chocolate Weetabix. The packet screamed out the fact that there was less salt, less fat and half the sugar. Now I thought it rather strange that something loaded with chocolate, which itself has more sugar than something with a lot of sugar, can have half the sugar of normal Weetabix. It was only on closer inspection that I saw the small print, which read; “……than the average chocolate-based cereal product.” Seems honesty has gone completely out of the window when it comes to advertising.

Been reading about the righteous indignation expressed by some concerning the failure of airports to stay open during the recent inclement weather and the demands that they be fined to within an inch of their livelihood because some smug, self-obsessed prat couldn’t get to his Christmas skiing holiday in St Moritz. If I had my way, anyone who left home in snowy conditions without snow chains and a shovel should be fined for the cost of their rescue if they get into trouble.

Heard something on the radio yesterday about corporate team building exercises. You can’t really call it team building when you’re thrust into a contrived situation with several people, any of which would gladly stab you in the back as soon as look at you in order to achieve advancement.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Perils of e-Bay


Well, we managed to get back from St Ives with no mishaps. The caravan had not been ransacked by thieves; however, the water pipes had frozen in our absence and we have no fresh water. The thaw has set in though and it’s just a matter of time before we discover a burst somewhere in the pipe work.

Kitty had kindly eviscerated a selection of charming wildlife in the living room, depositing the entrails all over the carpet, much to Hay’s annoyance.

Glad to be back – I’m all holidayed out. I must have put on a stone in weight and the amount of booze I drank is in grave danger of leaving me with a case of gout.

No. 1 son spent most of our holiday with old school friends in various parts of Cornwall and is now on his way to Centre Parcs in Longleat to stay with another friend over the New Year.

Well before Christmas I bought him an APad on e-Bay, primarily as a means of keeping him off my computer. It’s identical to an iPad, but several hundred pounds cheaper.

The first one I bought turned up but was not as described, being several versions out of date (Android 1.5 as opposed to version 2.1). I returned it and had to raise a dispute through e-Bay as the seller went to ground and didn’t respond to any of my e-mails. I won that one and got a full refund, less the cost of postage back to the seller.

The second one was supposedly despatched from Glasgow well in time for Christmas, but when the seller disappeared from e-Bay within 24 hours of saying it had been sent I got a bit suspicious. It still hasn’t arrived and I lodged yet another dispute through e-Bay.

Never again will I buy anything electronic through e-Bay.


Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas


Still stranded in Cornwall by the weather. As you can see, the beaches are impassable.


No. 1 son has been staying for a few days with an old school friend in Cape Cornwall. Picked him up yesterday from the last house on the right before America.


The place was a derelict wreck until a few years ago. It’s since had a complete renovation to the original specification, plus the installation of geothermal heating. Learned a thing or two about under-floor heating and wooden floors. Major re-think ahead when we get home.

There was a news story yesterday about a Cornwall PC who retired after 40 years on the beat. It shows how little news there is when ‘man retires’ becomes a major news item. I wouldn’t mind, but he retired aged 60, which is well before you or I will retire. I suppose it’s a miracle he hadn’t retired much earlier on full pension due to some trumped up health reason. It’s even more miraculous that he never got above PC in 40 years’ service.

Here’s something to ponder the next time you’re caught in a traffic jam; you’re actually part of the problem, so stop complaining!

May I wish a Merry Christmas to anyone out there taking the trouble to read this.


Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Black Rock, St Ives


Overheard in the rented house:

Hay: “There’s a recipe on the wrapping of that goose.”

Chairman: “For what?”

Hay: “Roast goose! What did you think it would be a recipe for - mushroom soup?”

We bought the last goose in the shop yesterday. Talking of which, I understand there’s concern that supermarkets are getting too powerful. In their defence, the supermarkets say they provide jobs. So what do independent retailers provide? Scotch mist? If the raison d’être of supermarkets is ‘benefits of scale’ and thus lower priced food, then it stands to reason that they must provide fewer jobs than independent retailers selling the equivalent volume of produce. Methinks they’re clutching at straws using this argument, but I haven’t heard anyone in the news media challenging it.

Talking of food; some of these celebrity chefs really are prostitutes and will sell their reputation for a farthing. The house we’re renting has some Anthony Worrall-Thompson pans - the handles heat up and burn you, as do the handles on the lids. Utter waste of money, if you ask me.

I think it’s restaurant review time again – The Black Rock in St Ives. For quality of food, this little gem is simply the best restaurant we have visited this year.

We noticed The Black Rock tucked up a side street in St Ives about a year ago (it was previously a kitchen utensil emporium), but never visited, preferring to stick with the tried and trusted Café Pasta or the Alba. We were finally tempted this week by the offer of two courses for £14.95, or three for £17.95 – a theme currently familiar across all the restaurants in St Ives, which I suspect are suffering not only from the recession, but also the fact that St Ives is devoid of visitors due to the inclement weather elsewhere (one revered establishment, the Pedn Olva Hotel, is serving Trubute beer for £1 per pint, which is an absolute steal).

The black and silver wallpaper unfortunately makes the place feel like a bordello, while the lighting is woefully inadequate, due mainly to the black wallpaper and the black slate floor sucking in what little light is available like a black hole. A few spotlights over the tables would make it less redolent of a crypt.

On being seated the waitress lit the tea light at our table, but not those at the other tables, which would have given the place a cosy glow and helped to alleviate the feeling that we were sat in a Birds Eye cold store. Yes, it was a little chilly.

There are four starters and four main courses as standard – all sounding exceptionally delicious and making a choice very difficult. The waitress was professional (for a pleasant change), letting us know what was off the menu (but replaced) and what the soup of the day was without being asked.

A good selection of wines are on offer; I went for my favourite tipple of a Malbec, being the cheapest red on the list at £14.95. It was so good we ended up having two bottles (I have yet to come across a bad Malbec). The cheapest wine on the list is invariably good in most restaurants and I object to paying shed-loads of money for indifferent, yet highly priced wines that come from estates with large marketing budgets that have to be recouped.

Hay chose a ham and beetroot terrine with a herb butter and home-made bread and chutney as her starter. I went for white bean coquettes with a garlic sauce. A complimentary board of the most delicious, warm and crispy home-baked bread was provided for us both. Both starters were what we could only describe as superb.

Hay’s main course was a fillet of pollock on bacon and celeriac risotto with shredded celeriac garnish, which she pronounced ecstatic. Mine was slow-cooked pork belly with bean stew and cavalo nero cabbage. Hadn’t heard of cavalo nero before, but it looks like a very dark savoy crossed with spinach. The pork fat was fully rendered down, the meat beautifully tender and the skin crisped to perfection. Again – absolutely fantastic food of exceptional quality. Neither of us could fault the food in any way whatsoever and it was easily one of the best restaurant meals we had ever tasted.

I was tempted by a trio of ice-creams for dessert, comprising vanilla, mixed spice and cardamom – an interesting combination of flavours which I found most pleasing to the taste.

All in all we paid £70 (including tip) and found the experience memorable – despite the lack of mood lighting and the place being a tad chilly. Highly recommended if you’re in the area.

Here’s a parting thought. Bomb! Nice word and accurately descriptive. So why have we started calling bombs ‘improvised explosive devices’ since the kerfuffle in Afghanistan and Iraq? Management jargon, that’s why. In Northern Ireland they were always called bombs – sometimes the journalists became a bit more descriptive by inserting the words ‘car’ or ‘nail’ in front, but they were still bombs.


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Positively Tropical


Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has been caught articulating what every bugger in the country would like to do to Rupert Murdoch. The only thing he didn’t say, and which we would all like him to, was that he was going to kick Murdoch where it hurts.

At least the Royal Institution Christmas lectures have returned to the BBC – albeit on a channel called BBC 4 and at 8pm. I used to look forward to settling down with the kids at lunchtime every day over the holiday period and watching the lectures – one of the few programmes on TV that teaches kids anything useful.

Getting heartily fed up with the constant diet of insuperably inane reality TV programmes comprising some dullard doing his or her crushingly boring job, a bunch of B-list celebs competing at seeing who can make the biggest idiot of themselves or a load of fame-hungry psychopaths vying for a 3 month pop career. I’m firmly of the opinion that it won’t be long before prime time TV consists of live footage from a CCTV camera outside a pub somewhere in Ilford.

Why has TV sunk this low? TV executives obviously have a very low opinion of their viewing audiences’ level of intelligence; well, either that or the vast majority of the viewing audience indeed has the intellectual capacity of a piece of toast.

Still can’t understand the furore over the weather. It’s positively tropical here in St Ives – and here are the photos from yesterday to prove it:



Monday, 20 December 2010

The Xmas Bird


I don’t know what all the fuss is about with the weather. Drove down here to St Ives on Saturday without any problems – in fact there was hardly a soul on the road – and it’s been gorgeous weather here since; chilly, but totally snow-free.

Using the phone for internet access - painfully slow.

Anyone know where I can get a flamingo for the Christmas table?


Saturday, 18 December 2010

Trout Mask Replica - But is it Art?


Off to the internet wilderness at about nine o'clock. Hope we make it. M5 seems pretty clear and the A30 has only a few incidents.

Captain Beefheart is no more.


It's strange how in the art of making music there are limits to which one can go and still call it music. Not so in the art of drawing, where it seems anything goes and the limits are boundless.

Why do you think that is?

See you in about 10 days - unless I find an internet connection in St Ives.


Friday, 17 December 2010

Peoples' Front of Judea & Drugs


Should Cage’s 4:33 get airplay, what will happen? If radio stations play more than 30 seconds of silence an automated system cuts in to fill in with muzak.

I was doing a bit of reading yesterday on Afghanistan. Some of the political factions fighting the Taliban include the following:

• Islamic Party of Afghanistan
• Islamic Movement of Afghanistan
• Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan
• National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan
• Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan

Shades of the Peoples' Front of Judea, the Judean People's Front and the Judean Popular Peoples Front?

Bob Ainsworth, an ex minister, has come out advocating the decriminalisation of drugs. Why is it that politicians and policemen only speak sense on this matter when they have left any position of power and authority? Could it be because they succumbed to illegal substances while in positions having anything to do with drugs and are now having withdrawal symptoms and want a quick fix?

Our drugs policy is not formulated by common sense or evidence, but by the ideological bigotry of a right wing press purporting to reflect the views of its readership, but actually spoon feeding ill-informed opinion to a readership lacking any semblance of critical thought processes. Phew!


Two feet of snow have been forecast – take a look.



Thursday, 16 December 2010

Let's Reorganise - Just For the Hell of it


Back to Julian Assange (just for a change); how the hell does one have sex, protected or otherwise, with someone who is asleep – unless they are blind drunk or dead? Mrs Chairman becomes fully alert if I merely grunt in the night, let alone try to surreptitiously have my evil way of her.

The US Air Force has blocked employees from visiting media websites carrying leaked WikiLeaks documents, including the New York Times and the Guardian. The Chinese must be laughing their socks off. Is this not an example of what we experts call hypocrisy?

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, is to press on with massive Health Service reforms, and as usual it is unsurprisingly against the advice of experts and the odds. Lansley himself has no experience of reforming anything whatsoever, and no experience of anything outside politics. He’s had to publicly apologise for a number of gaffes and was guilty of flipping his home in the expenses scandal – but operating ‘within the rules’, which we now all know were designed by MPs for MPs to hide their avarice from those of us who pay their wages.

Cameron rejected claims by Labour that this is a reorganisation and instead called it a reform; however, in my lexicon a massive reform is a reorganisation. There again, he is a politician and well versed in changing the established meaning of words to suit his purpose.

With regard to reorganisation I am reminded of the observation: “We trained hard ... but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralisation.”

Why don’t they just tinker with the bits that don’t work, leaving alone the vast majority that works extremely well, despite the constant interference from politicians keen to leave a lasting legacy but ending up leaving a devastating trail of destruction? Central government is intrinsically incapable of organising anything – be it a legal war or a transparent expenses system.

You know all these public consultations that the government is supposed to do? Anyone know what form they take, as you only seem to hear about them after they’ve taken place? Seems pointless really, as no matter what the public say, the government just blithely goes ahead and does whatever it wants.

Belay that! Just done a modicum on research and discovered a list of consultation sites.


Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The 4th Estate


Apparently the only newspaper Julian Assange has access to while in custody is the Daily Express. Now that alone is degrading and inhuman treatment and tantamount to torture. For those not familiar with this august organ of the 4th estate, the old saying is that Daily Express readers think the country should be run the way it used to be run 70 years ago and the country has gone to the dogs in the meantime.

Over a hundred years ago Oscar Wilde said: “At the present moment there is only one estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism.”

Much of the traditional press has given up on investigative journalism, preferring instead to, understandably, promote the partisan views of the owner – who himself may have political ambitions or want concessions from government. Today digital journalism, such as that practised by Michael Moore and Julian Assange, is the only real bastion against state abuse of democracy – without it we are powerless.

Well. I’ve done my bit in striking out against the world’s most powerful man – Simon Cowell. Bought my copy of Cage Against the Machine on Monday.

On Saturday we’re off to spend the Christmas period in St Ives, Cornwall. The place we’ve rented has no Internet connection. Wish I’d known before we committed, else I’d have asked for another cottage. By way of excuse the rental company said that there was an internet-enabled café nearby, but that’s as useful as a Royal Protection Officer is to Prince Charles when I want to watch BBC iPlayer and my laptop battery has the lifespan of a Nick Clegg promise.


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Plea Bargaining & Torture


Got my first multiple-recycled e-card yesterday; an e-card received by someone, forwarded to someone else and subsequently forwarded to a distribution list. Priceless! Also one from someone who has sent his e-card to his entire Outlook address book and had forgotten I was in it.

There’s a competition to determine what to do with the branches from the Holy Thorn Tree in Glastonbury, which was cut down last week by vandals. Hay suggested they should be shoved up the arses of the vandals, if ever they are caught.

Been thinking some more about the fact of Americans trying to do a plea bargain with Bradley Manning – the WikiLeaks leaker. It is alleged that in return for implicating Julian Assange, Manning will be offered a reduced sentence.

Plea bargaining is nothing more than a fix for a judicial system that is creaking at the seams; it avoids the need for a jury trial (something which is guaranteed in the American constitution) speeds up the entire process and reduces cost in the process. Well over 90% of American legal cases are settled by plea bargaining – which inadvertently skews conviction statistics, as people are usually convicted of a lesser crime than the one for which they were arrested.

A similar expedient to plea bargaining was instituted by the European legal systems in the middle ages for the same reasons – it was called torture to obtain a confession. It was introduced due to the system not being able to cope with the number of full jury trials that were needed and the problems associated with collecting evidence.

As a form of coercion, plea bargaining is, in all but name, the same as torture. The degree may be different, but the kind is identical – the use of state-sanctioned coercion to obtain a confession. When it is used to implicate possibly innocent individuals its use is a blatant abuse of judicial power by the state and morally reprehensible.

It is interesting to note that trials by combat and ordeal were introduced as a means of making God the judge of legal cases, for it was argued that God was not only infallible, but would not allow an innocent person to be found guilty. Obviously those who developed this innovative method of legal arbitration had never read their Roman history and the story of the lions and the Christians – or indeed the biblical story of Jesus himself, who set a bit of a precedent.


Monday, 13 December 2010

Isolation


It is alleged that the Duchess of Cornwall ‘had contact’ with a protester during the recent university fees demonstration in London. One hears that the limb which came into ‘contact’ with the serf will be removed by the Queen’s personal surgeon. Can’t have aristos coming into contact with plebs – where would it end? Revolution? Total anarchy?

It is alleged that The Evil Empire is trying to do a plea bargain with the bloke who originally stole the embarrassing American ‘secrets’; if he implicates Assange he’ll get a lesser sentence. Looks like they’ll use any old pretext to get Assange – even bribery. What hideous reactionaries these people are.

Have a read of an interview with John Pilger about WikiLeaks.

Terry Jones – the American Quran-burning, Christian fundamentalist pastor and not our very own loveable Python – hopes to come to the UK to preach against fundamentalist Islam. I guess he doesn’t do irony. It's a bit like Hitler doing a lecture tour on the dangers of fascism.

Will a 1st edition of a Kindle book become worth as much the paper 1st edition?



Sunday, 12 December 2010

Educating Rita - As a Volunteer


Overheard in the caravan:

Hay: “You’re changing that sweater today – you’ve had it on for a week.”

Chairman: “No I’ve not!”

Hay: “Well how long have you had it on then?”

Chairman: “Oh, only about 7 days.”

On the burning issue of the day in the UK (the proposed £6k-£9k university tuition fees); there was a time when a university education was free – for anyone, regardless of social class. Why then was it that students from working class backgrounds were under-represented? It certainly couldn’t have been because they couldn’t afford it – it was free, for God’s sake.

Yes, the number of places was limited by the fact that the number of universities was fewer, but that ensured that only the most academically qualified were admitted and had no bearing on the class from which the intake was harvested. The feed system - the grammar schools - was not elitist and took anyone who passed the 11 plus (or the 12 plus for the late starters).

I would suggest that it was more peer and parental pressure that dissuaded academically minded working class students from entering university. Shades of Educating Rita? Any thoughts?

The government is allowing he hoi polloi to buy ‘significant’ buildings and run services on a voluntary basis. I’m considering getting a kitty together to buy the local hospital and volunteering as a brain surgeon. What happens when the volunteers get fed up of doing what we’re paying taxes for the government to do on our behalf?


Saturday, 11 December 2010

Technology


Ha - fooled you about not blogging over the weekend!

We’ve been having a mobile phone re-evaluation within our household. Hay took the opportunity of digging out all her old phones, one of which was a very tiny Samsung from around the year 2000.

It would seem that prior to the advent of the touch-phone and imaging applications, the holy grail of mobile telephony was smallness, limited only by the size of the Mk I digit. Since then they have become inexorably larger to accommodate all manner of multimedia applications that rely on the Mk I eyeball. It won’t be long before we’re toting gigantic screens around with us. Having gnarled sausages for fingers, I have enormous problems with touch-screen technology.

What I’m looking forward to is a pair of varifocals that function as a total multimedia experience, complete with thought controls.

Talking of technology, No. 1 son has a school project on the Industrial Revolution. Never at a loss to include some modern reference, has he entitled his project “IR, The Rise of the Machines - Never Send a Human to do a Machine’s Job”.

Talking of being a Luddite – we visited a local hostelry the other evening (which shall be nameless) and neither of the two girls behind the bar were capable of using a waiters’ friend to extract the cork from a bottle of Malbec. The waiters’ friend is a device that even a child of 6 could master within 30 seconds – but not the girls behind the bar. Hay had to show them how to do it.


The Waitresses’ Confuser

If ever we were to have infinite data storage, how the hell would we be able to find the location of a virus? Infinity is a rather large place for a virus to hide. We’ll also need infinite processing speed – but even that won’t be a solution as ∞/∞ does not necessarily = 1, or so I am told.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Christmas Cards - Huh?


I was looking at Kitty yesterday and wondering why people keep cats (or rather, why cats keep humans). Dogs I can understand; we have a long symbiotic relationship with them as hunting aids – but cats? A handy set of spare guitar strings, perhaps? A potential pair of fur slippers?

Had one of those awfully twee, grossly sentimental, animated, emailed Christmas cards by the likes of Jacquie Lawson yet? Hate the bloody things – they’re as personal as a call from an Indian call centre. They were a novelty when first introduced, but now are the preserve of camp, gay males (Richard, my friend who died the other week, was an inveterate e-carder) and those who forgot to send you a card with their usual batch to their really close friends.

Obviously the inconvenience of holding a pen in your paw and actually writing something is too much for some – or perhaps they just can’t spell well. Even faxing your cards en mass is superior to an e-card - at least the recipient has something to put on the mantelpiece. On receiving one of these animated monstrosities you somehow feel you were an afterthought.


Getting one of these in between the hoax virus messages, the ones selling you some priapic aid, the ones telling you that while your cv was of interest you can piss off and the advert emails telling you you’ll never find a more comfortable bra than the one they are hawking, is not conducive to starting the day off on a positive note.

Not only that, but they put the lives of our boys in Afghanistan, Iraq and Huddersfield in danger.

I’m not too enamoured of the horribly self-indulgent family cards delineating what the entire family has been doing for the last 12 months either. You know the ones – listing the holidays in Barbados and St Moritz, along with how well Titus and Jocasta are performing at boarding school and the latest purchase from the AGA shop – all topped off with a sickeningly smug family photo of them all grinning at you from the shores of Lake Como.

You’ll be pleased to know I’m taking a rest and not blogging over the weekend.


Thursday, 9 December 2010

Untitled


It’s the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. What a nasty, conceited, self-absorbed man he was.

Back to Wikileaks. Amazon recently ended its agreement to host Wikileaks, citing that it failed to adhere to its terms of service as Wikileaks was unable to ensure that it "wasn't putting innocent people in jeopardy". That means Wikileaks has to prove a negative – which is logically impossible and an argument which is the refuge of the intellectually bankrupt - or those being heavily leant upon by the irresistible might of the American government.

In order for a statement to be logical, it must be falsifiable. A statement is not logical if it cannot be tested in this manner. If Amazon is assuming that lives are at risk (which it is by demanding proof to the contrary), then it is incumbent on Amazon – as the accuser – to validate the assumption; something that even the US government is demonstrably unable to accomplish, much to its chagrin.

I’d boycott Amazon if it wasn’t so damned useful. Same with PayPal. However, were I to boycott them I’d have to go back to the Bronze Age system of visiting some hideous cathedral to the god Retail, spending half an hour trying to find a parking place a mile from the emporium I want to visit (and possibly having a fist fight with some arsehole over a parking space in the process) and jostling with huge crowds of ghastly faithful intent on filling up their credit cards. I’d rather stick pins in Sarah Palin’s eyes – actually I’d rather do that than anything.

The husband of the bride recently murdered in South Africa has been arrested on suspicion of incitement to murder. The alleged murderer has done a plea bargaining deal – i.e. say what we want you to say and we’ll reduce your sentence. Who wouldn’t perjure themselves in the same position? May as well reintroduce trial by fire and trial by combat; it certainly has no place in any civilized system of justice, having more to do with cost saving than the search for truth.

The British government, in its infinite wisdom, is threatening to withdraw benefits from drug addicts who don’t co-operate with rehab programmes. What they are doing is to create the seed of a crime explosion, as drug addicts who cannot fund their habit from benefits will definitely turn to crime – or increase their existing levels of crime. Since the government also wants the police to reduce their costs (and hence number), I cannot see this as evidence of joined up thinking – or even adult thinking for that matter. To quote an expert: “I have never seen a drugs problem. I have seen people with problems and using drugs to deal with them."


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Chairman-Leaks


WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has been arrested on a trumped up charge of wilfully impersonating an armchair, raping a bar stool and making inappropriate sexual advances to a stoat. He is expected to have accidentally committed suicide by 5:15 on Friday by throwing himself beneath a passing train in the cells under the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court.

What I can’t understand is why the ubiquitous Shami Chakrabati of Liberty isn’t jumping up and down in protest over his arrest – she’s more than happy to have a go at the UK government for the slightest legal encroachment on the people’s right to eat fish and chips on a Sunday, wear pointy shoes in public places or be a Brazilian student. I can’t find a single Google reference to her uttering anything whatsoever on the issue, nor anything on the Liberty website. It’s probably because Assange isn’t an ethnic minority.

I’m now going to create a bit of a stir:

  • Centre Parcs – Longleat
  • Robert Dyas – Bishopsgate, London
  • Barclay’s Bank – Yate
  • Tesco – Easton, Bristol
  • Londis – Pucklechurch
  • M&S - Southport

All of these locations are critical to the UK’s national security, but to avoid putting the lives of our boys in Afghanistan, Iraq and Blackpool at risk I have refrained from giving actual addresses. I am, however, fully expecting my Nectar Points card and Tesco Club Card to be frozen by dark forces in Whitehall and for Theresa May and William Jefferson Hague to hunt me down with an M16 assault rifle, like an Al Qaeda terrorist.

Those paragons of human rights activism and support, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran, each led by enlightened, liberal ideologues, are refusing to attend the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize (in absentia) to human rights activist, Liu Xiaobo. Reasons given range from ‘too busy torturing’ to ‘too busy establishing an intolerant theocracy’. It is fully expected that the USA, Britain and Sweden will follow suit once they have locked Julian Assange away for good – or assassinated him (which will be blamed on N Korea and used as an excuse to mount an invasion in search of WMD – Weimeraners of Mass Dining).

I was listening on the radio to some guy who had been stuck in the snow in his car on a motorway in Scotland for about 18 hours. He was moaning that the police hadn’t come down the hard shoulder to help rescue people. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if he and several hundred other drivers are stuck and no-one is actually using the hard shoulder to escape, then the police would have as much of a problem as him. Why is it people seem to think that police cars have some magical ability to go where other vehicles can’t?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Bell at Old Sodbury


WikiLeaks has allegedly exposed critical infrastructure in Britain that is essential to the US. As soon as I heard that one was a satellite station in the Southwest and another was the terminus for transatlantic cables I said to Hayley: “Goonhilly Down and Porth Kernow.” Not exactly secret information if I know about them. Goonhilly isn’t even operational anymore – check for yourself.

Other ‘assets’ are BAE factories, which are identified on BAE’s website and have big signs outside saying BAE. Something about all this inter-government chasing of Julian Assange stinks.

I haven’t done a restaurant review of late, so I thought I’d regale you of The Bell at Old Sodbury, which is literally just up the road and where we went for dinner one evening last week.

The Bell has recently changed hands – again. It was one of those pubs that time forgot, as well as decorative taste, limping along and surviving only by the skin of its teeth – and sometimes not even surviving. Some say the place is cursed – The Curse of The Bell.

A couple of years ago it was taken over by a Greek chap and his wife who gave it a lick of paint and converted it into a pub cum Greek restaurant – not a marriage that comes immediately to mind. I referred to the couple as Joan and Vangelis…... Jon and Vangelis…… get it? Oh never mind. They finally gave up on the place earlier this year.

After standing derelict for a while it was then taken over in late summer by the licensee of both the Squire in Chipping Sodbury and The Swan at Nibley (the latter having been reviewed by me previously), becoming part of a burgeoning pub empire.

Rather than just tarting the place up a bit (as previous licensees have done), it was given a major and lengthy structural make-over – all for the better, it being a vast improvement on the original. Décor is contemporary, with period architectural features having been retained – like the beautiful leaded sash windows and oak parquet flooring. Lots of deep, Georgian red, light grey and wood.


The place has a Facebook Page, as well as its own website.

We walked in relatively early and took a seat by the open wood fire, being presented with a bowl of complimentary marshmallows and skewers. Now I have never had toasted marshmallows before, imagining them to be somewhat flaccid and hideous confections best left to Americans and children. I was delightfully surprised when my 12 year-old No.1 son presented me with beautifully crunchy caramelised delicacies on a stick. Couldn’t get enough of them – nor could he.


There was a good selection of wines on offer, as well as Hay’s favourite beers from Bath Ales, which in itself endears the place to her. The Malbec is to die for, however I was disappointed by the Shiraz, which is somewhat insipid. Hay was not overly impressed with a glass of white she ordered and joined me in my red following a half of Bath Ales’ Gem.

My only complaint about the lounge room is that it sports the ubiquitous, large, flat-screen TV with silent Sky football news showing. I hate these devices as the eye is drawn to them and they interfere with convivial conversation. I understand it is on trial – I hope it’s found guilty and dragged off to the dungeons.

The open log fire was smouldering by this time as the wood being used was obviously damp. Having a wood burner as our prime heat source in the caravan, we are intimately familiar with the problems of burning wood that has not had time to season or been kiln dried. Having opened only 3 weeks ago, damp wood is something that possibly couldn’t be avoided – but should. One customer had a go at trying to get the fire going again, but failed. Sadly none of the staff seemed interested in tending the fire – which is actually a key focal point - being more interested in congregating at the bar and chatting.

The general manager who the licensee has installed looks suspiciously like Al Murray - and a bit scary.

On being seated in the dining area, which has a charming and eclectic mix of differing table and chair styles, one of the staff ran around the tables and lit all the candles – an attention to detail lacking in many restaurants. The menu is limited, but able to satisfy most tastes and seemed at first glance identical to that at The Swan at Nibley.



My son inspected the specials board and rubbed the e from the word ‘tomatoe’. He didn’t have any chalk and thus couldn’t correct the grammatical mistake in ‘a orange’. He's incorrigible and a chip off the old block!

When the waitress came to take our order I enquired as to the nature of the soup-of-the-day. Sadly she had to go back to the kitchen to find out. Hay and I exchanged glances – on coming on duty, waitresses should be fully aware of what is on offer without having to shuttle to and fro between the customer and the kitchen. It’s called professionalism. The soup was not to my taste, so I mischievously enquired as to what the risotto-of-the-day was. Predictably, the girl again traipsed back to the kitchen to find out.

Hay chose a salmon steak while I selected breast of duck. I had chosen the same dish at The Swan at Nibley, where it suffered from being far too much in terms of portion size and tough as old boots. The first piece of breast I tackled was indeed overcooked and I had to request a steak knife in order to cut it. The second breast displayed a healthy pinkness and was cooked to perfection – which is more than could be said for the sauté potatoes, which were still half raw.

The duck was accompanied by what was called a hedgerow jus. Basically it was warmed, crushed blackberries and currants and was far too acidic – added to which I kept crunching on blackberry seeds, which was not at all pleasant. A jus should include the cooking juices, but I couldn’t detect any duck juices in this concoction at all – it was more like something you’d pour over ice cream.

Had the duck been presented ready-sliced, half the amount would have been more than enough to satisfy me (as well as enabling the chef to see whether it is overcooked or not). The vegetables came on a side plate – which always seems an unnecessary frippery to me – and were just as I like them; still retaining a slight crunch.

Hay pronounced the salmon ‘disappointing’, with the sauté potatoes having the same rawness as mine.

Couldn’t fault the puddings – they were presented on a plate from which one makes a selection. A nice touch that enables you to see what you’re about to order.

Toward the end we asked for two coffees – unfortunately they never arrived.

The number of customers increased steadily during the evening and it was good to see the place bustling in these times of economic belt-tightening.

Our meal, comprising two main courses, two puddings and several assorted drinks (including a bottle of Shiraz) came to just over £50, which was reasonable. Given the place has only just opened and the staff are still finding their feet, I have no doubt that any teething problems with the food will be sorted out.

I hope the place survives and prospers and that The Curse of the Bell has finally been lifted. My only comment from a marketing perspective is that, not having changed its name, it may suffer from adverse old and out-of-date reviews in the pub / restaurant review sites.

20 Feb 2011 - Update

Called in for lunch. Unfortunately the General Manager couldn't find us a table; however, the Assistant General Manager managed to find us one with no trouble.

I am pleased to report that things have improved overall. Did have one solid roast potato, but given the price of the Sunday Lunch (£8.95), it was very good.

Was upset to see a few of the girls and the General Manager scraping the empty plates at the customers' tables, but the Assistant GM had the right idea and did it away from the table.

The Assitant GM really knows his stuff and impressed us both with his professionalism and commitment to customer service. I can see him going far in the business and I hope it won't be long before he's running his own place.

Shared starter (duck liver pate), 2 Sunday roasts, shared dessert (deliocious crumble), 2 coffees and various assorted drinks came to £50 including the tip. Very reasonable.

I can recommend the Aspall's cider. Very light colour and 5.5%. Far superior to the Stowford Press, which tastes much like the heavily processed stuff in supermarkets. Still think Pheasant Plucker cider is the bee's knees in cider though, but unfortunately the Bell doesn't do it and you''d need to go to the Neeld Arms in Grittleton.

18th March Update

Had dinner here again this evening. Lamb rump - perfect; slow roast belly pork - hideous. Flacid, jelly-like and riddled with soft, floppy fat - lacking any crispness whatsoever. As far as I'm concerned, belly pork should be crisp on top (like crackling) and the fat layers inside should be well rendered down so as to be almost gone.

Hay thought it was just a bad choice on my part, but based on the belly pork at the Black Rock in St Ives and the Live & Let Live in Frampton Cotterel, I suspect not (Hay is English, after all, and doesn't complain when something is not right). It was more like boiled pork belly, although the accompanying roast veggies and sauce were delicious.

Hay and I swapped main courses as I couldn't face eating the pork.

Desserts brilliant, as always.

Was not impressed with the sticky table, despite me asking for it to be wiped again. Wiping with a beer-soaked rag is not recommended, no matter what spray is used.

Again, a bit hit and miss, but the specials board is increasing in variety.

15th April Update

Have to say it's getting better with time. Still the odd niggle (this time I was asked whether Disarono is an Amaretto), but on the whole a fine place and a vast improvement on the original - in fact there's no comparison.

The Dog still can't be beaten on price, but it's usual pub fare there and thus the comparison is not apples with apples.

For an inexpensive evening with good food, but nothing special, then it's The Dog.

For something a tad more special, say a birthday or anniversary, then I'd recommend The Bell.

7th May 2011 Update

Visited with the whole family to celebrate getting a new job.

Food, excellent all round. Duck cooked to perfection and the portion size ideal.

Service, much improved - the staff now volunteer the soup of the day without having to go to the kitchen and ask.

Only one slight niggle remaining - coffee comes with those hideous little tubs of UHT milk and sachets of sugar. I would much prefer to have a jug of hot milk and cubed sugar, but I suppose the wastage needs to be considered as part of the overall cost. The manager assured me this would be considered.

Highly recommended and the best restaurant within say 5 miles. The only better place locally is the Live & Let Live, a Bath Ales pub in Frampton Cotterell - but the Bell is a close second. Discount the Live & Let Live and the Bell is easily the best restaurant within 10 miles.


Monday, 6 December 2010

From Russia With Love


Overheard in the caravan:

Newscaster: “A Liberal Democrat MP’s Russian assistant is to be deported for alleged espionage.”

Chairman’s son: “Dad – what’s espionage?”

Chairman: “Spying.”

Chairman’s son: “Oh, I though it meant not being able to spell very well.”

Chairman: "No - that's called graduating from university."



Sunday, 5 December 2010

Nanny McPhee


Overheard in the caravan:

Jamie Oliver: “…and then you add some chunky lardons.”

Chairman (not really paying attention): “Chunky what?”

Hay: “Lardons, Badger, lardons.”

Yesterday we were listening to an item on Womans’ Hour about nannies and how necessary they apparently are.

It would seem that, for many middle class women, having a child and looking after it is of secondary importance to having a career and / or money with which to sustain a particular lifestyle. Why else have a child and then hand over its welfare to a slip-of-a-girl who is not a family member, risking damaging the child’s psychological development in the process?

Answers to the usual address.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Bah, Humbug


The WikiLeaks website has been suffering Denial of Service attacks. Now who is most likely to have a vested interest in wiping out WikiLeaks? In the United States of Paranoia, DoS attacks are a serious federal crime under the National Information Infrastructure Protection Act of 1996, with penalties that include imprisonment. Surely then it can’t be the US government, as governments are renowned for operating within ethical and legal boundaries – are they not?

I sometimes seriously wonder whether governments are truly the servants of the public, as we are led to believe.

Here’s a thought - if the past is always a better place, why have we made technical and social progress? Having said that, I do think it’s high time we got back to the real meaning of Christmas – a mid-winter holiday to rejuvenate one’s spirits by feasting and drinking, a chance to renew and reinforce one’s clan loyalties through the exchange of small gifts and to celebrate the fact that the the hours of daylight are finally increasing. All this over commercialisation and over religiousification detracts from Christmas’ true pagan roots.


It’s time for us to go wassailing, as we do every year around this time. I find it important that you collect your wassails just as soon as they look about to fall from the bush, ensuring you blanch them before storing them in the freezer.


Friday, 3 December 2010

FIFA or Fifa?


Following England’s failure to secure the hosting of the World Cup in 2018, there have been calls for the judicial assassination of David Cameron and the entire World Cup bid team – with the exception of David Beckham, who seems a decent enough cove and maintained it should have been decided by a penalty shoot-out.

Those few remaining loyal to Cameron point out that a failure to delver on promises is simply what politicians do and should in no way reflect on Cameron’s abilities; after all, one cannot be a politician without frequently having to rise above one’s principles and endangering the lives of our boys in Afghanistan and Iraq. They added that it was Nick Clegg’s fault anyway.

David Cameron

Others believe the bribe of 25% of the UK’s public purse simply wasn’t enough and Cameron should have followed the lead of international mafia boss, Vlad Putin, in making an offer that FIFA couldn’t refuse – well, not without the voting members going into hiding for the rest of their lives and avoiding hollow-tipped umbrellas like the plague.

Mafia Godfather, Vladimir Putin

Cameron will now deflect any criticism by blaming the Panorama TV programme for having the temerity to point out that FIFA is riddled with corruption and that the Panorama-leaks endangered the lives of our boys in Man Utd., Chelski, Liverpool, Aston Villa, etc.

Why is it that FIFA themselves use capitalisation of FIFA, whereas the UK press uses Fifa, as if it was an actual word? Could that have pissed them off?


Thursday, 2 December 2010

Own Goal


David Beckham has insisted he has "trust" in FIFA to judge England's 2018 World Cup bid on its merits. I wonder which ‘trust’ this is – an off-shore one aligned to a Swiss bank account perhaps?

He can’t very well say FIFA is a bunch of bloody thieves and should be put against the wall and shot. It wouldn’t exactly curry favour with said bunch of bloody thieves. If you ask me, common decency says that the whole vote thing should be postponed until after an investigation – it’s not as if 2018 is just around the corner.

What’s the betting that, should England win the vote, the government pulls a stunt like the ‘BAE Systems Saudi weapons deal’ cover-up and prevents an investigation citing ‘national security’ and a risk to our boys in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Talking of football, Iran has executed an Iranian footballer’s girlfriend. If only….. if only…….. The mere threat could be used as encouragement to the England squad to actually produce some results.

When all is said and done, one can’t really condemn highly paid footballers for their unjustifiably large salaries – they’re not exactly exploiting anyone who has no wish to be exploited. The same cannot be said of some over-paid company bosses.

Fourteen people were treated in hospital yesterday after violence at the end of Birmingham City's Carling Cup game at home to local rivals Aston Villa. That should send a good signal to FIFA that England means business and should host the World Cup! A bit of an own goal.


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Football's Coming Home - If the Bribe is Right


Well, it’s the 1st of December. I suppose we’ll see all kinds of Christmas things appearing in the shops from now – like chocolate Easter eggs.

The England footballing legend, Dave ‘Boots’ Cameron, arrived in Zurich yesterday to lobby a bunch of corrupt FIFA executive committee members ahead of Thursday's crucial vote. It is rumoured that he has £25m with which to influence the voting.

"I have got one focus here and that is to try to bring the World Cup home for England," he told the world’s press. "I am going to be pressing on them the brilliance of my dribbling and that is going to be the concern, nothing else."

Cameron is part of a 30-strong England 2018 team that also includes Prince William at full back and veteran England captain David Beckham, who will be looking after the Adidas Zimmer frames and sponsored designer hair bands.

Cameron then went on to display his gross ignorance of percentages and basic economics by saying: “We are going to give this 110% over the next couple of days."

Dr. Vivian Stanshall, visiting professor of sums at the University of Slough, said: “There is no such thing as 110% where effort is concerned – 100% is the maximum allowed by classical physics. Unless Cameron is tapping into a quantum field in a parallel universe, which is actually allowed by the Many Worlds interpretation, what he actually means is that he’s currently giving it 90.90909% but could go as far as 100% if he felt like it. Of course, he could also mean that he may manage find another £2.5m from additional council job cuts with which to bribe minor officials to ensure that the referee for the England matches is Scottish, and thus susceptible to the odd bung.”

Some burning questions of the day:

Is calling someone a Vandal racist?

Should being able to text someone be fundamental human right?

If TV is anything to go by, does competition result in an increase in standards?

Is global warming best corroborated by looking out of your window – especially in a cold snap?


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Postcards From the Edge


I must say I like Brian Sewell – he’s a first class iconoclast, incredibly articulate and very, very funny – without actually intending to be. He’s a master of the whithering put-down.

He has described Bath’s Victoria Art Gallery’s £10.3m collection (amongst others) as a ‘lucky dip’ which should be sold off to protect public services. He couldn’t say more in case he put the lives of council workers in Iraq and Afghanistan at risk or embarrassed Prince Andrew with injudicious remarks, although it is expected that Wikileaks will provide a full and unexpurgated version of Sewell’s interview with Hello Magazine in its next leak.

The Victoria Gallery’s website currently shows a picture by John Calcott Horsley, RA, an eminently forgettable artist who went down in history as the creator of the first Christmas card. It caused uproar when first produced as it showed a small child being force-fed wine - and had Wikileaks known it could have risked the lives of our boys in the Crimea or Sudan.


It’s not the kid engaged in binge drinking that worries me, but the one in the cartouche on the left performing a hideously unspeakable act on an old bloke; kind of sums up a ghastly Dickensian Utopia to which the Conservatives have an inexplicable yearning to return us.


Monday, 29 November 2010

Ready Made Society


Continuing on yesterday’s culinary theme; it would transpire that Jamie Oliver has sold over £100m worth of his ‘30 minute meal’ recipe books. These meals comprise a starter, a main course and a dessert.

I can confidently predict that something like 99% of these books will languish on a designer kitchen shelf and never be opened, as is the destiny of so many of these celebrity chef offerings that grace our bookshops. The vast majority end up in charity shops.

How many of us, outside of a restaurant, actually have a 3 course meal these days? I suggest the overwhelming majority have just one course and a pudding on special occasions.

As the for 30 minute title – it’s not exactly rocket science to produce a meal in 20 minutes from scratch using fresh ingredients. The fact that so many are buying this book (and not using it – probably because it’s easier to buy instant meals made of recycled animal feed) is a sad indictment on our national culinary skills.


Sunday, 28 November 2010

Any Old Iron


Are you the kind of person who buys a new set of kitchen pans when the handle breaks off one of your current set?

My mother had the most eclectic set of kitchen pans imaginable. She swore that her superb chips were solely attributable to her battered old aluminium chip pan (which was probably also partly responsible for her Alzheimer’s). Her pressure cooker produced some of the most mouth-watering stews I’ve ever tasted. The saucepan was inherited from her own mother. Each pan had its own special purpose and attributes and she couldn’t give a tinker’s damn whether any of them matched or not.

Many housewives seem obsessed with matching everything in the kitchen to everything else; a veritable triumph of style over substance.


Saturday, 27 November 2010

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble


A friend pointed out the irony of Bernard Matthews, the UK's turkey king, dying on Thanksgiving.


Friday, 26 November 2010

Happy, Happy, Happy


My hit counter has been going through the roof of late; however, the pages being landed on contain the words ‘Worzel Gummidge’ and ‘Gollum’. It seems strange that a myriad Googlers are suddenly overcome by a desire to search on these criteria – has Worzel kicked the bucket, has Gollum joined the ConDem coalition?

David Cameron has ordered the compilation of what he calls a national happiness index. Realising that his cost cutting is about to give us the GDP of a banana republic, he wants a different measure of prosperity – one that no-one can independently verify.

I would imagine he’ll start it off the poll in an opium den in Hackney, where most people are fantastically happy for a period of time.

Next he could use a mental health ward in Hull, where everyone swings between being ecstatically happy or just about ready to disembowel themselves with a biro. The poll will have to be carefully timed to ensure the test is carried out in the patients’ manic phases.

Finally he could poll a collection of bankers. No doubts they are all happy as the proverbial Larry – the bastards!

He’d better steer clear of any Liverpool Football Club supporters though.

Long term happiness depends on only one thing – relationships – and by that I don’t mean having 6,000 Facebook friends. People make you happy, not things or money; at least that is what I always told people that I had to make redundant in the past.



Thursday, 25 November 2010

Back to the 60s


I have a Facebook account and every so often Facebook appears to take control of my cursor keys, shuffle them about and randomly reassign them just while I’m on Facebook. Intensely annoying.

Nick Clegg, renowned power-crazed Judas, general lick-spittle to the Conservatives and leader of the Lib Dems, has begged students to reconsider his plans to plunge them into a life-long and unsustainable spiral of debt from the minute they darken the doors of a university in search of intellectual betterment and jobs as a highly qualified council road sweepers (for which they will in future require a BSc in pedestrianised waste management).

Mr Clegg said his plans would "make higher education open to everyone". When he said ‘everyone’, what he actually meant was those earning more than £80k per annum and not literally the ‘anyone’ defined in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Vivian Stanshall, Professor of Bollocks at the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah University (playing the tuba), said: “Clegg is talking out of his arse and is blissfully oblivious to the fact that our present economic situation was brought about precisely because the masses were taking on debt they could ill afford. This prick is now proposing that young people assume even more debt between the short period of entering university and getting married – exactly at the time they would be trying to borrow like crazy and get a mortgage to set up home. Is this man insane?”

Tarquin Fintimlinbinwhinbimlim Bus Stop F'tang F'tang Ole Biscuit-Barrel, Professor of the Bleeding Obvious at The Shrubbery University, said: “It’s bleedin’ obvious, ain’t it? Divide the courses into those that are professionally necessary to prevent you being sued for malpractice, like law, medicine, engineering, etc., and those that are a complete waste of everyone’s time and used to be achieved through City & Guilds or apprenticeships. You then make the Mickey Mouse degrees subject to a hefty tuition fee of several hundred grand, which would scare off all but the daughters of rich parents who want to do PR because they’re too lazy or thick to do any real work. That should sort the workers from the shirkers (except for the PR ladies of course) and reduce the overall cost of education.”

He went on to say: “You need lawyers because everyone is suing everyone else for absolutely no reason and claiming either it’s not their fault or they know their rights. You need doctors because we’re all becoming lard arses with type 2 diabetes and hypertension. You need engineers to design more robust seating for our increasingly fat, purulent, swollen bodies. You need chemists to develop the drugs to combat obesity and enable us to keep stuffing our faces with shit. What you don’t need is hordes of PR ladies with degrees in the history of art, except possibly as brood mares for the aristocracy.”

I must say it’s good to see students getting agitated about something other than X-Factor. It’s almost like the 60s again!

The other day Hay received a text saying: “Our database shows you could be entitled to £4,000 compensation for your recent car accident – text back yes for us to contact you further.” All they forgot to add to the start of the message was: “Dear random mug whose mobile number we bought and who has not been in any car accident database that we know of because we don’t even know your bloody name…..” Needless to say, Hay has never been in a car accident, let alone a car accident database.

I’ve spoken many times of the beautiful Hayley, but most of you will not have seen her. Here’s a picture of her, she’s in the silver car – the vertical one. I think this was taken at the ladies' car park at her office.


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Archbishop Cohen of Lancashire


Overheard in the caravan:

Chairman: “Is there anywhere within the Bristol / Bath area where I can get some decent, strong, crumbly Lancashire cheese? Can’t seem to find the stuff anywhere down here.”

Hay: “I’m not sure – I don’t think there’s much of a demand around here for foreign cheese. I think there may be an ethnic shop in Bristol where they sell lard, Chorley cakes, black pudding, flat caps and whippets, but you’ll need an interpreter.”

The General Synod has convened and one of the subjects under discussion will be female bishops. If these fundamentalists who abhor the idea of women in positions of power in the Church are serious, they should also logically insist that CoE priests can only be such if they have the surnames Cohen or Levi.

Does anyone know what you’re meant to do on a Day of National Mourning?

Here’s a teaser for you. Under what circumstances is the Saudi flag lowered to half mast?

Now for a Christmas tip. If you detest the cloying, heavy, sickly taste of traditional Christmas pudding, get yourself down to Lidl and buy their panatone or stollen Christmas pud instead. We had one of each between 7 of us last weekend and they’re deliciously light. Instead of breaking your teeth on a silver sixpence you can clamp your gnashers down on either a miniature metallic Roman fasces or a miniature metallic swastika.


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Union


I wonder whether Ireland would consider political union with the UK in return for the offer of a financial bail-out? That might not go down too well however and cause a bit of a rumpus – what do you think?

Should it be bail-out or bale-out (I favour the former)? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

The Church's lead spokesman on media issues, the Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester, has protested that Rupert Murdoch’s planned News Corp takeover of BSkyB "would dominate both the television and newspaper landscape" and has called for it to be blocked.

In a similar vein, I propose that the Church of England’s monopoly on kings and queens of England be challenged using the same principle.

There’s speculation over how long Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton will last. The Church is betting on 7 years. I think it might go to 10.

Ever since the announcement of William Wales’ engagement to Kate Middleton, there seems to be a huge amount of speculation over the issue of whether Camilla Parker-Bowles-Windsor will become Queen or not at some unspecified time in the future. For the life of me I can’t fathom why it’s causing so much fuss. Who gives a toss as to whether she will be Queen – it will have no effect on anyone whatsoever whether she is or she isn’t.

For that matter, David Cameron could become King when the old Queen dies and it still wouldn’t make one iota of difference to a single soul, living or dead – except perhaps Charles Windsor and his brood.

Spotted an advert in the Sunday newspaper for what are described as ‘shoes with a built in gym’. They’re called FitFlops.

I may be a bit cynical, but shoes that give you a workout while walking are usually called ‘difficult to walk in’, or as we experts call it, ‘ill fitting’ or ‘badly designed’. I guess they are a job lot of misshapes and some marketing person came up with the idea of calling them exercise shoes.


Monday, 22 November 2010

Pope Admits God May be Wrong


In an amazing volte-face, Pope Ratzo MCXXXXIV has said that God might just have dropped a bit of a bullock with his no condoms fiat.

Fresh from a summit meeting with an imaginary being atop Mount Sinai, Ratzo returned with some stone tablets stating that condoms might be justified on a case by case basis to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids. However, this was qualified by Ratzo saying their use would be limited to the bumpy female lady thing gripping a condom tightly between her knees when engaged in that dirty, shameful and disgusting thing men and women do.

Pope Benedict said the "sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalisation of sexuality" where sexuality was no longer an expression of love, "but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves". I guess he’s never heard of oxytocin – the love hormone. Nor can he ever have seen animals rutting; not much in the way of love going on there, just plain procreation aligned with a bit of good old-fashioned sexual enjoyment.

What on earth can he mean by ‘on a case by case basis’? Is he going to personally judge each case with applicants queuing up outside the Vatican?

I wonder if he’ll next try and slip women into the church on the pretext that they’re OK in special circumstances and on a case by case basis? Cleaning, sewing, cooking? Perhaps God has been wrong about a plethora of dogmatic issues.

In another story about religious superstition, the Bishop of Lincoln, The Right Reverend Dr John Saxbee, will bless Lincolnshire's gritters in the hope of cutting the number of winter crashes. He has blessed the county's fleet each year since 2003 and said that past ceremonies had been followed by a reduction in road deaths, which was "perhaps not a coincidence".

Well, the only way to test his hypothesis is for him not to wave his magic wand over the gritters for a couple of years and see if the number of accidents increases. Without such a test his statement has as much validity as me saying that tearing up my Sunday newspaper while uttering incantations to Zeus keeps the elephants out of South Gloucestershire.


Sunday, 21 November 2010

Nostalgia Ain't What it Used to Be


Yesterday I was listening to an interview with the creator of a popular newspaper cartoon, who after 10 years decided to call it a day.

Asked if he would ever consider resurrecting the cartoon, he replied not. On further questioning he said: “The Beatles stopped, whereas the stones carried on. Which do you think left the greater legacy?”

This gave me food for thought. For me, Led Zeppelin defined an era precisely because they knew when to stop. Had they continued then no single period could be defined by their work.

Nostalgia – especially in modern music - depends on abrupt changes; certain things coming to the end of a cycle and new things replacing them.

Nostalgia is the reason that bands which have existed since the 60s get annoyed when their fans ignore their recent work and request only endless repeats of past glories. The ones who actually do trade solely on past glories are denigrated precisely because they have nothing new. Seems bands can’t win.

This track certainly defines an era for me. The band in question still trades, but not in the classic and nostalgic line up shown here (three of them are now dead).



On a totally random tangent, I think Yorkshire is far too large. The dividing line between Yorkshire and Lancashire should run in a vertical line from Leeds to Sheffield. I feel at least one of my readers is going to take me to task over this.



Saturday, 20 November 2010

Financial Restaurant Reviews as Science


Yesterday I was reading a selection of reviews for a restaurant we’re considering visiting in the near future.

I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who express total shock on receiving their bill and then have the temerity to complain about the cost. Every restaurant I have ever visited possesses a menu listing the prices of the various dishes on offer. All it takes is some simple mental arithmetic to determine how much you are likely to pay for a complete meal – it’s not exactly macro economic theory on par with sorting out Ireland’s financial catastrophe. It doesn’t even span the complete breadth of arithmetic – it’s merely addition.

To order a number of dishes without looking at the prices and then complaining of high prices after the bill arrives is a tad disingenuous, if not downright ignorant. To write a review on this basis is blaming someone else for your ignorance.

A few days ago I mentioned I was re-reading David Deutsch’s ‘The Fabric of Reality’. While he is a scientist, he highlights the problems associated with the scientific method, namely the problem of induction. This problem arises from using what can only ever be a finite number of observations and then extrapolating them into a general conclusion to cover all eventualities.

The usual manner of highlighting the problem of induction is using the fact that before anyone had ever seen black swans (which are native to Australia), everyone thought all swans were white – which nowadays we know to be plain wrong.

Deutsche maintains that because the laws of physics appear to obey certain rules in our part of the universe - on the basis of extrapolation from a (necessarily) finite number of observations - it does not mean to say these laws are 100% certain and a fundamental truth everywhere.

I have a problem with this, as most of our technology is based on the assumption that the laws of physics are immutable. If they weren’t then we’d have a number of weird situations, such as Microsoft Windows laptops frequently and inexplicably crashing for no apparent reason or aeroplane engines mysteriously bursting into flames.

On second thoughts….

The problem of induction is most manifest in financial markets, where some practitioners assume economics to be a science. They assume that because the price for some instrument or commodity has been rising for a period of time (the finite set of observations), it will always do so (the scientific conclusion) – that is until a crash happens, as it inevitably does at some stage in a terminally complex system.

Talking of financial situations, the Irish have insisted they will not raise the country's low corporation tax rate in return for a European Union-led bail-out. The buggers must obviously be praying to some saint and hoping for a bloody miracle.

I see Lord Young has resigned for telling it as it is over our own financial situation. Can’t have politicians telling the truth – whatever next? And before anyone jumps down my throat, it’s a fact that mortgages have never been cheaper and if a mortgage is your largest outgoing then you’re on a winner. Yes, there are some people who have been made redundant, but they are a very small proportion of the overall population. How many people do you know who have been made redundant thus far? Ill bet the majority know of no-one.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Cash for Votes & School Czars


Two Fifa executive committee members have been banned from voting in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting ballot over claims they asked for money in exchange for World Cup votes. In that case, shouldn’t the general public stand in the dock accused of asking politicians for money (tax breaks) in return for votes?

The government here is stimulating competition between schools with the reward for the best performers being access to funds. Those not performing will have funds withdrawn and reallocated to those which are performing. The funding pot is, I would imagine, finite and fixed, therefore there will be winners and losers.

This seems idiotic to me. Schools in the state sector should not be competing against other state schools – they should be competing against independent schools – on a united front.

When I go into an M&S store in Blackpool, or indeed any high street chain, I am safe in the knowledge that I will get exactly the same products, quality and levels of service as at a flagship store in London. Why the hell can’t this happen in the nation’s state schools? Why does it have to be a postcode lottery as to whether the school to which I send my kids is fit for purpose or not?

Withdrawing funds from a badly performing school makes failure a self-fulfilling prophesy and does no service to the children or parents in their locale. What’s probably needed is an increase in funds, better management, better teaching talent and a cull of the incompetent. It would seem to me that the authorities can only sack a teacher if he or she is found to be sleeping with the pupils.

Perhaps the brand marketing men from the world of commerce should be put in charge of schools, rather than politicians, thus ensuring services are common throughout the system.

Yes, I do realise that the raw materials that schools have to work on differ according to locality, but as long as the skills, processes and facilities are equal throughout the system, parents can have nothing to complain about if little Johnny can’t bother his arse to learn anything or they themselves do little to encourage him.

The government approach will produce nothing less than a two-tier system – one for the reasonably affluent and pushy and another for the poor. I firmly believe that giving someone money to incentivise them does not generally work (certainly not in the long term – just look at footballers); however, taking money away from them sure as hell demotivates and demoralises them.

Here’s a novel idea – instead of putting Sir Philip Green in charge of cost savings, put him in charge of ensuring schools provide a common and homogeneous level of service throughout the country. As a high street emporium baron he’s well qualified to achieve the goal.


Thursday, 18 November 2010

Royal Eating Places of Beauty


A place where food is prepared and sold to the public as cooked meals; restaurant, café, bistro, brasserie – all the foregoing are foreign words and I can’t for the life of me think of an indigenous British word. Come on – help me out!

Is it just me, or does Kate Middleton bear more than a passing resemblance to Koo Stark?


There’s a tribunal going on in the UK over a BBC presenter who claims she was dropped from a programme because she wasn’t young and pretty enough. There’s a dilemma here – should clothes designers be allowed to use only beautiful models? Should teachers, perhaps, be selected solely on the basis of their youth and thus empathy with their charges?

Conversely, should make-up manufacturers employ only ugly munters to demonstrate their products, thereby enabling the consumer to see the added value the product can provide in extreme cases?

When all is said and done, one’s age and beauty are attributes one can do little to nothing about and thus, logically, should not be used as a means of discrimination. However, could you imagine car manufacturers draping Anne Widdecombe over the bonnet of their latest creation? You have to be realistic. If something is aimed at a youth market, then it makes sense to use young people to advertise whatever the product may be; similarly you’re not going to take well to a young dolly bird being used to market a zimmer frame or incontinence pad.

As with everything, especially see-saws, there has to be a balance.


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Toy Town Minds


Some idiotic tool in a toy company has decided to eliminate pigs from a toy farm set so as to not offend Muslims and Jews; however, I somehow suspect this to be a bit of a wind-up story.

Perhaps they should eliminate edible farm animals completely so as to not offend vegans.

Milk herds might offend the lactose intolerant.

Cereal crops would be for the boot too, in case those with a gluten allergy were offended.

A PC toy farm is not much of a toy farm at all really.



Sunday, 14 November 2010

Goodbye Old Friend


My good friend Richard over at Falling Through An Endless Summer Sky (who had been suffering from cancer for a couple of years) slipped into a coma a couple of days ago and died at 3:30 this morning.

I spoke with him on the phone only last week and he seemed chipper enough, if somewhat tired; however, the final stages of cancer result in multiple organ failure, which produces a rapid decline, ensuing coma and fairly swift death.

Richard Collinson

Richard was one of a dwindling band of brothers who served in the HMS Conway, one of a triumvirate of schools with a deep nautical flavour – the others being HMS Worcester and HMS Pangbourne. Of the three only Pangbourne still exists (as Pangbourne College), but without the naval tradition.

Richard’s acerbic wit will be missed by all who knew him.


Saturday, 13 November 2010

Missed Opportunities


Have you ever stood in a queue for something where there’s one of those lottery ticket dispensing thingies next to the queue? Have you ever though: “Mmm – I may just have a punt for a quid”? Have you then been totally confused by the sheer number of different types of lottery on offer and thought: “Oh sod it!”?

It’s happened to me on a number of occasions and I’m sure many others have had a similar experience. Why the hell can’t they just have a single lottery prize once a week? I’m sure the organisers are missing out on a large chunk of people, like me, who would indeed have an occasional punt, but simply can’t be arsed to spend half an hour reading all the differing rules for the umpteen options on offer.


Friday, 12 November 2010

Barry & Colin Outdoor Clothing Range


How the hell did early man end up living in Britain – or northern Europe for that matter? It’s freezing cold half the year and blowing a gale or raining for the rest. Whatever possessed humans to move out of Africa in the first place? It couldn’t have been a land grab – there were only a few thousand of us in the first place and Africa is a pretty large area. Some idiot ancestor must have made a wrong turning when chasing a herd of wildebeest.

You know all these cold weather clothing items and barrier creams that are marketed on the basis that fishermen use them? Well, Hay and I are thinking of launching a new version based on builders - our builders, Colin and Barry, are out in all weathers every day whereas fishermen only fish for about 5 days of the year before they run out of quotas, so what the hell do they know about survival in all weathers?

We could market a line of Colin & Barry’s thermal underwear, or Colin & Barry’s hand cream – as used by builders. Colin & Barry’s all weather shorts too – with added axle grease to prevent those embarrassing dribbles. Yesterday Colin was in camouflage – couldn’t see the bugger.

Spotted what I thought was an image of Bernie Ecclestone in a Santa outfit on the interweb. Turned out to be Andy Warhol. Do you think they are one and the same?

Bernie Ecclestone (left) : Andy Warhol (right)

Talking of Bernie Warhol, a Roy Lichtenstein ‘work’ sold this week for $42.6m. That’s rather a lot for what is essentially nothing more than a cartoon.


As I have said many times previously, I hope it has been bought by a private investor and not my bank or one of my pension companies. The chances are low though, as modern art these days is the preserve of financial institutions which are easily fooled into paying vast sums for intrinsically worthless shit sold by unscrupulous galleries having a vested interest in bigging up their personal protégés. It’s the gallery owners and speculators who decide modern art prices, not talent. Most modern art is fuelled by avarice; true art stands the test of time – but that’s a subjective analysis.