Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Celebrating Blood and Gore

The Christmas Market in Regensburg, Germany.

The synaptic tangent to end all synaptic tangents.

There you go, my intellectual yeomen, ‘Pick the bones out of that’ as they say. Here it is, October the 31st and I open up with a picture of the Christmas Market in Regensburg. I shall leave you puzzling for a while. (Note 1)

According to the Merkin National Retail Federation Halloween remains the sixth-largest spending holiday in the U.S. Merkins are expected to part with $4.96 billion this year, up from $3.29 billion a year ago. $1.81 billion will go on costumes, $1.31 billion on Decorations, a waist busting, tooth rotting $1.57 billion will be shelled out for ’Candy’ and for a reason that somehow escapes me for the moment, $260 million worth of greeting cards will be sent. (Note 2)

It is probably no surprise when you see the money involved that UK retailers have jumped on the bandwagon and the annoying Trick or Treat custom has spread to our streets.

I’m not a fan. In fact, I dislike the custom with a passion. I would shout “Bah! Humbug!”, but that is reserved for another holiday. Instead I content myself with purchasing the cheapest sweets that are absolutely packed with artificial colourings and sweeteners. I then spend the rest of the evening chuckling at the idea of parents trying to prise their kiddies from the ceilings in a vain attempt to get them to bed.

Lobbing an axe into a thicket.

The tradition in Britain is that we are celebrating All Hallows Evening. (Note 3) Of course, in simpler less commercial times, the celebrations were simpler.

The Christian religious holiday falls tomorrow on 1st November when All Saints Day is celebrated.

Another flimsy excuse to include a picture of glamorous young ladies. I believe that this popular pop combo is named All Saints.

Oh well, I better put you out of your misery on the synaptic tangent. In the Calendar of Saints of the Catholic Church, October 31st is the day set aside for Saint Wolfgang - also known as Wolfgang of Regensburg. So simple – yet so, so obscure!

Oh, fancy a touch of sick humour? CLICK HERE or CLICK HERE.

Oh and to prove I’m not a total grump at Hallowe’en, here is a little story I wrote on the subject.

All Hallows Eve.

Gather up your pumpkins, my munchkins. It’s that time again. October the thirty-first, the date you know as Halloween. The evening you dress up as witches and ghouls and ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night. The evening you win sweet morsels by chanting ‘Trick or Treat’.

The sound of innocent children fills the streets as you go from house to house gathering the tooth-rotting bounty. Chaperoning parents will give you a smiling escort before returning home to count and share the spoils.

When at last you retire to bed, those same parents will tell you that witches, ghouls, ghosts and goblins are mere fantasy. They will laugh and tell you that there are no monsters lurking in the shadows. They will smooth your brow, twiddle with your hair and tell you what you hear outside is the wind enjoying the freedom of the night.

Well, my dears. Listen to the wind. Hold your breath, lie perfectly still and open your ears. The wind will not be the only thing abroad on what you call Halloween.

You see my candy-filled little ones. Your parents, pull the blinds, lock the doors and stubbornly try to block out this night. They turn up the TV and talk that little bit louder lest the darkness proves them liars.

Your bed seems warm and safe, doesn’t it my darlings? Repeat the word ‘Halloween’. Repeat it in your mind over and over. Halloween. Halloween. Halloween. What a foolish word it is.

Grown ups call tomorrow ‘All Saints Day’; they tell you it’s a Christian festival. Yet they have you celebrate the evening before. Celebrate by dressing up as creatures of the imagination and accepting treats to not play tricks.

I know what you are thinking my pretties. What a strange idea it is to celebrate long dead Saints to minor for a day to call their own. Even stranger that the evening before should be marked with such blackmail.

The adults must really think you have no brain at all. You have seen your local church and you have seen your local priest. Your parents must think you so gullible to believe that a priest would be involved with such shenanigans.

Well my dears; if you were to ask the priest, he would tell you that All Hallows Evening is about remembering your dead relatives. Press him and he will tell you that the dead sometimes return to make their peace with the living. A more somber explanation perhaps, yet it doesn’t explain why your house is so carefully sealed this night.

Think about it my innocent little cherubs. The adults have tired you out by having you rush around after candy. This is to make sure you sleep through the night. They have sealed the house and drawn all blinds tight to keep something out.

Listen! The wind squeals in agreement. The blinds twitch in assent.

You see the Priest and his church have tried to hijack my night. They have failed. On Halloween night I roam free.

I am the Magrog! I am the oldest of the Pagan gods that Christians hoped to wipe from history. Other Gods rolled over and seeped way. I refuse to die.

I am the Magrog! I ride the wind and proclaim my freedom. Strain your ears and hear my call. I am the master of the storm. The wind carries the screams that grown ups try to drown out. The wind carries me in my glory!

I am the Magrog! As I approach in my jeweled chariot, the priest fiddles with his rosary and falls to his knees. He fears that I shall turn the stone of his church to gravel.

I am the Magrog! The six white horses drawing my chariot paw at the wind and cause golden sparks to rain down on hamlet, village, town and city. This is the night I seek out my tribute.

I am the Magrog! This is my Night! As I pass the trees bow down before me. Their discarded leaves leap and dance in the deserted streets.

I AM THE MAGROG! I bring with me the ghosts of your ancestors. See how they scream in anguish as they run before my summoned tempest. See how their eyes scan the earth for souls that failed to hide. Skeletal fingers try door and window seeking out the ill-fitted latch and bolt.

I AM THE MIGHTY MAGROG! THIS IS MY NIGHT! This is my revenge for man’s attempts to eradicate me. The priest may be beyond my grasp. Grown ups might be immune to my call, but I will have my revenge.

So, my dears, enjoy your Halloween. Enjoy dressing up as witches and ghouls and ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night. Take pleasure from the sugary rewards of the ‘Trick or Treat’. All Hallows Evening is yours for fun and frolic.

I am the Magrog! Mine is the night! Double check locks and latches. When the wind howls and screeches to herald my approach stay in your bed. If I can reach you, I will surely part you from your spirit.

I am the mighty Magrog! I own All Hallows Night! There is always room for one more tortured soul behind my chariot.

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: If you don’t read German, you will be doubly puzzled. I guess there were a number of you who eagerly followed this link to the footnote in the hope that I would be providing a translation. Sadly, I don’t read German either. Click to return

NOTE 2 : The story, in the IndyStar did make me wonder though. It suggested that 34% of Americans (about 100 million people) will dress in costume; 48.6% will decorate their houses; 73.4% (or 225 million people) will be handing out ’Candy’ but amazingly 43.1% will be carving pumpkins. That is at least 129 Million Pumpkins – yet these were not included in the stats. Are pumpkins handed out free for Hallowe’en?Click to return

NOTE 3: The traditional fare on All Hallows Eve being apples. It is said that if you peel an apple so that you get all the peel off in a single spiral thread and then throw it over your shoulder, it will fall to form the initial of your one true love.Click to return

I’m keeping the alternative stress busting tool until tonight is over.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Now you see it - Now you don't

Who the Dickens does this remind you of?

The perils of Google Image Searching.

Well. My fine yeomen, I have been rather remiss the last couple of weeks. Not only have I not been updating my own blog, but I have not been checking out all of your wonderful entries. I have not even been checking out my messages – which is very naughty of me I know. Hopefully, I will go a little way to rectifying all of that today.

It is not that I haven’t been at my scribblings. The last month or so has seen me doing a lot of scribbling. The thing is that my creative juices have been channelled towards writing consultancy reports. Some may consider these dry and boring, but they put food on the table and quite often require a lot more imagination and creativity than you may realise.

There again, it could be that I need to keep my hand in at this blogging lark. The germ of an idea was in my head and I decided to search out an appropriate opening picture. The result is above. That, for those puzzled yeomen who don’t know, is David Copperfield. (Note 1)

While I may not have got back into the swing of picking the best images, the synaptic tangents seem remarkably intact – and boy, doesn’t David Copperfield give you a lot of scope for synaptic tangents?

I could go whizzing off on a political angle, linking one of Mr. Copperfields famous illusions, the disappearing of the Statue of Liberty, with the current state of American politics. If I really wanted to, I might launch into a sermon and make it into a complex metaphor. (Note 2)

I really don’t need much of an excuse to post a picture of Claudia Schiffer - especially one that captures her smouldering eyes. I’m a sucker for smouldering eyes.

I could spin away along the popularist, cult of celebrity route. A route I have to mention as an excuse to include a picture of Claudia Schiffer. It seems that even Wikipedia speculates on the apparent engagement between Mr. Copperfield and Ms. Schiffer. (Note 3)

For all of the opportunities, to go off on some wild, cerebral, white knuckle ride, the picture has to be set aside. For I was searching for a picture to illustrate this quote -

”Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

The better read and the intuitive amongst the prod phalanx of my yeomen will have already worked out the source of the quote. It is from David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.(Note 4)

The quotation came to mind when I read this news story. A group of scientists have calculated that in 40 years or so, our consumption of the world’s resources will result in a major collapse of ecosystems. More importantly, the lifestyles we enjoy in the UK would require three planets if it was enjoyed by everyone on the globe.

There have been an absolute flood of environmental stories over the last month or so. The latest being a warning of the economic impacts of what we are doing to the environment.

I wonder when we will start to get it into our thick heads that unless we start living within our environmental means we are heading for misery?

In millions of years time, I wonder how the next dominant species will theorise on the death of the mammals?

Not wanting to end on a pessimistic note, I will hand out a few congratulations to a few loyal yeomen. It seems that while I have been writing about “Single Touch Processes”, those people at Yahoo have gone and got their sewing kit out. It seems that NikkiD and Mitch Rhave been ambushed and had the “interesting” label sewn into her UK & Ireland underwear. Meanwhile, across the pond, Delectable Pet suffered the same fate in her Canadian undergarments. Plus, an occasional visitor, Claudia also seems to have been caught out.

Congratulations to you all!

If you find that “interesting” label a touch on the itchy side or perhaps that it brings you out in a rash – Fear Not! It seems that those nice men at Yahoo (Those very nice men, very, very nice men) have set up a Support Group.

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: Well, the search result said it was David Copperfield so I’m not going to argue. The photograph reminds me of someone though. If add a little bit of stubble, don’t you think that he reminds you of the interesting champion blogger, Marcus? Click to return

NOTE 2 : Or I could be really, really nasty and just give you a spoiler that takes away your childish wonder and innocence by telling you how the illusion was performed. For those of you who wish to maintain your childish wonder and innocence, I suggest you click here instead. Although my own theory is that he wore a frock coat with extra baggy sleeves. Click to return

NOTE 3: I admit that somehow this whole story passed me by. I cannot find a reputable link or anything to validate the truth, but I really appreciate the irony that both parties involved felt the need to issue a rebuttal to the tabloids claiming they DID have sex. That must be a first.Click to return

NOTE 4: Although Dickens would feature with at least two books on my ‘100 Books to read before you die’ list, David Copperfield wouldn’t really be one of them. I think I would rather see Great Expectations and Nicholas Nickleby on the list. Although I must admit that my choices are constantly changing.Click to return

An alternative stress busting tool. It’s best hung against something soft.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Digging for a Smile

Not a snowman in sight.

Keeping up the public image.

Good yeomen, is it me, or is there no lighter side to the news coverage at the moment?

For the last few weeks, I’ve found news coverage to be either depressing or bland. Normally, when I’m seeking inspiration for my blog entries, I can always rely on borrowing something from news coverage. Normally, it isn’t too difficult to find something that is either interesting or amusing.

Maybe it is time to start counting down to my holiday. That will be 26 days away then. Yes, in less than four weeks, I will be in the Caribbean and generally doing very little except topping up my tan and my sense of humour. (Note 1)

Maybe, I should be spending more time in my third place.

I never realised that I had a third place until today. It is a discovery that I indirectly owe to Howard Schultz. Mr. Schultz does not draw cute cartoons of dogs. Well, to my knowledge, he doesn’t draw cute cartoons of dogs. He is the chairman of Starbucks. (Note 2)

Now I much prefer Costa Coffee. Particularly the Massimo Mocha with whipped cream and chocolate flake bars.

According to Tim Egan, in an article about Seattle Billionaires, Mr. Schultz realised that most cities lacked this ‘Third Place’ is the oasis that we all need between home and the office. (Note 3)

I must have missed something. Visiting Starbucks never strikes me as a pleasurable experience. You join the queue at the door, shuffle forward to be served by a young girl who is intent on dismissing you as quickly as she can. You then mill around for a couple of minutes waiting to be handed your order by some spotty faced oik who refuses to make eye contact before you rejoin the herds of commuters.

In saying that, the idea of a ‘Third Place’ is appealing. Perhaps that ‘Third Place’ is the online world; a place where you can escape all of the doom and gloom journalists and their permanently depressed editors.

If any of you are virtual residents of Second Life are in for a big shock. Doom and gloom journalists and their permanently depressed editors are moving in.

Did I mention that in 26 days I will be in the Caribbean?

Oh well, it looks like all the news sites seem to be depressing. It looks like there isn’t a single piece of interesting or silly news to be had anywhere.

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: The really worrying thing is that all this depressing news is beginning to rub off. As soon as I wrote about my upcoming holiday, a horrible little thought crept into my skull. I found myself doing a quick check on the hurricane season – and what do you know, it doesn’t end until the 30th November! Yes, I need a holiday. Click to return

NOTE 2 : And according to that Wikipedia entry, a significant stakeholder in the intriguingly named ‘Jamba Juice’. The word ‘Jamba’ sparked off all sorts of synaptic tangents. Perhaps it is my mood, but none of them seemed that positive – almost to the point of deciding that by rights this should be a branding disaster. Jamba is associated with the Far Right militia of the Angolan Civil War. It is also the name of the company that produced that annoying ‘Crazy Frog’ mobile phone ring tone. The Jamba company is now part of the Murdoch evil empire (Yet another plague to lay at his door). Click to return

NOTE 3: Mr Schultz suggests that this is a role that used to be filled by the British Pub. Perhaps that is where I’m going wrong. I should be visiting the pub on the way to work and having a few pints before facing the rigours of the day (although in 26 days time I may choose to start my day with a few glasses of rum punch).

In the same article, I learned that London and Seattle share weather. I guess London has it every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, while Seattle has it Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays while they have alternate Sundays. There is probably a formal custody agreement to cover holidays and such. Click to return

The Crazy Frog. Another acolyte of the Evil Empire.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Behind the Mask

No matter how artistic, there remains something sinister about a mask.

A Venetian Mask.

There are some politicians that always manage to come across as intelligent and genuine. Jack Straw, the former UK Foreign Secretary falls man this number. There was an air of considered intelligence about him. It appears that whenever he speaks, he has thought through and understands the consequences – probably a good trait for a Foreign Secretary.

Jack Straw represents the constituency of Blackburn, a constituency with a substantial Muslim community. In a recent interview with his local paper, Jack Straw generated a debate when he told the paper that when a veiled Muslim woman comes to his MP surgery, he asks her to remove her veil. (Note 1)

This has had the desired effect. A furious debate has been raging about the wearing of the veil and this has spread to include the wearing of other religious symbols.

The thing is, in the UK, there are traditions of people covering their faces.

Stand and Deliver! No, not your local friendly taxman, but the greeting of a highwayman.

The highwayman brought terror to travellers on British roads in the 17th and 18th century. (Note 2) The highwayman used terror to achieve their goals. Part of the terror was achieved by means of a mask. Yes, the mask served to stop them being recognised, but it also added menace to their demeanour.

A character from our nightmares – the executioner.

Eventually, the highwayman is supposed to get his comeuppance. When he does, his date is with the masked executioner. The state sanctioned killer hides his face behind the mask. The executioner is a charcter that we all hope to avoid – even in our dreams.

The bad guy in the wrestling ring wears a mask. The yobbos that terrorise neighbourhoods cover their faces with hoodies. When approached by a guy wearing a crash helmet we shy away. (Note 3)

You also need to consider the use of facial gestures when speaking. In English, small facial gestures can effect the strength of the words being spoken or even change their meaning. When the face is covered, we lose a high proportion of the non-verbal communication elements of a conversation and the opportunities for misunderstanding increase.

I understand why Muslims women feel that the wearing of the veil is a valid and essential way of showing their faith. However, I ask them to understand that in British culture, the covering of the face has sinister overtones. It has connotations with evil intent and malice. Continue wearing the veil, but please understand why others may ask you to remove it. If you don’t want to remove the veil, then please understand why some treat you with suspicion or even fear.

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: It is important to note here that it is a request to remove the veil, not an instruction and that whether or not the request is granted, it doesn’t effect the way the constituent is treated. Click to return

NOTE 2 : Although I have to admit that the life of the highwayman became romanticised in books, TV and films. Just because they were made romantic heros in fiction, it doesn’t alter the fact that they were nasty pieces of work in real life. Click to return

NOTE 3: I can vouch for this from both ends of the argument. I used to ride a motorbike and I saw the look in peoples eyes when I approached them wearing a crash helmet. Click to return

There are exceptions. Some people are well suited to the mask.

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Friday, October 13, 2006


Even sneaking in synaptic tangents into the title pictures now.

Errr… Brigadoon.

Good yeomen, I have been severed. Ruthlessly cut off from my internet connection. It is a rather surreal experience. Mind you, I have managed to do a little bit of reading and remind myself why I don’t watch much TV.

Yet today, a nice man from BT (nay the very nice man; the very, very nice man) fixed my connection. Yet, far more importantly, a package arrived at my door! (Note 1)

The package has arrived at last  after eleven days of travelling.

Yes! Good Yeomen, my prize has arrived. It took eleven days to get to me, but it has arrived.

And who says that Merkins don’t do irony?

The parcel said express, but that was a little bit of a fib. It took eleven days to arrive. It didn’t help that the delivery driver took three attempts to find the house. At some point, in his utter frustration he sat down on the parcel and a good weep.

This will hang proudly next to the swimming certificate and the restraining orders.

Lying on top of the parcel was my winners certificate. This is only the second time in my life that I actually qualified for a certificate. The first was for the 50 metres breast stroke, but that didn’t really count as I cheated and walked along the bottom for the last 10 metres.

There was obviously a lot of care taken over the packaging.

Kerry, the domestic goddess, did a fantastic job with the packaging. The presentation of the tempting fare being worthy of an award in itself.

Yes, my good yeomen – I have received the PANCAKES – and no, they are not green!

The pancakes arrived in amazingly good condition given the traumas of crossing the Atlantic and having to experience Leicester. They managed to remain complete (well nearly all of them anyway) and moist.

Other mouth watering goodies were in the package!

There were bonus items in there too! Chocolates and jam! Specialities of Dayton, Ohio.

Sadly, not all survived. There was a pot of maple syrup that didn’t survive being sat upon by the delivery man. The syrup leaked all over the tourist brochures, which made them impossible to read.

Another picture of my prize!

And the real admission is that while the pancakes looked good, they didn’t exactly smell that wonderful. I fear they had gone past their best. A little careful arrangement hides some of the little green spots. And thankfully, Takamichi Nakamoto has yet to perfect his invention.

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: According to the tracking on the parcel, this was actually the third attempt of the delivery man to find me house. This is lead to the synaptic tangent of the opening image of Brigadoon. I’ve come to the conclusion that when I am disconnected from the internet, my house vanishes into the mists. Click to return

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

It came from behind the kettle

The battlefield at Naseby, the tourists who turn up are three and a half centuries too late for the action.

The Naseby tourist trail.

Yesterday, I had a day trip to Swansea. Yes, somewhere this rather strange idea coagulated into reality that it would be an absolutely spiffing to see my likkle boy and ensure that he gets a hot meal.

At the risk of sounding like an accountant at a Christmas Party, I shall share with you the route. Getting to Swansea involves taking the A605, turning West onto the A14 which sort of morphs into the M6 at the picturesque Catthorpe interchange. (Note 1) You then bundle along the M6 (Passing Coventry at great speed) until you glide off onto the terminally confusing M42. At some stage (I must have been tuning the radio at that point), the M42 turns into the M5. (Note 1A) After a while, you peel off from the M5 and utilise a roundabout subject to motorway regulations to join the incredibly picturesque M50.

The annual accounts Christmas Party was thrilled with Nigel’s account of his drive to the Brecon Beacons.

Ross on Wye and another roundabout marks the abrupt cessation of the M50. Picking up the A40, you navigate the hazardous border country and into Wales. In a move that rather typifies the entire journey, the A40 mysteriously turns itself into the A449 while nobody is looking. (Note 2).After a while, the A449 makes a graceful intersection with the M4 at Newport, Gwent. Faced with the salubrious temptations of Newport or peeling off onto the M4 heading West, you off course head West. (Note 2A)

A mere 16 junctions or so later along the M4 and you are in Swansea. According to the nice man on the AA Web Site (nay the very nice man; the very, very nice man), this is a journey of some 216 miles. Remember, good yeomen, I undertook this as a day trip, so the mileage needs doubling as I reversed the route later.

Merkins among my readership will probably be making some derogatory comment about my Limey lack of stamina. In my defence, I would like to point out that driving in the UK and US is very different. I’ve done both and I can say with certainty that US driving is far easier and far less tiring.

Suffice to say that by the time I got home I felt like someone was sticking pins in my eyes. Every now and again, my leg would twitch and my left arm would manipulate a non-existent gear stick (No wimpy automatic for this loony Limey).

There are lingering after effects too. I woke up with a stiff neck. When I learned to drive, when the man with the red flag roamed the highways and byways, the accepted maxim was “Mirror-Signal-Manoeuvre”. This has subsequently been updated to “Mirror-Signal-Mirror-Manouvre”.

My method of driving has me keep to the lane furthest to the left as much as possible. You may have noticed that I have a thing about drivers that don’t pull over – so it would be hypocritical for me not to.

The police around Cardiff are as modern and well equipped as any in Wales.

When I drove a motorbike, self preservation taught me that the final mirror check before pulling out was an absolute must. It also taught me that the mirrors were not enough and a glance over my shoulder was preferable. (Note 3)

The habit has proved hard to break. Although I’m now in a steel box, before I pull out, I check the rear view mirror, wing mirror and glance over my shoulder. After all the lane changing yesterday, the poor muscles in my neck feel like rusty piano wire.

Still, my likkle boy is fine and seems to be settled in at university. Generally, he seems to be having a great time. The only downside is that he has picked up a dose of Freshers’ Flu.

Checking Wikipedia though, they seem to have missed out the likely cause. The shared kitchen in his flat is an absolute disaster. I’m proud of my own ability to slob, but that kitchen is an absolute disaster area. There cannot be a clean piece of crockery pot or pan in the place. Newspapers and general rubbish lies where it fell. Three large bin bags of refuse await removal. I’m pretty sure that there was something moving amongst open cereal packets and half eaten pizza, but I couldn’t be sure.

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: Shortly before you reach the Western end of the A14, you thunder through the Battle of Neasby battlefield. There is a little brown sign to remind you of the fact at the side of the carriageway and at one point, you are invited to divert from your travels to go and see the battlefield. Should you ever feel tempted, don’t get your hopes up. There are only fields, a crumbling monument and a little plaque. The battle finished over 360 years ago and they haven’t got round to taking the advertising down yet.Click to return

NOTE 1A: No, I don’t have the numbering all wrong on my footnotes; it is just that I ended up with two notes in one paragraph. Terribly bad form, I know, but this is how I like to work the numbering when it happens.

When the M42 turns into the M5, you end up taking pot luck. Depending on which lane you are in at the time, you end up either going North or South. I was lucky, I was in the overtaking (Note the name) lane and so I ended up going South. Some poor souls end up heading North and are discovered months later still trying to fight their way out of Halesowen. Click to return

NOTE 2: If you look at a map, you may be tempted to cut across country to pick up the A465 – especially when you think that if you continue on your current route you’ll pass through Port Talbot. If this thought finds its way into your head, grab it firmly and place it in a sack with a couple of bricks. Tie the sack firmly and toss it into the river. The A465 is no shortcut. It isn’t a road, it’s a never ending construction project designed to keep labourers off the streets. Click to return

NOTE 2A: I have complained about this stretch of the M4 at length in previous posts. Most of those rants have been about Port Talbot. I’m not going soft, but I won’t rant about Port Talbot today. Instead I will complain about the number of police cars and speed cameras around Cardiff – or rather the reaction of other drivers to them. Why is it that one sight of a police car or speed cameras has some people hitting the brakes? When driving, it is essential to know your speed. Even if you don’t know your speed, hitting your brakes before checking isn’t going to help – it will just cause accidents. If you are one of those annoying little toads who believe that sitting in the middle lane doing 60 mph while the nearside lane is free is a right granted under the Magna Carta – then braking just highlights what a crap driver you are! Click to return

NOTE 3: The check over the shoulder habit was also born out of a periodic lack of mirrors on the bike. I didn’t come of the bike much more than any of my mates, but whenever you did, the mirrors were always the first thing to go. It wasn’t helped that I had to leave my bike out on the street during night shift. I lost count of the number of times that some light fingered scallywag pinched my mirrors. As a result, I went long periods without any mirrors until the opportunity arose where I could liberate some new ones.. Click to return

The M50 motorway must be the prettiest in the UK – unless you have a better suggestion?

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Tales From the Casting Couch

If I’m ever seen out in public like this – please shoot me.

What does this man do for a living?.

Fine yeomen, when our British readership gets to vote in the next General election, the chances are they will vote for someone who is white, middle class and male. In fact, if you are British, I will go as far as saying that you will vote for a white, middle class male.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not accusing you of any hidden prejudice or anything like that. It is just that for most safe seats, the current incumbent will be a white middle class male and that most candidates from all of the major political parties will be white, middle class males. You can only vote for what is presented on the ballot paper after all.

All of the main political parties appear keen to get greater diversity amongst their candidates and to get these candidates into the safe seats so that Westminster ceases to be dominated by white middle class men.

All very laudable and I’m not going to enter into a debate over the advantages and disadvantages of positive discrimination here.

Of course, when you really get down to it, the whole thing is about projecting the right image to get people to vote for you. With the majority of the electorate women, making sure that you have a few women MP in the photo opportunities might help scavenge a few votes.

The image is of an environmentally concerned leader – the truth is that he is being followed by a member of staff in a car carrying his papers.

In order to help bolster an image of what a warm and inclusive party, the Conservatives has become under that nice David Cameron. There was a bizarre scene at their party conference this week. They had a procession on candidates who were definitely not white, middle class men act out their version of Dragon’s Den.(Note 1)

Politics is all about image. It is about finding ways to part people from their vote. It has very little to do with actual policies and a lot to do with media management. About making sure you are projecting the correct image. Making sure that everyone is staying ‘on message’.

Sadly, it has meant that you end up with a rather bland set of politicians. The need for a consistent message and image has tended to weed out the individuals from the political herd. Finding political characters is getting harder. (Note 2) The image makers tend to make sure that the characters are kept well out of the journalists’ way.

And then there is Boris Johnson, the Conservative MP for Henley on Thames.

Boris is a character. You could describe him as an upper class twit, a bumbling duffer and loose cannon. Boris is the sitting MP in one of the safest Tory seats in the country. Currently, he is the Conservative spokesman on Further Education.

In his short career, our Boris has managed to upset a wide range of the British populous with his foot in mouth escapades.

Strange then, we have a Political climate that normally marginalise someone with Boris’s ability to upset and alienate. (Note 3) In a great synaptic leap tinged with the lime tinge of cynicism, I’ll give you a few theories.

1. Boris has made himself a bit of a celebrity on TV quiz shows. The cult of celebrity that has allowed actors to achieve high office in the US despite their foibles is creeping over to the UK.

2. Boris is becoming a bit of a cult amongst the young with his antics. Strangely, this is getting them interested in politics and the Conservative Spin Doctors think this will win them votes. (Note 4)

3. Boris’s gaffs take attention away from the horrible ghosts of the Thatcherite Right (Like Norman Tebbit) which still haunt the party and from the potential for quarrels over membership of the EU.

There are probably others. Mind you, I would much rather have Boris than David Cameron.

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: It is an obscure synaptic tangent, but the Dragons Den format has people wandering into a room to be faced with business people sat behind piles of cash. The idea being that they have to persuade the business people to invest some money in them. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that the candidates were making a pitch for a brown envelope stuffed with cash in return for ‘favours’. So much for improving the ‘image’ then.Click to return

NOTE 2: Quite often, describing someone as a ‘character’ is seen as a genteel type of insult or perhaps as a back handed compliment. It is almost as if society is conditioning us to try and fit the mould and being a character is somehow something to be avoided. Am I alone in finding this a shame? Click to return

NOTE 3: Please don’t think that Boris is in anyway stupid – he isn’t. Read those quotes of his. Check out his CV. He is far from stupid. He just has a faulty clutch between brain and mouth. Click to return

NOTE 4: One look at the audience at the Tory Conference shows how despearately they need younger members. In ten years they’ll be playing to a hall of skeleton and zombies. Click to return

Boris demonstrating his contempt for Jamie Oliver by eating bread and dripping in front of a school dinner lady convention.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Thursday Travel Woes

Something to take your breath away.

Does this mean I get a free calendar?.

Perhaps it is Thursdays.

Somehow I slept through my alarm this morning. This isn’t easy, it is an annoying electronic warble with a skull vibrating intensity and pitch. None the less, I slept through it.

When I did drag myself out of bed, I had squandered my valuable coming too time and had to throw myself into preparing for my travels. (Note 1)

The procrastinating sun was only prepared to tinge the eastern sky with the darkest blue while strands of cloud did their best to cling to their night time black.

There was something not quite right. Somehow the radio seemed, well rather quiet. (Note 2) I turned it up a bit and continued on my way, despite something feeling a little odd.

I pulled onto the motorway, the delightful A1(M). The surface seemed rougher than I remember. I worked my way to the outside lane and slowly let my right foot get a touch heavy. The motorway changed from three lanes to four.

The road started to make its own little bass beat, whispered thrum, thrum, thrum. That was unusual, something wasn’t quite right. Someone twiddled with the tarmac amp. THRUM! THRUM! THRUM!

Yes, good yeomen, it was the sound of a thrombosis of the wallet.

A blow out on the drivers side front tyre at around 80mph in the outside lane. Any remaining cobwebs are soon expelled from the brain. Any lingering constipation is miraculously cured. Your knuckles turn a funny colour.

With amazing presence of mind, I managed to manoeuvre the car across the other three lanes of traffic. The inside lane being the worst as I had to move between two lorries which had fed off the adrenaline of my situation and grown ridiculously large.

Fair dos to the Highways Agency, they answered the emergency phone very quickly. Mind you, at half six in the morning, I doubt they had much else to do.

The man took all my details and even took the details of my roadside assistance details. I thought getting me to wave to the camera was a bit much, but I suppose it helped cement a bond of friendship. (Note 3)

I stood behind the crash barrier for about half an hour waiting for my night in a day glow overall.

The man from the AA was a nice man. A very nice man. A very, very nice man. He had the wheel changed for the spare in a trice. He even gave me directions to the nearest Kwick Fit.

Now, that was a fun journey. My car doesn’t have a proper spare tyre. It has one of those smaller, emergency tyres that you are not supposed to drive over 50 mph. It seems very slow driving at 50 mph on a British motorway.

And a new one for the other side. You never get away with buying just ONE tyre.

It’s for that reason that I will make sure that my next car has a proper spare wheel. The thing is that as soon as you turn up at a tyre fitters with an emergency spare fitted, the guys eyes light up with glee. They have a captive market. I’m sure that tyres suffer a bout of severe inflation at the sight of an emergency spare wheel!

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: Without my coming too time, I have a tendency to try to wear my underpants on my head, use the cat as a toothbrush and mistake various furniture for breakfast. Click to return

NOTE 2 : For some reason, the presenters seemed to be talking indistinctly, almost whispering. I decided that I’d reached the age where my ears start to take a little longer to attune to the world in the mornings. Click to return

NOTE 3: OK, I admit it. It’s not that I cannot change a wheel or even that I was in my suit. The truth is, I didn’t have the bottle. The idea of kneeling on the hard shoulder with my arse sticking out perilously close to the traffic thundering along the motorway was just too much for me. Click to return

The van of the very, very nice man.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Velvet Cudgel

Any excuse for using this picture again and again.

The shortcut to the “Rat and Ferret”.

Your indulgence is required, patient yeomen. For the last few weeks, two ideas have fought over my creative juices. (Note 1)

These conflicting ideas buzzing around my skull is doing me no good. The squabble and fight for prominence. They buzz into consciousness at the most inopportune times. Whenever I sit at my keyboard, they grab and snatch at my fingers to deny other ideas freedom.

So it is that I have to let one idea take flight in the hope that I can settle into my routine. (Note 2) The really big idea is a political one, this is the bully. This is the one that thrusts its way into my mind every time I watch the news. The second idea is smaller, yet just as insistent.

Together, they form a symbiotic relationship. The big political idea has shaken my beliefs to the very core. It threatens my core values. It is so big that I doubt my ability to form the words to describe it and to explain in a way that others will understand.

The smaller idea, well, that is a creative idea. Something that just might offer an opportunity to give the political idea wings in a way that will not scare the horses or have my liberal friends chocking on their Chardonnay. It isn’t new. I employed it in my entry, Imbibing the Spirit.

So it is, good yeomen, I share with you the opening few paragraphs of something that is to Jonathan Swift what Kinky Friedman is to Political Correctness.

The recipe for Dr. Ethaniel Nightswerve’s Velvet Cudgel started out as a nerve tonic. With Ethaniel’s gift for weaving magic with words, a confidence built from never getting caught, an almost endless supply of purple glass bottles and access to a printing press, the fortune that followed was never in doubt.

The recipe changed over the years. Governments have declared a number of the herbs used in the fermentation illegal. One or two of the fungi added to give body are almost impossible to find and harvest. A couple of the minerals now require a special license to enable purchase.

Yet Albert Nightswerve, the Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandson of Ethaniel, aided by the great fortune, keeps the recipe alive. Along with the breeding of exotic amphibians and the growing of exotic orchids, he brews a few kegs of “Doctor Ethaniel’s Velvet Cudgel” which he sells to my local as a guest beer.

Nigel and Anne, the hosts of “The George”, don’t include the beer on the little blackboard that proudly announces the ‘beer of the month’, the place of origin and the ABV. (Note 3) The beer engine is in a corner of the bar, hidden behind the charity collection jar, various boxes of dominoes and a sign advertising the Christmas Club.

All guaranteed to exercise my curiosity. For over a year, I would ask about the “Velvet Cudgel”, only to be politely told that it was off, or settling. It became a routine. I would wander in and greet my hosts and the regulars. When asked what I wanted, my eyes would scan the pumps at the front of the bar and the blackboard. After appearing to give the question much consideration, I would ask for a pint of the “Velvet Cudgel” only to receive a broad smile and an excuse, forcing me to make another choice.

A little over eighteen months after starting this routine, I walked into “The George” on a particularly cold, wet grey February evening. Only a handful of the hardiest locals had ventured out and clustered around the fire.

I went through my routine, but Anne gave no excuse. Instead, she looked at Nigel who stopped reading the “Daily Telegraph” and gave a little shrug. Anne opened a drawer and withdrew a pair of industrial rubber gloves.

”I’ll serve you at the snug window.” Anne pointed to the corridor that led to the snug bar and the toilets. “Just in case of spillage, dear.”

I walked through the now silent lounge to the window. Leaning forward, I watched Anne hand the gloves to Nigel who pulled them on with great ceremony. Anne backed away as Nigel took a half pint glass and held it under the tarnished nozzle. His right hand flexed and grasped the black handle of the pump. He pulled. Dark brown liquid sloshed into the glass. The handle sprung back into place. Nigel gave it half a pull and the glass was full.

Nigel placed the glass gingerly on the drip cloth in font of me.

The drink was the colour of ancient furniture. There was no head, but inside the glass, streams of bubbles churned and swirled like a tissue in a washing machine. For a second, I thought the bubbles formed a picture by Edvard Munch. When I held it up to the light, the light bulb looked like the sun viewed through a bushfire.

Nothing like hammering an idea home.

”Best not to look too long, Sir.” Nigel chided me.

Bringing the glass towards my lips, there was an audible intake of breath from the regulars at the fire. My mouth filled with flavours. Salty nuts, smoky bacon where replaced by the richness of figs, and sweet honey. There was a brief explosion of redcurrant and then the bitter tang of raspberry as I swallowed.

The next swig started with the taste of shellfish and vegetables. There was hint of roast meet and apricots before my head filled with strawberries and the cloying aftertaste of rum.

Grinning, I turned to my hosts. Nigel took the glass from my hand and set it down on the mat. Before words could form, something inside of me twitched and shifted. Abdominal muscles that I had long thought retired clenched and cramped. Intestines started to quiver and quake.

Raucous laughter erupted as I sprinted to the toilets.

My footsteps echoed off the clinical white tiles as I burst into the gents and rushed into the nearest cubicle. Finding myself in front of the modern WC, I was unsure whether to kneel or sit. My innards continued to knot and lurch. A wave of dizziness had me staggering backwards. My vision blurred, clouded and then returned.

The clinical modern toilet had morphed. The walls were now half tiled with cobalt blue and white tiles. The individual urinals replaced by a large decorative trough. The stalls now sported WC that must have been the very pinnacle Victorian waste management.

I spun round in response to a cough to find myself looking at a ginning Albert Nightswerve holding a large plastic bucket.

”Welcome! Welcome!” He thrust out a hand for me to shake. “Welcome to the “Rat and Ferret”.

OK. It needs some work. That is a problem with the medium and my style of writing. I need to wait a week or so before I can effectively edit my writing. Keep a Blog requires that posts are almost immediate. Still, it gives you an idea.

Pint of Velvet Cudgel anyone?

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: In some cultures, digestive juices are a highly prized delicacy which grace only the very best of dinner parties and restaurants where you have to predict your hunger pangs many months in advance. I hope you appreciate that I’m offering you samples of my own juices so generously and without thought for financial gain. Click to return

NOTE 2 : Claiming a routine is perhaps overstating the case. I tend to have this rather optimistic view of how my schedule will pan out over the course of the day. Then the actual course of the day tends to feel like I’m a leaf caught in a gale. Click to return

NOTE 3: The real ale mafia would want us to believe that this stands for “Alcohol By Volume”. It is actually a cunning way of measuring liver damage by use of the Richter scale. If you ever drink a beer with a ABV of greater than 9, in the morning, you risk your liver cracking the porcelain in its attempt to escape. Click to return

The sun viewed through the smoke of a bushfire.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

I had every intention of writing a full blog tonight. Only, well... I had a run in with a chest of drawers, the steps to the roof space and a bottle of rather good, red wine.

Instead, I should like to thank you all for the kind comments you have left on my blog. Errm.... Thanks for the kind comments you left on my blog.

I'd also like to point you to a few interesting web pages.

It seems that we are turning into a nation of writers. OK, so perhaps I am preaching to the choir here, but it seems that writing has become quite the fashionable thing. It's strange that I find myself amongst the mainstream of fashion. This must be a first for me.

Now, there is another site on the BBC I feel I should point some of you at. The BBC is seeking out good comedy talent to write sketches and comedy shows for radio. Some of you (and you know who you are), should really go and have a look here.

Oh, and a quick test for Marty to check if his Technorati links are working.