Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Sun, Snow and Santa

It's been a while since my last post and though I've been making an effort to read a number of blogs, even comment occasionally, I've really dropped the ball when it comes to updating my own. For this reason, I sit here in the back of a cab tapping away at a keyboard while zooming to the airport.

This time of year is traditionally a busy one for me mostly because of work (I manage a team of elves) but also because this is the time of year most people call me to catchup. We meet up for dinner and talk about the great advances we've made over the past 12 months.

This year has been a pretty static one, just like this time last year, I still live in the same place, have the same job and am still single. That's not to say it's been a boring one, I feel like a lot has been done, it's just that non of it has had a traditionally major impact in my life. Small things like cycling great distances or passing my driving test have marked this year as unique.

Also, a number of cousins, friends and my sister have given birth so this has also been a good year to be with family and lots of shopping at mothercare. All that being said, I'm about to jump on a plane to take me away from it all and into the French Alps.

This is a trip I've been looking forward to for a while, I want to ski! We have a great tradition this time of year, we all get away from family and the stresses of work to meet up in a small place out in the mountains, drink to absent friends, eat until bursting point and take in the dramatic mountain scenery.

After lighting some candles on a real Christmas tree, New Year's eve quickly rears it's head. A few fireworks, more food and more drink, we head our separate ways and back to what now passes as normal for my life.

I look forward to 2009, with luck I'll be kept busy. Rest assured, I'll make much more of an effort to update the blog more often, I just hope there are people out there who still check it when I do.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Friday, 28 November 2008

Touched By His Noodly Appendage

It's odd, people often talk about faith and the lack of evidence in god in a hand-wavy matter-of-fact way but it's quite difficult to fully grasp what this means. Most can be presented with facts and figures but all that doesn't really sink in as there are too many intelligent, respectable people telling you otherwise.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a site which blew that all away and showed (granted, in a fairly indirect way) the strength of the evidence by proposing another hypothesis that also fit the 'facts'. It all started in 2005 when the Kansas school board held a hearing to decide on whether or not intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution theory in the classroom.

The argument here was that there is as much evidence in intelligent design as there is in the theory of evolution. This is, of course, a complete fallacy! Sure, Darwin hasn't been proved entirely and the existence of god has not been disproved 100% (completely proving a negative is impossible as any experimental scientist will tell you); but the evidence for evolution and against intelligent design is overwhelming, to the point where it seems ridiculous to put the two on anything approaching an even keel.

Now part of the problem of putting intelligent design on the curriculum is that most religions have creation theories that have an equal weighting in evidence is the Christian one (as proposed by the Kansas school board). So which one to teach? At this point a completely new and unheard of theory came to light, with an open letter written to the Kansas school board, urging them to consider the flying spaghetti monster as a valid theory. As the letter shows, there is as much (factual) weight behind this as there is in a Christian god.

And thus, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was born. What's really worth mentioning is the correlation between pirates and the average global temperature, genius!

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Fog Lights Off

It's rare but from time to time, I come across a great idea that's so great, so useful that I can't imagine how life was like before it. The other day, I saw just that. While waiting for a bus I noticed a police car pull up at the lights. They has a scrolling message board stuck on top by the flashing lights; as the car behind pulled up, they must have been slightly blinded by the fog lights as, on the board, they put up “fog lights off”.

The guy took notice, turned off his fog lights and they all went on their merry way. Imagine, if you will the unlimited crime fighting possibilities that this will bring up. As the car drives by they could put up the message “could you please stop mugging him” or “that knife looks a bit threatening”. Perhaps as they pull into a café: “coffee, black, 3 sugars”.

They shouldn't stop there, this could have more social benefits when displaying sighs like “is that shell suite really necessary” or “your trousers really don't go with your jacket”..... It is great to see the Metropolitan police trying out new things to make this city a better place.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Eyes Down

I keep going back to a local restaurant because (and this is the main reason) the food is good. On top of that, a nice service is a good bonus. Now, I rarely send things back as I'm well aware that mistakes are made in the kitchen and I don't need things to be just so, in fact at times a mistake can improve a dish!

The other day, I was in said restaurant and while waiting over 30 minutes for our main course to be served (they were hosting a party and understaffed) I ordered a pineapple juice. It arrived warm, by this I don't mean room temperature, I mean warm! I managed to get the waiter's attention as he was standing by the bar, it was quite definitive; I waved my friends saw the wave, he saw the wave, even the barman saw the wave.

As the waiter makes his way over, I look forward to sipping on a cool glass of pineapple juice soon. A he approaches the table, he lowers his gaze, ignores us and walks on by. I was baffled as to what just transpired, much to the amusement of my friends, how rude.

Sure, we've all spotted someone in the street, someone you really don't want to speak to, so you avert your eyes and walk on by hoping the person hasn't seen you; but this is something else, I was left telling my disbelieving friends that I swore he saw me....

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Year of Creativity (So Far)

This is going to seem like I jumped on the band wagon after the fact but that's just not true! I was an avid follower of a blog titled hermitguide, it wasn't about anything in particular but was always an interesting read. The author (Graham Nunn, who has been seen on more than one occasion lingering about these pages) would muse about mugging old ladies (no not really, it was a joke, he did not actually go out and do this!) and gave the world the excel dance all this whilst he was writing a three-times-a-week web comic ('doormat picnic').

I think that this was too ridged and didn't really take advantage of what it is he can do with photoshop (it's like paper and an infinitely big set of crayons). So 43 days ago, he launched 'Once Around the Sun', with the massively ambitious plan of posting one creative 'thing' a day for an entire year!

His efforts range from the comic to the serious, he sometimes sticks to common themes, sometimes topical or sometimes utterly random. We have the photo-realistic, we have the artistic and we also have the outright surreal, and everything in between! It's a great blog, which I hope you take the time to check out, believe me, it'll be worth it.

Bookmark it, take some time to go through the previous entries and then perch your self on the edge of your seat as you see what happens next...

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Monk Bust Up

Imagine, if you will seven different sects of the same religion, working together to maintain peace and harmony for all. I'm taking about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the supposed tomb of Christ (you'll note I didn't say 'final resting place'). They do a good job in keeping and maintaining the Church but the problem is they don't really like each other. For this reason, the complicated sharing of responsibilities that has evolved over the years is followed to the letter, even the slightest divergence from status quo is bound to upset people.

On a hot day during the summer of 2002 a Coptic monk who was stationed on the roof to express Coptic claims there (this is a given but the monk still sits there), moved his chair to a spot in the shade. Unfortunately the Ethiopian Orthodox monks saw this as an act of aggression and the resulting farce saw eleven people hospitalised.

With this amount of tension amongst the tightly wound monks one really has to wonder what was going through a Greek Orthodox monk's mind when he picked the time the Armenian Apostolic monks prepared to mark the annual Feast of the Cross to go into the Edicule. Yes that's right, it makes no sense at all, regardless from which angle you choose to see. With this obvious violation to status quo, it's not shocking to learn that these monks came to blows over this, throwing whatever they could get their hands on.

The police were called in and a number of people were arrested but as I see the footage and read the story I can think only one thing: What the Fuck?!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The Times, They Are A Changing

I'm sure everyone that reads this will be aware of the momentous event that occurred last night. America held it's presidential election with a whopping 70% of people turning up to cast their vote. The president of the United States, like it or not, will make decisions that effect the entire world. For this reason, I hoped that the people of the US would not vote in an out of touch old man and the funniest woman alive.

My faith wasn't misplaced in this case as with a landslide victory, Barack Obama is the new president elect. He promises change, in terms of foreign policy, and is willing to take steps that other world leaders refuse to. I'm incredibly optimistic about his term in office, after eight years of frustration with George W. Bush and choices he made that almost made me tear my hair out!

So, I sit here on the edge of my seat, let's see what happens once he takes office; I know that the 'honeymoon' period will be short and he'll be under close scrutiny. I have faith that the choices he'll make, will be choices for the better.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Great Impressions

Tina Fey (American comedian and one of the funniest women alive) does a great impression of Sarah Palin (American governor and one of the funniest women alive, though probably not intentionally). In the run up to the US elections (Tuesday, I believe), Fey and been bringing her Palin character to Saturday Night Live with a number of sketches, it's like watching Palin herself!

This time though, she was out done by a guy who does the best impression of senator John McCain:



Imagine my disappointment when I learned that this wasn't a great impression but was, indeed, John McCain himself. Yes it reeks of desperation but it is hilarious!

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Does Nothing, Goes Nowhere

Last night, I went out to see the new Bond movie 'Quantum of Solace'. I don't really know what I was expecting, after seeing a number of adverts by Ford, Sony and even Coke using Bond to flaunt their products, I knew the integrity (ish) and style of 'Casino Royal' was gone. It was a huge disappointment, even the gorgeous Olga Kurylenko couldn't half-save it.

So rather than rant about how pointless and disappointing this film was, and believe me, it was; Bond villains should make you quake in your boots, they should be crazy, will stop at nothing to rule the world, this one wasn't. I'll make a mention of another film, loosely related as Kurylenko starred in one of the 5 minute segments, I'm talking about one of my favourite films, 'Paris, je t'aime'.

Paris (the city not the Hilton airhead) is split into 20 districts, starting at the Louvre and numbered as you move outward in a clockwise spiral. The concept of the film was to make twenty stories, 5 minutes long, directed by different people which are loosely based around the theme of love. At some point during production, two of the segments were dropped so Paris, je t'aime consists of 18 short films.

The film features some well known directors and actors, for example: the segment about the the 1st district (titled “Tuileries”) stars Steve Buscemi and throughout the entire sequence, he doesn't say a word but it's truly brilliant and sums up the age old rule: never make eye contact on the Metro.

The film about the 16th is just beautiful. Some of the segments are comedies, some are just plain weird (the Eiffel tower one and 'Porte de Choisy'). A few of the segments are heart breaking and some are quite intense (I remember one of the segments was filmed, entirely, in one shot). In short, there really is something for everybody in this movie it really is worth getting and I can almost guarantee that you'll love it!

This is one of the few films that I knew I would get on DVD as soon as I walked out of the cinema. I believe the producers are making an equivalent for New York and though I doubt it can be as good, I'll be sure to catch it when it comes out.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Dogs, Purple Elephants and Bad Light


Meeting up with a few friends with the intention of walking around, taking a few pictures and maybe getting some lunch in the process didn't seem like a bad way of spending a Saturday. Though, as always, the company was good; the light was not (too much cloud) and neither was the inspiration. It speaks volumes when all the three of us could do was take clichéd photos of red phone boxes and the like.

With the threat of rain constantly hovering over us, we walked over to St. Paul's Cathedral where we ran into a bunch of students who, for some inexplicable reason were dressed up as animals (notice the waving dog), the weirdest of which was a big purple elephant. No, I got no reasonable breakdown as to why someone would want to do this, let alone parade around London's biggest tourist attraction like this.

This was a far cry from a few weeks ago when we did pretty much the same thing but in glorious sunshine, it lead to a great day with some pretty good pictures (it was the day I saw the 'Ghost Bridge'). Near the end of that day, we ended up opposite the Palace of Westminster where I snapped this picture. It inspired me to go through the trouble of getting it printed.

The walls in my flat are quite bare and it's been to my list of 'things to do' to get some pictures printed, framed and hung up. Unfortunately, being almost completely lazy, I've managed to do nothing about it. I contacted the nice people at bigfoot imaging who basically took the picture, retouched it and made it look absolutely amazing on paper! Granted I'm still pretty lazy so I've yet to get a frame for it but I've taken the first step, I've got something printed....

Friday, 24 October 2008

You've Got me on my Knees

I don't listen to much radio (I don't own one) but when I'm in someone's car something is usually on. More often than not (in my brother-in-law's car) it's Virgin radio, usually an odd mix of classic rock and modern crap. A few weeks ago the radio station reinvented itself as 'Absolute', it's essentially the same thing but with subtle differences.

They say that one of their revolutionary changes is that they play all songs in full! Amazing, I thought, there are so many songs out there that are too long for radio, they take a 10 minute song and reduce it to 3 for the sake of their schedule. I say if you can't find time to play it in full then why on earth play it?

Driving along and through the crackle, I hear Laya by Derek and the Dominos, it's one of my all time favorite songs. It has an instantly recognisable introduction and some great guitaring (shockingly it was not Eric Clapton playing the opening section but Duane Allman) throughout. This made me go into my usual rant that most people wont ever get to hear the excellent piano in the second half as pretty much every station will cut it before it comes on. The point where the song is usually cut came and went and the piano came on, I couldn't believe it, they were going to devote prime broadcasting time to the entire song, how refreshing.

The lyrics of the song are amazing, the title was based on the Persian poem 'Layla and Majnun'. The poem is about a guy who falls madly in love with a triable princess named Layla, he can do nothing but think of her all day and writes a number of poems about her. I can't remember much of the story but I do remember he asks for her hand in marriage and is refused by her father, Layla eventually marries another man (of her father's choosing) , on this, our hero wonders off into the desert; he slowly goes insane with the thought of never being able to be with the woman he loves.

All this isn't completely irrelevant in terms of the song, as the story goes, Clapton fell in love with George Harrison's (yes the Beatles guy) wife, naturally he can't be with her and (I guess) this is where the song comes from. A guy (a poet if you will) falls for a girl, it's forbidden love just like the poem. He longs for her and rather than writing poems for her, he writes one of the greatest rock songs ever!

Clapton's story and the poem diverge at this point as I believe George Harrison's wife left him and married Clapton in the end (though I think that ended in divorce, such it life); that and I don't think Clapton ever went insane, but don't quote me on that.

I digress, what made me think about this was a tiny little gem Clapton put at the very end of the song. I don't know how he does it but he stretches the guitar string in such a way as to make a bird 'chirping' sound. This was supposedly a nod to the great jazz legend Charlie 'The Bird' Parker; believe me (or not, listen for your self), after it's all died down and the song is over, you'll hear the bird, almost as an afterthought.

Absolute radio, playing the song in 'full', they manage an impressive seven or eight minutes, they get both parts in but the very last note, the 'bird'; it was nowhere to be heard, shocking, after all that air-play, they cut the last half second.....

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Momentum of a Runaway Bus


Monday night I mentioned how Ariane Sherine launched the Atheist Campaign, in an attempt to reassure Londoners that they need not worry about not believing in God as He probably doesn't exist and they won't go to hell.

By the time I got into work the next morning, she had published an article on the Guardian's comment is free site. This got the ball rolling and people stated to donate, these people emailed their friends, they emailed their friends and before you know it, a viral campaign was born. The story was picked up by The Telegraph, BBC News, The Times, The Washington Post and a whole heap of other publications (across the globe!).

Interviews were given, commentaries were made and with each iteration, people went to the donate site and gave a few pounds. Ten hours after the campaign launched, their goal of £5,500 was reached, fourteen hours, it was doubled! By lunchtime today, they have over ten times their goal!

A lot of hard work went into this and the success they have had so far is well deserved. This is an idea that people can get behind, it's not threatening, not 'in your face', very approachable and (I'd argue most importantly) it brings a smile to most that see it.

What started out as a few adverts to run for a few weeks has turned into something much bigger, why stop at London? Why just buses? It's getting to a point now that reason can be promoted wherever the threat of eternal damnation is.

A lot of people have donated but the momentum is still strong, so head on down, check out the website, leave a comment and put a few pounds down! Fundamentalists have had a free ride for a long time, I'm glad reasonable people are doing something about it but more importantly, I'm glad the public have spoken and are backing the campaign in huge numbers, almost makes you have faith...

Monday, 20 October 2008

All Aboard!

It all started with an article on the Guardian's Comment is Free site, a friend noticed an advert on the side of a bus which essentially said “accept Jesus as your saviour or go to hell!”, a disturbing message if you ask me. Rather than doing what I did, which was acknowledge it as a part of a plethora of religious adverts out there and do nothing about it, she suggested running a more comforting advert telling people that, if they did just get on with their lives, they won't go to hell.

The idea picked up momentum with people pledging £5 towards what became known as “the atheist bus”. Although, not enough people pledged to make the advert runnable, enough people did pledge to make the idea feasible. So after a lot more planning, writing and organizing, Ariane Sherine proudly launches “the atheist campaign” tonight!

The message is a simple one “There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” People need to know that if they don't devote their entire life to god and Jesus, they won't suffer eternal damnation! With everything else that's wrong with the world today, why should people bow to a doctrine that was essentially constructed to ease the worries of people in the dark ages?

For this reason, I'm planning to donate and I ask you to head on over to http://www.atheistcampaign.org/, have a read and join me in supporting this campaign, we can get a positive message out to people, not to change their minds or 'convert' them but to reassure them and, maybe, put a smile on their faces....

Saturday, 18 October 2008

A Touch of Frost

Pretty much everyone knows about or has seen the famous 1977 Richard Nixon interviews, for those that haven't I've found 10 minutes of 'highlights' on YouTube. It was headline news back then as David Frost, who was not known that well in America but still a well accomplished journalist, some how got a full confession and an apology out of Nixon for the Watergate scandal. It's been deemed as one of the great interviews of the 20th century!

What I didn't know was the story behind the interviews was made into a west-end play which in itself was surprising. Today I learned a movie has been made based on the play, apparently it premiered this week at the BFI film festival (alas no invite) so I looked up a trailer for it. It looks great, unfortunately it's not out until January next year so I'm just going to have to wait.

Nixon resigned in 1974 after 'Watergate', when I first read about this, trying to figure out what was bad that the president of the United States would have to give us his post! Nixon was the only US president to have done this to date, Bill Clinton didn't do this after it was found that he outright lied to the American people.

After a bit of light reading, I picked up a copy of 'all the president's men' (I'd recommend it if you like thrillers) by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward who were the two journalists who bought the scandal to the public eye. Admittedly the story wasn't that easy to follow and I was just waiting for the big revelation that would tell me why the president stepped down. The revelation never came and it took me a while to realise why, I think as members of the public, we've been desensitised to scandal over the years.

What Nixon and his men did, wasn't that bad considering what we read about about today but I guess people had more faith in their public officials in the 70s. It's unfortunate that a scandal that would only just raise an eyebrow today was big enough to overshadow all of Nixon's great (yes there was quite a few) achievements back then.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Ghost Bridge


Walking along the shores of the river Thames (it was low tide and not a torso in sight), we walked up to Blackfriars railway bridge. What a lot of people don't always notice is that just west of the railway are the remains of the old Blackfriars railway bridge. It was removed in 1985 as it wasn't strong enough to take the weight of modern trains.

What was left was the pillars that held up the original bridge. They look quite eerie standing alone with no bridge to support while just next door, it's bigger brother has trains going in and out all day long.

I'm obviously not alone in seeing this slightly chilling sight as they (the powers that be) have set up an art installation called 'The Ghost Bridge' where they have used green lasers that hover just above the pillars to make a bridge out of light. It was simply done and, once the sun went down, it looked pretty surreal, I quite liked it.




Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Ten Years in the Making

Today has had the endorphins racing through my system, nothing major has happened, this is usually an experience most people have at the age of 17 but not me. Today, at the ripe old age of 27, I finally passed my driving test!

I'm not usually one to get nervous or stressed but this morning I was shaking, stuttering and generally crapping myself. I've (over the years) managed to fail, I think, five times for various reasons, including one disastrous test where the examiner fell asleep during the test!

Today was a slightly different matter, the nerves melted away and I think the drive went quite smoothly, I took my foot of the clutch for a moment so could place it in my mouth by asking the examiner: “where abouts in Italy are you from?” only to get the reply: “I'm polish”, oh dear.

We got to the end of the test and I was relived that he didn't ask me to do a 'bay park', he places a few marks on the sheet and tells me that I've passed with only three minors; that's fewer minors than Gary Glitter had!

He takes my license to get my details down and raises a well justified eyebrow at the 10 points I've acquired on a motor bike but doesn't bring it up (thankfully). Next thing to do (so people tell me) is to get a car but at the moment I don't really feel the need for one. Granted I live fairish distance from the city but I've not felt hindered by not having a mode of transportation, I mostly rely on the underground and frankly, most of the time, it's quicker.

Now with a nice clean line drawn under this I'm thinking maybe now is a good time to go back and finish my masters..... maybe not.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

A Disturbed Mind

I was working late in the office with a lukewarm coffee beside me and the jukebox playing whatever it felt like throwing at me. Usually this isn't too much of a problem as the songs in the collection are relatively tame and - baring some occasional cheese - not cringe worthy.

Every now and then, the unthinkable happens, I hear a song that leaves with unable to phantom the artist's intention or the song's meaning. Today it was 'Dead Puppies (aren't much fun)' by Ogden Edsel. What the hell was this guy smoking when he wrote this song?

They don't chase squirrels, they don't come when you call and that's just the start! I'm sure at one point, the deceased dog (who, by now, you've figured isn't very entertaining) is put in a stew. I don't think I can justly describe the song so I'll just link to it and call it a night, enjoy (and I'm sorry).

Dead Puppies (Aren't Much Fun)

Sunday, 5 October 2008

A Forgotten Story?

Sometimes you read a book or watch a movie that's quite good, that can stand up as a piece of fiction but, for some reason, people will want to dress it up as a true story. I was watching Sleepers the other night, a film I've not seen since I watched it in the cinema over 10 years ago.

Despite having some big names in it, it's been all but forgotten over the years. I don't know why as it's a film I'd recommend. It's a touching story set in Hell's Kitchen, New York in the 60s and is about four young boys who are sent to a correctional facility where they are tortured and raped by the guards. After release and into adulthood, two of the boys see one of the guards in a bar and shoots him.

The crux of the film is about the following court case in which the district attorney (another one of the original four) attempts to try the case in such a way as to get the murderers let off while bringing to light the horrors that went on at the facility.

The weird thing is the fact that no one seems to remember this, including the people I know I went to see this with! Granted, I've given little thought to this film over the years but as soon as I saw the name, I was able to recall the story, maybe not all the details but enough to know that it didn't completely slip out of my mind.

This time round, I learn that the author of the book claims it to be a true story, even though no evidence has been found to corroborate it, I find this adds nothing to the story but the thought's there non-the-less. It's crazy but people have actually looked into the details of this, I have no idea who but probably people with to much time on their hands (that is to say people with a smidgen more time on their hand than I have on mine).

All the controversy, I found this to be an unforgettable story....

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Did I Ever Smell Like That?

It's weird the way my opinions change at the drop of a hat or when a tiny bit of evidence comes to light. For years, I've been a smoker, from before I was legally allowed to buy cigarettes (the age was 16 back in them days, not 18 as it is now), I was puffing away without a care in the world.

People would often ask “did you go out for a smoke?” or tell me that they could smell the smoke. I could never tell, for one thing, I was too accustomed to the smell to know; I couldn't even smell it on others! I few months ago I decided to stop smoking and although I've lapsed a few times, I'm now a non-smoker and feel better for it.

A few nights ago, I was having dinner with a few friends and in between the starter and the main course, some of them popped out of a quick mid-meal cigarette. On there return, my entire world view was bought into question, I could smell the smoke and it was horrid. How on earth could I not have smelt that?

I've tried quitting a number of times with varying degrees of success but I've never experienced anything like this before, it was a full on assault on my nose! So I now realise that I've been incredibly antisocial but inflicting this smell on the people around me and what's worse is that I never once listened to anyone who would try to tell me this.

People who have quit tell me that food tastes better or that they can run faster, longer, jump higher and such but to be perfectly frank, I've not noticed any of that, I don't feel the least bit healthier but it's been worth it to get my sense of smell back; even if I didn't know I had lost it.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Monkeying Around

Imagine being great at your job, imagine not only enjoying it but also creating something that blows the competition out of the water. About a year ago, that's exactly what an advertising agency did with the aid of a rhythmically aware gorilla; rumor has it, they just stuck the gorilla behind a drum kit, played a bit of Phil Collins and filmed the result.

This 90 second ad really made it big, though it did it's job by spreading the word according to Cadbury, it bought international fame to the gorilla in question. More so, the way the campaign took off bought Phil Collin's 'In the Air Tonight' back into the UK charts despite it never being re-released on CD! It was all down to viral marketing, the theory that if you are creative and make something that people will like and pass on to their friends, you can use your work as a vessel for a company's brand or message.

On a sunny Sunday morning, as I settle down to watch the first night-race of the Formula 1 grand prix. These races are becoming more and more disappointing as the years go by, this one in Singapore (which was the first ever 'night race') rightly followed the trend and was easily the most boring to date. During one of the adverts the famed gorilla came on but I wasn't smiling, I was disgusted!

In a thinly veiled attempt to ride the fame of the original, they re-cut the ad, replacing Phil Collins with Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart', good cheese in it's own right but highly inappropriate for a drumming gorilla. What's worse is that they didn't ever re-shoot the commercial, they just slowed bit of it down and 'cut and paste' bit around, it was painful to watch.

It breaks my heart to see a great concept bought down to this level of crap for the sake of a few extra pounds. The lesson to be learned here is that if you do, somehow, achieve perfection, don't mess with it....

Friday, 26 September 2008

Top O' The Morning

When making small talk, most of what people say should fall by the wayside after all, we are just making small talk. Someone may recommend a book or movie which, months later, will come to me when I'm sitting in front of a computer, so I go ahead and order it even though I don't remember the context of the conversation.

I watched Michael Collins, a film I sure to recommended by someone but I can't for the life of me remember who; if it was you, thanks! I find random recommendations often work out and this is no exception.

It's essentially about the first peace treaty between the British Empire and Ireland. How the Irish fought for a republic but got a 'free state' which some say was the start of all the troubles with the fighters breaking into the Irish free state army and what will go on to become the IRA. Like all movies that take a historical figure as the central character, the role is somewhat romanticised. Certain aspects and actions are omitted and artistic license is take over other aspects. This is all well and good so long as people realise that this is what they do in the movies, they make the heroes guys good and the villains bad, there's very little gray when it comes to public mass consumption.

This line between screen and reality isn't always respected, the bird man of Alcatraz was a classic example of this. People were rallying for his release after reading the book or watching the film, whereas anyone who had actually met the guy would outright say he should never be released, he was a drug addict and a dangerous man.

Elliot Ness may have been incorruptible but there was no mention in De Palma's movie about his drinking habits or his constant cheating on his wife. 'Henry Hill' was a gangster who sold out everyone around him, not for justice, but to save his own skin but in Wiseguys the book or Goodfellas the movie, he can do no wrong.

People (even great people in history) are flawed, that's what makes them human but in art, literature and film this is rarely ever seen; I'm not saying this is a bad thing, perfection in art is fine, so long as you appreciate that what you are seeing is not real....

Thursday, 25 September 2008

I Saw the Sign, it Opened Up My Eyes

Often, while walking past things, you tend to look at it and imagine the amount of time that went into creating it. Perhaps it's just me. A large building, for example, I think about someone saying “we need a building there” than designers, architects, builders, electricians, plumbers and the list goes on. Problems will invariably arise and people will get together have a meeting or two to solve it, you can't help but admire that.

Imagine one day, our friends at Severn Trent Water were, one day faced with a broken sign. A few of the guys got together and hammered out a solution. I'm sure this meeting had coffee and no doubt biscuits were served but that's all ok as these people had a problem and they were damned if they weren't going to collectively solve it.

I must ask, how many hours were collectively spent brain storming before they came upon this inventive stop-gap? Amazing!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

This Season's Must Have

I know nothing about fashion or what to wear when, sure I'm unlikely to turn up to a non-luau-themed wedding wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts but generally speaking, when it comes to cloths, I'm a bit lost at sea. I figure what most people do is judge others based on what they have read in fashion magazines and on TV.

While waiting for a couple of friends the other day, I spot Gok Wan (though I mistakingly referred to him as Gok Wang to a friend, live and learn) walking across the street and thought this is an ideal opportunity for me to figure out what I should be wearing based on what he was.

As I see it, black is back in, yes brown was the new black but that's old now so brown is actually now the old new black and black is now the new old black brown. Also, it would seem, an essential accessory to have at the moment is a bodyguard to keep away the thousands of screaming fans you have; it wasn't, at this point, clear if anyone else had recognised him but I'm sure the the bodyguard would have jumped into action if someone had.

I should point out that fashion can be expensive but as Wan himself says, you don't need to spend a fortune, you can make something budget look designer. I'll take his advice and this season, I'll mostly be accompanied by a large, official-looking, mate with an ear-piece....

Monday, 15 September 2008

Mad Mash

Going about, in and around London, I notice things that make me think. It's mostly good things that reaffirm my faith in the Human race; it's a nice, happy feeling knowing that, despite all the craziness, war, famine and shear stupidness that's evident throughout the world, we may just survive.

Unfortunately, every now and then, I see something that fires off the wrong synapses and leaves me thinking that we are all doomed. One such example as I was picking up a few things from the local supermarket, I wondered into the frozen foods section and found a product that has still left me baffled.

The product, in itself, was rather simple; it was a pack of frozen mash potato. I almost passed it without noticing but something in the back of my mind said 'Stop!' I can not believe that there is a market for frozen mash potato.

I can understand instant mash (Smash, if anyone still remembers it) as it's not really the same. The texture's different, the taste is different, it's not mash! Frozen mash on the other hand, boggles the mind.

Cut up a few potatoes (I prefer to keep the skin on), throw them into boiling water, cook for a few minutes till soft, drain, take a fork or masher and mash the potatoes, add some butter, cheese, herbs to taste, serve. That's all it takes to make mash potato! If someone is too lazy to do that, if they truly feel the need to resort to frozen mash potato; than I have to ask, in all seriousness, are you really fit to contribute to society?

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Window Shopping

“Which way?”

“Walk north than when you see the pregnant mannequins, take a right.”

“What?”

“Walk north than when you see the pregnant mannequins, take a right.”

“Pregnant mannequins? Really, Josh?”

“Yes, where do you think baby mannequins come from?”

A common conversation that has yet to get someone lost en route to my office. These mannequins usually grace the display window of the Topshop on Regent's Street and every day, as I walk past, it brings a small smile to my face, I've always thought it was Topshop's way of sticking a subtle finger up at conformity, there way of saying “pregnant ladies are beautiful”. They look great, infinitely better than the no-body-all-legs displays I pass everywhere else.

Unfortunately, as I walked home tonight, my smile was turned upside down. The master (or mistress) of displays at the shop thought a change of tact was needed, currently the windows is filled with the new range by Kate Moss. As, I'm guessing, is necessary with anything Kate Moss related, the window has many size 0 mannequins.

The shop front in question isn't on there flagship store (it's nicely tucked away) and they tend to change the display quite often. Usually, I like it, they always put up something slightly out of the ordinary so I really hope Kate Moss doesn't last too long and whoever thinks up these displays gets back on par.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Dated Ideas

The big problem with political writing is that it's often a commentary on the current state of play, the ideas put forward just can't stand the test of time. What's worse is a lot of them with write in a hand-wavy generic way which leaves me thinking “what the hell did they mean by that?”, I'd then have to reread again and again to try and pull a meaning from the convoluted sentence presented to me.

I thought this was a relatively modern phenomena (the speech writers of George Bush and Tony Blair excel at this) but after reading Orwell's Politics and the English Language, I realized that this practice was rife as early as 1946!

I'd love to be able to summarise that essay but I don't think I can, it's worth a read. The crux of it is that writers don't care about the point they want to get across anymore, they care more about how they say things. Pick up any piece of political writing today (a good example is a speech George Bush gave 'condemning' the Russians over the recent Georgia incident).

This and many other examples of George Orwell's writings show how (good) political writing really can stand the test of time; but this also shows how the state of world politics hasn't really evolved over the years. One of my favorite books is Nineteen Eighty Four and people use the world in which it is set as a 'worst case' regime to live by, and why not?

The land of air strip one was a nightmare, the people in power would have to 'double-think' and he invented the concept of 'newspeak'. Both these concepts were laughable when I first read about them but over the years, I see examples of them everywhere in British politics alone!

In 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia, it was as if someone had handed Pol Pot a copy of Nineteen Eighty Four and told implement what he read. People were taken away for crimes that are disturbingly close to what Orwell called 'thought crimes', the perpetrators (often these people were identified by children) would then have to be 'reeducated' and was unlikely to be ever seen again. History was constantly being denied or rewritten! The big difference is that in Orwell's world, the rest of the world was just as bad but out here in real life.... the rest of the world just watched on.

In North Korea, they have a god-like leader who's ways are very similar to big brother. I'm sure the North Koreans don't spend an allocated five minutes per day in hate towards their enemies but they do have certain aspects that are a direct throwback to Nineteen Eighty Four.

A great writer and a relevant one in this day and age but it's worth noting that within this great writing are a number of warnings, some of them are incredibly thinly veiled. It was just assumed that people would learn from history which is why Orwell can satirise them in his books, what disturbs me is that by reading them, I'm reminded that time and time again, we haven't learned.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Odd Observation

A short one today. I have on, in the background, Jurassic Park. It was just this weekend a friend of mine was telling me about how she was helping her daughter with her university applications. I remember doing this ten years ago! This makes me feel old.

The thing that really made me sit up and take notice though was the fact I remember going to the cinema with a few friends to watch Jurassic Park. I should have just left the memory as it was but I thought about it a it more and came to realize that it was in 1993, 15 years ago!

It's not a bad feeling (I mean I don't feel ancient or anything) it's just slightly surreal that a blockbuster I went to see is now a graveyard shift time filler used to mark time before an extended infomercial is put on for insomniacs who just don't have enough JML in their lives....

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Blood on the Dance Floor

It's odd, on Friday one of the great musical minds of this generation, the so-called 'king of pop' turned 50. The event went almost completely unnoticed, with the only publicity surrounding his name at the moment is the pending release of his greatest hits album. For a guy who signed his first record contract at the age of 11 and than went on to grow from strength to strength to become one of the biggest selling artists, this lack of note of his semicentennial just goes to show how far he has fallen.

Don't get me wrong, following the trials and tribulations of Michael Jackson over the years and the shocking revelations that have come out, I don't think he's the sort of person I'll be inviting to dinner any time soon but some of his albums and songs, I believe, will stand the test of time. And unlike another famous pedophile from history, he didn't feel the need to put his achievements down to a 'Revelation' from an angel.

Thriller, bad, dangerous and, indeed, history are still albums I put on every now and than and just.... listen. I've often said (rather guiltily, I'll add) that perhaps if his career was cut short, if he stopped making albums he might, today be considered 'great' but as it happened, he is now nothing but a punchline.

I know this is kind of an off the wall thing to say but, despite everything (I believe the guy should be locked up) I still like his music.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

A Black Fly in my Chardonnay

I try to make my home a welcoming one, granted the flat is probably has more clutter than it needs to be and I have a pile of unopened junk mail (I'll eventually recycle it but I refuse to read it) but generally I think people feel welcome here.

I'm not much of a host, I don't organise parties or have lavish dinners (I still struggle with pasta+sauce so I don't think I'm ready for anything more complex) in fact I've yet to have a house warming even though I've been here for almost two years! Having said that, I regularly have friends drop by for no reason at all and I quite like that. It's a good thing, I like it that my friends feel they can pop by and (secretly) I smile a little when someone feels comfortable enough to put their feet up on the sofa.

Unfortunately, it's not just friends that feel this way, on a hot day (like this one) I leave the windows open and in comes a fly. Obviously it doesn't want to be here as you can see it buzzing up against the window wanting to get out. It doesn't seem t realize that, if it flew to the left, it would find the open window from where it came.

I don't like swatting flies so I try to usher it out of the window and on to freedom but this doesn't always work. The end result is, I eventually have to close the window and the fly dies of starvation (or at least I think it does, what do flies eat anyway?) and I feel guilty about it. I know it shouldn't bother me in the slightest but it does I feel like I've lured the fly to it's demise!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Desperate Housewife

Of late, I've mostly been working on my TV tan. Yes, I know doctors say you shouldn't spend too much time in front of the TV but I have factor 15 TV guide so I'll be fine.

Tonight I flipped over to filmfour and caught Transamerica, it wasn't something I would have gone out of my way to watch. I like Felicity Huffman, though I'm not a fan of desperate housewives, I used to love sports night back in the days when I had Sky TV.

So here I sat, basking in the warmth of Felicity Huffman, watching a film simply because it was on. I must confess, I rather liked it. It wasn't in the least bit life changing or mind blowing; no twists or clever dialog. It was a simple story, simply told. It was about a guy (Huffman) who goes on a road trip across America with his son, whom he just discovered he has. He plans to get back to the west coast before his gender realignment surgery.

I wouldn't say run out and get it on DVD but if it's on, I think it's certainly worth a watch....

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Basic Physics Can be Such a Pain in the Neck

An old school friend invited me to his engagement party somewhere near Birmingham. So off we went in a nice German car (I'm always impressed by German engineering) that weighs about two tons. We are on the motorway for no longer than 20 minutes when we notice we are pulling up on the car in-front at an alarming pace.

As I see smoke coming from the tyres for the car in-front, I realise that this is an emergency and he's probably reacting to the car in-front of him trying, ever so hard, not to hit it. He failed; and as he slams into the car in-front of him, my big concern was weather we will be able to stop before we slam into him.

Alas, we failed and with a 'thud' we come to a complete stop. This is where the German engineering really came into it's own, the breaks on this car seem to break the laws of physics as when the car behind us slammed into us (at a decent speed), we didn't budge an inch; that is to say the car didn't budge an inch, we were thrown forward and caught sharply by the seat belts.

The last two car accidents I've been involved in have left me unmoved, I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing but so long as I'm not hurt, I'll get out of the car and carry on as usual. I asked my friend if he was ok than stopped out of the car. The guy in-front of us seemed fine, the family behind us (though the father was `f'ing and blinding`) seemed fine as well. The front of their car was completely obliterated, unrecognizable, that really made me thing. If the kids weren't in car seats for if the parents weren't waring their seat belts, given the force of the crash, someone would have gone through the windscreen so I was quite thankful that they were all ok.

The lady in the front car was the most shaken up so I spent a few minutes chatting to her while the ambulance and police arrive (standard procedure for a motorway crash). The police arrived and everyone swapped insurance details, the cars were dragged off the road. Given the amount of twisted metal in-front of us, it's a testament to the car manufacturers that no one was badly injured.

It's at this point I should mention that Newton's first law was well and truly adhered to as, when the seat belt caught me, my head did go through what they call “rapid acceleration and deceleration”. In short, my neck is killing me (no worse than a heavy session at the gym).

We made it to the party though, five hours late but we made it!

Friday, 22 August 2008

Stop!

I was reminded of something today, it was such a small, insignificant part of the 90s that it had completely slipped my mind. It was a 'spin off' from one of the greatest phenomena of that era, though the parent is fresh in my mind, the child seems to have disappeared.

The last sixteen years of my life have been lived without a single (let alone second) thought given to it but as the words “he was given magical shoes” were uttered this morning, everything came flooding back.....

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

A friend put this up a few days ago:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/aug/18/2

It got me thinking, I've always been reluctant to accept help from strangers. It's not because I feel the need to be completely Independent and self reliant, I'm not; I'll openly admit if I need to get somewhere, I'll call a friend and ask them if they could drive me. My Ikea bookshelf is standing and holding book for one reason and one reason alone: I ordered pizza while a couple of friends were over and we needed something to do while it was being delivered.

My bed, my TV stand, the lights in my living room, my sofa; they are all up and in working order because someone lent a hand. It works both ways, I would gladly go to hell and back to help a friend. When it comes to offering help to a complete stranger, I do often think twice, I justify it by thinking “they'll be fine” or “I'm in a rush”. Truth be told, I'm never in a rush and more often than not, I'm afraid of my offer being rejected by the stranger.

It's crazy and irrational, I've been rejected before and it's not that bad, I feel I have to ask: “what's the worst that can happen?” Are they going to turn out to be a crazed murderer who lures me into some torture chamber, ending my short yet sweet existence? No! At best they'll say “thanks” and I don't object to work or at worse they say “no thanks” and we go our separate ways.

Who knows, as Ariane says we could end up at a party 20 years from now with people asking: “So how did you two meet?” I'll do anything for my friends but stop short of giving the time of day to strangers (ok, that's a slight exaggeration). I think back over the years and anyone I can call 'friend' today was once a 'stranger'. It maybe time for a change.......

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Running Garms


Loosely sticking with the theme of surreal things, I was stuck in a waiting room earlier today and caught the 200M women's qualifying race. What was most noticeable in the race was Rogaya Al-Gassra of Bahrain. While everyone else was waring skin-tight shorts and short tops, Al-Gassra chose to run while covered from head to toe. She had nothing but her face and hands showing!

I assume runners dress the way they do for the time and weight advantage it gives so to see someone waring a lot more than her counterparts was odd to say the least. She chose to be 'disadvantaged' in this race.

I take my hat off to her though as, amazingly, she crossed the finish line first. Sure it was just a qualifying race and I look forward to the final on Thursday but looking at the pictures and seeing the stark difference between her and the others, it made me think.....

Saturday, 16 August 2008

The Rhythmic Drumming of an Emu

I'm in the mist of a slightly bizarre weekend so far. It started yesterday, leaving work early when a friend called and said he had a spare ticket to see The Feeling that night. So off we went up north to a place called Clumber Park, just outside Sheffield.

We got there in time to see the end of the Turin Breaks set and just as we are calming down from the shocking price of Pimms, Scouting for girls come on. It was a great set! Later that evening, The Feeling finally come on and it has to be said, even though the lead singer was 'plastered' (as well as downing a number of whiskeys whilst on-stage), it was a good show.

The drive back to where we were staying was uneventful except for the slight incident where the lady in the car in-front of us makes a somewhat too quick an exit from a junction and ploughs over the police lady who was there to direct traffic! An ambulance was called and the driver walks (clearly shaken) over to the side of the road to trow up. Slightly surreal but I think I'm getting used to seeing surreal things. The police officer was fine by the time we left which is more than I can say about the driver.

This morning, I somehow managed to sleep through my wake-up call (in the form of 'cock-a-doodle-doo' as belted by the rooster in the back garden). After a breakfast orange juice (more than my stomach is used to in the mornings), I went for a little walk to see the emus that wonder around in the back garden with some donkeys, goats and, of course, sheep.

I've never been eye-to-eye with an emu, I hear they are vicious creatures but thought nothing of it. The first thing that struck me is the noise they make, it's a low drumming sound, the likes of which I never thought an animal could make.

The emus really came into their own when a new goat was introduced into this 'family', I figure they must have taken slight exception to this introduction. They start by running after this goat and the goat, rather than standing his ground, ran away! I was amazed at the emu's speed and its attempts at kicking, they are rather large birds and have no reservations in kicking goats or, indeed, humans. All was well by the time I left and I think the new goat was accepted.

I'm now on a train heading back to London but I take with me a very valuable lesson: Do not upset an emu........

Monday, 11 August 2008

Submitted

I'm not a huge fan of Theo Van Gough, I think he had a tenancy to lash out at anything and everything that came his way. Who could blame him, I would imagine as soon as he turned his back on his legal studies and entered the world of art, he was thrown into the shadow of his great uncle Vincent. I can't think of anything worse than having to live up to live up to that sort of legacy.

His views and his works seemed to get more and more provocative as his career progressed, the film he's mostly remembered for was 'Submission', written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and which ultimately led to his assassination in 2004.

'Submission' is a ten minute monologue telling the stories of four Muslim women who have been abused in various ways. The actress has, tattooed, on her body, verses from the Quran. The four stories highlight three verses from that Quran that have been used to justify the mistreatment of the women in the story. Like all text the 'offending' verses are open for interpretation and though they are used to suppress the rights of women in some countries, they can (and, I believe, should) have a more liberal meaning.

The first story focuses on 'fornication', a couple fall in love outside marriage, naively they think because they love and respect each other, they are doing the right think. For this 'sin', they are sentenced to 100 lashings of the whip with a “party of believers” witnessing their punishment. (24:2)

The second is about a 16 year old girl who enters into an arranged marriage, she is repulsed by her new husband but gives into his whims because he quotes scripture at her. This story highlights how the verse can be interpreted to allow a husband to rape his wife. (2:222)

Number three highlights a verse which has been used to justify the beating of one's wife. It's about an 'obedient' and loyal wife whose husband looks for any excuse to lash out at his wife, he doesn't have to look far as he believes all he needs is to 'fear disloyalty', he beats her after a few 'threats and warnings'. (4:34)

The last story is not based on a verse but does shows disillusionment, a woman is raped and left pregnant by her uncle when she speaks up about it to her father, she is told not to “question his honor”. She looks for comfort and answers from a god, whose word she has followed to the letter (she specifically mentions 24:31), but finds only silence.

I say watch it but do so knowing that the verses have been interpreted as a fundamentalist would to push the point. I would also recommend reading the verses for yourself (I can't read Arabic so, yes, I'm well aware that I'm reading translations) and seeing the context in which they are written.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Coming in From the Cold

“I'm surprised you didn't ware a black arm band into work today”, a college quipped; he was referring to the sad news that broke this morning, the dead of the Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

A few years ago, I remember picking up a book from a dusty bookshelf. I wasn't expecting much, in-fact I was just looking for something to read but as I went through 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich' I slowly realized that the very thinly disguised subtext of the story was put there by someone who was nothing less than a genius.

It was while fighting in the closing years for World War II that he wrote a letter criticizing Stalin, this, in turn, had him sentenced to hard labor in the Gulags. Here, while he toiled in this 'special camp', slowly starving and freezing, he 'wrote' a book. That is to say the thought up the story and worked on it in his mind (not having access to paper or pencils).

Some time after his release (1961), he submitted the manuscript for 'One Day...' to a magazine, at this time people were only 'allowed' to refer to the Gulags in the most general terms but here was a story about the day of a prisoner described in great detail, it was unheard of! The book was published, perhaps because, at the time after Stalin's death, the Russians were trying to play down the whole Stalin system so anything that would criticize him and his regimen as openly as this book was considered good propaganda. Maybe it was for this reason, maybe not, in 1962 Krushchev himself gave to go ahead for the story to be published.

After publication, the world could finally see what was going on in these camps. Such are (were) the pitfalls in the Soviet system that after Krushchev was ousted the KGB moved on Solzhenitsyn and pretty much ended any publication of his from getting out. From than on, his works were only ever seen (legally) in the west.

His most famous work, The Gulag Archipelago, was not published in his home country until after the fall of the Soviet Union. He was a man who was never afraid to openly criticize the government from the oppressive regime of the Soviet Union to US involvement in the Vietnam war (another brave move as he was living in exile in the US at the time).

He was a great political writer and I don't, for a second, think I can do justice to the life or indeed, the sear genius of this man so I hope that you (if you haven't already) pick up something of his and discover him for yourself. Though he never lead or effected a revolution, he was a revolutionary.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Wake Up!

I've fallen into an all to common cycle, I buy an alarm clock, use it than 18 months later, it stops working. It's not a technical problem as such, it's just that over the months, I get used to it; to the point that the noise stirs me in the morning but doesn't quite wake me.

The first solution I pioneered years ago was simply to move the alarm clock away. Simple, I would have to physically get out of bed to turn the thing off, surly I couldn't go wrong! It worked for less than a week, I would get out of bed, walk across to the other side of the room turn the alarm off and go back to bed as if nothing happened. Amazingly I would do this every morning and wake up in a mild panic two hours later.

So, every 18 months I need to buy a new alarm clock, this doesn't really bother me much as for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, I enjoy shopping for alarm clocks; I understand this isn't normal but there it is, I think it appeals to the geek in me.

My current alarm clock is great, it has a snooze function. It's been moving further and further away from the bed and it's currently as far as it will go without leaving the room. I figure the snooze function works every 8 minutes and the other morning I managed to continually snooze it for 2 hours. For thous who feel the need to calculate: I pressed the snooze button 15 times!

My next purchase will be this nice little number, it lets you record your own alarm sound which will play at the allotted time. The theory here is that if I get used to a sound, I can simply change it. Now all I need to do is convince Cameron Diaz to record the phrase “open your eyes” though I'd settle for Penélope Cruz, I'm not picky.....

Monday, 28 July 2008

How Not To Get Your Voice Heard

This is really starting to piss me off, I wake up this morning expecting a lovely hot day (granted, I might add) but I turn on the tube to find that another suicide bomber has thought it would be a good idea to blow himself up amongst some pilgrims in Baghdad escorting countless people to the 'gates of heaven'. This just added to the general craziness from Sunday's bombing in Istanbul (at the time of writing this was blamed on PKK but that's not really important).

The thing that really got my goat with the bombings on Sunday was the fact that they set off the first bomb on a busy street at a time when they knew people would be about. Killing innocent civilians for reasons I still can't comprehend is unforgivable, these people knew what would happen when the bomb went off, they've seen it countless times on the news, they knew people would run to help, they knew the emergency services would rush to the scene. With people dead or dieing on the street, with blood spilling everywhere, the perpetrators knew that ten minutes after the bomb the street would be infinitely more crowded than it was before the blast. It's at this point, they chose to blow another, much bigger, bomb in the same place!

This is a method that was pioneered by the IRA in the late 80s or early 90s (more recently employed by ETA) and to me it say just one thing: “we want to kill indiscriminately, in cold blood.” It's no longer about making your voice heard, what possible statement are they making by deliberately setting off a bomb amongst people why are trying to help?

I can't be the only one who thinks this isn't the best way to drum up sympathy for a cause. If a cause has access to explosives and the expertise to plan and carry out such an attack I can't imagine how they seem to lack the intelligence to understand that blowing up innocent civilians won't endear the public or the media to their cause.

Say hypothetically, you've gone through the processes of making a bomb or two, you've rallied the troops, you want to be heard and you ignore the fact that there are millions of better ways of getting your point across. It really doesn't take much planning to focus that energy into, off the top of my head, blowing up a relay or sub-station or two, plunging a city into darkness. Ok, I'm not in any way shape or form, condoning terrorism but if you can make your voice heard without killing people whilst still causing disruption, than why not?

Unfortunately we are not seeing any evidence of logical thinking here, nothing is likely to change, terrorists will continue killing innocent people, governments will pour more and more money into there intelligence services as well as giving them a freer hand (I'm sure at some point it was just about gathering intelligence but that's not the case any more).

All I ask is that terrorists give an iota of thought to the question “is this really going to help?”

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Deliverance

The other night, through circumstances beyond my control, a friend and I walked into a pub. Over the years this has become a fairly normal action for me to preform but rarely this turns into a somewhat surreal experience.

A few years ago another friend and I walk into a pub in New Cross, the pub becomes completely silent as we notice that it's mail clientèle are skinheads. We go to the bar and order a couple of pints (yes, I know the correct thing to do in that case was to leave and find another pub). As we stand by the bar chatting, drinking and trying ever so hard to ignore the dozens of piercing looking being burned into our backs. Finally, a half a pint into our drinks, one of the regulars finds the courage to come up to us and says “I know you're new here so I'll forgive you but you're going to finish your drinks than you'll get the fuck outta here”. Suffice to say we took his advice.

Going back to the other night, I'll admit the pub we went to wasn't as bad and was probably a bit more welcoming but it was just as surreal. Walking in, we were presented with a large group of people, non of which would have looked out of place on the set of Deliverance. We weren't out in a small Cornish village (sorry to all the Cornish people but this is the first place that springs to mind) or anywhere where 'inbreeding' is the done thing but looking around this pub, I could almost guarantee that most of them would have been related to a lot of the others in more ways than one.

An utterly surreal experience, as the evening wore on and the small talk got smaller and smaller, we both walked out wondering “what th hell happened back there?” but all was not lost as just up the road, I discovered a place that does great pancakes stuffed with chocolate chip ice cream....

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Joe Franklin Raped Me

I'm not sure how it happened but while watching The Aristocrats on DVD the other night, it was a run-of-the-mill random play.com order, I saw it, remembered a friend said it was good so ordered it. It turned out to be better than good, it's great!

The premise is a simple one, I didn't know this but there is a joke called the aristocrats which is supposedly a 'green room' joke, shared amongst comedians, rarely, if ever, preformed in front of an audience yet every comedian seems to know it. It all starts with a guy walking into a talent agency and saying “have I got an act for you!” it then descends into an ad-libbed description of the act including anything and everything the comedian can thing of, the dirtier and more shocking, the better.

After describing, in depth: incest, pedophilia, scatting, bestiality, homophobia, sexism, racism, necrophilia and pretty much any taboo you care to think of, the talent agent says “what do you call and act like that?”, “the Aristocrats” boom boom. The great thing is, every comedian they interviewed (they had some of the biggest names in US comedy) had their own unique take on the ad-libbed bit and it was great watching them share their own view on this common experience.

The film did make me think about how easy it is to offend someone with a joke, I've always believed that there should be no boundaries with jokes, I know this isn't a very political correct thing to say but so long as what you say is not motivated by ignorance, people should not be judged on the grounds of a tasteless joke.

One of the great moments of the film was Sarah Silverman, I never thought the line “Joe Franklin raped me” would have my laughing so hard but the build up to this 'punchline' fantastic and delivered with a completely straight face! The fact that the joke was completely tasteless hit home perfectly, hilarious and I think is a good case-in-point.

I would highly recommend this film, it's worth a watch if only to see the mime (I have a healthy fear of mimes) preform the joke.

For now, I'll leave you with the classic song, I'm fucking Mat Damon, how do you like them apples?

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Another Gratuitous Cycling Post

At about 8:30 Saturday evening a group of six to seven hundred people set off from a pub by London Fields and headed, generally, north east. The destination: a beach in Dunwich, the purpose: well no real reason but I was amongst these people feeling rather out classed but knowing that I would give it my all to reach the destination.

The story goes that on a balmy night in 1990, a group of cycle couriers had finished the day's work and were having a quick drink at that very pub when they decided that it would be nice to ride to the east coast to see the sun rise. Off they went and, 120 miles later, as they reached the end of the line at Dunwich beach, they had no idea that they had just started an annual tradition that would attract more and more people to grow to the event that is today known as the Dunwich dynamo.

Three snickers bars, a few pro-plus pills and a cup of soup had past by 8am the next day as I arrived at the beach well after sunrise. Granted the time I covered the distance in was not a great one but I was over the moon just to see the 'finish line' but at this point, all I could think about was food, I was starving. First thing's first, as you can see here (at 4 minutes, 10 seconds), I scoffed down a full English fry-up. I know, I look like an escapee from Guantanamo bay but at this point, I really didn't care, my body ached all over, I wanted to sleep and I would have killed for a massage but I had made it!

After a quick snooze on the beach and still feeling completely spent, I had to set off on the four mile journey to Darsham station, I managed, at most, 8 miles per hour with my knee reminding me that is wasn't going to play on every peddle. Finally getting to the station and seeing 20 other cyclists waiting at the platform, I was told it was ok as someone had called ahead and the conductor would let us on.

The train arrives only for the conductor to evoke sod's law and say “no cycles”, a few minutes of arguing and we knew we were fighting a lost fight. Everyone, including me, who had a connecting train at Ipswich would miss it. At this point, one thing was apparent to me: there was no way in hell I would be able to cycle the thirty miles to Ipswich station. “You're looking very calm” one of the cyclists said to me as we sat in the car park, I figured we had missed the train, missed the connecting so there was no point worrying about it.

My first thought was to call a 'friend with a van' to pick me (and some others) up, and though this would have been really lucrative for him, I would imagine asking someone to drive from London to Ipswich and back was a bit too much for a Sunday morning so I called that plan 'B'. After a few phone calls, we got a cab to take us to Ipswich station and the rest of the journey was a breeze.

Home, slept, ate, slept some more, ate some more and slept again, before long, it was Monday. The knee still hurts and I don't think I'll even consider riding for the next two weeks but I'm already looking forward to next year, July the 4th when I can do it all over again.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Running on Empty

It's been a week of next to no sleep and rather than having me tapping on my laptop as I usually do, it's left me with no energy or inspiration at all, hovering through life like a shadow of my usual self. Ok, it's not that bad, in fact it's not bad at all I guess I'm just feeling a bit lethargic is all.

Moving on, I have a busy weened ahead, the time of the long anticipated Dunwich Dynamo has come and, this evening, I'll be peddling for all I'm worth in an attempt to get to the coast before they stop serving breakfast. I'm both apprehensive and looking forward to it at the same time, the weather doesn't look too bad, it might rain but with a bit of luck it should all clear up before I set off.

In other new, I experienced cold stabbing looks from a number of strangers yesterday. Paying homage to the Thai man once again, I took the orders from an number of people in the office. As per usual, a large queue had formed by the time I had got there and he was starting to run low of food when I had made my way to the front. I roll out my order and notice how the people behind me looked at me as the Thai man gave me the last of the red and yellow curries. I think this was bad luck on my part as if I was five minutes earlier, I would not have depleted his reserves with my order but, as it happened, I walked away with two full bags as everyone looked at me with shear hatred. I'll make no apologies for this though as it was a great lunch.....

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Adventures of Babysitting

A few years ago a friend invited me to a week of climbing and camping in Fontainebleau. His wife gave birth to their first child six months earlier and they were going on their annual camping trip with a group of friends, I love Fontainebleau so I jumped at the chance.

On the day of the trip I arrive just in time to help load the car, at this point, I thought nothing of the fact that there didn't seem enough luggage for a couple and a baby, I just figured they are good packers. With his six month old daughter asleep in the child seat and him at the wheel, it hit me.... his wife was standing outside waving goodbye to us!

“What the hell?” I felt the need to ask; he went on to explain how the mother felt like a week off (and, I guess, deserved it) and how we have everything we need for the week, it shouldn't be that hard for the two of us to look after a six month old. Reluctantly, I agreed mostly because we had already set off but I did remind him that we would be camping and I know nothing about children!

Over the next ten odd hours as we drove, sailed and drove some more, I learned some important lessons: babies don't sleep in cars for long, a baby who's wide awake expects to be entertained, a teething six month old will reserve the right to change her mood and become irritable without prier notice. Also, I learned the following will keep a baby amused for hours in a car: blowing your cheeks up to make a 'fish face', blowing a 'raspberry', teaching her to clap her hands, reading from a textured baby book but I'll confess, that was more for my benefit.

The climbing could not have gone better, one of us would entertain baby while the other would climb (very short routes, no need for ropes so we moved around quite quickly) and then we would swap. The camping wasn't too bad either, in fact I would go as far as to say that taking a six month old baby across to the Continent is well within the grasp of two men, all fears I had at the start about not having the mother with us were gone.

When deciding where to eat in the evening, rather than going to the cheaper cafés (which is what we would usually have done), we would go to the more mid priced restaurants which I figure would have a more 'middle aged' clientèle. The cynical thinking behind this is they would have had children who would now be grown up and have flown the nest; so when presented with an irritable, teething, baby, they would not be as annoyed by her, rather they would reminisce to a time when their own kids were like that. It worked, we got nothing but smiles, in fact one lady even offered to watch the baby while we ate!

Overall it was a great trip and I'm glad I didn't back out; the only thing is, I'm sure there are a number of French people in the are we were staying in that now think we were a weird mixed race gay couple, there was no avoiding the fact that we did get some odd looks....

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Rock On

It's been quite a long time but today, I managed climb on real rock. Yes, it was only in Kent and not very high but it was certainly high enough to remind me of the fear and adrenalin associated in climbing without a crash-mat.

After a short drive from the single platformed train station, past 'quaint' villages and windy roads, we get to the place I've not seen in over eight years. Things have changed in that time, some of the trees have shot up, I saw a number of mountain biking tracks that weren't there before and, most shockingly, the local pub has an extra story!

Finally getting to the rock, get the rope out and we start on that ongoing battle against gravity. I'm a few feet from the top, high enough for a fall to hurt but on a rope so am perfectly safe, I'm not entirely sure what happened next but I reached up to a bit of rock that's just slightly beyond my grasp and something in my shoulder just gave way. It didn't dislocate this time, it was more of a strain but it was incredibly painful! The rest of the day was plagued with a slight flinch every time I raised my left arm but other than that it's been a great day.

I saw a friend I haven't seen in a while which is always interesting as he reads the Economist so there is alway some difference of opinion on pretty much any subject we discuss. This leads to a slightly surreal sight for the people around us as climbing areas are usually filled with meaningless friendly banter and lots of encouragement towards whoever is climbing at the time. With us it's slightly different as we talk about whatever crops up while one of us is on the rock and the other is on the ground holding the rope. For one thing, it's not unusual to hear a brief debate on a political subject followed by a world war II battle followed by “you're fat and old, that's why you can't get up there!” with maybe a bit of science thrown in for good measure.

It would seem our bantering technique raises a few eyebrows (but more often than not, smiles) but it works for us, the main thing is, it takes my mind of the physical action of climbing and frankly, I'm better that way. The end result: it's been a good day, I know this because I'm tired and in pain....

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Downtime

For a number of reasons, I've been keeping myself busy this week, as a result, I've not been home much so I've not been overly visible here. I was hoping for a weekend to myself where I would have nothing to do as I have a number of DVDs in my 'unwatched' pile and wouldn't say no to getting out the pop-corn, putting my feet up and pressing play.

That being said, life is all about priorities and as I have a (now rather pregnant) sister joining me for lunch and as I haven't seen her in quite a while I'll gladly DVD another day. An old friend is getting married this evening so, at some point during the day, I have to make myself look presentable.

Tomorrow, assuming the weather holds, I'm planning to head out to deepest darkest Kent to see a friend I've not seen since he uprooted and moved his family out there and, with luck, I'll get a spot of climbing done out there. First thing's first though, I have cold and a splitting headache, I'll get some lemsip....

Monday, 7 July 2008

Carrots In My Radar

For years I (as I'm sure many others) have been told “eat your carrots, they'll help you see at night” but than I would reply with “so why do cats see better than rabbits?”. I must have been horrid to raise as a child, I would have to know, I needed the answer to everything and even than, I would question the answer! All I can do now is doff my hat at my parents' patience as despite the unquenchable thirst for knowledge that I had, they did their best not to tell me to shut up!

It was a number of years ago while watching a Discovery channel documentary on something that an almost throwaway comment about 'on-board intercept radar' made me realize the years of lies that I've been fed with carrots. So here it is, carrots don't help you see at night! Yes, it's true, unless you suffer from a Vitamin 'A' deficiency, carrots won't improve your eyesight one iota.

Like most things like this, it started during the second world war, the boffins at the MOD thought it would be a good idea to take the newly invented 'radar' and place it on fighter planes so the pilots detect ze Germans as they flew over the channel to bomb the cities during the blitzkrieg. This left the 'propaganda machine' with a problem, on the one had they wanted to brag about how many German planes they shot down before they had a chance to bomb anyone but, on the other hand, they didn't want Herr Flick to find out about this simple advantage that the allied forces have.

The solution was simple, it was a plan of disinformation, they got some more boffins to tell the newspapers and the public that the Vitamin 'A' in carrots allow allied pilots to see at night, genius! The plan was put in motion, RAF stations everywhere fed their pilots more carrots. Parents would stuff their kids with carrots for the 'black-outs', the government even published data to 'prove' the vast improvement in eyesight this gave. They did all this to hide the little 'beep-beep' boxes on planes.

Unfortunately this great plan to misinformation worked a little too well as, to this day, you can still hear the sincere sound of a parent saying 'eat all your carrots, they'll help you see at night'.

Oh and as a bit of a post script (thank you Ariane), if you eat too many carrots, they make your skin turn orange (sort of like a bad tan).

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Still Not Smoking

A fairly uneventful day dogged with moving furniture (not mine) and generally driving around on this fairly gray day. It got me thinking about not smoking for the last two weeks....

Not smoking has been a bit of a trial, but not the sort I was expecting. The last time I attempted this, I noticed many things but the one thing I didn't notice was the hunger. I know nicotine is an appetite suppressant so when you stop smoking, it stands to reason you eat more, this has never been the case with me before.

But last week, I was hungry all the time, I was eating more than I can remember eating in recent years. I felt the need to have something to graze on all the time and I would still feel hungry! This was quite an extreme reaction and I didn't really expect it. Last weekend I calculated that I spent twice the amount I would have spent on cigarettes on extra food.

This newfound hunger has all but died down and I feel fine, it's true I still get the occasional craving, mostly when I see someone smoking but this is easily killed off by someone refusing to hand me a cigarette (I know I'm fickle) which, thankfully, is exactly what my friends do. Overall it's not going too badly, last time I remember people telling me that I was 'irritable' but this time around that doesn't seem to be an issue, in-fact only once over the last two weeks has anyone even mentioned a negative change in behavior (which, in the grand scheme of things is above average for me.)

So far, so good but it's early days yet, last time I managed nine months before falling off the wagon which goes to show that the psychological addiction far out lives the physical....

Friday, 4 July 2008

Never Shop When Hungry

This is a tip as old as time. It makes sense, if you shop when hungry, you by the sort of things you would like to eat then and there, in my case, crisps and chocolate. Wondering through my local 24 hour supermarket on a full stomach isn't a great idea either, I came back with next to nothing.

I can't shop when hungry, I can't shop when full, was I to eat something, wait a few hours then go shopping? I'm just not organised enough to plan my life to that level. I had to find a solution before I whithered away to nothing (ok so that was unlikely to happen but let's not underplay this).

For a while I would make out a shopping list over a few days and stick to it, this way I would have a list of items balanced out over varying degrees of hunger. This, of course, didn't work as I shop after work and I never had the foresight to take my shopping list with me in the morning.

To the rescue comes Tesco online, it's great, I figured I can book a delivery slot three days into the future as late as possible so that I will be home by then, put a few essentials into the basket then checkout. Now for the twist in the plan: over the next three days, I add things to the basket so come delivery day, I have food, ingredients and junk!

This worked well for a bit, I was even willing to offer the benefit of doubt over two missed deliveries. One day they made a really bad delivery with a whole heap of substitutions, a few basic notes:

Plastic bottles of Coke are not the same as glass bottles!

Potato croquettes are not the same or even the least bit similar to chips.

If you have no rechargeable batteries, send me regular batteries of the same size, not rechargeable batteries of a completely useless size.

I can (and did) forgive them for all this but the last order I received had broken eggs in it. I wanted to make an omelet and everyone knows you can't make an omelet with broken eggs. It was more the fact the driver made a quick exit as he clearly knew what had happened to the eggs and rather than telling me, he thought it best to offload and go.

Last week I switched to Ocado and frankly it's better! Courteous customer service staff and drivers he even offered to put over socks on so that he would not damage my carpet! (I should note I declined the offer as my carpet isn't that great).

A few more weeks and we'll see how it goes but so far, I'm impressed.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Gone Postal

Royal Mail tends to get a lot of bad press, people say first class mail is too slow, parcels don't get delivered on time, if at all! Naturally, when sending a parcel, this is a consideration.

Some people may have noticed that of late, the dark clouds have disappeared and it's generally been a bright and sun-shiny day. Unfortunately this recent blessing in the weather has coincided with the arm (or leg) of my sunglasses detaching itself from the body thus rendering them useless (yes I could balance them on my nose but that would look ridiculous).

A quick call and a nice American lady (“I love your accent” she tells me, “why thank you, your's isn't too bad either, now about my sunglasses...”) gives me the address of the UK service center in Hertfordshire, all I have to do is put the glasses in a box and send it off, brilliant! I should get them back in ten days just in time to see the clouds come back.

Yesterday, after risking numerous paper cuts and going through a roll of tape, I take my box to the post office and send it on it's merry way, waiting, with bated breath for the day I can once again protect my eyes.

This evening when I got home, any and all doubts I had about the post office were banished from my mind as on my doorstep sat my sunglasses all boxed up and nowhere to go.

Thank you, Royal Mail, for knowing the difference between a freepost destination address and a return address!