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 http://geewhizjenny.blogspot.com/) 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?

What will you spend your money on this weekend?

I'm the first to admit that I'm a useless ambassador for the fairer sex - I fart, belch, swear (classy bird, me), occasionally have a pint and watch the footie, enjoy scary movies, play violent video games etc....The list goes on.

But I'm not totally bereft of femininity. I also drink silly cocktails (as long as its got an unbrella I'm happy, sparklers are a bonus), like shoes, occasionally wear floral prints, get broody, like small fluffy animals and enjoy getting down on the dance floor. But there are a couple of things I don't get about (white) women - the compulsion to spend the gross product of a small African nation on clothes and the desire to then look like a product of said African nation.

Alright, I exaggerate. The average Britain spends £556 on clothes each year, apparently (yes I know this includes men but I'm picking on the ladies today...). I should be so lucky....I shop when I need to, spending as little time, energy and money as possible (unless it's formal work attire or a must have item...). With a low income I'm stuck in student mode. I look for bargains and still sport clothes from my school days (if its in good nick, I still like it and it still fits then why not?)...Most of my spare cash goes on my hobbies and into my savings...But I realise in relative terms, 550 quid is not that much (I just haven't inherited the hard nosed, shop-till-you-drop gene from my mother), surely we spend far more on consumer gizmos, holidays and fake tans...

Warning: sunbeds cause death. Pretty clothes I get. Tanning, however, is a mystery to me. Natural tans look good, for sure, but all you need for one of those is some time spent abroad or doing some old fashioned hard work in the great outdoors. But why look like a mutated carrot all year round? What ever happened to pale and interesting? To be fair, I understand not wanting to put milk white legs on show in an evening dress and self tan creams are harmless. But sunbeds are another story..

29 year-old Zita Farrelly, from Manchester, died recently after contracting skin cancer from using sunbeds. She was an extreme case - the young mother of two used her own personal sunbed twice a day for seven years. Quite what motivated this woman's obsession we'll never know but poor Zita should serve as a warning to others, temper your usage, or better yet spend your money on something else (like clothes). I'm alright, I got put off using sunbeds after watching Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels....

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Some relief

After a night of emotional stress and broken sleep intermingled with freaky dreams it was marvelous to wake up to some good news. God speed Alan, home soon mate.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

We're not getting any greener

A recent poll by Ipsos Mori has revealed that the majority of Britons are still not convinced of the effects of climate change. Have they looked outside recently?

The pollsters interviewed two thousands adults and found that issues such as terrorism, crime and other public violations were a greater priority to most people. That's hardly news, people will always place immediate problems as top priorities...Sure the planet's dying, maybe it is our fault but it'll still be around for hundreds of years at least, whereas the fortunate Jihadist might blow you up tomorrow.

But which one is a certainty?

Well, we're not even convinced about that...Despite consensus amongst the scientific community, 56 per cent of us wrongly think that there is debate over the destructive impact of human emissions. Wishful thinking won't make the issue disappear I'm afraid...

You can see how people might see climate change as an over-hyped, fashionable cause, what with celebrities and cool young things everywhere rushing to purchase environmentally friendly merchandise, especially if it broadcasts their hip young status. But the public has become so familiar with marketing and media over-exposure (and the apathy that it spawns) that it has become a convenient excuse to trot out instead of facing up to climate change. It's ironic that 21st century Britain, an globally savvy first world country that runs on information, prefers to refute the facts rather than bite the bullet and walk to work or chuck a carton in the recycling.

Don't get me wrong, nobody gets off Scott free - least of all myself. I enjoy a sport which involves planes going up and down all day purely so people can jump out - but to counter this shameless hedonism I recycle like a demon, support green initiatives and ruthlessly pressure others to do the same..

Mori's top researcher Phil Downing spelled out the painful truth: "On behaviour, we're taking some action, but only around the margins of our lifestyles and when it suits us - most of us remain fair weather environmentalists."

What an innuendo.

Monday, 2 July 2007

An eventful weekend

Typical, I step away from the computer for three days, banking on a quiet weekend, and al-Qa'eda rears its ugly head...

Browsing the papers this morning I'm relieved to see our lads are hot on the terror trail...We can only be thankful that in this instance the bombers were incompetent - but their failure will undoubtably spur on others. The timing is obvious, these attacks, had they caused the predicted carnage, were aimed to cripple the Brown government before it's even learnt to walk. Instead they serve as another, luckily bloodless, reminder - after the Midlands raids and foiled JFK attack - that extremist hatred towards the West is relentless...I wonder what will become of our civil liberties now? Does it matter as long as we're safe?

Oh well, as long as the airport restrictions are lifted before I go away then I'm alright...

But seriously, I hope our intelligence agents and counter terrorism teams are well paid (who knows?). We should all spare a thought to those unsung spooks who run up and down the country on the slightest hunch, monitor global traffic for days on end, or take the ultimate risk in going undercover to protect our way of life. Thanks chaps.

Will there be no end to furore over the smoking ban? It's been estimated that thousands of smokers lit up in pubs yesterday, a fine, stubborn sentiment but it will do you no good. Personally I would like to allow smokers their right to spark up in public, as long as they were seperated from non-smokers (smoking-only pubs for example). I do not agree with the government curtailing people's freedom of choice in particular places but still stocking the evil weed in every corner shop. However I do think that on health grounds the ban is a good thing, it will galvanise some smokers give up and keep 75 per cent of Britain's non smoking adult population happy. Will report back after my local pub quiz later in the week...

It was the final episode of Dr Who on Saturday, how am I going to cope without David Tennant for the next six months? They went out with a corker though, scary stuff...Full marks to John Simm for a performance to rival/compliment the Doctor, charismatic, kooky and downright evil...We'll see him again...

Oh and I watched a bit of the concert in celebration of Princess Di....It was a lovely gesture and though the crowd had all the atmosphere of a dead fish, the acts that I saw weren't too bad at all, especially Elton and Ricky Gervaise at the end. The Princes put on a good show too (shame Charles and Camilla couldn't make it..), mind you there was something mildly uncomfortable about watching the future heir(s) to the throne shaking their booty to Nelly Furtado...