Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Tap, National Beard Week and trite statements of values

Found the video of Spinal Tap at Glasto. Apparently they received a vote of 11/10 for their set.

Are you aware that it’s National Beard Week? The Beard Liberation Front is promoting a series of events around the country aimed at combating beardism. Last night I registered my beard on the National Beard Register.

Today I want to mention trite value statements by large corporations and public bodies. When I went with Hay for her MRI scan to the local NHS hospital I saw the notice reproduced below.

People who run large organizations have a habit of being a little too free with their use of the word ‘we’ when communicating their aims and aspirations. They assume far too much and believe just because they have an aspirational notice tacked on the wall that everyone working there subscribes to the aspiration. The truth is that few actually do, as they do not like having values imposed on them by faceless bureaucrats who have done nothing more customer-focused than hiring an expensive PR agency to advise them on how to appear more touchy-feely. Also it is rare for senior managers to put processes in place to enable those on the shop floor to actually meet the articulated aspirations, even if they want to. As such they are vacuous nonsense and almost all of us recognise this. It’s nothing more than the Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome.

The second paragraph is simply laughable: “We recognise that each patient is unique.” The NHS has, by its very nature and budget constraints, to be geared toward moving the most people through the system in the shortest possible time. There is no time for uniqueness, and most of us actually accept that as a necessary consequence of what is ostensibly a free service. “Personal beliefs and lifestyles are treated with respect, dignity and without prejudice,” it goes on to say. I think not, given all the stuff we hear in the news about zero tolerance toward smokers, drinkers and obese people seeking medication, I think they’re as respectful of lifestyles as Mugabe is of democracy.

By the cunning use of the word ‘we’, these notices shift the onus on achieving such aspirations to the customer-facing staff and away from senior management. What I’d rather see is the same notice, but with the word ‘we’ replaced by ‘I’ and signed by the Chief Executive, with his personal contact details in case of complaints.

While on the subject of customer service, don’t you just detest those call queuing systems that put you on hold for the statutory 10 minutes and then have the gall to play a recorded message telling you how much they value your custom, when clearly they couldn’t give a stuff about you as otherwise they’d ensure they had enough operators in the call centre in the first place. Once you do eventually get through to a human you can't understand a bloody word they say as they're based in deepest India and have an unintelligible accent, or you get through to someone in an unemployment blackspot earing 2p an hour and speaking in the thickest Geordie dialect you've ever heard. It’s nothing more than a balancing act of putting pissed off customers on one side of the scale and lost revenue on the other.

We have to accept that shoddy customer service is here to stay when we put more value on cheap services than individual attention. You’re apt to put up with waiting for 10 minutes in a queue if you’re only going to have to deal with the imbeciles on the other end of the phone once a year. If, on the other hand, you’re in regular contact with a service, then more value is put on a high quality of customer experience and you'll be tempted to pay more for the privilege.

I hear the Royal Family cost us all 3p a year more last year. It’s about time the Royal Family was privatised and the job put out to tender.

In scenes reminiscent of the Great Old Sodbury Parish Council Election Fraud of ’54, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been confirmed as the President of Iran.

Someone landed on the blog last night after a Google search on “poetry for children”. I trust they were not too upset.

Re yesterday’s post on Richard Dawkins’ plans for secular summer camps to teach critical thinking, here’s an interesting story from the USA on gun ownership and the church.

Monday, 29 June 2009

The Great Old Sodbury Power Failure

The sky is the colour of lead, it’s as dark as a winter morning and the heavens have opened – summer is finally here. May get to see the new roof at Wimbers used today.

We were bereft of electricity from 11:00 till 19:00 yesterday - The Great Old Sodbury Power Failure. It’s useful having a calor gas water heating system that doesn’t rely on electricity. A whole afternoon without t’internet was hard to cope with thought– I was a gibbering wreck by 6pm.

Anyone understand how fridges work? If you turn the knob inside the fridge from 1 to 5, does it get colder or warmer? Logic tells me that the lower the number, the cooler the setting, but I have a vague suspicion that the normal rules of logic have no part to play in fridge settings and it’s more to do with the power consumption.

Was watching some of the Glastonbury highlights on BBC iPlayer last night. You wouldn’t think Neil Young was a rock star – he looks more like a bus driver or garage mechanic on his break. Time has not treated David Crosby well, has it? Unfortunately I couldn’t find the Spinal Tap session on iPlayer. If anyone knows the link please pass it to me. Have you noticed how beards are making a comeback among pop stars?

Ref Saturday’s episode of putting food into someone else’s shopping trolley; Hay has come up with a solution to my absentmindedness – trolley reins.

Jacko’s mum has started threatening legal action against Debbie Rowe the biological mother of Jacko’s first 2 kids, if she makes any move to lay claim to them. Rowe hadn’t even said a word before the threats were being issued. Katherine Jackson apparently wants to look after them and bring them up as Jehova’s Witnesses – which is surely child abuse of the grossest kind. Don’t the kids have anything to say in this? In any case, given the colour of the kids it’s highly unlikely Katherine Jackson is even remotely genetically connected with them in the first place and so it’s more an issue of ownership. One suspects Mamon and filthy lucre is lurking behind this, as the guy may well have been living on borrowed money, but his records are now selling faster than ever and his estate will be worth a fortune before much longer.

I read yesterday that Richard Dawkins, Darwin’s Rottweiler, has come up with the concept of summer schools to teach kids critical thinking. At first I thought, oh here he goes off on his hobbyhorse again with his militant atheism, and started to scan the article for condemnations from various religious groups accusing him of the indoctrination of children. Naturally, however, there weren’t any, and nor can there be, as this is exactly the type of thing they themselves do with their religiously themed summer camps. Dawkins is at least teaching the kids to think – something the religious groups could never logically do as it would undermine their command and control structures and the basis for their belief systems.

Following the 11 September 2001 attacks, when asked how the world might have changed, Dawkins responded:

“Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful!”

He has a very valid point, but I don’t always agree with his methods as they make him sound a little too strident.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Sunday 28/06/09

I was downloading a couple of old primary school photos from Friends Reunited yesterday, which reminded me of what my mother used to say to me each day as a kid before toddling off to school: “Put clean underwear on, just in case you get run down by a car and have to be taken to hospital.” A bit pointless when you consider that being run over by a car in those days would usually result in your underwear being stained with every conceivable bodily fluid under the sun. If your head wasn’t crushed by cross-ply tyres made of impossibly hard rubber, the mascot on the bonnet would be guaranteed to disembowel you and take your head clean off your shoulders. Doubtless during the process, you’d piss and crap yourself to kingdom come.

I heard John Humphreys on the radio saying that it’s now 6 months since we learned that bankers had been behaving like drunken sailor on shore leave. I take great exception to this slur on my old profession; if ever I went ashore to get drunk, I’d more than likely start behaving like a sober banker – with total social irresponsibility and not even a passing nod to the concept of conscience.

Of late Hay has been saying I’ve put on a fair bit of weight. I laid down a challenge – that I could get into a pair of her trousers (and not metaphorically speaking). Now Hay is currently nine and a half stones and just short of 6 feet. She chose a pair of long black evening trews, which I just managed to squeeze into, much to her surprise. The secret is that women have hips whereas we men do not, and it makes a considerable difference when slithering into loinwear.

I’ve often pondered on the counter-intuitive fact that we humans go dark in the sun as a protective measure against sunburn, whereas the darker the skin the more heat it absorbs. You’d think that being white would reflect the UV and being dark would absorb it – but you’d be wrong. Following a little research I discovered that melanin has a photochemical effect, rather than a pure physical one, and converts 99.9% of UV radiation into heat, whereas the best sunscreen can achieve only 81%. That’s the reason why there is a greater prevalence of skin cancer among sunscreen users than those who (like me) go commando and eschew the stuff. There’s nothing quite like evolution to provide the necessary protection.

We went food shopping yesterday and I absentmindedly put some stuff I’d gleaned from a shelf into another woman’s shopping trolley. She gave me the strangest look and informed me she didn’t really want any tinned salmon, despite my obvious recommendation. Felt such a fool.

While waiting in a waiting room yesterday I leafed though a copy of Hello magazine – not my usual reading material I hasten to add. What a bunch of social misfits! Half of them look as if they belong in a waxworks, and the other half look more suited to Bedlam. A fair number made Jacko look positively a paragon of social normality. I also haven’t a clue as to who a third of those profiled are, but I do at least know they have execrable taste in clothes, furniture and children.

Got a damnably bad hangover this morning.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Saturday 27/06/09

5 days into the Wimbledon Championships and they still haven’t had to close the new roof. Most disappointing.

Had a new business idea. You know the ubiquitous burger vans that litter the roadside? Well, I thought of an international franchise operation: Van Bergen’s Burger Vans! Has a certain ring to it, don’t you think? I’d have standard vans, branded with my name, parked in strange, yet beautiful locations such as motorway lay-bys, back streets and on the outskirts of eyesore villages. They would sell only the fattiest burgers, dripping with lard and seasoned with copious quantities of the best MSG. The French fries would be mechanically recovered from chip shop scraps, being baked to perfection in a microwave. Franchisees would be supplied with pre-stained apronwear, possibly designer-stained by Banksy, just to add a touch of class.

Yesterday I took part in Biobank, a national medical research programme having the aim of improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses by monitoring a cohort of volunteers over a number of years. Given I’m a walking medical casebook, Hay had persuaded me to partake.

Besides taking samples and testing various functions and fluids, there is a long computerised interview. One of the questions was, “Do you have trouble getting to sleep and do you wake up frequently during the night?” Now any question with the word ‘and’ in it is logically 2 questions, which can be mutually exclusive, as they were in this case; I have no trouble getting to sleep (I could fall asleep on a razor), but have to get up several times in the night for a pee. Didn’t have a clue as to how to answer it.

The phlebotomist was Nigerian, the blood pressurist was Filipino and the spriometerist cum bone-densityist and measurist was some flavour of Scandahooligan. The NHS would collapse without foreigners to operate it.

One personal question was what was my libido like. I had to answer truthfully that I don’t particularly like Italian cars.

We were watching some of the highlights from the Glastonbury pop festival last night on TV. Don’t you just detest DJs who vie with the groups for airtime and provide nothing but inane and pointless chit-chat? Can’t really see what people see in Lily Allen; she’s like the girl next door who thinks she can sing and does a spot of karaoke down the pub on a Saturday night. Totally bereft of any star quality, if you ask me ,and purely out to make an utterly pointless and fatuous statement.

For star quality you have to listen to these guys. And of course, Jacko. I note the Jacko exploitation industry is already in full swing. It's strange, but despite me admiring and liking his music immensely, not one item from his magnificent oeuvre occurred at a key point in my life, and as such his music fails to lay claim to defining any moments in it, unlike say the Doors, Yes, Pink Floyd or Supertramp. Jackson's output is just great music to me, without the sentimental overtones. I guess we were just out of synch.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Friday 26/06/09

If you haven’t heard, Michael Jackson has died. You kind of hope it’s just for tax reasons, but sadly not. Love him or hate him, he had a prodigious talent and his music will be remembered for a long time to come. The news about Jackson puts Farrah Fawcett’s death into the shade.

Ref yesterday’s Rolf Harris and Assassin issue; as of yesterday there were 767 Google references to such a search string. Today you can get 1540 references. Clearly there’s more to Rolf than meets the eye.

Let’s take a wander through the cluttered rooms within my mind and look for some random associations.

On the subject of assassins, did you know that in many random sets of data, the number 1 is more likely to start a number in the set than any other digit. The next most frequent starting digit is 2, then 3 and so on. The law applies to any set of numbers scattered randomly on a logarithmic scale. A deviation from this pattern can suggest, but not conclusively, that data may have been manipulated. This has been used to uncover tax fraud and false expenses claims and has even been used to suggest that the result of the Iranian election has been fixed – as if that could ever happen.

The connection with assassins? The original assassins were the Hashshashin, a militant Persian sect of the 8th to 14th centuries. Some say they’re still active given that there have been 162 political assassinations in 19 countries that have been attributed to the Iranian government since 1979.

Assassins are of course the nemesis of bodyguards, and a famous bodyguard of three Byzantine Emperors was none other than Harald Hadrara, also known as Harald Sigurdsson or King Harald III of Norway, who was famously defeated by England’s King Harold in 1066 at Stamford Bridge when he unsuccessfully tried to invade England. Harald had spent a number of years during his youth in the Varangian Guard, who were the Byzantine imperial bodyguards, comprised mainly of Scandinavians. He joined them as an exile, rose to their captaincy and made his fortune before returning to Norway to claim the throne.

Harald’s son, Olav, is said to have founded Bergen in Norway, where it is entirely possible that my ancestors came from.

There have been a few posts in the blogosphere over the last few days about fathers. Funny isn't it? Fathers are always paragons of virtue to women, but ex husbands are invariably portrayed as the devil's spawn.

Many divorced people tend to resort to on-line dating. Watch this.

One day I must regale you of my exploits during my on-line dating phase following divorce 2. There was the Chinese woman from Oxford who on our date told me she was interviewing no more than three men and then selecting which would be the father of her children. Needless to say I did not go back for a 2nd date.

There was also the woman who had lied about her age to cover up the fact she’d had twins at age 14. She informed me that her husband was not the father and that the real father was her teacher at the time. She’d put the blame on a fellow pupil, who as a result became her husband. She was leaving him because he was about to find out that he’s been duped for 20 years.

Women using make-over, professionally retouched or well out of date photos on their on-line dating profile are legion. Many were the times I’d not recognise my date due to them being 3 stone heavier than their photos.

I’ll leave you with the news that we have our final plans for Badger’s End, although I can’t seem to access the document with Firefox this morning, which is strange, as IE doesn’t have a problem.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Thursday 25/06/09

A mural in Bristol by the famed and anonymous graffiti artist Banksy has been defaced by a pellet from a paintball gun. Locals are upset, but would Banksy approve?

I was watching that hideous advert for – oh, what’s the name of the company? Aviva – that’s it! The company that’s busy changing its well known and memorable name to an instantly forgettable one for no good reason. The latest one has Ringo at an airport bemoaning the fact that if you want his respect you shouldn’t call him by his stage name.

What I noticed was how youthful Ringo actually looks at 68 in comparison to Paul McCartney at 67, who was always considered the Peter Pan of the group.

I wonder whether home owners of the distant past had the same addiction to mock architecture as we do today. Wherever you go you see mock-Tudor or mock-Georgian (which is itself mock-Grecian). There’s that awful mock-Cotswold stone cladding that attempts (and fails spectacularly) to make 60s bungalows look like 19th century cottages. Did home owners of Tudor times go in for mock-Stone Age cladding or faux Saxon straw hovel cladding?

I have a habit of making notes about potential thoughts to post here and just looked at my latest notes from a few days ago. One says – Rolf Harris, assassin – and I haven’t a bloody clue as to what I was thinking when I wrote it. The mind of Chairman Bill is a wondrous and mysterious thing, the operation of which is beyond even The Chairman himself to comprehend.

I thought I’d just mention that a black-tailed prairie dog, which is a non-native species, has been spotted in southwest England. I have no witty social commentary about the sighting and simply thought it interesting.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Chairman Bill through the ages

Chairman Bill through the ages (click to enlarge).

So, what do we have here? I'll proceed from right to left and top to bottom (just in case you're Muslim, Chinese or Japanese).

  1. Christening in Rotterdam, age around 3 months (possibly). Cameras were newfangled devices in those days.
  2. Must be just over a year old, or 13 months in metric.
  3. Not sure, but possibly 5 or 6 years of age.
  4. Definitely 16, just after leaving school. I cut off the board with a number under the photo, which was my seaman's ID number for my UK MN Discharge Book - made me look like a criminal.
  5. Probably about 25. Believe it or not I was a babe magnet then, much to my annoyance (NOT).
  6. Hay calls this one my angry fisherman photo. Just got back from a rather long trip and wasn't best pleased.
  7. Age 28 - when I got my master mariner's certificate.
  8. Roughly 35, just as I was going through my 1st divorce. I call it my Carl Wilson phase.
  9. 38 years old - at my 2nd wedding.
  10. Oh, must be around 42 and getting the same around the waist (started putting a bit of pork on). Was visiting my old school at llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in Anglesely.
  11. The official company PR shot. Probably around 43 or 44.
  12. Around the same period as 11 above, with daughters No.1 and No.2.
  13. 48 and just before my 2nd divorce.
  14. Age 50 aboard the boat, just after the 2nd divorce.
  15. Again around 50, done up like a dog's dinner for a school reunion in York.
  16. 51, in the wheelhouse of my boat (still haven't sold the damned thing).
  17. A couple of years ago. Hay took this one - it's her favourite.
On reflection, I've focused too much on the 48-52 era.

Now for the surprise - if you're a blogger then you're tagged and have to produce your own through-the-ages montages - if you dare.

PS - did you notice how llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch was truncated by Blogger above? Not enough space on the line.

PPS - Hay went for an MRI scan yesterday, but more on that at a later date.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

One for the ladies.

I have rather focused on boys' toys of late, so to redress the balance while maintaining the theme of lots of images and few words, here's a post for the ladies to oggle. It's a rather avant garde shop in St Ives, Cornwall, that sells some highly improbable shoes.

These (above) look more like prosthetics.

Hayley saying: "Mine!"

Tomorrow's pictorial posting will be 'Chairman Bill - a life in pictures'.

Monday, 22 June 2009

How The Other Half Live (continued)

Here are some shots I took at the Monaco Boat show of a few years ago. Not sure about you, but I find Monaco hideously tacky, especially when viewed from the harbour. It's like some 3rd world shanty town with monstrous 60's tenements.

And my personal favourite:

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Gin Palace Emporium

And yet more photos of vessels. These photos are from when I visited the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show in 2003 (again, all photos can be enlarged by clicking on them).

And my personal favourite: