Monday, 1 October 2007

An sorry state of affairs

I haven't blogged in over a month....I wouldn't not have thought such a sorry, lazy state of affairs possible.

(Ok, ok, of course I would. But previously I had hoped to be blogging come rain or shine - I appear to be nothing but a fair weather blogger....How awful.)

I've got a year older, been on holiday, started a new job and had my heart kicked around a bit...Those are my excuses for lazyness and I'm sticking to them. Hrumph.

I'm aiming to pull my socks up and bounce back into the blogosphere any day now - in the meantime, keep up the stirling work guys....

All the best - Em

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

What's your favourite biscuit?

Good weekend? I hope everybody made the most of the bank holiday sun here in Blighty...I went jumping, saw family, played pool, drank Pimms, took in some local art and had a thoroughly splendid few days. Even better, I didn't have to go into work today. Ahhhh.

You would think that having a week off work (well, between jobs) would set my blogging senses a-tingling. The sad fact is that, faced with all this free time, I'd rather catch up with friends, read a good book and sit on my rump watching movies...Am I a bad person?

Lazy I may be but there's no rest for the wicked, even my lethargy gets interrupted....Some may wonder why I called my blog "The Fishbowl". I live in a rather picturesque village in Cambridgeshire, opposite an old church and just down the road from charming village square (and requisite pub, of course). Anyway all this wholesome ruralness brings hundreds of tourists to the area and every summer the nearby campsite is heaving with people. And they all end up walking past my living room (not to mention nicking my parking....). It's like a bloody goldfish bowl in here at the minute. This, coupled with my next door neighbour's apparently insatiable fetish for DIY means I almost wish I was back at work, if only for the peace and quiet.

I had to go and sort out some bank stuff today. My first stop was to ask for an overdraft on my current account (I'm due to go on holiday soon and do not trust myself with a credit card but thought I should have some contingency in case of an emergency). I duly prepared a story about why I wanted an overdraft and made sure to take my recent offer letter in order to show Mr Bankman that I was an upstanding young lady, a sensible (and above all frugal) specimen soon to be in full-time employment. All for nothing. The cashier supplied me with with the smallest available overdraft in under a minute, whilst making sure to remind me that I could borrow another couple of grand in the blink of an eye, "No problem madam". No wonder we Brit's are all wallowing in debt, its so easy to take the plunge.

Hmm, all this wrangling over the EU treaty....Even a significant number of Brown's buddies don't like the fact that the Great British public are to be denied their democratic rights over Europe (as the issue currently stands). I do not know enough about the proposals to start foaming at the mouth but the thought that my fellow countrymen who do (know about the treaty I mean, as opposed to foam) will just be dismissed out of hand is somewhat disturbing.

According to Liverpudlian research many single portions of takeaway and restaurant cuisine, including fish and chips, pizza, Chinese and Indians, contain more calories than the recommended amount for an entire day. Trading standards are now thinking about making establishments list the calorific and nutritional value of their food. Good grief, we all know that this kind of food is high in everything that's bad for us, hence why it tastes so good and we're prepared to have somebody else prepare it for us and pay accordingly. What would become of romance on a date if, whilst you order that mouth-watering meat feast, all your partner has to do is glance at the menu to work out how many pounds you'll be piling on? Yuck...

During my final day at work last week some of my colleagues poked fun at the nice lady in accounts who, of all the munches in all the world, prefers a good ole custard cream..."They're alright when you're a kid but they're a bit naff now aren't they?". Well Mandy, you're not alone. The custard cream has been voted the nation's favourite biscuit in a survey taken by manufacturers Trufree. A whopping 93 per cent of those asked (some 7,000 biscuit lovers) voted for it, with the bourbon, cookie and gingernut picking up the rear...What's your favourite biscuit? (I'm a glutton for the underrated chocolate digestive myself).

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Camel love - again

What d'ya know.....The Simpsons are in the dictionary, Facebook's the new crack (ok, so you knew that...) and ditch that old Peruvian fertility statue - its all about the camels...

The current edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations, out today, features three top pulls from the show:

"Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is never try." Homer Simpson.

"Kids are the best, Apu. You can teach them to hate the things you hate. And they practically raise themselves, what with the internet and all." Homer Simpson.

"Bonjour, you cheese-eating surrender monkeys". Groundskeeper Willie.

Words of wisdom/appropriate salutations for all...

According to IT security firm Sophos, nearly half of all office staff are prohibited from using the social networking site Facebook during working hours. Unsurprisingly, a number of banks have now reportedly banned their workers from using the site.

I am a prolific Facebook user and as a result I tend to agree with these professional misgivings. You can happily waste a few hours of your life browsing through other peoples photo albums and looking up old friends/colleagues...Not to mention the dizzying multitude of silly applications to play with. (I'm ecstatic after discovering online Scrabble). No wonder employers are banning it - if you're not careful (and you have enough friends, of course) you might not been seen for days after logging on.

The pro argument is that Facebook proves a valuable work tool - networking businesses as well as casual acquaintances. Uh huh. Apparently companies are split over allowing access to the site (viz. those already on Facebook vs the uninitiated and unwashed).

Graham Cluley from Sophos said: "Some believe it to be a procrastinator's paradise, while others either view it as a valuable networking tool or are too nervous of an employee backlash if they suddenly block it."

Now there's a thought....Should work be so cruel as to ban 'Crackbook' then you know what to do...Workers of the world unite!

Finally Indian farmer Nanu Ram Jogi is on his 21st child - at the sprightly age of 90. The go-getting nonagenarian has four wives and has lost count of the number of grandchildren he has, yet vows to continue fathering kids until he's 100. Jogi puts his virility down to exercise, red meat and a daily dose of camel's milk. There you have it - if you desire a similar brood and wish to over-populate our crowded planet just that little bit more then four wives and a lactating dromedary should do it.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Skinny celebs and climate change

Keira Knightley has been gabbing away to the Radio Times about fame, public image and her acting skills. Back on cinema screens soon in September, Knightley gave a frank review of her acting skills (dubious) and railed against popular opinion about her good looks. She said: "Somebody goes, 'Gosh, you're pretty.' Thanks. I've got good genes! OK, I'm on the cover of a magazine but somebody else does the hair, and the make-up, and airbrushes the f*** out of me".

All this self degradation does wonders for her image as a straight talking siren amidst a sea of pampered Hollywood divas, I'm sure. Nothing against the lovely lady (she's only famous, thin, beautiful, rich - all at the same age as me...) but I find it hard to take someone this emaciated seriously....

James is musing over the merits of last weeks Climate Change Camp and asks whether it was really worth the effort...I'm on the fence as far as global warming goes. Our fossil fuel emissions may or may not be doing irreversible harm to the planet...But either way I believe in respecting our rock and trying to do our bit - recycling, sharing lifts etc.. - to make it a nicer place. Look at Beijing, covered in smog thanks to human pollution...

(Yeah yeah, I know, if I REALLY cared about the Earth I'd stop jumping out of planes for

Anyway, these letters into the Telegraph made me smile:

Sir - I fail to see why I should be forced to pay an extra tax on my holiday flights simply because there has been a change in solar activity.

Dr P. J. Lane, London.

Sir - Isn't it ludicrous to see people wearing anoraks and woolly hats in the middle of summer while protesting about global warming?

Professor Stanley Feldman, London SW3.

When I grow up I want to be a culinary artist

Education, education, education. A topic rarely out of the press right now, not because of Labour's triumphant reforms but because primary school children are struggling to read, write and add up, yet their older brothers and sisters are leaving compulsory education with top marks. The Government expects these school leavers to go on to university to study for another three years - any university, any type of study, because, as we all know, higher education is a sign of success and the more graduates of higher education the more successful Labour's educational policy.

Hmm. Despite my criticisms, as a product of the comprehensive system and a university education all this talk about dumbed down schooling makes me feel a little uneasy - if A/A* grade students are not as smart as they seem, what does that say about average Joe's like me? I have always been a "B grade" student - enthusiastic and happy to learn and put in academic effort but too often seduced by other activities throughout my education (boys, sport or beer) to slog away for the top grade. But I don't consider myself or my contemporaries stupid or unworthy of their qualifications.

Enough self justification - I took a history degree, worked hard and enjoyed it. If I was leaving school now, however, maybe my choice would be different. I quite fancy the look of Science: Fiction and Culture or Martial Arts and Adventure Tourism. These are two of the "mickey mouse" degrees currently taught in our universities that have come under fire from the TaxPayers' Alliance. (Both of which would probably have about as much chance of landing me a job as my history degree). Token subjects they may be but they suit both the universities' and the Government's needs. The rub being that, according the Alliance, these courses are subsidised by £40 million pa of tax payers money.

I'm all for vocational training instead of further education. University is not for everyone (even if the Government says it it) and experience really is the best way to learn a trade. But it is ingrained in Britain's school culture that a degree is a must-have badge of superiority and this needs to be revised. In the meantime us lowly arts students look forward to battling it out with the Equestrian Psychology and Golf Management grads out there in the real world.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Never smile at a camel

And you thought next door's Jack Russell was bad...

I'm as much a glutton for scandal and tat as the next Torygraph reader and have to admit to raising a smirk (heartless wench, I know) at today's unfortunate report (and equally unfortunate headline), "Pet camel kills woman 'trying to have sex'".

An unnamed Australian woman was crushed to death by her 330lbs camel, given to her as a birthday present as the lady was apparently fond of foreign beasts. The animal knocked her to the ground, lay on top of her and, one can only assume, exerted itself. Camel experts have advised police that it was most likely trying to mate with the poor woman.

While I have every sympathy for the lady's family let that be a lesson to adventurous animal lovers - you might want to stick to hamsters in the future (oh, and never smile at a camel...).

Deprived dromedary seeks durable hump.

I want the name of Pete Doherty's publicity agent so I can make a complaint against them for wasting police time. Bobbies - for goodness sake, either incarcerate the chap and force him to clean himself up or leave him be, editors - stop wasting copy space on the same old transgressions.

I was genuinely shocked on Saturday morning to read of the passing of Bill Deedes at the ripe old age of 94. I remember being in awe after learning that the witty diarist I so enjoyed was in his nineties, thinking, 'he's made it this far, surely he'll go on forever'. I shan't go overboard on detail, anyone wishing to learn more about this true 'giant of journalism' should pop over to the DT and read through some of the articles and letters left in tribute to Dear Bill. Relic of a bygone era he was often antisocial and intimatly awkward - though despite his faults he will be remembered as for the astute, funny journalist and compassionate humanitarian that he was, with a seriously good innings to boot. He will be sadly missed and should remain an inspiration to us all.

Friday, 17 August 2007

What a wonderful world

A survey by Virgin Travel Insurance has revealed what the rest of us know to be true (deep down in our souls): British holidaymakers are a load of uncultured, ungrateful dolts when they want to be (that's right, I mean you Mr Socks-and-sandals).

Thousands of British tourists were asked about their visits to well-known attractions and rated domestic and worldwide let-downs as follows...

The most disappointing global sights:

1. The Eiffel Tower - "frustratingly overcrowded and overpriced"
2. The Louvre (Mona Lisa)
3. Times Square
4. Las Ramblas, Spain
5. Statue of Liberty
6. Spanish Steps, Rome
7. The White House
8. The Pyramids, Egypt
9. The Brandenburg Gate, Germany
10. The Leaning Tower of Pisa

I've only seen three of these - Times Square, the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower (oh and the Brandenburg Gate when I was too young to care) but I disagree with the scorn that's been heaped upon them. The Eiffel Tower remains an iconic French symbol because of its great shape and its impressive architecture and history. But be realistic - its a symmetrical iron monument, not a fairground ride.

Times Square? Again what do you expect? A busy thoroughfare, it's packed with bustling New Yorkers going to-and-fro, fifteen gazillion McDonald's and a forest skyscrapers and neon advertising - I was impressed, it's like Piccadilly but a damn sight cleaner.

The Statue of Liberty is my only concession - on the outside it's still impressive, like the Eiffel Tower, a testament to French design and craftsmanship. However like many a dumb tourist I decided to climb up it. Don't bother - two hours stuck on staircase inside a hot metal object with hundreds of sweaty tourists certainly is disappointing.

And the UKs most dismal attractions:

1. Stonehenge - "just a load of old rocks"
2. The Angel of the North
3. Blackpool Tower
4. Lands' End
5. The Princess Diana Memorial Fountain
6. The London Eye
7. Brighton Pier
8. Buckingham Palace
9. The White Cliffs of Dover
10. Big Ben.

Again, those 'sights' that I've seen around our great isle I have appreciated for their historical/cultural/structural value...A load of old rocks indeed! Sections of the standing stones of Stonhenge are estimated to be around 4,000 years old and though we're none the wiser as to the monument's purpose it still looks funky...

I was sceptical about the London Eye before gazing upon it (because it is, after all, just a giant fairground ride...) but have reformed my opinion in light of its smooth design (and sheer size) and the fact that it looks so distinctive/hip in the London sprawl...

Buckingham Palace and Big Ben...Er...These are two structures which embody our country's very special political character - monarchy and parliamentary rule. But at the end of the day what do you expect of buildings? The Palace has always served for the monarchy and the clock still tells the time - I don't think the designers had London's teeming tourism trade in mind when they concieved either edifice...

And Lands' End and the White Cliffs of Dover..? They're geographical landmarks for goodness sake - blame nature for your disappointment...

I think this 'disappointment' is really our own fault - high expectations without any education about the place in question. Maybe if people took the time to learn about where they are, they might appreciate the view a little more....But Brits will always find a load of old rocks in Borobudur far more interesting than a load of old rocks back home because they're "exotic, innit?" and they've had to spend thousands of pounds and fly thousands of miles to get there...(but I bet you just can't get a good egg and chips....).

Thursday, 16 August 2007

The most annoying thing in the world

We've all been there...You've had the mother of bad days at work/school/uni and want nothing more than the sweet surrender of sleep. Just as you're nodding off to satisfying dreams of bludgeoning the boss next door cranks up the tunes. Three hours later and Cliff Richard/Sepulchura/Mr Blobby lyrics are etched behind your eyelids and that same track is not getting any better for the 80th listen. The bloody image of your boss has now been replaced by visions of garroting your next-door neighbour.

Noise pollution/disruption is becoming a growing problem in this country - one that many people are either too polite/scared to tackle (especially if it involves their immediate neighbours). It's heartening to hear about someone fighting back....

Brian Turner was grassed up to Newcastle-upon-Tyne's night watch team by an exasperated neighbour after playing the same song on repeat, at full volume, between the hours of one and four am. Bizarrely enough his chosen serenade - early one May morning - was Last Christmas by Wham! Who wouldn't have cracked? Turner has now been fined £200 and ordered to pay £215 damages.

I have every sympathy for those who have to suffer such torture (often on a nightly basis) - and make no mistake, it is torture. There were stories a few years ago of occupying allied troops forcing Afghans and Iraqis to listen to heavy metal - namely Metallica - to divulge their secrets. The magical irony of music is that one man's Wham! can be another man's Mozart - if I was sat down and made to listen to Metallica for hours I'd be rocking out! torment came in quite another form (give me James Hetfield any day) - the vile burpings and bleepings of the "most annoying thing in the world", 2005s Crazy Frog....

I made the mistake in my second year of university of living with two girls who, despite outward appearances, were actually obnoxious harpies masquerading as human beings ( They played the Axel F track repeatedly, on max volume, on my sound system (hence the bitterness, I had stupidly offered up my stereo for communal use). When I asked for them to turn it down I was ignored and told to "F**k off" (viz, obnoxious harpies). I honestly thought I was going to go mad listening to that garbage morning, noon and night. They played it so loudly that people from the end of the street came knocking to ask them to turn it down.

Eventually they got bored and I moved out. But still, if I had my way inconsiderate pigs of this ilk would be blindfolded, deprived of sleep AND food and made to listen to their favourite dirges over and over until they show sufficient signs of repentance (i.e. screaming for the end, mewling for their mothers etc...).

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Getting back to reality....slowly...

Alright, now I feel guilty for not blogging for the past few days but in my defence I've been distracted, consumed by adrenaline. I spent the weekend jumping out of planes, which was nice (apart from one silly landing which resulted in a rather sore shin and a grass coloured jumpsuit - stylish) and the remainder of my waking hours on tenterhooks waiting to hear back after a job interview (yes, that's right, a real, grown up job that I actually want...Stop sniggering at the back there...).

Excuse this lazy, mish-mash of a post - its mid week but my head's still up in the clouds...

47 year-old family man Garry Newlove was beaten to death by a bunch of delinquents outside his own home last week. We all found this news heartbreaking but not, I fear, surprising. No right-minded, law abiding, paid up (ahem) member of society could feel anything but anger that such a tragic outcome resulted from the hands of violent teenage morons. I'm angry, so I'll happily call them scum. Telegraph columnist Jan Moir doesn't stoop to my level but she comes close, echoing the frustration of her countrymen in a very emotive comment piece in today's paper.

In the light of Mr Newlove's death Chief Constable Peter Fahy (Cheshire) has called for parents to get their act together, for the price of alcohol to be increased (booze being an undisputed catalyst for yobbish behaviour) and the legal drinking age upped to 21. Most importantly he suggests that drinking in public, on the streets, be criminalised. Sound advice. Meanwhile the Government has ordered (another) policy review - this time of the 24-hour drinking law (Mr Brown's getting very good at reviewing previous Labour initiatives and making sure everybody knows about it...).

Ms Moir ends her article in referance to the killing, saying: " Citizens have got to be better protected from the murderous instincts of these roaming, vile brutes than this, but where do we start?". I suggest that instead of being handed ASBOs these young criminals should be disciplined in a time-honoured, tried and tested fashion. I'd like to hear a good argument against reinstating national service (who needs human rights and freedom of choice anyway..?). Her Majesty's forces will look after you lads....

After all, where else will these senseless leeches be put to good use (in the short term)?

They might win the lottery of course...Like one very lucky postal worker from Glasgow. Single mum Angela Kelly, 40, scooped £35.4 million in last weeks EuroMillions draw and will reportedly be saying a firm fairwell to her 21k nine to five. Who could blame her and who cares if money "changes" her? She's bound to behave differently to some degree, she's loaded - have fun lady...

What would you do if you became a millionaire overnight?

Friday, 10 August 2007

Friday fun

A couple of pics that I've thieved off the net for your amusement....

I just thought that this baby hyena, from Cerza conservation park, France, was too darned cute...

A piece of graffiti mysteriously left on St Michaels Hill, Bristol, attributed to one Mr Banksy (he might be a sell out but he's still on the money...)

The grapes of wrath/stonking hangovers

Lager sales are falling as hip, cool and trendy Britons refine their tastes, market analysts Mintel confirm today. Since 2005 lager sales have fallen by five per cent, whereas sales of rose wine are up 188 per cent on two years ago.

According to Mintel and fellow prognosticators, beer with continue to fall out of favour with the Great British public as young working women see wine as more sophisticated.

Yuck. I can't think of a less tantalising tipple. Many people have a particular poison that, to them, is just that (everyone remembers when Johnny - or someone like him - challenged his mates to a Raiders style tequila contest and ended up being copiously sick, he hasn't touched the stuff since...). Mine happens to be rose wine. I was 17 and stupid, staying round a friend's for the night when we found the stash of wine her parents brought back from Spain. After polishing off three bottles between us we stayed up all night setting the world to rights (as only teenagers can) got about four hours sleep and woke up with well earned hangovers and carpeted mouths (have I mentioned my carpet gnome theory...? He works while you are sleeping...). Now even a whiff of rose makes me pale, can't stand it.

I would do anything for a drink, to paraphrase Meatloaf, but I won't do that. Give me a nice glass of Merlot or an IPA any day.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Losing weight is hard to do....

I read yesterday that the NHS spends just under £1 million every single week on prescription weight loss drugs. Crazy. Every day the cost a furnished house (up North) is spent on getting people to eat a little less.

I lump smoking and over eating in the same category. Both are psychological problems and any health issues that arise as a result are the fault of the individual. I've both smoked and binged my eyeballs out in the past, however, should I be diagnosed with cancer (possible) or morbid obesity (less likely) later in life I'd like to think I will not rely on welfare (aka others hard earned taxes) - easier said than done, I know. But it's been my choice to fill my body with poisons and fat, it should be seen as my responsibility when life then goes tits up as a consequence of my own stupidity.

Food is becoming just as pernicious as smoking - doctors have already made noises about taxing unhealthy food but to no avail. People don't need to smoke whereas they do need to eat - and who has the authority to dictate whether they tuck into a chicken salad or a KFC chicken bucket? (I do think no VAT/lower prices on healthy food is a sensible policy though) But eating healthily/less is not unrealistic for overweight people - it just takes change in the way they view food and a little faith.

At the end of 2005 18 year-old Daniel Sadler from South Glamorgan weighed a mega 26 stone. After a year and a half of eating sensibly he's managed to loose an astonishing 13 stone! Daniel's gone from a diet of full English breakfasts, pizzas and chips (not to mention the whopping 24 bags of crisps he consumed each day) to salads and jacket potatoes to help shift the weight, along with playing more sport. He's now been awarded £2,000 by Slimming World and named Young Slimmer of 2007. An added bonus, he's also getting noticed by the ladies.
If an 18 year-old lad can pull his socks up and manage to drop half his own body weight surely every other overweight fatty out there can make some effort. Nice one Daniel.

101 things to do with trees

What comes into your mind when you think Tory? Scarily, the first thing I think of is the Spitting Image puppet of Margaret Thatcher...It traumatised me as a child....Closely followed by Mr Cameron's vaguely smiling mug (Brand Dave has done a pretty good job of fixing him in the middle class consciousness, at least).

I think blue, I think of miners and philanderers and all these historical images of Conservative highs and lows flash behind my eyes. I don't, however, think of the new Tory logo, a "bunch of broccoli" as Lord Tebbit put it. Before reading about it in today's DT I'd forgotten what the logo actually looked like (thinking instead of the traditional flaming torch).

The environmental symbol/kiddie's doodle has changed with the seasons, turning gold in autumn and bearing blossom in spring and now it's gone blue. Earlier in the week the Tory tree was unveiled in it's new sky blue guise and rumours are now rife that the move was made to woo hardliners back into the fold.

What a load of speculative rubbish...As if embittered Tories give a monkeys what the party logo looks like (they're too busy off in a dark corner somewhere, plotting Dave's ultimate humiliation). The Conservative marketing team were just bored/pissed over lunch and thought this version looked pretty. I actually think the sunlight and sky background is quite pleasant and has instant appeal (viz, look at that clear blue sky, I wish I was jumping). I doubt they had skydivers in mind when they chose it though. No doubt it'll serve as a springboard for criticism however, "Dave's got his head in the clouds" etc...A change may well be as good as a rest but come on chaps, you need to regain some initiative not break out the crayons.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

More than meets the eye

I went to go and see Transformers last night....After a couple of technical hiccups - the projectionist decided to treat us all to the trailers and first five minutes of Shrek 3 (nearly loosing a couple of limbs as a result of his incompetence, we were impatient) - my brain spent a couple of hours in complete shut down.


I never watched the cartoons or bought the toys - way before my time (the tv series was out in 1984, I was born the following year) - but have managed to pick up the gist from my cohort of geeky male friends. It's about a bunch of alien robots who can transform into vehicles and other objects, some of whom are good (Autobots), some of whom are evil and want to destroy the human race (Decepticons). Simple stuff. I was, however, still sceptical that a load of Citroen rejects could hold my attention for a whole feature (and Shia La Beouf looks about 12 for goodness sake...). Boy was I wrong.

There's little to say apart from you must see this film. The plot is a load of rubbish and the characterisation is 2D and predictable - and I didn't care one jot. The first half of the film is funny nonetheless and the second half sheer eye candy....

The CGI, courtesy of good old ILM, is astounding. Absolutely gobsmacking. Both Autobots and Decepticons look, sound and feel real. The character development may be rushed and the Autobots' dialogue limited but by the end of the film you're rooting for the heroic Optimus Prime and his gang because of their stoicism (and the fact that they look so damned real)...I fell in love with Bumblebee and the hunk of metal doesn't talk for most of the film (and I've always hated Chevy's....).

The military kit is equally impressive - there are a shed load of very real, very shiny toys to feast your eyes on, from Osprey choppers, F-117s, F-22 Raptors, Hercs - the lot.

Don't go and see Transformers expecting an award winning screenplay but don't write it off as a kids movie either. There's plenty of adult humour to keep mum and dad chuckling in between the action.

In short, a decent family movie with adult undertones (global responsibility etc..) that is visually awesome. If you can't appreciate this movie for it's theatricals go crawl back under your rock - you don't deserve the gift of sight.

As I walked out into the afternoon sun and got into my car I couldn't help wishing there was something more to my Clio than meets the eye - ah, the magic of cinema. (Then reality kicked in, Transformers actually have taste....)

Monday, 6 August 2007


Unlike those decent souls who feel the need to absolve themselves (not everyone's a cantankerous dwarf like me, believe it or not - James has been having an crisis of conscience recently) I have no virtuous reason for not blogging as much over the past couple of weeks - I have simply been doing other things (like moping about my personal life, fervently job hunting and jumping out of planes).

After months of depressingly damp weather we've just a weekend of scorching heat. I now resemble a rock lobster with third degree burns and would appreciate being left in a pool somewhere to cool down.

I hope everyone enjoyed themselves. I was sat on a drop zone hoping to skydive, amidst the honking wind. Not one to be disheartened, when I did jump I cracked out my new freefly jumpsuit for a giggle - the height of haute couture, my new suit is head to toe cow print. After someone questioned whether I was allowed to roam given recent events I had to point out that the foot and mouth ban applied to ruminants on the ground - the muppets at DeFRA neglected to consider the possibility of free falling livestock - ha! Catch me now boys!

I am not the religious type and often relish in ribbing the more ridiculous antics of organised faiths (see below) but now I'm getting a tad twitchy....Floods, plagues, what next? When's that nice bloke with the beard and the sandals coming over?

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Wheels and spin

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a raging bull...? No, it's only Boris....But wait - where's his bike?

The kooky contender for Ken's crown has written a lovely piece in today's DT detailing the recent theft of his trusty bicycle and subsequent frustration with the authorities.

I have no doubt the incident was simply a case of bad fortune but you've got to admit, Boris is doing a good job of appealing to prospective voters (he's especially hot on transport as it is). The London cyclist is now a social stereotype all of its own...(and barmy if you ask me...but good one them).

Sympathetic as I am to the loss of Mr Johnson's speedy silver Marin Sausalito after he went to such lengths to secure it, that's what you get for leaving a £700 bike on the streets of the smoke, mate. I doubt you'll see it on eBay anytime soon.

However, I'd be more than happy to proffer Boris my own bike if he's desperate. It's still functional after 12 years of childhood knocks and rural abuse and comes in a rather fetching shade of cerise pink.

Elsewhere in the Torygraph Alice Thomson has given an excellent summary of wee Gordon's public image. I think she's spot on here - our stoic PM has done a splendid job branding himself without doing much politically. Despite announcing a raft of reviews into society's vices I'm yet to find enlightenment in the Governments housing/education/health agenda. But whereas David Cameron has been all spun out, Mr Brown's busy winding himself up tight into the paradigm of stuffy virtue.

If Gordon would only let loose and tell the English public exactly what he thinks of them, I'd furnish him with a lifetime's supply of nice blue ties to wear.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Playing God

Next time you shoot through Wal-Mart to pick up some ammo (ha, sorry) don't forget to get a little something for the kids. The American retailer will soon be stocking Biblical toys in a bid to rival Barbie, Bratz and a swathe of superhero favourites.

The toys, manufactured by West coast company One2Believe, will be marketed in the South and Midwest US, appealing to the religious right. Figures include Jesus, Noah, Moses, Goliath and Mary (pictured below with Joseph and the infant Christ, who, disturbingly, reminds me of Chucky....).

David Socha, One2Believe's CEO, is touting the dolls as "real superheroes", laying heavy criticism on popular competitors. "If you walk down the toy aisles you see a lot of reproductions of Satan, or dolls that promote promiscuity", he said.

I'm no big fan of some of the tat on today's shelves - Bratz dolls are quite possibly the work of the Devil - however Mr Socha's figures represent a small, well-known collective of Biblical characters (sorry, reproductions of historical figures, ahem) - where are the Delilahs and the Jezebels...?

I've got nothing against the range - they'll answer the prayers of many a God-fearing child or concerned parent. But surely, in a kid's mind, its only so long before playing Daniel and the lion gets boring and the lion fancies a spot of lunch. "Faith-enriching toys" they may be but even good Christian children have an imagination - I'll wager it won't be long before Noah falls overboard, Mary gets a haircut (or ritual decapitation), or Samson (below) goes in search of some superhero arse to kick. Samson vs. Spidey, who's your money on?

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Blue skies at last...

Woohoo, the weather's cleared up, lets go skydiving...Didn't post anything yesterday as a took the day off work to go jumping, which was nice.

I'm afraid this rant won't be much interest to non-jumpers/pilots but I have to vent...I've just read an article in the Guardian regarding a plane crash that happened a few years ago at a UK drop zone. A small Cessna took off from Dunkeswell airfield in Devon but soon experienced engine problems and was forced to make a crash landing. Sadly the pilot and three of the load's jumpers died on impact.

A pet hate of mine is badly written skydiving stories, many of which show the sport in a bad light in order to make good copy. This piece initially praises the action of Major Mike Wills, an experienced tandem instructor who shielded his passenger (sorry, "student") when the plane hit the ground, sacrificing his own life for his student. It then goes on to cover the current inquest into the crash and whether or not the drop zone was negligent in sending the plane up in the first place.

Right, please bear in mind that this is a load of wild guess work and bitching on my part (that's half the fun of blogging though, isn't it?) and I've never jumped at Dunkeswell so I can't comment on their procedures. However I have an issue with the inquest write up, namely one Mr Robin Prisk, "witness".

Mr Prisk said on record, "I noticed the pilot did no external checks at all. He just got in and took off. I have done two or three hundred jumps and the pilot nearly always checks the aircraft first."

Now what this statement and the article itself does not make clear is whether that fated take off was the first lift of the day. If so, the plane should get checked over, the same goes after a re-fuel, when the plane's on the ground for an extended period.

Now unlike Mr Prisk I have not done "two or three hundred" jumps (86 as of yesterday) but I have been around drop zones all my life and therefore feel I have some authority with which to label this man a complete pillock;

1) External checks? It was an internal engine failure you idiot. As for external problems I think the pilot would've noticed if a wing had broken or the propeller had fallen off.

2) "The pilot nearly always checks the aircraft first". Where the hell have you been jumping mate? Skydiving is a busy industry - plane goes up, people get out, plane comes down, repeat (until plane needs more juice, then re-fuel). As stated above, we don't know at what stage in the day the pilot, 52 year-old Paul Norman, took over the plane but he may have been relieving another pilot between lifts, if so there would have been no time (or reason) for Mr Norman to check the plane. He would have just got in an got on with it. If it was the first flight of the day the plane should have had the relevant checks (perhaps not by Mr Norman) - I can't believe it didn't.

3) "Two or three hundred jumps". Uh huh, my arse. Don't you know how many jumps you've done Mr Prisk? You may have noticed I know exactly how many I've done (even when I'm unsure I know to the nearest ten) - because skydivers have to record every jump they do. Experienced skydivers with thousands of jumps can be excused vague jump numbers. Novices cannot. When you're starting out in the sport 100 jumps is a lot and the difference between 200 and 300 is quite important. This guy couldn't even be bothered to check his logbook before giving evidence in official proceedings....

I could go on but you will have lost the will to live by now. Any thoughts would be appreciated (especially if there are any pilots/jumpers out there who can correct me if I'm being unduly harsh) and you must have come across people like Mr Prisk in their line of work/hobby?

Friday, 27 July 2007

I always wanted to go into space...

Two days away from the blogosphere and I'm at a loss....I just don't have the energy at the minute to talk about the weather (still damp) or the Government (still there) so I'll construct a frivolous Friday post instead.

According to a couple of science journals NASA has been letting its astronauts boldly go where a few men (and women) have gone before - lathered.
A review was ordered after space cadet Lisa Nowak flew whilst intoxicated and then assaulted a fellow astronaut's girlfriend. An independent panel found that there had been two further instances of inebriation before missions (it is not known whether they involved Mrs Nowak). Now a space shuttle's an intricate, expensive piece of kit, I'm struggling to fathom why on Earth (ha, or not) you'd want to try and fly one whilst drunk...Is space really that dismal or did they just drink because they could? Mind you, it's not like they posed a risk to other orbital users - I wonder if the US Government can up its own insurance...?
Three Lib Dem councillors in Bideford, Devon have left their party in protest after the appointment of a new colleague, 34 year-old Myrna Bushell, who, aside from her political activism, also happens to be a stripper. Looks like a case of sour grapes to me. I realise that Mrs Bushell's (a.k.a Jessica) profession is lacking in gravitas but she got elected, fair and square, regardless of her day job. If Mrs Bushell is prepared to hold her head up high and work to better her community (albeit whilst operating kissograms and sex lines) then good on her.
For your viewing pleasure;

Oh, I saw the Simpson's Movie yesterday. I'll spare you my usual saga review. It was alright. The blink-and-you-miss-them gags were funnier than the set pieces, which quite frankly, were disappointing. 10 years in the making and America's funniest family is merely tittersome. The film looks swish (Futurama-esque CGI) but unfortunately it fails to talk the talk. Thank goodness I have Sky.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007


I'm having another unmotivated day, I'm afraid. I shall blame this lack of purpose on finishing the final Harry Potter book last night. The last 72 hours have been a emotionally draining experience for me. I'm happy to reach the end of a long journey and put the lid on my Pottermania for the foreseeable future, sad because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ushers in the end of an era with a load of uncomfortable questions about life and love and plenty of characters popping their clogs.

Back in the real world people across the country are having to deal with widespread flooding as best they can. Acts of God suck. I live next to a river and got issued with a flood warning yesterday. According to the Environment Agency if it bursts it'll take out a number of village streets and mine's first on the list. Eep. I can't wait, my mother, the cat and I confined in an even smaller living space...My thoughts go out to all those having to wade through sewage just to put the kettle on, sorry guys.

Is this the real world though? With trivial prohibitions and swelling health and safety regulations sometimes I'm not so sure.

Bournemouth council has banned the area's three swimming pools from lending out armbands to young children. Letting parents blow up the inflatables could spread bacteria and potential punctures could lead to accidents. Would it be that difficult for the centres wash and/or replace the bands regularly?

Monday, 23 July 2007

The times and trials of tv....

Creative editing of her Royal Highness, continuity errors on Homes Under the Hammer, dodgy phone quiz's galore and now it looks like a hardy ex SAS man prefers hospitality pancakes to the great outdoors. Will the lies ever cease? Why has the box deceived me so?

Channel 4 presenter Bear Grylls stands accused of misleading his audience during the filming of his Born Survivor series in which, according to a whistle blowing crew member, he often put himself up in a hotel for the night rather than camp.

Having never watched the series I can't comment on its presentation. That's not going to stop wild speculation though. I would hazard a guess that the discerning viewer watches Grylls climb rugged, blistering terrain for a bit (chatting away about the locale as he marches purposefully onwards), pitches his tent in the wilderness and then finds some ingenious way to cross a river, not before eating the extremities of some unfortunate furry critter. All fascinating, wholesome stuff which naturally leads the audience to think that maybe Grylls actually spends his evenings on location freezing his digits off in the middle of some mountain range, as opposed to the local B&B with its soft pillows and freebie toiletries.

On finding that the pressures, logistics and health and safety clauses of filming mean that they recieve a blinkered picture, audience's feel cheated, lied to by ommission.

A Channel 4 spokesman said: "Born Survivor is not an observational documentary series but a 'how to' guide to basic survival techniques in extreme environments". Survival consultant Mark Weinert went on, "If you really believe everything happens the way it is shown on TV, you are being a little bit naive".

Most people take "real life" programming with a pinch of salt, realising that pretty much everything on the telly is manipulated somehow, if not faked. We still wish it was real though, which leads into the question of whether or not Born Survivor "misled audiences". I sympathise with any C4 viewers who feel just a little cheated. For years I've wanted to take on Quavers, the lying cads, for asserting that their snacks were "floaty light". I wasted a lot of crisps when I was younger before I worked out the concept of false advertising (I'm not still bitter...).

I hope Grylls has learnt his lesson - next time give the four-star suite to the film crew and they might not grass you up.

Oh, good to hear that the unnamed Muslim girl kicked off a murder case for boogying away to her iPod has been done for Contempt and appeared in court this morning. Despite protestations from her family over the trial, Judge Aidan Marron QC said: "I can understand the real anxiety she and her family have, but I am afraid this is so important, it is of fundamental importance, that we get it right." Damn straight.

Elsewhere Travelodge have announced an end to pay-per-view porn, leaving legions of business men lonely far from home.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Do we ever learn?

All these responsible holders of public office coming out and confessing their despicable, albeit fleeting, cannabis use....Gosh, surely honesty is not being spun as the best policy on this one....? The question is, of course, does the public care? Of course we don't, hence the disclosures. I, for one, don't give a monkeys if every single immaculately suited, middle-class paper pusher in Whitehall had a few tokes with their mates at uni. Congratulations you've outed yourselves, what a splash.

I'm more concerned, however, on hearing that history is becoming an undesirable, poorly structured subject in today's schools (especially as there are so many good history teachers out there). And will Government listen to Ofsted and reform the subject for the better? Three years ago Charles Clarke (then Education Secretary) said that history, as an academic subject, had no place in the modern world. I remember the incident as I was sitting the first year of my history degree at the time. I was not impressed. What Mr Clarke meant was that studying history does not leave you that many firm job prospects in the modern world (true enough...). Nevertheless to be any good at the subject you have to be able to research well, construct arguments and write persuasively. Still useful skills.

I may be biased but I firmly believe that history has a fundamental place in the education of young people. As empirical creatures we naturally create (and distort) our own history's every day - curse our large, hyperactive craniums - and what the human race does collectively, over notable periods of time, is of even more interest because we hope to learn from past trends. I think school children do learn from history (even if they don't yet understand the what's on the text book isn't necessarily true, its just some old duffer's interpritation of events).

And now the subject is a political issue. History repeats itself as children cover the rise of Nazism and appeasement again and again (I remember studying the topic for both GCSE and A Level five years ago) and still fail to grasp the main themes and hypothetical questions that arise from the past. I believe a wider range of historical periods should be taught, along with some attempt to link chronologies. Everyone likes time lines....

Politicians are now extolling the virtues of history as a social adhesive. Citizenship classes are not working and history should take up the burden, concentrating on "positive" British history and the history of minority groups. The labelling of positive and negative history is risible but a greater focus on the subject is certainly welcome (I believe it should be made compulsory). As long as kids get to cover a broad range of periods, with suitable props (I had a wonderful teacher who insisted on longbow lessons) the subject should hopefully inspire generations to come.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

It is a truth universally acknowledged...

Anyone know the rest?

Well, I do. The opening lines of Jane Austen's seminal Pride and Prejudice kick aimlessly around my head, waiting to spring forth should the rigour of University Challenge or Eggheads demand it.

I blame an Austen obsessed grandparent and comprehensive education's slavish devotion to certain classics. Plus my gender - it is also a truth universally acknowledged that young middle class women naturally gravitate toward period dramas at some point during their adolescence.

The few Austen novel's that I've read - P&P, Emma and Persuasion - I have actually enjoyed. The language is stiff and dated and takes some getting used to but the social commentary is excellent. Give me good ole Jane over Mills and Boon any day.

Anyway, the stuff's literary gold. Or not. Austin aficionado David Lassman, frustrated by his own failure to get into print, decided to see if 18 of the country's biggest publishing firms would recognise a classic, passing off the great author's work as his own. Only one company, Jonathan Cape, realised they had been sent a tweaked except.

I consider this to be a real shame. Lassman received a swathe of polite fob-offs from underlings, illustrating how hard it is for new (or old, in this instance) talent to get noticed. Publishers are businesses, they back books that fit current literary trends and marketing models. How disheartening. Your work stands a slim chance of fitting the bill and even if it does get read its by some overworked editor's assistant who can't spot a rip off.

Nevertheless my brow shall continue to sweat. Someday my masterpiece - involving a transexual go-go dancer from Buenos Aires who saves the Earth from giant Platypi - will astound the world.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007


This is a giggle...The country's pagans are livid after an image of Homer Simpson was painted next to the 180ft long (height, ahem) Cerne Abbas giant in Dorset.

The chalk giant, originally outlined in the 1600s, is believed to be a fertility aid.

Homer, on the other hand, was drawn with biodegradable paint to promote the new Simpsons movie out later this month.

Distraught pagans have vowed to pray for rain in order to remove the offending picture of the cartoon celebrity.

Speaking for the Pagan Federation Anne Bryn-Evans said: "It's very disrespectful and not at all aesthetically pleasing....I'm amazed they got permission to do something so ridiculous".

Hmm, which one's prettier...Homer with a doughnut or some naked, club wielding bloke with an erection...? And just what is Monsieur Simpson planning to do which that pastry? He could play hoopla/horseshoes (knowing Homer he'd probably eat it anyway....eww).

A hazardous education

After a decade spent in comprehensive education a British youth might not be able to add, subtract or write a coherent sentence but should they trip up in the playground they'll be quids in. Who needs basic life skills when your child could receive £3,400 for a minor school yard scrape?

There's no real correlation between Britain's educational deficit and its compensation culture, of course (I'm being pedantic....) - but the amount that local authorities have been coughing up to injured parties does make it look like LEAs are more concerned with dodging court than discipline and teaching standards.

An older pupil who trespassed on primary school property won nearly £6,000 damages after the gate he was playing on broke and the local council could not prove that the gate had been properly maintained (to sustain the weight said child using it as a swing...). Another child received £12,746 after getting injured during a school hockey match.

I have no issue with compensation for acts of negligence - a wet floor or feckless teacher allowing mayhem - but draw the line at random accidents and childish stupidity.

I'm biased, however, and jealous. I only had two accidents whilst at school, one was a fractured arm acquired after a cartwheel went wrong, the other was a hockey ball in the chest at high speed. Both hurt terribly but a mere fractured arm and some technicolor bruising failed to spur my parents into action. One incident was my fault, the other was unfortunate (though I'll always maintain that Luke, the little git, took aim...).

Two recent pay-outs for the same injuries totalled just over £20,000. That would have been my student debt cleared, this years car insurance and tax, a holiday paid for etc....Damn.

Back to the idea that schools are for learning....Five million adults leave school semi-literature, whilst 17 million barely achieve a pass in GSCE maths. Seven per cent of adults can not answer a sum set for eight-year-olds (one eighth of 32...come on chaps, we can work it out...). Compulsory education will be extended to the age of 18 and private companies are now in talks with the Government over acquiring public funding for further education. By further education they mean resitting GCSEs to ensure their new employees can actually read and write.

Meanwhile ministers are (still) pledging to up further/higher education figures - aiming to increase the number of people with a university degree from 29 to 40 per cent by 2020. This is an imbecilic policy - there no one degree format that fits all and what about when all those graduates are let loose to on the labour market? Employment is not guaranteed (around 29 candidates, if not more more, apply for every graduate placement).

Scary stuff, best of luck Mr Balls.

(Oh, the answer's 6 by the way, I think, er, um....)

Monday, 16 July 2007

Five days and counting..

I'm afraid I'm going to have to do it....Yes that's right, I'm going to talk about Harry Potter. I went to go and see the Film no. 5 on Friday night so here's the verdict...

If you're a fan of the books/film franchise you'll love it. If you're not up to speed with this whole concept of a load of school kids larking about with wands, fighting grown men wearing dresses (sorry, dark wizards) then abandon any attempt at piecing together the plot, sit back and enjoy the pretty pictures.

Me and a couple of girlfriends went to a late showing in the hope of avoiding rows of sniffling, squealing children. Instead we packed ourselves into a cinema filled with (at least a hundred) sniffling, squealing grown men and women. With David Yates directing Order of the Phoenix is even darker than the previous celluloid installment, peppered with tragic flashback sequences, soul sucking demons, child torture and yes, more death. Good job we didn't pile in with the kiddies. At least adults try to retain some dignity and whimper quietly.

Many Potterites share a dislike for this particular episode, viewing it on aggregate as the longest and dullest of Harry's adventures. Most of the story takes place at Hogwarts and is concerned with the kids acting out against their new headteacher, with the titular Order and whizz-bang action having to wait until the end of the film. However Yates does a good job with the plot changes and abridgements - fitting the mammoth tome into just over two hours screen time, giving the film pace whilst retaining its ominous, oppressive feel (making the film's moments of comic relief all the more delightful, such when Ron and Hermione bicker about Harry's love life and the Weasley twins disrupt a OWL exam).

The acting is admirable. As the franchise's three protagonists Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are improving, slowly, though they still come across as stiff in places (not to mention the age issue, it's odd watching a group of young adults playing 15 year-olds, especially after the lead character stormed the West End in his birthday suit not that long ago). The experienced cast members are excellent though, especially the insidious evil of Imelda Staunton's Dolores Umbridge - a harpy in pink - and Gary Oldman's haunted Sirius. Nods to Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter amongst the myriad of British talent on show.

The special effects are stunning (with the exception of Hagrid's naff hulking half-brother) and thanks to Yates the jokes and the tone of Order are decidedly more grown up than previous offerings (Rowling's harsh media and Ministry of Magic are brilliantly portrayed, sure to touch some nerves). Adult fans should be appeased, young kids on the other hand might get a little distressed at parts but if they've read and enjoyed the books then they can hack it.

Meanwhile the world waits for the weekend to hurry itself up and get here already...Saturday 21 July sees the end of an era with the release of the final Potter book and I'm not ashamed to say I'm getting a little excited. Everyone needs a bit of magic, after all.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Sad songs...

Following Jenny's invitation (check this girl out she's good, you know I'm going to abandon any pretense at a (semi) professional blog and talk about my musical tastes....Because I can (and this sort of thing's therapeutic I'm told).

5 songs that move me (for better or worse):

Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb - A song about the trappings of drugs and rock and roll with the best guitar solo EVER (my heart wants to jump out of my chest when I hear it). Play loud.

Elton John - Tiny Dancer - Not my favourite Elton tune (that's Crocodile Rock, always makes me want to jump around like an idiot...) but a bloody good ballad, the imagery is wonderful, very 70s, nice strings (closely followed by Someone Saved My Life Tonight in the emotional stakes).

Dire Straits - Sultans of Swing - This song is not an overplayed classic for nothing. I got brought up on this lot, its all good (apart from Walk of Life, which puts my teeth on edge) but this track in particular makes me feel like I've come home, chills me out and makes me smile every time I hear it.

Crowded House - Fall At Your Feet - I shouldn't be admitting this. This song always makes me feel broken (dodgy lyrics too). Aussie bastards.

Coldplay - Fix You - Yes, laugh it up, I like bed-wetting indie rock. This lot have done a few tracks that have made me feel raw but the lyrics and crescendo to Fix You make me relive some horrible emotional memories whilst reminding me to look to the future and appreciate all the love I've had in my life (all people who've helped fix me, as it were).

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Food, glorious food...

Public health experts have suggested that taxing unhealthy foods could saves thousands of lives a year. Annually over 200,000 people die of cardiovascular related illnesses - diseases which could be prevented with the help of a better diet.

Regardless of the health benefits you can imagine how well this would go down with the food industry and the consumer/voter...Lead balloon/homesick safe comes to mind...

The Government has been quick to pooh-pooh such a proposal. Good move - a few more pence on a bar of chocolate is no deterrent to the premenstrual female or chubby school child alike. I should know, having been both in my time - and I've happily imagined homicide for the sake of a cream bun.

But the fact remains that a quarter of this country's population is obese thanks to the accessibility of unhealthy (but oh so tasty) food stuffs coupled with a lazy outlook on life.

Meanwhile healthy school dinners remain a distant myth created by some gobby Essex chef desperate for air-time. (joke - I think Jamie Oliver's theory is a marvelous one - but in practice most kids are a nightmare when it comes to food).

A report by the Local Authority Caterers Association deplores the evidence that, despite the production and labour costs of school dinners going up (in order to serve heathier portions) kids just don't want to eat them. Chairman Sandra Russell states: "We cannot expect to reverse an embedded eating culture overnight nor can we convert teenagers to a healthier regime by force". What a sensible lady (of course the same theory applies to all those pernicious adult vices, be it drinking, smoking or taking illegal substances).

My secondary school housed a number of much loved vending machines and the healthy lunch option was pretty much always disregarded in favour of a burger and chips. Especially by me. I was not always allowed dinner money but whenever my parents gave in their hard earned cash went directly towards my spiraling BMI. For the record I also feel a twinge of guilt, shuffling along in the queue. Not enough to stop me though. However I snacked on fruit and veg and my breakfasts and dinners were all healthy home cooked meals (thanks mum). I liked healthy food and was always aware that the junk that I was consuming whilst at school was just that.

I also enjoyed playing sport - especially after working out that it got rid of some of the chubbiness...

I still exercise regularly, as well as eating things I shouldn't. I've grown out of the puppy fat and know what it is to eat sensibly, even if I don't always do so. And the reason - my upbringing. My parents brought me up to eat well (employing the harsh but fair, "If you don't eat what you're given you don't eat" dictum) and run around outdoors ("Go and climb a tree or something, you").

The government has already seen that forced healthy meals does not go down well. A better policy would be an expanded physical education programme and appealing to lardy arsed parents to get their sprogs out in the sunshine once in a while.

We might be a nation of fatties but, to Manchester's fury, perhaps not a nation of gamblers. Well done for scrapping the super-casino Mr Brown, shame we're still going to end up with mini versions, whether we like it or not.

Despite the contracts and jobs that arise from these ventures I do not think that gambling should be encouraged in Britain. In the light of all our other vices (see above) it's an aborrent idea. We're a dependant, cheap thrill seeking, consumer culture, how will a profligacy of legal gambling joints help this?

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Controversial stuff

Disclaimer - due to a lack of inspiration and direction today's post is going to be horribly narrow minded and right wing. Sorry if I offend anyone.

Yesterday 62 year-old Zheng Xiaoyu was executed by his government on corruption charges after serving as the head of China's State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA).

The former minister for product safety allegedly took around $800,000 in bribes to approve dodgy and/or untested items. Zheng's execution was ordered after a spate of export scandals including antifreeze in toothpaste, lead paint on toys, lethal pet food (killing thousands of American animals) and low quality drugs.

Despite confessing to his crimes the Peoples Republic showed no mercy, choosing to make a political example of Zheng and send a clear message to the world that corruption (in this public agency, anyway) will not be tolerated, especially in light of recent failings and with the approach of next year's Olympics in Beijing.

US Senator Chuck Schumer responded by saying: "If China thinks that its issues with food and product safety are going to be fixed with these types of executions, it shows how much they just don't get it."

Zheng's death was undoubtedly motivated by more than China's global reputation. This incident follows a period of infighting and jurisdictional chaos amidst the country's standardising bodies. Zheng was disposed of because he annoyed colleagues, involved himself in illegal dealings that caused untold damage to both humans and animals and because he made his country look bad. (It is estimated that around 300 million Chinese people are made ill each year by unchecked products).

I thoroughly believe in capital punishment for deserving cases (cold blooded murderers, paedophiles, terrorists, mime artists etc...) but we don't do that sort of thing here. Where Sen Schumer comes from they do, however the US death penalty is for extreme criminals, not politicians, and often takes years to enforce. At least the Chinese conduct swift justice.

Let me be clear, I do not condone the use of the death penalty for corrupt politicians like Mr Zheng but Chinese culture does and though I do not agree with the action taken I can, I think, understand it.

Speaking for the SFDA Ms Yan Jiangying gave an honest overview of China's regulatory problems, outlining why the organisation had been failing and the urgent need for improvement. The official openly admitted her department's flaws and made suggestions for its improvement. Regarding Zheng's execution she said that his behaviour was deeply shameful, enough said.

It appears the Chinese still have a sense of shame, which is, perhaps, more than we can boast.

Right, back to American senators. Reading about Senator David Vitter - involved with the infamous "DC Madam" Deborah Jeane Palfrey - in the British press, I'm amazed, as ever, by the power of religion. In response to the disclosure of his illicit dealings Mr Vitter said:

"This was a very serious sin in my past. I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counselling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there - with God and them."

God may have forgiven Mr Vitter but he neglected to notify Ms Palfrey, it would seem.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Chewing the cud - no more?

Now that us evil apes have received a slap on the wrist and due punishment in the form of Live Earth's global caterwauling and exhibitionism (I enjoyed the show but who isn't sceptical about the influence of a pop concert on human excess...?), it's time to take the fight against climate change to our bovine buddies.

I'm having trouble taking this seriously. Cows have been squelching and burping away for the thousands of years that we've been farming them en masse, the poor things can't help it...The scientific community, however, sees animal emmissions as a very real concern and it's hard to argue with the facts: cows and sheep have labourious digestive systems and emit a staggering 100-200 litres of atmosphere eroding methane each day. Livestock fart and belch out about a quarter of the amount of methane that is produced by humans through industry, transport etc...Officials and academics are set to spend thousands of pounds looking into how to improve cattle feed and circumvent their stubborn biology. I feel sorry for the poor lab lackeys who'll have to measure the changes in methane output in swealtering polytunnels but hopefully (with a decent set of nose plugs) it'll be worth it, and at least the animals'll eat what they're given.

It is believed that the solution could lie with easily digestible plants, such as the common but underused Birdsfoot trefoil, and more carbon conscious farming methods. Shame this strategy doesn't translate to human's - ditch your 4x4, munch a flower. Maybe we'll end up with food warnings/endorsements: every Happy Meal made from only the best, highly processed, methane neutral beef...

A young Muslim woman faces jail after repeatedly turning up late for jury service, ignoring evidence and, astonishingly, listening to her walkman during proceedings. Good, I hope she recieves some form of punishment for what appears to be a flagrant lack of repect for British values (nobody likes jury service but most people actually want to do a fair job). It'll be interesting to see if there's any reaction from our Islamic communities.

Monday, 9 July 2007

I know a bear that you don't know

So far I have pootled along with my outmoded, image free blogging but no more. Check this out....

My (some would argue unhealthy) diet of sci-fi and manga meant that my first reaction was nothing short of apocalyptic....Ahhhh...runaway! Quick mental leap to scenes of alien invasion or perhaps a new line in government stormtroopers but no - this sinister plastic shell is, in fact, a force for good.

Created by 22 year-old design student Luke Pannell, the "Breathe Air" helmet offers relief to cyclists suffering from asthma or hay fever. The nose and mouth are screened from the elements and the offending pollen filled air is filtered before it circulates inside the mask. Recommended retail price: around £100.

I have visions of them racing round our streets and bridleways, bespoke designs for the fashion conscious, polka dots and neon graffiti versions for the kids (imagine if they were glow in the dark, speeding out of the night...). Soon to be found in geek emporiums and fetish stores everywhere...

I don't doubt the theory and I'm sure they work as designed, preventing irritation of the sinuses and lungs but what if, by some unfortunate fluke or itchy nose, you happened to sneeze whilst wearing one? Yuck...

Modern parents are eschewing traditional nursery rhymes in favour of singing pop songs and TV theme tunes to their children. Surveyors MyVoice found that 40 per cent of parents could not remember even one full rhyme.

I'm not surprised by this and its not really that big a worry, parents are still singing to their kids, helping communication, memory and literary skills, which is the point. Does it matter whether its Humpty Dumpty or "washing machines live longer with Calgon"? I doubt it...

I do think it's a shame though...I can recite a fair few nursery rhymes and always used to enjoy them as a toddler. My parents used sing along with me, or when they wanted some peace and quiet they'd plonk me in front of the box and leave me watching Jack, Jill and Humpty do their thing...Then as I got older I learnt where songs like ring-a-roses came from and actually found it quite interesting (cultural history, oral traditions etc...).

There's something to be said for parents sticking to the age-old formula instead of teaching your kids whatever you fancy. At least the blood and gore of nursery rhymes is socially acceptable. My parents didn't just teach me nursery rhymes....I got sent home from kindergarden on one occassion (no kidding) for belting out the Yogi Bear Song (includes the lyrics: "Susie likes it on the fridge, Polar, Polar,Susie likes it on the fridge, Polar, Polar Bear...etc", amongst many others...) - thanks Dad.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Oh that's soooo gay....

Newly appointed minister for schools Kevin Brennan had declared war on play ground bickering...

The word "gay" has multiple meanings and kids often use it in the context of something being rubbish or unfashionable as opposed to homosexual. Even when the word's thrown about in relation to sexuality it's rarely said with much malice or conviction (that sort of sentiment is expressed in other, more distasteful, phrases).

This widespread habit used to get right up my nose. Why say "gay" in particular, I'd fume...Just because some kid's got a naff brand sport bag or uncool shoes doesn't make them "gay"...Why can't kids use the English language in the right context? My anger has now been replaced by apathy as more and more adults use the word in regards to something that is unfair or undesirable (and they, more than children, are aware of the implications of labelling somebody as gay).

I agree with Mr Brennan's drive to stop kids using this word in such a casual way but not because I think they are using it with any derogatory forethought but because it's a lazy, inappropriate use of the English language (that has the potential to foster homophobia).

He himself says: "This is too often seen as harmless banter instead of the offensive insult that it really represents".

Homosexual people are quite happy with the term gay being used to describe their sexual orientation (in fact, like black people reclaiming the word "nigger" gay people have made a good show of mastering once derogatory terms to express their pride and self confidence) - it's usually heterosexuals who see the term as an offensive insult, as an affront to their normalcy.

On another controversial note, a doctor is is currently on trial by the General Medical Council after administering lethal drug doses to two dying babies.

In 2005 Dr Michael Munro injected two premature infants with pancuronium and morphine. In each case the children were in their final stages of life after their parents had agreed to withdraw care. In effect Dr Munro performed ethanasia, hastening their deaths in order to shorten their acute suffering.

Neither couple protested at Dr Munro's conduct however it does not help the doctor's profile that he chose not to report his actions in the children's medical records.

Summarising the defendant's argument Andrew Long told the GMC: "Dr Munro admits his conduct was outside accepted professional practice, but Dr Munro does not accept it was inappropriate, contrary to guidelines or below the standard expected of a medical practitioner."

Hang the Hippocratic oath - if there was nothing I could do to save my terminal newborn child I would rather it died in a quick deep sleep instead of gasping for air. What would you do?